Saturday, December 31, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Strange Case for ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’

Early in his amusing study Danse Macabre, Stephen King lays out the three essential monster archetypes: “the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Thing Without a Name.” Each of these creatures serves as the central villain of three “twentieth-century gothics which have become known as ‘the modern horror story’.” King’s categorizing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a vampire novel and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a “thing without a name” novel need no explanation. His werewolf tale is slightly dodgier. But the gnomish ghoul in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has always sat outside the pack despite his broad influence and importance. Mr. Hyde is not a werewolf in any official sense, but it isn’t too tough to suss where King is coming from. Hyde is a monster brought on by transformation, a not-so-subtle representation of uncontrollable, destructive id. He parallels alcoholics and drug addicts neater than the Wolf Man does, but the similarities are still significant. So is King’s categorization of Hyde as a werewolf. There was never a major werewolf novel in the vein of Dracula or Frankenstein, yet that beast naturally completes the holy trinity of major monsters. The werewolf took its fated position alongside Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster in 1941 when Universal Studios released The Wolf Man; its final great, serious monster movie during its great golden age of monster movies, and one of its few without literary precedent.
Since that film’s debut seventy years ago, it’s been Frank, Drac, and Wolfie all the way. Together they scared the witless wits out of Abbott and Costello, joined forces in a

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: 'Treasures of The Rolling Stones'

Treasures of The Rolling Stones is a book for fans with a penchant for style and money to burn. Glenn Crouch compacts 50 years of the band’s history into a 60-page digest boxed in a spiffy slipcase. Their tale has been told more thoroughly and reliably elsewhere. There’s no excuse for the number of errors that appear in a book of this size, ranging from the mildly sloppy (a photo from 1967 is tagged 1965; “Under My Thumb” is mistakenly named as Chris Farlowe’s #1 hit of 1966 rather than “Out of Time”, etc.) to the egregious: “1975…The Faces had splintered after the death of bass player and songwriter Ronnie Lane…” Umm, Glenn, Ronnie Lane died in 1997. Maybe a fact checker wouldn’t have been a bad investment.

Yet Crouch’s credentials seem fairly solid. According to the back cover copy, he “worked with the Rolling Stones (at Virgin Records) for more than a decade.” He has certainly accumulated a fair share of Stones-related goodies over the years, which are the “treasures” of his tome’s title. Treasures of The Rolling Stones houses five pockets filled with reprints of Stones memorabilia: reprints of concert posters, tickets, backstage passes, programs, letters to fans, etc. The best is a note delineating the band’s lodging requirements. An ominous directive warns to “keep Bill Wyman away from Keith because of noise.” The guys’ silly road pseudonyms are run down too: Keith is “Percy Thrower”; Charlie (apparently) is “Bender.” There are also some nice black & white and color photos and fairly insightful overviews of every major L.P. and single. Big points to Crouch for being that ultra-rare Stone chronicler to praise Their Satanic Majesties Request, which he declares “the most musically inventive and innovative album in the Stones canon.” Hear, hear!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: '100 Hits: Punk & New Wave'

Don’t be duped by the totally no frills packaging; Demon Music Group’s 100 Hits: Punk & New Wave is a first-rate budget package collecting a bit of essential and a whole lot of obscure. The title alone is priceless. Were there even 100 punk and new wave hits during the ‘70s and ‘80s? Not likely. So the compilers aren’t required to assemble five discs of material anyone should expect to be definitive. Yes, there are beloved warhorses from The Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, and XTC. And certainly no one with even a passing interest in this kind of music should be without full-length L.P. by those artists. The real value of this set is the odd treasures by Department S, Fad Gadget, D.A.F., Modern Eon, Leyton Buzzards, The Records, The Flys, Honey Bane, and many others.




Because this set covers such a wide swath of sub-genres, the compilers arranged the individual discs fairly thoughtfully. There are few jarring stylistic shifts. The Human League isn’t sandwich between, say, The Saints and The Fun Boy Three. Disc one is the most eclectic, providing an overview of each subgenre to come and parading out most of the best known tracks (“God Save the Queen”! “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)””! “Hanging on the Telephone”! “Whip It”!). Disc two is mostly devoted to synthy, dancey new wave. Disc three is cheekily split between the set’s lightest and heaviest numbers. Disc four spotlights power pop and ska. Disc five is wall-to-wall punk.

There are plenty of budget CD series out there, but Demon’s 100 Hits line is unique. Along with the usual Disco, ‘80s Classics, and Rock Anthems compilations, there are such unconventional themes as Northern Soul, The New Romantics, and Indie. The concept of a Punk & New Wave compilation is nothing particularly novel, but the track choice makes it a quirky and worthwhile alternative to more essential and conventionally compiled sets, such as Rhino’s No Thanks! The ‘70s Punk Rebellion.



Here’s the complete track list:

CD 1
1  Hanging On The Telephone
Blondie
2  Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've?)
Buzzcocks
3  God Save The Queen
Sex

Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Jaws' and Classic Universal Monster Movies Coming to Blu-ray in 2012

Blu-ray enthusiasts have a lot to look forward to in the new year. According to Bloody Disgusting.com, Universal Home Entertainment has announced plans to release it's 1975 horror classic Jaws on Blu-ray on August 14, 2012. Even more exciting is the studio's teaser that a box set of its classic monster movies (presumably, at least Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man) will also receive a long overdue Blu-ray release in time for Halloween of 2012.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Carl Wilson’s Ten Greatest Vocals

Carl Wilson, quite possibly the best vocalist in the best American vocal group in pop history, was born this day in 1946. In honor of this occasion let’s take a look at ten of his finest performances.



1. “Girl Don’t Tell Me” (1965)

Carl’s first unaccompanied vocal can be found on 1964’s spotty Shut Down Vol. 2. “Pom-Pom Play Girl” is hardly the most memorable Beach Boys tune, and he makes such little impact on the track that the vocal is erroneously credited to brother Brian in the CD’s liner notes. So it’s little wonder why many fans believe his first showcase to be the sublime “Girl Don’t Tell Me” from 1965’s Summer Days… and Summer Nights!!. While Mike Love gets his own lines and the rest of The Boys harmonize on “Pom-Pom Play Girl”, “Girl Don’t Tell Me” allows Carl to have the spotlight all to himself. And what an incredible job he does capturing the romantic and erotic longing (swoon to the way he sings “Your shorts, mmmm, they sure fit you fine”) of a kid jilted by his summer fling. His pain is totally convincing, possibly because he was just a teen himself when he recorded it.



2. “God Only Knows” (1966)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Beyond the Phil: Thirteen Spectacular Non-Spector X-Mas Songs

Rock & Roll fans have little to choose from come Christmas time. While we’re inundated with holiday odes from Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole and those barking dogs, there’s precious little that kicks anything remotely resembling an ass. Then in November of 1963, Phil Spector really gave Rock & Roll fans a Christmas gift they could cherish with his monumental and appropriately titled A Christmas Gift for You. Finally, a holiday platter to drive mom and dad nuts! The kids who bought that album way back in the ‘60s are probably moms and dads themselves now, and A Christmas Gift for You—which, legend has it, flopped because it was released the day Kennedy was assassinated—is now rightfully regarded as a classic. Darlene Love’s emotionally draining “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” may be the single greatest Christmas recording, Rock or otherwise. Spector made Christmas songs cool, and a select few of his pop progeny have since recorded great ones of their own. Not all of these thirteen non-Spector holiday numbers kick the proverbial, but they’re all pretty amazing in their own ways. When you feel like heaving after the hundredth spin of that Chipmunk song, here are thirteen unconventional alternatives to cleanse your palette.



1. “The Man with All the Toys” by The Beach Boys (1964)

Certainly the best non-Spector holiday long player was created by Phil’s top pupil. In less than two years, Brian Wilson would surpass his master when he conjured Pet Sounds. He’s not quite there yet on 1964’s The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, but it’s still a damn fine and rather inventive record. The album’s best-known track is the “Little Deuce Coupe”-rewrite “Little Saint Nick”, a decently corny holiday favorite. Better is “The Man with All the Toys”, an abbreviated ode to Santa that picks up on the baroque hints of the previous summer’s “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)”. Mike Love’s lyric is evocative: a peeping tom peeps on Santa and his elves in their workshop, but doesn’t dare to enter. The sharp exclamations of “Uh!” are an offbeat yet pleasing touch and the tightly controlled rhythm is hypnotic.



