Monday, 16 March 2009

News, Views and Music News Issue 25 (Intro)

March 16:

Welcome everybody to the 25th issue of everybody’s favourite musically monkeynuts newsletter, news views and music. Wow – 25 issues, shouldn’t we be getting a gold record for that or something? Come on Paul McCartney, you must have a few to spare! And how do our beloved AAA groups celebrate this momentous occasion? Err, by being quieter than ever before, annoyingly. So not much news to report this issue and things seem to be more normal than a flop Spice Girls reunion. So for this issue Mr Tambourine Man is out singing with the Byrds, Mr Pleasant and Mr Big Man are keeping Ray Davies company, Miss Amanda Jones has been partying with the Stones and Mr Soft has been stopping at traffic lights with Oasis (‘but only when they’re green’). Website wise many thanks to regular reader Lizzie for plugging us so nicely on the ‘fanpop’ website (hope you had a good birthday on Sunday by the way) and just to prove what an absolute anorak I really am check out the ‘Beatles Quiz’ leaderboard on that site where at the time of writing I am currently 1st in the world with 187 correctly answered questions (Yes! I even won a virtual carrot!)

Oasis News: Three bits of news from the world of Gallagher this week. The first is that the third single from latest album ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ is released this week and finally they’ve chosen the best song. The Noel-sung ‘Falling Down’ was our pick of the pops when the album came out (see newsletter 8a) and if you own this and the other two singles you don’t really need to buy the album at all. Second bit of news is that Oasis were plugging the new single on this year’s ‘Comic Relief’ via a very welcome one-off Top Of The Pops Special (what with the seven TOTP2s over Christmas, it seems as if our favourite weekly pop programme has never been away!) Interestingly, Liam G was missing – OK, so it’s a Noel-sung song so he didn’t need to be there, but its not like Liam to miss out on a charity event (despite his rock and roll image!) Have the brothers really fallen out irreparably this time as rumours keep insisting?, is Liam worried that the new Oasis single might beat sales for his own song ‘I’m Outta Time’? (To be fair, that was more the fault of the lack of band unity and promo activities than the fault of the song)

Was Liam just fed up and decided to go awol as he did a la ‘Oasis Unplugged’ when Noel had to take over vocals at the last minute? More evidence came with our third bit of news this week – an 11-track Noel Gallagher acoustic concert that came free with the Sunday Mail, recorded for Roger Daltrey’s ‘Teenage Cancer Trust’. Hmm, there’s something very odd about giving away the soundtrack of benefit concerts for free when they could have raised lots of money as a limited release Grateful Dead style, but at least it added a few tracks that weren’t on the televised concert (including two with guest Paul Weller - one a cover of Lennon evergreen ‘All You Need Is Love’). Shame about the terrible drumming though – Terry Kirkbride only seems to know the 4/4 ‘common time’ signature and sadly most of Noel’s songs played here don’t use it.     

♫ And very hippy birthdays this week go to AAA artists Paul Kantner (guitarist and vocalist with Jefferson Airplane 1965-73 and Jefferson Starship 1973-84) who turns 65 on March 17th and Hollies collaborator (and next-door-neighbour of Tony Hicks!) Kenny Lynch, who turns 70 on March 18th.  Anniversaries of events this week seem to be heavily Beatlesified and include: the release of Beatles evergreen ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ (March 20th 1964), the 40th anniversary of the marriage between John Winston Lennon and Yoko Ono in Gibraltar on March 20th 1969 (the only country willing to marry two divorced people at the short notice the Ono-Lennons wanted), John and Yoko’s infamous Bed-In during their honeymoon at an Amsterdam hotel (March 21st 1969), the first appearance of the Beatles at the venue that’s about to become ‘their own’ – Liverpool’s Cavern Club (March 21st 1961) and finally, this week also sees the birth of the Rutles, the legend that lasted a lunchtime and the group the Beatles could have been (but thankfully weren’t), thanks to the screening of Eric Idle’s TV special ‘All You Need Is Cash’ on March 22nd 1978.

News, Views and Music Issue 25 (Top Five): Beach Boys Tracks Still Not Avaliable On CD!

