Monday, 30 December 2013
Review Of The Year 2013 (News, Views and Music 226)
Alright, so in 2013 our analogy finally fell apart. If 2010 was like 1963 (lots of Beatles and Searchers), 2011 was like 1964 (Hollies, Kinks and yet more Beatles) and 2012 was like 1965 (The Who, The Beach Boys and even more Beatles), then sadly 2013 was nothing like 1966. Indeed, there was only two bona fide 'new' releases the whole year (with Neil Young's latest poised just as we write this review) and they featured Paul McCartney trying to sound modern (who didn't go solo till 1970) and Beady Eye, all of whom weren't actually born in 1966. Both albums were promising, though, not quite masterpieces but still a step in the right direction, which puts 2013 a nose ahead of 2012 (when The Beach Boys reunited to poor effect, Neil Young and Crazy Horse released a weird album of American covers and Paul McCartney became a crooner, briefly - strange AAA albums all). Where 2013 loses over previous years, however, is in the dearth of classic re-issues: we finally had the much delayed Stephen Stills box set, yet another Beach Boys box set, The Beatles at the BBC volume two and another in the McCartney deluxe editions, but even this was down on years gone by. The list of AAA documentaries has been especially poor, particularly on radio, where the cloud hanging over the profession thanks to the Jimmy Saville scandal and all the knock-on effects leading to arrests of other leading DJs and presenters has rather killed off the momentum of new product. What we have had has been rather good though and finally some of our less appreciated AAA stars have been under the spotlight, including Otis Redding and Mark Knopfler, alongside yet another Who documentary on 'Tommy'. Shockingly there hasn't been one proper 're-issue series' all year, so we've scrapped our 'best' and 'worst' entries for this year - but on the positive front this is the first year in our site's five-year history where we haven't had to write an obituary for one of our stars. Long may that continue in 2013!
What we do have is a promising list of possible releases for 2014: Neil Young has already announced yet another new album in the dying weeks of this year (so we won't have a chance to review it before publishing this alas: we'll add it to next year's tally instead), David Crosby has announced his first solo album in twenty years in January with some help from Mark Knopfler (a nice bit of AAA cross-pollination there!), CSNY are still talking about the release of a box set celebrating their 1974 world tour, which has been promised since 2011 and has now grown from a simple re-issue of the record-breaking Wembley concert (which the band are afraid to release in full because they sounded 'jittery all night' - they sound pretty good on my semi-official copy I have to say) and the next Paul McCartney deluxe edition has been announced as 'Wings At The Speed Of Sound', even if a release date hasn't been given just yet. Speculatively, Noel Gallagher might have a new album on the cards too. Alas the Belle and Sebastian album that looked on the cards for this year never materialised, ditto the new CSNY record although as the band played Neil's Bridge School Benefit concert in October it might be back on again, Beady Eye appear to have split up or at the very least been heavily delayed by a nasty accident that left guitarist Gem in hospital for the past few months and the vague talk about re-issuing The Beatles' 'Let It Be' seems to have been replaced with this Christmas' rush to get 'Beatles at the BBC 2' into the shops. As ever, we'll keep you posted on what everyone is up to during the year and probably into the next pair beyond.
