Monday, 29 September 2008

News, Views and Music Issue 6 (Intro)

September 29:   

It’s been another week of watching things slowly travel towards fruition, here at the AAA. After having studied even more web hosts than there are classic psychedelic albums for the best part of two weeks, we’re still not totally convinced about where best to place our site. It’s been a bit like that in other AAA areas too: the new Oasis album ’Dig Out Your Soul’ is out soon but not quite yet, as are a new as-yet-to-be-titled Kinks box-set and the much-delayed CSNY tour-come-Bush-baiting documentary Déjà vu Revisited. There’s only one new AAA release to tell you about this week: yet another paving slab-sized John Lennon biography, ’The Life’. Good news: its by Phillip Norman, the ‘first’ Beatle biographer whose book ’Shout!’ is said by many to have kick-started the whole rock journalism movement and even when heavily censored by Brian Epstein and full of interviews of notably bored and jet-lagged Beatles was always engaging. Bad news: this longer, less censored, better researched book simply isn’t as good, as least to judge by the three scathing reviews of it I’ve seen.

There isn’t much to find out about Lennon and despite the promises on the back cover Norman’s only uncovered snippets rather than view-changing material. Oh and while I’m busy ranting please, biographers, if you do write about ex-Beatles, make it a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, like all good comprehensive biographies should be. The only books I’ve seen about the Beatles this century nearly all want to make the Beatles out to be either saints or devils incarnate, depending on their view. The truth, surely, is somewhere in-between—but since an impressive run in the late 1990s, all books about the Beatles seem to want to make them or break them. Odd.      

Pink Floyd news: By far the highlight of the week was David Gilmour’s appearance on ‘Later with Jools Holland’. The band, with sorely missed member Rick Wright, had been booked on the show eons ago to promote Gilmour’s new live CD/ DVD ‘live at Gdnask’, with the Poland city the last farewell stop on Gilmour’s mighty world(ish) tour of 2006-07.  But after Rick’s unexpected death a fortnight back, Gilmour surprised us all by performing a tribute to his old friend, Wright’s rare ‘Remember A Day’ from the ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’ album, a track which hardly anyone seems to know and as far as I recall has never graced the live-set of any Floyd line-up and/or spin-off. But the song has always been one of my Floyd favourites—we’d already plugged it mercilessly on this site before Rick’s death and its at #3 in our Rick Wright song tribute above—so to see Gilmour’s sensitive arrangement and interpretation of a song recorded before Dave had even joined the Floyd was marvelous indeed.

Anniversaries this week: Phil Oakey (frontman for the Human League) turns 53 on October 2nd.  Events of the week: The Beatles’ first single ’Love Me Do’ entered the charts on October 5th, 1962 and the first CSN LP, released in June 1969, turned gold on September 30th that year.       

News, Views and Music Issue 6 (Top Five): Box Sets

And this week’s top five: in honour of the forth-coming Kinks box-set (due for release in either late October or early November 2008, depending on what you read), we highlight five of the best box-sets available featuring AAA groups: (continued next page...)

5) ‘Lennon Anthology’ (1999). Unissued tracks: a whopping 94 (although many were featured on the radio series ‘lost lennon tapes’, so strictly speaking only about half of these are ‘unheard’). Dismissed at the time as a cash-in on the Beatles’ Anthology, I actually prefer this 4CD set to the Beatles’ six-CD one—there’s less of the important stuff missing and what’s there hasn’t been messed around with by editing out-takes together to create 1990s hybrids of session tapes etc (why EMI/Apple, why?!?) There are perhaps too many spoken-word dialogue-only tracks here (about 15 or so, some barely 10 seconds long) and another 20 tracks are Lennon demos which peter out after only 30 seconds or so, but the bulk of this set includes such delights as rough-hewn demos from the Plastic Ono Band + Walls and Bridges albums, plus most of the songs from the Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey albums, which sound really good without the excessive overdubs and polish those albums came with. As for the packaging, this set features one of the most moving (and longest!) essays Yoko has written to date about her late husband and 20 pages of Lennon song lyrics, some thing that’s always good to have. Highlight: Cheap Trick’s pounding version of ’I’m Losing You’, with Lennon at the end of his life sounding 20 years younger—why on earth did they nix this superior take for the comparatively laidback groove of the finished product? (allegedly, Yoko wasn’t too keen on it at the time…which is ironic given how Yoko-sponsored this set is!)

4) Grateful Dead “The Golden Road” (1999). Unreleased tracks: 39. In what was a good year for box-sets came a collection of the first 10 Grateful Dead albums from 1965-72(plus a 2CD compilation of pre-Warner Brothers live and studio recordings); with many of these re-mastered LPs double or triple albums originally and practically all of them ridiculously hard to get on CD in the UK (’Amnerican Beauty’ is the only one I’ve actually seen rather than read about). Even ignoring the albums themselves, there’s still an awful lot of unreleased bonus material to wallow in— four hours’ worth by my reckoning, mainly live recordings but with a few single mixes/un-issued studio tracks/radio spots/demos thrown into the mix too. Highlight: Pigpen’s moving ‘farewell’ song  ‘Two Souls In Communion’, the keyboardist’s last song before his death (that we ever got to hear anyway— there are reportedly later songs on bootlegs), recorded live on the European tour his doctors tried to ban him from taking. OK, this set is a lot of money and only really worth it if you’re missing most or all of these classic albums on CD, but the packaging (detailed essays and lengthy discography, plus rambling booklets with every individual CD) might just be impressive enough to swing it for you anyway.

