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Richie Unterberger comments and reviews on vintage rock music.

British Jazz 1960-1975: Author Richard Morton Jack Talks About His Definitive Guide, Labyrinth

British jazz from the 1960s and first half of the 1970s isn’t, dare I say, a specialty of too many people, even in the UK, and less so elsewhere. However, Richard Morton Jack’s limited edition hardback book Labyrinth: British Jazz on Record 1960-75—published earlier this year on Landsdowne—is an exceptionally well produced record guide to many of the British jazz LPs made between 1960 and 1975. Morton Jack has issued a couple other hefty compendiums of reviews/descriptions of both British and North American rock records of the period, Galactic Ramble (covering the British Isles) and Endless Trip (covering North America). Although a few folk and jazz albums are documented in Galactic RambleLabyrinth is exclusively devoted to British jazz, allowed for far more coverage of the genre.

Labyrinth isn’t just a discography listing catalog numbers and dates. Each of the several hundred albums gets a fully considered paragraph-long description by the author. Many of the entries also include excerpts from reviews of the albums actually printed around the time of their release, along with full-page reproductions of the front and back covers and inner labels. There’s also a very interesting and lengthy introduction by musician and producer Tony Reeves, who was part of and worked with several acts during this period, most famously Colosseum. Plus there are also a few pages reproducing ads of the time for British jazz releases.

Even within the world of jazz enthusiasts and collectors, British jazz doesn’t get a ton of attention, and many of the names will be unfamiliar to readers as few made an international impact. The ones that did tended to be ones whose impact bled over to the rock audience, like Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin, Chris Spedding, Colosseum  (though only their first LP is included), Harold McNair (via his work with Donovan), John Cameron (also as a Donovan associate), Hugh Hopper (with Soft Machine), Elton Dean (part of Soft Machine for a while), Henry Lowther (part of Manfred Mann and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers for a while), and others. Morton Jack covered some British rock with a jazz influence in Galactic Ramble, and rock albums by the many acts with players with jazz experience are usually detailed in there.

This is the place to learn about names known more to jazz aficionados, like Joe Harriott, Mike Westbrook, Norma Winstone, Michael Gibbs, and Nucleus, though one (Dudley Moore) is extremely famous, though not  principally for his accomplished jazz piano. It also offers insight into some styles that were more prevalent in British jazz than elsewhere, like Indo-Jazz. The quality of the writing is extremely high, as is the quality of the writing and graphics—a relative rarity among such specialist guides.

Richard Morton Jack is also the author of the superb and very highly regarded 2023 biography Nick Drake: The Life, which I interviewed him about last year on this blog. I also interviewed him about Galactic Ramble in a previous blogpost. He graciously answered my twenty questions about Labyrinth in June 2024, a few months after its publication.

You’ve edited, published, and written much of your previous guides focusing on rock LPs from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, with different books for the North American and British Isles scenes. Some jazz LPs were covered in your Galactic Ramble book, which mostly focused on British Isles rock LPs from the era, with some folk as well. But Labyrinth focuses exclusively on British jazz LPs from 1960-1975. What made you decide to do an entire book on the subject?

Whilst pop, rock, psychedelia, prog, folk, and other genres of that era been extensively revisited and explored, British jazz has been relatively neglected. Pulling together a detailed, heavily illustrated guide to it struck me as a worthwhile way both to commemorate it and stimulate interest in it. Also, because not much jazz was in fact released in Britain in this period, I was able to include almost all of it (with the notable exception of trad).

Labyrinth‘s format is different from Endless Trip and Galactic Ramble, although there are some similarities. Like your other books, Labyrinth prints excerpts of many reviews of the LPs actually written at the time, alongside recently written reviews composed specifically for the volume. However, where the other books had recently written reviews by several writers, you wrote all of the several hundred or so reviews in Labyrinth, though Tony Reeves wrote a detailed foreword. Every single one of the albums detailed in Labyrinth has a newly written review, though in your other volumes, some entries only had excerpts from period reviews. Also, while the other volumes had many illustrations of record covers and reprints of advertisements, Labyrinth has large full-page reprints of many (though not all) of the LPs’ front and back covers, as well as reproductions of the inner labels. What made you decide to go this route for the format and design?

I hesitate over the word ‘review’ to describe my text in Labyrinth – I intended my entries on each album to be historical or factual rather than critical, and therefore tried to leave my own opinions out of them. 

I felt that reproducing their artwork at near-enough full size was worthwhile on aesthetic grounds, and – more importantly – that the small print on many of their back covers is of great interest, yet because so many of the albums are rare, most people will never get to read them. One example out of my head: virtually the only immediate information regarding Mike Taylor’s music is buried on the back cover of his LPs. Therefore, a large part of the intention of Labyrinth was to reproduce sleevenotes legibly.

While as noted many of the albums get the full design treatment of large repros of the front/back covers and inner labels, as well as quotes from period reviews, some of them only get your paragraph-long review and a much smaller reprint of the front cover. While I thought maybe the less essential LPs were chosen for this briefer treatment, some of them get very good reviews by you. Were the ones given less space chosen because there weren’t good vintage review quotes; because the covers weren’t visually interesting; or for some other reasons?

In some cases I didn’t think the albums were of sufficient interest (whether in terms of music or artwork or both) to merit two-page spreads. In some cases I could find no original reviews, meaning that the text accompanying the artwork would’ve been skimpy. And I tended to relegate the few albums that had gatefolds to shared spreads, because reproducing their artwork in full would have involved shrinking them, thereby defeating the object. 

There’s a wealth of excerpt quotes from reviews of albums when or shortly after they appeared. Some of them are from music publications with wide circulations and/or a jazz focus such as Melody Maker and Down Beat, but many are from far more obscure sources like local British general interest papers in cities like Bristol and Newcastle, and long unavailable little-known publications like Amateur Tape Recording. I know you have a huge collection of periodicals, but was this a matter of going through what you had, searching for additional reviews as part of your specific research for this book, or a combination of the two?

It was a case of combing through as many publications as I possibly could, in search of insightful or revealing information from the time of each album’s release. Although contemporary reviews were often written hastily, and with strong personal bias, I feel strongly that the dual perspective is enlightening: understanding how albums were received upon first release gives a sense of immediacy and perspective that revisionist reviews can’t match, even if we might well feel that their evaluations are wrong-headed. 

Along those lines, were there any unlikely review sources that particularly startled you, a la the Bert Jansch and Nick Drake reviews you’ve previously found in Penthouse?

Funnily enough, Penthouse had decent jazz coverage too – for example, they ran a piece about Neil Ardley and the New Jazz Orchestra in an early 1965 issue, well before they had an album out. Leaving aside pornography, national press coverage of jazz was wider and more earnest than of pop and rock, even though it was clearly of far less popular interest: the notion of taking pop music and musicians seriously was more or less alien to mainstream journalism in that era. And it’s always fun to read Philip Larkin’s ornery Telegraph reviews (by no means all of which have been anthologised). 

What really startles me about all British musical coverage of the 1960s and early 1970s is the sheer volume of it. Every week brought a new issue of Melody MakerDiscRecord MirrorMusic EchoSoundsTop PopsMusic Now, the NMEand others, which had very broad remits. That’s not to mention the underground press and specialist monthly magazines (including jazz titles such as JazzbeatCrescendoJazz MonthlyJazz & Blues and so on). A huge amount of valuable information is buried in them all.

Turning more to the content rather than the record guide-like format, British jazz hasn’t often gotten this serious critical approach in book form, written with intelligent perspective, yet also meant to be accessible to the collector and general listener. What do you think were the chief qualities that made British jazz most distinctive in this period, and specifically, distinct from the North American (and sometimes European) jazz that got a much bigger audience and much more attention from the music industry and critics?

I’m hesitant to ascribe musical qualities to British jazz that weren’t present in European or North American jazz, and can’t swear that I could identify a 60s jazz recording as being British rather than (say) Swedish. What I will suggest is that the British scene was more insular, for various reasons. That insularity led the musicians to get to know each other pretty well over the years, and to develop empathy and rapport for each other’s personal styles that creates threads between disparate recordings. 

There was also an extraordinarily enlightened attitude within the British record industry at the time, which permitted these commercially kamikaze records to be written, recorded and released. As I say in my introduction to the book, but for a genuinely small number of executives, virtually none of the music in the book would ever have been recorded.

As a related question, do you feel there were notable sub-genres or styles distinct to British jazz?

Again, I’m hesitant to make great claims for anything unique about British jazz, but I do think that individuals with strong ideas were encouraged to develop them and present them free of commercial considerations in a way that ceased to be possible as of circa 1973. Visionaries like Mike Taylor, Neil Ardley, Graham Collier and others were therefore able to develop their own distinctive approaches free of (much) interference or outside pressure, musically at least. The Arts Council (funded by the government) also made grants to numerous jazz composers in this era, which allowed them to work free of financial pressure – for short periods, anyway.

And as a related question to that, one that seems more prevalent in British jazz than elsewhere was what’s called Indo-jazz. There seems like a specific reason for that, Indian residents and culture being a pretty big part of British life and a much bigger one than in North America, owing to India having been a British colony. Would you agree with this, and what do you think were the most outstanding qualities of this branch of British jazz?

Denis Preston, the remarkable proprietor of Lansdowne Studios and architect of the so-called ‘Lansdowne Series’ – an EMI brand that essentially consisted of whatever he wanted to release – took a strong interest in what we now call ‘world music’. Rather than making ‘field’ recordings, his approach was to get excellent expat or visiting musicians to make studio recordings that typified aspects of the music of their home countries. He admired the Indian composer John Mayer and the Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott, and therefore suggested in 1965 that they bring their respective groups together. I personally find the results a little awkward, enjoyable though they are, and think the best venture in that style is the flippantly named Curried Jazz (which came out on a budget label in 1968, credited to the Indo-British Ensemble). 

On a slightly different tack, the first album by the Goan guitarist Amanda D’Silva doesn’t attempt to fuse sitars and other Indian instruments with jazz, but gives him the space to reflect India’s musical heritage through the electric guitar, with standard jazz backing. I think that makes for a more original and striking result.

As you note in a number of the reviews, it’s astonishing what uncommercial and experimental jazz albums found release on some major labels during this period. A good example is one I happen to have (as a CD reissue, not the original LP), Hugh Hopper’s 1984, which you wrote ‘has to be about as uncommercial an album as was ever released by a major label’. How do you account for the presence of these sort of records on majors at the time, other than perhaps the general assumption that they were throwing all kinds of things at the wall to see what stuck?

I think that would be cynical in the case of jazz. The great Hugh Mendl, one of the most senior executives at Decca in the 1960s, told me shortly before his death that he had always passionately believed that major record companies had a cultural duty to preserve for posterity music that was of value, even if it had dismal commercial prospects. In other words, the vast profits being generated by the likes of the Beatles and the Stones should partly be used to underwrite the work of equally valid but less financially rewarding artists. 

Hugh wasn’t alone in this: David Howells, a senior executive at CBS in London in this period, was passionate about avant-garde jazz and produced records by Tony Oxley and other utterly uncommercial musicians, yet had (and still has) genuinely equal respect and enthusiasm for the Love Affair, the Marmalade, the Tremeloes and other pop acts he was involved with. It didn’t seem at all contradictory to him to like and encourage both. That broadminded attitude pervaded the British music industry in that era: if something was good of its sort, it was regarded as worthy of support. I also think that it was a short and wondrous period in which there was a respectable market for challenging music. Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica was a hit in the UK! I recently saw the official CBS sales report to the end of 1969: its British release was in mid-November, and in its first six weeks it sold 9296 copies. That’s really remarkable, especially when you consider it was an expensive double LP.

As you explain in your introduction, you drew the line at including much jazz-rock that was at least or more rock than jazz—Soft Machine might be a good example—I think in part because much such product was reviewed in Galactic RambleHowever, you did include Colosseum’s first album in Labyrinth. While personally I’m glad you did since I like that record, it seems like an exception to an informal rule, as it owes a lot to blues-rock, perhaps more than it does to jazz. Was there a specific reason you thought this qualified for inclusion?

I didn’t leave anything out of Labyrinth on the grounds that I’d covered it elsewhere. I approached the book entirely as an entity unto itself. I can’t defend the omission of, say, the Soft Machine other than by saying that they seemed to me to tilt further towards the ‘rock’ than ‘jazz’ part of ‘jazz-rock’, and that by including them I would have been opening the door to other jazzy rock records (by, say, Web, Brainchild, Skin Alley, Heaven and Iguana) that would have bloated the book and blurred its focus.

From my perspective, Colosseum are of specific interest because Jon Hiseman and Tony Reeves had come from a jazz background and were seeking not only to broaden their repertoire but to bring music that had been regarded as fairly obscure into a more mainstream market. That’s why they used the line ‘morituri te salutant’ for their album title: they did feel a sense of jeopardy in bringing jazz to rock audiences in the UK.

Many notable British rock musicians of the period had some background in jazz, and sometimes even made jazz or certainly heavily jazz-influenced records, though they’re mostly known for the rock or jazz-rock they did. As I know you’re aware, the list is long and goes all the way up to Brian Jones and Charlie Watts in the Rolling Stones, also including Graham Bond (though the album he did as part of Don Rendell’s group is covered), Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Robert Wyatt, Manfred Mann (both the leader and some members of his group), Brian Auger, Georgie Fame, members of Pentangle, Duffy Power, some of the Bluesbreakers, John McLaughlin, Van Morrison…the list could go on. Is this branch of British jazz, or at least music that owes a lot to jazz, one that you’re tempted to write about in the future, or think someone could? (I’m aware there were a few items by or associated with some of these names in Labyrinth, including solo LPs by Bruce, McLaughlin, and Hugh Hopper, and the Watts-assisted People Band LP.)

I suspect trying to unpick the incredibly broad range of influences and attitudes that came together in British popular music in the 1960s is a fool’s errand. What’s salutary for me is how versatile and well-schooled so many musicians were, including everyone you’ve named. I’m not convinced that mainstream popular music will ever again be dominated by individuals with such diverse musical backgrounds and skills, and such catholic tastes. 

And another related question: there weren’t anything like the parade of jazz players moving effectively into top ranks of rock in North America as there was in the British Isles. Conversely, there weren’t anything like the parade of folk musicians moving into the top ranks of rock in the British Isles as there was in North America, Donovan being a notable exception. Do you, like me, see a similarity in those movements, in that jazz might have helped bring a more cerebral and sophisticated strain into rock in the British Isles, just as folk did in North America when many folkies went electric? 

I think it’s a perfectly valid line of thought. Perhaps it’s also worth considering whether the relative number of regional clubs made it easier to scratch a living out of jazz in America than in Britain, and easier to scratch a living out of folk in Britain than in America. 

Separately, Miles Davis was able to reach a broad rock audience in America in the late 60s in a way that’s hard to envisage for a British player. I think that’s partly because Britain was a much smaller market, so it was easier to sell Miles’s fusion records into the UK than to focus on breaking, say, Ray Russell (not that I’m comparing their talent or commercial prospects) internationally. It’s perhaps instructive that John McLaughlin felt the need to move to America to communicate his music in the way he thought necessary.

It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of jazz coverage in Britain was for American jazz, reflecting a general sense that British jazz was somehow ersatz. That gradually eased off, but I suspect a lot of British players felt a little aggrieved or defensive as a result.

Getting back to straight British jazz: North American jazz musicians, and some European musicians like Stephane Grappelli and Gabor Szabo, got a much bigger international audience (including in the UK) than British jazz musicians did outside of the British Isles. There are a few here and there that have a few cult followers in North America, like Derek Bailey and Keith Tippett, but not many. Indeed, most British jazz of the time is still unknown or virtually unknown here, even among many jazz aficionados. To what do you attribute this, from both musical and business/promotional perspectives?

To be fair, Decca (for instance) did release a reasonable number of British jazz records in America through its London affiliate, so Mike Westbrook, John Surman, Michael Gibbs and others did at least have some of their records issued there. But clearly records that had barely sold in the UK were never going to be of much interest to foreign licensors, and it was always easier for large international record companies to market major US jazz artists (and I would include Szabo as American in this context) internationally than to attempt to break a large number of new local names in smaller territories. I don’t think there’s any valid musical grounds for it: British jazz has simply taken a very long time to filter through. 

As an aside, it’s intriguing that Japan was the biggest foreign market for British jazz back in the day, with numerous obscure and challenging albums coming out over there, often with revised artwork and detailed insights giving background information that even the British releases lacked. And the market for original pressings of British records has always been livelier in Japan than anywhere else. 

Even collectors who aren’t interested in this kind of music might be interested in this book because of the graphics on the album covers. Many of them are striking, and even the ones that aren’t so good—and you sometimes point out ones with substandard or even laughable covers in your reviews—hold some fascination for their period qualities, making them look either unique to their time or reflective of the general music business values of the era. They’re too diverse to put into one or two categories, but what do you think generally were some of the most interesting qualities of the British jazz LP graphics of the period, and ones that made them distinct not only from other periods, but also from the graphics used on LP covers of other genres in 1960-75?

With reference to the early 60s – in other words, the beginning of the period covered by the book – perhaps there’s an argument that jazz fans tended to be older and more aesthetically sophisticated and discerning than pop fans, and therefore expected more interesting imagery when buying an LP. That said, the covers of Down In The Village by Tubby Hayes and Movement by Joe Harriott (to give two examples) feature close-ups of their faces in the manner of a Cliff Richard or Frank Ifield album. 

As the decade progresses, I’m not sure I can distinguish between graphics on jazz records and pop or rock records. I think the movement away from straightforward photographs and towards more abstract or imaginative concepts happened in parallel for rock and jazz, and that by the turn of the decade a lot of their designs were interchangeable. As an obvious example, Vertigo’s artwork for LPs by Nucleus or Keith Tippett could easily have sat on progressive rock albums.

The same holds true in some respects for the liner notes, which in those days were usually on the back cover, if there were any. This is also true of jazz LPs in North America, and of folk LPs in both the US and UK, but they had a lot more text in those days, especially toward the earlier part of 1960-75. They were also usually pretty serious in tone, sometimes almost academic and scholarly. While it’s easy to make fun of them for a frequent stuffiness that’s rarely if ever in liner notes of contemporary releases any more, they’re also valuable for the sheer wealth of information, often including the sources for the songs and how the performers found and felt about them. In the later part of this period, they’re also sometimes notable for inscrutable attempts at hipness and stream-of-consciousness prose. Again, what do you think generally were some of the most interesting qualities of the British jazz LP liner notes of the period, and ones that made them distinct not only from other periods, but also from the notes used on LP covers of other genres in 1960-75?

Again, without wanting to make mindless comparisons to pop and rock, I think there was a desire on the part of the musicians or producers of jazz records to impart a clear idea of what was being attempted on a given album, which to me can form a vital part of understanding and contextualising the music. 

Most jazz musicians, and certainly leaders / composers, of this era were highly musically literate, and wanted to explain their art in a way that most pop or rock musicians didn’t (Messrs. Townshend and Fripp being notable exceptions), being happy for listeners to form their own relationship with their music without being bogged down by long explanations. I doubt the Beatles gave much consideration to the broader context of their work as they recorded it: they simply moved onto the next thing without pausing to reflect, and found it somehow embarrassing (or ‘soft’) to do so. Either way, earnest sleevenotes ceased to appear on pop or rock LPs as of around 1969, whereas there was plenty of small print on the back of jazz LPs well into the 1970s.

There are few if any others who’ve heard all of the albums you reviewed in Labyrinth, let alone given each of them a considered review. First, a basic question: do you own all of these LPs? I ask because some of them are excruciatingly rare, like those that were produced in editions of 99 copies, or only sold at live performances. Or, in the case of Keith Tippett’s first LP, only pressed as a demo. For the Tony Rushby Sextet’s self-titled 1964 LP, you wrote that only one copy is known to exist, and you can’t get much rarer than that.

Alas, I do not own all the LPs in the book, but I do own most of them, so the photographs you see are almost all of my own copies. I don’t collect privately pressed albums, but that Tony Rushby LP is mine: I bought it cheaply because I recognised one or two of the track titles. It’s not in any way innovative or striking, but it’s a perfectly valid set that gives a vivid sense of a gifted amateur group of the mid-60s, of which there were of course lots. No doubt others made similar recordings that I’m unaware of.

A related question: how long did it take to accumulate and listen to all of these LPs, and what were the hardest ones to find? 

I’ve been collecting albums for 25 years or so now, during which time competition for them has greatly increased. In the early 2000s, British jazz was not especially sought-after, certainly not in comparison to psychedelia or progressive rock. That has completely changed, and because in many cases fewer copies were pressed in the first place, the supply have now more or less dried up. 

In my experience, certain major label British jazz albums are just as hard to find as private pressings. I guess maybe 500 copies were pressed of something like High Spirits by Joe Harriott, of which maybe half survive, scattered to the winds, almost all in the collections of people who prize them.

Although you must have had most of these albums before deciding to write Labyrinth, I’m guessing you heard and collected quite a few others in the process of doing the book. If so, what were the most interesting and surprising finds and discoveries that you hadn’t previously heard?

I was aware of virtually everything in the book before I started writing it, but the process of collating them and putting them in chronological order did yield some interesting observations, not least how extraordinarily busy and productive certain musicians were: Tubby Hayes, Michael Garrett, John Surman, Mike Westbrook, Stan Tracey, John Dankworth, Ian Carr, Don Rendell and others seem to have been ceaselessly writing, recording and gigging. 

There were one or two musical surprises: I hadn’t realized that there was an LP by The Trio (led by John Surman) that had come out only in Japan.

Wearing a tragic collector’s hat, it’s intriguing that certain rare British jazz albums came in both laminated and unlaminated sleeve variants. Examples include Hum Dono by Joe Harriott and Amancio D’Silva, Love Songs by Mike Westbrook, Tales Of The Algonquin by John Surman and John Warren, Phase III by the Rendell-Carr Quintet and Cold Mountain by Michael Garrick. To me that implies that more copies were pressed than one might imagine.

This might be hard to boil down, but can you recommend just a half dozen or so albums to someone who’s interested in getting into British jazz from this period?

British jazz in this period covered a large range of styles, so I think any such list needs to be broken down, and will inevitably be personal. 

That said… For a small group with horns: Tubby Hayes – Down In The Village, Mike Taylor – Pendulum or Don Rendell – Space Walk. For small piano-led groups: Mike Taylor – Trio or Michael Garrick – Cold Mountain. For larger ensembles: Neil Ardley and others – Greek Variations or the Chitinous Ensemble – Chitinous. For one album that spans various styles across short, melodic tracks: Stan Tracey – Jazz Suite. Recommending avant-garde recordings seems inherently pointless to me, as responses to them are so personal, but How Many Clouds Can You See? by John Surman combines free playing with structured parts to stirring effect. I could go on!

Like a good number of readers of your previous work, I’m primarily a rock fan, and especially of rock from this same time period, 1960-1975. The jazz from this period I like tends to be of the more accessible, rocky, riff-driven kind, like guitarist Wes Montgomery in the mid-’60s and soul-jazz organists like Big John Patton. For me and/or such listeners, what are the British jazz albums you’d recommend hearing that we’d be most likely to enjoy? 

I think it’s a very reasonable question, and many of the jazz records I find most enjoyable are ones that are analogous to rock music, even if they don’t feature vocals or the same instrumentation. So, off the top of my head… Don Shinn – Temples With Prophets, Joe Harriott & Amancio D-Silva – Hum Dono, the Don Rendell / Ian Carr Quintet – Change-Is, Graham Collier – Songs For My Father, Michael Gibbs – Michael Gibbs, Ian Carr – Belladonna.

There’s information on Labyrinth: British Jazz on Record 1960-1975 and how to purchase copies at

Another Beach Boys Documentary

It’s Beach Boys Spring—not the summer, as you might expect—with the appearance of two major projects championing the group’s legacy. The first to get issued was the book The Beach Boys By The Beach Boys, and I wrote about some of the more interesting aspects of that volume in my previous post. The other is the two-hour documentary simply titled The Beach Boys, which is streaming on Disney Plus. 

It doesn’t have much in the way of previously unknown facts and stories, if you’re very familiar with the group’s history. Unlike the two previous full-length documentaries on the band, An American Band (1985) and Endless Harmony (1998), it does not gloss over a few of the darker sides of their story, particularly the role of Murry Wilson (father to three of the Beach Boys and uncle to another) in their career and (far less extensively) Dennis Wilson’s friendship with Charles Manson. Besides recent interviews with surviving Beach Boys Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston, there are also interviews with associates who are less heard from, including David Marks (who was in the group on their first few albums), Brian Wilson’s first wife Marilyn, and Blondie Chaplin, who was in the band for a while in the early 1970s.

Like my post about the book, this one isn’t a review of the film, which I’ll put on my year-end roundup of documentaries. It will focus on the more interesting and less-traveled perspectives heard in the movie.

Murry Wilson. A good amount of space is given to Murry Wilson’s work with the group as their early manager and then publisher. More of the coverage is negative than positive, though different sides of the story are given. He could be rough on his kids when they were growing up, and a more accurate description seems to be that he could be abusive. That’s been documented in some books, as well as some bootlegged chatter from recording sessions, and led to him being fired by the group not long after they’d become superstars.

As far as how difficult he was to get along with as the Beach Boys were getting off the ground, Marks remembers Murry even adjusting his guitar amps onstage. It’s also discussed how he’d intrusively signal to the band to adjust their sound during concerts and fine them for minor indiscretions, leading to Marks quitting the Beach Boys in late 1963. They did let him keep handing their publishing, which led to serious problems down the road, Murry selling their publishing for an undervalued $700,000 in 1969. 

Mike Love expressed a lot of displeasure in his memoir for, in his view, not getting enough songwriting credits, or the compensation he deserved as a contributing writer to much Beach Boys material. He criticizes Murry’s work on the publishing end in the documentary, remembering that Murry said he’d sell the publishing back to the Beach Boys, but he didn’t, and that Murry didn’t credit his songwriting contributions on a number of compositions. “I got cheated by my uncle,” he says. “He screwed his own sons, and grandchildren.” Brian’s first wife Marilyn (now Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford) has a more personal angle, noting the sale upset Brian so much that he stayed in bed for three days.

So yes, there’s a lot of bad stuff about Murry. But the documentary does air some more positive perspectives about the father. It was Murry, Love recalls, who got them into the studio, where they cut their debut single “Surfin’,” a big local and small national hit that did kick off their recording career, although it wouldn’t truly take off until they signed to Capitol. Other sources have also acknowledged Murry did a great deal for the group in their early days, including hustling them to labels all over Los Angeles and being instrumental in getting them onto Capitol with his persistence. While Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford detailed the publishing sale’s devastating impact on Brian, she’s also the most vocal in acknowledging Murry’s attributes. If he wasn’t there protecting them, she opines, they wouldn’t have become nearly as big. She also goes as far as to declare, “If there was no Murry, there would be no Beach Boys.” Leading viewers to wonder, if only he could have both helped their career without being such a bully to them personally—but too often, both qualities are found in tough businesspeople.

Birth of the Beach Boys: The story has often been told that the Beach Boys became serious, or at least seriously semi-professional, when Murry and Audree Wilson took a vacation to Mexico in late 1961, leaving their sons money for food in their absence. This story goes that the brothers instead used the money to rent instruments and work up material, incensing Murry when he returned, but cooling him out when he heard the results of their rehearsals, sparking him to help set them on the road to recording and stardom. Screenwriters might consider it a good setup for a biopic, but Al Jardine sets the record straight (as has previously been reported elsewhere) in hs interview. It was Jardine’s mother, he says, who gave them $300 to rent equipment. A big sum, by the way, in 1961; that’s equivalent to about $3000 today,

Denny’s Drums: That’s the name of an instrumental on an early Beach Boys album. Dennis Wilson is not the most highly regarded drummer from a famous rock band. It’s often been reported that many of the Beach Boys’ drum parts were recorded by session musicians, especially Hal Blaine. It’s also sometimes been written that he’d rather spend time having fun, at the beach in particular, than in the studio. Even in this documentary, Al Jardine observes Dennis would rather be in the water than in the studio.

Yet Jardine also says in the doc that Dennis, who’d been included in the band at least partly due to his mother’s insistence, learned the drums quite proficiently. And Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford says that Dennis is actually usually on drums on the Beach Boys’ records. Blaine and Jim Gordon certainly played drums on some Beach Boys discs, including some of their most highly esteemed recordings. But it does seem like Dennis was a more significant contributor as an instrumentalist on Beach Boys sessions than many assume, as is true of the Beach Boys as a whole. Certainly he plays very enthusiastically and serviceably well in the live ’60s footage of the group, if hardly with the finesse of the best drummers of the era.

Nick Venet: Nick Venet is credited as the producer of the first two Beach Boys albums, Surfin’ Safari and Surfin’ USA. He isn’t given much credit, in the descriptive rather than official sense of the term, in histories and by the Beach Boys. In the new documentary, Brian Wilson (in an archive interview) says Venet didn’t do much besides announce take numbers. 

In a voiceover interview excerpt, Venet ascribes his ousting from production duties as due to Murry, who as noted in their early days took an aggressive role in the group’s direction, which included musical matters. When Nick told Murry he was wrong, Venet remembers, the band took it as a slander against the whole family.

It might be impossible to determine if Venet did much besides acting as a functionary of sorts, but at least a couple of things might be noted in his defense. If his credit on Beach Boys records might have been symbolic, he wasn’t just some bureaucratic attaching his name to productions. His production resume, much of it compiled after his brief time with the Beach Boys, includes a lot of impressive albums, most notably folk-rock singer-songwriter Fred Neil’s self-titled 1966 Capitol album; the Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt’s group prior to her solo career; and early Los Angeles folk-rock group the Leaves. Indeed he was one of the more significant 1960s folk-rock producers, also working with John Stewart in his early solo career, and with cult folkie Karen Dalton.

He deserves ultimate credit, too, for signing the Beach Boys after they—according to this documentary and other accounts—were rejected by quite a few labels, whether or not he did much in the studio afterward. An issue that’s not discussed much is why the Beach Boys had trouble landing a deal after their debut single “Surfin'” had significant success. It’s easy to say in hindsight, of course, but it seems obvious from listening to their pre-Capitol recordings that they both had some appreciable if raw talent, and that they sounded appreciably different from other rock bands of the time.

That’s evident not just from “Surfin’,” but also the numerous other recordings they made with Hite and Dorinda Morgan (best heard on the double CD Becoming the Beach Boys: The Complete Hite and Dorinda Morgan Sessions, even if many of the tracks are multiple versions of a small group of songs). These included early versions of two big Capitol hits, “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl.” At a guess, maybe the Beach Boys were considered something of a one-shot novelty group, both because of the lyrics of “Surfin'” capitalizing on the surfing craze, and because of the name the Beach Boys, which might have suggested they were manufactured to suit that specific song.

Al Jardine rejoining: The usual perception of the Beach Boys’ timeline has Al Jardine in the group at the very beginning (including on the “Surfin'” single), then leaving to concentrate on college, being replaced by the Wilsons’ young neighbor, David Marks. Then Jardine rejoining when Marks quit/was fired in late 1963. But as the documentary verifies, it’s not that simple. It has Brian Wilson’s discomfort with touring—often reported to have come to a head at the end of 1964, at which point he left the road to concentrate on writing/recording/producing, replaced for a while by Glen Campbell and then long-term by Bruce Johnston—surfacing in 1963.

That, the film notes, is when Al Jardine rejoined, or at least often filled in for Brian, not Marks. With Marks’s departure, Brian then had to go back on the road until late 1964. For a while Jardine and Marks were in the same group, at least onstage. Ian Rusten and Jon Stebbins’s The Beach Boys in Concert book confirms Jardine filled in for Brian as early as a spring 1963 midwest tour, doing so off and on for a while until Marks left and Al settled in for good.

As I also observed in my previous post, although Jardine is the least colorful and least discussed of the five core Beach Boys, his contributions weren’t entirely peripheral. Part of the reason he stayed for good was that he was considered a better singer, and certainly vocal harmonizer, than Marks. It’s noted in the documentary that Jardine had perfect pitch. When I interviewed Dean Torrance of Jan and Dean about eight years ago, he told me, “his vocals were spot-on. Al was great. So they all contributed. It was an ensemble, and everybody had an important piece to contribute.”

Marks’s contribution to the group is generally underreported, and there’s a lot more about him and that stint in his book The Lost Beach Boy, co-written with Jon Stebbins.

The Beach Boys on the Beatles: The Beach Boys’ admiration for the Beatles is well documented, as is the Beatles’ high regard for the Beach Boys, though it’s usually Paul McCartney who vocalized that. Some comments in the documentary, however, indicate the Beach Boys didn’t know quite what to make of the Beatles when they unexpectedly invaded the US with massive success in early 1964. Recalling the time when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” took over the US airwaves, Jardin describes them as a little crude, and players, whereas the Beach Boys were singers. In an archive interview, Brian Wilson states “I Want to Hold Your Hand” “wasn’t that great a record.” It’s not a big deal considering Jardine, Brian, and the other Beach Boys quickly became big Beatles fans, but it’s peculiar.

Mike Love as co-writer: Love co-wrote a lot of ’60s Beach Boys songs with Brian Wilson, including some big hits, his contributions primarily being on the lyrical end. As previously noted, he has said and written that he should be credited on some others. Brian did write with some others in the ’60s who weren’t in the Beach Boys, including Gary Usher, Roger Christian, Tony Asher (for most of the Pet Sounds album), Van Dyke Parks, and even, on the 1969 single “Break Away,” his father Murry (who used the pseudonym Reggie Dunbar). In the documentary, Love says a reason for this was that when the Beach Boys were on tour without Brian, he wasn’t available to collaborate with his cousin.

Yet Wilson was writing with Usher very early on, before Brian was off the road even some of the time. On their first album, 1962’s Surfin’ Safari, Usher has a co-writing credit on half (six) of the songs, including the hit “409.” A couple of those songs have Wilson-Usher-Love credits, including “409.” On their next LP, Surfin’ USA, Usher co-wrote one of the best non-45 early Beach Boys songs, “Lonely Sea.” Roger Christian co-wrote their 1963 hits “Shut Down” and “Little Deuce Coupe,” and Usher and Christian credits continued to pop up into 1964, including on “Don’t Worry Baby,” co-written by Christian. 

Certainly it seems possible that rather than turning to other writers out of necessity when Love wasn’t available, Brian wrote with some others because of personal preference, or according to what he wanted to create depending on the song. When he retired from the road (occasional appearances and TV spots aside) at the end of 1964, Brian also certainly would have been around Love less, including in the Pet Sounds/Smile period, when the Beach Boys’ touring schedule included visits to Japan and the UK. Asher and Parks, however, certainly struck different lyrical moods than Love did, and according to some accounts, not with Love’s approval (especially on the Smile material Parks co-wrote).

Mike Love is not the most popular ’60s rock star, and has gotten a lot of heat from some writers and fans for not, in their view, supporting Brian’s most ambitious efforts. But he did contribute a lot to the group as singer and sometime lyricist, and according to one comment by Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford in the documentary, Brian did value Love’s place in the band, saying Brian thought Mike was the greatest frontman.

Bruce Johnston: Johnston has his share to say in the documentary, but he just wasn’t as important a part of the story as the other five principal Beach Boys. He has an interesting tale, however, about how he inadvertently negotiated his fee when he started playing with them on tour in 1965. Asked what he wanted for two weeks of touring, he asked for $250. It was thought he was asking for $250 a night, however, not for the whole two weeks. So he got $3000 instead of the $250 he was offering.

The Wrecking Crew: Sometimes the impression’s given that the Wrecking Crew played almost everything on the mid-’60s Beach Boys sessions. They certainly played on a lot of them, and they were certainly important, but their role might have generally been overestimated. In an archive interview in the documentary, drummer Hal Blaine says that Carl Wilson did play with the Wrecking Crew often on sessions, but also that he was the only one in the group who did (possibly Blaine was not counting Brian Wilson in this memory).

It’s all hindsight and quite possibly advice that would have been ignored at the time, but maybe Brian could have offered the other guys in the group at least some more instrumental input in the Pet Sounds/Smile era. Maybe they would have been just as happy to let the Wrecking Crew handle things, but it could have made them feel more involved, rather than being singers for what some consider more Brian Wilson projects than Beach Boys ones. Possibly that could have eased tensions down the road when Smile was taking a long time to complete (and never would get completed). After Smile broke down, the Beach Boys took over most of the instrumentation on the records anyway.

