Friday, December 16, 2022

Review: 'The Jam 1982'

Just five years after releasing their decidedly punk debut, The Jam did what all the best punk survivors did: they experimented, diversified, and found a sound of their own. For the restless Paul Weller, this meant his band had reached a plateau he didn't want to rest on. Shortly after completing what would be The Jam's sixth and final album, The Gift, Weller told bandmates Bruce Foxton and Rick Butler that he was breaking up the act at the height of their popularity. There would be one more tour, and that would be that. Weller would emotionally detach throughout the last of The Jam's obligations, Foxton would quietly seethe, and Rick Buckler would accept his fate gracefully despite its uncertainty.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Review: 'Glam! When Superstars ROCKed the World, 1970-74'

As the sixties came to an end, psychedelic Sgt. Pepper's silks and ruffles gave way to denim and unkempt tresses. The ragtag Band was the most influential group, and even the ever-flamboyant Hendrix dressed down in jeans and floppy fringe. Guitar solos nattered on for hours, and drum solos tumbled along for weeks. Without a doubt, rock and roll had lost its pizazz. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Review: Blossom Toes' 'We Are Ever So Clean' Vinyl Reissue

Blossom Toes began as a trio of apprentices at a scientific (not musical) instrument company, which will seem oddly logical when you listen to their first album. We Are Ever So Clean doesn't sound played; it sounds wired, more the product of mad scientists than a band. Of that original trio, only guitarist Alan Kensley played an instrument. Brian Godding had to figure out how to mess with a guitar a bit and Brian Belshaw learned to pluck a bass well enough that the guys could start gigging (and ultimately back the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and Chuck Berry!). 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Review: 'Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination'

From this past October 4 through May the 4th of 2023, The Science Museum in London is running an exhibition called Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination. Those who might cry "blasphemy!" at the idea of a serious science museum paying tribute to a world of made-up monoliths and wookiees hasn't been paying very close attention to sci-fi for the past two-hundred years. Ever since Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, the genre has been raising serious questions about the role science plays in our lives, using fantastical scenarios as a means to discuss touchy topics, and inspiring the next generation of astrophysicists, paleontologists, and biologists. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Review: 'The Jimi Hendrix Experience- Los Angeles Forum- April 26, 1969 '

Although The Beatles blew the ceiling off concert possibilities when they played the first rock show at a sports arena in 1965, it took a few years for such venues to play home to longhairs with any regularity. The sports stadium rock show was still somewhat novel by April 26, 1969, when The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the Los Angeles Forum, then home of the Lakers. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Review: The 23rd Turnoff's 'Michael Angelo: The Complete 1967 Recordings'

The 23rd Turnoff were one of those other Liverpudlian artists of the sixties. And unlike Gerry and the Pacemakers or Cilla Black or You-Know-Who, they never managed to rack up a satchel of hits. Unlike even less successful locals like The Koobas, The Mojos, or Wimple Winch, The 23rd Turnoff didn't even manage anything more than one single. But what a single it was! Released on Deram in that most fragrant of years, 1967, "Michael Angelo" b/w "Leave Me Here" was a two-headed tab of atmospheric, tuneful acid folk-pop. These were the best songs band leader and future solo artist Jimmy Campbell managed, but the Turnoff had some pretty good other songs in a similarly psychedelic mode ready to go. Sadly, Joe Meek and George Martin passed on producing the group, leaving The 23rd Turnoff to shuffle off into cult-rock history with nothing more than that one single and a handful of demos. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Review: 'Kurt Cobain: The Last Interview'

There's something exploitative and ghoulish about naming your anthologies of interviews with dead celebrities The Last Interview, especially when the last interview with Kurt Cobain in Kurt Cobain: The Last Interview is a pretty insubstantial four-page talk with a guitar mag. Yet even when doing his press obligations with something like Fender Frontline, Cobain couldn't help but move beyond the superficial to discuss his family, coming to terms with his audience, and his desire to move beyond grunge cliches. When he ends it by imagining himself fronting Nirvana as an old man opening for the Temps and Tops, you don't know whether to laugh because the image is so absurd or cry because he was clearly expressing his frustration with the limitations of fame that may have contributed to his fatal depression. Either way, that is a bill I would have paid good money to see.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Review: 'The Best of the Trashmen'

