Monday, 15 December 2008
♫ Ho! Ho! Ho! Welcome to the first of our two Christmas special newsletters which have been carried to you by virtual reindeer sitting on a virtual sleigh, pulled by the members of Slade as penance for that Xmas single that seems to be everywhere again this year. Well, there’s not much news to tell you about again this week - except that Christmas is coming and the Spice Girls’ wallets are getting fat. Again. Still there’s enough material here to fill a Pink Floyd concept double album, so if you’re still in search of some CDs to fill some stockings stay tuned for our handy guide to the best AAA releases of 2008!
♫ Beatles news: Firstly, though, a small addition to last week’s article about the Beatles I-tunes downloads saga. Paul Gambacini was debating the issue on his radio two programme on Saturday night and guest Pete Waterman had some unusually interesting comments (alongside the usual plugs for Kylie and Jason Donovan). He said that if the Beatles do issue all their material in one go as planned then we could well see the first ever top 20 or even top 50 chart filled by a single artist, possibly for weeks on end if enough Beatle fans have converted to using MP3s and suchlike. It would be interesting to see which Beatles track comes top too as fans and newcomers should have the whole of the fab four’s 1960s catalogue to choose from (we reckon it’ll be #1 Hey Jude, #2 Yesterday and #3 A Day In The Life). Alas, though, the EMI/ Apple dispute is still going on, making this whole paragraph redundant for the time being the EMI/ Apple cry seems to be ‘don’t let me down’(load)! (Why haven’t the BBC used that joke yet? Do they not know any Beatles B-sides for goodness sake?!)
♫ CSN news: Crosby, Stills and Nash will be touring in
next year, but with a very interesting difference. Like the Rolling Stones before hand they are inviting fans to nominate their favourite songs now for inclusion in their set lists next year – only this time it won’t just be one song that’s chosen from a handful of selections but a more or less complete gig. I know we Brits won’t get to see them perform on their American tour but a) this site might make it to a worldwide search engine over the Winter without me realising and b) chances are the trio will follow it up with a British/ European tour, hopefully following the same idea. So get your nominations in now and visit . Personally, I’d love to see the band revive Crosby’s ‘Laughing’ (not performed regularly since Crosby-Nash’s concerts in the early 70s), Stills’ ‘Word Game’ (which was last a setlist regular in 1976 and – to the best of my knowledge – only performed on Stephen’s solo tours) and Nash’s ‘Another Sleep Song’ (which was most likely only performed once, for Graham’s solo appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1974). What other CSN songs would readers like to see them do? And is anyone lucky enough to get tickets? America
♫ Hollies news: Sorry for the late mention, but guitarist Tony Hicks made a rare radio appearance as Suzi Quatro’s guest on Radio Two last Saturday. Speaking about his influences, Tony chose the music that had inspired him, including the Mamas and the Papas’ ‘Monday Monday’ (he and Graham Nash attended the recording session apparently – I’d not heard that story before!), Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Don’t Run And Hide - a Hollies cover from the rare Everly Brothers album ‘Two Yanks In England’ (on which the duo are backed by the Hollies, along with guitarist Jimmy Page) and, err, a meandering song by Foreigner. We in Britain haven’t heard Tony talk at this length about his music for ages (though he used to be on German radio a lot not long ago I believe) so this was a welcome early Christmas present from Radio Two (I think its still available from the BBC’s online I-player for a couple of weeks if anyone missed it).
♫ It wasn’t mentioned on the above programme, but Tony Hicks (Hollies guitarist 1963-present) is also celebrating his birthday this week (he turns 65 on December 16th), along with Keith Richards (Rolling Stones guitarist 1963-present, although if you needed me to tell you what group he was in you’re probably looking at the wrong site!) who also turns 65 on December 18th (who would have thought looking at them that baby-faced Tony Hicks was the elder of the two?!) and Carl Wilson, who would have been celebrating his 62nd birthday on December 21st. Anniversaries of events this week include: George Harrison’s deportation from Hamburg after being found playing with the Beatles in a Hamburg club while under-age, an event which effectively splits the group up for a couple of months (December 16th 1960); The Who call it a day – for the next seven years at least – after playing a ‘farewell’ gig in Toronto on December 17th 1982 and the Beatles begin their first and only stage show, ‘The Beatles Christmas Show’, with a performance at Bradford Gaumont on December 21st 1963. Forget the lukewarm reviews of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ on telly at Boxing Day – this forgotten segment in the fab four’s history was actually the first poorly received Beatle enterprise in the general public eye and it too has a Xmassy link. , Alas, though, us post-60s fans will never know for sure – unlike the godawful Take That and Girls Aloud concerts on over Christmas this year no one thought to record it for posterity!
