Friday, 21 August 2009
♫ Welcome everybody to our 41st issue – the last ever newsletter of our first year. Expect lots of celebratory moments next week, but in the meantime we celebrate the spectacle that was Woodstock, a few years further back than that. Sadly now that the TV and Radio anniversaries of the event seem to have passed we’re back to having nothing to watch and very few news stories again (‘remember, on the BBC you’re never more than 72 minutes away from a repeat of ‘Coast’)
♫ Beatles News: Two small curios to let you know about this week. The first is that Cynthia Lennon’s planned exhibition of her husband John’s artefacts at Liverpool’s Beatles Museum gets ever nearer and made the news this week thanks to an unknown Lennon poem/lyric discovered in her possession. The untitled piece dates from 1967 – the year when Lennon’s prolific writing was beginning to run dry – and is a rare love song, possibly his earliest for Yoko Ono who he had just met at that stage in his life. The poem will be on display later in the year.
The other news from Liverpool is that a rare picture of a schoolboy-age Paul McCartney has been discovered. The shot, taken of boys from ***School, features the young Paul reading a comic (magneto and Titanium Man perhaps?!)
♫ Anniversaries (August 21st-27th): They AA its your birthday if your name is Keith Moon (drummer with The Who 1964-78) who would have been 63 on August 23rd; Paul McCartney collaborator Elvis Costello turns 55 on August 25th; Chris Curtis (drummer and singer with The Searchers 1963-66) would have been 68 on August 26th and Dennis Wilson and occasional Beach Boys collaborator Daryl Dragon turns 67 on August 27th. Anniversaries of events include: the American premiere of Beatles film ‘Help!’ (August 22nd 1965); John Lennon marries art student Cynthia Powell at a Liverpool registry office on August 23rd 1962 – Brian Epstein is best man and Paul and George attend but Ringo is such a new member of the group he isn’t even told about the wedding till afterwards; Security guards outside a Manchester TV studio are so worried about the antics of Rolling Stones fans waiting to see their idols that they end up throwing water at them – an event that further increases the band’s notoriety (August 23rd 1965); The first album by Crosby, Stills and Nash makes its rather delayed debut on the British charts 40 years ago this week (August 23rd 1969); Patti Harrison drags her husband George along to a lecture given by the Maharishi in London – an event that will have repercussions on his musical heritage right to the end (August 24th 1967); Mark David Chapman finally receives a life sentence for killing John Lennon some eight months after his death (August 24th 1981); Brian Wilson appears on stage with the Beach Boys for the first time in two years during a show in Hawaii – it’s also his last stage appearance till the mid-70s (August 25th 1967); Guitarist Henry McCullough becomes the first of many members to leave Paul McCartney’s band Wings over it’s seven-year history (August 25th 1973); inspired by the London lecture, George persuades the other Beatles to see the Maharishi in Bangor, North Wales (August 26th 1967); 10cc give their first ever live appearance on August 26th 1973 in the most prestigious of areas – the Isle of Man!; the Beatles meet Elvis at the latter’s Beverly Hills home on August 27th 1965; two years later on the same day Beatles manager Brian Epstein is found dead in his department, just two months after the band’s biggest album success with ‘Sgt Peppers’ and finally, a year later in 1968, the Beatles’ Apple label is officially launched with Mary Hopkins’ ‘Those Were The Days’ and their own ‘Hey Jude’ single securing the label top spot on the charts for the next seven weeks.
♫ Woodstock. What a name for us collectors. The moment in time where, more than any bother, we went from being a fringe society of musical monkeynuts collectors to being at the very heart and soul of mainstream life. Three days of peace and music. Three days of proving that there really were this many people who loved feedback-hugging guitars and silly costumes. OK, so I wasn’t actually there – I was minus 13 at the time or I would have gone, no question – but luckily for me and thousands like me somebody had the sense to film it (well, eventually they had the sense – the film part was decided a bit late in the day according to all the documentaries). So, seeing as there were five AAA members who played at woodstock it seemed natural to include them in this week’s top five, the best AAA Woodtsock performances and which of the three DVD packages (Woodstock Director’s Cut, the new 4-disc Collector’s Edition and the old three-part Woodstock Diaries) you can find them on.
1) Crosby, Stills and Nash. You can see ‘Suite:Judy Blue Eyes’ in both versions of the film, hear rare remixes of the studio tracks ‘Long Time Gone’ and ‘Wooden Ships’ while the stage is being built at the beginning of the film and see ‘Blackbird’ on ‘Woodstock Diaries’. Famously, Neil Young hated Woodstock and everything to do with it and refused to appear in the film so what we get here is a compromise – two songs from CSN acoustic and a hapless announcement that ends in mid-sentence (‘Crosby, Stills, Nash...’). The only way late-comers would know about Neil’s performance is if they heard the soundtrack album – and the storming version of the unreleased ‘Sea Of Madness’ on Volume One doesn’t actually come from Woodstock. So far, so confusing. What is made absolutely clear at the start of the trio’s performance is that this is the band’s second-ever gig – and that’s no exaggeration either. Given that fact, it’s understandable that CSN’s performance is as ragged and raw as they ever were and its a crying shame that only Stills gets an original song recorded for posterity. But ‘Suite:Judy Blues’ is still magic, the trio’s harmonies are so good and the song so epic and unlike anything else played at the festival that it’s easy to see why the newspaper’s that week practically all proclaimed that Woodstock was ‘CSN’s festival’. If only the band would release more material we might be able to understand why even more. Overall rating: 7/10.