In 1962, four Minneapolis kids decided to cash in on the surf craze, and a year later, they bashed out one of the genre's defining records. "Surfin Bird" has that wet, wild sound surfers craved more than the clean-cut harmonies of The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. It is two and a half minutes of pure rock and roll insanity with its squawked chant, jackhammer pounding, and cheek-wobbling gibbering. It is punk fifteen years early, and a disc that drives my crazy in the best, best, best way.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Review: Prince's 'The Hits 1' and 'The Hits 2' Vinyl Reissues

In 1993, Prince's relationship with Warner Brothers Records began to sour, he changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph, and frankly, began nearing the end of his most artistically and commercially vital era. To commemorate the transition, WB put out two compilations simply and accurately titled The Hits. After sixteen years of record making, Prince certainly had enough hits to pack two CDs. There wasn't even room for his number one smash "Batdance", possibly because of rights issues tied to the Batman movie or possibly because it's the weirdest song ever to hit Billboard's number one spot (contrary to popular opinion, it's also awesome).

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Review: 'Jimi'

Whenever I write a review, I keep a notepad by my side, and my first note after picking up Jimi was "How much does this book weigh?" The answer is: about four and a half pounds. Not the heaviest book I've reviewed recently; Prince: All the Songs is six pounds, but Prince's career lasted about ten times longer than Hendrix's. Like All the Songs, Jimi is a big hardback with text and lots and lots of pictures. Originally published in 2007, the 80th Birthday edition of Jimi puts a lot more emphasis on the pictures than the text (both are equally important in the Prince book), but I was surprised by how satisfying Janie Hendrix (Jimi's sister) and John McDermot's text was despite the fact that it accounts for maybe fifty pages on the 300-page book. While there are certainly more in-depth biographies of the guy I think we can all agree was the most innovative, imaginative, and influential rock guitarist who ever lived, Jimi still provides a pretty good compact bio, and there are so many quotes from him that it almost feels like a proper autobiography in spots. It's nice to get so much of Hendrix's own perspective.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Review: 'Chuck Berry: An American Life'

I don't envy RJ Smith, who took on a very tricky project when he decided to write Chuck Berry's autobiography in the current era. How do you write about a black man who faced racism his whole life--even after he became celebrated by all races as the man who invented rock and roll--a guy who created a metric ton of amazing music and inspired a gigaton more, a creep who did some truly horrible things, leaving a lot of fans confused about how to regard his life, work, and death?

Friday, October 28, 2022

Review: 'The Inner Light: How India Influenced The Beatles'

The influence of Indian culture on The Beatles' lives and music was far reaching. George Harrison's overwhelming love of Indian classical music drove him to study the sitar seriously, which helped to expand an appreciation for that music-- and his teacher, Ravi Shankar-- throughout the world. His interest in Indian philosophy led him and the rest of The Beatles to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, with whom they studied Transcendental Meditation (TM). The universal love philosophy that has more in common with Indian philosophy than western ideals was integral to The Beatles' psychedelic-era persona. After The Beatles, John Lennon sang about karma and George Harrison's worked to raise awareness of the suffering of India's neighbor Bangladesh. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr continue to stump for David Lynch's TM promoting foundation today.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Review: 'I, Monster' DVD

In 1971, Hammer was having another go at Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a decade after its failed first attempt, Terence Fisher's generally misguided The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. Perhaps to avoid confusion with Roy Ward Baker's Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Milton Subotsky opted to call his own adaptation of the same year I, Monster and changed the names of the title character(s) to Dr. Marlowe and Mr. Blake. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

Review: 'Totally Wired: The Rise and Fall of the Music Press'

One of the major factors that helped rock and roll "mature" from juvenile delinquent-soundtrack to the kind of thing they plop in a hall of fame was the emergence of a serious rock press. This went through its own maturation process beginning with the lightweight writing that appeared in rivals Melody Maker and New Musical Express in the early sixties through Paul Williams's informed and passionate Crawdaddy in the mid sixties to the destined-for-corporate-greatness Rolling Stone in the late sixties and on to overbearingly "anarchic" rags like Creem in the seventies and later taste-makers like Q, Spin, Vibe, and Mojo

Friday, October 21, 2022

Review: 'ABBA at 50'

Last year ABBA surprised their fans by doing the unimaginable: making their first music together in thirty years. Not that cashing in on a legacy is outlandish in the pop industry, but most members seemed to want to distance themselves from memories of "Waterloo" and "Dancing Queen". After having some success with more conceptual musical theater type pieces, chief songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeous regarded ABBA's pop glory as silly. Agnetha Fältskog seemed content to lead a civilian life outside the spotlight. There were also the members' broken marriages and the general lack of respect they'd always received from the snobby rock press that might make a reunion less than harmonious.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Review: 'Revolution: The History of Turntable Design'