3) ‘Buffalo Springfield’ (2000). Unreleased tracks: I lost count past 50! (there’s lots of rare mixes on offer here, even on the songs that aren’t listed as being different to the ones we know and love!) For a band who only made three (very short) albums, there’s an almighty range of rarities, out-takes and demos in this fine set. Only the 4th CD of this four CD set includes previously released material—the rest is equally divided between Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay taking turns in the spotlight, starting with the Springfield’s poppy wannabe beginnings of 1965 and ending with elaborate, discarded takes from 1968 when band members left with such regularity nobody was quite sure who was in the Springfield at any given time. The packaging could have been better and the absence of under-rated final album ‘Last Time Around’ from the re-mastered CD at the end is curious indeed, but the music itself is just fine. Highlight: a tired and slurry-sounding Stephen Stills sits at the piano, asks for the lights to be turned down and turns in a spine-chilling off-the-cuff version of his little heard draft-dodging ballad ‘Four Days Gone’. Jaw dropping stuff indeed.

2) Beach Boys “30 Years Of Good Vibrations” (1993). Unreleased tracks: depends whether you have the ‘bonus’ 6th CD or not, but even without that hard-to-find extra the total comes to an impressive 55 unreleased tracks. The box-set to end all box-sets, this takes us from the Beach Boys’ living-room recordings of 1961 up to the 1980s and impressively—given what a warring, court-case friendly band the Beach Boys had become by the 1990s — the balance between old and new, rare and loved, finished and work-in-progress is absolutely spot-on. Admittedly, a good third of the unreleased stuff is peculiar vocal/ instrumental split mixes nobody really needs, but there are still lots of classy unreleased songs here (highlights: Brian Wilson’s charming late 60s ’comedy’ songs ’HELP! Is On The Way’ and ’I Just Got My Pay’, plus his moving mid-70s where-did-it-all-go-wrong narrative ’Still I Dream Of It’, which if you’re a true Beach Boys fan who knows their troubled history inside-out is guaranteed to make you cry) and its still the best place to look for Beach Boys-era Smile recordings. As anyone who has read my gushing review of that album (101) will know, this expensive set is still worth the price for that selection of 1966 recordings songs alone. The packaging is impressive too, although the brown ‘surfboard’ cover is curiously dull for such a colourful compilation. Still, that’s no matter really—remember, as Brian tells us in an unreleased gem here, ‘love creates trust which manifests peace’. So there.

1) “CSN” (1991). Unreleased tracks: 25. This set does exactly what it says on the box by including the very best tracks by every single branch of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young family up to the early 90s (CSNY/ CSN/ C S or N solo, Crosby-Nash, Manassas, etc) and Nash’s democratic track listing divides up the spoils equally between the trio and a good 95% of the selections are spot-on. No bland live recordings, interviews or pointless remixes for this set (well, not barring three curios anyway)—instead just oodles of lengthy alternate versions and unreleased classics, including a seven-minute ’Suite: Judy Blues’ that rivals the finished take, a glorious CSNY version of Crosby-Nash’s popular ‘Homeward Through The Haze’ and a full un-edited nine-minute version of ’Almost Cut My Hair’ trimmed down to 4:19 by some record company man who obviously never heard this electrifying cut or he’d have included it all. The packaging includes a CSN family tree, CSN/Y views on every song included here and some rare photos. Still the best place to start any self-respecting CSN collection, this is a great set for CSN beginners and survivors alike.

Lulu "Lulu's Album" (1969) (News, Views and Music 6)

 An Old Favourite I’m Currently Grooving To: “Why did I choose you?!?...”  “Lulu’s Album” by, err, Lulu surprisingly, dating from 1969 when the Scottish teenager was at the end of her troubled relationship with producer Mickie Most. The earlier releases by that partnership are amazing indeed (well, apart from ‘boom-bang-a-bang’ they are anyway) and most of first album ‘Love Loves to Love Lulu’ and a myriad of classic A and B sides from 1967-69 are already reviewed here under the Music For Pleasure compilation ‘I’m A Tiger’ (review no 91). This second and last Mickie Most LP isn’t even close to being in the same league—by this time, Lulu is really beginning to resent being given old standards and twee pop songs to sing, whilst Mickie Most is chomping at the bit when Lulu’s given space to do her favoured R and B material because it messes up his own masterplan of making Lulu an all-round entertainer superstar. The album ‘Love loves’ is an uneasy hybrid of the two, but practically all the selections chosen by both sides are so spot-on for Lulu’s voice and wide-ranging talents that it gets away with it—this album, which tries to be more of the same, simply doesn’t because the songs aren’t as strong.

The range  - from Judy Garland’s sweet ’The Boy Next Door’ to Stevie Winwood’s pounding and earthy ’Gimme Some Lovin’ - is ridiculous, but take the tracks one at a time and its still an impressive album, with Lulu showing off many facets of her voice, from brash shouting to subtle daydreaming. Most loved moment: ’Gimme Some Lovin’ isn’t quite up to Lulu’s earlier pop-funk songs (’That’s Really Some Good’ from her first album ‘Shout!’ is, perhaps, the best example of that) but this song’s build from gentle groove to burning fever pitch is well-handled and Lulu’s vocally bang on the money here. Most reviled moment: ’Come September’ is the most off-key performance of Lulu’s catalogue, but this squeaking unsubtle can’t-wait-to-be-married song doesn’t exactly give her much scope to begin with (unusually, its by long-term Lulu writers Mark London and Don Black, writers of ‘To Sir With Love’ among many others, having perhaps the only off-day of their released collaborations). Star rating / 10: ♫♫♫♫ (4/10)