Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Beatles - Beatles for Sale (1964)

The Beatles released their third album, A Hard Day's Night, in July 1964. The soundtrack to the film of the same name, it was the band's first record to be comprised fully of Lennon/McCartney originals, with John Lennon, especially in a very prolific phase. After its release, the band returned to their very hectic schedule of touring, recording, and making TV appearances that had become the norm to them. It was also during this time period that the band was introduced to pot, with Bob Dylan having them try out the drug during a meeting with the band in New York City. Between August and October of 1964, the Fab Four had to juggle their many touring commitments with recording fourteen songs for an album, plus a non-album single, mostly recording during off-nights on a UK tour and finishing writing songs in the studio, a first for the band. It became obvious to the group that they most likely wouldn't be able to write 14 brand-new songs in time for a Christmas '64 release, and so the decision was made to switch back to including covers on the album, as was the case with their first two studio LPs. It was also the last time they indulged in such practice, with all following albums comprised mostly of original songs.

The ten original songs the band recorded between August and October 1964 were some of the greatest of their career thus far, with some even exhibiting the influence of Bob Dylan and folk music, and showing a clear step forward from their earlier phase. Even if Lennon and McCartney seem to have scrapped the bottom of the barrel in search of material ("I'll Follow the Sun" dates from the band's days as the Quarrymen), the quality is consistent throughout, and both the eight original songs on Beatles for Sale and the "I Feel Fine" b/w "She's a Woman" single are absolutely great. The cover songs included in the album, however, seem like a clear backward step from the all-original A Hard Day's Night. Most of them are inspired renditions (John's scorching take on "Rock and Roll Music" and the sweetly sung "Words of Love" are absolute highlights), but the ones that aren't (the campy "Mr. Moonlight" and the boring "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby") really bring down a record that if it weren't for the non-original material, I honestly think would be ranked among the group's best, such is its quality and originality, which is pretty much a given when talking about the band during their golden years.

That begs the question: what if the Beatles for Sale album was made up exclusively of originals? Is that even possible? Well, it turns out, it actually is possible! It does require some lateral thinking and a little bit of research, though. So, in order to tackle this in a sensible manner, let's set up the rules for this reconstruction first. There won't be a non-album single coming from this album's sessions, as AHDN didn't have one either, freeing up "I Feel Fine" and "She's a Woman" to appear on the album and giving us only four empty song slots to worry about. Other than that, we are only allowed to include songs that were already at least partially written by the time of recording Beatles for Sale, and that were recorded by the band in some form or another back then. Arrangements would change, obviously, and said changes will be explained later on. Only songs that were written by either Lennon/McCartney or George Harrison are to be included, obviously, and I will try to replace the cover songs with songs that are as similar to them as possible, in order to preserve the album's flow, and make my job of sequencing this much easier too. Without any further ado, here's how our all-original Beatles for Sale looks like:

No Reply (Beatles for Sale)
I'm a Loser (Beatles for Sale)
Baby's in Black (Beatles for Sale)
The One After 909 (Anthology 1)
I'll Follow the Sun (Beatles for Sale)
You Know What to Do (Anthology 1)
She's a Woman (Past Masters)
Eight Days a Week (Beatles for Sale)
Michelle (Rubber Soul)
What Goes On (Rubber Soul)
Every Little Thing (Beatles for Sale)
I Don't Want to Spoil the Party (Beatles for Sale)
What You're Doing (Beatles for Sale)
I Feel Fine (Past Masters)

Paul, John, Ringo, and George playing on a TV Show, October 1964

The first song we'll be replacing is Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music", which is now "The One After 909". A song dating from the group's Quarrymen era, it serves the purpose of a fast-paced rocker with lead vocals by John perfectly, meaning it gets to replace the aforementioned Chuck Berry cover. The only changes I see happening from the Anthology 1 1963 arrangement would be that the song would be performed faster, and feature a piano overdub by George Martin, bringing it closer to the treatment they gave "Rock and Roll Music". The weird "Mr. Moonlight" is replaced by another soul music-influenced track, the single "I Feel Fine". A bit of a stretch, I know, but it's probably a good thing that none of the songs on the album sound anything like "Mr. Moonlight", don't you think? I surely do, and appreciate the leap in quality this simple substitution gives the album. Next, we simply replace a Little Richard rock and roll song with a rock and roll song inspired by Little Richard, with "Kansas City" giving way to b-side "She's a Woman". The fact that both songs have Paul belting it out in the vocals certainly helps bridge the gap between the two songs, making for a great side closer to the Beatles' fourth album.

