Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Byrds - 1320 North Columbus (1968)


The Byrds released their fifth album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, in January 1968, through Columbia Records. It featured rhythm guitarist and vocalist David Crosby's final recordings with the band, after he was fired in late 1967, due to his often unbearable behavior (a pretty nice, formal way of saying he was a dick!), which culminated in him promoting conspiracy theories about JFK onstage during their appearance on the Monterey Pop Festival that same year. Curiously, it also features ex-member Gene Clark, who had left the band in mid-1966 and was in the midst of a failed solo career, singing backing vocals on a couple of the album's tracks, which makes it their first LP since Fifth Dimension to feature all five of the original Byrds. He even co-wrote one of the album's tunes, "Get to You", and all that tension and stive made for a sometimes brilliant, but rather unfocused album, that also didn't sell as well as the ones that came before it. More than ever, it was obvious they needed a strong songwriter and a new sense of direction.

So it should come as no surprise that Clark was supposed to come back to the band once his ex-bandmate Crosby had flown away to form CSN. He and the other three Byrds even played a couple of gigs together in late 1967, before the same old problems that had plagued him in his first tenure with the band (which included a fear of flying and anxiety attacks) came back and he was once again booted, and the band soldiered on as a trio. After yet another band member leaving, this time ever-problematic drummer Michael Clarke, the group started rebuilding themselves after bassist Chris Hillman encountered singer and pianist Gram Parsons at random in a bank, and the two stuck up a friendship. Parsons, alongside Hillman's cousin, drummer Kelvin Kelley, would form a brand new Byrds lineup alongside the two remaining Byrds in 1968, and they would quickly record an album of their own. The result, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, is a landmark in the foundation of Country Rock as a genre, and an overall fantastic album, despite only featuring two originals.

Meanwhile, Clark was also pretty busy doing his own things back then, joining forces with banjo great Doug Dillard and guitarist Bernie Leadon to form Dillard & Clark. Despite not touring, due to Gene's many issues, they recorded a fantastic, bluegrass-tinged album in late 1968, with some fantastic songwriting by the ex-Byrd throughout its nine cuts, as well as some inspired playing by the other two. At the same time, the latest Byrds lineup splintered, as Parsons and Roger McGuinn battled for control of the group. As McGuinn obviously won that battle with ease, Parsons and Hillman deserted to go form the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the former once again soldiered on with yet another Byrds lineup. The Burritos went on to write and record their debut album still in late 1968 (that's one busy year for this band!), this time much more focused on Parsons/Hillman penned material than covers. The Mk. III lineup of the Byrds also did the same, with the messy, but sometimes great, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, which also featured some McGuinn-written gems.

So, what that all has been leading up to is: what if Gene Clark had stayed with the Byrds for a second term as a chief songwriter? To make that possible, we'll need to take a look at how such a thing would be feasible. For starters, a sort of Brian Wilson arrangement would have to take place, as in Gene would write and record with the band, but not tour, with someone else taking his place on the road. And our pick for that person could very well be Dillard & Clark bandmate and future Burrito, Bernie Leadon, who is one hell of a guitar player, a great singer (who can interpret Gene well, as proved by his version of Train Leaves Here This Morning) and all-around easy to deal with guy, as well as being an old friend of Chis Hillman's. And our task is finding and arranging all the material this five-man lineup would have brought to the table for an album, to be released sometime in November or December of 1968, as they had already released an album that year and weren't that much in a hurry. So here's what we've got going for this alternate Byrds lineup:

Out on the Side (Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark)
She Darkened the Sun (Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark)
King Apathy III (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde)
Juanita (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
Don't Come Rollin' (Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark)
Train Leaves Here This Mornin' (Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark)
-
With Care from Someone (Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark)
Sin City (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
The Radio Song (Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark)
In the Plan (Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark)
Bad Night at the Whiskey (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde)
Something's Wrong (Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark)

Bonus track:
High Fashion Queen (Burrito Deluxe)
All I Have Are Memories (Sweetheart of the Rodeo)

Clark, McGuinn, Hillman, and Clarke backstage on the Smothers Brothers, Nov. 1967

One of the first questions we have to ask is: which songs are included, and why? And to answer that, eight of the songs here are primarily written by Clark, who was by far the most successful songwriter out of the five, who is occasionally helped by Leadon in that department. Doug Dillard's role in those eight was mostly as an arranger, which warranted him credit on a couple of them. Effectively, he would be replaced by McGuinn in that task, who would then take those co-writing credits for himself. Other than that, we have available the two Burritos songs that are known to be mostly written by Hillman, which are "Juanita" and "Sin City", as well as Roger's two best songs from Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde. As you may have noticed, no cover songs are included, as the band now had four great composers and it would be pointless to add outside material, given the strength of the tunes they were writing. As is the norm, we are talking about a twelve-track, forty-minute album, with mostly evenly divided lead vocals between the three main members, which will be explained shortly.

