Wednesday, October 26, 2011



Nothing stokes the fires of sentimentality quite as powerfully as the prospect of reuniting a rock group who had once hit dizzying creative heights. More often than not, the actual event is anticlimactic with fantasy crumbling in the face of unrealized expectation. Such was the case with a very high profile quintet of folk-rock pioneers.

The Byrds coupled great vocal harmonies with the jangling 12 string and note perfect arrangements of Roger McGuinn. They provided an exciting response to the sounds of the British Invasion in 1965. Following a short string of brilliant LPs, the original line up began to fracture. One by one, four out of the five charter members quit (or were fired) and by late 1968, McGuinn was left to carry on with the name. From this point through 1971 the band all but dropped off the commercial radar.

Flash forward to late 1972

By dint of the ever-shifting career sands that the four ex-Byrds found themselves treading at this point, the planets oddly aligned. David Geffen, who was then chief evil officer of Asylum Records, helped broker a deal to bring the old gang back together once more. Out of everyone, David Crosby had found the greatest post-Byrds success with CSN (and sometimes Y) and would wear the producer's hat for these sessions. The group blueprint used for Crosby, Stills Nash & Young was also, albeit awkwardly, applied in titling the reunion effort. Everyone was given equal billing, their names emblazoned on the front cover, with the proviso that they were free to indulge in their own musical endeavors and regroup whenever they wished for future projects.

As it stands, this would be the last time that all five entered the studio together to make an album.

Was it worth their time?

While this is not necessarily a poor collection of songs, Byrds definitely lacks the spark of their earlier work. If you come in expecting to hear McGuinn's Rickenbacker 360 12 in full cry, revisiting the sounds of '65, you will quickly be disappointed. On the other hand, if you dig acoustic guitars and laid back arrangements then this will hit the spot.


The old adage about how “you can’t go home again” is more than appropriate in this instance as it is damn near impossible to recover the past. Especially when you are up against a ticking clock. The individual “Byrds” in 1972 had been brought back together with business interests taking precedence over the joy of actually making music with each other again. Time may have softened their attitudes to a degree but it didn’t erase the intense bullshit that had drove them apart. It is to their credit that they managed to get through a month of tracking without imploding all over again. Perhaps because no one wanted to spoil the moment with critical arguments over quality control, the material that each songwriter brought to the table was taken at face value. Topping the "if only" list would be the fact that they really didn't get a chance to get together and simply play. Given the opportunity to jam and trade ideas, they may have at least rediscovered a professional rapport and written some new songs together. Very little time was allotted to this endeavor (roughly one month), so the end result feels slightly underdeveloped.


“See the Sky About to Rain” is the only truly majestic moment, due mostly to Gene Clark's immaculate delivery, which managed to outdo Neil Young's version when he finally etched it in stone for On the Beach. The Byrds had always been far more successful at interpreting the work of others and this is a shining example. McGuinn's guiding hand had to have played a large part in shaping the arrangement, as this has always been his forte.

Clark's contributions are far superior to those of his colleagues. "Full Circle" and "Changing Heart" are melodic, well constructed gems. No surprise, as he had been the driving force behind their writing in the early days. Crosby turns in great vocal performances on his tunes, particularly his reworking of "Laughing" which had already appeared on his first solo set.


While professional, the remaining selections do not really punch through the homogeneous production nor is anything terribly memorable. Tightly edited, polite country-rock it is, with decent harmonies and no real clunkers. Let's face it, with their combined vocal talent, these guys could have sung the alphabet and made it sound righteous. McGuinn gets a bit too close to the melody of "I Shall Be Released" in the verses of "Born to Rock and Roll" but then again he is one of the masters when it comes to interpreting Dylan, so this is forgivable.

Sort of.

Which is why this platter ends up with the “forgotten music” tag.

Compared to the revolutionary sounds that the Byrds had produced in the mid-sixties, the reunion disc was quite tame. For an aggregation that had once been christened as one of the most stirring bands in the universe, this collection of mostly bland fare bordered on anonymous. All four composers were holding back their best songs, offering little that inspired much excitement. What may have been the event of the season, sadly, turned out to be a missed opportunity. If you find a vinyl copy, it's definitely worth a spin. Listening again after a long time helped to soften my opinion a bit, as well.

Here's how some of the players summed it up.

David Crosby:

When we got together for the Byrds reunion, I was definitely throwing my weight around too much, and I'm sure that it pissed everybody off. We made a much better record than we were credited with, but I didn't help. You know, I was sort of, [Goes into blowhard voice] "Well, I'm the guy in the big group and I'll just... we'll do it my way." It was stupid.

