Tuesday, 1 January 2019
Monday, 24 December 2018
Hello dear readers! How was your 2018? What AAA albums did you get under your tree? Or did you even, perhaps, get one of our first seven books (very competitively priced and out at a store near you – assuming that by ‘near you’ that you have your kindle to hand and that an Amazon online warehouse counts as being ‘a store’!) Yes we have seven books out now and another twelve ready to roll once a month across 2019 (more on that at the end of the page!) As for the music, well, blimey, there I was thinking I’d finished the early books on this list when they all seemed to wake up, some of them (Croz and Mark Knopfler) waiting until the week before our book’s publication date to put their latest out and of course they had to end up in the books too, so the last few months have been a bit frantic even without ploughing ahead with the second drafts (I’m just starting volume 27 on cat Stevens though, so I have a few in hand. I might even finish writing this Gregorian knot of a project sometime in 2019, but then I think I said that last year - and the one before!) It has been a bit of an unusual year, dear readers, so we’ve slewed our usual year-end categories round to acknowledge this. There was, you see, only two AAA-related documentaries all year so we’ve rather shortened our top three, while I can only think of two books (Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones’ autobiography ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ and Roger Daltrey's thankyou note to his headmaster for expelling him) and I must confess I haven’t had a chance to read either of them yet, so the books category is out of bounds too. While it’s been a year fairly thin on the ground for new releases and split pretty equally between the great and ghastly for once, we’ve had a bumper crop of re-issues this year and instead of being poor some are just slightly less enticing than others, so we’ve extended our ‘positive’ re-issue listing and skipped the ‘negative’ one.
At the time of writing (the last day of November) the AAA has sold 107 books. Not bad considering our teensy tiny budget with our Beach Boys volume the runaway winner so far. We would like to add grateful thanks to everyone who has bought a copy of any of our first seven books for helping us out this year. Thanks as always to my wonderful support team who have been brilliant all year every year– Slack and BB (who designed our very wonderful book covers!), Stuart, Paul, Kenny and my flufflewina Vicki. Also a big thankyou to the new friends made since the books were released – Kevin, Mervyn and Jamie Lynn. Also a big thankyou to the moderators at ‘Beach Boys Rock Forever’ (Rebecca), ‘Belle and Sebastian – For Fans Only’ (Vinicius), ‘The Byrds’ (Dave), ‘McGuinn Clark Hillman’ (Miguel), ‘CSNY Fan Discussion Group’ (Jim) and ‘Stephen Stills/Manassas’ (Bill), not to mention the always wonderful ‘Kinda Kinks’ website (Dave). All of these groups are superb facebook groups so if you have a passion for these bands too then every reader should make it their New Year’s resolution to go and join! Finally to you dear readers – there might not be as much up at the AAA these days now that we have moved on to the ‘books’ phase of the project, but you are all still very much included on our ‘nice’ list. May all of you have a brilliant – and musical – 2019
THE TOP FIVE NEW RELEASES OF THE YEAR:
1) David Crosby “Here If You Listen”
(Reviewed in full at https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2018/10/david-crosby-and-friends-here-if-you.html )
Croz has been more prolific than ever in the past six years with this his fourth solo album (it did, after all, take him eighteen years to follow up his first!) After propping up the bottom end of our ‘best releases’ or even our ‘worst releases’ in recent years this is finally the album we’ve been waiting for, consistent and courageous. Croz has combined his voice with Snarky Puppy’s Michael League and jazz singer Becca Stevens for a unique blend of folk, jazz, blues and a Madrigal style and the trio sound as if they have been singing together forever, bringing out the best in Crosby’s still ageless voice. It’s the songs though that really make this album, from a vision of global warming in the future leaving the world marooned at sea like Venice to Croz’s concern about encroaching mortality on ‘Balanced On A Pin’ to the recycling of two unheard scat vocals from the Crosby archives, this is a brave and memorable, moving CD. After albums that were too noisy or too quiet or too similar to what came before this is the ‘Goldilocks’ of modern Crosby CDs that gets the mixture just right and is easily Crosby’s best since his CPR days at the end of the last century. Highly recommended.
2) Grateful Dead “Filmore West February 27th 1969”
We have, I suppose, had this concert out before, but only as part of a pricey box set dedicated to four shows the Dead played into March during what I’ve always considered their ‘peak’ live year – but never on its own before and not on vinyl either. This is one of the best shows the Dead ever played (and I haven’t heard them all but I have heard a lot of them, especially from this period!) and are bursting with ideas, right on the cusp between the exhilarating experimentation of 1968 and the compact poetry of 1970. This is the period when fans really didn’t know what was going to happen next and on this night everything that happens is superb: Pigpen starts thinks off with an earthy ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’, there’s a thrilling take on oddball ‘Doin’ That Rag’ that beats the studio cut hands down and a hauntingly beautiful ‘Mountains Of The Moon’. All of which is merely a warm-up for The Dead at their peak: this one of the best ‘Dark Stars’ the Dead ever played, mysterious and poignant and ebbing and flowing with pure telepathy, while the twenty-three minutes of ‘That’s It For The Other One’ that runs the complete gamut of human experience and expression is my pick as the single best Dead performance of the single best Dead song ever. Only with this band could a stunning medley of ‘St Stephen’ and ‘The Eleven’ (a performance which appeared on the ‘Live/Dead’ LP) be the ‘comedown’ and even that is followed by Pig taking us back to Earth again with his best performance of ‘Turn On Your Lovelight’ topping nearly half an hour. After those three hours you will be exhausted, but in the best way that only the greatest live music can make you. Yes we’ve had this set out before – and it still costs too much, they should have made this an affordable sampler set for curious Deadheads, while the packaging of skeletons in pink is hideous and tacky for music of such beauty and depth – but if you haven’t heard this show before then you are in for a treat. I first heard this show a decade ago and I don’t think I’ve come down from it yet.
