Friday, January 29, 2021

Traffic - Mad Shadows (1970)


Traffic released their third studio album, John Barleycorn Must Die, in July 1970. It came after a year-long hiatus, during which bandleader Steve Winwood was a part of the supergroup Blind Faith, along with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker of Cream. After said group's collapse, which was due to Clapton's infatuation with their opening act Delaney & Bonnie and Friends (of which he and Traffic guitarist Dave Mason would become members), Winwood stuck around with Baker for his Air Force project (where they were joined by saxophonist Chris Wood), and after that band's initial run, started work on his first solo album, tentatively titled Mad Shadows. With Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi remaining as his lyricist, he got as far as recording two songs completely on his own, before inviting Capaldi and Wood to accompany him, and thus, a Traffic reunion was born, with the band quickly recording the remainder of the John Barleycorn album and going back on tour as a three-piece. That means Mason, who was already prone to quitting the band and coming back before the hiatus, doesn't contribute at all to the album, a first for him. Even with his earlier comings-and-goings, he was still a vital part of the band's two studio LPs, with his songwriting taking up almost half of their second, eponymous record. However, John Barleycorn Must Die was only the first in many Mason-less Traffic albums, with the band managing to find much success without the guitarist throughout the early '70s.

Mason, who also enjoyed a pretty successful spell as a solo artist in that time period, did reunite with his former group on one occasion, however. After touring the US both as a three-piece band and with the aid of bassist and Blind Faith member Ric Grech, the members of Traffic decided to play in an extended lineup, with Capaldi switching from drumming to being a frontman/backup singer, and drummers Jim Gordon and Rebop Kwaku Baah being added to their lineup, alongside earlier addition Grech. Mason, who had already released his Alone Together album in 1970 and had been a member of Derek and the Dominos for exactly one show, was invited back in for a series of six shows, culminating at the Oz Benefit Concert in London. With those performances being professionally recorded, a live record entitled Welcome to the Canteen was released, in order to fulfill a contractual obligation with their United Artists label. After those six performances in July 1971, both Dave and the group went their separate ways again, the former recording an album with Cass Elliot from the Mamas and the Papas, and a Mason-less Canteen lineup recording the fantastic The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys album. After that, they were never to reunite, leaving Welcome to the Canteen to be the last recording of the original four-piece lineup of Traffic, a great farewell to one of the '60s' greatest bands, who unfortunately couldn't put their personal and musical differences aside.

So, what you might already have figured out is the theme of this reconstruction is: what if Dave Mason had returned to the band during their 1970 reunion? And to answer that question, we'll have to set up some ground rules first. Mason wrote 3/10 songs on their first album, and 5/10 on their second, so 40% of Dave Mason songs seems like an appropriate amount for this album. Considering the original John Barleycorn Must Die album was pretty short, at 6 songs and 35 minutes, we'll allow two more songs, bringing our total to eight numbers. Still less than their previous records, but considering there are some pretty long songs on the album, it's a fair number. No covers were included in either of the band's first two albums, which means I'll try to keep this album focused on original material, to the detriment of the album's title track. In all, we'll allow Mason three songs, while Winwood/Capaldi get five tracks. Two live recordings will be used, as the Canteen versions of two of Mason's songs are quite literally Traffic versions of Alone Together songs, which is what we're looking for in the first place. They fit in pretty well and don't sound out of place at all, which means there isn't much of a problem in using them, at least in my view. And since we can't use the John Barleycorn title, why not use the working title for Stevie's first solo record, Mad Shadows? Well, in order not to slow things down further than we already have, here's the tracklist we'll be using for Mad Shadows:

Glad (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Freedom Rider (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Empty Pages (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Took More Than You Gave (Welcome to the Canteen)
-
Stranger to Himself (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Sad and Deep as You (Welcome to the Canteen)
Every Mother's Son (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Look at You, Look at Me (Alone Together)

Bonus tracks:
John Barleycorn (John Barleycorn Must Die)

Wood, Grech, Gordon, Baah, Capaldi, and Winwood in late 1971

The dilemma of which Mason songs to include starts off pretty easily, with two songs that were actually performed by the band, "Sad and Deep as You" and "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave" being pretty much no-brainers. Songs that could also be considered for inclusion are "World in Changes", "Waiting on You" and "Just a Song", which come from the early 1969 period where Mason was a part of Wooden Frog, which consisted of Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Wynder K. Frog, basically being a Winwood-less lineup of Traffic. As much as I like those three, due to the time they were written in and the circumstances surrounding Wooden Frog, those three fit in with Stevie's Blind Faith material much more than with his later, 1970 material. A reconstruction for another time, maybe? The remaining two songs on Dave's Alone Together LP, "Only You and I Know" and "Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving", sound much more like Delaney and Bonnie than anything Traffic could or would've possibly done, which means they get given away to the duo (who already did the former justice when playing it live in late 1969). That leaves us with the Mason/Capaldi co-write "Look at You, Look at Me", which besides sounding a lot like a Traffic song, features Jim himself on the drums. Considering other co-writes by the duo had already been featured on Traffic albums, I expect that to be a pretty non-controversial inclusion, of what's probably one of Dave's greatest songs.

