Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Who - White City: A Novel (1985)

Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, passed away in September 1978, at the age of 32. He overdosed on a pill prescribed by him to combat his alcohol withdrawal, as he was an alcoholic trying to kick his habit. His band had just released their Who Are You album, which Moon had recorded with some difficulty, only managing to get himself together enough to record his drum parts during the last two weeks of production. Considering his integral role in the band's sound, and the fact that the band was unsure about their future even before his untimely passing, it would be obvious to think the band would break up immediately after that, as Led Zeppelin did after their drummer suffered the same fate the next year. However, that wasn't the case with The Who. The band, convinced by bandleader and songwriter Pete Townshend to carry on (as his "completely irrational, bordering on insane" way of coping with Keith's death, in his own words), went on to tour again a couple of times and release two studio albums, before their first Farewell Tour and breakup in 1982.

However, that period of the band's history is pretty controversial between fans and critics alike, who felt the band simply couldn't live up to their past glories and wasn't the same anymore. Either due to replacement drummer Kenney Jones' inability to fill Moon's shoes, the rather lackluster quality of the two albums the band released with him, or the more "modern" direction they were heading on, many were dissatisfied with how things were going with the group. And that even includes band members, as singer Roger Daltrey felt Townshend was safeguarding his best songs for his solo career, and didn't feel Jones truly fit in with The Who, style-wise. All in all, those were strange times to be a Who fan, and even more to be a member, as Townshend battled with addiction and his ever-present personal demons, and horrible things such as the tragedy of Cincinnati happened. It's safe to say that all parts were satisfied, if not relieved, when the whole debacle finally ended in 1982, and they would come back a very different band, by the time they reunited again in 1989.

In retrospect, Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle all say it would have been best for the band's legacy and standing to simply break up after Moon's death, and reunite sometime later, as other bands did. And although the 1979/1982 period has some fans, myself included, we certainly wouldn't lose much had those tunes been released as a Pete Townshend solo album, would we? While it's certain that they would come back sometime (it is The Who we're talking about, they're on their seventh Farewell Tour right as we speak!), they certainly would benefit from a couple of years to sort their shit out, and let the dust settle on the fact that they'd just lost arguably their most important musician. One could easily see the band breaking up in 1978, with the band members pursuing their own interests and solo careers, and come back sometime in the mid-'80s, right when Pete's solo career was starting to die down a bit, and right on time for Live Aid. They'd return (relatively) sober, without the burden of replacing Moon, and free of any expectations or hype, making it easily the best of both worlds. I mean, if it has to happen sometime, why not then?

So that's what we will be discussing today: what if The Who had made a comeback in the mid-1980s? And to answer that question, we need to assemble an album that both sounds like them, and has some kind of conceptual togetherness, be it a proper opera or just a regular concept album. Luckily for us, we have exactly that. While both Face Dances and It's Hard were criticized for not sounding like The Who at all, Pete's 1985 solo album White City ironically has the most Who-like material he had written in those seven years since Moon's last stand. The songs are at the same time anthemic, have some adventurous production, and have an overarching concept that makes little to no sense, just like the good old Who we all love. That, allied to the fact that he gave one of its songs for Daltrey to sing, makes our job quite easy, actually. We just need to arrange all those little pieces into an actual record, and make the whole thing make sense, as well as throw in the obligatory Entwistle track in there. So, not to make this any longer than it needs to be, here we go:

Give Blood (White City: A Novel)
Brilliant Blues (White City: A Novel)
Face the Face (White City: A Novel)
Hiding Out (White City: A Novel)
Life to Life (Playing for Keeps)
Secondhand Love (White City: A Novel)
After the Fire (Under a Raging Moon)
Crashing by Design (White City: A Novel)
I Am Secure  (White City: A Novel)
Love Doesn't Last (The Rock)
Come to Mama  (White City: A Novel)
All Shall Be Well (The Iron Man: The Musical)

Bonus track:
Night School (White City: A Novel)

Entwistle, Jones, Daltrey, and Townshend backstage at Live Aid, June 1985.

