Hello and welcome to this fifth special edition of our newsletter. Our past special editions have looked at AAA compilations (News and Views 59), solo albums (news and Views 71), live albums (News and Views 76) and AAA books (News and Views 151). In this edition we’ve had another look at our collection, scratched our heads for a bit and decided to concentrate on AAA DVDs. Some of these DVDs will be in print, others will be out of print (but are out there for you to find if you have enough, time, money, dedication and mania) and a small handful will have been in re-released several times down the years with varying degrees of success. Great, good or ghastly, they’re almost all here somewhere, listed alphabetically artist by artist as per usual (though there are some low budget unofficial releases that we might have missed – heck there’s 50 on The Beatles alone and I’m not writing any more! – plus the perennial collector issues of tiny tiny holes in my collection). All that said, we still cover a nicely round figure of 200 DVDs in total up to December 2012, which should do for now. What’s new for this issue is that we’re listing DVD documentaries in black, concerts in red, music videos/tv appearances in blue, films featuring AAA members in green and miscellaneous releases in gray (if you read this on our www.alansalbumarchives.moonfruit.com site anyway – alas we only get one graphic on www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk!)
Note – we’ve allowed a handful of videos into the list if they contain footage unavailable on DVD (Pink Floyd’s ‘Delicate Sound Of Thunder’ and Paul McCartney’s ‘Give My Regards To Broad Street’ are two examples) in the hope that they might be out on DVD sometime soon (and indeed are on DVD somewhere around the world. We are, however, missing out reviews of DVDs that came out in some other package (eg the current trend for DVDs in music box sets) because they generally have short running times anyway and have probably already been covered in our reviews of the music. As for the overall rating, we’re taking into account quality, quantity, price, whether there was a sufficient hole in the market for the work to exist and whether it filled that hole well enough, so bear with us – its quite hard comparing like for like when these releases veer from the infantile (Beatles Cartoons) to the adult (‘The Wall’ film). Along the way we’ll also be telling you about the highlights of each release, the quality of any extra material included with each one and whether these releases offer something you can’t buy anywhere else. As with the other special editions, we hope to keep this list as up-to-date as possible, but please bear with us if we’ve missed a new release – these pages are sometimes rather awkward to edit and update!
For the record here’s our Alan’s Album Archives DVD Top 10:
1) Pink Floyd ‘Live At Pompeii’ (1972)
2) Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ‘A Long Time Ago’ (Live At Wembley, 1974)
3) Rolling Stones/Who/Lennon ‘The Rolling Stones Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus’ (1968)
4) Woodstock (Director’s Cut) (1969)
5) The Monkees ‘Head’ (1968)
6) Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ‘Deja Vu’ (2008)
7) Nils Lofgren ‘Cry Tough’ (1976/79/91)
8) Oasis ‘Time Flies: The Videos’ (2009)
9) The Hollies ‘Look Through Any Window 1963-72’ (2011)
10) The Small Faces ‘All Or Nothing 1965-68’ (2010)
THE BEACH BOYS
“The Lost Concert” (Concert: Filmed 1963, released 1998)
Ah those striped shirts! Yes these are the days when, err, boys were boys and the quintet (with Al Jardine mere weeks after being hired to replace David Marks) not yet showing any signs of the dignity and maturity that will come later. What fans do get is a very enjoyable 25 minute set of car songs, love songs, surf songs and a few oddities such as ‘Papa Oom Mow Mow’ (a concert regular that never made it to a studio album) and rare live performances of ‘Hawaii’ and ‘In My Room’. There’s also the Beach Boys definition of ‘how to make a record’ (each band member playing their part on ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ in turn) which was pretty far ahead thinking for 1963 (thanks goodness they weren’t still doing this ‘experiment’ in 1966 – the breakdown of ‘Good Vibrations’ would have taken a three hour show by itself). The whole thing is so short it’s barely worth playing and even this young Mike Love gets on your nerves by messing around while the others are taking it sooo seriously – but chances are you’ll find this DVD at a fiver or less and it’s certainly worth that money, even if I wouldn’t pay a lot more. Overall rating: 6/10 Extras: a cheapskate biography-discography 1/10 Skip straight to: ‘In My Room’
“Two Lane Blacktop” (Film featuring Dennis Wilson filmed 1970, released 1999)
This film is truly weird. And not in a good ‘Head’ or ‘Yellow Submarine’ type weird, just – well – weird. Dennis is supposedly the third biggest star out of the only three in the whole film, playing the role of an unnamed car mechanic but he actually outshines leading actor James Taylor and takes to acting far more readily than the nervous looking Taylor. In terms of plot, though, there’s nothing here – like ‘Easy Rider’ this is a road movie with a ‘message’, but instead of hitting you over the head with it, it leaves you to your own confused interpretations. Not really that essential to be honest, but it played a big role in helping Dennis’ ego as the ‘photogenic’ one of the band. In 1970, with Brian retired to his bed and the Beach Boys album sales falling, this looks like a welcome opportunity to find a new source of income. Overall rating: 2/10 Extras: none Skip straight to: the end!
“An American Band” (Documentary, 1978, rare on DVD)
The first (of many) documentaries on the band suffers from being the first – the band weren’t to know how things would pan out in 1978 and all the back-slapping ‘gosh Brian Wilson’s doing well isn’t he?’ seems reckless with hindsight. Still, being the first doc out there means this DVD gets the first pick of raw footage of the BBoys and by and large there are some excellent videos here you can’t get anywhere else (The Beach Boys on tour in the UK in 1968 covering the Buffalo Springfield song ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman’ of all things, a rare promo for ‘All I Wanna Do’ with Mike Love as a surprisingly believable hermit, a nervous looking Brian at his 35th birthday party where his guests include Paul and Linda McCartney). Best of all at the time were the generous samples of songs from the unfinished ‘Smile’ including shockingly ‘Fire’ aka ‘Mrs O Leary’s Cow’, the song that caused the most stress to Brian. Now that the box set of Smile sessions is out there’s less cause for celebration but that’s not the fault of this fascinating, if flawed, telling of the band’s story. Overall rating: 7/10. Extras – none Skip straight to: ‘All I Wanna Do’
“Live At Knebworth” (Concert: Filmed 1981, released 2001)
A surprisingly sprightly Beach Boys concert from a period in time when few fans saw them as anything but a tired oldies act. The show was filmed deliberately during the band’s European tour because people feared a guesting Brian Wilson might not be long for this world, it’s actually Dennis who died only three years later making it the last Beach Boys concert to feature everybody from the ‘classic’ line up. It’s actually a great show, with a clearly-gone Dennis kicking into the songs at twice the normal speed and both Carl and Al are in great voice (not so sure about Mike and Dennis!) Interestingly the band switch instruments several times on the night, Bruce Johnston even leaping out of his seat near the end when he realises he’s playing the wrong one! Despite being only an hour long the band get through one heck of a lot of material and even have the time for some rarities: ‘Keepin’ The Summer Alive’ is the best track from the album of the same name (which the band were making at the time), a cracking version of ‘Darlin’ (this performance even made it to the ‘Ten Years Of harmony’ compilation), a medley of ‘Cotton Fields’ and ‘Heroes and Villains’ which is – erm – strange and Dennis Wilson’s encore, a rasped version of Billy Preston’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ which will leave you with tears in your eyes. Quite why the band decided to sit on such a great show for 20 years is unknown, although they did go far enough to getting the then-ostracised Al Jardine to record his ‘thoughts’ in 2001 for the DVD opening. A CD of this gig was also released and, surprisingly, is a lot less enjoyable than the DVD (thanks possibly to Dennis’ OTT performance!) It’s still a shame that no single show seems to exist from the band’s career between 1964 and 1979 though. Beware too of a DVD simply titled ‘Beach Boys’ promising this concert – the quality is poor, the show is chopped in half and the extra music videos are only the usual handful available in higher quality on the ‘Endless Harmony’ set. Overall rating: 7/10. Extras – none, although there is a nice DVD booklet Skip straight to – ‘Keepin’ The Summer Alive’
“Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” (1996)
This DVD is in the ‘other’ category because it can’t make its mind up what it is. Shot in moody monochrome footage, it tries to tell the tale of how much better Brian Wilson is these days, but back in these pre-Wondermints times Brian is clearly unwell and hates having the camera in his face. Unable to talk in depth and unwilling to face his audience, this is Brian ducking out of the original plan made with friend and film director Don Was and instead bringing on ‘guests’ to help him re-record old Beach Boys songs. BB fans will love seeing Brian sing with his daughters Carnie and Wendy for the only time on record (they were 2/3rds of the hit trio Wilson Phillips a decade earlier) and AAA fans will love the chance to see David Crosby on one of his umpteempth appearances on documentaries. Fans also get to hear the rare unreleased ‘Still I Dream Of It’, a classic aching demo he gave to Carl to sing in 1978 (you can hear the ‘finished’ version on the ’30 Years Of Good Vibrations’ Box Set) although to be honest you’re better off with the companion CD than the low-fi footage that accompanies everything here. A real curio and not as good as it should have been, more like a requiem than a celebration. Overall rating: 4/10. Extras – none Skip straight to – a spine-chilling re-make of ‘Til I Die’
“Classic Albums: The Making Of ‘Pet Sounds’” (c.1997)
This is the first of seven ‘classic albums’ to appear on this list, all made for BBC television between 1996 and 1997 and released on DVD a few years later, sadly without any bonus features. Alas only two six-part series were ever made, despite critical acclaim for all of them – perhaps they appealed to too small a market to make it worth making any more? The DVDs have sold well for the most part, however, except for this one which is quite a rare spot these days. Regular readers will know my feelings about ‘Pet Sounds’ as an album (yuk!) and this documentary isn’t as illuminating as some: Brian’s not talking and so many people linked to the story have died there’s not much to tell. That said, lyricist Tony Asher and session drummer Hal Blaine are always entertaining guests and they have some strong stories to tell, from the way Brian drove them all in the studio to breaking point, the ‘Party!’ interlude where a whole album was made in a day to give the band time to finish ‘Sounds’ and Mike Love’s ‘pet peeve’ about the album’s ‘low budget’ cover. Overall rating: 6/10. Extras – none Skip straight to: the beginning of the album, you really don’t need the opening re-telling of the band’s whole story
“Endless Harmony” (Documentary, 1998)
A pretty good attempt at telling the whole Beach Boys story in two and a half hours, this DVD edit runs 20 or so minutes longer than the version screened by Channel 4 at the end of the millennium (in two parts, weirdly). This time all the Beach Boys are interviewed and even Dennis gets his say via old footage, although most poignant are the words from the much missed Carl Wilson, who died shortly after filming was completed. There are moving interviews with the likes of the much-missed Bee Gee Maurice Gibb and the much-missed Byrds producer Terry Melcher (I’m noticing a pattern here – Elvis Costello should start getting worried!) too. Lots of footage is here, although sadly most of it is fairly common and some of it is quite short (the back cover boasts that 45 songs are included, although that’s probably more like 12 heard properly). Some of the footage is delightful, however – a po faced band singing ‘The Things We Did Last Summer’ (even the members who don’t sing being forced to lip-synch!), a promo of ‘Sloop John B’ shot in a pool with some pretty nifty (for 1966) camera trickery and yet more bits and pieces from ‘Smile’ (though this segment runs shorter than on ‘An American Band’. There’s a handful of then-unreleased songs too, although these are contained in full of the companion outtakes CD of the same name (which is even better and a must have purchase for BB enthusiasts!) The extras are the best on a BB DVD too, with six extra music videos unedited, although the 5.1 surround sound ‘extras’ aren’t really worth your while. The only nagging disappointment is the sense that we’re not getting the ‘full’ story here still and that band politics are getting in the way... Overall rating 8/10 Extras 7/10 Skip straight to – you don’t need to, the best thing here is the glorious opening titles set to a then –unreleased ‘Soulful Old Man Sunshine’
“An American Family” (2002)
A quirky mock-documentary film about The Beach Boys’ career, this was made more or less back to back with the Monkees example later on the page and has split fans right down the middle. Some love these films for making the stories we’ve read in books and heard from talking heads ‘come alive’ while others nitpicks at the occasional mistakes and the sometimes hilarious lack of similarities between the actors and the people they’re playing. I like to do both, adding my own commentary on the lines of ‘no, that came afterwards...what are they wearing?...people didn’t say that in 1965!’ etc, while enjoying and even admiring the film at the same time. Despite being low budget, the film makers do know their stuff and made these films with care, even if certain sequences have been fudged together and the make-up is often hilarious (the late 70s Brian looks younger than the 1963 version!) The early years, with singing the only escape for the Wilsons under their scary dad and scared mom are the best, but even the ending works well, finishing the story in the mid 70s but adding Dennis’ death as a postscript. The music, too, is as faithful as it can be without being anywhere near as great as the original. Only the beards, worn by band members when they get ‘hairy’ in the 70s, fail to really convince. Overall, despite some issues, I’m impressed. 7/10 Extras – none Skip straight to – Murray Wilson re-acting to being fired by making his own album and selling Brian and Mike’s song rights behind their back, telling them ‘you’ve had a good run, but now you’re finished!’
“Brian Wilson On Tour” (Documentary with music footage, 2002)
Slightly more coherent than ‘I Just Wasn’t...’, this is another cheaply made, expensively priced documentary about Brian reclaiming his health during his first tour with the Wondermints. Brian still isn’t quite right yet – what we really need is a documentary on his next tour when he became a new man – but at the time the improvement in Brian’s health from the last project was amazing. Sporadically interesting, this doc has a few interesting answers from Brian (asked his favourite Stones song he quotes ‘My Obsession’ – a track even few Stones know about, although he was there when the band recorded the song) and some interesting performances of fairly obscure Beach Boys songs such as a lovely ‘This Whole World’ and the long awaited first collaboration between Brian and Tony Asher since ;Pet Sounds; (which deserved better than to, erm, ended up buried at the end of a Flintstones live action film). Frankly we don’t need this documentary now in 2012 when there are so many better ones out showing Brian further back to full health, but at the time this was an important stepping stone to getting the head Beach Boy back to his old self in front of the cameras. I’d have preferred a full ‘concert’ too, with the behind the scenes stuff relegated to an extra. Overall rating 5/10 Extras – none Skip straight to –‘This Whole World’/’The First Time’
“Pet Sounds Live In London” (Brian Wilson solo 2003)
As mentiuoned earlier, I’m one of that rare breed of fan who thinks ‘Pet Sounds’ is one of the lesser Beach Boys albums. Sure ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ is one of the greatest songs ever made, but the rest doesn’t even match up to ‘Beach Boys Today’ and sounds positively mundane after hearing ‘Smile’. This live performance of the whole album (with ‘Good Vibrations’ as an encore) doesn’t improve the album much, even though the multi-talented Wondermints are a superb backing band and the best thing that’s happened to Brian Wilson since, well, finding out he could sing. The weirdest moment comes during the two instrumentals ‘Let’s Go Away For A While’ and the title track, for which Brian sits at his piano and stares at his feet while ‘his’ band play his music. Overall rating 4/10 Extras – none Skip straight to – ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’
“Smile” (Brian Wilson solo concert/documentary 2004)
‘Beautiful Dreamer’ is the name of the documentary in this set and – once you skip the hoary old re-telling of the Beach Boys story up to 1966 – its compelling stuff, a scary fairy tale filled with beautiful music as Brian slowly falls from confident, enthusiastic musical genius to a soggy mess of insecurities. First the record company don’t like Brian’s new music, then his bandmates, then his lyricist and chief collaborator Van Dyke Parks leaves (so as not to get in the way of a ‘family matter’ in his words) and Smile, the most forward-looking ground-breaking record of them all is left to rot in Brian’s head for 35 years. I still can’t believe that Brian had the courage to face up to his demons and finish the record (there was actually very little to finish – two vocals more and the record would have been done in November 1966). I really really can’t believe the music managed to be as superb as it was, not just living up to its reputation but suggesting that the few who’d heard bits of it had actually underestimated its power and emotional resonance. The documentary is not quite the masterpiece the album deserves and if anyone comes through as a hero it’s the tireless Darian Sahanaja not Brian (who spends the first rehearsals for the record sitting on a couch with a frown on his face), but it’s still a well made, revealing documentary. The concert is pretty pointless if you already own the record, but it is nice to have a record of the first ever performance of the full album (with Paul McCartney among the thousands giving a standing ovation at the end) that we fans waited so long to see. Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – 6/10 (Fan Video for ‘Heroes and Villains’, an interesting but short featurette about making the album, more performances of ‘Smile’ songs live and an interview with Brian) Skip straight to – The Middle section: ‘Child Is Father Of The Man’ into ‘Surf’s Up’!
“Dennis Wilson: Forever” (Documentary, 2008)
When Dennis’ solo album ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ and its doomed unfinished successor ‘Bambuu’ finally came out on CD there was great rejoicing in the streets – well, Beach Boys infested sun-baked Californian streets anyway. Suddenly Dennis was no longer just the handsome looking hanger on, he was the genius in the band and there were two documentaries made to celebrate this fact. The first, shown on the BBC around the time the albums came out, was superb and is still a regular on BBC4. This straight-to-DVD account, however, is much much worse and in fact has little to do with Dennis at all. The makers of the special had limited access to Dennis’ songs so instead we get some godawful ‘music’ running behind the clips that aren’t that rare and the grainy brief bit of home footage which is the only time Dennis is actually seen. Full marks for getting the input from some of those who worked on the two albums – Billy Hinsche for one, the driving force behind the project – but there’s no Beach Boy input and precious little that hasn’t been heard before from better documentaries. What we really need is the BBC documentary out on DVD, not this travesty...Overall rating 3/10 Extras – none Skip straight to – The end!
“Live In Concert” (2012)
New out at the time of going to press, this reunion is woefully ordinary and a real let down for all concerned. Brian does all the vocal work, the Wondermints play all the instruments and everyone else is lucky if they get a few lines in edge ways. We know now that the reunion was a sham to some extent – Mike Love ‘fired’ the others to fulfil some previous tour obligations he didn’t tell anyone else about – and that comes over loud and clear on this official DVD, which doesn’t even feature the full concert. On the plus side, it’s great to see David Marks back in the band and his guitar work is surprisingly good after so long out of the limelight and Brian is in great voice. On the negative side there’s nothing really rare in the setlist, only ‘Heroes and Villains’ from ‘Smile’ for instance and the new songs are truly limp. Ghastly. Overall rating 2/10 Extras – none Skip straight to an energetic ‘Sail On Sailor’, Brian reclaiming the vocal for the only 1970s BB song in the line-up
THE BEATLES (AND SOLO)
“A Hard Day’s Night” (Film, 1964)
The mother of all rock and roll films, this film’s fake depiction of the fab four on tour is still responsible for the way most people think of each Beatle even now (although only Lennon is truly comfortable with the camera). Made very low budget, in a matter of weeks because it was feared the Beatles’ fame would disappear as suddenly as it arrived, this Dick Lester film must surely have the highest ratio of money earned to money spent making it of all time. Almost everything about this film works well even 49 years on: Dick Lester’s Goonish direction, Alun Owen’s genuine Liverpudlian script with a few Marx Brothersisms for good measure (not quite what the Beatles would say but a good fit considering the budget and times), the supporting cast (Wilfrid Brambell as Alfred Steptoe playing Paul’s grandfather, Victor Spinetti, even Lionel Blair briefly) and especially the music (to think that John Lennon wrote the title song over night under duress for the title sequence!) The only thing missing really is a plot, with the weak telling of Ringo getting grumpy and leaving the band not really enough to sustain 75 wonderful minutes. That said, when you have four musicians this photogenic, who cares? Look out for Patti Boyd, the future Mrs George Harrison, as one of the two fans who meet the band on a train meeting her future husband for the first time (although she has the eyes for Paul McCartney in the film!) Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – Sadly underwhelming for a DVD of such importance. There’s a doc where George Martin drones on about the album in less detail than on ‘Anthology’, a short piece about a ‘missing scene’ that sounds like it was cut for a good reason and no sign of the actually pretty good 1998 doc about the making of the film released as an extra on the old video. 3/10 Skip straight to – ‘We’re Out!’ Cue The Beatles (well, three of them cleverly filmed to make this less obvious) running down a fire escape to escape their touring routine and messing around on a field to the sound of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’
“The Beatles In Washington” (Filmed 1964)
Low key, grainy film but still the best example around of what a complete Beatles performance looked like circa 1964 and therefore essential to all Beatlenuts everywhere. The band can’t hear themselves think never mind play, so the performance itself is a struggle while the surroundings are laughable (the band turn round every few songs so everyone in the hall can see them play – although Ringo’s drum rostrum frequently gets stuck) If its half an hour of atmosphere, complete with bad Lennon jokes, flying jelly babies and pure unadulterated adrenalin rush, however, you’ve come to the right place! Beware, however – being ‘semi-official’ this footage has been used in many ways, some well, some badly – the version known as ‘Washington DC Live 1964’ features only half the show, while your best bet ius to buy this set in a box with ‘Shea Stadium’ (great!) and ‘Budokan’ (not so great!) Much under-rated when seen properly Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – none Skip straight to – A cracking version of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’
“The Ed Sullivan Shows” (Filmed 1964/65, released 2004)
“Honoured by their country, decorated by their Queen, loved here in America, here are...The Beatles!” These two DVDs are probably the most important on the whole list. The first show from 1964 is the moment when America fell in love with the fab four and it’s still; somewhere in the top five of all time watched programmes (amazingly the hour it was on crime fell to the lowest point in recorded history – all because everyone was at home watching the Beatles). Being able to own it in your collection – along with the other three Beatles appearances – after so many years of grainy bootleg copies is a dream come true for the Beatles collector. Seeing it in 2012 however, with the Beatles segments interrupted by awful magic tricks, slapdash music hall humour and lots of poor outdated ‘singing’ is the best way of explaining to modern audiences how revolutionary The Beatles were. Before their appearance everything on the radio and on television was like this and, unbelievably, compere Ed Sullivan (who used to be asleep until the minute the programme went on the air – and it shows) was as closest to a ‘hip young thing’ America had had presenting a programme. In truth Sullivan was a monster (his obituary programme on radio 4 a few years back contained more bitching than revelries – so much for not speaking ill of the dead), his enthusiasm is palpably false (he hated the Beatles but knew they’d be good for his programme) and what he’ll end up doing to AAA groups down the line (especially to the Rolling Stones) is unrepeatable. However, we fans owe him a great debt – if he hadn’t had the werewithawl to notice the crowds of fans waiting in line at a London airport on his way back to America and been impressed enough to get his agent to ring up Brian Epstein the Beatles might have stayed huge only in Europe. As for the performances themselves, the Beatles were rarely as raw as this again, nerves and inexperience (coupled with the comparative lack of creaming to cover things up) but they are still at their charismatic best (especially on the last show in 1965). Interestingly, Paul comes across as the ‘leader’ in the 1964 shows, despite Lennon being chief writer. A really important slice of history – and AAA fans get the double joy of seeing a 17-year-old future Monkee Davy Jones playing the Artful Dodger in a 1964 stage production of ‘Oliver!’ which, after the Beatles, is by far the best thing on here (I never want to see or hear Soupy Sales ever again!) Full marks to the DVD makers for keeping these shows complete however, rather than taking the easy route and sticking the hour worth of Beatles stuff on one cheap and tacky DVD. Overall rating – 8/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – no stay for the first song, the first sight of the Beatles to a majority of the world’s population as McCartney kicks them off into ‘All My Loving’, a song at least 30 years ahead of every other performer you’ll have to sit through on this first show
“Shea Stadium” (Filmed 1965, not yet out on DVD)
More prime early Beatles, this time from their 1965 where so many San Franciscans paid to see the fab four that Brian Epstein managed to get hold of the state’s biggest baseball stadium. At the time this was the biggest amount of people ever gathered together in one place to hear a single band (a record only broken by CSNY in 1974) and the sheer volume of screaming kids is head-exploding. Certainly it’s done something very funny to the Beatles who are near hysterical throughout this gig, particularly Lennon whose either sabotaging the event or simply going a bit mad himself. The band play fast and like all their tour dates the show itself doesn’t quite last half an hour, but the sheer importance of the venue and the chance to see the Beatles in colour in the earliest surviving colour bit of film (beating ‘Help!’ shooting by a matter of weeks) is fascinating stuff. In many ways this film is another music first too – the first time a music documentary documented behind-the-scenes goings on and the general hysteria of the event (the poor cameraman in the crowd nearly gets demolished before the end, although its the teens rushing towards the stage and passing out before they’ve even sung a note that you feel most sorry for). Fascinating stuff, although its frustratingly hard to come by these days (its only available unofficially in a box set with ‘Washington’ and in some sets ‘Budokan’). Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘I’m Down’, a rarity in set lists of the time and featuring Lennon ‘playing’ (or should that be ‘playing at playing’?) the Hammond organ, much to McCartney’s obvious amusement.
“The Beatles’ Cartoons” (1964-66)
Much derided by both band and fans, the Beatles’ cartoon series which ran for an incredible three years is often seen as one of Brian Epstein’s biggest mistakes, one that risked ruining the band’s brand in the eyes of fans and barely made the Beatles a penny. Actually, I rate this as one of his cannier moves: these cartoons have a charm not that far removed from the Beatles’ selves in press conferences and for younger fans not old enough to see ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ or ‘Help!’ at the cinema yet they’re a welcome opportunity to do more than just play records and stare at posters. The voices are a little bit wonky (especially George, although Lance Percival, working overtime as Paul and Ringo, is always a star whatever he does) but the mannerisms are spot on (John’s stance and habit of pointing, Paul’s cheesy grin, George’s slouching and Ringo’s downbeat smile). A total of 60 episodes were made – frustratingly I’ve only ever seen 20 of them and this semi-official DVD contains just 10 (why?!) The jokes are poor, the links with the songs are often tenuous and some of the music is definitely misunderstood (it’s not on the DVD but there’s one jaw-dropping episode where the Beatles end up in an Aztec temple and sing ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ to call up an ancient God – what did the nation’s five year olds make of that?!) We can sneer at this sort of thing now but put yourself back in 1964-66, you’re 10 years old, don’t have a radio and can’t afford all the records – this cartoon series is a sweet inoffensive chance to keep up with your weekly dose of Beatles. The fact that the same team learnt their lessons and went on to create the masterpiece of animation that is ‘Yellow Submarine’ is another happy bonus. This DVD really should be better known and treasured than it is, warts and all. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Don’t Bother Me’ which features the very Monkees-ish plot of some international thieves trying to steal the Lennon/McCartney songbook. They don’t succeed by the way (a modern interpretation of this episode would feature Michael Jackson trying to steal it instead!)
“Help!” (Film, 1965)
Less developed than ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ but twice the fun, for me this film is – along with the soundtrack album – the quiet gem of the Beatles’ catalogue. The fab four are clearly... somewhere else whilst making this film, thanks to discovering drugs (and Indian music) during its creation, but the plot is better (if less plausible) than its predecessor and the gags are groan-inducing (anyone who has a problem with the humour on this site can blame it all on this film!) The use of colour is inventive (Dick Lester has been given a hefty budget for the first time in his life and isn’t afraid to use it!), the amount of locations spell-bounding, the supporting cast of Eleanor Bron, Leo McKern and Victor Spinetti again are splendid and the music is tremendously wonderful, even by Beatles standards (‘Help!’ ‘Ticket To Ride’ ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl’ and ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ in one film? Perfection!) Some sour grapes fans will tell you this film is silly, that the Beatles are extras in their own film and that this movie shows up how bad their acting skills really were. I agree with all those points – but I love ‘Help!’ all the same, a daring, funny, outrageous depiction of how glorious it was to be young in 1965. Overall rating – 9/10, Extras – 8/10 Sadly not what they might have been; Dick Lester, thinking nicely ahead, asked for all outtakes from this film to be kept – MGM thought that a waste of space and wiped everything anyway; what we do have is a so-so 30 minute documentary, a featurette about yet another missing scene, the original trailer (with missing footage) and radio spots for the film and a nice little piece about restoring the film and soundtrack to its shiny digital best. Skip straight to - Ticket To Ride (Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!...)
“Magical Mystery Tour” (TV Special, 1967)
We’ve covered this special twice already – both when the DVD came out a few issues back and in our discussion of the soundtrack album (news and views issue 45). To non-Beatle fans its a messy and rather dull coach tour that makes no sense and in some cases is the most bonkers thing most people have ever seen. To fans its still pretty bonkers, but the chance to see the Beatles themselves made a film means this special is a step ‘closer’ to the real them than the artifice of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ or ‘Help!’ and this film finds the band a lot more unified than ‘Let It Be’. For a special that only last 50 minutes some of the parts in it don’t half drag, especially the ‘stripper’ routine while the then-unknown Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band play. But then this special is the only really substantial moving footage we have of the band in their halcyon year of 1967 and two of the songs – and videos – rate amongst their very greatest work (‘Fool On The Hill’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’). Available for years only as a grainy taken-from-video unofficial copy, the official Apple film transfer from 2012 is the best of the batch of Beatles films so far, cleaned up superbly with an audio commentary from McCartney, unseen footage for three of the songs (‘Hill’ along with ‘Your Mother Should Know’ and ‘Blue Jay Way’), a fantastic Ivor Cutler piece cut from the final edit and a few short featurettes about the making of that say in a total of 20 minutes what the ‘official’ BBC documentary failed to say in 60. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – 9/10 (as above) Skip straight to ‘I Am The Walrus’ – one of Lennon’s greatest songs is given the film realisation it deserves without sacrificing any of its off-beat humour
“Yellow Submarine” (Film, 1968)
I live a few miles away from Liverpool and I have to say the best thing about this film for me is the opening, with the drab bleak black houses that are all crammed together like slums, before the camera rotates over them in a frankly impossible piece of camera trickery that no one should have known how to do in 1968. The fact that this animated film was put together by a group of Americans who’d never been to the Beatles’ home world or even met the fab four (despite having worked on the Beatles cartoons for three years) says much about the seriousness with which this project was taken. Which is not to say that its any way dull – the script for this tale of the Beatles meeting their Sgt Peppers doubles in Pepperland crackles with casual brilliance throughout and has even more jokes per minute than ‘Help!’ The fab four’s voices aren’t quite right, though better than the Beatles cartoons and the music is mainly halfbaked leftovers and old favourites that don’t mix that well, bar the crucial last minute addition of ‘Hey Bulldog’ (which has been restored to the DVD after being cut from the video and most cinema releases for having nothing to do with the plot – yeah, like the plot’s the most important thing about this film!) Legend has it that the animators hated working on this project and ‘wrote in’ their hated boss Al Brodax as the chief blue meanie for revenge! It doesn’t show in the script, however, which is perfectly in keeping with the love your brother message of the Beatles of 1967 – its just a shame that the band had already moved so far ahead by the time this film came out in late 1968. The Beatles, fearing an extended version of the Beatles cartoons, decided to distance themselves from the project until discovering at the 11th hour that it actually looked pretty good and hurriedly added a five minute ‘coda’ using their ‘real’ selves. However, the Beatles are upstaged in both 2D and 3D selves by the character of Jeremy, the ‘nowhere man’ who has hundreds of degrees but feels there is no point to any of them! (Ad Hoc! Pro Quo! So little timed and so much to know!) Someone at Apple must like this film because its been released on DVD three times now, most recently with an extra disc discussing the animation. Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – Unknown (I only own the second edition!) Skip straight to ‘Hey Bulldog’, the single best song Lennon wrote in 1968
“Let It Be” (Film, 1970, not yet on DVD)
The one Beatle film still awaiting a proper release – even back in the days of video – is ‘Let It Be’ (although an unofficial bootleg copy is out on DVD in America). This project, which quickly developed from the Beatles rehearsing a live stage show to simply filming their latest album, was meant to see the band go full circle and go back to the spontaneity of their early years. Unfortunately three years without touring meant they’d only ever played together in the same room once (for Lennon’s intricate ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’) and the fact that filming for ‘Let It Be’ had to be fitted around Ringo’s film work, John’s Plastic Ono band commitments and George’s holidays show how seriously most of the band were taking the project. Traditionally ‘Let It Be’ has been seen as a ‘gloomy’ film, as if we fans are looking in on something we shouldn’t be a party to as an unhappy band are forced to play in front of cameras at a horribly early hour in the morning (because the cameras were booked in the evenings). However, this film isn’t as sad as legend has it – John may only have eyes for Yoko but he hasn’t lost his warped sense of humour and the scenes of the pair waltzing to ‘I Me Miner’ are sweet indeed. Paul may be a pain to work with for most of the film, but its easy to tell that his heart is in the right place and that he for one still loves the band, if only they could work a little harder and get it together. George left filming midway through after a row caught on camera (and amazingly released in the film, although sadly the scene where John and Paul sit in the canteen an hour later wondering if they should get Eric Clapton in to join the band only exists as an audio on bootleg!) Ringo, meanwhile, has his head down, barely saying a word. For the most part the music does the talking in this film (there are no ‘interviews’ as such, which is what a director would insist on today to intercut the footage) and its superb, even in hesitant, rough-hewed form, culminating in the famous rooftop gig which is an admirable conclusion to the film (and replacing such early ideas as filming a concert on the QE2 sailing down the Nile – because the band could only be bothered to walk up a flight of stairs!) As the only Beatles film left to release, rumours are rife that ‘Let It Be’ will be out in 2013 – and with a bit of unseen footage to boot! Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ (as played on the roof!)
Stuart Sutcliffe would undoubtedly have been a multi-millionaire, whether he’d have rejoined the Beatles as their bassist or stayed as a painter, such was his talent. Unfortunately is death at the early age of 21 broke the hearts of several people around him, not least his fiancé Astrid Kirchherr, in a story that would have made a marvellous romantic tragedy even without the Beatles connection. I’d always said that his story would make a good film and so it proved, with this film ‘filling in’ what happened to the band after the events of ‘Nowhere Boy’ (the film even starts with Lennon walking down the same Liverpool street on his way to Hamburg!)pretty darn well. There are mistakes – songs in the setlist that the Beatles never played or didn’t play till years afterwards and there’s something rather punkish and ‘modern’ in the performances that give away that this film was made in the 1990s not the 50s. Fans have debated the script quite intensely too, although as only Astrid truly knows how accurate it is (and she was consulted quite heavily during its making) who is to say how accurate it is? The main problem I have with this film is that the Beatles end up as extras to Stuart’s story (well, apart from Lennon whose larger than life) with McCartney’s character particularly wrong, all harsh words and jealousy which only tells half the story. Still, the acting is spot on and from what else I’ve read and heard down the years it seems to me that the film makers got the complex ethereal yet down to earth character of Sutcliffe to a tee and his heartbreaking choice over whether to abandon Lennon, his best friend, or the new love of his life in Astrid rings very true. All in all, this film could be better but its still pretty darn good. A CD of the soundtrack went on sale at the same time and is surprisingly good. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – a nervy Beatles waiting to go to Hamburg with no idea what they’re in for; George’s mum has kindly made them all sandwiches for the trip, much to his embarrassment!
