Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Rolling Stones It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (1974)


The critical consensus of It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll is unanimous, or about as unanimous as these things get. This is widely known as the worst Rolling Stones studio album of the ’70s. Of course, this being The Rolling Stones in the ’70s, that still means this album is pretty dang good, and it should be owned by Rolling Stones fans the world-round! Nevertheless, it hasn’t been since December’s Children that these guys have released something so woefully uneven.

The unfortunate thing about it is that it really shouldn’t have been a lacking album. It’s been touted by the band members as a return-to-form (which makes it about the third so-called return-to-form of their career this far), and they concentrate mainly on pure, Stones-style rock ‘n’ roll. Good for them, I say! Not that I didn’t love Goats Head Soup where they experimented pretty extensively with funk and mysticism, but when it comes right down to it, I’d prefer these guys spend their resources on a straight rock ‘n’ roll album. If it’s for no other reason, it’s because my favorite albums of theirs tend to be the ones with all the fun concert staples in it!

Unfortunately, despite their multiple attempts here, they only succeeded at creating one major concert staple, which is the title track. I remember they played this song at their concert I went to in 2006, and everyone joined in the chorus even though nobody could remember the verses. (That, by golly, is part of the criteria for a great rock ‘n’ roll concert song!) Keith, being the universe’s ultimate master of the riff, comes out with another one, and the guitars all throughout it are fantastic to behold. Indeed, it is a Rolling Stones classic. It might not be a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” but that only goes to show us how great of a song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is!

The opening two numbers are pretty good would-be concert staples—they rock fine and they have good riffs—but they’re just not memorable. The melodies are not very striking, and they also seem to be played much more stiffly than a Rolling Stones song should. Where’s that legendary Rolling Stones drive? “Dance Little Sister” has a nice beat that you can dance to and it seems like it could have been morphed into a great Rolling Stones concert song, but it also never catches fire. There was something amiss going on with the Rolling Stones… My guess is they were worn out. Nobody can blame them for that.

I haven’t even talked about the bad stuff yet. “Short and Curlies” is a big old hunk of disappointment. It’s definitely an attempt at a good-time rock ‘n’ roll song, but all it does is flop around like a fish on the dock trying desperately to breathe water. The sluggish instrumentals don’t let it catch fire, and the simplistic melody is waaaay too dumb. I’m also scratching my head over the song called “Luxury,” which I suppose is supposed to be a melding of hard-rock and reggae. Er… I guess it could have been worse, but I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial when I say that these two genres go together about as well as boogars and fries.

There’s one ballad on here, which is a bit of a change from the previous album that had three. “Till the Next Goodbye” is very nicely written with a nice melody and pleasant instrumentation. It’s not greatly memorable and it certainly pales next to “Angie,” “Wild Horses,” etc. etc. etc., but it’s all in all quite a nice song. If you’re a fan of Rolling Stones’ ballads, yer gonna like it. Probably the real masterpiece of this album is the closing “Fingerprint File,” which shows us that even though their songwriting powers have gotten a little patchier since their heyday, they could still jam up a storm when they put their minds to it. That’s a terrific funk-inspired song that begins with a pretty devastating pop hook and an exciting lead vocal performance from Jagger, and it ends as a fast-and-furious funk-jam. The atmosphere it creates is almost as frightening and compelling as “Street Fighting Man,” and the tightly knit guitar groove they come up with is almost as mesmerizing as “Midnight Rambler.” Much more importantly, that song is just fun as hell to listen to! Good show, boys!!

I mentioned it above, but I feel it warrants a reiteration: Even though this is The Rolling Stones’ worst album of the ’70s, it’s still a very good album that I love listening to. In case you didn’t get this impression through the multiple Rolling Stones reviews I’ve written so far, I firmly believe that this is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band that ever LIVED! They’re so awesome that pretty much everything they did deserves to be heard by you! (Sans some of their ’80s stuff. But even their ’80s stuff is pretty good. Relatively speaking, that is. I have reviewed Michael Bolton albums, lest you forget.)

March 23, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones It's Only Rock n Roll | | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones Steel Wheels (1989)


The music press must have been feeling pretty bad about spending the ’80s calling old rock bands dinosaurs, so they decided to make it up to them and dub 1989 as the year of the comeback. Thus, pretty much every album released that year by a middle-aged rock act was hailed as a return-to-form. I suppose some of those “comebacks” might have been legitimate, but I certainly wouldn’t put The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels in that category.

Without a doubt, Steel Wheels is one the weakest albums they’ve ever released. Not that it makes a terrible listen; it’s definitely more consistent and enjoyable than Undercover and Dirty Work. On the other hand, this album sounds like it could have been released by pretty much anyone. I mean, how many ultra-polished retro hard-rock acts were out there in the late ’80s? Answer: Five billion.

I wouldn’t have particularly minded The Stones jumping on that bandwagon if only these songs were a little more distinctive. Unfortunately, these are some of the most toothless songs they’ve ever released. Take the album opener “Sad Sad Sad.” It certainly sounds nice with its well-mixed guitars, stadium drums, and boisterous lead vocals from Jagger, but where’s everything that made The Rolling Stones awesome? The riff is OK, but forgettable, and why does the chorus sound so much like any old clone from the radio? It makes a perfectly fine listen, but it’s terribly generic. I’ve accused The Rolling Stones of sucking in the past, but this is the first time I threw the term “generic” at them.

It gets even worse later on in the album. “Mixed Emotions” has such similar instrumentation to “Sad Sad Sad” that you’d might as well call them the same song. “Hearts For Sale” not only has a crappy song title, but it’s also sounds EXACTLY THE SAME. Do you remember that song by some teenaged girl’s dad sang that was called “Achy Breaky Heart?” These songs are better versions of that.

