Friday, November 19, 2021

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Ranch Romances (1976)

Neil Young released his seventh studio album, Zuma, in November 1975 through Reprise Records. It was the first of his to be co-credited to Crazy Horse since 1969, a six-year-long absence caused mostly due to the premature death of guitarist Danny Whitten in 1972. The rhythm section of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina never ceased recording with Young, however, making significant contributions to most of Young's records during the 1973/74 period, even serving as the bass/drums duo for the Santa Monica Flyers. By November 1974, the idea of a version of Crazy Horse without Whitten became a possibility, when he was introduced to Talbot's friend and guitarist Frank Sanpedro. After recording a single song together, the foursome decided to try again sometime in the future, and so they did at a rented house in Point Dume, California in May 1975. From these sessions came what became the Zuma album, with Young stepping away from the darkness of the Ditch period into something different, more fun and upbeat, but still with an edge. If Neil had changed, so had the Horse, as they no longer sounded like the Whitten-led group of 1969 and 1970 in the slightest. Sanpedro's style of playing was considerably different to Danny's, and in Frank's own words, Neil had to "dumb down" many of the songs for him to play them properly. This lead to a very heavy and distorted sound, which would end up becoming the trademark of this new Crazy Horse, which lasted a good 40 years.

With the rebirth of the backing band he so dearly loved and going through one of the most prolific phases of his entire career, Neil and the Horse went on the road in Dec. 1975, touring anonymously in random California bars, and also spent a lot of time at his studio at his home at Broken Arrow Ranch, recording new songs for future use. A mere two months after the Point Dume sessions were done, the group was already back in the studio recording more material, as fast as NY could write it. It was in this atmosphere that the concept of an album called Ranch Romances was born. First as a working title for a future Young album, which would feature all of the songs the Horse had been recording on and off at the Ranch in between late 1975 and early 1976. This concept didn't go as far into the planning stages as something like Oh Lonesome Me or Last Dance did, though, as no final tracklist was ever agreed upon, and we only have a pretty vague idea of what it was. But, Neil being Neil, he did as he always does and abruptly decided to do something else, this time recording an album with former Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills and going on tour with him. The band only heard of this way later, and were confused as NY had promised them they'd tour in the summer of '76 after their album came out, which was shelved in favour of the Stills-Young project. Neil would later regret this decision, but for now, the damage was done, and the Ranch Romances album was left unfinished.

So, what we're going to tackle today is: what if Neil and the Horse had released a follow-up to Zuma? And to answer that question, some rules have to be put forth first. First of all, everything in this reconstruction has to have been recorded at Broken Arrow Ranch, as per the name of the album, during the September 1975 to January 1976 period, with one main exception to be explained later, as well as one song which wasn't recorded but is from the same batch of songs and only was performed live. Neil wasn't the type to follow recording sessions and album concepts too literally, so we have a lot of leeway when considering what to include on the album and what not to. The fact that he never specified what the Ranch Romances concept meant certainly helps as well. Thanks, Neil! To mirror Zuma even further, we'll be aiming at replicating its roughly nine-song, 40-minute format, adjusting our material to fit it. Most of the songs should and will feature CH, obviously, but up to two solo acoustic Neil songs are allowed as well, as was the case with "Pardon My Heart" and "Through My Sails" on Zuma. All songs will be sourced from official releases and will be studio recordings, with the main exception of the aforementioned "Country Home", which will come from a Timeline Gig release by Neil, which was released exclusively on his web archives, and is the highest quality we have. Without any further ado, let's have a look at what this hypothetical Ranch Romance could have looked like:

Country Home (Live in Boulder, 1976)
Lotta Love (Archives Vol. 2)
Like a Hurricane (Archives Vol. 2)
Too Far Gone (Archives Vol. 2)
Pocahontas (Archives Vol. 2)
No One Seems to Know (Archives Vol. 2)
Let it Shine (Archives Vol. 2)
Sedan Delivery (Chrome Dreams)
Look Out for My Love (Archives Vol. 2)

