Monday, 17 December 2012
The AAA Review Of The Year 2012 (News, Views and Music Issue 175)
In 2010 we said that it was like the year 1963 all over again: a triple lot of Beatles re-issues (their group albums in mono and stereo box sets, plus the start of Macca’s solo re-issue series), Keith Richard’s book causing controversy and some long overdue interest in The Searchers. That meant by proxy that 2011 was 1964 and so it proved: The Hollies were everywhere with their first official documentary, a box set and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame appearance, with cameos by The Kinks (a documentary each on Ray and Dave Davies) and yet more from The Beatles (via a George Harrison book and documentary). 2012 has therefore logically carried on this theme – and helped me fill out this introduction for yet another year - by being like 1965. The Beatles and Stones celebrated big anniversaries (50 years each, questionable in both cases as the former chose the date Ringo joined the band and their first single not when they formed, while the latter hadn’t yet added Bill Wyman or Charlie Watts to the band in 1962) and proper releases for some of their rarer material (Magical Mystery Tour and unreleased 1965 concert film ‘Charlie Is My Darling’ respectively). The Beach Boys were big news too – especially in Europe – thanks to an unexpected reunion tour (one that, sadly, ended the way we all expected after 20 years of continual in-fighting). The Who followed up their ‘director’s cut’ re-issue of Quadrophenia last year with a new documentary on the album, the release of Pete Townshend’s autobiography (first mooted as far back as 1981) and easily the best musical performance at the Olympics (which makes Roger Daltrey Usain Bolt – and the Spice Girls moaning cheat Oscar Pistorius). The Kinks were still there too with a new BBC compilation and a best-of. Meanwhile The Small Faces’ back catalogue was plundered again – this time with decidedly better (if pricey) results. The Monkees, too, might not have been around in 1965 but very much dominated the musical news after the sad death of the much missed Davy Jones (amazingly the only AAA member we lost this year) and the unexpected reunion of the other three. In fact only The Byrds were missing from the AAA crowd of 1965, which means logically that if 2013 is a mirror of 1966 then we’re in for one hell of a year...
However, even though we had quantity galore this year in the shape of new albums, re-issues, rarities, box sets, BBC recordings and especially a bumper crop of documentaries (my poor DVD recorder’s been worked to death these past 12 months!) we haven’t always had quality. The six AAA releases we list in our ‘releases of the year’ section below are all re-issues of previously released albums/singles/bbc sessions with something extra added – releases that admittedly sound better than ever thanks to new tracks/new documentaries/new packaging, but the very small handful of all-new AAA releases this year were sadly uniformly atrocious. The Beach Boys sounded like they’d been together 5000 years not 50, Neil Young released two of his most questionable record-em-quick records and Paul McCartney turned into a crooner for possibly his most misguided album ever. At least 2011 had the excellent first Beady Eye album and half-decent records by Noel Gallagher and Paul Simon going for it – by comparison 2012 was an argument for how badly the music scene is nowadays even for our heroes and heroines, pressurised into releasing dross. Let’s hope for better in 2013: we still have the long-awaited batch of CSNY releases promised (a ‘Stills’ box set to go alongside the ‘Crosby’ and ‘Nash’ ones, plus the first legal issue of the quartet’s record attended show at Wembley in 1974), possibly more from Belle and Sebastian and the ever-busy Neil Young, ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’ is set to be 2013’s McCartney deluxe edition and we might finally get a proper legal version of The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ film on DVD to follow ‘MMTour’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’ into the shops (don’t hold your breath though...)
THE BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
1) Pink Floyd “The Wall” (Experience Edition)
Re-issues were definitely the best releases of the year and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ carried on their excellent but bank-breaking re-issue series. I actually preferred this set to both the ‘Dark Side’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ sets at the end of last year, simply because the ‘unreleased material’ was all so different this time around without any ‘fillers’ like alternate mixes or live versions. The main reason for buying this hideously overpriced set was the chance to hear Roger Waters’ legendary unreleased ‘demo’ version of the entire album (played to the band in 1978 alongside Roger’s demos for ‘The Pros and Cons Of Hitch-Hiking’, of which only one track sadly made this box). What strikes you is how even the roughest and readiest of these songs already have a magic and mystery about them, with Roger’s overdubbed voice already at full emotional stretch across these songs. The one new ‘song’ ‘Teacher’ was a bit of a disappointment, but the alternate six versions of ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ gave fans a great chance to hear the song (which starts off here as a composite of all three versions) develop over the months Roger worked on it (sounding very different without the children’s choir overdubbed near the end of the sessions) and ‘Comfortably Numb’ aka ‘The Doctor’ sounds so different without Gilmour’s contribution and with its original lyrics that it made you completely re-evaluateperhaps the most important Floyd song of them all. Best of all we also heard a cracking demo of ‘What Shall We Do Now?’ a song heard on the film soundtrack and live appearances but senselessly booted off the album in favour of the similar but inferior ‘Empty Spaces’. You probably won’t play any of these ‘new’ tracks that often for fun and few of these versions compete with the finished product, but the sheer difference between the Wall’s first bricks in 1978 and its last polished coat in 1980 came as a welcome shock to many fans, me included and just about moves this box set into our pole position. The coasters and knick-knacks are nice, too, but – frankly – this set would have been better still with the packaging pared down to the bones and re-released at a sensible price (still that’s not really the Floyd way...)
