Category Archives: Music

Richie Unterberger comments and reviews on vintage rock music.

Records I Have Not Known (Or At Least Right Away)

We all know—or at least most of the readers of a blog like this know—that scene in High Fidelity where the record store clerks don’t sell a copy of Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk to a customer, just because they don’t like him. (That scene’s not in the book on which the film’s based, by the way.) No doubt that scenario has played out somewhere in the real world, but it hasn’t happened to me, though I’ve been to many, many record stores. At least a few of those clerks must not have liked me, or thought me hip, but no one’s refused to take cash just because of that.


Reading the book Record Store Days—a book that generally focuses on the kindler, gentler, most positive side of record retailing—recently brought back some of my weird record shopping experiences. There have been three instances where I was actually unable to buy a record displayed in a store, or at least some resistance was mounted to my purchase. Each of them involved rare LPs, and while not many people in the general public would care about those circumstances, they’ll probably be familiar to at least a few people reading this sort of blogpost. Right?

The first of these instances was both the only one in which I succeeded in buying the LP, and the only one where some sort of resistance was given against my completion of the purchase. This took place about 30 years ago in a San Francisco record store where the owner and staff made a big deal out of constantly telling the customers, “Anyone need any help? If you want to hear something, let us know and we’ll play it.” One of them made a big show of chatting me up about the three-volume Chocolate Soup for Diabetics series of rare UK ‘60s psych on display, though I didn’t have the money to buy them (I eventually did, though not at this store).

Not being the kind of guy who enjoys gratuitous banter with salespeople in any retail establishment, I’d patronized the shop for a year or two without taking advantage of their incessant offers to play LPs if you wanted to hear them. Until one day I spotted a rarity for $3. This was Buffalo Springfield’s self-titled debut album—but not the edition I already had. This was the first pressing, with one song, “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” that was replaced by “For What It’s Worth” (after that song became a hit) on most editions of the record—and never subsequently issued on a vinyl release.

The back cover of the first pressing of Buffalo Springfield's debut LP, listing a song, "Baby Don't Scold Me," that was removed from subsequent editions. The rest of the track listing was slightly different than the more common subsequent editions as well.

The back cover of the first pressing of Buffalo Springfield’s debut LP, listing a song, “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” that was removed from subsequent editions. The rest of the track listing was slightly different than the more common subsequent editions as well.

I wanted to be sure that the fairly beat-up copy played okay, and also—since the order of the songs, as listed on the back cover, was scrambled from the version I was used to—that “Baby Don’t Scold Me” actually did play when you put the needle on the record, and not “For What It’s Worth” or some other track I already had. So I went to the counter, which happened to be staffed by the owner on a weekday morning on which no other customer had yet entered the store. I asked him if I could hear just one track, “Baby Don’t Scold Me.” He acted as if I’d interrupted his lunch to ask him if I could eat the rest of his sandwich.

“I’m making a tape,” he grumbled.

I explained that I did really need to hear the song, as it was the only one I was buying the LP for, and I had to be sure it was on the record and played without a skip. I also explained that this was the edition of Buffalo Springfield’s debut that had a song that was not on any subsequent pressings, which is why I need to hear that track in particular.

“I always thought that was a lousy song,” chipped in someone else on the staff. “I’m actually glad they replaced it with ‘For What It’s Worth.’”

What customer service! What salesmanship!

They did reluctantly play the one song, and I did buy the LP. And I never went out of my way to recommend the store again. It, like most stores of that sort, went out of business quite a few years ago, though it looks like the owner might be doing some sort of mail-order, according to a website that hasn’t been updated since 2000.

“Baby Don’t Scold Me,” incidentally, has been readily available—though only in its mono version—since 2001 on the four-CD Buffalo Springfield box set. It had also been bootlegged since at least the mid-1980s, as well. And it’s not a lousy song, though it’s not as good as “For What It’s Worth.”

Buffalo Springfield's "Stampede" bootleg includes "Baby Don't Scold Me."

Buffalo Springfield’s “Stampede” bootleg includes “Baby Don’t Scold Me.”

So does the official Buffalo Springfield box set, which won't win any awards for imaginative cover design.

So does the official Buffalo Springfield box set, which won’t win any awards for imaginative cover design.

Across the bay, and also in 1983 or 1984, I had my only record store visit where I could not buy a disc I asked to purchase that was physically in the shop. This was in Rasputin’s on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley (a few blocks north of its current location), which at that time was indisputably the best store in the Bay Area (a position it no longer holds). While browsing, I heard a record by the Move playing over the sound system—but it wasn’t any Move record I’d ever heard before. It was a live recording, and in pretty good fidelity.

I went up to the counter to take a look at the record, which was a Move bootleg I’d never seen before, and have never seen since. In fact, I’ve rarely seen any Move bootlegs, and certainly hadn’t seen one before hearing this LP. It’s so rare, in fact, that I can’t find an image of it on the Internet.

The poster for the Move's 1969 shows at the Fillmore did not boast especially memorable artwork.

The poster for the Move’s 1969 shows at the Fillmore did not boast especially memorable artwork.

I think it had a price tag of $10, which was a lot of money for me then. Still, I asked if I could buy it. The guy behind the counter told me it was not for sale. My guess is it had just come in with a batch of used LPs, and he was keeping it for himself. At least he was polite about it.

There was a happy ending, sort of, to this failure—though I had to wait almost 30 years for it to play out. For in 2012, material from the Move in concert at the Fillmore in 1969—some tracks of which I’d heard, just once, on that bootleg—finally came out legitimately on Live at the Fillmore in 1969. This official release likely had better fidelity than the bootleg, and, as a double CD, had more music than the bootleg LP offered. And I got a review copy, though only as a CDR with a PDF of liner notes. My request for a finished copy when the album came out was ignored—until, a full two years later, it arrived in the mail. That’s the only time that’s happened to me either.


As an aside, it probably isn’t that rare for owners or staff of stores that sell used records to keep prizes from used buys for themselves, though it’s not common for them to actually play such finds in the store. The only time I can recall a staffer actually telling a customer he was keeping a record he’d bought—not from this specific customer, but a customer earlier in the day—was in 1982 at a store in Northeast Philadelphia. The record the owner was keeping for himself? The Blasters’ 1980 debut LP, American Music, on the small independent Rollin’ Rock label—which was indeed already rare even by 1982 (having been pressed in a run of just a couple thousand copies), though it finally got issued on CD (with bonus tracks of course) in 1997.


The Move aren’t a well known band (at least in the US), but the third and final time I had a hard time actually buying an album that was in the bins, the item in question was far more obscure than even a Move bootleg. If I remember correctly, this took place around 1990 in New York’s Soho district in Rocks In Your Head—yet another store, beloved in its day, that’s been gone for years, closing in 2006. I wasn’t expecting to find anything I particularly needed, but there was the first LP by Kahondo Style, 1985’s My Heart’s in Motion.

Kahondo Style’s second album, 1987’s Green Tea & Crocodiles (which I did already and still own), was a quite idiosyncratic and unclassifiable fusion of rock, pop, jazz, new music, art songs, Cole Porter, middle eastern-like chanted background vocals, and more. I knew they’d put out an LP before that, but I’d never seen it. Even a personal visit to its (now also long-gone) US distributor, New Music Distribution Service (within walking distance of Rocks In Your Head), had failed to land a copy.


So I brought the sleeve to the counter, quest fulfilled at last. And guess what? They had the sleeve, but not the actual LP. It was one of those stores that, probably to eliminate shoplifting and other such crimes, only put the covers on display, keeping the discs behind the counter. And they couldn’t find the disc.

So I left the store empty-handed. I haven’t seen My Heart’s in Motion since. I haven’t even heard it—not even once. As limited as the market must be, is anyone going to reissue this?

This is the Kahondo Style LP that I *do* have.

This is the Kahondo Style LP that I *do* have.

I’m No Country Fool: The True Origins of the Who’s First Single

I wrote a book called Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. I could also write a book called Urban Legends of Rock’n’Roll, meaning those myths about rock history that get perpetuated so often that they’re often repeated as fact. Some of these are major—that rock’n’roll died between Buddy Holly’s death and the arrival of the Beatles in the US, for instance, or that the Beatles failed their Decca Records audition because they were forced to play popular standards (though those comprised only four of the fifteen songs on their audition tape). Maybe the myth addressed by this post will be considered minor in comparison. But the matter of what one side of the Who’s first single was based on is usually misreported, and has become an unusually persistent error.

Advertising for the Who's first single, though they were billed as the High Numbers when "I'm the Face" and "Zoot Suit" were paired on a July 1964 single.

Advertising for the Who’s first single, though they were billed as the High Numbers when “I’m the Face” and “Zoot Suit” were paired on a July 1964 single.

Here’s the basic genesis of the story: in mid-1964 the Who, who had briefly changed their name to the High Numbers, recorded their debut single. Released on July 3, 1964, it featured two songs bearing the songwriting credit of Pete Meaden, a mod then involved in the group’s management. These were, however, in fact blatant rewrites of American blues and soul songs, putting rather contrived—borderline exploitative, even—lyrics celebrating the mod lifestyle to note-for-note copies of US records.

Pete Meaden.

Pete Meaden.

The more famous of the two sides is “I’m the Face,” owing to its wider availability (as it was first reissued as part of the Who’s 1974 Odds & Sods compilation) and having sometimes been reported as being the A-side. (In another mini-myth, as the inner label of the original 45 makes clear, it was the B-side, not the A-side.) The source of the tune is obvious: it’s based on the great Louisiana bluesman Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It,” using a very similar melody and shuffling, irregular rhythm. Though not exactly famous, the song would have been well known to London R&B aficionados by mid-1964—the Yardbirds, with Eric Clapton, had already recorded it for their first LP (though it wouldn’t come out until December), and the Kinks put a cool raveup version on their first LP (released in October).

"I'm the Face" was based on Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It."

“I’m the Face” was based on Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It.”


Both the Yardbirds and the Kinks covered "Got Love If You Want It" on their first LPs.

Both the Yardbirds and the Kinks covered “Got Love If You Want It” on their first LPs.

The other side of the 45—officially, the A-side, though it’s often reported as the flip—was “Zoot Suit,” which had a much more unusual, winding minor melody. Many sources, such as the first big Who biography (Dave Marsh’s Before I Get Old, from 1983), report that this is a cover of “Country Fool,” the B-side of the Showmen’s small 1961 US hit “It Will Stand.” (Note, too, that although “It Will Stand” would soon become revered as one of the greatest odes to rock’n’roll, it was a small hit at the time of its release, not a big one, peaking at #61 in the national charts.) This is also stated in the most recent notable Who book, the excellent Pretend You’re in a War: The Who & the Sixties (2014), in which author Mark Blake writes that “the B-side, ‘Zoot Suit,’ was another Meaden-composed mod anthem, based on the song ‘Country Fool’ by the New Orleans doo wop group the Showmen.”

Although this ad for the Showmen, oddly, doesn't name either of the songs on their "It Will Stand"/"Country Fool" single, it prominently quotes a lyric from "It Will Stand"—"some folks don't understand it" (meaning those adults who slagged rock'n'roll in its early days).

Although this ad for the Showmen, oddly, doesn’t name either of the songs on their “It Will Stand”/”Country Fool” single, it prominently quotes a lyric from “It Will Stand”—”some folks don’t understand it” (meaning those adults who slagged rock’n’roll in its early days).

Since it was the B-side of a hit record that proved unusually durable on oldies radio for many years despite its modest initial chart placing, “Country Fool” has never been hard to find. And in 2015, it’s really easy to find—online, if you must, though it’s come out on several CDs, including the superb four-CD compilation Crescent City Soul: The Sound of New Orleans 1947-1974 (which also includes “It Will Stand”). Even these liner notes add to the chorus of confirmations that “Country Fool” was turned into “Zoot Suit” by the Who/High Numbers, Alan Warner writing that “the rambunctious ‘Country Fool’ was sabotaged in 1964 as ‘Zoot Suit’ by a British group called the High Numbers, who would later find fame as the Who.”

"Country Fool" was issued in the UK, as shown on this single on the London American label.

“Country Fool” was issued in the UK, as shown on this single on the London American label.

But guess what? “Country Fool” doesn’t sound like “Zoot Suit.” Play the two songs back-to-back if you don’t believe me.

And guess double what? Play the Dynamics’ “Misery,” which almost made the US Top 40 (peaking at #44, and reaching the Top Ten in their native Detroit) in late 1963. Except for the lyrics, it sounds exactly like the Who’s “Zoot Suit.”

(It’s on at least a couple CD compilations if you want a hard copy, incidentally, including The Big Top Records Story: Classic New York [sic] Pop 1958-1964. “Misery” is also correctly cited as the source for “Zoot Suit”‘s tune in the revised 2005 edition of Andy Neill and Matt Kent’s excellent Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who 1958-1978.)

"Misery" was also issued in the UK, and also on the London American label.

“Misery” was also issued in the UK, and also on the London American label.

How could such an obvious mistake have been made—and how can it continue to be made—about who the Who were essentially “covering” on “Zoot Suit” for more than 30 years now? The source turns out to be the “writer” of “Zoot Suit” himself.

For on November 17, 1979, the New Musical Express ran an interview with Pete Meaden (conducted by Steve Turner) in which he was asked about “Zoot Suit.” (Meaden died in July 1978, but the two interviews combined in the NME piece were done shortly before his death.) His response was quite thorough, if in part inaccurate:

“‘Zoot Suit’ was the fashion record of all time—it pinched the backing track of ‘Country Fool’ by the Showmen, which was the B- side of ‘It Will Stand.’ The Showmen are now known as Chairmen Of The Board and ‘It Will Stand’ is the rock’n’roll tribute anthem of all time. I heard the melody, and the night before the session I dreamt up the lyrics, and I wrote them all down—I wrote them down on speed. The actual words were ‘I’m the hippest number in town, And I’ll tell you why’ and it goes on to ‘I wear a Zoot Suit jacket with side-vents five inches long’ and it’s a great song, man…”

Meaden—who, as even that quote confirms, was a heavy amphetamine user, and a patient in a mental hospital when Turner tracked him down in 1975—must have been misremembering the single he’d “pinched.” Obscure US soul singles were almost as prized as pills on the London mod scene, and Meaden must have owned or had access to the 45 of the Dynamics’ “Misery.”

And who were the Dynamics? There’s an amazing amount of detail about the original record, and the Detroit soul group that cut it, on this page on the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends site. This article poses this challenging question: “If Meaden simply rewrote the words, shouldn’t one or both of these songwriters be getting credit for the melody?”

Interestingly, the songwriting credit on the Dynamics’ “Misery” goes to their manager (George “Ernie” Stratton) and voice coach (Anthony Wilson). Yet this article also states that original Dynamics member Fred “Sonny” Baker “said that somehow the credits were listed incorrectly on the record labels resulting in their manager and vocal coach being given undeserved songwriting credits on both sides of the single. Baker vows that he and Warren Tippett wrote ‘Misery.’”

Were the Who aware of any of this when they recorded “Zoot Suit” back in June 1964? Probably not. And the Dynamics almost certainly weren’t either, since “Zoot Suit”/“I’m the Face” was a flop, Accounts of exactly how many copies it sold vary, but total certainly failed to even reach four figures. Only a thousand copies were pressed, and Meaden told Steve Turner that “I bought 250 records off the record company, off Fontana, to get it into the charts.”

An ad for the High Numbers single offers more confirmation that "Zoot Suit" was the A-side, as it's the only song plugged, and "I'm the Face" isn't mentioned.

An ad for the High Numbers single offers more confirmation that “Zoot Suit” was the A-side, as it’s the only song plugged, and “I’m the Face” isn’t mentioned.

So next time you see “Zoot Suit” described as a rewrite of “Country Fool”—and there probably will be a next time, given how many times it’s been reported as such—be aware that the true source was something quite different. And quite cool—“Misery” is a pretty nifty 45, in large part due to that odd winding minor melody. And even if the rewrite wasn’t all that kosher, “Zoot Suit”’s a pretty cool record too—if nowhere near as distinctive and original as the record that would launch the Who into the British charts in early 1965, the Pete Townshend-penned “I Can’t Explain.”

But could they explain where "Zoot Suit" came from?