Another guy on the Wrecking Crew, Don Randi, has an interesting comment in the documentary. The influence of Phil Spector on Brian Wilson has been oft-covered, and Spector often used the Wrecking Crew too. Randi remarks that a key difference between Spector and Brian, however, was that Brian was always reinventing himself. They were both perfectionists, Love remembering how Brian had the group do backup vocals for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” thirty times.

SmileMuch has been written about Smile, and how the band and especially Mike Love were not as supportive of Brian Wilson’s vision for the project as they could have been. A comment from an archive interview with Carl Wilson in the documentary serves as evidence that he wasn’t opposed to it. Carl acknowledged that Love didn’t think the lyrics were relatable, but also that he (Carl) loved it, praising how it was “so artistic and abstract.”

Charles Manson: There’s not a whole lot about Manson in the film, but Dennis Wilson’s interaction with the Manson Family isn’t skipped over. Love offers a cutting one-liner about Manson: “I only met the guy once, and that was enough for me.”

The Beach Boys Are a Group, Not Brian Wilson: One point the surviving Beach Boys make in the documentary, and one with which I’m in general agreement, is that while Brian Wilson was the most important member of the group, the Beach Boys were very much a group with individuals who made strong contributions, not Brian Wilson and sidemen. Love sees this as an issue for both the rest of the band and Brian, stating, “The problem was, Brian was being hailed as a genius, but there was no credit for the rest of the band…it might have been a little bit easier for Brian to handle the genius label.”

Adds Bruce Johnston, “I’m president of the Brian Wilson fan club. But the musicality of every Beach Boy is essential. If we didn’t have the ability, we wouldn’t have been able to sing these parts. Brian was lucky to have our voices to sing his dreams.”

Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford has this melancholy note: Brian could do everything, musically. “But the other parts of life were hard for him.”

I’m teaching a seven-week non-credit course on the Beach Boys from June 18-July 30 at the College of Marin in Kentfield, CA. It will meet on Tuesday nights from 7:10pm-9:30pm, and can be taken both in-person and through Zoom. Concentrating on their best work in the 1960s, the course follows their growth from their early surf and hot rod anthems through their lyrical maturation with symphonic masterpieces like “Good Vibrations” and the Pet Sounds album. Besides exploring leader Brian Wilson’s phenomenal skills as a melodic composer and sophisticated studio producer, the group’s glorious vocal harmonies will also be highlighted through a wealth of audiovisual clips and instructor commentary. Registration info at, for course #8221M/6361.

The Beach Boys By Their Book

The Beach Boys By the Beach Boys, just issued by Genesis Publications, is sort of like what Anthology was for the Beatles. It’s an oral history where all of the principal Beach Boys (the six that played together on Pet Sounds, for easy reference), some of the others who were members for a while, and some people from outside the band talk about the group’s history. The great majority of the comments are from the six core Beach Boys—Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston—though obviously the late Carl and Dennis didn’t directly participate in the book’s production, with many quotes taken from archival sources.

This isn’t quite up to the level of the Beatles’ Anthology in depth, visuals, and candor, but it’s still pretty interesting, even if you know a lot about the group and some of the stories are inevitably familiar. Fortunately, it cuts off at 1980, eliminating the lengthy later period in which they only sporadically put out music. There are tons of pictures, again running the gamut from familiar to rare, and some non-photo memorabilia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of controversial parts of the story (such as Dennis Wilson’s friendship with the Manson Family) are not mentioned or referred to only briefly.

This post isn’t a review of the book, which I’ll have in my year-end roundup of rock books. Instead, I’ll go over some of the more surprising inclusions and comments. These are all from the pre-1967 era, as I’m not too much of a fan of their post-Smile work, acknowledging there are plenty of Beach Boys fans who hold a different view.

1. For me, the very most surprising illustration shows a couple pages from a Brian Wilson notebook with his handwritten lyrics for “Surfer Girl.” What could be so surprising about lyrics to a familiar hit song, you’re thinking. Well, the lyrics are entirely different from the record. Not just a few words crossed out and substituted here and there; entirely different. What’s more, it’s titled “Surfer Girl (Fast),” and the Beach Boys’ hit “Surfer Girl” is definitely not fast; it’s a slow ballad. The words in this version strike an entirely different mood than the hit single lyrics, too, with a more ebullient scenario about meeting the surfer girl at a party and how she’s a “livin’ doll.” 

So – could Brian have first conceived of a song about a surfer girl that was absolutely different both musically and lyrically, and then junked it and started from scratch, just keeping the title and some general themes about taking her surfing? Frustratingly, the book doesn’t say. It just notes the illustration is of lyrics for “Surfer Girl” from Brian’s notebook, as if the caption writer isn’t at all familiar with the hit version.

2. Al Jardine remembers hearing the Beatles for the first time when the Beach Boys were on tour in New Zealand and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came over the radio. “I thought it sounded raw and live,” he comments. “It sounded like a live recording, which it probably was, because they played live in the studio unlike us.” I found this reaction unusual, because although “I Want to Hold Your Hand” certainly bursts with energy, I’ve never thought of it as especially raw. Not like, say, the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” which became a US hit just a few weeks before “I Want to Hold Your Hand” did.

As for it being a live recording, even back in late 1963, the Beatles were sometimes using multi-tracking, overdubbing, and edits. In his big Rolling Stone interview in the early 1970s, John Lennon said “the first set of tricks was double tracking on the second album…We’d double tracked ourselves off the album on the second album. Not really.” As it happens, the October 17, 1963 session when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was recorded was their first with four-track recording equipment. Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions doesn’t note overdubs for this track, but I’m guessing the handclaps might well have been, and perhaps there was some vocal double tracking.

There’s not a right or wrong in Jardine’s initial perception of the track, and I’m not annoyed by it. It’s just not one I’ve heard others express.

3. Speaking of Al Jardine, there’s a surprising note in the introduction to the 1964 chapter: “It needs to be noted that in the early years Al Jardine was the Beach Boys’ hidden studio bassist, handling four-string duties on such instant classics as ‘Fun Fun Fun,’ ‘Catch a Wave,’ ‘Hawaii,’ ‘Little Saint Nick,’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby,’ “I Go Around,’ ‘All Summer Long,’ ‘Hushabye,’ ‘Little Honda,’ ‘Wendy,’ ‘Girls on the Beach,’ ‘Don’t Back Down,’ ‘She Knows Me Too Well,’ ‘You’re So Good to Me,’ and others.”

Al Jardine is, for most fans, the least colorful of the five primary Beach Boys (Bruce Johnston, who came aboard in 1965, didn’t play on as many records or concerts). He’s mostly known as the rhythm guitarist, a harmony singer, and occasional lead singer (most famously on “Help Me, Rhonda”). That’s a lot of songs on which he is reported in the book to have played bass, and it doesn’t even list all of them. The paragraph also doesn’t mention he played standup acoustic bass on their first single, “Surfin’.”

This isn’t amplified in the book, but if he played bass so often in the studio, he was an underrated contributor, at least to this early work. It also isn’t examined why Brian Wilson, who was publicly known as the band’s bass guitarist through the mid-1960s, would have had Jardine play on so many recordings. Here are just a couple guesses. Maybe Brian wanted to focus on producing as much as possible, and was content to leave the bass duties to Jardine on some songs. Or maybe they both played bass on at least some of the records, fattening the sound with multi-tracking.

4. And while we’re on the subject of bass guitar, for all of Brian Wilson’s multifaceted talents, his bass playing doesn’t get discussed too much in general. He’s most known as a composer, singer, and producer, and not so much as an instrumentalist, especially as he sometimes had non-Beach Boy session musicians play on some of the group’s most notable records. When his instrumental performances are thought of, what he does as a keyboard player comes to mind more than what he plays on bass.

But Brian does have some detailed comments about the bass and its role on Beach Boys records in the book. On “Here Today” from Pet Sounds, “I wanted to present the idea of a bass guitar playing about an octave higher showcased as the principal instrument in the track.” Pet Sounds itself, he notes, “was a great album for its basslines, and I think people picked up on that. It taught bass players a way to be more creative.”

Carl Wilson also has a detailed comment about bass parts from this era. Brian, he says, “was writing basslines that were so far from the norm. ‘God Only Knows’ is the classic example that takes it to a new plateau. The bass was played in a different way from the one in which the song was written. It was inverted. ‘Sloop John B’ also had a brilliant bassline, the kind of line that musicians really loved.”

5. I don’t remember hearing that the instrumental title track to Pet Sounds was intended as a James Bond theme from the time I started reading extensively about the Beach Boys in the late ‘70s. It seems to be more commonly known now, and you can hear how it could have fit into a Bond movie as a theme or a song for certain scenes, though apparently it didn’t get into the running. Here’s a Brian Wilson comment on it from the book:

“It was originally titled ‘Run, James, Run!’ It was supposed to be a James Bond-themed song. We were going to try to get it to the James Bond people, but we thought it would never happen, so we put it on the album.”

6. Dennis Wilson is often, maybe usually, assumed to be a mediocre drummer, and one who’d rather be at the beach than at the studio, leading to the use of session musicians like Hal Blaine on Beach Boys sessions to play drums on their records. Carl Wilson has an interesting comment to the contrary: “Brian liked to use Hal because Hal was more reliable than Dennis, but whenever Dennis got the chance to play, he always did a great job. He played drums on more of our records than most people realize. I think because he didn’t play on Pet Sounds everybody assumes he never played at all, and that’s just not the case.”

Somewhat contradictorily, a quote from Dennis reads: “If you listen closely to the Pet Sounds album, you’ll hear me playing jazz patterns. Not everything was rock and roll.” The contradiction isn’t Wilson saying some of the patterns was jazzy, but that he actually played them. Did he play on Pet Sounds or not? Or maybe just some parts, or some parts that weren’t used? I don’t think the answers will ever be final.

7. Carl Wilson was the most skilled instrumentalist in the Beach Boys, aside perhaps from his older brother Brian. You don’t hear much of his trademark crisp guitar style on Pet Sounds, and I’ve wondered exactly how much he managed to get on, and whether it bugged him that his contribution on guitar was probably less on this album than any other. Here’s how he’s quoted in the book:

“I didn’t play that much guitar on the Pet Sounds sessions, although I do remember playing 12-string direct through the board. My playing wasn’t as consequential as it had been before and would become later, because everything had become more of an orchestra, part of the whole. It wasn’t that simple form, like our early records, with a little song and little lead break and drive home the chorus. It was more symphonic.”

8. Not to pick on Al Jardine too much, but he didn’t seem to have too much input into the group’s overall direction, especially before he started getting some of his compositions on records. An exception was “Sloop John B.” When Jardine’s specific contributions to the Beach Boys are cited, it’s usually noted that he was the folk music fan in the group, and was the main force behind them interpreting some folk material, most famously “Sloop John B.” This folk song had most famously been done by the Kingston Trio, an influence not only on Al, but also on the visual image of the group, who wore similar striped shirts in concert in their early years.

So why didn’t he sing lead on the hit single version of “Sloop John B”? There’s a pretty long and interesting behind-the-scenes account from Al in the book:

“A year before we cut it, I told Brian if it was performed in our style, he might enjoy it. I sat and played these chord progressions, basically three chords done on guitar, banjo and keyboards. I knew I had to have keyboards, otherwise I wouldn’t get his attention. I took a pretty primitive folk song, which I’d learned in high school, and added a chord or two—I heard the Beach Boys harmonies in there and felt very strongly that we could make a great record.

“The very next day, I got a phone call to come down to the studio. Brian played the song for me and I was blown away. From concept to the completed track took less than 24 hours. He then lined us up one at a time to try out for the lead vocal. I had naturally assumed I would sing the lead, since I had brought in the arrangement. It was like interviewing for a job. Pretty funny. He didn’t like any of us. My vocal had a much more mellow approach because I was bringing it from the folk idiom. For the radio, we needed a more rock approach. Brian and Mike ended up singing it. But I had a lot of fun bringing the idea to the band.”

“Sloop John B,” a #3 hit single in the US and #2 in the UK, is sometimes knocked for not fitting into Pet Sounds, or diluting the concept, or being a commercial concession to Capitol Records. Jardine has a different view that’s refreshing, if not to the liking of some purists. “The label said we needed a hit single on Pet Sounds, something with some commercial appeal. ‘Sloop John B’ had proved itself. It may not fit the creative tone of the album, but it certainly gave some relief at the end of side one.”

9. Ever wonder why the cover of Pet Sounds shows the Beach Boys in a zoo (the San Diego Zoo)? Maybe I’ve read this previously and missed it, but Mike Love tells it this way: 

Capitol’s “working title for the album had been Our Freaky Friends. To illustrate that cover, Capitol had sent us to the San Diego petting zoo to photograph us with our new ‘freaky friends’—the animals. When the LP was renamed Pet Sounds, Capitol reviewed the pictures from that same photoshoot and selected an image of us feeding a bunch of hungry goats. Not exactly inspired artwork, but indicative of Capitol’s creative efforts.”

I’m teaching a seven-week non-credit course on the Beach Boys from June 18-July 30 at the College of Marin in Kentfield, CA. It will meet on Tuesday nights from 7:10pm-9:30pm, and can be taken both in-person and through Zoom. Concentrating on their best work in the 1960s, the course follows their growth from their early surf and hot rod anthems through their lyrical maturation with symphonic masterpieces like “Good Vibrations” and the Pet Sounds album. Besides exploring leader Brian Wilson’s phenomenal skills as a melodic composer and sophisticated studio producer, the group’s glorious vocal harmonies will also be highlighted through a wealth of audiovisual clips and instructor commentary. Registration info at, for course #8221M/6361.

LP vs. Single Versions, Early 1970s-Early 1980s

I’ve put up a couple previous posts about rock songs from the 1960s that were different in their 45 and LP versions, sometimes drastically so. Here are a few from the early 1970s through the early 1980s that weren’t chronological fits into those posts. The depth of my knowledge of that era isn’t as great as it is from the 1960s, and no doubt I’ve missed a good number of examples, especially in the punk and new wave era, when there were sometimes more basic versions of songs on early singles. But these might of interest, and they range from superstar acts to cult ones.

David Bowie, “The Prettiest Star.” More than most artists of his stature, Bowie put out some different versions of songs on singles than you heard on his albums, especially in the early 1970s. The B-side of “Space Oddity” had a different version of “The Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud” than the one on his 1969 album (titled, confusingly, David Bowie in the UK, where his only previous LP had also been titled David BowieMan of Words, Man of Music in the US; and then reissued under the title Space Oddity). He also re-recorded another song from his second album, “Memory of a Free Festival,” for a 1970 single that split it into two parts. I don’t find these variations of tracks from his second album too remarkable, though they’re decent enough. 

A little more interesting is “The Prettiest Star,” first issued as a flop non-LP 1970 single few would have heard at the time. It’s a nice wistful tune that, in retrospect, seems a little like a bridge between the hippie and glam eras. Of historical note, it has a sweetly buzzing guitar solo by Marc Bolan, a little before he’d become a British superstar as T. Rex, and yet more before he and Bowie would vie for top honors, commercially anyway and if only for a bit, in the glam scene.

Bowie might have thought it should get a wider hearing, and/or that the 1970 single didn’t do it justice. Oddly, he waited three years, and until his sixth album—his third wasn’t even out when “The Prettiest Star” was on a single—to issue a remake. In 1973, Aladdin Sane included a new version with his famed backup band the Spiders from Mars. It’s rather smoother and somewhat harder-rocking, with some sax, ‘50s-style rock’n’roll boogie piano, and prominent backing vocals. It’s not terribly different from the earlier arrangement, but I prefer the 1970 single, which has a lighter and less hammy feel.

Bowie was a superstar in the UK and becoming a star in the US when Aladdin Sane came out, so the LP version is far more familiar than the original 45 one. That 1970 single isn’t all that convenient to find on reissues, though it’s been on a few, including the large and expensive box Five Years 1969-1973, which has the original mono single mix; some other reissues have different mixes. The Re: Call 1 disc of rarities on Five Years 1969-1973 also includes two different versions of “Holy Holy,” which was on two different singles (one in 1971 and one in 1974) without getting on his regular LPs. How many other major artists had two different versions of non-LP  songs on singles? I can’t think of one offhand.

The Last, “She Don’t Know Why I’m Here.” The original 1977 single of “She Don’t Know Why I’m Here” was easily one of the greatest fusions of early punk/new wave with a retro 1960s garage sensibility. An explosive performance, it has a deserved place on the Children of Nuggets box of 1976-96 neo-psych.

Why it was even felt necessary to record a new version for their 1979 Bomp LP L.A. Explosion, I don’t know. Maybe the original track, issued on the small Backlash label, was unavailable. Maybe the production of the single was felt too raw and fuzzy, though if anything that enhanced its appeal. Whatever the situation, the LP version is far tamer and a big letdown. It sounds almost as though it was thought that by making it more folk-rockish and harmony pop-oriented, the song would be improved. It achieved the opposite result, though owing to its appearance on Children of Nuggets and the We’re Desperate: The L.A. Scene (1976-79) installment of Rhino’s DIY punk/new wave series, the version from the rare original single is the better known one after all.

The Mo-Dettes, “White Mice.” Released on the small (their own?) Mode label in 1979, “White Mice” was the ultimate fusion of earthy new wave and a more classic ‘60s-indebted girl group sound. Catchy and propulsive, though sung in such heavy British accents that the lyrics were hard to understand in the US, the single benefited from Rough Trade distribution to get a fair amount of exposure, and also some airplay on American college/non-commercial radio. It also benefited from one of the best 45 picture sleeves of the era, with a witty multi-panel cartoon satirizing romance comic books. They even managed to produce a video for the single, which you can find online.

As this was their debut single and they featured a guitarist, Kate Korris, who’d been in both the Slits and the Raincoats, this single (backed by the far less impressive “Masochistic Opposite”) exhibited considerable promise. Alas, it seemed like more of an anomalous one-shot than the start of a substantial career. They had a few more singles in the early 1980s, and one album, 1981’s The Story So Far, but no other songs on the level of “White Mice.”

I thought I’d scored when I found a copy of The Story So Far for, as I remember, three dollars a couple of years after its release. Any elation was dimmed by listening to the version of “White Mice” on the LP, for which it was retitled “White Mouse Disco.” It’s actually not a disco rearrangement, but in common with some other remakes—whether by contractual necessity, or generated for other reasons—there’s a bit of a going-through-the-motions feel compared to the dynamic original, especially with the forced-sounding descending “ooh-ooh-ooh” near the end. The single also boasts considerably better production, especially in its use of echoed vocals.

My happy ending was finding the original single, a year later with picture sleeve, for fifty cents. Fifty cents! And, fortunately, the original 45 version was used on Rhino’s Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-79) compilation.

The Go-Go’s, “We Got the Beat.” In one of the more famous instances of a song first appearing on an indie single that got remade into a big hit, the first version of “We Got the Beat” came out on Stiff Records in 1980 as the Go-Go’s’ first release. As you’d kind of expect, it’s more basic than, and not as fully produced as, the famous hit remake that appeared on their debut LP, though it’s hardly lo-fi. It’s somewhat closer to their roots in the L.A. punk/new wave scene, though these were largely submerged by the time they became new wave pop stars.

While the original Stiff 45 isn’t that easy to get, it did make an impact upon its release, Stiff being one of the higher-profile British new wave labels. The original version was reissued in 1994 on the CD single The Whole World Lost Its Head.

Berlin, “Tell Me Why.” Not nearly as hip as David Bowie, or even the Mo-Dettes and the Go-Go’s, Berlin did sound better in their early indie days than they did during their brief period of Top Forty pop success in the early-to-mid-1980s. The 1981 45 version of “Tell My Why” was about as good and rocking as synth-pop got, though that might seem like faint praise if the style’s not your thing. A DJ at the college radio station where I did programs in the early 1980s wrote something along the lines of “like you wished Blondie sounded like” on the 45 picture sleeve. That might be underestimating Blondie, but it does have a good wistful vocal, a jackhammer-rapid beat, and effective washes of percussive sound.

Berlin put a longer version on their 1982 Top Thirty album Pleasure Victim, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it was limper, more slickly produced, and far more obviously geared toward mainstream radio play, especially in the hovering synth lines. I don’t know if the original 45 version of “Tell Me Why” has ever been reissued, and I’m not going to buy Berlin compilations to find out.

1960s LP Vs. Single Versions, Pt. 2

In a previous post, I detailed some of the most interesting instances in which the LP version of a song by a major 1960s rock act differed from the one on the 45. Even without paying much attention to the ones where the single’s a few seconds longer, the LP has a different guitar part, the drums aren’t double-tracked, etc., there were a surprising number of these. So much so that I didn’t have room for all of the ones I could have written about. This post goes through some of the others, by acts who weren’t exactly minor, but weren’t as major as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Who, and others upon which I focused on my earlier post.

Phil Ochs, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” There are few instances in which the single is so different from the album version, and also in my view few instances in which one of the versions is so markedly superior. This anti-war protest anthem might be Ochs’s most famous song, with the possible exception of “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends.” It was the title track of his second LP, where it, like virtually everything Ochs did at Elektra Records in the mid-’60s, had an acoustic folk arrangement.

I say virtually everything because in February 1966, Ochs put out an electric version of the song on a UK-only single, with backing by the Blues Project. (It did come out in the US as a flexidisc with Sing Out magazine, although the flexidisc format was rarely employed in those days.) Although Ochs liked rock and was an early and vocal supporter of his rival Bob Dylan’s move from folk to rock, he didn’t seem to feel the need to make such a move himself, at least over the course of his first three albums, all of which were on Elektra Records. This electric version was simply far more musically dynamic and appealing than the plain folk one, with rollicking piano and what sound like bagpipes at the track’s beginning and end.

Why didn’t it get a general release in Ochs’s native US? “It was basically to test the waters,” Michael Ochs, Phil’s brother and (starting in 1967) manager, told me. “He wanted to expand his music, and so he thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be great, to do a rock version.’ I’m not sure that was his decision to be careful and only put it out in England. Phil was very tight with Murray the K, and Murray the K was on [New York’s] WOR-FM at that point, doing a very hip show. Every week he’d play like three new releases for major artists, and people would call in and pick their favorite. I know he played Phil’s electric ‘I Ain’t Marching Anymore’ against the latest Stones record and one other major one, and the calls that came in all said they loved Phil’s record the best.”

One shot-in-the-dark guess as to why it wasn’t released in the US is that Ochs wouldn’t be with Elektra Records that much longer. This single came out around the same time as his third and final (and best) Elektra LP, In Concert. If it was known at that time that Ochs was planning to leave for another label, Elektra might not have wanted to put too much into promoting a single that represented a departure from his folk sound, at a time when there was still some controversy about folkies going electric, though Dylan got the brunt of that flak. Ochs would indeed go into recordings with full backings by other musicians starting in 1967 with A&M Records, though these tended to be more eclectic, sometimes orchestral folk-with-pop-and-art song than straightahead rock.

One celebrity who did get to hear the UK single was not pleased. Asked for his reaction to the single in Melody Maker’s “Blind Date” column, Who singer Roger Daltrey snarled, “It sounds like a punished protest song. Turn it off, turn it off, turn it off! It’s not even good for my grandmother.” 

For a record that was so hard to find in its initial incarnation, fortunately it hasn’t been hard to find on reissues. It’s been on the Rhino various-artists compilation Songs of Protest and the Phil Ochs box Farewells & Fantasies, and came out way back in 1976 on the double-LP Ochs anthology Chords of Fame.

Bob Seger, “2 + 2 = ?” There’s a bit of overlap between singles-only versions and some tracks I cited a few years ago in a post about prime ’60s rarities that have yet to be reissued. This is one of them, although it did get a low-profile reissue. To quote from the entry in that previous post: 

“The original version of this oddly titled tune, as heard on a 1968 Capitol single, is 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 appearance of the original 45 take of “2+2=?” on CD is uncertain, not to mention unfathomable.

The Capitol 45 version was reissued as a vinyl seven-inch by Third Man Records. Backed by “Ivory,” it’s sold out. Yet it might not be the exact same version as you hear on the original single. As one reader wrote, “The site says this this Third Man reissue is in stereo and not the original mono 45 mix.”

The “2 + 2 = ?” single—the title, incidentally, is never vocalized in the song—was one of the relatively few rare records to gain a place in Dave Marsh’s book The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. Marsh called it “a thunderous crash of a record, with phased cymbals, pounding toms and snares, and a honking guitar. Seger’s finest achievement, though, was his lyric, which spelled out the inequity of what was going on in terms stark and terrorized first describing his own hatred of war and the men who might make him fight it, then telling about a high school friend, ‘just an average friendly guy’ who is sent to fight and winds up ‘bured in the mud of a foreign jungle land.’ And then he turns on the full fury of his Wilson Pickett voice and his overamped band.”

Judy Collins, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” Collins was a pretty big star, and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” was the title track of one of her most popular albums, a 1968 LP that made the Top Thirty and eventually was awarded gold status. To this day, it’s the most widely heard composition by Sandy Denny, who was virtually unknown in the US when Collins covered this song. But it’s not well known that the LP version wasn’t the only version. 

On the album, there was a full-band production and a key change. A far sparser, drumless arrangement sans dramatic upward key change was only on the B-side of “Both Sides Now” and the film soundtrack of The Subject Was Roses,though it later showed up on the greatest hits collection Colors of the Day. That anthology is pretty easy to pick up cheap used, and I don’t know whether the B-side version was ever issued on CD.

Judy Collins, “Chelsea Morning.” It’s also not so well known that Collins put a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” on a 1969 single, two years before a different version was on her 1971 LP Living. The 45 version has a far more ornate, orchestral-informed arrangement; the LP is dominated by piano. The LP version is also a live recording, not a studio one, to judge from the bits of applause heard near the beginning and end of the track. The 45 track seems to be the one on the CD The Very Best of Judy Collins, though I don’t have the physical disc to check. Unlike her cover of another Joni Mitchell composition, “Both Sides Now,” Collins’s rendition of “Chelsea Morning” wasn’t a big hit, only reaching #78.

Tom Rush, “Urge for Going.” Also in the Elektra catalog, Tom Rush issued a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” as a single in 1966, well before Mitchell issued her debut album in 1968. The 45 version of “Urge for Going” got airplay on Boston’s influential station WBZ, but didn’t catch on nationally. It’s more than two minutes shorter than the LP version, on the 1968 album The Circle Game. It’s also distinguished from its counterpart by a higher key, though it’s not enormously different in approach, other than the longer version allowing for some added ghostly keyboards (at least I believe it’s an organ or keyboard) near the end. The 45 version, perhaps unknown even to the kind of people who care about this kind of thing, appeared as a bonus track on a 2008 CD reissue of The Circle Game.

The Leaves, “Too Many People.” The Leaves might only be remembered for their hit “Hey Joe,” in part because it was selected for the Nuggets compilation. But they were a decent folk-rock-oriented group, if one with a short life. Their first LP, though uneven, is far better than their second and final one, which is of virtually no interest. The first LP also included, oddly, a different version of their debut 45 “Too Many People.” It’s half a minute longer than the single, but it’s decisively less impressive, with a more even tempo that’s far less effective than the one on the 45, which followed the rhythm of the Rolling Stones’ “Empty Heart.” It also just seems less energetic overall than the single, as if they were reluctantly forcing themselves to go through a song they’d already played many times in the studio again.

It’s a little puzzling why this bluesy, vaguely folk-rockish protest number was redone. The original single had reached #11 on the charts—I assume a local radio chart—in their native Los Angeles. It was also on the same small label, Mira, that issued the LP, titled Hey Joe. Maybe it was re-recorded because the Leaves’ lineup changed between the single and the LP, with guitarist Bill Rinehart getting replaced by Bobby Arlin. The original 45 version, fortunately, was a bonus track on the 2000 expanded CD reissue of Hey Joe, and even way before that, had been on the 1982 compilation The Leaves 1966, on the enigmatic Panda label.

Savage Rose, “A Girl I Knew.” Savage Rose are not a big name in English-speaking countries, but they’re a big name in my house, as they were one of the best groups from a non-English speaking nation (Denmark) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I devoted a chapter to them in my book Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. They were a big name in their native Denmark, where they at some points sold a lot of records, and made some impressions, if more on an underground/cult level, in some other European countries. Even in the US, they got some LPs released, did some shows (including the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival), and got complimentary reviews in Rolling Stone. They put out a lot of records, so this non-LP version of one of their best album tracks might have been overlooked even by dedicated collectors.

“A Girl I Knew” was a highlight of their 1968 self-titled debut LP, with a light yet slightly ominous psychedelic feel, interesting piano-organ interplay, and Annisette’s distinctive throaty, pinched vocals. It’s a little mystifying as to why they’d bother cutting an inferior slower, heavier rock version on a single that, to my knowledge, is extremely difficult to find on CD. It did show up on a huge eleven-CD various-artists box set Dansk Rock Historie 1965-1978, and I’m not sure any copies of that made it overseas; I’ve certainly never seen one. Making matters more confusing, it seems like there are three volumes in a box set series titled Dansk Rock Historie 1965-1978, of which this is just one, each bearing that identical title, though at least they’re in different colors. The one with the 45 version of “The Only Girl I Knew” is green.

As to why there was a remake for the 45 market, that might have had to do with a famed producer with whom they briefly worked. Polydor Records, perhaps sensing it could break the group into the international market, arranged some sessions in London with manager/producer Giorgio Gomelsky, a British impresario who’d worked with the Yardbirds, Soft Machine, Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger & the Trinity, and numerous other innovative UK artists. “He was a pretty wild guy,” Savage Rose guitaris Nils Tuxen told me. “It was known that he consumed a bottle of whisky every day, which is not a little.”

Obviously some effort went into this enterprise, as Gomelsky came over to Denmark beforehand to see the band play at Tivoli, Copenhagen’s famous amusement park. And going to Britain to record was not something a Danish band could do with casual ease in the late 1960s. “It was an interesting situation, because at that point, you were not allowed to go into England and record,” noted Tuxen. “It was strictly prohibited. The Musicians Union would not [allow] such a thing. So what the record company did…we went there and didn’t carry any instruments at all with us. They hired instruments for us. They even hired a session bass player who sat around for the entire time, just in order that our bass player could use his bass. Can you imagine that?”

But the collaboration was not a success, resulting only in an obscure single—the slower remake of “A Girl That I Knew” on one side, and the bluesy “Birthday Day” on the other. “In the studio, we just didn’t get to the place where our kind of creativity started,” Savage Rose keyboardist Thomas Koppel told me about the sessions. “We felt like the road was blocked somehow. It didn’t work out. In situations like that, we became anarchists.”

“That’s BS,” retorted Gomelsky when asked to give his side of the story. “The drummer [Alex Riel] was a professional musician, he knew a lot about music. You could talk to him. He saw very clearly what the ideas were. Annisette—great singer. We had no problems. With one of the [Koppel] brothers, I had terrible problems. One of them thought of himself as some kind of Viking god. Big-headed, big chip on his shoulder and knew zilch. It was very difficult to get anything out “of them and by consequence out of the session. He opposed everything, he stopped everything, he stopped work from flowing. We were getting nowhere.

“In London at the time, remember, we were flowing. We were in a groove. The engineers were hot, everybody was hot, we worked and went out and we celebrated. It was such an ‘up’ kind of situation. And there came this guy with this sort of negative kind of resistance. It just didn’t make for any agreeable environment. So I said, ‘I can’t do anything.’ But on the way there, we had some really good ideas, because Alex Riel—a pleasure to work with—was open to anything that made sense to him. Annisette, she was waiting, ready to wail away at the least opportunity. One of the brothers was cool. But then there was the other one. So it was not a happy experience. Truth to be known, you can pinpoint why.”

Whatever the reasons for this impasse, the resulting single did not succeed at raising the group’s international commercial profile, if that was the intention. It wasn’t the last time they hooked up with a big-name producer—they recorded Refugee with Jimmy Miller, who was also handling the Rolling Stones at the time, in 1971. But as Thomas admitted, “We were never really the typical kind of artists that wanted a producer at all.”

The few English-speaking collectors who are interested in finding Savage Rose rarities might want to know that Dansk Rock Historie 1965-1978—the volume that features their 1972 album Dodens Triumf as disc one, if you’re determined to track it down–also includes this single’s B-side, “Birthday Day,” and another non-LP single from 1969, “The Schoolteacher Said So,” which like “Birthday Day” isn’t so memorable. It also has…

Savage Rose, “Ride My Mountain.” Used on the B-side of the Danish single “Evening’s Child,” the 45 version is about two minutes shorter than the one on their second album, 1968’s In the Plain. It’s faster and more intense, and though it’s not definitively superior to the LP counterpart, it’s worth hearing for Savage Rose completists. Although I’d guess fairly few of them will go to the effort of finding and buying the green-colored Dansk Rock Historie 1965-1978 box. It seems like it will cost at least $50 including shipping, going from the listings of copies for sale on

A smaller selection of post-1960s LP vs. single variations will be coming up in a future post.

1960s LP Vs. Single Versions

How many notable 1960s singles were issued in appreciably different versions on 45s than the same songs — by the same artists — sounded on LPs? It’s not a query apt to keep the average listener awake at night. But it does matter to many collectors, and actually to many less intense fans who’ve noted the differences and found them curious. And there are more such variations than many would think, by many of the most famous and best acts of the era.

This list of examples worth detailing ended up longer than I anticipated. That’s even without considering the numerous, and perhaps countless, variations that are actually essentially the same track. There are lots of different mixes, especially when you compare stereo vs. mono. There are plenty of cuts that last a few more seconds on LP, or a few more seconds on singles. There are also plenty of tracks that were edited for radio play and/or single release, the Doors’ “Light My Fire” being about the most famous such occurrence. But most of this list springs from entirely different recordings of the same song, sometimes of huge hits. So many came to mind that for this post I’m concentrating on the more well known acts among my favorites, saving rather lesser famous ones for a future post.

Sometimes the rationale for putting out a different version is well known, as it is with the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” and the Beatles’ “Revolution,” where the Beach Boys simply felt they could do it better, and (at least some of) the Beatles feeling a faster version was necessary for a single. Often the reasons remain mysterious, or even inexplicable. Ranking these in order of their quality or historical importance would mean splitting up multiple entries from specific artists, so I’ve opted to group these notes by artist. Starting, of course, with the biggest group of all.

The Beatles, “Revolution”: Even many casual rock fans know there are two versions of “Revolution,” in part because one was on a chart-topping album and one was a hit single, albeit on the flipside of a #1 disc. It’s more obvious since the titles are slightly different, the White Album version bearing the title “Revolution 1,” and the flipside to “Hey Jude” (which made #12 under its own steam on the national chart) simply billed as “Revolution.” What makes it most obvious is that they’re very different. “Revolution 1” is slow, almost sluggish, with doo-wopish backup harmonies, and a key lyrical difference when John Lennon sings “you can count me out…in” on the LP, but emphatically and simply “you can count me out” on the single.

When Lennon pushed for “Revolution 1” to be a single, Paul McCartney and George Harrison insisted it had to be faster. John still seemed to have regrets, or at least mixed feelings, about this compromise in one of his final interviews. My guess, however, is that a very lopsided majority of fans prefer the fast single version, as I do. It’s more urgent and exciting; the fuzzy guitar blasts add another layer missing from the album version; and if John was reluctant to rearrange the song, you’d never guess it from the vocal, which has an all-out commitment likewise absent from its predecessor. Lennon, incidentally, seemed to have a blind spot of sorts in preferring a slow version to a fast one in another instance, as he wanted “Help!” to be slower. It’s hard to imagine that song working as well if it had been slowed to “Revolution 1” pace.

“Let It Be”: There’s some dispute as to whether the single and LP versions of “Let It Be” qualify as entirely different recordings. They have most of the same basic elements, but very different mixes. Most notably, the LP version — with post-production work by Phil Spector — has pretty loud George Harrison guitar overdubs missing or only faintly heard on the single. The LP version lasts a little longer, too, but Harrison’s guitar is the main reason plenty of people think these are totally different versions. They’re different enough that the Beatles’ official catalog has for many years made space for the single version on the Past Masters Vol. 2 compilation of non-LP tracks. Not everyone remembers this didn’t mark the first time this was on an album, as it appeared on the 1967-1970 anthology back in 1973.