THE BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
1) Stephen Stills "Carry On"
Much-delayed, the Stephen Stills box - compiled as ever by partner Graham Nash - finally arrived in shops seven years after the David Crosby set 'Voyage' and five years after the Graham Nash set 'Reflections'. Like the other two, it features several juicy unreleased items squeezed between a generally fair and comprehensive selection of songs from Stills' solo, CSN and CSNY careers as well as Manassas and the Stills-Young Band. The difference was that Stills' eclectic output means that the set was extended to four CDs rather than three as with Crosby and Nash. The packaging was a sumptuous as ever, full of lots of photographs that had never been seen before, although it's sad to see that most of the writing was taken up by two rather boring career overviews rather than the revealing song-by-song analysis of the other sets (Stills really doesn't like talking about his songs and it speaks volumes he's the only member of CSNY not to pen an autobiography - yet!) While this set was particularly useful in terms of released performances, (I already had all of Crosby's and most of Nash's albums on CD, but there are so many, lots of them rare, Stills solo LPs from the 1970s and 1980s there were lots I was missing) it's the unreleased material that appeal the most in these sets and what we had was a bit of a mixed bag. It's wonderful to hear a high-pitched 17-year-old Stills warbling Ed Wheeler's classic 'High Flying Bird' on a student radio station (tapes of which weren't even known before this set came out, never mind bootlegged), ditto one surviving tape from what became the Stills-Young Band album 'Long May You Run' back when it was intended as a CSNY reunion (legend long had it that Stills had slashed the tapes with a razor-blade to stop them ever being released - so where the heck did this version of 'Black Coral' come from?!) The much-bootlegged early version of 'Little Miss Bright Eyes' and Stills' unreleased 1979 latin number 'Cuba El Fin' are also nice to have on a proper shiny CD at long long last. As ever with these sets, though, a great deal of the 'unreleased' material turned out to be remixes that aren't that different (barring an abandoned latin freakout on the front of 'First Things First', that took me by surprise) and a lot of the live rarities on CD4, when Stills is losing his voice or his ideas, are dispensible (the awful 'Man Alive' album from 2005 ends up being better represented than 'Stephen Stills' or 'Manassas', which is just plain wrong!) You could quibble with the track listing too: Stills' greatest song (says us anyway) 'Word Game' being replaced by the poppy 'Mariane' is the one that gave us apoplexy in our review - but there's enough here to keep collectors happy and more than enough to give fans new to Stills' talent something to celebrate. Cheaper and smaller than the McCartney deluxe editions, but with more music and more rarities without stinging on size or packaging, these three CSN re-issues got the balance about right I'd say and my shelf now looks very handsome with the large 'C S and N' logos sitting on their spines! Not perfect, but very very welcome.
2) The Beatles "At The BBC Volume Two"
We said nearly five years ago now on this site that Apple got it wrong - most of the casual public thought 'Anthology' was dragged out at six CDs full of some awful filler and yet felt short-shrifted by only two CDs of BBC sessions. There's enough great performances from 'Pop Go The Beatles' alone to make a lovely five CD set, never mind all the others shows the fab four appeared on between 1962 and 1965. Raw, punchy and often under-rehearsed, they reveal - especially in the earlier recordings - a band that could really play and knew each other inside out, the closest we'll ever get sadly to what they sounded like in their 'Hamburg' days. The first volume of the BBC sessions released as long ago as 1993 did the sensible thing, with alternate BBC versions of all the band's most famous singles and a majority of the songs exclusive to BBC recordings. This second set complements the original nicely, though, with alternate versions of those famous hits, some album tracks like 'Misery' and 'There's A Place' that sound particularly fine in these versions and better yet the first official release for a small portion of the 'banter' between songs, revealing the fab four as natural comedians and a delightful mix of the proud and humble (George even gets the band to say 'hello' to his mum 'who listens to Saturday Club...because it's the time she's outside doing the digging!') The One Show had a reunion of a lot of the people who wrote in recently and - although they mucked it up by not taking it seriously as ever - you could feel the warm nostalgic glow in the room as the Beatles, who used to represent a bright brave new future, now represent a golden rosy past. While on the surface this set is less interesting than the first (the only songs collectors won't know are a still-muddy recording of 'Dream Lover' from the band's first appearance in October 1962 and the Hamburg favourites 'Lend Me Your Comb' heard in an alternate version on 'Anthology' and some less than fab covers of 'Glad All Over' and 'Sure To Fall' (the weakest of the Beatles' BBC-only covers), you do get a better sense of history from this second set, with more 'context' in the shape of the speech and the fine extensive liner notes. This second volume is a better representation of what those Beatle BBC shows were all about, when an hour on saturdays was a teenager's only real chance to hear 'their' music on the BBC and when they had to put up with the 'elder generation' presenters to get to even that. This set should have come out years ago - and there's easily another three volumes to come if Apple and the BBC choose to do them that way - frankly, they should. This is 'The Beatles with their trousers down', which Lennon wanted to ape with 'Let It Be' and hearing the band so young and so full of life is a wonderful experience indeed.
