Thursday, December 17, 2020

Jimi Hendrix - Straight Ahead (1970)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 07, 2020

The Byrds - The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Neil Young - Mediterranean (1974)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 06, 2020

Bob Dylan - The Basement Tape (1967)

Bob Dylan suffered a motorcycle accident on July 29th, 1966. He was riding his 1964 Triumph T100 in Striebel Road, just on the outskirts of Woodstock, when an oil slick caused him to lose control of his bike and crash. The full extent of his injuries is still unknown to this day, but apparently, he wore a neck brace for a while after the accident, and he has since claimed to have had broken a few vertebrae on his neck. Are his claims believable? We will never know, which is probably what gives the accident the mystique it has. His tour in support of Blonde on Blonde, which was due to begin at the Yale Bowl on August 6th was canceled, and Dylan spent the rest of the year recuperating at home, not writing songs or playing music. The only work he did for the rest of the year was to edit the "Eat the Document" movie, a documentary shot by D.A. Pennebaker about his early 1966 World Tour, which ended up unreleased, mostly due to the nonsensical and abstract way Dylan edited the film. With the tour canceled, for the time being, his backing band was kept on a retainer, and moved to Woodstock to be close to Dylan. The Hawks, as they were then known, all moved into a pink house, which had a cellar (not a basement, a cellar!), where they put their instruments and rehearsed. Finally finding the will to play music again, he started playing a selection of cover songs, semi-improvised original tunes, and parodies sometime in March '67, with the still drummerless Hawks accompanying him. 

At first, they just played for the fun of it, with "serious" songwriting still not a worry of Bob's, as one can tell by listening to the first seven or so reels of the basement tapes. But, after a break in the sessions in July 1967 due to the birth of Dylan's daughter Anna and a visit from his parents, the very intent of the sessions seemed to have changed. Pressured by his manager Albert Grossman to come up with new material, he then decided to use the basement recordings as publishing demos for other artists to record his songs. With that in mind, the eighth, ninth, and tenth reels of the tapes feature fourteen new songs recorded between late July and August 1967, his effective return to songwriting after the accident. Nine of the ten songs from Reels #8 and #9 were pressed into a 10-song acetate in October 1967, with "Tiny Montgomery" from Reel #4 also added in. It was from this acetate that Peter, Paul, and Mary, whose live PA system was being used on the cellar recordings (courtesy of Grossman, their manager), learned "Too Much of Nothing", the first basement song to be released, in December 1967. With interest in the songs high in the industry, the earlier 10 song acetate was expanded into a 14-song acetate with the addition of the four Reel #10 songs, making up the famous Dwarf Music Acetate, which famously kick-started both the bootleg industry with its many copies and reproductions, and invented the concept of Americana, alongside The Band's first LP, of course.

After those fourteen tracks were recorded, things seemed to go back to how they were before the July break, with many, many covers and parodies being recorded in an offhand, casual fashion. Original songs were still being written, mind you, as seen in Reel #13 and some of the other reels, but those were clearly not serious attempts at songwriting, and mostly just goofs. By mid-October, drummer Levon Helm had finally returned to the fold after leaving the Hawks in late 1965, and the basement sessions seemed to stop, with the Hawks (now tentatively titled The Crackers) looking into getting a recording contract and become their own songwriters, and Bob going to Nashville on the 17th for the first of three recording sessions for the John Wesley Harding album. He impressively wrote most of the songs on the album during the three train trips he took from New York to Nashville to record, with none of the JWH songs even being attempted during the Big Pink recording sessions. With the album set to be released in January 1968, Dylan appeared live one final time, backed by The Hawks to perform three songs at a Woody Guthrie tribute concert that same month, before both went their own separate ways. The Band to become one of the biggest bands in the world, influencing everyone from the Beatles to Eric Clapton, and Dylan to take a year off, only to come back a year later with a full-on country album and a very different voice and look, both literally and figuratively speaking.

So, the question we will be trying to answer today is: what if Bob Dylan had released The Basement Tapes in 1967? To be able to piece together the elusive missing link between Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding, we need to set up some rules first. To start off, it's quite obvious that if we want to make an album out of the basement sessions, we'll have to make up a 14-track album, since we don't have any "epics", like Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde did, and there's plenty of room for all of those songs. The fact that both the original Dwarf Music Acetate and virtually all other assemblies of this material are 14 songs long certainly helps, too. Obviously, no cover versions will be included, as much as I love take two of "Big River", and neither will any songs from after the original acetate's first assembly, which means most of reels 12 and onward are excluded. Controversially, this record will be called "The Basement Tape" (yes, Tape in the singular form!), as that's how the album was known at the time, and how it was referred to by Jann Werner when it was reviewed favorably in Rolling Stone, in June 1968. That's also the time period I see such an album being released in, as there wouldn't be the time to release it before JWH, and releasing it in mid-1968 would compensate for his total lack of activity that year, keeping the suits over at Columbia Records happy. Anyway, not to stretch this out any further than I already have, here's our tracklist:

Tears of Rage (Reel #10, Take 3)
Million Dollar Bash (Reel #8, Take 2)
Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Reel #8, Take 2)
Please Mrs. Henry (Reel #8)
Lo and Behold! (Reel #8, Take 2)
This Wheel’s on Fire (Reel #9)
I Shall Be Released (Reel #9, Take 2)
You Ain't Goin Nowhere (Reel #9, Take 2)
I'm Not There (Reel #8)
Down in the Flood (Reel #8, Take 2)
Too Much of Nothing (Reel #9, Take 2)
The Mighty Quinn (Reel #10, Take 2)
Open The Door, Richard (Reel #10, Take 1)
Nothing Was Delivered (Reel #10, Take 1)

Bonus tracks:
Tiny Montgomery (Reel #4)
Get Your Rocks Off (Reel #13)

Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, and Bob Dylan in the basement, March 1967.

