Thursday, April 04, 2024

The Beatles - Introducing the Beatles (1962)

The Beatles entered Decca Studios in London on New Year's Day 1962, for their first-ever audition for a record label. Nervous, hungover from the previous night's celebration, and unable to use their own amplifiers, they struggled through fifteen songs, which were chosen as they best represented their live act at the time. The audition came about because Decca had been going through a major reshuffling in its roster, necessitating new artists, and through Brian Epstein's ties with Decca (he did own Liverpool's biggest record store, after all), he got them to do a Commercial Test, as they were called. Newly hired A&R man Mike Smith was the one put in charge of finding new talent, and even though he wasn't very impressed with their performance (especially with their drummer), he still thought them worthwhile and wanted to sign them. But because of company policy, Decca insisted he only sign one act out of the two he had recently auditioned: he'd get either Brian Poole and the Tremeloes or the Beatles. He went with the more professional and established Tremeloes, as they were the safer bet, and the Beatles drifted for a while before signing with Parlophone six months later. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But what if the Beatles had passed their Decca audition? To answer that question, we will be presenting the fifteen Decca audition songs as if they were the Beatles' first studio album, with all the necessary substitutions and tweaks being made for it to slide in easily along with the rest of the Beatles' discography. That means we will be removing any songs that were featured in actual Beatles albums, trying to make this into a standalone collection of songs, a snapshot of the Beatles during the Pete Best era. It will be presented in the order it was recorded, which means we'll forego any sequencing, and only songs that either feature Pete Best on drums or are known to be performed with him will be considered. Given that it was common practice in the UK to have recordings from auditions be released as an artist's first single at the time, it's not as insane as it seems to have the audition itself be commercially released, though it was rare to have artists release albums right out of the gate. Some suspension of disbelief will be needed, of course, as we'll be working within very tight constraints, but I'm sure we can put together a decent album with what we have. With that out of the way, here's what our Decca album looks like:

Like Dreamers Do (The Decca Tapes)
The Sheik of Araby (The Decca Tapes)
To Know Her is to Love Her (The Decca Tapes)
Take Good Care of My Baby (The Decca Tapes)
Memphis, Tennessee (The Decca Tapes)
Sure to Fall (The Decca Tapes)
One After 909 (Cavern Club Rehearsal)
Hello Little Girl (The Decca Tapes)
Three Cool Cats (The Decca Tapes)
Crying, Waiting, Hoping (The Decca Tapes)
September in the Rain (The Decca Tapes)
Besame Mucho (The Decca Tapes)
Searchin' (The Decca Tapes)
Love of the Loved (The Decca Tapes)

Download link:

Harrison, Best, McCartney & Lennon rehearsing at the Cavern in early 1962.

First of all, we need to get rid of the two songs that were later featured on With the Beatles in late 1963: "Money (That's What I Want)" and "Till There Was You", to avoid repetition. Now down to thirteen songs, our next task is to find one more tune to fill out the album and have it be a 14-track record, like all other Beatles records up to 1966. And although recordings from the Best era are pretty hard to come by, we do have a few candidates, such as a cover of Roy Orbison's "Dream Baby", recorded for their first BBC appearance later that March, and Joe Brown's "A Picture of You", also recorded for the BBC in June. The Lennon/McCartney original "One After 909", the only other original in their live repertoire by January 1962, survives as recorded in a rehearsal at the Cavern taped that August, with one caveat: Ringo's on drums. Pete had already been sacked by the time it was captured, so to include it, we'd have to deal with that anachronism. Given that they only performed three originals for Decca, "One After 909" seems like the most sensible inclusion, and we'll have to leave it to our imaginations as to what a version with Pete would have sounded like, had they recorded it properly for Decca in January 1962.

Clocking in at 33 minutes, Introducing the Beatles is a very capable, if not brilliant, debut album, one that shows both the strengths and weaknesses of the Beatles as they were in 1961. It's not, of course, anywhere near the level of any of their other studio albums, but as a curiosity, it does quite a good job. Would it have sold well? Who knows, but with "Hello Little Girl" b/w "Like Dreamers Do" as the first single, the two most immediately commercial and poppy songs performed at the audition, I'd say they'd have at least a fair shot at making the top 50. We title our reconstruction Introducing the Beatles as it sounds like the kind of generic first album title Decca would probably come up with, and it fits this collection of songs well. As for the album cover, it was made by AndrewskyDE over at SHF, and was one of the main inspirations behind this reconstruction, using one of the Beatles' best photos with Pete Best and the original Beatles logo as designed by Paul McCartney. So thanks to him! While Ringo and George Martin's absences are very much felt, this proves to be an invaluable document of the Beatles at their rawest, captured nervously trying to convince the Decca suits that their dream was worth it.


Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Clash - Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg (1981)

The Clash released their fourth studio album, Sandinista, on December 12, 1980, through Columbia Records. A triple album, it saw the band going further in their pursuit of different rhythms and sounds, which started with the release of London Calling the previous year. Received mostly with confusion, it failed to capitalize on the momentum of their previous album and didn't sell very well, probably on account of being a triple LP. However, critical acclaim was still considerable, and the album topped the Pazz and Jop poll of 1981, the best record of the year according to the critics. Their label wouldn't fund an American tour, so the band booked a now infamous residency of the Bonds casino in New York, and underwent a European tour in mid-1981, a band at their live peak promoting their brand new single "This is Radio Clash". Paul Simonon and Joe Strummer also felt the band's management was too boring and professional, and decided to hire back first manager Bernie Rhodes to reinstate the "chaos" and "chaotic" energy they felt they needed. Mick Jones was strongly against this, he didn't trust Rhodes and had many issues with him while he was their manager in 1977, but was forced to go along with it as he was outvoted. Meanwhile, Topper Headon was on a hundred-pounds-a-day habit of heroin and cocaine, probably oblivious to all of those issues and to the fact that the band was thinking of firing him because of his ever-escalating unreliability. It was under those circumstances that the Clash entered the recording studios in September 1981, to record their fifth studio album.

Already having "Sean Flynn" and "Car Jamming" in the bag from the sessions for the "Radio Clash" single back in April, the Clash recorded some eight additional tracks at the People's Hall in London that September, followed by a further ten at New York City's Electric Lady Studios between November and December. As they returned to England on New Year's Day 1982, the group had the makings of yet another multi-disc release in their hands. Mick Jones, who had acted as the de facto producer during the 1981 sessions, assembled an acetate of a double album, entitled Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg that January. Fifteen songs and seventy minutes long, the Clash had for the first time recorded songs that broke the five-minute barrier, and it was Jones' idea to showcase this as one of the main features of their new album. The others still weren't convinced, however, and the band went on their Far East tour of early 1982 still undecided about how to release this material. By the time they returned, it was decided to scrape the double album idea and instead release a single record, with shorter songs and only what they considered the best of the sessions. The man tasked with this was classic rock producer Glyn Johns, who in April remixed the twelve songs they considered best and assembled Combat Rock. With it, the band achieves the greatest commercial success of their career when "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" become hits, but at the cost of intensifying intra-band conflicts, with Headon fired in May and Jones in 1983, spelling the end of their classic lineup.

But what if The Clash had released Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg? It might be easier thank you think, as we know the tracklist as assembled by guitarist Mick Jones, we know the specific mixes he would have used, and we even have a drawing by Paul Simonon of what the cover would've been, where Bragg is curiously spelled as "Brag". That means all the harder issues are already solved for us and all that's left to do is to assemble the record, but there are some smaller problems we'll need to address nonetheless. The first is that we will be not including anything from the late 1981 sessions such as "Midnight to Stevens", "Walk Evil Talk", "Hell W10", "He Who Dares or is Tired" that doesn't have any clear link to the Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg album, as we'll be trusting Mick and the band's artistic vision for it, and considering that anything they didn't find worthy of the original list was probably going to end up in the cutting room floor nonetheless. The same goes for "This is Radio Clash" and its b-side of the same name, which as great as it is, was always meant to be a standalone single, and so it stays. While Glyn Johns did do a fantastic job when he was eventually put in charge of the project and assembled Combat Rock, we will always consider a vintage 1981 Rat Patrol mix over a Glyn Johns mix, unless no Mick Jones mix exists, in which case they're fair use. The same goes for the tracklist itself, we will not interfere with the 15-song list unless it's absolutely necessary for the goal of this reconstruction. With that out of the way, here's what our album looks like:

Straight to Hell (Sound System)
Know Your Rights (Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)
Rock the Casbah (Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)
Red Angel Dragnet (Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)
Should I Stay or Should I Go? (Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)
Ghetto Defendant (Sound System)
Sean Flynn (Sound System)
Car Jamming (Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)
The Fulham Connection II (Sound System)
Atom Tan (Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)
First Night Back in London (Sound System)
Long Time Jerk (Sound System)
Overpowered by Funk (Combat Rock)
Inoculated City (Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)
Death is a Star (Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)
Cool Confusion (Sound System)
Idle in Kangaroo Court W1 (Sound System)

Download link:

Simonon, Headon, Strummer, and Jones during their Asian tour, January 1982.

