TOP TEN TIME MEANS IT'S HARD MAKING UP YOUR MIND
Here’s my 2004 year-end top ten in some semblance of rank…
1. Happening Two Years Time Ago
When it comes to picking up the latest hip releases, I’m perpetually left in the dust. At the moment, I would say I am firmly stuck in 2002, catching up on all the great reissues that escaped then (along with the big fanfare campaigns; primarily the Rolling Stones on Abkco). ’02 probably produced some great new music, too, which maybe I’ll get around to by next year.
While the Stones’ ‘Aftermath UK’ made my I-94 Bar Top 10 two years ago, it’s only now that I find myself on a non-stop Stones bender, picking up as many of the Abkco remasters as allowable once the bills have been paid (which is a slow way to go, let me assure you). So far, I still rate ‘Aftermath UK’ and ‘Between the Buttons UK’ as the best of the bunch with the earlier (’64) Chess cuts taking the prize at a sessions/studio/unsung engineer level (Ron Malo, incidentally). ‘Let It Bleed’ sounds equally improved-upon but to be honest, I just don’t bond with it as often as the others (excluding …always …the colossal riff, “Monkey Man”, I should point out).
Besides the Chess cuts (“Down the Road Apiece”, “Around and Around”, “Confessin’ the Blues”, etc.), the singular sample of remastered '60s Stones that exceeds all expectations is “Mercy, Mercy” off ‘Out of Our Heads’ (Non-UK version, this time). The bass on this album track rumbles like an earthquake, suggesting the promise of significant improvement over the crappy old Abkco CDs from the 1980s.
Yet any enthusiasm gets doused by the very next track on this particular CD, the fiendishly lo-fi “Hitch Hike”. Apparently, no technology advancement touch-up could save the absolutely appalling production on this one.
In fact, there are quite a few other cuts that suffer from this same ineptitude courtesy of RCA Hollywood staff engineer Dave Hassinger (who I have praised on other occasions for his later MASSIVE achievements on the godlike ‘65/66 singles, all of ‘Aftermath’ plus the debuts of the Electric Prunes, Jefferson Airplane & Grateful Dead).
Deserving of as much praise as any of these Stones reissues are 2002 exact CD repros of Gene Vincent’s first two albums (inexact, technically, because they have crucial bonus tracks slapped on); those that he cut in Nashville with no syrup in sight but with the original Blue Caps in tow. Just like they were in ‘57, they are on Capitol Records. (Yeah, these two releases were the subject of my praise just one column ago but at this point, the theme is Top 10 and Gene Vincent is more deserving than just about anything else mentioning.)
Another overlooked fave from two years ago is Edwin Starr’s 2fer on Motown, ‘Soul Master’/’25 Miles’ including the former flop collection of his RicTic stompers such as “Agent Double-O Soul”, “S.O.S.” and “Headline News”. The quality of the material is all over the place on this CD but with even more RicTic bonus material, it’s too much of a good thing to turn down. Like those essential Gene Vincent CDs, it is also guaranteed to get deleted in the next major label media consolidation.
A few years ago, I was attempting to turn on a friend to that obnoxious backing track version of “Guess I’m Falling in Love” off of the ‘80s Velvet Underground comp, ‘Another View’. Though it probably should have been received for what it was; a backhanded compliment, I appreciated being told, “Yeah, I can see how you would like this.” Damn right, I love the crude tone of the originators, whether it be Link Wray or Lou Reed.
Another good example is “Looking at You” from the MC5’s ‘Human Being Lawnmower’ comp (Total Energy). I praised this in print when the CD arrived in ’02. Awhile back, I threw it on a sampler with all the other greats (Stooges, Dolls, even that VU backing track!) only to find that it kicks the %$#@ out of all of that heavy competition. The liner notes describe this as an “unreleased warm-up take without vocals from… United Sound Studios, January 1968” and in a way it’s just as satisfying as the single from the same session. I assume this is all Brother Wayne Kramer’s show, with him hurling the unmatched screaming distortion. While there’s some great stuff on the list to follow, this MC5 track puts a lot of these picks in their place. It might already be out of print, at least under this CD title.
1.5 Rolling Stones – Singles 1963-1965 (Abkco box set)
I, for one, am glad that Abkco didn’t stop with the 2002 reissues of the Stones. This essentially left them with the choice of either reissuing unreleased material from the vaults (which they didn’t), unavailable key stereo mixes (ditto) or the least promising of options, the mere missing 2:50 of the ‘Got LIVE If You Want It’ UK-only e.p.!
At least the latter has been accomplished and if that sounds ridiculous, note that it is now available exclusively by way of the overpriced ‘Singles 1963-1965’ collection.
Admittedly, this “box set” package reeks of rip-off, from the paucity of tracks to corny “collectable” bubble gum cards and when you get right down to it, the price. However, this is one of only two places to score those hard to find early singles sides like “Come On”, “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Stoned”. Also, maybe it’s just me, but I prefer my “Heart of Stone” in mono, with tambourine contained in the mix; not a stereo/reverb distraction. You’ll get it in mono here.
