Category Archives: Music

Richie Unterberger comments and reviews on vintage rock music.

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.

Syd Barrett: Unforgotten Hero. Or Is That “Sid Barret”?

I don’t just write books about rock music – I belong to a rock music book club that talks about them. Books about rock music in general, I mean, not my books specifically. I’m not that much of a glutton for Maoist self-criticism.

At our last meeting, we discussed Rob Chapman’s fine Syd Barrett bio A Very Irregular Head (Julian Palacios’s Dark Globe is also recommended). That prompted me to dig out, if only for decoration at the back room of a bar where we hold our meetings, this Syd bootleg I bought back in 1983. Note how it manages to misspell both his first and last names:

Credited to "Sid Barrett," the Unforgotten Hero bootleg collected rare radio broadcasts and studio tracks from Syd Barrett's time in Pink Floyd.

Credited to “Sid Barrett,” the Unforgotten Hero bootleg collected rare radio broadcasts and studio tracks from Syd Barrett’s time in Pink Floyd.

Great photo, though, of Pink Floyd in their pinkest psychedelic finery, probably just before Syd started his long downward spiral into true madness. And most of these BBC sessions, outtakes (including the legendary self-descriptive “Vegetable Man”), and rarities still haven’t come out as I type this more than 30 years later, though some have circulated in better sound quality on other bootlegs.

Looking at this album in turn got me thinking about the hole-in-the-wall specialist store where I bought the LP back in 1983, just after moving to San Francisco at the age of 21. I had no job, few prospects, and little in the way of disposable cash. Naturally much of it went to record-buying, especially as San Francisco stores had far greater goodies in the way of off-the-beaten-track imports, rarities, and illegalities than the city I’d moved from on the opposite coast.

Back then, you didn’t go on the Internet to find local record stores (let alone buy and listen to music on the computer). You, or at least I, went through the phone book. That’s where I found the listing for a tiny shop in the Outer Sunset district about a mile from the ocean, far afield from the neighborhoods that held virtually every other hip record store of note. The store was more or less as advertised, holding little except bootlegs, though of course that wasn’t the word used in the Yellow Pages.

Even by the standards of High Fidelity record emporiums, this was an eccentric outlet. Few were the occasions when anyone else was in the store save me and the owner, who never spoke to me save to mumble hello and goodbye. Never did he express the slightest interest in what I was buying or recommend anything that might interest me, though surely there couldn’t have been many other 21-year-olds making their way out to this mostly residential neighborhood in search of Beach Boys, Beatles, Stones, and Who outtakes. He obviously knew his stock, yet never played it in the shop; in fact, all he played was the radio, which was always tuned to either a football game or noxious adult contemporary station. It was almost as though he was purposely trying to drive his target audience out of the store with aural ambience that couldn’t have been more different than what he was actually selling in the racks.

Already so crowded with miscellaneous boxes and piles that surely would have had the space declared a fire hazard had the authorities bothered, each of my successive, sporadic visits saw the piles grow, seemingly unattended, like an updated version of Mrs. Havisham’s estate in Great Expectations. Eventually they all but obscured the window that let in what little sunlight the space admitted. I stopped going in the late 1980s, but it remained open, in theory at least, for years afterward, though no one (owner included) ever seemed to be there, and the pile of boxes grew so high that it eventually became impossible to even identify as a record store from the sidewalk.

But back in 1983-84, in its (relative) heyday, it was the best game in town for (relatively) affordable bootlegs of items that were positive manna from heaven for a ‘60s-starved fan like me. For $10 or $15, I was picking up listenable-to-hi-fi unreleased gems I hadn’t even suspected existed. Had my parents known I was spending my time and money like this when my bank account wasn’t even in the four digits, they no doubt would have flown across the country to stage an intervention or some such thing. But at the time, those records were more important than eating well – and they did, in time, prove invaluable acquisitions for my subsequent career as a rock music historian, more or less paying back the investment.

Anyway – what other goodies do I remember picking up at this rather unsavory establishment? Well, how could you not buy this LP of Rolling Stones rarities (still bearing its handwritten “$10—Excellent quality” label in my back room) after it leapt out at you from the bin without warning:

The Out of Time bootleg, credited to "Nanker Phelge," showed the Rolling Stones in drag in 1966.

The Out of Time bootleg, credited to “Nanker Phelge.”

That’s the Stones, of course, from the legendary session where they dressed up as women—far more daring and controversial in 1966 than today—to promote the “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow.” Note how the cover’s clever enough not to even identify it as a Rolling Stones product, trusting those hip enough to be lurking in stores like these can tell just from the photo, in-jokingly billing the band as “Nanker Phelge” (the pseudonym the Stones used for early collective compositions, as again anyone hip enough to finger this LP would already know). Note too how the “Monroe” record label apes the lettering used for “London” on the group’s US releases on the London label – repeated, for good measure, on the inner LP label of the actual disc.

