Monday 11 June 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 148 (Top Ten): Notable AAA Sleevenotes

What persuades you to part with your hard-earned cash and give some album you’ve never heard of a try? Past knowledge of a band? The cover? One particular song? A glowing review you’ve read on Alan’s Album Archives?!? Chances are if you were reading this in the early 60s you might have been tempted to say ‘the sleeve notes’ or the ‘liner notes’, back in the days when packaging was minimal, lyrics and photographs were rare and designers had the space of a whole vinyl-Lp shaped piece of cardboard to fill with ideas. Alas sleevenotes are something of a dying art these days, which is why so many of the AAA examples here are so early (note, rather than make this a top 20 we’ve stuck to ‘proper’ albums not rarities, compilations or box sets although five stars for the work on the CSn box set, Hollies rarities, the Monkees Missing Links sets and the Beach Boys comp ‘California Dreamin’ – and yes, I really did buy this last one solely for the sleevenotes, although it was only 50p in a charity shop!) So, without further ado, here are eight AAA albums that either got the genre spectacularly spot on or really helped the listener cope navigate their way around a particularly difficult album – and two really bad notable failures that should never have got off the drawing board.

The Beatles “Beatles For Sale” (1964)

Tony Barrow, ‘Beatcomber’ of Mersey music paper and Beatles press officer, was the undeniable king of the liner notes. The Beatles weren’t the first artists to use the idea, but like so many things they were the first to raise packaging to an art-form, as early as first album ‘Please Please Me’. Its fourth album ‘Beatles For Sale’ (on sadly Barrow’s last set of notes) that wins our prize, however, for correctly guessing that ‘when, in a generation or so, a radio-active cigar-smoking child, picnicking on Saturn, asks you what the Beatles affair was all about – don’t try to explain all about the long hair and the screams...The kids of AD 2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of well being and warmth that we do today’. Laughed at in the day for being even more OTT than usual (in 1964 The Beatles were still a ‘pop’ band, a cult that most people were surprised had lasted the year out), sitting here in 2012 it sounds like Barrow got the world’s love affair with The Beatles and all the things they represented spot-on!

The Beach Boys “All Summer Long” (1964)

It was a toss-up between this album and ‘Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!)’ to be honest, the two albums where the band dispense with the vague generic outpourings of praise that generally appeared on their albums and wrote the things themselves. The band really become personalities in these two sleeve-notes in the way that they never had a chance to on stage or in the media (where Mike made all the noise and all the reporters looked to Brian for the soundbite anyway). Dennis starts his sleevenotes from the tail-end of 1964 with the line ‘they say I like to live my life fast...’, showing off his shallow image with talk of girls, scooters and drums (with the emphasis on girls, naturally) before showing his hidden maturity with the eerie line ‘I know it won’t last forever...but the memories will’. Carl is still in awe of the whole success machine, saying that it felt ‘just like yesterday that we started’ (well, it was only two years Carl!) and shows his nice side by praising everyone around him to the hilt, especially his brothers and fans. Al’s sleevenotes show him as the outsider from the start (his opening line is ‘I may not be in the family...’) and talks about how great being in the Beach Boys is before coming out with a long list of moans (‘2 hours of sleep each night and tranquilizers before each meal’). Interestingly only Al feels it necessary to say what he does in the band (‘I play rhythm guitar and sing various backgrounds with the fellas’) and opens the paragraph by saying that being in the band is ‘one of the greatest experiences of my life’. One of?! He was only 20 back then and was part of the then-best selling American band of all time!

Mike’s passage may well be the best of all, saying how such a ‘small space’ isn’t room to ‘express something a guy could write a book about’. He also sounds nicer than his public image, talking about his guilt at seeing girls crying because they couldn’t get a touch of their idols. He ends with the words ‘maybe I’ll get another chance sometime...’ – he only had to wait two albums! Finally, Brian has bypassed the fame, the girls, the stress and the band to talk about his writing, telling us he gets his inspiration ‘from going to school, being in love, winning and losing in sports’ (that explains ‘Be True To Your School’ – but not Pet Sounds or Smile!) He also includes the curious phrase ‘a sociologist would tell me I’m trying to create a feeling of superiority’ – where did that line come from?! Even the band sign-offs reveal their different personalities: Dennis promises to ‘see you in your town!’, Carl is ‘always’ and Brian is ‘sincerely’ (Mike and Al don’t say anything!) A treasure trove for Beacxh Boys scholars and wannabe psychologists everywhere!  

