Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mike Nesmith's Ten Greatest Monkees Songs

Say what you will about The Monkees (no one has ever pulled any punches before), but even the most blinkered, calloused critics admit one thing about the group they deride as “the Pre-Fab Four”: Mike Nesmith is a great, great songwriter. In celebration of ol’ Wool Hat’s 70th birthday today, I’ve put together a selection of his ten best. Or, more truthfully, my ten favorites.

Narrowing this list down was very, very hard, so I had to put some tough restrictions on myself. Naturally, there would be no songs Mike sang but didn’t write, which is why all of my favorite tracks from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones LTD. are MIA. Out went songs he didn’t write for The Monkees, such as “Different Drum” and my favorite of his solo tunes, “Mama Nantucket”. Even after instating those rules, narrowing the list down was still too difficult, which accounts for my final restriction: no songs Mike co-wrote. That meant three of the most painful cuts: “Sweet Young Thing”, “I Won’t Be the Same without Her”, and toughest of all, “Auntie’s Municipal Court”.

You may still notice that some of your favorite Mike Nesmith solo-compositions for The Monkees are missing from the list. Rest assured they are only missing because it would be kind of dopey to create a list with everything the guy wrote for his group. As far as I’m concerned, he never really wrote a bad Monkees song (one might cite “Writing Wrongs” as an example. I’ve always found it hypnotic and scary, though I can understand why someone else might dismiss it as pretentious rubbish). In any event, here’s the cream of a particularly healthy crop.

1. “Papa Gene’s Blues” (1966)

The Monkees were hardly taken seriously during their own time, but they were subtly innovative as early as their very first album. Nothing in 1966 sounded quite like Mike’s Cajun funk “Sweet Young Thing” (which he was forced to co-write with Gerry Goffin and Carole King) or the exhilarating Tex-Mex jambalaya “Papa Gene’s Blues”. With its rising and falling chord progression and simplistically joyful chorus, it remains one of Nes’s freshest compositions. With its tapestry of percussion and twangy guitars, it is one of his most enthralling productions.


2. “You Just May Be the One” (1966)

Mike’s commercial instincts are even sharper on the ridiculously catchy “You Just May Be the One”. With its cautiously romantic lyric and jittery bass riff, the track was a classic even before it appeared on LP. Several months before The Monkees remade the track for Headquarters, Mike cut a version with studio musicians that was regularly featured in season one of the “Monkees” TV show. With all due respect to the band—and Peter’s amazing bass playing—the Monkees’ version sounds a little too bare bones compared to the nearly overproduced studio-musicians version. I also prefer how Mike rattles off the title line rapidly instead of slow-drawling it as he does on the slightly less exciting Headquarters remake.


3. “Mary Mary” (1967)

Mike didn’t exactly write this for The Monkees. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded “Mary Mary” half-a-year before it appeared on More of the Monkees, but no doubt most people are familiar with the version spotlighting Glen Campbell’s gut-twisting blues riff and Micky’s soul stirring R&B vocal.



4. “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (1967)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

News Round Up: Zone, Kit, Spock, Ravi, and ‘The Who FAQ’

Many apologies for the lack of new stuff on Psychobabble this past month, but my absence here has allowed me to make great progress with The Who FAQ. I am now more than halfway through the first draft of my book, and if I continue working at this rate, I should have it finished before the spring. That means regular Psychobabble posts may resume sometime in March. I do, however, have a couple of decent-sized features on the way for late December/early January.

Until then, I need to get caught up with some news items that have slipped past this site since the beginning of December…

1. Actor Carey Elwes is gearing up to make his directorial debut with a bio-pic about the late Who-manager Kit Lambert next spring. Elwes is working closely with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend to make his profile of The Who’s troubled mentor as authentic as possible. Former Mojo editor Pat Gilbert supplied the script. Elwes has also been developing a comedic depiction of the meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon called Elvis & Nixon starring Eric Bana as the former and Danny Huston as the latter for a while, but it looks like the Kit flick might beat it into production.

2. Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer is currently at work on yet another “Twilight Zone” revival. This will be the fourth time someone thought they could do what Rod Serling did (and that’s not even including the 1983 feature film or the Leonardo DiCaprio helped TZ feature that’s been in development for the past four years). Like the original series, Singer’s “Twilight Zone” will air on CBS… assuming it doesn’t suffer the same fate as “Mockingbird Lane,” the dodgy “Munsters” remake he directed for NBC that didn’t go further than a pilot.

