All posts by Folkrox

San Francisco resident Richie Unterberger is the author of numerous rock history books, including Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll and a two-part history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High. His book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film won a 2007 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research. His latest books are White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day and Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia. Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High have now been revised/updated/expanded and combined into the ebook Jingle Jangle Morning, which adds a 75,000-word new bonus mini-book. He is also author of The Rough Guide To Music USA, a guidebook to the evolution of regional popular music styles throughout America in the 20th century; The Rough Guide To Jimi Hendrix; The Rough Guide to Seattle; and (as co-author) The Rough Guide to Shopping with a Conscience. He is a frequent contributor to MOJO and Record Collector, and has written hundreds of liner notes for CD reissues. Since 2011, he’s taught courses on rock music history at the College of Marin. He lives in San Francisco. He gives regular presentations on rock and soul history throughout the Bay Area incorporating rare vintage film clips and audio recordings, at public libraries and other venues. Since summer 2011, he has taught community education courses at the College of Marin on the Beatles, San Francisco rock of the 1960s and 1970s, and the history of rock from 1955 to 1980. For more info, go to richieunterberger.com.

The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones

“The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones” – it’s kind of a silly debate, if not nearly as silly as “The Beatles Vs. The Four Seasons,” as Vee-Jay Records titled one cash-in LP. You’ve got what many, even tens of millions, consider two of the greatest rock bands of all time – do you really have to choose one over the other? Or, worse, choose one and not the other, as some hard-liners (more Stones fanatics than Beatlemaniacs) maintain? They’re both great (or, at least, the Stones were great), and I’ve taught comprehensive courses on both groups.

Beatle_Stones

But here’s something I’ve never seen brought up when “The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones” is mentioned – how did those bands fare on the relatively rare occasions when they did go head-to-head? Not on the same stage or boxing ring or anything like that, but on the same song? For the two acts did sometimes do the same song, and a little more often than many think. True, there were just two occasions when they actually released studio versions of the same number. But if you count BBC and live performances, the quantity nearly doubles, though even then, it doesn’t reach double figures. Taking the attitude that no one else will do this unless I will, here’s a play-by-play rundown of those infrequent instances when the titans performed the same tune, with just-for-fun verdicts that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Let’s start with the only two songs the Beatles and Stones both did in the studio, with all four versions, as it happens, getting waxed in 1963 near the beginning of their careers.

Money: Despite the differences between the groups played up by the media and some fans, the two bands actually admired quite a few of the same US rock and soul artists, and it’s not all that surprising that they would cover some of the same songs. The only such animal to make it onto their 1963 discs, however, was “Money,” one of the first Motown hits (though not quite as big as many remember, Barrett Strong’s original peaking at #23 in 1960).

The Beatles did “Money” on their second album, and it’s really not all that controversial an opinion to assert they totally outdistanced the original, both by virtue of John Lennon’s fierce lead vocal and Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s exuberant backup harmonies. There are actually a few Beatles versions of “Money,” starting with a fairly anemic one from their January 1, 1962 audition for Decca Records (with Pete Best still on drums), and also including a half-dozen BBC performances. The studio cut on With the Beatles, however, is the best from every angle, and one of the best of the many fine covers they recorded.

the-beatles-money-deccagone

It’s also not that controversial an opinion to declare that the Beatles pretty much kill the Stones in an A-B comparison of their respective versions. In fact, a lot of listeners probably still don’t even know the Stones did “Money,” as it first appeared on a January 1964 UK EP, and wasn’t issued in the States until the More Hot Rocks compilation almost ten years later. The Rolling Stones’ version is raw to the point of almost being sloppy, has rather hoarse and untutored backup vocals, and is pretty murkily recorded (though it’s hardly alone in that last department among early Stones tracks). For all that, it’s not that bad, with some cool if slightly haphazard harmonica and generally commendable enthusiasm. The Stones were hardly the only other British Invasion group to do “Money,” by the way, other entries being cut by Freddie & the Dreamers (a predictably silly and stilted one) and Bern Elliott & the Fenmen (who took their rather generic interpretation to #14 in the UK), among others.

rolling stones euk8560472

The Verdict: Still – a clear victory, perhaps even a knockout, for the Beatles.

I Wanna Be Your Man: The other song the Beatles and Stones cut studio versions of in 1963 wasn’t even, for one of the bands at least, a cover. The famous story’s a little too long to recap here, but basically Stones manager Andrew Oldham, in need of a song for his clients’ second single, stumbled into John Lennon and Paul McCartney in central London, and corralled them into visiting a Stones rehearsal, where they finished off “I Wanna Be Your Man” on the spot. “I Wanna Be Your Man” would be the Rolling Stones’ first substantial British hit (stopping just short of the Top Ten), though it wouldn’t even be an A-side in the US, where it didn’t even appear on an LP (or, for many years, even on a compilation).

Though it was released a few weeks after the Stones’ version, the Beatles’ rendition was recorded about a month earlier. While something of a filler track on Meet the Beatles, with lyrics even more basic than most of the early Lennon-McCartney compositions, it pummels along with great, slightly bluesy effervescence, Ringo Starr on lead. It’s a good rocker, if a fairly secondary one in the scheme of early Beatles material. A little later, they’d do a cool version on the BBC with a slight Bo Diddley beat.

i wanna be your man sheet music

That said, the Rolling Stones’ arrangement beats the Beatles hands down. The slide guitar by Brian Jones is downright vicious, Bill Wyman plays an into-the-red pumping bass, and Mick Jagger gives it a sneer wholly missing in Ringo’s vocal. Where the Beatles play it jocular, the Rolling Stones are assaultive, bringing out the song’s subtle blues flavor so that it becomes a genuine pounding blues-rocker. John and Paul gave them a great assist by giving them the tune, but the Stones made it in their own, in a version both superior to and quite different than the Beatles’.

the-rolling-stones-i-wanna-be-your-man-decca-9

The Verdict: A clear victory for the Stones, though not the knockout that “Money” was for the Beatles.

Now we’ll start getting into territory beyond the two official instances in which the bands released the same song, much of which remains unknown to the general public:

Roll Over Beethoven: Another highlight from the Beatles’ second album, “Roll Over Beethoven” was an excellent Chuck Berry cover, from George Harrison’s adept soloing (and lead vocal) to the insistent propulsion of the rest of the band on backup. Again they did this a bunch of times on the BBC (a particularly good June 24, 1963 one with a twice-as-long instrumental solo is on the iTunes download-only compilation The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963), and there are good live versions floating around on tape and film (though the one done in Hamburg in December 1962, like the rest of the live tapes from that quasi-official batch, has pretty poor sound).

BeatlesBeethoven

It’s still not generally known that the Rolling Stones recorded “Roll Over Beethoven” at a BBC session on September 23, 1963, in large part because it still hasn’t been officially released. Bootlegged with very good sound, it’s a tremendous version, and, again, quite different to the one by the Beatles. Keith Richards’s guitar has a more raucous edge, Mick Jagger’s vocal a more cutting bluesy tone, and the tempo’s more frenetic. Most notably, Richards unleashes a simply marvelous solo with a heck of a lot more bluesy note-bending. Of the numerous songs the Stones did on the BBC without counterparts on their official records (though these weren’t nearly as numerous as the ones the Beatles taped), “Roll Over Beethoven” might be the very best. (They also did a less impressive, looser version of “Roll Over Beethoven” at a later BBC session on March 8 , 1964.)

The Rolling Stones performed "Roll Over Beethoven" on BBC radio in 1963, but did not release a studio version.

The Rolling Stones performed “Roll Over Beethoven” on BBC radio in 1963, but did not release a studio version.

The Verdict: Too close to call, really, though if pressed I might choose the Stones’ version, Keith’s solo being the deciding factor.

Carol: Another Chuck Berry song both bands did, the twist being that this time, the Rolling Stones’ version is the more familiar one. “Carol” was a highlight of the band’s first album in 1964, with a pushy buzz, and authoritative Keith Richards guitar licks, that made it slightly different from the original, if not terribly different.

StonesCarol

The Beatles did not record this at EMI, but did a top-flight version for the BBC on July 2, 1963. Much more well known to the general listener after its official appearance on Live at the BBC in 1994, it was one of five songs from this session they didn’t put on their 1960s releases. Let me quote from my description in my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film: “’Carol’ is handled here by John on solo vocals, and slightly precedes the much more famous delivery of the same song by the Rolling Stones on their debut 1964 album. It’s a contentious assertion, but the Beatles’ less noted interpretation is yet better than the one by the Stones, who took the song at a much more even, clipped beat. The Beatles’ interpretation has a more forward-thrusting groove, Lennon’s best cocky rock ’n’ roll voice, and propulsive Harrison guitar riffing, especially when he flicks off some cliff-descending notes near the end of the instrumental break.”

the-beatles-carol-3

The Verdict: Like the above paragraph notes, a contentious assertion, but I think this is a clear victory for the Beatles, though the Rolling Stones’ effort is quite respectable.

Memphis, Tennessee: Here we have a case of a song that neither the Beatles nor the Rolling Stones put on their official ‘60s releases, though both did it for the BBC. The Beatles, in fact, had done it on January 1, 1962 back at their Decca audition, and at their first BBC session on March 7, 1962, with Pete Best still on drums. Their arrangement (and indeed the whole band) had improved by the time they did it four more times for the BBC (with Ringo) in 1963, John Lennon still on lead vocals. On the whole, though, it’s not one of their better covers, though it’s okay.

the-beatles-memphis-deccagone

Again, not many people are aware the Rolling Stones did “Memphis” too, as their September 23, 1963 BBC version (recorded at the same session they did “Roll Over Beethoven”) hasn’t been officially released. Which is too bad, in part because it’s decisively better than the Beatles’. The Beatles’ arrangement is a little lumpy, but the Stones do it with just the right deftness, exquisitely interwoven guitars, and an appropriately wistful Mick Jagger vocal. As an aside, it is a shame that just four of the band’s 1963-65 BBC tracks have come out (and then only as a bonus disc on the expensive super-deluxe edition of their GRRR! compilation), as there are enough to fill up a double CD.

StonesMemphisTennessee

The Verdict: A clear victory for the Rolling Stones, which doesn’t mean that the Beatles’ 1963 BBC versions (some of which have been officially issued) aren’t worth having.

I’m Talking About You: As if there’s any doubt that Chuck Berry was the most common meeting point in their influences, here’s yet another song covered by both bands. The Rolling Stones’ version (slightly retitled “Talkin’ Bout You”) is by far the more familiar, having appeared back in 1965 on the December’s Children LP (in the US) and the Out of Our Heads LP (in the UK). It’s a good one that’s funkier and slyer in execution that the original. The group, incidentally, did a yet earlier version for the BBC on September 23, 1963 (in the same batch including “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Memphis, Tennessee”) that unfortunately hasn’t survived. For that matter, that same session included a version of “Money” that didn’t survive either.

StonesTalkinBoutYou

Until very recently, the best of the two surviving Beatles versions of “I’m Talking About You” was quite obscure. An energetic but lo-fi one from December 1962 had been available since 1977 on the Hamburg Star-Club tapes. A better, though not totally hi-fi, BBC performance from March 16, 1963 finally came out in late 2013 on On Air: Live at the BBC Vol. 2. It’s pretty good as well, benefiting from a brash John Lennon lead vocal, and an odd chuckle right before they go into the instrumental break, with a George Harrison solo that (like many of his BBC performances) are rawer than what he was wont to put on the group’s studio releases. The bass line of the Chuck Berry original, incidentally, provided the inspiration for Paul McCartney’s bass on “I Saw Her Standing There.”

The Beatles' BBC version of "I'm Talking About You" is included on this 2013 compilation.

The Beatles’ BBC version of “I’m Talking About You” is included on this 2013 compilation.

Still – the Beatles’ version is not quite as distinctive, or as different from the original, as the Stones’ take. So –

The Verdict: A decisive win for the Rolling Stones, though not by a huge margin.

Little Queenie: It’s rather amazing – of the half-dozen recordings of seriously performed songs that both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did in the 1960s, four were Chuck Berry tunes. Again, this should eliminate any doubt that he was their most common shared point of reference, though no doubt there were some other songs (by Berry and others) both bands covered that one or both of them didn’t put on surviving tapes.

The Stones’ version of “Little Queenie” is by far the better known of the two, a late-’69 concert performance having featured on their Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! album. Give the group credit for not just replicating Berry’s version (which some of their earlier Berry covers verge on doing) but slowing it down considerably and making it funkier and more salacious, though that was in keeping with how their whole approach had changed by the late 1960s, especially with Brian Jones out of the band.

114705947

It’s a shame that the only existing Beatles performance of “Little Queenie” is from their lo-fi December 1962 Star-Club tapes, which makes it a little hard to properly face off against the much later one by the Stones. Nonetheless, I’ll go out on a limb and say the Beatles’ version is better. It has a terrifically infectious Paul McCartney vocal, and a really unusual, exhilarating George Harrison guitar solo that has no counterpart in the Berry original. If only they’d recorded this for the BBC in good fidelity, a la “Carol,” there would be no doubt whether this surpassed the Stones’ interpretation. Nonetheless –

The Verdict: The Beatles win, though the marginal fidelity of their version, and the respectable quality of the Stones’ rendition, makes it something of a borderline triumph.

The only Beatles version of "Little Queenie" is on the tapes they recorded in Hamburg in December 1962.

The only Beatles version of “Little Queenie” is on the tapes they recorded in Hamburg in December 1962.