2. “Christmas Time (Is Here Again) ” by The Beatles (1967)

The Beatles could record any old junk and make it sound pretty wonderful. Take their late 1967 single “Hello Goodbye”. McCartney’s composition is flimsy, but the performance and production elevate it to top-quality pop fluff. A short time later they recorded their annual fan club-only Christmas single, and for the first time included an actual fully produced song on the disc. As a composition, “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” is even thinner than “Hello Goodbye”, but it is created with all the joy of that single. The lyric is absolutely silly: the title phrase repeated over and over, only varied by a brief interjection from Paul about the holiday’s longevity and a cryptic spelling lesson from Ringo. But the guys’ harmonies soar and Ringo’s drumming is loose and powerful. And it’s all over in little over a minute, which doesn’t hurt.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Beach Boys to Reunite for New Album and Tour, Plus Reissues and New Box Set


Like the SMiLE Sessions box set, plans for a Beach Boys 50th Anniversary reunion tour and record have been rippling throughout 2011. I'm sure you have your opinions about this. I do too, but I was fairly cynical about Brian Wilson's solo recreation of SMiLE from 2004 until I heard it and it turned out to be pretty wonderful. His performance of the album at Carnegie Hall was the best concert I've ever seen. So I'll reserve voicing any judgments about this new project until there's something to judge. Until then, you can read the official press release here.

If you prefer remembering The Beach Boys from their younger days, there will also be a reissue campaign of their Capitol/EMI catalog and a new career-spanning box set.

Review: 'The Hammer Vault'

Colorful, sexy, campy, and iconic, Hammer has attracted a devoted cult like no other film studio. Marcus Hearn’s new book, The Hammer Vault, will please those creepy cultists most assuredly. Hammer’s “official film historian” profiles more than 80 Hammers, beginning with its 1955 flagship horror, The Quatermass Xperiment. Although it supplies some interesting tidbits (apparently, Bette Davis really had the hots for screenwriter Jimmy Sangster!) and a fairly extensive section on unproduced movies, Hearn’s text plays a supporting role to the images of rare and precious curios that litter The Hammer Vault. We get photos of the elaborate publicity manuals designed to promote each film, which often contained pretty hilarious promotional suggestions. Why wouldn’t a cinema want to splash red paint all over its sidewalk to lure audiences to The Brides of Dracula or reproduce a sewer in its lobby while showing The Phantom of the Opera? The book reproduces promotional gimmicks ranging from the cool—comic strips used to promote The Gorgon and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb—to the ludicrous—a  “Kandahar curry” recipe that somehow would have drew spectators to The Brigand of Kandahar. Instructions for making construction-paper bats and graveyard tableaux, paper masks and paper fangs; no gimmick was too chintzy or far-fetched for Hammer.


Other delightful materials include a characteristically kind letter from Peter Cushing to a young man he helped find employment at the studio and Christopher Lee’s Taste the Blood of Dracula script annotated with personal observations like “Ridiculous lines” and “Absurd”! There are candid shots of Hammer-freak Sammy Davis, Jr., awestruck by Lee on the set of Pirates of Blood River, a zombie eating a popsicle, and a mummy enjoying a glass of milk.

The Hammer Vault trumpets its distinction as the first book to follow the studio through its recent revival. Considering these pictures have either been decent (“Wake Wood”), well crafted yet redundant (“Let Me In”), or outright crappy (“The Resident”), this isn’t much of an allure. No big deal, since Hearn’s book already has much to mesmerize fans. That upcoming version of The Woman in Black with Daniel Radcliff does look promising, though.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Farewell "Monkees" co-creator Bert Schneider

The son of the president of Columbia Pictures, Bert Schneider was born into entertainment. As a twenty-year old he entered the business officially, transporting film cans for Screen Gems. By 1965, he was developing a network television series with his buddy Bob Rafelson for the company. “The Monkees” was to be one of the most profitable and controversial projects of the ‘60s, cashing in on The Beatles’ popularity while also introducing hippie ideology and anarchic surrealism to primetime. While the hipsters derided Schneider’s “pre-fab four,” and avoided the band's brilliantly avant garde film Head (1968), they praised the second film his and Bob’s independent studio, Raybert Productions, unleashed in 1969. Once again hippie ideology and Rock & Roll were at the heart of Easy Rider, but the public found antiestablishment sentiments much more convincing coming from Dennis Hooper and Peter Fonda than Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter. Following another major critical and commercial success with Five Easy Pieces, Schneider and Rafelson formed BBS Productions with a third partner, Bert’s childhood friend Steve Blauner. The trio continued making innovative independent films that inspired a new crop of filmmakers to embrace the gritty, naturalism that defined ‘70s cinema.



As Rafelson settled into his role as big shot movie director, Schneider focused more and more on politics, and his movie work grew sparse. Yet he continued to make major impressions as producer of the Oscar-winning, Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds (1974) and Terence Malick’s reflective classic Days of Heaven (1978). Schneider dropped out of the movie business after producing Broken English in 1981. The ongoing popularity of “The Monkees”, Easy Rider, The Last Picture Show, and his other major achievements kept his name alive in the movie, T.V., and pop history books. Pop experimenter, cinematic trendsetter, Bert Schneider died this past Monday of natural causes in L.A. at the age of ’78.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Psychobabble's 20 Greatest One and No-Hit Wonders of 1966!

1966 was the final year in which the 45 rpm single was the unchallenged dominating force in Rock & Roll. Although that year included such major statements as Revolver, Blonde on Blonde, and Pet Sounds, the L.P. didn’t become the ultimate Rock delivery system until the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in mid-1967. 1966 was a year flooded with amazing singles from Rock’s most popular artists—“Paperback Writer”, “Good Vibrations”, “Paint It Black”, “Substitute”, “Eight Miles High”, to name just a few—but groups that never achieved the celebrity of The Beatles or The Stones contributed just as integrally to the rainbow quilt of ’66 pop. Some of these groups went on to develop mighty cult reputations. Some sank into obscurity. But they all made at least one monumental statement, whether it climbed into the top forty or not. Here are twenty of the most incredible one-off hits and flops of 1966.


Note: I had to amend my original list when I learned that Question Mark and the Mysterians had a #22 hit in the U.S. with “I Need Somebody” and Los Bravos hit #16 in the U.K. with “I Don’t Care”. That’s why “96 Tears” and “Black Is Black” didn’t make the final cut even though they’re often remembered as the work of one hit wonders.

20. “Why Don’t You Smile Now” by The Downliners Sect

While Lou Reed and John Cale were infecting the New York underground with their new band, Twickenham’s The Downliner’s Sect were attempting to climb the charts on the other side of the pond. They’d heard “Why Don’t You Smile Now” in demo form, perhaps unaware it had already flopped for R&B group The All Night Workers. The Downliners’ reimagining of the song as a hard-driving, echo-laden variation on “Louie Louie” didn’t win them a hit either, but its status as an early co-composition by Reed and Cale, who’d been grinding out made-to-order ditties for the Pickwick label, guaranteed its place in history. Its relentless fuzzy funk guaranteed its status as one of the great misses of 1966.


19. “Fight Fire” by The Golliwogs

With its nagging riff, hip-shaking percussion, pulsing rhythm, and mid-song freak-out, “Fight Fire” is the quintessential 1966 rocker. Yet San Francisco’s Golliwogs failed to turn it into a hit. No matter. A 1968 change in name and musical approach resulted in one of the biggest and best bands of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s: Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Fight Fire” isn’t as monumental as “Green River”, “Fortunate Son” or “Up Around the Bend”, but it is early and convincing evidence of John Fogerty’s songwriting talents… especially when played alongside The Golliwogs’ otherwise weak output.


