The Black Sabbath Collection 1970-1978
What is this that stands before me?
Well, in an age when shelf-bending boxes have become the norm, it might not be the heaviest collection you could ask for this year, but it’s certainly… the heaviest. Because nobody was heavier than Sabbath, the band that not only blueprinted metal for the decade to come, they also dominated it for at least half of that span.
Between 1970 and 1978, Black Sabbath unleashed eight LPs – five drop-dead classics, two that were fair enough, and one that completed the collection. And The Black Sabbath Collection 1970-1978 has them all.
Plus a ninth, Monomania, that rounds up a smorgasbord of mono single sides. Plus a 7-inch duplicate of their first ever US 45. Plus tour books, plus a heavyweight slipcased outer-box, plus gatefold sleeves for each of the albums, even those (the last three) that didn’t have one, plus liner notes… the only thing it’s really missing is a box of bats to chew on while you play it.
In some ways (and on some internet forums), you could ask why we need a new Sabbath box? It is barely two years, after all, since these same records (less Monomania) were served up in the Ten Year War box, and the albums have not been remastered since then – the existing Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham masters, dating back to 2012, are still in service.
The new set also omits the replicated Chilean pressing of the “Paranoid” single, and if you want to track back to 2012 and the first boxed Sabbath collection, we also lose the live album.
But the printed goodies are better this time, and for those of us who still don’t trust colored vinyl to not sound like a bowl of breakfast cereal, the heavyweight black discs in the new set are always going to be preferable. Plus, Ten Years War was sold out long ago, and the secondary market prices it accordingly. The Black Sabbath Collection 1970-1978 is still pricey, but when you look at what you’re paying per disc… ah, you know the debate by heart now. It’s worth it.
As for the music… it’s Sabbath. The box exclusive Monomania is fascinating, a Sabs greatest hits collection replayed in radio friendly mono (as if “Into the Void” was ever going to make it onto drive time), and it’s great to hear “Paranoid” sounding just like it sounded back then.
Elsewhere… The peerless run that took Ozzy, Geezer, Tony and Bill from the slow grinding menace of their self-titled debut to the artier-smartier Sabbath Bloody Sabbath has seldom been replicated by any other band, and certainly not by those that are routinely considered Sabbath’s peers. Zeppelin, Heep, Purple, you name ‘em, Sabbath had them pinned to the floor before you could say “Sabbra Cadabra.”
Things went a bit weird after that – too much of whatever they were allegedly doing too much of saw Sabotage slide back down the brilliance scale, but still individual tracks – “Hole in the Sky,” “Megalomania,” “Am I Going Insane” – are up there with yer “Black Sabbath”s, “War Pigs,” “Children of the Grave”s, “Supernaut”s, pick your own favorites.
Technical Ecstasy was a little weaker and, frankly, Never Say Die should never have existed. (And, if Ozzy hadn’t come back after already quitting, it probably wouldn’t have.) But again, it completes the collection.
Across the board, the sound quality is fine. It’s maybe a little brighter than you’d expect from a band that made its name in darkness, and nothing could ever recapture the sonic feel of a pristine UK Vertigo pressing of the first four LPs. Heck, even a scratchy pressing still sounds amazing.
But twiddle with your tone controls, and turn the volume up. Again, it’s Sabbath. And that means it’s perfect. But hurry – as before, it’s a limited edition (3,000 copies), and you really don’t want to wait for the next box to arrive. Because, hopefully, that will start packaging up the Dio-and-beyond career, and that’s another tale entirely.
Only After Dark – The Complete Mainman Recordings
There are two ways of remembering the late Mick Ronson. One is as the immortal guitarist/pianist/arranger and more who put the “wheeee:” into David Bo-wheeee, before (or after) sprinkling similar magic across everyone from Ian Hunter to Bob Dylan, from Elton John to Ellen Foley, and so many more that there’s no room to list them.
And the other is as the purveyor of two of the most amazing albums that the 1970s ever birthed, before he decided he really didn’t want to be the star of his own show, and got back to making other people sound astonishing.
This box set focuses on the latter, rounding up 1974’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue and the following year’s Play Don’t Worry, and then adding two further discs of sessions, out-takes, and live tracks that trace Ronson through 1976… no longer interested in making a new LP, but curious what it might sound like.