Molina, Talbot, Sanpedro, and Young in late 1975

Throughout this period of September 1975 through January 1976, Neil and the Horse recorded eight songs at Broken Arrow Ranch's studio, and debuted one more during their December 1975 Bar Tour. That September, they recorded the electric version of "Pocahontas", the solo "No One Seems to Know" and the famous take of "Too Far Gone" with Poncho on mandolin. In November, time was devoted for remakes of "White Line" and "Homegrown", both from the then-unreleased Homegrown album, as well as one of Neil's greatest ever songs, "Like a Hurricane". During the month, "Country Home" was also rehearsed with the band, and even debuted live at the Boots and Saddles Bar in La Honda on the 7th of December, but was not recorded properly in the studio until 1990, when it became part of Ragged Glory. Why that is is frankly a mystery to me, as it's easily one of his greatest songs, and remained the opening song of their electric set throughout 1976. After the Bar Tour in January, and right before Young went to Miami to record with Stephen Stills in early February, he and CH recorded the final two songs from the sessions, "Lotta Love" and "Look Out for My Love", which serve as mellower and more acoustic counterparts to the rest of the album's material. With almost a whole album's worth of material recorded entirely at Broken Arrow Ranch and most of those songs' lyrics being about falling in of love, you can see why he considered Ranch Romances a good album title.

However, we won't be able to simply package those nine songs together and call it a day for continuity reasons: "White Line" and "Homegrown" belong in the Homegrown album, and including them here would make our whole timeline go out of whack. So, we will need to replace them with something, and for that, we first look at a song from the Point Dume sessions: "Sedan Delivery". Considering a take of it was included in Chrome Dreams in early 1977, we can tell he considered it to be release-worthy and good enough for an album, and he might as well have released it on this one. From Neil's Feb. 1976 sessions with Stills, "Let it Shine" is the most Horse-like, and since they played it live with no changes to arrangement, you can almost pretend it's them. And so we will, making it the only song not from our stipulated timeframe. And since we don't have a 1975 "Country Home", a live version from a November 1976 Timeline Gig from Boulder, Colorado will have to do instead. It's pretty good, and the fact that it was officially released means it's one of the few release-quality versions of it we have. As for the album's sequencing, half of it was taken from their setlists ("Country Home" as the opener, "Lotta Love" and "Hurricane" following each other), and the other is taken from Chrome Dreams ("Like a Hurricane" followed by "Too Far Gone", "Look Out for My Love" as the album closer, "Pocahontas" as a side opener, and so forth), making the album as cohesive as possible by combining them. And I think we have managed to create a record that flows pretty well and works as a piece.

With two sides that clock in at precisely twenty minutes, Ranch Romances is the mellower part two to Zuma, exchanging the former's more agressive and sometimes even resentful tone for a more laid back, relaxed and even sometimes acoustic sound, which is not without its exceptions, of course, as the album has its fair share of rocking songs. As far as the songs go, Neil was at his absolute peak during this time period, and it clearly shows when we examine this reconstruction track by track. This record stands up pretty well next to Zuma, equalling it or even surpassing it in individual quality, only maybe losing in cohesion and feel. To reinforce this album's connection with what was supposed to be its predecessor, we use another drawing by Mazzeo, the same man who made the Zuma cover, but color inverted to be white on black instead of black on white. A little bit of conceptual continuity never hurts! As for its commercial performance, I could actually see it doing pretty well, if only for the fact that "Lotta Love" is on this record. That song is probably one of the simplest, catchiest things Neil ever wrote, and had it been released as a single, it could have been a pretty big hit for him at a time where he needed it most. It's a shame the Horse couldn't carry on its improbable rebirth and triumphant return before Neil, as he often does, got sidetracked and decided to do something else. But it's good that he saw this decision was a mistake and that he should be playing with Crazy Horse, changing his mind, going back to the band, and telling Stills to go eat a peach.

Neil Young - Archives Vol. 2
Neil Young - Chrome Dreams
Neil Young - Timeline Series: Live in Boulder, Colorado 1976

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Clash - Sandinista! (1980)

The Clash released their third album, London Calling, in December 1979 through CBS Records. A double record, it came as a great stylistic shift from their first two punk rock-focused LPs. It saw the band tackle genres such as Ska, Reggae, Rockabilly, and even R&B, showing a much broader range of musical styles than in what came before its release, and went on to be regarded as one of the greatest albums in rock and roll history, while they also achieved some relative commercial success with songs such as "Train in Vain" and the album's title track, which became a rock radio mainstays after London Calling's release. Following its release and an American tour in its support, the band stopped at Pluto Studios in Manchester in February 1980, where they recorded the "Bankrobber" single and some other songs earmarked for their next album. Those sessions were followed by more touring, and by April, the band had decided to record outside England for the first time in their career, relocating to New York and booking time at the Power Station. And that one decision alone changed everything for the band.