(Highlights to download - 'What Shall We Do Now? 'The Doctor' 'Another Brick In The Wall' (Six Versions)
2) Paul and Linda McCartney “Ram” (Deluxe Edition)
Talking about excessive packaging, the fourth album in the McCartney re-issue series was the best yet. I’ve always been particularly fond of ‘Ram’ which is a real fan’s album – if you love the quirky side of Macca’s writing in the Beatles and don’t expect the hits you know and love then this album will - along with ‘London Town’ and ‘Press To Play’ - become your new best friend. Again for the price there’s painfully little here in terms of new material, with CD 1 the album in stereo, CD3 the album in mono (there’s not that much difference really), CD4 the ‘crooner’ version of the album released by Macca under his ‘Percy Thrills Thrillington’ persona (nice to have properly re-issued but hardly essential listening for 99% of fans) and CD2’s rarities disc contains just four entirely ‘new’ tracks: the much bootlegged but terrific ‘A Love For You’, the surprisingly noisy jam session ‘Rode All Night’ and two instrumentals from the planned feature length cartoon of ‘Rupert The Bear’. The DVD has some nice moments though: Paul and Linda sing ‘Hey Diddle’ while their children play, the rare promo to ‘3 Legs’ as well as the more common ‘Heart Of The Country’, a sweet 10 minute making of (that could – and should – have been a lot longer) and a fascinating film of Wings on tour shot by drummer Denny Seiwell (which is actually out of place here and should be with ‘Wildlife’), though not up to the surprises of the ‘Macca II’ and ‘Band On The Run’ sets. So why do we rate it so highly? The packaging is so much fun and entirely suitable to the album – there’s a flick book of photos of Paul’s sheep, there’s Paul’s original hand-drawn lyrics scribbled in crayon and re-printed in colour complete with crossings out and six glossy photos taken by Linda. ‘Ram’ is an album all about returning to the heart of the country and the hand-made feel of this set captures that nicely, especially as everything here is tied up with home-made string, with a human being having actually touched the thing (a rarity in this day and age). The book is also the best of the four, Macca having actual genuine memories about this record that, to boot, he hasn’t spoken about ad infitum in the past (as per ‘Band On The Run’). I’d like to see this set cut in half in price terms (Macca really doesn’t need all this money anymore surely?) – yes there are smaller, cheaper versions of this album around but they look ordinary without the packaging – but ‘Ram’ was always one of Macca’s better ideas and it now looks and sounds better than ever.
(Highlights to download - 'Too Many People' 'Heart Of The Country' 'Long Haired Lady' 'Back Seat Of My Car' 'A Love For You')
3) 10cc “Tenology”
I’ve waited a long time for 10cc to get the box set they deserve – and sadly I’m still waiting, although this does at least do half a job of capturing the band’s amazing journey. Recently released at the time of going to print, this set’s packaging capture’s the band’s zany humour (lots of Hipgnosis drawings fans can spend hours unscrambling and some free postcards featuring the band’s heads’ cut into sections like some musical biology project) and finally looks past the band’s hits for their deeper album tracks (although there’s still an unnecessary disc of ‘hits’ included – as if a casual fan who doesn’t already own these songs on various £5 compilations is going to fork out £50 on this set). Frankly there’s not as many rarities as I’d like – fans of this site will know I rate 10cc’s last two ‘forgotten’ albums very highly and this would be a welcome chance to make all (or most) of these rare tracks available on CD for the first time, not just a mere four. However, this set does take a pretty good look at the band’s album career and includes pretty much all the essential songs between 1972 and 1978 as well as an excellent CD full of B sides and flop singles, some of which I’ve been trying to get hold of for years. The DVD is less interesting, sadly, mainly being taken up by the band’s music videos (and only the most common ones at that – look out for the excellent ‘Changing Faces’ DVD which isn’t complete either but does at least contain several more than this set) and their oft-repeated ‘In Concert’ set from 1974 that lasts barely 25 minutes and is often a filleron BBC4 ‘1970s night’ repeats. However, even though this box set is far from perfect, it’s nice that it’s here at all and has been made with due care and attention, with input from all band members from all eras and, thankfully, none of the later solo/reunion tracks that ruined many a fine compilation CD down the years. Not quite ten out of ten, perhaps, but easily good enough to make this year’s list.
(Highlights to download: 'Rubber Bullets' 'Don't Turn Me Away' 'Run Away' 'Blackmail' 'Waterfall')
4) “Davy Jones” (Re-Issue)
Davy Jones’ album for Bell after he left The Monkees was a high point in his career, even though it sold a pitifully small amount on release. We Monkee fans have waited patiently for a proper re-issue of one of the last AAA-related albums never to have appeared on CD to come out; it’s just a shame that it took Davy Jones’ death to inspire it. The release – weeks after Davy’s sad and unexpected demise – could have seemed tacky, a cash in on a lost idol that grieving fans would be guaranteed to buy, but Friday Music did the right thing, keeping the price low, adding a handful of bonus tracks and sensitively handling the whole affair in the media. For those who hadn’t heard lo-fi bootlegs/youtube videos of the songs the album was a revelation, Davy singing with his lower, warmer tones heard on the last batch of Monkees LPs and not straining quite so hard to sound young and appealing. Davy took his time with this album, choosing material most suitable for his voice and his character, especially the hit single ‘Rainy Jane’ which is everything Davy represents; upbeat, supportive and optimistic; the fact that it still made #52 on the pop charts at a time when the Monkees were at their lowest critical ebb says much for the single’s worth. The rest of the album isn’t far behind either, a few low points not withstanding. For those sneering critics who didn’t understand what our love affair with Davy was all about we could play them this album and sigh, the silver lining in what has undoubtedly been a sad year for Monkeemaniacs all over the world.