3) Beady Eye "Be"
While not quite as groovy or full of as many peaks as the Oasis spin-off's debut album, 'Be' was even more consistent and evidence of what a great band Beady Eye are/were (depending on whether this is indeed their last release or not, as threatened). For some reason the public have very much decided on Noel's half in the Oasis mud-flinging wars that have been going on the past few years despite the fact that a) it was Noel who actually ended the group (even if he didn't throw the actual tangerine that split the group - a long story we've covered on many issues now) and b) Beady Eye are making the better music (Noel's debut album was a bgunch of superb Oasis outtakes and some ghastly new songs). A winning mixture of Oasis noise and something further, Beady Eye have all the swagger of old but a quiet, still heart that allows them to indulge in long slow ballads and electronic effects Oasis would never have dared to use. Liam, especially, has grown tremendously in the new setting, opening his heart to his brother in the plea for forgiveness 'Don't Brother Me', the spooky and sparse 'Second Bite At The Apple' and the Coalition-rousing 'Flick Of The Finger'. There's nothing here to match the wonderful 'Wigwam' from their first album (The best Oasis-linked song in many a long year), but there also isn't a 'bad' song on 'Be', which manages a very consistent vibe and texture throughout. I really hope this isn't the end of the band, because they've proved themselves to be way ahead of the opposition (poor Noel seems to be stuck working with either Take That or old enemies Blur on his next LP, depending which rumours you hear), even if they're hopelessly out of fashion for now.
4) Paul McCartney "New"
We reviewed this album in full not long ago, but to sum up: 'New' is a mixed record that isn't quite as inventive or consistent as Macca's stint as 'The Fireman' in 2011 but is a big improvement on his other 'pop' records of the past decade and a huge improvement on his last release, the standards 'Kisses On The Bottom' where the only good thing about this onslaught on the 'Great' American Songbook (which Macca can out-write in his sleep) was that it was still a lot better than Rod Stewart's efforts on the same theme. On the plus side, Macca sounds happy again after a troubled decade with Heather Mills and is back to writing love songs again: 'Hosanna', for new wife Nancy, is as good as any in Macca's great canon. His newest batch of songs reflecting on his 'ever present past' also result in 'Early Days', a song all but guaranteed to make Beatles fans cry, while he doesn't turn away from the sadness and harshness of life as he often does, coming up with a magnificent ending in 'Road' (a very dark song) and 'hidden track' 'Scared', which digs even deeper, with a haunting melody that follows you around long after the CD stops playing. If only the rest of the album was up to this standards then 'New' would easily be our album of the year: but alas Macca seems too keen on making this a 'pop' album, straining too hard to sound contemporary and many of the other songs are twee or poorly written with some awful rhymes, or in some cases both ('Queenie Eye' especially, is the worst McCartney song in many a year which even Ringo would consider too facile to sing). A mixed bag, then, but at its best 'New' is a reminder of how great Macca can still be and hints at the possibility of an even stronger album next time around...
5) The Beach Boys "Made In California"
We'll start with the bad points: there already exists a perfectly good Beach Boys box set released in 1993, which could and should have been re-issued instead of this new one so fans could enjoy it without having to fork out the pricey amounts it now sells for on Amazon and Ebay. Wanting to avoid repeating the same tracks as before, this is basically a 'second-best' box set, mainly designed for fans who already own the first set and none of the band's actual albums (frankly if you're into the Beach Boys enough to own the first box set, you already own all the albums too). This six CD set is also pricey in the extreme, suggesting that the Beach Boys are just trying to flog more product. And yet, even having pulled six discs for '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' in 1992, the Beach Boys made so much wonderful music during their career that the lesser known music on this set is often extraordinary, every bit as good as the better known material. 'Lonely Sea' 'Busy Doin' Nothin' 'Baby Blue' 'Solar System' and 'Angel Come Home' especially are as good as any of the better known and loved hits and fully deserving of re-appraisal. The unreleased material is astonishing, too, given how many previous Beach Boys 'rarities' sets there've been over the years, including some recently unearthed unbootlegged BBC sessions, some stunning vocal-only mixes, no less than 17 live recordings (which are mainly ropey but fun and occasionally quite different to the album versions) and five completely unreleased songs (sadly mainly from later on in the band's career, but still mighty interesting to hear). The packaging, too, is done with care and a lot of love - certainly more care and love than the awful Beach Boys reunion album last year.The biggest surprise? A full 'Meant For You', the 30 second song that kickstarted the 'Friends' LP extended to ninety seconds of complete joy and another stunning eight minute medley of a capella sections from 'Smile' that's as perfect as perfect can be. You could argue that the Beach Boys deserve better, that fans have already got almost everything here and that we'd much rather the complete sixth disc of rarities had been released in a 2 CD pack with the outtakes spread across the rest of the set, and you'd be right. But there's a lot of wonderful things about this set too, which is more than worthy of the Beach Boys name and even in a decade pretty spoilt for lush expensive Beach Boys sets this one is special, though sadly not definitive.
