Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: Edsel Records' 'Sam & Dave' Reissues

Sam Moore and Dave Prater were without peer the greatest male duo in the history of soul. With Otis Redding, they were the voices and faces of Stax Records, cutting such exuberant, iconic singles as “Hold On, I’m Comin”, “Soul Man”, and “I Thank You” for the label from 1965 through 1969. Laughing in the face of the much-repeated jive that soul was exclusively a singles medium in the ‘60s, Sam & Dave also released a string of phenomenal long players for Stax. That label has been defunct for nearly four decades, leaving the U.K.’s Edsel Records to sweep up these unheralded classics for a much needed refurbishing. Souped up with a fresh remastering job and decked out with a glut of bonus tracks, some of the most vital soul sides of the ‘60s now sound cleaner, meaner, bigger, and funkier than ever. As soon as “Hold On, I’m Comin’” kicks the guys’ first Stax L.P. into action, you’ll think Al Jackson is whipping his drum kit in your living room. Donald “Duck” Dunn’s bass thrums your eardrum on “Don’t Help Me Out”. Best of all, Sam’s sweet tenor and Dave’s gritty baritone are as present and punchy as the sound of your feet when you inevitably start stomping along to the beat.

That first Stax platter, Hold On, I’m Comin’ (1966), presents Sam and Dave boiled down to their essence. It’s the hardest, rawest record in their repertoire. Over the salty bedrock of Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Sam & Dave explore all the possibilities of duo-singing: harmonizing, trading lines, contrasting each other with distinctly different approaches and ranges, dropping encouraging asides off mic, and at their most transcendent, bouncing off each other in fleet counterpoint, as they do on the magnificent “Ease Me”.

Also released in ’66, Double Dynamite builds on Hold On by introducing some unexpected rhythms into the mix with the herky-jerk funk of “Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody”, the stately bounce of “Sweet Pains”, the breezy stroll of “I Don’t Need Nobody (To Tell Me ‘Bout My Baby)”, and the slow-burn blues pulse of “Home at Last”. As is the case with each of these albums, the lead-off track is a big hit single, and hearing “You Got Me Hummin’” with such clarity, its amazing to think that radio censors took issue with the remotely suggestive title of “Hold On, I’m Comin’” but apparently didn’t have a problem with this track’s unmistakably erotic moaning.

Sexy stuff like “You Got Me Hummin’” was a long way from Sam & Dave’s roots as gospel crooners. So was the guys’ next and biggest smash, “Soul Man”, but that single’s accompanying album was a retreat from the raucous raunch of Hold On, I’m Comin’ and Double Dynamite. A version of the standard “Let It Be Me” and “Just Keep Holdin’ On” indicate how Sam & Dave might have sounded had they stuck with sacred music in ‘67. While Soul Men is a smokier, mellower record than the ones it followed, the down-tempo vibe allows the guys a freer playing field to cajole and improvise. For sheer singing, Soul Men might be Sam & Dave’s most impressive showcase, even if it isn’t their most electrifying.

The wildness of Sam & Dave’s first two albums and the elegant polish of their third mesh gloriously on their final Stax L.P. Annotator Tony Rouse hypothesizes that I Thank You is actually a hodgepodge of new cuts and older outtakes, though the entire album sports a modern sheen. For the first time, the essential backing of bass, drums, guitar, and horns swells with strings, vibraphone, and a variety of keyboards and percussion. The tracks are the duo’s most eclectic, with the unpredictable “You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me” sitting alongside the symphonic “Everybody’s Got to Believe in Somebody” and the tougher-than-tough “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” (which Taj Mahal would soon immortalize in “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus”). The album also features one of soul’s greatest double-sided singles: “I Thank You”/“Wrap It Up”.

While Rouse’s superb and extensive liner notes suggest changing tastes for the psychedelic soul of The Temptations and the increasingly personal approach of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye left Sam & Dave sounding a bit out of step with the late ‘60s, the growth the duo displayed on their four Stax albums implies they may have caught up with their more progressive peers had they kept working. Of course, with Stax beginning to stumble and their own working relationship always troubled, Sam & Dave called it quits in 1970. They reunited before long but never again produced work as powerful as these four Stax L.P.s.

Edsel’s reissues pair Hold On, I’m Comin’ on a single disc with Double Dynamite and Soul Men on a double-set with I Thank You. Stellar, non-L.P. singles, such as “A Place Nobody Can Find”, “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down”, and “Can’t You Find Another Way (Of Doing It)”, fill out these essential collections. Order them from with the links below:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Watch 'Prog Rock Britannia: An Observation in Three Movements'

Bizarre, hilarious, and full of fantastic clips from the likes of Procol Harum, Arthur Brown, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel's Genesis, and Yes, Chris Rodley's 2005 BBC Four doc Prog Rock Britannia: An Observation in Three Movements will inspire you to spin Shine On Brightly without shame. Watch it in its entirety here:

Many thanks to my prog buddy Kevin for turning me on to this awesome doc.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pre-order and Track Info Are Up for Reissue of the McCartney's 'Ram'

Last week, Psychobabble reported that Paul and Linda McCartney's vastly underrated 1971 album Ram is due for rerelease this Spring. A lot more information on this release has since emerged.

The album will be issued in a number of CD and Vinyl formats, but the goldmine is to be found in the 4-CD + DVD edition, which gathers the original album in stereo and mono (each presented on its own disc), a disc of eight bonus tracks ("Another Day", "Oh Woman, Oh Why", "Little Woman Love", " Love for You (Jon Kelly remix)", "Hey Diddle (Dixon Van Winkle Mix)", "Great Cock And Seagull Race (Dixon Van Winkle Mix)", "Rode All Night", and "Sunshine Sometime (Earliest Mix)"), and the bizarre 1977 album Thrillington by "Percy Thrillington" (aka: Paul and Linda McCartney), which reimagined the original album as a series of orchestra-embellished instrumentals. The DVD presents five featurettes about the album and a bonus selection of promo jingles.