The “Let It Be” single was one of the first records I bought, back in 1970 when I was eight. I didn’t get the Let It Be LP until a couple years later, but even then I was immediately struck by the difference between the versions. Then as now, I much prefer the single. The guitar on the album mix is obtrusive, both during the instrumental break and the final section. Letting the organ and the female backup vocals carry more weight on the single creates a more choral, dignified atmosphere that fits the song better. Paul McCartney of course didn’t care for Spector’s treatment of Let It Be album material in general, though his greatest ire was directed at the overdubbed orchestra and voices on “The Long and Winding Road.”

“Get Back”: The differences are clear-cut: the single has a tag after a brief false ending entirely missing from the album arrangement, with some tossed-off spoken lyrics not found anywhere in the LP version. The album track actually uses the same take as the 45, albeit mixed by Phil Spector. Again the single’s considered a different enough version to merit a place on Past Masters Vol. 2, as it had in 1973 on 1967-1970.

I was a bit too young to clearly remember the different 1969 single version when I bought the Let It Be LP in 1972, and remember feeling gypped when I heard the original on the 1967-1970 version on a friend’s copy that I didn’t own. I’d give the nod to the single version for the additional coda.

“Love Me Do”: It wasn’t widely comprehended while the Beatles were active that the versions of “Love Me Do” on their debut single and album respectively were different. There’s an easy way to tell the difference. Ringo Starr drums on the single, which has no tambourine. Session musician Andy White drums on the Please Please Me version, which has a tambourine, played by Ringo. Since the story was often told (particularly in Hunter Davies’s 1968 authorized biography) that Martin had planned to use White but relented and used Ringo after all, it wasn’t widely suspected that the LP has White on drums. That ended up being the version that was far more widely heard than the one on the original single, especially as it was used on Capitol’s The Early Beatles, which for most of the group’s lifespan was the only place it was available on US releases.

The versions aren’t very different, aside from the tambourine, and it can be questioned why George Martin felt it necessary to re-record the track in the first place. The additional tambourine does help a bit, and the better compromise at the time might have been for Starr to play the drums and White the tambourine, so as not to embarrass Ringo or make him feel inadequate. White doesn’t do a very good job on an early version of “Please Please Me” recorded in September 1962, and his replacement of Ringo could be harshly judged as one of Martin’s few lapses of judgement in his production of the Beatles, if you’re so inclined. It’s not hard to get the Starr/single version of “Love Me Do” now, as it came out on the 1980 Rarities compilation and, more usefully in the CD era, on Past Masters Vol. 1.

There are, by the way, some significant other differences between Beatles and single LP mixes, though you have to be pretty attentive to catch them. There are different vocals on the mono/single and stereo LP mixes “Please Please Me”; the original single/mono version has a better John Lennon vocal, as he briefly forgets words and chuckles on the LP stereo one. And there are a few extra beats in the “I Am the Walrus” single and an excised trumpet flourish at the end of DJ copies of “Penny Lane.”

The Rolling Stones, “Time Is On My Side.” Many things the Beatles did, the Rolling Stones did too. So many acts made different 45/LP versions that you can’t say they were imitating the Beatles when they cut an entirely different take of “Time Is On My Side” for an album. It’s more complicated than the usual scenario, because initially the single and LP versions were the same. Both of those started with an unaccompanied organ, and both were used on the hit single and its first appearance on an album, with 1964’s 12 X 5.

But on November 8, 1964 — when the single was already on the charts, and the track was also already available on 12 X 5, released the previous month — they cut a new version, with a superb and distinctive Keith Richards guitar solo serving as an introduction instead of the organ. This appeared on their second British LP, the unimaginatively titled No. 2. Very few Americans would have been aware of this at the time, when few UK import discs were sold in the US.

But, in an ironic twist to the story, the remake is the version that’s by far the most familiar one to Americans. That’s because it was the one used on their first US greatest hits compilation, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), issued in March 1966. It’s also the one used on Hot Rocks, and maybe other compilations with which I’m not familiar. Certainly it’s the one that’s played the most on radio. I don’t remember ever hearing the first version on the radio in the 20th century, though that’s the one that would have played on the radio when it became their first US Top Ten hit.

Opinions differ on the matter, of course, but the remake simply sounds definitively superior, to me and I think most Stones fans. Not just because of the guitar solo at the beginning, though that’s the biggest reason. The whole performance is better and tighter. The Stones’ No. 2 album, by the way, also had a different version of a second song than what would have been heard in the US at the time. For reasons still unexplained, a briefer, higher-pitched version of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” was on their US Now album, while a longer, lower-pitched, and funkier one was on No. 2.

As for “Time Is On My Side”‘s placement on Big Hits, as Rhino Records co-founder Harold Bronson wrote in his diary/memoir Time Has Come Today, in 2006, Stones manager Andrew Oldham told him “the group preferred this take and, in compiling Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), the original didn’t work in the running order as well as the second version. ‘As far as I can recall, you are the first fellow to ever ask me about ‘Time Is on My Side,’ he said.”

The Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Women.” The 1969 single, a huge #1 hit, is one of the Stones’ core classics. Virtually everyone would agree on that. Not so the counterpart on Let It Bleed, which doesn’t even have the same title, though it is the same song. Some might say the casual, country-ish hoedown arrangement doesn’t qualify, as it was retitled “Country Honk.” It was so drastically rearranged, in fact, that it almost doesn’t sound like the same composition, though it assuredly is.

Why the group decided to redo it, and use it instead of “Honky Tonk Women,” isn’t readily understandable. It’s true some bands, more in the UK than US, didn’t want previously released or simultaneously released singles to also be available on albums. But Let It Bleed does include “Honky Tonk Women”‘s nearly-as-classic B-side, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” in the same version used on the 45.

In the original Rolling Stone Record Guide, Dave Marsh called “Country Honk” “an abomination in the face of the original ‘Honky Tonk Women’ single,” and while I might not phrase it quite as harshly, I’m generally in agreement. I would say the overwhelming majority of Stones fans would vote the single the better version — at least 99%, in fact. The main reason for its existence seems to have been that the song was first conceived more as a country outing than a rocker. Keith Richards told Crawdaddy in 1975, “That’s how the song was originally written, as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers/1930s country song. And it got turned around to this other thing by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall another way.”

The Beach Boys, “Help Me Rhonda.” In a pretty well known oddity in the Beach Boys catalog, they put out an LP version of one of their biggest hits before issuing an entirely different recording on the single. The one on the Today album is far more sluggish, giving weight to a ukulele and a harmonica solo. It also even spells it differently — “Help Me Ronda.” The reason it was redone for a single seems straightforward enough — with the bass and jangly guitar intro, faster tempo, more of a Phil Spector influence in the production, more energetic backup harmonies, and a characteristically crisp (and very brief) Carl Wilson guitar solo, it’s better from every angle. One far lesser noticed change is in the lyric “and it ruined our plan” to “and it shattered to our plan,” which Mike Love takes the credit for in his autobiography. The real mystery is why they didn’t keep working at it before the single version — virtually unanimously considered far better — came out.

The Beach Boys, “Be True to Your School.” This isn’t one of my favorite Beach Boys hits, and is too rah-rah both lyrically and musically for my taste. But no matter where you put it in the Beach Boys canon, the 1963 hit single instantly strikes you as remarkably different, as the album version is missing the cheerleader chants (by Capitol girl group the Honeys, one of whom, Marilyn Rovell, would become Brian Wilson’s first wife) and even missing a guitar solo, an omission rectified by the re-recording. Even if the 45 had never been recorded, the LP arrangement would seem to be missing something, and have far less oomph.

Here’s a mystery I’ve never seen addressed: the first two Beach Boys greatest hits collections, issued by Capitol in 1966 and 1967, included virtually all of their hit singles, as well as some standout B-sides and LP tracks. But neither had “Be True to Your School” (or, for that matter, “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” which made #19 in late 1965). How did these get omitted, and dubious choices like “Long Tall Texan” and “Louie Louie” slip in instead?

The Who, “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand.” Sure this would have gotten more attention if it was an A-side, but as heard on the US B-side of “I Can See for Miles” (“Someone’s Coming” was on the UK B-side), this has a way different arrangement than the version on The Who Sell Out. The single has Al Kooper on organ, a higher key, full Keith Moon drum bashing, and a generally considerably poppier approach, as if it was cut with the intention of being a single A-side before the idea was abandoned. The LP counterpart, in contrast, is almost folky in its acoustic guitar foundation and far less ornate percussion (almost minimal by Who standards). Too, the instrumental breaks are much different — the single highlights the organ, but the album strips it down to acoustic guitar and percussive rattles, with a different nearly Latin tempo.

Which one’s better? It’s a close call, and one of those occasions where instead of picking one over the other, it’s good to have both available, as the differences aren’t merely superficial and both are good recordings. I kind of like the single version better, and it probably would have slotted into The Who Sell Out in the same place in the sequence without anyone feeling like it was an ill fit.

Foreign record labels obviously had some trouble with the song’s title. In the US, Decca titled the B-side version “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hands,” turning the hand from a singular to a plural. The French sleeve (pictured) had trouble with the definite article and turned it into “Mary Anne with a Shaky Hand.”

As a brief footnote, when I was seventeen in 1979, a local FM radio station ran a Who A-Z day — maybe the only time it ever presented such a thing. It was pretty comprehensive, including all the non-LP UK-only 45 tracks. But it missed the 45 version of “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand.” I pointed this out in a letter to them (no instant email in those days), and didn’t receive a reply.

The Who, “Circles.” Even as a big fan of the Who for about 45 years, I still have a hard time keeping the back story behind the two versions of “Circles” straight. Basically they recorded a version of this fine mod rocker with producer Shel Talmy, but as they wanted to break off their association with him around the beginning of 1966, they subsequently re-recorded it without his involvement. The second version came out on March 4, 1966 on the UK B-side of “Substitute” on the Reaction label, though it was quickly replaced by “Waltz for a Pig,” an instrumental credited to “The Who Orchestra” (actually the Graham Bond Organisation). This was because of legal action from Shel Talmy, and the first version, which he had produced, came out shortly afterward on the UK B-side of “A Legal Matter,” on the Brunswick label. This first version also came out in April 1966 on the Who’s first US LP, The Who Sings My Generation.

More headaches for discographies down the decades ensued because “Circles” was also, for no apparent reason other than to evade legal threats, released with “Instant Party” as or in the title in some of its different iterations. The second version of “Circles” also came out in September 1966 on the UK Ready Steady Go EP. The first version, however, was far more familiar to American listeners than the second one, as The Who Sings My Generation would constantly be available, and the EP never released here, with the second version not showing up on an official US release until 1987’s Two’s Missing compilation.

More important than the different titles and different releases are the actual tracks. The Talmy take is a bit sloppy in execution, and murkier in mix than most 1965 Who recordings, especially in how John Entwistle’s horn blares and blends with the other instruments. Yet the remake, though clearer, is more muted and less spirited. The guitars at least ring with real authority on the initial attempt. For that reason, among others, I prefer it, though it’s fair to say the Who never seemed to fully get to grips with this song in the studio and maximize its potential. It might have been a little too weird in structure — with two different bridges and in its first incarnation an extended rambling, droning instrumental passage near the end — to be the possible A-side it was first envisioned as.

The Who, “I’m a Boy.” So few people heard this in the US when it was first released in 1966 that Americans think of the longer LP version, from the 1971 greatest hits collection Meaty, Big and Bouncy, as the only or at least definitive one. Not so in the UK, where a shorter version made #2. The longer version was recorded only a little later in 1966, but is substantially different, lasting about a minute longer with an extra verse. Mostly for that reason, the original hit UK version sounds a little strange to US listeners, though both have their merits. The single is more concise and has wordless group harmonies in the instrumental section, and the album variant has more content, though it drags a little in comparison.

The Who, “Magic Bus.” The Who seemed to take the length of a track into serious consideration for their singles, considering that two very popular ones had significantly shorter durations in their 45 iterations. Like “I’m a Boy,” “Magic Bus” was about a minute shorter on its 1968 single than it was on Meaty, Big and Bouncy a few years later, though both versions were recorded around the same time. With “Magic Bus,” the groove is more the core than the lyrics or chord changes, so it works better when it goes a little longer — though not when it goes a lot longer, as live versions (most famously the one on 1970’s Live at Leeds) have demonstrated. 

In the department of “here’s something I don’t remember seeing written about,” one way to tell the versions apart is how the weird shouted “moo” before the instrumental break seems lower and more echoed on the single. A more vital question, as least in some minds, is: what does this “moo” mean? Is it supposed to be “move” and the end consonant doesn’t come through? Is it “Moon,” meaning a cue for Keith Moon to play?

The Byrds, “Why.” Why are there two versions of “Why,” released almost a year apart? Like many of the cases exhumed in this post, it’s not clear. First heard in early 1966 on the B-side of “Eight Miles High,” it too had a pronounced raga influence — even more so than “Eight Miles High,” though the song wasn’t nearly as good. The main attraction was the sitar-like instrumental break, though Roger McGuinn actually created it by playing a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar through a walkie talkie speaker inside a cigar box. A subsequent version, released in 1967 on the Younger Than Yesterday album, was considerably less energetic, with much less adventurous guitar work.

While this is the consensus among most critics and fans, the LP version isn’t without a significant merit not heard on the 45. That’s in the tense, declarative up-and-down chords that serve as its introduction, which aren’t present at all on the single. The album arrangement was heard, and probably still has been heard, more than the 45, as the version of “Why” on the single remained non-LP, and for many years the only version that could be easily obtained was on Younger Than Yesterday. Certainly this was the version noted alternative/indie guitarist and album designer Bruce Licher heard, as is evident on the homage paid to the LP cut in the introduction to Licher’s 1997 demo “Tundra,” as heard on the Tape Excavation compilation.

The Byrds, “Don’t Make Waves.” Although this was one of the weakest songs the Byrds cut in the mid-1960s, I can reprise a listing I wrote a few years ago as part of a post on rarities yet to be reissued:

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.”

The Yardbirds, “I’m a Man.” Here we have an unusual case where the LP version preceded the one on the hit single by almost a year; the LP version was live, and the hit a studio recording; different lead guitarists, both big stars, were featured on each; and the single, though a pretty big hit in the US, wasn’t even issued in the UK. A live performance of this Bo Diddley classic with the Eric Clapton lineup, released around the end of 1964 on Five Live Yardbirds (though it was recorded back in March), rumbles along nicely enough, with the kind of tempo changes that differentiated much of what the Yardbirds did from the originals they were covering. By comparison, the single, released in October 1965, is explosive, with a more confident, ferocious attack and fiery Jeff Beck soloing in the final instrumental section that concludes with a percussive attack on the guitar strings.

For such a major band, some of the record company decisions concerning the Yardbirds were inexplicable. One assumes part of the reason “I’m a Man” didn’t come out in the UK was because there was no UK Yardbirds studio album before 1966, though one-and-a-half studio LPs came out in the US in 1965. Certainly there were enough tracks by the Jeff Beck lineup for at least one studio British LP in ’65, even if that would have meant using some material from 45s and their 1965 UK EP. This meant that not only “I’m a Man,” but also “The Train Kept A-Rollin’,” another great track, weren’t even on the British market in the mid-’60s. 

In the US, “The Train Kept A-Rollin'” and “I’m a Man” found a place on 1965’s Having a Rave-Up with the Yardbirds LP, side one of which was one of the greatest LP sides of the era, even if it was mostly comprised of songs that had appeared on singles. There weren’t enough studio tracks in the can to fill up a whole studio album, so side two took four songs from Five Live Yardbirds, which wasn’t issued in the US. One of those was the Clapton version of “I’m a Man.” American listeners must have been confused to find two versions of the same song — albeit pretty different versions — on the same LP, with no explanation as to the date and lineup of the live performance.

Country Joe & the Fish, “Section 43.” Like a few entries in this post, this sort of goes beyond the strict 45/LP version division, as the original version of this psychedelic instrumental was on the Fish’s second EP, released in 1966. The more well known version appeared on their 1967 debut LP, Electric Music for the Mind and Body. Maybe some casual listeners won’t detect too much difference, but the 1966 performance, recorded with a slightly different lineup, simply has more loose and reckless spontaneity without lapsing into excess. That’s especially true of the guitar riffs in the opening section, which have an ear-piercing frequency missing from the LP remake. The debut album included remakes of the two other songs from the LP, “Bass Strings” and “Love” (titled “Thing Called Love” on the EP). But the difference in quality is far more pronounced in comparing the two “Section 43″s.

Country Joe & the Fish weren’t the only notable Bay Area group from the psychedelic era to remake songs from an early EP on their debut LP. So did the more obscure, but quite worthy, Mad River, whose 1967 EP had early versions of “Amphetamine Gazelle” (initially titled “A Gazelle”) and “Wind Chimes.” These aren’t as noteworthy as “Section 43,” though “Wind Chimes” has a section with Hare Krishna chants not on the LP arrangement. The Mad River EP’s most notable, actually, for a good song that doesn’t appear on either of their two LPs, “Orange Fire.”

Everything from the second Country Joe & the Fish EP and Mad River’s EP—along with the fine EP by Bay Area psychedelic group Frumious Bandersnatch, who never issued anything else in their lifetime, and the not-as-fine EP from Notes from the Underground—was included on Big Beat’s 1995 CD compilation The Berkeley EPs. Getting back to the EP version of “Section 43,” that was also featured on the four-CD box Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970, the best compilation of San Francisco ’60s rock.

The Great Society, “Somebody to Love.” Although this group put out just one barely distributed single while active, they’re not as obscure as many would think, since they featured Grace Slick before she joined Jefferson Airplane. “Somebody to Love” was their one barely-distributed single, recorded and issued before Jefferson Airplane cut their hit version. Because of Slick’s subsequent fame with Jefferson Airplane, two LPs of live 1966 recordings of the Great Society at San Francisco’s Matrix club were issued in 1968, including a concert performance of “Somebody to Love.”

This live version is much, much better than the comparatively rudimentary single, although it was recorded only about half a year later. For one thing, the single—titled “Someone to Love,” not “Somebody to Love”—is sung by Slick with another member of the band, David Miner. It was more of a dirge at this point, and while the live version is certainly still slower than the Airplane’s dynamic arrangement, it’s far more honed and dramatic. There’s better guitar soloing, a raga-ish riff introducing the song and recurring throughout, and a superb solo Slick lead vocal. It’s probably much more a reflection of how dramatically the Great Society improved in half a year than a deliberately strategic rearrangement.

Donovan, “Catch the Wind.” Hit and popular songs are often remade years later, often due to the original recordings being unavailable for licensing, or just because artists past their peak want to use material that’s better than what they’re subsequently able to conjure. These remakes are rarely of interest, and often terrible. There are exceptions that prove the rule, however, like “Catch the Wind,” a big hit when Donovan made it his debut single in 1965. He underwent very complicated contractual disputes with record labels, and by the time his first greatest hits compilation came out in 1968, his 1965 releases — comprising quite a few tracks from singles, LPs, and EPs — were unavailable for Epic’s Donovan’s Greatest Hits collection, issued at the beginning of 1969. 

The most popular of Donovan’s compositions from 1965 singles, “Catch the Wind” and “Colours,” were thus re-recorded in May 1968. Where the originals had been acoustic folk in nature, these remakes had full rock arrangements with top British session men Big Jim Sullivan (guitar), Clem Cattini (drums), and a pre-Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones. The 1965 “Catch the Wind” was a very impressive debut, but the 1968 redo was both quite different and pretty good. It had a more languid, introspective pace, and was a good two minutes longer. I’d give the original the slight edge, but the “rock” version, though it’s not exactly hard rock, is worthwhile in its own right.

It was also the only one I was familiar with for a couple years after getting the Greatest Hits LP at age 17 in 1979, before I was able to hear the original or any of Donovan’s largely folk-based 1965 tracks. I’m guessing a good number of others who weren’t old enough to hear the original version were exposed to the 1968 remake first, Greatest Hits being a big seller and generally more widely available than his 1965 material. The 1968 “Colours” version is also longer and more elaborately arranged than the original, but I don’t find it nearly as interesting as the “Catch the Wind” remake.

The Grateful Dead, “Dark Star.” Even many Deadheads are unaware of this 1968 single version, clocking in at a mere two minutes and 45 seconds. It will certainly never displace the far more celebrated 23-minute concert version on 1969’s Live/Dead in the consciousness of either Deadheads or more general rock fans. If you do prefer studio concision to live improvisation, however, you might prefer or at least appreciate the single, which emphasizes the song rather than the jamming. It was heard by few upon its release as it didn’t gain much sales or airplay, or find a place on their 1960s LPs; according to Dennis McNally’s biography A Long Strange Trip, only 1600 copies of the single were pressed, and only 500 sold. It hasn’t been easy to find on reissues, though it’s on Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970.  

One little noted connection this single illuminates: the Grateful Dead and the Velvet Underground are sometimes categorized as the ultimate opposites in 1960s rock, the San Francisco hippies on one side and the dark, urban realists on the other. But there were links between the groups, if tenuous ones. Both of them called themselves the Warlocks briefly before settling on their permanent names. They shared bills in 1969 in Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Grateful Dead were among the witnesses at the marriage ceremony of original Velvet Underground drummer Angus MacLise and Hetty McGee on April 24, 1968 in Golden Gate Park. And, according to an interview Hetty gave Bananafish many years later, she plays tambura on the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” single.

Bob Dylan, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Considering the extreme interest in Dylan’s 1966 world tour, and particularly in live performances of the electric half of those concerts with the Hawks (later the Band), it’s a little surprising the appearance of a live recording from those shows on the B-side of a hit single didn’t get more attention, then and since. Back in 1966, a live version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was on the B-side of “I Want You,” which got to #20 in the charts. This was less than a year after a studio version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was on Dylan’s first all-out rock album, Highway 61 Revisited.

A May 1966 recording of a British Dylan concert in Manchester achieved legendary status since it started to get bootlegged (and misidentified as a show in London’s Albert Hall) just a few years later. Decades later, that Manchester concert was officially released, including a version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” If you’re concerned about having a complete Dylan collection, it’s vital to know that the version on the B-side of “I Want You” is not the same one as the Manchester concert. It was recorded three days earlier in Liverpool, on May 14, 1966.

It’s not much different than the Manchester version; you wouldn’t expect it to be, from the same tour just three days apart. It is, however, appreciably different from the Highway 61 studio track, in common with how Dylan generally sounded with the Hawks on songs he’d already released in studio renditions. There’s nothing wrong with the studio version, although I admit it’s not among my favorite Dylan tunes. But the live recording sounds richer and fuller.

This Liverpool-taped B-side hasn’t been easy to come by since its initial release. It showed up on the 1978 triple LP compilation Masterpieces, only released in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. It’s also on the 36-CD box The 1966 Live Recordings, which has all of the live recordings known to survive from that year. That’s a lot of cash to spend for the B-side taped in Liverpool, though at least it has a ton of other material that’s not available elsewhere, albeit with more multiple versions of the same song than almost anyone would want to hear in a concentrated dose.

Going back to 1966, it’s a little mysterious why only this track was released from his live recordings back then, and why nothing else from the live recordings was issued for many years, though the Manchester show was heavily bootlegged for decades. There were a couple gaps in Dylan’s career at Columbia Records that could have easily been filled by a live 1966 album. The first was when he didn’t release anything for a year and a half after Blonde on Blonde came out in mid-1966 — not a gap even worth noting for artists in the late 20th and early 21st century, but a big one for 1960s stars. Columbia opted to put out the first Dylan’s greatest hits collection in 1967, and while a live 1966 recording almost certainly wouldn’t have sold as much, the market could have borne a live album in that 18-month or so period as well.

Then there was no Dylan Columbia studio album between 1970’s New Morning and 1975’s Blood on the Tracks (remember that early 1974’s Planet Waves initially came out on Asylum). unless you want to count 1973’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which was for the most part a soundtrack. Columbia opted to put out the outtakes collection Dylan in 1974, which was ridiculed as an absurdly inferior compilation given the wealth of much better unreleased material which was known to exist even back then. Maybe there was some legal or contractual holdup surrounding the 1966 live tapes, or objection from Dylan and/or his representatives. But at least the recordings are readily available now, if not always readily affordable.

Top Twenty (Or So) Rock Reissues of 2023

As time goes on and gets more and more distant from my favorite period of popular music, the reissues and vault finds get ever more specialized. They also get closer to the margins of what might be considered the core repertoire of major acts, and more and more obscure as far as artists who haven’t gotten much if any mainstream attention.

So it goes with my nearly Top Twenty list, where there are yet more live concerts by big stars (and part of seemingly continuous lines of them by Jimi Hendrix and the Doors); a huge expanded box by the Who (many other such boxes not on this list have been recently released as well); more live and rare early Renaissance than anyone thought was around; and a five-CD Heinz box, the very concept of which would have been unimaginable just a decade or two ago. Overdue career-spanning anthologies still come out, like the one for the Daily Flash, but there aren’t all that many such comps as noteworthy that are left in the wings.

While I don’t get too hung up on numbers and rankings, it was a fairly tough decision as these things play out to choose #1. Had none of the Doors’ March 1967 Matrix tapes ever circulated, that would have been an easy choice, but prior availability of tracks does factor into my list. Much of the Renaissance material was unheard, at least by me, which makes it more of a novel discovery, though that box is weighed down by some repetition and (though on less than half of it) subpar sound. There was no 2023 reissue that was clearly of such major importance that it was as easy a choice for the #1 spot, as, say, the first volume of Joni Mitchell’s Archives series and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass were in recent years.

The Doors are by far the more important act, their 1967 tapes are definitely their most interesting live recordings, and the new box is the most complete collection of these, adding some previously uncirculating tracks. Ultimately that gives them the nod, though the top spot could have easily gone to the Renaissance collection, particularly if the welcome surprise of hearing some interesting stuff I didn’t know existed is taken into account.

1. The Doors, Live at the Matrix, 1967 (Rhino). A double live LP, Absolutely Live, by the Doors came out in 1970 while the group was still active, and there have been so many archival concert releases that even Doors fanatics have a hard time keeping track of them. Aside from their 1968 Hollywood Bowl show and the rather short, cover-dominated London Fog 1966, however—as well as a few lo-fi scraps that made it onto Boot Yer Butt!: The Doors Bootlegs—none of them predate 1969 save for Live at the Matrix, 1967. A double disc of material from their March 1967 shows at the San Francisco club came out in 2008, but this five-LP box lives up to the new and improved tag in a couple respects.

Crucially, the box has a lot more of what survives on tape from their March 7, 8, 9, and 10 Matrix shows. Most of the tracks gaining release for the first time have been in unofficial circulation for years, but this material’s taken, to quote Joel Selvin’s liner notes, “straight from reels of Scotch 201 quarter-track tape recorded at 7 ½ ips.” The 2008 compilation had been (it was belatedly discovered) mastered from third-generation copies, though it was thought at the time they were first-generation. 

Yet what’s most important is that these are the only recordings that capture the Doors in peak form before they became stars and their set lists became more rigid and predictable. Their first LP had been out for a couple months, but “Light My Fire” wouldn’t enter the charts until three months after their Matrix stint. The Doors were still an underground act, and the audiences at the club were so small that, as guitarist Robby Krieger’s quoted in the liner notes, “We looked at it as a paid rehearsal. There were five to ten people in the club. We did it for ourselves.” Although the sound quality on these tapes is a little thin and distant, these are the best and most interesting of the live Doors recordings, both for the hungry, wiry intensity of the performances and the presence of quite a few songs that aren’t available in many or any concert versions.

They didn’t mail/phone it in, playing most of the songs from their debut album (no “Take It As It Comes,” “End of the Night,” or “I Looked At You,” sadly); every song from their yet-to-be-recorded second LP, Strange Days, except “Strange Days,” “Love Me Two Times,” “You’re Lost Little Girl,” and “Horse Latitudes”; and even one that didn’t make it onto vinyl until their third album, “Summer’s Almost Gone.” Plus a heap of blues/R&B/jazz covers, some likewise never part of their catalog while Jim Morrison was alive, like “Gloria,” “Money,” “I’m a King Bee,” “Get Out of My Life Woman,” and “Rock Me Baby.” Plus a few instrumentals to give Jim a break, including “Summertime” and a couple, Miles Davis’s “All Blues” and Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” that to my knowledge have never before circulated anywhere.

Best of all, the band plays, and Morrison sings, with passion and spontaneity, even given that many of the songs (even the long version of “Light My Fire”) are rewarded with light tennis match-type clapping. “Moonlight Drive” (included here, like several of the songs, in two versions) differs from the Strange Days arrangement with a middle section where Morrison and Ray Manzarek sing improvised-sounding parts against each other, Manzarek playing organ instead of piano. “Unhappy Girl” opens with a long piercing organ solo that doesn’t appear in the studio version. Morrison asks to be shown the way to the next little boy in an alteration to “Alabama Song”—a change which, it’s safe to assume, would not have been allowed on a commercial release in 1967, even by a label as progressive as Elektra.  

Although the songs were often enhanced by bass guitarist session players in the studio, the absence of a bassist means the arrangements are generally leaner here, and it’s interesting to hear Manzarek carrying the bass parts with the lower notes of his keyboard. Too, Ray had to play all his parts on an organ without utilizing piano for color and variation, which means songs like “People Are Strange” sound appreciably different.

As for the two previously uncirculating instrumentals, while naturally the band needed Morrison’s vocals to be at full power, they’re not without interest. The languid, repetitive riffs of “All Blues” are on the filler side, but an eight-minute forty-second “Bags’ Groove” (on the one-sided seven-inch that comes with the box) is actually pretty cool, the group hitting a nice jazz-bluesy sort of Doors-meet-the-MG’s groove. So is the lengthy (and previously available) instrumental “Summertime,” which the Doors arrange to suit their trademark hypnotic rock-jazz-blues style.

Not everything about this box is ideal. The sound quality isn’t remarkably different or better than the previous official and unofficial versions, though everything is now speed-corrected. Indeed, it isn’t as good as it is on the best and most historically significant officially issued Matrix tapes by other acts, those being the two LPs by the Great Society (with a pre-Jefferson Airplane Grace Slick) and 1969 Velvet Underground Live, Morrison’s vocals somehow not coming through as well as the singing does on those great records. The blues covers largely illustrate that early Rolling Stones-style blues-rock wasn’t the Doors’ strength. “Crawling King Snake” (later of course recorded for L.A. Woman) has some of the most amateurish harmonica (presumably by Morrison) to grace any release by a top rock act, though those bleats are brief and more amusing than annoying.

There is one standout among the covers, that being “Who Do You Love,” which the Doors would cut in a mellower version for Absolutely Live. The much earlier one on this box is good and preferable, with some nice swooping slide guitar and well-timed insertion of demonic organ breaks. Note that although the annotation describes this collection as the complete Matrix recordings, two versions of “Who Do You Love” purporting to be from the club in March have circulated. They’re easy to tell apart as Morrison’s vocal on the first verse is higher and nastier on the shorter one not included on this box, among other differences. One would guess the missing version might not have been taped at the Matrix, though it seems to be from the same era, and has similar fidelity. (A slightly edited version of this review will appear in a future issue of Ugly Things magazine.)

2. Renaissance, Live Fillmore West and Other Adventures (Repertoire). For a group of notable significance, the output of the original Renaissance—the lineup featuring ex-Yardbirds Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, as well as bassist Louis Cennamo, ex-Nashville Teens pianist John Hawken, and Relf’s sister Jane—was slim. There was just one album, 1969’s self-titled Renaissance, before the group’s personnel started to shift and splinter. By their third album, not a single original member remained. Renaissance itself had just five songs, though three were between seven and twelve minutes long.

This five-disc set does much to amplify their sparse discography, with four CDs of previously unissued live performances, TV and radio broadcasts, and demos, along with a DVD of British and European television clips. That’s a heavenly gift for fans, though it comes with some limitations. The sound quality is uneven, though the performances aren’t. And though there are a few songs that didn’t make the studio LP, there are inevitably a lot of multiple versions of the five that did.

The majority of the material comes from live concerts, the whole of the first disc featuring their March 6, 1970 show at the Fillmore West. While the instruments come through fairly well, there’s no denying that the vocals are on the submerged side. In common with many live tapes of plenty of acts from the era, the songs are stretched to markedly longer arrangements, “Kings and Queens” and “Bullet” lasting fifteen minutes apiece. The odd ghostly, almost avant-garde ending of the studio version of the latter wasn’t replicated in live performance. As a major bonus, however, in addition to all five songs from the LP, three others that didn’t make it were played. All of their compositions have the group’s idiosyncratic blend of rock, classical, and exotic non-rock styles, often layered with a tense, ominous mood.

None of the non-LP numbers are quite up to the level of the material on their studio releases, the eight-minute “No Name Raga” going into some less focused improvisation than was their usual wont. The nine-minute “After the War,” songwriting credited to “unidentified,” is hard to fully judge. It boasts some wailing Jane Relf vocals, but the extent to which they’re under-recorded is a deterrent to full listening pleasure, though there are some forceful riffs and wah-wah guitar, and McCarty’s drumming gets into more uninhibited soloing than he ever did with the Yardbirds. The two-minute “The Tao of Myself” is a two-minute improvisation tagged onto the end of “Bullet,” and the words Keith Relf are singing can’t be easily deciphered. (For that matter, the ways vocals were placed in the mixes and arrangements sometimes made it difficult to make out early Renaissance’s lyrics with exact precision even when they were recorded in classier audio.)

Disc two combines excerpts from concerts in Helsinki (May 1969) and Switzerland (April 1970) with a May 1969 version of “Kings and Queens” from a Swedish radio broadcast. It’s perhaps the least notable disc owing to less-than-sparkling audio quality, sticking to versions of just three of the five songs from the album. There’s also a brief Helsinki interview with Hawken and Keith Relf that just makes basic points that the group, which had only done a few concerts, was trying to do something different.

The sonic imperfections of the first two CDs might put them in the “for hardcore fans” only category, but that’s not the case for the other CDs. Disc three features more than forty minutes of material from a February 25, 1970 Cincinnati concert, and while the fidelity might have been a little too dull to make the cut for the usual standard official live album, it’s appreciably better than what the preceding two discs offer. Crucially, it has not only every song from Renaissance except “Innocence,” but also has far better sounding versions of “No Name Raga” and “After the War,” although “Bullet” lasts less than half of what it does on the Fillmore tape.

Cincinnati’s Music Hall might not have had the glamour of the Fillmore West. But these recordings, made just a couple weeks earlier than the ones from the Fillmore, are a decidedly better representation of the band—who play and sing well everywhere in this package, regardless of the variable technical qualities of the tapes. Disc three is completed by the similarly acceptable-fi audio of 1969-70 British and European TV spots, though those are better experienced as the film clips featured on the DVD.

The first half of disc four has decent-sounding BBC radio broadcasts recorded in October 1969 and March 1970, with versions of all songs from the debut LP except “Wanderer.” Of most interest, there’s also (from the March 26, 1970 taping) a Jim McCarty original, the delicate folk-classical Jane-sung “Face of Yesterday,” that’s the sole song on the entire package that found a place on Renaissance’s second studio album, 1971’s Illusion. There’s also a brief Keith Relf interview where he explains how different factions in the Yardbirds led to a different sound he and McCarty wanted to explore with Renaissance.

The second half of disc four contains the least characteristic, yet in some ways among the most interesting, tracks on this compilation. These nine “rarities and demos,” as they’re titled here, are almost an entire studio album of its own, though they were recorded at various times and with different combinations of musicians. It would have been nice to have exact personnel listings and dates, if they even exist. But Cennamo’s comments in Chris Welch’s lengthy liners indicate most were done between the Yardbirds’ split and Renaissance’s formation, though some were done significantly later. 

Whatever their precise origins, they show a somewhat folk-poppier, less ornate, and more concise side of the band, and a very good one, even if some fans might prefer their more avowedly progressive efforts. One highlight, the buoyant but bittersweet “Line of Least Resistance,” showed up a few years ago on Repertoire’s collection of Keith Relf rarities, All the Falling Angels. So did “I’d Love to Love You,” a lovely acoustic duet between the Relfs, and  “Together Now,” though this a different (and inferior) version with added orchestration.

