Friday, 4 November 2011
Dear all, it’s been a bit of a nothing week as I try to recover from the huge workload of the last six weeks – and yes, my body is really feeling it now (Ow! And that’s not a Michael jackson type ‘ow!’ by the way) The only new to report is that our site has now passed 10,500 hits (that’s 200 visitors a week for the past fortnight!) Our Alan’s Album Archive Artists haven’t exactly been busy either after the onslaught of the past month: just one new item for you this week. (STOP PRESS: Blooming heck there’s five of them now, just a few hours after writing that sentence – how did that happen?!) We do, however, have part two of our – so far – well received list of YouTube rarities for you to enjoy. Nothing to say, but it’s OK.
♫ Beatles News: Last minute news – the new George Harrison doc ‘Living In The Material World’ will receive its UK TV premiere in two parts, spread across Saturday and Sunday, Thursday 12th and 13th. Running marginally shorter than the DVD version, the two programmes are on at 9.45pm and 9pm respectively on BBC2. Currently I’m halfway through the DVD version and its a curious mixture of genuinely insightful interviews and snippets of film clips along with an awful lot of Anthology soundbites. The home footage of the Beatles larking around on holiday are priceless though and the Harrison family have taken the time to do all sorts of things above and beyond the call of duty, such as cleaning up the Hamburg ‘Star Club’ tapes which is a terrific find! I just wish it was longer and rare – although I haven’t seen the ‘solo years’ doc yet so that could all change! The book, by the way, really is wonderful, with lots of George’s pictures of the Beatle years and holidays, although the best pictures for me are the reproductions of George’s schoolbooks, full of doodling for guitar sets ups (including ‘my mate Paul’ on stage!) next to his homework! There are two other Beatle related docs on as well that week: The first doc is on Saturday at 11.20pm and is a repeat of the Timewatch film about Beatlemania, which is scatterbrained and messy but well worth watching for the snatches of rare footage of the mop tops on tour. Meanwhile Sunday at 11.05pm sees a new documentary called ‘The Beatles on Record’, which hopefully isn’t just a repeat of the doc included in the box sets with yet another new name and sets to analyse how The Beatles matured during their eight year recording career.
♫ Nils Lofgren News: By a nice coincidence, which seems to be becoming a common occurrence here at the AAA, five minutes after finishing my Nils Lofgren review I’ve learnt that Nils will be the special guest appearing on the woefully strung-out Radio 2 celebrations for the Old Grey Whistle Test. Quite why they’ve decided to dedicate a series of radio programmes to a TV show and then got the guests who are still alive to re-record music for it is anyone’s guess, but hey I’ll forgive anything to hear Nils on the radio again. Nils’ episode is on this Wednesday, at 10pm on Radio 2.
♫ Monkees News: The latest (fifth?) in a series of Monkees specials by Rhino handmade has just been announced – and the selection of the unloved ‘Instant Replay’ has caught everyone by surprise (albeit it’s not actually that bad – see news and views 64 for more). There’s actually a lot of prime unreleased or at least rare Monkees from this period to add to this set – but no, Rhino have gone back to their new tactic of giving us ‘alternate mixes’ of stuff we know several times over already (do we really need four versions of ‘Through The Looking Glass?’ To be honest one was pushing it a bit for what I needed!) There is the first official issue of the TV special ’33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkees’ special on CD, true, but ‘Naked Permisson’ and the minute-long ‘String For My Kite’ aside, you don’t really want that either (and why no release for the bluesy ‘I’m A Beliver’ duet with Kulie Driscoll or the 20-minute version of ‘Listen To The Band’?!) Also, the box for the new set makes a big thing out of having Mike Nesmith’s early Nashville sessions – so why not a) add some of the ones that are still in the vaults (about a third as much again compared to what came out at the time and on the three Missing Links sets) and b) put them all together in one place, instead of spreading them across 3 CDs? Rhino Handmade excelled themselves with the ‘Headquarters Sessions’ box set – lovingly annotated, in strict chronological order and full of two and a half CDs of backing tapes, outtakes, studio chat and alternate takes. But ever since then they’ve been scarping the barrel – and Instant Replay was an album that was already scarping pretty near to the bottom of the barrel in 1969. Just like most fans did the first time round in 1969, give this one a miss.
♫ Oasis News: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds are live in concert on Radio 2 this Thursday, November 3rd at 8pm – for two whole hours I’m pleased to say! This will be Noel’s first full length concert and fans are intrigued as to what Noel will perform to fill up the time (apparently he does some Oasis songs and not just the usual ones either – expect a review next week!) The concert is also being broadcast on the red button various days this week and next week starting with 4am on Friday, November 4th.
♫ The Who News: A little addition to last week’s Pete Townshend ‘John Peel lecture’ for you: as well as the radio slot on BBC6 at 7pm on Tuesday, October 31st, Pete will also be on the BBC red button at the same time – and it will be repeated various times across the next few days before the weekend!
ANNIVERSARIES: Birthday greetings to AAA members born between November 8th and 14th: Ian Craig Marsh (synthesiser with the Human League 1979-81) who turns 55 on November 11th and Neil Young who turns 66 on November 12th. Anniversaries of events include: The Rolling Stones break the record for the most money earned for a single concert (£108,000) after a gig in Los Angeles, beating the previous record: The Beatles at Shea Stadium (November 8th 1969); The Human League officially split into two – Phil Oakey keeps the band name and gains two cocktail waitress singers whilst synthesiser experts Ian Craig Marsh and Martin Ware form Heaven 17 (November 8th 1980); David Crosby officially leaves The Byrds, to be replaced for a matter of weeks by his old colleague Gene Clark and leaving Crosby free to form CSN (November 9th 1967); The Moody Blues release their seminal single ‘Nights In White Satin’ (November 10th 1967); The Human League make their live debut in their hometown of Sheffield (November 12th 1980); The Moody Blues release their ‘other’ big seller ‘Go Now’ (November 13th 1964); Brian Jones buys the House at Pooh Corners, aka AA Milne’s house Catchford Farm in Sussex where the guitarist will later drown (November 13th 1967); The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film premieres in America (November 13th 1968) and finally, Cat Stevens releases his landmark album ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ and Pink Floyd release their landmark album ‘Meddle’ on the same day (November 13th 1971).
This week it’s the second of our three-part special delving into the magical world of YouTube. You may remember that we covered a top five YouTube clips on our site round about 100 issues ago. Well, since then I’ve discovered so much more (and users have posted so much more) so this week here’s an extended version of that original top 10 – to the extent that it’s now a top 60! Now it goes without saying that YouTube is endless and I dare say there are millions of things I’ve missed out – (so why not point them out on our forum?), but this is the best of what I’ver discovered so far. The only rules to be included on this list are that the videos have to be ‘exclusive’ to YouTube – ie not available officially in any form as of the time of writing (though a couple of Hollies clips only got in by the skin of their teeth – see above). The results below can be anything an AAA member has ever done, including TV appearances, music videos, chat show appearances, concerts (though they have to be rare performances or rare songs or we’d just be listing whole track listings for ‘Smile’), adverts, interviews, rare bits of audio accompanied by pictures, all sorts in fact. Some groups are here more than others of course – partly because some groups have released absolutely every shot of them ever taken already on DVD and there’s nothing there to find or perhaps partly because I haven’t found the right links to take me to them yet despite looking for every AAA member in turn every few months or so – perhaps we’ll be able to a ‘top 100’ list in another 100 issues time? To view these clips, click on the YouTube links we’ve included and they should take you straight there to the heart of the action (apologies to our readers in the future when some of these links may have been taken down, but as of October 2011 they are all present and correct). Look out for 21-1 as our countdown continues next week! Oh and while you’re about it, if you’re a fellow YouTube member why not add me as a ‘friend’ on YouTube and you can have a look through my ‘playlists’ to see what was still interesting but not good enough to make the grade? (I’m Alansarchives if you hadn’t guessed!):
40) Crosby, Stills and Nash – live versions of tracks from aborted ‘covers’ album, 2009-2011
http://youtu.be/Q2GMUzd2ntk (Uncle John’s Band)
http://youtu.be/vM7dlU7Oppk (Ruby Tuesday)
http://youtu.be/SWIdwONfu1U (How Have You Been?)
