Monday, August 22, 2016

The Best "Not Really Records" Of All Time

Having exhausted any possibility of new and interesting commentary on classic records like "Pet Sounds," "Blonde On Blonde" and "The White Album," I thought I'd offer this.

The Beach Boys' 1969 release, "20/20" would have been the perfect follow-up to the beloved "Pet Sounds." Even though it is a Frankenstein creation of singles and leftovers, it feels a hell of a lot more cohesive than "Smiley Smile" or "Wild Honey," has fewer weak spots than either of those records, and even has a few songs stronger than some of the weaker tracks on "Pet Sounds." For me, "20/20" is all about how it plays and at the risk of opening up that can of worms again, it plays with fewer speed bumps than "Pet Sounds," that is of course, if like me, you think tracks like "That's Not Me," "Pet Sounds" and "Sloop John B" are indeed, speed bumps.

Another record that comes to mind is The Who's "Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy." This is a collection of singles, yet it is so absolutely perfect, it plays better than the majority of The Who's catalogue. You might be thinking, "Well, don't all Greatest Hits" records play perfectly? It's all hits!" The answer is NO.  Two artists that immediately come to mind are Elton John and Cheap Trick, artists I love, with hits I do not. E.J.'s Greatest Hits might still be on the charts after 40 years, but you still have to suffer through "Daniel" "Honky Cat" and "Crocodile Rock." As for Cheap Trick, I think their hits set came in the CD age, so they may need to be disqualified, but still, "The Flame" anyone? "Can't Stop Falling Into Love?"

I am a stickler for sequencing. I think anyone who has ever made a mixtape feels the same way. While "20/20" has never been considered anything but the 20th Beach Boys record, it doesn't change the fact that the band did not go into the studio with the intention of creating it. Yet, it plays like they did. It plays really well. And with The Who's "Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy," having tracks like "I Can't Explain," "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," "Substitute," and "Pictures Of Lily" all in one place, (as opposed to filler like "Cobwebs & Strange,""Whiskey Man" and "The Ox," mucking up the playback of their first two records), makes that record as good as "Who's Next."

(As you may have read on these pages, I think "The Who Sell Out" is their best record and one of my top three records of all time. I am well aware of the filler of that record. I just don't care.)

So, dear friends, can we come up with other officially released albums that, while not proper releases, stand out as better records?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Songs Of The Week, 2016: 8/6-8/19

Going Places- Paul Weller
The Way It Will Be- Gillian Welch
Everything- Squeeze
I Turn Around- Elvis Costello
I Know What Boys Like- The Waitresses
Dead Or Alive- John Cale
Raise Your Hand- Eddie Floyd
I Take What I Want- James & Bobby Purify
The Jean Genie- David Bowie
Sleepless Nights- The Everly Brothers
It Might As Well Be You- Del Amitri
The Passenger- Siouxsie & The Banshees
Forever Now- The Psychedelic Furs
I Never Glid Before- Gong


Friday, August 19, 2016

Weekend Mix: All Hail The King

I frequently comment, "Nothing after Exile on Main St", or "Nothing after Who's Next", or "Nothing after Wish You Were Here", so it shouldn't be suprising I've always maintained "Nothing after the Army" in regards to Elvis.
And that was being generous, because I really meant "Practically nothing after SUN".

Upon his return from the Army there was a decade of terrible movies with soundtracks full of indifferently recorded shlock like "Do The Clam", "Harum Scarum", and "Spinout".
Then there was the brief moment of the "'68 Comeback", which showed he could still do it, if he wanted to.
And then it was just "Fat Elvis", whose stage show seemed as bloated as he'd become.

Here is a review by Bob Claypool for the Houston Post in late 1976:

"Elvis Presley has been breaking hearts for more than 20 years now, and, Saturday afternoon in the Summit----in a completely new  and unexpected way----he broke mine. The show was awful, a depressingly inchoherent amateurish mess served up by a bloated, stumbling and mumbling figure who didn't act like the King of anything, least of all Rock n Roll."

