Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Farewell, Poly Styrene

Awful news: first lady of punk Poly Styrene died yesterday after a bout with cancer. Born Marianne Elliot-Said, she became a punk pioneer after changing her name and fronting the abrasive, exciting X-Ray Spex. Led by Styrene's shuddering voice, the band recorded their sole album, Germ Free Adolescents (1978), one of the greatest products of punk's first wave. With her braces and splashy thrift-store fashions, Styrene was also a major style icon. She was 53.

Instantly Bone Up on Horror TV with Netflix

Never saw some of the programs covered in Psychobabble's Horrible History of Horror TV? Well, if you have a Netflix subscription, now is the time to bone up. The service has made several classic Horror programs available to watch instantly either on your computer, or if you're hooked up with a Roku or other compatible device, right on your TV.



Angel

The Addams Family

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Dark Shadows

Eerie, Indiana


The Kingdom

Kolchak: The Night Stalker


Boris Karloff's Thriller

The Munsters

Twilight Zone

Twin Peaks

The X Files

Monday, April 25, 2011

Track Listing is Up for Deluxe Edition of The Kinks' 'Face to Face'

Amazon.co.uk posted the track listing for Face to Face, though no specific details are available yet. But I'm guessing, in keeping with the other new deluxe releases, Disc One is mostly stereo mixes of the of the album tracks and mono versions of the single tracks, along with the early version of "Dead End Street" released on the Picture Book box set and a mysterious version of "Little Miss Queen of Darkness". Disc Two is probably the entire album in mono augmented by BBC recordings. Of course, don't hold me to that. As I already announced, this disc has a release date of June 6 in the U.K. and June 14 in the U.S.

Thanks to Kinda Kinks.net for this news.

And now, the tracks:

Disc: 1
1. Party Line
2. Rosie Won't You Please Come Home
3. Dandy
4. Too Much On My Mind
5. Session Man
6. Rainy Day In June
7. A House In The Country
8. Holiday In Waikiki
9. Most Exclusive Residence For Sale
10. Fancy
11. Little Miss Queen Of Darkness
12. You're Looking Fine
13. Sunny Afternoon
14. I'll Remember
15. Dead End Street
16. Big Black Smoke
17. This Is Where I Belong
18. She's Got Everything
19. Little Miss Queen Of Darkness
20. Dead End Street
Disc: 2
1. Party Line
2. Rosie Won't You Please Come Home
3. Dandy
4. Too Much On My Mind
5. Session Man
6. Rainy Day In June
7. A House In The Country
8. Holiday In Waikiki
9. Most Exclusive Residence For Sale
10. Fancy
11. Little Miss Queen Of Darkness
12. You're Looking Fine
13. Sunny Afternoon
14. I'll Remember
15. This Is Where I Belong
16. Big Black Smoke
17. She's Got Everything
18. You're Looking Fine
19. Sunny Afternoon
20. Fancy
21. Little Miss Queen Of Darkness
22. Dandy

Psychobabble’s 150 Essential Horror Movies Part 2: The 1930s

In this feature, Psychobabble creeps through more than 90 years of horror cinema to assemble a highly personal list of the genre’s 150 most monstrous works, decade by decade.

11. Dracula (1931- dir. Tod Browning)

Before Tod Browning’s Dracula was released on Valentine’s Day, 1931, no one knew what a “horror movie” was. The term hadn’t entered the lexicon yet. Afterward, it was just a matter of time. If a single film can be designated ground zero for horror’s stranglehold on cinema, it is Dracula. This wasn’t the first supernatural monster movie, but it was the first that was so massively successful it sent studios scrambling to emulate it. On a historical level, no one argues with the importance of Dracula. Bela Lugosi’s performance is as iconic as any in Hollywood history. Any time a kid dons a black cape and plastic fangs on Halloween or some joker puts on a lame Hungarian accent to intone “I vant to suck your blahd!” they’re paying tribute to Lugosi, not the vampire in Bram Stoker’s novel, who was gaunt, repellent, and hairy. A lot of contemporary critics would have you believe Lugosi’s performance is unworthy of its reputation, that his readings are unnaturally enunciated, his facial expressions are comically exaggerated. While such strangeness may be more the result of having learned his dialogue phonetically when developing the character on stage than any conscious acting choice, Lugosi’s performance perfectly compliments the film’s atmosphere of weird dread. There is still something deeply eerie about his distorted figure emerging from the shadows at Castle Dracula silently early in the film or stalking a flower girl after arriving in London. Even more chilling may be Dwight Frye’s cackling visage when authorities discover his Renfield in the hull of a ship ravaged by the count’s thirst. Although some of the performances in the film are merely workmanlike—Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Helen Chandler as Mina are adequate, while David Manners as Harker barely registers at all—Frye and Lugosi’s work is unforgettable. And though Browning’s direction has been criticized as static and lazy, the film’s stillness is integral to its uneasy mood. It likely would have suffered had Dracula exceeded its 75 minute running time, as evidenced by the 104-minute Spanish-language version produced simultaneously, which wears out its welcome despite George Melford’s superior camerawork. As it stands, Dracula is tight and creepy, flaunts two iconic performances, and cemented horror’s place in cinema. It is a classic.

12. Svengali (1931- dir. Archie Mayo)

Its status as a horror film is debatable (the film is more like a comedic, romantic, creepy thriller), but the title character of Svengali has much in common with the enthralling monsters of Phantom of the Opera and Dracula. Like those two particular films, Archie Mayo’s adaptation of George du Maurier’s (grandfather of Daphne) Trilby leans heavily on German Expressionism to bring a turn-of-the-century Gothic novel to life. The hypnotist/nefarious vocal coach Svengali may not be a monster in any traditional sense, but his sinister yet sympathetic persona puts him in the same category as such classically conflicted heavies as the Wolf Man and Jekyll/Hyde. As wickedly manipulative as Svengali is (hence his name's place in the vernacular), he is far easier to care about than the jerks constantly jeering him about his poor hygiene. Still the close-ups of his milky, mesmeric eyes are chilling, and the distorted sets are magnificent— the scene in which a miniature village links Svengali's gaze with Trilby, the woman he wishes to possess, is masterful. As Svengali, John Barrymore brings rare complexity to a character that could have easily been played as a two-dimensional, mustache-twirling villain. Even the finest horror films of the 1930s have a tendency to conclude in slap-dash fashion, but Svengali's dénouement is both unexpected and completely satisfying.