THE BEST TV/RADIO DOCUMENTARIES OF THE YEAR
1) Otis Redding Night (TV, BBC4)
An unseen-for 45-years Stax Revue night from Norway was an excellent starter, featuring Sam and Dave and a whole load of B-list soul stars warming up the crowd before an exuberant Otis Redding bounced on stage treating us to a typically breathless 20 minute set (although Sam and Dave were actually better, I thought). However the main course was sensational: 'Soul Amabassador', a new documentary about the late great gentle giant of soul that portrayed him a bit more fairly and deeply than most other documentaries I've seen. Otis' family were fully involved with the project, with the shots of Otis' widow Zelda still in the home he bought for her all those years ago more moving than any of the actual recollections in the film. Booker T and as much of the M Gs backing band as possible also contributed, clearly still in awe of their former singer but not as keen on making him out a 'saint' as previous documentaries. Otis comes across as troubled, not so much the self-proclaimed 'mr pitiful' of his songs as 'mr worry', concerned about his family, his fans and his career prospects. Otis really was on an amazing journey the last year of his life and across 1967 had blown away the crowds at Monterey but was already onto a 'new thing', inward-looking sad songs of which 'Dock Of The Bay' should have been the first, not last. A worrier who hated spending money but too often splashed out, a gentle giant who nobody wanted to cross because he had a fierce temper when provoked and a family man who poured his heartout to his wife but wasn't afraid of straying, Otis finally comes across in 3D as a real person, which is the most you can ask of any documentary. Along with some rare footage and some excellent talking head interviews, 'Soul Ambassador' was a moving experience indeed.
2) David Frost meets Paul McCartney (TV, Al Jazeera TV)
One of the last things David Frost did before his death was a new series on Al Jazeera TV interviewing celebrities closer to his age range and many of whom he interviewed the first time 50 years before. Macca was his best subject, as willing as Frost to dig a little deeper than normal and opening up about his early pore-Beatles day and the pressures of fame. We got to see Macca re-live his life via specially chosen clips that brought on anger (Allen Klein) and tears (Linda), with several 'minor' characters in the Beatles story brought to life at last (particularly Paul's dad Jim). Macca has never spoken at such length about his mother Mart's death from cancer, the money troubles of their family or his early exploration of music before and while the interview loses its way a little on the more frequently-told stories of Beatles and Wings, even these are handled well, Macca more open than normal about the Beatles' split and his love for his two colleagues who are no longer here. Ever since the end of the Heather Mills debacle, Macca's handling of the media has been exemplary, more open and honest and less grudging than it was before. Macca's in a good place right now and more willing to talk about his mistakes, which is heartwarming to see. David Frost's gentle probing and the chance to talk to someone whose clearly done their homework also help bring out one of the best interviews Macca has ever done. Let's hope the set of 'David Frost' al jazeera interviews (already the best news channel on freeview, beating the BBC, ITV and Sky hands down) comes out on DVD sometime soon in tribute so more people can see this great interview (which I was lucky enough to find by chance!)
3) Mark Lawson meets Mark Knopfler (TV, BBC4)
The nearest equivalent to David Frost is Mark Lawson, whose similar quiet style and love of research puts him a nose above most interviewers. Mark Knopfler isn't the easiest of subjects: shy, often monosyllabic and far more interested in talking about his heroes than himself, Knopfler hasn't done an in-depth interview like this since his Dire Straits days, so it was quite a coup for BBC4 to get him. He doesn't let them down, either, showing off his collection of guitars, filling us in on his early years (although I'd still like to know more about his days as a reporter in Newcastle and teacher in London) and revealing just why he's happier to play for smaller crowds alone or with a small band than he was to fill arenas with Dire Straits. Sweet and honest, with a self-effacing humour, Mark Knopfler's always been a sketchy but likeable character and this interview was highly successful at filling in some of the things we didn't know.
Other recommendations: The Who "The Story of Tommy" (TV, BBC4, a nice summary of a complex story, although still not as revealing as Pete Townshend's interview on the 'Tommy/Quadrophenia/Live Hits' DVD set) and "The 50th anniversary of 'Please Please Me' (TV, BBC4, which saw 14 'guests' re-creating all of The Beatles' first album's 14 songs in Abbey Road Studios no 2 in 'real time' 50 years to the day - some were better than others but the 'links' on the album's history were interesting, especially the story behind the album cover).
