Thursday, 26 May 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 101 (Top Five): The most AAA songs recorded in a single session!

Modern performers have it easy. Nowadays in 2011 if a rock star releases more than two albums a decade critics think they’re ‘spreading themselves too thinly’, so that Lady Gaga can get away with having her reputation rest on only two albums and singers like Adele can quite happily sit back and chart every other year of her life (we’ve had ‘19’ and now ‘21’ so ‘23’ must be next). Even AAA artists aren’t immune - why EMI even told Paul McCartney he could have 1996 off because after the Beatles Anthology project the year before the record label didn’t ‘need’ any new product from him for a while. But it never used to be like this. Back in the early to mid 1960s rock and roll was still seen as a fad that had to be captured and released quickly before the fickle audience disappeared to something else. Of course now, nearly 50 years after some of these albums were released, we know this music is never going to fade away or die – but the record executives who’d seen skiffle and jugband music come and go couldn’t possibly have forseen websites like this one discussing the work made in a three hour sessions as some sort of high art. So this week we look at the most productive days in AAA musical history, with the most released-in-the-band’s-lifetime songs recorded in a single day... (alas not every record label kept full documentation so we’ve had to exclude some vague recording dates from this list – see The Rolling Stones, for whom little recording info is known at all!)    

5) Six songs recorded by The Hollies on the 29th October 1963: Like many albums on this list, this productive day was during sessions for what became the Hollies’ debut album, ‘Stay With The Hollies’ released in January 1964. The sessions kicked off with a driving cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Memphis Tennessee’, which was the best version around till ‘Beatles at the BBC’ came out. The band then moved on to a song made famous by Chuck ‘Talkin’ Bout You’, best heard in extended form on the ‘EP Collection’ (and one of the few missing tracks not included on the ‘Clarke-Hicks-Nash Years’ box set). A slight detour into the Conway Twitty ballad ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ came next, with Clarke and Nash’s harmonies clearly showing the strain of several hours of recording. Next it was on with a rather wet cover of Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’, with block harmonies substituting for Richard Penniman’s rock and roll yell. The fifth track to be recorded was the slightly curious choice of ‘Baby Don’t Cry’, a rather drab novelty number that’s one of the few misfires on the early Hollies LPs. The band then finished with the slightly hysterical cover of the Gordy Junior hit ‘Do You Love Me?’, better known from a later Brian Poole and the Tremeloes cover. It’s another oddball choice for The Hollies that I can’t imagine appearing on any other AAA band’s discography, but the arrangement is impressive with Allan Clarke’s vocals a neat mix of innocence and the rawness that only comes after a long recording day. Amazingly, unlike many other AAA stars who go on to set their own rules and conditions, the Hollies will record five songs on a single day during sessions for next LP ‘In The Hollies Style’ (on the 27th April 1964) and a further four on the 15th December 1964.

4) Nine songs recorded by The Kinks on the 15th February 1965: Sessionography lists for Pye bands like The Kinks and The Searchers are a bit vague to say the least, but we do know that the band were holed up in London’s Pye Studios to make as many tracks as possible for their second album ‘Kinda Kinks’ on this day and all 12 tracks for the album had been finished by no later than February 17th (barring an A and B side and a resurrected outtake in ‘Don’t Ever Change’ recorded two months previously). Ray Davies is scathing about both Pye and this album in his ‘unauthorised autobiography’, remembering that he’d been pulled, jetlagged, off a plane in order to go record these songs while suffering from a nasty insect bite that had to be treated by doctors and was ‘pulled from the arms’ of his teenage bride and first baby. What a glamorous life rock stars lived in the 1960s! Certainly the recordings are rougher than any other Kinks album – even their first – and you can trace Ray Davies’ disappearing voice across the album, even if we don’t know which tracks were recorded first and last (my guess is that ‘Nothin’ In The World’ and ‘So Long’ came early on and the frantic ‘Look For Me Baby’ and ‘Dancing In The Street’ came near the end). Times did change for the band by the time of third album ‘The Kinks Kontroversy’ when Pye allowed the band the luxury of recording all 12 songs in – gosh – a whole week!

