Monday, 11 March 2013

Top 10 AAA Bootlegs (News, Views and Music Issue 185)

Ssh! You won’t tell anyone, will you? Apparently there are such things in the world as bootlegs – or to give them their current and rather ugly modern phrase ‘recordings of illegitimate origin’ – out there, unofficially sanctioned releases of studio, live or BBC session tapes that the artists make no money from. It’s illegal to buy or sell these recordings, which have been around in rock and pop circles since the early 70s, but well it’s illegal to lots of things around the world and in the grand scheme of things listening to great music that we’d all love and give lots of money for if only the artists had released the recordings themselves is not a big a crime as, say illegally taking bribes, claiming for expenses and second houses that aren’t used, perjury, sexual offences or asking your wife to take the sanctions on your driving license for you – all of which have happened to members of the UK parliament in only the past month. Now, we can’t tell you where to get hold of these recordings because that would be illegal (although as with all rare things Youtube is a good starting point) and we won’t mention this subject often, honest, to those of you who don’t approve of such things so stop sending in lots of nasty letters to us. At the time of writing none or hardly any of these recordings are available officially and we list them here mainly to show collectors what does exist out there and to remind the powers that be that there really is an interest in all this stuff and an official release sometime soon would be really nice thankyou! Note that we’re only including bootlegs that are still unavailable officially either wholly or in the main – hence there’s none of the famous Beatles boots from the 70s and 80s here (almost all of which came out on ‘Anthology’) or my beloved CD bootleg of The Beach Boys ‘Smile’ CD from the 1990s (now mostly available albeit split across two box sets and a plethora of CDs). We probably ought to mention the 10 CD set of ‘Beatles at the BBC’ sessions here too (which is equally wonderful) but we’ve covered that one a few times already, most notably on our review of the official CD and what should have been included on it. As usual, we list the ten best of these in chronological order because it’s too flipping hard to work out which comes where in order of merit:

Simon and Garfunkel “The Alternative Bookends” (1968)

Simon and Garfunkel took six years to release all five of their rather short length albums – which might not seem very long now but was an eternity in the 1960s when most bands put out new albums every six months. So surely there can’t be much in the vaults? Wrong! Much of the good stuff has come out in the years since, on a variety of box sets and compilation CDs by the duo together and apart, but there’s a great deal of interest in a single half hour CD dedicated to just this one album, which features an ‘alternate’ version of every song barring the spoken word ‘Voices of Old People’ in the same running order as the album, like an alternative universe where demo, outtake and live recordings were all things released on album back in 1968. The highlights include a wonderful, looser alternate take of ‘Save The Life Of My Child’, one of the duo’s best lesser-known songs, with a production that’s more like your usual rock number than the crazy atmosphere of the finished product. The demo of the quirky ‘Punky’s Dilemma’ is very different to the finished version and in my opinion much better without the daft sound effects or harmony parts. An early 1967 demo for ‘At The Zoo’ is even more different, without a single reference to animals (‘Something tells me things have changed since I been gone’) and a a line that p[lagirises a popular jingle of the day (‘A bowl of Rice Krispies ain’t what it used to be!’ (stuck for the ending an under-rehearsed S+G revert back to this version in their ‘Monterey Pop’ performance of the song!) Best of all is ‘Groumdhog’, one of the very few entirely unreleased songs in Paul Simon’s canon and its great: a moody, bluesy song with more in common with the songs from the first ‘Paul Simon’ record where ‘I get the blues all morning – and morning is the best time of the day’. The rest of the material (mainly live recordings or the alternate versions from the ‘Graduate’ soundtrack) isn’t as rare or as good but these demos all deserve a proper release as soon as possible.

