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Richie Unterberger comments and reviews on vintage rock music.

The Electric Banana: The Pretty Things By Any Other Name

This fall sees the release of a three-CD set, on the UK Grapefruit label, by “the Electric Banana.” Titled The Complete de Wolfe Sessions, the recordings were used as incidental music for film soundtracks of the era. They might have vanished into total obscurity had it not been known that the musicians supplying this material were not just anonymous session players. They in fact comprised a pretty well known band, the Pretty Things.

Besides being the best British group of the ‘60s not to make it in the US, the Pretty Things had an odd and colorful career. Most stories about them focus on their failure to tour the US as the oddest twist in their tale. Odder still, however, were these soundtrack recordings (sometimes termed “library music” in the UK), which no other group made as much of a sideline, if they ventured into this territory at all. If they hoped to keep their true identity hidden, the cover was blown pretty quickly by the presence of a spare version of “I See You” on the 1968 More Electric Banana LP.  With much fuller production, it would be redone on their 1968 psychedelic album S.F. Sorrow.

Those hoping for a wealth of thrilling supplements to the core Pretty Things discography will be disappointed by the Electric Banana recordings. The group really were saving their best songs for S.F. Sorrow, 1970’s Parachute, and a couple creative flop psychedelic singles in 1967 and 1968. Much of what they were doing for the de Wolfe company was intended only as background music, to fit into scenes of movies that ended up a lot more obscure than even the Pretty Things’ rarer ‘60s releases. The extensive liner notes, while informative, coyly never cite the Pretty Things by name, as if there’s still a legal complication in acknowledging they were the guys behind these recordings.

The original Electric Banana LP.

That’s not to say these tracks are wholly without merit, especially for Pretty Things fans. The different version of “I See You” is effectively haunting (and somewhat similar to the Bee Gees’ “I Can’t See Nobody”), and the guitar riffs of “Alexander” anticipate similar ones on S.F. Sorrow’s “Balloon Burning.” Three of the songs also show up in different versions on the peculiar late-‘60s demo LP done with Philippe DeBarge on vocals (more on which later). Even More Electric Banana’s bittersweet, eerie instrumental “Dark Theme” is atmospheric dreamy psychedelia, and unlike these other cuts was not placed on the most widely available compilation of late-‘60s Electric Banana highlights,The Electric Banana Blows Your Mind. In all that would make a fair EP, the hard-charging harmony-pop-psych “Alexander” in particular becoming a fan favorite despite its relative obscurity.

But the rest is pretty trivial, some of the earlier efforts sounding like mediocre outtakes from their controversial 1967 psych-pop-with orchestration album Emotions. The post-1970 tracks get into turgid blues-rock, and the final de Wolfe album they worked on, 1978’s The Return of Electric Banana, was done long after their peak. A good number of the less celebrated cuts are instrumental versions of songs better represented by their vocal counterparts.

The Return of Electric Banana does offer a bit in the way of surprising detours from their usual average mid-‘70s rock that are surprisingly good, notably the almost Greek folkish “Whiskey Song.” But with an overflow of more forgettable background music and routine rockers, this is for the Pretty Things completist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially as the original LPs are super-hard to find, and the music’s usually only been available since then on grey-area releases.

Even considering how inferior the de Wolfe albums were to the bulk of the Pretty Things’ studio work, it’s interesting to consider how they ended up making so many of these—five entire LPs between 1967 and 1978. I can think of no other band of note that made this as much of a sideline. Probably a number of bands, or at least musicians from bands with “real” albums, played on library music discs. But if any others did too much of it, it hasn’t come to light.

I posed this question to one of the most knowledgeable UK collectors I know, who responded that Jade Warrior—a British progressive rock outfit who put out a number of LPs in the early-to-mid-‘70s without gaining much sales—“made a library album, which virtually no one is aware of. Maybe just me and the band!” He added, “It was long claimed that the two London’s Underground library LPs on Conroy were by Hawkwind, but that is nonsense. They were actually by a band featuring rock journeyman Garth Watt-Roy.”

So were the Pretties producing a steady stream of these to make a quick buck? Yeah, pretty much. Asked point blank “did you record them only for the money?” in a 1985 issue of the Gorilla Beat fanzine, singer Phil May replied, “Yeah, because we needed money at that time to continue what we were doing. I mean, nobody gave us any money for S.F. Sorrow, we had it about pencil written, then [guitarist] Dick [Taylor] and I were quite broken at that time and we didn’t get large wages from the records.”

Asked Gorilla Beat, “Did they come and say: ‘Write the music for this or that sequence?” May responded, “Every time we made a record and felt we had some songs left over, the guys came into the studio and bought the recordings we didn’t need. These songs were used in films, television series and so on. We were earning good money. This helped us to stay alive, really. What happened was, somebody would ring up de Wolfe saying: ‘Have you got some music backing for us. We got a sequence in a bar where a gangster shoots down another gangster and there is a jukebox playing in the background. So, what can I have?’

“And so they used material from the Electric Banana LPs. So when you see the film, this guy walks into the bar and there’s this rock music coming from the jukebox, that’s the Pretty Things, and then it was quieten down in the dialogue and the guy shoots the other man and leaves. We did it as I said to stay alive, really.”

Other members of the late-‘60s Pretty Things are similarly offhand in their Electric Banana assessments. Observed Wally Waller in Alan Lakey’s bio The Pretty Things: Growing Old Disgracefully, “It was of that time, it was all kind of flower-power stuff, I don’t think they really stand up today to too close a scrutiny, that’s my opinion. I’m not a fan and I can’t see why people find that exceptional. To my mind we’ve done lots of good stuff but to my way of thinking that doesn’t get anywhere near the real cream. Most of that stuff is second rate. Some of it is all rightish but most is stuff we didn’t think was good enough to put on an album of our own and we wouldn’t put our proper name to it.”

In the same book, Jon Povey was yet more dismissive: “Yeah, don’t really want to talk about that too much. It was just purely to get some money.”

Also in that volume, guitarist Dick Taylor explained how the group ended up doing four songs by non-band member Peter Reno on the first Electric Banana disc, and why they were sung not by May, but by Waller and Povey. “When it was first issued they put out all the vocals on one side of the album, they were on ten-inch vinyl with quite plain covers with a drawn banana and diagonal writing. They weren’t meant for public release but it was in the music library and it was really breaking the rules at the time because we weren’t paid musicians union rates because we were getting money for the writing and stuff, so it was very unofficial.

“So if a film producer wanted something to go on his film he could either choose something vocal or something instrumental and you may have noticed there were some that weren’t written by us, and the guy was a TV producer and he wanted his songs on these albums. So in some of his shows he could use his own stuff and he saw it as a way of making a little bit of money on the side so that other producers would think, oh Peter does this. I presume that’s how it works. Anyway, that’s how it started with Peter Reno.”

As an example on one of the Reno songs, “Wally sang that. It was a bit like when we got ‘Rosalyn’[their first single, in 1964] it was Denmark Street [London’s equivalent of Tin Pan Alley] with a bloke pounding it out on a piano. These were similar, they sounded a bit sub-Matt Monroe [a British pop crooner]. It was like ‘Oh, what the fucking hell are we gonna do with these things?’ We just put whatever riffs we could muster up against it, changed the chords around a bit and turned it into what they then became.”

In The Pretty Things: Growing Old Disgracefully, Waller also indicates that at least some of the de Wolfe tracks were cut with extreme haste. “Everything was done in a small eight-track demo studio just big enough to swing a cat around,” he said. “If we had a de Wolfe session coming up we’d sit down and in an afternoon we’d thrash out the whole thing and we’d walk into the studio still fixing a few lyrics and in an afternoon the whole thing’s down. That’s the way it works. It’s almost like a telephone box the bloody thing was so small, that little studio we used. In the early days it was only four-track, it was like a demo down Wardour Street [in central London].”

For all that, Taylor acknowledged to Lakey that some items of true worth found their way onto the Electric Banana albums. “Funny thing is the things like ‘Alexander’ and all the stuff around then is actually some of the best stuff we did,” he remarked. “A lot of people have said to me you should go back to it, it’s really good stuff. It’s a bit like the way we’re so rigid in our condemnation of Emotions, you listen to it again and think hang on, we’ve missed the point here. Here we are slagging it off but there’s some good songs, some good stuff on there.”

Were there other significant acts of the time that took on projects mostly to make money, and that some might view as sellouts, or at least certainly peripheral to their main body of work? Sure. Uncounted artists from all walks of rock did commercial jingles, and not just the fairly superficial ones you might expect, like Petula Clark and Freddie & the Dreamers. The Rolling Stones (albeit very early in their career), the Who, and the Yardbirds did too. (Among their many distinctions, the Beatles did not.) Even Jefferson Airplane did an ad for Levi’s, and Sandy Denny for butter. Some psychedelic groups who had relatively little commercial success got in on the action, like H.P. Lovecraft when they sang for Ban deodorant.

Aside from the Pretty Things, the group that might have made soundtracks and such their biggest sideline were Manfred Mann. In various lineups (with Manfred himself always present), they made no secret of doing plenty of commercial jingles, and you can hear a few—including ditties for Michelin, Maxwell House, and even ski fitness—on the recent compilation Radio Days Vol. 3: Live Sessions & Studio Rarities. They also did a full soundtrack—one specifically designed to be used as part of a dramatic feature film in which they didn’t appear, unlike the music heard by the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and many others in movies in which the artist actually appeared—for 1968’s Up the Junction

It’s fair to say the Manfreds approached that fairly well regarded soundtrack with more seriousness than the Pretty Things did for the Electric Banana projects. It’s not nearly as well known that Manfred Mann contributed to a couple of far more obscure, exploitation-bordering flicks. They (well, really just Mann and Mike Hugg) did the soundtrack for the 1969 American International Pictures sexploitation movie Venus in Furs, which has no relation to the Velvet Underground classic of the same name. That’s also included on Radio Days Vol. 3: Live Sessions & Studio Rarities, though with lo-fi sound, the original tapes presumably being unavailable. It’s an eerie mix of avant-garde horror and downbeat jazz, though in common with many a soundtrack, there are too many repeated motifs to make this something likely to get many spins.

Mann also co-produced the soundtrack to the early-‘70s softcore production Swedish Fly Girls, as well as contributing some music. That soundtrack’s also notable for including a few cuts sung by…Sandy Denny, who wasn’t beyond taking on some studio sessions outside of her usual folk-rock efforts. Rock musicians didn’t make a whole lot of money if they weren’t big stars, and every bit helped. In perhaps the most famous instance, shortly before breaking through with his first hit, Elton John sang on numerous soundalike cover versions of hit records made for budget LPs in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; many of those performances were compiled on the Chartbusters Go Pop CD.

Maybe the closest parallel to Electric Banana, in terms of a well known group creating soundtrack recordings for use in productions few rock fans saw, was the Doors’ creation of incidental music for, of all things, a Ford training film geared toward improving the customer service by employees at its sales outlets. Aside from the 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’s a crucial difference between the Doors’ and the Pretty Things’ soundtracks, however. The Doors did this before they had a record deal. The Pretty Things had already made numerous singles, a couple of them big hits in the UK, and a few albums before hooking up with de Wolfe. Like the Pretties, the Doors did use a bit of riffage in the soundtrack that resurfaced on their proper records. At a bit near the end of the training film, they go into a passage similar to the tune of a song on their great 1967 debut album, “I Looked At You.” The movie’s easily accessible now as an extra on the Doors’ Re-Evolution DVD, which primarily compiled their promo films and TV appearances.

The credits for the Ford training film the early Doors soundtracked.

There are also numerous instances throughout rock history of an artist recording under a pseudonym, whether as a joke, as a sideline project, or to hide their true identity when they took part in a budget or exploitation project. The Four Seasons had a hit as the Wonder Who by covering Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” though lots of people guessed the group’s identity after hearing a few seconds of Frankie Valli’s inimitably high, screechy vocals. In more recent times XTC took the Dukes of Stratosphear name for an EP of retro ‘60s psych. There are examples with far cultier groups, like the Chocolate Watchband posing as the Hogs on the early psychedelic novelty “Loose Lip Sync Ship.”

Back to my British friend for more examples from 1960s and early 1970s known primarily in the collector world, and not even that widely within that: “Egg (or Uriel, as they were then) made the Arzachel LP for a quick buck, and later played on a Decca cash-in LP called The World Of Heavy Hits. Members of Savoy Brown and Foghat posed as Warren Philips & the Rockets for another. Members of Spice/Uriah Heep posed as ‘Head Machine’ for the Orgasm album.”

Back in the British Invasion days, also-ran Liverpool group Ian & the Zodiacs posed as the Koppycats on a couple budget exploitation albums of Beatles covers. Weirdest of all, the Eyes, a good mid-‘60s British mod group that never had a hit, put out an LP of Rolling Stones covers as the Pupils. They never got to do an album as the Eyes, and one thinks it must have hurt when they had to play exploitation covers on their only opportunity to make a full-length record.

The Pretty Things never had to stoop that low, but the Electric Banana exercises weren’t even the end of their late-‘60s extracurricular activities that were taken on primarily to generate some cash. In 1969, they were the uncredited band backing French singer Philippe DeBarge on an unreleased album exclusively devoted to originals by May and Waller. It’s a peculiar record of decent, but not stunning, pop-psychedelic material, especially since May doesn’t sing on it at all, though he co-wrote everything. Why would you essentially record a Pretty Things album without vocals by the lead singer?

Philippe DeBarge, the title given the album when it was issued on CD in 2009, was kind of a vanity project on the part of Mr. DeBarge. A big Pretty Things fan, he paid for the sessions, essentially for the privilege of being a part of the group in the studio, probably in hopes that he could find a deal for the LP’s release. He was even did a few versions of the best songs from Even More Electric Banana, including “Alexander,”  “Eagle’s Son,” and “It’ll Never Be Me.” He wasn’t the worst singer, but he was no Phil May, or particularly distinguished in any respect.

May was diffident about the project when I interviewed him for the Pretty Things chapter in my book Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators & Eccentric Visionaries of ‘60s Rock. “Wally and I just wrote a bunch of songs for this French millionaire,” he told me. “No kind of falseness about, ‘he was a musician.’ He just wanted to make a record with the Pretty Things, and he was prepared to pay.” 

Added May in Mike Stax’s liner notes for the Philippe DeBarge CD, “I don’t think any of us had great expectations, but we didn’t approach it in that way. We approached it like it was another record to make, and we were getting stuff out of it for ourselves, apart from the finances. It was a good stepping stone between S.F. Sorrow and Parachute.” 

In the same notes, Waller also acknowledged the sessions had some value. “For me it was a chance to be the boss in the studio for the first time. I had always been really involved with the production process on all our albums. And I just loved to have the chance to write a few songs and see them through to the end. I think the project put us in a much better shape to tackle something like Parachute.”

As for DeBarge, speculated Wally, “Quite what he was going to do with it I don’t know. I don’t think there would have been any interest from the British music industry, and being in English it wasn’t really suitable for the French market. I think it was a grand indulgence on Philippe’s part. To be honest I was not surprised that nothing became of it.”

We’ve gone through quite a few cases where groups took on extracurricular work that wasn’t part of their core resume, whether to keep their heads above water, float a few of their lower-priority ideas, or a combination of the two. There weren’t, however, many other albums you could name where a well known, or at least pretty well known in the Pretty Things’ cases, group was engaged to be the band for a vanity project like this. Maybe Bob Markley, the benefactor of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, counts in a way, since the only way a man with such minimal musical talent could take part in those records as a quasi-member was by helping to bankroll the whole enterprise. But the LPs by that group in which he took part were a part of that act’s core resume, and Markley, unlike DeBarge, did write some of the material.

In helping to keep the Pretty Things going, the Electric Banana and Philippe de Barge recordings served a larger purpose. Had they not been made, the band might not have even been around to record S.F. Sorrow and Parachute, two albums of psychedelic/progressive rock that took quite a bit of effort to construct in one of the top studios in the world, Abbey Road. While I don’t know how many copies those LPs sold, they weren’t hits (though Parachute did make #43 in the UK charts), and I doubt if they made much or any money. If they had to do these extra-Abbey Road gigs to make sure their real albums were completed, those are nothing they should be ashamed of—and some real good music did escape on those other records as well.

Monty Python Rock’n’Roll

The relationship between Monty Python and rock music is pretty well known, in part because their first two movies probably wouldn’t have gotten made without investment from big rock stars. In particular, George Harrison’s Python fandom, and financial backing of Life of Brian, might be known even by some people who aren’t fans of either Python or the Beatles.

One of Monty Python’s early albums for the Charisma label.

For all its significant role in their career, though, rock music itself wasn’t often used or even satirized too often in Python’s actual comedy. A rundown of the sketches in which rock played a part isn’t too hard to cover in one blogpost, though rock’s influence on the troupe predated Monty Python’s formation.

A good four years or so before Monty Python’s television series began broadcasting, Michael Palin hosted (or “presented,” to use the British term) a television show called Now! Based in the English city of Bristol, and done for the independent UK television network Television Wales and the West, it featured both sketches and appearances by British pop acts.

“Some of the groups we had on were very good—the Yardbirds, the Animals, Them, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers—some of them were very bad,” remembered Palin in the oral history The Pythons: Autobiography By the Pythons. “In fact, most of them were very bad, but that show gave me a financial cushion which ran from October /November ’65 until it finally petered out in May/June of ’66.”

This in itself is very interesting, as Palin sometimes played unctuous TV hosts on Monty Python sketches, and it’s a little hard to imagine him playing it relatively straight. What would be yet more interesting is being able to view some episodes, if any survive. I doubt it, in part because I couldn’t dig up any online, and I’ve never seen any bits excerpted in documentaries. 

Palin didn’t specify whether the rock spots were mimed or live, but those would be especially interesting to view, especially if they were live (though I wouldn’t count on that). Even if the Yardbirds, Them, Animals, and Mayall were the only good acts on the program, those clips alone would make it worth sifting through the episodes. To my knowledge, there aren’t any surviving film clips of note of Mayall before 1968, which would make those especially worth seeing.

This single would have been released shortly before Mayall appeared on the Now! program.

Palin, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones worked together closely as cast members of the British TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set for about a year and a half starting in late 1967. The Bonzo Dog Band did frequent guest spots, often involving performances of complete songs. While they were by no means among the hardest rocking of late-‘60s British bands, they were the best at blending music and comedy, and if the music owed more to vaudeville at their outset, soon much of their material had a rock base.

DVD with some surviving episodes of Do Not Adjust Your Set.

The most musically accomplished member, Neil Innes, would eventually because an auxiliary member of Python. He participated in their live shows, where he’d sometimes sing original satirical songs); took bit roles in the fourth year (the one without John Cleese) of the Python series; and had small roles in their first two movies. About twenty years ago, I asked him for his take on whether the Bonzos influenced the Pythons.

“There is a link,” he responded. “When the band first met Eric and Mike and Terry, there was a certain mutual suspicion, ‘cause we were crazy guys just coming off the road. They’d come from Oxford and Cambridge, and were young, up-and-coming writers; they’d written stuff for David Frost. It was a kind of cross-fertilization that took place over a couple of years. We all became very good friends.

“I think Eric’s acknowledged that there was an influence from the Bonzos in terms of the anarchy. Python wouldn’t have been Python, I think, if a lot of them hadn’t worked with the Bonzos. I’m not saying that the Bonzos taught them everything they know. But we certainly had the anarchy ingredient, which I think they found attractive, or useful to them. But they were more disciplined than the Bonzos. They knew how to get cameras to point at things.”

Another link between the Bonzo Dog Band and the Beatles was the “I’m the Urban Spaceman” UK hit single, which was produced by Paul McCartney.

The Bonzos had also guested in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, where they performed “Death Cab For Cutie” in the nightclub scene. While Monty Python had yet to have that kind of direct contact with the Beatles when they formed in 1969, they were of a similar age. At least some of them, like uncounted members of their generation, were huge fans. Here’s Palin, again from The Pythons: Autobiography By the Pythons:

“When we were writing in the late ‘60s, the Beatles were producing their albums and as far as I was concerned those were the greatest and most exciting examples of pop music around. On the day when we knew an album was coming out we just queued up to get it. The Beatles ruled the world, they were multi-millionaires, we were struggling away as comedy writers. Then I heard that during the first series Paul McCartney would stop his music sessions when Monty Python was on so that everyone could look at the show, and then they would go back to recording. That was the first moment I can remember when I thought, ‘This is extraordinary, the Beatles interested in us?’

“The other story, which I have no reason to dispute, was that George Harrison says he sent a congratulatory note to the BBC after the first show and it never got through to us, probably the BBC reception didn’t know who this Harrison man was, or what the program was or something. So right from the very start there was this connection between the best band in the world and our little band of comedy thesps.”

In the same book, Eric Idle enthused, “There was a big change in England brought about by the Beatles. Where everybody had been wearing tweed jackets with leather elbows, suddenly we were wearing leather jackets, and it was cool and you’d discuss your favorite George solo and things like that. That really made a difference and that kept going throughout the ’60s until glam rock, at which point you went ‘Oh, fuck off.’ You’d think ‘I don’t have to keep buying these records any more,’ because that used to be an event for us. Going down and buying the new Beatles album was something I did with [fellow British comedian] Tim Brooke-Taylor. We were quite mature men but still excited to go and buy the new Beatles album, even when we’d left Cambridge and were working for the BBC.”

The Pythons Autobiography.

So the Monty Python-Beatles mutual appreciation society was well underway almost from the story of Python’s TV series. Yet the core of that series — the 39 episodes, broadcast from late 1969 through early 1973, that included John Cleese — seldom employed or drew upon rock music, though it did often feature musical performances by the troupe. Why was that?

Maybe the other Pythons weren’t as big Beatles and rock fans as Palin and Idle. But also, their primary musical experience, such as it was, was in theatrical productions. None of them had been in rock bands. Performing and writing mock-musical pieces—which they did very well—would have come much more naturally than mimicking rock bands, which they never tried (though one would, famously, be a part of one of the most famous fictional rock bands about ten years later). I can only think of a few instances where rock, or even faintly rock-related pop, played even a small part in one of the Cleese episodes:

In episode thirteen, a psychiatric patient has auditory hallucinations of Julie Felix singing Tom Paxton’s banal kids’ song “Going to the Zoo.” A mediocre American folk singer somewhat in the Joan Baez mold, Felix would have been very familiar to British listeners/viewers, having achieved a fair amount of recognition after moving to the UK. She would have actually been more familiar from her appearances on television—including residency singing on the David Frost-hosted Frost Report and then hosting her own BBC TV series—than for her records, most of which weren’t big sellers, though a few made the British charts. “Going to the Zoo” was the title track to her 1969 album.

In the sketch, the patient gets taken in for an operation to get rid of his musical hallucinations. When he’s opened up, hippies emerged who’ve been squatting in his body. If you’re thinking this must be funnier on screen than reading about it, well, not that much. Even as a huge Monty Python fan, this struck me both at the time and since as one of their weakest sketches.

Moving ahead to episode 24, one of that program’s sketches presents a public service film on “how not be seen,” in which several people who are unsuccessful at hiding are blown up. The episode ends with “Jackie Charlton and the Tonettes” “performing” the Ohio Express’s “Yummy Yummy Yummy” in packing crates, so as not to be seen. It’s the actual Ohio Express bubblegum hit that plays, and that would have been familiar to both US and UK audiences, since it was a Top Five hit in both countries in summer 1968.

The Jackie Charlton reference, however, would only be picked up by British viewers. He was a well known British soccer (or “football,” as the sport’s known there) player, and managed the Irish national team at the 1990 World Cup finals. Not something that would be of much interest to Americans then or now.

The same episode had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it zinger that was the best of the few rock references the Pythons wove into their scripts. A few men on the street offer absurd thoughts on peace (a gumby: “Basically, I believe in peace and bashing two bricks together”). Eric Idle, impersonating John Lennon (down to his Liverpool accent), chirps in: “I’m starting a war for peace.” A great six-word encapsulation of early-‘70s just-post-Beatle Lennon, engaging in peace activism while bashing Paul McCartney, George Martin, and lots of other things in interviews and songs, especially on his Plastic Ono Band album and marathon Rolling Stone interview.

Eric Idle imitated John Lennon’s look in the brief bit satirizing his peace campaigns.

Episode 28 ends with an appearance by an actual Beatle, though not Lennon. The tramp-like “It’s” man, regularly portrayed by Michael Palin throughout the series, is hosting a TV show with Lulu and none other than Ringo Starr as guests. After being briefly complimented by Lulu on his outfit, the end credits scroll and the Monty Python theme blares, the guests walking off in dismay. 

Ringo Starr around the time he guested on Monty Python.

According to Kim “Howard” Johnson’s The First 20 Years of Monty Python, the script actually called for John Lennon and Yoko Ono to be the guests. That changed to Starr and Lulu, Palin told Johnson, because “Ringo was the most extroverted of the Beatles, other than Lennon—he’s just that sort of guy. He’ll do anything that’s a bit silly and mad. He’s very nice and uncomplicated and easygoing. 

“We wanted someone incredibly famous, and to get a Beatle at that time—we couldn’t get much higher than that. The others were all going through various sorts of withdrawals after the Beatles split up, and had their own particular egos, whereas Ringo just used to knock about. Graham [Chapman] got to know him, and asked him along.”

What about the other guest? “God knows where we got Lulu,” Palin added.

An early-’70s LP by Lulu.

Episode 34 was, unlike every other one, not a series of sketches, but a single storyline, if one with silly and surreal turns. Palin played a goofy guy on a cycling tour who got into all sorts of comic misadventures. As a recurring sonic gag of sorts, Clodagh Rodgers’s bouncy, banal “Jack in the Box” is heard (and, sometimes, sung) throughout the program. The tune was the very embodiment of the kind of trivial puff heard in the Eurovision contest, in which “Jack in the Box” actually represented Great Britain in 1971. For that reason alone, it would have been extremely familiar to British audiences (and probably many other European viewers), the Northern Irish singer scoring a #4 UK hit with it that year. Alas, it and Rodgers would have been totally unknown to Americans, who could more or less laugh along with the gag anyway, fitting in as it did with the general silly fun of the episode. 

Maybe an honorable mention should be given to a brief sketch in episode 5 in which a bumbling cop (Graham Chapman) tries to bust actor “Sandy Camp” (Eric Idle) for “certain substances of an illicit nature.” Chapman’s cop fumbles a brown paper bag out of his pocket so he can “take it with me for clinical examination,” only for Idle to discover it contains…sandwiches. “Blimey! Whatever did I give the wife?” exclaims Chapman. It’s an obvious spoof of suspiciously specious late-’60s drug busts of British celebrities, none of whom were more famous than John Lennon and George Harrison of the Beatles, and Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. A few of those rockers speculated the drugs on their premises had in fact been planted by the police.

In his 2018 autobiography Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Idle verified that when he first met Harrison in 1975, “George had assumed, probably rightly, that the sketch was based on his own drug bust in Esher, where the police had brought their own cannabis.” What’s more, in the same book he recalled how as a University of Cambridge student, “We bought black collarless Beatle jackets. We were first in line for their singles, we discussed our favorite Beatle, we adored A Hard Day’s Night.”

That’s it for rock in the TV series, and it wouldn’t be heard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian, which after all were mock historical epics that took place centuries before rock began. That wasn’t the end, however, of rock’s role in the life of Monty Python. Actually, a record label known mostly for rock acts (Charisma, who had its biggest success with Genesis)) had already done its part to supplement the Pythons’ presence with pretty popular Monty Python audio LPs. Back to Michael Palin in The Pythons: Autobiography By the Pythons for more:

“Gradually one began to hear more and more stories about bands and musicians who  loved Python and felt a kinship with Python for some reason or another. I’ve never quite worked out why that was but there were more and more instances of it and you would meet musicians who would say, ‘That was just wonderful’ or ‘We love that show.’ I think they thought it was somehow quite cool, it was a cult thing.

“When it came to financing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who came in but Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd as investors; the label on which we did most of our albums was basically a rock and roll label, so we were closely intertwined with rock music from very early on. But the fact that the Beatles noticed us was quite something. Almost as epic as when I read much later on that, in the declining years of his life, Elvis himself watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Genesis and Jethro Tull also invested in the film, and more famously, George Harrison’s Handmade Films company financed Life of Brian after EMI Films pulled out.

Soundtrack LP for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

As a relatively little known footnote, there could have been a close relationship between Monty Python and the Holy Grail and a much less successful actual Beatles movie. As Palin wrote in his diary on January 10, 1975:

“It was suggested at a meeting late last year that we should try to put out the Magical Mystery Tour as the supporting film to The Holy Grail. There was unanimous agreement among the Python group. After several months of checking and cross-checking we finally heard last week that the four Beatles had been consulted and were happy to let the film go out. So today we saw it for the first time since 1967. Unfortunately, it was not an unjustly underrated work…”

As much as it might have pained them in some ways to turn down the opportunity, the Pythons made the right call. The Holy Grail is a flawed but overall great film; Magical Mystery Tour is a terribly flawed and pretty terrible film (which pains me to note myself, as I’m a huge fan of both the Beatles and Python).

All of the Pythons did plenty of solo projects, but just one would draw notably on rock, and indeed use rock as the core focus of the best Python solo product. Eric Idle had already featured some occasional rock satire in his TV series Rutland Weekend Television, especially on spots by Neil Innes lampooning Elton John, Bob Dylan, and others. George Harrison also appeared in one Rutland episode, playing the entry to “My Sweet Lord” before gleefully segueing into “The Pirate Song,” which he co-wrote with Idle. Rutland Weekend Television was not picked up for US broadcast, and its thirteen mid-‘70s episodes have seldom been seen by Americans.

Album companion to the Rutland Weekend Television series.

However, one Rutland Weekend Television sketch would not only be widely seen in the US, but lead to a full-long TV special. Hosting Saturday Night Live, Eric Idle screened a Rutland clip of the Rutles, brilliantly spoofing the Beatles circa A Hard Day’s Night. That helped lead to the US TV special All You Need Is Cash, where the Rutles brilliantly spoofed the Beatles’ entire career. Idle himself played the Paul McCartney-type Rutle, though he (unlike the other Rutles) didn’t actually play or sing the witty Beatles pastiches on the soundtrack, penned by Neil Innes (who played the John Lennon-type Rutle).

Along with Spinal Tap, All You Need Is Cash is the best mock rockumentary. It took a long time, and just one Python and an auxiliary Python were involved. But Monty Python and the Beatles had finally fused, the result—unlike almost all other such combinations that promised more on paper than the screen—taking from the best of both worlds.

Lou Reed: Compiling the Interviews

Lou Reed was notorious for giving acerbic interviews and hostility toward journalists. There’s certainly some of that in a new 300-page collection of three dozen interviews spanning 1971-2007, My Week Beats Your Year: Encounters with Lou Reed (on Hat & Beard Press, compiled by Michael Heath and edited by Pat Thomas). Asked “are you happier as a brunette?” at a 1975 press conference at Sydney airport, Reed retorted, “Are you happier as a schmuck?” Added Lou a few questions later, “You don’t stand a chance with me, you know. Get your own parade.”

Yet he’s also, and not infrequently, pretty informative and straightforward, depending on whether he seems to repsect and trust the interviewer. Anyone with an interest in Reed (and the Velvet Underground, who do come up in conversation fairly often although he’d left the band in 1970) will find a lot of comments with worthwhile perspectives and uncommon nuggets of trivia and recollections. Even the pieces in which he’s polite and friendly are usually spiced with some sarcastic and cutting remarks, some of them simply rude, but some also pretty funny and witty.

Even if you’re widely read on Reed, you’ll certainly come across interviews you haven’t seen. Many of them were never reprinted before (or, in the case of a few radio interviews and press conferences, never printed anywhere before, to my knowledge). 

The sources range from high-circulation mags (Rolling StoneCreemCircusMOJOMelody Maker) to unlikely mainstream publications (Hit ParaderHits), big daily papers, Trouser Press, and the BBC to outlets where many wouldn’t think to look. Bob Reitman’s 1976 interview for the Milwaukee Bugle-American, for instance, is one of the better lengthy chats Reed gave (and virtually devoid of any rancorous attitude or game-playing). There’s even a 2003 interview with Kung-Fu magazine.

Some of the writers were celebrities in their own right, including Lenny Kaye, Lance Loud, singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy, and, of course, Lester Bangs (though just one, from the non-obvious source of Let It Rock, is here). Besides presenting the text of the original interviews, the original pages and covers are often also reproduced, though the type in those is so small you’ll be glad all of the text is also presented in readable size in the format used for most of the pages. As the first volume to collect a lot of his interviews in book form, it’s a welcome addition to the Lou Reed library.

Editor and longtime Lou Reed fan Pat Thomas has written about music extensively for decades. He’s also branched out into documenting the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s with his recent books Listen, Whitey!: The Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 and Did It! From Yippie to Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary. I recently spoke with him about My Week Beats Your Year: Encounters with Lou Reed, and what Reed’s interviews tell us about this talented but mercurial genius.

What gave you the idea for the book?

Me and my co-author, Michael Heath, are both kind of lifelong Lou Reed nuts. We kept kind of discussing over the last several years, was there a book of Lou Reed interviews? There was something called The Last Interview and Other Conversations. I thought oh geez, we’ve been scooped. I bought the book, and it was this extremely thin book with only five interviews with Lou, most of them later in his life. So Mike and I realized that the playing field was wide open. That’s how the whole thing started.

There are a lot of Lou Reed interviews, in spite of his reputation for being one of the most hostile rock stars toward interviewers. (If you could call a guy with one big hit single and one Top Ten album that he virtually disowns a rock star, that is.) There must have been some selectivity involved in what to include, even in a 300-page book. What were your main criteria for what should be featured?

Basically, we wanted to span his whole career post-Velvet Underground. We certainly were looking for provocative stuff. For example, the August 1974 and July 1975 Australian stuff [taken from press conferences at the Sydney airport]. But to kind of have a balance, with obviously the focus on the ‘70s and ‘80s. The criteria was just kind of what was interesting, and I want to throw some credit to Mike Heath on this. ‘Cause he kind of led the charge with the first round of research.

A good number – certainly the majority – of the interviews are his lesser known ones. Some are really obscure, even to big Reed fans. What kind of detective work was involved in digging these out?

He kind of did a lot of that research. He went through the Underground Newspaper microfilm collection, which has alternative papers of all kinds from the mid-’60s through the mid-’80s. That’s where he got a bunch of the pieces in the book, especially the more regional interviews, like the ones with Bob Reitman in the Milwaukee Bugle-American, and Charlie Frick in New Jersey’s Aquarian Weekly. Then of course youtube, at least for these television and radio interviews that we grabbed, was very useful. I’m kind of proud of the fact that there is such obscure ones. 

Reed’s so infamous for giving hostile, or at least uninformative and/or game-playing, interviews that it might surprise some readers to find that he played it fairly straight sometimes, even back in the mid-‘70s when he built much of this reputation. I had the feeling that what kind of interview you got depended on a number of factors. If he thought the interviewer was cool (especially if he already knew them and perhaps respected them in a context different than journalism, like Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye), he’d be pretty friendly and forthcoming. If he was having a good day, or in a good period of his life, he’d at least stick to fairly normal standards of politeness and decorum. If the interviewer stuck to the subject he wanted to discuss the most (usually his current album), he’d be easier to deal with. On the flipside: if he thought you were uncool, or it was a bad day/time in his life, or you pressed him on subjects he wanted to avoid or was uninterested in, you might not only get a bad interview, but get insulted, or maybe walked out on. Would you agree?

I would. We recently did a Lou Reed book event in L.A., so I invited a couple of LA-based journalists who are in the book. So there’s a guy by the name of the Dave DiMartino. In 1980, he interviewed Lou for Creem. He said he was expecting the grouchy monster. But he also kind of thought ahead. He knew that Lou was a big jazz fan, so he brought Lou some obscure jazz record and gave it to him, and kind of greased Lou with that record and that discussion. And then kind of switched over and talked about Lou himself.

Some of the interviewers were pretty fawning over what many listeners, even many fans, would say were among Reed’s lesser albums (but happened to be recent at the time of the interview), like Rock and Roll Heart. Reed seemed to lap that up and hence give them a better interview than normal. That might not have been so interesting when sticking to the subject of those albums, but it might have made him more open to discussing other topics too. Did you also get that sense, and that maybe some interviewers, whether in the book or elsewhere, did this so they’d get a more cooperative conversation?

