Friday, November 02, 2018

Bruce Springsteen - Murder Incorporated (1982)

 

Bruce Springsteen's tour in support of his The River album ended in September 1981, at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio. The year-long tour, which began in early October 1980, was his most successful up to then. It saw him perform his first significant tour outside the USA, touring western Europe in the first half of 1981. This tour also marked a significant growth in his political involvement, in regard to music, with him asking for silence when singing more serious songs, and even covering artists such as Woody Guthrie and Jimmy Cliff, who featured a lot of political messages in their material. So it was only natural that, soon after a time off, he started writing new songs, many of a more political nature. One of them was this lament about a Vietnam veteran, Born in the USA. Along with some fourteen others, it was demoed by Bruce in a four-track recorder in his New Jersey home. All fifteen songs dealt with more "obscure" characters and scenes than his previous songwriting, and featured him alone on acoustic guitar, and occasional harmonica.

And it was those demos that he showed his backing group, the E Street Band, in January 1982 during their first studio sessions together since May 1980. Coming off straight from backing fellow New Jersey singer Gary US Bonds in his newest album, they started learning that material and other songs, in order to record a follow up to The River, at New York's Hit Factory. Among the other songs were some of a more "personal" tone, although still dealing with hardship. All in all, Bruce totaled some 45 new compositions, and they were all recorded, from those early January sessions until late May of the same year. As compared to his previous output, those new recordings were a considerable departure, both in style and content. The production on those tracks, courtesy of manager Jon Landau, band member Steven Van Zandt and BS himself, was much more poppy and accessible, with huge sounding gated reverb-laden drums, and the predominance of synthesizers alongside Springsteen's guitar playing. You could tell that the 80's had gotten to him, so to speak.

But Springsteen wasn't too happy with the way his demo tape songs got treated. He didn't feel the heavy themes and messages conveyed in the lyrics of the songs matched such pop arrangements, and decided to scrap all band versions of those acoustic tunes. Only three of them were kept: "Born in the USA", "Downbound Train", and "Working on the Highway". As for the other twelve, Bruce decided to release them as they were, in those more intimist arrangements. As for those three saved songs, and the rest of the sessions, he then decided to compile an album out of them, to serve as a companion to the acoustic album. In his own words: "I had these two extremely different recording experiences going, I was going to put them out at the same time as a double record. I didn't know what to do." And so, he compiled two acetates, one with each of those "recording experience". The first got released on its own as Nebraska. The second, however, became nothing, and would endure two more years of sessions until half of it was released as Born in the USA in 1984.

So, what you're probably already asking yourself by now: what if he had indeed released both albums as one double LP? First off, we know more or less what both of them would consist of, and as far as the electric album was concerned, it even had a defined tracklist, compiled in May 1982, soon after the end of those early sessions. So our work here won't be that excessive after all. We will basically keep the two pre-defined sequences, with only some slight changes, that will be explained later. The first disc will be the acoustic recordings, with the second disc featuring the band songs. That is most likely the order he would follow, putting the more difficult, less accessible songs first and the poppier band tunes later as a "reward" to his listeners. The album will be titled "Murder Incorporated", as he had created a later compilation in mid-1983 with some of the same songs, and that title fits in well with the themes of the album. And as an album cover, I used the maxi-single cover for the song, released in 1995. Now without any further ado, here is our tracklist:

Nebraska (Nebraska)
Atlantic City (Nebraska)
Mansion on the Hill (Nebraska)
Johnny 99 (Nebraska)
The Losin' Kind (The Lost Masters I)
State Trooper (Nebraska)
-
Used Cars (Nebraska)
Open All Night (Nebraska)
My Father's House (Nebraska - Japanese CD)
Highway Patrolman (Nebraska)
A Reason to Believe (Nebraska)
-
Born in the USA (Born in the USA)
Murder Incorporated (Greatest Hits)
Downbound Train (Born in the USA)
I'm Goin' Down (Born in the USA)
Glory Days (Born in the USA)
My Love Will Not Let You Down (Tracks) 
-
Working on the Highway (Born in the USA)
Darlington County (Born in the USA)
Frankie (Tracks)
I'm on Fire (Born in the USA)
This Hard Land (Tracks)

Bonus tracks:
The Big Payback (The Essential)
Wages of Sin (Tracks)
A Good Man is Hard to Find (Tracks)

Bruce at his living room in Colt's Neck, April 1982

We start off alone with Bruce in his Colts Neck home, with side one of Nebraska. Here, we revise it to better reflect the running order of the original Nebraska demo tape, with outtake "The Losin' Kind" being put in "Highway Patrolman"'s place. A fantastic song, it still puzzles me to this day it wasn't included in the original Nebraska album, fitting in lyrically and in instrumentation like a glove. Considering it wasn't released as a b-side or re-recorded later, and that it was recorded in the very same sessions as the rest of the album, we can add it with no great consequences to the album. And on side two, "Highway Patrolman" is slotted in between "My Father's House" and "Reason to Believe", once again restoring the original tape's sequence. This means the once 25+ minute side one is now slightly shorter, and the once 15-minute side two has a proper length as well. Other than that, we add an alternate version of "My Father's House", only found in the Japanese 1985 CD pressing. It features an additional 30-second keyboard coda, which was cut god-knows-why on the regular album. The first half of the album came together pretty easily, I must say!

The electric album, straight from the Power Station in New York, starts off as we are used to, with "Born in the USA", in its regular album version. There are a couple of extended versions of it, but I don't think those would have been used on the album, so the regular one stays. "Murder Incorporated" from the Greatest Hits, follows, being one of the greatest songs from the sessions, and inexplicably left off BITUSA. The next three songs, "Downbound Train", "I'm Going Down" and "Glory Days", are all featured on their regular album versions. The original recording of "Glory Days" featured an edited verse and ran something like 45 seconds longer, with the rest being as it is. We will not include that as that edit dated from the 1982 sessions, and most certainly what Bruce intended to be on the album. The side ends with what was their most common show opener on the 1999 reunion, "My Love Will Not Let You Down" found on the "Tracks" compilation. Also inexplicably left off his 1984 hit album, it's a fantastic song, and makes for a fantastic side closer on Murder Incorporated.

"Working on the Highway", one of the Electric Nebraska songs, open side two of the electric album. Originally titled "Child Bride", it was reworked for the Born in the USA album, and it's that rockabilly-infused version we will use in here. Following is "Darlington County", also from BITUSA, and "Frankie". Dating back to the 1977 Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, the seven-minute epic is one of the only representatives of the "classic" Springsteen sound in here, and is easily one of the best songs on the album, sourced then again from the Tracks comp. "I'm on Fire", once more from Born in the USA, and the Tracks version of "This Hard Land" finish off the works, with the whole disc clocking at a slightly long 47 minutes, as with the first disc. As bonus tracks, we have the solo recording of "The Big Payback", which was the b-side to "Atlantic City", and two outtakes from the same April/May 1982 sessions that gave us the electric album, "Wages of Sin" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find". Those would be used as b-sides here, being the best session outtakes.

As an album, Murder Incorporated does a pretty good job of portraying where the Boss' mind was at at the time. The first disc is a fantastic representation of his more politicized work, showing the darker side of Reagan-era America, as well as paying tribute to his folk music roots. And the band album does a fantastic job of following the chart success of "The River", as well as being a much better representation of those sessions than BITUSA could ever be. As well as that, they both could easily co-exist without each other, but work much better when paired. One provides more depth to the other, somehow, and that makes listening to the whole affair much more intense. Not bad at all! And finally, it's a great comment on the duality of his persona, separated between a serious singer-songwriter, worried about social issues and focused on folk music, and an MTV-era popstar, with synth-full arrangements and anthemic songs. His second double LP in a row, it probably wouldn't have sold as much as his later blockbuster. But if this is the price to pay, then so be it.

Sources:
- Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
- Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA
- Bruce Springsteen - Tracks
- Bruce Springsteen - The Lost Masters I
- Bruce Springsteen - Greatest Hits
- Bruce Springsteen - The Essential

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Guns n' Roses - Gardens City (1995)



Guns n' Roses first attempted to record a follow-up to their massive Use Your Illusion albums in late 1993, with Slash putting together riffs and ideas he had written on tour with the aid of other members, recording in a studio in his basement in Los Angeles. He then presented the band with fourteen instrumental demo tunes in January 1994, of which both Axl Rose and Duff McKagan weren't much fans of. Rose called it "southern rock", and wanted the band to go on a more experimental route, such as his beloved Nine Inch Nails and other bands of the period, while Slash mostly stuck to his hard rock roots. But after a couple of months, Axl apparently changed his mind on the songs and decided to call Slash up to talk about them, now showing some interest. The only problem was he had already recorded, with Eric Dover (also a member of Jellyfish) providing lyrics, his first solo album, with the aforementioned demos used as a foundation for it. Rose got mad at Slash for that reason, which sparked a rivalry between both the band never quite recovered of.