All five editions-- the 5-disc "deluxe book" edition, the single and double-disc CDs, and the double- stereo and mono vinyl LPs are all due for May 22. You can pre-order each version from with the following links:

Thanks to the Second Disc for this scoop.

Bowie's 'Ziggy Stardust' to Be Reissued This June

One June 5, EMI will be launching a 40th Anniversary edition of David Bowie’s, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie’s futuristic masterpiece will appear in standard CD, DVD audio with 5.1 surround mixes, and 180-gram vinyl editions. Ray Staff, the cat who mastered the original album back in 1972, has remastered it for this new release.

The CD and vinyl editions are pretty bare bones, featuring only the eleven tracks from the original album. The DVD audio edition includes both stereo and 5.1 mixes of that album, as well as 5.1 mixes of the following bonus tracks: “Moonage Daydream (instrumental)”, “The Supermen”, “Velvet Goldmine”, and “Sweet Head”.

Many thanks to the Second Disc for this scoop.

Here’s what I had to say about The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in Psychobabble's Eleven Greatest Albums of 1972:

David Bowie really became David Bowie with 1971’s Hunky Dory, sustaining his signature eclecticism across an entire L.P. for the first time and mapping out his shape-shifting modus operandi with the anthem “Changes”. By his next album, he was already done with being David Bowie. The singer assumes his first iconic persona: the decadent, suicidal alien Rock star Ziggy Stardust. Like all great rock operas or concept albums or whatever The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is, greatness lies not in some vaguely sketched plot but in the wonderful songs that relate it. Bowie’s ruminations on extraterrestrials and celebrity drama don’t stick as securely as the superb songs and performances that house them. He gets the right backing with the Spiders from Mars, a mighty and unique band led by sci-fi guitarist extraordinaire Mick Ronson. Bowie’s rockers are amazingly sharp, whether thundering (“Moonage Daydream”), boogying (“Suffragette City”), slashing (“Ziggy Stardust”), or sliding on a slick of sleaze (“Hang on to Yourself”). His ballads are dramatic without flitting toward the show-tuney lightness of his earlier records. In their own ways, “Five Years”, “Lady Stardust”, and “Rock and Roll Suicide” are just as forceful as the up-tempo numbers. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars solidified Bowie’s cred by supplying an ace reservoir material for the concerts that proved his florid dramatic ambitions could meld with throat-throttling Rock & Roll seamlessly. Bowie had a lot more spectacular albums up his unitard’s single sleeve, but his greatest is The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Peppery Batch of 'Yellow Submarine' reissues Coming This Spring...

As a possible taste of the reissue of Magical Mystery Tour and the first official release of Let It Be on DVD later this year (hold not your breath), The Beatles’ brilliant Yellow Submarine will be getting the remaster and Blu-ray treatment on May 28. The whimsical musical Psychobabble asserts is the greatest animated film ever made has been out of print for some time due to rights issues. Although the extras are apparently the same as those included on the 1999 issue, Triage Motion Picture Services has given the film a frame-by-frame restoration. Pixar guy John Lasseter has also composed a new booklet essay. In conjunction with its DVD rerelease, the Yellow Submarine film will be joined by reissues of the Yellow Submarine Songtrack CD and a new hardback edition of the Yellow Submarine picture book published by Candlewick Press. The book is scheduled for April 24. Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be remain in the rumor void.

Rolling Stones Doc from Oscar-Nominated Director Coming This Autumn

Huge Rolling Stones news coming for autumn 2012. Brett Morgen will present the first career-spanning feature documentary about Mick, Keith, and the gang since 1990’s 25x5: The Continuing Adventures of the Rolling Stones. Considering that Morgen is the Oscar-nominated director behind the Robert Evans doc The Kid Stays in the Picture, his take on The Stones’ 50 years of music and debauchery promises to be a more interesting affair than the previous direct-to-video retrospective. According to the official press release, “Fans go on the road, in the studio, behind the scenes, and witness each band member’s personal, unfiltered perspective on the legendary life of the Rolling Stones – embarking on a journey through 50 years of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” The release states the still untitled film will be “showcased” in September with a DVD release by Eagle Rock Entertainment to follow. Tying into the film, Thames & Hudson will be publishing the first authorized photo-history of the band on July 12 titled The Rolling Stones: 50. Click the link below to be notified when it’s available for pre-order on

Review: The EC Archives: ‘The Haunt of Fear Vol. 1’ and ‘The Vault of Horror Vol. 2’

Russ Cochran was just another young reader with a zeal for gooey reanimated corpses when E.C. started publishing its controversial, influential, sublime series of horror comics in the early ‘50s. He has since attained a fan’s ultimate dream by becoming directly involved with his favorite comics, republishing Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear since 1971. These included reprints of individual comics and hardback, black and white anthologies. In the late ‘00s, Cochran masterminded his splashiest revamps yet. Gemstone Publishing’s “E.C. Archives” series featured six original comics chronologically contained in recolored, annotated, hardback collections. Some fans took issue with the digital recoloring jobs, but purism be damned, these collections looked fantastic and were clearly made with the love and attention-to-detail of a long, longtime fan.

