Monday, 23 December 2013

AAA 'Christmas Presents' We'd Most Like To See (Top Fifteen, News Views and Music 225)



As 2013 draws to a close (our annual 'best of the year' awards is due in our top ten next week), we reflect on what a comparatively weak year it's been for new music - and yet what a rather great year it's been for AAA-releases-we-never-expected to see. Apple have finally acquiesced to our demands on this very site to release a second volume of the 'Beatles at the BBC' set, complete with chat (obviously they've only done it because we told them to and not because the earlier recordings might be out of copyright next year, oh no, and the five year wait was just them taking their time to get it right). Belle and Sebastian have done likewise with a second compilation of their rare B-sides and EP tracks (sadly it skips a lot of the more interesting stuff for later lesser recordings so isn't quite what we wished for but, hey, having all of these rarities together is still a positive thing; we asked for this four years ago). We also pleaded with another member of CSNY to write a book so that we could a) update Crosby's autobiography (which ended with him out of prison in 1989) and b) work out what the hell Neil Young was talking about in his. Nash has answered our prayers with 'Wild Tales', published in September, although as I write it's still (hopefully) wrapped up and waiting for me so I can't tell you much more about that yet. We also longed for a 10cc box set a few years ago - the prayers for which were answered at the very end of last year but wasn't exactly what I'd call a triumphant success. It's also just been announced that David Crosby is working with Mark Knopfler for the first time - the kind of cross-pollination of AAA stars we've always longer for on this site (it's not too late to form Crosby, Stills, Nash and Knopfler is it?!)

The last 12 months then have seen an impressive run of releases that we wished for on these pages so - with your indulgence - here's a list of other Christmas Presents we'd most like to see next year, just on the of-chance that, thanks to some yuletide magic, our wishes will come true! Well, you have to wish don't you or these things will never become true... No doubt we'll return to this list in a year's time and have a big laugh as none of these releases are likely to happen but stranger things have happened (The Spice Girls for instance...)

1) "Carl Wilson"/"Youngblood" on CD

OK, so the few celebrated fans who have heard the only two solo albums by the youngest Wilson brother admit they're not much cop, don't sound much like The Beach Boys and that Carl saved all of his good stuff for the Beach Boys LPs. But it would be lovely to get the chance to hear some of it, as both albums are ridiculously rare on CD (Many poor-selling AAA albums are around at expensive house-mortgaging prices, but these two I've never even seen). We also know of a whole raft of 'bonus' tracks that could have been released, from the work Brian was doing with his brother (one of which was released on his solo album 'Gettin' Over My Head') and the work he was doing with brother Dennis *(some of which came out on his unfinished solo album 'Bambuu'). Dennis' solo recordings used to be the rarest Beach Boys albums going, but a superlative re-issue in 2007 alongside one excellent and one poor documentary now means that the middle Wilson brother is, rightly, heralded as a genius we should have paid more attention to when he was alive. Carl deserves similar respect and while I don't expect his albums to be as revealing as Dennis' were, I am a big fan of his last batch of Beach Boys recordings (the only things worth buying the 1980s and 90 BB albums for to be honest) and he could sing the telephone directory and still make it beautiful. There are more than enough Beach Boys fans out there to make the project financially viable, so why hasn't it happened yet?!

2) The Beatles "Anthology Four"/ "Let It Be" (Deluxe)/"The Complete Christmas Flexi-disc Fanclub Recordings"