While we bang on about Record Companies ripping ioff both bands and fans a lot on this site, some have been very impressive indeed. Capitol may have been the most demanding, least loyal company of all in the 1960s, but 30-40 years on the label are looking like one of the nicest, what with their lovingly compiled two-fer-one-with-bonus tracks CDs that are still available at budget price today if you look hard enough. Alas, the Beach Boys’ later companies haven’t been quite so generous and an alarming amount of tracks are yet to get their first CD release. So for this week here is your handy guide to the five biggest Beach Boys rarities not included in any of the Beach Boys’ superlative re-issues series – and we’re not talking alternate mixes or longer fade-outs here but five major additions to the Beach Boys’ catalogue (well, OK, four…):

1) ‘Pamela Jean’/ ‘After The Game’ (released under the pseuodonym ‘The Survivors’, 1964). Despite being the hardest working band in showbusiness, Brian Wilson’s friends and family were told by capitol in early 1964 that they were releasing too many singles, something that might interfere with their strong sales record. Undeterred, Brian Wilson stuck out his new song ‘Pamela Jean’ under a different name, gave the record no publicity whatsoever and, intrigued to see if he really did have the midas touch he kept being told he had, sat back to see what would happen. It sank like a stone. However, the song was recycled as the better known ‘Car Crazy Cutie’ on the ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ album, but strangely this very BeachBoysy song about cars didn’t even begin to match the quality of the original BeachBoysy song about girls. The B-side ‘Playing The Game’ is an instrumental, a fact that probably has most collectors of early Beach Boys running for the hills (their second album had no less than five instrumentals, all of them poor) but its actually one of the most exquisite pre-Smile tracks Brian ever wrote, an orchestral epic that sets the tone for ‘Pet Sounds’ two years down the line. This song has been all but forgotten and it shouldn’t have been – other than a late 70s re-issue (which is in itself a rarity these days) this song has never been heard since the day it came out.           

2) ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’ (film soundtrack 1979). The best Beach Boys release for years and the band leave it off any ‘proper’ albums. How very Beach Boys – and how typical that, after including it on a 2 LP compilation album, it’s the full edit of that song that goes missing come CD re-issue time. A Jardine-Love collaboration, this is about the last time the Beach Boys mined their old fun and sun-loving image and sounded like they meant it. Give the collector a break, stick it on the end of the ‘MIU/LA light’ CD re-issue where it belongs!  

3) ‘Here Comes The Night’ (edited version issued as a single, 1979): OK, so there’s an extended 12-minute version of this track available on the LA light Album, so why would you want to buy an edited 3-minute version? Because this is the version that was the top 40 hit that’s why – the one that, you know, actually did quite well in the charts before some idiot of a music critic decided he didn’t like it and everyone followed suit. In many ways it’s more enjoyable than the album version (and no, not because its nine minutes shorter!) – the mix is punchier, there’s less time waiting for those glorious harmonies to kick in and the song feels like a minor revelation rather than a heavy slog in between the ballads that make up most of the LA Light LP. Again, there’s ten flipping minutes of space on the MIU/LA Light CD, use it!!!

4) ‘Happy Endings’ (duet with Little Richard, spin-off single taken from the film ‘The Telphone’, 1987). A whole missing song and one dominated by Carl Wilson, no less! (Although weirdly he sounds so close to Little Richard on this record it’s hard to tell where the two swap over vocals). A sweet sugary ballad written by Bruce Johnston for a film that died almost as much of a death as the song, this is a curio indeed. For all its faults, though, this song at least sounds like the Beach Boys, which is more than you can say of the ‘Still Cruising’ and ‘Summer in Paradise’ albums. Again, both of those records and the earlier ‘Beach Boys’ have plenty of space intact (‘Cruising’ even features two straight re-issues of 1960s classics out on CD hundreds of times, which must surely count as one of the biggest ways of ripping off the fans to date).    

5) ‘Wipeout’ (duet with the Fat Boys, 1989). OK< so you don’t actually need this one unless you’re a) an early 90s rap lover b) a keen surfer with a sense of irony or c) one of the Fat Boys’ mothers, but it still seems surprising that this hit – which reached #2 in the UK charts, the Beach Boys’ most successful in 20 years – isn’t as yet available on a Beach Boys CD. I(t may be on a Fat Boys CD but something tells me that even if it is I won’t be buying it. Still, if you do happen to find this cheap (mine’s a charity shop copy bought for 50p) it is sort of funny (once, at a push) and the Beach Boys are – for the very last time – dominated by Brian Wilson’s vocals. Unlike most of the band’s 80s and 90s recordings, he actually sounds as if he wants to be there –maybe somebody told Brian he was taking part in a true cover of The Surfari’s classic and didn’t know he was going to be backing singer for two overweight comedians!

