Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels Live 1973 (1982)


Gold disk reissue of a live broadcast gem.

First the facts. Gram Parsons, easily the most influential artist of the country-rock era, had a relatively brief career from the late 1960s until he died from a drug overdose in September 1973. After his work with the Byrds culminated in the superb Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP, he moved on to lead one of the early incarnations of the Flying Burrito Brothers, and produced two wonderful solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel. This gold-plated CD (also available in regular silver) is a re-release of an LP from a March 1973 radio concert from the tour promoting the GP album. The selections form a continuum from traditional country gospel, to the ’60s Nashville of Tom T. Hall and Merle Haggard, the truck stop rock of “Six Days on the Road,” and on into an encore of Chuck Berry and “Bony Moronie.”

But facts alone can’t do justice to the sweet, naive recorded presence he left behind. On his two studio works and in this live performance, his voice blends with a barely discovered Emmylou Harris in a wonderful, soaring harmony. One of their best pieces is “Love Hurts,” the Boudleaux Bryant classic previously recorded by Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers. The perfection of the Grievous Angel version begs the question of how many takes were required. Here, they nail it live. The stately, steadily building arrangement is heartbreaking on its own accord, compounded by the fiery intensity of their partnership. Over twenty years later, Harris still features a Parsons tune on most albums and concerts. Love hurts, indeed.

The live radio format is a bit constraining, as evidenced by the too-abrupt kickoff of the opening track, “We’ll Sweep out the Ashes.” In fact, it takes a while for the whole endeavor to get rolling, although that sense diminishes on repeated listening. This CD restores some material that didn’t fit on the original release, notably some chatter between songs. The patter gives you a sense of the conflicts between the country boy and the New York City deejay hosting the show, but it sure would be nice if you could slip the CD into a no-talk mode after the first or second listening. This release also adds a closing rock-n-roll medley, remarkable for its joyous approach and concise presentation-no flashy guitar solos, no sing-alongs, and all wrapped up in under six minutes.

Although much of the material itself is timeless, the performance is definitely of an era. Emmylou Harris, clearly a partner here, is referred to as “that girl you’re hearing.” The drumming is particularly lame, and still too loud even in the re-mix. And the pedal steel is played in the overly weepy style in vogue with contemporary country rock bands. Despite these minor gripes, the album is a fine legacy of a very enjoyable concert.

Looking around at the current crop of country stars, it’s hard to remember a time when a youngster so in love with country tradition would be shunned by the Grand Ole Opry because he was a no-good long-haired hippie freak. Today, photos of him seem prematurely angelic, his young face still round with baby fat and framed by dark bangs and a shoulder-length shag. At the time, however, his pioneering Nashville work with the Byrds was not well-received by the country establishment, and he and Roger McGuinn wrote “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man” (also performed here) as a response to some of it. The Byrds’ version is bitter, and the vocals sound a bit drunken. The much more effective version recorded here is slower, and sounds more like the mournful ballad of a jilted lover.

Somewhere in Joshua Tree National Monument, there’s a succulent yucca that stands just a little bit taller, with flowers just a bit sweeter than the rest, nurtured by the ashes of Gram Parsons. It’s hard to crank up too much sympathy for the indulgent rock star who succumbs because of too much poison stuck up his nose or shot into his veins, but occasionally there’s an artist whose passing leaves us all a bit poorer. Gram Parsons was clearly one of those artists, a talented young man with a sweet voice who has left us an all too brief recorded history. This live recording makes a fine addition to that catalog.

This concert was part of a great series of live in-studio concerts broadcast in the early 1970s from WLIR, an FM station just outside New York City on Long Island. WLIR was easily the best commercial radio found in the New York area during that era, less popular and more experimental than the already pretentious and stodgy WNEW. I was a frequent listener, but for some reason missed the remarkable concert captured on this disc. If my memory and this set are any indication, there’s a gold mine of other performances sitting in the WLIR vaults, an American version of the John Peel sessions. – Bill Kuhn

Jason Staczek says… This record may be a find for veteran Gram fans, but newcomers (like me) are better off starting with the 2-on-1 CD GP/Grievous Angel (WEA/Warner Brothers 7599 26108 2). It hasn’t been out of my CD player since I got it. It would almost be worth picking up just to hear Buddy Emmons’ extraordinary pedal steel playing. If Gram, Emmylou and Buddy don’t do it for you, I don’t want to hear about it.
Glenn Brooks says… Yes, it’s a gold CD, and yes, it sounds pretty good. Better yet, it is still available from Sierra on vinyl LP, at just $7 (half the price of the CD) and better sound, in my opinion.

A small correction… Nick Spitzer, in his fine radio show, American Routes, said Gram was buried in New Orleans and not in the Joshua Tree National Monument. I did a little research at the invaluable Find A Grave web site, and learned that while Nick was right, an informal desert cremation did take place. Find A Grave has the details.

Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Neil Flanz, N. D. Smart, Kyle Tullis, Jock Barkley

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Gram Parsons Live 1973 | | Leave a comment

Neil Young – Archives Vol 1 (2010)


A fan’s dream package, finally here…

This has literally made my day. My week. My month. My year. A parcel containing 11 discs has just dropped on my desk and I am smiling from ear to ear.

Neil Young has long promised his Archives set, and has teased his fans by putting its release date back and back and back, claiming he’s perfecting various technologies while busy recording and releasing new albums instead. What I’ve just been blessed with is the mammoth project’s first part – ‘Archives Vol.1 (1963-1972)’. Ten of the discs make up the series, while the eleventh is a preview disc, presumably a short compilation of the best of all of them. (There are no track listings, but I’ve found a web resource that lists them all.)

I’m gonna fly through them and write as I go on what I hear, see and experience. There are worse ways to spend a grey Tuesday…

Disc 0 – ‘The Early Years (1963-1965)’

It’s a DVD! Menu page is a great sepia picture of Neil Young and the Squires, Young’s first band in Winnipeg, Canada. You can play all, or go via the Song Selection option, which I’ve done, taking you to a virtual filing cabinet of the songs filed by year.

First up, 1963’s ‘Aurora’. If you click play, it takes you to a film of the 45 acetate playing, and you hear the Shadows-esque instrumental. Alternatively, you can read the track’s personnel, see photos from the time (with captions), including a great black and white picture from Christmas 1962 that sees young Neil with an all-American short back and sides – long before his trademark hippie-style straight middle parting. You could also click ‘Documents’ and see artefacts relating to the song, including hand-drawn notations, while ‘Press’ throws up local paper cuttings, and ‘Memorabilia’ shows the label of the original vinyl release. It’s a great start, even if the song is largely forgettable, showing absolutely nothing of the Neil Young that was to become…

These treats feature with every song, but it’s wonderful to hear the progression of Neil as a writer and musician across these early pieces. ‘I’m A Man And I Can’t Cry’ tries its hands at Beatles harmonies, and its naive charm of Neil’s matinee-idol vocals gives a fun insight into the direction he was clearly heading… but then diverted down the acoustic road, as demonstrated on the fantastic demo versions of ‘Sugar Mountain’ and ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’, which later was recorded with Buffalo Springfield. There are also links to get the song lyrics so we can sing along! Don’t think that will go down too well in the office, though.

Disc extras include a biography, a detailed timeline of Neil’s formative career – from the Canadian roots to his venture down to the States – a web link, and DVD credits.