Simon and Garfunkel “Wednesday Morning 3AM” (1964)

I love the sleevenotes to the first Simon and Garfunkel album perhaps more than any others on this list. Of course they’re really not a set of sleevenotes at all, but a letter written by Art to Paul after the duo have gone their separate ways and the latter has gone to Britain to seek fame and fortune. Art is grumbling about having ‘three term papers to write’, completely oblivious to the way ‘Sounds of Silence’ from this very album is about to change his life forever, although he does ask for some chord changes to the title track so he can ‘do singles at Gerde’s for a few nights’. He does, however, go on to his task proper, offering up a ‘listener’s guide’ which he thinks Columbia ought to follow for their sleeve notes (little realising they’d be printed more or less complete). Art is, as ever, empthatetic enough to his partner’s voice to ‘get’ the songs and explain them better than Paul ever could: the ‘innocent voice of uncomfortable youth’ is the perfect summation of ‘He Was My Brother’; on Sparrow ‘the clarity of the song’s structure is matched by the simplicity of it’s subject’; Sounds of Silence is a ‘major work’, back when no one but Simon and Garfunkel believed in it at all – ‘when meaningful communication fails, the only sound is silence’.

The Byrds “Mr Tambourine Man” (1965)

I’m convinced that most of the ‘fuss’ about the Byrds from the minute they got their name comes from the sleevenotes of this first album. Billy James’ liner notes are one of the longest spent on any band in the 60s – very impressive forethought for a debut album – and straight from the headline (‘an open letter to a friend’) he ‘gets’ informal American youth of the day much better than most patronising messages left on record sleeves. His lines about the band getting ‘the beauty, the poetry, the love that’s in the best of what’s called folk...onto top 40 radio’ is as good a summation as any as to what The Byrds were all about in 1965. It’s the quotes from the Byrds themselves that really catch the eye, however: the technologically minded McGuinn compares the exciting ‘krrrriiissssshhh’ sound of ‘his’ generation to a jet airplane and the ‘rrrroooaaaarrr’ sound of his parent’s generation to an airplane, with the youth of the day very much replacing the sound of Sinatra and co. The band’s fans are on pretty good form too: ‘they’re bubbly and high and fast; rakish and raffish...they’re orange and green and yellow and near’. I can’t say I agree (because I don’t know what the last bit means!) but you know what – this sounds exciting, like a band I really want to have in my collection (actually ‘Tambourine Man’ is a bit of a let-down after reading these sleevenotes!)

The Hollies “For Certain Because” (1966)

Here’s a tip for any band that wants some sleevenotes for their new magnum opus: don’t under any circumstances get the non-writing drummer of a rival band and your publicist to write them for you because the results will be chaos. If very fun! Gray Leeds of the Walker Brothers (none of whom were named Walker and none of which were brothers, by the way) and Allan McDougal wrote some delightfully eccentric patter, which perhaps doesn’t best reflect what might well be the most serious Hollies LP of the 60s (it’s certainly the grumpiest!) The Hollies wrote all the tracks, you see, ‘as well as a railroad track, a race track and a dirt track – but we couldn’t get all those on the record, unfortunately’. Graham Nash gets called a ‘bearded balladeer’ and the pair ‘wouldn’t change the Hollies for all the Scotch and Coke in the world’. The highlight, though, is the description of the making of ‘Crusader’, one of the strongest tracks on the record, and the abandoned experiments (such as chucking peas in a box to sound like marching feet) – a great eye-witness account of what went on in Abbey Road in 1966! Sssh – shh! Don’t tell anyone, but these eccentric sleevenotes are actually pretty fine at the end of the day!

The Kinks “Arthur” (1969)

Alas I’ve given away my old CD copy and the last Pye re-issue (with bonus tracks) doesn’t include it, but if I remember rightly there was a great and sensitive set of sleevenotes about this most troubled of Kinks albums that really got into the heart and soul of the record. The album starts discussing Camelot and King Arthur before admitting that, actually, its the simpler tale of an ordinary man who’d been passed by his whole life through. His son has had enough of post-war Britain and is emigrating to Australia, leaving poor Arthur alone and wondering whether he should have done the same years ago. The story resonates all the more because a) Ray Davies did very little promotion for this album b) the album features very few clues as to what’s going on in the storyline and c) the story is real: Arthur is the Davies’ brothers’ uncle and according to Dave Davies’ book he cried his eyes out after hearing his life story put on record (the son who leaves with his son, Terry, was Ray’s closest childhood companion and his desertion for Australia when the pair were in their teens still haunts him now, I think). The ending lines of the liner notes ‘but its been a good life hasn’t it? Well, hasn’t it?!’ are the perfect tug-of-war at the heart of the album, with Arthur hard done by his whole life but unwilling to complain because he got everything out of life he was ever promised (the same house with mortgage all his friends have, the same car, the same pitiful retirement fund). The best example of how a listening experience really can be enhanced by the words written on the back of the jacket.

