Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: "The Rolling Stones' Ed Sullivan Shows" DVDs

After The Rolling Stones made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on October 25, 1964, the host famously grumbled, “I promise you they'll never be back on our show. It took me 17 years to build this show and I'm not going to have it destroyed in a matter of weeks… I was shocked when I saw them.” The Stones, of course, would go on to shock funky, old Ed five more times throughout the ‘60s. SOFA Entertainment is now following up on last year’s terrific collection of The Beatles’ appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and doing the same for The Stones. While the complete collection of six episodes on two discs is not due for release until November 1st, an abridged single disc edition missing the band’s first and final “Sullivan” appearances comes out next Tuesday.

Whether or not fans should drop their dollars on one of these DVDs is no moot point. You love The Stones, you need to check them out on “Sullivan” not just to scream and shout to their performances but to dig the context. These days “The Ed Sullivan Show” may be most famous for its Rock acts, but that was never the show’s central purpose. It was an extremely old-fashioned variety program catering to corny circus acts, awful comedians, and bland crooners. Seeing the filthy, furious Rolling Stones storm the stage at 1697 Broadway is like watching a hurricane wipe out Little Town USA. Not that everything on these discs but The Rolling Stones is unwatchable. Some of the shows deliver serious nostalgia value. A lot of the vintage advertisements are more entertaining than the actual acts. Some of those acts are genuinely impressive. However, a lot of this material requires a quick thumb on your remote’s “next” button.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: 'Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records'

Have there ever been four people more thoroughly scrutinized, analyzed, biographized, and chroniclized than The Beatles? Their tours and recording sessions, lives and wives, their music and lyrics, their merchandise and solo records, their political implications and shoe sizes have all formed the bases of Beatle books for Beatle people. Bruce Spizer has devoted the last decade to covering what may be the most vital byproduct of Beatlemania: the little 7” and 12” discs that housed all their spectacular music. His two volumes of The Beatles’ Story on Capitol Records, The Beatles on Apple Records, and The Beatles Solo on Apple Records are now joined by Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, co-authored with Frank Daniels.

Spizer and Daniels’s book gets in the grooves of every 45, L.P., and E.P. released on Parlophone Records in the U.K. (and that includes their records with Apple labels, which actually weren’t Apple records at all). Each chapter on each record follows a consistent formula. Brief background comments on the relevant record are followed by its chart history, including the records they displaced from the top of the charts (because pretty much everything The Beatles released went to the toppermost of the poppermost). Then the writers delve deeper with details on the writing and recording of each song, how the records were promoted, and significant live performances of them. Then they cross assuredly into the geek zone, breaking down the different pressings of the records, the variations and errors on their labels, etc. Even Spizer recognizes that these last details will only appeal to hardcore collectors, warning more casual readers that they may want to skip over the bits about matrix numbers and fonts in his forward.

Indeed, Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records is largely aimed at serious collectors who want to know the precise origins of their vintage Beatles records. The luxuriousness of this over-sized, glossy-paged, full-color book makes it a collector’s item in itself (as does the steep price tag). But all fab fans will find something to enjoy in Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, whether it’s the plethora of wonderful photos or the abundance of trivial tidbits. I’m sure there are die-hard Beatlemaniacs who are already familiar with every scrap of historical info in this book. I’ve read a good twenty volumes on the band, and a lot of this stuff was new to me. I did not know that the “A Hard Day’s Night”/“Things We Said Today” was originally intended to be promoted as a double-A side. I now fully understand the economic reasons for placing a mere 11 or 12 tracks on the Capitol albums in the U.S. I was surprised to read how far the German translations of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” diverged from the original English lyrics. I was even more taken aback to learn that McCartney’s fuzz bass on “Think for Yourself” was not really a fuzz bass at all and that there is an odd connection between the “Flying” sequence in Magical Mystery Tour and Stanley Kubrick’s comedic masterwork Dr. Strangelove.

Spizer and Daniels also rise above the usual clinical collector’s guide writers by striking an informal, sometimes cheeky tone. The opening paragraphs of the Let It Be chapter are righteously funny. I also appreciate the attention they paid to aborted projects, such as both versions of the Get Back album and the Yellow Submarine E.P. that was scrapped in favor of an L.P. filled out with George Martin’s score. But someone needs to explain the difference between a tabla and a tamboura to the writers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Free Download of Atari-Style "Twin Peaks" Video Game!