Though many consider the 14-track Dwarf Music acetate the be-all, end-all album to be culled from the sessions, I see many flaws in it. The first is the fact that it wasn't sequenced, only being put together in chronological order. That means even though some song batches work pretty well together (the closing three of "Quinn", "Open the Door" and "Nothing Was Delivered" sounds great), others not so much. Add to that the fact that "Million Dollar Bash" isn't a fantastic opener, and that a fantastic side closer such as "I Shall Be Released" is buried in the middle of side two, quite a lot can be improved on when sequencing this particular collection of songs. Yet another problem comes with the inclusion of "Tiny Montgomery", which doesn't fit in well for a number of reasons. It comes from a different period than the rest of the songs, and sticks out like a sore thumb to me. I'm not alone in thinking this, as some have used "Odds and Ends" from Reel #13 as an alternative to it, but my solution is quite simpler: use the remaining unused song from Reel #8: "I'm Not There". It's honestly inexplicable that this wasn't included in the first place, as it is a fantastic song, and even in its unfinished form, you can tell how great of a song it is. Its addition helps keep the album concise and centered on a particular batch of reels, which is definitely an advantage when trying to create the ultimate BT album, also removing one of the more whimsical songs on the album, replacing it with a darker, more serious one.

We start off the album as Music from Big Pink did almost a year later, with take three of "Tears of Rage" providing an unusual opener with its slow, dirge-like quality. It being easily one of the best songs on the whole record helps start on a good note, too. I find take three of "Tears of Rage" to be superior to the more common take one, which is found on the acetate, so that will be the version used here. From then, we more or less follow the acetate sequence with take two of "Million Dollar Bash", later recorded by Fairport Convention, demoted to the second track on the album after being the opener to the original acetate. From then, it's business as usual with take two of "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread", which no one was crazy enough to cover, following as track no. 3. The sole take of "Please Mrs. Henry" we have, and take two of "Lo and Behold!" also take up their usual spots in the album's sequence, with the former being popularised by a Manfred Mann cover. Instead of closing side one as it would normally do, "This Wheel's on Fire" is used as the second to last track on it, with the honor of wrapping things up going to take two of "I Shall Be Released", which used to be sequenced in the middle of the second side of the album. Then again, we are taking a sequencing cue from Music from Big Pink, and we also add two more "serious" songs to a side that had a disproportionate amount of the more "sillier" songs on the album, solving two problems at once.

Side two begins as it does on the acetate, with take 2 of "You Ain't Going Nowhere", later popularized by the Byrds on their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Our new inclusion, "I'm Not There", replaces "I Shall Be Released" as the slower, more serious second track of side 2, and manages to do it justice. It's still a decidedly unfinished song, but it's simply too good to be left out, even in its current state. And I just wish that, since Bob gave "Tears of Rage" for Richard Manuel to finish, and "This Wheel's on Fire" for Rick Danko, that he'd given "I'm Not There" for Robbie Robertson to put in the finishing touches. Up next is take two of "Down in the Flood", which received a great version by Flatt & Scruggs in 1968. It originally was on side one, but I moved it down here since I feel it fits in better with the songs on my side two, and with "Lo and Behold" and "Please Mrs. Henry", there were already too many similar songs on that side. The slower and much prettier take two of "Too Much of Nothing" comes next, replacing the inferior take one used in the Acetate, and on which Peter, Paul, and Mary based their version. And from now onwards, we stay on the same sequence as the Acetate, but we have two take switches. Take two of "The Mighty Quinn" replaces the slightly weirder take one, we still use take one of "Open the Door, Richard", and finally, take one of another future Byrds tune, "Nothing Was Delivered" replaces take two, being the superior, slower version of the song.

As an album, The Basement Tape is as much of a masterpiece as any of his 1962/1967 output, second to none. No matter which way you sequence this, the songs are much too good, making for a really good transitional album between the thin, wild mercury sound of Blonde on Blonde and the stark minimalism of John Wesley Harding. As for its release, another question is raised: Would CBS have released such a lo-fi recording? In my opinion, the tapes sound good enough that they might consider it, and since Bob was already such a cultural phenomenon by then, I think they'd release just about anything he gave out his okay to. I mean, they did release Self Portrait, didn't they? With two 22 minute sides, making up a nice 44-minute record, no singles would be released, partly because other artists would already have scored hits with them, and partly because Dylan would've wanted so, not pulling any singles from JWH either. As for the cover, I used a still from a short piece of film shot in summer 1967, of Dylan and the Band playing cards, without an artist name or title to mimic Blonde on Blonde. Most people, as well as Dylan himself in The Bootleg Series, use a series of photos of him to represent this period that's just inaccurate, as they come from early 1968. So, we finally have an accurate cover, too. It would've been interesting to see what ripples a more widespread release of this would've sent through the music world, while Dylan retreated for a full year, to take care of himself and get plenty of rest.