A lot of these have leaked out over sundry past collections, and once past the thrill of hearing that voice, that guitar, there’s really not much to be said about them. They’re just not especially good songs, which might well have been his intention. “They want an album? Ha! They won’t after this.”
But the two albums that preceded these tapes, the two that were released in the wake of his departure from Bowie’s band, at a time when it seemed inevitable that Ronno would be rock’s next stellar superstar… they are a different matter entirely.
Slaughter was especially delicious, a combination of covers (Elvis, Annette Peacock, Richard Rodgers), Bowie originals (“Growing Up and I’m Fine” and the co-penned “Hey Ma, Get Papa”), and Ronson’s own work with former SRC frontman Scott Richardson, it stood – and still stands – as perhaps the ultimate statement on glam rock, a collection of songs that could journey from early rock to modern jazz, from dark Europa to vivid glitter, and make the whole lot hang together.
Other bands on the circuit were playing with each of these elements individually… listen to “Hey Ma,” and there’s the blueprint for what Cockney Rebel would do next. “Only After Dark” was scything rock, “Growing Up and I’m Fine” would have suited Roxy Music.
But the opening “Love Me Tender” and the closing “Slaughter” itself do more than bookend the party. They offer up their own interpretations of what music could be made to do, the first building slowly until the vocal breaks your heart; the last lifting you so high that nothing could bring you down after hearing it. And live, it was even more stirring.
Play Don’t Worry was a more straightforward collection… the opening “Billy Porter” could have made it onto Slaughter without disturbing that album’s perfect equilibrium, but “Angel #9” looked back to Ronson’s work with the Pure Prairie League in the early Bowie days; “Girl Can’t Help It” was an excuse for him and Ian Hunter to go full-bore Little Richard on our ears; and “White Light White Heat” was an out-take from Bowie’s Pin Ups sessions, with Ronno’s vocal instead of the other guy’s.
It’s still a great album, hanging together with consummate ease, and hitting all the right spots – the solo that dominates “Angel #9” is one of his finest ever, and the self-penned title track shows what cracking songwriter he was, just as “This Is For You” illustrates what a great, and expressive, voice he had.
Still it’s a shame that one of the finest performances on the session, a gentle piano-led cover of another Annette Peacock number, “Seven Days,” only made it out as a b-side, but it’s also one of nine bonus tracks appended to the album, so that’s alright then. (Eight join Slaughter.)
Again, there’s nothing here that hasn’t seen the light of day before, but having them all in the same place is definitely a bonus, and there are some glorious inclusions, including a cover of Bowie’s “Soul Love” that Ronson retitles “Stone Love,” and decidedly NOT a cover of “Life on Mars,” which is the song he performed during his solo spot on the Rolling Thunder Revue.
A handful of tracks from a projected Ronson live album include another b-side, “Leave My Heart Alone,” which is also another Pure Prairie League track; there’s some jams and alternate versions, and even an interview recorded for Teen magazine in 1974, and given away free as a flexidisc. Oddly, and completely out of place, there are also two numbers recorded on the 1979 Hunter-Ronson tour, but both fit in perfectly… a tremendous “Angel #9,” and the show’s traditional opening number, the Shadows’ “FBI.”
The accompanying booklet tells Ronson’s story well, and pulls some great images from the archive, and with his own seventies catalog now neatly corralled, maybe we can start to dream about the other box set Ronson deserves, documenting his life as a sideman.
How many discs would that demand?
Our second glimpse into Frank’s Halloween archive and this one, thankfully, does not seal away its goodies on a USB stick. Rather, four CDs and a booklet join the expected seasonal goodies (a Frankenstein mask and a pair of monster gloves) in a similarly sized mega-toy box, and the whole thing is utterly fabulous. Assuming, of course, you agree that 1973 really did mark one of Zappa’s purplest patches.
Plus, who doesn’t want to receive a Halloween mask two months after the day itself?
Two full shows sprawl across the first three discs, and while there’s definitely some duplication… a little more than half the set list is revisited on both nights… the performances themselves are utterly unique, and the between song announcements as well. Which itself isn’t as easy as it sounds… how many different ways, after all, can you find to say “thank you Cleveland, you rock.” Especially when you’re in Chicago.
