Thursday, April 30, 2020

Cream - Goodbye! (1969)

Cream played their final concert at the Royal Albert Hall, in November of 1968. It was the last date on their Farewell Tour, which they embarked upon after releasing Wheels of Fire, a half live, half studio album, which further cemented their spot as one of the biggest groups in the blues-rock and psychedelic rock genres. However, not all was well in the band by that point. The group had decided to quit right before the release of the aforementioned album, mostly due to the constant fighting between bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, as well as guitarist Eric Clapton's wish for a change of musical direction in the band, inspired by first hearing The Band's Music from Big Pink. After their farewell tour wrapped up at the Albert Hall in November, they were to finish a final album, fittingly titled Goodbye, before moving on to their respective solo projects. Recording started in October 1968 at London's IBC studios, where the band tracked three songs, one by each of the band members, produced by their regular producer, Felix Pappalardi.

The album they were making was supposed to follow on Wheels of Fire's footsteps, in that they intended to split the album into a "live" disc, chronicling their final performances together, as well as a "studio" disc, which was supposed to feature three compositions by each of the band members, in order to make for a truly collaborative effort. The three songs recorded in October seemed to be a strong starting point for this new record, with "Badge", Eric's tune, featuring George Harrison on guitar and co-writing status, apparently as a thank you for playing on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Bruce's "Doing that Scrapyard Thing" and Baker's "What a Bringdown" are also pretty good songs, all rooted in the type of psychedelia Cream did best. However, it seems the band lost interest in such an idea, and the strain in their relations was such that they never really got any further than those three songs. In order to fill out an album, three live recordings from a gig at the LA Forum were added, which meant their final album amounted to a paltry 30 minutes.

However, what you all might be asking by now is: what if Cream had managed to go on with their plan of a double album version of Goodbye? And to answer that, we will first set up some ground rules: We will keep ourselves to only nine songs on the "studio" half, with all the songs coming from either Blind Faith's first and only album, or from Jack Bruce's Songs for a Tailor album, as those were the two releases that immediately followed Cream's demise. The songs that most closely resemble the type of material the group played, or that had strong evidence of being part of their later repertoire, will be included. And as for the "live" half, we will keep ourselves to five to six songs in total, as the band improvised quite a lot live, and the live part of WoF consisted of only four songs. We will also try to keep the selection of material restricted to their final October and November 1968 shows, with only one exception that will be explained later. Either way, not to stretch this out any further than I already have, here's our reconstruction of Goodbye:

Never Tell Your Mother She's Out of Tune (Songs for a Tailor)
Theme for an Imaginary Western (Songs for a Tailor)
Do What You Like (Blind Faith)
In the Presence of the Lord (Blind Faith)
Badge (Goodbye!)
Weird of Hermiston (Songs for a Tailor)
Doing That Scrapyard Thing (Goodbye!)
What a Bringdown (Goodbye!)
The Clearout (Songs for a Tailor)
I'm So Glad (Goodbye!)
Politician (Goodbye!)
Sitting on Top of the World (Goodbye!)
White Room (Live Cream Vol. 2)
Deserted Cities of the Heart (Live Cream Vol. 2)
Steppin' Out (Live Cream Vol. 2)

Bruce, Baker, and Clapton playing live at the RAH, November 1968

In order to select six more songs to fill out the studio side of Goodbye, first, we will need to look at what the three band members were doing right after the band split. Luckily for us, Clapton and Baker came together again, alongside Traffic's Steve Winwood and bassist Ric Grech, to form Blind Faith. While most of the band's material doesn't quite sound like Cream, it does feature two compositions by the pair: Clapton's gospel-tinged "Presence of the Lord", and Baker's 15-minute jam fueled "Do What You Like". That brings us to our first two problems: we only have a song each, and one of those is almost a side long. The solution would be to edit Baker's opus down to a more sensible five minutes, which is the length it was performed in during BF's first gig, and to fill out the album with whatever it is Jack Bruce had available back then. Luckily for us, Jack released a pretty good solo album that year, which was produced by Pappalardi, and even featured a couple of songs that Cream had demoed way back in 1967. So our final four will have to come from him.

