Sunday, December 22, 2019

Review: The Beatstalkers' 'Scotland's No. 1 Beat Group'

The Beatstalkers were an odd duck in Britain’s mid-sixties beat scene. Were they a middle-of-the-road pop group like The Tremeloes? Sometimes. Were they aggressive, modish noise merchants like The Who? They were when they were at their best. Were they purveyors of twee quirk? They certainly were when a pre-fame David Bowie was providing their material. Were they Scotland’s No. 1 beat group? Well, they were if you trust the title of Sommor’s new compilation of everything The Beatstalkers recorded.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Review: 'Slaughterhouse-Five' Blu-ray

Kurt Vonnegut is among the most popular and clear-eyed writers with a taste for the experimental, but his work is notoriously difficult to adapt because his tone and humor are so individual and his plotting so unhinged. Consequently, few filmmakers have had the guts to tackle his source material, and even fewer have done so successfully. Most people will agree that George Roy Hill came closest with his 1972 version of what is probably Vonnegut’s signature work.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Review: Motown's Mono Vinyl Series, Part 1

You can get into the “stereo vs. mono” debate until your ears disintegrate, but when it comes to Motown soul, there is no debate. Mono is the only way to experience the unified power of the Funk Brothers’ and the silky harmonies of The Miracles and The Marvelettes. So the label’s new limited edition series of vinyl cut from original mono master tapes is completely welcome. Most of these discs are long out of print on wax in their definitive mixes, and a couple in the first wave—The Marvelettes’ Sophisticated Soul and The Supremes’ Reflections—have either never been available in mono (the former) or only available in that format in the UK (the latter). 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review: 'Melody Makers: Should’ve Been There'

Melody Maker was generally more significant for Barrie Wentzell’s striking B&W photos of sixties and seventies pop and rock stars than the depth of its reportage. So Leslie Ann Coles’s documentary Melody Makers: Should’ve Been There is a fitting tribute to the long-running UK music paper. The storytelling is as flimsy as a puff piece on Yes, but boy, those Wentzell photos that fill the screen throughout this film’s 88 minutes are impressive. Peter Gabriel resplendent in his daisy headpiece. Brian Jones cradling his sitar. Tina Turner commanding the stage as a Screaming Mimi in a mini.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Review: 50th Anniversary Edition of 'The Band'

Bob Dylan and The Band spent the summer of ’67 in Woodstock, isolated from the sitars, Mellotrons, and psychedelics that defined the season. When they emerged, they put out the two albums that redefined Rock & Roll for back-to-the-roots ’68. But whereas John Wesley Harding felt like Dylan’s most personal album since Another Side, The Band’s Music from Big Pink was clearly made under Dylan’s heavy influence. It’s an excellent record, but their own defining personal statement was still a year away.

The Band finds The Band leaving the Dylan-collaborations and covers behind for a completely self-created work. Robbie Robertson emerged as a songwriter with a vision nearly as individual as his mentor’s. Much has been made of the idea that The Band is a sepia snapshot of America’s past seen through the eyes of an (Canadian) outsider. However, many of Robertson’s characters seem to be born Americans, and he dramatizes them with such commitment and authenticity the backwoods funk of “Up on Cripple Creek” or the farming woes of “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” feel completely homebrewed in American soil. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is so soaked with humanity that it’s easy to forget that its sympathetic narrator fights alongside the Civil War’s villains (apparently that’s what staunch Civil Rights activist Joan Baez did when she turned it into a hit).