An annoyingly uneven drive through the Beatles’ eight year history which unearths some absolute gems (the promo clips for ‘Paperback Writer’ ‘Rain’ and ‘A Day In The Life’ amongst others, footage of the band in India in 1968 and home movies shot by the four, mostly by Ringo) and a lot of ‘filler’. The problem is that this monumental project – ending up as a three part, six disc CD series and a book in addition to the documentary – tries to be all things to all people. No one can decide if only the Beatles’ modern takes on things count or whether associates like Neil Aspinall, George Martin and Yoko deserve to be in there too. The difficulty of how to incorporate Lennon is never entirely solved either – frustrated and angry about his Beatle past for much of his life, the few quotes we have of him from the 70s sound sharp and bitter, not like the mellowed moptop Paul is meant to have befriended again in the ‘househusband years’ when no interviews were made. The fact that no wives or children (barring Yoko near the end) get to speak also means we’re stuck with viewing the Beatles as musicians, not as people and the fact that Paul, George and Ringo are worried about ‘offending’ each other and Lennon’s memory means the version of history we get here is a whitewashed account where the four brothers loved each other all the time, even at the end (true up to a point, but not the whole truth by any means). The problem ultimately is that the Beatles are too close to this project and too intent on putting down the final word about their own experiences – even though they themselves don’t seem to agree on any of the details. This work really needs a good editor (one critics of the day wrote that the Stones managed to say in an hour what the Beatles struggled to cover in 10) and yet amazingly the DVDs (and videos) actually run for longer than they did on television, 80 minutes per episode rather than 60. For all the problems within, however, the chance to see so many rare clips generally in good condition and uncut is a collector’s dream and would be amazing had the Beatles done a ‘Monkees’ and allowed you to play just the music from the menu. But then, the audience don’t seem to have been a consideration anywhere in this project, which is more about making a ‘legacy’ for years to come, whether it represents the truth or not. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – 3/10 (An extra hour that isn’t actually that interesting and was wisely cut from the film, with Paul George and Ringo gathered in Harrison’s Friar Park estate and singing, talking and arguing in equal balance). Skip straight to ‘Shea Stadium’ if you don’t already own the footage – or the promo clip of ‘Rain’ if you do
“Love Me Do: Their Early History” (2001)
Sadly the excellent BBC4 doc from the end of 2012, which is also called ‘Love Me Do’, isn’t out on DVD yet. That’s a shame because its a lot more interesting than this overlong and rather rambling account of the Beatles’ days after the Quarrymen but before their EMI contract. Without access to the genuine footage, there’s not much the makers of this DVD can do except turn to talking heads whose stories Beatle fans know backwards (Allan Williams, Klaus Voormann, Pete Best, you get the picture). However, if you don’t know these stories well or even by these people then its still a fascinating modern folk tale involving betrayal (Allan Williams), death (poor Stuart Sutcliffe, the hero of these early years), hard work (10 hour shifts in Hamburg) and a little bit of fairy dust (how different would life have been if Brian Epstein had been posted to one of his family’s other shops or if another employee had served Raymond Jones the day he asked for a German import single by the Beatles backing Tony Sheridan). History lessons have never been so enjoyable. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – 3/10 Extended interviews that aren’t really worth your while Skip straight to – Pete Best, an interviewer’s dream
“The Beatles’ First US Visit” (2004)
There can surely be no other documentary where the heroes start off as complete unknowns and then end up as the most important people of a generation. That’s the main fascination of this documentary, which features footage of a comparatively unknown fab four en route to the Ed Sullivan Show and an American tour they will end as conquering heroes, oblivious to the sheer scale of the reception that meets them. I’m astonished that the footage here never made the Anthology series or, indeed, any DVD before the millennium because it’s far too important to just have been sitting in a box all these years and its always great to see the charismatic early Beatles as themselves, away from the cameras (actually the charm of the early Beatles was that they were pretty much themselves off camera, not like the ‘groomed’ stars of the 1950s). If you come to this documentary in this light then its thrilling, a moment of history in the making – although the upshot is that if you’re new to the Beatles or just want to see a documentary film with a beginning, middle and end then this jumbled up bag of sleepy Beatles stuck on a plane without much to do won’t really rock your boat. Very very interesting but not actually that essential in the sense that you don’t learn much you didn’t know before you sat down to watch it. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – Yet more footage (which should have been in the film!) Skip straight to – Lennon half grumpily, half teasingly asking the cameras to let him get some beauty sleep
We’ve had this discussion a few times already on this site but, for me, music is not made for dancing to. Enjoy it by all means, but if what you’re listening to is pulling on your legs to dance rather than your head to think, your heart to melt or your eyes to cry then, frankly, you’re listening to the wrong kind of music. While I’m in a grumpy mood, I didn’t like the Beatles re-mix job ‘Love’ all that much either because it messed around with history – if you want to revisit something like a piece of music then you should metaphorically turn it slightly in the light to let new shadows fall over it and let the listener view it from a new perspective; you really shouldn’t take a song and jumble it up with another one where it was never meant to go (though that said the ‘new’ versions of ‘Here Comes The Inner Light’ and ‘Within You, Tomorrow’ are fabulous). Put the two together – a Beatles album made for no other reason that a group of over-egotistical ballet dancers from the Cirque De Soleil wanted something to dance to – and you have an awful mess that’s closer to being a Rutles parody than a real attempt to offer Beatle fans something new for their cash. Legend has it the whole scheme was George’s idea (explaining, perhaps, why he gets more songs on the companion CD than usual), if so then it’s probably the only bad one he ever had. All that said, this is a documentary rather than a straight concert and on its own terms its not that bad – we get to see Paul and Ringo, plus Yoko and Olivia (speaking in public for the first time) and George and Giles Martin, all six of whom are always good interviewer material. The more you hear about the background to the stage show, complete with some actually rather tasteful silhouettes, the more you understand it too so on its own terms this DVD is actually not bad and certainly a lot better than I feared. Even so, should you really spend good money on a great documentary about an awful project that should never have been when you have 14 Beatles albums, 150-odd solo albums, 200 books on the Beatles (see our special edition earlier in the year) and all the DVDs on this list to collect? No, you shouldn’t. Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’; on the soundtrack CD George Martin’s new string arrangement added to George’s demo (from ‘Anthology 3’) sounds horribly tacky and treacly, but in the context of the stage show its powerfully moving
“The Unseen Beatles” (2007)
At the moment this DVD is retailing at £25 on Amazon – that, quite frankly, is ridiculous! No one wants to pay that sort of money when the ‘unseen footage’ runs to 10 minutes at most and the talking heads featured in the interview clips are raking over ground so old it probably has the Garden of Eden on it at some stage. That said, at its original knock-down price of a fiver or so it offered good value for money, concentrating on the 1966 period which by Beatles standards is comparatively less talked about than the beginning, middle and end of the story, with some interesting insight into why the Beatles just had to stop live performances to evolve in the studio. The footage itself isn’t all that great (the 1963 era Beatles on a rare holiday in Jersey, plus some news reels of tours and press conferences and a bit more of backstage stuff from ‘Shea Stadium) and the ‘unofficial’ status of the project means there’ no real Beatles music here (although unforgivably a sound-alike band is used and sounds as terribly as you’d expect). On the plus side, though, this documentary digs a little deeper than normal and some of the details (such as a terrified John Lennon, noticing the wing of an aeroplane the Beatles are travelling on is on fire, being convinced he’s about to die the same way as hero Buddy Holly). Not essential, perhaps, but not bad either. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘The Beatles on holiday, dressed in daft swimsuits, on a rare break from the incessant tour-record-BBC session-songwriting graft they’re used to
From a later edition of News, Views and Music: “Across The Universe” (Film, 2007)
I really wasn’t expecting much from this film, which uses the ‘Mama Mia’ trick of telling a new story based on old songs. Mama Mia itself was a travesty, easily amongst the worst top ten films of all time, with a cast of actors who couldn’t sing tackling some really tricky songs on a plot that made no sense, with characters you wanted to throw in the nearest bit of Greek sea and the most banal and obvious Abba songs shoe-horned into their plot. This Beatles take is much superior, however: telling the story of ‘Jude’ and ‘Lucy’, it contains the same backdrop of 1960s revolution and sea-change the Beatles songs were written to in the first place and is done with a lot more care and heart. Director Julie Tambor clearly knows her Beatles and the script (by ‘Porridge’ writers Le Frenais and Clements) is full of Beatle references (every character is named after a Beatles song somewhere) and lots of little ‘in-jokes’ such as Maxwell clutching a silver hammer or Prudence making her entrance ‘through the bathroom window’. You don’t need to be a Beatles anorak for the film to work, however, and if you’re new to the Beatles a) how on earth did you find my site?! And b) this film will give you access to so many great songs you probably aren’t used to hearing (the film even made a mini hit of ‘It Won’t Be Long’, the first song we ever wrote about on this website and one of Lennon’s most under-rated pop concoctions). From what I can tell ‘Across The Universe’ was something of a flop when it came out (odd – it’s got way more appeal than ‘Mama Mia’ ever did) but did really well in the teenage audience, re-connecting the Beatles to a new audience quite successfully. It’s a shame more fans gave it the cold shoulder, although frankly it was hard just trying to track down a copy of the thing. Yes, bits of it are corny, the Bono and Eddie Izzard cameos (as Dr Robert and Mr Kite respectively) get in the way of a good story and the Liverpool accents are as poor as any other American film made in the modern era. But this film’s heart is in the right place and the Beatles’ very essence – their invention, imagination and ability to make often very left-field turns accessible – is well represented in this inventive, imaginative film. The highlight: Uncle Sam calling out ‘I Want You’ to new recruits about to risk their lives in Vietnam – and the long march carrying the Statue of Liberty on their backs to a chorus of ‘She’s So Heavy!’ Even Lennon would have chuckled at that one!
“How I Won The War” (1967)
Lennon doesn’t sing in this surreal anti-war film and barely features at all despite receiving second billing (below a young Michael Crawford, way out of his depth in a serious role) but this is still a fascinating purchase. Without the Beatle input Lennon shows himself still to be a strong performer and seemingly picked up on much of his anti-war feeling during this period, while the chance to see Dick Lester do something else than a Beatles film is fascinating, with ‘How I Won The War’ just as funny as ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Help!’ but much stranger and darker. The ending - where Lennon as Private Gripweed gets blown up during a military operation no one believes in least of all himself - is terrifically poignant, especially in our post-Lennon post-1980 world. However, at two hours there’s an awful lot of this murky black humour to take in and it’s best watched in small instalments. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – none Skip straight to – Lennon’s first look to camera dressed as a ‘batman’: ‘Can I rub your ball, sir? It would give me great pleasure!’
“Live Peace In Toronto” (Filmed 1969)
If its a nice, clean, polished concert you want then you’ve come to the wrong place: ‘Toronto’ is a barely rehearsed collection of rock and roll oldies and a jam section on Yoko’s songs, free-wheeling and as odd and angular as any of John and Yoko’s avant garde albums. However Beatles fans, naturally regard this show highly: its incredibly important in the fab four story, the first time any Beatle appeared on stage for three years and it came some six months before the official news of the break-up. Reportedly Paul, George and Ringo were all asked to show (the Toronto organisers of a rock and roll festival cleverly won Lennon’s support by talking about spreading ‘peace’ to the masses) but refused to show if Yoko played. Instead John hired some friends who owed him favours (Eric Clapton, Alan White – who played on most of the early Plastic Ono band recordings – and the ever faithful Klaus Voormann) and the quartet played together for the first time on the actual plane on the journey over. So convinced were the organisers that it was going to be a disaster that they were already to announce that Lennon couldn’t make it and even when the Beatle turned up late he spent the hour after he arrived throwing up with nerves and heroin withdrawal. This show should have been a disaster, the choice of songs restricted to the few Clapton knew (‘Yer Blues’, played by the pair at the Stones Circus, is the only Beatle song here) – the fact that anything musical came out of it is a miracle. If John’s remark that the show was the best he ever played is a little OTT, the crackle of energy and excitement still comes across the screen well and the sheer noise level must have been incredible to an audience in the years when heavy metal was still a tool a construction worker used and Ozzy Osbourne was just a very pale-faced 10 year old, not a hell raiser. It’s hard to recommend this DVD because, well, you’re not likely to sit through it often and its the antithesis of the clean McCartney live DVDs with their greatest hits and audience-approving patter and yet it’s the most Lennonish of the small handful of Lennon concerts we have and is close to the heart of many a fan. Two versions of this DVD are around, both of them nicely cheap; one features just Lennon’s half hour show and the other includes a song each from that night’s other guests Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – 4/10, A rather rambling interview with Yoko conducted in 1988 Skip straight to – ‘Money’, the Beatles’ sizzling cover of taut energy and anticipation turned into a gut-wrenching gasp of desperation and agony
“Live In New York City” (Filmed in 1972, rare on DVD)
Lennon only performed five solo concerts – the aural experiment that was ‘Toronto’, the avant garde ‘Cambridge ’69’ (released on ‘Life With The Lyons’), the 15 minute appearance with Elton John in 1974 and this one, the only thing approaching a ‘proper’ full length concert. Sadly this show is a little bit disappointing: warned off from political rants by the FBI and worried about deportation and about to plunge into the ‘lost weekend’ (this is the last time till 1980 that John and Yoko appear in public regularly together) Lennon is understandably subdued. Elephant’s Memory, the Beatle equivalent of Crazy Horse, are clearly getting on John’s nerves too and you can see why this experiment was never really tried again. Most fans will cringe at the setlist too, which is noticeably heavy on ‘Some Time In New York City’ (the only Lennon album the backing band know), although I’m quite fond of it myself: Yoko’s ‘Born In A Prison’ is one of the best things here. There’s precious little Beatles too: ‘Come Together’ is the one surprising choice and even Lennon admits to the crowd ‘you might remember this more than me, actually’. All that said, the raucous ‘Cold Turkey’ is right up the street of Elephant’s Memory and almost equals the studio version, whilst the Imagine song ‘It’s So Hard’ actually beats the rather timid original. Even ‘Imagine’, not a song I particularly care for, sounds lovely here, in the days before it became the medication to all cures after his death. In all, then, this isn’t a great gig: Lennon is nervous, the band is poor, Yoko is at her squeakiest (surprisingly so, given that this is the year of her best work with the superb ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’) and even as Lennon’s longest concert it doesn’t feel anywhere near long enough. Even so, it’s the best live recording of Lennon we have and it would be nice to have this concert film back on our shelves properly, instead of an expensive, long ago deleted import. Overall rating – 5/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Cold Turkey’
“John Lennon: Imagine” (Documentary, 1988)
The current trend to think of Lennon as a saint started here with this DVD. As the first ‘official’ Lennon documentary Yoko understandably has a tight reign over what goes into this film so there’s nothing about Lennon being a difficult dad, a recalcitrant, distracted husband or an occasional thorn in the side of those he never agreed with and there’s no hint here about Lennon’s drug issues and only a brief insight into his ‘lost weekend’. In Lennon’s own words, you spend most of this documentary yelling ‘gimme some truth!’ All that said, you can at least sympathise with the way Lennon is portrayed here and the access to home movies brings you perhaps closer than ever before to the ‘real’ Lennon. The music, too, is well chosen (indeed the soundtrack album – mixing Beatles and solo hits and album tracks – is one of the better Beatle compilations around) and the interviews sweet and interesting, even if they basically amount to what a saint John was and what a shame he was taken from us so quickly. Most moving of all is seeing Sean, then aged 13, struggling to talk about his dad in the public eye for the first time, while the film’s sad ending, much copied by later documentaries, never hits as hard or as brutally as it does here. The film has quite a generous running time too. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to Lennon recording the vocal for ‘Jealous Guy’ under Phil Spector’s watchful eye
“Classic Albums – Imagine” aka “Gimme Some Truth” (c.1996)
Another of our ‘classic albums’ series, Lennon is the only artist who ever had two albums covered over the two series (even the Beatles were missing from the line-up!) ‘Imagine’ is the lesser album out the two covered (see below!) but the superior documentary, using lots of footage (mainly outtakes from the ‘Imagine’ film above) of the period with the Lennons on their Tittenhurst estate to good use during their last few months in England. The usual talking heads are all here, although being relegated to mainly talking about just the one album keeps them on track and there’s the iconic ‘Imagine’ video with the white piano to enjoy too. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras - None
“Classic Albums – Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” (c.1997)
Quiz question: Who are ‘Ringo Star’ ‘John Lenon’ and ‘Klaus Vorman’? Answer – fictional people who ‘apparently’ are featured in this DVD! Now before I get too carried away with sarcasm its worth saying that I applaud the producers of this DVD for tackling an album that involves so many awkward subjects (death, sex, drugs, religion and swearing) and which has only ever been a critical rather than commercial success. The chance of listening to the original engineers who worked on the album go back through the mastertapes and offer up some of Lennon’s demos (later collected on various releases but most of them still new to us back in the mid 90s) is a joy. The problem is that, unlike ‘Imagine’, no footage of Lennon in this era exists: there’s no shots of him making the album or even looking vaguely like he does on the front cover (the closest the makers can get is some admittedly rare footage of him walking out of a psychedelic club in 1967). Full marks for getting Dr Arthur Janov to talk about the project (it was his ‘primal scream’ therapy that inspired Lennon to make the album and to his credit he doesn’t often cash in on his rock star links), but Yoko is at her most irritating (answering obliquely, egotistically or not at all) whilst Lennon’s assistant Elliot Mintz is woefully OTT in his memories of Lennon (if ever an album saw an artist admitting to his faults its this one!) Probably the weakest in the ‘classic albums’ series of AAA artists, although only perhaps compared to the first-class status of the others. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – Lennon’s, well, lovely demo of ‘Love’
“Lennon Legend” (1998)
Twenty music videos is an impressive and thorough amount given that Lennon died long before MTV made music videos compulsory. Of course, it still pales in comparison to the 40 videos in the ‘McCartney Collection’ and doesn’t offer anything like the same level of insight into Lennon and his craft simply because its shorter and made without his participation. Still, Yoko does her husband proud by including some rare tracks among the usual songs you’d expect including ‘Cold Turkey’ and all the videos of posthumous singles such as ‘Working Class Hero’ and ‘Mother’(although those songs sound mighty out of place at the end of the DVD not the beginning). Along the way you get to see such iconic clips as ‘Imagine’ (white piano at the ready), ‘Give Peace A Chance’ (recorded on John and Yoko’s bed-in honeymoon) and John’s last Top Of The Pops singing ‘Instant Karma’ (with a blindfolded Yoko offering signed suggestions throughout!) They’re worth the price of the DVD alone, although there’s one too many ‘collage’ video here, made up of newsreel footage and recycled clips rather than offering anything new. Still, if you want the best of this footage (and believe me you do) there’s no better place to look for it. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – 7/10 more footage from ‘Live In New York City’, although frankly nowhere near enough Skip straight to ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, one of Lennon’s worst songs but a terribly moving video, with the use of Lennon’s interview extracts and the ‘house’ John and Yoko always dreamed of owning evaporating in a puff of smoke and being replaced by the ‘Lennon memorial’ in Central Park.
“John Lennon’s Bed In” (1999)
Some 90 minutes’ worth of footage of John and Yoko’s honeymoon, mainly shot informally at their invitation with a small bit of official footage (of the Lennons being interviewed by various press men) included too. As you’d expect from something transferred to video (and later DVD) more or less intact, there’s an awful lot of footage here you don’t nee (unless you particularly want to watch Lennon staring into space or going ‘yes...ah-hm...right’ down the end of a telephone). That said, the shots of Yoko being mum to her daughter Kyoko (soon to be kidnapped by her dad Anthony Cox, breaking her mother’s heart and inspiring most of her best songs), Lennon going head to head with journalist Gloria Emerson (both of whom come out fighting, Lennon briefly dropping his peaceful facade) and of course the singalong recording of ‘Give Peace A Chance’ are all among the best Beatles footage around. Whether 10 golden minutes are enough to sit through 90 for is up to you. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Give Peace A Chance’
“John and Yoko on The Dick Cavett Show” (Filmed 1972, released 2006)
The Lennon-Onos really put poor likable host Dick Cavett through the mill on these three fascinating shows (all here uncut I’m pleased to say). Back in 1972 the Lennons had some heavy ‘friends’ such as Malcolm X who’d been trying to get on television for years – so Lennon made his presence a condition of the interview. Moereover, instead of performing one of his ‘safer’ songs Lennon chooses to preview ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’, leaving poor Mr Cavett to add a rambling introduction the show sponsors have made him say about how anyone likely to be offended should choose to switch off. Either admirably or naively, Cavett goes through it all and lets Lennon bare his soul for the most fascinating television interview Lennon gave (matched only by Wenner’s Rolling Stone discussion for scope and feeling). Personally I rather admire the politically aware Lennon of 1972, desperately trying to put things right in causes he’s only just discovered, but its a sad fact that his music from this period (as heard on the ‘Sometime In New York City’) isn’t that great by his standards. Backing band Elephants Memory are also a little on the raw side. Don’t buy this set for the music, however – or even to see Lennon at his saintly, reverential best – buy it instead for Lennon’s burning anger, his fight for the underdog and his curiosity in how his new homeland of America works. Even confirmed Lennonphiles like me will learn something new. Beatles fans should note that George Harrison appeared on the Dick Cavett show too and that set is released on the box set titled ‘Rock Icons’ interviewed near the bottom of the page. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – 7/10 Dick Cavett circa 2006 introduces Dick Cavett circa 1972, with some memories added with the benefit of hindsight. Skip straight to ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’
“The US vs John Lennon” (2007)
A fascinating account of what went on during Lennon’s move to America and his new found friends in the counter-culture. People like Jerry Rubin, Malcolm X and John Sinclair – previously just names in books – come to life talking about their fallen hero whilst Yoko herself has never been better or more moving in her discussion of Lennon’s courage and the circumstances of his death. Best of all, though, are the comments discussing what Lennon would have made of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and how similar the late-era of George Bush Jnr seems to the bad old days of Nixon (who was at least impeached when he was exposed as a crook). Fans will know the whole story well already, of course, but this probably the best re-telling of Lennon’s life as a solo star and the fixation on the year 1972 (and the under-rated ‘Sometime In New York City’ album) affords a detail that few other documentaries can match. The two negative points I have with the film is the lack of vintage clips (the Dick Cavett shows are fascinating and could have been longer; more from the ‘Sinclair’ rally would have been poignant too) and the lack of detail about why Lennon really did move to America – and who he left behind (Lennon immigrated partly to help Yoko find her kidnapped daughter, believed to be living in the States with her dad and partly to escape the financial mess of Apple). However these are small issues when weighed against the amount of things the documentary got right, not treating Lennon as saint or sinner but as a brave individual who scared the Government of the day so much they bullied him into submission and retirement (the documentary is open-ended about whether they caused his death too). The programme was later followed by a slightly lesser DVD dealing with the same period. Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – 8/10 (Some extra titbits cut from the film, mainly dealing with Lennon’s legacy or wondering what he would make of political changes in the 1980s, 90s and 00s) Skip straight to – the end credits set to ‘Instant Karma’; never has one of Lennon’s better singles been more apt or right
“Nowhere Boy” (2009)
(This article first appeared in ‘News and Views’ issue 67 – it seemed pretty comprehensive so I didn’t bother writing it out again!)
At long last we have a documentary featuring Lennon’s formative years, possibly his most interesting period even with all the Beatles and solo activities to talk about, and it’s great to see previous shadowy figures in Lennon’s story brought to life. Pete Shotton, John’s best friend till Paul and Stuart Sutcliffe came along, finally gets his full due in a Beatles film and the tensions between him and Paul at the end of the film over Lennon’s friendship are intriguing. Aunt Mimi’s husband – known to Beatle fans the world over as Uncle George – is also shown at long last to be the leading light in the young Lennon’s life, sparking his nephew’s interest in comedy and imagination as well as being the contrast to Aunt Mimi’s more reserved moods. In fact, one of the best scenes of the film is the opening: Lennon sits in his childhood pose of legs leaning up against the wall, laughing at Hancock’s Half Hour and bantering with Uncle George, a world away from the traditional view of Lennon’s turbulent beginnings and a scene that shows how well the researchers have done their homework. Mother Julia and Aunt Mimi herself also get more detail than is usual in Beatles films where the former is the villain and the latter the hero – one of the major plus points of ‘Nowhere Boy’ is that even though Lennon himself idolised his mother it was Aunt Mimi who took the young Beatle in and looked after him to avoid a family scandal. One of the other enlightening themes of the film is that far from being an unwanted, abandoned child – as you’d believe if you listened to any Lennon album or interview in the early 70s – not only his mother and his aunt but also his dad wanted custody of Lennon and it was asking the 5-year-old John to make the decision who to live with rather than abandoning him that caused Lennon his biggest troubles.
The one major way in which ‘Nowhere Boy’ wins out over ‘Lennon Naked’ (screened on the BBC the same month) is the way the other Beatles are portrayed. In ‘Naked’ the others – especially Paul – are shown to be wisecracking conmen riding on the coat-tails of Lennon’s talent and holding him back. Even given that this other film is set in the end of the Beatles days, dismissing the three people who were still John’s closest allies outside Yoko and who we know just as well as Lennon seems silly; in contrast in this film Paul is as close to his real self as we’ve yet gone on film: gentlemanly, slightly in awe of his elder friend and genuinely sympathetic to Lennon’s loss (which, as the middle section of the film reveals, so closely mirrors his own mother Mary’s sudden death from cancer) while being the only friend brave or close enough to Lennon to stand up to him and tick him off. Finally, we also get the sense that Lennon saw music as his only salvation from his turbulent life throughout the film – taught to play the guitar by his mother, it quickly becomes the prop Lennon needs to act out fantasies of what he wants to be and particularly telling is the scene where he casually announces to his school friends that he expects them to form a band with him, not even expecting them to say no if he wants it so badly. Perhaps the best scene, though, is Lennon’s delight in playing his first ‘real’ song ‘Hello Little Girl’, a much-overlooked song in the Lennon/Macca canon and fits really well in the film as the time when Lennon has finally made peace with his warring family at last. The car crash that follows is sudden, not only because we – like Julia – have no warning about it, but because it comes at the only point in the film since the opening when John is actually happy for once. Overall, Nowhere Boy pulls off the difficult trick of making Lennon, his mother and his aunt not only human and believable but sympathetic, despite showing all three character’s faults quite liberally.
However, there are still some negative points about ‘Nowhere Boy’. Unlike ‘Lennon Naked’ which took its accuracy to quite ridiculous degrees sometimes this film took rather a lot of artistic license with it’s scenes. First up, I’ve never heard about John punching Paul in the face and it certainly didn’t happen the day his mother died (he is meant to have hit poor Pete Shotton, but not at this point in his life either). I’ve also never heard about the sisters patching up their differences the day Julia died, although she was indeed visiting Mimi just before she was knocked down by an off-duty policeman. The Quarrymen scenes are also incidental rather than integral to the film once the band are up and running – there’s nothing here about the turbulent line-up changes, the desperate hunt for rehearsal spaces away from Aunt Mimi’s prying eyes or Lennon’s desperate need to keep proving himself.
There’s also no real mention of Lennon’s early creative fire, when he filled up endless notebooks with sketches and cartoons and gobbledegook, adamant that he was more talented than his teachers and guardians knew (although it’s nice to see so many ‘paintings’ on his bedroom wall). Talking of teachers, there’s not even a single mention of school despite the fact that Lennon spends most of the film hanging around with his school friends. School was a major obstacle of Lennon’s early life and his teachers an equal source of annoyance as his troubled parenting. Plus it was also the place Lennon met two of the most important people in his early life who only get the briefest of mentions in the film: fifth Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe, the man who gave Lennon the courage and belief to go with his sharp eye and wit and girlfriend/first wife Cynthia, who gave a more subtle belief in the same thing. In fact, it’s interesting to watch this film back to back with 1995’s ‘Backbeat’ : there Stuart Sutcliffe is everything in Lennon’s life, even more than McCartney , with Cynthia a close second – here they aren’t even incidental characters. The film also gives up near the end – like Lennon Naked it doesn’t so much have an ending as a pause as Lennon walks down a street away from us whistling, little knowing as his audience does what lies in store for him.
Overall, then, this film is missing too much to make it a five-star classic and we could easily have done without a great deal of the padding towards the middle and end of the film (yet another scene of Lennon rowing with his mother/aunt/whoever or getting up his stepdad Bobby Dykins’ nose). But it is yet another very very good film that shows so much more purpose, style and accuracy than most Beatle films we’ve had in the past. Although its as different to ‘Lennon Naked’ as its possible to be it also shares one key aspect: the multi-layered characterisation of Lennon is spot-on and the acting is for once the equal of the script. Whilst most Beatles fans probably won’t be in seventh heaven with this film, as some critics will tell you, they should be very very pleased with ‘Nowhere Boy’, which gets an awful lot more things right than it gets wrong. Overall rating – 8/10, Extras – 7/10 Three deleted scenes, a director’s commentary and three featurettes about Liverpool, the Quarrymen and using Lennon’s real house (now owned by the National Trust).Skip straight to – the moment a teenage John walks back from seeing his mum and starts writing his first song, little knowing the life-changing event that’s about to occur
Less interesting than Lennon vs America and covering much of the same ground, this is the ‘unofficial’ documentary of Lennon’s years as the darling of New York’s counter-culture. That said, even though this later documentary comes out second best, I’d still be happy with it if the other hadn’t existed – both have generous near two-hour running times, interview all the right people and feature lots of great relevant music (Yoko is about the only person missing). The interview with producer Jack Douglas, who worked with the Lennons on ‘Double Fantasy’, is particularly moving and the end – where Lennon, having made New York City his safe haven for some eight years, dies on the steps of his home is always moving, even though we fans sadly know the end of this sad story backwards by now. Recommended. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – tales of boozy rock star millionaires in Lennon’s lost weekend
“Wings: Rockshow” (Filmed in 1976, released on video in 1979, now out in part on ‘The McCartney Years’)
The fact that only four songs from this cracking two hour show are out on DVD is nothing short of criminal! Filmed during the middle line up of Wings’ 1976 world tour, Macca rarely looked or sounded better than this. The track listing is identical to ‘Wings Over America’ but the performances differ subtlety, with extended solos, chat and a couple of extended endings. This was the first time a lot of these McCartney Beatle songs had ever been played life (certainly the 1967-70 material) and there’s hardly a dry eye in the house after (one of the) first performances of ‘Yesterday’ in 11 years. The late, great Jimmy McCullough is on particularly spiffing form, although it’s Denny Laine’s ‘Time To Hide’ that brings the house down. Presumably this film – shown in a few cinemas and released as a limited edition video – fell out of favour with Macca because some of the filming is a little bit odd (much of it in darkness, some of it from a great distance), but this just gives the feeling of what it must have been like to actually be there all the more powerful. Long overdue as a complete DVD! Overall rating 9/10 Extras – none Skip straight to ‘Time To Hide’
“Give My Regards To Broad Street” (Film, 1984, not yet on DVD)
The general consensus is that this expensive film (paid for with McCartney’s money when no film studio would finance it) is just a glorified, overlong music video and that it only exists to soothe Macca’s ego. That may be true and certainly I’d never rate it amongst Paul’s best work, but so much of this film gets it right that it would be a shame to dismiss it all out of hand. The biggest problem is the plot – playing himself, Paul has hired a rough-diamond to work for him (in the Neil Aspinall or Mal Evans role) and he seems to have done a runner with the mastertapes for his latest album (without them the record company are in dire financial trouble). The plot ‘twist’ is that he hasn’t done a runner – he’s merely got himself locked in a loo. The idea had been in Macca’s mind for a long long time (its even obliquely referred to in a sketch about ‘Harry’ and a ‘box’ on one of the Beatles’ 1964 radio broadcasts) but the problem is the peril on display here simply means millionaire McCartney and millionaire record boss don’t get to add more to their millions. Shock! Horror! Paul is nervy in the lead role but the rest of the acting is superb (Ringo, playing a moody exaggerated version of himself, is never better, while then-unknown Tracy Ullman proves what a good eye for talent Macca could have and Ralph Richardson in almost his last film role is as good as you’d expect). The music too, is superb – none of the re-recordings here outclass the originals, but the fact that they’re re-done at all rather than mimed to old records shows the care and attention of the project. The film doesn’t take the easy choices either: ‘Wanderlust’ ‘Ballroom Dancing’ and ‘For No One’ are all fan favourites that the general public don’t know that well and are frankly welcome over better known songs like ‘Sgt Peppers’ ‘Get Back’ or ‘Live and Let Die’ that you’d expect to be shoe-horned into the plot. As for the new songs, it’s a crying shame Macca didn’t release a full album in 1984 because all three are among his finest: the classy ballad and hit single ‘No More Lonely Nights’ (featuring one of David Gilmour’s career best guitar solos), the impressively rocky ‘No Values’ (which Paul ‘dreamt’ the Rolling Stones had played to him one night) and the punkish ‘Not Such A Bad Boy’. Even McCartney’s first ever piece of classical music (‘Eleanor’s Dream’) is excellent, an atmospheric extension of the themes and feeling of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ that’s the perfect setting for the ‘Edwardian Dream Sequence’ going on in McCartney’s head. You’ll have to drop your expectations a little and this film is far from a masterpiece – but on it’s own terms this film is a very under-rated minor gem and more than deserves a second hearing. Overall rating – 6/10, Extras – none (it still isn’t out on DVD yet!) Skip straight to – ‘Silly Love Songs’, as performed by an ‘alien’ band dressed in impressive white make-up who come out of their holes to sing at the same time each day!