Yeah. I think it was a really tricky balance, because Lou obviously wanted you to fawn over him. But he also didn’t suffer fools gladly. So you had to walk this fine line between kissing his ass. But you also really had to be knowledgeable about Lou’s career. I think he was not into general questions.

Lou ultimately was, like many of us, kind of a nerd. So if you could either accidentally or on purpose find that topic that he could nerd out on…it might be himself, obviously. Like if you said “oh, I really love the guitar tone that you got on the Blue Mask album,” then he would geek out on equipment or something with somebody. 

With the exception of maybe people like Lenny Kaye or possibly Lester Bangs, who knew how to play him in advance, I think everybody just felt thrown to the wolves. This guy Rex Weiner [who did an interview published by Rolling Stone Italy in 2006] also came [to] this recent LA event. He said that he was kind of expecting asshole, and was kind of pleasantly surprised when he didn’t get one.

I’d like to compare Reed’s interviews with those of a couple other guys of whom I know you’re huge fans. Van Morrison is also noted for being hostile and/or abrupt with many interviewers, Yet, like Reed, he actually did (and still does) a fair amount of interviewers, in spite of his reputation of despising them. And sometimes the interviews are good. He’s even discussed his past in a lot of detail, without anger, on liner notes to Them and Bang label-era solo reissues, and on camera in the Bert Berns documentary [Bang! The Bert Berns Story]. Do you see some similarities between Reed and Morrison in how they handle the media, and how their kind of manic personalities might determine how an interview goes, sometimes due to factors out of the hands of the interviewer?

As you know, I’m like the world’s biggest Van Morrison fan, so I certainly some thoughts on this. First of all, I know for a fact that those liner notes in the recent reissues was him basically being interviewed in-house, and then somebody editing that so it felt more like an essay. I would agree, yes, if you go over Van’s entire career, he’s done a lot of interviews. But I think he’s probably done a lot less than Lou did. And also, Van famously went through a period that he’s come back out of, where he either refused or wanted total control.

For example, about fifteen years ago, I saw there was an interview in a period when Van was not doing a lot of interviews. It said, exclusive interview. As I read the interview, I realized he was being interviewed by his then-wife. And the interview was credited, or copyrighted, by his production company. So he basically either gave or sold [the magazine]a completely scripted interview. There’s a famous interview when he did the album with the Chieftains, where he’s live with one of the Chieftains, and he’s either refusing to talk or just giving very obnoxious…[There’s a detailed account of one especially hostile interview, with Liam Fay of Dublin’s Hot Press, in the introduction to John Collis’s book Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart.]

So like Lou, he can certainly shut down an interview, or has shut down interviews. But yeah, in his older age, he’s kind of come around full circle. I think that Van might be, of the sort of bigger names, the most cantankerous interview. 

The other guy to compare him with is Bob Dylan. Dylan’s not as noted for being hostile as Reed and Morrison (though he sometimes was in the mid-‘60s, most famously in a scene in Don’t Look Back). But he’s noted, maybe even more so than those guys, for game-playing, and not giving the expected answers. Or not even giving honest answers, making up misleading ones for his amusement. Do you see some of that in Reed’s interviews?

I think Dylan…he can be cantankerous. He more just likes to maybe play with the journalist, although he’s capable of giving straightahead answers. There was this famous interview in ’85 in Spin, and the front cover said “Not Like a Rolling Stone Interview.” I still refer to that interview, it’s online. It’s one of the most candid interviews Dylan ever gave. I think his liner notes in the Biograph box set are remarkably straightforward.

But all three of these guys, probably if you had to rank ‘em: Van the most cantankerous, Lou the most also kind of rude, and Dylan the most elusive, perhaps.

With Reed, a kind of game-playing is particularly evident when he talks about Metal Machine Music. Even in the liner notes, it’s not sure whether the record’s a joke or a serious artistic statement. He keeps on riffing on that in his interviews, though maybe he was more forceful on the side of “it was serious” toward the end of his life, when it got revived onstage and some younger musicians praised it without irony. Do you think it was a serious artistic statement, was it kind of a joke (especially on the business) he wanted to get away with, or was it (as I’d say) kind of a combination of the two?

I would agree. I think it initiated a little more as a “fuck you” to the label, possibly to his fans. Then over time, I think he embraced… though he never played with La Monte Young, he obviously as we know played with John Cale, who played with La Monte Young. Lou had an affinity for the avant-garde. He loved Ornette Coleman, or whatever. So I think as he got older, Lou saw [Metal Machine Music] as like, “this is my contribution to the type of stuff that somebody like Cale was doing with La Monte Young.” I think over time Lou saw Metal Machine Music as his great avant-garde artistic statement.

But people may be surprised how much Lou also loved, at least at one point, mainstream music. Iain Matthews from Fairport Convention told me he met Lou in New York in 1974 or ’73, and Lou said, “I know who you are.” And Lou started playfully singing to Iain Matthews the songs off of Iain’s most recent Elektra album. When you think of Iain Matthews, you think of this sort of soft folk-pop or whatever you want to call it. We think of Lou as the aggressive rock and roll guy. So sometimes it’s interesting how these guys, Lou especially, would be listening to something you didn’t think he would listen to, like some kind of folky pop music.

Reed’s attitude toward his fans and more commercially successful projects could be ambivalent. With things like Sally Can’t Dance, almost like, “I put out a deliberately lousy record, and sure enough, it was my biggest seller. Which proves how stupid people are.” Almost like he got more satisfaction from proving the latter point than actually doing what he set out to achieve (sell more records). Or with Rock’n’Roll Animal, “it was a way to get the Velvet Underground songs heard,” almost like the masses couldn’t appreciate them if they were dumbed down – again proving his point, almost to more satisfaction than getting those songs heard, at least in some form. Do you also sometimes get that impression, and what do you put it down to?

I think Lou had this giant ego, starting all the way in the Velvet Underground, where Sterling Morrison – they were recording or writing a song, and Sterling played a really cool lead guitar lick or something, and Lou complimented him. Then Lou quickly said something like, “Well, if I hadn’t written this great song, you would never have played that great little guitar riff. So therefore, you should be thanking me.”

But then, because the Velvets never really took off—and I don’t know if Lou thought they should have been as big as the Beatles or whatever—he’s bitter that the Velvets didn’t have bigger success. He puts out this stuff that he considers substandard, like Sally Can’t Dance or these sort of quasi-heavy metal versions of the Velvets’ songs on Rock’n’Roll Animal. He’s pissed at his fans for buying the substandard work, and he’s also pissed that they didn’t buy his so-called quality work. 

So there’s a lot going on there inside of Lou’s head. A psychiatrist would have a field day with this. Another one of our favorite artists is Pete Townshend, who also kind of I think has these various issues, although they manifest themselves maybe in slightly different ways.

But yeah, I think Lou sort of disdains his fans. Some of the people in my personal life who kind of hate other people, I realized as I got older that usually people that are bitter against other people kind of have a little bit of self-hate thing going on. I think Lou had that, at least at some points in his life.

The book spans 1972, when he first started to get noticed as a solo artist, to the early twentieth century. But it doesn’t have any interviews from when he was in the Velvet Underground. He didn’t actually give many then, as they weren’t too commercially successful. But he did give some, including some that were on the radio, but not in print. Was there a deliberate decision not to include those, maybe in part because they’ve been reprinted in specialist Velvet Underground books?

I think we felt, first of all, that there’s been a book or two with some of those. But more that we didn’t want to muddy the waters, so to speak. We wanted it to just be, like, this is Lou’s solo career.

Back in the Velvet Underground days, his few interviews might have been kind of eccentric at times, but definitely weren’t hostile. Also talking to fans of the band from back then, Lou always seemed pretty friendly and sincerely appreciative when fans would speak with him and tell them they liked the band. This friendliness, certainly to the media, seemed to change quickly after Transformer and a fair degree of commercial success, and a lot of notoriety. My feeling is that in the VU days, commercial success and media exposure was so meager for him that he was fairly eager to cooperate (and interact on a human level with fans) when he could get it. When things finally did turn around for him with Transformer, he seemed ill-equipped to deal with the attention and fair degree of fame, maybe in part because the lack of that for his superb work in the Velvet Underground had embittered him, and he thought what he was getting attention for wasn’t as good.

I think Lou pre-fame, pre-Transformer, was probably a bit more of a regular guy. Peter Abrams, who recorded those Matrix tapes [of the Velvet Underground in San Francisco’s Matrix club in late 1969] that eventually came out officially – I remember him telling me, or maybe I read an interview, or both, that they were at the Matrix for several days and he was recording, and Lou was just a regular dude. And he got regular conversations. And then [the Velvet Underground’s] 1969 Live album, [more than] half of it is from the Matrix tapes, and [some] of it is from Texas. But the part of it that’s Matrix tapes was Abrams doing a quick mix of those four-track tapes and just giving it to Lou at the time, [in] ’69, just so he could enjoy them. 

Even though Abrams wasn’t an interviewer, I think this standoffishness comes later. One, with fame. And possibly, let’s face it, there’s all kinds of drugs that Lou seems to have been taking. Amphetamines, maybe some heroin, maybe not. But we do know that he was definitely drinking and drugging  a lot throughout the ‘70s. And he just became this Lou Reed character. 

There might be an interview in the book where he [says] “nobody does Lou Reed better than me.” [For example, in a 1977 interview with Allan Jones for Melody Maker that’s included in My Week Beats Your Year, Reed states, “I’m told that I’m a parody of myself. Well, who better to parody? If I’m going to mimic someone, I might as well mimic somebody good. Like myself. I can do Lou Reed better than most people, and a lot of people try.”] I think what he means is not just the music, but this whole – he sort of becomes a caricature of himself. The album cover of Take No Prisoners is all kind of about Lou Reed as a caricature, like a cartoon character.

So yeah, he’s playing a little role. People used to say that Bill Graham would be on the phone screaming and yelling at some other concert promoter, and then hang up the phone and smile to whoever was in the room. I’ve heard similar stories about Elliot Roberts, Neil Young [and] Joni Mitchell’s manager. It’s a little bit of an act with these guys. I think that might have been a little bit with Lou, consciously or subconsciously. It becomes a bit of a charade.

Were there any interviews you would have liked to use, but didn’t/couldn’t, whether because of rights issues or not being able to find them, or something else?

At one point, it seemed like the bigger magazines, like Rolling Stone and Melody Maker, were kind of holding their interviews for ransom, so to speak. Our budget was everybody would get a hundred or two hundred dollars. Maybe if it was a bigger magazine, they might get a few hundred dollars or more or something. Some of these bigger magazines [were] like, we want $1000 for this. So there was a lot of negotiation. Elliott Murphy [himself a singer-songwriter who’d already released his debut LP by the time he interviewed Reed in 1975 for a piece in Circus that’s in the book] wanted a little more money than everybody else, so he tossed in a Polaroid of him and Lou together.

What was behind the reasoning of not choosing the interviews you didn’t use? Maybe they were too well known (like the ones with Bangs), or had been reprinted elsewhere? Or were just not that good, or redundant with better ones that made the cut?

The only thing that I did – I pulled out some of the later period interviews. In other words, stuff from the ‘90s, early 2000s, [that] to me seemed a little redundant. I think I might have only pulled out about three or four of Mike’s original list. We certainly went light on the Lester Bangs stuff, because I felt like that has been printed a lot, or at least reproduced on the Internet a lot. So we just kind of picked one Bangs thing from November ’73. In that case, we went for Let It Rock magazine rather than Creem, just because it was a little more obscure. I think when all is said and done, we got pretty much everything that we wanted to get.

One of the most recent interviews, with The Guardian, was a good example of how not to interview Reed, who walked out on it (and was persuaded to come back in and curtly finish). I like how Luc Sante wrote in the foreword, “He reduces a pathetic Guardian stringer to tears—deservedly so perhaps, given the wilted lettuce tenor of his questions.” While I don’t think being rude to (let alone walking out on) an interview you’ve scheduled is defensible, it almost is in this case, with the writer being so naive as to think that Reed will bond with him just because he likes “Walk on the Wild Side,” and starts off with tired and fuzzily articulated questions about subjects from his fairly distant past that Reed’s sick of discussing by this point. Do you think Reed attracted more of those kind of inappropriate interviewers than normal because of the nature of his work, or maybe it just seems that way because he had a much lower boiling point than most stars, who’ll usually field the questions even if they have to spout stock answers?

Probably it’s a mixture of all of that. I think that some of these, like, more mainstream newspapers probably just sort of assign somebody willy-nilly to the job, versus where somebody like a Mojo or Rolling Stone will be like, “let’s bring in this guy because he’s a big Lou fan, or Lou already knows him.” There’s actually an interview that’s not in the book, I don’t think we even considered it for the book, but it’s I think from the 2000s, where the interviewer is a TV interviewer. I think it’s British, maybe European. But the guy says something maybe disparaging about Lou’s more current work. And Lou quickly says something like, “well, that’s an interesting question, because everything that’s on TV is totally garbage. So you’ve got a lot of nerve asking me if today’s music is garbage when you’re part of the problem.”

Does Lou have a much lower boiling point? I think he does. Let’s go back to Van Morrison for a minute. Van often has said, “Would you interview a plumber for three pages? No. You should just consider me like a plumber, except that I’m not a plumber, I’m a singer-songwriter.” Van also has this slogan of like, “the showbiz slogan is, the show must go on. And I say, it doesn’t have to go on if you’re not in the mood for it to go on.” So Van is someone who doesn’t want to play the game. I think Lou played the game a little bit more than Van, but almost, like, punished the journalists for participating in their role.

I think Lou maybe was a little more eager to sell records than Van. Let’s face it, there were times when Lou wasn’t really selling records. I think he felt like, “Well, I better do this, or I might lose my record deal (laughs).” But again, he’s resenting the process, I guess is the best way to say it. When I think somebody like Gordon Lightfoot may not like to do interviews, but he realizes, “Well, this is part of the process.

It’s shocking how some of the worst and most poorly prepared interviewers are from some of the best publications, or at least some of the most respected ones. The Guardian is one of the best daily papers in the world. Another of the more recent interviews is done by a Rolling Stone reporter (albeit Rolling Stone Italy), who doesn’t seem too knowledgeable about his career or passionate about being there, and seems lucky to get away with a reasonable piece considering much of the territory covered is well worn. Is it almost like even major publications sometimes don’t take rock seriously enough to send someone well versed in the subject or up to the task, or are unaware of what you need to get something interesting out of a guy who by this time was known to be mercurial and temperamental with the media? Like the Guardian writer who thinks gushing over “Walk on the Wild Side” will work.

I know, I know. That’s not gonna work. You need to tell Lou you like his latest album, whatever the hell it might be. My thought was Rex, the Rolling Stone guy, should have known better. Because I think Rex is capable of doing the research needed. 

Unfortunately too, it’s also a little bit of – over the last twenty years, it’s gotten harder and harder to get those writing gigs. So I think that cynically, some of these writers may be like —I’m just speculating — “if I can get this interview with Lou Reed and then sell it to a European magazine, I’ll do it.” So there’s a little bit of mercenary probably going on both sides of the fence there.

It’s interesting that while Reed was known to sometimes be infuriating to work with going back to the Velvets days, he often praises some of his colleagues fervently in interviews. Like he says Nico’s The Marble Index, Desertshore, and The End “are so incredible, the most incredible albums ever made,” though attempts to work together in the mid-‘70s apparently worked out badly. Or he’s grateful to Warhol for not demanding a percentage of future earnings when he was fired, though according to several accounts, the break was far more fractious and complicated than that. Did Reed maybe find it easier to be charitable when talking about them to the media than in person?

Two comments: selective memory and very mercurial. [Some] of that stuff that you just mentioned is all in the Lenny Kaye interview from [the] mid-‘70s. And obviously, maybe partially because it was Lenny, he’s almost over-gracious in that one. He’s also saying a lot of nice things about John Cale in that interview. Then of course, if you went to enough Lou Reed interviews, he can be extremely disparaging about Cale. Like, “Have you listened to Cale’s music?” “No, I haven’t.” 

There’s a little bit sort of behind the scenes…because you realize that there’s a photo of Reed and Cale. They both are grimacing, or they’re drinking, in front of a Christmas tree in 1977. There’s a bootleg that has photos of Cale, Reed, David Byrne, and Patti Smith playing at the Ocean Club in ’76. So I think there’s periods where these guys are in contact, but we don’t know, or they don’t want us to know, necessarily, if that makes sense. It’s a little bit like the John Lennon-Paul McCartney thing, where obviously there was a lot of fallout post-Beatles. Then you might find out that those five years before he died, [Lennon] and McCartney might have been talking more on the phone than we were led to believe.

But I still remember, by the time those guys were on the cover of Optionfor Songs for Drella, they weren’t talking to each other. There’s also a famous story that Cale has told many times where after that Velvet Underground reunion in 1993, there was talk of doing a MTV Unplugged, which would be turned into an album, possibly a short tour. And Reed wanted total control. Cale just kept saying, “Lou, just relax, let’s talk about this.” And Reed said “no no no no, I’m producing the MTV project.” And finally, Cale just said, “Well, fuck you.” All’s I’m saying is that for as much as there was friendly stuff on and off over those decades, there was also a lot of anger with these guys.

One of my favorite lines in the interviews was when Bob Reitman tells Reed that Patti Smith told Reitman Reed considered producing her first album. Reed’s response: “I’ve considered whether it’s snowing outside.” Probably it would have been a lot more vicious if he seems to have already trusted him as an interviewer. Any thoughts on how Reed dealt with some unconventional turns of the conversation like this with this kind of dismissive sarcasm?

I would imagine that at some point he would have considered [producing Smith], and there’s photos of Reed and Patti together in public in the ‘70s. Could he have also been bitter because Cale wound up doing it? And that album was sort of a critics’ darling album, at the time. It still is. So again, he might have had this, “oh shit, maybe I should have done it.” Again, it’s that mercurial and selective memory thing.

He had a similar issue with Dylan, where he always claimed he didn’t really like Dylan’s music. But then of course, you hear those early demos [from July 1965 with Cale and Morrison, on the Velvet Underground’s Peel Slowly and See box set], you can tell he’s very Dylan-inspired. And there’s this story where Lou’s playing some kind of small concert or private concert in L.A. around the time of New Sensations, and he does that song “Doin’ the Things That We Want To.” And Dylan turns, I think, to [Lou’s second wife] Sylvia Reed, and says, “I love this song. I wish I’d written it.” So of course Sylvia Reed tells Lou, and Lou gets so excited that he goes out and buys all the Dylan albums that he’d missed, like twenty albums. And now he’s going around telling everyone, “Dylan is wonderful.” To the point where Lou of course appears on that Madison Square Garden [30thanniversary Bob Dylan tribute] concert doing “Foot of Pride.” 

There’s several interviews where he’s like, “yeah, Dylan sucks, I never listen to Dylan.” All done before these events. He also kind of made peace with Zappa. Didn’t he induct Frank Zappa into the [Rock and Roll] Hall of Fame? Now, how many interviews did Reed do in the ‘60s where he said, Zappa sucks? I think there’s at least a few. [As one example, in an interview Lou gave Third Ear in 1970 while the Velvet Underground were recording Loaded, Reed called Zappa “probably the single most untalented person I’ve heard in my life,” throwing in “Dylan gets on my nerves” for good measure.] Again, was he jealous that they get more attention from Verve than the VU? Maybe. I don’t know. But he had this Zappa-hating thing going on for a long time, but he eventually gave up on. 

[There’s] probably a little mental illness going on here too. Certainly narcissism.

It seems like one reason Reed quickly became a pretty prickly interview subject is that he got tired of being asked about his most sensationalistic songs so often, especially “Heroin.” Was he maybe too sensitive to this? Some of those interviewers would probably have gone on to less shopworn questions, or at least had sincere interest in his motivation instead of trying to use songs like that against him.

He probably just got tired of it. I’m kind of friends with Michael Shrieve from Santana, and even if you’re just a casual Santana fan, you remember that Woodstock movie drum solo, right? He can’t stand talking about it. It’s just been asked to death. I think that happened with Lou. think he just kind of burned out on it, as these guys probably do after a while.

Your own brief 1984 interview with Reed for The Notebook is in the book. He was pretty cordial and relatively friendly, if not terribly talkative and informative. Do you think that was one of those zones where he was fairly eager to be a reasonable interviewee, maybe because he especially wanted to promote a new release or things were going relatively well for him overall?

I kind of take the blame for that kind of non-interview. I was super-nervous. I think it’s the first major artist interview I ever did, and one of the things I learned over decades, especially when I did a hundred interviews for [my] Jerry Rubin [biography] much more recently, is to turn interviews more into a conversation. And certainly don’t ask questions that can easily be answered with “no,” “yes,” “no.” So when I re-read my own interview, I don’t go, “oh, Lou’s being a dick,” although he certainly could have helped me out a little bit there.

As you wrote in the book, you weren’t able to interview Reed again, in part because he didn’t show up when you interviewed the rest of the reunited Velvets during their European tour. What would you have liked to ask him if you had the chance?

So the Velvets get back together again, and I remember reading an interview with all of them. They kept talking about—at least Cale did, and I think even Lou—about how “we’re gonna have a ton of new material,” right? I don’t know if they were planning that like, “we’re gonna play it on a concert, we’re gonna make an album.” But they kept talking about these new songs. And of course, there was only one new song, which was probably the weakest thing that Lou has ever written, “Coyote.” Which not only is not a very good song, it really doesn’t feel like a Velvet Underground-type song. 

So when Reed didn’t show up, I kept trying to pin Cale down – “can you tell me about these new songs?” It was as if that interview never happened. ‘Cause he’s going, “What do you mean? What new songs?” Finally he just said, sort of frustrated, “the only thing we did in rehearsal was begging Lou to turn his guitar down, because he was always the loudest guy in the room,” for these 1993 tour rehearsal[s]. And kind of just blew me off. So had Reed been there, in retrospect, I would love to have kind of tried to pin him down. Like, “Are you writing new songs for this band, this reunion? Would you like to be writing new songs?” That’s the angle I might have tried to go down if I had been able to interview Lou, specifically in 1993.

What are your favorite Lou Reed interviews?

I’ve always loved those two Australian interviews. Right before we decided to do this book, I used to listen to those or watch them on youtube. Just kind of for the sheer outrageousness of it. They’re definitely the best examples of Lou Reed being an asshole. In terms of interviews on the opposite spectrum, where he’s being cooperative, I think that 1976 Hit Parader interview with Lenny Kaye is good.

The thing that I always got bored with, I remember when albums like New York came out, he just wanted to talk about guitar sounds and guitar tones and his favorite amplifiers. Basically, a lot of his interviews started reading like Guitar Player interviews.

He also started doing that with Tai chi for a while. In fact, one of the weirdest things I ever saw a major artist do, is I saw Lou play at the Warfield [in San Francisco], I would say, early 2000s. In the middle of the concert, he brings his Tai chi master out. And the guy just sort of does interpretive dances in front of the band, on stage where the audience can see, while they’re playing some Lou Reed songs.

It was kind of that nerd thing that I mentioned earlier in this interview. When he got fixated on something he really got fixated. A lot of these artists are kind of OCD, they’re obsessive compulsive, and they get fixated on something. It may be music, or it may be, what gauge guitar strings does Lou like to play?

When most fans, myself included, think of Lou and these interviews, you do think of things like those outrageous Australian interviews, or the Lester Bangs stuff. I hope when people read this book, they realize that Lou could be thoughtful, he could be nice, he could be insightful. And I hope that the book shows some of that side.

Like some magazine asked if they could print some excerpts of Lou’s quotes from the book. I went through and found what I felt were some of the more insightful things. And then, sort of behind my back without asking me, the editor of that particular magazine went through and just grabbed all the asshole-y soundbites. I think this book hopefully kind of shows both sides of Lou, the crazy soundbite stuff as well as, Lou’s being normal or gentle.

Outside the Gates of Eden: An Interview with Author Lewis Shiner

I’ve been a fan of Lewis Shiner ever since I read his novel Glimpses about 25 years ago. Its protagonist, an obsessive rock fan, travelsback in time through his dreams, where he tries with mixed success to help the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix complete their unfinished masterpieces. Part of what makes this work is that Shiner really does know a lot about these legendary aborted records, and a lot about rock in general. He also knows a lot, or went to the trouble of learning, about how the artists actually spoke and acted.

Glimpses is more or less science fiction, though Shiner’s also gone into the rock world with his non-fantasy novel Say Goodbye and several short stories. He’s also written novels in which rock plays barely a part, like Black & White, where buried secrets between North Carolina generations come to a head, and Dark Tangos, which takes on yet more disturbing, difficult secrets and culture clashes in South America.

At first his latest and by far most ambitious book, Outside the Gates of Eden, seems to set the stage for another story set in the rock world. Hero (and sometimes anti-hero) Cole works his way up through Texas teen garage bands to the Fillmore and the verge of rock stardom before seeming to throw it all away. The journey takes him through the college frat circuit, the San Francisco psychedelic scene, and Woodstock before it goes off course.

But Outside the Gates of Eden is much more than a tale—albeit much more convincing and realistic than almost any other—of a fictional rock almost-star. Its 870 pages take in many other characters and many other milieus of Cole’s generation. These journey from back-to-the-land communes and the snobbish New York art world to abusive police, broken families, and a struggle for integrity and justice that leads Cole and his best buddy into dangerous crime-ridden Mexican climes. And it somehow culminates fifty years after its mid-’60s launch with a high-stakes poker game in Mexico, where the stakes are higher than mere money, or even a mere life or two.

Cole’s struggle to regain a foothold in the music business might be the strongest thread of the book’s latter sections, but it’s hardly the only one. There are also struggles between the political and lifestyle philosophies of different generations, especially with Cole and his estranged father. There’s a delicate balance of family and romantic relationships, always threatening to fall off a high-wire as the characters change, sometimes radically, and at different rates. There are insider takes, unfortunately pretty accurate as far as this music journalist can tell, of the ruthlessness of the music industry.

Not least, although saved mostly for the last, there are the main characters’ quests—as they grow from middle age into senior citizens—to help do their part for environmental and social sustainability in the time they have left. It’s not only an urgent attempt to hang on to the idealism they’d first cultivated in the ‘60s; by the time of the book’s conclusion near 2016, it’s become an absolute necessity. It’s not just the story of a generation, but of an uncertain future, even as it gets ready for the final phase of its life.

Outside the Gates of Eden is an epic, both in scale and sheer length. It’s a tribute to Shiner’s strength as a writer, however, that it’s a riveting read that never sags. Besides taking on very big questions, from the value of capitalism to the sacrifices one makes both for art and the planet, it’s just plain entertaining. And if you are a rock fan, this might stand out, as it does to me, as one of the few works of fiction with strong rock elements that ring, as I wrote in a back cover blurb, “with journalistic authenticity and painstakingly accurate detail.”

Which leads into a disclaimer: I did write one of the back cover blurbs for Outside the Gates of Eden. I’m also prominently thanked in the Author’s Note, as I helped show Shiner around San Francisco (particularly Haight-Ashbury) one weekend as he researched some of that painstaking detail. I also read a draft and gave him some general notes/feedback, including clarifications about the kind of rock history details he wants to make sure are right, whether it’s when something happened at the Jefferson Airplane house, or who exactly was in the Yardbirds at a certain San Francisco show.

But whether or not I’d become friends with Lewis, I would have wanted to ask him about Outside the Gates of Eden. He answered my questions shortly after the book was published in spring 2019.

Outside the Gates of Eden covers some thematic ground that’s also found in your other books. There’s rock music and rock history, which is a big part of Glimpsesand Say Goodbye. It follows characters through volatile periods of social change with repercussions that last decades, as it does in some ways in Black & White. There are some dark and sometimes violent confrontations with authorities and between cultures, elements in Dark Tangos. There are conflicts between different generations, which came into play in different ways in Black and White and Glimpses.

Yet Outside the Gates of Eden is clearly different from your previous books. There’s the sheer size and scope, certainly. But I first want to ask, what kind of similar territory do you see the book exploring to what you have in previous work?

First of all, I’m relieved to hear you say that Eden is “clearly different.” I was a little nervous at the outset because Cole’s story arc seemed a little too similar to Say Goodbye, where a musician moves to California, gets some traction in the music business, but ultimately fails to become a star. Obviously the scope in Eden is much larger, and there are many other story arcs beside Cole’s, but does a larger scope imply a qualitative difference? In the end, I never felt like I was repeating myself in the particulars, so I hope my readers will agree.

One of the other themes you mentioned was generational conflicts, specifically father-son relationships. I had to revisit that territory in Eden for a number of reasons, maybe the biggest of which is thematic. The struggle between the counterculture and the establishment was in many ways that same father-son conflict, writ large. Also, I wanted to let the father have a voice, which is something I hadn’t done before. I think it’s important to get it out there that the World War II generation felt betrayed in many ways when their kids rebelled. Look at all I gave you, they said.

What are some of the other ways in which you set out to nonetheless make Outside the Gates of Eden markedly different from any of your previous books?

Really I think it comes back to the scope thing, which meant getting into more diverse viewpoints. I made some effort, I guess, in Black & White and Dark Tangos to get into the heads of the white supremacists and the right-wing terrorists, but I never really narrated from their point of view. So maybe that’s something that’s been evolving in my work over the years, but it definitely took a huge jump here. Not only do we see through the eyes of Cole’s father, we get viewpoints from Dave, a record producer, and Johnny Hornet, a DJ. Now both of those concepts—the record producer and the DJ—were pretty much brand new in the early-to-mid ‘60s. They were inventing those job descriptions as they went along. So it was very important to me to cover those bases, and to have Madelyn there for the art revolution in SoHo in the 1970s, and Cole there in Austin for the outlaw country music later in the decade, and so on.  So maybe one big difference is that I was trying for a kind of completeness in Eden where my other books stuck closer to the classical unities.

Something I think can be said of Outside the Gates of Eden’s themes is that it looks at how a generation changes, sometimes unpredictably, both in how it affects its times and how the times affect it. Is that a fair assessment?

Definitely.  Starting in the late ‘50s and going into the early ‘70s, young people brought about some really sweeping changes—Civil Rights, ending the draft and the Vietnam War, legalizing abortion, not to mention big cultural changes. Then the times began to change us. The assassinations of Malcom X, the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King. The murders of students at Kent State and Jackson State. Those were all incredibly demoralizing. And the circumstances that had made the sixties possible—a prosperous white middle class, a booming economy, affordable college education—that all started to change, too. The gas crisis of 1973 was a big turning point, the first time that this young generation had to face real shortages. It was a wake-up call, saying “there’s not enough to go around anymore.” And a lot of people reacted to that by saying, “OK, then, I’m going to make sure I get my share.” That was the beginning of the end in many ways.

What were the challenges of taking on such a big area?

Number one, research. Starting with reading general histories of the times, then burrowing down into memoirs of people who were there, or were characters in my book. Conducting interviews myself, visiting San Francisco (where you generously showed me around) and the Woodstock site. All the way down to the incredible wealth of detail that’s available on the Internet. Set lists from concerts that I describe in the book. Complete schedules of who was playing at the Fillmore on any given day. Photos of Haight Street or the performer’s pavilion at Woodstock. So that’s one challenge.

The next is, one, making sure I didn’t overlook some event that absolutely needed to be in the book. Like, I went back and forth and back and forth on whether I should talk about 9/11, and, grudgingly, I decided I had to at least mention it.  Two, deciding what to leave out. I mean, you can’t talk about everything. One of my big decisions was not to go in depth on the actual experience of being in Vietnam. I wasn’t there, almost nobody I knew was there, and those that were mostly didn’t want to talk about it.  I didn’t feel like I could bring anything fresh to that discussion.

It’s interesting—after I had the book pretty well mapped out in my head and was well along into writing it, one of my favorite writers, Jane Smiley, published something called The Last Hundred Years Trilogy, really a single novel divided into three volumes. She covers a single family from 1920 to 2019, and it’s a wonderful story, and it’s as different from Eden as it could be. There’s very little music in it, she spends a lot more time in Vietnam, and she has about the same amount of material for each year. I was fascinated, because I knew the problems she had to solve, and I admired the way she solved them in a completely different way than I did.

As a general observation, Eden’s a just plain big book, with 870 pages. That’s about two to three times (and more often than not three times) as long as most novels. It’s long even by so-called “epic” standards. Did you have such an epic in mind when you first conceived the book?

I knew it immediately. My first estimate was that it would be a thousand pages in manuscript, and I was close—the final draft was a bit over 1200. 

How do you think such a long work (whether by you or others) is justified, when the great majority of other novels are shorter, and usually much shorter?

That’s easy. I like long books. MiddlemarchWar and PeaceOur Mutual FriendAnna Karenina. More recently, City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. It’s such a comfort to start a book and really like it, and know it’s not going to be over anytime soon. And I get excited when I feel like an author is going to be raising big issues.

Obviously not everyone agrees. I have a friend who is reluctant to pick up a book of more than 400 pages. My concession to those readers was to work really hard on tightening the prose, trying to cut out every word that I didn’t think was absolutely necessary.

I have a few questions specifically about the rock music element of the story, especially as I’m mostly known as a music history writer. As we’ve discussed on a number of occasions, many fiction books using rock music as a major or minor element don’t bother to get historical contexts right. Sometimes it’s almost as if the author doesn’t think they’re important, or just doesn’t mind that it seems careless and phony. Your books, especially this one and Glimpses, have very authentic rock historical detail not only in getting the facts right, but also in getting the feel of the musicians (whether real ones like Hendrix or fictional ones like Cole) authentic. Why do you obviously think it’s important to get the context right?

When I’m reading a historical novel, one of my criteria is whether the writer can surprise me with unexpected details. Sarah Waters, for example, is fantastic at this. You don’t have to be an expert on Victorian history to read her novel Fingersmith and know that she did an incredible amount of research, because she’s constantly coming up with stuff that startles or even shocks you. Conversely, when somebody is just making stuff up or relying on things they’ve seen on TV, the writing seems flat. 

Also, I am terrible at making stuff up. The more I know about the realities of a place and time, the easier it is for me to write about it.

As one example of how you get into rock culture in the book with some detail, you don’t just go through one character’s dalliance with rock stardom at big venues and festivals, but also his rise through garage bands putting out scarce singles and playing gross frat parties with violence and sexual assault. Is there any autobiographical element to that part, whether as a fan or a musician growing up during that period?

Oh yeah. I was in lots of garage bands. Played lots of frat houses, both in the ‘60s and later on. The frat party I describe Cole playing at actually happened in the early ‘80s, and I was in fact in the band, and one of the kids did actually smash up a chair and try to light it on fire. I didn’t see anything there that was inconsistent with what I’d seen in the sixties at the frat houses I played at Vanderbilt.

It isn’t just the music and musicians that are depicted with naturalistic detail, but also the music business, and how harsh it is. Record deals blow up over petty details, and without giving much away, even when the main musician character gets some success late in his career, it turns out not to be as much of an unqualified victory as he thought it was at first. Is that something you feel important to do, to illustrate how tough and sometimes harsh the business can be, despite its often romantic image?

I think it’s much more common knowledge now that big label record companies can grind you into paste and wash you down the drain. Back in the sixties, a big label contract was the Holy Grail, and nobody knew about stuff like recouping recording costs and gross vs. net earnings. It was important to deal with that in Eden because the book does talk so much about art vs. commerce—as embodied in Alex [Cole’s best friend and, in his early days, bandmate], but also played out in SoHo or in the university system.

I’ve said elsewhere that the book was an all-out attack on capitalism, but that’s not really correct. It’s more of an all-out attack on unrestrained capitalism. That tension, between making art and making a living, between finding happiness and being responsible, is at the heart of the book. I mean, Woodstock is this symbol of peace and love, but somebody ended up paying the bill. The backers lost millions (initially, anyway), the National Guard had to fly in food and medicine, local farmers were handing out sandwiches—I mean, it’s great to be idealistic, but you have to also function in the real world, where things have price tags.

You actually research some of these rock history details, as you did with me when we walked around Haight-Ashbury, but as you’ve also done with real-life characters like producer Erik Jacobsen, and just by your thorough pre-existing knowledge, as comes through with the description of legendary unreleased music by the Beatles/Doors/Beach Boys/Hendrix in Glimpses. Why, I ask because it’s a positive, is it so important for you to get both the facts and the feel right in the rock elements of your books?

It probably won’t surprise anybody who reads Eden for me to say that I’m an idealist. I regard fiction as a calling. When it’s done right, I believe it can reveal truths about the human condition that non-fiction has to work much harder to achieve. If you’re after higher truth, you have to get the “lower” truth—a.k.a., the facts—right first.

