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

Friday, October 04, 2019

The Beatles - Falling Rain (1970)


The Beatles' thirteenth and final album, Abbey Road, was released on the 26th of September, 1969, through Apple Records. It was recorded between February and August of the same year, immediately after their failed "Get Back" sessions of January, in which they tried to "strip down" all the complex overdubbed work they had done ever since the Beatles had stopped touring, and go back to a more natural, live sound. Said sessions ended with tensions very high and its album and television special both postponed indefinitely, after George Harrison quitting the band and then returning a few days later, and a couple of attempts of putting an album together by engineer Glyn Johns in February. With all those issues, it's surprising they were in such a good, amicable mood during the sessions for the Abbey Road album, when they reunited with George Martin and went back to their more traditional way of recording, with overdubs and all. That was always justified by all authors and biographers as the group knowing the whole thing was all over and giving it another go, to give the band a proper finale and a deserving farewell. However, that whole narrative started to become questioned when a tape of one of the final Beatles meetings was unveiled this year by Mark Lewisohn.

The meeting, which took place two weeks after the sessions for the album ended in August 20th, had three of the band members (with the exception of Ringo, who was sick and couldn't attend) discussing their plans for the band's next move, including another album and a single, possibly to be released before Christmas. What's more surprising about that is that John, who would famously quit the band only twelve days after that, seems to be the one that's the most interested and adamant about the band's future and his plans for it. He suggests that they divide the material more fairly, with four songs each for John, Paul, and George, and two songs for Ringo, "if he wants them". George is obviously a fan of the idea, and the formula is met with the most resistance by Paul, who responds with “I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good”, and seems uneasy with all those suggestions, being promptly rebutted by George and John. Either way, said tape goes to prove two things we all thought were the truth to be wrong: John's departure wasn't as planned and definitive as it would seem, at first, and they didn't plan for Abbey Road to be their final album from the beginning, and not even after it was finished.

So, what the whole world has been wanting to know ever since the band broke up is: what if they had done as planned and went along with John's idea? Well, how they would have done it is a pretty complicated question and involves a lot of issues, which are better not discussed. Let's just say that Paul received John's idea with more ease and went along with it, and the rest worked out well. However, for our timeline to work, we need to set up some lore first. First of all, for the whole timeline to work, the Get Back album needs to have come out sometime in early 1969, preferably March. The reason for that is that the band had just signed a new deal with Capitol Records for the distribution of their records, and they needed new product for the following year. In our timeline, that would be the Let it Be album, but without that, the commercial need for a new Beatles album would be yet another reason for them to make one last record. And considering things were definitely not as bad as they were at the beginning of the year, by then, I doubt they'd mind it that much. John still releases his solo singles and gets the Plastic Ono Band together, and George is planning to record a solo album late in the year, something he'd been considering since 1968. Also, any and all ideas for a concert or tour are obviously nixed.

For this to not become yet another "internet person puts his favorite solo Beatle songs together and calls it an album", we will have to take a different approach to piece together the Beatles' fourteenth album. And that will be selecting all songs that were either seriously rehearsed by them during the Get Back sessions or before, or were written during the band's existence and presented for consideration. There will be a couple of exceptions to that rule, which will be explained later, but it helps to keep proceedings historically accurate, instead of being yet another playlist. It would have been recorded between January and April 1970, being produced by George Martin, as usual, and recorded in Abbey Road studios, as all other Beatles albums had been. We will mostly keep to the 4-4-4-2 rule, with one exception: Ringo only gets one song. And that's for two reasons, firstly due to time constraints, as the songs are pretty long and 14 songs would be stretching the length a record can store, and that he only really had one good song ready, so why bother giving him two? It would then feature 13 songs, as well as a non-album single, "Maybe I'm Amazed", with Ringo's "Early 1970" as the b-side. Without further ado, here's our tracklist:

Gimme Some Truth (Imagine)
All Things Must Pass (All Things Must Pass)
Every Night (McCartney)
Mind Games (Mind Games)
I Me Mine (Let it Be)
That Would Be Something (McCartney)
Isn't it a Pity? (All Things Must Pass)
-
Another Day (Ram)
Let it Down (All Things Must Pass)
Jealous Guy (Imagine)
It Don't Come Easy (Ringo)
Oh My Love (Imagine)
The Back Seat of My Car (Ram)

Bonus tracks:
Maybe I'm Amazed (McCartney)
Early 1970 (Ringo)