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete

Friday, October 16, 2020

Big Star - Sister Lovers (1975)

Big Star released their second album, Radio City, in February 1974, through Ardent Records. It was the band's first album after the departure of founding member and songwriter Chris Bell, who by then was already struggling with depression and excessive drug use, and saw vocalist and guitarist Alex Chilton take control of the group for good. As with their debut LP, the album sold very little, due to distribution issues within Ardent and a lack of promotion, which when combined with the glowing reviews the album received, meant there was considerable demand for the record, but no one could find it in stores. To make matters worse, shortly before the release of the album in early 1974, bassist Andy Hummel left the group to focus on his academic career and lead a more normal life. He was then replaced by John Lightman for the album's tour, but the band ended up breaking up shortly thereafter. Drummer Jody Stephens and Chilton stuck together, being the only two remaining members of Big Star, and together they entered Ardent Studios in September 1974, with producer Jim Dickinson and an assortment of Memphis session musicians, their girlfriends, and friends, to work on a new Big Star album.

These new sessions marked a departure for the band, with their brand of very melodic power pop being replaced by more stark and experimental material, with only brief flashes of the Big Star of old. With that in mind, it makes sense that there's some debate as to if this was supposed to be a Big Star album at all, with the name "Sister Lovers" being thrown around at that time, and with the masters being credited simply to Alex Chilton. In February 1975, producer Jim Dickinson and engineer John Fry put together an acetate, which they hoped would bring attention from labels to the band, and get them signed to a deal. However, that was not the case, with no record labels taking an interest in this "weirder" version of the band, and the project ended up being shelved. With that, no track sequence was ever assembled, an album title wasn't decided, and even the band name was in dispute. When, in 1978, PVC Records bought the original tapes and assembled the Third album, they came up with their own tracklisting, and the closest we've ever come to a proper release of this material was in 1992 when Jim Dickinson sequenced Rykodisc's Third/Sister Lovers album, which still isn't quite what the group intended.

With all that in mind, we can ask ourselves: what if the Sister Lovers album had been released as it had been intended, in 1975? And since a final tracklisting for it was never created, we will have to speculate considerably on how the album would work. We will only include songs that come from these Fall '74 sessions, obviously, and try to include all songs that are included in two or more sequences, or songs that were considered important conceptually for the album by Chilton or Dickinson. I will also try not to include any covers, seen as the band had plenty of great original material already, and none of the covers really add much to the record in its current incarnation. So, all covers will be replaced by originals with the same style or feel to them. Being the earliest version of the album available, and in my opinion, the one that flows best, we will use the February 1975 acetate as our starting point, and move things around as needed. That means we'll have a fourteen track album, which we will call Sister Lovers, seen as Stephens and Chilton were dating twins at the time of the recording of the album. Not to stretch this out any further than we have, here's what our reconstruction of Sister Lovers looks like:

Thank You Friends (Complete Third)
Downs (Complete Third)
Big Black Car (Complete Third)
Stroke it Noel (Complete Third)
Holocaust (Complete Third)
Jesus Christ (Complete Third)
Blue Moon (Complete Third)
Kizza Me (Complete Third)
Sometimes (Complete Third)
O Dana (Complete Third)
Nightime (Complete Third)
You Can't Have Me (Complete Third)
Like St. Joan (Complete Third)
Take Care (Complete Third)

Bonus track:
Dream Lover (Complete Third)

Alex Chilton in a Memphis restaurant, early 1975.

Our sequence already starts with a major change: we have "Thank You Friends" and "Stroke it Noel" switch places, with the former as the opener and the latter as the fourth track. The reason for that is that one of the few things Dickinson and Chilton had agreed on, was that "Thank You Friends" would open the album, and "Take Care" would be the album closer. Seen as there's hardly any information about the album other than that, we must obey said order. Both songs had a similar uplifting vibe, with string arrangements and poppy feel, so the switch doesn't harm the album's flow too much. Another change is made when "Big Black Car", which is in virtually every other sequence of the album except this one, replaces their cover of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale". Their cover of VU's classic is great, with Alex's girlfriend Lesa singing backup, as she had on many other album tracks, before being mixed out after the two had some kind of lover's quarrel. Seen as though they had broken up by 1975, I doubt he'd include a song on the album that featured her so prominently as this, which is why I replaced it with the similarly downbeat and soothing "Big Black Car", then again keeping this sequence's flow.