But could they explain where “Zoot Suit” came from?

The Rolling Stones: Covering the Covers

When you teach a course on the Rolling Stones, as I’ve done three times now for a couple adult-education programs, you talk a lot about their influences. As the Stones covered so many songs by other artists in the 1960s, that often means discussing and playing some tunes they interpreted. Even for someone like me who’s been a fan for forty-five years or so, that leads you to think about and listen to some things that haven’t crossed your mind for a long time, and even to hear and learn some new stuff.

This compilation of songs the Rolling Stones covered was given away with the August 2012 issue of Mojo magazine.

This compilation of songs the Rolling Stones covered was given away with the August 2012 issue of Mojo magazine.

Of the dozens of songs they covered (especially when you count demos, outtakes, and BBC sessions), it’s now struck me that there are a few instances where the Stones probably didn’t hear the original version, learning the material from an actual cover by someone else. This isn’t that rare; the Beatles, for instance, almost certainly learned “I Got to Find My Baby” (which they did twice on the BBC in 1963) from Chuck Berry’s 1960 recording, not the early-1940s original by Doctor Clayton (or even Little Walter’s 1954 version), as you can read about in one of my earlier blogposts. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was based not so much on the Big Mama Thornton original (which he was aware of) as a crass Bill Haley-like 1955 cover by early, now-almost-forgotten rock’n’roll group Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys. There must be countless other examples.

Of the covers the Rolling Stones placed on their official recordings (and even counting the high-quality unofficial ones), it strikes me that there are five that they likely learned from covers, rather than the originals. One of them is perhaps their most commercially successful cover version; another is perhaps the most obscure cover they placed on one of their albums. The three others have less interesting paths to the band, probably coming in all cases via their single biggest influence, Chuck Berry. Let’s start with the most obscure such item, Robert Wilkins’s “Prodigal Son,” which appeared on their 1968 album Beggars Banquet.

After the Stones covered "Prodigal Son," this Robert Wilkins LP was reissued to hype that fact on its cover.

After the Stones covered “Prodigal Son,” this Robert Wilkins LP was reissued to hype that fact on its cover.

As has often been stated by historians, Beggars Banquet marked a return by the Stones to a much bluesier sound than they’d favored since starting to write the bulk of their own repertoire around 1965 (and certainly a much bluesier sound than they’d gone for on their 1967 psychedelic LP, Their Satanic Majesties Request). While the band had occasionally gone into acoustic blues of the pre-World War II variety (as on the early Mick Jagger-Keith Richards composition “Good Times, Bad Times,” used on the 1964 B-side of “It’s All Over Now”), Beggars Banquet also went into more Delta-style acoustic blues than any of their previous releases.

All of the Stones would have known something about the form, but the biggest kick in this direction was probably supplied by Keith Richards, who told Guitar Player in 1977, “During that long recording layoff after [the 1967 album] Between the Buttons, I got rather bored with what I was playing on guitar—maybe because we weren’t working, and it was part of that frustration of stopping after all those years and suddenly having nothing to do. So my playing sort of stopped, along with me. Then I started looking into some Twenties and Thirties blues records. Slowly, I began to realize that a lot of them were in very strange tunings.”

This might have been a time when he listened to Robert Wilkins, who made his first body of recordings between 1928 and 1936. One of those recordings (performed in 1929) was “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which musically is nearly identical to the song Wilkins would later—much later—record as “Prodigal Son.” Lyrically, however, it’s totally different. Where “Prodigal Son” is almost a narrative of a, well, prodigal son, “That’s No Way to Get Along” has very basic words about being treated bad by low-down women; crying and falling into self-pity as a result; and telling the basic tale to his mama. The only strong lyrical similarity to “Prodigal Son,” in fact, is in the title phrase “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which is repeated with some variations at the end of the verses.

Amazing original ad for Robert Wilkins's 1929 single "That's No Way to Get Along."

Amazing original ad for Robert Wilkins’s 1929 single “That’s No Way to Get Along.”

Like many of the Delta bluesmen who recorded in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Wilkins was rediscovered during the folk revival of the early-to-mid-‘60s, relaunching a recording and performing career after decades without any discs. In the intervening years he’d become much more religious, in both his life and his music. He was now playing a sort of blues-gospel, reworking “That’s No Way to Get Along” with biblical lyrics. The result was “Prodigal Son,” a ten-minute epic where “That’s No Way to Get Along” had lasted just shy of three.

It’s been reported that the Stones learned, or based their version of, “Prodigal Son” on Wilkins’s version on the compilation The Blues at Newport 1964 Part 2, recorded at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1964. That would make sense; Newport was the biggest folk festival of the time, and the albums recorded there were pretty widely heard by folk and blues fans. It’s also possible, however, that they heard it first, or also heard, the version Wilkins recorded in the studio slightly earlier (in February 1964) for the Piedmont Records LP Reverend Robert Wilkins—Memphis Gospel Singer. By 1964 the Stones were going to the US and had a lot more money than they’d ever had before. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Richards and/or some other guys in the band found the Piedmont album in an American record store, or even in a London store that imported folk and blues LPs; Dobell’s, on Charing Cross Road in Central London, was especially known for doing so.

The two 1964 versions are pretty similar, but no matter which one you hear (and both are pretty accessible now), it’s interesting how much the Stones condensed the lyrics. The Stones almost certainly wouldn’t have considering putting a ten-minute blues cover of any kind on a 1968 LP, and knocked “Prodigal Son” down to three minutes, mostly by eliminating a lot of repetition—cutting to the chase, almost. Where Wilkins made whole verses out of singing the same line over and over, Mick Jagger combined the lines into verses. Nonetheless, it’s often still not all that easy to make out the words he’s singing.

Were the Stones even aware that “Prodigal Son” had evolved from the 1929 Wilkins recording of “That’s No Way to Get Along”? Possibly not; in the late 1960s, early blues records weren’t nearly as easy to get (or hear) as they are now. Yet they quite possibly were aware of “That’s No Way to Get Along,” as it had been reissued in 1963 on the Origin Jazz Library compilation LP Mississippi Blues 1927-1940—not exactly common fare at most record stores, but almost certainly in the bins at some record stores the Stones visited.


A more intriguing question is: were the Rolling Stones aware that Wilkins had, in 1928, recorded a number titled “Rolling Stone Blues” (in parts 1 and 2, no less)? It’s pretty well known that the Rolling Stones named themselves after a Muddy Waters song titled “Rollin’ Stone,” first issued on a 1950 single. Here’s guessing, however, that they hadn’t heard “Rolling Stone Blues,” which in 1962 was very hard to find or hear, especially in the UK. It wouldn’t even get reissued until the 1967 compilation Mississippi Blues Vol. 1 (1927-1942). The term “rolling stone” had already been in slang use by the time Wilkins recorded “Rolling Stone Blues,” but that might well be the first time it was used in a blues song.

As a final footnote to the “Prodigal Son” saga, the song was mistakenly listed as a Jagger-Richards composition when Beggars Banquet was first released. This was changed on future editions, this fine March 1, 1969 Rolling Stone article by Tony Glover  (of the US blues-folk act Koerner, Ray & Glover)  detailing how the matter was brought to the attention of the group and their record label. Wilkins, stated Peter Kuyendall (who owned the song rights) in the piece, “seemed quite happy that people will be hearing his song. It couldn’t bother him that a rock group has done it.”

If “Prodigal Son” was one of the more obscure covers the Rolling Stones released, “Time Is On My Side” was arguably the most famous. Certainly that’s the case in the US, where it became the band’s first Top Ten hit in late 1964 (though it wasn’t released as a single in their native UK, where a cover of “Little Red Rooster” was issued instead, making #1 in the British charts). The group learned the song from New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas’s more gospel-flavored version. But Thomas’s rendition, as good as it was, wasn’t the original. The original, rather weirdly, was by famed jazz trombonist Kai Winding, who put it out as a single on Verve Records in October 1963.

Though the vocals on Kai Winding's version of "Time Is On My Side" were handled by well-known soul singers, they were only credited as "Vocal Group" on the label.

Though the vocals on Kai Winding’s version of “Time Is On My Side” were handled by well-known soul singers, they were only credited as “Vocal Group” on the label.

The choice of material wasn’t as strange as it might first appear. In an era where off-the-wall instrumental hit singles were not uncommon, Winding had scored one a few months earlier with “More.” In truth, that hit was more memorable for the lines played by Jean-Jacques Perry on the Ondioline (which sounded like a high-pitched, keening organ) than it was for Winding’s low-profile trombone. But when it came time for a follow-up that might likewise make the pop charts, songwriter-producer Jerry Ragovoy was contacted. He passed on one of his compositions, “Time Is On My Side.” (Ragovoy would become most famous for co-writing the soul songs “Piece of My Heart,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” “Get It While You Can,” and “My Baby,” all of which were covered by Janis Joplin.)

After being used to the Stones’ version for fifty years, it’s a shock to hear Winding’s single. The melody is all there, and are the words to the chorus and the parts of the verse where the title is sung. But nothing else is there word-wise, the singers credited only as “vocal group” on the 45 oohing wordlessly as Winding plays trombone. It’s as if they’ve recorded everything for a full vocal number, but simply forgotten to dub or punch in those parts of the verses (and there’s no spoken rap in the middle, that being an instrumental break again dominated by trombone). For all its incomplete feel, the “vocal group” really wails with soul near the end. And no wonder – the group were top New York session singers Dionne Warwick (actually by then a star), her sister Dee Dee Warwick, and Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney).

The missing words weren’t a mistake. Ragovoy simply hadn’t written any. In a way, it’s like numerous easy listening arrangements of popular hits in the 1960s, where those pesky verses were ignored, the anonymous session singers only bothering with the title and chorus. The strategy was employed on numerous early reggae covers of British and American hits too. If nothing else, it must have saved on the typesetting bills for the lyric sheets used at the recording sessions.

In most respects, however, Kai Winding’s arrangement is fairly similar to the one used on Irma Thomas’s cover. When she did her version in 1964, however, the verses were filled in with more lyrics, as was the instrumental break (with a spoken rap). Those words were devised by Jimmy Norman, which is why the writing credits are for Norman Meade and Jimmy Norman. But who’s that Norman Meade? That’s a pseudonym for Jerry Ragovoy. Got all that? And when the Stones covered Thomas’s cover, a near-instrumental for a jazz trombonist somehow became a British Invasion hit for a blues-rock band.


The last few cases in which the Rolling Stones probably didn’t hear the original aren’t as interesting as “Prodigal Son” and “Time Is On My Side,” but still worth noting. “Confessin’ the Blues,” on their second US LP 12 X 5 in 1964 (and also on the UK EP 5 X 5 that year), is a fairly slow and standard blues that’s one of their less celebrated early tracks. It was first done as a piano-dominated shuffle way back in 1941 by jazz-blues pianist Jay McShann, with Walter Brown on vocals. Chuck Berry did a peppier blues-rockin’ version on his 1960 album Rockin’ at the Hops, which had no less than three other songs the Stones would record: “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Down the Road Apiece,” and “Let It Rock.” (Not to mention “I Got to Find My Baby,” which as noted earlier was done by the Beatles on the BBC.)

One would think the Stones would be far, far more likely to be familiar with Berry’s version than McShann’s. In his fine 1976 disc-oriented career overview The Rolling Stones: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr doesn’t seem to think so, noting that “surprisingly, the Stones keep to McShann’s slower interpretation.” My guess is, however, that the Stones did base their version on Berry’s, simply slowing the tempo way down, from rock to blues. One other piece of evidence in favor of Berry being the model is that while the Stones omit lyrics that appear in Berry’s interpretation, there are even more lyrics in McShann’s that Mick Jagger doesn’t sing. And Mick sticks much closer to the order of Berry’s lyrics than the order of McShann’s. The order’s exactly the same as Chuck’s version, in fact, though one of the verses Berry uses is axed. (It’s also possible the Stones were influenced by harmonica great Little Walter’s midtempo arrangement of the song, which he recorded for a single in January 1958.)


Along the same lines, there’s probably no one who doubts the Rolling Stones found “Down the Road Apiece” (on their 1965 LPs The Rolling Stones Now! in the US and The Rolling Stones No. 2 in the UK) through Chuck Berry. It was first done, however, in 1940 as a piano-based boogie by the Will Bradley Trio. Keith Richards copies Chuck Berry’s intro riff pretty much note-for-note, so there’s really no question the Stones took Berry’s interpretation as their model. Berry is also certainly the source for “Don’t Lie to Me,” first done as a piano-guitar blues with a kazoo solo in 1940 by Tampa Red, and redone on Berry’s 1961 album New Juke Box Hits, Fats Domino having done a cover in 1951 as well. The Stones recorded this in June 1964, but didn’t put it out until the 1975 outtake collection Metamorphosis, by which time the title had somehow changed from “Don’t You Lie to Me” to just “Don’t Lie to Me.”


The Rolling Stones learned, performed, and recorded quite a few songs from the above two Chuck Berry LPs.

The Rolling Stones learned, performed, and recorded quite a few songs from the above two Chuck Berry LPs.

New Juke Box Hits was also where the Rolling Stones learned “Route 66,” one of the most popular tracks on their 1964 debut album. Written by Bobby Troup, it was a big hit in a far more polite, jazzy version for Nat “King” Cole in 1946, back in the days when he led the King Cole Trio. But the weirdest intermediary version you could imagine helped the Stones learn the lyrics, though not the way they played it (which was taken from Berry’s version, as is obvious again from how the band does a more guitar-oriented variation of the opening piano-dominated riff of Chuck’s track).

For according to the memoir of Jimmy Phelge—the same “Phelge” who was honored by half of the Nanker-Phelge pseudonym used on early Rolling Stones group compositions—they learned the lyrics not from Berry’s version, but…Perry Como’s. Phelge shared a flat with Mick, Keith, and Brian Jones in 1963, and when he moved in, he brought with him a Perry Como LP. After the founder Stones were done laughing at him, they noticed that “Route 66” was on it. According to Phelge’s book Nankering with the Rolling Stones: The Untold Story of the Early Days, Jones then suggested to Jagger, “Why don’t you get the words down?”

Wrote Phelge, “Mick played it three more times until he had finished writing all the words down. When Mick had finished Keith leapt over to the record player. He hastily removed the Como album then said, ‘Thank Christ, let’s have some Chuck Berry.’”

From Robert Wilkins to Perry Como…you never thought we’d get there. Did you? But there’s one thing that links them together—recordings they did influenced cover versions done by the Rolling Stones, if in the most different ways imaginable.

The Perry Como version of "Route 66" from which Mick Jagger wrote down lyrics could well have been on this LP.

The Perry Como version of “Route 66″ from which Mick Jagger wrote down lyrics could well have been on this LP.


The Top Ten Unreleased Albums From the Mid-1960s Through the Early 1970s

In late 2014, the release of a six-CD box set of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes got some people thinking about major bodies of rock recordings that, for whatever reasons, were not released at the time they were made. And, in some cases, still aren’t released, or had to wait decades to be made officially available.


For those unfamiliar with rock history, the Basement Tapes might seem to be a singular event. Why would a top rock icon not put out music which he’d obviously invested a lot of time in, and which could certainly have been made into a releasable album had some more effort been put into the project when it was recorded? Was there some sort of one-of-a-kind accident involved, or some legal obstruction?

As it turns out, however, lots of artists from the 1960s and early 1970s had albums they didn’t put out, didn’t finish, or didn’t even start despite conceiving grand plans for them. In fact, it seems like almost every big rock act from the period had an unreleased album in their history, including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks, David Bowie, and others. Not a few of them had more than one unreleased album or project that never came out, including Dylan himself. It’s almost like having an unreleased album was a rite of passage, or one more badge confirming your status among rock’s elite.

That did get me to thinking: what were the best unreleased albums of what we might call the dawn of classic album-oriented rock, from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s? Especially if we count not just unreleased albums that were actually finished and could have come out as-was (of which there actually weren’t too many), but also material from sessions that were working toward an album; live and demo recordings; and even projects for which not a note was recorded, but an ambitious album definitely envisioned?