This is such a screwed up album that the album seems to get worse whenever they try to grit things up. “Hold Onto Your Hat” is a quick-paced blues rocker, but the fuzzier and squeakier guitars sound like crap, and Jagger’s ultra-guttural performance almost recalls his purposeful butchering of Dirty Work. Speaking of crappy guitars, I’m very disappointed at the lack of innovation in these solos. I mean, The Rolling Stones were still on top of the heap as far as their ability goes, but these solos sound like they were aimed directly at middle aged people wearing business suits who like to get drunk and pretend they’re rock ‘n’ roll fans. Blah.

Lucky, things get pretty good with “Terrifying,” which is not only an appealing hard-rock song, but it has a mightily toe-tapping bass groove to boot. The Rolling Stones’ instrumental performances throughout this album are boring and muzakish for the most part, but they came out of their comatose state to perform that one! My vote for the best song of the album is the Keith-Richards-led ballad “Slipping Away,” which has a tremendously sweet melody and an engaging atmosphere. Oh, if only they could have filled this album more with songs like that!

There’s a country ballad in here, too, called “Blinded By Love.” It’s better than 99 percent of country ballads you’ll hear on the radio (I know from experience), but that doesn’t excuse the fact that this is just a terribly dull experience. I have nothing else to say about that.

Interesting riffs are an unfortunate rarity in this album, but Keith finally comes up with a good one for “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” which comes very close to recapturing that old Rolling Stones glory. My main complaint about it, however, is, once again, it comes off too much like a toothless bar-rock song. Come on, guys! Stop pandering to people’s crappy tastes of 1989! That entire decade was a questionable idea to begin with! I’m also amused at their attempt to bring a little bit of Bollywood in their act with “Continental Drift.” That still manages to be a terribly sterile song, but at least it’s different. Hey, anything to get me away from the status quo!

March 23, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones Steel Wheels | | Leave a comment

The Mahavishnu Orchestra Between Nothingness And Eternity (1973)

Between Nothingness and EternityFrom

Between Nothingness and Eternity was released in 1973 and proved to be the swansong of the first edition of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. While the band had produced two truly great studio albums previously, BNE was intended to showcase its legendary live performance. Disappointingly, this recording does not fully capture that experience. Despite that failing, the album remains a powerhouse of a recording and is a fitting testament to the driving force that was the original Mahavishnu Orchestra.

BNE was recorded live in NYC’s Central Park in 1973. (The stage was set up in an outdoor hockey rink, and tickets for the event cost a whopping two dollars!) The members of the Orchestra were not getting along at this time. In fact, parts of the studio version of this album, along with new tunes from Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird, were already in the can.

However, due to creative differences, the album was never finished. In 2000, some 26 years after the fact, Columbia finally released this incomplete album as The Lost Trident Sessions.

“Dream,” a long extended piece, is often cited as one of the best all-time Mahavishnu explorations. Extensive unison playing and a guitar-drum duel that very well may be the most exciting ever-put on record highlight this tune. McLaughlin and Billy Cobham may not have been getting along off stage, but they were damn telepathic on it.

Over the course of 25 minutes, “Dream” sounds lush and ferocious. At several points during this performance, you will feel the hairs on the back of your neck stiffen. “Dream” is all about tension and release.

“Trilogy” emphasizes the amazing interplay of the band. Much of this interaction runs through Jan Hammer, who was featuring his Moog synthesizer. Conversely, this is also the main weakness of the album. The problem is not contained in Hammer’s performance. He was in top form. But for some reason, the recording does not capture his sound in an entirely pleasing way. One can only guess that the recording equipment or the sound equipment on stage was not up to the task.

Simply put, there are passages in which Hammer can barely be heard! This is a very serious problem during the call and response sections. In fact, the overall sound quality of the album is not very good. We must remember that the Mahavishnu Orchestra played very loud and perhaps the technology at the time just couldn’t handle it. Some fans may actually enjoy the fact that the M.O. seemed to overpower it equipment; this is especially true of McLaughlin’s wailing and distorted guitar that over-modulates from time to time. It was as if no man made equipment could contain the energy produced by this band!

All in all, despite the obvious sound issues, BNE is a fine production. This album and The Lost Trident Sessions are a must-have in order to appreciate how the group fleshed out their compositions in concert.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | The Mahavishnu Orchestra Between Nothingness And Eternity | , | 1 Comment

Led Zeppelin Maple Leaf Gardens (Toronto, September 1971)


Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, ON, Canada – September 4th, 1971

Disc 1 (74:36): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed & Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day, That’s The Way, Going To California

Disc 2 (55:57): What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love (includes Boogie Chillun’, My Baby Left Me, Mess O’ Blues, You Shook Me), Communication Breakdown, organ solo, Thank You

Three tape sources exist for Led Zeppelin’s final show in Toronto. First to enter general circulation is a very good soundboard fragment running from “Stairway To Heaven” through to “Moby Dick”. Scorpio were the first label to release this tape on the Jennings Farm Blues in 1990 along with the “Jennings Farm Blues” outtakes and was directly copied onto Farmhouse Blues (BK-11) on the Australian label Blue Kangaroo Records in 1992.

“That’s The Way” and “Stairway To Heaven” were included along with the Vancouver tape on the compilation We’re Gonna Groove (TGP 135), released on The Grand Pick label by The Swingin’ Pig people. This title was copied by the American Concert Series and released on Frame By Frame (ACS 027) in 1992.

The entire tape was released the following year on Black Dog Vol. 2 (BAN-054-B) on the Aussie label Banana. Zoso’s Back To Rock ‘n’ Roll (2-9095) on Oh Boy has the tape except for “Stairway To Heaven” and was issued with the 1973 sound check tape and the Vancouver 1970 soundboard. The final release of this tape was about a decade ago on Touch & Go by Antrabata and it hasn’t been seen since.

