Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: 'Some Girls: Deluxe Edition' by The Rolling Stones

As soon as The Rolling Stones moved beyond the rudimentary blues and Chuck Berry homages of their first couple of records, they became Rock & Roll’s greatest bandwagon jumpers. Whether the times were ruled by pop, psychedelia, or the Dylan-led roots revival of the late ‘60s, The Stones were always game and almost always did it better than anyone else. After the rough transition that saw them lose their most polished guitarist, Mick Taylor, and their most competent producer, Jimmy Miller, The Stones got straight on 1978’s Some Girls. Although they’d definitely lost a good deal of true grit in the years that saw them gain the gritty Ronnie Wood but slip into a jet set lifestyle more befitting decadent royalty than decadent Rock stars, Some Girls is a solid selection of ten tracks well steeped in the late ‘70s triumvirate of New York punk, disco, and Smokey and the Bandit-style hick country. This may not be The Stones at the peak of their powers, but it is further proof that they could casually dip into the zeitgeist and come up with a bona-fide winner. Some Girls became their biggest seller and is regularly cited as the band’s last great record.

The new deluxe edition of Some Girls is genuinely fascinating because it reveals that even with all the fashionable posturing entombed on that record, The Stones never lost their love for the earthy Rock & Roll and blues that defined them in their earliest years. Appended to the original album— which is presented as a louder, though not necessarily clearer or punchier, remaster than the 1994 CD—is a bonus disc of The Stones sounding looser and more sincere than they had since 1964. Between channeling Studio 54 on “Miss You” or Johnny Rotten on “Respectable”, The Stones were jamming away on Hank Williams and Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon classics just because they dug them. Along with the covers are untailored originals such as “Claudine”, a lively Rock-a-Billy jam, the pumping blues “So Young”, a close cousin to “Dead Fowers” called “Do You Think I Really Care”, a light-hearted, slightly Latin jaunt called “Don’t Be a Stranger”. Fresh stuff.

A few of these tracks—“No Spare Parts”, “Don’t Be a Stranger”, “You Win Again”—didn’t receive vocal overdubs during the original sessions, so Mick gave them a go in 2011. Because his vocal delivery had already gotten more affected in his current style by the Some Girls sessions, his new vocals don’t stick out as much as they did in the bonus tracks on last year’s deluxe Exile on Main Street. You’d be hard pressed to detect any significant difference between Mick’s delivery on “No Spare Parts” and his work on “Do You Think I Really Care”.

At a non-sprawling twelve tracks, the Some Girls bonus disc creates the pleasing illusion of a long-lost Rolling Stones L.P. If it isn’t essential, it’s certainly a more respectable collection than Black and Blue or Dirty Work. Like Black and Blue, these numbers are more about performance than composition. Unlike Black and Blue, none of them are long-winded or half-hearted. Ultimately, the bonus disc is more of a contrast than a compliment to Some Girls, proof that real hearts still beat in the guys at a time when they seemed to be transforming into automated mimics for good.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: 'Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut' by The Who

Like so many Who projects, Quadrophenia is an album universally regarded as a classic yet with some fairly common reservations. Vocalist Roger Daltrey was the first to balk about how his vocals were buried in the original 1973 mix, and others have griped about the balance in subsequence years. Some critics take issue with a song cycle about the R ‘n’ B and power-pop-obsessed Mod cult that bears no trace of those influences. Rather, Pete Townshend’s songs are epic, synthesizer laden, and more than a little proggy, a very ‘70s hard rock extension of his work on the Lifehouse/Who’s Next project. Still, Quadrophenia is a great album because its musical grandiosity is balanced with some of Townshend's most beautiful compositions: "5:15", "I'm One", "The Punk Meets the Godfather", "Love Reign O'er Me", "The Dirty Jobs", to name a few. All the synths and horn overdubs and rhythmic hubbub (which is incredibly impressive) and bellowing can’t trample the torment, regret, and longing that keeps the songs afloat across four sides of vinyl.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Like all major American holidays, Thanksgiving hauls along a bevy of iconic images and events. Hand-traced turkeys. Black and white clad pilgrims. Nine-hour football games. Monster fanatics who lived in the New York area during the late ‘70s/early ‘80s may have a particularly peculiar association with Thanksgiving. Along with the turkeys and the pilgrims and the parades and the rest, Thanksgiving meant giant apes. That’s because WOR-TV hosted King Kong marathons on Thanksgiving from 1976 to 1985. Every fourth Thursday in November, New Yorkers switched to channel 9 to spend five hours with King Kong, Son of Kong, and honorary Kong flick Mighty Joe Young... not to mention a glut of Crazy Eddie commercials.