You’ve already answered this question in a previous conversation, but I’ll ask it here as it’ll now go in print, and in case your answer’s changed at all. Lots of works of fiction use rock as part of the book, whether as the dominant part or just one part. Most of those books are bad or at least seriously flawed, in part because most of them don’t get the facts or feel right. Why do you think this is generally done so poorly, and done well so infrequently?

It takes a particular skill set to write good fiction about music. Note here that I’m not claiming that I do—this is just me talking as a reader. Obviously you need to write well. You need to really love music and be transported by it. And the really tough one, you have to know how the music is put together. You should be able to play at least one instrument, you should know some music theory, you should know what a Leslie speaker is and how that changes the sound of a Hammond B3. The reason is, if you don’t have a grounding in the reality of the physical instruments, your descriptions can get so metaphorical they read like bad sex scenes—throbbing waves pounding the yielding sands and so on.

Are there any other fiction books besides yours that you think have done this well?

I’ve read a few books where the music details were quite convincing—like Howard Massey’s Roadie, for example—but I had some quibbles with the writing style or the story. So George RR Martin’s Armageddon Rag remains my favorite rock novel. And I gave George some technical assistance on that one. Interestingly, my favorite novel about music is Longing, by J. D. Landis, which is about the classical composer Robert Schumann. Landis gets everything right—gorgeous writing, completely convincing musical stuff, some of it very technical, but never dry. And an absolutely heartbreaking story. Susan Hardin [Tim Hardin’s widow] turned me onto that book, for which I’m eternally grateful.

Have you tried any that have done so notably poorly?

I don’t mind picking on P. F. Kluge because he can laugh all the way to the bank. Eddie and the Cruisers is the poster child for a rock novel by somebody who doesn’t know how bands work. In the novel, the band has four (count ‘em, four) guitar players, a sax player, a drummer, and no bass. This, obviously, was one of many things they changed for the movie. And it’s not just the instrumentation that rings false, it’s the whole chemistry and day-to-day business of the band.

I don’t want to give away anything to those who haven’t read the book, but something that impressed me about it was that there weren’t pat and predictable resolutions to some deep conflicts between some of the characters. Some such conflicts are often resolved with a big tearful scene near the end, in both novels and films. Well, it doesn’t always happen that way in real life, and that’s seldom reflected in books and films. Do you think that’s a fair observation, and is that something you want to make a part of your plots and characters?

Again, this is something I’m glad to hear. I don’t know that I set out to overturn the idea of pat resolutions, but I did base almost everything in the book on either my personal experience or the experiences of my friends. I combined and split off characters and condensed or expanded timelines, but for some definition, most of the book aspires to “truth”—in that higher sense I was talking about earlier. As I’ve gotten older and seen the way events play out—deaths of parents, ends of marriages, people having kids and grandkids—it is increasingly clear that a lot of stuff never does get resolved. So that’s the truth I’m striving to be faithful to.

Also—you hear this a lot and I’m sure many will scoff, but more in Eden than anything else I’ve written, the characters took hold of their own destinies. I’m sure this reflects some kind of subconscious process that I’m just not in touch with, but it felt like they were controlling the plot. There were a number of benchmarks in the story that I had in mind from the beginning—a suicide, an extramarital affair, to name two examples—that it became clear the characters would not cooperate for.

I will say that I’m not a fan of ambiguous endings—I want the reader to have a feeling that it’s done. But “done” is not always the same as “resolved.”

Some casual readers, and maybe (though I hope not) some reviewers, will view or maybe even dismiss Eden as “another ‘60s book” in a tired arena that should be put to bed. But of course, while the ‘60s play a big part in launching the epic, if you do read the whole thing, it goes right up to the present, and addresses very contemporary issues like global warming, sustainability, and community among baby boomers who are now senior citizens. How important was this for you to make a part of the story?

Well, first off, I don’t think I’ve read that many ‘60s books. Maybe I’ve just been lucky that way. But my initial concept of the book was, “what happened to the idealism of the ‘60s, and how did we end up with a culture of greed?” That necessitates bringing the story at the very least into the ‘80s. To me, you don’t have a story yet when you say, “this kind of great thing happened for a while in the ‘60s, but it ended.”  When you say, “this kind of great thing happened, and it was mocked and reviled and stamped out by the forces of repression, but it held on and now it’s coming back”—now you’ve got a story. 

I liked one character’s line “I think the election of Reagan was a kind of cultural Iron Curtain, cutting off the ‘60s from the history of the future.” But not just because there was that one specific line — I think that thread is there throughout much of the book, especially the latter parts. Of how conservative/reactionary forces roll back cultural/humanitarian advances, or pretend they didn’t happen, or twist them into something else. I note, if subtly, in my books and courses that learning about music of the past isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, but also relevant to what happens today or in any subsequent era. I think the book shows how the past is connected to the present, and how learning about the past can help us understand the present and move into the future. If that is indeed something you have in mind, do you want to comment on that?

It’s not just conservative forces, it’s the capitalist system. When it’s unrestrained—as it has been increasingly since the ‘80s, as we get further and further from the Great Depression that was caused by unrestrained capitalism—the rich just want to get richer and there’s nothing to stop them.  Obviously history has a lot to teach us—not just about the Gilded Age and the Depression, which are so similar to what we’re seeing now—but about some possible solutions.

As far as music goes, there’s a lot to learn from that, too. I had an interviewer ask me for some of my favorite political songs from the ‘60s. I fumbled the question and kind of said, well, not that many songs were overtly political. But when I thought about it later, I decided that was wrong. So many songs were political, just not in obvious ways. When the Rascals sang, “A Beautiful Morning,” or the Kinks sang “Something Better Beginning,” or the Beach Boys sang “Good Vibrations,” those were like coded messages to the teenagers listening to the radio, saying, “It’s a new day, it’s time to rethink the world, we are at the very start of something wonderful and profound.” Those songs inspired us to believe in ourselves, to be idealistic, to challenge the existing order.

Although your sympathy definitely seems to be with left-wing and artistically progressive movements, unlike many epic novels with strong historical elements, you also note the flaws of some of these movements and organizations. The early-’70s communes in Eden have deep problems, for instance. Is that something you find interesting to explore, and do you get any flak, even these days, from veterans of those movements feeling like you’re betraying the cause or something similar by being critical?

One of the former commune members I interviewed actually told me my characters were too committed. Where was the fun? Fortunately he read an early draft and I was able to make things a little more relaxed. He had other criticisms, too, but not every commune was alike, and I followed my instincts.  Again, as we’ve been talking about, you can try for the truth or you can try for what you wish was the truth. The second option doesn’t really help you deal with the future.

A related question: late ‘60s rock music, which plays a big part in the lives of the characters in the early part of the book, is often written about with rosy nostalgia. But Eden also goes into the seamier parts of the experience. Not just the business hassles and the frat parties that I’ve cited, but also when the two most prominent characters visit Haight-Ashbury at the peak of the summer of love, and it’s a bummer. Or when Woodstock turns out not to be a glorious dawn in the life of one, but kind of an ending of a big part of his life. Again: do veterans of the rock scene feel like you’re laying down a bummer trip by being critical of some parts of it?

The SF writer William Gibson was at Woodstock, and he told me back in the ‘80s how miserable it was there, and how many people walked away saying, “Thank god that’s over.” Only to have these incredibly rosy memories afterward, when the festival became kind of this sacred event. Of the Woodstock veterans I talked to, most were in the middle—glad to have it on their resume, so to speak, but not downplaying the discomforts of it. I haven’t caught any flak over my portrayal of Woodstock, which I tried to make pretty even-handed, but I haven’t heard from any Woodstock vets yet either.

Something else I think the book conveys, which might make even progressives uncomfortable, is that for a better future, a lot of sacrifice is involved. It will involve much more than voting for the best candidate or recycling your newspapers; it will involve big changes in lifestyle that not everyone might find easy to adapt to, certainly at first. Is that important for you to convey, and do you have a feeling that readers are picking up on that?

I would hope that the book inspires readers to make some sacrifices, but that kind of thing is hard to predict. I think one of the most controversial things in the book is the idea that idealists can’t save the world by themselves. No matter how much they hate the idea, they are going to have to get at least a certain number of rich people on their side. As I said earlier in the interview, somebody has to pay the bills. We need to have compassionate, idealistic rich people on board, or we’re doomed.

The book just came out, but how’s the reaction been so far? Not just among people who are familiar with your work (I imagine it’s been very enthusiastic among those), but among any who might be reading you for the first time?

The reaction has been remarkably good. I don’t know how many first-time Shiner readers I’ve been getting, but the thing that really surprises and pleases me is that people seem to be actually reading the book and not just putting it on the coffee table and admiring it. For a book this size, that’s really gratifying. Because it’s a limited edition from a small publisher, that tends to self-select for my existing fans. It’ll have a more general readership when it’s released in the UK in August, and we’ll know more then.

Info on Outside the Gates of Eden on the website of Subterranean Press. Other info on his work on Lewis Shiner’s website.

Galactic Ramble: An Interview with Editor/Publisher Richard Morton Jack

I have a lot of rock music reference books – more so than most people would consider healthy, although I do indeed consult them for work as well as pleasure. I have books of US and UK chart positions; a big discography of US ‘60s garage rock singles; every 20th century issue of Rolling Stone on CD-ROM; a history of every known Doors concert; a guide to ‘60s UK pop on TV; and five volumes of Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees, as just a few examples. But I don’t have any rock reference books like the new edition of Galactic Ramble, a huge compendium of reviews of British LPs roughly spanning the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. (For basic info on the book’s availability and pricing, go to

There’s the sheer size of the volume, for one thing. It’s 920 pages, coffee table-sized, with three columns of print. The focus is on rock, but there are also plenty of jazz and folk LPs, as well as a good share of “library music” discs (recorded for use on TV/film soundtracks) and sprinklings of pop, avant-garde, blues, world, and other styles. There aren’t just oodles of major label releases, but also lots of indies, private pressings, and even records cut as school projects. There are even albums by British artists only released in the US, or only available in much smaller countries. It doesn’t quite catch everything, but it doesn’t miss much.

Like editor/publisher (and frequent reviewer) Richard Morton Jack’s 775-page book using a similar format for North American music from the same era (Endless Trip), it also combines reviews recently and specifically written for this volume with excerpts from tons of reviews from the era.  On top of that, Galactic Ramble also has thousands of reproductions of vintage ads for LPs in the book, as well as Top Ten lists by the dozen or so contributors covering everything from the best Welsh albums to “ten titles with awful puns.”

Even if you’ve got a pretty huge collection of UK music from the time, you’re bound to run across things you’re barely familiar with or totally unaware of, whether the 1970 Charlie Watts-produced album by the People Band or the jazz-soul-pop instrumental LPs by Don Shinn (who, in Morton Jack’s estimation, “proves himself Brian Auger’s equal on his organ”). Yet the bigger, and in fact biggest, records of the time are covered too, all the way up to the Beatles, without snobbery that either lowers the standing of superstars or inappropriately champions the merits of cult acts. And acts usually only surveyed through their best-ofs, like Herman’s Hermits, Peter & Gordon, and the Dave Clark Five, are rewarded with real reviews of their actual LPs, even if they rarely deserve canonization as lost gems.

One of many obscure UK albums reviewed in Galactic Ramble.

Yes, these are the kind of books whose bulk and detail make some of your friends, even some of your good ones, question your sanity for owning a copy, let alone reading it from A to Z, as I’ve done. But it’s not just a mass of facts and figures. The writing’s entertaining, and the perspectives are thoughtful and informed. By treating all (or virtually all) records as worthy of consideration, and not just those that were popular or have gained or maintained a certain critical reputation, Galactic Ramble does a great service to rock scholarship in general. Would that all corners of the world get such coverage – which, in fact, Morton Jack is working on, as you’ll read.

Besides producing Galactic Ramble and similar reference books, Morton Jack is also editor/publisher (and again, frequent writer for) the glossy magazine Flashback (info at Also focusing on the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s, it has in-depth articles and reviews on cult acts, albums, and books usually overlooked by other rock history publications. (As a disclaimer, I’ve been a frequent contributor to Flashback, though I did not write anything for Galactic Ramble.) I interviewed Morton Jack about Galactic Ramble shortly after its early 2019 publication.

This is the third book of this sort you’ve done, after the first edition of Galactic Ramble and Endless Trip. These are some of the most detailed rock reference books ever published, and not just in their length and detail. No others have the format of combining reviews written specifically for the book and discographical information with excerpts of vintage reviews from when the records were first released. What was your motivation and intentions in deciding on the formats of these books?

Before YouTube and other sites made it easy to check out obscure 60s and 70s albums, hype (usually from dealers…) was often all that hungry music fans had to go on. I found that frustrating, so decided to put together a book of candid reviews from knowledgeable music lovers (egotistically assuming that if I thought such a thing would be useful, others would too). Because I’d already started to collect 60s and 70s music papers and magazines, it seemed logical to mine them for information to add to the book, hence the release dates, adverts and excerpts from original reviews. It all grew from there. It seemed sensible to include famous albums alongside obscurities because they give interesting context, and I wanted the book to be of broad interest, not just for specialists. In fact, albums by big stars of that era (Herman’s Hermits, Cilla Black, the Sweet and many others) are barely listened to nowadays, whereas artists like COB, Vashti Bunyan and the Open Mind, who barely sold a single record at the time, are now very familiar to most lovers of music from that time.

The first edition of Galactic Ramble was pretty big, with 530 pages, but the second edition is a lot bigger, and not merely an update/revision. It’s 920 pages, almost twice as long. What specifically did you want to do and include this time around that wasn’t in the first edition?

The first edition was put together fairly quickly circa 2008, without attempting to be comprehensive. In the ensuing years I made a concerted effort to make a list of eligible albums that weren’t in it, and to add new reviews to entries that were only represented by old reviews. This edition therefore includes a large number of obscurities that I had either never heard of or was unable to cover last time, and much more ‘modern’ perspective. It’s also broader in scope, with genres covered that were largely omitted last time, such as library music and early beat. [Note to US readers: in the UK, “beat” refers to the mid-’60s rock that Americans call the British Invasion.]

Of course you didn’t write all the material, but you wrote more than anyone else. What were the most exciting discoveries for you among the albums in the edition that you hadn’t previously heard?

I wrote the most because I had to wade through many albums I wouldn’t inflict on an enemy!Off the top of my head, two albums I listen to frequently but hadn’t heard when putting together the last edition are Change-Is by the Rendell-Carr Quintet and the self-titled LP by Fuchsia, but there are many others. In fact, there’s one intriguing major label album I heard of in the course of putting the book together that I have yet to find a single copy of, and that still isn’t listed on any music websites. I know that it actually exists, because I know someone who has a copy… and when I find one, I’ll tell you what it is.

The 1971 album by Fuchsia.

The great fascination of this period for me is the sheer variety and volume of music that was released: record companies had little idea what would or wouldn’t sell, so seemingly threw out as much product as possible. At times it seems like a bottomless pit, and I was and am constantly amazed at the sight of major-label albums that I had never even heard of. Discovering it all is an ongoing process. More music came out in that period than anyone can assimilate in a lifetime. 

There are excerpts of vintage reviews from dozens of UK publications. These include not just the expected weeklies like NMEMelody Maker, and Sounds, but also underground papers like IT and Oz, fairly forgotten music business publications like Record Retailer, and even general interest magazines like Penthouse and Time Out. Quite a few of the reviews come from publications that are obscure even to scholars and collectors of the era, like Strange Days, Top Pops and the UK edition of Rolling Stone (which was only in operation in 1969, and had different material from the US edition). How much effort was involved in accumulating all of those issues, and what do you see as their greatest value (for historical knowledge, not the price the actual issues would fetch now) 40-55 years later?

In contrast to record collecting, very few people collect old music magazines / papers, and certain issues of certain publications are as rare as any LP. Trade papers like Record Retailer and Music Business Weekly are more or less impossible to find – maybe one or two copies of each surfaces on eBay every year. Obscure consumer magazines like Top Pops are barely any easier to find; that one ran from 1967 to 1971 (by which time it was called Music Now), but even the British Library doesn’t have them. It’s rather mystifying where they all are; I can only assume that they were thrown away in a way that the more serious and large-selling papers (Melody MakerNME etc) weren’t. Putting together runs of them is a grueling task. In certain cases, it took me years just to establish that certain issues simply don’t exist (for whatever reason). The information just isn’t out there yet. The joy of these scarcer papers is that they cover artists who weren’t touched elsewhere, as well as containing material relating to household names that has barely been seen since. That is definitely their greatest value for me. As for the better-known papers, the sheer volume of interesting information in a random issue of (say) Melody Maker from this era is mind-boggling. To read an issue of any such paper is an extremely vivid, immediate experience for a music lover.

As a related question, it’s amazing how often some quite obscure albums were reviewed. Eleven Trader Horne reviews and nine for the first Peter Bardens record, for instance. Would you agree it’s not generally realized how thorough UK coverage was, at least in terms of sheer numbers of releases reviewed? And why do you think there were so many — to fill up space, to maintain relations with record labels, a general fanaticism among some contributors and editors, or a combination of all of the above?

In those days the music business was pretty efficient in terms of recording, releasing, promo and publicity (although by no means all artists got a fair crack of the whip). When one remembers that Melody Maker, NMESoundsRecord MirrorDisc and Top Pops (and many other magazines aimed at young people and the underground) were appearing every single week, it’s less of a surprise to find how much coverage there was of obscure artists. After all, no one knew what the next big thing would be. 

Trader Horne’s sole LP, 1970’s Morning Way.

Often a connection opened doors, then as now: Trader Horne’s members had been in Fairport Convention and Them, both of which were universally well-regarded by the music press at the time. As well as the reviews, Trader Horne received several feature articles, and Pye made a big effort with press releases and posters etc. As another example, Spencer Davis was involved in managing July, so they were widely covered (with his name mentioned in almost every case, of course). 

Almost everything got at least one prominent review, though beyond that coverage often seems arbitrary. Some albums, inevitably, seem to have received absolutely no coverage whatsoever. For example, I have yet to see a single review of the LPs by Ambrose Slade and Czar, and the debut by Catapilla, all of which are well-regarded and highly prized today.

As many publications as were sourced, quite a few other reviews are out there. First there are reviews in general interest UK papers and regional UK papers in different areas and cities. Also there are the many reviews that appeared in the US (and other English-speaking countries). Of course, in many instances the albums didn’t come out outside of the UK or didn’t come out in the same form, but in many other cases they did. What were the parameters of deciding which magazines to use for review sources, and do you regret not being to include some of the others, even if you had to be selective to keep the book to a publishable size?

I restricted coverage in the book to British publications on the basis that I had to draw the line somewhere, and their critical perspectives would approximate cultural homogeneity (for better or worse). Mainstream newspapers contained hardly any proper pop coverage in that era (in stark contrast to today’s papers), and took barely any interest in underground music; in researching the book I trawled through a large number of daily papers but found very little of use beyond jazz reviews. I did excerpt material from several regional papers (typically concerning local bands being given a national shot), but of course I was never going to be able to do a comprehensive job of that. Either way, most pop / rock coverage I’ve seen in the mainstream media was superior or dismissive. As but one example, the reliably absurd Tony Palmer had this to say of the first Jimi Hendrix album in the Observer: ‘Owes everything to the Cream. Overladen with electronic effects and confuses gimmick with invention. One song hardly distinguishable from the next and all characterised by moaning, groaning and sobbing. Mostly out of tune and probably out of time.’

While it’s interesting to see how records were perceived at the time, many of the reviews were unexpectedly positive, often rather blandly so, even for many records that barely got any attention or sales. It often almost seemed like the purpose was to help sell the records as much as judge their merits — not just in the business publications where you might expect that, but also in the ones that were straight music journalism (or at least perceived as such). Do you agree with that, and do you feel like the reviews by GR writers penned recently and specifically for this book can be something of a more critically astute counterbalance?

Time-constraints meant that most album reviews were actually superficial descriptions (often heavily dependent on accompanying press releases or sleevenotes). More than one music journalist from the 60s and 70s has told me that ‘reviewing’ in in those days consisted of listening to one of the many records that arrived at their offices every day with headphones on, whilst desperately getting copy together for other parts of the paper. Considered, in-depth coverage of albums didn’t start until the late 60s, but most reviews remained short and superficial thereafter. (As an aside, for me the most perceptive reviewer of the time was Mark Williams, who wrote for International Times and later founded the sadly short-lived Strange Days.) I don’t think advertising was contingent on favourable coverage, as in many publications today. In fact, one former 1970s Melody Maker editor told me that he used to be taken out for lunch by record company promo people begging him to find them advertising space; there simply wasn’t enough room for it all every week.

In the vintage reviews, there are some amusing misfires for albums that are now established classics, some of which might have seemed ridiculous even at the time. For instance, NME thought Van Morrison sounded ‘for all the world like Jose Feliciano’s stand-in’ on Astral Weeks, adding, ‘Morrison can’t better or equal Feliciano’s distinctive style’. The same publication felt Nick Drake’s ‘voice reminds me very much of Peter Sarstedt, but his songs lack Sarstedt’s penetration and arresting quality’. How do you view such outside-the-established-party line reviews today, and were there some particularly amusing/surprising ones you found?

Inevitably, given the constraints ‘reviewers’ were usually working under, superficial comparisons to famous artists were abundant, and most reviews from that time shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I found it surprising that oft-repeated assertions about now-celebrated artists are usually false: for example, Nick Drake was warmly received by the critics throughout his lifetime, and Vashti Bunyan’s album was widely and positively reviewed. It’s also salutary to note that – then as now – many bands got a critical kicking but still sold huge numbers of records. Black Sabbath spring to mind; they’re now regarded as pioneers, but Top Pops said of their debut album ‘this stuff has all been done a million times before’. Actually, that sense of ennui is frequent in coverage of the time, as if they were living through a dull patch in the development of popular music.

Pure discographical information isn’t the focus of this book, but it’s there in the labels, catalog #s, notes about inserts (lyric sheets and posters), notes about whether they were acetates or private pressings, if they were released outside of the UK only (and where if so), and so on. But perhaps the most valuable component here are the release dates, which are not simply years, but month (if known, as usually is) and year. A lot of misinformation has been passed around about release dates over the years, sometimes for records that were very popular or have huge cult followings, like Blonde On BlondeForever Changes and What We Did On Our Holidays. How important did you feel it was to get these as accurate as possible, and how did you pin down the dates of release as accurately as you could?

I wanted the book to contain a large amount of ancillary information that was unavailable elsewhere, and pinning down release dates was a large part of that. I dated albums by using the first reference to a finished (ie post-manufacture) product that I could find. Often this came in the form of an announcement about a forthcoming release, an advert or a review, but sometimes press releases and similar ephemera. It’s not a precise science, though – some albums were reviewed months after they were released, and it’s a fallacy that catalogue numbers were chronological. And, as you say, confusion continues to dog the release dates of even the best-known albums: June 1st 1967 was the date given on original advertising for Sgt. Pepper’s, and the one that has been cited ever since, but it’s now widely accepted that it was in fact on sale in late May.

Another date that’s been inaccurately reported for many years is the release date of Nick Drake’s second album, Bryter Layter. How did you pin that down in particular?

Bryter Layter was originally trailed as a November 1970 release, but artwork delays caused it to be pushed back to March 1971 (greatly to Drake’s frustration). The earliest review I’m aware of was dated March 13th, and all the adverts for the album are from that month. In addition, paperwork and letters possessed by the Drake family bear out this date.

Even with 920 pages, some records and artists from the mid-’60s through the mid-’70s, the decade more or less that the book covers, were not included. Beyond one or two oversights, there seemed to be some specific considerations: that it was too late (like The Who By Numbers), that it wasn’t enough of a significant variant from the UK release (the US counterparts of many UK rock albums), or that it was too pop (the only P.J. Proby review is the one with guys from Led Zeppelin). And there’s little reggae, though quite a few reggae acts (including some big artists like Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley) were based in the UK for a while. Of course, you couldn’t have included everything that might have possibly fit in without expanding the volume to an unpublishable size, but some omissions will be noticed by readers. What were the parameters for what was included, especially when a release or artist was at the margins of your scope?

As you rightly say, space wouldn’t have permitted truly comprehensive coverage, much as I’d have liked to have aimed for it. I deliberately omitted most ska, reggae, easy listening and traditional folk, though ideally they would all have been covered in depth. And a lot of other omissions are arbitrary or accidental (though I hope I didn’t forget anyone of major significance). I ummed and ahhed about whether to include big-sellers like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, but decided that they weren’t likely to be of much interest to most readers (or, I admit, me). I used punk as a broad cut-off, as including all that stuff would have hugely expanded the book’s size and scope, and the advent of punk represents some sort of cultural shift – the closing of the first great rock’n’roll era and the start of the next, maybe.

I think your core audience is rock listeners, and the bulk of the book covers rock releases. But there’s also a fair amount of jazz, non-rock-influenced folk, and library music. There’s also some Christian rock, which is seldom covered even in the rock collecting world, and ‘school project’ discs, which some would consider ‘outsider’ music. Why did you want to cover those styles along with the expected rock?

It seemed obvious to treat the whole music scene as a single entity, and I wanted to shine a light on areas of music that collectors spend a lot of money on but critics have more or less ignored. For example, Galactic Ramble contains more reviews of 60s and 70s British jazz than any other book I’m aware of (and I’ve been asked to print just the jazz reviews as a separate volume, which I won’t). The British jazz scene in this period mirrored the rock scene in many ways – remarkable musicians pushing the boundaries of the form with the support of major labels, stunning artwork and so forth – yet finding proper coverage of all (say) Joe Harriott’s albums, including accurate release years, let alone months, was impossible as far as I could see. As a final point, modern tastes are catholic: most people I know enjoy rock, folk, pop and other areas in equal measure, whereas I get the impression that music fans tended to be more tribal back in the day – and, of course, they didn’t have the huge advantage that we have of being able to survey the scene holistically. Much as I think I’d like to have lived through that era, I shudder at the thought of how narrow my musical horizons are likely to have been.

Something the book brings home is the sheer quantity of product released during this era. It’s amazing how many major label flops (some with big budgets, as your reviews sometimes note) came out, and it’s still being fully appreciated how many indies and private pressings that barely found distribution were issued. Pre-21st Century, when the Internet became huge, I guess you could say the same of all eras in recorded music: an enormous amount came out that barely sold and was barely heard. But do you think there was even more of it in the Galactic Ramble era, and that the nature of this quantity of product was different (in both the music that was produced and why it was recorded/released) than in other eras?

I think the immediately postwar generation was remarkably good at playing instruments. I can only assume that, in the absence of modern distractions, 50s and 60s teens spent a great deal more time hunched over guitars or keyboards than is feasible today. It surely helped that there were far more opportunities to play live in those days (partly because there was far less competition as to what people could do with their evenings, no doubt). Finally, the generational shift and newfound availability of various sorts of drugs in the 60s made young people much more capable of expressing their individuality and imagination than before. 

That period happily coincided with major labels being awash with money and having a complete lack of awareness as to what would or wouldn’t sell. There was also an enlightened attitude towards what they recorded in many cases; Hugh Mendl at Decca, for instance, believed that the company had a cultural responsibility to record uncommercial music, irrespective of sales. It helped that the majors (EMI, Decca, Pye, Philips and one or two others) owned their own studios and had ready access to pressing and distribution, making it a low-risk business with obvious tax-efficiency for their many other interests. 

Having said all that, it’s also worth remembering that records were extremely expensive in the 60s and 70s: the vast majority of new acts were doomed to failure simply on that basis. For example, in the same week that Paranoid by Black Sabbath, Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart and Mad Dogs & Englishmen by Joe Cocker were released in September 1970, the following also appeared: World’s End by Andwella, Love Songs by Mike Westbrook, Indian Summer by Panama Limited, Greek Variations by Neil Ardley etc, The Magic Shoemaker by Fire, The Road by Quiet World, Key Largo by Key Largo, Seven Ages Of Man by Stan Tracey, Heavy Petting by Dr. Strangely Strange, Half-Baked by Jimmy Campbell, and Gospel Oak by Gospel Oak. Needless to say, there were many others out that week too, both British and from elsewhere. No wonder the more obscure ones are so rare today!

The sole album by Gospel Oak.

As a final thought, it’s interesting to see how many mediocre artists got to make albums when fine ones didn’t. Why did Decca put out the mind-numbing LP by The Wishful Thinking but no album by Timebox? Why did EMI put out five LPs by Freddie & The Dreamers and none by the Action? One can only conclude that blind luck played its part, as did being championed by someone influential at a label, as David Hitchcock suggests in his wonderful introduction to the book. (And, by the way, Aaron Milenski deserves the Presidential Medal Of Freedom for wading through the Freddie & The Dreamers catalogue for the book.)

As an inevitable related question, this quantity naturally included a lot of generic or even rotten records. For you and the other writers, was it often a challenge to grit your teeth through so many of them, and to find something to say about, say, a group trying desperately to sound like Uriah Heep, without any point or talent to bring to the exercise? Or artists that simply didn’t seem to have any identity, anything distinctive to say, or any clue as to which direction they wanted to pursue?

Much beyond the beat and folk booms, unrelentingly tedious albums were surprisingly few and far between, in my experience. Most of them have decent musicianship, at least, and there’s usually at least one track that justifies the time spent listening to the whole thing. I think the vast majority of boring albums from that era were specifically intended to be background music (easy listening, in other words), and the majority of those aren’t in the book. Nonetheless, I’m sure that there are still a few cheap obscurities of that sort lurking out there with one or two killer tracks on them. 

Some of the reviews written specifically for the book challenge received wisdom about quite a few of the records, both by championing ones that have been ignored or disparaged, or criticizing ones that are beloved by critics and/or audiences. Sometimes they almost seem to be spoiling for a fight, like when a Searchers review states ‘even as a singles band they didn’t leave us much to remember. Beyond ‘Needles And Pins,’ how many of their hits can you name?’ And there’s revisionism that can cross the line to extremism, like the review of Jesus Christ Superstar that ends, ‘Has there ever been a better rock opera? Certainly not Tommy.’ I realize you’re not in agreement with every review not written by yourself, but do you have some thoughts about the value of presenting some different and even unpopular viewpoints? And of sometimes presenting radically different opinions of the same album by GR writers, when there are multiple GR reviews of a record?

As long as a review isn’t straightforwardly dismissive, I’m all in favour of an informed music fan expressing their own strongly held view. One of the benefits of offering multiple perspectives is that it emphasises how meaningless individual critical viewpoints are. All the contributors to the book have spent many years listening closely to albums and are able to articulate why they do or don’t like something. I was keen to get their personal perspective, rather than some sort of bland attempt at objectivity, and of course some of their statements (and mine) in the book are intended in a spirit of mischief. The book is meant to be a guide, not a dogmatic final statement, and I hope it communicates far more enthusiasm than negativity.

There are many ads reproduced in the book, many seldom seen since they were printed, even for some really huge acts. Besides giving the book some graphic interest, what do you think are the most historically valuable aspects of those ads? And what were some of the most entertaining/unexpected ones you came across?

As with the reviews we discussed earlier, it’s intriguing to see quite how many obscure albums had paid advertising across several publications, and how various acts were perceived by the marketing department of their respective record labels. Often they had no clue, hence Decca vaguely describing The Human Beast’s sole LP as a ‘worthy progressive album’ or Fontana blandly stating ‘It’s a good album’ of Faintly Blowing by Kaleidoscope, or Philips optimistically urging ‘Hear this album. You’ll like it!’ of the sole LP by Junco Partners. My favourite is maybe the advert Trojan placed for Skinhead Moonstomp by Symarip, which shows the cover (depicting a bunch of moody skinheads) with the tagline ‘A must for a gay party’.

Pete Townshend supplied detailed description of King Crimson’s sound in this ad for their debut album.

It’s fascinating for me to see trivia I wasn’t aware of speckled throughout the reviews (principally in the newly written ones, of course). I never would have suspected, for instance, that the 1970 CBS double LP sampler Rock Buster, with a young Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover, includes a completely different take of Trees’ ‘Polly On The Shore’. Was finding out such things something you enjoyed about doing the book, and do you have a couple of particularly memorable such examples/discoveries?

Because pressing plants were so busy in that era, errors were inevitably made, most of them quickly corrected. I wanted to pin down as many of these as possible in the book. Some, such as the very early copies of the first Stones album (that play an amateurish and much longer take of ‘Tell Me’) are now fairly well-known, but others – such as the Trees track you mention – are still pretty much secrets among collectors. Another prominent example is the Bumpers compilation on Island, which contains a remarkable number of alternative versions of well-known album tracks, presumably in error. Other examples include early pressings of the debuts by Van Der Graaf Generator, Mott The Hoople and Atomic Rooster, all of which had rare erroneous pressings that play different music to most copies.

This hardback is a limited edition of 500. Are you planning a paperback, and if so, when will that come out, how available will it be, and will there be any changes to the content?

A paperback will certainly be available, probably towards the end of the year (I wanted to give the hardback time to sell out, which is happening faster than I envisaged). The paperback will of course have various typos corrected, and one or two minor additions, but nothing substantial. For example, since the book came out a couple of months ago I have found two vintage reviews of the rare LP by Kestrel, and realised that I accidentally omitted In Camera by Peter Hammill. Mildly frustrating, but not grounds to recall and pulp the run.

How has the reaction been so far? Not just in terms of anyone asking why something wasn’t covered, but maybe unexpected feedback that’s made you aware of releases or other info that wasn’t known before the publication?

People tend to be quicker to comment on what has been omitted than on what has been included! I’m always happy to hear about errors or omissions, but in most cases the latter have been irrelevant for the book. I have yet to have any bombshells dropped on me, but hope some shall – I love unearthing and sharing new info, that’s really what the whole exercise is about.

I’m pretty sure you don’t want to keep producing ever-expanding editions, but would you do another Galactic Ramble if considerably more information became available, both in terms of more obscure albums and other things about the records already covered?

Yes – but that’s a huge if… This edition took ten years of more-or-less consistent work, and I sincerely doubt that enough relevant and worthy new material will surface to justify another completely new edition. However, I will certainly keep tabs on albums that aren’t in the book, and will perhaps compile an addendum (which I’ll make available for free to people who have bought the book).

Would you consider doing an expanded edition of Endless Trip, as there’s certainly been a lot of additional records and info you’ve become aware of for North American releases since that book came out?

Yes, I certainly intend to put together an expanded edition of Endless Trip, though the scale of the task is daunting. Like Galactic Ramble, the first edition was put together fairly quickly and covered much but by no means all of the eligible music. However, given the vastness of the American scene, any second edition of that will still have to exclude private pressings. For coverage of private pressings, people will need to stick to The Acid Archives, which is of course a wonderful book.

Edited by Patrick Lundborg, The Acid Archives covers many obscure independent and private press North American LPs from the 1960s and 1970s.

You’re already underway on another volume of sorts in this reference series, Hazy Days, covering Australian and New Zealand albums from the same period. That’s an area that’s received far less coverage than rock from the UK and North America in the same era. What’s your motivation in doing this book, and what are you hoping to document/unearth? 

It’s astounding how much worthwhile music was made Down Under in this period, the vast majority of which was barely released over there, let alone internationally. I have long planned to collate as many of these albums as possible, in order to spread the word about them. Alongside many fine but uncommercial acts like Tully and Tamam Shud, artists like The Masters Apprentices and Renee Geyer would surely have been international stars given better exposure. It’s harder to dig out the facts behind Australian and NZ albums, as there was far less of a pop music press over there, but I am making steady progress and am lucky to have the support and assistance of one or two local connoisseurs, as well as superb and knowledgeable co-writers like Aaron Milenski and Richard Falk. It will be a wonderful book and I am thoroughly enjoying putting it together.

One of the many Australian rock albums that will be covered in Hazy Days.

1960s Rock Rarities Yet to Be Reissued: What’s Left?

Sometimes it seems like everything’s been reissued on CD, even those rare Dutch-only B-sides, tracks from stray French EPs, and live Japanese albums. Some cuts you might think you’ve never seen on reissues turn up in odd places if you look hard enough. Steve Miller’s early non-LP single “Sittin’ in Circles” is a bonus track on a UK 2012 CD reissue of his Children of the Future album; Bob Dylan’s live Liverpool 1966 B-side version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was on the Japan/New Zealand/Australia-only 1978 triple LP Masterpieces (and then part of the mammoth recent box The 1966 Live Recordings); the Grateful Dead’s short 1968 single version of “Dark Star” is on the box The Golden Road (1965-1973)as a hidden bonus track on the Live/Dead disc (and then part of the various-artists box Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets1965-1970). Joni Mitchell’s non-LP 1972 B-side “Urge for Going” is on her 1996 compilation Hits, even though it wasn’t one. 