Disc 1 – ‘The Early Years (1966-1968)’

The sound of screams almost drown out ‘Mr. Soul’ as a picture of Buffalo Springfield on stage graces the menu screen. A voice comes over, sternly warning: “The Buffalo Springfield will NOT perform unless you get back to your seat.” The song selection, then, is the wonderful collection of mid-Sixties Springfield tunes penned by Young. This was the group, of course, led by Stephen Stills, whom Neil would later join up with again as part of the super-group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Songs such as ‘Expecting To Fly’ still radiate beauty, and they become so much more special with the extras’ glimpses into their history. More great photos, more fascinating documents. I think I need to keep ploughing through these…

1. Aurora / The Squires – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
2. The Sultan / The Squires – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
3. I Wonder / The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono)
4. Mustang / The Squires – previously unreleased instrumental (mono)
5. I’ll Love You Forever / The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono)
6. (I’m A Man And) I Can’t Cry / The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono)
7. Hello Lonely Woman / Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased version
8. Casting Me Away From You / Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased song
9. There Goes My Babe / Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased song
10. Sugar Mountain / Neil Young – previously unreleased demo version (mono)
11. Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing / Neil Young – previously unreleased demo version (mono)
12. Runaround Babe / Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
13. The Ballad Of Peggy Grover / Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
14. The Rent Is Always Due / Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
15. Extra, Extra / Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
16. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong / Neil Young – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
17. Burned / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield (mono)
18. Out Of My Mind / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield (mono)
19. Down, Down, Down / Neil Young – previously unreleased version (mono)
20. Kahuna Sunset / Buffalo Springfield – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
21. Mr. Soul / Buffalo Springfield – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
22. Sell Out / Buffalo Springfield – previously unreleased song (mono)
23. Down To The Wire / Neil Young – from the album Decade (mono)
24. Expecting To Fly / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield
25. Slowly Burning / Neil Young – previously unreleased instrumental
26. One More Sign / Neil Young – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set
27. Broken Arrow / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield Again
28. I Am A Child / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Last Time Around

Disc 2 – ‘Topanga 1 (1968-1969)’

Named after the Los Angeles canyon where Neil and many other musicians lived, this disc compiles the demos and songs that made up the beginning of his solo career. An alternate version of ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ begins proceedings. The ‘Press’ section of ‘The Old Laughing Lady’ has a page excerpt from a magazine interview with Neil, the headline of which reads: “Tea fan seeks mate – must own phonograph and be free to travel.” One click and you zoom in to read the text. Fabulous. Album versions of ‘Down By The River’, ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ and ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ are just as fresh and lovely to these ears as anything I’ve heard today.

1. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Neil Young – from the stereo promotional 45 RPM single-second pressing
2. The Loner / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
3. Birds / Neil Young – previously unreleased version
4. What Did You Do To My Life? / Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
5. The Last Trip To Tulsa / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
6. Here We Are In The Years / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young–second version
7. I’ve Been Waiting For You / Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
8. The Old Laughing Lady / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
9. I’ve Loved Her So Long / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
10. Sugar Mountain / Neil Young – previously unreleased stereo master
11. Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
12. Down By The River / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
13. Cowgirl In The Sand / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
14. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Disc 3 – ‘Live At The Riverboat (1969)’

Video footage of the queue, the venue and the assembled crowd build up to the venue. You can also hear him taking to the stage – to near silence. I’ve clicked on Song Selection again. There is no video of the performances; instead there is a visual accompaniment to the live recording. It’s very intimate – Neil is talkative, personal and sounds great. The Riverboat, which is in Toronto, is treated to eleven solo and acoustic tracks. Extras include black and white photos from the event, handwritten notes and lyrics, press clippings, plus ‘Riverboat Raps’ – Neil’s rambling monologues from the gig in one handy nine-track solo!

1. Sugar Mountain / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
2. The Old Laughing Lady / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
3. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
4. On The Way Home / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
5. I’ve Loved Her So Long / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
6. I Am A Child / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
7. 1956 Bubblegum Disaster / Neil Young – previously unreleased song
8. The Last Trip To Tulsa / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
9. Broken Arrow / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
10. Whiskey Boot Hill / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
11. Expecting To Fly / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version

Disc 4 – ‘Topanga 2 (1969-1970)’

This late-Sixties collection introduces Crazy Horse, Neil’s incredible backing band, and covers the demos for his masterpiece ‘After The Goldrush’, and his contributions to CSN&Y’s ‘Deja Vu’ album. The songs, again, are alternative mixes, unheard originals, and insightful demos.

1. Cinnamon Girl / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
2. Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets) / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
3. Round And Round (It Won’t Be Long) / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
4. Oh Lonesome Me / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased stereo mix
5. Birds / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
6. Everybody’s Alone / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Previously unreleased song
7. I Believe In You / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album After The Gold Rush
8. Sea Of Madness / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the original soundtrack album Woodstock
9. Dance Dance Dance / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased version
10. Country Girl / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the album Déjà Vu
11. Helpless / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased mix
12. It Might Have Been / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased live version

Disc 5 – ‘Live At Fillmore East (1970)’

As previously released, this six-track document of Neil at the beginning of the Seventies finds him touring the ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ album with Crazy Horse, featuring guitarist Danny Whitten. It’s notable that this was the last tour Whitten came on. He died of an overdose in late 1972. The songs are accompanied by so many photos from the event. It would be amazing to see filmed footage of this, but sadly there is none.

1. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
2. Winterlong
3. Down By The River
4. Wonderin’
5. Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown
6. Cowgirl In The Sand

Disc 6 – ‘Topanga 3 (1970)’

More songs from the canyon, this time revealing alternative versions of selections from ‘After The Goldrush’ alongside proper album versions. There aren’t so many extras on here aside from various lyrics and handwritten manuscripts, however this disc is valued for the solo piano version of ‘See The Sky About To Rain’, recorded live at The Cellar Door in Washington, DC in 1970.

1. Tell Me Why / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
2. After The Gold Rush / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
4. Wonderin’ / Neil Young – previously unreleased version
5. Don’t Let It Bring You Down / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush-first pressing
6. Cripple Creek Ferry / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
7. Southern Man / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
8. Till The Morning Comes / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
9. When You Dance, I Can Really Love / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album After The Gold Rush-first pressing
10. Ohio / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the stereo 45 RPM single
11. Only Love Can Break Your Heart / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased live version
12. Tell Me Why / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased live version
13. Music Is Love / David Crosby, Graham Nash & Neil Young – from the album If I Could Only Remember My Name
14. See The Sky About To Rain / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version

Disc 7 – ‘Live At Massey Hall (Toronto 1971)’

This was previously released in 2007. Seventeen solo acoustic songs taken from all albums so far, including his CSN&Y stuff, but at time of performance, most songs would have been unfamiliar to the audience. From their reactions, you’d never have known. Live sound is supplemented by more relevant photo and video montages. The ‘Archives’ extra on this disc offers three great short videos – ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ and ‘Journey Through The Past’ from Johnny Cash’s TV show in 1971, the ‘Old Man’ from a 1971 documentary, and then a 1997 clip of Neil going through his archives, discussing photos from the 1971 tour. Each is, of course, brilliant. “These young minds will be our leaders in the future,” says Johnny Cash. How right he was. The ‘Radio’ extra features two recordings, ‘Old Man’ and ‘A Man Needs A Maid’, with Redbeard from 1989.

1. On The Way Home
2. Tell Me Why
3. Old Man
4. Journey Through The Past
5. Helpless
6. Love In Mind
7. A Man Needs A Maid/Heart Of Gold (Suite)
8. Cowgirl In The Sand
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. There’s A World
11. Bad Fog Of Loneliness
12. The Needle And The Damage Done
13. Ohio
14. See The Sky About To Rain
15. Down By The River
16. Dance Dance Dance
17. I Am A Child
(all previously released live versions)

Disc 8 – ‘North Country (1971-1972)’

Cine-film of Neil driving his car through a field starts the disc. The songs within would mostly make up ‘Harvest’. An unreleased live version of ‘Heart Of Gold’ from UCLA 1971 starts – the official version follows later, which, considering it’s probably his most universally loved song, has disappointingly few extras. The disc is mostly album versions, which is a bit of a swizz, but presented so beautifully, who can really argue?

