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.
- 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.

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