Remember back in 1991 when the Atari video game company decided to cash in on the phenomenal success of the "Twin Peaks" finale by producing the one and only officially licensed "Twin Peaks" video game in which you, the player, controls Agent Cooper as he traverses the red-curtained innards of the mythical Black Lodge? No? Boy, did your childhood suck!

Well, now you can set things right both for yourself and little Dale Cooper, who we last saw trapped in the Lodge while his Killer BOB-infused doppelgänger was free to do very, very naughty things in the bucolic town of Twin Peaks. That's because the great Welcome to Twin has posted a P.C. and Mac friendly download of the Twin Peaks Black Lodge © game!

Wait a minute... according to the site, this game didn't actually get released in 1991. It was actually created just months ago by a certain genius named Jak Locke as an homage to both classic Atari games and the greatest T.V. show in the history of humanity! I've been hoodwinked!

No matter, because Locke's game is the sweetest kind of hoodwink. The Black Lodge game is both simple and challenging. The player encounters such beloved characters as The Little Man from Another Place, Evil Laura, Evil Leland, Little Jimmy Scott, and Killer BOB, himself! Moving furniture poses additional challenges. Snag the free download of this terrific game at Welcome to Twin today and find out how Annie really is!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: 'Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader'

Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader is a humble enough looking book, but like its subject, this little anthology is stuffed with ideas. Editor Kingsley Abbott did a swell job of collecting an eclectic range of articles on the brilliant, bizarre producer. Spector’s life is pock marked with tales terrifying and too-strange-to-be-true, the full breadth of which is certainly too unwieldy to adequately convey in a pocket-sized, 200-page book. So Abbott smartly maintains focus on the man’s music rather than his criminal madness. Of course, Spector’s notorious volatility and unsettling idiosyncrasies creep into much of the material in Abbott’s book.

Following a brief introduction from the editor, things really get underway with a Nik Cohn piece published in a late 1972 issue of Creem. The writer weaves his and Spector’s expectedly strange encounters with a tidy, yet opinionated overview of the producer’s career. Sleazy and beautiful, “Nik Cohn Visits Mr. Spector” is the kind of Rock writing that simply doesn’t exist anymore.

Now that we have our outline of Phil sketched, the details are ready to be painted between the lines. Greg Shaw’s “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (History of Rock- 1982) provides a solid image of Spector’s early career and initial hits. Bob Finnis’s “Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound” (Radio One: Story of Pop- 1973) presents an essential introduction to that echo-swathed monolith of clattering percussion, throbbing basses, chiming acoustic guitars, shimmering strings, and punishing drums. Interviews with producers Phil Chapman and Mark Wirtz probe deeper behind the wall, revealing how, exactly, Spector created his inimitable sound. This stuff is interesting for listeners but downright educational for producers both novice and veteran.

Little Symphonies continues to fascinate with a pair of interviews with Ronnie Spector conducted two decades apart (she is far more comfortable criticizing her ex-husband in the later discussion), several pieces on the mono and stereo variations of Spector’s records, a Richard Williams article and an interview with May Pang that paint portraits of the chaotic studio atmospheres during Spector’s sessions with John Lennon, and an account of the even more chaotic End of the Century sessions written by Dee Dee Ramone, himself.

Varied, entertaining, and endlessly informative with a refreshing minimum of overlapping information, Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader provides a superb selection of Spectornalia essential for all Philophiles.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: John Landis's 'Monsters in the Movies'

John Landis made terrific monster movies such as An American Werewolf in London and Innocent Blood by not taking the genre very seriously. However, Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares proves he is nothing less than awestruck by monster movies. You will be too as you peruse the spectacular array of photos he collects in this new coffee table book.

The filmmaker divides the book into the various familiar categories to provide brief overviews of vampires, werewolves, mummies, space monsters, and the rest before inundating readers with the photos that are its reason for existing. A fabulous double-page, behind-the-scenes shot of the Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth. A creepily eroticized picture of little Linda Blair in her demon makeup that says as much about the subtext of The Exorcist as any extended analysis. An ultra-rare image from the 1863 photomontage “Henry Robin and the Specter.” From the classics to the cheap-o exploiters, the most ancient relics to the most recent CGI pot boilers. Some 1,000 films are represented in this gorgeous, gorgeous book.

Landis’s text initially seems disappointing. His opening chapters on vampires and werewolves are primers that will reveal nothing to faithful horror hounds and lack the cheeky, sometimes curmudgeonly, irreverence that has made him such a welcome talking head in horror documentaries. But he quickly loosens up to crack wise about the Resident Evil movies (“You could take random scenes from each of these films and cut them together and I don’t think anyone would notice”), the unseen genitals in Zemeckis’s Beowulf, and other flicks that don’t quite rise to his standards.