The record revolution that now sees vinyl outselling CDs for the first time since the eighties is probably mostly due to two kinds of collectors: audiophiles who genuinely prefer the sound of vinyl to its little digital counterpart and take their equipment purchases very seriously and those who just dig the aesthetic of tactile vinyl LPs, with their groovy grooves, artful full-sized sleeves, and mechanically complex playing devises that will always be more interesting to look at than a sleek, slim, featureless CD player. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Review: The Beatles' 'Revolver' Special Edition Vinyl Box Set

From the garage band simplicity of their first couple of albums to the more refined folk rock of their next few, and on to the genuine sophistication of Rubber Soul, the first half of The Beatles' career was a constant succession of progressions.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Review: Bob Dylan's 'The Philosophy of Modern Song'

How is someone like Bob Dylan going to write a book that purports to explore The Philosophy of Modern Song? Such a title seems to suggest an academic approach to analyzing songwriting. Dylan may be clever, but he's no academic. It implies a study performed with discipline. As anyone who ever read his rambling autobiography Chronicles: Volume One or the liner notes of Highway 61 Revisited knows, Dylan sneers at discipline.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Review: 'The Team-Up Companion'

In 1954, DC halved the page count of its World's Finest Comics and forced Superman and Batman into the same book as if they were a couple of recently divorced bozos sharing a flat. They mostly kept to their own sides of the room, but a new format was inadvertently born: the team-up. This was distinct from crossovers or guest appearances because both heroes were on equal footing in a shared title with both their logos on display. Pretty soon, team ups of everyone from Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter to Supergirl and Wonder Woman to Aqualad and Robin to Richie Rich and Casper to Spider-Man and Dracula (!) began proliferating funny books. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Review: 'The Many Lives of The Twilight Zone: Essays on the Television and Film Franchise'

With so many episodes, so many themes, so many incarnations, and so much continuing influence over the pop-culture zone, Rod Serling's Twilight Zone is ripe for deep analysis, which is why there has been so much of it. Editors Ron Riekki and Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., are now dragging in even more by compiling eighteen new essays by various writers in their book The Many Lives of The Twilight Zone: Essays on the Television and Film Franchise

Friday, October 14, 2022

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Review: 'Horror Hotel' DVD

In 1960, director John Moxey arguably outdid Hammer with his own atmosphere-rich Gothic horror. In contrast to Hammer's vibrant colors, Moxey opted for high-contrast black and white and deep focus photography to tell his tale of a burned witch who reappears in the present to lure a young woman to her sacrificial death. Much has been made of the structural similarities between Moxey's City of the Dead and Hitchcock's Psycho, but Moxey's story is purely supernatural and his film much more stylized. It's also a lot more fun than the grim and realistic Psycho

Monday, October 10, 2022

Review: 'Prince: All the Songs- The Story Behind Every Track '

Even if his music wasn't so extraordinarily inventive and alluring, even if he wasn't one of the very few pop artists who actually deserves the crown "genius," Prince would still be noteworthy for his Herculean productivity. The guy never stopped making music, and whether he was among the top stars of his time or more of a "legacy artist," he never slowed down. So we're left with lots and lots and lots of Prince music, and his estate keeps on finding new ways to scrape the archives. 

Review" 'The Bat' Special Edition Blu-ray

The Film Detective issued a blu-ray of The Bat in 2015, and though Crane Wilbur's comedic 1959 old dark house flick, based on a play by Mary Roberts Rinehart, remained a complete delight, the disc was not without issues. While I did note in my review that it was a vast improvement over the myriad DVD editions of this public domain picture, I also noted the myriad "specs and thin scratches" that invade the image regularly and the disc's crackly audio. It was also a pretty bare bones package.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Review: 'Nosferatu: 100th Anniversary Edition' Blu-ray

This year is the 100th anniversary of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, certainly one of the most important horror films ever made for its status as the inaugural Dracula adaptation and its impressively enduring ability to unsettle, which is largely down to Murnau's unrelentingly Goth atmosphere and Max Schreck's still-scary bald-rat portrayal of the count in the days before the character became all urbane and sexy. Because of the anniversary's significance, you could bet there would be some low-budget video releases of this public-domain film to cash in on the occasion. As far as that sort of thing goes, you could do worse than Reel Vault's "100th Anniversary Edition" of Nosferatu. Compared with Kino Lorber's blu-ray from 2013, the one "official" U.S. release, some complaints can still be lodged. While both editions have their share of scratches and blotches, Kino's trounces Reel Vault's in the stability department. The grain of Reel Vault's squirms around the picture like an ant colony, and the intertitles vibrate.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Review: 'E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial- The Ultimate Visual History'