The Beatles “Get Back/The Let It Be Sessions” (1969)

When The Beatles kicked off ‘Get Back’ as the ‘Let It Be’ album was first known they taped everything in the hope of making the documentary film of all time, showing the band rehearsing and polishing an album before taking it on the road/doing a majestic one-off-gig or the eventual solution – playing for 15 minutes in gale force winds on the roof of Saville Row, London in January. The film cameras captured everything including sound and as the band recorded nearly every day for a month there’s one hell of a lot of this material to get through. The first surprise is how listenable a lot of it is – the Beatles aren’t as miserable as legend has it (well, not all the time) and while they waste an awful lot of time jamming away on anything and everything (including Lennon’s hilarious interpretation of The Who’s ‘A Quick One’ he heard first-hand when taped at the ‘Stones Rock and Roll Circus’ the month before which he only barely remembers) there’s a lot of great music here too. Sitting through 30 straight indistinguishable versions of ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Long and Winding Road’ is a try of any fan’s patience, but the rewards you get when you do find an occasional gem is immense. Highlights include multiple versions of ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, all of which are equally as good as the one that made the album, some tighter, some looser; John and Paul breaking off from recording ‘Two Of Us’ in sync to deliver Scottish and Scouse versions of the song that’s at least as funny as their Christmas records; the original (and much misunderstood) version of ‘Get Back’ complete with mock-racist lyrics based on Eboch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech (and being mercilessly spoofed here whatever you may have read) plus a version of ‘Get Back’ sung in German that’s fabulously raw and punkish; a wonderful outtake of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ with Lennon half asleep, plus one of the band’s best ‘forgotten’ songs ‘Dig A Pony’ before producer Phil Spector butchered it, cutting out the harmonies and the repeats that make the song a minor Lennon classic. Fans with less time on their hands could do worse than looking out the ‘Get Back – and 12 Other Songs’ album, the original version of the ‘Let It Be’ album submitted by engineer Geoff Emerick which differs from the finished album in many ways, not least with the addition of several ‘Rooftop’ performances not on the LP and a couple of Beatle ‘jam’ sessions left in the can.

Pink Floyd “A Live Breakfast” (1970)

The live Pink Floyd at their best, right in the middle of the five year gap between losing Syd Barrett and starting work on ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. I’ve chosen this one other several other similar (and brilliant) Floyd bootlegs because of the only live performance of ‘Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast’ (a track beloved of me for several reasons, not least the title). Fans at the time weren’t sure if this was ‘art ‘comedy’ or both and 40 years on I’m still not sure: in between playing the band left the stage to put their feet up, turned on a radio (which happened to be playing Jimmy Young’s programme when Jimmy was indeed young), did a a bit of carpentry and – in one memorable moment – boiled a kettle and served the front row of the audience tea (the kettle sounds so like Rick Wright’s organ it comes as a shock when you realise it isn’t an instrument in its own right). Large spaces of time go by with nothing at all happening, but no matter – this is a crucial and unique recording of a band bursting with ideas. I just wish someone had filmed it as well! As a bonus you also get perhaps the definitive live version of ‘Embryo’, the Floyd’s best known outtake which almost made it to ‘Meddle’ which is sweet and scary all at the same time, a histrionic ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene’ filled with much screaming and – best of all – David Gilmour’s beautiful ‘Fat Old Sun’ played super-slow and with a fantastic extended organ-and-guitar solo break in the middle before the band crash in and sing it all over again. It’s arguably the best Gilmour ever played live, certainly from the large handful of live recordings I know of and would make a fine extra on a deluxe release of the ‘Atom Heart Mother’ album one day.

The Kinks “The Great Lost Kinks Album” (1973)

There are two versions of this famous ‘semi-official’ bootleg doing the rounds – a shorter one from the vinyl days and a longer one made in the 1990s for the CD age. Both are fabulous and look official enough to have fooled many record companies into stocking it as a bona fide LP in 1973. Ray Davies was, allegedly, furious, both with the fact that the tape vaults at Pye had been raided without his permission and with the sniffy sleeve-notes that claimed the 1970s RCA Kinks’ output was ‘stupid’. One of the best selling bootlegs of all time, if only because so many fans thought it was an official release, it includes several songs now available as bonus tracks on various Kinks CDs, but still quite a few exclusives as well (in the CD age at least). The best of these are the songs Ray Davies wrote and demoed for the six part BBC play ‘Where Was Spring?’ (the callous Simon-and-Garfunkel like ‘Did You See His Name?’ being the best of a strong bunch) while others include ‘Pictures In The Sand’ (a delightful and surprisingly simple song from the ‘Something Else’ sessions), ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’, the band’s original; bash at ‘You Really Got Me’ complete with the same riff (!); the lovely ‘All Night Stand’ – a demo of a song Ray eventually gave away); ‘Time Will Tell’, a cracking ‘Knotroversy’ outtake with a guide vocal from Ray with a heavy cold; the legendary and original ‘Mr Reporter’ a damning put-down of critics but sung by Ray in great mocking form (before the band softened it and gave it to Dave to sing, although even this version wasn’t released till the 1990s) plus some fabulous rare songs from Dave Davies as a solo artist (which have all been released nowadays but are an integral part of the Kinks story: ‘Groovy Movies’ and This Man He Weeps Tonight’ are especially strong). Fabulous!