Landis’s writing gets even more intriguing when he allows his personal politics to come into play, as when discussing the conservative nature of mad scientist films and the need to suspend his own atheism to appreciate The Exorcist. Best of all are his interviews with Christopher Lee, Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, and John Carpenter. Because he’s on chummy terms with these various actors and filmmakers, the conversations are casual and provocative. He gives Cronenberg a hilariously hard time regarding the unintended reactionary nature of his films. Someone needs to give Landis his own talk show!

Friday, September 9, 2011

20 Things You May Not Have Known About Otis Redding

If Otis Redding hadn’t met his end in a plane crash over Madison, Wisconsin, on December 10, 1967, he may have been celebrating his 70th birthday today. Although The King of Soul is long gone, his raggedy growl continues to rip hearts in half and jolt feet onto the dance floor. Here are twenty trivial tidbits to help make your personal dictionary of Otis Redding complete and unbelievable.

1. After Little Richard deserted his band The Upsetters to start preaching instead of rocking, Otis Redding shimmied in to sing with his idol’s former band.

2. Otis Redding first stepped foot in Stax after chauffeuring Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers to the studio for a recording session. When it ended 40 minutes ahead of schedule, Redding asked if he could cut a song. Although producer and Stax co-founder Jim Stewart wasn’t bowled over by the recording, he released “These Arms of Mine”, nonetheless. The single became Otis Redding’s first top twenty hit on the R&B charts.

3. As amazing of a performer as Otis Redding was, he was terribly intimidated by the explosive stage work of Sam and Dave. After a tour in which he had to follow the duo night after night, he reportedly told his manager Phil Walden, “Don’t you ever put me with them motherfuckers again.”

4. Otis was taking a physical exam required for a life insurance policy when his frequent collaborator Steve Cropper suggested the band cut a version of The Rolling Stones’ recent monster-hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. By the time Redding returned from his physical, Cropper had the backing arranged and Otis was ready to lay down his vocal.

5. Keith Richards wrote the classic fuzz guitar riff of “Satisfaction” for brass, but did not get a chance to hear his song arranged the intended way until Otis Redding covered it. In his autobiography Life, Richards wrote that he didn’t like “Satisfaction” until he heard Otis do it.

6. Otis Redding paid tribute to another British institution when he covered The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” on his Dictionary of Soul album in 1966. The Beatles were equally moved by him; George Harrison revealed that the “Drive My Car” riff was inspired by the one on Redding’s original version of “Respect”.

7. Otis Redding first heard a soul artist tackle the standard “Try a Little Tenderness” on the 1964 L.P. Sam Cooke at the Copa, which he listened to so often he literally wore it out and had to purchase a replacement copy.

8. Otis Redding hired singer/pianist Katie Webster for an opening slot on his 1966 tour when he first heard her singing from his dressing room at the Bamboo Club in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He dashed out to hire her so fast that he didn’t get a chance to put on his pants first.

9. Among Otis Redding’s nicknames were The Big O, The Mad Man from Macon, Rockhouse Redding, and The King of Soul.

10. After soul artists started dubbing the upcoming Monterey Pop Festival “whitey’s festival,” Otis Redding was hastily booked in an attempt to stamp out further accusations of racial bias.

11. When Otis landed in England with the Stax/Volt Review in 1967, he was greeted by The Beatles’ personal limo, which they’d sent along to escort him and the other members of the package tour from the airport.

12. Although he hated the food, Redding supposedly loved England… particularly its rainy weather. He told journalist Jim Delehant that if he ever decided to relocate from the states, he’d settle in England.

13. A strict professional, Redding reportedly fined band members who showed up late for gigs.

14. Elvis Presley’s eight-year reign as “world’s best male vocalist” on Melody Maker’s annual pop poll ended in September 1967 when readers voted Otis Redding the new king of the mic.

15. By 1967, Otis Redding still hadn’t broken into the pop top-twenty with a record of his own. However, he did co-write and produce “Sweet Soul Music”, a #2 pop hit for his protégé Arthur Conley, which included the name check, “Spotlight on Otis Redding now, singing fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa.”

16. Redding’s incredible success at the Monterey Pop Festival inspired him to write a crossover song that might finally win over the white audience. After spinning Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band over and over to uncover its hit formula, he wrote “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. The next day he called his manager and told him, “Phil, I wrote that fuckin’ million seller we was talkin’ about.”

