Monday, November 1, 2010

John Cale's Greatest Mistake

I've been on a John Cale kick, on and off for about 35 years now. Somehow I never tire of his most commercial releases, "Fear,"" Slow Dazzle," and "Honi Soit," or his baroque masterpiece "Paris 1919," which I found out a few years ago, was a big influence on Jeff Tweedy. Everyone should own "Paris 1919."

Then of course, there is the gritty punk of "Sabotage Live" and the early folk of "Vintage Violence." All of these records contain songs with influences as far ranging as Brian Wilson and The Beatles to Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan and John Zorn. And let's not forget his classical training.

One of his more recent releases, 2003's "Hobosapiens" was a return to the pop sensibilities of his early-seventies' masterworks, or I should say, Cale's version of "pop."  With over 30 solo records in 40 years, John Cale has repeatedly pushed the envelope, and each release, whether easy on the ears, or specifically aimed at your nerve endings, is worth your time, even for just one listen, because Cale is never boring.

This weekend I listened to 1975's "Helen Of Troy." Side one, then side two, then side two again, then "My Maria," the opening cut on side one, three times in a row. (That happened because I couldn't get enough of Chris Spedding's brilliant guitar solo.) I also decided that "Helen Of Troy" was Cale's second best album.

Then I saw this...

This album came out without Cale's consent, who considered the tapes unfinished. After shipping the first pressings, Island Records replaced the track Leaving It Up To You with Coral Moon, because it mentioned Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski, who was killed in 1969 by the Charles Manson gang. Things turned sour, and Cale and Island did go their separate ways.
"It could have been a great album. I came back from finishing Patti Smith and had three days to finish "Helen Of Troy" before I went on Italian tour. I was spending eighteen hours a day in the studio. When I got back, I found the record company had gone ahead and released what amounted to demo tapes. The trouble was that Island had their own ideas of what that album should sound like. They wanted to include songs I don't particularily like, but it was also an impertinent assumption on my part that I was capable managing myself. My determination to have "Helen Of Troy" the way I did was not really fair to Island or my management, especially at a time when Island was losing it's percentage of the market, which was making everybody very paranoid."

I did not know that.
"Helen Of Troy" represents the best of Cale's bottomless well of styles and ideas. With a dozen songs averaging 3-4 minutes, each with stunning melodies and unexpected arrangements, covering every influence I mentioned above, "Helen Of Troy" is John Cale's Greatest Hits.  To think, this record, which was never released in the U.S., was never meant to come out at all.



Anonymous said...

I will always treasure the vinyl import copy you were, I'm sure, instrumental in helping me obtain lo these many years ago. It was truly sublime being in high school and discussing which new release was best...was it Cale, BeBop Deluxe, Floyd's "Animals", Bowie's latest Berlin mind-bender, etc....truly can never ever happen again...and I'm glad 'cos it's all ours!!

soundsource said...

not a lot of john cale fans I guess. I really like those island albums with chris spedding.

Sal Nunziato said...

I have a vivid memory of whining to you on the phone because the cover of "Station To Station" was black and white and not in color like the ad on the back cover of Circus Mag. (This is you, right?)

Big Jim Slade said...

Hmm, now, I like coming here because I get to hear things that I wouldn't come across on my own. And I feel perfectly fine not liking everything, I enjoy the site a lot in any case. But I have to say I feel bad saying this... this sounds like Meatloaf trying to be arty.

Funny thing, I grew up in L.A. (b. 1967), and moved to Boston in '92. Upon going out to a pub, when a dj might be blasting tunes on a Friday night, and hearing some song about making out in a car or something, all the young ladies in the pub immediately start singing along, just thrilled! I started asking what the F^#$ is this? Meatloaf was the answer. It never really made a dent out west - totally an east coast thing. Even more than Billy Joel is an east coast thing. Joel at least was pretty well known out west, just half as popular.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks for the comment, Big Jim, but I have to say, I just don't hear Meat Loaf at all.

Gavin Hellyer said...

In Australia we only ever had the Leaving It Up To You version. I never heard Coral Moon until the Seducing Down The Door box set many years later. I love the Helen Of Troy album and it is one of my favourite Cale records.