3) Mark Knopfler “Down The Road Wherever”
Though a patchy record that lacks the breadth of 2012’s ‘Privateering’ and the beauty of 2015’s ‘Trackers’, Mark’s latest nevertheless extends his terrific recent run. Best of all Mark has ditched the character songs for more autobiography than usual, with memorable songs recounting his teenage years trudging through the snow to a gig nobody turns up to, desperate to make a name for himself, or sitting alone at a bar with songs running through his head as he dreams that all the strangers in the room will one day know his name. It’s as if enough time has gone past now for Mark’s younger self to be treated like all his other dreaming working class characters, desperate to escape their lot in life through hard work and luck, still in shock that he actually had a fairytale ending to all his early misery. Better than the album – for the second album in a row – are the bonus tracks full of some truly poignant material including ‘Pale Imitation’ where Mark sees himself as a child and wonders how his younger self would view his adultness and Celtic finale ‘Sky and Water’ where the good and bad from love merge into one line of blue brilliance in Mark’s memory. Alas the first half of the actual album is pretty poor, which moves this album down a notch in ourt estimation. Even so, it’s another good one from a writer whose hit a whole new rich seam of creativity in the past decade, his most prolific period and consistent period since the early 1980s. Long may it continue!
4) Dave Davies “Decade”
In the early 1970s Dave suffered something of a nervous breakdown. He’d been worked too hard, taken too many drugs, suffered too many doomed romances while still trying to recover from the teenage sweetheart he still yearned for and felt increasingly apart from brother Ray. After being The Kinks’ dark horse of the 1960s Dave went quiet with no songs at all released between 1971 and 1978 which struck fans as odd – a talent as rich as Dave with so much on his mind surely had lots to say. This album is what happened to all those songs, which the liner notes describe being ‘stuck in drawers and forgotten’. You can see why to some extent: none of these songs would have matched his brother’s visions for The Kinks, being alternately too sweet, too dark, too rough or too feisty for his magnum opuses of the decade. Some of these songs are also too dark and ‘real’ for public consumption, at least while Dave was suffering from the malaise that inspired them. However they deserved their release at some point and 2018 is as good a time as any, with some truly wonderful additions to the Kinks katalogue here. Highlights include the psychiatric session masquerading as a pop song ‘Give Me All Your Love’, the first draft for ‘Bug’ classic ‘Why?’ when it was a blues song called ‘Mr Moon’ and the country-rock of ‘Shadows’ with its union of Dave’s loves of folk and heavy rock somehow sounding great shadowing each other. Admittedly there’s no classic here up to almost anything on the 1960s ‘lost’ Dave album (released belatedly as ‘Hidden Treasures’ in 2011) and Dave’s rough vocals are alarming on many tracks clearly not made for listening pleasure. However this is an important release Kinks fans have dreamed of for a long time and as usual with Dave it is delivered with a lot of love and care.
5) Neil Young “Songs For Judy”
Mysterious! The only Neil Young album in a busy year for his personal life (marriage to Darryl Hannah and the loss of his home to Californian wildfires) is another ‘archive’ set, this one an acoustic solo show from 1976. Only, for the first time in this lengthy series, Neil has released a ‘highlights’ set with songs taken piecemeal from different shows on the same tour (Neil being Neil, he recorded pretty much all of them!) What’s odd is that by Young’s standards he’s barely even mentioned this album coming out and admits that it was the brainchild of archivist Joel Bernstein rather than his own personal choice. As a result we don’t know much about this set – why we've got yet another 1970s live set (is there an Archives II on the way?), why Neil keeps banging on about cover star Judy Garland for instance (we don’t know why that would be, given that she died in 1969) or what Neil was thinking when he wrote this set’s unique song ‘No One Seems To Know’, a much bootlegged song that’s lovely and haunting but as opaque as Neil gets. The one performance fans have always known is ‘Campaigner’ from 1997’s compilation ‘decade’ and if that homely acoustic style is to your taste then you will love much of the rest of the show too which features old friends and new performed in much the same way. I’d still have preferred a live archive set of Crazy Horse from this same year (their Japanese tour especially was stunning and some of the best shows Neil ever played) but it’s typical Neil to ignore the obvious for a tour that rather fell through the cracks. Another fascinating release – and one that’s almost affordable for once, to boot!
