Category Archives: Music

Richie Unterberger comments and reviews on vintage rock music.

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.


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?


Sandy Denny in Swedish Fly Girls

Sandy Denny and…Swedish fly girls. Whatever Swedish fly girls are, the two things don’t seem to go together, do they? But they did, when Denny sang four songs in 1969 or 1970 for an obscure Danish (not Swedish; more on that weirdness later) film titled, for some (but not all) markets, Swedish Fly Girls. It’s an absurd juxtaposition that you couldn’t make up.

The "Swedish Fly Girls" soundtrack LP.

The “Swedish Fly Girls” soundtrack LP.

Ever since first hearing those four tracks on a bootleg that was itself so obscure it never made it past the CDR stage, I’ve wondered how Sandy ended up participating in this odd project. (I know listening to bootlegs is not the officially approved way to hear things like this, but I never would have even found out they existed if not for that unauthorized disc!) I haven’t found out how she ended up on the soundtrack, exactly, but hearing the four songs in better fidelity than that bootleg on the recent 19-CD (!) Denny box set stoked my interest again. Enough that I even saw the film earlier this month, though it hasn’t been officially issued on DVD. No, the copy I viewed wasn’t authorized. But in the absence of official product, how else are you going to carry out this vital historical research?

First, a basic scenario, especially for those not familiar with the songs: the Swedish Fly Girls soundtrack LP (and there is an actual soundtrack LP) has four tracks sung by Sandy Denny—“Water Mother,” “What Will I Do With Tomorrow,” “Are the Judges Sane?,” and “I Need You” (the last of which also has vocals by a male singer, one Mose Henry). These are poppier and rather unlike anything else she recorded in the 1960s and early 1970s. They have a lightly orchestrated (with flute and strings), almost dreamily pseudo-cinematic feel, unsurprisingly so given their purpose as rather incidental music in what verged on a soft porn film (more details soon). If there’s any participation from her bands of the time, Fairport Convention and Fotheringay, it’s not evident.

The back cover of the "Swedish Fly Girls" soundtrack LP.

The back cover of the “Swedish Fly Girls” soundtrack LP.

“Water Mother” and “What Will I Do With Tomorrow” are actually rather nice wistful pop-folk ballads. The tenser, more somber “Are the Judges Sane?” ends in a dizzying swirl of strings, and has some fairly faintly mixed but burning blues-hard-rock guitar somewhere in the background, which I’m guessing is likely the work of a seasoned London session axeman. Allan Holdsworth, perhaps? Eric Ford? Big Jim Sullivan? Maybe even a big name like Jeff Beck moonlighting for some quick cash between tours? (All theories gratefully received at this address.) “I Need You” is perhaps the least characteristic thing Denny put on vinyl back then, being something of a fruitily orchestrated country-pop feel-good ditty where the greatest British folk-rock singer shares vocals with the decidedly colorless Mose Henry.

Why did Denny deign to lend her pipes (anonymously, even; again, more on that in a bit) to such a left-field endeavor? Well, getting Melody Maker accolades didn’t necessarily translate to a large bank balance, and a number of respected British artists took on what some might consider hack work to help pay the bills. There were all those soundalike covers of hits that Elton John helped crank out, for instance, or the Pretty Things cutting film library music on the Electric Banana LPs (and agreeing to back amateur singer Philippe DeBarge when the well-heeled Frenchman paid them for the privilege). It wasn’t even the only instance in which Denny lowered herself to such sidelines, as she also sang on a butter commercial in the late ‘60s.

A poster for the Swedish Fly Girls movie.

A poster for the Swedish Fly Girls movie.

Digging around online, I found a fairly detailed recollection (dating from 2002) of the soundtrack recording from Mose Henry (who died in 2010), at It’s fairly interesting, if a bit overblown, but lengthy, so I’ll just post the most essential excerpt here:

I was in London for 12 weeks the spring and summer of 1970. Manfred Mann and I co-produced the music for “Christa.” The rhythm section was the band who did the London Production of “Hair” and we used London Philharmonic strings and brass. At times a 30-piece rock orchestra for the film. I wrote all of the music, Derek Wadsworth arranged it Manfred # 1 Producer I was associate producer without credits. I sang “I Need You” with Sandy. Sandy was ill and after she saw the lead sheets of the music she came to the studio to record it anyway. She told me “What Will I Do With Tomorrow” was the most beautiful song she had ever heard. In my book she sang it like an angel. When she sang the final take for that recording the entire studio was lifted to another place and time words cannot describe. The recording said it well enough.