(Highlights to download - 'Rainy Jane' 'Look At Me' 'Girl')
5) The Searchers “Hearts In Their Eyes”
Another box set, this time more reasonably priced and with a nice mixture of A sides, B sides, album tracks, BBC sessions and unreleased songs. For me The Searchers were always at their charismatic best live and the BBC sessions are the nearest we have to that (along with their excellent Swedish live concerts released on CD ten years or so back) and the chance to hear some of the band’s rare solo singles (by Tony Jackson and Chris Curtis) plugs many a missing link in the band’s evolution. Admittedly 18 tracks from the band’s two albums from the late 70s when they were re-inventing themselves as a ‘new wave’ group are about 17 too many, but even these are quite rare these days and likely to have gone unheard by many Searchers fans. The real trouble with this set is that it’s taken so long to get right – we’ve had 25th, 30th, 35th and 40th anniversary sets before this one, each with only slightly running orders– and why is 2012 the Searchers’ 50th anniversary anyway? (Should this set have come out last year – or did they mean to release it in 2013, the 50th anniversary of Jackson joining the band?) Still, if you’re a newcomer, you can’t do better with a single purchase than this box set (I wonder if I can still trade in my others?...)
(Highlights to download - 'Since You Broke My Heart' 'No One Else Could Love Me' 'Goodbye My Love' 'Til I Met You' 'He's Got No Love' 'Umbrella Man' 'Vehevala')
5) The Kinks “At The BBC” (Deluxe Edition)
To be honest the 2CD set of Kinks BBC sessions (released in 2000) is heavy going for the most part and a good half hour to long – but well done to the Kinks/BBC lawyers for working out the copyright problems behind who owns what on this set and the band’s agreement to letting the fans hear them, warts and all, across 5 CDs and one DVD, is a brave move. The trouble with a set like this is that, being near complete, you get blooming sick of hearing almost identical versions of ‘You Really Got Me’ ‘Lola’ et al and for every good night where the Kinks are clearly on cracking form there’s another where they sound lost or bored. The DVD is also a bit of a let down, featuring mainly old TOTP sessions and music videos already available on several dozen Kinks official and unofficial sets along with a spiffing Old Grey Whistle Test from the 1970s that’s sadly incomplete (typically Kinks, the best songs from their ‘Sleepwalker’ era set aren’t here). There are enough nuggets spread across this set to keep fans going, however, including a band version of ‘This Strange Effect’ (a Ray Davies song given away), ‘Good Luck Charm’ (a Dave Davies cover unavailable on album), a gorgeous piano version of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ where that song never shimmered brighter, highlights from a rare ‘Preservation concert’ in 1974 that’s particularly charismatic, the Komplete and Inkredably Kracking ‘Kinks Kristmas Koncert’ from 1977 (its first official release despite being repeated endlessly on BBC6) and my favourite of all the band’s recordings ever, a punky no-holds barred on-the-edge version of Dave Davies’ ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’, played at twice the speed and ten times the intensity of the album version. All essential for Kinks fans, though the question remains – why wasn’t more of this stuff released 12 years ago to brighten up the rather dull 2 CD set and why was so much of that earlier set so bad compared to some of the gems on offer here?
Also nominated: Neil Young “Psychedelic Pill” (a Crazy Horse double that’s at least an hour too long but does have some of the old fire back), Mark Knopfler’s “Privateering” (the only AAA album to make the top 10 in the UK this year, not quite up to last album ‘Get Lucky’ but still a strong work) and Art Garfunkel’s “Songwriter” (a long awaited 2 disc compilation with two new tracks that digs deeper than usual and almost gets the track listing spot on; download ‘The Kid’ and ‘Mary Was An Only Child’ and you really do have the best Art Garfunkel performances to date).
THE BEST TV/RADIO DOCUMENTARIES OF THE YEAR
Paul Simon “Under African Skies: The Graceland Tour”
‘Graceland’ is seemingly everyone’s favourite Paul Simon record expect mine. Where most fans hear a groundbreaking piece of world music, uniting African and American musicians as one, I hear as a poor attempt to re-create the ‘world music’ atmosphere of the Muscle Shoals recordings on ‘Rhymin’ Simon’ and a songwriter quickly running out of ideas and looking for gimmicks to cover up the lack of quality in his songs. The album certainly wasn’t worth the outrage it created when it was revealed that Paul broke an agreement on apartheid in South Africa to make the record, although that said it was the political discussions that ‘Graceland’ raised that mean we had the backdrop for this documentary made 25 years on. Reuniting all the cast of characters it can (sadly Miriam Makeba is no longer with us) this documentary (made for DVD in Easter but also shown by the BBC this Autumn) was a heck of a lot better than I expected it to be. Lots of footage of the band rehearsing the songs in 1987 still exists, unbeknown to me and most fans I think, and it’s sprinkled liberally through the film, making for a neat comparison with the band rehearsing the songs for a 2012 tour (the new/old version of ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ with the accordion part back at the heart of the song is particularly strong). The documentary also tries hard to be fair throughout, following Paul as he meets up with the former world minister for Africa and it doesn’t spare his blushes as he squirms on his seat during the interview, admitting his naivete and talking about how much the experience taught him. However, Paul Simon definitely gets the last laugh – everyone who is still alive signs up for the tour straight away and the scenes of Paul meeting old friends he hasn’t seen for 20 years brings a tear to the eye. Like the best documentaries, I learned lots I didn’t know before and it even made me like the album more, having seen Paul and his friends and his enemies come to terms with each other and find closure on the subject. ‘Graceland’ is still over-rated, though – I’d much prefer an ‘Imagine’ special about the making of ‘One Trick Pony’ for instance...