After firing rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke in June '94, they started trying to write a new album, without a second guitarist and with quite a lot of in-fighting happening between them. Due to that, the only recording made during that year was a cover version of the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil", for a movie soundtrack. Axl had his old friend and collaborator Paul Tobias replace Slash's solo in that song without the lead guitarist's permission, which further upset him, afterward calling the cover "the sound of the band breaking up". After a couple of attempts at finding the substitute member (names such as Zakk Wylde and Dave Navarro were considered, with Wylde even attending a band rehearsal), and some failed attempts at songwriting, which only produced the instrumental for Velvet Revolver's "Fall to Pieces", Gn'R found themselves caught up in the conflicts between band members and unable to record a new album, and one by one all members except Axl and Dizzy Reed quit, leaving them to begin Chinese Democracy in 1997.

But that left all of their fans wondering: what if? After the great Appetite and Illusion albums, the expectations were high for a new album of the classic lineup, and the band simply couldn't answer their fans' request for more. Well, considering that, the closest we got was the first Snakepit album, being of course written for Gn'R, and featuring 4/6 of the band (Gilby Clarke, Matt Sorum, Dizzy Reed, himself, and Mike Clink in the producer's chair), as well as Mike Inez on bass and Eric Dover on vocals. In order to create a hypothetical album, we will have to base ourselves off from that, removing only a couple of tracks for other additions. I do believe that, had they gone further into the making of this fourth LP, the songs would have been virtually the same, except with Axl's lyrics instead of Dover's. The "Gilby Clarke situation" would also have to be turned around for this, because he was a big contributor to It's Five o' Clock Somewhere, co-writing a little less than half the album and also contributing backing vocals and rhythm guitar to it.

For this imaginative effort, we'll just pretend he still has the job. Seen as Axl was the only one who had any issues with him, our effort wouldn't be that far removed from the truth, as well as helping to keep the Paul Tobias incident from happening. In addition to IFOCS, the foundation of our album, we will have other 3 songs: Velvet Revolver's "Fall to Pieces", due to its instrumental parts and general structure being written/finished during those aborted '94 sessions, and that it's final recording features 3/6 of their then lineup. Duff's "Six Feet Under", released with the Neurotic Outsiders, also begun during the failed sessions, with ex-Pistol Steve Jones giving McKagan some help with it for it's final release, ending up in what we got. And finally, we have our only real Axl tune, "This I Love", begun as early as late '91, and even rumoured to have been demoed during the "The Spaghetti Incident?" sessions, with one of their engineers telling of tapes of the song in Sydney, Paris, and London, while they recorded on tour.

In order to include those, we will have to exclude some weaker stuff from the album (we don't want that "two double albums" thing all over again!), with my picks being "Jizz da Pit", for being an instrumental and Axl openly hating it, nicknaming it "redneck". "Monkey Chow", because it was written entirely by Gilby Clarke, and considering Axl's disliking of him, it would most likely not be included. Finally, we have "Be the Ball", written entirely by Slash, cut because it was written at the request of a pinball company, and had little to do with the Guns project. Throughout several interviews in '96, Duff and Matt mentioned the project they were working on featured about twelve songs, with few ballads and a more roots approach, "not as heavy as AFD and not as complex as UYI". Here we accomplished just that, with fourteen tunes (you can't blame me for keeping two more!), with few ballads indeed, and a great roots rock n' roll sound, fitting its description of being a mix of their earlier albums, and a development of both's ideas.

The only setback of this project would be Rose's lyric writing, which had by that point stagnated, and led to his next full song being released only in 1999. To blame are the many lawsuits he had to face during this time, being related to the band or his personal life. Zakk Wylde remembers, when rehearsing with the band, they only had instrumentals and no lyrics whatsoever. When asking their frontman about this, he got as an answer that if he tried to write any lyrics, they would all be about those lawsuits, which by then were tormenting his life. So, for the sake of this album, we'll just have to pretend it's Axl who's singing and the one who penned the lyrics, instead of Eric Dover and Scott Weiland. "Six Feet Under" would be the exception, being Duff's vocal solo spot, the only of its kind on the album. Duff's absence is also notable, only being fully present on four songs, due to his touring of his Believe in Me album during the making of the Snakepit album, with Mike Inez trying to fill his shoes and doing okay, although McKagan is missed in this. So without further ado, here's our tracklist:

Neither Can I (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Dime Store Rock (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Beggars and Hangers On (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Good to Be Alive (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
What Do You Wanna Be? (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
This I Love (Chinese Democracy)
Soma City Ward (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)

Fall to Pieces (Contraband)
Lower (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Take it Away (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Doin' Fine (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Six Feet Under (Neurotic Outsiders)
I Hate Everybody But You (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Back and Forth Again (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)

Bonus track:
Dead Flowers (Pawnshop Guitars)


Our new album begins with "Neither Can I", a story about depression and suicide, featuring some inspired guitar work by Slash, as well as guest Teddy Andreadis (who was on their UYI tour) playing the harmonica. Eric Dover does a fantastic job singing this one, but we can't help to imagine Axl singing his part on this, which I think he would do really well. Up next, we have the fast paced "Dime Store Rock", a collaboration between Slash, Dover and Gilby Clarke, him being the one who wrote the main riff to it. It's an aggressive song in the best Gunner fashion, complete with a hard-rocking backing track and mean lyrics about fame and partying. Track three is "Beggars and Hangers On", a song that alternates between loud and heavy parts throughout itself, featuring then again some inspired Slash guitar playing (it is his album, after all!). It has Duff McKagan receiving a co-writing credit, even though he didn't play on the album sessions. That makes 5/6 of GN'R members to contribute to a song, and considering this is supposed to be their album, not bad at all.

Next up we have "Good to Be Alive", then again with the aid of Clarke on the songwriting. Once more, pretty much a standard tune of theirs, with most of their typical characteristics featuring in it. A good song, but nothing phenomenal, making for a good "deep cut" for the album. Up next is "What Do You Wanna Be?", featuring Matt Sorum receiving a co-writing credit. He features on the credits of five of this album's songs, something that didn't happen before, seen as when he arrived on the Illusion sessions, all material was completed, and here he has the chance to contribute. If you were missing a certain someone, now we have "This I Love", a power ballad of the best kind, written by Axl alone. If it were to be recorded in this moment in time, I believe it would feature a more "stripped down" arrangement: none of the orchestration it has, and more "heaviness" during the full-band section of it. Otherwise, it would sound as much as a fish out of water with its lush production as it does when you listen to it along with the Snakepit tunes, even though it's great as it is.

The seventh song in this collection is "Soma City Ward", featuring the illustrious Mr. Izzy Stradlin giving Slash a hand on writing the song, which is itself quite good, and while Izzy was a driving force on the composition camp of theirs, it's his only appearance on this album, having left the band some 5 years before. Up next comes "Fall to Pieces", yet another "softer" tune, a song about heroin addiction, which features Slash, McKagan, Sorum, and the great Scott Weiland on vocals, being a more than fair replacement for Rose. Up next is "Lower", a more mid-tempo song with Sorum once more providing songwriting aid. The song is again a good "deep cut", being a good song, but not enough to stand out on the album. "Take it Away" is next, a song with a great loud/quiet dynamic, while also being one of three tunes in this LP to not need our imaginations when regarding the lyrics, them being written by Slash with the aid of Matt. With all that combined we are almost able to hear Axl's voice in the song. We can dream, can't we?

Following that, we have "Doin' Fine", a great song about partying with an instrumental part that only helps to reinforce the party atmosphere of it. I sincerely could see this become some sort of "live staple" of theirs, such as "Mr. Brownstone" before it. Serving as track twelve on Garden's City is Duff's time to shine, "Six Feet Under". Although he is the only Guns member in it, it does sound like them, and it adds a nice "punk" edge to the album. The second to last tune of the album is "I Hate Everybody But You", and as was the case before, the lyrics are entirely by Slash, so no need to put our creativity to work on that one. As number fourteen on the album, we have probably my favorite song from it, "Back and Forth Again". A strong song, reminiscing of "Breakdown", it's a fantastic way to calm down the mood of the album, before building it up again for its chorus. We can add some credibility points for the fact that Axl and Slash are seen performing an acoustic early version of the song in the Making of Estranged video, and there we have a great finale to the album.