13. Frankenstein (1931- dir. James Whale)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: Kinks Deluxe Editions

Let’s just get right to it: The Kinks’ early work has never sounded as good as it does on Sanctuary/UME’s new deluxe editions. Until now, most of the band’s ‘60s records have sounded lousy on CD. First released on Castle Records in the late ‘80s when CD technology was still wetting the bed, The Kinks’ Pye catalog wasn’t subjected to a major remastering until 1998 when Castle put out its muddy mono mixes. Then in 2004, The Kinks finally received the care they deserve. Well, at least their best album did when Sanctuary released a sumptuous triple-disc edition of Village Green Preservation Society with a mastering job that couldn’t be beat. After a seven year wait, Sanctuary is giving The Kinks’ other albums similar treatment. Like that now out-of-print deluxe Village Green, these double-disc editions of Kinks, Kinda Kinks, and The Kink Kontroversy sound great; not unnecessarily loud, but louder, warmer, more detailed, and more fully dimensional than any previous versions. Stand back as Ray Davies’s harmonica slashes through the speakers like a straight razor on “Long Tall Shorty”. Listen to Dave Davies’s fingertips pulling off his acoustic strings on “Nothin’ in This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl”. Get knocked out by the mighty thwack of Clem Cattini’s drum kit on “The World Keeps Goin’ ‘Round” (Mick Avory sat out Kontroversy).

Andrew Sandoval and Dan Hersch put a lot of care and consideration into their remastering job. The proper albums and singles are pristine, yet the guys allow a bit of noise to crackle beneath some of the bonus outtakes rather than compress the life out of them. Compare the rich sound of “Time Will Tell” on the deluxe Kontroversy to the brittle master on the Picture Book box set. Clearly Sandoval and Hersch made the right decision to favor 3-D sound over overly compressed cleanliness. Few of the bonus outtakes on these discs were previously unreleased, but they sound so good here that you’ll believe you’re hearing them for the first time.

As for the albums themselves, Kinks may be the weakest debut album by a major British band of the ‘60s, but it is delivered with plenty of punk energy and includes the monumental “You Really Got Me” and the pretty “Stop Your Sobbing”. Kinda Kinks leaves the R&B covers by the wayside to make way for Ray’s songwriting, which blossoms on Kontroversy. These are not The Kinks' greatest albums (you’ll have to wait until June for those), but the latter two are very, very good ones. The bonus disc of Kinda is a real rarity in that it’s actually better than the album it augments. That disc includes such wonderful singles as “Set Me Free”, “I Need You”, and “See My Friends”; the marvelous, acoustic Kwyet Kinks E.P.; and a superb selection of “How did these end up as outtakes?” outtakes.

Get these Kinks deluxe editions at Amazon.com below:

Kinks

Kinda Kinks

The Kink Kontroversy

A Couple of Things are Coming to the Landmark Loews in Jersey City

Jersey City residents beware: a flying saucer has been sighted over the area and will be depositing two out-for-blood aliens in the Landmark Loews Theater on Saturday, April 30. The first lurches out at 6:00 PM when The Thing from Another World begins. Christian Nyby's (or, if you're a conspiracy theorist, Howard Hawks's) sci-fi classic will be followed by John Carpenter's even better 1982 remake The Thing at 8:10 PM. As always, the ticket price for this double-feature is an otherworldly $8.



The Landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre
54 Journal Square Jersey City, NJ 07306
(201) 798-6055

Friday, April 22, 2011

Track Listings for the Next Round of Deluxe Kinks Reissues!

Huzzah! Track listings for deluxe editions of Something Else and Arthur are up with release dates of June 6 in the U.K. and June 14 in the U.S. Pre-order info is up for Face to Face on Spin CDs.com, but no track listing yet.


But enough wasteful blather from me... let's see what's on these discs!

Something Else by The Kinks

Disc 1 (stereo)

1. David Watts
2. Death Of A Clown
3. Two Sisters
4. No Return
5. Harry Rag
6. Tin Soldier Man
7. Situation Vacant
8. Love Me Till The Sun Shines
9. Lazy Old Sun
10. Afternoon Tea
11. Funny Face
12. End Of The Season
13. Waterloo Sunset
14. Susannah's Still Alive
15. Autumn Almanac
16. Sand On My Shoes
17. Afternoon Tea Alternate Version
18. Mr Pleasant Alternate Version
19. Lazy Old Sun Alternate Vocal Version
20. Funny Face Alternate Stereo Version
21. Afternoon Tea German Stereo Mix
22. Tin Soldier Man Alternate Backing Track

Disc 2 (mono)

1. David Watts
2. Death Of A Clown
3. Two Sisters
4. No Return
5. Harry Rag
6. Tin Soldier Man
7. Situation Vacant
8. Love Me Till The Sun Shines
9. Lazy Old Sun
10. Afternoon Tea
11. Funny Face
12. End Of The Season
13. The Waterloo Sunset
14. Act Nice And Gentle
15. Mr. Pleasant
16. Susannah's Still Alive
17. Autumn Almanac
18. Harry Rag Alternate Take
19. David Watts Alternate Take
20. Afternoon Tea Canadian Mono Mix
21. Sunny Afternoon BBC Version
22. Autumn Almanac BBC Version
23. Mr Pleasant BBC Version
24. Susannah's Still Alive BBC Version
25. David Watts BBC Version
26. Love Me Till The Sunshines BBC Version
27. Death Of A Clown BBC Version
28. Good Luck Charm BBC Version
29. Harry Rag BBC Version
30. Little Woman Backing Track

Arthur: Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire

Disc 1 (stereo)

1. Victoria
2. Yes Sir, No Sir
3. Some Mother's Son
4. Drivin'
5. Brainwashed
6. Australia
7. Shangri-La
8. Mr Churchill Says
9. She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina
10. Young And Innocent Days
11. Nothing To Say
12. Arthur
13. Plastic Man Stereo mix
14. This Man He Weeps Tonight
15. Drivin' Alternate Mix
16. Mindless Child Of Motherhood Stereo mix
17. Hold My Hand Stereo
18. Lincoln County Stereo
19. Mr Shoemaker's Daughter
20. Mr. Reporter Stereo
21. Shangri La Backing Track

Disc 2 (mono)

1. Victoria
2. Yes Sir, No Sir
3. Some Mother's Son
4. Drivin'
5. Brainwashed
6. Australia
7. Shangri-La
8. Mr Churchill Says
9. She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina
10. Young And Innocent Days
11. Nothing To Say
12. Arthur
13. Plastic Man
14. This Man He Weeps Tonight
15. Mindless Child Of Motherhood
16. Creeping Jean
17. Lincoln County

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Track by Track: ‘Ramones’ by The Ramones

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.