The first audience tape first surfaced in the early nineties and was pressed onto In A Daze (Keepout 93), Maple Leaf (BF-9601-A/B) on Baby Face and Live From The Midnight Sun (TDOLZ Vol. 018). Keepout’s title is incomplete since it is missing the organ solo and “Thank You”. The tape is a very good sounding audience recording that is full of cuts between tracks, more than a minute of “Dazed & Confused” and heavily cut in the organ solo.

Recently a second audience recording surfaced and Maple Leaf Gardens on Empress Valley is an edition utilizing all three sources. The older audience recording is used for the beginning and ending of the show. The newer audience source is used to fix the cut between 20:04 to 21:15 in “Dazed & Confused” and sounds much more distant and fuzzy than the first.

The older audience source tape, compared to the other silver boots, sounds much more clearly and without the hiss that especially plagues Live From The Midnight Sun. The soundboard tape is edited in with Plant’s introduction to “Stairway To Heaven” and runs through the end of “Moby Dick”. The first tape source comes in again with “Whole Lotta Love” and includes the encores “Communication Breakdown” and “Thank You”.

Empress Valley use a longer version of that tape which includes thirty-eight seconds from the middle of the organ solo that acts as a prelude to “Thank You”.

Some claim the latter part of the show comes from the new tape but the sound quality is the same as the first part of the concert, plus the audience comments around the taper are identical between Empress Valley and the older releases. For example, right when Plant sings the first lines of “Thank You” an audience member by the taper asks someone “is this seat taken?” right when Plant begins singing “Thank You”.

The annoying cuts between tracks present on the other releases is still unfortunately present on this, but Empress Valley handle the edits and transitions very well offering a much more smooth listening experience.

This show occurs during Led Zeppelin’s seventh full tour of North America. Ritchie Yorke introduced the band at the beginning (which is not present on any tape source) and he spends the first two pages describing his experience at the beginning of his book Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography.

His experience causes him to reflect: “ Much has been churned out about how Led Zeppelin made the people feel, but not a lot has been written about how the people made the band members feel. I suspect I might have got a tiny taste of it that stunning evening in the venerable old hockey palace, the Toronto Gardens. It was eerily exhilarating, and not merely from an ego point of view; there was a unique awareness of something beyond the well-documented realms of rational reason, a connection perhaps with another level of consciousness.”

There are no real poor performances on this tour, but the press were correct in reviewing this show as “inconsistent”.

They expended so much energy the previous evening in New York that many of the songs sound rote. “Dazed & Confused” especially contains some parts that are noticeably sloppy. On the other hand this show has one of the best versions of “Celebration Day”.

Many versions from 1971 sound distorted, but this version, with the frenetic bass underlying the ringing twelve string of Page’s double neck sounds great. Plant spends a lot of time talking about the need to sit down and the failure of the great festivals during the acoustic set.

Empress Valley brings back the fatboy jewel case for a two-disc set for this release and it is priced moderately. Until the entire soundboard surfaces (something Zeppelin collectors have been wishing for almost twenty years) this is the best and most complete version of this show.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Maple Leaf Gardens | , | Leave a comment

Genesis Archives Vol. 2 1976 – 1992


After the release and subsequent success of the four-disc box set of rare material from the Gabriel years, the next logical step for Genesis was to release one from the Phil Collins years. I admit, I wasn’t terribly eager to give the volume a listen, but after doing so, I discovered to my delight that it contains quite a lot of gems in it. There are even a staggering amount of non-LP B-sides, which are miles more entertaining than their accompanying A-sides. For instance, remember that awful song from Invisible Touch called “In Too Deep?” …I would never have suspected that the B-side of its single release, “Do the Neurotic,” is a vastly entertaining exploration of different textures, and … gasp … it shows Michael Rutherford coming out of his shell to shred his guitar in a blistering way!

“Paperlate” is one of the catchier songs they’d ever done, and it had originally appeared on the vinyl release of Three Sides Live. However, come its CD release, they cut the studio songs in favor of more live cuts. …Thankfully, that nearly forgotten song is available here. Not only is it catchy, but I will always love it for its full, bubbly horn section. There were four other songs originally included on that vinyl release, and three of them are included here (“You Might Recall,” “Evidence of Autumn,” and “Open Door.”) The one conspicuously absent is “Me and Virgil” Granted, that song isn’t their most inspired moment, but why leave it off?

An even greater crime is that they left off a song called “Match of the Day,” which was written by Steve Hackett. It’s a beautiful pop song that he had intended it for Wind & Wuthering, but it had been unceremoniously left off for being “uncharacteristic.” (I guess there’s no love for “Match of the Day.”) Another rejected song by Hackett, however, is thankfully included here, and it’s called “Inside and Out.” It’s easily one of the best folk-ballads they’d ever done. Leaving a song like that off the most boring album of their discography goes to show precisely where their heads were in relation to their bottoms at the time.

The second disc is the least interesting of the lot, filled with live performances from the Collins era. Considering there were already three double live albums from the Collins era, I don’t think there were too many fans out there thirsting for more. (In contrast, there was merely one live album from the Gabriel era, and it wasn’t double.) With that said, it’s not completely worthless. For example, it starts out with a rousing rendition of “Illegal Alien.” Collins sounds as excited and boisterous as ever. You can’t go wrong with that.