3. On December 11, Visual Entertainment Inc. released a massive 21-disc “In Search Of…” box set. Included are all 146 episodes of the creepy, Moog-synthesizer-smothered documentary series hosted by Leonard Nimoy, as well as a bonus disc featuring an adaptation of Brave New World starring Nimoy, Daniel Dae Kim, and Peter Gallagher. I’m trying to get my hands on a review copy of the set, but I’m not holding my breath. You can order In Search Of… The Complete Series on Amazon.com here

4. Finally, a quick mention of the recent death of Ravi Shankar. I’m sure you’ve already read plenty of tributes to the genius, but I’ve been feeling terribly remiss about not tossing in my respects. Most relevant to Psychobabble, Ravi Shankar helped spark the short-lived raga-Rock craze that gave us all those mesmeric numbers George Harrison created in the mid-sixties, as well as similarly enthralling pieces by the Stones, Donovan, Tomorrow, Traffic, The Cyrkle, Procol Harum, and every other pop band that navigated their ways around the sitar’s 20-something strings. But let’s not forget the man’s own music: blindingly virtuosic, but also subtle and pastoral. Side A of his Portrait of Genius is surprisingly lacking in showy displays of skill, and Shankar’s sitar often plays backup to the percussion and woodwinds. Then on Side B, he lets it rip on the dazzling twenty-minute “Raga Multani”, which says more about his brilliance than any amount of words could. So, here it is (somewhat edited, unfortunately):

Monday, December 10, 2012

Another 'Who FAQ' Poll! Vote for the Most Underrated Who Songs!


Once again I am reaching out to my fellow Whooligans for some input as I busily toil away on The Who FAQ. Last month I picked your purple-heart riddled brains about your favorite solo albums (that poll is still open, by the way). Now I'd like to know what you think are The Who's most underrated songs. I'm looking for songs that weren't hits, songs you won't find on The Ultimate Collection, songs that have never been used as a "CSI" theme, songs that if you shouted requests for them at a Who show, Roger would be like, "Huh?" and Pete would hit you with his guitar.

So choose up to five of your favorite odds and sods, and I'll profile the biggest winners in The Who FAQ. Hit me with your selections in the comments section below. Have at it...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: 'Movie Monsters in Scale'


Mark C. Glassy has a Ph.D in biochemistry. In 1982, he invented the first human antibody used to treat cancer. So what the hell is he doing making models of monsters? Having fun, of course, and fun is the real purpose of his new book, Movie Monsters in Scale. Sure, he offers plenty of pointers that may help you assemble, paint, and decorate your own models and dioramas, but as someone who never acquired that hobby, I still really enjoyed his book because gawking at his model collection is a lot of monstery fun. The problem is that his contributions to these packaged kits are largely down to his paintjobs, and most of these photos are in black and white. So Glassy spends a lot of time describing paint jobs we can’t really appreciate. There are 24 color pages to give a taste of his talents, but this book really should have received the full-color treatment.


Get Movie Monsters in Scale at Amazon.com here:


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: 'Roger Daltrey: The Biography'

Poor Rog. There are several fairly thick biographies of both Pete Townshend and Keith Moon. John Entwistle was the subject of a feature-length documentary. What does Roger Daltrey get? A leaflet-sized biography that fails to mention his songwriting efforts, reduces his entire solo career to a couple of paragraphs, and zips through everything that happened to him after the sixties in fewer than 100 pages. Writers Tim Ewbank and Stafford Hildred’s reliance on old interviews with Who manager Kit Lambert makes for some entertaining reading but the raconteur rarely instills confidence that his stories are accurate. Neither does the writers’ tendency to make sloppy mistakes, as when they refer to the “three” albums of original material The Who released in the eighties. The only chapter that is sufficiently thorough and unique is the one covering Roger’s acting career. Otherwise, Roger Daltrey: The Biography offers little information about the singer that can’t be gleaned from most Who biographies.


Get Roger Daltrey: The Biography at Amazon.com here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Who FAQ Poll! Best Solo Albums...

In my quest to ensure The Who FAQ doesn't merely rest on my own subjective opinions about the World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band, I'm relying on you Who fans to help decide the contents of my upcoming book.