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, Dylan, 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 quartet of troglodyte supermen from Queens, wearing matching rags, sporting matching mop tops and matching names. Like John, Paul, George, and Ringo 15 years before them, and Kurt, Krist, and Dave 15 years after, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy did not set out to rescue Rock & Roll. They were just righteously fed up with the noodling, pomp, and wimpiness pervading the scene and decided to play the kind of Spartan garage rock they dug.


As bassist, chief composer, and chief wack-a-doo Dee Dee Ramone was heard to crow, “I think Rock & Roll should be three words and a chorus, and the three words should be good enough to say it all.” This was barely exaggeration. The Ramones stripped away all of Rock & Roll’s pretenses that had accumulated since Sgt. Pepper’s. No guitar solos; just fun. All tracks kick off in simultaneous fury (“1, 2, 3, 4!”), all have sing-songy choruses. Some are nothing but choruses.

Although The Ramones are famous— and were initially criticized— for their simplicity, Johnny Ramones’s neck-breaking down strokes require tremendous stamina and precision, as does the drumming of Tommy Ramone, who learned the instrument simply because the group he helped assemble needed a drummer. Speed, simplicity, catchiness, thunder. This music The Ramones invented wasn’t called punk yet, but it would be soon enough.

The Ramones didn’t just sound like the psychedelic era had never happened; they looked it too. Their jeans, leather jackets, Converse One Stars, and T-shirts could have been stripped off a ‘50s greaser. Johnny and Dee Dee's bowl cuts were strictly pre-psych Beatles.

Like John Waters, The Ramones collected the raw refuse of trash culture and defiant bad taste and molded it all into a monumental new art form. Horror movies, junk food, comic books, amusement parks, makeshift drugs, turning tricks, boneheaded agit prop, and sleazy violence all became pop fodder. Also like Waters, The Ramones paid tribute to a crime ridden, scuzzy city. What Baltimore was to the filthiest man alive, New York City was to the scuzziest band on the planet. Their debut album simply stinks of the city. Aside from the infamous “53rd and 3rd”, specific references are sparer here than they would be on subsequent records on which they’d praise Coney Island, Rockaway Beach, and the like. But Ramones sounds like New York. The grinding gears of a subway train. The quick snick of a switchblade. The expletive shout of a passing cabby. The wicked giggle of a purse snatcher. These sounds fester between the lines of all 14 tracks that comprise the only record that mattered in 1976. And it couldn’t have been cut in a more appropriate place: Plaza Sound studio in Manhattan’s landmark Radio City Music Hall. The track line up was merely transposed from their set list at CBGB’s, the Bowery scum pit that spawned all of the American bands that would rearrange Rock & Roll’s face over the next few years. But without Television’s pretty flourishes, Talking Heads’ art school angularity, Blondie’s radio-ready polish, Suicide’s electro freakiness, The Dead Boy’s cock-rock strut, or Patti Smith and Richard Hell’s Bowery poetry, The Ramones embodied New York Punk’s essence the best.

The group cut Ramones for just $6,400 over the course of 17 days. Johnny spent fifty bucks on the Mosrite guitar he played on it. It all sounded equally cheap. On subsequent albums, The Ramones sound opened up a bit, becoming less murky, less compressed… and losing some of its otherworldly magic in the process. Produced by novices Tommy Ramone and Craig Leon of Sire Records, Ramones sounds like it was belched up from Rock & Roll’s primordial muck.

Brace yourself.


Ramones by The Ramones
Originally released April 1976 on Sire Records
Produced by Craig Leon and Tommy Ramone

All songs credited to The Ramones.

Track 1: Blitzkrieg Bop

No opening guitar lick. No opening drum beat to ease the listener into the onslaught. Everything pounding out in simultaneous, militaristic fury. The first track on the first real punk LP defines the genre as well as anything that would follow. No New York Dolls swagger. No Stooges windiness. No Modern Lovers cleverness. It’s grooveless, it’s short, and it is dumb. “Blitzkrieg Bop” is also

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Beach Boys Reunion 7" Benefits Relief Efforts in Japan

Last year, all four surviving Beach Boys--Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Bruce Johnston--digitally reunited with the late Carl Wilson to harmonize on "Don't Fight the Sea", an environmentally conscious track on Jardine's solo album Postcard for California. Now Jardine is releasing the track on an exclusive white-vinyl 7" backed with an a cappella mix of the Beach Boys classic "Friends" to benefit the victims of last month's earthquake and tsunami in Japan. For a measly $15 you get a valuable Beach Boys collectible and provide a little aid to those affected by an ongoing tragedy. 100% of the profits go to the Red Cross's relief efforts in Japan. So unfasten those purse strings and snatch up one of these records before they're all gone. I just did.


As always, thanks to the Second Disc for this news.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vincent Price Centennial Celebration Coming to St. Louis

This coming May 27th marks the 100th birthday of horror icon Vincent Price. To honor the man who helped give the genre a revivifying shot in the '60s with a fab string of Poe adaptations, his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, is hosting the delightfully titled Vincentennial. Price classics will be screening at a number of museums, universities, and parks throughout the city. Fans can also expect discussions with Price's daughter and biographer Victoria and the mastermind behind his Poe pictures, Roger Corman. An avid art collector, Price would also be pleased to know that exhibits of related artwork and memorabilia will be displayed at the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries and Star Clipper.


The Vincentennial begins on May 19th with an 8:30PM screening of The Fly at the Missouri History Museum's MacDermott Grand Hall, and continues through the 28th. Check in at the official Vincentennial web site for updates and details.

Monday, April 18, 2011

'1991: The Year Punk Broke' to Get 20th Anniversary Release

In long-overdue DVD news, We Got the Power Films has just made a major announcement: this fall, Dave Markey's landmark examination of the punk revival, 1991: The Year Punk Broke, will see release. The film, which I've long wanted to check out, follows Sonic Youth and Nirvana on their 1991 tour of Europe and includes appearances by Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, and The Ramones (more on those guys here later this week...). The disc will include a wealth of extras. Here's the rundown from We Got the Power's official site:

• 42 minute Bonus Movie entitled "(This Is Known As) The Blues Scale" with previously unseen mind-blowing Sonic & Nirvana performances (including "Inhuman", "White Kross", "Orange Rolls/Angel's Spit", "Eric's Trip", "Chapel Hill", and "In Bloom") and plenty of revelatory and rockin' (and hilarious) never before seen off-stage and on-stage material
• Running audio commentary track by Thurston Moore & Dave Markey
• Rough Edits of performance material
• 2003 Panel Discussion (on the film) at the Arclight in Hollywood, with Thurston Moore, Dave Markey, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley, and J. Mascis
• A photo slide show
• Theatrical trailer
• More surprises!