Those of you who pay a lot of attention to detail have noticed the lack of cover songs in this, something they had in abundance for UYI and "TSI?". Before you start wondering why and complaining about it, my reasoning for this is that their aforementioned cover album wasn't that well received and sold less, and given that their public was already saturated of cover songs by then, they decided to stick with original tunes. However, we will add one as a bonus track. "Dead Flowers", from Gilby's solo album, features Axl in the backing vocals and was played during their then latest tour, so it was an obvious recording choice, and possibly as a b-side to a "Fall to Pieces" single. Regarding the album's name and cover art, a couple of years ago, a rumor started spreading in internetland of the so-called Gardens City demos, recorded in 1996. Unfortunately for us, it turned out to be a hoax, but as I liked the title, I stuck with it and made some cover art with a painting I found elsewhere, doing some album title recycling, so to speak.

Simply to be able to see this band back together, after nearly a billion drug overdoses, lawsuits and fights is unbelievable, and while their semi-reunion doesn't release anything studio related, all we have to do is try to cobble together fan comps like this. While we endure that wait, we're left imagining Rose's possible lyrics and vocals to them, most certainly motivated by his then contemporary lawsuits and divorces. And this collection of songs, although really dependable of hypothetical scenarios, shows that they could produce some very strong material and great rocking songs, even while the band slowly fell to pieces.

Sources used:
- Slash's Snakepit - It's Five o' Clock Somewhere
- Velvet Revolver - Contraband
- Guns n' Roses - Chinese Democracy
- Neurotic Outsiders - Neurotic Outsiders
- Gilby Clarke - Pawnshop Guitars

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Kinks - The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)


The Kinks first recorded the song "Village Green" during the sessions for their Something Else LP, in late November 1966. However, instead of including the song in the album it was originally meant for, leader and main songwriter Ray Davies decided to store the song for a future project he had envisioned, where it would be its' centerpiece. At first, it would be a solo project by Davies, centered around the "village green" and nostalgia concepts, based on his childhood memories and experiences in England, scheduled for release sometime in late '67. However, with the others becoming interested in the concept, he decided to scrap such plans and turn the then-titled "Village Green" album into a band effort. So, recording for this new project started soon after they released the Something Else album, in September of 1967. They tracked three new songs, one of them being released as a non-album single ("Autumn Almanac", which managed to hit #3 in the UK charts), and the other two being reserved for the new record, alongside VG. Recording followed, with sessions happening throughout 1968, until August, when they finished a 12-track master.

Scheduled for release on September 27th, this 12 song "Village Green" album was soon canceled under Ray's wishes. He had asked Pye, their label, to have some additional time to track new songs, and perhaps even expand it into a 20-track double LP. The label reluctantly agreed, and so in September, they recorded an additional two songs for the record, them being "Big Sky" and "Last of the Steam Powered Trains", and started to mix the new double LP. However, Pye weren't that confident in the band back then. The failure of their latest single, "Wonderboy", which barely made the top 30 in England, had left a bad taste in their mouths, and a double LP by them would be a big bet. They decided to nix the idea, much to Davies' anger and insisted on it being a single album. As a compromise, however, they decided to allow the album to feature fifteen tracks, instead of the original twelve. That meant two tracks would be removed, them being "Days" and "Mr. Songbird", and the two newly recorded songs and three outtakes would be added. That gave "Sitting By the Riverside", "Animal Farm", and "All My Friends Were There" the spots they now have in the LP.

So, what did they do with the rest of the material? The band ended up releasing the fantastic "Days" as a non-album single, ending up with a big hit (#12 in the singles charts) and one of their best-remembered tracks. And the band's American label, Reprise, alongside Ray, had scheduled to release an 11-song album titled Four More Respected Gentlemen compromising of some of the outtakes and some album songs. Titles like "Misty Water", "Polly" and "Berkeley Mews" were featured, and the compilation was even given a serial number, and release was imminent. However, once more it seems luck wasn't on their side, and the label ended up scrapping it and releasing only the regular 15-track album instead, based on its strength. That way, the songs ended up released on a mess of rarities comps, greatest hits records, and some other very peculiar releases, instead of in their home, Ray's concept of the Village Green. Despite having that many difficulties in the making, the released album was almost unanimously acclaimed, and although selling poorly, managed to become a classic of the 1960's British music scene, and to some their greatest record.

So you might be wondering, by now: what if their wishes of releasing a 20-track double album had come to fruition? First of all, we would have to address one of the main problems of that idea: the album's length. If one were to follow that song limit, he'd end up with a terribly short and brief record. My many attempts at that ended up clocking in at a paltry 54 minutes, and left out quite a lot of fantastic tracks, which would certainly have impacted the commercial potential of the album. Donovan's "A Gift from a Flower to a Garden", also released on Pye, was criticised for just that, only featuring 22 songs in 60 minutes, selling considerably less than his two previous outings. So I think that had Pye Records greenlit the project, they'd ask Davies and the band to try to expand the record into more ideal 25-ish tracks, as a bare minimum. They certainly had enough quality tunes to turn that into a reality, and a minimal amount of work would be needed for such a thing to happen. Hence, that's the format we are going to tackle on this reconstruction, with the best 1968 songs that fit the album's theme. So, not to stretch this out any more than I already have, here is the tracklist:

The Village Green Preservation Society (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Do You Remember, Walter? (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Picture Book (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Johnny Thunder (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Mr. Songbird (Four More Respected Gentlemen)
Last of the Steam Powered Trains (The Village Green Preservation Society)

Animal Farm (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Big Sky (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Did You See His Name? (The Kink Kronikles)
Polly (Four More Respected Gentlemen)
Misty Water (Four More Respected Gentlemen)
Sitting by the Riverside (The Village Green Preservation Society)

Starstruck (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Phenomenal Cat (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Rosemary Rose (The Great Lost Kinks Album)
All My Friends Were There (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Berkeley Mews (Four More Respected Gentlemen)
Wicked Annabella (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Days (Four More Respected Gentlemen)

Village Green (The Village Green Preservation Society)
Pictures in the Sand (The Great Lost Kinks Album)
Wonderboy (The Kink Kronikles)
Lavander Hills (The Great Lost Kinks Album)
Monica (The Village Green Preservation Society)
People Take Pictures of Each Other (The Village Green Preservation Society)

Dave and Ray Davies, Mick Avory and Pete Quaife in late 1968, England

As the Kinks recorded a great number of songs on those year-long sessions, we first need to decide what songs were meant for the album, in the first place, and what weren't. First of all, we know that any songs penned by fellow Kink Dave Davies weren't meant for the concept, and yes for his solo album, "Lincoln County". They also don't really fit into the album's concept, which makes sense considering that. Secondly, I tried to include all songs meant for the album that were in either version of the album, as well as on Four More Respected Gentlemen. The only songs cut were "She's Got Everything", the b-side for "Days", which was only intended for that and recorded two years earlier, and "Autumn Almanac", which was released a whole year earlier than the VGPS album. I did include "Wonderboy", as it was released close enough to the record, and fits in really well into the concept. Four songs from the sessions were also scrapped: three sub-par instrumentals that sort of went nowhere, as well as "Till Death Do Us Part", that, although fantastic, was neither part of the concept or meant for the album, being featured in a movie later in the year.

In sequencing the album, I tried my best to preserve the 15-track album's sequence, as it's nearly perfect, and sort of "sandwich" the outtakes in between album songs, to maintain sonic unity. The whole album is in mono, as two of the songs ("Pictures in the Sand" and "Did You See His Name?") weren't given dedicated stereo mixes back in the day. I believe that, had they carried on with the double album project, those songs would be mixed to stereo, most likely on those final September '68 sessions. And all the mono mixes are the original 1968 ones, with only two exceptions. The first being "Village Green", featured in a version with no orchestra. As it was the only song in the album to feature orchestration, it sort of stuck out alongside the rest of the material, which features the mellotron playing of session man Nicky Hopkins instead. The second is the closing track, "People Take Pictures of Each Other". Featured in its regular mono mix, but with the addition of 30 seconds of Big Band music, as an outro to the album. Ray Davies said in an interview that he had intended to do such a thing, but ended up not doing so due to copyright issues. Go figure.