THE WORST FIVE NEW RELEASES OF THE YEAR:
1) The Beach Boys “With The Philharmonic Orchestra”
Here’s a confession, dear readers. I find the current trend for merging old recordings with new ones rather dumb. Elvis isn’t alive to sanction the string overdubs on his ‘latest’ set and they sound so out of place, as if an orchestra have wondered in off the street and started playing an entirely different song, showing up that Elvis’ original tapes are over forty years old. Cliff was at least alive when he did the same thing (barely, anyway) and it still sounds dumb: why add strings to something that didn’t need them in the first place? At least, I thought, you won’t find any of ‘my’ bands doing that! And then The Beach Boys let me down. I remain in a minority of people who think they worked better without an orchestra anyway – ‘Pet Sounds’ is horribly cloying in places and only the best of ‘Smile’ makes you feel that an orchestra is at all necessary to the arrangements. I much prefer the earlier – and later – unadorned recordings with the band playing everything themselves. Now, though the band (particularly Bruce Johnston who pushed for this album) have stuck a whacking great orchestra over every period and it sucks big time. The likes of ‘Fun Fun Fun’ and ‘darlin’ should be light on their feet – surfboards aren’t made for strings. Many of these tracks already had orchestra arrangements anyway, which makes you wonder why the likes of ‘Here Today’ and ‘God Only Knows’ are here at all, especially as the parts overdubbed on top are so much worse than anything Brian Wilson came up with in the 1960s. Maybe if the band had been brave and dusted off some rarer songs that could have used the higher budget I’d have been more willing (‘Marcella’ ‘Santa Ana Winds’ most of the synthesised ‘Beach Boys Love You’). But no: almost every song here is a top ten hit and those that weren’t are well known fan favourites. One other thing too: the tapes used have been recycled for so many compilations that they are really sounding their age now, sixty-five years plus. The orchestra has been recorded in modern-day surround sound. No attempt has been made to find a way of combining the two properly. The result is an absolute mess, an expensive waste of time and yet another Neanderthal reaction to keeping alive a quite brilliant back catalogue that nobody seems to know what to do with any more. This was a dumb idea that should have been shot down in flames the first time it was discussed. Still better than Cliff’s though!
2) The Moody Blues “Days Of Future Passed Live”
I confess I’m not a big fan of ‘Days Of Future Passed’, which despite its high reputation and record sales always sounded like the patchiest of the original seven ‘Justin ‘n’ John’ Moodies albums to me. There is, though, more to be said for the ‘other’ current trend of bands revisiting their most famous albums in concert in their entirety so I thought maybe this disc would give me some insight to the album I never got before. Oh dearie me. The Moodies have, it’s fair to say, never been the best live band. They are built for the perfection of the studio not the roar of the live arena. I have in my time as a fan sat through many a disappointing live album of theirs, almost all of them with a good half of this album performed in there somewhere anyway. I have never in my life heard them play as badly as this. Everyone has lost their voice and aged so much in the past few years. The much missed flautist Ray Thomas has been replaced by a female flute player (good idea) and his songs handed over to Justin and John without any compensation for a different voice such as a key they can actually sing in (very very very bad idea). The orchestra is once again the weakest link and boom and crash their way throughout the record as if playing an entirely different album. Graeme Edge’s narration was hard for Mike Pinder to do with a straight face but Jeremy Irons’ hammy version of it is a million times worse. Even the ‘greatest hits’ disc that starts the show is the worst the Moodies have released, the band on creaky autopilot as they struggle from first note to last. The blatant auto-tuning is distracting and embarrassing and the mix so poorly made that all you seem to hear are the drums and the backing singers going ‘aaaagh’ instead of ‘aah’ all the way through. This isn’t ‘Days Of Future Passed’, this is two hours of my life I will never get back again!
3) Roger McGuinn “Sweet Memories”
My real problem with this set is the way it was advertised: Roger’s ‘first solo album in seventeen years!’ The guitar maestro has, so we’ve been told, worked at crafting his new songs and has come up with his most substantial album in decades after dallying with his ;folk den project’ of covers. Well, the sad truth is that this is a set of demos recorded by Roger in the late 1970s and early 1980s when he couldn’t get a record deal on his own but wasn’t that fussed, writing songs about his holidays and his then-new wife that sound more like ways of passing the time than conveying anything was burning deep within his soul. This patchy set of badly recorded demos hasn’t been changed in any way, only added to with some later equally badly recorded demos (odd in itself that, given that the gadget-mad Roger would surely have had the latest technology at hand at all times). The result is an album that had it been marketed properly, as a ‘lost’ album full of homespun material, might have been worth a listen. Even so, I suspect I would have been disappointed with this lazy album on bootleg, never mind paying full price for it as it’s the sort of up-itself album punk was put on this Earth to destroy. The title track is, however, a good ‘un and a potential hit single in waiting that never was, so at least that’s something I suppose.