I could give you the whole run down of the history of King Kong and WOR-TV, but then I’d just be ripping off a web article about this phenomenon more than I already have. Those of you who still pine for those pre-turkey gorges of King Kong movies (and post-Thanksgiving marathons of Godzilla ones!) should check out Joe Cascio’s terrific piece “Holiday Film Festival…” here. Happy Kongsgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Some Girls Live in Texas '78'

No offense to Ron Wood, but there’s little denying that The Rolling Stones crossed an unfortunate threshold when they lost Mick Taylor in 1974. Heavy drugs, superstardom, and a bloated reputation for hedonism started taking the place of genuine inspiration. If Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll displayed a definite decline in quality from the Exile on Main Street high-point, 1976’s Black and Blue was The Stones at their most desperate, flailing through boring jams and pathetic grasps at trendiness. The sloganeering “Hot Stuff” alone is evidence that the once threatening Rolling Stones had gotten kind of sad. The exploding punk movement of the following year (“No Beatles, Elvis, or The Rolling Stones in 1977!”) didn’t make them seem any more relevant, yet Jagger’s penchant for trend hopping meant his band was going to incorporate those now sounds into their music whether they liked it or not.

Surprisingly, the experiment wasn’t a total failure, and 1978’s Some Girls is regularly cited as The Stones’ last consistently great album of all-new material. After the directionless Black and Blue, Some Girls found them making a calculated effort to write well-realized songs and recapture the most celebrated and condemned aspects of the now-mythic Stones persona: their casual offensiveness and misogyny, their “fuck you” humor, their willingness to explore transgressive topics, as well as their soulfulness and lean muscle.

When The Stones toured Some Girls, that same attitude ruled their performances. The show captured by filmmaker Lynn Lenau Calmes at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, Texas, is a testament to this. The Stones work hard, delivering a clutch of classics and most of Some Girls with force and speed without slumping into the sloppiness that sometimes called their “World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band” status into question. Ronnie Wood has assimilated into the band nicely, recreating Mick Taylor’s slide lines on “All Down the Line” with uncanny ease. This is a professional band playing at the peak of its powers. So why does the guy out front keep drawing attention away from that serious Rock & Roll with his goofy jumping jacks?

As The Stones settled into their professional routine, Mick Jagger settled into his role as clown. At his most self-conscious, he’s absolutely ridiculous in the new DVD Some Girls Live in Texas ‘78, grabbing his and Ronnie’s cocks and mumbling about how the band is weary from fucking all night. Jagger’s attempts to give the people the shocks he thinks they want from the bad, bad Rolling Stones are as inauthentic as the “punk” swastika T-shirt he reveals toward the end of the set. Ooooh! Dangerous!

But amidst all his insufferable posing, Jagger can’t help allowing authenticity to peak through from time to time. Not when he has cats as genuine as Keith and Charlie powering away behind him. So we get moving versions of “Beast of Burden” and “Love in Vain”, even though it’s jarring to see a guy wearing garbage-bag trousers paying tribute to salt-of-the-earth Robert Johnson.

Jagger also deserves credit for the unexpected versatility he displays on this DVD, contributing extra guitar on several numbers and keyboard parts on “Far Away Eyes”. And if much of his stage shenanigans are ludicrous, it’s refreshing to see such a lack of spectacle at a show that took place after The Stones had become a splashy juggernaut. There are no inflatable boners. The stage is small and intimate. The supporting musicians are limited to official sixth-Stone Ian Stewart and Ronnie’s former bandmate Ian McLagan on keyboards. And let’s face it, even if this isn’t prime-era Stones when one could really be in awe of everything they ape here, it’s still the fucking Stones, which means the guys still put on a damn good concert.