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Review: '1973: Rock at the Crossroads'

While it may not ring the cultural-epoch bells of 1955 (beginning of Rock & Roll era), 1964 (British Invasion), 1977 (punk invasion), or 1991 (cue opening riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), 1973 was actually a watershed year for pop music. Iconic releases included The Dark Side of the Moon, Quadrophenia, The Harder They Come, Court and Spark, Raw Power, New York Dolls, Band on the Run, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Innervisions. In fact, in his new book, 1973: Rock at the Crossroads, Andrew Grant Jackson deems the year “the zenith of classic rock,” referencing a analysis concluding that classic rock radio plays more songs from that year than any other. He further argues that it was also the jumping-off point for such near-future genres as punk, disco, and hip-hop.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: The Fox's 'For Fox Sake'

Had the breaks been a little better, The Fox might now be spoken of in the same breath as Small Faces, The Creation, The Move, The Action, Traffic, and the other mod and/or psych bands they resemble. Alas, the Brighton quintet only made one album, because as frontman Steve Brayne relates in the liner notes of a vinyl reissue of the For Fox Sake LP, their management “poached” Black Sabbath and decided to put all of its eggs in that gloomy basket. Timing might have something to do with The Fox’s failure since their mid-sixties sound was so out of step the times when they released their one and only LP in 1970.

That The Fox is all but forgotten is a drag, but there’s nothing draggy about For Fox Sake. For lovers of the brand of fresh-faced British rock that the rains of Sabbath and Zeppelin washed away, this album is a revelation. Almost every song is a gem, inviting comparison to the works of more famous artists but offering enough originality to make it essential in its own right. You’d be hard pressed to find a song by a white band that used reggae off beats earlier than “As She Walks Away”, which also resembles Larks’ Tongue-era King Crimson three years ahead of schedule. Had Hendrix experimented with circus music, he may have been able to lay claim to the sound of the epic “Madame Magical”, but since he didn’t, he cant. Most other tracks don’t strive for such uniqueness, but so who cares when For Fox Sake supplies the best Action (“Secondhand Love”), Creation (“Lovely Day”), and Small Faces (“Man in a Fast Car”) songs of 1970? Only the inchoate jam “Goodtime Music” is not up to snuff.

Sommor Records’ vinyl reissue of For Fox Sake affords this project some belated attention. The very cool album cover art is nicely reproduced. Sound is a bit flat and distorted, though that’s may be more a consequence of the album’s original lo-fi production than the digital mastering. The LP-sized booklet with Brayne’s notes and several band photos is a nice bonus. But great songs by a great band that almost nobody has heard are all the incentive necessary to hunt down For Fox Sake.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Vinyl Remasters of 4 Police Albums

Perhaps no late seventies/eighties band was as successful and brilliant in equal proportion as The Police. Each of their five albums is a must-own, almost completely unburdened by sub-par material, and each one displays a different facet of this most complex of power trios. Their debut Outlandos d’Amour saw Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland attempting to fool the punks into believing they were kindred spirits, failing at that, and producing a slick yet electrifying brew of speed rock, reggae, and pop. Their next two albums are their most similar as Regatta de Blanc and Zenyatta Mondatta lose the punk gestures to focus more on their tasty brand of poppy white (Blanc) reggae (Regatta—they were just as handy with a pretentious album title as they were with their instruments). With Ghost in the Machine, The Police took greater advantage of the studio, fattening their sound with greater use of keyboards and Sting’s surprisingly effective, overdubbed saxophone arrangements. Synchronicity went for broke as The Police shunned none of the magic studio recording offered, wrote a slew of actual and potential hits, and still made room to be hilariously eccentric (“Mother”!). That their greatest success and artistic statement was also The Police’s final album meant they went out on top with a flawless legacy.

The legacy sounds as flawless as ever on half-speed remastered vinyl from A&M. The mastering jobs generally sounds pleasingly similar to that of the original seventies/eighties releases. Regatta de Blanc, though, sounds distinctively improved with stronger bass and more vibrant detail, while the bass frequencies of Synchronicity are pumped up a bit. Initially released in last year’s Every Move You Make: The Studio Recordings box set, four of The Police’s five are now getting individual releases as well. I’m not sure why the band’s most visceral disc, Outlandos d’Amour, wasn’t invited to the party, and since each Police album is essential, the box set might still be the smartest way to go, especially since it includes a bonus disc of equally essential non-LP singles. Still, those who need to flesh out an incomplete collection should be very happy with these individual releases.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Review: 'Humble Pie: Life & Times of Steve Marriott + 1973 Complete Winterland Show'