4) Paul McCartney “Egypt Station”
(Reviewed in full at https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2018/09/paul-mccartney-egypt-station-2018.html )
It is a sign of what a duff year 2018 has been for music that this distinctly mediocre album – Paul’s worst since 2003 – has been hailed such a strong seller and hailed as a brilliant album of monumental proportions. It really isn’t. By Paul’s usual inspired status its cheap and lazy, full of nursery rhyme lyrics and forgettable melodies on songs that have nothing to say and still find the worst possible way to say it. Take ‘People Want Peace’ which is to ‘Pipes Of Peace’ what The Spice Girls are to The Beatles, stating the obvious with no reason to listen. The deeply alarming ‘back In Brazil’ where a girl with dreams is effectively told to knuckle down and get a husband – a little worrying in this day and age and a lyric you suspect Linda would have given Paul a clip round the ear for writing. ‘Caesar Rock’ is by far the dumbest of Paul’s ‘let’s write a song on the spot with some daft words’ tracks. And ‘Despite Repeated warnings’ is meant to be a tale of how politics around the world has devolved into a worryingly right-wing trend to blame it all on minority scapegoats when it is all the fault of middle-class bankers…written in the style of The Frog Song Chorus and ‘We All Stand Together’. Paul is not immune to giving us bad albums (‘Flaming Pie’ ‘Kisses On The Bottom’ and ‘Chaos and Creation In The back Yard’ are easily within the top ten of the ‘weakest AAA albums of new material ever) but recent albums like ‘Electric Arguments’ and ‘New’ have been so good I really expected more from this record than three half-listenable love songs and one strong piece in ‘Confidante’ (which is about an imaginary friend, a guitar or John Lennon and ambiguous enough to work as all three). Oddly for a man whose taken a five year break (his longest ever between new studio albums) this record sounds rushed and is still on its first drafts, in desperate need of a co-writer to reign Macca’s worst tendencies in.
5) Paul Simon “In The Blue Light”
This record is the most Paul Simon idea ever. With retirement on the horizon next year Paul decided to give his fans one last present – an album of ten songs he didn’t think he got right the first time, re-recorded with a bigger budget so that he can feel at peace with his legacy. It is in many ways a great idea, especially as Paul chose not the songs everyone knows and loves already but ten obscure album tracks. Some of them, including the wonderful modern morality tale ‘darling Lorraine’ (about a couple who bicker endlessly until one of them dies), the poetic tale of emptiness ‘How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns’ (from the under-rated film masterpiece ‘One-Trick Pony’) and the quirky ‘Can’t Run But’ are all amongst Paul’s best work. However Paul got them right the first time: subjecting these and seven distinctly lesser songs (such as the boring plod ‘Rene and Georgette Magritte’ and the ugly ‘Some Folk’s Lives Roll Easy’) to an overblown jazzier sound only makes them sound artificial and sterile. This is an experiment that only really works on muted song ‘Love’ and elsewhere serves to make the good sound bad and the bad atrocious. This is not the way Paul’s catalogue should have ended and ‘In The Blue Light’ should have been given the red light on its first playback. Or sooner.
THE TOP SEVEN RE-ISSUES OF THE YEAR:
1) Paul McCartney and Wings “Wildlife”
I know, I know – three other major re-issues by Beatles alone this Christmas and I’ve plumped for the poor beaten scapegoat of the Wings catalogue that nobody else seems to like. But bear with me, for I have longed for this album to be given the McCartney Archives ‘deluxe’ treatment and finally get the credit it deserves, with the benefit of more ‘new’ recordings taken from the archives than any other archive set so far. ‘Wildlife’ remains the sort of album only a ‘fan’ could love, I know. The opening song is deliberately written in gibberish, the second song has the chorus ‘Bip bop bip bop bop bip bop bip bop bam’ and features the performances of a band who have only just met and don’t yet have the sort of telepathy to pull this raw and wacky album off. Even so there are some real hidden beauties in these grooves: Paul’s gorgeous love song for Linda ‘Some People Never Know, the world’s first ‘white’ reggae cover ‘Love Is Strange’ that is groovier than almost all of the ones to come by anybody, the world’s first non-folk purist ecological plea ‘Wildlife’ and the sweet gesture of olive branches and friendship in the Beatle wars with the poignant and powerful ‘Dear Friend’. Three extra discs include such new delights as an entire ‘rough’ acetate rehearsal tape that makes the album sound funkier and punkier (the way Moody Blues producer Tony Clarke wanted it – and he was right!), under-rated and courageous single ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ plus rehearsal film of an early Wings getting the song just right and the 1972 version of ‘Rupert The Bear’ (abandoned as a full-length film for taking too long and re-made as a short cartoon in 1984) which is delightfully cute. Like all the Macca archive sets this one also looks gorgeous with unseen Linda Macca photographs of Wings’ first meeting (with more unseen shots than usual for these hefty boxes), handwritten lyrics and notes from the band. Like the best albums in this series (‘Ram’ especially) the extras really do add to your understanding of the original record and whilst it may never be a five-star classic there is enough of worth here to make ‘Wildlife’ seem even more like the Wings album that got away.