Traffic's five inclusions are pretty obvious, the five original songs from the John Barleycorn Must Die album. As much as I like the title track, it had to be deleted to make room for one Mason song, and since it was the only cover on the album, and was pretty similar to "Sad and Deep as You", it had to go. The arrangement on the Barleycorn songs would remain virtually identical, since Dave didn't contribute much to Winwood/Capaldi songs even when he was a part of the band. The only things I can see him doing are adding rhythm guitar to "Empty Pages", a proper bass part to "Freedom Rider" and maybe harmonica to "Stranger to Himself", but other than that, Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi get along pretty well without him. The two Welcome to the Canteen songs also remain virtually identical, with Capaldi performing the drums instead of the Gordon/Baah duo, and maybe Mason adding an acoustic guitar to "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave", in order to bring it closer to the studio version's arrangement. The one song that allows for some additional speculation is "Look at You, Look at Me". However, I can see it sticking pretty close to the Alone Together arrangement. Dave tackles acoustic and lead guitar, Stevie plays the organ and bass guitar, Chris plays the flute, replacing the piano part (as with "Sad and Deep as You"), and Jim plays the drums and sings backing vocals. 

Clocking in at 44 minutes, with two 22 minute sides, Mad Shadows is honestly as good of an album as Traffic's self-titled second album, with both Mason and Winwood at the top of their game as writers and musicians. I don't consider this to be an improvement over the John Barleycorn Must Die album, but I do think Mad Shadows is a worthy equal to it, a brother from an alternate universe, if you may. For the album cover, I simply used the rejected artwork for Stevie's first unfinished studio album, which was later reused for Mott the Hoople's own album, also titled Mad Shadows and also produced by Mr. Guy Stevens. What a coincidence! I simply took the original image, removed the title and band name, and added the Traffic name and title to the middle of the cover, which I honestly felt worked pretty well. Considering that even without a strong hit single the John Barleycorn Must Die album did pretty well in the charts, we don't need to worry about the fact that this album doesn't have an obvious single either. I'd probably still issue "Empty Pages" as the album's single, only having "Sad and Deep as You" on its b-side, of course. Even though both parties enjoyed tremendous success after going separate ways, it's still tantalizing to imagine how things could have been, had they managed to put their differences aside and worked alongside each other, even for only one more album. Well, it seems the best we can do is this, compile these songs and listen to them alone, but together.

Sources:
- Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die
- Dave Mason - Alone Together
- Traffic - Welcome to the Canteen

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Monkees - The Monkees Again! (1966)


The Monkees released their first, self-titled album in October 1966 through Colgems Records. A no. 1 record, it was released in order to promote the TV series of the same name, which had premiered that September on NBC. Since the album had to be recorded quickly, in order for its release to tie in with the beginning of their TV show, the choice was made for songwriting duo Boyce and Hart to write most of the album, with LA's Wrecking Crew studio musicians providing instrumental backing, and the Monkees' cast members providing vocals only. This upset Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork, the two real musicians of the band quite a bit, but considering they were working on a tight schedule, it was probably the only choice. Nesmith did end up writing two of the songs on the album, though, one by himself, and another with help from legendary songwriting duo Goffin & King. Considering both the TV show and the album were smash hits, the gears were put in motion for a second studio album to be released as quickly as possible, with sessions for it beginning immediately after their first LP was done, in early August 1966. With Boyce and Hart riding high due to the great success of the "Last Train to Clarksville" single, one could expect follow-up album More of the Monkees to be filled to the brim with B&H compositions. But that's exactly the point where things started going wrong for the duo, and where they started losing control over the Monkees' recorded output.

Following the success of the Monkees' first album, a bit of a power struggle formed between musical director Don Kirshner and the two songwriters. Kirshner, who considered the two inferior to the other Brill Building folks he was working with at the time, wanted to replace the both of them with more proven songwriters such as Neil Diamond and Goffin & King. Don's argument was certainly helped by Boyce and Hart insisting on recording two horrible novelty tracks, "Kicking Stones" and "Ladies' Aid Society" during those August sessions. Having burnt out all of the goodwill they'd garnered with the show's producers by recording those two tracks, they ended up relegated to a measly two songs on More of the Monkees, with almost a whole album of great songs by them being left unreleased. Kirshner had won the battle for songwriting dominance over the Monkees, at least for now. However, after the band gained control over their own albums and could play their own instruments in them, with 1967's Headquarters, they re-recorded some of the discarded songs by the duo. Even the band themselves thought the material they had recorded was more worthy of release than some of the stuff released on MOTM, such as the dreadful "The Day We Fall in Love". The Monkees' displeasure with most aspects of the album, from the album cover to the song selection, was one of the main catalysts to their desire to play their own instruments and become a real band.