http://youtu.be/uu3aCOZZU6A (You Can Close Your Eyes)
Alas the better quality videos of the first two clips have been taken down since I added them to my ‘favourites’, but no matter...When I heard that the planned CSN/Rick Rubin album of covers was officially cancelled earlier this year it broke my heart. CSN so need to record an album in the style of Johnny Cash’s ‘American’ albums (which Rubin produced) to restore their fanbase and critical standing to past glories and the clips of these three songs tentatively pencilled in for recording seemed like a promising place to start. ‘Uncle John’s Band’ is a great choice, a Grateful Dead song that pays back the debt the Dead owed CSN for this whole style of singing on their two low-budget albums from 1970. ‘Ruby Tuesday’ worked less well I thought, with the chorus booming in from nowhere every time the trio sing it unlike the subtle Stones original but no matter – this is a live recording, they could easily have fixed it and it’s a song that suits their soaring parts well. Thirdly, the audio clip of the band singing Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian’s ‘How Have You Been?’ (oh so nearly the fourth member of the band instead of Neil Young) dates from much earlier (1970?!) but was rumoured to be revived for the project. If so, it would have been terrific and has been haunting me greatly in the year or so since first hearing it. Finally, James Taylor’s ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’ is one of Taylor’s better songs and a nice choice to cover, really benefitting from three-part harmonies even in this poor quality live reading. What a waste. What a let down. Get back into the studio and record these songs anyway CSN, please, even if you do never get a chance to release them!
39) Pink Floyd “The Final Cut Video EP” (1983)
http://youtu.be/RK_08CgXZQ8 (The Gunner’s Dream/The Final Cut)
http://youtu.be/LRIJygFeb3E (Not Now John/The Fletcher Memorial Home)
If you, like me, have dying to see the rare-as-a-Floyd-reunion videos for ‘The Final Cut’ then you’ll be cheering both BBC4 for adding the best of the quartet ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’ to the recent Floyd Miscelleny comp and cheering on YouTube posters for adding the above videos (actually they’re all on YouTube several times over, with this the clearest of the lot that I could find). Still unavailable officially (word was the four videos here were all going to appear as extras on The Wall Film deluxe edition but never showed – so why aren’t they included with the new remastered album then?) and for the most part fabulous, these four videos make the album story clearer by juxtaposing WW2 footage with the then-contemporary Falklands War to damning effect. The Floyd pull of a coup too by using the same actor who played ‘The Teacher’ in ‘The Wall’, the four videos giving this insufferable bully last seen ridiculing Pink’s ‘poetry’ a proper back story that sees him risking his life and limb for his country in 1939-45 only to be betrayed by the promised ‘post-war dream’ of equality and humanity that never appeared. Roger Waters is the only Floyd musician appearing on screen in any of these videos (and even then in silhouette only on the title track) on four of the five best recordings from the album (why no ‘Paranoid Eyes’?!), but don’t let that put you off – Floyd concerts always did their best to hide the band behind thir light shows and videos onstage too. The best of the four is undoubtedly the hilarious ‘Fletcher Memorial Home’, named for Roger’s conscientious objector dad who died in the war anyway at Anzio in 1944, that has The Teacher setting off to kill the inhabitants of the local dictator’s rest home (featuring Hitler, Napolean, Mussolini and – in a very daring move considering she was pm at the time – Margaret Thatcher; no Stalin by the way, which is interesting) only to find out that without all that power behind them these politicians are all just a bunch of hopeless loonies ‘playing’ at being important. As for the other clips, the big-musical-number-in-a-nuclear-plant that is ‘Not Now John’ will haunt you to your dying day just for it’s sheer...oddness, whilst seeing Roger consulting his bitter ‘Teacher’ personality on the title track, even in silhouette, is moving indeed.
38) Grace Slick and Graham Nash “Panda” (1989)
I’ve been trying to track down Nash’s short stint as a chat-show host on American TV for years (‘The Ring’ it was called) – alas this is all I’ve been able to find to date, but the clip’s a good one. Grace Slick is a year away from retirement and is showcasing the last real ‘song’ of her career, released officially on the ill-fated Jefferson Airplane reunion record of the same year. On record ‘Panda’ is an all-too cute and tuneless song about ecology, the sort of which we’ve heard hundreds of times before. But here, with fellow ecologically minded Nash in support (mastermind of the ‘No Nukes’ benefit concerts of 1979, don’t forget) and freed of its 80s synth trappings this seems like a whole new song. Who’d have thought too, nearly 30 years after they first met, that we’d finally get to hear Grace and Graham sing together without David Crosby or Paul Kantner or someone getting in the way – and who’d have thought their voices would have blended in so well? If the whole of the series was like this (and it should be – David Crosby was the next guest after Grace!) then it’ll be an unforgettable treat if it ever does turn up on YouTube!
37) Neil Young and Bert Jansch “Ambulance Blues” (2006)
I love Neil Young, I badly miss the late great Bert Jansch already, I so applaud the Young-organised Bridge School Benefits Concerts for handicapped children (such a range of artists playing on each other’s sets with such a feeling of goodwill about the whole thing) and I love...wait a minute, actually I’m not that keen on ‘Ambulance Blues’ unlike 99% of Neil’s fanbase. But this duet version is a revelation in many ways, presenting the song as one of a long line of folk songs rather than a subdued end to the subdued ‘On The Beach’ album and, thanks to Jansch’s presence, repaying what Neil owes to Jansch’s ‘Needle Of Death’ which is very similar to this song. (I guess that makes me one of the critics with their ‘stomach-pumps and hook and ladder dreams’ then – well all I can say is I’m looking forward to getting together with Neil ‘for some scenes’). A great performance from two great storytellers, one recovering from a brain aneurism, the other battling cancer (‘I guess I’ll call it sickness gone’) – magic. How sad that Neil’s one great line of the song is true: an ambulance really can only go so fast. But how great too to see two performers together who never knew how to give less than their all.
36) Lindisfarne – music videos for ‘Run From Home’, ‘Jukebox Gypsy’, ‘Call Of The Wild’ and ‘Fog On The Tyne’ (1978/79):
OK the quality’s not great and two of the videos end prematurely, but these clips are so rare – the only time you ever see Lindisfarne on TV at all these days is with the original ‘Fog’ clip or (shudder) the one where the band back footballer Paul Gascoigne’s laughable attempts to sing – that it’s welcome to have them in any state at all. All these clips come from the late 70s (‘Fog’ is to promote the re-issue of the song in the same period) and feature the reunited line-up on good form, before the ‘issues’ of the late 80s. ‘Run For Home’ and the outrageously risqué ‘Jukebox Gypsy’ both take place in a Newcastle pub called ‘The Turk’s Head’ (no surprises there then!), with the latter juxtaposed against a clearly freezing model dancing on the beach in her underwear! (It’s that kind of song!) ‘Fog’ takes place at Newcastle harbour on a clearly very freezing day, accompanied by what sounds like the rare re-recording of the song from the ‘C’mon Everybody’ rock and roll album. Best of all is ‘Call Of The Wild’ which features the whole band naked in a cage – who the hell talked them into doing that one?! Alan Hull manages to cope with the situation with dignity, almost, turning in a stellar performance as ever while the rest of the band just look cold – they all look a lot happier by the time we go to the zoo in the second verse, although poor Hully looks very nervous on top of a travelling hay wagon at the song’s end! Four rare time capsules from a sadly forgotten series of albums well worth looking out for.
