Monday, 29 October 2012

The Best AAA Outtakes (News, Views and Music Issue 168)

Some artists just have no idea what their best work really is. One thing that amazes me as a collector is how consistently excellent many of the AAA-related outtakes and rarities sets are. Whether discarded because of time constraints, lyrical content, band politics or simply having too many great songs written in a particularly creative phase, any of the songs on this top 10 I think could proudly stand with the artist’s best works. As an interesting aside, note how many of these songs come from 1968-72, very much our ‘classic period’ in terms of AAA albums that made our main reviews list! So here this week is your handy top ten guide to the best songs left unreleased at the time of recording for whatever reason with a couple of caveats to keep this list down: firstly we’ve restricted entries to one per AAA artist (or we’d just be listing whole great chunks of ‘Odds and Sods’ and ‘Hollies Rarities’) and these entries must have been officially released on some official CD at some stage. That list of rules over with, here’s our top 10 in chronological order:

Jefferson Airplane “High Flying Bird” (recorded 1967 in between ‘Takes Off!’ and ‘Surrealistic Pillow’, released 1973 on ‘Early Flight’)

The band may not have written this song (its an old blues number written by Edd Wheeler in the late 1950s), but they most certainly made it their own, re-arranging it for three vocals (Grace, Marty and Paul) and adding some stomping guitar and bass improvisations along the way. A concert favourite, the band can be seen singing this song in the ‘Monterey Pop Festival’ and the song lasted pretty much the whole of the vintage Airplane’s live run (the modern line-up even do it now from time to time) and its quite revolutionary for its time, skirting as near to dreaming of suicide as the 1960s censors would allow. I’m amazed the studio take make it to an album, because whilst not quite as goose-pimply as the live takes it still finds the band on fine form, especially Marty and Grace’s crossing vocals. Noel Gallagher was such a fan of the song he’s named his new group after the track. Reasons for exclusion: Unknown; presumably this song was just ‘the odd one out’ having been taped in between sessions for the band’s first and second LPs (it’s currently a bonus track on the CD issue of the first where it fits best).

The Monkees “Love To Love” (recorded 1967 for ‘More Of The Monkees, released 1998 on ‘Missing Links Three’)

There are several glorious outtakes on the three Monkees rarities sets ‘Missing Links and still enough left in the vaults for another three at least. Most of the best songs come from the band’s later years when they had more say, particularly Mike Nesmith readying himself for a new life as a country-rock deity in the 1970s, but this song comers from early in the band’s time, back when they were actors doing a bit of recording between TV episodes. Davy sings this Neil Diamond song, designed by the composer as the follow-up to the band’s cover of his ‘I’m A Believer’ and its arguably an even better song, complete with an intriguing parping guttural guitar riff and a gorgeous instrumental where the song’s passion – held just about in check by Davy – suddenly explodes into thunder. Unlike many of the ‘Missing Links’ tracks this one didn’t even make it to the TV soundtrack, which is an awful shame, as its one of Davy’s best vocals – I’m also puzzled as to why the band never re-recorded it circa 1968-69 when they had the most say over their material and often re-recorded their outtakes. Reasons for exclusion: Unknown, but probably politics – with so many songwriters asking to have songs on a Monkees album/single Neil Diamond was most likely pushed aside; this song may also have been seen as a little too ‘dark’ for The Monkees circa early 1967.

The Beatles “Not Guilty” (recorded 1968 for ‘The White Album’, released 1997 on ‘Anthology Three’)