Where you can’t go right is covering a song like “Dreaming While You Sleep,” which was one of the crappier songs from We Can’t Dance… *Groan* But then there are also a few picks from A Trick of the Tail: “Ripples” and “Entangled.” The latter song was surely one of their finer moments, and the live rendition is gorgeous. Unfortunately, the inclusion of that song can’t liven up the last half of the album, which is otherwise plagued with some of the most horribly tedious songs of their repertoire. …I’ll tell you what they are, but please be careful, because these songs are so boring that evoking their names have been known to make people pass out: “Your Own Special Way,” “Burning Rope,” and “Duke’s Travels.” Blech!!!! …If you’re looking for a powerful, non-prescription sedative, then I think I found one!

There are also a handful of remixes here, which are almost entirely pointless. All the songs they remixed had already been perfected in their final studio form… or at least as perfect as they were ever going to get. All they really do, mostly, is add extra clicky percussion noises and put an annoying echoing effect on Phil Collins’ vocals. They even lengthened the some of the songs significantly, which in the case of “Land of Confusion” and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” gets on my nerves terribly. …With all that said, they did a number on “I Can’t Dance” by adding a flurry of synthesizers on top of it, which made it far quirkier than the original.

Even though sitting through some of this box set was a real chore—particularly the live performances and remixes—I had an all-around good time with this release. While this doesn’t amaze me quite like Genesis’ first archival box set, it’s certainly worthwhile enough for it to earn that 11 I so graciously decided to award it. I not appreciate that it’s around, but it also has its fair share of rare gems on it that I know I’m going to come to treasure in the years to come. I didn’t even talk about a few of the gems in the main body of this review, so please do peruse the track reviews for more information about them. (And perhaps even some confusing sentences?)

March 23, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Archives Vol 2 1976-1992 | | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed (1969)


Is there really any doubt that Let it Bleed is a rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece from beginning to end? I know there’s always going to be weirdos who claim this album isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I appreciate that I live in a society where we are allowed to freely express our opinions, but anyone who says that deserves a good pop in the kisser. I don’t want to bully them or anything; I just want to smack some of the rock ‘n’ roll into them! Just like with electronics, sometimes you have to smack them to get them to work properly.

Although this album isn’t pure rock ‘n’ roll. It’s very similar to The Stones’ previously unstoppable rock album, Beggars Banquet. It’s so similar, in fact, that you might be justified calling it a ‘clone.’ That album began with a beautiful and scary opener “Sympathy for the Devil,” and this album begins with a beautiful and scary opener, “Gimme Shelter.” That album ended with an epic closing track, “Salt of the Earth,” and this album ends with an epic closing track, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” They both also had an array of pure blues tunes, pure country tunes, and each had at least one token riff rocker planted in the middle (“Street Fighting Man” replaced with “Monkey Man”). But as Frog is my witness, they did nothing but improve that already-great album’s formula to create what’s undoubtedly one of the best albums ever made. The melodies are insanely catchy, and they’ve improved their instrumentation standards to the point where they’re a well-oiled machine, chugging away at some of these songs as though they were a freight train.

It’s funny this happened, too, because they had lost their most creative member at this point. Brian Jones was fired from the band for turning into a useless drug junkie, and he wouldn’t live much longer thereafter. Keith was now totally in charge of the guitar licks, and I swear this guy was a genius at it. Every single thing he does not only fits the mode of the song perfectly, but reeks of pure personality. It’s tough to say, but his best work probably can be heard in “Midnight Rambler,” which would have been a terrific song even without the guitar! Listen to the song where that freight-train groove comes to a halt, and he starts to play those atmospheric, bluesy notes. Aren’t those affecting? And Mick Jagger turns in a growlingly convincing vocal performance there, playing some sort of vicious rapist on the “prowl.”

“Gimme Shelter” is a good example at how perfectly developed these songs are. It begins with an ominous opening with a scary, tight guitar riff and absorbing calls of “oooo.” Gradually, the other instruments start to come in, slowly building up what turns into the one of the most brilliantly constructed, hard as a rock, grooves that have ever been constructed. They even bring in a powerful gospel female singer to wail over Jagger, and it couldn’t have sounded better. From beginning to end, this screams “GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.” This is what it’s all about. “Monkey Man” might not be as recognizable, but I guess that’s because there were too many famous songs here, and there wasn’t room for anything else. Again, it starts rather spooky and ominously before delving into a rollicking bit of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s great fun from beginning to end.

They even nail the blues here, perfectly. The problem that most rockers have when it comes to blues is they have a hard time making them seem original and genuine. But The Stones own the blues. “Love in Vain” is an old blues cover that is convincing from beginning to end. Jagger turns in a great bluesy vocal performance, and those gorgeous electric guitar riffs of Keith’s is enough to bring a tear to the eye. Even “You Got the Silver” is excellent even though Keith sings the lead vocals on that! It’s not a very pretty voice, but he sounds like a regular person, and that seems to add an extra dimension that I like.

As I secretly predicted, I’ve spent the majority of this space ranting and raving about only a handful of songs on Let it Bleed! That’s the sort of album this is; everything is a well-oiled masterpiece! I’m just going to mention the others, but they all deserve a full paragraph of ranting in their own right. (And, they have it, because I wrote pretty substantial track reviews!) “Country Honk” is a country-rock song, and it’s great fun. “Live With Me” is a danceable rock song; it was a popular tune the Stones played at concerts, and that’s for great reason. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is probably the most recognizable song of the lot (and therefore I don’t need to spend a lot of time talking about it), and captures me right from that heavenly choral beginning until it slowly builds up to create one of the most epic rock ‘n’ roll songs that have ever existed.