18. “Eventually” by The Peanut Butter Conspiracy

With their universal love philosophy and ultra-dated psychedelic moniker, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy seem like prime candidates for irrelevance. But

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Free 'Yellow Submarine' E-Book at iTunes

I'm no proponent of ebooks. As far as I'm concerned, staring at some handheld gizmo will never take the place of turning the papers of an actual, physical book made of dead trees. But a great deal is a great deal, and free is the greatest deal of all. Yellow Submarine is the greatest psychedelic, Rock & Roll, pop art cartoon of them all, so iTunes free offer of an interactive Yellow Submarine book must be pretty great. Well, almost. While this book featuring "14 full-color video clips from the original 1968 film, audio clips from relevant Beatles songs and Sir George Martin's film score, original dialogue from the film, plus interactive features (Mojo.com)" is available for free download on iTunes, it is not actually viewable in iTunes. Of course, you probably own an iPad, iPhone or an iPod Touch, which means you do own a device that will allow you to view this neat, free offer. Meanwhile, I'll continue attempting to download it to my old paperback copy of Moby Dick.

Monday, December 12, 2011

20 Things You May Not Have Known About ‘The Wolf Man’

Today marks 70 years since Larry Talbot first spied the mark of the wolf in the palms of his victims. One of the greatest and most iconic of Universal’s great and iconic monster movies, The Wolf Man is essential viewing for any novice horror hound. Those who wish to further their lycanthropic education may learn a thing or two by boning up on these 20 Things You May Not Have Known About The Wolf Man




1. Universal’s The Wolf Man is not the first film to bear that title. In 1924, Fox Films presented a silent melodrama starring John Gilbert and Norma Shearer called The Wolf Man. No lycanthropes were present.

2. Screenwriter Robert Florey first conceived of a werewolf movie called The Wolf Man in 1932. The potential Boris Karloff vehicle failed to materialize partly because Universal execs feared the officious Catholic Church would take issue with a scene in which the werewolf transformed in a church confessional.

3. Jack Pierce first designed the well-known Wolf Man makeup for Henry Hull in Werewolf of London. Hull supposedly nixed the makeup because it was so uncomfortable to wear.

4. Bela Lugosi was the first choice to play the lycanthropy-spreading Dr. Yogami in Werewolf of London, a role that ultimately went to Warner Oland. Six years later

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dig Two Decades of Desert Island Discs

The BBC has unleashed its Desert Island Discs broadcasts of years past for download in its new archive, and Mojo.com has been kind of enough to organize every musician's episode here. Listen as Elvis Costello discusses his love for The Beatles' version of "You Really Got a Hold Me", Paul Weller pledges allegiance to Small Faces' "Tin Soldier", and Morrissey parades out all the vintage punk that apparently had zero influence on his own music. Additional interviewees include George Martin, Marianne Faithfull, Charlie Watts, and Debbie Harry.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Track by Track: ‘A Quick One’ by The Who

In this ongoing feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been taking a close look at albums of the classic, underrated, and flawed variety, and assessing them Track by Track.

As was their way, The Who entered 1966 in a cyclone of tumult. They’d recently sacked Shel Talmy, the American producer who clamored up their first L.P., My Generation. The split was acrimonious, and the contract dissolution left Talmy with a 5% piece of The Who’s pie for the next five years. Dissent was also strong in the band itself. Roger Daltrey’s frustration with a group that had long since slipped out of his control brewed violence. Sick of taking the occasional thumping from their thuggish singer, the other guys and manager Kit Lambert asked Roger to quit. Afraid of losing a good thing, he resolved to be “Peaceful Perce” from then on. But violence still loomed in The Who’s ranks. In May of 1966, Pete Townshend wacked Keith Moon with his guitar when the drummer showed up late to a gig. As The Who played their next few shows with a stand-in, Moon convalesced and schemed to steal away bassist John Entwistle to form a new group with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page called Lead Zeppelin.


Once again, a breakup was avoided. Kit Lambert realized The Who needed a project to better balance their power and their wages. As resident songwriter, Pete Townshend received the bulk of the band’s income. Their trademark destruction of equipment on stage and failure to achieve success in America were also ravaging their finances. On top of all that, Townshend’s song coffers had been largely depleted after several singles and an L.P. Having assumed the producer’s chair vacated by Shel Talmy, Lambert suggested Daltrey, Moon, and Entwistle each contribute two compositions of their own to the next record. They were all fairly untested songwriters at the time. Daltrey received co-composer credit on the band’s second single, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, though his involvement may have been minimal. Moon and Entwistle co-wrote the B-side “In the City”, a thin Beach Boys imitation that didn’t signal any great, latent compositional talents. But the trio was game, and each did his best to contribute songs with varying degrees of success.

The record was still low on fresh material. So the band re-recorded the scrapped single “Circles” and the huge British hit “I’m a Boy”, as well as a handful of surf and soul standards, with the intention of collecting them on an album called Jigsaw Puzzle. The results were hardly adequate for a band struggling to distinguish itself in a pop scene that included such staggeringly innovative items as Revolver, Pet Sounds, Blonde on Blonde, and Aftermath. If The Who were to compete with the major players, they’d need something better than Jigsaw Puzzle. That’s when Kit Lambert had his next great brain wave: a suite of brief segments tacked together to formulate Rock’s first extended narrative, its first “opera.”

When Pete Townshend obliged Lambert’s request, The Who planted the seeds that would sprout into the album that made them international superstars and placed them in the same league as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Dylan. But Tommy was still a few years away. A Quick One was not the commercial juggernaut that full-length Rock opera would be. Rather, it is The Who’s most modest, most informal record. Its grooves do not broadcast the arrival of the Huns, as My Generation did. It is not a consummately created art piece, as its follow-up The Who Sell Out and its operatic progeny Tommy would be. A Quick One is a goof, an experiment, the sound of former foes attempting a truce and having some great fun while they’re at it. It’s an opportunity for non-songwriters to learn how to write and arty pop concepts to get their first airing. It’s a platter on which an old-fashioned Motown cover sits uncomfortably alongside a madcap polka, an abbreviated Buddy Holy tribute, a strange ditty about a spider’s sticky death, and a nine-minute yarn about infidelity, and possibly, pedophilia. If Sell Out is the weirdest Who album overall, A Quick One is easily the one with the weirdest individual songs. Despite Lambert’s desire to rescue his group’s career with it, it is also the band’s most obscure album. It contains no hit Pete Townshend standards like “My Generation” on the L.P. before it or “I Can See for Miles” on the one that followed. Yet the composer/guitarist later told New Musical Express that the album is “still about our best; we really discovered The Who’s music for the first time, and that you could be funny on record.”

So let’s take a deeper look at the songs secreted on that odd and funny record; the record that transformed The Who from Pete Townshend’s pet project into a truly democratic organization; the record that birthed the Rock opera and unveiled John Entwistle’s distinctly original and peculiarly macabre songwriting talents. Ladies and gentlemen… here’s A Quick One.


A Quick One by The Who
Originally released December 9, 1966 on Polydor Records
Produced by Kit Lambert


Track 1: Run Run Run (Pete Townshend)

“Run Run Run” sounds like it was specifically composed to function as a bridge between My Generation and A Quick One, joining the aural terrorism of the former with the offhand lyrical whimsy of the latter. As a composition, “Run Run Run” is slight: a rudimentary riff over which Daltrey shouts about the unluckiest girl in the world: she walks under ladders, cracks mirrors, opens umbrellas indoors, hangs out with black cats. Basically, she’s looking for some cosmic trouble. What makes “Run Run Run” a stand out is

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: 'Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust'

Swinging London’s principal players heaved a collective groan when Donovan was busted for possessing a small amount of hash in 1966. The colorful, creative, bleary-eyed party was about to come to an end now that Rock & Rollers were on the Blue Meanies’ radar. Donovan’s bust was teatime compared to what was about to go down in The Rolling Stones’ camp. The Redlands party of February 12, 1967, is one of those infamous turning points in Rock & Roll history, like the death of Buddy Holly or The Stones’ own Altamont blunder. At the tail end of a lovely day in which Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull enjoyed their first acid trips in the vicinity of Keith Richards’s West Wittering home, the cops descended on the dreamy scene. Four long-forgotten pep pills discovered in Jagger’s coat pocket. Heroin tablets in the possession of art dealer Robert Fraser. Richards’s home used for some alleged pot smoking. The Stones were busted, and they weren’t about to get off with the wrist slap Donovan received. During a year in which The Beatles turned the pop world on its cranium with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Who, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix became stars at the Monterey Pop Festival, The Rolling Stones were practically out of commission, spending their time in lawyers’ offices, courtrooms, and jail cells. Jagger faced three months in prison. Richards faced a year. Brian Jones’s mid-year bust put the band in further jeopardy.