Thanks, as always, to The Second Disc for this news. I hope to have a review up when the disc gets released. The exact release-date is still pending...

Update: The film's director, Dave Markey, just contacted me to explain that the DVD was produced by We Got the Power, but is being released by Universal sometime this September. Thanks, Dave!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ray Davies to Turn Meltdown into His Personal Village Green

OK, so perhaps I've been reporting way too much on an event I can't even attend, but Jesus Christ! In an interview in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Ray Davies revealed he'll be performing my personal favorite album in its entirety at his London Meltdown festival: The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. So who wants to buy me a ticket to London? Anyone? Anyone?

Sprawling Hollies Box Set Coming...

Coming May 9 in the U.K. and May 17 in the U.S., pretty much everything The Hollies recorded with their classic lineup in one budget priced box set called The Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years : The Complete Hollies: April 1963 – October 1968. Hardcore collectors should note that a couple of rarities are not included. Audiophiles will want to know that the set will be a hodgepodge of mono and stereo tracks culled from a variety of remastering jobs stretching back to 1999. Everyone else should be satisfied with six jam-packed discs at a rather reasonable price.

The Second Disc has been kind enough to reproduce the track line-up with all relevant information regarding the remastering date of each song. I have no intention of stealing that site’s thunder, so you can just hop over there for all the details. Or if you just want to leap in and snatch it up, you can pre-order the set at Amazon.com here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Full Line-Up of Ray Davies's Meltdown Announced

Just a quick follow-up on last month's announcement about the Ray Davies-curated, "Ready, Steady, Go"-themed, Meltdown Festival that will be hitting London's Southbank Centre on June 11. Vicki Wickham, original "Ready, Steady, Go" editor and manager of the late Dusty Springfield, lent a hand in selecting the festival's final artist line-up, and our friends across the pond should be most pleased. The already-announced artists --Davies, The Fugs, Arthur Brown, The Alan Price Set, Yo La Tengo, Nick Lowe, Lydia Lunch, and The Legendary Pink Dots--will be joined by Eric Burdon, Sandie Shaw, Nona Hendryx of The Bluebelles and Labelle, Ronnie Spector, and reformed members of Manfred Mann, The Manfreds. My envy continues to grow.

Hendryx and Wickham

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Psychobabble’s Thirteen Greatest Albums of 1971

1971. The Beatles are no more. The Stones are regrouping. The Who are reinventing. Glam emerges as Rock's sparkly new hope. Self-indulgence is king. The "Stairway to Heaven" jokes may now commence. Psychobabble surveys the wreckage and selects thirteen of the years best records.

13. A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse - The Faces

By the time  Faces released their third album in late ’71, Rod Stewart had become a smash solo success, earning international hits with Every Picture Tells a Story and the number one single it spawned, “Maggie May”. Stewart’s stardom would eventually crumble his cult band while still in its infancy. But first Faces enjoyed a huge boon when A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse became their first album to crack the top ten. Faces album may not have been better than Rod, but they do trump him in terms of the diversity afforded by Ronnie Lane, who takes the lead on the lazily rocking “You’re So Rude”, the lovely “Debris”, and the chummy “Last Orders Please”, which could pass for a number by the band’s earlier incarnation as Small Faces. Elsewhere Faces just do what it is they do with greater confidence than ever before, torching the barn on “Too Bad” and the really ugly-spirited hit “Stay With Me” or settling down around the campfire to wrap their Jim Beam breath around “Love Lives Here”. Even the toss-offs—an endlessly vamping version of “Memphis Tennessee” and “That’s All You Need”, which finishes off the record with  scorching slide guitar work courtesy of Ron Wood— are pretty great. Pound for pound, the best thing Faces ever slapped together.


12. Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart

There wasn’t a ton of variation among Rod Stewart’s excellent first four albums. Each one shuffled original and cover songs interpreted with loose, largely acoustic arrangements that owed as much to traditional British folk as they did to Chuck Berry. This unique and totally winning formula hit its peak with Stewart’s second and third albums. Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells a Story are equally good, though only the latter packs in a ridiculous number of Stewart standards. The bleary-eyed yet grinning “Maggie May” became his defining song. The exquisitely picturesque “Mandolin Wind” and the magnificent title track, the singer’s ultimate folk and Chuck union and a brilliant showcase for Micky Waller’s lyrical drumming and Maggie Bell’s wild and raw voice, are tremendous songs and tremendously important to Stewart’s importance. Anyone who doesn’t believe the future face of late-seventies/eighties superficiality ever had any artistic credibility need only hear these two songs. No others make the case for Stewart’s powers as a genuine balladeer and rocker more convincingly.
11. Electric Warrior - T. Rex

As Tyrannosaurus Rex, Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn played hippie folk piped up from Middle Earth. When Bolan infused his freaky fantasies with stinging Les Paul riffs and hired bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend to round out his group, Tyrannosaurus Rex became T. Rex and glam rock danced itself out of the womb. The band’s second album in their new incarnation expanded their following from a few devoted elves and trolls to the world. Throughout the summer of ’71, radios ‘round the globe buzzed with “Get It On”. Bolan’s fusion of Chuck Berry riffs, Mike Love’s hot rod-philia, and surrealistic witchcraft was an unexpected but brilliant stroke in the years after psychedelia had died the death. Kids slapped aluminum stars on their cheeks, poured themselves into patched bell bottoms, and grooved along with such inspired gobbledygook as “You’ve got a hub cap diamond star halo,” “Dragon head, machine of lead, Cadillac King, dancer in the midnight,” and “You’ve got the universe reclining in your hair.” Bolan hisses his weird words over an expansive universe of Phil Spectorian reverb. Electric Warrior was Rock & Roll’s past and its future mashed up into a confection that sweetened the teeth of soft poppers and hard rockers, fellow glam hounds and future punks, Elton John and John Lennon, David Bowie and The Damned. Marc Bolan was a mystical uniter whose nonsense spoke louder than any rhetoric. Electric Warrior was his mission statement and masterwork.