What follows is my Top Ten list of such albums, ranked according not only to their quality, but also to their historical significance and the potential of their importance had they been completed and/or released. Certainly it doesn’t include every such record—there are at least fifty such things if you count artists of major and minor note, and no doubt thousands if you count everyone who recorded an unreleased album, or tried to. But it does have some of the most famous ones, as well as a few endeavors that might be unknown even to many big classic rock fans.

1. The Beach Boys, Smile

The top four albums on this list are, I would guess, identical to or close to the top four albums most likely to be selected by many fans and critics, though the order might differ according to the listener. Smile could well be the most famous of these, and—like each of the other three records—has even inspired a book, or at least (in the case of the Who’s Lifehouse) half a book.


So to reduce the epic story to a paragraph seems a bit minimalist, but here goes: after the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, head Beach Boy Brian Wilson wanted to make a yet more ambitious LP, one that might have them challenge the Beatles’ position as the top band in the world. Many sessions were laid down in the last months of 1966, and the first few months in 1967, that found Wilson (and, at least as participants in the sessions, the Beach Boys) venturing into territory far more avant-garde than any they or most of their peers had explored. For many reasons, including Wilson’s increasing instability; frustration that the Beatles and other competitors were moving ahead while the project foundered; reluctance of the other Beach Boys, particularly singer Mike Love, to follow Wilson’s visions; and disorganization that hindered the tracks’ completion, the album was abandoned in 1967.

Almost immediately, some excerpts from the sessions appeared on Beach Boys records; the #1 1966 single “Good Vibrations,” after all, was part of them, as was the smaller hit “Heroes and Villains.” Starting in the early 1980s, bootlegs of unreleased sessions appeared, some of them attempting to simulate what might have been Smile’s contents and running order. In 2011, an official box set, The Smile Sessions, finally appeared, one of the discs being a more or less official version of what the album would/should have sounded like.

My own feeling is that the best of the Smile sessions—including not just the most accessible songs a la “Good Vibrations,” but also some of the most structurally daring and experimental—are glorious, especially in those sections incorporating melodies of almost classical beauty, and vocal harmonies as daring in their sophistication as almost any in pop music. Yet I also feel that the tracks would not add up to an album comparable in worth to the more concise, focused Pet Sounds. And, despite the officially sanctioned version of Smile, they never sound to me like something that A) was totally finished or B) would add up to the most coherent whole. And some of the humor, which was an important ingredient to the project, is pretty corny and not-so-funny.

The "new improved" 1985 version of the Beach Boys' Smile bootleg, with liner notes by "Nancy Reagan."

The “new improved” 1985 version of the Beach Boys’ Smile bootleg, with liner notes by “Nancy Reagan.”

Also, I never felt as if the official version, or the many unofficial simulations, got the track sequencing or “final cut” selections right. It’s strange when some Smile bootlegs I’ve heard seem to have a better flow than the official 2011 one, but that’s how it comes off to me. In part that’s because it, like most of the records listed here, actually was never finished. Had it somehow been seen through to completion back in 1967, probably all sorts of things would have been different, from the running order and song selection to the mixes.

Still, Smile, for all its warts, is the Beach Boys—and it is a Beach Boys record, not a Brian Wilson solo project—aiming for their highest heights, and sometimes coming close or succeeding. Indeed, it’s pop-rock as a whole aiming for its highest heights, and sometimes coming close or succeeding. For those reasons, it is the most significant unreleased album of all time, if one that never quite captured what Brian Wilson had in mind, perhaps because its scope might have been beyond what mere humans could attain.

2. The Beatles, Get Back

The Beatles were working toward an album that would have been called Get Back in January 1969. But like Smile, the tapes recorded for it (and subsequently bootlegged, perhaps more than any other body of recorded work) were more an accumulation of sessions than a completed LP. And, by the Beatles’ matchless standards, Get Back wouldn’t have been one of their best albums, or even one of their better ones, although it did have some great songs, like “Let It Be,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Get Back” itself.

The Beatles got as far as taking a picture in early 1969 for a projected "Get Back" album, whose cover (subtly re-creating/satirizing the photo and cover designed used for their first LP, "Please Please Me," in 1963)  probably would have looked something like this.

The Beatles got as far as taking a picture in early 1969 for a projected Get Back album, whose cover (subtly re-creating/satirizing the photo and cover designed used for their first LP, Please Please Me, in 1963) probably would have looked something like this.

For even more reasons than Smile, Get Back never appeared. The Beatles were unhappy with the January 1969 sessions in general, never really agreeing on whether they should be assembled into an LP, or how they should be assembled into an LP. The project was hindered by simultaneous plans to film a documentary of the sessions (to become the Let It Be movie) and return to live performance (an idea that George Harrison in particular nixed, though they did so, in a limited way, on the Apple headquarters rooftop concert that concludes the film).

Had they pulled off what was originally planned—getting back to their roots by recording live without overdubs, and even making the album a concert LP comprised of wholly live performances of new material—Get Back would have been quite interesting. Or great, had all the songs been as great as “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Let It Be.” But with material that was more good than great, and a lack of enthusiasm (and even fighting) within the group, the Beatles couldn’t summon the will to polish it off. Abbey Road came out before the Beatles, or some of them, enlisted Phil Spector to produce an album drawn mostly from the sessions, Let It Be, which in turn would finally push Paul McCartney to announce his departure from the band.

There were versions of Get Back that probably came close to getting released, particularly on acetates cut by engineer/producer Glyn Johns that were subsequently bootlegged. There was even a cover shot for the album, originally planned for early 1969 release before getting delayed, and before Abbey Road took precedence. It’s not the best Beatles, but even imperfect Beatles is better than almost anything else. And, because it’s the only close-to-unreleased-album of sorts in the catalog of the best rock group of all time, it’s one of the most important unreleased albums by anyone, even if it doesn’t quite make #1 on my list.

The "Get Back" sessions are thoroughly described and analyzed in this book.

The Get Back sessions are thoroughly described and analyzed in this book.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that's come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

I wrote much more extensively on the Get Back”sessions in my book The Unreleased Beatles; Music and Film.

3. The Who, Lifehouse

Lifehouse is a little different than Smile and Get Back, as by the time sessions including the material got underway in earnest, plans were waning (and then abandoned) for the ambitious album that was the original intention. If not the intention of the Who as a whole, it was certainly the intention of principal songwriter Pete Townshend, who wanted to make a concept/story album of sorts after the success of 1969’s rock opera Tommy. In some respects, Lifehouse would have been more ambitious, incorporating more media than just sound recording and performance.

This bootleg of Lifehouse material uses an outtake from the photo session for Who's Next on the cover.

This bootleg of Lifehouse material uses an outtake from the photo session for Who’s Next on the cover.

A much fuller back story, if I may advertise myself for a minute, is in my book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia, which covers the Who’s career in the early 1970s, focusing on their Lifehouse and Quadrophenia projects in particular. But to boil down an impossibly complicated scenario to a few sentences, Townshend envisioned a rock opera of sorts built around a future in which the population, in the wake of environmental devastation, is controlled by a totalitarian government that doles out necessities accessible by “experience suits.” Rebels in opposition to the regime plan and stage a rock concert in defiance of the authorities. At the concert, performers (probably the Who) and audience merge into one and transcend the trials of this bleak world into a more enlightened state.

But Lifehouse wouldn’t just have been an album (probably a double album, like Tommy was). It would also have been a movie, probably starring the Who, and probably incorporating actual concert sequences. And Townshend and the Who, he hoped, would get inspiration by workshopping the material in front of real-life audiences, whose feedback and participation would provide grist for songs, and whose personalities could even be converted into patterns that could be programmed through synthesizers.

It was all too much for even the supportive fellow Who members to handle, or even understand. After some aborted sessions in New York in March 1971, the Who started their next album back in London. Under the advice of engineer/producer Glyn Johns, it was determined to scrap the double-LP concept idea (which in truth was on the verge of being abandoned anyway) and concentrate on an album of unconnected songs. Most of the songs selected for that album, 1971’s Who’s Next, had indeed been written for Lifehouse, but it didn’t add up to a story or opera, and many Lifehouse songs were not included.

You could make a good argument for switching the order of Lifehouse and Get Back on this list, as the Lifehouse songs that did make it onto Who’s Next were considerably more significant to the Who’s career than the Get Back material was to the Beatles’. The failure of Lifehouse to exist in even an approximately finished album (as Get Back did), however, is a strike against it, and the Beatles’ status as the #1 rock group (though the Who rank up near the top) a blow in favor of Get Back.

There's much more information about Lifehouse in my book Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia.

There’s much more information about Lifehouse in my book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia.

Had Lifehouse been completed, it would have been the realization of one of rock’s most ambitious projects, bar none. It didn’t get completed, however, for some of the same reasons Smile didn’t: it bit off more than it could chew, and it never really got organized into a coherent sequence of songs. In addition, not many people point out another flaw in the enterprise: the best half of Lifehouse’s songs (most of which would make Who’s Next) are, with a few exceptions, far, far superior to the worst half of Lifehouse’s songs (most of which have come out, in dribs and drabs, on various Pete Townshend solo projects and Townshend/Who archival releases).

4. Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes

Plenty of critics, and some fans, would put these recordings—which have actually “come out” in several iterations—at #1 on this list, not #4. Some might even judge it one of the greatest bodies of recorded work of all time, not just one of the greatest bodies of unreleased work. Some have certainly championed it as one of the most influential in its rebuff of psychedelia for eccentric roots rock. At the time they were recorded in 1967, though, their influence was mostly limited to acetates of a dozen or so of the best songs, which were passed around to some other artists to hear and sometimes cover (and which were bootlegged, though not immediately).

One of many bootlegs of the Basement Tapes, now made obsolete by the 2014 release of The Complete Basement Tapes.

One of many bootlegs of the Basement Tapes, now made obsolete by the 2014 release of The Basement Tapes Complete.

To reprint what I wrote in my mini-review of the six-CD box set The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 in my list of top ten reissues of 2014 (where I also placed it #4, as it happens):

“While I don’t find this as godhead as many critics and Americana bands do, this six-CD box rounds up everything usable known to have survived from the quirky 1967 recordings Dylan made with the Band. This found the musicians working counter to most trends in rock music that year, mixing folk, country, blues, gospel, and rock’n’roll on idiosyncratic original Dylan material (sometimes written with help from Band members). They also ran through many covers, some quite obscure, though these have a rather loose, informal warm-up feel. So do some of the originals, many of which seem casual toss-offs or frustratingly incomplete. The most fully formed and celebrated songs—generally, the ones that also appeared on the 1975 Basement Tapes double LP—are available on a two-CD distilled version of this box, The Basement Tapes Raw.”

A whole three months later, my opinion’s unchanged. If you want a much longer review I wrote of the box set, it’s in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine. Part of it offers an assertion I realize will not be universally popular among Dylan devotees:

“The basement tapes that were recorded and eventually excavated have often been hailed as a necessary antidote to the indulgent psychedelia that was threatening to remove rock music from the roots that had made it such a potent force since the mid-1950s. That’s one view, but it can also be fairly observed, I think, that if Dylan was deliberately turning his back on psychedelia, he was also missing out on a lot of exciting innovations. The Basement Tapes might have a more straightforward, no-nonsense approach than Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, and Surrealistic Pillow, but it doesn’t match the peaks of those albums either, or even the peaks of Dylan’s more recklessly risky mid-‘60s electric LPs. Canonizing the Basement Tapes as the sessions that brought rock back to its senses again and pointed the proper way forward, as a number of past and recent critics seem to do, seems to me a thoughtless dismissal of much great music of the same era, and an inaccurately revisionist distortion of the Basement Tapes’ actual impact and significance.”

If you want to read a book-length history of the Basement Tapes by a respected musician and critic who likes them more than I do, I recommend Sid Griffin’s Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band, and the Basement Tapes. Whatever one’s opinion of the material, it would be interesting to know what effect they might have had if the best of the material had been officially released as a single or double LP back in late 1967 or early 1968, whether instead of or in addition to the Band-less Dylan LP that did appear, John Wesley Harding. But that’s one question we’ll never have answered.

Sid Griffin's book Million Dollar Bash has a wealth of info about the Basement Tapes.

Sid Griffin’s book Million Dollar Bash has a wealth of info about the Basement Tapes.

5. The Velvet Underground, The Lost Fourth Album

Here we reach a group of songs that, unlike the previous four, don’t seem to have been recorded with a specific purpose in mind. Even the Basement Tapes served the function of getting Dylan back into music-making after his 1966 motorcycle accident; getting some compositions into circulation for other artists to cover, which he said at least once was the motivation behind their creation; and working on some new material with the Band. And the recordings that resulted did get a name, even if they didn’t come out in any album form until the mid-1970s.

In contrast, the tracks that Velvet Underground recorded for MGM in the studio in 1969 just seemed like a stack of random sessions, rather than something intended to be grouped into an LP. They never did get a name, even though all the known ones have come out on archival releases, beginning with the 1985 outtakes compilation VU (some had been bootlegged earlier). They’re not even colloquially known as “the lost fourth album”; each of these entries needs a title, and that’s about the best one I could come up with.

"Foggy Notion" was one of the songs recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1969 for their possible "lost" album.

“Foggy Notion” was one of the songs recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1969 for their possible “lost” album.

But considering the Velvets’ status as one of the greatest bands of the ‘60s, and one that (unlike the previous four artists on this list) didn’t release that many albums, any grouping of unreleased songs recording within a five-month or so period is significant. And between May 6 and October 1, 1969, they cut about 15 songs—enough to make an album with a little left over. As I wrote in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day:

“What would a fourth MGM Velvet Underground album have included, had the label released it? Four decades later, we can only guess, but the tracklisting might have been something like this: ‘Rock & Roll,’ ‘Ocean,’ ‘Lisa Says,’ ‘One Of These Days,’ ‘She’s My Best Friend,’ ‘I Can’t Stand It,’ ‘We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together,’ ‘Andy’s Chest,’ ‘I Found A Reason,’ ‘Foggy Notion,’ ‘Ride Into The Sun,’ and ‘I’m Sticking With You.’ It might not have been a record as good as the first three VU LPs, but it would still have been a pretty good one, and perhaps even better than that, had the group later added some of their newer songs from the fall of 1969 [as heard on live tapes from the time], such as ‘New Age’ and ‘Sweet Jane,’ to the mix.”

The material was generally lighter and more good-natured in tone than their first three albums, leading to speculation that perhaps they were saving their best new songs for an album that would appear on another label. As I also wrote in White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day:

“[VU manager] Steve Sesnick might [have] already [been] maneuvering, as he later claim[ed], to get the band off MGM; maybe the band in turn [were] walking the fine line of making it look like [they were] working on a record, but making sure the recordings [weren’t] in good enough shape to be released. And yet Sterling Morrison [would] later claim to have been under the impression that the Velvets were working on a fourth album, while as Maureen Tucker puts it in the Peel Slowly And See [box set] liner notes: “As far as I knew, and know, we were making a record. I also believe we were trying to get out from MGM. I don’t know what the plan was. Maybe it was just to not finish it enough. Some of those tracks don’t even have [finished] vocals on them. Maybe we were doing it just to keep them from saying ‘We need a record!’ I’m sure the way we did all those tracks had to do with trying to get away from MGM.”

There's more info about the VU's "lost" fourth album in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.

There’s more info about the VU’s “lost” fourth album in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.

What the Velvets and MGM were planning with this album of sorts—and how the Velvets managed to get off MGM and sign to Atlantic to do their 1970 album Loaded, despite having signed a contract to MGM running through May 1, 1971—remain among the more interesting unsolved mysteries of 1960s rock. At least the 1969 recordings themselves are no longer a mystery to the public; all of the known ones are on the super-deluxe box set edition of their third album, as well as getting strewn (sometimes in different mixes) throughout other archival releases.

All of the known 1969 studio recordings that might have been considered for the Velvet Underground's "lost" album are on this deluxe edition of their third album, which was simply titled The Velvet Underground when it came out in early 1969.

All of the known 1969 studio recordings that might have been considered for the Velvet Underground’s “lost” album are on this deluxe edition of their third album, which was simply titled  The Velvet Underground when it came out in early 1969.