Side one keeps the first five tracks intact, but adds 12-track reject "Mr. Songbird" to the mix. It's a pretty good song, with a very different arrangement compared to the others, which helps add some variety to it. As for side two, we can keep "Animal Farm" as a side opener, and add "Big Sky" and "Sitting by the Riverside" from the original side one, with the latter as the closer. Added are "Did You See His Name?" (not featured in any of the albums, but a great song that fits within the theme), "Polly" and "Misty Water", both from FMRG. Side three turns "Starstruck" into a side opener, alongside three other album tracks. Added are "Rosemary Rose", from the original 1967 session, "Berkeley Mews", from the Gentlemen album, and the "Days" single as the side closer, as I don't believe a song like that can be followed. For the last side, "Village Green" becomes an opener, and the final two tracks from the original, "Monica" and "People Take Pictures of Each Other" remain in that function. Added are "Pictures in the Sand", shortlisted for the album but later scrapped, the "Wonderboy" single, as well as "Lavander Hill", from the first late '67 sessions.

All in all, as an album, The Village Green Preservation Society doesn't suffer from being a double LP. Ray Davies was in his songwriting peak, back in the day, and had written more than enough quality songs for a double, thematic album. The longer running time also allows us to add more depth to the concept, with different songs and points of view, which is beneficial for it. Clocking in at 65 minutes, with all sides ranging in between 16-17 minutes, the album would no doubt have sold poorly, confirming Pye's fears, but I do think the inclusion of "Days" would have helped the sales at least slightly. The cover, created by me, replaces the rather bland and uninteresting original, using a painting of an actual village green instead. It's really a shame that their inconsistent chart success ended up compromising Ray's artistic vision, despite the end result still being fantastic. Now with the 50th anniversary of the album nearing, it is a possibility that they compile a two-LP version of it in the upcoming deluxe edition, although unlikely. Hopefully, Davies' remembering of the village greens, childhood friends and happiness can be released in full soon.
Sources:
- The Kinks - Village Green Preservation Society (Deluxe Edition, 2004)
- The Kinks - The Anthology 1964 - 1971 (Box Set, 2014)

Monday, June 25, 2018

George Harrison - Portrait of a Leg End (1992)


George Harrison released the album Cloud Nine in November 1987, his first release in five years. His previous outing, Gone Troppo, was an absolute failure, not managing to impress critics and failing to sell enough to make an impact on the charts. Such rejection prompted him to take a break from the music industry, focusing on his son's raising and gardening, only taking part on recording a soundtrack for one of his Handmade Films movies in the meantime. A surprise hit for him, Cloud Nine featured the hit single "Got My Mind Set On You", a cover of a Rudy Clark song from the late fifties, and the album sold remarkably well, managing to finally spark some interest on George's then overlooked solo career. One of the differentials of this album, as compared to his previous LPs, is the presence of a producer alongside him, namely Electric Light Orchestra's Jeff Lynne, his longtime admirer, and recently converted record producer. It gave C9 a sense of unity and form not seen on any of his albums in a long time. In order to cash in with the album's success and popularity, he recorded a couple of music videos for his songs (we're talking about the middle of the MTV era, mind you!) and released some singles off the LP, alogside GMMSOY.

One of those singles happened to be "This Is Love", and it needed a b-side. Having had some ideas for a track to fulfill that position, he asked Lynne to produce it over dinner with him and their friend Roy Orbison, who was asked to tag along. Soon after, they ended up in Bob Dylan's home studio with Tom Petty, and the rest is history. The finished song, "Handle With Care", was considered too good by George's label to be tossed off as a b-side, and so the five of them decided to form a group, named The Travelling Wilburys. They ended up releasing two albums, titled funnily enough Volume 1 and Volume 3 in 1988 and 1990, respectively. The second was recorded without Roy, who unfortunately had passed away in late 1988, due to a heart attack. They all took on nicknames/personas for the albums, which were warmly received and critically praised, being considered one of the most famous "supergroups" of their time. After the group entered a hiatus following the release of their 2nd album, he did a short tour of Japan with Eric Clapton in 1991, and went back to not recording much and being more of a recluse, only regaining interest in recording shortly before his death in 2001.

However, with the success of his comeback record, it was expected that he would soon record a followup to it, to try and keep his newfound popularity as high as it was back then. And so he did, with Lynne back in the producer's chair, recording sporadically throughout 1989. They managed to track three new songs: "Poor Little Girl", "Cockamamie Business" and "Cheer Down", all three meant for his next album. Despite recording some good songs, Harrison was a bit too burdened with recording and writing for the Wilburys, to manage to record an album to his liking, and he ended up scrapping his plans for a new record. The new tunes ended up finding a home in one of his Greatest Hits compilations, later in the year, with "Cheer Down" also being released on the soundtrack to the movie Lethal Weapon 2, which made it a quite successful single. That left some top notch already written tunes in his pocket for either a future release, or to be used by one of his many musician friends on their albums. The ex-Beatle's long-awaited followup wouldn't happen until almost 15 years after this first attempt, when he released his posthumous Brainwashed album in 2002.

However, what that might have left you wondering was: what if he hadn't given up on recording the album? To answer that question, we have to look at the songs George had available by then, as he had kept on writing after C9 was released, and would continue to do so on and off for the next couple of years. As the writing dates for most of his output is known, we will limit the songs to 1991, which is a likely date for its release, for him to be able to record sporadically between his commitments with TW. Speaking of them, no songs featured on their two albums will be a part of this, as that would end up screwing the timeline, and they really don't mix in well with the rest of the material, due to the great deal of collaboration on them. And it's not as if we need it, as we are supplied with enough material for a really top-notch album. One outtake from Vol. 1, however, will be included: "Maxine", which was mostly written and sung by him, making it fair game for this reconstruction. As well as that, one of the songs only features George on slide and backing vocals, despite having written it, something that will be addressed later. Without making you wait even longer, here is our LP: 

Any Road (Brainwashed)
Last Saturday Night (Brainwashed)
Cheer Down (Best of Dark Horse '76-'89)
Poor Little Girl (Best of Dark Horse '76-'89)
Cockamamie Business (Best of Dark Horse '76-'89)
That Kind of Woman (Still Got the Blues)
-
Stuck Inside a Cloud (Brainwashed)
Run So Far (Brainwashed)
Never Get Over You (Brainwashed)
Maxine (Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1)
Rocking Chair in Hawaii (Brainwashed)
In the Rising Sun (Brainwashed)

Harrison playing at the National Law Party benefit concert, April 1992

George's self-portrait begins with "Any Road", from Brainwashed. It was written during a break on recording the "This Is Love" music video, in early 1988. It predates the whole Wilbury thing by a couple of months and is one of the highlights off the album, being rightfully brought back in the late nineties to be the opener in his posthumous record. "Last Saturday Night" began life as a Cloud 9 outtake, being recorded during the original album's sessions in '87. However, he and Lynne deemed this satirical, Christianity bashing song too good to sit in the vaults forever, and brought it back with some minimal overdubs for his next album, something we guess they would still do in this timeline. Serving as track no.3, we have the first of the 1989 session songs, "Poor Little Girl". One of the most underrated songs in his back catalog, it suffered a lot from being put in a forgotten compilation, something we hope to manage to avoid here. Up next is "Cheer Down", co-written with Wilbury Tom Petty. The most probable lead single from Portrait of a Leg End, due to its popularity and inclusion on the Lethal Weapon movie, it's also a great tune, something this album has its fill of.

Following the lead single is the quirky "Cockamamie Business", the third from the '89 sessions. They are put together because they sound good segueing from each other, especially in the order I put them. Next is one of the trickier songs from the album, "That Kind of Woman". Written by Harrison, and featuring his trademark slide guitar playing and backing vocals, no version with him on lead vocals has surfaced yet. That being said, Gary Moore's original 1990 version with him really comes close to being a GH recording. If you close your eyes and squint your ears a bit, it almost sounds like him. Opening up side two is "Stuck Inside a Cloud", the most probable 2nd single from the record. According to drummer Jim Keltner, it was a pretty old song, from the mid-eighties, with it being brought back, later on, to be included on Brainwashed. We will do the same here, as it is a great tune, and was already in the can for him to use. Following it up, "Run So Far" was given to his buddy Eric Clapton to be used on his Journeyman album, in 1989. The second of his "giveaway" tunes, he would later record it, showing he saw potential on the song, and that's a decision we will respect.