Along with embalming Jagger’s silliest tendencies and grabbing some genuinely mean music, Some Girls Live in Texas ‘78 also features a great selection of bonuses. There are vintage and new interviews in which Mick comes off as infinitely more authentic and charming than he does in the concert they accompany, further drawing attention to the fact that he was really just playing a role on stage. Even better is The Stones’ full appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in October 1978, both the 12-minute musical portion and the “Tomorrow” sketch in which Dan Aykroyd plays Tom Snyder interviewing Mick. The band is kind of sloppy and the singer sounds like he has laryngitis, but the sketch is still hilarious, with Mick holding his own nicely against Akyroyd’s rock-solid comic capering. An actor to the end.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: ‘Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection’

Phil Spector built a pop empire on the otherworldly singles he produced in the early ‘60s. His reputation at 33 1/3 rpms was less solid. The long player didn’t become a vital Rock & Roll conveyance until the British Invasion that ended Spector’s reign. So he didn’t always put a great deal of thought into the way his albums were presented. When he finally resolved to make a masterful L.P., he released it the same day JFK was assassinated. A mourning public didn’t feel much like jingling all the way, and A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records flopped. Justly, that album has gone on to achieve classic status with its numerous reissues over the decades. Philles Records’ other L.P.s were never afforded that same boost until now.

Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection collects all six non-holiday albums released on Spector’s label on CD for the very first time. This set is fascinating both for its pleasant surprises and its emphasis on just how cavalier Spector was about everything but his single A-sides. There is a large and disappointing amount of overlap between these discs. The Crystals’ first two records, Twist Uptown and He’s a Rebel, are nearly identical. More of the group’s songs are repeated on The Crystals Sing the Greatest Hits Vol. 1. One third of the tracks on that particular L.P. are tossed-off covers of creaky standards, such as “The Wah Watusi” and “The Twist”. And The Crystals aren’t even the artists on those tracks! The Ronettes are!

Yet Spector’s offhand approach to making albums could also be genuinely interesting. Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans’ Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah finds him experimenting with greater abandon than he usually dared on his hits. His use of cagey distortion, odd bits of discordance (the guttural, out-of-tune bass on “Baby, I Love You”), and tightly controlled tempos and dynamics make an already eccentric selection of songs—“The White Cliffs of Dover”, “This Land Is Your Land”, the title track, which was certainly Spector’s oddest hit— even odder. Even the Disney-esque cartoon on the front cover is kind of unusual. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah also provides the box set’s most concentrated dose of Darlene Love, whose magnificent solo material is sadly underrepresented here.

Even weirder is Phil’s Flipsides, a bonus compilation of the two-minute instrumental improvisations Spector’s Wall of Sound Orchestra recorded to fill the B-sides of his hit singles and discourage DJs from playing the wrong sides. By design this isn’t the producer’s most essential music, but the combination of wacky Rock & Roll instrumentals and pretty convincing straight jazz is refreshing. Half this disc would sound smashing on a John Waters soundtrack. The other half is great cocktail party mood music. The goofy titles further reveal how little Spector cared about his non-A-sides: “Flip and Nitty”, “Chubby Danny D.”, “Dr. Kaplan’s Office” (named for Spector’s psychiatrist, who was apparently pretty shitty at his job).

Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection will be most appealing to Spector completists, but there is a lot of amazing music here. Granted, those two debut Crystals records are pretty flimsy. The best of their tracks are collected on Sings the Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and the various-artists compilation Philles Records Presents Today’s Hits, which also features a handful of Darlene Love solo sides, including the transcendent “Wait Til’ My Bobby Gets Home”, and The Alley Cats’ fun novelty “Puddin’ N’ Tain”. Best of all is Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica, Spector’s first truly great album despite its failure to generate classic status. All of the group’s prime-era hits (“Be My Baby”, “Walking in the Rain”, “Baby, I Love You”, “I Wonder”—Yow!), classic oddities (“You Baby”, “So Young”), and some unexpected surprises (a raucous phony live version of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say”) converge in a spectacular line up. Along with The Beach Boys, who it so inspired, this is the freshest pop that came out of America during the first year of the British Invasion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Dave Davies's 'Hidden Treasures'

The Kinks were at a commercial low point but a creative high point in the late ‘60s. Ray Davies wrote an excess of songs during the sessions that would spawn his masterpiece. On their way to becoming The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, several of those tracks were considered for an alternate album titled Four More Well Respected Gentlemen. Ray pondered a solo album and schemed to make a full-length musical out of his Village Green concept (which he would realize less than spectacularly in the mid-‘70s). Amidst all this activity, Pye Records started pushing Dave Davies to make his own solo album to capitalize on the success of 1967’s “Death of a Clown”—a Dave and Ray-penned Kinks number released as a solo single under the younger Davies’s name. Despite his long history of begrudging his brother’s higher profile in The Kinks, Dave was not enthused about the project. He preferred placing his songs on proper Kinks albums.