Because it didn't spawn an endless series of sequels and spin-offs, because its tie-in merchandise didn't dig itself into the ongoing pop-cultural consciousness with complete success, it's easy to forget what a phenomenon E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was upon its release in 1982. It outgrossed Steven Spielberg's own previous blockbusters and his buddy George Lucas's Star Wars films (which, needless to say, had no issues in the sequel, spin-off, or merch departments). "E.T. phone home" became a catch phrase of "May the force be with you" or "Where's the beef?" ubiquity. Most kids didn't completely kit out their bedrooms with E.T. stuff the way they did with Star Wars toys, posters, and bed sheets, but most of us had an E.T. doll or two. I know I did.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Review: 'Britmania: The British Invasion of the Sixties in Pop Culture'

That The Beatles changed the world is as widely known as the fact that there's this fiery thingy in the sky called "the sun." The most obvious offshoot of the international success of four British lads was all the English groups that went global in their wake: not just critical dah-lings like the Stones, Who, Kinks, and Animals, but also cuddlier fave raves like Herman's Hermits, The Dave Clark Five, Peter and Gordon, and Petula Clark. But the influence went deeper, farther, and weirder than that, as shaggy, buck-toothed, often incongruously posh British characters began invading American sitcoms, comics, dopey beach movies, cartoons, bath products, and pretty much everything else an ad-man could imagine. The British Invasion was a siege fought and won in the record shops, but its aftershocks rattled everything everywhere. 

Monday, October 3, 2022

Review: 'Lost Highway' Blu-ray

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was such a tremendous (and underserved) critical and commercial flop that former golden boy David Lynch had a hard time following it up. Waiting for inspiration, he read a single line in a novel by Wild at Heart-scribe Barry Gifford that finally set off that old lightbulb above his quiff, and he knew he wanted to make a movie called Lost Highway and he wanted Gifford to co-write it. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Review: 30th Anniversary Edition of 'ABBA Gold

ABBA should have been the squarest thing in the seventies pop universe: four toothpaste ads from Sweden singing gleamingly cheerful or earnestly distraught songs tailored for the top ten. Yet even the coolest of the cool wouldn't deny the quality of Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus's songs and production or the flawless and emotive harmonies of Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Elvis and the Attractions couldn't stop listening to them on the tour bus and consciously paid tribute to their style on songs such as "Oliver's Army". Pete Townshend praised their songcraft. A decade later, Nirvana not only made ABBA their own tour bus soundtrack, but also actually took an ABBA cover band on tour with them. Starstruck fandom or smirking irony? It was the nineties, so who could tell the difference?

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Review: Matthew Sweet's 'Girlfriend' Vinyl Reissue on Intervention Records

The threshold between the last gasps of hair metal and the grunge revolution, 1991 saw a record not so easy to categorize as Mane Attraction or Nevermind. While Matthew Sweet was very much a rock and roll artist, his music existed states away from metal or grunge. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Review: 'Charlie's Good Tonight: The Authorized Biography of Charlie Watts'

The Rolling Stones' reputation for being "bad boys" or whatever is not unearned considering all the abuse of women, drugs, and each other for which Mick, Keith, Brian, and Bill were known to indulge in to varying degrees (as far as I know, Keith was always pretty gentlemanly when it came to women and Bill never messed with drugs or his bandmates. Underage girls, however...). 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Review: 'Halloween Nuggets: Haunted Underground Classics'

If there were two things parents hated in the fifties it was rock and roll and scary stuff. A kid was liable to find his new copy of "Tutti Frutti" plopped in the trash next to a cherished issue of The Vault of Horror if he didn't keep a close eye on his stash! So the two genres have always been inseparably linked in many ways. In fact, you're reading one of those links right now, Hep-Cat!