First up, I'd like to know about your favorite solo albums by each band member. With only one solo LP to his name, Keith needs no mention, but what do you think is Pete's greatest record? How about Rog and John? Sound off in the comments section below, and I'll feature the best loved discs in The Who FAQ!

Review: Bo Diddley's 'Diddley Daddy: The Collection'

For those who don’t know, an anthology of 52 classics from Bo Diddley may seem like an overdose of “shave-and-a-haircut” beats. Devotees of the Boss Man know he was a lot more eclectic than that. Yes, there are plenty of chances to get hypnotized by Bo’s trademark rhythm (and hear him sing his own praises by name), but he also bashes out some hard Chicago-style blues on “I’m a Man” (proving that white Rockers didn’t have a monopoly on ripping off Muddy Waters), blasts off some fast boogie on “Diddley Daddy”, and lays down a heavy Rock & Roll riff on “Roadrunner”. Elsewhere, Bo knows John Lee Hooker-style blues (“She’s Fine, She’s Mine”), surfy instrumentals (“Aztec”), hilarious novelties (“Say Man”) doo-wop (“I’m Sorry”), Latin swirl (“Dearest Darling”), Buddy Holly-esque pop (“Crackin' Up”), folk standards (“Sixteen Tons”), and proto-psychedelia (the disorienting “Down Home Special”). Indeed, the breadth of artists who’ve covered songs on Diddley Daddy: The Collection speaks to its eclectic nature:  The Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart, The Who, The Velvet Underground, The Pretty Things, New York Dolls, The Kinks, Elvis Presley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and on and on. One thing all these tracks have in common is eerie, celestial production, and of course, Bo’s unfathomably mesmeric soul. A consistently transfixing listening experience.

Get Bo Diddley’s Diddley Daddy: The Collection at Amazon.com here.

 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Farewell, Chris Stamp

Unfortunate news has reached my desk this morning by way of Matt Kent's Naked Eye News. Chris Stamp died yesterday at Mt. Sinai Hospital where he'd spent the last two weeks. He was 70.

Brother of actor Terence, Chris achieved fame when he and his show-biz partner Kit Lambert went seeking stars for a film that would have tracked the rise of a young, English pop band. Stamp and Lambert settled on a Mod group called The High Numbers that Lambert had seen pumping out a set of Maximum R&B at the Railway Hotel on July 14, 1964. The partners decided to take the group under their managerial wings, first convincing them to revert to their previous name: The Who. 

  Chris Stamp with Kit Lambert

Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert led The Who through their first ten years, a decade in which they released much of their greatest music on Stamp and Lambert's Track Records, which also put out Jimi Hendrix's recordings in the UK. While Bill Curbishley took over management in the mid-seventies, Stamp remained a close associate of the band, and continued singing their praises in the 2007 documentary Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who.

Expect a more thorough tribute to Chris Stamp and his life's work in The Who FAQ, coming in 2014.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: 'Del Shannon: The Essential Collection 1961-1991'

 
Though Del Shannon only managed two top ten hits in his home country, he scored a far more impressive eight in the UK. So it is appropriate that Britain’s Music Club Deluxe Records has put together one of the most comprehensive anthologies of his decades-spanning body of work. The transcendent “Runaway” naturally gets things underway, and is immediately followed by the excellent “Hats Off to Larry,” which is his second best known record in the States. For we Americans, much of the remainder of The Essential Collection 1961-1991 is a trove of treasures screaming to be heard for the first time.

Disc one, which houses all of the US and UK hits, is actually somewhat hit-and-miss. When Shannon had great material, such as the aforementioned hits or lesser-known wonders such as his non-hit his version of his own composition “I Go to Pieces” (a big hit for Pete and Gordon), he could do no wrong. But some of this stuff is middling doo-wop that highlights the limitations of his voice in the days before he became a consistently confident singer. On disc two, he stretches beyond the falsetto and musitron (the eerie keyboard showcased on “Runaway”) formula of his early hits to embrace garage rock, baroque pop, psychedelia, and country pop. Although these recordings aren’t always amazing —his covers of “Under My Thumb” and The Box Tops’ “The Letter” stick too close to the originals to be much more than redundant—they are consistently good. Much of this, such as the four recordings culled from 1967 sessions produced by Andrew Oldham (including a baroque-pop remake of “Runaway”) and the two tracks pulled from his vastly underrated psychedelic opus The Further Adventures of Charles Westover, are superb. Shannon had a lot more than “Runaway” in his arsenal. The Essential Collection 1961-1991 is positive proof of that.