Oh god, this is a great album. I checked my bathroom scale, and I’ve lost about three pounds in the course of writing this review from all the drool that’s been running out of my mouth! I’m very dehydrated, so I’m going to get a drink of water after I’m done writing this paragraph. Let it Bleed is unquestionably one of the greatest rock albums of all time. It’s probably bad form to make sweeping, overarching generalizations like that especially since I haven’t even come close to listening to every rock album on the planet. But this is a perfect album. The only way for anyone else to surpass it is to create a more-than-perfect album, and that can only happen in science fiction movies.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix The Jimi Hendrix Experience (2000)


As a ‘final golden touch’ to all the excellent Hendrix family releases, comes this 4-CD boxset with not a single track overlapping with the rest of the family releases. This is golden stuff, mostly, and there are only two reasons for which I deny it the ultimate rating: (a) like every boxset, it’s essentially a collection and so the rest of the albums are at a formal disadvantage; and (b) it’s NOT for the Hendrix beginner – it’s for that experienced connoisseur who wants to get his hands on everything the guy had given his angelic consent of releasing. It could have been better, too.

Could have been better because, frankly speaking, I’m not sure we need all those billions of ‘alternate takes’ of classics that are not all that different from the well known studio versions. Some ARE radically different; but I’m pretty sure the releasers could have thrown out at least about a dozen or so tracks off here and replaced with them with more obscure material, or at least more ass-kicking live versions of said songs. And I do not at allL approve the inclusion of two cuts from Monterey and two cuts from Isle of Wight, even if they’re “remixed” and all that. I already have ‘Rock Me Baby’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and ‘In From The Storm’ on separate CDs. Gimme something less famous!

But to hell with nitpicking; I’ve yet to see – heck, we all have yet to see – a collection or archive release or boxset which would satisfy all of our wishes. On the positive side, these four CDs are all perfectly listenable. Quite unlike, say, the Beatles’ Anthologies: stuffed with patched-up demos and endless studio failures and mistakes, those collections, for the most part, could only be listened to as historical curios. But take my word: get The Jimi Hendrix Experience and you can fall in love with the music on this boxset just as fine as you could treat the original studio albums. All the ‘alternate takes’ are untampered with and they always select versions which look quite completed and enjoyable for pure musical reasons. And if there’s a studio gaffe or two, it only adds spice! Here, now, is a brief account of what you’re going to get with emphasis on the numerous ‘surprises’ (note, though, that if you already have been a rabid Hendrix collector for years, there probably will be very few surprises, as most of the ‘new’ tracks actually date from earlier official and half-official recordings – thus, the live collection In The West, often proclaimed to be Jimi’s best live album, is made pretty much redundant by the boxset).

Anyway, CD 1 is the early period. Jimi is young, fresh, healthy and arrogant, and the Experience are tight and intent upon conquering the world. A ‘Purple Haze’ alternate take with Jimi giggling and singing ‘Mary had a little lamb’ at the end. Breathtaking rendition of ‘Killing Floor’ from a Paris concert in 1966 (yeah); ‘Hey Joe’ from the same concert – back when the song was yet totally fresh and Jimi was singing it with conviction and devotion, not as an obligatory crowd-pleasing moldy standard. A rollickin’, firey studio outtake called simply ‘Title # 3’. ‘Third Stone From The Sun’ with a special section where Jimi and Chas Chandler are recording the vocal overdubs for the song (later those would be slowed down and “astralized”, but it’s really cool to hear Jimi go ‘…may I land my kinky machine? Pshhhh pshhh pshhh…”). ‘Taking Care Of No Business’ – a hilarious lounge sendup, probably during a drunken break in the sessions. A particularly early and restrained instrumental version of ‘Lover Man’… hmm, I just realized that the song is essentially just a re-write of ‘Rock Me Baby’, but who cares? Jimi fooling around the harpsichord recording the intro to ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’. And the Monterey numbers. And a few more tracks I haven’t mentioned because they aren’t that specially surprising, but they’re still nice. And that’s just the first disc!

CD 2 is The Experience at the height of their power. The post-Monterey period. Ever heard Jimi perform ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’? He did it quite often back then, but this is currently the only widely available place to hear it, from a Stockholm concert in September 1967. ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’ from the same venue as well. Instrumental rehearsal of ‘Little Wing’. Fiery, inhuman renditions of ‘Catfish Blues’ and ‘Fire’ and a mastodontic runthrough over the looks of ‘Bold As Love’. Interesting obscure tracks like ‘Somewhere’ and ‘It’s Too Bad’. Jimi’s take on Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’, which runs for a full nine minutes and steals the show from the master (well, heck, then again, so did Jim Morrison and Patti Smith, so who cares?). And to top it all, the studio version of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ which really must be heard to be believed. As mind-boggling as the classic Woodstock version was, it was still way too noisy… you’d thought Jimi played it with the sole intent of ‘mocking’ the national anthem, but this studio take shows that he really was in experimental overdrive when he tackled it. Listen to all those amazing warp-speed overdubbed guitar runs; you could SWEAR these are synthesizers. As the liner notes say, that was Jimi’s first experience with a 16-track, and he really made the best of it.

CD 3 is my favourite, I guess, because it has the majority of live numbers. ‘I Don’t Live Today’, ‘Red House’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ all blow the roof down. Note that although it’s 1969, it’s early 1969, so it’s still the Experience – past their glory days, but only as a band, not as a joint unit of talented musicians. This stuff should be played loud ‘n’ proud, blasted out of the windows to instigate little earthquakes. And, of course, there’s ‘Little Wing’ – THE ultimate live rendition of the song. It’s only been occasionally performed live, as far as I know (too personal for Jimi?), but this is one of those rare occasions; Jimi plays it short and sweet, with a couple solo passages of ultimate beauty. (Even if I still insist that Clapton was able to insert even more emotion into the song that Jimi did – but this live version would probably bring the two guys on par).

