Monday, 9 March 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 24 (Top Five): Other BBC Session Sets

♫ As promised, here is opur latest top five – a handy laptop-computer-sized guide to the other five AAA-related BBC recording sets you might want to own.

5) The Animals ‘Complete BBC Sessions’ (released circa 1996). OK, so the Animals aren’t official AAA members, but that’s because in their short lifespan they never quite managed to achieve an album that was amazing all the way through. Out of all their releases I have to say the Animals’ BBC set might well be the closest to a ‘definitive’ Animals record. All the great songs are here without too many of the lacklustre covers, covering all periods of the Animals’ history (even their under-rated psychedelic years!) Highlights include a sprightly version of pop classic ‘Monterey’ (with lyrics about the 1967 festival, please somebody invent a time machine so I can go back and visit it PLEASE!! Oh sorry, got carried away there…), a chilling version of Eric Burdon’s best-ever song ‘When I Was Young’ – the perfect stepping stone between the downtrodden working classes of the band’s early singles and their loud, proud and battle-scarred voice-of-a-nation selves circa the third line-up 1967) and a fantastic bluesy reading of ‘Hey Gyp’, a Bo Diddley-like bonanza with psychedelic swirls. Recommended – overall rating 7/10.

4) Dire Straits ‘Live at the BBC’ (released circa 1996). Alas the Dire Straits only ever made BBC recordings in the late 70s and so this set loses points for being 1) ridiculously short and 2) only containing tracks from the band’s first eponymous album. But for those who like their Dire Straits bright and early this set makes for a fine alternative listen to the first album, with the changes subtle enough to be interesting but not different enough to sound daft. Mark knopfler, as ever, plays a mean guitar solo and is obviously thriving playing live in this period – what a shame the band didn’t record a live album till the second-half of their careers when they were already partway towards stadium-induced anonymity. Highlights: a moody ‘Down To The Waterline’ and the most confident version of ‘Sultans Of Swing’ you’ll ever hear. Good if you like that sort of thing - overall rating 6/10.

3) Moody Blues ‘At The BBC’ (2005). I’d have killed for this release any year previous to 2003 (but didn’t, I hasten to add, just in case someone’s tapping my website) – 40 Moody Blues recordings with their ‘classic’ line-up, full of stripped-down alternate versions of their usually terribly-polished songs. Alas back in 2003 the band started re-issuing all of their albums in ‘deluxe’ format’ and had already cherry-picked the best recordings by the time this set appeared. It really isn’t worth digging out this set if you already own the Moodies’ albums with bonus tracks (and if you don’t, then buy the Moodies’ CD reissues with bonus tracks rather than this muck). The star of the show is undoubtedly Mike Pinder – how he ever got his mellotron to play in tune, in synch with the rest of the band and against the ever-present BBC time limit qwhen most musicians couldn’t get the darn thing to work with endless hours of studio time I’ll never know. Highlights include a barn-storming version of one of the band’s few all-out rockers ‘Peak Hour’, a delightful breathless jig through Ray Thomas’ witty ‘Dr Livingstone’, a lovely ethereal take on the dreamy ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ and a delightful version of Justin Hayward’s exquisite ballad ‘Never Comes The Day’. Buy it if you don’t have it already, but be warned about duplicates - overall rating 4/10.

2) The Kinks ‘BBC Sessions’ (2000). A generous 2-CD issue that, like the Beatles’ set, is a highly welcome set that nevertheless barely touched the surface on what recordings exist and all too often uses the wrong stuff. Like many a BBC set, the best stuff is tucked away early on disc one with the 1964 line-up of the band thrust into the limelight out of nowhere after their ‘surprise’ hit with ‘You Really Got Me’ and having to adjust their setlist and personalities accordingly. The interviews are, if anything, even more enlightening than the Beatles’ set – a 19-year-old Ray Davies delivers his serious take on successful songwriting (It’s got to be sincere! That’s the main thing!) while 16-year-old Dave mucks around. Musical highlights include an unreleased cover (Dave Davies doing ‘Good Luck Charm’, which would have been a fine addition to his proposed but never-released solo album in the 60s), an eventful cover of ‘C-A-D-I-L-L-A-C’ and a lovely highly different arrangement of ‘Demolition!’, the finale to the first act of Preservation. The absolute highlight though – and this would be a highlight on nearly all the Kinks’ 60s recordings – is a punk-like speeded up version of Dave’s ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’, with Dave singing from the heart on this tale of lost girlfriends and desperation to be needed. Worth the price of the set alone - although why there are so many poor 1970s recordings on here (including two almost identical versions of ‘Money Talks’) and a full hour of space that could have been used despite the fact that there are dozens of superior recordings left in the vaults I’ll never know. You might chunter a bit, but BUY BUY BUY! This is the best BBC set after the Beatles one! Overall rating 7/10.

1) The Who ‘BBC Sessions’ (1999). This archive set was very badly reviewed when it came out, but I’ve no idea why. There’s a handful of rarities here (covers of ‘Good Loving’, ‘You And Me, Darling’, ‘Dancing In the Street’, ‘Man With Money’ and – until the deluxe Live At Leeds came out – the only place you could hear the popular live medley of ‘Shakin’ All Over’ and ‘Spoonful’) and the track listing isn’t as obvious as it might have been (we get a fine and rare hearing of the EP-only ‘Disguises’ and an alternate version of lengthy ‘mini opera’ A Quick One’ for starters). There’s even an emphasis on 1960s recordings with only four tracks coming from a later vintage – unlike both the Moodies and Kinks sets. Perhaps it’s just that the Who never really got to grips with this recording lark, unlike their one-take contemporaries which seems surprising given the band’s live prestige. But then again it’s the lack of an audience and the unfamiliar settings that account for most of this record – reduced to recording to set time lengths quickly the Who were never going to shine. Nevertheless there’s lots of good things here – highlights include a chilling version of ‘The Good’s Gone’, a powerpop ‘Run Run Run’, a hilarious ‘Boris The Spider’ and a spiffing re-recording of under-rated single ‘Relay’. Not the Who’s greatest, but a generous proportion of rarities make this more than justa  curio – overall rating 6/10.

That’s all for another week – we’ll just leave you with these fine words from our resident know-all Philosophy Phil. ‘If you knock on every door and they still won’t let you in, go build your own door!’ See you next time!  



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