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.

No No: Not a Rockumentary, But a Dockumentary

There aren’t many documentaries about individual baseball players, at least if you don’t count the ones I don’t see that probably air on cable TV. No No: A Dockumentary is a recent theatrical release, but probably won’t be seen by a whole lot of people due to its niche subject matter, detailing the life of one of the most colorful players of the 1970s, Dock Ellis. I saw it last night at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and it does a pretty good job of covering the mercurial career of a good-but-not-great pitcher who’s still most notorious for proclaiming he threw a no-hitter under the influence of LSD.

Dock Ellis, as he looked around the time he threw a no-hitter in 1970.

Dock Ellis, as he looked around the time he threw a no-hitter in 1970.

The highlights of Dock’s career – that 1970 no-hitter, his unabashed use of drugs and drink, wearing curlers in his hair on the field, getting into conflicts with the baseball establishment for his outspoken opinions on racial injustice, starting the 1971 All-Star game for the National League, and his post-baseball life as a drug counselor – are fairly well known to serious baseball fans. They’re decently Doc-umented in No No (with a good soundtrack of obscure vintage soul-funk), so this post will focus on some of the more surprising things that cropped up in my viewing.

With the passage of decades since Dock’s heyday, other players from the era are also becoming frank about the widespread drug use within the game. Fans already knew it existed after pitcher Jim Bouton wrote about the ingestion of amphetamines, known within baseball as “greenies,” in his classic Ball Four diary of the 1969 season. That was one of many things about the book that infuriated the baseball establishment, but in retrospect, it seems that if anything, Bouton might have toned down the reality of the situation. After all, he felt their benefits were limited, making you think as though you had better stuff than you did, and didn’t quite state that virtually every player used them.

But in No No, a number of other players (and quite a few, interestingly, are interviewed throughout the film) from Dock’s time do. They even give percentages. One, pitcher Scipio Spinks (one of the great baseball names) — a very promising hurler who won just seven games in a career cut short by injury — even put the percentage of users at 95 or 96 percent. There’s been much outrage over steroid use by ballplayers (and other athletes) in the early twenty-first century, but this reminds us that the history of drug use in the sport far predates our own era, and was not just present, but prevalent.

Scipio Spinks, owner of one of professional sport's greatest names, though not one of baseball's greatest lifetime records (7 wins, 11 losses).

Scipio Spinks, owner of one of professional sport’s greatest names, though not one of baseball’s greatest lifetime records (7 wins, 11 losses).

Ellis, however, was an outsize drug user even by these standards. He claimed to have even taken sixteen or seventeen pills at once. No harm done if he wasn’t a pusher, some might say; his two wives, both victims of horrifying instances of domestic abuse, would say otherwise. When he was on these substances, observes one of his spouses, “I think he thought he was taking them over, but it was the other way around” — one of the most concise, on-target summaries of drug abuse I’ve ever heard.

Despite and sometimes because of his excesses, Dock was generally beloved by his teammates, friends, and family. The early-to-mid-1970s Oakland A’s are generally remembered as the most colorful of the period’s major league teams, but this movie also reminds us that the Pittsburgh Pirates gave them a run for their money. Pitcher Bruce Kison even goes as far as to remark that Pirates hated getting traded away because it was so boring being on other teams. (For a good portrait of the young Kison – speeding to his wedding just hours after helping the Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series, Santana blasting on the car stereo – see the chapter on Bruce in Pat Jordan’s fine book The Suitors of Spring.)

Pat Jordan's first book, The Suitors of Spring, collected profiles of various major and minor league players and coaches, mostly pitchers.

Pat Jordan’s 1972 The Suitors of Spring collected profiles of various major and minor league players and coaches, mostly pitchers, including a young Bruce Kison.

The Pirates were also notable for not just featuring more blacks than most teams, but fielding the first all-black lineup in major league baseball history on September 1, 1971. A few of the Pirates remember the occasion in No No, one of them claiming that the Buccos fell behind 7-0 in the first inning, not even thinking about the all-black personnel as they needed all their focus to pull out a 9-7 win. That wasn’t quite how it happened: they did fall behind to the Phillies (with Ellis on the mound) 2-0 and 6-5 in the early innings, but did indeed win 10-7. And they won the World Series the next month, though Ellis was sidelined by an arm injury after losing the first game.