The group during their final photoshoot, August 22nd, 1969

First off, we have a couple of songs that despite fitting in with the rules of this reconstruction, will not be included in the album. Those are "Teddy Boy" and "Junk", by Paul, which were already presented to the band on multiple occasions and rejected by all of them. John explicitly said that he thought lesser songs such as Maxwell's Silver Hammer should be given to other artists, and I think that's what would happen to both songs. John's "Look at Me" is a different story, as it is a bit too similar to "Oh My Love", with the latter being the better tune. As for George's many rejects, I only added songs that were seriously considered by the band, and left the rest to fill up his solo record. There are also some songs that break the rules, and those are "That Would Be Something", which despite being written in November 1969, was a favorite of George's, and fills up Paul's fourth spot, as it was empty by then. The single, Maybe I'm Amazed, was also written later, sometime in January, but gets a pass. Ringo's two songs also were written after our stipulated date, but still pass, as they are the only way we'd even have anything from him. The sequencing was lightly based off on Abbey Road's, especially on side one, and mostly on what I thought fit the best together, giving us two sides verging on 24 minutes.

As for the writing dates, most songs date from the Get Back/Let it Be sessions, with a couple of exceptions. Those include Jealous Guy, which was begun as Child of Nature in India, before being rewritten for John's Imagine album, not being recorded for the White Album as it was considered too similar to "Mother Nature's Son". Go figure. "Isn't it a Pity?" dates all the way back to Revolver, and goes a long way showing how neglected George's songwriting was by the rest of the band, from early on. "Let it Down" and "Oh My Love" both date from November 1968, the first being the result of George going to spend Thanksgiving with Dylan and the Band, and the latter written and first demoed when John was moving out from his Kenwood home, following his divorce. Two of John's songs, the aforementioned "Oh My Love" and "Gimme Some Truth", even feature George on guitar, and both George and Ringo guest on each other's songs, giving them even more credibility as Beatles tracks. And although it might seem strange to have "I Me Mine" in here, we have to take into account that the band wouldn't have added it to LIB in our timeline, leaving it as an option for us. And having a song with more than two Beatles on a Beatles record is always a good thing!

As for the arrangements, not much would change on Paul's songs, considering they were pretty stripped down and Beatlesque as they stand. The more obvious changes would be John and George doing the harmonies instead of Linda, maybe some electric guitar by George on "Every Night", and so forth. I could also see the second solo on "Maybe I'm Amazed" being written by Harrison, and John urging McCartney to turn the scat sections of "The Back Seat of My Car" into actual lyrics. As for John, we would have less Spectorized production on his Imagine numbers, and nice George Martin string arrangements being given to those and "Mind Games", as well as much better bass lines and occasional guitar parts, of course. As for George's songs, those would be the ones with the most radical changes, I think, sounding much more like "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" in terms of production. The horrible Mariachi-like horn sections of "All Things Must Pass", "It Don't Come Easy" and "Let it Down" would be gone, and John and Paul would have a field day on the harmonies, as well as making the bass much more interesting. "Isn't it a Pity?" would obviously be the short version, and all guitars would be handled by him, with no need for Clapton.

I chose the title Falling Rain, from one of the only two verses of "That Would Be Something", as it has a nice ring to it, especially paired with Linda McCartney's picture of the cherries, which I personally think is one of the best covers of all time. A pretty introspective and sometimes dark album, it sounds to me like a midway point between Let it Be's tension and strive, and Abbey Road's more relaxed polishedness, showing a much more mature band, with some lighter moments courtesy of Ringo and Paul. In addition to the "Maybe I'm Amazed" single, I can easily see "Jealous Guy" and "Isn't it a Pity" getting released as a double a-side single, as was the case with "Something" and "Come Together" in 1969. Falling Rain would also signal a return to more consise, song-focused songwriting, after their experimentation with the Abbey Road Medley and its expanded format. It would obviously sell well and be lauded accordingly by the critics, as it really stands well as an album even when collected from solo recordings. We all know we will never know for sure what's the answer to the perennial "what if the Beatles never broke up?" question, but that's really part of why it's so much fun to even wonder in the first place, playing this mind game.