The band fell in love with the city in all of its late '70s, early '80s decadence and went about exploring its nascent hip hop scene, being inundated by new influences and genres of music to listen to. Never afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve, the band incorporated those new sounds they discovered into their new material, branching out even further than they already had with London Calling. Outside the obvious rap, ska, and reggae influences, the band recorded gospel, calypso, and soul music, with even waltzes and music hall being given a try. This was the band branching out even further than they already had, and such experimentation obviously meant another double album was in the works. But after finding out Columbia was ready to release Bruce Springsteen's The River as a double album, after almost preventing The Clash from doing the same with London Calling, the band revolted and decided to make a triple LP instead. Even though they were going through a very creative phase, they obviously didn't have enough material for that and it shows, with dub versions and backward songs with overdubs helping pad out the six sides of the album. With that, one of rock's most bloated albums was born.

With all of that out of the way, the question we'll be tackling today is: what if Sandinista! had been a double album as originally intended? What would we have got had Strummer and Jones not decided on the act of creative and commercial self-sabotage of releasing a triple album? To answer that, we need to set up some ground rules first. First off, since we have a song pool of 36 songs to choose from, we won't be able to choose from any singles or outtakes. As much as I like "Bankrobber" and "Stop the World", as well as outtake "Every Little Bit Hurts", if the band felt there wasn't enough space for them in three records, there sure as hell isn't enough space for them in two. Considering the original album averaged six songs per side, a 24-track, 90-minute double LP would pretty much be the ideal here. We are allowed to do some editing, as some songs feature non-musical intros and outros which don't add much besides runtime, and some songs simply run for too long without a good reason. With all of that out of the way, here's what an abridged and much tamer Sandinista! could have looked like:

The Magnificent Seven (Sandinista!)
Charlie Don't Surf (Sandinista!)
Junco Partner (Sandinista!)
Ivan Meets G.I. Joe (Sandinista!)
The Leader (Sandinista!)
Something About England (Sandinista!)
Rebel Waltz (Sandinista!)
One More Time (Sandinista!)
The Crooked Beat (Sandinista!)
Somebody Got Murdered (Sandinista!)
Kingston Advice (Sandinista!)
The Street Parade (Sandinista!)
Lightning Strikes (Sandinista!)
Up in Heaven (Sandinista!)
Corner Soul (Sandinista!)
Let's Go Crazy! (Sandinista!)
If Music Could Talk (Sandinista!)
The Sound of Sinners (Sandinista!)
Police on My Back (Sandinista!)
Midnight Log (Sandinista!)
The Call Up (Sandinista!)
The Equaliser (Sandinista!)
Washington Bullets (Sandinista!)
Broadway (Sandinista!)

Bonus tracks:
Junkie Slip (Sandinista!)
Version City (Sandinista!)

Strummer, Headon, Simonon, and Jones in London, March 1980.

In the process of cutting out a third of Sandinista, we'll be starting out with the more obvious exclusions. Obvious filler such as the children's chorus version of "Career Opportunities", "Mensforth Hill" and "Shepherds Delight" are the first tracks to get the cut, and while dub is a very important part of the band's sound during this period of time, I reckon a whole side of it is a bit much, and if I'm really being honest with you, the second half of "The Crooked Beat" is enough representation for the genre, so all other dub versions of songs from the album are cut. "Lose That Skin" should have been a solo Tymon Dogg single, as it wasn't even written by a Clash member, and though "Hitsville UK" was, it belongs on Ellen Foley's The Spirit of St. Louis album, where it would be surrounded by similar material. Other than that, their cover of Mose Allison's "Look Here" fails to be more than a curio, and both "Junkie Slip" and "Version City" are songs that I like well enough, but when in comparison with the rest of the album, they fail to impress me. Maybe those two could be used as b-sides to the album's singles, as was the case with "Stop the World" in our timeline.

That leaves us with 24 songs, and when looking at the tracklist, we see sides 1-4 are mostly intact, with a few holes here and there, and sides 5-6 are almost completely cannibalized. Since the track sequence was never one of the album's weak points, I chose to keep it mostly as it is, only slotting in the new songs where the cut material once was. That means "Charlie Don't Surf" is now the second song on the album, giving us a great 1-2 punch to start off the proceedings. With "One More Time" moved to the second song on side two, our first disc also ends strongly, with the duo of "Kingston Advice" and "The Street Parade" finishing the proceedings. Sides three and four stay as they are. However, due to the time constraints of the LP, some editing will be necessary to make all of this fit into four sides of vinyl. So, "The Magnificent Seven", "Up in Heaven", "The Sound of Sinners" and "Washington Bullets" all fade out early, while a WBAI radio announcer is cut from "Lightning Strikes", and audio from the 1976 Notting Hill riots is cut from "Let's Go Crazy", as well a child singing "The Guns of Brixton" in the outro of "Broadway", which didn't add anything to the song before and honestly, won't be missed.