And as some consolation, a double album of live unreleased recordings from late 1969, including some versions of songs they’d cut in the studio earlier that year, did come out in 1974. And that double LP, 1969 Velvet Underground Live, is not just one of the greatest Velvet Underground records, or one of the greatest concert records, but one of the greatest records by anybody. So what the Velvets were up to in 1969 was pretty much properly documented, and reflected better by these live recordings than their studio ones of the same year, even if it took five years for 1969 Velvet Underground Live to get released.

6. Jimi Hendrix, First Rays of the New Rising Sun

In late 1968, just a couple years into his career as a bandleader, Jimi Hendrix issued his third album, Electric Ladyland—a double LP, no less. He’d have about two years left to live, but he never did manage to put out another studio LP, although his 1970 concert album Band of Gypsys did include some new original material. The absence of a new studio album was all the more frustrating given that he recorded prolifically during this period. Yet he couldn’t seem to get it together to finish the record, decide on the running order, conclude his tinkering with the tracks, and so forth.

Much confusion continues to hover over what Jimi Hendrix would have issued as his fourth studio album, and indeed over what it would have even been called. As early as a January 1969 BBC interview, he announced two albums that were in the pipeline, one to be called Little Band of Gypsys (presumably the origin of the name of his Band of Gypsys group in late 1969) and the other First Rays of the New Rising Sun. “The Americans are looking for a leader in their music,” he declared. “First Rays of the New Rising Sun will be about what we have seen. If you give deeper thoughts in your music then the masses will buy them.” By contrast, Little Band of Gypsys, he told NME, would be a “jam-type” affair.

Although it’s thought that the fourth album would have most likely been a double LP, in fact Hendrix had enough material by the summer of 1970 to consider a three-disc set. Typically of his mindset in his final days, however, he couldn’t decide on either which songs to include or the size of the release. Even the title was uncertain, with People, Hell and Angels and Straight Ahead also under consideration.

Hendrix did compile a handwritten selection for three LP sides of First Rays of the New Rising Sun that surfaced in 1994, and was reprinted in the November 1994 issue of the French magazine Folk & Rock. This would have gone as follows:

Side A: “Dolly Dagger,” “Night Bird Flying” (though he wasn’t totally sure where to place this), “Room Full of Mirrors,” “Belly Button Window,” “Freedom”

Side B: “Ezy Ryder,” “Astro Man,” “Drifting,” “Straight Ahead”

Side C: “Drifter’s Escape,” “Coming Down Hard on Me,” “Beginnings,” “Cherokee Mist,” “Angel.”

While an album titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun was assembled from these sessions and released on CD in 1997, it’s important to note that this was not a ready-to-go record that Hendrix had finished, but an approximation of what it might have sounded like and which songs would have been selected. No such record could be posthumously compiled, as no one knew with absolute certainty what songs he would have included, and what additional production work he might have done on the ones he’d laid down in the studio, no matter how complete they might have seemed to others. It doesn’t even follow the order, even approximately, of his handwritten list for three LP sides, and doesn’t include some of the songs from that list (such as “Drifter’s Escape”), adding a few (like “Stepping Stone”) that were not on his list:


If there’s to be a collection of such material, however, First Rays of the New Rising Sun is undoubtedly the best one that’s yet been produced. At 68 minutes, it’s considerably longer than the ten-track LP from March 1971, The Cry of Love, that represented the first attempt to make something of these sessions. First Rays of the New Rising Sun has all ten of the songs heard on The Cry of Love and adds seven more, including a few of the more notable ones from this era, such as “Room Full of Mirrors,” “Dolly Dagger,” “Stepping Stone,” and “Izabella.” And it (as well as The Cry of Love) is certainly preferable to the similarly intended 1995 CD Voodoo Soup, which had less songs and new overdubs by Knack drummer Bruce Gary on a couple tracks.

More important than the packaging and speculation as to what Hendrix was up to, however, is the music. And though it inevitably doesn’t hang together as well as his three actual studio albums, or contain material quite as impressive, First Rays of the New Rising Sun does offer what for the most part are decent songs with imaginative production, often with a more upbeat mood than you’d expect given the reports of his internal anguish in his final days. “Angel” and “Dolly Dagger” are the standouts, but there’s some welcome cosmic humor and wistfulness in “Astro Man” and “Belly Button Window,” and generally pleasing uplifting spiritual qualities to some of the rest without forsaking his blues-rock base. Some of the tracks nonetheless skirt nondescript blues-rock or riffs that haven’t quite fully developed into songs, but in hindsight this collection offers hope that Hendrix was easing his way back toward discovering his songcraft without abandoning his technological wizardry.

This isn’t a complete overview of the songs Jimi was working on post-Electric Ladyland, missing, for instance, “Message to Love,” which he was featuring in concert. If it’s considered even an approximation of his fourth album, there’s also a slight sense of letdown in that there isn’t nearly the sense of creative advancement as there’d been with each of the LPs he did with the original Experience. It’s a highly worthwhile encapsulation of his final group of studio outings, but it’s not on the level of Electric Ladyland or Are You Experienced?

A common thread that runs through several of these albums—Smile, Get Back, and Lifehouse—is a seeming inability to complete or follow through on an album blueprint that had obvious promise, or possible genius. Perhaps these failures were attributable to some combination of over-perfectionism, self-doubt as to the worth of the material, or inability to stick to the original concept. Hendrix’s fourth album might not have had as definite a concept as the above-mentioned trio of records, but likewise seems to have fallen prey to some of the same difficulties.

The book Black Gold goes into detail not on the material recorded for The FIrst Rays of the Rising Sun, but all of Hendrix's unreleased material.

The book Black Gold goes into detail not on the material recorded for The FIrst Rays of the Rising Sun, but all of Hendrix’s unreleased material.

7. The Byrds, Unrealized 1968 Double-LP Concept Album on the History of 20th Century Music

I realize the above title sounds like a put-on, but though this project was never titled, Byrds leader Roger McGuinn did want to make a record like this. It’s unlike any other item on this list in that there’s no actual unreleased album of music associated with the concept, or even sessions of unreleased music associated with the concept. It is, however, to me the most interesting of ideas for albums by major bands that were at least discussed and considered, but never actually embarked upon, let alone completed. Here’s the story:

For the Byrds’ follow-up to The Notorious Byrd Brothers—their fifth album, and their last done with David Crosby, who was fired partway through its recording—McGuinn had planned an ambitious double album that would cover no less than the entire history of twentieth-century popular music. As McGuinn noted in Johnny Rogan’s massive biography Byrds: Requiem For the Timeless: Vol. 1, “It was going to be a chronological thing. Like old-time bluegrass, modern country music, rock’n’roll, then space music. It was meant to be a five-stage chronology.”

Adds Rogan in the book, “McGuinn spoke about his plans, confident that he had the full consent of the other members [who were, at that point, original Byrd bassist Chris Hillman, new drummer Kevin Kelley, and new singer/guitarist Gram Parsons]. They planned to cut 25 or 30 tracks, culminating in a double album which he promised would be released by early summer [1968].” A small sampling of what the final leg of that journey might have sounded like, the outtake “Moog Raga,” was eventually issued more than 20 years later. There was no rock or country in this instrumental experiment by McGuinn to fuse Indian ragas with the latest (although it now sounds primitive) in synthesizer technology.

Unusual poster for a Byrds concert at a benefit for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, shortly before he was assassinated in 1968.

Unusual poster for a Byrds concert at a benefit for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy on May 24, 1968, less than a couple weeks before he was assassinated.

His double-album dream would be unfulfilled, however, as both Hillman and David Crosby’s replacement, Gram Parsons, lobbied successfully for an all-out country album. “That was more Roger’s deal,” Hillman told me [when interviewed for my book Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s] of tracks like “Moog Raga” and Younger Than Yesterday’s “C.T.A.-102,” which had matched another proto-country-rock track with weird electronic simulations of space alien voices. “I would play on it, but it wasn’t something I was involved in, other than as the bass player. He had that side of him, musically, that was not my style of music. It really wasn’t something that I loved that much. But I was a player, and that’s his piece of material, so I supported it. But I sort of dragged him into the country stuff, so it works both ways. And he performed quite well with that [country] stuff.”

Hillman, unlike McGuinn, has no regrets that the double-album history of twentieth-century music never happened. “With all due respect, I didn’t want a bunch of ‘C.T.A.-102’s or ‘Moog Raga’ or whatever that stuff is. He had that Moog synthesizer; then, it was like owning a computer in 1955. It took up the whole room. It made a lot of noise. It wasn’t really musical. It was like a toy, a gadget. But it was interesting. I respect him; he was following something that intrigued him, and he likes electronics.

“It didn’t work for me, and I’m glad it didn’t happen. ’Cause it would have made no sense at all. Although there weren’t that many strong parameters then; you could sort of do those kind of projects, record company budget willing, on that end. But to put the two of them [traditional and electronic styles] together would have been a little crazy. It would have been an interesting separate project, but either I didn’t understand what he was doing, or I just didn’t like it. I’m glad we did the Sweetheart [of the Rodeo, the 1968 country-rock LP they recorded instead] as it was.”

“I couldn’t get anybody to support me on that,” acknowledged McGuinn when I interviewed him for the same book. “Chris was behind Gram, and Gram wanted to do straight country, and that was it. It would have been fun if we could have pulled it off. I agree it was extremely ambitious, and it’s almost doubtful that we could have done it. But I would love to have tried, at that time. Basically, we did do it, not just in one album, but in a series of albums. We’ve done old-time music, and almost every genre you can think of.”

Single with a couple outtakes from Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album the Byrds recorded instead of Roger McGuinn's ambitious two-LP history of twentieth century music.

Single with a couple outtakes from Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album the Byrds recorded instead of Roger McGuinn’s ambitious two-LP history of twentieth century music.

Here’s one of my many opinions that isn’t universally popular, especially considering that Sweetheart of the Rodeo is considered a groundbreaking classic by some: I wish the Byrds had done McGuinn’s concept album instead. I think it would have been much more interesting. As for Roger’s comment that the Byrds did do it over a series of albums, that reminds me a little of Lou Reed’s comments that if you wanted to hear what the Velvet Underground would have sounded like had the John Cale-Nico lineup stayed together longer, you could hear it spread over Reed, Cale, and Nico’s solo albums. There was some good stuff on those records, but it wasn’t nearly the same as having all the musicians play it at once in concentrated doses.

Likewise, the Byrds covering all of this territory over the course of one double-LP concept record seems much more interesting than spreading it over the course of several albums recorded by different lineups. It might be, however, that the early-’68 Byrds lineup wasn’t suited for this experiment, especially as Gram Parsons (and Chris Hillman) really wanted to do country music instead of messing around with all that other stuff (especially the electronics). The previous lineups that did their 1966 and 1967 recordings were really the ones that could have handled it. But some of the same tension that drove the Byrds’ greatness during those years also pulled them apart, and since the tension between Crosby and the other Byrds in particular was so great, it’s hard to imagine that he could have stayed with them for even the six additional months or so necessary to launch this double LP.

8. Bob Dylan, Live May 17, 1966

As many of you reading this no doubt know, this was officially issued in 1998 under the awkward title The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert. As many of you doubtless also know, this wasn’t actually recorded at the Albert Hall, but in Manchester. The “electric” half of it was, however, for many years bootlegged as an Albert Hall concert. Who knows what it might have been called had it actually been released in 1966 or 1967. It certainly wouldn’t have been given its 1998 title, however, the bootleg series (and rock bootleg LPs) not yet existing back then.

The official release of Dylan's May 17, 1966 concert.

The official release of Dylan’s May 17, 1966 concert.

Unlike every other item listed here, this recording has officially come out in its complete form—not in an abridged version, a reconstructed one by the artist, or guesses as to what the track selection/mixes/sequences might have been. For that matter, it adds more material, putting the “electric” rock part of the concert (with the Hawks, later to evolve into the Band) on one CD, and the solo acoustic part on another. The sound quality on the electric part’s better than the bootlegs, especially on the opening “Tell Me, Momma.” A win-win situation for fans, then, other than having to wait 32 years for its appearance.

So what’s it doing here, if it’s easily available in all its splendor? Well, for many years, it was a hugely significant missing piece of Dylan’s oeuvre, and not only because of the quality of the music. It was the only relatively hi-fi document of the most controversial juncture of his career, when he moved from folk to not just folk-rock, but loud rock. There were other live recordings from major ‘60s acts that were not released at the time, and have since been issued or heavily bootlegged: the Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl shows, the Rolling Stones Liver Than You’ll Ever Be from the 1969 US tour, the Who’s 1968 Fillmore East concert, and the Velvet Underground’s live gig at the Gymnasium in 1967. But none are as of comparable importance, both within the career of the artist and in the history of rock itself, as this one.

The story behind this concert is more well known than the histories of most of the items in this post, so here are a couple bits that aren’t so well known, from Paul Cable’s 1978 book Bob Dylan: His Unreleased Recordings. As to how the electric half got into circulation and bootlegged in the first place, he writes, “Legend has it that a young man greatly impressed with the concert simply wrote to CBS to ask them if they would send him a tape of it. According to the legend, they answered him most mysteriously—i.e., they sent him a tape—and the rest is history.” Also, in the brief period in 1973 and 1974 when Dylan left Columbia for Asylum, “There was a widespread rumor that Columbia were all set to release an entire ’66 gig as their follow-up to [the 1973 outtakes collection] Dylan. It has also been suggested that by the time they got Dylan back they had got as far as printing the covers.”


A couple of the many bootlegs of material from Dylan's May 17, 1966 concerts, which usually misidentified the location as the Royal Albert Hall.

A couple of the many bootlegs of material from Dylan’s May 17, 1966 concerts, which usually misidentified the location as the Royal Albert Hall.

Cable also points out that had Columbia been waiting for a chance to put out this May 17, 1966 recording (or many other unreleased Dylan tapes that could have been considered) when it didn’t conflict with one of his new albums, “The rainy day came—two lots of rainy days came. On the first occasion [in 1967, when Dylan withdrew from the music business for about a year and a half following his mid-1966 motorcycle accident] they put out Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and on the second occasion [when Dylan left Columbia for Asylum in 1973] Dylan. Strange, isn’t it?”

9. Dave Davies, Hidden Treasures

Here’s another case in which a legendary unreleased album has come out—though it’s probably not exactly in the shape it would have taken back in 1969, and in fact the shape it would have taken isn’t really known, since it wasn’t really completed. Kinks lead guitarist Dave Davies had occasionally sung and written Kinks songs since the group started, and in 1967 vaulted into greater prominence when a track from the band’s Something Else By the Kinks album, “Death of a Clown,” became a big UK hit when released as a Dave Davies solo single. A few other Davies solo singles followed in 1968 and 1969, one of which, “Susannah’s Still Alive,” was a mid-size UK hit. In late 1968, plans were made to make a Dave Davies solo album, though in a way it would have been a Kinks side project, since the Kinks backed him on his “solo” tracks. More or less enough material was completed for (when combined with previously released singles) an entire LP, but it didn’t come out.

The Hidden Treasures album contains most or all of what would probably have come out on Dave Davies's 1969 solo album, along with a lot of extra material.

The Hidden Treasures album contains most or all of what would probably have come out on Dave Davies’s 1969 solo album, along with a lot of extra material.

Understandably considering principal Kinks singer/songwriter Ray Davies’s talents, Dave didn’t get nearly as much space on the band’s releases to sing lead and present his own compositions. But the tracks on which he did were nice complements to Ray’s brilliance, Dave delivering earthier, quirky, usually wistful songs with a voice so much coarser than Ray’s that you wouldn’t suspect they were brothers. Dave’s songs sometimes had a pretty folky bent, too, that sometimes verged on rustic, though he could still unleash some of the ferocious guitar work for which he was most renowned, as he did on the wobbly Hawaiian lines on the 1969 B-side “Creepy Jean.”

On July 2, 1969, a tape was submitted to Warner Brothers that contained most of the tracks from Dave’s solo singles (and one, “Mindless Child of Motherhood,” that came out on a Kinks B-side). It also had a few that hadn’t been released anywhere, among them a couple Ray Davies compositions that Dave sang. It was kind of a hodgepodge, but did still altogether make for an interesting showcase of Dave’s talents as a singer and songwriter. Some of the unreleased tracks were pining, yearning ballads (“Crying,” “Do You Wish to Be a Man,” and “Are You Ready”) that Dave has said, in retrospect, reflect his unhappiness at being pressured to make an LP when he was unsure of whether he wanted to do so. He also had mixed feelings about putting out solo records when he was so committed to the Kinks. This could explain the nonappearance of the LP (which never got a title), to the disappointment of fans who wanted to hear more of what he had to offer as a frontman.