THE BEST DVDS OF THE YEAR
1) Paul McCartney and Wings "Rockshow"
Recorded in 1976, released belatedly in 1980 and killed off by Macca's drugs convictions and the death of the group not long after, 'Rockshow' has been off our shelves for far too long. A full concert given in the Cow Palace arena by the 1976 McCulloch-English line-up of Wings, a lot of this music is subtly different to the 'soundtrack' live album 'Wings Over America', though the songs are much the same. Wings have finally transformed into a great band, with a charge for the rockers and a quiet space for the ballad that only Macca's currently band has ever matched again, with Jimmy McCulloch , Joe English and Denny Laine making for a tight little band for Paul and Linda to join in with. Denny's 'Time To Hide', in particular, is the highlight of the film, while the chance to see (as well as hear) the earliest performances of Beatles songs by their author on stage since 1966 (many of the like 'Lady Madonna', for the first time) is a special occasion indeed. The opening one-two-three punch of 'Venus and Mars' 'Rockshow' and 'Jet' is also a superb beginning, the crowd on their feet from the first (even if they all sit down again by the time of 'You Gave Me The Answer'), while rare closing encore 'Soilly' proves that Wings were among the best rock bands around in 1976, building to a real crescendo of sweat, vim and vigour. Not everything about this DVD - also part of the 'Wings over America' deluxe edition release - works, the show is still incomplete, running to 2 hours 20 minutes instead of three and a lot of it is shot in the dark, which gets a bit wearing after half an hour or so. But take this as historical footage (very few concerts had been shot on film before this one), accept a few songs go a bit wrong ('Yesterday' and 'Long and Winding Road' aren't up to Beatles standards while 'Picasso's Last Words' is a bad idea all round, even segued with the surprising choice of 'Richard Cory') and this is still as good as a live DVD as you'll find.
2) The Rolling Stones "Return To Hyde Park"
By contrast the Stones' latest DVD is bang up to date, a record of their summer and to-date last concert, a surprise return to Hyde Park the band had last played in 1969 in tribute to Brian Jones (I notice the show wasn't free this year, though). The Stones are on good form - much better than they were at Glastonbury - with special 'aah' moments throughout (Mick Jagger walking out in his 1969 'dress' and explaining 'I got this out of my 1960s wardrobe and it still fits!....if I loosen it a bit), Mick Taylor's return to a band he last played with in 1976 prior to the four shows performed this year and an epic elongated last encore of 'Satisfaction'. Yes the track listing could have been a little more daring, yes Ronnie Wood still seems as out of place in this band as ever (even unfit and unpractised Taylor plays him off the stage) and the arrangements of so many of these songs are so set in 'stones' that at least half of this show is interchangable with any made in the past 25 years. But the Stones are clearly having fun, enjoying their time in the spotlight and the sheer amount of fans out to see them and still turn in their best live show on DVD outside 'Some Girls Live In Texas' and their original Hyde Park appearance.
3) Grateful Dead "Sunshine Daydream"
I haven't seen it all yet, but 'Sunshine Daydream' - a lengthy Dead concert from 27th August 1972 released as a threre CD/one DVD set - finds the Dead on fine form. Never the most active of bands, their static appearance isn't always built for viewing, but the crowd of deadheads are watchable in their own right. The tracklisting is a good one too, like the 'Europe '72' album come to life as a visible concert and includes a handful of semi-rarities such as 'Black Throated Wind' 'Promised Land' and 'El Paso' (not released on albums at the time, although they've been on a few 'from the vaults' re-issues since). An epic 'He's Gone' and a daring 'China Cat Sunflower are better still. Begging just one question: where has this film been for 42 years and why only release it now?!