♫ Last Minute Yoko Ono News: Mrs Lennon is celebrating 50 years of being an artist with an exhibition of many of her works in
London ( Gateshead I think, but my shorthand let me down taking down this news item this morning!) Lots of the displays will be well known to Beatle fans, including an ‘Imagine Peace’ banner, a video of the JohnandYoko Amsterdam bed-in for peace and, most movingly, a step-ladder leading up to the word ‘yes’ written on a ceiling (the art piece that brought the pair together at a similar back in 1968). Sadly, there has been no mention of the Yoko trademark ‘grapefruit’ on any of the news reports – get that book reprinted Yoko! Whether your avent grateful or avent garde a clue (joke copyright George Harrison 1969) it might be worth a trip if you’re a fellow Beatlesnut.
♫ We end this newsletter and wave an early goodbye to 2008 with our latest top five – the best releases of the year. It’s not been a vintage year for fans of AAA artists by any means, but we have had a smattering of juicy re-issues (with an emphasis on complete unreleased live performances this year I’ve noticed) and a few return-to-form new releases to savour throughout 2008 and beyond.
5) “Bark”/ “Long John Silver” (Jefferson Airplane, 1971/72). It may seem strange that I’m listing probably the two worst records out of a handful the original Airplane ever made as one of the best CD sets of the year – especially as this set has no bonus tracks included - but there’s a reason for my madness. These two sets may not be vintage Airplane but they are far too good to have waited a staggering 21 years since the first sale of a CD player to be re-issued and re-released, especially ‘Bark’ which has more than its fair share of minor gems lurking between the filler material. Both albums are also a case in point for how good CD mastering can be when it’s done right – both albums sounded horribly, often unplayably murky on vinyl, as if the Airplane’s fine band interplay was going on down a wind tunnel somewhere just out of ear-shot. While neither album sounds ‘clear’ in the traditional sense on CD, it’s still nice to hear them in their ‘true’ state at long last and both of these neglected and rather unloved sets are in firm need of appraisal. Alas, though, it’s a sign of our times that I never saw this set in the shops even once – I had to order mine from a mail order catalogue and even that doesn’t seem to be listing this CD set anymore.It’s worth seeking out though, if only to hear Grace Slick insulting the world in German – because, as she correctly guessed, the American censors would be too lazy to translate it!
4) “The Present” (Moody Blues, 1983). Another album long long loooong overdue for a proper CD re-issue (it came out as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it set in the late 80s which I have never seen once in 15 years of collecting all things Moodies, even at some exorbitant price in a second-hand shop), this set and its two companions (‘Octave’ and ‘Long Distance Voyager’) are often overlooked in the Moodies’ back catalogue. None of these first three reunion sets can compare to the band’s original seven – but then what can? ‘The Present’ is a particularly sturdy set, full of glorious Justin Hayward ballads, a classic moody Graeme Edge piece, some of the better uptempo John Lodge songs of the later Moodies era and Ray Thomas seemingly going mad at the end of the album – all pretty much for the last time, sadly, as in my opinion only Hayward seems to be intermittently on form on any of the band’s later albums. And like all good Moodies releases, it’s commercial and catchy without sacrificing depth; full of then-contemporary technology without sacrificing the classic late 60s sound that the Moodies mined better than pretty much everyone in their day. Alas the bonus tracks on all three sets were a bit of a let down but, hey, it’s Christmas, forgive and forget.