While low-fidelity copies of the original Mick Jones mix of Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg have circulated as a bootleg for quite some time, the first time anything from it was officially released was on the Sound System box set in 2013. There, the original versions of "Straight to Hell", "Rock the Casbah", "Ghetto Defendant", "Sean Flynn", "The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too", "Fight Night Back in London", "Cool Confusion" and "Kill Time" were included as part of the Extras disc, half of the album finally available in good quality. The other nine mixes would prove elusive, however, as the 40th Anniversary box set of Combat Rock outrageously didn't include any of those songs. It seemed as if the jarring experience of combining the Sound System tracks with the awful cassette leaks was as close as we'd ever get to the album, until in May 2021 an acetate from January 24, 1982, containing the original Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg showed up for auction. With it, mp3 files of what the acetate contained were made available for download. As easy as that, nearly forty years of searching ended in the most unexpected way possible! And sure, mp3 rips of an acetate aren't the master tapes, but when cleaned up correctly, it's good enough to be listened to alongside the Sound System tracks without distracting you too much. With that, we now have the vintage Mick Jones mixes of "Know Your Rights", "Red Angel Dragnet", "Should I Stay or Should I Go?", "Car Jamming", "Atom Tan", "Inoculated City", and "Death is a Star". And with that out of the way, the album has other problems we need to solve as well.

While it's a well-known fact that Mick Jones' original tracklist for Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg was fifteen songs long, starting with "Straight to Hell" and ending with "Idle in Kangaroo Court W1". A lesser known fact, however, is that Jones also planned for there to be a bonus 7" single that would come for free with the album: "Overpowered by Funk" b/w "Long Time Jerk". This practice was not new for the band, who intended to do the same with "Train in Vain" and "Armagiedon Time" on the London Calling album. However, they ended up scrapping the idea at the eleventh hour, with "Train in Vain" ending up as a hidden track. With that in mind, I believe that the same would have ended up happening here, as the bonus single really isn't practical for mass production, and the second disc of this record would be painfully short had we followed Jones' sequence faithfully. With that, we can add "Long Time Jerk" as the last song on side three and "Overpowered by Funk" as the first on side four and still end up with a 38 minute disc, compared to the 37 minutes of the first disc! Since "Long Time Jerk" as released on the "Rock the Casbah" single was already a Jones mix, we needn't worry about it. But since "Overpowered by Funk" only exists as the Glyn Johns mix from Combat Rock and a later dance remix, we'll have to break the rules and include the Combat Rock version of the song, as no Mick Jones mix is available. With those two inclusions, all the songs recorded during the Rat Patrol sessions for the album have made the cut, and we've fixed two of the main issues of the album at once. Not bad!

"Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" would certainly still be the two lead singles off the album, remixed by Glyn Johns for single release only. His are the versions sent to radio stations and included in the 7" singles, while Mick's are the ones that make the album. A "best of both worlds" scenario, where CBS gets its hit singles, The Clash gets its sprawling, weird double album and everyone is happy with the results. Single mixes/edits of album tracks were definitely nothing new by 1982, so I really don't see why this compromise couldn't have worked. Meanwhile, "Radio Clash" and "Midnight to Stevens" are their own thing, serving the same purpose to Fort Bragg as "Bankrobber" and "Stop the World" did to Sandinista, a stopgap single and a non-album b-side. There's no mistaking that on the account of being a double record, this would sell considerably less than Combat Rock, but lifted by the aforementioned singles, could still do some pretty good numbers. Certainly better than Sandinista, which pretty much sunk without a trace since it didn't have a clear lead single And while Combat Rock is certainly a much more concise and accessible album, I can't help but feel that Rat Patrol is the superior album out of the two. Call it overindulgent, call it over the top, but these seventeen songs are the logical conclusion of a trilogy beginning with London Calling and Sandinista in a way Combat Rock never seemed able to be, taking the world music influences and overall weirdness of the Clash to its logical limit, overpowered by a million different genres and by their own issues. 

- Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg [Acetate]
- Sound System [Box Set]
- Combat Rock

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Derek and the Dominos - One More Chance (1971)

Derek and the Dominos released their first album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, in November 1970 through Polydor Records. The band had formed after lead guitarist, vocalist and main composer Eric Clapton met keyboardist and vocalist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle, and drummer Jim Gordon while on tour with Delanie and Bonnie, and decided to form a group with those three, having just quit his last group, Blind Faith. The group's first recordings were made in May 1970, as a backing band to George Harrison in his triple All Things Must Pass album, with Phil Spector as the producer. From there, the band recorded their first single, with Spector as the producer (the single, "Tell the Truth" b/w "Roll it Over", ended up being canceled before release), played their first gigs, and stayed at Clapton's house to write the material for their first record. Once they'd gathered up some material, the band went to Miami's Criteria Studios, met guitarist Duane Allman, and well, the rest is history. What we got was one of the best double albums in the history of rock and roll, and probably Clapton's finest hour as a singer, guitarist, and composer. Following a tour (without Allman, who decided to stay with the Allman Brothers) that dragged on until December 1970, the band was looking forward to recording a follow-up to the Layla album, and cementing their reputation as one of the best live acts around.

However, not everything was roses within the band. All four of them were dealing with substance abuse issues and addiction, while drummer Jim Gordon was especially hard to deal with, mostly due to his then-undiagnosed schizophrenia in addition to his drug issues. There were also some creative issues at stake, more notably because Gordon wanted to write some of the band's repertoire, an idea that wasn't well-received by Whitlock and Clapton. It was with such tension and fracture that they entered Olympic Studios in London, in March of 1971, to record what would be the follow-up to Layla, and what we know now as the band's final recording sessions. They managed to record some 14 backing tracks, some of them with promise, others just meandering jams, and six more-or-less finished songs: "One More Chance", "Snake Lake Blues", "High", "Evil" (a Willie Dixon cover), "Mean Old Frisco" (also a cover, by Arthur Crudup) and the best of the bunch, "Got to Get Better in a Little While", which they'd also debuted live back in October 1970. However, the band's issues got the best of them, leaving all of this material unfinished and breaking up the band by that July. After the sessions inevitably broke down, the band splintered, with Gordon going on to tour with Traffic, Radle going back to being a session musician, Whitlock releasing solo albums, and Eric more or less going into hiding until 1974.

But what if Derek and the Dominos had finished their second album? Luckily for us, the Crossroads box set of 1988 already features a side's worth of material that comes from the 1971 Olympic sessions, five songs that give us a blueprint as to what that album would sound like. With that, all we have left to do is to assemble a second side, giving us a roughly ten-song-long album. When it comes to what can be included, it's ok to include solo Clapton or Whitlock songs, but they have to have a clear connection to the band and not simply feature other members of the Dominos, as many solo Bobby Whitlock songs did. Layla outtakes are fair game as well, so long as they too have a clear connection to the second album or were still performed live after the album was released. "Devil Road", a Renée Armand song with the foursome as her backing band, will not be included here, as it wouldn't really make sense to have a solo spot by someone outside the band on their album, even though this is quite a riveting performance of the song. Also, none of the very unfinished instrumentals from the sessions that can be found in bootlegs such as Substance will be considered, as they're nowhere near the level we'd expect from a Derek and the Dominos album, sounding much more like meandering jams than the finished songs we found on Layla. With that out of the way, here's what our album looks like:

Got to Get Better in a Little While (Crossroads)
Evil (Crossroads)
One More Chance (Crossroads)
Mean Old Frisco (Crossroads)
Snake Lake Blues (Crossroads)
High (There's One in Every Crowd)
Mean Old World (Crossroads)
Country Life (Bobby Whitlock)
Roll it Over (Crossroads)
Motherless Children (Crossroads)

Download link:

Clapton during rehearsals for the Concert for Bangladesh, August 1971.

Side one, as presented here, was issued in that very same order in the Crossroads box set in 1988, comprising the only five completed masters from the March/April 1971 Olympic Studios sessions. With two blues covers, an instrumental, and two new songs, it's certainly not much to write home about, but it has its moments. With this side of music already put together for us, we are halfway there to getting a second Derek and the Dominos record. But the second half will be a lot more difficult, as we've just about run out of completed studio tracks. Our first inclusion for side two will be one of the easiest, "High" from There's One in Every Crowd. It was first recorded during the '71 Olympic sessions as an instrumental backing track, and resurrected by Clapton for his third solo album in a version with vocals. Since we already have an instrumental on the album, I'll be including the vocal version of the song, even though it only features Clapton and Radle of the Dominos. Another song that later made a Clapton solo album, but had its origins within the Dominos was his cover of the Blind Willie Johnson song "Motherless Children", a staple of the Dominos' late 1970 gigs. Unfortunately, no good quality live recordings exist of the band performing the song, so we will have to substitute the solo Clapton version, which uses the exact same arrangement but again only features him and bassist Radle of the band.