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Review: 'The Best of Roxy Music' Vinyl

To cap off Roxy Music's half-speed remaster campaign that began early this year, The Best of Roxy Music is now making its vinyl debut. The 2001 compilation pulls the slightly quirky trick of unfolding in reverse chronological order so that the extremely quirky Roxy Music gets rawer, weirder, and more vivacious as the collection slinks from the tuxedo-tidy title track of Roxy's final album to the electrifying kitchen-sink insanity of "Re-Make/Re-Model" from their eponymous debut. Avalon is actually a beautiful record, but it took Bryan Ferry and his group a little while to really figure out how to plug into MOR white-wine pop with sufficient imagination, so The Best of Roxy Music drifts off a bit from the glossy Lennon cover "Jealous Guy" to the post-hiatus pop hit "Dance Away". However, once "Both Ends Burning" kicks in at the very end of the first disc of this double-LP set, Roxy Music is at full power. You'd be hard pressed to find a more thrilling collection of seventies rock music than the second disc, which just throws punch after punch and lands square between the eyes each time.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Review: Lynne Goldsmith's 'Music in the '80s'

If you paid any attention to rock music during the eighties, you've seen a bunch of Lynn Goldsmith's pictures. She shot all of the decade's biggest stars from the coolest (Prince, The B-52s, The Ramones, Siouxsie) to the squarest (Barry Manilow). The variety of her photos is as eclectic as the people she photographed. She took glossy posed pics and candid back-stage ones that could be Polaroids. She took black and whites and colors and electrifying live shots and casual al fresco ones. My personal faves are the weird after-party pics featuring unlikely gatherings of stars. You want to see John Mellencamp beaming alongside Jayne County and David Johansen? You want to see Nile Rogers, Chrissie Hynde, Dexter Gordon, and Paul Shaffer sharing a table? You want to see Darlene Love in a clutch with Joan Jett and Elton John, who's wearing a huge, fake mohawk? Then Music in the '80s is the book for you. 

Monday, September 5, 2022

Review: 'Garth Marenghi's TerrorTome'

For probably half a century now, Garth Marenghi has been the name in horror for people who like extremely large books. Whether it be Afterbirth (in which a mutated placenta attacks Bristol), Black Fang (in which a rat drives a bus), Slicer (self explanatory), Slicer II (also self explanatory), Slicer III (ditto), Slicer IV (I'll stop qualifying now), or Slicer V through IV, you can count on a Garth Marenghi book to be of epic proportions, plus mucho disturbing.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Review: 'Stephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences'

Stephen King is that very rare author who is just as famous as his books, and the format of Bev Vincent's new book Stephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences is the kind usually reserved for rock bands or really popular movies. It's a full-color, illustrated hardcover that takes a close but wholly non-academic look at his output. Each one of King's books gets between a paragraph and several pages of attention as Vincent provides a good deal of background information, a bit of a synopsis, and a few words about the reception and legacy that greeted each publication. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Review: CD Issue of R.E.M.'s 'Chronic Town'

R.E.M. did a lot of things really well, but probably none of their releases captured what they did best better than their first EP. Following their first single by a year, and preceding their first album by nine months, Chronic Town introduced R.E.M. as masters of mega-exciting jangle-pop. Although there are none of the mysterious ballads like "Perfect Circle" or novelties like "We Walk" that would make Murmur a more eclectic platter, R.E.M.'s celebrated debut LP was not as consistently thrilling as Chronic Town. This is the sound of a young band with a serious fire in their collective belly, and tracks like "Wolves, Lower" and "Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)" are as exciting as they'd ever get ("Gardening at Night" is pretty fierce too, though I do prefer the less mumbly alternate mix that would later appear on the Eponymous compilation). 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Review: 'The Ultimate Book of Movie Monsters'

One of the great draws of scary movies--which often aren't really that scary at all--is the chance to see some rad monster designs. That's the main draw of Christopher Carton's new book, The Ultimate Book of Movie Monsters, too. 

Monday, August 8, 2022

Review: 'Outro Records Rock 'n Roll Halloween Party!'

While getting up the Halloween decorations (which I seem to do a little earlier every year... as my wife likes to point out), it is key to set the right mood. I've got my Zacherle and Vic Mizzy and Vince Gauraldi LPs, and Black Sabbath and The Misfits for when I get fed up and ready to rock, but I'm guessing none of those are gonna hit the spot this year like Outro Records' new comp Outro Records Rock 'n Roll Halloween Party! 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Review: 'This Band Has No Past: How Cheap Trick Became Cheap Trick'

