Monday, July 29, 2019

Review: Vinyl Reissues of U2's 'The Unforgettable Fire' and 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb'

The Unforgettable Fire
was the last album U2 made before they become the defining megastar Rock band of the eighties, and it is transitional in sound as well as historical purpose. The production and arrangements are generally lean in the spirit of the band’s first three albums, but they upped the level of fist-raised grandeur that would be their default setting in the years to come. With that came the aura of self-importance that Bono-haters find most off putting. Nevertheless, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (an ode to Martin Luther King, Jr.) is still a pretty rousing anthem, and the beautiful title track (an ode to the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings) is even better. However, The Unforgettable Fire cooks hottest when U2 are ripping out stilettos like “Wire” and “Indian Summer Sky” with the punk intensity that made their debut album so awesome. If The Unforgettable Fire as a whole lacks the focus and consistency of Boy and War, it still delivers a healthy selection of U2 classics and only really loses the plot with the aimless, interminable, and atypically poorly sung “Elvis Presley and America”…and it certainly remains fresher and fiercer than the stardom-making but pretty boring Joshua Tree.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Review: Vinyl Reissues of 4 "Live" Paul McCartney Albums

(This post was updated on  August 2, 2019, to include details about Wings Over America)

Five years after The Beatles broke up—and nine after their final gig— Paul McCartney finally came to terms with his legacy and began performing songs from his Fab days again. The move thrilled audiences who finally got a chance to hear how never-performed favorites such as “Lady Madonna” and “The Long and Winding Road” might sound live. The Wings Over the World tour and its accompanying album (Wings Over America) and film (Rock Show) also made it clear that McCartney had the material, the chops, and the innate showmanship to be one of Rock’s greatest live acts. Sure all of his proto-hair metal “Oh yeahs!!!” were cheesier than the Velveeta factory, but all is forgiven when he starts pounding hell out of “Soily” or “Jet”. 

Universal Music is now reminding us of what a great ticket McCartney has been throughout the years with vinyl versions of four of his live discs. Naturally, Wings Over America leads this campaign, and its easily the best record here, collecting three LPs worth of great musicianship and showmanship with an emphasis on tracks from Wings’ two best albums: Band on the Run and Venus and Mars. McCartney’s willingness to share the spotlight with Jimmy McCulloch and Denny Laine, whose rendition of his old Moody Blues hit “Go Now” is as good as anything by the shows main star, is charming and supports the argument that Wings really was an all-around good band and not just Paulie’s puppets.

As a show of support for the age of glasnost (“openness and transparency”) Gorbachev ushered in, Paul McCartney ensured that his latest album would be released in the Soviet Union. It was a live-in-the-studio recording of rock and roll classics he had already planned to put out in the UK with an album cover inspired by those that adorned rock albums bootlegged for the underground Russian market. He and a pickup band that included Mick Green of original British rockers Johnny Kidd and the Pirates fire through classics made famous by Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Wilbert Harrison, Sam Cooke, and Paul’s idol Little Richard intended as a sort of rock and roll primer, as was Mick Carr’s liner notes explaining the origins of each song. McCartney titled it Choba B CCCP, Russian for Back in the USSR.


As a historical document, the album is pretty interesting. The introduction of what could be the greatest artistic product of capitalist society to the communists is a charming project, and at age 46, Paul proved he could still rip it up pretty well…though one hopes the folks who bought this disc were inspired to root out the original versions of its songs. Choba B CCCP is best when not inviting unfavorable comparisons with original versions, as when Paul transforms Duke Ellington’s jazz-pop standard “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” into a chunky New Orleans-style rocker.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Review: 'Do the Right Thing' Blu-ray

It is absurd that as recently as the eighties there was no prominent African-American voice in Hollywood. Just months before that decade ended, Spike Lee finally snatched the megaphone with the film that made him a household name, and it did so without playing nice with the establishment. Lee presented a particularly sweltering day in Bed-Stuy where tempers rise with the mercury and ultimately boil over into murder and a racially charged clash at an Italian-owned pizzeria in a largely black community.