2) Grateful Dead. You can see a 35-minute (yes that’s not a mis-print!) version of ‘Turn On Your Lovelight’ and a more compact ‘Mama Tried’ on the 4-disc collector’s edition DVD of Woodstock. (Note – the whole of the Dead’s Woodstock appearance came out as part of their hundred-fold fan re-issue series, but I couldn’t find it while researching!) By their own admission, the Dead hate playing big crowds and felt that this set and their all-but-forgotten one at Monterey were among the worst they ever played. Sadly, given what DVD footage we have, they were right: the Dead merely amble their way through ‘Love Light’ at half speed and aren’t helped by the politically-minded announcer who seems to have decided the Dead are his back-up band, much to Pigpen’s chagrin. ‘Mama Tried’ is much better, up to ‘Skulls and Roses’ standards in fact, but this Merle Haggard cover about a guilt-ridden gangster who wants to do good is a strange choice to sing to a crowd of rebels and it would have been far better to have had a Dead original in the set to savour. Garcia doesn’t get to sing either, which is a pity, although Pigpen and particularly Bob Weir do their best to make up for it. Overall rating: 3/10.
3) Jefferson Airplane. You can see ‘Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon’ and ‘Uncle Sam Blues’ on the director’s cut of the film, ‘Somebody To Love’ and ‘White Rabbit’ on ‘Woodtsock Diaries’ and ‘3/5ths Of A Mile In 10 Seconds’ and ‘Volunteers’ on ‘The Collector’s Edition’. We’ve had six songs from the Airplane’s Woodstock appearance released in the past 15 years and they’ve all been gems. The band were in a strange place in 1969, with the band reduced to appearing together on record as little as possible and left with their old 1967 material to prop up their set rather than new songs. But you can’t tell that by their 1969 set – ‘Won’t You Try’ is revelatory, merging from tentative and ragged to soaringly united as Kantner, Slick and Balin forge their own way through the song before meeting at the end. ‘Uncle Sam’s Blues’ is probably the only song played at Woodtsock that was never recorded or released on anything else – it’s not one of Jorma Kaukanen’s best, but its anti-Vietnam parable is a perfect for the love-in crowd and its title line ‘Uncle Sam ain’t no woman but he sure can take your man’ is one of the best of the Jefferson’s career. ‘Somebody To Love’ is nicely updated for the 1969 crowds and has a jazzy opening that goes in hundreds of directions before finding the familiar riff. ‘Rabbit’ ‘3/5s’ and a striding ‘Volunteers’ are closer to the records, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Overall rating: 9/10.
4) Janis Joplin. You can see the superb ‘Work Me, Lord’ on the director’s cut of the film (strangely it wasn’t in the original, given that it might well be the highlight of the whole bang lot for me) and the evergreen ‘Ball and Chain’ plus ‘Try’ on ‘Woodstock Diaries. (Note – the Woodstock version of ‘Ball and Chain’ plus the otherwise unissued ‘Piece Of MY Heart’ are both available on the CD re-issue of Janis’ ‘I Got Dem Ole Kozmik Blues Again Mama’). Janis played her set with the under-rated Kozmik Blues Band and was mainly plugging her ‘Kozmik Blues’ album from that year – and a shock it must have been at the time, too, for the audience was more used to seeing Janis with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Not everything in Janis’ spirited set quite comes off – with ‘Work Me, Lord’ the highlight by a long margin – but even though the horns sound out of place the vocals were not and Janis seemed to be having fun. Alas she died in between the film being recorded and screened, in early 1970 (so it’s doubly weird that she wasn’t in it until the 1990s director’s cut came out) and its one of the last performances of her we have (although not the last – there are a couple of Dick Cavett Show appearances after this). Overall rating: 7/10, mainly for ‘Work Me, Lord’.
5) The Who. You can see ‘See Me, Feel Me’ and ‘Summertime Blues’ in both versions of the film, plus ‘My Generation’ on ‘Woodstock Diaries’, ‘The Collector’s Edition’ and The Who’s own ‘Maximum R and B’ DVD, plus ‘Sparks’ and the complete unedited ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ on ‘The Collector’s Edition’. The Who were on cracking form in August 1969 and enjoying the new life that their recent ‘Tommy’ had given the band. In fact, so on form that it’s hard to remember that very few Americans in the audience wqould have known who The Who were – they never really broke that big in the USA until their smashing (in both senses of the word) Monterey appearance in 1967 and 1968 had been an awful year for them sales-wise in just about every country (‘Magic Bus’ was their biggest hit – and that only reached #32). This is The Who reclaiming their legacy, with Daltrey fresh from his new hairdo (letting it grow naturally long and curly instead of treating it with hair gel as all good mods were meant to do) and going bare-chested for almost the first time, Townshend and Moon at their over-the-top best and Entwistle keeping the whole thing together and barely blinking at the mania going on around him. The moment everybody talks about is the un-choreographed end to the set where the sun comes up during ‘See Me Feel Me’, the end of ‘Tommy’. It’s pretty stunning in the film, even if the music’s got a bit disjointed by then (the band are much tighter on the other songs in the set), but the musical highlight is ‘Sparks’, the death-defying tightrope walk of skill, which makes you wonder a) where the tapes of the song’s other half – Amazing Journey – is and b) why Warner Brothers waited 40 years to release it. Overall rating: 8/10.
Well, that’s it from us for another week – we’ll see you on August 28th for our 1st birthday issue!