When future "Jason Bourne" novelist Eric Van Lustbader began his fanciful liner notes for the first Cheap Trick album with "This band has no past," he was practically issuing a challenge to rock writers. At least that's how it now seems since Brian J. Kramp went to great lengths to prove Van Lustbader wrong in his new book This Band Has No Past: How Cheap Trick Became Cheap Trick. Not only does Cheap Trick--those saviors of old-fashioned rock and ribaldry--have a past, but it's a really involved one. All four original members were already in working bands ten years before Cheap Trick released that debut. Rick Nielsen was playing piano on sessions for The Yardbirds and opening for that group and The Who with his own band The Grim Reapers. With all due tasteless Cheap Trick-style irony, The Grim Reapers were scheduled to open for Otis Redding at a show the headliner could not perform due to his tragic death (The Reapers went on, though). Nielsen and Tom Petersson played in a prog group called Fuse fronted by former Nazz vocalist Thom Mooney. A pre-Robin Zander Cheap Trick opened for and backed Del Shannon, Freddy Boom Boom Cannon, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry at a Rock & Roll Revival show. For a band with no past, those guys really worked their asses off before becoming the Cheap Trick we know and love.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Review: 'McCartney I II III'

About halfway through his band's career, Paul McCartney became the most prolific Beatle and the one most fascinated with what the studio could do. As the Beatle with the most multi-instrumental skill, he was also primed to do it alone, and in 1970, he was so ready to get out his first solo album that he and the other guys actually had to work out scheduling conflicts between McCartney and The Beatles' final disc, Let It Be. An uncharacteristically embittered McCartney wouldn't budge, and his record hit the shelves first with all the hype coming to the first proper post-breakup Beatles solo album. 

Many fans were perplexed and most critics were downright indignant when they heard what had caused all the fuss. McCartney was a totally home-made collection of song sketches and jams with the title character as the album's producer, engineer, and sole musician. This probably wasn't what anyone was expecting from the perfectionist behind such thoroughly polished gems as "Yesterday", "Hey Jude", Sgt. Pepper's, and Abbey Road. However, it was an accurate indication of how McCartney would travel his mercurial solo career: following his instincts and his restless desire to create rather than continuing to chase the perfection everyone had always expected from The Beatles. And though there's a lot of junk on McCartney (aside from the tuneful "Hot As Sun", his instrumentals are wastes of space), there are also some lovely tunes in "Junk", "Teddy Boy", and "Maybe I'm Amazed", the one track that sounds like it spent just the right amount of time in the oven.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Review: 'The Wild World of Barney Bubbles'

Along with a scant handful of designers like Roger Dean and Hipgnosis, Barney Bubbles is that rare creator of LP jackets who is something of a household name among serious rock geeks. This is ironic considering that the man born Colin Fulcher was determined to protect his anonymity by working under a series of pseudonyms. Barney Bubbles, a name he devised as the operator of a light show at London's famed UFO club in the sixties, is just the most well known. He also worked as, among others, "Eric Stodge," "Jacuzzi Stallion," "Heeps Willard," and (a-hem) "Big Jobs, LTD." But the mark of any truly memorable designer is a memorable style, and under any name, a Barney Bubbles cover is instantly recognizable. His bold use of color, simple shapes in clever compositions, funny photos, and irresistible modernism informs his most iconic work for Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, Carlene Carter, and The Damned. Honestly, the colorfully chaotic sleeve he designed for Music for Pleasure is the main reason to own that record, which is not one of The Damned's best. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

Review: 'TCM: Rock On Film: The Movies That Rocked the Big Screen'

With its electrifying sounds and zanily styled artists, rock and roll was always a natural fit for the big screen, even in the days when no one above sweet little sixteen thought it would last longer than a summer. But here we are in 2022, and you still have movies about Elvis, of all people, playing to pee-wee audiences. The doomsdayers may have declared the rock and roll album dead as long ago as 1999, when Greg Kot penned an article titled "R.I.P. 33 1/3 R.P.M." for the Chicago Tribune, but the rock and roll movie is most definitely still alive and well. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Review: Vinyl Reissues of The Animals' First Four U.S. LPs

The most important British Invasion groups tended to follow a pretty clear path. The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, Zombies, Yardbirds, Moody Blues, etc. emerged from seedy clubs where they cut their teeth on covers of American rock, blues, and soul numbers. They next gradually developed strong and distinctive songwriting voices of their own and flourished on LP. 