I can think of no other major artist whose catalog has been so ineptly, and hapahazardly managed.
Endlessly repackaged beyond recognition, it's really hard to get a handle on.
As far as I knew, all you really needed was "The Sun Sessions" and "Elvis Gold Records Vol 1".
I bought all four discs of "The Complete '50's Masters", even though most of the essentials are on the first two. I didn't think to bother with the '60's or '70's.

In the mid '90's, I read Peter Guralnick's awesome two volume biography, "Last Train To Memphis", and "Careless Love". I began to appreciate "Supiscious Minds" and "Burning Love", and became curious about the later sessions, as his new producer, Felton Jarvis heroically tried to salvage what was left of the King's career.

On August 6th, with a sense of obligation and morbid curiosity I downloaded "Way Down In The Jungle Room", a new collection of his very last sessions, in 1976.

I remember reading in "Careless Love", just how hard it had become to get Elvis into the studio.
He was whacked out on pills and knew he wasn't really up for it.
An improvised studio was set up in Graceland. Elvis kept the musicians waiting for days before coming downstairs.

I just re-read the chapter, and it's amazing anything was accomplished.

I didn't bother listening to any of it until Monday night. "Way Down", the opener, knocked me right out. In fact, nothing sucked. I got the idea for the Weekend mix. I pulled other songs from sessions after the '68 Comeback.

On Tuesday (August 16), out of curiosity, I looked up his death only to find it was that very day 39 years ago.
Sal posted something about Gungadin and his Bongos. I didn't see any mention on FaceBook, even though most of my friends are musicians. Elvis had truly left the building.

He didn't overdub. All the performances were recorded "live". And it's worth hearing if only for James Burton's guitar.

Two of my all-time favorite albums are Gram Parson's "GP", and "Grievous Angel". On them he used the core of Elvis band: James, Ronnie Tutt (drums), Glen D. Hardin (keyboads), and Emory Gordy(bass).
Elvis' "Never Been To Spain" was recorded at MSG, on June 10, 1972. In September the guys were working for Gram, in his quest for "Cosmic American Music".

I think He and Elvis represent the Yin and Yang of the same whole. I hear a killer band with two very different singers covering a lot of the same ground. I couldn't say which was the darker half.

I included a "live" track from MSG in homage to the fake "live" medley of "Cash On The Barrellhead/Hickory Wind" on "Grievous Angel".

Clearly Gram was influenced by Elvis, who I wish had taken a crack at "Ooh Las Vegas", and can only imagine what he would have done with "$1,000 Wedding". The last song here, "If That Isn't Love", reminds me of "Hickory Wind".

I doubt Elvis really knew who Gram was, although I can imagine him asking James, "How'd it go with that hippie boy?", to which James might have replied something like, "It was okay, but he's no King of Rock N Roll". He's said he didn't think much of it at the time, but to his surprise, no interviewer since doesn't ask about working with Gram.

In this collection, I avoided familiar hits, and the cluttered bombast of his live shows in order to hear how good "Fat Elvis" really was. I wanted it to sound like a killer double album. What you'd put on right after "GP/Grievous Angel", in order to extend the vibe.

His voice is always there and the band's killing it.

It's noticeable that his studio patter in the early '70's, as evidenced by "If I Were You", was ebullient, while there's an ugly cranky-ness at the core of the jokester on the last sessions. He was the original redneck opioid addict after all.

I think he still "had it" as a singer until the very end. He was a bonafide musician. He had both rhythm and pitch. Check out his piano accompaniment on "After Loving You" (1969). Rock solid.

He was the greatest and most sadly squandered talent I can think of. Except for maybe Gram Parsons.


All Hail the King

All Hail Too

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Stupid Rare Single Of The Day

I've been listening to the ridiculously rare Skip Bifferty LP, a 1967, almost-never-released, freak beat gem on RCA.  Some snooping on the internet will treat you to the full album, as well as some rare singles, including "Man In Black," the tune above, which has Steve Marriott credited as arranger and Ronnie Lane as producer. And though Don Arden managed Skip Bifferty, there is some speculation over whether the two Small Faces actually took part in this recording, as the relationship between Arden and Skip Bifferty had already gone sour at the time of release. I don't care. I love the record and it sounds like something Marriott and Lane might have had a hand in.