“I think Robert saw it as a way of me getting my own solo career going,” he told me in a 2014 interview (printed in full in the fall/winter 2014 issue—issue #38—of Ugly Things). “But the strange thing was, I never really wanted to have a solo career. I thought on that first album that I did, after ‘Death of a Clown’ and ‘Susannah,’ I felt like I was being forced to do something that I didn’t really want to do. And that’s why that first album was half-hearted, because my passion, my heart wasn’t in it.” In addition, “I didn’t like that studio at Polydor [where sessions were recorded for the album]. The Kinks had been recording in these lovely Pye [Records] studios, and I thought they were kind of undermining me.”

Added Dave, “I think [Kinks co-managers] Robert [Wace] and Grenville [Collins] did realize that I could have been a solo artist in my own right. But I was so bloody attached to family. I felt it was important for me to be around to support Ray and help the music. And I didn’t really feel that comfortable being out on me own that much. I think that comes from growing up in a big family. You’re in a family, and then you’re in the public eye. It seemed like the audience were just an extension of your own family. It was like I had this family thing all inside me, and I didn’t feel at that time comfortable being out in the front all the time.”

My entire interview with Dave Davies is in the fall/winter issue (#38) of Ugly Things.

My entire interview with Dave Davies is in the fall/winter issue (#38) of Ugly Things.

Interestingly, one of the Kinks’ managers felt Dave had considerable potential as a solo artist in the US. “The Kinks have been recording a lot of new material for the last few weeks and you will have a new album by them within the next ten days, also an album which will feature Dave Davies as a soloist backed and accompanied by the Kinks,” wrote Robert Wace to Reprise Records executive Mo Ostin on June 18, 1969. “I feel that this could be a particularly successful album and should probably be released after they have been in America or around the time that they are there, because although I have not heard all the material, Dave’s approach seems to Reprise Records be more underground than the Kinks. They are very excited about the possibility of getting into America in September, and I do hope that Warner Bros. are going to give us the support that we need.”

It’s odd that Wace felt “Dave’s approach seems to be more underground than the Kinks.” Without denigrating either the Kinks’ output or Dave’s solo output in the least, it’s hard to judge one as being more “underground” than the other. And when Wace wrote his memo, the Kinks didn’t need a Dave Davies solo record to cement their status as an underground act—their records hadn’t done well since 1966, and their Stateside following was being kept alive by a fanatically dedicated cult of fans and critics.

The unreleased album did finally come out—though the unreleased tracks among these had long been bootlegged, in lower fidelity—in 2011 on Hidden Treasures. It’s surprising how little attention that CD got considering its historical interest, appearance on a major label, and—most importantly—high quality. Note that it’s not exactly the album that would have appeared in 1969, whose track list was probably never finalized anyway. The CD expands whatever-the-album-would-have-been to 27 tracks by adding most of the Dave Davies compositions from mid-to-late-‘60s Kinks releases, including such highlights as “I Am Free,” “Love Me Till the Sun Shines,” and “Funny Face,” as well as less essential mono versions; a demo of “Hold My Hand” that only came out on a Dutch compilation; and the 1967 outtake “Good Luck Charm,” a cover of a Spider John Koerner good-time blues number. Taken as a whole, it’s an eminently worthy summation of Dave’s 1960s recordings on which he took the spotlight as singer-songwriter—a talent that was sadly underutilized, both at the time and on post-‘60s Kinks releases.

Some, but by no means all, of the material that would have appeared on Dave Davies's 1969 album was on this 1987 compilation LP.

Some, but by no means all, of the material that would have appeared on Dave Davies’s 1969 album was on this 1987 compilation LP.

 10. David Bowie, Early 1969 Demo Tape

Not a very descriptive name, I know. But it’s still unclear exactly when, where, or for what purpose this ten-song demo tape was made, though Kevin McCann dates it as having been done on March 8, 1969 in his book David Bowie: Any Day Now: The London Years: 1947-1974. The purpose was almost certainly to arouse record company interest in the between-deals Bowie, and probably specifically meant for Mercury Records, which did sign David.

Bootleg LP that contained nine of the ten songs from David Bowie's early-1969 demo tape, missing "Lover to the Dawn."

Bootleg LP that contained nine of the ten songs from David Bowie’s early-1969 demo tape, missing “Lover to the Dawn.”

Unusually, this captures Bowie at a point in his career where he was a folky, or at least folk-rocky, singer-songwriter. As hard as it might be to believe, he—with backing by second guitarist/harmony singer John Hutchinson—sounds something like a British Simon & Garfunkel here. The songs, of course, are quite different from those of Paul Simon even at this early stage in Bowie’s development, and include acoustic versions of highlights from his 1969 and 1970 releases like “Space Oddity” (with a primitive Stylophone effect), “Conversation Piece,” “Janine,” “Letter to Hermione,” and “An Occasional Dream,” the last of which is one of the greatest unreleased Bowie performances (and most overlooked Bowie songs, period) of all.

Other songs aren’t as impressive, and some, particularly “When I’m Five” and “Ching-A-Ling,” are kiddie-like leftovers from his overly theatrical phase. But even the minor tunes include some neat oddities, like a cover of Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song” (done slightly later by Elton John on Tumbleweed Connection) and the haunting “Lover to the Dawn,” which never made it onto a Bowie release, though it evolved into a song that did, “Cygnet Committee.” And you get to hear Bowie and Hutchinson unexpectedly segue into the chorus of “Hey Jude” near the end of “Janine.”

Another bootleg of material from the 1969 demo tape.

Another bootleg of material from the 1969 demo tape.

Aside from being the only document of that brief period in which Bowie and Hutchinson worked as a duo, I find this of even greater importance for capturing what might have been the true personal Bowie—or at least as personal a Bowie as he could summon given his chameleonic nature. Sincerity is not a quality we usually associate with him, but if there was any time where he meant what he sang, instead of writing as a character (or writing about other characters), this might have been it.

I asked Hutchinson if he’d agree with that assessment when I interviewed him about his memoir in 2014. “Yes, I would say, in those days he was just himself,” Hutch responds. “David Jones [Bowie’s birth name] and David Bowie were the same person. Whereas when Ziggy happened, it got a lot more complicated, and he was singing as somebody else. He was third person or removed, or whatever it is. He’d written songs for this alter ego or other person to sing. He could sing whatever he wanted them to, he could write whatever he wanted them to say, and maybe it wasn’t sincerity from him. But I don’t think he had a lot of that going anyway. I think it was all performance.”

“When you say you ‘don’t think he had a lot of that going,’ are you referring to the singer-songwriter approach?” I clarified.

“Yeah, I don’t think he had very much of that going at all. He was playing a part, and writing his stories, as the character that he’d created. So I’m agreeing with you, I suppose, that he was much more honest during those ‘Space Oddity’ days, if you like, the acoustic days. I think he was totally honest then, and it’s just that the way that he wrote and performed changed when he realized he could invent a persona. You know, David Bowie was just a stage name. But Ziggy Stardust was a character.”

Two of the performances from this tape, “Space Oddity” and “An Occasional Dream,” show up on the bonus disc of the 2009 CD reissue of the 1969 David Bowie album (titled Man of Words/Man of Music and then Space Oddity in the US). Some post-production cleanup/tampering seems to have gone on, however, especially on “Space Oddity,” which has a rudimentary blast-off effect missing on the bootlegged version. It would be great if the whole tape could be issued without any messing about, especially as the bootlegs—issued under various titles, such as the one pictured here, The Beckenham Oddity—have wobbly low fidelity that could presumably be much improved by accessing a better copy.

Read more about David Bowie's music in early 1969  in John Hutchinson's memoir, Bowie & Hutch. My full interview with Hutchinson appears in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine.

Read more about David Bowie’s music in early 1969 in John Hutchinson’s memoir, Bowie & Hutch. My full interview with Hutchinson appears in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine.

While it wasn’t too hard to narrow down the list of unreleased albums (or quasi-albums) from this era to my personal Top Ten, there were many others of interest, often with their own fascinating stories. Just some of the most notable ones that missed the cut would include Neil Young’s Homegrown (which might have made the list if we could actually hear the thing, though he recently intimated he’d like to finally put it out); Gene Clark’s Sings for You; Buffalo Springfield’s Stampede (which even got as far as getting a cover made); Joni Mitchell’s concert recordings from early 1969, which were given serious consideration for being selected as her second album; the Yardbirds’ March 1968 live recording in New York’s Anderson Theatre, which actually briefly came out in 1971 before Jimmy Page put a stop to it; Jackie DeShannon’s mid-1960s publisher demos; the numerous halted attempts at a Modern Lovers album in the early 1970s; Robin Gibb’s unreleased second solo LP, 1970’s Sing Slowly Sisters; the album cult acid folkie Dino Valenti cut with producer Jack Nitzsche…the list goes on, and maybe I’ll do a post detailing my picks from #11 to #20 in the future.

Could you write a book on these, and many others? Sure. And one day I’d like to do it, if any publishers are interested.

The protagonist in Lewis Shiner's excellent book Glimpses is an obsessive rock fan who develops the ability to travel back in time through his dreams, where he tries with mixed success to help the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix complete their unfinished masterpieces.

The protagonist in Lewis Shiner’s excellent book Glimpses is an obsessive rock fan who develops the ability to travel back in time through his dreams, where he tries with mixed success to help the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix complete their unfinished masterpieces.

Star Trek and ’60s Rock

In some ways, Star Trek seemed part of the zeitgeist that fueled so much warp-drive change in music, the arts, and society in the last half of the ‘60s. Here was a TV program that, to quote its opening voiceover, went “where no man has gone before,” just as rock music was going into wholly unexpected and even unsuspected territory. There were stories that, overtly or subtly, slipped in messages about pacifism, multicultural diversity, tolerance, and greater social roles for women, though these were often diluted or compromised by the need to stage television action drama. There was even some sex and drugs, at least by the standards of late-‘60s network television. But not, alas, much rock and roll.

Spock jams with space hippie on "The Way to Eden"

Spock jams with space hippie on “The Way to Eden”

Perhaps wisely, very little actual rock music was heard on Star Trek. (This post, to be clear, only refers to the original series’ 79 episodes as broadcast between 1966 and 1969, not the numerous movies and spin-off series from subsequent decades.) It was hard enough to predict what technological advances would be made, and how men and women would act, a few hundred years in the future. Had anyone tried to predict the rock of just ten years into the future in 1966 and 1967, they would have gotten it miserably wrong.

The one exception to the non-use of rock in Star Trek, and a notorious one, is the third-season episode “The Way to Eden.” In that installment space hippies, under the direction of a cult-like fanatic, come perilously close to taking over The Enterprise. The necessary distraction is supplied by an honest-to-god “space jam” between Spock and one of the hippies, played by Deborah Downey:

Another angle on the space jam.

Another angle on the space jam.

Listen to/watch the clip (you’ll know where to find it, even if fans aren’t supposed to post it), with Spock on Vulcan lute and Downey on what looks and sounds like a psychedelic bicycle wheel. Brief and purely instrumental, if it has any parallel in the world of psychedelic rock, it’s to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s pioneering 13-minute 1966 instrumental “East West,” with soaring guitar solos by both Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop.

"East West" was the title track of this 1966 Paul Butterfield Blues Band LP.

“East West” was the title track of this 1966 Paul Butterfield Blues Band LP.

The rhythm and choked chording to whatever Spock and his friend (and Spock was the crew member who communicated best with the visitors) are playing is a little similar to the riffs that—if as an underlying bed rather than up front—open and run throughout “East West.” Rock criticism is filled with pundits complaining that whites ripped off blacks to reap a greater share of rock’n’roll glory than they deserved. Here, if Spock knowingly “arranged” “East West” for his own purposes (and his knowledge of Earth history and culture was quite deep), we have a little-acknowledged instance of Vulcans ripping off Earthlings for their own artistic advantage, without proper credit.

The space hippies perform a few hippie folk vocal numbers in “The Way to Eden” which have been justly chastised as pretty dire, epitomizing the stereotypes of the worst actual hippie folk music in their clumsy, self-consciously hip naïveté. Interestingly, at least some of this material was written by some of the actors playing the hippies, Charles Napier and Deborah Downey. Downey even put one of the songs, “The Way to Eden,” on an album of hers titled Painting Pictures, though I haven’t been able to hear any of the record, or even find an image of the cover.

There were, as even some casual Star Trek fans know, spin-off records by a few of the series’ stars. Leonard Nimoy did most of these, voicing some of the tracks in the Spock character; others were frivolous novelties, one particularly amusing clip surviving of Nimoy (not in Spock makeup) performing the Hobbit-inspired “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” William Shatner’s scenery-chewing Shakespearean readings of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” are, of course, notorious from their broadcast on Dr. Demento episodes and inclusion on compilations of celebrity novelty discs.

Leonard Nimoy sings "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" on TV, late 1960s.

Leonard Nimoy sings “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” on TV, late 1960s.

Nichelle Nichols, who besides playing Lt. Uhura occasionally actually sang in Star Trek episodes, did an album while the series was on the air, Down to Earth, which was disappointingly middle-of-the-road jazzy fare. Spock, incidentally, did sing (and not just play his Vulcan harp) on the series, just once, when he croaked his bizarre self-penned medievalesque ballad “Maiden Wine,” aka “Bitter Dregs,” in the “Plato’s Stepchildren” episode. Performed only under manipulation from aliens with super-powers in this fictional scenario, it was actually released on Nimoy’s 1969 LP The Touch of Leonard Nimoy. I haven’t listened to all of Nimoy’s records by any means, but I don’t know whether it’s a compliment or insult to say this is the best track of his I’ve been able to hear.

Spock sings "Maiden Wine" in the "Plato's Stepchildren" episode.

Spock sings “Maiden Wine” in the “Plato’s Stepchildren” episode.

"Maiden Wine" was included on Leonard Nimoy's "The Touch of Leonard Nimoy" LP.

“Maiden Wine” was included on Leonard Nimoy’s “The Touch of Leonard Nimoy” LP.

There was very little rock or soul in any of these cast members’ records; they were a bit older than the ‘60s rock generation, and not really in tune with the counterculture, as much as some may read some anti-establishment sentiment (often engineered by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) into some of the series’ scripts. There were, however, two very direct connections to major figures in ‘60s rock and the era’s counterculture that I was unaware of until reading Marc Cushman’s recent three-volume book series These Are the Voyages. Huge in scope (running more than 1500 pages in all), these are something of the Star Trek equivalent to Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles tomes, with Cushman’s access to original memos, scripts, and production notes yielding incredibly thorough behind-the-scenes documentation of the 79 episodes from the original series. Among these accounts are the stories of their guest stars, which yielded this pair of surprising revelations:

Chekov’s love interest in “Spectre of the Gun,” in which several regulars from Star Trek’s bridge find themselves forced to re-enact the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, is played by Bonnie Beecher. That’s the same Bonnie Beecher who hung out with Dylan in Minneapolis in the early 1960s, before he went to New York to become a folk star. Some sources have it that she was the inspiration for one of his first standout compositions, “Girl from the North Country.” It was in her home that some of Dylan’s first decent-sounding recordings (taped in Minneapolis in 1961, and long bootlegged, though dates for these vary according to the source consulted) were made; one of his Minneapolis tapes from the time includes a song in which she’s specifically named, “Bonnie, Why’d You Cut My Hair?” Another early Dylan composition, “Song to Bonny” (sic) (for which a manuscript survives, though no recording), was a number that, as Clinton Heylin wrote in Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973, “appears to be Dylan’s first serious attempt to put a real girl into one of his own songs.”

Bob Dylan bootleg bills this material as having been recorded in Bonnie Beecher's apartment in December 1961.

Bob Dylan bootleg bills this material as having been recorded in Bonnie Beecher’s apartment in December 1961.