17. On March 16, 1968, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” became the first posthumous number one hit in Billboard charts history.

18. The pallbearers at Otis Redding’s funeral were fellow soul legends Solomon Burke, Don Covay, Sam Moore, Joe Simon, Percy Sledge, Johnnie Taylor, and Joe Tex.

19. Shortly after Redding’s death, journalist Ritchie Yorke not only accused Jagger and Richards of stealing “Satisfaction” from Otis Redding, but charged that the King of Soul recorded his version before The Stones. Of course, there wasn’t a lick of truth in Yorke’s bizarre accusation, which Steve Cropper corroborated in a subsequent interview with Rolling Stone.

20. In 1982, The Reddings had a #55 hit with their cover of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. Otis’s sons Dexter and Otis III were the first artists to have a hit with a number-one song originated by their parent.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

'Some Girls'-Era Live Stones Show Coming to DVD and CD in November

On November 21, Eagle Rock Entertainment will be unleashing a previously unreleased live set from The Rolling Stones' 1978 tour. According to the official press release, Some Girls Live in Texas 1978 "will be available on four different formats: DVD, Blu-Ray, plus special edition DVD + CD and Blu-Ray + CD digipack presentations including a reproduction tour program. Bonus features on all formats will include a new interview with Mick Jagger. Worldwide theatrical distribution deals including the US (in October 2011) will be announced soon... Originally shot on 16mm film, the concert footage has been carefully restored with the sound remixed and remastered by Bob Clearmountain from the original multi track tapes."

Here's the Set List
1) Let It Rock
2) All Down The Line
3) Honky Tonk Women
4) Star Star
5) When The Whip Comes Down
6) Beast Of Burden
7) Miss You
8 ) Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
9) Shattered
10) Respectable
11) Far Away Eyes
12) Love In Vain
13) Tumbling Dice
14) Happy
15) Sweet Little Sixteen
16) Brown Sugar
17) Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Holly Hop and Berry Pickin’: Buddy and Chuck and the Invention of Rock & Roll’s Future

The package was completely unexpected: he was white, geeky, gangly, bespectacled. His hair was a little oily-looking, but neatly cropped in contrast to the wild pompadours that Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Little Richard favored. He wore a conservative two-piece suit in contrast to those guys’ baggy trousers and flashy lamé. None of this fit the Rock & Roll image. Nonetheless, Buddy Holly was one of its great innovators. And if Elvis was the face of Rock & Roll, the cat who struck the genre’s most iconic image, Buddy was the guts. He wasn’t gorgeous and groovy; he was the content in the grooves. With Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly revolutionized Rock & Roll music more profoundly than any other artist of his era. And, yes, that does include Elvis.

Without question, Elvis Presley deserves more credit for popularizing Rock & Roll than any other artist in the genre’s history. He created a tizzy with his beautiful face, beautiful baritone, and gritty sexuality. Yet his greatest influence on Rock & Roll is the inspirational role he played for a new breed of musicians whose music bore little similarity to his. He may have dazzled Lennon and Jagger and Townshend and Dylan and the rest, but most of those artists appropriated few of his records’ signatures. The 2/4 beat of Elvis’s Sun recordings is evident in much of Dylan’s mid-‘60s electric work, but it was hardly pervasive beyond the ‘50s. On the odd occasion a singer attempted to mimic his baritone—as Dylan did on “Lay Lady Lay” or Robert Plant on “Candy Store Rock”—the results sounded more like parody than tribute. That Elvis was never a songwriter further limits his personal impact. As an icon, he was without peer. As a force that would instigate Rock & Roll’s most radical musical developments, he is overshadowed by a pair of audacious trailblazers.

The music of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly constituted the two main ingredients of Rock & Roll, the bullion in a soup that would brew The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Ronettes, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Holly Golightly, The White Stripes, The… well, if they plucked a guitar or crooned into a mic, they likely owe these two guys a tip of the hat and a pint of lager. Berry brought the pace: revved up like a ’57 Thunderbird, gunned along on power chords accelerated with a pinky swing to the sixth. With his limber riffing, Berry took Rock & Roll’s most essential tool and zapped it to life like Dr. Frankenstein. Richards, Clapton, Hendrix, Page, and Beck were listening. He also brought something to Rock & Roll that would crop up in the work of all the followers mentioned above and every other rocker who mattered: literate flair. Berry didn’t spew moon and June clichés; he spun yarns. Saying he loved a girl wasn’t adequate for the duck walker; he needed to convey his frustration about being unable to undo her seatbelt while fumbling in the front seat of his car. He needed to protest being inundated with bills, fast-talking salesmen (you listening, Jagger?), schooling, the military, and all the other monkey business. He needed to create fully fleshed characters: the road-bound daddy distraught because he can’t get a phone call through to his daughter back home, a prehistoric monkey who raises the ire of all the other animals in the jungle, the hot-picking country boy with dreams of being “the leader of a big old band.” Berry’s tall-tales were the seeds that sprouted “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Janie Jones”, too many others.