Then in 2008, with several new volumes in the series announced, The E.C. Archives came to as unceremonious a halt as the original comics did when the officious senate shut them down sixty years ago. Rumors began floating that Gemstone was having financial troubles, and Cochran’s fine series was left in limbo for three years. Well, it’s time to breath a relieved sigh of “Good lord! Choke!” because The EC Archives have finally resumed on GC Press, a boutique imprint Cochran cofounded with fellow super-fan Grant Geissman, author of such titles as Collectibly MAD: The MAD and EC Collectibles Guide and Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s EC Comics!

Lovers of the series will be delighted to see that Gemstone quality has carried over to GC. The Haunt of Fear Volume 1 and The Vault of Horror Volume 2 are full of more wonderful supplemental essays by Geissman and Bhob Stewart, who wrote a series of insightful issue-by-issue essays for Vault. Cochran and Geissman snagged two more prestigious personalities to contribute forwards: John Landis (Vault) and Robert Englund (Haunt). Of course, the stars of these volumes are the comics. Purists may be further riled to see that the images are more vivid and nuanced with highlights and shading than the Gemstone versions, but why squawk when there’s so much here to adore? Graham Ingels’s ghastly ghouls and gore oozing off the pages. Jack Davis’s cheeky, bulge-eyed characters capturing the more humorous side of the E.C. ethos. Witness the evolution of The Haunt of Fear, which began in somewhat slapdash fashion, recycling tales from both The Crypt and The Vault and lacking the essential wise-cracking horror host, to the introduction of our old pal The Old Witch at the end of the second issue, to her owning her GhouLunatic role in the fourth one. Terrifically terrifying tales include such creeping classics as “Horror Beneath the Streets” (starring none other than E.C.'s own William Gains and Al Feldstein!), “The Wall” (not-so-loosely based on Poe’s “The Black Cat”), "The Monster in the Ice" (a postmodern sequel to Frankenstein), “The Reluctant Vampire (which became one of the best episodes of the HBO’s Crypt series, with Malcolm McDowell in the title role), and the demented debut of the “widdle kid” stories starring homicidal tots. So wait no longer, boils and ghouls, and get your claws on these essential new E.C. Archives collections, which you can order now through Here’s to hoping we won’t have to wait another three years for the next wave. Gasp!

Monday, March 19, 2012

20 Things You May Not Have Known About 'Eraserhead'!

I thought I heard a stranger. We've got 20 things you may not have known about the greatest cult movie ever made tonight. Strangest damn things. They're man made. Little damn things. Smaller than my fist. But they're new! Hi, I'm Psychobabble. Oh, printing's your business? Psychobabbling’s mine. For 35 years now we've watched David Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece change from a marginalized movie only fit for the midnight crowd to the celebrated hellhole it is now! I wrote every damn trivial tidbit on this list of 20 Things You May Not Have Known About Eraserhead. People think that trivial tidbits grow on lists. But they sure as hell don't! Look at my knees! Look at my knees!

1. In 1970 David Lynch wrote a screenplay called Gardenback in which the marriage of Henry and Mary is disrupted by adulterous impulses represented by an insectoid monster growing in Henry’s head. These themes of adultery and a ruinous monster born in the head, as well as a couple named Henry and Mary, would soon be reborn in his Eraserhead script.

2. An unfilmed scene in Lynch’s poetic Eraserhead script involved main character Henry Spencer receiving chunks of flesh and bone in the mail, which fuse into a toothy mouth. This sequence was reworked into a sequence in which Henry receives a small worm in his mailbox. The worm grows into a large-mouthed but toothless creature in his cabinet.

3. According to Greg Olson’s Beautiful Dark, Eraserhead was originally supposed to end with the baby growing so large that it swallows Henry, the final image being “Henry’s feet disappearing into the creature’s gaping mouth.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: 'Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?'

Moviemaking is a tough job, not least of all because so many long-labored projects never even go into production. A screenplay can just as easily linger for decades before being made as it can get batted around, second-guessed, and (often needlessly) revised for the same number of years without ever even moving beyond the page. This painful, protracted process is known as “development hell,” and David Hughes explores more than a dozen such afflicted screenplays in his new book Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? As the writer of more than ten unproduced scripts, Hughes knows the pain of development hell well, but it apparently hasn’t made him so bitter that he was unable to tell these tales with lively humor and entertaining briskness.

Despite the book’s title, not all of these movies were “never made,” nor do they all sound like they had the potential for greatness. Hughes deals with a succession of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and comic book flicks with varying fates. Some died on the vine, such as an ill-conceived remake of Fantastic Voyage and a Sylvester Stallone vehicle called Isobar described as “Alien on a train.” Some were actually produced to great success, such as Lord of the Rings and Batman Begins. Some were made, but probably would have been best left in development hell, such as the laughable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Tim Burton’s awful Planet of the Apes remake.

No matter what came of each film he discusses, Hughes treats each with the same impeccable attention to detail, tracking the projects over their unfortunate speed bumps and through their various permutations, providing provocative synopses of key script and treatment drafts. Several went through some pretty interesting incarnations along the way. Lord of the Rings passed through Forrest J. Ackerman’s hands before landing with The Beatles, who allegedly would have starred as Frodo (Paul), Gollum (John), Gandalf (George), and Sam (Ringo) (I suppose that means Victor Spinetti was a shoe-in for Aragorn). Batman Begins could have been a straight adaptation of Frank Miller’s nitty-gritty Batman: Year One directed by Darren Aronofsky or a dark superhero rally called Batman vs. Superman.

Hughes devotes his final chapter to his own unproduced projects, though I have a feeling the world is no worse for lacking T.J. Hooker: The Movie or Stigmata: The TV Series. Having written such a fun, well-researched book about his chosen business, he may want to consider quitting his day job.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The McCartneys' 'Ram' to Get Deluxe Treatment This Spring

Paul McCartney's solo career gets a bad rap, but those of us who realize it wasn't all "My Love" and "Ebony and Ivory" will be excited to learn that his and Linda's excellent 1971 disc Ram will be the next to get the deluxe treatment as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection. The series has already winged out deluxe editions of McCartney, McCartney II, and Band on the Run. Ram is scheduled for spring 2012, though a specific release date and tracklisting have yet to emerge.