Paul McCartney and Wings “Live In Glasgow” (1979)

This is Wings at the last concert they will ever play. Not that they know that yet – McCartney’s arrest for drug possession and a six day spell in a Tokyo jail killed the projected world tour off. It’s the only live recording of the third line up of Wings (along with the limited set for the ‘Kampuchea’ benefit) and shows them to be a far better live band than they were on ‘Back To The Egg’. There are several songs here that Macca never returns to again on any live tour (the memory perhaps tainted in his mind with this unhappy time) as well as the first live versions of many Beatles and solo favourites (a lovely ‘Fool On The Hill’ and a cracking ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ among them – in retrospect its uncomfortable hearing Macca singing his ‘drug’ song so close to getting into trouble over it). This concert is also the source of the ‘live’ version of ‘Coming Up’, one of Macca’s best non-Beatles songs and included as the ‘flip side’ to the studio original (though not as good it’s still a cracking performance). Highlights include a lovely version of ‘Every Night’ vastly superior to the ‘MTV Unplugged’ one; the jolly instrumental ‘Hot As Sun’ written by Paul on his dad’s piano at the age of 15; the first time Paul does ‘that’ joke (asking the audience what they want to hear and then playing a pre-war standard); London Town’s ‘I’ve Had Enough’ turned into a crowd-pleasing foot-stomper; ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ complete with bagpipes for the first time; a cracking extended version of then-contemporary single ‘Goodnight Tonight’ that Paul really should revive for his live set and several of the better ‘Back To The Egg’ songs sounded far better in concert than they did on record (especially Denny Laine’s ‘Again and Again and Again’). In fact compared to the shambling ‘university’ tours of 1972 and the slick 1976 band this might well be my favourite period of live Wings good as the others are – and it’s a crying shame Wings were forced to fold just after they seemed to be approaching full flight again.

Neil Young “Restless” (1988)

There are hundreds of great Neil Young bootlegs out there – but this raw acoustic tape is easily my favourite. Neil is playing in New Jersey as part of his unplugged tour supporting the electric album ‘Freedom’ then in the works (Neil usually promotes an album by using a different sound entirely) and hearing superior versions of one of Neil’s better collections of songs without the sometimes OTT production is a revelation. Armed with just an acoustic Neil tears into some of his best material old and new, including a riveting powerful ‘Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero)’ complete with lost verses and far more powerful than the detached studio one (Neil’s closing howl of ‘Wish I never got oooooooooold!’ will chill your blood); the single best solo/CSNY live version of the many dozens of the protest classic (dedicated to the Chinese student protest and prefaced with the line ‘I wish man didn’t have to keep starting wars...and that’s why I have to keep repeating myself’) and to finish things off a wonderful re-write of electric jam ‘Down By The River’ as an acoustic workout, complete with special guest Bruce Springsteen called up from the audience and audibly awestruck. Neil at his unpredictable best and far more deserving of an ‘Archive’ releases than any of the official live NY CDs out to date, including the lovely ‘Massey Hall’ gig that got fans so excited a few years ago.