Buddy Holly was not as fleet-fingered on the frets as Chuck Berry. His lyrics didn’t display as much panache. He was a moon and June guy, not a storyteller. But whereas Berry was content to repeat the same tune, guitar riff, and chord-progression over and over and over again, Buddy was a restless composer and musical innovator. No two Holly songs sound the same, and the same cannot be said of any other rocker of his generation. He made Rock & Roll the one thing its early proponents never expected it could be: eclectic. He could pump out a Bo Diddley beat on “Not Fade Away”. Flip that record over and find the twee pitter-patter of “Everyday” (surely the first Rock & Roll song to feature the celesta!). The fatalistic “That’ll Be the Day” is a soulful swing; “I’m Looking for Someone to Love” is euphoric, finger-snapping pop. Listen to “Words of Love” to hear the invention of jangle-pop, because The Beatles and The Byrds sure did. Listen to “Listen to Me” to hear the invention of Latin-Rock nearly a year before “La Bamba”. Listen to “Well…All Right”. Yes, you are hearing the birth of folk rock. And with the last tracks he recorded, something even more fascinating was taking place. Employing the strings of arranger Dick Jacobs on “True Love Ways”, “Raining in My Heart”, and “It Doesn’t Matter Any More”, Buddy Holly invented the orchestral Rock & Roll that would seem so innovative when The Beatles started using violins and cellos in the mid-‘60s.

Those final tracks also revealed the development of Buddy Holly’s compositional skills. Breaking away from the limitations of the I-IV-V blues progression, he took his music in adult territory that probably still didn’t endear him to late ‘50s adults. Yet he certainly endeared himself to the young writers who would enact the innovations Holly’s untimely death on February 3, 1959, prevented him from doing himself. That maturity is evident in Roy Orbison’s work of the early ‘60s. Formerly a rock-a-billy raver, Orbison expanded his vocabulary of chord-changes and arrangements with “Only the Lonely”, “Running Scared”, and “Crying” that sound like the next logical step after Holly’s late-career work. Incorporating instruments beyond their four-piece line-up was still in The Beatles’ future, but the influence of Holly’s inventive melodies and harmonies are already present in “Please Please Me” (originally conceived as an Orbison-eque torch song), “From Me to You”, “She Loves You”, others.

Had Buddy Holly lived, would he have taken those next steps before his students did? Miles from the prude his image implied, he might have led the psychedelic brigade before John and George’s dentist spiked their coffee with LSD in early ‘65. Or maybe he would have put his zeal for instrumental experimentation and studio trickery, such as overdubbing, to use as a producer. Most likely, he would have continued writing and singing and performing and recording. And though he may not have remained consistently at the top of the charts, he would have remained consistently popular and influential. And we don’t need “maybes” or “what ifs” to qualify that last point, because it’s the stone truth. It’s in the hiccups of Ronnie Spector and Joey Ramone. It’s in the thump of Keith Moon’s cardboard kit on “See My Way” and the heavy, black frames on Elvis Costello’s face. It’s in The Everly Brothers’ “True Love Ways”, The Rolling Stones’ “Not Fade Away”, The Beatles’ “Words of Love”, Blind Faith’s “Well… All Right”, Blondie’s “I’m Gonna Love You Too”, The Raveonettes “Everyday”, and all those tracks on the Rave On Buddy Holly tribute album released just a few months ago. Buddy Holly did not live to experience his own legacy, as his fellow pioneer Chuck Berry did, but it exists and it persists, never to fade away.

Buddy Holly was born 75 years ago today.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Psychobabble’s 200 Essential Horror Movies Part 7: The 1980s

In this feature, Psychobabble creeps through 100 years of horror cinema to assemble a highly personal list of the genre’s 200 most monstrous works, decade by decade.

(Updated in September 2021)

122. The Shining (1980- dir. Stanley Kubrick)
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