However, Hear Music has firm details on a preview single of its reissue of the Ram-era single "Another Day"/"Oh Woman, Oh Why", which is on the way for Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21.

In the meantime, here's what I had to say about Ram in Psychobabble’s Eleven Greatest Albums of 1971:

Someone had to take the fall for The Beatles’ breakup. The most sniveling journalists pitched their poison pens at Yoko and Linda. The rest blamed Paul. He was the first to quit and the first to release a solo record. When that record proved to be a sketchy miscalculation (didn’t he realize how the first ex-Beatle album would be scrutinized?), critics shredded it. Giddy from finally having a reason to knock a Beatle down, they greeted his second record with equal viciousness. McCartney was hurt, and justifiably so. Hearing Ram decades removed from the national-tragedy level hysteria surrounding The Beatles’ dissolution, it’s hard to see what the critics hated and impossible to miss the craftsmanship. So what if a good deal of the lyrics make no attempt at profundity? Since when was that Paulie’s objective? The tunes are his most effervescent since “The White Album”. The recording is a perfect union of Abbey Road-style invention and Let It Be-style grit. Both of those albums would have benefitted from such balance. And how could anyone dip into such a diverse dish without finding something that suits his or her fancy? McCartney is the consummate chameleon throughout, paying homage to Brian Wilson (“Back Seat of My Car”) and Buddy Holly (“Eat at Home”), playing the down-home farm boy (“Heart of the Country”) and the moonshine-mad bootlegger (“Monkberry Moon Delight”), and giving us the best Beatles song since the band’s breakup (“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”). Those who criticized Ram as a cheerful exercise in style over substance chose to ignore the lacerating spite in “Dear Boy”, “3 Legs”, and the flame-throwing “Too Many People”. John Lennon didn’t. He regarded those tracks as sucker punches from his former partner (he had a point regarding “Too Many People”), and responded with the really mean “How Do You Sleep?” on Imagine. No one seemed to mind that Lennon’s record was guilty of a lot of the criticisms lumped on Ram: saccharine production and puerile lyricism (though Lennon got a pass because of his stabs at political observation and self-examination). 40 years on, one of those albums still sounds 100% fresh, and it isn’t the one on which a rich man tells us to “imagine no possessions.”

Thanks to The Second Disc for this scoop.

Review: 'Dark Directions: Romero, Craven, Carpenter, and the Modern Horror Film'

Our ideas about and understanding of filmmaking changed drastically when Roger Leenhardt and André Bazin of Revue du Cinéma introduced their “auteur theory” to the cinematic lexicon in the mid-1940s. Leenhardt and Bazin passed the ownership of film, once considered a collaborative effort or a producer’s medium, to directors with singular visions. Such directors, the critics argued, are the true authors of their films because they control scripts that reflect their own social, political, and artistic ideologies. With their distinctive camerawork, lighting, and control of their actors, they single-handedly crafted their films as assuredly as painters manage canvasses and sculptors manipulate stone. Although the auteur theory has its flaws— some proponents overlook the integral contributions of writers, cinematographers, producers, and the rest—it has helped establish a canon of indisputably great directors whose work can very reasonably bear analysis as the product of a single, or at least principal, creator: Francois Truffaut (the theory’s first high-profile champion), Orson Welles, Jacques Tati, Jean Cocteau, Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, etc. Grand artists creating grand works of art. But are conventional concepts of artistic value integral to auteurism?

In his new book Dark Directions: Romero, Craven, Carpenter, and the Modern Horror Film, Kendall R. Phillips argues that Leenhardt and Bazin’s theory should extend to three filmmakers often shoved to the back of cinema’s closet because they primarily work in the dreaded horror genre. Phillips establishes broad thematic threads as evidence of their auteurism: George Romero’s fixation on the body, Wes Craven’s fascination with the split between nocturnal Gothic horror and diurnal reality, and John Carpenter’s obsession with the American frontier.

Phillips’s thesis regarding Carpenter is strongest. He smartly stops just short of designating the director as a maker of Westerns, but provides a sharp view of the way rugged individualists stumbling into dire situations in cagey variations on the American frontier recur in much of his work. But horror is so deeply linked with the body and Gothic traditions that either theme could just as easily be applied to the films of Whale, Raimi, Browning, Cronenberg, Polanski, and many other genre filmmakers as Phillips applies them to Romero and Craven. The writer also avoids his three filmmakers’ aesthetic sensibilities for the most part. A director’s stamp is not merely measured by recurring themes, but also by distinctive artistry. Perhaps Phillips recognized that a number of the films he discusses are artistically negligible and deeper discussions of aesthetics might damage his central argument.

Despite its somewhat incomplete argument—and I’m certainly not suggesting that these filmmakers aren’t auteurs— Dark Directions is a compelling and intelligent look at Romero, Craven, and Carpenter’s politics and the finer themes linking select clutches of their movies (each chapter deals with threads traveling through three or fours specific films). This means the book does make a strong case for the intellectual mechanisms grinding behind horror’s surface murder, gore, and mayhem. As such, it may provoke more intelligent considerations of a genre that often doesn’t get its due. For that alone, Dark Directions would be a very worthwhile book.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, and the Rock & Roll Renaissance

Rock & Roll was barely over a decade old in 1967, the year of its renaissance. The seismic event, which unquestionably changed Rock & Roll in ways Chuck Berry never envisioned occurred almost precisely half-way through ’67 when The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 1. Instantly, Rock & Roll lost the “Roll”; it became art with a large “A”. Any artist who just months before believed Surrealistic Pillow, Between the Buttons, or Buffalo Springfield was sufficiently progressive was forced to completely rethink their work and create competitively forward-thinking, “conceptual” works. A mere lineup of guitars, bass, and drums unadorned by sitars, harpsichords, or backwards tape loops dipped in Coke was unacceptable. Tracks must now segue to emphasize the continuity of the overarching theme. Freaky collages replaced unimaginative band portraits on album covers that must now fold out both to provide additional mind-expanding images and to facilitate the rolling of substances that might further enhance the musical/visual experience.