As you can probably tell by the fact that we borrowed its title for this comeback Who album, we will follow the White City concept and format rather faithfully in here, as in this case Pete would have almost total control over the songwriting, theme, and production of the album. We only end up removing one track, and adding four others. The track we end up deleting is "White City Fighting", which despite being a semi-title track, was almost entirely written by David Gilmour, with only lyrics by Townshend. As it was rejected for the former's About Face album, it ended up being included the latter's, something I doubt would happen here. The additions are of course "After the Fire", which according to Pete's original 1984 White City script was a part of the concept all along, as well as "All Shall Be Well" from the Iron Man musical, "Life to Life", from the Playing for Keeps soundtrack, both also meant for WC but left unfinished. And JE's "Love Doesn't Last", of course. With that, we end up with a 12-track album, that is honestly pretty close to what we would end up with.

You might also be wondering who would end up being the drummer for the band, as Kenney Jones would never have landed the gig if the band had ended way back in 1978. Well, considering he played in John Entwistle's The Rock album, recorded in 1985, and has been the only constant alongside Daltrey and Townshend in the band since 1996, one could easily see Zak Starkey behind the drumkit. If we're being honest, he's the only true heir to the position, all things considered, and it would certainly be nice to see him in direct succession from Keith. It would also certainly be the least controversial solution. As for the keyboards, "Rabbit" Bundrick is also the obvious candidate, as he held the spot from '79 to 2009, and is probably Pete's keyboardist of choice. All you need to do is add the ever-present Simon Townshend on backing vocals and rhythm guitar, and you've got yourself a touring lineup, far from the bare bones of '76, and still a far cry from the overproduced and overstaffed 1989 tour. A sort of halfway point between those two extremes, really.

How would that affect the sound of the album, then? Not much, I reckon. Seen as Townshend would still be the producer and mastermind behind it, the only real changes would be different basslines by Thunderfingers, and Roger's powerhouse vocals instead of Pete's often reedy singing. He would still sing lead in "Brilliant Blues" and "I Am Secure", the two more intimate songs that really fit his style of singing. And I sincerely think that the bombastic, synthy production fits the material well, and the songs still sound much more like the 'Oo than most of Face Dances. But other than that, songs like "Give Blood" and "Hiding Out" would largely benefit from Daltrey's voice, and the only two songs that would see some change in arrangement are "Face the Face" and "Love Doesn't Last". The first because I honestly doubt they'd succeed in tackling Big Band, with their take on it being faster paced and more guitar-driven (and at least a minute shorter), and the second would sound more in line with the rest of the album, production-wise, and be sung by Entwistle.

Impressively enough, "Love Doesn't Last" fits in rather well alongside something like "Secondhand Love", exploring the theme of failed relationships. The three unfinished songs we added are also very useful in fleshing out the White City concept of urban and social issues, giving the record a lot more depth than before. The cover is just a little something I made to go along with this post, and I thought it fit in well with the album's vibe. "After the Fire" would obviously be the single, and bonus track "Night School" would be its b-side, as it doesn't make it due to time constraints, seen as this LP is almost 49 minutes long. One would imagine this would sell at least half a fuck ton, and considering Pete's version of it was already well-received, the Who's take of it would get some positive reviews, I reckon. Is this better than Face Dances or It's Hard? I honestly think it sounds more like them than those two, but better is too strong of a word. But being perfectly honest, no matter how much things could have been different, it's just great to still have them with us, getting old before they die.

- Pete Townshend - White City: A Novel
- Roger Daltrey - Under a Raging Moon
- John Entwistle - The Rock
- Pete Townshend - The Iron Man: The Musical
- Various Artists - Playing for Keeps [Soundtrack]

Monday, January 06, 2020

Band of Gypsys - Gypsy, Sun and Rainbows (1970)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up after a gig at the Denver Pop Festival, in June 1969. The breakup came after some prolonged tension between Hendrix and the band's bass player, Noel Redding, with whom he'd been having personal and professional problems for at least a year. The reasons for that were many, but the final straw was the fact that Jimi planned on expanding the band's lineup without consulting the bassist first, and when Redding discovered that plan, he immediately quit and returned to England. Jimi's plans of playing with a larger ensemble of musicians still came to fruition soon afterward, though, with a new rhythm guitar, a bassist (both of them old army friends of his) and two percussionists, under the name Gypsy, Sun and Rainbows. That group wasn't exactly long-lasting, and according to drummer Mitch Mitchell, they never quite gelled together well, especially when you consider that this six-piece group was together for less than three months. Either way, it was this band that backed him on his seminal Woodstock performance, and it was also their style that planted the seeds that would lead to a different project by the ever influential guitarist.