Unlike some of Dylan’s other early muses, there’s footage of the woman herself, not on some obscure bootleg DVD, but in a widely viewed network TV series. And it wasn’t the only series in which she appeared; she also had been on Gunsmoke, Peyton Place, and The Fugitive. She didn’t continue with her acting career after Star Trek, however, marrying comedian/activist Hugh Romney, aka Wavy Gravy.

Bonnie Beecher with Ensign Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) in the Star Trek episode "The Spectre of the Gun."

Bonnie Beecher with Ensign Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) in the Star Trek episode “The Spectre of the Gun.”

The other Star Trek guest star with a connection to ‘60s rock, though a bit less direct, was Sabrina Scharf. She plays the woman Captain Kirk marries—though only after he’s suffered amnesia on a planet inhabited by Native American-like residents—on “The Paradise Syndrome.” The match didn’t last, though not for lack of love; Kirk regains his memory around the same time Scharf, playing the character Miramanee, suffers fatal wounds in a stoning.

Sabrina Scharf with William Shatner in the Star Trek episode "The Paradise Syndrome."

Sabrina Scharf with William Shatner in the Star Trek episode “The Paradise Syndrome.”

You wouldn’t guess it from watching the episode, but Scharf also plays the woman who hooks up with Peter Fonda (named Sarah) in the commune in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, filmed around the same time she co-starred with Shatner in “The Paradise Syndrome.” Did Scharf sing, in either Star Trek or Easy Rider? No. Was Peter Fonda a rock star (though he did issue an obscure 1967 single, “November Night,” written by a then-obscure Gram Parsons)? No. But Easy Rider was the first film to effectively use a soundtrack of contemporary rock recordings by artists not in the movie itself, including songs by Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, the Band, the Holy Modal Rounders, and others. It was also one of the first films to reflect the actual hippie counterculture—much more so than Star Trek (even on “The Way to Eden”). And Scharf was a part of both. Who knew?

Sabrina Scharf with Peter Fonda in one of the commune scenes in "Easy Rider."

Sabrina Scharf with Peter Fonda in one of the commune scenes in “Easy Rider.”

A couple years after I posted this, another connection between Star Trek and ’60s rock came to my attention that’s been surprisingly overlooked, considering it invovles a musician with a huge cult following. One of the most popular, and notorious, early Star Trek episodes was Mudd’s Women, memorably described in These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One as about a “rascally space trader who, in reality, is a pimp traveling through the cosmos with a cargo of prostitutes.” One of the beauties boarding the Enterprise in this episode was Maggie Thrett, who was just nineteen when it was filmed in June 1966.

Maggie Thrett with Spock and Captain Kirk on the set of Mudd's Women.

Maggie Thrett with Spock and Captain Kirk on the set of Mudd’s Women.

Besides having already appeared in TV and film productions, Thrett had also issued a rock’n’roll single on Bob Crewe’s Dynovoice label in May 1965. Most famous for producing and co-writing the Four Seasons’ biggest hits (with Bob Gaudio of the Seasons), Crewe also worked on hits by Mitch Ryder, Diane Renay, and Freddie Cannon. He produced and co-wrote Thrett’s sole 45, “Soupy”/”Put a Little Time Away.” It was arranged by Charlie Calello, who would arrange and produce Laura Nyro’s classic second album, 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.


For all the big names involved, however, “Soupy” isn’t that good. It’s a generic rock/R&B dance number, Thrett yelp-singing the novelty lyrics with considerable stridency. I haven’t heard the B-side, “Put a Little Time Away.” But Thrett’s role in rock history wasn’t quite done.

In 1970, Gram Parsons—then in the Flying Burrito Brothers—was in a serious motorcycle accident in Bel Air, and injured so badly the Burritos had to cancel a visit to London. Riding in the motorcycle ahead of him was John Phillips, late of the Mamas & the Papas, and Phillips’s future wife Genevieve Waite. Riding with Parsons was—Maggie Thrett, who managed to escape unharmed.

Gram Parsons (right) in the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Gram Parsons (right) in the Flying Burrito Brothers.

The Origin of the Beatles’ “I Got to Find My Baby”

With the super-abundance of information about the Beatles out there, it’s always a surprise, and for the most part a pleasure, to come across a bit of interest that hasn’t often been previously reported. No, we’re not talking anything on the order of the real reason Pete Best got fired, or a recording of a previously unknown Lennon-McCartney original. We are talking about of the roots of one of the songs the Beatles covered in their early days.

The Beatles' June 1, 1963 performance of "I Got to Find My Baby" was issued about three decades later on Live at the BBC.

The Beatles’ June 1, 1963 performance of “I Got to Find My Baby” was issued about three decades later on Live at the BBC.

“I Got to Find My Baby” is one of the most obscure songs of which a good-quality recording by the Beatles exists. Like some of the other “most little known” songs they did, they performed it on the BBC, taping it on June 1, 1963 (the track eventually making it onto the Beatles’ Live at the BBC compilation). It’s pretty clear this jovial, bluesy number with a John Lennon harmonica solo – one of the bluesiest items they ever did, in fact – was learned from Chuck Berry, John introducing it as “Chuck Berry’s ‘I Got to Find My Baby’” on the broadcast. The Beatles even did it a second time on the BBC on June 24, a performance that’s now available as a download on iTunes’ Bootleg Recordings 1963.


Berry did indeed put out a version of “I Got to Find My Baby” as the A-side of a flop single in August 1960. Live at the BBC credits Berry as the songwriter. But he certainly wasn’t the first person to record it.

Muddying these blues waters more, blues harmonica great Little Walter recorded “I Got to Find My Baby” as a single on May 22, 1954. It’s not exactly the same as Berry’s “I Got to Find My Baby,” but in many parts, it is exactly the same. Quite a few years ago, I seem to remember even reading it stated that Little Walter did the original of the song performed by the Beatles as “I Got to Find My Baby.” The only compilation on which I have Little Walter’s version, Confessin’ the Blues, credits Willie Dixon—who wrote many blues classics, especially for artists on Chess Records—as the songwriter.



It turns out, however, that the roots of the tune go yet deeper. For in the early 1940s, Doctor Clayton put out a record, “Gotta Find My Baby,” that is in all respects the same song as the one Berry put on his 1960 single. The arrangement’s much different, of course—the chief instrument is piano, and there are no electric guitars or drums. It’s an easygoing early urban piano blues. But the tune, and most of the lyrics, are the same.


One important difference: a verse that goes as follows was not used in Berry’s version:

When my head starts aching

I grab my hat and coat

‘Cause cocaine and reefer

Can’t reach my case no more

That last line might not seem to make much sense, but that’s how it sounds. The line with cocaine and reefer, however, is definitely in Clayton’s version. And Chuck Berry, for all his boundary-pushing, was not about to sing about cocaine and reefer, especially not in 1960, when he was appealing a jail sentence for violating the Mann Act.

It seems unlikely to me that the Beatles would have even known about Clayton’s version. They were huge Chuck Berry fans; they weren’t prewar blues collectors. Which makes it less likely still that they had any notion they were performing a song that, in its original incarnation, made more blatant references to drugs than almost any song they or almost any other leading rock group performed in the 1960s.

As a final footnote, the song “Gotta Find My Baby” also lived on through the late 1960s, in the repertoire of a band that fed two members into Led Zeppelin. In 1968, the Band of Joy, featuring a pre-Led Zep Robert Plant and John Bonham, did the song on an unreleased tape that’s circulated. Check it out in the usual places we can’t name.

The Band of Joy, including Robert Plant and John Bonham.

The Band of Joy, including Robert Plant and John Bonham.

Eve of Destruction Answer Records

For all its success – it was, after all, a #1 single on September 25, 1965 – Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” isn’t all that well respected by critics. Even at the time, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Paul Simon Pete Seeger, Noel Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary, and Manfred Mann lead singer Paul Jones all slagged the song in the press. At the time, however, it caused simply enormous controversy, getting discussed in forums ranging from Time magazine to a Pittsburgh rabbi’s Yom Kippur sermon. It also generated at least two “answer” records that attempted to counteract “Eve of Destruction”’s pessimism, though the motives might have been more mercenary than political.


Of the two answer records, the better known by far is the Spokesmen’s “The Dawn of Correction,” which actually made #36 not longer after “Eve of Destruction” topped the charts. This combination of self-righteous counterrevolutionary attack and unfunny satire—replete with twanging Jew’s harp and clanging bells—was actually the work of songwriters who had a hand in a classic early rock’n’roll hit. One of the three composers, Dave White, had been in Danny & Juniors and sung on their 1957 #1 single “At the Hop”; another, John Madara, was credited as a co-writer on “At the Hop.” The third perpetrator of “The Dawn of Correction,” Ray Gilmore, was a Philadelphia DJ.

Whether their sentiments were sincere or exploitative, there’s no doubt “The Dawn of Correction” was helped by the very single it was rebutting. As music trade magazine Cashbox reported at the time, “according to the label, a great many stations are now playing the record back-to-back with the McGuire disk, asking their listeners to call or write in their comments.” KCLV in Clovis, New Mexico (the small town most noted as home of the studio where Buddy Holly & the Crickets recorded much of their material), perhaps confused and trying to cover fallouts from every direction, banned both “Eve of Destruction” and “Dawn of Correction.”


But there was yet another, far more obscure “answer” record refuting “Eve of Destruction” that I only became aware of very recently. Tony Mammarella’s condescendingly moralizing “Eve of Tomorrow” didn’t make the charts, however, and with good reason. Nobody was going to push a button to detonate a nuclear bomb, chanted Mammarella to a martial drumbeat as woman soul singers wailed in the background, as long as we Americans had a button to push as well. “If you’re gonna say uncle, make it Uncle Sam!” he admonished in conclusion.

Producing and arranging this has-to-be-heard-to-believe-it monstrosity was Richard Barrett, who (as Richie Barrett) had co-written and recorded the original version of the first song the Beatles were filmed performing, the explosive soul-rock classic “Some Other Guy.” In just three short years or so, Barrett had come a long way down from issuing the record that was one of John Lennon’s all-time favorites. As John Lennon declared in Rolling Stone on September 17, 1968, “I’d like to make a record like ‘Some Other Guy.’ I haven’t done one that satisfies me as much as that satisfied me.” He probably never heard “Eve of Tomorrow”—but then, hardly anyone did.

Richie Barrett (right), the man behind both "Some Other Guy" and (to a lesser degree) "Eve of Tomorrow."

Richie Barrett (right), the man behind both “Some Other Guy” and (to a lesser degree) “Eve of Tomorrow.”

I’m not aware of any reissue disc that includes “Eve of Tomorrow,” though you can hear it in the usual places online. The most prominent of which, when I cued up “Eve of Tomorrow,” also led me to another folk-rock exploitation disc that had somehow escaped my attention all these years. There’s a Beatles connection here, too, as the “singer” was none other than the self-proclaimed fifth Beatle, New York radio DJ Murray the K.

The very week that “Eve of Destruction” made #1, a single by “Eve of Destruction” composer P.F. Sloan entered the Top Hundred. Titled “The Sins of a Family,” it was, as he noted in his memoir What’s Exactly the Matter with Me? (written with S.E. Feinberg), “a song about my very young first cousin Barbara who sometimes resorted to giving sexual favors to men to get money for her schoolbooks. She was both angry and pleased with me about it.” It would be Sloan’s only single to enter the national charts, though he wrote or co-wrote numerous mid-‘60s hits for others.

A non-hit single by P.F. Sloan.

A non-hit single by P.F. Sloan.

For whatever reason, Murray the K took it upon himself to cover the song. His vastly inferior cover version, featuring Murray’s artless vocals fighting it out with farting horns and woman backup singers, isn’t so much bad—though it’s not good—as pointless. Again according to Sloan’s memoir, Murray “play[ed] it constantly on his show.” That’s a conflict of interest that couldn’t happen nowadays, of course. Could it?

Top Ten Reissues of 2014

I don’t hear as many rock reissues as I used to every year. So my best-of 2014 list is, no doubt, missing some titles that would have come in for strong consideration had I acquired them. I still heard enough, however, to build a Top Ten list of pretty strong releases, all of which have substantial merit.

My vote for best reissue of 2014.

My vote for best reissue of 2014.

As I explained in yesterday’s post about my favorite rock history books of 2014, a note about the parameter of the following list: You know those best-of 2014 lists you’ve seen this month? Well, in many instances, they’ve been compiled a few months before they appeared. That’s due to publication deadlines and, in my mind, a rather ridiculous belief that it’s more important to put best-ofs in an issue bearing a December or January date than to actually allow consideration of everything released in a calendar year.

All of the records below, however, bear a 2014 publication date. And this post wasn’t published until just a couple days before the end of the year. I suppose it’s possible something will arrive in the mail this week that I wish I could have included, but I considered everything I heard before the year came to an actual close. Indeed, I didn’t hear one of them for the first time until the day after Christmas.

Note that I’ve given several of these far lengthier reviews in issues #4, #5, and #6 of Flashback, the London-based ‘60s/’70s rock history magazine:

1. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground: 45th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Edition (Universal). This six-CD box set is expensive and necessitates the purchase of much material many VU fans already have. But it’s a near-definitive document of their third album and their subsequent live and studio recordings (unreleased at the time) in 1969, with three different mixes of The Velvet Underground; all of the 1969 studio outtakes from VU and Another View; and two CDs of live recordings from late 1969, about two-thirds of which are previously unreleased. If, in an alternate universe, you’d never heard this music before, it would be a revelation. Most fans buying this have heard most of this before, so it’s not such a great value. As compensation, however, those eleven previously unreleased live ’69 tracks are really good, including some songs not presented in any form on 1969 Velvet Underground Live, like “I’m Set Free” and “There She Goes Again.” And some of the studio outtakes have notably different mixes, especially “Coney Island Steeplechase,” which gets rid of the annoying through-a-megaphone vocal effect and makes Lou Reed sound like a normal human being again. Read my full, lengthy review of this box for Record Collector News here.


2. The Bonniwell Music Machine, The Bonniwell Music Machine (Big Beat). I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again: too often dismissed as a one-shot group, the Music Machine had many excellent songs, and were one of the greatest garage rock outfits. Disc one is the definitive collection of the Music Machine’s later phase, including numerous underrated psychedelic/garage tracks that only found release on flop non-LP singles and an album (1968’s The Bonniwell Music Machine) that few people heard. Disc two, though less essential, is a historically invaluable assortment of demos and outtakes, many previously unreleased.


3. The Moody Blues, The Magnificent Moodies: 50th Anniversary Edition (Esoteric). Two-CD compilation of everything recorded by the original lineup of the band, when Denny Laine was their lead singer, including an entire disc of rare/previously unreleased demos/outtakes/BBC sessions. The Moody Blues, as most British Invasion fans know, were a much different group at their outset than they became by the time they moved into psychedelia and progressive rock. In the mid-‘60s phase this release documents, they specialized in haunting R&B/pop, with especially eerie vocal harmonies and a slight classical feel to the arrangements (particularly in Mike Pinder’s piano). Besides containing everything from their UK debut LP The Magnificent Moodies, this has a wealth of non-LP singles, some of them about as superb as their one big hit (“Go Now”), such as “From the Bottom of My Heart” and “Boulevard de la Madeleine.” Both of those songs were written by Laine and Pinder, responsible for all of the Moodies’ original material at this stage.

MOODY BLUES Magnificent

4. Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Legacy). While I don’t find this as godhead as many critics and Americana bands do, this six-CD box rounds up everything usable known to have survived from the quirky 1967 recordings Dylan made with the Band. This found the musicians working counter to most trends in rock music that year, mixing folk, country, blues, gospel, and rock’n’roll on idiosyncratic original Dylan material (sometimes written with help from Band members). They also ran through many covers, some quite obscure, though these have a rather loose, informal warm-up feel. So do some of the originals, many of which seem casual toss-offs or frustratingly incomplete. The most fully formed and celebrated songs – generally, the ones that also appeared on the 1975 Basement Tapes double LP – are available on a two-CD distilled version of this box, The Basement Tapes Raw.