2) Grateful Dead “Anthem Of The Sun”
Rhino’s typically ambitious plan is to re-issue every single Grateful Dead album on each record’s fiftieth birthday, with an unreleased concert from as close as the label can get to the release date of each album as a ‘second disc’. The first for debut album ‘Grateful Dead’ last year was disappointing with a boring show that had very few of the actual album songs performed. ‘Anthem’, however, is another matter entirely. My pick as the Dead’s boldest and most unique album, this part-studio part-live album works as a sort of ‘parallel universe’ where eight performances (at times) of each of the four album songs are played and the engineer uses the band like an ‘instrument’, hopping between one ‘galaxy’ to another he goes. This always made ‘Anthem’ particularly ripe for a ‘bonus’ re-issue and while we only get one of those shows here (not 4-7 – I wait in vain for a ‘super deluxe’ show containing all of them!) it is a particularly great one. The Dead’s surprisingly late premiere of future concert favourite ‘That’s It For The Other One’ (a song making its second appearance in our review this year!) is fascinating, this complex jamathon already in place while the cool-out into ‘New Potato caboose’ is beautiful too. Both of these are bettered, however, by two Dead extremes: a brilliantly punchy ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ and a hauntingly poetic ‘Morning Dew’ full of real angst and terror. While the big finale of ‘Turn On Your Lovelight’ is a bit of a let-down, this 1968 show demonstrates just why this period was such an important one for the Dead and why even fifty years their live shows remain some of the most powerful committed to tape. After a shaky start to the series I now can’t wait for the re-issues of both ‘Aoxomoxoa’ and ‘Live/Dead’ next year to see if Rhino can possibly top them at all.
3) The Beatles “White Album – Deluxe Edition”
Somewhere somehow the Apple marketing department has hit upon the idea that The White Album is not only the fan’s favourite but the band’s best. It really isn’t. In truth this sprawling beast is both the best and the worst of the fab four sitting side by side and what they’ve conveniently forgotten to tell you is that the album lasts for 30 songs because it was the quickest way for the band to end their current record contract and get better negotiating terms than because all the songs were worthy of release. As with last year’s ‘Sgt Peppers’ re-issue I’m in two minds: there is some terrific stuff here never heard before, even on bootleg and the album has never sounded better – but so should it at current prices (£130!) and asking fans to fork out for so many extra discs of the same album in different mixes is an insult (the new mix may be sharper with odds and ends never heard before, but what it really shows is that The Beatles were masters of knowing what their best work was and cutting out the bits that didn’t work). There are nevertheless some truly great moments here: a whole disc of John Paul and George’s demos as recorded in the latter’s house post-India, the best of which (‘Me and My Monkey’ ‘Back In The USSR’ ‘Piggies’ ‘Bungalow Bill’) beat the album versions hands down. We also get such rarities as George’s ‘Not Guilty’ and ‘Circles’ (not released by Harrison in any form until ‘George Harrison’ in 1979 and ‘Gone Troppo’ in 1983 respectively) and John’s first draft for ‘Jealous Guy’ when it was still a maharishi lecture about wildlife ‘Mother Nature’s Children’ (odd, given the album above, that it wasn’t Paul who was inspired to write it but then he did write ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ around the same time).Over on the studio discs we get way too many repeats from ‘Anthology’ (seriously, what fan forking out over a hundred pounds for this set doesn’t own them already?) but also some real gems (the ten minute ‘Revolution #1’ that eventually becomes the opening two minutes of ‘Revolution #9’is superb and should have been released this way originally; the brilliant backing track for ‘USSR’ with Paul’s drums and piano up loud, the band take on ‘Not Guilty’ that’s all sharp corners and dissonance, a beautiful slower take of ‘Sexy Sadie’ that’s not so much angry as sad; a rough ‘n’ ready first take of ‘Hey Jude’ I’ve always preferred to the final slick version; a much longer extract of the slow bluesy version of ‘Helter Skelter’ which now runs to thirteen minutes) as well as a few misses (the album’s best song ‘Long Long Long’ went through millions of takes but was never bootlegged as far as I know – how frustrating the version released here is so fast and thrown away by a band who haven’t quite got ‘it’ yet, even on take 44; Macca sang ‘Blackbird’ so many times in the exact same way it’s often hard to hear a difference; why with so many songs to cover do we waste a whole twenty with Ringo singing us ‘Goodnight’ – most of which we’ve had before?) To be honest the best of this stuff should have been out on ‘Anthology’ anyway and I can’t help feeling short-changed by a band who used to be famous for looking after their fans for what seems like the thirtieth time this century already. Even so the best of this set is gorgeous and truly unmissable, while the packaging 9a big book, basically) is a huge improvement on the ‘peppers’ set.