It gets goofier than that in some cases. The instrumental “Waltz for a Pig” was used as a B-side for the Who’s “Substitute” in 1966, though the UK release credited it to “the Who Orchestra” since it wasn’t actually the Who. (Short explanation: the Who could not record until a court case with producer Shel Talmy had been settled.) It did come out in 2012 on CD — but not on a Who CD. Instead, it was on the Graham Bond Organization box set Wade in the Water. That’s because the Who Orchestra were a pseudonym for Graham Bond’s group, who cut the quite good soul-jazz-rock instrumental with Ginger Baker (now credited as the composer) on drums. Even before that, it had made it onto the 1968 Japanese LP compilation Exciting the Who. Got all that?

And of course there have been vaults full of previously unreleased material, sometimes enough to fill box sets, as my previous posts on expanded editions have noted. Is there anything left, even if you limit yourself mostly to the 1960s, the era in which I’m most expert?

Statistically, most vinyl releases have never been reissued on CD. You might find that hard to believe when you struggle to find enough shelf space for your compact discs. But keep in mind that most records don’t sell very well, and many of them — maybe most — aren’t very good. Yet even leaving aside the countless acts who only made one or two singles not worth bothering about, are there any — let alone many — officially released tracks by ‘60s notables that have seldom or never been reissued?

Even casting aside marginally different stereo/mono issues and mixes, there are still a good number of such items. Why they’ve rarely or never been cleared for reissue is usually a mystery the likes of us mere fans aren’t given clues to, leaving the motives of the labels and/or artists up for speculation.  On occasion it’s pretty apparent why a certain cut isn’t available; sometimes it’s widely rumored an artist is ashamed of the music and blocking its re-release; and other times, the reasoning is inexplicable. 

In the post, I’ll go through a dozen or so of my favorite examples. No doubt readers know about some that haven’t come to mind, or just aren’t tracks I care about much. It’s entirely possible that some of these have actually been reissued on discs I’m not aware of, in which cases corrections are gratefully received. 

Bob Seger, “2+2+?” (Capitol 45 version).The original version of this oddly titled tune, as heard on a 1968 Capitol single, has never been reissued in any format as far as I know. That’s a crime, as it’s not only Seger’s greatest recording, but also one of the rawest, most powerful anti-war rockers of all.

But wasn’t that on his Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man LP, you’re asking — an album that’s pretty easy to find used and cheap? Yes, but the seven-inch version simply destroys the tamer LP counterpart. And that’s not just collector talk that builds up cuts for their sheer rarity. The single has a searing intensity that couldn’t be matched, making the rationale behind a fairly limp album variation a mystery of its own.

Seger, as many of you likely know, seems to take an inordinate lack of pride in his earliest sides, though these are precisely the ones that will appeal most to garage rock enthusiasts. It was enough of a surprise that approval was finally granted for a CD compilation of his 1966-67 singles on ABKCO last year (the heartily recommended Heavy Music). What’s blocking the original 45 take of “2+2=?” is uncertain, not to mention unfathomable.

Update: So after all that grandstanding with my pick to lead off this list, soon after posting it, a reader informed me the Capitol 45 version was reissued a couple years ago as a vinyl seven-inch by Third Man Records. Backed by “Ivory,” it’s out of stock at the moment. Yet it might not be the exact same version as you hear on the original single. As another reader wrote, “The site says this this Third Man reissue is in stereo and not the original mono 45 mix.”

Them, “Little Girl” (uncensored version). For decades, it was impossible to collect all of Them’s terrific output with Van Morrison in one place. The three-CD The Complete Them 1964-1967 seemed to finally take care of that — but not quite. For it doesn’t have the notorious alternate version of “Little Girl” (only issued on the first pressing of the obscure 14 various-artists UK charity compilation LP) on which Van yelps an obscenity on the fade. Not just any obscenity a la “damn,” mind you, but the f-word, enunciated clearly enough to leave little doubt as to what Morrison had in mind. Like many of Them’s early efforts, “Little Girl” was an outstanding gritty R&B/rocker—but to hear this variant, you’ll have to resort to bootlegs, unless you can track down a rare first pressing of that 14 LP.

The Stone Poneys, “So Fine”/”Everybody Has Their Own Ideas” and “Carnival Bear.” Linda Ronstadt became a superstar, and even everything by her first group, who only had one hit, has been reissued—and available on CD for a long time. Well, not quite. Again, even Ronstadt fans might not know that before doing three albums for Capitol, the Stone Poneys issued a 1966 single on the small Sidewalk label. Maybe Ronstadt has veto power over whether it gets on compilations, but as her first outing on disc, it makes for an odd omission from her in-print discography.

Of course, like many such hard-to-hear scarcities, it’s not that great, the A-side being a routine cover of the big late-’50s doo wop hit by the Fiestas. The B-side, written by Stone Poney Bob Kimmel, is a little more interesting, as a minor-keyed just-about-folk-rocker that’s a little reminiscent of some efforts in the same direction by Bay Area groups with male-female vocals, like We Five and the Mojo Men.

Oddly, that’s not it for MIA Stone Poneys tracks. “Carnival Bear,” the B-side of their flop 1968 single “Up to My Neck in High Muddy Water” (credited to Linda Ronstadt & the Stone Poneys), has never been reissued either. It’s not that great — in fact, it’s kind of a weird fusion of baroque pop-rock, wistful country, and (in the later section) rather histrionic operatic vocals. I’ve never heard of the composer, non-Stone Poney Chris Howard, who has few credits to his discography. As a bonus should you track down the rare 45, it comes in a picture sleeve that looks like a different shot from the same session that generated the photo on the cover of Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys & Friends’ Vol. III LP.

Much better than the aforementioned rarities, incidentally, is the early-’70s non-LP solo Ronstadt B-side “She’s a Very Lovely Woman,” a gender-adjusted cover of the Emitt Rhodes-composed Merry Go Round classic “You’re a Very Lovely Woman.” She even performed it on TV on Andy Williams and Johnny Cash’s shows. This has been reissued once, however, as a bonus track on the 2009 Australian CD two-for-one-disc reissue of her first two solo albums, Hand Sown…Home Grown and Silk Purse (on the Raven label).

Francoise Hardy, “The Bells of Avignon.” Tucked away on a 1970 non-LP UK B-side few Françoise fans have even heard is “The Bells of Avignon,” sung in English and penned by British composer Tony Macaulay. His resume included the Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup,” Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” Long John Baldry’s “Let the Heartaches Begin,” Scott Walker’s “Lights of Cincinnati,” and the Hollies’ “Sorry Suzanne.”

Cheerier than Hardy’s usual wont, it’s a pleasant enough lyrical jog through memories of the French town honored by the title. It’s kind of hard to picture Hardy as an on-the-road rambler, but that’s the role she takes here, Macaulay making reasonably catchy use of periodic bends into more bittersweet melody. It’s sort of neat how the bridge is quite different from the verses, going into a more uplifting, hopeful, yet yearning mood as she anxiously anticipates a reunion with the Avignon boy she left behind.

As far as I know, “The Bells of Avignon” has never been reissued, making it one of the prime Hardy rarities. It’s not even on the recent 24-track Ace compilation of many of her late-’60s/early-’70s English-language recordings (Midnight Blues: Paris London 1968-1972), an omission that’s odd indeed. It could be argued that Hardy isn’t a notable ‘60s artist to most English-speaking audiences—a superstar in France, she had only sporadic UK success and virtually none in the US. But when someone’s memoir is translated into English and issued by an American publisher, as hers was last year, it could be argued that she’s now risen above cult status Stateside.

Melanie, “Beautiful People”/”God’s Only Daughter” and “Garden in the City”/”Why Didn’t My Mother Tell Me” (1967-68 Columbia singles). To repeat another “even fill-in-the-blank fans don’t know” citation, even many committed Melanie fans don’t know she did a couple singles for Columbia before her debut LP for Buddah. What’s more, the earlier of them has the original version of one of the more popular songs from her early career, “Beautiful People.” Why haven’t these been reissued? Maybe there just wasn’t an obvious place for them, if she only put out four Columbia tracks (and though I like Melanie, I don’t see a four-song EP of her Columbia work as a likely Record Store Day release in the near future). Melanie might want them buried if she has a say in the matter, as she didn’t find her short stay at Columbia a pleasant experience, balking at the poppier direction Clive Davis tried to push her toward.

While this pair of 45s isn’t terrific, they’re okay. “Beautiful People” has an expectedly poppier arrangement than the Buddah remake, though not hugely so. She’d also remake its B-side, “God’s Only Daughter,” for Buddah, and make “Garden in the City” the title track of a 1972 LP, though its B-side, “Why Didn’t My Mother Tell Me,” doesn’t seem to have been revisited elsewhere. Both of the singles, by the way, were arranged by John Abbott, whose most famous credit was Dion’s “Abraham, Martin & John,” and is also of note for working on the sole LP by Montage, the interesting late-’60s baroque-pop-rock group masterminded by former Left Banke mainman Michael Brown.

One good home for these two Melanie singles would be on a release that combined them with some solo acoustic demos from the same period that have surfaced online, albeit from a scratchy acetate. Also added could be obscure pre-debut LP songs she wrote that were covered by the mysterious “Mommy” (either a solo woman artist or a female group) on the 1967 single “Sad Song”/”Love in My Mind,” the latter of which Melanie recorded for her 1972 album Garden in the City. But such a compilation seems unlikely to be assembled in the near future, both because of possible licensing difficulties and an unfortunate lack of industry interest.

Tim Hardin, “Lenny’s Song” (original solo piano version, on 1966 compilation LP Why Did Lenny Bruce Die). “Lenny’s Song” was arguably the finest song Tim Hardin wrote after his first two albums. It appeared on his Live in Concert album, recorded at New York’s Town Hall on April 10, 1968. An arguably more memorable version had appeared back in late 1967, as “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce,” on Nico’s solo debut LP, Chelsea Girl. Few are aware that Hardin had released a yet earlier performance of his composition on the compilation album Why Did Lenny Bruce Die, issued shortly after Bruce’s August 1966 death. While it’s fairly bare compared to the full-band Live in Concert take, it’s an affecting, heartfelt solo piano rendition.

Most of Why Did Lenny Bruce Die is a sort of interview/sound collage tribute to the comedian, and in fact there’s a voiceover narration about Bruce (not by Hardin, I’m pretty sure) for the first minute or so of “Lenny’s Song” as a piano plays in the background. Still, it seems a place should have been found for this as a bonus track on some CD reissue or another. With its failure to appear on Hang on to a Dream: The Verve Recordings, or the Australian two-fer CD of his first two LPs, orthe CD reissue of Live in Concert(all of which have bonus cuts), it seems unlikely it’ll get picked up in the future, possibly because its appearance on the Probe label presents licensing difficulties.

Judy Collins, tracks on Folk Festival at the Exodus and 1960 Folk Festival at the Exodus LPsBefore signing to Elektra Records, the label she spent many years with as a folk and then pop star, Collins had a few tracks on a couple rare local compilation albums, 1959’s Folk Festival at the Exodus and the following year’s similarly titled 1960 Folk Festival at the Exodus. Both were recorded in Denver’s most popular folk club, the Exodus. They’re so rare, in fact, that I still haven’t heard them. I’ve only even seen them a couple times, once in a huge collection of a big collector, and then just late last year as part of an exhibit at the Colorado  Music Hall of Fame. The Collins tracks on these LPs have never been reissued, to my knowledge, let alone the albums themselves. When I interviewed her for the liner notes of some CD reissues in 2010, she casually agreed with me that it would be a good idea to make them available again, but I don’t know if she has any official power to do so.

Save the Children: Songs From the Hearts of Women album. Speaking of Collins, she (with Ethel Raim Dunson) produced and coordinated this rare May 1967 compilation LP. As it was on the Women Strike for Peace label, I’m guessing it might have been intended to raise money for anti-war movements, maybe specifically the movement protesting US involvement in the Vietnam War. Her one solo track was Jacques Brel’s “La Colombe,” in a different, longer, French-language recording (albeit with a spoken English introduction) than the English one that was on her In My Life album. Collins also dueted with Joan Baez on Pete Seeger’s “Oh, I Had a Golden Thread” and sang Donovan’s “Legend of a Girl Child Linda” with Baez and Joan’s sister, Mimi Fariña. I think “Legend of a Girl Child Linda” is the only track that’s been reissued (on Baez’s Rare, Live & Classic box, where it’s erroneously annotated as “previously unreleased”).

Most of the other artists on the album are noted women folkies and folk-rockers, including Odetta, Buffy Sainte-Marie (I think her version of “Universal Soldier” here is different from the familiar original one she recorded for Vanguard Records), Malvina Reynolds, Janis Ian (again I think her “Janey’s Blues” here is different from the one on her debut LP), Barbara Dane (doing Dylan’s “Masters of War”), and Hedy West. As the catalog number was W-001, this was likely the Women Strike for Peace label’s first release; I think it was also its only one.

I only saw this album once, in a private collection, and only heard a little of it. I’m pretty sure all the songs the artists had previously recorded are presented here in unique versions done specifically for this LP, though I can’t confirm that without hearing the disc. It seems odd this has never been reissued considering how well known most of the performers are; maybe there is a rights issue involved. 

And now for a paragraph of side note trivia: Co-producer/co-coordinator Ethel Raim Dunson, under the name Ethel Raim, co-edited (with Josh Dunson) the 1973 book Anthology of American Folk Music. It transcribed recorded performances from the Folkways 1952 compilation of the same name, which is regarded as perhaps the first important reissue of early folk tracks, helping fuel the folk revival. (The book also includes interviews with Folkways head Moe Asch and early country music A&R man Frank Walker.) I’m guessing Raim was related to Walter Raim, who plays banjo and twelve-string guitar on some tracks on Collins’s outstanding 1963 album #3. Walter Raim, in fact, plays guitar on Collins’s pre-Byrds version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!”; though it had often been assumed the guitar had been played by a pre-Byrds Roger McGuinn, McGuinn later clarified he was ill with the flu when the song was cut, and Raim played on the track.

Dino Valenti, “Don’t Let It Down.” Known mostly as the composer of the hippie anthem “Get Together” and as frequent lead singer/songwriter for the early-’70s Quicksilver Messenger Service, Valenti was one of the first folkies to try going electric, if rather gingerly. “Don’t Let It Down,” a rare 1964 Elektra single (probably from pretty late that year), isn’t so much folk-rock as somewhat awkward bluesy rock with harpsichord (by Leon Russell) and pop-soul backup vocals. It’s not that great, but historically interesting. Also not that great, and yet more historically interesting, is the B-side ballad “Birdses,” as it helped inspire the name taken by a group that fused folk and rock far more memorably, the Byrds.

“Birdses” finally did find official release in 2006 on the five-CD box Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra Records 1963-1973. The failure of “Don’t Let It Down” to get reissued is vexing, especially as two Valenti outtakes from the period showed up way back in 1970 on the Early L.A. compilation.

The Byrds, “Don’t Make Waves” (soundtrack version). As the non-LP B-side to the not-quite-hit-single “Have You Seen Her Face,” “Don’t Make Waves” was one of the least essential songs the Byrds released during their classic 1965-67 David Crosby era. It’s a real basic Roger McGuinn-Chris Hillman composition, serving as the theme song for an obscure 1967 film of the same name, though it has characteristically nice Byrds harmonies. And it has, some of you Byrdsmaniacs are already declaring, been reissued as a bonus track on the expanded CD of their Younger Than Yesterday album. 

Yes, but actually the version on the Don’t Make Waves soundtrack LP is different. And kind of weird, too — the vocals have a hollow reverb, almost as though they’re singing to the backing track in an empty hallway. Michael Clarke’s had his share of criticism as a drummer, and though it’s usually unfounded and his work is usually serviceable enough, here it’s kind of overdone bashing. It sounds like a demo that got used by accident, or was maybe rushed over to the film’s producers when they needed something before it could get relatively polished in the studio, the vocals seeming to lose some heart near the finish. McGuinn goes into a neat twelve-string figure at the very end, but even that gets botched by the production, which fades it out as soon as it starts.

If this is such a mediocre recording, some might hold the attitude that it’s better off left unreissued. But the Byrds were one of the greatest bands of the time, and it would be good to have everything they did available, including their relatively few misfires. Maybe it couldn’t be licensed for their standard catalog since it appeared on a soundtrack LP for MGM Records, and not on their usual label, Columbia.

Buffalo Springfield, “Bluebird” (long version). On Los Angeles-area FM radio station KPPC, DJ B. Mitchell Reed made a nine-minute version of Buffalo Springfield’s classic “Bluebird” an underground airplay hit of sorts. As early as 1970, it was reported that Atlantic Records was preparing an album of unissued Buffalo Springfield that would include this extended version. And it did appear on the 1973 double LP compilation Buffalo Springfield. But it hasn’t been issued anywhere else, even on the 2001 Buffalo Springfield Box Set, which had about three dozen outtakes. Maybe the band don’t want it made available, though the 1973 double LP is findable with some effort (and has some very good liner notes in its gatefold). 

The nine-minute version is twice as long as the common one that was on their second album, Buffalo Springfield Again, in 1967. Is it twice as good? No. Most of the extra length is taken up by a rather ordinary instrumental jam, and it’s missing the neat coda where the drums drop out, the tempo slows, and a banjo comes to the fore. (A slightly longer one, adding half a minute and taken from acetate, has circulated unofficially.)

Update: just hours after this post went up, Stephen Abbate noted that the long version of “Bluebird” also appears, of all places, on the 1974 Warner Special Products various=artists double LP Heavy Metal: 24 Electrifying Performances. There it keeps company with such early headbangers as Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” along with decidedly non-metallic cuts like Van Morrison’s “Domino” and Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time.” Who knew?

And now, a few honorable mentions to tracks that have been reissued, but on releases that even big fans of the artists might have missed:

Pink Floyd, “Interstellar Overdrive” (1966 version for San Francisco film soundtrack). Probably recorded around late 1966, this hyper-jittery fifteen-minute version of the classic early Pink Floyd instrumental (with extended dramatic drawn-out ending) isn’t just exciting on its own terms. It’s also historically important as one of the very first acceptable-fidelity recordings of the band. It was used as the soundtrack to Anthony Stern’s experimental 1968 film short San Francisco, which is worth seeing for its lightning jump cuts and psychedelic jumble of barely-recognizable San Francisco images, though even some Floyd fans might find it too avant-garde for comfort.

I was surprised that Pink Floyd’s huge 2016 box The Early Years 1965-1972—which included a trunkful of rarities ranging from non-LP singles to soundtracks, outtakes, live performances, and a wealth of film footage—did not include this early version. I referred to it as a previously unreleased version when I reviewed the box set for Flashback magazine and criticized its omission. But even if you also noticed its absence, you might have missed its official release just a few months later on a one-sided single for Record Store Day. As I did, though I already had the track (and the film) on unofficial releases.

The Record Store Day single won’t be too easy to come by, even if it was pressed in a run of 4000, as Floyd’s fans ensured the limited edition would quickly move copies. It’s still too bad no room was made on the box — or on any official DVD or Blu-ray, to my knowledge — for the San Francisco film.

Technically some hard-liners might say this item doesn’t quality for this list, since a track officially unavailable on disc until 2017 can’t said to have been unreissued. It was, however, heard on the soundtrack of a film that was screened starting in 1968, so I’ll be lenient with boundaries here.

The Rolling Stones, “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” (long version). Looking for a rare variant by a major band that’s more significant than adding a tambourine beat? They don’t come much more major than the Rolling Stones, but even major Stones fans might have missed this slightly longer version of the B-side of “Satisfaction.” And it’s well worth hearing as (a la Them’s alternate “Little Girl”) another early example of Decca Records apparently censoring one of its best acts. On the extended tag, this long version has Mick Jagger offering a few more wicked imitations of the song’s subject: “I have two clerks…I break my ass every day…here comes the bus…uh-oh…I thought I had a dime…where’s my dime?…I know I got a dime here somewhere…I’m so sharp, you won’t believe how sharp I really am, don’t laugh at me!”

As bold language goes, “I break my ass every day” is several, if not many, rungs below Van Morrison exclaiming the f-word. Still, that’s probably the reason a shorter, ass-less version was substituted after the longer one appeared, according to Martin Elliott’s The Rolling Stones Complete Recording Sessions 1962-2012, “on very early pressings of the UK and US Out of Our Heads album.” It did appear on the 1989 box The Rolling Stones Singles Collection: The London Years, though that’s a hefty price to pay if you just want those additional fifteen seconds or so.

A much more notorious Stones track also came out on an official reissue box, though so briefly that even many Stones completists didn’t catch it. Given to Decca as an up-yours when they needed to give the label one final track as a requirement to wrapping up their contract, the 1970 outtake “Cocksucker Blues” was obviously unreleasable. That wasn’t just because of the title (later used as the title of Robert Frank’s controversial unofficially released documentary of their 1972 US tour). The song itself, performed solo by Jagger on acoustic guitar, is a harrowing and explicit first-person account of gay male prostitution. Yet it somehow slipped out as a bonus single with Decca’s 1983 German box set The Rest of the Best, though it was discontinued shortly afterward. Even one of the world’s top rock memorabilia/record dealers was unaware of this until I brought it to his attention a couple months ago.

Peter, Paul & Mary,If You Love Your Country.” No, Peter, Paul & Mary aren’t a hip name to toss around these days, even if they did sell tons more records than your Stooges and Beefhearts. Which might seem to make calling this rarity their best late-’60s recording highly relative. But it is a haunting number, and just about folk-rock, with a ghostly organ. The reason it’s so rare? It was recorded for a single in support of Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign that was commercially unavailable, but distributed free of charge at Democratic campaign centers. Even big PPM fans are mostly unaware of this 45, which to my knowledge has been reissued just once — on the massive (13-CD) German box set Next Stop Is Vietnam: The War on Record: 1961-2008. Which means it’s hardly any more known to the general public now than it ever was.

Have some of the tracks listed in this post come out on reissues I’ve missed? Are there notable unreissued ones from this era that are also worthy of mention? Feel free to pitch in with the comments section — more information’s always welcome.

In Qualified Criticism of Expanded Editions

How do you put together an ideal version of an expanded edition of an album? No one’s really done it, if that means including every last damn thing available, and somehow making the whole thing a great listen end-to-end, without cuts that are primarily of historical interest. I detailed some of my favorite expanded editions in my previous post.

It’s easier, it seems, to pinpoint what you shouldn’t do on an expanded edition, because so many of them are flawed, in quite a few different ways. Examples could fill up a lot of posts, especially if you included records whose actual core albums I don’t care about a lot. I’m noting a few here by way of illustration, but they have plenty of company.

Combine the classic album with a recent re-recording of the same material. Fans really do want to hear bonus music from the same era in which the core album was recorded, not remakes done years (sometimes many years) later. Case in point: the two-CD expanded edition of Patti Smith’s Horses had a bonus disc of a live performance of the album from 2005 (with a cover of “My Generation” thrown in at the end), thirty years after the original LP came out. (We’re not even getting into the many expanded editions that mostly feature material from the era, but add on just a few recent recordings or re-recordings of little interest.)

It’s all the more galling considering that one of the best bootlegs of all time—her live concert at the Roxy in Los Angeles on January 30, 1976, which has long been available unofficially (most famously under the title Teenage Perversity and Ships in the Night)—would have made a much more exciting and suitable companion disc. Fidelity isn’t a roadblock; it was broadcast on FM radio, part of the reason it made the bootleg rounds so extensively and quickly in the first place.


A previous expanded edition of Horses was about as meager as it gets, adding just one track, a live version of “My Generation” from 1976 (recorded just a few days before the Roxy broadcast, which also included “My Generation”). Maybe her pre-Horses single, “Hey Joe”/“Piss Factory,” is unavailable for contractual reasons, but that would also seem like a logical addition to such an edition.


Keep expanding your expanded edition — putting out not just two expanded editions, but even three. Hardcore fans are the lifeblood of the catalog part of the music industry, and the foundation of a legacy act’s base, especially if they’re continuing to tour. It was already a lot to ask of them to buy the classic albums they already owned again at the dawn of the CD era, the rationale being improved sound quality and durability (though those benefits have been questioned).

It’s yet more to ask of them to buy another CD with the same music they already now own on compact disc, with some extra material. It’s quite a bit more to ask them to buy a CD based around the album a third time, and verging on an insult when the expanded-plus-one (or two) edition doesn’t come out long after the previous one.

This has happened quite often in the reissue world, but here are a couple illustrations. The Who’s Live at Leeds came out with eight bonus tracks in 1995, pushing the running time to 77 minutes, almost as much as a single CD can fit. That seemed like a good deal, but then it was superseded by a two-CD edition in 2001 that also included a whole disc of Tommy songs from the same show. And then almost ten years later, the fortieth anniversary edition blew it up to four discs, adding their show from Hull the following evening (February 15, 1970). And hey, the 2014 deluxe edition digital release has some additional dialog between songs, as well as longer versions of some of the songs themselves.


It could be argued that the Who and their label(s) were to some degree responding to a changing marketplace that both made bigger editions more viable, and also made them more necessary as the reservoir of vault material as a whole sank lower. Love’s Forever Changes, however, has been through multiple editions that, unlike Live at Leeds, don’t add nearly as much additional material as the years go on.

The 2001 edition added seven bonus tracks—none of them exactly revelatory, devoted to a non-LP single not on par with the album and some outtakes/alternates that weren’t too notable. Still, good to have if you’re a fan. But if you wanted everything good to have, you also had to get the two-CD “Collector’s Edition” in 2008, with an “alternate mix” of the album and yet more outtakes/alternates/etc.

Then in 2018, there was a four-CD edition, adding a vinyl LP of the Forever Changes album and a DVD with a hi-end audio version (plus just one actual video clip). Such multi-disc and multi-format combinations are themselves becoming more common in the age of spruced-up expandeds. As for the actual music not found on other editions, this adds relatively little, as three of the four discs are variations of the core album (the stereo, the mono, and, much less usefully, an “alternate mix”). The disc of actual outtakes/demos/non-LP sides has just a bit not on previous editions—a couple barely different 45 versions, and a couple backing tracks.


Yes, it does come with a nice LP-sized booklet of liner notes, with plenty of cool illustrations. But more than most productions of this sort, it did seem to mark a point where even some hardcore fans said “enough,” and did not buy this pretty expensive edition, to quote a Bob Dylan song title, the “Fourth Time Around.”

At least these series of Who and Love editions were spread out over a few years. In late 2014, the six-CD super deluxe of the Velvet Underground’s self-titled third album had eleven previously unreleased performances from late 1969 at San Francisco’s Matrix Club, tapes from which had provided the bulk of their classic 1969 Velvet Underground Live double LP. Other previously released Matrix tapes filled out discs five and six of that set. Just a year later, however, the four-CD box The Complete Matrix Tapes made that unreleased material redundant, as it included all of those unreleased cuts.

As I wrote in the expanded ebook edition of my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day, “Considering that serious Velvet Underground fans – i.e., almost anyone likely to buy this super deluxe edition – would also want The Complete Matrix Tapes, this [the six-CD expanded The Velvet Underground] really should have been a four-CD set without any Matrix tapes, holding the eleven unissued tracks for the forthcoming Matrix Tapes box. As it is, many purchasers of this large and expensive box are now likely to have well over half of its contents elsewhere – a slap in the face to the very Velvet Underground fanatics that have made exploitation of their catalog possible.”


Put out different expanded editions that for the most part feature the same material, but leave something off that’s on the other. There are many such items, even including one I praised in my earlier post about good expanded editions. As I noted there, Nico’s The Frozen Borderline—essentially a combination of expanded editions of her The Marble Index and Desertshore LPs—is missing two alternate versions that appear as bonus tracks on the much slimmer 1991 expanded edition of The Marble Index. The Frozen Borderline was otherwise assembled so conscientiously it’s hard to believe no one involved with the project was aware of those other alternates. And there was certainly enough space for those two tracks, since there’s a ten-minute gap of silence near the end of the second disc (more details later in this post).

Here are a couple other projects to pick on. The 1995 single-disc expanded The Who Sell Out had nine bonus tracks, all of them really good stuff as bonuses go. The 2009 two-CD expanded The Who Sell Out had no less than 27 bonus cuts, in addition to stereo and mono versions of the LP. So that must have been definitive, right?


Not quite. Two pretty good outtakes from the first half of 1968, “Glow Girl” and “Melancholia,” are on the single-disc edition, but not the much larger two-CD one. Maybe it was felt that, as the only tracks postdating 1967, they’re out of place, and they are both available on other Who archive CDs. But it really wouldn’t have displeased many, if any, Who fans to put them on the larger set too.

By the way, it’s a little curious that while the Who’s debut album, My Generation, got a five-CD box treatment—and Tommy, Quadrophenia, and Live at Leeds have all gotten imposing boxes—none was done for The Who Sell Out, even on its 50th anniversary, which would have been a good excuse to knock it out. Certainly it could have been enlarged with some more singles and the numerous demos Pete Townshend was churning out at the time, as he did throughout the Who’s prime.

Another less legendary, but still highly worthwhile and historically notable, album from that era that generated two editions with a lot of overlap was John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers’ A Hard Road, the only LP they recorded with the pre-Fleetwood Mac Peter Green. The 2003 double CD expansion had 22 bonus tracks. These are necessary to get a fuller overview of the Bluesbreakers’ Peter Green era, as they also encompassed numerous non-LP singles, outtakes that only surfaced years later on compilations, and an EP recorded with Paul Butterfield.

The 2006 expanded edition reversed gears and cut the running time to a single disc and 14 bonus tracks, inevitably removing a bunch of stuff from the two-CD version. Yet it also has four songs from a January 23, 1967 BBC session that are not on the double CD. Well hey, at least you get different liner notes with the 2006 edition…


Put out an expanded edition that’s not very expanded, even when it’s known there’s a lot of good or at least interesting unreleased material from the same era. Lots of discs could be named here, but let’s focus on a very recent one. The 50th anniversary edition of Beggars Banquet had little in the way of extras, even though quite a bit of material the Rolling Stones cut during the sessions has been bootlegged. Instead, you got a package with a vinyl LP; a bonus vinyl disc with an original mono mix of “Sympathy for the Devil”; and a flexidisc with a telephone interview Mick Jagger gave to a Tokyo journalist in April 1968. And no historical liner notes.

Coming out at the same time as much more substantial 50th anniversary editions for The White Album, Electric Ladyland, and even The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, it looked pretty paltry in comparison. But hey, at least it had both the original banned “toilet graffiti” cover and its clean white “invitation” replacement.


Why aren’t the Rolling Stones getting aboard the super deluxe box train, when even the Beatles have finally embraced it with zeal? I read speculation that the outtakes were not made available for legal reasons, and while specifics weren’t given, at a guess maybe it has something to do with the rights to songs written by Mick Jagger-Keith Richard (and for that matter Bill Wyman) that haven’t previously been released in any form. If that’s the case, it’s too bad, though you can suffer with the hissy quality of the unreleased material on bootlegs in the meantime. If a legal dispute’s holding it up, the big losers are the fans.

Put a note promising yet more extra material on a website or download that never goes up, or is never made available. Like some other Who albums, Quadrophenia has been issued in a super deluxe edition guaranteed to relieve you of your paycheck faster than Whole Foods’ shopping cart. This five-CD extravaganza includes the original album; 25 Townshend solo demos which illustrate how meticulously he sketched out the material, also including a few songs that didn’t make the album, though these are weaker and more ill-fitting for the opera than the ones that were selected; a disc of 5.1 SurroundSound mixes of eight (and just eight) of the album’s seventeen tracks; a seven-inch vinyl single of “5:15” and the non-LP B-side “Water”; a 100-page hardback book with an essay by Pete Townshend, illustrated with rare photos and documents; and assorted other memorabilia.


So far so good, pretty much. The extras aren’t so great that you’d nominate this as one of the best expanded editions, but certainly there’s a lot of bonus material, if of variable value. But there’s a glitch in those extras, if one seldom commented upon, even by Who fanatics.

Though the book promises an online area of yet additional bonus content via “Q-Cloud,” the link provided to access it simply brings you to a “not found” page. I hadn’t tried it for a few years, but I just tried it again, and it coughs up the same result. It’s an unconscionable rip-off that, if nothing else, is in keeping with Pete Townshend’s failure to finish off some of his most ambitious ‘70s projects, the early-‘70s album/movie Lifehouse being the most famous of those. 

Bloat the box with new mixes that were never even previously commercially available. This was done on a 50th anniversary edition from 1968 that didn’t get too much attention, at least compared to the likes of The White Album, Electric Ladyland, or even Skip Spence’s Oar (the last of which wasn’t technically a 50th anniversary edition, as that album didn’t come out until 1969, though it was recorded at the end of 1968). The 50th anniversary deluxe of the Moody Blues’ In Search of the Lost Chord had three CDs and two DVDs (one of the DVDs boasting visual content, the other various audio versions of the album). One of the CDs was almost solely devoted to a “new stereo mix” (the “original stereo mix” is featured on a different CD).


I’m aware some collectors get real enthusiastic about new mixes and 5.1 SurroundSounds (for those who have the hi-end equipment to play them). Maybe some of them would feel I have bad ears, or lack appreciation for the nuances different mixes bring out. But I know I’m not alone in my criticisms of filling up space on expanded editions with these. As one fellow critic, who’s heard and written about an enormous amount of vintage rock, wrote to me recently: “I have no time at all for new remixes and remasters of albums that sounded perfectly fine when they were first released. Why remix a classic Beatles album to make it sound like a modern recording? Of course, we both know that answer to that one: $$$ and £££.”

Put out a bunch of unreleased material that could have been used on an expanded edition for a few hours, or as an edition so extremely limited that it’s sold out before most fans are even aware it’s available. Sometimes this has been done, the usual speculation goes, to extend the copyright on material that’s in danger of going into public domain if it’s not officially released in some fashion. In 2012, Bob Dylan didn’t bother to make a secret of this in the four-CD The Copyright Extension Collection Vol. 1, a four-CDR (not a typo, CDR) compilation of 1962 outtakes and live recordings. Reportedly only 100 copies released, and then only on Europe.


Naturally these were quickly bootlegged/file-shared, and most Dylan fanatics knew how to get those non-original copies if they wanted. On their own, however, the first two CDs—comprised of studio outtakes—would have made for the logical bonus discs for an expanded edition of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. There are too many multiple versions to make this compulsive over-and-over listening. But there’s some good stuff here, and it’s certainly all of significant historical value, especially since it includes some original compositions and covers that didn’t make the LP.

Dylan and Sony would do this again for the years 1963 and 1964, rather than make at least some of that material widely available on standard expanded editions of his third and fourth albums, The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan. It might seem churlish to slam Dylan for these copyright extension exercises when he’s been far more willing than most legends to authorize official reissues of tons of his vault holdings, on the lengthy and still-ongoing Bootleg Series. Still, it would have benefited from both over-the-counter availability and historical liner notes/photos. Sony and Dylan certainly can’t be surprised that it’s been heavily bootlegged/unofficially circulated.

Van Morrison recently super-briefly issued some rare material in a different way. For just a few hours on November 7, a 64-minute live recording of an August 1968 Boston gig, his voice and acoustic guitar backed by just bass and flute, was available on iTunes UK. Although the fidelity’s not great, it’s part of the bridge between “Brown Eyed Girl” and Astral Weeks. Maybe the sound quality isn’t considered good enough for a general release, but it might have made an interesting disc in an expanded edition of the Astral Weeks album. As my lengthy story on the material’s release notes, there are apparently no plans for such a project where Astral Weeks is concerned.


Hidden bonus tracks. They’re not just an expanded editions, of course. One of the most aggravating was on a box set by a blues performer where the bonus track was not at the end, but at the beginning, requiring you to put your player on rewind so it went back before the start of track 1. My cheap CD player was unable to do that, and there was no refund or replacement conventionally playable disc with the bonus track when I let the label know—not much sympathy at all for my situation, in fact.

Most hidden bonus tracks—meaning songs unlisted in the packaging—are at the end of CDs, not the beginning. Often they’re preceded by a gap of silence, ranging from ten seconds to ten minutes. Which means they’re missed by those of us who are such ignoramuses that we unthinkingly eject the CD when it goes silent, instead of taking care to notice that the clock’s still ticking.