Side two mostly obeys the Argent Test Pressing, with "For You" being retitled "Sometimes", the song's original working title, and the name it was listed as on the test pressing. Similarly, "Kanga Roo" is retitled "Like St. Joan", which is how the song was called during the sessions, and the title I like best out of the two. The only major change to be made here is the exclusion of their cover of Dave Williams' "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On", which in addition to being a cover, is one of the weakest tracks on the whole sessions. In order to replace it and still keep the album's flow intact, we need to add in another slightly chaotic, fast-paced rocker. And luckily for us, "You Can't Have Me" is exactly that, being used in virtually every tracklist other than this one, being one of the highlights of the recording sessions, in my opinion. As a bonus track, we have the final Chilton-penned song from the sessions, "Dream Lover". Despite being a favorite of both Lesa Aldridge and Jim Dickinson, Alex didn't think very highly of the song, meaning it won't be used on the album itself. It would make for a good b-side, though, and other than "Femme Fatale", is better than any of the cover versions they did back then.

Clocking in at 40 minutes with evenly timed sides, Sister Lovers is much less melodic and fast-paced than either #1 Record and Radio City, but with its more emotional nature and beautiful songs, makes for a great contrast to those two. The dark as compared to the light, if you will. For the album cover, I used a photo taken by William Eggleston, who both took the cover picture of Radio City and played piano on Sister Lovers, of Lesa and Holliday Aldridge, the very sister lovers the album title refers to! All of that considered, there's no way this picture wasn't at the very least considered as the LP's cover. The lead single off the album would obviously be "Thank You Friends", one of the few tracks with any hit single potential on the album. Had it been released back then, I don't doubt it would've at least cracked the Top 40. And had the band found a proper label, I have no doubt this album could've sold very well, considering the critical praise it would no doubt receive. All in all, we're very lucky that these tracks were released at all, not to mention becoming cult classics and the inspiration to great bands, such as REM and The Posies, who became some of the friends they thanked, for making this all so probable.

Big Star - Complete Third
Big Star - Argent Test Pressing, 1975

Monday, September 07, 2020

Bruce Springsteen - American Madness (1976)

Bruce Springsteen released his breakthrough album, Born to Run, in August 1975, through Columbia Records. It came after two highly critically acclaimed albums that sold poorly, and cemented his status as one of the greatest songwriters of the '70s, as well as giving him the financial stability he so deserved. It was a last-ditch effort by him and his label, who gave him a large budget to make the best album he possibly could. He produced BTR alongside music critic Jon Landau, who would later go on to become his manager. Before that, all his albums were produced by manager Mike Appel, with whom Springsteen argued constantly during sessions for the record, and planned on making him play a much smaller role in his career from then onwards. Born to Run's success was followed by a successful year-long tour, divided into two legs, which only ended in May 1976. After the tour's end, Bruce planned on entering the studio in August 1976, with Jon Landau as his producer and the then year-old "classic" lineup of the E Street Band, to record the much-awaited followup to Born to Run. In preparation for the sessions, he and the band held daily rehearsals at his barn in Holmdel, New Jersey in the early summer, testing out arrangements and rehearsing some material Bruce had been writing on and off since at least January 1976, during breaks in their touring schedule. However, things went south for Springsteen and his plans before he managed to even set foot on a recording studio.

Excited with the sudden success of his client, manager Mike Appel had pretty ambitious plans for Springsteen, planning out a live album, to be made out of recordings from December 1975, as well as a tour to be played in a circus tent, of all places, later in the year. Fortunately, Landau convinced Bruce that it was both too early for a live LP, and the circus tent was simply a stupid idea and logistical nightmare, which angered Appel, who now thought Landau had too much influence over his client. Coupled with the fact that Bruce wanted to renegotiate the ownership of his songs and wanted to have more control over his own songs, their relationship finally broke down, and matters ended up being resolved in court, where it was decided he couldn't enter the studio until this matter was resolved. Unable to record, he went back on the road, embarking on the very ironically titled "Lawsuit Tour" that August. Accompanied by the Miami Horns, the band played some fantastic songs during the almost year-long tour, which in addition to keeping Bruce and the band busy, helped pay for almost all of the legal costs in his ongoing court case. Bruce kept on writing material during the tour, debuting a very different batch of tracks in the final months of the tour in early 1977. Finally, the lawsuit was settled on May 28, 1977, with the judge finally allowing Bruce and the E Street Band to enter the studio and start work on their fourth album. Wasting no time, they entered Atlantic Studios in New York City just four days later, almost a full year later than he had intended.

By then, he had written some 30 new songs and would write even more during the sessions, inspired by his disillusionment with the recording industry, the recent rise of punk rock, and the massive hype for a follow up to the classic he had released two years prior. All of that led to a change of direction, with less operatic, more direct, and stripped-down music, with darker lyrical themes and concepts, according to some presenting the grim reality behind the escapist dreams of Born to Run. Because of that, many of the songs he had considered key tracks and conceptual centerpieces only less than a year before were completely abandoned, while others were adapted and changed in both arrangement and lyrics to fit in with the new concept, replaced with newly-written tracks. After some seven months and almost fifty tracks were recorded, Darkness on the Edge of Town was finished in April 1978. Praised by many as Springsteen's greatest recorded achievement, it was a very different album than many were expecting, which led it to it having some lackluster sales, when compared to what came before. But with its glowing reviews and the legendary tour that followed, it has more than deserved its place in rock and roll legend. However, many of the people who saw the early Lawsuit Tour shows and became enamored with numbers such as "Frankie" and "The Promise" wondered what would've happened had things gone differently, and he made the album he intended to make at first.