So what you might be wondering by now is: what if the Monkees had followed their first album's formula, and had a Boyce & Hart dominated second album? Well, to answer that question, we need to know what that formula was, in the first place. When taking a look at the songwriting credits for their first LP, we see 7 B&H songs, 2 Mike Nesmith songs, 2 songs by Brill Building writers, and a tune by an outside writer, Bread's David Gates. If we follow the same ratio when compiling an alternate 2nd album, we will get pretty close to what they would've done back then. Another choice I made when putting this album together was not to use any songs that were on More of the Monkees, as there is such a wealth of material in the can, great songs with hit potential, that putting MOTM tracks into it would be simply a waste of space. That means this can also work as a companion piece to that record, sort of a part two to it, if you will. I also tried to use mainly songs that were either featured in the TV show or re-recorded by the band itself at a later date, in order to keep ourselves in tune with which songs the four of them thought were good enough and which were not. Most of the songs will come from the More of the Monkees sessions, obviously, with three exceptions, which are outtakes from the debut album that were also re-recorded or repurposed later on in their career. Not to stretch this out any further than I already have, here's what our alternate second Monkees album looks like:

Through the Looking Glass (More of the Monkees)
I'll Spend My Life With You (More of the Monkees)
Don't Listen to Linda (More of the Monkees)
I Don't Think You Know Me (More of the Monkees)
I Won't Be the Same Without Her (The Monkees)
Words (More of the Monkees)
-
I'll Be Back Upon My Feet (More of the Monkees)
Valleri (More of the Monkees)
Mr. Webster (More of the Monkees)
You Just May Be the One (The Monkees)
I Can't Get Her Off My Mind (The Monkees)
(I Prithee) Do Not Ask for Love (More of the Monkees)

Bonus tracks:
Of You (More of the Monkees)
Apples, Peaches, Bananas, and Pears (More of the Monkees)

The Monkees shooting their TV show, late 1966.

When selecting the seven Boyce & Hart songs we would be using, I ended up using seven tracks they later re-recorded as a real band. Album opener "Through the Looking Glass" and "Valleri", which were re-recorded during sessions for The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees, "I'll Spend My Life With You", "Mr. Webster" and "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind", which were redone for Headquarters, "Words" was used on the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones album, and Tommy Boyce's favorite, "Don't Listen to Linda", re-recorded for The Monkees Present album. Of those, "Valleri" had already been used in the TV show back in 1966, and became an accidental hit when radio DJs started playing the song taped off the show on the air. Mike Nesmith's two songs will be "You Just May Be the One", which was both played on the show and re-recorded for the Headquarters album, and "I Won't Be the Same Without Her", another Goffin/King song with Mike on lead, as with "Sweet Young Thing" on their debut. The two Brill Building tunes will be Goffin/King's "I Don't Think You Know Me", and Linzer/Randell's "I'll Be Back Upon My Feet", with the latter both being featured on the TV show and re-recorded for The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees. Finally, Michael Martin Murphey's "(I Prithee) Do Not Ask for Love" is the outside songwriter song, seen as the band thought highly enough of the song to play it in their first tour, in early 1967. With that, we have a 12 song, 30-minute album.

In keeping with the balance established on the first Monkees record, the album is dominated by Micky, with six lead vocals to the first album's seven. Davy comes second with three songs, which was also the quota he got on the first album, as well as Mike with his two songs. We do get Peter's first solo lead, though, with "I Don't Think You Know Me", which is absolutely a better starting point than "Auntie Grizelda" was. For bonus tracks, we have "Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears", another B&H song that sounds a lot like "Last Train to Clarksville", and even though it's ok, it's also pretty derivative, and I decided on leaving it out in order to make room for stronger material. The one absence which breaks my heart is "Of You", the Bill Chadwick-written number sung by Mike. While it is a pretty strong song and the performance is great, it simply doesn't fit the album, in my opinion, which means we'll relegate it to a bonus track. Another track, Mike Nesmith's "All the King's Horses", was played pretty frequently on the TV show as well, but since I already use it in my alternate debut album in "Let's Dance On"'s spot, I decided against including that song here, to get ourselves some conceptual continuity. All songs were taken from the August/October sessions, with the exceptions of "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind", "I Won't Be the Same Without Her" and "You Just May Be the One", which come from the July 1966 sessions for the first record, on which they were not used.

Since the band (especially Michael Nesmith) seemed to dislike the More of the Monkees album cover, I decided against using a similar design to it. Instead, I used Sir Q's fantastic fantasy album cover, alongside the only name I could possibly think of that was more generic than More of the Monkees: The Monkees Again! The lead single off this album would probably be "Valleri", as even without a release back then it managed to get some serious airplay, followed by "I'll Be Back Upon My Feet" or "Words" as a second single. The sheer amount of great songs in this album means that even if it doesn't reach the same highs MOTM does with "I'm a Believer", for example, it's a much more consistent and solid album, without any of the horrible novelty-type songs from its real-life counterpart. Its consistency also comes from it being taken mostly from the same sessions, with the same producer. That means this is probably a stronger listening experience than More Of, and had it been released, would be as well-received as any Monkees album during the early part of their career. It really is a shame that Boyce and Hart's time as the Monkees' songwriters ended up being so short-lived, as their compositions were one of the main things that made the band great. But since it was the whole debacle surrounding More of the Monkees that lead the band to rebel and take control over their own career, maybe their demise ended up serving a purpose in freeing the Monkees to be themselves.