Heard today, Sgt. Pepper’s doesn’t necessarily sound like the flashpoint it certainly was in its day because little of it was without precedent. Psychedelia had been in the air in a significant way since The Byrds managed to fly the clattering, Coltrane tribute “Eight Miles High” into the Top Twenty early in 1966. The Beatles, themselves, had already taken psychedelia as far as they ever would with “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, both recorded in ’66. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds more orchestral pop in the Phil Spector vein than acid-drenched psych was a prime influence on Pepper’s, and had that band managed to complete SMiLE, an L.P. began in mid-’66, it would have made The Beatles’ record of 1967 sound positively quaint in comparison. Not its sitars, nor Mellotrons, nor tape loops, nor use of sound effects distinguished Sgt. Pepper’s as an album of any greater innovation than The Beatles’ 1966 masterwork, Revolver, which featured most of these elements often to better effect. Today, only the disorienting patchwork opus “A Day in the Life”, with its terrifying orchestral tidal waves, feels like a genuine jerk forward for pop music.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band still managed to become the key album of 1967 because the packaging was so interesting (both the literal packaging designed by Peter Blake and photographed by Michael Cooper and the red-herringish “concept album” categorization) and because, well, The Beatles were The Beatles. No one could command the world’s attention or set new standards like those four guys could in the sixties… or any other decade since for that matter. And let’s make no mistake: it’s a very, very good record.

However, several months before The Beatles reasserted their command over pop culture, a band from the other side of the Atlantic had stirred up changes in Rock & Roll so without precedent that it would be years before the effects manifested in any significant way.

Question: Where did The Velvet Underground come from? Answer: New York City. Of course, that response doesn’t suffice. The New York sound of the mid-sixties was the folky lilt of Simon and Garfunkel, the garage thump of Blues Magoos, or at its most outré, the piss-taking of The Fugs. There are wispy traces of Simon folkiness in The Velvet’s lighter moments—“I’ll Be Your Mirror”, “Sunday Morning”, “Femme Fatale”—garage energy in their noisy attack, and Fugs-style sex and drugs (sans much of the jokiness) in Lou Reed’s story songs. There are also indications of the deafening feedback employed on singles by The Who, Small Faces, and The Kinks the New Yorkers had imported from England. Yet The Velvet Underground sounded nothing like any of these bands, nothing like anyone but The Velvet Underground. Their nightmare obsessions with death, S&M decadence, hard drugs, and grungy street life cast the darkest Stones records as wholly inauthentic. Their noise was more out of control than, say, the shrieks of sound that permeate “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” or “My Generation”. Their songs are long and minimalistic, like Dylan’s, but Bob balanced simple chord structures with dense, complex lyricism. Reed could do this as well, but initially favored repeated verses that gave The Velvet Underground world the sensation of a trap rather than Dylan’s expansive intellectual playground. Nothing any of The Velvet’s peers created could contend with the aural horrors of “European Son”. The Beatles celebrated the psychedelic experience in the noncommittal double entendres of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” just as The Byrds may have in their “tribute to space travel,” “Eight Miles High”. Lennon and McCartney shared a tickled glance when they resolved to include the relatively explicit “I’d Love to Turn You On” in “A Day in the Life”. The phrase is decidedly G-rated when set against:

“Heroin, be the death of me
Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life
Because a mainer to my vein
Leads to a center in my head
And then I'm better off and dead
Because when the smack begins to flow
I really don't care anymore”

There are no coy outlets for “Heroin”, no room to contend that its depiction of junk shooting was actually inspired by a child’s drawing or the wholesome bond between friends.

Pete Townshend pledged allegiance to the auto-destructive theories of Gustav Metzger, but he was not immersed in the avant-garde world to the degree of John Cale, who was conducting John Cage pieces back in 1963, the same year he collaborated with the avant-garde collective Fluxus that would spawn Yoko Ono. Cale’s screeching viola sounded unlike anything conceived in Townshend’s realm of amp and Rickenbacker smashing. The Velvet Underground & Nico was completely alien when released on March 12, 1967. It must have sounded even more so when it was recorded the previous spring, just weeks after “Eight Miles High” appeared.

The effects of Sgt. Pepper’s were immediate. Just three days after its release, Jimi Hendrix was already covering its title track on stage (much to the amazement of attendees Paul McCartney and George Harrison). Within the next six months, the scene was saturated with such Peppery creations as The Who Sell Out, Their Satanic Majesties, After Bathing at Baxter’s, Buffalo Springfield Again, and Butterfly. The after effects of The Velvet Underground & Nico took considerably longer to manifest, but the manifestations were no less profound.