Generally these studio recordings afford greater room for Jane Relf’s vocals, both in quantity and range of expression. Certainly one peak, not only of this anthology but of her whole career, is her glowing interpretation of “Carpet of the Sun,” which a later lineup of Renaissance  would record in a much more bombastically arranged version, with Annie Haslam on vocals, on a 1973 album. Cennamo states in the liners that this Jane-sung version was cut “after the original Renaissance broke up,” which might make it the latest track on this compilation.

But most of these demos and rarities have an enticing haunting, melancholy-with-rays-of-sunshine bursting through feel, and would make a nice (if short) album of its own, despite its disparate sources. (McCarty’s “Prayer for the Light,” for instance, comes from the obscure Schizom soundtrack.) As a whole, they point to attractive directions the original Renaissance lineup could have explored more fully, whether during their brief lifetime or had they stayed together longer. They also more fully show the appeal of Jane’s singing—in a different way than her brother, though she likewise didn’t have the power of more celebrated British vocalists, she projected personal, enigmatic emotion that more than made up for that.

While it would be a cliché to propose that the whole set’s worth buying for the 40-minute DVD, especially with respect to collectors’ budget considerations, the one that closes this anthology comes close to deserving such an accolade. Besides well-preserved color clips of 1970 broadcasts of performances of “Island” and “Kings and Queens” on the Germany TV program Beat-Club, there’s a much less frequently seen fourteen-minute BBC mini-documentary from late 1969, also in vivid color. This shows the original group working in the studio, where producer Paul Samwell-Smith and engineer Andy Johns can also be seen; in more casual settings, with brief interviews with band members; and at a live performance of “Island” in London’s Revolution Club in October 1969. In black and white, but in good shape, is a clip of the band in Paris in January 1970, again performing “Island,” obviously a favorite of the group and, apparently, television programmers.

This would have arguably worked better as a three-disc set without the first two discs, as higher-fi versions of almost all the songs from the first pair of CDs are heard on the final three. It’s also true that the abundance of multiple versions—seven apiece of “Island” and “Kings and Queens”—makes this too much to take in at once. Yet some fans would argue, with some reason, that if you’re going to have some rare material, you might as well have it all. It’s all here, and if early Renaissance was in some ways not as immediately accessible as far more famous post-Yardbirds projects by their three celebrated guitarists, this does reward patient listeners. It also boasts its share of incandescent songs and passages that strike home right away. (A slightly edited version of this review appeared in Ugly Things magazine.)

3. Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 3: The Asylum Years (1972-1975) (Rhino). The third volume of Mitchell’s five-CD box sets of almost entirely unreleased material actually spans late 1971 to 1975, to be technical. The title refers to years during which she was on Asylum Records. Like the previous two boxes, it’s a deft mix of demos, outtakes, and live recordings, including a few on which James Taylor sings or Neil Young plays, though Mitchell’s the focus on those. The one previously released track might have been missed even by Joni collectors, since “Raised on Robbery,” recorded in 1973 with Neil Young & the Santa Monica Flyers, only came out on Young’s Archives Vol. 2: 1972-1976.

Unlike the majority of listeners, I’m a much bigger fan of Mitchell’s earlier work, an era spotlighted on the previous two boxes, which spanned 1963-1971. But I liked this more than I expected, in part because the different nature of the sources ensures there’s more variety than there is on any studio or live Mitchell album from this period. If the studio LPs (For the RosesCourt and Spark, and The Hissing of Summer Lawns) had more polished production, the songs from those albums certainly don’t suffer in earlier and often plainer musical settings. Personally I prefer the less elaborate productions, especially to those using the slicker fusiony sounds of Tom Scott & the L.A. Express, though that outfit can be heard on some of the numerous songs from her March 3, 1974 concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

There’s enough material from that show and her February 23, 1972 Carnegie Hall concert to have made two separate albums, and these (as well as scattered much shorter excerpts from other live appearances) mix then-new compositions with older songs that were already favorites, like “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Woodstock,” Both Sides Now,” and “The Circle Game.” Some of her between-song raps are quite long and spacey, including an unexpected reference to the Performance movie. A studio medley duet with James Taylor of “Bony Moronie,” “Summertime Blues,” and “You Never Can Tell” demonstrates both that Mitchell had a genuine love for early rock and roll, and that it wasn’t her strong suit as an interpreter or performer.

The more (at the time) recent and less familiar compositions are the highlights, however, though some similarity in her approach on quite a few songs in this era means this wouldn’t qualify as the most consistent Mitchell listen – not that this was the intention of an archival box like this. Some of the better and/or more interesting items include a pre-For the Roses live acoustic version of “You Turn Me On I’m a Radio,” and an outtake of the same tune backed by Neil Young and the Stray Gators; a band-less demo of her biggest hit, “Help Me”; good demos and alternate versions of a couple highlights from Hissing, “In France They Kiss on Main Street” and “Dreamland”; and likewise the demo and Neil Young-backed versions of a Court and Spark highlight, “Raised on Robbery.” Best of all is the Court and Spark outtake “Bonderia,” in which Mitchell scats wordlessly with an unusual nearly middle eastern-gypsy-ish melody that’s almost experimental by her standards. Along the same lines, “Sunrise Raga” is offbeat as it’s nearly instrumental save for some wordless singing, and Mitchell’s backed by bongos on an Indian-flavored piece. Both tracks make me wish she’d done more such ventures.

Like the previous Archives boxes, Cameron Crowe interviewed the singer for the liner notes. While some might wish she’d been grilled in greater depth about some of the specifics on these vault retrievals, it’s enough of a miracle she can speak at some length to an interviewer given her recent health scares. While this might not be my favorite volume owing to my personal tastes, in its selectivity and packaging it’s up to the standards of its predecessors, and the series as a whole is already established as one of the best of its kind in those regards.

4. The Who, Who’s Next/Life House (Polydor). This is basically a superdeluxe edition of Who’s Next, though much of the material was originally intended for the unfinished rock opera Life House (as it’s now apparently spelled, rather than Lifehouse). How does it not rank higher or at the top of this list, considering I wrote about it in about half of my book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who From Lifehouse to Quadrophenia? It’s not the greatest value for money, boasting a $250-300 price depending on where you get it. More importantly, the extra material isn’t always that exciting, though at least Pete Townshend refrained from putting on post-1970s re-recordings or interpretations of Life House elements. The original Who’s Next album is one of the discs, and a Blu-ray offers mixes of tracks (all heard elsewhere on the set) that some consider higher-fi than what’s possible on average stereo systems. Everything else was not on the Who’s Next LP, though a fair amount of it’s been released elsewhere.

The most interesting material is found on the two CDs of Pete Townshend demos. Much of it’s done the rounds on limited edition release and bootlegs, but they include solo versions of much of the material on Who’s Next that have a different, sometimes more personal, less glossy, and vulnerable cast than the highly polished group studio tracks. There are also some songs that didn’t find release by the Who or sometimes anywhere at the time, with the tender, acoustic folk-based love song “Mary” and the wistful “Time Is Passing” being highlights. An early iteration of “Baba O’Riley,” titled “Teenage Wasteland,” uses a far different melody for much of the performance than the later familiar version. But most of the songs not eventually reworked for Who’s Next aren’t as good as what was selected for that album, “Pure and Easy” being a notable exception. The most unfamiliar of these, “Finally, Over” and “There’s a Fortune in Those Hills,” don’t leave much of an impression.

This box is one of these infrequent instances where, for my purposes, limiting it to these two CDs would have been more enjoyable listening (not to mention more affordable) than working through the whole set. There’s a disc of their first go at the album at New York’s Record Plant in early 1971; alternate versions cut at Olympic; and quite a few non-LP singles and outtakes from 1970-72, sometimes in longer unedited versions, though all of these have appeared in some mixes/edits on other archival compilations. Some fans have already offered different and much more enthusiastic assessments, but I don’t find any of the alternates too appreciably different than the final arrangements, let alone superior to them or on the same level. The non-LP singles and outtakes include some very good songs (“The Seeker,” “Join Together,” John Entwistle’s “Heaven and Hell”) and a bunch of decent-to-okay ones (the Roger Daltrey-written 1970 B-side “Here for More” is underrated), but the unedited longer versions don’t significantly add to their quality.

There are also two CDs of live recordings from London’s Young Vic on April 26, 1971, and two CDs of live tracks from December 12, 1971 in San Francisco. Acknowledging that many Who fans groove mightily to live recordings of the band from this period (and not just Live at Leeds), these aren’t my favorite ways to experience their music. The execution can be blustery, the songs overlong, and the odd unexpected covers (“Bony Moronie,” Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It,” and Freddie King’s “Going Down”) unremarkable. Overall, there are just too many multiple and not-terribly-varying versions of songs throughout the box to make for listening that’s as stimulating as it might seem on paper.

Also in the box is a 102-page hardback book of deeply researched liner notes that does a lot to help illuminate the stories of both the unfinished Life House and the album it morphed into, Who’s Next, as well as the many extra tracks recorded by the band between 1970 and 1972 (excepting Live at Leeds recordings). The newly written graphic novel based on Life House that’s also part of the package is not as essential and, in my view, inessential. The rare period memorabilia in an LP-sized sleeve, including reproductions of posters and concert programs, is nice but not amazing. If omitting the Blu-ray and the quite sizable graphic novel would have lowered the list price considerably, I would have preferred such a revision.

5. Various Artists, Tape Excavation (Independent Project/P22). This came out in LP form in 2020, but there are reasons to include this on a 2023 list. Even if you’re the kind of collector who gets in line for Record Store Day releases at dawn, you might be frustrated by trying to acquire the LP-only release if you don’t already have it. It was available only as limited editions that added up to 600 copies. More importantly, this CD version adds eight tracks to the original fourteen, now making for a total of twenty-two. It compiles previously unreleased tracks from various Bruce Licher musical projects spanning 1980 to 2019, including material from his most famous band (Savage Republic); pre-Savage Republic outfits Project 197, Bridge, and Final Republic; and post-Savage Republic projects Scenic, Lanterna, Lemon Wedges, Bank, and SR2, along with post-Savage Republic Licher solo recordings. A booklet with liner notes explains the origins of the tracks.

Tape Excavation’s selections are actually of similar quality to Licher’s previous official releases, even if the fidelity and polish might not be as high on a few tracks (particularly the earlier ones). Although it covers four decades, there’s a continuity in the eerie instrumental textures, which both use conventional instruments (especially Licher’s unusually tuned guitar) and blend them in unconventional ways. The earlier efforts bear some traces of early-‘80s post-punk dissonance, yet are likely to appeal to people who don’t usually like post-punk, at least if my own tastes are an indication. There’s even some appealingly cheesy new wave keyboard on Final Republic’s “Chase,” though the same group was responsible for the foreboding waves of overlapping reverb dominating “The Unknown.” The earlier of the additional eight tracks tend to be noisier and more industrial in nature than the original core fourteen.

Licher focused more on sort of post-punk equivalents to surf music with elements of psychedelia and middle eastern melodies as time went on. His pair of 1997 solo demos are of special note; “Cedar” is worthy of exotically dreamy Ennio Morricone-like soundtracks, and “Tundra” can’t help but sound like an end-of-the-century takeoff on the Byrds’ “Why.” The later excursions might be less edgy and frenetic than his ‘80s endeavors, but maintain his knack for atmospheric instrumentals that are more mature yet not at all wimpy.

The tracks of later vintage added for the CD fall into this area, highlighted by Exploratorium’s “The Atmosphere” and the dreamy yet slightly foreboding late-‘90s home recording “SF Cima Song,” a variation of a song from Scenic’s Incident at Cima album. The most recent of the added items, the 2009 solo home recording “Mesopotamia” and the 2017 solo home recording “There Is Always a Light Which Will Illuminate the Way, Even in the Darkest of Times,” are also up to the standard of the selections on the original LP, as spooky instrumentals evoking the kind of photos of desolate landscapes found in many of the booklet’s illustrations. Licher went through dozens of boxes of recordings to cull these tracks, and if even a small percentage of these approach Tape Excavation’s standard, a series of archive releases would be welcome. 

6. The Daily Flash, The Legendary Recordings 1965-1967 (Guerssen). It’s hard to know where to rank a compilation on which the best half dozen or so tracks are so much better than the other dozen or so. On the basis of their handful of previously available rare singles and outtakes, the Daily Flash were among the better early folk-rock groups, with particularly outstanding covers of Ian & Sylvia’s “The French Girl” and Eric Andersen’s “Violets of Dawn,” as well as searing early psychedelia on “Jack of Diamonds,” which opens with an unholy blast of feedback. They had good vocal harmonies and guitar-oriented arrangements that were polished without getting too slick, creating the impression they could have been significantly bigger if they’d gotten more breaks.

A whole LP’s worth of material, including all of the above songs, appeared back in 1984. But this 19-song comp was eagerly awaited as it includes about ten cuts that haven’t been easily available, and in some cases never before issued. Yet none of the extras are in the same league as most of what appeared on that 1984 LP, I Flash Daily. The folk-rock versions of Dino Valenti’s “Birdses” and Bob Dylan’s “Let Me Die in My Footsteps”—themselves hard to hear in versions by their composers back in the mid-1960s—are just okay. Some of the other folk-rock updates of folk tunes, like “When I Was a Cowboy,” are disappointingly forgettable. Only a couple of original compositions (both by Steve Lalor) are here, and while “Barbara Flowers” isn’t bad poppy folk-rock, the previously unissued “Again and Again” doesn’t make much of an impression.

This Seattle group’s failure to write much, or very interesting, original material was the biggest factor in their failure to rise to the heights of the better folk-rock groups of the time. Like Buffalo Springfield, for instance, who were also produced and managed by Charlie Greene and Brian Stone (and whom Daily Flash guitarist Doug Hastings joined for a bit when Neil Young left the Springfield). Despite the excellence of their best sides, they just didn’t have what it took to be a major band, as much as folk-rock fanatics like me might have wished this comp to prove otherwise. But it does, after a gap of many years, fully represent their legacy, with thorough if occasionally drifting liner notes untangling their history and what happened when, including recording dates. There are three versions of Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately,” though there’s a purpose to the repetition: two different versions were released on singles, and the third one’s a live recording.

7. Various Artists, One Mile from Heaven (Mapache). In the 1970s, there were loads of privately pressed singer-songwriter albums—many, perhaps most, of them poor and amateurish. There were also some decent and, on rare occasion, striking ones, or at least some striking tracks here and there on such releases. This twenty-track double LP curates some of the most noteworthy, with a couple (from Jim Sullivan in 1969 and Bobb Trimble in 1980) falling just outside the ‘70s. In the words of Daniel Resines’s liners, “It’s a compilation of hardly known (if not completely unknown) songs that nobody was waiting for—the sheer opposite of a greatest hits album.” In other words, the kind of thing that many collectors of vintage rock esoterica are waiting for.

But while none of these are household names, some of them are known, to UT readers at any rate. Maitreya Kali (aka Craig Smith) is a star in UT’s world, in large part due to our publisher/editor’s excellent book about him, and his “One Last Farewell” leads off this collection. Another star of sorts in our alternate universe is Merrell Fankhauser, whose prime was just honored with a six-CD box. Gary Higgins, Michael Yonkers, and Jim Sullivan have their own smaller cult followings; Alicia May and Chuck & Mary Perrin have been honored with CD reissues of their albums. At least half the artists, however, are apt to be unfamiliar to most collectors, other than the kind who write reviews for the fine reference books overseen by Richard Morton Jack and the late Patrick Lundborg.

This sort of privately pressed singer-songwriter fare could hardly be called a “scene”—few of them knew each other, and few listeners heard these records when they were released. There is, however, a unifying thread, at least when you hear them with half a century or so of distance. Though not nearly as desolate or outsider-ish as many “loner folk” efforts, there’s a bittersweet after-the-party feel to much of the material. There’s often a pensive, subdued air, but it’s not exactly laidback or mellow. And while these generally had much lower recording and promotional budgets than mainstream ‘70s singer-songwriters on “real” labels did, the sound is always professional, and usually nearly or on par with major label efforts of the period.

At the same time, it’s far enough removed from the bigtime music business to ensure a lot of idiosyncrasy and, within this anthology, diversity. Maitreya Kali’s “One Last Farewell” does stand out as a highlight for its spookiness, but other selections worth noting include Billy Hallquist’s eight-minute “Persephone,” which builds to an extended anthemic choral climax nearly worthy of Fairport Convention’s take on “Percy’s Song,” to cite a rough comparison. Yonkers’s “And Give It To You” is far more delicate and sensitive than his more famed, yet more bombastic, earlier and far heavier, far more electric-oriented recordings.

Joni Mitchell fans are likely to enjoy Alicia May’s “Summer Days,” which was recorded by the same engineer Mitchell used, Henry Lewy. Naomi Lewis’s “More Beautiful” is classy melancholy mid-‘70s singer-songwriting with a more effectively deployed sparse arrangement than most of her more celebrated peers were prone to use. Carm Mascarenhas has, according to the liners, been compared to vintage Van Morrison, though I hear some of fellow Canadian Neil Young in his approach. For something a bit more eccentric, there’s Michael Angelo’s “Field of Lonely Eyes,” which blends nice close vocal harmonies with eerie synthesizer on a cut that’s more homespun and lo-fi than most of the other selections, but pleasantly so.

While hardcore collectors might insist you need to experience these artists with their full albums, this works well as a sampler whether you want to go deeper or content yourself with some of the cream of this niche genre. If you don’t specialize in that niche, the appeal of the individual tracks might be enhanced by hearing them in similar yet versatile company, rather than on full albums by the artists that some might find wearisome to take in all at once. The booklet has background info on all of the performers, with pictures of most of them, and reproductions of all the LP covers from which the material was drawn. (A slightly edited version of this review appeared in Ugly Things magazine.)

8. David Blue & the American Patrol, The Lost 1967 Elektra Recordings & More (Hanky Panky/Mapache). Blue’s self-titled 1966 Elektra debut LP was one of the most blatantly early electric Dylan-inspired records, at a time when there was no shortage of Dylan imitators. He did a second, but unreleased, album for Elektra in 1967 with, or at least credited to as with, backup band the American Patrol. Eight of the ten tracks that would have comprised that album are this vinyl-only LP release, along with three acoustic folk tracks he contributed to Elektra’s 1965 various-artists compilation album Singer Songwriter Project, where he was billed under his birth name, David Cohen.

Blue still sounds derivative of Dylan to some extent on much of the 1967 material, but he was taking steps toward finding more of his own voice, both as a singer and a songwriter. “23 Days in September” (which he’d re-record in a more laidback version on his 1968 album of the same name), “Scales for a Window Thief,” and especially “Best of Your Childlike Smiles” are rather nice, if still slightly Dylanesque, pensive folk-rock. There’s a wistful quality to Blue’s softly intoned vocals and more bittersweet melodic turns than most circa-’66 folk-rock (though this was taped in 1967) of this sort had. He gets into more playful, lighthearted moods, with variable but basically acceptable results, on some of the other songs; “Anna” is the best of these, and “You Need a Change” has a slightly ahead of its time country-rock tinge.

It’s unfortunate, however, that “Vaudeville Blues” and “Dr. Smith’s Electrical Light Machine” have a cringeworthy dated vaudeville rock feel, along the lines of so many similar tracks from the time from bands that seemed to feel they should put one such cut on their LP, as if they had to prove their diversity. It’s doubly unfortunate that two other tracks from the unreleased LP, “Anything You Find on the Floor Is Yours” and “Tell Me What It’s Like When You Get Back,” were not made available for this release, as they have a decidedly rougher and bluesier, almost garage rock feel than the rest of the material. As far as demonstrating versatility goes, they’re far better than the vaudevillian tunes, and one wishes they could have been included, or even included at the expense of the vaudevillian numbers. They’d also be more interesting than the pretty run-of-the-mill folk performances from Singer Songwriter Project, an LP that hasn’t been too hard to find (though some editions exclude the tracks by Richard Fariña, which are the best on that compilation).

Who loses in this exclusion? Only fans and history. Had they been possible to add to the tracklist, this LP would have ranked a notch or two higher. History is given, at least, by Mark Brend’s extensive liner notes, decorated by some rare pictures and graphics. This was issued in a limited edition of 500 copies, the same label also putting out a 500-copy vinyl run of Blue’s debut LP at the same time.

9. Los Shakers, ¡Shaker Mania! (Guerssen). Los Shakers, or the Shakers as they’ve sometimes been billed, were the finest Uruguayan rock group of the 1960s, and indeed probably the best one in South America. Some might feel this is damning with the faintest of praise considering how much distance in quality there was between South American rock and North American (and British) rock. But singing in both Spanish and accented English, they were also among the better explicitly Beatles-influenced groups from anywhere in the globe. Plenty of people wouldn’t count this as a major asset either, and it’s easy to imagine some rock critics making fun of how heavily derivative their records were, not to mention the accents and awkward English phrasing. But their records were pretty enjoyable, if no match for what the Beatles (or even the better bands with some similarities to the early Beatles, from the Hollies and the Bee Gees to the Beau Brummels) did. 

Plenty of Shakers music has actually been readily available in English-speaking countries for a long time, both on CD and through an English-language LP Audio Fidelity actually issued in the US in the mid-1960s, Break It All. For those such as I who do care about their catalog, this (so far vinyl-only) compilation offers something different, focusing on non-LP singles and rarities, even including three previously unreleased tracks. As a whole they’re not quite up to the level of the best Shakers CD compilation, Big Beat’s 2000 release ¡Por Favor (compiled, like this LP, by Alec Palao). Nor does it offer anything especially different from what’s been more commonly available. It’s just good sub-Beatles ‘60s pop-rock, sometimes (though not often) with a more South American influence, especially on the closing bossa nova-inflected “Nunca Nunca.” “Don’t Call Me on the Telephone, Baby” is uncomfortably close to Larry Williams’s “Bad Boy” and how the Beatles did that, but nothing else here is as obviously derivative.

Note that “Only in Your Eyes” isn’t the Break It All version, but the much rarer earlier one recorded for a single in March 1965. The complicated origins of the rarities are explained and annotated in Palao’s liner notes. 

10. Various Artists, Let’s Stomp!: Merseybeat and Beyond 1962-1969 (Strawberry). As the liners to this three-CD, 93-track collection begin, “Merseybeat was a relatively brief phenomenon—still a local scene in 1962 and fading by the end of 1964.” But did any other such brief boom echo so loud and long in the history of rock? This was the true beginning of a distinctive British rock sound, which would transform not just the country’s music industry, but also music and even youth culture the globe over.

Much of its mammoth influence, of course, was due to the band who wasn’t only the biggest and best on the scene, but also the best rock group of all time. Alas, the Beatles aren’t represented on this compilation for licensing reasons—not even by one of their pre-EMI Hamburg recordings. But virtually everyone else is. While some of the selection can be debated, it’s the most all-encompassing Merseybeat compilation both in its quantity and its range.

All of the non-Beatles hitmakers are here: the Searchers, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, the Swinging Blue Jeans, the Mojos, the Merseybeats, the Merseys, the Fourmost, and Cilla Black. So are the names known who didn’t quite make it big, even if they’re known to many: the Big Three, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Jackie Lomax, Tommy Quickly, the Remo Four, Tony Jackson post-Searchers. So are plenty of names known only to those who were there or ravenous collectors, like the 23rd Turnoff, Wimple Winch, Jason Eddie, and Ian & the Zodiacs. So are some names that were unfamiliar to this know-it-all reviewer, from Jeannie & the Big Guys to Satin Bells. The only omission I’d argue for is the Pete Best Combo, whose “The Way I Feel About You” is pretty storming garage pop, even if it was recorded in the US.

Every British Invasion collector would have a different selection to propose for such an anthology, and a few acts aren’t heard at their best. Certainly the Merseybeats’ “Our Day Will Come” and Ian & the Zodiacs’ “Beechwood 4-5789” hardly count among their best work, and Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Slow Down” is a non=starter compared to the Beatles’ version. Like a good number of compilations of this sort, the mix of classic hits (the Swinging Blue Jeans’ “Hippy Hippy Shake,” Kramer’s “Bad to Me,” and the Searchers’ “When You Walk in the Room”) with deep cuts and obscurities means that almost anyone who buys this will already have some (and maybe even much) of it elsewhere.

But heard a few times, this does grow on you for its sheer diversity. There’s certainly Merseybeat in the classic chipper catchy guitar-driven style; the Fourmost’s “I’m in Love,” one of the lesser known Lennon-McCartney songs the Beatles didn’t release, is one of the best such items. But there are plenty of woman solo acts and girl groups, often in a pop or soul style; journeyman club rock’n’roll by some of the Beatles’ peers who never quite made it outside of Liverpool and Hamburg, like King Size Taylor; light psych from Focal Point; mod from the Thoughts (whose “All Night Stand” is featured in its rarer US version, though it’s not much different than the UK one); and demented early freakbeat, though Jason Eddie’s ‘Come On Baby” is pretty well known to devotees of the form.

Listing all the non-hits of high quality (albeit mixed with some mundane efforts and routine covers) would take quite a few paragraphs, but listen especially for Jeannie & the Big Guys’ tough interpretation of Titus Turner’s “Sticks and Stones”; a surprisingly worthwhile run through “Sally Go Round the Roses” by ex-Vernon Girl Lyn Cornell; and the Remo Four’s solid blue-eyed soul/rock take on Gloria Jones’s “Heart Beat.” Although they’ve done the reissue rounds for decades, the bittersweet, ethereal psychedelia of the 23rd Turnoff’s “Michael Angelo” (sic) and Wimple Winch’s mod mini-epic “Rumble on Mersey Square South” are among the very few items here that show local bands innovating with the changing times and more serious, sophisticated compositions. As the Beatles did—and, somehow, their Liverpool peers didn’t, almost without exception.

There are just three previously unreleased tracks, all carrying some degree of interest. The Maracas’ “A Different Drummer” is a Joe Meek production. Samantha Jones’s “This Is the Real Thing” wasn’t on one of her numerous ‘60s singles, and was retrieved from an acetate. Shel Talmy produced the Pathfinders’ moody and well-harmonized “Lonely Room,” the best of this trio of vault finds, is a fine cover of an Ivy League composition.

Is there much more to be found by many of these acts on other compilations, single-artist or various-artist? Sure (though probably not in the Pathfinders’ case), and everyone will have their favorites, sometimes many, that aren’t featured here. For the less fussy who want a good overview of the breadth of ‘60s Merseybeat, however, it works as a starter or sampler, with detailed, bountifully illustrated liner notes by compiler Jon Harrington. (A slightly edited version of this review appeared in Ugly Things magazine.)

11. David John & the Mood: Diggin’ for Gold (Cherry Red). David John & the Mood put out only three non-hit singles as part of the mid-1960s British R&B/rock explosion. But they’re pretty fondly regarded by collectors, in part owing to their inclusion on numerous specialist archival compilations. This 22-track anthology is the first actual compilation of material by the group, though it doesn’t actually include much in the way of songs they didn’t release. All six cuts from the 45s are here, but much of the rest are alternate versions and backing tracks. There’s just one song, the outtake “That Little Old Heartbreaker Me,” that wasn’t on the singles in some form. Even that song is presented in three different versions, one of them a backing track with backing (but no lead) vocals.

Although David John & the Mood were a second-tier British R&B/rock outfit, most of the half dozen numbers on their singles were pretty good. When their material first appeared on reissues, there was speculation that “David John” might actually be a pseudonym for David Bowie, as there’s some similarity between how John (given name David John Smith) and very early Bowie sing in a high, sometimes squealy and mannered voice. “I Love to See You Strut” in particular is pretty taut and brash; “Bring It to Jerome” is a good Bo Diddley cover, if not on the same level as the original or Manfred Mann’s version; and “Pretty Thing,” likewise no match for the original or the Pretty Things’ cover, captures the naive energy of the young British R&B acts well, with one of the all-time great weird dissonant sloppy guitar solos of the genre.

On reflection, John doesn’t sound quite as much like early Bowie as sometimes suspected when “Bring It to Jerome” and “I Love to See You Strut” appeared on Pebbles Vol. 6 back at the end of the 1970s. There are hints that he and the Mood could have developed into something more notable and important than a fairly typical, if slightly better than average, early sub-Stones et al. combo. They didn’t get the chance, however, owing to some bad breaks and questionable management, though they were able to record a couple singles with producer Joe Meek.

While I like David John & the Mood, it can be disputed whether they’re worth the kind of treatment the Beach Boys get with their box sets, where many of the selections are backing tracks and not-so-different alternates. The different versions on this comp aren’t notably different than the familiar (at least to the kind of collectors who accumulate this stuff) ones, though an acetate version of “Diggin’ for Gold” isn’t as close as the others. Even most such collectors would be satisfied with an EP or mini-LP of the singles plus the outtake and acetate. This does, however, come with a 20-page booklet with a full history of the group that documents them much better than anything else that’s been published.

12. P.J. Proby, Presley Style: Lost Elvis Songwriter Demos 1961-1963 (Bear Family). P.J. Proby was most known for his brief period of superstardom as an expatriate American singer in Britain in the mid-1960s, though he had only modest success in his native US. In the early 1960s, before he was known for his own records, he recorded numerous demos of songs for Elvis Presley to cut. That’s been known for a long time, but this 21-track collection marks the first release of any of the material. While it’s of more interest as an historical oddity than for its intrinsic merits, it’s not without such merits, if something of a footnote in the careers of both Proby and Presley.

Proby could credibly emulate Elvis’s style, though he had more of a warble and was ultimately no match for Presley’s greatness. Nor were the songs featured on this anthology among Elvis’s best, even by the standards of his Presley’s generally somewhat diminished early-‘60s output. If you’re looking for highlights from the Elvis catalog from this period like “Little Sister” or “Return to Sender,” or even “Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello,” be aware no such items are here. Also be aware that these songs aren’t even among his best or best known secondary early-‘60s output, and were mostly used as filler on his soundtracks, or not even used at all by Elvis. All but three were written by the Sid Wayne-Ben Weisman composing team, hardly the best songwriters of the era, or even among the best who wrote for Presley.

All those reservations out of the way, this isn’t such a bad listen, though it’s uneven and has a few turkeys. Proby undoubtedly attacks the material with professional zeal; the backing, likely by the Wrecking Crew at least some of the time, is like the vocals better than the material; and some of the songs are pretty fair, and occasionally rock out. “Come and Get It,” for instance, is a decent tough bluesy rocker that would have been one of Presley’s better LP tracks had Elvis done a version (he didn’t). “Carnival of Dreams” is a neatly dramatic torch song-cum-rocker. There are also songs neither Proby nor Presley could have done much to elevate, the military ode “Snap To!” being the most flagrant example. 

This collection does raise the issue, as does much of Presley’s post=’50s output, of how much he would have benefited from being able to record more songs by writers closer to his age and musical passions by the likes of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Or even by using songs from composers with a good rock sensibility who were older than Elvis, like what Doc Pomus wrote with Mort Shuman. The issue isn’t discussed by the thorough liner notes, which treat the material as if it’s of deserving of canonization as anything Presley did. If ultimately something of a curiosity, as such curiosities go, it’s pretty interesting. 

13. Heinz, The White Tornado (Cherry Red). For someone often berated for having little vocal or instrumental talent, and sometimes cast as a stooge of sorts (putting it politely) who never would have gotten on disc if not for the patronage of producer Joe Meek, Heinz sure made a bunch of good records. It’s true they might have owed more to stellar backup musicians and Meek’s production than Heinz’s limited skills. But “Just Like Eddie” (his sole big UK hit), “Big Fat Spider,” “Movin’ In,” “I’m Not a Bad Guy,” “Hush-A Bye Baby,” and “That Lucky Old Sun”—to name just a few—are certainly dynamic, highly enjoyable sides in an Meek-meets-the-British Beat explosion way. How much Heinz, however, is too much Heinz?

This five-CD box certainly begs the question, even for Heinz/Meek fans. With the accent on demos and alternate takes found in Meek’s seemingly bottomless “tea chest tapes,” there’s certainly insight to be heard into how the tracks were generated and polished. Many of them, however, can’t help but expose the weaker (and sometimes weakest) elements of Heinz’s voice, and the sometimes undistinguished and/or corny material, before they were burnished by Meek and company. And while almost all of his 1963-66 releases are represented by the original versions or versions that are close to what was issued at the time, there are few songs that weren’t on those discs.

am a Heinz fan, at least of most of his singles and some of the tracks from his sole LP. But let’s be realistic—his demos, backing tracks, and alternate takes don’t carry anything like the charge, let alone historical importance, of the kind of similar marginalia that fills up box sets of the likes of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. It can be tough to wade through slightly different or meager outtakes by those groups too, but at least they nearly always illuminate the creative process of some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. For all his attributes, Heinz wasn’t one, and for all his erratic studio genius, Meek wasn’t on that level either.

For most fans, a selective compilation, or even the uneven double CD Just Like Eddie: The Heinz Anthology (which has all his 1963-66 tracks), is far preferable to this far scrappier if far more extensive overview. Even serious Heinz fans—and it’s hard to imagine many who get this set won’t already have his standard output—might have been better served by a much more selective trawl through his extras. Some of the alternates are simply the official versions at the original speed, and while the revelations that Meek often sped up the recordings for release are interesting, the slower-running variations aren’t better. The annotation could have been clearer about who’s singing what—it’s usually Heinz, but Meek himself (who was a woeful singer) and songwriter Geoff Goddard are also heard on vocals at some points.

It’s not often that the less familiar material on this box will perk up your ears, whether because it’s different from what you’re used to or it’s pretty good. But there are some tracks that do strike such chords. A demo of “Heart Full of Sorrow” is slower and gutsier than the single, missing the chirpy female backup vocals; a “Big Fat Spider” demo, though missing the incredible creepy guitar licks of the 45, has a notably different bouncy feel and prominent organ; take 7 of “Movin’ In” isn’t much different from the single, but has stunning guitar work, also demonstrating that Heinz could summon satisfyingly raw vocals once in a while. 

There are a bit more than half a dozen songs that didn’t make it beyond the demo/outtake stage, including a rudimentary cover of “Fever.” Most of the others are poppy trifles, some of them bearing an “unknown” songwriting credit. But even these can’t be wholly written off, the box ending on its highest note with “Voices On the Wind.”

As haunting as all but the best Meek compositions and productions—and Joe had many of those—this spare yet effective performance has a decent Heinz vocal and is utterly devoid of the frivolity found in many of his (and Meek’s) other efforts. Although the ending refrain goes on for too long, this stately and somber number is easily up the standard of Heinz and Meek’s better tracks. It reminds us why many listeners still care about their work sixty or so years later, even if they have to be very dedicated to their legacy to spring for this box’s super-deep survey. (A slightly edited version of this review appeared in Ugly Things magazine.)

14. Various Artists, You Thrill Me to Pieces: Beat & Pop from the United Kingdom 1963-1966 (Teensville). This has an even more tenuous spot on a best-of list than the Heinz box above. And like that Heinz box, it’s only on here because it’s in a genre in which I specialize – perhaps the genre (mid-‘60s British rock) in which I specialize more than any other. None of these 34 tracks were close to hits, and in fact few of the groups are at all recognizable even to most British Invasion collectors, except the Merseybeats (represented by a demo, “Janie, I Love You,” that might be rare, but isn’t very good). Some of the musicians achieved greater subsequent fame in other contexts, most blatantly Mick Taylor, whose early combo the Juniors weighs in with a forgettable 1964 single. There are some other famous associations in the Echoes, who were Dusty Springfield’s backup group, and the Cockneys, whose Mick Grace filled in for an ill Ray Davies on a brief mid-‘60s European Kinks tour. But for the most part these musicians made little impact at any time.

In its favor, unlike many similar compilations, this doesn’t have lame covers of American rock and soul songs. It’s wholly comprised of compositions you don’t come across anywhere else, many written by the acts themselves, and some that might be by famous songwriters (Goffin-King, Clint Ballard Jr., Les Reed-Barry Mason, Roger Greenaway) but are utterly unfamiliar. It’s far more pop-rock (and sometimes more pop than rock) than R&B, and there’s nothing by the kind of obscure bluesy mid-‘60s UK acts that made good rare discs, like the Fairies, the Birds, and the Wheels. Merseybeat might be the biggest influence, but generally these acts and their writers/producers/labels were trying to make catchy hits.

