Friday, 5 June 2009
♫ Welcome dear readers to another weekly run through of all the illustrious and entertaining news, reviews and music about your favourite artists. As you have probably noticed, we’re still waiting for the internet to be restored at the library but this issue should hopefully be uploaded on time now that Mike is back in Skelmersdale. No anniversaries of big events for you this week – instead just the usual news round up and some more reviews for you…
♫ Johnny Cash News: A mention of honourable AAA member Johnny Cash, who this month sees the release of no less than two posthumous products. The first is an album entitled ‘Johnny Cash Remixed’ which has a handful of unpublished recordings (mostly live it seems) alongside some of Johnny’s Greatest Hits. The second is a documentary DVD entitled ‘Johnny Cash’s America’ which focuses on Johnny’s civil rights leanings and his includes lots of footage of the man in black alongside more recent interviews with friends and fans old and new.
♫ CSNY/Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane/Janis Joplin/The Who News: A new deluxe edition of the ‘
’ film is being prepared for the 40th anniversary of the world’s most famous rock festival. Although the anniversary won’t be until August this year, it looks as if the new 4 DVD set will be available a bit before that and features nine hours of footage with some three hours of unreleased material. Looking at the reviews of this set that have already been published, it looks as if one disc will contain the 3 ½ hour director’s cut version of the film that has been out since around the millennium, plus another disc containing ‘woodstock diaries’, the three-part 1990s series containing then unpublished material from most of the groups who played at the festival. The other two discs will contain new material never seen before and although other details are still sketchy it will provide more unseen Airplane footage and the first ever footage of the Grateful Dead at the event. Whether there will be additional CSNY/Janis/Who footage is unknown, but it does exist for all three artists if contractual difficulties can be sorted in time. More news if and when we hear it… Woodstock
♫ Neil Young News: Neil’s cutting it a bit fine, even for him, for cancelling his mammoth thirty-years-in-the-making ‘Archives Volume One’ box set, due for release on June 8th. So that leaves us with only one possible explanation – could it be that this box set, cancelled at least a dozen times over the years, really is coming out as planned this week? Wow. The odds against that were higher than CSNY lasting through a whole reunion without splitting up! Just in case though – check next week’s column to make sure Neil didn’t cancel at the last minute as he always does…
♫ Anniversaries (June 5th-11th): As Davy Jones of the Monkees would put it, Hey Hey Ra Ra Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse. In other words, it’s the birthdays column – so happy birthdays to Clarence White (guitarist with The Byrds 1968-72) who would have been 65 on June 7th had he not died in that awful crash in 1973 and Bill Kreutzmann (drummer with the Grateful Dead 1965-95) who turns 63 on June 7th. Anniversaries of events this week include: the Rolling Stones make history by being the first band to receive royalty payments from Russia, following the relaxation of laws banning Western Music as ‘subversive’ (June 5th 1976); The Beatles record at EMI studios for the first time, officially to audition and record demos of possible future songs – the recording session results in the single release of ‘Love Me Do’ in October (June 6th 1962); the Rolling Stones release their first single – a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘C’mon’ – almost a year to the day later (June 7th 1963); Brian Jones officially leaves the Stones just a day and six years later (June 8th 1969); the Beatles hold a ‘welcome home’ concert at Liverpool’s Cavern Club following their many months away in Hamburg – this is the concert generally reckoned by most Beatleologists to be the turning point in their career (June 9th 1962); Janis Joplin plays on stage with her first (and best) band ‘Big Brother and the Holding Company (June 10th 1966) for the first time; Radio Stations across America deliver the shock news that The Who’s Roger Daltrey has died in a car crash – well, it’s a shock to him at least, as the news is actually that Pete Townshend had a minor injury from a car crash in which Daltrey wasn’t involved (I bet the group did storming versions of ‘La-la-la Lies’ and ‘It’s Not True’ the night that news broke out!; June 11th 1966) and finally, following on from Brian Wilson’s legendary ‘fire’ tapes (when a fire broke out near the studios the night of playing eerie music mimicking flames for the Beach Boys’ abandoned Smile project), the Rolling Stones suffer a less reported studio fire at Olympic Studios on June 11th 1968 during sessions for ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ (were they recording ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ at the time?).