“The McCartney Special” (1986, not yet on DVD)
Hard to find, but well worth the effort of digging out, this is Paul during one of his more interesting and under-rated periods, still hurting from the abuse heaped on ‘Broad Street’ but still hopeful a getting a good reception for his ‘Press To Play’ album (an unfairly maligned gem of his back catalogue). By Mccartney standards he’s quite open in this interview and its the first time he’s inclined to look back on his Beatle days instead of always forward onto the next project. Better yet are the short behind the scenes passages showing the filming of Paul’s promo for ‘Only Love Remains’ and ‘Press’ and a couple of TV appearances promoting that album. This video sold badly – it wasn’t surrounded by the hype that surrounded most McCartney albums from ‘Flowers In the Dirt’ on – but is vastly under-rated and would make a nice DVD some day. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Only Love Remains’, a very under-rated McCartney ballad
“Put It There” (1990)
Compared to Wings and Macca’s 2000-era touring band, the 1990 and 93 world tours sound awfully uninterested and pompous, going through the motions rather than sparking new life into Macca’s songs. Put yourself in context, however, and these DVDs were much more exciting at the time than they seem now – the first chance to hear lots of Beatles songs and even some Wings ones as Paul’s last proper tour had been 13 years earlier. Personally, I find this DVD of the 1990 tour much more entertaining than the ‘Tripping The Live Fantastic CDS – there’s more of Macca and band joking behind the scenes and trying to deflate the tension that playing to record crowds every night must cause. The track selection is quite interesting too: ‘How Many People’ ‘Distractions’ and ‘That Day Is Done’ are three period songs from ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ that strangely never made it to the live CD and are more interesting than most of what did, while there’s a whole heap of rock and roll covers unique to this disc (’20 Flight Rock’ ‘Cracking Up’ ‘I Want You, I Need You, I Love You’ ‘Just Because’ ‘Summertime’ ‘Lucille’ and ‘Ain’t That A Shame’). There’s no getting away from the fact that this is a minor key, marking time release from the McCartney vaults and if you’re a new fan then you’re better off with ‘Rockshow’ (if you have a lot of money spare) or ‘Back In The US’ (if you don’t). However, if you come to this video not expecting a lot then you might be pleasantly surprised. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – the first official release of ‘Party Party’, a surprisingly noisy song that’s about the last time to date that McCartney bothered to try keeping up with ‘modern’ trends. Nice to have as an extra though! Skip straight to – ‘Put It There’, a sweet song about Paul’s relationships with his dad and with his son on – unlike most of the songs here it’s only been played live on this tour and in live terms is exclusive to this DVD
“MTV Unplugged” (1992, not yet out on DVD)
Another McCartney rarity that’s actually one of the few ‘limited editions’ releases that genuinely did disappear soon after being issued. As of 2012 only four songs from ‘Unplugged’ are officially available (on the ‘McCartney Years’ set), although they are among the most interesting – including the very first song Paul ever wrote (‘I Lost My Little Girl’, with a new middle eight specially written for the occasion) and an interesting acoustic re-working of ‘We Can Work It Out’ (in which Macca accidentally sings the second verse instead of the first). Like many of the Unplugged shows, this is a concert that’s of most interest to passionate fans, who will know and appreciate the original recordings so they can ‘compare’ the differences – which are many in this case and include such rarities as ‘Junk’ (a song from 1970 never played live before) and one-off covers such as ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’ and Hamish Stuart’s take on ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. Far more enjoyable than most McCartney concerts, this no overdubs, mistakes-left-in informal bit of nonsense is how ‘Let It Be’ should have been made, by a talented band enjoying themselves. A full DVD release in the future would be a real treat. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Junk’
“Paul Is Live” (1993)
Actually, Paul sounds half-dead on this DVD which is one of the weaker of his many live recordings out. A second trawl through the Beatles and Wings back catalogue is inevitably going to be less interesting than the first and for some reason Paul’s insisted on playing the weaker songs from his then-new album ‘Off The Ground’ with only ‘Looking For Changes’ and ‘C’mon People’ up to standard. For some reason, the footage keeps merging from black and white to colour and back again -presumably for effect as my old video used to do the same – but if so then that’s a bad choice (Paul’s psychedelic piano looks nothing in monochrome!) That said, the DVD of Macca’s 1993 world tour is a lot more enjoyable than the CD for some reason (despite running three tracks shorter) and is a lot more entertaining visually than the 1990 tour. The onstage ‘asides’ are entertaining and Macca seems to be having fun, which is infectious by the end. I picked this DVD up pretty cheaply too and it’s a bargain at this price – though I’d have been disappointed had I paid the £15 it cost when it first came out! However the best, most moving thing on here might not be the music at all but the animal rights film Paul had put together for his in-concert screens (and added here after the credits roll). So much unnecessary man-made cruelty, it’s heartbreaking to watch and really should have bumped the DVD age rating up to 16 or 18 or so (the box unhelpfully lists it as ‘exempt’). Overall rating – 4/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Let Me Roll It’, a classic Wings song unheard in concert for 17 years!
“In The World Tonight” (1997)
Another long rambling interview with McCartney, separated by some music videos and a few of the projects he was juggling at the time (‘Tropic Island Hum’ gets its first airing here, some 12 years before appearing on ‘The Animation Collection’). Sadly this is our last chance to see Paul and Linda together before her death in 1998 and she’s obviously poorly here, although the couple don’t dwell on it. Instead we see Macca roaming around the grounds of his home, lighting fires and mourning the fact that his children are growing up while discussing the rather lacklustre ‘Flaming Pie’ record about to come out. It’s less essential or interesting than some of the other entries for McCartney in this list, but still has its sparks of interest. The music videos are nice to have too, even if ‘Young Boy’ is one of the worst songs McCartney has ever written. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘I Can See The World Tonight’, one of only two listenable songs from ‘Flaming Pie’ accompanied by a sort of updated version of the home-made movies Paul composed for ‘McCartney’ and ‘Ram’
After so much fuss about the Beatles a few years earlier, it was nice to see Wings get the attention they deserved. Like the band, this documentary runs hot and cold, frustratingly working off at a tangent just when things have begun to gel nicely, but this home-made film (by Paul’s son-in-law, with daughter Mary conducting the interview with her dad) hitting most of the right spots. Paul is clearly still in nostalgic mood, coming to terms with his grief of Linda’ passing, but he’s still refreshingly open and honest about the problems of having his wife in the band, even if he glosses over the many personality conflicts in Wings (Jimmy McCulluch, who died aged 26, is dealt with particularly patronisingly I thought). Best of all for fans Paul’s opened his vaults to the film crew so there are lots of home-made video clips and photographs fans can’t see anywhere else (well, except the ‘Wingspan’ book that came out the following year anyway!) The clever title is just one of the many highlights of this DVD, whose only downside is the amount of time spent on Wings’ early albums over their later, perhaps more interesting work on ‘London Town’ et al. Overall rating – 8/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – a sweet home video of Paul and Linda singing the then-unreleased ‘Hey Diddle’ while daughters Heather and Mary run around the garden of their Mull Of Kintyre farmhouse.
“Live At The Cavern Club” (1999)
You can sense the history oozing out of the pores of this DVD, as a real live Beatle returns to Liverpool’s Cavern Club for the first time since 1963, all for a special gig screened for the turn of the millennium! Of course, nothing is quite as it seemed – with a blatant disregard to their city’s heritage Liverpool Council knocked down the real car park to put in a ventilator for the underground railway network, so the Cavern as it is today is actually a clever mock-up positioned across the road from the old one. The concert, too, was actually filmed a long way from the millennium in November – oh and the promise of all of Macca’s ‘Run Devil Run’ era band together proved to be a false dawn (Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour couldn’t make it). However, it’s the thought that counts and this concert is still special, with Paul open about the fact that he did the concert at wife Linda’s urging (this was Paul’s second public appearance after her death the year before) and even adding ‘I saw Her Standing There’ to the setlist as an encore. Like the ‘Run Devil Run’ album everything here is covered with the same sheen of high octane energy, meaning that all the songs sound the same after a time and at not quite an hour this concert is frustratingly short. However, the band is cooking, Macca is having fun and everyone crammed into the tiny venue is partying like its 1999 – because it was. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘No Other Baby’, the poignant highlight of the whole ‘Run Devil Run’ album, the original of which – unknown to McCartney at the time he covered it – was produced by a young George Martin in 1959.
“Back In The US” (2002)
Arguably the best of the many Live Macca DVDs doing the rounds (though I might have to change that idea if ‘Rockshow’ ever gets a wider release...) this is the post-Linda Paul, determined to get his life back on tgrack after a period of mourning with an excellent backing band of talented youngsters enthusiastic about the music and the return of keyboardist Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens to the stage. The setlist isn’t all that different to how it was in the 1990s, but the energy and excitement is through the roof in comparison, with performances of ‘Let Me Roll It’ ‘Jet’ and ‘Here There and Everywhere’ the equals of the originals and a handful of inspired additions to the live catalogue never heard before outside the records: ‘Hello Goodbye’ ‘Getting Better’ and ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ Best of all were the two tributes to Paul’s former comrades George (‘Something’ played on a ukulele only a year after his sad passing) and John (the moving farewell letter ‘Here Today’, released on ‘Tug Of War’ back in 1982 and not heard since). If I was even more grumpy than I am then I’d point out that the DVD offers nothing the CD (‘Back In The World’) doesn’t already give you (despite ostensibly being from a different show) and that visually there’s not much going on here. But then there doesn’t need to be – Macca’s back in touch with his muse and that’s all you need to keep you entertained throughout the generous three hour running time. Overall rating – 8/10, Extras – 5/10 Annoyingly most of these are only available online (what’s the point of that? Bung them on the DVD) but are interesting, featuring backstage gossip, the band travelling via jet (wooh wooh! Jet!) and a couple of soundcheck performances. Skip straight to ‘Getting Better’, unperformed since 1967!
“Live In Red Square” (2005)
At least I can forgive yet another live McCartney DVD so soon after the last one because this is undoubtedly a special occasion. Despite being famous at the height of the cold war The Beatles prided themselves on not taking sides, even offering an extended olive branch to Russia by recording a kind of ‘California Girls’ equivalent on ‘Back In The USSR’. In 2005, some 15 years after the fall of communism in Russia, Macca became the first big Western icon of a musician to play to the public and he’s treated like a God, the crowds partying to no less than three versions of that famous track. The invite came officially too (there’s a sweet bonus feature of President Putin walking around Red Square with Macca before the concert and saying how much the event means to him, no longer the squinty-eyed tyrant of textbooks but a little kid meeting one of his idols). Unfortunately by Macca’s 21st century standards this isn’t one of his better gigs, with the intensity perhaps getting to him and his fine band, and in truth if you own ‘Back In The US’ the track listings are more or less identical anyway (only that DVD is performed better). However, if its a souvenir of a special occasion rather than a cracking concert you want to see then few are more important than this day of East meets West, a life changing experience for the lucky few thousand who were there that we never saw coming even 20 years earlier. Overall rating – 5/10, Extras – 5/10 A rather rambling and over-enthusiastic documentary by the History Channel about Russia’s link with the Beatles – there’s some priceless footage though so we’ll let it pass. There’s a nice booklet included too. Skip straight to – ‘Back In The USSR’ for occasion’s sake, although for the collector the first ever live appearance of ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ is pretty special too
“The McCartney Years” (2008)
Here’s my little test for whether you want to buy this set. This a really packed box set full of three discs of solo and Wings-era McCartney music running to nine hours in all (make that 16 if you include Paul’s witty commentaries). If that sentence has made your blood run cold then give this set a wide berth. If, however, like me you love immersing yourself in a musician’s work in all its detail and glory and you think McCartney’s solo work is under-rated then this set is your new best friend. On the down side, it’s still nowhere near complete even at this running time (where are the promos for ‘Pretty Little Head’ ‘Only Love Remains’ ‘Stranglehold’ even ‘Seaside Woman’ – it won an award for heaven’s sake!) and the extracts from the otherwise unavailable ‘Unplugged’ and ‘Rockshow’ could and should have been more generous. Filling up half an hour with the awful ‘Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road’ documentary and another hour with an obsolete Glastonbury show from 2003 (an era already well documented on DVD) is also a complete waste of space. But I’ll forgive anything to have some of the cleverest music videos ever made back on the shelves. The highlights are many, but I’ll single a few of them out: the home-made ‘Helen Wheels’ with a young Wings in Macca’s car; ‘Coming Up’ where the ‘Plastic Macs’ band of a dozen McCartneys are beautifully synchronised throughout; ‘Waterfalls’ that pretends we’re taking a walk through Macca’s imagination as he writes the song and ‘Pipes Of Peace’ in which he movingly re-creates the Christmas Day armistice in the first world war, playing both ‘Tommy’ and ‘Fritz’ soldiers. The commentaries are fascinating too, Paul watching these videos back with for us for the first time in decades in many cases, while the double running order (‘chronological’ or ‘playlist’) is a clever device which means you can watch these DVDs several times over without them growing stale or repetitive. Yes I’d have done a few things differently with this set, the songs are far too weighted towards the lesser 1990-00s years and I most certainly wouldn’t have let the banned nudity video for ‘Beautiful Night’ through (though more because of the awful song than the video, I admit). But there’s so much good material here that the odd low spot doesn’t matter that much and you might be surprised by how consistent most of this package is. Overall rating – 9/10, Extras – 8/10 (Mainly interviews and alternate video clips including guest appearances on Parkinson, The South Bank Show, Live Aid, The Superbowl and four TV shows featuring Wings) Skip straight to ‘Coming Up’ or ‘Pipes Of Peace’
“The Animation Collection” (2009)
A collection of animated projects started by and financed by Paul – one good, one great, one bonkers. Sadly my biggest gripe is that this set is so incomplete: the marvellous promo to ‘Seaside Woman’ (which even won an international award) has never appeared on DVD so why not include it here? Ditto ‘Oriental Nightfish’, the best of Linda’s dozen published songs. ‘Tropic Island Hum’ too is merely the musical sequence from a planned mini-feature length film – so why not wait till the rest of it was finished? (The story, starring Wirral The Squirrel, came out as a rather good children’s book titled ‘High In The Clouds’ if you want to know the rest of the story!) That said, what we have here is lovely. McCartney’s animation team really capture the hand-drawn simplistic animation look that modern animation films, however clever and complex, are badly missing. ‘Rupert and the Frog Song’ is still the best thing here, a lovely little story about everyone’s favourite bear from Nutwood and its to McCartney’s credit a) that no fans seem to realise that’s really him doing the voice and b) that so many passionate Rupert fans assume this is based on an old story (it isn’t, it’s Paul’s invention). That said this DVD cuts off both Macca’s in-person introduction digging his old Rupert books out of the loft and his rather clever trailer, both of which appeared on the video, so yah boo to the DVD makers. ‘Tuesday’ continues Paul’s fascination with frogs and is based on a book about a reported incident in America in the 1920s when frogs started turning up in the most unusual places (the theme is any day is unusual, especially when it’s a Tuesday). Told without words or music for the most part, it’s a strange but rather sweet and compelling little story (listen out for Paul’s voice on a radio and as a policeman, the only spoken word in the whole piece outside Dustin Hoffman’s narration). As for ‘Tropic Island Hum’, its awful as a standalone piece of music but makes perfect sense if you’ve read the book (it’s just a shame there isn’t more of it!) And yes you’ve guessed it, as well as the scene-stealing squirrel there’s an appearance by another frog! A mixed bag, then – let’s hope there’s a bigger and better edition of this collection if and when the team ever actually finish work on ‘Up In The Clouds!’ Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – 7/10 There’s a lovely booklet, lots of storyboards and line-tests and an interview with the production team (including McCartney) that’s very informative but far too short Skip straight to – June Whitfield’s put-upon Mrs Bear (‘You saw some frogs you say? Yes dear, that’s nice, I’m sure you did...now off to bed!’)
“The Space Within US” (2006)
Yuk. This DVD and tour were made to promote what may well be the worst album in my collection, certainly of McCartney’s career in ‘Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard’. This is the album that re-wrote ‘Blackbird’ and turned the angst-ridden, metaphorically full imagery of the original for a cheap song about a dull bird and gave us the godawful chorus ‘how twee, how me!’ Twee is the word for this back-slapping set from 2005 that finds Paul singing to the inhabitants of the International space station who, judging by the looks on their faces, either don’t know who Paul McCartney is or left planet earth to go into space to avoid having to sit through exactly this sort of embarrassment. The shots of people involved in the project talking about how wonderful a guy Paul is also palls after 10 minutes and gets deadeningly sick after two hours of the stuff. To be fair this is the same excellent band who gave us the 2001 ‘Back In The World’ tour so things aren’t all bad, but even the parts that work have been out on DVD in live form so many times now the only difference from one performance to the next is what colour jackets the band happen to be wearing. The measly pickings for the collector here are interrupted (why?!) first-live versions of Beatles songs ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ ‘I Will’ and the ‘Revolver’ classic ‘For No One’, but these classic moments are almost all ruined by yet another piece to camera about how, yes, Paul was once in a band called The Beatles and had a few hits. A real disappointment and one to avoid. Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘For No One’
“Good Evening New York City” (2009)
Macca’s second ever appearance in a baseball stadium isn’t quite up to Shea Stadium, but certainly has its moments. The sad news is that if you own any McCartney live DVD from the past 12 years then this one doesn’t have much more to add: ‘Highway’ and ‘Sing The Changes’ from the ‘Fireman’ ‘Electric Arguments’ album, the awful ‘Only Mama Knows’ from ‘Memory Almost Full’, a sweet medley of ‘Give Peace A Chance’ and ‘A Day In The Life’ that’s inferior to the ‘other’ tribute ‘Here Today’ and the crowd-pleasing shock return to the set list ‘I’m Down’ is all you get that’s in any way new. The good news is that if you’ve never owned a McCartney live DVD before then this is one of the best to buy, right up there with ‘Back In The US’ with the same cracking band of talented youngsters (and Macca never sounding more youthful) at their best. The set comes as another McCartney multi CD-DVD set too, which seems like overkill to me but there you go. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘I’m Down’, where thanks to modern-day camera trickery Paul is backed on a big screen by John and George
“Live Kisses” (2012)
We’ve covered a lot of McCartney shows on this list already and these include the good, the bad and the decidedly ugly. ‘Live Kisses’ is definitely in the latter category, another of those ‘why hasn’t he learnt from his mistakes yet?’ category that interrupts the music with back-slapping comments from friends and fans and yet leaves us knowing absolutely zilch about the real McCartney. All the songs on this album come from the ‘Kisses On The Bottom’ crooner album, which has its moments but somehow insists on concentrating on all of Macca’s lesser talents rather than his best (very little writing, awful husky singing and a seeming disdain for his audience). The ‘live’ recording here sounds remarkably similar to the album, too, which if it was recorded as easily as this probably only took an hour. However there are two major mistakes that absolutely torpedo any good will this concert could draw upon: the stupidly short running time and the insistence of the film-makers that as all the songs here are ‘old’ ones everything should be shot in black and white to look ‘arty’. It doesn’t look arty, it just looks daft, just as it did when Oasis tried the same trick in 2006. Frankly there isn’t enough ‘colour’ in these performances anyway so why the makers insisted on taking even that away is beyond me. An awful, hideous mess that should have had everyone involved executed at dawn after a night of sitting through the Spice Girls musical. Overall rating – 0/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – The menu is as good as this DVD gets!
From a later edition of News, Views and Music: "The Linda McCartney Story" (Film, 2000)
Like the Beach Boys and Monkees biopics, this film is at alternating moments both a travesty and a heartfelt tribute. While seeing 'other' people play someone we know well is always disconcerting and many liberties have been taken with the story, this isn't quite the sacrilege feared it would be and is indeed quite powerful when it comes to Linda's death in 1998 (even if Linda dies in the wrong venue with the wrong members of her family around her on the wrong date - which kind of sums the film up). The film takes many liberties it really shouldn't, such as giving Wings the same five-man line-up for all of their career (who is the bearded guitarist meant to be - he doesn't look like Henry McCullouch, Jimmy McCullogh or Laurence Juber!) and giving Linda's daughter Heather a 'starring' role (even though she was actually in care for most of the second half of the film). And yet, this film gets so many details right: the painting Lennon whallops his fist through is spot-on in details, the dialogue of Macca thinking up the band name 'Wings' at the same time Linda is having a difficult birth with third daughter Stella and Linda's riposte to Mick Jagger's criticism that 'I would never have my old lady up on stage' ('that was nearly me!') are word-perfect, suggesting somebody somewhere did some research. The film is also extremely good on some characters (Linda and Paul are both 're-created' well, with this McCartney sensitive and vulnerable after both his mother's death and the Beatles break-up - his depression on their Mull OF Kintyre farm rings especially true - rather than the monster he's often painted out to be, although this McCartney is no saint either, seeing Linda behind Jane Asher's back). However John Lennon is painted all wrong (the pair weren't quite that nasty to each other even during the White Album), George and Ringo are mere ciphers, Yoko is painted as a one-dimensional witch yet again, Paul's second longest writing partner gets no lines and is only in one scene at all, whilst McCartney children Stella and James get a very rough deal compared to Heather and Mary. Oddly, too, the film seems to emphasise the McCartneys sending all their children to public school - in actual fact only Heather went and she hated it so much Paul and Linda pulled her out of school and gave all their children private tutoring before sending them to a local 'normal' secondary school, taking all four children on tour with them (whioch would have made for a more interesting sub-plot to the film). Not a disaster, then, but yet again it's odd that so many mistakes were let through that could have been so easily changed - or that some of the 'better' stories of the McCartneys life together was left untold. Half a heartfelt tribute, half a travesty, this film is ultimately a bit of a mixture.
We covered the music for this film back in news and views 150 and a lot of the plot too (in as much as this film has any!) In many ways this film has become more important than it should have done, being the first ever solo Beatles album, the first ever album released on ‘Apple’ and being the only album where you can hear George and Eric Clapton duel guitars together. This film isn’t trying to be a mainstream film at all (in fact I’m surprised they even considered asking a Beatle to do the music) and like ‘Head’ it was intended to be a much-talked-about, little-seen cult film from the first. Jack MacGowan is exceptionally good as the mad brown-suited ‘old school’ professor who gets drawn into the colourful world of the very hip young things downstairs, despite barely having a line to say. George’s music does the dialogue work for the film instead and does it well, taking his cues from the script’s use of ‘old’ and ‘new’ to mix Western and Eastern instrumentals to good effect. Sadly the only ‘song’ in the film is by Liverpudlians The Remo Four rather than George himself, who doesn’t sing a note and barely plays any guitar at all, although at least one song here (‘Party Seacombe’) could have been a great Beatles track in a parallel universe and another (‘The Inner Light’) really was rescued from the sessions to become the B-side of ‘Lady Madonna’. Less vindictive than other ‘message’ films of the era and more interesting than some (‘Easy Rider’ included) there’s still something slightly hollow about this film that stops it from being the huge success it so nearly is (the weird ‘dream sequences’ don’t help it, either). Still, very under-estimated and well worth your time if you’re a George Harrison fan who has the time and money to track this elusive film down. And yes, oasis fans, this is where Noel Gallagher got the idea of his ‘Wonderwall’ song from – and no, neither he nor George know what it means! Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – 5/10 (Not as good as they seem on the box: the ‘swinging 60s’ film isn’t that great or that much like ‘Wonderwall’, the Lennon poem is one from his ‘In Your Own Write’ book and the original opening credits using ‘Microbes’ is probably the weakest of all the bunch of songs George made for the film). Skip straight to – ‘Wonderwall To Be Here’, the amazing orchestral climax where worlds collide, the professor stepping in to help his teenage neighbour during a suicide attempt; the moment when the colourful world seen from the other side of the ‘wonderwall’ turns drab and dreary when you’re there is a classic film moment they should study in school
“The Concert For Bangladesh” (1971)
Forget ‘Live Aid’, this is the first time musicians had got so fed up waiting for politicians to change the world that they got on and did it themselves. Ravi Shankar inspired this concert when he saw news reports about starving millions in Bangladesh and asked George if there was something he could do to help. Gathering up his friends (Ringo, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann and Badfinger who sadly didn’t get to sing any of their own, often superior songs – John and Paul were asked but failed to show) George played his first ever live gig since ‘Candlestick Park’ with The Beatles in 1966 and brought the house down. The show is far from perfect (Ringo forgets the words to ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, Billy P gets so carried away during ‘That’s The Way God Planned It’ he runs out of shot of the cameras and microphone, even George miffs some of the words to ‘Something’) but the atmosphere is palpable and the chance for fans to hear the first live performances of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘Something’ as well as the better songs from ‘All Things Must Pass’ without the epic Phil Spector production overcomes any downfalls, such as having to sit through 10 minutes of a croaky under-rehearsed Dylan. Very nearly George’s crowning achievement as a solo artist and much loved by the fans who were there – and many who weren’t. Overall rating 8/10 Extras – 7/10, a pretty good documentary with as many surviving participants as possible, the Dylan outtake ‘Love Minus Blues’ and a couple of short features about where the money went and the problems getting it to the right people Skip straight to – the superb ‘Beware Of Darkness’, 1971 style
“A Concert For George” (2002)
When I finally leave this mortal soup of chaos behind me, dear friends, do not mourn me. Simply read a few of my old reviews, sob quietly in reflective thoughts over the futility of life and the inexhaustible supply of spiritual nourishment that is music – oh and ring up a few musician friends to have a tribute concert to me a year after my death, just like George’s friends do on this DVD. It’s the perfect way to say goodbye, the many threads of all George’s walks of life (music, family, humour, films – though sadly not F1) coming together for one last great show featuring two hours of music either written by or inspired by George. The song choices here – mainly by Eric Clapton – are exquisite, the sheer list of names (Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston, Joe Brown, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty – strangely no Dylan at this event) go on and on and every note struck is perfect, from Shankar’s solemn introduction to Michael Palin interrupting his reverential monologue to instead remember George’s humour, turning into a ‘lumberjack’. Best of all for us fans are the rare chance to see Paul and Ringo back on stage and the former, particularly, is on fine form, playing his piano part on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ for the first time since 1968 and kick-starting ‘Something’ on the ukulele. The atmosphere is heightened, too by the fact that George’s son Dhani makes his first musical appearance in public and how much he looks like his dad circa ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. If you have even a little love and respect for George’s back catalogue (be it Beatles, solo or Travelling Wilburys) then be prepared for one of the most moving experiences of your life and have a box of tissues handy for the sadder moments. The only downside is that you’re effectively paying twice the price to own this film in two ways, both more or less the same: the ‘official’ film adds some backstage clips, relegates a couple of songs to the closing credits and moves Ravi’s part to near the end, while the second disc simply shows the concert complete (releasing disc 2 on its own with the backstage clips as ‘extras’ would have been a much better way of doing things). Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Beware Of Darkness’, one of the greatest AAA songs of them all, superbly sung by Eric Clapton in a performance that won’t leave a dry eye in the house
“The Dark Horse Years” (2004)
Unlike most fans I love the music George made for his own independent label between 1976 and 1992, so I was really looking forward to this DVD – originally only available in the first official release of this period of music on CD in a box set. Alas what we get here is woefully short and should have been much longer. There are seven music videos, four songs played live on George’s Japanese tour with Eric Clapton in 1992 (less interesting than you’d expect) and three ‘songs’ from the Handmade Film ‘Shanghai Surprise’ that sounded like they took George three minutes to write ‘Blow Away’ (one of George’s best songs of the era). Some things included here are great, though. ‘Crackerbox Palace’ was the first time much of the outside world saw George’s ‘Friar Park’ estate properly, ‘Faster’ features George being chauffeured by F1 champion Jackie Stewart and the computer-trickery filled ‘When We Was Fab’ (directed, like almost all the best music videos, by ex-10cc singer Kevin Godley) are all first-class. Alas, not everything that could have been is here though: There’s no promo for ‘Blow Away’ for instance, where a midget George is surrounded by giant teddy bears and no ‘All Those Years Ago’ even if it is just footage of Lennon. The documentary too is dull and far shorter than it should have been. All in all a bit of a waste, although the booklet inside is lovely and the music – well some of it anyway – still shines. Overall rating – 6/10, Extras – None Skip through to – When We Was Fab
“Living In The Material World” (2011)
‘John and Paul live in the material world’ sang George in 1971 – and that might explain why there are so many DVDs featuring John and Paul and Ringo and only one Harrison documentary (which took until last year to come out at all). Film director Martin Scorcese is a big fan and everything about this concert film is big, from the scope to the running time (the main problem with the tie-in book as well). The best things here, though, are the footage and tales of George at his smallest and humblest, doing his best by his friends and family, propping up the Travelling Wilburys or pottering about in his garden. With some DVDs you wonder whether the people talking have even met the people they’re telling stories about, but not here – George touched an awful lot of people in a big way and there’s one heck of a lot of big names talking here, from the F1 and film worlds as well as music. The second part is one heck of a lot more moving than the first I thought, both because we don’t the stories behind the solo George as well and the footage is more copious and poignant. The 20 minutes about George’s death and the incident the year before when a madman broke into Friar Park intent on murdering the singer are movingly told by George’s widow Olivia, on what must have been a difficult speech to make. However the first just comes across as an extended ‘Anthology’ episode with only a slightly different emphasis than normal. Still, for the moment this is as good as we’ve got and if you can sit through the rather boring first half hour it is very good indeed. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – 1/10 Less than inspired featurettes that feature yet more interview footage you really don’t need Skip straight to – George circa 1980 looking at early footage of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time in 16 years, laughing his head off at how young he used to be
Note – life’s too short to properly analyse everything Ringo’s been in but here’s a summary: ‘The Magic Christian’ (1969) 7/10 an under-rated film that works best when Goons Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan are bouncing off each other with an excellent soundtrack from Apple discovery Badfinger; ‘Candy’ 1969 – 7/10 Ringo’s mis-cast as a randy gardener but its one of his more watchable films, especially as The Byrds provide the music; ‘Born To Boogie’ (1971) 3/10 Snore-a-thon documentary of T Rex that’s dull as ditchwater and pointlessly weird; ‘200 Motels’ (1971) 5/10 Frank Zappa co-collaboration that’s best watched in bits and, well, pointedly weird I suppose; ‘That’ll Be The Day’ (1973) 8/10 Ringo’s finest acting hour, stealing the film from supposed star David Essex by re-creating his pre-Beatles years at Butlin’s holiday camp; ‘The Caveman’ (1979) 2/10 peculiar grunt-filled wordless soundtrack where Ringo is a puny caveman trying to win the heart of cavegirl Barbara Bach (who Ringo meets for the first time on set and later marries) and finally ‘Scouse The Mouse’ 7/10 1981 An under-rated but hard to find TV special with Ringo as both a carton mouse and his own opposite self Ognir Rrats (spell it backwards!) in a re-telling of ‘Prince and The Pauper’ whose songs were re-recorded for ‘Ringo The 4th’.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
“For Fans Only” (Documentary with music footage, 2003)
As eccentric as you’d expect a Belle and Sebastian release to be, this is basically a few interviews separated by some low-quality live footage and a bunch of music videos which – generally speaking – don’t even feature the notoriously media-shy band. On paper that sounds horrid: actually it’s pretty enticing in an I-wouldn’t-do-this-for-any-other-band kind of a way, although it doesn’t really add to your understanding of the band and their genius any better either. There’s not much of the truly fascinating story about how B&S started, either, which is a shame – but then that’s something an unofficial DVD could do in the future. The back cover says this DVD is a ‘home made video’ and that’s about right, from childhood pictures of band members to a bizarre Brazilian chat show conversation conducted in three languages at once. Whether that sort of thing is up your street is up to you! It goes without saying that the music is superb, however. Overall rating 7/10 Extras – 9/10 Three live songs from the ‘Bowie Weekender’, two more music videos and the full ‘press conference’ for the ‘Fold Your Hand’ album in 2001. Skip straight to – the music video for ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ on the ‘last bus out of town’
A shoddily put together collection of music videos, TV appearances and a grainy low-quality film of the Gene Clark-John York band in concert in the late 1980s, it’s a great shame that this is to date the only official Byrds DVD available for fans to buy. Frankly they deserve better than this, although a couple of the 1972 Clarence White-era Byrds are pretty rare and just about worth the money of this cheaply priced disc alone. Like the others in this series on ‘The Grateful Dead’ ‘Beach Boys’ and ‘Simon and Garfunkel’ the horrid menu music (also heard over the closing credits) has nothing to do with the band and has been ‘composed’ by the manufacturers. Overall rating – 1/10 Extras – 1/10 A lousy written biography, so-called discography and that horrid menu music in full! Slip straight to – the 1970 Byrds tackling ‘Eight Miles High’ to what must have been in those days a mesmerising CGO backdrop which looks like something from Pertwee-era Dr Who!