Since keyboard player Bobby Whitlock co-wrote more than half of the Layla album, and had a solo lead vocal on "Thorn Tree in the Garden", it's only fair that he be awarded the same opportunity here. So filling his lead vocal quota is "Country Life", a song he recorded for his first solo album in early 1971 with Domino Carl Radle on bass. It was one of the few new songs the Dominos played live in their final tours of late 1970, which makes me think it would have been a contender for their second album, given the little material they had. The same opportunity will not be extended to drummer Jim Gordon, who recorded several demos in 1971 with songs such as "It's Hard to Find a Friend" and "Till I See You Again". Even though he contributed the famous piano coda to "Layla", none of that material comes even remotely close to the level of that piano part, and since he didn't write any songs on their first album, I doubt he'd get any on this second album as well. By now, we're scraping the bottom of the barrel, and we'll take Layla outtakes "Roll it Over" and "Mean Old World", and make them part of the record as well. Our reasoning is again taken from their live repertoire, as by late 1970 they were still strongly featured in their setlists, which leads me to believe Clapton hadn't given up on the two yet.

Clocking in at 41 minutes with two roughly twenty-minute long sides, One More Chance is a clear step down from the heights of the Layla album, but is nonetheless a strong record that actually points the way quite clearly to Clapton's solo career in its mix of laid back originals and choice cover cuts. And given that Eric spent 1972 and 1973 as a recluse who barely even touched a guitar, getting this album instead would have been a great thing, its actual quality notwithstanding. As for a lead single, the obvious and easy choice is "Got to Get Better in a Little While", by far the greatest of the finished songs, and already a live staple by the time it made it to the studio. I can see it getting quite a lot of airplay on FM radio in the 1970s, and pushing the album towards some pretty respectable sales. The artwork is another painting by the same artist who provided the Layla artwork, painter Fradsen de Shomberg. Instead of a lovely blonde girl, the artwork here has some darker undertones, to reflect Clapton's downward spiral toward heroin addiction and the intra-band conflicts that had become commonplace by then. It's a shame Clapton's greatest band only lasted for an album and a half before collapsing in a haze of drugs and in-fighting, as given the level of their live performance and the greatness of the Layla album, the Dominos certainly deserved at least one more chance.

- Eric Clapton - Crossroads [Box Set]
- Eric Clapton - There's One in Every Crowd
- Bobby Whitlock - Bobby Whitlock

Friday, February 23, 2024

The Beach Boys - Do It Again (1968)

The Beach Boys released Friends, their 14th studio album, on June 24, 1968 through Capitol Records. A slow seller, it became their worst-selling album ever up to that point, which came as a disappointment to the band. And in a year with releases as dark as Beggars Banquet and the White Album, and as politically charged as 1968, the relaxing and amicable vibes of the Friends album stuck out as a sore thumb, which certainly couldn't have helped sales or critical reception. However, it has since emerged as the cult classic it's always deserved to become, adored by many Beach Boys fans as one of the highlights of their post-Pet Sounds career and one of the best records of the 1960s. However, since they still needed to bounce back commercially from the album's failure, chief songwriters Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote and recorded "Do It Again", a throwback to their earlier surf rock sound with a nostalgic theme, in May 1968. From there, it was quickly released as a single and proved to be their first hit in quite some time, a relief for the band but not for Brian, who was hurt by the fact that their only recent hit was a reworking of their old formula, and whose mental health continued the slow deterioration that had begun in 1966. Still, between May and June 1968, Brian wrote and produced music as he had done for Friends, recording such originals as "All I Wanna Do", "Sail Plane Song" and "I Went to Sleep", and covers of songs such as "Old Man River" and "Walk on By".

Brian then spent most of July 1968 trying to finish "Can't Wait Too Long", an ambitious song that he'd been playing around with since the Wild Honey sessions. A big production that harkened back to the Smile days, Wilson once again was unable to finish the song even after spending countless sessions trying to perfect it. By this time, the fact that Brian was clearly unwell became quite clear to the rest of the group, and he admitted to having suicidal urges. And so with their support, it was decided that he would be institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital. Once he returns, he is unable to either finish what he'd started in the previous months or record any new material, and with that, the band (now led by his brother Carl) are forced to take Smile outtakes "Cabin Essence" and "Our Prayer" to pad out the album. Most of what he recorded before his institutionalization remains unfinished, and he only manages to arrange a cover of Leadbelly's "Cotton Fields", which was suggested by Al Jardine. Because of that, for the first time ever a Beach Boys album was primarily written, produced, and sung by members of the band other than Brian, and the album's uneven quality and disjointed nature shows. It was once again a commercial disappointment, even while featuring a hit single, and began a period of non-involvement from Brian which would only be broken by the Brian is Back campaign and the 15 Big Ones album. But what if Brian had managed to finish his follow-up to Friends?