The repertoire, as usual, wanders across Zappa’s catalog, leaning away from the earliest days of Motherhood (“The Idiot Bastard Son” is the oldest song on display), but hitting most of what period scholars would say are the expected highlights – “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing,” “Dickie’s Such an Asshole,” “Penguin in Bondage,” and a great “I’m the Slime” towards the end of disc two.
The booklet, meanwhile, stuffs forty pages with photographs, commentary and memory, with contributions from band members Ruth Underwood and Ralph Humphrey, plus archive master Joe Travers’ customary explanation of how the album came together. A glorious package then… just don’t scare grandma too badly with the gloves. She’s a little frail, you know.
Travellin’ Thru: The Bootleg Series Vol 15, 1967-1969
One of the highlights of every Dylan watcher’s year is surely the months spent trying to guess what the next installment of the Bootleg Series will be. For what seems like forever now, this on-going archive scraping has been unearthing some magnificent jewels from the depths of Dylan’s catalog, and it’s odd, but some of the shiniest have been drawn from those corners that people are least likely to look in.
The edition dedicated to Self Portrait is a case in point, and Travellin’ Thru shares several points of reference with that set, in that three of its tracks are indeed out-takes from those sessions. Dismay for anybody who thought the box set featured everything there was to hear, but common sense if you knew that this package was already being planned.
Two Dylan albums are the focus of disc one, some remarkable out-takes from John Wesley Harding that are, in places, arguably superior (or certainly more atmospheric) than those that were actually released; and great swathes of the Nashville Skyline sessions to remind you that Dylan’s least-listened-to-these-days sixties album in fact contained some remarkable songs. (We’re leaving “Lay Lady Lay” out of this conversation.)
That disc alone is worth the price of admission, but there is more, so much more. Disc two, overflowing onto disc three, rounds up what feels like every conceivable note that Dylan played with Johnny Cash during their time together, a glorious hybrid of both artists’ originals and a few surprises too – “You Are My Sunshine,” for example.
We also get the full musical content of Dylan’s appearance on Cash’s eponymous television show, rehearsals and chatter included, while the set ends with four numbers recorded by Dylan and Earl Scruggs, which again will leave you breathless.
Maybe this isn’t the installment you were hoping they’d release this year… where are the complete Desire sessions? The raw rehearsals for Street Legal? And what about the eighties and nineties? And so on. Hopefully they’ll be along soon. But even if you don’t particularly care for this period of Dylan’s career, lend an ear at least to the JWH alternates, and then just allow the rest to play through. You will be converted.
The Electric Banana
The Complete DeWolfe Sessions
The Electric Banana, as any fule kno, are actually the Pretty Things. And the Pretty Things… ah, but you don’t need Spin Cycle to tell you that. The Pretty Things are one of the greatest bands that ever stalked this earth; purveyors of so much great music that it hurts to think of how many people have never actually heard it; and if you want to know why they changed their name for these sessions, that was down to business and contracts. They could never have realized they were also creating a legend.
The Electric Banana were one of the greatest bands that ever stalked this earth, purveyors of… etc
Three discs and a terrific booklet tell the story, how a beat band of somewhat ill repute was invited to record what was known as library music for one of the companies that specialized in such things, DeWolfe Music. Intended for use in film, television and similar enterprises that required some appropriate tunes to play beneath the action, it’s an avenue that a lot of musicians recognize, even if they don’t always admit to it.
The Pretties, however, saw the opportunity as something more than that; a chance to experiment on somebody else’s budget, to lay down ideas and thoughts that may or may not go any place else, and even to demo songs that they might want to use on their own LPs.
Both SF Sorrow and Parachute arguably have their roots in these sessions, and that’s one of the reasons why the original Electric Banana albums (Electric Banana in 1967; More Electric Banana in 1968 and Even More Electric Banana in 1969) have been so highly prized by collectors, since their existence first became well-known.
But wait, there was more – a return to DeWolfe’s fold in 1973 for Hot Licks, and again in 1978 for The Return of the Electric Banana. In truth, this pair are not as exhilarating as the earlier albums; accurate or otherwise, there’s definitely a sense that the band reconvened more for financial than creative reasons. But still there’s much to be enjoyed as the box plays through, from playing “spot the riff” across discs one and two, to just rocking out on disc three.