1. Heart Of Gold / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
2. The Needle And The Damage Done / Neil Young – from the album Harvest
3. Bad Fog Of Loneliness / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – previously unreleased version
4. Old Man / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
5. Heart Of Gold / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
6. Dance Dance Dance / Neil Young – previously unreleased version
7. A Man Needs A Maid / Neil Young with the London Symphony Orchestra – previously unreleased mix
8. Harvest / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
9. Journey Through The Past / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – previously unreleased version
10. Are You Ready For The Country? / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
11. Alabama / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
12. Words (Between The Lines Of Age) / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the original soundtrack album Journey Through The Past
13. Soldier / Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
14. War Song / Neil Young & Graham Nash with The Stray Gators – from the 45 RPM single (mono)

Disc 9 – Journey Through The Past. A Film by Neil Young

Sadly I don’t have time to sit and devour the whole 80-minute feature. It’s a freewheeling colour documentary with no discernible storyline, but includes fantastic footage of Neil live with the Springfield, with CS&N, and of course solo. I’ll be watching this in full tonight. The Special Features include a photo gallery, memorabilia and press cuttings relevant to the movie.

It’s all just a little too much to take while sitting at work. This is what I’m going to have to spend my weekend investigating further. This has been an incredible dip into the first part of Neil’s astonishing ongoing project.

Neil Young has proven himself as a unique talent, dedicating himself to following his muse, and this is no exception. It’s been well worth the wait. How long until part two? Who knows…

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Archives Vol 1 | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains The Same (1976)


For those of us either too young to have seen Led Zeppelin perform in person or without access to the many bootleg recordings floating around, our introduction to the live Zeppelin experience was the 1976 film The Song Remains the Same. While the visual impact of the band was formidable, the preening, hiphuggered Robert Plant in full Golden God mode, Jimmy Page sporting his Les Paul and SG Double Neck, the burly John Bonham delivering thunderous beats, and the understated, professional-looking John Paul Jones anchoring it all on bass and keyboards, the sound left a bit to be desired. Not that these guys were incapable of sending chills down our spines, as on the blues-drenched ballad “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and the (literally) incendiary finale “Whole Lotta Love”, but the overall impact of the music was more clunky than awe-inspiring, the soundtrack often out of sync with the sloppily edited film footage. Couple that with the fact that the actual movie was a gargantuan mess, part docudrama, part concert film, part pretentious wankery, and the whole experience ended up feeling rather hollow.

The Song Remains the Same album didn’t exactly help matters. Not only did the overall mix by Page and Eddie Kramer sound tepid and stale, but it was more of an assemblage than an actual live album. Recorded during a three night stint at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1973, the “soundtrack album” (aptly playing down the “live album” tag) had Page audaciously attempting to improve on the performances by splicing together bits and pieces from different shows into the same songs. Admittedly, Page did a terrific job on the double LP, the alterations virtually undetectable by casual listeners, but no matter how cleverly it was pieced together, much of the album lacked the kind of punch we were hoping for.

The bloated nature of The Song Remains the Same made 1997’s ferocious BBC Sessions and 2003’s How the West Was Won and Led Zeppelin DVD such revelations for many. Recorded at two shows in 1972, the three-disc How the West Was Won was especially a scorcher, the band sounding like the world conquerors they were purported to be. The collaboration with Kevin Shirley, who provided stunning mixes for both the CD and the DVD, was obviously too good a pairing for Page not to try another project, so the two reconvened in 2007, this time to give the much beleaguered The Song Remains the Same a thorough spit and polish. While the remastered, expanded product still does not come close to How the West Was Won, it’s nevertheless a significant improvement over the original album.

What fans will notice immediately is the inclusion of six additional songs that were left out, as well as the differing lengths of the other songs compared to the original tracks. While no details about each of the album’s tracks are given (though the Garden Tapes website will likely figure that out for us before long), the album has been assembled to reflect the full set of the July 28, 1973 performance (save for encore “The Ocean”, which is tacked onto the end of the first disc). What hits us immediately, though, is Shirley’s superb mix, which has more of a live feel to it, the crowd mixed a little higher and Jones’s bass sounding much more prominent than before.

Unlike West, which explodes out of the gate with “Immigrant Song”, the 1973 performances clearly show a band that sounds exhausted, and in spite of the punchier mix, it doesn’t change the fact that it takes a while for these guys to get going. “Rock and Roll” is one of the greatest opening tracks in rock ‘n’ roll history, but you can’t tell it from the lugubrious, stilted performance here, Bonham not so much propelling the song as pulling it back with his lugubrious backbeat, Page not sounding as nimble as he usually does, and Plant singing an octave lower, likely the aftereffects of throat surgery earlier that year. “Black Dog” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” plod along, the latter paling in comparison to the How the West Was Won version, but it’s not long before things pick up, as on “Misty Mountain Hop”, which has the band finally finding its trademark swagger.

Ironically, it’s not the short rockers that make this album worthwhile, as the more moody epics dominate the majority of the set, showcasing the band’s versatility, not to mention audacity. They were rock royalty and they knew it, and the longer tracks project the kind of bloated grandeur that added to the larger than life mystique to some, and sounded like mere tossing off to others. The previously unreleased “Since I’ve Been Loving You” features brilliant interplay between Page and Plant and “The Rain Song” is gorgeous and grandiose, while the murky “No Quarter” takes the chilly mood of the Houses of the Holy original and amplifies it a hundredfold, Bonham’s flange-tinged cymbal crashes and Page’s wah-wah pedal adding to the atmosphere. Mercifully, Bonham’s solo during “Moby Dick” is kept to its edited 11 minute length (we don’t ever need to hear a half hour drum solo, no matter how great the drummer), but it’s dwarfed by the centerpiece “Dazed and Confused”, which famously carries on for nearly half an hour. The song tests our patience, but for all the gimmicks (mainly Page’s extended bowed guitar solo), it’s a surprisingly structured opus that plays up the rock theatrics especially well, a snapshot of 1970s dinosaur rock at its most excessive.

Bloated, tired, excessive, or downright god-like, however you want to describe Led Zeppelin during this period of their career, the power of The Song Remains the Same‘s version of “Stairway to Heaven” is undeniable, the concert staple highlighted by an inspired extended solo by Page. Shirley’s mix helps things tremendously, especially during the song’s climactic final third, those famous double-mirror images from the film of Page and his double-necked SG forever ingrained in our minds, the song careening towards its euphoric, exhausted conclusion. The album might not be the essential Zeppelin live document, but this expanded version is still a worthwhile glimpse at a key moment in the band’s storied career.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same | | Leave a comment

The Faces Five Guys Walk Into A Bar… (2004)

From BBC Music

You young ‘uns out there may be interested to know that, once upon a time, Rod Stewart wasn’t just a crooning mum’s favourite with a penchant for leggy blondes. He was a proper lead singer in a proper band, with a penchant for leggy blondes. What’s more it wasn’t even his band. Following the acrimonious departure of Steve Marriott from the Small Faces, Ronnie Lane took the helm. Added to the trio of Lane, Kenney Jones and Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan were guitarist Ronnie Wood and Rod the Mod. Anyone expecting that dropping the ‘Small’ from the name meant that they were growing up was sadly deluded. In the short space of 3 years they redefined the word ‘loose’. These five guys walked into a bar and never came out.

Compiled by McLagan, Five Guys…is, finally, the box set that the band deserves. It’s an alternative picture of a band whose studio albums often fell short of their true worth. Instead it draws on a wealth of BBC live sessions, outtakes and studio rehearsals. The live stuff is exactly as you’d expect it to be – boozy and sloppy but with its heart definitely in the right place. Rough diamonds unearthed include a storming version of McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”. The outtakes and rehearsals don’t fare so well. Playing to a crowd these über-lads always put on a show, but locked in with themselves you got the feeling that they were filling time until that bar opened again.

