Thursday, 12 May 2011
Well, it’s that time of year again when our voting system promises much but fails to deliver, when we look back on all the cliques that have formed over the past year, try to sum up where we feel our country is going and who can put it right and try to put up with the experts gurning to the cameras about how it will all turn out. But this year’s Eurovision Song Contest (what did you think I meant?) looks pretty good if the footage I’ve seen is anything to go by. And it’s set me thinking – how about another competition dear readers? Simply email me at email@example.com or write on our forum about what you think our best article is from the (gulp) 208 currently out there in the ether (it may even be this one!) I promise that I’ll make the marking system a bit easier to follow than the usual Eurovision and I won’t draw things out with two semi-finals but I think it’ll be interesting to see how our readership has changed since our beginnings: will it be the oh so sad obits that win the most votes? The deadly earnest reviews of obscure reviews? My slightly more reluctant reviews of known LPs? Our deeply unserious April Fool’s Day pastiches? Just drop us a line and let us know! Oh and in the meantime nobody’s taken me up on my competition to order you any AAA album on CD off Amazon (barring boxed sets and flipping rare and pricey releases!) to the first person who drops us an email about why they want a particular album. C’mon people, surely you can’t have bought everything out there! Especially as there’s been 6000 hits on our website as of this week! Yahey! In the meantime, here’s the news views and other musings in blue suede shoes and we’re up in the skies, so to speak, for our review and top ten...
First up, we have to report the sad news that John Maus aka John Walker, guitarist with the Walker Brothers has died of liver cancer aged 67. Whilst we usually reserve this space for AAA members John was crucial to the lives of two AAA men: Beach Boy Carl Wilson, who was in part taught guitar by John during the Beach Boys’ earliest days and Hollie/CSN-man Graham Nash, who used his first bit of spare time after leaving The Hollies to co-write ‘Annabella’, John’s first solo single after the band split. Those who want to know more should look out for the excellent book ‘Our Story’ by John and Gary Leeds which came out a few years ago – thankfully John was in time to write down his tales and memories of the 1960s. He will be missed.
♫ Beach Boys News: Brian Wilson is the latest AAA superstar whose had to put with the ignominy of appearing with the world’s most irritating music presenter, Jools Holland. On Friday May 13th at 10pm and again at 11.50pm in an extended version of the live programme (?!) you can see Brian performing snatches from the soon-to-be-released-we-hope archive set of Beach Boys era Smile recordings – if the producers can fit in enough time to show the musical genius in between bouts of Jools Holland waving his arms around the room and pointing while forgetting people’s names, conducting inane interviews about what a musician has eaten for breakfast, telling everyone their new LP is his ‘favourite of all time’ or insisting on playing hopeless boogie woogie piano behind his guests. Also appearing on the show are Brian’s big inspiration Randy Newman (during his bed-bound days Brian reportedly spent months on end listening to Newman’s single ‘Sail Away’), Alison Krauss (who?!) and the Later’s idea of an up and coming live act The Arctic Monkeys. With all that lot Brian will be lucky to get a quick ‘Good Vibrations’ in!
♫ Beatles News: At last, a marriage proposal I can be interested in! Yes move over Prince and Princess Kills and Weight (well, he is in the army and that’s all people seem to be saying about her) Paul McCartney announced on Friday, May 6th that he had become engaged to his girlfriend of four years Nancy Shevell. Macca has been notably reluctant to be seen with miss Shevell in public following the press hoot that was the Heather Milles era (I still don’t think we’re anywhere near to the truth of learning what went on between those pair) and most fans are probably rather puzzled at the news, but we say good on Sir Macca for managing to keep his private life private. There are no more details as yet and the happy couple haven’t set a date for the wedding yet – nor, one suspects, will Macca reveal whether there’ll be a pre- nuptial this time around. And unlike other music journals who’ll talk about nothing else that’s all we’ll say on the matter, honest!