Plus, it’s the Pretty Things. What more do you need?
The Studio Albums 1975-2001
One more in Warners’ long-running series of bare-bones catalog packages, priced to sell and smartly boxed, but this one’s something special.
It’d probably cause riots in the streets to even suggest that Rod in the late 1970s was musically superior to Rod in the first half of the decade… that albums such as Atlantic Crossing, A Night on the Town, Foot Loose & Fancy Free and Blondes Have More Fun could even stand in the same room as An Old Raincoat, Gasoline Alley, Never a Dull Moment and Every Picture Tells a Story (why does nobody ever mention Smiler?).
But pound for pound and hit for hit, there’s a lot more to be enjoyed and admired on these later sets, a lot less ropey cover versions (hands up anyone who takes his version of “Street Fighting Man” seriously?), and a lot more fun being had.
Even if you think “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” is a trite disco cash-in by a man whose tight trousers have clearly cut the blood off from his brain, better that than the relentless plod of Every Picture’s title track; while side two of Atlantic Crossing unquestionably represents the single most solid side of songs Stewart has ever put his name to.
And it doesn’t end with Blondes. Across each of the albums here (there’s fourteen in total, all the way up to Human), there’s at least a couple of songs that make you want to hear the rest. And, once you’re sucked in – and out of that mid-late 80s period when everybody was making dodgy-sounding discs – there’s usually a lot to enjoy.
Body Wishes (1983) signifies the last gasp of Rod’s first inviolate era; Vagabond Heart (1991) sees him picking up speed again, and so long as you don’t demand too much from Human, the last four discs in the box are great.
The packaging is minimal – each CD is housed in a single cardboard sleeve, replicating the original artwork (but lacking, obviously, any gatefold extras), and there’s no mention of the remastering, so it’s most likely the same as the existing discs. Which Goldmine doesn’t own (well, not all of them), and you may not, either.
So give yourself a treat, stop moping around with the Mercury Years, and demand a box of the superstar stud. And, if you play them all in one uninterrupted burst, and we paraphrase a track from side one of Atlantic Crossing, you’ll be alright for close to fourteen hours.
Songs for Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts
First, there was Band of Gypsies. Just a few years ago, there was Machine Gun. And, in between times, sundry compilations, bootlegs and all manner of other sources drip fed other moments from four momentous shows onto the collectors’ market. Now, all four have been gathered together, and the result is one of the most spectacular Hendrix collections yet.
Band of Gypsies was Hendrix’s union with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, a shortlived union that effectively debuted and departed in the space of 48 hours, New Year’s Eve 1969 and New Year’s Day, 1970. Two shows per day at the Fillmore East marked the band’s brief life, and for a long time, the soundtrack – the original Band of Gypsies album alone – was regarded by some as one of those take-it-or-leave-it Hendrix albums, released out of sequence out of contractual obligation, and effectively filled with overlong jamming through songs we’d never heard.
The passage of time, of course, dismissed that opinion, and Machine Gun, which served up the first of the four shows, placed at least some of the music into the context of a show… a great show, which danced back and forth between Jimi’s past and future, and ranks today among the most exhilarating single disc Hendrix live albums of them all. And now that it has been expanded to five discs, it’s even better.
You can play favorites with the different shows according to their repertoire. On the first night, new material predominated, with only “Lover Man” and “Hear My Train A-Coming” coming through to satisfy the oldies fans. But a few more crept in on the second set; there was the glorious blast of “Stepping Stone” and “Foxey Lady” amidships in the third; and the final show was greatest hits a-go-go, as the evening ended with a colossal “Voodoo Chile,” a brutal “Wild Thing,” a leviathan “Purple Haze” and even “Hey Joe,” the song that started it all for Hendrix, but which he’d never seemed to have that much time for.
The sound is excellent throughout; the booklet well-presented and written. The box won’t take up much room on the shelf, and the whole thing, frankly, is a joy from beginning to end. The Band of Gypsies travel on.