4) John Lennon “Imagine – The Ultimate Collection”
Equally we are told by the publicity material that every fan thinks ‘Imagine’ was the best album John ever made. They’re wrong, as a recent poll to find the best ever solo Beatles album put this in fourth, behind George’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ Paul’s Ram’ and my own personal pick ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’. In truth ‘Imagine’ is a mixed bag with Lennon at his best and worst and that goes double for this re-issue. On the plus side, a bootleg of the strings overdub for ‘Imagine’s title track has always been one of my favourites, perhaps the greatest achievement of Phil Spector’s life, warm and lush but with sighing minor chords trapped inside the treacle like pockets of air. An alternate take of ‘jealous Guy’ with Lennon singing once rather than multi-tracked is heartbreakingly poignant even if the rest of the mix sounds a bit ‘wrong’. Perhaps’ John’s loveliest solo ballad ‘Oh My Love’ sounds more ‘real’ somehow in this early take with his voice cracking under the strain. Closer ‘Oh Yoko!’ makes far more sense as a silly demo taped on holiday with Yoko gamely trying to keep up than it did over-recorded into a pop epic for the album. The rest though makes the album sounds ten times worse: the joyless ‘How Do You Sleep?’ heard twice over in different takes is a real slog, ‘Crippled Inside’ sounds even dumber than normal and you wonder to yourself again how someone at Lennon’s level of brilliance could ever have possibly sanctioned such lines as ‘I don’t wanna be a soldier mama, I don’t wanna fly’. The documentary –discussed below – doesn’t really add much either as do such bonus tracks as the oft-released throwaway ‘Do The Oz’ raising funds for a liberal magazine taken to court for ‘obscenity’. The fact that Lennon got away with such songs as this as a finished product is pretty obscene too. Even so, at £18 this is a far more reasonably priced set than the White Album or McCartney ones and for that price this is worth it to hear even half a disc’s worth of worthy new material. Please, though, stop messing around with this fluff and put the complete ‘Plastic Ono band’ sessions out instead!
5) Paul McCartney and Wings “Red Rose Speedway”
I have been calling for a re-release of ‘Speedway’ in the archives collection as long and as loud as I have for ‘Wildlife’ so those of you who read our original article (at ) may be surprised it isn’t higher in this list. Well, there was a great re-issue to be had, but this isn’t it. Back in 1973 Paul had plans to properly introduce Wings to the world and came up with a double set that would have cameos by Denny Laine, Henry McCullough and Linda as well as a lot more Paul, but EMI baulked at the poor sales of ‘Wildlife’ and told him to cut it down to a single LP. Paul being Paul he threw most of the best stuff away (his biggest problem has always been that he can’t tell his good material apart from his bad). What the compilers should have done, then, is re-create that original album because it works really well: the sequence alternates being playfully brave and impressively commercial putting silly pop songs and ‘My Love’ up against band jam instrumentals and weirdness. ‘Night Out’ has long been a bootleg favourite and is perhaps the last truly great ‘missing’ McCartney song not out on something (more below!) poignant ballad ‘Mama’s Little Girl’ for daughter Mary is Paul at his melodic sweet best, ‘Jazz Street’ has Wings trying to play like The Grateful Dead fronted by Miles Davis and is odd but in a fascinating way, ‘1882’ is a classy tale of Victorian working class poverty delivered with real menace, ‘best friend’ is a cute typically Mccartney song of friendship and hurt (directed at Lennon?) and ‘Tragedy’ a sweet if depressing cover song, whist Denny charms with ‘I Would Only Smile’ (hopefully its presence on this reissue will bring him some much needed finances) and Linda with classic ‘Seaside Woman’. That’s not a bad run for a ‘re-issue’ set, especially with classic B-side ‘The Mess’ added to the line-up, but this pricey box would have been better still had we had everything in order and surrounding the original album mixes (I much prefer the bootlegger’s rawer take on ‘Big Barn Bed’ and the spacier take on ‘Loup’ while the only thing this original line-up of the album left off was the closing clumsy ‘medley’, ten minutes that almost no fan anywhere would ever miss). For once the DVD disc is the saviour of the set with no less than two full unseen TV specials: ‘James Paul Mccartney’ hasn’t been since 1973 when Paul was ‘forced’ into making it as a way of avoiding a court case with Lew Grade (it’s a complicated story but basically with Apple in court Paul was getting no income and as Linda was helping draft his songs he credited her to get some ready cash; publisher Lew Grade wasn’t happy but also ‘owned’ ITV and offered the special as a way of both of them getting money) and ‘The Bruce McMouse Show’ which is an unseen Wings concert based around the adventures of a family of mice who travelled with Wings on their tourbus, which has never been seen till now.
6) Nick Mason “Unattended Luggage”
I’ll be honest with you: I doubt there are many takers for the Pink Floyd drummer’s extra-curricular projects, the first of which (‘Fictitious Sports’) is a Carla Bley album with a guesting Robert Wyatt the pair couldn’t get a deal for so ‘borrowed’ Nick’s drumming and his name, the second of which (‘Profiles’) is a collection of jingles turned into songs by 10cc’s Rick Fenn and the third of which (‘Whites Of The Eye’) was a film soundtrack never considered ‘important’ enough to release in the 1980s. Even so, it is welcome to have all these albums out again and in many ways they are the most under-rated of the Floyd catalogue, with some quirky ideas and – on the middle album at least – a couple of moments as great as anything the Floyd did in the 1980s (such as David Gilmour working as a guest vocalist on the song ‘Lie For A Lie’). This set is also the best way to release them, with the clever and very Floydian title and some Hipgnosis style packaging making this music look and feel more at one with the rest of the band catalogue. This is, it’s true, not a set for everyone with its 1980s jazz or doodled synths and most Floyd fans are probably still paying off the seven released in 2016 (!) But if you are a fan of the drummer or even the late-period, deeply under-rated 10cc albums then these albums have never sounded better and will fill a hole in your collection much easier than seeking out the original pricy editions.