When replacing "Words of Love", I was looking for a slightly acoustic song, with great harmonies and that was midtempo. I found just that in "Michelle", which began life as an instrumental composed by Paul in 1960, which he finished in late 1965 when pressed for material for the Rubber Soul album. The circumstances being the same here, we'll just pretend he did this one year sooner and call it a day. We also need a Ringo song, this time a tune to replace Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't". That means we'll be stealing another Rubber Soul song, this time "What Goes On", and we'll be using it in that spot, since it was around as early as 1963, and would fit into this slot perfectly. The final replacement we need is for another Carl Perkins song, this time sung by George. That means "You Know What to Do", demoed by George in the same session that John first brought in "No Reply", gets to be chosen. Had the track been finished, I believe it would have sounded much more upbeat and countrified than the demo, making it fit like a glove into "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby"'s place. I've always felt, however, that this song made for a terrible album closer, which remains the case. To solve that issue, we'll simply switch it and "I Feel Fine" in the tracklisting, and there you have it, our completely original Beatles for Sale.

Clocking in at 35 minutes with a 17-minute side A and 18-minute side B, which is the average for most early Beatle records, our reconstructed album feels like the logical next step after A Hard Day's Night, moving into a folkier sound while retaining the band's rock and roll roots. And while some of the songs in this album were written much earlier than the songs on AHDN, this LP is a clear evolution from that album's sound and songwriting style. The album cover is just another photo of the band during the late-1964 period, which we'll use here just to change things up a little, just for variety's sake. While George unfortunately doesn't have the strange onion-like haircut he did on the original photo, the band still has the same jagged, exhausted look on their face, which means this covers transmits the same message as the real one. When looking at this period during the band's career, it's a shame the band's schedule took such a toll on their creativity, and it's immensely impressive how they simply seem to have learned how to work around the circumstances in order to produce their following masterpieces. And it certainly would be nice to see a great album such as this being elevated to masterpiece status.

The Beatles - Beatles for Sale
The Beatles - Past Masters
The Beatles - Rubber Soul
The Beatles - Anthology 1

Friday, January 29, 2021

Traffic - Mad Shadows (1970)

Traffic released their third studio album, John Barleycorn Must Die, in July 1970. It came after a year-long hiatus, during which bandleader Steve Winwood was a part of the supergroup Blind Faith, along with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker of Cream. After said group's collapse, which was due to Clapton's infatuation with their opening act Delaney & Bonnie and Friends (of which he and Traffic guitarist Dave Mason would become members), Winwood stuck around with Baker for his Air Force project (where they were joined by saxophonist Chris Wood), and after that band's initial run, started work on his first solo album, tentatively titled Mad Shadows. With Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi remaining as his lyricist, he got as far as recording two songs completely on his own, before inviting Capaldi and Wood to accompany him, and thus, a Traffic reunion was born, with the band quickly recording the remainder of the John Barleycorn album and going back on tour as a three-piece. That means Mason, who was already prone to quitting the band and coming back before the hiatus, doesn't contribute at all to the album, a first for him. Even with his earlier comings-and-goings, he was still a vital part of the band's two studio LPs, with his songwriting taking up almost half of their second, eponymous record. However, John Barleycorn Must Die was only the first in many Mason-less Traffic albums, with the band managing to find much success without the guitarist throughout the early '70s.

Mason, who also enjoyed a pretty successful spell as a solo artist in that time period, did reunite with his former group on one occasion, however. After touring the US both as a three-piece band and with the aid of bassist and Blind Faith member Ric Grech, the members of Traffic decided to play in an extended lineup, with Capaldi switching from drumming to being a frontman/backup singer, and drummers Jim Gordon and Rebop Kwaku Baah being added to their lineup, alongside earlier addition Grech. Mason, who had already released his Alone Together album in 1970 and had been a member of Derek and the Dominos for exactly one show, was invited back in for a series of six shows, culminating at the Oz Benefit Concert in London. With those performances being professionally recorded, a live record entitled Welcome to the Canteen was released, in order to fulfill a contractual obligation with their United Artists label. After those six performances in July 1971, both Dave and the group went their separate ways again, the former recording an album with Cass Elliot from the Mamas and the Papas, and a Mason-less Canteen lineup recording the fantastic The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys album. After that, they were never to reunite, leaving Welcome to the Canteen to be the last recording of the original four-piece lineup of Traffic, a great farewell to one of the '60s' greatest bands, who unfortunately couldn't put their personal and musical differences aside.

