Category Archives: Music

Richie Unterberger comments and reviews on vintage rock music.

One or Two Things I (And You) Didn’t Know About the Yardbirds

I’m not at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives to research the Yardbirds, but they’re one of those groups that I try to gather as much material on as possible no matter what the channel. So it is that last week I stumbled across a couple of items I’d never seen before, though I’ve tried to find out as much as I can about them for 35 years or so.

For instance, the December 1969 issue of ZigZag (the first true UK underground rock paper) has an interview with singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty that’s new to me. Most of it’s about Renaissance, the group they formed shortly after the Yardbirds split in mid-1968. But here’s an interesting quote about the Yardbirds:

“Jeff Beck virtually took over. If we wanted to do something soft and peaceful, it was very difficult — he wasn’t interested at all. We managed to make “Still I’m Sad,” but I don’t think he was involved in that; I don’t think he was even there when we recorded it.”

As half of a double-A-side with "Evil Hearted You," "Still I'm Sad" was a #3 single in the UK in 1965, though it was only a B-side in the US.

As half of a double-A-side with “Evil Hearted You,” “Still I’m Sad” was a #3 single in the UK in 1965, though it was only a B-side in the US.

(A little annoyingly, the separate responses by Relf and McCarty are not identified in the article. All of them are attributed to “R.”)

I don’t doubt that Beck was less into “soft and peaceful” sounds than Relf and McCarty. Part of the reason those two guys left the Yardbirds, after all, was that they wanted to do soft folk-rockish stuff with harmonies, a la some of the Turtles’ and Simon & Garfunkel’s output (as you can hear on the few tracks they cut as a duo, under the name Together).

Nonetheless, the guitar solo on “Still I’m Sad” absolutely sounds like Beck to me. It has that great snaky, almost Asian-Middle Eastern sound typical of much of his Yardbirds work, with the swelling and ebbing sustain that was also characteristic of a lot his mid-‘60s playing. If it wasn’t Beck, who was it? Chris Dreja, then their rhythm guitarist? A top session guitarist like Big Jim Sullivan, or even a pre-Yardbirds Jimmy Page?

Maybe Beck indeed didn’t like the song, though it was a classic groundbreaking work that was one of the first rock hits (in the UK it was, at any rate) to draw upon serious non-romantic introspective lyrical themes and exotic world music elements, including Gregorian chant-like backing vocals. But I doubt he wasn’t on the session, even if he didn’t participate in the chanting (though it’s been verified colorful Yardbirds manager/co-producer Giorgio Gomelsky did).

Before leaving Jeff Beck for his successor, another thing I happened upon was an Epic Records press release for the Yardbirds from July 1965 — possibly the first one issued on their behalf in the US. “One of the atomic-like forces produced by England’s musical invasion of America, and a force destined to leave a permanent mark, is a group which calls itself the Yardbirds,” it begins, and if it was probably written in the spirit of overhype, it turned out to be absolutely correct.

Incorrect is the claim that their debut single  “I Wish You Would”/“A Certain Girl” made the Top Ten in England; actually, it didn’t make the UK charts at all. Not exactly false, but weirdly worded, is the claim that Jeff Beck “plays the lead guitar and violin as well as the electric saw. Besides his obvious physical attributes and a look of ‘innocence,’ Jeff can boast an ability to simulate wacky, offbeat sounds on the guitar.”

Epic was about to push the "Heart Full of Soul" single when it issued their 1965 Yardbirds press release, perhaps not realizing that the US picture sleeve pictured the Eric Clapton lineup, not the Jeff Beck one that played on the tracks.

Epic was about to push the “Heart Full of Soul” single when it issued their 1965 Yardbirds press release, perhaps not realizing that the US sleeve pictured the Eric Clapton lineup, not the Jeff Beck one that played on the tracks.

The other item was from the June 29, 1968 issue of Cash Box, announcing the Yardbirds were splitting. Cash Box was the second-biggest music trade magazine of the time (Billboard was the biggest), although it, unlike Billboard, is damnably hard to find in public libraries:

Lead guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist Chris Dreja [who’d switched to bass from rhythm guitar a little after Page joined in mid-1966] will continue using the Yardbirds name, although billing will include a “featuring Jimmy Page” tag when the Yardbirds return to the States in October for a series of college concerts. Page returned to London Thursday June 13 to start auditioning for a new drummer and vocalist. He also plans to incorporate a mellotron into the new act. This will be played by the vocalist. “No one has ever toured with one before; it’s a very delicate instrument,” Page stated.

The Yardbirds never would come back to the US to tour under the billing "featuring Jimmy Page." But oddly enough, this live LP of a March 1968 concert in New York was issued with the "featuring Jimmy Page" billing in 1971. It was quickly withdrawn from the market, though it's since been frequently bootlegged.

The Yardbirds never would come back to the US to tour under the billing “featuring Jimmy Page.” But oddly enough, this live LP of a March 30, 1968 concert in New York was issued with the “featuring Jimmy Page” billing in 1971. It was quickly withdrawn from the market, though it’s since been frequently bootlegged.

It’s not so surprising the band would have been themselves as the Yardbirds “featuring Jimmy Page” had they continued (they didn’t) or returned to the US in October (they didn’t do that either, obviously). Page wasn’t all that famous when the Yardbirds broke up, as all of their big hits predated his promotion to lead guitarist in late 1966 (though he did play dual lead with Beck for a few months before that, most notably on the classic single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”). But he was the most famous of the four guys in their final lineup, with the possible exception of Relf, and already pretty well known to devoted rock fans for his guitar brilliance, if more so live than on the generally disappointing records they cut after Beck’s departure.

No, what’s strange about this bulletin is Page’s apparent plan to hire a combination singer/mellotronist. The mellotron itself was a new and very expensive instrument in mid-1968; not many rock musicians had one or knew how to play it. I can think of very few who could have both sung and played the instrument onstage, and just carting the thing around on tour those days was difficult and rare, if it was being done at all. Graham Bond, Rod Argent of the Zombies, and Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues (who wasn’t one of their primary singers, but did take some lead vocals) could have done it, most likely, though none seem like a particularly good fit for the post-Yardbirds/pre-Led Zeppelin combo Page had in mind.

Can you imagine singers showing up for auditions, only to be told that they’d need to play a mellotron too? It would certainly seem to limit the pool of available choices. But this couldn’t have been an erroneous report, or a joke by Page taken seriously, as a very similar, fuller account appeared around the same time in the June 21, 1968 issue of Go magazine:

GoMag

As the article states, “Jimmy plans to add a mellotron to the instrumentation. He wants his singer to be able to play a keyboard instrument so that he will be able to handle the mellotron.” As he explains in the piece:

The whole idea is to get a new sort of collage of sound that is not the sound normally associated with a rock’n’roll group. But it will still have a beat backing…The mellotron will be there to give added interest, but the guitar will still be featured.

How would it have sounded? We don’t know, because the Yardbirds didn’t continue under that name with a revised lineup, though they briefly traded under the “New Yardbirds” name. Instead, they evolved into Led Zeppelin. Dreja dropped out, John Paul Jones stepped in, the new drummer was John Bonham, and the new singer was Robert Plant, who didn’t play the mellotron.

It’s too bad, though, that there weren’t rehearsal tapes or something like that exploring Page’s idea. It sounds kind of cool, and in keeping with the Yardbirds’ generally fearlessly experimental bent throughout their career.

Poster for a show  Led Zeppelin played under the name "The New Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page," at  the University of Surrey on October 25, 1968.

Poster for a show Led Zeppelin played under the name “The New Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page,” at the University of Surrey on October 25, 1968.

The Great Lost Christopher Guest-Michael McKean Tape

For the past week or so, I’ve been doing research at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives. Sometimes you run across interesting items that have nothing to do with what you’re researching. Like this 1971 memo from Warner Brothers executive Mo Ostin rejecting a tape from Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and a couple unnamed musicians:

“After a careful listen, we came away awfully impressed by the great country instrumental performances of which the band is capable. However, we just couldn’t shake the feeling that the vocal weaknesses of Guest & McKean are strong enough to stand in the way of our adding their names to an already crowded artists’ roster.”

Guest and McKean, of course, would about a dozen years later front Spinal Tap. Back in the early 1970s, McKean was part of the radio comedy group the Credibility Gap, along with another future Spinal Tapper, Harry Shearer:

Part of the Credibility Gap in the early 1970s, with Harry Shearer (left), David L. Lander (center), and Michael McKean (right)

Part of the Credibility Gap in the early 1970s, with Harry Shearer (left), David L. Lander (center), and Michael McKean (right)

Adding insult to injury, attached is a brief evaluation sheet from producer Ted Templeman. The instrumental performance is rated “great country stuff.” The vocal performance is rated “No good.” The material is rated “also no good.” The eight lines of space given for comment contain just one word: “Pass.” (Templeman’s most noted for producing early records by Van Morrison, the Doobie Brothers, Montrose, and Van Halen, as well as being in the late-‘60s group Harpers Bizarre.)

Funnily enough, McKean would record for Warner Brothers as part of the Credibility Gap just a few years later. Maybe the tape he made with Guest that the label rejected was a country-rock satire, and Templeman and Ostin thought it was a “real” group?

A rare 1973 Warner Brothers single by the Credibility Gap.

A rare 1973 Warner Brothers single by the Credibility Gap.

At one time, incidentally, McKean was part of a very well known “real group.” He was briefly in the Left Banke, but not during their early prime.

Also in that file were a couple great licensing rejections of UK bands from Russ Titelman, the producer most known for working with Randy Newman. Van Der Graaf Generator is dismissed as “prima donna rock.” Edgar Broughton: “varying degrees of sheer boredom.”

Van der Graaf Generator: "prima donna rock."

Van der Graaf Generator: “prima donna rock.”

Edgar Broughton Band: "vary ing degrees of sheer boredom."

Edgar Broughton Band: “vary ing degrees of sheer boredom.”

Now both of those bands had and have their champions, some of whom would get incensed by the pithy flippancy of those thumbs-downs. But I find the waste-no-words phrases refreshing in their blunt honesty, given that some other executive memos of the time parse their rejections in terms like “this is really exceptional, but not quite exceptional enough for our high standards,” “fine stuff, but we’re not the right label for it,” “excellent, but no room on our roster for this artist at this time,” etc.

The 1971 Guest-McKean tape itself, unfortunately, was not in the file. So I can’t tell you whether this unnamed Guest-McKean outfit was the lost Flying Burrito Brothers, or, perhaps better yet, the equivalent of a country-rock Spinal Tap.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide: The Worst of the Worst, In My (And Your?) Collection

It might seem relatively puny today when there are so many other sources for album reviews in print and on the Internet, but when it came out in late 1979, The Rolling Stone Record Guide was a godsend to those of us just building our music collections. Crucially, it didn’t just list and describe almost 10,000 records, but also gave them critical analysis (if often briefly in the case of most of the more minor artists) and ratings. Like many another publication rating albums, movies, books, and in these days of Yelp everything from restaurants to chiropractors, the scale went from one star (“poor”) to five stars (“indispensable”). Well, that wasn’t quite the whole range. There was also a no-star rating, represented not by a star but by a solitary square, reserved for the worst of the worst.