Sources:
- John Lennon - Imagine
- George Harrison - All Things Must Pass
- Paul McCartney - RAM
- Paul McCartney - McCartney
- John Lennon - Mind Games
- Ringo Starr - Ringo
- The Beatles - Let it Be

Friday, May 31, 2019

Grateful Dead - Ace (1971)


The Grateful Dead released their fifth studio album, American Beauty, in November 1970. The followup to that same year's Workingman's Dead album, it was extremely well received by the critics, and sold exceptionally well in comparison to their previous albums. It continued the country/folk influenced sound of its' predecessor, with more focus on harmonies and more concise songs in acoustic arrangements, inspired by their friends from CSN&Y and their Jug Band roots. It came in a high point in the band's creativity, with Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter writing most of the songs on both records, and creating some of the best and most enduring songs to ever come out of the Dead. It also saw the first and only time the group released two studio albums in a single year, demonstrating how much the band had evolved creatively in such a short period. Their live shows had also changed considerably, changing the focus from freeform jamming to some more organized songs and even country covers, such as Merle Haggard's Mama Tried and Jesse Fuller's Beat it On Down the Line. At one point, the band even included an acoustic set to their performances, a far cry from the seven-headed monster from Live/Dead!

So it should've come as no surprise when in February 1971, the Dead had a brand new batch of original tunes to premiere. Over two shows in Port Chester on the 18th and the 19th, seven songs were debuted, including Garcia's Deal, Bird Song, Loser, Bertha, and Wharf Rat, and Bob Weir's Playing in the Band and Greatest Story Ever Told. Those songs were pretty well received, and the concert in the 19th is even considered one of 1971's best by more fanatical Deadheads. Almost all of those songs would become live staples by them, played in almost every tour from here onwards. They're also, in my and most people's opinion, easily some of the best songs the band ever wrote, with even the members themselves expressing their liking for this material. Those Port Chester gigs were also important as they signaled a lineup change for the band, with the leaving of second drummer Mickey Hart, and the ever-diminishing input of Pigpen, whose health was getting frail even by then. With so many changes and such good material coming out of them, it was to be expected that a new studio record by them was on its way, both to capitalize on the success of American Beauty and provide a third part to the "Cowboy Dead" trilogy, as Robert Hunter put it.

But somehow, that didn't happen. Warner Bros. Records, their label, offered some of the band members solo album deals, due to the sudden success of the American Beauty LP. Unexpectedly, Jerry took on the offer, and set off to record his first solo record that July (it was later revealed he only did so to buy a house with the advance money, since his wife had just given birth). Titled simply Garcia, it featured him in all instruments except drums, which were handled by bandmate Bill Kreutzmann, and featured three of the Port Chester debuts, as well as some other songs and an instrumental suite. Due to that, the band decided to release some April gigs they had recorded as a live album, titled Skull Fuck (as in blow your mind, go figure), which featured three other of the new songs, as well as some covers and live staples. With that, any hope of a new studio record in the near future was all but gone, with the band taking the same route of live records and solo albums for 1972. The live Skull Fuck album became the Dead's best selling record till then, managing to hit the top 40 and get Gold album status, most likely due to their rise of prominence in 1970. The next Grateful Dead studio record would be Wake of the Flood, released in late 1973.

But what you may already know I'm going to ask is: what if they had actually made a studio album in 1971, instead of taking on Warner's solo album deal? To figure that out, we'll need to set some ground rules first. First of all, we will set the limit date for when the songs were written to July '71, which was when Jerry and Billy entered the studio to record, and would most likely be when the actual band would record this album, too. Therefore, any song from before that is fair game to be used in the LP. Also, no covers will be included in this album, because even though they were a big part of their repertoire back then, none of their albums after Anthem of the Sun featured any, and they had a whole slew of great originals to use instead, rendering such a thing pointless. Studio recordings are highly favoured for this reconstruction, even though there are a couple of (pretty justifiable, I'd say) exceptions. I will also try my best to stay within 1971 in here, without any anachronistic live versions from 1977 to confuse things further. This means solo Garcia material will be featured, with my explanation of how their arrangements would change when played by the Dead helping glue the material together. To not play with your patience further, here's our tracklist:

Bertha (Skull Fuck)
Sugaree (Garcia)
To Lay Me Down (Garcia)
Playin' in the Band (Skull Fuck)
Loser (Garcia)
-
Deal (Garcia)
Bird Song (Garcia)
Mr. Charlie (Europe '72)
Greatest Story Ever Told (Ace)
Wharf Rat (Skull Fuck)

Bonus tracks:
The Wheel (Garcia)
Fletcher Carnaby (Rolling Thunder)