CD 4, then, is the least favourite, since for the most part it’s dedicated to outtakes from First Rays Of The New Rising Sun; definitely not Hendrix in finest form as a songwriter, and the outtakes can’t hope to beat the originals either. Plus, there are those Wight numbers I already have elsewhere.Still, some of the outtakes sound just fine, and you do get a few lost classics like the fascinating psychedelic instrumental ‘Cherokee Mist’; and of course, one cannot neglect Jimi’s unique live rendition of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ (the latter, strange enough, taken in mid-tempo). ‘Johnny B. Goode’ sounds particularly mesmerizing after undergoing the ‘Hendrixification’ procedure.

All in all, it’s a wonder-treat for the devoted Jimi fan. It wouldn’t be particularly recommendable for the neophyte, of course, because there’s just too much material and one could lose one’s footing in among all the outtakes. But I sure know that I spent a wonderful two-day period listening to these four discs and I’ll definitely be coming back to them again. The only thing I hope for is that this is going to be the conclusion of the endless flow of Hendrix releases, a certain sort of ‘final point’ after which the releasers will finally stop. There’s gotta be an end to everything, you know. At least, if they’re planning on something else, let it be something concise – say, a release of an entire live show, or a bunch of so-and-so demos from so-and-so sessions. No more mixed bags, please! (Note: this doesn’t really apply to the boxset, as it’s very thoroughly arranged in chronologic order. Rather, it can apply to stuff like South Saturn Delta).

March 23, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix The Jimi Hendrix Experience | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix BBC Sessions (1998)


Well, this is just another phenomenal archive release from the BBC vaults which shares the usual advantages and flaws of all BBC releases. The advantage is that the sound is crystal clear: the band plays live but there are no impeding crowd noises, apart from a few ‘sit-in’ sessions. The flaw is that several of the songs are played several times, and this ain’t good no matter how fantastic the song might be. I, for one, don’t really need three different versions of ‘Hey Joe’! Do you? Or three different versions of ‘Driving South’, for that matter. It’s a great instrumental, for sure, but… oh, wait, do you really want to tell me that the BBC have completely drained their Hendrix vaults with this release? In that case, I withdraw my complaint. I actually hoped for ‘Ain’t No Telling’ or ‘Highway Chile’; if one day I find out they never released that stuff I’ll kill somebody.

Nevertheless, despite the potential complaints, this beautiful 2-CD package offers quite a lot of goodies that you might not get otherwise. Minor surprises include Jimi’s hilarious ‘radio jingle’ made specially for Radio One: ‘Radio One, you stole my gal but I love you all the same’. Ha! And played as hard as possible, too. Why don’t they make radio jingles like that any more? Mind you, ‘Radio One Jingle’ is quite probably the first heavy metal song ever written (!!!)

Another definite highlight comes at the end, with the famous ‘Lulu incident’ when Jimi came to a show hosted by the then-famous ex-performatrice (what’s the feminine for performer, dammit?) Lulu, on her request started playing a totally crazy version of ‘Hey Joe’, incidentally including a half-baked riff that would later on become the central point in Jimmy Page’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, then stopped it and, saying that they weren’t going to play this rubbish any more, suddenly crashed into an unexpected instrumental take on ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, dedicating it to the freshly disbanded Cream. He didn’t have more than one minute to go before the band was ‘rudely interrupted’, but whatever, the confusion WAS already made. The Cream boys must have been blushing from head to toe. And it’s all on here – ain’t it fun?

Out of the songs that didn’t make it onto the regular studio releases at the time, you do get quite a few. There’s an energetic take on Dylan’s little-known B-side ‘Can You Crawl Out Your Window?’ – another minor gem to add to your ‘Hendrix does Dylan’ collection; a wild, pull-all-the-stops instrumental called ‘Driving South’, with Jimi giving out such ferocious lines as have never been found on studio releases; an amusing cover of ‘Hound Dog’, with Mitch and Noel pulling off completely authentic whines and howls; two more versions of ‘Hear My Train A-Comin”, slightly marred with more annoying backing vocals from Mitch and Noel, but otherwise almost smoking; and, guess what, they even do ‘Day Tripper’! No, there is no John Lennon on backing vocals, as some of the rumours go, but still, this is a touching tribute (note also how Jimi plays a few lines from ‘I Want To Tell You’) in the beginning.

Of course, there’s also a lot of ‘blues wanking’, but you know Jimi. Some of the blues numbers on here are captivating, in fact: ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ is probably the ‘hardcorest’ version you’ll ever find in existence, only equalled by the Allman Brothers’ take on Idlewild South, and ‘Catfish Blues’ gives out the origins of the ‘Voodoo Chile’ jam – except it’s shorter, and never threatens to become as boring. Plus, there’s ‘Killing Floor’! Fast crazy boogie! What else do you need?

This is all heavily diluted by radio standards – ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’, ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Hey Joe’, and… ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Foxy Lady’, another ‘Foxy Lady’, and, of course, the unforgettable ‘Fire’ – plus some less famous tracks like ‘Love Or Confusion’ or ‘Spanish Castle Magic’. But I won’t tell you a lot about these because they’re… well, they’re standard Hendrix. And they don’t change the arrangements much; apparently, most of the songs were performed fresh from the studio (they even reproduce the ‘OOOH – AAAH’ parts in ‘Purple Haze’, something I’ve never heard on later live shows), apart from ‘Hey Joe’ which I suppose Jimi must have hated to death. Especially stupid… since in the track ‘A Brand New Sound’ Jimi discusses ‘Hey Joe’ with Alexis Korner and they come to the conclusion that ‘Hey Joe’ is not really representative of what the Experience are really trying to do and then Korner says ‘So now can we hear ‘Hey Joe’?’ You can actually hear Jimi going ‘what the fuck…’ in his mind, but of course he wouldn’t say it cuz he was such a nice guy and all. It’s really no surprise that he cut the song off at Lulu’s and desperately ripped into ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ – it’s very symbolic. And it’s symbolic that they didn’t let him play that thing to the end, too. Very symbolic and very sad.