There’s never been a singer quite like Steve Marriott, with his banshee cry streaking out of his elfin frame. He was one of the very few British soul shouters who never seemed to force the energy, never seemed to be doing a parody of authentic, African-American singers (sorry, Mick). Monumentally talented yet still underrated, particularly outside of his home country, Marriott is certainly worthy of more attention. Setting that issue straight seems to be the goal of Gary Katz’s goal when putting together Humble Pie: Life & Times of Steve Marriott. However, as that title suggests, the storytelling is a bit lop-sided, with little attention paid to Marriott’s most vital years as a Small Face and most of the documentary focusing on his seventies work as a member of Humble Pie.

Since Humble Pie was produced in the late nineties, it was shot on full-frame video. That video presentation means its new Blu-ray presentation does nothing for its images, but audio is an improvement over the included DVD in this Blu-ray/DVD/CD set. The decision to fill the screen’s margins with distracting visual noise was a bad one, though.

The documentary itself offers plenty of opportunities to hear Steve wail, though its abundant performance footage leaves the talking heads (Humble Pie members Peter Frampton, Jerry Shirley and Clem Clempson, friends Chris Farlowe and Spencer Davis, fans Chris Robinson and Kevin Dubrow, two of his ex-wives, etc.) to take a back seat and deprives the doc of a complete picture of the man. Fortunately, an hour of bonus interview footage fleshes out Marriott to a certain degree with personal stories from many of the main movie’s participants. Still, the most enticing bonus of this set is that CD capturing a ferocious Humble Pie set from Winterland in 1973.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Review: Rolling Stones' 'Let It Bleed' 50th Anniversary Box Set

Once they realized they couldn’t get by with covering great old Chuck Berry and blues numbers forever, The Rolling Stones got busy with trying to hack out a distinctive sound of their very own. This led to their most eclectic period as they continually tossed fashionable sounds against the wall to suss which one was the stickiest. While it’s tantalizing to imagine how the rest of the Stones’ career might have played out if they’d settled on the cool marimbas and Elizabethan harpsicords of Aftermath or the spooky Mellotrons and Moroccan jams of Their Satanic Majesties Request, they probably made the wisest choice to stick with what they knew best. Thus, the rugged blues and sinister Rock & Roll of 1968’s Beggars Banquet became the template for much of the rest of their career.

Their 1969 follow up, Let It Bleed, never strays too far from the previous year’s outing, though there is too much good stuff in the grooves to dismiss it as an also ran. If “Country Honk” is a more disposable C&W parody than “Dear Doctor” and “Midnight Ramber” is a less elegant first-person portrait of evil than “Sympathy for the Devil”, the Stones kept things fresh with the incomparable apocalyptic atmospherics of “Gimmie Shelter”, the wicked grooves and guffaws of “Monkey Man”, Keith Richards’s deliciously gnarly solo-vocal debut “You Got the Silver”, and the hard-learned insights and choir—choir!—of the pop symphony “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: 'The First Star Trek Movie: Bringing the Franchise to the Big Screen, 1969-1980'

Star Trek had barely been cancelled when its obsessive fans began obsessing about where the Enterprise might head next. Even as Gene Roddenberry dangled the possibility of a new live-action series, and forced fans to settle for a cartoon, there was talk of a feature film for years. Events began to snowball by the mid-seventies, and Trekkers (never call them Trekkies!) got their big screen treat when Star Trek—The Motion Picture zoomed into cinemas in 1979. Well, maybe “zoomed” is not the right verb. Perhaps “floated in slow-mo” is more appropriate for Robert Wise’s notoriously inert epic. Disappointment followed.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Review: 'An American Werewolf in London' Blu-ray

By the early eighties, the werewolf genre had essentially been dead since Lon Chaney Jr. last wore the fur. There was AIP’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf, and Paul Naschy’s low-budget wolf cycle, but not much else happening in the way of lycanthropes. The time must have been right for things that bark and scratch in 1981, though, because that year saw a small new wave of werewolf pictures.