By the way, the Beatles did casually jam on a few other songs the Stones also did during their January 1969 sessions for what was then intended to be the Get Back album and film, though it would be retitled Let It Be. Among them were Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around,” Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” Hank Snow/Ray Charles’s “I’m Movin’ On,” Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” and even the Stones’ own “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Lady Jane.” These were just too casually executed, however (and sometimes poorly recorded), to consider serious attempts at a recordable performance. For that reason, they’ve been excluded from this discussion, though for what it’s worth, the versions of “Hitch Hike” (with George Harrison’s fine lead vocals sadly undermiked) and “Not Fade Away” (ditto) aren’t bad.

In sum – is there a winner in the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones? Even if judged solely on the few songs on which they went toe-to-toe? Seems to me it’s about as close to a draw as it gets. And isn’t that how it should be?

beatles-vs-stones-300x200

Memories of Philadelphia Ballparks Past

As I wrote in a post a while ago, Candlestick Park, former home of the San Francisco Giants, is due for demolition pretty soon. That got me thinking of other major league ballparks I’ve been to that no longer exist. There aren’t that many – Connie Mack Stadium (Philadelphia Phillies), Veterans Stadium (also Phillies), the Kingdome (Seattle Mariners), Memorial Stadium (the Baltimore Orioles, which I only went to once), and the old Yankee Stadium (also only visited once).

Connie Mack

Since I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I know Veterans Stadium by far the best of these parks, though I never went there after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1980s. Retrospectives of the Vet, as it was known locally, emphasize the most famous moments – the 1980 World Series victory, the feats of Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, the 1993 pennant with rowdy characters like Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk, and colorful glove-thumping of reliever Tug McGraw, and Pete Rose coming to the Phillies for a few years near the end of his career. This post, though, will recap some of the odder moments of Phillies baseball I saw in person, none of which are likely to get much if any coverage in baseball books.

As a preamble, the very first major league games I saw were in Connie Mack Stadium, the facility (formerly known as Shibe Park) the Phillies played in from 1938 to 1970. When I was seven, I saw my first games at a doubleheader against the Pirates on June 22. The Phillies were pretty bad then, and thought of as pretty star-crossed, never having won a World Series, and having blown the 1964 pennant by losing ten games in a row near the end of the season. Their superstar, Richie (later Dick) Allen, was generating enormous controversy for his knack for irritating management and fans (even writing messages to them in the infield dirt), and in fact would get suspended for about a month just a couple days later for failing to show up for games in New York.

DA 1966

Even at that age, I could tell the neighborhood surrounding Connie Mack Stadium was pretty bad, too. Bad enough that you could, even at that age, tell parents were pretty nervous parking around there, which was just one reason the team moved to a much safer (if more isolated) area in the early 1970s.

The only two other games I saw were a doubleheader against the Giants in 1970. (My parents were very economy-minded, and if they had to take the family to a ballpark, they’d do it just once a year, and get two games out of the way at once.) The Phillies were still bad, but they swept the twinight doubleheader, though in a fashion that still managed to accent their futility. In the first game, Jim Bunning had the chance to become the first pitcher after Cy Young to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues. He left a 5-4 lead in the hands of ace reliever Dick Selma, who struck out the first two batters in the top of the ninth (the second of them Willie Mays). Then he faced Willie McCovey, and though I can’t look up the count, as I remember got two strikes on him. And then – McCovey hit a home run. The 100th win for Jim Bunning in the national league would have to wait.

It almost looks like this photo was snapped right after Dick Selma gave up a game-tying homer to Willie McCovey, delaying Jim Bunning's chance to become the second pitcher to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues.

It almost looks like this photo was snapped right after Dick Selma gave up a game-tying homer to Willie McCovey, delaying Jim Bunning’s chance to become the second pitcher to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues.

Looking back at the Phillies’ 1970 schedule, as you can easily do online these days, I’m struck by how differently games could get bunched up back then. Probably due to a makeup game, the Phillies had also played a twinight doubleheader against the Giants the previous day. And that wasn’t the only time they played doubleheaders on consecutive days that year – they’d done so about a month earlier in two different cities (Montreal and Philadelphia) on July 1 and July 2, that after playing two games in St. Louis on June 28. And dig this – after playing doubleheaders against the Giants on both Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1, the Phils would play two-fers against the Pirates August 6 and the Cubs August 9, with no off days the whole while. That’s fourteen games in ten days. Can you imagine the Players Association letting MLB get away with that now?

Also, the day I went to Connie Mack on 1970, it actually hosted a triple-header. How’s that possible, you ask? Well, in the afternoon, the festivities started with the Double-A Eastern League All-Star game, the Phillies having a double-A affiliate not far away in Reading, Pennsylvania. Three games in one day was just too much for my parents, and we saw just a few innings of the All-Star game, in which I’m pretty sure future Phillies slugger Greg Luzinski played. What sticks with me the most, however, is that between the double-header and the first “real” game, I saw one of the Eastern Leaguers, still in uniform, on the concession ramp, talking earnestly with a woman I assume was his wife. Can you imagine that happening at a big-league ballpark these days?

Luzinski

When Veterans Stadium was torn down about a decade ago, I was amused to hear it referred to as something of a decrepit, characterless structure. Back when it opened in 1971, it (along with two similar, now-demolished stadiums that opened at around the same time, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium and Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium) was considered cutting-edge state-of-the-art. Not only was it bigger and safer (and in a safer neighborhood with more parking), it had a big electric scoreboard that showed player stats – still something of a novelty then – and cannons, fountains, and a Liberty Bell that were supposed to go off with Phillie home runs.

As it happened, our family went to the second game ever played there, against the Montreal Expos on April 11. The Phils’ big hope that year was new right-fielder Roger Freed, who’d been trapped in an Orioles minor league system overflowing with talent. In 1970 in triple-A, he was the International League’s MVP, hitting .334 with 24 homers and 130 RBIs. The Phillies traded one of their starting pitchers (Grant Jackson, coming off a bad year) to get him. There was even a story in a national magazine (Sport, if I remember correctly) titled something like “Freed at Last.” And, wouldn’t you know it, Freed hit a grand slam, setting off all those artificial fireworks we were hoping to see.

RogerFreed

Except, in a portent of things to come, the fireworks didn’t work. At least, not all at once or like the cannon, fountains, and bell were supposed to. The Phillies did win that game 11-4, but Freed turned out to be a bust, hitting .221 with six homers, getting relegated to part-time duty the following year, and returning to the minors the year after that, never playing regularly in the bigs (or at all for the Phils) again. Grant Jackson didn’t exactly become a star, but he was a good reliever for a long time for the Orioles and the Pirates, winning a game for the latter in the 1979 World Series.

Another odd play that sticks out came four years later, when the Phillies had gotten much better and were finally contenders. In the first game of a Memorial Day twinight doubleheader against the Cubs, Mike Schmidt, who’d ascended to superstardom the previous year after a tough 1973 rookie season, hit a triple in the bottom of the first. In the eyes of one of my relatives also at the game, Schmidt – despite his impressive statistics – could do no right, always failing in the clutch, striking out, or making physical or mental errors at big moments. And as if on cue, Schmidt thought about going for an inside-the-park homer, thought better of it, scampered back to third – and got called out. They didn’t score that inning, and lost the game 7-5. I cannot remember another time I witnessed a player getting tagged out after rounding third on a triple and trying to return to the bag.

1973+Topps+Mike+Schmidt

The Phillies continued to get better, despite this mishap, and got into the playoffs in 1976, 1977, and 1978. But they failed to advance to the World Series each time, and despite adding Pete Rose in 1979, they fell out of contention by late summer. I saw what was probably their last hurrah – a 12-inning walk-off victory against their chief rivals (and eventual world champion that year), the Pirates, in the first game of a twinight doubleheader on August 10. Ex-Met Bud Harrelson, whose acquisition my friends and I had soundly derided, knocked in the winning run with a single with two outs in the bottom of the 12th. The Phillies lost the second game, however, and it wouldn’t be until 1980 that they finally cleared the hurdle to the World Series and, against the Royals, won a world championship.

When I think of the earlier years when the Phillies were struggling to first rise to respectability and then to keep from choking themselves in the post-season, one symbol stands out in greater relief than any other. For opening day, the Phillies would hire this guy named “Kiteman” to sort of ski, sans snow, down a ramp in the stands, lift off into the air as if he was an Olympian ski jumper, and make a parachute landing on the field, hopefully on the pitcher’s mound. The thing was, like the Cone of Silence in Get Smart, it never worked, though they tried it more than once. In fact, on Kiteman’s first attempt (actually the first Kiteman’s attempt, since various Kitemen assumed that role over the years), he kind of skidded off the ramp and crashed in the stands, though fortunately he wasn’t seriously hurt. It wasn’t until 1990, in fact, that a Kiteman made it to the pitcher’s mound.

media-catalog-product-b-r-bringbackkitemantshirtphilly

Nor was having “the Great Wallenda,” tightrope walker Karl Wallenda, walk on a rope suspended high above the field from foul pole to foul pole exactly common between-games (back in the days when there were scheduled doubleheaders) fare. Quite fortunately for all involved, he made those journeys without accident, even standing on his head in the middle of the rope on one televised walk. When Wallenda did fall to his death, it wasn’t at the Vet, but far away, on a walk between two towers in Puerto Rico.

Some Rock History Fanzines You Might Have Missed

Most of the people I know think I have a lot of fanzines, especially when they help me move and ask if all the boxes are going to be this heavy. (Even the movers I hire ask that!) Relative to how many fanzines have been produced, however, I have a pretty meager trickle, even if they do fill up three or so drawers and two or three more boxes. And of the ones I have, I’m usually missing, assuming the zines put out more than one or two issues, a “complete run.” The only long-running one of which I have a complete run, in fact, is Ugly Things, still going strong after having passed its 30th anniversary last year, and just having put out its 37th issue.

The latest issue (#37, spring/summer 2014) of Ugly Things.

The latest issue (#37, spring/summer 2014) of Ugly Things.

To those not immersed in fanzine culture, that might not sound like a schedule worth boasting about. How can a magazine that puts out about one issue a year (it’s actually been on a dependably regular two-a-year schedule for several years now) be considered a raging success story, you’re asking?

Believe me, it is – in fact, Ugly Things has outlasted virtually all of its competition in the longevity sweepstakes, though I’m sure there are one or two UK early rock’n’roll specialty publications I’m unaware of that might have been around longer. That’s one of the distinguishing trademarks of zines – they usually don’t publish regularly or last long. Their ridiculously fanatical niches almost guarantee that, and by their very definition, they’re run as sidelines by “fans,” not as money-making enterprises. Those short lifespans and limited press runs do mean that much crucial coverage they contain gets hard to find once they cease publication, especially as they’re not exactly likely to be carried by the local library (though fanzine archives are starting to be built, if still rarely, in some libraries).

This post is not going to attempt to list and describe every rock history fanzine of note – that’s a library’s job, perhaps (and the “job” of someone who’s paid to do that). Instead, I offer some thoughts on some personal favorites that might have passed you by, and could be hard to find even in this day of ebay and Internet auctions, though they don’t have such high monetary value.

Note too that this won’t cite every worthy rock history zine of note, including my two favorites (both of which are currently published), Ugly Things and the twice-a-year, five-issues-strong Flashback (in part because I’m a contributor to both of them, each of which is professional enough that they’re verging on becoming “real” magazines). Other omissions include some of the most respected and popular ones from earlier decades of rock history fanzinedom, like Bomp, Kicks, Forced Exposure, and Ptolemaic Terrascope. That doesn’t mean there isn’t worthy material in those. I wanted to concentrate on some of the more obscure ones that are getting in danger of being entirely overlooked.

If you do like the energetic ‘60s rock in which Ugly Things specializes, the focus of Here ‘Tis was rather similar, if a little more focused on US rock (though not exclusively, issue #8 featuring a cover story on Mott the Hoople). Like Ugly Things and in fact many zines, in their early days they started as a stapled-together, slim thing with extremely basic fresh-off-the-typewriter design, though that changed quite a bit as they got farther down the road. Its forte, like the best rockzines, was very in-depth features on cult rock musicians, often built around first-hand interviews. Standouts included a mammoth interview with Shadows of Knight/H.P. Lovecraft guitarist Jerry McGeorge (running 20 pages!), a nearly-as-long Q&A with Seeds keyboardist Daryl Hooper, and a 20-pager on the Fallen Angels. I’m actually not a Fallen Angels fan (or much of a Seeds one), but part of the measure of a good fanzine is that it can make a good story out of a band that might not be among your personal favorites.

The final (#9) issue of Here 'Tis.

The final (#9) issue of Here ‘Tis.

By the time of its ninth issue (published in 1999), Here ‘Tis ran 78 pages. But that was as far as they got – and it had never come out too often or regularly, issue #4 (the earliest in my collection) having appeared back in 1988. Aside from that fourth issue, all I have is issues six through nine, which I had to pick up as and when they suddenly appeared – one of them I could only find in London, though it was published in the US. Take heart, however – you can still find issues 8 and 9, for the eminently reasonable price of $8.98, through the Sundazed Music store at http://www.sundazed.com/shop/index.php?cPath=53.

Also at the same page on the Sundazed store is issue #3 of another ‘60s-centered zine, Outasite, run by Greg Prevost (then-Chesterfield Kings singer). The first two issues, barely bigger in size than the palm of your hand, appeared in the early-to-mid-1980s, laid out with a haphazard enthusiasm equal to his passion for ‘60s garage and raw British Invasion sounds. These were crammed with capsule reviews of impossibly rare 45s and interviews with the legendary Barbarians drummer Moulty, the Chocolate Watch Band’s Sean Tolby, and – in a measure of how access to legends was easier in some ways many years ago – Byrds bassist Chris Hillman (who memorably divulged, “People think that we didn’t play on that first album. All you gotta do is hear that first album, and it’s us, because it’s so sloppy”).