Mick Jagger insisted his 1968 song “Stray Cat Blues” was influenced by The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”, but waited a decade to make this claim, which he appended with an unconvincing, “Honest to God!” In the early seventies, David Bowie made a more convincing case, describing The Velvets as his greatest influence. Yet aside from his penchant for covering “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “White Light/White Heat”, there was never much striking evidence of the band’s searing squall or street-level narratives in Bowie’s work. On a less high-profile scale, new artists such as The Modern Lovers and Iggy and the Stooges were clearly caught in The Velvet Underground’s thrall. But the full scope of how they changed the way artists performed and composed was not fully felt until the first major stains of punk seeped through the late seventies. Patti Smith, Pere Ubu, Joy Division, Mink DeVille, Television, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Voidoids: none of them could have existed without The Velvet Underground. In the eighties and nineties, that influence would spread further through the work of Yo La Tengo, Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine, The Vaselines, The Jesus and Mary Chain, R.E.M., The Pixies, Sonic Youth, countless others.

Today, there is little question that The Velvet Underground & Nico has had as significant an impact on Rock & Roll as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And while the reputation of The Beatles’ album has slipped slightly (most fans now recognize Revolver as the band’s greatest work), The Velvet Underground’s is unassailable. Sgt. Pepper’s was not the invention of psychedelia, but The Velvet Underground & Nico was without question the birth of modern indie rock twenty years ahead of schedule. It may not define Rock’s Renaissance the way The Beatles’ “Summer of Love” exemplar did, but in the long run, it may be the most important release of 1967.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was released 45 years ago today.

Friday, March 9, 2012

10 Revolutions Per-Paul Revere and the Raiders

Forget their goofy stage antics and goofier American Revolution costumes. Paul Revere and the Raiders were one of the great pop groups of pop’s greatest era. They always balanced their bubblegummy gimmicks with a Stones-tough attitude and were never anything less than self-aware when it came to their silliest tendencies. As front Raider Mark Lindsay turns 70 today, let’s take a listen to ten testaments to the revolutionary greatness of Paul Revere and the Raiders.

1. “Steppin Out” (1965)

Even Jagger wasn’t grunting with the delightful arrogance Mark Lindsay displays on “Steppin’ Out” in 1965. From his slack drawl to his malicious giggles to his psycho screams, Lindsay shows how to shout some mean blues rock right through the garage door.

2. “Hungry” (1966)

Heavy and rabidly driven, “Hungry” is Paul Revere and the Raiders at their most unwholesome. Has any other group ever made better use of fuzz bass?

3. “Good Thing” (1966)

The Raiders prove The Stones aren’t the only band they can mimic with the gorgeously harmonized “Good good good good Vibrations Thing”. Dig Woody Allen biting his lip to suppress his hatred of Rock & Roll while introducing “Paul Revere’s Raiders”.

4. “Undecided Man” (1966)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Six David Lynch Films Coming to Blu-Ray in the UK this June

Yesterday, reported that a selection of six David Lynch films will see release on Blu-ray in the UK on June 4 individually and as a box set. The sets are hodgepodges of previously available transfers, shorts from both the Short Films of David Lynch and Dynamic: 01: The Best of David DVDs, extras from the standard DVDs, and the animated series "DUMBLAND" in its entirety. As disappointed Dugpa reports, none of the exclusive features from Lynch's Lime Green box set nor the recent U.S. Blue Velvet [Blu-ray] are included in these upcoming UK Blu-rays. Here are the specs from Dugpa and pre-order links:

  • LYNCH ONE documentary (81.42)
  • Four short films
  • Six Men Getting Sick – 1966 (03.45)
  • The Alphabet – 1968 (03.44)
  • The Amputee Take 1 – 1974 (04.50)
  • The Amputee Take 2 – 1974 (04.04)

  • Destination Dune (06.16)
  • Impressions of Dune (38.02)
  • Interview with Golda Offenheim, production co-ordinator on Dune (25.00)
  • Theatrical trailer

Blue Velvet
  • Interview with Dennis Hopper (45 Mins)
  • Mysteries of Love documentary (70 Mins)
  • Three Outtakes
  • Siskel & Ebert “At the Movies”
  • Four Vignettes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • TV Spots

Wild at Heart
  • DUMBLAND (all eight animated episodes) (35.00)
  • Two short films:
  • The Grandmother – 1970 (33.36)
  • Lumiere and Company – 1995 (00.58)

Lost Highway
  • Four Intervalometer Experiments:
  • Steps (03.38)
  • Dining Room (02.55)
  • Groper (00.18)
  • Sunset (06.03)
  • Six short films:
  • The Darkened Room (08.16)
  • Boat (07.16)
  • Lamp (30.20)
  • Out Yonder – Neighbour Boy (09.38)
  • Industrial Soundscape (10.20)
  • The Bug Crawls (04.12)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
No word yet on this title's extras, but I wouldn't go holding your breath for those legendary deleted scenes.

As always, thanks to, the Internet's finest David Lynch fansite.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Look Ahead at the Rock & Roll and Horror Cinema Books of 2012

Here’s a quick look at some of the interesting upcoming books I plan to review here on Psychobabble throughout 2012. If you can’t wait to read my crazed assessments to check out these titles, you can pre-order them now with the Amazon links provided. Some of these are new editions of previously published books, so you may be able to score copies of certain titles today.

Brian Wilson (Icons of Pop Music) by Kirk Curnutt
Publication Date: April 30
Publisher’s Description:
Brian Wilson is a genius. Ever since British press agent Derek Taylor launched a publicity campaign with that theme to promote the landmark LP Pet Sounds in 1966, some variation of that claim has been obligatory when discussing the significance of the Beach Boys' founder and chief composer. Originally designed to liberate Wilson from his outmoded image as a purveyor of sun-and-surf teen pop so the symphonic sophistication of his music might be properly appreciated, the assertion has been repeated so often in the forty-plus years since as to render it virtually meaningless. Indeed, if anything, the label today seems an albatross around the man's neck, inasmuch as Wilson's slow-but-steady reemergence as a working musician since the mid-nineties after three decades of mental illness and drug abuse, has been freighted with expectations that he again produce something as epochal as "Good Vibrations" to justify the adoration he inspires in impassioned defenders.
Brian Wilson interrogates this and other paradigms that stymie critical appreciation of Wilson's work both with the Beach Boys and as a solo artist. This is the first study of Wilson to eschew chronology for a topical organization that allows discussion of lyrical themes and musical motifs outside of any prejudicial presumptions about their place in the trajectory of his career. The book emphasizes the often overlooked point that, despite his status as a "living legend," Brian Wilson does not always fit neatly into the paradigms of taste and value by which critics grant certain artists entry into the pantheon of pop and rock importance.