The Incredible String Band’s U—dubious recipient of the lowest rating in the original Rolling Stone Record Guide.

The Incredible String Band’s U—dubious recipient of the lowest rating in the original Rolling Stone Record Guide.

These bottoms of the barrel were represented by a symbol that looked like this: ◼. Just so you were in no doubt as to how they felt about those no-stars, squares, bullets, or whatever you wanted to call them, these were described as referring to albums that were “Worthless: records that need never (or should never) have been created. Reserved for the most bathetic bathwater.” Oof!

Thirty-five years later, naturally, many fans would find much to disagree with. All three albums listed by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers AC/DC get the bullet, for instance (not that this bothers me), as do some records by cult favorites like the Dictators, Wild Man Fischer, and Audience. These were also the days when rock critics weren’t as sensitive about hurting artists’ feelings, and some of the dismissals are pretty funny and withering no matter what you think about the LP. Hello People, for instance, are panned as “the ultimate evidence that mime acts should not be allowed to make records.” Sometimes they don’t even bother making fun of the turkey: Dap Sugar Willie’s entry, for instance, reads in total, “Least funny black comic alive. (Now deleted).” Does anyone remember the poor devil?

Dap Sugar Willie, dissed by the Rolling Stone Record Guide as the "least funny black comic alive," though they rather undermined their authority by misspelling his name as Dap Sugar Willy in their entry.

Dap Sugar Willie, dissed by the Rolling Stone Record Guide as the “least funny black comic alive,” though they rather undermined their authority by misspelling his name as Dap Sugar Willy in their entry.

Nuggets from those no-star reviews would make for entire post of their own. In this one, however, I’m going to focus on those no-star albums that I own. Yes, I do own some of them, even though some would think it’s part of my rock critic job to scare people away from such items. Now that so many years have passed, out of morbid curiosity I flicked through the volume last weekend to find out just how many resided in my collection, especially as I got a used copy in decent shape for a dollar last year. (A sound investment, as the binding on copy I got in late 1979 as a 17-year-old has long since crumbled, though I still have that too.)

The first, and still best, edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, from 1979.

The first, and still best, edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, from 1979.

I was surprised to count just four albums the guide judged “worthless” that reside in my collection. That’s not so much a testament to my good taste, or (even worse) a similarity between my tastes and those of the guide’s writers, as a reflection of the guide’s incompleteness. Even sticking to pre-1980 albums, there were many, many — thousands, at the least — LPs the guide didn’t cover, either because they were out of print or because the editors/writers simply weren’t aware of them, so many vintage rock records having yet to be discovered or analyzed. I could not guarantee, for instance, that the guide wouldn’t have given the lowest rating to some of my cult favorites, like records by Satya Sai Maitreya Kali or Savage Rose, had they been included.

Enough excuses. What were the four records I own that they stomped on? Naturally, I think all of them have their merits, and certainly none deserve the no-star slag. Let’s start with the 1970 double album by the Incredible String Band, U. I put the front picture near the top of this post, so here’s a promo poster  for variety:

Poster for the Incredible String Band's live performance of U, which they attempted only a few times before lack of money and audience enthusiasm put an end to the enterprise.

Poster for some  Incredible String Band live performances of U, which they attempted only a few times before lack of money and audience enthusiasm put an end to the enterprise.

Fans of albums that get savaged often accuse the reviewers of not even listening to the records. That’s probably usually not true, but I do wonder, in this case, if the critic who penned the Incredible String Band entry (Ariel Swartley) spent much time with U. Swartley liked some of the ISB’s records, particularly their second (1967’s 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion) and third (1968’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter), which have always been their most popular among critics. U is not specifically commented upon, though the later LPs are generally dismissed as not being on par with their earlier and better efforts.

To me, however, U is undisputedly their most enjoyable album, and certainly their most diverse, though the two-LP format had much to do with that. Like some double albums, there’s some pretentious overambition at work, especially as it was in essence the soundtrack to a failed multimedia production incorporating mime, theater, and miscellaneous performance art. Here’s what I wrote in the discography to my book Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s:

Perhaps a double LP (now a double CD) adding up to almost two hours is too much to take even for Incredible String Band fans. Yet even though this only sprung into being as the soundtrack of sorts to the ISB’s ambitious multi-media stage production U, it was actually for the most part among the band’s most listenable material, rewarding patient admirers. While “The Juggler’s Song” had the sort of medieval minstrelsy that audiences had come to expect, this album’s more unexpected instrumental excursions with sitar and electric guitar counted among the ISB’s most far-reaching and experimental endeavors.

The ebook Jingle Jangle Morning combines the two-part 1960s folk-rock history Turn! Turn! Turn! and EIght Miles High into one volume. Besides revising, updating, and expanding the original text, it also adds a new 75,000-word bonus mini-book.

The ebook Jingle Jangle Morning combines the two-part 1960s folk-rock history Turn! Turn! Turn! and EIght Miles High into one volume. Besides revising, updating, and expanding the original text, it also adds a new 75,000-word bonus mini-book.

I’m not even a huge Incredible String Band, but find the no-star rating puzzling. As I do, in fact, the consensus among a number of critics that the ISB’s best albums were 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion and The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, after which they took a long downhill ride. Even ISB producer Joe Boyd holds this view, putting much of the blame on their (as he sees it) artistic slide after the group’s conversion to Scientology. But however one views their career arc, my own view is that U isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s rather good.

Another album of mine to get the dreaded ◼ was Dan Hicks’s 1969 debut Original Recordings. This has the first released versions of some of his most famous, wittiest tunes, like “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?,” “I Scare Myself,” “Canned Music,” and “Milk Shakin’ Mama.” Context could be key to the rough rating—again, as it happens, assigned by Ariel Swartley, who praises Hot Licks backup singers Maryann Price and Naomi Eisenberg elsewhere in the Dan Hicks entry. Price and Eisenberg, as Swartley notes, weren’t on Original Recordings, some of whose songs were cut in different versions for other releases (there’s even a recording of “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” by Hicks’s pre-Hot Licks band the Charlatans, though it wouldn’t come out until 1996).

Dan Hicks's debut album.

Dan Hicks’s debut album.

But on its own terms, Original Recordings is a fine, funny, enjoyable (if somewhat low-key) twisted country swing record. There’s something of an underproduced demo feel that’s a little surprising considering it came out on a major label (Columbia subsidiary Epic). But it’s certainly not worthy of a ◼, even by hardcore fans of the Price-Eisenberg-era Hot Licks. One of the backup singers on Original Recordings, incidentally, was Sherry Snow, who’d been half of one of the most overlooked mid-‘60s Bay Area folk-rock acts, Blackburn & Snow.

The third of my four albums to get the ◼ buzzer is perhaps a more understandable target. Issued in 1975, the Rolling Stones’ Metamorphosis was a motley collection of 1960s outtakes not assembled or blessed by the band. A few such exploitative compilations of marginalia also get the ◼ rating, notably the 1973 Bob Dylan anthology Dylan. Dave Marsh (the book’s principal editor) goes as far as to warn readers away from the album, writing “a wise person would pass this up, if only out of respect for the group” (just after conceding that its cover of Chuck Berry’s “Don’t Lie to Me” is decently done).

Metamorphosis had one of the ugliest covers ever foisted upon a major rock group.

Metamorphosis had one of the ugliest covers ever foisted upon a major rock group.

Yet for hardcore fans—and when we’re talking about the Rolling Stones, those surely number in the hundreds of thousands—Metamorphosis is essential Stones history, and at points quite enjoyable. (Even if it does sport one of the ugliest covers ever, almost as if ABKCO was trying to frighten customers away.) Besides “Don’t Lie to Me,” “If You Let Me” is a quite nice folky outtake (variously dated by different sources to the Between the Buttons and Aftermath sessions), though it sounds a bit like a demo that didn’t get finished, a la some other Stones tracks from this period that didn’t make it onto their core UK LPs (like “Sittin’ on a Fence”). “Downtown Suzie” is a quite passable bluesy, boozy late-‘60s outtake that holds additional interest as one of the few Bill Wyman compositions recorded by the band.

On the downside, the mid-‘60s demos comprising the heart of Metamorphosis don’t even feature the whole band, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards the only vocal and instrumental contributors. In addition, most of these are the wimpy pop tunes they gave to other artists as they were struggling to become songwriters, given most un-Stonesy overblown orchestral arrangements. For those very reasons, however, they’re also fascinating looks at their early compositional efforts, and not without their catchy moments, if hardly on par with the best early British Invasion originals (let alone their own originals once they hit their stride with “Satisfaction”).

You do have to suffer through vastly inferior versions of “Heart of Stone,” “Out of Time,” and “Memo from Turner” (the last of these a solo single for Mick Jagger when featured in the movie in which he starred, Performance), not to mention shabby annotation devoid of detail. As a final insult, the US version cut off two songs (albeit two of the flimsiest) that appeared on the UK version, cementing the feeling it was something of a ripoff. If it was a bootleg rather than an official release, however, it would be treasured for the insights it offers into little-known corners of the early Stones’ career. It certainly doesn’t deserve to be branded with a ◼, even when judged against the band’s other work. I’d sure as hell rather hear this than Steel Wheels.

There was even a bootleg built around purportedly alternate versions of songs from Metamorphosis.

There was even a bootleg built around purportedly alternate versions of songs from Metamorphosis.

It was something of a surprise that the fourth and final item from my collection to get tarred with a ◼ was included in the original edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide at all. Pearls Before Swine were an underground cult band even at their peak, and like many such acts are far more revered now—by some critics and collectors, at least—then they were while they were around. Their precious brand of acid folk (a term not even in circulation when Pearls Before Swine started in the late 1960s) was not going to please all analysts, however. And like the Incredible String Band, they were in some ways polarizing, inspiring both fervid devotion and intense annoyance.

Bart Testa, one of the guide’s lesser-known contributors, fell in the latter camp, calling their debut One Nation Underground “a classic example of wimp aggression. Between Tom Rapp’s lisp, his rubber-band box guitars, windy eight-minute poetry lessons and kiss-off songs in Morse code, Pearls Before Swine’s debut was, and remains, a disaster.” If he really felt that strongly, you’re thinking, it’s no wonder he gave the LP a ◼.

Except he didn’t. He actually gave One Nation Underground two stars. Testa’s real wrath was reserved for Pearls Before Swine’s second album, Balaklava, on which in his estimation “Rapp drops even the pretense of constituting a rock band and starts his long groan of pretentious Muzak.”

Pearls Before Swine's second album, Balaklava.

Pearls Before Swine’s second album, Balaklava.

Quite a few intense ‘60s rock collectors would be ready to shoot Testa at this point, taking almost as much umbrage as if he’d been insulting The Velvet Underground & Nico or some such classic. I’m not one of them. I’m not a big Pearls Before Swine fan.

But…it does seem out of line to call Balaklava “pretentious Muzak.” If that’s Muzak, well, bring it on the elevators I ride; it’s a hell of a lot weirder and, for weirdoes like me, a hell of a lot more listenable than the actual Muzak you hear. Testa also rather undermines his point by concluding, “This one is distinctive, anyway, in its insane compulsion to garnish liberally with sound effects”—not exactly the kind of thing you hear in real Muzak, and also precisely the kind of thing to pique adventurous listeners’ curiosity, wondering if it can be as simultaneously weird and bad as Testa proclaims.