Weir and Garcia performing live, April 1971



The album's sequencing is mostly taken from the Garcia record, which was sequenced pretty well, and has a nice, cohesive feel to it. Only minor changes will be made, with Deal and Bird Song being switched over to side two, and the other songs being added to the album. To start off, we can already exclude a couple of tracks. The first thing that goes away is the instrumental Eep Hour suite, which despite being pretty cool, is a bit too experimental for a "Cowboy Dead" record, and was never performed live with the band anyway. Also excluded is The Wheel, which despite my love for it, was only "discovered" by the band in '76, being written in the studio out of a couple of Garcia/Kreutzmann jam sessions, which would obviously not have happened had there been a Dead album. Other than that, all album songs not debuted in Port Chester, such as To Lay Me Down (an American Beauty outtake) and Sugaree (written in June and first played in late July) are included, as well as Weir's two tunes and a Pigpen song. That song, of course, is Mr. Charlie, which was written around the same period as Sugaree, being debuted at the same gig as the latter, on the 31st. Also added, obviously, are the two Garcia originals from Skull Fuck, which are live versions.

As for arrangements, I will take the band's subsequent live performances of the tracks, mostly from the late '71/early '72 period, as a guideline for how the band would record these tunes, sort of creating some hybrid versions. Bertha, Playin' in the Band and Wharf Rat are already live/studio hybrids, with re-recorded lead and backing vocals, as well as an organ overdub by band friend Merl Saunders, so I'd think the three of them would stay intact, other than Wharf Rat getting shortened by a minute and a half, to better fit on the album and cut out some of the jamming. Mr. Charlie, the only other live track in here, is also a live/studio hybrid already, and would stay mostly the same, other than removing Keith Godchaux's piano playing, which besides being a bit unnecessary, would also be anachronistic as he hadn't yet joined the band. There are anachronistic elements all over the studio version of Greatest Story Ever Told, too, with both Keith and Donna being all over it. As for Donna's backing vocals, they would simply be removed, with Bobby singing solo, and Keith's piano part, vital to the tune, would simply be played by one of Howard Wales or Ned Lagin, who played as session musicians for the Dead before, and would regularly sit in with them around that time.

Deal would retain it's studio arrangement, as other than the pedal steel guitar part, it would be played the same way live, with only the addition of some backing vocals by Bob on the chorus, and a piano part (most likely handled by Ned Lagin, on this reconstruction) to add some colour to it. In contrast, Bird Song would most likely retain its live arrangement, with the only differences being the rhythm part being played in acoustic guitar, the exclusion of Godchaux's piano part, as well as reduced length, somewhere around the length of the studio version for obvious reasons. As for Sugaree and Loser, their already fantastic studio arrangement would be kept, with only a piano part in Sugaree and backing vocals in the "Last fair deal in the country" portion of Loser being added in here. To Lay Me Down would have kept its studio arrangement too, with Jerry still playing the piano part, and his friend Howard Wales handling the Hammond organ portion of it. As compared to the other two albums from the trilogy, it has all the trademark features the others had, with the only thing missing being a Phil Lesh writing credit, as he didn't contribute much to this material, god knows why, having co-written a song on each of the two records before this one.

This record clocks in at about 48 minutes with even timed sides, which was fairly long for vinyl, but with the editing we mentioned earlier, could be avoided quite easily. In my opinion, any album with these songs in it could compete as an equal with both AB and Workingman's Dead, and in the right night even beat the both of them as my favorite GD studio album. The critics would most likely agree, giving Ace the same positive reviews they were getting back then, and commercially, the album would probably chart as high as the live album, or even better, considering it was a single album instead of a double, and therefore cheaper. The album lacks a clear lead single, though, and both Bertha and Playin' in the Band could serve that purpose rather well, if not ideally. The album is named that due to the very uncommercial nature of the Skull Fuck title, as well as the many cards references through the album, and the fact that Bobby thought that it was a good enough title for his own record, a year after that. Due to that, we do some more recicling and use the Garcia album cover, renamed and repackaged, to avoid using Weir's bad album cover in this reconstruction. Even though things worked out pretty well for the band, in the long run, it would still be interesting to see how things would turn out, had they played their cards differently.