The Stones’ busts were important on a grander level than merely putting an end to that band. It meant other musicians had to fear police invasion. It meant there was potential precedent of long-term prison sentences for innocuous drug offenses. Judge Block’s initial harsh ruling had more to do with public outrage over The Rolling Stones’ anarchic persona than the severity of their drug use. Public outcry over the decision was tremendous. As expected, The Stones’ musical peers and fans went to bat for them with protests. But they also received support from unexpected sources, most notably conservative editor of The Times William Rees-Mogg, whose famous “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel” editorial played a crucial role in putting Jagger and Richards’s sentences into rational perspective.

The Redlands bust is an integral chapter in any Rolling Stones biography or Swinging London retrospective, but it has never been examined with the thoroughness of Simon Wells’s new book, Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust. Wells spends his first 60 or so pages zooming through the usual account of The Stones’ early years. Then he comes to a halt at Donovan’s bust to home in on the central story. The author crafts a vivid portrait of perhaps the most vivid period in pop history. He details the Redlands party’s acid trip, the intrusive bust, the trial, Mick and Keith’s brief jailing, Brian’s ordeal, and the aftermath of it all intricately. Wells sets out to examine and evaluate all of the myths associated with the infamous affair, and not just the long-ago debunked “Mars Bar” incident, but enduring details, such as David “Acid King” Schneiderman’s role as possible informant. Sometimes Wells resolves lingering questions. Sometimes the mystery persists.

Beautifully written in the mode of In Cold Blood or Helter Skelter, Butterfly on a Wheel unfolds with so much drama and detail that when I reached Mick and Keith’s acquittal I felt like cheering even though I was already well familiar with that outcome. Sadly, Wells’s comments about Their Satanic Majesties Request, the great L.P. recorded amidst The Stones’ legal problems, follow the usual boring, ignorant, negative rhetoric. But that’s a minor problem in a book much more concerned with a legal landmark than music. Butterfly on a Wheel is the final word on one of the most discussed incidents in Rock & Roll history and essential reading for all Stones fans.

Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust was published in Britain this past September and is currently available on Amazon UK. Pre-order it from Amazon in the U.S. here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

1973 Live Album from The Rolling Stones at New Archive Site

Apparently annual deluxe editions of selections from their back catalog aren't enough to keep the wealth of unreleased Rolling Stones product coming. So the new Stones Archive will be filling in the gaps with online exclusives of fresh releases. First up is The Brussels Affair '73, a live document of The Stones supporting Goat's Head Soup on stage. The much bootlegged performance is now available legally and digitally at the Archive. The MPS album is a reasonable $7, while the FLAC version is a slightly pricier $9. Check out these and other exclusives at the Stones Archive.



Thanks to The Second Disc for this scoop.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Psychobabble’s Ten Greatest Albums of 1976

By 1976, Rock & Roll was in dire shape. The best work of the genre’s old guard—The Who, The Stones, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, The ex-Beatles—was behind them. Pretentious prog rockers clogged arenas with their endless bluster. Crushingly dull soft poppers polluted the top twenty with “Dream Weaver” and “Let Your Love Flow”. The dull mechanism of disco had already begun to grind. Then up from the underground swooped a host of new artists intent on recapturing the vitality and brevity that made Rock & Roll so meaningful in the first place. Punk was still a year away from pervading, and the New Wave was even further off, but groups like The Ramones, The Damned, Blondie, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers provided the first flavors of a new movement devoted to good old Rock & Roll. A change had come, and whether young artists were raging away with refreshing vigor or old ones were winding down with their final major statements, 1976 was a time of revitalization. Here are ten of the most vital records released during that transitional year.

10. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap - AC/DC

The first half of the ‘70s was largely defined by post-Sgt. Pepper’s intellectualism, whether it was being played by the real deal (nerdy Genesis and King Crimson) or dumb guys posing (Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, who admittedly, both did a damn good job of it). Australia’s AC/DC were dumb guys rip-roaringly proud of being dumb guys. Their formula of sinewy power chords, metronomic drumming, lavatory-wall humor, and Bon Scott’s leering shrieks was the perfect soundtrack to tooling around in a muscle car with the wind blowing through your mullet while chucking empty cans of Bud out the window. And wasn’t this more the essence of Rock & Roll than eleven-minute odes to Tolkien? Legions of devoted fans who stuck with AC/DC through more than thirty years of releasing the same album over and over would certainly agree. But what an album it is! AC/DC’s third version of the AC/DC album is Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and it is as great as any other. Produced by former Easybeats Harry Vanda and George Young—older brother of Angus and Malcolm— Dirty Deeds is particularly pleasurable because it is raw (much more so than Mutt Lange’s more popular but overly polished productions), yet the band is totally tight and the songwriting is as diverse as anyone could expect from AC/DC. The title track is a fist pumper about a hit man who peddles his wares to high school kids! “Ain’t No Fun (Waiting ‘Round to Be a Millionaire)” is long but simple and quite intense: equal parts Chuck Berry boogie and Abbey Road jangle. “Big Balls” is an ultra-stupid and ultra-fun ode to, well, big balls (both the kind that take place in ballrooms and the kind that dangle down the side of Angus Young’s shorts). “Ride On” is that rarest of items: an AC/DC soul ballad. Maybe Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap isn’t your typical AC/DC record after all.

9. Blondie - Blondie

Because they were part of the NYC CBGB crowd, Blondie got lumped in with the punks. Their peers even criticized them as sell outs when they pumped some disco sass into 1979’s “Heart of Glass”. But that backlash wasn’t really fair since Debbie Harry and the boys wore their pop intentions on their well-tailored sleeves from the word “go.” As soon as Clem Burke kicks in the drum beat and Harry begins her ultra-cool recitation at the start of “X-Offender”, it’s unmistakable that Blondie’s reference points are The Shangri-La’s, Phil Spector, ‘60s garage rock, and B-movies. These were The Ramones’ reference points too, but that band squeezed their pop influences through a sieve of MC5 fuzz and Stooges speed. Even with Burke’s Keith Moon-inspired thunder, Blondie played sweet pop cleanly. The fastest thing here is “In the Sun”, which is more reminiscent of Dick Dale surf than Stooges terrorism. The meanest, “Rip Her to Shreds”, is an overt Aftermath pastiche. “Man Overboard” even bears traces of the disco that would cause Blondie so much grief and success a few years later. Blondie is certainly an eclectic affair, although that isn’t always a good thing. The record’s less successful stabs (“Man Overboard”, the noodly “Look Good in Blue”, the over-synthesized “A Shark in Jets Clothing”) expose a new group groping around for their sound. Fortunately, the vast majority of Blondie—“X-Offender”, “Rip Her to Shreds”, “In the Sun”, the swooning “In the Flesh”, “Little Girl Lies”, the tough “Kung Fu Girls”, the goofy conga line “The Attack of the Giant Ants”— shows they eventually found it.

8. Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: 'Some Girls: Deluxe Edition' by The Rolling Stones

As soon as The Rolling Stones moved beyond the rudimentary blues and Chuck Berry homages of their first couple of records, they became Rock & Roll’s greatest bandwagon jumpers. Whether the times were ruled by pop, psychedelia, or the Dylan-led roots revival of the late ‘60s, The Stones were always game and almost always did it better than anyone else. After the rough transition that saw them lose their most polished guitarist, Mick Taylor, and their most competent producer, Jimmy Miller, The Stones got straight on 1978’s Some Girls. Although they’d definitely lost a good deal of true grit in the years that saw them gain the gritty Ronnie Wood but slip into a jet set lifestyle more befitting decadent royalty than decadent Rock stars, Some Girls is a solid selection of ten tracks well steeped in the late ‘70s triumvirate of New York punk, disco, and Smokey and the Bandit-style hick country. This may not be The Stones at the peak of their powers, but it is further proof that they could casually dip into the zeitgeist and come up with a bona-fide winner. Some Girls became their biggest seller and is regularly cited as the band’s last great record.