3) Ten songs recorded by The Beach Boys on the 16th of July 1963: We mentioned on our review for debut album ‘Surfin’ Safari’ (seed ‘news and views no 28) how lucky the Beach Boys were compared to their English counterparts by being given sessions spread over a few months to hone their style and get used to the recording studio. That had long passed by the time Capitol realised just how much product they were selling and by the time of this third album the band were back in a hot studio in July recording every single track but one for the album at the same session (all except the title track – recorded the month before – and ‘Little Deuce Coupe’, recorded a full 24 hours earlier!) The songs include such well loved fan favourites as ‘Catch A Wave’ ‘In My Room’ and ‘Our Car Club’ (indeed, many fans regard this album as the best of their pre-‘Pet Sounds’ recordings), which makes for a very successful day’s work indeed. Amazingly, too, you can’t really hear the band decline across this album as you can some of the others on this list – which is quite staggering given that a) the band had just come off a lengthy tour and b) even more than the other groups on this list The Beach Boys arrangements’ were so harmony driven. Things do let up slightly for the band – the bulk of follow up ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ was recorded in two separate sessions! No wonder Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown just a year or so later...

2) Ten songs recorded by The Beatles on the 11th of February 1963: The famous one of course, that every fan knows, when every single track for debut ‘Please Please Me’ was recorded, barring the two A and B sides (‘Love Me Do’ ‘PS I Love You’ ‘Ask Me Why’ and ‘Please Please Me’ itself) was recorded in one hurried eight hour rush (see ‘news and views no 92 for more!) Thanks to the hard work of the Abbey Road Studio boffins we can even tell you what order they were recorded in – There’s A Place, I Saw Her Standing There, A Taste Of Honey, Do You Want To Know A Secret?, Misery, an abandoned attempt at ‘Hold Me Tight’ not counted for the sake of this article, Anna (Go To Him), Boys, Chains, Baby It’s You (where Lennon’s vocals are already becoming ragged) and of course Twist And Shout, recorded in one take only because the band had time to spare and wanted their Cavern crowd-pleaser on the record. No wonder Lennon’s vocals sound so ragged (he spent the half hour before the take drinking hot milk, while the band perfomed stripped to the waist under the hot studio lights, with the Abbey Road staff egging them on as per a live gig) – and no wonder the band were sent home after attempting a second take, with Lennon’s vocals shot to pieces. The amazing thing really is that such an inexperienced band who’d been working all day could pull off a masterpiece without a proper rehearsal – or that Lennon was ever able to talk, let alone sing, ever again. Even without ‘Twist and Shout’ in the mix this is an incredibly varied bunch, though, for one studio session. Thankfully things got easier during sessions for follow-up LP ‘With The Beatles’, although the bulk of this album was recorded in just three days spread out over a period of three months!

1) Eleven songs recorded by The Searchers sometime in 1963!: For years I’ve been reading about how the Searchers outdid The Beatles by recording every song  on their debut album ‘Meet The Searchers’ except for the single ‘Sweets For My Sweet’. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know which day the band achieved this grand feat on – the CD sleevenotes tell me it was ‘within a day’, Frank Allen doesn’t know in his autobiography ‘Travelling Man’ because he hadn’t joined the band yet and no amount of research will reveal to me which date it was. Alas The Searchers were another band on Pye, who kept rough records of all recordings rather than fanatical notes like the EMI mob and so we only have the very vaguest of ideas. No matter though – people do seem to be agreed that the Searchers did record 11 songs on a single day and that’s good enough for me. Perhaps that fact explains why this album is so underwhelming compared to all four other masterpieces the Searchers released – the energy that’s the hallmark of the earlier recordings is missing for the most part (the band sound half asleep at times – though who can blame them cramming this lot into five or six hours?) and the sophistication that creeps in from 1964 hasn’t been discovered yet. As a result, only the hilarious ‘Love Potion no 9’ and the gorgeous ‘Since You Broke My Heart’ really shine through. It’s hard to hear any real strain on the band’s voice either – surprising given that in this era bassist Tony Jackson was doing the lion’s share of the singing – although ‘Farmer John’ does sound a bit scrappy and a likely candidate for being recorded at the end of the day.  

Well, that’s it from us again. See you again next issue – assuming, of course, that our IT problems don’t come back to haunt us...

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