There are lots of alternate versions of Beatles songs doing the rounds, but not that many that were completely new to the Anthology sets (bootlegs aside). Lennon’s storming cover of ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ from late 1964 is easily the best Beatles outtake, every bit as raw and thrilling as ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Money’, but it’s George Harrison’s song ‘Not Guilty’ that’s the most interesting. The band never really got to grips with the song, perhaps because it dealt so honestly and defensively about the problems with Beatles business Apple, slugging through a record 106 takes of it (the one from Anthology is take 99). Denying guilt for ‘leading you astray’ on the Maharishi retreat in India, George’s open message to the other Beatles has him trying ‘not to upset the apple cart’ and various other Beatle in-jokes, together with a powerful and heavy electric guitar riff. George returned to the song in 1979 for his eponymous ‘George Harrison’ album, making this song a bit easier on the ear with a held note that made the unexpected twists and turns of this angular song with many key changes, but sadly substituting this song’s heartfelt anger and pain for something a little more laidback (the difference between the two versions is the difference between the emotion of an event happening ‘now’ and one remembered as a hazy memory). Either way, the White Album would have been greater still with this song intact, preferably instead of George’s awful ‘Piggies’. Reasons for exclusion: The Beatles were fed up with it, after slogging through 106 takes and still not quite getting it the way George wanted it; the slightly catty lines about Beatles activities circa 1968 probably didn’t help matters much either!

Neil Young “Bad Fog Of Loneliness” (recorded 1970 for ‘After The Goldrush’, released 2009 on ‘Archives Volume One’)

Despite having a back catalogue now approaching 60 solo albums, there are dozens of unreleased Young songs doing the rounds officially and unofficially, some 40 of them collected on Neil’s first ‘Archive’ box set release. Most of the best ones date from early 1970 and the sessions for the album that eventually became ‘After The Goldrush’ (see above), back when Crazy Horse guitarist was still alive and Neil and first wife Susan were in the process of splitting. Many of the songs from this abandoned album – now available in part on ‘Archives – show Neil at his most open and fragile, with drained lyrics about betrayal without quite approaching the gloom and desolation of his ‘Doom Trilogy’. ‘Bad Fog Of Loneliness’ is one of the best, right up there with the best of ‘Goldrush’, recounting the narrator’s confusion and worry over whether to apologise and go back to the way things were or keep moving forward. The chorus is one of Neil’s best: ‘So long woman, I am gone, so much pain to go through, come back baby I was wrong...’ Reasons for exclusion: Probably Neil just being Neil and deciding to keep the song for a later date, although like many songs from this period he may have felt the song ‘too personal’ to release at the time.

The Who “Pure and Easy” (recorded 1971 for ‘Lifehouse’ aka ‘Who’s Next’, released 1974 on ‘Odds and Sods’)

Fans have wondered for decades now how one of the most significant, beautiful and original Pete Townshend songs could possibly have been left on the shelf for three years, strangely enough seeing two releases almost simultaneously in 1974 (Pete’s solo demo appears on his first solo album ‘Who Came First’). The truth is that ‘Pure and Easy’ was probably too closely related to the original idea of ‘Lifehouse’, the concept album that ‘became’ ‘Who’s Next’ when the story and its creator unravelled (see our review of what ‘Lifehouse’ could have been like in ‘The Who’ list of reviews below). The song is about one note, so pure and easy, that it spreads great knowledge of what the human race should do and is used to interact with people in a method that’s spookily like the modern internet. It’s kind of like The Moody Blues album ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ and was heard, briefly, in the coda for ‘Who’s Next’ song ‘The Song Is Over’. It’s still regarded as one of the most beautiful things the ‘orrible ‘oo ever did, for good reason. Reasons for exclusion: Unknown, but possibly it was too close to the central idea of the ‘Lifehouse’ story and Pete Townshend wanted to save it for another time when he was strong enough to finish the story (something he finally did in 1999, albeit as a spoken word radio play).

Paul and Linda McCartney “A Love For You” (recorded 1971 for ‘Ram’, released 2012 on ‘Ram’ Deluxe Edition)

The last song recorded before ‘Wings’ became ‘Wings’ rather than a set of session musicians, this is a fine example of what great ears for a pop hook Macca has always had – and what cloth ears he has when it comes to working out how to judge his own work. As we saw a handful of issues back, ‘Wildlife’ is generally regarded as a pretty awful record, full of half-baked ideas and yet a gem like this one recorded barely weeks before that album’s sessions began is one of Macca’s last outtakes to make it to an official release (one of the most bootlegged albums in history is ‘Cold Cuts’, a set of Wings and Macca outtakes that was compiled lots of times by Paul over the years until he realised that most fans probably owned it unofficially anyway). A pulsating song, driven by an organ riff and one of Macca’s sprightliest falsetto vocals, it’s one of his best pop-style songs, effortlessly catchy and hummable.