However there’s always a bedrock of talent and craftsmanship at the root of these shambolic romps. Lane was a fine writer and Rod’s interpretations were definitive. Ronnie Wood seemed to know that he’d be in the Stones one day: their version of “Love In Vain” is note-perfect compared to Keef’s (which is more than can be said for their mauling of Free’s “The Stealer”). They could do everything from ballads to rockers and the cherrypicking is perfect. Of course, someone had to call closing time, and with Lane jumping ship and Rod’s solo career becoming as big as his ego, the fun dissipated within a year.

Their one live album, Overtures and Beginners, featuring new bass player Tetsu, was rightly panned (though the lovely version of the Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain” comes from that set), but this box more than makes up for the missed opportunity thirty years ago. To David Fricke, editor of Rolling Stone, they were: ‘the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band that ever stumbled and strummed their way across the world’. Well, not quite, but had they sobered up they may have been.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | The Faces Five Guys Walk Into A Bar... | | Leave a comment

Pete Townshend: The Lifehouse Chronicles

From Mojo

Some day all music will be made this way. In 1970 it seemed so barking mad the band asked him to drop it. Now, Pete’s vision of a third millennium world united by a global network sounds surprisingly apt.

FILE UNDER ‘just one of those things’: Just because a project is 30 years in the making doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to arrive late.

Case in point: Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse. The massively complex and ambitious putative follow-up to Tommy made its predecessor look like a knocked-off B-side, and both Townshend and The Who almost sank under its weight before band and manager pulled the plug, took its creator to one side and suggested that he simply took the best songs from the project, dumped the conceptual scaffolding and cut a ‘regular’ Who album instead. The result was the awesome Who’s Next, still considered by many to be the finest studio album The Who ever cut, plus a fistful of stand-alone singles (including ‘Join Together’ and ‘Let’s See Action’) and assorted extras that ended up on subsequent albums, such as The Who By Numbers and Who Are You.

For anybody else, this would have constituted a serious result. Nevertheless, Lifehouse continued to haunt Townshend and, despite periodic attempts to lay the ghost, it’s taken until now for Lifehouse to make it from inside Townshend’s bonce to an objective existence in the outside world.

The original concept involved the then-new technology of programmable synthesizers and the then-nonexistent notion of an electronic network – which is now a part of millions of daily lives as the Internet – linking people confined by a manmade disaster (industrial pollution, nuclear fallout) to their homes. As the human race is atomised and alienated, The Lifehouse – then a band, played by The Who, now a mysterious hacker DJ – summons people to get together physically in one place, to congregate, in order to reassert their collective humanity once more by participating in the creation of a piece of art. The idea was that each person would supply information about themselves which would be expressed as code and programmed into the synth to generate a musical composition which would represent each and every one of them.

Lifehouse now exists as a radio play, adapted by Jeff Young from Townshend’s script, which will be broadcast by Radio 3 on December 5. This play, in turn, makes up two of the seven CDs in this package. Does it work? Can’t tell you, I’m afraid, because as this issue of MOJO goes to press, these two CDs are still unavailable for review. We do, however, have Townshend and Young’s intriguing script (soon to be available in paperback from Pocket Books at £ 7.99), though without Townshend’s introductory essay. The 1999 version of the story finds protagonist Ray in pursuit of his estranged daughter as she heads for the Lifehouse, and attempting to come to terms with the fragmented memories and broken dreams of his younger self.

So, we hear you asking, what do we have? (After all, you’re asking us to read a review of something you haven’t actually heard.) Well, we have two CDs of Townshend’s original demos, some of which surfaced on albums 15 or so years ago and some of the early synth experiments which were included, rather more recently, on PT’s Julie Burchill-inspired concept album Psychoderelict. We have a third CD which includes some recent live recordings from a show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the most spectacular of which is a devastating version of ‘Who Are You’ featuring a pile-driving rap and some of the most boggling guitar Townshend’s ever played, which sounds at first exposure as if he’s channeling Hendrix but in which he ultimately channels himself.

Then there’s a sixth CD of orchestral music, including huge chunks of Scarlatti and Vivaldi and almost 10 minutes’ worth of an orchestrated Baba O’Reilly. A limited-edition deluxe version of the box – to be called The Lifehouse Method – will contain, among other goodies, a seventh CD which preserves a radio documentary, Lifehouse: The One That Got Away, produced by John Pidgeon and introduced by Townshend, recounting some of the project’s convoluted history, and yet another CD incorporating software which will enable the ‘netted-up to contact a website which will attempt to realise the original Lifehouse intention of enabling us to contribute to the ultimate group composition.

The first, and most obvious, reaction to all this is that Townshend deserves to share a pedestal with William Gibson – author of Neuromancer and all manner of other good stuff – for inventing the internet in terms of metaphor and malaise: the latter as an insidious illusion that tells us that there’s something (as he puts it in our interview which you’ll find immediately below this review) “better than life”; as something which pretends to offer a solution for our alienation (the pollution and fall-out are spiritual, cultural and political rather than literal) but which in fact makes the problem worse in our wonderful modern globalised, New Labourised world.

The second is to restate a boring old humanist truism which is, nevertheless, true: in other words, that we need each other, that our inner voids can only be filled with other people, that none of us are truly complete when we’re alone. Our own culture has always told us this: from the Mod Clubland of Townshend’s youth, through Woodstock and all the other rock megafests right up to today’s rave scene, that we like to be together, that we need to be together. Watching TV these days, we seem to be told twice a night that what we’re really most interested in is upgrading our homes and gardens and tinkering with our own little private environments.

Lifehouse, ultimately, is an examination and exploration of the eternal dialectic between inner and outer worlds, and what each has to contribute to the other.

Thank heavens it’s finally finished.

Pete Townshend talks to Charles Shaar Murray.
Wossitallabout then?

“Congregation is the most important thing that we humans have – particularly for artists – the importance of congregating to enjoy the response of others. At the same time, what’s actually paying the bills is a kind of network, fucking network proliferations. Money making money, flotations making money, shares making money, ideas making money, but with very little substance, in a sense. I find it ironic, and quite cruel, and in a way I’m glad that the play doesn’t concern itself directly with the details of what’s going on in society at the moment. We felt that if we said, Listen this is what’s going on today, as I did back in the ‘70s – I was trying to say to people, Listen, this is what’s gonna happen in the future, and I would have been partly but not completely right – then people would shut down. They wouldn’t hear it. There is wholesale apathy, a sense that we’re powerless.

“The predicament I find myself in is that I’m uncomfortable as an artist living in the world today. The only thing I can be certain of is my process, and I’m not sure about my interaction, my interface with the world.

“Like Bowie and like others, I’m fascinated by the potential of a network, a way that we can communicate. What would be great for the internet would be to use its intimacy. You do performances, you do gatherings, you set a date, you say, ‘At such-and-such a time, something will be happening, please join in. Be present. Observe. Communicate. Interface.’ For performers who have become remote, like The Who, because their mythology is bigger than their reality, the intimacy offered by bringing people into a place where you can say, ‘This is how we are today; it’s not who we were, but this is where we’ve arrived at’, that this intimacy offers a potential for an artistic process: a performance, a response, an ever-echoing fashion…but it doesn’t work. It promises to work, but it doesn’t.

“Why the internet is so intoxicatingly powerful is that the one thing that it doesn’t trouble you with is another human presence. When you’re in the presence of another human being you have to deal with things in the moment. You can’t suspend time.”

How come Lifehouse stayed with you so long?

It’s a very far-reaching idea. It was ambitious. And in some respects it was ahead of its time, and so it’s travelled with time. I have let it go a number of times, but it’s always come back, and sometimes other people’s interest has brought it back. [Film producer] Jeremy Thomas brought it back in 1978, and Michael Hurst, who wrote Eureka with Nicolas Roeg. But usually it’s the music: every time I hear or play one of those songs – ‘Baba O’Reilly’, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ – I think, These songs are great, but they’re out of context.”