35) David Crosby at the Brian Wilson Tribute (circa 1998)
I’ve seen most of this so-called ‘tribute’ show by now and it’s toe-curling: lots of people with no talent wanting to be on telly singing songs they haven’t a clue to appreciate. The cover of ‘Surf’s Up’, one of the best songs from ‘Smile’, doesn’t start off any better, with Vince Gill doing some cod-Roy Orbison vibrato and Jimmy Webb treating the song like a series of questions rather than a metaphorical narrative. Then in comes Byrd/CSN man David Crosby on the third verse with those classy harmonies and all is forgiven. The performance goes up another notch with the addition of Crosby singing the ‘Children’s song...’ passage added underneath the song a la the original recording circa 1966, the most moving moment from the most moving album it has ever been my privilege to hear. Sure Crosby’s throat is creaky in places and the backing band clearly don’t have the ability to get the full depth of ‘Surfin’ USA’ never mind one of Brian’s deeper numbers, but what the hell – for a minute there I reached Nirvana (and no I flaming don’t mean Kurt Cobain!) Nice to see lyricist Van Dyke Parks in the audience too.
34) The Searchers – TV clips (from ‘Shindig!’) for ‘He’s Got No Love’, ‘Bumble Bee’, ‘Love Potion no 9’ and ‘Needles and Pins’ (1965), plus ‘When I Get Home’ and ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ (1967)
http://youtu.be/9NUwsiUJmP8 (‘He’s Got No Love’)
http://youtu.be/_3UqtseCqaA (‘Love Potion no 9’/’Bumble Bee’)
http://youtu.be/LepUYlQU8RU (‘Needles and Pins’)
http://youtu.be/d5zKqHZCW7w (‘When I Get Home’)
http://youtu.be/giUuA6rbI6Q (‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’)
Goodness knows it’s hard to find any clip of The Searchers that isn’t ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ or the tuneless NME pollwinners version of ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’, so imagine my delight to find no less than six slices of rare Searchers from Shindig! The first three clips are of a band in transition – Tony Jackson, lead vocalist on a majority of the early recordings, has just been pushed aside to make way for rhythm guitarist Mike Pender – but no one seems to have told the cameraman that and he seems convinced that the shy 18 year old Frank Allen on bass is the star and keeps putting him in shot. Those of you who’ve read my Searchers review will know that I consider the late-period (ie 1965-67) period of this band as one of the least recognised and under-appreciated canons in music- the early hits aren’t bad but the last two albums and assorted singles for Pye are among the best the 1960s had to offer – so imagine my even bigger delight that three poor-selling gems of the period are here: ‘When I Get Home’ ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ and the song that came first in our ‘early psychedelia’ poll a few issues back ‘He’s Got No Love’, perhaps the biggest milestone in 60s flower power that people haven’t acknowledged yet (it was recorded at the same time as ‘Help!’ for crying out loud!) At last, my search for The Searchers is at an end.
33) Crosby and Nash performing at the ‘vote Obama’ Rally 2009
http://youtu.be/VzB_lXb8ISE (Short Version)
http://youtu.be/jA0s5dMJExA (Long Version)
A piece of history for you, as Crosby and Nash admit defeat in the election they stood for as joint candidates (hey, I’d have voted for them if they’d lived in my town) and put their weight of feeling behind Barack Obama, back then an unlikely looking second placed runner in the Democrat camp behind Hilary Clinton. I’ve heard better versions of ‘Teach Your Children’ over the years but few are as charged with hope and feeling as this one. As for the ‘longer’ version’s unique performance of ‘This Is My Country’, it’s a saccharine but sadly spot-on dissectment of war and greed which Nash (singing about his adopted home country, of course) clearly feels passionately about. Who’d have guessed that Obama would actually make it into the White House in 2009 with only a couple of hippies and a catchy ‘yes we can’ slogan for support? And leave the guy alone – at least he’s trying to bring money to the poor and staving off catastrophe instead of making things worse and siphoning off money from the needy like the Coalition does in this country...
32) The Kinks – rare music videos ‘Lost and Found’, ‘How Do I Get Close?’, ‘Down All The Days (Till 1992)’ and ‘Only A Dream’:
http://youtu.be/c3kJx4JE0lM (Lost and Found, 1986)
http://youtu.be/l1DZC7olEnc (How Do I Get Close?, 1988)
http://youtu.be/rHT4eLF8ejM (Down All The Days, 1988)
http://youtu.be/h7gCtkhJJuU (Only A Dream, 1993)
Whilst every Kinks era up to the early 80s is well catered on CD and even DVD these days, there’s still a big hole on the shelf where the last three (and vastly under-rated) Kinks albums should be. Here are clips for possibly the four best tracks from the last three Kinks LPs (one from ‘Think Visual’, two from ‘UK Jive’ and one from ‘Phobia’), all of which I’d never seen before finding them on YouTube. All of them are pretty bizarre, even compared to the run of Kinks promos for ‘Predictable’ ‘Do It Again’ et al that made my head explode, but all have that typical Kinks oddball charm. ‘Lost’ features a conductor in charge of the band while a backdrop shows Ray as a highway robber (!) for no apparent reason. The ‘Close’ video features Dave Davies dressed as a ‘clown’(an in-joke based on his most famous song ‘Death Of A Clown’) and Ray as a butler (!) for no apparent reason. ‘Down All The Days’, a hopeful song about the UK joining the European Union shows lots of clips of ordinary people across Europe celebrating something – possibly how weird this video is although at least there is a reason for them to be there this time. Finally, ‘Only A Dream’ finds Ray and Dave wandering the streets of Paris in search of the ‘executive Goddess’ in the song, caught halfway between merriment and argument. Enjoy.
31) Alan Hull acts in the BBC play “Squire” (1975):
Alas there’s only a two minute extract of it, but Alan Hull is tremendous in this mid-70s version of ‘Shameless’. Lindisfarne’s lead songwriter was busy promoting his second solo album of the same name at the time and, after dabbling with politics as a backbench MP, turned to acting to fill in the gap between albums. His role here as a long-term unemployed man signing back on after moving to yet another district to look for work is hilarious and deeply believable – perhaps because Hull knew exactly where the character was coming from (most of the early Lindisfarne songs were written when Hull was unemployed for a long long time and even ‘Fog On The Tyne’ has a line about signing off the dole). Let’s hope the rest of this fascinating TV play comes to light sometime soon!
30) Jefferson Airplane “Mexico”, Jefferson Starship “St Charles” and “Count On Me” (acoustic version):
http://youtu.be/w6gWzTO6STo (Mexico, 1972)
http://youtu.be/d4BxmjFuF_0 (St Charles, 1976)
http://youtu.be/pAsdWbTqAuA (Count On Me, 1978)
Three terrific slices of the Jeffersons in different eras. ‘Mexico’ was a flop single right at the end of the Airplane’s run but its one of their best ever (if shortest) songs, damning Richard Nixon whose ‘come to call himself king’ by destroying the Mexican underground movement and putting his goons in charge of the drugs scene there whilst ‘taking action’ against Mexicans committing far smaller crimes. This was heady stuff in an era two years before Watergate when most people still ‘trusted’ politicians and the Airplane take no prisoners – there’s certainly no whitewash against this Whitehouse! Grace Slick is terrific on this live version and to boot its virtually the last time we get to see the ‘proper’ Airplane line-up together in one place till 1989. ‘St Charles’ is just the music set to video – but oh what music, this forgotten song from 1976’s Starship album ‘Spitfire’ is one of their very best and the band are on photogenic form as ever. The promo – the only one from the band’s ‘Jefferson Starship’ years with Marty Balin in the band – is rumoured to have been submitted to a ‘film festival’ where it sadly lost, but I have no more details about that I’m afraid! It certainly should have won something, as it’s an atmospheric moody piece very in keeping with the mid-70s with Marty especially on great form. Finally, ‘Count On Me’ is a charming relic from 1978 – the last year for Marty in the band and Grace’s last for several years, with the whole seven piece Starship gathered together round a couch and singing their heart out with just two acoustic guitars for accompaniment. Probably the best song from the album ‘Earth’, it really shows off just how great Marty’s voice still was at this stage and the intimacy between the band members. Three really nice finds.
