Friday, July 23, 2021

Review: RSD Edition of The Rolling Stones' 'Hot Rocks 1964 - 1971'

Since 1971, those with the most casual interest in The Rolling Stones have tended to select Hot Rocks 1964 - 1971 to satisfy that curiosity. Although it skates over the group's early R&B rampages and their ever-intriguing dalliance with psychedelia, Hot Rocks does a pretty good job of hitting the Stones' most-wanted classics. All of the big hits that went top-five in the U.S. during the represented years are represented, as are essential phased cookies such as "Under My Thumb", "Play with Fire", "Gimme Shelter", and "Sympathy for the Devil". Yes, it is missing such majors as "The Last Time", "It's All Over Now", "She's a Rainbow", and "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?", but some things had to be held in reserve to hook the more adventurous More Hot Rocks released just in time for Christmas the following year.

Because its contents are so obvious, Hot Rocks may not be the album serious Stones collectors most covet, but ABKCO's new Record Store Day edition is certainly pitched at them. Newly remastered by Bob Ludwig, the RSD edition arrives on translucent yellow vinyl and includes groovy printed inner sleeves and two lithographs featuring images from Michael Joseph's 1968 photoshoot that yielded the back cover photo: a full color outtake and a black and white contact sheet.

The remastering is a touch bright, but it generally sounds nice and clear on quiet, flat, well-centered vinyl. After the opening two tracks, both of which are presented in very wide stereo mixes, every track through "19th Nervous Breakdown" is in mono. Unfortunately, Ludwig uses the thin alternate mix of that particular track that previously appeared on the Stray Cuts disc in 2016's Rolling Stones in Mono box set. If that doesn't put you off, this edition is certainly preferable to the original release which used a good deal of abominable fake stereo.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Review: 'The Vinyl Series Volume One'

In the late fifties, rich kid Chris Blackwell was sailing his boat in the waters off Jamaica when he ran aground in a coral reef. His vessel wrecked, he ended up on shore where a Rastafarian good samaritan nursed him back to health and exposed him to a culture new to Blackwell. With funds provided by his privileged family and a newfound fascination with Jamaican music, Chris Blackwell founded Island Records. The label not only hosted such major Jamaican artists as Toots and the Maytals and Bob Marley, but it also moved into the vanguard of mainstream rock and roll with artists such as Traffic, U2, Roxy Music, John Cale, and King Crimson. Blackwell also produced the smash hits remake of Millie Small's "My Boy Lollypop", the record that introduced most people outside of Jamaica to the loping, joyful rhythms of ska when he leased it out to Fontana Records in 1964. 

So Chris Blackwell knows his music and is a pretty good choice to curate his own compilation series. Although Island's The Vinyl Series does not exclusively lean on choice cuts from the Island archives, the first volume does lean on choice cuts exclusively. Blackwell devotes the majority of the disc to the ska and reggae that first excited him with a couple of essentials later included on Island's The Harder They Come soundtrack, two each from superstars Toots and the Maytals and Desmond Dekker, and Millie Small's breakthrough. He also stretches out a bit with a smattering of soul classics (Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle", The Soul Sisters' "I Can't Stand It", and Inez & Charlie Foxx's "Mockingbird") as well as a pair from The Spencer Davis Group. If nothing else, The Vinyl Series Volume One would be a great soundtrack to a hot Mod party. 

It's also a well-produced piece of plastic. The vinyl is flat and quiet and the spindle hole is correctly centered. The music sound as rich and clear as if it had been produced last week. The heavy-grade inner sleeve features informative notes. All in all, The Vinyl Series Volume One is a rocksteady start to what promises to be an interesting series with future installments reportedly devoted to such Island subgenres as prog, folk, hard rock, glam, and singer-songwriter stuff.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Review: 'The Beatles Acting Naturally: Obscure, Rare, Unfinished and Abandoned Film and TV Projects of the Fab Four'