So, with all of that, the question remains: what if Bruce had managed to get into the studio in August 1976? In order to answer that question, we need to set up some ground rules first. Only songs debuted live or known to have been written before December 1976 will be included. That means songs debuted late into the Lawsuit Tour, such as "Don't Look Back", cannot be included, as they're outside the period such an album would be culled from. Similarly, songs from before January 1976 and BTR outtakes are not included for the same reason, even though "Linda Let Me Be the One" from August 1974 was included in some of the first tracklists for Album #4, alongside "Frankie" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town". Such an album would be recorded from August to September 1976, be produced by Jon Landau at the Record Plant in New York City, and feature some eight tracks, since there are some pretty long songs under consideration. In accordance with the way both Born to Run and Darkness were sequenced, the so-called "four corners" approach. We start and end the album sides with the most extravagant and thematically important tracks, and fill in the sides with the lighter, simpler pop songs. Considering Born to Run also featured eight tracks, we can try to mimic its track sequence as much as possible, drawing parallels between the songs we have and the songs on the album. Anyway, not to stretch this out any more than we already have, here's our tracklist for today:

Darkness on the Edge of Town (Darkness)
Rendezvous (The Promise)
Candy's Boy (The Promise)
Racing in the Street (The Promise)
Frankie (Tracks)
Save My Love (The Promise)
Something in the Night (Thrill Hill Vault)
The Promise (Thrill Hill Vault)

Bonus tracks:
Talk to Me (The Promise)
Sherry Darling (The River)

Clarence Clemons, Springsteen, and Stevie Van Zandt playing live in Sept. 1976

We start the album off with the first of our four epics, "Darkness on the Edge of Town", which was also one of the songs rehearsed at the Holmdel barn. Although it wasn't performed live in the Lawsuit tour, it started being written that January, and was included in his first "Album #4" sequence early in the year, making it a great opener for this album, with a 30-second piano and organ intro added in, of course. Filling in the four corners with more easily digestible material is "Rendezvous", which from its first live performance in August 1976, was virtually unchanged from its officially released studio counterpart, so no changes are needed. Up next is another shorter song, "Candy's Boy", which is also unchanged between its "barn version" to the version released on The Promise, so then again there's no rearranging needed. Finally as our side-closing epic, a song Bruce started to write right after New Year's Eve 1975, "Racing in the Street". It was also rehearsed alongside all of the other tracks on this reconstruction in his NJ home, but unfortunately, no recordings exist of said versions, so we're left to speculate on what it would sound like. Personally, I believe a 1976 arrangement of RITT would be more much bombastic and produced than the more subdued, stripped-down version of it we got. So, the alternate arrangement from The Promise, which is slightly more quick-paced and has Bruce on the harmonica, would fit like a glove here, and provide a fantastic, and very emotional finale to side one. I would, however, remove the violin track David Lindley added to it in 2010, to keep the song as vintage as possible.

Starting side two on a more optimistic note is "Frankie", a fan favorite which was first debuted live in March 1976. While the only available studio version we have of the song comes from 1982, six years after this album was supposed to be recorded, it's funny to notice that the live versions from the Born to Run tour are much more similar to the version from Tracks than the unfinished, 1977/78 takes of the same song! Sure, it's slightly slower, and some lyrics have been changed, some of them being used instead on a different song on the album, "Candy's Boy", but this version of "Frankie" is pretty close to what we would've gotten back then. Another song recorded way after the fact is "Save My Love", which was rehearsed at the Thrill Hill barn and considered for his fourth album, but inexplicably wasn't even attempted during the sessions for Darkness, so it was left unfinished until Bruce and the E Street Band tracked it in 2009 for inclusion in The Promise. I include it here as the arrangement is unchanged from the rehearsal to the finished version, and it was performed by the exact same musicians. Up next, functioning as the "story song" of the album, much like "Meeting Across the River" in Born to Run, is "Something in the Night", live in August 1976. This earlier version was quite shorter and much simpler in its arrangement, sometimes even resembling a spoken word track, just like its BTR counterpart, and functions as a fantastic introduction to the final epic of the album.

And said epic is "The Promise", which was first performed live in August, during one of the first dates of the Lawsuit Tour. Here, it's featured in its unedited band version, which clocks in at about 7 minutes long. Sometimes, Bruce would play the song solo on piano live, as he did with "Thunder Road" too, but I have no doubt the song would feature a band arrangement had he gotten into the studio. As with "Frankie", some of the lyrics changed between its live debut and the final, studio take of it, but that's honestly for the better, and since no absurd changes were made, we can include this version without much changing. A very emotional finale to a great record, with a song that could very well be its' title track. And as for bonus tracks, we can include the two more "doubtful" tracks from this time period. "Talk to Me", which he later gave to Southside Johnny, had some of its lyrics used as an intro to "She's the One" in live performances during the year, and we're not sure if that means the song already existed, or if it was just an idea he hadn't given a home to yet. With "Sherry Darling", we see that Bruce introduced it as "from two summers ago" when playing it in '78. Does that mean the song is from mid-1976 or is Bruce just bad at math? We can't be sure, so a bonus track it remains. We end up with an album that mimics BTR's format (be it with the four epics opening and closing sides, the unusual opener, the spoken-word track just before the closer), with the quality to match it.