29) David Crosby “Get Together”(1963):
Apparently this dead early David Crosby song taped in 1963 – two years before The Byrds and his earliest recording barring the Au Go Go Singers album (where he’s inaudible) – did make it out on one of the many re-issues of The Byrds’ ‘Preflyte’ tapes down the years. But I’ve never come across it and I’m willing to bet most of you haven’t either so I’m including it here. What’s fascinating is hearing Crosby’s voice in its early stages, when it’s much more folk-orientated than the later Beatles-inspired rock model. It’s also blooming lovely, with that familiar Crosby lilt and sunshine we’ll get to know so well a few years down the line. The song is important too – it’s one of several ‘old’ (ie pre WW2) songs Crosby ‘discovered’ (along with ‘Hey Joe’) which other artists copied from Crosby after seeing him do it in the folk clubs. Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane do the better known versions of this song (in fact we discussed the latter version not long ago in newsletter 116) and its so flower power-era sounding its hard to believe it was already over a decade old when Crosby sang it here. Two years before he found fame and Crosby already sounds like one to watch.
28) Buffalo Springfield “Bluebird” (unedited version, 1967):
I’ve been dying to hear the full unedited version of one of the greatest Buffalo Springfield songs for years, ever since I heard that it ‘accidentally’ came out on a double-album compilation (simply titled ‘Buffalo Springfield’) in the 70s because the engineer ‘accidentally’ forgot to stop the tape at the right point (alas it never did make it to CD and has been long since deleted). I have to say this full nine minute jam isn’t what I expected – after the familiar slashing Stills guitar three minutes in we simply cut back to a noisy bluesy jam instead of the familiar ‘appalachian banjo’ coda that doesn’t owe that much to the beginning of the song till the end. ‘Bluebird’ somehow ends up into a version of the band’s first album song ‘Leave’ before somehow working its way back into the main riff for the last minute and a final repeat of the song’s chorus. Still, even if these extra few minutes aren’t up to the rest of the song – and the band were right to cut it down to size – it’s still great to hear Stills and Young playing off each other in the studio for pretty much the first time, long before their legendary CSNY guitar duels!
27) Dire Straits – the first demos 1977
http://youtu.be/wPsxEGewsoU (Water Of Love)
http://youtu.be/V-7WXeWSy_I (Sultans Of Swing)
http://youtu.be/imoaxqblb6g (Down To The Waterline)
http://youtu.be/NIxNg9Fj7OY (Six-Blade Knife)
http://youtu.be/-zJ_LRJt0Xc (Southbound Again)
http://youtu.be/2sbx5LVoSEw (Setting Me Up)
The first half dozen recordings by Dire Straits, a full year before their release on the first self-titled Dire Straits record. Mark Knopfler often sounds uncomfortable with the vocals, his guitar licks don’t quite have the confidence he will have in a year or so’s time and the usual glossy Dire Straits production is a long way away but even given such surroundings these six recordings are among the best things the band ever did. When the first Dire Straits record came out in 1978 it was such a breath of fresh air, retro rock with a then-contemporary twist that somehow managed to bypass the worst excesses of the period. Here, right in the middle of punk, these songs must have sounded even more excitingly original. ‘Setting Me Up’ is particularly different without the harmonies of the finished version and with a strangely downbeat feel, while ‘Sultans’ is special just to hear the band still getting up to speed on a new song Mark probably sings in his sleep these days. A wonderful find.
26) David Gilmour in ‘Joker’s Wild’ (1965)
http://youtu.be/8B-iaQWQMhI (Why Do Fools Fall In Love?/Walk Like A Man/Can I Get A Witness?)
http://youtu.be/P2umYQJXonQ (Big Girls Don’t Cry/Beautiful Delilah)
Well, here’s one rare EP you can bet your life won’t be seeing an official release any time soon and it’s fascinating - blooming awful I admit -but fascinating all the same. When David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd as Syd Barrett’s replacement he spent his time trying to add a few West Coast harmonies to a band built on English reserve and mystery where they often didn’t fit (think ‘Crumbling Land’ or the recent ‘On An Island’ collaboration with Crosby and Nash), but it’s clearly always been Gilmour’s ‘calling’, much more than the band’s stock-in-trade of atmospheric neuroticism. Here he is with his first band, the marvellously titled Joker’s Wild, on a five-track EP that had a pressing run of just 50 or so copies in the mid-60s, adding some spry guitar licks to some distinctly Four Seasons-sounding songs which are dominated by falsetto harmonies to the point where you barely register the guitar. Only Gilmour’s sudden guitar break on ‘Delilah’ sounds anything like the Gilmour we will come to know and love and he’s all but inaudible here as a vocalist (except some sweet falsetto) but for fans this incredibly rare collection of songs is a wonderful stepping stone to understanding what was to come. Gilmour won’t work with his colleagues again until his first solo album in 1978, by which time the band sound like any other good AOR rock band, without a harmony in sight.
25) Mike Nesmith recordings pre-Monkees (1964-66):
http://youtu.be/VbAykpPCNmU (Until It’s Time For You To Go)
http://youtu.be/ADEh4Ql0Xio (Well Well Well)
http://youtu.be/Sl1y-cmrl2o (I’ve Been Searchin’)
http://youtu.be/VKWGeIJ1850 (Don’t Call On Me)
Five early slices of Mike Nesmith back when he was still using his stage name ‘Michael Blessing’ and trying to make a career for himself as a folk singer. The first clip is from a TV appearance for Nes’ last single – a cover of a then-new Buffy St Marie song that’s become something of a standard since - before the Monkees came along and the star appeal is there already – all that Rafelson and Scheider seemed to add in 1966 was the woolhat. The other four songs are audio only I’m afraid but nonetheless fascinating. ‘Wanderin’ sounds very much like the songs the First and Second National Bands will go on to play on Nesmith’s early post-Monkees albums, ‘Well Well Well’ is a spoof folk tune (with a banjo lick not unlike what Peter Tork will go on to play) and lyrics about ‘Judy’ being ‘the ugliest cat in town’ which no doubt came as a shock to Mrs Judy Nesmith! ‘Searchin’ is an odd song, performed in a deeper register than the rest and much more Beatleised. Finally, ‘Don’t Call On Me’ is indeed the same song that appeared on The Monkees’ ‘Pisces Aquarius’ album two years early and its sung straight rather than as a folk-club pastiche. It’s also rather lovely and proof that Nesmith has the talent to make it even without joining The Monkees – leaving his comment on his Monkees’ audition that ‘up till now I’ve been a failure’ as a bit of a lie. There used to be a YouTube clip of ‘Mike, John and Bill’ (ie Papa Nez, bassist Kohn London and Monkee writer Bill Chadwick) singing Monkees track ‘All The King’s Horses’ on YouTube, but alas that’s gone.
24) The Small Faces perform two unreleased songs “Get Ready” (BBC Session 1968) and “Jump Back” (live 1966):
http://youtu.be/otPQZptibcM (Get Ready)
http://youtu.be/vjyF1QsbJ-o (Jump Back)
Wow! Two new Marriott-Lane songs for us to enjoy! And ‘Ready’, the more polished of the two, is one of the better instrumentals of their later-period run, heard here in a performance taken from the Radio One show ‘Top Gear’. It’s similar in feel to the many instrumentals that did make it out on the album ‘Autumn Stone’, with Mac’s organ the dominant sound. ‘Jump Back’ is the earlier, noisier Small Faces with Jimmy Winstun on keyboards and vocals and the band on terrific form, especially Steve Marriott’s feedback drenched guitar. How these two tracks escaped the official CDs – and all of the many Small Faces bootlegs I’ve heard – I’ll never know.