If you think Here ‘Tis was published irregularly, it was outdone and then some by Outasite, whose second issue appeared around 1985, and third came out in…1997. And a fourth issue from 2000 (which I haven’t been able to find, unfortunately, and which is not carried by Sundazed) is, as far as I know, the last issue. But in the “interim” between the second and third issues, if that’s the right word, it did expand to conventional 8 ½ X 11 size and a length of more than 100 pages, including interviews with Ray Davies, Nancy Sinatra, Jorma Kaukonen, and Blue Cheer, as well as heroes of Prevost’s who didn’t make it big (like the Nightshadows). He didn’t abandon writing altogether, fortunately – his huge history of the Rolling Stones’ equipment (co-written with Andy Babiuk), Rolling Stones Gear, came out this year.

Outasite3

The zines hailed so far all have a general 1960s focus. Some good ones, however, had a far more specialized regional one. Such as the short-lived Cream Puff War, which lasted just two issues (spread two years apart) in the early 1990s. In that time, however, editors Jud Cost and Alec Palao conducted groundbreaking interviews with major early San Francisco rock acts who had never been interviewed or investigated with such depth, including the Great Society (Grace Slick’s pre-Jefferson Airplane group), the Charlatans, the Chocolate Watch Band, the Vejtables, and the Mojo Men. Issue #1 even came with a flexidisc of the Final Solution (a spinoff band of the Great Society), whose story was naturally told in the issue itself; the one-sided flexi remains their only released recording.

It was a disappointment that such a zealously assembled zine came to a halt so quickly. But in a sense both editors continued their work as liner note writers and researchers for numerous CD reissues assembling the music of early San Francisco cult rockers, often featuring previously unreleased (and indeed previously unknown) tracks. In some cases, this allowed them to clarify, correct, and expand upon the features they’d done on some of these musicians in Cream Puff War. This is not an uncommon outgrowth of zinedom, incidentally, with the editors of Kicks, for instance, going on to run Norton Records, and Bomp’s Greg Shaw transferring his focus to labels putting out both reissues and records by new bands.

The first issue of Cream Puff War.

The first issue of Cream Puff War.

A couple of years ago, by the way, a friend of mine was selling some of his archives at a local record swap. As I was helping him set up his table, someone came by and asked how much an unpriced copy of the first issue of Cream Puff War was selling for. Before I could say anything, my friend said he’d let it go for a dollar. It’s worth at least ten and perhaps more, but hopefully the buyer appreciated his bargain.

Another ‘60s zine with a strong regional focus was Doug Hanners’s Not Fade Away, subtitled “The Texas Music Magazine.” As with Cream Puff War, a few decades down the line, a lot more is known and easily researchable about Texas ‘60s bands, even those that never had a hit or never made much or any impact beyond the state. Back in the early 1980s, however, this was the only place you could find that info, in part because Hanners spoke at length to principals from some of the best Texan bands. Issue #3 (I’m not sure there were any issues after that) had a big interview with “Mouse,” aka Ronnie Weiss, of Mouse of the Traps (of “A Public Execution” fame). There was another with Carl Becker, who ran the J-Beck and Cee-Bee labels, generators of some of the best garage/psych of the era, especially on recordings by teen wizards Zakary Thaks. So impressed was Eva Records with Not Fade Away’s interview with the leader of Kenny & the Kasuals that they printed the entire thing on the back of one of their compilations of the group – which, these days, might be easier to find than the actual issue in which it appeared.

NOT FADE AWAY 4 _1.tif

Single-artist-centered fanzines tend to be overly gushing in praise of their subject, as, again, you might expect if someone’s enough of a fan to start one. Some, however, have done a great deal to document an artist surely in need of exposure and hard information. The best of these was What Goes On, dedicated to the Velvet Underground. When its first issue came out in 1978, the VU cult, though rabid and quite large, wasn’t anything near as big as it is today. In parallel with the VU’s following, however, What Goes On quickly grew from an eight-page-stapled-together job to a pretty good-looking 56-page one by issue #3 (published in 1982). By that time it had inside tracks to some pretty inside interviews, including chats with Andy Warhol, Nico, and early VU associate Tony Conrad.

Issue #3 of What Goes On.

Issue #3 of What Goes On.

In common with some other zines here, however, What Goes On ran out of some steam despite high quality and (for a zine) a wide base of support. Only two more issues came out, and those not until 1990 and 1996 (a 1986 compilation issue of sorts did add a useful discography/filmography). Frustratingly, a lengthy interview they did with Sterling Morrison – one of the first he ever gave post-VU — was never published. I know, because I volunteered to transcribe much of it. More VU coverage was offered by the perhaps-too-plainly-titled-for-easy-indexing The Velvet Underground zine, whose five issues (from 1993-1996) were highlighted by a long Doug Yule interview in #3.

vufanz03

Though it never outgrew a basic 14-page format, one fanzine-verging-on-newsletter I liked, in part because its subject was never exactly fashionable among the underground, was Jackie, published by the Jackie DeShannon Appreciation Society. It might not have had much in the way of hard inside information and interviews, but it at least did a lot to document the many songs she wrote that were covered by other artists. And it came out pretty frequently for a while – I have issues 6 through 20 (though I missed #16 somehow), all of which gushed forth between 2001 and 2007. Like some other single-artist zines (such as What Goes On), it also offered rarity compilations that, while not the kind of things you could find in any store, did a lot to fill in discographical gaps that were almost impossible for the average collector to find, due to both their rarity and expense.

jdsaslogo

An outstanding one-shot production along these lines was Fairportfolio, which unlike virtually every other fanzine was written and compiled by an insider, not an outsider. Author Kingsley Abbott was a close friend of the band in their early days, and the 64-page production features not just his personal memories of how they formed, recorded, and performed in 1967-69, but also some memorabilia that only he had access to, like handwritten set lists (including some songs Fairport never recorded). I was pretty fortunate to find this shortly after it was published in 1997 (I’m pretty sure I only saw it once), and it must be nigh-on-impossible to locate today. Don’t despair, however; a lengthy article with similar text, quality illustrations, and additional material that basically adopts the essence of Fairportfolio was published just a few months ago in Flashback #5.

Fairportfolio

Even some mediocre one-artist zines have their uses. Yardbirds World, a 110-pager from 1989 (actually a compilation of a few issues of the original Yardbirds World fanzine), was no more elaborately designed than a typewritten college paper, and even then contained more than its share of typos and misspellings. Much of its research into studio and radio sessions has been superseded by more definitive efforts. Yet in the midst of this is a 14-page interview with Jane Relf – sister of Yardbirds lead singer Keith Relf, and singer (alongside Relf and Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty) in the original lineup of Renaissance. If ever there was another printed interview with Jane Relf, let alone one of this length, I’m not aware of it.

YardbirdsWorld

Looking at the price tag, I see it sold for an outrageous $21.95. (Puzzlingly, there are two price tags – one from a now-defunct retail chain and one from a distributor.) I’ve gotta think I got this out of a box of severely discounted stale stock, or at the very least with store credit; I might be a big Yardbirds fan, but I’m not sure I would have paid that much for this. As a bonus, my copy was signed by Jim McCarty – though I’m guessing all copies were signed by Jim McCarty.

Then there are those zines that seem to get off to a promising start and promptly vanish. I liked Breakthrough, a pretty densely packaged 52-pager from 1984 with contributions by some of the top names in early rock history fandom. Most impressive was a long interview with Richard Tepp (of cult ‘60s garage rockers Richard & the Young Lions) and a detailed article on the Myddle Class, New Jersey pop-garagers who headlined the first official Velvet Underground gig in late 1965. All for the (even in 1984 money) eminently reasonable price of $2.00. And then…nothing.

Breakthrough

There are also those zines in which you’ll find something of great value you’d never expect them to contain. Pawing through a box of very low-priced “get-rid-of-these-by-any-means-possible” odds and ends at Sub Pop’s Seattle retail store in 1997, I stumbled across an issue of Feminist Baseball with a huge interview with…Randy Holden, guitarist in a succession of ‘60s surf/garage/psych/early metal bands, from the Sons of Adam and the Other Half to Blue Cheer and Population II. I’d been a fan since finding the Other Half album in 1983, but hadn’t been able to find out anything about Holden. As far as I know, this was the first extensive interview ever done with him. (I believe I did the second just a bit after finding this zine, for my book Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators & Eccentric Visionaries of ‘60s Rock. It’s very hard to be first, as I’ve found out on repeated occasions.)

I’m all for feminism and baseball, but would you expect to find this in a zine titled Feminist Baseball? But there it was, in issue #14, spring/summer 1995, for a buck or two. I don’t remember seeing it before I stumbled upon it, and I don’t remember seeing it since.

Holden

Do I read anything besides ‘60s rock zines, you might be wondering at this point? Well, that’s most of what I collect as far as rock zines go, but there are some others I read, and one for which I even have a complete run. Let’s close with a hand for Chin Music, which put out seven issues between 1997 and 2004. Its focus was the unlikely crossover between baseball and alternative rock music, two institutions that most people would think had as little in common as…well, feminism and baseball.

But Chin Music did its best to bridge that gap, asking alternative rock icons like Guided By Voices and Maximum Rock’n’Roll editor Tim Yohannon about baseball, and actual major league baseball figures like San Francisco Giants pitcher Sean Estes about rock music. Even if no interviews were involved, major league baseball was written about with an irreverent punk rock attitude you’re simply not going to find in your daily paper or ESPN. Nor will you find any sports magazines with this kind of cover image, which – as almost all Chin Music readers would immediately know, but relatively few general sports fans (or general magazine editors) would suspect – satirized the cover of Roxy Music’s 1974 LP, Country Life:

Back issues of Chin Music are still available through chinmusic.net.

Back issues of Chin Music are still available through chinmusic.net.

Glen Park — A Canyon in the City

From the picture below, would you have any idea that this is in the heart of a major metropolitan area of the United States?

Path

Well, you get a little hint that it’s in a city from this different angle:

PathwithHill

That house in the upper right-hand corner is a clue that it’s not in the country (as is the utility pole on the path). It’s Glen Canyon Park (more commonly called simply Glen Park by locals), right in the middle of San Francisco, if there is any “middle” to this irregularly shaped city. Despite its considerable size and fairly easy accessibility, it remains nearly unknown to many people who’ve lived here for years. A friend I met here yesterday (to see the San Francisco Mime Troupe) had never been here before, despite living here for more than twenty years, and currently residing only a mile or so away. I came an hour early to walk along the park’s back trails, not having done so, to my embarrassment, for about 25 years, though I’d often played baseball here in the dozen or so years after that one hike.

The most many residents see of Glen Park is a fractured view such as this one, taken from the long and winding road (O’Shaughnessy Boulevard) that descends alongside it from Portola Drive:

Pit

You’ve gotta dig pretty deep to get into the hilly, trail-covered open space in the pit of that photograph. Even then, it’s not so obvious to visitors who just visit the baseball/soccer fields and playgrounds that take up the most visited space near the bottom, as you need to go in back of the bathrooms and park buildings to get into the canyon proper.

Once there, it’s just a few minutes of walking before you’re into some hilly open space so quiet it’s hard to believe there’s plenty of traffic buzzing up and down the canyon just a few hundred yards away:

RockFormation4

Fence

As those photos indicate, there are plenty of rock formations in the park:

RockFormation2

RockFormation1

RockClimbers

Though you can cover most of the trails in an hour max, and none of the hills are terribly steep, it’s not advised for those with knee or mobility problems, since there are more or less constant inclines. Though there are plenty of steps to help you over the hillier parts:

Stairs2

And at times the trails do take you past sections at which you’re suddenly confronted with urban structures, such as this house that nearly spills onto a path:

House

So it’s not quite “country in the city,” but check it out if you’ve lived here and wonder what’s down that big canyon that you can’t really see as you drive back and forth from the Mission to Golden Gate Park.

Canopy

Click here for basic information about Glen Canyon Park.

Ugly Covers from the Golden Age of Vinyl Reissues

One of the more commonly cited reasons to hold onto vinyl — and for institutions to archive same — is to preserve the artwork, which often didn’t make the transition to CDs (where in any case it would have been shrunk to a fraction of its original 12 X 12-inch size). We all have countless examples of cover illustrations we love. There were, however, quite a few hideous-looking sleeves too.

Some of the tackiest seemed reserved for vinyl reissue compilations, at a time when reissues were generally packaged with less care and passion than they are now. Not that there isn’t some loathsome artwork on CD reissues, but generally they show more understanding of the musical catalogs they’re exploiting. This post will take a look back at some of the more amusing testaments to vinyl ugliness.

Everybody has their personal favorite, if that’s the right word, in this category. It would take quite some doing, however, to beat this rather obscure 1976 German double-LP Velvet Underground compilation for both frighteningly awful design and a total failure to represent the music of the artist:

VU

It’s like a bad satire of Roger Dean, the guy who designed all those fantasy-laden Yes covers. Is that a lobster expelling a spaceship? If this is meant to represent the “Underground” in Velvet Underground, isn’t it a little more like a science fiction cartoon than the street life Lou Reed took such relish in documenting?

Of course, some VU fans might vote for this far better known 1974 double LP, though at least that contained great music that hadn’t previously seen the light of day:

VU69

Whether it was haste, cheapness, or both, a good number of British Invasion reissues suffered from literal representations of band names. Let’s start at the beginning of the alphabet, with the Animals:

Best Of LP Abkco

The liner notes and track sequencing were no great shakes either. But if you were looking for a “starter” Animals comp in the late 1970s, as I was in high school, it was the only game in town — despite the absence of numerous essential tracks, some of which had even been big hits, like “Inside Looking Out.”