THE MOST DISAPPOINTING RELEASES OF THE YEAR
1) The Moody Blues "Timeless Flight"
When are some of these bands going to learn that some of us are on a tight budget? Admittedly the music in this epic box set of 17 CDs is generally superb - the studio stuff anyway - but every good Moodies fan already owns this music several times over now and asking us to shell out a whopping £130 for the privilege of some nice packaging and two so-so concerts is ridiculous. This set seems to have gone down very well, winning a 're-issue of the year' award at some big music do, but if so then the judges have got their copy for free - they haven't had to pay for it like we have. As for longterm fans, yes the new concert from the Blue Jays at the Royal Albert Hall is a great show that surprisingly escaped the bootlegger's clutches (featuring an especially gorgeous 'Who Are You Now?' and the best live version of 'Question' yet) and the 1983 shows promoting 'The Present' are quite interesting (we've not had the chance to hear many songs from that under-rated album done live before - and they sound pretty good!) But these are collection-filler curios at best and the talk of 'rare' outtakes and BBC radio sessions heard before the set come out turn out to be simply the (admittedly generally excellent) bonus tracks from the set of deluxe re-issues of Moody albums that came out a mere five years ago (and cost a fortune to buy at the time anyway). Repeating so many of these albums on CD and 'super CD' formats is daft too: fans want one or the other, not both, so wouldn't splitting the set into two cheaper lots be a better idea? Also why are there no solo albums here - all of them rarer than the Moodies albums proper, some of them never released on CD - as well as the same tired choice of album tracks (almost everything included in the 'Time Traveller' box set of 1998). Yes the majority of this music is stunning and yes it all looks gorgeous (the freebie limited edition csasette - a replica of a Moodies compilation taken into space on one of the Apollo missions - is a particularly neat touch). But surely either a shorter set concentrating on true rarities or a much bigger set encompassing every track, solo and together, without the repetition would have been better still? I'd save your money if I were you... (you can donate it to our site if you've got that much to spare!)
2) Paul McCartney and Wings "Wings Over America" (Deluxe Edition)
The weakest yet in Macca's deluxe edition series, this is another - like 'McCartney' and 'Band On The Run' to some extent - that seems to have been released despite the fact that there's nothing that excitingly new here bar the chance to have all the period songs together in the same place and with a few new photographs thrown in (plus a book this time, made up of illustrations made by the band's 'official illustrator' Humphrey Ocean which tells you everything about this style-over-substance set). As you may have read above, the 'Rockshow' DVD that comes with this set is genuinely gripping, the greatest line-up of Wings on terrific form and it's been hard to get hold of for far too long (actually it's still too hard to get hold of - I still haven't seen the DVD anywhere although I know the video well). The only problem is, it's our separately from this set at a fraction of the price and you really don't need to fork out £140 for a remastered edition of 'Wings Over America' which has never been out of print, a few edited highlights from the soundtrack of that show (which isn't terribly different to the 'America' triple album anyway) and some nice photos. Admittedly there's a nice unseen Linda McCartney book of photos thrown in too and a replica of the tour booklet that's a nice souvenir, but surely for a set costing so much money there ought to be more actual recordings here (the band's set of overdubbing sessions to 'sweeten' the sound still exists, as probably does the 'original' mix of the album before these were added). What gets me more is that there are other Wings/McCartney albums with oodles of outtakes and rarities available (take your pick from 'Red Rose Speedway' 'Venus and Mars' 'London Town' 'Back To The Egg' 'Tug Of War' and 'Press To Play' which could all double in length easily, while there's a whole unreleased album from 1987, 'Return To Pepperland', that could come out on 'Flowers In The Dirt') so why release this scraping-of-the-barrel set near the beginning of the re-issue series, not the end?
3) The Who "Tommy" (Deluxe Edition)
Talking of milking a cow long past it's saturation point, this is the seventh re-issue of 'Tommy' on CD, which has now appeared as 1/2/4 and 6 CD sets. This time around there's a series of Pete Townshend demos, which are genuinely fascinating, both for the chance to hear Pete sing these songs instead of Roger and to hear a few 'changes' that took place in Tommy's evolution ('Amazing Journey', a squawling ten minute psychedelic journey of noise and chaos is even more 'amazing' than the finished product), but for goodness sake - previous sets have released four, then six, now 24 of these demos. Why not do us all a favour and release them all properly from the beginning? What's weirder, too, is that so many of the 'stuio outtakes'; from the previous special edition of 'Tommy' have gone missing - surely we should be getting more with each release, not less? The replacement - a live version of 'Tommy' from Canada included in an even more special edition/expensive edition, is also pretty poor too by Who standards - certainly no patch on the classic 'Live at Leeds' version of the rock opera. Yes the packaging's nice and if you don't already own this album then the 2013 version is arguably the version to get - but blimey, who could possibly want to buy this album who doesn't already own it? And I can't honestly tell you to spend your money on it because, like busses, there'll probably be the fourth version in a decade along sometime soon collecting all of us this stuff together and probably more. We're not gonna take it, I tell you, never did and never will...