Not everyone was as enamored of Ellis as his fellow Pirates, all of whom (including Kison, Steve Blass, Al Oliver, Gene Clines, and Dave Cash) speak of him in glowing terms in No No. Texas Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg’s impression of Ellis when the pitcher was on other teams: “I don’t want to meet him in an alleyway.” After Ellis was traded to the Rangers, Sundberg, who did not indulge in drug use, kept their relationship strictly professional.

The mid-‘70s Cincinnati Reds probably held no great love for Dock either. In an incident almost notorious as his LSD no-hitter, he began the first inning of a May 1, 1974 game against the Big Red Machine by intentionally hitting the first three batters. Joe Morgan, it’s remembered, thought Ellis wouldn’t hit him because Morgan was a “brother.” On the mound, though, all opponents were equal, Ellis plunking Morgan when the Hall of Famer took his turn at bat. Dock went on to walk Tony Perez with the bases loaded before getting removed from the game.

As an aside, one of the oddest things about No No is its use of clips from a way-obscure promo film of the early 1980s, Dugout. Though it’s hard to tell from the brief excerpts, it seems to have been a short designed to scare Little Leaguers away from drugs. Ellis doesn’t appear in it, but, even more unexpectedly, Bo Belinsky — another talented pitcher who threw a no-hitter early in his career — does. Unlike Ellis, Belinsky never had much other success in the big leagues, finishing with a 28-51 lifetime record. Despite that 1962 no-hitter for the Los Angeles Angels (as they were called then), Belinsky was regarded as never fulfilling his potential, largely in part not to drug use, but to being a playboy, dating Mamie Van Doren (to whom he was briefly engaged), Ann-Margret, Connie Stevens, and Tina Louise, as well as marrying Playboy Playmate of the Year Jo Collins.

Bo Belinsky, a better playboy than a pitcher.

Bo Belinsky, a better playboy than a pitcher.

From what little we see of Belinsky in the excerpts from Dugout used in No No, he seems to be warning kids away from drugs, in the wooden manner common to charismatic non-actor celebrities. The kids seem to be taking his cautions seriously, but here’s betting that no one could successfully warn aspiring big leaguers to stay away from the likes of Ann-Margret and Tina Louise. As it happens, Pat Jordan’s The Suitors of Spring also has a fascinating profile of Belinsky, who seemed to living it up just as hard right after getting out of the big leagues as he did in his brief peak.

Like Ellis, Belinsky would become a counselor (for alcohol abuse). One of Ellis’s clients, if that’s the right word, came as a surprise to me. Texas Rangers owner Brad Corbett, Sr., as his son reveals in the movie, was an alcoholic. Ellis remained friendly with Corbett after his brief time in Rangers uniform, and helped Corbett with his drink problem, Dock spending (according to at least one account in the film) almost all of his post-baseball life sober before his death in 2008.

It was a productive comeback of sorts considering how poorly Ellis, like many athletes, handled the sudden loss of his skills and end of his career. I’d forgotten that Dock briefly returned to the Pirates to finish his career at the end of 1979. The Pirates were fighting for a playoff spot (which they got, going on to win the World Series), and picked up Ellis with just a week or so to go in the season. He didn’t pitch too badly in his three games and seven innings, going four frames and getting a no-decision in the one game he did start, the second game of a September 24 doubleheader. (I’m guessing that doubleheader is probably the reason he got picked up, to make an emergency start to help out a heavily worked staff.) He confessed to Bruce Kison, however, that his arm was shot, and never appeared in a big league game after the regular schedule was over, being ineligible for the postseason roster. A five-hour session of abusing his second wife — including holding a gun in her mouth, and afterward demanding she have sex with him — was, she says in the film, fallout from his anger over getting released shortly afterward.