Up next is "Never Get Over You", written more or less in the same era as "Stuck Inside a Cloud", during the mid-eighties, and brought back later when there came the time for Harrison to compile BW. The second anomaly on the record, the nice "Maxine" comes next. An outtake from the Volume One sessions, it's basically a solo George song, with him handling most writing and singing. And as the Travelling Wilburys and him shared the same producer and backing band, it's only fair enough that we put it in here. The oldest song of the bunch, "Rocking Chair in Hawaii" had its origins during the All Things Must Pass sessions in 1970. Sometime later, it was re-written and re-recorded by him for his new album, with the arrangement being considerably similar to the original one from ATMP. What else could follow the oldest tune on the LP, and also end the record? The newest of the bunch, and one of his best, of course! "Rising Sun" was mostly written during the 1991 Japan Tour, according to his son Dhani. The track would be a pretty strong contender for this record, once he returned, and ends the album in a great majestic fashion, as it should be.

As an album, "Portrait of a Leg End" is a pretty good record, managing to pick up where its predecessor left out and even evolve on its ideas. It manages to have a consistent quality and sound throughout, and functions as sort of a "missing link" between Cloud Nine and Brainwashed, something that is pretty interesting to hear. Although some inevitable and constant overlap with the latter, it doesn't detract from the album at all, to my ears, and both can co-exist peacefully in my iTunes library. It is a respectable record by an already aging rock star, with much more high points than lows. Clocking in at about 47 minutes, with sides of similar lengths, the album would most probably be released in mid-1992, to both give him time to finish it, and to coincide with his last concert appearance in April. As for the album's name, it is based on an early working title for his final album, being both a pun on bootlegs, and a piss-take on his legendary status as an ex-Beatle. Despite the name being a bit exaggerated, this record paints a really nice picture of where he stood in this point of his life, with his not considering himself a legend not mattering much.
Sources:
- George Harrison - Brainwashed
- George Harrison - Best of Dark Horse '76-'89
- Travelling Wilburys - Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1
- Gary Moore - Still Got the Blues

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Faces - Open to Ideas (1975)


"Ooh La La", the Faces' fourth and last studio LP, was released in March 1973 by Warner Bros Records. Produced by the band and Glyn Johns, it was released in a time when lead singer Rod Stewart's solo career was starting to get more and more popular, and as a result, it ended up charting as high as #1, despite not being that critically well received. The recording sessions for the album, which spanned from late 1972 to January of the following year, were fraught with tension and infighting between band members, with Johns having to mediate and help ease the mood in the studio. Stewart's growing disinterest with the band, due to his newfound solo popularity, was one of the main reasons things had escalated between them, with members Lane, McLagan, and Jones being tired of staying behind the vocalist's shadow, being seen merely as his backing group. Stewart's absence was such that he only sang in half of Ooh La La's songs, with the rest of the record being populated with instrumentals and Ronnie Lane originals. Stewart, obviously, was not pleased with the results, and spoke his mind about the album in a Melody Maker interview. Between many other things, he called it half-baked and said he wasn't really proud of the album, citing the long time they took to make it as detrimental as well.

That enraged Lane, who had been the main force behind the album's songwriting, due to the singer's lack of commitment. Tired of being sidelined and overshadowed, he quit the band shortly afterward,  and began a solo career for himself, recording his first album in 1974. He ended up being replaced with bass player Tetsu Yamauchi, who had played for Free as a replacement for Andy Fraser. This new lineup toured in the US and Europe in support of the album, with their setlists consisting of half Faces tunes and half RS solo songs, and the tour was announced with the headline of "Rod Stewart and the Faces". Later in the year, they record the non-album single "Pool Hall Richard" and it's b-side, both written by Stewart and lead guitarist Ronnie Wood. It was a minor hit, managing to make #8 in the singles chart, and was pretty well received as well. Another release from the band was "Coast to Coast: Adventure and Beginners", a live album from their recent US tour, released in early 1974. While that was being mixed, both Wood and Stewart began recording their solo albums, in the basement of Ronnie's mansion, The Wick. Several songs were recorded during the aforementioned sessions, with all members of the group, except Tetsu, participating. 

However, instead of keeping those tunes for use in their next studio album, Rod and Ronnie show off the level of disinterest they had in the band, and put them alongside other non-Faces tracks, recorded during the same sessions, and release two solo albums, "Smiler" and "I've Got My Own Album to Do", respectively. Sometime later in mid-1974, the whole group reconvenes and records a new single, "You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything", planned to lead off their new LP. However, those sessions only yielded another song, which was used as its b-side, and as they had touring commitments, they left that as-is. Whilst on tour, they kept on writing and having new song ideas, eventually reconvening to finish the album by January 1975. Then again, the sessions weren't very fruitful, and Lane's absence meant that the songwriting camp had been weakened considerably. They ended up tracking only four new songs, which were then overdubbed over the following month, before once more leaving to tour. The group eventually broke up in November 1975, with Wood joining the Rolling Stones, which left the new material shelved indefinitely, leaving "Ooh La La" as their last effort as a group, and their first post-Lane album unfinished.

However, what that left us all wondering was: what if they had remained focused within the band, and finished the album? First of all, we know "Pool Hall Richard" and its b-side, despite being fantastic songs, would not feature in the album, due to being one year removed from the first recording sessions, and being intended to be non-album singles since inception. Songs from both solo albums are fair game, as if the band had focused on the album, they would end up featuring in it anyway. However, they still must feature three or more band members each, to still manage to sound like a band effort and retain a certain cohesion for our reconstruction. No live versions are allowed as well, both due to it being a studio album, and to limit the addition of solo Rod Stewart tracks performed live by them, which would make almost the whole of "Smiler" usable. We will include all four songs recorded during those final sessions, as well as both sides of the "You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything" single. The sides will feature no more than five songs a side, as with most of their records, and with only two songs featuring a lead vocal not by Rod, in contrast with his minimal input in their previous release. Well, without further ado, here's our tracklist:

You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything (Five Guys Walk into a Bar...)
Sailor (Smiler)
Mystifies Me (I've Got My Own Album to Do)
Take a Look at the Guy (I've Got My Own Album to Do)
Gettin' Hungry (Five Guys Walk into a Bar...)
-
Rock Me (Five Guys Walk into a Bar...)
Dixie Toot (Smiler)
As Long as You Tell Him (Five Guys Walk into a Bar...)
Sweet Little Rock n' Roller (Smiler)
Open to Ideas (Five Guys Walk into a Bar...)

Bonus tracks:
Hi Heel Sneakers/Somebody to Love (Five Guys Walk into a Bar...)

McLagan, Stewart, Wood, Jones, and Yamauchi in early 1974

Starting off things is "You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything", the final single the band released while they were together in November 1974. It was a hit single for the group, managing to hit #1 in the singles chart, and was a pretty poppy tune, with some orchestration and a disco beat, which contrasts a lot with their other material. Written by all band members, it was still credited to "Rod Stewart and Faces" on the single's sleeve, which angered the band. Released on Stewart's "Smiler" LP, "Sailor" is a great fast-paced rocker with some fun lyrics, featuring keyboardist Ian McLagan, drummer Kenney Jones and guitarist Ronnie Wood, which almost makes it a Faces song, if you think about it. Being written by the distinct songwriting duo of Wood and Stewart helps matters a lot, as well. "Mystifies Me" is up next, being sourced from Ronnie's "I've Got My Own Album to Do". A beautiful ballad, it was written by Ronnie for Pattie Boyd, with whom he was having an affair at the time (as were George Harrison and Eric Clapton, mind you!), and also features backing vocals from Rod during the chorus, and some great Hammond organ playing by McLagan. The tune is also one of the highlights from his debut record, more than earning its spot in here.

Track no. 4 is then again sourced from Woody's first solo release. "Take a Look at the Guy", with co-lead vocals by Rod Stewart and some fiery electric piano playing by McLagan. Written by RW, this song was a mainstay of the band's setlist from 1974 onwards as well, with them stretching the song by a couple of minutes with extended solos and jamming. Finishing up things in side one is "Gettin' Hungry", a Beach Boys song from "Smiley Smile", of all things. A very bluesy tune, it was recorded during the final 1975 sessions, and is one of the more interesting songs from that period, with a slow, organ-driven intro and some great vocals by Rod the Mod. Side two's opener is the appropriately titled "Rock Me", written by Wood, Stewart, and McLagan. Almost an archetype for the regular Faces tune, it was recorded during their January 1975 sessions as well, with lead vocals by Rod. Speaking of him, his "Dixie Toot" is the seventh song in here, being one of the best songs on the album. Featuring Jones and Wood alongside himself, as well as some carnival-like brass playing, courtesy of Chris Barber's Jazz Band. It speaks of searching for a good time, something I think is pretty appropriate for a Wood/Stewart song on a Faces album, so it stays here.