That leaves us with a 90-minute double album with four roughly 22-minute sides, which stands its ground against London Calling with ease. I've long defended that Strummer and Jones didn't suddenly forget how to write great songs in January 1980, and the sheer amount of hidden gems we've been uncovering here prove my point. This material only needs a less unfocused and more concise platform from which to be displayed to be able to shine, and I hope to have provided such a platform here. As for the cover, we can replace the undeniably cool cover picture of the band in black & white of the original by a more literal, fan-made cover, portraying a map of Central America, with Nicaragua, home of the Sandinista revolution of '79, given the main focus, which makes for a nice alternative. Instead of "music for people who work at oil rigs" as Mick Jones once put it, we get The Clash's crowning achievement as one of the greatest bands in rock and roll history, and their affirmation as the pioneers when it comes to fusing influences from all over the world to their own, and creating a wholly original and politically conscious record, very much owning up to the title bestowed to them of the only band that matters.

The Clash - Sandinista!
Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Rolling Stones - Back, Behind and In Front (1966)

Could You Walk on the Water is an unreleased album by The Rolling Stones, which was supposed to have come out in March 1966 through Decca Records. It was recorded at RCA Studios in Hollywood, during the span of three days between the 8th and the 10th of December, 1965. Something that was a considerable departure for the band was the fact that the nine songs they had recorded during those sessions were Jagger/Richards originals, with their previous five studio albums featuring a mixture of original material and covers. The planned album was pretty close to being released, with even a cover photograph being chosen, and a final tracklist being decided on, with only one small issue preventing its eventual release: the band's label, Decca, was uncomfortable with the album's name and its pretty obvious Christian connotations. This was 1966 America, after all, and with John Lennon saying that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, they'd be smart to avoid such controversy. After some back and forth between the label and Stones manager Andrew Oldham, it became clear that they would not be able to release the record with the title they had wished to, and with the band booking additional sessions for the week of March 6th, it was decided to shelve such a project, with a new compilation and the "19th Nervous Breakdown" single being released instead.

With that, the band went back into RCA Studios on March 6th with seven songs (the entire Could You Walk on Water album minus the single and b-side) under their belt, instead of starting with a clean slate as they originally thought they would. That and the fact that it had barely been three months since the Stones had last recorded, all that while maintaining a very tight touring schedule, would seem to mean that the band could take it easy and only record about half a dozen additional songs, mix them together with the ones they already had, and call it a day. That wasn't what happened, though, as from March 6th to 9th, 1966, The Rolling Stones recorded twelve songs, including some songs that would later be known as classics. The material recorded during these sessions was so strong, as a matter of fact, that when the Aftermath album came out, songs from these later sessions outnumbered the December recordings nine to five in the final tracklist. That was not all the band did during that tumultuous winter of '66, however, with plans being made for the Stones to follow in the Beatles' footsteps and record their first feature film, to be titled Back, Behind and In Front, with their next album serving as the film's soundtrack when released. The project was quickly abandoned, though, as Jagger disliked director Nicholas Ray, and the band decided to focus their energy on other endeavors.

With all of that out of the way, we can finally answer the question: what would the Stones have released next, had Could You Walk on the Water not been shelved? And to answer that question, we'll first have to decide on what to include in the follow-up to CYWOTW, which I will not be tackling here because someone else did a much better job at it than I possibly could. Firstly, only songs from the March 1966 sessions are to be included here, with one track with an uncertain recording date being used here and explained later on. We will also be using the UK and USA versions of the album as a rough guideline when assembling the tracklist, not many radical changes being made to their sequence. Also, as to the album title, I decided to call it Back, Behind and In Front, since according to bassist Bill Wyman, the film's title was supposed to be the album title, and when the film was shelved, so was this working title. However, I find that to be a really interesting title, and since the idea was still being considered while these songs were recorded, I decided to use the name anyway. Other than that, Back, Behind and In Front will feature 12 songs, as had become standard for them by this point, and no non-album singles will be taken from this record, with both sides of the eventual single making its way into the album. Finally, not to stretch this out any further than we already have, here's our tracklist:

Paint it, Black (Singles 65–67)
Stupid Girl (Aftermath UK)
Lady Jane (Aftermath UK)
Under My Thumb (Aftermath UK)
If You Let Me (Metamorphosis)
Long Long While (Singles 65–67)
Flight 505 (Aftermath UK)
High and Dry (Aftermath UK)
Out of Time (Aftermath UK)
It's Not Easy (Aftermath UK)
I Am Waiting (Aftermath UK)
What to Do (Aftermath UK)

Bonus tracks:
Out of Time (Metamorphosis)
Con Le Mie Lacrime (In Mono)

The Rolling Stones performing live in Sweden, April 3rd, 1966.