The Bakersfield Sound: Bakersfield: Country Music Capital of the West 1940-1974
Even if you’ve never heard of the place, you know the Bakersfield Sound. It’s the sound that permeates those classic early sides by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, Bob Wills and Bill Woods; its the music that midwifed western music’s rebirth as country and, in the process, shifted the genre’s capital across the country to Nashville. And, if you want to dig deeper (and you should), it’s the sound that permeates The Bakersfield Sound, a ten CD, 299 track strong box set from those connoisseurs of the American archive at Bear Family.
The subtitled dates 1940-1974 set out the box’s parameters; the accompanying 220+ page hardbound book then delves into the contents with forensic detail. Indeed, a brief history of the city’s music scene in the decades before this box gets going makes the reader hanker for a collection of that, the gold rush fiddles and the hillbilly folk.
But it was the western trek of the dustbowl years that saw Bakersfield handed its true musical destiny, and names like Jimmy Thomason and his Western Jamboree, and Cousin Eb Pilling and his Ozark Squirrel Shooters peel off the printed page and onto disc one with all the elan you’d expect from such names.
And now we’re off, beginning with half a dozen field recordings taped at four of the region’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) Migratory Labor Camps during 1940-1941. On through Bob Willis & his Texas Playboys’ early radio transcription discs, while names like Lloyd Reading, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, and Elwin Cross and his Arizona Wranglers give us further brief tastes of an evening spent listening to local KERN or KAFY Radio.
We’re sixteen tracks into the collection before finally we’re introduced to the first ever commercially-released record by a Bakersfield band, by Bill Woods and his Orange Blossom Playboys, from 1949, and now the genie is out of the bottle.
All-but-forgotten today, disc after disc spun out of the Bakersfield scene, creating regional superstars with every pressing, and if few of them ever went onto national fame, that is no obstacle to their inclusion here. Through the 1950s and 1960s we travel, and into the 1970s too… Bobby Wayne and the Strangers, Henry Sharpe, Lewis Talley, Mayf Nutter… and if it’s true that we are now firmly into the “classic” country sound by now, with little to distinguish a local artist or recording from any other of the age, then that only emphasizes Bakersfield’s impact.
For the preceding discs allow us to trace that progression, primarily through Merle Haggard’s over-arching impact on the scene in general. But he was only following in Buck Owen’s magisterial footsteps before stepping out in his own direction, and around those two performers’ lead, the Bakersfield sound shifted and shimmied to some fabulous music.
The chronological story takes up nine discs; the tenth is reserved for a mass of rarities – live cuts, work tapes, demos and radio broadcasts dating back to the early 60s and, again, dominated by Haggard but not to the exception of sundry other, equally enjoyable performers.
So, once again, an unimpeachable package from the Bear and its kin; and, if it must be described as a history lesson, you won’t want to cut classes to escape it.
The Japanese Singles 1978-1984
A seven-inch box, stuffed to the gills with no less than 13 classic Van Halen 45s, all presented in their original Japanese picture sleeves, and all looking and sounding glorious.
It’s a scintillating run, from the garage metal crunch of “You Really Got Me,” through to the leering smarts of “Hot for Teacher,” via… oh, so many glorious rockers. “On Fire,” “Dance the Night Away,” “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Jump” of course… and all with the original b-sides, too.
Play them in order and see how the band developed; shuffle them up and just have a party. Either way, The Japanese Singles is a crash course in one of the finest American singles acts of the era, and you don’t need anybody to get you a doctor to prove that.
Land of 1000 Dances – the Rampart Records 58th Anniversary Complete Singles Collection
Noe this is how label stories should be told. An 11×9-inch hardback book, 100+ pages and four CDs that tell the story while you hear it unfold.
Rampart was one of East Los Angeles’ key labels across close to two decades. Launched in 1961, and active until 1977, the label’s singles output amounted to 79 tracks, and they’re all here – a- and b-sides, Spanish language versions, extended 12-inch versions, a tale that begins with Phil & Harv, the Switchmen and the Atlantics, and travels through to Graciela Palafox, DiDi Scorzo and Topazz. And if the changes wrought on the label’s sound do wander around the stylistic palette some, then that’s only for the good. This was a label that never stood still, not even when the rest of the world seemed stuck in a rut.
The early years are probably the most fascinating from a musical standpoint, to hear talents that would probably never have been aired by a major suddenly stepping out with balls and aplomb, to deliver some delightful sounds.