Other non-recommendations: "Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Live" An expensive (£20) hour-long concert of most of a not very good album that sounds even worse live, plus two rather unappetising music videos that aren't half as interesting as even the bad Oasis ones.
THE BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR
1) "Hosanna" (Paul McCartney 'New')
This song may only be a month old (to anyone outside the studios at least) but McCartney's latest quiet album highlight has already become a firm favourite for me and my mp3 player. revelling in the joy of being in love again, this is McCartney full of praise that he's finally found again the love and hope he's spent so much of his career discussing and searching for. A modern hymn, 'Hosanna' sounds both as complete as if it's been around for hundreds of years, like the best McCartney songs, and a step into somewhere new, with an edgy voodoo-ist backing that makes time sound as if it's standing still before running backwards. This is another silly love song lyrically, but the tension in the music and the older, maturer McCartney allowing his vocal to crumble with age and emotion means that this love sounds hard fought for. The experience is a truly moving one and - for me - this is McCartney's best song in 12 years, maybe even longer. Hosanna indeed.
2) "Talkin' 'Bout You" (The Beatles, 'BBC Volume 2')
Oh how we moaned at Apple and the BBC for missing out this song when they compiled the 'first' set of fab four BBC sessions. One of the few Beatles BBC covers unreleased on album and not added to that first box set, it's one of the band's greatest ever interpretations of an American standard, a Chuck Berry track that presumably never made it to album because both the Rolling Stones and Hollies got their first. Taking its cue from both, this leering song is slowed down to a mid-paced sneer, halfway between the Stones' pure blues and the Hollies' histrionics, Lennon channelling his inner teddy boy on a song that both ogles and idolises the girl of the narrator's dreams. The rest of the Beatles cook up a storm behind him, with Ringo's snapping drums far more on the ball than usual, ending up with a performance that could easily have graced period album 'With The Beatles' and been better than a good half of it to boot. For those who haven't heard it yet (as it's been much bootlegged down the years), this is another chance to hear the young energetic Beatles at their finest, back when they were wild and dangerous and raw.
3) "Don't Brother Me" (Beady Eye, 'Be')
A weary plea for peace, this is another fine Liam Gallagher song that clearly reflects on the sudden and undignified end to Oasis, no matter how many times he tried to dodge the subject of this song in interviews. Alternately petulant, goading, whining, cajoling, pleading and genuinely regretful, this epic song is quite a journey, name-checking Noel's recent songs as well as his own ('Did you shoot your gun?')before pleading 'come on, give peace a chance!' The song then doesn't so much end as transmorphosise into a hazy enveloping world of ghostly synths, glockenspiels and electronic trickery that shouldn't work but surely does. Yes, nothing on 'Be' quite matched the highlights of last album 'Different Gear, Still Speeding', but on songs like this and 'Second Bite Of The Apple' Beady Eye prove that they have a far bigger canvas than Oasis had in their final days and still know how to go somewhere enticingly new, with so much still to say.
Other recommendations: The Moody Blues "Where Are You Now?" (Live Version) - the best of the previously unreleased stuff from the Moody Blues box set, with this gorgeous and rarely performed song capturing the Blue Jays on a good night at the Royal Albert Hall in 1976 (this CD should have been released separately, though, not stuck in a £140 box set), The Beatles "Lend Me Your Comb" (another 'Beatles at the BBC' song and another that more than deserved to be on the first set, although an inferior Anthology version means this one isn't quite so special) and Stephen Stills "Cuba El Fin", an exciting jam that's the 'missing link' in the much loved set of Stephen Stills' songs about his latin american heritage, from the 'Carry On' box set.
That only leaves us to bid 2013 a fond farewell with our collection of our best articles of the year, as nominated by our readers. We had two of you giving suggestions this year, so again these might not be all that comprehensive, but nevertheless they offer a good range of what we wrote about at the AAA during this year. And what a year it's been, dear reader: max The Singing Dog returned to Youtube, we raced past our target of 100, 000 hits (we're now around 160,000) and our articles have been re-posted and re-tweeted by Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, the official Lindisfarne page and, err, Dr Who News. So anyway enjoy again (or for the first time if you've only just joined us) some of our best extracts from the year, along with links for where to read them:
THE BEST AAA ARTICLES OF THE YEAR
1) Top 101 Songs: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-max=2013-04-22T02:30:00-07:00&max-results=7
After being challenged to deliver a 'top ten' of our favourite ever songs, this project got slightly out of hand (heck, it was a struggle deciding on my top 100 songs, hence the fact that this became 101 top songs, a neat reflection of our 'core 101 reviews'). However, we had fun writing it and while you always want to back and change lists like these, it does reflect quite neatly the hidden depth of the AAA catalogue and all the goodies out there that ought to be better known. Our only 'rule' was that a song couldn't be 'well known', which we took to mean 'a top ten hit'...
