Saturday, February 25, 2017
Reflecting on George Harrison's Cloud Nine LP. This iconic musician would have been celebrating his 74th birthday today.
At that point in time, his last outing (Gone Troppo) had clocked in at roughly 30 minutes, contained a number of excellent songs ("Wake Up My Love", "Circles") was woefully under-promoted and failed to make a dent in the charts upon release in 1982. Harrison saw little value in chasing what was trendy or even trying to compete with the disposable pop that began to dominate the airwaves as the MTV craze snowballed. Spectacle now ruled in terms of music PR, twisting a barrage of images around the collective optic nerve of television audiences 24 hours a day. Understatement in song craft and musicianship now had very little traction with the masses.
George downed tools for a few years to spend time on other pursuits, though the urge to create pulled him back to his home studio in January of 1987 to start work on what would be termed as a "comeback" record.
Not that anyone was going to forget who he was
Having gathered a group of high profile friends to contribute to this project, the end product is tightly edited, well paced and the production (handled by George and Jeff Lynne) is pristine. Vocal harmonies and hooks abound, the quality of the material is top class. Among the best of the pack are "Fish On the Sand", "This Is Love" and the in-joke filled, "When We Was Fab". There is some fantastic six string interplay between Harrison and Eric Clapton on the title track. Listening to my vinyl copy (which I snapped up way back in November of '87) while scribbling these lines, it is impressive to hear the attention to detail that went into layering guitar parts. You also get the sense that George reigned in Lynne's tendencies toward throwing a ton of augmentation into the arrangements. Similarly, the pairing with Lynne helped Harrison simplify his approach toward song structure. The overall mix is superb, still sounding fresh nearly 30 years on.
This song is just six words long
The biggest surprise of the set was the inclusion of an obscure tune by Rudy Clark ("Got My Mind Set On You") which tore up the charts as a leader single and gave the album a massive boost from a commercial standpoint. Speaking of videos, this one and the clip that accompanied "When We Was Fab" both received heavy rotation on MTV, bringing his famous face into the purview of another generation who had missed him in his first incarnation as a pop star back in the sixties.
Ringo shows up to grace the skins here, as well.
Cloud Nine arguably paved the way for the Traveling Wilburys aggregation the following year, which itself was a massive, yet unexpected, hit.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Following the release of three decent (albeit largely unnoticed) studio albums, Blue Oyster Cult decided to package their live show for direct injection into the homes of their fans in early 1975. Two black circles were duly filled with performances culled from a number of venues on their (then) most recent tour. This double live set cracked the US top 30 (topping out at # 22 on the Billboard chart) serving to bring their sound above ground, while deservedly garnering the attention of a wider audience in the commercial sweepstakes.
Hey, I heard a couple of people sayin' Hot Rails to Hell
Relentless gigging will turn any loose aggregate of musicians into a well-oiled machine. Such was the itinerary for the pride of Long Island in the early seventies. While the quintet squeeze every drop of blood from their tunes onstage, they do remember to remove their collective feet from the gas and allow for dynamic downshifts in the arrangements. "Seven Screaming Dizbusters" is one of the best examples of that, along with the moody "Then Came the Last Days of May". Crowd reaction is retained, rather than downplayed in the overall mix. Listen to the faithful as they respond rapturously after getting scorched by a particularly frenetic, extended version of "ME 262" which closes side three. People went nuts for these guys and they packed houses without the benefit of a hit single or any significant unit shifting.
Curiously, the label makers in the industry have been content to brand the output of this truly under-appreciated band as "Heavy Metal" and unfairly rank them below their contemporaries. Part of the equation comes down to a low profile in the lead vocal department. All of them could sing, though there was no Plant, Gillan, Rogers or Mercury that really stepped out front to own the stage. This is what bumps you into the economy class seats in terms of early to mid 70s purveyors of hard rock. Not quite Foghat nor were they Uriah Heep. Traces of prog flirt with "boogie" riffs, though embracing lyrical subject matter that was at times unfathomable (What the hell is "Harvester of Eyes" REALLY about??) was another obstacle to contend with in terms of gaining entry to the mass public imagination. Nevertheless, the lads did bring a not-so-secret-weapon to the party.
Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser
Precise, fret-scorching virtuosity lifts just about every cut on this gem into the stratosphere. Why this man does not figure in the conversation when it comes to six string wizards is a puzzle. His partners in crime provide perfectly obstreperous, yet tasteful, sonic support. The Bouchard brothers keep the engine stoked while allowing Roeser and Allan Lanier to shine. Buck's solos defy gravity. "Cities on Flame" is taken at a positively caffeinated pace. All of the material found here comes off far better than the studio versions. Eric Bloom keeps all of the stories straight behind ever present shades.
These guys could really play
Pound for pound, this is the finest BOC live album. Definitely stands as one of the most exciting documents of its kind from that decade, coming across raw, sweaty and real. Some Enchanted Evening (1978) and Extraterrestrial Live (1982) have their moments, though both are uneven, without an eighth of the intensity that crackles from the speakers when this disc is cranked. While it has resided in my CD collection for many years, I have only obtained a vinyl copy very recently while rummaging through the stacks of a used record store in San Francisco. Listening in the intended format inspired this post.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Fourth time around would best describe the prep that went into getting this time capsule to its present state.