John Lennon “The Lost Lennon Tapes” (Circa 1988)

Originally a radio series dedicated to Lennon’s memory and hosted by Andy Peebles on Radio One, the bootleg releases quickly moved beyond the snippets of unheard demo tapes from Lennon’s solo career broadcast on the programme to encompass almost everything Lennon ever recorded. And boy did Lennon record anything and everything, especially in his househusband years, seemingly obsessed with making a ‘diary’ of the music in his head (there are well over 50 hours in total). Obviously there’s bad in with the good and the official Lennon outtakes box set ‘Anthology’ and spin-off CD ‘Acoustic’ includes a good two thirds of the best material, but there’s still plenty more out there deserving of a release. Highlights include a painfully worked out demo for ‘She Said She Said’ (Lennon recording a new bit every time he has a new idea) that’s still fascinating to hear; a riveting angry primal howl of a demo for ‘Cold Turkey’ that beats the finished song hands down; a lovely demo for ‘Beautiful Boy’ Lennon sings to son Sean from a holiday in Bermuda complete with a coda message that ‘I’m sorry about your cold’ and everyone on holiday with him wishing the toddler goodnight; a version of Ringo’s ‘Goodnight Vienna’ with Lennon on leads that’s a lot livelier than the ‘Anthology’ one; a sweeping demo for ‘Steel and Glass’ from ‘Walls and Bridges’ and perhaps best of all, a one-off acoustic ramble through the obscure ‘Mind Games’ track ‘Tight A$’ which Lennon unexpectedly gets asked to play on a radio phone-in and struggles to get through, busking through many of the words! Yes hearing the whole lot is a bit of a slog but what hits you most is how much charisma and thought there is even in Lennon’s throwaways and how much good stuff there is still in the vaults should Yoko care to release an ‘Anthology Volume Two’ some day.

Paul McCartney “Good Sign” Volumes One to Three (circa 1988)

The McCartney Deluxe Editions are slowly mopping up all the unissued material available on these sets, but it’ll be a while yet before Macca re-releases every album he’s ever made so we’re probably safe adding the ‘Good Sign’ rarities sets for another decade yet. Like Neil Young and Lennon before him, Macca is so prolific it hurts – there’s almost an unissued song for every issued one in his collection and as there’s been nearly an album every year for 50 now that’s an awful lot of songs, with this compilation series reaching five volumes in total (although admittedly much of it is rare B sides rather than unissued songs). The best of these three sets comes from the ‘Wings’ years, with cute little outtakes that never quite found a home like ‘Tom Orrow’ (a synth-based instrumental of ‘Tomorrow’); cute jingles ‘Maisie 1 and 2’ intended for ‘Red Rose Speedway’; the soundtrack to the rare ‘One Hand Clapping’ and ‘James Paul McCartney’ TV specials of the mid 70s; ‘On The Wings Of A Nightingale’, a lovely folky song Paul agave to the Everly Brothers; ‘Yvonne’s The One’ a lovely song he wrote with 10cc’s Eric Stewart and which is much better than 10cc’s finished version; 12” mix of ‘Pretty Little Head’ unavailable anywhere else; ‘Simple As That’ a surprisingly brutal take on drug abuse recorded for a children’s charity in 1988 and all of the many permutations of the ‘Cold Cuts’ album there’ve been since 1979 before the bootlegs leaked and Macca decided not to release them (most of which are now available officially but sound fabulous together; the exceptions are the moody ‘1882’ and the prog rock soundtrack ballad ‘Did We Meet Somewhere Before?’).

The Beatles “Anthology Plus” (Circa 1997, made up of material from 1958 to 1969)

Surely six CDs of officially unreleased material is enough for a band who were only recording professionally for seven years? Well, no – and much of the material that wasn’t included on ‘Anthology’ for various reasons (ownership, taste, similarity to other versions) is actually superior to songs that were. Chief among these are a fascinating snippet of the 1960 era Beatles messing about; an 18 year old McCartney’s early stab at his song ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ at the Cavern Club, four years before its appearance on ‘Beatles For Sale’; ‘Some Other Guy’ live at the Cavern and taken from the soundtrack of the ‘People and Places’ feature on the Beatles in 1962, their earliest TV exposure; The complete ‘Around The Beatles’ TV special from 1964; multiple versions of ‘That Means A Lot’, a song McCartney gave to P J Proby to sing and is a worthy Beatles song circa 1965 that no one else seems to like much including the band themselves; compilations of outtakes from The White Album and Abbey Road intended for an earlier edit of the Anthology TV series but cut out when the series was over-running; ‘The Inner Light’ in the instrumental state it was in when George Harrison still intended it for the ‘Wonderwall’ movie; a charming McCartney demo for his new step-daughter ‘Heather’ and a thrilling version of George’s solo masterpiece ‘All Things Must Pass’ recorded for ‘Let It Be’ with glorious harmonies from John and Paul. The best songs are all at the end however: a very McCartneyish ballad written by John for Yoko titled ‘Oh I Need You’ that was sadly never heard of again and McCartney singing lead vocals on perhaps the most Lennonish song of all ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy’), ably filling in for his partner when his throat gave out one day. Even in their last days the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership was impressively strong and – considering how many other Beatles bootlegs and outtakes official and unofficial there are out there – so is this set.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young “Rarities” (circa 2003)