Lots of athletes have similarly ugly falls from grace when the cheering stops, even in a time when high salaries would seem to make post-career financial security a given. Not many athletes make something from themselves after the worst of it, as Ellis did, judging from that documentary. Which might have been the greatest saving grace of a man who, in another of the film’s surprises, received a letter of admiration from Jackie Robinson shortly before Robinson’s early-‘70s death. In many respects, Robinson was not nearly as controversial a figure; he was not a substance abuser, did not call attention to himself with antics like wearing hair curlers on the field, and even supported the Republican Party after his playing days had finished. In those ways, they weren’t kindred spirits. But in refusing to back down against a world in which racial discrimination was too prevalent, they were very much united.

1972-topps-dock-ellis-ia

Tomales Point Trail

There aren’t too many springtime days in the San Francisco Bay Area when the temperature soars over 80 degrees. It happened yesterday, though, and I took advantage of it as an opportunity to do a 9.5-mile waterside hike to Tomales Point in Point Reyes, about an hour north of San Francisco. It can get pretty windy on that exposed finger of land, all the more reason to go on a much warmer-than-average day with relatively little breeze.

Tomales Point, at the very end of the Tomales Point Trail.

Tomales Point, at the very end of the Tomales Point Trail.

That’s your reward for reaching the end of this out-and-back trail, with near-cliffside views of the water on either side for most of the way. It’s not too tough, with a wide, rolling dirt path that doesn’t get too steep, although there’s a real long downhill on the way to the point (and so a real long uphill about halfway back, when you’re more tired). It gets pretty sandy on a couple stretches near the point, too, so don’t break your best shoes or socks, as you’ll need to shake a cupful of sand out a couple times (and take a shower at home to get the sand out of your feet).

The most spectacular view is at Tomales Point itself, but you get a few good cliffside vistas on the bay side, like these:

Beach1

Vista3

Rock

Vista1

There are also some elk on the trail, especially in the Windy Gap area near the bottom of the long downhill section:

Elk2

I saw a deer hopping around not too far from here too, though not one as amiable about remaining stationary for the benefit of cameras.

When you get near the end of the “out” part of this out-and-back trail, you might be wondering if it’s worth it to go all the way “out,” especially as you get this view when you first spot the final segment:

PathBeforePoint

But persevere, and clamor down the last part, because you don’t want to miss these views at Tomales Point itself:

Point4

Point1

Point6

After you manage the long, long haul up the trail around the halfway point on the return journey, take in the rock formations as the path levels out:

RockFormation

There’s not a whole lot in the way of trees, but there are patches here and there:

Trees

The uphill part of the trail on the way back is behind the trees, and you can see how far it stretches.

Tomales Point Trail is isolated enough that you’re not going to run into too many other hikers (or horse riders, which are allowed), especially on a weekday. Usually the trail looks like this:

EmptyTrail

Over the course of the three hours and 45 minutes so (including camera/water/snack breaks) it took for my out-and-back, I couldn’t have seen more than 20 or 30 people. Go on a weekday if possible, since it’s likely far more crowded (and there will be far more traffic on the two-lane roads leading to the trailhead) on weekends. The parking lot at the trailhead has about 25 spaces, and was half-full when I arrived around 10:45am; it was completely full when I left four hours later.

There’s more information on the Tomales Point Trail page of the Bay Area Hiker site.

Point5

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills, Part 2

Just a few weeks ago, I posted about a hike through the El Cerrito Hills – the first such walk I’ve taken, despite living in the Bay Area for about thirty years. Such are the riches of this area that I returned yesterday to sample more of its delights. Well, I guess I wouldn’t be coming back so soon had not friends recently moved to that neighborhood. But it’s certainly a good excuse to set off in a different direction from their home to Wildcat Canyon Park, which I’m again embarrassed to admit I had not entered until yesterday:

On the trail in Wildcat Canyon Park, near the entrance on Rifle Range Road.

On the trail in Wildcat Canyon Park, about half a mile down from  the entrance on Rifle Range Road.