The actual contents were, as the liner notes stated in mock Andrew Oldham-ese, “a collection of all the wonderful studio tracks that have never appeared on a U.S. Nanker Phelge elpee. So there you are.” Yeah, okay, most of these are easily available on CD (or the computer, if you’re not willing to “pay” for it by standard means) nowadays, though they’ll cost you a lot more than $10 for each and every last track. Back then, though, you could not find most of this anywhere, or would have to pay a lot more than I could afford, even given my lax budgeting for necessities.

The back cover of the Out of TIme bootleg had Andrew Oldham-esque liner notes, as well as a picture of a very young Keith Richards.

The back cover of the Out of TIme bootleg had Andrew Oldham-esque liner notes, as well as a picture of a very young Keith Richards.

Early B-sides “I Want to Be Loved” and “Stoned,” for instance? Second UK single “I Wanna Be Your Man,” even though it was a British hit? The long version of “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” only available on a German LP? All prime early Stones, and all only findable by haunting enough import bins and record conventions to jack the bill into the three figures (in 1983 money). A killer record, one that you’d play over and over again if you were a Stones fanatic, even digging the tracks that were lousy in most other contexts for their sheer oddity value, like the Italian version of “As Tears Go By” (“Con Le Mie Lacime”). Well, okay, it’s hard to enjoy “Wild Colonial Boy” (the folk song Mick Jagger sings in the dull 1970 movie Ned Kelly) under any circumstances, but at least they had the decency to make it the last (and hence easiest to skip) track.

Another great find at the store-we-shall-not-name was the Beach Boys’ Smile, or at least an approximation of what the album might have sounded like. Keep in mind that this was when relatively little had been heard from those 1966-67 sessions for the most legendary unreleased LP of all time. Too, what had been written about it was fragmentary, contradictory, and itself rather hard to track down even if you were obsessive about it. We had no idea there’d be a Smile box set decades down the line, including most of the LP below and much more:

This 1983 edition of the Smile bootleg had liner notes attributed to James Watt, the infamous Secretary of the Interior who refused to allow the Beach Boys to play on the National Mall in Washington DC on July 4, 1983. The liner notes were dated on July 4, 1983, "to boot."

This 1983 edition of the Smile bootleg had liner notes attributed to James Watt, the infamous Secretary of the Interior who refused to allow the Beach Boys to play on the National Mall in Washington DC on July 4, 1983. The liner notes were dated on July 4, 1983, “to boot.”

But back then—you know, back in the days when we waded through miles of chest-high snow drifts to reach our one-room schoolhouses—finding this album was like getting the key to a secret vault that few knew existed, let alone knew how to find. Even as the owner of the music from the Smile box today, I still find the official reconstruction of the record rather too slick and slightly ill-fitting, if only because I got so used to playing this bootleg over and over again as the best facsimile of the “real” version. Turns out they made some mistakes with that album, too, even including a Miles Davis track that the bootleggers thought had been recorded by the Beach Boys and/or Brian Wilson. At least they had the gumption to admit their mistake in the “new improved” (though actually quite similar) Smile bootleg that followed just a couple years or so later, with a frank, irreverent wit wholly missing from the liner notes to almost any official album you could name:

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

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

I got a couple great bootlegs of pre-Tommy Who boots at this pint-sized warehouse  as well. Here’s another sleeve you’d never see on an official release back then. Come to think of it, you wouldn’t see it now, either:

A bootleg of Who rarities from the mid-to-late-1960s.

A bootleg of Who rarities from the mid-to-late-1960s.

And again, a handwritten label stating simply, “$10—Excellent Quality.” The proprietor must have scrawled a lot of those.

But again, truth in advertising, including outtakes from their 1964 session for a single billed to the High Numbers, mid-‘60s BBC broadcasts, a Coke commercial, a Pete Townshend demo of “It’s Not True,” the weird lumbering instrumental version of “Hall of the Mountain King”…yeah, I guess most of this has come out on CD somewhere or other by now too, though probably in different, more sterile mixes. But I wasn’t especially inclined to wait a dozen or more years back in 1983. I wanted instant gratification, and this album, unmentionable by name in family circles, delivered the goods by the fistful.

What happened to that hole-in-the-wall, bootleg-mostly shop near the sea? I haven’t been out there to check in years. As previously noted, theoretically it was certainly still in operation in the 1990s and maybe beyond, though friends who used to live a few doors away could never recall seeing anyone actually enter the premises. Probably all of the music it sold is only a click away on your computer now, much of it having even gained official release.

At the time, however, that store was the best game in town if you wanted those goodies, even if it meant a long ride on the streetcar. And then a longer walk to the other side of Golden Gate Park to hit the vinyl stores in the Inner Richmond, back when saving 50-cent bus fares were as much a necessity as hearing that Smile bootleg. I don’t remember lugging those LPs on those hour-long trudges too fondly. But I remember that store kind of fondly now, even if those precious LPs it sold back in the day hold no collector value today except, maybe, for that odder-than-odd artwork. Which graced the back cover of that Pink Floyd boot as well:

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Syd Barrett: Unforgotten Hero.