To be cold, most of them aren’t that catchy, though enough of them are pleasant to be modestly enjoyable while they play, even if they don’t stick with you. It’s a testament to just how prolific the British scene was at the time. But it does make you wonder whether the labels—and there were only a few big ones in the UK, who dominated the business, and were responsible for every one of these 34 tracks—were that wise in giving so many acts a chance. Even at the time, it seems like most of these would have been given little chance at being hits by either average listeners or the record companies, or sometimes even by the performers.

Two of these tracks – not a high percentage, admittedly – do stand out in this crowd, and to my knowledge have never previously been issued on CD. One is the most famous, the Cockneys’ Mick Grace-penned “After Tomorrow,” to which they mimed in the opening sequence to the quickie British rock movie Swinging UK in 1964. Not that it’s brilliant, but it has the kind of quirky unpredictable chord changes, mix of major and minor melody, and exuberant harmonies found in the better Merseybeat (although they were from London). Another is “Kiss Me” by the Viscounts, most remembered (if at all) for Gordon Mills—later manager of Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Gilbert O’Sullivan—being a member. Although it’s kind of corny and diluted a bit by orchestration, it does have the sort of catchy Merseyish melodies and all-out chipper harmonies that had genuine hit potential. As another testament to the imperfection of the British record business, it was used as a B-side, and to my knowledge has never been reissued before this compilation.

15. The Doors, Live in Bakersfield, August 21, 1970 (Rhino). Should this be the only live Doors release in existence, it would rate much higher on this list, as their box of 1967 Matrix tapes does. It isn’t, of course; besides the double Absolutely Live album they put out back in 1970, there are many posthumous concert discs, with more than a dozen discs of material from 1970 alone. This double CD isn’t too much different from those, while the sound, from a two-track tape on a reel-to-reel recorder by road manager Vince Treanor, isn’t quite as good as the others, though it’s alright. It’s also the last of the Doors concerts that was recorded to make it to official release, with the exception of their Isle of Wight appearance from only about a week later.

The Doors were sticking to pretty similar set lists during this time, and my heart did not race at the prospect of yet another medley of “Alabama Song/Back Door Man/Five to One.” Still, this Record Store Day release (on both LP and CD) – not too hard to get on CD a few weeks later, despite its limited-edition status – has its merits. More often than you’d expect, the Doors sort of clowned around and didn’t always seem to take their songs too seriously in the later concerts they did with Morrison. There’s none of that here, the band playing things fairly straight, and with a lot of commitment, even if they might have done “When the Music’s Over,” “Roadhouse Blues,” “The End,” and the medley many, many times by this point.

Less traveled tunes like “Universal Mind” (combined with parts of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue”)” and “Ship of Fools” are also included, along with a medley of “Mystery Train/Away in India/Crossroads” that might strike some beginning Doors fans as out of the blue, but which they did at a number of other concerts from this time that have come out. Most exciting is a nine-minute “Love Me Two Times,” both because there aren’t many live versions of that around, and because it’s a lot more stretched-out than the familiar, much shorter hit single, even detouring into “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “St. James Infirmary.”

It’s unfortunate that Treanor’s tape ran out after ninety minutes, leaving some of the two-hour-plus show undocumented (and also missing the first few bars of “Roadhouse Blues”). Maybe that had some other less run-of-the-mill tunes. What’s here has some interesting improvisations, and although it’s sometimes reported that the band and particularly Morrison were losing some heart at this point, they’re giving it their all, with some especially intense screams and crescendos on “The End.”

16. Nina Simone, You’ve Got to Learn (Verve/Universal). More Nina Simone from the 1960s is always welcome, though this live July 2, 1966 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival is rather peripheral to her large discography. At about 33 minutes, it’s pretty short, and note that while there are seven tracks listed, one is a forty-second spoken “Intro to Blues for Mama.” The sound and performance are very good, but the song selection is a little on the sedate side, particularly with “I Loves You Porgy” and the ballad “Music for Lovers.” Better and more forceful, though not scintillating, are Charles Aznavour’s “You’ve Got to Learn,” the Simone-Abbey Lincoln co-write “Blues for Mama,” and the highly percussive quasi-spiritual “Be My Husband.” The highlight is a “Mississippi Goddam” that’s taken at a more relaxed funkier pace than the more familiar frenetic versions. It’s not as good as that faster version, but at least it’s notably different. Even within just six songs, this testifies to the unpredictably wide eclecticism of her repertoire, though it doesn’t match the highlights of her recorded work in the era.

17. Jimi Hendrix, Hollywood Bowl August 18, 1967 (Legacy). This was one of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first shows in the US, after their triumphant appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival and concerts at the Fillmore, but also after their disastrous, aborted time as an opening act on a Monkees tour. They were still an opening act (for the Mamas and the Papas) at this Hollywood Bowl gig, a week before the US release of Are You Experienced. Recorded by a radio station technician, the sound is good, and the audience reaction somewhere between what you’d imagine the feedback to have been at their previous Californian shows and the Monkees concerts. In a way that helps, since there’s little audience noise to compete with the music. On the other hand, Hendrix sounds a little displeased by the indifferent crowd, judging from between-song remarks like “thanks anyway” after “Killing Floor” and a promise to do a song “from the bottom of our hearts” before “Like a Rolling Stone.” “We’d like to dedicate this last number to ourselves,” he says before “Wild Thing.” “Well, might as well, there’s nobody else here.” Noel Redding even handles a few of the announcements.

As for the performance, it’s pretty good, but at this point not a standout in the bulging Hendrix catalog of posthumously released live shows. It’s similar to their long-available Monterey set, but not as fine. Jimi forgets a few words during “The Wind Cries Mary,” and the interplay between him and the backup vocals on “Fire” is kind of sloppy, though there aren’t other notable flaws. The set does include a few songs that weren’t available on early Hendrix discs, notably “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Catfish Blues,” and a couple covers he had performed at Monterey, “Killing Floor” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”

18. Jackie DeShannon, The Sherry Lee Show (Sundazed). Here’s another one for the “primarily of historical interest” pile, although the music is of solidly respectable quality, if hardly nearly as good or characteristic of what the artist would do at her best. It’s amazing enough that these were found and preserved, as this presents 31 songs DeShannon sang on an Aurora, Illinois radio show in 1956 and 1957. She was only in her early teens, and going by the name Sherry Lee. She didn’t sound too much like she’d sound when she started to make many, and often very good, recordings in the early 1960s as a pop-rock singer, often writing her material. Instead, she sounds like a young early honky-tonk performer, with country her main influence, though there’s some early rock and roll in the mix.

These tapes—in decent, though not studio, quality—are somewhat like the early (mid-1950s) country efforts of Wanda Jackson, or the earliest singles by Patsy Cline. DeShannon rocks a little harder than Jackson or Cline did on those discs, but nothing is nearly as hot as Jackson’s early rockabilly classics, and she’s not as deep in the country bag as Cline (whose “Walkin’ After Midnight” she covers here). Most of the cuts are fair honky-tonk tunes, and while DeShannon’s vocals are strong for a youngster, they lack the personality she’d stamp many of her cuts with in the 1960s, almost  to the point where she sounds like an entirely different artist here. About the only thing that does separate her somewhat from other early honky-tonkers are some ventures into Elvis Presley and Fats Domino songs, though they way they’re arranged here is more on the country side of things than rock’n’roll. It sure sounds, by the way, like she sings about catching someone in bed (rather than dead) in her version of “Baby Let’s Play House,” on which she doesn’t bother to change the subject from a girl.

Once in a while on my lists, I note a release from a couple years back that I somehow missed at the time. Here’s one for this list, though it came out in 2021:

Laura Nyro, Go Find the Moon: The Audition Tape (Omnivore). This is really more an EP than an album, the eight tracks lasting a mere eighteen-and-a-half minutes, including some incomplete fragments, studio talk, and a false start. This previously unreleased 1966 tape is – the phrase must be again used — primarily of historical interest, even for Nyro fans, due to its brevity and far barer arrangements than even her first album would boast. There aren’t really arrangements, actually; it’s just her on solo piano, going through a few songs that would appear on her early albums (“And When I Die,” “Lazy Susan,” and “Luckie”), and three that didn’t make any of her records (“Go Find the Moon,” “Enough of Your,” and “In and Out”). It’s not fair to judge a solo audition tape against a fully arranged studio album, but like other such demos, it illustrates how much the songs benefited from full backup, as they did on Nyro’s debut More Than a New Discovery.

Her talents as a songwriter, and also (though they generally haven’t gotten as much acclaim) singer and pianist, are evident, particularly on the song that’s by far the most famous, “And When I Die.” The others, including the previously unheard compositions, aren’t as striking, though they show her knack for blending soul, pop, Tin Pan Alley, and gospel was already developed, and her vocals fully mature. The producers (Artie Mogull and Milt Okun) deserve some credit for detecting her big potential, although the solo piano backing makes much of the material rather similar sounding. Asked if she can play some songs that she didn’t write, Nyro seems rather stuck for a musical response, going through a partial version of “Kansas City” and just a few lines of “I Only Want to Be With You.” Whether or not she knew other people’s songs by heart, maybe she was reluctant to do any but her own at this audition, although ironically, she’d do the best all-cover album by a noted singer-songwriter a few years later on 1971’s Gonna Take a Miracle.

Top Twenty-Five (Or So) Music History Books of 2023

There are still plenty of album reissues and music films that interest me, but there are a deluge of music history books in comparison. There are so many that there are at least a half dozen or so such 2023 books I’d like to check out eventually, but I ran out of time. I’m sure there are others from 2023 I’m not yet even aware of that I’ll read in the future. At least my #1 choice was clear-cut, though there were plenty of other fine or at least somewhat worthwhile volumes.

The supplementary list of 2022 books I didn’t read until 2023 is pretty long, running to a dozen titles. I know my way of making annual lists is different than some and perhaps many other writers, who are strict in only considering releases from one calendar year. My feeling is that I’d rather cover deserving books late than never, especially considering that some would have placed quite high on my main 2022 list had I read them in time, and that some are not going to get wide attention. My feeling is also that just because a certain amount of time has passed between a release and a review doesn’t mean it’s any less worth reading, as much as some publicists would like for reviews to only appear at the time (or even before) a book is released. 

Without trying to pat myself on the back too much, also keep in mind that unlike many listmakers, I don’t post mine until the final days of the year, instead of in early December, November, or even earlier. I know this happens because some publishers insist on having these lists compiled on earlier deadlines, and that there’s often a belief that they have to be made in time for holiday or even Black Friday shopping. But not everyone builds their shopping around these times, and not everyone celebrates these holidays. Of more importance, I’m always able to fit in a few more books, records, and films on my lists by writing about those I come across in November and December, instead of relegating them to perpetual absence from annual lists.

1. Nick Drake: The Life, by Richard Morton Jack (Hachette). Drake only gave a couple scanty interviews during his brief life, and information about the British folk-rock singer-songwriter has been on the fairly scarce and contradictory side. That hasn’t stopped there being a few previous books about him. This one far surpasses those in depth, and is a superb biography by any standard, even leaving aside the challenges of piecing together the life of a man about whom even some basic facts have been shrouded in mystery. The comprehensiveness of the research is astounding, and not only for the lengthy interviews conducted with his closest surviving associates, those being producer Joe Boyd, engineer John Wood, and sister Gabrielle Drake. Morton Jack tracked down dozens of others, from school friends who’d never previously spoken on the record to publicists, journalists, Island Records staff (including label head Chris Blackwell), and other musicians amateur and professional. He also draws from many other sources, some quite obscure, going to the heroic extent of tracking down a piece in which Drake was interviewed for the UK magazine Jackie, though for many years it was thought he’d only been interviewed in one article (in Sounds).

Beyond the sheer wealth of information, however, the author also pieced together both his musical career and complicated, troubled personal life with critical acuity and perceptive sensitivity. All of Drake’s three albums, as well as the considerable amount of material taped but not issued during his lifetime (including his mother’s recordings of her compositions), are expertly described and contextualized. Some long-standing mini-myths are punctured along the way, such as him dropping off a tape of Pink Moon in Island’s office without a word (he actually gave it to Blackwell personally); his second album, Bryter Layter, coming out in late 1970 (actually it was delayed a few months until early 1971, causing Drake considerable distress); Drake seldom performing (actually he did a few dozen concerts); and Nick never receiving critical praise while alive (actually there were quite a few good reviews, including some in the US and even one in Penthouse, though these didn’t translate to big sales at the time). 

Drake’s extremely withdrawn personality, and his decline into mental illness and 1974 suicide at the age of 26, presents a greater challenge to document. Fortunately Drake’s father Rodney kept a diary during this time, and Morton Jack had access to this and other letters. While the family’s struggles in the last three years of Nick’s life don’t always make for a pleasant tale, this difficult time is relayed with objective detail and empathy for a situation that his parents and friends handled as best they could, but were ultimately helpless to alleviate. Some rare, sometimes previously unpublished photos and documents help round out the story in a 500-page book that’s far more info-packed and authoritative than anyone would have thought possible.

In accordance with full disclosure, I note that I read a draft of the book before it was published, and gave the author detailed comments. I also interviewed him about the volume at a July 2023 bookstore event, and you can read the transcript here. This biography would certainly have earned the same place on this list, however, had I not been slightly involved or known the author.

2. All the Leaves Are Brown: How the Mamas & the Papas Came Together and Broke Apart, by Scott G. Shea (Backbeat). The Mamas and the Papas had been covered extensively in books before this overall history came out, including in the autobiographies of Michelle and John Phillips; a biography of Cass Elliot; and Go Where You Gonna Go: The Oral History of the Mamas & the Papas. All of those have value, but this is the first really comprehensive biography of the group as a whole, and the best of the lot. It not only ties together a lot of the strands addressed partially in other books, but also adds quite a bit of additional info not likely to be found elsewhere. The numerous pre-Mamas/Papas outfits in which the members served time are all documented, and the music of the actual band intelligently and objectively discussed. So are the Monterey Pop Festival that John Phillips and their producer Lou Adler co-organized, and the brief ascendance of Scott McKenzie with the Phillips-written “San Francisco.” In contrast to the approach of many biographies, their much duller years after their 1968 split—both solo and together (including their 1971 reunion album)—are only given as much space as needed, which is to say, not very much.

As for their volatile internal relationships and squabbles, as well as their drug use and temper tantrums, those are here too, as they can’t be wholly separated from the music they made and the songs (largely written by John Phillips) they composed. They don’t overshadow the music, with specific tracks discussed in depth, and detailed examination of how they were produced and arranged. What’s perhaps only striking in retrospect is how much their oft-ebullient and joyous music contrasted with very troubled personal lives, and how brief their creative peak was—about a year and a half—before Phillips’s songwriting declined and they passed out of fashion, not long after they were at folk-rock’s cutting edge. Phillips comes in for both much praise for his musical abilities (at least during that brief peak) and criticism for his personal behavior, which echoed beyond the grave when his daughter Mackenzie publicly stated she and her father had sexual relations.

3. I’m Into Something Good: My Life Managing 10cc, Herman’s Hermits & Many More!, by Harvey Lisberg with Charlie Thomas (Omnibus Press). Unlike Brian Epstein, Andrew Oldham, and Allen Klein, Harvey Lisberg is not a name known to most British ‘60s rock fans, though he was a peer of and interacted with them to various degrees during the British Invasion’s heyday. He’s not even as well known as some managers from that scene lower on the totem pole of public recognition, like Giorgio Gomelsky. But he was very successful, and if he didn’t have any clients other than Herman’s Hermits and (starting in the 1970s) 10cc who made big and long-range impacts, they did very well by him. And though 10cc, and certainly Herman’s Hermits, don’t have the critical clout of clients like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds, their stories are pretty interesting. Lisberg played a big role in popularizing both bands, and has a lot of good anecdotes about them and some others in this fun and well written memoir. It’s not huge, but it doesn’t need to be, telling the tale with economic wit, and not getting too caught up in personal or non-musical detours that don’t carry nearly as much interest as the stars at the center.

If Herman’s Hermits’ catalog doesn’t command enormous critical respect (and Lisberg doesn’t blow up their importance any more than it deserves), he has good, interesting insights into how they quickly became international stars after he began working with them. Despite their squeaky clean image, not everything was smooth sailing. They had to replace their rhythm section when Mickie Most agreed to produce them; they started to resent Most for not being able to play on all their own records or have as much artistic self-determination as they wished; and Allen Klein was lurking in hopes of moving into their affairs, though he was fended off for the most part. Lisberg began working with 10cc’s Graham Gouldman long before 10cc started, and the reports of how Gouldman developed a reputation as a songwriter of hits for the Yardbirds and Hollies are also of high value, and not without their quirks – rather absurdly, it was hoped the Beatles might record Gouldman’s “For Your Love” before it found a home with the group supporting the Beatles on a 1964 Christmas bill, the Yardbirds.

Gouldman, Lisberg, and the other members of 10cc realized the importance of constructing and running their own Strawberry Studios before realizing they should form a group of their own to work there. This wasn’t just a notable signpost in their growth; by the standards of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was very progressive to have an artist-run studio in Manchester, at a time when the British recording scene was heavily dominated by London. Lisberg had some less durable, and sometime passing, associations with artists like Julie Driscoll, Andrew Webber and Tim Rice, and Barclay James Harvest, and these are relayed without more space than they merit, though they’re also well worth reading.

4. Happy Trails: Andrew Lauder’s Charmed Life and High Times in the Record Business, by Andrew Lauder and Mick Houghton (White Rabbit). Like Harvey Lisberg’s, Andrew Lauder’s name might not be too well known to the average rock fan, even less so in the US than the UK. But as an A&R man (and sometimes working in other capacities) in the British music business since the late 1960s, he worked with an astonishing variety of interesting artists. None of the UK or German artists he was instrumental in helping to get record deals and/or building their careers became big in US, with the exception of Elvis Costello, with whom he didn’t work with as closely as most of the others with whom he was involved. You might also count Jeff Lynne, who was part of the Idle Race, one of the first acts championed by Lauder at his long stint at the UK branch of Liberty Records, though Lynne moved on to the Move and Electric Light Orchestra.

Yet the list is quite impressive and eclectic, including Hawkwind, the Bonzo Dog Band, Dr. Feelgood, Buzzcocks, the Groundhogs, Nick Lowe, Man, and then up through the late 1980s and early 1990s with the Stone Roses. He was also key to bringing German 1970s rock to international attention (even if the acts never rose to more than a cult level in the US) with Can, Neu!, and Amon Düül II. He worked on the UK end of careers of American performers like the Flamin’ Groovies, Buddy Guy, Canned Heat, and John Lee Hooker. All of these artists are discussed with inside (though seldom scandalous) and entertaining info, Lauder also bringing zeal to his memories of cult figures who never even made the dent that the likes of Neu! did, such as post-punkers the Pop Group and early-‘70s progressive rockers High Tide. The stunt of flying a planeload of journalists and hangers-on to Brinsley Schwarz’s legendary hype-ridden appearance at the Fillmore East is covered in detail, though the rest of their time as a band is respectfully noted too. 

The ups and downs (though in Lauder’s case, it was mostly ups) of working within the volatile music business are likewise documented with detail. Andrew moved on from Liberty to Radar, (briefly) Island, Demon/Edsel, and Silvertone. While his recollections of deciding what to reissue and how well the releases sold on Edsel might be regarded as too specialized by some, for record nerds the nitty gritty of how compilations by the likes of the Action and reissues of cult acts like the 13th Floor Elevators were arranged are fascinating. Some of the cold machinations and personal conflicts at various labels are also interesting, and though Lauder seemed to avoid the worst of these, certainly his frustrations at Island Records put that label and its chief Chris Blackwell in a poorer light than is usually reported. The worst foibles of the bands he interacted closely with are given far less sensationalism than many memoirs would, though they do come into play at times, Lauder remembering how a member of the Flamin’ Groovies would blast the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” repeatedly in the wee hours while staying with Andrew in London.

Reading this, you can’t help but wonder at how much the business has changed since Lauder literally wandered into a publishing company in London as a teenager and was offered a job on the spot, starting his climb up the ladder. His post-Stone Roses activities are kind of rushed through in a few pages, but that’s fine, as his interest in being a player in the record world was diminishing, though his passion for music never has. It encompassed a remarkably wide field, from progressive rock to blues and Krautrock to post-punk and catalog reissues. Lauder treats each genre with equal devotion, without prioritizing the bigger commercial successes as more significant.

5. The Island Book of Records 1959-68, edited by Neil Storey (Manchester University Press). From a purely visual point of view, and to a large degree just for the information it contains, this nearly 400-page coffee table book is stunning. Covering the first decade of Island Records’ existence, it does indeed focus on the records the label issued, though there’s lot of history of the company. Starting with its considerable attributes, there are reproductions of most of the covers of the LPs it issued during this era, many quite rare, often adding back covers, inner labels, and non-UK editions. There are also lots of photos of the artists, reproductions of ads from the period, Island-related documents like press releases and tape boxes, and other memorabilia. 

There are also many extensive quotes, drawn both from interviews done for this project and plenty of other sources, some dating back to when the records were made. Oriented toward interesting anecdotes, these add up to an oral history that’s a book in itself. They feature memories from those involved in founding and running the company, especially its main executive, Chris Blackwell; numerous artists who were on the label; and ancillary figures with something interesting to pitch in, including photographers of the LP covers, producers, and recording engineers. While most of the first half or so of the book focuses on the ska and reggae upon which Island was initially built, there’s much coverage of the rock it moved into in the mid-1960s. Traffic in particular get a lot of space, including plenty of pages on their legendary cottage in the British countryside.

While early Island releases by some other celebrated artists like Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, and John Martyn are noted in detail, refreshingly, quite a few of the less renowned Island acts receive a good share of attention too. These include Spooky Tooth (dating back to their initial incarnation as Art), Nirvana, Wynder K. Frogg, and jazz musician Harold MacNair. Although the first artists with whom Blackwell had success, Millie Small and the Spencer Davis Group, actually had their big hits licensed to Fontana Records, as Island was able to repackage some of their material, they’re also detailed at length. There are also entries, though understandably shorter ones, for Island’s flops and odd records where no one can quite remember why they were green-lighted. There’s even a section on their “adult” line and rugby discs, which weren’t notable aesthetic accomplishments, but played a big part in keeping the label afloat.

For all its assets, the text could have been better assembled. When some of the figures are first quoted, there aren’t parenthetical notes identifying their role in Island, although brief bios are given in an appendix. This and some of the sequencing can sometimes make it harder to follow than it could have been with that additional context. Some of the quotes are on the mundane, technical, or list-heavy side and could have been more tightly edited. It could be contended that more attention could have been paid to Island’s singles, although there’s a lengthy discography of those in an appendix, and there were so many that giving all of them detailed entries would have expanded the book to an unpublishable size. Still, there were some interesting acts who only had singles or EPs on Island, including the Smoke, the Anglos, and Chris Farlowe. And there are a good number of typos throughout the book – hardly a rarity in music book publishing, unfortunately, but there are more here than in most such productions. It’s to be hoped the next volume, which will only cover the years 1969 and 1970, won’t have as many.

Here’s a mistake that might never be pointed out anywhere else, for what it’s worth. On page 171, in the multi-page entry for The Best of Millie Small, there’s a picture of the Rolling Stones with a young woman on the cover of a March 1964 issue of Pop Weekly. There’s no caption, so one assumes this was placed here because it was thought the woman with the Stones is Millie Small. It isn’t. It’s Cleo Sylvestre, whom the Stones backed on a 1964 single produced by their manager at the time, Andrew Oldham.

6. But Will You Love Me Tomorrow? An Oral History of the ‘60s Girl Groups, by Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz (Hachette). The authors interviewed more than a hundred singers, songwriters, producers, and associates for this book, as well as using a good number of quotes from other sources when figures were dead or unavailable. While this doesn’t uncover a great deal of basic info that wasn’t already known, there are many stories about the songs, the records, and the oft-fraught business side and internal relations in the girl group scene. The emphasis is very much on the top acts, and most of this is devoted to those – the Shirelles, the Ronettes, the Crystals, the Shangri-Las, the Chantels, the Dixie Cups, the Chiffons, the Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas, and the Marvelettes, with a little on the Exciters, the Cookies, the Angels, and others. That’s still enough to fill more than 400 pages, and get into some fairly little known stories like the Cookies singing backup vocals on the Chiffons’ “One Fine Day,” and Little Eva’s “The Locomotion” originally being intended for Dee Dee Sharp.

The quotes are sometimes gossipy in nature, and occasionally go into observations about the music business of the era and early days of rock’n’roll that aren’t tightly related to the girl group subject. Note also that this doesn’t cover the numerous fine solo artists who sang in the girl group style, like Mary Wells and Lesley Gore, or some of the actual groups who made good records, like the biggest one-shot of the whole genre, the Jaynetts’ “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses.” There’s a little too much space at the end on reunions and post-‘70s oldies touring, and for the likely small minority that cares, it would be good to have the sources of the quotes that weren’t from first-hand interviews noted. These are minor flaws in an overall useful addition to girl group literature, and one that details some of the darkest sides of the story. The failure of many of the artists to get their just royalties isn’t so unknown, but there were also rapes of a couple girl group stars; frequent falling-outs that ended close friendships in many of the groups; and, for Estelle Bennett of the Ronettes, struggles with mental illness and homelessness.

7. Time Has Come Today: Rock and Roll Diaries 1967-2007, by Harold Bronson (Trouser Press Books). Rhino Records co-founder Harold Bronson has written a couple previous books based around his former business and associated activities, The Rhino Records Story and the more specialized, anecdote-driven My British Invasion. There’s some inevitable overlap between topics covered in those and this volume, which puts many of his experiences in a chronologically ordered diary format. It’s still pretty entertaining whether you’ve read the others or not, tracing his journey from high school music fan to preeminent label reissue executive, getting to meet many of the interesting characters in all levels of the music (and sometimes general entertainment) business along the way. These go all the way from the Beatles down to a down-and-out Sky Saxon, and even some of the stories relating to stars are unfamiliar, like Bronson getting the scoop from Andrew Oldham as to why the Rolling Stones’ Big Hits album had a different version of “Time Is On My Side” than the hit single. Oldham told Bronson he didn’t remember being asked before, though Harold brought it up decades after the tracks were recorded.

Peter Noone, the Monkees, the Standells, Blondie, the Pretty Things, Arthur Lee and Love, the Yardbirds, the Music Machine, and obscure names known only to collectors like the Autographs – Bronson has stories about all of them and dozens of others, often detailing conversations (and brush-offs) that caught them more off-guard then they usually were. He got to interview some of them, as well as some acts he and not too many others were terribly interested in—which generate some amusing stories that are more interesting than their then-current records—as a rock journalist in the 1970s before concentrating on Rhino. There might be a little more than necessary about his semi-pro, humor-oriented bands in the early years, but the focus is on other personalities. Which are sometimes more disagreeable than some fans want to hear, as when Paul Rothchild dismisses his attempt to interview him about working with Love because the producer thought a reissue compilation wouldn’t sell, or Jeff Beck declining to authorize a Yardbirds BBC compilation.

An aspect to these reflections that might be more subtle, but is also striking, is Bronson often dealt with figures who were on the downside of their career, or way past the point where they were even involved in making records. As a young writer in the ‘70s, he often spoke with people who had been stars, but were just a few years past their peak work, though they weren’t so past their primes that they weren’t still figuring on getting back to the highest level. Some who were long past their hits—sometimes just one or two hit singles—still were under the impression they were just another hit record away from getting right back in the game. Some had kept physically fit; others had gone to waste. Bronson treats them respectfully without making undue fun of their delusions or conditions, but they’re still sobering reminders of how the stretches in which musicians are famous and at their most artistically productive are often short.

8. Leon Russell: The Master of Space and Time’s Journey Through Rock & Roll History, by Bill Janovitz (Hachette). I admit I’m not especially a fan of Russell’s records, even from his brief period as a big star in the early 1970s. But Russell’s life is of interest to almost anyone with a serious passion for rock history, owing to his collaborations with many artists and his substantial achievements as a ‘60s Hollywood session man and arranger. This 500 plus-pager has loads of research and detail on all phases of his colorful, sometimes volatile career and life, though the bulk of it is on his most significant years as a recording artist, from around the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. Maybe some of the minuter detail could have been pared down about his various homes and family relationships. Sections on his post-‘70s/pre-final years, when he largely toiled in obscurity in small venues and many meager records, can be tougher to navigate, though the author acknowledges the shortcomings of much of Russell’s work during this rough stretch. Russell’s descent from stardom was bumpier than most, and his resurgence in the 21st century (largely engineered by Elton John) among the more unexpected music comebacks, and that unnerving path is meticulously documented here.

The book doesn’t unduly dwell on the fallow period, however, though it doesn’t pull punches as to his stormy artistic and personal interactions There’s plenty about his slow rise from session player and arranger (most successfully on hits by Gary Lewis & the Playboys) to making his own records, combining multiple roots styles and more. There’s a lot about his most celebrated guest appearances and concerts, particularly on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, and the Concert for Bangladesh, and his work with Delaney & Bonnie. There’s also quite a bit about Les Blank’s early-‘70s documentary film on Russell, unreleased for many years due to Leon’s objections, though it became available shortly before Russell’s death.

9. David Bowie Rainbow Man: 1967-1980, by Jérôme Soligny (Monoray). While there’s no shortage of Bowie biographies and reference books, this stands out for its sheer length (almost 700 pages) and a different approach than most other major Bowie volumes. Soligny focuses on extended quotes from interviews, most though not all done by the author, with a great many people who worked with Bowie. This includes major figures like producers Tony Visconti and Ken Scott, the Spiders from Mars, and side musicians like Carlos Alomar. There are, perhaps even more valuably, memories from many who haven’t been extensively interviewed, including significant figures like Hermione Farthingale, Bowie’s late-‘60s girlfriend who was part of a trio with him and John Hutchinson (who’s also interviewed). And there are quite a few interviews with much more obscure figures with more peripheral but interesting relationships, usually working rather than personal ones, with Bowie. These include sleeve designers, photographers, recording engineers and technicians, and musicians who just played with him a bit on record and/or on stage. 

It’s true some key colleagues’ voices are missing, like Brian Eno, Angie Bowie, and manager Tony Defries (see the comment from the book’s author on this post for a note on those). He spoke with a great many others, however, usually in pretty recent times (the 2010s). Some of the stories clear up or actually contradict stories and incidents long reported as fact. Some of them might disappoint those who enjoy some of the more mythical ones. Singer Antonia Maass contended, for instance, that the lyrics to “Heroes,” long reported to be based on a meeting by the Berlin Wall between her and Visconti, were written before they started their affair. The oral histories are linked by commentary from the author about each of the albums Bowie recorded between 1967 and 1980, and together with extensive footnotes, they provide the basis for separate chapters organized around each album. His pre-1967 work is also discussed, as are some singles and side projects (particularly his work with Iggy Pop) not contained on the albums.

Inevitably there’s some overlap between the extensive info here and what you can find in other Bowie tomes—which, given the length of this book, are likely to have been read by many who read this volume. The reason this doesn’t rank higher, however, is that Soligny’s prose can be overly grandiose, and the oral histories often extol Bowie’s virtues to an extreme degree, though there’s room for some (not many) controversial or negative views. The footnotes are also too numerous and often too extraneously detailed, though as they’re separated into sections of their own at the end of each chapter, they don’t interrupt the text as much as they could have.

10. Arhoolie Records: Down Home Music: The Stories and Photographs of Chris Strachwitz, by Joel Selvin with Chris Strachwitz (Chronicle). Dying shortly before this book came out, Chris Strachwitz was a major figure in the documentation of American (and occasionally non-American) roots music as the head of Arhoolie Records. He recorded many blues, zydeco, Tex-Mex, folk, and old-time country discs, often going to where the musicians worked (usually in the South) and sometimes making what were essentially field recordings in humble low-budget settings. He took many pictures along the way, and this 240-page coffee table book has lots of them, spanning the 1950s to the 1990s. There are plenty of major figures, too many to list in a sentence or two, though some of them include Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker, Rose Maddox, John Fahey, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Barbara Dane, Fats Domino, B.B. King, Lydia Mendoza, and Clifton Chenier. Some well known stars who were playing with or observing roots musicians are here too, like Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty, and Ry Cooder. However, there are just as many images of performers who are barely known or even unknown, and while almost half a century is represented, the bulk of the pictures date from Arhoolie’s prime in the 1960s and early 1970s. While photo-centric books don’t figure as strongly as standard text-oriented ones on my lists, this is the best music photo book of the year.

Although Strachwitz didn’t boast much of his skills with a camera, most of the pictures are fine and sometimes striking from sheer visual points of view, aside from preserving important musical history. Maybe professionals with the techniques sometimes judged to be superior to semi-pros like Strachwitz would have taken photos considered of greater aesthetic quality. But it’s doubtful they would have gained the intimate trust that allowed him to take these pictures—in settings in which outsiders were sometimes viewed with suspicion—in the first place. There are so many exceptional photos that these again can’t be thoroughly listed in a mere review, but the one of Sonny Boy Williamson playing in an alley behind an Arkansas radio station in 1965 is particularly iconic. The trio he’s heading, with promotional handlettering for their radio show on the drum, almost seem to make a definitive pose for the birth of rock and roll, even if this was taken in 1965, long after rock’s actual birth. Not all of the most memorable images are of famous artists or from the 1960s, a 1986 shot of a blind harp musician and his wife working as street musicians in Guadalajara serving as another example.

The introductory 40-page essay by Joel Selvin gives a thorough history of Strachwitz’s work with Arhoolie Records, also noting his other accomplishments as the owner of the Bay Area record store Down Home Music and compiler of reissues of rare roots music. Strachwitz himself gives succinct yet detailed captions for all of the photos, relaying interesting memories of how the pictures were taken and what interested him in the performers. Often he had to put himself in precarious and sometimes even threatening situations to hear, photograph, record, and get to know the musicians, and such stories dot his memories. In his travels, particularly in the earlier years, he also got to experience a side of the United States—in ethnic communities with little representation in mainstream media, and often quite poor ones—that was experienced by few outside of those areas, as is vividly conveyed in some of the images. A “Rock and Roll Cafe,” as it was billed, in Texas in 1969 was a tin shack that looks on the verge of falling over with a good kick or two. Writes Strachwitz: “I didn’t stay for lunch, even though the door was open.”

11. I’m Told I Had a Good Time: The Micky Dolenz Archives, Vol. 1 (Beatland). Micky Dolenz took and kept a lot of pictures while, and shortly before and after, he was in the Monkees, as well as accumulating memorabilia along the way. This nearly 500-page coffee table-sized volume reproduces a lot of the material, as well as presenting memories from Micky about the images in captions ranging from extensive to brief. While naturally the core audience for this is Monkee fandom, these aren’t just pictures of Micky and the group, as there are also figures with whom he toured and interacted. Of special interest are a few of Jimi Hendrix during the short time in summer 1967 when he was a support act on a Monkees tour, though there are also very good ones of Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino from the Monkees TV special on which they appeared. Going back to his childhood and little known pre-Monkees mid-‘60s bands, the coverage extends to 1977 and his work as part of a duo with Davy Jones during that time, though the post-Monkees section isn’t large and the mid-‘60s take up the bulk of the book. Along the way are other non-Monkees pictures of note, including some of stars like Harry Nilsson, Cass Elliot, Eric Clapton, and Stephen Stills.

The text, based around interviews with Dolenz by editor Andrew Sandoval, is straightforward and witty, though not too lengthy on some of the Monkees-era photos, with quite a few of the images of the group on tour simply presented as they are. Encompassing early report cards to a receipt from the Beatles’ Apple fashion boutique and much else, one of the more interesting pieces of memorabilia is a memo from Screen Gems-Columbia Music recommending Dolenz’s composition “Randy Scouse Git”’s title be changed (as it was in the UK to avoid controversy, with the newly titled “Alternate Title” reaching #2). The post-1970 section is more interesting than some might anticipate, particularly Micky’s story of being cut from a program for the inaugural ceremonies of Richard Nixon’s second (and uncompleted) term. Dolenz speculates a Watergate joke he might have been overheard making could have responsible.