So after planning it as a movie, how did it end up on radio?

“Partly because I wanted to do it in the UK, and partly because I felt that the film I had in my head could only be made if the idea was allowed to land as a narrative. What’s strange about the story of Lifehouse is a kind of double irony. I was conscious of the first irony, but not the second. I was attempting to tell a story about a time in which there were only stories and that, to some extent, in Hollywood, has already happened. What I feared was that narrative and story would undermine the passing of the moment, and that the principal form which would suffer is music. Because what narrative is about is that it replaces a moment of your life: it’s better than your life, you prefer to live in that story. At the heart of Lifehouse is this notion that we are today, and have been for a long time, losing sight of where the fiction ends, and where life takes over.

“In music and in painting and in poetry and in dance, none of this really matters. I had to get the story behind the story properly nailed down, and when I wrote the first script, I was just down on narrative, on plot. I’d never written a plot in my life. When I wrote my short stories I absolutely refused to plot: I used any process which would avoid me having a beginning, a middle and an end. In Tommy, I didn’t plot. In Quadrophenia, I didn’t plot. I did not want to go to fucking Hollywood. The decision to do a radio play was because radio would force me to get the story sorted out, without any falling back on animation, images, trickery, special effects, esoteric sci-fi computerised bollocks. What was it about?

“What we found out was that the story was about me, my childhood, and kids like me. It’s an immediate postwar story, about a kid who is born after the war and has a vision of the future which is disturbing but exciting. He realises as he grows up that he is not going to realise his vision. He has had a wonderful, almost utopian, vision: he sees that there is danger of pollution, of nuclear proliferation, but also of the watering-down of art. He hears this fantastic music in his head, as I did, and what I used to fear was that I would never hear that music when I became an adult, and I haven’t. The hero grows up and wants to have that back, and realises that he’s in a time when the generation after him, his daughter and her boyfriend, are going to do something about it: they’re gonna stop the rot. And he desperately would love to be a part of it, but it’s too late.

“What Lifehouse is about on the radio, and what’s timely about it in this millennium year, is: why does the Labour government feel that it has to put on a Big Show? It’s because Big Shows are fucking important. It’s not gonna be very good, but going to the Big Show, showing up, getting off your arse, going somewhere, buying a ticket, being with other likeminded people, hoping for the best…is what congregation is about. And the story has to talk about it, rather than demonstrate it. What makes it work as a radio play, as with all radio plays, is that it leaves a lot of pictorial and graphical stuff to the imagination. The music’s not particularly vital to it, but when you hear the play in the full package with all the original demos, then the music will fit in in a more tangential way. It’s like having a DIY musical.”

You and William Gibson both helped ‘invent’ fictional internets: to what extent does the real-life Net compare to your ‘grid’ and Gibson’s Matrix?

“Well, I wrote a mischievous piece for The Guardian suggesting that if the two biggest searchwords are ‘sex’ and ‘MP3’, then Prince should be selling more CDs: the stuff he sells on his own site is selling incredibly well, but not in the shitloads that’d be worthy of an impish, rather perverse genius. What’s missing is the human connection. What would get me onto that site would be the sense than I was going to get something from Prince that no-one else was going to get, and not some fucking sarky remark, which is what I normally get from him. Why is it that when I see him play, I get that? Because my experience is unique. What’s happened to recordings is that they’re no longer about interpretation and response.

“The impersonal selling machine of the internet is very one-way; it’s the artist instructing the audience. You can send e-mail, but that’s as far as it goes. What Bill Gibson talks about in Neuromancer and what I talk about in Lifehouse is a myriad dreamlike experiences so highly compressed that you could live many virtual lifetimes in one lifetime. I’m a 21st century creature in that my addictive process begins with a physical hole in my chest, and I want somebody to fill it: a low-level process. What society offers is a quick-fix: we can fill that hole in your chest. If that can be filled physically, then the process is complete. But the artistic process comes from the mind, from the unconscious, and that is a much higher process. When I described my ‘Grid’ in the original Lifehouse, it was something reprehensible that would come under the control of governments and corporations. The Russian internet’s only been up six months, and their first 150,000 customers are the people who run the fucking bent orphanages.

“My feeling was that this was going to destroy the human race. Not because story-telling is bad; I was on a spiritual journey and looking for a metaphor like the Tommy one, where I wanted to describe how we’re spiritually so shut down. It’s my responsibility as an artist that drives me to restate it. It’s not a paranoid vision any more: where the Internet today fails is that it’s not a psychedelic dream like Neuromancer or an apocalyptic disaster inherent in my script in 1971… but politicians and media power-brokers would realise that they had the power to manipulate people spiritually. A good artist is someone who has absolute ego, absolute humanity… at the same time.”

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Pete Townshend The Lifehouse Chronicles | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: The Song RemainsThe Same (Blu-ray DVD)


The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer’s Take

For lovers or big-screen rock excess, the late ’70s was the absolute golden era. For whatever reason, during that period Hollywood became obsessed with bringing music to the box office masses, and unleashed an avalanche of ridiculously conceived pop spectacles starring a bizarre cross-section of performers that had no business getting anywhere near the silver screen. On any given weekend, bumping shoulders (and grinding pelvises) at the local multiplex were acts as disparate as the Village People (‘Can’t Stop the Music’), ELO (‘Xanadu’), the Bee-Gees and Peter Frampton (‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’) and even Sweden’s biggest music export, ABBA (the immortal ‘ABBA: The Movie’). It was a virtual cinematic car crash, with one spectacular disaster after another going down in flames.

It’s surprising in hindsight, but rock gods Led Zeppelin somehow got caught up in all of this hysteria, and in 1976 they released their own big-screen epic ‘The Song Remains the Same.’ Part concert movie, part “dramatic interpretation’ of their music, it’s not jaw-droppingly awful on the level of, say, a ‘Xanadu’ (this is the Zeppelin, after all, not ELO), but the movie is ill-conceived enough that you have to wonder what the Led boys were thinking. Were rock egos that big in the ’70s that a top act like this thought it prudent to appear in something this grandiose and pretentious?

According to the film’s original promotional materials, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ was intended to be “…the band’s special way of giving their millions of friends what they had been clamoring for — a personal and private tour of Led Zeppelin.” The end product, however, turned out just a little bit different. Originally conceived as a straight-ahead concert film, the bulk of the movie was shot during a three-night stint at Madison Square Garden during the band’s hugely successful 1973 world tour. Unfortunately, much of the material turned out so poorly that it was virtually unusable, and the band was also unhappy with many of its performances. So the the film’s producers hastily came up with a solution — scrap most of the movie (including firing the original director, Joe Massot, and replacing him with Peter Clifton) and reconfigure it from top to bottom as a more traditional narrative, albeit with some concert performances spliced in.

Suffering from all of the bloated pomposity of the ’70s “prog-rock” era, the “dramatic” segueways added to ‘The Song Remains the Same’ are virtually interminable. After a long opening sequence of the band arriving by plane (that sets up some forgettable plot about a robbery — yawn), we’re treated to a series of downright loony “fantasy” interludes that are supposed to give us insight into the personalities of each of the band members. There’s John Paul Jones, reading “Jack and the Beanstalk” to his daughters. John Bonham drag racing to the tune of “Moby Dick.” Jimmy Page climbing a snow-capped mountain in search of a hermit (seriously, I’m not kidding). And Robert Plant getting to ride a horse across a wind-swept landscape, his flowing locks making him look like a lost hippie Prince from an abandoned Disney theme park ride. It’s all meant to “symbolize” something, but in such an overt and heavy-handed way that it inspires laughter more than profundity.