Get Del Shannon: The Essential Collection 1961-1991 at Amazon.com here. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: 'Alien: The Illustrated Story'


Considering how adult Alien is—not just in terms of violence and profanity, but also in pacing and artistry—it’s surprising how Ridley Scott’s film was marketed back in 1979. Twentieth Century Fox not-too-subtly pitched the film at kids by licensing an Alien action figure and an Alien comic book. As written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Walter Simonson, the book did not pull any punches in terms of blood, “fucks,” “shits,” and sex talk, although at 60-pages, the pace was certainly brisker. This all makes for a wonderfully seedy read: a slow and brooding film transformed into a Heavy Metal comic (quite literally, as Heavy Metal was the original publisher). Simonson’s art captured the actors’ likenesses well, and Goodwin’s text embellished on the script just enough to get all the film’s beats in at the skimpy designated page count. Titan Books has just reprinted Alien: The Illustrated Story for the first time in thirty-three years. It would have been nice if this bare-bones reprint had a few extras, some commentary on its publication or artists perhaps, but as it stands, it’s still a groovy artifact.

Get Alien: The Illustrated Story at Amazon.com here. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: 'Angel: After the Fall' (slipcase edition)

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” receives the vast majority of geek love, but I personally preferred its spin-off. “Angel” was more adult, less cutesy pie (no talk of “smoochies” or “scoobies” to offend the ear). Although the title character—Buffy’s brooding, befanged ex-beau—was a bit of a drip, the supporting players were almost uniformly fab. And while “Buffy” certainly declined in quality over time, “Angel” hit its stride in season five when he and his gang took over an evil law firm (I know, I know, they’re all evil. Hardy har).

Sad then that season five was “Angel”’s last. Creator Joss Whedon was well aware his show was reaching its end, so the cliff hanger-flavored finale that found the Angel crew facing demonically insurmountable odds in a rainy alley was not really supposed to be resolved. At least not on TV. Three years after the WB gave “Angel” the corporate boot to make room for more episodes of “One Tree Hill” or whatever, it was back in comic book form.

Instead of picking up right where the TV series left off, Angel: After the Fall pulled a classic Whedon trick by not giving the readers what they think they want. We’ve jumped ahead several months to find some of our old friends are ghosts, others are vampires, and others were vampires and are now human. Our old friend Los Angeles has been transformed into hell. There’s also a telekinetic fish. Seriously.

As the comic series continues, we start returning to the rainy alley in patches, and the story starts to make sense. Reading this story in brief monthly installments must have been infuriating. Fortunately, now that it’s all over, IDW has compiled the whole series into a four-volume slip cased collection. Reading Angel: After the Fall in one swoop as gathered in this edition is much less frustrating. Rather, the tale is quite satisfying, and that’s coming from someone who didn’t feel cheated by the TV series’ open-ended finale. The one major flaw of the comic series is the inconsistency of its art. Whedon and writer Brian Lynch (who does a boffo job) are aided and abetted by nine different illustrators. Much of the artwork is really quite awful. There’s a likeness of Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia in volume three in which she looks like one of the alien doctors in the “Eye of the Beholder” episode of “The Twilight Zone”, and she isn’t even supposed to be a monster. Some of the art is pretty good, but it rarely strikes the right balance of photorealism and creative artistry necessary to make us forget we’re not watching this thing on TV, which of course, is what we’d rather be doing than reading comic books.

Get Angel: After the Fall (slipcase edition) on Amazon.com here.


Psychobabble's Best of 2012


As another year approaches its end, let’s take a look back on Psychobabble’s top-reviewed books, CDs, and DVDs of 2012. Each item on each list links to the original review.

Rock & Roll Books


Horror and Film Books


CDs


DVDs

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: The Jam's 'The Gift' Super Deluxe Edition

The Jam’s final record is the one that most delivers on their mod image. It is rhythmically tight, with Rick Buckler slapping out the kinds of Benny Benjamin beats dapper modernists shimmied to in 1963. Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton’s songs are pure pop in the mode of the English groups that worshipped American soul in the salad days of the Vespa and the ventilated flack jacket. At times The Jam betray their fealty to their favorite era, as when Weller skids out Superfly wah-wah licks on “Precious”, but “Trans-Global Express”, “Running on the Spot”, and the glorious “Town Called Malice” find these mods at their most modish.