Sources:
- Jerry Garcia - Garcia
- Grateful Dead - Skull Fuck
- Grateful Dead - Europe '72
- Bob Weir - Ace
- Mickey Hart - Rolling Thunder

Monday, April 29, 2019

George Harrison - George Harrison (1969)


The Beatles' self-titled double album was released in November 22nd, 1968 by Apple Records. It was very important for a number of reasons: it was the group's first (and only) double LP, and began a trend that saw band members collaborating less and less while working on songs, leading to some calling the record "four solo albums at once". Most significantly, it signaled a very sharp increase in the quality of George's output, with his While My Guitar Gently Weeps rivaling most of John and Paul's tunes on the record, and even being considered the best track on it by some. The problem for Harrison, however, was that the rest of the band didn't seem to catch on to that, and he felt rather sidelined when there came the time to contribute material, only getting two or three songs out while Lennon & McCartney dominated their output. To further his discontent, after the release of the album, George visited Bob Dylan and The Band in their country home of Woodstock, NY, and became rather impressed by their communal and democratic style of writing and recording, with everyone getting an equal say. The trip also saw a great burst of creativity for him, penning a couple of songs during and shortly after it, as well as even co-writing two songs with Bob Dylan, who was seemingly pretty impressed by Hari's songwriting back then.

So it must have been quite the reality shock for the guitarist to return home and play with the Beatles again during the Get Back sessions, that January. He had stockpiled a rather large amount of tunes, between the Woodstock trip and then, but saw his songs once more being ignored in favor of subpar material, such as Maxwell's Silver Hammer and Dig a Pony. To add insult to injury, he had to suffer through thousands of takes of the duo's songs, while his were met with subpar performances and half-assed attempts at best, even when the tune in question was much better than what they had to offer. Things came to a point that after a week of sessions, he quit the band on January 10, citing the endless takes and perfectionism of Paul, their ignoring of his material, and the fact they were being filmed as the prime reasons for that. They managed to coax him back a couple of days afterward, but the seed of his detachment of the band was already there. As such, he and Lennon discussed plans of him making a solo album that year, to "let all those songs out", and not having to worry about them not being recorded by the Beatles, something which Lennon encouraged and approved of. The rest of the Get Back sessions went by without much more tensions between him and the band, as he had become quite detached and bored by then, only contributing the bare minimum.

His plans for a solo record, however, didn't seem to go much further than that brainstorming session in mid-January. By February, the Beatles had gotten back to recording together the usual way, with much less tension than before. The fact John got into a car accident sometime around then made it necessary that George and Paul collaborated a lot more than usual, and they did so in good terms. A good example of the collaboration between the two being Paul's superb bass playing in Something, which was the first A-side Beatles single written by him. It was a very popular track, and it even managed to get to the Top 5 in the American singles chart, getting almost universal acclaim alongside Here Comes the Sun, his other song on the album. If there was any doubt of George's growth and excellence as a songwriter by then, it was all but eliminated with the release of those two fantastic tracks. After the release of the album, however, Lennon privately announced he was leaving the group, and the band proceeded to splinter. George went and toured with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, him already being a pretty big fan of the duo and their backing band, those being his first live performances since 1966, and finally decided to make his first solo album, recording and releasing the majestic All Things Must Pass album in 1970.

However, what you might have figured out I'd ask is: what if he had made a solo album in mid-1969? If he had followed suit with his plans to record a solo LP with all the songs he had stacked by then, what would that look like? Well, to figure that out, we need to set some ground rules first. The first one would be of a "deadline" to when the album's songs can be written, or at least begun. That deadline would be sometime in August 1969, which is right before the Beatles disbanded and he went on tour with Delaney and Bonnie, that signaling the end of his November 1968 begun writing streak. Also because of that, For You Blue won't be considered as a contender for the record, as it was already recorded with the Beatles for the Let it Be album by then, and we will focus on the February/August period for recording, that putting the album's release sometime in November. The album would most likely feature some 10/12 songs, considering the standard length of the albums back then and the amount/quality of songs he had. Such a record would absolutely feature his two Abbey Road tunes, as I think he'd want to give his solo career the best shot possible, and give something more subpar like Window Window to them in order to still contribute to the band. Anyway, without extending this any further than we already have, here's our tracklist:

What is Life (All Things Must Pass)
Something (Abbey Road)
All Things Must Pass (All Things Must Pass)
Old Brown Shoe (Past Masters)
Behind that Locked Door (All Things Must Pass)
Isn't it a Pity? (All Things Must Pass)
-
Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road)
Wah Wah (All Things Must Pass)
Let it Down (All Things Must Pass)
The Art of Dying (All Things Must Pass)
Run of the Mill (All Things Must Pass)
Hear Me Lord (All Things Must Pass)

Bonus tracks:
I Me Mine (Let it Be... Naked)
I'd Have You Anytime (All Things Must Pass)
Window, Window (Beware of ABKCO)