I know, I know, we've been asking for both of these for years now but Apple surprised us all this year by quietly releasing 'At The BBC Volume 2' a mere 20 years after the first. To those of you thinking 'well they stuck absolutely everything they could on Anthology' - well think again. Oodles of stuff has come to light since, including the closely-guarded earliest recorded performance by the Quarrymen the day John met Paul, various Lennon-McCartney demos for outside writers, 'Carnival Of Sound' the avant garde McCartney composition created especially for a London 'happening', alternate takes of several songs that exist in the vaults but were passed over on Anthology and a whole cornucopia of alternates from the 'Let It Be' sessions. Enough, in fact, to release a whole box if Apple chose to - complete with a DVD copy of the hard-to-find import-only film - as the whole lot of sessions were also recorded by the film crew (footage which exists complete on audio and might well exist on video too). Admittedly, a lot of these songs are unrehearsed jams around 1950s songs with lots of talking and a lot of repetitious versions of 'Get Back' and 'Let It Be' in particular, but we Beatles nuts are used to that sort of thing. There's a terrific three CD/DVD package in there somewhere (they could even re-issue the original 'Let It Be' hard-back book that came in a limited edition with the original album and has never been seen again, or even a limited limited edition with 'Let It Be Naked' and the original 'Get Back' compilation engineer Andy Johns compiled for them to use) and if Apple want someone to wade through the tapes for them, they only have to ask... Thirdly, The Beatles have milked everything going in the past twenty years, most of it good, but some of it dreadful (did we really need the 'Love' remix and the ballet to go with it? Or the hard-to-read unrevealing Anthology book?) So why haven't they released their Christmas flexi-discs on a proper album yet, full of their speech recordings made especially for fans every year between 1963 and 1969 (1970 subscribers received a compilation of the full set). We covered the lot in one review (News, Views and Music 84 - see the 'Beatles' list on the site below) and never have the fab four been more intimate, funny, whimsical or creative (except for 1968 and 1969 when they do their recordings separately, the joy gone out of their voices). Yes, there might be a copyright issue with them but, frankly, if Apple can navigate their way to releasing 'Beatles: Rock Band', with separations of all the master-tapes (and if the Beatles Book could find a way to re-release all their early issues despite being with a different publisher) then this is surely possible.

3) A New CSN/Y album/Stephen Stills to write his autobiography

First up, it will be 15 years next year since CSNY last released a studio album in a combination of more than two (20 since they were last a trio), despite touring together more often than in any other decade. As a three-piece they even came close to releasing a 'covers' album with Johnny cash producer Rick Rubin before the record was abandoned (allegedly because of an argument over what the words in the Stones' 'Ruby Tuesday' meant!) CSN are, admittedly, without a record contract at the moment. But Neil Young is still a big cheese in the music industry (despite the fact his decade has been a lot patchier music-wise than any of his former colleagues' has) and the other three are surely free to join him at Reprise at his say so. After the excellent 'Freedom Of Speech' tour in 2006 (when CSN backed Neil's 'Living With War' album which was right down their political street) hopes were high for a new album, but no - not yet. Crosby's just announced his first new album in 20 years, which is great news indeed, but it's a real shame that they can't get together for at least one last great album and remind the world of what heroes they are (a concept album about the horrors of the Coalition Government wouldn't go amiss; re-recordings of 'Cold Rain' and 'They Want It All' could be the cornerstones of it). However Nash at least has had a busy couple of years writing his book 'Wild Tales', which now means that there are books by Crosby, Nash and Young on my shelves (Crosby's written three, in fact). How great would it be to have a Stills book there so that we can learn about the group from all (very different) viewpoints and so that madcap collectors like me can feel that their collection is complete? Stills doesn't even have to remember anything - Neil got away with barely remembering a thing that happened to him during the whole writing process of his book!

4) Grateful Dead archive releases: Demos from 1969/ The Last Concert, July 9th 1995

The surviving members of the Grateful Dead must be thrilled at their decision to 'allow' their fans to tape their music, actively allowing them to plug their microphones into their mixing board, because it's stood them in good stead ever since 1995 when Garcia died and the band stopped touring. With 2,300 shows to choose from there's enough material for the Dead to release a new show or even two or three every month and there are now a whole great slew of names for their releases, chosen by engineers (Dick's Picks), fans (various) and the band themselves ('Fallout From The Phil Zone'). Given how different an audio experience each Dead show is from another, that's wonderful news indeed - especially the collection of late 60s shows full of jams based around half a dozen songs for two or three hours which will change the way you listen to music forever. However, there are still no releases for some of the greatest Dead audio footage out there: intimate Garcia-Hunter writing sessions at the band's house in Haight Ashbury, outtakes from the band's earliest albums and their last truly moving show on July 9th 1995 when the band end with a tearful and possibly career best performances of their final trilogy 'Black Muddy River', 'Sugar Magnolia' and 'Box Of Rain'. Yes, the music is out there many times over on the internet and I still can't get used to the technological quirks of the 21st century that allow me to listen to a song recorded 50 years ago on a mobile phone I can carry around in my pocket. But these are important recordings and deserve a release, perhaps the latter on their 20th anniversary in 2015?

