Monday, 20 December 2010
♫ Well, here we again at the end of another year, a year packed full of news, reviews and music. Oasis have split (so have The Who according to rumours but we’re waiting to hear officially before making it a ‘news’ stories) but Belle and Sebastian have reformed and no less than four Beatles have release box sets this year, proving there still is a market for all things AAA even if things have looked a bit bleak at times (the financial difficulties for Abbey Road, the Credit Crunch which is only hitting poor people and the election of the world’s worst prime minister). So what was your musical highlight of the year? Was it discovering this site? Was it leaving this site? Was it getting told off for chuckling over this site during a lecture when you should have been hard at work? (Sorry about that Lizzie) Please let us know on our new-look forum.
You may have noticed that our adverts, formerly for Google, are now advertising for Amazon. While we’re waiting for our appeal from Google to go through we’ve decided to switch our allegiances temporarily so have added lots of adverts to individual albums you can read about on the site. We’re also planning to add individual songs to download (as featured on out ‘gold, silver and bronze’ awards post on our forum) and add a ‘revolving’ top five based on what we’re discussing each week (so look out for links to our top five purchases of 2010!) Please let us know what you think – we hope it will make your life easier finding each album if you read about something you want to purchase and our site makes money each time you buy something through us (we have to buy the CDs coming out in 2011 some how!)
And our latest political moan: how dare David Cameron triple the price of going to university after decades of money thrown at schools to brainwash people into going and then object when the students start protesting. What the news won’t tell you, of course, is that the Government have effectively tripled the debt a whole generation will be in without consulting them or their representatives and who are the least responsible for the financial mess we’re allegedly in (why has an 18 year old got to pay for the mistakes of a bunch of 40 year old bankers? It’s absurd!) It’s like poking someone with a big stick for years and then wondering why they turn round and snarl at you when you finally hack their leg off with a chainsaw. So unlike the media, who are up in arms about ‘disgraceful behaviour’ (which amounts to a load of broken windows and a slightly alarmed heir to the throne who had a bit of paint thrown at his car) we say – good on you, just please don’t injure some innocent bystander or policeman or we’ll have to start this good relations campaign all over again. We’d even planned a ‘songs to riot to’ top five before we calmed down, looked up the law on inciting violence and decided not to (though I’ll still mention that the Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’, The Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ , The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, The Kinks’ ‘Young Conservatives’ and CSNY’s ‘Ohio’ are good songs to, erm, air your differences to).
Oh and finally, thanks to those of you who suggested what to do next with my Sims game (Of course! A house full of Spice Girls! Why didn’t I think of that! And yes its true, they really do hate each other – and The Beatles!) I’m also pleased to say that both John Lennon and George Harrison are now B-list celebrities (erm, in context of course – its hard work turning sims into superstars!) and we have at long last built an upstairs for our AAA house (with a piano!) We’ve fallen a bit behind with the CSNY house, but David Crosby and Neil Young are both doing quite well in the celebrity world – if only Neil would start signing autographs and doing some publicity and Crosby would stop talking to everyone he meets, even when they hate him, we’d be OK. More on that next issue!
♫ Abba News: OK so they aren’t strictly AAA members, but I had to tell you about the results of the channel four Abba poll to find out the nation’s favourite Abba song: The Winner Takes It All, pipping the horrible dirge ‘Dancing Queen’ into second place! Third was even better – The Day Before You Came, the group’s farewell song which didn’t even make the top 30 first time around! Could it be that my anti-Mamma Mia rant in news and views issues 19 and 21 is finally paying off?!
♫ Beatles News: More on those Lennon docs we promised last issue: my £$%&**&£$&)^(^(&)((&*!!!!$£%££%$£ set-top box messed up the ITV one (Fancy it not being repeated yet! Honestly!) but I did hear the two Lennon radio progs (‘The News York Years’) and surprisingly good they were too. The second part is very moving, in fact, with interviews claiming that Lennon had finally found peace with both the other Beatles and himself before he died (and a classic moment when Paul and Linda McCartney were found carol singing outside the Dakota building!) so look out for it on I-player before it goes. Alas, there isn’t a single Beatles-themed programme on over Christmas - the first for quite a few years, though there was quite a blitz in 2009 - however Paul McCartney is playing a couple of small venues (one of them Liverpool Academy!) around Christmas!