In this reconstruction, we will be trying to piece together the album Brian Wilson was working on in mid-1968, before his mental health deteriorated further and he was institutionalized. This record would be the lost third part of a trilogy with Wild Honey and Friends, the last Beach Boys album to feature Brian at the helm until Love You in 1977. Much like those two, the album would feature eleven or twelve songs, and not be over thirty minutes in length, continuing the subdued, lo-fi sound of its two predecessors. As with Friends, this album would be mostly written and produced by Brian, but with one or two songs by the other band members, such as "Be Still" and "Little Bird", showing their growth as songwriters and Brian's slow distancing from the producer role. Only songs recorded before Brian's institutionalization will be considered, meaning we will have to cull our album from the May 1968 to July 1968 sessions. Of course, there will be one exception to that rule, which we will explain later. Likewise, nothing from before this batch of sessions will be considered, meaning things like Friends outtakes or "Time to Get Alone" can't be a part of the album, for better or worse. There really isn't much wiggle room with this material, so we'll be cutting really close to the bone, and making some pretty controversial decisions along the way, but that's the only way we can make something good out of this. All of that being said, here's what our lost 1968 Beach Boys album looks like:

Do It Again (20/20)
Sail Plane Song (I Can Hear Music)
We're Together Again (Made in California)
All I Wanna Do (I Can Hear Music)
Walkin' (I Can Hear Music)
The Nearest Faraway Place (20/20)
Old Man River (I Can Hear Music)
I Went to Sleep (20/20)
Mona Kana (I Can Hear Music)
Walk on By (I Can Hear Music)
Can't Wait Too Long (I Can Hear Music)

Download link:

Carl, engineer Stephen Desper, and Brian in the studio, sometime in 1968.

With that out of the way, all we need to do is take everything recorded between May and July 1968 and try to turn it into an album. We can start with the only two Brian Wilson productions from the Summer of 1968 that made the 20/20 album: the hit "Do It Again" and "I Went to Sleep". Along with those, Bruce Johnston's instrumental "The Nearest Faraway Place" features no involvement from Brian, but was recorded concurrently with most of this material, meaning it makes the album. Next, we have the most finished sounding outtakes of this era, those being "Walkin'" and "Sail Plane Song", from the I Can Hear Music box set, and "We're Together Again", from Made in California. While probably not release-ready yet, those songs were pretty far along and would take minimal overdubs to get released. Going into the more unfinished material, we have an edit of "Can't Wait Too Long", courtesy of Three Score and Five,  that collects exclusively the sections recorded in July 1968 for a possible single release. Clocking in at three and a half minutes, it's a reasonable length and is as close as we have to a finished version of the song, as it could have sounded like when included on the 20/20 album. We also have an edit of "All I Wanna Do", which puts together the June 1968 backing track of the song with the 1969 lead vocals of the finished Sunflower version. Again, this version was made by the great Three Score and Five, helping us get as close as possible to a finished version of it, as you'd hear in 1968.

Controversially, next we have AI-enhanced versions of "Walk on By" and the "Old Man River"/"The Old Folks at Home" medley, two unfinished covers from these sessions. While I have many ethical reservations towards the use of Artificial Intelligence, this was very tastefully done by the great Dae Lims, who has previously used this technology to create a custom mix of Smile. Besides, this sounds amazing and helps us get much closer to the album we're trying to piece together than would otherwise be possible. However, I understand if this is not something you are comfortable with, and if that's the case, feel free to replace them with their unfinished versions, as found on the I Can Hear Music box set. Finally, this version of "Mona Kana" was recorded in November 1968, which is out of the limits of our reconstruction. However, that same song was demoed by Dennis during the "Can't Wait Too Long" sessions in July, which in my mind makes it fair game as it at least dates to the Summer of '68, and gives us the eleventh song we needed to stretch this out to album length. With that, all that's left to do is to sequence the album. I took some cues from 20/20, such as starting the album with the single "Do it Again", finishing side one with Bruce's song, and having "I Went to Sleep" early on side two. Other than that, I figured that as the album's magnum opus, "Can't Wait Too Long" has a deserved spot as the album closer, while the others were just distributed based on where I thought they'd flow the best.