Although some sources date Sandy’s tracks as having been recorded in mid-1969, here Henry’s clear in his assertion that the work was done in spring and summer 1970, when Denny was in Fotheringay (a timeline also supported by the best Denny biography to date, Clinton Heylin’s No More Sad Refrains). As for Denny telling Henry “What Will I Do With Tomorrow” (for which Henry got a co-songwriting credit with an unlikely partner—more details soon!) “was the most beautiful song she had ever heard,” I suspect she was just being nice to him. This from the woman who’d recorded such memorable songs as “She Moves Through the Fair,” “Tam Lin,” Joni Mitchell’s “Eastern Rain,” Bob Dylan’s “Percy’s Song,” and Dave Cousins’s “And You Need Me”? Not to mention her own “Fotheringay,” “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” and “Autopsy,” though she would likely have been too modest to cite her own compositions?

Read some more in that lengthy Henry post, and you’ll find out that he’d been in the whitebread US folk group the Highwaymen, though long after (his stint spanning 1964-68) their 1961 US chart-topper “Michael” (aka “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”). What’s more interesting, however, is that, as the excerpt above notes in passing, he co-produced the soundtrack with Manfred Mann. Mann, of course, already had significant experience in film scores, his group having done the generally decent, acclaimed music (some with vocals) to the Swinging London-set 1968 kitchen-sinkish drama Up the Junction.

Manfred Mann's soundtrack LP to the 1968 movie Up the Junction.

Manfred Mann’s soundtrack LP to the 1968 movie Up the Junction.

Now the plot gets yet more interesting — more interesting than the plot in the film that generated the Swedish Fly Girls soundtrack, certainly. There was an actual Swedish Fly Girls soundtrack LP that came out in the US in May 1972, with music by, among others, Melanie (one of her better-known songs, “Beautiful People”) and Manfred Mann himself/themselves. Weirdly, the performers were uncredited, accounting for why Denny’s contributions remained virtually unknown for so many years, though it’s immediately obvious that it’s her as soon as she opens her mouth on each of the four tunes. All four of which, incidentally, bear the songwriting credits of Mose Henry and…Jack O’Connell. Who was Jack O’Connell?

Well — and what an extraordinary coincidence! — he was the director of Swedish Fly Girls (and, for that matter, also its producer and writer). I’m not aware of any other musical credentials to his name, but shortly before taking on the film, he’d been involved with a movie that will likely be much more familiar to ‘60s rock fans. For he was also producer-director of the rather infamous 1968 quasi-documentary Revolution, which purported to capture the 1967 Haight-Ashbury scene, but verged on hippie exploitation. At least that movie had an interesting soundtrack, including tracks by top Bay Area acts Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Steve Miller Band, and Mother Earth that are not found on their regular LPs (and, on top of that, some versions of songs on the album by those artists that are heard in the movie itself, but not included on the record).

The soundtrack to the 1968 film Revolution had rare tracks by Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Steve Miller Band, and Mother Earth.

The soundtrack to the 1968 film Revolution had rare tracks by Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Steve Miller Band, and Mother Earth.

The actual Revolution film was less impressive. Here’s what some of the people involved on the musical side told me when I interviewed them for a story on rare San Francisco psych LPs in the April 2013 issue of Record Collector:

Powell St. John of Mother Earth: “As for the movie, one thing that [Mother Earth singer] Tracy [Nelson] insisted upon was that there was no sensationalism, and no exploitation of the so-called ‘hippie phenomenon,’ no lurid details of naked orgies or other such nonsense. I think we were all of one mind about that. The film people assured us they were good guys and would never do anything so crass as to produce an exploitation flick so we took them at their word. Well if you’ve ever seen the posters for that film you know that exploitation is exactly the right word for it. So, needless to say we were not pleased with the results.”

Mother Earth manager Travis Rivers: “The film was such a disaster it showed only in pornographic movie houses for at least two decades. My impression was not enhanced when I ran into a local who told me she would be starring in the ‘documentary’ and that Jack had changed her name to ‘Today Malone.’” Rivers also said O’Connell gave Allen Cohen, editor of leading local underground paper The San Francisco Oracle, “money on the side to set up that awful fake be-in” near the start of the movie.

Steve Miller Band manager Harvey Kornspan: “The movie itself was a cartoon. I doubt that it cost more than a hundred grand to make at the time. Malone was pretty in a soft hippie girl kind of way, but she had no acting chops. None!” he laughed. “The director was kind of an opportunist sleazy cat.”

Poster for the 1968 Revolution film.

Poster for the 1968 Revolution film.