2) DVDs Special: http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/news-views-and-music-issue-176-aaa-dvds.html
This article, from way back in January, was our first post of the year and our now 'traditional' slot to bring you a 'special edition' of all things Alan's Album Archives (we know from practice that the 'first post' of a year is often the one newcomers look at - so giving you a new angle on every AAA band rather than details of one is the best way of letting people in to our mad world slowly). This year it was all about Alan's Album Archives DVDs, every single one that we knew about at the time (we've updated a couple since), ending up at an eye-watering 42,000 words. It appears to have been a 'hit' with our audience, some 2886 of you having read it at the time of writing, our fifth most popular post. As ever the entries are listed in alphabetical, then chronological order.
3) April Fool's Day: Max The Dog's AAA Museum: http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/news-views-and-music-issue-7114-maxs.html
We love fooling with time on our April Fool's editions and taking a break from bringing you 'real' AAA events and releases so we can instead 'imagine' a few. After sending our characters forward to the near future, distant future and back to the past (in a parallel universe where everything happens at once), we thought we'd give poor Max The Singing Dog a break and have him as the worn-out robotic host of an Alan's Album Archives museum. Yes, some of the exhibits have stopped working and by the time of issue 1,000,000,000,000,000 our readership isn't quite as big as it was in our heyday a thousand years earlier, but a steady stream of guest-visitors nostalgic for the 21st century means we're still popular around the galaxy. Oh and if Robo-Max starts acting funny again, just give him a slap from us would you?...
4)Longest and Shortest Average AAA Running Times: (link not available yet)
Well, this took a few of my fading braincells I can tell you. After confidently saying that Oasis' "Be Here Now" had one of the longest average-running lengths per song of any AAA album I thought I'd better go back and find out what the other competitors were. The results may astound you! (Well, they might, if you're easily astounded anyway...) As if that wasn't enough, we then decided to review 'Sufin' USA' by the Beach Boys and the quest then started for the shortest average-running lengths per song of any AAA album. The results are closer than we expected, resulting in a lot of head-scratching, broken calculators, an awful lot of swearing and what we think is a genuinely pioneering article...
5) Dr Who "Lost and Found": http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/dr-who-lost-and-found-script.html
Finally, back in the Spring, when I had a bit of spare time on my hands (for what was probably the last time what with one thing and another) one of my readers said that I always seem to mention Dr Who a lot on my site (our April Fool's Day articles generally have a column on what the Dr's been up to, whatever incarnation he might be in at the time)and had I thought about expanding one of my 'fake' Dr Who stories into a proper story for this, the 50th anniversary year? I wasn't getting anywhere with any of my 'fake' stories until I suddenly had a dream about the plot of this new adventure 'Lost and Found' and, having woken up I was desperate to know what the ending was. We even followed it up with another three stories although they, err, got a bit out of hand (the Master was back for 'Remastered', filling the world with Spice Girls music that could only be prevented by downloading the complete Alan's Album Archives website in one go!) so we only printed two ('The Vikings' is available to download on this site too - check out the very bottom of our 'contents' list below) It's got nothing to do with Alan's Album Archives, but some likeminded fans might find it fun to read...
And that really is it, not just for this article, but for the whole of this year. Thankyou for being one of our Alan's Album Archives readers during the past 12 months. We've grown quite considerably this past year and hope to do so again in 2014, when we'll be inching closer to our goal of covering every single AAA album somewhere around the end of 2016. It's quite a task, but we're having fun doing it and aiming to become the most detailed (if specific) album review site on the internet. Welcome those of you who've only just joined us on our adventure, happy travels to our older readers who've been with us for a long time and a time-delayed 'hello' to those of you reading these pages years and years after they were written. We love you one and all! Have a super 2014, which is sure to be full of news, views and music all the way through!