“Easy Rider” (1969)
The ultimate ‘road’ movie, ‘Easy Rider’ has grown in stature from the low budget trash everyone making it thought it was to the highbrow metaphorical time capsule everyone says it is today. The truth lies somewhere between the two extremes: for its day and budget it features several great moments and a real political kick in the teeth when the two hippies on bikes die at the end for no bigger crime than having ‘long hair’, but truly seen in one go its one of the dullest experiences of your life, right up there with double maths and the ‘Spiceworld’ movie. The music soundtrack is the one saving grace of the film, including one old Byrds song and one new Roger McGuinn cover (‘Its Alright Ma’, arguably the best Dylan song anyone from the band ever did) although even that should be better (CSNY’s peak moment ‘Find The Cost Of Freedom’ was rejected from the final scene – hold your heads in shame!) AAA fans may notice two other connections too: the two main characters played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were based squarely on the tensions within the Byrds and are based on Roger McGuinn and David Crosby respectively, while the film was made by Bert Schneider, Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson largely with money made on the Monkees film ‘Head’ (its filmic superior in every conceivable way). Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – 5/10 (Commentary, trailers, bits and pieces) Skip straight to ‘It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding
CROSBY, STILLS, NASH AND YOUNG
“Manassas Live” (1972, very rare on DVD)
I must confess I don’t own this DVD as such – it was one of the first DVDs ever made, long before I had a player and cost £20 back when I was a struggling student, as opposed to now when I’m a struggling adult – but its one of my most played Youtube videos and a definite purchase if it ever comes out again. This is one of those ‘In Concert’ shows BBC2 made back in the early 70s – though strangely the only one so far released on DVD and almost the only one not repeated by BBC4 as of writing. Stills’ spin-off band (featuring ex-Byrd Chris Hillman) are on terrific form even for them, effortlessly switching genres and turning most of the best songs from their first double-album set into glorious launchpads for jamming sessions equal to the Grateful Dead circa 1969. There’s even a couple of bits of inter-band chat, cut from the original broadcast, left in, Stills laughing that ‘we’ll take the first part from the first one, the second part from the second one...’ Given what’s on display here, it’s hard to think Manassas will fizzle out just one more album and a few months in from this dazzling display of virtuosity Overall rating – 8/10 (It costs £20 and it lasts half an hour?! You’re kidding!) Extras – None Skip straight to a 10 minute version of the already epic ‘The Treasure’, my nomination for ‘best live guitar solo ever captured on tape’
“1974: A Long Time Ago” (Filmed 1974)
Sadly this isn’t yet the official set of the show (that’s due next year – we hope) but I had to tell you about this DVD which is one of my favourites. When CSNY played at Wembley Stadium (the first time ever the football arena was used for a rock and roll gig) CSNY were seen by 72,000 people, breaking the record which had existed ever since The Beatles and Shea Stadium in 1965 (for a single band anyway otherwise Woodstock in 1969 would still hold the record; the record is broken twice more by AAA bands, the Stones in the 1980s and Paul McCartney in 1990 – I think U2 have the record nowadays). As well as being a milestone in rock, this is the earliest surviving concert of the quartet around (Neil’s part in ‘Woodstock’ is still in the vaults) and its value for money too: the band play for three whole hours! OK, so it’s not the most polished performance CSNY ever gave (the mix is poor too, with Stills’ guitar often inaudible) but that just adds to the intimacy – yes intimacy – of singing your heart out to 72,000 people. Despite the gremlins there’s plenty of sterling performances, however (key songs like ‘Love The One You’re With’ and ‘Don’t Be Denied’ never sounded better), the song ‘Carry On’ is turned into a thrilling 20 minute jamming session (quite different to the 1971 live version heard on ‘4 Way Street’) and there are four whole Neil Young songs still unavailable on record (‘Traces’ ‘Love Art Blues’ ‘Hawaiian Sunrise’ and ‘Pushed It Over The End’). Add in a brave encore of ‘Ohio’ dating from a time when the 1970 student campus murders were still fresh in the memory, and you have one of the very best DVDs out of the whole collection, a reminder of how great and important CSNY could be. Official or not, it’s an essential purchase. Overall rating – 10/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – so many highlights to choose from but we’ll go with Don’t Be Denied’
“Daylight Again” (Filmed 1983)
Forget the tacky voice-over at the beginning (‘Members of three of the most acclaimed groups of the 60s united to form the first ‘supergroup’ – Cream probably disagree), the very 80s hairstyles and shirts and the fact that everyone knows about this special – that it was filmed because it seemed very likely it would be the last show David Crosby would ever live to make with his comrades. This is far from the best show Crosby ever gave (his eyes glaze over when he should be singing his part in ‘Wooden Ships’ for instance) but he’s far from the wreck he’s often painted out to be and his ‘solo’ song ‘Delta’ (a new song back then) is one of the highlights, note perfect. Elsewhere Stills and Nash are on great form too, with definitive performances of songs like ‘Cathedral’ ‘Southern Cross’ and ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’ alongside more obvious fare. Stills and Nash even slip in a couple of rarities into their solo sets (‘Treetop Flyer’ and ‘Magical Child’ respectively, the former not released on record for another eight years). Alas the superlative ‘Daylight Again’ of the title is heard only in a studio version played over the closing credits – that aside this DVD is wonderful. Overall rating 8/10, extras – none Skip straight to ‘Delta’
“Long Time Gone” (Documentary with music footage 1989)
A bit of a curio this one: the footage is excellent but its bitty and often available longer elsewhere, while non-fans are guaranteed to get lost in the non-linear story of who worked with who and why. Some of the best footage here is undoubtedly the footage filmed surreptitiously – Crosby and Nash shouting their mouths off about waiting for Stills to turn up, Stills busking ‘Black Queen’ during an interview or Nash in full angry flight to a music reporter. Sadly, too, the infamous Tom Jones performance is restricted to 90 seconds of ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’ – there’s nothing of Tom Jones attempting to out-sing Crosby and Stills on ‘Long Time Gone’ while Nash gets the giggles! Be warned, too, much of this footage comes from the ‘Daylight Again’ performance in the LA Ampitheatre in 1982 leaving just eight clips you can’t find anywhere else. Overall rating – 6/10, Extras – None. Skip straight to – a fantastic six minute guitar duel version of ‘Down By The River’ from ‘Music Scene’ in 1969
“The Acoustic Concert” (1990)
This concert shows off an older, more mature CSN, content to live in the past for the first time rather than the present. However they still have the capacity to amaze, especially Stills whose acoustic playing throughout this concert is never less than superb. Crosby looks in good shape –amazingly so given what he’d been through just five years before this – whilst Nash simply beams throughout, thrilled to have finally got ‘his way’ and got CSN out doing the three way acoustic tour he first proposed back in 1969. The set lists is frustratingly obvious for the most part, full of all the expected hits and without that much room left over, although that said there’s a lovely ‘Helplessly Hoping’ (not heard live for some time) and some unexpected CSN harmonies for the song ‘4+20’, as originally arranged by Stills back in 1970 before the others told him his recording was already so beautiful they wouldn’t dare touch it. If I were you I’d buy the other CSN concert DVDs on this list first – but this is still an enjoyable purchase from a band still giving their best. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ a tour de force that ebbs and flows for nearly 10 minutes, with Stills getting better and better the more of the song he plays
“Deja Vu: The Freedom Of Speech Tour” (2006)
When Bush and Blair between them decided to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan despite a) neither country being responsible for 9/11 and b) the fact that America had been selling guns to them for decades there was less of an outcry than I expected. If this was 1968-72 we’d have had demonstrations, debates, impeachments, you name it and a whole host of musicians laying their careers on the line to speak the truth. Back in 1972 CSNY were Nixon’s worst nightmare: erudite, brave and writers of some of the best music ever made. Frankly if they’d stayed together a few years earlier Nixon might well have been kicked out of office sooner. I’m not surprised, then, that CSNY (along with the Dixie Chicks) were the most outspoken musicians when it came to the wars of last decade. What does surprise about this documentary is how few fans realised this and how many Americans walked out disgusted at the group dropping some of their best known songs in favour of political rallies and the most expressive songs from Neil’s ‘Living With War’ CD (which really should have been a CSNY album). This documentary doesn’t give you much insight into the band or their music and actually features very little in the way of performances – so if its a history of the band you want then look elsewhere. However, you’ll still learn all you need to know about the band’s political liberal leanings, Neil especially despite traditionally being the most politically neutral of the group, and the footage of fellow musicians and army veterans realising the part they played in a phony war is moving indeed. Film maker Mike Cerre was invited to document the tour his own way and he does a good job of staying neutral, recording the swearing disgusted audiences on their way out the arenas and the general mood at the gigs. However, it only takes one look at the list of named of dead soldiers on the screen during the ‘Living With War’ song, with the band saluting from the stage, to work out where your sympathies lie. Extraordinary that a band with this many years on the clock should be more relevant and more courageous than anyone from the younger generations. One of the best things CSNY ever did. It should have made a bigger splash. Overall rating – 10/10. Extras – 10/10 Neil’s ‘Living With War’ album played with real footage of the wars (as ‘NTV’ – Neil TV!), a moving tribute to dead soldiers to the soundtrack of ‘Find The Cost Of Freedom’, a trailer and a moving interview with Neil Young. Skip straight to – ‘The Restless Consumer’, the most moving of Neil’s new batch of songs about 9/11 and the ensuing wars
Note – David Crosby has cameos in two films also out on DVD - ‘Hook’ (in which he plays a pirate) and ‘Thunderheart’ (in which he plays a lawyer; they’re the same thing, right?)
From a later edition of News, Views and Music: 3) Crosby-Nash In Concert (DVD 2012)
4) Oh dear. Without a regular record contract and without the hoped-for comeback with the ‘covers’ album abandoned by producer Rick Rubin early last year CSN are fading fast. By Crosby and Nash’s high standards this live DVD recorded on tour last year is a pretty shoddy piece of work, with their roughest harmonies on record yet and a rather tired and uninteresting track selection. That said, no CSN release yet has been entirely devoid of interest and at times this set does come alive, most notably on the two excellent new songs ‘In Your Name’ (Nash’s) and ‘A Slice Of Time’ (Crosby’s), a pair of songs as good as anything the pair have written to date. There’s also a pretty neat medley of ‘Orleans’ and ‘Cathedral’ rarely heard at all in concert and never like this, as a sort of religious hymnal medley. Crosby’s often overlooked ‘Camera’ gets a welcome showing too, while there are a handful of extras of interest to collectors: a demo for ‘Clear Blue Skies’, the sweet but ropey Nash song ruined for CSNY’s ‘American Dream’ album that sounds rather better here and a C-N take on Crosby’s co-written Byrds song ‘8 Miles High’. One for collectors only, really, though things bode well if CSN ever do secure another record contract, together or apart.
“Makin’ Movies: The Videos”/ “Sultans Of Swing – The Best Of”
There are two sets of music video compilations out – sadly you need to buy both of them to own everything. The question is whether you want to – the band give up appearing on their videos somewhere about ‘Makin’ Movies’ (on ‘Skateaway’ the director clearly isn’t sure who is in the band any more and only features Mark Knopfler anyway!) That said, Dire Straits always put a little more thought into their videos than most anyway and some of these are a tour de force of story-telling without words (given how long some of these songs run its probably fair to say that the directors had more space to pout their grand visions into effect!) The pioneering computer-cartoon ‘Money For Nothing’ is the most famous video here, but far from the only thing worth watching. If its insight into the band or even glimpses of them, however, you might be better off getting one of the other DVDs. The second of these two DVDs contains more songs you might know, but the first is a better overview of the band (plus the second butchers the guitar solo in ‘Sultans Of Swing!’ – a hangable offence in my view!) Overall rating – 7/10. Extras – None. Skip straight to – ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which manages to say in seven minutes what Shakespeare wasted an hour trying to do
There are several great Dire Straits concerts out there but this official concert really isn’t one of them. As we pointed out on our live special, alchemy works both ways (it doesn’t just turn rubbish into gold it turns gold into rubbish) and that’s sadly exactly what happens here. The track listing is actually quite strong – as strong as it can be considering that Dire Straits have only made 4 albums at this point (with just two more to come), but somehow this concert doesn’t gel – the improvisations go for safe noodling and even the more complex songs here are so close to the records you wonder why they bother. Even compared to the soundtrack CDs this is pretty poor sadly as there isn’t even much to look at (except the bandanas of course). And what’s with the ugly cover? If Dali had gone into making album covers in partnership with Tracy Emin they couldn’t look as hideous and bizarre as this one. Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Telegraph Road’, yes this version has more padding than a winter jacket but it’s still a great song
“On The Night” (1993)
If anything the performances here are even less inviting than on ‘Alchemy’ but at least this time there’s the addition of some of the better songs from ‘Brothers In Arms’ and ‘On Every Street’ to choose from. Indeed, the run of retro rock songs from the latter album have more life to them than they ever did on record and are clearly the best thing here, give or take ‘Sultans Of Swing’. However, check out that title and the feelings of boredom and repetitiveness it conjures up – it makes perfect sense that Mark Knopfler all but retired from playing big arenas and making rock and roll music after this. He just doesn’t seem very comfortable – and sadly nor will the Dire Straits audiences. Frustrating that two such so-so shows should have been released over those from the band’s early days or even their mid-80s tour when the ‘Brothers In Arms’ tracks were brand new. Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘The Bug’
GRATEFUL DEAD“The Grateful Dead Movie” (1979)
Jerry Garcia was so worn out editing the hours of footage that went into filming the Dead’s ‘farewell’ 1974 shows that this film has been blamed for a) breaking the Dead up b) causing him to turn to heroin c) filling up the film editing suites in San Francisco for so many years several great films were never made. After all that effort, few fans have ever gotten hold of this hard-to-find footage which in typical Dead style manages to veer from genius to gruesome, often within the space of the same song. Some lovely touches are in here – the cameras following fans around (all of them given names by Garcia – I feel especially sorry for ‘Moose Face’!), old footage of the Dead at work and play and some clips of significance to real fans (the hotel pictured on the cover of ‘The Mars Hotel’ being demolished). The Dead played better shows than this (I own the 5 CD set of the complete four shows and it’s a slog to sit through, much more than most Dead concerts), but it’s great that this 1970s line-up are captured for posterity at a point when they are only slightly past their best. Whether Dead fans would trade that 18 month hiatus and a poorly Jerry for the sake of having that footage is another question. Sadly the film is only out on its own on Blu-Ray or in an expensive box set with a couple of lousy tour films from the 1980s you really don’t need. Overall rating – 7/10. Extras – 8/10 Excellent! 90 more minutes cut from the final edit of the film, various documentaries, a commentary from the film’s editor and multi-angles on certain songs so you can properly study each Dead musician in turn. Skip straight to – Wharf Rat
“Classic Albums: From ‘Anthem’ To ‘Beauty’” (c.1997)
The next ‘Classic Album’s on our list is probably my favourite out of the whole two series. The Grateful Dead rarely get the chance to talk despite being among the more erudite side of rock and roll and caught this soon after Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 forced them into an early retirement they’re on fine, thoughtful form. The man who steals the show, however, is the shadowy figure of Garcia’s writing partner Bob Hunter, whose as memorable on screen as he is in print, remembering the Dead’s early years like a nostalgic picture-book. Full marks to the powers that be for choosing two of my three favourite Dead albums to cover too (‘Workingman’s Dead’ might have been a safer choice) and there are heaps of great stories here, from ‘producer’ Dave Hassinger having a nervous breakdown in the middle of recording ‘Born Cross-Eyed’ (walking out the studio to the chant of ‘Thick air! He wants the sound of thick air!’) to the Dead’s financial difficulties when drummer Micky Hart’s dad, on trial as their possible manager, absconded with all their money and Phil Lesh, singing the sad words to ‘Box Of Rain’ every day in the car on the way to see his dad dying in hospital. The music, of course, is beautiful and poignant and the chance to see the band and engineers back with the eight track mixing desk, showing all the bits and pieces that made up each song, means you’ll never look on these songs the same way again. The best of these ‘classic album’ shows weren’t just talking heads who weren’t there pontificating – at their best they could inspire, inform and entertain right up there with the best documentaries ever made. Highly recommended. Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – Bob Hunter’s memory of writing the words to ‘Ripple’ on his first trip to England, caught between the belief that he was about to see ‘actual Robin Hood country’ with the bleak surroundings he was met with
“Grateful Dawg” (Jerry Garcia and Dave Grisman 2001)
There’s a reason this film didn’t come out in the early 90s when it was made. Had this documentary been billed as a ‘home made’ project by mandolin player Grisman’s daughter I’d have accepted it more (for a first film its great – better than I could have done), but this shockingly edited and rather dull film actually made it into cinemas (briefly!) The Garcia of the 90s is a long way from the talkative, erudite, spokesman of a generation he was 30 years earlier and he seems old and weary before his time here, the after effects of his 1986 diabetes-induced coma clearly still affecting him (Grisman, great man that he is, helped teach Garcia to play guitar again). The trouble, too, is that most of the music included here is unknown to most Garcia fans (only ‘Friend Of The Devil’, on which Grisman played, is from the Dead’s back catalogue) and, frankly, the children’s album the pair are working on near the end of the film sounds horrible. Both Garcia and Grisman deserved to be remembered for more than this, but if it’s a warts and all portrayal of a sick genius near the end of his road you’re after then I guess it works in a kind of ‘Let It Be’ sort of a way. Overall rating – 2/10, Extras – 5/10, Better than the film actually, with the deleted scenes making more sense. The video for ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ is also quite funny even if the music is awful, Garcia and Grisman dressing up as gangsters in a film noir setting. Skip straight to – ‘Off To Sea Once More’, better known as ‘Jack Tarr The Sailor’ to Byrds fans, given the acoustic treatment
“Grateful Dead” aka “Still Alive and Well” (c.2003)
I think this DVD might possibly be the same as the one titled ‘Broadcasting Live’ from January 1st 1987 – it’s certainly similar, so be warned. This is yet another of those cheap and tacky unofficial DVDs, at least this is the best of the bunch as it contains exclusive material you can’t get anywhere else (well, not unless you’re lucky enough to have lived in the one American state that broadcast the bulk of this live 25 years ago and you happened to tape it). The 1980s Dead are not to everyone’s taste (Garcia is recovering from a diabetic coma that left him unable to play the guitar) and this is far from their best live show of the period, but on the plus side there are quite a few songs here the Dead didn’t do that often (not by their standards anyway) so at the original cheap price this is still a good bargain. ‘My Brother Esau’ is one of the highlights, originally just a B-side from the period until the CD re-issue restored it to the ‘In The Dark’ album , while the band revive both ‘Bird Song’ and ‘Ripple’ from their glory days in the early 70s to good effect. I still don’t care much for the Dead covers of ‘Iko Iko’ ‘Mexicali Blues’ ‘On The Road Again’ and ‘Not Fade Away’ mind, but then every Dead show has peaks and troughs – this one just has more of a contrast than most. In the end the worst thing about this DVD is the unfortunate title, a still poorly Garcia only seven years away from his death and clearly far from well on stage. Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – That Godawful menu music again, which isn’t even by the Dead! Skip straight to – a slowed down but still pretty ‘Bird Song’
“Beat Beat Beat” (1998)
This is the most common of a handful of early DVDs released at a budget price and featuring six or so generally short songs plus a ‘soundtrack’ that could, alas, only be played on a DVD player. If I remember there was a Kinks and Small Faces version of this set around too, although all three have been superseded nowadays by longer and better compilations. The Hollies one is particular poor: there’s a good hour’s worth of material of their performances on the German equivalent of TOTP doing the rounds and this is probably the worst of it: ‘Sorry Suzanne’ was their worst single by some margin and ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘Stop Stop Stop’ are heard here in inferior versions to later, spectacular live recordings. Amazingly this set came out again 10 years later, with even less songs on it – though at a much more expensive price. Avoid. Overall rating 2/10 Extras – 0/10 ‘menu music’ (is that even an extra?!) Skip straight to – ‘On A Carousel’, the tidiest of the small handful of recordings here.
“The Graham Nash Years” (2003)
Yet more Hollies music videos, sadly reproduced on DVD without much care or attention and in quite grotty quality(there’s not even a ‘menu’ – you have to play the songs in order sadly). Still, you can’t fault the music or the generous running time of 100 minutes and its a sad fact that a lot of this poor quality footage is still unavailable elsewhere, even with the excellent ‘Look Through Any Window’ setting mopping about half of it up. There’s a nice lot of early Hollies on film here, with such rarities as performances of ‘Baby That’s All’ ‘Rockin’ Robin’ The Very Last Day’ and even the charity LP-only release ‘Wings’ to enjoy as well as the expected crop of singles (some of which turn up more than once). Whilst most of these videos are hardly cutting edge (‘Dear Eloise’ is the Hollies standing around in the BBC car park!) its interesting how many of them there are (with another couple of hours’ worth uncollected here). Compared to the paltry amount of TV appearances The Beatles and The Kinks made it seems as if the Hollies were never off the television! The set is roughly in chronological order, although it does go a little awry near the end, and because its limited to covering the ‘Nash years’ of the title there’s no ‘Long Cool Woman’ ‘Air That I Breathe’ or ‘He Ain’t’ Heavy He’s My Brother’ (although on the plus side there’s no sign of the godawful ‘Sorry Suzanne’ either!) Not as polished or as comprehensive as I’d have liked, but still nice to have. Overall rating – 6/10, Extras – None (not even a menu!) Skip straight to – An energetic cover of ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ with drummer Bobby Elliott on superb form!
“Look Through Any Window: The Hollies 1963-75” (Documentary with music footage, 2011)
In one of our earliest ‘top five’ columns we listed the footage that existed for five AAA bands and asked why hadn’t they been collected onto DVD yet? So far only one DVD has done that but they’ve done it well, making one of the very best DVDs on this list in fact. This Hollies sets comes in the second batch of ‘British Invasion’ discs released by ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ and is as faultless as its Small faces predecessor: prime footage most of it unseen and unavailable, interviews with every surviving band member (everybody but bassist Eric Haydock in other words) and a generous three hour running time. The Hollies were one of the most charismatic bands on the planet, with a run of singles only The Beatles could compete with, although as we’ve often said on this site its their lesser known B-sides and album tracks that are the real jewels in their crown. There’s lots of them here, from an impossibly young looking Hollies miming to ‘Baby That’s All’ and ‘Rockin’ Robin’ for a ‘video jukebox’ in 1963 to the home video footage that accompanies ‘King Midas In Reverse’ and the little known ‘Wings’ from a charity LP. I’d have loved to have seen more footage from the band’s later years (they were ever so nearly as good with Terry Sylvester and even Mickael Rickfors on board as they were with Nash -and there’s another three hours of footage available there for a companion volume one day), but no matter: what’s here is wonderful, unexpected and rare, nearly all of it showing why The Beatles were more afraid of The Hollies than perhaps any other band of the 60s. As an extra boon, there’s a 24 page booklet full of glossy unseen photos and a band history, which is an excellent addition to your archive given that still nobody’s written a full book about this band yet). Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – 9/10 (All the footage available complete without being interrupted by chat) Skip straight to – the band in Abbey Road working on the backing vocals to new song ‘On A Carousel’ in 1967, shot for a BBC music documentary programme the same year which hasn’t been seen since
The Human League
“The Very Best Of” (2006)
I used to own a video that featured an hour’s worth of Human League music videos I paid quite a lot of money for – it was great and (relatively) rare! I was then in two minds when it got re-issued on DVD much much cheaper and doubled in length to nearly two hours with really rare footage, making my poor video obsolete overnight! If I was a new collector, though, I’d love this set which gathers together 19 music videos (from the Marsh and Wright early years on ‘Circus Of Death’ in 1978 right up to 2002’s ‘Secrets’ album) and six ‘bonus tracks’ from TOTP and Jool’s Holland’s Later. While the League weren’t the most photogenic of bands and occasionally don’t even appear in their own videos, the best of the work here is superb – and not always the ones for the songs you know and love either (the 1989 ‘Romantic?’ album is still my favourite – and curse the fact I’ve written a review for it twice now and the ‘AAA HL’ curse means you still haven’t got to read it yet!) Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – 8/10 (the TOTP and Later recordings – not as polished as the videos but still interesting) Skip straight to – ‘Soundtrack To A Generation’, one of the strangest songs here but probably my favourite, with a clever video to match
“The Definitive Concert” (1983)
The early 1980s era Starship aren’t everyopne’s cup of tea and like every other Jefferson collector I’d much prefer to have a full concert from the 60s or 70s to watch. That said, the Starship are still in full inventive flight here, with this concert ‘interrupted’ by an MTV spoof whereby an alien orbiting Earth beams the concert back illegally to his own planet (only to be later busted by the intergalactic copyright police!) Hilarious – and more entertaining than the concert to be honest - but even with Marty Balin out of the band, Paul Kantner all but silenced and Grace Slick restricted by a very 1980s hairdo the older members all shine. A wickedly funny version of ‘Stairway To Cleveland’ (‘Why don’t you sound like you used to? 1965, 67, 79?’ Fuck you we do what we want!) beats the album version and even adds a disgruntled political rant from Kantner at the ‘star wars’ crace at the end of the cold war (not that the end seemed at all in sight circa 1983). Guitarist Criag Chaquico, no longer the child prodigy of a decade years earlier but still a mighty fine 25-year-old guitarist, is also great value for money. Mickey Thomas and David Freiberg, though, seem ill at ease, caught in a tug of war between wanting to return to the band’s wonderful past or a noisy future. Recommended, with caution. Overall rating -7/10 Extras – none (alas – the Starship’s performance on the ‘Star Wars Christmas Special’ in the same era would have been a great fit!) Skip straight to – ‘Stairway To Cleveland’/’Girl With The Hungry Eyes’
“Fly Jefferson Airplane” (Documentary with music footage 2008)
They sure do take you ‘for a ride!’ – this DVD is even more psychedelic than watching the Monterey Pop film! Sadly this is about the only DVD out there for Airplane fans at the moment – for such a photogenic band there really should be more made available – and I still can’t quite decide what I think of it. This DVD is very like listening to an Airplane concert – bits of it are awful, but just as you’re getting frustrated all the separate pieces will suddenly coalesce together into a perfect soaring whole. Some of the footage here is just bad (‘The Ballad Of You and Me and Pooneil’ may be one of the best psychedelic songs ever written, but you wouldn’t know that from the mangling it gets here), while the sight of seeing a blacked-up Grace Slick on a tame teatime TV chat show makes for uncomfortable viewing now, however good the intentions of making a political statement. I’m not sure if you really get any sense of the interesting and unusual Airplane dynamics either, despite all members of the ‘classic’ line-up of 1967-70 taking part (this DVD came out just before the sad death of drummer Spencer Dryden). However the highlights of this set are more than worth sitting through the dull parts, including the very rare San Franciscan rooftop show of 1968 that inspired the Beatles (and sees the Airplane getting arrested in just the same lacklustre way). Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘We Should Be Together’, complete with swearing that would get songs banned even now, for the ultimate ‘did they just say that?’ moment
“Beat Beat Beat”
Like the Hollies release in the same series, this seems like a really good bargain – until you get it home and realise it lasts slightly under 20 minutes. The 20 minutes that are here are very very good admittedly, made up of a January 1966 show made for the German television network of the same name that used to be a favourite on VH1 in the 1990s but is quite a rarity nowadays. The Kinks are dressed in their smart hunting jackets and manage to fit two of their biggest hits of the day in (’You Really Got Me’ and ‘Til The End Of The Day’), but the highlight is a rare pulsating cover of Sleepy John Estes’ with Ray and Dave trading lines. Had the manufacturers of this DVD thrown in another hour’s worth of material (and there’s lots out there to choose from, some of it also broadcast on ‘Beat Beat Beat’) then this would be an essential purchase. As it is, with just five songs its barely worth getting this DVD out of its box. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Milk Cow Blues’
Ah ‘Percy’, a real film of its time. The makers of this film can’t decide whether this film about a man losing his penis in an accident and getting a transplant replacement (inspiring his interest in all his predecessor’s old girlfriends) is a sniggering comedy in the vein of a ‘Carry On’ or a serious discussion on what makes up a person’s individuality. Ray can’t decide either, with a Kinks soundtrack that veers from tongue-in-cheek music hall (‘Just Friends’ is as close to the real Noel Coward as the ‘Noel Coward of the 60s’ ever gets!) to serious debate about whether man should play God with medicine and operations (‘God’s Children’, one of the most moving of all Kinks songs). Along the way we get ‘The Way Love Used To Be’, the single best love song Ray Davies ever wrote, the funky ‘Animals In The Zoo’ where the animals look on at human activity with confusion and interest and a typically Ray Davies-ish look at imagination and dreams in ‘Moments’, song wondering what ‘Percy’s’ ‘owner’ might have been in life. Thwere’s even a cheesy Hammond organ instrumental version of ‘Lola’ that sounds like it was taped for one of those Top Of The Pops covers albums (its a spoof though...isn’t it? Ray? Please say its a spoof!) Those moments are truly special ones, if only because they come along so unexpectedly and often after sitting through some truly awful writing and acting. Whether 10 minutes of brilliance per a 90 minute film is enough return for you depends on how moving you find The Kinks circa 1970. Certainly, Ray put more effort into this film than it deserved, even though much of it sounds like typical soundtrack filler. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – 2/10 (Trailer) Skip straight to - ‘The Way Love Used To Be’
“One For The Road” (1980)
Like the soundtrack record, this is Ray Davies and co’s attempt to have the Kinks re-born as a hard-rocking stadium arena act for the American market and whilst some of the songs here are spectacular, fizzing with energy and anger, there’s still a part of the listener that weeps with nostalgia for the very English Kinks of the 1960s. Non-fans often complain that all these songs sound the same, even the ‘modernised’ version of old classics such as ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘Lola’, but frankly its great that the Kinks were still going in 1980 when so many of their peers had fallen by their wayside and it would be unfair to dismiss this record out of hand. The album the band are plugging here, ‘Low Budget’, is one of their stronger of the period and far from treading water the setlist is actually a very varied and exciting one, including flop singles like ‘20th Century Man’ ‘Superman’ and ‘Celluloid Heroes’ among the hits, all of which have been successfully re-arranged to if anything sound even more beautiful than the studio originals. Having just been reclaimed by the punk era, Ray Davies is quick to play up his new ‘fashionable’ status too, including the first live performances of ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ (a hit for the Pretenders), ‘David Watts’ (a hit for the Jam) and ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ (not covered by anybody particular but something of a punk rallying cry in this era). On the downside, Dave Davies doesn’t get a chance to sing (though his fiery guitarwork is superb throughout) and there’s nothing here from the two best Kinks albums ‘Face To Face’ and ‘Arthur’ barring a rather pedestrian go at ‘Victoria’ from the latter. Not for every fan, then, but with so few early Kinks concerts and promos out on DVD anyway at the time of asking this might be as good as we’re going to get for a while. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Celluloid Heroes’, now with an added synthesiser part that makes this pretty but fragile song sound tougher without diluting any of the sentiments
“Return To Waterloo” (Ray Davies solo, 1985)
As well as writing my dissertation on ‘Head’ I spent part of my university writing class ‘adapting’ Ray Davies’ book of short stories named ‘Waterloo Sunset’ into a film script, ending – rather hilariously I thought – with the main narrator playing ‘russian roulette’ with his radio whilst looking for a direction in life and being met with the song ‘Hit The Road, Jack’ (the scene is in the chapter ‘Rock and Roll Fantasy’ but the punchline is mine). I needn’t have bothered because Ray had beaten me to it, by about 15 years or so. That scene isn’t quite in this film, but the atmosphere is, as a shadowy commuter gets to know his fellow passengers on a stuffed train into work and discovers more about each of them via flashback. Many of the songs are from Kinks album ‘Word Of Mouth’ but don’t let that put you off – most of the songs here deserve better recognition, especially ‘Voices In The Dark’ (sadly only ever available on a limited edition ‘bonus’ CD with a Kinks best-of in 1994, at the time of asking anyway).There was a soundtrack album released for this under Ray’s name (the first time he’d ever gone solo from the Kinks), but it sold very poorly and is hard to get hold of today. There’s one song, ‘Ladder Of Success’, that’s in the film but missing from even the album – until someone kind releases it on CD anyway. Not the greatest film you’ll ever see by any means, but until Ray gets around to allowing his acting debut on the BBC play for the day ‘The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Piano Player’ to be released on DVD or the TV version of ‘A Soap Opera’ onto DVD this is the closest we’ll get to being under Ray’s skin. To date the film is only available as a double pack with a collection of music videos... Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Voices In The Dark’, a lovely song sadly only ever issued on a bonus disc on a limited edition greatest hits set
“Come Dancing With The Kinks” (1986)
These music videos in fact, eight songs (four live, four studio) from the 1980s. The most famous of these is ‘Come Dancing’ starring Ray as a 1950s romeo with a moustache and slicked-back hair (he was re-creating the look of one of his sister’s boyfriends he revealed later). However I’ve always found the sequel, the moving ‘Don’t Forget To Dance’, both a better song and a better video and the superb ‘Do It Again’ (in which Ray and drummer Mick Avory are two buskers in the London underground before Mick – in his last recording for The Kinks – simply gets up and walks away) is better still. The latter even has an extra 10 seconds of recording towards the end which was edited from both single and album versions of the song! Oh and I’d forgotten about the hilarious ‘Predictable’, in which a lovable but hopeless failure is played by Ray Davies in scenes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s (complete with big mobile phone!) The live recordings – of a slightly later vintage than ‘One For The Road’ but similar in sound and style – are less interesting, even with behind the scenes footage. Frankly I’d have preferred it if the excellent Kinks video ‘The Definitive Collection’ had made it to DVD, featuring some excellent videos from the 1960s (particularly the banned video for ‘Dead End Street’, with the band carrying coffins around London). Still, even incomplete (and currently only available as a double set with ‘Return To Waterloo’) this DVD features some of the very best AAA music videos out there. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Do It Again’
“The Live Broadcasts”/ “The Kinks Live”/ “Narrated By Ray Davies” (2006)
This unofficial but official looking DVD has gone under at least three names now with only minor tweaks – presumably every time the threat of a court case crops up. Until the Davies Brothers sanction an honest-to-God official DVD documentary, however, it’s the best we fans are going to get and its enjoyable in a minor, you-don’t-learn-much-more-but the-clips-are-nice kind of a way. The middle ‘version’ of this DVD is about the best, thanks to a rambling interview with Dave Davies (still recovering from a stroke) more revealing than the similar cut-and-paste attempt using brother Ray on the third one (the first just has a narrator throughout) but it’s the footage that excites the most: lots of rare Kinks from the 1970s ‘Sleepwalker’/’Misfits’ era that’s particularly good, along with the a TOTP performance of the rare 1986 single ‘Lost and Found’ and the usual ‘Lola’/’You Really Got Me’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ clips. Not as good as they should be – any of them – but as good as we’ve got till now. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘No More Looking Back’, the exciting finale of ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’ played by the Kinks in a very 1970s looking cage!
The only Lofgren out to date comes in three parts which are, alternately, very good very bad and average. The best by far is the complete 1979 ‘Rockapalast’ gig in Germany (and a regular on TV networks there) – a near perfect set list, the best line up of the Nils Lofgren Band ever and high flying trampoline antics included. What’s not to love? Compared to the official live double record of the period (‘Time After Time’) this is incredibly exciting and essential, with definitive takes of such songs as ‘Moon Tears’ (played by Nils and brother Tom with one hand playing their own and the other their partner’s guitar) and a thrilling extended ‘Keith Don’t Go’ plus some rarities such as the classic Crazy Horse song ‘Beggar’s Day’, a brilliant version of Grin’s ‘You’re So Easy’ that knocks spots off the record and the sweet ‘Fool Like Me’. Best of all might be a solo ‘Soft Fun’, however, sung by Nils at the end of a tiring set when the audience are so keyed up they are still refusing to go home past the expected encore. After this the other two sets at the Rockapalast – in 1976 and 1991 – are disappointing, with Nils frustratingly low-key and the bands clearly tentative with his work. Only the addition of ‘Shine Silently’ on the latter is up to the 1979 set. Overall rating – 9/10, for the 1979 show alone! Extras – four more songs from 1991 cut from the original broadcast 4/10 Skip straight to – the double encore punch of ‘Moon Tears’ and ‘Soft Fun’. Rock fan heaven!
“To Sir With Love” (1966)
The good news is this Sidney Poiter film is terrific. I’ve never considered myself a film buff (I’ve been too busy listening to music and buying these DVDs) so my ‘favourite film’ lists aren’t as impressive as some people’s, but if I did have a top 10 this would surely be on it. A tale of an idealistic young teacher in a rough run-down school, it sets the template for the whole of the excellent ‘Please Sir’ series and yet digs deeper, drawing up some interesting questions about what education should be like and what people take away from their school years. The bad news if you’re a Lulu fan she’s not in this film much – there’s two alternate recordings of the classy title song (sung faster and not quite as good, once over the credits and once in ‘character’ at a party) and a few lines with Lulu doing an excellent first acting job as a naughty impressionable schoolgirl, although the dialogue’s a bit, erm, ripe (and clearly written by a middle aged man). Still, Lulu herself is tremendous and could easily have become a ‘proper’ actress on the back of this. Look out too for future 10cc star Eric Stewart performing as part of the Mindbenders, the ‘local band’ playing at the end-of-term party. Overall rating: 8/10 Extras – none Skip straight to – the party scene near the end, with the Mindbenders and Lulu both performing
“The First Season 1966-67”
In terms of entertainment the Monkees TV series is right up there at the peak of perfection, with Dr Who, the Beatles films and the Marx Brothers movies (actually that’s not a bad basis for where most of the Monkees TV series comes from!) The genius is that the Monkees ‘play’ a struggling wannabe rock and roll group – the perfect setting for teenagers up and down the country doing the same thing – and fans have four very different characters to fall in love with. The scripts, in this first year at least, are first class, far more revolutionary than almost everything on TV up to that time (postmodern in the extreme, breaking the 4th wall between performer and audience long before it was done elsewhere) and responsible for the softening of feeling towards the long-haired youth by the parents of the day. Despite the sometimes silly jokes most of these early episodes are perfection personified and raise some fascinating ideas about prejudice Of course we all know that by the time you’ve seen all 58 episodes Davy has fallen in love with about 25 different girls, the Monkees have been in no less than three haunted houses and been kidnapped by seven different gangs (originality from week to week was never this series’; strong point), but seen in order the feeling of change within these 25 minute segments is thrilling and just about the only thing around for youth on television that wrote for them, not down to them (‘Bewitched’ comes a close second). The music, of course, is exemplary, even though it generally plays second fiddle to a mad cap ‘romp’ sequence (The Monkees invented those, too) and despite the grand ideas in the early days ended up merely repeating the same half a dozen songs over and over. Still, The Monkees project only failed in the sense that they aimed bigger than anyone else on TV up until that time and some of what we have here are masterpieces. Only the complete nonsense of the ‘these actors aren’t in a real band’ scandal means we stopped thinking of The Monkees show as anything but an inventive, groundbreaking, revolutionary pioneering piece of immortal television. The DVDs are good value too, containing at least one commentary by each Monkees and a fascinating list of ‘Monkees trivia’ for each episode, although an overall documentary with cast and crew would have been nice Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – 6/10 Some insightful commentaries from cast and crew and the chance to view the music spots individually Skip to ‘Monkees On Tour’ for rare footage of the band messing around on and off stage in 1967 or for the full flavour of the series go to the strangely moving ‘Monkee Vs Machine’ (‘Not Notwat Wat But Nitwit Wit!’)