♫ Kinks News: Wow, The BBC have gone all Kinky this Christmas, with two whole programmes dedicated to the Davies bothers. Ray crops up first on Tuesday December 21st with an ‘Imagine’ special starting at 10.35pm and lasting an impressive 80 minutes! Titled ‘Imaginary Man’, the programme even gets ‘pick of the day’ in the xmas radio times and is described as ‘intelligent, civilised and startlingly honest’! Both Davies brothers feature in the radio two programme ‘Johnnie Walker with The Kinks’ on Thursday, December 30th at 12pm, a two hour programme based around Ray and Dave talking about their best known songs. I take back everything I’ve ever moaned at the BBC about, two whole programmes on an AAA band that aren’t The Beatles over Xmas time is remarkable! Just in case you think I’ve turned over a new leaf by not moaning, however, why is it that the CRadio Times is so flimsily made – the cover has already come off my Christmas issue and we’re barely into double digits in December! Bah humbug!
♫ Rolling Stones News: Two more AAA docs on over Xmas feature Mick ‘n’ Keef: ‘At Home With Keith Richards’ (10pm Radio Two, Tuesday December 28th) is yet another piece of tie-in publicity to go with Keef’s book (if only he’d put this much effort into the last few Stones albums!) and ‘Jagger’s Jukebox’ (12pm Radio Two Wednesday, December 29th) features Mick talking about the band’s past, with an emphasis on the ‘Exile On main Street’ re-issue that came out this year (see below!) Both programmes are presented by Paul Sexton, who must have found it extremely difficult keeping on the sides of both Stones members – let’s hope both progs don’t turn into a ‘Mick said what?!’ affair (and Mick must have been miffed that the Radio Times gave ‘choice’ to Keef’s doc and not his own!)
♫ The Who News: As we said above, it looks like the end of the road again for The Who after a couple of years of silence (although we still haven’t heard that officially – and might never hear it). More evidence comes with a solo appearance by Roger Daltrey on this year’s annual Jools Holland Hootenany on December 31st-January 1st on BBC2 (I can’t think of anyone I’d least like to spend the time with then Jools – oh hang on, yes I can, The Spice Girls!)
♫ ANNIVERSARIES: Happy Festive Birthdays to those born between December 15th-21st: Tony Hicks (guitarist with The Hollies 1963-present) turns 67 on December 16th, Keith Richards (guitarist with The Rolling Stones 1962-present) turns 67 on December 18th and Carl Wilson (guitarist with The Beach Boys 1961-1992) would have been 64 on December 21st. Anniversaries of events include: John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band play the first solo gig of any Beatle at the Lyceum in London, weeks before the announcement of a split (December 15th 1969); George Harrison breaks up the Beatles when he is deported from Germany for being underage – thankfully for music as we know it the band decamp to Liverpool and reunite in the new year (December 16th 1961); The Who bow out for the first time after 17 years on the road, after a show at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens (December 17th 1982); JohnandYoko appear in a ‘bag’ to highlight racism classism and sexism during a memorable event during London’s ‘Alchemical Wedding’ Christmas celebration (December 18th 1968); Keith Moon collapses onstage for the first time of many during a Who gig at Windsor’s Ricky Tick Club (December 19th 1965); Paul Simon enjoys his only week at #1 in the US charts of his whole solo career, with the catchy ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ (December 20th 1975); The Beatles along with other Brian Epstein-financed acts play at their first ‘Christmas Show’, in Bradford (December 21st 1963); Charlie Watts beats Keith Richards by 46 years to become the first Rolling Stone to publish a book – the Charlie Parker tribute ‘Ode To A High Flying Bird’ (December 21st 1964) and finally, Janis Joplin takes centre stage at a Stax and Volt ‘Yuletide Celebration’, belting out Christmas Carols during a party in Memphis (December 21st 1968).
♫ So, have our purchases this year been naughty or nice? Well, 2010 hasn’t has as much going for it as, say, last year (which didn’t have that much going for it either to be honest), mainly because the new releases have been so thin on the ground and those that have been new (Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Write About Love’, Ray Davies’ ‘See My Friends’ and Ringo’s ‘Y Not?’) have been rather disappointing. However, it’s not been as total waste of a year as there have been a few interesting items throughout the year, many of which were either new to CD or exquisitely packaged. There were also some very, umm, odd releases which we couldn’t possibly have guessed this time last year (such as a box set of George Harrison productions featuring Ravi Shankar, Brian Wilson doing an album of Gerhwin covers, a record fourth CD showing for The Who’s ‘Live At Leeds’ with a companion show from the same tour attached and Ray Davies duetting with Metallica on ‘You Really Got Me’ among other Kinks Klassiks)... But what were the very best purchases of the last 12 months? Here’s our AAA top five...