7) The Kinks “Are The Village Green Preservation Society”
What was, fifty years ago, the most obscure and worst-selling Kinks record has gained in reputation over the years to the point where many fans and critics assume it is their best and the album recently went ‘gold’ – which would have shocked everyone at Pye who didn’t even see this record make the charts on release. It is, like all the Kinks’ 1960s releases, a very clever and consistent set full of some truly great music. However we have had so many re-issues of this album down the year already (two in the past decade alone) and I can’t help but feel out out that the world should be going nuts for superior, tighter sequel ‘Arthur’ instead, an album that in contrast is getting increasingly harder to get hold of. The sad truth is that there’s very little added to this fiftieth edition that wasn’t on the three-disc deluxe version a few years back and what is here isn’t all that interesting: there is a fine live version of ‘Last Of The Steam Powered Trains’ from a European radio show I’d not heard before, some session chat and a couple of backing tracks that are nice to have. The one ‘new’ Ray Davies track ‘Time Song’, on which much of the publicity material has focussed, is really not very good at all though full of the smug side of Ray’s writing that creep into his work in the 1970s and the modern live performances of Ray with an orchestra are atrocious, even if this is how Ray always wanted to present these songs in concert at the time had he had the budget (sounds a bad move to me!) There is worth in this set, then, but not £100’s worth and while the packaging is nice I actually preferred what The Kinks did the last couple of times out. Please, no more – let’s slap a ‘preservation’ order on the album and leave it alone for at least a generation and concentrate on a Klassik Kinks LP that always gets forgotten (which is, to be honest, almost all the other 22 Kinks records).
THE TOP THREE SONGS OF THE YEAR:
1) Mark Knopfler “Pale Imitation”
How very Mark Knopfler – his most important, revealing, beautiful song for many years is shunted away to a bonus track on a deluxe version of his new album where only a small handful of his most faithful followers will ever hear it. This song would, after all, be a game-changer if the greater world heard it as Mark recalls the moment when he turned his life around. As we’ve seen many times on our website he was late to the success game, getting his breakthrough aged twenty-nine after a decade married to his childhood sweetheart he was in the middle of divorcing and making ends meet as a lecturer and journalist. Here Mark happens to be passing where he used to live and is struck by seeing a blonde haired child who looks at first glance just like his young self. Though it isn’t, the child his ‘replacement’, he is moved enough by his doppelganger’s gaze to wonder how he must seem to the boy and how his adult self might well seem to his younger self. Figuring that while to every other adult whose settled for less he’s doing quite nicely for a boy from the slums of Newcastle, with well-paid jobs behind him, he also realises that he could never match his old dreams of being a pirate or king. Insteads he vows to make life better in a way his inner child would understand – which for him is clearly music and what sets him on his road to Dire Straits, though of course he doesn’t quite say that here. The result is a moving wistful song full of Mark’s characteristic big heart and eye for detail he wears so well on all his working class characters, but this time turned very much on his younger self. Magnificent.
2) David Crosby “Vagrants Of Venice”
The best of Mr Crosby’s exceptional latest batch of songs, this is a real warning message for our times. Set in the not too distant future global warming affects everyone, educated and poverty stricken alike, and turns us into uncaring isolated islands separated by water like Venice only nowhere near as romantic. The poor, never had the benefits of what their rich colleagues enjoyed before the ecological crisis began to hit but they pay for it all the same. Thoughtful words, a haunting melody and some stunning vocals make this one of the best Crosby efforts in a very long time.
3) Paul McCartney and Wings “Night Out”
At long last this bootleg regular can come and join the official AAA canon now that it has been included on the ‘Red Rose Speedway’ deluxe edition. A typically bonkers Wings piece from the period, it features one of the band’s toughest backing tracks based around a fiery snappy guitar riff and multiple criss-crossing Mccartney vocals debating what to do to spend their money at the end of a hard working week. The answer of ‘night out…party!’ might not be the most deeply thought out moment released all year but it is good fun and the punchy mix is delightfully menacing with Paul’s vocals so mithered in the smog of the backing track they sound as if they are fighting to get out.
THE (ONLY) TWO DOCUMENTARIES OF THE YEAR:
1) The Beach Boys “Songs For The Soul” (Radio 4)
I’m not sure I quite buy this show – with even more pontificating about certain famous songs than even we do with half an hour dedicated to a single song – but there’s a good documentary in here somewhere. Discussing Brian’s decline and emotional needs, this song looks at the creation of ‘God Only Knows’. Alas there didn’t seem to be much discussion here of what a collaborative effort this was, with Tony Asher actually writing the words, but several people close to The Beach Boys do talk and what they say made a lot of sense: the words and music really are the perfect fit for this song as if they always belonged together, the risk of starting a love song with ‘I may not always love you’ and using the word ‘God’ in the title was a hugely brave thing to do, the sheer strangeness of having such a melancholy song out in the middle of such a sunny decade and The Beach Boys were both brighter and weirder than anyone ever gave them credit for. I’m not sure I could sit through a whole series of these programmes but there are some nice points well made, with Brian’s children remembering their dad composing it and playing it to their mum particularly moving (‘the moment we realised our parents had a life beyond ourselves’). There’s also clever sparing use of the song across the show heard in many different versions including the lovely sleepy ‘Hawaiian rehearsal’ version from 1967 and various cover versions (all of which are too slow by half!) I could have done without so many ‘this song means a lot to me because I got married to it’ type stories though.