Skip forward a few years and we arrive at what might be Rampart’s best-remembered signings, the Premiers and the fabulous Cannibal and the Headhunters, but the Souljers are here, too, and the Blendells as well. “La La La La La” still sounds wonderful today.
The seventies saw the label’s output diminish somewhat; indeed, following the release of the Hummingbird 4’s “Cho Cho San” in 1972, the label lay dormant until 1976, when Eastside Connection burst onto the disco scene. Skylite followed them, and it’s great to find their 12-inch singles tucked away at the end of disc four. And then there’s the eighties, which account for the weakest of the four discs, but complete the story regardless.
The book, meanwhile, is a goldmine of information, packed with pictures, including stills from Cannibal and co’s appearance on The Munsters, and souvenirs from their tour with the Beatles. (The British band headlined, just in case you were wondering.)
As for the CDs, the sound quality is great, even if you may want to slip each disc into a protective sleeve of your own, to stop them slipping around inside the book, and one really cannot recommend this package any higher.
The Soft Parade 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
The continuing saga of the Doors’ half-century reaches their fourth and, to some ears, weakest album yet. It’s certainly their most tired, recorded in the aftermath of their most exhausting tour yet, and perhaps indicating that with some of their least accomplished song writing yet.
But it’s not so easy to write off as all that. A handful of highlights have always leaped out and, though they may not make your Doors Top Ten, it’s hard to resist the likes of “Wild Child” and “Touch Me,” while the title track remains breathtaking.
The original album is the first of three CDs in this package; it also consumes the vinyl, newly remastered and sounding good, too. But the real meat lies elsewhere, alongside perhaps a handful of controversies.
The modern obsession with remixing/overdubbing/generally messing with original recordings is one that we seem to be stuck with, whether we like it or not, and the Doors are not immune to it. Among the out-takes and alternates that are scattered across disc two, three songs appear with new Robby Krieger overdubs, and though they don’t feel too obtrusive, still it might have been preferable to catch the original tapes. Particularly as these so-called “Doors-only” mixes allow us to hear what the album might have sounded like without the horns and strings.
Elsewhere on disc two, Morrison obsessives may or may not be pleased to hear Ray Manzarek, in his Screaming Ray Daniels guise, handle vocals on three songs, including “Roadhouse Blues.” In truth they’re not bad… Manzarek was definitely a better singer than Morrison was a keyboard player. But the Doors undeniably made the right decision when they chose their vocalist.
And still the real meat is still to come, a remarkable third disc that is dominated by the 64 minute legend that is “Rock Is Dead,” familiar from various bootlegs of course, but never in such high quality sound, and at this length as well.
Equally thrilling, that then leads into three minutes of the very aptly titled “Chaos.” Spin Cycle will not spoil the surprises that lay within, but any song whose writing credits include Mae Axton, Tommy Durden, Eddie Cooley and John Davenport has to be worth spending three minutes with.
Again, Soft Parade is not widely regarded among the Doors’ finest hours. But this 50th anniversary edition goes a long way towards rehabilitating it, if only by showing us what else the band was up to, during those recording sessions. Morrison Hotel should be next, next summer. Now that will definitely be interesting….
Self-titled/If The Evening Were Dawn
Light in the Attic
Two separate vinyl releases, but so intimately involved with one another that it will surely be impossible to pick up one without grabbing the other as well.
Sullivan is one of the lost legends of 70s rock, a marginally acclaimed singer-songwriter whose career was highlighted whe n he became a part of Hugh Hefner’s shortlived venture into the music scene, via his own Playboy label.
Sullivan recorded two albums, the pre-Hefner UFO, followed three years later by Jim Sullivan, and then he vanished. Literally. Halfway to Nashville, from L.A., where he lived, Sullivan’s car was discovered abandoned in the desert. A box of copies of his second album and his guitar lay inside; of the driver, there was no trace, and there never has been since.
The presence of a third album then, might mystify some, but fear not. If The Evening Were Dawn was recorded in 1969, an album’s worth of acoustic demos that would, in some instances, find their way onto UFO. It’s certainly an enjoyable set, sparse of course, but haunting as well – indeed, in many ways, it might even improve upon UFO in places, and if you know that record, then you’ll appreciate the recommendation.