5) "Yet Another Four Hollies Originals"/ "The Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks Years"

I so understand your frustration dear readers - I review an enticing sounding Hollies album from the 1970s, you rush to Ebay or Amazon and the results are either hideously overpriced or there's nothing. The Hollies have always been quite badly served on CD, but a series of box sets containing no-frills releases of eight of their best 1970s albums in the late 1990s was a welcome day indeed (thankfully the band's 1960s recordings - up to 1967 at least - have always been in print). Sadly, though, the third volume of Hollies' ;late 60s/70s recordings never came: 'Hollies Sing Hollies' (1969), 'Confessions Of A Mind' (1970), 'A Distant Light' (1971), 'Out On The Road' (1973, originally released only in Germany) and reunion album 'What Goes Around...' (1983) would make a fine box set one day. Even re-issues of the other two sets would be welcome. Admittedly, many of these albums were available, briefly, on French label 'Magic' about ten years ago - but even these releases are rare now and were expensive to buy on import even then unless you lived in France. Better yet, EMI could follow-up their highly successful 1960s set 'The Clarke-Hicks-Nash Years' (which made #1 on the box sets on Amazon the week it came out) with a 'Clarke-Hicks-Sylvester' set included period rare B-sides and the handful of outtakes that crept out on 'Rarities' and the 'At Abbey Road' sets, not to mention some songs still unreleased (all in all there's 20 great songs out there that anyone who became a Hollies fan post 1990 won't know at all). Yes, the set probably won't do as well as the Nash set did (which clicked with curious American CSN fans, intrigued what Nash was up to a decade before in Manchester), but EMI really need the money still and anything seems to be ripe for re-issuing (including the complete Gerry and the Pacemakers and Swinging Blue Jeans sets). Many of the Hollies' best ever work came after Nash left the band - especially in the 1969-73 period) and deserves to be heard.

6) Grace Slick's albums released on CD

Another surprising absence from our shelves is a complete set of Grace Slick albums. In all, Grace released four solo albums during her time with Jefferson Airplane/Starship and yet to date only the first of these (the patchy 'Manhole') has received a CD release in the past 20 years and then only briefly (it only came out last year and has disappeared everywhere already except second hand stalls). Grace's second album 'Dreams' in particular is a masterpiece - reduced to writing a third or quarter of an album before this, Grace has finally left her old band (briefly as it turns out) and really poured her heart out on a moody orchestral album full of ballads and Grace kicking herself for a series of circumstances that's left her unemployed and alcoholic, distanced from everyone she cares for (AA meetings should hand out copies of the album to every new attendant). Third album 'Welcome To The Wrecking Ball' admittedly isn't much cop but fourth and final album 'Software' is fun and fascinating album that sold so few copies few passionate Jefferson fans even know of it's existence. Remember, Grace Slick was one of the icons of the 1960s and fronted one of the world's biggest bands - she's not a second drummer from a prog rock band that only released one single before disbanding, there's a huge following for her music. So why can't we get hold of it?

7) The Kinks' London albums re-issued on CD

By a quirk of the alphabet, anyone who comes round to visit and sit in our house's comfiest chair finds themselves staring at all the Kinks CD releases from 1964 to 1985 which, me being me, are always kept in chronological order. 'Gosh who'd have thought they'd done that many' people often say, staring at the 22 CD spines before asking which one 'Waterloo Sunset's on (It's on 'Something Else' by the way if you're wondering - and that really is the album title, I'm not asking you to look for 'something else!') But whenever I look at that part of my record collection I'm always said because I know that there are four more albums there that haven't been seen on CD since their all-too brief release when they sold barely a thousand copies across the world (so expecting them to turn up anywhere near me is a bit of a tall order). No Kinks fan whose heard them would ever claim the Kinks' albums for London ('Think Visual' 1986, live album 'The Road' 1987, 'UK Jive' 1988 and 'Phobia' 1993) are among their greatest work, but there are some truly great songs on them: witty soundbites that reveal what a difficult 1980s and 90s the Kinks are having. Indeed, 'UK Jive' has so many great moments (if a dodgy modern production) that it's one of our core 101 reviews and it breaks my heart that any of our 'core' albums everyone should know are currently albums that nobody knows. Album highlights, 'Working At The Factory' 'The Road' 'Loony Balloon' and 'Surviving' respectively, are as great as anything Ray Davies ever wrote. I know that none of the Kinks CDs are the strongest sellers around and none of these albums did that well the first time but please - there is a market for these albums and, released simply and competitively, The Kinks have more than enough of a following to make restoring them worthwhile.