Among the more memorable observations in the captions is Dolenz’s remark about a picture of Hendrix aboard a Florida boat in July 1967: “It kills me. Jimi, you’re wearing a fur coat! It’s 90 degrees!” And there’s a frank reflection on his post-Monkees singles for MGM: “Looking back, I should have just continued doing Micky-the-Monkee-flavored stuff.” Some more extensive captions for some of the Monkees-era pictures would have been welcome, but for a massive Monkees history, there’s Andrew Sandoval’s The Monkees—The Day-By-Day Story, which like this book has exceptional production values.

12. Happy Forever, by Mark Volman with John Cody (Jawbone Press). Along with Howard Kaylan, fellow singer Volman was the mainstay of the Turtles and Flo & Eddie. They were also part of Frank Zappa’s group in the early 1970s and sang backup for a bunch of records by other artists (notably T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong”), as well as doing some radio and other entertainment ventures. This has an unusual structure for an autobiography, as it’s more an oral history of Volman’s projects dominated by quotes from many professional and personal associates. Volman himself adds only occasional text, and it’s almost like a history of Volman as seen through those who knew and worked with him. It doesn’t suffer for that, but most of the perspective is on the outside, and it serves as much as a history of the Turtles and Flo & Eddie as it does a Volman memoir.

Plenty of people were interviewed for the book, most notably almost all of the other Turtles (including Kaylan, naturally); other members of the Mothers of Invention when Volman and Kaylan were part of the band; ex-wives and relatives; and lots of other musicians who interacted with Volman, sometimes extensively and sometimes slightly, from Alice Cooper and Ray Manzarek to Chris Hillman and Richie Furay. Of most interest are the detailed comments from fellow Turtles, including some who aren’t heard from much, like Jim Pons (who was also in the Mothers), Jim Tucker, Johnny Barbata, John Seiter, and Al Nichol. There are some conflicting and at times contentious accounts that, as in most acts with a happy-go-lucky image, reveal tension and infighting behind the scenes, as well as considerable business problems. There are also stories of how their hits were selected and constructed, and how Volman and Kaylan made the transition to a more underground comic duo after the Turtles broke up at the beginning of the 1970s.

Some of the comments, particularly from fellow legacy acts who didn’t actually intersect much with the Turtles’ paths, are more about the general 1960s/1970s rock scene (and particularly the unjust contracts and financial rewards) than Mark Volman. In keeping with the cliché reviewers often have to note, it gets much less interesting after the Turtles, Zappa, and Flo & Eddie. Sections about Volman’s entry into teaching for much of his career and his late-life embrace of Christian religious faith could have been shortened, indeed drastically reduced. So could repetitious testaments to his good nature and fine character, though there’s occasional criticism of his behavior. 

13. Too Late to Stop Now: More Rock’n’Roll War Stories, by Allan Jones (Bloomsbury). For more than twenty years from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, Jones was a writer for and then editor of Melody Maker. Then he went on to a long stint at Uncut, where he had a regular column recalling his interactions, often though not always wild, with many musicians. These provided the basis for both a previous book, Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down, and this similarly structured follow-up. Several dozen chapters, usually very short ones, recap his interviews (and sometimes travels) with a host of stars and more cultish critical favorites, from Elton John and Peter Gabriel to Chrissie Hynde, Elvis Costello, and the Blasters. These usually emphasize the bawdy times and behavior at least as much as discussing the artists’ music, quite often ending up (or even beginning with) an onslaught of drinks quaffed by both Jones and his subjects. Such is the flow of alcohol that you wonder whether holding your liquor, or at least doing “when in Rome” amounts of booze (and sometimes coke), was considered one of the prime qualifications for and perks of the job.

Like Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down, this is largely pretty entertaining, if a little wearing when these mini-portraits give so much weight to substance intake and eccentric, at times aggravating behavior, often relayed with matter-of-fact amusement. Particularly in the later pieces, Jones sometimes goes in greater depth with more focus on the music than he did in his younger days. These are the most valuable chapters, all drawing from extensive first-hand interviews. The best are the ones spotlighting Hynde, John Cale, the Clash, and Wilko Johnson, where some historical perspective takes the place of more youthful searches for kicks. Although pretty long at 360 pages, it goes by faster than you’d think, as the wealth of chapters ensures a fair amount of white space at the beginnings and ends.

14. CSN&Y: Love The One You’re With, by Henry Diltz (Genesis Publications). At a price of about $375, this limited edition (1650 copies) book is of course not for the standard consumer, or even for the budget of the standard CSNY fan. Like other Genesis publications, however, it has considerable value for those who can afford it, or at least who are able to read if not own a copy, as I was. It has 835 photos by Henry Diltz—one of the most renowned rock photographers, especially for his pictures from the late 1960s and 1970s—and almost 60,000 words of text from Diltz, CSNY, and more than a dozen others who knew and observed the group. While the text doesn’t have much basic information that’s not in the numerous other books about the group and their members (and some of it’s taken from previously published sources), it’s entertaining and has some stories and observations that aren’t common fare, like John Sebastian suggesting either Graham Nash or Phil Everly when they were looking for a high harmony singer, and Stephen Stills having a different account than David Crosby and Nash as to how the three got together (the usual story being Cass Elliott was responsible). 

While some of these pictures will be familiar to CSNY followers, plenty probably won’t, including some outtakes from the famous session for the first CSN (no Y at that point) album. And while the story of how the cover shot was taken and the house had been demolished by the time they went to try a reshoot is fairly well known to devotees, it’s interesting to hear the detailed accounts behind the photo session. Less interesting are the pictures and text about their several reunion tours, although those make up a low percentage of this volume. It’s not a thorough history of the band, as it’s built around the times Diltz photographed them; nor does it go into much depth as to their numerous side and solo projects, although some are covered for each of the four. Note that while numerous pages are reproduced from Diltz’s notebooks of the time, these are less valuable than you might hope. His observations are rather mundane, and more troublingly, his handwriting is simply hard to read.

15. 1964: Eyes of the Storm, by Paul McCartney (Liveright). From late 1963 through late 1964 (though mostly from late 1963 through early 1964), Paul McCartney took a lot of photos of the other Beatles, himself, associates, and the press, fans, and public that were chasing and sometimes hounding them around almost nonstop. This book has 275 of them, largely spanning their rise to Beatlemania in the UK in late 1963; their trip to Paris in early 1964; and their subsequent initial trip to the US in February 1964, though there are a few from late in that year. McCartney wasn’t a professional photographer—he never has made that part of his profession, actually—and the pictures are primarily of documentary value, though he was paying some attention to learning about composition and lighting from some of the photographers that regularly worked with the group.

Of course, this was a very historic time at which Paul was at the center, so even average pictures carry a good deal of significance. There are images of the Beatles backstage, onstage, in hotels, and on vacation in Miami, and of key figures close to them like Cynthia Lennon, Jane Asher, Brian Epstein, and road managers Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans. There are some unexpected musicians of note like French star Johnny Hallyday and drummer Mickey Jones. And there are plenty of pictures of fans, photographers, reporters, police officers, and anonymous observers to the giddy madness. There are also pictures taken by professional photographers from the time, particularly the ones in which Paul and/or the whole group can be seen. Some of the ones McCartney took are above average as standalone images, like one of George Harrison wearing two goofy hats on top of each other, and onstage shots of Billy J. Kramer and Sylvie Vartan.

With the abundance of books, many of them photo-oriented, covering the Beatles, some might consider this an inessential extravagance. But while it’s not part of the core Beatles library, it’s better than many such coffee table rock photo volumes. There’s not much text, but McCartney did write a thoughtful lengthy opening introduction that’s not just the too-common “I’m so honored to be able to present this book” paragraph or two many celebrities offer. He also has shorter, but still substantial, introductions to each of the five sections. There’s also a lengthy essay by Jill Lepore about the cultural context of the Beatles during this period and a similarly lengthy, serious appraisal of the artistic qualities of the pictures by Rosie Broadley, Senior Curator of the 20th Century Collections at London’s National Portrait Gallery, which had an exhibition of many of these photos around the time this book was published. McCartney’s captions for the photos are very brief, and it would have been good to have more in-depth comments and recollections, but on the whole this is more worthwhile than many such projects.

16. The Searchers: Crazy Dreams! Every Song from Every Session, 1963-2023 ( A thorough critical Searchers discography might have a small niche audience, but I’m glad Peter Checksfield’s doing this and other such specialized books. This has entries for all of the songs they released, along with descriptive paragraphs that can be generous in their judgments. But they’re useful, especially since not too many people are familiar with this British Invasion band’s work aside from their handful of hit singles. Besides covering their singles and LPs, there are entries for work that might not even be known by serious fans, like EP-only tracks, non-LP B-sides, and foreign language versions. There are even thorough details about the fairly numerous recordings Tony Jackson did after leaving in the mid-1960s (even including an unreleased BBC session) and the few drummer/singer Chris Curtis recorded after leaving. The 1963 live Hamburg performances and their 1963 album-length demo of sorts taped at Liverpool’s Iron Door club are included, and their numerous BBC and TV performances listed. 

Some info here and there is so obscure it might even be unknown to owners of multi-disc Searchers compilations, like the original performers of lesser known songs they covered like “Alright” (the Grandisons) and “Each Time” (the Bon Bons). It’s also spotted that there are two versions of “I’ll Be Doggone,” the more common one with a Frank Allen lead vocal, the less heard one with Curtis on lead from on a US LP. And did you know that the French version of “It’s All Been a Dream” has Mike Pender on lead vocals, though Tony Jackson sang the English-language original? It’s true the music, and hence unavoidably the text, gets less interesting after 1966, and the post-Sire comeback entries really play out the string. Reproductions of many record covers, many of them rare and foreign editions, dot the layout.

17. The Byrds: Every Album, Every Song, by Andy McArthur (Sonicbond). Although this won’t have much information serious Byrds fans don’t know, especially if you have Johnny Rogan’s mammoth books about the group, it’s a good and succinct overview of their recordings. Every single track on their albums is detailed and critically evaluated, including non-LP B-sides, bonus tracks on their reissues, the pre-first-album recordings that have been on the various packages with Preflyte in the title, and other bits that only show up on compilations. Some interesting trivia is sprinkled throughout, and the author doesn’t hesitate to criticize subpar songs or give slack to their post-1968 work, which was considerably inferior to their consistently innovative prior efforts.

18. Jerry Lee Lewis: Breathless! Every Song from Every Session, 1952-2022, by Peter Checksfield( Relentless researcher Checksfield continues his series of self-published reference books with a hefty volume detailing every song Lewis recorded. Presented in alphabetical order by song title, 707 separate titles are described in paragraph-long entries varying from a couple sentences to quite a few sentences. There are more than 707 entries, as Lewis recorded multiple versions of quite a few songs, and each separate version, including remakes, live performances, and the odd LP- or 45-only variation are also discussed. There are even tracks from bootlegs, of which there are more than many fans are aware of, and download-only items. You know it’s comprehensive when the entry for the 1966 recordings of the non-hit single “Memphis Beat” notes the substantial differences between the LP and 45 versions, and on the next page, it’s noted that a rare Japanese quadrophonic release has a slightly longer edit of a 1973 remake of the same tune.

You have to be a rabid fan to tackle such a mammoth catalog, and some of the assessments might strike some as too generous. That’s especially so when dealing with the many recordings Lewis made after the early 1970s, a time when he’s generally considered to have passed the point at which his releases were of much commercial significance or peak artistry. But Checksfield doesn’t hold back from criticizing, sometimes severely, efforts he deems subpar or flawed – not just from Lewis’s final half century, but going back to the Sun Records days. The writing’s clear and informative, and though the design is basic, it’s broken up by numerous black-and-white reproductions of record covers, inner disc labels, and screen shots of filmed performances.

19. Blood in the Tracks, by Paul Metsa and Rick Shefchik (University of Minnesota Press). It’s pretty well known – well, at least to a lot of serious Bob Dylan fans — that half of Blood on the Tracks was recorded in New York, and half in Minneapolis. Dylan actually recorded all the songs in New York, but decided to re-record some of them in Minnesota in the final week of 1974. The stories of the musicians who played on the records aren’t so well known, and this book discusses their backgrounds and post-Blood activities in depth, though the actual two Minneapolis sessions (December 27 and December 30, 1974) for the album are the heart of the narrative. 

Although one of the session men, mandolinist Peter Ostroushko, did go on to became a pretty well known folk musician, the others didn’t. Their tales are of more interest than expected, especially as they’re sometimes dismissed as pretty anonymous figures that were assembled on the spur of the moment. It’s true Dylan’s brother, David Zimmerman, got the backup together very quickly, but several had done or been on records, with connections ranging from Leo Kottke and Olivia Newton-John to a fake Zombies. Although he (unlike the musicians and some others with ties to the sessions) wasn’t interviewed for the book, David Zimmerman had been involved in record production and music management, and it’s interesting to hear details of some of those, as not much has been written about him even in some huge Bob Dylan biographies. The sessions themselves are described in engaging almost play-by-play fashion. The impression’s also given that while Dylan was frustratingly uncommunicative to the musicians he used in New York, he was relatively friendly and open to suggestions in the studio where the Minneapolis sessions took place, Sound 80.

Some critics, fans, and musicians have contended that the more sparsely arranged New York sessions (whether in the takes chosen for release and the outtakes) were better and more in line with the emotions of the songs. Space is made here for those views, but also for ones by the musicians that the Minnesota performances were better, though one of the less aesthetic arguments is that they were more suited to being played on the radio. Some of the later section given to post-Blood on the Tracks work by the session guys, and their reunions in sorts of tributes to the album and Dylan, isn’t too captivating and could have been cut down. Even there, though, you get a good story about Peter Noone’s brief new wave group the Tremblers (in which one played), revealing Noone’s guitar skills were so lacking that his instrument was surreptitiously disconnected onstage, though “he never caught on.”

There’s just one mistake here that cries to be called out. There’s a reference to that Tremblers/Dylan sideman, Gregg Inhofer, being snubbed by Dylan when Bob was checking out the Stray Cats as a possible opening act at a Minneapolis club a few months after Blood on the Tracks was released. That would have been in 1975, but the Stray Cats didn’t form until 1979.

20. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin): A Memoir, by Sly Stone with Ben Greenman (AUWA). Since Sly Stone hasn’t been heard from much in decades, and hasn’t appeared to be in the best shape when he has, it’s a surprise that he produced a memoir at all around the time of his eightieth birthday. Stone’s very colorful music and life have never been covered by a satisfactory biography, and while this account has its value, it leaves the impression there’s much more that could have been said. It’s not as lively as might be expected, telling the basic story of his amazing rise from producer/DJ/sporadic recording artist to superstar in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That’s about the first half of the book; the second half details his rather spectacular fall into both professional and personal abysses, and like many such memoirs loses considerable momentum as his life hits the doldrums.

The book is best, and Sly seems most engaged, when talking about his music. There are interesting details of songs, recordings, and albums, though it’s a bit like reading box set liner notes with a lot of participation from the artist. Be cautioned, too, that he spends almost as much time on his post-prime (say post-1973) records as his glory years, though almost anyone would feel those later discs  are considerably inferior and less deserving of insights. There’s more that could be said about his time as a producer of acts like the Beau Brummels and the Great Society (with Grace Slick on vocals) at Autumn Records, though he does give more time than anticipated to his Stone Flower label for other artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

His numerous controversies—showing up late for shows (which he feels has been overblown, blaming this in part on getting multiple  bookings, though few other artists of his stature from the era have cited this as a problem), heavy drug use, financial ruin—are relayed with some nonchalance, and without much regret or remorse for any pain it might have inflicted. The birth of his child with the Family Stone’s Cynthia Robinson suddenly crops up in the narrative with an aside that the pair had off-on flings while she was in the  group; the departures of original Family Stone members are sometimes noted with brevity and little explanation; even an attack by one of his dogs on one of his kids that resulted in the child losing part of an ear is dispatched relatively quickly. It leaves a feeling of a guy who lacks almost as much of a full explanation for his fall from grace as dedicated fans do.

21. The Jive 95, by Hank Rosenfeld (Backbeat). With a bit of linking text, this is an oral history of San Francisco radio station KSAN, one of the most celebrated of the underground-oriented stations (for both music and public affairs) operating from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. Plenty of books are uneven, and among those, this is more uneven than most. There are a good share of interesting stories from DJs, engineers, local rock critics, and others who worked at or were associated with the station, as well as its predecessor KMPX, from which much of the staff moved to KSAN after a 1968 strike.

Some of those quoted (some from archival rather than first-hand interviews) are pretty well known, like original Rolling Stone music editor and occasional DJ Ben Fong-Torres; San Francisco Chronicle rock critic and author Joel Selvin; news reporter Scoop Nisker; and Raechel Donahue, DJ and wife of the station’s most famed figure, longtime DJ Tom Donahue. Some of the more colorful passages include accounts of how the Symbionese Liberation Army sent tapes to the station to broadcast their messages; a Tom Donahue interview of John Lennon around the time of Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album; and the general looseness of a time when DJs could play what they wanted, sometimes when they were stoned, and the general station operations were more casual and spontaneous than commercial stations would be in later decades.

It’s not a smooth read, however, as some of the comments are brief general observations about the San Francisco scene that have been written about for many years. Some of the transcriptions of on-air passages would probably sound a lot funnier when heard than read (and links are provided to hear some airchecks). Some quotes, especially toward the beginning, are uninformative in their brevity, and it’s not always easy to follow how the station’s programming and personnel evolved and changed. The mixed response to the introduction of punk and new wave into some programming by the late 1970s is covered, as is KSAN’s sad transformation into a mainstream popular music station, and then a country station, with none of its former identity intact. There’s some imperfect editing and a few factual mistakes that should have been caught, like identifying Jefferson Airplane’s first woman singer, Signe Anderson, as “Signe Wilkerson.”

22. Rod Stewart: The Classic Years, by Sean Egan (Backbeat). While this is more of a critical overview than a biography, and covers a somewhat wider era than what many would consider Stewart’s core classic years, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor. The focus is roughly on the years 1969-1972, when Stewart made what almost everyone considers to be his best solo albums (particularly Every Picture Tells a Story), and also had a simultaneous successful career as lead singer of the Faces. Egan draws on some first-hand interviews with insiders, especially Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan of the Faces; drummer Mickey Waller; manager Billy Gaff; and Rod’s romantic partner of the early 1970s, Dee Harrington. There are detailed critiques of the albums that, unusually for books of this sort, don’t hold back in pointing out their shortcomings, even for records the author obviously admires. Egan, like most critics, doesn’t like Stewart’s post-1972 records as much, but there’s still a lot of coverage of them up through the early 1980s, although it’s not as extensive as what’s given the previous ones. It can be tough going to go through the tracks of records that are both more boring and not as familiar as the classic stuff, and the best of the book — like the best of Stewart’s discography —lies in the earlier material, particularly what’s dealt with in the first half of this volume.

23. Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You: A Memoir, by Lucinda Williams (Crown). Williams has had a life more interesting than that of the usual musician who rose from cult to mainstream popularity. She didn’t have records that charted until she was well into her forties. As she overlapped the country, folk, and rock worlds, the record industry did not quickly embrace an artist they found difficult to classify. Although a little on the brief side, her memoir is a good read, beginning with a troubled upbringing with a mother struggling with mental illness and failure to complete high school owing to clashes with authority. She needed to constantly move with her family growing up, and continued to move from New Orleans to Austin to Los Angeles to New York to Nashville as she tried to forge a living in the music business, making her debut album for Folkways in the late 1970s for a $300 fee. There were numerous troubled relationships on the way, some of which informed her songwriting, though a lot of the text does discuss her music and records as well as her personal life.

Some of the most interesting sections describe clashes with record labels and producers in her long journey toward establishing herself as an acclaimed recording artist. She deliberately got herself booted off RCA by criticizing the label in public; her contract was bought from Rick Rubin when an album was going to be delayed by two whole years due to a business complication unrelated to her record; producers mixed some of her work to her dissatisfaction, leading to some re-recording and a permanent falling out with a colleague. By the 21st century she’d achieved considerable sales and widespread critical praise, yet there’s little in the book from the last fifteen years. Indeed the depth of coverage trails off considerably by the time it reaches the 2000s, which might disappoint some fans, though the previous years are documented in reasonable depth.

24. Cream: Clapton Bruce & Baker Sitting on Top of the World (Schiffer Publishing). This slim picture-oriented book is pretty narrowly focused and thus might have a narrow appeal, even considering Eric Clapton and Cream remain hugely famous. It’s devoted to the group’s San Francisco shows at the Fillmore and Winterland between February 29 and March 10 in 1968, during which some official and unofficial recordings were made. The numerous pictures vary from highly professional to dark, blurry amateur audience shots; there’s a big difference between the ones by the top rock photographer of the time, Jim Marshall, and many of the others. These are broken up by text commentary and memories from some who were there, including filmmaker Tony Palmer and engineer Bill Halverson. Some of the writing could have benefited from some editing and higher professionalism, but there’s some interesting information for devotees, particularly those clarifying what was played when and what circulates on unofficial tapes. Memorabilia like tape boxes, posters, and ads are also included.

25. The Tremeloes: Even the Bad Times Are Good!, by Peter Checksfield ( Peter Checksfield’s books are for the serious fan/collector. But even compared to most of his other volumes—including two others that came out in 2023 and are reviewed above, on Jerry Lee Lewis and the Searchers—this has a pretty specialized audience. It’s similar in format to those books, going through all of the Tremeloes’ releases (including those when they were Brian Poole and the Tremeloes from 1962-66) chronologically, with descriptive entries for each. These are enhanced by first-hand and archive quotes from the members (including Poole), as well as quite a few photos and reproductions of record sleeves. The members’ solo releases—not just Poole’s, but the yet lesser known ones of other guys in the group—and tracks that found release on archival comps are included, and many covers of Tremeloes’ material noted. Appendices include a timeline, discography, and thorough list of TV and film appearances, and BBC radio sessions.

All of this is assembled and written well, and the book would rank higher had I been more interested in the Tremeloes. I do have most of their 1960s recordings, including the ones with Poole as a lead singer, which are barely known in the US. But aside from their two big US hits (“Here Comes My Baby” and “Silence Is Golden,” both in 1967), I don’t rate them too highly or find them to have much of a musical personality. Certainly Checksfield rates them pretty highly, praising much of their output enthusiastically, though there might not be many other fans (let alone critics) who find their versions of Joe Tex’s “Show Me,” Bob Dylan/The Band’s “I Shall Be Released,” and Brenda Holloway’s “Every Little Bit Hurts” superior to the originals.

If like me you’re not a big Tremeloes fan but are a big fan of ‘60s British rock in general, however, this is more interesting than you might expect. There were a lot more covers of Tremeloes material than most people would guess, some from pretty unlikely sources and non-English-speaking countries, and it’s unlikely they’ve ever been or will be traced with as much detail as they are here. Some of the stories behind how they changed personnel, found their songs (and passed on “Yellow River” before Christie had a big with it), or made sporadic attempts to change with the times are reasonably engaging too.  Despite their limited US success, they had quite a few hits that charted strongly in territories ranging from the European continent to New Zealand and Zimbabwe, as well as many in their native UK. It’s quite a struggle, however, to get through the final sections on their post-1970s comebacks, reunions, and numerous re-recordings of material from their prime.

26. Cosmic Scholar: The Life and Times of Harry Smith, by John Szwed (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Harry Smith’s life was so complicated that it’s hard to classify him, although another subtitle reads “the filmmaker, folklorist, and mystic who transformed American art.” Only part of what he did, and hence what this biography covers, is related to music. But his musical activities, which are covered in detail, were notable. He recorded and assembled numerous albums, by far the most well known of these being the three-volume Anthology of American Music. That three-volume series of reissues of various folk discs of the 1920s and 1930s that influenced important performers of the folk revival, some of whom (like Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan) went on to become rock stars. He also produced the first Fugs album. But as extensive as his musical ventures were, including collecting and taping plenty of recordings of far more arcane performers and styles, these didn’t even account for the majority of his work. That also entailed experimental film, painting, constructing/collecting string figures, and collecting and classifying/disseminating paper airplanes, Ukranian-decorated eggs, Native American dress, and other material.

The range of his work, and his generally itinerant existence, presents a challenge in documenting his life. The author does about as good a job as could be done, but there are many gaps and uncertainties that probably can’t ever be pinned down. The low ranking on this list doesn’t reflect the quality of the research or writing, which is presented in an accessible and readable fashion, though it sometimes roves pretty widely back and forth in chronology. It’s more an indication of my relative lesser interest in Smith’s non-musical doings, though his film, animated and otherwise, like his Anthology of American Music volumes, had an influence outweighing the relatively few people who saw or heard these when they were first produced.

His erratic personal habits, which saw him nearly destitute and unable to take care of essential needs like food, shelter, and health care for much of his adult life, are also described, and are often disturbing. Smith lost or, worse, willfully destroyed much of what he created and collected; often failed to finish ambitious projects, although he completed a good many as well; often freeloaded from friends and benefactors without compensating them; and frequently insulted those same friends and benefactors, as well as audiences, though he could be generous and kind to others as well. His treatment of Allen Ginsberg, who put him up and to a degree financed him toward the end of Smith’s life, was sometimes exploitative and cruel. Some might have rationalized he was worth putting up with because he was a genius folklorist of sorts, but he was a pretty unsocialized one, which makes the man more difficult to admire (and read about) than his accomplishments.

27. Fashioning the Beatles, by Deirdre Kelly (Sutherland House). I’m not nearly as interested in the Beatles’ clothes and haircuts as I am in their music. But it’s undeniable their fashion was visually interesting and enhanced their huge appeal, and this book is a reasonable overview of the many phases it passed through, from their Hamburg leather days through the matching Beatlemania suits, psychedelia, and more casual wear near the end of the 1960s. While the general outline of these changes is known to many Beatles fans, this does have some unusual info that isn’t well-trod, like the fur coat George Harrison wears in the January 1969 rooftop concert being the same one he wore to his wedding three years earlier. For that matter, during their 1969 Get Back sessions, Paul McCartney wore the same shoes he’d worn as part of his Sgt. Pepper uniform. The numerous shops and designers patronized are detailed, down to the Le Château store John Lennon and Yoko Ono bought some clothes from during their 1969 Montreal bed-in. Bet you didn’t know, either, that all of the Beatles except Harrison wore suits by Nutters of Savile Row on the famous photo on the cover of Abbey Road. Some color and black-and-white photos illustrate their constantly shifting image, and it’s interesting to see them modeling Lybro jeans in a 1963 ad that wasn’t printed at the time, as well as Ringo Starr modeling a Tommy Nutter suit in a 1969 Vogue magazine ad.

28. The Art of the Bizarre Vinyl Sleeve, by Simon Robinson and Steve Goldman (Easy on the Eyes). Co-author Steve Goldman has spent a lot of time collecting the strangest vinyl record sleeves he could find, which are often among the ugliest you’re likely to find. A lot of them supply the illustrations for this 180-page book, accompanied by quite a bit of text describing (and often gently mocking) the artwork, often filling in the background on these oft-obscure performers. Sure it’s a bit of a novelty volume for a niche among the record collecting crowd. But there are a fair number of collectors in that crowd who appreciate the weirdness of these designs, most from LPs, though some singles are included. That’s the case even if most wouldn’t want to actually buy or collect many of them (even at the cheap prices they often sell for if they can be found), let alone listen to them. And from the description of the music on the discs, many of them do seem like they’d sound horrible, especially as many were self-pressed vanity efforts, outings by minor celebrities, discs by semi-pro folk musicians, and the like.

There is, however, a pretty wide range of oddities selected from all over the world, including areas not usually covered by Western pop journalism, like the Eastern bloc. And for all the obscurity of many of the entries, questionable artwork on some releases by big-name artists are here, including sleeves on records by the Village People, Prince, and Deep Purple. The odd respectable cult favorite makes it too, like Lothar and the Hand People’s debut LP, adorned with yearbook-quality photos. Designs by respected labels are here, one surprise being a Box Tops best-of on Rhino, where the cover photo had one of the guys (not Alex Chilton) making a ridiculous ugly grimace. On occasion the artists or others involved in the process were tracked down and offered some details, although the stories behind the designs of many of these records—and the careers of many of the artists—remain and are likely to remain mysterious.

The following books came out in 2022, but I didn’t read them until 2023:

1. The McCartney Legacy Volume 1: 1969-73, by Allan Kozinn and Adrian Sinclair (Dey Street). Running a little more than 700 pages, this would have certainly placed pretty high on my 2022 end-of-year list had I read it in time. It would have rated even higher than it does if I was more of a solo Paul McCartney fan, though the Beatles are my favorite group, and I think his contributions to that group were as good and important as John Lennon’s. But if you are a big McCartney fan, or even if you aren’t but are a big Beatles fan and/or at least interested enough in his early solo years to find out more about them, this probably won’t be beat. The original intention was to focus on his recording sessions, and those are described in great detail, along with some of his more informal demos, most of them still unreleased. This is woven together, however, with general in-depth coverage of his professional and personal life, including a lot about his wife Linda and the group he formed around him and her, Wings.

This should be hailed above all for finally laying down, with dates and details, the particulars of almost all of his studio recording sessions during these years, which encompassed his first five post-Beatles albums (whether with or without Wings), numerous non-LP singles, and other recording/songwriting projects. Those demos —often uncirculated even unofficially — are often bountifully described, too, including more than a couple dozen he recorded between McCartneyand Ram, among them a good number of songs he wouldn’t otherwise record. There’s also a lot about his disputes, and lawsuits, involving Allen Klein, and the protracted process that he initiated as necessary to dissolve the Beatles partnership. And there’s much about the various Wings lineups, illustrating how Paul, and to some degree Linda, had a hard time ceding as much creative control, commitment, and money as his sidemen would have liked. 

However, the authors give Wings and McCartney more respect for what they accomplished than many music critics did and have – not just Band on the Run (whose Nigerian sessions in Lagos are among the more interesting sections), but everything else as well. Even “Bip Bop,” to pick on a song that’s probably been singled out for more harsh flak than anything else he did at the time, is examined with seriousness, as are pretty obscure B-sides like “I Lie Around” and “The Mess.” If Paul and Linda could be callous with their employees, the point’s also made that they could be generous too, and overall they don’t come off as worse than average in the rock star behavior department. The photos that dot the text are good and unusual, and the text is clear and, if more enthusiastic about his music of the period than I am, not blind to its flaws.

One minor but unfortunate flaw in the book is the lack of an index, and clearer designations as to what was released from his sessions at the time, what came out on archival reissues, and what’s never come out, though that can be deduced from the text. This is, by the way, volume one of a multi-part series, with another half century or so that could potentially be covered in the future. For me, those will hold much less interest past the years documented in this volume, which were the most interesting of his post-Beatles life from both musical and personal angles. 

2. Decades: Donovan in the 1960s, by Jeff Fitzgerald (SonicBond). This is part of the very extensive, and rapidly growing, series of SonicBond books devoted to detailed track-by-track overviews of the work of specific recording artists, both famous and cult. Donovan’s one of the more famous ones, and this slim (134-page) survey wisely sticks to his 1960s output, although there’s a brief overview of his post-‘60s career. Every track he released in 1965-1969 is discussed, usually for at least a paragraph. It’s well-written and rich in detail, not just in how the track sounds, but some of its sources (particularly in the occasional instances when Donovan covered someone else’s song) and some little known stories and trivia associated with some of them. Although it’s primarily a critical assessment rather than a biography with first-hand research, Fitzgerald did interview arranger John Cameron, and several interesting comments for those tracks on which Cameron worked are here. Even for a Donovan fan like myself, some of Fitzgerald’s evaluations are on the overly generous side. On the other hand, the singer-songwriter’s been so generally underrated it’s good to see him given serious critical analysis that doesn’t get stuffy, with interpretations that some might find debatable, but aren’t overwrought. There are very occasional factual mistakes, but on the whole it’s accurate and useful for serious Donovan admirers.

3. Soul Survivor: The Autobiography, by P.P. Arnold (Nine Eight). Although she’s African-American, Arnold is much better known in the UK in the US, as she had some moderate British hit singles in the late 1960s. She also had more overlap with the rock world than most soul singers, as she recorded for Immediate Records and worked with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, the Small Faces, and the Nice. While her discography isn’t the work of a major artist, her memoir is an interesting journey through the highs and lows of the music business. In some ways, she had a lot of good fortune: getting asked to stay in the UK after touring there as an Ikette with Ike and Tina Turner, the Immediate and rock star connections leading to moderate chart success, and living the high life of just-post-Swinging London with plenty of celebrities. The lows were really low: getting raped by Ike Turner as an Ikette, losing her young daughter in a car accident, escaping an abusive marriage as a teenager when she became an Ikette in the mid-‘60s, and losing much of her lavish lifestyle as she fell out of favor with the music business and couldn’t get a recording deal.

Arnold also had relationships, though sometimes brief, with a number of rock legends, most notably Mick Jagger (begun when she toured with the Turners on a UK tour headlined by the Rolling Stones), Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart, and CSNY/Manassas bassist Fuzzy Samuel. These are detailed without sensationalism, as are her professional interactions with numerous major figures she crossed paths with along the way, like Barry Gibb, Nick Drake, Doris Troy, and Brian Jones. All of the aforementioned are recalled in very positive terms, but some others left much worse impressions, like Lulu, P.J. Proby, and John Mellencamp. She felt she was too rock for black audiences and too soul for white rock listeners, making it harder for her to find record deals or make the music she most wanted to. Arnold made some decisions she regrets in her attempts to continue her career in the UK, Los Angeles, and other places, especially in the effect all the moving had on her family and the stress of often living beyond her means. She doesn’t spare herself in attributing responsibility, and while the underside of the music business isn’t the main or sole focus, it’s evident how much of a toll it takes on those who make some inroads without quite becoming stars.

4. Living on a Thin Line, by Dave Davies with Philip Clark (Headline). Considering what a major and beloved figure he is, this autobiography by Kinks lead guitarist and occasional songwriter and lead singer didn’t get much attention. In part this might be because it’s actually his second memoir; the first, Kink: An Autobiography, came out back in 1996. It’s not a sequel covering the intervening years, in which he hasn’t released much music at any rate. It too covers his whole life and career, and while there have been more than 25 additional years in the meantime, the great bulk of it takes place earlier, and much of that is devoted to the Kinks’ first and greatest decade. Inevitably there’s a lot of overlap between the two books, though no actual text from the earlier volume is recycled. So even major Kinks fans might wonder if it’s worth reading if they already have Kink.

The books are different, however, even if it much of this one is a matter of telling the same stories in different ways with some different details. While Dave is not the writer his brother Ray is (in Ray’s own memoirs and short stories), this has pretty straightforward accounts of the Kinks’ evolution and numerous of their classic songs and recordings. Going back to the beginning of their success, for instance, you get his take on Ray’s shout of “oh no!” in “You Really Got Me,” and his view of how the follow-up “All Day and All of the Night” was better. There are also musings on his dalliances with bisexuality and generally dissolute behavior. Occasional detours into his ventures into spirituality and the paranormal, as he’s aware, will strike many as fairly wacky, and are the least interesting sections.

There’s also much on the volatile relationship between the Davies brothers, and if it seems like Dave should have known Ray as well as anyone could, his older sibling remains enigmatic. Dave loves Ray, he often reminds readers, and they could work together very effectively when they were getting along and Ray was open to his younger brother’s input. Ray also often acted in ways that Dave interprets as undermining Dave’s confidence, and can come across as an erratic individual who could be by turns affectionate and alienating. In terms of the Kinks’ output, that might have hurt their work by not allowing more space for Dave as a singer and songwriter, though Dave did make some solo albums (and worked toward an unreleased LP back in the late ‘60s). Those are discussed here, if at less length than the Kinks’ most highly regarded work.

5. Anatomy of 55 More Songs, by Marc Myers (Grove Press). This is a follow-up volume to the author’s 2016 book Anatomy of a Song, and uses the same format. Myers writes the “Anatomy of a Song” column for the Wall Street Journal, which analyzes a famous rock/pop/soul song by interviewing songwriters, musicians, producers, and other more ancillary figures involved in its creation. Myers gives a brief general summary of the song and its position in history, devoting the rest of the column to quotes from his interviews. This differs from his first book only in that it covers 55 songs, rather than 45 songs. All of the 55 chapters first appeared as columns, except for the piece on Arthur Brown’s “Fire.”