Since "Do It Again" was the band's first hit single in ages, I figured it would make sense to turn it into the title track of the album. Sure, it's not very representative of the rest of the album's sound, but Capitol would certainly consider it a good idea. "Can't Wait Too Long" b/w "I Went to Sleep" would probably be the second single, as that was Brian's intention while working on the former in July 1968. The cover is something I found on the internet, courtesy of u/skullman4289 on Reddit. It features a photo from the 20/20 shoot, which of course doesn't feature Brian. Now, normally this would have been a problem, since Brian is the main creative force behind the record, but given that photos of all six Beach Boys in 1968 are nigh-on impossible to find, it will be allowed. It clocks in at 29 minutes, with a slightly longer side one because of the extra song it features, another short album from the Beach Boys. While this is certainly a weaker album than Wild Honey and Friends, it's superior in almost every way to 20/20, a hodgepodge of songs by the other members of the Beach Boys and of earlier outtakes. This album actually feels like the logical step forward from Friends, and has the consistency to prove it. Given Brian's mental state at the time, the fact that he made as good as this is a testament to his talent as a songwriter and producer. It's just a great pity that the final Beach Boys album with Brian Wilson as the main creative force couldn't be finished, and we had to wait almost ten years for him to do it again.


Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Bruce Springsteen - Light of Day (1984)

Bruce Springsteen released his sixth studio album, Nebraska, on September 30, 1982, through Columbia Records. A batch of acoustic demos recorded between December 1981 and January 1982, it came out after Bruce shelved an entire electric album, deciding the demo tape better captured what those songs should sound like and where his head was at at that moment. Once the album was out, he decided not to tour in support of it, deciding to promote the album as little as possible. Instead, he spent his time hanging around the Jersey shore and appearing randomly at bars to sing oldies with bar bands. The shelving of the Murder Incorporated album also had other ramifications, with guitarist Steve Van Zandt deciding to leave the E Street Band and pursue a solo career. For the moment, his vacancy was unfilled, as the band had already recorded an album's worth of material and were on hiatus for the time being, but the departure of one of Bruce's best friends and confidantes was sure to be felt. As soon as he left, he formed the Disciples of Soul and released a very successful solo album, while still remaining in touch with Bruce and keeping their friendship alive. It was at this point that Bruce, having long struggled with his mental health and used his work as a form of escape, entered into a major depressive episode that culminated with him going into psychotherapy for the first time in his life, which he still frequents to this day, and moving out from his New Jersey home to the West Coast. 

Once living in Los Angeles, the first thing he did was install a home studio in his garage, which was ready by January 1983 and became the hub of most of Bruce's recording early in the year. He recorded roughly twenty songs there, tracking them completely alone with a drum machine. The material he recorded was of some quality, so much so that at some point he even considered releasing them as the followup to Nebraska, another solo acoustic record. However, he was quickly dissuaded from that and instead focused on another round of E Street Band sessions, trying to strengthen what he'd recorded with them the previous year, recording another album's worth of songs at New York's Hit Factory that May. Still paralyzed by his indecision, he couldn't decide what to release or if to release anything at all, and by July 1983 he had put together a new album sequence, only to once more shelve it and carry on recording. By the time February 1984 rolled around, even manager Jon Landau had put together a tracklist, eighty songs had been recorded, and Bruce was still dissatisfied and looking for the lead single for the album. At the eleventh hour, Bruce recorded "Dancing in the Dark", which seemed to be the hit he was looking for, finally allowing him to put together an album and release it in June 1984. With only four songs in it coming from after May 1982, and all four being absolute highlights of the album, it makes you wonder if the Hit Factory sessions don't deserve an album of their own.

But what if Bruce Springsteen made an album out of the songs he recorded between 1983 and 1984? This reconstruction is a sequel to the second half of my Murder Incorporated post, much in the same way my Unsatisfied Heart album was a sequel to Nebraska. It will be roughly twelve songs long, and feature the highlights of the sessions that immediately followed the shelving of the 1982 recordings, building an album around them for the very first time. Because of that, songs that were only meant to embellish the main BITUSA sessions now will become their own thing, a new Springsteen record that could've been released in 1984. Only songs known to have been recorded during the May 1983 to February 1984 sessions at the Hit Factory in New York will be considered, which means that songs such as "Seeds", written in November 1984 during the BITUSA tour and debuted live in 1985, won't qualify for this album. If a song was recorded as part of the 1983 solo demos and later re-recorded in the studio, it's fair play for inclusion, as long as the said re-recording is available to us. The two songs this applies to, "Cynthia" and "My Hometown", were part of my Unsatisfied Heart reconstruction, which I've since updated and which no longer features the two tracks. We will be basing ourselves on which songs Bruce felt were the best of the sessions instead of our own personal tastes, as it will create the most realistic album. With that out of the way, here's what our new album looks like:

Light of Day (Live 1987)
Cynthia (Tracks)
None But the Brave (Unsatisfied Heart)
Drop on Down and Cover Me (Unsatisfied Heart)
Man at the Top (Tracks)
Stand on It (Tracks)
No Surrender (Born in the USA)
Bobby Jean (Born in the USA)
Pink Cadillac (Tracks)
My Hometown (Born in the USA)
Dancing in the Dark (Born in the USA)
Janey Don't You Lose Heart (Unsatisfied Heart)

Bonus tracks:
Car Wash (Tracks)
TV Movie (Tracks)
Brothers Under the Bridges (Tracks)
Rockaway the Days (Tracks)

Download link:

Springsteen performing live during the Born in the USA tour, 1984.

Our first inclusions are relatively easy, all four songs from the 1983-84 Hit Factory sessions songs that made the BITUSA album: "No Surrender", "Bobby Jean", "Dancing in the Dark" and "My Hometown". All four are absolute highlights of the record, and cornerstones of our reconstruction. Following those, come the songs that made it to the 1983 preliminary tracklist but not the album itself: "Cynthia", "None But the Brave", "Drop on Down and Cover Me" and "Janey Don't You Lose Heart". Even though they lingered in the vaults, these are pretty good songs, and both "None But the Brave" and "Janey Don't You Lose Heart" would have been within the best songs on the album, so the fact that at one point Bruce thought these songs were good enough for the album makes them worthy of inclusion. Following those are the 1984/5 b-sides, as chosen by Bruce himself: "Stand on It" and "Pink Cadillac". The fact that he chose those two out of the nearly one hundred songs he'd recorded for the album tells us that he saw something in them, and we'll respect that by including them on the album. Most remaining songs from the 1983/84 period that made it to Tracks are fun, but inessential, certainly not good enough to stand with the other songs. So they become b-sides, those being "Car Wash", "TV Movie", "Brothers Under the Bridges", and "Rockaway the Days", helping us to present a full picture of the Hit Factory sessions and giving the fans who bought singles more value for their money. 

With that, we have ten album songs and five b-sides, leaving us with two vacancies on the album. How will we fill that? Luckily for us, two songs from the Hit Factory sessions were later performed live by Bruce during the 1980s: "Man at the Top" and "Light of Day". The first of those is relatively straightforward, a song recorded in January 1984 and performed live twice during the BITUSA tour to commemorate the album reaching #1, "Man at the Top". A good song that seems to be pretty dear to Bruce, given the circumstances. The other was "Light of Day", written in 1983 for filmmaker Paul Schrader, who used it as the title song to the 1987 movie of the same name. It was a hit single for Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox, the two stars of the film. By the time of the Tunnel of Love tour in 1988, it had taken the spot of "Rosalita" as the show closer for Bruce shows, where it would stay until 2002. If anything, that goes to show how much Bruce liked the track, and had it not been for the fact that he had already stolen the "Born in the USA" title from a Schrader script, he might've kept that one for himself too. Because of that, not only does it make the album, but it becomes the title track, in "Born in the USA"'s absence. Now, a studio recording of it has yet to surface, so for now a live version from a gig in Asbury Park in 1987 with the whole E Street Band will have to do. Does it sound out of place? Absolutely, but there's no way that song wouldn't make the record, so that's what we'll do.

The sequencing for this will be a mix of the final Born in the USA sequence, the lost 1983 album, and some guesswork, with our first guess being the new title track "Light of Day" in the lead-off spot. With that, all songs from the BITUSA album are on side two, making it insanely strong and featuring the best songs Bruce wrote in this period, and side one is mostly stuff that didn't make it to an album, while still being strong nonetheless. "Dancing in the Dark", "No Surrender", "My Hometown" and "Light of Day" would be the aforementioned five singles off the album, all with the capacity of becoming massive hits. As an album, Light of Day is a much poppier and lighter album than the original record, fusing the energy of The River's happier moments with the 1982 Murder Incorporated sound and rockabilly influences, making for a worthwhile successor to the aforementioned albums, and a nice companion to Unsatisfied Heart. With the album clocking in at more than 50 minutes, side one is much too long to fit on an album as it is, but counting on the fact that the studio version of "Light of Day" would be about a minute shorter, giving us a 49-minute record. The cover is a photo of Bruce in 1984, taken by Annie Leibovitz, the same photographer of the BITUSA cover, to which I superimposed the album title. It's quite interesting to hear the songs Bruce was writing during this strange period in his life, going through many changes and transformations before finally becoming the man at the top.

- Clinton Heylin - E Street Shuffle