Sources:
- The Monkees - More of the Monkees [Deluxe Edition]
- The Monkees - The Monkees [Deluxe Edition]
- The Monkees' Sessionography [Reference Website]
- Monkees Live Almanac [Reference Website]

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Jimi Hendrix - Straight Ahead (1970)


Jimi Hendrix released his third and final album, "Electric Ladyland", in October 1968. It was released some two years before his untimely death in 1970, and is considered by many his greatest achievement as a musician and songwriter. What many people don't know, however, is that in those 24 months between the release of EL and his passing, he was working on a new studio album to follow it up. Hendrix played around with many titles for said record, such as First Rays of the New Rising Sun, which is how the project is more popularly known, People Hell & Angels, which is the title of an unrelated outtakes compilation released in 2013, and even Straight Ahead, after the song of the same name he recorded during these sessions. He was also unsure about the format in which to release all of those songs, with the record being either a double or triple album, and many different configurations and tracklistings being tried by him, without ever settling on a final sequence. Throughout his recording with the Band of Gypsys, from November 1969 to February 1970, and his work with the Cry of Love Band, from March 1970 to shortly before his death in August 1970, thirty or more songs were recorded and left behind in varying degrees of completion, and slated for inclusion on the album at some point or another, in the various shapes this album took throughout its recording. All in all, his fourth studio LP has become one of the most mysterious unfinished albums of all time.

In trying to piece together what Jimi Hendrix's fourth studio album would look like, fans have come across two tracklists from sometime in mid-1970. One of them, a three-sided, fourteen-song album with "Dolly Dagger" as the opening number, has already been tackled by the great soniclovenoize a while back, so it would be futile on my part to try and improve on his work, as I honestly wouldn't be able to. So what I will do is base my work on the other tracklist: a 25 song list with no sides, titled simply "Songs for L.P. Strate Ahead". While many don't even consider it a proper tracklist, and mostly ignore it when discussing Hendrix's final recordings, I disagree with them, as listening to some of the songs in the order they're in on the list you end up with some pretty great sounding flow, and the feel of a more or less cohesive album. However, I will not just simply put together the 25 songs and call it a day for two very simple reasons: it's missing a couple of very key tracks we know for a fact were slated for inclusion on the album, and it's got two songs that hadn't even been written yet, let alone recorded. That means our work will have to be dividing the list into sides, adding the missing songs where they fit best on the sequence, and trying to keep it cohesive and making sense, as much as it is possible. Also, I will try my best to only use mixes done by Jimi himself, with obvious exceptions to incomplete songs and those he didn't get to mix, but still had overdubs done before his death.

Of course, the sheer amount of songs available to us make it very tempting to turn this into a triple LP, and that's exactly what we're going to do. Even the 25 song list by itself wouldn't fit too snugly on two discs, let alone an expanded version of it, which means we will be expanding this album to six sides, since Hendrix was already considering doing so anyway. Another positive thing that can be seen when analyzing the list is the number of songs in a finished or nearly finished state. The vast majority of those songs are available in rough mix form, with those mixes being approved by Hendrix himself, and come from the same November 1969/August 1970 period we're working with when compiling this album. That means we will be dealing with a whole lot of finished or almost finished material, which certainly helps balance out the more demo-like unfinished songs on the record, and keep this album from sounding too unfinished itself. As for the others, all but one of my selections was officially released, and only one song comes from before our November 1969 threshold. Those of course are his solo demo of "Heaven Has No Tomorrow", from June 1970, and the July 1969 take of "Hear My Train a-Comin'" we will be using in this reconstruction, since those are the two only useable studio versions of both tracks we have available. Anyway, not to keep you waiting any longer than I already have, let's take a look at what our Straight Ahead album looks like:

Ezy Ryder (The Cry of Love)
Room Full of Mirrors (Rainbow Bridge)
Earth Blues (Rainbow Bridge)
Valleys of Neptune (Valleys of Neptune)
Belly Button Window (The Cry of Love)
Straight Ahead (The Cry of Love)
-
Cherokee Mist (Purple Box)
Freedom (The Cry of Love)
Stepping Stone (War Heroes)
Izabella (War Heroes)
Astro Man (The Cry of Love)
Drifter's Escape (South Saturn Delta)
-
Power of Soul (Both Sides of the Sky)
Angel (The Cry of Love)
Bleeding Heart (War Heroes)
Message to Love (West Coast Seattle Boy)
Burning Desire (West Coast Seattle Boy)
-
Night Bird Flying (The Cry of Love)
Drifting (The Cry of Love)
Come Down Hard on Me (Purple Box)
Electric Lady (Rainbow Bridge)
Getting My Heart Back Together Again (People, Hell, and Angels)
-
Lover Man (Purple Box)
Midnight Lightning (South Saturn Delta)
Heaven Has No Tomorrow (Soulful Sessions)
Sending My Love (Both Sides of the Sky)
Lonely Avenue (West Coast Seattle Boy)
Beginnings (War Heroes)
-
Dolly Dagger (Rainbow Bridge)
Machine Gun (Band of Gypsys)
In from the Storm (The Cry of Love)
The New Rising Sun (Rainbow Bridge)

Billy Cox, Jimi Hendrix, and Mitch Mitchell of The Cry of Love band in early 1970

The first side of this reconstruction consists of the first five songs on the "Strate Ahead" list, plus Jimi's solo demo of "Belly Button Window", his final studio recording. It was only written and recorded after the making of this list, which explains the song's absence from it, even though it is present on the three-sided sequence reconstructed by soniclovenoize. I added it to side one in order to break the sequence of fast-paced rockers with something slower, and that's something this song does pretty well, being a midtempo blues shuffle, with only guitar and vocals. It also adds about three minutes to a relatively short side, which is certainly welcome. Our side two will simply be songs six through eleven of the list, as the songs in it flow together pretty well, and make up a nice 22-minute side we will leave intact, even though I wish Jimi's mix of "Cherokee Mist" would be released soon. Side three consists of songs twelve through fourteen of the list, plus "Power of Soul" and "Message of Love", both of them being songs given a final mix during Hendrix's last week at the studio in August 1970, and also being released in live form on the Band of Gypsys album earlier in the year. The former acts as a side opener, as "Angel" doesn't work too well in that spot, and the latter stands in between two slower and bluesier tracks, helping improve the pace of the album. Aside from the lack of vocals in "Burning Desire", all songs have been pretty much finished by now, which makes for a strong listening experience.