My take is that Balaklava‘s not great, but it’s certainly rather weird, if in a fey folk-rock way, and more lyrically than musically. I might have a hard time giving it even three stars if I had to use the guide’s scale, but I certainly wouldn’t give it a ◼. And that’s not just to justify its place on my shelf, alongside a box set of Pearls Before Swine’s subsequent Reprise albums, no less. I bet Testa would have given that a double ◼◼ if he’d been allowed.

Testa won’t be alone in miffing the Pearls Before Swine cult with 35-year-old judgments. In Christgau’s Record Guide, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau relegated PBS and Tom Rapp to the “Distinctions Not Cost-Effective (Or: Who Cares?)” appendix. “I never who they/he thought they/he thought they/he were/was throwing their/his accretions/at before” was his summary, in its entirety.

Has there ever been an album that’s gotten a similarly low rating in other publication that I have in my collection? There must be some. But in the first and still best edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, there are just four. And somehow, if 35 years have passed—and about a dozen years have passed since I got the last of these (Baklava, I think)—I don’t think any of the other ◼s will make the cut. But I’m not getting rid of these four, either. Or that Pearls Before Swine box, even.

Pearls Before Swine's Jewels Were the Stars box set, which has all four albums they recorded for Reprise after issuing their first two LPs on the ESP label.

Pearls Before Swine’s Jewels Were the Stars box set, which has all four albums they recorded for Reprise after issuing their first two LPs on the ESP label.

British Invasion LP Covers: The UK Vs. the US

In the past few years, I’ve taught a bunch of rock history courses at the College of Marin that use a lot of audiovisual material. Often I show PowerPoint slides of record sleeves, and often, as it happens, these are of 1960s British bands. This got me thinking, in the usual way of subjects of interest mostly to hardcore music geeks, of how often LP covers were different in the US and UK, at least until the late 1960s, when the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper helped establish a uniform worldwide format for bands of influence.

Until then, and sometimes even afterward, there was a lot of variation, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones down to British Invasion greats who never successfully invaded the US market. Somebody had to be making decisions resulting in such substantial differences as these:

The UK version of the Who's first album.

The UK version of the Who’s first album.

The US version of the Who's first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original "Circles" for their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," though otherwise the tracks were the same.

The US version of the Who’s first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original “Circles” for their cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” though otherwise the tracks were the same.

That’s one of the most high-profile examples, though relatively few US listeners were even aware of the Who when their debut album came out, and fewer still aware that a UK version had a much different cover (and a very slightly different track listing).

The usual historical viewpoint, when these things are discussed at all (they are in my classes if nowhere else!), is that US record labels did a great disservice to UK acts in repackaging their albums for the American market. Not only did they diminish the quality of the presentation, goes this argument, but they altered the artist’s original intentions, though in the case of cover art (and even sometimes track selection), those decisions were sometimes made by people other than the artists.

In the case of the track selection, that’s often true. It’s well known that British rock groups’ LPs were often sliced and diced for the US audience so that more albums could be issued. Instead of the thirteen or fourteen songs usually found on UK albums, there would often be eleven or twelve (or even just ten). Tracks from UK LPs, 45s, and EPs would be slung together, sometimes haphazardly, without the groups’ input. There are many examples, the Beatles’ Yesterday…and Today being perhaps the most famous because it was first issued with a rare “butcher” cover. In some cases, American labels just cut out a few songs from the UK versions; you’d have to be out of your mind, for instance, to prefer the US Revolver (missing three songs, all of which featured John Lennon as lead singer and primary composer), or the US version of the Yardbirds’ 1966 album (which removed a couple songs, albeit a couple of the less impressive ones, from the UK edition). That thread could be a whole post in itself, and I won’t go it that at article-length here.

As for the album sleeves, though, I wonder if it was really such a dilution or desecration to have different covers in the US. This won’t be a universally popular opinion, but I really can’t think of a single instance where the US artwork was just incredibly, undeniably inferior to the UK counterpart. And sometimes, I think it was actually better.

Let’s start with a few A-B comparisons where I’d contend the US cover is markedly superior:

The UK cover of Fairport Convention's second album, titled What We Did On Our Holidays

The UK cover of Fairport Convention’s second album, titled What We Did On Our Holidays

The American cover of the same album, with an entirely different cover and simpler title.

The American cover of the same album, with an entirely different cover and simpler title.

It’s a little painful to put this forth, since the UK cover is definitely what Fairport Convention wanted. But I’d much rather look at a picture of the band – their best lineup, and on their best album – than a fairly crude blackboard sketch. That photo on the US version does seem to capture the personality of the band – friendly (never mind that they changed personnel more than almost any other major group of the time) and woodsy, though they were very much a London group. The title was different in the UK (What We Did on Our Holidays), too, with A&M opting for the bland Fairport Convention, though the debut LP that preceded this (unissued in the US at that time) also used that title, confusing discographers for many years to come. Maybe the original title wasn’t used Stateside since “holidays” mean something much different here, referring to the dozen or so official annual government holidays; in the UK, “holidays” are what Americans call “vacations.”

In 1966, the Yardbirds put out essentially the same album in the US and UK, though as noted the US version cut out a couple songs. Again, it was given both different covers and different titles:

Officially titled The Yardbirds, these days most people refer to this album as "Roger the Engineer," after the writing on the cover sketch.

Officially titled The Yardbirds, these days most people refer to this album as “Roger the Engineer,” after the writing on the cover sketch.

The US counterpart was titled after their then-current hit, "Over Under Sideways Down."

The US counterpart was titled after their then-current hit, “Over Under Sideways Down.”

And again, the UK version (officially titled The Yardbirds, but unofficially referred to as Roger the Engineer) is definitely what the band wanted, since rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja actually drew the cover. The US sleeve is kind of anodyne, but at least it pictures the group, with Jeff Beck as lead guitarist. The UK version’s kind of ugly, to be brutal. Here’s an uncommon example of the Canadian cover coming off best:

YardbirdsCanada

But note, as many would be quick to point out, this has a photo of the lineup during the brief mid-1966 period when Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were both in the band. Which is cool, but Jimmy Page doesn’t play on the LP, only joining shortly after it was recorded.

Donovan’s Sunshine Superman is a downright rare, maybe even unique, case where the US version is preferable from every angle, including but not limited to the cover:

In a reversal of the usual way these things worked, Donovan's best album, Sunshine Superman, came out in the US nine months before it appeared in the UK.

In a reversal of the usual way these things worked, Donovan’s best album, Sunshine Superman, came out in the US nine months before it appeared in the UK.

The UK version didn't even have a picture of Donovan.

The UK version didn’t even have a picture of Donovan.

As a result of a complicated contractual dispute, Sunshine Superman came out first in the US, in August 1966. When it came out in the UK nine months later, it was precisely the kind of bastardization American labels are often panned for, cobbling together seven of the twelve tracks from the American edition with five songs from his next LP, Mellow Yellow. You’d have to be out of your mind to prefer the UK version, and the inferior cover – a rather unmemorable fairytale-ish illustration, where the US original has a picture of Donovan surrounded by trippy if florid graphics – isn’t even the most important reason.

Let’s backtrack for a minute to the graphic that led off this post, comparing the two covers for the Who’s first album:

The UK version of the Who's first album.

The UK version of the Who’s first album.

The US version of the Who's first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original "Circles" for their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," though otherwise the tracks were the same.

The US version of the Who’s first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original “Circles” for their cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” though otherwise the tracks were the same.

I think I’ve heard someone or some people knock the US image as cheap, exploiting the London connection during the height of the British Invasion by putting Big Ben in the background. The UK original does have a greater sense of their mod fashion. But I have to say I like the US variation better, with their moody expressions and, yes, that hovering Big Ben reminding us of their Englishness.

Before Rubber Soul, most of the Beatles’ US albums didn’t come close to replicating the contents of their UK counterparts. In the UK, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! were real, full LPs; in the US, they were tweaked as “soundtracks,” surrounding songs used in the actual movies with fairly crappy instrumental orchestral filler on which the Beatles didn’t play. The sleeves changed too, though not as obnoxiously as the music:

The UK version of A Hard Day's Night, with 14 Lennon-McCartney songs.

The UK version of A Hard Day’s Night, with 14 Lennon-McCartney songs.

The US version had just eight of those songs, the LP filled out by George Martin-overseen easy listening versions of some of the songs from the film.

The US version had just eight of those songs, the LP filled out by George Martin-overseen easy listening versions of some of the songs from the film.

Both of these covers have their merits. The UK original gives you more frames and, in so doing, actually conveys a more cinematic quality, in keeping with an album based around a film. The US variation does give you larger images; the ones on the UK sleeve are pretty small. Moving to their second film:

The Beatles aren't exactly spelling out Help! on the cover, but, you know, close enough.

The Beatles aren’t exactly spelling out Help! on the cover, but, you know, close enough.

The US version had just seven Beatles tracks, surrounded by tedious instrumental soundtrack music.

The US version had just seven Beatles tracks, surrounded by tedious instrumental soundtrack music.

The UK original is less garish. But this time it’s the US spinoff that more clearly, even loudly, states the connection to the film. A gatefold sleeve, not common for rock LPs in those days, was a notable bonus. No points for the way the album took off six songs from the UK version, however, and sequenced it not so that the seven Beatles songs were on one side and the orchestral muzak on the other (as Yellow Submarine would), but alternated Beatles songs with the instrumentals. To this day, when you look at used copies, the Beatles tracks are often gray from overplay; the instrumentals, in contrast, are black, as a consequence of fans constantly taking the needle off to skip over them.

Moving to the Beatles’ closest rivals, the Rolling Stones’ first album, unusually for the time, was almost the same as their UK debut in both content and cover design. Note the not-so-subtle difference in one respect, however:

The Rolling Stones' first UK album did not contain their name or the LP title.

The Rolling Stones’ first UK album did not contain their name or the LP title.

But the US version sure did, and added a bit more text to boot.

But the US version sure did, and added a bit more text to boot.

The UK original – in perhaps an unprecedented move – did not put the band’s name (or album title, which was also The Rolling Stones) anywhere on the front cover, relying solely on the photo to make an impact (and a phenomenally successful one for a debut LP by a band with only one Top Ten British hit, as the album topped the UK charts). In the US – where the Stones were considerably slower to take off than in their native land, and were indeed virtually unknown in mid-1964 – London Records, the arm of the group’s UK Decca label, wasn’t going to take any such chances. The name of the band would go on the cover. And, the British Invasion being only a few months old, London Records was going to be damned sure to remind you these guys were English, adding the subtitle “England’s Newest Hit Makers.”

The difference in cover design got more substantial on their 1966 album Aftermath. This was an important record in the Rolling Stones’ career, as it was the first of their LPs to consist entirely of original material. It was kind of compromised in its US edition, which cut out a few songs, though it did add “Paint It Black” (just a single in the UK). And there were entirely different front sleeves:

The UK version of Aftermath, with little-noted hyphenation of the title.

The UK version of Aftermath, with little-noted hyphenation of the title.