Gene Clark:

(The reunion attempt was like) having a fresh wound. You're still too sensitive. It's like having a divorce and then trying to get back together in six months. The underlying hurt and emotional things are still there and still very fresh...We never really got together, the five of us, and seriously did a Byrds reunion. Never happened. Everyone telephoning in their parts. So it didn't have the essence it really needed. It may never happen again.

Chris Hillman:

'See The Sky About To Rain' and 'Full Circle' were probably the best tracks on the record. Gene's stuff was the best. The rest of us? I'll be honest, I contributed my worst material because I was getting ready to do a solo record, 'Slipping Away', and I was saving all my good stuff and contributed this throwaway stuff that was awful... But we didn't have any direction, nobody at the helm.

Roger McGuinn:

David had this incredibly strong pot. Half a joint and you couldn't do anything. We were stoned out of our minds the whole time. I don't remember much about recording.
The outtakes from the reunion album ended up on my first solo album. I don't think there are any other tracks.

Turns out that there are a few alternate takes in existence and one tune that didn't make the final cut.


In November 2009, collector Whin Oppice acquired two 10" Asylum Byrds master multi-track tape reels, from Wally Heider Recording, Hollywood CA, featuring various takes that date from November 1972. Three versions of "Fair and Tender Ladies", which does not appear on the Byrds Asylum album release, are included in the 16 track master tape. To Whin's ears, the earlier version (#4) has David Crosby on vocal. The vocal on the other two versions is Gene Clark. Gene wails on harmonica as well. Studio tracking sheets are included which provide valuable details. As with the film "Byrds, W.P. Outs," all has been carefully preserved and digitally transferred.

Writes Whin: "Listening to isolated tracks left me spellbound, as if the instrument or vocal was being performed live right in front of me. You can hear every breath on the vocal tracks".

Reel ORIG WP 1 (16 track)
1. Fair & Tender Ladies (later version)
2. The King Is Dead (earlier version)
3. The King Is Dead (later version)
4. Fair & Tender Ladies (earlier version)
5. About To Rain
6. Laughing
7. The King Is Dead (3rd version)
8. The King Is Dead (3rd version instrumental)
9. Fair & Tender Ladies ( 11-25-72 3rd version)
Reel Safety MR 3 (24 Track)
10. Laughing
11. The King Is Dead
12. The Circle Song
13. Laughing (undocumented - 1st part)
14. Laughing (undocumented - 2nd part)

Sunday, October 23, 2011



Following the overwhelming success of "The Dark Side of the Moon", EMI decided to re-release the first two Pink Floyd LPs as a cleverly titled double set in December 1973.

What's so clever about it?

A sticker was used to hide the two elements that would have had prospective male buyers pointing at the album cover, coughing out a blast of pot smoke while simultaneously attempting a lewd act of self gratification.

Or so the censor-mad folks at the time imagined. Boobs! Can't let those loose in public...

My copy looks like this.

Quasi-pornographic images aside, surely there was nothing controversial etched into the grooves of these vinyl records? If you are familiar with "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" in it's original format and you own a copy of the US version of "A Nice Pair", then the answer is "yes". Back in 1967, Capitol Records in the US took the already-perfect debut recording from the group, removed "Astronomy Domine", "Flaming" and "Bike" and released it with "See Emily Play" pasted in as the first track.

Getting back to 1973, Capitol executives decided to atone for past tampering, restore the aforementioned missing songs to Piper and cash in on the new-found wave of "Floyd-mania" that now greeted the band. Their marketing plan was sound, as they had the masters at their fingertips. Two discs were already in the can. Add a cover and everyone gets rich.

This is where serious collectors received an unexpected bonus.

"Astronomy Domine" did appear as the first song, though it was the live version from 1969's "Ummagumma" that was used. Crowd noises were erased. "Interstellar Overdrive" was shortened and did not link to "The Gnome" as it did on the UK version. "Flaming" shows up in mono with a different mix. All of this was frustrating to the hardcore fan, though these variances would make this release extremely desirable when it went out of print.

What were the glaring differences between "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and "A Saucerful of Secrets"?

These guys did the first one.

While these fellows completed the latter.

Confused? You won't be after this week's episode of SOAP.

Monday, October 17, 2011



Wearing the crown of "Critics' Darlings" since their debut, Wilco have earned this title by producing some of the most thoughtful and experimental records of the past fifteen years. Eight albums in, Jeff Tweedy and the group are still capable of marrying ethereal sounds to conventional song structures. Pushing forward with a trunk-load of melodies here, only fleetingly are they stretched, re-shaped, interspersed with telepathic white noise and made to run naked through a gauntlet of guitars. It's still a damn good listen.