And out of all songs on the Songs for a Tailor album, the more adequate would be the opener, "Never Tell Your Mother She's Out of Tune", as it's very Cream-like and even features Harrison on guitar, "Theme for an Imaginary Western", which the band was supposed to record before the split (and would sound a hell of a lot more like the Mountain version of the track, with Clapton's input added in), as well as "Weird of Hermiston" and "The Clearout", which the band had demoed for the Disraeli Gears record, but didn't include as they were "too weird". All arrangements I didn't mention before stay the same, except for "Presence of the Lord", which gets a Clapton lead vocal, as he performs it live nowadays. As for the second disc, we keep those three songs from the original Goodbye album, while adding "White Room" and "Deserted Cities of the Heart", both from the same LA Forum gig, and an earlier recording of "Steppin' Out", which despite being slightly anachronistic, is the perfect way to close the final Cream album, all things considered.

As an album, I honestly think Cream's farewell is a better listening experience than its predecessor, Wheels of Fire. The live side especially is miles better, focusing more on their ensemble playing and fierce improvisation, rather than on drum solos and solo spots. As for the originals, they certainly don't reach the heights of songs like "White Room" or "Politician" (although "Badge" and "Imaginary Western" surely come close), but make for a much more uniform record, without any particularly bad songs. Its lead single would probably be "Badge", which already did pretty well in our timeline, with "What a Bringdown" as its b-side. We honestly have no reason to change the album's great and certainly pretty ironic artwork, so we get to keep it as well. It certainly is a shame that the relations between band members were so strained and uncompromisable that they couldn't go out on a more positive note. Hopefully, with this reconstruction, we managed to paint a clearer picture, of what the final words of one of the most important bands of the '60s were supposed to be.

- Cream - Goodbye!
- Jack Bruce - Songs for a Tailor
- Cream - Live Cream, Vol. 2
- Blind Faith - Blind Faith

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Guns n' Roses - Perfect Crime (1989)

Guns n' Roses released their second album, GN'R Lies, in November 1988, through Geffen Records. Coming right after the stupendous success of their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, it was a hit almost by default, and also featured a song that would become one of their best known: "Patience". However, those who looked carefully saw that it was nothing but two EPs put together. The first one being their debut release, in 1986, a faux-live performance of four songs, and the other side being an acoustic session, where they play three new tunes and a version of "You're Crazy", from AFD. Those three new songs were of quality on the same level as the material on their first LP, despite the polemic lyrics on the closing track, "One in a Million", which used racist and homophobic slurs. As a stopgap released, it worked pretty well and gave them even more momentum than they already had, without much work having to be involved in it. As a result, the album charted considerably well and catapulted lead single "Patience" to a #4 spot on the singles chart.

However, not everything was roses in the band by then. Impressively enough, drugs had already begun to take hold of some of the members, most notably drummer Steven Adler and guitarist Slash. That meant that whichever time they had outside their hectic schedule, was spent getting into trouble and doing drugs, more of the latter than the former. After their massive world tour ended in December 1988 in Australia, they were exhausted, and as a result, took prolonged holidays from each other. They only reconvened in April of the next year, for an appearance in an awards show and an opening slot for the Rolling Stones. As a result, the band members drifted apart considerably during that time, and their addictions were spiraling out of control. Tentative writing sessions for a new album happened, and despite warranting some songs, they were nowhere near as inspired as before. An attempted recording session later the year went nowhere, and the band still wasn't sure as to where to go, and plans for an album were once more put on hold.