The US version of Aftermath, shorter and with a different shot and design.

The US version of Aftermath, shorter and with a different shot and design.

It’s not an obvious call here, but I prefer the US image, whose slight blurriness adds a bit of mystery. I’m not big on the red tint on the UK release.

The same year, the Stones came out with their first greatest hits collection. Though the title was the same in both countries, the songs were different (with substantial overlap), and the covers entirely different:

The US version, which actually came out first.

The US version, which actually came out first.

The UK version.

The UK version.

I think this is a clear victory for the US version, with that memorable setting of the Stones by the water (actually taken in Hollywood’s Franklin Canyon Park, not England as many naturally assumed at the time). The UK cover isn’t bad, though, and was distinct enough to be used on the picture sleeve of the US “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow” 45, Brian Jones’s bandaged hand and all.

One of the more memorable, if gaudy, American British Invasion covers was Them’s debut LP. Compare it with its rough UK counterpart (which had a different track listing, though with substantial overlap):

Like the Rolling Stones' first UK album (also on Decca), Them's first album, The Angry Young Them, didn't put either the band name or the title on the front cover.

Like the Rolling Stones’ first UK album (also on Decca), Them’s first album, The Angry Young Them, didn’t put either the band name or the title on the front cover.

Make sure to stitch this onto your carrier bag the next time you go record-shopping on Halloween.

Make sure to stitch this onto your carrier bag the next time you go record-shopping on Halloween.

The US cover’s been criticized for its Halloween-ish lettering and layout, but I think it actually complements the oft-spooky tenor of Them’s music. And the photo of the band’s better. The guys don’t look all that angry on The Angry Young Them, either.

Not so much angry as Moody were the different covers designed for the Moody Blues’ UK and US debuts:

The Moody Blues' first UK album, The Magnificent Moodies.

The Moody Blues’ first UK album, The Magnificent Moodies.

The Moody Blues' first album made sure to feature their first (and, for quite a while, only) big US hit as part of the title.

The Moody Blues’ first album made sure to feature their first (and, for quite a while, only) big US hit as part of the title.

The images are similar enough that they may well have been from the same photo session. No clear winner here in my view, and why not have two covers rather than one, though the US design is more blatantly and gauchely commercial with its large blue borders and big-letter blare of the hit song it features, “Go Now.” As for the subtitle “featuring From the Bottom of My Heart,” that was their follow-up to “Go Now,” and not nearly as successful, stalling at #93 in the US charts, though it was a quite good original.

Digging so deep into the British Invasion that you come across bands who never had a hit here, there’s the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow. The best ‘60s UK group never to make it into the States, the Pretty Things started out as a rawer version of the Rolling Stones; lead guitarist Dick Taylor had been in the Stones until late 1962. By the late ‘60s, they’d evolved into psychedelic rock, and S.F. Sorrow was one of rock’s first concept albums:

The UK edition of S.F. Sorrow, designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May.

The UK edition of S.F. Sorrow, designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May.

The UK edition came out on Rare Earth, as part of its parent label Motown's attempt to crack the white rock market.

The US edition came out on Rare Earth, as part of its parent label Motown’s attempt to crack the white rock market.

It’s a clear victory, in a change of pace, for the UK version. Which was certainly more in line with the band’s vision, as the cover was designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May. The US cover (on Motown’s Rare Earth subsidiary) had its curiosity value, though, for its tombstone shape if nothing else. The cover change wasn’t the biggest way Rare Earth fumbled the ball; though the album had come out at the end of 1968 in the UK, it wasn’t released until August 1969 in the US, which meant that some American listeners and critics accused it of being a rip-off of the Who’s Tommy (which it predated by months in the UK).

Jimi Hendrix was American, of course, but he rose to stardom in Britain as leader of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their maiden outing Are You Experienced, for all its classic status, was substantially different in both track listing and cover design in its UK and US editions:

The UK version of Are You Experienced

The UK version of Are You Experienced.

The more psychedelic US version.

The more psychedelic US version.

The US cover’s been accused of being more gimmicky. Perhaps, but the distorted photo’s simply more memorable, and more in tune with the vinyl’s psychedelic contents, than the sober, rather so-so UK sleeve. The substitution of British hit singles “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” for some tracks also struck some as crass, but also improved the LP. The CD gets around the problem by including all of the songs from both versions.

Going a little beyond the British Invasion into the beginning of the 1970s, no overview like this would be complete without presenting one of the most famous sleeve variants of all:

The US version of The Man Who Sold the World didn't even have a photo or image of Bowie on the cover.

The US version of The Man Who Sold the World didn’t even have a photo or image of Bowie on the cover.

But you certainly couldn't miss him on the UK version, which caused more controversy than sales upon its initial release.

But you certainly couldn’t miss him on the UK version, which caused more controversy than sales upon its initial release.

The UK cover of Bowie reclining in a dress is understandably the more famous of the pair, tying in as it did with his then-controversial androgynous image. The US cover is downright weird, and looks at first like it might be something cooked up without his consent, by someone who had no familiarity with Bowie’s music. Not so; it was designed by a friend of Bowie’s, Michael J. Weller. Equally strangely, it might be considered the original, as though Bowie was very much a British artist, the LP came out first in the US (in November 1970), not emerging in his native UK until about six months later.

These are just some of the most striking sleeve variations that come to mind. There were numerous others, some not interesting enough to merit much comment, some by artists not interesting enough to merit much comment. No doubt some of the decisions guiding these differences were arbitrary, made by labels, publicists, managers, or under assistant west coast promotion men with little knowledge of either the artist or rock music. But looking back from our time, when packaging is often standard the world over – and when there often isn’t any packaging (on download sites), or when the packaging is much smaller and less interesting to gaze at – these idiosyncratic blips and skips in international marketing are to be treasured.

The Dave Clark Five PBS Special…And Beyond

Dave Clark documentaries are not the usual things that PBS runs. But hey, better that than a broadcast featuring Pink Floyd tribute band Brit Floyd, right? (Which PBS has run recently — no joke.) Much better, in fact. But after it ran last week, the feeling almost people I got reactions from — and there were many, my Facebook post generating nearly 80 comments — was that it was rather unsatisfying, even flawed. The Dave Clark Five aren’t the usual subjects of analytical blog posts, but someone has to do it, and I thought I’d give it a shot.

For a while at least, you can watch the documentary that aired on PBS, The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, by clicking here.

The Dave Clark Five and Beyond documentary aired on PBS in early April 2014.

It’s curious that a Dave Clark doc got on PBS in the first place. There’s speculation — much about Dave Clark is speculation, as there’s still some mystery about some aspects of his career — that perhaps he used his economic muscle to open doors that worthy British Invasion bands like the Zombies, say, could not. The Beatles’ Anthology documentary ran nearly ten hours in its home video version; The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, lasting just under two hours, nonetheless felt considerably padded to even reach that length. It had its pluses, but even those need to be offered with qualifications:

There was plenty of interview material with Dave Clark. Some of this, however, does not exactly look recent, or even that well-shot. Often his voice was heard as off-camera narration. I don’t know why exactly he’d be reluctant to be on camera, but it seemed curious.

There was also some interview material with DC5 singer Mike Smith, credited as (with Clark) co-songwriter of many of the band’s biggest hits. Presumably this was shot some years ago, as he died in 2008. There wasn’t enough of Smith’s observations, however, and it was curious that his songwriting contributions to the DC5 were not discussed. Or maybe not so curious — more on that later.

There were plenty of archive clips, even if these tended to be snippets that didn’t even last through the bulk of a song, let alone entire numbers. Even as the owner of three unofficial DVRs of vintage DC5 footage, some of this was new to me, and perhaps new to everyone, since some home movies were unearthed. I don’t remember seeing the blurry bit of the group being interviewed on an early US visit, for instance. But barely any of this showed the band actually playing live — more on this, too, in a bit. And this didn’t, as far as I could tell, have excerpts from a mid-‘60s short (also covering the Supremes) in which Clark was interviewed – which, unbelievably, I saw when it was shown in my fifth-grade music class in the early 1970s, but haven’t been able to see since.

Believe it or not, for about six months or so in 1964, the Dave Clark Five were the most popular British Invasion band besides the Beatles.

Believe it or not, for about six months or so in 1964, the Dave Clark Five were the most popular British Invasion band besides the Beatles.

Sentimental chap that I am, I found the memories of their war-deprived childhoods (which don’t, oddly, enter the picture until some way into the film) moving. Also it was moving to see DC5 bassist Rick Huxley tear up at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. These honors do mean something to some musicians, especially ones whose names have been forgotten by most fans.

I liked some of the comments by other interviewees, though they often fell well short of substantial observations. Nice to see Stevie Wonder, for instance, acknowledge a Dave Clark influence, though he didn’t get specific as to what it was. Also nice to see Paul McCartney, who was as expected diplomatically kind without acknowledging any influence or interchange between the DC5 and the Beatles. It’s certainly a surprise to see Whoopi Goldberg in a documentary like this, but her affection for the band was sincere, and an illustration of how, for all British bands were accused of stealing the thunder of black Americans who influenced them, some black teenagers were fans of those same UK groups. I don’t like Gene Simmons or Kiss, but he actually came up with astute praise for the ascending melody of the Dave Clark Five smash “Because” — something I’ve pointed out in one of the rock history classes I’ve taught, albeit as an example of how the Beatles influenced their contemporaries.

So those are the pluses. Here are the minuses, some of which go hand-in-hand with the pluses:

Not only were the interviews with Clark and Smith not all they could have been — no other DC5 members were interviewed. True, saxophonist Denis Payton died in 2006, but considering Huxley died just a year ago and there is late-life interview footage of Smith, presumably Huxley could have been fit in during production. Lead guitarist Len Davidson is not only still alive, but did at least one good interview about the group (in the spring 2009 issue of the top ’60s rock mag Ugly Things), and would no doubt have made an articulate participant. On top of all this, not only were there no interview clips with Adrian Kerridge — an engineer/producer who was a crucial architect of the DC5 sound (and the “Adrian” in the “Adrian Clark” credited as producer on their hits, “Clark” being Dave Clark) — he wasn’t even mentioned, once.

Almost none of the clips, and there were many, were performed live. Virtually all of them were lip-synced (including some from promo films, as well as their many TV appearances). Which leads to another “more about this later” item — was this a deliberate decision, perhaps because of their instrumental shortcomings, especially those of their leader…

There were way too many soundbites from celebrities with little or no direct connection to the DC5. What is Sharon Osbourne, husband of Ozzy, doing in a film like this? What’s Ozzy doing here, for that matter? Or Elton John, or Gene Simmons (praise of “Because” notwithstanding)? Their comments seem to amount to, yeah, we liked the band and were influenced by them, sentiments repeated and rephrased too often (perhaps to help flesh out that nearly two-hour running time) without much in the way of tangible examples. As balance, there are comments from ordinary Dave Clark fans who saw them back in the day – even if they don’t offer much in the way of revelation, though unsurprisingly they do offer much general praise.