8) Paul McCartney deluxe editions "Red Rose Speedway"/"London Town"

Macca seems to know what he's doing with his pricey but nice deluxe releases, so perhaps I ought to keep quiet. But is it just me or is he releasing some very odd choices first? 'Wings Over America' might be one of my favourite live albums - but it doesn't really 'deserve' a deluxe re-issue when there are only a handful of very very similar performances and a seperately-released DVD concert as the 'bonus' features. Why isn't Macca releasing these sets in order? (So far we've jumped around from 1973, to 1970, to 1980, to 1971, to 1976). It's not as if Macca's selecting the albums with the juiciest outtakes either, because if he did he'd head straight to 'Red Rose Speedway' or 'London Town'. The former was originally a double album commissioned to show off all sides of Wings and while most of it is out on something now, a lot of it isn't (Denny Laine's 'I Would Only Smile', Henry McCullough's 'Henry's Blues', Macca's own punkish 'Night Out' and almost the whole of the planned fourth and final 'live' side including such outtake gems as '1882' and 'Dear Friend' (almost the last songs still unreleased from Macca's famous 'Cold Cuts' rarities set, planned in 1980 and much bootlegged since). What's more there's a whole raft of alternate mixes out there that are better than the over-produced slickness of much of the album, including a spookier 'Loup' and a sweeter 'Single Pigeon' (without the horns). I know what you're thinking: most of these deluxe sets include a DVD - well at the same time Wings were making the LP they were also taping 'James Paul McCartney' a 60 minute TV show for ITV not seen since broadcast in 1973. Even allowing for a bit of money to have to change hands for copyrights, hey, this is a McCartney set - its guaranteed to sell, more than the previous sets with so many juicy 'extras' attached. And if that doesn't work, why not 'London Town'? The album was heavily promoted so there's loads of those interviews that could be used for the DVD and home movies of the band at play on board the houseboat 'Wanderlust' they used for the recording. Music-wise, the whole album was recorded as basic tracks by the English/McCulluch line up of the band before being almost recognisable when Wings turned into a three-piece and overdubbed lots of extra back in London. Luckily copies of all the songs taped on 'holiday' were kept and sound fabulous - very different but equally good (if raw) compared to the album that came out (the basic backing track of 'Morse Moose' in particular is a revelation!) So with all these gems in his back catalogue what does Macca promise us next for 2014? 'Wings at the Speed of Bloody Sound', that's what: one of Wings' more unloved albums, early indications suggest that there' no DVD this time around and almost all the bonus tracks will be previously released 12" mixes and B-sides. Hmmm.

10) The Monkees "Missing Links Four"/Boyce and Hart demos

Anyone who owns the superlative Monkees day-by-day chronicle by Andrew Sandoval will be struck by the same thought: there are way way way more Monkees recordings than we ever thought there were. Even allowing for the fact that the pick of them have already been released on three glorious sets of rarities entitled 'Missing Links' in the 1990s and for the fact that some of what's left are backing tracks, never touched by Monkee hands, there's still at least another three hour-long CD sets that could be released. Even the TV series still features 20 minutes' worth of unreleased-on-album performances in its soundtrack including brilliant alternate versions of 'Goin' Down' 'Riu Chiu' 'Tear The Top Right Off My Head' and many more. The record company that owns the rights to the Monkees - Rhino - is often praised on these pages for understanding what fans want and giving it to them better than probably any other company. However, the last string of releases - huge expensive sets with a handful of alternate mixes and radio spots included rather than anything truly revealing - are a disappointment. All three Missing Links sold well, even if volume two didn't do as well as the first two, and there's certainly a market out there for them (after Davy Jones' death last year reminded people how loved he was I don't think the band have been this popular for years as people remember them fondly rather than making fun of them for the old 'don't play their instruments' routine). Now is the perfect time! Failing that, there's a whole stack of demos for recordings the band used doing the rounds on Youtube. Some of them, by Neil Diamond and Carole King, clearly deserve to be released by their authors in their own right. But what about songwriters Boyce and Hart, whose music more than anybody shaped the band? Even taking just the released stuff - put out under Boyce and Hart's name before being recorded later by the band - would make a fine set; almost everything by the duo is impossible to find on CD. Let's hope in 2014 Rhino aren't too busy squeezing us with a Handmade release of 'Changes' (the only original Monkees album left to be given the treatment now) and putting every Monkees fan down.