Without a doubt, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London stands out in a pack that also included the more bluntly satirical The Howling and the self-serious Wolfen. Landis’s vengefully imaginative script, inventive direction, freewheeling sense of humor, and geeky awareness of monster movies past made for a film that almost seemed too much of a tonal hybrid to call horror, yet as funny as it often is, An American Werewolf in London is a true horror movie. It’s just an audaciously original one. And with its killer cast (David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter’s magnetic likability ramps up the emotional impact when bad things happen to them), a neat moon-centric pop soundtrack, and Rick Baker’s groundbreaking special effects (still the very best werewolf effects on film as far as I’m concerned), I contend that An American Werewolf in London is not just the best werewolf movie but also the best movie of the 1980s.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: 'Häxan' Blu-ray

Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan is the rare movie that gets to have its cake and eat it too. The film wants to be a serious exploration of the very real, very vile, historical persecution of witches—and it manages to pull that off surprisingly sympathetically, though a bit patronizingly. It also wants to be a full-blooded horror movie at a time before that term had even been coined. This is where the film really soars like a coven of broom-riders. In illustrating the ignorant superstitions Christensen sought to dispel, he makes gold coins dance about a room, releases witches into the sky on their brooms, and unleashes some startlingly grotesque creatures, the most disturbing of which is the director, himself, dolled up as a devil with incessantly wagging tongue. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Farewell, Ginger Baker

Easily one of the most influential drummers of sixties rock, Ginger Baker was also one of the wildest. Yet his seeming lack of discipline--Baker was known to take 12-minute drum solos--was grounded in a much stricter approach to his music than the more genuinely chaotic Keith Moon and his ilk. Baker took his music dead seriously despite an out-of-control personality that saw him come to blows with bandmate Jack Bruce and threaten his own documentarian Jay Bulger on camera at the outset of Beware of Mr. BakerGinger Baker was a studied jazz drummer who had the technique to back up the solos. He was also a stunningly powerful player as evidenced in his work with Cream and Blind Faith, and a surprisingly whimsical songwriter capable of whipping up such lovable Cream tunes as "Blue Condition","Pressed Rat and Warthog", and "What a Bringdown". Baker had been having serious physical issues for years, including chronic pulmonary disease and osteoarthritis, and underwent open heart surgery three years ago. Over the past few months, his health continued to degenerate, and Ginger Baker died today at the age of 80.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Review: 'Superman: The Silver Age Sundays 1963 – 1966'

Although we may now mostly think of the Man of Steel as a star of comic books and movies, Supes also had a very unique life in newspaper comics sections. The strips are where Superman first tangled with Lex Luthor without Luthor’s hair getting in the way. It is where he first tricked that fifth dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptik to say his own name backward. So it was a no small thing when that life essentially came to an end 27 years after it began in January 1939.

The Library of American Comics/IDW’s latest anthology of full-color Superman strips compiles his final adventures as the star of his own series. Coincidentally perhaps, it reads like a Greatest Hits of everything that made his weekend antics such whimsical fun. Once again he travels through time. Once again our hero uses his army of robots made in his own image to get out of scrapes. He blasts into space to deal with weird intergalactic cultures, temporarily loses his powers, and heads back to Smallville one last time. There are also prominent spots for his main friends and foes so that we can wave our final farewells to Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Luthor, and Mr. Mxyzptik, who must have been particularly dear to the heart of editor Mort Weisinger considering how often he pops back into our dimension throughout Superman: The Silver Age Sundays 1963 – 1966

Aside from the most fleeting of references to the contemporary conflict in Southeast Asia, The Munsters, and the Sontagian concept of camp, these strips also sit well outside the tumultuous times in which they were created. In other words, they are as timeless as their star. All of this makes for a book that feels like the definitive volume in The Library of American Comics/IDW’s lavish hardcover series of Superman newspaper strips.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: Tyrnaround's 'Colour Your Mind: Expanded Mind Edition'

As eighties pop got more and more synthetic, certain bands started bucking the trend to embrace an archaically organic aesthetic. Some of these artists took the retro move even further than Paisley Underground groups like The Three O’Clock and The Dream Syndicate, who borrowed sounds from the sixties without pretending to actually hail from the trippiest decade. The Damned and XTC both devised faux persona as Naz Nomad and the Nightmares and Dukes of Stratosphear, respectively, to fool record collectors into believing they were long-lost psych bands of two decades earlier.