10. What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

Berry Gordy founded Motown Records to make exquisite records featuring black artists and bundles of money. Throughout the sixties, the label did exactly that. However, wonderful records like “The Way You Do the Things You Do”, “Baby Love”, and “How Sweet It is (To Be Loved by You)” hardly reflected the breadth of the American black experience throughout the decade. Centuries of oppression finally gave way to the Civil Rights Movement, and as all true revolutions are, it was often tragically, outrageously violent. A man of deep thought and deep convictions, Marvin Gaye had more to say about his world than how sweet it is to be loved by you, and he upset the Motown formula by pouring his anguish, observations, and hopes into his music. What’s Going On was practically the anti-Motown album, both because of its atypically personal and political lyrics and because it smeared away the label’s concentration on hit singles by blending its nine tracks into an extended suite. Gaye the Hitsville hit-maker could still spin radio-ready gold, and the gorgeous, immensely moving title track became a massive hit, and more importantly, a socially conscious standard as significant as “We Shall Overcome” or “Blowin’in the Wind”. Berry Gordy hated it on first listen and was reluctant to release an album with such disregard for the Motown formula. When Gordy took a gamble on the record and won, Motown finally caught up with the times, setting the stage for thoughtful, innovative, groundbreaking records to dominate Motown/Tamla’s records in the new decade.
 
9. Hunky Dory - David Bowie

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who's a Mess

Considering that The Who have been slowly getting the deluxe treatment ever since Live at Leeds was issued as a double-disc edition a decade ago and a new Who comp creaks out of the vaults on a near-weekly basis, you’d think their back catalog would be in tip-top shape. It ain’t.

The Who discography is currently a great, big mess marred by too many poorly mastered, poorly mixed, and barely available recordings. Generally, the deluxe editions have been quite good, but they have failed to fill in numerous gaps, and in one instance –the deluxe edition of My Generation released in 2002—have left a poorly realized stereo remix as the only edition currently in print. Now, I’m no mono purist. I’m a child of the stereo age, and mono recordings tend to sound colorless and compressed to my ears. But the stereo remix of My Generation hobbles two key cuts by depriving “My Generation” and “A Legal Matter” of essential guitar parts. The mono versions are included on the bonus disc, but not hearing them in their original context is jarring. It makes My Generation— one of the great debut albums— less great. The decision to go stereo rather than mono has also negatively affected the versions of “Circles (Instant Party)” (missing John’s French horn part), “Under My Thumb” (missing Pete’s corrosive lead guitar), and “Dogs Part II” (John’s bass is basically nonexistent) currently available.


Mixing issues have been a rampant problem in the Who catalog since the mid-‘90s when Jon Astley and Andy MacPherson oversaw remixes that left “Put the Money Down” with an overlong fade, “Postcard” with an inferior bass-line, “Music Must Change” with inferior guitar solos, and “The Dirty Jobs” devoid of its cool seagull squeals. Hopefully these errors will be corrected if and when Quadrophenia, Odds and Sods, and Who Are You get the deluxe treatment they desperately need.

Most troubling is the plethora of songs that have failed to achieve bonus-track status on this multitude of expanded and deluxe editions. In some cases, these songs only exist on out-of-print discs released during the first wave of Who CDs in the mid-‘80s. One track has never been available outside of vinyl at all!

1. Circles (1966)

This is the less powerful but better realized rerecording of “Circles” originally released on the Ready, Steady, Who E.P. Perhaps The Who’s ongoing legal problems with producer Shel Talmy was the reason this number was not included with its E.P.-mates on the 1995 expansion of A Quick One. Whatever the reason, this excellent version of one of Townshend’s best early songs—a track that was almost released as a Who single in ’66, but instead flopped when Les Fleur de Leys recorded it—needs a second lease.

Most recently released on: Two’s Missing in 1987

Could have been included on: The 2002 deluxe edition of My Generation

Should be included in the future on: A deluxe edition of A Quick One

2. I’m a Boy (1966)

Already a big hit single in the summer of ’66, The Who cut an even better, extended version in the fall for possible inclusion on an LP tentatively titled Jigsaw Puzzle. When that record was scrapped to make room for Pete’s first full-fledged mini-opera on A Quick One, this superior version of “I’m a Boy”— with its more intense instrumental break, more deliberate playing, and extra verse (“Help me wash up, Jane-Marie…”)— was included on the definitive Who compilation, Meaty, Beaty, Big, & Bouncy (1971). 31 years later, it was released on a bonus E.P. included with certain versions of the Ultimate Collection compilation. But wait! What happened to the song’s opening bars? That 2002 version is a sloppy, in medias res edit. Perhaps the original tape was damaged, necessitating the truncating. Who knows? We were given no explanation, just offered a shoddy butchering of a wonderful recording. Criminal.

Most recently released on: The poorly mastered Meaty, Beaty, Big, & Bouncy CD from 1990

Could have been included on: The expanded edition of A Quick One from 1995

Should be included in the future on: A deluxe edition of A Quick One

3. The Magic Bus (1968)

Here’s another extended re-recording originally released on Meaty, Beaty. Yet this more thoughtfully paced, better sang version of one of The Who’s best-loved goofs is completely missing in action. It wasn’t even included on the Meaty, Beaty CD from 1990. Again, a damaged tape might be the culprit. Perhaps it was lost altogether. Even if this is the case, mastering technology has surely progressed to the point where a good-quality rip can be made from a clean vinyl copy of Meaty, Beaty. Hell, I’ll lend you mine!

Most recently released on: The original, 1971 vinyl version of Meaty, Beaty, Big, & Bouncy

Could have been included on: Any of a number of compilations

Should be included in the future on: A deluxe edition of Odds and Sods

4. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968)

One of John’s great, horror-themed B-sides has received truly horrific treatment on CD. Two distinct mixes of the song exist: the UK mix, which features a longer fade and some ghoulish giggling, appeared on the B-side of “Magic Bus”; the cleaner US mix sat on the back of “Call Me Lightning”. Neither is currently in-print on CD.

Most recently released on: The appallingly mastered Magic Bus: The Who On Tour CD from the mid ‘80s

Could have been included on: The expanded edition of Odds and Sods from 1998

Should be included in the future on: A deluxe edition of Odds and Sods

5. Here For More (1970)

Not what you’d call the most essential recording, but the B-side of “The Seeker” is still historically valuable in that it is one of just three Who songs solely credited to Roger Daltrey. A pleasant enough country/rock number with a riff Townshend later recycled to better effect on “In Hand or a Face”, “Here For More” is no longer here for more.

Most recently released on: The 1985 compilation Who’s Missing

Could have been included on: The deluxe edition of Who’s Next from 2003

Should be included in the future on: A deluxe edition of Odds and Sods

6. When I Was a Boy (1971)

One of John Entwistle’s most beautiful songs, “When I Was a Boy” is a fascinating predecessor to all of Pete’s ‘70s soul-searching. Even in its vinyl incarnation as the flipside of “Let’s See Action”, “When I Was a Boy” sounded flat and lacked dynamics. This one could really use a rebuffing to bring out John’s plaintive vocal and forlorn French horn. Alas it hasn’t been touched in over 25 years.