Speaking of celebrities, the most obnoxious is Tom Hanks, whose histrionic R&R Hall of Fame induction speech is liberally excerpted. Yes, I know this wasn’t shot specifically for this documentary. But I like the Dave Clark Five. Honestly. I don’t need somebody yelling at me to convince me that they were good, or at least were good when they were at their best, which wasn’t always the case on their records. Whoopi Goldberg’s low-key humility was a welcome contrast, as was Clark’s own understated acceptance speech.

Also, a few minutes are devoted to Dave Clark’s acquisition of vintage Ready Steady Go episodes, which he did not obtain as an investment, of course, but for the love of it, and to preserve a vital piece of music history and popular culture. Great going, Dave. So why haven’t you made any of them available on DVD? And why haven’t you made the bulk of the DC5 catalog available on CD, while we’re at it? (Though it has recently gone up on iTunes, along with some actual previously unreleased DC5 tracks.)

Some of the Ready Steady Go episodes Dave Clark owns were issued on VHS, but none have been issued on DVD.

Some of the Ready Steady Go episodes Dave Clark owns were issued on VHS, but none have been issued on DVD.

So there’s your mixed assessment. Now for some deeper delving into behind-the-scenes issues that some of the documentary’s flaws raise:

That absence of live clips, for instance. They’re not just absent from this documentary. There are virtually no non-mimed DC5 clips in circulation, even unofficially. That’s not just curious, that’s strange. Yes, every British Invasion band mimed a lot on TV, in movies, and in promo films. Yet there are also wholly live clips of virtually every British Invasion band of note. And not just by the obvious mega-icons like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Animals, Yardbirds, and Kinks. Even the much-derided Herman’s Hermits did a good number of live appearances for broadcast — and acquitted themselves quite respectably, I have to admit. Why so little DC5? What did they have to hide?

One clue might lie in a live clip from an early Ed Sullivan appearance (perhaps the first one) on which they bang out “Glad All Over.” Most of the band sound okay, though not great. The drummer, Dave Clark, sounds like he’s playing a trash can. Yes, the sound on TV in those days could be problematic. Did he get wind of how subpar they/he came off, however, and determine to only play to backing tracks from that point onward?

Another "Dave Clark 5 vs. the Beatles" fanzine. Guess who won?

Another “Dave Clark 5 vs. the Beatles” fanzine. Guess who won?

There’s been some speculation that Clark did not play on the DC5 records. In his interview in the spring 2009 Ugly Things, Adrian Kerridge says that top British session drummer Bobby Graham and Clark played on some sides to create an especially thick drum sound, though he doesn’t go as far as to intimate that Clark didn’t play, period. Here’s a telling remark from an interview with Mike Smith in the February 1991 issue of the UK monthly Record Collector:

Q: There was a story that a session drummer was used on the Five’s records.

Smith: I don’t wish to speak about that.

As to why their songwriting wasn’t discussed all that much, it’s also been speculated that Clark’s role in this was not as great as one might assume, given that his name’s on the credits of many DC5 hits. Another telling exchange from the February 1991 Record Collector:

Q: Dave Clark always got a credit on your songs. Would you like to elaborate?

Smith: I don’t wish to speak about that either.

 More damningly, Ron Ryan — who was in several ’60s British groups who made records without landing hits, including the Riot Squad (with a pre-Jimi Hendrix Experience Mitch Mitchell on drums) and the Blue Aces — said in an interview in the winter 2009 Ugly Things that he wrote or co-wrote some DC5 songs without receiving credit, including the hits “Bits and Pieces,” “Because,” and “Any Way You Want It.” “When I sang a new song to Dave and Mike, Dave used to leave Mike and I to map out an arrangement and find a key suitable for Mike to sing in,” he told John Briggs. “Dave did not stay around as he was not musical, and he had no idea what Mike and I were talking about and found it all boring. However, to make it look as if the band were penning their own material (as with Lennon/McCartney), I agreed that Dave Clark would receive a songwriting credit. A deal was struck on a handshake between myself and Clark that, as soon as the money started rolling in, the songwriter would get a percentage of whatever his songs made. Soon after, the money was indeed rolling in for Dave Clark but I wasn’t seeing any of it.”

Explosive stuff, at least in the world of British Invasion fanatics. Ryan also says a solicitor even advised him to get an injunction to stop the release of “Any Way You Want It.” Ryan’s explanation of why he failed to do so is as odd as some other aspects of the DC5 story: “However, as I knew the boys in the band were on a weekly wage set by Clark, I felt that any bad publicity might hurt their weekly earnings, and so I waived my right to stop the record being released.”

Ryan does state in this article that “the issue of royalties was eventually settled out of court and some money did change hands, albeit far from the full sum I expected.” He thinks, however, that “Clark ripped me off for many hundreds of thousands.” This relatively little known controversy was not mentioned in the documentary.

Ron Ryan was singer in the Riot Squad, whose drummer was a young Mitch Mitchell (center); Ryan is on Mitchell's left.

Ron Ryan was singer in the Riot Squad, whose drummer was a young Mitch Mitchell (center); Ryan is on Mitchell’s left.

A somewhat more well known controversy unmentioned in the film is the failure of much of the DC5 catalog to get reissued on CD. Even the two major Dave Clark best-of compilations, the generally well done two-CD The History of the Dave Clark Five (1993, even if has some wrong dates in the track listings) and the inferior, less extensive The Hits (2008), are now out of print and expensive if you can even locate copies. Clark, as is well known, had the foresight to own the group’s masters, at a time when few artists did so. Why is he keeping such tight rein on their legacy?

There’s speculation, on Facebook if nowhere else, that he got this documentary out there in the first place to help get a better deal for DC5 reissues (and the Ready Steady Go episodes he owns). That’s impossible to say, but let’s be real about this, too. Having the DC5 catalog out of print is not nearly as grievous a tragedy as, say, much of the Kinks and Yardbirds ‘60s recordings being unavailable (as they were, believe it or not, when I started collecting their records as a teenager in the late 1970s). Their albums might not quite have been “uniformly bad,” as Lester Bangs proclaimed in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. But they weren’t very good, either, in part because they rushed out a dozen US LPs (not counting a couple greatest hits collections) between early 1964 and early 1968. There are some overlooked quality B-sides and LP-only tracks — see the section below for my favorites — but there were also a lot of generic stompers, some weak ballads, and even some easy listening instrumentals, along with songs that just weren’t too memorable or creative from any angle. And they didn’t grow musically, or with the times, nearly as much as the better British Invasion bands, let alone their one-time rivals the Beatles.

One Facebook poster said Clark’s writing an autobiography that, one would hope, might shed light on some of these murky areas. Given what little was divulged — controversial or otherwise — in the documentary, however, I wouldn’t count on that. The music does remain if you can find it (and as noted it’s on iTunes now if you must), and here’s a guide to 20 or so of the more obscure cuts you might have missed.

Chaquita (released April 1963): Even if it’s in the main a ripoff of the Champs’ huge late-‘50s instrumental smash “Tequila,” this is a ferocious wordless (save for menacing interjections of “Chaquita!”) rocker with spy-movie snaky sax and a jungle/exotica flavor. Issued as a UK B-side in April 1963, it’s most familiar in the US as the B-side of “Do You Love Me,” as well as a track on their maiden American LP, Glad All Over. Beware of the earlier, far inferior version they issued on their debut single in August 1962, which crops up on some compilations to this day, as Clark doesn’t own the right to those masters.

I Know You (released December 1963): Not much subtlety behind this grinder, just an out-and-out infectious rocker that, like many early British Invasion tunes from the Beatles on down, has a joyous abandon totally at odds with the downcast rejection lamented in the lyrics. Most known as the B-side to “Glad All Over,” it’s also heard on the soundtrack of the Pathe newsreel short done on the group (the same company did similar newsreels on the Beatles in late 1963, and the Rolling Stones in late 1964).

"I Know You" was the B-side of "Glad All Over," the Dave Clark Five's first and still most famous US hit.

“I Know You” was the B-side of “Glad All Over,” the Dave Clark Five’s first and still most famous US hit.

Any Time You Want Love (released July 1964): One of the DC5 songs that switches adeptly between catchy near-ballad love song and more forceful midtempo rocker. Almost good enough to be a single, but not quite, ending up on their American Tour LP.

Whenever You’re Around (released July 1964): A harmony ballad with shimmering organ somewhat in the mold of “Because,” but slower and more wistful. Also from the American Tour LP.

Crying Over You (released October 1964): A nice Beatlesque ballad with close harmonies, heard on the B-side of “Any Way You Want It.” It’s not as good as the Beatles’ early ballads, mind you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. For what ballads are as good as the early ones by the Beatles?

When (released December 1964): A dramatic, haunting ballad with classical piano flourishes and more of their underrated close harmonies. The song was heard several times in their movie Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend), suiting the film’s unexpectedly downbeat tone. It had already appeared on their Coast to Coast album, however, by the time the movie came out.

Don’t You Know (released December 1964): Also from Coast to Coast, this bash-it-out, get-it-over-with (one minute, 36 seconds) rocker has a little of a DC5-by-numbers feel. But as such filler on Dave Clark Five LPs goes, it’s one of the very best in that style, done with as much shake-it-on-out energy as if they’re doing one of their big hits, especially when the harmonies leap an octave at the very end.

Mighty Good Loving (released March 1965): Another tune that shifts from languid, moody verses to emphatic choruses, making good use of their underrated facility for minor-keyed melodies. From their Weekend in London album, not to be confused with their next LP just a few months down the line, Having a Wild Weekend.

‘Til The Right One Comes Along (released, March 1965): Also from Weekend in London, a real departure for the DC5, as it’s a folky ballad, acoustic guitar supplying the only accompaniment, save for a spot of piano at the end. The DC5 unplugged, perhaps. It sounds a bit like a demo that somehow didn’t progress into a full rock arrangement, which it could have easily been given, but it doesn’t suffer for that.

I’ll Never Know (released March 1965): An uncommonly moody, jagged rocker by the DC5’s upbeat standards, with some equally unusual double-tracked harmonica, from their Weekend in London album.

Remember It’s Me (released March 1965): A final highlight from their Weekend in London album has weird, even spookily echoing piano; another fetching minor-keyed melody, this time perhaps the DC5’s gloomiest; and more of their underrated back-and-forth tempo shifts. It’s their most haunting track, and had they come up with more creative items like “I’ll Never Know,” “Remember It’s Me,” “Don’t Be Taken In,” and “When” on their albums that departed from the usual formula they used on their singles, the DC5 would undoubtedly have more critical respect today.

Hurting Inside (released June 1965): The DC5 had more Beatlesque light rockers than many people remember, other than the oft-cited example of the one big hit they had in that vein, “Because.” Here’s one from the B-side of “I Like It Like That,” featuring a rare (for the DC5) extended guitar solo.

Don’t Be Taken In (released June 1965): Of all the Five’s Beatlesque songs, this is the one that would have come closest to sneaking on an actual Beatles album without raising too many suspicions. The piano-oriented arrangement slightly recalls the approach used on lower-key Beatles for Sale-era tracks like “No Reply,” and the high “no no”s at the end carry a whiff of those heard at the end of “Not a Second Time.” From their Having a Wild Weekend LP.

The Dave Clark: not so wild and crazy guys.

The Dave Clark Five: not so wild and crazy guys.