More Macca news for you now as we return to the tracklisting for issues two and three in the ‘McCartney Archives’ series (‘Band On the Run’ came out for Xmas). Further to the news featured in last week’s issue, both ‘McCartney’ and ‘McCartney II’ are being re-released in multi 2CD or 3CD/1 DVD formats although in truth the DVD tracklistings are a little bit disappointing (music promo videos already available on the ‘McCartney Collection’ plus clips from ‘Unplugged’ ‘One Hand Clapping’ and Wings’ Kampuchea benefit in 1979 – which oddly aren’t included on 1980’s ‘Macca II’ but 1970’s ‘Macca One’!) In fact the track selection for McCartney is poor all round: the second CD features no real new recordings (if you own the Kampuchea film from 1979 at least) and is mainly filled with re-recordings from 1974, 1979 and 1992 rather than period outtakes, barring the first full issue of the unreleased song ‘Suicide’ (heard briefly at the end of the album’s ‘Hot As Sun-Glasses’ medley) – a McCartney song so bad that not even the awful and song-blind Frank Sinatra refused to sing it (he did George Harrison’s ‘Something’ instead – crediting it as the best song ‘Lennon and McCartney ever wrote’ – always worth a quick snigger that bit of trivia!)
‘McCartney II’ looks better, featuring all of the alternate versions we mentioned last issue which have been available on bootleg for years, back when the set was meant to be a double-vinyl Wings spin-off set rather than a single solo career rebranding purchase. Highlights include no less than five unreleased tracks: ‘Blue Sway’ ‘All You Horseriders’ ‘Bogey Wobble’ ‘You Know I’ll Get You Baby’ and ‘Mr H Atom’, although only the first and last of these are in anyway interesting. Better still many of the ‘Macca II’ songs are transformed – an unedited ‘Coming Up’ runs nearly six minutes, there’s an instrumental version of ‘Summer’s Day Song’ I prefer to the original, there’s an unedited ‘Check My Machine’ that makes more sense running to eight minutes than four, a much improved extended ‘Darkroom’ and slightly longer edits of quirky instrumentals ‘Frozen Jap’ and ‘Front Parlour’. Alas ‘Bogey Music’ sounds just as dire as ever! The track listing also mentions a rehearsal of ‘Coming Up’ – which is odd given that it’s such a one-take multi-overdub type song but sounds promising. The DVD though has little new to add bar the usual ‘Coming Up’ and ‘Waterfalls’ vids, although there is at least some more Kampuchea footage and a documentary on how the ‘Plastic Macs’ band for the former project was formed (ie how McCartney played with himself several times over!) Alas there’s still no release for the rare audio-only ‘The McCartney Interview’ released to DJs in 1980 to promote the album and now among the rarer McCartney records of all!
♫ Hollies News: Maybe it’s because we keep plugging it on our pages, maybe because it’s so brilliant, maybe it’s because it’s so cheap or maybe its because finally EMI have done the decent thing and issued a Hollies set properly, but the new Hollies six disc box set ‘The Clarke-Hicks-Nash Years’ is at #1 on the Amazon music box set lists and is now sold out! On the very day of release! Wow! To be honest I should be really cross because I haven’t got around to ordering myself a copy yet but who cares – The Hollies are back at #1 where they rightfully belong! Yippee! Let’s hope this unexpected success means a Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks years box set will be out soon!