Technically a part of Richmond, the park can be entered from the tippy-top of the El Cerrito Hills, near the end of Rifle Range Road. There’s no trail-specific parking, but then again, not many people are using the trail, so you won’t have a problem finding a space on the street within a block or so. We saw a couple walkers here and there, but usually the trail looked like this, even on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon:

EmptyTrail

Eaves

We didn’t get too far into the hills of the park, which we’re planning to walk through for a longer and more ambitious trek this summer:

MoreHills

If you’re walking to the trail entrance through the El Cerrito neighborhood near Arlington Avenue, you’ll be bound to come across some sights worthy in their own right. My camera can’t do justice to some of the panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, but here’s one sample, with the tried-and-true image of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distant background:

DSCF1354

You can also take in some of the interesting architecture in the surrounding blocks, like this steep garden:

Garden

There’s more info about the park on the Wildcat Canyon Park website, as well as the Wildcat Canyon Park page on the San Francisco Bay Area Hiker site.

Near the trailhead for the Rifle Range Road entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park.

Near the trailhead for the Rifle Range Road entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park.

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.

Imported Produce: How Far Is Too Far?

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have access to a wider selection of produce, I would guess, than not only almost anyone from other parts in the US, but than almost anyone in the world. The long-established Berkeley Bowl, which now has two branches (one big enough to have a huge Bowl-ing alley-sized underground parking garage), might have more rows and rows of produce than any non-chain food store. The food comes not only from California, but from all over the globe:

Chile

On a typical visit, you can see grapefruit, melons, berries, and whatnot from as far-flung regions as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, especially when they’re out of season in the US. I’ve seen mangoes from Mexico, Guatemala, and even Peru at the Bowl, along with other Central and South American regions. You want it, odds are they have it, though the quality and availability will vary according to the time of year.

Yes, it’s great to live in the early-twenty-first century, when you can eat almost whatever you want almost whenever you want. If you have the money, that is—an increasing problem if you’re paying Bay Area housing costs. But what of the other costs, especially to the environment?

Think about the transportation distances involved. If you buy a mango from Peru instead of some tangerines from Northern California, you’re adding more than 4000 “food miles,” as the term goes in sustainable agriculture studies. Edom tomatoes from Israel are flown from 7000 miles distant. That grapefruit from Western Australia came from more than 9000 miles away.

That’s a lot of fuel to get from “farm to fork,” to use another term bandied about in these discussions. According to the EPA, the 2,800 “food miles” a California tomato travels to be sold in Washington, DC adds 165,256 lbs. of carbon dioxide emissions. You can do the math, more or less, to figure out how much more CO2 is unleashed at greater distances.

I don’t mean to pick on Berkeley Bowl too hard here. I don’t live close enough to the stores to go to them regularly, but I shop there myself when I go to the East Bay. According to its website, “the majority of our fruits and vegetables are grown locally”; “we buy from local farmers, the two wholesale markets in San Francisco and one in Oakland, and individuals who travel the agricultural areas of California looking for ripe, delicious fruits and vegetables,”; they have a large organic section, if not as large as the one for conventionally grown produce; and they do clearly mark the areas in which the food originates, as plainly seen here:

Mexico

This did get me thinking of an issue I haven’t seen addressed in anything I’ve read, however. If you’re concerned about all those food miles adding up, should you not buy any of those Western Australian grapefruit at all? If it comes down to buying a mango from Mexico or Peru, should you go for the Mexican one, even if it’s not as juicy? Is it enough just to feel passing pangs of liberal guilt when you buy that tender-to-the-touch Guatemalan melon, instead of the hard-as-rock one that hasn’t logged as much mileage? Should you patronize stores that import produce from distant corners of the Earth, and should they institute some sort of policies or limits on how far they’ll go in search of that perfect persimmon?

I don’t know of any stores in the Bay Area or elsewhere that place such limits on transportation distances. A start, or at least a mitigation, is being sure to at least also offer a wide selection of locally grown goods, as Berkeley Bowl does. So does Rainbow Grocery, a large worker-owned San Francisco cooperative, which might have a far smaller produce department, but also puts far more emphasis on organic goods. Rainbow also labels the states and countries of origin, even listing the towns for produce grown in California.