♫ And now, it’s time for a top five. Rarity sets are becoming a bit of a rarity these days, but back about 10-20 years ago they were all the rage. This week we look at the five best out-takes/ unreleased rarities albums featuring AAA groups. And not a bastardised rejigged Beatles Anthology record in sight…
Jefferson Airplane “Early Flight” (1973). Highlight: High Flyin’ Bird (the Grace Slick version,) which was a live favourite but somehow never made it to any of the classic early Airplane records.
Back in 1973, we thought we’d seen the last of the Jefferson Airplane – temporarily as it turned out, thanks to their transmogrification into the Jefferson Starship. So when RCA stuck out this low-key out-takes set, we thought it might be a final goodbye – and in truth it probably would have been a finer farewell than most of the Starship records to follow. This nine-song set rounds up both sides of a flop single (Grace’s venomous Nixon-bashing ‘
’ – Go Gracey! -and one of Paul Kantner’s finest sci-fi songs ‘Have You Seen The Saucers?’), a lengthy bluesy studio jam (‘Up Or Down’) and six out-takes from the first two Airplane albums, ‘Takes Off!’ and ‘Surrealistic Pillow’. And very fine they are too – Skip Spence’s song ‘JPP McStep Blues’ is easily his best song (his eccentric work with Moby Grape included), ‘Runnin’ Round This World’ is one of the key Airplane songs from their earliest days (but banned when radio networks took a dislike to the line ‘the nights I’ve spent with you have been fantastic trips’) and best of all is ‘High Flyin’ Bird’, with Slick’s and Marty Balin’s vocals soaring into the sky…The only downside is how short this whole album is (33 minutes – and the worst two tracks fill up around 12 minutes’ worth of the playing time). Mexico
4) Beach Boys “Endless Harmony” (1998). Highlight: it’s a close flight between the glorious Brian Wilson-sung demo of ‘Break Away’ (one of the finest Beach Boys singles, whatever the poor sales tell you), Brian’s understated demo for ‘Sail Plane Song’, the all-out harmony fest that’s ‘Soulful Old Man Sunshine’ and Dennis Wilson’s gorgeous piano paean to his wife ‘Barbara’.
There had already been an impressive haul of 40-odd unreleased songs, out-takes and alternate mixes on the 5 CD Beach Boys box-set – and a further 50-odd rarities on the later 2CD out-takes set ‘Hawthorne California’, but it’s this middle single CD set that contains the best unreleased Beach Boys tracks. The CD was the companion to a so-so documentary about the band but thankfully refuses to go down the Anthology route (no re-jigged alternate takes spliced together as the band certainly never intended and no spoken word sections) although it would have been nice to go down the Monkees route (lots of volumes with lengthy running times of all unknown songs, instead of several not-that-different-really remixes and far too many dodgy live tracks). For all it’s faults, though, many of the unreleased tracks here are superior to most of the songs the Beach Boys did release in their lifetime and it’s a joy especially to hear the
brothers playing their own instruments on particular demoes rather than the often over-polished mid-70s material. As you can tell by the list above, there’s an awful lot of gems to savour – although there are, too, quite a few tracks that should have remained in the vaults (with the completely false song ‘Brian Is Back’ the worst of all – what was Mike Love thinking? This is his cousin he’s talking about for crying out loud! And how on earth did he persuade Carl Wilson to sing lead on it?!) Wilson
3) The Who “Odds and Sods” (1974).Highlight: On original LP version – “Glow Girl”, a breakthrough Townshend composition that did in two-and-a-half minutes what it took Tommy 75 minutes to say and the stunning ‘Who’s Next’ out-take ‘Pure and Easy’, one of the classiest Who songs of all. On CD version – add the Quadrophenia out-take ‘We Close Tonight’, a classic song about jazz record collectors showing off their wares to impress girls they’re too scared to speak to!
This project was designed to mark time between Who Records ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Who By Numbers’, to cover both Townshend’s second nervous breakdown and the amount of time the band were spending getting the ‘Tommy’ film as right as they could (well, as right as they could with Oliver Reed trying to sing all the way through it). This set was compiled by John Entwistle from old tapes spanning back to the band’s very first recordings (the hilariously posy ‘I’m The Face’ when the band were The High Numbers; it’s actually a lot better than people think if not as distinguished as The Who’s later recordings) up to an abandoned killing time EP that should have come out in 1973 (with the hilarious ‘I’m A Farmer’ and ‘Postcard’ and stage favourites ‘Naked Eye’ and ‘Water’). The fact that Townshend had songs as strong as all of these unreleased is a testament to his creativity – but then The Who released less records in the sixties than most bands (one LP a year and three singles, as opposed to five albums a year and six singles as The Beach Boys did). The CD issue is better still, doubling the album’s length with only a marginal dip in quality – and as a bonus, you get Townshend’s hilarious sleeve notes, rubbishing the group, rubbishing his songwriting, rubbishing his fanbase for collecting such rubbish – and still he comes over as proud and justly arrogant. As only Pete Townshend can.