THE BACK STORY
Capitol Records' Voyle Gilmore had the first crack with his team on hand to capture the Beatles Hollywood debut on August 23, 1964. Utilizing a remote sound truck parked several blocks from the venue, they plugged directly into the stereo board at the Bowl. Primitive equipment (3 track machines) mostly picked up gale force screaming that saturated the tapes, with VU meters constantly buried in the red. This exercise was repeated a year later, though technical issues with Paul's microphone on the August 29th show rendered it useless. The set on the following night turned out to be much better and was recorded without incident. Some work was done to prepare a disc for official release at that time. Unhappy with the overall sound quality along with their collective performances, the group vetoed the plan.
Phil Spector, following his work with the output from the Get Back sessions, was asked to do a similar salvage job on these concerts in 1971. His efforts never escaped the Apple vaults.
Overwhelming odds were in favor of the project simply being left for dead.
Enter George Martin and Geoff Emerick
In early 1977, the legendary producer and engineer were tasked with delicately transferring the original masters to 16-track tape for filtering, equalization, editing and mixing. Their major obstacle was finding a 3 track machine that actually worked. With much luck they did so, though it was barely functional. Cold air had to be constantly directed on it to avoid overheating and destroying the precious tapes. Their painstaking work paid off, bringing an exciting document to the masses. All four Beatles received a copy, though only Lennon rated it as fit for public consumption. (Harrison thought that it wasn't very good) Nonetheless, it was shipped to record retailers in May of that year, sailed to number one in the UK, number two in the US and sold over a million copies.
Contrary to myth, they were a solid live act. Caught in relatively decent form here, it is to their credit that there were no major train wrecks considering that they were playing to 17,000 screamers without monitors for reference. Highlights include "She's a Woman", "Things We Said Today" and Lennon laughing in the middle of "Help!", overwhelmed by crowd reaction (or nerves) Everything is taken at a much faster tempo.
Calm down, Ringo.
Cover art features a clever mock up of concert tickets that bear no resemblance to the originals. Here's what a lucky fan would have actually presented for admittance to the 1964 show.
In 1984, the official Hollywood Bowl set went out of print. The vinyl is easily found in second hand record stores and I still have my copy from the early 80s. Bootlegs are out there, too, if you want to hear all three concerts in their entirety. Hollywood Bowl Complete is a good one. (They even got the tickets right.)
For die-hard collectors, Capitol also released "In-Store Only" 8 -track tapes with five songs from the album to record outlets. These listening post promos are now nearly impossible to find.
When the Beatles catalog was repackaged for sale in CD format in 1987, Hollywood Bowl did not make the cut. Since that time, Apple has acted as curator to the most dissected, well loved and marketable collection of music in rock history. Everything from BBC sessions to the Anthology cutting room floor material had been dusted off and dangled in front of willing consumers in the nineties. The re-mastering of their work for the digital age was another massive roll out in 2009, yet this one remained under glass in the museum.
Fast forward to 2016
Giles Martin, with the aid of 21st century advances in recording technology, picked up where his father had left off four decades earlier. Take a moment to find out how this came together.
The general consensus is that the audio update allows the listener to properly hear bass and drums in the mix. "Ticket to Ride" is a completely different aural experience here as are "She's a Woman" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy". Overall, the track sequence is identical to the 1977 issue, with four bonus tunes that are tagged on to keep things interesting for the casual fan. Hardcore collectors will likely view this as a missed opportunity to have all three concerts out there, though technical gremlins made certain performances unsalvageable. The energy (and volume) of the crowd still resonates even though over 50 years have passed. Their reaction gives the set an electric thrill, even as they threatened to overwhelm all attempts to preserve these shows for posterity. Very worthwhile addition to your collection.
Monday, September 26, 2016
Friday, September 09, 2016
Known for being deep in the pocket of universal groove, Booker T and the MGs were the legendary Stax house ensemble that powered countless hit records. They were not faceless session players, touring and releasing their own material ("Green Onions", "Time Is Tight") to great acclaim.
McLenmore Avenue is ideal for those who know the Abbey Road LP back to front and have wondered how it would sound in the very capable hands of this soulful quartet. Their interpretation is a model of taste. Jones and crew opted to rearrange the running order of some of tracks, weaving them into medleys that leave plenty of room for everyone to stretch out and display their chops. "I Want You (She's So heavy)" is a definite highlight of the pack, though their clever arrangements compel the listener to remain seated for the entire journey. It's that good.
How did I stumble across this gem?
In the early 80s, CBC Radio used the version of "Carry That Weight" found here to fill spaces before hourly news breaks. Researching the matter, I discovered who was responsible for this curious cover and eventually tracked down a copy of the disc.
The Beatles themselves contemplated going to Memphis to record in the mid-sixties, with Steve Cropper slated to produce, though the deal fell through due to the asking price for studio time. You can hear the by product of the Fabs fixation with the MGs in the "Rubber Soul" era outtake, "12 Bar Original", which basically rehashes "Green Onions" and wisely remained on the shelf until it was dusted off for the Anthology project.
Born out of a mutual admiration society, this is a classic that fans of both bands will appreciate.
Monday, August 22, 2016
On September 10th, DRLNG will be releasing a new single called Cobra, though they want you to check it out in advance.
"Cobra" casts a moody, esoteric vibe with an enchanting melody. Setting the table for more music to come in Fall 2016, the group will also be returning to live performance after a hiatus. The opportunity to recharge creative batteries has paid off. Visit their site for all the latest DRLNG news