Up next is "As Long as You Tell Him", the b-side to "You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything". A great, slow ballad, it was once more written by Stewart and Wood, dealing with a messy breakup, with some great playing by the whole band. Then again, it became a mainstay of their setlists after its release, so it deserves a spot in here. As track nine, we have the Chuck Berry cover of "Sweet Little Rock n' Roller", from Rod's "Smiler", with McLagan and Jones playing alongside him. Finishing things up for the Faces' fifth is its title track, "Open to Ideas". Yet another ballad, it was written by Ian McLagan with aid from Rod and Woody, and was first featured in a compilation album in 1999. One of the superior songs from the record, it more than earns its place as closer and title track. As an addendum, we have a medley of two Rn'B covers: "Hi Heel Sneakers", by Tommy Tucker, and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love", by Solomon Burke. It shows them in a pretty laid-back way, being of a live-in-the-studio fashion, making the whole thing pretty great, as well as making for a fantastic listen. It didn't feature in the album both due to the lack of space and due to it not being of the same quality as the others. Good enough for a bonus track.

As an album, "Open to Ideas" is a pretty good mid-1970s rock and roll record, with some great songs and performances in general. However, one cannot underestimate the damage Ronnie Lane's absence caused, both within the group and musically. Lost were his incredible songwriting chops and the variety he brought to them with his acoustic numbers, as was their interest in going further with the band, which was what doomed it from the start. It pales in comparison to what the band could do at their peak, but as a companion to "Ooh La La", it is more than fitting, and they sound pretty good alongside each other. Clocking in at 41 minutes with a longer side two, its most probable second single would be its title track, and using our bonus track as the b-side would be a nice way to use everything they recorded. It's a shame how a band of such potential and capabilities as the Faces ended up with such a short career together. In their heyday, they managed to challenge the Rolling Stones for the crown of the greatest rock n' roll band in the world, all that while playing some of the most energetic live gigs of the time. This unreleased album is a great glimpse of their final days, before they ended up either joining their competitors or crossing the Atlantic.

Sources:
- The Faces - Five Guys Walk into a Bar...
- Rod Stewart - Smiler
- Ron Wood - I've Got My Own Album to Do

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Hollies - Listen to Us (1968)


By 1968, The Hollies, who were one of the best bands of the British Invasion, were in some bad times: their latest psychedelic, Nash-led albums had only been moderate successes, and the "King Midas in Reverse" single flopped. While Nash, the only member of the group that had ever tried LSD or other drugs, wanted to carry on with the psychedelia and experimentation, the other group members wanted to continue with their teenybopper image, causing numerous fights between members. After recording about 10 songs for singles and a possible follow up to "Butterfly", Nash finally had enough of the band and joined Stephen Stills and Graham Nash in CSN, taking with him two songs he had written for the Hollies (namely "Marrakesh Express" and "Lady of the Island"). The rest of the group, however, recruited rhythm guitarist and singer Terry Sylvester and soldiered on with a Dylan covers album. All that was released at the time from the sessions were two singles ("Jennifer Eccles" and "Listen to Me") and their respective b-sides. So, comes the doubt: what if they had finished the last album Graham Nash recorded with them?

From the material available to craft the album, we have three singles (the two mentioned above plus their earlier, late-'67 "King Midas In Reverse") and their b-sides, along with the two CSN songs, "...Express" and "Lady of the Island", and the outtakes released in the "Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years: The Complete Hollies April 1963 – October 1968" we have about enough to create an album: 14 songs, but one of them will be scrapped due to being absolutely horrible (yes, you guessed it, the horribly corny orchestral version of Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind"), while the other tunes, fortunately, are great. The album would be titled "Listen to Us", a bad pun with one of the singles, and the cover is a mockup of their "Hollies' Greatest" cover, released in the same year, made by me, where I just replaced the text with the album's name. So, now we have a nice batch of thirteen songs to sequence into a good farewell-album for Nash, and a worthy follow-up to their magnum opus Butterfly, so let's see what can be done with them:

Open Your Eyes (The Complete Hollies)
Do The Best You Can (The Complete Hollies)
Relax (The Complete Hollies)
Everything Is Sunshine (Epic Anthology)
Man With No Expression (The Complete Hollies)
Like Every Time Before (The Complete Hollies)
Wings (The Complete Hollies)
-
King Midas In Reverse (The Complete Hollies)
Jennifer Eccles (The Complete Hollies)
Lady of the Island (Crosby, Stills, and Nash)
Tomorrow When It Comes (The Complete Hollies)
Marrakesh Express (Crosby, Stills, and Nash)
Listen to Me (The Complete Hollies)

The band in early 1968

Side A starts with "Open Your Eyes", originally a b-side, it is a nice little tune, nice enough to start the album, followed by "Do The Best You Can", an outtake, and the short "Relax", originally unreleased as well. The fourth track on this side is "Everything Is Sunshine", originally the b-side to the King Midas single, and the great "Man With no Expression" follows, along with "Like Every Time Before". The side ends with the great midtempo song "Wings", originally unreleased. One of the best songs Graham Nash ever wrote, "King Midas In Reverse" is followed by the single "Jennifer Eccles", leading to a CSN tune, "Lady of the Island". Due to the fact that they did not record the song, we will have to use the CSN version, but even still it fits pretty well. "Tomorrow When It Comes", a nice psychedelic rocker comes next, being followed by the second and last CSN song, "Marrakesh Express". The Hollies went as far as recording a backing track for this one, but due to the lack of a lead vocal (I heard an attempt at sync with Nash's demo vocal and the instrumental, but it did not work well), we use the released Crosby, Stills & Nash version. Ending the album is the almost title-track, "Listen to Me". Originally a single, it is a more than appropriate ending to the LP.

Compared to their two previous albums, "Evolution" and "Butterfly", it stands as being equally good, with some highlights like "Man With No Expression", the two CSN songs, and "King Midas...", and the fact that the terrible "Blowing In the Wind" wasn't included improves a lot on the album as well! Their singles would be the same as they were in our reality, which is pretty good. Clocking at about 35 minutes, it is a little short, but still, their previous albums had the same length, if not less, so we're fine. Nash's leaving was inevitable, at least to me. There is no way he'd be able to reconcile his more drug-fueled vision and songwriting with the workmanlike and poppier Hollies in the long run, but honestly, it was great while it lasted. But now, at least he has a proper farewell, before he became a third (or a fourth, depending on the era) of one of the best groups in the world, and his original band became a pop group, with hits like "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" giving them much fame and recognition, and it seems as if both sides won in this. But during this era, it seems that all they ever wanted was that we would listen to them.

Sources:
- Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years: The Complete Hollies April 1963 – October 1968
- The Epic Anthology
- Crosby, Stills & Nash

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Who - 7ft. Wide Car, 6ft. Wide Garage (1970)


"Tommy", The Who's first rock opera, was released in mid-May 1969, to immense critical acclaim and sales, and cemented their reputation as a band and act on what was for them the ever-elusive USA. Based on other works, such as the Pretty Things' "SF Sorrow", it tells of a messiah-like child who is deaf, dumb and blind, and is cured through pinball, before starting his holiday camp/cult and spreading his teachings to his followers. When performed live, the whole piece transformed them into most probably the greatest live band of the period, as was demonstrated in 1970's "Live at Leeds", and their appearance on both the Woodstock and Isle of Wight films. This conceptual double album was what kickstarted their domain over the UK and America over the 70s, and is still heralded as a masterpiece, with the group resurrecting the piece periodically since 1989, and always playing at least a couple of selections off it live. So from the get-go, the band knew it would be no easy task to follow such a blockbuster album, which especially frightened songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend, on whose shoulders was the responsibility to top what he saw as his best work. In order to gain time for the next LP or project of theirs, while still remaining on the public eye, they released the aforementioned concert as a stopgap of sorts, and started recording as soon as January of that year alternating the recording with more continued touring for "Tommy" around the world.