The Animals compilation was issued by Allen Klein’s company, ABKCO, which outdid even this low standard with its most infamous, yet probably most commercially successful, release:

Metamor

As I wrote in a previous post, it’s almost as if they were trying to scare listeners away. If so, they weren’t wholly successful, the album making #8 in the US charts despite being a critically panned collection of motley outtakes. I suppose that means it wasn’t technically a “reissue,” but it’s close enough, especially considering most of it was about five to ten years old when it came out in 1975.

True, the bugs that share center stage with the Stones on the cover could be explained as a literal representation of the title, since Franz Kafka’s classic short story Metamorphosis documents a man’s transformation into a huge, monstrous insect. Some might even suspect this was Allen Klein’s way at getting back at his former clients, arranging to package outtakes they didn’t want released in the most unappealing manner possible. For a guy with such an avaricious reputation, however, wouldn’t that have been rather uncharacteristic self-sabotage?

And here’s another “let’s represent the title literally” on the back cover of this far more obscure release by the Stones’ biggest rivals, the Beatles, this time without a trace of irony:

beatlestasteofhoneyobin

The idea being, on this Russian compilation, to put the title — “A Taste of Honey,” a cover tune from their debut LP that was one of the Beatles’ least celebrated tracks — into a picture as well as words. I would never have come across this particular unlovely relic had not someone given it to me about 25 years ago. An utterly random collection of 1962-64 tracks, its absurdity was capped by a front cover design featuring images from the giveaway photos in The White Album, which of course didn’t come out until 1968.

The+Beatles+-+A+Taste+Of+Honey+-+LP+RECORD-318529

The Yardbirds suffered most from LP designers taking their name literally. Epic Records issued no less than three Yardbirds albums depicting actual Yardbirds:

Yardbirdsfavorites

 

Ybirdsfeaturing

 

220px-LiveYardbirdsfeatJimmyPage

One of these, Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page, is not exactly in common circulation. A none-too-great recording of the band at New York’s Anderson Theatre on March 30, 1968 (complete with dubbed-on bullfighting crowd noise), it was quickly withdrawn after its September 1971 release when Page threatened legal action. It’s been heavily bootlegged since then, however, ironically sometimes with the same uninspired artwork as graced the original.

Epic Records also foisted this compilation of another great British Invasion band on the public:

zombies

What better way to advertise a band specializing in superb, moodily melodic minor-keyed rock than a drawing of actual zombies, the kind you’d see on a B-movie poster? The track selection on this double-LP compilation was none too stellar either, combining their 1968 album Odessey and Oracle with a slapdash LP side of mid-‘60s tracks (making sure to include the hits “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”) and an LP side of leftovers/outtakes. But again, like the Animals best-of, it was the only game in town if you wanted relatively obtainable Zombies in bulk in the late ‘70s. We would not have counted on a multi-disc Zombies box set back then, along with other comps mopping up every released recording and many BBC recordings and outtakes, as eventually came to pass in the CD era.

Until then, you had to scrounge for some of the non-hit singles and B-sides on scrappy anthologies like these, which wouldn’t have won any prizes for imagination either:

The+Zombies+-+Early+Days+-+Sealed+-+LP+RECORD-436112

The front cover illustration bears only casual likeness to the actual guys in the Zombies. Which wouldn’t have bothered the listener who’d never seen them, except the label made sure to stick an actual photo of the band on the back.

The literal representation thing got a little out of hand with these wildly different sleeves on the same record. Here’s the first version:

Byrds

Again, technically speaking, Preflyte wasn’t a reissue, but a collection of archive recordings. And a very good one, of early demos that were about five years old when they came out in 1969. The idea on the original was to put the Byrds in a nest — pretty corny, but at least they used photos of the five guys from the group’s early days. Then the same tracks came out again, with the same title, but a much different sleeve:

220px-TheByrdsPreflyteAlternate

The idea here was to portray the Byrds as astronauts, the ultimate manifestation of the “flight” they were ready to take once they left the nest. And true, some of their songs did branch into space travel — “Mr. Spaceman,” “Fifth Dimension,” “Eight Miles High,” “2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song),” “C.T.A. 102,” and “Space Odyssey” being only the most obvious — though most of those weren’t recorded until two or three years after the demos on Preflyte.  And Preflyte does include “The Airport Song,” one of their lovelier earliest efforts. But while the cover illustrations very closely resembled their real-life images, the ultimate effect was to make them look rather like extras in The Jetsons. (When this post went up, a reader informed me this illustration was the work of a young Barry Smith, who had recently finished a stretch working on Marvel’s Conan comic book.)

Literalism took another turn on this double LP of early David Bowie tracks, issued in 1973 right after he finally started to crack the US market. Taking advantage of the early Bowie’s propensity for  descriptive song titles with very specific nouns and characters, a la “Karma Man,” “Rubber Band,” “Please Mr. Gravedigger,” and “Silly Boy Blue,” each of the 21 tracks were illustrated with garish cartoons:

David+Bowie+-+Images+1966-1967+-+DOUBLE+LP-310958

 

bowie_imagesB

It was too loud and crass for some Bowie fans, but I have to admit I kind of like it. And marketing-wise, it might have been both more effective than a vintage photo of Bowie in 1966 and 1967 (which would have looked totally unlike his 1973 image) and less misleading than an early-‘70s photo of the man (which might have left the mistaken impression that it was a collection of recent recordings). And while it’s been superseded by a much, much more comprehensive collection of his pre-Space Oddity recordings for Deram (now on an expanded two-CD edition of his 1967 David Bowie LP), back in the ‘70s it was the lengthiest survey of that era available, including his best recording of the time, the late-1966 non-LP B-side “The London Boys.”

Then we had some compilations that not only weren’t much to look at, but seemed to have no relation to either the band or the contents. The first album discussed in this post, the German The Velvet Underground Featuring Lou Reed, falls into this category. So does this less blatantly surreal cover for a much more well known (though not exactly famous) LP, The Great Lost Kinks Album:

kinks

As to what all those dice-head figures and semi-traffic signals are meant to represent, you really got me (haw haw). Again, one almost suspects the Reprise label was deliberately not trying to sell records, although this mixture of rarities and outtakes is actually quite good. The sense of self-sabotage was amplified by John Mendelsohn’s infamous liner notes, which trashed the Kinks’ then-recent (at the time of this January 1973 release) output — which just happened to have been released not on Reprise, but the label the band jumped to, RCA. At least there’s a picture of Ray Davies on the back cover, but the head Kink was not amused, pressuring the label to withdraw it from circulation by the mid-‘70s.

There are too many rather unappetizing, yet rather boring, reissue designs to mention in a relatively brief survey like this, a la the one for Jefferson Airplane’s generally worthy 1974 outtake/rarity compilation Early Flight:

Jefferson_Airplane_-_Early_Flight_Cover

Even an actual drawing of an airplane would have been better than this. Jefferson Airplane as a pterodactyl?

We also had this reissue — although the reissue itself had first appeared just four years earlier! — of one of the most famous reissues of all time, the garage rock compilation Nuggets, first released on Elektra in 1972 in this sleeve:

Nuggets,_Volume_1

Not the greatest sleeve in the world, actually, but at least more in line with its contents than the 1976 edition:

Nuggets_-_Sire_Album_Cover

Ugh. Had it not been for the small-type “Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era: 1965-1968” subtitle at the top, I might have mistaken this for a Triumph album when I first came across it in a cutout bin as a 17-year-old in late 1979.

Detouring from the downright ugly to the merely silly, I always found the Chess Blues Masters series of double albums peculiar:

LIttleWalter

 

Chess Blues Masters Series

Maybe the idea was to picture these icons in blues heaven, though Little Walter looked more like he’d been shipwrecked in Hawaii. Howlin’ Wolf as a pilot (or something) in the desert was also a most incongruous setting for a master who’d thrived on Chicago’s South Side.

Now we come to the winner — or loser, depending on how you see it — in the ugly reissue LP cover sweepstakes. For me, it’s gotta be this turkey:

Gollwogs

This does have both sides of all the singles the Golliwogs recorded for Fantasy between 1964 and 1967, before they changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival. The idea was obviously to show them as an embryo before they’d hatched, but the image didn’t so much lay a golden egg as a rotten egg.

But like a number of the records detailed in this post, it’s pretty hard to find today. All of the tracks did come out on CD, but only as part of a 2001 Creedence box (which, to be fair, did add eight previously unissued outtakes). If you want them on vinyl, it’s still a sought-after rarity — albeit one that might be missed in the used bins even by some CCR fans, considering Fantasy didn’t even bother to put a photo of the musicians on the cover.

Candlestick Memories

As you might have heard even if you don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Candlestick Park is going to be demolished soon. Paul McCartney pretty much gave it a send-off on August 14, playing a concert that was as much closure for him (since the Beatles’ last official show was at Candlestick on August 29, 1966) as the city and its residents. I have to admit I hadn’t been to Candlestick for about fifteen years; the Giants moved away at the end of the 1990s, and though the 49ers stayed, I’m not a football fan. The imminent departure made me think about some of the most memorable moments in baseball games I saw in person there, all between the late 1980s and late 1990s.

I’m a firm believer that the most interesting things you see at the park are not what are usually blown up as such in the media. All-stars and Hall of Famers setting records, getting retired in sentimental pregame ceremonies, getting standing ovations, winning their twentieth game, or hitting their fortieth homer are actually not the most dramatic occurrences within the games themselves. Those often belong to uncelebrated players in mid-season contests that, in the scheme of who makes the playoffs, are meaningless. I’m celebrating some of those in this post.

The most exciting game I ever saw came in the midst of a hugely disappointing season for the Giants — 1996,  in which they finished in last place (though they somehow won all five of the games I saw at Candlestick that year). On June 18, they were beating the Florida (as they were then called) Marlins 8-1 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Marlins tied it with a huge rally, sending the game into extra innings — the Giants working without Barry Bonds, then in his prime, as he’d been taken out in the eighth inning, the game seemingly in the bag. After a half-dozen scoreless see-saw frames, the Giants won with two outs in the bottom of the fifteenth — on an intentional walk by Pat Rapp.

Pat Rapp

How can that happen, you say? Well, it wasn’t exactly on an intentional walk, but in the middle of an intentional walk to slugger Matt Williams. There was a runner on third, and, unbelievably, Rapp threw a wild pitch while giving Williams a free pass. Marvin Benard scampered home, and the Giants were winners, 9-8.

Benard

How many others times has that happened in major league baseball history? Any? It’s not even the kind of thing you can look up, as it’s simply marked as a wild pitch in the box score, without any note that it was in the midst of an intentional walk. Trying to research this, I couldn’t come up with any other examples, though I did find a somewhat similar incident in a college game between Auburn and the University of Mississippi in April 2014, where an extra-inning game ended when a hitter smacked what was meant to be a pitch from an intentional walk for a walk-off homer. It’s proof of the old adage that no matter how many baseball games you watch, you’re bound to come across something you’ve never seen before.

The play at home was close enough, by the way, that had it happened today, the Marlins certainly would have used a replay challenge. I’m not as down on expanded replays as some fans are, but waiting around for a few minutes for the umpires to get the verdict sure would have made the game more anti-climactic than that instant “safe!” call. As it was, I had the suspicion the home plate umpire (it was a day game) was getting hungry and tired, and wanted any excuse to get the thing over with. I would have had a closer view (these being the 15,000-strong-crowd Candlestick days when ushers actually didn’t mind if you sneaked into empty front rows at long games like these), except the guy I was with hadn’t dressed properly for the Candlestick chill, and insisted that we had to stay in seats that were catching some sunlight.

Such wet blankets were a factor in another memorable game I saw — the first one I ever saw at Candlestick, actually. On the night of September 19, 1989, the Giants beat the Dodgers 3-2 on their way to the National League pennant, beating one of the top pitchers of the era, Orel Herschiser. All three runs scored on a three-run double by one of their least heralded bench scrubs, Mike Laga.

Mike Laga

Laga, who only had twenty at-bats for the Giants that year, was one of those classic AAAA (four-A, quad-A) hitters. With 16 homers in 449 major league ABs, he had some power, but not much else, batting .199, striking out 115 times, and taking only 22 walks. He cranked out 220 homers in the minors, but by 1991 he was playing in Japan, hitting 32 homers (but batting just .236) before getting cut loose after just a dozen games there the following year. But for that one night, he was the big hero. Not that it impressed the out-of-town friend I went with, who spent much of the game (as did many visitors, or even San Francisco residents) complaining about how cold it was.

In 1990, I went to about a dozen games, having a job where I worked at home and could often take off for things like this during weekdays. On July 31, the match against the Astros ended on a walk-off pinch-hit single by…Don Robinson, a pitcher. That’s gotta be a rarity, too — a game ending on a pinch-hit by a pitcher. But Robinson was known as one of the very best-hitting pitchers of his time, hitting .231 lifetime with 13 home runs.

Don Robinson

Robinson’s nickname was “Caveman,” and the friend with whom I attended the game had brought — no joke — a caveman bat into the park the day, on the chance that Robinson just might be pinch-hitting. When Don came to the plate, he waved the stick with gusto. And gleefully took the credit for the win, which was dampened a bit when enthusiastic spectators leaped onto the field to scoop up the ball Robinson had hit, only to be escorted off by police.