11) Oasis "The Masterplan Volume Two"


Even after all this time my favourite Oasis moments are often tucked away on B-sides, the band showing their true skill and creative capabilities whilst 'freed' from having to stick to their recognisable 'wall of sound'. 'The Masterplan', a time-filling collection of these in between the band splitting in 1997 and bouncing back in 2000, is still my single favourite Oasis album, featuring the best of their flip-sides from their first single to 'All Around The World' in 1997. However even in 1998 there were complaints that the compilation wasn't thorough enough - Noel Gallagher was so prolific during this period that he had material to burn and in order to reward fans for buying singles often stuck two or three on the back of every A side. Add in the single-only 'Whatever' and the classiest songs from later in Oasis' career (2002's run of B-sides 'Heart Of A Star' 'Just Getting Older' 'Idler's Dream' and 'As Long As They've Got In Cigarettes in Hell' is particularly strong, better than anything released on that year's 'Heathen Chemistry' album and I say that as a fan who loved that record). Now that Oasis are no more and both sides of the band (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds and Beady Eye) see record sales droop, surely there's only one sensible thing to do: released as 'volume two' best-of or even a 'complete' box set of four CDs containing everything non-LP (and a re-issue of the original compilation) and remind the world just how great, how inventive and how groundbreaking Oasis could be.

12) Pink Floyd "Immersion" box set of 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn'

The big expensive box sets of 'Dark Side' 'Wish You Were Here' and 'The Wall' were hideously pricey but actually quite generous with their volumes of recordings we fans had heard about for years but not actually seen. Frankly, despite being a connoisseur of Pink Floyd bootlegs, I can't think of much from the 1970s that's worth hearing that isn't out now (a few more songs from the 'Zabriskie Point' soundtrack sessions maybe?) However come the 1960s it's a different story: the band plugged their debut album with Syd Barrett a great deal and there are dozens of BBC sessions and TV appearances out there that deserve compiling (there's even an unreleased track, 'Embryo', as good as anything the band did in 1969). When 'Piper' was re-issued a few years back there was a 'bonus' disc containing a handful of period singles, but there are still a good half dozen more still unavailable from 1967 and 1968 ('Julia Dream' 'Point Me At The Sky' Paintbox' 'Wouldn't It Be So Nice?' After telling us for years there was nothing interesting from the first album sessions in the vaults, a great and very different alternate version of 'Matilda Mother' 'escaped' on a Syd Barrett best-of, which clearly deserves a proper home. Add in 'Two Of A Kind' (a Rick Wright song sung by Syd that is out on a BBC set) and the semi-rare soundtrack performances for 'Tonight Let's Make Love In London' and you have the beginnings for a nice little set.

13) CD re-issues of 'Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan At Joujouka' and 'Jamming With Edward'

The Rolling Stones are so powerful, surely everything they've released has a home on CD? Well, no. Not now, anyway, although both of these curious did get shortlived CD issues at times in the past. Brian Jones doesn't actually appear on is album, but it's a very important document many fans would love to own - almost the last thing Brian did before he died in 1969 was to travel to Morocco to record a genuine local tribe before their music was lost forever. The record was eventually released on the Stones' own label in 1971, as a sweet gesture to his memory, although this and a first CD issue in 1995 passed most collectors by. It might not sound much like the Stones, but this music was important to Brian and it deserves a place in our collections, as integral to 'his' vision of music as sitar music was to George Harrison's. Weirder still is the series of jamming sessions 'Jamming With Edward', which was actually the 'nickname' for the hardest-working AAA session musician Nicky Hopkins, backed by Mick Jagger, potential new guitarist before Mick Taylor joined Ry Cooder (who comes out of the album best), Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts while waiting for Keef to turn up to a Stones session in 1969 (in between second-guitarists), released in 1972. Like many a jam session, it's loose and funky and not built for repeated listenings (Mick was quite fond of it apparently and pushed for it's one brief CD re-issue in the 1990s when Nicky died, although Keith still considers its release a 'joke', which is probably why it's not been heard of again). Neither are completely essential, but considering how big the Stones are and were even their extra-curricular activities are always of interest. The same goes for Bill Wyman's eccentric series of solo albums that are currently very hard to track down on CD.