The process of writing Dave’s solo record was a bit of a drudge, though the recording sessions with The Kinks as his backing band and Ray producing birthed a quantity of quality songs. Occasionally the chore-aspect was apparent in somewhat halfhearted, repetitive numbers, such as “Do You Wish to Be a Man” and “Are You Ready”. But the best of Dave’s solo material—the joyous “Lincoln County”, the desperate yet exhilarating “This Man He Weeps Tonight”, the Dylanesque “Susannah’s Still Alive”, the magnificently brooding “Mindless Child of Motherhood”—could go toe-to-toe with any of Ray’s songs of that same period. The Kinks were rarely more ferocious than they were on “Mindless Child” and the sinister rocker “Creeping Jean”.

Alas, Dave’s lack of enthusiasm and renewed commercial hopes for The Kinks following the release of Arthur: or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire in 1969 put the unnamed solo project to rest. Most of the tracks ended up on flop Dave Davies singles and Kinks B-sides. But fans have long wondered how that completed L.P. would have sounded.

As a sort of bonus companion to its recent wave of superb Kinks deluxe reissues, Universal/Sanctuary Music is finally giving us the best approximation of Dave Davies’s unfinished solo album with Hidden Treasures. Compilers Russell Smith and Andrew Sandoval based this new CD on a 1969 acetate of Dave’s sessions assembled by Warner Reprise. The thirteen tracks flow quite nicely, and though many of them were included as bonus tracks on those deluxe Kinks discs, it’s nice to hear them placed together. And there are quite a few rarities to uncover here. Though not Dave’s best songs, “Do You Wish to Be a Man” and the gospel-flavored “Are You Ready” have only previously been available as scratchy acetate copies on bootlegs. Much better is the newly unveiled “Crying”, a mournful but catchy track on which Dave gets off some rather Hendrixy rhythm licks. The B-side “There Is No Life Without Love” is presented in an unfamiliar stereo mix in which Dave’s vocal is pulled out of the mass of harmonies to the front line.

The compilers include a wealth of bonus tracks, including most (but not all) of Dave’s Pye-era Kinks compositions, mono alternative mixes of several of the core album’s tracks, a brassier mix of “Mr. Reporter”, and a scratchy early take of “Hold My Hand”. A “rare” studio version of “Good Luck Charm” is pitched as an unreleased track, although it sounds suspiciously like the one on the Picture Book box set. Aside from the latter two bonus tracks, Hidden Treasures sounds fantastic, with dense bass and crisp acoustic details. Russell Smith’s liner notes, which detail the recording and writing of these tracks extensively, are as worthy as the music they annotate. But the greatest pleasure is the wonderful music, and Hidden Treasures is a concentrated testament to the often-overlooked songwriting talents of Dave Davies.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

80 Artists Celebrate 80 Years of 'Frankenstein' with 80 Bizarro Busts

When Boris Karloff staggered backward through a doorway to reveal his horrifically pancaked cranium in Frankenstein, an icon that would last 80 years (and counting) was born. In celebration of the milestone anniversary of that visage crafted by Karloff, director James Whale, and make-up wiz Jack Pierce, 80 artists have contributed their own takes on the Frankenstein Monster for the "It's Alive" Project. Sculpted busts mash the Monster with such fellow icons as The Joker, Paul Stanley, Frankenberry, The Wolfman, and Abraham Lincoln and Dracula (fused in one particularly bizarro bust!). Others recast him in glitter or jigsaw puzzle pieces or as a cinema popcorn box or an etch-a-sketch. Amazing stuff, and sales of the busts benefit the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to advance the cure and treatment of pediatric diseases.

Check out the stunning gallery of busts at the official "It's Alive" Project site here.

Thanks to Frankensteinia for this scoop.