5) Ray Thomas “From Mighty Oaks/Hopes Wishes And Dreams” (first CD issue for albums originally released in 1973 and 1974): We all wondered what would happen once the Moody Blues re-issue bonanza of 2007 died down and I’m pleased to say Decca have gone for the next best available option – deluxe editions of the solo Moodies albums they still own the rights to, starting off with flautist Ray’s two overlooked sets making their way onto CD for the first time. While I am deeply disturbed by the £25 asking price (yes, OK, so this set comes on 4 discs but that’s because there’s a 5.1 surround sound and an ordinary CD mix of both albums – surely that shouldn’t count as a box set price?) and the lack of extras (a promo video for ‘High Above My Head’ and a brief interview), these two albums are a joy to have back out on the shelves again. Songs like the delightful ‘Adam and I’ and catchy ‘We Need Love’ are the equal of any songs from the original classic seven Moodies albums, although like all solo Moodies projects you suspect they’d sound even better with input from the other four. Still, I’ve been waiting for a re-release of both of these hard-to-find albums for some time (my vinyl copies are beginning to get quite worn!) so well done Decca – more of the same in 2011 please!
4) Otis Redding “Five Album Originals” (re-packaging of the only five solo Otis albums recorded between 1965 and 1967): Like the Jefferson Starship sets we discussed in out 2009 top five and eventually reviewed last January, there’s nothing new added to these straightforward CD re-issues of the five original albums Otis made before he died (only a couple of singles and the collaboration album with Carla Thomas are missing), but the price tag of between £10 and £15 (depending where you shop) is excellent and the vinyl-like packaging a treat. I only had two of these albums anyway, as they’re so hard to track down these days, and second album ‘Soul Ballads’ is now a firm favourite to go alongside the superlative ‘Otis Blue’ (AAA review no 4). Best of all, the record’s original sleevenotes are complete (if terribly small and hard-to-read!), including all the adverts for other albums on sale of the day, a motley collection which shows just how special and original Otis was...
3) Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street (CD re-issue of 1972 album with bonus tracks): The world went Stones mad because of this CD re-issue this summer and I’m still not quite sure why – ‘Exile’ was never my favourite Stones album despite all the hoo-hah in the past few years and the new ‘imrpoved’ sound quality has actually made this murky and slightly mysterious album sound even more ramshackle than it already was. But the surprise of the package were the eight new bonus tracks, two of them fascinatingly different alternate versions of songs we know and love (‘Soul Survivor’, for instance, features Keef on lead instead of Mick) and six new and completely unheard songs that for the most part are the equal of anything on the record. ‘Down The River’, in particular, is a beautiful ballad in ‘Wild Horses’ mould that would have been a winner had it been finished and the eerie ‘So Divine’ and rocky ‘Plundered My Soul’ aren’t far behind either. Now just one question remains: why the heck weren’t these songs added to what must be the shortest running double album in history back in 1972 (67 minutes!!) See ‘news and views’ no 61 for more on this album.
2) Oasis “Time Flies” (New 2CD compilation of material recorded between 1994 and 2007): I was bitterly disappointed with the Oasis ‘Stop The Clocks’ compilation of 2007, released when the band were still just about hanging onto their career. I even said at the time on these pages that the band should have gone for a ‘singles’ compilation instead of the always-questionable best-of, mopping up all their best known songs and some single-only tracks that had been missed out on album up to now. So full marks to the band for marking the end of their career with only their second compilation, adding a track listing which is near sensible (although why the band should feel ‘embarrassed’ about ‘Sunday Morning Call’ – one of the best songs here – and hide it away as an unlisted bonus track is beyond me). AAA fans probably already know the fantastic run of songs in the ‘classic’ 90s years, but nearly all the better 00’s songs are here too, sounding even better thanks to a running order planned with care (unlike ‘Clocks’, which sounded random). A mention too for the tie-in DVD of the same name, ‘Time Flies’, which rounds up every single promo video for all 30-odd singles (plus 12 album tracks and b-sides) – something we’d been asking for on these pages for some time - and which is by turns poignant and hilarious (especially Noel Gallagher’s deprecating commentaries!) It may well be the best single purchase I’ve made all year, it’s that good. Now could we have a follow-up to B-side set ‘The Masterplan’ next year, please, and I’ll be happy!
1) John Lennon “Signature Box” (box set featuring re-mastered editions of all eight ‘proper’ Lennon solo albums – ie not the three sound collages with Yoko – plus a new remix of the ‘Double Fantasy’ album and a CD of unreleased demos and outtakes): While it isn’t perfect (the price is too high and it wasn’t long ago the solo Lennon catalogue has its own re-issuing bonanza of its own), this box – masterminded by Yoko - is a very fitting and rather moving release in the year that should have seen Lennon’s 70th birthday and instead saw the 30th anniversary of his untimely death. All AAA readers probably know these albums, so just a quick run through: ‘Plastic Ono Band’ is the raw and honest one (AAA review no 43), ‘Imagine’ is the over-rated one with three great songs and not much else, ‘Sometime In New York City’ (news and views no 35) is an under-rated set of raw and sometimes naive political rallies, ‘Mind Games’ is an under-rated album about Lennon’s split from Yoko (news and views no 77), ‘Walls and Bridges’ is a harrowing but tuneful set from Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ (review no 63), Rock and Roll is a messy and rather pointless covers album, ‘Double Fantasy’ is a weak and saccharine return to work released just week’s before John’s death (but see below...) and ‘Milk and Honey’ a terrific set of outtakes from the ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions that blows that album out of the water and has been long overdue for aq re-issue.