However, it wasn't only musical problems that were affecting Hendrix's career at that time. He was under pressure from his management and label to release a followup to his double-LP masterpiece, Electric Ladyland, and hadn't progressed much in that, if at all, during the year of 1969. Most of that can be blamed on the fact that it was his first album without producer Chas Chandler, and that he and the Experience were touring on a frenetic pace for most of the year. He was also dealing with legal issues, since former manager from the pre-Experience days Ed Chalpin was being sued for releasing questionable material from Hendrix's time as his client through his label, in direct competition with the JHE's releases. In order to settle that dispute, both parties agreed that Jimi should release a record on Chalpin's label, PPX (distributed by Capitol) the following year. And so Hendrix, who was for the second time in less than a year without a band and nowhere near done with recording his fourth studio LP, formed a group called the Band of Gypsys.

The Band of Gypsys consisted of bassist Billy Cox, who had been in Jimi's previous band and was Redding's longtime replacement, and drummer Buddy Miles, who had been a member of the Electric Flag and was a fantastic soul singer and percussionist. JH's return to the power trio format, they went for a much more soul and funk-oriented sound, mostly due to Miles' influence and the fact that for the first time, Jimi was in an all-black group. The trio began jamming and recording in October of 1969, and played their first live performances that December. Despite their relative recency, the band's original repertoire was growing, with some great songs coming out of their jam sessions and studio recordings, with the majority of those also being played live. With that in mind, Jimi decided that the easiest way to both settle the Chalpin dispute and introduce the BOG to the world was to quickly cobble together a live album, and keep on recording without having to worry about deadlines. However, with the band breaking up in February due to Miles' being fired after a catastrophic show, the Fillmore recordings remained the only glimpse of the BOG the public ever got.

What you might be wondering by now is: what if they managed to finish the studio album they were working on back then? And to answer that question, we need to settle some ground rules first. First of all, we will only include songs that were played live or recorded in the studio by the band during their October/February existence, and will also make it so that the studio album was released instead of the Band of Gypsys live album, as to not make both albums have repeated songs. The band would have to last a little bit longer, to finish recording some of the pieces and oversee some overdubs, but even just a couple of months would do. The album would be a double LP, due to the fact that they had more than enough good songs and long pieces to make such a thing work. Also, all of the material they played live, with the exception of jam number "Who Knows?" and their cover of "Stop" will be included, to paint the best possible picture of the Band of Gypsys both live and in the studio. But since we've managed to cover that all, here's what that would look like:

Power of Soul (Both Sides of the Sky)
Lover Man (Both Sides of the Sky)
Hear My Train a-Comin' (People, Hell, and Angels)
Room Full of Mirrors (Rainbow Bridge)
Them Changes (Them Changes)
Izabella (Voodoo Child)
Machine Gun (Band of Gypsys)
Ezy Ryder (The Cry of Love)
Bleeding Heart (People, Hell, and Angels)
Message to Love (West Coast Seattle Boy)
Stepping Stone (Voodoo Child)
Earth Blues (Purple Box)
Burning Desire (Loose Ends)
We Gotta Live Together (We Gotta Live Together)

Bonus tracks:
Astro Man (Purple Box)
Stop (Live at the Fillmore East)