 Well, that’s it for another week. And remember, as Philosophy Phil tells us ‘too much haste sets the soles of your shoes on fire’. Unless of course you spot a CSN album in the sales, in which case you can never run fast enough. See you next week!

Badfinger "Straight Up" (1971) (News, Views and Music 25)

“Protest would not take me far, it’s different me not being a star, lock my feelings in a jar until another day…but you can see quite clearly now the things that we have done”

Badfinger “Straight up” (1972)

When the Beatles created Apple records the remit was that they would do all they could to discover and nurture new talent, giving all the talented people out there the breaks that the Beatles had never had. That plan might have worked, too, had the Beatles either started their label at the beginning of their recording career when they were at their most unanimous or chosen a highly respected executive and given him enough clout not to be over-ridden by Beatle whims and spur-of-the-moment decisions. Because the good folk at Apple – and forget what you might have read about all of the staff ripping off the Beatles at every opportunity because most of them really were good – had a talent for spotting talent not seen since Ron Richards contacted his boss George Martin in the Abbey Road canteen and told him this new group called the Beatles might be worth a quick look. Mary Hopkin, James Taylor, Jackie Lomax – all three should have been huge stars instead of toys that the various Beatles discarded once they’d become a bit bored. But for my money Badfinger were the most important discovery the Beatles’ label ever made and the group should have been, ahem, the apple of their eye for most of the 1970s. The only trouble was that Badfinger were so in awe of their mentors that they refused to jump ship when other Apple label-mates got so fed up with the changes made by new executive Allen Klein and so got sucked into all the business squabbles that marked life on the Apple label in the mid-70s. Unable to build on their first flushings of success Badfinger fell apart and even a quick listen to the unreleased last record submitted for release on Apple reveals why: tirades against managers, record contracts, the up and down world of the music business, it’s like sitting through The Kinks’ bitter ‘Lola Versus Powerman And The Money-Go-Round’ without the two hit singles to brighten up our day. Even freed from Apple and signed to Warner Brothers the band’s troubles were not over – legal disputes with their management meant the band hardly saw a penny they’d earned from all their hard work. Distraught, the band’s greatest star Pete Ham committed suicide in 1975 and fellow member Tom Evans followed in the 1990s after another decade-and-a-half’s struggle.

But somewhere in an alternate universe the Beatles really did handle their record label well (they called it ‘Mango’ rather than ‘Apple’ in my alternate world) and Badfinger would have been the greatest asset to the company after the fab four. Even now, 30 albums later when the band have become Mango’s (slogan ‘Go! Man! Go!’ TM AAA) greatest asset, the world can’t get enough of Pete Ham’s commercial but oh so insightful ballads and pop songs, Tom Evans’ inventive ballads or guitarist Joey Molland’s bitter rock classics. In fact, Pete Ham would have been so acclaimed that he’d started his own record label, one with a better track run even than ‘Mango’ (‘The label with songs so good you’ll want to hug them and squeeze them dry’). Oh, and they’d have been given a better name than ‘Badfinger’ (Lennon insisted on it, having recently named the song he and Paul were working on ‘Badfinger Boogie’ in honour of a papercut before renaming the song ‘With A little Help From My Friends’). Badfinger never quite made it to this website’s list proper because they never had a chance to make the killer album necessary to rub shoulders with the decade’s best musicians, but ‘Straight Up’ – the band’s most consistent, original and powerful work -comes closest of all.