Clocking in at about 39 minutes, with one 18-minute and one 21-minute side, American Madness is a great record, managing to stand as an equal to both the album that came before it, and the one it would become due to the circumstances. It acts as a midway point between two very different directions, a sort of transitional record that would ease the stark differences between Born to Run and Darkness. It's not quite as good as BTR, but succeeds in pointing the way to a new direction without alienating his present audience, which is something DOTEOT couldn't quite do. Its title comes from one of the two working titles of his 1978 album, Badlands and American Madness. Since The Promise was never considered as a title, and Badlands is the name of a track that hadn't been written yet, I chose the latter, especially considering it would've been released on the year of the American Bicentennial. And as for the cover, I used a picture of Bruce with his guitar from late 1976, similar to Born to Run, made it darker, and used the typewriter font from Darkness to write the album title and artist. Luckily, this album has plenty of potential singles we can choose from, but I'd go with the safer option, "Rendezvous", with "Save My Love" as a potential follow up, depending on the former's commercial performance. We honestly can't complain about how things went down, but it would be interesting to see this album released during such an important transitional period for Bruce, which could go on to change his very career.

Bruce Springsteen - The Promise
Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town
Bruce Springsteen - Thrill Hill Vault 76/78
Bruce Springsteen - Tracks
Bruce Springsteen - The River

Friday, July 17, 2020

Pink Floyd - Paranoid Delusions (1974)

Pink Floyd released their eighth studio album, The Dark Side of the Moon, in March 1973. A concept album, it had been part of the band's setlists for more than a full year before its release date, and its massive commercial success and critical acclaim made Pink Floyd unexpected superstars. After the tour in support of the album ended, in October 1973, the band initially took an extended break to rest from their incessant touring, but after a while, decided to tackle the daunting task of following up DSOTM. And their first idea, Household Objects, was as idiosyncratic a followup could be. Harkening back to their more experimental roots, the main concept behind Household Objects was to make music without using any actual instruments. In the two pieces the band completed in early '74, "Wine Glasses" and "The Hard Way", they achieved keyboard-like sustain by sliding their wet fingers over wine glasses, played basslines on rubber bands, created percussion by stamping their feet, and so forth. However, after the second track was completed, Waters, Gilmour, Wright, and Mason lost interest in the project, and instead, they decided to focus on more, let's say, conventional musicianship. With a tour of France booked for the Summer of 1974 fast approaching, the band wrote two brand new pieces: "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", a 20-minute long meditation on the influence and life of Syd Barrett, and "Raving and Drooling", a frenetic and jammed-out song about insanity. 

They were both road-tested during this tour, and were later joined by "You've Got to Be Crazy", a very critical and acidic song about business and capitalism, during their November 1974 British Tour, with a gig at Wembley in the 16th being professionally recorded. With those three songs amounting to more than 50 minutes when played live, there was more than enough reason to believe that this would serve as the backbone of the next Floyd album, as they were known to work out their material live before heading into the studio. Guitarist David Gilmour seemed to agree with this notion, citing his wish that those three be the next PF album, while bassist Roger Waters disagreed. Waters thought that while "You've Gotta Be Crazy" and "Raving and Drooling" were good songs, they didn't fit his vision for the next record, and that he wanted to use only "Shine On", and expand on its themes of the demise of Barrett and the Music Industry. In the end, as we all know, Waters ended up winning this musical tug-of-war, and the classic Wish You Were Here album got made. It had three more songs being added alongside SOYCD, which acted as a bookends to the album, divided into two parts. And as for those two leftovers, both ended up undergoing some considerable rewriting, getting adapted into "Dogs" and "Sheep", from PF's Animals, from 1977, which some consider an even stronger album than the one that came before it. As is Pink Floyd tradition, not a note was wasted.

So, the purpose of this reconstruction is to answer the question: what if Pink Floyd had released an album consisting of those three songs? Had Gilmour won the fight for the future of the next PF record, what would such a record look like? And to answer that question, we'll need to set up some ground rules first. No live recordings will be accepted, as this is supposed to be a studio album, after all. We can use them for reference when it comes to basing our edits, but not use the live, unfinished versions themselves. Second of all, only those three are allowed as part of the album, due to time constraints. During the band's 1975 US tour, they played then brand new tune "Have a Cigar" alongside the three aforementioned songs, a couple of months before they finished recording WYWH. And as much as I like it, it doesn't fit the general theme of the record, and since the album is already much too long as it stands, nevermind when we add yet another song. And as for the two Household Objects songs, "Wine Glasses" got lucky and got included added as the intro to "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", but since "The Hard Way" was not recycled in any form, we cannot use it, unfortunately. Since the Animals versions of the outtakes are the closest we have to a finished product, we'll use alternate versions of them, with explanations of what would be different in their 1974 versions provided by me. Anyway, not to stretch this any further, here's what said album would look like:

Raving and Drooling (The Extraction Tapes)
You've Got to Be Crazy (The Extraction Tapes)
Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Wish You Were Here)