Side four is the more complicated one of the bunch, with songs fifteen through seventeen of the list, plus "Drifting" and "Come Down Hard on Me", two songs Hendrix worked on during the August 1970 mixing sessions and were listed in his other working sequence. The complication here stems from the fact that I think "Electric Lady - slow" is actually "Pali Gap" from the Rainbow Bridge soundtrack. Many things point to it, such as the original name for "Pali Gap" being "Slow Part", and the song being recorded at Electric Lady being enough evidence to warrant its inclusion. And it's not as if we have many other songs that could fit this description, either way. Moving on to the final disc, side five includes songs eighteen through twenty-three of the original list, with only the final two songs, "Locomotion" and "This Little Boy", replaced by "Lonely Avenue" and "Beginnings", two songs Hendrix mixed during his final recording sessions and were seriously considered for inclusion on the album. The songs we replaced are being so because they were never recorded by Jimi, and for all we know, no manuscripts of them exist either. As for side six, we simply use songs twenty-four and twenty-five as bookends for the side, and add the other two songs Jimi had available back then: "In from the Storm", which was recorded after the list's creation, and an edited, audience-less version of "Machine Gun", in order to bring this final side to a more reasonable length of 24 minutes.

As for an album cover, I used a painting Jimi had commissioned with painter Henri Martinez, with the intention of using it as an album cover for the First Rays of the New Rising Sun project. As Martinez explains it, "this painting would present him as a proud Cherokee warrior, holding his weapon of peace - an electric guitar.", which is a great concept behind a beautiful looking painting. This album is far from a finished product, obviously, but even in its rough, unfinished state you can see what great things Jimi had been doing during the final months of his life, and what a fantastic album he would've put together had he lived past 1970. Had he managed to finish the material he had available, he would've most certainly put together an album to rival Electric Ladyland and Axis: Bold as Love in quality, all that while moving in a different direction and looking for a funkier, more soul-influenced sound. The single off this album would most probably be "Dolly Dagger" with "Night Bird Flying" on the b-side, as that was already the planned single before Jimi's death, and makes for a good, funky introduction to what was supposed to be a new chapter in Hendrix's career. And for someone who spent two whole years without releasing a note of music, it's only fair that he should release a triple album to compensate for his absence, showing us the greatest guitar player of all time still had it in himself to compose great songs, before his untimely death and return to the New Rising Sun.

Sources:
Jimi Hendrix - The Cry of Love
Jimi Hendrix - Rainbow Bridge
Jimi Hendrix - Jimi Hendrix Experience [Box set]
Jimi Hendrix - West Coast Seattle Boy
Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides of the Sky
Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune
Jimi Hendrix - War Heroes
Jimi Hendrix - South Saturn Delta
Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
Band of Gypsys - Band of Gypsys

Monday, December 07, 2020

The Byrds - The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969)


The Byrds released their sixth album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, in August 1968. It came after a schism in the group, where guitarist David Crosby and drummer Michael Clarke left the group, right before the release of their 1967 album The Notorious Byrd Brothers. For a while, the group carried on as a trio, augmented by drummer Kevin Kelley, who also happened to be bass player Chris Hillman's cousin. The band was unsure about how they would carry on, with leader and guitarist Roger McGuinn plotting a double album which would consist of the history of popular music, from old 1930's folk music to the music from the future, complete with synthesizers. This project was supposed to be called 20c, and he wanted a jazz pianist to join the group, in order to make the double album possible. That in of itself is a great opportunity for a reconstruction, which Albums Back from the Dead already tackled very well. McGuinn thought he got his wish of a piano player when, in a chance encounter at an LA bank, bass player Hillman met Gram Parsons, songwriter, singer, and then was still a member of the International Submarine Band, one of the biggest pioneers in the country-rock genre, which was itself still in its formative years as of 1968. Since Parsons could play the piano, he joined the Byrds that February, and the band set out to perform shows and plan their next steps as a group. He and Chris bonded over their shared love of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and other country music legends, and together convinced McGuinn to scrap his plans of a double concept album in favor of a full-on Byrds country music record, captained mostly by those two. McGuinn agreed, and the new Byrds lineup set out to Columbia Studios in Nashville to make what is probably one of the greatest country-rock albums of all time.