George playing in Apple Studios, January 1969

Considering the amount of breathtaking classics he had available back then, it's honestly not too hard to make a great album out of this, and what I first decided on was the opening and closing tunes for each side. The obvious choices were ending the sides with "the epics", namely Isn't it a Pity and Hear Me Lord, and beginning side two with catchy upbeat Here Comes the Sun. The album opener was a more complicated choice, but What is Life with its long instrumental intro, upbeat nature and even "welcoming" feel, make it a pretty natural opener. From then on, I tried to fill out the middle with what I considered the best tracks on the record, while spacing out the Beatles tunes as much as possible. Right out of the gate, I was able to exclude both Window, Window and I Me Mine, as neither were considered by George for release back then, with IMM only being brought back to fill the Let it Be album. So we end up with nine songs to fill eight possible slots, with either Old Brown Shoe or I'd Have You Anytime getting the boot. I, unfortunately, went with the latter, as Old Brown Shoe manages to serve as a more upbeat fun track, which this album, aside from WIL, HCTS and Wah Wah, seriously lacks. However, I still see fit for it to be used as a non-album b-side, for it to not be wasted, or even a single if George is feeling audacious.

A small change that would make one hell of a difference to the ATMP tracks is the lack of Phil Spector on the producer's chair. Instead of him, it would have most certainly been produced by George himself, with orchestrations and co-production by his friend John Barham, who co-produced his Wonderwall LP as well. As a result, the album would probably have a much more stripped down and cleaner sound, more akin to the Abbey Road LP than Spector's reverb-laden Wall of Sound. The personnel would also change a bit, as he hadn't met Delaney & Bonnie and Friends by then yet, so no Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, and no horns. It would most likely consist of the rest of the ATMP personnel, minus Badfinger and plus some other big names at the time like Nicky Hopkins, only this time not playing all at once on the same song. Another big difference in the album's sound would be that Harrison only started developing his now trademark slide technique during the D&B tour, so it would too be absent here. Instead, the predominant guitar sound would most likely be the Leslie speaker combo he premiered on Cream's Badge and used all through 1969. Another change is that some of the songs, most notably Wah Wah, probably wouldn't be as overlong, since we're not talking about a double album anymore, and some editing would be needed to make this fit into two sides.

Regarding the arrangements, What is Life would feature more or less the same arrangement, perhaps without the horns and more prominent backing vocals. Something would hopefully keep its arrangement, and since Paul and George were in good terms back then, I can even see him guesting on bass on this track, preserving its iconic bassline in here. Next up is All Things Must Pass, which would most likely feature more prominent harmonies and none of those distracting horn parts, sounding more like the Band-inspired track that it actually is. Old Brown Shoe would sound more or less like it does now, as would the Band-soundalike Behind that Locked Door, being the last-written track on the record. Isn't it a Pity would sound pretty much like the 2nd version of it on the 1970 album, providing a great end to side one. Here Comes the Sun remains untouched, and Wah Wah would probably get its reverb washed out and get shortened by a good minute and a half. Getting rid of the horns and orchestration would be good too! Let it Down would probably keep its bombastic nature and great orchestral arrangement, while The Art of Dying would exchange its mariachi band thing for a more guitar fuzz-led arrangement. Run of the Mill stays the same, as it too already sounds like a great stripped down track, and Hear Me Lord would probably just tone down on the reverb, while keeping its epicness intact.

This album would be titled simply George Harrison, I think, and to further represent that, the cover is simply a picture of him from April 1969 with his name superimposed at the top. The album clocks in at almost 50 minutes, and would most certainly have Something as it's lead single, followed perhaps by Here Comes the Sun. Commercially, it would no doubt perform pretty darn well, as it was the first real solo album by a Beatle, and before the band even broke up per se. And as for its impact on the breakup, I don't think it would have much impact, since John would already have quit the group even before this record hit the stores. The change I can see happening is that this album, not McCartney six months later, is followed by the breakup announcement and following acrimony and sorrow. As for critical acclaim, I don't think any album with this caliber of songwriting, cast, and performance could be considered weak, and the press at the time would certainly be as surprised and overjoyed by the album as they were by All Things Must Pass. The thing this lacks, for good or bad, is the sheer scope and message that releasing the triple album we all know and love had, showing everyone just how good of an artist he was. But for all the epicness and sheer magnitude this misses, it compensates with simplicity and ease not found on the original, showing you just how much difference a year can make. 

Sources:
- George Harrison - All Things Must Pass
- The Beatles - Abbey Road
- The Beatles - Past Masters
- The Beatles - Let it Be... Naked
- George Harrison - Beware of ABKCO (bootleg)