No Stopping (released June 1965): Like “Chaquita,” another instrumental with a devious surf-cum-spy guitar lick, this one filling out the Having a Wild Weekend LP. It’s not as good as “Chaquita,” but still has some good atmospheric sax bleating and frantic organ.

On the Move (released June 1965): Some of the Dave Clark Five’s instrumentals were throwaways of little value. This might be a throwaway too, but it’s much better than most of the band’s such efforts, sounding something like a collision between Link Wray, Johnny & the Hurricanes, and the surf instrumental hit “Pipeline.” Heard on the B-side of “Catch Us If You Can.”

Also known as Catch Us If You Can, the 1965 film Having a Wild Weekend was no A Hard Day's Night, although it had its good points.

Also known as Catch Us If You Can, the 1965 film Having a Wild Weekend was no A Hard Day’s Night, although it had its good points.

I’ll Be Yours My Love (B-side of “Over and Over,” October 1965): A piano-based ballad with a rolling beat that would verge on the dainty if not for Mike Smith’s customary throaty, earthy vocals, nicely counterpointed by soft backup vocals.

I Need Love (released November 1965): A storming, almost garage-ish workout with one of Smith’s most leather-lunged vocals, ebullient shouts, and a dense blend of keyboards, bass, and Denis Payton’s trademark honking sax. From their I Like It Like That album.

I’m On My Own (released November 1965): The DC5’s periodic ventures into country were about as successful as their other outings into styles other than the straightforward rock they knew best — which is to say, not very. Here’s an exception, also from I Like It Like That, on this nice ballad with some twangy guitar and a brief, more British Invasion-friendly bridge.

All Night Long (released March 1966): Buried on the B-side of the early ’66 hit “Try Too Hard,” as filler B-side instrumental jams go, this is one of the best, with a heavier blues/R&B feel than anything else they cut. This could almost pass as a track by a genuine London R&B-rock British Invasion band, though the DC5 were never considered part of that scene.

Plus honorable mentions for these two hits which, although they reached the Top 20, are seldom if ever heard on oldies radio these days:

Everybody Knows (I Still Love You) (released October 1964): A fine, rather complex midtempo harmony rocker veering between wistful verses and more hard-hitting choruses. Not to be confused with their dissimilar, but similarly titled, 1967 single “Everybody Knows,” a far less notable ballad.

Try Too Hard (released March 1966): One of the band’s hardest rockers, with a curling guitar riff, pounding piano, and an insistent chorus. As a footnote, one of the first records I remember hearing, as my oldest brother was a DC5 fan.

The picture sleeve of "Try Too Hard," which my oldest brother taped to his bedroom wall.

The picture sleeve of “Try Too Hard,” which my oldest brother taped to his bedroom wall.

Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile

Due for publication on Da Capo Press on May 15, Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile is the third book Robert Greenfield’s written on the Stones in the early 1970s. It’s also the slimmest, built around the band’s fairly brief March 1971 “farewell” tour of the UK before leaving England to take up residence in France as tax exiles. Greenfield was along for the tour, and fleshes out the one-or-two-sitting read with after-the-fact inside stories he learned later (sometimes years later); an amusing account of extracting a lengthy interview out of Keith Richards over the course of many days in France in 1971; and a few accounts of hanging with the Stones the following year (particularly while Exile on Main Street was mixed in LA in early 1972). At least some of the stories and quotes also appeared in Greenfield’s Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones; since neither book is indexed, it’s hard to make an exact count.

Greenfieldcover

Still, I kind of like Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye. It’s more humbly and humorously written than his other two Stones volumes. If you want some he-was-there insights into the band’s quirky and changing dynamic, you’ll get those in the observations of tension Mick Jagger’s then-new relationship with bride-to-be Bianca was causing; the struggles of Keith Richards and his then-common-law wife Anita Pallenberg to kick drug dependency; and the stranglehold Mick and Keith already had over the group, the other three often waiting around for the two figureheads to deign to show up before they could get going onstage or in the studio, granted neither explanations nor apologies. Richards in particular seems like a pill to be around, flaunting his nobody-tells-me-what-to-do power whether insisting his dog be allowed to travel with him on a plane (eventually Charlie Watts comes up with a bag for “Boogie”’s ride in the hold) or prying the door off a locked dressing room rather than wait for the promoter and his keys.

If you’re one of those nerds who actually cares about the music as much as the sideshows, there are some bits that have survived only because Greenfield happened to be around. There’s Marshall Chess of Rolling Stones Records, for instance, bugging Jagger at the dinner party after the first gig in Newcastle. Sticky Fingers was about to be issued—contradicting all post-1970s marketing wisdom, the Stones were touring right before its release—and Chess had to coax the track sequence out of the band. Or, rather, out of Jagger, the chief decision maker when you came down to it. “More than twenty minutes on a side and you lose level,” Marshall told Mick. “You know that. It’s how they cut the grooves. So we have to work out the running order.”

Failing to make much progress as the evening wears on, Chess even asks Jagger to cut a verse out of “Moonlight Mile,” all in the name of getting Sticky Fingers into the shops with maximum fidelity. Mick’s response after a few minutes of Marshall’s spiel: “What, Marshall?”

One of many bootlegs of the Rolling Stones' concert at Leeds University on March 13, 1971.

One of many bootlegs of the Rolling Stones’ concert at Leeds University on March 13, 1971.

Even with Sticky Fingers due for release in a month’s time, there was still a chance, according to Chess, that Jagger would go back to the studio to re-record some vocals. He never did, in part because the Stones really had to be out of the country at the end of the month to start their tax exiledom. In fact, that’s the reason the band were touring in advance of Sticky Fingers’ release in the first place, even playing some songs (“Dead Flowers,” “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar”) from the LP in concert that had yet to be available. Imagining that happening today, when everyone from label heads to lowly copyright lawyers would be predicting instant death if original songs were aired before commercial availability, or worse.

I’m not sure whether this has previously appeared anywhere, but there’s also a quote from Mick Taylor’s wife of the time, Rose, that gives you more insight into the younger Mick’s frustrations with the Rolling Stones than anything I remember reading in an actual Mick Taylor interview:

“The tour wasn’t really fun because even at that point I think Mick Taylor realized he had made a mistake by joining them. Even then. Because he could have done other things. He could have gone and joined Paul Butterfield. He could have done music he was more interested in than rock’n’roll. He could have played the blues. And jazz. He was also taking classical guitar lessons. His music interests were very wide and if he had done something that he had been the boss of, it would have been better for him than taking this job which of course everyone said, ‘Oh, you have to do this. It’s so wonderful.’ 

“In all the time he did it, he never ever thought it was wonderful. Ever. If he played well, it was okay except that Keith would turn his amp down. Or he would only have the time of his solo to play well and that was that. If he played badly, they applauded anyway so he felt there was no discernment on the part of the audience. He didn’t feel he was making any contribution that was really important. He was so sensitive. And he was never satisfied with what he did with them, really.”

In the UK, one track from the March 13, 1971 concert at Leeds University, "Let It Rock," was released on a three-track single.

In the UK, one track from the March 13, 1971 concert at Leeds University, “Let It Rock,” was released on a three-track single.

Even some of the more marginal hangers-on come up with a story or two worth hearing. Jerry Pompili, in charge of the tour’s security, somehow got tasked with transcribing lyrics for “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar,” “Moonlight Miles,” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” so they could be copyrighted (quite possibly to guard against infringement after the Rolling Stones played Sticky Fingers material on this very tour). He actually went to Jagger’s house to

“drop a needle on them and try to figure out what the hell he was singing. Which was not really all that easy. I played the acetates over and over and wrote down all the lyrics I could understand by hand. Then I took the pages back…and Mick came into the office and looked at them and that got his memory going so he was able to fill in most of the blanks. We had one disagreement and it was on ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.’ There was one line that sounded to me and everybody else like ‘Yeah, I’ve got flatted feet now, now, now,’ but Mick swore that was not what he had sung. He couldn’t remember what it was, so we just went with ‘Yeah, I’ve got flatted feet now, now, now.’”

Decision-making at the highest level really wasn’t as corporate those days.

Nor was landing an audience with one of the biggest rock stars in the world. Assigned to interview Keith Richards by Rolling Stone, Greenfield simply drove to his legendary base in Nellcôte, walked in the unlocked door, and got a hearty hug from the man, though the pair had barely interacted during the farewell tour. On his next visit, things weren’t going quite as well, Anita Pallenberg asking Greenfield, “Did you bring us something to smoke so we can all get high, yes?” It so happened Greenfield had just been given some hash by a PR guy in Cannes, and after it was passed around and given Keith’s blessing, “I was now most definitely persona grata at Villa Nellcôte.”

And when Greenfield was having trouble pinning Keith down for a finale to the interview, he did what anyone would have done in those circumstances, back in 1971, at any rate. He called Marshall Chess, who immediately flew over from London. After a closed-door Chess/Richards meeting, Greenfield got everything he needed the next morning. Now that’s corporate efficiency, even if the author had to wait around Nellcôte as endlessly as Watts, Wyman, and Taylor for Keith to get his act together.

Of course, there were plenty of drugs, women, and whatnot to while away the days in the meantime. If that wasn’t enough of a distraction, cartons of albums yet to be released on either side of the Atlantic were delivered to the villa daily. Keith, Greenfield reports, was particularly enamored of a reggae tune called “Funky Jamaica” by the JA Horns, playing it over and over—though Internet searches do not yield details of any record by that title by that artist. Can anyone out there help?

Maybe the record Keith Richards heard was actually "Funky Nassau," a hit for the Bahamas band the Beginning of the End in 1971.

Maybe the record Keith Richards heard was actually “Funky Nassau,” a hit for the Bahamas band the Beginning of the End in 1971.

Knowing Richards’s role as lord of the manor extended even to control of the turntable, Greenfield had to wait until everyone else had turned in to “put James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon on the stereo without being laughed at.” Richards barged in nonetheless to pick up his young son’s toys, “shooting me a cynical look that left no doubt as to what he thought of my current musical selection.”

And now a final Keith story, actually from 1973, in the book’s last section: in mid-1973, he got in trouble with the British authorities on drug charges and over possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. He and Pallenberg got off with a £250 fine, but on the day of the trial Mick Jagger told engineer Andy Johns, “I think Keith’s going down. But it’s all right. I’ve got Jesse Ed Davis with his bags packed in L.A. He can be on the next plane.” We all know some of the near-misses of guitarists who almost got to be in the Rolling Stones, like Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel; here’s another one, even if it might have only been a temporary replacement to fulfill tour obligations.

For all his bumbling, Greenfield did get a lot out of his time with the Stones. Not just three books, but also one of the longest, best interviews with a classic rocker ever conducted. That’s the one he did with Richards in 1971, which was so mammoth it takes up no less than 75 pages in the 1973 anthology The Rolling Stone Interviews Vol. 2. (Read it online here.) For that, Greenfield should be grateful, as it built much of the foundation for his career as an author. And for that interview, we should be grateful, as it provides the deepest first-hand insight by any of the Stones on their first and best decade.

Robert Greenfield's massive 1971 interview with Keith Richards in his French villa was a cover story for Rolling Stone.

Robert Greenfield’s massive 1971 interview with Keith Richards in his French villa was a cover story for Rolling Stone.