So, what you might already have figured out is the theme of this reconstruction is: what if Dave Mason had returned to the band during their 1970 reunion? And to answer that question, we'll have to set up some ground rules first. Mason wrote 3/10 songs on their first album, and 5/10 on their second, so 40% of Dave Mason songs seems like an appropriate amount for this album. Considering the original John Barleycorn Must Die album was pretty short, at 6 songs and 35 minutes, we'll allow two more songs, bringing our total to eight numbers. Still less than their previous records, but considering there are some pretty long songs on the album, it's a fair number. No covers were included in either of the band's first two albums, which means I'll try to keep this album focused on original material, to the detriment of the album's title track. In all, we'll allow Mason three songs, while Winwood/Capaldi get five tracks. Two live recordings will be used, as the Canteen versions of two of Mason's songs are quite literally Traffic versions of Alone Together songs, which is what we're looking for in the first place. They fit in pretty well and don't sound out of place at all, which means there isn't much of a problem in using them, at least in my view. And since we can't use the John Barleycorn title, why not use the working title for Stevie's first solo record, Mad Shadows? Well, in order not to slow things down further than we already have, here's the tracklist we'll be using for Mad Shadows:

Glad (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Freedom Rider (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Empty Pages (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Took More Than You Gave (Welcome to the Canteen)
Stranger to Himself (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Sad and Deep as You (Welcome to the Canteen)
Every Mother's Son (John Barleycorn Must Die)
Look at You, Look at Me (Alone Together)

Bonus tracks:
John Barleycorn (John Barleycorn Must Die)

Wood, Grech, Gordon, Baah, Capaldi, and Winwood in late 1971

The dilemma of which Mason songs to include starts off pretty easily, with two songs that were actually performed by the band, "Sad and Deep as You" and "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave" being pretty much no-brainers. Songs that could also be considered for inclusion are "World in Changes", "Waiting on You" and "Just a Song", which come from the early 1969 period where Mason was a part of Wooden Frog, which consisted of Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Wynder K. Frog, basically being a Winwood-less lineup of Traffic. As much as I like those three, due to the time they were written in and the circumstances surrounding Wooden Frog, those three fit in with Stevie's Blind Faith material much more than with his later, 1970 material. A reconstruction for another time, maybe? The remaining two songs on Dave's Alone Together LP, "Only You and I Know" and "Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving", sound much more like Delaney and Bonnie than anything Traffic could or would've possibly done, which means they get given away to the duo (who already did the former justice when playing it live in late 1969). That leaves us with the Mason/Capaldi co-write "Look at You, Look at Me", which besides sounding a lot like a Traffic song, features Jim himself on the drums. Considering other co-writes by the duo had already been featured on Traffic albums, I expect that to be a pretty non-controversial inclusion, of what's probably one of Dave's greatest songs.

Traffic's five inclusions are pretty obvious, the five original songs from the John Barleycorn Must Die album. As much as I like the title track, it had to be deleted to make room for one Mason song, and since it was the only cover on the album, and was pretty similar to "Sad and Deep as You", it had to go. The arrangement on the Barleycorn songs would remain virtually identical, since Dave didn't contribute much to Winwood/Capaldi songs even when he was a part of the band. The only things I can see him doing are adding rhythm guitar to "Empty Pages", a proper bass part to "Freedom Rider" and maybe harmonica to "Stranger to Himself", but other than that, Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi get along pretty well without him. The two Welcome to the Canteen songs also remain virtually identical, with Capaldi performing the drums instead of the Gordon/Baah duo, and maybe Mason adding an acoustic guitar to "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave", in order to bring it closer to the studio version's arrangement. The one song that allows for some additional speculation is "Look at You, Look at Me". However, I can see it sticking pretty close to the Alone Together arrangement. Dave tackles acoustic and lead guitar, Stevie plays the organ and bass guitar, Chris plays the flute, replacing the piano part (as with "Sad and Deep as You"), and Jim plays the drums and sings backing vocals. 