It’s back to Nico’s The Frozen Borderline for a prime example. An alternate version of “Frozen Warnings” at the end of the second disc of plays as an unlisted “hidden” track after a ten-minute gap of silence. I suppose the logic here might be, what a pleasant shock it is to suddenly hear music come out of the speaker after you think the album’s ended, while you’ve gone to wash the dishes or check your email. But such is the harried pace of modern life that plenty of people who’ve paid for the disc might eject it after the music’s over, or they think it’s over, without ever suspecting there’s more to come. Maybe I’ve even missed some hidden tracks myself.


My advice to record labels: don’t be cute. Don’t even put an unlisted track at the end if there’s no gap of silence. Let people know it’s there; if they’re getting an expanded edition, they do want to hear everything (and know what it is, in the liner notes/annotation). It’s kind of like those DVDs that had “easter eggs” where you couldn’t access unlisted bonus features unless you figured out exactly what to click and hover over—if you even knew the bonus features were there. That seems to have mostly or wholly disappeared from the DVD (and now Blu-ray) business, as it should from expanded music CDs.

In my past couple posts, I’ve praised some extended editions, and harped on a bunch of them whose flaws range from imperfection to downright annoying. Most extended editions, however, fall way between those two extremes. They offer enough extra material to interest committed fans, but not such exciting bonuses that you want to play the add-ons nearly as much as you play (or at least played, back when you had the bare disc) the original album. Again, just a couple examples of middle-value extended editions, which happen to be from the same label, the same era, and the same region:

The two-CD “Legacy Edition” (named after Columbia/Sony’s Legacy imprint, specializing in reissue) of Santana’s self-titled 1969 debut LP more than doubles its length with a couple alternate takes; previously unissued sessions for the original, unreleased album, produced by David Rubinson, including a song (“Fried Neckbones”) that wasn’t cut when the LP was redone from scratch a few months later; and seven songs from their legendary Woodstock set, four previously unreleased. Do I appreciate having this material available? Sure. Have I listened to it a lot? No, and it’s not on the level of the original LP, except for some of the Woodstock set, especially the one that’s long been well known from the festival’s soundtrack album and performance in the Woodstock movie, “Soul Sacrifice.”


The two-CD Legacy Edition of Janis Joplin’s last album, Pearl, likewise more than doubles the length of the LP with some demos/alternates/outtakes (half previously unreleased) and a live disc of material recorded in mid-1970 during the Festival Express tour in Canada (almost have previously unreleased). Likewise: good to have, I like it when I hear it, I appreciate its historical value. But I haven’t played it too often, and it’s not memorable in the way the Pearl LP is.


At this point some of you, including some who are actually in the music business and record industry, might be thinking that I’d rather expanded editions weren’t around at all. Or even worse, you might be reconsidering whether the record business should be doing expanded editions at all. No! Don’t stop! I do generally relish that extra material, whether it’s just that stray barely-different alternate take or heaps of demos that are actually revelatory.

Just because the bonuses are rarely on the level of the core albums doesn’t mean they’re not at the very least historically interesting, and at the very most vastly entertaining, to hear. Even the crummy cuts sometimes yield insights into the creative process. The usual gap in quality is an expected testament to the editing skills of the musicians, producers, songwriters, and labels when it came to determining what should be on the finished album.

And if I don’t especially feel the need to get the core albums along with the bonus material, or care too much about the remastered/remixed versions, I’ll end on an upbeat note by praising one of those relatively uncommon instances in which a bunch of extras are packaged on their own. Let’s give a hand to last year’s Big Brother’s Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills. As I wrote when I put it in the Top Ten of my year-end list:

Not an expanded Cheap Thrills (there was already one of those without much in the way of extras), this two-CD compilation is comprised almost entirely of outtakes from the sessions. Twenty-five of the thirty songs are previously unreleased; the previously available ones are on out-of-the-way or expensive compilations that even committed Joplin/Big Brother fans might have missed; and the one non-studio cut is a good hitherto unissued live version of “Ball and Chain” (Winterland, April 12, 1968).

There are good, though not book-length, liner notes by drummer David Getz, and an appreciation by Grace Slick that’s thoughtful and long enough not to look phoned in. And you can get all this as a standalone release, instead of having to buy it as part of an expanded Cheap Thrills edition that compels you to buy the original album—which you probably already have in at least two formats—all over again. And the double-CD sold for a reasonable $14.98 plus tax at my local record store. Hey, labels (and artists), pay attention: this is the way to do it!



In Qualified Praise of Expanded Editions

As I wrote in my December 31, 2018 post listing my favorite reissues of 2018, expanded editions of classic, or even not-so-classic, albums are a growing presence in the record industry. At this point, in fact, it seems like almost every vintage rock act has an expanded edition of some sort in their catalog. At the extreme end of the scale, it can run to huge, and hugely expensive, multi-disc sets, like the recent seven-disc White Album box or, on a more cult level, the seven-disc set box for the Stooges’ Fun House. At the chintizest end, it can mean just one additional marginally different alternate take, or one B-side.

My pick for the #1 reissue of 2018.

The seven-disc expanded edition of The White Album.

While the biggest boxes tend to go to very popular acts, that’s not a hard and fast rule, with many cult artists getting the very extended treatment. Besides the Stooges, for instance, the entire Velvet Underground catalog has been granted expanded editions, some of them running between four and six CDs. Even artists who neither sold that much nor have much left in the vault get spruced-up single CDs, like late-‘60s Elektra groups Clear Light and Eclection. And Skip Spence’s Oar, supposedly one of the lowest-selling major label LPs of the late 1960s, was recently honored with a three-CD edition—perhaps the unlikeliest huge expansion of an album to date, though it’ll no doubt be outpaced by an even more obscure record in the future.

What makes for a really good extended edition? Ideally, it should hit all or at least some of the following bases:

Additional material, whether studio outtakes/B-sides/rare compilation-only tracks/live recordings, that’s of considerable historical interest/value to enhancing appreciation of the core album;

Additional material that, besides being rare in the manner outlined above, is also very good and enjoyable to listen to, even granting that it’s seldom-to-never going to be as good as the core album it’s embellishing;

Thorough excavation of all the reasonably interesting/quality additional material that can be added to the core album, even if it takes several discs to do so;

Top-notch packaging, particularly in the way of detailed historical liner notes, with fine/rare vintage photos, ads, posters, label/sleeve reproductions, and other memorabilia being useful bonuses.

Some expanded editions come close to hitting this grand slam, but none of them really do. That’s not necessarily the fault of the compilers, labels, or artists. Sometimes every damn last thing is included, but the additional material’s just not massively interesting/enjoyable/notable. Sometimes great unreleased tapes known to exist are not legally available for clearance. Sometimes the artists themselves aren’t cooperating with the project.

I’ll look at some of the notable failures of expanded editions to meet their potential in my next post. But the bulk of this post will be devoted to some of my favorites, and why, in different ways, they meet at least some of the goals to which all such retrospectives should aspire. No doubt some of your favorites will be missing. But keep in mind that it’s a list of personal favorites, not one that ticks off how well the set was mastered and assembled and how its importance is judged by the community of music critics and listeners as a whole, regardless of how much I like the music.

As it happens, two of the best expanded editions came out last year, and took the top two positions on my 2018 reissue list. #2, but #1 as far as ideal expanded editions go, was Liz Phair’s Girly Sound to Guyville. Despite the different title, this is essentially an expanded edition of her 1993 album Exile in Guyville, which occupies disc one of this three-CD set.


But the real attraction of this release—not a box, just a regular CD-sized package with three discs—are the two CDs of the so-called Girly Sound tapes, which Phair recorded on her own on a four-track in her bedroom. These predate the recording of Exile in Guyville, and include not only different versions of seven Exile songs, but more than thirty others, some (but not many) of which she’d redo for post-Exile albums. These come close to meeting all four of the criteria for the ideal deluxe edition:

Considerable historical importance. This is almost as thorough a document as possible of her evolution before her debut album, both with the different versions of Exile songs but also, even more crucially, the many songs that didn’t make it on there or anywhere. (As to why it’s not completely thorough, see two paragraphs down.) And they’re much different sonically than the Exile material, with their solo lightly-amplified-guitar-and-voice intimacy (though Exile wasn’t gaudy or over-produced).

Extremely high-quality, enjoyable bonus material. I’m not putting detailed reviews of the music for the albums I discuss in this post, and you can read about that aspect of Girly Sound to Guyville in my extensive rundown of the record on my best-of list. But the two discs of home tapes have both very good, sometimes great, songs and good performances, in considerably better sound quality than their bootlegged versions. They are discs I’ve listened to over and over, which is rare for tracks augmenting the core classic album.

Almost everything known to exist was included. Here’s a prime example of how two items are missing, but not through the fault of the artist. Two songs from the Girly Sound tapes, “Fuck or Die” and “Shatter,” that have circulated unofficially are not included. That’s because they incorporate some lyrics from Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and the Rolling Stones’ “Shattered,” and couldn’t be cleared for official consumption.

Good packaging and annotation. The fairly fat booklet features extensive interview material with Phair, Exile in Guyville producer/bassist/drummer Brad Wood, Casey Rice (who also plays on Exile in Guyville), and some more obscure figures who helped build awareness of Phair’s work. However, in part because it’s not LP-sized, graphically the booklet’s not as impressive as most expanded edition notes are, with virtually nothing in the way of illustrations. If it’s a choice between good notes/documentation and fluffy/minimal notes filled out with big photos, however, I’ll take the non-augmented notes every time.

To be honest, this really could have been a two-CD set with just Girly Sound material. Almost anyone who gets this already has Exile in Guyville. The conundrum is, though, that if it just had the Girly Sound stuff, it wouldn’t be an expanded edition, and maybe the participants wouldn’t have been as motivated to produce liner notes that were as thorough. The third disc probably didn’t up the price up too much; the CD set was selling for a pretty reasonable $20-25 when it came out, though I wonder if it’s already gone out of print, since it’s already not easy to find new online.

#1 on my 2018 reissue list — but not quite as impressive as Girly Sound to Guyville viewed purely from how it fulfills an extended edition’s mission — was the seven-disc box of the Beatles’ White Album. Three of the seven discs didn’t interest me much — two of them were of a new (and hyped) mix of The White Album itself, and the third a Blu-ray with mono and 5.1 versions. But four were largely comprised of unreleased material, three of them devoted to 1968 studio outtakes (almost all of which hadn’t even been previously bootlegged), and the fourth to demos the group recorded at George Harrison’s house shortly before the White Album sessions started.

More than anything else, that disc of demos—the so-called Esher demos, in honor of the name of Harrison’s home—is what puts this in the top echelon of expanded editions. I’ve written about them at length in my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film, and you can read that section here. But for now, it’s sufficient to note that they’re the most important body of unreleased Beatles material, the 27 acoustic-oriented tracks showing them in an unplugged, loose, and friendly frame of mind. Crucially, it’s also a disc you can play over and over for sheer enjoyment—as I did when most of the demos got bootlegged back in the early 1990s. Now they’re in appreciably better sound quality, and available for all the world to hear, not just us clued-in cats who seek unofficially circulating recordings.

The three discs of studio outtakes have enormous historical value, but aren’t, with maybe a few scattered exceptions, things you’d want to play as often or repeatedly. And it’s not a thorough presentation of everything known to exist—there are so many multiple takes of White Album songs that you’d probably need a car trunk to hold them all on compact disc. (Maybe those will be made available to the public on the 100th anniversary of The White Album, though none of us will be around to hear them at that point.)

There’s also a 164-page hardback book that, a little surprisingly considered how much has already been written about the Beatles, is very good; has a lot of information, intelligently relayed; and has plenty of interesting graphics.

The Beatles were at an advantage when devising a box like this, of course, because they had such a big well of interesting unreleased material from the White Album era to draw upon. That wasn’t the case when they put out the only other deluxe edition produced for a Beatles album, the Sgt. Pepper box, where the outtakes weren’t nearly as numerous or interesting (or as variant from the official versions, as the ones for the White Album sometimes were). Another icon of the era, however, had an even bigger reservoir of unissued material to tap for the next deluxe I’ll cite.

It’s arguable whether Bob Dylan & the Band’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete is even an expanded edition. None of it, after all, came out on a “proper” album, if you take that to mean an album released relatively soon after it was recorded. Even the 1975 official compilation of Basement Tapes—issued a good eight years after the tapes were actually taped—isn’t quite the core of this six-CD set. The 1975 Basement Tapes, for one thing, had eight Dylan-less Band songs not on the box, and five of the songs on the 1975 double LP were given overdubs for that release.


I think it’s safe to guess that these distinctions don’t matter too much to most—maybe even almost every—listener who’s interested in The Basement Tapes. They’ll probably consider The Basement Tapes Complete to be an expanded edition of whatever they have, whether it’s the 1975 double album or the five-CD Genuine Basement Tapes bootleg series. If you’re not disqualifying it, again it scores high in the key categories:

Vast historical interest, as it’s among the most mysterious periods of any major artist’s career, and a rare example of a star recording shed-loads of material during his prime, but not releasing any of it at the time;

A thorough exhumation of the available goods. A few very lo-fi tracks were left off, but it still included a whopping 138, some of which had never even been bootlegged. And the lowest-fi of the tracks were thoughtfully grouped together on one disc. It’s true that the 18-disc collector’s edition of Dylan’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 outdid this by including every damned last surviving studio take, a disc of hotel room tapes, and MP3 downloads of all his surviving 1965 live performances. That’s not included in this list because it’s not an expanded edition of a particular album, although it’s extensive enough to deserve this honorable mention.

Listenability. To the chagrin of some, I’m not such a huge Bob Dylan fan. And this six-CD anthology of Basement Tapes, I think even Dylan obsessives would admit, is uneven, with a big gap between the best of the material (much of which was chosen for the 1975 double LP) and the numbers that were obviously throwaways or goofs. But it’s pretty listenable overall, if not as compellingly so from start-to-finish as the Girlysound tapes or the Esher demos. You’re likely to listen to this at least a few times all the way through if you buy this in the first place, and some Dylan fanatics will listen to it many times without tiring.

Packaging: a hardback 42-page book of liner notes that, if not as huge as the one with The White Album (or for that matter the books/liner notes that the Bear Family label often includes in its box sets), are very informative. That’s complemented by a 122-page book of vintage photos and memorabilia, much of it quite rare.

While these are the three expanded editions that stand out to me as the class of the field, I’m also citing a few others I like a lot, even if they don’t touch as many bases:

The Moody Blues’ first album, The Magnificent Moodies (in the UK; as usual for those days, in the US, their first LP was similar but somewhat different), was “expanded” into a two-CD job by Esoteric. Basically, it was an excuse to not just add to, or double, the length of the original, but to quadruple it. The Magnificent Moodies was hardly a magnificent album, though it was pretty good as second-line British Invasion LPs went. However, in the era when Denny Laine was their lead singer and (with keyboardist Mike Pinder) writer of their original material, they did a lot of non-LP singles. Some of those were quite good, and all are essential to a fuller version of their pre-psychedelic/prog era, when their forte was haunting R&B/pop.

MOODY BLUES Magnificent

The first disc of this modest regular CD-sized package has The Magnificent Moodies and all of their non-LP sides, even adding a rare French EP cut and an early unreleased version of their big hit “Go Now.” The second disc is more in the “good to have” category than the “spin over and over” one, with lots—about thirty, in fact—outtakes and radio sessions, not to mention a Coke commercial.

But it’s a nearly 60-track overview that’s so extensive it would have been unimaginable when it was a struggle just to get all of the Moody Blues’ pre-1967 output in one place. Lots of small-print info and graphics are in the 24-page booklet, and a foldout of press clippings and postcard/ticket-type thingies are thrown in. It’s an example of how to do the best job possible without the big budget and size of a deluxe box. Some would argue that it should also include their two other non-LP singles predating Days of Future Passed (after Laine left), but then those are on—you guessed it—the two-CD expanded Days of Future Passed.

While I don’t want this to turn into a commercial for Esoteric, the same label also huffed and puffed up the self-titled debut album by the Move into an unimaginable size, without sacrificing quality. The thirteen songs of the actual LP comprise a relatively minor part, percentage-wise, of this three-CD, 65-track set. There are also both sides of their first two singles (both big hits in the UK); outtakes; demos and a local Birmingham radio session from January 1966, a good year or so before their first record came out; and an entire disc of January 1967-January 1968 BBC sessions, including a bunch of covers they didn’t put on their studio releases.


Yes, disc two is dominated by the kind of stereo mixes I find relatively inessential. But again, an info-packed booklet and foldout of press clippings gets the most out of the regular CD-sized format. Esoteric did a similarly bang-up job on a lot of other parts of the Move catalog, by the way; the two-CD Shazam adds about three dozen bonus tracks to an LP that only has six songs (albeit some of which are pretty long). Ditto for Procol Harum’s first album, whose ten tracks are the prelude to 27 bonus ones, even if a few of those are peripheral stereo mixes. We do get into quantity over quality in some respects with these Esoteric editions, but the best extras on all of these are things you want to play, and sometimes play a lot.


I’m not as big a fan of Nico’s solo stuff as I am of the early work by the Moody Blues, Move, and Procol Harum. But I like how the two-CD The Frozen Borderline compilation basically puts two substantially expanded editions together. Disc one features her 1968 album The Marble Index, with outtakes, alternates, and demos; disc two features her 1970 album Desertshore with a half dozen demos.


These are close enough in release dates to basically be an overview of her prime as a songwriter (remember she wrote little on her very worthwhile 1967 debut Chelsea Girl), with both albums bearing a heavy influence from John Cale, as both an arranger and instrumentalist. It’s true the Desertshore demos tend to confirm just how important Cale was because they sound so bare compared to how they’d develop after he worked with the material. But that in itself is of pretty vast historical importance, if you’re a Velvet Underground fanatic at any rate.

The LPs came out on different labels (Elektra and Reprise), which often complicates things in the reissue business. But luckily those labels are now administered by the same company, which removes the obstacles from packaging these in tandem. The liners aren’t as imposing as the others on this list, but get the job done with lots of info and first-hand quotes from Cale and others.

How could it have been better? They could have also added material from her BBC broadcasts on John Peel’s program in early 1971, though most people who want The Frozen Borderline would already have those on her Peel Sessions EP, issued almost twenty years before The Frozen Borderline. Much less forgivably, two alternate versions that appear as bonus tracks on the much slimmer 1991 expanded edition of The Marble Index are not on The Frozen Borderline. It’s almost as though they feared making the set a total success.

One of the best expanded editions was of a soundtrack LP, rather than a conventional album statement by one artist. The 2003 two-CD deluxe edition of The Harder They Come pulled off the difficult feat of making a classic album better by more than doubling its length with a second disc of eighteen reggae classics from 1968-1973.


In a refreshing counterpoint to the elitism that sometimes governs the selection of such compilations, it included not only additional tracks by artists featured on the original soundtrack (the Maytals, the Melodians), but also some of the first crossover hits to popularize reggae in the US and UK (Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites,” Jimmy Cliff’s “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” Dave & Ansel Collins’ “Double Barrel”). Although Johnny Nash is sometimes derided as an exploiter/mere popularizer of Bob Marley songs, it also includes his big hit “I Can See Clearly Now,” along with his Marley cover “Guava Jelly.” There’s also Eric Donaldson’s original version of “Cherry Oh Baby,” covered by the Rolling Stones on their Black and Blue album.

Yes, the compilers of this edition had an advantage over most expandeds in being able to pick choice gems from the entire pool of the era’s reggae music, rather than cull leftovers surrounding a core album by one artist. But it’s done very well, also included decent if not huge liner notes.

This was also done, incidentally, for the Easy Rider soundtrack, whose two-CD edition almost triples the length of the original LP release, adding nineteen other late-’60s rock classics (including the Band’s original version of “The Weight, ” which is heard in the film, but couldn’t be used on the original soundtrack LP for contractual reasons). But although it’s a good listen, it really isn’t connected with the film, which itself wasn’t connected with a certain musical style, as The Harder They Come was with reggae.

To round out the releases given qualified praise here to an even ten or so, how about a “shout-out,” as the 21st century terminology demands, to expanded editions that include DVDs/Blu-R=rays as well as music CDs. That’s becoming more common as time goes on, and though it’s usually secondary to the musical portion, there are some real goodies.

Just a few months ago, the expanded edition of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland also had a DVD documentary about the making of the album (in addition to three CDs, one of them comprised of outtakes/demos, the other of a live 1968 concert at Hollywood Bowl). That documentary was issued a long time ago as part of the Classic Albums series, but the opportunity was taken to add almost forty minutes of extra material. So there you have an occasion where “bonus” material’s added not just to the music, but also to the visuals.


I like how Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water made the second disc a DVD featuring their 1969 TV special Songs of America, which is very interesting; had not been too easy to view; and was quite controversial at the time, mixing music with footage of contentious late-‘60s social turmoil. There’s also a documentary about the making of Bridge Over Troubled Water on the DVD disc.

Too bad, then, that no extra musical tracks are added to the actual album, when there are certainly some other studio and live recordings from the time that were eligible. In fact, a couple were even included when the album was part of the box set The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970. But when it comes to extended editions, you not only can’t have everything—you never have everything.


But if even some of the best expanded editions have imperfections, some imperfections are more imperfect, and even annoying, than others. My next post discusses what not to do with expanded editions—even though such things are done all too often.

The Doors Are Open

I’ll be teaching a course on the Doors for the first time at the end of this month, and spent a lot of time preparing the material over the last few months. I’ve been a big Doors fan for more than forty years, but of course as I got my class together, I’ve thought a lot more about the group recently than I have for a while.

There’s been an enormous amount written about the Doors. It’s hard to believe there was a time, before the best-selling Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive came out in 1980, that there was no substantial book about them. Still, there are a few aspects of their work that aren’t discussed much. I’ll be going over a half dozen of them here.

1. The bass player(s). Even many casual rock fans know the Doors were unusual in not, with few exceptions, using a bass player onstage. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek is particularly noted for playing the bass parts on a Fender Rhodes Piano bass, simultaneously playing the upper register melodies on a Vox Continental organ.

Doug Lubahn's book about the Doors, which includes a section specifically detailing his bass lines on the Doors tracks on which he played.

Doug Lubahn’s book about the Doors, which includes a section specifically detailing his bass lines on the Doors tracks on which he played.

It’s not so well known that the Doors usually used an electric bassist on their recordings, though except for the first album (on which Wrecking Crew stalwart Larry Knechtel played on a few tracks), they were properly credited on the original LPs. Doug Lubahn, who plays on most or some of Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, and The Soft Parade, handled the instrument more than anyone else. But they used a few others too, including Harvey Brooks on The Soft Parade (who’d played in the Electric Flag and on some of Bob Dylan’s mid-’60s sessions); Jerry Scheff on L.A. Woman (most noted for playing in Elvis Presley’s band); Lonnie Mack (on Morrison Hotel);, and, least famously, Ray Neopolitan, who plays on most of Morrison Hotel, though not much else is known about him.

If the quartet lineup—really a trio, instrumentally, Jim Morrison rarely playing anything—worked so well in concert, why was it almost always altered in the studio? There’s a pretty big difference between hearing something live and on a record, and they, producer Paul Rothchild, and Elektra Records were likely conscious that some more depth and oomph were needed. And the session bassists worked pretty well, whether playing on their own or kind of doubling/reinforcing Manzarek’s lines. Here are just a few of the memorable bass lines on Doors records:

That part near the end of “Take It As It Comes” where all the instruments dramatically drop out except bass and drums (Knechtel);

The opening riff of “You’re Lost Little Girl” (Lubahn);

The opening riff of “My Eyes Have Seen You” (Lubahn);

The part right before the final, shouted verse of “The Unknown Soldier,” introducing by a single declarative, loopy bass note (Kerry Magness, of the group Bodine, who only played on this one Doors track);

The fuzz bass on “Five to One” (Lubahn);

The throbbing bottom on the opening instrumental section to “L.A. Woman” (Scheff);

The ominous line underpinning the intro to “Riders on the Storm” (Scheff).

Jerry Scheff's autobiography, which has just a little on his work with the Doors.

Jerry Scheff’s autobiography, which has just a little on his work with the Doors.

There are plenty of others. In fact, most of the tracks on Doors albums have a session bassist except for the self-titled debut, and even that has Knechtel playing on four of the eleven songs.

I’d go as far as to say it would have been a good idea for the Doors to have a full-time bass player, though it’s been reported that when they were first getting their sound together, they tried a few bassists and found the sound too full. Doug Lubahn would have been the best candidate, as he fit in with them well and was already recording for Elektra as part of the Rothchild-produced group Clear Light.

In fact, in his obscure memoir My Days with the Doors and Other Stories, Lubahn says Rothchild asked Doug if he’d consider joining the Doors as a full fifth partner in 1967. Lubahn, apparently without regret, turned him down as he wanted to stay in Clear Light, who ended up doing just one LP before splitting. Lubahn does acknowledge that when he brought up the subject with Rothchild twenty years later, the producer denied it ever happened.

Whatever took place, the Doors’ records sound great — in part because they used session bassists. Which leads to the next point:

2. The Doors were better in the studio than they were in concert. That’s nothing to be ashamed of — many and perhaps most bands sound better on their finished studio product than they do on live tapes. And at their best, the Doors were pretty good live. I do think the gap between their live and studio sound is bigger than it is for the usual top act, in part because they used bass players on their records. And the dynamic range and sonic balance of Doors records is usually pretty phenomenal, with engineer (and, on L.A. Woman, co-producer with the other Doors) Bruce Botnick deserving credit as well as Rothchild. Of course like countless acts they were sometimes able to use overdubs and effects that weren’t possible onstage, like Ray Manzarek’s use of the Marxophone on “Alabama Song,” his weaving of both organ and piano parts on “The Crystal Ship,” and the rain and thunder on “Riders on the Storm.”

That lets them off pretty easy, but there are some less flattering issues that can be brought up as well. For me at least, their live recordings—and I’m too young to have seen them in concert, so I’m going from the many official and unofficial taped shows in circulation—sometimes suffered in a few crucial respects:

Frequent insertions of dissonant poetry/music pieces, sometimes as medleys with actual songs with which they didn’t jibe too well. I’m not a big fan of the legendary “The Celebration of the Lizard” epic, but obviously it meant a lot to the Doors, or at least to Morrison, as they often performed small-to-big chunks of it. Sometimes the juxtaposition of a grating poem to a classic tune would be jarring, like when they preceded “Light My Fire” with that screeching “Wake up! Run to the mirror in the bathroom look” section. The medley of “Texas Radio & The Big Beat” and “Love Me Two Times” wasn’t as displeasing, but nor was it entirely logical.


A sense that they weren’t taking themselves too seriously. This comes through much more strongly on their 1969-70 tapes than the pre-1969 ones (which are much fewer in number, especially if you want decent fidelity). You don’t have to hear specialized archive releases or bootlegs to find this; it characterizes much of the official 1970 double LP Absolutely Live, where there’s sometimes a looseness that verges on sloppiness, and a jovial tone at odds with the serious poetic lyrics. Lester Bangs pointed this out back in 1976 in his chapter on the Doors in the first edition of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll: “Morrison was by turns painfully and wryly aware of his own absurdity, and you can hear his humor in the between-song banter (“Dead cat in a top hat…thinks he’s an aristocrat…That’s crap”) on [the intro to “Break on Through”] on Absolutely Live.”

That’s why I think their tapes of shows at San Francisco’s Matrix tapes in March 1967 (two CDs of which have been officially issued) are easily their best live recordings, despite not-quite-optimum fidelity. “Light My Fire” was still three months away from becoming a hit, and they’re not yet jaded. They’re still hungry, and play things pretty straight. Even their second-best set of live recordings—two shows in Stockholm in September 1968, which have yet to see official release (possibly because of somewhat imperfect sound)—are more earnest and straightahead, without the toying with their own compositions you hear on the many official CDs of 1969 and 1970 concerts.

One of several posthumous archival CDs of 1970 Doors concerts.

One of several posthumous archival CDs of 1970 Doors concerts.

Mediocre blues/R&B/early rock’n’roll covers. The Doors did a lot of non-originals live that they didn’t put on their studio LPs. Which brings us to the next point:

3. The Doors were not particularly good at blues/R&B/soul. There were only three covers on Doors albums, all of which worked fairly well in their own way: Weill-Brecht’s “Alabama Song” and two blues classics, “Back Door Man” (written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf) and John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake.” (With Ray Manzarek on vocals, they also put a little-commented-upon version of Dixon’s “(You Need Meat) Don’t Go No Further,” first recorded by Muddy Waters, on a B-side.) They did a lot more in concert, as was hinted at by 1970 even if you didn’t go to Doors shows, since they put a couple on Absolutely Live.

Archival releases and bootlegs have unleashed a lot more into circulation, including but not limited to “Money,” B.B. King’s “Rock Me,” Lee Dorsey’s “Get Out of My Life, Woman,” “Mystery Train,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” and “Little Red Rooster.” Back on the first live tape that survives (from May 1966 at the London Fog, recently excavated and released), they even do “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” Little Richard’s “Lucille,” and Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It.”

May 1966 tapes of the Doors at the London Fog were recently discovered and officially released.

May 1966 tapes of the Doors at the London Fog were recently discovered and officially released.

I’m of two minds about the availability of all this surplus. On the one hand, you want live/archive releases/bootlegs to have material you can’t hear in an act’s common discography. The Doors have plenty of that, including not only the ones listed in the preceding paragraph, but also occasional non-blues covers like an extended instrumental version of “Summertime,” as well as some originals (usually half-baked-sounding) that didn’t make it onto their standard releases.

On the other, they just weren’t that good at these blues/R&B/soul/early rock’n’roll classics. Not nearly as good as, say, the Rolling Stones, one of their chief early inspirations, or some of the other best blues-oriented British Invasion bands, like Them, the Animals, and the Yardbirds. Or the Beatles, who weren’t nearly as blues/R&B-oriented, but did some great covers of songs in that style, “Money” being merely one of the most famous examples.

Some other great groups, it should be stated, weren’t great blues/R&B interpreters, like the Who. Just because you aren’t great at that one thing doesn’t mean you’re not great. But the Doors, unlike some other top bands, weren’t great at both covers and their own songs.

The Doors genuinely loved this music. But their interpretations were relatively perfunctory, sloppy, and unimaginative, often verging on the sluggish. Morrison tended to give in to some of his worst vocal mannerisms on these, such as affected yelps and macho growls and screams. It doesn’t bother me too much, but the live Matrix 1967 version of “Crawling King Snake,” predating its release on L.A. Woman by about four years, has some of the most abominable harmonica playing (presumably by Morrison) you’ll hear anywhere, though it fades away after the instrumental introduction.

There was just one R&B cover on their live recordings that was really good, despite their numerous attempts. The Matrix 1967 arrangement of “Who Do You Love” is lean, taut, and not too much like the Bo Diddley original. Compared to his usual blues interpretations, Morrison’s singing is effectively restrained; Robby Krieger’s slide guitar is superb; and the way the organ, drums, and guitars crash together and accelerate at the end is great. But it’s an exception that proves a general rule, in my view.

Official two-CD release of Doors tapes from March 1967 at the Matrix.

Official two-CD release of Doors tapes from March 1967 at the Matrix.

Had the Doors tried to make it as a straight blues/R&B band—or even, like some of their British Invasion heroes, a blues/R&B-oriented rock band—they never would have made it. The predominance of such material in their early sets was probably demanded/expected when they were unknowns who needed to play at least some familiar, danceable songs to club audiences. Their undistinguished efforts in this regard seem to have caused some other bands to dismiss them as hopeless no-contenders, and even make Rothchild and Elektra president Jac Holzman wary of getting involved with the Doors until they heard their far more impressive original material. Of which there was a lot, leading to the next point:

4. Were there any other top bands whose debut album was so clearly their best? I can’t think of any. The Doors were both blessed and cursed by their early productivity. Blessed because when they creamed off the best for The Doors, they had not just arguably the best debut album of all time, but one of the best albums of all time. Cursed because they couldn’t match that debut, even though they had a lot of fine music left.

Even for great groups that start off with a great album, usually that doesn’t happen. They don’t use up their best material; they write new material that’s good or even better, and stretches into new directions. That happened with the Beatles after Please Please Me, and the Who after My Generation. It happened with the Rolling Stones after their self-titled debut, though in part that’s because Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who’d barely written anything by the time of their first album, quickly matured into a great songwriting team.

The Doors, unusually, seem to have written two to three albums’ worth of songs by the time their first LP was released. It’s only become apparent with the passage of time, and the availability of numerous archive releases, how many of their post-debut album compositions were actually written way before the sessions for their second LP (Strange Days, released September 1967). Seven of the ten songs from that record had been performed onstage by March 1967 at the latest, as half a dozen are on the Matrix tapes.

When I got this bootleg of March 1967 Matrix tapes as an 18-year-old in 1980, I was fascinated to hear early performances of numerous songs the Doors had yet to record in their famous studio versions.

When I got this bootleg of March 1967 Matrix tapes as an 18-year-old in 1980, I was fascinated to hear early performances of numerous songs the Doors had yet to record in their famous studio versions.

(As an aside, those tapes are a reminder of the days when acts would perform quality original material in concert that hadn’t yet been released on their official albums. That would be uncommon in subsequent decades, in part because of fears, whether overblown or legitimate, that the songs would be bootlegged/broadcast/circulated before their proper unveiling on commercial discs. As an unfortunate consequence, many live performances haven’t been as interesting as they could have been had artists used them to introduce/refine new material.)

It’s known that some of the as-yet-unreleased songs on the Matrix tapes had been written and performed for quite some time. “Moonlight Drive,” the song Jim Morrison sang to Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach when they decided to form a band in summer 1965, was on their batch of half a dozen September 2, 1965 demos (and also recorded in an early version on an outtake from The Doors), as was “My Eyes Have Seen You.” “Strange Days,” to the surprise of even avid Doors fanatics like myself, is on the May 1966 London Fog tape that was released a couple years ago.

So when it came to the Strange Days album, you had a group of songs that were strong, but not quite as strong overall as those that had already been selected for The Doors. Whether because of Jim Morrison’s increasingly erratic behavior/indulgences and/or other reasons, they found it hard to maintain their quantity and the consistency of their quality, and kept dipping back into their early pool of songs when the well was sinking. On their third album (Waiting for the Sun), they plucked a couple other numbers from their September 1965 demo, “Summer’s Almost Gone” (also performed at the Matrix in March 1967) and “Hello I Love You.”


Even as late as Morrison Hotel, they retrieved “Indian Summer,” which like “Moonlight Drive” had been cut in a different version as an outtake for The Doors. Another big surprise from the May 1966 London Fog tape was an early live version of “You Make Me Real,” which took almost four years to appear on Morrison Hotel. Even on L.A. Woman, “Cars Hiss By My Window” has been reported to have been worked up from lyrics dating back to notebooks Morrison kept in Venice Beach in the mid-’60s.

Of course, many and maybe most rock artists sometimes reach back into their past, sometimes way back. The Beatles revived one of the earliest Lennon-McCartney compositions, “One After 909” (which they’d recorded but not released back in early 1963), in January 1969 for the Get Back sessions/Let It Be album. They took another song they’d considered recording, but not released, back in early 1963, “What Goes On,” when they needed to fill out Rubber Soul two and a half years later. The Beach Boys reworked “Thinkin’ About You Baby,” which Brian Wilson and Mike Love had penned for singer Sharon Marie back in 1964, into “Darlin’” in late 1967, and got a pretty big hit with it. There are numerous other examples.

But there aren’t many other examples of a band of comparable significance to the Doors using so much material that couldn’t fit onto their first album. They had enough, indeed, to make The Doors a double LP. But it wouldn’t have had the relentless knockout punch of the single disc, and double LPs in rock were rare back in late 1966, let alone double LPs that were also debuts (the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out being a very notable and unusual exception).

Does that mean that the Doors’ career was a disappointment after their first album, and that none of their subsequent songs were on the level of the best from that LP? Of course not. But their trajectory was not one of explosive artistic growth through a sustained peak. It might have contributed to a sense of letdown that led some critics, like Lester Bangs, to view the band, kind of unfairly, as having slid into less relevance/hipness. Or at least find, as Lillian Roxon wrote in the late ‘60s her entry on the Doors in her Rock Encyclopedia (the first serious rock reference book), that “the second album was a repeat, a lesser repeat, of the first.”