Rainbow Grocery labels the state or country of origin of all of its produce, and the town if it's from California. These grapefruit are from Oasis, a small town in Southern California.

Rainbow Grocery labels the state or country of origin of all of its produce, and the town if it’s from California. These grapefruit are from Oasis, a small town in Southern California.

“I don’t know that other stores place strict limits on how far their products travel,” says a member of Rainbow’s produce department. “We don’t. Preference is always given to nearby growers, and we buy farm-direct as often as possible. There are a few farmers who are given very high priority over other suppliers. Often, they’re people who run small operations, whose produce we love, and who have been supplying us for many years or decades. We’re really lucky to be in a region where we’re able to have close relationships with farms that grow an amazing range of produce, while they’re also deeply committed to growing it organically.”

Locally grown produce, it should be stressed, does drastically cut down on the “food miles.” According to a study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, “locally grown produce traveled an average of 56 miles from farm to point of sale, compared to an average of 1,494 miles for 30 types of produce from conventional sources.” The page on its site with a PDF of the whole breakdown’s available here, and also by clicking on the nifty graphic below:

That study was done in 2003, by the way, and it’s a sad comment on the state of left-wing think tanks that there doesn’t seem to have been a similar one done since, as surely things might changed in the last decade. Even Green America, the leading organization for advocating responsible consumerism in the US, still cites the 56-mile figure from the study on its website. Internet searches for more updated studies generated just-mildly-less-outdated scholarly papers of the kind that take a frighteningly long time to download, or even display as a web page. The Leopold Center or someone should pick up the ball on this, though one would guess it’s hardly the study first in line for government or university funding, which might be part of the problem.

It should be added that part of the reason Rainbow, Berkeley Bowl, and other stores outside of the chain mainstream carry produce from far away because of consumer demand. That’s even true in the Bay Area, where much of Rainbow’s clientele is certainly much more socially conscious and politically progressive than the average shopper. “We do carry produce that was grown far away,” notes Rainbow’s produce department member. “Tropical fruits have to travel long distances, so our mangoes and pineapples are usually from Central or South America. Occasionally, we’re able to buy California mangoes. They’re expensive, but we carry them whenever they’re available. Our papayas are flown in from Hawaii. We have Mexican tomatoes when California can’t provide the types we want to carry.

“There is a huge demand from customers to make certain items available,” adds the worker I queried. “We buy imported pears and apples when domestic supplies are exhausted. (By this time of the year, if you want an organic pear, the Southern Hemisphere is kind of the only game in town.) We also buy imported blueberries. It’s a fact of modern life that we defy the seasons to satisfy our culinary and commercial wants or needs. There is disagreement within our department as to whether or when it’s appropriate to sell certain things, but we do our best to make responsible decisions.”

A key difference between Rainbow and Berkeley Bowl (among many other stores that could be compared to Rainbow) is, as stated earlier, that organic produce is far more prominent at the San Francisco cooperative. “For the Produce Department at Rainbow, it’s most important that our products are organically grown. For this reason, everything we carry is certified organic, wildcrafted (foraged produce, like wild mushrooms or fiddlehead ferns), or (in extremely rare instances) ecologically grown (grown and harvested according to organic guidelines, but lacking official certification). We carry NOTHING that was grown conventionally.”

If the organic produce isn’t locally grown, does that outweigh the effects of transportation over longer (sometimes much longer) distances? Should socially responsible buyers favor produce, even of the organic kind, whose journeys from farm to fork are shorter? Should they even decline to buy produce from far-off regions altogether—and if so, how far is too far? Mexico, Guatemala, or some other cutoff point (if measured from California)? Should there even be a carbon tax of some sort on produce, depending on how many “food miles” it’s traveled?

These are all questions I can’t answer—and, more importantly, that don’t seem to have been answered or discussed too much, either in academia or the socially responsible community that supports sustainable food consumption. One step toward finding those answers is bringing up the questions, and just this blog query has ignited some discussions at Rainbow. Watch this space for a follow-up, if more discussion at the cooperative’s meetings, formal or informal, result in any more info on how we should keep an eye on the fuel our food is burning up—even the produce is purchased with a social conscience.