The problem is, it really wasn't recognized as such back then. A disastrous performance at Nashville's traditional Grand Ole Opry, where they were heckled for their long hair, and an appearance at DJ Ralph Emery's radio show, where they were ridiculed by Emery as not real country performers, and he very heavily criticized their single "You Ain't Going Nowhere" before playing it. That, combined with the very poor commercial performance of the record (it managed to be "too rock" for country radio and "too country" for the so-called progressive FM stations) already brought on some tension to the band, with a power struggle between McGuinn and Parsons starting to form. Parsons had ambitious plans for the band, including a deeper dive into the country genre, which involved integrating pedal steel guitar player JayDee Maness into the band, and crediting them as "Gram Parsons and the Byrds". Things came to a head when, right before a South African tour, Parsons left the band on the grounds that he did not want to play for segregated audiences, and stayed in London to hang out with the Rolling Stones. With that, guitarist Clarence White was recruited, with his friend drummer Gene Parsons (no relation) replacing Kelley on the drums. This lineup only lasted about a month, with Hillman following Parsons' lead and leaving the band, in order to form The Flying Burrito Brothers with him. However, McGuinn decided to carry on, and with new bassist John York, they cut the very bipolar Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde in late 1968, a strange but well performed mixture of psychedelic rock and country. It was followed by the Burritos' The Gilded Palace of Sin, which featured a much more country sound, and that meant the Sweetheart LP gave birth to two very different followups, by the two different sides of the story.

What you might already be asking yourself is: what would the follow-up to Sweetheart of the Rodeo look like, had Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman stayed in the Byrds? And to figure out how a second Parsons-era Byrds album would look like, we can look at Sweetheart of the Rodeo and make some parallels in how we will compile this album. Sweetheart was an 11-track album, with nine covers and two original songs, with the lead vocals shared more or less equally between McGuinn, Hillman, and Parsons. When comparing the material we have available for this album with the songs they recorded then, however, one thing that's clear is that there is much more original material available for us right now, as those three seem to have started writing songs after recording the album. Which means we will be doing the exact opposite to Sweetheart in that aspect, and have only two cover songs (one from the Burrito side and one from the Byrds side), with the rest of the material consisting of new stuff. That "nine original tunes and two covers" ratio was already used in the album immediately preceding our timeline, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, which means they'd likely return to it as well. Other than that, no songs written outside the mid-to-late-1968 period will be included, as this is the timeframe of the recording and writing of both Byrds and Burritos albums, and most songs included here will also have to have been recorded during sessions for the aforementioned albums, with only one exception which will, as usual, be explained later. The album would've been recorded in Nashville, as was the case with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and produced by the Byrds' typical producer Gary Usher. And without any further ado, here's what our reconstructed album will end up looking like:

The Devil in Disguise (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
Sin City (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
King Apathy III (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde)
Do Right Woman (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
Bad Night at the Whiskey (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde)
My Uncle (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
-
Wheels (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
High Fashion Queen (Burrito Deluxe)
Stanley's Song (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde)
Juanita (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde)
This Wheel's on Fire (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde)

Bonus tracks:
Old Blue (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde)
Dark End of the Street (The Gilded Palace of Sin)

Kelley, Parsons, McGuinn, and Hillman sometime in early 1968.

The Flying Burrito Brothers' first album featured eleven songs, with two cover songs included. Of those, we will only include five, those being "The Devil in Disguise", "Sin City", "My Uncle", "Wheels" and "Juanita". Unfortunately, both Hot Burritos were written in collaboration with Burritos bass player Chris Ethridge, which means the songs would've not have been written in this timeline. "Do You Know How it Feels" is a song from Gram's International Submarine Band period, and "Hippie Boy" is just a horrible song, which means both will have to go as well. That means we already have five originals, with three Gram leads and two Chris vocals. One song we will be including, however, is "High Fashion Queen", from the followup record Burrito Deluxe. Apparently, it was written during the same writing sessions as most of Gilded Palace of Sin, and was inexplicably left off the album. It's included as it has a more rock and roll sound than the other Burrito tracks, and helps give this album some cohesion. As for The Byrds' album, it features four covers and six original tracks, of which we'll include three, with those being "King Apathy III", "Bad Night at the Whiskey" and "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man". Neither "Candy" nor "Child of the Universe" are included, as they were both not meant for the Byrds (they were part of the soundtrack to the movie Candy) in the first place, and are simply bad songs. We will be including outtake "Stanley's Song", however, as it feels at home with the Burritos tracks, and as with "High Fashion Queen", helps keep the album cohesive. And as for the covers, we'll include the obligatory Bob Dylan cover, "This Wheel's on Fire", representing McGuinn and the new Byrds lineup, and the best of the two covers included on the Burritos' two albums, "Do Right Woman", with Gram providing the lead vocals. With that, we only need to sequence the album and call it a day.

We will start off the record as with TGPoS, with the opening combo of "The Devil in Disguise" and "Sin City". Since the original recordings were sped up about half a key in order to speed up the tempo of both songs, I reverted this effect by slowing down the tracks by half a key in Audacity, with both of them finally sounding right to my ears. They are followed by the first rock songs on the album, "King Apathy III", and the countrified cover of soul music classic "Do Right Woman", which provide some contrast to the proceedings. Yet another McGuinn original, "Bad Night at the Whiskey", another more psychedelic song, is followed by a bluegrass song about dodging the draft, "My Uncle", closing out side one as it did on the Burritos' record. Side two also opens as it does in our timeline with the mellow "Wheels", which is followed by the rockier "High Fashion Queen", and by sci-fi country tune "Stanley's Song". But moving on, we have "Juanita", followed by the only McGuinn-Parsons song ever written, "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man". Given its importance, I had it become the second-to-last track on the album, with only "This Wheel's on Fire" coming after it, as it's probably the best album closer out of the material we have. As for what group would perform on these tracks, I can see a main band of the four Byrds, with Gram handling all keyboard parts and Hillman still on bass, with Roger McGuinn singing all of Chris Ethridge's backing vocal parts, and Gram Parsons singing harmony with Roger on "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man", which he co-wrote. They would be joined by pedal steel player JayDee Maness (whom Gram wanted to become a member of the Byrds!) on all Burritos songs and "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man", and Clarence White on all Byrds songs and also on "High Fashion Queen".