Even this third album was not without its struggles, despite starting off with a better mood in the Badfinger camp than ever before. After two top 10 records in Britain and a promising chart placing in America the band wrote this album as superstars-in-the-making, delivering their idea of the final recording shortly before a lengthy tour of the United States, designed to cement the band’s name in the rock and roll hall of fame patio for ever. It sounded good, too, if the bonus tracks on my copy of this album are anything to go by. However, all four Beatles still had enough clout in Apple to reject albums as they saw fit and George Harrison was so impressed with the material (if not the recordings) that he resolved to give the band a better chance with a more polished sound a la Abbey Road and All Things Must Pass. Like most things music-related, George’s instincts were right and Badfinger sound downright amazing on the four tracks they recorded with the Beatle. Alas, the band’s bad luck was never far behind and it was while producing this album that George got the call from Ravi Shankar that prompted him to organize the ‘Concert For Bangladesh Concert’ at which Badfinger also performed if you look for them closely (how come they never got a chance to sing one of their own songs, though, when the likes of Leon Russell got to do two?!?) Understandably fighting poverty on the other side of the world, babysitting nervous musicians who back then weren’t used to performing (both Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton broke their live ‘sabbaticals’ for this project), editing concert footage and arguing with the tax man about why he shouldn’t take half of the proceedings took up most of George’s time and energy. He never did go back to help Badfinger finish this album and instead they got Todd Rundgren as a last minute substitute. Actually, this turned out to be one of the band’s luckier moves – this was in the days before Rundgren became the celebrated producer he is now and most of his suggestions are spot-on- but all this pushed the release of the album further and further back until all but the biggest fan had forgotten about Badfinger (not that the band had much to build up many of those in the first place).

Despite it’s troubled history, ‘Straight Up’ is an upbeat album, more so than any Badfinger release barring their first album ‘Magic Christian Music’ released under the name of ‘The Iveys’. The band, who have only just recruited Joey Molland, are working together as well as they ever did and the production shine on all of these songs make them sound just uniform enough to build up an atmosphere and just different enough to let the band’s four rather different personalities shine through. Comapre the album to what the other Beatles were doing around the 1972 period (Sometime In New York City, Wildlife, Living In the Material World and Beaucoups Of Blues) it’s not bad at all – in fact, this album probably improves on all four records. Which is not to say this album is without its down-sides: the band’s harmonies don’t fit together quite as well as I’d like (although I’ve probably just been spoilt by playing this record back-to-back with a CSN record, a problem which happens to me a lot) and some of the lyrics are either very confusing or very profound (or both, possibly). It’s the melodies and the atmosphere you’ll remember most about this record, from the Phil Spector-ish wall of sound on several classic ballads (no surprise there given that George had just been working with Spector on ‘All Things’) to the perfectly mixed, perfectly placed powerpop of ‘Baby Blue’.

Talking of ‘Baby Blue’, this is my choice as first highlight from the album. Pete ham’s very McCartneyesque vocals (he’s a dead ringer for Macca’s deeper voice as heard on ‘Oh! Darling’ and ‘Helter Skelter’) are the perfect mix of singalong top 40 pop and genuine regret at the way he took an old relationship for granted, little realising the object of his affections would run away. The three Badfinger guitarists are on cracking form on this track, especially the solo (which I think is by Molland but as I’m relatively new to this band I’m not certain about) which is a pure cry from the heart. The song also contains the tightest harmonies on the record, which might be what inspired Hollies singer and AAA favourite Allan Clarke to record his own sparkling version for 1981 solo LP ‘The Only One’ (aka ‘Legendary Heroes’). Catchy but deep (first time I’ve been able to use that phrase for a while!), this is deservedly the best known Badfinger track of all in America where it remains a radio favourite, though why Mango, sorry Apple, never chose it to be  a single is best known to themselves.

Even better is ‘Name Of the Game’, a slow piano-based Pete Ham ballad that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘All Things Must Pass’. The long, deliberately-drawn out verses ruminating on lost opportunities and life’s ups and downs are lovely enough, but oh the glorious melancholy when that lovely chorus sails into view. ‘No don’t confuse me, if you choose me you’re part of my shame, no don’t refuse me for I know it’s the name of the game’. This is classic song construction – the piano tinkles away as if trying to shrug off life’s ills, but the long-held chords on a churchy-sounding organ suppress the atmosphere, holding it down with an oppressive weight. Pete Ham sings the song in a proud but detached way, melancholic without getting emotional until the fire of the chorus knocks us our feet out from under us. Confusion meets logic head-on this track and you know instinctively from the sound that the narrator knows only too well whether he should be chasing after his escaped fiancé or let her leave in peace. A strong candidate for the greatest ever Badfinger song and recording, this is a forgotten classic, pure and simple, and has quality stamped all over it.