Thankfully, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ also features concert performances of nearly a dozen classic Led Zeppelin tunes, and that’s the reason to see the film. Although the band would subsequently reshoot some of the close-ups and other insert shots on a soundstage (leading to a few glaring continuity errors), it is these scenes that prove without a doubt that Zeppelin is arguably the greatest hard rock band in history. During the 1973 tour the were often at the peak of their powers, and indeed few other acts can touch them even now. The interaction of the band members achieves an intensity that borders on the orgiastic at times, and moments in “Black Dog,” Whole Lotta Love” and of course “Stairway to Heaven” deliver genuine goosebumps.

Unfortunately, one must still endure a great deal of self-indulgent dreck in order to enjoy those moments of musical nirvana. Die hard Zeppelin fans won’t need any arm-twisting, of course, but if you’re only a casual admirer of the band — or you’re still confused as to what all the fuss is about — you may find your finger twitching on the remote’s fast-forward button through a good portion of the film’s runtime. Watched as a greatest hits collection of concert performances, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ is absolutely essential. As a piece of rock cinema, however, it’s a pretty miserable failure.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Considering the fact that ‘The Song Remains the Same’ has been delayed on HD DVD, oh, about 1,543 times now, a healthy amount of anticipation has built up around this release. After such a long wait, fans will be expecting a top-flight remaster, which this 1080p/VC-1 encode almost achieves. Like the film itself, the concert scenes rule, but the rest is a bit more suspect. (Note that this VC-1 encode is identical to the Blu-ray version Warner released on February 26, 2008.)

The hokey interlude material can be dodgy. Blacks are never rock solid, and there is some noticeable variance in contrast. The print is also not pristine, with uneven grain and a few speckles (though nothing severe). The image always lacks depth and the kind of fine-textured detail that high-def can showcase even on a film that’s as old as this one.

That said, the concert scenes fare much better. Though blacks are never sensational, contrast is more consistent and colors bolder. Stage and lighting design in the ’70s is certainly archaic by today’s standards, but the nice use of strong reds and blues on key songs is rendered with nice stability. The more dynamic visuals also help create apparent depth, with the image sometimes boasting nice dimensionality for a 1976 film. This is also a solid VC-1 encode, with surprisingly little in the way of banding or noise issues.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Warner offers three audio choices (again identical to the Blu-ray): Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (192kbps). Like the video, this is a very impressive remaster of elements now past their third decade — if only all concert films from 1976 sounded this good.

I was most impressed by the hefty dynamics of the TrueHD mix. I wasn’t expecting this much kick from the subwoofer, nor the clarity and realism of the higher ranges of the spectrum. Instruments are forceful in the mix, particularly the lead guitars and drums, which are very pronounced. Warner has also clearly spent some money to spiff up the original elements, for there are none of the audible hiss, harshness, or dropouts one usually expects on live recordings of the era.

Surround use is a bit more sporadic, however. There is no real use of the complete soundfield during the concert sequences, aside from crowd noise. Better represented are the dramatic interstitials, which at least boast some discrete effects for things like location sounds and the like. Dialogue here is serviceably reproduced, with decent stereo separation and some quieter passages a bit muffled. But all in all, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ sounds far better than I expected.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Warner offers a supplement package that, at first glance, looks quite substantial. Unfortunately, the runtime of all of these bulletpoints is actually rather slim, so you’ll be able to get through all of it in less than an hour. (Note that all of the video-based material is 480p/i/MPEG-2 only, and no subtitle options are offered.)

Bonus Songs (SD, 20 minutes) – Four are included (all never-or-rarely seen before in video form): “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Celebration Day,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Ocean.” All of the songs offer Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio.

TV Report (SD, 3 minutes) – A brief clip from a 1973 TV report on Led Zeppelin’s show at the Tampa Stadium.

Theatrical Trailer (SD) – The film’s original theatrical trailer is presented in only decent-quality video, but if nothing else, it serves to illuminate how well-mastered the feature film on this HD DVD actually is.

Final Thoughts

‘Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same’ is typical of rock ‘n’ roll movies of the ’70s — the concert scenes crank, but the “dramatic” interludes are utterly dreadful. So be prepared to have the fast-forward button handy because the only reason to watch ‘The Song Remains the Same’ is the music. This HD DVD is every as solid a release as the recent Blu-ray edition, however, with well-mastered video and audio (even if it is not revelatory), and a few vintage extras. This is of course a must for Led Zeppelin disciples, and worth a rental for those who don’t mind a little cheese with their classic rock.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same DVD | , | Leave a comment

The Who: 30 Years Of Maximum R ‘n’ B DVD (1994)

From Mojo

Apart from the Barron Knights at Bertram Mills Circus, the first group I ever saw live was The Who: It could have been Spooky Tooth, but The Who got there by a month, playing a small hall in Worthing as a warm-up date for the 1969 Plumpton Festival.

Out they walked, plugged in, and BAM! straight into ‘I Can’t Explain’: that was the last time I could hear anything for the next couple of days. I know they must have done stuff from Tommy, but all that registers now is that first physical impact: pure punk rock ecstasy.

The Who didn’t collectively do what they hoped to do in their most infamous song: They survived to become terminally unfashionable. According to Richard Barnes in his book Maximum R&B, Pete Townshend wanted to break up the group in 1975; according to Townshend himself, Keith Moon’s death in 1978 “undermine(d) the whole idea”. Any Who fan can point to some appalling lapse of taste; mine would have to be their performance of ‘Substitute’ at the 1988 BPI Awards. Did they have to? Cumulative embarrassments like these have had a retrospective effect, tainting a great back catalogue.

Well, this set does the business. There’s no way round it: The Who are an English pop archetype. Watching new punk band These Animal Men the other night, in between fits of giggles, I realised that their moves – all those rent boy pouts and psychotic stares, ‘what me guy’ expressions and, yes, scissor kicks – were in a line that went back through The Purple Hearts and The Jam and the Sex Pistols and David Bowie, right back to The Who. Oh yes, and don’t talk to me about Blur: just revel in ‘Dogs’, the 1968 single that, according to the authorised version, is dreadful but which summarises Parklife into three glorious minutes.

Seventy-nine tracks, arranged chronologically over four CDs, tell a good story. We all know that The Who first achieved full greatness by making industrial strength noise out of what went on inside a Mod’s head, but their High Numbers tunes about what these ‘sawdust Caesars’ wore on the out-side sound absolutely fabulous – especially ‘I’m The Face’: not many songs have entitled a magazine. A quick outtake, ‘Leaving Here’ concisely makes the point that the group were wise to ditch R&B covers, and then we’re off into nearly two hours of nasty teenage pimply noisy pop music, oh yessss.

It’s hard to recapture the extraordinary impact that The Who made in 1965 and 1966. First the name, a pop-art abstraction to place next to Them or The Byrds – later backed up with all kinds of rhetoric about ‘auto-destruction’ that, if Townshend stole, he stole first hand from Gustav Metzger, who’d lectured at Ealing Art School. In retrospect, of course, The Who and their managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp formed a classic pop mix ranging across class, sexuality and attitude; the mingling that should occur in the rest of society but so rarely does.

Then there was the noise: Kinks-like, sneering pop tunes pushed on to the next level of irritation by aggressive vocals, crunching bass, slashing guitar chords, total in-your-face feedback and, last but not least, drums as lead instrument. And then they started to go camp; the signs were there on ‘Substitute’, their greatest moment, with its incestuous phrases, high heels and false ending. Then there was their song about a transvestite child, ‘I’m A Boy’: a drum explosion, a major perv-fest, Number 2. Top that with ‘Pictures Of Lily’, a Top 5 hit about wanking, and you’ve got the songs that define my early, Ealing adolescence.