How do you follow an act like that? Well, you make your next film in Denmark, apparently because Revolution had done well there. Interestingly, the score to Swedish Fly Girls was originally handled by Al Kooper, but ended up being taken on by Manfred Mann. A couple websites hint at dark undercurrents to the transition, one noting that “he was replaced by Manfred Mann, reportedly because of artistic and financial difficulties.” As the film is not even mentioned in Kooper’s quite substantial and entertaining memoir Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards, it might not have meant that much to him in the first place.

And what of the film itself? Like many such things, actually watching the thing is something of an anti-climactic letdown, especially considering all the intriguing connections and credible rock musicians who were (or almost were) associated with the soundtrack. First issued as Christa in 1971, it follows the serial affairs of a young Danish (not Swedish, despite what its subsequent retitling would lead you to believe) flight attendant. There’s much casual sex, and a fair amount of nudity, though not so much that you could say it’s a skin flick. Christa, and most of her lovers, have a guilt-free zest for intercourse that screams 1969, as do her and her American housemate’s dresses and the mod decor of her Copenhagen residence. Her suitors have a rather oily Eurotrash vibe, though the hippest of them looks kind of like David Essex. Fortunately (especially considering the bootleg DVD doesn’t have English subtitles), over half of the dialogue is in English, most of her lovers being passengers she takes a shine to on her globetrotting flights. Truth be told, it wouldn’t be all that hard to follow the “action” even if all the talk was unsubtitled Danish.

A poster for the film bearing its original title, Christa.

A poster for the film bearing its original title, Christa.

It’s hard to believe, as one reviewer wrote, that the original running time was close to four hours; 100 minutes is quite enough. As for the soundtrack, it can’t seem to decide whether to be period cinematic pop or pop-rock, something true (in a different way) of Manfred Mann’s contributions as well as Sandy Denny’s. And it’s a good thing the soundtrack LP came out, since you only hear brief snippets of Sandy’s songs in the actual film.

I haven’t heard the original soundtrack album (or even seen an actual copy), which must have been scarce even in the early 1970s. As for why it was retitled Swedish Fly Girls, one can only guess that Swedish stewardesses were deemed a more commercial proposition than Danish ones, and in English-speaking markets, who was going to be able to tell the main character was speaking Danish, not Swedish, anyway?

In the extensive 2002 message from Mose Henry posted on the site, by the way, he makes this outrageous claim: “Almost every movie since then has been modeled on “Christa” it was the first film edited to the beat of the music and other film makers are using a lot more music in their soundtracks. We were the first to edit to the beat of the music with “Christa.” What? A Hard Day’s Night doesn’t count?

Surprisingly considering the film’s modest merits (and states of undress), the film was actually reviewed in the New York Times on August 21, 1971. At least reviewer Howard Thompson had some fun with his assignment, beginning his piece, “The heroine of Christa is a pretty, sweet, warm-hearted blonde of 23, an airline stewardess, and a loving mother to her illegitimate baby. Christa also yearns for a Prince Charming. She finds him, whereupon the nasty man from the past pops up menacingly. Will Christa find true happiness? Does a dog have fleas?”

If not for Sandy Denny’s presence on the soundtrack, it’s fair to say, Swedish Fly Girls, or whatever you want to call the film, would be forgotten. Fortunately, that soundtrack LP did somehow surface before the movie vanished into obscurity, leaving us with some of the strangest — if fairly enjoyable — novelties in her entire, quite mammoth discography.

All four songs that Sandy Denny sang in Swedish Fly Girls are on this 190CD Sandy Denny box set.

All four songs that Sandy Denny sang in Swedish Fly Girls are on this 19-CD Sandy Denny box set.


The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones

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


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

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

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

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


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

rolling stones euk8560472

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

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

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

i wanna be your man sheet music

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Some Rock History Fanzines You Might Have Missed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final (#9) issue of Here ‘Tis.

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

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

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


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

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

The first issue of Cream Puff War.

The first issue of Cream Puff War.

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

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

NOT FADE AWAY 4 _1.tif

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

Issue #3 of What Goes On.

Issue #3 of What Goes On.

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Back issues of Chin Music are still available through

Back issues of Chin Music are still available through

Ugly Covers from the Golden Age of Vinyl Reissues

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

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

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


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

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


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

Best Of LP Abkco

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

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


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

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

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


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


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






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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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




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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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



Chess Blues Masters Series

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

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


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

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

Liner Notes in the Golden Age of Vinyl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Move - Best Of The Move FRONT

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Or this:

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is followed by another one-sentence paragraph special:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadows of Knight sang for Fairmont potato chips.

The Shadows of Knight sang for Fairmont potato chips.

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

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

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

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

A bootleg seven-inch with three Left Banke commercials.

A bootleg seven-inch with three Left Banke commercials.

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

Sandy Denny exposed in Melody Maker article.

Sandy Denny exposed in a Disc article.

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


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