Pete's first attempt at writing a song after the opera's release was "Naked Eye", that evolved from one of the many "My Generation" jams they played as part of their act at the time, while on tour. After that first try, the rest of the songs started coming rather naturally to him, managing to write a couple more along the year. John Entwistle, their not-so-secret weapon, had also penned some songs, and it seemed that all was coming together for them, song-wise. Recording at both IBC Studios and Eel Pie, located in the guitarist's garage, they released their first new material in the year in the form of the single "The Seeker", backed with one of Roger Daltrey's few compositions, "Here for More". It did considerably well, managing to hit the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic, however, Pete remained unsatisfied. He still deemed it vital for The Who to have another concept to work under, instead of just having stand-alone songs without any link between them. However, while he didn't figure out what that concept was, they kept recording new material on and off through the year, during tour breaks. The sessions turned into an EP project, jokingly titled "7ft. Wide Car, 6ft. Wide Garage" by drummer Keith Moon, after the rather unusual location of their recording studio. However, that four-song release ended up scrapped by them and their label, Track Records as they would end up focusing more on tracking a couple more songs for the project, turning it into a new studio album.

However, during a break on their activities during September 1970, Townshend composed "Pure and Easy", the very beginning of the new concept he had asked for. From then to early 1971, he wrote the storyline and composed songs for a new 2LP opera, prospectively titled "Bobby". It was a story about a dystopian future, set in the year 2000, about people living in "lifesuits" due to the world being too polluted, and living in a virtual reality of sorts called the Lifehouse. Rock music was banned, then, so some hacker, named Bobby, ends up transmitting rock (obviously through Who songs), and helping the people rebel against the establishment. So from then on, the '70 material had two options: either being abandoned and left in the vaults for the time being, or being added into the new concept, as was the case with some of the album's tunes. As work progressed on the new opera, retitled "Lifehouse", they started new recording sessions in New York's Record Plant studios. They managed to track some 10 songs, before the concept was abandoned, mostly due to the rest of the group's inability to understand the concept of the album, and Pete's inability to explain it to them. Returning to England, sessions in Olympic with Glyn Johns on the producer's chair gave birth to "Who's Next", their stadium rock masterpiece, born from Lifehouse's best songs. A single album without any underlying concept, it ignored their songwriter's ideas, but ended up being a massive hit nevertheless.

So, what I wonder is: what if they had soldiered on with the 1970 project? Had the sudden inspiration for Lifehouse not happened, what was going to be next for the Who? First of all, any song written before September 1970's early conception of the opera is fair game to be included in this album. Due to that, two of the songs weren't even recorded in 1970, but I believe that had they carried on with the project, they would end up recording them for inclusion on the project. Also included is a live-in-the-studio BBC version of a song that wasn't properly recorded by The Who, back in the day. Since it fits in with the rest of the material sound-wise and is period accurate, it's included here. Both sides of the "The Seeker" single are present here, as I believe they would feature with the rest of the material from the sessions, despite being released early in the year. Live staples such as "Summertime Blues" and "Shakin' All Over" aren't included, as I don't think the band would be up to record such covers at the time. I also don't think Pete's worries that they needed a concept had reasoning, due to the immense success of "Who's Next", and the unfortunate scrapping of Lifehouse (a  reconstruction of which you can find here). To me, the album would have to be released in about November 1970, and feature about ten songs. I kept the joke title they gave, as it is pretty good, and it matches the theme of some of the more humorous songs on the album. Without further ado, here's our tracklist:

Heaven and Hell (Maximum A's and B's)
Drowned (Quadrophenia)
Now I'm a Farmer (Odds and Sods)
I Don't Even Know Myself (Then and Now)
Water (Odds and Sods)
-
The Seeker (Maximum A's and B's)
Postcard (Then and Now)
There's a Fortune on Those Hills (Who Came First)
Behind Blue Eyes (Who's Next)
Naked Eye (Odds and Sods)

Bonus tracks:
Here for More (Maximum A's and B's)
Shakin' All Over/Spoonful (BBC Sessions)

Townshend, Daltrey, Moon and Entwistle in late 1970

Starting off the album is their usual show starter through most of the 1969-70 tours, "Heaven and Hell". First played during their late-1968 live performances and staying in that spot until December 1970, it only wasn't included on the Tommy album due to the lack of a conceptual link, something that isn't an issue here. Surprisingly enough, up next is a song from 1973's "Quadrophenia", the great "Drowned", seen here in Pete Townshend's March 1970 demo of it. Despite being recorded some three years after the rest of the album, it was already finished by the time of the recording sessions for this project. And since had they soldiered on with this project, they would have used all or most of the songs available, it seems fair to think they would end up recording it, hence it's inclusion. Written in late 1968, but not included on Tommy due to the lack of a connection to the concept, "Now I'm a Farmer" is up next, finally being recorded by the group in 1970. Townshend's composition has a pretty humorous side, with them singing about life in the country and being able to grow your own food. Apparently, Townshend was pretty proud of the song, giving it considerable praise on some pre-Tommy interviews. It's the first song included here that was a part of the scrapped EP, as was "I Don't Even Know Myself". Later added to Lifehouse, it was recorded in May 1970, in the garage studios at Eel Pie. In their Isle of Wight gig that August, it was introduced as from their next LP, which they were still recording.

As the fifth and final track on the first side, "Water" is one of the highlights of the album. Later being added to the "Lifehouse" concept, it was one of the highlights from their live concerts at the time, sometimes getting up to twelve minutes in length, as was the case in the Isle of Wight gig. We will use the studio version of it, considerably shorter at four minutes, but just as good as its live counterpart. It was recorded alongside the bulk of this album at Pete's garage in May 1970. Opening up side two is the lead single from the sessions, "The Seeker" was the first recording from the sessions, recorded in January 1970 at IBC studios. Despite being released a couple of months before the album would be, I believe they would include it, based on quality alone, and on the fact they honestly didn't have that much spare material to just throw a hit away. It's b-side, "Here for More", is a whole different story though, and is relegated to bonus track status. Afterward, comes bassist John Entwistle's composition "Postcard", as the second track on side two. The song was recorded that May, alongside the rest of the EP, and is a pretty humorous description of life on the road for the band. The second solo Pete Townshend demo included here is "There's a Fortune on Those Hills", from the recent Who Came First deluxe edition. The song was rumored to have been recorded in 1970 and considered for inclusion on this project, but since no Who recording of it has ever surfaced, the demo will have to do.

Soon afterward, is "Behind Blue Eyes", sourced from their masterpiece, "Who's Next". Despite what is believed by many, it did not begin its life as a Lifehouse song from the get-go, and had a pretty peculiar evolution. Pete started writing it on the road sometime in late June 1970, firstly as a prayer, consisting of its "rock" ending's lyrics. And then, through the next couple of months or so, it evolved to become the song we all know and love. So, since it was begun and mostly completed before the main ideas for "Lifehouse" were fully fleshed-out, and is much more universal in theme than most LH songs, it is included here. Finishing off things for The Who's fifth studio album, is one of the biggest highlights of it, "Naked Eye". Yet another of the planned EP songs, it stayed in their live repertoire for most of their career, which shows just how good it is. Before finding a home on "Odds and Sods", it was also slated for "Lifehouse", and there are even rumors it was re-recorded during sessions for it. But despite that, we will include the regular studio version of it, from the aforementioned outtakes compilation, to end our album with the song that started it. Keeping the promise I made of not including their live cover staples, a medley of both "Shakin' All Over" and "Spoonful", the first a 50's rock tune and the second a blues standard, is added as a bonus track. It was recorded for a BBC program, in the same session as "Heaven and Hell", making it seem fair that we included it, even if in a limited form.

As an album, "7ft. Wide Car, 6ft. Wide Garage" is one of the best representations of the era which I consider to be the peak of their talents in the studio and live. With great compositions and individual performances, with special praise to drummer Keith Moon, who of course was at the top of his game as a drummer back then, the ten songs featured in this reconstruction are some of their best. Clocking in at 40 minutes with two even 20-minute sides, this unreleased album is in the same league as "Who's Next" in the terms of quality, at least to me. And considering that both were planned less than a year apart and overlap by only a single song, that's really impressive. Its release would certainly have affected the Lifehouse project in some pretty significant ways, I believe. On one hand, it would give the band more freedom to write and record without the pressure to release an album in 1971, since they already had the previous year. On the other, the project now misses some songs that were key to it, both on the narrative side and on the musical aspect as well, which Pete would have to fill in with new songs, further overloading him with work in a much troubled period of his life. As the group had said, it would be no easy task to follow such a mammoth of an LP as "Tommy", but they sure did try their best to do it, with some pretty impressing results. We now have the "missing link" of sorts between their two biggest albums, and it's in the most literal way possible, a garage rock album.

