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.

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

Friday, February 09, 2018

The Small Faces - 1862 (1969)

The Small Faces released their landmark album, "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake", in May 1968, through Immediate Records. It was released to massive critical and commercial acclaim, and the album is to this day considered one of the masterpieces of the so-called summer of love of 1967 and 1968. Together with LPs by the kinds of Traffic, the Beatles or the Jefferson Airplane, it defined the psychedelic era, and has a loyal cult following even 50 years after its release. It featured regular "pop" songs on the first side, and a fairy tale made up of both music and narration (by one Prof. Staley Unwin!) called "Happiness Stan" on the other. It followed Stan, who goes on an adventure to find the other half of the moon, and meets several characters and new friends throughout his journey. It helped the band to further distance themselves from their Rn'B and early rock n' roll roots, and establish them as a major act in Britain and Swingin' London scenes. Unfortunately, their magnum opus also proved to be unperformable in a live setting due to its complexity and a significant amount of overdubs, and that frustrated them quite a lot, especially frontman and guitarist Steve Marriott, who compared that to The Who not playing "Tommy" live.

Despite that major setback, they had to move on, and so they did, entering the studio soon after the Ogden's sessions had ended to record some newly written tracks. The first result the public saw of these new sessions was the single release of "The Universal" with "Donkey Rides, a Penny, a Glass" on the b-side. Despite the success of their previous single, "Lazy Sunday", it charted much lower than its precedent, only being able to reach #16, which further upset Steve, who considered the tune to be the greatest song he had ever written up to that point. As the group continued recording while the year went by, they started conceptualizing a followup to their masterpiece, tentatively titled 1862, after the year a chapel next to Marriott's house was built. On and off due to their touring commitments, they recorded what amounted to about 8 finished songs, as well as three or four instrumental demos. They even had the time to record backing tracks and donate songs for french singer Johnny Halliday in the meantime, which is at the same time troubling and impressive! However, after Steve and bassist Ronnie Lane produced a single by young band The Herd, the former grew impressed of their lead guitarist's playing habilities, some kid called Peter Frampton, and soon ended up kindling a friendship with him.

And so, in late '68, Steve suggested to his three bandmates that they make Frampton into a band member, to help with their live performances, filling out their sound and helping them overcome what he considered to be their "limitations" as a band. But the others, especially keyboardist Ian McLagan and Lane, were against the addition of a fifth Small Face, as much as they liked Peter, and nixed the idea. That was the final straw for the singer, and during a disastrous New Year's Eve gig, he announced his departure from the band, by simply walking away from them mid-set. Talk about a dramatic exit! However, the band still managed to soldier on and perform the rest of their already booked concerts, and called it quits in March 1969. Steve formed Humble Pie with Frampton soon after the breakup, and they went on to record their first two albums that same year. He tried to convince McLagan into joining, but he instead stayed with his other bandmates, who with ex-Jeff Beck Group's Ron Wood and Rod Stewart formed the Faces (how creative!), releasing their first album in 1970. With the unfinished album nowhere near a release-worthy status, their label released a comp called The Autumn Stone, compiling the five more release-ready outtakes with live recordings and singles in a pretty hodge-podge affair.

However, what every single Small Faces fan might be wondering is: what if they had actually finished this mythical fourth album and released it? Well, for starters, we know that it wouldn't feature a medley or concept, as they considered that formulaic after the success of ONGF, and we can also assume that it would base itself on a 12-song, 40-minutes template, as was the norm at the time. To our luck, we also have a list of songs, written by Marriott, of the album's contenders up to that point, which I assume is in late 1968. However, instead of doing our work for us, it just makes things muddier: It only features 9 tunes, with three of those being instrumentals, one already being released as a b-side, and two being the same song under different titles! Due to that, I won't consider it as a tracklist, and more as a song-list for the work-in-progress album, and will take it into account in other ways, when building my own. Since the band only managed to record eight songs, it's pretty clear we'll need to get material from other sources, and the logical way to do so is taking songs from their "spinoff" bands which were meant for the Small Faces. Some are almost certain to figure on the record, while some are here for shadier reasons, but they all have a pretty good explanation, I swear! Without any further ado, here's how I tackled it:

Wide Eyed Girl on the Wall (The Autumn Stone)
Call it Something Nice (The Autumn Stone)
Bang! (As Safe as Yesterday Is)
Wrist Job (As Safe as Yesterday Is)
Red Balloon (The Autumn Stone)
Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am (The Autumn Stone)

Buttermilk Boy (As Safe as Yesterday Is)
Stone (The Faces' First Step)
Collibosher (The Autumn Stone)
Growing Closer (As Safe as Yesterday Is)
What You Will (As Safe as Yesterday Is)
The Autumn Stone (The Autumn Stone)

Bonus tracks:
Hello the Universal (The Autumn Stone)
Donkey Rides, a Penny, a Glass (The Autumn Stone)

Marriott, Jones, McLagan and Lane in late 1968.