The new deluxe edition of Some Girls is genuinely fascinating because it reveals that even with all the fashionable posturing entombed on that record, The Stones never lost their love for the earthy Rock & Roll and blues that defined them in their earliest years. Appended to the original album— which is presented as a louder, though not necessarily clearer or punchier, remaster than the 1994 CD—is a bonus disc of The Stones sounding looser and more sincere than they had since 1964. Between channeling Studio 54 on “Miss You” or Johnny Rotten on “Respectable”, The Stones were jamming away on Hank Williams and Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon classics just because they dug them. Along with the covers are untailored originals such as “Claudine”, a lively Rock-a-Billy jam, the pumping blues “So Young”, a close cousin to “Dead Fowers” called “Do You Think I Really Care”, a light-hearted, slightly Latin jaunt called “Don’t Be a Stranger”. Fresh stuff.

A few of these tracks—“No Spare Parts”, “Don’t Be a Stranger”, “You Win Again”—didn’t receive vocal overdubs during the original sessions, so Mick gave them a go in 2011. Because his vocal delivery had already gotten more affected in his current style by the Some Girls sessions, his new vocals don’t stick out as much as they did in the bonus tracks on last year’s deluxe Exile on Main Street. You’d be hard pressed to detect any significant difference between Mick’s delivery on “No Spare Parts” and his work on “Do You Think I Really Care”.

At a non-sprawling twelve tracks, the Some Girls bonus disc creates the pleasing illusion of a long-lost Rolling Stones L.P. If it isn’t essential, it’s certainly a more respectable collection than Black and Blue or Dirty Work. Like Black and Blue, these numbers are more about performance than composition. Unlike Black and Blue, none of them are long-winded or half-hearted. Ultimately, the bonus disc is more of a contrast than a compliment to Some Girls, proof that real hearts still beat in the guys at a time when they seemed to be transforming into automated mimics for good.

Get the Some Girls: Deluxe Edition and the Some Girls box set
— which includes a bonus DVD, a 7”, a hardback book, and other goodies— at Amazon.com.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: 'Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut' by The Who

Like so many Who projects, Quadrophenia is an album universally regarded as a classic yet with some fairly common reservations. Vocalist Roger Daltrey was the first to balk about how his vocals were buried in the original 1973 mix, and others have griped about the balance in subsequence years. Some critics take issue with a song cycle about the R ‘n’ B and power-pop-obsessed Mod cult that bears no trace of those influences. Rather, Pete Townshend’s songs are epic, synthesizer laden, and more than a little proggy, a very ‘70s hard rock extension of his work on the Lifehouse/Who’s Next project. Still, Quadrophenia is a great album because its musical grandiosity is balanced with some of Townshend's most beautiful compositions: "5:15", "I'm One", "The Punk Meets the Godfather", "Love Reign O'er Me", "The Dirty Jobs", to name a few. All the synths and horn overdubs and rhythmic hubbub (which is incredibly impressive) and bellowing can’t trample the torment, regret, and longing that keeps the songs afloat across four sides of vinyl.

The new “Director’s Cut” of Quadrophenia expands that original double-album to five compact discs, including a selection of tracks mixed in 5.1 surround sound (not included in the review package I received from Universal Music Group), and a bonus 7” of “5:15” b/w “Water”. Has the expansion improved The Who’s magnificent mess-terpiece? Depends on Who you ask. Clearly Townshend, who oversaw this box set, was no fan of Bob Pridden’s original mix. This new set is basically Andy Macpherson and Jon Astley’s 1996 remix, which draws out the vocals, and features some minor differences, most notably a bit of feedback at the start of “5:15”. I personally prefer Pridden’s mix. Quadrophenia is the album on which Daltrey began inching toward the bluster that elicited more and more criticism as the ‘70s progressed. The original mix tempers this tendency. He’s too out front on this current mix, which also wipes one of my favorite details from the 1973 mix: the strange seagull-like noises that screech through the final verse of “The Dirty Jobs”.

Because the new mix and master of Quadrophenia is so similar to the one available since 1996, the Director’s Cut’s main selling point is two additional discs of Pete Townshend’s demos. Anyone familiar with the care the composer put into his home recordings knows this is no small thing. Keith Richards once famously said that Townshend’s demos are better than The Who’s final products. This is an exaggeration, and the guitarist’s stilted drumming is no match for Keith Moon’s cascading chaos, nor does his bass work—which is actually quite good—dazzle as John Entwistle’s does. Though a sweeter and more sensitive singer than Daltrey, he strains quite a bit in these recordings, particularly when songs such as “Love Reign O’er Me”, “The Punk Meets the Godfather” (titled “Punk” here), and “I’ve Had Enough” require the kind of climactic power that really was Daltrey’s forte. That being said, these recordings are well-worth hearing. Pete’s “Four Faces” and “Joker James” best the versions recorded by The Who and included on the 1979 Quadrophenia movie soundtrack. “Get Inside” is a poppy nod to The Who of 1966 that probably would have been too cute for the band in '73. “You Came Back” is one of Townshend’s loveliest demos, though it’s unclear how this tale of reincarnation would have fit into the life story of Jimmy the Mod. There’s nothing sketchy about these recordings. The ones that were a bit underdone when Townshend made them almost 40 years ago have been embellished with new drum tracks by Peter Huntington, who played on the “Who” reunion album Endless Wire. This irks some fans, but his work sounds good. Fussing with previously unavailable recordings is not nearly as questionable as remixing the beloved classics on the core album.

Pete Townshend has long had a troubled relationship with The Who, grumbling about how he isn’t a fan of the band while returning to it with the same obsession that seems to control every aspect of his career. It’s unfortunate that he is allowing The Who’s history to become a bit hazy. As of now, considerably altered mixes of My Generation and Who are You are the only ones in print on CD. Live at Leeds and Odds and Sods are more severely changed. Whether these versions improve on the originals is a total matter of preference. I admit I like the expanded Leeds a lot better than the six-track original. Quadrophenia is not as radically different from its first incarnation, but it is different. Pete prefers the remix. That’s all well and good, but there’s something to be said for preservation. As Roger, himself, said in a 2003 interview, “It’s like Picasso taking the painting off the wall of a museum and saying, ‘I think I’m gonna do this a bit better.’ It’s not better; it’ll just be a bit different.” Perhaps it’s time he passes that sound observation along to his bandmate.

Get the Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut at Amazon.com here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kongsgiving



Like all major American holidays, Thanksgiving hauls along a bevy of iconic images and events. Hand-traced turkeys. Black and white clad pilgrims. Nine-hour football games. Monster fanatics who lived in the New York area during the late ‘70s/early ‘80s may have a particularly peculiar association with Thanksgiving. Along with the turkeys and the pilgrims and the parades and the rest, Thanksgiving meant giant apes. That’s because WOR-TV hosted King Kong marathons on Thanksgiving from 1976 to 1985. Every fourth Thursday in November, New Yorkers switched to channel 9 to spend five hours with King Kong, Son of Kong, and honorary Kong flick Mighty Joe Young... not to mention a glut of Crazy Eddie commercials.



I could give you the whole run down of the history of King Kong and WOR-TV, but then I’d just be ripping off a web article about this phenomenon more than I already have. Those of you who still pine for those pre-turkey gorges of King Kong movies (and post-Thanksgiving marathons of Godzilla ones!) should check out Joe Cascio’s terrific piece “Holiday Film Festival…” here. Happy Kongsgiving.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Psychobabble's Best of 2011

As another year approaches its end, let’s take a look back on Psychobabble’s top-reviewed books, CDs, and DVDs of 2011. Each item on each list links to the original review.