Bonus tracks:
Wine Glasses (Wish You Were Here)
The Hard Way (The Dark Side of the Moon)

Gilmour, Mason, Waters and Wright performing live at Wembley, November 1974

The album starts off with "Raving and Drooling", for which we use the Extraction Tapes version of "Sheep", with the bass guitar intro, and original (unfinished) lyrics reinstated. Had Waters agreed with Gilmour's idea of making an album out of the three songs they already had, he would probably end up revamping its lyrics considerably, as he did to make it fit the Animals concept. As for the musical structure of the song, it was already set in stone by late-1974, which means this version is faithful to the band's original idea of the track before it became "Sheep". And as for "You've Got to Be Crazy", we use another June 1976 take from The Extraction Tapes, which features almost the same lyrics as "Dogs", minus its 6/4 synthesizer solo, and with a horrible Roger Waters guide vocal. The original 1974 lyrics to the song didn't please David Gilmour, who thought it had "too many words", and found himself having almost to rap in order to get all of the words out. This problem was solved when, before their 1975 American Tour, Waters rewrote the lyrics of the track, making them into the words we all know as "Dogs", minus some animal references ("collar and chain" was "brittle and bit", "pat on the back" was "seat on the board", and so forth), and the aforementioned synthesizer solo. It also had David singing lead throughout, with the exception of the outro, which would probably also be the case here, with the tune clocking in at 13 and a half minutes, as performed live in 1975.

Occupying the whole of side two as a side-long epic, as originally intended, is "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", which I created by editing together the two parts, as a mockup of how the song was performed live in 1974. During the band's British Winter Tour, Part V segued into Part VI by overlaying the latter's introductory bass riff with the fading guitar riff of the former, which is how I edited both pieces together here, crossfading the outro to Part V to the intro of Part VI. The whole piece is 25 and a half minutes long, which is pushing the limits a vinyl record could hold, but was still doable (remembering side two of Atom Heart Mother is 28 minutes long!), if not recommended due to loss of fidelity. If you want to keep to those constraints, you can edit out the guitar solo on part III (which is the only part of the song that's edited out in every Floyd comp), and bring it down to a slightly more reasonable 24 and a half minutes. As for Paranoid Delusions' sequencing, I decided on having "Raving and Drooling" as the opener instead of the SOYCD suite, as by 1975 the former had become PF's opening number on live performances, with Crazy Diamond serving as the finale to set one, before an intermission and a full performance of The Dark Side of the Moon. It also works fairly well, making for a better listen than having the two sides in their "original" orders. If Waters could only finish the lyrics to R&D in time, they'd have one hell of an album ready by early 1975.

Clocking in at 49 and a half minutes, Paranoid Delusions would easily be one of my favorite Pink Floyd albums ever, if not my favorite. It features the band in their performance and songwriting apex, and with three epic suites, marks the Floyd at their proggiest. Much more complex than The Dark Side of the Moon, but still retaining its world-weariness and bleak outlook, it feels like a natural step forward from it, to a greater degree than Wish You Were Here ever could. However, due to its expansive nature, I can see this selling less than WYWH did. Not that it would be a poor seller (impossible, after the massive success of DSOTM!), but without a radio-friendly single such as the title track or "Have a Cigar", it'd lose a bit of its mass appeal. But if that's the price to pay for such a fantastic LP, I'm all for it! I took the name Paranoid Delusions from a bootleg of a 1973 show, as I felt it fit in pretty well with the album's material, and calling this Household Objects could be a bit misleading. And as for its cover, I recycled one of the booklet artwork pieces from WYWH, which was placed right next to the lyrics of Shine On, as I felt it represented well the feelings present on the album, especially on SOYCD, evoking a strong feeling of absence. It's a shame that the band didn't explore this option further, as we the fans would greatly benefit from it. But we can't complain about how it all turned out, with the Floyd calling out the Machine and reading too much George Orwell.

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here [Immersion Edition]
Pink Floyd - From Abbey Road To Britannia Row - The Extraction Tapes 1975/76
Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon [Immersion Edition]

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Frank Zappa - Sleep Dirt (1975)

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention released their tenth studio album, "One Size Fits All", in June 1975. Featuring the Fall 1974 lineup of the Mothers, it was the last studio album Zappa released under the MOI moniker, as he disbanded the group in mid-1975. The album was recorded mostly in two separate sessions: one, which took part from early to late December 1974 at James Guercio's Caribou Ranch in Colorado, and sessions in mid-January 1975 at LA's Record Plant. With both of the sessions combined, Zappa and the Mothers recorded enough for a double record, with half of the material being more rock-oriented material with vocals, and the jazz-fusion inspired instrumentals making up the other half. Interestingly enough, Frank released the rock-oriented songs as the OSFA record, leaving the jazzier, more experimental songs in the vault, from which they'd only come out in 1978 in the earliest. Afterward, the guitarist changed his focus to a Beefheart collaboration album, recorded both live in the studio, called Bongo Fury, released in October, and to using a full-scale orchestra in concert, in September of the same year.