The Animals were the one significant exception. There was no development period; they came out of the gate doing what they'd always do best: brooding their way through American rock, blues, and soul numbers. When Mick Jagger was still struggling to interpret the black American artists he worshipped, Eric Burdon did it effortlessly with a deep, seasoned, utterly distinctive bellow that sounded decades beyond his two decades on Earth. However, despite the occasional gem like "I'm Crying" or "Inside Looking Out", neither he nor any of the other Animals developed as fully as Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/ Richards, Townshend, Davies, or the rest while in the band (Alan Price became a fine songwriter in his post-Animals days). When Burdon attempted to compete during rock's most progressive years, he could only produce silly schlock like "San Franciscan Nights", "Monterey", and "Sky Pilot" with a faceless band that was The Animals in name only. 

That means ABKCO's new reissues of The Animals' first four U.S. albums--all recorded before Revolver or Odessey and Oracle or Village Green or Tommy or any of the other albums that define the pinnacle of British pop--represent the pinnacle of The Animals. Perhaps they couldn't compete with those other groups in terms of progressiveness or originality, but when it came to the kind of traditional rock, soul, and blues that make up The Animals, Animal Tracks, Animals on Tour, and Animalization, no one could beat Burdon, Alan Price, Chas Chandler, Hilton Valentine, and John Steel. The use of their American LPs also makes a place for the singles that were The Animals' ultimate raison d'être.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Review: 'The Rolling Stones Singles 1963 - 1966'

Back in the days before the LP took over as rock's main medium, groups usually put most of their weight behind their singles. While several of The Rolling Stones' early albums were recorded in piecemeal fashion in various studios while on tour, and largely consisted of blues and soul covers that didn't always stack up against the originals, their singles were consistently powerful. Well, at least they were after getting a weedy attempt to pop-up Chuck Berry with their first UK 45 out of the way, but you can't really blame the band for botching "Come On". They also gave matching suits a shot at management's insistence, but they binned their houndstooth jackets with all due haste, and Mick, Keith, and the gang got down to doing what they did best. If "Come On" seemed like a half-hearted attempt to hop on The Beatles' Mersey-beat bandwagon, the Stones could be judged directly against their main rivals when they next released Lennon and McCartney's very own "I Wanna Be Your Man" in a brutal rendition that slays the Ringo vehicle on With The Beatles.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Review: 'Sounds Of Summer: The Very Best Of The Beach Boys' Expanded Edition

There has certainly been no shortage of Beach Boys compilations throughout the group's 60-year history, but few have really looked beyond the biggest hits to provide a comprehensive and coherent overview of a group that released about thirty albums between 1962 and 2012. The two CD box sets, Good Vibrations and Made in California, actually do a good job, but for the vinyl cult, which has been growing rapidly in recent years, those aren't options. The 2003 CD Sounds Of Summer: The Very Best Of The Beach Boys did a fair job of collecting the usual big ones, and it did get a vinyl release in 2016, but it could hardly be called comprehensive since it exclusively focused on singles.

For the band's 60th anniversary, UMe is reissuing Sounds of Summer on CD and vinyl but with a bold move toward comprehensiveness. Expanded from a 1CD/2 LP compilation of 30 tracks to a 3 CD/6 LP, 80-track monster, Sounds of Summer can't help but move beyond the obvious because as huge as The Beach Boys are, they didn't produce 80 mega-hits. So the new edition of Sounds of Summer can get a bit deeper into the brilliance of Brian Wilson's early harmony arrangements, his psychedelic-era flights of extreme creativity, and, for those who swing that way, the stuff the other guys produced after Brian basically checked out in the mid-seventies. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Review: 'Love Is Understanding: The Life and Times of Peter Tork and The Monkees'

Since Davy Jones was the face of The Monkees, Micky Dolenz was the singer of the group's biggest hits, and Mike Nesmith was its unofficial leader and the one who had the most post-Monkees success as a maker of critically acclaimed records and movies and the de facto inventor of MTV, it's tempting to dismiss Peter Tork as the most faceless Monkee. However, he was The Monkees' finest musician--a masterful banjoist, finger-picking guitarist, and keyboardist--the one most different from his TV persona (a dumbo on the screen; a philosophical and intelligent man in real life), and by far the most unconventional one, which is saying a lot. 