2) “John and Yoko – Above Us Only Sky” (Channel 4)
Well, this was a weird one. Back when John and Yoko were making their ‘Imagine’ album they filmed around eighty hours worth of footage of everything (and I do mean everything, including the bathroom breaks!) Around four of these hours have come out now on various ‘Imagine’ promos, a ‘classic albums’ series episode dedicated to the album and the ‘Imagine’ career documentary film released in 1988. Rather than just tell the making of the story all over again, though, this 90 minute show was half and half the footage seen and unseen and half the John and Yoko love story told all over again. Both are flawed but had their moments with some great ‘extra’ material of George Harrison rehearsing with the others awkwardly mute and a whole cut sequence of John and Yoko filmed in a mirror while in a New York hotel waiting to do the overdubs (hilariously ruined by John pretending to ‘fight’ with his guitar and nearly bringing down a chandelier!) We also get Julian Lennon as he is now talking about his memories of the Tittenhurst house where the album was made and some priceless extra footage of him having a sleepover with three school friends. This Yoko-sanctioned documentary feels slightly more ‘hands off’ than usual too: yes we get the same old tales of how in love they were and lots of footage of Yoko’s ‘Indica’ exhibition where John climbed a ladder to see the word ‘yes’ on the ceiling through a magnifying glass and fell for her there and then (her style of thinking really was so similar to his own). However there’s also a hilarious sequence of people associated with the record reading her book of sayings ‘Grapefruit’ then and now, various musicians angrily bursting out how ‘pretentious’ it all is with one of Julian’s friends aged eight making the perfect comment: ‘You have to imagine it I guess…otherwise it is completely and utterly pointless!’ There really wasn’t enough footage here to keep your interest across the whole running time and could have been cut down to an hour easily, but for newcomers to the story this was a well told documentary and even for the rest of us there was the sheer thrill of seeing fifteen odd minutes of ‘extra’ Lennon. Like the new set it was promoting, though, it was something of a curate’s egg.
AAA BOOKS OUT THIS YEAR:
As you’re here and clearly interested enough in our music to have got this far, a quick plug! In case you hadn’t noticed the various adverts dotted across the internet in general and this website in particular, after ten and a half years of writing we are proud to have brought you the first batch of Alan’s Album Archives music guides. Yay!!! Featuring every studio album analysed in depth, shorter reviews for spin-off solo albums, live albums, compilations and rarities sets we also find room for key concerts, cover versions, a run down of a band’s surviving TV clips, the best outtakes, an essay and extracts from what used to be a regular feature, our ‘top ten’ column looking at things shared between our thirty bands. In addition to getting everything in order you also get a couple of extra features per book not on the website: a column we’ve named ‘Thematic Threads’ that looks at regular topics that crop up a lot in the songs and imagery of our chosen songwriters and a section on three key influences who inspired a particular band to get creative. All in all they run anywhere from 300 pages to 1000 9and are priced accordingly between £3 and £6!) There are at present moment seven books released in ebook form available at these links:
‘Add Some Music To Your Day – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Beach Boys’
‘Every Little Thing – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Beatles’
‘Rollercoaster Ride – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Belle and Sebastian’
‘Flying On The Ground Is Wrong – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Buffalo Springfield’
‘All The Things – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Byrds’
‘Change Partners – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’
‘Solid Rock – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Dire Straits’
AAA BOOKS OUT NEXT YEAR:
Keep your eyes peeled in 2019 for the next twelve volumes of our exciting series (all being well and assuming illness/Brexit/Trump/Putin/The Clandusprod aliens don’t interfere with our deadlines!):
In January 2019: ‘High Time – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Grateful Dead’
In February 2019: ‘Unknown Delight – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…George Harrison’
In March 2019: ‘Reflections Of A Time Long Past – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Hollies’
In April 2019: ‘Wild Thyme – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship’
In May 2019: ‘Little Girl Blue – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Janis Joplin’
In June 2019: ‘Maximum Consumption – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…The Kinks’
In July 2019: ‘Remember – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…John Lennon’
In August 2019: ‘Passing Ghosts – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Lindisfarne’
In September 2019: ‘Smile Away – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Paul McCartney and Wings’
In October 2019: ‘Every Step Of The Way – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of….The Monkees’
In December 2019: ‘Little By Little – The Alan’s Album Archives Guide To The Music Of…Oasis’
In addition, once the second drafts are finished we have plans to release a free ‘best of’ edition featuring one article each per all of our thirty books and hopefully we will be able to make each of these books ‘physical’ paperback copies, with the Beach Boys, Beatles and CSNY editions each divided into two. We will always keep you posted on the site and will add links for everything when it is up and running, along with our usual lengthy review of any ‘new’ AAA albums out next year. Till then thankyou for reading, a very merry Christmas and may you have the most fantastic year!