The Who “Can You See The Real Me? The Story Of Quadrophenia”
‘Quadrophenia’, on the other hand, is an album I adore and any documentary dealing with the subject would have to be amazing to be worthy of it. While not quite as worthy as it could have been, this documentary (shown on the BBC) was still a good one, pitting Roger Daltrey’s earthy frustration against Pete Townshend’s more liberal ideas and following the duo as they tried the hopeless task of properly mixing the album for surround sound (the 1973 quadrophonic’ mix was a key part of the story). The most interesting part, though, wasn’t on the songs but on the packaging, the photographer remembering setting up a lot of the shots used in the album booklet and how Ther Who’s cover star ended up in prison and was nearly dropped from the project after over-sleeping on his first day. Unlike ‘African Skies’ there wasn’t all that much I learnt, but it’s nice to see ‘Quadrophenia’ get its time in the spotlight after so many years of watching The Who talk about ‘Tommy’ and ‘Who’s Next’ ad infinitum. I can’t say it made me love the album any more than I did either, but then it would be impossible to rate this album any higher.
The Beatles “Love Me Do”
On the 50th anniversary of ‘Love Me Do’ in October, BBC2 screened a much-trumpeted, all singing, all dancing look at the making of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour TV special. It was almost as much of a disaster as the TV special itself; Ringo cracked bad jokes and looked bored, Macca told all his old stories for the umpteempth time, a discussion of the fascinating songs was passed over for rambling stories about how the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band were hired and we had to sit through yet another re-tread of the Beatles’ entire history while the much vaunted unseen footage was limited to about 30 seconds (however see the DVD below...) That same night, on the lesser seen BBC4, a low budget unofficial documentary about the Beatles in 1962 was shown – and it beat the MMTour one in every way. Telling the story of the fab four that year it took in the failed Decca audition, the sacking of Pete Best, fame and fortune in the Cavern and Hamburg and the audition with EMI. Several new or rare interviewees were found: Paul’s old girlfriend Iris (also the sister of Rory Storm, Ringo’s first boss) and session drummer Andy White (who played on the ‘single’ version of ‘Love Me Do’ instead of Ringo) added several fresh insights, while Pete Best stole the show with his memories of the band’s early days. Let’s hope the same production company are planning a special about the Beatles’ year of 1963 in 2013 as that would be better still!
Also nominated: “We Love The Monkees” (a moving tribute to Davy Jones by Channel 4), Dave Davies in conversation with Alan Yentob (rambling but informative, BBC), Paul McCartney at the BBC (interesting radio clip show featuring some rarities not heard in decades, BBC) and Pink Floyd: The Making Of Wish You Were Here (BBC, an excellent new take on an album that’s been talked about to death already).
THE BEST DVDS OF THE YEAR
The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour”
Thankfully the awful official TV documentary on MMTour didn’t make it to the world’s first fully official DVD of the boxing day 1967 special, which is actually superb and among the finest purchases out this year (the special itself is still pretty weird, and a hard slog for non-fans, though, so be warned if you’re only a casual fan of the fab four). Unlike some re-mastering jobs so slight you wonder why they bother the re-mastering of MMTour takes out all the scratches and puts both colour and sound back into the special so that you really can see and hear the difference. The extras too are essential for any Beatles nut, showing unseen clips from the songs ‘Fool On The Hill’ ‘Your Mother Should Know’ and ‘Blue Jay Way’ (though sadly the ones for ‘Walrus’ don’t appear to exist anymore). Ringo’s film for ‘Blue Jay’ is especially interesting, featuring lots of extra footage of the Beatles mucking around in George’s Weybridge house that’s a delight to see after all these years. There’s also the unseen Ivor Cutler song ‘I’m In A Field’ which is better than most of the film, although the same probably can’t be said for the Nat Jackley sequence (a bit of behind the scenes footage shows John Lennon directing one of his boyhood idols, however, which is worth a giggle). Macca’s eccentric audio commentary isn’t terribly revealing but his references to his home-made films (thought to have been thrown out during a spot of tidying by Jane Asher) and the influences on the special near the beginning are fascinating. All in all, an excellent package and one that bodes well for the ‘Let It Be’ set to come (hopefully). Beatle fans should note that the recent re-issue of ‘Yellow Submarine’ was pretty good too, with some fascinating extras about the making of the animation and the depiction of the chief animator as a ‘blue meanie’, but that DVD fails to make this list because it’s been out on DVD three times already and, frankly, Apple are pushing their luck there sticking it out Again without any new Beatle input.
Crosby, Stills and Nash “2012”
CSN fans have already been spoilt by a strong series of CSN shows from 1974, 1983, 1990, 2006 and Crosby-Nash’s set last year on DVD, so arguably you don’t really need this set unless you’re an obsessive fan. Which means, once you’ve been touched by the CSN bug, that’s more or less all of us. This concert isn’t up to the 70s, 80s or even the acoustic shows of the 90s but it does at least still prove why Stills is still the world’s greatest guitarist (in my eyes, at least) and why Crosby and Nash are among the best singers around even today. New Nash song ‘Almost Gone’ is as good as anything in his canon since the 70s, several intriguing songs litter the setlist, unheard for decades or sometimes at all (‘So Begins The Task’ ‘As I Come Of Age’ and the welcome return of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ after 20 or so years) and even the old favourites have some life left in them. Sure, Stills’ voice is a shadow of what it once was and all three men do less leaping around the stage in a whole set than they did during a song in the olden days, but CSN weren’t about that kind of showbiz shtick anyway. Two extra soundtrack CDs of the concert make less sense (it’s the 1970s and 80s shows I want to hear independently, not this one) but might be of interest to some. No classic, but worth your time if you’re a fan.