Authorship and the Films of David Lynch: Aesthetic Receptions in Contemporary Hollywood by Antony Todd

Publication Date: May 8
Publisher’s Description: This important new contribution to studies on authorship and film explores the ways in which shared and disputed opinions on aesthetic quality, originality, and authorial essence have shaped receptions of Lynch's films. It is also the first book to approach David Lynch as a figure composed through language, history, and text.
Tracing the development of Lynch's career from cult obscurity with Eraserhead, to star auteur through the release of Blue Velvet, and TV phenomenon Twin Peaks, Antony Todd examines how his idiosyncratic style introduced the term "Lynchian" to the colloquial speech of new Hollywood and helped establish Lynch as the leading light among contemporary American auteurs. Todd explores contemporary manners and attitudes for artistic reputation building, and the standards by which Lynch's reputation was dismantled following the release of Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, only to be reassembled once more through films such as Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. In its account of the experiences at play in the encounter between ephemera, text, and reader, this book reveals how authors function for pleasure in the modern filmgoer's everyday consumption of films.

Pink Floyd (New Edition) by Marcus Hearn

Publication Date: June 12
Publisher’s Description: Featuring over 150 iconic, rare and previously unpublished images of Pink Floyd, this book captures the legendary rock group at every stage of their epic career. From some of their first photo sessions in 1967 to their triumphant reunion at Live 8, this book is a unique chronicle of five enigmatic musicians, and their journey from experimental psychedelia to stadium pageantry.

Graphic Horror: Movie Monster Memories by John Edgar Browning

Publication Date: June 28
Publisher’s Description: Freddy, Jason, Frankenstein, and Dracula are just a few of the thrilling movie monsters in this illustrated, collectible reference guide. Monsters from major as well as minor horror films are brought back to life through domestic and international posters, movie stills, and publicity shots. Engaging commentary from leading horror fiction writers, editors, anthologists, and scholars accompany more than 400 movie posters and publicity stills from the early 20th century through to the present day. Not only will you revisit such iconic movies as The Shining, Child's Play, Halloween, Godzilla, and Jaws, to name just a few, you will also learn about the cultural and technological developments that have played a role in the history of the indelible movie monster. Whether you're a screenwriter, producer, director, actor, or just a fan, this reference guide is an invaluable resource about one of our greatest movie genres.

Punk Rock: An Oral History by John Robb

Publication Date: July 1
Publisher’s Description: Vibrant and volatile, the punk scene left an extraordinary legacy of music and cultural change, and this work talks to those who cultivated the movement, weaving together their accounts to create a raw and unprecedented oral history of punk in the United Kingdom. From the Clash, Crass, Henry Rollins, and John Lydon to the Sex Pistols, the Stranglers, and the Buzzcocks, this reference features more than 150 interviews that encapsulate the most thrilling wave of rock and roll pop culture ever seen. Ranging from its widely debated roots in the late 1960s to its enduring influence on modern bands, fashion, and culture, this history brings to life the energy and anarchy as no other book has done.

The Who by Marcus Hearn

Publication Date: July 10
Publisher’s Description: From the pub gigs of summer 1964 to the group's triumphant performance at Live 8 in summer 2005, this book traces the progress of The Who from sharp-suited mods to psychedelic stars and pioneers of the rock opera.
Following the band on the road and during the recording of numerous television shows, as well as stunning images of The Who's festival appearances at Monterey and the Isle of Wight, plus shots from performances at such diverse venues as the Marquee Club and Wembley Stadium. 

A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett by Rob Chapman

Publication Date: August 28
Publisher’s Description: In A Very Irregular Head, journalist Rob Chapman lifts the veil of secrecy that has surrounded the legend of Syd Barrett for nearly four decades, drawing on exclusive access to family, friends, archives, journals, letters, and artwork to create the definitive portrait of a brilliant and tragic artist. Besides capturing all the promise of Barrett’s youthful years, Chapman challenges the oft-held notion that Barrett was a hopelessly lost recluse in his later years, and creates a portrait of a true British eccentric who is rightfully placed within a rich literary lineage that stretches through Kenneth Graham, Hilaire Belloc, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, John Lennon, David Bowie, and on up to the pioneers of Britpop.
A tragic, affectionate, and compelling portrait of a singular artist, A Very Irregular Head will stand as the authoritative word on this very English genius for years to come.