Sources:
The Who - Maximum A's & B's
The Who - Odds and Sods
The Who - Then and Now
The Who - Who's Next
The Who - Quadrophenia
Pete Townshend - Who Came First
The Who - BBC Sessions

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Oh, Lonesome Me (1970)


The Rockets were a Californian psychedelic rock group, consisting of band members Danny Whitten, Leon Whitsell, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot. They had been together since 1963, when they began as a doo-wop vocal group, of all things, called Danny and the Memories. After several name changes, stylistic changes, a Sly Stone-produced single and relative fame on Los Angeles' nightclub scene, they released a self-titled album in 1968, through White Whale records. With Whitten and Whitsell on lead vocals and also sharing most of the significant songwriting duties, it didn't sell very well, only managing to score about five thousand copies sold and no expressive charting singles. However, their luck began to change when, in late 1968, they got in touch with Neil Young, an old acquaintance they had interacted with in '66, when he was still a member of Buffalo Springfield. After leaving the aforementioned band a couple of times and releasing his first solo album early in 1968, he saw them perform at the Whisky-a-Go-Go club, and impressed with what he saw, Young invited the group for a couple of jam sessions, with Whitten, Molina, and Talbot accepting the invitation.

After those sessions, they received an offer to become his official backing group from then on, and so they did. Rechristened as "Crazy Horse", the three of them began the recording of Neil's second solo studio album, "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere", in early 1969. After released, in April of 1969, it became a hit, with songs such as "Cinnamon Girl" becoming AM radio staples, and managing to chart much higher than his previous studio LP. The album even featured a "tribute" of sorts to the deceased Rockets written by NY, "Running Dry", even featuring ex-member Bobby Notkoff on violin. As was the norm, they toured throughout the year to promote their album, with the special addition of producer and friend Jack Nitzsche handling the keyboard duties, and so they undertook their first North American tour together as a band. And then as early as August of the same year, they began recording on and off with Young, for a possible follow-up record. In that month alone, they recorded some eight new songs, with one of them even being a Danny Whitten original, and due to all that happening in the space of a year, the future looked pretty bright for them.

However, right around that time, Neil received an invitation, right around that time, to join Crosby, Stills, and Nash in their next gig, this little festival in the middle of nowhere called "Woodstock". That extended into an album and sold-out tour with CSNY, leading to him understandably not having much time to record his album, which led to all his activities with the Horse being put on hold for the time being, the LP obviously included. After he returned, in February 1970, things had changed. He decided to scrap most CH recordings and start anew, in a brand new direction. With a different backing group, he recorded the more personal and folksy "After the Gold Rush", that when released featured only three songs with the Whitten/Molina/Talbot lineup. As with its predecessor, it was a big hit, and cemented Young's reputation as a great artist of that era. The band, however, also used their newfound popularity to their favor, recording a new DW-led album, that featured songs such as the great "I Don't Wanna Talk About It", later covered by Rod Stewart. While both parts went their separate ways, for the time being, their second unfinished effort stayed in the vaults.

However, what many of us still wondered was: how could a second NY&CH effort have sounded like? First of all, we know of the working title of it, during the August 1969 sessions. It was named "Oh, Lonesome Me" after a Don Gibson cover they recorded, and was to be released in early 1970. Second of all, I believe it would have featured about twelve songs, as they did not record any other ten-minute epics, as was the case in Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. The group's influence and output in it would have also been bigger, I think, as shown by their live performances and sessions at the time, featuring Whitten-sung numbers and such. In addition to the eight songs from the 1969 sessions, live versions by them of Young-written songs will be included here, due to the unavailability of period-accurate studio versions of them, and the fact they would probably be recorded had the whole CSNY thing not happened. Some songs from the Crazy Horse album will be included as well, due to being recorded concurrently with ATGR and to the idea that their album would feature more input from them. Without stretching it any further than this, here it is:

Winterlong (Live at Fillmore East)
Look at All the Things (Crazy Horse)
Everybody's Alone (Archives, Vol. 1 - 1963/1972)
Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown (Live at Fillmore East)
Wonderin' (Live at Fillmore East)
It Might Have Been (Archives, Vol. 1 - 1963/1972)

Oh, Lonesome Me (After the Gold Rush)
I Don't Want to Talk About It (Crazy Horse)
When You Dance I Can Really Love (After the Gold Rush)
I Believe In You (After the Gold Rush)
Dance, Dance, Dance (Crazy Horse)
Birds (Archives, Vol. 1 - 1963/1972)

Young and Whitten performing live, March 1970

Our album begins with "Winterlong". It was first recorded during the Horse sessions, but that take remains unreleased. A studio version was recorded during sessions for "Tonight's the Night", being released on Decade. In here, however, we will use a live version from March 1970, as it features the group and is from the same time period as Gold Rush. Up next is Whitten's It Might Have Been, an oddity in here as it doesn't feature Neil playing or writing in it. However, its justified by the fact that in those same sessions, the group recorded a version of the tune, and it remains unreleased. Instead, we'll use the "Crazy Horse" LP's version of it. As track number three, we have "Everybody's Alone". Recorded by both Young and the Horse and as a group effort between him and CSN, we will use the original version of it, tracked by the band, and found on his "Archives Vol. 1" anthology release. Afterward, the live "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown" comes. Found on both "Tonight's the Night" and the March 1970 gig, we will use it as opposed to a studio version without Neil from the Horse LP, due to featuring the group's frontman, and being good enough for a different album.

As the fifth tune, we have "Wonderin'", introduced in the live album as "from my new album, when I record it". Despite being written way back then, the first studio version of it fans ever saw was recorded on 1983's "Everybody's Rockin'", in a surprisingly good rockabilly arrangement. Instead of that, we will use a live version of it, from the same gig as the other two tunes before it. A Jo London cover, "It Might Have Been" finishes off side one, then again as a live performance, but this time from an unknown venue in April '70, found on the Archives release. They did attempt a studio version, but as NY kept screwing up the lyrics on those takes, it was then rendered unusable. Starting side two is our title track, itself being a cover too, by Don Gibson. The studio version that was released on "After the Gold Rush" is our pick in here, also being one of my favorites from the Aug. '69 sessions. The surprise posthumous hit "I Don't Want to Talk About It" comes next, being written and sung by Whitten. Being the best song on the "Crazy Horse" LP, I think that it would most certainly be included on the album as it is, and due to that, we will use that version in here.

Serving as the eighth track on our reconstruction is "When You Dance I Can Really Love". Probably one of the best songs on the album, it was included on ATGR as recorded by the Horse, and would probably be released as one of the singles off this particular version, based on sheer quality. Up next is the final of three songs in here to be sourced from his 1970 album, "I Believe in You". It was also recorded with CSNY during sessions for their first album, but obviously, we will use the group version of it. Recorded and included on the Horse's album, but written by Young, "Dance, Dance, Dance" is sung by drummer Ralph Molina, and that's the version of it we'll use this time around. It was also attempted with the frontman, but then again nothing came of the tune with him, leading us to use this one. As the final track on this album, "Birds" is also the shortest song, clocking at more or less one and a half minutes. It was released as the b-side to the "Oh, Lonesome Me" single, and was later re-recorded to be used on his Horse-less album. For that, we will use the original CH take, found in the Archives collection, finishing off the album in a very beautiful way, as it should be.

Clocking in at about 42 minutes, in more-or-less evenly timed sides, "Oh, Lonesome Me" is a solid country/rock affair, being almost like a bridge between its predecessor and the hit that was to come afterward, 1972's "Harvest". In addition to all that, the non-Neil compositions and covers give this a sort of "spontaneous" feel to the LP and as a showcase for his now famous backing band, with its contrast between live and studio material. I also don't think the inclusion of live material is too far-fetched, as they have in the past released studio/concert hybrids, such as "Rust Never Sleeps", leading us to believe this could also be the case. Due to the fact that Neil is the king of unfinished albums, this particular lost LP doesn't have the same fame and mythology as "Homegrown", another of his non-projects. That is undeservedly so, because it plays a very important part on NY's discography, and helps us understand his later work. Due to it being Whitten's final work before his heroin addiction spiraled out of control, this album's release would make an album like "Tonight's the Night" a much more poignant statement about one of his greatest friends who died so tragically.

Sources:
- Live at Fillmore East, March 1970
- Neil Young - After the Gold Rush
- Crazy Horse - Crazy Horse
- The Archives, Vol. 1 - 1963/1972