Dennis Wilson “Barbara” (recorded 1971 possibly for ‘Surf’s Up’, released 1998 on The Beach Boys’ ‘Endless Harmony’)

I melt whenever I hear this song, a paean of love from Beach Boy Dennis to one of his (many) wives. It was hearing this simple demo that inspired me track down the equally inspired Dennis solo albums ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ and the (unfinished) ‘Bambuu’, two albums that are every bit as haunting as this track despite being decidedly more produced. All Dennis really needed as an output for his emotions, though, was a piano and a microphone and I don’t think he ever sounded better than on this simple demo, recorded in Brian’s house with band friend Daryl Dragon (aka ‘The Captain’ without Tennille) playing the second piano. Why he never returned to the song was a mystery, especially given that Dennis all but ‘disappears’ from the Beach Boys as a composer past this point (perhaps the others were simply jealous?) Reasons for its exclusion: Unknown, although it doesn’t really fit on period Beach Boys albums like ‘Surf’s Up’ (it would have made a fine companion to Dennis’ other songs on ‘Carl and The Passions’ however). Perhaps it was just a bit too personal (the pair split somewhere around 1973)?

Rolling Stones “Following The River” (recorded 1972 for ‘Exile On Main Street’, released as a bonus track on deluxe re-issue of that album 2010)

Unlike most fans, I don’t rate ‘Exile On Main Street’ as the Stone’s best album but I got a real shock when I bought the deluxe edition of the record a couple of years back and found out that the outtakes on CD two were almost all as good as the best on the record. Indeed, ‘Following The River’ is the kind of passionate soul-tinged piano ballad I’d been nagging the Stones to record in my head for years, drawing on the best of Mick Jagger’s abilities as a vocalist during this period when Keef was all but ‘missing’ from the band and is among my top five best ever Stones tracks (nothing from the actual record makes my top ten, by the way, though I am fond of the blurry ‘Just Wanna See His Face’). Never has Jagger sounded more fragile and insecure, never have the gospel choir sounded so apt on a Stones record, never have I been scratching my head as often over why a song never made it to a record (especially as this 72 minute double album is arguably 10 minutes short of the usual running time and the Stones were notorious for salcvaging anything barely useable from the vaults on their 1980s LPs). Reasons for its exclusion: Unknown, perhaps Keef was a bit put out at having a song he had nothing to do with making the album – or perhaps the band just never quite nailed the song to their liking?

The Hollies “Sanctuary” (recorded 1978 for ‘5317704’, released 1988 on ‘Rarities’)

I could have included almost all of the ‘Rarities’ album, given that its among the most consistently excellent the band ever released (even if it is all outtakes!) Best of the bunch by a small nose, however, is this passionate song by vocalist Allan Clarke and songwriting partner Gary Benson that was recorded during a troubled time for the band. Clarkey left the band for a second time during the making of what most Hollies fans call ‘the calculator record’ (type the numbers into a calculator and see what you get!) and recorded a solo version of this song that duly appeared on Clarkey’s excellent 1979 record ‘Legendary Heroes’ that’s slower and more emotional in tone. This earlier Hollies version was presumably abandoned when Clarkey decided to cut it solo, but that’s a shame as a slightly perkier tempo and the presence of some vintage Hollies harmonies elevate this song about the ability of a loved one to make life better to one of the best the band ever recorded. Reasons for its exclusion: As said, Clarkey cut a solo version of the song in 1979, although whether that was after the Hollies had firmly decided not to use it or whether the song’s released in another format meant they never released their is unknown.

And that’s that for another week. We’ll be back writing about songs that were released in next week’s exciting instalment of News, Views and Music, the world’s best monkeynuts review site!

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