Because it doesn’t peel the paint like In the City and All Mod Cons, and it doesn’t supply wall-to-wall classics like Sound Affects, The Gift tends to get marginalized. Without a doubt The Jam’s most electrifying days did lay in the past. The road ahead was a path of maturity Paul Weller preferred to travel with his more far-out soul ensemble The Style Council. However, The Gift is a terrific album, heavier of beat and lighter of heart (musically, if not lyrically) than The Jam of old.



The bonus singles, outtakes, demos, and live performance from the Wembley Arena that augment Universal Records’ new super deluxe edition still may not satisfy those who felt The Jam went soft with The Gift, but those curious to hear them get even deeper into pure soul will be delighted by a euphoric cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” and a sweet version of The Chi-Lites’ “Stoned out of My Mind”. The demos on disc two are interesting, though not the raw items one might expect. The version of “The Bitterest Pill” on this disc is even overlaid with Muzak strings! The Gift numbers in the Wembley set feature the same keyboards, horns, and backing singers they did on vinyl and punky classic such as “Away from the Numbers” and “In the City” don’t quite snarl the way they did in ’77. Yet what the concert lacks in rage it makes up for in impeccable, adult showmanship. Plus there’s a cover of Small Faces’ “Get Yourself Together” on the demo disc that finds Foxton doing an impressively convincing Steve Marriott impersonation.

The super deluxe edition of The Gift gives a true and complete picture of The Jam in their final year, and despite what some naysayers say, they went out on top.

(This box set also features a DVD of live, TV, and promo clips that was not included with the review package I received. Oh well, the audio discs are still great).

Get The Gift Super Deluxe Edition at Amazon.com here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: The Super Deluxe Edition of 'The Velvet Underground and Nico'

The Velvet Underground and Nico was one of the two most important albums of 1967, arguably the most important year for the LP in Rock history. It is the year that the album once and for all replaced the single as Rock’s chief medium. With such a distinction, and such incredible music, The Velvet Underground and Nico is easily deserving of one of those multi-disc, “super deluxe editions” that maximize profits on a band’s back catalogue. There’s no question that everything in this new six-disc set deserves release. The Velvet’s debut is presented in both its original stereo and mono mixes expanded with bonus mixes, several of which appeared on singles (believe it or not, even the most underground group played that game… not that it gave them any hits). There’s a disc of even more alternate mixes, a few alternate takes, and some rehearsals. There’s Nico’s debut album Chelsea Girl, on which Lou Reed and John Cale provided much material and musical accompaniment. Rarest of all are the two discs capturing a set at Ohio’s Valleydale Ballroom recorded in November 1966.

Oddly, the two discs featuring the album are the most troubled. The stereo mix sounds quieter and less punchy than my old Polygram version from 1996. I commend the producers for not mastering the new set with an excess of volume, a trend that has ruined its share of twenty-first century reissues, but that ’96 mastering job wasn’t overly loud, so the new one sounds comparatively weak. One might expect a record as dense as The Velvet Underground and Nico to get a boost in mono, but the vocals are mixed too loud, sacrificing the instruments and quite a bit of the power. The bonus mixes included on these two discs are really only interesting for the sake of completeness, because it isn’t likely any fan is going to go crazy over a drastically edited version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” or a mix of “I’ll Be Your Mirror” that loses the group’s lovely backing harmonies.

The remaining four discs are the ones that make this super deluxe set. Chelsea Girl, a beautiful album that catches Nico in a brief mainstream phase before she went completely insular with the challenging and terrifying Marble Index, has not been remastered since 1990. The new version isn’t a massive improvement, but it is an improvement. The alternates pulled from an acetate and an early ’66 rehearsal session on Disc Four are never better than the familiar versions, but most are significantly different enough to fascinate. There are also a few interesting demos for song sketches that didn’t make it to the record, the most substantial being the 11-minute–plus Bo Diddley-style jam “Miss Joanie Lee”. The most valuable may be a Nico-sung version of "There's She Goes Again". Most monumental of all is that Valleydale Ballroom set, which shows that the Velvets’ studio LPs only hinted at how outré they could get. Aside from an extended run though of “Run, Run, Run”, most of their songs from their debut are not tremendously different from the studio incarnations. However, there are two nearly thirty minute improvisations—one grinding and assaultive, one serene and hypnotic as a sunrise—that are more demanding than anything you’ve ever heard from The Velvet Underground. For those with an excess of patience, they can be quite rewarding too.