The big new selling point is the CD of outtakes which mainly features yet more outtakes and demos of songs from the first LP (similar to many already heard on the ‘Anthology’ and ‘Acoustic’ sets) but is highlighted by a lovely demo for ‘Beautiful Boy’ far more moving than the finished version and the two previously unreleased (except to bootleggers) ‘Just One Of The Boys’ (a rather lovely house-husband era that could have become something special if finished) and the naive but sweet Rishikesh-era song ‘India’. However, there’s still so many fascinating Lernnon snippets that still haven’t seen the light of day yet (despite two CDs of outtakes and a four disc box set) that you can’t help but think that Yoko has another outtakes disc planned for 2020...
The surprise of the set was undoubtedly the new mix of ‘Double Fantasy’. This has always been the weakest Lennon LP of the lot me (as it is for most people born after he died – although many fans who remember the anticipation of him returning from his retirement love it, interestingly). Much as those of us who’ve been following Lennon’s story through to the end delight in hearing him happy, his music here is robbed of the edge and bite we so sorely miss and sounds too often like a course in singer-songwriting rather than an album from the heart (it is, in fact, the antithesis of the ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album, which might be why it starts with a ringing bell as opposed to the more threatening slowed-down church bell of the earlier album). It’s also ironic that Lennon’s last album should be the one that’s dated the most badly, with a quite hideous voice choir and very 80s synths often getting in the way of Lennon’s voice.
But here, with most of the extraneous arrangements taken away, Lennon’s songs have more room to breathe and resonate and his voice sounds full of the emotion we’re used to hearing. Now ‘Starting Over’ sounds like a genuine promise rather than a comeback record sales opportunity, ‘Clean Up Time’ pounces rather than saunters, ‘Beautiful Boy’ sounds more beautiful and ‘I’m Losing You’ sounds downright scary. Not everything works still: ‘Woman’ still sounds pretty awful in any version and the Yoko song ‘Every Man...’ has degenerated from one of the best and catchiest songs on the album to a tuneless piece of off-key singing. Best of all, we get to hear all the bits and pieces so badly mixed on the album they might as well not be there at all (especially the delightful Lennon dialogue on the fadeout of ‘Dear Yoko’ where Lennon breathlessly tells his wife all the parts about his time in Bermuda that he didn’t fit into his postcard ‘which is hanging up in your office now, right?!’) The mix can only improve what’s there of course, not invent something new, but this ‘stripped down’ version does help ‘Double Fantasy’ to sound more in keeping with the rest of the Lennon catalogue and reveals its hidden strengths rather than emphasising its weaknesses. I wouldn’t want to hear every album in my catalogue revised and remixed like this but for ‘Double Fantasy’ by and large it works. Perhaps the greatest moment of the whole set is when you realise that your least favourite album might suddenly become one of your favourites...
Honorary mentions too for the following, which just missed out on a top five placing: ‘Band On The Run’ (re-issue of Paul McCartney and Wings album, docked a few places because there’s not much new attached from the last re-pressing in 1999 considering the asking price of the deluxe set – although even when edited the ‘One Hand Clapping’ DVD documentary is far too good to languish in the vaults for 37 years); The Apple Box Set (OK so it doesn’t strictly feature any AAA members but various Beatles do pop up on the credits from time to time and those curious after reading my ‘Badfinger’ review will enjoy excellent re-issues of their first four albums); ‘The Midas Touch’ (Hollies compilation and the closest yet to a decent 2CD retrospective in the UK with some excellent track choices, although having the tracks in chronological order would have been nice and the two modern songs on it are horrible!); Stephen Stills/Manassas ‘Pieces’ (for one or two revealing songs as great as anything in their canon, although there’s an awful lot of boring country-tonk rehearsals to sit through); Neil Young’s ‘Dreamin’ Man’ (A nice concert of every single track from 1992’s ‘Harvest Moon’, although none of it is all that different from the LP), The Beatles’ Red and Blue compilation sets (for the few people in the world who don’t own them yet and in appreciation of their new discounted price – although the CD running time is still poor) and Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Write About Love’ (because at least its better than the awful ‘Life Pursuit’ album of 2006, if not up to past glories on first listen). Not a vintage year then, but still a good one – I wonder what’s up the record companies’ sleeves for 2011?...
See you next week for our last issue of 2010!