5. Mike Bloomfield, From His Head to His Heart to His Hands (Legacy). Erratic three-CD box nonetheless has much fine music he recorded with Paul Butterfield, Electric Flag, Bob Dylan, and on his own, including some rare and previously unreleased stuff. Curated by his friend and frequent collaborator Al Kooper, it must be said that the first disc is by far the best, focusing on the mid-‘60s and including some previously unreleased tracks from a 1964 Columbia audition, as well as an alternate take of Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues” and an instrumental backing track to “Like a Rolling Stone.” Disc two is dominated by jams of varying quality, and disc three has a playing-out-the-string feel, but these still have their inspired passages. The box also contains an hour-long DVD documentary, Sweet Blues, that’s disappointingly short on archive footage, but has some informative, moving interviews with family, musical peers, and Bloomfield himself. My full-page review of this box appears in the March 2014 issue of Mojo magazine, though there’s no online link to it.


6. Various Artists, Halloween Nuggets: Monster Sixties A Go-Go (RockBeat). Three-CD set of all manner of ghoulish rockin’ oddities, highlights including Ervinna & the Stylers skin-crawling version of “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” and Kenny & the Fiends’ garage rocker “The Raven.” The absence of annotation besides original labels/years of release (which are noted on the covers of each disc) is disappointing, but the breadth is certainly impressive, jamming nearly 100 tracks onto the three discs.


7. Various Artists, Troubadours: Folk and the Roots of American Music Vol. 1-4 (Bear Family). Extensive, and generally well done, compilation of North American folk (and a bit of folk-rock) from the 1920s to the 1970s, heaviest on the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the entries are questionable and some big names are missing, but there are some rare off-the-beaten-track gems as compensation. Examples include Mike Settle’s gutsy “Hallelujah”; Earl Robinson’s “Joe Hill,” exhumed by Joan Baez at Woodstock; Terry Gilkyson’s “The Cry of the Wild Goose,” an unlikely #1 for crooner Frankie Laine a year later in 1950; and Paul Clayton’s “Who’s Gonna Buy Your Ribbons When I’m Gone” (from 1961), which was the obvious model for Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” Notable absentees, however, include Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkel, and Leonard Cohen.


8. George Harrison, The Apple Years (Universal). All six of the albums Harrison issued on Apple, garnished with a few outtakes/rarities and an infomercial-ish DVD. Rewarding for its exhilarating peaks (All Things Must Pass and, to a more limited extent, the Wonderwall soundtrack); frustrating for the relatively few rarities and the dismal quality of his final records for the label. Had Harrison continued to explore the wildly diverse avenues of his first three releases (which also included the avant-garde synthesizer exploration Electronic Sound) under his name throughout his solo career, his catalog would be more nerve-wrackingly eclectic than Neil Young’s. Alas, he did not continue on the road less traveled, and the last half of the box is disappointingly ordinary, even mundane, in comparison. Beatles completists note: it does include a previously unreleased outtake, an alternate (though not very different) take of “The Inner Light”’s backing track.


9. The Small Faces, There Are But Four Small Faces (Charly). Reissue of their US-only 1968 LP is stretched to fill out two CDs with a few alternate takes/mixes and the mono promotional DJ version of the album. But the packaging and notes are excellent, and it remains a fun listen even with all the padding. Also, though this was largely based on the 1967 UK Immediate LP Small Faces, it’s actually superior, adding three 1967 singles—“Itchycoo Park,” “Here Come the Nice,” and “Tin Soldier”—that simply improve the record a lot, much as the inclusion of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” made the US Are You Experienced a better listen than the UK version. Another good addition (or substitution, depending on your view) is the B-side “I Feel Much Better,” which almost could have been a hit in its own right.


10. Phil Ochs, A Hero of the Game (All Access). Technically speaking, this isn’t a reissue, but a previously unreleased live concert. It was a close call between this and another Ochs live performance (see review below). But I gave the nod to this previously unissued tape of a December 15, 1965 radio broadcast on WBAI in New York. True, the fidelity isn’t sparkling, though it’s okay. But the performances (particularly Phil’s underrated singing) are fine, including some songs that are not exactly common fare even on archival Ochs releases, like “Song of My Returning,” “Morning,” “City Boy,” and “White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land.” Some of his most famous tunes (“Crucifixion,” “Changes,” “Power and the Glory”) are represented as well. From a historical standpoint, this is interesting as just one of the songs (“Power and the Glory”) had been released at the time of this broadcast, indicating that his expansion into non-topical material — like “Morning,” “Song of My Returning,” and “City Boy” — was underway well before it became fully evident almost two full years later on his late-1967 album Pleasures of the Harbor. If you want more rare live Ochs, also check out the honorable mention below, Live Again!, which has a May 1973 show:


10a. Live Again! (RockBeat). Like A Hero of the Game, technically speaking, this is not a reissue, but a first-time issue of a May 26, 1973 concert. Not his best live recording, but an interesting addition to the many items in his discography that supplement his standard albums. There are solo acoustic versions of songs spanning his career, some of them relatively obscure, like “Boy in Ohio” and “Pretty Smart on My Part.” There’s little evidence of the depression/writer’s block that afflicted Ochs in his later years, though unfortunately it would be just three years before Phil committed suicide.


Honorable mention: 

The Artwoods, Steady Gettin’ It: The Complete Recordings 1964-1967 (RPM). If the Artwoods are known at all by non-British Invasion fanatics, it might be for two things. Future Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord was in the group, and their lead singer, Art Wood, was Ronnie Wood’s considerably older brother. Make it three, maybe, for having Keef Hartley on drums, before he went on to a British blues career of modest success. The Artwoods put out a good number of singles and an LP, but never did have a hit even in their native UK, let alone the US. Musically their repertoire drew from much the same sources as other early British R&B bands like the Rolling Stones and Animals, and they have cult fans, though even on that level, they don’t have as many as some other British groups of the time who didn’t have a hit, such as the Action.

It’s amazing that such an obscure band has a three-CD set, but this is the era in which such dreams come true (and the Action, who never even had an LP, got a four-CD set four years later). This has all their seven of their singles, their LP, and their EP. Of most interest to hardcore collectors, it also has quite a bit of unreleased material in the form of BBC sessions, a pre-debut single acetate, and an entire CD of a live 1967 show, though the concert material has unfortunately rough fidelity. And the liner notes, in common with many RPM releases, are mini-book length, with eye-challenging miniature type as well.

Maximum praise for packaging, then. But the truth is, while I enjoy the Artwoods’ R&B/blues/soul/rock as I love that early British Invasion style, they were nowhere near as good as the Rolling Stones or Animals, to cite just a couple top-rank bands. They didn’t have much, or much really strong, original material, and Art Wood wasn’t that great a singer. More keyboard-based than many of their competitors, they did manage a pretty good gritty R&B/rock sound, Jon Lord distinguishing himself as their strongest contributor. The haunting yet swinging “Oh My Love,” written by a couple guys in a yet less celebrated British R&B band (Cops ‘n Robbers), is a little known near-classic. But really nothing else is on that level, or so good that you wonder why it wasn’t a hit. This will satisfy intense British Invasion lovers, of which I’m one. But less rabid ones should be content with a single-disc best-of, if they’re at all interested in second-to-third-tier British Invasion sounds.

Also in 2014: I published updated/revised/expanded ebook versions of some of my print books, with plenty of new material. All of these titles are available on Amazon, iBooks/iTunes, and other outlets:

Combines my two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High, into one volume with updated material, including bonus 75,000-word mini-book detailing nearly 200 tracks. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Combines my two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High, into one volume with updated material, including bonus 75,000-word mini-book detailing nearly 200 tracks. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that's come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that’s come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

documents twenty cult rockers from the 1960s. The book features extremely detailed investigation of the careers of greats like the Pretty Things, Arthur Brown, Richard & Mimi Farina, and Tim Buckley. The extensive chapters all include first-hand interview material with the artists themselves and/or their close associates. The ebook version is significantly expanded, revised, and updated from the print version, adding 20,000 words of new material.

Documents twenty cult rockers from the 1960s. The book features extremely detailed investigation of the careers of greats like the Pretty Things, Arthur Brown, Richard & Mimi Farina, and Tim Buckley. The extensive chapters all include first-hand interview material with the artists themselves and/or their close associates. The ebook version is significantly expanded, revised, and updated from the print version, adding 20,000 words of new material. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Top Twenty Rock History Books of 2014

Maybe it’s a function of age; having already heard so much music from my favorite era; or getting kicked off numerous promo lists. But these days, seems like I’m spending more time reading books about rock history than I am listening to newly released rock reissues. I had a lot more trouble filling up my Top Ten of 2014 rock reissues (coming in my next blog post) than my Top Ten of 2014 rock books. There were enough books of note, in fact, that in addition to a Top Ten (which follows below), I’ve also listed a dozen other books worthy of some note, and a half-dozen that were released too early to make the 2014 lists.

My choice for #1 rock music history book of 2014.

My choice for #1 rock music history book of 2014.

A note about the parameters of the following lists: You know those best-of 2014 lists you’ve seen this month? Well, in many instances, they’ve been compiled a few months before they appear. That’s due to publication deadlines and, in my mind, a rather ridiculous belief that it’s more important to put best-ofs in an issue bearing a December or January date than it is to actually allow consideration of everything released in a calendar year.

All of the books below were published in 2014, and this post wasn’t published until just a couple days before the end of the year. I suppose it’s possible something will arrive in the mail this week that I wish I could have included, but I considered virtually everything I read before the year came to an actual close.

I’ll start with my actual Top Ten of rock history books issued in 2014. Note that I’ve given several of these far lengthier reviews in issues #4, #5, and #6 of Flashback, the London-based ‘60s/’70s rock history magazine:

1. Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography of Robert Wyatt, by Marcus O’Dair (Serpent’s Tail). It’s a little surprising this hasn’t gotten more attention, as it’s an excellent comprehensive biography of Wyatt from his pre-Soft Machine days to the present, detailing his many group and solo projects with plenty of first-hand input from Wyatt himself. Just as crucially, the book achieves a fine balance between deeply researched information and astute, humorous-when-appropriate critical insight from the author. Unusually for a straight biography, it’s also crammed with many rare and interesting life-spanning photos. Few people seem to know about this book in the US as of this writing, as Wyatt — for all his achievements across a spectrum of pop, psychedelia, and progressive rock with too many esteemed collaborators to fit into anything less than a half-dozen paragraphs – remains a cult figure Stateside. Fortunately, however, the book will be published in the US by Counterpoint Press in fall 2015.


2. Hotter Than a Match Head: Life on the Run with the Lovin’ Spoonful, by Steve Boone with Tony Moss (ECW). The Lovin’ Spoonful were one of the most important ‘60s groups who, before 2014, had yet to be chronicled in a noteworthy book. At last, we have it here in this detailed inside history of the band, given from bassist Boone’s perspective. Naturally it’s not as balanced or objective as it would be if all the members had a say. But unlike most memoirs of this type, it pays a lot of attention to the records, songs, and how they were recorded – and not just the hits, but all of the album tracks as well. This also has Boone’s account of the 1966 bust of him and lead guitarist Zal Yanovsky, which seriously crippled the group’s momentum and longevity, and has never been documented in anything like the detail of the chapter devoted to it here.


3. Rolling Stones Gear, by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost (Backbeat). Mammoth (672-page) history of the instruments and equipment the Stones have used throughout their career, emphasizing their most interesting decades (the 1960s and 1970s), with incredibly in-depth research and a wealth of cool illustrations. And while the technical data is here, it’s not just for gearheads, containing a lot of information about their recording sessions and general career path. Of course that gets a lot less interesting after their first decade or so, through no fault of the authors, as the Stones’ music and career got progressively less interesting.


4. Bowie & Hutch, by John “Hutch” Hutchinson (Lodge Books, Entertaining and humorous memoir by a guitarist/singer who played with Bowie during three interesting junctures of his career: 1966 when Bowie was a struggling mod rocker, 1968-69 when he was a folky singer-songwriter, and 1973 when he was a superstar. Unlike many people in Bowie’s orbit, Hutchinson knew the singer when he was a relatively accessible person who’d only recently changed his name from David Jones, and not the glam icon he’d become by Hutchinson’s final stint with the band. Especially interesting are the sections covering the ’68-’69 period, when Bowie was just finding his compositional voice, and Hutchinson was important to his sound as a guitar accompanist and backup singer (as heard on 1969 acoustic demos, only a few of which have been released, and all of which are discussed here).


 5. Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones, by Paul Trynka (Viking). The best biography of the founding Stones guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/visionary, though perhaps too hard on Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ roles in edging him outside of the band’s creative center. Contains a lot of information about his pre-Stones life that will be unknown even to most hardcore Stones fans, as well as interesting details on some of his artistic ventures, such as his recordings of Moroccan musicians. Many of Jones’s friends and associates were interviewed for the book, though how such a talented and charismatic figure could have screwed himself up so badly remains perhaps unanswerable by anyone who writes about him (or knew him).

Brian Jones

6. The Beatles Lyrics, by Hunter Davies (Little, Brown). Not just lyric reprints or dry analysis – reproductions of the actual lyric manuscripts of more than 100 of the Beatles’ songs, with generally astute commentary from their authorized biographer, who knew them about as well as anyone not in their inner circle (and was responsible for actually preserving some of the handwritten manuscripts that otherwise would have been thrown away after recording sessions). Davies’s analysis is sometimes a bit flippant and unfairly dismissive, but generally well-informed, helpfully zeroing in on variations in the written versions when they occur (though these were rarely too extensive).


7. A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man, by Holly George-Warren (Viking). Well-researched, well-written biography documenting one of the strangest career trajectories in rock history. How did a guy who sang a classic #1 soul-rock song as a teenager end up in a cult band, and then doing lo-fi shambling projects that made that cult band (Big Star) seem slick? It’s not all that easy to explain, but this makes a fair effort of at least filling in the steps along the path, properly de-emphasizing his less interesting twenty or so final years.

Alex Chilton

8. Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972, by Harvey Kubernik (Santa Monica Press). A little haphazard and rambling in structure, this oral history-formatted volume nonetheless has a lot of great first-hand interview material, touching most of the main bases of rock during L.A.’s prime. Most styles in which L.A. made strong contributions are here – not just folk-rock, surf, and psychedelia (though those are heavily documented), but also blue-eyed soul, pop, garage rock, and more.

Turn Up Radio

9. Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist, by Steve Lowenthal (Chicago Review Press). This could have been longer and more descriptive of some of his recordings, but it’s the best source of information about the basic outlines of the life and career of this enigmatic artist. Like a Fahey documentary that came out in 2013 (In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey), it’s frustrating because it leaves you wanting more, though it offers some good info and insights. Both book and video leave the impression of a very troubled man, haunted by childhood traumas and psychological/physical difficulties as an adult.

John Fahey

10. Exorcising Ghosts: Strawbs & Other Lives, by Dave Cousins (Witchwood Media Limited). The head Strawb recounts his unusual journey from acoustic folk to folk-rock and progressive rock, with generally insightful and amusing text, though it’s padded by a long section near the end detailing his late-20th century career in UK radio. There are more saucy rockers-on-the-road stories than you’d expect given the Strawbs’ somber image, and also some surprising stories about a legend who passed through the Strawbs’ lineup in their early days, Sandy Denny.


Also of note were these 2014 books:

11. Play On: The Autobiography, by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza (Little, Brown). Fleetwood wrote another as-told-to memoir, Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac, almost 25 years ago with a different writer (Stephen Davis). So why did he do another one that covers largely the same ground? I don’t know, but for what it’s worth, I did like it, and this time around the story’s a better read. Maybe he needed the money: for someone who’s made as much as Fleetwood has, he’s made some surprisingly unwise investments, recounted here with a humor that verges on pride.


12. What’s Exactly the Matter with Me?, by P.F. Sloan and S.E. Feinberg (Backbeat). The talented pop-folk-rock singer-songwriter’s memoir leaves you wondering how he managed to intersect with so many different upper-level movers and shakers in the mid-1960s, with a wealth of improbable stories that have not appeared anywhere else. Of most value is the appendix, in which Sloan gives his personal account of the many songs he wrote or co-wrote, including the interesting flops and gems on his solo LPs, not just the big hits like “Eve of Destruction,” “A Must to Avoid,” and “Secret Agent Man.”