Side one starts off the same way the American pressing of Aftermath does, with the hit single "Paint it, Black", then followed by the trio of "Stupid Girl", "Lady Jane" and "Under My Thumb", which were featured both on the UK and USA versions of the album. After that pretty much undebatable first four, we enter some more doubtful territory with "If You Let Me", from outtakes collection Metamorphosis. There is much speculation as to when this song is from, with some claiming it to be from the August 1966 Between the Buttons sessions, while some others claim it to be from the March 1966 Aftermath sessions. In terms of session logs and data, the Rolling Stones don't have nearly as much documentation on what was recorded when and where as the Beatles do, for example, which can lead to some pretty tough situations like this one, where there's serious doubt as to when a song is from. Two things led me to include it: the fact that it sounds great when put together with the Aftermath material, not sounding even the slightest bit anachronistic, and the fact that there's some evidence to back up the idea of it coming from 03/66. So, to do all of that and also avoid releasing an 11-track album, it's included here. Closing off side one is "Long Long While", which had only seen release before as the non-album b-side to "Paint it, Black", finally being given a home here, being a more than adequate side closer.

Side two starts off with the one-two punch of "Flight 505" and "High and Dry", with the two songs being sequenced as side opener and track two respectively on all versions of the LP. It is then followed by "Out of Time", which was only released on the British version of the album. For a bit, I considered using the Metamorphosis version of this tune, where Jagger sings over the orchestral backing track for Chris Farlowe's hit version, seen as it's pretty good and was even used in a couple of film soundtracks. I decided against using it, however, as it didn't fit in very well with the rest of the album and wasn't what the band had intended for at the time, which we'll be respecting. It is followed by "It's Not Easy" and "I Am Waiting", which were also featured on both versions of the album, and also get to keep their spots on the tracklist. Finally, the album ends the same way as the original British version does, with "What to Do", also taken off from the American version of the album and only released in 1967, in the Flowers compilation. For bonus tracks, we have the aforementioned orchestral version of "Out of Time", as well as a strange, Italian-sung version of "As Tears Go By", which was recorded between sessions in January 1966. It is just a curiosity though, as Mick's Italian is frankly not very good. With that, we have our sequel to Could You Walk on Water done, pretty much ready for release.

With one 19 minute and one 21 minute side, Back, Behind and In Front can hold the argument of being one of the Stones' strongest albums, being able to hold its own with the whole 1968/1972 classic run of the band with ease. When comparing this sequence to the album that was eventually released, I was actually surprised by how much stronger of an album it is, managing to present this material undiluted by previous material while also sounding much more cohesive and concise than Aftermath. We also keep "Paint it, Black" as the album's main single, with "Long Long While" as its b-side, as there's no real reason to change this. One thing that would change is the release date, with CYWOTW coming out on March 10th, BB&IF would have to be delayed to sometime in late August, in order not to clash too directly with its predecessor. Very little is known about the Back, Behind and In Front project itself, let alone the details of its plot, script, and which songs were earmarked for potential use in the film. What we do know is that the Stones were on such a creative roll back then, and they managed to create such memorable songs using so little time, that there is no doubt that they'd fit in perfectly with the film. It's interesting to think of all the unfinished projects an almost 60-year-old band has, especially now that we've lost one of their most important members unexpectedly.

The Rolling Stones - Aftermath [UK Version]
The Rolling Stones - Singles 1965–1967
The Rolling Stones - Metamorphosis
The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones In Mono

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Neil Young - Last Dance (1972)

Neil Young released Harvest, his fourth studio album, in February 1972 through Reprise Records. Its release marked a commercial breakthrough for Young, who for the first time saw more considerable commercial success, with the record spawning a massive hit in "Heart of Gold" and going on to become the best-selling album of 1972 in the United States. Due to his newly found stardom, a tour in support of the album was planned for the early months of 1973, where he would be backed by the Stray Gators, augmented by Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. However, during rehearsals for the tour in late 1972, it soon became clear Whitten was too unreliable and unable to function, due to his drug abuse and alcoholism, and he was fired in early November. A few days after, on the 18th, he was found dead of an apparent overdose in his Los Angeles hotel room. Young, who was a very close friend of his and had tried to delay his firing as much as possible, felt he was responsible for the guitarists' death, and felt much guilt over it. With that, it seemed that a dark cloud hung over the approaching tour, with the combination of personal turmoil and the daunting task of playing sold-out Arenas for months on end taking its toll on him and his band. The fact that drummer Kenney Buttrey demanded a higher salary to compensate for lost studio work and the rest of the band followed suit certainly didn't help matters, and strained considerably the relations between NY and the Gators.