The best of their final album with Morrison, L.A. Woman, indicates they just possibly might have been able to recharge themselves with both exciting fresh material and an interesting exploration of new directions had their lead singer lived. Which leads to the speculation:

5. What would the Doors have done if Morrison hadn’t died? Or at least lived long enough to be on one more album?

 It’s an impossible question to answer, of course. Even if he’d lived, it’s possible he would not have recorded with the Doors again. Maybe he would have stayed in Paris and never returned to the US, in part to avoid a prison sentence he was appealing for profanity and public exposure at a March 1969 concert in Miami, though the other Doors could have recorded with him in France. There’s also speculation that he was tired of music and pop stardom, and wanted to discontinue his musical career in favor of writing poetry/prose and perhaps working in film—again impossible to prove or disprove.

Here are the negatives of how the next Doors album might have sounded had Morrison been involved:

There’s reason to believe his voice was sharply deteriorating. His alcohol intake and general substance abuse gets the most attention when his excesses are documented. But he was also a heavy smoker, and this might have been taking its physical toll, even though he was at 27 still pretty young. You can hear a gruff tone on some of the L.A. Woman cuts—like “Been Down So Long,” “The Changeling,” and “L.A. Woman” itself—that’s coarser than anything he’d previously cut, though it works well for this material. His smoking, and an associated hacking cough, were apparently getting even worse in his last few days in Paris. How long would it have been before he lost some of his vocal range and depth?

L.A. Woman was tilted more towards straight blues than previous Doors records. That’s especially true of “Been Down So Long,” “Cars Hiss By My Window,” and the John Lee Hooker cover “Crawling King Snake.” But it also comes through to some extent on “The Changeling,” “L.A. Woman,” and “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat).” Again, this works well within the context of the LP, since there was variety and contrast with classic, more characteristically Doorsian songs that weren’t straight blues (“Love Her Madly” and “Riders on the Storm”), and since even “L.A. Woman” and “The Changeling” were bluesy without having standard, predictable blues structures and melodies.

Excerpts from the L.A. Woman sessions are featured on this disc.

Excerpts from the L.A. Woman sessions are featured on this disc.

However, there’s reason to believe Morrison might have wanted to drift into straight blues that would have made the Doors less interesting or even pedestrian. Predicted drummer John Densmore in his memoir Riders on the Storm, “He would just want to play the blues, the slow, soulful, monotonous blues, which is great for a singer like him, but boring for a drummer like me.” And possibly boring for listeners, especially if it’s delivered in a croaky voice.

But there are a couple positives to this speculation too:

Although some L.A. Woman tracks seem to show some wear on Morrison’s voice, on other tracks, he crooned as well as ever. In particular, his vocals on “Riders on the Storm” are as clear and haunting as anything he sang. And that was the last song he recorded with the Doors, so it wasn’t as if his voice went into decline after the L.A. Woman sessions started. Would he have still been able to summon these kind of performances on another Doors LP?

And although some feel Jim was through with pop music and wanted to stay in Paris to write, an indication that he might have felt otherwise also comes from John Densmore’s memoir. Shortly before his death, Morrison called Densmore from Paris to see how L.A. Woman was doing; expressed some enthusiasm for doing another one; and said he’d be back in just a few months. According to the Morrison bio No One Here Gets Out Alive, Morrison told Densmore that if critics liked L.A. Woman, “wait’ll they hear what I got in mind for the next one.”


Does that mean Morrison had already written some songs we never got to hear? Or at least that he’d sketched out some lyrics or ideas? It should be noted that Densmore at least was dubious they’d be as good, writing, “I saw us spending the rest of our lives in dumpy clubs and in grumpy recording sessions.”

My own feeling, to be honest, is somewhat in line with Densmore’s. The material, I’d guess, would have gotten bluesier, but also less interesting and inspired, possibly even monotonous and burned-out sounding. And it would have been diminished by Morrison’s problematic vocals and general downward physical and mental spiral. But it certainly had a chance of being better than the pair of utterly unmemorable albums the Doors did record without him.

Did Morrison possibly have in mind material that might comment on his dire personal situation (particularly the threat of a prison sentence), and push the limits of what was considered acceptable in pop music, particularly via controversial lyrics? We don’t know that either. But it’s interesting to consider, even without taking into account his numerous brushes with the law stemming from his anti-authoritarian behavior onstage and offstage:

6. How often the Doors ran into obstacles with presenting their original lyrics. Instances in which the Doors were censored or somewhat self-censored might seem tame now that far more provocative and profane lyrics are more common in rock and rap. Still, there were a number of interesting cases in which their words were changed for their recorded versions, starting with the opening track of their first album.

The middle section of “Break on Through” was supposed to feature Morrison repeatedly singing “she gets high,” and that’s how it was recorded. Instead, on the original LP (and single), we heard “she gets, she gets, she gets, she gets” before he goes into an extended wordless wail. That always intrigued me, even as a fifteen-year-old back in the late 1970s. She gets what? I certainly wasn’t guessing “she gets high.”


The Doors continued to sing “she gets high” in live performances, such as the one on 1970’s Absolutely Live and even back at the Matrix in March 1967. And the original uncensored studio version was reinstated on CD reissues. In fact, now it’s hard to find the censored “she gets” one, although that was the only one available when it first came out, and for many years after that.

Even as someone who advocates free expression, my own feeling might disappoint the Doors and many of their fans. I think the censored “she gets” (no “high”) version is better. The rhythm of the shorter phrase fits better into that section. But also, it’s more interesting to leave the third word to your imagination. Everybody loves his baby because she gets money? She gets sex? She gets “it,” whatever it is? She gets “high” might have been considered hip and daring in 1967 for its drug reference, but it’s frankly kind of a cheap letdown now. She smokes pot, or even does harder drugs. So what? Does that even make her cool? And was it really that unusual, at a time when so many people were getting high?

The Doors’ first album ended with “The End.” Famously and infamously, the middle section was a reenactment of the Oedipus myth. It got the Doors fired from their Whisky A Go Go gig when Morrison sang explicit lyrics about having sex with his mother. There was no way that was going into the recorded version when the Doors cut the LP, not in late 1966, and maybe not even today for most acts. Jim did chant the f-word during the instrumental break, and while that was buried on the original release, again CDs reinstate this. Or kind of reinstate it, since it’s still kind of submerged, if audible. My take is that it doesn’t notably add or detract from the track’s ultimate effect. If you want to hear the untampered “fuck the mother, kill the father” line, that’s on the Matrix tapes.

Leading off side two of The Doors was their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Back Door Man,” written by Willie Dixon. Live, they at least sometimes altered the lyrics to insert the following verse, which is not found in either Howlin’ Wolf’s original or the Doors’ studio version: “I’ve got the right to love you, I’ve got the right to hug you, I got the right to kiss you, I’ve got the right to misuse you.” You can hear that on their Matrix tapes.

As there’s no Doors recording of “Back Door Man” predating the Matrix tapes, it’s not known whether they were already doing those words onstage when they recorded their first album. If they were, it’s not known whether it was their decision not to use those words in the studio, or if there might have been pressure from Elektra. It can’t even be discounted that had these words already been part of the Doors’ arrangement, they might have been cut simply for space considerations, as the additional verse would have made the song considerably longer than the three and a half minutes it occupied on the first LP. Whatever the situation, here’s one case where the omission of that pretty offensive line “I’ve got the right to misuse you” was a good thing.

Another jolting lyrical change to another song they covered on their first album can be heard on the Matrix Tapes. A key line of Weill-Brecht’s “Alabama Song” is “show me the way to the next little girl.” At the Matrix, that line was sung as “show me the way to the next little boy.” That wasn’t going to fly on a 1967 record, Elektra or not.

Another infrequently  noted example of censorship, or maybe self-censorship, was “Five to One,” the final track on their third album, Waiting for the Sun. That’s because there’s just the one version, which doesn’t contain profanity. In concert, however—as numerous live tapes evidence—Morrison consistently concluded the spoken section near the end about getting in a car to go out with some people with a declared intention to “get fucked up,” those words being drawled in a drawn-out manner for emphasis. It’s an odd, interesting detour in a song largely devoted to revolutionary exhortation, but the Doors were good at mixing somewhat contrasting narratives into the same song. Yet there’s no way Elektra Records, even as one of the hippest and most progressive labels of the ‘60s, was going to allow the f-word on an album in 1968, by their most commercial act or probably anyone else.

There are two different versions of “Touch Me” that owe nothing to the words Jim Morrison sings of the principal tunes (actually written by Robby Krieger, the sole composer credited). At the very end of the track, there’s a memorable four-note staccato brass riff. That’s all you hear on the original single.


But on the mix the band intended—and again, it’s the one that has become standard on CD—you hear low vocals grunt-sing “stronger than dirt.” That was a playful quote of a jingle, if that’s the right word, in a widely broadcast commercial of the time for Ajax, where voices chant-sang the same phrase in much the same way. Maybe it was removed from the single to avoid any objections, legal or otherwise, from Ajax.

I might sound like a fuddy-dud here, but I think the “stronger than dirt” interjection is rather silly and juvenile. And dated. Lots of people would have gotten the joke, i.e. reference to the Ajax commercial, back in the late 1960s. Not a whole lot of people born after 1960 get it now, and even those who saw the commercial back then might have forgotten about it. People haven’t forgotten about the Doors, and that “stronger than dirt” reference is there forever, though it’s so brief it doesn’t seriously blight the listening experience for me.

“Build Me a Woman” is one of the more obscure Doors songs, as it wasn’t on any of their studio albums, though a concert version’s on Absolutely Live. That version’s “clean,” but the one they did on the New York PBS TV program Critique in April 1969 opens with the line “Sunday trucker, motherfucker,” although Morrison slurs the MF word to iron out the profanity when he repeats the line. It’s another odd interjection that doesn’t fit in with the song’s main (if slight) narrative, perhaps meant as a jibe against rednecks harassing hippies. Considering their career was being destroyed by canceled concerts in the wake of their Miami show, it also took some integrity and courage to sing the uncensored lyric on television, though only PBS would have allowed that then. (Would they allow it now, one wonders?)

The most celebrated incident in which a Doors lyric was censored, or almost censored, occurred on the most popular network television variety show. When the group appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on September 17, 1967, they were famously told by a producer not to sing the word “higher” in “Light My Fire.” They sang it anyway, Morrison nonchalantly claiming to forget to change the words in all the excitement. As Ray Manzarek often told the story, the producer screamed they’d never be on the Ed Sullivan Show again. To which they responded, “We’ve done the Ed Sullivan Show.”

What’s never discussed, however, is exactly what the Doors could have sung instead of “girl we couldn’t get much higher.” It’s not easy to alter that phrase. “Girl we couldn’t light the fire,” or something as asinine and ill-fitting as that?

What’s even more ridiculous, of course, is the order to change the lyric in the first place. “Light My Fire” was a #1 single for three weeks in the summer of 1967. By the time of this broadcast, literally tens of millions of people had heard the song in its original unexpurgated guise. Was singing it a different way going to erase the memory of the original lyric? Much more importantly, if “we couldn’t get much higher” did indeed refer to getting high on drugs, so what?


When the Rolling Stones were asked to alter the words of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” on the Ed Sullivan Show in early 1967, Mick Jagger complied. (Despite some claims in interviews that he’d just mumbled some words in place of the title, you can certainly see him sing “let’s spend some time together” at times in the clip that was broadcast.) The Doors did not. And they did suffer the consequences of never appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show again, though that really didn’t hurt their career in the long run.

Some of this post has focused on some of the weaker parts of the Doors’ musical legacy. Lest anyone get the wrong impression, I want to emphasize I’m a huge Doors fan, and they’re among my top ten favorite rock acts. Along those lines, the closing section is on a musical positive that I don’t see commented upon too much:

7. The Doors were quite adept at mixing sex and romance into songs that were largely, or at least as much, about other topics. There are numerous examples, and I’ll cite a few here:

“Break On Through” is mostly about transcendence, but goes into a quite lusty and effective middle section, as cited earlier: “Everybody loves my baby, she gets”…high. Or not.

“When the Music’s Over” is about generally revolutionary behavior and sentiments. But in the middle, Morrison purrs to his baby to come back into his arms.

Morrison chants “love my girl” near the beginning of one of the most revolutionary-minded Doors songs, “Five to One.”

“Peace Frog,” which reflects the general violence/confusion of late-’60s society, is overlaid with singing chants of the line “she came,” as well as ending some verses with “She came in town and then she drove away, sunlight in her hair.” And of course “Peace Frog” is a medley with one of the band’s most overtly romantic numbers, “Blue Sunday,” as if the chaos of the streets has receded, to be replaced by blissful love.

Most of “Land Ho!” is about a wayfaring sailor. But it ends with a jubilant intention to “come back home and marry you.”

And “Riders on the Storm,” though mostly about an ominous hitchhiker, has an entire verse urging a woman to love her man, take him by the hand, and understand.

What does all this mean? That sex and death are intertwined, as might be one popular interpretation by overenthusiastic academics and psychologists? Or that you can’t have revolution without sex, or that sex and love are as important or more important than revolution?

My hunch is a different one: that for all his anti-authoritarian daring and testing of conventions and limits, Jim Morrison in particular was also something of a romantic. That’s overlooked in all the controversy he stirred with his more extroverted and outrageous behavior. But it’s certainly consistently there, and perhaps part of his search for transcendence, even if he never quite found that blissful plateau in his lifetime.


Top 25 Rock Reissues of 2018

There was an avalanche of reissues in 2018, even if your interest, like mine, is mostly confined to pre-1975 rock, and mostly to the 1960s within that era. The sheer quantity of releases isn’t much different than it’s been in the past few years, but there are a couple of small trends worth noting.

My pick for the #1 reissue of 2018.

My pick for the #1 reissue of 2018.

One is the growing presence of expanded editions, sometimes radically so, of classic albums (or even albums that never sold much or got much critical attention). In part that’s because 2018 saw the 50th anniversary of several iconic LPs from 1968, which gave the excuse for expanded editions of Electric Ladyland, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Beggars Banquet (which wasn’t so expanded, actually), and most notably The White Album.

But even some records that didn’t have round-number anniversaries, like John Lennon’s Imagine and Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (neither of which made my list), got large multi-disc sets with elaborate liner notes and packaging. So did one that was allegedly one of the lowest-selling LPs in the history of Columbia Records (Skip Spence’s Oar).

As to why this is happening, maybe that’s the subject for a future post of its own. Figuring out what’s going on isn’t rocket science, though. The industry’s running lower and lower on vault product to re-release, so there isn’t much alternative to going deeper into those vaults to put out unreleased stuff that might have been considered too financially risky or uncommercial even a few years ago. And artists who were more resistant than, say, Dylan or Frank Zappa to opening their vaults—like the Beatles—are, a bit belatedly, realizing the commercial benefits of such archival digs.

Just as importantly, they seem to be realizing that all these outtakes don’t dilute their legacies. Quite the contrary—they enhance them, and are widely appreciated, with intelligence, by fans who can distinguish between the final album and working/early versions never initially intended for public consumption.

Sometimes those expanded editions do seem like an excuse to market something without much actual benefit to the consumers. Beggars Banquet, unlike all of the other 2018 editions cited above, offered little in the way of extras, other than an original mono mix of “Sympathy for the Devil” and a flexidisc with an interview Mick Jagger gave to a Tokyo journalist in April 1968. As Rolling Stones fans know, there are numerous outtakes from the Beggars Banquet era that could have been used for a multi-disc set on par with the more elaborate 50th anniversary editions that did make my list. Don’t rule out this actually happening in the future, say for the 60th anniversary of Beggars Banquet, though by that time many of the listeners who bought the LP on its initial release won’t even be around anymore.

The other small trend? Record Store Day releases are putting a greater accent on material that hasn’t been previously available anywhere, and may not be available anywhere else in the future. Because so much RSD product is devoted to vinyl editions of recordings that have been in circulation for a long time, buyers like myself don’t particularly care about repurchasing what they already own, even if it’s in different formats or glossy packaging. So we haven’t gotten as excited about it as many fellow collectors and store employees might expect.

This spring, however, marked the first RSD when I really did want to make sure to get some of these limited releases as they marked the first and perhaps only time you could buy the material. A  few of them made this list. There weren’t as many such items on RSD’s fall list, and I didn’t even buy any of those. But the bigger Record Store Day has always been in the spring, so we’ll see if this happens again in 2019.

Regardless of industry intentions, there were enough reissues—or, to be precise, releases with archival material, often as compilations or first-time appearances of previously unissued recordings—to fill a Top 25 list. My #1 pick shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me well or has followed my writing. #2 and #3, however, might, as one falls well outside the era that’s my main concentration, and the other is by perhaps the most obscure artist on this list.

1. The Beatles, The White Album (aka The Beatles) seven-disc deluxe version. This might have been the most hyped reissue of 2018, in a year that saw several other high-profile super-deluxe editions (some of which are reviewed elsewhere in this post). Like the Beatles themselves, this was worthy of the enormous hype it was given. The remix by Giles Martin got the most attention, but the four discs of previously unreleased bonus material are far more noteworthy, as three of them contain studio outtakes that for the most part hadn’t even been bootlegged. The fourth features perhaps the most significant previously unissued body of material the group ever taped—quite a milestone, considering the enormous quantity of unreleased music they recorded while active.

My pick for the #1 reissue of 2018.

Detailed commentary on this deluxe edition could fill up a lengthy post of its own. (Commercial: I’ve incorporated much commentary on the previously uncirculating studio outtakes into the ebook version of my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film). Here I’m not going to analyze the remix, as I’m not as excited by or interested in such things as many listeners are.

The so-called Esher Demos on disc three are really what make this deluxe edition a vital project. These are the 27 tracks the Beatles recorded at George Harrison’s home in May 1968 shortly before starting to work on The White Album in the studio. These showcase the group “unplugged” before that term was coined, playing acoustically but as a joyous ensemble, despite the tensions already at work that would lead to their breakup. Most of the tracks are early versions of White Album songs that are sometimes quite different in their folky, looser, more carefree manner (the campfire singalong version of “Revolution” being the top example). There are some songs that didn’t make The White Album, too, though they’d mostly show up on post-Beatles solo projects.

The execution’s a bit ragged sometimes and the sound imperfect (though improved from the bootlegs on which they’ve long been available, just seven of them having been released on Anthology 3). But these working versions are largely complete or almost-complete, and make for a superb listening experience on their own, whether as part of this huge box or not. Note, by the way, that the version of George Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea” (not previously available on a Beatles record, although it was given to fellow Apple artist Jackie Lomax) is a slightly different take than the one that’s been bootlegged. That means there are actually 28 known Esher demos, and it makes you wonder whether there are other alternative versions that haven’t yet circulated.

The three CDs of studio outtakes can, to be frank, be a bit underwhelming in the company of the finished record and the Esher Demos. Usually they’re clearly works in progress. Sometimes they’re just backing tracks; sometimes the songs are unfinished run-throughs; sometimes the arrangements aren’t a whole lot different from the familiar versions; sometimes they’re distinctly inferior to the finished product (like the plod through an early twelve-minute version of “Helter Skelter”). But sometimes they’re pretty different, like the harder-rocking “Cry Baby Cry,” the quite frisky “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” and a superb “take 17” of “Helter Skelter” (using the rearrangement heard on the LP version) with a wildly exuberant McCartney vocal. The outtakes are certainly worth hearing, but like the bonus material on several of the other expanded editions reviewed in this post, usually more valuable for history than sheer entertainment.

The Beatles seem to have finally caught on to the potential of expanded CD editions, and not only with the abundance of rare extras. The book-length liner notes are extremely informative and perceptive, with lots of cool photos and memorabilia. Yes, the package is expensive – probably too expensive, considering almost everyone who buys it will already have the two core White Album discs, sometimes in a few formats. Is it nonetheless essential? The answer to that’s yes too.

2. Liz Phair, Girly Sound to Guyville (Matador). From the time of its release in 1993, Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville was justly hailed as one of the finest albums of its era. At the time, it seemed like she’d emerged from nowhere. She had, however, made quite a few lo-fi solo recordings, circulated on cassettes known as the Girly-Sound tapes, that had helped pave the way for fuller studio recordings and a deal with Matador Records. Not long after Exile in Guyville, these tapes started to circulate to a much wider audience, also getting bootlegged. Eventually some were released on the 1995 Juvenilia EP and as bonus tracks on 2010’s Funstyle, though the majority remained officially unavailable.


The three-CD 25th anniversary edition of Exile in Guyville, going by the title Girly Sound to Guyville, finally makes all but two of the forty songs from the original three Girly-Sound tapes widely accessible in one place. While disc one of this set is wholly devoted to the original Exile in Guyville album, the other two CDs present the Girly-Sound material in its near-entirety. These aren’t just extras of interest to dedicated fans. They are among the most notable bodies of unreleased work cut by any significant artist, and not only because of their considerable historical importance. They’re also outstanding songs and performances, some of which have not found a place in any version on any other Phair release.

For those who haven’t heard yet any of the Girly-Sound tunes, it should be clarified that they don’t exactly equate to an early version of her debut album. Just seven of the songs would show up in re-recorded (and sometimes substantially reworked and retitled), full-band renditions for Exile in Guyville. Some of the others would show up (again, sometimes in retitled and substantially reworked guises) on future Phair releases, such as “Whip Smart,” later used as the title track of her second album (and far superior in its earlier incarnation). Quite a few are unique to the Girly-Sound tapes, and quite a few of those compositions are very good. Even the relative throwaways are pretty interesting and entertaining.

After listening to hissy tapes and bootlegs of the material for quite a few years, it’s a pleasant shock to hear these tracks in very clear, clean fidelity. Although the cassettes were sometimes labeled lo-fi, that has more to do with the basic nature of the recordings—done on a four-track in her bedroom—than the actual clarity of the performances, at least in this sonically cleaned-up version.

Accompanied by nothing but her lightly amplified guitar—sometimes so light it sounds as if she’s not trying to play too loudly or disturb her parents (and the recordings were indeed in her childhood bedroom)—there’s an intimacy that rarely survives into a more polished studio setting. But the compositions are complete, and the singing and playing fully thought out. If there’s a tentative lilt to the proceedings throughout, that adds a fetching vulnerability that likewise didn’t come through nearly as strongly on Exile in Guyville, as fine as that album was in different respects.

But what’s most striking about the material is the songwriting, with a conversational flavor that puts into lyrics what many of us think, but don’t actually express in conversation. Certainly we’re usually not bold enough to state matters as nakedly, and sometimes confrontationally, as Phair does in song here. That wouldn’t mean so much if she didn’t have a gift for engaging melodies that often stretch and shift in unpredictable directions (and often alternate uplifting and melancholy sections) over the course of a song, without sounding contrived or done for clever effect. If Phair doesn’t have the vocal chops of a Joni Mitchell (though “Polyester Bride” has some zigzagging swoops that would do her proud), she has a yearning, unapologetic honesty that’s just as effective.

“Johnny Sunshine,” the X-rated “Flower,” “Fuck and Run,” and “Stratford-on-Guy” (here titled “Bomb”) were all highlights of Exile in Guyville, and it’s cool to hear more basic solo versions. Yet more interesting, however, are numerous otherwise unavailable songs that are on par with anything from Phair’s official discography. In particular, the harrowing “Open Season,” whose apparent depiction of a rape scenario unexpectedly glides into a blissful bittersweet rumination, is not just a match for anything else in her catalog, but a successfully unusual and daring composition by anyone’s standards.

It’s a mystery as to why Phair hasn’t revisited the soaringly melodic “Hello Sailor,” which like another highlight, “GIRLSGIRLSGIRLS” [sic], showcases her gift for very long songs that sustain their interest over quite a few lyrics. “In Love w/ Yself” [sic], another standout, has a rousing anthemic chorus for such a vengeful composition, which like others of Phair’s spells out intimate details of a relationship in unnervingly cinema verité fashion.

Some of the lighter numbers verge on novelty, at least in their subject matter. There are tunes about powering up the “Batmobile,” going to a rodeo town to fuck some cows in “South Dakota,” or parodying the Presley cult (“Elvis Song”) with such bitter viciousness that Graceland would likely bar her from entering if they ever heard it. She also borrows blatantly from some standards for parts of the melodies to “White Babies” (from “My Bonnie”), “Chopsticks,” and her off-kilter mutation of “Wild-Thing” (hyphen included). Even these semi-toss-offs have their charm, though it’s the more serious—sometimes much more, even gravely, serious—efforts that carry the most weight.

Even the most exemplary expanded editions usually don’t quite catch everything, and Girly Sound to Guyville is no exception. Two songs from the original cassettes, “Fuck or Die” (an entirely different song, should you need to ask, than “Fuck and Run”) and “Shatter,” are missing. “Fuck or Die” is a really cool galloping workout, but part of it’s very similar to Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” and as Phair confirmed on Twitter, “those lyrics—understandably!—didn’t sit well with the Johnny Cash org.” So that prevented clearance for release.

Similarly, the earlier version of “Shatter” (re-recorded for Exile in Guyville) couldn’t be used as the backup singing on the Girly-Sound version quotes too liberally from the Rolling Stones’ “Shattered.” A pity, as it’s a good track that’s substantially different in its earlier arrangement, especially in the overlapping vocals.

And yeah, this deluxe edition also features the actual Exile in Guyville album. As good as that is, after immersing yourself in the Girly-Sound tapes, it sounds rather slick in comparison (though it was a pretty straightforward production, and certainly not glossy). As that record’s been very familiar for the last quarter century, it’s not likely to be the disc most played in this collection, as most of its purchasers will probably have spun it a great deal in years past. But even if it’s not the main concentration of this review, it is a classic album, and one in which Phair triumphantly executed the difficult task of taking her vision from solo bedroom recordings to full-band studio arrangements.

And other than the regrettable exclusion of those two Girly-Sound tracks, Girly-Sound to Guyville is an ideal deluxe edition. The fairly fat booklet features extensive interview material with Phair, Exile in Guyville producer/bassist/drummer Brad Wood, Casey Rice (who also plays on Exile in Guyville), and some more obscure figures who helped build awareness of Phair’s work. As Matador was taking enough of a chance putting out a 18-song, 55-minute debut by an unknown artist, it’s understandable that many of her early songs didn’t make the cut for her official debut release. But it does make you sorry that Exile in Guyville wasn’t a double album, or even a triple. The extra songs are that good.

It was a close call as to whether this or The White Album would make #1 on my list. Although The White Album is undeniably of greater historical importance, the bonus material on Girly Sound to Guyville is of undeniably more consistently high quality. Indeed, it’s of higher quality than the extras on almost any other expanded edition of an album, whether from 2018 or anytime else. The immense stature of The White Album was ultimately the tipping point in giving it the nod. But Exile in Guyville was a hugely important album too, and finishing second to the Beatles’ impossibly high bar is no cause for embarrassment.

3. Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes, Paix (Anthology). Reading about something as “hard to describe” or “unlike anything else” is usually a ticket to disappointment when you’re reading reissue reviews. Often the records are nothing of the sort, whether because they’re derivative or just not that good. This 1972 French album, however, really is unusual, and in a good way, not just a weird way. You know you’re in for something off-the-wall when Ribeiro wordlessly la-las her way through the opening track like a punch-drunk Kerrilee Male (from the late-’60s UK-based folk-rock band Eclection; look ‘em up). Ribeiro more often speaks-chants with an urgent coarseness, though she has a wide vocal range that can vary from Nico-low to stratospheric eerie highs.


More interesting than her singing (which is still oft-thrilling), however, is the music, which after a couple moderate-length cuts gives way to two epics (one nearly 16 minutes, the other nearly 25). While it’s somewhat in the psych-prog mode, there’s an almost spiritual intensity to the blends of churchy organ swirls, loping bass, and almost trance-like ensemble buildups. The mood is often ominous and gothic, yet exhilarating, like a soundtrack to some sort of transcendental journey. It’s not easily comparable to other rock from 1972, and better than her other albums of the late 1960s and early-to-mid-1970s, which are generally more avant-garde and less accessibly high-spirited.

Every other record on this list is “archival” in nature, whether it’s an expanded version of a classic album; previously unreleased live or studio material; or a compilation, whether a box set, best-of, or some other assembly of cuts from various sources. It’s rare these days, and has been rare for quite a few years, that I come across a vintage album I haven’t heard that really excites me. Paix, which I found only because I was house-sitting at a friend’s, is one such record (reissued on vinyl only by Anthology, by the way, though it marks the first time it’s been issued by a US label). That’s almost as much of a thrill as the record itself.

4. The Who, The Who Live at the Fillmore East 1968 (Universal). Even in the numerous unofficial 1960s Who live recordings that have circulated for decades, nothing’s emerged with decent fidelity from before April 5, 1968, when they played the first of two dates at the Fillmore East. This two-CD set marks the first official release of material from the April 6 show.


Especially for those unfamiliar with the tracks that have previously been bootlegged from the April 5 and April 6 concerts, the set will come as something of a surprise. Some of the songs are concise, faithful performances of the early hits that made them stars in their native UK and a burgeoning cult act in the US, including “I Can’t Explain,” “I’m a Boy,” and their first substantial American hit, “Happy Jack.” There are also a couple favorites from their second LP: the mini-opera “A Quick One While He’s Away” and “Boris the Spider,” probably the most beloved John Entwistle composition.

Yet there are also a good number of classic rock covers the group hadn’t yet put on their records, and sometimes never would on their discs. It’s not too unusual to hear “Shakin’ All Over” (which wanders into a riff from the Spencer Davis Group smash “I’m a Man” at one point) and Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” both of which would feature on Live at Leeds, recorded just under a couple years later. Less expected are two other Cochran tunes, “C’Mon Everybody” and the far more obscure “My Way” (so obscure, indeed, that it was mistitled “Easy Going Guy” on early bootlegs).

They also tackle “Fortune Teller,” the Allen Toussaint-penned early-’60s New Orleans R&B classic (recorded in 1963 by fellow UK bands the Rolling Stones and the Merseybeats), disclosed in Pete Townshend’s introduction to have been played for the first time at these shows. And it shows—though it’s a heavier arrangement than the Stones’, the harmonies audibly falter at the end of the first verse. There’s also the off-the-wall “Little Billy,” commissioned as an anti-smoking commercial by the American Cancer Society, that Townshend announces as a possible upcoming single, though it’s hard to see it getting issued in the wake of their recent breakthrough US Top Ten hit “I Can See for Miles” (not played at this show, oddly enough). It didn’t appear on a single, or at all until 1974’s Odds & Sods collection.

Most adventurous of all are two songs stretched out way beyond the length of their studio versions. “Relax,” a quasi-psychedelic highlight of late 1967’s classic LP The Who Sell Out, is drawn out to a full eleven minutes, with some extended way-out wobbly Townshend guitar soloing, the riff from Tommy’s “Underture” surfacing at one point. Not music to “Relax” to by any means, it’s intense improvisation, with Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon rocking louder and harder than any other trios of the day, rivaled only by Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience in those departments.

A 33-minute “My Generation”—you read that right, 33 minutes, not three minutes—takes up all of CD two. It’s arguably too long, especially if you thought the 14-minute one on Live at Leeds was enough. It’s certainly different, though, and a signpost to where the Who were going in their onstage act, which would get harder, louder, and longer as the ‘60s turned to the ‘70s. Also different, though not much longer, is “A Quick One,” which inserts the lyric “you are forgiven by the very act of creation” in its finale.

For those familiar with the bootleg from an acetate that Who manager/producer Kit Lambert made of performances from the Fillmore East shows, some of this new release—plainly titled The Who Live at the Fillmore East 1968—will overlap with what they already have, though the fidelity’s better. And the absence of the April 5 cuts that did make it onto the acetate means you don’t have to throw away that boot yet, though the April 6 versions are similar. In all, however, it’s a fine and worthy document of the Who as they made inroads into the United States, and moved away from their power pop base to a heavier, more spontaneous approach, onstage at any rate. (A much longer review of this release, including comments from my interview about it with longtime Who sound engineer Bob Pridden (who mixed the release and was already working as the band’s soundman at the actual Fillmore East shows), appears in this issue of Record Collector News.)

5. Pete Townshend, Who Came First 45th Anniversary Expanded Edition (Universal). Who Came First gave Pete the chance to present rather gentler, more introspective tunes than he usually penned for the Who, and to be the only (as opposed to the occasional) lead singer in his thin, high, wavering, yet engagingly heartfelt voice. Universal’s two-CD expanded edition puts a remastered version of the album on the first disc, and seventeen bonus tracks, some previously unreleased, on the second. Such is the quality of the original LP that this would rank higher on this list had this been the first CD release of the record. It’s not, however—and not even the first (or second) time it’s come out with bonus tracks—and so has to be judged on a reissue best-of primarily for what it offers that hasn’t been previously available.


And there’s not all that much in that department. The first seven songs all appeared as bonus cuts on Hip-O’s 2006 extended edition, six of them taken from privately pressed 1970s various-artist LPs primarily circulated within the Meher Baba community (though these were naturally quickly bootlegged). Although sometimes more primitively produced than the Who Came First tracks, these were generally in the same league and of the same vibe, highlighted by Townshend’s solo version of the Who hit “The Seeker”; the languid, melancholy “Day of Silence,” which easily measured up to the best of Who Came First; “Mary Jane,” a country-flavored hoedown not far in tone from Ronnie Lane’s similar efforts of the same era; and a left-field, but quite good, version of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” (chosen as it was one of Meher Baba’s favorite songs). A wholly instrumental, synthesizer-dominated version of “Baba O’Reilly”—again taken from one of the limited-press Meher Baba LPs—is a welcome presence here, especially as it hasn’t been used as a bonus cut on previous Who Came First CDs, though the bluesy outtake “I Always Say” is pedestrian.

That leaves nine previously unreleased tracks, and while those are the main attractions for Who/Townshend completists, they’re also not as interesting as the other extras. “The Love Man,” a nice slice of assertive romanticism, is puzzlingly subtitled “Stage C,” and not too different from the version used as a bonus cut on previous expanded editions; a variation on “Content” subtitled “Stage A” has a plainer arrangement than the LP version, and suffers from its sparseness. There’s also a ghostly, largely instrumental version of “Day of Silence” that doesn’t measure up to the one that made the cut. An alternate of “Parvardigar” is missing the synthesizer doodlings and percussion that punctuate the Who Came First track, sounding more intimate and low-key, if less creatively adorned. And there’s an incomplete solo acoustic take (still lasting four minutes) of “Nothing Is Everything,” aka “Let’s See Action.”

Disc two closes with four songs that haven’t previously been attached to Who Came First editions in any form, though a couple don’t really belong here. On the plus side, we finally get to hear the pleasing, if non-earthshaking, wistful midtempo folk-rocker “There’s a Fortune in Those Hills”—described in the May 14, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone as a “slow wailing country song” earmarked for the Who’s next studio LP, though this is the first time it’s circulated in any guise. The instrumental “Meher Baba” in Italy is a likewise pleasant-but-minor instrumental combining synthesizer washes with guitar, which sometimes simulates mandolin-like patterns suitable for cruising canals on the gondola.

The final pair of tracks that don’t belong here, frankly, though at least the first is good. The solo acoustic performance of Quadrophenia’s “Drowned” was recorded live in India (without an audience) in 1976, featuring mighty hasty strumming and, of course, Townshend’s vocal in place of the familiar one by Roger Daltrey in the Who’s version. The live performance of “Evolution” that concludes the set was recorded at a Ronnie Lane memorial concert in 2004, and it’s obvious from the deepened voice of Townshend’s spoken introduction how much time has passed since the rest of the material on this release was recorded.

Although this 45th anniversary deluxe edition of Who Came First is the longest version of the album yet released, it’s not definitive. It’s missing “Lantern Cabin,” a nice delicate, moody piano instrumental (first released, like “His Hands” and “Sleeping Dog,” on the 1976 Meher Baba tribute LP With Love) that’s appeared on previous Who Came First expanded editions. Certainly it should have been given precedence over the live performance of “Evolution.” Even hardcore fans might feel short-changed by the relative paucity of actual brand new material on the two-CD set, though that’s the way it often is with deluxe anniversary editions.

At least you get Pete Townshend’s liner notes. And if you want to read more from the Who, Roger Daltrey’s autobiography came out in the fall. (A longer version of this review appears in the issue of Record Collector News.)

6. Bob Seger & the Last Heard, Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings: 1966-1967 (ABKCO). Seger became a superstar by helping define album-oriented rock from the mid-1970s onward. It’s not so well known, unless you were in Michigan at the time, that his career began with fairly raw singles that went into gritty garage rock, blue-eyed soul, and even protest hard rock. For many years, this material was way up the list of recordings that deserved reissue, but had never came out on CD or LP. There were unauthorized collections if you really needed to hear it, but even those weren’t that easy to come by, and didn’t boast the best sound quality.


