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.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Review: 'Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust'

David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust is as notable for the look of the glammed-out alien as it is for the spectacular music Bowie made during the Ziggy years. That would be irritating if Bowie hadn't brought such high artistry to the bizarre makeup, outfits, and hair dyes he donned while in character. Bowie believed that no photographer was nearly as qualified to capture his Zigginess as Mick Rock was. Bowie paid Rock the highest compliment an artist of such visual audacity could pay a photographer when he said of Rock "[he] sees [me] the way [I] see [myself]... [he sees me] through [my] own eyes."

Bowie freaks with cash to burn could see Rock seeing Bowie through his own eyes to their hearts' content when the duo published Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust in 2002. A luxurious volume with text by Bowie and images by Rock, Moonage Daydream was a remarkable insiders' view of the alien, although its limited edition release made it extremely hard to come by. It sold out in just months.

For Moonage's twentieth anniversary, and Ziggy's fiftieth, Genesis Publications is reprinting the book in a larger format and in larger quantities. It's a beautiful package full of great pictures from studio shoots, candid ones, live shots, and even music videos stills. Bowie appears with Lou Reed and Jagger and Lulu and Marianne Faithfull (in her nun's habit, of course), and Rock includes some stray shots of compatriots such as Iggy Pop and Roxy Music to illustrate the narrative. Bowie discusses how Daniella Parmar, Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, Kabuki, Lindsay Kemp, and Bewitched (yes, Bewitched) influenced the look the book celebrates. There is also a comically high number of shots showing Bowie fellating Mick Ronson's guitar. But my favorite bit is a short anecdote about a potentially disastrous, underpopulated gig in St. Louis that turned out to be what sounds like a magically intimate affair shared between artist and audience. In some ways, that's what Moonage Daydream is too.

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