With the prolific streak that had begun in 1969 nowhere near finished, Neil was still writing many songs throughout this period, many of which were much darker both in tone and in arrangement when compared to Harvest, even though he maintained the same backing band. With a solo acoustic session in mid-November 1972 and a band session at Broken Arrow Ranch in December, about nine songs were recorded, with the highlights being some of the best of his career. With those songs on the can, he even had the time to draft a preliminary tracklist and give the album a working title, Last Dance, before embarking on the tour. The tour itself was rather challenging, with Young drinking heavily and performing in an erratic manner, and audiences failing to connect with his newer, heavier material. More importantly, Stray Gators drummer Kenney Buttrey was replaced mid-tour, as NY wasn't happy with his playing and clashed constantly with him. With a new drummer and the addition of Crosby and Nash on backing vocals, the final shows of the tour served as the basis for Time Fades Away, which featured live recordings of some of the new material recorded in late 1972, alongside some Harvest outtakes and other new material written on the road. With that, all those studio recordings were shelved indefinitely, with some of them finally surfacing in 2020 with the release of his Archives Vol. 2 box set.

With that, today's post answers the question: what if Neil Young had gone ahead and released the Last Dance album, as he originally planned? And to answer that, we need to set up some ground rules. First, I will follow his original tracklisting for the album as closely as possible, only removing one song that wasn't recorded during the sessions and was actually a Harvest outtake, and substituting it with one that was from the sessions but for some reason wasn't included in that preliminary tracklist, keeping the rest of the track sequence intact. Obviously, we will try to use studio versions of the songs as frequently as possible, seeing as that was NY's intention for this project. However, in some cases, those studio versions are not available to us, in which case we're able to substitute them with live versions, but only those from the TFA tour, obviously. Different studio versions from later periods exist for some of the songs in this album, but we will try to keep our choices confined to the late 1972 sessions and early 1973 Time Fades Away tour, in order to produce an album that's as cohesive as possible. That would also imply in this album being released shortly after the tour ended in April 1973, which would open up space for Tonight's the Night getting released late in the year as well. With all of that in mind, let's have a look at what I came up with for this unreleased 1972 studio album:

Time Fades Away (Archives Vol. 2)
New Mama (Tuscaloosa)
Come Along and Say You Will (Archives Vol. 2)
The Bridge (Archives Vol. 2)
Don't Be Denied (Time Fades Away)
Lookout Joe (Tonight's the Night)
Long Walk Home (Archives Vol. 2)
Last Dance (Time Fades Away)
Goodbye Christians on the Shore (Archives Vol. 2)

Bonus tracks:
Journey Through the Past (Archives Vol. 1)
Come Along and Say You Will (Archives Vol. 2 Outtake)
Monday Morning (Archives Vol. 2)

Tim Drummond, Jack Nitzsche, Neil, Kenny Buttrey, and Ben Keith, September 1971

We start off the proceedings with the former title track "Time Fades Away", as recorded at the Broken Arrow Ranch on December 15, 1972. Apart from using a different drummer and having a jumpier rhythm, this version differs from the one on TFA by having a guitar solo instead of a harmonica solo, which honestly fits much better. No studio recordings of the electric version of "New Mama" are available to us, even though we know the song was recorded on the same day as "Time Fades Away", so this live version from Tuscaloosa will have to do. Considering it features Buttrey on drums, this is probably pretty close to that studio version anyway, so there really isn't a problem. The studio version of "Come Along and Say You Will" from the December band session, and "The Bridge" from the November solo session come next, with the former easily being one of my favorite NY songs. How wasn't it included in the original album? Another case of Neil being Neil and keeping his best material in the vault. Finally, "Don't Be Denied" from Time Fades Away closes out side one. It suffers from the same problem as "New Mama", as it was recorded in December but that version has not yet surfaced. A version of it with Buttrey on drums exists, as released on Tuscaloosa, but it is honestly sub-par, with the TFA take being the definitive version, and the version we use here.