Like so many other bootlegs on our list, what’s impressive about this set is its range and the care that went into its creation (more so than most official CSNY releases if I’m honest). This five CD set features mock-up album covers using outtakes from the sessions for five different album covers (‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’ ‘Deja Vu’ ‘CSN’ ‘American Dream’ and ‘Looking Forward’) and an impressive range of material from various two-way, three-way, four-way and solo projects as well as a nice chunk from Stills’ Manassas band of 1972-73. Given how little unreleased CSNY material there is officially (mere handfuls on the CSN box and solo Crosby and Nash boxes) the sheer scale is revelatory, even if much of this set is made up of live recordings. Highlights include: a live CSNY version of Stills’ solo ‘Bluebird Revisited’ advertised as from the quartet’s ‘next album’ (not true as things turn out!); ‘Little Miss Bright Eyes’, an early and more informal version of Stills’ ‘Sugar Babe’; several songs from the Planet Earth Rock and Roll superband featuring C-N with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane tackling ‘The Wall Song’ and a delightful Garcia-Crosby guitar instrumental ‘Kids and Dogs’; Nash torn between The Hollies and CSN tackling the Byrds song ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’ to ‘connect’ with Crosby’s psyche; long-term keyboardist Mike Finnigan turning Stills’ poppy ‘Rollin’ My Stone’ into a chilling blues workout much to his bosses’ bemusement; the title track from the aborted 1974 reunion ‘Human Highway’ which is so much better than Neil’s rather throwaway solo version from 1978; the world’s first ever digital recording – Stills re-recording of his own ‘Cherokee’ from 1978; Stills’ live solo take on ‘Come In My Kitchen’ as heard in snippet form on the first album; most of Crosby’s unreleased 1979 album re-arranged and re-recorded 10 years a jail sentence later as ‘Oh Yes I Can!’ and two early versions of Nash’s most recent songs ‘On The Wall’ and ‘Half Your Angels’ which surprisingly sound better still in solo form without the lush harmonies of the finished versions. As ever with CSNY the unreleased songs are the most fascinating part of the set and there are oodles of them: including (by Crosby): the paranoid ‘You Sit There’ and ‘Is It Really Monday?’ from 1971, ‘Little Blind Fish’ a killer four-way vocals rock jam that 20 years later became a fascinating acoustic song by Crosby’s band CPR; the charming but short ‘Your Life Is What You Fill Your Day With’ the surprisingly nationalistic ‘He’s An American’ with a lovely so Crosby-ish guitar tuning and ‘Vote’ a brief reminder in song form for the 1988 US Election; (Stills) two Manassas outtakes ‘One Moment At A Time’ and ‘Colorado’, a different and actually superior song to the one of the same name from 1972; the blues traditional ‘Uncle James’, the moody ‘Precious Love’ and a raucous cover of the blues standard ‘Born In Chicago’(Nash): the delightful ‘See You In The Spring’, a cover of Paul Simon’s ‘America’ in which Nash fluffs the first verse and has to try again; the beuatoful ‘The Shell’, a fairly new song far better than anything Nash has released in the past 15 years; (Young): three songs from the 1974 tour ‘Hawaiian Sunrise’ ‘Traces’ ‘Love Art Blues’ and the much-discussed epic ‘Pushed It Over The End’. The absolute highlight of the set though? Stills trying to coax Crosby to do his ‘Robert Johnson impersonation’ while Crosby’s trying to get mellow to record ‘Guinevere’ complete with outtakes and much giggling! Highly recommended until CSN/Y finally get round to doing a ‘rarities’ album!

And that’s that. Join us next week for some legal newsing, viewsing and music-ing. See you then!

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