“The Second Season 1967-68”
By the end of the second season The Monkees are tired of the treadmill that’s seen them release five albums and go on a lengthy tour within the space of just two years – and that’s without recording a total of 56 episodes of this show. Caught on the hop by the sudden success of the project, you get the sense that no one is quite in control of the Monkees programme the way things had been in 1966/67 and many of the scripts used here are ones the Monkees had already rejected, on the grounds that nothing else was ready. The formula is wearing a bit thin too, with yet more girls for Davy to fall in love with, a second and third haunted house for the band to stay in and goodness knows how many spies. The Monkees are allowed to have their own way more and more, which is a good thing for one episode (the Dolenz written and directed science-fiction episode ‘Mijacogeo’) but frustrating elsewhere (as too many in-jokes and giggling gets past the editor, whether due to tiredness or power struggles or both). Nesmith is a reluctant participant by the middle, opting out for episodes at a time (even though he’s legitimately sea-sick on the ‘High Seas’ when his character admits to suffering the same thing), further ruining the cohesion. Still, lukewarm Monkees are better than no Monkees at all and some of these episodes – especially the earlier ones made in early 1967 but kept back for the Autumn – are still strong. The music is also even better this time around, featuring more inventive pieces to camera to accompany the band’s more psychedelic and out-there music. Look out too for a ‘new’ idea of ‘guest spots’ in the last three episodes that was due to be expanded across a third series before the show was axed: Nesmith’s trippy interview with Frank Zappa dressed like him is enough to make your head explode whilst the most moving clip is Davy with songwriting partner Charlie Smalls, discussing ‘soul’ in white and black music and composing a lovely piece named ‘Girl Named Love’ that was sadly never finished (Charlie died not long after this interview – music fans know him best for the all-black cast of his musical film ‘The Wiz’, updating the ‘Wizard Of Oz’ for a new audience). Not as effortlessly great as before, but still entertaining and with the same impressive run of special features, commentaries and trivia. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – as above Skip straight to ‘Daily Nightly’ in which Micky really gets psychedelic while its stony-faced composer (Nesmith) looks on.
It won’t surprise anyone whose read this site in detail one iota that I spent my 8000 word university dissertation discussing the Monkees in relation to postmodernism, with particular emphasis on this fascinating film. It won’t surprise anyone that either that I badly went over my word limit and had to cut out quite a lot of major points, so when I tell you I could write a book about this DVD I mean it – I already have. Suffice to say, this film is unique: planned when the Monkees were still huge, unable to be cancelled when they fell from favour, the band and creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider (with help from an unknown script-writer/actor named Jack Nicholson – yes that Jack Nicholson!) decided to go all out in making this a self-referncing, generic parodying, surreal trip through the Monkees TV programme. The genre hopping that went on every week is here (‘Head’ often comes up in trivia quizzes about ‘which film features Frank Zappa, Victor Mature, boxer Sonny Liston and Annette Funicello in the cast list?), as is the feeling of helplessness as the Monkees fight against an unmovable, unstoppable parental force (though this time its policeman not the landlord, factory bosses, talent scouts of evil masterminds ruling the universe). The jokes and especially the ‘fourth wall’ breaking humour is intact, but its darker: the film starts off with Micky Dolenz committing suicide rather than be hounded by the hordes following the band to the edge of a bridge (a real metaphor for you there!) Elsewhere all four Monkees are insulted by the quickfiring script and actively argue amongst themselves (Peter finally gets upset about playing the dummy and we cut back to what seems to be the cameras filming – only the lead into the next scene carries on anyway so they must know they’re being filmed). Along the way The Monkees are arrested by policeman, catch a suicide victim jumping off a house, end up as dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair, blow up capitalist metaphor drinks machines in the desert, get attacked by evil alien cushions at Mike Nesmith’s birthday party, Davy gets knocked out in a boxing tournament (much more realistically than the Monkees ever portrayed it) and all four Monkees seemingly die in a war. The film goes further too, switching channels on us as if someone is pressing a remote, in a merciless satire on television culture where a cartoon and a jokey advert are only seconds away from footage of real human suffering (this film controversially marks the first time ever a real live death of a human being is shown in a film – it’s the Vietnam soldier who gets shot in the head). You’ll never be the same once you’ve seen this film and you may well spend the rest of your life unravelling it like me, but I’ll tell you one thing – and no it isn’t that ‘nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humour’ (although this line from the film is great advice). It’s that no one could possibly ever claim the Monkees were bubblegum ever again. There’s more thought and intelligence in this film than any I’ve ever seen (the so-called masterpieces we were made to sit through in film studies included) and the script isn’t merely random gibberish as some critics have claimed: it’s all planned and leads from one scene to another logically (even if that scene out of context is illogical indeed). Oh and almost as an afterthought the music is great – in fact the soundtrack album (which made our core ‘101 classic albums list’) is probably the single greatest the Monkees ever made, short though it is. Like I said I could write a book about what this film is about and chances are if you’re just a casual Monkees fan you’ll hate it anyway, but ‘Head’ remains my favourite film of all time (yes, even after spending a year studying it) and it’s one of my all time favourite AAA creations. My my the clock in the sky is pounding away and I had so much to say...Overall rating – 10/10, Extras – 5/10, Sadly there’s no documentary (which would have been invaluable) but we do have eight rare trailers from around the world – many of them taking cult film marketing to new levels (such as advertising salesman Brockman’s head appearing on screen and saying ‘Head’ and leaving again). Skip straight to – Actually stay for the beginning, when Micky makes the desperate decision to take the plunge to the poignant sound of ‘Porpoise Song’. Of course The Monkees will wake up in a prop vat of water, as just another disposable utility for the film company, but that revelation’s to come – for now they really appear to have drowned. What an opening!
“Heart and Soul” (1986)
This hard-to-find DVD is hardly classic Monkees but well worth persevering to find if you’re a big fan. ‘Heart and Soul’ is a half hour documentary about the 1986 Monkees reunion album ‘Pool It’, which is actually more like a giant interview broken up by two hilarious music videos well in keeping with the Monkees humour (‘Heart and Soul’ and ‘Every Step Of The Way’) and a ‘meet a Monkee’ competition winner, aged eight, who is clearly in love with Davy even at that tender age! The interviews are surprisingly banal, without the wit and energy of most Monkee get togethers and perhaps hints at how quick the reunion came together (Micky hasn’t even had a chance to write a song for the album, he complains). You even get to hear each Monkee answer terribly clichéd questions – and answers come to that (‘What’s your favourite music?’ ‘I agree with Peter’) It’s interesting, however, to witness the dynamics between the three Monkees, who seem to have got together to enjoy each other’s company more than anything and still spark off each other even if Micky is notably subdued, Davy never stops talking and Peter keeps cracking jokes! Still, until so,mebody releases a ‘Monkees music video hits’ compilation its worth buying this set just for the hilarious ‘Heart and Soul’ clip alone, where the Monkees are ‘defrosted’ and then make their own music video in a tent they happen to walk past (complete with by coins they put into a slot!) Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Heart and Soul’
“Summer Tour” (2000)
Sadly no one thought to film the four-way reunion in 1997 (or did Nesmith refuse?) so this three-way reunion in 2000 seems lightweight all round. On the plus side Peter Tork has become the band’s ‘musical director’ which is a great idea, adding some rarer Monkees songs to the setlist on this third reunion tour as well as the obvious choices (‘For Pete’s Sake’ ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ ‘Mary Mary’ ‘Can You Dig It?’ and ‘A Little But Me, A Little Bit You’). The trio all do their own solo spots still, with Davy reprising ‘Girl’ from his ‘Brady Bunch’ appearance, Peter tackling ‘Higher and Higher’ on the banjo and Micky bravely tackling the free form Monkees B side ‘Goin’ Down’. The bad news is that the band are now relegated mainly to being singers (bar a bit of guitar work and one song with Micky on drums) and spend as much time cracking unfunny jokes as they do making music. The backing musicians are uninspired, too and the back cover mentions the bonus feature that all serious music collectors dread: karaoke versions of ‘Clarksville’ and ‘I’m A Believer!’ Worth buying cheaply and playing once to hear the rare tracks, but hardly the classy DVD it could and should have been. Nesmith probably did well to jump ship when he did. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – 3/10 Some quite interesting interviews (both separately and together) and those dreaded karaoke songs. Also the sleeve boasts the fact that there are ‘interactive menus’. Yes, that’s because without a menu you couldn’t play the disc could you?! Skip straight to ‘Can You Dig It?’, nice to see one of the better songs from ‘Head’ get an airing!
“Hey Hey We’re The Monkees” (2001)
This superior documentary isn’t perfect by any means but is clearly the best of the many programmes about The Monkees released since the 1960s. For a start, it speaks volumes that this is the only TV documentary popular enough to have been released on DVD! All the members of the band talk at some length about the rollercoaster ride of ups and downs with the band and how difficult it was to work that hard for three years – and then never work again in most cases, on screen or CD at least. The interviews are split up by all the music videos you’d expect, but also some rarer footage such as the Monkees adverts that used to run in the original airings of their TV show and the fascinating screen tests of all four Monkees that, frankly, should have been allowed to run in full as a bonus feature. My two concerns with this documentary are that a) you learn almost nothing about what the quartet did before joining the band (Nesmith, for one, released some very interesting records and both Dolenz’s and Jones’ childhood acting careers deserved better than 30 seconds talking about ‘Circus Boy’ and ‘Oliver!’) and almost nothing about the band’s last days (they actually released some of their best records in the post-Head years when they could spend more time crafting their music without the TV show to get in the way. For me the all-singing all-dancing Monkees documentary of perfection has still yet to be made – but until it is this is still a very very good second. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – The Monkees throwing off their shackles and making their own music, to the chagrin of the millionaire business men they were keeping in the red throughout 1966!
“Daydream Believers: The Monkees’ Story” (2002)
The same team behind the docu-drama on the Beach Boys also made this better-than-expected account of the Monkees’ rise to fame. Amazingly this film even came with the blessing of official Monkees input in the form of a director’s commentary by all the band bar Nesmith: sadly my copy is missing this valuable bit of comment (praising what the makers got right and pulling apart what they got wrong) but I’ve heard its hilarious! From what I can see the film-makers got most things right, even if they did take a bit of ‘artistic license’ in sticking a couple of events together and paraphrasing part of the script. The four Monkees themselves are pretty good likenesses in the role and manage the hard task of making all four very different and often squabbling individuals seem likable and talented. The only major problem I have with the film is that it ends when it does: like the Beach Boys film it simply seemed to run out of money and cut the film off at an arbitrary point that seems much happier than it really was (the foursome receiving critical plaudits for ‘Head’ – they may have that now but never did back in the day and in fact Peter Tork left only a few weeks after the release of the film!) Still, half the fun of these films is spotting the mistakes and there’s surprisingly few here to spot! On balance I prefer the Beach Boys story simply because its spread over the course of some 15 years whereas this similar length movie packs everything into just three! Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – reportedly 9/10 for commentaries and interviews by three real-life Monkees though see above Skip straight to – the Monkees auditions (‘Madness!!!’ indeed!)
The Moody Blues
“Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970”
I really don’t mean to pick on one of my all time favourite bands (see last issue’s merciless review of ‘December’), but, honestly, they weren’t much good live were they? To be fair, it must be hard to re-create all the complexity of their music live on stage (the mellotron part alone is a nightmare to programme) and we might have simply caught the band on an off day here. That said, though, even the simplest songs here (‘Ride My See Saw’ and ‘Gypsy’, two of the best rockers ever written) sound awful. The band chat, too, is a bit of a cop out given the events of the day (for those who don’t know a group of fans at the festival broke down a fence demanding ‘music should be free’ and burned down a hotdog stand) with Ray Thomas saying ‘They said this was going to happen, that was going to happen, we didn’t know what the fuck was going to happen, it’s a drag...but Christ, they say it’s all for bread but you can’t buy what you give us!’ All that said, this is the earliest footage of a Moodies show we have and it intermittently shows why they were such an important and admired band, with a handful of songs (‘The Sunset’ ‘Tortoise and The Hare’ and ‘Melancholy Man’) that don’t last long in their setlists. Note, too, that ‘Nights In White Satin’ is already available on the ‘Message To Love’ documentary on the Isle of Wight Festival. My advice is if you’re a committed fan and a long distance voyager then buy it (chances are you have anyway), but if you’re only slightly moody then save your money. Overall rating – 6/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Melancholy Man’, the most complicated song here and yet it comes across strangely well
“Legend Of A Band” (1990)
I must admit I can’t actually remember much about this documentary – which considering that I can remember the other 199 DVDs here, many of them fully, is probably not a good sign. The Moodies are very soon to disappear from view with lengthy gaps between not very good albums, but were still just about riding the crest of a popularity wave in 1990 after a series of excellent singles. Therefore it seemed like a good time to speak to the band about their past and the film-makers do their best to collect choice material from the archives – sadly most of it available elsewhere nowadays in a form that looks much better. The interviews, however aren’t that great: early members like Denny Laine weren’t asked to comment, Mike Pinder – who was with the band right up to 1978 – is missing too and Hayward, Lodge, Thomas and Edge aren’t the most erudite of interviewees, meeting questions with blank stares and ‘umms’ as often as they give witty comments and unheard stories. Still, 20 years ago there was nothing out there on the band at all – there’s still never been a Moody Blues book which seems barmy to me with such a large group of fans to cater to – and in fact not that many videos about bands around at all in 1990, so no wonder this documentary was greeted with more applause and worship than it probably deserved. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – a rather serious looking band performing ‘Nights In White Satin’
“Live At Montreaux” (1991)
What do the Moodies look like 20 years after their Isle of Wight set? Old and tired if this DVD (not released until about 10 years after the event) is anything to go by. Mike Pinder is long gone (leaving in 1978) and by now both Thomas and Edge are spare parts, not the equal partners in the most wonderfully democratic of all rock groups (‘Legend Of A Mind’ is Ray’s only song of the set, Graeme doesn’t even get that much). To be honest, the Moodies are already looking like an ‘oldies’ act, with a set list stuck firmly in their best known 60s hits and recent 1980s singles, with the new material relegated to three songs in the middle. However, Hayward and Lodge are both still in great voice and the former’s guitar playing is always of the highest order. The problem is that this competent concert could really have been made at any time in the band’s lifetime from 1981 to the present – there’s nothing new on offer here, no adventure or excitement. Considering that back in the 1960s and 70s The Moody Blues were one of the bravest and adventurous groups in the world that’s an awfully hard come down to swallow. Overall rating – 3/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Say It With Love’, the best of the three ‘new’ songs from ‘Keys To The Kingdom’
“Live At Red Rocks” (1992)
Perhaps the Moodies stuck to playing safe because the one time they did something new they burnt their fingers badly. To be fair, I’ve read about lots of fans who hail this 25th anniversary of ‘Days Of Future Passed’ concert as the pinnacle of their achievements. Unfortunately what I see is a wasted opportunity to add some rarer songs to the band’s set list and an orchestra and arranger way out of their depth, ruining several Moody Blues songs that really don’t call out for an orchestra. Still, it’s better than a 1980s synthesiser I suppose. Again Thomas and Edge didn’t really need to turn up, although this show improves on the last DVD courtesy of Ray’s ‘For My Lady’, a gorgeous song long overdue from the band’s setlist. Hayward’s ‘New Horizons’ is the other unexpected addition and this is the one song that really benefits from the addition of an orchestra, apart from the ones from ‘Days’ that already used one. Actually there’s precious little from ‘Days’ here, which is a shame even though its probably the weakest of the seven original Moodies albums (just the hits of ‘Nightsa In White Satin’ and ‘Tuesday Afternoon’). Again the Moodies are never less than competent and Hayward’s as fine a musician as he ever was, but there’s even less guitar-work and band interplay here than normal because the orchestra has overpowered everything. Not a night to remember I’m afraid, however much the guff on the back cover tries to make you feel that way. Overall rating – 4/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘For My lady’ and ‘New Horizons’
“Lovely To See You” (2002)
This is undeniably the best Moody Blues concert on the market. The band are more in tune than they were at the Isle of Wight, the set list is more interesting than it was at ‘Montreaux’, there’s none of the awful clunky orchestra arrangements ruining the songs as per ‘Red Rocks’ and the band look as if they’re enjoying themselves, unlike ‘Hall Of Fame’. That said, even this DVD isn’t that great – reduced to a trio plus a second drummer and a new female flute player the Moodies don’t have the boldness and energy of their youth. Frankly, too, the Moodies in concert while undeniably great performers never lived up to the complexity of their records and unlike, say, the Dead or CSNY tended to sound the same at every night on each of their tours. All that said there’s a good mix in the set-lists of the sort of songs you’d be expecting and some surprises (the first live hearings of such gems as ‘The Actor’ ‘Higher and Higher’ and ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’, plus the surprisingly late debut of Hayward’s solo hit ‘Forever Autumn’). It’s enjoyable, once at least, although it’s a shame there’s not more band-audience interaction and the massive hole on the stage where Ray Thomas should be is never properly filled, no matter how many extra drummers, keyboardists and 20-something flute players there are. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – 4/10 A fairly longish interview with Hayward, Lodge and Edge in which the first two come across as cautious and subdued and the drummer comes off as a wisecracking firecracker with an opinion about everyone and everything! Skip straight to ‘Higher and Higher’, the rarest and most energetic song here by a mile, although in 2002 it seems more like a requiem for lost opportunities than a celebration of space travel as per the original in 1969
“The Universal Masters Collection”/”Nights In White Satin” (2005)
I used to own all the Moodies’ 1980s on ‘Video CDs’ – ah, remember those? – but the players were obsolete some 25 years ago so it’s nice to be able to own them again. The Moodies seem an unlikely choice for pioneering the video format but they do, after a slow start, with the one-two punch of ‘Your Wildest Dreams’ and ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ being heralded as classics of the genre (you get to see actors playing the band in their 20s and they’re admirably spot on, especially Hayward’s blonde quiff!) Unfortunately to own the complete set you need to own both of these discs – the former a low budget accompaniment to a CD compilation and the latter an only slightly bigger budget German import. The differences are these: ‘Universal Masters’ is better at the Moodies’ 80s and 90s work, containing fairly rare promos for ‘Steppin’ In A Slide Zone’ ‘The Voice’ ‘Sitting At The Wheel’ ‘No More Lies’ and ‘Say It With Love’ which are missing from ‘Nights’. Alas ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ is absent and the only ‘Nights’ promo is from ‘Red Rocks’ in 1992. The ‘Nights’ DVD, meanwhile, specialises in the band’s 60s era and contains a proper promo of ‘Nights’ along with ‘Tuesday Afternoon’ ‘Legend Of A Mind’ ‘Voices In The Sky’ ‘Ride My See Saw’ ‘Dr Livingstone I Presume’ ‘Never Comes The Day’ ‘I’m Just A Singer’ ‘Blue World’ and ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ which the other doesn’t have. Is it really that hard to combine the one hour these two DVDs share and the one hour each exclusive to these sets in one place? If I were pushed I’d say the German only ‘Nights’ DVD is best (the Moodies were better in their 60s heyday, however good their 80s and 90s singles are), although that said the 1980s videos are more entertaining (the early Moodies tend to look sulky and bored in their videos – especially ‘Legend Of A Mind’ where even the photographer is more interested in the surrounding buildings than the song). Really, though, you need to own both of these sets to get a full flavour of the band at work. Overall rating – 6/10 for ‘Universal’ and 7/10 for ‘Nights’ Extras – None on either disc Skip straight to – music wise its the terrific ‘Ride My See Saw’, whilst video wise it’s probably ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ with the combination working best on ‘Blue World’ where the far away alien landscape we drew upon for our review of Moodies album ‘The Present’ (and Catalunia The Third’s birthday present) comes to life (see news and views no 98!)
“Their Fully Authorised Story” (2008)
Let me start by saying I bought this for £1 so as far as I’m concerned I got a bargain. If you were a casual fan then you’d probably be confused rather than awestruck by the documentary, whereas major fans will probably be disappointed by the lack of footage and music within. That said, the interviews are – intermittently at least – interesting, with a few stories I’d not heard before (especially concerning the early Denny Laine years). Almost everyone who could be was interviewed for this DVD (Laine, Edge, Hayward, Lodge, even the usually hard-to-find Mike Pinder who hasn’t spoken about the band since 1978) and the only one missing is Ray Thomas (who was poorly and on the verge of retirement at the time). There’s a few irritating music specialists talking too (they do go on and on don’t they – erm, but not your humble scribe of course!), mainly about the Moodies album covers that seems strange, but no matter – at a generous two and a half running time there’s enough space for pointless cul-de-sacs without them getting in the way of the bigger story. Had I paid a fortune for this set I might have felt short-changed, but frankly for a pound it could have lasted 10 minutes and I’d have been happy, so to have a documentary that more or less rivals the expensive ‘official’ one (‘Legend Of A Band’) means in my eyes I got a really great bargain that day. I’m still not sure why it’s billed as a ‘limited edition’ on the saleeve though – this disc has been around for four whole new years now and is still quite easy to get hold of! Overall rating – 7/10 (taking the price into consideration), Extras – 7/10 (Unedited interview clips) There’s a booklet listed on the back of the box but sadly my copy didn’t come with one! Skip straight to – any of Denny Laine’s witty comments!
“Hall Of Fame” (2009)
Yet another live CD and DVD of a tour that doesn’t actually differ in any significant way from any in the past 25 years or so. Only 14 songs from a show at the prestigious Albert Hall are here, with the World Festival Orchestra doing the job of the London Symphony Orchestra of the ‘Red Rocks’ gig; the arrangements are slightly better this time around but the acoustics of the hall are worse, making for a very uneven show. As for the songs – well this is basically the same dozen or so songs that appear on all of these Moodies live DVDs with a couple of so-so moments from ‘Strange Times’ (‘Words You Say’ and ‘Haunted’ – I’d have preferred ‘English Sunset’ and ‘Swallow’) added for variety. As we said earlier, if you don’t any of these sets then its worth your while buying one from the 90s or 00s, but you really will go mad from repetition if you buy them all. This set is no better but no worse than the others. Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – None (on a disc that runs less than an hour!) Skip straight to – an energetic reading of ‘Questions’
Note – Justin Hayward sang the theme tune for the 1980s children’s TV Series ‘The Shoe People’ (as a favour to a man he met at a party in Cornwall!) Unavailable for decades, the complete set of 30-odd five minute episodes was released on DVD in 2010!
“Live By The Sea” (1996)
This gig from April 1995 is impressive for two reasons: the first is that the band have only released one album (with parts of a second in the works) and yet they already have a quite lengthy 80 minute set to die for; the other is that despite being just 14 months or so older than the next DVD on our list the two are almost completely different. Virtually all of ‘Definitely Maybe’ is here, sounding more raucous and lively though perhaps less varied than you’ll recognise it from the CD, while even this early in Oasis’ career there are some fine rare B-sides in the set, all of them up to the standards of the rest (the superb ‘Headshrinker’ and ‘Talk Tonight’ plus the pretty good ‘Good To Be Free’ ‘Sad Song’ and ‘D’yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?’). Unlike later gigs, where the mad-for-it escapades grate and the band seem like distant millionaires rather than at one with their people, Oasis are at the top of their game here, perfectly judging the mood with their chat between songs and the mixture of safety and danger. Looking at this DVD, arguably the best of their career, you wouldn’t think it was the earliest made: the band already sound like pros and the days of drugs, lengthy jams and disappointment seem ‘half the world away’. The only disappointment is how grainy most of the film is and how amateurish a lot of the camera-work is too: did these people not realise they were at the birth of musical genius? Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – A fiery version of ‘Slide Away’, extended by a terrific finale ande some tight jamming
“There and Then” (1996)
A year later and suddenly Oasis are the biggest band on the planet, not just promising youngsters with a great debut record but the best thing that’s happened to music since...erm...well our guess is 10cc in 1974. These two gcleverly-stuck-together gigs at Earls’ Court and Maine’s Road (in the same period as a record-breaking one at Knebworth) are a shame in many ways because it left the band nowhere to go with the rest of their careers, having already to the biggest crowds for consecutive nights and delivered around 20 of the finest rock and roll songs for decades. The spectacle is already a little too big for comfort, actually, with success going to the band’s heads a little (the rest of the band look more uncomfortable with each other on stage, too, even if new drummer Alan White may well be the best single thing that ever happened to them). The 17 track setlist shares only ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ with its predecessor and is naturally swamped by material from second album ‘Morning Glory’. However there’s some intriguing songs here in amongst the hits and popular album tracks, including Slade cover ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ (a strange choice for an encore but it knocks spots off the original), B-side instrumental ‘The Swamp Song’, B-side classic ‘The Masterplan’ and a 10 minute epic finale version of Beatles cover ‘I Am The Walrus’ (which may not have the subtlety of the original but it has all the power, especially the ‘Plastic Ono Band Toronto’ stunt where Noel leaves his guitar playing and walks off stage, leaving a stage hand to turn everything off!) For me, I prefer the slightly less cocky ‘Definitely Maybe’ period Oasis to this mega-star ‘Morning Glory’ era, but both gigs are fine and indeed so different to each other that fans really ought to purchase both if they can (at the time of writing both DVDs are still dirt cheap). Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – alternate versions of ‘Roll With It’ and ‘Acquiesce’ taken from the London rather than Manchester gigs. Skip straight to – a gorgeous acoustic version of ‘Morning Glory’ which sounds a million miles from the frenetic album cut, revealing what a musical genius Noel Gallagher can be when he wants to be.
“Familiar To Millions” (2001)
Oasis mark II (with Gem and Andy Bell on board) sound more professional than the early line-ups did. In most cases that’s a compliment, but in this case a lot of the charm and character of the early DVDs has gone. That said, I like this DVD (and CD soundtrack) a lot, much more than most fans seem to, with some excellent songs from album no four (‘Gas Panic’ ‘Go Let It Out’ and ‘Who Feels Love?’), nothing from album three (that’s a plus, by the way, although ‘Fade In-Out’ would have sounded great live) and two interesting exclusive covers of other AAA bands! (a demented run through The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ and an anguished reading of Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey My My’). There’s a smattering of repetition from earlier gigs but not as much as you’d expect for a third straight live DVD and a two-and-a-bit hour show and even if this Wembley gig is the weakest of the three Oasis shows out on DVD, it’s still a pretty good release from a band that’s been pretty fair with their DVD releases over the years. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras 9/10 (A 45 minute making of that’s actually better than the later tour doc ‘Lord Don’t Slow Me Down’, live screens and multi-angles) Skip straight to – a shining version of ‘Champagne Supernova’ that rolls nicely between delicacy and noise
“Definitely Maybe” (2004)
A great idea and a masterful example of how great the DVD format really is when it’s used properly. This 10th anniversary set of ‘Definitely Maybe’ can be played on your DVD player like an ordinary CD or you can choose to ‘enter’ either the ‘music video’ of each song playing, a ‘documentary’ on a selected few songs or a TV appearance where appropriate. I guess that only an album as well performed as ‘DM’ (with its 4 hit singles and another three songs at least that everybody knows) make it possible to use this format, but I think its a great idea and more album retrospectives should be given this treatment where possible (‘Morning Glory’ for instance!) The Gallaghers are as witty as ever on the documentaries, the TV appearances are fabulous (especially the first ever appearance of Oasis singing ‘Supersonic’ on ‘The Word’ in March 1994), the inclusion of excellent B-side ‘Sad Song’ is a nice touch (although I would have loved to see the other period B-sides in here as well) and even though the music videos are superseded now with ‘Time Flies’ this is still a wonderful value-for-money set running to some six hours by the time you’ve had a play with everything. Fab! Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – Apparently there’s a 2disc version out with special features but I only own the original 1 disc recording so I can’t tell you what they are! Skip straight to ‘Slide Away’, in any format, one of the greatest songs of the 1990s
“Lord Don’t Slow Me Down” (2007)
Another tour, another DVD, although at least this one is a documentary rather than a concert and actually features very little in the way of music. The one exception is the title song, a last great gasp of inspiration that probably doesn’t feature Liam anywhere at all and one that fits the tour’s boozy weary revelry like a glove. As for the documentary itself, however, it’s not what I’d longed for: the band only speak in hurried, clipped interviews and for every nugget of revelations there’s 10 boring minutes watching them play draughts in the dressing rooms around the globe. The whole thing seems hollow, somehow, despite being dressed up to seem like art – the whole thing is even shot in a soft-eyed monochrome lens, giving the impression that you’re watching back a classic silent movie rather than a bunch of middle aged musicians putting on a modern rock show. Odd. Much better is the ‘bonus’ disc included in the most recent copies of the DVD featuring a contemporary performance in the band’s home city of Manchester. The gig is a fiery affair, with Liam and Noel clashing on-stage and the concert being stopped right after the first note when fans break through a barrier and surge awkwardly towards the stage. Noel Gallagher handles the chaos well, although the slight aura of panic never quite fades. Not quite Oasis’ Altamont, but uncomfortably close. Overall rating – 6/10 (mainly for the concert), Extras – 5/10, an entertaining audio commentary, and some low-fi fan recordings of the show Skip straight to – I’m not sure about the best but the most memorable part of the first disc is the band walking down the stairs of an empty arena for a sound check in slow motion to the strain of ‘Let There Be Love’; as for the concert there’s a storming version of ‘Lyla’
“Time Flies: The Videos” (2010)
Usually I agree with Noel Gallagher, but he spends most of his hilarious audio commentary (the single best use of a commentary track I have yet heard) pointing how all, but two of these videos are ‘nonsense’. Should the music gig ever dry up for him, Noel would make a superb grumpy comedian (‘I’d go out and make a cup of tea if I were you, this song goes on for hours!’ he admits during ‘Stand By Me’ while his revelation that he worked best playing a ‘gruff Mancunian shaving’ is the highlight of the entire three hours. I disagree with Noel because the majority of these videos arte superb: yes, we’ve always known how good the music was (though it sounds particularly impressive with the better tracks stacked together in chronological order), but some of the videos (which can be pretty rare) are gems too. A very young looking Oasis fool around in the Gallagher’s back garden for ‘Supersonic’, bury their first drummer Tony McCarroll on ‘Live Forever’ (nice use of irony there!), get swamped by helicopters for the swaggering ‘D’yer Know What I Mean?’ (senselessly left off the band’s best-of), catch a bus on ‘Go Let It Out’, walk in slow motion to the sound of ‘Let There Be Love’ and end up snubbing the Royal Family on fine farewell ‘Falling Down’. The 15 years this disc covers is quite a journey and even Noel sounds moved by the end of it – if you have any empathy for Noel’s spokesperson songs matched with Liam’s throaty roar of defiance then you will be moved too, even with the odd mistake (what is going on with the cod-Yellow Submarine of ‘All Around The World’, ‘Pigs might fly, I’d never say die’ chorus and all, although Noel’s least favourite song here ‘Sunday Morning Call’, which positively makes him squirm when it comes on, is one of my favourites here). The so-called ‘extra features’ are arguably even more enjoyable than the main course, featuring promos and the odd television and live concert appearance for non-album songs which include such masterpieces as ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ ‘Champagne Supernova’ ‘Acquiesce’ and ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong?’ Overall rating – 9/10, Extras – 9/10 (as listed) Skip straight to – ‘Little By Little’, a great video for an even greater song
I’ll come clean – I don’t own this on DVD yet (it disappeared rapidly), but I have seen it on youtube and it’s made this list because it’s the earliest footage we have of the Floyd at work, back in fact when they were complete unknowns outside their small fanbase (their first album is still six months away). Frankly the price for this set is a rip-off given that we only get two (admittedly quite lengthy) songs – the rest of the already short running time is padded out by interviews with people who were there – none of which include the Floyd. However, these two songs are the holy grail of most collectors – ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, the highlight of the early Floyd setlists and ‘Nick’s Boogie’, a rather formless jam that has never been heard of before or since. If you love the early Floyd then alas this is still an essential purchase if you see it cheap enough, but it’ll hardly convert the unconverted to the Floyd’s compelling air of dark thought. Overall rating – 4/10, Extras – None (Apparently) Skip straight to ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, not that there’s much else here anyway!