ANNIVERSARIES: Happy interstellar birthdays to the following AAA members born between May 14th and 20th: Pete Townshend (guitarist with The Who 1965-82 and various reunions) turns 66 on May 19th. Anniversaries of events include: The Beatles cause consternation up and down the country by – shock horror – refusing an invitation to play for The Queen at the London Palladium (does the silly woman not read the news for crying out loud? The Beatles hadn’t played a gig in two years by then! May 14th 1968); Pink Floyd get into serious trouble with the organisers after a gig at London’s Crystal Palace when, due to a combination of their blistering sound system and use of a 50-foot inflatable octopus, half the fish in the lake nearby die (May 15th 1970); Pete Townshend will have bad memories of a who gig at the Fillmore East – tired of seeing fans climbing onto the stage, Pete kicks one off during the middle of the set only to find out it is a policeman! He spends a night in prison on assault charges (May 16th 1969); The Beatles headline their first ever concert in the exotic location of Slough following the success of ‘Please Please Me’ during a Helen Shapiro tour (May 18th 1963); Dire Straits release their debut single ‘Sultans Of Swing’ (May 19th 1979); Three Beatles get back together for an impromptu jam session to celebrate Eric Clapton’s wedding to George Harrison’s ex Patti Boyd, the first time more than two moptops have been seen in public since 1970 (May 19th 1979); The BBC bans a Beatles track for the first time – no, not the drugs-referenced ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ or the subversive ‘Revolution’ but ‘A Day In The Life’ (and its not even the ‘love to turn you on’ postscript but the line about ‘4000 holes’ relating to drug injections) (May 20th 1967) and finally Our AAA classic no 50 – the first Stephen Stills/Manassas album – is released (May 20th 1972).
Another report from Live Earth 1974: Peace brothers, sisters, belobrats and clandusprods! So what else could possibly follow the Grateful Dead playing the whole of their ‘Mars Hotel’ album at the Mars Hotel? Well, this lot actually: While struggling to get into my intergalactic hotel room on Mars, I came across the following AAA bands and musicians all checking in to play their own alien-themed sets (once the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra, made up of various members of CSNY, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane had finished playing their jam session there anyway!) All our AAA friends looked a bit lost and curious at first but all soon became clear when the proprietor of the Mars Hotel came along to tell us about the world’s first intergalactic benefit concert for the inhabitants of the Earth and had ‘beamed up’ some of our leading musicians to take part with some space-themed songs. And this is what they played...:
10) Neil Young “Lost in Space” (a track from the 1980 album ‘Hawks and Doves’): ‘Live with me’ starts this innocent-sounding ballad, one of the obscurer Neil Young tracks of the period. The song soon moves to some weird and wonderful places though with the arrival of the ‘Underwater Munchkins’ as they’re dubbed on the record, a group of high-pitched sped up Neil Youngs singing about their new home. Neil’s narrator, meanwhile, is ‘out of control, singing with too much soul’, alienated in his own little world ‘working for the Queen’. Along the way we get some ecology messages: ‘Don’t take out that magic pen, don’t draw on the infinity board’ that sounded to the audience on Mars like a message to mankind dabbling with things where nature knows best, before adding how we’d all do better to ‘start again on the ocean floor’. An uncomfortable, rambling, confusing song more like Dylan than Young, but nevertheless impressive enough to get the multi-limbed’ audiences 15 toes a tapping.
9) The Beach Boys “Solar System” (a track from the 1977 album ‘The Beach Boys Love You’): Next came the Beach Boys who – after quick band bust-up – took off for Venus, leaving just Brain Wilson to sing a solo version of his pretty much soplo recording ‘Solar System’. A charming childlike track, dating from Brian’s in-bed period, it’s a tale of Brian looking through the telescope at all the planets in turn and wondering what it all means. You know what to expect really: ‘Neptune is God of the sea, Pluto is too far to see’, although there is a quick laugh from the inhabitants of the planet with the line ‘If Mars had life on it, I might find my wife on it’. Brian got a few marriage proposals that night I can tell you! There was a tense moment from the ambassador from planet Uranus, however, whose home planet was the only one in Earth’s solar system not actually mentioned by Brian in song.
8) Nils Lofgren “Trip To Mars” (a track from the 1995 album ‘Damaged Goods’): Next comes a home favourite , much loved by the citizens of Mars (who due to a biological quirk all wear bandanas like Nils’ and spend their days bouncing on trampolines) singing his best-known (on Mars) song ‘Trip To Mars’. It’s actually a schizophrenic song about the grown narrator feeling ‘violence’ inside and thinking ‘there must be more to living than this’ before remembering a happier childhood time when he didn’t have to keep face or stick to the rules and could dream of taking his friends ‘on a trip to mars’. There was even a multi-species choir, made up of beings from all over the galaxy joining in on the chorus: ‘Gotta get some dreams into my life, gotta get some life into my dreams’.