14) The Who "By Numbers"/"Who Are You?" (Deluxe Edition)

The Who like their expensive re-issues. So far there's been 'deluxe' versions of MY generation, Sell Out, Tommy and Live at Leeds, plus box sets dedicated to 'Tommy' 'Live at Leeds' 'The Lifehouse Chronicles' (technically a Pete Townshend set), 'Quadrophenia' and now - just to rub it in - a new box set dedicated to Tommy, re-released with a handful of Townshend demos. In my eyes the sensible thing to do would be to continue the series on to the next two albums, which so often get overlooked compared to their predecessors but were still top three albums with many followers. 'The Who By Numbers' is one of my all-time favourite albums anyway and deserves a bit more critical respect, but what would make this set even more viable is the fact that Pete actually recorded more demos in this period than he did during the 1960s and early 70s. The few that have surfaced on Pete's 'Scoop' demo series - a terrific alternate of 'However Much I Booze' in particular - suggest that there's a treasure trove sitting in his vaults somewhere and, even though this is all speculation, the sheer amount of songs discussed down the years as 'potential' tracks for that album (many of them released later by Pete on his solo LPs) suggests there must be some juicy demos of these songs somewhere, maybe even early take with Roger Daltrey's voice. Failing that, 'Who Are You?' was a troubled album that took aeons to painstakingly make, things not helped by Keith Moon's failing condition. On the plus side for us, so many songs had to be re-arranged to suit Keith's failing abilities (slower tempos, easier parts, less rock) that there's a whole plethora of abandoned arrangements presumably still sitting in the vaults. The 'Kids Are Alright' documentary, 'apparently' showing the band recording a stunning alternate version of the title track, suggests how great some of this music could be. Even if its not as good as that sounds (and even if the band have to release a two-CD set rather than another pricey box), surely fans are going to snap that up more than the sixth CD re-issue of Tommy in 20 years? (hopefully?!)

15) Neil Young "Archives" Volume Two

Well, it took us over 20 years for Neil to finally finish the first box set after promising it was nearly ready back in the 1980s, so don't get your hopes up for a second volume too soon. Surely, though, out of all of Neil's mammoth unreleased back catalogue, it's this period - so far untouched by his re-issue series - that would contain the gems? The first set went from 1962-72, so presumably a second set would go from 1973-83 or thereabouts, covering the original unreleased version of 'Tonight's The Night', the complete unreleased 1977 reject 'Chrome Dreams' (which provided the best songs for Neil's next three albums), out-takes from the Stills-Young Band sessions (which were a surprise find for Stills' box set earlier this year), some terrific outtakes from fan favourite 'Rust Never Sleeps' that are better than the album takes in my opinion, unreleased unfinished album 'Island In The Sun' and the 'normal' takes of the vocoder-based songs from 'Trans' (never intended to sound 'normal', but Neil must surely have done some guide vocals for this painstaking work, let's just hope they've been kept). Admittedly getting the rights from Geffen (who Neil joined in 1982) might be difficult but even without the last two items this sounds like a scrumptious box set to me. Add in the songs we don't even know about yet (there were a handful in the first archives set collectors didn't know) and it's no wonder this set has made my Christmas list for the past ten years now. let's just hope Neil doesn't take another ten to get round to completing it like he did with volume one!

Right, that's it for another issue. It only reminds for us to wish all our readers a very merry Mary Berry Non-Mariah Carey or Spice Girls' Scary Quite Contrary Christmas and a happy goo year! May all of you have a great yuletide, with all of your AAA-endorsed presents under the tree. Once the festivities are over, join us next week when we'll be adding one more album review to our yearly pile and counting down the best AAA releases of the past twelve months. Join us then!...

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