13. Nick Drake: Remembered for a While (Little, Brown). A hefty compilation of essays about Drake, lyrics by Drake, and many pictures and memorabilia. This would have ranked higher had it not recycled (and sometimes excerpted) quite a bit of information that’s appeared in other books, and gone so heavy on analysis of his music by critics and acquaintances that frankly doesn’t add a whole lot to the literature on this cult singer-songwriter. Big pluses, however, are the reprints of many rare clippings, photos, and assorted documents, as well as some gripping, heart-rending passages from the diary his father kept in Drake’s final years, when Nick was slipping into the depths of mental illness.


14. Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Faces . . ., by Glyn Johns (Blue Rider Press). Johns was engineer and/or producer for many classic records of the 1960s and 1970s, especially by acts mentioned in the lengthy subtitle. It’s more matter-of-fact and dry than I’d hoped, and some classic recordings are summarized in just a few sentences. (In comparison, the 2012 book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust – written by another major British engineer/producer of roughly the same era, Ken Scott — is a much more engaging, fun, and insightful read.) But there are inevitably the expected share of interesting inside stories about recording sessions and interactions with these giants.

Glyn Johns

15. The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, by Carlos Santana with Ashley Kahn and Hal Miller (Little, Brown). Santana’s memoir is pretty good on his dramatic transition from life as a teenager playing Tijuana bars to the forefront of San Francisco psychedelia. I was less interested in the sometimes sentimental accounts of his family life, and his intersections with celebrities, Miles Davis in particular getting more ink than the incidents deserve. But it’s strong on the alchemy that led to his late-‘60s breakthrough, and gives credit to Peter Green (and particularly his searing sustain on the Bluesbreakers’ “The Supernatural”) as a key inspiration/influence.


 16. Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile, by Robert Greenfield (Da Capo Press). This has the feel of a toss-off, as it’s the third book Greenfield’s written on the Stones in the early 1970s, and at least some of the stories and quotes appear in his Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones. I kind of like it anyway, as this account of their “farewell” tour to the UK in spring 1971, padded with some (pretty good) anecdotes of hanging out with the band during their subsequent (if brief) exile in France, is more humbly and humorously written than his other two Stones volumes. You can read my full review of the book here.


17. On the Road with Janis Joplin, by John Byrne Cooke (Berkley Books, 2014). Cooke was road manager for Big Brother & the Company, and then Janis Joplin, for most of the last three years of Joplin’s life. This is his account of his experiences, and not a superficial one, running 400 pages. There is some extraneous material about his non-Joplin experiences, but there are also some inside stories about both Big Brother and Joplin that aren’t anywhere else, including some insights into their studio work as well as their concerts. Cooke was himself a musician (with the bluegrass band the Charles River Valley Boys), and the son of famed journalist/broadcaster Alistair Cooke.


18. Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, by Rick Bragg (Harper). Most people who’ve read this biography – and it’s a biography, not an autobiography or as-told-to job, despite the title – seem to like this book better than I do. I found some sections too floridly written, especially the early ones, and though Lewis was interviewed for the book (hence the title), his accounts aren’t as revealing or extensive as one would hope. Still, there are good stories here, particularly on the period most covered – his rise to fame at Sun Records and quick fall from grace, which happens to be his most interesting period musically as well as personally.


19. Before the Beginning: A Personal and Opinionated History of Fleetwood Mac, by Samuel Graham (Monkey Needle Productions). An ebook-only release by Graham, who wrote a quickie (if pretty decent) paperback bio of the band in the late 1970s (Fleetwood Mac: The Authorized History, issued by Warner Books in 1978). This is an odd variation, as it’s not a reissue or updated version of that book, but something of a best-of of that volume, taking some of the best stories and highlights. Taking advantage of the ebook format, these are augmented by several dozen 30-90-second soundbites from the actual interviews Graham conducted, as well as some interesting documents. It covers the group’s history from the beginning (and best) years when Peter Green formed and led the band, not just the mid-‘70s superstar era. It’s not very long, but as compensation it’s pretty cheap, selling through iBooks/iTunes for $4.99.


20. Some Fun Tonight!: The Backstage Story of How the Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966, by Chuck Gunderson (Gunderson Media). Mammoth, expensive two-volume, 600-page hardback set documenting the Beatles’ mid-‘60s North American tours in exhaustive detail. This is more for the Beatlemaniac than the general reader, owing to the price but also the coverage of material that will be of most interest for reference purposes. It’s certainly in-depth in its research into how the concerts were set up and took place, however, and is lavishly illustrated with photos, posters, and documents, some quite rare.


And honorable mentions for these two titles, which just missed the cutoff:

21. Benson: The Autobiography, by George Benson with Alan Goldsher (Da Capo Press). I’m not a Benson fan, especially. But this as-told-to memoir was fairly good nonetheless, reminiscing about his rise from sideman on the club scene to crossover pop superstar. Not so much inside dirt on his personal life, which is fine, keeping the focus on the music, as it should be in these kind of autobiographies.


22. The Time of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, by Bill Medley with Mike Marino (Da Capo Press). Not a hugely in-depth read, the autobiography of Righteous Brother Bill Medley (that was his deep lead vocal on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”) is still a breezy ride from his roots in Orange County R&B bands to hits with Phil Spector. For the first half or so, that is; there’s also far less essential coverage of his road to Vegas entertainer. There aren’t as many controversial  revelations as you might hope or expect, but here are some things you’ll learn: he never wanted the Righteous Brothers to end their relationship with Spector; Spector wanted Medley to go solo after “Lovin’ Feelin’” was a smash; Medley produced “Unchained Melody,” “regardless of what the label read”; Phil wasn’t even in the studio when the other Righteous Brother, Bobby Hatfield, sang lead on “Ebb Tide”; and  George Harrison was knocked out by the solo on the early Righteous Brothers single “My Babe,” though other stories of touring with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones don’t dig up many other nuggets along the same lines.


If you’re wondering why the following books weren’t mentioned, it’s because they came out in the latter part of 2013. Honorable mentions, however, to these titles, which are also worthy of your attention:

1. The Beatles: Tune In: Extended Special Edition, by Mark Lewisohn (Little, Brown). I feel like this monumental biography – just the first of three volumes, covering the Beatles’ lives and career until the end of 1962 – still hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It’s easily the most comprehensively researched volume on this much-written-about group; the writing is very good; and it extensively draws on the musical and social context of the times in interesting, useful ways. The “standard” edition of this runs about 900 pages, but the two-volume “extended special edition” – running about almost twice the length at around 1700 pages — really is worth the costly (about $125 on Amazon today) investment. It has considerably more information, from important additional context to fascinating trivia.


2. Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, by Robert Gordon (Bloomsbury). Since there was already a good Stax history back in 1997 (Rob Bowman’s Soulsville U.S.A.), I was unsure if this volume would be necessary. But it’s an excellent book that doesn’t duplicate too much of Bowman’s work, and in the inevitable overlaps, a different perspective is brought to Stax’s legacy. Having co-directed the Stax documentary Respect Yourself (also recommended), Gordon already had a wealth of first-hand research to draw upon for his book, which might be a more accessible read than Bowman’s, though lacking some of Bowman’s intense detail.


3. Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter, by Alyn Shipton (Oxford University Press). Overdue, fine bio of an important if quirky singer-songwriter. For all the happy nature of some of his most celebrated work, Harry Nilsson’s story was tragically beset by mental, physical, and marital difficulties. These are covered here, but so is his musical evolution from behind-the-scenes songwriter to unlikely solo star.


4. The Rhino Records Story: Revenge of the Record Nerds, by Harold Bronson (SelectBooks). By its very nature, a memoir by a guy who co-founded and co-ran a reissue label – albeit the biggest US reissue label – is going to have limited mass appeal. If you were or are one of those record nerds that got a lot of Rhino reissues, you’ll like this entertaining account of how Bronson first founded one of the finest independent record stores (in Los Angeles, also called Rhino), and then branched out into a record label. Plenty of inside accounts of licensing deals, interactions with the stars being reissued, and the general madness of trying to be creative within the oft-corporate record business.


5. Bert Jansch: Living with the Legend, by Heather Jansch (The Olchard Press). Heather Jansch was Bert Jansch’s first wife, and this is her incisive account of their relationship, which covered his peak years of popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The stories of Bert as a man and musician are augmented by repros of personal correspondence and memorabilia, as well as some neat tales of the British folk and folk-rock scene of in which the Jansches took part. Designed as a spiral-bound notebook with sketches by Heather, it’s a slim (88-page) and expensive volume. But unlike many such books with limited distribution, it’s produced to a high standard and doesn’t waste words, sticking to the essentials.


6. Yé-Yé Girls of ‘60s French Pop, by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe (Feral House). I was a little disappointed with the text of this book, which was a little superficial and fannish, and not as deeply researched as I hoped. Still, this is the only English-language volume devoted to the yé-yé scene, combining pop, girl group, and British Invasion styles with a heavy French slant. It has basic info on the genre’s heavyweights (like Francoise Hardy and France Gall) and many of the minor singers virtually unknown to North American and British audiences. As its best saving grace, the reproductions of rare album sleeves are superb and plentiful.


Finally, in 2014 I published updated/revised/expanded ebook versions of some of my print books, with plenty of new material. All of these titles are available on Amazon, iBooks/iTunes, and other outlets:

Combines my two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High, into one volume with updated material, including bonus 75,000-word mini-book detailing nearly 200 tracks. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Combines my two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High, into one volume with updated material, including bonus 75,000-word mini-book detailing nearly 200 tracks. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that's come to light since the original edition.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that’s come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

documents twenty cult rockers from the 1960s. The book features extremely detailed investigation of the careers of greats like the Pretty Things, Arthur Brown, Richard & Mimi Farina, and Tim Buckley. The extensive chapters all include first-hand interview material with the artists themselves and/or their close associates. The ebook version is significantly expanded, revised, and updated from the print version, adding 20,000 words of new material.

Documents twenty cult rockers from the 1960s. The book features extremely detailed investigation of the careers of greats like the Pretty Things, Arthur Brown, Richard & Mimi Farina, and Tim Buckley. The extensive chapters all include first-hand interview material with the artists themselves and/or their close associates. The ebook version is significantly expanded, revised, and updated from the print version, adding 20,000 words of new material. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Goin’ to Kansas City: The Origins of The City’s Anthem

There was a lot more talk about Kansas City than usual in San Francisco last month, since the Giants were playing the Royals in the World Series. It came as something of a disappointment – no, an outrage – that at no time did the networks play the classic ‘50s rock song “Kansas City.” It even opens with the lyric “goin’ to Kansas City”! It was good enough to be used when the Phillies went to Kansas City to play the Royals in the 1980 World Series, and it’s more than good enough now, 55 years after it topped the charts.


For those who found the song “Kansas City” playing in their head as the World Series played out, there was often some understandable confusion as to what version should be playing. The most famous one is the single by Wilbert Harrison that went to #1 in 1959. The second-most-famous one, and perhaps almost-as-famous one, was recorded by the Beatles in 1964 for their fourth LP. Yet the Beatles’ version sounds almost totally different from the Harrison one. How did that happen?

The original version was written by two 19-year-old white Jewish guys in Los Angeles, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Leiber and Stoller would go on to become one of the greatest songwriting (and production) teams in rock history, but at that point were just getting a foothold in the R&B scene. As Mike Stoller remembers in Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography, “Jerry’s idea was that we’d give him this geographically specific but musically traditional blues.”

After some apparently mild arguing about how authentically blues Stoller’s melody was, they placed it with Little Willie Littlefield, who had some regional success with the single in 1952. Littlefield’s version – done more as a jump blues than rock’n’roll, rock really not having been officially born yet — isn’t too different from Harrison’s, though a couple of the more risque lyrics would be modified. In the first act that would cause confusion for decades when fans traced the origins of the tune, however, the title was changed from “Kansas City” to “K.C. Loving” by Federal Records co-owner Ralph Bass (who considered “K.C. Loving” a “hipper” title, again according to Stoller in Hound Dog).


On September 13, 1955, Little Richard recorded a cover that stuck pretty close to Littlefield’s version for the first verse, though in a bit more of an uptempo rock’n’roll style. But then, in the biggest wrinkle in the song’s evolution, he suddenly leaped into an improvised-sounding diversion, yelping “bye bye baby bye, so long,” interspersing a characteristic whoop in the middle. When he gets back to a verse of sorts, this also sounds like he’s making lyrics up off the top of his head, then making another detour to the “bye bye so long” bit. Indeed, this sounds kind of like a jam after the first verse gets out of the way.

Then on November 29, he cut a yet different version which – it’s obvious right from the opening riff – is the one the Beatles based on their cover on. Here Richard took so many liberties with the Leiber-Stoller original that it’s virtually an entirely different song, save for the very basic theme of going to Kansas City to find a girl and tie one on. He did retain the “bye bye baby bye so long” etc. bit from his previous attempt at the song, adding a yet different bit based around a “hey hey hey” chant. In all, this accounts for why the Beatles’ version is credited to Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and Richard Penniman (Little Richard’s legal name), not just Leiber and Stoller.


Now go back to the 1950s, but this time, the late 1950s. Journeyman R&B singer Wilbert Harrison had been doing Littlefield’s “K.C. Loving” live, and recorded it for a March 1959 single, this time changing the title back to “Kansas City.” Possibly Harrison was unaware of Little Richard’s liberal “cover,” sticking fairly close to Littlefield’s arrangement, though the lyrics were slightly toned down – “gonna get me some” was changed to “gonna get me one,” and the reference to a “bottle of Kansas City wine” was so slurred that many DJs and would-be-concerned parents might never have caught it.

But “Kansas City” wasn’t just a faithful replica of Littlefield’s by-then rather ancient single. Occasionally there are covers that vary the original only slightly, but by significant enough degrees to make it a much different listening experience and indeed much superior recording. And there may be no better example than Harrison’s “Kansas City.” What made it a #1 pop smash, where the original hadn’t even made the R&B charts?

Well, Harrison’s version just rocked more. He pounded the piano to set a compelling groove that might have had its roots in jump blues, but was as locked-in as it gets. Put on Littlefield’s version, and it’s just another above-average R&B song; put on Harrison’s, and your foot can’t help but immediately start pounding along with it. Crucially, Harrison also eccentrically varies the intonation on the vocals on the final lines of the verses so that he sounds like he’s leaning in and out of the lyrics, almost as if he’s tempted to sing it like a ska song. And most crucially of all, Jimmy Spruill lets loose with a wailing guitar solo (goosed on by Harrison’s shouts of “ah, but you know yeah, must-tah!” — well, that’s what it sounds like — and “ohhh yeah!”) that might be rooted in the blues, but is most definitely rock’n’roll. The record shot to #1, just a couple months after the plane crash that supposedly killed rock’n’roll – though, as “Kansas City” and countless other records prove, the music was very much alive and well at the time when rock’n’roll had supposedly died or vanished.


But while it was #1 in the US, it didn’t chart at all in the UK. There the hit version belonged to Little Richard, whose “Kansas City”/“Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” mutation (as it’s now titled on Beatles for Sale) made #26, not long after Harrison’s “Kansas City” climbed the American charts. It was “Kansas City”/“Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey,” then, that the Beatles and other British teenagers heard, and this was the arrangement that the Beatles began to play live as early as mid-1960, as its inclusion on group’s the earliest surviving setlist proves. Although “Long Tall Sally” is a more celebrated instance of Paul McCartney’s ability to match Little Richard in sheer intensity for upper-register raucous rock’n’roll singing, the Beatles’ interpretation of “Kansas City” is just as impressive in that regard.

There are, indeed, several versions predating the studio recording they cut on October 18, 1964. They did three versions for the BBC (July 16, 1963; May 1, 1964; and November 25, 1964), all of which were bootlegged before the November ’64 one came out last year on On the Air: Live at the BBC Vol. 2. An inferior alternate studio take came out on Anthology 1, and you can even hear a lo-fi but energetic one from September 5, 1962 before a live Liverpool audience at the Cavern if you look in all the places you’re not supposed to.

The Beatles also did it on September 17, 1964 when they, after getting an offer from Charlie Finley (owner of the Kansas City Athletics major league baseball team), added a Kansas City concert to their summer American tour. If it was good enough for the Beatles and Kansas City then, why wasn’t it good enough for Fox network last month?