The Rolling Stones “Crossfire Hurricane”
The two-part documentary has just been screened by BBC 2 as I type this and, well, what a curious mixture it turned out to be. On the plus side the band let the footage do the talking and there are minimal attempts to ‘sum up’ an event from the benefit of 50 years’ hindsight as there was with the Beatles Anthology. On the negative side, much of this footage has been seen before – often in the same weekend in the case of film from the ‘Charlie Is My darling’ set, which is actually more deserving of a release than anything on this DVD – and two hours to tell the story means that just about everything since 1978 got told in one sentence. The second part of the documentary is pretty ghastly to be honest, with no mention of Bill Wyman leaving the band, precious little about Keef and Ronnie’s drug problems and not even a hint of the ‘World War III’ rift between the band’s songwriters Jagger and Richards – the three really crucial developments in this era of the ‘stone’ age. That said, the first part is probably the best single hour’s retrospective on the Stones around, made with care and with some great choice of film that makes the decline and death of Brian Jones across the first hour truly gut-wrenching, not just some hoary old story from 40 years ago we all know in great detail. You might not understand the Stones any better by the end of it all, but you will at least understand why for many this band represented a tidal wave of change and reform – and why so many fans believed in the idea and ideal so whole-heartedly.
RE-ISSUE SERIES OF THE YEAR
The Small Faces on Decca
Immediate went into receivership when the Small Faces split in 1968 and their output for that label has been re-issued a ridiculous amount of times to the highest re-issue bidders ever since, in a series that could be good or bad or downright ugly – or all three. The album and compilation released by Decca haven’t fared much better down the years either, being reassembled on one disc in a dozen or so different ways. Before this year fans had a to buy a whole shelf full of Small Faces CDs if they wanted to own absolutely everything out there, including box sets, compilations and rarities discs in addition to the ‘proper’ albums. At last (almost) everything is here, including some new and exciting finds, spread out across ‘Small Faces’ (both the Decca and Immediate albums of that name), ‘In The Beginning’ and ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’. The first album comes with seven (yes seven!) alternate takes and goodness knows how many remixes. ‘Beginning’ features the rare and classic B-side ‘Understanding’ that’s better than most A sides, four alternate versions and backing tracks and a whole heap of remixes. The Immediate ‘Small Faces’ – my favourite of all their albums – has just two alternate versions, the backing track to ‘Tin Soldier’ and lots of songs remixed into stereo for the first time, but is still presented with care and attention. ‘Ogden’s is now a three CD set in mono and stereo, plus an extended version of ‘Happydaystoytown’, a backing track for ‘Happiness Stan’, three alternate versions and the unreleased instrumentals ‘Bun In The Oven’ and ‘Kamikhazi’. Alas there are no plans to re-issue ‘The Autumn Stone’, which is nothing short of a criminal offence, but then that album was an unfinished work in progress anyway bolstered by A and B sides which have ended up on these different CDs anyway so I do grudgingly understand why it’s missing this time around. These sets could have been better (some mixes are still absent without leave) – and they could certainly have been a lot cheaper – but at long last both Decca and Immediate have done one of their most pioneering and groundbreaking bands proud. About time, we fans say, but better late than never.
WORST RE-ISSUE SERIES OF THE YEAR
The Beach Boys on Capitol
Somebody somewhere in Capitol headquarters is playing a good cop/bad cop routine with fans. In 1988 every 60s Beach Boys album was released individually on CD with no bonus tracks, minimal packaging and a paltry running time (22 minutes in the case of ‘Surfin’ Safari’ – you can fit 80 on a single CD remember!) In 1990 these were removed and replaced by one of the best re-issue series in AAA history: detailed sleeve notes, track annotation, input from Brian Wilson, bonus tracks galore and – wait for this – every single album up to 1981 issued on a two-fer-one set that often ran to a generous 75 minute running time at the same price(with two exceptions, ‘Pet Sounds’ appeared on its own and ‘So Tough/Holland’, appeared on two discs at the same price as the others). Fans loved them, record stores loved them (they sold well and had a unified packaging that looked good when displayed together) and the Beach Boys’ critical standing was as strong as its ever been that decade, partly thanks to this sensible re-issue series. Alas the CDs have since been deleted and this year have been replaced...with the same shoddy CDs of the 1980s! Admittedly the sound is better than it was back then and many of the albums are in mono and stereo sets which makes up somewhat for the running time, but unlike some bands the mono-stereo mixing differences are fairly minimal and frankly not worth your time if you already own these albums in some form. Plus, where are the bonus tracks? Where’s the packaging? Why have only the albums up to ‘Surf’s Up’ been released?! And why do the Beach Boys risk hitting the fans who’ve fallen in love with the band because of this year’s anniversary tour over the head quite so hard?!