“Live In Pompeii” (1972)
‘Where would rock and roll be without feedback?’ Quite simply the best DVD of this whole list – or possibly ever I should imagine. Pink Floyd are never better than in this half-hour concert made by director Adrian Maben, who caught their mystery and their elusiveness superbly on film. The band really do play in the ruins of Pompeii (as shown by the magnificent panning shot that takes a full five minutes of the opening ‘Echoes’) and perform in the day and at night to just the film crew and cameras (Maben says in the documentary that he couldn’t compete with the ‘crowd scenes’ in the Woodstock film so he went for the other extreme!) The band only play about six songs but these are all highlights of their setlist at the time (and nearly all about to disappear thanks to the creation of ‘Dark Side’ the following year) and even after aowning quite a healthy array of Pink Floyd bootlegs the band never played these songs better. ‘Echoes’ bookends the concert, stretching out to infinity even more than the original studio version (the climax at the end is one of my candidates for how music has the power to move like no other art form), ‘One Of These Days’ is a roar of aggression and anger, ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene’ is as scary as any horror film soundtrack, blues instrumental ‘Seamus’ is, well, short at least (though sadly that’s not Steve Marriott’s dog doing the howling like it was on record) and even ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ makes a lot more sense than it ever did on album, especially Gilmour’s howled conclusion. In between these career peak performances, where the band are at one with each other and the stakes are high and fought for, we get to see the band falling apart in specially shot footage in Abbey Road (where the band happen to be working on ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’). Even years of reading about him won’t be enough preparation for how scary a confrontational Roger Waters really is, although this is more than made up for with the chance to see David Gilmour overdub an unused guitar part onto ‘Brain Damage’ and Rick Wright laying the first track down for what will become the gorgeous ‘Us And Them’. Be warned however; the version of ‘Pompeii’ given as a main feature on the DVD version is a new ‘director’s cut’ version of the film re-made by Maben in the late 1990s to include footage of space probes and with more band chat added (the idea is that the concert is being viewed by aliens from space). Interesting as it is, it doesn’t work anything like as well as the original version – although thankfully Maben did the decent thing and added the full original version as an ‘extra’ on the disc anyway so fans can see them side by side. Overall rating – 10/10 Extras – 8/10 (An interview with the director, an intriguing but short documentary and pictures of tour posters, album covers and even bootlegs of the film soundtrack!) Skip straight to – Actually stick to the beginning; ‘Echoes’ Part One is one of the best performances of one of the best songs by one of the best bands that ever ever lived, as good as music ever gets
“The Wall” (1982)
The ‘moulded’ school children in masks being taught to think the same; lead character Pink turning into a pink blob in a haze of booze, confusion and painkillers; the Nazi soldiers goose-stepping down the streets intercut with Gerald Scarfe’s oppressive hammers; the senseless destruction of World War Two: the much-delayed film of ‘The Wall’ is a glorious sea of memorable images that suffers perhaps inevitably from the lack of script. In this immediately pre-MTV era it seemed just like one overly long and rather scary music video rather than the fine filmic masterpiece it could have been (for comparisons sake it comes in between ‘Tommy’ was ruined by having a script and having that ‘sung’ by misguided actors and ‘Quadrophenia’ where music is central to the film but still in the background). It’s also easy to get lost navigating your way through Roger Waters’ murky mix of autobiography, the things he really saw taken place to fellow Floyd Syd Barratt and what’s complete and utter fiction. The most moving sequence is decidedly from the heart: the young kid discovering his dad’s war medals in the drawer of a wardrobe while his dad dies to single-only song ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’ (Roger’s dad Eric died at Anzio, despite bravely being a conscientious objector in the war). Bob Geldof is a revelation in the title part, despite hating the band and everything they stood for apparently (and nearly being drowned during the swimming pool sequence near the beginning) and Scarfe’s sparsely used animation is a natural companion to Waters’ darkest visions. However, the bottom line is that you have to be a fan of the album to make the most out of the film, which struggles to pin down a story from so many different ‘bricks’ and the conclusion (in which Pink self-destructs and we see him as a child again playing on a bomb site) takes too easy a way out after all the emotion we’ve invested in his story. The music, too, is cut badly during the second half of the film (the three best songs ‘Hey You’ ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Run Like Hell’ are either heavily edited or cut entirely). The film was also badly out of time – by 1982 the album was two years old and time had moved on; had this movie been shot back to back with the record and live shows, though, its impact would have been colossal. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – 9/10 (A so-so documentary, the ‘Hey You’ sequence cut from the film, ‘Another Brick’ music video and much more!) Skip straight to – ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ the best mix of film and music, as Gilmour’s cheery vocals wave goodbye to innocence as some flying birds slowly turn into Nazi war machines ready to destroy and re-shape the world forever
“Delicate Sound Of Thunder” (1987)
‘That’s my pig up there. And my spitfire. Not to mention most of my songs. However, its their dry ice’. That’s how Roger Waters viewed the 1987 era Floyd as the battle of the bands (‘Which one’s really pink?) started hotting up during the mid 80s, as the band’s 70s ethos meets the 1980s demands for spectacle head on. The result is a bit of a mess, with the three man Floyd of Nick, Rick and Dave surrounded by a huge amount of extra musicians who instead of re-energising the band and expanding the sound slowed it down to a crawl and meant the old Floydian principle of experimentation and pushing the envelope became a strict show that never changed one iota from one performance to the next. Some fans hate the late 80s/90s era of the Floyd – I don’t hate the music (‘Sorrow’, as featured on this concert, is as good as anything in the Floyd’s back catalogue) but I do hate these lifeless concerts where such wonderful milestones of rock and roll end up sounding like lift music. I can’t say Waters’ tours of the period are much better, incidentally, but at least he brought along a film crew that could actually do their job properly – most of this concert is grainy, out of focus and shot from a long way back (fair enough most of the spectacle is happening 100 feet above the audience’s heads, but can’t we at least get a close up?) Depressingly ordinary. Overall rating – 2/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘One Of These Days’ – played next to the ‘Live At Pompeii’ version this one is sickeningly dull and limp, but in the context of this show it sounds like a tightly drilled rock and roll joyride
A lot of fans love ‘Pulse’ but for me it’s even more disappointing than ‘Delicate Sound’. There’s still far too many new songs in the setlist (although at least the ones from ‘Division Bell’ are far superior to ‘Momentary Lapse Of Reason’) and the fact that the band are doing the whole of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ (rather badly I have to say) fills up the gaps where there used to be some semi-rare Floyd songs. Flying pig, crashing bed and model spitfire notwithstanding, there isn’t all that much of interest to see either – we know the Floyd are good performers but by this era they’re so slick and polished the solos and jam sections are the same night after night. At times it looks as if David Gilmour is about to drop off, in fact. All in all the best thing about this set is the pulsating light that beeps more or less in trhythm with the heartbeat heard on ‘Dark Side’ (whether you want to pay the extra £10 or so in packaging costs this ended up adding on top of manufacturing labour is another matter!) Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – 5/10 (Fan Videos, the video screens used at the gigs, backstage video, tour map (!) and best of all the rare music videos for ‘Take It Back’ (fair enough) and ‘Leaning To Fly’ (why?! This song came out seven years earlier!) Skip straight to – ‘High Hopes’, the best of Gilmour’s new batch of songs and one that always sounded especially good live.
“Classic Albums: The Making Of Dark Side Of The Moon” (c.1996)
Like the other ‘classic albums’ documentaries, this is an intelligent, thoughtful, detailed analysis of the making of one of the most famous AAA albums. New documentaries with Rick, Dave and Roger are linked by footage of the band rehearsing the album (taken from the ‘Pompeii’ DVD) and engineer Alan Parsons revisiting the master-tapes in Abbey Road. The stories behind this album are fascinating (the band meeting in Nick mason’s kitchen to discuss how they wanted to put all their fears into one album), while the story of the artwork is always fascinating (Hipgnosis came up with a dozen different designs and at first were rather miffed that the band seemed to decide on the prism within about 10 seconds!) Like much of this series, its a must-see for fans. Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – Rick’s chord sequence for ‘Us and Them’ back when the song was still an instrumental, written to company a ‘violent sequence’ in the ‘Zabriskie Point’ film
“Roger Waters: In The Flesh” (2001)
First up, the good news. This concert is long (nearly three hours), giving much time for Roger and co to add some lesser known, forgotten songs to the setlist (including a full 20 minute of ‘Dogs’, apparently chosen because the three-man Floyd considered it too hard to play!) We also get to hear some choice material from all of Roger’s albums to date, including several songs from the superb ‘Amused To Death’ album (‘Perfect Sense’ and ‘The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range’ are as good as any of the Floyd numbers). The bad news is that the backing band are in no way shape or form up to the task; they seem uncomfortable with each other on stage and noodle solos that should soar and pounce. Roger, too, has never sung for more than half a Floyd set in his life and is clearly struggling at times, even with three female backing vocalists to drown him out (one of them’s AAA regular P P Arnold by the way) and much as it makes sense that Roger should reclaim ‘his’ songs from the Floyd it still sounds odd to hear him singing them, not David or Rick (and even odder when another member of the band takes the part). The biggest saving grace of this set is the order (rather than being strictly chronological or jumbled together this is a set built around ‘themes’ so that songs from different albums sound good together) and Roger’s humour (the band have a card game during the lengthy solo in ‘Dogs’, leaving poor guitarist-vocalist Doyle Bramhall doing all the work on his own! One for fans who have all the originals anyway and will have fun comparing and contrasting and a slight improvement on the two 80s/90s Floyd concerts, but still not quite as good as it might have been sadly. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – 5/10 (A half hour documentary following Roger on tour – he even meets David Gilmour during one soundcheck, much to the embarrassment of both!) Skip straight to – ‘Perfect Sense’, a song that makes – well – perfect sense, but only if you’re a materialist capitalist without an emotional bone in your body
“David Gilmour In Concert” (2002)
An intriguingly low-key performance this, with no flying pigs, no walls built across the stage and not even any other musicians for great chunks of it. Gilmour’s first public appearance in eight years (and a one-off at that rather than a tour) is clearly reluctant to step back into the spotlight but the talent is clearly still there. For my money this is the best version of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ ever, bookending the concert in ‘solo’ and ‘band’ form, rare Floyd songs like the delightful ‘Fat Old Sun’ and A Great Day For Freedom’ are performed well andfor fans there’s even a Syd Barratt tribute, a suitably eerie cover of ‘Dominoes’. There’s plenty of unexpected covers too, some great (Richard Thompson’s gorgeous ‘Dimming Of The Day’ and a sweet ‘Hushabye Mountain’) some ghastly (the godawful Pearlfisher’s Duet by Bizet) and the chance to hear the song ‘Smile’ some six years before it appeared on Gilmour’s ‘On An Island’ CD. Best of all, though, is a toss-up between Rick Wright performing the best of his solo songs ‘Breakthrough’ (actually technically Sinead O’Connor sang it on the record, so this is your only chance to hear it’s true composer tackle it) and Gilmour’s friend Robert Wyatt taking Roger Waters’ part on a slowed down ‘Comfortably Numb’. Frankly, the 1980s and 90s Floyd would have been better had Gilmour approached those projects with half the innovation and energy he possessed for this one show. Overall rating – 8/10, Extras – 9/10, no less than two behind-the-scenes featurettes and three extra Gilmour guest appearances (on ‘Later with Jools Holland’, a Leiber and Stoller tribute concert and, of all things, a Shakespeare festival). Skip straight to – ‘Breakthrough’ or ‘Comfortably Numb’
“The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story” (2003/2006)
A superior documentary (made by ‘Omnibus’ and originally screened by the BBC) that has a good stab at unravelling the complexities of Syd’s life and disintegration. In 1967 he really had it all – fame, success, youth, critical standing, love from his peers and the world at his feet and no one has ever quite got to the bottom of why. The best and worst thing about this DVD is that by the end still nobody knows why – not the rest of the band, not replacement and friend David Gilmour, not his teacher mentor, not his post-Floyd flatmate, not the singer-songwriters who praise his talent and sing his songs. The mystery of Syd remains largely intact and thankfully there are no shoddy attempts to doorstep him at his Cambridge flat (this film was made five years before his death) although equally Syd is often portrayed as a mixed up, confused kid rather than the pinnacle of musical existence. For probably the first time since 1975 Roger and Dave agree on something (how much they miss their old friend – Roger’s genuine teary eyes come as quite a shock after decades of footage of him shouting and threatening) and the reminiscences of all the band are sweet and heartfelt. Sadly none of Syd’s family agreed to talk so what we have here is inevitably one-sided, with Syd ‘at work’ as it were rather than at home and the tales of Syd’s decline and ‘madness’ do perhaps overbalance the documentary towards voyeurism when balanced against the short time it takes to list his achievements. But, frankly, I’m pleased that the documentary makers got in here first because I can see that other documentary crews (many of them listed in this article) would have gone way more OTT than this. Perhaps the last comment should come from Syd himself who, when asked by a friend if he’s noticed the programme was on, said he watched a few minutes but got bored and turned over to MTV! Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – the story behind ‘Have You Got It Yet?’, an unreleased Barrett song that changed every time Syd sang it. A sign of madness, a glorious joke or a genuine attempt at a new concept? Even Roger Waters couldn’t decide.
“Remember That Night” (David Gilmour) (2006)
The best of the three Gilmour DVDs around, this set is enlivened by a much longer running time than the other two (including some rare Floyd songs), some fascinating extras and some very special guests (including David Crosby and Graham Nash). Gilmour is in fine form and his band – including fellow Floyd Rick Wright who should have got equal billing – are excellent, breathing new life into songs like ‘Fat Old Sun’ ‘High Hopes’, even Rick singing ‘Arnold Layne’ (the first Floyd single back when Gilmour wasn’t even in the band!) and best of all ‘Echoes’ in all its unedited 22 minute glory! On the downside tracks five to sixteen are simply a re-creation of Gilmour’s entire ‘On An Island’ album, which I found to be really disappointing, with only the title track (featuring Crosby and Nash) and the wistful ‘Where We Start’ up to standard (this album was 12 years in the making after all!) Actually the concert itself is easily eclipsed by the 13 (!!!) extra performances, featuring rare Floyd song ‘...Wots, Uh The Deal’ (better than it sounds), Rick’s wonderful ‘Wearing The Inside Out’, early Floyd track ‘Astronomy Domine’, Syd Barratt covers ‘Dominoes’ and ‘Dark Globe’ and an alternate, superior version of ‘Comfortably Numb’; with Rick singing Roger Waters’ part (David Bowie sings it, badly, in the main feature!) Even Crosby and Nash get to sing their own song – though weirdly they plump for ‘Find The Cost Of Freedom’ by...Stephen Stills! Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – 10/10 (As well as the 13 songs including outtakes, rehearsals, the ‘Abbey Road’ series, an AOL mini-broadcast and a five song BBC set from the same year there’s three behind-the-scenes documentaries, two music videos, lyrics and goodness only knows what else!) Skip straight to – the best version of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ ever, with Crosby and Nash wrapping their harmonies and sounding like a whole new supergroup!
“Live In Gdansk” (David Gilmour) (2008)
For all the good vibes I’ve been sending, however, three solo Gilmour DVDs is at least one too many – and for all its good points the Gdansk show is it. The track listing isn’t all that different from ‘Remember That Night’ although the performances sound a little more lifeless (there are no special guests this time around either) and, again, all 10 tracks from ‘On An Island’ seems like a bizarre choice given that on the DVD this only leaves room for five Floyd songs (though thankfully they’re among the better ones). Most sets come as CD/DVD packages – frankly I can’t see that you will want to play the soundtrack CDs that often and I’d rather have a CD of the ‘Night’ concert, but if you fancy it then it’s up to you. Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – 5/10 (This set repeats a lot from ‘Remember That Night’, along with the ‘On An Island’ CD in surround sound – quite why you need it when the concert is almost note-similar I’m not quite sure!) Skip straight to Gilmour’s best Syd Barratt impression on ‘Astronomy Domine’
“The Story Of Wish You Were Here” (2012)
A worthy successor to the ‘Dark Side’ doc, this is made all the more poignant because it was made after the deaths of Syd and Rick. I don’t know how the band manage to spin an album containing just four different songs into 80 minutes, but they do without too much padding and only a little of the usual stories about Syd’s decline and the success of ‘Dark Side’. Amazingly Roger, Dave and Nick all agreed to be interviewed and are on good form, especially the former with his usual mixture of humility and don’t-mess-with-me aura. There’s a nice little section on the ‘Household Objects’ album the band started and abandoned in 1974 and the tale of Syd walking in on the band while they were recording their piece about him (‘Shone On You Crazy Diamond’) is accompanied by moving pictorial evidence. Best of all, Gilmour shows us how he created the unique sound of the album on his guitar and engineer Brian Humphries gives the master tapes another airing at Abbey Road’s mixing desk, showing how much effort went into creating each part on the album. There’s a little too much about how the album cover was taken for my liking (personally I never liked Hipgnosis’ design for WYWH as much as their ‘Dark Side’ and ‘Ummagumma’ front covers) and inevitably this documentary covers a lot of the same ground as other Floyd docs (most notable the non-DVD ‘Which One’s Pink?’ which unforgivably re-used much of this stuff in the same year it came out), but all in all this is an excellent reference manual that helps the listener pin down one of the Floyd’s most mercurial and ethereal albums. Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – the scary modern landscape of ‘Welcome To The Machine’, sadly the one song here that’s not discussed in as much detail as it deserves
Note – Pink Floyd also wrote the soundtracks for three films, all currently unavailable on DVD but hopefully due for a re-release sometime soon: the avant garde-ish ‘More’ (1969), the more pop-rocky ‘Obscured By Clouds’ (1972) and three highly variable songs for ‘Zabriskie Point’ (1970, a bonkers film that also includes Jerry Garcia on the soundtrack)
“Charlie Is My Darling” (Filmed 1965, released 2013)
Only three issues ago I was moaning that the Stones were releasing the wrong documentary on DVD and that the unseen ‘Charlie’ footage from 1965 (shown on the BBC alongside the new ‘Crossfire Hurricane’) was far more important and deserving of release. Thankfully the Stones have put that right with a last-minute release of the film on a shiny DVD. It’s a bizarre but compelling creation, this one, featuring interview footage with a surprisingly quiet and thoughtful band (poignantly with Brian Jones permanently the outsider and announcing how he doesn’t expect anything in his life to last), Mick and Keef messing around with their first batch of songs (and doing bad Elvis impressions) plus no less than two complete shows from the tour – well, complete until the teenagers in the audience flood the stage and see them both shut down, at least. The cameramen is right up on stage with the band, too, so we get a real wall’s eye view of how frightening it must have been and of the palpable tension within the room. I’m not sure the audience are all there to be honest (‘Why do you like Mick?’ ‘I just do!’ ‘Why did you buy tickets for the show?’ ‘I dunno’) and the vicar in the front row seems to have got the band all wrong (‘There’s nothing sexual in the Stones’ act itself, it’s what the audience projects onto them that’s the trouble’). Still, this is a fascinating historical document, far from the most interesting you’ll ever see (the 10 minutes of Keef banging hammily at the piano are eight too long) but probably the best Stones doc around at capturing the band’s five distinct personalities and what it was like to be touring Britain’s dusty streets in the low-technology 1960s. For some reason quite a bit of this footage was re-used in ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ too – did the Stones know they would be issuing the whole film when they agreed to its use in their official 50th birthday compilation? Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – A storming version of ‘Satisfaction’, then a brand new song and the last song of the setlist, which barely gets completed before all hell breaks loose for the second time in a row
“The Rolling Stones Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus” (Filmed 1968, released 1997)
Shelves for 30 years, rumours about this Stones-financed Christmas special was rife. After all, you simply didn’t shelve something you’d put a lot of money into back in 1968 and the Stones were hardly millionaires back then (hence the ‘years in tax exile’ in the 1970s). The lucky few who’d seen bits of the footage confided in the rest of us that the Stones dropped the special because a) they were blown away by The Who b) Brian Jones was on his last legs and c) the ‘circus’ elements of the special – borrowed from the few remaining OAPS still trained in the circus arts back in the 1960s – never quite worked. Of course, all of this is true, but it misses the main point of the feature. Yes The Who, fresh from recording in the morning, blew away a tired Stones who’d been up till 4 in the morning sorting everything out, but then even The Who never ever played a better live song than the music-swirling, microphone-twirling, water-on-the-cymbals performance of a lifetime they give here. Yes Brian Jones in his last public appearance with the band is clearly struggling, but he puts all into the songs when they need it (playing a lovely slide guitar on ‘No Expectations’) and is far from the wreck he’s often painted out to be (legends of him having his guitar unplugged by Keith during filming and not noticing are unfounded, although in the end he doesn’t play that much electric guitar anyway). The circus act interludes do pall on repeated playing and certainly don’t pass for first class entertainment, but then that’s part of the charm of this special – everything here seems handmade and quite honestly after so many decades of computer wizadry that’s a plus 30 years on. And the Stones set that’s meant to be so poor – well Keith is clearly struggling to stay awake but the others, Mick Jagger in particular, are on rock hero form. Mick’s eyes never leaves the cameras except to interact with the audience and while his ‘revelation’ of a devil tattoo on his mid-riff doesn’t quite come off (the paint has melted under the studio lights) he never sang key Stones song ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ this well ever again. The other key important point for fans is the ‘Dirty Mac’ supergroup made up of John Lennon, Keith Richards, Mitch Mitchell and Eric Clapton: the live version of ‘Yer Blues’ is loose and messy (Richards really isn’t a bass player and should have let Bill Wyman have a go) and the Yoko-led jam ‘Whole Lotta Yoko’ isn’t one of her better moments (even if she has the sense of humour to dress like a ‘witch’, given that’s how everyone in the press was talking about her). But its all fun and a milestone in music history, the only time that members of the Beatles and Stones, the most important acts of their day, can be seen playing together in the same band. In the other ‘support’ acts Marianne Faithful is dreadful, caught on the cup of escaping her ‘birginal schoolgirl’ image without knowing what to replace it with, but Taj Mahal is on great form (look out for guitarist Jesse Ed Davis on the left of the screen – Lennon’s chief guitarist for much of his solo years met his future boss for the first time here) and Jethro Tull, in their first major television appearance, are never better. Overall when this show was first screened by the BBC in 1997 we hoped that we’d all breath a sigh of relief that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be – in actual fact its a terrific programme, a real time capsule of music life in 1968 with several bands giving their all and includes the best live footage around of not only the Stones but The Who and John Lennon too. Absolutely essential for fans of all three, especially given the excellent DVD extras (which include outtakes by the Dirty Mac, John’s son Julian messing around with dad and ‘uncle Mick’, a fascinating cut-and-paste commentary with all the guests still alive in 1997 taking part and more from the wonderful Taj Mahal shot before the gig (as the band discovered, to their horror, that they were blocked from travelling to the UK at the last minute!) Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – 9/10 Skip straight to – The Who re-arranging and re-energising their first ‘rock opera’ ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’, my nomination for the best single piece of footage of the band around!
“The Stones In The Park” (Filmed 1969)
This should have been a day of celebrating as the Stones are re-born with a new guitarist and a new sound, the first Stones gig for some three years. Instead Brian Jones’ death the day before makes this gig a eulogy and more of a chance to look backwards than it is to look forwards. Mick Taylor is a fabulous guitarist, even here when he doesn’t know the Stones songs that well, and the chance to hear him play on so many Stones songs for the first time is the highlight of this show. Unfortunately Keith looks off colour and Mick is surprisingly subdued in his stage dancing and chats to the crowd, something even the fact that he’s wearing a dress won’t cover up. The much talked about moment, when Mick reads out a Shelley poem in memory of their departed friend and releases a box of half-dead butterflies onto the heads of the front row is well meant and could have been a symbolic gesture of comfort and joy to fans; instead it goes horribly wrong, looking like a moment from the Spinal Tap film. The Stones played many sets of the period better than this one and longer too (9 songs in 50 minutes felt stingy even back then), but few are as filled with symbolism and hopelessness. It’s good to have it back out again for us fans but, to be honest, it should be this film rather than the ‘Stones Circus’ that sat unseen in a vault for 30 years. Curiously this film’s been out on DVD twice now, once very cheaply and the other at double the price with the inclusion of three ‘unseen’ songs, better than much of what made the film. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – 7/10: ‘Stray Cat Blues’ ‘No Expectations’ and ‘Mercy Mercy’ Skip straight to Mick quoting Shelley and praising Brian Jones while dressed in a skirt: ‘Peace Peace, He is not dead...’
“Sympathy For The Devil” aka “One Plus One” (1969)
This is the weirdest documentary film on the list: a must for fans who adore the song ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and want to see how it was put together and for arty surreal film lovers, but a slog to sit through for everyone else. Director Jean-Luc Goddard was never that interesting in the music: he just wanted the Stones doing something and used the music as a backdrop to his film about the 60s revolution, told in such hackneyed ways as ‘black panthers’ brandishing guns and talking about the revolution, man, in a concrete monolith of a car park. Fans, though, will find the film clips irritating and it must be said that they fail as metaphors compared to ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Head’ which pulled the same trick somewhat better. No, it’s the Stones we want to see and its pure luck that perhaps the key Rolling Stone song of the period happened to be recorded the day Goddard was there, not a week before or after. The song starts off slow and acoustic, building menace take by take until it sounds like the end of the world (and painting a far more convincing picture than the film inserts show), although it helps if you know the song well: all non-fans see is a bunch of 30 year olds waving maracas and going ‘Wooh!Wooh!’ down a mike. The reason this film has two titles, by the way, is that Goddard’s preferred version (‘One Plus One’) was used for the ‘arty’ market of the times and ‘Sympathy’ for all the re-issues of it since. Interesting certainly but not essential. Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ mach 3, suitably different to the finished version but now with a swagger firmly in place
“Gimme Shelter” (1970)
The anti-Woodstock, ‘the death knell of the 60s dream’, a horror scene from your darkest nightmares – somehow Altamont has become symbolic of so much more than the fans at the free festival ever knew at the time, infamous for the messy Hells Angel security and the death of a member of the crowd, even though deaths at rock concerts weren’t unusual even then (four people died at Woodstock, albeit of natural causes). Even without prior knowledge, however, there’s something – well – different about this show, which is edgy and possesses a scary vibe from beginning to end. The show doesn’t just feature the Stones by the way – CSNY were there too though not in the film whilst we also get (sadly short) clips of the Flying Burrito Bros and the Jefferson Airplane (whose singer and hero of the whole event Marty Balin gets beaten up for trying to protect a vulnerable fan) – the Dead were meant to play but took one look at the way things were going and refused to get off the helicopter. Headliners the Stones barely take up most of the flack, however, turning in an edgy, paranoid show that goes wrong almost from the first line. Mick is strangely ineffectual at claiming down the crowd whilst Keith gets angry with the Hells Angels, a posture that doesn’t exactly help. You sense that after 20 minutes of high tension, with song after song interrupted, something had to break and sadly its the body of a green jacketed fan who you can just see getting stabbed in the shoulder by a Hells Angel – even sadder is the tear-stained face of his ‘companion’ for the night a few minutes later, refusing to believe that her friend is dead. Both Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts watch back the show in the strangely solemn surroundings of their editing suite looking devastated by the pictures, clearly blaming themselves for the incident although there was nothing they could have done: unlike The Isle of Wight 1970, this was a ‘free’ festival meant to spread peace and good vibes and even a master performer like Jagger is helpless here. Many fans have questioned whether the band should have allowed the film to be released at all, especially with the murder footage in uncut but I say its the bravest thing they ever did, showing themselves in as weak a light as everyone else involved in the event and commemorating a night when something was even more important than the music they played. The band handle it sensitively on film too, spacing the event with interview footage and silence, showing much more care than many of their peers would have done. Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – The Jefferson Airplane trying to quell the evil mood with a roaring version of ‘Somebody To Love’ – until Marty Balin leaps off the stage to defend a fan, gets bludgeoned in the head and leaves Grace Slick singing ‘cool it’ into the microphone whilst Paul Kantner begs the hells angels ‘please don’t beat up our lead singer!’
“Some Girls Live In Texas” (Filmed 1978, released 2011)
The ‘Some Girls’ album was a welcome blast of the old Stones fire and power, with their response to punk being to outplay and out-speed the youngsters while adding a couple of more sophisticated songs these junior musicians could never hope to play. Better still were their concerts of the period as this thrilling set shows: even the usual Stones setlist standbys are taken at twice the pace of normal and the energy in the room lifts Mick Jagger from his occasional inertia to really deliver to the audience. There should really be a CD of this show, which rocks along even more than the ‘Some Girls’ CD even if – amazingly – the godawful country spoof ‘Faraway Eyes’ sounds worse than ever and the concert is still really short. The packaging is awful too – this was simply the wrong tour to start using WW2 posters when the band are trying to reinvent themselves as young and ‘with it’ Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – a straight fight between ‘Shattered’ ‘Respectable’ and ‘When The Whip Comes Down’
“Live At The Checkerboard Lounge” (1981)
A nice souvenir of two greats on one stage, I suppose, although you’ll only really get the most out of this DVD if you’re a Muddy Waters rather than a Stones fan (Mick, Keef and Ronnie are invited up on stage but clearly don’t know the songs, leaving Jagger, uniquely, looking lost and anxious up on stage). Actually, the gig’s probably not that great if you’re a Muddy Waters fan either, seeing as he leaves the stage himself part way through for Buddy Guy to take over. What’s most interesting on this DVD is what doesn’t get said – by 1981 Mick and Keef aren’t getting on well, sit at different tables in the audience and barely make eye contact on stage! Interesting if you’re a major Stones or Muddy Waters fans but if not they’re not in this DVD enough for it to be worth your time and the rambling jam sessions only sporadically catch fire. Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Mannish Boy’ (‘I’m a man now – I’m way way past 21!’)
“Steel Wheels” (1990)
I have to say that I’m alarmed how badly this show was received by fans, who claimed that the band looked old and sounded older, sticking religiously to their default setlists. All that is undeniably true and to boot the use of the band as seen on the in-tour movie screens instead of in ‘real life’ as it were is positively annoying. All that said, though, I enjoyed the ‘Steel Wheels’ tour: the record it was promoting was the band’ best in years, the set lists had a fairly good hit-to-unknown ratio for a band 28 years into their career and the spectacle of the event is terrific, far better than the usual novelty (this was the first time the band had a ‘second stage’ at the other end of the hall and a ‘bridge’ that would magically open up between the two; for the fans at the back this is a great idea and should be used again). To be honest you need to be a fan to sit through it all – but then you’d have to be a fan to be interested in picking up a DVD from this late in a band’s career anyway. I say, why not? At least – by comparison with the live Stones CDs on the market – the Stones haven’t inundated us with as many live DVDs as some other names I could mention (Paul McCartney I’m looking at you!) Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Mixed Emotions’, a new rocker up there with the glory songs of old
“Bridges To Babylon Tour” (1999)
This live DVD is longer than its predecessor but not quite as interesting. True, most of the best songs from a quite under-rated record of the day are there (‘Saint Of Me’ is a forgotten classic) and there’s a cover of Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ which is so obvious a pun you wonder why the band waited 35 years to use it. Interestingly too the band pioneer the use of an ‘internet vote’ where fans could choose an ‘extra’ song from a list of about a dozen offered during the show – its not their fault that fans nearly always picked something obvious like ‘Time Is On My Side’ or ‘Waiting On A Friend’. However the performance itself is a little more strained than past live gigs, Mick and Keef barely look at each other over the course of three hours and the cameramen taking part are either trying very hard to be ‘arty’ or are horrendously drunk throughout the show. Give this one a miss and buy up one of the DVDs instead, although its not the worst DVD on this list by any means. Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Little Red Rooster’
The mystery surrounding Brian Jones’ death is one of the great rock and roll mysteries, given a new lease of life with the ‘alleged’ deathbed confession of builder Frank Thorogood, on the premises the night Brian was found floating face down in his swimming pool (even if he is also the person who called for help). This film doesn’t make a debate – it assumes that Thorogood was responsible and portrays their thorny relationship, Jones offering up lots of money for no results but being a complete pain during the whole time the builder was meant to be at work. Personally I’m not sure I buy the theory (Jones was annoying, sure, but if he annoyed you that much you’d just walk off the project – or stay behind and ask for more money; even in a height of fury you’d think twice before slaying your golden goose). That said, I still prefer this film to most fans who thinks it takes too many ‘liberties’ with the story: actually most of the Stones facts here are spot on and even if the acting and script isn’t a perfect fit its at least made by someone who knows the story and cares about it. I like the casting of Leo Gregory, too, who manages a fine balance between spoilt repulsive millionaire and ethereal peace-loving minstrel, a loner even when with the other Stones but still their central force and guiding light. The other Stones aren’t in the film much but liven it up a great deal when they are. The one thing that spoils this film is a lack of music – not necessarily in the soundtrack (the Stones songs would have cost the earth) but there’s hardly a mention of Brian’s day job, the song’s he’s working on or Jones’ ability to get a note out of everything musical and quite a bit that isn’t. The film’s more ‘out-there’ moments, such as Brian talking to us from heaven or wife Anita – now with Keith – looking back on their shared past in flashback, also fail badly; not because they’re bad but simply because they don’t belong in a film that’s trying to make a serious argument over the circumstances behind Brian’s death. Still, all in all, not bad – certainly I like this film more than the poor box office takings and lambastic critical reception suggests it deserves. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – Mick and Keith helplessly trying to tell an un-listening Brian that he’s out of the band, with a mixture of frustration, guilt and sympathy you expect is probably closer to the truth than their own recollections in interviews on the subject
“Shine A Light” (2007)
Shock horror! The Stones come first before Beatles shock! Yes this is film director Martin Scorcese warming up for his George Harrison documentary with a ‘starter’ rock film about a Rolling Stones concert, one that doesn’t actually give him much to get his teeth into. Despite having such a famous face behind the camera, its business as usual for the Stones who perform well but not so differently as to make this DVD worth spending money on if you own either ‘Steel Wheels’ or ‘Bridges To Babylon’. The most interesting feature here is the all-too brief backstage footage, where Scorcese argues with scene setters and cameramen (‘You mean if I put Mick there he’s going to get his head chopped off? Hmm perhaps I’ll have to re-think this!) and getting frustrated with the band for not giving him a set list until mere hours before show-time. On the plus side we get to hear some more Stones rarities in between the hits (the title track, ‘You Got The Silver’ ‘Live With Me’ ‘Loving Cup’ ‘Just My Imagination’) and the fact that the band aren’t plugging anything as such means there’s more room for unexpected dips into the back catalogue. Unfortunately that dreaded phrase ‘and now for our special guest’ is heard a few times throughout the gig with such lesser talents as Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera coming out to do some karaoke Stones-style. A very up and down show. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None (unless you own the ‘Netherlands’ edition apparently, which has an extra four we songs we didn’t get in the UK) Skip straight to – ‘Connection’, a classic early rocker that’s been left out the setlists for far too long
“The Stones In Exile” (2010)
Well, tax exile anyway. That’s not quite so glamorous as being on the run from the law is it, really? Talking of dressing up the truth, the general consensus now is that the greatest Stones album of them all is ‘Exile In Main Street’, the double album recorded in the basement of Keith’s French villa in 1972, despite the fact that it only runs a terribly short 70 minutes with several quite poor songs and that on release it was the first Stones album to receive quite savage reviews. The truth of the album lies somewhere between the two (‘Between The Buttons’ is the band’s quiet masterpiece, even if both Mick and Keith appear to hate it today), but you wouldn’t know that from this eulogising, myth-indulging documentary. If its truth you want then stay away – but then the Stones were never big on the truth (even Keith’s autobiography fudges over some moments that either never happened but sound like they should or happened but were covered up) and if its great rock and roll stories you want then you’ve come to the right place. The little bit of footage shot at the time is fascinating (especially Keith’s close friendship with ex-Byrds Gram Parsons) as is the unheard footage (later released on a deluxe edition of the album and for the most part better than the songs that made the record). The band all speak about their memories - even Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor and sax player Bobby Keyes for once - and its great to have such a long documentary given over to the making of a specific album rather than stretched to cover the band’s life story as per usual. The shots of the band (well, two of them) looking round the house where the album was recorded 30 years on also brings on quite a few nostalgic pangs not normally associated with the Rolling Stones. Like the album it accompanies, ‘Stones In Exile’ has divided fans ever since its release yet for my money its a very good, even great documentary that still doesn’t come close to their best work. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to the tale behind ‘Ventilator Blues’ – a track recorded in the basement in between having the ventilator turned on and made up from random phrases written on scraps of paper and thrown into the air randomly to make a song
“Crossfire Hurricane” (2012)
The most recent Stones DVD at the time of writing is this patchy two-hour documentary, which sought the impossible task of celebrating the band’s 50th birthday in that short stretch of time. Thankfully they took the sensible task of re-introducing themselves to newcomers, using choice footage and new interviews with all the band (including Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman) and concentrating on the ‘big’ events in their career. I enjoyed the first half a great deal, which mainly dealt in glorious black and white footage from ‘Charlie Is My Darling’, didn’t turn a hair at describing the band’s troubled ‘drug conviction’ year of 1967 and ended as a eulogy of sorts for Brian Jones. Unfortunately all that good work was undone by part two, which had no real issues to talk about and avoided even the few interesting stories of the period (Mick and Keef at each other’s throats, ‘World War III’, even the loss of Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman). The memories from the first half descended into gossip and giggling, especially from Ronnie Wood who wasn’t even part of the band for most of the time he discusses here (it speaks volumes that the story effectively ends in 1978 with a couple of ‘summing up’ sentences after it). Ah well – until they release ‘The Early Beatles’ on DVD this is still the best chance to get a full hour of prime footage in a documentary without any horrid captions, voice-overs or memories spoiling our fun and considering the short time in which it was put together it stands up pretty well. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – the music video for ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ with band daubed in war paint, seen often on various music compilations but never available to own officially until now
SIMON AND GARFUNKEL
“The Graduate” (1968)
The film that turned Simon and Garfunkel from a cult into a mainstream act is still a relevant minor treasure today – more so than ever, actually, given how many graduates have been betrayed by the system they put so much effort into and have been left unemployed. Then unknown Dustin Hoffman was never better as the mixed up title character unsure where his life will take him and caught romantically between the girl of his dreams who doesn’t want to know and the middle aged praying mantis Mrs Robinson. For my part I never felt that Simon and Garfunkel’s songs were the perfect fit for the film, particularly the famous ‘Mrs Robinson’ which has nothing to do with the film bar the title character (it was about ‘Mrs Roosevelt’ instead during early versions of the song). However, the musical choices from the band’s first three albums are all superb songs and it’s easy to see why an America that had never heard of S&G fell in love with them from just this one film. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine’, a classic under-rated protest song against the horrors of commercialism, heard here in a faster, rougher alternate version to the one that appeared on ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’
“Catch 22” (AG 1970)
Sadly Art Garfunkel’s weakest acting role annoyingly came in his best film, the surprisingly faithful adaptation of Joseph Heller’s thought-provoking ‘Catch 22’. Like his comrades, Garfunkel is trapped in a war he didn’t want to fight and can only go home if he’s mad – unfortunately he can’t be dismissed from the service as mad if he wants to leave (because everyone wants to leave – staying would be the insane thing to do). I’m actually a big fan of Arty’s acting career (his lead role in the ‘Bad Timing’ film from 1981, sadly not yet out on DVD, is the only good thing about it), but he’s a little wet behind the ears here and not as sure of himself yet (he is only 27 and this is his first acting role after all – it’s hardly an easy part to play either). For fans, of course, this is the film that ‘broke up’ Simon and Garfunkel during the making of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – assured the film role would take only a few weeks, Paul Simon went apoplectic when Garfunkel told him the film was running over schedule and he couldn’t turn up for a couple of months. Well worth watching, though not necessarily for Garfunkel’s part in it. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – this is one film you have to watch in order for it to have the most impact
“One Trick Pony” (PS 1979, only out on DVD in the USA)
Few fans know about this film, not least because it’s so hard to come by especially in Europe (it was shown, once, on UK television in 2003 and still hasn’t been officially released). However I have a real fondness for this film, in which Paul Simon stars, writes the screenplay and does the music. Telling the tale of Jonah, a struggling musicians who had one hit and has tried to live off it for the rest of his life, its a terribly revealing film about its creator and his relationship with his family and with his band (all played by his real musicians who end up stealing the film). Even the little lad is played by Paul’s on in real life (Harper, now a singer-songwriter himself) and is a pretty accurate description of what might have been had Paul’s only success been with ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ aged six and if producer Tom Wilson hasn’t overdubbed electric instruments onto ‘Sounds Of Silence’ without its composer’s knowledge and turned it into a surprise ‘hit’. Record companies, managers and agents all come out of this film badly (the former two want to overdub strings onto Jonah’s rock and roll number; the latter cancels a gig without letting the band know) and seem to be ‘fighting’ both musician and band throughout. The music for the film (the soundtrack album of which is no 78 on our ‘core 101 albums’ list) is fantastic, among the best Paul ever wrote and is divided cleverly into songs Jonah sings (basic rock and roll and ballads) and those that Paul sings to further the plot. Sadly the Vietnam protest song ‘Soft Parachutes’ is in the film but not the record – the ‘one hit’ of Jonah’s career its clearly fixed in time and a millstone around his neck that he hates performing, but it’s a gorgeous spoof of ‘Sounds Of Silence’ with the same quiet, spacious feel and poignant lyrics that mix ‘He Was My Brother’ with ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard’. There are two things that prevent this film from being the runaway success it should have been: Paul’s rather wooden acting (originally the plan was to get an actor to mouth his words, before record label Warner Brothers said they would get more interested if he played the part of ‘Jonah’ himself) and the rather hurried, confusing ending which leaves the viewer without the breakthrough success in either career or marriage or both that Jonah deserves (the last shot is of Jonah hurling his ‘new’ album into a bin on a deserted street, though whether this is temporary mania or a life-changing act is never revealed). Still, for all of its faults, I adore this film which is the best yet made about the rock and roll business and has a heart and soul and autobiography missing from so much of Paul’s later work. Every fan should get to see it – so please pleased please re-release this film someone and let Paul’s audience see that there is so much more to him than ‘Graceland’! Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – Jonah trying to interest the record company boss in his new album, singing his heart out only to be interrupted by phone calls and people at the door. We sense the futility of trying to interest a man who only wants products that will sell to teenagers making fashion statements – but Jonah hasn’t caught on yet and still thinks the music business is all about the music. Heartbreaking.