2) The Hollies “Rarities” (1988). Highlights: Allan Clarke’s moving ‘Sanctuary’, the storming single-that-never-was ‘Carrie’ and Graham Nash’s farewell quartet from 1968: ‘Relax’, ‘Tomorrow When It Comes’, ‘Like Everytime Before’ and ‘Wings’. What an album that could have been!
The Hollies, on the other-hand, worked their socks off during the 1960s, so how they had this many classic tracks from the 60s and 70s left over I’ll never know. Consistency was never really a Hollies trademark in the same way as it was for the Beatles and others (nearly every album has something dodgy, up until ‘Butterfly’ at least) – on the otherhand, this out-takes set is about the most consistently excellent Hollies album there is. The harmonies are tight, the songwriting top notch and the much derided rhythm section of first Eric Haydock and then Bernie Calvert with Bobby Elliott sound magnificent. And Allan Clarke’s vocals shine on this album like never before (except for one track where the under-rated Mickael Rickfors shines instead). This nicely lengthy album (17 tracks, 50 odd minutes) was a wonderful surprise when it came out and only five of the songs here had ever been heard before and only two in the UK or US – a French-language version of ‘Look Through Any Window, a Germany-only B-side ‘Like Everytime Before’, a UK-only B-side ‘Open Up Your Eyes’, the non-album film soundtrack song ‘After The Fox’ (one of the best Peter Sellers films – see it if you can just to see how the music fits the plot) and the glorious ballad ‘Wings’, donated to the Spike Milligan Animal Charity LP ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My World’ where it overshadowed everything else on the record (the Fabs’ ‘Across The Universe’ included). The only downside – why on earth is the CD programmed the way it is? Most out-takes sets are chronological, but this one is reverse-chronological, starting in 1988 and ending up in 1965, with all the earlier Nash-era material on the second side and all the post-Nash later material on the first.
1) The Monkees “Missing Links Two” (1990). Highlights: the original TV version of ‘Valleri’ (see above), the psychedelic early version of ‘Words’, Davy’s second-best song ‘Changes’, a very moody and melodramatic alternate version of ‘Mr Webster’ and the traditional carol ‘Riu Chiu’, with the best Monkees harmonies on record (if you thought the TV version was impressive – and it was – it’s got nothing on this alternate studio take!)
The list of plus points in Rhino’s series of Monkees out-takes CDs just goes on and on. Before they finished with volume three in the mid-1990s (with a good five volumes’ worth left in the vaults should they wish to release them), the record company had found no less than four hours of unreleased Monkees – and they’re practically all wonderful and certainly all unreleased or very very different to the finished recordings. We talked above how ridiculous the Monkees’ work load was – and they probably recorded just as much unreleased material as they did released. Although the first volume was a bit of a drag (too many overworked Davy Jones ballads and not enough out-takes featuring songs we know and love), the other two are excellent – this second volume wins only by a short nose. The highlights of these sets are nearly always the alternate versions – tracks recorded for the first six or so Monkees albums featured in their original versions (mainly intended for the first two LPs but left off because competition between songwriters was so tight). None of them are particularly better than their later recordings but they’re all just as good and the differences between them just go on and on. We also get some of the most important Monkees recordings of all – the ones featured in the TV series soundtrack and never seen again – which were almost as integral to the band’s relationship with their audience as the ‘Clarksville’ and two ‘Believer’ songs they plugged every other week. Finally, whoever came up with the great series name deserves a medal or at least a raise – it doesn’t just have Monkee-like connotations, it was the name of Micky Dolenz’s first ever band prior to his Monkee recordings and is such a clever Monkees-ish pun. Oh boy, when will those be coming out? Please tell me there’s a missing links four in the works…
Well, that’s all for now. We’ll see you next week when, hopefully, we’ll be back online again!