Saturday, September 21, 2019

Review: The Beatles' 'Abbey Road Anniversary Edition' on Vinyl

Perhaps The Beatles didn’t intend Abbey Road to be their final album, but that’s the way things turned out, and it’s difficult to listen to the album and not take its finality as a conscious statement from the band that rearranged the face of pop. The Beatles were still rearranging it at the end with the ingenious medley that salvaged several of Lennon and McCartney song scraps.

More significantly, the songs point to where each Beatle would head during his solo career. Lennon exorcised his demons Plastic Ono Band-style with “I Want You [(She’s So Heavy)” and played the dreamer Imagine-style (“Because”). McCartney served up neat pastiche with “Oh! Darling” and the kind of fluff that would cause critics to pile on him—often unfairly—throughout the seventies with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. With “Octopus’s Garden”, Ringo delivered the good-natured tunefulness apparent in the band’s most surprising solo success. George also showed he had the stuff to make what could be the seventies’ greatest album—All Things Must Pass—with his first-rate contributions “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Review: Debbie Harry's 'Face It'

The apparent irony of Debbie Harry’s career is that despite being in her thirties by the time she became a star, despite her classically fine voice, despite Blondie’s radio-ready pop songs, she and her band got lumped in with the punks. Look, no one is going to mistake “The Tide Is High” for “Blitzkrieg Bop”, but Harry’s story is actually pretty punk. She survived in the heart of infamous mid-seventies NYC when rats and violence were in equal abundance, she survived drug addition and sexual assault and now speaks of both nonchalantly, she survived a turbulent career at odds with her consistently massive fame, she survived getting ripped off by music-business weasels, she survived the severe illness of boyfriend and band mate Chris Stein. Don’t get taken in by how Sid Vicious’s tragic trajectory is glamorized—surviving is punker than dying.

Harry lived through it all to tell her story in Face It. Through 350 pages, she burns through uncountable harrowing experiences without ever seeming excessively bothered or bitter about the hard times or overly impressed with the triumphs. Debbie Harry is nothing if not cool.

Along with discussing her musical career in satisfying detail, she discusses her troubled personal background and attempts to reconnect with her biological family, her strange pre-fame encounters with Buddy Rich and Timothy Leary, her relationship with Chris Stein (though she’s still mum about the specifics of their break up), her less celebrated couplings with thPenn Jillette and Harry Dean Stanton, her film work with David Cronenberg and John Waters, her odd projects (stand out: attempting to remake Godard’s Alphaville with a starring role for Robert Fripp), her infatuations with pro wrestling and some weird shit she calls sprang-a-langs, her sexual, chemical, musical, and fashion preferences, and her own iconic status.

Face It is also a fabulously designed book. Photos are often embellished with cheeky cartoons and there are several multi-page sections devoted to fan art. It’s a gas to see that Harry’s style-consciousness is even at work in her autobiography.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Farewell, Ric Ocasek

At a time when The Cure and Devo were still a wee too weird for audiences of cheerleaders and jocks, The Cars were tuneful and non-threatening enough to drag the New Wave into the mainstream. This does not mean they skimped on the oddness. Mixed amongst irresistible pop confections such as "My Best Friend's Girl", "Good Times Roll", "Just What I Needed", and "Let's Go" were quirky numbers like "Shoo Be Doo", "Moving in Stereo", "Candy-O", and "All Mixed Up". Plus, you had Ric Ocasek's disaffected hiccups leading even the catchiest Cars tunes. The guy exuded cool with his shades on a beanpole image, and his knack for writing perfect pop songs makes that first Cars album sound like a proper Greatest Hits comp. 

Ocasek was also an outstanding producer, helming works by an impressive array of artists that include Suicide, Romeo Void, Bad Brains, Weezer (he's behind their career-defining "Blue" album), Bad Religion, Jonathan Richman, and Le Tigre. And I for one will forever insist that he did not help Guided by Voices create a too-slick career misstep when he produced 1999's Do the Collapse; he helped the band make the best album of the 1990s.

Sadly, Ric Ocasek was found dead yesterday in his apartment in NYC. No specific cause of death has been revealed yet. By most accounts, he was 75.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Beatles Expert Reveals Band's Plans for an LP after 'Abbey Road'

As we near the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road, there will no doubt be a lot of talk about how it was the final album The Beatles' recorded. However, according to Beatles-historian Mark Lewisohn, the album that literally ends with "The End" was not intended to be the end. The author of the ongoing, exhaustive, three-volume biography The Beatles: All These Years, told the Guardian that there is a tape of John, Paul, and George discussing the format for a post-Abbey Road album (Ringo was in the hospital with gut issues). The tape was recorded on September 8, 1969, just 18 days before the release of Abbey Road.