As for the arrangements, I don't see either the Burrito or Byrds songs changing all that much, given that the former was already in a style the band showed they could cover before, and the latter could have their guitar parts easily covered by Leadon. However, when it comes to the D&C songs, things would change considerably, as those songs would most certainly be "electrified" and brought back to a rock (or at least country rock) style. Another change is that the vast array of session musicians employed for Notorious would be gone, them using just their core band members and a session keyboardist on the LP. Bernie would handle all pedal steel/lead duties, and mostly only sing live, leaving harmonies to the other three. Speaking of vocals, Clark would obviously not sing lead on eight of the album's 12 tracks, and so a bit of shuffling is needed. Two of them, "Don't Come Rollin'" and "In the Plan", are given to McGuinn, being well suited to his voice and featuring a co-writing credit by him, while "The Radio Song" is given to co-author Bernie Leadon, as his sole vocal spot.

On a more song to song basis, songs like "She Darkened the Sun", "With Care from Someone" and "In the Plan" would definitely sound a hell of a lot more like their Gilded Palace of Sin counterparts, while a song like "Don't Come Rollin'" has great potential to be a rocker, McGuinn's 12-string replacing the banjo. As for "Train Leaves Here This Morning" and "Something's Wrong", the arrangements would obviously stay acoustic, and considering Chris played the mandolin on the latter, we've almost halfway there already! The one full-band Clark song, the fantastic "Out on the Side" stays largely the same as well, giving the album a great, slow start ala "Tears of Rage". For b-sides and outtakes, we have one mostly-Hillman song from the same first batch as the FBB's first album, "High Fashion Queen", which was recorded on their followup and features Michael Clarke on drums. A nice, pedestrian song, and given that Parsons and Hillman didn't include it on their album at first, I feel like we shouldn't either. We also have drummer Kevin Kelley's Ringo moment, "All I Have Are Memories", which is pretty much ok, and comes from the Sweetheart sessions.

1320 North Columbus, named as such due to the lyric from "Train Leaves Here This Morning", makes for a great Byrds record, featuring stellar songwriting and a more focused feel than others that came before it, although it misses the variety and scope of previous Byrd records. It features great acoustic pieces, some heavy rockers, and everything in between, managing to unite the musicianship of the later Byrds with the great songwriting of the early Byrds. It clocks in at about nineteen minutes per side, which is pretty much the norm by the standards of the day, and the obvious lead single would be "Train", with either of the bonus tracks as its b-side. The cover is my attempt at emulating the style of most of Columbia's mid-60's artwork, and I'm pretty happy with the results. Given the amount of talent involved, the Byrds' future could have been very different than it ended up being, and with the right choices, instead of slowly fading away from the public consciousness, they could have taken the place of another bird-related band as one of the great bands of the seventies.

Sources:
- Dillard & Clark - The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark
- The Flying Burrito Brothers - The Gilded Palace of Sin
- The Byrds - Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde
- The Flying Burrito Brothers - Burrito Deluxe
- The Byrds - Sweetheart of the Rodeo

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Grateful Dead - Rambling Rose (1972)


The Grateful Dead released their seventh album (and third live album), Europe '72, in November 1972 through Warner Bros Records. It featured live recordings from their April/May European tour of that same year, and the album is also notable in that it's their first release after keyboardist Keith and singer Donna Jean Godchaux joined the band, late in 1971. As was the case with the previous year's Skull and Roses, the album featured a couple of brand new compositions that were never recorded in the studio, as the band was pretty busy releasing solo albums and touring incessantly in the USA and outside of it. Some of those even feature a couple of studio overdubs and touch-ups, making those live versions the definitive versions of the songs and live/studio hybrids. However, that wasn't always the plan on what to do with the material, according to the band themselves.

That particular batch of songs, started with the live debut of "Brown Eyed Women" in late August 1971 and finished during the European tour, was supposed to become a studio record named Rambling Rose, according to the band's main lyricist, Robert Hunter. However, as was the case with my previous reconstruction, the band was simply too divided between touring and making solo albums (this time Bob Weir's album, also named Ace) to go into the studio and give these songs a proper recording. And since Skull and Roses had already sold a lot, it seemed that live albums with new material were a smart decision to make, especially when it comes to a band as notable for its live performances as the Dead were back in the day, and the little expense it provided when compared to a couple of months locked away in a studio somewhere in California.