Worthy of mention too is Ritchie Unterberger’s booklet essay, though this is really an hors d’oeuvre compared to his White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day. Any fan hardcore enough to shell out the dollars to get the super deluxe Velvet Underground and Nico has no excuse for not owning this amazing book.

Get the Super Deluxe Edition of The Velvet Underground and Nico at Amazon.com here.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Rolling Stones: 50 Years on Film at MOMA



From November 15 through December 2, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City will be hosting a festival of pretty much every Rolling Stones-related film you could think of (except for Freejack, tragically enough). Unfortunately, the new doc Crossfire Hurricane will be showing exclusively on HBO, so it isn't on the roster, but here's what is:

November 15 and 17:

Archival footage of The Bach Choir recording session for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (wow!)
 Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones

November 15:

Super-8 Stones Footage from Exile on Main Street
Cocksucker Blues

November 16 and 19:

Music promos for “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (make-up version), “Child of the Moon,” and “Neighbours”
"The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus "

November 17 and 19:

Gimme Shelter

November 18 and 21:

The T.A.M.I. Show

November 21 and 24

The Stones in the Park
The Rolling Stones: Music Videos

November 23 and 24:

Enigma
Performance

November 25 and 26:

Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll
Let's Spend the Night Together

November 28 and 30:

Shine a Light

November 30 and December 1:

Stones in Exile

December 1 and 2

Invocation of My Demon Brother
Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One)
Music promos for “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” [two versions] and “We Love You” 
The Rolling Stones Charlie Is My Darling

Get all the details and tickets at MOMA.org.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: 'The Stanley Kubrick Archives'

Stanley Kubrick’s background as a still photographer was fully apparent in his cinematic works. His images held up magnificently when editor Alison Castle floated them from the screen to the pages of her 2004 book The Stanley Kubrick Archives. These shots “scanned directly from the film reels” constitute Part 1 of Castle’s massive tribute to our most awe-striking filmmaker. She allows these iconic images—Jamie Smith wielding a mannequin in Killer’s Kiss, Sterling Hayden watching his fortune blow down a runway in The Killing, James Mason painting Sue Lyons’s toes in Lolita, Slim Pickens riding a bomb in Dr. Strangelove, the moon and sun aligning with a looming monolith in 2001, the 50mm paintings of Barry Lyndon, the blood-flooding elevator of The Shining—to speak for themselves, reminding us of how the essence of filmmaking is pictures not words and how often dialogue was unneeded in so many of Kubrick’s most powerful scenes.

Part 2 fills out the story with new and old essays and articles on Kubrick’s life and work. I was impressed that only two of the interviews Castle selected for this section had previously appeared in Gene Phillips’s Stanley Kubrick Interviews. There’s also a shockingly insightful analysis of 2001 by a 15-year old girl, which Kubrick called “the most intelligent I’ve read anywhere.”

Part 2 is the real meat of The Stanley Kubrick Archives, not only because of the text, but also because of the less familiar images of the master’s still photos, movie outtakes, and behind-the-scenes shots. There’s a wild circa-Spartacus shot of a poncho-sporting Kubrick beating the bongos while James B. Harris jams along on what looks like a tin pan. There’s a generous selection of thirteen stills from the climactic pie-fight cut from Dr. Strangelove, and most thrilling of all, test shots and designs of aliens for possible inclusion in 2001.

The only downside of The Stanley Kubrick Archives—and this applies to all books of this sort—is that it has the potential to kill a movie’s magic. There are a few behind-the-scenes shots that may affect my ability to get lost in 2001 the next time I watch it. You’ve been warned.

Taschen Books has just republished The Stanley Kubrick Archives in conjunction with the company’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Get it at Amazon.com here:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Who Film Festival at BAM Cinema Now!