The record will still be titled The Gilded Palace of Sin, as that is a reference to "Sin City", probably the greatest song on the record, and it just sounds like as great LP name. To keep some sort of "conceptual continutity" going with the album that came before it, I used a painting by artist Jo Mora, the same man who painted the cover of Sweetheart. Given the album title, I used a painting that also featured a girl at center stage, but instead of a cowgirl, I chose one which had a more, well, sinful nature. The fact that she's wearing a golden crown makes it even better. Divided into two 20-minute sides, TGPoS is nothing short of an equal to its predecessor, continuing its fusion of country and rock and tipping the balance a little more towards rock, which to my mind is a good thing. A problem which might arise is that there's no clear lead single in the album, although both "The Devil in Disguise" and "This Wheel's on Fire" could serve that purpouse pretty well, even if we know neither of them could become smash hits like the ones the group saw in the past. This album is also pretty well balanced in the lead vocal department, with five leads by McGuinn, four by Parsons, and three by Hillman. This also has the distinction of being the first Byrds record to feature 12 tracks since Mr. Tambourine Man, which might be controversial to some of you Byrds purists. To sort that out, simply remove the weak "Stanley's Song" from the sequence, and your wish of an 11-track album is granted! It's a shame that the mercurial Parsons could never stay in one place or band for long enough, and the music world really suffered for it in this case. If only Parsons and Hillman had managed to stay on just a little bit longer, before flying off to greater things, and had given one of the greatest albums of all time the sequel it deserved.

Sources:
The Byrds - Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde
The Flying Burrito Brothers - The Gilded Palace of Sin
The Flying Burrito Brothers - Burrito Deluxe

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Neil Young - Mediterranean (1974)


Neil Young released his sixth album, On the Beach, in July 1974. The third chapter of the so-called Ditch Period, it was released right before Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's 1974 Reunion Tour, which reunited Young with his estranged bandmates for the first time in four years. During this period of his career, his now-infamous marital issues with wife Carrie Snodgress were beginning to show, with these issues becoming a strong source of inspiration for him, and the main focus of the latter period Ditch albums. This can be clearly seen by the fact that, despite him having just finished recording a full studio album mere months ago, he spent the rehearsals for the tour (held at his own Broken Arrow Studios, no less!) writing and recording some new songs. The seven sparsely-arranged songs he recorded during these sessions divided themselves into happier songs, with lighter themes, and moodier, more depressed about his failing marriage and infidelity. The tour itself saw the live debut of three of those songs, and the writing and incorporation into CSNY's live set of a couple other tour-written songs as well. By the tour's end in August, he had about enough material for a good studio album in the can, but had no plans of recording in the near future. Instead, ahead of CSNY's planned London concert at Wembley Stadium, he traveled to Amsterdam with a couple of friends and a Dutch journalist named Constant Meijers, who documented the whole trip for a piece he would be writing on Neil and his trip to Amsterdam.

There, he got a closer look into Neil's creative process than anyone ever before. A new writing spree in September gave birth to some brand new songs, with most of them having two things in common: their aquatic theme and sad, brokenhearted nature, due to the state of his marriage to Snodgress. He claimed to have already written fourteen songs based on this theme and to have 37 new songs in total, with nine of those being discussed by them, and later recorded as well. The common themes of those new songs made it so that Young decided to put them all together in an album, to be titled Mediterranean. Those nine songs were its' prime contenders, and the album would be recorded in an island (Neil wanted to do it in Ibiza, Italy), and produced by Elliot Mazer. Of course, as we all know the rather volatile nature of Mr. Bernard Shakey, "technical problems prevented such sessions from ever happening. By the first few days of October 1974, he was already back home, and by November, was already recording a wholly different batch of songs, which obviously went on to become Homegrown. This new batch of songs abandoned the slightly more positive water-themed aspects of the Mediterranean material in favor of diving face-first into his divorce, with some of the most personal writing of his career. When he didn't release Homegrown either, it became a much more famous Lost Album than its immediate predecessor, which besides a passing mention in Johnny Rogan's Sixty to Zero book, is still pretty much unknown.