Plans were even made for them to enter the studio sometime after the tour, in June 1972, but seen as the band was exhausted from a two-month-long tour, they were scrapped and the band focused on turning the tour's recordings into a live album, tentatively titled Steppin' Out. After that, the band's next studio album would only be released a full year later, as Wake of the Flood, leaving many live staples, possible hits and overall classic songs orphans. Because of that, what Deadheads all over the world still wonder is: what would a 1972 Dead studio album look like? Is it possible to take that fantastic group of songs and turn them into a cohesive whole? That's what we will be doing today, all that while taking care not to overstep our previous chapter, of course. Here's what we've got going:

Mississipi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo (Wake of the Flood)
He's Gone (Europe '72)
Chinatown Shuffle (Europe '72)
Ramble On Rose (Europe '72)
Stella Blue (Wake of the Flood)
-
Jack Straw (Europe '72)
Brown Eyed Women (Europe '72)
Comes a Time (Reflections)
Pride of Cucamonga (From the Mars Hotel)
Tennessee Jed (Europe '72)

Bonus tracks:
Empty Pages (Dick's Picks Vol. 35)
One More Saturday Night (Europe '72)

Pigpen, Weir, and Garcia playing live in April 1972

First of all, we need to comb through the available material and see what can and can't be used in the Rambling Rose album. Unlike with the 1971 album, there is enough material so that both Bobby's record and a GD album could be released, so we need to select where each song goes. First of all, both "Greatest Story Ever Told" and "Playing in the Band" were already in the last album, so they are both excluded. "Jack Straw", as the only Weir/Hunter composition of the batch, stays with the Dead, and all other Weir/Barlow songs go to the solo album. As "Mr. Charlie" has also been used in the last album, it is replaced with another Pigpen song, "Chinatown Shuffle", which was in rotation with the former during the tour. All of Jerry's new songs played during the tour are included, even those that weren't selected for the live album, as was the case with "Comes a Time".

There are also three songs that, despite not being present in the band's setlists back then, would almost certainly be recorded during those June '72 recording sessions. Those are "Mississippi Half Step" and "Stella Blue", both written in Germany during the tour and debuted right after they came back in July, and "Pride of Cucamonga", which Phil Lesh and his lyricist Bob Petersen wrote sometime in mid-1972. Those four are also the only real studio tracks on the whole album, which is useful in helping us imagine such a record. Adding up all those songs, we end up with a nice batch of 10 tracks, which amount to 54 minutes. That's quite excessive, considering the constraints of vinyl, but we must consider that when it comes to the Dead, studio versions were generally a minute or two shorter and more fast-paced, which certainly would help Rambling Rose to fit into one LP!

As for the album cover, we can use one of the many Stanley Mouse paintings of Bertha, a skeleton with a crown of roses (a coincidence we will use in our favor, of course), as it fits the material pretty well. As an album, Rambling Rose can stand alongside any other GD studio album from their songwriting peak and still make a run for being the best of them all, which is quite a feat in my view.  This sequencing really gave the songs a nice, cohesive form, which it desperately needed, and the studio tracks really don't feel out of place at all. It really is a shame songs so great as "Tennessee Jed", "Brown Eyed Women" and quasi-title track "Ramble on Rose" weren't given the opportunity to have their own LP, as they certainly deserved it (more so than many other songs they committed to recording after that, that's for sure!). But that's the way things are, and we're really lucky to even have these songs (to fill the air), no matter how and where they were recorded.

Sources:
- Grateful Dead - Europe '72
- Grateful Dead - Wake of the Flood
- Grateful Dead - From the Mars Hotel
- Jerry Garcia - Reflections
- Grateful Dead - Europe '72, Vol. 2
- Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks, Vol. 35

Friday, November 01, 2019

David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973)


David Bowie's breakthrough album, 1972's Ziggy Stardust, is a loose and non-linear concept album about an androgynous alien rock star, who lands on earth five years away from the end of the world, here forming a rock and roll band. It tells of his attempt to give humanity hope in that dystopic future, through music, sex, and drugs, with Ziggy being the main character behind promoting that ideology. What he sees there is a world in complete disarray (caused by a lack of natural resources after years of carelessly using it all up in industry), as well as a youth completely disillusioned and distant from the generations that came before them, who they consider out of touch with reality, with them being left "on their own" to deal with the consequences. Without any electricity or desire for rock music, he and his band are seen forced to sing about the news of the period, all of them about, of course, the imminent end of mankind and its consequences to us all. He's a representation of the ultimate cliche rock n' roll superstar, being destroyed by both his drug intake and his own fans' glorification of him at the end of the album, them disappointed his calls for hope and love didn't result in anything that could save them, and the fact that the end was indeed coming soon.