23) The Hollies on Noel Edmund’s House Party (1994)
Imagine the scene: you’re tired, you’ve just come home from work and there’s a bearded loon trying to talk to you when you come in, wittering on about your music tastes for no apparent reason (thank goodness he didn’t bring Mr Blobby with him). This being a Noel Edmonds programme I was expecting a sudden tank of gunge or a custard pie in the face at the very least (see Ray Davies above) but no – that really is The Hollies singing ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ in your back garden. How kind and how typical of The Hollies to give up their Boxing Day by standing in a freezing cold garden at the dead of night, waiting hours for th signal to perform (they’re all wearing coats – even Alan Coates Boom! Boom!) to honour one of their fans. The Hollies are a truly great and magnanimous band in any line-up (except perhaps the current Peter Howarth one – ‘woah-wa-oh’ to you too brother) and it’s wonderful to see just how much their presence means to the gentleman in question. What good taste you have, my friend!
22) The Hollies “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” (Live 1990)
I so wish the 1990-era of The Hollies had released a live album because then we fans could have had the definitive versions of ‘Soldier’s Song ‘Purple Rain’ and this track, made famous by Procul Harum, which sadly never appeared on record. It was part of a ‘60s memories’ concept the band were doing on this tour, asking their audiences for the songs that reminded them of the decade the most and they also did some other favourites such as The Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ and ‘Wheel’s On Fire’. This was the best and most surprising song, however; Clarkey’s voice is perfectly cast for the I-think-I-know-what-it-means-but-it-might-be-gibberish lines and Hicks’ decision to play the organ part on guitar is a masterstroke. ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ was my close friend Linda’s favourite song and The Hollies were one of her favourite bands – hearing the two put together all I can say is, wow what great taste she had.
21) The Monkees on the Johnny Cash show 1969:
Four musical legends for the price of one! This was more or less the first thing The Monkees did after Peter Tork left the band and it’s the best clip of them I’ve seen from a chat show (usually what happens is Davy charms, Mike broods and Micky talks. A lot. But not here). Cash, always open to his guests whatever genre and credibility they have or don’t have, is genuinely respectful without any of that awful ‘but you’re not really musicians!’ talk that ruined most interviews post 1967 and the band obviously like him too (‘I’ll go anywhere you wanna go Johnny!’ says Davy at one point), even though his choice of song ‘Everybody Loves A Nut’ is an odd one. (Never did like that jokey Johnny Cash album of the same name much). His take on ‘Clarksville’ is great though and a shame both that its not longer and that he never did it on record – it sounds pretty good when The Monkees sing it too (with Davy on bass!) So much for the song being ‘dusty’ after three years of singing it – The Monkees still do it now. It’s the near a capella version of Nesmith’s unreleased-till-his-solo-records ‘Nine Times Blue’ that’s the real treat though, with Micky Mike and Davy all singing together, something of a rare occurrence outside ‘Riu Chiu’ and ‘I Don’t Think You Know Me At All’ . The Monkees never did the song like this on record, despite announcing it’s from their ‘new’ one (though Nesmith did attempt it solo a number of times) and its one of the best examples of how uncanny the mix of talents in the band was and how remarkable it is that all four Monkees (with Peter!) had such a terrific blend together when they were picked randomly from different countries, backgrounds and musical interests. Why oh why wasn’t this lovely clip selected for the Johnny Cash Show DVD?!
And that’s it for another week. Tune in next issue for YouTube clips #20-1! Who comes first? Will it be The Spice Girls?! (erm, probably not). Tune in next week to find out!
“It can happen when you’re six, it can hit age 29, never too young or old – can happen any time, it can make you feel 200 years old, it’s a weight that no one ought to hold” “It’s tough to be the good one, but being the best don’t mean being number one” “Lift your pretty head, hold it high, sure the world keeps getting tougher, but so do you darling just you try, you can have your share of heartaches, life it can often seem unfair, but when it comes to heartaches you’re not alone out there” “Been so uninspired and lonely, been studying hard values of pain, bottom doubt went walking at midnight, the streets breathe hard, I dance with the rain” “Friendships – never pull them apart, I can take it if it’s straight from the heart” “18 or 90 I’ll be rocking, rocking till I’m dead” “Where does this heavy hurt turn, when will the three-piece suits and the powers ever learn that I was born born born destined to rock, if I could just get a start man I’d never stop, king of the rock, every creation has purpose and mine is to rock!” “Six to five to survive, cigarette money and staying alive, know what’s in your heart? Somebody! Break your back every day so at midnight you can play, who will you be tonight? Somebody!” “I thought I patched it up, I thought I got it made, had a new soft touch, but it was the same old blade, said I wouldn’t be scared of the world no more, but a heavy hanmd keeps knocking on my door, was I born to lose? Ain’t I here to choose? Every time I’m looking down I find new holes in old shoes”
Nils Lofgren “Flip!” (1985)
Flip Ya Flip/Secrets From The Street/From The Heart/Delivery Night/King Of The Rock//Sweet Midnight/New Holes In Old Shoes/Dreams Die Hard/Big Tears Fall
Flippin Heck #1! I can’t believe I actually own this album on CD (and bought it in a sale to boot!) You see, for those who don’t know, Nils Lofgren CDs are as rare as a decent Spice Girls song these days, especially Nils’ mid 80s material when the guitarist chose to sign a series of one-off album deals with a load of wild and wacky names who all have their own re-issue programmes in the CD era (and many of whom don’t actually exist anymore – hence this album’s reappearance on ‘Castle’). The only Nils Lofgren albums you can track down on CD these days are compilations of Nils’ early Grin material or, thankfully, ‘Damaged Goods’ – Nils’ most uncharacteristic but definitely best album (see review no 97 for why!) The reason you see so few Nils albums on this website isn’t because I don’t own them – and it’s certainly not because I don’t like them – but because my vinyl collection is spread across various houses across the country and I only have ‘highlights’ from most of Nils’ albums with me here. For the record, if you’re a strolling millionaire with good contacts and a string of second-hand record shops near you, the albums you want to buy after ‘Damaged Goods’ and Grin’s ‘1+1’ are ‘Nils Lofgren’ (1973) and ‘Nils’ (1979) - but I don’t think I’ve ever seen these albums on CD in my life, never mind be able to afford them. (You’ve got a much better chance on vinyl). So imagine the look on my face when I saw this CD going in my local record shop (now alas closed) five years ago for the unbearably decent porice of £3.99! Flip! But anyway enough of that – what about the album ‘Flip!’ itself?
Flippin Heck #2! I actually like an album that’s so badly drenched in synths and artificial squeaky drumming it might just as well be buried in a time capsule dated ‘mid-80s’ and wearing shoulder pads! Yes, ‘Flip’ sounds dreadful on the surface, like a set of drums has been left in a washing machine on a rinse cycle and then been hit with a mallet, to the point where said percussion drowns out everything else. Even the trains running outside my window. If the songs on ‘Flip’ are to be anything like their production values, then they should be the least subtle and most mangled set of songs ever, caught somewhere between Michael Jackson and Metallica. Thankfully, they’re not. Despite first appearances, ‘Flip’ contains many of Nils’ best melodies and most moving lyrics, with a theme about ‘flipping’ what’s wrong in your life and overcoming obstacles with determination and hope. The title’s actually a very clever pun because as well as his music Nils is also famous for his in-concert back-flips. Talking of which...
Flippin Heck #3! Have you seen that back cover? Or indeed any Nils Lofgren concert from before 1985, when Nils retired his somersaults and trampoline from his act? Why the hell wasn’t he part of the American gymnastics team? The guy is actually playing some of the best guitar solos ever whilst travelling in the air upside down and doing somersaults in the air! And it’s not as if it hurts the playing in any way either, with some of the most adventurous, exciting guitar work this side of, well, anybody (it makes Jimi Hendrix look like Posh Spice!) Alas, this album is named after the ‘back flips’ because its the trampoline’s last hurrah on stage – at the age of 34, Nils was worrying about being able to keep his gymnastics up and for his sake its probably for the best he stopped when he did (although he’s still a ball of energy onstage now, at the age of 60). The resultant album is surprisingly low on frantic guitar solos and the sort of things Nils traditionally played whilst upside down in the air (‘MoonTears’ ‘Cry Tough’ ‘Incidentally...It’s Over’ ‘Back It Up’ etc, fiesty rockers all), but it is full of a nostalgia for times passing and just been and having to relinquish the things in life you badly want but know you are never going to get. It’s a ‘growing up’ album, in other words, with a few songs that return Nils back to the years when he was young and hungry and had nothing to lose in his quest for a career in music.