Covering a wide range of songs from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, the main source of quibbles among most readers will be the ones chosen. Depending on your taste, everyone will have favorites, and everyone songs they’ll dislike. The selection has a bent toward mainstream hits, though some new wave tunes are included. From my point of view, there are undisputed classics like “Dancing in the Street” and “Sunshine Superman,” and dubious if high-selling choices like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’” Although virtually all of the selections are famous, it’s hard to make a case for Keith Richards’s “Take It So Hard” making the grade in this company.

Even the songs I (or anyone) might not enjoy hearing do have some interesting details behind their creation, which are sometimes more entertaining than listening to the recordings themselves. Although it looks to be a hefty volume at 368 pages, it goes pretty fast since there are a lot of blank/partially filled pages and full-page pictures. And there’s numerous odd trivia that isn’t widely known, some of it not directly related to the song being featured, like Cars drummer David Robinson, who came up with the band’s name, noting “funny thing is I didn’t even own a car at the time.”

6. Rock’s In My Head: A Memoir, by Art Fein (Trouser Press Books). Perhaps principally known in the Los Angeles rock scene, Art Fein has worn many hats in his time on various edges of the music business. That includes working for Capitol Records as a promotion man; being a music editor for Variety; managing or semi-managing a few bands, including the Blasters; free-lancing as a writer for numerous publications; hosting a popular cable TV program with various music journalist and musician guests; and more, though seldom holding a conventional full-time job. His memoir is pretty enjoyable and briskly paced, with inside stories, though usually not too lengthy or salacious, of musicians from the famous (John Lennon and Yoko Ono), rather cult (the Cramps), and the lesser known (the Heaters). Always lurking in the background or foreground, though he doesn’t overdo it, is the difficulty in making a living doing what you love if you’re a music geek and not too inclined to engage in the politics often necessary to gain employment. Declining to get serviced by a hooker at one team-building record company get together, in fact, helped cost him his job, according to his account.

Much of the latter part of the book — too much, really — is devoted to his lengthy friendship with Phil Spector, and his numerous if somewhat sporadic meetings with the producer during Spector’s final few decades. Like numerous other memoirs, his devotion to a volatile figure, whose behavior ranged from generous to abusive, raises the question of how much anyone should put up with from a figure whose art they admire, but whose behavior could be cruel. Not just once or twice, and not just to Fein, but to friends and associates in general. There’s a lot about Spector’s quirks here, right  up to his trials and imprisonment, though Fein does intersperse passages about his extra-Spector life. The writing’s humorous without crossing over to pathos or cheap laughs, and while he has done some other books, it makes one regret that he didn’t write a few more, and a few serious histories and biographies.

7. The Birth of Rock’n’Roll: The Illustrated Story of Sun Records, by Peter Guralnick and Colin Escott (Weldon Owen). As a 250-page coffee table book, this is more of a basic overview than a full history of Sun Records, one of the most important labels in the history of rock. In fact, you get a lot more info about Sun from books written by the authors, those being Escott’s Good Rockin’ Tonight (co-written with Martin Hawkins) and Guralnick’s biography of Sun Records chief Sam Phillips. Nonetheless, what’s here is pretty good, the format allowing for many more, many bigger, and a good number of rarer pictures and illustrations than could be used in standard formats. Guralnick wrote specific reviews of seventy Sun recordings, including most of their biggest hits (though Carl Mann’s “Mona Lisa” and Jerry Lee Lewis’s “High School Confidential” are missing, to name a couple omissions) and quite a few obscurities. These include key rockabilly recordings by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Lewis, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, and Carl Perkins, as well as important blues sides by James Cotton, Junior Parker, Rufus Thomas, Jackie Brenston, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and others.

8. Needles & Plastic: Flying Nun Records, 1981-1988, by Matthew Goody (Third Man). The most important New Zealand record label, Flying Nun improbably became one of the most highly regarded independent alternative rock companies in the world, at least as measured by its global cult following. This densely packed, nearly 400-page slightly oversized volume has more detail about their first seven years than is likely possible to match. Every one of its many releases has a thorough entry that not only describes the oft-quirky music in depth, but also goes into a lot of the background information as to how and when they were recorded and the general history of the act at the time. Many quotes from the period from the musicians, label employees, and reviews are taken from a wide range of sources, often from New Zealand papers that have seldom or never been seen by overseas fans. There are also many illustrations in color and black and white, including many photos, even of some quite obscure acts, and lots of posters and promotional material. These are more interesting than they usually are in such books as the Flying Nun’s promo material often used distinctive multicolored graphics, and sometimes work by noted cartoonist Chris Knox, who (especially as part of Tall Dwarfs) was one of the label’s most vital artists.

Although well written, this is infused with so much intense detail that its appeal might be primarily limited to major Flying Nun enthusiasts. There’s considerable similarity to how many of the bands got together and their oft-shambolic attitudes and methods, which might make it hard to digest too much at once. The 2016 memoir by Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd, In Love with These Times: My Life with Flying Nun Records, is a better general read, especially for those unfamiliar or casually familiar with the company. For those who want more, though, this is a godsend encyclopedia of sorts. Every release by Flying Nun’s more well known acts—the Chills, the Verlaines, the Bats, the Clean, and Tall Dwarfs are some, usually with a bent somewhere between noisy punk and oddball post-psychedelia—are covered, as well as those by the more cultish acts like Look Blue Go Purple. But there are also entries for discs that even collectors might not know, like the 1987 LP by Kim Blackburn, which despite its lack of impact sounds like one of the label’s more unusual detours (“some linked Blackburn’s vocal style to Nico, something she bristled at, while others…compared her to Joni Mitchell…Colin Hogg in the Herald was somewhat mystified by the album: ‘She comes on all beatnik with a collection of freeform jazz-poetry.’”) Another 1987 LP was by Dead Famous People; Flying Nun might have not have led the indie world in sales, but it might have led the whole world in odd band names.

Goody also starts each chapter with overviews of what happened in a certain year, and includes small sections on Flying Nun’s impact overseas, especially in the UK and US. This fills in some of the label’s overall history, which is unlike almost any other indie’s of the period, in part because of its New Zealand base. At its beginning, Shepherd sometimes even did business between serving customers at the record store where he worked; sales of just a few hundred copies could put a release in the charts; for years, some of their more successful records didn’t sell as much as they could have and dropped off the charts because the small runs couldn’t be repressed fast enough; and the whole label was endangered when the last vinyl pressing plant in New Zealand closed in 1987, making it necessary for Flying Nun to strike a distribution deal with WEA. As another reminder of how things can work differently in different parts of the world, some acts on the label were able to afford recording with arts grants. While all of these conspired to make the simple act of putting out records and keeping a label afloat more challenging in many respects than it was in many other locations throughout the globe, it also might have fueled the idiosyncratic identity that’s made Flying Nun’s following endure for decades. It also might have made it harder for many of their acts to maintain careers, many of them lasting only briefly before hanging it up.

Like another recent history of a prominent independent label from the time, Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise & Fall of SST Records, this book raises the question as to why some of the company’s catalog is no longer available, and whether it will be reissued. Although the author chose to concentrate on the label’s first seven years, in part because some feel it lost some of its identity when it moved from Christchurch to Auckland, there is also certainly room for him or another writer to document their next few years. Flying Nun did continue to record interesting hard-to-classify music for some time, both by some of its more noted veterans and acts who joined the roster after it moved to Auckland.

9. Pattie Boyd: My Life in Pictures, by Pattie Boyd (Reel Art Press). Boyd was George Harrison’s first wife, and subsequently married Eric Clapton, though she’s no longer married to him. This coffee table book has much more in the way of pictures than text, not only of Boyd with Harrison (and many less with Clapton), but also plenty of photos from her modeling days, mostly from the mid-1960s. There’s lots to look at here if seeing images of a mid-‘60s Swinging London fashion icon is your thing, in many poses, dresses, and some wigs, as well as a shot with Twiggy. Is there anything in the way of rock history? Not much, but there’s some interesting stuff here and there in Boyd’s captions, and a few memorabilia illustrations.

For instance: her diary pages on the day Harrison first asked her out (“George Harrison asked me out!!!!!”), March 6, 1964; Brian Epstein as chaperone for that first date at a restaurant (“George and I were both shy so he helped break the ice”); a posed shot with all five of the Rolling Stones on April 28, 1964; her initial impression of their first home as a couple, Kinfauns (“it was so suburban, ghastly, hideous”), though she loved it after they gave it a psychedelic paint job; and a hand-drawn birthday card John Lennon gave to her on the Beatles’ trip to India in early 1968. Then there’s a picture of her and George with Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles in 1968; a couple love letters, in anguished romantic prose, to her from Eric Clapton in the early 1970s, when she was still married to Harrison; a long weird rambling typewritten letter to the Harrisons from John Lennon advising, “I think we should give Apple to the lowest bidder”; and a color shot of Paul McCartney and George Harrison playing together (with drummer Jim Capaldi) on stage at the wedding party for Pattie and Eric Clapton. All this is scant info for a 240-page book, but good enough reason to check it out of the library.

10. Sun Ra: Art on Saturn (Fantagraphics). Sun Ra accumulated such a huge and often baffling discography that it’s doubtful a complete one will ever be assembled, especially if it pays attention to the many variations in cover art. This was especially true of the many discs he self-released. Many of the covers are reproduced in this coffee table book, focusing on those he issued on his Saturn label. Whatever one’s opinion of their artistic merit, their range was extraordinary, from the most homemade and rudimentary designs to gaudily psychedelic ones. Often elements of the homemade and DIY were mixed with the more professional, florid, and arty on the same sleeve. Although there are a few essays about the records, the pages are dominated by cover reproductions, including some inner label and back covers.

This doesn’t get into much biographical information or musical description analysis; for that, there’s John Szwed’s Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra. The essays are largely interesting reading, even if they occupy a small portion of the book, especially the memories of Glenn Jones of distributing Sun Ra’s limited editions via Rounder and seeing Sun Ra play numerous times starting in the early 1970s. It would have been interesting for there to be at least some text about the specific albums and the music they contained, though that might have been difficult due to the often scant and confusing information about the material’s origins. Interestingly, it’s speculated Sun Ra might have been deliberately haphazard in how he packaged and released music on Saturn, or at least unconcerned with details, letting the music speak for itself. The book’s on the expensive side at $75, but it’s something that might appeal to people interested in album design and/or record collecting even if they’re not Sun Ra or even jazz fans. And it’s a lot cheaper than trying to buy the rare original discs.

11. Totally Wired: The Rise and Fall of the Music Press, by Paul Gorman (Thames & Hudson). This book’s scope is almost as wide as it can get for a popular music volume, starting with the founding of Melody Maker in 1926 and going up to around the time very shortly before this was published in 2022. Its strong points are coverage, if sometimes on the basic side, of the launch, prime, and decline of many magazines during this period, often with interesting accounts (some from first-hand interviews) of writers, editors, and publishers. It’s strongest on the highest-profile British publications of the rock era, particularly Melody MakerNME, and later The Face, though US magazines big (Rolling Stone) and small (fanzines like Kicks) are also a part of the narrative. The wide breadth in some ways works against the flow, however, since many of the endeavors are only given a little space, and the wealth of territory means there are constant jumps between subjects, and sometimes (though not drastically so) eras. To its credit, it includes a lot of the smaller players; specialized publications in areas like soul and experimental music; and attention to the triumphs and obstacles faced by writers of color.

The constant shifts can be dizzying in number, however, and sometimes readers might wish for more specific than general detail on the lesser known publications and figures, though that would require a lot more than the 362 pages here. The twenty-first century gets just a few pages of epilogue; some notable publications aren’t referenced at all, though it’s impossible to hit everything; and some might disagree with the impression that music journalism is on the decline or even dying, even considering many print publications have gone out of business, and the nature of the music press has changed with the rise of online platforms. The author’s 2001 book In Their Own Write: Adventures in the Music Press, structured as an oral history (with some of the material also appearing in Totally Wired), makes for an overall better read as that format lends itself better to historical bites, though Totally Wired allows for more context of how the magazines were operated and competed against each other. Which, in turn, sometimes makes for depressing overload with many quotes about circulation and the sometimes tacky decisions taken to increase readership.

12. Holy Ghost; the Life & Death of Free Jazz Pioneer Albert Ayler, by Richard Koloda (Jawbone Press). Free jazz is not my forte, accounting in part for why this isn’t higher on my list of favorites. This book is well done, however, combining much research into Ayler’s life and career with detailed description of his records, as well as substantial quotes from reviews printed of the saxophonist’s work at the time. This doesn’t clear up all the mysteries of his oft-shadowy history, including the biggest mystery of all, how and why he died by drowning in 1970, though suicide seems like a strong possibility. Some second-hand and first-hand interviews with family and associates are drawn upon, most crucially author interview material with Ayler’s younger brother Donald, who was part of Albert’s band for an important period, though they grew estranged to some extent.

Although often acclaimed since his death as an important pioneer, points are made that during his life he received mixed reception running to extremes of highs and lows from critics and peers, and often had a hard time consistently recording, gigging, and earning money. The period near the end of his life during which he went into more commercial and poorly regarded records is covered without gloss, though there’s more focus on the lengthy stretches during which he explored new and daring territory with his avant-garde playing and material. There’s also interesting detail about his relationship, generally good but financially unremunerative, with the most notable of the labels he recorded for, ESP-Disk, and its eccentric owner, Bernard Stollman.

Honorable Mention:

Peter Asher: A Life in Music, by David Jacks (Backbeat). This nearly 400-page, rather small-print biography of the British Invasion hit performer (with Peter & Gordon) and, more famously, producer and manager (especially for James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt) is very well researched, and pretty well written. It’s in the “honorable mention” category because I for the most part couldn’t get past the mid-1980s, owing to my lack of interest in his more recent activities. That did get me about 250 pages into the book, which is about a book in itself. But I didn’t read the whole thing, hence its honorable mention status.

While it’s hard to determine how many of the quotes were from first-hand interviews and how many excerpted from other sources, the author did talk to Asher for at least some of them. He also spoke to many people who worked with him over the years, and not just obvious choices, but also engineers, assistants, session musicians, and the like. It gets points for taking Peter & Gordon’s career seriously, down to detailed descriptions of non-hit singles, LP tracks, and session details, and doesn’t even get to Asher’s transition to production with Apple until after 90 pages. There’s also some attention paid to the music and social scenes he was a part of, whether swinging London, in which he was more plugged into the underground than most knew, and the Hollywood rock community he became a big mover and shaker in starting in the early 1970s. 

As a producer, Asher did much to shape the slicker, sometimes more laidback part of the SoCal ‘70s rock sound, especially with his use of skilled session pros. Some critics see that as a big negative, but usually the public disagreed, especially regarding Taylor and Ronstadt, though some obscure albums he worked on by the likes of Jo Mama and Tony Kosinec are also covered. So is, winding back to his earlier years, his part in the British Invasion and his close relationship with Paul McCartney. It won’t surprise many that Asher, in keeping with whatever public profile he’s established, comes off as a highly intelligent, calm, and professional figure, and there’s not much wild behavior depicted here. Actually there are so many testimonies to his kind generosity that some might suspect some of the less positive aspects of his life weren’t addressed, though there might not be too many if any to dig up.

Top Twenty (Or So) Music Documentaries of 2023

There aren’t any blew-me-away music documentaries that came out in 2023, on the order of, say, Get Back. There are still quite a few worth viewing, often on subjects that would have been deemed impossibly uncommercial or impossible to film not too long ago. I did miss some I know have at least screened at festivals, and should they be easier to access in 2024, I’ll include them on a supplement to that list. There were still almost twenty I found worth writing about, and if they were heavy on well known figures, docs on the likes of Barbara Dane and Peter Case continue to emerge.

1. Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd. When this came out, I was concerned whether this was necessary since there was a pretty good documentary (primarily distributed through the DVD market and not widely screened in theaters) on Barrett almost twenty years ago, The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story. I even wondered whether it was just a retitled or rejigged version of that documentary. It’s not; it’s an entirely different production. And though there’s naturally overlap in what’s covered (and some of the interview subjects), it’s worthwhile, primarily for the amazingly wide assortment of first-hand interviews with people who knew Barrett. That includes Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, but also a host of others. Among them are early Floyd managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King, Barrett’s sister Rosemary, and several of Barrett’s girlfriends. Some who only pop up for brief comments are celebrities in their own right, like Pete Townshend and playwright Tom Stoppard.

Some of these interviews were obviously done quite some time ago, as several have since died, and co-director Storm Thorgerson died ten years ago. I could done without a few sequences in which actors with passing resemblances to Barrett seem to be silently reenacting surreal things Syd could have experienced or imagined. But mostly there are interesting memories and stories, and while the archival footage of Barrett with early Pink Floyd will be familiar to big fans, some of the vintage pictures won’t. It’s probably not giving anything away to readers of this blog that Barrett’s story was tragic in many ways, and his descent into mental difficulties and retreat from the music business isn’t glossed over. His substantial contributions to psychedelic rock are celebrated in detail, however, particularly his songwriting.

2. The Stones and Brian JonesKnown for quite a few movies with rather sensationalistic first-hand investigations by the filmmaker, Nick Broomfield has gotten more straightforward with his recent Leonard Cohen film (Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love) and this documentary about Brian Jones. There’s a lot more to say about Jones than can fit into about 95 minutes, and this doesn’t cover everything about his life and music; Paul Trynka’s biography Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones is the best source for that, and there are plenty of other details in other books. A longtime rock journalist I respect has also criticized this film for not using much for the original Rolling Stones’ compositions on the soundtrack; in a related weakness, not adequately covering the scope of Jones’s contributions to numerous songs by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on unusual instruments; and the image quality of a few interview segments recorded on Zoom.

Fair enough points, especially if you’re looking for the ideal Jones documentary. But even as a longtime Stones/Jones fan, I liked what the movie did cover. A lot of the footage and photos are uncommon, and even if much of it can be uncovered in other various sources, it’s used adroitly to tie together strands of Brian’s story. A good number of soundbites from interviews with Jones’s girlfriends are used that aren’t exactly well-trodden info either, from Linda Lawrence to the less well known ones like Pat Andrews and Dawn Molloy. Bill Wyman has a lot of on-camera comments done recently specifically for this project, and some other lesser-heard-from figures were also interviewed, like film director Volker Schlöndorff, for whose film A Degree of Murder Jones composed the soundtrack. Sure it would have been nice if Jagger, Richards, early Stones manager Andrew Oldham, and some other key figures had been interviewed. But many, also including Marianne Faithfull and Jones’s father, are represented by relevant vintage interview fragments, often in voiceover rather than film (and it’s not always possible to tell what might have been taken from other sources rather than done for the documentary). 

While Jones’s philandering and drug abuse are covered, there’s plenty of attention to his music, Wyman noting his slide guitar work and how Jones and Richards combined their riffs. Brian’s failed attempts at songwriting are discussed, and one particularly noteworthy segment includes a tape recording of a few lines from a tune he’s trying to work out. Unlike some other books and films, this doesn’t dwell on or sensationalize the controversial circumstances behind his 1969 death, though it is of course covered near the film’s conclusion. There are some minor inaccuracies in the chronological sequencing of the events that slightly diminish the film’s value, though they’re of the kind that don’t seem to bug many viewers except fanatics who trainspot these sort of details.

3. San Francisco Sounds: A Place in Time. Streaming on the MGM+ channel, this two-part, two-and-a-half-hour documentary focuses on the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene of the last half of the 1960s, though episode two goes a fair way into the 1970s. This is a decent overview that focuses on the most celebrated acts of the time: Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead, Santana, and Sly & the Family Stone, with some attention paid to Country Joe & the Fish, Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Charlatans, Steve Miller, and the Tower of Power. Many of the artists dead and alive are represented by voiceover clips; the only talking heads seen on screen from recent interviews are a few non-musicians, including critic Ben Fong-Torres, radio DJ Dusty Street, light showman Bill Ham, and poster artist Victor Moscoso. There are quite a few (if very brief) archive film clips and photos, some quite rare or at least infrequently seen. Highlights among those are Big Brother in rehearsal, a snippet of Dan Hicks performing informally and solo, and famed radio DJ Tom Donahue.

What this documentary could have benefited from, at least for those who take this scene very seriously, is simply more time and depth. There were many interesting secondary musical acts in the scene who aren’t seen or even mentioned, some of whom were certainly filmed in decent quality, like It’s a Beautiful Day and Cold Blood. Some that barely or never recorded have interesting film clips too, like Ace of Cups. The Beau Brummels’ contribution as the first major ‘60s San Francisco rock group is, as usual in these productions, entirely overlooked, although you actually do hear an instrumental passage from one of their recordings in the background at one point. There’s arguably a little too much attention paid to non-musical aspects of the scene, like posters and light shows. And extending the coverage at the end to the Doobie Brothers and, more particularly, Journey (whose “Lights” plays over the end credits) is extending it too long. 

My expectations might have been too high considering the co-director, Alison Ellwood, did such a good job (as the sole director) of Laurel Canyon, a survey of the 1960s/1970s rock scene in that area of L.A. that was one of the best recent music documentaries. A similar format is employed here, but the subject’s really worth four full hours.

4. Reinventing Elvis: The ’68 Comeback. Debuting as a stream on Paramount Plus, the documentary looks at Elvis Presley’s fabled 1968 comeback network television special. The story is told well in the book Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback, by Gillian G. Gaar, who is interviewed in this film. But this doc also benefits from interviews with some of the program’s dancers, audience members, a choreographer, and most importantly, director Steve Binder, whose extensive comments are the narrative thread of sorts. There are also, of course, numerous clips from the special itself, as well as outtakes not in the original broadcast. Running nearly two hours, it’s padded a bit by commentary on the general sociocultural context of 1968, Elvis’s pre-1968 career (especially his descent into poor movies), and, more problematically, testimonies from current artists as to Presley’s huge enduring influence (as if that’s ever been in doubt).

Binder’s detailed recollections of his interactions with Elvis, and the obstacles Colonel Tom Parker (largely unsuccessfully) threw in the way of doing the show Elvis and Binder’s way, are the key attractions, though the other interviewees have their share of worthwhile stories and insights. The tragic footnote was how Binder and Presley could not sustain their friendship after the special as the director was unable to contact Elvis, one interviewee speculating that had they remained close, Presley’s career would have turned out differently and better.

5. Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis). Technically this first played a film festival in 2022, but didn’t start to circulate too widely until mid-2023, so I think it’s okay to put this in the regular 2023 listings. Hipgnosis was the design studio responsible for many classic rock album covers from the late 1960s through the late 1970s, formed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, though  Peter Christopherson came in as a third partner in the 1970s. They’re most famous for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, but did several other Floyd covers as well as famous ones by Led Zeppelin, 10cc, Wings, and Peter Gabriel. They’re all discussed in depth in this documentary, directed by noted rock photographer Anton Corbijn. It’s straightforward in format, progressing chronologically with interviews with Powell, Paul McCartney, the surviving members of Pink Floyd, Robert Plant, Graham Gouldman, and Gabriel, as well as lesser known associated and friends. The only arty touch is filming the interviews in black and white, though the album covers and art are shown in full color.

As Thorgerson died about a decade ago, he’s only represented by some archival interviews. There’s vintage footage of Powell too, but he participated more than anyone in the interviews done for the film. Maybe some hardcore fans will lament the absence of coverage on some of their many relatively obscure album designs, whether for String Driven Thing (in which Helen Mirren can be seen) or Toe Fat. And while there are several books by now that tell much of the Hipgnosis story relayed here, it’s a well-paced overview of its highlights, as well as a reflection of a time when much time, art, effort, and money was put into elaborate sleeve designs, to the point of making special trips abroad in deserts and mountains to get the exact shots desired. Although appropriately brief, the time at which the team split in disputes over direction (some wanting to abandon sleeve design for videos) and finances is covered, Powell poignantly  noting that he and Thorgerson—close friends as well as colleagues—didn’t speak for next twelve years.

6. Little Richard: I Am Everything. Little Richard makes a good subject for a documentary, and this is a good one, but with some minor flaws that keep it from being an excellent one. It covers much of his career with a wealth of vintage interview excerpts and performance snippets, along with comments by quite a few peers, associates, musicians he influenced, and (least essentially) academics. The singer is consistently charismatic as a vocalist, pianist, and storyteller, if one that constantly inflates his importance, if usually in a humorous way.

Although much attention’s given to his mid-’50s superstar peak, there’s also some adequate space for his detours into gospel music both in the late 1950s and later decades, as well as his reversions to rock in the early 1960s and later. Various notables, some obviously in interviews dating back many years, testify to Richard’s greatness, including Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Tom Jones, Nona Hendryx, and Nile Rodgers. Some of the less famed people who worked with him get some time too, like “Tutti Frutti” lyricist Dorothy LaBostrie and drummer Tony Newman of Sounds Incorporated, who backed Little Richard on UK shows in the 1960s.

As exciting as it is to watch him perform, the vintage musical clips, though numerous, are frustratingly short — very short, like just a few seconds. Some of the writers and scholars make obvious or redundant comments about his sexuality and the discrimination he suffered. Longer music excerpts would have enhanced the impact considerably, and if those behind the film felt that would have made it too long, that’s underestimating the appetite of the audience. I believe most of them, myself included, would have welcomed extension of the film by about twenty minutes to reach the two-hour mark, if that would fit in more such material. Performance visuals aren’t the only things shortchanged — Jimi Hendrix’s pre-fame mid-’60s stint in Richard’s band is only mentioned, and the sequence of what happened when, as it is in many documentaries, sometimes gets out of order, though few except serious fans will catch these.

7. What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? Blood, Sweat & Tears are never going to be considered among the hipper acts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But for a couple years or so, they were one of the most popular rock bands in the US. While there’s much about their history in this documentary, it centers on their 1970 tour of Eastern Europe, which included shows in Yugoslavia, Romania, and Poland. (For what it’s worth, contrary to a remark in the film, this wasn’t the first time an American rock band played behind the Iron Curtain; the Beach Boys played a few shows in Czechoslovakia in June 1969.) A different documentary of that tour was made at the time, and while much of it is lost, the recent discovery of some of the footage means that a fair amount of it is used in this movie. The director of the tour documentary, Donn Cambern, is interviewed in this new overview, as are several key members of BST, including singer David Clayton-Thomas, Steve Katz, and Bobby Colomby, and Jim Fielder. So are record executive Clive Davis and rock journalist David Felton, who wrote critically about the band at the time.

It wasn’t known by many at the time that BST agreed to the State Department-sponsored tour to keep Canadian native David Clayton-Thomas from being deported. The band had mixed feelings about doing it for other reasons, including embarking on what could have been considered cooperation with the government at a time when there was a lot of opposition to its policies (especially US involvement in the Vietnam War) among their audience. Footage from the tour itself reveals wildly varying reception from the Eastern European audiences, from enthusiastic near-rioting to, if at only one concert discussed, hostile indifference. Upon their return, some of the musicians noted their discomfort at visiting countries where some personal liberties were curtailed and suppressed. This in turn generated some hostility from the counterculture and rock press who viewed them as tools of the US authorities, their hip quotient further diminished by taking gigs in Las Vegas. This is cited by some of those interviewed as a principal factor, perhaps the principal factor, in the band’s diminishing popularity and descent from superstardom.

Although it’s interjected irregularly, the film does also cover some of the group’s general history. It takes a while to get to it, but their origins as an Al Kooper-led group with hipper musical credentials on their debut album is detailed (though Kooper isn’t interviewed), as is his departure and the recruitment of Clayton-Thomas, the band feeling they needed a better lead singer. So is their appearance at Woodstock, including some concert footage, though not much was filmed of them at that festival, their manager at the time getting blamed for asking for money. A subsequent manager was recommended to them despite his being in jail at the time; he was hired, and was the manager during their Eastern European tour. There’s also discussion of their integration of horns into rock arrangements and its influence at the time, though even at that time, it wasn’t as big a hit with critics as with the public.

While very interesting, if a little erratically constructed, the film doesn’t entirely satisfactorily deal with the effect of the tour and the group’s subsequent struggles. The tour might have cost them some credibility with critics (like Felton, who wrote about them in Rolling Stone at the time) and some audiences, but there certainly wasn’t an immediate effect on their popularity. Their third album spent a couple weeks at number one in August 1970, after the tour was finished. The possibility that Clayton-Thomas’s departure (which isn’t mentioned) in the early 1970s, and a drop in quality in their recordings, might have played a significant role are not considered as factors.

8. The 9 Lives of Barbara Dane. Dane has had an interesting life, to say the least, both as a musician and activist. Although most identified with the folk revival, from the 1950s through the 1970s she also recorded some jazz and records that even bordered on pop-rock, as well as doing a mid-’60s album with the Chambers Brothers. Her left-wing activism included membership in the Community Party in her younger years, involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, obstacles her politics threw in her career path during the McCarthy era, and travel to Cuba in the mid-’60s at a time when few American artists went there, which led to appearances throughout the world, including in East Germany. She was married for a long time to Sing Out magazine editor Irwin Silber, and helped run a record label, Paredon, that put out many world music and politically minded discs. She turned down a management offer from Albert Grossman, before, she says in the documentary, he handled more famous clients like Peter, Paul & Mary and Bob Dylan.

All of this is covered in this film, though it can’t go into all this and more as much her recent memoir The Bell Still Rings: My Life of Defiance and Song does. This does offer numerous recent interviews with Dane, still alive as of this writing in her mid-nineties, as well as children and fellow musicians and activists, Jane Fonda and Bonnie Raitt being the most famous. Considering she never became a star or even sold too many records within the folk or jazz communities, there’s a surprising wealth of archive footage, including network TV appearances on the Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Playboy After Dark. Most amazingly, there’s also footage of her travels and musical appearances in Cuba in the 1960s, and many interesting photos help round out the story. It doesn’t always follow a straight chronological order, though she was doing so many things nearly at once it would be hard to film this in timeline fashion. Her post-1970s years, during which she was largely inactive in music, don’t get much time, though there are quite a few clips of her when she began performing more in her eighties. The narrative intersperses those with her basic history from the 1940s through the 1970s, which actually works better than lumping that in at the end.

9. Psychedelicized: The Electric Circus StoryFrom 1967 to 1971, the Electric Circus was one of New York’s leading rock clubs, located in the East Village on St. Marks Place. While this 90-minute documentary isn’t extraordinary from a filmmaking point of view, it’s very competent, mixing archive photos and footage with interviews with some of the venue’s main figures, concertgoers, and a couple performers from major bands who played there. Among those interviewed are founders Jerry Brandt and Stan Freeman; Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers; and Sly & the Family Stone drummer Greg Errico. There isn’t much film of actual musical performances at the club, those being limited to silent clips of Sly & the Family Stone and the Voices of East Harlem. But there are a good number of bits of the many non-musical circus-like acts who also performed there; shots of the audience grooving; and news clips of the time covering the Electric Circus and interviewing audience members.

Although overshadowed by the Fillmore East, and even some other venues like Steve Paul’s Scene, in coverage of New York’s psychedelic-era rock, this film makes the case (not overtly) that it should get more attention. More than other venues in New York and elsewhere, it was a multimedia experience, not just due to the light shows, but the aforementioned circus-like performers, like mime artist Michael Grando, one of those interviewed for the documentary. The space’s prior history as the Dom (noted for regular Velvet Underground performances in spring 1966) and the Balloon Farm is acknowledged. So is the tragic bombing, for still unknown motivations, in 1970 that injured seventeen and likely increased the damper on things that led to the club’s closure in 1971. So is the bust of Brandt for having a joint in his luggage when entering Canada, which led to him being ousted from the club’s operations, and a split between him and Freeman that was never repaired. I streamed this from a festival and it’s possible it might not screen widely or make it to home video, but it’s worth watching for fans of ‘60s rock. 

10. Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over. This is yet more average than the average music documentary, with plenty of testimonials to Warwick’s talents and character; plenty of snippets from archive clips, most very short, but including many of her numerous hits; and lots of recent interview comments from Dionne herself. As evidence of how widely respected she is among her peers, the interviewees—some of whom must have been filmed a few years before this went into wide release, and not everyone is still alive—include Burt Bacharach, Smokey Robinson, Chuck Jackson, Gladys Knight, Berry Gordy, Elton John, Clive Davis, Barry Gibb, Cissy Houston, Stevie Wonder, and even Bill Clinton. There’s not a great deal that serious fans won’t know, but her style and collaborations with producer/songwriters Bacharach and Hal David are discussed, as is her wide appeal to both black and white soul and pop fans. There’s attention to her activism during the Civil Rights era (which included a risky attempt to change lyrics in “What’d I Say” to refer to integration) and, more extensively, her involvement in AIDS-related causes. Although there aren’t many non-hit songs among the vintage clips, one of the most unusual has her singing in Italian, and there are so many clips sourced that few if any viewers will have seen all of the originals.

This is also like many documentaries in how it loses steam when it passes her musical prime. The last third or so is more about her considerable post-1970s humanitarian activities than her music, which got a lot duller after her association with Bacharach-David ended. How that (and indeed the partnership between Bacharach and David) ended isn’t discussed, and while her controversial involvement with the Psychic Friends Network and bankruptcy are, they’re not examined in much depth. Her sister Dee Dee, who made a lot of records, some very good, without getting big hits isn’t mentioned, although she’s seen in a news clipping. A documentary can’t cover everything, or everything in depth, but some fans, and I’m one, would like to know more. And not necessarily about the negatives—there isn’t anything substantial about her relationship with the Scepter/Wand label, which put out most of her big hits, or Florence Greenberg, who ran the label. Or how she felt about Cilla Black quickly covering and getting a big hit with “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” though that’s been gone over elsewhere. For many subjects, there are supplementary books to fill in a lot of gaps that documentaries can’t address. There hasn’t been a good one by or about Dionne Warwick, and time’s running out to get first-hand comments from those who were there for such a volume.

11. Joan Baez, I Am a NoiseWith a lot of participation from Baez in recent interviews and concert footage from shortly before her retirement from touring, this nearly two-hour film has a greater autobiographical feel than many documentaries. That helps lead to pluses and minuses, the pluses being a good deal of archive footage going back to childhood home movies and 1958 live performance (with sound) at Cambridge’s Club 47. There are also lots of photos, rare documents, and letters (principally by Joan herself) going back to her pre-professional years. Other figures represented by interviews both vintage and done for this project include ex-husband and noted antiwar activist David Harris, her son Gabriel, and other family members. Important junctures in her career that are covered include early appearances at the Newport Folk Festival; her musical and professional relationship with Bob Dylan; her mid-‘70s resurgence with the Diamonds & Rust album and touring with the Rolling Thunder Revue (though, oddly, her one big hit single, a cover of the Band’s “The Night They Rode Old Dixie Down,” is not mentioned); and social activism that at times landed her in jail. Some scenes briefly show a huge archive of Baez material, some of which presumably was sourced for this movie.

Baez also spends a good deal of time ruminating over her difficulties with her family, including intimations of abuse on the part of her father, though the particulars aren’t too thoroughly detailed. She also gives a lot of space to discussion of her psychological problems, often referred to in letters that are blown up on the screen, and sometimes illustrated with animation. There are often transitions between her history and recent scenes of her traveling and on tour, and as often occurs, the recent sections are both less interesting and derail some of the momentum of the pre-1980 stories. Much that could have been covered of her purely musical evolution isn’t here, whether how she got acquainted with the traditional folk music that comprised the bulk of her early repertoire; her at times awkward attempts to move from solo folk to fuller arrangements and rock, which included an attempt at an unreleased mid-‘60s rock album produced by her brother-in-law, Richard Fariña; and her longtime relationships with Vanguard Records and manager Manny Greenhill. One of the recordings heard is a presumably teenaged Baez singing “Why Do Fools in Love,” and it might have been interesting to hear her views on rock, why she opted for folk, and how she felt about how the music scene changed as folk and rock mixed.

Some of this is covered in other books (though not very satisfactorily in Baez’s autobiographies) and liner notes, as well as the 2009 American Masters documentary How Sweet the Sound. I had the feeling, however, that Baez was undervaluing her musical career, or at least underestimating viewers’ interest in it. Maybe that says more about what I want in a documentary than what Baez wanted to express in this one. Still, there’s a gap in Baez’s legacy without a memoir, documentary, or biography that gives more space to her music and influence. Doing such a project wouldn’t prevent her from writing books and being in projects outside of music; Judy Collins, for instance, has also written multiple books, but did focus on her musical prime in Sweet Judy Blue Eyes. Baez did have the sense of humor to mock the cover of her Blowin’ Away album as one of the worst of anyone’s, attributing some of the impetus behind deciding upon the strange attire in which she’s dressed to her use of Quaaludes at the time.