THE MOST DISAPPOINTING RELEASES OF THE YEAR
The Beach Boys “That’s Why God Made The Radio”
The first full Brian Wilson-Beach Boys collaboration since 1986 should have really been something. Brian’s fight back to full health these past two decades has been a magnificent show of courage and determination and unbelievably he’s written and recorded some of his best music during the past 25 years on his solo albums despite coming back from a point in his life as low as you can get. The Beach Boys, meanwhile, have struggled on with rows and deaths making them a pale shadow of their former selves (up to this year only Mike Love and Bruce Johnston remained, with Carl and Dennis dead and Al Jardine estranged from the group). The coming together suggested either desperation or brilliance, the chance to make a load of fast bucks or a worthy attempt to lay old demons to rest. Early reports of the album suggested the latter, with talk of the ‘best Beach Boys album since Holland/Surf’s Up/Pet Sounds’ in most reviews. In truth its barely better than 1992’s non-Brian ‘Summer In Parardise’, recorded by a load of aging men who had little input into the album except croak through it in a poor facsimile of their old harmonies and writing styles (across the album Mike gets one song and that’s it for the rest of the band, with Brian writing 10). The only good singing here comes from the Wondermints backing – and they overshadow every note the ‘real’ Beach Boys sing and that isn’t often, apart from Brian. Fair enough to some extent – the band are back with Brian as the publicity made clear – but its been 20 years since the ‘others’ released a song and they’ve all been responsible for some great songs too (Brian was barely on my favourite Beach Boys album ‘Sunflower’!) A tribute to Carl or Dennis would have been nice too (there are still lots of unreleased Dennis Wilson songs unfinished and unreleased!) Even Brian’s songs date from years gone by for the most part with only two entirely new songs written specially for the project (even the Mike Love song is an outtake from one of his solo records). Only two songs from this new set – the last two interestingly, both written by Brian decades earlier for a Beach Boys reunion that never happened, the musicals-ish ‘Pacific Coast Highway’ and the elegiac ‘Summer’s Gone’ – deserve the Beach Boys name. IThe rhymes are particularly atrocious on this album – ‘clock’ and ‘block’, ‘worry’ and ‘hurry’, ‘anticipation’ and ‘celebration’ and compared to – say- Smile, this is hideously shallow writing, with nothing more to say than ‘we’re back – ansd doin’ it again’, culminating in the teeth-grindingly awful ‘Private Life Of Bill and Sue’, a nothing song about nothing people that’s only here because it pads out another four minutes of this ridiculously short running album and is probably the worst song ever released under the Beach Boys name. Events since the album’s release (Mike Love effectively ‘sacking’ the rest to go back out on tour with the 2011 line-up; apparently no one told him the reunion was long-term) suggest that it really will be the Beach Boy’s last album because there’s no way they’re going to try another reunion after the fallout from this one for another 20 or so years at least; it’s a great shame for both them and us that this is how they say goodbye – and that they say goodbye with so many now clearly ridiculous songs about the joy of being back together again. Give me Brian on his own any day.
Paul McCartney “Kisses On The Bottom”
We reviewed this album in full earlier in the year – suffice to say it hasn’t aged better with time (I heard it the other day and arguably it’s worse!) Macca isn’t a born crooner so why he thought he should kick his rock fans in the teeth so badly with this insipid piece of light jazz junk is a mystery (to be fair Macca’s covered just about every genre in his day, but at least the electronic and dance and even classical albums tried something raw and dangerous – this album plays it safe all the way through). Macca’s new songs written for the project are superior to every single so-called ‘standard’ on the album, with a couple of gems added to his catalogue (‘My Valentine’ especially) but the overall effect is of a rock and roller reaching for his pipe and slippers – and I swear there’s no sound worse around than that. Even for the mercurial Gemini McCartney, making this move so soon after the genuine thrill of the ‘Fireman’ albums -among the most adventurous and courageous releases by all of the 60s legends still working - makes you question what on earth was going on in his head. I never thought there would be an AAA equivalent of the Rod Stewart American Songbooks and, God help us all, I never thought it would be Macca who would sell us out. Give it a big fat miss.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse “Americana”
A few questions for you: why is ‘God Save The Queen’ on an album of American standards? Why are the Horse reaching out so vainly for cover versions when they had a whole host of new original songs in hand to release three months later any way? Why is Neil Young – a Canadian - singing American folk tunes at all? And why oh god why do all these songs sound the same so that they all coagulate into one messy distorted lump of nothing? We know how good the Horse can be and, despite what cloth-eared music critics have written, how eclectic and adventurous they’ve been in the past when Neil’s inspired them to greatness. So who on earth thought this project would be a good idea? When you learn that this album is really a ‘warm-up’ album for 2012’s Crazy Horse reunion proper (‘Psychedelic Pill’) this album makes more sense – nobody intended this to be a proper long lasting masterpiece and its hurried and undercooked, even for Neil Young’s modern standards. But that doesn’t excuse it or why so many tracks ramble on incoherently. Yes, hearing Neil drawl his way through the likes of ‘Clementine’ can be amusing – once, anyway – but why on Earth is Neil covering old standards at all?; leave that to Pentangle and the King’s Singers or at least the less prolific AAA members who don’t release an album every year despite being in their 70s! And why release this album first, killing off all the interest and mystique you’ve built up for the Crazy Horse reunion for good? Too many questions, not nearly enough answers, although at least there’s one good thing you can say for this abominable record; it’s still better than the previous Horse collaboration ‘Greendale’, a soap opera script crossed with a bad prog rock concept album that was the worst AAA album of the 00s for me.