Alright, let’s calm down now from this flipping and look at this album objectively. One of the few ‘good’ things about the fact that Nils Lofgren never went global, despite his obvious ‘talent’, is that he’s very good at writing songs that identify with those who also never ‘made it’ or are waiting to become someone big. Pete Townshend was the same in his early days (the frustration and rage of ‘I Can’t Explain’, the wish fulfilment of ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ and the taunting ‘My Generation’, plus some of the songs off The Who’s first LP) and so was Ray Davies in his later period when the hist stopped coming and he started worrying about what might have been (The Kinks’ whole series of mid 70s, post-hits what-would-my-life-have-been-like-without-writing-You-Really-Got-Me?) Here such songs cut closer to the bone than either, as Nils comes to terms with the fact that, 16 years into a career where every album he made was greeted with the words from the critics that ‘this could be the one that makes him’, he’s actually never going to make it at all. There’s a whole series of songs on this album, ‘Flip’ in particular, that are all about readjusting your sights and re-evaluating whether what you’ve achieved in life is really so bad simply because you judge yourself by how much you want to achieve. Nils is particular good at playing the teenager who wants a piece of rock and roll so badly he’ll do anything to get it – it’s here in ‘King Of The Rock’ and you can hear it again in later songs like the brilliant ‘Walkin’ Nerve’, a perfect slice of teenage angst written when Nils was 44! Lofgren has the perfect memory for how cruel bad times could be and the sympathy to acknowledge that feeling everywhere he goes, with kids that haven’t yet worked out who they want to be or where they want to go. Nils still writes these kind of songs better than anybody and there’s more of them on ‘Flip’ than possibly any other Lofgren album, from the gang culture of ‘Secrets In The Street’ to the dreamer of ‘Big Tears Fall’, all the while offering quiet support. So why was he writing so many of the believe-and-you’ll-still-make-it-songs in this part of his career?
Well back in 1985, things were rough for Nils, kinda. ‘Flip’ is the latest in a long series of Nils Lofgren albums that find Nils further and further away from his ‘source’, that of long guitar duelling epics and breathy orchestrated ballads in an attempt to go commercial. It doesn’t work – everything that is wrong about this LP comes from the attempts to shoe-horn production values onto songs that simply don’t want or need them. But there’s nothing wrong with the songs themselves, which are one of the best batches of Nils’ work released in one go. To put this album back in context, it’s the fourth in a series of albums made for low budget-ready-to-implode-at-any-time labels. Considering that just a few years earlier Nils had been tipped for big things and was the big star-in-waiting at A and M, this must have been tough and it’s to Nils’ credit that he didn’t a) retire or b) hold out for a major album deal that wasn’t about to come. The record business is so often a cruel mistress more interested in sales than talent and its a mystery to most people, even the stars themselves, why some are chosen to become household names and others become yesterday’s news (did you see the series of programmes on Creation mastermind Alan McGee the other night? The record industry simply couldn’t let that level of success happen without getting a part of it). Understandably some good things got overlooked over the years because of low promotional efforts and general record company indifference – and Nils’ albums are a prime example of that. Nils was always of the opinion that his real ‘fans’, the ones who supported him through thick and thin, had the right to have access to his music someway, even if it meant a load of cheap album deals and marketing budgets that meant most of his releases sold more by word of mouth than anything else. I’ve just had a look on Amazon and most of Nils’ albums on CD are selling at an extortionate price (£80 for ‘Night Fades Away’? Are you kidding?! I might pay that for ‘Damaged Goods’ – it really is that good, folks – but ‘Night Fades Away’?!) so I’m probably only preaching to the converted anyway in my article but what the heck – I’m sure they’ll agree with me that, even all these albums on, Nils Lofgren is still the one to watch.
Things weren’t helped by the fact that Nils’ bit-time work helping out a young kid called Bruce Springsteen had taken off to a ridiculous point by 1985, to the point where it was overshadowing his own career. Nils was trying to return the favour Neil Young had shown him about a decade earlier, helping ‘the boss’ get contacts with the right people and draw their attention to the fact that at least one highly rated musician was rating this newcomer highly too. (A neat AAA link for you, The Hollies’ Allan Clarke was the other musician to worship Springsteen before anyone else had heard of him – and thanks in part to the Springsteen connection will make a cover of Lofgren’s own ‘Shine Silently’ pretty much the last Hollies release worth buying). However, Lofgren only signed up to be in Springsteen’s band in the short term whilst he was pursuing his own career – how cruel, then, that the promising but undeniably weaker talent of Springsteen should pip Lofgren to the ‘hero worship’ stakes. Lofgren’s always been a strong number two, generous with his time and ideas, which is why so many leading artists want to work with him, but seeing those you support go on to out-sell a hundred to one while you get to play perhaps one song a night on stage if ‘the boss’ is in a generous mood must surely have rankled with Nils after a time.
I notice, too, that brother Tommy Lofgren is missing in the album credits for only the second time since joining Nils’ teenage band ‘Grin’. Without another guitarist to bounce off, especially one as close to Nils as Tommy, the music suffers: Nils’ playing is always of the highest order but there’s no one to bounce off here and even usual reliable bass player Wornell Jones sounds lost here, a true musician lost in a sea of 80s aratificially induced synth filled hell. Drummer Andy Newmark comes off worst of all – we know he can play exceptionally well on a whole series of albums by all sorts of musicians so I’m tempted to blame producer Lance Quinn for the sheer hell of sitting through the thwack-thwack-thwack-thwack drum sound that runs through songs like ‘Dreams Die Hard’ without any deviation or subtlety. Although to be fair even to him, the producer was probably told ‘make this album as commercial as you can’, even though this clearly isn’t a poppy upbeat piece of nonsense fluff you can get away with that sort of noise on. To all those of you who follow my advice and beg, steal or borrow a copy of this album somehow, I apologise for having to make you sit through such a godawful noise that makes Dave Clark sound like an inventive drummer. What Jon Bovi’s drummer Tico Torres is doing on this album – singing harmonies amazingly rather than drumming which might actually have been preferable – is also anyone’s guess, even if this album does have a similar empty ‘hole’ where the ‘heart’ should be to Jon Bovi’s records.
Ah yes, ‘heart’. Nils has always had so much of that and ‘Flip’ is no exception, exhorting his audience to ‘hit the world’, to only let your dreams die ‘hard’, even memorably to ‘flip ya flip’ every time something gets you down. Like a big brother coming to the aid of the world, ‘Flip’ is a collection of songs that may well be autobiographical and to some extent about Nils’ problems of the time but is also finding us a solution and a ‘way out’. He starts by telling everyone suffering their own personal hell that however bad it gets ‘you’re not alone out there’ – that Nils feels your pain too, with such tenderness and lack of patronisation you believe him (unlike, say, Michael Jackson’s Earth Song). When Nils ends this album by singing ‘beautiful world...cold cold world’ after a full five minutes of asking whether happiness is an illusion and the fact that the world is never just as long as somewhere an innocent child cries, he’s not contradicting what he’s just told us, just thrown our problems in a new light where because there’s no reason to suffer what we suffer when all man wants is to be happy then, well, there’s no reason we can’t all be happy tomorrow. Or something like that. Maybe those synth drums have gotten into my brain instead.