The released album was both a gigantic critical and commercial success and was his first mainstream successful album, and also one of the firsts in a string of many great LPs to come from him during the seventies. Its follow-up, 1973's "Aladdin Sane", is a fantastic glam rock record that's almost as good as what came before it, sharing many of its predecessor's themes of stardom and heavy sound, its name being a pun on A Lad Insane. Bowie even nicknamed the album "Ziggy goes to America", due to it being written while on tour in the US, with its sleeve containing the name of the city each song was written in. He maintained the Stardust persona even after AS's release, adding the album's tunes to the tour setlist and simply keeping on going, giving us all the feeling that Alladin Sane was nothing more than a sequel to the concept album. And at least half of the later record fits in perfectly with the whole concept, adding depth to its characters and universe, which Bowie certainly took note of and used to his advantage during the 1972/73 tour. As well as the songs released on the album, "All the Young Dudes", an actual piece of the Ziggy narrative about the same news he transformed into songs, was also recorded, but given to Mott the Hoople instead, who had a hit single with it.

But by July of '73, it seems, he was already tired of the whole thing, and during the final show of the tour, in the Hammersmith Odeon, took all the audience by surprise by announcing his retirement from live performances from the stage, shortly before the last song of the concert. What they all didn't notice, however, was that Bowie was only doing so "in character", and was effectively putting Ziggy Stardust to rest, and moving on with his career. After that show (immortalized in D.A. Pennebaker's concert film of the Odeon show), he disbanded his Spiders from Mars backing band, and started to conceptualize two new projects: an album adaptation of George Orwell's "1984", and a musical based on Ziggy Stardust, managing to write some six songs for the former and two for the latter. However, soon afterward his interest in the musical waned, most likely due to the fact that it had only been one year since he was performing as the character and it was too soon for him to tackle such a thing. And to put insult to injury, he was denied the rights to Orwell's work, and so David combined both projects into one, transforming them into the fantastic "Diamond Dogs" album, released in mid-1974, going on tour and even becoming a blue-eyed soul artist for a while after that.

But after the release of the deluxe edition of Ziggy Stardust, in the nineties, many fans noticed its vast array of outtakes, which even included some tunes of the same caliber as the ones on the album itself. Some, such as the great "Velvet Goldmine" and the Chuck Berry cover "Round and Round", were only cut from the album in the eleventh hour, to make space for other songs he had just recorded recently. All in all, a little bit less than 20 songs were written or recorded for the album from its conception until its release. By adding the failed musical songs, and the Alladin Sane songs he performed live under the Ziggy persona, we can make up a solid double LP, without wasting a single song from his inspired late-1971 sessions. To do so, we have to have some ground rules, which are no live recordings allowed (excluding then his fantastic take on "My Death", which never had a studio recording), and no pre-Ziggy songs either, to not mess with his discography any more than we already did. His BBC recordings aren't allowed either, as to me they fit as live recordings, which ends up excluding his cover of The Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat", as much as I love it. Anyways, not to stretch this out any further than what I already did, here it is:

Five Years (Ziggy Stardust)
Soul Love (Ziggy Stardust)
Cracked Actor (Alladin Sane)
Port of Amsterdam (Ziggy Stardust)
Rock n' Roll Star (Ziggy Stardust)
Moonage Daydream (Ziggy Stardust)
-
All the Young Dudes (Changesonebowie)
Starman (Ziggy Stardust)
Hang Onto Yourself (Ziggy Stardust)
Lady Stardust (Ziggy Stardust)
Round and Round (Ziggy Stardust)
Aladdin Sane (Alladin Sane)
-
Watch that Man (Alladin Sane)
Sweet Head (Ziggy Stardust)
John, I'm Only Dancing (Changesonebowie)
Rebel Rebel (Diamond Dogs)
Velvet Goldmine (Ziggy Stardust)
Ziggy Stardust (Ziggy Stardust)
-
Time (Alladin Sane)
Holy Holy (Ziggy Stardust)
Rock n' Roll With Me (Diamond Dogs)
The Jean Genie (Alladin Sane)
Suffragette City (Ziggy Stardust)
Rock n' Roll Suicide (Ziggy Stardust)