3) “Déjà vu” (
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young DVD, 2008). Social commentary is always a hard thing to control in popular mainstream music – ignoring issues going around you for the whole of your career can make an artist seem ‘soft’ and unimportant, while throwing yourselves into a cause head-first puts off all of your fan-base that don’t think the same way as you. But CSNY at their best – whether solo, in pairs, as a trio or, rarely, as a quartet – have always done their best to reflect their times and give their fans a voice that otherwise might not be heard. For the first time in too long, this Neil Young dominated DVD finds the band flying head-first down the ‘social comment’ road, with every song on this 2006 tour a dig at George Bush’s ‘fake’ presidency somewhere down the line. The audience at the concerts don’t know what to make it, half of them cheering and half of them jeering, but for CSNY fans with open minds this tour souvenir was a welcome reminder of how brave and how special this band really are. All together now, ‘Let’s impeach the president for lying…’
2) “Electric Arguments” (The Fireman aka Paul McCartney and Youth, 2008). I doubt they’ve even heard of my website, but since my review for this album (newsandreviews 13a) every critic in the land seems to have joined in and called this album ‘McCartney III’ in honour of the two experimental, improvised albums that came out either side of Macca’s Wings discography. Temporally escaping from his world tour band for the first time in three albums, this is the special, experimental side of McCartney’s character that we don’t get to see very often and – after more or less 15 years in the wilderness – few of us ever thought we’d see throughout a whole album again. Performing under a pseudonym and giving full reign to his improvisation skills seems to have given Mr Macca new lease of life at long last, freed of his huge overbearing weight of a musical past and allowing him to go back to actually enjoying his music. Linda, always the biggest supporter of Macca’s more eccentric tastes, would have been dead proud. Heather Mills, on the other hand, seems to have been uncharacteristically stunned into silence after the release of this album and its uncharitable Mills-slaying opening track. More please Macca!
1) “Pacific Ocean Blue”/ “Bambu” (Dennis Wilson, 1977 and unreleased recordings, mainly from 1979). We Beach Boys fans have waited for a proper CD release of this album for so long, it positively hurt. And, unlike many ‘lost gems’ (Brian Wilson’s ‘Smile’ firmly excluded) this album didn’t disappoint. Here’s drummer Dennis Wilson at the crossover point of his life – his voice already gruff and lived in after years of excess and success, but still functioning well enough to put his sorrows into words and with oh so much on his mind. The second CD, full of tracks from an unfinished but still album-length follow-up release ‘Bambu’, is just as good if not better. Taken together, these two projects sounds like Tony Asher’s confused and lovestruck lyrics from ‘Pet Sounds’ set to the raging, ever-changing and always engaging music of ‘Smile’, all set to heartbreaking orchestral accompaniment, Dennis’ razor-sharp heartmelting voice and a large dollop of help from fellow genius and baby brother Carl Wilson. Which, as almost any Beach Boys fan will tell yopu, as good as music is ever going to get. Take ‘Smile’ out of the equation (and the Hollies’ long-lost 1973 album ‘Out On The Road’, issued in the
for the first time in 2005) and this album is a strong candidate for best release of the decade by any artist. It was certainly the highlight of my year. UK
Other new releases of the year you might have missed:
♫ Belle and Sebastian “The BBC Sessions”
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young “Déjà vu Live” (soundtrack CD)
♫ David Gilmour (and Rick Wright) “Live In
♫ Graham Gouldmann and Kevin Godley aka 10cc “Clever Clogs” (live DVD with new material)
♫ Grateful Dead “Live In
1978” (previously unreleased live recording) Egypt
♫ Jefferson Starship “Tree Of Liberty” (a series of covers of ‘influential’ songs)
♫ The Kinks “Music Box” (6 CD box-set with a dozen unreleased tracks)
♫ Moody Blues “Octave” and “Long Distance Voyager” (first proper CD issues of old material)
♫ Oasis “Dig Out Your Soul”
♫ Rolling Stones “Shine A Light” (DVD and live soundtrack CD)
♫ Cat Stevens “Tea For The Tillerman” (Deluxe Re-issue)
♫ Brian Wilson “That Lucky Old Sun”
♫ Neil Young “
” (one of Neil’s ‘Archive’ live recordings from 1968) Sugar Mountain
Well that about wraps it up for another issue – see you next week for our last newsletter of 2008 and our last here at the AAA before our Winter break (set to include the top five AAA-related Xmas songs!) Happy listening till then!