Lewisohn reports that John wanted separate credits for the non-collaborative Lennon and McCartney songs included on the disc, which he also wanted to be more democratic, with four songs apiece by those at the meeting and two by Ringo. Things get snippy when Paul complains about the quality of George's pre-Abbey Road material and George defends himself while John takes a swipe at the quality of Paul's own "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," which his bandmates famously loathed. Nevertheless, Lewisohn insists that the vibes were generally good and that a lead-off single was even being planned for X-Mas 1969. Read more in the profile of Mark Lewisohn over at the Guardian here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Deluxe Edition of Rolling Stones' 'Let It Bleed' Coming...

The annual 50th Anniversary, deluxe editions of Decca-era Rolling Stones albums continues this year with the expected coming of a set devoted to 1969's Let It Bleed. The unexpected part is that this set is poised to get it righter than those previous editions of Their Satanic Majesties Request and Beggars Banquet did. While outtakes are still a no-go (and there are some very cool ones, such as Mick singing lead on "You Got the Silver" and Keith singing lead on "Gimmie Shelter"), the set collects all available released versions of the Stones' 1969 work. That means that both the stereo and (fold-down) mono versions of the proper album will be included on both vinyl and SACD, and the accompanying "Honky Tonk Women" b/w "You Can't Always Get What You Want" single (in mono and with picture sleeve, of course) will also be part of this set. 

This deluxe edition of Let It Bleed will also include a 50-page hardback book, as well as lithographs and a poster. Now if ABCKO would only rush reissue Satanic with the "We Love You" b/w "Dandelion" single and Beggars with the "Jumpin' Jack Flash" b/w "Child of the Moon" and "Street Fighting Man" b/w "No Expectations" singles...

Review: 'Kak'

If the lackadaisical rhythms and aimless noodling of too many late-sixties San Fran bands implies an overindulgence in acid, then their frenetic pace, vicious guitars, and rhythmic chaos suggests that amphetamines were Kak’s drug of choice. The band’s self-titled debut and sole LP is an invigorating artyfact of acid rock’s least interesting scene. By the time the guys get around to the more typically laid back, west coast sound of “I’ve Got Time” and the Donovan-esque “Flowing By”, we can all agree they’ve earned a respite after sweating through “Everything’s Changing” with its incongruous marriage of hippie-sloganeering and punk attack, the stunning “Electric Sailor”, and “Disbelievin’”. Flip Kak over, and find the group reinvigorated for the hellfire blues of “Bryte ‘n’ Clear Day”. The token epic “Trieulogy” lacks the verve and tunefulness of what preceded it, but by that point, Kak have earned enough good-faith points to be forgiven an indulgence that is still livelier than the jams most of their peers were producing in ’68. Hell, if The Grateful Dead had one-tenth of Kak’s energy and nerve, they might have actually earned their cult.

Guerssen Records is now reissuing Kak on vinyl with no detail overlooked. The vinyl is super quiet, the audio is super powerful, and the cover is heavy stock. This lovely package includes a booklet with a band member interview, a nice-quality obi and a collectable card depicting the band’s logo.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review: 'Supreme Glamour'

The Supremes were the top American group of the sixties, having more number-one hits than any other group aside from The Beatles. They were also similar to their British rivals in the impact they made on the fashion world. Just as the Fabs’ mop tops, collarless jackets, and Cuban-heeled boots would loom large in their legend, The Supremes are unimaginable without their bouffants and slinky, sequined gowns.

Mary Wilson— the only Supreme to stay with the group throughout all their incarnations— held onto a lot of the stage wear her group donned throughout their career, and she displays them in Supreme Glamour. The groovy thing about her and Mark Begos new book is that it does double-duty as a pocket autobiography of Wilson’s Supreme years and a luxuriant display of the fabulous garments in which she, Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Cindy Birdsong, and Jean Terrell sang and shimmied.

Designed by the likes of Bob Mackie, Michael Travis, and LaVetta of Beverly Hills, these outfits represent some of the most flat-out artistic work of what I believe to be fashion’s finest era. Close ups of intricate bead and sequin designs hint at just how much work went into The Supremes’ incredible stage act.

Too bad that photos of the women in these spectacular creations aren’t spotlighted quite as much as images of the dresses on headless mannequins, but there are still a lot of pictures of Wilson and her cohorts in costume, particularly in the two-part autobiographical portions of Supreme Glamour. While this obviously isn’t as in-depth as Mary Wilson two proper autobiographies, Dreamgirl and Supreme Faith, it’s still satisfying and unafraid to deal with the group’s grimmer experience of which there are many. Yet Wilson does not betray an iota of bitterness, and her good-natured tone remains light enough to accompany a vibrant portfolio of gowns as sure to make you smile as a spin of “Where Did Our Love Go” or “Love Is Like an Itching In My Heart”.

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