The Velvet Underground & Nico: The April Fool’s Version

Not long ago, an amusing fake album cover was making the rounds on Facebook. Back in April 1966, the Velvet Underground and Nico had recorded at least nine songs at Scepter Studios in New York, hoping to place the result as an album with Columbia Records. At least, that seems to have been the thinking—Columbia might have asked them to add some material and re-record some tracks, as they did when Verve Records signed them. Had Columbia signed the VU and issued those nine tracks as an album, the LP sleeve might have looked like this:

ColumbiaFakeVUNicoSleeve

That’s not bad, and of course some of the same imagery from their Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia stage shows would show up on the back cover of their actual debut LP, released in early 1967:

The_Velvet_Underground_and_Nico_back_cover

But wouldn’t you agree that the cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico, as released on Verve Records, was much better? For one thing, it was designed by Andy Warhol:

Velvet-Underground-And-Nico-

This is iconic, not just another above-average-for-the-time LP cover, in the manner of what Columbia was putting out on the Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel.

Also note that the fake LP has just nine songs, which would have made for rather short running time, even by 1966 standards. Presumably Columbia would have added “There She Goes Again,” a song the Velvets were already doing onstage in late 1965. Indeed, I’m not convinced the VU didn’t do that at Scepter, the song somehow not making it onto the legendary nine-song acetate (including versions and mixes that were different from the ones used on Verve’s Velvet Underground & Nico, and now officially available) made from those sessions.

Norman Dolph, who helped finance the Scepter sessions, remembers Columbia reacting more or less as follows: “There’s no way in the world any sane person would buy or want to listen or put anything behind this record. You’re out of your mind with this.” In the short term, their failure to get a deal with Columbia definitely hurt. Although they quickly signed with MGM subsidiary Verve, that label didn’t put out their debut album for almost a year, by which time some crucial momentum was lost. Verve never promoted the VU too effectively either, though it remains unknown whether Columbia or indeed any company could have promoted such an unusual and daringly experimental band with much success at the time.

Yet Columbia’s rejection ultimately did quite possibly make the album better. For one thing, maybe Columbia wouldn’t have used Warhol’s design. More importantly, the VU were able to add “There She Goes Again” to the Verve release. Even more crucially, at the insistence of Verve producer Tom Wilson, one more song was recorded for the LP about half a year later, in late 1966, in the hopes of coming up with a commercial track for Nico to sing. That was the classic “Sunday Morning,” though Lou Reed ended up taking the lead vocal, Nico only adding some faint backup vocals. That made a great LP even greater, though the delays were enormously frustrating to a band eager to make their imprint. The full story—time out for a commercial here—is in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.

vucover

For more information about this book, click here.

Seeing the fake album sleeve did make me think of other interesting fakes, or at least facsimiles of what might have been, that have circulated over the years. Here’s another, also on Columbia Records:

RisingSons

This is a legitimate vinyl LP release on Sundazed. In the mid-1960s, however, the Rising Sons—a supergroup before their time, with Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, and (at different points) future Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy and future Byrds drummer Kevin Kelley—only managed to release one single, despite recording more than 20 tracks. This collector-oriented release creams off a dozen of them to simulate the album that might have come out at the time, had Columbia had its act together. Issued decades after the Rising Sons broke up, it used previously unpublished color photos to, in the words of Sundazed’s website, “present the Rising Sons’ self-titled debut LP as it might have looked and sounded had it appeared in 1966.”

There are numerous other examples of albums that could have come out, didn’t, and have had what-if covers constructed by bootleggers and official record labels. We’ll stop, however, with just this famous one:

Getback-1

That’s what the Beatles’ Let It Be album might have looked like, had it come out around spring 1969 as originally planned, using the title Get Back instead. They never really agreed on how and when to issue the record, or even what to put on it, which played its own large part in breaking up the group by spring 1970. But in playing around with ideas for the cover, at least they got a great photo out of it, deliberately staged at the same location (a stairwell at EMI Records’ headquarters) where they posed for the cover of their first album in early 1963. What a difference six years made:

The-Beatles-Please-Please-Me

Inside Inside Llewyn Davis

I’m not a great guy to see music biopics with, as it’s kind of like seeing a courtroom drama with a lawyer. I’m always finding all the things they’re getting wrong about a musician or band’s career, much like real lawyers can tell you why a certain defense would never fly. So when I heard the Coen Brothers were doing a movie based on Dave Van Ronk’s memoir (The Mayor of MacDougal Street, which is very good, though he didn’t finish it before his death), I was dubious. Would they really be either faithful to his story, or capture something of his spirit even if he was more a prototype for a fictional movie?

InsideDavis

Well, I’m glad to report two surprises. One was that I liked the movie a lot, though it wasn’t perfect. The second is that, though the pre-release hype I came across (which went on for quite some time) did play up the Van Ronk connection, there really isn’t too much of Van Ronk in the movie’s story or main character. The Van Ronk book (co-written by Elijah Wald) continues to be cited as a source for the film in some media reports, which I find misleading.

Not a rival movie or biopic, but a 1964 album by Dave Van Ronk.

Not a rival movie or biopic, but a 1964 album by Dave Van Ronk.

Not that I’m too annoyed; the film probably wouldn’t have been as good if it had tried to re-create the story of Van Ronk, or another early-‘60s Greenwich Village folkie. But as far as much resemblance between Van Ronk and the movie’s protagonist, let’s be serious here. Van Ronk had a gravelly, bluesy voice that marked him as one of the earthiest and best performers in the scene. Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) sings rather unremarkable material that’s neither as bland as the most whitebread folk revival-ish stuff nor as cutting and keening as Van Ronk (or early Bob Dylan, who’s portrayed with a cameo near the very end). Some people like his tunes in the film; I found them neither here nor there, though they were close enough to the early-‘60s folk revival sound that they fit into the storyline okay. Van Ronk (along with his wife of the time, Terri Thal) was a respected part of the scene who did his part to help other musicians, including Dylan (who took his arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” from Van Ronk’s). Davis is on the margins, on the verge of dropping out of the profession altogether, and alienating everybody, from girlfriends and managers to family and folkies.

Inside Llewyn Davis is more a solid story of a troubled young man than it is a reflection of Van Ronk’s musical and personal life. I didn’t observe the Greenwich Village scene firsthand (I wasn’t even born yet, actually), but the settings in the film do seem reasonably accurate from what a fan like me can glean from the available history. And the film does use some archetypes that have at least some basis in real-life early-‘60s folkies, managers, clubowners, promoters, and well-meaning if unhip liberal academic benefactors. Here are a few that might escape viewers with a casual-to-nonexistent knowledge of the folk revival (which, I emphasize, is no impediment to appreciating the movie):

The wholesome fellow from the military who sleeps on “Jim & Jean”’s floor near the beginning seems to me based on Tom Paxton. Paxton, despite his rabid anti-war views, did serve in the military before his career took off, and has steered entirely clear of controversy since he rose to prominence as a singer-songwriter in the mid-1960s, though the “Troy Nelson” figure in the movie seems more All-American and whitebread.

Paxton

You don’t have to be a genius to know that “Bud Grossman,” the Chicago clubowner/manager who tells Davis he doesn’t hear enough money in Llewyn’s music, is based in part on Albert Grossman. Grossman also ran a club in Chicago, the Gate of Horn. It was one of the most popular folk clubs in the US, in fact, and was instrumental to the career of early (if largely forgotten) folk revival performer Bob Gibson, as well as a teenaged Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, who learned a lot of his folk chops there before going on to accompany folk stars and co-found the Byrds. Grossman soon became the most powerful folk manager with Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, and others on his client roster. (Later he’d become a big force in rock too, managing Janis Joplin, the Band, and others.)

Getting back to “Bud Grossman,” his suggestion in the movie that Davis sing as part of a trio Grossman’s forming also has some grounding in real-life events. It took some time for Peter, Paul & Mary to solidify their personnel. Van Ronk was considered for one of the two male slots, though it’s hard to imagine him fitting into the smooth harmonies in which they specialized. So was Bob Gibson.

Though Davis is a solo act in the film, it’s clear he’s recorded and performed earlier as part of a duo with another guy, now dead. There were a good if not overwhelming number of male folk duos, like Bud & Travis, Barry & Barry (one of whom was Barry McGuire of later “Eve of Destruction” fame), and (for a while) Bob Gibson and Bob Camp. Gibson and Camp recorded a live album at the Gate of Horn, and Grossman had considered teaming them with a woman singer before Peter, Paul & Mary were finalized. “Bob Camp” later became Hamilton Camp, most known for writing and recording the original version of “Pride of Man,” later made famous in a rock version by Quicksilver Messenger Service.

GateofHorn

The smooth, urbane Columbia Records executive in the scene where Davis stumbles into a part as a session musician for the novelty “Please Mr. Kennedy” is obviously based on John Hammond. The legendary producer had played a big role in the careers of jazz giants like Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, and Benny Goodman. He’d be the force behind signing Bob Dylan to a recording contract in late 1961, also producing Dylan’s earliest Columbia sessions. He became aware of Dylan through Bob’s participation (as harmonica player) in a session by another Columbia folk artist he was producing, Carolyn Hester. It’s not clear from the film whether Davis’s role in “Please Mr. Kennedy” will lead to a similar break, however.

The Carolyn Hester album, with Bob Dylan on harmonica, that was produced by Columbia Records' John Hammond, who'd soon sign Dylan.

The Carolyn Hester album, with Bob Dylan on harmonica, that was produced by Columbia Records’ John Hammond, who’d soon sign Dylan.

The ineffectual, elderly manager whom Davis accuses of failing to promote his career in an early scene rings true, as there were (and are) many such figures who don’t make their clients rich. One possible model is Harold Leventhal, who handled the career of Pete Seeger and the Weavers (and, later, Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie). But he was respected, efficent, and successful, not the bumbler with the antiquated office portrayed in Inside Llewyn Davis. I’ve heard Folkways boss Moe Asch suggested as a model for this character too, but while Asch might have scraped at the financial margins of the record industry, I’d think he was much tougher and sharper.

The hapless, frumpy Appalachian-type folk singer Davis heckles at a club performance could be based in part on any number of musicians who started their career before the 1960s; played a particularly reverent, striving-to-be-authentic strain of folk music; and who are rarely noted today, in part because the over-reverence of their approach has made them more dated than early Dylan (or, for that matter, Van Ronk). Probably the highest-profile such musician, however, was Jean Ritchie, the dulcimer player from Kentucky who made her first records in the early 1950s, and is still alive at the age of 91. Ritchie’s music might strike some as prim, but it was livelier and more dignified than what little we hear of the woman in this scene.

Ritchie

The Irish singers are, naturally, based on the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, very popular Greenwich Village folk performers, and good friends of Bob Dylan.