Is there any item in the pop culture canon that has been more over-examined than The Beatles' music? Doubtful, but the Fabs' work on film has not received quite as much attention. Yet The Beatles not only starred in four movies, but they also made a number of promotional videos for their singles, made a multitude of TV appearances, been the topic of many documentaries, and even inspired a slew of fictional works from The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash to Danny Boyle's recent movie Yesterday

DJ, writer, film, producer, and filmmaker Rory Hoy amasses all of these appearances in his exhaustive new filmography The Beatles Acting Naturally, which means its subtitle, Obscure, Rare, Unfinished and Abandoned Film and TV Projects of the Fab Four, is a bit inadequate since he discusses both the obscure and the overly familiar. There are full chapters on A Hard Day's Night, Help!, Yellow Submarine, and the other readily available Beatles film projects as there are entries on oddities such as the guys' proposed production of The Lord of the Rings, a strange 1982 short featuring Ringo and Paul called The Cooler, their appearances on The Simpsons and cameos in the video for Billy Joel's "A Matter of Trust" video and just about every other Beatle-related visual project you could imagine. 

One does not necessarily expect a filmography to brim with personality, but Acting Naturally does. Hoy's voice is fully developed, effortlessly charming, and enthusiastic. His winning style makes this book both informative and a pleasure to read. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Review: 'Rock Critic Confidential by Jeffrey Morgan'

Somewhere between the juvenile and patronizing "Good beat. Should make the charts" mode of rock criticism and the dry, historically informed, humorless yet neatly organized paragraphs of AllMusic.com, a fresh breed of drug-eating pranksters at rags like Creem truly believed they were revolutionizing rock criticism. Jeffrey Morgan was one of these types, ostensibly reviewing the latest by Bowie in the guise of a pulp novelist or making some sort of nebulous commentary on the state of rock and roll in a parody X-Files script or mock Bob Hope USO show monologue. This stuff certainly revolutionized rock criticism, but the point and the humor are generally lost on me, though that might be because I'm just not hip enough, maaaaaaaaan. I guess I'm also not hip enough to agree that Morgan's rambling Lou Reed interview from 1976 in which the Velvet Fog keeps shoving his foot in mouth with racist slurs and bleary non-sequiturs is the definitive one because if abject stupidity and narcissism are Reed's sole defining characteristics I might as well throw out all my VU albums. A 1987 talk with an unapologetically racist, homophobic, and downright psychotic Ted Nugent, however, is truly definitive because that guy actually doesn't have anything to offer other than repellant verbal diarrhea. 

So, kudos to you, Jeffrey Morgan. You've written some real head scratchers and interviewed some real pricks. You've also  snapped some pretty decent photos of people like Bowie, Debbie Harry, Bob Dylan, the Stones, The Who, etc. too, so Rock Critic Confidential by Jeffrey Morgan does not have to solely rely on its text. Apparently it's the first lavishly illustrated collection of rock criticism. I'm not sure why there are photos of Courtney Love in her underwear on the front cover and Wendy James in crop top and short shorts on the back when Morgan neither took these pictures nor mentions these artists in his text. Just kidding. I know exactly why.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Review: 'Bringing Up Baby' Blu-ray

In 1937, Hagar Wilde published a slight story in Collier's about a couple who get over a rocky patch in their relationship by tending a panther together. That same year, Wilde adapted her own story for the big screen with the assistance of Dudley Nichols. With a bonus subplot about transporting a dinosaur bone, Howard Hawks directing, and Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn starring, Bringing Up Baby became one of the defining screwball comedies. In fleshing out the story, Wilde and Nichols made Susan Vance (Hepburn) a socialite who sucks nerdy, uptight paleontologist David Huxley (Grant) into her whirlpool of lunacy, which causes the hapless duo to lose both cat and bone, get arrested, steal and crash several vehicles, collapse a brontosaurus skeleton, and of course, fall in love. Hawks commented that the film's one "fault" is that there are no "normal" people in the film, but the through-and-through zaniness of Bringing Up Baby makes it constant fun. The film's greatest strength is its two leads. Dashing Grant and level-headed Hepburn play against type with surprisingly effective results even though their romance is as illogical as everything else about this screwball classic. 