It has just come to my attention that the cinema at the Brooklyn Academy of Music is currently hosting a Who film festival in conjunction with the band's appearance at the new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. Cheekily titled "A Quick One, While The Who's in Town", the festival includes four films:

Quadrophenia (dir. Franc Roddam- 1979)
 November 2 through Thursday November 8, various showtimes

Lisztomania (starring Roger Daltrey) (dir. Ken Russell-  1975)
Tuesday, November 13, 7:30PM

The Kids Are Alright (dir. Jeff Stein- 1979)
Wednesday, November 14, 6:50 PM, 9:15 PM

Tommy (dir. Ken Russell- 1975)
Thursday, November 15, 6:50 PM, 9:15 PM

More details and ticket purchasing info at the official BAM website.


Review: 'Magical Mystery Tour' DVD

The Beatles were so naïve when they filmed Magical Mystery Tour that a pie chart sufficed as a script. They weren’t even aware they needed to use clapboards! That error caused its share of troubles while editing their home movie, as Paul McCartney says in his director’s commentary on this new DVD. That naïveté was also the target of the merciless critical drubbing the film received upon its airing as a BBC1 Boxing Day special in 1967. How could such creators of quality music think they could pass of such crap on their loyal public? What charlatans!

 45 years on from Beatlemania’s initial intensity, Magical Mystery Tour plays surprisingly well. It is, as the critics charged, indulgent, but that can be forgiven at a tight little 53 minutes well divided by six Beatle tunes. There’s no story to speak of, and the tour isn’t particularly magical or mysterious, but its hard to get bored, what with Victor Spinetti’s babbling sergeant, The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band’s uproarious performance of “Death Cab for Cutie”, Jan Carson’s stripping, Jessie Robins’s scene-stealing bickering with Nephew Ringo, and the precious opportunity to spend some time with the Fabs in their post-Sgt. Pepper’s psychedelic splendor. The five-minute romp bookended by Spinetti’s capering and “Flying” is the only spot that really sags. Otherwise, Magical Mystery Tour is a nice collage of music video randomness and 1967 weirdness.

Since the film is so brief, it’s only good value that this DVD should be fattened up with a generous selection of extras. The most substantial is Paul’s commentary, and it’s interesting to hear him talk so much about such an odd item in The Beatle’s overly familiar bag of tricks. There’s a 20-minute documentary with new interviews with Paul and Ringo, Bonzo Dog Neil Innes, and others who were along for the ride. The doc is neat, though it whitewashes the negative reaction that met the film. There’s a video for Traffic’s “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” not included in the film that would have been preferable to the aforementioned romp. There are alternate edits of three musical sequences, a short featurette in which Ringo watches the film on his laptop, and a couple of cut scenes, one of which was directed by Lennon and plays like a Benny Hill bit. The most fascinating extra may be the 11-minute “Meet the Supporting Cast” in which we see Jessie Robins playing some jazzy drums. A smiling Ringo deems her kit-work “far out” and “pretty hot.” He isn’t wrong 

Get the Magical Mystery Tour DVD at Amazon.com here:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Psychobabble’s Ten Greatest Non-Thriller Albums of 1982


1982 is Thriller. Although Michael Jackson’s pop monolith was not released until the very end of the year, and it’s only single released that year is not its most fondly remembered (“The Girl is Mine”), the fact that 1982 is the number printed on our LPs, CDs, and cassettes means that year and Thriller will remain inseparably linked for all time to come. It will also be understood as fact that Thriller is the indisputably best album of 1982 in the same way that Sgt. Pepper’s is the king of ’67 and Nevermind rules ’91. Personally, none of those records are my picks for the best of their years.

Without question, Thriller is an iconic, and pretty terrific, pop record with plenty of great singles. However, there’s no denying that some tracks have not aged well (“The Girl Is Mine” and “The Lady in My Life” now sound out of place anywhere but the dentist’s office) and some are relatively weak (“P.Y.T.” is a Rock With You retread; the title track is an amazing video but fairly slight as a song). Still, Thriller is an indisputably important record, and its mega success would cast a shadow over ’80s pop. Artists from Prince to The Police would quickly follow it with their own extroverted packages of wall-to-wall, radio-ready singles, but the months preceding it saw the release of some of the most introverted and artistically satisfying albums of the ’80s. Without a doubt Thriller earns a place among Psychobabbles Great Albums, but ranking it in this company seems somehow incorrect, like entering Star Wars in a German Expressionism film festival. That’s why Psychobabble can only proceed by presenting the Ten Greatest Non-Thriller albums of 1982…