One of the weirdest plays, and weirdest games, I saw was on June 13, 1996, again against the Astros. On a third strike to Steve Scarsone, catcher Rick Wilkins failed to catch it on the fly, but had an easy play to throw out the runner at first base. He threw it way down the right-field line, allowing Marvin Benard (there he is again) to score all the way from second, and Scarsone to go all the way to second. It was the most Little League-like play I’d ever seen at a big-league game. That helped stake the Giants to a 9-0 lead, which they almost blew before recovering to win 12-8. More astonishingly, the Giants actually acquired Wilkins later that year, apparently unbothered by his shaky defensive skills.

Rick Wilkins

Far better defensive play at the plate was showcased back in 1990 by Steve Decker. I can’t pin down an exact date for this one (even now, when detailed box scores and even play-by-plays for MLB games are on the Internet), though it may have been September 24 against the Padres. As a runner tried to score from third on a flyball, Decker nonchalantly stared ahead as if the ball was nowhere near him — and then grabbed the throw from the outfield and slapped the tag on the runner for an out.

Steve Decker

As a September call-up, Decker had a good month, also hitting .296 with three home runs. Great things were expected of him, but he became one of the biggest Giants busts, hitting just .206 in an extended shot at the regular catching job the following year, and never managing to become a regular in the bigs despite playing parts of seven years for four teams. For that one night, though, he looked like an all-star.

Candlestick was not a good place to see a game, usually. It was often windy and cold, public transportation to the stadium was sparse, and the surrounding neighborhoods were dilapidated (and still are to no small degree). Many locals and out-of-towners greeted the news of its demolition with “it’s about time” or some equivalent. But don’t let anyone tell you that you couldn’t have a good time there if you were a baseball fan (and brought several layers of clothing). Not to mention how you could get a fairly good bleacher seat for $2.50-4.00, almost always get into the park on game day (even if it was sometimes so cavernously empty that you could hear what the players were saying during batting practice), and usually sneak down to better seats on the third-base line without the ushers minding. It might be less windy at the Giants’ current home, AT&T park. But you can’t do any of that there, and probably never will.

Candlestick Park as it looked on August 14, 2014, right after the finale of the Paul McCartney concert, the last major event to take place in the stadium.

Candlestick Park as it looked on August 14, 2014, right after the finale of the Paul McCartney concert, the last major event to take place in the stadium.

Liner Notes in the Golden Age of Vinyl

Sound file storage technology seems to be changing, upgrading, and taking up less space by the hour. So it might seem questionable whether we — as individuals or as a society — should be archiving vinyl record sleeves. They take up so much more room than those sound files, and the whole concept of such things taking up “space” might be forever altered if they can be stored in the “cloud” or some such thing anyway. Why hold onto what are, after all, just glorified pieces of cardboard?

Even leaving aside the issues of artwork that would be lost and whether it’s possible to create files that sound as good as the original vinyl, there’s another vital component to many LP releases that’s of great historical importance, and often entirely overlooked in these discussions. Many of them came with liner notes that contained crucial writing and information that’s often never been reprinted. Even some notes that didn’t benefit from the much deeper research available in later decades contain perspectives and criticism of great value.  At the very least these should be digitized, and archives be careful not to eliminate duplicates if vinyl editions contain entirely different annotation.

The surprise winner in my choice for vinyl release that contains the most valuable historical liner notes unlikely ever to be reprinted.

The surprise winner in my choice for the vinyl release that contains the most valuable historical liner notes unlikely ever to be reprinted.

It would be impossible to list, let alone review, all the vinyl reissues from the pre-CD era that had fine liner notes. Here’s a selection of some of my favorites, however. In a good number of instances, I don’t think they were ever reprinted in CD editions (though I admit I’m not going to buy the records all over again in a different format to find out). Some are thorough artist histories; some are artist appreciations; and some are, for lack of a better description, something else.

The Yardbirds, More Golden Eggs. Bootlegs usually don’t come with good notes; often they don’t come with any notes of substance. Even back in the 1970s, however, there were exceptions. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and declare this bootleg compilation of then-rare Yardbirds tracks (most have come out on official CDs) to have the most historically important liner notes that have never been reprinted anywhere, to my knowledge — and aren’t likely to, considering the unauthorized nature of this LP.

For the album came out with an extensive interview with Yardbirds lead singer Keith Relf — the longest interview he ever gave about the Yardbirds, as far as I know. Running seven pages, and covering various aspects of the band’s career, not just the songs on the LP, it was exhaustive enough for Relf to declare at the end: “You guys have given me the roughest night of my life.”

The back cover of More Golden Eggs had the first part of the interview with Yardbirds singer Keith Relf featured in the liner notes, continued on an insert inside the sleeve.

The back cover of More Golden Eggs had the first part of the interview with Yardbirds singer Keith Relf featured in the liner notes, continued on an insert inside the sleeve.

It is not exactly common practice for band members to give extensive interviews for bootlegs, and the full story was told about twenty years later in Clinton Heylin’s book Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry. As cover designer William Stout (who did the artwork for numerous early rock bootlegs) told Heylin, “I was really proud of the Yardbirds’ More Golden Eggs because that was the first semi-legitimate bootleg. Keith Relf of the Yardbirds was living nearby. He was just forming Armageddon, and he needed rent money. So we paid his rent that month and in return we were able to interview him and play him the bootleg record and he commented on each of the songs as they were being played…We printed the interview on the cover and as a four- or five-page insert as well, and got his signature on the cover too.”

Within a couple days of arrival at college as a 17-year-old in 1979, I happened upon a used copy of More Golden Eggs at a campus record store, in excellent condition, for the unbelievable price of $2.50. There was a catch, though — it was missing most of the interview. The first page was printed on the back cover, but the insert with the rest of it was gone. I wasn’t able to obtain a copy of the insert until almost thirty years later.

The Move, The Best of the Move. When this double LP appeared in 1974, it was early days for archival reissues of groups that never had a hit in the US, to say the least. Yet it was packaged with uncommon sense and quality, pairing the Move’s 1968 debut album with a dozen A-sides and B-sides from 1967-70. Best of all, the inner gatefold featured extensive, well-written liners by drummer Bev Bevan that commented on every song, penned in July 1973. How many other occasions were there when a member of a major ‘60s band wrote in-depth historical liner notes about his own group just a few years after the material was actually recorded? Any?

Move - Best Of The Move FRONT

Much more recently, Bevan contributed some of the notes to another archival Move release, 2012’s Live at the Fillmore 1969. A few years ago, I heard he was shopping a proposal to write a book about the Move, but there’s no deal for that yet, as far as I know. It would be a shame if someone as obviously interested in his own band’s under-documented history wouldn’t have a chance to write a memoir before time runs out.

For all its other qualities, however, The Best of the Move did boast a cover that wasn’t exactly on par with its contents. Adorning the front was a drawing of a moving van — one of several instances when early best-of comps for British Invasion bands (like the Zombies, Animals, and Yardbirds) had artwork which illustrated the name of the artist all too literally.

Them, Them Featuring Van Morrison. It’s terribly unhip to declare this, but I’m not the biggest Lester Bangs fan. At his best he was very good, however, especially when he seemed reined in by some nominal space limitations that forced him to focus more than usual. You find this in the chapters he wrote for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. And he never wrote anything better than the notes he penned for this 1972 double-LP Them compilation on the London label, crammed into the inner gatefold with barely a line to spare.

Them+-+Them+Featuring+Van+Morrison+-+DOUBLE+LP-98700

It’s a masterful balance of zealous enthusiasm and sharp, disciplined description, with joking asides that are funny, not excessive. Bangs on “Gloria,” for instance: “It was the first distinct rock’n’roll classic to come from the pen of Van Morrison, and perhaps still the greatest. I mean, ‘Doctor My Eyes’ is fine and all, but it shore ain’t ‘Louie Louie.’” On Them’s cover of James Brown’s “Out of Sight”: “Its instrumental break isn’t going to give Brother JB any sleepless nights (although these days, it should).”

Unusually, Bangs comments on a number of songs that didn’t make the 20-track compilation, including such classics as “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “All For Myself,” and “Don’t Start Crying Now.” You have to dig into Phonograph Record Magazine’s coverage of Them Featuring Van Morrison to find out why, as Richard Cromelin’s review, highly unusually, included quotes about the LP and notes from Bangs himself. Regarding the track selection, he admitted, “I don’t feel real good about it. For one thing, they didn’t include ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and ‘Don’t You Know.’ But it’s not London’s fault. English Decca came up with the idea and the package, so don’t make it sound like I’m knocking London.”

If his quote here is to be trusted, however, his methodology for the liner note writing conformed to the Bangs legend: “They called me and asked how soon I could have the notes for them. I said tomorrow and stayed up all night and banged them out and stuck them in an envelope the next morning.”

The Velvet Underground, 1969 Live. Not all liner notes have to be historical or lengthy to be memorable. Elliott Murphy’s annotation for this double LP of great live Velvet Underground recordings is just ten paragraphs, some of them very short, taking up one column on the right-hand side of the inner gatefold. But this was a time when the Velvet Underground’s cult was just starting to take off, and their place in history just starting to get reassessed. It was unusual enough for a band that had never entered the Top 100 to get a lengthy double album of previously unreleased recordings in 1974, just four years after they’d broken up. (For the full story behind that release, read Mercury A&R guy Paul Nelson’s entertaining summary in Everything Is An Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson.) For an emerging singer-songwriter (as Murphy was) to trumpet the VU’s importance in no uncertain terms was no small declaration.

Velvet-Underground-1969-Live-454208

“It’s one hundred years from today, and everyone who is reading this is dead,” Murphy’s notes began. “You’re dead. And some kid who is taking a music course in junior high, and maybe he’s listening to the Velvet Underground because he’s got to write a report on classical rock’n’roll, and I wonder what that kid is thinking.”

Now the very notion of the Velvet Underground getting studied in 2075 or whatever would have seem absurd, even laughable, to most academics and cultural pundits in 1974. Today, it’s not so laughable. In fact, it’s already happening. As I’ve written a book on the Velvets myself, a 12-year-old actually called last year to ask me questions for a school report she was doing. And that’s no joke.

“Rock’n’roll people tend to live on the edge,” Murphy wrote. “That’s what this album is all about. Rock’n’roll has always been and still is one of the few honest things left in this world. That’s what this album is about … I hope parents will still get scared when they find their daughter listening to this music.”

Murphy was asked to do the notes by Paul Nelson, the famed rock and folk critic who was working in A&R at Mercury. “Paul’s taste was wonderfully eclectic,” Murphy explained to me. “He told me that Mercury had bought the rights to some live Velvet Underground tapes from around the same period as Loaded and invited me to come to the Mercury Studios and listen to them with him. Then he kind of offhandedly asked me if I wanted to write the liner notes for the album, which came as a big surprise. Paul made acetate copies for me to bring home. I’m still not sure why he asked me, but maybe it was because of something I said while listening to the tapes with him, something about that music lasting for 100 years.

“I knew that Lou Reed was from Long Island like me, so I was comparing myself to him and looking to his music for strength and reflecting on how rock’n’roll was both saving my life and destroying my innocence and forcing me to cut with my suburban roots. What pleases me most about my liner notes or the album is that I wrote them when I was still purely a fan; I hadn’t recorded my first album [Aquashow] yet, and knew little of the soul-splitting machinations of the music business. My ears were pure in a manner of speaking, and those notes were coming from an excitement and passion for rock’n’roll that was totally uncorrupted. It’s both a wonderful and dangerous place to be when you’re 22 years old, for you hear the glory calling and you see none of the pitfalls, of which there are many. Regardless, I knew it was the world I was determined to enter, and those notes were my calling card to get in the high gates.”

At least one member of the Velvets appreciated what Elliott had to say about the music. “I don’t even know if the band had ever heard the tapes before Paul,” Murphy told me. “But I know he was in touch with Lou Reed and eventually sent my liner notes to Lou, because a few months later Lou called my mother in New York City to speak to me. I was out and he had a nice chat with her, because when I came back to her apartment she said a nice boy named Lewis Reed had called for me.”

Brief commercial break: Murphy’s original handwritten liner notes for 1969 Live are reproduced in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.

vucover

The Easybeats, Absolute Anthology. In the early 1980s, it was enough of a miracle to find a two-LP, 43-song collection of a band that had just one hit in the US (“Friday on My Mind”), and most of whose records were almost impossible to find, particularly those that had only been issued in Australia. But to truly set it apart from the run-of-the-mill reissue, the inner gatefold had a stitched-in, LP-sized twelve-page booklet (itself a concept something that’s largely vanished in the 21st century) with an authoritative history on Australia’s biggest ‘60s band, complete with quotes from band members. (No, the quotes weren’t first-hand, but where were you going to find those back then?) In fact, it stood as pretty much the best history of the band until the 2010 book Vanda & Young: Inside Australia’s Hit Factory (University of New South Wales Press, Australia), over half of which focuses on the Easybeats, though the title emphasizes their primary songwriters Harry Vanda and George Young.

Absolute+Anthology

Getting back to Absolute Anthology, the liner notes also had a stupendously detailed discography before those things were common in rock reissues. It did come out on CD, and I guess there’s a good chance the liner notes were printed in that too, if in much smaller size. (As it turns out, I learned shortly after posting this that the liner notes on the CD version “are just a very basic overview; a huge disappointment compared to the LP”; see comments section.) That LP-sized stitched-in format remains neat to behold, however, and was also used on a few other reissues whose notes this post will discuss.

Gene Vincent, The Capitol Years ’56-’63. Monstrous box sets have become a fact of life these days, at least for those of us either foolish enough to spend the money on them, or clever enough to get comps. Even as recently as the mid-1980s (as recently as a good thirty years ago, in other words), they weren’t such common fare, at least in my household. They were sometimes accompanied by magisterial liner notes, such as the ones in one of the few boxes I did spring for (with store credit of course), a 10-disc UK box of Gene Vincent’s Capitol output.