Appropriate for a film of its stature, Bringing Up Baby is one of the newest additions to the Criterion Collection. The image is clean and stable with a few stray blurry shots (such as a long shot of the two leads right before they attempt to lure Baby off a roof by singing the cat's favorite song) that may have more to do with how the movie was filmed than a lapse in its 4K transfer. 

The most substantial of the numerous supplements is an hour-long film featuring Hawks's final interview. It's a bit dry, but filmmaker Hans-Christoph Blumenberg's approach is pleasingly natural as he captures Hawks at home or visiting a car race. More entertaining is an audio-only interview with Cary Grant from 1969 in which he discusses his career with his trademark stammering charm and humor. There are also video essays on Grant's development as an actor, cinematographer Russell Metty, and visual effects artist Linwood Duncan, who devised a number of tricks to keep the actors safe from the leopard who played Baby. Wilde's original story from which the film was adapted is also included.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Review: 'The Monster Collection' Blu-ray

There have been a lot of documentaries about the special effects whizzes who gave birth to the creatures that populate Star Wars, Alien, An American Werewolf in London, Jurassic Park, and other monster movies. The point of most is to simply celebrate the work of Fangoria cover boys such as Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Greg Nicotero, Steve Johnson, Chris Walas, and Phil Tippett. Gilles Penso and Alexandre Poncet's 2015 doc The Frankenstein Complex has a bit more of a point than that, though it takes some time to reveal itself. 

Initially, the film carries along like most others of its sort, introducing you to its cast of behind-the-scenes stars and showing new and vintage footage of how they work their magic whether illustrating, sculpting maquettes and puppets, fashioning costumes, stop-motion animating, or building animatronics. When the story reaches the mid-eighties and James Cameron's The Abyss, we meet the antagonist that really Frankensteins this film to life: CGI. Former SFX superstars such as Stan Winston and Phil Tippett soon find their practical work blending with computer generated effects that tend to steal their thunder even though Tippett's ethereal fiber-optics in The Abyss and Winston's ingenious devices in Terminator 2 and astounding full-size animatronic T. Rex in Jurassic Park are easily as impressive as those films' computer-generated innovations. Winston responded by immediately adapting to the changing scene. Tippett fell into depression. As is always the case with the monsters these men made, the cool designs are what draw in viewers, but it is the human, emotional element that makes The Frankenstein Complex more profoundly engaging.

Penso and Poncet clearly recognized this and zoomed further in on Tippet's struggle when they made Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters in 2019. The film goes deeper into the filmmaker's work on the Star Wars trilogy, Dragonslayer, Robocop, and Starship Troopers than The Frankenstein Complex does while also spotlighting more of Tippett's personal depth than that earlier film did. He also had dark times as a young loner and as a filmmaker out to sea after the end of the original Star Wars trilogy. He experienced brighter times when he met his future-wife Jules Roman, who would run Tippett's own special effects studio. Mad Dreams and Monsters shows that Tippett did bounce back and adapt in a CG world and continued to work throughout the twenty-first century on major films such as the Twilight movies while also pursuing a more inscrutably personal vision with his Mad God shorts series. 

Dopplegรคnger Releasing is now bundling The Frankenstein Complex and Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters into a deluxe package titled The Monster Collection. The bonus material alone will keep you busy for the better part of a day. There's an hour long documentary about the making of The Frankenstein Complex and a supplemental piece for Mad Dreams and Monsters that is actually longer than the feature. It shows Tippett and friends working on the holographic chess game for The Force Awakens, tours his collection of tauntauns, dinosaurs, and robocops, and plenty more. There are also even closer looks at his creature collection, additional interviews and conversations, audio commentaries, bonus interviews, galleries, and best of all, a selection of Tippett's short films. The Monster Collection is nothing less than a crash course in the art of practical special effects and a subtle yet righteous plea for the preservation of that art.


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Pre-order My Next Book: '33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute: A Critical Trip Through the Rock LP Era (1955-1999)'


My new book, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute: A Critical Trip Through the Rock LP Era (1955 - 1999), is now available to pre-order. 