10. Third Degree by Nine Below Zero

In the late 70s, Nine Below Zero drummed up much local interest as one of London’s finest pub bands. They drew sweat like their punk peers while channeling the attitudinal blues of the early Stones and Yardbirds. Mark Feltham did things to his harp Jagger never dared. By their third album, they had transferred the wild energy they put into the Motown covers that made up their legendary stage sets (captured on their debut LP, Live at the Marquee) to a serrated line-up of all-original material. It’s no hollow gesture that the band chose Swinging London-icon David Bailey to shoot the cover of Third Degree. The album finds Nine Below Zero tight, taut, modish. With only the thinnest 1982 sheen, the album stirs memories of circa-’65 Small Faces and Who. The tough, bluesy power pop contained inside never betrays the listener’s demand for a killer chorus. “Wipe Away Your Kiss” is an infectious homage to The Jam playing homage to The Beatles. “Why Can’t We Be What We Want to Be” slows the pace without letting up on the intensity. “Egg on My Face” is a vain attempt to temper the band’s fire by swapping acoustics for the usual electric attack. “Sugarbeat (And Rhythm Sweet)” is freaky soul spotlighting Brian Bethell’s wiry bass, and the pile driving lead-off track, “Eleven Plus Eleven”, would deserve classic-single status even if it hadn’t helped launch “The Young Ones”. Though they never had much impact in the U.S. beyond their sitcom debut, Nine Below Zero are well worthy of discovery by anyone who digs their ties as skinny as their drainpipe trousers, realizes Pete Townshend was always at his best when thrashing a Rickenbacker, and understands that Elvis Costello would have been a lot better off had he never met Langer and Winstanley.

9. Under the Big Black Sun by X

After two thrashing workouts on Slash Records, X took their enterprise (including producer Ray Manzarek) to the sympathetic major label Elektra. During the move, X lost some of their punk baggage, which allowed their ‘50s influences to really shine through on Under the Big Black Sun. There’s a lot of Bo Diddley rolling in “The Hungry Wolf” and “Motel Room in My Bed” and “Come Back to Me” is lush, Flamingoes-style balladry. The psycho rumba “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” and the surfy title track extend the retro vibe. X still makes room to jet back to their high-velocity roots on “Because I Do” and “Real Child of Hell”, but Under the Big Black Sun is powerful less for its aggression and more for its maturity. And though the record is not as rabid as the ones it followed, the emotions are rawer than ever. Exene addresses the death of her sister Mirielle in the stunning “Riding with Mary”, which unflinchingly recreates the moment she died in a car accident. “Come Back to Me” painfully recounts the funeral and the aching need to see Mirielle one last time. Always iffy when it came to pitch, Exene sounds particularly close to cracking on this track, betraying the polish of X’s bid for mainstream success.

8. 1999 by Prince

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review: The Doors: Live at the Bowl ’68


Forget the silly Christ imagery and bad poetry that pollutes Doors lore. They were a good band, Jim Morrison was sexy and had an expressive voice, and he could put on a good show. Aside from a few breaks to allow him to indulge in his drivel, The Doors’ historic concert at the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of ’68 was short on bullshit and high on entertainment.

The audience and the band are in good humor, betraying the dour reputation of both parties. When Morrison and Ray Manzarek create a moment of incredible tension in “When the Music’s Over”, Jim snaps it with a well-timed burp. As the show progresses, the acid he dropped backstage starts to kick in, and his performance becomes more unpredictable without completely losing the rhythm. The band is tight, turning in stand out renditions of “Spanish Caravan” and “The Unknown Soldier”.

Eagle Rock Entertainment’s presentation of The Doors: Live at the Bowl ’68 is as exceptional as the show. Large chunks of vocals hadn’t been recorded properly in ’68, so original soundman Bruce Botnick scoured other live recordings until finding replacements that matched Morrison’s lip movements, while making additional alterations digitally to sync with his body language. That there is an impressive attention to detail, friends. The extras are nice too, with some TV clips and substantial features on the restoration, the Bowl, and the concert with new interviews from Botnick, Manzarek and Robby Krieger, and opening act The Chambers Brothers.

Get The Doors: Live at the Bowl ’68 at Amazon.com here:



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