So this official compilation of all ten tracks from his five singles on the Cameo label is welcome, especially as it has better fidelity and good, if not super-lengthy, liner notes that put his early career in context. About half this stuff is really ferocious, especially “East Side Story,” whose tale of urban crime gone wrong almost sounds like Bruce Springsteen as garage rocker; “Persecution Smith,” a great knockoff of Bob Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues”; and the frenetic garage-pop-rock of “Vagrant Winter.” Some of these singles were actually regional hits in Detroit, and the soul-rock “Heavy Music” even made a bit of national noise before the Cameo label’s problems helped snuff its prospects.

Not everything here is that great. “Florida Time” is a weird Jan & Dean-style paean to spring break; “Very Few” a forgettable ballad; and part two of “Heavy Music” and the instrumental version of “East Side Story” (“East Side Sound”) were kind of B-side filler. But at least these, as well as the seasonal James Brown tribute “Sock It To Me Santa,” testify to his unusual versatility. The one serious flaw to this package is one that couldn’t be avoided: all of his Cameo sides add up to just 28 minutes of music. And because it’s not in the Cameo catalog, it’s missing his first single after he moved to Capitol, the smoking “2+2=?,” one of the best and hardest-hitting anti-war songs of the Vietnam era. (My full article on this compilation is online here.)

7. The Lost Souls, The Lost Souls (Lion Productions). “The Lost Souls never released any records, yet the recorded evidence that survives indicates that they were one of the finest unknown American groups of the mid-’60s, able to write both catchy British Invasion-type rockers and, in their latter days, experimental psychedelic pieces with unusual tempo changes and song structures.” That’s how I started my All Music Guide bio of Cleveland’s Lost Souls. It’s also a blurb on the back on this CD, though I wasn’t aware it would be placed there until I saw a copy.


It’s a lengthy breathless sentence-long summary of a band that packed a lot of hard-to-peg originality into their short lifespan. And I stand by it, though few others heard their scant body of recorded material, as they never managed to put anything onto disc while they were active. A cassette-only release of their best tracks came out way back in 1983, but I know just two other collectors besides myself who got a copy.

This CD compilation rectifies that long-standing gap and then some. Not only does it include all ten songs from the cassette, but it also has some live recordings; an alternate version of one of the cassette’s songs, “Things That Are Important”; and a few other odds and ends from their earlier days. Seven bonus tracks spotlight post-Lost Souls recordings by one of the band’s singer-songwriters, rhythm guitarist Denny Carleton, in the Choir and Moses, as well as some of his solo efforts.

It’s those first ten tracks, however—presented here in cleaner fidelity, sometimes drastically so, from the cassette release—that show the group at their best, even if they’re almost unsettlingly diverse. They veer from straightahead catchy British Invasion harmony dressed pop-rock to blue-eyed soul and odd collisions of accessible pop and psychedelic weirdness. Unlike almost every other garage band who never got to make a record, they also branched beyond the usual rock setup to incorporate sax, flute, mandolin, and harpsichord.

Those ten songs would have made a cool LP, though maybe not the one they would have put out had they been able to back in the day, spanning as it does different phases of their brief evolution. The previously unreleased cuts aren’t as fully developed or original, indebted far more heavily to early British Invasion and surf music, though they round out our view of the band’s too-short history. The best of these, the catchy if basic “Whatcha Gonna Do,” sounds like a drumless demo. (My longer review of the CD, along with an interview with the Lost Souls’ Denny Carleton, will appear in a future issue of Ugly Things.)

8. The Choir, Artifact: The Unreleased Album (Omnivore). The Choir were the best Cleveland rock band of the 1960s, performing what’s now recognized as ancestral power pop with guts, fine vocal harmonies, deft instrumental skill, and quality original material. Their legacy hasn’t been served well on disc, however, either at the time or since then. Despite writing and recording a good number of tracks, they never issued an LP, and remain almost solely known for the December 1966 single “It’s Cold Outside,” a huge local hit and a staple of ‘60s garage reissues. The 1994 CD compilation Choir Practice was frustratingly patchy, missing the ace B-side of “It’s Cold Outside” (the grungy “I’m Going Home”) and only featuring portions of their substantial body of work that was unreleased while they were active.


The Choir went through seven lineups in just four years (1966-70), and this CD at least represents one of them well. Entirely recorded in February 1969, this has organist Phil Giallombardo, guitarist Randy Klawon, bassist Denny Carleton, drummer Jim Bonfanti (the only constant throughout their frequent personnel changes), and pianist Kenny Margolis; all of them sang, and the ten tracks feature material penned by Giallombardo, Carleton, and Margolis. It varies between classic-style harmony pop-rock (“Anyway I Can”), Kinks-ish quasi-vaudeville rock (“Mummer Band”), the best American late-’60s Bee Gees soundalike ever (“Have I No Love to Offer”), and a jazz-Latin-ish instrumental (“For Eric”). Although the approach is heavier than their earlier, poppier sound, unlike so many other acts with similar roots, it’s integrated into the harmony pop-rock songs well. Particularly impressive is the rich piano-organ blend, more identified with Procol Harum and the Band, but shown to be effective in a more pop-oriented context here.

So high marks for the music, but not so much for the packaging. The liner notes are disappointingly skimpy, and do not make it clear whether these tracks were intended to form an actual LP, or are simply sessions done around the same time that have been retrospectively packaged as one. At least the centerfold features an extensive Choir family tree that clarifies who joined and left when. (My interview with Denny Carleton about this release appears in the summer/fall (#48) issue of Ugly Things.)

9. Big Brother & the Holding Company, Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills (Columbia/Legacy). Not an expanded Cheap Thrills (there was already one of those), this two-CD compilation is comprised almost entirely of outtakes from the sessions. Twenty-five of the thirty songs are previously unreleased; the previously available ones are on out-of-the-way or expensive compilations that even committed Joplin/Big Brother fans might have missed; and the one non-studio cut is a good hitherto unissued live version of “Ball and Chain” (Winterland, April 12, 1968). There are good, though not book-length, liner notes by drummer David Getz, and an appreciation by Grace Slick that’s thoughtful and long enough not to look phoned in. And you can get all this as a standalone release, instead of having to buy it as part of an expanded Cheap Thrills edition that compels you to buy the original album—which you probably already have in at least two formats—all over again. And the double-CD sold for a reasonable $14.98 plus tax at my local record store. Hey, labels (and artists), pay attention: this is the way to do it!


On to the music — I wasn’t expecting this to rank as high as it does here. But hey, it’s quite an occasion when you want to play two lengthy CDs’ worth of alternate versions of songs you’re real familiar with three times in three days. While none of them are drastically different from the ones on Cheap Thrills (or elsewhere, for the songs here that didn’t make the cut for the LP), they’re different enough to make for enjoyable, at times compelling listening — even the occasional take breakdowns. And while all seven of the songs from the LP are represented by different takes/performances, there are no less than nine others (again, sometimes in multiple versions), most of them group originals. While these are generally not up to the standard of the final selections (“Farewell Song” being a notable exception), they’’e decent enough, and their inclusion gives us a much more rounded view of the band’s repertoire at their peak.

While I’ve met David Getz a few times, like him, and appreciate his making himself available to me for an interview and speaking once to one of the classes I’ve taught, I’ll here offer a couple differing opinions to minor comments in his notes. Of “Summertime,” he writes, “I’m pretty sure it had never been recorded by a rock band.” Not so — the Zombies did it on their first album, the Doors had done it live as an instrumental (as heard on their March 1967 tapes at San Francisco’s Matrix club), and for all I know there might be others. He does add, “Especially a band like Big Brother & the Holding Co.,” which I think is right.

He also expresses regret that Clive Davis insisted the brief avant-garde piece “Harry,” originally intended to open side two, be removed, and that the band didn’t stand their ground and insist it stay. I’m not a Davis fan, but I have to agree with him in this instance. It’s not a tuneful track — in fact, it’s pretty grating. And while I don’t care whether it would have impacted the LP commercially, you can see Davis’s reasoning — putting it at the beginning of side two would have had many listeners reaching for their needles to skip the song, not nearly as easy a thing to do as it would have if it had been placed at the end of a side.

But let’s end this positively with a couple points of praise not often made about the band, especially considering that most of the record is fun to hear. Even though they were sometimes criticized for not being able to play well, or at least match the intensity of their live performances, in the studio, I really like how you often hear Joplin (and sometimes guys in the band) whoop unpredictable shouts of joy. If it really was laborious to record in the studio, it certainly sounds like they were having lots of fun at least some of the time. And overall, the collection reinforces my incredulity that Big Brother were sometimes criticized — at the time, and since — for not being good players, or not an appropriate match for Janis’s genius. These guys could play, and if it’s with more heart and imagination than polished technique, well, I’ll take those qualities over studio slickness any day. This music captures both Janis and Big Brother at their peak.

10. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown 50th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Edition (Cherry Red). Featuring the song that sent them to brief stardom, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s sole, self-titled 1968 LP was a psychedelic supernova that seemed not so much to launch the band as consume it. Its mix of acid rock, operatic-to-histrionic Brown vocals, demonic lyrics, and berserk Vincent Crane soul-jazz organ runs was maddening yet exhilarating, sounding like nothing else on the ultra-competitive British psychedelic scene. But it used up virtually all of their known first-rate material, and less than a year after it hit the UK and US Top Ten, the band were gone.


How in the world, you may wonder, can you make a four-disc box out of an LP without any outtakes and few non-LP singles? It’s a fair question, but the package is pretty good value, even if there’s inevitable repetition of most of the album’s songs (sometimes in six or seven different versions).

Disc one has the stereo mix, with bonus non-LP singles and 45 mono mixes; disc two the mono mix, with bonus alternate mixes, an early version of “Fire,” and “Nightmare” as heard (not too differently from the record, to be frank) in the film The Committee. And disc three has their slim body of 1968 BBC radio recordings, as well as the four rare cuts Brown recorded before the Crazy World formed. Fattening up the LP-sized box is an actual vinyl 12-inch version of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, in stereo with a sleeve boasting the original artwork.

This does mean you get the core album on no less than three of the box’s four discs, but there are significant differences between the stereo and mono versions. To me, the stereo’s considerably and unquestionably superior, as the mono sounds hollow—particularly in the vocal department—to the point of lacking completion.

More significantly, among disc two’s bonuses are mysterious “alternative mono” mixes of the songs comprising side one of the original LP, done before brass and strings were added. These have odd spoken links—some by Brown, some by his first wife—that, if they don’t add to the record’s psychedelic seance atmosphere, do fit in more or less. It’s like hearing an appreciably different version of side one of the LP, the spoken bits adding to the feel of a quasi-concept album, even if the concept remains pretty indistinct.

Other significant extras are the three non-LP bonus tracks on disc one, even if none were good enough to demand a place on the original Crazy World of Arthur album. The pre-LP 1967 single “Devil’s Grip”/”Give Him a Flower” mixed their burgeoning devious brand of psychedelia (on the A-side) with a flower-power satire (on the B-side), though “Devil’s Grip” wasn’t as powerful as the material on the album, and “Give Him a Flower” rather forced and lame comedy. Used as a 1968 B-side to “Nightmare,” “What’s Happening” is okay and very much in keeping with the band’s sound, yet overall rather forgettable compared to most of the LP’s material.

Committed Crazy World fans probably have most or all of the tracks on the first two discs, with even the rarities having often gained exposure on various other reissues. At least they’re less likely to have everything, or maybe even anything, from the third CD of rarities and radio broadcasts. The four songs from the April 8, 1968 BBC session—all in fine fidelity, with Ron Wood guesting on bass, and all (including “Fire”) to appear on the LP—were, in original drummer Drachen Theaker’s opinion, their best recordings. They weren’t; maybe Theaker’s view was colored by getting submerged in the album mix after Ahmet Ertegun complained about his time-keeping. But they’re good, and less ornate than the LP arrangements.

Also included is a June 30, 1968 BBC rendition of “Spontaneous Apple Creation” with a notably bumpier tempo than the studio counterpart. Four songs from a 1968 Swedish radio broadcast, in more variable but quite listenable sound quality, have also been retrieved, including one (“Nightmare”) that didn’t make the BBC batch.

The four pre-Crazy World cuts ending disc three are the rarest of the set, yet the least impressive. The three numbers billed to the Arthur Brown Set were recorded in Paris with local soul band the Sharks for the Roger Vadim film La Curée. Other than Arthur’s emergent The Devil in Tom Jones vocal mannerisms, these are very run-of-the-mill R&B-rock tunes, and “The Green Ball” not even up to that meager standard. Done yet earlier, his 1965 cover of Peggy Lee’s “You Don’t Know” (issued only on flexidisc) is better, though rudimentary compared to the fireworks he’d unleash as the Crazy World’s frontman. Adding considerable value to the box, the 24-page LP-sized booklet has extensive liner notes by Mark Paytress that tell the confusing story of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (involving numerous personnel changes in its last year or so, including a stint by Carl Palmer on drums) better than any previous print source. (A longer version of this review, along with my interview with Arthur Brown shortly after the extended edition’s release, will appear in a future issue of Ugly Things.)

11. The Action, Shadows and Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968 (Grapefruit). Is there any other 1960s rock group that never released an LP during their lifetime, yet was eventually honored with a four-CD box set? If there was any such box before this, I can’t think of one. But though it took quite a bit of scrounging (including many not-too-different alternate takes) to pump this up to four discs, the Action were worth the effort, as one of the better British ‘60s bands never to have a hit, let alone a full-length album. Sometimes classified as a mod band a la the Who or the Small Faces, the Action were more soul-oriented than either of those acts. They weren’t as good, either, in part because they didn’t write much of their original material during their prime. But they were pretty good, putting more guitar and British pop harmonies into their soul covers than the originals boasted, and then writing a few decent originals.


As for what you might not yet have on this box if you’re already an Action fan, besides all those previously unreleased alternate takes and backing tracks that comprise the whole of disc two, there are also some BBC recordings and TV appearances, some of soul covers not on their singles. (All of those, however, have appeared on other reissues, if rather out-of-the-way ones.) All of the twenty tracks on disc three have likewise appeared on pretty obscure archive releases (though three of the songs are presented at their full length for the first time), and document their uneven evolution from mod-soulsters to mildly psychedelic and early progressive rock. Recorded in 1967 and 1968 after their five singles, and not issued at the time, I don’t think these are nearly as interesting as the cuts from their mod prime. But they are eclectic, somewhat ambitious, and grow on you some with time.

The packaging on this set is excellent, with lengthy historical liner notes by David Wells, and track-by-track annotation from compiler Alec Palao. Unless someone’s sitting on tapes yet to be discovered, it’s a last-word box, at a time when last-word boxes keep getting supplemented by extraneous material.

12. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland Deluxe Edition 50th Anniversary Box Set (Legacy/Experience Hendrix). What’s most interesting about this four-disc expanded 50th anniversary edition isn’t the original album, though it comprises disc one, digitally remastered from the original two-track tapes. Of more value is an entire disc of rare/unreleased demos and outtakes; a disc of the Experience’s Hollywood Bowl concert on September 14, 1968; and a Blu-ray documentary on the making of Electric Ladyland (not included in DVD format as well, unfortunately). Everything’s encased in a mini-coffee table-sized 48-page hardbook book with liner notes, photos, memorabilia, and reproductions of some of Jimi’s handwritten lyrics, as well as his instructions (not completely followed) for the LP’s original artwork.


About half of the second CD is devoted to home demos Hendrix recorded as Electric Ladyland was taking shape, probably at New York’s Drake Hotel in March 1968. (You can even hear a phone ring in the background during “Gypsy Eyes”). In contrast to most other extant Hendrix recordings, these are low-volume solo endeavors. Although the liners state these were made with a small amplifier, the sound’s soft enough that it seems almost as if he could have been playing an unplugged electric, like he’s making sure not to disturb other hotel guests.

Besides early versions of “1983,” Gypsy Eyes,” “Long Hot Summer Night,” and “Voodoo Chile,” it’s notable for also including songs that wouldn’t make the running order. Among these, the clear standout is “Angel,” later a highlight of Cry of Love. Others, like “Hear My Train A Comin’,” “My Friend,” and “Cherokee Mist,” didn’t even attain the high profile “Angel” enjoyed on a posthumous release. In large part because of the solo, almost unplugged setting, these show a more sensitive side to the man than his celebrated noisefests do. Here as in few other tapes, you can hear the substantial influence Curtis Mayfield had on our hero, both in the fluidly melodic playing and the oft-wistful/philosophical bent of his vocals and songwriting.

On these demos, there’s a sameness to the tunes and arrangements that gets a bit wearisome after the while. But as a chunk of calm within the storm unlike anything else in Hendrix’s enormous catalog of recordings not issued during his lifetime, it has enormous value. It’s not too important, but note that while the liner notes refer to these tapes as unreleased, that’s not exactly correct. Some of them did come out on a CD packaged with the Hendrix graphic novel Voodoo Child back in 1995, though that non-standard release might have been missed even by some serious Hendrix fans.

The early studio versions of Electric Ladyland songs on the rest of disc two aren’t as unusual or revealing, but have their use as looks at the foundations of “Long Hot Summer Night,” “Rainy Day Dream Away,” “1983,” and even “Little Miss Strange” before those tracks had vocals. The playing’s precision impresses, and “Rainy Day Shuffle” is more soul-jazz than rock. The standout, however, is “Angel Caterina,” an early version (with Hendrix vocals) of “1983” with Redding on bass and Miles on drums. While it’s clearly not up to the level of the finished “1983” (and Miles’s drumming is notably weaker than Mitch Mitchell’s would be), it’s the only outtake in this batch that can be appreciated as a relatively complete song and performance, rather than as a mere backing track.

Numerous Hendrix concerts have circulated that have better fidelity and performances than the Hollywood Bowl show featured on disc three. It’s the right move to include this, however, since it hasn’t been previously available; was a reasonably historic occasion, given the prestige of the venue; and fits into the timeline, as Electric Ladyland came out just a few weeks later. The sound quality’s a bit on the rough side since, as the liners admit, it’s a “two-track recording surreptitiously drawn from the house mixing console.” The gig was on the verge of getting disrupted as well, the set getting interrupted several times when fans dove into the pool of water between the stage and the seats. And parts of “Foxey Lady” and “Fire” went missing when the tape reel was flipped.

Still, a clearly excited Experience deliver a fairly good, if a bit rough (if only in comparison to more finely honed concerts of the period), set that’s not as predictable as some of their others from the era. There’s nothing as unexpected as, say, “51st Anniversary” here. But in addition to the dependable favorites “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze,” there’s a preview of the soon-to-be-released “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”; an instrumental version of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” (why Hendrix decided not to sing this is mysterious); and, nearly a year before the iconic Woodstock version, “Star Spangled Banner.” “Little Wing,” for all its fame, wasn’t done too often live, so it’s good to hear as part of this set, which also includes a couple of the less played-to-death songs from Are You Experienced, “I Don’t Live Today” and “Are You Experienced” itself. It’s too bad he didn’t preview some more Electric Ladyland goodies like “All Along the Watchtower,” but you can’t have everything.

On the fourth disc, the wordily titled At Last…The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland is a highly worthwhile documentary. Much of the material has been long available as part of an hour-long-or-so episode of the Classic Albums series since the late 1990s, but this version adds almost forty minutes. Besides featuring some vintage footage of and interviews with Hendrix, it includes decades-after-the-fact interviews done with almost everyone who played on or contributed to the album’s production, including Mitchell, Redding, Miles, Casady, Stevie Winwood, Dave Mason, engineer Eddie Kramer, manager/producer Chas Chandler, and even relatively obscure organist (on a couple tracks) Mike Finnigan.

There’s more to be heard from the Electric Ladyland era on some other archival releases, and more to be learned from other documentaries, books, and liner notes. But this deluxe edition largely succeeds in offering a good deal of important, entertaining supplementary material for the record that, other than Are You Experienced, was Hendrix’s best. (A longer version of this review will appear in a future issue of Ugly Things.)

13. Marianne Faithfull, Come and Stay with Me: The UK 45s 1964-1969 (Ace). All of Faithfull’s UK A-sides and B-sides from the 1960s, plus all four songs from her 1965 UK EP Go Away from My World. None of the material on this 22-track CD is rare, and in fact most or all of it’s been reissued numerous times. And while it has much of her best early work, it’s missing some ‘60s standouts from her LPs, like the folk-poppers “With You in Mind” (written by Jackie DeShannon) and “In My Time of Sorrow” (co-written by DeShannon and Jimmy Page), or tracks from her underrated folky 1966 LP North Country Maid. This still comes close to serving as a best-of, with some overlooked classy non-hits and B-sides like “Morning Sun,” “The Sha La La Song,” and “Tomorrow’s Calling,” as well as the surprisingly swaggering, bluesy “That’s Right Baby.”


What is missing is the songwriting skill and tougher, lower-register vocals Faithfull developed by the late 1970s, with the exception of the 1969 B-side “Sister Morphine” (which predates the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers version). But though this might seem lightweight compared to what came a decade later with her Broken English comeback, it’s generally superior British ‘60s pop-rock with a distinctly, almost uniquely genteel quality to both the singing and arrangements. (Albeit there are some mediocre misfires, like her unnecessary treacly cover of “Yesterday.”) It’s also enhanced by thorough historical liner notes—a feature I don’t recall seeing on any previous compilation of her ‘60s studio recordings—with plenty of first-hand Faithfull quotes.

14.  Manfred Mann, The Albums 64-67 (Umbrella Music). The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, and Bob Dylan all have vinyl mono box sets of their early albums. So why not Manfred Mann, even if they didn’t put out many UK LPs in the mid-’60s, and if they weren’t nearly as iconic as those other names? It might be an excuse to repackage tracks that have been around the block many times (though certainly not often in mono). But as packaging goes, it’s real good, each of their first four British albums getting housed in the original artwork, and the inner sleeves boasting fresh historical liner notes by four different Manfreds. There’s also an “exclusive” LP-sized color photo print of the best quintet mid-’60s lineup, if you go for that sort of thing. Much more significantly, there’s a DVD (lasting a little more than half an hour) with pretty interesting, articulate interviews with four of the five core Manfreds (Mike Vickers declined to participate).


And there’s music, too, though nothing that will be unfamiliar to those who’ve carefully collected the mid-’60s era in which Paul Jones was the lead singer. As good as Manfred Mann could be, they weren’t quite as good as the best British Invasion groups, and not all that consistent. So it’s a mixed bag here, featuring a pretty good R&B-based debut LP (The Five Faces of Manfred Mann); a wildly uneven follow-up (Mann Made) mixing generally unmemorable original material and eclectic, but sometimes poorly chosen, cover versions; and a nearly all-instrumental album, Soul of Mann, that’s something of a marginal novelty. The other LP, Mann Made Hits, is actually a compilation rather than a standalone LP, and retrieves most of the big hits and standout cuts that didn’t find a home on their British albums, a la “John Hardy,” their superb version of Dylan’s “With God on Our Side,” their groovy cover of Ben E. King’s “Groovin’,” and the standout autobiographical original “The Man in the Middle.”

For all the tasty window dressing, however, this is missing some pretty good mid-’60s Jones-sung tracks that didn’t make it onto the British LPs for some reason, like Jones’s catchy pop composition “She”; the jazzy original “Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron”; and the early, pre-hits R&B single “Cock-a-Hoop.” It’s also gotta be admitted that the hits disc really overshadows everything else with its cluster of smashes like “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “Sha La La,” “Come Tomorrow,” and “Pretty Flamingo,” even if the group’s heart was more in the R&B and jazz they detoured into on their albums. But am I nonetheless glad I got a review copy? Sure. (Lengthy interviews I conducted in summer 2018 with Paul Jones and Manfred Mann bassist/guitarist Tom McGuinness are in the winter 2018 (issue #49) issue of Ugly Things.)

15. Gene Clark, Gene Clark Sings For You (Omnivore). This isn’t exactly a lost album, but it’s probably about as close as we’ll come to hearing one from the primary songwriter of the original Byrds lineup. The bulk of it’s taken from an eight-song acetate of the same name, comprised of sessions that took place near the end of 1967, after Clark had been dropped by Columbia. Five more tracks from a different acetate recorded around the same time, as well as an additional unreleased demo from the era, add up to a full CD of 1967 Clark. Collectors and folk-rock fanatics will be thrilled to finally have the opportunity to hear these rarities, never previously listened to by anyone save a very few.


But like many and maybe most “lost” albums, Sings For You doesn’t deliver what you might wish for in your imagination. The good news for devotees of the “classic” Byrds folk-rock sound is that it’s far closer in sound to the fairly straightforward folk-rock of Gene’s first LP (from earlier in 1967) than to Dillard & Clark’s country-rock-with-the-accent-on-country in the late ‘60s. The bad news, or at least cautionary warning, is that it’s rather crudely executed, though not so much by Gene as by the erratic backup musicians and arrangements he employed.

And the songs, truth to tell, are mostly not up to the level of his first official album, let alone Byrds classics like “I Knew I’d Want You” or “Set You Free This Time.” He’s not so much forging a new direction as casting about for a direction, or mining his old one. It’s as if the genius for melancholy folk-rock’s still there, but kind of fighting to express itself as it’s fogged by underproduction, and not-quite-killer tunes.

Some of the songs on Sings For You aren’t too memorable, and so lyrically obscure and sprawling that they don’t make the beeline to the heart that his best compositions could. In common with many demo-like batches, there’s also some sameness to the material and approaches that demands a good number of plays before the cuts stick out from each other. That said, however, after such repeated listening—if quite a bit more than some listeners might want to invest—the tunes do grow on you, as does insight into what seems to be a rather fragile, uncertain state of mind when Clark did these sessions.

A good number of the tracks are handicapped by rather slapdash backing, by musicians whose identities are unknown, with the exception of pianist Alex del Zoppo (from Los Angeles group Sweetwater). In particular, the drumming’s so indelicately over-busy that whoever’s in the seat makes oft-criticized Byrds stickman Michael Clarke seem like a virtuoso. Odd embellishments by calliope and Chamberlin strings (a keyboard similar to the Mellotron) add dabs of eeriness, but also a sense of mild experimentation without a firm goal in mind.

But there are substantial positives to these songs, most notably a yearning, questing undercurrent that runs through almost all the words and melodies, even if you’re rarely sure exactly what Gene’s on about. There are, of course, meditations on mysterious women who seem to be floating out of reach (“On Her Own”). Certainly there aren’t many celebrations of romances going well, if seldom falling into gloomy despondency (albeit “Yesterday, Am I Right” comes close, with its wail “what good is my life without you near”).

Some items show sides of the man to which we’re not accustomed. He strains, not too effectively, to hit some really high notes in “Past My Door.” “Down on the Pier” can’t help but recall Bob Dylan’s “4th Time Around” with its waltzing rhythm and vaguely surrealistic ruminations, and a melody similar enough to merit veto had it been considered for official release. The country-rock he’d already investigated in compositions like “Tried So Hard” (from his first solo LP) is heard just once, in one of the better cuts, “7:30 Mode,” whose six-minute string of images and punctuations of bluesy harmonica also bear a heavy Dylan influence.

Of the six tracks not sourced from the Sings For You acetate, the four solo acoustic performances also have mild to definite traces of Dylan (especially “On Tenth Street”), and have a bit of a generic Clark troubadour feel. Not all of them are previously unavailable in any form. Gene gifted a couple, “Till Today” and “Long Time,” to L.A. band the Rose Garden for use on their 1968 album, now reissued by Omnivore with numerous bonus cuts.

Considerably superior are the two full-band tracks that weren’t placed on the original Sings for You acetate. Blues-rock wasn’t Clark or the Byrds’ forte, but “Big City Girl” has a fairly convincing, jagged bluesy strut, as well as lyrics intimating things aren’t really going to work out with this independent-minded woman—a theme recurring in several of Gene’s songs from the period. The forceful “Doctor Doctor” almost verges on folk-rock/power pop, with haunting moaning vocal harmonies, a bashing chorus, cool curling guitar licks, and a more assured production than the other efforts on this collection. It’s the highlight of this interesting but erratic anthology, and maybe the only track that sounds like it could have been released in 1967 without getting re-recorded in a more polished state.

Note also that there’s yet more unreleased Clark from 1967 on the six-song, twelve-inch EP Back Street Mirror, on Entree. A few of these songs have come out on previous archival releases (sometimes in different forms), though three haven’t circulated. These are likewise interesting-but-not-quite-top-tier efforts, Gene getting into a blues-folky mood on “That’s What You Want,” and using unexpectedly poppy orchestration on “Yesterday, Am I Right.” (My full article on this album, including an interview with Clark biographer John Einarson, is online here.)

16. Beverley, Where the Good Times Are (Deram). Beverley’s better known as Beverley Martyn, the name she took after marrying and sometimes recording with John Martyn. Before that, she cut a couple obscure UK singles for Deram in 1966 and 1967, but didn’t release an album for the label. This Record Store Day release comes close to simulating the LP that might have been, adding a bunch of tracks (one without vocals) that were unissued at the time. All the material was produced by Denny Cordell, famous for working with the early Moody Blues, Move, Joe Cocker, and Procol Harum. The backup musicians included Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Renbourn, Nicky Hopkins, and Alan White.


Although Beverley came from the folk world, and covers a couple Donovan songs here, this isn’t exactly folk-rock. It’s fairly interesting, reasonably gutsy pop-rock with more folk and blues than most British women-sung pop of the time had. There’s more potential than realization, but Beverley’s original compositions—which comprise half the tracks—are decent, reasonably forceful efforts. Her slightly pinched voice sometimes sounds like Melanie, though the American singer had yet to record and wouldn’t have been an influence on her.

Her own songs are the highlights of this disc, especially the rather haunting “Tomorrow Time.” Her stabs at blues are mediocre; “Happy New Year,” one of the cuts that was on her Deram singles, bears most interest as an early obscure Randy Newman composition; and though it looks at a glance like one of the Donovan songs was not recorded by Donovan himself (“Picking Up the Sunshine”), it’s actually a version of his “Bert’s Blues” with a different title. The highlights of this record make the LP of more than merely historical interest, but it’s not well served by the packaging, which has barely anything in the way of liner notes—a criticism that applies to some other Record Store Day releases of rarities, including the two others reviewed in this list.

17. God’s Children, Music Is the Answer: The Complete Collection (Minky). God’s Children put out just a couple obscure singles in the early 1970s (both included here), but they were a pretty interesting band with a notable pre-history. One of their three lead singers was Willie Garcia (aka Little Willie G.), who’d been the main vocalist for the finest pre-Santana Latino rock band, Thee Midniters. God’s Children were in some ways an early-’70s update of Thee Midniters’ eclectic blend of rock, soul, and some doo wop. They were a little more eclectic, however, also drawing from funk and gospel, and influences from a couple other notable multi-cultural bands ascending to superstardom, Santana and Sly & the Family Stone. “It Don’t Make No Difference” sounds quite a bit like the Sir Douglas Quintet, with a similar piercing organ.


This 14-track anthology is more promise than realized potential, especially as it had to be pieced together from their two singles from UNI (whose pop-oriented production did not play to their strengths or emphasize their strong original material); demos, a couple of which are instrumental backing tracks; and the rare (if good) solo single Little Willie G. issued in 1969. Still, the material’s fairly strong and diverse, and the blend unusual, even for those adventurous times. They’ve compared themselves to a Latino Fifth Dimension or a Three Dog Night with women singers, and there’s some justification to that. But they were in fact hipper than either of those groups, without getting the commercial songs needed to gain them a wide audience or even many issued discs.

18. Skip Spence, Andoaragain (Modern Harmonic ). At a time when expanded reissues of vintage albums are becoming a huge part of the catalog business, Skip Spence’s Oar seems like one of the most unlikely albums to get the multi-disc treatment. Yes, its haunted acid-folk (dabbed by more than a touch of acid casualty), with plenty of rootsy blues and country thrown into the mix, is now deservedly hailed as one of the finest obscurities of the psychedelic age. Recorded at the end of 1968, shortly after the ex-Moby Grape guitarist’s release from a mental hospital, it felt like a missive from a ghost who’d barely survived the indulgences of the Summer of Love, with feet in both the Haight-Ashbury and the Mississippi Delta.


But for all its deserved subsequent cult reputation, it sold barely anything when it was first issued in 1969. Even if the absurdly low sales figures (such as 600) sometimes reported might be lower than the actual total, it was certainly one of the most obscure major-label releases of the late ‘60s, rave Greil Marcus review in Rolling Stone notwithstanding. And the LP itself had such an off-the-cuff, rustic one-man-in-an-empty-room feel that it was difficult to imagine much was left over.

But we live in an age when nothing seems impossible, at least when it comes to poking around the vaults. The wittily titled Andoaragain presents no less than three CDs from the Oar sessions, with two entire discs of previously unreleased material. There’s even an outtake from the LP photo session on the cover.

Previous CD editions of Oar had unearthed ten outtakes, all included here as bonus tracks after the original album plays on disc one. In comparison to the dozen tracks on the finished LP, those outtakes were, as the British are fond of saying, “bitty” fragments. None were nearly as solidly constructed as the songs on the proper album, and none sounded apt to be as strong as the final contenders with more work. All of which raised alarm bells, when this much more extensive trawl through the vaults was announced, whether such an exercise was worthwhile. Might it even prove embarrassing to Spence, even half a century later?

Like many such raids of the lost psychedelic arks, it’s neither as marginal nor as revelatory as you might expect. If you’re rightly wary of CDs two and three being yet less listenable half- (or less than half-) finished tunes from the Oar sessions, the first thing to note is that more than half of these 36 (yes, 36) additional tracks are alternate versions of songs that made the final cut. That in itself ensures the majority are more listenable than the items that have already shown up as bonuses on previous reissues.

Alas, it also signifies that there aren’t any previously unheard songs on the order of “Weighted Down,” “Lawrence of Euphoria,” or “All Come to Meet Her”—or indeed, on the order of any of Oar’s compositions (save perhaps the LP’s meandering closer “Grey/Afro”). The “new” titles—of which there are nine (sometimes in multiple versions)—seem to be either made-up-on-the-spot ditties, bits that haven’t grown into germs of full-blown songs, or semi-jams, some with a more rock’n’roll feel than the Oar material (like, unsurprisingly, “I Want a Rock & Roll Band”).

Occasionally there’s a glimmer of the kind of odd wordplay distinguishing Oar’s fully realized compositions, like the disquieting “she has a body of 17, and a mind of 40” in “Fuzzy Heroine (Halo of Gold)”—the only “alternate” version here of one of the songs previously issued as a CD bonus track. Otherwise, the impression is often of a guy, to quote a lyric from “Dixie Peach Promenade,” who’s taken everything from A to Z. For all that, Spence sounds pretty normal and coherent on occasional brief spoken snippets from the outtakes, though of course that’s a pretty small sample size.

None of the numerous alternate versions are a match for the finished products. These indicate—as is often, maybe usually, the case no matter what the professionalism or state of mind of the artist—that considerable refinement went into the songwriting and arrangements before the tracks were completed, and that the cull of available Spencesongs was quite selective. Part of Oar’s peculiar spell is its apparent spontaneity and effortlessness, but the rather haphazard pool of recordings from which it emerged indicates considerable effort was put into molding it into a much more accessible end result.

But even if none of the alternate versions are on the level of the LP tracks, some of them are quite nice and worth hearing. Considering how bare-bones (certainly for a late-’60s psychedelic rock artist) the album’s production was, it might be hard to believe that some of these outtakes are yet sparer, though the essence of the words and music usually remain. An instrumental version of “War and Peace” doesn’t even have those words, yet has a spooky, affecting vibe when stripped of the vocals and psychedelic effects deployed on the LP rendition. The “basic” version of “Cripple Creek” doesn’t vary too much from the familiar arrangement, but has an engaging, slightly more pronounced country-folk feel.

Elsewhere, the brief, jokey rehearsal of “Weighted Down” doesn’t seem like an entirely serious attempt at this gravest of meditations, but at least it’s appreciably different from the LP take. The biggest surprise arrives when Skip briefly inserts part of the melody from Jefferson Airplane’s “She Has Funny Cars” into “All Come to Meet Her.” Spence, of course, was the drummer on their first album. But even though Jefferson Airplane Takes Off had only been recorded about two-and-a-half years earlier, that must have seemed like twenty years ago after all Skip had been through in the meantime, from Moby Grape’s first LP to the bad acid trip that helped land him out of the band and into Bellevue Hospital.