Still, Alexis is generally a good master of ceremonies – everything is lightly peppered with bits of studio chatter and dialogue, and both the questions and the answers, and the hilarious remarks on Jimi and his ‘ridiculous crew’ work as good as anything.

In fact, I’d probably go as far as to state that this is the one and the only Hendrix live album you should ever get. He’s unusually concentrated on most of the songs – wild and totally self-controlled all the time. You know what I’m speaking of: sometimes he just goes over the top and the thin borderline separating his genius from cacophony vanishes. Here, all the guitar parts are clever, sharp, clear and tasteful. There’s not a lot of experimentation going on – for that approach, you’d better try Woodstock or even Band Of Gypsies – but in the end, it’s just a guarantee that nothing on here will offend the casual Hendrix lover. And ‘Driving South’ – it’s bound to knock you from your chair, because you won’t find these incredible chops on any studio record, I tell you. Of course, quite a few of the numbers aren’t at all superior to their studio counterparts, but none are inferior, and that’s a compliment – any of these versions could have easily substituted the studio originals.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix BBC Sessions | | Leave a comment

The Who Join Together (1990)


Ooh! Contrary to rumours and biases, this is much better. After about seven or eight years the remaining members of the band thought it might be nice to make some easy money and offered the faithful this reunion tour. Its purely financial aim was obvious to everybody, and good old Pete even had the courage to openly declare it on stage at one time. By that time Pete himself was already half deaf, played mostly acoustic guitar and relegated electric playing to one Steve Boltz who was a cool guy looking like a punk and playing like a heavy metal musician (he could have fitted well in Europe, don’t you think? The band, not the continent, I mean). The result is painfully predictable: lots of old Who classics are transformed into heavy metal fiestas, while Pete’s guitar is hardly heard at all – which is a shame, since when he does get a chance to play some chords in silence, his skill with the acoustic, nurtured for years, becomes obvious.

Besides that, the band is augmented by miriads of supporting musicians, like an enormous brass section giving the music a mainstream pop effect, three backing vocalists to relieve Pete and John of the necessity to make more efforts, piano wiz “Rabbit” Bundrick to take the place of the tape recorder, and two drummers as a tribute to Keith’s abilities, one of them Simon Philips of once Judas Priest fame. This should have been as horrible as one can ever imagine.

But it isn’t, strange enough, and I still don’t know why. For a certain bunch of reasons I still prefer it over Who’s Last. First of all, it has a nice package, and that’s something: this time each of the two CDs is over sixty minutes long, so it’s at least worth the money. Next: this isn’t a “Greatest Hits Live” any more. The first disc is a complete performance of Tommy which you might laugh at, but you’d keep it in mind that it was still six years before the Isle Of Wight release and no live Tommy was available, so it should have been quite a reasonable move. And shaking off all our biases about how Tommy is supposed to sound live on stage, we can actually enjoy it – especially since they make the good move of not inviting in any particular ‘guest stars’ like Billy Idol, unlike the video version of the tour. One can question the performance’s necessity, but one cannot question the professionalism or even the sincerity displayed therein; or the certain wisened, moving aura that now surrounds Daltrey’s vocal deliveries.

The second CD digs heavily in the backlog, but you only get two or three evergreens, which are the closing ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Fooled Again’ – obligatory crowd-pleasers are thus kept to a minimum. Plus, speaking of overlaps, we have ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ once again, but this time it’s certainly intended to correct the mistake made on the previous live album – here Daltrey soars high like he’s supposed to be doing, and even the banal brass section does not sound out of place. In fact, I sometimes prefer this performance to the original: it may have a somewhat more primitive arrangement on here, but there’s no denying the huge, grandiose cathartic effect. (If you doubt it, just watch the spectators all rising from their seats in awe as the band brings the song down with a crash-boom-bang).

And the others? ‘5:15’, ‘I Can See For Miles’, ‘Join Together’, ‘You Better You Bet’; all performed with a flair and none of them featured on any previous live albums (‘I Can See For Miles’, in fact, was performed live for the first time since a couple tentative performances in 1967 – the song always needed two guitars, so Townshend couldn’t bring it in until Steve Boltz joined). And Entwistle gets to sing ‘Trick Of The Light’ instead of the everpresent ‘Boris The Spider’.

Plus, we have some Townshend solo stuff – starting with ‘Eminence Front’ (well, I know it is a Who song, but it sounds solo to me and everybody else), and continuing with some of his big hits like ‘Face The Face’, ‘Rough Boys’, and ‘A Little Is Enough’.

In a technical sense, the performances are flawless (and I do make an emphasis on technically – like I said, lots of them sound nothing like The Who, and some sound rather like, well, Judas Priest). Too flawless, in fact – sounding like a machine going on, but blame it on the backing musicians. Entwistle plays his fluent lines better than ever (check out the bass work on ‘Sparks’ and ‘Trick Of The Light’), Pete even conjures a couple old tricks on ‘Fooled Again’ where he agrees to pick up the electric, and this time Daltrey made sure not to have any more problems with his voice: Tommy goes off splendidly, and the rest is even better.