Baez’s sometimes strained relationship with her younger sister Mimi Fariña gets a lot of screen time, and something should be noted about its portrayal. It’s presented as a loving but competitive and sometimes fraught one. Viewers might get the impression Mimi— who played guitar and sang in a duo with first husband Richard Fariña on pretty impressive mid-‘60s albums, as well as doing some later far less noteworthy recordings—wanted to have Joan’s stature as a musician, but lacked the talent and spent her adulthood in her sister’s shadow. Musically that might be true to some extent, but it’s not mentioned that Mimi Fariña founded the esteemed (and still operating) organization Bread and Roses. It presents concerts for parts of the population that might have a hard time going to such events otherwise, such as prisoners and people of all ages struggling with disadvantages. That’s as much of a legacy to society as what Joan did in her own highly valuable work for social causes.

12. Peter Case: A Million Miles Away. As a disclaimer, I’ve known singer-songwriter Peter Case for nearly twenty years, and also been friends with his wife, journalist/author Denise Sullivan (who’s interviewed in this film), for longer than that. I’ve known a few other people interviewed in this documentary too. But I do think this film will be of interest to anyone interested in the more adventurous side of the mainstream music business in the past half century or so, and the more mainstream side of the independent/underground world. Case has sort of straddled those worlds, first as part of new wave groups the Nerves and the Plimsouls in the 1970s and 1980s, and since then as a solo act who has blended and flitted between folk and rock. He’s never made it “big,” in part because, as he acknowledges here, he hasn’t been the greatest at working personal relationships with people who work at labels and publicizing musicians.

This doc has archive clips going back to his days as a street singer in San Francisco in the 1970s, interspersed with excerpts from recent performances. Case recounts his breaks and setbacks with wry humor, as laid out in one of his first interview remarks, when he remembers David Geffen asking him “what happened?” after Peter’s career didn’t take off. “I go, ‘You’re David Geffen,’” Case replied. “You tell me what happened.” He also recounts, with no shame, how he got “lower education” in the San Francisco streets while his peers were getting higher education in school, and how he was dropped from a major label because he was too inexpensive (sic) to promote.

Refreshingly, there aren’t interviews with more famous musicians and writers to validate how important he is; instead, we hear from peers from the world of performers that gained critical respect without stardom, like members of the Balancing Act and Lone Justice, Chuck Prophet, and Case’s ex-wife, fellow singer Victoria Williams. Prophet chips in with a witticism of his own when noting how, along the lines of the oft-quoted line that all of the few people who bought Velvet Underground albums formed bands, all of the few people who bought Case records were also inspired to leave their bands and go solo. Case seems happy enough in his cult-ish niche, though the major scare he endured in his fifties when he needed to have a bypass operation without health insurance is also part of the story, as is the rally of fellow musicians and fans to help cover his expenses.

13. Little Richard, American Masters (PBS). This is an entirely different documentary than the theatrically screened film Little Richard: I Am Everything, which was released shortly before this episode in the American Masters series was broadcast on PBS. Inevitably it covers some of the same ground, but it’s certainly less lively. Maybe that’s to be expected from an installment in a long-running series known for a straightforward style, but it’s less interesting than I Am Everything, even though it’s almost as long. It too mixes vintage interview and performance clips with comments from associates, British Invasion stars Ringo Starr and Keith Richards (both of whom played on bills with Little Richard in their bands’ early days), and  writers. Specialty Records chief Art Rupe is represented by audio, at one point noting the company did everything to get the star to record rock’n’roll again after he went gospel, even withholding royalties as part of that effort. Unlike I Am Everything, Pat Boone is among the interviewees, and while his take that he helped break Little Richard to a wider (and whiter) audience is dubious, at least he’s given the chance to offer his two cents.

As in I Am Everything, the performance clips are too brief. As great as Little Richard was, both documentaries make too much of him as an almost singularly titanic figure, boosted of course by many comments from Richard himself. It’s not an issue worth arguing too fiercely about since his importance is undisputed, but it should be noted, and is not in this film, that he wasn’t the only African-American rock’n’roll pioneer crossing over to white audiences in a big way starting in the mid-1950s; Chuck Berry and Fats Domino were just the biggest of those stars. Finer details about how his 1960s and early 1970s rock’n’roll comeback records on various labels didn’t catch on in a big way aren’t discussed, and Jimi Hendrix’s brief but colorful pre-stardom mid-‘60s stint in Richard’s band isn’t mentioned. If such info’s felt too mundane by documentary filmmakers, it’s out there in various books, though there hasn’t been a great one on the singer. If not as good as I Am Everything, this American Masters installment still adds material to documentary coverage of this icon, though it’s more supplementary than as interesting a film in its own right.

14. Max Roach, American Masters (PBS). The American Masters series broadcast episodes on three major African-American musicians in 2023, a welcome contribution to the PBS schedule. This nearly 90-minute overview of jazz drummer Max Roach was the best of the three as far as how well made a film it was, and would rank higher on this list if I was more of a jazz fan and thus more interested in the subject matter. It offered a lot of interest for me nonetheless, covering his journey from bebop (especially in the lineup he led with Clifford Brown) to Civil Rights-oriented music with then-wife Abbey Lincoln and later projects that focused on solo drumming and percussion ensembles.

With a guy whose career spanned more than half a century and had a discography of well over fifty albums (not counting the many he played on for other bandleaders), it’s not possible to do such a program without leaving a lot out. That might annoy some serious jazz aficionados, but what’s covered is covered well, with some excellent performance footage of his bebop days, excerpts from his Freedom Now Suite (his most well known and arguably most important work, with vocals by Lincoln), his M’Boom percussion orchestra, and even a clip of him and Lincoln performing in Iran in the late 1960s. There are also interviews with several musicians who worked with Roach, and several of his children.

15. Roberta Flack, American Masters (PBS). Like all American Masters episodes on musicians, this mixes archival clips with interviews, some vintage, some recent. It’s artier in its format than most installments in the series, though, using voiceovers instead of talking heads for the interviews. These include not just a lot of comments from Flack, but also from associates like producer Joel Dorn, ex-husband and jazz musician Steve Novosel, some musicians who played with her, and more contemporary journalists and musicians. There’s a lot of detail on her big hits “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” and (with Donny Hathaway) “Where Is the Love.” These include comments by Lori Lieberman, who did the original version of “Killing Me Softly,” and Clint Eastwood, whose use of “First Time” in Play Misty for Me revived interest in Flack’s cover and propelled it to #1 three years after its release on her debut LP. Attention’s also paid to the origination of her pop-jazz-soul in front of club audiences in Washington, DC; the prejudice she endured as a result of her interracial marriage; and a few lesser known songs, including a few of her more socially conscious ones from her early recordings.

It might not have been the intention of those making the film, but this wouldn’t make a big case for her being a major artist, certainly not to those not very familiar with her work. As noted, not too many of her songs are discussed aside from the three big hits, and there’s not much of a sense of how many records she did and what others might have been significant. Maybe room, for instance, could have been made at least for the Janis Ian-penned “Jesse,” her Top Thirty (just) 1973 follow-up to “Killing Me Softly.” The documentary also adheres to the cliché of getting much less interesting after an hour or so, with a lot of space for her association with Peabo Bryson and some general comments from more contemporary artists.

16. Garland Jeffreys: The King of In Between. A singer-songwriter who never broke through to large-scale commercial success despite a lot of critical acclaim, Jeffreys was also hard to classify owing to his mix of rock, soul, reggae, and more. Hence the “in between” of the title, also referring to his mixed-race background. This 70-minute documentary is as modest in scale as his impact on the music scene was, even at his 1970s height, and is standard in format, blending interviews and archive clips. Those interviewed include Jeffreys himself, his wife and daughter, some brief bits of praise from contemporaries like Bruce Springsteen, and colleagues like guitarist Alan Freeman and producer Michael Cuscuna.

Such was the rather subtle and sometimes low-key nature of his work that it’s hard to imagine newcomers being blown away from exposure to it, but the movie, like his music, is reasonably interesting. His volatile relationship with the record industry, which saw him bounce between several labels, had something to do with his failure to make more commercial headway, though this could be said of many artists. There are a good number of brief clips of him in action from the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the strange juncture in which he blackened his face with minstrel-like getup for performance is covered. So is his sole hit of sorts, “Matador” (though then only in a few European countries), whose release as a single was suggested by Gene Simmons. His albums grew sporadic after the early 1980s, and his last few decades are covered lightly, ending with conveying the sentiment that he came to appreciate the devoted following he had rather than ruminate over his lack of greater recognition.

17. The War on Disco (PBS). A polarizing musical and cultural force, disco was both phenomenally popular and widely hated, culminating in a Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey’s Chicago Park in which records were burned and a major league baseball game forfeited. That event is also the key culmination of this hour-long episode of PBS’s American Experience series, which looks at how disco both rose in the 1970s and generated fierce antipathy among many music listeners. This doesn’t have much examination of the music itself and how it evolved out of soul and was produced in the studio, though some key records like “Soul Makossa” and “I Will Survive” are highlighted. The dominant viewpoint in this doc, expressed by some cultural commentators and a few disco performers, is that disco largely grew out of the black and gay communities, and the backlash was from white males who both felt threatened by its cultural expression and disliked the perceived elitism of clubs like Studio 54. Some other viewpoints are expressed, some feeling that the Chicago DJ (Steve Dahl) who spearheaded the Comiskey Park event wasn’t racist, but bitter over getting fired when his station changed format from rock to disco (though he quickly landed a job at another station). The archive footage and photos feature clips of dancers and clubs rather than performers, and naturally the Comiskey Park event where the record blowup grew into beer-fueled chaos.

The following films came out in 2022, but I didn’t see them until 2023:

1. In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50This first screened at very select outlets in 2022, and didn’t get its first San Francisco screening—or, apparently, much screening in commercial theaters—until November 2023. So it could have gone into the main section of this list, though it wouldn’t have been too highly ranked. This alternates between interviews with/footage of King Crimson in 2019 and some attention paid to their lengthy history, including interviews with some of their numerous past members and some (and certainly not a ton) of archive clips. If anything, this favors the 2019/recent footage, almost to the extent that it’s as much a documentary of that iteration of the band as it is of King Crimson as a whole. This is a fairly common approach in music documentaries, and not one I usually endorse, especially for a band with a career as lengthy and complex as King Crimson’s. Maybe the filmmaker wouldn’t have had as much access—including a lot of recent interviews with King Crimson mainstay Robert Fripp—as he did without giving the then-current (and still fairly recent) lineup as much weight.

There’s some history here, but in bits that are more tantalizing than satisfying. From the band’s first and still most famous (if short-lived) iteration, Michael Giles, Ian McDonald, and lyricist Pete Sinfield are all interviewed, but without much insight into how the group came up with their highly distinctive brand of progressive rock, or the musical (rather than personal) specifics as to why it quickly collapsed. There are also interviews with important subsequent members like Bill Bruford, Jamie Muir, Mel Collins (who rejoined in the 2010s), and Adrian Belew, but no substantial discussion of how and why the group’s style changed so often (and, sometimes, radically) over the decades. Clips from as early as 1969 (though in crude black and white for that year) and the ‘70s and ‘80s are cool, but very brief. A brief homage in the credits to all the members who aren’t heard from (and, in some cases, not mentioned) fills up an entire screen, including such key names as Greg Lake, David Cross, Boz Burrell, and John Wetton. It could be argued that the main audiences for the film are King Crimson fans who know a lot of that stuff anyway, but then again some of that audience wants to learn more of that stuff, or at least hear and see some surprising and fresh content.

If you want to concentrate on what’s here rather than what’s missing, Robert Fripp lives up to his image as a curmudgeon with stuffy and reasonably amusing comments. These both attest to his musical perfectionism and make clear his disdain for being analyzed, as well as the time such interviews take away from practicing and concentrating on his work. Various fanatical fans testify to the strength of Crimson’s cult—a predominantly male one, it’s fair to say, especially judging from the audience shots from various 2019 concerts. One subplot of the recent coverage is of special note for being poignant without getting maudlin. Multi-instrumentalist Bill Rieflin was part of the group for most of the 2010s though he’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness, spending his final years playing with the band in an effort to do as much as he could before dying in 2020.

2. The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s American Pie (Paramount Plus). At around the fiftieth anniversary of this massively popular song, this hour and a half documentary looks at its genesis and realization. It’s stretched out a bit more than it should be to get to its length, but on the whole it’s pretty interesting, even if you’re not a huge fan of the song or McLean. Crucially, it’s not just about the song, also devoting some time to McLean’s early years and recording career. It also goes over the circumstances behind the plane crash that took Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper’s lives, and inspired, if that’s right word, the composition. McLean himself is interviewed a lot, as are some other relevant figures, like producer Ed Freeman, session musician Rob Stoner, and a sister of Valens. Some short segments with contemporary artists performing and discussing “American Pie” aren’t necessary, but they don’t take a lot of screen time.

There are some sides to the story that are interesting and not so well known, like the influence of Tim Hardin’s “Bird on a Wire” on McLean; the crucial role session pianist Paul Griffin played in the hit recording; and a 1971 radio broadcast in which Pete Seeger, with whom McLean had played, hails “American Pie.” McLean also goes through the lyrics and construction of the song in detail (verse by verse at one point), and there’s recent footage from the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper played their last show before their deaths.

3. Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC (MVD). This focuses on just two clubs, Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, mostly during the 1970s, when they were both vital to the birth of punk and new wave. There’s considerably more coverage of Max’s than CBGB, although the latter isn’t neglected. It’s a rather modest documentary, without much in the way of star power or amazing vintage footage. But a good number of people from the scene are featured in the interviews, some of them famous or pretty well known, like Alice Cooper, Lenny Kaye, Syl Sylvain of the New York Dolls, and Billy Idol, along with somewhat lesser knowns like Jayne County, Elliott Murphy, and (briefly) Suicide’s Alan Vega. And there are quite a few contributions with more cult or behind-the-scenes figures like photographer Bob Gruen, Max’s booker Peter Crowley, New York Dolls manager Marty Thau, and members of Ruby and the Rednecks and the Testors. 

While you can find out plenty more about Max’s, CBGB, and New York punk/new wave from many other books and documentaries, this still has a lot of decent stories and perspectives that will interest aficionados. Some of them verge on more details that you might want to know (particularly the anatomical ones of County), but insightful points are made about the peculiar attractions and repulsions of each space; how some bands were more interested in getting record deals than making artistic or political statements; and Max’s struggles to simply survive with changes in ownership and financial/legal troubles, which according to some accounts here included counterfeiting money. There isn’t as much performance footage with full audiovideo as there should be, much of the non-talking head visuals filled in by silent clip excerpts and photos. There are, however, a few actual vintage live clips of Murphy, Ruby and the Rednecks, Sid Vicious, and the Testors to evoke the atmosphere of seeing the acts on small stages in the era.

The Blocked Road to the Who’s Lifehouse

Between 1969’s Tommy and 1973’s Quadrophenia, the Who recorded a wealth of material, though they released only one full-length album in those four years, 1971’s Who’s Next. The new eleven-disc box Who’s Next/Life House has most of the material (though not Live at Leeds or recordings related to that album). That includes the original Who’s Next album; numerous 1970-72 non-LP singles; a wealth of demos for the Tommy follow-up Pete Townshend originally envisioned, Life House (or Lifehouse, as it’s sometimes spelled); plenty of early ‘70s studio outtakes; and four CDs of live 1971 recordings. There’s also a big hardback book of liner notes, along with a less essential hardback graphic novel based on Lifehouse and some pieces of memorabilia.

This isn’t a review of the box, which will come as part of my year-end overview of 2023 reissues. Instead, these are some thoughts as to why Lifehouse (I’ll stick with the one-word spelling) wasn’t completed. I offered a lot of these in my 2011 book Won’t Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia, and this is a condensation of what I see as the primary reasons. That book is out of print, and especially as the liner notes to the new box clarify some of the background information and sequence of events, if any publishers want to issue an updated version, they’re welcome to contact me.

Lifehouse is one of the most well known ambitious rock albums that failed to get finished, or at least finished as intended, along with the Beach Boys’ Smile, the Beatles Get Back, and whatever studio album Jimi Hendrix might have polished off in 1970. Lewis Shiner wrote a good science fiction novel about a rock fanatic who goes back in time to help those artists complete those records, albeit with mixed results, in his 1993 book Glimpses. Should fans fantasize about trying such a feat with other unfinished potential masterpieces, Lifehouse would be on many lists. So would changing the trajectories of other careers. For the Velvet Underground, for instance, it would be good to go back in time and arrange for them to actually have good quality film footage of some of their performances, and perhaps for their 1969 studio outtakes to get released as an album at the time instead of surfacing on archival compilations many years later.

The story that would have been the basis of a Lifehouse opera/film/concept album of some sort is complicated—one of the key reasons it wasn’t made. The plot isn’t really possible to explain in a paragraph, in part because its chief architect, Pete Townshend, sometimes explained it in different ways. Basically, it would have taken place in a dystopian future where the world was so polluted that most of the population had to live inside suits protecting them from the environment. A totalitarian government would have kept them mollified by transmitting entertainment and experiences to them, a concept often now hailed as anticipating the Internet. Rebels would have lived outdoors and outside this system, and organized a rock concert in opposition to the suffocating lifestyle imposed on them by authorities. Performers—the Who, namely—and the audience at the concert would have transcended attempts to suppress this expression by merging as one and elevating to a higher plane of existence.

As I see it, there were three primary obstacles to Lifehouse getting finished, and possibly even getting much off the ground:

1. By trying to make a film of Lifehouse at the same time as the album—and also playing live concerts that they, and especially Townshend, hoped to generate material for both the music and the movie—the Who were taking on way more than they could chew at once.

There are some similarities here to another project mentioned above, the Beatles’ Get Back. The Beatles were hoping, with considerably widely varying degrees of commitment and enthusiasm, in January 1969 to write/gather material for a new album; return to live performance with at least a concert or two; have the concert feature the new material; make a concert recording of that new material their next album; film that concert or concerts to make that footage the basis of a rockumentary; and also film a lot of the rehearsal/recording of that material in a film and/or recording studio as the album/concert was being prepared.

Not too much of this actually came to fruition. They played live, but only as an impromptu concert on the roof of Apple Records that could be seen by few people, and was done primarily for the film cameras. The film project became the Let It Be movie, a blend of the rehearsals/studio recordings and rooftop concert that, maybe inadvertently, also revealed tensions within a group on the verge of splitting up—and didn’t come out until more than a year later, right after the group had split up. The Get Back album mutated into the Let It Be LP, a mixture of studio work, live recordings, and a bit of improvised tomfoolery that didn’t really satisfy any of the Beatles’ initial ambitions. 

Worst of all, the whole endeavor played a crucial part in ending the Beatles, though it took about fifteen months to play out. George Harrison quit about ten days into January 1969, although he was coaxed back to play out the remainder of what the Get Back project was turning into. When Phil Spector did controversial post-production in early 1970 for the Let It Be album, most of which was based around their 1969 recordings for an intended Get Back LP, the results formed the final straw that led Paul McCartney to quit and the band to break up for real. It wasn’t just Paul who split the group; Ringo Starr had briefly quit in summer 1968, Harrison had left for a few days in January 1969, and John Lennon had at least told the others of his intention to leave back in September 1969, without making public announcements.

Lifehouse didn’t split up the Who, but in some ways it didn’t even get as far as Get Back in terms of eventual results. There was no Lifehouse film—in fact, no filming was done at all, then or since. There were concerts at London’s Young Vic theater intended to generate audience/performer interaction that would have produced more material for both the album and movie. But apparently it virtually immediately became evident that nothing of the sort would take place, with an audience who wanted familiar songs to experience in a fairly standard concert situation, to which the Who largely reverted.

And the Lifehouse album evolved into—possibly, in Townshend’s perspective, was diluted into—Who’s NextLifehouse probably would have, like Tommy and Quadrophenia, filled up a double album; Who’s Next was a single disc. Who’s Next wasn’t linked by a story or concept. Unlike Let It Be, it was a huge critical success, and consistent in the tone of the production and arrangements. It was also a big commercial success. But Pete Townshend nonetheless didn’t seem as happy as he might have been about any of this, owing to the abandonment of his Lifehouse plan.

What would my advice have been to Townshend and the Who? First, it should be noted that had I been around and offered my suggestions, or even if I could travel back in time and do so, my guess is that my beliefs would have been laughed at or ignored. That’s true of all three issues I’m detailing in this post. It’s one thing to look back with many years’ hindsight; it’s another to try and interfere with grandiose notions at the time they’re being launched and debated, by musicians with very strong opinions and, at least some of the time, likely big egos.

That acknowledged, my feeling is when you come down to it, if your primary talent is musical, multimedia projects need music at the core, and need the music to be done first. Maybe it’s not as simplistic as the Field of Dreams cliché “build it and they will come,” but the most important thing is to have the songs, and hopefully in a good recorded state. If it’s meant to be a multimedia endeavor, the rest won’t necessarily follow, but at least it can follow. That’s sort of what did happen with great success with Quadrophenia, on which a great movie was based, though it took quite a while (about a half dozen years) after the album’s release to reach the screen, and without nearly as much direct involvement from the Who as Pete Townshend hoped Lifehouse to have.

So my advice to Pete and the Who would have been: get the album done first. Discard the audience-feedback idea, which probably everyone but Townshend would have conceded was unlikely to work. Then and only then, address the much more complicated, and costly, task of making it a movie, and possibly then the yet more complex process of perhaps making it an evolving project with audience participation. This still might not have resulted in a movie or anything else in other media. But it would have increased the chances of that happening, and also maybe the chances of there being a thematically linked Lifehouse double LP instead of the single non-concept disc Who’s Next.

Incidentally, I would have given the same advice to the Beatles: focus on getting a Get Back album done, maybe live-in-the-studio if you want that feel, and not complicating the matter by trying to make the new material a concert album – especially because George Harrison wasn’t enthusiastic about performing an official concert in the first place, though he might have been clearer about articulating this to the others before briefly quitting. Maybe abandon the film idea altogether, or at least reduce it to a concert documentary if George and everyone can agree on playing a live show or two after the album’s done (a remote possibility, considering the differing opinions and arguments about where to even do a concert). Such intervention wouldn’t have had wholly positive effects. If all this advice had been taken and no filming of the rehearsals/studio recordings done, we wouldn’t have Let It Be and Peter Jackson’s Get Back, which are of enormous value in documenting the music and internal state of the Beatles at the time.

And some similar advice to Brian Wilson and Jimi Hendrix: get a track list or two together and pick the best versions you have to get on the road to getting a finished album together, instead of perpetually recording and re-recording in a quest for perfection. Far easier said than done, I know, especially considering how much pressure they (and the Who and the Beatles) were under from multiple directions to churn out product instead of taking their work into new, risky, and expensive territory.

Just to keep us on our toes, by the way, Townshend—not one to consistently offer the same assessments of his work—had a cheery perspective on how Who’s Next came out in the November 2023 issue of Record Collector. “The success of the album—oh fuck, it was just great,” he said. “Prior to that, the Who were considered to be a bit of a joke by most musos. Tommy, as a rock opera, was not considered to be as important as, say, Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first album, the Band, or what the Beatles were up to.

“I knew that the music was gonna be among the best that I’ve ever produced. What actually happened was that Glyn put together an album, which was very, very workmanlike, beautifully recorded. He honored my demos, he took the good bits and ignored the bad bits—not the bad bits, but the unnecessary bits. I was immensely proud of the fact that, at last, we’d made a record that felt like a good music record…suddenly the music buffs were taking notice.”

2. If Lifehouse should be a double album, take some more time to make the songwriting of a more consistent standard, and/or provide brief link tracks of sorts that both make the story clearer and move it along, as was done in Tommy.

A good number of Who fans and associates feel that the Lifehouse project was too complicated and taking on too much at once. Lots of people felt Lifehouse was just too hard to understand or incomprehensible, which will be addressed by the third and final of this post’s points. It’s far less often postulated that most of the songs known to have been intended or at least considered for Lifehouse that weren’t used simply weren’t as good as the ones that ended up on Who’s Next. Of the twenty-to-twenty-five or so songs likely in the Lifehouse pool, there’s a considerable gap in quality between the best half of those and the lesser half. That’s not something I would say of Tommy and Quadrophenia. And on those albums (much more so on Tommy than Quadrophenia), the lesser songs performed a much greater function in explicating the story and moving it along than the lesser songs likely to end up on Lifehouse would have.

Many of what I’d consider the lesser songs are on the new box in some form, and most of them saw release by the mid-‘70s on singles, B-sides, Pete Townshend’s 1972 solo debut LP Who Came First, or the outtakes/rarities compilation Odds & Sods. Leftovers from the Lifehouse era comprise a fairly long list, though among the more notable are “Pure and  Easy,” a snatch of which was heard in the Who’s Next track “The Song Is Over”; “Naked Eye”; “I Don’t Even Know Myself,” the B-side of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”; “Time Is Passing,” which like “Pure and Easy” and the non-LP 1971 Who single “Let’s See Action” would also be among the songs found on Who Came First; the folky “Mary,” which like “Time Is Passing” and some Townshend solo demos of more familiar Who’s Next songs were bootlegged by 1973 under the title The Genius of Peter Townshend; and “Water,” which wouldn’t show up until a 1973 B-side. It should be noted that not all of these would have shown up on Lifehouse and some might not have been targeted toward Lifehouse at all, especially the ones that ended up on non-LP singles.

But with some exceptions—and I know some other fans’ assessments can be much different, even violently so—I don’t find most of these on the same level as what was chosen for Who’s Next. The obvious greatest exception is “Pure and Easy,” which not only was up to that level, but was absolutely essential to Lifehouse’s storyline, or at least what plot most people aside from Pete Townshend could grasp. “Mary” too is very good, if not as conducive for a full band arrangement as the Who’s Next material. “Time Is Passing” is both good enough to have merited consideration for a single-disc condensation of the Lifehouse candidates and one that fit into the Lifehouse plot, albeit again in a way that most people other than Townshend could only tentatively understand.

In another controversial evaluation, it could be said that some of the secondary Lifehouse-era compositions were rather too similar to some of the better Who’s Next selections to have stood out too much in that company. I would put “Naked Eye,” “I Don’t Even Know Myself,” and “Too Much of Anything” in that category. As for “Water,” the lyrical boast—even if Roger Daltrey was just voicing a character—of needing water and somebody’s daughter has not dated well. The three most obscure demos that are on the new box—”Greyhound Girl” (a song which did find its way onto a Pete Townshend B-side in 1980), “There’s a Fortune in Those Hills” (unissued until it appeared on the 45th anniversary edition of Pete Townshend’s solo album  Who Came First , though it was played to Rolling Stone writer Jonathan Cott in 1970), and “Finally Over” (previously uncirculated to my knowledge)—are the most unmemorable tunes of all from the batch.

My quite possibly unwelcome advice, had I been there, would have been: to Townshend in particular, spend more time writing some better songs that could fill out a really strong double LP, possibly with some attention to tunes that could make the plot easier to follow. Get some help from John Entwistle, or even Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon, if they can come up with anything that might add some variety with reasonable quality. Entwistle, after all, wrote the pieces on Tommy (“Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About”) going into areas of family abuse that Townshend was not as comfortable penning. Moon had come up with the idea for “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” even if it was later disclosed that Townshend actually wrote the song, though the Tommy track bore a Keith Moon songwriting credit. Daltrey had written a reasonably decent 1970 B-side, the folk-rockish “Here for More,” and while that wouldn’t have had an obvious place in Lifehouse, maybe some encouragement would have gotten him to at least try to come up with a Lifehouse song of acceptable caliber.

Even in the unlikely case the Who would have seriously considered such feedback, there was another consideration that would have made it difficult. Writing more material, whether all by Townshend or with some help (Entwistle being by far the most likely to come up with something of use), would have taken more time. Time doesn’t seem to have been something that any of the four wanted to spend if it meant delaying an album or, maybe more crucially, tours showcasing new material.

While it had been “only” two years since the Who’s last studio album, Tommy, that was a big gap in the early 1970s—much more of a gap in the eyes of record buyers and the business for a big act than it is today, or even than it would be by the end of the 1970s. The Who—especially if you weren’t Pete Townshend, who had more songwriting royalties—depended on touring for a large part of their income, with sheer desire to play live perhaps an even greater reason they wouldn’t have wanted to take too much time off the road. And remember the Who had only been superstars for two years, since Tommy’s release, with a lot of debts, expenses, and scrambled business affairs that sucked up revenue from TommyLive at Leeds, and touring in 1969 and 1970. Taking much more time for songwriting, which would have been largely viewed as inactivity by the public, might have been perceived as endangering their grip on their newly acquired superstar status.

As is very well known, the Who—nudged by associate producer Glyn Johns, after he got involved with the sessions—decided to cut down the options to a single-disc LP without a concept. Had I been there, I would have offered another likely unwelcome suggestion: to take out Entwistle’s “My Wife” and replace it with “Pure and Easy.” It’s not a popular position with many Who fans, but I’ve both never liked “My Wife” much and also felt it doesn’t fit with the vibe of the rest of the record. In the small sample of asking people I know over the years, “My Wife” doesn’t seem to be too well loved by many of them either, though that’s probably not the overall consensus, given that John Swenson wrote in the original Rolling Stone Record Guide that it’s Entwistle’s “best song and a lot of people’s favorite track on the record.”

Taking “My Wife” off Who’s Next would have likely created some tensions in the band. Entwistle would have lost significant royalties and also suffered a blow to his pride, even if it had been used as a B-side in compensation, like a couple of his other songs (“Heaven and Hell” and “When I Was a Boy”) were in the early ‘70s. As for the option of adding a couple of the better, more subdued Lifehouse leftovers to the running order—“Time Is Passing” and especially “Mary”—that was theoretically possible, but very unlikely given the limitations of 1971 LP technology. Sound quality could suffer when there was more than forty minutes of music on one piece of long-playing vinyl, and Who’s Next ran 43 and a half minutes as it was.

3. No one really understood the Lifehouse story, and Pete Townshend didn’t articulate it well in whatever blueprints he made.

This is easily the most well known of the three obstacles to Lifehouse’s completion highlighted in this post. As his longtime friend and frequent sounding board Richard Barnes wittily put it in the DVD The Who, The Mods, and the Quadrophenia Connection, “There were two groups: people that understood Lifehouse, and people who didn’t. The people who understood Lifehouse included one, Pete Townshend. The people who didn’t was everybody else he ever tried to explain it to, and the whole rest of the human race, which was about four billion at the time.”

Elaborated Barnes when I interviewed him for my book, “Pete kind of tied himself in knots, particularly in Lifehouse, with the sort of rigid format that he set for himself. When I was writing my book [the 1982 biography The Who: Maximum R&B], I think he gave me a whole load of stuff on Lifehouse. I started to read to try and make sense of it, and thought, ‘No, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown,’ like everybody else.”

Some of Townshend’s comments about the inability of everyone— even his closest associates—to get their heads around what he had in mind seem disingenuous and maybe even a bit cruel. “I was at my most brilliant and I was at my most effective and when people say I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about what they’re actually doing is revealing their own complete idiocy, because the idea was SO FUCKING SIMPLE! It’s not complicated,” is an outburst quoted in the liner notes to the box. In his memoir, he wrote that it was like “trying to explain atomic energy to a group of cavemen.”

Maybe such comments come off more harshly than Townshend intended or ever believed, but they can be interpreted as insulting to the intelligence of some of his best friends and collaborators. Richard Barnes is not an idiot; he wrote one of the better books about the Who, went to art school with Townshend, helped come up with the name the Who, and remained a trusted friend of Pete’s for many years. Townshend wouldn’t have hung out for so long with someone who wasn’t smart, and wasn’t smart enough to comprehend a concept that was reasonably workable. 

The other guys in the Who might not have been as cerebral as Townshend; few rock musicians were. But they weren’t idiots, either, and were quite willing to support Pete as much as they could for Lifehouse‑within reasonable limits. Daltrey’s sometimes been criticized as someone whose insistence on mundane practical realities got in the way of Lifehouse, but that very pragmatism could be an asset. He got to the heart of the matter in a way that could have been the foundation for a real-world Lifehouse by zeroing in on its most comprehensible and vital central theme.

As he stated in a radio special for the thirtieth anniversary of Who’s Next, and has also stated in a similar way elsewhere, Townshend’s “idea of the piece initially came from one sentence that he came out with, ‘if we ever found the root of all life or the basis of all life, it would probably be a musical note.’ Now that in itself is wonderful, just a great basis for a story.” Perhaps simplifying the story to emphasize the concept the primary singer firmly grokked would have been an avenue to Lifehouse’s completion.

If Townshend’s explanation of the plot to Sounds was any indication of how he tried to transmit it to the Who and others (like their managers and film studios who were interested in financing a Lifehouse movie), there seems no mystery about why they would have been baffled. “Rather than get into another fantasy thing like Tommy I’ve decided to make every area as practical as possible,” he told the magazine.

What he proceeded to lay out seemed like the antithesis of “practical as possible”: “So I’ve been working on a piece of music that goes from the first single note—oneness—then it divides into twoness and then threeness then it’s rock music. Then it wasn’t to be oneness again. From there we go to people. We’re the notes, we’re the divisions, we’re the spearheads—the highest form of intelligence—and we’re the people that have got the problem.”

Townshend did describe some more nuts-and-bolts aspects of the story in Sounds, but the passage above still reads like it needs a translator into something that can actually be understood. It wasn’t the only instance in which his explanations to print media were difficult to fathom. When that many people can’t make sense of an idea, and when very few if any can make sense of it aside from the originator, it might just have something to do with the idea itself, or at least how it is being explained and articulated.

Also odd was Townshend’s division of Lifehouse into two “barrels.” As he explained it to Sounds, “One barrel is fiction in the way Tommy was fiction. It has music, a story, adventures in it. On the other side is the story about man’s search for harmony and the way he does it is through music. Through going into this theatre and setting up certain experiments.” The quirky use of the term “barrels” wasn’t limited to this interview. It crops up several times in the box’s liner notes’ account of how Townshend tried to explain, script, and pitch the project.

Even within the liner notes, the “barrels” are sometimes described differently. After reading it a few times, the best I can summarize it is that one barrel would have been the main story of Lifehouse, and the other how the story and music would have been shaped to some degree by interaction between the Who and their audience. Maybe it’s a testament to the limits of my own capabilities, but I’m not entirely sure of what was in the barrels, how they would have interacted, how they could have blended into a coherent film (or, possibly, even a coherent album), and why they were even being referred to as barrels at all. I think this confusion would have been shared by quite a few people with whom Townshend would have to work on Lifehouse, and certainly by journalists he was explaining it to, and readers of those explanations.

An intriguing disclosure in the liner notes to the new box states that as the Who got ready to work with Glyn Johns on an album (and not film) that could come out of all this, Pete “envisioned a double album where the sleeve would give him an opportunity to include text about Life House (sic) where he could explain the idea.” This is pretty much what he did within the gatefold sleeve of the 1973 double-album Who rock opera Quadrophenia, in the shape of a very short story that nonetheless explained the plot and scenario in a pretty succinct and accessible manner.

This was amplified by the booklet of photos bound into the gatefold, which almost seemed like stills from an actual movie, though the Quadrophenia film wouldn’t be made until the end of the 1970s. Had Townshend and the Who scaled down Lifehouse in a similar manner, maybe we could have had a strong double album with a theme—perhaps simplified from Pete’s grandest ambitions—that could have then been developed into a movie, as Quadrophenia was.

A key difference is that while Lifehouse was something of a science fiction story that would have been hard to film in the 1970s, with a plot still challenging to follow if it was only in LP form, Quadrophenia was very much based on the real-life experiences of the Who and their fans in the mid-1960s. That itself made it more conducive to generating a story that could be reasonably straightforward to follow, and eventually developed into a film. And, perhaps, something ultimately more universally appreciated and understood than what Lifehouse ever could have been, as much as Townshend wanted it to address universal concepts in life, music, and transcendence into a higher state of existence.