Friday, October 29, 2021

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Tattoo You' 40th Anniversary Box Set

While Mick Jagger and Keith Richards enjoyed a break from each other, they brought in producer Chris Kimsey to see what he could dig out of the vaults so the Stones could welcome the year of MTV with a new release. The result of his vault raid was the last unequivocally fine work by the Rolling Stones. This is especially strange considering that Tattoo You is a compilation of rejects from some of the weakest albums the Stones’ had yet to release. Three tracks from Some Girls notwithstanding, the rest of the cuts were culled from Goats Head Soup, Black and Blue, and Emotional Rescue. Two of the numbers, “Neighbors” and “Heaven”, were brand new and not as good as the oldies. Fortunately, the only other so-so selections are the bluesy Some Girls-leftover “Black Limousine”, and oddly enough, the riff-without-a-song “Start Me Up”, a remnant of the Some Girls sessions that went on to become the group’s flimsiest classic.


Monday, October 25, 2021

Review: The Beatles' 'Let It Be' Special Edition (Super Deluxe Vinyl Box Set)

As most Beatles fans know, the album ultimately released as Let It Be was not supposed to be The Beatles’ last. A peculiar set of circumstances caused the recordings, mostly made in January of 1969, to sit on the shelf for nearly a year. Consciously aware of how his band was supposed to break new ground with each new project, Paul McCartney envisioned their latest to be a multi-media event. Filmmaker Michael-Lindsay Hogg would document the sessions for the big screen. There would be a high-profile concert—The Beatles’ first in nearly three years—in an exotic location. There would also be an album, of course, but the discomfort of recording in a strange location (Twickenham Film Studios), at weird hours, and under the constant gaze of Lindsay-Hogg’s crew, all while suffering their own personal and business issues, made a mess of the sessions. Trying to hold it together, Paul got bossy. George Harrison quit. John Lennon cracked jokes. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Review: Expanded Vinyl Reissue of The Church's 'Starfish'

Too far removed from L.A. to be part of the psych-revival scene known as the Paisley Underground, too far removed from the 1960s to be an original psych band, Australia’s The Church were kind of their own thing. At a time when eighties production was so all-powerful that groups such as XTC and The Damned had to don disguises and pretend to actually hail from the sixties in order to make organically retro productions (as The Dukes of Stratosphear and Naz Nomad and the Nightmares, respectively), Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper owned their era as assuredly as they owned their influences: primarily The Byrds, Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Jones-era Stones, and Love. The results are timeless.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Review: 'The Who: Much Too Much'

I still haven't worked out who wins the Great British Rock Sixties Sweepstakes. Is it The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, or Who? No matter. They all made sublime records. However, when it comes to visuals, the prize certainly goes to The Who, who tended to present themselves nattier than the Stones and more individually than The Beatles. With their pop art shirts and Union Jack jackets, and action-packed snaps of them trashing their gear on stage, I could gaze at pics of The Who all day. 

Its visual component is the main selling point of The Who: Much Too Much as long-time fans are not likely to learn much from Mike Evans's text. The selection of pictures is sharp. Many will be familiar, but the large, colorful layout of Much Too Much is particularly nice and shots of Pete hanging out with his parents while his mom wears a pop art jumper worthy of Keith Moon or Moon abusing his kit while wearing what looks like a tee proclaiming "Jesus Saves" are amusing and new to me. 

Evans also provides a basically fine nutshell history of The Who (with the occasional fumbled date, apocryphal detail presented as fact, misinterpreted lyric, or other little gaffe, such as attributing Entwistle's vocal on "Twist and Shout" from Who's Last to Daltrey) and has the distinction of being the only writer to date to tell The Who's story up through that album they released a couple of years ago. Nearly half the book is set in the period following Moon's death. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Review: 'The Beatles: Get Back'

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was The Beatles' first genuinely self-conscious attempt to claim the crown of pop's highest high artists, and that album's instantaneous and international take-over of the pop scene seemingly justified its creation. It also painted The Beatles as Big-A Artists into a corner and all they could do next was bring it all back home as Bob Dylan and The Band did as 1967 drew to a close. 

"The White Album" was a bit of a transitional project split between big productions worthy of '67 such as "Martha My Dear", "Dear Prudence", "Piggies", and "Good Night" and completely stripped roots returns like "Why Don't We Do It in the Road", "Helter Skelter", and "Your Blues". The Beatles resolved to get back to basics even more emphatically with Get Back, but the project's multimedia nature meant they were actually treading into new waters. They would create their follow up to "The White Album" in an unfamiliar location--Twickenham Film Studios--instead of Abbey Road Recording Studios. They would make their record under the constant eye of director Michael Lindsay-Hogg's film crew, and the results of that work and a planned return to the stage for the first time in nearly three years would appear in an accompanying documentary movie. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Review: 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' Blu-ray

The sci-fi boom of the fifties produced a lot of flicks that trafficked in the fear of the Gothic-horror era it superseded. Paranoia about communism and the atomic age was paramount. However, certain creators took a more nuanced view of science-fiction to create some of the genre's most thought-provoking items. Writers such as Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson and directors such as Robert Wise and Jack Arnold saw sci-fi's potential to tell us more about ourselves than merely what we fear. One of the most profound picture's of the era originated with a Matheson novel simply titled The Shrinking Man. Matheson assessed his own position as a man transitioning from the action of World War II to domestic life where he spent a good deal of his time hunched over a typewriter in his basement. He channeled those impotent feelings into the story of a man who literally gets smaller and smaller. 