Most recently released on: Who’s Missing

Could have been included on: The deluxe edition of Who’s Next

Should be included in the future on: A deluxe edition of Odds and Sods

7. Wasp Man (1972)

Another B-side by a non-Townshend hooligan gets short shrift. Is “Wasp Man” a great song? Umm, no. Is it a hilarious example of Keith Moon’s bizarre sense of humor that allows him to make buzzing noises over the “Here For More”/”In a Hand or a Face” guitar riff for three minutes? Yes, indeedy. Originally released as the flipside of “The Relay”, Moon’s weird theme song for an imaginary superhero (err, I guess they’re all imaginary) could use some rescuing.

Most recently released on: Two’s Missing

Could have been included on: The expanded edition of Odds and Sods

Should be included in the future on: A deluxe edition of Quadrophenia

In addition to these most glaring omissions are the various songs that have not been refurbished since the so-so masters included on 1994’s Thirty Years of Maximum R&B. These tracks include “The Last Time”, “Fortune Teller”, “Dogs”, “Heaven and Hell”, and “Bony Maronie”. Some interesting live recordings—the full-length version of “Bargain” from Who’s Missing, a mediocre jam called “Goin’ Down” and a terrific version of “My Wife” from Two’s Missing—are also in limbo.

So, how about it, Faceless Corporation that Controls The Who’s Back Catalog? There’s money to be made here. You like money. Make some by selling us fresh, powerful (and not unnecessarily loud) remasters of these long lost Who treasures. Get cracking!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Psychobabble’s 150 Essential Horror Movies Part 1: The 1920s

In this feature, Psychobabble creeps through more than 90 years of horror cinema to assemble a highly personal list of the genre’s 150 most monstrous works, decade by decade.

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920- dir. Robert Wiene)

Horror’s start was atypically demure, dipping its talons in the cinematic waters with a few notable shorts during the 1910s. Adaptations of future warhorses like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde established the genre’s essential conventions: experimental special effects, gruesome makeup, shadowy atmosphere, bizarrely mannered acting. The next decade had barely begun when former theater actor Robert Wiene united these elements with shocking audacity in horror’s first major feature. As is so often the case with horror, the plot is a wispy hanger for the draping of the filmmakers' startling visuals. Told as a framed flashback, as early features films so often were,  Caligari presents one of our first mad doctors (Werner Krauss), a top-hatted creep who splits his time between running an asylum and working carnivals as a hypnotist.  His prize subject is Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a lanky giant who does the doctor’s dirty work while under a somnambulistic trance. Like a cartoon populated by living actors, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari eschews reality completely to embrace the director’s every whim. Few films—horror or otherwise—that followed are this encompassing in their weirdness. The sets, the acting, the iris transitions, even the intertitles, are distorted, bizarre. Caligari established German Expressionism as the stylistic essence of imaginative horror, and it would never be this undiluted again. The doctor’s diabolical thrall over his murderous somnambulist set the pieces in place for many mad scientist/monster pairings to follow, and it may be no great coincidence that the stiff-walking, flat-topped, black-eyed Cesare has much in common with a certain doctor-made monster Boris Karloff would play the following decade.

2. The Golem: How It Came Into the World (1920- dir. Paul Wegener and Carl Boese)

This adaptation of Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 novel melds mysticism and a most memorable monster to pioneer dark-fantasy cinema. The Golem: How It Came Into the World would be notable for no other reason than its clay creature conjured by a rabbi sorcerer to combat anti-Semitic persecutors in a medieval Jewish ghetto. As has often been written, this may be another film that held sway over James Whale, Jack Pierce, and Karloff when they collectively brought the Frankenstein Monster to life. The Golem’s encounter with a little girl is nearly impossible to watch without stringing it to the Monster'’s similar scene in Whale's Frankenstein. No doubt the equally brutish and sensitive Golem is among the first great movie monsters, but it is the intoxicating imagery conjured by directing duo Paul Wegener (who also plays the title role) and Carl Boese and cinematographer Karl Freund that makes this film magical. The creation sequence is stunning, Rabbi Loew encircling himself in fire and choreographing little flames dancing through the air. Then all turns ominous with images of a smoke-breathing demon, foreshadowing the chaos to follow. Freund would take a somewhat less celestial but more chilling tack a dozen years later when animating another major monster: The Mummy.

3. The Phantom Carriage (1921- dir. Victor Sjöström)

Germany did not have a monopoly on great horror in the genre’s earliest days. In stark contrast to its expressionistic peers, Sweden’s The Phantom Carriage introduces a more naturalistic horror film. Divorced from the grotesque surrealism of Caligari and the fantasy environments of The Golem, The Phantom Carriage packs its chills more subtlety. Aside from double exposure shots to achieve the ghosts’ semi-transparent appearances, special effects are in short order. Nightmarish imagery is not. A spectral grim reaper stalks the desolate Swedish countryside in search of a new soul to replace him as driver of the titular conveyance on New Year’s Eve. In one unforgettable shot, he retrieves a body from the bottom of the sea as eerie underwater vegetation sways in the foreground. More electrifying is a TB-infected drunkard axing through a door to get at his terrified wife and kids in a scene that must have made an impression on Stanley Kubrick. Ingmar Bergman certainly acknowledged the film’s effect on his Seventh Seal, and even cast director Victor Sjöström in the lead role of Wild Strawberries. Though Bergman would make a more philosophically profound film with The Seventh Seal (the main thrust of The Phantom Carriage is "alcohol bad; Jesus good"), Sjöström made a far spookier one.