“Live In Central Park” (Filmed 1981)
A Simon and Garfunkel reunion seemed about as likely as a Pink Floyd reunion did in 2005 before they stormed the stage at ‘Live 8’. For the duo, back working together (on an abandoned album that later turned into ‘Hearts and Bones’) it seemed the obvious next step in their relationship – to their fans it seemed like a world-changing event. In the end, the hype surrounding the gig and the gap between concerts (11 years) was too much to live up to and this concert falls far short of what it could have been (I know Paul has had problems with his guitar-playing hand for most of his solo career, but did they really need to sing so many songs with the band, not together like they used to?) with a particularly grotty song selection (the Paul Simon solo songs sound wrong, somehow, with Arty singing on them and in return Arty gets only one solo song – the very apt ‘A Heart In New York’ – to Paul’s six). It doesn’t help too that Paul seems to be ignoring Arty on stage (the pair did reportedly have a big row just before show time!) There’s also a very worrying moment (cut from the TV broadcast but thankfully left intact on the DVD) when a man from the crowd jumps up on stage and looms towards Paul demanding ‘there’s something I have to say to you!’ As Paul is singing his lovely tribute song to John Lennon at the time (‘The Late Great Johnny Ace’) killed less than a year earlier and only a couple of miles away – some of the audience are sitting on the new ‘Strawberry Fields’ tribute during the concert – the intake of breath is intense and Paul is clearly unsettled for the rest of the set. For all the faults, however and the occasionally poor singing and playing (this is the weakest backing band Paul Simon ever had) there’s a lovely sense of occasion here and its nice to have a souvenir of it. This DVD is available separately but most of you will surely know this gig from the superb ‘Simon and Garfunkel Collection’ box set, which re-released all five albums with bonus tracks as well as a DVD of this show. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘American Tune’, the one Paul Simon solo song that’s always been begging out for Art Garfunkel’s harmonies!
“Graceland – The African Concert” (PS 1986)
Right here we go on this site again – anyone who thinks ‘Graceland’ is the best solo album Paul Simon ever made clearly hasn’t heard any others. It’s not that I hate ‘Graceland’ (i love ‘Boy In The Bubble’) its just that its so ordinary by Paul Simon’s high standards and comes after two career peak albums that didn’t sell and nobody seems to know (‘One Trick Pony’ and ‘Hearts and Bones’). At least the record had a certain production clarity however – this concert features an under-rehearsed group of ragged musicians from all sorts of walks of life and the mess they make is sometimes excruciating. More worrying still, ‘Graceland’ is touring Africa, exactly the sort of thing this album shouldn’t be doing – African musicians did their own music so much better that Paul should be bringing these fine musicians to ‘us’ in the West instead, opening our eyes rather than theirs. The end result is as dull as ditch-water too, with no other Paul Simon songs outside ‘Graceland’ in the setlist and a couple of extra ‘cover songs’ that simply reveal that Paul Simon isn’t cut out for the job of African singer. If you’re a fan of the album then give it a go by all means, but this concert isn’t for me and is actually one of the most boring hours I’ve ever spent in the company of a musician who I adore. Overall rating – 2/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘I Know What I Know’, the one song here that works better with a funky, back-to-basics backing, even if I still haven’t got a clue what the words mean!
“The Concert In Central Park” (PS 1991)
I have two confessions to make to S&G fans: a) I much prefer Paul’s solo ‘Central park’ show to the one the duo did together in the 1980s and b) I vastly prefer ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’ as an album to ‘Graceland’. Luckily for me, because that album takes up much of the set, along with some superb choices from Paul’s back catalogue, revisiting such gems as ‘Hearts and Bones’ ‘Train In The Distance’ and ‘Late In The Evening’ alongside more obvious material. All the songs here are given a new lease of life thanks to a superb well-drilled band who really unite Western and Eastern ties (the marching drummers who parade to the opening ‘The Obvious Child’ are particularly excellent). Paul is in great voice, is genuinely funny in his aside to audiences and this is one of those shows you’d have loved to have been there because everyone in the audience genuinely seems to be having a good time (not true of most concert films – even ‘Woodstock’ had some grumpy faces). The soundtrack CD of this show is one of my most-played live albums, not least because nearly every song here sounds so different to the records (usually in a good way) – the same goes for the DVD which features Paul Simon at the absolute peak of his game. Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – first encore ‘The Sound Of Silence’, slowed down to a crawl, with Paul singing solo to his own guitar and with the lights of central park turned for this one song to darkness.
“The Capeman” (PS 1995)
Paul had wanted to write a musical ever since the mid 70s (when he nearly made one instead of the ‘One Trick Pony’ film) and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t; he’s got a great ear for a great story. Unfortunately ‘The Capeman’ isn’t a great story – asking audiences to sympathise with a teenage Puerto Rican killer from 30 years before most of them were born and then accept it when the bad guy cops it at the end is a touch call. Frankly, the music doesn’t make it any easier: Paul has written most of this work to sound natural in ‘their’ tongue (the main downfall of the soundtrack album, mainly sung by Paul himself), but ultimately it sounds like the music of a coddled 70 year old white American, not a frustrated, angry, futureless teenager – even one who ‘wants to go to college’. Even so, I’d still have willingly forked out my money for this DVD had we got the full concert or even a large part of it – instead this is a documentary so the music is relegated to the corner whilst the actors and writers do the talking. An unhappy production from the first, it’s easy to see why: the producers (Paul included) want an unknown for the lead part but have made it too hard for non-professionals to sing. It’s also clear that their memories of a devil-hoodlum of their youth don’t hold any great interest for a generation who’ve been laughed at and hated in the media for all being like this – frankly the Capeman is the enemy and one of the causes of their oppression, particularly for latin Americans unfairly tarred with a brush that was never true in the first place. There’s a good musical in there somewhere but Paul was the wrong age and from the wrong culture to write it; equally there’s a good documentary about this seemingly doomed project too but this isn’t it – it’s too back-slapping by half and only makes the pretty obvious ‘failure’ of the event all the more remarkable when it captures so many people napping. Paul Simon has been the most wonderfully consistent of writers across his lifetime, able to write from the heart with a poetry that no one else can match, mirroring the lives of those around him probably better than they can see themselves; unfortunately you wouldn’t know that from the ‘Capeman’ debacle, where instead of looking across his shoulder he looked across with a telescope. A terrible waste of talent, worth watching only for Paul’s brief memories of his youth. Overall rating – 1/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – Heck, don’t bother starting it!
“Classic Albums: Graceland” (PS c.1997)
Blah blah blah ‘Graceland is a rotten record’ blah blah blah ‘fans should didg out his superior rare stuff blah blah blah the classic albums series is excellent blah blah blah however this is looking at the wrong record blah blah blah Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to - mixing ‘The Boy In The Bubble’
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” (c.2000)
Another of those cheap and nasty sets, mainly made up of footage from S&G’s ‘Concert In Central Park’ and ‘You’re The One’ without much new to add. However, like the other cheapo DVDs here at least this DVD genuinely was cheap and is a good shelf-filler until you can find or afford the more expensive sets of the two shows separately. There’s no excuse, however, for the awful title music which is even included in full as an ‘extra’ (why oh why?!) Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – 0/10 (That menu music! Arrrrgh!) Skip straight to ‘Homeward Bound’
“You’re The One” (PS 2002)
Paul Simon had downsized both his band his ambition by the time of this show, plugging an under-rated album that didn’t sell too well and with a band clearly still learning the ropes (listen out for the pianist hitting more wrong notes in ‘One Man’ Celiling’ than a whole 30 seconds of Spice Girls music!) However, the great plus of this DVD is that, freed to some extent from audience expectation, there’s a lovely lot of surprises in the set list including some old favourites that had never had been played live before (including ‘One Man’s Ceiling’ ‘The Late Great Johnny Ace’ and a lovely, slower version of ‘I Am A Rock’). The show also runs for two full hours which is exceedingly generous given that only about 15 minutes of it overlaps with the two hour ‘Concert In Central Park’ gig. My advice to you is to buy the ‘Central Park’ show first – and if you love that (as I hope you do) then this will make a fine-follow up bargain. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘The Boxer’, which never sounded lovelier
“Old Friends Live On Stage” (2004)
A disappointing reunion, with Simon and Garfunkel on poor vocal form. You’d think that after the fall-out that followed the ‘Central Park’ gig the duo would have been better prepared and more forgiving this time around, but no – the same problems of performing in front of a faceless band are here again (Fair enough that Paul’s hand problems means its uncomfortable to play the guitar solo – but surely they could sing to one of the other guitarists?) Even without the band, however, the vocals are shot and the charisma is nil. Still, on the plus side it’s nice to see the Everly Brothers back together as the support act, the banter between the duo is much more relaxed and less intense that it has been on past reunions and there are some intriguing songs either heard live for the first time (‘Baby Driver’ ‘Keep The Customer Satisfied’ ‘Cecilia’ ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’) or with Art singing for the first time (‘Slip Slidin’ Away’ and ‘American Tune’, the only two solo Paul Simon songs here). ‘Old Friends’ has a special resonance too now, of course, with Simon and Garfunkel in their 60s not their 20s as they were when they first performed the song. In all, then, it’s great to have Simon and Garfunkel back together and seemingly enjoying themselves on stage – but if its simply a DVD of the pair singing together you want then go for the ‘Central Park’ gig; the duo sound much better there. Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’, complete with the wistful introduction from Paul about Art
“The Harmony Game: The Making Of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’” (2011)
I spent a fortune buying this documentary on DVD along with probably my 6th copy of the ‘Bridge’ album and the excellent 1969 S&G TV special ‘Songs Of America’, which rather blew this new documentary out of the water. Unfortunately for me this set came out separately on DVD soon after anyway and even appeared on television as part of the ‘Imagine’ series despite the fact that ‘Imagine’ has nothing to do with the project barring a rather drab 30 second introduction. Now that some time has passed and my anger has calmed, however (slightly anyway) I can tell you that this is still an enjoyable documentary, similar in style to the excellent ‘classic albums’ series which strangely never had a go at covering this famous album (they plumped for ‘Graceland’ instead). Paul and Arty are revealing, especially about their differences, there’s some great (if brief) footage of the pair touring and recording these songs and engineer Roy Halee revisits the mastertapes to show how much work went into each and every one of these songs. I would have liked a little more (Arty’s part in ‘Catch 22’ and the songs Paul wrote waiting for him to show would make a fine documentary in their own right) but by and large this documentary covers everything it should and lets you appreciate the album all the more. I have to say though, like ‘Graceland’, I can’t say Ive ever been that fond of ‘Bridge’ as an album: both ‘Parsley, Sage’ and ‘Bookends’ are superior to it and I’d have rather seen a documentary about them. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None (unless you have the CD box set of course, in which case ‘Songs From America’ gets 9/10) Skip straight to – the great long lost outtake that ‘split’ the duo ‘Cuba Si, Nixon No’, a rollicking and surprisingly retro rocker that’s both poignant and hilarious all at once.
“Under African Skies” (PS 2012)
(Note – this review first appeared in news and views 175 – there’s not much to add so we’ve reprinted it in its entirety)
‘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... Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ being re-arranged for the 2011 tour, Paul’s version merging with the original song he ‘borrowed’ for the song’s main riff
“Dateline Diamond” (Filmed 1965, released 2005)
The Small Faces only have a cameo in this rather dated film about cockney west end smugglers and a jewel heist, so the box cover saying that they ‘star’ in this film is a blatant lie, but it’s the earliest footage of the band around and has been unavailable for so long that in some ways this film is the holy grail for Small Faces fans. It goes without saying that they’re the best thing in the film, although you sense they had a good laugh at the plot – their manager in the film (who later played the deceased half of Randall and Hopkirk) is linked to the plot because he’s the real person whose run off with some money the gangsters want back! Sadly the band – still with Jimmy Winstun not Ian Mclagan on organ - only get to sing flop single ‘I’ve Got Mine’ before leaving the plot for good but at least the lip-synched performance is a good and unusual one, with the band looking impossibly young (by my reckoning they have an average age of 17 in this clip!) Otherwise the most interesting scenes from a modern day perspective are the ones set on the Radio London ship – and they’d be more interesting too if all these actors didn’t keep talking their way through scenes! Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘I’ve Got Mine’
“Beat Beat Beat”
Yet another way to throw away £5 on about 50ps worth of material, this comes from the same five video length DVD as the Hollies and Kinks examples on our list. Actually I shouldn’t be too rude as this early (1966) German gig finds the band on electrifying form: Marriott and Lane are never better than their attempts to ‘upstage’ each other during their best early songs (‘All Or Nothing’ ‘Whatcha Gonna Do Bout It’ ‘Hey Girl’ and, err, ‘Sha-La-La-La-La-Lee’ – well I didn’t say the gig was perfect). The band are in great form on the interview, Marriott ad lobbing to a girl in the audience who yells an unknown question ‘yes I do...all the time’ and winks, whilst poor Ronnie Lane is introduced as ‘plonk’ – the hapless interviewer assumes it’s just another peculiar English name. The only downside is that all this footage is available in slightly better quality on the ‘All Or Nothing’ DVD reviewed below so this set is not only pretty pricey but now totally redundant. It’s annoying when that happens isn’t it?! Overall rating – 7/10 (but buy the footage on ‘All Or Nothing’!) Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘What’cha Gonna Do Bout It?’
“All Or Nothing 1965-68” (Documentary with music footage, 2010)
‘Reelin’ In The Years’ are my current favourite record company, following on from such luminaries as Pye, EMI and Rhino, delivering exactly what the collector wants at a really cheap price and often touching bands who aren’t covered by lots of other discs. Like The Hollies set that came out the following year, this generous two hour DVD contains everything you’d hope to find (well nearly – another 15 minutes and it would have been perfect) about The Small faces, from their early bluesy Jimmy Winstun days to ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’. Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott are long gone sadly, but drummer Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan speak at length for what is (as far as I know) the first time on film specifically about this era rather than the Faces. Both of them have good memories and a candidness about their work that’s been uncaptured for far too long. It’s the footage that shines, however: the scrappy bunch of 18 year olds posing for the ‘Dateline Diamonds’ film in 1964, shopping for mod clobber in Caranaby Street, wowing German audiences on ‘Beat Beat Beat’ and being introduced by Stanley Unwin on ‘Colour Me Pop’ (sadly not the complete half hour show but still far more than has been made officially before). The expected promos of the hit singles are here too, but the emphasis is on rarities, from the title track of ‘Ogden’s (with Pete Townshend in the audience and clearly loving it) and the thrilling ‘Song Of A Baker’. Add in a booklet that’s more informative in 24 pages than most books on The Small Faces and you have one very happy fan. I can’t wait to see what this company release next... Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – 9/10 (Your chance to see the film clips separate without the chat) Skip straight to ‘Tin Soldier’, simply one of the greatest singles ever made – this version may be lip-synched but it’s still terrific!
“The Passing Show” (Ronnie Lane, 2008)
A delightful documentary about a true hero, as quirky and noble in its own way as the quiet humble man at its heart. Ronnie would no doubt have been shocked to still be remembered almost 20 years after his death (Steve Marriott would no doubt be more shocked to learn that the first personal Small faces profile isn’t about him!), but this documentary goes a long way to explaining his mystique. He had quite a life. Discovered at 18 in the Small Faces, unemployed at 22 when Marriott split the group up, rejuvenated again when Rod Stewart became the new singer Ronnie left the whole media circus behind for another circus, starting ‘The Passing Show’ which travelled from town to town performing with acrobats and clowns between music groups. Like all the Small Faces, Ronnie was ripped off financially and died almost penniless, despite the attempts of friends (especially a selfless Pete Townshend) to rescue him and he deserved better than to die young from multiple sclerosis, the condition Ronnie was in denial about having diagnosed after watching his mother suffer from it too. There’s more than enough material here for a decent documentary and thankfully this one is more than up to his legend, with lots of famous faces who don’t often speak in documentaries persuaded by their love of the man to speak up spread across the impressive 100 minute running time. Highly recommended and naturally the music is superb throughout. Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Rough Mix’, the under-rated record Ronnie made with Pete Townshend
CAT STEVENS/YUSUF ISLAM
“Harold and Maude” (1972)
A curious film this, with a really dark black humour that seems really out of touch with its time and yet is in many ways the godfather of the dark satirical comedies of the 1990s onwards. Cat Stevens’ music sounds badly out of place for most of the plot where a teenager obsessed by death comes to live with a more upbeat OAP and comes to relish life (Cat Stevens as a soundtrack to a suicide? I’d choose something more depressing...), although it all makes some kind of sense by the end. Cat is in his peak years with the soundtrack and being linked with the film, which became a cult quite quickly, helped his profile no end although the songs he made for the project are hardly his best work (‘Don’t Be Shy’ and ‘If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out’ are the two new songs – that said the ‘older’ songs chosen are an excellent choice and don’t just plump for the obvious hits). However I’ve met so many people over the years who only know Cat from his work for this film and quote it as their favourite movie of all time that I might be missing something. Cat didn’t have much to do with the film though so whether you see it is up to you! Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – the end (no, That’s not an insult this time, the end really is the best part of the film!)
“Majikat” (Filmed 1978, released 2002)
Cat Stevens only ever did one major tour before retiring in 1978 and this is it! Slicker than fans of his early work would expect, complete with a big backing band and dancers (!), you get the sense that the performances are so tightly drilled that every night of the tour would sound the sound. All that said, the track listing is pretty darn fantastic: this show dates from the ‘Numbers’ album era which is probably the ‘dark horse’ of Cat’s back catalogue and there’s lots of songs from previous record ‘Buddha And The Chocolate Box’ too (my own personal favourite of Cat’s albums). There’s lots of music from ‘Tillerman’ and ‘Teaser’ too as you’d expect and generally the better songs, which often sound magnificent with a full band playing and the single-only ‘Another Saturday Night’ and compilation-onbloy ‘Two Fine People’ for collectors. Considering that this performance simply sat in a vault for nearly 30 years unseen (Cat retiring rather ruined the idea of turning this show into a cinema release, although I’m surprised no one thought to nrelease it on video) its startlingy good. Most copies of the DVD come with a soundtrack CD too and there are extensive extras, amongst the best on this list. Add in a generous running time and you can see why so many collectors love this set, which is by far the most thorough and detailed Cat Stevens release around – its just a shame that his longest concert isn’t necessarily his best. Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – 9/10 (the Spike Milligan narrated animation short for ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ as animated by Cat Stevens, ‘Wild World’ an encore at the show, a near 40 minute interview, lyrics and discography) Skip straight to ‘Miles From Nowhere’
“Tea For The Tillerman – Live” (Filmed 1971, released 1999)
Had this film been released as ‘Cat Stevens Sings Live For Half An Hour’ as an extra feature on some more comprehensive Cat Stevens disc I’d have liked it, heck even loved it. As it is, this concert is a not terribly good quality, terribly short gig that doesn’t even feature exclusively songs from that album (‘Moonshadow’ is from ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ for instance). There’s nothing particularly rare or interesting here and there’s even the career low point ‘Longer Boats’ you have to sit through, although songs like ‘Miles From Nowhere’ and ‘On The Road To Find Out’ sound particularly good here. If you have a choice then get one of the other two gigs, but if you find it cheap enough and you’re a big fan then there are worse ways of spending your money (on a ticket to a spice girls musical, for instance!) Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Father and Son’
“Yusuf’s Cafe Session” (2007)
The return of Cat Stevens was long awaited by fans and the 30 year gap melted away surprisingly quickly when he returned as ‘Yusuf’, picking up more or less where he left off in 1978. Unfortunately this concert was a bit premature (2005’s album ‘An Other Cup’ was horrid – 2007’s ‘Roadsinger’, which hadn’t been written yet, will be superb) although at least the better songs from the former are here (such as the achingly lovely ‘Maybe There’s A World’). Cat’s voice is remarkably unchanged, however, and as his songs were always about peace and love (well, perhaps not ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun!’) the major life change to Islam doesn’t call for that much of a reinvention. It’s nice to see so many old face back in the band too, including old hand Alun Davies, the hidden star of many a Cat Stevens record. This is actually two concerts for the price of one and the BBC set is better than the Cafe one, although both are pretty good all things considered and with a nice balance of semi-obscure songs only fans know (‘The Wind’ is a fine beginning, linking then and now; ‘Don’t Be Shy’ from ‘Harold and Maude’) and the expected hits. All in all a nice return. Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – 9/10 Lots! An interview with Yusuf and Alun about the old days that sees them roaming through some old London streets, another less mobile interview about Yusuf’s return, two music videos and three solo ‘acoustic’ performances. Skip straight to – A mesmerising ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ that means even more now after 40 years of pollution and ‘development’ than it did in 1970
“Changing Faces – The Videos Of 10cc”
One day there’s going to be a ‘complete 10cc’ or even ‘complete Godley and Creme’ collection of music videos and they’re going to change the world. Well, almost. They’ll certainly make 10cc fashionable again and remind people of how cutting edge and musical they could, up there with the very best of 1970s rock bands. Sadly this collection runs frustratingly short, misses out several key 10cc moments and ends with a hideous Godley and Creme ‘remix’ job that sounds like a lot of the band’s records have been jumbled up at random in a blender. Even then it would be better regarded had anyone actually been able to buy a copy, but a limited edition video in the early 90s and an even more limited DVD that I’ve never actually seen means these clips are only known by the faithful. On the plus side, a lot of the videos here are terrific: the videos don’t start in earnest until 1976, when Godley and Creme are about to leave the band, but ‘I’m Mandy Fly Me’ is as bold and unexpected as you’d, well, expect, whilst ‘Good Morning Judge’ ‘Dreadlock Holiday and lesser known but fabulous 10cc single ‘Feel The Love’ (as set to a tennis match!) are all superb. It’s the really inventive videos that Godley and Creme made, however, that are the highlights of the set – indeed, for a while there, Godley and Creme were the hip go-to producers for everyone’s music videos. Everyone knows ‘Cry’ (and if they don’t they should!, with faces around the world morphing into one howl of pain and fans highly rate both song and video to ‘Wedding Bells’, the best straight-faced comedy video this side of Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’. However the highlight here is the lesser known ‘Golden Boy’, a simply gorgeous song of jealousy, bitterness and regret set to a highly postmodernist video that actually ‘plays’ itself, projecting 2D images onto your TV screen. Vastly under-estimated – and lets hope one day there’s a collection that includes everything (‘Consequences’ , the ‘Mondo Video’ and 10cc’s rarer vaideos from 1980-83). Note: this isn’t a ‘greatest hits’ set either if its the best known stuff you’re after: there’s no video for ‘Rubber Bullets’ and ‘I’m Not In Love’ is only represented by a lesser live version. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Golden Boy’ (as in ‘Golden Boo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-y’)
My favourite 10cc album is the last original one, the record that nobody else seems to know ‘Windows In The Jungle’ (one of the few AAA albums still unavailable on CD as I write). That record was the most adult 10cc ever made, with Eric Stewart pouring his heart out after nearly losing his life in a nasty car accident and trying to re-evaluate his life. Meanwhile, Graham Gouldmann was working on this, a ‘sister’ project at the same time and it couldn’t have been more different: it’s a happy go lucky animated children’s film that features various animal stars from all over the world in a variety of sports and the overall message that you can achieve something if you try hard enough. The two projects show the very different sides of 10cc, the frivolous and the serious which usually intermingle on their records, and even crossover at times (the same ‘sound effect’ heard at the start of ‘Windows’ is the rhythm track for one of these instrumentals) but both are enjoyable enough in their own way. Actually ‘Animalympics’ is more of a 10cc record than ‘Jungle’ and it’s the last time you can hear the 1978-81 line-up of the band playing together (with Rick Fenn, Stuart Tosh, Duncan O’Malley et al) although notably Eric Stewart doesn’t appear. Some of the songs are great and way better than the project probably deserved, especially ‘Underwater’ which is the light relief that ‘Windows’ badly needed. A low budget kids film to some, to others of us who’ve caught the 10cc magic bug this film is a delight and used to be a regular sight in bargain bins so shouldn’t be too hard to track down. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – the swimming section which is won by...an otter (that’s cheating isn’t it?!)
“Alive – The Classic Hits Tour” (2005)
10cc only got back together in the 1990s under pressure: technically they left their record label in 1983 with two records to go but at the time low sales meant that record label Mercury couldn’t wait to get rid of them. The band toured to support disappointing reunion album ‘Mirror Mirror’ (on which Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldmann worked with separate bands in separate rooms for the most part) and this DVD captures this rather uninteresting period where the whole band clearly want to be elsewhere doing something more important. That’s a shame because guitarist Rick Fenn (who was in the band from 1978-81) is a great musician and the setlist, though as short as the band can get away with, is excellent. There’s even a John Lennon tribute that’s unusually moving (with some unusual choices too: ‘Across The Universe’, Lennon sung cover ‘Slow Down’ and, bizarrely, Paul McCartney’s ‘Paperback Writer’). I have to say, though, this is still a poor DVD and quite a blot on the 10cc discography. The tie-in CDs, while longer, are just as poor. Give it a miss – and curse the fact that only one concert of 10cc in their 70s hayday was professionally filmed. Overall rating – 2/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Feel The Benefit’, the one unexpected 10cc song in the setlist, that comes off pretty well
“Live At The Isle Of Wight” (1971)
Townshend snarls, Daltrey’s microphone twirls and Keith Moon hurls everything in sight throughout this magic gig – although the whole concert is inevitably stolen by ‘The Ox’ dressed in a glow-in-the-dark skeleton suit. He steals the music, too, which is as wonderful as every gig The Who played in their magic years of 1970-71 but finds Roger slightly hoarse and Pete slightly tentative compared to the ultra Who gig of ‘Live At Leeds’. Curiously the concert is slightly out of order, re-sequenced here to end with the ‘Listening To You’ climax of ‘Tommy’ and that makes the whole show ske-whiff with the rock and roll oldies section coming in the middle rather than the light relief at the end. ‘My Generation’ suffers particularly from being cut short compared to the extended improvisations of other gigs in the period, although on the plus side there’s a rare hearing for under-rated B-side ‘I Don’t Even Know Myself’ (which sadly never did make the Who’s next album, as Pete promises in his intro). For all my griping, though, this is vintage Who and is the only place you can see a whole gig by the world’s greatest rock and roll band i action and even if it finds them on a great night rather than a world-beating night, it’s still a must-have for all fans of the ‘orrible ‘oo. Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Sparks > Amazing Journey’, the awe-inspiring guitar pyrotechnic jam from ‘Tommy’
The Who’s persona is of salt of the earth, no nonsense rock and rollers – which is odd given that they share with Ray Davies and The Small faces the record for pioneering concept albums and Pete was always tripping over his big ideas when forced to pin them down for the record. ‘Tommy’ therefore makes perfect sense on record in the context of The Who’s canon, caught between the playful pirate radio references of ‘Who Sell Out’ and the gargantuan life-affirming ‘connection’ between lives that was ‘Lifehouse’ and still sounds sufficiently like The Who (especially live) even if its bigger, bolder and weirder than before. The film of ‘Tommy’ however has none of these roots of the earth moments – and that’s its one fatal flaw that renders much of it unwatchable now. Director Ken Russell is great in his own way but a terrible choice for a film that needs to be dark and moody rather than brash and tinselly – at its heart is the title character’s breakdown and revival, which is darkly humorous at times but was never played for pure laughs or entertainment. The film forgets this, and then asks us to make an even bigger leap of faith as actors ‘sing’ the majority of the film, with Oliver Reed as Tommy’s ‘dad’ coming over particularly badly. On the plus side, Roger Daltrey is excellent – he’ll turn into a superb actor later in the decade but for a first film his performance here is exemplary, acting bigger names off the screen even though Tommy is deaf, dumb and blind throughout two thirds of the film. Keith Moon, too, is hilarious as Uncle Ernie, almost making this horrendous evil man sympathetic and vulnerable. The music, too, gets you through many a dodgy few minutes even though its all been re-recorded (another lengthy production job that caused Pete Townshend to have his longest lasting breakdown), with a couple of extras (although I wouldn’t get too excited at the lacklustre ‘Champagne’ and a few bits of instrumental filler). Not a film for the faint hearted – and certainly nowhere near as good as ‘Quadrophenia’ - but worth your time out of curiosity more than anything else. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – Trailer Skip straight to Ann Margret as Tommy’s mum getting covered in chocolate pouring out of her TV during a commercial, a homage to the ‘baked beans’ cover of ‘Who Sell Out’
Impressively this film manages to be as tough as the music without sacrificing any of the beauty or high-falluting concepts. The Who barely have anything to do with this film, which tries to re-paint the ‘Quadrophenia’ story of betrayal, madness and adulthood for a whole new audience and largely succeeds, with a script that really gets to the heart of the curious rituals of teenage life. The film made a star of unknown Phil Daniels and couldn’t have asked for a better portrayal of Jimmy the mod, who is in a nutshell the introvert philosopher Pete Townshend on the inside and hard nut Roger Daltrey on the surface. Unfortunately the one unforgivable aspect of the film is that they change the story, leaving huge chunks of it out and relegating key songs like ‘Bell Boy’ and ‘Dr Jimmy’ to afterthoughts, rather than the key realisation for Jimmy that he has to change himself because he can’t change the people around him – and if he can’t he might as well chuck himself in the sea. The ending though is as superbly non-commital as the album: the end credits roll over Jimmy’s beloved scooter plunging across Beachy Head, but we’re too far away to see whether Jimmy is on it or has simply thrown it overboard in a rage because it represents everything that’s trapped’ him into a corner. Perhaps mis-understanding the film, audience goers of the late 70s were even inspired to a brief mod revival, something that The Jam really used as a launchpad to finding their own audience. The end result is an impressive film that haunts you long after you’ve finished watching, although you sense it might have been even better had the director followed the music more and his own ideas less. Collectors should note the presence of one new song in the soundtrack, the cute but ultimately rather frivolous ‘Get Out And Stay Out!’ (see if you can guess which scene this accompanies!) and the sadly diluted soundtrack album features two more otherwise unreleased Who songs, the cute ‘Joker James’ (in which Jimmy’s practical jokes get him in trouble) and the key ‘Four Faces’ which really should have made the album. Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – 7/10 A good but short featurette on the filming, the Brighton mods v rockers riots and the real star of the film, the mod scooter Skip straight to – Jimmy trying to watch The Who on Ready Steady Go while his dad makes rude comments (‘Blimey that guitarist’s got a big nose...is that how you’re meant to play the drums nowadays then?!...oh dear!’)