They would finally reconvene in the studio in April 1990 with a brand new batch of songs, and stay in the studio for almost a whole year. In addition to the newer material, they recorded a lot of older songs, even some that were written five years before Appetite! With that, they recorded some 30-odd songs, and decided to turn their followup to AfD into a double album. With that, the twin Use Your Illusion albums were released in 1991 to critical and commercial success, being a risky move that paid off. Certainly, the last four years of hype helped UYI's reputation, and many people wondered why they'd taken so long to record another album. So, what we'll be debating here is: what if Gn'R had released a second studio album in 1989? They certainly had enough material to do so, and had they not released the "Lies" EP, they'd certainly have the time to record it, in between stops of their tour. We will try to keep this album as closely related to Appetite as possible, with only twelve songs, and only songs written before April 1989. Here's what we've got:

You Could Be Mine (Use Your Illusion II)
The Garden (Use Your Illusion I)
Don't Cry (Use Your Illusion I)
Bad Obsession (Use Your Illusion I)
Perfect Crime (Use Your Illusion I)
Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Use Your Illusion II)
Used to Love Her (GN'R Lies)
Patience (GN'R Lies)
Back Off Bitch (Use Your Illusion I)
Yesterdays (Use Your Illusion II)
November Rain (Use Your Illusion I)
One in a Million (GN'R Lies)

Bonus tracks:
Ain't Going Down (GN'R Pinball Machine)
Hair of the Dog (The Spaghetti Incident?)

Stradlin, McKagan, Rose, and Slash playing live in early 1989

First of all, we need to select the material for the album. Any and all songs written before the April 1989 sessions that yielded "Civil War" and "Bad Apples" are fair game, and we will set the recording of such an album to sometime in February/March of the same year. That means "Patience", "Used to Love Her" and "One in a Million" from Lies, recorded in 1988, are obvious inclusions, alongside "You Could Be Mine", "Bad Obsession" and "Perfect Crime", all of which were written at the same time as the material on their debut album, and "Yesterdays", "November Rain", "Back Off Bitch", "The Garden" and "Don't Cry", which are from a time when Guns n' Roses didn't even exist yet, some dating as far back as 1985 and 1982! Their cover of Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" can also be included, as they played it live as early as 1988 in Japan, and UYI outtake "Ain't Going Down" and their cover of "Hair of the Dog" can be even added in as options as well, seen as the former was written in 1987, and the latter was played live infrequently during their tours. That gives us a pool of more or less 14 songs to choose from, when compiling Perfect Crime.

With this, we can attempt to sequence an album. Starting off with "You Could Be Mine" and its drum intro is the obvious way to start this album, as is "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" finishing off side one, with "Used to Love Her" and "One in a Million" taking their usual spots as side two openers and finishers. I sequenced the rest by what flowed together well, spacing out ballads and rockers, and chose to exclude "Ain't Going Down" and "Hair of the Dog", using the former as a b-side. However, if you feel "One in a Million" is too controversial, you can sub "Ain't Going Down" in for it, switching "November Rain" to the final track. As for the arrangements, they'd mostly stay the same, with the exceptions of "Used to Love Her", which would sound much more like "Brown Sugar" than "Dead Flowers" in an electric arrangement, and "One in a Million", which would sound different in a non-acoustic arrangement as well. But other than that, I can see both "Don't Cry" and "November Rain" being much less overproduced, just simple piano ballads with no string arrangements, as they were in their 1986 demo forms we have heard before.

Overall, Perfect Crime sounds like a much more "proper" follow-up to AfD than what we got with both Lies and UYI, being much more varied than the former, and much more focused than the latter. I do believe that had they released this in 1989, it would have been as big of a hit as Appetite, seen as the band was on top of the world back then, and had only just started playing stadiums. Either way, they could release this and still release another record in 1991 with only the stuff they wrote after this, which shows how much material there is in the Illusions records. The album was titled after the song of the same name, as I felt it sounded pretty good, and the cover was a concert poster from 2016 I repurposed, just adding a name to it. Clocking in at almost an hour, I believe this album's first single would've been "You Could Be Mine", followed by either "Yesterdays" or "Patience", as those are the more commercial songs in the record. All in all, it's a shame the band chose to wait out the years they were on top locked away in a studio, but considering what happened in the 2000's, we can be grateful they managed to release Use Your Illusions so quickly.

- Use Your Illusion I
- GN'R Lies
- Use Your Illusion II
- "The Spaghetti Incident?"
- GN'R Pinball Machine