Like ‘Damaged Goods’ with the paranoia turned up low and the synths turned up high, ‘Flip!’ is a realistic, chilling, anguished and yet still ultimately uplifting album. As the great man says, trying your best doesn’t always mean being number one and we shouldn’t judge an artist by how many albums they sell but b y how many lives they touched for the better. Just look at how well the new (and largely terrible) Noel Gallagher record is selling, whilst Nils’ latest disappeared from the shops so fast I didn’t even get a chance to see what it looked like. I’m willing to bet that Nils is near the top of that list to his many fans, even if not every song is up to his highest standard – and its questionable whether any of it is worth sitting through when you have to cope with that drum sound!
‘Flip Ya Flip’ must stand as one of the worst song titles in the history of this website. But instead of being the tired, desperate-to-sound-young song you might be expecting, this is actually among the best songs on the album – realistic, but uplifting. Nils is singing to someone about how to overcome their troubles, acknowledging that no human on Earth ever gets through their life unscathed and that the low point of our life ‘can happen when you’re six, can hit age 29...never too young or old, can happen any time’. The title, of course, refers not only to the backflips but the idea of flipping situations round and meeting them head on – if the world gets ‘tougher’ then so can you. The second verse is perhaps the most interesting, with a discourse about what constitutes being a success, with Nils’ narrator fed up of people telling him ‘you’ve missed your prime’ when by most people’s standards he’s actually a success. Nils’ vocal on this song is delicious and its clear that the song means a lot to him: just look at the way he holds the notes on the line ‘you’re not alone out there...’, close to tears in his attempts to ride out the storm suffered by the person he’s addressing. Musically, this song has a lovely sing-songy feel about it, which makes it sound surprisingly stable and grounded amongst all that emotion (there’s no back flips in the music – instead it all flows nicely). Sure, the drums are horrid and the song would have sounded even better without the synthesiser twirls, but the de facto title track of ‘Flip’ is an excellent start to any album, offering comfort without dumbing down just how big the problems we sometimes face in life really are.
‘Secrets In The Street’ is still Nils’ best-selling single in the UK to date (just outshining his best known track ‘Shine Silently’, which is a surprise because for the most part this is the most downbeat and melancholic song on the record, only coming alive for the tacked-on sounding chorus. On the surface this is a song about the glow of joy the narrator feels at joining a gang, finding he ‘belongs’ in street culture’ and finding that amongst his peers who understand him better ‘some dreams do come true’. The chorus and the minor key chord changes make things a little more complex though: the narrator doesn’t just learn who he wants to be, he loses himself in the process, learning about ‘survival’ and ‘self denial’, ending the song by confronting his family about their lack of empathy with him with the curse ‘out of my way!’ – a line that’s as much about the family blocking his dreams as it is about them physically trying to stop him to leave. There’s some great lyrics in this song – urged to study, instead the narrator teen is ‘studying hard...values of pain’, feeling betrayed as a university career is not made for him. Where this song works is by juxtaposing the sadness and isolation with the teenager on the verses (‘feeling so uninspired and lonely’) with the excitement of the chorus - where the ‘secrets’ of teenagers spending time together sounds genuinely enticing after all that melancholy. However, listen to how easily the song switches back into minor key mode after this sudden burst of power, suggesting that this battle between the two is going to be a long, hard one and that although some dreams do indeed ‘come true’, others fall apart by the wayside. I’m amazed that a song as complex and – for the most part – sad as this could do so well with the British public, especially when set against yet another irritating burst of drum gunfire, but ‘Secrets In The Street’ is still a major song for Lofgren, full of the complexity and sympathy the guitarist made his own in the ‘first half’ of his career.
‘From The Heart’ is slightly less impressive, with that drum sound even more in the way than normal on a chirpy song that sounds somewhat soulless in such u musical surroundings. There’s not much of a tune here either, which is unusual for Lofgren who usually has melodies pouring forth as naturally as breathing, although there is quite a nice build to a climax in the chorus. Lyrically this is a song about being able to take criticism as long as it’s well meant and in the narrator’s best interests – but he’s beginning to have doubts whether the snipes from his girlfriend are really helpful and might just be trying to get him down. Lofgren’s narrator is unsure what to do, though, because even just thinking that thought seems like a betrayal and he might be better just to let the relationship work itself (‘friendships...never pull them apart’). There’s a nice idea in there somewhere, but alas the production gets in the way big time, clobbering everything with a big hammer and sucking out all the life and subtlety. It doesn’t help that Nils’ vocal is mixed way down and drenched in echo so that it’s hard to hear what he’s singing. Sorry, Nils, but this criticism really is meant constructively and, yes, straight from the heart.
‘Delivery Night’ is a step in the right direction, opening with a flurry of overdubbed Lofgren guitars which is probably the most characteristically Nils moment on the whole album. One of those breathy ballads Nils specialises in, this is a slow sad song that has the narrator having yet more doubts about a long-term relationship, setting a deadline for the two to make up their differences and deciding that its ‘delivery night’. The usual long list of problems follow (its a one-way relationship, they never shared any dreams, etc), sung in an unusually detached manner from Nils who sounds as if he doesn’t care what his girl decides either way. Laidback enough to risk falling off his chair, this is one narrator who doesn’t seem to understand the depth of what he’s saying, ending his demands with a bright and breezy ‘sha-la-la baby’, as if he’s dictating a shopping list rather than demand she gets out of his life or change her act. That’s a shame, because there’s a real sense of regret in the opening verse that deserved to be better developed (‘you’re experienced, I’m not, and I believe I’ve talked enough’). Where the song does come alive is in the opening to the chorus, where the song comes to a brief halt and Nils’ vocal briefly sparks into life on the line ‘I need someone to love me...I need someone to care’. This narrator really does care, passionately – so much so that he’s afraid of how badly he needs his girl in his life, which is why he pretends she means nothing to him. The ‘delivery night’ in question sounds more like his day of judgement than hers and that he really could be in trouble if he doesn’t realise that he needs to act less and start talking from the heart. A fascinating song when you analyse it closely, this is nevertheless a disappointment after that great start and yet again you wonder whether the effort of paying attention is worth it when all you think the first time round is ‘God, how I want to throttle that drummer!’
Actually, to be fair the pounding drums work really well on ‘King Of The Rock’, another of the album highlights that, as its title suggests, is no-holds barred rocker. Alarmed by his recent fall in sales and ending up on a series of one-off album deals with minor record labels, this sounds like Nils wondering what might have been had he never met Neil Young at the age of 18 and suddenly been whisked off into a whirlwind of fame and record contracts. The narrator is convinced he’s going to be big and has already declared himself ‘king of the rock’ – but no one else has cottoned onto how important he is yet except himself. By the end this positive and egotistical song sounds more and more desperate, spiralling further and further out of control whilst Nils adds some grumbly spoken-word phrases over a crazed guitar solo. We’ve heard this sort of thing before lots of times, but where this song works is how straight its played and how genuinely excited the musicians sound: Nils’ nagging harmony line, stabbing away on one note, is excellent, spurring the lead vocal on into ever more histrionics and Nils’ guitar playing is rarely better or as showman-like as it is here. The words are good too, adding in some clearly autobiographical lines about Nils’ career (’18 or 90 I’ll be rocking rocking till I’m dead!’) that sound like a determination to continue no matter the ups and downs of his career. There’s also a hint that the narrator hits on music as he was of getting even in a world that’s ignored him his whole life, with the narrator ‘bent on recovery, bent on discovery’, which puts his wild gesticulations about his talent into a much more sympathetic context. The fact that the song then ends up in a most unexpected solo of acoustic guitars and bass playing a simple retro 50s riff quite different to the very 80s synth-filled sound of the rest of the song also suggests something deeper going on. The end result is a song so simple it barely changes pace or harmonics throughout and yet sounds like one of the more rounded songs on the album, conjuring up an easily believable world of wanting so hard to make it and prove yourself that you’re never ever going to back down. All together now: ‘Every creation has purpose: and mine is to rock!’