Gene+Vincent+-+The+Capitol+Years+'56+-+'63+-+BOX+SET-534836

For not only was there an LP-sized 36-page booklet with the kind of ridiculously detailed sessionography only the British seemed to able to summon the energy to do in those days. Icing the cake, each of the sleeves for the 12-inch discs had detailed notes on the musical contents, none of them duplicating the text found within the main booklet. That format was also used on at least one other box of a major ‘50s rock pioneer (see next entry), and it’s something not often duplicated these days, when box sets of vinyl 12-inches are still pretty rare, even with the vinyl revival of the last few years.

No doubt there were other such boxes that I missed from the late 1970s through the late 1980s, when CDs started to overtake vinyl as the dominant format in record sales. There have been yet more extensive Vincent CD boxes, and for all I know, those have yet more extensive notes. I still value this relatively “modest” vinyl counterpart, however, and more for the notes than anything else. It’s a pity that nothing Vincent recorded after 1956, however – i.e., most of this large box set – comes near the stratospheric rockabilly brilliance of his best early sides, on which Cliff Gallup played lead guitar.

Buddy Holly, The Complete Buddy Holly. It’s hard to believe that until relatively recently, there wasn’t a box set with most or all of Buddy Holly’s recordings. That meant that for many years, this 1979 six-LP package – issued at a time when major labels seldom did such things for rock artists – was coveted, even by people who’d largely stopped buying vinyl in favor of CDs. A terrific bonus was the 64-page LP-sized booklet of liner notes and photos – and, as with the Gene Vincent box detailed above, more music-specific notes on one side of each of the sleeves containing a vinyl disc. Indeed, aside from Jon Goldrosen and John Beecher’s superb biography Remembering Buddy, it’s the best source of information anywhere on Holly. Uncoincidentally, Beecher co-wrote the notes to this box as well.

Holly

Universal’s 2009 six-CD box set Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More filled the digital gap in Holly’s discography, and the notes in the 80-page accompanying book aren’t bad. The graphics are certainly better than those on the notes on this comparatively ancient vinyl box set. But I’m not getting rid of that vinyl box, in large part because of those notes.

Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield (1973 double-LP on Atco). Not to be confused with their self-titled debut LP, the left side of the inner gatefold of this compilation featured a basic band bio by Jean-Charles Costa. In a less frenetic manner than Lester Bangs’s Them notes, it combined some basic factual overview with passion that kept, just, from teetering over the edge into fanzine-type zeal.

Buffalo

There’s been lots more written about the Springfield since then that’s drawn on the much greater wealth of biographical detail that’s subsequently surfaced in books. Some is even on the generally disappointing booklet in the Buffalo Springfield box set, which at least contains a thorough list of concert dates. But it’s still great to browse Costa’s contagiously enthusiastic he-was-there praise, with such how-did-he-fit-so-many-words-into-that sentences as this description of their shows at the Whisky A Go Go:

“With Richie bouncing all over the stage on tip-toes backwards, Bruce with characteristic back to the audience pose cranking out amazing bass lines from an old warped instrument strung with four bottom E guitar strings, Neil spitting out ferocious and economical lead guitar lines, Stephen smoothing everything out with beautiful integrated harmonies and sinuous guitar, and Dewey providing the right dose of Memphis back-up funk on drums, the band meshed right away, sounding as if they’d been playing together for years.”

Or this:

“Neil Young’s ‘Mr. Soul’ stands out as the most chillingly accurate portrait of the rock-‘star’ syndrome ever put on vinyl, with lines like ‘the race of my head and my face is moving much faster’ making the listener do psychic slow takes throughout the song. Shotgun imagery, totally on target that now turns up in other people’s books as ‘found poetry’ and so far beyond a lot of the mundane flatulence that passed for ‘heavy’ lyrics in the mid-sixties that it established him in the eyes of many as the real poet of rock.”

There’s one other reason not to get rid of this anthology, and a good reason you might  even want to seek it out. Though most of the well-selected tracks are easily available elsewhere, one – a nine-minute version of “Bluebird,” the last part of which is a long jam – has never appeared anywhere else.

The Merseybeats, Beat and Ballads. When Britain’sEdsel Records emerged in the early 1980s, few other labels were packaging the kind of relatively obscure ‘60s rock they did at all, let alone packaging it well. Many early Edsel releases came with a detailed four-page insert with thorough small-print artist histories and rare vintage illustrations. You really can’t fairly single one or two out for the highest praise, but I liked their fairly extensive Merseybeat series, whose liner notes (by still-active Liverpool rock historian Spencer Leigh) often drew on first-hand interviews.

The+Merseybeats+-+Beat+And+Ballads+-+LP+RECORD-440907

Anthologies such as this one for the Merseybeats not only made the best of a band’s work widely available in LP form for the first time (certainly in the US), but also served the first true sources of hard information about many second-line British Invasion groups – not just the Merseybeats, but also the Mojos, the Artwoods, and the Creation. In the cases of some of the more mediocre Merseybeat bands like the Escorts and the Big Three, dare I say, the liner notes were much more entertaining than the music.

There have since been more extensive CD compilations for the likes of the Merseybeats and the Mojos, but the liner notes on these thirty-year-old-or-so collections remain the best. I especially like this quote in the Mojos’ Working: “When I asked one Mojo if [the name of manager Spencer] Lloyd-Mason was hyphenated, he replied, ‘Yes, and I wish the hyphen was between his head and the rest of his body.’”

Del Shannon, The Vintage Years. Sire’s extensive series of double-LP anthologies titled The Vintage Years are still fondly remembered by those who were around in the 1970s and early 1980s as among the best, and sometimes the only, way to get the most essential recordings by important hitmakers whose work wasn’t all that accessible. It’s hard to believe there was a time when that was true of the Small Faces, the Pretty Things, and the Troggs, not to mention the Nuggets compilation (originally on Elektra, and reissued by Sire). But all of them were given Vintage Years volumes. Some of the Vintage Years comps were already making it into the $3.99 and $4.99 cutout bins by the time I entered college in late 1979, making them affordable to 17-year-olds like myself. I even remember getting the Troggs and Nuggets anthologies at the small cutout bin at Urban Outfitters!

Shannon

Also in the Vintage Years series were pre-British Invasion hitmakers like Duane Eddy who, although they might have had skimpier best-ofs in print, didn’t have anything with the kind of in-depth historical liner notes Sire’s writers provided. Another such entry in the Vintage Years honored Del Shannon. Maybe the CD era has seen Shannon packages with more extensive annotation, but if so, I’m not aware of any. Bomp editor Greg Shaw crammed in as much microscopic-sized text as both panels of the inner gatefold could allow, save a right-hand column with a useful discography listing all his singles (A-sides and B-sides) and LPs.

I’ve read the genesis of “Runaway” described several ways, but the way these notes tell it remains my favorite: “Nobody remembers what song they were in the midst of when Max Crook, who sometimes sat in with the band on the musitron (an odd sort of modified organ that made a sound like an electric ocarina, never failing to fascinate audiences) hit on an appealing chord sequence in the course of his solo. ‘Hit those chords again!’ commanded the singer, while the band kept up the rhythm and the people in the club looked on, bemusedly. For the next fifteen minutes, singer and musitronist worked on those chords, which were merely A-minor and G, until an entire new song had been constructed around them. Nobody there was quite sure what had happened, least of all the singer.”

The Troggs, The Vintage Years. One more cheer for the Vintage Years series, this time for the Troggs installation, written by the estimable Ken Barnes. Barnes also wrote good notes for the 1992 double-CD Archeology (1966-1978) compilation, which has a lot more tracks (52 to the “mere” 28 on Vintage Years). I still like the Vintage Years notes, however, including a rundown of each of the 28 songs, the one lyric in “The Raver” hailed as “doubtless fraught with mystic significance as regards the human condition.” Also funny are his memories as playing bass for San Jose’s “most sluggishly-rising bar band, the Savage Cabbage,” in which he’d sing “I Can’t Control Myself” in “my gruffest, toughest Reg Presley growl.”

Troggs

The Kinks, The Kink Kronikles. It’s hard to believe, but to quote James Brown, “there was a time” when much of the Kinks catalog wasn’t easily available. This double-LP didn’t quite wave a magic wand to instantly rectify the situation. But it was a smart combination of well-known hits (starting from “Sunny Afternoon” onward) and LP tracks with singles, B-sides, and rarities that were surprisingly hard to find in the US when this came out in 1972 (like “Dead End Street,” “Autumn Almanac,” “Mindless Child of Motherhood,” “Big Black Smoke,” “Mr. Pleasant,” “She’s Got Everything,” and “Days”). Also fine were John Mendelsohn’s notes, which crammed as much text (accompanied only by two small photos) as possible into both sides of the inner gatefold.

Kinks

Mendelsohn’s observations were sharp on both musical description and the origins of the more obscure cuts. Best of all, however, was this amusing paragraph, itself worth a buck or two if you find the album these days, even if the vinyl’s trashed:

“Ray Davies, who at most times seems incapable of injuring the proverbial fly, in April, 1971, blithely reported the following to Rock’s Anne Marie Micklo, ‘I tried to stab Dave [his brother/Kink guitarist] last week. Stab him. With a knife. We were having eggs and chips after a gig and he reached over with his fork and took one of my chips and I…I could have killed him.’”

And again, let’s raise a glass to those days when one-sentence paragraphs like these escaped the editor’s pruning:

“As is the case with ‘Strangers,’ one of his two endlessly intriguing contributions to the Lola album, the literal meaning of Dave’s ‘Mindless Child of Motherhood’ is decidedly elusive – while its individual images are all so intensely personal as to be impenetrable, they add up to an enormously powerful expression of rage whose potency is greatly heightened by the fury and anguish of Dave’s strange strangled voice (which, if you hadn’t noticed, is quickly becoming as expressive an instrument as Ray’s).”

In his notes, Mendelsohn also, with refreshing candor, lamented the absence of rare B-sides like “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” and “Sittin’ On My Sofa.” The first of these (though not, oddly, the second) would soon be included on 1973’s The Great Lost Kinks Album, which combined rarities with unissued material. It is most notorious, however, for notes on a double-sided insert devoting about half their space to savage criticism of the then-current-day Kinks (who’d just left the label that issued this comp, Reprise). Those notes were by…John Mendelsohn.

Sample: “In the recent Everybody’s in Show Biz, there’s hardly a trace of my own favorite Davies, the immensely-social-conscienced champion of the forgotten ordinary people. Instead, it’s a bitchily egocentric Davies who dominates the work, one whose primary interest is making clear to his listener the agony he must endure to stay on the road entertaining us.”

Which is followed by another one-sentence paragraph special:

“To which this kronikler’s own response is: if it makes him so miserable that he can think of little but the insufferable cuisine of the motorway and how he’s compelled to consume maximum portions of same in order to retain sufficient strength to come onstage to perform for us, he certainly and we probably would be better off in the end if he’d retire from touring and get back to sensitizing us – with some of the most beautiful songs anyone’s ever written – to aspects of the world that few other writers even perceive.”

The Great Lost Kinks Album was soon unavailable, and here’s betting its liner notes have never been reprinted with commercial CDs (and never will). But now that its quite rare and fine tracks are not all that hard to find, those notes give you one more reason to snap this up should it show up in the used bin – in which case, alas, it will probably be a lot more expensive than vinyl copies of The Kink Kronikles.

Jan & Dean, Anthology Album. For a time in the early 1970s, United Artists inaugurated a conscientious reissue program that actually gave some early rock artists double LPs with respectful packaging and lengthy stitched-in LP-sized liner notes. There were a few good entries in this series, like the ones for Eddie Cochran (with liner notes by Lenny Kaye) and Ricky Nelson. My favorite entry was the one for Jan & Dean, with liner notes by both Dean Torrence and a young Dave Marsh, then of Creem magazine.

anthology

It’s kind of hard to think of Marsh now as a more or less underground rock writer, but that’s more or less what he was at the time. And giving Jan & Dean major praise for both their music and comic talents, as Marsh does here, was not exactly the safest path to take at a time when pre-Beatles rock such as this was just starting to get taken seriously by a critics, rather than getting dismissed as childish tripe. There are also, oddly, two columns of type about Marsh himself – about the longest writer bio I remember seeing in liner notes, now that I look at it — though I couldn’t say whether that was Marsh’s decision.

Also valuable is a chart, taking up the whole right inner gatefold, of most of Jan & dean’s most notable songs, detailing not just date recorded, studio, equipment, lead vocal, label, and highest chart position, but also number of background vocal overdubs; Jan’s girlfriends at the time of each recording; Dean’s girlfriends at the time of each recording (anyone ever notice that Dean’s late-‘60s squeeze was Patty Findlater, one of the Palisades High School students profiled in the popular 1976 book What Really Happened to the Class of ’65?); Jan and Dean’s respective cars at the time each track was cut; and the number of records each tune sold (the last one, a 1968 cover of the Beach Boys’ “Vegetables,” is simply noted as “not released,” though it made its first appearance on this compilation).

Yet I must admit my favorite feature on Anthology Album is not in the liner notes. It’s talented graphic artist Dean Torrance’s cover, whose five panels present drawings of the pair as they change from crewcut teenagers to mod surfers and – poignantly, in the last one – Dean alone, Jan Berry having been sidelined by a terrible car accident.