The songs from those sessions would still figure as part of Läther, a four-LP box set which was supposed to be released in late-1977, alongside material recorded both live and in the studio, from 1969 to 1977. His record label, Warner Bros, didn't quite like that idea (I wonder why), and seen as FZ was in the middle of litigation with both his former manager and his label, Zappa split the tunes into four different albums, with most of the songs from the sessions coming out in Studio Tan, from 1978, and Sleep Dirt, in 1979. However, according to Zappa himself, a long time before both Läther and the four record split, this material was supposed to make an album of its own. Frank says in the liner notes of One Size Fits All that it was recorded simultaneously with its followup, and stated in an interview in April 1975 that "Greggery Peccary", started in the December 1974 sessions and finished in LA in January, would be a part of the record. So it seems that Zappa had intended to release these songs in 1975 after all, only to wind up getting distracted by Bongo Fury and his Orchestra project and shelving the songs, leaving them in the vault.

That leads us to this reconstruction's primary question: what if Frank Zappa had released his second installment of the December/January sessions? And to answer that question, we'll have to set up some basic rules first. We can't take tracks from either One Size Fits All or Bongo Fury, in order to keep his already confusing and messy discography as cohesive as possible, and to let it coexist with the two LPs it would be released in between of. In addition to "Greggery Peccary", we'll include only songs he deemed worthy of inclusion in either Läther or the four albums, in order to keep some kind of quality control over the material. Whether it would be released as a Mothers or a Frank Zappa solo record, it's pretty debatable. On the one side, it was recorded with the same band as the Fall 1974 incarnation of the MOI, but on the other, Zappa normally released his fusion projects, such as Waka Jawaka and Hot Rats, as solo albums. And considering the 1979 Sleep Dirt was almost subtitled "Hot Rats III", and it features almost all of the songs on our reconstruction, I feel like it's safe to assume this would be a solo album. Anyway, here's our tracklist: 

Regyptian Strut (Sleep Dirt)
Sleep Dirt (Sleep Dirt)
Flambé (Sleep Dirt)
Spider of Destiny (Sleep Dirt)
RDNZL (Studio Tan)
Time is Money (Sleep Dirt)
Greggery Peccary (Studio Tan)

Bonus tracks:
A Little Green Rosetta (Läther)
Planet of My Dreams (Them or Us)

Zappa performing live with his band in 1975

In December 1974, he and his band recorded "Sleep Dirt", "Regyptian Strut", "Flambé", "Spider of Destiny" and "Time is Money", from the album Sleep Dirt, and "RDNZL" and parts of the 20-minute "Greggery Peccary", from Studio Tan. They also recorded the basic tracks for "Planet of My Dreams", which would only see release in 1984's Them or Us. In January, they also tracked "Revised Music for Guitar and Low Budget Orchestra" and the rest of "Greggery Peccary", from Studio Tan, and recorded the first part of "A Little Green Rosetta", from Läther. From those, we can exclude both the then-unfinished "Little Green Rosetta" and "Planet of My Dreams", seen as neither of them were up to Frank's quality control back then. One more exclusion we'll need to make is "Revised Music for Guitar and Low Budget Orchestra", seen as it doesn't fit in as well with the rest of the material, and has much more in common with the September 1975 Orchestral Shows (of which it was part of), than this more fusion-like record. We can include it and "Rollo" on an expanded version of Orchestral Favorites, bringing its length up from a mere 34 minutes.

Now that we've narrowed the song list to album length, all we need to do is sequence the songs in a proper and interesting way. We start side one off with "Regyptian Strut", and end it with "RDNZL", taking our cues from the Läther album's original sequence, which had the former as album opener and the latter as last song on side three. We also reserve most of side two to "Greggery Peccary", as it was the final track on the final side of Läther, only adding the short "Time is Money" as side opener, making side two a healthy 23 minutes. And as for the rest of side one, I sequenced "Sleep Dirt", which would probably still be our title track, as track two, and put the combination of "Flambé" and "Spider of Destiny", which worked pretty well together on the Sleep Dirt album, as tracks three and four. I'd also note that none of the songs are included in their Läther mixes, due to some anachronistic vignettes being included in the start and end of tracks, which Zappa employed as a thematic link, and due to the fact that the Sleep Dirt mixes are considerably longer than their unreleased counterparts at times, which is beneficial when it comes to this.

Had FZ taken this project further, it would probably have been released sometime in September 1975,  through his own DiscReet records, with the release of Bongo Fury postponed to December or even January of 1976. I do believe that he would have still used the Sleep Dirt name, with the Hot Rats III subtitle as per his wishes. The cover would obviously be replaced by a Cal Schenkel work, seen as he was Zappa's artist of choice, and the released cover by Gary Panter isn't particularly great. No singles would be released off this album, seen as none of them have much commercial potential, and it's not as if he expected any hit singles to come out of an album like this. When compared to the two other installments of the Hot Rats Trilogy, it certainly is no slouch, and can stand as an equal to both Hot Rats and Waka Jawaka, maintaining his experimentation with jazz and experimental music, and it's probably no coincidence that they were to be released in three-year gaps (1969, 1972, 1975) either. It really is a shame that we never quite got to enjoy these fantastic tracks the way they were originally meant, as a lost brother to his most celebrated album.

- Frank Zappa - Sleep Dirt
- Frank Zappa - Studio Tan
- Donlope - FZ Chronology