4. Nosferatu (1922- dir. F.W. Murnau)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula had been in print for 25 years when the first feature-length adaptation of the key vampire novel materialized. Bram had been in his grave for ten years, but his wife Florence maintained tight control over the work that was her only significant source of ongoing income. So, it is hardly unreasonable that she took issue with F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of Dracula. Despite efforts to mask its source material by fiddling with title, setting, and character names, Nosferatu was not only unmistakable as Stoker’s vampiric tale, but in the sprawling pantheon of adaptations that would follow, it is one of the more faithful. Still, Florence Stoker’s methods of dealing with the infringement against her husband’s book were extreme, to say the least. Without having even seen Murnau’s film, she commanded all prints be destroyed. Thankfully, her largely successful campaign was not completely successful (and unwarranted. As it turns out, Dracula had actually been in the public domain all along because of a paperwork error). Before the 1920s came to a close, prints of Nosferatu resurfaced with the uncanny resolve of its undead title creature. Murnau presented his supernatural material with an unprecedented seriousness, tempering Robert Wiene and Wegener/Boese’s outré tendencies to create a more mildly expressionist film, though one that solidified horror’s conventions. Experimentation is still fully present in the vampire’s unsettling perfect-posture rise from his coffin and the independently animated shadows (a device Francis Ford Coppola would overuse in his own Dracula adaptation 70 years later). Like The Phantom Carriage, Nosferatu is less concerned with rewriting the cinematic rulebook and more intent on creeping under the skin. This is the first horror film that could really be called scary, or at least the first one that remains so. Much of its fright-power resides with the ratty appearance and disquieting, marionette-like movements of Max Schreck’s Dracula. But the barren, Gothic sets and impenetrable darkness in which Murnau surrounds him are equally potent. When it comes to eliciting true terror—as opposed to repulsion or shock—subtlety always triumphs. Murnau knew this well. He also recognized the importance of good source material, and no other work of horror literature would ever be adapted more often than Dracula. That none of the multitudinous adaptations that followed over the subsequent nine decades improved on Nosferatu significantly is a testament to that version’s greatness.

5. Häxan (1922- dir. Benjamin Christensen)

In its own way, Häxan is as wildly experimental as Caligari, yet in a more sophisticated and somewhat more conservative manner. Instead of expecting his audience to accept the film’s phantasmagoria at face value, Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen packages it in a documentary on all things witchy. The film works just fine as a history of supernatural witch lore and the actual persecution of women accused of witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Unlike so many of the fictional witch tales that followed, Häxan recognizes the horrific, tragic injustices of the witch persecutions of the middle-ages, perhaps patronizing the victims at times, but recognizing that they were, indeed, victims, and not the evil, blasphemous monsters we'd see in later films like Horror Hotel and Witchcraft. Of course, if  Häxan was nothing more than a straight-forward study of witchcraft through the ages, it would hardly deserve a place on this list. No, the film’s real draw are the illustrations of the superstitions the sober narration describes. Far less conservative than the documentary conceit are the shocking depictions of torture, demons cavorting in the buff, and baby sacrifices. Hell is portrayed as a Hieronymus Bosch orgy. Witches line up to kiss Satan’s bare ass. A coven of broomstick riders soars through the night sky. Christensen employs elaborate composite shots, reverse shots, spectacular make up, and sets to bring his nightmare vision to life, and even steals the show himself as the towering, tongue-wagging Satan. In the ‘60s, Häxan was re-edited, narrated by junkie laureate William S. Burroughs, dubbed with a grating avant-jazz score, and marketed to the head set as Witchcraft Through the Ages, but the original cut is the definitive one.

6. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923- dir. Wallace Worsley)

In the coming years, horror would cease to be such an international commodity as we’ve seen so far. In the 1930s, the United States, and one studio in particular, would hold a near monopoly on the genre. However, the film usually cited as the inaugural Universal Horror appears here with some reservations. Though this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris has long been categorized as a monster movie because of Lon Chaney’s pain-defying transformation into Quasimodo, the idea of classifying a disfigured human as a monster has hardly aged well. But is he our monster? As is the case in the similarly dicey Freaks, the public may say “yes,” but the film answers with an emphatic “no.” In fact, no member of Universal’s iconic monster canon commits an act of cruelty comparable to the monarchy-approved torture of both “the hunchback” and our heroine, Esmeralda. Nor is any character responsible for such acts of compassion as Quasimodo’s rescue of Esmeralda and her tending of his wounds after he is tortured. No, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not a monster movie in the mode of Dracula or The Wolf Man, but a Horror movie of humankind’s cruelty like Freaks and Witchfinder General. And though Chaney’s make-up, which involved twenty pounds of debilitating plaster strapped to his torso, invites us to stare, so does every aspect of Wallace Worsley’s spectacle, from the 15-acre recreation of 15th century Paris to the cast of thousands to stuntman Joe Bonomo’s astounding acrobatics along the cathedral’s face. All testify to the film’s place as a “super jewel” production. What lingers longest in the imagination is not the voyeuristic pleasures of The Hunchback of Notre Dame but the depth of its title character. While the other characters generally fulfill heroic and villainous archetypes, Quasimodo embodies the range of humanity: its pitifulness and its pity, its scorn and love, its violence and tenderness. He is one of the few humans in a sea of monsters. 


7. The Phantom of the Opera (1925- dir. Rupert Julian)

Hunchback of Notre Dame can only be regarded as a Universal Horror appetizer. The studio's first feast of fear was unquestionably The Phantom of the Opera. Based on the Gaston Leroux potboiler, Phantom is intent on doing what horror movies are supposed to do: scare the hell out of us, and as familiar as stills of Lon Chaney's face as Erik the Phantom are, the uninitiated may be rather surprised by how truly scary that puss is when moving on the screen. Frightening as Max Schreck was in Nosferatu, his appearance owed a lot to his naturally strange features. As he did in Hunchback, Lon Chaney transformed himself completely and brutally for his adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. Wiring up his nose so tightly that it spurted blood, Chaney suffered almost as much as audiences did when confronted with his skull-like face. The scene in which that ghastly face stares down the camera, stalking toward the viewer, pointing an accusatory finger, is still punishing. Such moments are so powerful that they overshadow a sometimes indifferently realized film that presents too much of its action in wide shots. Though they show off the scenery well, they do not maximize suspense or action. Such lack of consistency is unsurprising considering that directing duties were secretly split between the workmanlike Rupert Julian and star Chaney, who handled his own scenes with such attention to detail that he actually altered his makeup shot by shot to best emphasize his ghastly features. Phantom was not the first horror feature made in the U.S.—John S. Robertson made his memorable version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring John Barrymore five years earlier—but it’s the first true American horror film that looks like a full-blown, Hollywood production, trumpeting a cast of thousands and exquisite costumes and sets, particularly the Phantom’s underground labyrinth. Here the Universal era and the golden age of horror begins.

8. Faust (1926- dir. F.W. Murnau)

Murnau used the hoary parable of Dr. Faust selling his soul to Old Scratch as a leaping-off point for some of his most striking images. Forget the proselytizing and focus on puppet demons galloping through the cosmos on horseback, a demonic contract flaming into existence without pen ever touching parchment, and a Godzilla-sized Satan looming over the village he is about to plague with the plague. Even some of the religious imagery, such as a radiant archangel with giant wings, is mighty enough to impress secular viewers. But it is the visions of evil and horror that ignite this film, and considering how completely Murnau jettisoned Stoker’s Christian symbolism from Nosferatu, one can reasonably suspect that the filmmaker mounted Faust with phantasmagoria higher on his agenda than piety. At the same time, this version of Faust is more explicitly religious than the German folk myth and Goethe’s play on which it was based. The director’s intentions may be debatable, but his results are not. Faust has not had the cultural impact of Nosferatu or The Last Laugh or Sunrise, but it may be Murnau’s masterpiece. And don’t be fooled by the numerous critics who’ve taken issue with Emil Janning’s broad performance as evil Mephisto; the actor’s non-stop leering and scenery munching are nearly as fun to watch as Murnau’s ever inventive imagery.