Side two opens with "Lookout Joe", from Tonight's the Night. A studio take from the same 12/15/72 session as all other band tracks, it was the first song from these sessions to get an official release, even though it was on the wrong album. In Neil's original tracklist, track two on side two was "Journey Through the Past", a Harvest outtake he revived for the tour. However, seeing as it wasn't recorded for the album, we replace it with "Letter from 'Nam", here retitled to "Long Walk Home", as it would later be released. I honestly don't see why this number wouldn't be included on the album, as it's one of the strongest numbers from the sessions. Another song that was recorded in December '72 but has only been released as a live performance is "Last Dance", included here on the version released on Time Fades Away. Seen as it's the only high-quality version of the band arrangement that's circulating, we don't have much of a choice, which unfortunately means we're dealing with a version of the song with John Barbata on drums and with vocal help by Crosby and Nash, though it still fits in better than the acoustic version released on Archives Vol. 2. The album ends with the magnificent "Goodbye Christians on the Shore", a song most of us hadn't even heard of, let alone heard, before release on Archives Vol. 2. A great unreleased song is a more than appropriate end to a great unreleased album, I think.

Clocking in at almost 39 minutes with a slightly longer side two, Last Dance would be as much of a radical departure from the Harvest sound as Time Fades Away ended up being, but it's honestly the superior album out of the two. For one, it features all the songs he wrote in '72, while TFA only features about half of them. We gain immensely by finally being able to hear songs as great as "Come Along and Say You Will" and "Goodbye Christians on the Shore", as well as benefiting from gaining context for songs like "Lookout Joe", which honestly always felt out of place on Tonight's the Night. As much as this is an improvement, the one thing that doesn't change is that releasing this material just after Harvest is plain commercial suicide, which is the reason I won't bother picking a single from this, as I usually do. As for the cover, I picked an image of Neil and the Stray Gators rehearsing at his barn on Broken Arrow Ranch sometime in 1971/72. I thought it was a good photo, and since most of the LP had been recorded there, it fit in nicely. All it needed was the album title and some color, and voila. With the belated release of Archives Vol. 2, fans have had glimpses into different paths, alternate scenarios that might've happened had he simply chosen differently, and today we've managed to glimpse into one, where Neil could've made one of his best albums had time not kept fading away.

Neil Young - Archives Vol. 2
Neil Young - Time Fades Away
Neil Young - Tuscaloosa
Neil Young - Tonight's the Night

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Beatles - Beatles for Sale (1964)

The Beatles released their third album, A Hard Day's Night, in July 1964. The soundtrack to the film of the same name, it was the band's first record to be comprised fully of Lennon/McCartney originals, with John Lennon, especially in a very prolific phase. After its release, the band returned to their very hectic schedule of touring, recording, and making TV appearances that had become the norm to them. It was also during this time period that the band was introduced to pot, with Bob Dylan having them try out the drug during a meeting with the band in New York City. Between August and October of 1964, the Fab Four had to juggle their many touring commitments with recording fourteen songs for an album, plus a non-album single, mostly recording during off-nights on a UK tour and finishing writing songs in the studio, a first for the band. It became obvious to the group that they most likely wouldn't be able to write 14 brand-new songs in time for a Christmas '64 release, and so the decision was made to switch back to including covers on the album, as was the case with their first two studio LPs. It was also the last time they indulged in such practice, with all following albums comprised mostly of original songs.

The ten original songs the band recorded between August and October 1964 were some of the greatest of their career thus far, with some even exhibiting the influence of Bob Dylan and folk music, and showing a clear step forward from their earlier phase. Even if Lennon and McCartney seem to have scrapped the bottom of the barrel in search of material ("I'll Follow the Sun" dates from the band's days as the Quarrymen), the quality is consistent throughout, and both the eight original songs on Beatles for Sale and the "I Feel Fine" b/w "She's a Woman" single are absolutely great. The cover songs included in the album, however, seem like a clear backward step from the all-original A Hard Day's Night. Most of them are inspired renditions (John's scorching take on "Rock and Roll Music" and the sweetly sung "Words of Love" are absolute highlights), but the ones that aren't (the campy "Mr. Moonlight" and the boring "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby") really bring down a record that if it weren't for the non-original material, I honestly think would be ranked among the group's best, such is its quality and originality, which is pretty much a given when talking about the band during their golden years.