Lee casts himself as Mookie, an employee of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria and the film’s focal point. Lee does a good job in front of the camera, though it is the rest of the outstanding cast (Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, John Turturro, Joie Lee, Richard Edson, Bill Nunn, Frankie Faisson, Robin Harris, Danny Aiello, and the especially electrifying Giancarlo Esposito) that really zaps it to life. Do the Right Thing still belongs to Lee, who not only turns in a provocative script, but also films it with unbridled imagination and energy, his camera zooming and tilting like an untethered falcon, his subjects staring down that camera to confront the audience directly, to muse about hate and love.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Review: 'Jon Savage’s 1965-1968: The High Sixties on 45'

In 2016, Rolling Stone writer Jon Savage began curating double-CD compilations for Ace Records in the UK. Each set was a sort of fantasy mid-sixties pirate radio playlist. His 1965 set mainly featured A-list rock and soul artists such as The Kinks (“See My Friends”), The Who (“Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”), and The Supremes (“My World Is Empty Without You”), but there was also a sprinkling of more obscure luminaries such as Thee Midniters (“Land of 1,000 Dances Pt. 1”), The Spades (“We Sell Soul”), and Alvin Cash & the Crawlers (“Twine Time”). Each comp devoted to 1966 through 1968 followed a similar format.

To put all of these ace CDs onto vinyl would have required about twelve vinyl discs. Instead, Savage and Ace have opted to boil 192 tracks down to a sampling of 32 for a single, double-LP set. Although some of the big, big artists remain—Donovan with “Hey Gyp”, The Association with “Along Comes Mary”, James Brown with “Tell Me That You Love Me”, Gladys Knight and the Pips with “Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me”, Buffalo Springfield with “Mr. Soul”—Jon Savage’s 1965-1968: The High Sixties on 45 mostly spotlights the artists whose sides are less easy to find on vinyl. So while tracks by The Kinks (“Wonderboy”) and Aretha Franklin (“I Say a Little Prayer”) keep listeners oriented with familiar sounds, we can mostly concentrate on making some new discoveries, such as The Anglos’ infectious soul raver “Incense”, Norma Tanega’s quirky folk popper “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”, Ray Sharpe and the King Curtis Orchestra’s dance hall anthem “Help Me (Get the Feeling) Pt. 1”, Freaks of Nature’s garage burner “People! Let’s Freak Out”, and Kak’s psychedelic shaker “Rain”. There are also some relatively obscure numbers by well-known artists, such as The Chiffon’s “Nobody Knows What's Going On (In My Mind but Me)”, The Everly Brothers’ “Lord of the Manor”, and Sly and the Family Stone’s (as “The French Fries”) “Danse a La Musique” (aka: “Dance to the Music” in French).

Yes, some obscurities remain in CD limbo (alas, there wasn’t room for The Birds’ “Leaving Here”, The Blue Things’ “One Hour Cleaners”, Blossom Toes’ “Look at Me I’m You”, Tintern Abbey’s “Vacuum Cleaner”, or Dave Davies’ “Lincoln County”), but if this groovy distillation sells well enough, maybe Ace will some day pull the trigger on that twelve-LP box set we’re really craving.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Review: 'What Goes On: The Beatles, Their Music, and Their Time'

Reading Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why: The Beatles Album by Album, Song by Song, The Sixties and After at the unripe age of 15 quite literally changed my life. It didn’t just teach me that pop songs were worthy of deep analysis and the valuable lesson that even The Beatles’ mighty body of work is not critic-proof. It also set me on the path that led me to indulge in the analytical jibber-jabber I’ve been spouting here on Psychobabble for the past eleven years, as well as in my book The Who FAQ. So I was excited to see that Riley was involved in a new Beatles book.

However, I’m not really the audience for Riley and Walter Everett’s What Goes On: The Beatles, Their Music, and Their Time. In fact, this book is directed at a very specific audience: college students. What Goes On is structured as a chronological Beatles primer, providing a basic look at their musical innovations and cultural influence complete with text-book style study questions (my fave: “How does Lennon’s quip at the Royal Command Performance illustrate the generation gap?” …oh, what would 23-year old Lennon have thought if he’d known his offhand wise assery would one day be studied in university classrooms?!?). More thorough analyses of select songs are very similar to the ones in Tell Me Why.

One aspect of What Goes On that could not have existed in Riley’s 1988 publication are the Internet videos referenced throughout the book that further illustrate the various subtopics, often with musical examples by a young drummer or Everett on bass or guitar (or in one screen-in-screen instance, both). Videos cover such specifically Beatle-focused topics as how Ringo’s drumming style differed from the prevailing styles that preceded him to such general musical theory concepts as an explanation of syncopation. I had a bit of trouble accessing them by typing the provided URL’s into my browser but had no trouble using the direct links provided Oxford University Press’ web site.

Now a middle-aged fart, I’m versed in music theory and Beatledom well enough to not need a book like What Goes On, but I do feel heartened by the idea of a new generation of young people discovering their music and the pleasures of delving deep into it in the kind of class that might employ this book as its main text. Happy studying, kids.

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