Of special note are no less than half a dozen alternates of “Diana.” That makes for quite a few to choose from, I know. But they’re usually invested with a particularly urgent eerieness, especially on the six-minute run-through that ends disc two, and even on the 12-string instrumental version. Such is his intensity that it seems like “Diana” must have been a real person, whether that was her name or not, as it’s not easy to fake such emotional anguish.

For all its magnificence, Oar wasn’t for everyone, even if it did eventually generate a tribute album with contributions from fans like Robert Plant, Beck, and Tom Waits. Exponentially more so, Andoaragain isn’t for everyone, or even every Oar fan. But even if I’m far less likely to be spinning the dozens of outtakes than the core album, I’m glad it’s out there. Heard in modified doses, it’s a bit like listening to a talented but wayward friend trying this and that as he sorts through the musical voices battling to be heard in his head. Sometimes he succeeds in winnowing them into something pleasing, sometimes not. But he seldom offends, and often intrigues. (A longer version of this review will appear in a future issue of Ugly Things.)

19. Various Artists, Gathered from Coincidence: The British Folk-Pop Sound of 1965-66 (Grapefruit). With the exception of Donovan, none of the top mid-’60s folk-rock innovators were from the UK. And really, with the exception of Donovan, no British acts of the period truly blended much of the best of folk and rock into a new and distinctive form. As the subtitle of this interesting three-CD comp indicates, what mid-’60s British folk-rock there was often took a milder form, blending folk and pop as much (or more) than mixing folk and rock. Folk, and American folk-rock, was felt more as an influence on pop and rock than it was actually combined with rock.

This 79-track set gets off to a literally ringing start with the one cut that could be classified as authentic classic folk-rock, the Searchers’ excellent cover of P.F. Sloan’s “Take Me For What I’m Worth.” But it’s more a historically interesting tour of folk’s absorption into British popular music (and occasional ventures of folkies into slightly pop-rockish sounds) in the mid-’60s. There are plenty of fine recordings; some that have their merits; and plenty of so-so or even subpar ones, significant mostly as a testament to the industry’s eagerness to jump on the bandwagon.

The best tracks, though necessary to provide something like a comprehensive overview of this retrospectively named mini-genre, are also the ones ‘60s rock fanatics are most likely to already own. The Hollies’ cover of Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Very Last Day” gets close to classic folk-rock; Manfred Mann’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” was one of the earliest hit (at least in the UK) rock versions of a Dylan song; and Marianne Faithfull’s hit “Come and Stay with Me” was nearly genre-defining folk-pop. Donovan’s “Catch the Wind,” of course, was his first hit, though he would have been better represented by something electric from the Sunshine Superman album.

Also here are some major acts’ satisfying ventures into folk-rock-ish material, like the Pretty Things’ “London Town,” Peter & Gordon’s “Morning’s Calling,” the Kinks’ “Wait Till the Summer Comes Along,” and the Zombies’ gorgeous “Don’t Go Away,” though the latter track (like quite a few on this anthology) is more folky than folk-pop or folk-rock. There are also some fine folky efforts by some of the era’s better non-star UK groups, like the Poets’ “I Love Her Still,” the Sorrows’ “Don’t Sing No Sad Songs for Me,” and the Fenmen’s “Rejected.” The last of these, of course, features future Pretty Things Wally Waller and Jon Povey, even if it’s as indebted to West Coast harmony pop as folk-rock, whose influence is mostly heard in the chiming guitar hook.

And there are some less essential actual hits that nonetheless need to be here to complete the picture, like the Silkie’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” the Seekers’ “The Carnival Is Over,” and Hedgehoppers Anonymous’ “It’s Good News Week.” A few artists who were more folkies than rockers did try to add touches of rock into their work, as you can hear on Davey Graham’s pretty good take on the Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You,” and early work by Mick Softley, Meic Stevens, Jon-Mark, and Beverley (aka Beverley Martyn).

Whether or not you’re a folk-rock enthusiast, if you have a deep ‘60s collection, you’re likely most curious about the more obscure selections. While there are quite a few, these are—even casting aside questions as to how genuinely they blend folk, rock, and pop—pretty uneven, with an absence of lost gems. Some are unnecessary close copies of the originals, like Peter Nelson’s version of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises.” Some are bad novelties, like Alan Klein’s “Age of Corruption,” a satire of “Eve of Destruction,” a hit that inspired more bad answer records than almost any other.

And there are future superstars briefly venturing into the style, like Marc Bolan on “Beyond the Risin’ Sun,” Olivia Newton-John (!) on the Jackie DeShannon-penned “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” and a pre-Moody Blues Justin Hayward on “Day Must Come” (whose orchestral pop-folk actually makes for one of the best obscurities). On “The Bells of Rhymney,” a young Murray Head even entered the foray.

Here and there, however, are sprinkled some pretty good outings known to few. The Beatmen’s “Now the Sun Has Gone” is a very good bittersweet, acoustic guitar-grounded ballad. The Caravelles (of “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry” fame) sing a fairly lavish Phil Spector-ish production of Canadian folkie Bruce Murdoch’s “Hey Mama You’ve Been on My Mind” (not to be confused with the early Dylan composition “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind”). Sarah Jane’s “Listen People” is a decent cover of the Graham Gouldman-penned Herman’s Hermits hit, though like a lot of tracks here, it stretches the boundaries of what might be considered folk-pop, let alone folk-rock.

It probably would have been impossible to license quality folk-rocky tracks from British giants like the Beatles (especially from Rubber Soul), the Rolling Stones (“Lady Jane”), Them (“Richard Cory”), and the Animals’ (“Hey Gyp”). But their absence does make this less definitive, though they’re hardly difficult to come across elsewhere. And whether because of licensing hurdles or not, a few of the best UK obscurities owing something to folk-rock aren’t present, most notably the Belfast Gypsies’ magnificent tense, howling rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The version that is here, by Cops ‘N Robbers, isn’t nearly as fine or imaginative.

Unquestionably fine, however, are the 44-page small-print liner notes by David Wells, jammed with photos, sleeve reproductions, and other memorabilia. The track-by-track annotation tells stories behind the records that are often more interesting than the discs themselves. But even if this isn’t folk-rock at its best, it documents much of folk-rock’s impact on the mid-’60s British pop world with more detail and range than is likely ever to be attempted again. (This review also appears in the summer/fall 2018 (#49) issue of Ugly Things.)

20. Jimi Hendrix, Both Sides of the Sky (Legacy). For a guy who only put out three true studio albums during his lifetime, the Jimi Hendrix discography has become massive. Almost fifty years after his death, compilations of unreleased recordings continue to emerge from the vault, testifying both to his prolific studio output and the continued hunger for more Hendrix. Both Sides of the Sky is the latest such excavation, and will both relieve some of that hunger and still leave the listener somewhat unsatisfied. (Three of the thirteen tracks (“Georgia Blues,” “Things I Used to Do,” and “Power of Soul”) were actually previously issued, but they’re obscure enough to be new to many fans, and even “Power of Soul” is a previously unavailable extended version.)


It’s a bit like listening to bootlegged takes with high-grade fidelity and packaging, as it’s a bit of a jumble of unrelated tracks, rather than something that would have cohered into an album (or comprise an alternative version of an album). Most of the cuts are from 1969 and 1970 (though there are a couple 1968 recordings), a time when Jimi was struggling to concoct a studio follow-up to his last album with the original Experience, 1968’s Electric Ladyland.

Like much of his work that survives from that time, these find Hendrix working with varying lineups of musicians (though most played in either the original Experience or the Band of Gypsys), and struggling to some degree to find some direction. The tunes are often, though not always, bluesier on the whole than his Experience recordings, and a couple (“Things I Used to Do” and “Mannish Boy”) are covers of actual blues classics. But although Jimi’s instrumental prowess remained awesome, his songwriting and arrangements lacked the focus that had characterized his first three albums.

The best songs on Both Sides of the Sky tend to be the ones that have been available in different versions. The one here of “Lover Man” from December 15, 1969, with Band of Gypsys rhythm section Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, is a clear highlight. Dynamic and propulsive, it has the razor-sharp bounce of the best blues-rock, along the lines of the cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” that kicked off his Monterey Pop Festival set. But the other songs on Both Sides of the Sky, alas, are more meandering and less memorable. Jimi was often having a hard time taking his sketches to the finish line, and this disc has a few of the numerous such examples in his vaults.

More interesting are two September 30, 1969 tracks on which fellow superstar Stephen Stills not so much guests as takes over. With Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, and pianist Duane Hitchings, Stills sings and plays organ on “$20 Fine,” an original composition of his that he would not release with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, or indeed on any disc. The energetic, midtempo, slightly unfinished-sounding tune is kind of by-numbers late-’60s Stills, but both Hendrix and (more particularly) Stills completists won’t be able to find it anywhere else.

Better is a Stills-led version from the same day of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” soon to be a hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. This take (with Stills on vocals and organ, Hendrix on bass, and Miles on drums) lacks the trademark harmonies of CSNY’s famous version, but is quite respectable and has a fine, committed Stills vocal, even if the arrangement’s a little on the basic side.

Just two tracks on Both Sides of the Sky predate 1969. Taped on May 2, 1968, the spooky instrumental “Cherokee Mist” features only Hendrix and Mitchell. Another 1968 outtake on Both Sides of the Sky also features only Hendrix and Mitchell, and was recorded on January 28 of that year. As “Angel,” the song (here titled “Sweet Angel”) was one of the best Hendrix compositions to be released after his death, first emerging on the 1971 LP The Cry of Love. He’d been developing it for more than two years, however, though this early version is instrumental. In that sense it’s a backing track missing lyrics, with Hendrix playing not just guitar, but also bass (though Experience bassist Noel Redding was still very much in the band) and, more unexpectedly, vibraphone. Such is the strength of the melody that even this instrumental sketch has an engaging, shimmering beauty, though it would gain a great deal of strength when Hendrix put lyrics and vocals onto the famous later version.

Just as “Angel” doesn’t compare to “Sweet Angel,” so Both Sides of the Sky does not compare to Hendrix’s proper studio albums, or even his best live recordings and compilations. It’s nonetheless an interesting adjunct to his core discography, even if it lacks stone classics or revelatory insights into previously undocumented directions. (A longer review of this album appears in the April 2018 issue of Record Collector News.)

21. The Doors, Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 (Eagle Vision/Bright Midnight). The Doors only did two concerts with Jim Morrison after this one at the Isle of Wight on August 29, 1970. It’s not the band at their best live, and not a standout among their many official archival concert releases that are now available. Considering how much material the band had to draw from by this point, it’s disappointing that there are only a couple songs postdating their first two albums, “Roadhouse Blues” and the only truly unusual selection for the set, “Ship of Fools.” As good as “Break on Through” and “Light My Fire” are, there are many other live versions. There are numerous versions of “The End,” too, but at least this one inserts much different improvised-sounding bits, including a little of the blues classic “Crossroads” and meditations on “Across the Sea” and “Away in India.”


It’s nonetheless a historic document, and the band play pretty well. Morrison’s singing, interestingly, is fine, although it’s been reported with some reason that his voice was seriously fraying by the time they began work on their final album with him a few months later, L.A. Woman. It’s also fairly good value, as a DVD of the filmed set is packaged together with this CD on a separate disc. The DVD’s actually of more interest than the CD (and, of course, contains the same music on its soundtrack), adding a featurette about the concert with interviews with non-Morrison members of the Doors and band manager Bill Siddons.

22. Nina Simone, The Colpix Singles (Stateside/Rhino). Simone wasn’t a singles-oriented artist, despite getting a Top Twenty hit (her only big one in the US) very early in her career with “I Loves You, Porgy.” From 1959 to 1963, Colpix did try to get her into the 45 market without much success, though a couple of her singles for the label got into the lowest reaches of the Top 100. This two-CD set has all 27 tracks from those singles, remastered in mono.


Less striking, mature, and imaginative than her peak work for Philips in the mid-’60s, it still shows her developing into an artist of distinction, if in a poppier and less creative mold than she’d explore in her subsequent Philips and RCA recordings. Simone wrote or co-wrote just three of the songs, and her covers tended toward jazz-pop standards by the likes of Rodgers-Hammerstein, George & Ira Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, and Hoagy Carmichael. She sounds gutsier and more confident when she sinks her teeth into more contemporary, bluesier material, like Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” (covering the adaptation incorporating lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr.). She’s also more forceful when putting highly individual stamps on traditional folk tunes, particularly “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “Little Liza Jane.”

Some of these have hokey orchestration and backup choral vocals that, at their most dated, sound like a throwback to pre-rock days, or at least more at home on soundtrack LPs than pop-jazz ones. Some are live recordings that are more at home on albums than 45s, and not especially hitbound material, despite their virtues. But sometimes, wisdom prevails and the backup’s a simple jazz combo, as on the spiritual “Children Go Where I Send You,” “Trouble in Mind,” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” The sparser arrangements tend to be the most effective, especially on her stark, even spooky live adaptation of the folk standard “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” which has only her voice and piano until the very end.

There’s still too much jazz in this material to be labeled early soul, but Nina did more or less take a stab at the soul market with “Come on Back Jack,” an “answer” record to Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road, Jack.” It’s kind of fun, but also kind of contrived. More rewarding is the 1963 B-side “Blackbird” (its composition credited to her and Herbert Sacker), which anticipates her more accomplished and personal work of the mid-to-late 1960s. Backed only by hard-to-identify percussion—it sounds like a combination of hands slapping, bongos, and an eerie pulsating vibration from another instrument—it takes the spiritual/gospel feel of much of Simone’s early work into almost avant-garde territory, with more than a hint of African folk. It’s not hit single stuff by any means, but that hardly mattered then, and it doesn’t matter at all now.

Taken on its own, The Colpix Singles give a fair idea of her musical progression, as fitful and erratic as it was, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Almost half of The Colpix Singles isn’t on the best anthology of her work for the label (1996’s two-CD Anthology: The Colpix Years), though these tend to be the less impressive standards. Also note that with just over 78 minutes of running time, this could have fit onto a single CD. It wasn’t until her mid-1960s work for Philips—her best era—that she would truly blossom, in part because she developed a greater social consciousness, both in the songs she wrote and those she covered. (A longer review of this album appears in the May 2018 issue of Record Collector News.)

23. Alexis Korner, Everyday I Have the Blues: The Sixties Anthology (Grapefruit). Every serious fan of British rock knows his vital Korner was to getting the UK blues scene (and hence its blues-rock scene) going. Yet there might be no other figure in 1960s music—indeed, in British rock history—where there’s such a wide disparity between an artist’s vast historical importance and the mediocrity of his recordings. Korner himself once lamented his “appalling vocals,” and his gruff delivery could descend into outright tunelessness. He was an adequate guitarist, but certainly not a memorable one.


This makes wading through his extensive discography something of a chore, weighed down as it often is by performances that are rather tame, sometimes even turgid, if you’re hoping for something on the level of the early Stones. Even this three-CD, 69-track compilation is rather selective. But while it doesn’t wholly avoid the mundane, it does students of British rock a favor in focusing on his more listenable output, spanning an April 1961 duet with Davey Graham through the fall 1969 sessions for his Both Sides Now album (issued in the Netherlands and Germany only). While there probably aren’t many Korner completists out there, it includes some pretty off-the-beaten path non-LP singles and tracks that only surfaced decades later on compilations.

Korner did classics like “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I Got My Mojo Working” with far less distinction than the best younger, far more rock-oriented bands in his wake. There was also a lingering staid jazziness to many of his arrangements, kind of as a hangover from the his trad jazz roots. Still, he did manage some relatively swinging R&B cuts with a jazzy tinge, like the rare 1962 flexisingle “Up-Town.” His subpar vocals were somewhat mitigated by his frequent deployment of guest singers, whether little known ones like Ronnie Jones and Herbie Goins, far better ones like Duffy Power, or future stars like Robert Plant. And fairly frequent instrumentals avoided the problems that came with vocals altogether.

Korner’s best recordings were those in which he pushed past the boundaries of conventional blues into something a bit more daring and original, whether drawing from modern jazzmen like Charles Mingus (the almost spy movie-like arrangement of “Haitian Fight Song”), or even world music. The weird interpretation of Son House’s “Preachin’ the Blues” was aptly described by Korner as “a country blues gone Greek.” “Every Day I Have the Blues” benefits from a satisfying blues-jazz organ solo by Malcolm Saul.

The cuts from his rare Sky High album (recorded 1965 and issued the following year) with Power are among the best on the whole anthology. The moody, riveting “Long Black Train” (written by Power and Korner), in fact, is a genuine obscure British R&B gem, and the blues standard “Louise,” on which Duffy’s accompanied only by acoustic guitar and harmonica, quite good too. Korner’s almost spoken delivery manages to suit Sky High’s cover of Percy Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation,” where the jazz horns are snazzy instead of stuffy. The same album’s “Floating” is a fine, wistful country-blues acoustic guitar instrumental—a nice break among the somewhat blustery R&B-jazz dominating his early-to-mid-’60s repertoire.

There’s also an unexpectedly fine, tough version of “Rosie” (the traditional song that supplied the basis for the Animals’ “Inside Looking Out”) from early 1967 by his short-lived trio Free At Last. If that’s Korner singing on this, it’s easily his best vocal performance, though it’s not certain from the liner notes who actually sang the track.

In the last years of the 1960s, Korner got a bit more eclectic and less jazz-flavored, and sang a bit better. “The Same for You” (from 1968’s A New Generation of Blues) even gets a bit into sorta psych-colored stream-of-consciousness, though the same LP had more conventional material like Power’s “Mary Open the Door”—done much better by Power on his own, alas, though Korner’s version isn’t bad. The next year, “To Whom It May Concern,” from Both Sides Now (though, oddly, included on the Dutch but not the German version), showed unexpected growth in its tender, bittersweet acoustic non-blues, and was perhaps his finest original composition.

With excellent, extensive annotation by David Wells, this almost ridiculously uneven collection is still a valuable document of the British blues godfather, and probably the only one even serious students of the style really need. (A longer version of this review will appear in a future issue of Ugly Things.)

24. Tim Hardin, Lost in L.A. EP (Entree). It’s unfortunate the documentation isn’t more thorough on this six-song, 12-inch Record Store Day release, though the brief liner notes infer that four of the six tracks were cut shortly after Hardin came to Los Angeles in late 1964. These were the four produced at World Pacific studio by Jim Dickson, a legendary figure in the birth of folk-rock for producing many early demos by the Byrds there, as well as co-managing that band. On these compositions, Hardin’s given basic backing by drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Jimmy Bond.


A couple of them amount to no more than bluesy jams, “Blues (I Need You Like a Soft Breeze)” lasting a good eight minutes. Far more of his potential shines through on the jazzy, waltz-time “It’ll Never Happen Again” (re-recorded for his first LP) and “My Leading Lady” (not found elsewhere as far as I can tell), where his wistful, hurt romanticism comes to the fore. Should these have been cut in late 1964 or early 1965, they’re historically notable as being among the first quality tentative ventures into folk-rock. It would be nice to have an exact date for these.

As it would for the two other tracks, recorded “later” (that’s the closest there is to a date) by Frank Werber, the Kingston Trio manager who would himself get into rock production in the mid-1960s with We Five and others. Hardin sticks to a wholly acoustic format on these, “Turn the Page” sounding pretty reminiscent of “Reason to Believe.” (A full band version of that tune, recorded in September 1968, showed up on the anthology Simple Songs of Freedom: The Tim Hardin Collection.) “Speak Like a Child” would be re-recorded for his second album with a more orchestrated arrangement, though this sparser version is nice to hear.

25. Tim Buckley, I Can’t See You EP (Manifesto). The mountain of officially available Buckley recordings unreleased during his lifetime received another boost with this four-song, 12-inch Record Store Day release. Long known to exist, but only recently unearthed, these are the tracks from the circa early 1966 demo that landed Buckley his deal with Elektra Records. (A March 8, 1966 letter from Elektra chief Jac Holzman, reprinted on the back cover, serves as evidence it was received on March 4.) Although it doesn’t say so in the packaging, he was backed by the Bohemians, who included his songwriting collaborator Larry Beckett on drums, bassist Jim Fielder, and guitarist Brian Hartzler.buckley

Three of these four songs (“I Can’t See You,” “It Happens Every Time,” and “Grief in My Soul”) would be re-recorded for Buckley’s self-titled debut LP later in 1966; the only other version of the fourth, “Sixface,” is on Lady, Give Me Your Key: The Unissued 1967 Solo Acoustic Sessions. Actually the sound and arrangements aren’t too much different from what’s heard on the first Buckley LP, though they’re not as tight and professional. In particular, Beckett would not be used on that album (though Fielder remained on bass), with guitarist Lee Underwood, drummer Billy Mundi, keyboardist Van Dyke Parks, and string arranger Jack Nitzsche doing much to enhance the material.

That makes this – in a chorus I use more and more in these best-of lists as time goes by – more of historical interest than an essential addition to an artist’s canon. But this is pretty interesting, and a considerable step forward from the far more rudimentary Bohemians demos from November 8, 1965 (added to the deluxe version of his debut as bonus tracks), which are the earliest Buckley recordings to have been issued. And “It Happens Every Time” and “I Can’t See You” are very good songs, though “Grief in My Soul” and “Sixface” are more pedestrian and forgettable.

Honorable Mention:

Van Morrison, Live in Boston 1968 (iTunes UK). Recorded sometime in August 1968 at the Catacombs club in Boston, this was on iTunes UK for just a few hours in November before getting promptly withdrawn. It had already been written about in much detail in Ryan Walsh’s Astral Weeks book, though this 68-minute tape is about fifteen minutes longer than the one he was able to hear. It captures Morrison onstage backed by just his acoustic guitar, flute player John Payne, and acoustic bassist Tom Kielbania. It’s speculated that it was only released so briefly to extend Morrison’s copyright on the material.


Of all the “primarily of historical interest” releases on this list, this might be the least pleasurable as a listening experience, despite the big name attached to it. First, the fidelity isn’t so great—it’s listenable, but the vocals in particular are a bit tinny and hollow. More importantly, the bare-bones instrumentation usually doesn’t serve the songs as well as the studio versions, in part because there’s not nearly as much variety to the arrangements. Those songs include a few Astral Weeks numbers (a month, or a little more, before the sessions for that album started); a few he’d recorded in 1967 for Bang Records (including “Brown Eyed Girl”); an early version of “Virgo Clown” (not to appear as a studio version until 1970’s His Band and Street Choir); an unreleased original blues, “Train Train”; and an eight-minute version of “One Two Brown Eyes,” the B-side of his first single with Them back in 1964.

Although I don’t think the music’s so great, its historic value is substantial and undeniable, as the nearly year-long gap between Morrison’s first solo recordings for Bang and Astral Weeks isn’t so well documented. If you want to learn more about it, I wrote a long piece about the recording here.

Honorable Mention Sort Of:

The Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord: 50th Anniversary Edition (Universal). Where do you put a 50th anniversary edition box set whose only compelling attribute is the visual material on the DVD, which comprises just one disc of this five-disc set? In the “honorable mention, sort of” category, I suppose. In Search of the Lost Chord wasn’t the greatest psychedelic record. Not only isn’t it among the hipper 50th anniversary superdeluxes this year, but it’s a record that provokes derisive snickers from some critics and listeners. Still, it was the second best LP of their post-Denny Laine era after Days of Future Passed.


Does that mean you should get excited about the “original stereo mix,” “new stereo mixes,” “alternate album mixes,” “single masters,” and “5.1 surround mix” that fill up over half this box? No. In fact it’s on the extreme end of an approach that fills up all too many of these special editions: not even different takes, but different mixes, some of them not even from original or previous incarnations of the actual album. There are five 1968 BBC tracks; the non-LP B-side “A Simple Game”; and 1968 outtakes that showed up back in 1978 on Caught Live Plus Five. But even with a decent 76-page booklet as additional frosting, that still doesn’t add up to a must-have.

But—disc five, a DVD with nineteen songs from three 1968 TV broadcasts—is really good. I’d go as far as to say the ten songs on the July 13, 1968 French Ce Soir on Danse program are the best Moody Blues clips. These show the band playing entirely live (albeit in black and white) before a groovy audience that seems like it must have been screened for cool fashionability. It features not only highlights from  Days of Future Passed and In Search of the Lost Chord, but a good number of surprises: two songs from the Denny Laine R&B/beat era (“Bye Bye Bird” and “I’ve Got a Dream”), a decent cover of the Animals hit “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” the unrecorded (to my knowledge) if fairly unremariable Justin Hayward composition “A Beautiful Dream,” and the pre-Days of Future Passed single “Fly Me High.”

The version of “Peak Hour” is a particular highlight, and not just because it’s one of their most underrated and hardest-rocking songs. It seems like there must have been a false start or breakdown when they messed up the harmonies on the first pass at the bridge; the song starts again, and (maybe thinking the best parts would be edited together?) they do a drawn-out rendition with two more passes through the bridge, both successfully completed this time.

A color September 1968 BBC episode of Colour Me Pop with most of the songs from In Search of the Lost Chord is less interesting, as the music’s from the studio recordings, though it seems at least some of the vocals are sung live to backing. Two songs (back to black and white) from another French broadcast later in 1968 fill out the disc, and while these aren’t as good as Ce Soir on Danse, it does have “Ride My See-Saw,” which didn’t make the earlier program.

Is this DVD so good you need to lay out for this fairly expensive box? Probably not, unless you’re a serious Moody Blues fan. Wouldn’t this DVD be better appreciated as a standalone, cheaper release? Sure. And if the DVD’s the only disc worth commenting on at length, should this entry have gone in my DVD best-of lists, not the reissue one? Maybe. But be aware this material’s out there, and worth seeing, whether or not you lay out for this superdeluxe.


The reissues below were released in 2017, though I didn’t get to hear them until after that year had passed. I think they’re worthy of coverage here, as a supplement to the 2018 list:

1. Elvis Presley, A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings (RCA/Legacy, 2017). As someone who’s long had the core singles and outtakes of Presley’s legendary Sun sessions, as well as quite a few of the other live recordings and more marginal outtakes that survive from the era, I was wary of investing in a three-CD set containing much material I already owned. It’s still not a bargain if you’ve already collected a lot of early Elvis, but I will say the package is quite impressive. Some of the material sees official release here for the first time, and while the newly unearthed studio outtakes aren’t great and are often fragmentary or tentative rehearsal-like performances, they carry historical interest. This has too many consecutive slow, lugubrious versions of “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” than anyone would want to hear for pleasure, but more enjoyable previously unreleased rehearsals and outtakes of “How Do You Think I Feel” and “When It Rains It Pours” help compensate.


More exciting is the 79-minute disc of 1954-55 live and radio performances on disc three. About half of it’s previously unreleased, and though the fidelity ranges from good to scratchy and muffled, the tracks include some R&B and early rock’n’roll covers Elvis didn’t record at Sun. The band don’t play quite as well as they do on the classic five Presley Sun singles, but they do perform with zest, and Scotty Moore’s guitar particularly impresses – certainly no one else in the world was playing in this aggressive rock’n’roll style before 1956. On some of the tracks, there are “some parts duplicated and edited to create near-complete performances,” but at least the liner notes admit this. And the 120-page book that accompanies this set is superb, with many rare photos and detailed text following Presley’s progress in an almost week-by-week fashion during these crucial years. The historical importance of this music is unquestioned even if you’re not an Elvis fan. But most rock’n’roll fans would agree that the best of this body of work, especially the ten songs that came out on 1954-55 singles, are early rock’n’roll at its best, and indeed Elvis at his best.

2. Pentangle, The Albums (Cherry Red, 2017). Pentangle were the best British folk-rock group except for Fairport Convention. This seven-CD box has all six of the albums the original incarnation recorded between 1968 and 1972, as well as a whopping 54 non-LP bonus tracks, 22 of which were previously unreleased. It’s not a physically imposing production, with all the discs enclosed in a CD-sized mini-box. But the packaging is very good, with an 88-page booklet including lots of vintage photos and memorabilia; recording notes; a chronology; many quotes from interviews with Pentanglers Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, and John Renbourn; and essays on each of the albums. The discs are enclosed in sleeves reproducing the original artwork, including the gatefolds that some of the original LPs boasted.


At their best—especially on their first three albums, and most especially on their third, 1969’s Basket of Light—Pentangle offered an intoxicating, extremely eclectic blend of folk, blues, jazz, rock, and a bit of gospel, pop, and world music. I’m not as big a fan of their next three LPs (all from the early ‘70s), which were more traditional in both repertoire and execution, though they were always capable and had some standout tracks. It’s nonetheless good to have them all in one place, and packaged so well.

The Pentangle fans likely to get this set, however, probably already have most or all of the music from the LPs, and quite possibly most or all of the 32 bonus tracks that have already come out on other releases. They’ll be most interested in the 22 previously unissued tracks, and in common with many such things, they’re more interesting than exciting. Many of them are alternate or live variations that aren’t too notably different from the familiar versions. Exceptions include a pair of outtakes from their first studio session in August 1967, “I Got a Feeling” (re-recorded for Sweet Child as “I’ve Got a Feeling”) and “Market Song” (a live version of which led off Sweet Child). In contrast to the Sweet Child version, the first attempt at “I Got a Feeling” is clumsy, almost pop-blues-rock, indicating that it took them a while to get comfortable with both their nascent folk-rock style and more at ease in the studio itself. “Market Song” is also unrefined (with an uncharacteristic electric blues-rock guitar solo and equally uncharacteristic unpolished McShee vocals), though they’d find their feet soon enough.

Other highlights from the unreleased batch include a quite good full-band version of Cox’s spooky “Moon Dog,” done on Sweet Child as a Cox solo track with just vocals and spare percussion. The full-band arrangement, in contrast, features McShee’s vocals, and comes closer to an equal mix of folk and rock than most of their work, though the sound quality is a bit lower than usual, deriving (according to the liners) “from an imperfect tape source.” Three cuts from an Aberdeen concert on March 26, 1970 include live versions of their early standouts “Light Flight” and “Pentangling.” The Reflection outtake “Wondrous Love,” an American Shaker hymn, has a mesmerizing somber, almost incantational feel (with what sounds like a faint fuzz guitar in the background) that would have made it a standout on the LP had it been included. At the less impressive end of the spectrum, three November 1972 live numbers from Guildford Civic Hall were taken from an audience recording, and suffer from substandard sound quality.

The 32 other tracks on this box that did not appear on the original versions of the first half-dozen Pentangle LPs are likewise usually not all that notable, at least relative to what was cleared for official release. You’d have to be a pretty big Pentangle fan to already have all of these cuts on other releases, but quite a few have been out as bonus tracks on the 2001 Castle CD editions of their first three albums; on Renbourn’s 1972 solo LP Faro Annie (included here because they are trio performances by Renbourn, Cox, and Thompson); or on the box The Time Has Come. The obvious standouts are the three that originally appeared as non-LP tracks on singles, including their ingratiating 1968 debut 45 “Travellin’ Song” (dressed up with strings, although unadorned live versions are easily findable on video, as well as on one of the bonus concert items for Sweet Child). The 1969 B-sides “Cold Mountain” and “I Saw An Angel” are here too (as bonuses on the Basket of Light disc), and are decent cuts in line with their late-’60s sound, though not lost gems.

For all its heft, this set doesn’t have everything. It misses more than two CDs’ worth of BBC tracks that have come out on compilations, as well as more than a CD of additional live, TV, and soundtrack recordings that appear on the four-CD 2007 box The Time Has Come. It still adds up to a worthy, though not quite all-inclusive, monument to the legacy of a band whose brilliantly British folk-rock blend has never been matched, or even replicated. Had I heard it at the time of its release, it would have made the Top Five of my 2017 list—but that’s what happens when you receive your review copy three-and-a-half months after it’s issued. (A longer review of this album appears in the April 2018 issue of Record Collector News.)

3. The Yardbirds, Yardbirds ‘68 (, 2017). It’s with great reservations that I put this two-CD set on this list. As many Yardbirds fans know, on March 30, 1968, the group—then just months away from breaking up, playing as a quartet with Jimmy Page on lead guitar—recorded a concert at New York’s Anderson Theatre. This wasn’t released at the time, but came out briefly in 1971 as Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page before Page had it withdrawn. Some of his displeasure was due to the sloppy overdubbing of audience cheers and roars. However, it’s long been bootlegged, and not that hard to acquire in some unauthorized guise.


In 2017, Page remixed the recordings, placing them on one disc, and pairing it with another CD of 1968 Yardbirds studio outtakes, some of which have been issued here and there on archival releases. In its favor, the concert tapes do sound much better—like a real live album, not a tacky fake one. And while the Yardbirds’ career was waning due to largely substandard post-Jeff Beck studio tracks and only fitfully inspired songwriting, onstage they were still usually formidable, even if Relf’s vocals sometimes falter during this particular show. “I’m a Man” in particular was extended into something of a tour-de-force, while “White Summer” showcased Page’s solo folky side. Most famously, the performance also featured a pre-Led Zeppelin version of “Dazed and Confused”—never placed on any of the Yardbirds studio discs—that’s less bombastic than the more famous one by Page’s subsequent band.

But as much of a relief as it is to hear the music clearly without the bullfight cheers, some liberties have been taken with the recordings that were not just unnecessary, but diminish the integrity of the entire excavation project. On the live disc, most of singer Keith Relf’s between-song comments have been taken out. That’s not such a big deal, especially as they weren’t extensive and they’re on the bootlegs that most buyers of this new version will already have. However, the musical performances have themselves sometimes been edited, and some of the omissions—like the third verse of “Dazed and Confused,” and the instrumental quotes from “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” in “I’m a Man”—are not just inexplicable, but detrimental.

The main attraction of the studio disc is the inclusion of “Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine),” which as the subtitle indicates was later reworked by Led Zeppelin into simply “Tangerine.” This recording has long circulated unofficially, and as a supremely eerie, folky piece with echoes of medieval English music, is one of the best things the Page-era Yardbirds did, even if it was unfinished. Criminally, the version on Yardbirds ‘68 is missing Keith Relf’s vocal, turning it into a far less complete-sounding instrumental. It’s a much greater violation than anything done to the live tracks on disc one, especially as “Knowing That I’m Losing You” has never before come out on an official release, and it’s by far the best of the largely marginal cuts on disc two—had the proper version been used, that is.

Also note that the liner note booklet, though including some interesting comments by the surviving Yardbirds and memorabilia reproductions, has a floridly haphazard design that sometimes makes the text difficult to read. On a couple pages, some of the type is actually impossible to read, no matter what the state of your vision. It’s the final touch on a release that could have been a significant correction to a major flaw in the Yardbirds’ discography, but ends up pretty flawed in its own right.

4. Peggy March, If You Loved Me: RCA Recordings from Around the World 1963-1969 (Ace, 2017). By far the least hip name on this list, Peggy March is almost solely known for her girl group-styled #1 hit from 1963, “I Will Follow Him.” She never made the Top Twenty again (and in fact only had three more Top Forty singles), but she was more than a one-hit wonder. In fact, she recorded a good number of catchy girl group-styled discs, if very much on the pop side of that style. And her voice was, if not as teeming with character as someone like the Shangri-Las’ Mary Weiss or even Lesley Gore, certainly sturdy and versatile.


This typically good-value Ace compilation (with 26 tracks on one disc) is packaged like a survey of her international work, including tracks cut in Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Italy as well as the US. In fact, however, it comes close to being a best-of, with the conspicuous absence of “I Will Follow Him” (heard here in a Japanese-language version). “Can’t Stop Thinking About Him” (penned by a young Leon Huff) for instance, is easily as infectious as many an actual girl-group hit; “Leave Me Alone” (by a young Randy Newman) surprisingly husky downer pop; and “This Heart Wasn’t Made to Kick Around,” from 1967, has a wicked combination of fuzz guitar and swirling strings. If the obscure compositions by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (“Try to See It My Way”) and Mike Love and Brian Wilson (“Aren’t You Glad”) hardly rate among their greatest works (or greatest obscurities), they’re certainly interesting rarities.

Even the slighter items pass by pleasantly, and if you happen to already have one or two March best-ofs (as I did), there are some oddball European curios, especially the exotica-infused “Kilindini Docks” and the Ennio Morricone-arranged-and-conducted “Passo Su Passo.” It’s actually missing some worthwhile tracks, particularly her “I Will Follow Him” follow-up “I Wish I Were a Princess.” As a significant bonus, however, the liner notes have comments on each track by March herself.