In order to turn that preliminary song list into an album, we'll need to remove some songs, and add some others. The first removals are "War of the Worlds", which is listed simply as Blues Jam, as it isn't much in the way of a song, and the latter title does it justice. Also gone is "Picaninny", which was recorded way back in February 1968, and would then not qualify for an album being released a whole year afterward. We can also replace "The Pig Trotters" with the song it eventually became, Humble Pie's "Wrist Job". Despite not being performed by the SF, it fits in seamlessly soundwise, as do most HP tracks. Two songs that are stalwarts of all 1862 tracklists but will be excluded from this version are "The Universal" and "Donkey, Rides, a Penny, a Glass". Calm down, before you click "close tab" in disgust over what I just said, they will only be excluded due to being released in June 1968, a whole year before this was supposed to be released. And considering how English artists tend to treat singles, it would make sense to have them be a non-album single, just like "Tin Soldier". We can also add "Buttermilk Boy", from Humble Pie's As Safe as Yesterday Is, as the song actually features on Marriott's list, and then again gels pretty well with the other songs in here. Those are the more "obvious" additions to the main six, which already gives us nine great songs.

But as I mentioned before, they did some sessions for French singer Johnny Halliday, for which they contributed three songs and their services as a backing band. Despite the first being an old song from their Decca era, the other two are, would you believe it, two Humble Pie songs translated into French! And those were credited to Marriott/Lane, no less! Such a discovery prompted me to update this whole reconstruction, and add "Bang!" and "What You Will" to our tracklist, as they would most likely get around to recording it had they not broken up. Added alongside it is the Faces' "Stone", which was written in the same period as the songs on 1862, and included in demo form in Pete Townshend's Who Came First album. The only difference between the two versions is that the Faces version has two new verses added and a runtime of six minutes, which we can correct by editing down the song and cutting out the two new verses. We can even pretend that Rod Stewart wailing and playing the harmonica in the background is actually Steve Marriott! The final addition is a songwriting contribution by Ian McLagan, "Growing Closer", which despite being written by a member of the Faces, was recorded by the Pie. If that confuses you, that's because Mac was between the two bands in early 1969, and we all know who he ended up living with after the divorce.

As for the sequencing, our album starts off with one of the instrumentals, "Wide Eyed Girl on the Wall", which honestly sounds more like an intro in the fashion of "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake" than an unfinished backing track, and that's how we'll use it here. Ending the album with "The Autumn Stone" is pretty much a no-brainer, being easily the best song on the whole album, with flute courtesy of Lyn Dobson, who also played on "Growing Closer". I end and close both sides with aggressive rockers, finishing side one with "Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am" and beginning side two with "Buttermilk Boy". And other than that, I tried to create a tracklist that was both varied and cohesive, and also managed to balance out non-SF and SF material evenly. One instrumental a side, and one Ronnie Lane lead vocal a side. Alright, I'll admit that I took some of the cues from Marriott's sequence and from the The Autumn Stone comp, which is only fair, and gives the album yet another touch of reality and possibility. Balancing out acoustic and pastoral songs and hard-edged rockers was also one of my goals, and with the exception of "Bang!" going straight into "Wrist Job", I feel like I've succeeded in that mission. The album ends up being about 44 minutes long, with both sides being more or less even in length and quality.

As an album, "1862" is a pretty bold statement by them, taking on hard rock and pastoral folk, while mostly abandoning the psychedelic and colourful style they employed so well before. That new direction ends up being almost a sampler of their later bands, in this case literally, while also managing to keep that cheeky British and humorous side to it, as only they knew wonderfully how to do. The one other certainty we can also have about this record is its lead single, as in early 1969 "The Autumn Stone" b/w "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am" as planned as a single, only to be cancelled after the band folded. The follow-up single would most likely be their other celebrated track from these sessions, the Tim Hardin cover of "Red Balloon". And as its b-side, we can use "Wrist Job", as it was delegated to the same position when it came time to release the Pie's debut single. As much as I love their music and their albums the Small Faces would most certainly still split after the release of this album, due to the wounds between them being all too deep and complicated to solve that easily. However, by delaying that only by a couple of months, we get a great album, and proper farewell for one of the most underrated bands of the 1960s. It really is a shame we didn't get this final glimpse of brilliance, before they ceased to be small.


- The Small Faces - The Autumn Stone
- Humble Pie - As Safe as Yesterday Is
- The Faces - First Step