When Universal Pictures recognized the sci-fi craze potential of Matheson's novel, the author insisted on adapting his own work for the screen. When Universal assigned the project to Jack Arnold, the director recognized the human concerns at the center of potential pulp and insisted on treating the material with the utmost respect.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Review: 'Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine'

Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine are somewhat less conventional than Sgt. Pepper's or Abbey Road because the former soundtrack was intended to be released as a double-EP set and the latter was split between Beatles recordings and George Martin's incidental music. However, the latest entry in Bruce Spizer's "Beatles Album" series is as worthwhile as any of the others. Perhaps it is more so since Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine are the rare Beatles projects to actually receive some negative criticism. Spizer allows the critics to speak their piece via excerpts from period reviews (a particularly nasty assessment of the Magical Mystery Tour record comes from Rex Reed, the film critic famous for hating absolutely everything... and starring in the infamous stink-bomb Myra Breckenridge. A-hem). However, the tone is mostly informational and celebratory. 20-pages of fan recollections are suitably rapturous. More worthwhile is the welter of full-color photos of record sleeves and labels, period adverts, promo materials, and magazine covers and the wealth of information about the recordings and releases of the discs Spizer provides. 

Spizer also sweeps the period recordings "Lady Madonna", "The Inner Light", "Across the Universe", and "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)", as well as all of the singles included on the Magical Mystery Tour L.P. released in the U.S., into the conversation. He even makes room for details about George Martin's Yellow Submarine orchestrations, the incidental music used in Magical Mystery Tour, and the Beatles Saturday morning cartoon that was a somewhat misleading precursor to the far finer Yellow Submarine feature film. Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine also hosts some guest essays, though I generally prefer Spizer's contributions. He humbly credits himself as "compiler" on the book's cover, but he is most definitely an author and sincerely fab one at that. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Review: 'Yours Cruelly, Elvira'

Struggling actress/improv comedian/showgirl/monster kid Cassandra Peterson wrapped up all her skills and loves into a single package when she got the chance to become the new Vampira for an L.A. TV station in 1981. Thus was born entertainment juggernaut Elvira, infamous for her sexiness, sassiness, dagger wit, and self-assuredness. 

The woman behind the wig is just as sexy and witty as her iconic character, but she wasn't always completely self-assured, which is what makes Yours Cruelly, Elvira a very unexpected autobiography. Peterson's life was hardly as smooth as one of Elvira's effortless one-liners. Alcoholism and drug-addiction ran in her family. Because Peterson made a career of showing as much skin as possible, it is rather shocking to learn that she suffered serious burns as a toddler that scarred a large percentage of her skin for life. Her mother was often cruel and ridiculed young Cassandra's appearance. 

Yet, Peterson launched her career on her appearance as a go-go dancer and Vegas showgirl in the sixties, and her stunning beauty drew all sorts of unwanted attention. She devotes a chapter to all the close brushes with sexual assault she experienced starting when she was a young child. A huge rock and roll fan, she chased bands when she was a young teen as innocently as possible. Yet she had unsettling encounters with Eric Burdon and Jimmy Page and escaped assault by thinking quick. Despite being known as a groupie during her pre-Elvira years, Peterson remained a virgin through her teen years. She was less fortunate during a nightmarish encounter with basketball superstar Wilt Chamberlain, a man she considered a friend, who raped her at one of his parties. During her stint in Vegas, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, and Andy-fucking-Williams were all total creeps to her.

Things get less horrid for Cassandra Peterson when she gets that horror host audition, and her transcription of her improvised audition makes it clear that the character hit the ground fully formed. Peterson's troubles don't end there, but they're at least less gross. Annoyed that Peterson got the Vampira Jr. gig instead of her preferred choice (Lola Falana), original Vampira Maila Nurmi begins harassing Peterson, starting with a call from her attorney that necessitates the name change to Elvira. Peterson also had problems with the Coors company, Lorne Michaels, a mean-spirited husband, and ghosts. Her eight-year-old niece rescued her from being drowned by a dog. She made a farcical attempt to euthanize an injured pigeon. 

Considering all she experienced, it is amazing that Peterson is so well-adjusted. Even when writing about the worst of times, and explaining how difficult it was to go public about such things for the first time, she seems to have made peace with her life and maintains her wit and charm. That's a relief, because Cassandra Peterson is clearly a damn good person. She used her fame to bring attention to such vital causes as animal rights and the AIDS crisis. She is incredibly brave for writing the book she wrote. And if I didn't already love her for creating such a great character, for being so kind and humble and funny, and for being a fellow rock and roll and horror freak, I'd love her if all she ever did was spit in Frank Sinatra's hat. Because she totally did that.

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