The Nine Rockingest Rock Books
9. Rockabilly: The Twang Heard 'Round the World by Michael Dregni
8. The Who By Numbers by Steve Grantley and Alan G. Parker
7. 33 1/3: Marquee Moon by Bryan Waterman
6. Led Zeppelin FAQ by George Case
5. Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader by Kingsley Abbott
4. And on the Piano... Nicky Hopkins by Julian Dawson
3. Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records by Bruce Spizer and Frank Daniels
2. Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust by Simon Wells
1. You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks by Nick Hasted

The Six Most Horrifying Horror Books
6. Boris Karloff as The Invisible Man by Philip J. Riley
5. Shock Value by Jason Zinoman
4. Alien Vault by Ian Nathan
3. Monsters in the Movies by John Landis
2. War Eagles: An Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters by David Conover & Philip J. Riley
1. Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster by Stephen Jacobs



The Ten Roundest CDs
11. Flight Log (1966-1976) by Jefferson Airplane
10. Bus Stop/Stop Stop Stop by The Hollies
9. After School Session/Chuck Berry Is on Top by Chuck Berry
8. Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection by Various Artists
7. Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut by The Who
6. Some Girls: Deluxe Edition by The Rolling Stones
5. The Lovin’ Spoonful Reissues
4. Hidden Treasures by Dave Davies and The Kinks
3. The Left Banke Reissues
2. The Kinks Deluxe Editions (Face to Face, Something Else, Arthur)
1. The SMiLE Sessions by The Beach Boys

The Eight Most Videotastic DVDs

8.The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls Live in Texas ’78
7. Motown Gold from the Ed Sullivan Show
6. The Phantom Carriage
5. More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead
4. The Hollies: Look Through Any Window (1963-1975)
3. The Rolling Stones' Ed Sullivan Shows
2. Kuroneko
1. Island of Lost Souls

Monday, November 21, 2011

Psychobabble’s 80th Anniversary ‘Frankenstein’ Companion!

How do you do? I feel it would be a little unkind to present this article without just a word of friendly warning. We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a film that helped establish the horror genre in the earliest stage of sound cinema by introducing one of its keys creatures, one of its key directors, and its ultimate star. The iconic power of Boris Karloff’s performance as that sad, sometimes sadistic Monster attracted legions of steel-hearted viewers to cinemas and inspired the generations of monsters that followed. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation — life and death—and its historical significance, artistry, and… well… pure fun have inspired many an article here on Psychobabble. In celebration of the Monster’s 80th birthday, I have compiled a companion collection of the most substantial Frankenstein writing that has appeared on Psychobabble over this site’s three years. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to… well, I warned you.


May 4, 2009: Frankenstein A - Z



Beginning with Dwight Frye’s chilling performance as the sadistic Fritz in James Whales’s Frankenstein, the hunchback assistant became as much of a mainstay of Universal Horror films as werewolves, vampires, and man-made behemoths. Less than a year before taking on Fritz, Frye played the similar role of Renfield in Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931). With Frankenstein he got himself good and type cast as a blathering, half-witted sociopath. Although Frye longed to return to the kinds of musical-comedy roles he played prior to first taking on Renfield in Dracula, he will always be remembered as the single greatest player of blathering, half-witted sociopaths ever to limp across a crumbling, Gothic, Hollywood set.



There have been more than 70 Frankenstein and Frankenstein-themed films. There could be 70 more (not an unlikely prospect) and none will ever feature a monster more iconic than the one created by Boris Karloff in the 1931 version of Mary Shelley’s timeless tale. That is a fact you can staple to your back, brothers and sisters, and I’m not just talking about

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Some Girls Live in Texas '78'

No offense to Ron Wood, but there’s little denying that The Rolling Stones crossed an unfortunate threshold when they lost Mick Taylor in 1974. Heavy drugs, superstardom, and a bloated reputation for hedonism started taking the place of genuine inspiration. If Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll displayed a definite decline in quality from the Exile on Main Street high-point, 1976’s Black and Blue was The Stones at their most desperate, flailing through boring jams and pathetic grasps at trendiness. The sloganeering “Hot Stuff” alone is evidence that the once threatening Rolling Stones had gotten kind of sad. The exploding punk movement of the following year (“No Beatles, Elvis, or The Rolling Stones in 1977!”) didn’t make them seem any more relevant, yet Jagger’s penchant for trend hopping meant his band was going to incorporate those now sounds into their music whether they liked it or not.

Surprisingly, the experiment wasn’t a total failure, and 1978’s Some Girls is regularly cited as The Stones’ last consistently great album of all-new material. After the directionless Black and Blue, Some Girls found them making a calculated effort to write well-realized songs and recapture the most celebrated and condemned aspects of the now-mythic Stones persona: their casual offensiveness and misogyny, their “fuck you” humor, their willingness to explore transgressive topics, as well as their soulfulness and lean muscle.

When The Stones toured Some Girls, that same attitude ruled their performances. The show captured by filmmaker Lynn Lenau Calmes at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, Texas, is a testament to this. The Stones work hard, delivering a clutch of classics and most of Some Girls with force and speed without slumping into the sloppiness that sometimes called their “World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band” status into question. Ronnie Wood has assimilated into the band nicely, recreating Mick Taylor’s slide lines on “All Down the Line” with uncanny ease. This is a professional band playing at the peak of its powers. So why does the guy out front keep drawing attention away from that serious Rock & Roll with his goofy jumping jacks?

As The Stones settled into their professional routine, Mick Jagger settled into his role as clown. At his most self-conscious, he’s absolutely ridiculous in the new DVD Some Girls Live in Texas ‘78, grabbing his and Ronnie’s cocks and mumbling about how the band is weary from fucking all night. Jagger’s attempts to give the people the shocks he thinks they want from the bad, bad Rolling Stones are as inauthentic as the “punk” swastika T-shirt he reveals toward the end of the set. Ooooh! Dangerous!

But amidst all his insufferable posing, Jagger can’t help allowing authenticity to peak through from time to time. Not when he has cats as genuine as Keith and Charlie powering away behind him. So we get moving versions of “Beast of Burden” and “Love in Vain”, even though it’s jarring to see a guy wearing garbage-bag trousers paying tribute to salt-of-the-earth Robert Johnson.

Jagger also deserves credit for the unexpected versatility he displays on this DVD, contributing extra guitar on several numbers and keyboard parts on “Far Away Eyes”. And if much of his stage shenanigans are ludicrous, it’s refreshing to see such a lack of spectacle at a show that took place after The Stones had become a splashy juggernaut. There are no inflatable boners. The stage is small and intimate. The supporting musicians are limited to official sixth-Stone Ian Stewart and Ronnie’s former bandmate Ian McLagan on keyboards. And let’s face it, even if this isn’t prime-era Stones when one could really be in awe of everything they ape here, it’s still the fucking Stones, which means the guys still put on a damn good concert.

Along with embalming Jagger’s silliest tendencies and grabbing some genuinely mean music, Some Girls Live in Texas ‘78 also features a great selection of bonuses. There are vintage and new interviews in which Mick comes off as infinitely more authentic and charming than he does in the concert they accompany, further drawing attention to the fact that he was really just playing a role on stage. Even better is The Stones’ full appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in October 1978, both the 12-minute musical portion and the “Tomorrow” sketch in which Dan Aykroyd plays Tom Snyder interviewing Mick. The band is kind of sloppy and the singer sounds like he has laryngitis, but the sketch is still hilarious, with Mick holding his own nicely against Akyroyd’s rock-solid comic capering. An actor to the end.

Some Girls Live in Texas ‘78 is available in several formats. Get the one of your choice at Amazon.com with the following links:

Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live In Texas '78 [DVD]

The Rolling Stones: Some Girls - Live in Texas '78 [Blu-ray]

The Rolling Stones: Some Girls - Live In Texas '78 [DVD/CD Combo]

Some Girls - Live In Texas '78 [CD/Blu-Ray Combo]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: ‘Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection’

Phil Spector built a pop empire on the otherworldly singles he produced in the early ‘60s. His reputation at 33 1/3 rpms was less solid. The long player didn’t become a vital Rock & Roll conveyance until the British Invasion that ended Spector’s reign. So he didn’t always put a great deal of thought into the way his albums were presented. When he finally resolved to make a masterful L.P., he released it the same day JFK was assassinated. A mourning public didn’t feel much like jingling all the way, and A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records flopped. Justly, that album has gone on to achieve classic status with its numerous reissues over the decades. Philles Records’ other L.P.s were never afforded that same boost until now.

Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection collects all six non-holiday albums released on Spector’s label on CD for the very first time. This set is fascinating both for its pleasant surprises and its emphasis on just how cavalier Spector was about everything but his single A-sides. There is a large and disappointing amount of overlap between these discs. The Crystals’ first two records, Twist Uptown and He’s a Rebel, are nearly identical. More of the group’s songs are repeated on The Crystals Sing the Greatest Hits Vol. 1. One third of the tracks on that particular L.P. are tossed-off covers of creaky standards, such as “The Wah Watusi” and “The Twist”. And The Crystals aren’t even the artists on those tracks! The Ronettes are!


Yet Spector’s offhand approach to making albums could also be genuinely interesting. Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans’ Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah finds him experimenting with greater abandon than he usually dared on his hits. His use of cagey distortion, odd bits of discordance (the guttural, out-of-tune bass on “Baby, I Love You”), and tightly controlled tempos and dynamics make an already eccentric selection of songs—“The White Cliffs of Dover”, “This Land Is Your Land”, the title track, which was certainly Spector’s oddest hit— even odder. Even the Disney-esque cartoon on the front cover is kind of unusual. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah also provides the box set’s most concentrated dose of Darlene Love, whose magnificent solo material is sadly underrepresented here.

Even weirder is Phil’s Flipsides, a bonus compilation of the two-minute instrumental improvisations Spector’s Wall of Sound Orchestra recorded to fill the B-sides of his hit singles and discourage DJs from playing the wrong sides. By design this isn’t the producer’s most essential music, but the combination of wacky Rock & Roll instrumentals and pretty convincing straight jazz is refreshing. Half this disc would sound smashing on a John Waters soundtrack. The other half is great cocktail party mood music. The goofy titles further reveal how little Spector cared about his non-A-sides: “Flip and Nitty”, “Chubby Danny D.”, “Dr. Kaplan’s Office” (named for Spector’s psychiatrist, who was apparently pretty shitty at his job).

Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection will be most appealing to Spector completists, but there is a lot of amazing music here. Granted, those two debut Crystals records are pretty flimsy. The best of their tracks are collected on Sings the Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and the various-artists compilation Philles Records Presents Today’s Hits, which also features a handful of Darlene Love solo sides, including the transcendent “Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home”, and The Alley Cats’ fun novelty “Puddin’ N’ Tain”. Best of all is Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica, Spector’s first truly great album despite its failure to generate classic status. All of the group’s prime-era hits (“Be My Baby”, “Walking in the Rain”, “Baby, I Love You”, “I Wonder”—Yow!), classic oddities (“You Baby”, “So Young”), and some unexpected surprises (a raucous phony live version of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say”) converge in a spectacular line up. Along with The Beach Boys, who it so inspired, this is the freshest pop that came out of America during the first year of the British Invasion.

Get Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection at Amazon.com here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Dave Davies's 'Hidden Treasures'



The Kinks were at a commercial low point but a creative high point in the late ‘60s. Ray Davies wrote an excess of songs during the sessions that would spawn his masterpiece. On their way to becoming The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, several of those tracks were considered for an alternate album titled Four More Well Respected Gentlemen. Ray pondered a solo album and schemed to make a full-length musical out of his Village Green concept (which he would realize less than spectacularly in the mid-‘70s). Amidst all this activity, Pye Records started pushing Dave Davies to make his own solo album to capitalize on the success of 1967’s “Death of a Clown”—a Dave and Ray-penned Kinks number released as a solo single under the younger Davies’s name. Despite his long history of begrudging his brother’s higher profile in The Kinks, Dave was not enthused about the project. He preferred placing his songs on proper Kinks albums.

The process of writing Dave’s solo record was a bit of a drudge, though the recording sessions with The Kinks as his backing band and Ray producing birthed a quantity of quality songs. Occasionally the chore-aspect was apparent in somewhat halfhearted, repetitive numbers, such as “Do You Wish to Be a Man” and “Are You Ready”. But the best of Dave’s solo material—the joyous “Lincoln County”, the desperate yet exhilarating “This Man He Weeps Tonight”, the Dylanesque “Susannah’s Still Alive”, the magnificently brooding “Mindless Child of Motherhood”—could go toe-to-toe with any of Ray’s songs of that same period. The Kinks were rarely more ferocious than they were on “Mindless Child” and the sinister rocker “Creeping Jean”.

Alas, Dave’s lack of enthusiasm and renewed commercial hopes for The Kinks following the release of Arthur: or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire in 1969 put the unnamed solo project to rest. Most of the tracks ended up on flop Dave Davies singles and Kinks B-sides. But fans have long wondered how that completed L.P. would have sounded.

As a sort of bonus companion to its recent wave of superb Kinks deluxe reissues, Universal/Sanctuary Music is finally giving us the best approximation of Dave Davies’s unfinished solo album with Hidden Treasures. Compilers Russell Smith and Andrew Sandoval based this new CD on a 1969 acetate of Dave’s sessions assembled by Warner Reprise. The thirteen tracks flow quite nicely, and though many of them were included as bonus tracks on those deluxe Kinks discs, it’s nice to hear them placed together. And there are quite a few rarities to uncover here. Though not Dave’s best songs, “Do You Wish to Be a Man” and the gospel-flavored “Are You Ready” have only previously been available as scratchy acetate copies on bootlegs. Much better is the newly unveiled “Crying”, a mournful but catchy track on which Dave gets off some rather Hendrixy rhythm licks. The B-side “There Is No Life Without Love” is presented in an unfamiliar stereo mix in which Dave’s vocal is pulled out of the mass of harmonies to the front line.

The compilers include a wealth of bonus tracks, including most (but not all) of Dave’s Pye-era Kinks compositions, mono alternative mixes of several of the core album’s tracks, a brassier mix of “Mr. Reporter”, and a scratchy early take of “Hold My Hand”. A “rare” studio version of “Good Luck Charm” is pitched as an unreleased track, although it sounds suspiciously like the one on the Picture Book box set. Aside from the latter two bonus tracks, Hidden Treasures sounds fantastic, with dense bass and crisp acoustic details. Russell Smith’s liner notes, which detail the recording and writing of these tracks extensively, are as worthy as the music they annotate. But the greatest pleasure is the wonderful music, and Hidden Treasures is a concentrated testament to the often-overlooked songwriting talents of Dave Davies.

Get Dave Davies’s Hidden Treasures at Amazon.com here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

80 Artists Celebrate 80 Years of 'Frankenstein' with 80 Bizarro Busts

When Boris Karloff staggered backward through a doorway to reveal his horrifically pancaked cranium in Frankenstein, an icon that would last 80 years (and counting) was born. In celebration of the milestone anniversary of that visage crafted by Karloff, director James Whale, and make-up wiz Jack Pierce, 80 artists have contributed their own takes on the Frankenstein Monster for the "It's Alive" Project. Sculpted busts mash the Monster with such fellow icons as The Joker, Paul Stanley, Frankenberry, The Wolfman, and Abraham Lincoln and Dracula (fused in one particularly bizarro bust!). Others recast him in glitter or jigsaw puzzle pieces or as a cinema popcorn box or an etch-a-sketch. Amazing stuff, and sales of the busts benefit the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to advance the cure and treatment of pediatric diseases.

Check out the stunning gallery of busts at the official "It's Alive" Project site here.


Thanks to Frankensteinia for this scoop.

Friday, November 11, 2011

'The Quatermass Xperiment' Slithers out on DVD-R

Despite being the watershed Hammer horror flick and a pioneer of graphic gore that reveled in its transgressions so proudly that its very title emphasized its X rating, Val Guest's The Quatermass Xperiment has always flown below the radar in the U.S. So it's fitting that news of its release is arriving a bit late to the Psychobabble news desk. It's also fitting that MGM has given this landmark of British horror a fairly cursory release as an on-demand DVD-R. Oh well. Better than nothing. The couple of customer reviews on Amazon.com indicate that the picture quality is strong and it may be time for the already-converted to ditch their bootlegs. The uninitiated should check it out or risk transforming into a giant space octopus draped over Westminster Abbey.

Get The Quatermass Xperiment at Amazon.com here.