Perhaps Australia’s Tyrnaround didn’t go quite that far, but they certainly left no detail of their music and persona un-colored by their favorite era. They dressed and wore their hair like The Byrds. Like Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, they played loopy fuzz rock and layered on the backward tapes while celebrating eccentric individuals and the joys of tripping. Like both of those bands, Tyrnaround was very groovy.

Now Guerssen Records is placing that grooviness back in the grooves with an expanded vinyl reissue of Tyrnaround’s 1986 E.P. Colour Your Mind. The “Expanded Mind Edition” of that disc jumbles its original four tracks with five bonus tracks that include both sides of their “Want a Rhyme” b/w “Hello or Goodbye” and “Uncle Sydney” b/w “Uncle Jack” singles, as well as the magnificent compilation track “Paragon-Smythe” (complete with a warped advert for a Who Sell Out-esque coda). Audio and packaging are both superb. A download card affords an additional half-dozen bonuses of demos and live tracks. These include covers of “Pictures of Matchstick Men”, “Astronomy Domine”, and “Theme from Dr. Who”, placing as bold a line under Tyrnaround’s modus operandi as that photo of them posing with Beatles, Monkees, and Cream discs on the back cover of Colour Your Mind: Expanded Mind Edition.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Review: 'Polyester' Blu-ray

Poor Francine Fishpaw. Her husband owns a porno theater. Her son is a foot fetishist who gets off on stomping the shoes of unsuspecting women. Her daughter suffers from some sort of wiggling syndrome. Francine’s grim existence encapsulates the worst of being a twentieth century housewife. Could salvation from that existence be the possibility of romance with dashing Todd Tomorrow? Or does disappointment and madness await Francine?

John Waters’s Polyester is both a parody of Douglas Sirk’s classically overwrought melodramas of the fifties and an awkward bridge between Waters’s early gross out movies and the relatively mainstream likes of Hairspray and Serial Mom. It is awkward because Waters has trouble striking the right tone for this comic-tragedy. It is at its best when going for straight comedy in the director’s usual over-the-top vein. No one nails that tone better than Mary Garlington as incessantly squirming daughter Lu-Lu. Strangely, it’s Waters mainstay Divine who seems to have the most trouble acclimating. Tasked with playing the only normal character for once, Divine bounces between moments of somewhat-sincere soap opera acting and grotesque over-acting to portray Francine’s ugly decent into madness. I prefer to see Divine throwing Cha-Cha heels tantrums to sobbing into a hankie, thank you very much.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Farewell, Sid Haig

The stars may get the asses in the theater seats, but it's often the weird character actors and actresses who make watching movies fun. Few character actors were weirder or more fun to watch than Sid Haig. 

After starting his entertainment career drumming with The T-Birds ("Full House", a tune that suggests Angelo Badalamenti found more than a little inspiration from it when he wrote the opening jitterbug for Mulholland Dr.), Haig settled into a long-run as a small and big screen fixture, and he has a special place in we Psychobabblers' hearts for his multitudinous roles in culty and horrory TV and films. The cat found a place in Batman as one of the few henchmen almost as colorful as the villain for whom he henched (the hilarious King Tut), Star Trek, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the amazing Spider Baby, C.C. & Company, THX 1138, The Big Doll House, Coffy, The Six Million Dollar Man, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, Jason of Star Command (in which he starred as Jason's arch nemesis Dragos), Fantasy Island, Jackie Brown, a bunch of Rob Zombie movies, and well over 130 other things. 