Neil Young “Decade” (1977)

Neil is a witty writer when he wants to be – I for one can’t wait for his autobiography due this October – and nowhere is there a better example than his hilarious trot down memory lane for his first compilation album celebrating 10 years of releases (well, 11 actually by the time it came out!; there’s so much ‘new’ music on this set, though, we’re treating it as an ‘official’ release!) The most quoted statement comes from hit single ‘Heart Of Gold’: ‘This put me in the middle of the road – travelling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there!’ There are other gems too, though: ‘Burned’ was Neil’s first vocal ever professionally recorded (‘The boys gave me some uppers to get my nerve up. Maybe you can hear that’); ‘Cinnamon Girl’ (‘I wrote this one for a girl on Peeling Pavement coming at me through Phil Ochs Eyes playing finger cymbals. It was hard to explain to my wife.’), ‘Helpless’ (‘Recorded at 4 AM when everyone [CSNY] got tired enough to play at my speed’) and ‘Ohio’ (‘Probably the biggest lesson ever learned at an American place of learning’).  Let’s hope Neil’s book is typed when it arrives though: some of his handwriting on this album is really really hard to read!

Belle and Sebastian “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” (2005)

We covered this one pretty fully in News and Views issue 139, but here’s a bit more for you anyway. Among his other talents Stuart Murdoch is a fantastic sleeve writer, managing to say everything without really saying anything, suddenly leaping off at random to talk about his favourite words, Thin Lizzy lyrics, waiting at bus-stops and days at the job centre. Alas the Belle and Sebastian albums have got slightly worse over time after their brilliant start in 1995 (see review no 98 for the reasons why), but Murdoch’s sleeve notes have got better and better. This 2005 version is the best of all and extended to a record five pages taking in everything from chicken licken and Glasgow’s ‘indie playground’ (not a band but the way the green of the grass gradually turns into the same shade of brown as the buildings in the Autumn) to man’s inability to express his emotions and John Peel’s Christmas party to being a photographer to Murdoch’s top five pieces of clothing to a tale of him posting a jacket through the Royal Mail because it got too hot to carry around with him to the two towers in the Lord of the Rings. Oh and Murdoch’s favourite word, which is naturally enough ‘creepeth’ (of course it is! Anything more obvious would spoil the whole thing!)  Strange subjects all, but they sound natural the way Murdoch tells them. Very like the album, actually, which is to date the last great B and S moment, full of pathos, powerplays, disillusionment, entrapment, courage and suffering, an extraordinary album for ordinary people.

The Byrds “Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965, first pressings only)

And now we’re on to the two worst examples. Thankfully the album was pulled very quickly, but the original sleeve notes on The Byrds’ second album (and unsanctioned by them, it must be notes) ran. ‘Beg steal or borrow a copy. See that blind man over there? Mug him and maybe you can buy it!’ Predictably there was an outcry and the notes got pulled. Let me just run that past you again – yes the back of the record really did give permission to teenage hoodlums to rob a harmless disabled man of his money so that you could hear the record. Even for the Byrds surely that isn’t worth robbery? Definitely a case of a sleeve writer going too far with the demands to get record-buyers to purchase this particular album before the Byrds go out of fashion. But why didn’t anyone stop him before the outcry? Not the band’s greatest moment, especially the following sentence which tells the hapless reader to ‘make sure you put the boot in...’

The Monkees “More Of The Monkees” (1967)

And finally, what do you do when you’re Don Kirshner, musical director of The Monkees empire and under orders from your boss to let the band record more of their own material and have a bigger say in the songs you choose for them to sing? You take up the whole of the album’s back sleeve talking about what a wonderful guy you are of course, thanking each producer and composer in turn and drawing attention to the very musical scandal (the band not playing on their own albums) that the company is trying very hard to cover up. Note also Don Kirshner’s rather large credit on the top of the sleeve which is bigger than that of the names of any of The Monkees, who were themselves forced to buy this record from a local shop whilst on tour because no one thought to actually give them a copy of ‘their’ record...

And that’s that for another issue. See you next time around at News, Views and Music!   

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock

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