UPDATE: Since I put up this post, I’ve found out that at least one health food store in the Bay Area not only posts signs with the place of origin of their produce, but also actually lists the distance it travels to the store.  Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, on one of Marin County’s main drags (Sir Francis Drake Boulevard), has signs such as the one below. Apologies for the blurriness, but you should be able to make out that this dill in its produce section was grown 201 miles from the store:

Foodmiles

 

 

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 End of a Land’s End Era

Just like it seems almost too easy—cheap, even—to post photos of the Golden Gate Bridge when you’re blogging about great San Francisco outdoors sites, so it is to post photos taken from the trail at Land’s End. Like this one:

The Golden Gate Bridge, seen from the eastern end of Land's End trail.

The Golden Gate Bridge, seen from the eastern end of Land’s End trail.

There you get Land’s End and the bridge in one shot. A key difference between this and most bridge pics is that most tourists don’t even know about Land’s End. In fact, some San Francisco residents haven’t even been to Land’s End. That’s unbelievable considering both its spectacular cliffside trail—running by the water between the bridge and Golden Gate Park—and its lack of much pedestrian traffic, even on near-ideal sunny Sunday mornings like this one. I guess I’m blowing the secret by blogging about it, but I’ll take my chances.

I much prefer entering Land’s End at its eastern end, which is much quieter than the large parking lot (including a Golden Gate National Recreation Area visitor center) at the western entrance near the famed Cliff House restaurant.  The trail as a whole, but especially this part—with its inconspicuous entrance, between a tony residential area and a golf course—has undergone some recent renovations. Here’s the best one, finally adding a few bike racks where previously there were none, forcing you to use a Stop sign pole down the street:

Bike Rack

Be sure to take the scenic Lake Street bike path if you’re coming from points east, rather than the more traffic-heavy alternate routes:

The Lake Street bike path, halfway between Land's End and its start (at Arguello & Lake in the Inner Richmond)

The Lake Street bike path, halfway between Land’s End and its start (at Arguello & Lake in the Inner Richmond)

I have mixed feelings, though, about the renovations just a few yards past the bike racks at the trail’s entrance:

Platform

There used to be an elevated platform there. Yes, it obstructed part of the view, at least from some angles. But it was also where I saw a good friend get married a dozen years ago—possibly the best such outdoors location in San Francisco for such an occasion. It was one of those typically Mark Twain-nightmare socked-in foggy mid-summer days here, and as I drove out to the site, I had little hope it would lift. Magically, it did, only minutes before the ceremony, brilliant blue sunny skies bordering gray clouds just over the highest tips of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hollywood couldn’t have planned a better shot. And no, I don’t have a photo, unfortunately. In a happier footnote, the couple’s still married, with a son just a few years away from entering his teens.

Other modifications on the trail are more moderate, the most visible being a few graded steps in a couple sections and some unobtrusive small chained-together poles guarding some cliffside sections. You still get great views like these:

The Sutro Baths -- the most spectacular view from Land's End trail, near the western entrance.

The Sutro Baths — the most spectacular view from Land’s End trail, near the western entrance.

That's the Marin Headlands from another point on the trail.

That’s the Marin Headlands from another point on the trail.

Yet another bridge view, though not from the ex-platform space near the eastern entrance.

Yet another bridge view, though not from the ex-platform space near the eastern entrance.

From the top of the steep stairs about halfway along the trail.

From the top of the steep stairs about halfway along the trail.

And you can still get great views from where that platform used to be (it seems like they’re putting in plants in the leveled space it formerly occupied). It’s sad, though, knowing I’ll never see a wedding there again.

You can't see weddings-on-a-platform anymore at the eastern end of Land's End, but at least you can sit down while you enjoy the view.

You can’t see weddings-on-a-platform anymore at the eastern end of Land’s End, but at least you can sit down while you enjoy the view.

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

Author Richie Unterberger's views on vintage rock music; San Francisco Bay Area biking and hiking; socially responsible living; and baseball.