The Hollies “Radio Fun”
Nothing like as bad as the other CDs here, this was still nevertheless deeply disappointing. I know there’s a whole host of classic Hollies BBC sessions out there somewhere because I have a copy of most of them, in better sound than the BBC too apparently! The best Hollies re-recordings, the most different and interesting performances that make you see into the songs in a new and interesting light (the whole reason we fans buy these BBC session discs), by and large aren’t here, while the ever illuminating chat (only Pete Townshend and Ray Davies could compete with Graham Nash for deep thought and philosophising) has been cut away completely, even if it means cutting out the first or last note of some songs. Which is a travesty – these songs are history, some of them 49 years old – and they deserve better (even a fade-in would have sufficed!) What we’re left with is lesser versions of many Hollies album tracks, alongside two nice-to-have curios (covers of ‘Ride Your Pony’ and ‘Shake’ that were never released on album) and the set’s saving grace, a gorgeous graceful early version of ‘Wings’ with alternate lyrics that’s only a smidgeon away from being as beautiful as the finished product released on a wildlife charity album. Even the packaging is nonsensical, making out that one of the most intelligent and thoughtful bands of the 60s were in it merely for ‘fun’ (why oh why isn’t this set simply called ‘The Hollies At The BBC’ in line with every other BBC compilation ever released?!) Plus, would it have killed them to put these songs in chronological order like the superior Kinks and Who sets? Frustratingly ordinary and yet it could have been the release of the year quite easily had those in control spent just that little bit more time and care on this set, as they did on the superlative Clarke-Hicks-Nash compilation last year.
However, had it counted, easily the most disappointing release of the year was the re-boot of Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ musical, where the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward is replaced by...Gary Barlow! (What the?!?!? I’m surprised the martians didn’t just turn round and go home again or simply say ‘take that earthlings!’ and wipe us all out in retaliation...)
THE BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR
Paul and Linda McCartney “A Love For You” (Ram Deluxe Edition)
It’s a curious fact that most of McCartney’s best work ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s even more curious that the best of that is the last to be released. ‘A Love For You’ should have been on ‘Ram’, could have been on the proposed double disc version of ‘Red Rose Speedway’ and absolutely should have been on the 1979 outtakes set ‘Cold Cuts’, had Macca not seen it leaked on bootleg and gone off the whole idea. A rollicking simple blues-rock song, ‘A Love For You’ is Macca at his catchiest, with a killer chorus and a song that’s so cleverly structured it manages to make its three distinct sections merge perfectly with one another. Macca sounds like he’s having fun with the vocal too, which contains elements of both the then-contemporary glam rock and the Buddy Holly records of his childhood. The five minutes playing time is long for the period but the song doesn’t run a second too long, with one of the greatest of all McCartney jams on the fade-out as Macca’s vocal gets more and more histrionic. Great fun and better than a good 90% of the ‘Ram’ record (and I say that as a fan who ranks ‘Ram’ somewhere in McCartney’s top three records of all time!)
The Hollies “Wings” (Alternate Version) (Radio Fun)
This recording is a puzzle. The official word is that it’s an early sketch of a song that the band were still working on and a first draft for the version famous for appearing on the ‘No One’s Gonna Change My World’ compilation in 1968 and Hollies compilation ‘Rarities’ 20 years later. But the date given in the booklet of the CD and the sessionography for the final version suggests this version comes a full two months afterwards and is, indeed, very nearly the last thing Nash ever did with his first band (only the single ‘Listen To Me’ was recorded later). In this version of ‘Wings’ the narrator is looking through the eyes of birds in the sky and having them wonder why humans fail to walk ‘when they can fly’ (in the final version its humans looking on birds enviously from the ground). Even after this opening there’s a few subtle differences: ‘what a face to show, can’t you make it go?’ instead of the more upbeat (and more Holliesy) ‘we can make it go’. Even some of the familiar lines are sung in different ways, with Clarke and Nash noticeably deeper than on the ‘proper’ record. It’s always nice to hear such a different version of a song you know and love and ‘Wings’ scores on both points, being both very different and very wonderful in both versions. On balance I’d still take the more poetic ‘Rarities’ version, but this was still a most welcome surprise that helped Hollies fans re-evaluate one of their most important songs.
The Beach Boys “Summer’s Gone” (That’s Why God Made The Radio)
The best song on the Beach Boys reunion set was this slow and languid slice of melancholy, a track that Brian wrote about 15 years or so ago and yet has kept in his pocket all this time because he thought it would be a ‘perfect’ way to end the Beach Boys’ career. Fans will know that I’m paying this song a compliment when I compare it to Brian’s ‘Cry’, the best individual song of his solo career and the melancholy mood is perfectly in keeping with Brian’s writing style across the ages (instead of the falsely poppy or curiously rigid and dull strict tempos of the rest of the record). Curiously, the other Beach Boys and even the Wondermints don’t appear to vocally be on it at all, though, which makes a bit of a con out of the project and suggests, perhaps, that too many cooks across the rest of the record spoiled it compared to the bare stark beauty on offer here. If this is to be the Beach Boys’ last ever release then this is a fine place to bow out, with a sad reflective piece about youth disappearing and getting ready for one’s twilight years. If you haven’t bought the album yet then I recommend you download this song – and then steer clear of this album for good...
Also nominated: ‘What Shall We Do Now?’ (the two minute burst of rhetorical questions from Pink Floyd’s re-issue of ‘The Wall’, well known from the live concerts and film soundtrack but never released on record in studio form), ‘Tin Soldier’ (backing track) (the best single moment from the Small Faces re-issue series) and ‘Run Away’ (a great ‘lost’ flop single from 10cc’s best period in 1980, finally out on CD as part of the ‘Tenology’ box set).