7) Oasis “D’yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?” ( B-side to the single ‘Shakermaker’ 1994): ‘Ere’ what’s going on?’ Noel Gallagher’s meant to have said when he was beamed up by the citizens of Mercury and found himself looking into some very familiar faces with shaggy eyebrows and deep thick hair. A stiff drink with a pangalactic gargleblaster later and Noel was ready to run, giving the crowd a brief sojourn of one of his earliest pre-Oasis songs, taking up Nils Lofgren’s themes about childhood dreams of trips into space. Alas, though, the narrator in the song soon wakes up and finds himself an adult again, ruing all his missed opportunities along the way. Sniff, it brings a tear to your three eyes doesn’t it?
6) Paul McCartney and Wings “Venus and Mars” (title track of 1975 album ‘Venus and Mars’): At long last – the reunion of one of the Gamma Quadrant’s favourite bands! Yes, the middle line-up of Wings were back together again, if only briefly, with Jimmy McCulloch beamed back into life using the aliens’ ghost technology. Paul chose to do the two parts of his ‘Venus and Mars’ song as a medley, with a first verse about ‘sitting in the stands of the sports arena, waiting for the show to begin’ applauded by the crowd, before a friend searching the stars for the truth turns out to be on Venus and Mars looking back at the Earth on part two, in the hall of a ‘great cathedral’ waiting for the spaceship to take him home. Magical. The hosts even managed to provide proper 3D billiard balls representing the planets to re-create the album front cover for the backdrop – with Earth a kind of muddy gray. Paul was also delighted to introduce the next act, again rehabilitated by alien technology...
5) Yes it was his old sparring partner John Lennon, who had been invited to interrupt the music with a tale about what he had been doing in the afterlife and the first time he’d been visited by aliens. Unable to tell his fans and unwilling to put the thoughts into his music during a period when everyone thought he was mad, Lennon instead wrote the intriguing message ‘I saw a UFO October 1974’ on the inner sleeve of his ‘Walls and Bridges’ album. Lennon did too – it was his hosts from Mars trying to book him in for the gig early because they knew he’d be booked up for many decades to come!
4) Dave Davies “True Story” (a track from the 1983 album ‘Chosen People’): Next up is the only musician to have been visited by aliens and not kept quiet about them, the Kinks guitarist who revealed much about the aliens and their messages to him and to the planet in his illuminating autobiography ‘Kink’. His song ‘True Story’ from his overlooked third solo album ‘Chosen People’ is his most revealing song of many on the theme, with the aliens chanting in suitably alien voices: ‘We have a message for you...Your leaders will not listen...You can make them understand’, while Dave wails over the top ‘But what can I do? I’m just a poor boy and they won’t understand’. Why even the Earth ambassador Michael Jackson (you didn’t think he was human did you?!) cried during that performance!
3) The Byrds Medley: “Hungry Planet” into “Mr Spaceman” into “Space Odyssey” (tracks from the 1970 album ‘Untitled’, the 1966 album ‘5D (Fifth Dimension) and the 1968 album ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers’ respectively): ...And of course the great message given to Dave Davies was an ecological one about how humans were ruining their planet, so imagine their delight when Earthman Roger McGuinn revealed that he had had exactly the same concerns more than 40 years ago. ‘Hungry Planet’ is a driving rocker about how humans always want more from their planet’s natural resources and the narrator wants to get off, sick of all that greed, with the peculiar synthesiser effects of the original replaced by the Neptune Squirlygig machine, an update of the Earth mellotron. The song then moved onto the Byrds’ relative flop single ‘Mr Spaceman’, with the similar demands that passing aliens take the narrator up ‘for a ride’ because he’s the one who feels alien on Earth. It took a long time explaining to the varied audience what ‘toothpaste’ was but apart from that the lyrics went down a treat! The medley then ended with McGuinn’s ‘sea shanty in space’ with the human race venturing outside their boundaries in all senses of the word, seeing pyramids on other planets and yo-ho-hoing their way across the eternal wastes of space. The dates were a bit wrong (in ’93 and ’96 we ventured to the moon’ – strange because as all good solar system inhabitants apparently know, the moon is really a hollow spaceship left by a clumsy astronaut from Venus) but apart from that this early song about human pioneers went down well!