The Byrds, Preflyte. Some liner notes aren’t serious contenders for the most scholarly works or the most entertaining, feverishly enthusiastic prose, but have endearing historic value anyway. Like this one for Preflyte, a collection of fine early Byrds demos that was one of the first (the first?) serious archival collections of previously unreleased work by a major rock band. The liner notes are by someone who knew them well, publicist Billy James. He puts things in perspective as follows with honesty unusual for a ‘60s release of outtakes: “If you enjoy works in progress, if you like to watch growing things, you will like this album – but bear in mind they are work tapes only, recordings for rehearsals. Jim Dickson, who with Eddie Tickner was the Byrds’ manager and who produced these recordings and a few other things in his good time, says these are sort of like baby pictures – and it takes a while before you feel comfortable showing them.”

Byrds

As it turns out, the music was not just historically interesting, but quite good on its own merits, perhaps enduring for far more years than even associates like James thought possible. Billy lapses into earnest sentimentality that gives a more personal touch to his recollections than most such annotations when he writes, “‘You Won’t Have to Cry’ really gets to me; damned if I know why. It just seems so poignant; there’s this peculiarly serious aura about the whole thing.”

Preflyte would eventually be expanded to a whopping forty tracks (from its original eleven) on a 2001 two-CD reissue, with a fifty-page booklet of historical liner notes. You still need to find the original vinyl edition (whether on its original Together label or subsequent reissue on Columbia), however, to read Billy’s notes.

Love, Best of Love (1980 compilation on Rhino). Though it soon became the leading reissue label in the world, in its early days, Rhino usually had to squeeze all its liner notes onto the back cover. Such is the case with this early Love compilation – it’s a measure of how “early” it was in the reissue game that most of Love’s catalog was unavailable. Even by liner-notes-printed-on-the-sleeve standards, this one has teeny-tiny type, the kind that makes friends with worse vision than mine ask me to read the menu to them at restaurants.

love-best_of_love(2)

These particular notes are not a serious contender for the Top Ten of liners from the vinyl era. Yet they’re an interesting example of how even such rather unprepossessing packages can contain text that generates its share of interest and controversy. In particular, Elektra engineer/producer Bruce Botnick states that Arthur Lee “was real unusual – on acid 24 hours a day. In fact, everybody in the band was out-of-it.” He also reveals that their 1967 classic Forever Changes “started out as a project that Neil Young and I were originally going to produce,” and that “I was prepared to record the album with Arthur singing and playing on his songs, and Bryan singing and playing on his songs, with backing by studio musicians,” two tracks being recorded that way before a shocked, crying band got it together to play on their own material.

These observations have been amplified upon and given different perspectives by other participants in the subsequent decades. But at the time, they were of great interest to Love fans, to say the least. Little information was available about the group then, and this and less controversial quotes on the sleeve from Botnick and Elektra chief Jac Holzman were part of the start in getting more knowledge about Love into circulation. It took thirty years, but eventually a 300-plus-page book about the band – John Einarson’s Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love – would come out, a circumstance unimaginable when this LP was issued back in 1980.

Lee himself, it should be added, offered some of his own prickly memories of the band in the notes. “We used to work every night,” he remembered. “After we started making money, the more we made, the less we worked, the less we were a unit, and Love deteriorated. People’s personal habits started to come before the music. Initially they would listen to me because I wrote 90% of the songs. After we became successful, they got big heads. Everybody had money, everybody had a house, a car, a flash Cadillac. They didn’t need me. Money spoiled them – it spoiled me too. It was a strange time. I thought I was gonna kick the bucket.”

Ian & Sylvia, Four Strong Winds. Lastly, our sole entry that was not a reissue, but a contemporary LP, issued in 1964. This and several other early Ian & Sylvia albums, however, had liner notes that almost could have been for reissues, such was their scholarly detail. That sort of approach – a lengthy delineation of the origin of each song (even the original compositions), along with detailed biographical notes that read more like a newspaper article than an album sleeve – weren’t that uncommon in early-‘60s folk. But Ian & Sylvia were the king and queen of the format, Four Strong Winds in particular covering almost every inch of available space with type.

Ian&Sylvia

As I wrote in my book Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s, “The lengthy liner notes to numerous early-1960s folk releases now seem stilted and over-serious in their minute details of the multitudinous sources of these ballads, blues, and broadsides from North America and around the world, like entries in an unspoken competition for who could range over more territory than anyone else.” Looking back at such sleeves now, however, you almost feel pangs of nostalgia for the days when liner notes like these wore their influences on their sleeves, unafraid to emote with all the diligence of a master’s thesis. These days, such an approach would either be laughed at as ridiculously earnest, or mistaken for tongue-in-cheek satire. In the CD era, the innocence of such seriousness has been lost.

Coke After Coke: Rock Music Commercials in the Late 1960s

Early this summer, I prepared materials for my upcoming community education course on the Who at the College of Marin. The Who Sell Out are a big part of week two, and that got me thinking about the relationship between major rock artists of the era (the LP came out in late 1967) and commercials. Not only does it seem like more bands than not did a commercial at some point; there are so many such commercials that it seems that very few groups refused an offer. The Who, of course, were at the forefront of this interchange, not only on The Who Sell Out (which featured the band-composed-and-played commercials between many of the tracks), but in “real life” as well.

The cover of The Who Sell Out was as famous as the record itself.

The cover of The Who Sell Out was as famous as the record itself.

The relationship between recording artists and commercials goes back to the very beginning of recording (and radio), of course, with many top blues, country, and rock musicians singing jingles when they appeared on the airwaves. Certainly it goes back to the beginning of rock; Elvis Presley cut a commercial for Southern Maid Donuts on November 6, 1954, a surviving tape of which, remarkably, still has not been found. Here follow the lyrics:

You can get them piping hot after 4pm, you can get them piping hot,

Southern Main Donuts hit the spot, you can get them piping hot after 4pm.

Elvis Presley's jingle for Southern Maid Donuts hasn't been found, but one that Johnny Cash did has, and is included on this compilation.

Elvis Presley’s jingle for Southern Maid Donuts hasn’t been found, but one that Johnny Cash did has, and is included on this compilation.

Never were commercials and rock as artfully combined as they were on The Who Sell Out, programmed to mimic a UK pirate radio broadcast (though they blew it by suddenly discontinuing the commercials a little into side two). There were even unused commercials that have showed up on the two-CD expanded edition and bootlegs. Obviously the jingles for Heinz and Charles Atlas referred to real products, but dummy me didn’t know until recently that the longest “commercial,” for Odorono, was a real deodorant. The name was so ridiculous that I figured it was a satire of a nonexistent cosmetic; turns out the joke’s on me.

There were many, many commercials cut at the time that weren’t satires, however — some even by the Who themselves. There have been enough, indeed, to fill up many CDs assembled by private collectors — eight volumes, in fact, in a series titled Psychedelic Promos & Radio Spots (though these also include commercials for records and commercials not sung or played by credited recording artists). That’s way too many to cover in a blogpost, but here I’ll mention some of the ones I’ve found most interesting.

The Who did a couple commercials for Coke: a relatively (for them) conventional variation on the “Things Go Better with Coke” jingle with Beach Boys-like harmonies, and a far more satisfying grungy one where they chant “coke after coke after coke after coca-cola” with enough force to put you in a diabetic coma. (There were, incidentally, enough ‘60s rock commercials for coke alone to fill up a few CDs worth of jingles.)  They also did one for the forgotten Great Shakes soft drink that used the rhythm of a song from their first LP, “La-La-La Lies.”

A compilation of Great Shakes commercials, highlighted by contributions from the Who and the Yardbirds.

A compilation of Great Shakes commercials, highlighted by contributions from the Who and the Yardbirds.

As a greater stain on their discography, Pete Townshend did a most politically incorrect public service announcement for the US Air Force, at a time when opposition to militarism was heating up as death tolls from the Vietnam War skyrocketed. As “Happy Jack” (!) plays in the background, Pete gushes, “I just want to say that the United States Air Force is a great place to be. A great place to learn a space-age skill and serve your country too…see your United States Air Force recruiter.” Townshend doesn’t mention this in his recent autobiography, though according to Dave Marsh’s 1983 Who bio Before I Get Old, “Today, of course, Townshend is mortified that he ever did such a thing.”

As karmic balance, the Who did an anti-smoking commercial, “Little Billy,” for the American Cancer Society. They were asked to do it by an agency that handled publicity contracts for both that organization and the band, and even considered issuing it as a single, if Townshend’s introduction to the number at an April 6, 1968 concert at New York’s Fillmore East is to be trusted. According to that intro, the society specifically requested it after hearing “Odorono.” Do these places have no sense of irony?

A complete song in the vein of the tunes about odd characters that populated their early repertoire (a la “Happy Jack,” “Whiskey Man,” “Silas Stingy,” and “Mary Ann With the Shaky Hand”), “Little Billy” never was used as a commercial. But it found a place on their 1974 outtakes collection Odds and Sods about a half dozen years later, and some fans got to hear it in concert shortly after it was written:

The Who's live version of "Little Billy" can be heard on a tape of their April 6, 1968 concert at New York's Fillmore East, long available on bootlegs like these, and the best-quality live recording of the band prior to 1969 that's circulated.

The Who’s live version of “Little Billy” can be heard on a tape of their April 6, 1968 concert at New York’s Fillmore East, long available on bootlegs like these, and the best-quality live recording of the band prior to 1969 that’s circulated.

On February 6, 1964, the Rolling Stones cut a brief Rice Krispies TV commercial at a get-it-over-with tempo wholly in keeping with their early frenetic R&B style, complete with wailing harmonica and sneering Mick Jagger vocal. It’s been reported this was co-written by Brian Jones with the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, but it certainly isn’t a sell-out musically, though the old-time blues guys probably wouldn’t have written songs about reaching for breakfast cereal first thing in the morning.

Rare disc containing the Rolling Stones' 1964 Rice Krispies commercial.

Rare disc containing the Rolling Stones’ 1964 Rice Krispies commercial.

The Yardbirds did a commercial for Great Shakes that was a little more creative than most, part of it using  a variation of the “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” riff. Some sources report that this is one of the few recordings done by the lineup featuring both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on guitar, with a recording date of October 19-20, 1966, but I haven’t been able to verify this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Want harder stuff than Coke or Great Shakes? Cream did a commercial for Falstaff Beer that, like some of the nuggets detailed in this post, eventually found release on an archival collection. It’s built around something like the “Sunshine of Your Love” riff twisted into a pretzel, though Jack Bruce’s vocals are characteristically rich.

Jack Bruce sang his heart out on Cream's commercial for Falstaff Beer.

Jack Bruce sang his heart out on Cream’s commercial for Falstaff Beer.

Getting back to Coke, the Moody Blues did more than one commercial for the world’s most popular (if hardly its most healthy) beverage. In fact, the first of these was done with their initial, far more R&B-inclined Denny Laine lineup, with stuttering Mike Pinder piano and their typically haunting vocal harmonies. “It’s workin’ out fine, whoa-whoa” improvises (I assume) Laine at one point, perhaps digging up inspiration from Ike & Tina Turner’s similarly titled hit to fill out the minute. The post-Laine jingles draw, as you’d expect, heavily on the mellotron that was such a primary feature of their late-‘60s sound.

This Moody Blues bootleg has commercials they did for Coke in 1965 and 1967.

This Moody Blues bootleg has commercials they did for Coke in 1965 and 1967.

Rounding out our British Invasion citations, the biggest group of all, the Beatles, never stooped as low as to do a commercial to my knowledge, perhaps needing neither the exposure nor the money. It doesn’t exactly count, I know (especially as it aired on a radio network that didn’t even broadcast commercials), but they did do a half-minute in-house jingle for one of the BBC shows on which they appeared, Saturday Club. Sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” it’s been written that the chugging musical arrangement was based on Heinz’s then-recent (and only big UK) hit “Just Like Eddie.” That could be, though to me it sounds like a generic Eddie Cochran-inspired approach, Eddie being the then-recently-deceased rocker being paid tribute to by “Just Like Eddie” itself. Recorded on September 7, 1963, this was finally officially released last year on On the Air: Live at the BBC Vol. 2, though it had been bootlegged for decades.

The Beatles' "Happy Birthday" jingle for the Saturday Club program appeared on this bootleg, about 25 years before it was finally officially released.

The Beatles’ “Happy Birthday” jingle for the Saturday Club program appeared on this bootleg, about 25 years before it was finally officially released.

Although anti-establishment sentiment was supposedly a hallmark of much psychedelic rock, some of the most countercultural psychedelic stars did commercials for very commercial products. The most famous of these might be the ones Jefferson Airplane did for Levi’s, a couple finding official release on the 2400 Fulton Street compilation. As with the Who’s “Coke After Coke” jingle, one does wonder if they were taking the opportunity to subvert the whole process by producing as strange an advertisement they could manage while getting paid for it. One of their Levi’s ads features Grace Slick’s unmistakably strident vocals hailing white Levi’s over a heavy raga-rock drone; another is an almost Mothers of Invention-like chaotic sound collage.

This rare disc includes not only a couple Jefferson Airplane Levi's commercials, but a couple done for the same company by a much more obscure San Francisco group, the Sopwith Camel.

This rare disc includes not only a couple Jefferson Airplane Levi’s commercials, but a couple done for the same company by a much more obscure San Francisco group, the Sopwith Camel.

Among the Airplane’s psychedelic peers, Quicksilver Messenger Service did a commercial for Chevrolet’s Camaro cars. The most political of the major Bay Area psychedelic bands, Country Joe & the Fish, did a commercial too — but not for a commercially available product, putting a brief spoof ad for LSD on their second album.

country1

And though the Lovin’ Spoonful (from New York) got into hot water with Haight-Ashbury when two of their members cooperated with authorities after getting busted for pot in San Francisco, they were among the apparently few groups to turn down a Coca-Cola commercial, for the same reason they’d turn down the chance to be the star band in The Monkees. As Spoonful bassist Steve Boone writes in his new memoir Hotter Than a Match Head: Life on the Run with the Lovin’ Spoonful: “We might have made more money, or been able to trade off our name a bit longer due to the visibility of the show, but we probably would have sacrificed some self-respect and critical respect too. A similar argument came up later on when we turned down the opportunity to do what would have been a very lucrative, very high-visibility commercial for Coca-Cola.”