THE BEST AAA ARTICLES OF THE YEAR
Last month we invited all our followers on Twitter and on our emailing list to nominate what they considered to be our best work of the year, from issue 128 on January 3rd right up to last weeks’ edition, no 174. An amazing four of you voted. Two of you said you didn’t mind what won because you liked it all. Which was lovely to hear, but not entirely helpful. One of you said you really liked my Led Zeppelin review, until tweeting me a couple of hours later to tell me he’d remembered that he’d read it on a different site (no Zepp here!) Which left regular reader Lizzie giving her vote on the best articles of the year yet again, just like she did last year. And the year before. Which was probably just as well in the end actually as she kindly nominated six whole articles and told me she couldn’t cut it down to five. So here they are, the pieces where the writing Gods came out to play and shined a light on Alan’s Album Archives before veering off again into the night, leaving our site in December 2012 at officially six and a half times the length of War and Peace and counting...
1) Issue -9774 Sweden Elizabethan Issue (April Fool’s Day Issue)
Our silliest article of the year was the fourth in our series of April Fool’s Day’s editions that were sent back to us via a black hole in space and time from the past (or something like that). It turns out that time travel experiments in the future, sponsored by the AAA (the 367th most influential website in the universe, no less) have gone a bit wrong and disrupted the nexus point in time (or something like that), re-writing history and letting all time periods happen at once. In between trying to sort the mess out we get to know all the time periods and hear what AAAA music all time periods from the Stone Age to the 22nd century enjoy. Along the way we review a few new AAA releases including ‘The Byrds Sing Byrds’ ‘The Madrigal Moody Blues’ and the Rolling Stones collaboration with some cavemen, have some question and answers with our resident canine Max The Singing Dog, laugh at ‘Spice Girls – The Opera’, talk about the latest AAA-sponsored Dr Who series, have a special ‘top 10’ run down from some very special guests and go back in time to the formation of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Despite a few, err, teething issues Alan’s Album Archives seems to be thriving in the past/future/present despite coming from Sweden in the Elizabethan era! For the music fan with a sense of humour.
2) Issue 136 (Davy Jones Tribute Special)
From our silliest moment to our most serious. We’ve only lost one AAA member all year but Davy Jones’ loss was all the worse because it came so suddenly, without warning, on the verge of the Monkees making a come back. The press said at the time that they were overwhelmed with the grief people showed for a singer who’d last been a regular in the news 40 odd years ago but we weren’t surprised - Davy Jones was a major part of many people’s childhoods and was part of some of the best records ever made. This is our tribute to him, with a potted history of his beginnings in the music and acting business, his ‘second career’ as a jockey and what happened to him after the Monkees split, along with a top ten run down on his very under-rated work as both a singer and composer. We miss him still.
3) Issue 158 (Pink Floyd “Animals”)
How could I resist turning the Floyd’s parable of a world filled with crooked pigs, ignorant sheeps and ignored, put-upon, chained-up dogs into a metaphor for our modern age? Inspired by Coalition cuts, a horrifying attack on the vulnerable and disabled and disgraceful attempts to ruin our website by pointless penny pinching, our own canine mascot Max The Singing Dog speaks out against pig Cameron and his co-swines, speaking out for justice on behalf of us all, whatever part of the farmyard we may come from. ‘AAAAAAAAH’ said our site. ‘Hahahahahaha’ said the pigs. ‘Baaaaaaaaaaaaa’ said the sheep.
4) Issue 151 (‘AAA Books’ special edition)
Ever wanted to know which of the mountain of books on the Beatles will tell you the most about their earliest years? Which biographies are biased towards a particular Beatle? Or whether there’s a book out on a more obscure AAA band that you really want to read about in more detail? Then you’ve come to the right place! I can’t pretend that I’ve read everything there is to know – I could spend the rest of my life reading books on the Beatles and, yes, knowing me I probably shall –but this section does cover more than 200 disperate books on all the AAA members we can find. They vary from the straightforward biographies to the day by day blow accounts and picture books, with tales of Yellow Submarines, Wirral the Squirrel and Ray Davies meeting his younger self in a corrupt future taken over by the faceless corporation... A piece written specially for the literary AAA scholar and a fourth ‘special edition’ to go alongside past attempts at covering AAA compilations, live albums and solo recordings. Expect an ‘AAADVD’ special sometime in the new year.
5) Issue 149 (‘A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-1970’)
Our attempt at working out why the 1960s were as special as they were and why, taking into account then-current tastes and trends, new bands arriving that decade with their own new styles and working out what the ‘sound’ of a particular year is. After all, from ‘Love Me Do’ in 1962 to ‘Let It Bleed’ in 1970 is one heck of a change in, well, just about everything and there must be a reason for it. Here’s our take on the subject. There’s no getting away from it either – as far as your’s truly is concerned music peaked in 1966 and everything since then has been a let-down...
6) Issue 163 (‘Introduction’)
For everyone who wonders why, when and what for Alan’s Album Archives came into being – this introduction is for you. The truth is this site was in gestation for as long as I’ve been alive and despite taking 270 odd articles to say this piece should answer all your questions.
And that really really is it for now. Thank you for being a part of Alan’s Album Archives in 2012, by far our most successful year since our beginnings in 2008, and we look forward to seeing you – and hearing from you – again in 2013. Goodbye from your AAA staff, Alan’s Archives, Max The Singing Dog, Bingo Ye Boozy Dog, Android TZ964-2 and Philosophy Phil! Have a great Christmas and see you next year!