Clocking in at 44 minutes, with two 22 minute sides, Mad Shadows is honestly as good of an album as Traffic's self-titled second album, with both Mason and Winwood at the top of their game as writers and musicians. I don't consider this to be an improvement over the John Barleycorn Must Die album, but I do think Mad Shadows is a worthy equal to it, a brother from an alternate universe, if you may. For the album cover, I simply used the rejected artwork for Stevie's first unfinished studio album, which was later reused for Mott the Hoople's own album, also titled Mad Shadows and also produced by Mr. Guy Stevens. What a coincidence! I simply took the original image, removed the title and band name, and added the Traffic name and title to the middle of the cover, which I honestly felt worked pretty well. Considering that even without a strong hit single the John Barleycorn Must Die album did pretty well in the charts, we don't need to worry about the fact that this album doesn't have an obvious single either. I'd probably still issue "Empty Pages" as the album's single, only having "Sad and Deep as You" on its b-side, of course. Even though both parties enjoyed tremendous success after going separate ways, it's still tantalizing to imagine how things could have been, had they managed to put their differences aside and worked alongside each other, even for only one more album. Well, it seems the best we can do is this, compile these songs and listen to them alone, but together.

- Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die
- Dave Mason - Alone Together
- Traffic - Welcome to the Canteen

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Monkees - The Monkees Again! (1966)

The Monkees released their first, self-titled album in October 1966 through Colgems Records. A no. 1 record, it was released in order to promote the TV series of the same name, which had premiered that September on NBC. Since the album had to be recorded quickly, in order for its release to tie in with the beginning of their TV show, the choice was made for songwriting duo Boyce and Hart to write most of the album, with LA's Wrecking Crew studio musicians providing instrumental backing, and the Monkees' cast members providing vocals only. This upset Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork, the two real musicians of the band quite a bit, but considering they were working on a tight schedule, it was probably the only choice. Nesmith did end up writing two of the songs on the album, though, one by himself, and another with help from legendary songwriting duo Goffin & King. Considering both the TV show and the album were smash hits, the gears were put in motion for a second studio album to be released as quickly as possible, with sessions for it beginning immediately after their first LP was done, in early August 1966. With Boyce and Hart riding high due to the great success of the "Last Train to Clarksville" single, one could expect follow-up album More of the Monkees to be filled to the brim with B&H compositions. But that's exactly the point where things started going wrong for the duo, and where they started losing control over the Monkees' recorded output.

Following the success of the Monkees' first album, a bit of a power struggle formed between musical director Don Kirshner and the two songwriters. Kirshner, who considered the two inferior to the other Brill Building folks he was working with at the time, wanted to replace the both of them with more proven songwriters such as Neil Diamond and Goffin & King. Don's argument was certainly helped by Boyce and Hart insisting on recording two horrible novelty tracks, "Kicking Stones" and "Ladies' Aid Society" during those August sessions. Having burnt out all of the goodwill they'd garnered with the show's producers by recording those two tracks, they ended up relegated to a measly two songs on More of the Monkees, with almost a whole album of great songs by them being left unreleased. Kirshner had won the battle for songwriting dominance over the Monkees, at least for now. However, after the band gained control over their own albums and could play their own instruments in them, with 1967's Headquarters, they re-recorded some of the discarded songs by the duo. Even the band themselves thought the material they had recorded was more worthy of release than some of the stuff released on MOTM, such as the dreadful "The Day We Fall in Love". The Monkees' displeasure with most aspects of the album, from the album cover to the song selection, was one of the main catalysts to their desire to play their own instruments and become a real band.

So what you might be wondering by now is: what if the Monkees had followed their first album's formula, and had a Boyce & Hart dominated second album? Well, to answer that question, we need to know what that formula was, in the first place. When taking a look at the songwriting credits for their first LP, we see 7 B&H songs, 2 Mike Nesmith songs, 2 songs by Brill Building writers, and a tune by an outside writer, Bread's David Gates. If we follow the same ratio when compiling an alternate 2nd album, we will get pretty close to what they would've done back then. Another choice I made when putting this album together was not to use any songs that were on More of the Monkees, as there is such a wealth of material in the can, great songs with hit potential, that putting MOTM tracks into it would be simply a waste of space. That means this can also work as a companion piece to that record, sort of a part two to it, if you will. I also tried to use mainly songs that were either featured in the TV show or re-recorded by the band itself at a later date, in order to keep ourselves in tune with which songs the four of them thought were good enough and which were not. Most of the songs will come from the More of the Monkees sessions, obviously, with three exceptions, which are outtakes from the debut album that were also re-recorded or repurposed later on in their career. Not to stretch this out any further than I already have, here's what our alternate second Monkees album looks like:

Through the Looking Glass (More of the Monkees)
I'll Spend My Life With You (More of the Monkees)
Don't Listen to Linda (More of the Monkees)
I Don't Think You Know Me (More of the Monkees)
I Won't Be the Same Without Her (The Monkees)
Words (More of the Monkees)
I'll Be Back Upon My Feet (More of the Monkees)
Valleri (More of the Monkees)
Mr. Webster (More of the Monkees)
You Just May Be the One (The Monkees)
I Can't Get Her Off My Mind (The Monkees)
(I Prithee) Do Not Ask for Love (More of the Monkees)

Bonus tracks:
Of You (More of the Monkees)
Apples, Peaches, Bananas, and Pears (More of the Monkees)

The Monkees shooting their TV show, late 1966.