That begs the question: what if the Beatles for Sale album was made up exclusively of originals? Is that even possible? Well, it turns out, it actually is possible! It does require some lateral thinking and a little bit of research, though. So, in order to tackle this in a sensible manner, let's set up the rules for this reconstruction first. There won't be a non-album single coming from this album's sessions, as AHDN didn't have one either, freeing up "I Feel Fine" and "She's a Woman" to appear on the album and giving us only four empty song slots to worry about. Other than that, we are only allowed to include songs that were already at least partially written by the time of recording Beatles for Sale, and that were recorded by the band in some form or another back then. Arrangements would change, obviously, and said changes will be explained later on. Only songs that were written by either Lennon/McCartney or George Harrison are to be included, obviously, and I will try to replace the cover songs with songs that are as similar to them as possible, in order to preserve the album's flow, and make my job of sequencing this much easier too. Without any further ado, here's how our all-original Beatles for Sale looks like:

No Reply (Beatles for Sale)
I'm a Loser (Beatles for Sale)
Baby's in Black (Beatles for Sale)
The One After 909 (Anthology 1)
I'll Follow the Sun (Beatles for Sale)
You Know What to Do (Anthology 1)
She's a Woman (Past Masters)
Eight Days a Week (Beatles for Sale)
Michelle (Rubber Soul)
What Goes On (Rubber Soul)
Every Little Thing (Beatles for Sale)
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party (Beatles for Sale)
What You're Doing (Beatles for Sale)
I Feel Fine (Past Masters)

Paul, John, Ringo, and George playing on a TV Show, October 1964

The first song we'll be replacing is Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music", which is now "The One After 909". A song dating from the group's Quarrymen era, it serves the purpose of a fast-paced rocker with lead vocals by John perfectly, meaning it gets to replace the aforementioned Chuck Berry cover. The only changes I see happening from the Anthology 1 1963 arrangement would be that the song would be performed faster, and feature a piano overdub by George Martin, bringing it closer to the treatment they gave "Rock and Roll Music". The weird "Mr. Moonlight" is replaced by another soul music-influenced track, the single "I Feel Fine". A bit of a stretch, I know, but it's probably a good thing that none of the songs on the album sound anything like "Mr. Moonlight", don't you think? I surely do, and appreciate the leap in quality this simple substitution gives the album. Next, we simply replace a Little Richard rock and roll song with a rock and roll song inspired by Little Richard, with "Kansas City" giving way to b-side "She's a Woman". The fact that both songs have Paul belting it out in the vocals certainly helps bridge the gap between the two songs, making for a great side closer to the Beatles' fourth album.

When replacing "Words of Love", I was looking for a slightly acoustic song, with great harmonies and that was midtempo. I found just that in "Michelle", which began life as an instrumental composed by Paul in 1960, which he finished in late 1965 when pressed for material for the Rubber Soul album. The circumstances being the same here, we'll just pretend he did this one year sooner and call it a day. We also need a Ringo song, this time a tune to replace Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't". That means we'll be stealing another Rubber Soul song, this time "What Goes On", and we'll be using it in that spot, since it was around as early as 1963, and would fit into this slot perfectly. The final replacement we need is for another Carl Perkins song, this time sung by George. That means "You Know What to Do", demoed by George in the same session that John first brought in "No Reply", gets to be chosen. Had the track been finished, I believe it would have sounded much more upbeat and countrified than the demo, making it fit like a glove into "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby"'s place. I've always felt, however, that this song made for a terrible album closer, which remains the case. To solve that issue, we'll simply switch it and "I Feel Fine" in the tracklisting, and there you have it, our completely original Beatles for Sale.

Clocking in at 35 minutes with a 17-minute side A and 18-minute side B, which is the average for most early Beatle records, our reconstructed album feels like the logical next step after A Hard Day's Night, moving into a folkier sound while retaining the band's rock and roll roots. And while some of the songs in this album were written much earlier than the songs on AHDN, this LP is a clear evolution from that album's sound and songwriting style. The album cover is just another photo of the band during the late-1964 period, which we'll use here just to change things up a little, just for variety's sake. While George unfortunately doesn't have the strange onion-like haircut he did on the original photo, the band still has the same jagged, exhausted look on their face, which means this covers transmits the same message as the real one. When looking at this period during the band's career, it's a shame the band's schedule took such a toll on their creativity, and it's immensely impressive how they simply seem to have learned how to work around the circumstances in order to produce their following masterpieces. And it certainly would be nice to see a great album such as this being elevated to masterpiece status.

The Beatles - Beatles for Sale
The Beatles - Past Masters
The Beatles - Rubber Soul
The Beatles - Anthology 1