Many fans pick on ‘Suitcase’ as one of the weakest tracks here, but Molland’s more earthy, less emotive vocals and the fuzz-guitar drenched riff-heavy song construction is just what the album needs to kick-start it into a second side. The lyrics are an early indication of the sarcasm and bitterness that’s about to arrive in Badfinger’s compositions for good, but here the song is still played with enough wit and enthusiasm to get past that little problem. Mike Gibbons’ drumming is at its best on this track too – he’s always less secure on the ballads but a gem on the rock and roll stuff Badfinger do from time to time. Molland’s acoustic ‘Sweet Tuesday Morning’ is another delight, a song that’s been unfairly forgotten by even the small amount of Badfinger cognoscenti that are around, and it makes for a fair pair with the Moodies’ ‘Tuesday Afternoon’, having the same whimsical feel if being far more downbeat. Reflecting on the narrator’s first broken heart in years, this song’s fragility is well balanced with an accordion accompaniment and Molland’s world-weary vocal style.

Ham’s ‘Day After Day’ is more pop genius, turning heartfelt gloom and misery into another amazing pop construction. The song’s riff sounds so obvious I can’t believe it isn’t nicked from a Beatles song and a McCartney one at that (but it’s completely original as far as I can make out) and the Beatlesy element is emphasised by the duet on slide guitar between ham and George Harrison, one of many highlights in this superb song. All of Ham’s songs on this album are on the same theme; making your mind up whether to reluctantly say goodbye for the benefit of the one you love or to give in to your misery and refuse to leave – whoever the mysterious ‘Dixie’ is in Baby Blue she must have been one hell of a partner to inspire songs as great as these. Like ‘Name Of The Game’ the song cleverly contrasts downbeat verses about being stuck inside of a gloomy room with nothing more than memories to keep you company before erupting for another perfect pop chorus pledging the narrator’s love again and again. Another masterful arranging trick sees Ham juxtapose his lonely fragile voice in the verse with yet more glorious harmonies in the chorus. Like all the world’s greatest bands, the listener can read between the lines of this song and knows that, despite the very real misery of the song’s opening, the narrator will be fine and back on his feet in no time.

One more classic track and I promise I’ll move on. ‘Perfection’ is another Pete Ham song, one less known than the other ham classics here, one with a stop-start melody line that ruminates on how no relationship will ever be 100% perfect, no matter how we wish it. Again this is a downbeat song disguised as singalong, with Ham trapped between realising he might have made the biggest mistake in letting the love of his life go and realising that the perfection he seeks in her is never to be found. The song’s riff is a tricky one, but one that works well in this crystal-clear production powerhouse where it’s embellished and complemented by several instruments and more heavenly voices. Another classy Molland guitar solo does all it can to – irony of ironies – make this song reflecting on the impossibility of perfection as perfect as can be.

There are three songs that can’t quite come up to standard, none of them terrible but all of them lacking any of the distinctive traits outlined above. Opener ‘Take It All’ is the one Pete Ham song on the album that isn’t top notch, with the vocalist unusually straining under the weight of the lead vocal part he’s written for himself. The song is yet another with long slow verses and a powerpop chorus, but the formula isn’t as successful here, as there isn’t enough of a contrast between the two passages and the opening passage simply goes on too long. The song is, surprise surprise, another on the theme of parting and about how love should be stronger than petty arguments. For all of Badfinger’s critics accusing them of ripping off the Beatles, this song also contains the only obvious Beatles link – the descending chord change heard at the start of the solo in ‘Something’. George can’t have been too fussed though, what with his input into the album and all, not to mention his own hatred of plagiarism court cases later on in the decade over ‘My Sweet Lord (He’s So Fine)’.

‘Sometimes’ is Molland getting things slightly wrong with a decidedly average rocker that has little new to say and can’t even rock out that successfully. It’s the sort of thing that fills up large portions of Badfinger’s second album ‘No Dice’ and sounds deeply out of place here despite another cracking guitar solo. Tom Evans’ ‘It’s Over’ is also an anti-climatical way to close the album, with all of the dramatics and screams the band have done well to subdue during their more emotional songs, although the lowly-mixed choir and ruminations of another pointless tour being over at last lyrics are interesting touches. Unlike most of ‘Straight Up’, however, there’s no real ear-catching element to this track, a factor that Badfinger have kept up for virtually all this record, against all the odds. ‘Straight Up’ might have died a death at the time, but the few of us who have heard this record love it to bits. Talent will out, as they say, and Badfinger were an unquestionably talented lot with a style all of their own and songs to match. Those talent spotters at Apple knew a thing or two didn’t they? Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫ (8/10).