Hendrix, Miles and Cox performing their New Years' Eve Fillmore East gig in 1970

With only four exceptions, all songs were recorded in NY's Record Plant between December 1969 and January 1970 by the trio. Those are the Fillmore "Machine Gun", which honestly could not be improved on in the studio (even though they tried recording it a couple of times), which would receive minimal overdubs and have its live ambiance removed for a studio album release. It would be a first for Hendrix, that's for sure, but the song doesn't sound out of place at all, sound-wise, and is one of his finest pieces, so it merits inclusion. The others are two May 1969 versions of "Bleeding Heart" and "Hear My Train a-Comin'", which were performed before the band was formed, but by Hendrix, Cox and Miles! The only song that doesn't feature Miles on drums is "Valleys of Neptune", first recorded in September 1969 but presented here in a May 1970 version. As his revenge, we have his studio version of the fantastic "Them Changes", which features Billy Cox on bass but no Hendrix. Then again, with this song, the horns would obviously be removed and Hendrix would record his own guitar part, but since that's the only studio version available, we'll have to take it. The same goes for the BOG "We Gotta Live Together", which is the only version of the song with less than ten minutes, which is how we hope it'd be tackled in the studio, staying at about 5 minutes.

As for the rest of the songs, some of them feature some overdubs done after the band's demise, but considering they were rather minimal (rhythm guitars and backing vocals, mostly), and all still featured the main three members, they are fair game. We use alternative versions of "Earth Blues", "Stepping Stone" and "Izabella", since the versions released in Rainbow Bridge and War Heroes had Mitch Mitchell erasing Miles' drum parts and overdubbing his own, which obviously wouldn't be the case here. As for the album's sequencing, I took my cues from their Fillmore setlists and the posthumous albums' tracklists. Seen as they often started concerts with "Power of Soul", and often had "Izabella" leading into the epic "Machine Gun", we can assume those would retain their positions. But other than that, the end of side one is the only place where "Them Changes" would make sense in the tracklist, and "Hear My Train a-Comin'" would make for the perfect side closer, as would "We Could Be Together", performing the same role it did on the live album. All in all, all sides range between 18 and 20 minutes in length, and with sixteen songs, the exact same number as Electric Ladyland, this all makes for one hell of a double record!

Considering the fact that we're mostly using alternative mixes and rare takes, you might be wondering how many of these songs actually sound like a finished product. And the answer is surprisingly, a lot of them! "Power of Soul" and "Message to Love" sound a lot more developed than their live counterparts, and these mixes of "Izabella" and "Stepping Stone" were even part of a canceled single in February 1970. "Earth Blues", "Room Full of Mirrors" and "Ezy Ryder" were actually finished back then as well, and with the exception of a drum overdub on the former, they would be released as-is. So the only unfinished tracks are "Machine Gun", which would only undertake minimal overdubs before being ready for consumption, "Them Changes", which would feature guitar overdubs by Hendrix and no trace of the horn section, and the most unfinished of all, "Hear My Train a-Comin'", which would necessitate a new lead vocal, drums by Buddy and some guitar overdubs, even though it's already a fantastic take already, as well as lead vocals for "Burning Desire", and a proper studio take of "We Gotta Love Together". But such changes would necessitate less than a month of studio work, which means it's perfectly viable, all things considered.

The album is named "Gypsy, Sun, and Rainbows" after the band that came before them, and I think it really fits in with the album and the album cover I selected for it, which was painted by Mati Klarwein, the same guy who painted the cover for Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. It's a bit heavy on Jimi, I know, but Capitol would probably insist on having a cover that reassured buyers that the Band of Gypsys was just Hendrix under a different name, as to not affect the record's sales. The leadoff single would be "Stepping Stone" backed with "Izabella" in April 1970, as was the case in real life, followed by the album in May, and "Them Changes" backed with "Earth Blues" right afterward. As for how it stands when compared to the rest of Jimi's recorded output, it shows a transitional phase of his, intermingling soul, funk and RnB influenced music with his more familiar material. Its songs are as good as the ones on the albums that came before it, and its sound points to places Jimi, unfortunately, wouldn't be able to get to. It's really a shame this ambitious project didn't go any further, and got tangled in all them changes that were going on in Jimi's life at the time.

Band of Gypsys - Band of Gypsys
Buddy Miles - Them Changes
Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection [Compilation]
Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides of the Sky
Jimi Hendrix - West Coast Seattle Boy
Jimi Hendrix - The Cry of Love
Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell, and Angels
Jimi Hendrix - Rainbow Bridge
The Jimi Hendrix Experience [Box set]