For those keeping score, both Mickey Gallagher and John Turnbull of Skip Bifferty ended up in, among other bands, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, while Turnbull has been Karl Wallinger's right hand man in World Party for years. If you don't know the Skip Bifferty record, it's time to give it a spin. You don't need the $400 original MONO release on vinyl. YouTube will do, or even a cheap CD.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"The Beatles-yeah, a couple of good records there, but my mum and dad had driven me crazy with their early stuff, so by the time they'd turned into Gungadin & His Bongos, there wasn't much there for me."
-Johnny Rotten

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Songs Of The Week, 2016: 7/30-8/5

Fairy Tale In Real Time- Eagles Of Death Metal
Truck Driver- The Archies
Two Magpies- The Fireman
Taken For A Fool (Live w/Elvis Costello)- The Strokes
Mama Told Me Not To Come- Three Dog Night
Happy Jack- Southern Culture On The Skids
El Paso- Marty Robbins


Friday, August 5, 2016

Weekend Mix: My Name Is Lou

I wasn't much of a Lou Reed fan until around 1980, when my junkie punk rock roomate, King James, of The Bible Burners, for which I was the bass player, turned me onto the Velvet Underground. A few years prior, based wholly on Bowie covering "White Light/White Heat", I'd bought a crappy bargain bin cassette of highlights from the first two albums with a picture of Rock N Roll Animal Lou on the cover. With sound quality so poor that it only made the music seem even more inept.

King James loved any music famously fueled by heroin, as he found that validating.
He especially liked The Velvet's "couch" album, and the live version of "White Light" on the abysmally packaged "1969 Live". Soon I did too.
All good things must come to an end so when I moved out I needed to find replacements.
In 1982 it wasn't all that easy to find anything except that first "banana" album. Everything else was out of print. I was living in SoCal, and not even Tower Records, on Sunset, the overpriced last resort to find anything, came up short.
I called all the stores I knew and somewhere in my travels, probably Platypus Records in Pasadena, I found "Everything You Ever Heard About The................THE VELVET UNDERGROUND".
A three record boxed bootleg containing material that would eventually be released as "VU", and "Another VU".
And there was a disc devoted to Lou's work for Pickwick Records, where he was hired as a songwriter and defacto band leader to create cheap knockoff soundalikes of the current musical trends, to be packaged and sold in supermarkets under titles like "Soundsville", featuring bands like The Primitives, The All Night Workers, The Shades, The Beachnuts, The Jades, The Roughnecks, and MORE! All of it written and performed by Lou, some of his frat band buddies from Syracuse, and John Cale.

Notably included was "Do The Ostrich" (1965), a song concerning an imaginary dance craze with Lou on vocals and some guitar work soon to be a hallmark of the Velvets.
The need for a band to play this song at a middle school "Battle of the Bands" in New Jersey was the impetus for Lou and John to form The Velvet Underground.
Lou made sure he is regarded as a serious artist. These toungue and cheek knock-offs are hilarious in a way he's not so well known for. I don't think he wanted these re-released.
None of it is commercially available, and can only be found as fan bootlegs.
While I was thrilled with my big vinyl box set, the sound was pretty bad. The internet has made everything much easier to find. That said, finding documentation was not easy, and there are a few singers I had trouble identifying. Lou is easy to spot, though. And Nico sings "Strip Tease" and two more.

I found a lot of my info here, where you can see more covers and 45 labels:

Lou Reed A pre-VU discography

However cheesy this music is, I have never stopped enjoying it. It's like a really bad movie you can watch over and over. So how bad is it? I surely don't know. All I can say it is a lot of fun.

One look at the titles and you'll know what you're in for.

"Why Don't You Smile" is the first song known to have Lou and John as cowriters.

There are hints of later songs throughout.

My Name Is Lou

My Name Is Lou Too

I had some technical problems causing some songs to be mistitled. Sorry about that. The links have been fixed, and the missing artists added.