2) Pink Floyd Medley: “Astronomy Domine” into “Interstellar Overdrive” into “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” (tracks from the 1967 album ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” (tracks 1 and 2) and the 1968 album ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’ respectively): The concert was drawing to a close now and the three moons of Jupiter, just visible on Mars, were coming out into the night’s sky. But that didn’t seem to bother Pink Floyd , who were enjoying playing with their old line-up again (Syd and Rick back with Dave, Roger and Nick once again). The band’s opening track from their debut LP kicked things off, with its tale of ‘Neptune, Titan, Stars Can Frighten’ and a pulsating bass riff and powerful drums that the Iceman visitors from Pluto said reminded them of the great war of 44 Quabrahad BC. The medley then took a left turn into the driving madness of instrumental ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, a quite exhilarating ride, before finally ending with the moody eerie ‘Set The Controls...’, as Roger Waters’ made spaceman decides to commit suicide. The whole track ended in inspired madness as ‘little by little the night comes around’ and a nice touch was added when the Mars Hotel placed an oil-lamp against a back-drop of stars, really giving the audience the feel that they were back out in space. Alas all too soon the show came to a close leaving us with...
1) Jefferson Airplane and Starship Medley: “I Wanna See Another World” into “Alien” into “Have You Seen The Saucers?” and highlights from the “Blows Against The Empire” album (tracks from 1975’s ‘Red Octopus’, 1981’s ‘Modern Times’ and a 1969 single respectively, as well as the 1971 magnum opus by Grace Slick and Paul Kantner): At last, after several hybriddat hours of playing, the great benefit night was coming to an end with only one act left to play. But oh what a set they gave us, with the multi Airplane/Starship band all onstage for the first time giving us some of their career highlights. Kantner’s storming song of protest came first, with its lines about anger and confusion over Earth policies coming to a head now the narrator has children to take care of, with the whole audience joining in on the lines about ‘looking up to the sky’ for direction. The song then segues into the eerie, other-worldly and delightfully noisy ‘Alien’, in reality of course a song about alienation and paranoia, with Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick duetting on this Pete Sears song about not fitting in and a panicked Earth official asking for ‘details of birth’ while the whole multi-species crowd chanting ‘alien!’ The medley then hooks back to the familiar Jorma Kaukanen and Jack Casady criss-crossing lines as the band played ‘Have You Seen The Saucers?’, the first real rock song about how Governments are lying to us about the existence of aliens and how most humans would be too blind to see them anyway, on a planet with ‘no room left for brotherhood’. There was then an exhilarating final half-hour with selections from the Starship spin-off project ‘Blows Against The Empire’, dedicated by Marty Balin to ‘star children everywhere’ with ‘Let’s Go Together’ ‘A Child Is Coming’ ‘Sunrise’ (‘Surprise! Innocent man!’ cackles Grace through the song) ‘Hijack’ ‘Have You Seen The Stars Tonight?’ and ‘Starship’ itself bringing the concert to a close. And all together with the chorus now: ’30,000 light years from the planet of my birth, 3000 years to the future, poets of the Earth re-classify my birth to fit it with the planetary sculpture!’, a line that had every being in the audience in an uproar of delight. Those who had feet were on them, those who had limbs clapped them and those who could do nothing else simply flew around above their seats. Breathtaking – let’s hope the next Live Solar System benefit is every bit as good!
That’s all for another issue! We hope to be back with you next week – although I’ve just noticed that they’ve just dropped me off on the wrong planet! I don’t live on Theta Minor! Help! Nasa spend a spaceship! Mind you, what with the Coalition, I’ll think I’ll stay up here for a bit – it seems less alien to me somehow...