Then they went psychedelic, and did it brilliantly. No ‘Relax’ here but plenty of The Who Sell Out: a tweaked ‘Armenia City In The Sky’, the acoustic ‘Sunrise’, the mystical ‘Rael’ with a bizarre new coda, ‘Maryanne With The Shaky Hand’, the stinging ‘I Can See For Miles’. Cool outtakes from this period include ‘Early Morning Cold Taxi’ and ‘Girl’s Eyes’. Then it was 1968: everybody was making LPs but The Who kept knocking out singles that didn’t sell: ‘Dogs’ and ‘Magic Bus’, ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’. Again, a couple of great outtakes: ‘Little Billy’ and ‘Melancholia’.

This is where many people will start to fall off, but not me: I was that teenage consumer, rushing out to buy Tommy the week it was released. I loved it then and love it now: for a record often cited as a benchmark of pretentiousness, Tommy still seems unassuming and surprisingly coherent, nor do I see what’s wrong with writing a sequence of songs about leaving adolescence and spiritual growth. If you’ve stuck it this far, then you’ll stick through Who’s Next and all the singles from 1970 to 1972, particularly ‘The Seeker’ – a major rediscovery with its irresistible riff.

Tommy was a massive success, especially in the US, and The Who went Rock. I can date the moment when the problems began: it was when Roger Daltrey started fancying himself as a great vocalist. He was wonderful on all the early stuff but nobody felt the need to comment about it. The Who were now treated with high-seriousness and, as tends to happen, began to get self-conscious and heavy. Live At Leeds, over-amply represented here, is a major black spot, as is the awful ‘Join Together’, the least of the series of singles meant to organise a dissipating youth community.

Quadrophenia, on the other hand, remains an honourable and fascinating attempt by a major writer on the subject to come to terms with his own adolescence – which got its own reward when it fed back into popular culture in 1979, with the release of the film and the Mod Revival. It’s here that the set should have ended, with ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’, but no, there were three more studio LPs: The Who By Numbers, Face Dances and It’s Hard – all collected on CD4 which, apart from a fine 1971 live version of ‘Naked Eye’, is very hard to listen to.

Maximum R&B is a great tribute to the group who defined the paradox of English pop – foppish violence – and then went on to grapple, more consistently than anyone else, with the tensions of growing up as musicians in an industry defined by adolescence. It is weakened, however, by two contemporary shibboleths: the apparent need to follow the story up to the present day (let’s vote on it: wouldn’t you prefer Ready Steady Who to It’s Hard?) and the habit of sticking in anachronistic live versions to spice up the storyline. For a major Who retrospective not to include the original ‘Substitute’ is perverse beyond the call of duty.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | The Who Thirty Years Of Maximum R 'n' B | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin – Coda (1982)

From New Musical Express

That there is no appreciable difference between ‘We’re Gonna Groove’ from 1969 and ‘Wearing And Tearing’ from 1978 – the opening and closing tracks in this sackcloth and compilation of unissued Led Zeppelin material – isn’t merely the evidence of their utter failure to rise above a style of automatic redundancy. It is, coupled with their success and influence, the stuff of tragedy.

The most disgraceful thing about Zeppelin was their absolute lack of intelligence. Never mind their boorish excess, their ox-like insensitivity and their thuggish absence of grace – it was their ignorance that was so appalling.

The gargoyle offspring of heavy metal they suckled were fed on a celebration of the moronic. They weren’t stupid – stupid HM could at least have a certain humour about it, although the myth of ‘glorious vacuity’ is a dangerous one – they were less than that. They made unfounded arrogance an end in itself.

Zeppelin were largely responsible for the terrible state of American rock. Although they were popular enough over here they influenced American directions with dictatorial absoluteness. Only now, with fourth or fifth generation strains like the beaming young jackals of Loverboy, is the mutant beginning to take on a different shape; but even today (witness Robert Plant’s enormous solo success) America harbours a primordial lust for the gargantuan dribble of Zeppelin music.

Coda will do well enough over there, although even admirers might feel a little short-changed. The one relief of the record is its brevity, eight tracks totalling a little over 30 minutes. They comprise various warm-ups and out-takes all quite without consequence – idiot blues, folk (‘Poor Tom’, an acoustic track which has most appeal because of its comparative restraint) and the sweating labours of a rock music taken by an agonising bowel disorder.

Because Jimmy Page hadn’t an iota of a pop consciousness, Zeppelin never stood a chance of the chart legitimacy of Status Quo, their smarter cousins. They never made a single – not because they were above all that but because they never knew how to.

Such a failing leaves them stranded in these enlightened times: Zeppelin made an unpleasant virtue out of stamping oafishly on trends, and now their blinkered sights have turned ruthlessly on them. History cannot remember Led Zeppelin kindly: it will hold them culpable, ludicrous, addled lords of misrule.

Their graveyard status seems assured when you hear this record and realise that there is nothing you want to recall. In a sound in which John Bonham’s bass drum is the predominant factor (Bonham’s vegetable technique is presented in the completely unlistenable ‘Bonzo’s Montreux’) its colourless fury is the make-up of exhaustion.

But perhaps the greatest tragedy is the way they insist the legacy will live on. If Jimmy Page genuinely expects to make millions from what will be a Led Zeppelin 2 in all but name then the grand illusion is unshakable – and it’s frightening to think he may succeed.

It isn’t Abba who are the most pernicious influence to have blighted popular music – it may still, alas, be this terrible group.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Coda | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Soup (1995)


In all fairness, this is a really good CD. It’s been forgotten, pushed to the side, by the 1997-released, Hendrix-family approved “First Rays of the New Rising Sun.” Due to this, Voodoo Soup has basically disappeared from stores; I remember when it was released, in 1995, the CD was everywhere. They even had this large, stand-up promotional display in my local record store, a blown up image of the funky cover drawing by Moebius.

I always wondered what the deal was with that pic, Jimi spooning some soup into his mouth, but beneath the cd holder inside the jewel case is the original photo – a pic of Jimi eating in a restaurant. Moebius just “psychedlicized” the photo for the cover drawing. Anyway, most people these days dismiss Voodoo Soup, because the often-lambasted producer Alan Douglas was behind it. Douglas is the guy who was in charge of releasing Hendrix records from the ’70s to mid-’90s, until the rights went over to Hendrix’s family. Douglas didn’t have any trouble with overdubbing Jimi’s unfinished compositions – to make them sound more complete – whereas the Hendrix family are determined to let us know that these songs – reportedly what Jimi had in mind for his 4th album – were never finished, and thus should be seen as works in progress.

So the difference between Voodoo Soup and First Rays (other than a few, glaring song omissions from VS) is basic; Voodoo Soup is presented as a completed album, and First Rays is presented as one that has a few completed songs, and a few more that were barely past the demo stage (ie “Hey Baby.”) And though the two cds share many of the same songs, the mixes for each are very different. How about a track by track run-down?

1. “The New Rising Sun” – not at all like the song “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” on First Rays. This track is a sound experiment, comparable to “EXP” and “And the Gods Made Love.” A little longer than either of those songs, and mostly just a bunch of white noise, backwards guitars, and drums (played by Jimi), this is still a great opening track, and right off the bat makes Voodoo Soup sound like an “official” Hendrix cd. Jimi had grown fond of what he called “sound paintings,” and I think, had he lived to complete his First Rays, he would’ve started the album with something like this, instead of “Freedom,” which is how the Hendrix-family “First Rays” cd begins. This track flows smoothly into the next:

2. “Belly Button Window” – crazily enough, a pro-abortion song. Not the sort of song that would go over well, these days. Or any day, really. Really just a demo, but it still sounds cool. I don’t see why Alan Douglas chose this as the second track, it isn’t very strong as it is so unfinished. I guess he was trying to get an “Electric Ladyland” feel – like how that album went from the jarring “Gods Made Love” to the laid-back “Electric Ladyland.” Still, I would’ve segued “New Rising Sun” into “Freedom.”