While he was known for his over-the-top strangeness in these parts, Haig always came off as gracious, kind, and humble when discussing his lengthy career. Sadly, Sid Haig died of a lung infection this past Saturday. He was 80.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

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

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

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

Friday, September 20, 2019

Review: Debbie Harry's 'Face It'

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 16, 2019

Farewell, Ric Ocasek

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

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

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Review: 'Kak'

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

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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review: 'Supreme Glamour'

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Review: 'Stephen King at the Movies: A Complete History of the Film and Television Adaptations from the Master of Horror'

Early in Stephen King at the Movies: A Complete History of the Film and Television Adaptations from the Master of Horror, Ian Nathan drops some stunning statistics. Apparently, the Master has written or inspired some 65 movies, 30 TV programs, and 7 episodes of TV anthology series. That must be some sort of record, and it certainly justifies the existence of a book like Nathan’s. Fortunately, the author knew just what to do with this overdue project.

Stephen King at the Movies is part photo book, sneering with nasty full-color images culled from the many King screen works, as well as some neat behind-the-scenes looks at these films and shows’ creations. Nathan does not allow the photos to do all the heavy lifting though. He supplies satisfying making-of accounts and critiques of each of the numerous pictures he discusses in an entertaining tone appropriate to his subject matter and with the critical distance to acknowledge that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is great despite what King says and that the King-approved mini-series version is thoroughly mediocre.

For the most part, Nathan allows a couple of pages to pore over each film, but for the cream of this creepy crop—Carrie, The Shining, Misery, Stand by Me, etc.—he devotes as many as eight pages. Along the way, there’s some interesting trivia, such as a nuggets about how Warner Bros. offered Stanley Kubrick The Exorcist and Warren Beatty almost played the James Caan role in Misery. Visual and textual fun, Stephen King at the Movies should keep fans occupied as they suffer the always brief wait for another King project to splatter across the screen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Review: 'It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Music from the Original Soundtrack' on Vinyl

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip was special because of its willingness to acknowledge the failures of childhood. Its TV-special incarnation built on that specialness with the refreshing move to cast actual child actors in the roles of Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, and the rest of the gang, and Vince Guaraldi’s sophisticated yet whimsical jazz score. The elliptical arpeggios of “Lucy and Linus” can still launch a million memories for anyone who grew up watching Charlie Brown choose the scrawniest X-Mas tree on the lot or Snoopy battle the Red Baron.

Guaraldi’s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas was released in conjunction with that TV special in December of 1965. Our fellow Peanuts have had to wait a lot longer for the release of the soundtrack to the second most popular Peanuts special. Last year, Craft Recordings put out a CD soundtrack for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Because original tapes of Guaraldi’s score were apparently unavailable, the disc consists of music pulled straight from the special’s soundtrack. That means audio fidelity is a bit weak and non-musical sound effects are often audible. Sometimes this enhances the mood, as when spooky groans and giggles intrude on the mysterious “Graveyard Theme” or Snoopy weeps along with Schroeder’s rendition of “Roses of Picardy”. Other times, incongruous plops and crinkles invade the music to baffle anyone who cannot remember the accompanying visuals well. Because many of these pieces are mere passing cues, they often fade out as soon as they fade in, and there is a great deal of repetition. Versions of “Lucy and Linus”, “The Great Pumpkin Waltz”, “Charlie Brown Theme”, and “Trick or Treat” each appear three times, making for some pretty repetitious listening over the soundtrack’s skimpy twenty minutes.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Music from the Original Soundtrack is now making its vinyl debut just in time for Halloween season. Because it is so brief, all seventeen short tracks are lumped on one side of the record. Side B is devoted to one of those vinyl etchings that are becoming increasingly common, much to the frustration of audiophiles who’d probably prefer that the music be spread over both sides so that the disc could spin at 45 rpms instead of 33 1/3. Of course, considering the lo-fi nature of this soundtrack, increasing its speed probably wouldn’t make much sonic difference.

Nevertheless, Guaraldi’s music remains an evocative, magically autumnal time machine to some of our happiest Halloween memories, so Craft’s soundtrack album is still a nice souvenir…though it’s no substitute for sitting down with the kids to actually watch Linus waste his Halloween sitting in a pumpkin patch like the blockhead he is.

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