As for the movie, here's what I had to say about The Quatermass Xperiment in Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies Part 4: The 1950s:

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955- dir. Val Guest)

Great Britain would never be known as a major exporter of science fiction cinema, but BBC TV was a different story. Pioneering future favorites such as Dr. Who, The Prisoner, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Torchwood was The Quatermass Experiment. The six-episode serial used the British space programme as a launching pad for a tale of an alien that infiltrates a crashed rocket. Professor Bernard Quatermass leads the search for runaway astronaut Carroon, who is possessed by an alien bent on spewing spores into the atmosphere capable of exterminating all life on Earth. The show was a big hit in 1953, so two years later a British studio known for its cheap “quota quickies” brought the series to the big screen in a bid for quick cash. Hammer Studios took its first major step into the supernatural with The Quatermass Xperiment, so retitled to exploit the X-rating the film earned for its shocking level of gore. Indeed it is more gruesome than anything that would appear in America prior to splatter-king Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast in 1963. Carroon leaves a trail of mutilated corpses as he lumbers to Westminster Abbey where he will complete his transformation into a giant octopus monster and unleash his deadly spores. The Quatermass Xperiment is technically science fiction, with its rockets, astronauts, space programmes, and aliens. The E.C.-style gore, Carroon’s monstrous deeds, and his increasingly monstrous appearance are pure horror. His encounter with a girl played by a very young Jane Asher is an obvious nod to Frankenstein, as his ultimate destination of a major landmark is a cap-tip to King Kong. The Quatermass Xperiment is a thrilling and smart flick that should appeal to sci-fi and horror freaks alike, but its historical value is monumental, prepping Hammer’s coming domination of horror cinema, as well as bracing viewers for all the blood and entrails the studio would soon show them in ghastly full color.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: The Beach Boys' 'SMiLE Sessions'

In 1966, the burgeoning pop press became aware of a project promised to be unlike anything the world had ever heard. An avant garde comedy album. A “teenage symphony to God.” A record that would “make Pet Sounds stink.” The teasers were plentiful, but as we all know, The Beach Boys’ SMiLE never materialized. In its place was a thin interloper called Smiley Smile, which sounded more like a collection of hastily made demos than the operatic record on which Brian Wilson had been working for close to a year.

Over the next several years, bits of the original sessions started to leak out. “Cabin Essence” and “Our Prayer” appeared on 1969’s 20/20. The title track of 1971’s Surf’s Up. In the ‘80s, the bootlegs began bobbing to the surface. If The Beach Boys were never going to release the largely unfinished music Wilson recorded during the SMiLE sessions, fans were going to get their hands on it by other means and assemble their own versions of the album. This is the main reason SMiLE is so unique: it is the first album that forced fans to interact with it directly. They had to make their own edits and running orders on cassettes. They enjoyed debates on how it was supposed to be heard and what tracks were really intended to be included in the mythic “Elements” suite that (supposedly) would have climaxed the album.

Years before I became aware of the bootlegs and the cult and the myriad fan mixes, I first heard about SMiLE in The Beach Boys: An American Band. And what did I do as soon as I finished watching that 1985 documentary? I took my only two post-surf/hot rod Beach Boys records—20/20 and Good Vibrations: The Best of The Beach Boys—and made my own “SMiLE” tape. The result, which mostly consisted of non-SMiLE era stuff like “I Went to Sleep” and “Friends”, had little to do with The Beach Boys’ lost album, but it shows how hungry even new fans like myself were for that magical, spooky, thrillingly experimental album we’d never really get to hear.

Yes, we will never hear a completed album by The Beach Boys called SMiLE. There are the bootlegs, the 30 minutes of SMiLE tracks on 1993’s Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys box set, the 2004 solo album Brian Wilson Presents Smile. All consolation prizes. The newly released five-CD, two-L.P., two-45 box set called The SMiLE Sessions is really another consolation prize. Although the producers offer their own high-tech SMiLE mix on disc one, it isn’t what The Beach Boys would have released in ’67 had Brian Wilson been able to complete his vision. But as consolation prizes go, it is beyond anything we SMiLE obsessives could have ever expected. I certainly never counted on this release. Even as the other SMiLE Sessions reviews started flowing in, I wasn’t convinced of its existence until I actually held its magnificently designed box in my hands. Content-wise, it is more than we could have ever hoped. This set contains some of the most dazzlingly imaginative music ever made, and it sounds better than it ever did in its previous official and unofficial incarnations. When the “Bicycle Rider” section of “Do You Like Worms?” kicks in, the bass will throw you up against the wall. More poignantly, The SMiLE Sessions is evidence that the men who made it 45 years ago have finally made their peace with its weirdness, its brilliance, its divergence from the surf/hot rod formula Mike Love so valued, its power to disturb chief-creator Brian Wilson.

There are revelations in every crevice of The SMiLE Sessions. Take the “Heroes and Villains” 45. In most deluxe sets, the single is a neat little bonus not much more integral to the overall content than a fold-out poster or lapel button. However, this single provides further proof of how The Beach Boys could be just as innovative at 45 RPMs as they were at 33 1/3. Side A: the relatively radio-friendly—but still pretty weird (that cantina section!)—pop version. Side B: an extended series of variations on the “Heroes and Villains” refrain, edited together in pleasing but decidedly avant garde fashion. No other pop single from a major act was structured like this in 1967. Had it been released during its own time, the “Heroes and Villains” single may have revolutionized the 45 in the same way SMiLE probably would have revolutionized the L.P. Those familiar with the “Heroes and Villains (Sections)” piece from Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys will immediately recognize the Side B edit. But halfway through it diverges from the box-set track, introducing new splices and unfamiliar snatches of music. The piecemeal track on the Good Vibrations box is transformed into a fully realized piece of music. And that’s just the “bonus” single!

The disc-one approximation of the unfinished album is pieced together similarly to the famed “Purple Chick” bootleg, which used Brian Wilson Presents Smile as a blueprint to fashion a SMiLE out of The Beach Boys’ original recordings. This new one does not follow Wilson’s solo album as slavishly. It revises the running order slightly and uses sections of music very different from the ones Wilson and his backing band mimicked. The “Twelfth Street Rag” quote is restored in “Look”. “I’m in Great Shape” is totally unique from the solo and “Purple Chick” versions. “Vega-Tables” utilizes some funky percussion and mallets. An unexpected melody appears in “Love to Say Dada”.

That first disc will likely be the one to earn the most repeat spins from listeners, but the deep sessions discs that follow are also rewarding and surprising. Despite the titles on disc two, it isn’t quite 78 minutes of “Heroes and Villains” sessions. The tracks we now know as “Barnyard”, “I’m in Great Shape”, “Fire”, “Vega-Tables”, “Wind Chimes”, and “Love to Say Dada” are listed as “Heroes and Villains” sessions, probably because that is how Brian labeled the original tape boxes since he hadn’t figured out where these pieces of music would end up in his opus.

There is a certain downside to peeking behind the curtains and listening to how all this mystical music was made, but it also allows us to better hear the magical details muted or lost in the completed mixes on disc one: the sparkling pizzicato string runs on “The Old Master Painter”, the above-neck dobro plucks in “Cabin Essence”, the discordantly buzzing slide guitar in “Do You Like Worms?” We can hear the tack piano hammers clicking against strings in “Wonderful”, which is also presented with odd doo-woo harmonies. We can hear the jangling jewelry in “Surf’s Up”. The vibes and scraps of percussion reach out of “Child Is the Father of Man”. It’s amazing how beautiful and strange this music remains even when broken down into its most basic elements.

In a reissue-crazy environment that sees new “deluxe editions” and “director’s cuts” appear on a weekly basis, the release of The SMiLE Sessions is something else. It is not merely an opportunity to hear some amazing music for the first time. As noted above, a lot of fans have been listening to a lot of this stuff on bootlegs for decades. Receiving the official The SMiLE Sessions is more like meeting an estranged sibling for the very first time. For those of us who’ve accepted Rock & Roll as a more meaningful religion than any supernatural one, this is our holy grail, our shroud of Turin unearthed. It’s the discovery that the Loch Ness Monster exists, proof that whirring UFOs actually do abduct farmers and spirit them into the sky. The SMiLE Sessions is mythology made real.

The SMiLE Sessions is available in a number of formats. Get the one of your choice at Amazon.com with the links below:

The Smile Sessions Box Set

The Smile Sessions (2CD)

The Smile Sessions Vinyl (2LP)
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