“The Kids Are Alright” (1979, documentary with concert footage)
A real labour of love by a then-19 year old Who fan and first director, this film is crucial not just in The Who’s background but in how the old rockers from the 60s were regarded suddenly – as a treasure to be catalogued and revered rather than a sad example of middle aged men still playing at being young. The film also happens to include the last ever gig by the original band (fantastically good performances of ‘Baba O Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, filmed twice at the director’s request when he realised these key songs weren’t represented in the film and the band’s first attempt was deemed too ‘lifeless’, hence Townshend’s wonderfully OTT dramatics!) In a way, this film is a time capsule and ended up being a requiem for Keith Moon who died shortly before the premier, although thankfully the band left the footage as it was instead of ‘dressing it up’ as a false memory of the drummer. Some clips are better than others (basically the highlights are the ‘oldest’ footage of the band in 1965, the Stones circus in 1968 and the ‘new’ footage put together in 1978) and given the brilliance of many of the clips on the later ‘Maixmum R and B’ set you wonder how some of the bits and pieces here (‘Barbara Ann’ ‘Roadrunner’ etc) got past the final edit. In all, though its a wonderful film and looks better than ever on DVD thanks to probably the best single collection of extras on this list (multiple angles, a chance to hear the Ox play two songs on his own, quizzes - with prizes! – a doc on the Who locations round the world and much much more). Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – 10/10 (see above!) Skip straight to ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’: Roger screams his lungs out, Pete leaps across the stage on his knees, Moony destroys his kit and so much more while The Ox looks on, unimpressed
“Tommy/Quadrophenia/Live Hits” (Filmed 1989-96, released 2005)
Let’s get the bad points out the way first: the 1989 and 1996 Who tours represented on this set pale so badly in comparison to the Who of old that its best not to compare the two. The set lists, that once used to be so daring and unexpected, sound old and tired whilst the performances are limp and very 80s (synthesisers on stage don’t help). Moon, of course, can never be replaced and that’s a particular problem for these concerts. However, dismiss this DVD at your peril because the best thing about it is hidden away as an ‘extra feature’: basically a six hour interview with Pete and Roger (mostly Pete) that plays as a ghostly ‘talking head’ against the concert for discs one and two and is probably the single best interview Pete Townshend has ever given. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Tommy and Quadrophenia but I was wrong: Pete’s comments pouts everything in a new light, from his fears own fears of childhood sexual abuse that led him to ask John Entwistle to add the detail into his own songs and the concepts of rebirth, schizophrenia and frustration mixed with hope of the latter (people often miss how much hope there actually is in ‘Quadrophenia’). The generous running time means that these interviews are more than worth the price of the set alone and although it may be a minor point the ‘menus’ are the best of any AAA disc thus far (featuring a ‘pinball machine’ that goes past a series of who memorabilia and a ‘hall of mirrors’ full of concert posters). Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – 10/10 (that’s the interview especially!)
“Thirty Years Of Maximum R and B” (1994)
‘The Kids Are Alright’ has a running time of nearly two hours so, surely, there’s no Who clips of any use left, right? Wrong! This companion to the box set of the same time beats it hands down in every department, featuring fascinating unedited performances from all periods of Who life. The early clip of the band doing ‘So Sad About Us’ should be on self-help tapes for all new bands starting out, clips from Woodstock and the Isle of Wight show the band at the peak of their powers and the late 70s post-Moon section may be the most fascinating of all. Only the 1980s footage disappoints – but as that comes after almost two and a half hours of sheer brilliance, with no filler whatsoever, frankly that’s forgivable. I actually taped the copy of the soundtrack of this DVD so I could play it in its own right and its one of my most worn out Who CDs, full of almost 30 reasons why The Who are simply the greatest rock and roll band of all time. I don’t know whether it’s better than ‘Kids’ (there’s nothing here that quite matches the ‘new’ footage for that film), but it’s definitely a tie (there’s less filler here for a start). Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – None (there’s no space left on the DVD!) Skip straight to – ‘Music Must Change’; a clearly unwell Townshend sweats throughout the song while Roger purrs before suddenly letting go into a startling guitar solo, twisting that way and that and getting more and more atonal before finally, inexplicably, collapsing exhausted back into the song. Pete does this throughout with a cigarette clenched between his teeth and is kick-started by a jokey aside about how ‘the song is all about...I dunno, cheese sandwiches!’
“Classic Albums: Who’s Next” (c.1996)
The last ‘classic albums’ set on our list, sadly ‘Who’s Next’ is one of the weaker titles of the series. There’s no Keith to talk, of course, whilst Roger and John have little to say – only Pete really gives value for money and even he’s given better interviews on the subject down the years. However, its still good bordering on great, featuring Glyn Johns fiddling with the master tapes (‘Behind Blue Eyes’ a capella sounds particularly stunning) whilst there’s a handful of stories here that haven’t been heard before (such as the last minute choice of cover – a concrete monolith the band spotted across the road from the motorway, where they were driving to a gig). Fans need to own all the ‘classic albums’ series really, which badly need to be re-issued (preferably on a series by series set with extra footage) – or better yet the BBC should commission a new series (it would be perfect for BBC4!) Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – the early footage concerning ‘The Lifehouse’, potentially the greatest Who album of them all, until it collapses and gets condensed back into this album
“Live In Boston” (2004)
Another flimsy live DVD from the band in their twilight years, with even less purpose to it being released after the Who lost John Entwistle (whose financial difficulties inspired many of these reunions in the first place). To be fair the set list contains everything the Who fan could wish for (with ‘Can’t Explain’ still at the beginning of the setlist, just like it always used to be) and there’s a handful of interesting songs here too (‘You Better You Bet’, the band’s last hit single that was never played live too often, ‘Another Tricky Day’ from ‘Face Dances’, ‘Eminence Front’ from ‘It’s Hard’ and two songs from ‘Quadrophenia ‘5:15’ and ‘Sea abnd Sand’). There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of point in having a record of a show that in Who terms is nothing special and badly misses both John and Keith in the rhythm section. The energy we’re used to seeing is lacking (no surprise, I guess, given that the band are entering their 60s here, but still a shame) and there’s no sense of occasion which saw the band rise to their best for gigs like ‘Live 8’ or The 2012 Olympics. We kbnow, too, that the band were pretty far advanced with their last album ‘Endless Wire’ by the time of this gig and it would have been nice to have heard some songs from that (not that I cared for it very much I have to admit). Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – 4/10 (Interviews)
“Amazing Journey” (2007)
A rather bland and uninteresting documentary, this film struggled to tell in words what the Who were all about and – perhaps afraid of the excellent competition on the early part of this list – seemed to afraid to simply retell the story through music for a third or fourth time. The good thing about this disc is its generous running time, which means that fans get to hear about lesser known moments in Who history instead of just the same old stories about ‘Tommy’ and ‘Woodstock’ and at least its a less bumpy or contentious journey than ‘The Beatles Anthology’ or most of the official Kinks and Beach Boys sets around. That said, its an awful shame that there are only two Who members left to tell the story by this time and while Daltrey and Townshend are as erudite as ever you get the feeling that only half of this story is being told (both men were too afraid to find out what Keith Moon was getting up to half the time!) Sadly the space that should have been given over to archive footage of the Moon and the Ox ends up being taken over by ‘celebrity friends’ like The Edge and Eddie Vedder making his 5th appearance on this list: frankly they’re not worthy to catch Moon’s flailing drumsticks. The surprise here is the first public speech by Pete Townshend’s brother Simon, long a part of the Wgho’s backing band, who comes over as almost as erudite as his big brother. A generous disc of extra features helps ease the pain, but this DVD is neither authorative nor complete (there are still lots of fascinating Who moments this set simply doesn’t cover). Overall rating – 4/10 Extras – 8/10 (More interview footage with Pete and Roger, a recording session from 2003 and best of all unseen footage of The High Numbers – as The Who were back then – in 1964, from the unfinished documentary film manager Kit Lambert was working on when he met the band!) Skip straight to – That footage from 1964, perhaps the most important in Who history unseen for too many decades!
“Live At The Royal Albert Hall” (2009)
The good news: it’s better than ‘Boston; the bad news – its still way below even the Who tours of the 80s, never mind the 70s or 60s. There’s nothing wrong with the setlist and there’s no doubting the energy both Daltrey and Townshend are putting into their performances (The Ox never did, of course), but frankly play this back to back with ‘Live At Leeds’ and this is clearly The Who in name only. On the plus side, the backing band is as good as we’re ever going to get without Keith there: ‘Rabbit’ Brundrick was the star of many an early 80s Who gig and its welcome to see him back playing keyboards, whilst Ringo’s son Zak (godson of Keith Moon, would you believe?) is as fine a ‘substitute’ as you can ask for. On the negative side, poor Roger gets treated like a spare part when a series of pretty awful special guests come on to perform, with a hundredth of his passion and talent (Bryan Adams, Eddie Vedder, The Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones and even Noel Gallagher looking out of place). If you were there that night, the last time John played with the band, then this is a great souvenir – but if you weren’t then I suspect you had to be there to get the most out of this DVD. Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – 6/10 (Interviews, backstage footage, multiple angles) Skip straight to – ‘Heart To Hang Onto’, a sweet and sadly forgotten song from Pete’s solo album with Small Face Ronnie Lane
“The Last Waltz” (1978, guest appearance)
Neil’s only in this concert film for five minutes, but he steals it both for the best performance and for the very obvious lump of cocaine proudly hanging from his nostrils (sadly digitally edited out for the DVD). Quite why the notoriously drugs-shy epileptic Neil (who wrote ‘Needle And The Damage Done’ about exactly this sort of thing) decided to knock himself out is unknown – maybe it was the only way he got through the rather smug looking Band’s back-slapping farewell (first of many) show? (complete with poetry readings!) Sadly things could have been so much better – Stephen Stills was invited but turned up late, only appearing on the interminable jamming session thankfully included on the DVD as an extra, while Ringo is at the back somewhere playing drums throughout but you never actually see him. A bit of a mess, but worth sitting through just to hear Neil (backed by Joni Mitchell) turning in one of the best performances of CSN/Y’s ‘Helpless’. Overall rating – 3/10, Extras – 6/10, that jamming session (where Stills and Young call and answer each other despite facing in opposite directions), a quite interesting featurette, a trail and two commentaries. There’s a nice booklet included too. Skip straight to – ‘Helpless’
“Rust Never Sleeps” (1980)
‘Neil Young’s the only goddamn guy I’d ever wear this hood for!’ said the Neil Young roadie after the film was aired, commenting on how he and his co-workers had been coerced into dressing up as ewoks shuffling on and off the stage with a bunch of oversized props. ‘Come to think of it’ he added, ‘Neil’s the only goddamn guy who’d ever ask!’ Love it or loathe it, this show (and the soundtrack album) have divided Young fans like nothing else. Is it a wacky but worthy attempt to include the history of rock and roll in one single concert, starting with a ‘baby’ Neil waking up on an amplifier and playing an acoustic set into a huge microphone? (which one of the roadies accidentally biffs him in the face with at one point!) Or is it a lot of self-indulgent claptrap in an excuse to revisit the same old songs from Neil’s discography? While sympathetic to the latter point of view I’m firmly with those who believe the former – Crazy Horse sound revitalised again and the touches to this concert (such as the ‘rust-o-vision’ glasses that can supposedly let the audience at home see Neil getting old and tired) are funny and thought-provoking all at the same time. Admittedly the ideas behind the concept are half-baked (Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix recordings plus the stage announcements from Woodstock do not constitute even a beginner’s lesson in rock and roll) but the music is honest and from the heart, overcoming any shortcomings. Incidentally, the DVD simply features one whole concert (from San Francisco’s Cow Palace) whilst the soundtrack record features bits and pieces from lots of shows on the same tour. Overall rating – 7/10, Extras – 10/10 (the encore of ‘Tonight’s The Night’, left off the original film) Skip straight to the bonus feature, a creepy slowed down version of ‘Tonight’s The Night’ that in one single seven minute swipe cancels out the whole of the past 90 minutes of positive vibes
“Live In Berlin” (1982, very rare on DVD)
I love the ‘Trans’ album. Written in part for Neil’s son Ben (born suffering from cerebral palsy) I think it might well be Neil’s best and certainly his most misunderstood work, all but communication and whether humans using machines to express emotion can ever have the same impact as the human voice. That album is the backbone of this concert and comes over superbly well, even though on paper it should be the Neil Young album least translatable into live performance. Indeed, for the ‘Trans’ songs most of what we hear is pre-recorded and ‘triggered’ by Neil mouthing the words – although much of what we hear is actually triggered by Nils Lofgren instead, the two guitarists prowling the stage like two rutting stags. The rest of the band include some old friends too: Crazy Horse’s Ralph Molina, regular sideman Ben Keith, percussionist for CSNY Joe Lala and even the Buffalo Springfield bass player Bruce Palmer, who hadn’t worked for years by this point and is clearly struggling with the complex chord changes. In between the startling Trans songs Neil throws in some of his greatest laid back acoustic songs including a charming ‘Old Man’, a moving ‘Needle and The Damage Done’ and a swirling, hypnotic reading of ‘Like A Hurricane’ that’s actually better than either the ‘Rust’ or ‘Weld’ versions. Fans even get one new song, exclusive to this set: ‘After Berlin’ whose subtitle (‘Help me! Help me!) will tell you something about the state of Neil’s head during this exhausting tour with duelling managers, disgruntled musicians and low audience responses (‘This is the last date of the tour...if it ever ends!’ he remarks acidly near the end) Still, for all the bad vibes, the music is great featuring many of my favourite Neil Young songs all in one place and sounding particularly spiffing. The only downside is how rare this DVD is – I’ve cheated and included this on the list even though I only own the video! By the way, where’s the ‘Rusted Out Garage’ tour of 1987 on DVD? Overall rating – 8/10 Extras – None (I think!) Skip straight to ‘Sample and Hold’, perhaps Neil’s most under-valued song, where Asimov meets Kraftwerk to emotional effect
“Human Highway” (1983, not yet on DVD)
We called ‘How I Won The War’ weird, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ eccentric and ‘Head’ stark raving bonkers but the weirdest film on this list was written and directed by Neil himself and by all accounts is even weirder than his first ‘Journey Through The Past’ (which I must admit I’ve never seen – I haven’t included it here because to date its only ever been made available with the deluxe deluxe edition of an already over-priced box set). The film stars Dennis Hopper (who reportedly had to leave shooting to go to a mental institution) as the stranger in a bizarre new town where everyone acts strangely and there’s a big nuclear plant in the neighbourhood. Neil stars as Lionel, the hapless hopeless mechanic of the town and he’s actually the best thing in this film – possibly because he’s the only person who has any idea what’s going on at all. The film seems to be taking an ecological turn but abruptly changes partway through for a 10-minute angry romp through ‘Hey Hey My My’ with Devo whose lead singer is, for reasons best known to himself, singing in a baby’s crib (this was actually a new song at the time this was recorded, though the film’s release was delayed some years so it was actually four years old by the time audiences first saw it). This, however, turns out to be a dream sequence and suddenly we’re back for the big finale singalong, a big epic musicals-spoofing ending complete with dancing while the world finally disintegrates behind everybody and they all end up in heaven. I think. Honestly, any interpretation of this film is valid – including some reviews I’ve seen that it’s all complete gibberish! Incidentally, there are only two songs in the whole of the film – and the title track (from ‘Comes A Time’) isn’t one of them! Neil followed this film up 20 years later with ‘Greendale’, a film with friends and actors ‘mouthing’ the words to the album of the same name – seeing as the album is already one of the worst things I’ve ever heard by anyone (Spice Girls excepted) I haven’t been brave enough to buy that one yet! Overall rating – 2/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – the one song exclusive to this film, ‘It Takes A Big Man (TO Sing A Big Song)’
Breathtaking and ear-wrecking in equal measures (Neil really did go deaf in one ear after this tour and he’s suffered from a form of tinnitus ever since!) However, for fans of Neil’s louder moments this is the holy grail of DVD concerts, with Crazy Horse never better and each of the superb choice of songs given new life from the sheer noise and power of it all. The story goes that the Gulf War broke out just as the band were going out non tour. Figuring that providing mere entertainment wasn’t important enough any more, the Horse debated calling it a day but instead made this album the ‘soundtrack’ to the war, often showing news feed of the war in real time on their screens as they played (the band watched CNN all the time backstage too, giving them something of a ‘siege’ mentality). We covered the soundtrack CDs on our site proper some time ago (‘Weld’ is one of our original core 101 albums everyone should own) and made the point there that the gulf war was the first war that everybody who owned a television set could join in with – 24 hour news networks were pioneering stuff back then and this was the first time so many film crews had actually reported on events live and shown them to families in living rooms around the world. The concert isn’t perfect by any means – it flags a little towards the end and repeats many of the songs from ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ whilst only really having the disappointing ‘Ragged Glory’ album to draw from, but for all its mistakes the heart of ‘Weld’ is in the right place and this in fact one of the best DVDs on this list! Overall rating – 9/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – A demented version of ‘F!@Kin’ Up’ streets ahead of the already pretty chilling studio version
By MTV standards, this Unplugged concert (actually the second such concert – Neil abandoned the first) is impressively brave and daring, re-arranging classics such as ‘Like A Hurricane’ from a searing electric guitar to a pump organ, performing a ‘proper’ version of ‘Transformer Man’ sans the Trans-era electronic stylings and re-styling moody orchestral ballad ‘The Old Laughing Lady’ as a singalong folk tune. By Neil Young standards, fans were disappointed: Neil’s long been the master of re-designing his own work and this seemed like a lost opportunity for him to truly revitalise and dissect his own lengthy career. The first half of this show is heads and shoulders above the second, which mainly features note-for-note recreations of the (admittedly fine) songs from ‘Harvest Moon’, despite the presence of some old friends in the backing band (Nils Lofgren among them). Neil doesn’t really interact with the audience throughout, looking like he hasn’t slept for some time, and indeed reveals in the ‘Shakey’ biography (later disowned) that he was in a foul mood that day after feeling that the first concert hadn’t worked and he was ‘forced’ to do it again (having heard both shows, the result is a draw I’d say). Still, there’s a lot of good work here to enjoy even if you need to keep the DVD remote skip button handy and this DVD is still worth your while as long as you’re not expected anything truly transformative. Incidentally, CSN played an Unplugged show in the same era (a bit of a cheat as they were on their ‘acoustic tour’ anyway back then) which is still unavailable on DVD, despite being a whole lot better than this. Overall rating – 6/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Look Out For My Love’, a forgotten gem from ‘Comes A Time’ that sounds particularly good here
“Silver and Gold” (2000)
‘Rust’ was excellent, ‘Weld’ superb, but sadly Neil’s DVD concerts have got less interesting as time wore on. Amazingly all of these songs barring two come from the ‘Silver and Gold’ album – one that’s grown on me over the years but was hardly his greatest achievement of the day. The other songs here are a boring ‘Harvest Moon’ and the insipid ‘Long May You Run’, although at least this song never sounded better having been re-arranged a la ‘Unplugged’ for a pump organ. Throughout it all Neil looks uncharacteristically nervous, mumbling his rambling introductions and spending an age slooshing his harmonica in a cup of anti-bacterial spray between each and every song. Frankly a bizarre choice for a DVD – apparently someone filmed Neil’s 1990 and 1995 tour officially and they were both far more courageous, daring and successfully than this one. Overall rating – 2/10 Extras – None Skip straight to – ‘Silver and Gold’ itself, a lovely little ballad left over from the 1970s
“Red Rocks Live” (2001)
Amazingly, this is worse – Neil is back to singing rock and roll on the electric guitar again but its uninspired and pointlessly noisy, though sadly not quite nosiy enough to scare the unwelcome guest stars away. The track listing include several songs frequently voted top of ‘worst Neil Young songs’ polls (‘Words (Between The Lines Of Age)’ ‘Motorcycle Mama) while the one ‘new’ song ‘Fool For Your Love’ is one that probably should be on that list. That said, this DVD is a lot better than the CD of the same name was, running for much longer so you get a sense of where Neil is heading with this latest, confusing journey through his back catalogue. The tracks exclusive to the DVD are all by far the best things here too: the classy ‘World On A String’ gets a rare airing, as do ‘Walk On’ and ‘I Believe In You’ whilst in those pre-Archives box set times this was the only place you could legally hear an abandoned songs from 1970 ‘Bad Fog Of Loneliness’, among the very best of Neil’s large collection of unreleased songs. Still, even these songs sound light years better on record and the re-arrangements don’t update these songs and make them live again – as per ‘Weld’ – they just show out of touch with his own talent Neil was back at the turn of the millennium. Thankfully, better is to come. Overall rating – 3/10 Extras – None Skip straight to - ‘Look Out For My Love’, a lovely forgotten song from the ‘Comes A Time’ album and rarely heard live
“Dead Man” (2005)
Some fans love this moody monochrome movie, with Johnny Depp as a cowboy who says few words and lets Neil’s curious, grungy guitarwork do all the talking. Me, it gives me a migraine, but at least I can see what all the fuss is about (I think). There’s so much of Neil’s music, apparently improvised on the spot, that there’s actually a great deal more of it in the two hour film than there is on record – and the CD soundtrack for this film still ran at an impressive two hours! If you like your Neil Young loud and formless (orf even if you fancy Johnny Depp!) then this film is for you – but if you’re a casual fan then best stay clear. Overall rating – 5/10 Extras – Trailer Skip straight to – Hard to say; it all looks – and sounds – the same!
“Heart Of Gold” (2006)
For all his demands of following his career ‘his’ way, there’s a side to Neil Young that keeps returning to his best, most commercial work about every decade or so. ‘Heart Of Gold’ is a DVD concert film of his quieter, folkier acoustic side and finds the singer backed by some Nashville musicians for the songs when he’s not backing himself. Most of the setlist here comes from ‘Prairie Wind’, arguably the best Neil Young album of the past 15 or so years, with a handful of Neil’s better known songs from the past 40 years of music. Frankly, seen back to back with the strangeness of ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ or the intensity of ‘Weld’, it’s all a bit boring, but if you’re after a quieter sort of concert and you’re new to a lot of Neil’s stuff then this is still a good place to start, low on surprises but high on good music played by a strong set of musicians. Overall rating – 6/10, Extras – 8/10, lots of interviews and documentaries, although the best thing here are the ‘stories’ i.e. the rambling introductions to all the songs Neil made on stage that got cut from the final broadcast Skip straight to – a thrilling acoustic version of ‘Old Laughing Lady’
“Monterey Pop Festival” (1967)
Woodstock may have had the better performances and the better film, but for me Monterey is even more iconic – the first time that the youth of the day seemed like a ‘movement’ meeting together in perfect peace and harmony. The AAA songs are plentiful indeed: Jefferson Airplane do ‘Somebody To Love’ and the gorgeous ‘Today’ (spoilt by the cameras watching Grace Slick mouthing the words whilst Marty Balin sings!), The Who roar through ‘Summertime Blues’ and demolish their instruments to ‘My Generation’ and Simon and Garfunkel (the former one of the organisers of the event) sing ‘Feelin’ Groovy’. However this concert belongs to Janis Joplin, an unknown when she walked on stage with Big Brother and the Holding Company and a superstar when she left it (although this footage is actually of her second appearance, requested by director D A Pennebaker when they realised the film cameras had failed to capture the festival’s most talked about minutes). Of the non AAA bands The New Animals play for me the best song of the night with their psychedelised version of ‘Paint It Black’, The Mamas and Papas bid their live farewell and while Hendrix sets the crowd alight even more than he does his guitar. Howevere the most poignant footage here is of the odd AAA star mingling about in the crowd – Pigpen and Janis Joplin joking together, Peter Tork introducing the Springfield (as ‘my favourite group’), Micky Dolenz dressed as an Indian and Stone Brian Jones looking the single happiest I think I’ve ever seen him. It’s a shame there’s no room for the other AAA bands who played that night though, such as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Grateful Dead. There is, actually, a box set of 4 discs and 10 hours’ worth of footage from the festival doing the works – but only in America, sadly, and at one heck of an expensive price. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Ball and Chain’: no wonder Mama Cass is mouthing ‘oh wow’ while watching Janis demolish this song!
This truly is the mother of all rock documentaries and should be compulsory viewing for everybody as a historical document, whether they like the music within it or not. Of course by the end surely everyone’s liked something – there are so many styles on offer here that there’s something for everyone, especially in the most common DVD version a ‘Director’s Cut’ that’s especially generous to AAA groups. The general consensus is that Monterey was a better gig but Woodstock was a better film, running some three hours (now four) rather than 80 minutes and making the audience and the volunteers as much a part of the show as the music. The split-screen format is the perfect way to condense so much into one go too. For AAA fans the treats go on and on: CSN playing their second ever gig and win over everyone even with Neil Young refusing permission to be in the film (check out two unique mixes of ‘Wooden Ships’ and ‘Long Time Gone’ in the opening section when the workers are building the stage), the sun comes up spot on the climax to The Who’s ‘Tommy’ rock opera, Jefferson Airplane turn in a delightful ‘Won’t You Try?’ (though the unreleased ‘Uncle Sam’s Blues’ is no great find to be honest) and Janis Joplin gives her farewell recorded performance with ‘Work Me Lord’, the best version around of, for me, the best song in her repertoire. Film-makers, we salute you! Beware, though, the Woodstock film is out in several different variations: I used to have a single disc German import that got stuck when the layer changed over halfway through; I now own a four disc set with an extra hour of unseen footage, although as most of that is the Grateful Dead noodling through an awful version of ‘Turn On Your Lovelight’ that’s no great shakes to be honest. Another minus point too for the fact that the film is split across two discs, so you have to get up to change it halfway through! Overall rating – 9/10 for the film, 7/10 for the 4 disc box set, Extras – 3/10 the box set features two hours of interviews and featurettes alongside the hour of unheard music performances, although frankly the ‘Woodstock Diaries’ DVD (see below) did this sort of thing better and with more panache Skip straight to ‘Work Me Lord’
“A Message To Love: The Isle Of Wight Festival” (Documentary with music footage) (1970)
The Isle of Wight was Britain’s answer to Monterey and Woodstock – yeah, right, we couldn’t stop laughing either. To be fair, though, the line-up for the 1970 festival was impressive even by these standards, featuring the best single show The Doors ever played, an eccentric set from Jethro Tull who don’t play a single ‘popular’ song and the last ever gig by Jimi Hendrix. AAA fans will be more interested in the eccentric set by the Moody Blues, who are big on emotion and atmospherics but not finesse (they released their whole gig separately – see above – although sadly only ‘Nights In White Satin’ made the film) and the fact that Oasis ‘recycled’ much of the talking head interview footage with locals for the song ‘Fuckin’ In The Bushes’. As a film, its not up to either of the two ‘big ones’ but it’s still an excellent piece of rock history and there’s an interesting sub-plot about half the audience uprising, demolishing fences, burning burger vans and demanding ‘music should be free!’ All this means, of course, that this documentary comes with a very ironic choice of title, although the (mainly elderly locals are actually supportive of seeing the long haired youth of their day over-run their island. Overall rating – 7/10 Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Nights In White Satin’
“The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons” (1972-76)
Dick Cavett might not be the best interviewer there’s ever been, but he might well be my favourite. Most chat show hosts are hollow or egotistical (I’m looking at you Lettermen!) but you get the impression that Cavett is as genuinely nice if goofy off-screen as he is on. People underestimate, too, his capacity to ‘make’ good shows: his putting Janis Joplin (clearly his personal favourite guest) up against Raquel Welch on one interview and Gloria Swanson on the other inspired some fascinating debates and conversation. If you truly love a wide range of AAA stars then you’ll adore this set: Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby and Stephen Stills appear the day after Woodstock (Stills proudly shows off his ‘mud’!) and haven’t been to bed yet (Stills’ ‘4+20’ is spellbounding); an unusually grumpy George Harrison backs the ‘Dark Horse’ band Splinter and moans about EMI dragging their heels over the money from the ‘Bangla Desh’ benefit, Paul Simon asks for the audience help in a song he’s working on at the moment (which happens to be ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’), Mick Jagger takes three minutes out of a Stones tour to look dazed into the camera and drawl ‘yeeaah’ at every question and best of all there’s Janis in three separate appearances – the last of them just three weeks before her death and the last TV appearance she ever made. She’s in great vocal form on the concerts (she sings five songs in all), but its her long discussions that are the most revealing thing on this set, showing off her intelligence and her courage as well as her musical talent. Cavett’s modern-day introductions to each uncut show are often moving – his observations about this show are unbelievably sad. A highly recommended purchase, even with a few other non-AAA bands included (the best of which is the surreal interview with Sylvester Stallone whose clearly the worse for wear!) This box set came out along with two others dedicated to ‘hollywood icons’ and ‘sports stars’ as well as a set devoted just to John and Yoko (reviewed above). Let’s hope there’s a second ‘rock icons’ box out sometime soon and that Cavett can be restored to his proper place at the top of the chat show perch! Overall rating – 9/10, Extras – None as such (though there are some ‘small’ pieces here originally part of longer programmes such as the Mick Jagger piece). Skip straight to – Janis Joplin defining femininity with Raquel Welch, a conversation that’s about the most intelligent and mature on any chat show from the past 50 years!
“Live Aid” (1985)
‘Saint’ Bob Geldof’s attempt to make the Western world think outside their safe cosy boxes was undoubtedly a huge success. Even now the legacy of these Live Aid concerts – the bigger, brighter versions of the Band Aid single the year before – means that it’s ok for music to be associated with charity and the feeling that human beings no longer had to wait for politicians to solve problems on our behalf – we cut do it ourselves. It goes without saying that all of you need to buy this DVD set, if only to support the charity that still receives money from the project after all these years. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the few AAA bands they bothered to ask to the event are marginalised. CSNY’s first four-way reunion in 11 years is relegated to a five minute segment in the middle of the night singing a quite horrid (and still unreleased thankfully) Neil Young song ‘Nothing Is Perfect In God’s Perfect Plan’; The Who barely have time to get a couple of windmill antics before they’re shooed off stage; The Stones are in such disarray that Mick and Keef won’t share the same stage – the former duetting with David Bowie and the latter backing a typically rough and ready Bob Dylan set; finally the closing act – Paul McCartney – sees the only technical hitch of the whole day and night when his microphone fails during an otherwise moving ‘Let It Be’ (they’ve corrected it with studio trickery for the DVD, but it’s not the same). Of the AAA crowd only two can hold their heads high: The Beach Boys can hold their heads up high and even they seem strangely muted (it’s their first real concert since the death of Dennis Wilson two years earlier – and Live Aid is something the drummer would have loved) and Dire Straits, who play a mesmerising elongated ‘Sultans Of Swing’. The sad fact is the stage belongs not to the 60s legends anymore but the new guard of the 80s and the TV cameras are all too often merciless in getting our greats off the stage to transmit to the biggest possible audience. Our advice is buy this set still, but prepare to be disappointed. Overall rating – 4/10, Extras 7/10 – lots of documentaries and featurettes – the main long one is fascinating but the others are less so. Skip straight to – ‘California Girls’
“Bo Diddley’s 30th Anniversary” (1986)
At first I thought I’d bought a bona fide bargain. This rare film was in a sale at £3 and featured no less than five AAA members taking part in the all-star bash (Kenney Jones, Ronnie Lane, John Lodge, Carl Wilson and Ronnie Wood) as well as behind-the-scenes footage of the whole 16 piece band at work. Alas, you don’t see very much of anything in this live concert, which seems to have been shot by a squinting one-eyed dwarf whose never worked a camera before given some of the shots we have throughout these rather tedious 50 minutes. You do get to see the AAA stars play, but only at a distance and never on their own songs or even many of the best known and loved Diddley classics; everything here soon turns into an awful tuneless jam that sounds like the tuneless jam everyone was playing half an hour earlier. Only Bo himself comes out with any credit, but it’s hardly a birthday to remember. And why no Animals present? They were the real Bo Diddley lovers in the rock and roll pack! Overall rating – 1/10, Extras – None Skip straight to – The End!
“Woodstock Diaries” (Documentary with music footage) (1994)
Impressively, this three-hour three-part series manages to be just as good as the film itself, unreleased footage from 25 years earlier mixing with then-contemporary interview footage with a nice and long list of those who were there at the time. There’s certainly lots for the AAA scholar to enjoy – Janis Joplin tackling ‘Try’ and ‘Ball Of Chain’, Jefferson Airplane with ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody To Love’ (the opening jam of which is heard in the Woodstock film but not the whole song), The Who destroy everything during ‘My Generation’ and CSN gamely tackling an acoustic ‘Blackbird’ in front a huge sea of people. The three programmes are separated into the three days of the event, which makes sense on paper but is a shame given that all the good acts were on Saturday and Sunday and the only name on Friday was Joan Baez (whose contributions go on far too long). Still, some of the interview footage is hilarious and a lot of it unheard before, such as the story about the promoter missing Hendrix’s closing set because he was being helicoptered out to find the money to pay back a loan. Overall rating – 8/10, Extras – None Skip straight to ‘Ball and Chain’
And that’s that for this special new year edition of ‘News, Views and Music’. Join for us another album review, a top five and more next week!