3. “Stepping Stone” – the one that upsets so many, as this mix has the drummer from the Knack on it – his drums were overdubbed in 1995. In all honesty, his drums sound better than Mitchell’s, on “First Rays.” And also keep in mind that even Mitchell’s drums aren’t the original – he overdubbed them in the early ’70s, after Jimi’s death! So overdubbing is overdubbing – regardless if it’s 1972 or 1995. Therefore, the presence of the Knack drummer doesn’t bother me. And besides, this mix is much better than the one on First Rays – the drums are rolicking, Jimi’s guitar is much more up in front, and the overall sound is much, much better than the bottom-heavy First Rays mix.

4. “Freedom” – not much of a difference between this mix and the First Rays mix. I guess I like the First Rays mix a little more – it’s heavier on the bottom, which is good for this track – gives it more of a thump.

5. “Angel” – a great song. Jimi’s voice on the VS version doesn’t echo, as it does on First Rays. And whereas the First Rays track fades at the end and then comes back up for the ending chord (as a lot of other tracks do on First Rays), the VS mix plays throughout, up to the final chord.

6. “Room Full of Mirrors” – the other track with the Knack drummer. And again, a much better mix than that on First Rays. The drums are funkier, giving the song a great groove, and there are effects on Jimi’s vocals – making them spiral around the music, adding a hallucinatory haze to the song. The First Rays version is more straightforward, and lacks the impact of this mix.

7. “Midnight” – the biggest misstep on Voodoo Soup. Instead of using “Izabella” or “Dolly Dagger,” two completed (and not to mention well-known) tracks Hendrix had in mind for his 4th album, Douglas chose to use this, an over-long instrumental that was recorded in 1968 with the Experience.

8. “Night Bird Flying” – much like the First Rays mix, except the drums are a bit softer on VS.

9. “Drifting” – again, much like the First Rays mix, except the effect on Jimi’s guitar is slightly different, and the backwards guitar (at least to me) is a little more noticeable.

10. “Ezy Rider” – definitely better on VS. I think Douglas did a little work on the drum mix, as it just sounds better on here than it does on First Rays.

11. “Pali Gap” – a great song, perfect for late-night listening. The version on “South Souther Delta” is a tad longer, but it’s cool to have this song on here – it would have been cooler if it had followed, say, “Dolly Dagger.”

12. “Message to Love” – a great, funky track that is very similar to First Ray’s “Earth Blues.” According to the liner notes, this was recorded in the same session as “Earth Blues.” Shorter and less dynamic than the live “Band of Gypsies” version.

13. “Peace in Mississipi” – another instrumental, recorded with the Experience in 1968. I wonder if Jimi would’ve used so many instrumentals on this album. And, placed so close to “Midnight,” you can’t help but notice how similar the two songs sound.

14. “In From the Storm” – a great end to the CD, much better than the track chosen to end First Rays: “Belly Button Window.” The VS mix deletes Jimi’s opening comments, as preserved on the First Rays mix, and also his chorus backing is not as in the front as the First Rays mix.

And on top of this you also get well-written liner notes by Michael Fairchild. Sure, the guy idolizes Jimi to the point of godhood, but still, so what? If you’re going to make a rock star larger than life, why not make it Jimi Hendrix? In summary, I would recommend tracking this down. The mixes are better than those on First Rays, and also the album doesn’t drag after a while – First Rays gets a bit jagged, towards the end. But still, Voodoo Soup could’ve been THE First Rays album, had Douglas used Dolly Dagger, Izabella, and maybe even Hey Baby, instead of overlong instrumentals like Midnight and Peace in Mississipi.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Soup | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix: Blues (1994)

From Guitar World

Let’s get the paradoxes out of the way right up front: the blues was a musical space to which Jimi Hendrix would always return in order to recharge his musical and spiritual batteries but, once refreshed, he generally couldn’t wait to leave.

The blues was ever-present in everything he did; it was something that traveled with him into musical realms unimaginable to others, something he carried with him into songs and pieces which had nothing whatsoever to do with the conventional structures and themes of the blues, into worlds which the music’s traditional grandmasters wouldn’t recognise as blues – or even as music. When he started out from a classical blues theme, he as likely as not ended up with something else entirely; but when he began with something strangely, terrifying, beautifully alien, it always turned back, one way or another, into the blues.

This collection of vault-gleanings – some never before released, others disinterred from long-deleted vinyl, all new to the US CD market – can therefore tell us only part of the story of Hendrix’s complex love affair with the blues. Mostly jams and outtakes, they find Hendrix with his pants down: goofing, exploring and just plain havin’ fun. We get two versions of ‘Red House’: one a jam with organist Lee Michaels, the other from the original UK version of Are You Experienced and, for my money, an infinitely deeper and funkier take than the one on the current CD. There are two radically different versions of ‘Hear My Train A-Comin’’: an impromptu 12-string acoustic performance which provides a vague idea of how Robert Johnson might have sounded if he’d smoked a lotta weed and lived to hear James Brown, and a monumental 12-minute live jam marred only by severe tuning problems and the fact that the rhythm section – Billy Cox (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) – drag the tempo down a notch as soon as they make their entrance. There’s an early take of the slow-blues version of ‘Voodoo Chile’, the one just before it coalesced into the monumental performance you can hear on Electric Ladyland. There’s an ear-opening romp through Muddy Waters’ ‘Manish Boy’ – better known to Bo Diddley fans as ‘I’m A Man’ – which gets the same uptempo funkanisation that Hendrix gave Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’ and B.B. King’s ‘Rock Me Baby’ at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. There are a couple of intensely variable slow blues efforts, ‘Bleeding Heart’ (a.k.a. ‘Blues In C Sharp’) and ‘Once I Had A Woman’, the former a fine and funky performance with the Experience and the latter flawed by some truly rotten mouth-harp and the audible wax-ing and waning of Hendrix’s interest in the proceedings. And there’s an insanely bouncy 12/8 shuffle, ‘Jelly 292’, which – along with the Are You Experienced ‘Red House’ – should be this album’s first port of call for Stevie Ray Vaughan fans. There’s another Muddy dive with ‘Catfish Blues’, similar to the cut on Rykodisc’s Radio One CD but with the added bonus of a revved-up ‘showtime’ finale.

And then there’s ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’. This Albert King standard, custom-composed for the late lamented Big Guy by Booker T. Jones and William Bell in 1967 and covered by Cream almost immediately after its original release, starts out as you’d expect, with Hendrix putting his own unique spin on Albert’s time-honoured licks and bends, but before he even has an opportunity to open his mouth and sing the song, the Strat runs away with him. That riff becomes the springboard for some of the most thoroughly ‘outside’ stuff Hendrix ever played, a full guided tour around the musical attic where Hendrix kept toys old and new. You can leave if you want to – just jammin’ is all – but you won’t want to. Tone, timing, phrasing, attack, sense of space: if anyone needs reminding that Hendrix had it all, here’s your wake-up call.

Needless to say, some of this stuff is rough as hell: as well it might be, since most of it was never intended for release. Fluffed words, out-of-tune guitars and dropped beats fly all over the place, and if that kind of stuff upsets you, consider this a 3-star album and stick to the regular Hendrix albums. This one is for blues buffs and Hendrix freaks, and for them – or should I come clean and say us – this one earns all of its five stars.

This music was made around a quarter of a century ago. Nevertheless, despite all that’s happened since in the guitar world via the Eddies and Randies and Yngwies and Stevie Rays and Joes and Steves and Nunos and Dimebags, Hendrix still sounds like a contemporary. And a leading, cutting-edge contemporary at that. If you play blues and you want to step up to some new ways of approaching traditional materials – or if you play rock and you want to inject some tough new blues into your musical muscles – just walk this way.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix :Blues | | Leave a comment