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Evening with the Karloffs in California

Those in the Idyllwild, California, area... beware! Saturday, November 5th, Sara Karloff will be presenting a screening of her daddy's watershed horror flick Frankenstein at the Caine Learning Center. Karloff will then take part in a discussion about papa Boris and present some home movies the official event announcement ensures will be "startling." Of course, it's hard to imagine they'll be more startling than this:

The event begins at 6PM and is totally free.

Caine Learning Center
54385 Pine Crest Ave.

Stay tuned for more Frankenstein business here at Psychobabble as the movie celebrates its 80th anniversary this month!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: 'Peter Gabriel: New Blood Live in London'

On March 23rd and 24th of 2011, Peter Gabriel appeared at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo in London and performed a selection of covers and his own classics with the New Blood Orchestra. This is the kind of thing that would be nothing more than a pretentious folly if mounted by most artists (case in point: “I've always wanted to do a collection of my acoustic numbers with the London Philharmonic, as you know.”—David St. Hubbins). But Gabriel—a guy once known to take the stage in a giant fox helmet— tends to welcome pretentious folly with disarming frankness, so the orchestral setting captured on the New Blood Live in London DVD suits him. John Metcalfe’s arrangements are consistently atmospheric, although the concert is front-loaded with dirgy tempos that can be monotonous. At times, this tendency can be fascinating. Gabriel and his orchestra transform Paul Simon’s effervescent “The Boy in the Bubble” into a stark nocturne and it works. But arrangements of songs by Regina Spektor and The Magnetic Fields are as perfunctory as Gabriel’s performances. When given inspired backing, his old penchant for dynamic drama resurfaces, as it does with refreshing regularity in the second half of the show.

Beginning with an intense, “Bolero”-like arrangement of “Biko”, New Blood gets considerably stronger and more varied. Again, these tracks don’t always work. Metcalfe’s attempt to bring a funky vibe to “Digging in the Dirt” fails to ignite; Gabriel and his co-singers seem restrained by the arrangement. But a version of “Downside Up” gets that more rhythmic feel right. The strings do an uncanny job of mimicking the acoustic guitars that introduce the studio version of “Solsbury Hill”, but a strategically placed kettle drum roll and some emphatic brass could have helped the number to achieve the climactic transcendence of the original. It’s all simmer and no boil. Otherwise, there’s little to gripe about in the second-half of New Blood. “San Jacinto” receives a shimmering arrangement. Emphasis on percussion and pizzicato strings helps “Mercy Street” to stand out from the pack. Metcalfe’s tasteful restraint suits “In Your Eyes” quite beautifully.

Even when he sounds less than fully engaged in the material, Gabriel is in strong voice throughout. His calculated use of his instrument’s rasp lends a raw undercurrent to the sometimes overly polite orchestrations. The film itself would have benefitted from richer photography. Flat video fails to convey the moodiness of the music and the shadowy, sometimes psychedelic stage lighting. A fox helmet or two wouldn’t have hurt either.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: ‘More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead’

George Romero revolutionized the zombie flick with Night of the Living Dead in 1968. While transplanting zombies from Caribbean voodoo rituals to Middle America and transforming them from the brain-dead pawns of some nefarious witch doctor into a relentless mob of cannibals, Romero’s film also helped build the Midnight Movie phenomenon of the ‘70s. With 1978’s Dawn of the Dead he sharpened the political implications of his first film, almost making the zombie movie a respectable form of social satire. By the time he made the righteously anti-military Day of the Dead in 1985, finger waving threatened to devour the essential purpose of all zombie movies: a fun, scary time watching zombies eat people.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: ‘You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks’

Power chord cro-magnons who grind out scrap-metal like “You Really Got Me” and “Destroyer” or sensitive fops who float out autumnal delicacies like “Days” and “Waterloo Sunset”? The Kinks’ career is a heap of contradictions both fascinating and disheartening. How could the soft-voiced soul famous for his empathy and his loyalty to tradition be so callous to his own brother? How could that beatific brother devoted to matters spiritual be so free with his fists? Listen closely to even the most fragile Kinks songs. Undercurrents of rage, regret, envy, and deep sadness are usually detectable. Perhaps that complexity is what so fascinates we Kinks fans.
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