Jim Sullivan, too, is captivating – more country-fied than its predecessor, one of those albums that could be heralded as a forebear of the Americana boom, but varied enough to escape that trap as well. Likewise, comparisons with period Mike Nesmith can be registered, and they’re closer to the truth – in fact, the hook of “Tea Leaves” is positively Monkee-esqaue for at least a few moments. At the same time as Sullivan’s guitar puts you in mind of John Fahey.
Two great albums, largely unknown and even unheard until now. But mastered from the original analog tapes, and if you’re not unwrapping them in a few weeks time, then go out and buy them yourself.
In 1968, an old rock’n’roller who most people decided had been washed up half a decade earlier, stepped onto the NBC soundstage and completely reinvented himself. The following year, he stepped onto the Las Vegas stage and proved that the reinvention had only just begun.
A lavishly packaged companion to the That’s The Way It Is megabox that appeared in 2014, documenting Presley’s 1970 residency, Live 69 serves up eleven discs, capturing shows taped between August 21 and 26, 1969, and though they probably aren’t quite as eminently listenable as the 1970 set (the horns are mixed way too loud, for a start), they’re equally exciting, if not more so.
Indeed, as Presley steps out at the beginning of the first show, the band’s apparent insistence that they are welcoming a chat show host onstage is utterly undermined by the sheer energy and commitment of the Elvis voice. “Blue Suede Shoes” has rarely sounded so impassioned, and that despite Presley trying his hardest not to laugh (and generally failing) for much of it.
So much of the repertoire is rooted in the 1950s that it’s hard to remember there was ever a time when the critics turned their noises up at his music. But unlike so many other rocking rolling pioneers of the age, you never feel that Presley is looking back at the glory days he will never recapture. Fresh arrangements make allowances for the vast band that accompanies him, and though the fruits of his American Sound studio sessions had yet to be unveiled in all their glory, it’s clear that something is percolating beneath the surface that owes nothing to nostalgia.
That becomes even more apparent as he moves towards “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” and by the time he reaches the closing “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” you know for certain, the King is Back.
There’s not too much variety as we play through the eleven shows; set lists remain largely the same, and the band make much the same noises throughout. It’s Elvis who gives each show its character, laughing, bouncing, joking, quipping… probably the biggest disappointment of the entire box is that these same shows weren’t filmed for release as well.
It’s infuriating to hear King and subjects alike in fits of laughter, without knowing what has tickled them so. And the sequence where he’s juggling live ferrets while balancing on a tightrope high above the audience… okay, so that didn’t really happen. But you wouldn’t know it if it did. You’d just hear the audience gasp and the Pelvis chuckle, and then the band kicks in and… oh you just need to hear it for yourself. All of it.
New York Graffiti – 1619-1750 Broadway: An Independent American Pop Story, 1958-1968
That’s one heckuva subtitle you got there, and one heckuva box set to match.
Four discs tell the story of… well, like it says on the front, this is what American pop was doing while the major labels were off doing something else. President, Shell, Seville, Joy, Darrow, Duel, SWL, Chateau, Statue, Select, Soul, Jay Boy….
For the most part, they’re just logos on a scratchy old single that you probably pass by every time you see them. But in the right hands… that is, the compilers of this box… these labels’ output amounts to one of the most gripping examinations of the New York music industry ever spread across CD.
There are no boundaries here, no sense that this is a folk collection, or a doo wop gathering, or name your genre here. Everything gets thrown into the pot, until your head is spinning at the sheer variety of sounds… some in what you would say are their correct chronological place, others either pre-empting or post-dating that fertile five minutes in which, for example, Girl Groups were the big thing.
Not every record is stellar, either, but they don’t need to be. Collections like this are as valuable for the overview they give, as the listening pleasure they afford and besides, most of the tracks were so well-chosen that you are probably already wondering why you have no Five Fleets records in your house. No Dean Christie or Mille Foster, no Chelmars or Glencoves or Brandywine Singers. And how did you miss the Pageboys?
We do encounter the Barbarians… twice, in fact… so it’s not all forgotten obscurities. But a lot of it is, and more power to the box for letting it be. For, once, this could have been the future. And if there’s a parallel universe in which the Allen Sisters were top of the pops, it still is.