The+Clancy+Brothers+-+The+First+Hurrah!+-+LP+RECORD-459153

Finally, we come to two of the highest-ranking supporting roles in the film, those of “Jim” and “Jean.” There was indeed a duo named Jim & Jean on the ‘60s New York folk scene, and their first album is indeed of the kind of innocuous, traditional-based folk they played in the movie:

Jim&Jean

But Jim & Jean were more musically interesting than the movie, or that LP, might have you believe. Jim Glover was a close early friend of Phil Ochs, with whom he was part of a folk duo, the Sundowners, before hooking up with Jean Ray. In 1966, Jim & Jean did a good early folk-rock album, Changes, with off-the-beaten-track compositions (some yet to be recorded by their authors) by Ochs, Dylan, David Blue, and Eric Andersen. After a poppier, more elaborately produced third album, they ended their career, though Jean Ray helped inspire two famous songs by Neil Young, “Cinammon Girl” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” Full disclosure: I did the liner notes for a CD reissue combining their second and third LPs (for which I interviewed Jean Ray, who died in 2007), which can be read here.

Jim+&+Jean+-+Changes+-+LP+RECORD-311236

Does Inside Llewyn Davis accurately capture these characters, even in caricature? I wouldn’t say so, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s a story set in the early-‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene, not a biopic, though some of the movie’s publicity seemed to be prepping viewers for one. It’s got gallows humor and tragedy that doesn’t descend into pathos, and is recommended whether you’re a folk fan or not. And if you are a folk fan and want to hear the real deal, here’s some more shameless self-promotion. Check out the new two-CD compilation Greenwich Village in the ‘60s on Warner Brothers Australia, which collects several dozen vintage recordings from the folk revival, for which I also did the liner notes:

Greenwich-Village-in-the-60s-200x175

Rock’n’Roll Trivia, Part One: Name That Guy

I play a rock music trivia game with other music-nut friends in the Bay Area. It’s not one of those board games with question cards, though it started out that way. Instead, we make up our own questions, ranging from 1 (easiest) to 6 (hardest) depending on how we throw dice. Maybe I’ll post some used questions from time to time on this blog, though some of them lose something in the translation when you can’t declaim them in a grand tone of voice.

So to start, here are a couple of visual clues that might be harder than you think. Question #1: who’s the guy on the left in this picture?

Some of the incorrect guesses included Peter Noone (Herman of Herman & the Hermits), Elton John, Thomas Dolby, and Peter Asher (of Peter Asher). But it’s none of them. It’s Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. The girl is his younger sister, Barbara.

Prior to this (admittedly blurry) showing up recently, I’d never seen a photo of him dating from before 1962, with the exception of one baby picture. What really throws contestants (only one player got the correct answer) is that Jones doesn’t wear glasses in any of the pictures I’ve seen of him as an adult.

Many Stones fans don’t know, by the way, that Jones had two younger sisters, not just one. The older of those two sisters (born shortly after Brian), Pamela, died of leukemia just after her second birthday.

Here’s another visual clue. Who’s the guy on right, holding a banjo? He too would become very famous (and he’s not Brian Jones).

Chad+Mitchell+-+Mighty+Day+On+Campus+-+Red+Vinyl+Test+Pressing+-+LP+RECORD-506671

That’s Roger (then Jim) McGuinn, about three years before he’d co-found the Byrds with Gene Clark and David Crosby. Back in 1961, he was just a sideman to the whitebread folk revival group the Chad Mitchell Trio. By 1965 he’d be sounding and looking a lot different (and much for the better) as lead guitarist, and frequent lead singer, of the Byrds. That’s McGuinn with shades on the right:

Byrds_The_Times_They_Are_a-Changin'_EP

McGuinn appears on another Chad Mitchell LP, this one from 1962. That’s him in the back on the left, if you can make him out. Seems like they were trying to hide him:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After McGuinn became a star with the Byrds, the Chad Mitchell Trio – now billing themselves as the Mitchell Trio, with another pre-star, John Denver, in their lineup – recorded a sort of protest against protest folk-rock, “The Sound of Protest (Has Begun to Pay),” with an obviously Byrds-like arrangement. Far from being a jibe at his having sold out, one feels the Chad Mitchell Trio might have been jealous of both his commercial success and his groundbreaking innovations as a vanguard folk-rocker. The Byrds are still revered as one of the greatest bands of all time. The Chad Mitchell Trio (or Mitchell Trio, as they were known after the departure of their leader), one of the tamer of the many wholesome folk groups to emerge in the wake of the Kingston Trio, are on the verge of being forgotten.

The Mitchell Trio, with John Denver on the left.

The Mitchell Trio, with John Denver on the left.

The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963 on iTunes

Given the Beatles’ reluctance to issue much previously unreleased material, late 2013 saw two major surprises. One was Live at the BBC Vol. 2, which made a double CD’s worth of 1963-64 BBC performances officially available for the first time. The other, also containing a double CD or so of early Beatles material that hadn’t hit the market before, flew almost under the radar. Only obtainable through iTunes downloads, these 59 (actually 58 – more on that in a minute) tracks were dryly titled Bootleg Recordings 1963, mixing several dozen BBC cuts with studio outtakes and a couple demos. All dating from 1963, these tracks went on sale for $40 on December 17, 2013, and could also be purchased individually.

Available only on iTunes, Bootleg Recordings 1963 has 58 previously unreleased Beatles recordings from that year.

Available only on iTunes, Bootleg Recordings 1963 has 58 previously unreleased Beatles recordings from that year.

It was no coincidence that the release arrived just two weeks before the end of the year. December 31, 2013 would have marked the last day on which the group’s unreleased recordings from 1963 would have been protected by copyright in the European Union. By issuing them for official sale—via however low-profile a channel—the Beatles and EMI were now able to claim copyright for all of the recordings on Bootleg Recordings 1963 for the next 70 years (until 2084). Otherwise the cuts ran the risk of going into public domain, to be issued willy-nilly by whomever wished, with no legal consequences.

A mercenary strategy? You bet, but the Beatles, for once, weren’t first. On December 27, 2012, Sony Music issued a four-CD set of 86 Bob Dylan outtakes and live performances from the year 1962, just five days before they  would have entered the public domain. A six-LP Sony set doing the same thing for unissued 1963 Dylan recordings followed in November 2013. As just 100 copies of the CD and LP sets were issued (and then only in Europe), it was pretty clear these were solely intended for this purpose. At least Sony made no bones about what it was doing, titling the compilation of 1962 material The Copyright Extension Collection Vol. I. Naturally this was instantly bootlegged, especially as it contained some material that hadn’t even made it into bootleggers’ hands.

And in late 2013, Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys’ iTunes release The Big Beat 1963—consisting of 22 unreleased cuts from 1963 that Wilson had a hand in writing, performing, and/or producing (only three by the Beach Boys themselves)—was issued for the same reason. Naturally this was promptly bootlegged too, though most Beatles/Dylan/Beach Boys fans remain unaware that iTunes also put out compilations of hitherto unreleased Motown recordings from 1962 and 1963 to beat the same deadlines. The Beatles’ Bootleg Recordings 1963, however, is likely to sell by far the most copies of any of these nick-of-time anthologies, though it too was instantly bootlegged, usually selling for about one-fourth the official price—and with no apparent loss in packaging (which was virtually nonexistent via iTunes anyway) or sound quality.

Only available from iTunes, The Big Beat 1963 has rarities in which Brian Wilson was involved as songwriter, producer, and/or singer, though just three of these are credited to the Beach Boys.

Only available from iTunes, The Big Beat 1963 has rarities in which Brian Wilson was involved as songwriter, producer, and/or singer, though just three of these are credited to the Beach Boys.

What of Bootleg Recordings 1963’s actual contents, however? Well, it’s a pretty good selection of some of the better items from that year that hadn’t been sold over the counter. More than two-thirds of them were from BBC sessions, including some of the very best renditions that hadn’t appeared on the two Live at the BBC compilations, like the June 24 “Roll Over Beethoven” with the twice-as-long guitar solo; the insanely energetic “Long Tall Sally” from April 1; the second version of “I Got to Find My Baby” (one of the most obscure songs they covered on the radio, based on Chuck Berry’s version); the earliest (January 22) BBC performance of “Some Other Guy,” one of the most popular items in their early live repertoire; and the September 3 “I Saw Her Standing There” with a zany, zesty shouted “eins, zwei, drei, vier!” intro. The complete January 22 “Love Me Do” for Saturday Club appears for the first time anywhere, officially or unofficially, though the only other such “new” item was the studio version of “Money” without George Martin’s piano overdubs.

There are also some of the better Please Please Me outtakes (all of them just slightly different versions of songs that made the LP), most in stereo, rather than the mono on previously circulating bootlegs; some of the unissued takes of “From Me to You,” “Thank You Girl,” and “One After 909” from the session for their third single; and take 21 of “Hold Me Tight” (the only With the Beatles outtake, unless you count the undubbed “Money”). And there are the two drumless demos of unissued Lennon-McCartney compositions, “Bad to Me” (given to fellow Brian Epstein clients Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, and done with great charm here despite the sparse arrangement and low fidelity) and “I’m in Love” (given to Liverpool band the Fourmost, also managed by Epstein).

But as a big difference between this and the Live at the BBC comps, there doesn’t seem to be much if any difference in sound quality between the iTunes downloads and the tracks that have circulated on bootlegs, stereo Please Please Me outtakes aside. In fact, the June 1 “Too Much Monkey Business” sounds distinctly worse in its iTunes incarnation, though the January 22 “Some Other Guy” sounds better, if you’re keeping score.

The two-CD Live at the BBC Vol. 2 was, unlike Bootleg Recordings 1963, widely available through standard retail outlets.

The two-CD Live at the BBC Vol. 2 is, unlike Bootleg Recordings 1963, widely available through standard retail outlets.

Does Bootleg Recordings 1963 wrap up everything worth hearing from this stellar year, or even all of the best worth hearing? Hardly. Every fan will have his or her own special favorites, of course, and none would have picked the exact same recordings selected for iTunes. Nonetheless, the omission of even one of the several outtakes of “Don’t Bother Me” in circulation was inexplicable. And while the selection of just a few studio alternates from the Please Please Me and “From Me to You”/“Thank You Girl” sessions was perhaps understandable given the general listener doesn’t want to hear the same song done over and over more than three or four times, the more complete series of run-throughs on bootlegs gives scholars a much fuller sense of how the material was perfected at Abbey Road.

And for a release by the most famous act of all time through such a well-known, profitable organization, there were an inexcusable number of errors that crept onto the minimal packaging. No less than four of the tracks were misidentified as hailing from the January 22 session for Saturday Club. Embarrassingly (one would hope, at least), one BBC performance of “She Loves You” was used twice—although quite a few Beatles researchers have made the same mistake, assuming that the September 10 and September 24 broadcasts of Pop Go the Beatles used different versions (though each used the same one, recorded on September 3). And of course, there was nothing in the way of informed liner notes, the threadbare annotation consisting of nothing more than take numbers and BBC radio program titles and broadcast dates. Even many bootlegs have done better in that respect—sometimes much, much better.

Naturally, Bootleg Recordings 1963 isn’t meant for completists, or likely for typical readers of The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film. It’s meant for the general public, who want more Beatles but not all Beatles. For that audience, it’s made some good material widely available to listeners who will never acquire it by unofficial means, or even remain unaware of how to do so. Will it stamp out hunger for, let alone distribution of, all the other recordings from 1963 not given official blessing? Of course not. If anything, it might make some fans aware of just how much more is out there—as will any future iTunes volumes as the 50-year copyright expiration comes up for material recorded in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969.