When selecting the seven Boyce & Hart songs we would be using, I ended up using seven tracks they later re-recorded as a real band. Album opener "Through the Looking Glass" and "Valleri", which were re-recorded during sessions for The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees, "I'll Spend My Life With You", "Mr. Webster" and "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind", which were redone for Headquarters, "Words" was used on the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones album, and Tommy Boyce's favorite, "Don't Listen to Linda", re-recorded for The Monkees Present album. Of those, "Valleri" had already been used in the TV show back in 1966, and became an accidental hit when radio DJs started playing the song taped off the show on the air. Mike Nesmith's two songs will be "You Just May Be the One", which was both played on the show and re-recorded for the Headquarters album, and "I Won't Be the Same Without Her", another Goffin/King song with Mike on lead, as with "Sweet Young Thing" on their debut. The two Brill Building tunes will be Goffin/King's "I Don't Think You Know Me", and Linzer/Randell's "I'll Be Back Upon My Feet", with the latter both being featured on the TV show and re-recorded for The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees. Finally, Michael Martin Murphey's "(I Prithee) Do Not Ask for Love" is the outside songwriter song, seen as the band thought highly enough of the song to play it in their first tour, in early 1967. With that, we have a 12 song, 30-minute album.

In keeping with the balance established on the first Monkees record, the album is dominated by Micky, with six lead vocals to the first album's seven. Davy comes second with three songs, which was also the quota he got on the first album, as well as Mike with his two songs. We do get Peter's first solo lead, though, with "I Don't Think You Know Me", which is absolutely a better starting point than "Auntie Grizelda" was. For bonus tracks, we have "Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears", another B&H song that sounds a lot like "Last Train to Clarksville", and even though it's ok, it's also pretty derivative, and I decided on leaving it out in order to make room for stronger material. The one absence which breaks my heart is "Of You", the Bill Chadwick-written number sung by Mike. While it is a pretty strong song and the performance is great, it simply doesn't fit the album, in my opinion, which means we'll relegate it to a bonus track. Another track, Mike Nesmith's "All the King's Horses", was played pretty frequently on the TV show as well, but since I already use it in my alternate debut album in "Let's Dance On"'s spot, I decided against including that song here, to get ourselves some conceptual continuity. All songs were taken from the August/October sessions, with the exceptions of "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind", "I Won't Be the Same Without Her" and "You Just May Be the One", which come from the July 1966 sessions for the first record, on which they were not used.

Since the band (especially Michael Nesmith) seemed to dislike the More of the Monkees album cover, I decided against using a similar design to it. Instead, I used Sir Q's fantastic fantasy album cover, alongside the only name I could possibly think of that was more generic than More of the Monkees: The Monkees Again! The lead single off this album would probably be "Valleri", as even without a release back then it managed to get some serious airplay, followed by "I'll Be Back Upon My Feet" or "Words" as a second single. The sheer amount of great songs in this album means that even if it doesn't reach the same highs MOTM does with "I'm a Believer", for example, it's a much more consistent and solid album, without any of the horrible novelty-type songs from its real-life counterpart. Its consistency also comes from it being taken mostly from the same sessions, with the same producer. That means this is probably a stronger listening experience than More Of, and had it been released, would be as well-received as any Monkees album during the early part of their career. It really is a shame that Boyce and Hart's time as the Monkees' songwriters ended up being so short-lived, as their compositions were one of the main things that made the band great. But since it was the whole debacle surrounding More of the Monkees that lead the band to rebel and take control over their own career, maybe their demise ended up serving a purpose in freeing the Monkees to be themselves.

- The Monkees - More of the Monkees [Deluxe Edition]
- The Monkees - The Monkees [Deluxe Edition]
- The Monkees' Sessionography [Reference Website]
- Monkees Live Almanac [Reference Website]