When he wasn't getting screamed at by nine-year olds, Peter Tork was walking around naked in his hippie flop-house mansion, indulging in drugs and orgies, and putting his hippie money where his hippie mouth was and handing out cash, food, and beer to seemingly everyone he encountered from the biggest pop stars of his day (especially the future members of Crosby, Stills, and Nash) to the lowliest aspiring local musicians. What he got in return from his so-called friends was bankruptcy, but he apparently greeted it all with a zen attitude whether he was going to jail for a bullshit drug charge or being reduced to busking on the street to pull in a few coins to support himself and his family. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Review: 'Angels and Ministers of Grace Defend Us! More Dark Alleys of Classic Horror Cinema'

Armed with a great deal of old-school research, some over-heated writing, and an embarrassing "Watch out! The Progressive Mob is coming to burn your DVD collection!!!" foreword, Greg Mank returns for a semi-sequel to his chaotic 2014 book The Very Witching Time of Night: Dark Alleys of Classic Horror called Angels and Ministers of Grace Defend Us! More Dark Alleys of Classic Horror Cinema. This time Mank tightens up his approach for (mostly) uniformly formatted chapters to examine how classics such as Murders in the Rue Morgue, Island of Lost Souls, Mad Love, House of Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein, mediocrities such as Werewolf of London and the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and crap-fests like Captive Wild Woman fared against Joseph Breen's censorship board. 

Mank consults period documents to carefully note instances of censorious notes, how the filmmakers followed or worked around the meddlesome directives, and how regional exhibitors made their own cuts. In the case of Werewolf of London (which he insists on typing as WereWolf of London), the author argues that it could have been a better film without such changes as bumping a prostitute character down to the role of alms beggar. In the case of Captive Wild Woman, he offers no such possible avenues for improvement or redemption, and despite the author's dopey opening, he actually comprehends why folks were so horrified by the film's likening of black women to apes. That's pretty surprising since Mank thinks you're a dummy if you take offense at The Mask of Fu Manchu, an equally ugly pile of rubbish with a "happy" ending that involves Asian genocide by ray gun. Not a whole lot of philosophical consistency there, Manky.

Angels and Ministers of Grace Defend Us! switches to soft focus in its concluding chapters that deal with (A) the depressing end of Basil Rathbone's career and (B) how horror performed at the box office in the thirties and forties. These chapters don't quite fit with the rest of the book but are as useful to the monster movie historian as the rest of it, which I'll admit is pretty useful.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Review: Elton John's 'Madman Across the Water' 50th Anniversary Box Set

Elton John spent years struggling to get his career going, but when he finally scored a solo contract and began producing albums, he didn't take long to take off. His debut, 1969's Empty Sky, yielded no hits and wouldn't even get released in the U.S. until 1975, but his self-titled sophomore disc was a smash, going top-five and featuring his first big international hit, "Your Song". So it's perhaps not quite correct to classify Madman Across the Water as his breakthrough, since it was less successful than Elton John in terms of its singles ("Levon" and "Tiny Dancer" were both Billboard flops) and it's own chart performance, but it does feel like Reg had cracked a nut here. 

Madman Across the Water feels more fully formed than John's first two albums and more personal than its immediate predecessor, Tumbleweed Connection, which is a superbly crafted record--probably his best--but also a very blatant homage to The Band. Madman feels like a proper Elton John album through and through. There are some ambitious ideas probably too pop to really classify as prog ("Indian Sunset"), a pretty pop confection that may bear a touch too much sugar for some tastes ("Tiny Dancer"), one of those brooding things he does so well (the magnificent title track), the kind of self-reflexive yet humble look at life as a working musician that would fully flower on 1975's Captain Fantastic ("Holiday Inn"), and some eccentric character sketches that rely just as much on John's melodic gifts as they do on lyricist Bernie Taupin's imagination ("Levon" and "Razor Face"). Paul Buckmaster--rock's finest composer of swooping, lunging, bracing string arrangements--is also a profound presence throughout the disc. The only standard Elton John moves missing here are a cutesy-pie pastiche in the "Crocodile Rock" mode (which is one reason why Madman outclasses a good deal of what would follow it) and a rollicking, good-humored number.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Review: 'The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue' Blu-ray

After a woman (Christina Galbó) runs over a motorcycle at a petrol station outside Manchester, the antique-dealing biker (Ray Lovelock) bullies her into giving him a ride to his friend's house in the country. She's a touch anxious because she's on her way to deliver her smack-addicted sister (Jeannine Mestre) away from a creepy husband (José Lifante), who takes exploitative photos of his wife while she's high, and to rehab. Quite a feast of human drama right there, but there's more, because high-tech exterminators are performing some rather environmentally unfriendly pest control on farmland in the country. Turns out the radiation they're using doesn't just turn bug against bug until they cannibalize each other into non-existence. Let's just say the exterminators' methods make the human dead and buried quite a bit less dead and a whole lot less buried.

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