This is an enjoyable album, believe it or not. It’s just that there is absolutely no reason to buy it if you haven’t heard everything else. But it’s really entertaining to hear these versions – for a change. Don’t blame the Who too harshly; they didn’t tear themselves to shreds onstage every night for at least ten years for nothing. They had suffered, and at least they really deserved all that money. Whatever. As for the real pragmatic significance of the album, no Who fan should deprive himself of the pleasure of hearing these particular versions of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, ‘Trick Of The Light’, ‘Sparks’, and ‘Eminence Front’; not to mention that unless you really wanna pick up the laughable Townshend solo Iron Man LP (which I unfortunately did, so pity me), this is the only place where you’ll find the last true Who classic, ‘Dig’ – a great, wonderfully involving and optimistic pop rocker that ranks with the best songs Pete ever wrote in the Seventies.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | The Who Join Together | | Leave a comment

Supertramp Breakfast In America (1979)


What? Oh, right! Breakfast In America! The album that broke the band big! The bucks! The fame! The endless airplay! Loads upon loads of hit singles! The record of the year! When all else fades, Breakfast In America still remains as the band’s crowning, spectacular achievement which makes just about any other Supertramp album pale in comparison… oh yeah? Eat your three and a half stars, brutha!

Seriously now, I’m not being controversial or anything. This is a typical Supertramp album, nothing more, nothing less. I’d have to do some serious research work to try and understand what made the album so outstanding in people’s eyes in 1979, when the previous records haven’t enjoyed even half of that success. Maybe it’s the Bee Gees comparison? Maybe it’s the serious ‘poppy’, at times even ‘disco’ overtones? Or maybe – that’s my most serious guess – it’s the America backlash, or, rather, the mass culture backlash of this record that made it so attractive? Or maybe everything together. You could write a dissertation on the record and its social impact, I’m here to say a few words about the music, and the music is typical Supertramp, which means nice. N-I-C-E.

Granted, the first several songs on the album do qualify among the very best Supertramp ever did, even I would have to admit that the quality of the hooks out there is at least a cut above your usual expectations from Hodgson, Davies and Co. Not on the opening ‘Gone Hollywood’, mayhaps, the song that’s mostly famous for introducing Roger’s immaculate Bee Gees falsetto impersonation – how many Supertramp fans put on this record and rushed out for valium in a matter of seconds, afraid that their favourite band has sacrificed itself to the Mammona of disco? But it turns out that the impersonation has more of a parodic nature to it than anything else – after all, the song is about the perils and disillusionment of stardom (not that the Bee Gees sang that much about the pleasures of stardom, mind you, but most Bee Gees bashers usually miss out on the lyrics of ‘Stayin’ Alive’, for instance). And as the first falsetto notes fade away, you get a slightly poppified, but still intelligently written piano-and-sax based rumination.

But the next three songs, all of ’em amazing, annihilate the effect of ‘Gone Hollywood’. ‘The Logical Song’ is arguably Hodgson’s stellar hour – a simple, relatively unpretentious, bitter reflection on the soulless rationalisation and cynicism of the modern world, with Hodgson’s melancholic, pitiful tone perfectly suiting the lyrics; the vocal melody is sheer genius, and the way Roger contrasts his epithets (‘all the birds in the trees they’d be singing so happily… joyfully… playfully…’ ‘but then… they showed me a world where I could be so dependable… clinical… intellectual… cynical…’) is magic, plus the wailing sax makes a wonderful counterpoint all the time. Then there’s Rick’s stellar hour – the somewhat conceptually unrelated, but uplifting and honestly romantic ‘Goodbye Stranger’; a simple piano melody, a simple soulful delivery, an intelligent crescendo throughout the song, a raising chorus, catchiness all around. And finally, Hodgson closes the trio of absolute winners with the title track, which manages to pack a whole wallop of cynicism and bitterness into a superficially lightweight and almost joyful danceable tune. ‘Take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I got, not much of a girlfriend, never seem to get a lot’ – doesn’t that remind you of the Sparks or something? Except that unlike the Mael brothers, Hodgson’s being dang serious about his emotions. And a bare two minutes and thirty seconds! I want some more of that.

I can’t say the other songs match this holy trinity in quality, though. They’re all decent, just not as concentrated – see, in ‘Logical Song’ and ‘Breakfast In America’ Hodgson really comes up with unparalleled lyrically-musical ideas, but Davies doesn’t seem to be equally inventive, and decent balladry like ‘Oh Darling’ and decent ‘I’m-not-like-everybody-else’ introspective stuff like ‘Just Another Nervous Wreck’ don’t have any of these inhuman elements that’d justify their eternal gilding. They are well-placed in the context of the album and all, but lasting impression? Hmm… need to be more inventive.

Roger, too, overreaches in ‘Lord Is It Mine’ – there’s only so much whining I can take, and minimalistic piano ballads should better be left to Elton John. So, in fact, the only other song that reinstates my good faith is the closing epic ‘Child Of Vision’, which manages to somehow collect all of the bitter sarcastic energy off the previous songs and painlessly stuff it onto this seven-minute behemoth, with Hodgson’s angry anti-mass-culture lyrics, delivered in a flaming tone, perfectly matching the paranoid bassline – but the funny thing is, the best thing about the song aren’t the lyrics, it’s the amazingly effective piano solo which is now in danger of becoming one of my all-time favourite piano solos. Who the hell is playing there? Rick? Roger himself? Aw, who cares? That’s just a perfect example of how a solo musical instrument is able to take on all the emotions and passion of a vocal melody and carry it on and develop it in a way that a human voice could never do. Mm, great, delicious, an ideal conclusion to an album…

…which still gets its deserved three and a half stars for sagging too much in the middle. Four great songs, six decent-to-good ones, you know the score. The good news is that from what I’ve seen around, history has been just to the record – it no longer polarizes audiences as it could have done in 1979 (with some people mistakenly taking it as belonging in the same vile decadent Bee Gees/Boney M heap of shit preventing people from enjoying punk rock, and some extolling it as the greatest piece of music ever created), rather it just produces mixed emotions like any “good, not great” album would. And that warms my heart.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | Supertramp Breakfast In America | | Leave a comment