Found a fix for the fits/Come listen to this

For the uninitiated, Wilco is not part of some secret, hipster club that you have to dress up or shave your head to join. They do take some wild chances with their art, which is tightly helmed by one Jeff Tweedy. As chief cook and bottle washer in the band, his vision is fleshed out by an incredible group of musicians.

Special mention this time around goes to bassist John Stirratt. Charter member, multi-instrumentalist, harmony vocal champ; shit, the guy has never played anything other than inventive lines to underpin the songs. He is in particularly great form here, executing a slew of delicate, fine bass figures that are deservedly brought to the fore in the mix. "Art of Almost" gives him plenty of room to work, though it starts out with glacial noises that compete with an insistent drum pattern. Harking back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/A Ghost is Born era experiments, the music ebbs and flows, climaxing in a full on wig-out to the finish line.

More kudos to the bassmanship displayed in "I Might", married to some wicked wordplay. Tweedy seems to be reeling in thoughts from a special stream of consciousness. What comes on with a near Motown feel boasts the feel good line of the disc:

You won't set the kids on fire/but I might

There are even a couple of Beatle-action-replays thrown in for giggles. "Sunloathe" has Harrisonoid slide, high fret territory McCartney bass noodles, Lennon's trusty, heavy-on-the-reverb piano plonking, a Ringo fill or two and some sweeping 'ahhhhhhh's' to ice the cake. It's a fine tune as well. "Capitol City" is pure Hoagy Carmichael on LSD, dragged through the filter of a White Album session, adorned with a slew of sound effects and presented here for your listening pleasure. Even more bizarre, the title track bears a striking resemblance to "Magneto and Titanium Man".

Venus and Mars-era Wings. I'm not joking.

For all that, it still works.

What starts out with the promise of some good old fashioned freak-outs quickly detours toward laid-back fare. Again, with material is as strong as the string-framed "Black Moon", it really doesn't matter. As close to perfection as it gets.

I can only register one complaint. The closer, "One Sunday Morning" is sung in an annoying, half whispered fashion that comes across as if Tweedy had returned from a dental appointment, with the lingering effect of Novocaine hindering his ability to enunciate properly. Just fucking sing! It also hangs on a fairly pretty hook, though it is not worthy of twelve-minutes. He should have just incorporated this idea into "Rising Red Lung" as both are pretty close cousins, sonically. Either way, it is at times like this that I wish Jeff would bring in a collaborator to truly challenge his authority in the studio. Down the line, the magic eight ball foresees a few issues with Mr. T not being able to see the forest for the trees when it comes to what makes it past quality control.

Make no mistake, these guys are committed to their craft and are functioning on a level that is head and shoulders above many of their contemporaries. Ultimately, this disc blows over you as would a gentle breeze on a muggy summer afternoon. Enough to refresh, though you are left wanting a bit more.

That's why you have no choice but to listen again.

Despite my one objection, The Whole Love offers impeccably rendered tunes that lesser bands would die to have on their resume. Scaling back on surprises, the creative retrenching effort that began with Sky Blue Sky seems complete. Curious to see where they'll go next.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Phenomenal performance of the Byrds classic, Mr. Spaceman. What an inspired pairing. Filmed in 1996, we see Roger McGuinn joyfully backed by Wilco. Note the two tasteful, face-melters that the late Jay Bennett peels off with ease.

This quick post hints at two write-ups that will be coming soon. I have been listening to Wilco's latest (The Whole Love) quite a bit and the long delayed review is on the way. McGuinn? One of the most underrated musicians on the planet.

Sunday, October 09, 2011



Today marked the 40th anniversary of the UK release of John Lennon's second solo effort, Imagine. Raiding the Beatles closet for the best of his unused late sixties compositions, he recorded them alongside some new tunes over the course of two weeks.

It takes some contemporary artists that long get a decent drum sound, let alone finish the bulk of a hit album.

Having just installed a state of the art (for 1971) studio at Tittenhurst Park, Lennon brought in a crew of session players and friends (George Harrison dropped by) to accompany him. The result was a very tuneful collection that was critically and commercially successful. Once again, Phil Spector shared production duties with John, though he was given far more to work with than the austere soundscape of Plastic Ono Band had allowed. Strings were added to some tracks ("sugarcoating" as Lennon referred to it later on) as Capitol's PR crew, led by Pete Bennett, wanted something radio friendly that they could market widely.

Very stellar set from the opening, title track right through to the catchy, lighthearted closer, "Oh Yoko". The only tune that doesn't really take off is "I Don't Want to be a Soldier". He seemed to run out of gas with his next two records, despite initially keeping on top of things more than McCartney would with his first solo ventures.

This weekend, John would have celebrated his 71st birthday.