 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute contains a good deal of former-Psychobabble content, specifically the posts that made up my old "Great Albums" and "Turn Left at Greenland: The Beatles in America" series, as well as a slew of old reviews. I have completely revised and expanded that old content. There is also a great deal of all-new content. I've newly written an additional 60 or so entries on albums by artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Question Mark and the Mysterians, P.P. Arnold, The Four Tops, The Bangles, Van Halen, Arrested Development, The Beach Boys, Os Mutantes, The Cure, The Monkees, Aretha Franklin, The Doors, Wilson Pickett, Curtis Mayfield, The Buzzcocks, Elton John, Heart, Public Enemy, and many more! 

33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute: A Critical Trip Through the Rock LP Era (1955 - 1999) is due to be published by Backbeat Books, which published my first book The Who FAQ, on April 15, 2022. 

Here's the official description:

33 1/3 Revolutions per Minute: A Critical Trip Though the Rock LP Era, 1955–1999 is a history of the rock LP era told though critiques of a very personal selection of nearly 700 albums. It follows rock and roll from its earliest days in the 1950s to the explosion of the British Invasion, soul, folk rock, and psychedelia in the 1960s, on through the classic rock and punk albums of the 1970s, new wave classics of the 1980s, and alternative rock discs of the 1990s. Through reviews of albums universally regarded as classics (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club BandPurple RainNevermind, and many of the other usual suspects) and far more obscure discs (albums by Johnny "Guitar" Watson, P. P. Arnold, the Dentists, Holly Golightly, etc.), Mike Segretto shows how the rock and roll album went from a vehicle for singles and filler aimed at kids with an excess of pocket money in the 1950s to a legitimate, self-contained art form by 1967, to the only rock and roll medium that mattered in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s.

33 1/3 Revolutions per Minute: A Critical Trip Though the Rock LP Era (1955-1999) is a history you can read from cover to cover. It is a compendium of album reviews you can dip in and out of. Above all, it is a fun, informative, and opinionated read.









Monday, July 5, 2021

Review: 'The Best of The Psychedelic Furs'

The Psychedelic Furs sprouted up from the darker recesses of the new wave. They stood out because of their strong understanding of what makes a pop song stick in the brain and because of the inimitable voice that sang those songs. Whether The Psychedelic Furs are straddling the balance beam between new wave and punk on "India", making teens swoon with "Pretty in Pink", going full dance-pop with "Heartbeat", or getting weird with "I Am the Walrus" cellos on "President Gas", Richard Butler's sandblaster makes it all unmistakably identifiable as the work of The Psychedelic Furs. That voice has not changed a wit. Last year The Psychedelic Furs released their first album in nearly twenty years, and though you'd think Butler would sound like the dying mystic from The Dark Crystal by now, he still sounds exactly the same as he did in the eighties. In fact, everything about the single "Don't Believe" makes it sound like a product of 1989 instead of 2020. 

"Don't Believe" is also the closing track of a new compilation from Demon Records that boils down the best of The Psychedelic Furs to eleven uniformly superb tracks. All of the aforementioned songs are present, as are other essentials such as "Love My Way" and "All That Money Wants". The music is so good you won't even mind the retro lack of imagination that went into the title and sleeve design of The Best of The Psychedelic Furs. You will also be well distracted by superbly cut vinyl that is flat, correctly centered, and perfectly quiet. Of course, the music should be cranked loud.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Review: 'Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized, Oral History of Star Wars'

No film's history has been sifted through more often than Star Wars'. After phenomenally thorough tromps through force-lore by the likes of Michael Kiminski, John Phillip Peecher, Alan Arnold, and J.W. Rinzler, it’s unrealistic to expect that any chronicler would find anything new to say about George Lucas’s phenomenon. At least Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman take a novel approach by presenting their Star Wars study as an oral history. I really loved their book in this format about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, so I was looking forward to reading their Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized, Oral History of Star Wars even though I wasn’t certain I would learn anything new from it.

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