‘Sweet Midnight’ used to be the start of the second half on my old vinyl copy, but it continues the story where it left off. The narrator (if it is the same one) is now a pissed off factory worker, doing monotonous work he dreads during the day – but experiencing such exquisite moments of release thanks to music in his evenings off that it sounds like, if anything, music has become even more important to him. The music is ‘the only way to let out some of that hurt inside’ and it’s a means to become ‘anybody’ the musician wants to be, freed from the dull and repetitive routine of his daytime. It’s as if Nils, suffering a bad patch in his career, wanted to remind himself how central music was to his life and how he’d rather be playing and struggling at the bottom of the career ladder than becoming a ,millionaire doing a job he hates. The song is pulled back out of focus, however, revealing that everyone in his grimy factory with neighbouring mine all have their own means of release during the nights when they can become ‘themselves’, acting as ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Again, the pounding drums actually make sense on this track, where they mimic the repetitive and dull plod of the factory worker, with Nils’ wildest guitarwork yes showing how, by contrast, music has left him free, without boundaries. The whole theme of the song can be summed up in the scene where the narrator stops dreaming of the night and is actually enjoying music at the midnight hour: ‘Who’re you gonna be tonight?’ ‘Somebody!’ a chorus suddenly chips in from nowhere after three minutes of isolation, as if only now is the narrator really ‘alive’. This is a song about identity and release, and its only natural that for a musician the best thing life has to offer for that is music. Arguably the track lasts a minute too long, with a guitar solo that doesn’t really go anywhere and a confusing coda that suggests the narrator can’t let his brief moment of freedom go, but until then its pretty impressive. Another song that sounds simple and dumb but is actually really complex, this is another of the best songs on the album.
It’s ‘New Holes In Old Shoes’, though, that’s my favourite song on the album. It’s one of those songs that’s so unique that there’s nothing really I can compare it to, although ‘blues’ is probably the closest genre – and a deeply unusual one for the generally bouncy Nils Lofgren. A regretful song about thinking you’ve got over the worst aspects of your character and ‘trained’ yourself to hide your worst aspects, only to have them arrive out of nowhere and catch you by surprise, the first verse of this song ranks among the best of Nils’ whole career. The ‘soft touch’ the narrator had learn to use turning into ‘the same old blade’ is especially memorable, as is his wailed protest as his world falls apart that he was sure he’d ‘never be scared of this world no more’ – but it’s not as safe and reliable as he’d thought. The rest of the song isn’t bad either, opening the song out to include the person whose hurt him and realising that he’s never going to get over what she did to him – that ‘there are some things only death erases’. It’s unusual for Nils to be down for this long – and yes there is a rocky, upbeat, largely instrumental coda to stop the song getting too sad which frankly we could have down without – but for a moment there we had as nakedly open a song from Nils as anyone has ever written. The chorus especially tugs at your heart strings, with the song attempting to lift its head musically out of the gloom and looking for answers from something ‘bigger’ (Was I born to loose? Ain’t I here to choose? Every time I’m looking down I find new holes in old shoes!’), before realising that there aren’t any – that it’s down to him. Thank goodness they didn’t ruin this song with that drumming effect (although it is back as loud as ever for the chorus), with the addition of a drum-click track actually quite a nifty idea. The blues harmonica, presumably played by Nils although it’s unusual to hear so early in his career, is another highlight of a song full of surprises that ranks amongst Lofgren’s greatest classics. This song took on another dimension live, too, although sadly there’s only a slightly ropey version of it on 1986’s ‘Code Of the Road’ available at the moment officially.
After three strong songs in a row ‘Dreams Die Hard’ sounds like a bit of an anticlimax, although even this poppy song has its joys. Like ‘Midnight’, this is a narrator putting his dreams on ‘hold’ while he tries to do all the things the world expects of him: get a family, a steady job and a stint in the army. Lofgren’s omnipresent narrator is unhappy with this, thinking that its everyone’s right to at least give their dreams a go and that we should only give in to what people ‘expect’ us to do as the absolute last resort, that we should let our dreams ‘die hard’. ‘You matter, so fight for better’ is the mantra to this song, which mirrors the theme of ‘Flip Ya Flip’ and has the same push and pull between chorus and verses, where the chorus full of hope and promise sounds exciting – and the verse sounds downbeat and fed up. The first verse, in particular, is excellent, with a rare bit of social commentary from Lofgren, who says about the song’s unnamed character that you are made to ‘kill...and not know what you’re fighting for’, waiting 10 years before your country allows you to even talk about the hatred you’ve seen. Lofgren’s pay off line to the audience ‘may all your dreams die hard’ sounds like an insult, but it’s actually a clever realisation that a majority of people never do get to fulfil their dreams (but should spend all their efforts trying to anyway). If Lofgren has a ‘theme’ to his career then surely its one of dreams: ‘I brought you into this world to be a dreamer’ ‘Daddy Dream’ a cover of ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ – the theme of doing what you’ve always wanted to do is a key part of many a Lofgren album, though it rarely sounded as good as it does here. Alas, those drums are back with reinforcements on this song and the vocal is low in the mix again, which a shame because otherwise this sounds like a natural single to me - surprisingly Towerbell decided to pass it over in favour of the much more complex ‘Secrets In The Street’.
Final track ‘Big Tears Fall’ sounds more like a warning than a song, another slow and dreamy ballad asking such big questions as what constitutes happiness and why there is so much injustice in the world. The song takes its name from the idea that the biggest tears fall from the most vulnerable and innocent – namely our children – and suggests that Nils had been watching the children in need charity marathons that had started in 1980 (although the children in need charity singles didn’t start until Clannad in 1985 – perhaps they should have used this song instead). The song isn’t just about children though – Nils’ narrator says at one point that ‘there’s a child inside every man until the day he dies’, suggesting that our innocence never truly leaves us. This song should be one of the most moving on the album – it has a warm and flowing melody that seems to want to cover the song in syrup and keep it from harm, whilst the lyrics by themselves read very well. But there’s something about ‘Big Tears Fall’ that isn’t quite right – a possible combination of another detached Nils vocal (whoever told him in the studio to sound less emotional clearly didn’t understand him or his music), more blooming awful synths and booming drums and a saccharine chorus that might have sounded ‘new’ at the time, but sounds so clichéd and obvious nowadays, after 25 years of similar charity singles.
Remember the remix of John Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’ that came out last year and made the Beatle’s last and worst album sound so much better? ‘Flip’ is another candidate for that treatment, along with CSN’s ‘Live It Up’ and the first Brian Wilson solo album, because the production sound of the day interferes so badly with the music. Back in 1985 albums like this one sounded perfectly normal, although even by the day’s standards ‘Flip!’ must have sounded slightly OTT, which is a huge tragedy: ‘new’ artists can sound any old way they like, but shoehorning production techniques for a ‘newer’ generation onto the music of an older one is just asking for trouble and pleases no one (chances are it won’t get any newer fans because they’re a ‘bunch of dinosaurs’ to the younger generation and it’ll annoy the old ones something rotten, believe you me). There is a good album, maybe even a great album in here, much more deserving of praise than ‘Flip’ currently gets and arguably deserving of more stars than the paltry six we’re going to give it. But it’s so much hard work trying to listen between the sounds that you do begin to question whether the album is really worth it.
But it is. ‘Flip’ has a great heart, some excellent lyrics and melodies and one of the best guitar players ever born at the top of his game. It’s a real fan favourite this one, as you’ve probably gathered by now, created by perhaps the real fan favourite of all the artists we cover who are only really known by word of mouth: take it from me, Nils really should have been bigger than he was, but the sales of his records back then don’t matter a jot if you curious readers believe in my other reviews here enough to give him a try. Now all we need is for all of Nils’ many record companies to get in on the act and re-release his albums for us to enjoy. Trying your best really doesn’t mean being number one all the time, but its not too late to make this album number one if enough of you agree with me. Flip your expectations, this album matters, so fight for better. Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫♫♫ (6/10).