Bowie: Rock n’ Roll with Me by Paolo Hewitt

Publication Date: Autumn 2012
Publisher’s Description:
  • Published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Bowie's groundbreaking album The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars
  • Featuring every album cover reproduced at full vinyl record size, 12x12 inch, and previously unpublished photographs
  • Foreword by Robert Elms, with editorial consultancy by Kevin Cann, the world's leading authority on David Bowie
David Bowie is often referred to as 'pop's great chameleon'. In fact he is more like a house-of-fun mirror, reflecting what's in front of him, twisting it, enlarging it, turning the ordinary into something extraordinary. He is quite simply the most influential, enigmatic and interesting recording artist in modern music.
Since 1967, Bowie's 27 studio albums have both reflected and informed contemporary culture. From psychedelia and music hall, through glam, rock, pop, blue-eyed soul and electronica, there are few genres he hasn't played with and even fewer that he hasn't left his finger prints on. Year-zero punks, androgynous new romantics, suited soul boys, eye-lined goths, art-school experimentalists and Generation X grungers - most have, at some point, cited Bowie as an influence.
Examining every one of David Bowie's studio albums in fine detail, David Bowie: Rock 'n' Roll With Me includes commentary from those who worked on each record, including musicians, engineers and Bowie himself; contemporary reviews and interviews; every album cover reproduced at full vinyl record size, 12x12 inches; and a wealth of rare and previously unpublished photographs.
Published in 2012 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of David Bowie's breakthrough album, The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust, and ahead of the 2013 anniversary of his first UK number-one album, Aladdin Sane, the book is written by noted author Paolo Hewitt, with world-leading Bowie expert Kevin Cann as consultant editor. Opening with a foreword by broadcaster and writer Robert Elms, this book presents unrivalled authority and is the ultimate celebration of an incomparable catalogue of music. It is, in short, an essential addition to every Bowie fan's library.
Ordering info to follow…

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Watch 'Nosferatu' on Psychobabble!

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 before the 1920s came to a close, prints of Nosferatu resurfaced with the uncanny resolve of its undead title creep.

Murnau presented his supernatural material with an unprecedented seriousness, tempering Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and Wegener/Boese’s (The Golem) outré tendencies to create a more mildly expressionist film 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 rat-like appearance and disquieting, marionette-like movements of Max Schreck’s Dracula. But the barren, Gothic sets and impenetrable darkness in which Murnau surrounds him is 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.

This overview is a newly expanded version of the one that originally appeared in Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies.

Nosferatu turns 90 today.

Friday, March 2, 2012

'Making of Psycho' Movie Moving Forward

It's been thirteen months since Psychobabble first reported on the John McLaughlin-penned (Black Swan) bio-pic Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho' to be directed by Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil ) and star Anthony Hopkins as Hitch and Helen Mirren as his wife Alma. During the subsequent year, the project has apparently moved forward with the force of a kitchen knife hacking through a shower curtain, because now Bloody is reporting that two more entire actors have been cast in the film. Scarlett Johansson will be playing Janet Leigh and James D'Arcy ("Secret Diary of a Call Girl") will be Anthony Perkins. Stay tuned for the follow-up in April of 2013 when we find out who will be cast as Martin Balsam.

No stabbing yet, please. We're still a looooong way from filming.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Brief Tribute to William Gaines

One hairy paw holds a severed head aloft, its lips dripping thick strands of drool. The other clutches an axe caked with black muck. The body lies on the floor, a short skirt hiked up to provide a teasing glimpse of slender legs.

Senator Kefauver: Do you think that is in good taste?

Mr. Gaines: Yes, sir; I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it and moving the body over a little farther so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.
William Gaines was a smart guy, so it’s tough to believe he actually did think this infamous Crime SuspenStories cover was “in good taste.” It’s lurid comingling of sex and violence is as “tasteful” as your average ‘80s slasher flick. And since when has anyone expected horror to be in good taste? Was the Frankenstein Monster’s drowning of a little girl in good taste? Was Mr. Hyde’s serial rape of a woman in good taste? But how else was he supposed to respond, standing before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency accusing him and other comic book mongers of corrupting kids with such images?

Nearly ’60 years down the road, the fact that comic books of any sort were deemed a serious enough threat to warrant a congressional investigation is just as absurd as Gaines’s insistence his comics were tasteful. They weren’t. Even dicey horror films like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde didn’t dare to unveil the graphic grotesqueries of Crime SuspenStories, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, with their axe-murdering Santa Clauses, cannibalistic deli owners, and homicidal baseball teams. But considering there were no tales of actual “juvenile delinquents” gutting their classmates and using their entrails as a makeshift baseball diamond, the effects of these stories were relatively negligible. So Gaines rightfully believed it was his duty to stand before the senate to defend his wares. No other comic owner had the guts to stand beside him, leaving Gaines as the face of the horror comics "problem." E.C. comics were out of business by 1955, just months after he testified before the senate, unable to recover from the media backlash that painted him as a corrupt, craven creep who preyed on youth to fill his coffers.
Of course, William Gaines bounced back almost immediately when he switched from gore to guffaws and made a fortune with MAD magazine. Horror comics never made as dramatic a comeback, but the influence of Gaines’ work may have had the most profound effect on horror since 18th century Gothic scribes Shelley, Stevenson, and Stoker. George Romero, John Carpenter, Joe Dante, and R.L. Stine are just a few of the horror purveyors who grew up on E.C. Horror Comics, and its influence is instantly recognizable in these filmmakers and writers’ work, not just in the gore, but the social conscience, wry satire, and demented playfulness. The Crypt Keeper’s macabre punning is the clearest precedent for the horror hosts— Zacherley, Vampira, Ghoulardi—integral in helping the genre make a comeback in the ‘60s after a poor showing in the prim and prudish ‘50s, the same decade that saw E.C. Comics flicker out nearly as soon as it caught fire.

Those who were influenced and effected by E.C. Comics never forgot Gaines’s contributions to the horror genre even as they were overshadowed by MAD for decades until Tales from the Crypt came back in vogue in 1989 when HBO’s long-running series debuted.

William Gaines would have been 90 years old today. Since he has yet to he pull himself from the grave to make a suitably ghastly return (how's that for "good taste," Senator Kefauver?), we’ll have to settle for this brief tribute from a 1994 Horror Hall of Fame television program:

All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.