 9. The Cat and the Canary (1927- dir. Paul Leni)

The canary is Cyrus West, the rich old guardian of the “famous West diamonds” who died twenty years ago today. The cats are West’s greedy relatives who stand to inherit the loot. But wait! There’s another cat on the loose: an escaped lunatic haunting West’s castle where everyone has gathered for a very belated will reading. Who’s the canary now? Who cares! Director Paul Leni is a lot more concerned with wild film techniques than plot in his adaptation of John Willard’s hit play The Cat and the Canary. Surreal superimpositions of clawing cats and chattering skulls, faces that elongate as if reflected in a fun house mirror, shots from the perspective of West’s tumbling portrait, ones that prowl down corridors or zoom-in with cheetah speed. Even the intertitles are zany: quivering, dropping in reverse, exploding with animated comic-strip expletives. Universal’s first old dark house flick is also a treasury of hokey clichés: furry claws reach out of sliding panels and swiveling bookcases, eyes are eerily lit with pin lights, a spooked goofball stammers “G-g-g-ghosts?”, a monster-impersonating huckster who would have gotten away with his evil scheme if not for some meddling kids. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine there’d be a “Scooby Doo” if not for The Cat and the Canary. All of this adds up to great, cheesy, spooky fun executed with no shortage of artistry. Leni’s imagery and camerawork spring directly from his background in German Expressionism. By employing that style for such a crowd-pleasing blend of horror and comedy, Leni helped American audiences acclimate to the more idiosyncratic side of cinema, and as writer Harry Long suggests in American Silent Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy, that blend must have had a profound influence on James Whale too. Laura La Plante’s utterly charming turn as our heroine, Annabelle West, certainly helped win over moviegoers as well. 


10. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928- dir. Jean Epstein)

Though short on plot, “The Fall of the House of Usher” has always been one of the most regularly adapted Edgar Allan Poe stories. Two versions were filmed in 1928 alone, one a short piece by American avant gardists James Watson and Melville Webber, and one a feature by Jean Epstein of France. Perhaps it is that very lack of plot-mechanics that has made “Usher” so popular among filmmakers. Poe’s story is like a spicy bouillon cube from which a complexly flavorful soup may be brewed. Epstein and his co-writer Luis Buñuel, who was just in the midst of making “Un Chien Andalou” with Salvador Dali, take greater liberties with that cube than some subsequent chefs would. Roderick and Madeline Usher are now married rather than siblings, which neutralizes the incestuous themes of Poe’s tale. No matter. There is still much to disturb in this version. Epstein and Buñuel’s film may not be as faithful as many subsequent adaptations (and that includes Roger Corman’s 1960 version), but perhaps no film channels the dreadful dreaminess of Poe’s prose better. The grotesqueness and queasy beauty. The dank elegance, the hallucinatory madness, the sheer morbidity. Gothic well beyond anything even Murnau imagined, The Fall of the House of Usher casts a bewitching spell via disorienting visuals. The camerawork is shockingly modern, eschewing the staginess of so many early films for manic first and second person perspective shots. Epstein superimposes candles and billowing shrouds over Madeline’s funeral procession to ratchet up the dread. He magnifies the beauty of Roderick’s music by intercutting his guitar-strumming hands with scenes of nature. He underlines Roderick’s madness with weird imagery both obviously metaphorical (guitar strings spontaneously snap) and purely surreal (frogs copulate). Madeline’s crypt is a phantasmagoric haunted garden worthy of Lewis Carroll. Her return from the grave is as insidiously chilling as Chaney’s unmasking in Phantom of the Opera is shocking. The Fall of the House of Usher brought European silent horror to a crazed peak. As the decade neared its climax, Hollywood would greedily claim a new era of sound monster movies for its own. Filmmakers of the fantastic such as Benjamin Christensen and F.W. Murnau had already been lured to the booming U.S. industry by the mid ‘20s. As Hitler rose to power in the next decade, others would either do the same (Fritz Lang, Robert Wiene), or sadly, assimilate to the new regime (Paul Wegener). Though horror would not remain quite so international during the 1930s, its impact would still be… well… universal.

Creep on to the '30s…

Friday, April 1, 2011

Stones Reunite (Really!) on Ian Stewart Tribute Album

There aren’t many Stones purists pure enough to carp that The Rolling Stones ceased to be when Bill Wyman quit the band in 1992 (as opposed to Who freaks who generally agree that band disintegrated when Keith Moon died). Darryl Jones has done a perfectly fine job of filling Bill’s blue suedes since Voodoo Lounge, but it is still heartening to see the wayward Stone has rolled home for a one-off recording with his former band. The occasion is one dear to the hearts of those with hearts of stone: a tribute to Ian Stewart, the original sixth Stone they booted before recording their first album because manager Andrew Loog Oldham thought he looked too square and felt six names were too many for teenyboppers to remember. Stewart begrudgingly accepted a job as the band’s road manager and still sat behind the piano to boogie woogie during recording sessions—as long as the boys were keeping it bluesy and didn’t play any of those nasty minor chords Stu so reviled.

Ian Stewart died of a heart attack in 1985, so fans might think some sort of tribute is long overdue. Eagle Records will set Stu-heads at ease on April 19th when it releases Boogie 4 Stu: A Tribute to Ian Stewart (the title references a well-liked jam between Stewart and Led Zeppelin). Jagger, Richards, Watts, Wood, and Wyman recorded a version of Bob Dylan’s “Watchin’ the River Flow” for the record. What that song has to do with Ian Stewart is anyone’s guess. Maybe he liked it?

The album was assembled in collaboration between engineer Glyn Johns , who often worked with The Stones, and pianist Ben Waters, who played with Stu in his band Rocket 88. The disc will also include other contributions by Richards, Watts, and Wood, as well as the fabulous PJ Harvey, who recorded Ray Charles’s “Lonely Avenue” for the project (and whose Let England Shake is this year’s album to beat). Rocket 88 and Stu, himself, close the disc with a cover of Sam Cook’s “Bring It on Home” recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Preorder Boogie 4 Stu: A Tribute to Ian Stewart at Amazon.com here.
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