Contrast that to the attitude of one of the earliest San Francisco groups to have a rock hit, We Five of “You Were on My Mind” fame. Incredibly, after contracting with the McCann-Erickson agency in late 1965 to do some Coke ads, they spent “hundreds of hours attempting to provide what the agency requested, with each spot being rejected as either ‘too from contemporary middle of the road’ or, conversely, not ‘teenage’ enough,” according to Alec Palao’s liner notes for There Stands the Door: The Best of We Five. Says We Five bassist Pete Fullerton in the notes, “All they wanted was ‘when I woke up this morning, Coke was on my mind,’ and we just wouldn’t do that. That’s probably the biggest reason We Five split apart, because of the amount of work we put into it.”

A couple previously unreleased attempts at supplying Coke with a commercial are on this 2009 compilation of We Five material.

A couple previously unreleased attempts at supplying Coke with a commercial are on this 2009 compilation of We Five material.

This doesn’t strictly count as a commercial, I suppose, but I was unaware until a few months ago that before they had a recording contract, the Doors did the incidental background music for, of all things, a Ford training film geared toward improving the customer service by employees at its sales outlets. Aside from periodic washes of instrumental music (there’s no singing or evident participation by Jim Morrison), it’s a positively excruciating 25 minutes, in line with the skeletal production values and dated do-gooder ethos of industrial training movies. There is one bit near the end where they go into a passage similar to the tune of a song on their fabulous 1967 debut album, “I Looked At You.” And it’s easily accessible now that it’s one of the extras on the Doors’ R-Evolution DVD in 2013, which compiled their promo films and TV appearances.

The Doors were indeed credited for the music they provided for a 1966 training film for Ford employees.

The Doors were indeed credited for the music they provided for a 1966 training film for Ford employees.

Another recording that isn’t really a commercial, or at least meant for the general public, was “cut” by Bob Dylan on May 12, 1965. This wasn’t a “song,” but a tape for a Columbia sales convention in Miami. Dylan plays it fairly straight, though some chuckles indicate he has a hard time taking this business obligation entirely seriously, declaring, “This is Bob! Uh…thank you very much for selling so many of my records. I wish I could be there with you right now at this minute, but unfortunately I’m all tied up.” Actually he was in London, attempting, quite unsuccessfully, to record “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” backed by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, with Eric Clapton on guitar. “God bless you all, and keep selling a lot of records!,” he concludes.

Bob Dylan's 1965 greeting to a Columbia Miami sales convention has appeared on bootlegs like these.

Bob Dylan’s 1965 greeting to a Columbia Miami sales convention has appeared on bootlegs like these.

Moving to some artists who weren’t particularly known for their sociopolitical stances, one of the most entertaining psychedelic ads was waxed by the Electric Prunes for Vox wah-wah pedals. “You can even make your guitar sound like a sitar!” exclaims the overexcited salesman, the commercial introduced by a bee-buzzing riff all but identical to the one that launches “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” Unlike many vintage rock ads, this has been in fairly wide circulation for more than 30 years, since its appearance on the ‘60s garage comp Pebbles Vol. 2. The first volume of that long-running garage series had already excavated the Shadows of Knight’s silly rave-up “Potato Chip,” a combination interview/musical performance on a cardboard disc included in bags of Fairmont potato chips.

The Shadows of Knight sang for Fairmont potato chips.

The Shadows of Knight sang for Fairmont potato chips.

Also in the Chicago area, the city’s best psychedelic group, H.P. Lovecraft, did a one-minute ad for Ban deodorant that made rather effective use of the precise sort of haunting vocal harmonies and eerie organ heard on most of their 1967 debut LP. I was quite excited to find this a few days ago, only to learn that it came out more than 20 years ago on the official compilation Oh Yeah: The Best of Dunwich Records. Well, you know, I haven’t heard everything.

H.P. Lovecraft's commercial for Ban deodorant was officially issued on this compilation.

H.P. Lovecraft’s commercial for Ban deodorant was officially issued on this compilation.

The Left Banke did at least three commercials for three different products — Coke (in the “Things Go Better with Coke” format), Toni hairspray, and, less expectedly, Hertz Rent-a-Car. These are not so notable for any oddity within the commercials themselves, but for their very existence, since the group’s lifespan was so short that they only recorded a couple of LPs and a few odds and ends. These were even bootlegged on a three-song seven-inch a long time ago, each side playing the exact same three commercials.

A bootleg seven-inch with three Left Banke commercials.

A bootleg seven-inch with three Left Banke commercials.

The great British folk-rock singer Sandy Denny is most known to the general public via her cameos on Led Zeppelin’s fourth album (where she appeared on “The Battle of Evermore”) and the orchestral version of Tommy (where she sings two lines as the nurse in “It’s a Boy”). A much less celebrated cameo was her vocal on a brief late-’60s commercial titled “We’re All Better for Butter.” This didn’t even make it onto her recent 19-CD box set, though it didn’t escape the attention of one of the leading UK music papers of the time (see below).

Sandy Denny exposed in Melody Maker article.

Sandy Denny exposed in a Disc article.

There were a whole lotta soul singers doing commercial back then, naturally, and one of the strangest was done by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. In mid-1968, they proudly advertised their home town on “I Care About Detroit,” a promo single unavailable to the general public. He certainly wasn’t representing the true sentiments of the label he recorded for (and served as vice-president at), Motown Records, which even then had begun the process of moving from Detroit to Los Angeles.

robinson_detroit

There were also many instances in which acts appeared in a filmed commercial, or in some association with a product or organization — even unlikely ones like Pink Floyd, who did a recently unearthed video for “Jugband Blues” (with Syd Barrett) for the Central Office of Information, the UK government’s marketing and communications agency. Or David Bowie, who was in a Lyons Maid ice cream commercial in the late ’60s, when he was struggling to even have a record deal. That’s a whole other can of worms for another time and, perhaps, a different blogpost.

On the Road to Paradise Beach Park

I’ve bicycled on Paradise Drive, the long and winding stretch that runs along the water in Marin County’s Belvedere and Tiburon, a few times over the years. I’ve passed the entrance to Paradise Beach Park on those rides, but never gone into the beachside park until yesterday. A time comes for everything if you bicycle the San Francisco Bay Area enough, and with the weather unseasonably warm, I made the 20-mile trek from San Francisco in the morning.

The pier in Paradise Beach Park, near the San Pablo Bay.

The pier in Paradise Beach Park, near the San Pablo Bay. Way in the background is the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge.

Is it a “destination” park? Not really, unless you live nearby or might want a place to rest and lunch while you’re on a long ride. It’s quite small, and unless you’re making a semi-day of it with a picnic, takes just a few minutes to walk through. Which, incidentally, will cost a $2 entrance fee if you bike in or even walk in (though I can’t imagine too many people enter on foot, unless they live very close by). It’s $10 per vehicle if you drive.

The entrance to Paradise Beach Park.

The entrance to Paradise Beach Park.

What Paradise Beach Park does have going for it is the quiet. Even up in this affluent enclave — you wouldn’t take Paradise Drive to get anywhere by car, unless you live there or indulge in a pleasure drive — it’s hard to escape at least some of the noise that’s part of the price of living in a big metropolitan area. Go down the road from the drive to the beach, though, and it’s almost as silent as anywhere I’ve been in the San Francisco vicinity. And while the views in the park aren’t plentiful, they’re pretty.

Looking toward the park from the pier.

Looking toward the park from the pier.

Stairs in the park, near the picnic area.

Stairs in the park, near the picnic area.

This open grassy part of the park actually comprises a good percentage of its acreage.

This open grassy part of the park actually comprises a good percentage of its acreage.

From the pier, you can see some beachside homes that give you a glimpse of how the other half, or perhaps of how the 1%, live:

Park visitor perched on the pier, with beachside home in the background.

Park visitor perched on the pier, with beachside home in the background.

Half the fun is getting there, of course, though you’ll need to be in reasonable shape if you’re coming all the way from San Francisco (taking the nearby Angel Island Ferry back is an option if you’re not up for the steep climb from Sausalito to the Golden Gate Bridge on the return journey). And Paradise Drive really is a long and winding road, no matter how long of a stretch you ride, a bonus being the near-absence of cars, especially early in the morning. Bicyclists outnumber cars by a wide margin, especially on the weekends.

The long and winding road that's Paradise Drive.

The long and winding road that’s Paradise Drive.

On your way back to Tiburon’s small downtown, check out this enigmatic tower just north of the ferry, and take in a distant Golden Gate Bridge view:

Lyford's Stone Tower, built in 1889, on Paradise Drive just a few hundred yards or so past downtown Tiburon.

Lyford’s Stone Tower, built in 1889, on Paradise Drive just a few hundred yards or so past downtown Tiburon.

The Golden Gate Bridge can be seen as you leave Paradise Drive to enter downtown Tiburon, though it's sometimes shrouded by clouds.

The Golden Gate Bridge can be seen as you leave Paradise Drive to enter downtown Tiburon, though it’s sometimes shrouded by clouds.

Cycling the Bay Bridge: A Path Not Far Enough

To those of us who’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, it’s still a shock to drive across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge since its east span has been reconfigured. Starting last September, instead of driving under an upper deck for its entire length, all of a sudden you emerged into the open air halfway en route to the East Bay. Not only could you see the sky and the water on each side, but there were also pedestrians and bicyclists on the south side, a new path having been constructed for just that purpose.

The family-friendly Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path. Baby strollers and dogs are not uncommon sights either.

The family-friendly Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path. Baby strollers and dogs are not uncommon sights either.

It seemed like there was a mini-boom in bikers and walkers right after the path opened, but it seems to have cooled off a little as the novelty’s worn off a bit. I cycled the path ten days or so after it opened in September 2013, but only went back for the second time this week, helping a friend to celebrate her birthday. I didn’t have my blog the first time I rode it, but I do now, so it’s time to make it the subject of a post.

Though it’s well worth doing, know this: the path, especially the two miles or so before you reach the bridge proper, is never going to compete with riding over the Golden Gate Bridge in the glamour sweepstakes. The most convenient entry point is right across the street from the entrance to IKEA in Emeryville; on the way to the bridge ascent, you pass all manner of industrial facilities that, no matter what renovations are in store for the far-off future, seem pretty entrenched for the near future. I’m not sure who will take advantage of a pathside bench we saw in the midst of this quasi-industrial park en route, except if you really need to stop and take a breather.

Easily visible from many points on the Bay Bridge (and even on the BART ride from San Francisco to Oakland), these giraffe-like structures are actually among the more aesthetically pleasing features of the industrial area of Oakland near the approach to the bridge on the bike/pedestrian path.

Easily visible from many points on the Bay Bridge (and even on the BART ride from San Francisco to Oakland), these giraffe-like structures are actually among the more aesthetically pleasing features of the industrial area of Oakland near the approach to the bridge.

The oddest sight as you pedal by the water, however, is the yet-to-be-demolished old bridge portion on the south side of the path, standing all by its lonesome with no vehicles or human activity save construction workers. It’s a bridge to nowhere, inhabited only by birds the day we took our ride. Looking at the east “entrance,” such as it is in mid-July 2014, makes you feel like you’re in one of those post-apocalypse horror movies:

A bridge with no entrance and, on the day we saw it, no people.

A bridge with no entrance and, on the day we saw it, no people.

The biggest frustration, of course, is that you can’t ride all the way across the bridge to San Francisco (or even ride anywhere on the bridge from San Francisco). Imagine if you could only ride or walk halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, the Bay Bridge is much, much longer than the Golden Gate Bridge — about four-and-a-half miles, where the GG Bridge is a little more than one-and-a-half miles. Funding for a west span path being so costly and subject to government/public policy debates, I’ll consider it a triumph if I’m able to bike the bridge from bay-to-bay in my lifetime.

You can’t, however, even bike to Yerba Buena Island, which would give you something of a destination, and theoretically enable you to continue to San Francisco by mounting your bicycle on the front of a public bus (though those only have racks for two bikes at a time). As of this writing, the path stops just a little short of the island.

Yerba Buena Island (in the background) isn't too far from  where the bike path ends.

Yerba Buena Island (in the background) isn’t too far from where the bike path ends.

Though it seems not much more than a stone’s throw away, again funding/policy issues might be a lot more costly and complicated than you’d think. For one thing, a remaining portion of the original bridge has to be dismantled before the path can even reach the island. It was reported that the path should connect to Yerba Buena Island a couple years after the east span opened, which would have made it open for business by the end of 2015, but no definite ETA seems available at the moment.

For San Franciscans, it’s an odd experience, taking the BART train to the East Bay, riding from there to the middle of the bay, and riding back to a BART station to take a train back to San Francisco. That makes it a bit more than a casual getaway, but it’s worth doing, once or twice a year at any rate. It’s a bit of a slog to ride the windy uphill section to its current endpoint, but be consoled by the knowledge, as one rider shouted to us on our way up, that it’s all downhill once you turn around. As long as you’re going, though, try to check out other sights on the path that runs from Emeryville to Richmond, like the Berkeley Marina:

Sailors just off the Berkeley Marina.

Sailors just off the Berkeley Marina.

The Bay Bridge bike/pedestrian path is generally open from around dawn to dusk, though hours change according to the season. Check the Bay Bridge Bicycle and Pedestiran Path site for specific opening/closing times, as well as general information about the path.