So, the central question to today's reconstruction is: What if Neil Young had finished the Mediterranean album? And to answer this question, we'll have to set up some ground rules first. This album will basically consist of a best-of of the post-On the Beach, pre-Homegrown period. And since about 18 songs were either recorded or written during the May 1974/September 1974 period we will be working with, we'll need to whittle our list down to a more reasonable and album-sized twelve songs. That means no songs that were eventually made a part of the Homegrown album are to be included, as these two albums should be companion pieces, NY's own Rubber Soul and Revolver, if you will. Obviously, no songs written after our cut-off date of September 1974 are to be included, and all songs included have to fit into the album's considerably loose theme and sound, that being a sad, tropical, and acoustic album about water and Carrie Snodgress. And luckily for us, all known songs but one from this very prolific period were recorded in the studio, and most of them were tracked a mere two months after their writing, in November 1974. However, two of the songs were recorded in early 1976, almost two years after the fact. We will make an exception for that, seen as those two are a vital part of this period, and we will explain how a 1974-recorded version of those would sound later on. Well, not to stretch this out any further, let's take a look at what our take on Mediterranean would look like:

Long May You Run (Long May You Run)
Mediterranean (Archives Vol. 2)
Daughters (Archives Vol. 2)
Pardon My Heart (Archives Vol. 2)
The Old Homestead (Hawks and Doves)
-
Hawaiian Sunrise (Archives Vol. 2)
Love/Art Blues (Archives Vol. 2)
Homefires (Archives Vol. 2)
Frozen Man (Archives Vol. 2)
Deep Forbidden Lake (Decade)
Bad News Comes to Town (Archives Vol. 2)
Through My Sails (Archives Vol. 2)

Bonus tracks:
LA Girls and Ocean Boys (Archives Vol. 2)
Pushed it Over the End (Archives Vol. 2)

 

Stills, Nash, Crosby, and Young rehearsing at Broken Arrow, June 1974

The nine songs known to have been considered for Mediterranean are "Star of Bethlehem", "Vacancy", "Daughters", "Through My Sails", title track "Mediterranean", "Love/Art Blues", "Hawaiian Sunrise", "Frozen Man" and "Deep Forbidden Lake", of which we will remove the first two, seen as they were later added to Homegrown. Of the June 1974 songs, we will get rid of "Love is a Rose" for being a part of Homegrown, and relegate "LA Girls and Ocean Boys" to an outtake. As much as I like it, it's simply unfinished, and if he was uncomfortable with the personal nature of Homegrown, there's no way in hell he would ever release this, which is almost confessional in its starkness. That leaves us with "The Old Homestead", "Homefires", and "Pardon My Heart". Of the tour material, we have "Pushed it Over the End", "Long May You Run", and "Bad News Comes to Town", which despite never being performed during the tour itself, was written alongside "Star of Bethlehem", and typed down in the very same manuscript as it, which means it too was written sometime in July 1974. Of those, "Pushed it Over the End" is removed, since it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the material, both in sound and in lyrical content, being a hard-hitting electric song about a serial killer. Both it and "Long May You Run" were premiered during his famous Bottom Line gig, in May 1974. That leaves us with twelve songs, and all we need to do now is sequence them in a way that manages to both flow well and make sense.

So, how would the two 1976 songs I mentioned earlier change? For both, we see that the lyrics and melody would remain virtually the same, as evidenced both by the Bottom Line version of "Long May You Run", and the hotel room demo of "Mediterranean", both from 1974. The only changes I can see happening to them are related to arrangement. The former would sound more like "Star of Bethlehem", with Neil on acoustic, Ben Keith on the lap steel playing Stephen Stills' lead part, and no congas or organ. It's backing vocals would be provided by Emmylou Harris and Ben Keith, the way they sang on "Daughters". "Mediterranean", however, would probably only lose its overdubbed electric guitar part, and be a solo acoustic number, sounding more in line with something like "Frozen Man". We're also not using the Zuma versions of either "Pardon My Heart" or "Through My Sails". We're using the original 1974 mix without the 1975 overdubs for the former, and a solo, acoustic version for the latter, both from Archives Vol. 2. And seen as "Love/Art Blues" has three different versions on the box set, we use the second version, which is honestly the best of the three. When sequencing this album, I tried my best to open both sides with more upbeat material, and balance out band tracks and solo numbers in both sides, as to not make them sound too repetitive, and had the side with "The Old Homestead" be two songs shorter, due to time constraints and the length of the song. And I think this sounds pretty good!

I picture such an album to have been rush-released in December 1974, just in time for the Christmas shopping season. With "Long May You Run" with the potential to become his first real hit single since Harvest, it's certainly more commercial than other Ditch-era albums, but under the cuter and straighter surface is a collection of songs as deeply rooted in sadness and heartbreak as any other of those albums, with some of his greatest writing being found here. Because of that, Mediterranean is as good as any of his 1970's "golden age" albums in my view, seen as Neil could virtually do no wrong at this point in his career, writing masterpiece after masterpiece after masterpiece. With two evenly-timed 21-minute sides, this slightly less lethargic and more countryfied sequel to On the Beach fits in like a glove in between OTB and Homegrown, providing some context to where his mind was during the CSNY tour, and what happened between "Motion Pictures" and "Separate Ways" that finally made his marriage collapse. To further drive the point home, I used a photo of Neil at Malibu Beach in early 1975, taken by Henry Diltz, as my cover, connecting it to both the aquatic and tropical theme of most of the songs and to the album that came immediately before it. With Neil's mid-1970's Archives finally open to all of us, we are finally able to take the deep dive into his unreleased gems that we've been wanting to for so long, and I'm thankful for that, especially when we are able to uncover such gems as these.

Sources:
Neil Young - Archives Vol. 2
Neil Young - Decade
Neil Young - Hawks and Doves
Stills-Young Band - Long May You Run
Johnny Rogan - Sixty to Zero