Bonus tracks:
It Ain't Easy (Ziggy Stardust)
White Light/White Heat (Bowie at the Beeb)
My Death (Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture)

Bolder, Bowie, Woodmansey and Ronson performing at TOTP in '72

When including songs from Alladin Sane, we have two ways of making sure the songs make sense and fit in the album: they were either performed during the 1973 tour while Bowie was still using the Ziggy Stardust persona, as was the case with the majority of the songs here, or the songs' lyrics fit in with the (rather loose, to be honest) concept and storyline of the record. That being the case, only a couple of songs from the LP that fit those parameters are not included, most notably "Drive-In Saturday" and "Panic in Detroit", which despite being a dystopian story as well doesn't fit the narrative at all, despite being played live throughout the tour. As mentioned before, all songs from the late 1971 Ziggy recording sessions will be used, but that also means one song will have to be deleted, and that is "It Ain't Easy". As much as I like it, it's from the Hunky Dory sessions and was a bit shoehorned into the tracklist, so it's excluded to make room for the outtakes, which make a lot more sense within the LP. Also on that note, not included are any and all songs that were already released by the time the original ZS album was being recorded, even though a whole lot of songs from The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory that were played back then could fit in with the narrative easily. It just wouldn't make that much sense at all, would it?

Considering that all songs, with the exception of "Rebel Rebel" and "Rock and Roll With Me", were recorded with the exact same backing band and in a similar genre, it's no secret that this reconstruction really sounds and feels like an album, and its track order was arranged to maximize that. I tried my best to keep the original album's tracklist as intact as possible, only sandwiching the new songs in between them, as to fit in with the narrative. Some switching was needed for the sides' length to be balanced, which led to "Starman" and "Star" being swapped, but other than that, the order was kept mostly intact. I sequenced the outtakes keeping in mind both the story and how they fit into it, and how the songs would work within the album's sequence. That led the album's weirdest song by far, "Alladin Sane" to finish side one, for example, as it's the only place it would really fit in. Most of the 1971 outtakes are sequenced on side three alongside the title track and "Rebel Rebel" as they made much more sense separate, while the other three sides have one outtake each. All other Alladin Sane songs and "All the Young Dudes" also are kept more or less on the positions they originally had on the album, as we are already familiar with them.

As for how the new tunes fit in with the story and concept, "Cracked Actor" and "Watch that Man" deal with the decadence and depressing nature of the rock and roll lifestyle Ziggy was so immersed in, and tell of the dark side of fame, something that wasn't talked about as much on the single LP. "All the Young Dudes" tells of the generational gap and personal issues of this fictional dystopian world, and also deals with the news Ziggy and his band were delivering to the people. As for "Alladin Sane" and "Time", those deal with his descent into madness (who will love a lad insane?) and his contemplation of reality and the catastrophic events that will follow in a pretty short while. "Rebel Rebel" and "The Jean Genie" both deal with his androgynous nature and the love and adulation he received from fans and girls alike, with "Rock and Roll With Me" being an extension of that and showing how he and his fans face love and romance. The covers Bowie recorded for the original album, those being "Round and Round" and "Port of Amsterdam", feel like an actual part of the album's narrative and less like an afterthought or filler, as unfortunately was the case with "It Ain't Easy" before, which is certainly an improvement and benefits the album immensely.

As for the four sides' length, all sides clock in at around 22 minutes, which gives us a nice 90-minute album to listen to, as compared to the original's 38 minutes. If you wonder if the concept and the listener really benefit from doubling Ziggy Stardust and adding to its lore, I honestly think that the album really feels much more complete and in-depth than it did originally, and if not better (there are still those that feel that "less is more", and I'm certainly not a part of that group!), it certainly gives the story a complexity and fulfillment it didn't have originally, and we the listeners benefit immensely from that. The album cover is one of the outtakes from the original cover's photo session, which was also colorized and had the album's title added in. Makes for a nice change of pace, doesn't it? For bonus tracks, we can add the live "My Death" and "White Light/White Heat", to be completists, and even consider using "It Ain't Easy" as a non-album b-side to one of the album's many singles, as the tune would otherwise be homeless. Since Bowie's final character retirement almost four years ago, we have been left to celebrate all the great music he's left us, and I feel it's pretty appropriate that were's still discussing his songs and impact by now, while our Lad Insane is gone.

Sources:
- David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust (Deluxe Edition)
- David Bowie - Alladin Sane- David Bowie - Diamond Dogs
- David Bowie - Changesonebowie
- David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
- David Bowie - Bowie at the Beeb