The 3-CD ‘Rolling Stones Singles Collection’ on Abkco costs about the same but covers more ground (including all of the follow-up ‘Singles 1965-1967’ mini-box and more). However, if you count yourself an unreformed fanatic, you’ll need this fab package, where 12 discs are housed in individual repros of the original British extended plays and US singles sleeves. Also, with ‘The Singles Collection’, there are no mono versions of the Chess ’12 X 5’ tracks. For serious monomaniacs, they are only available here.
Don’t laugh. I’m digging this and ‘Singles 1965-1967’ (which I’m reviewing elsewhere but will mention here includes more genius, lifesaving singles and sleeves).
2. Davie Allan & the Arrows – Devil’s Rumble: Anthology ’64-’68 (Sundazed)
Davie Allan nearly single handedly provided the soundtrack for a generation of low budget biker films in the sixties. He was one part Link Wray, equal part “2000 Pound Bee”. But at the core, what separated him from a thousand forgotten instrumental acts was his willingness to work in the confines of melody. Not everything on here is that melodic/memorable (“Theme from the Wild Angels” is my big least fave among these 40 tracks) but that’s nitpicking because it’s almost all great; from the pre-fuzz pandemonium of “Tomahawk” to the Yardbirds swipe on “Theme From Thunder Alley”, Top 40 exhaust (“Blues Theme”) to Pre-Asheton Wah-Wah mayhem (“Cycle-delic”, from ‘67). More Allan & the Arrows titles soon to follow.
3. James Brown
While I never give a %$#@ when people make fun of dead ‘n’ gone Elvis (hope my wife doesn’t see this ‘cause she saw him on his last tour, when she was nine years old, and will tell you he was great), I personally am sick of the STUPID treatment of the Godfather of Soul, perpetuated by the squares and the media (who are not mutually exclusive of one another).
Me, I’ve been listening to James Brown off and on a lot for the past year. Now, I’m in the minority (in other words, I don’t know anyone who agrees with what I am about to say…) in my luke-warm assessment of ‘Live at the Apollo’ (’62). However, I’m here to tell you that the Expanded & Remastered & Overpriced edition of ‘Live at the Apollo, Volume 2’ (’67), if properly edited, can make for one perfect, proto-funk CD essential.
And I always go back to the ‘In the Jungle Groove’ comp for the utterly unstoppable version of “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” (including drum break sample supreme courtesy of Clyde Stubblefield). And I wish I didn’t pawn off my ‘Motherlode’ comp years back ‘cause the version of “You Got to Have a Mother For Me” on the otherwise excellent ‘Foundations of Funk’ CD is missing that other killer drum showpiece (which is more or less the whole song for me).
But just today (sounds good and it’s true), I picked up the CD, ‘Say it Live and Loud: Live in Dallas 08.26.68’ and it may be the best concert-on-tape of all. For one thing, it includes the absolute highlight (for me) of the ‘Star Time’ box set, a then-unreleased “There Was a Time”, only here tightly intro’d by a particularly murderous 13 minute “Cold Sweat” (not to mention Maceo leading the band through a killer cover of Archie Bell & the Drells’ “Tighten Up”!!).
Around here, I always stick a Xmas wish list in my wife’s pocket book. Just today (again, it’s true), I printed out from the internet a CD from last year titled something like ‘50th Anniversary Collection’ that I’m really hoping Santa’s gonna come through with ‘cause for every extended drum break, I also need to occasionally hear just Pt. 1 of each hit single.
4. Tie: Ian McLagan’s Bump Band, Live at the Pour House, Raleigh, NC, USA;
Faces ‘Five Guys Walk Into a Bar’ (Rhino)
I can see the length of this list quickly getting out of hand. On that note, if you care to read my comments about the excellent Faces box set, ‘Five Guys Walk Into the I-94…’, For you fellow skeptics, it’s safe to look at the aforelinked assessment. I did not give it another “five star”, “oh, perfect” review. I’ve never seen so much ass kissing in my life as in the wake of this CD. On that note, I of course loved it!
Ian McLagan was in town a few weeks back. Thank God he didn’t have Rod Stewart with him. He didn’t coast on Faces material but at least threw in a couple of good ones from the box set that worked damn well. Truth be told, his version of “Cindy Incidentally” was transcendent (whereas on the box set, it is merely a great song marred by one of the Faces’ typically dull productions).
He really let it rip on the Small Faces’ “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” (even if it predates his membership) and a surpriser, “Get Yourself Together”. But his solo material, ranging from ’79 major label write-offs to more carefully distributed material today, was easily on par. A great Sunday night show (8:00 PM!), capping a great weekend.
5. The UK Sue Label Story, Volume 1-2 (Ace), Volume 3 (Kent); Larry Williams – At His Finest: The Specialty Rock ‘n’ Roll Years (Ace)
This UK Ace label is out of control with too many great reissues to squeeze into my year-end list. If I had to pick from last year’s long list of fine reissues, it would have been their Etiquette Records explosive releases of the Sonics and Wailers. This year, I’m particularly enjoying Ace tributes to two of the most colorful cats in the real rock ‘n’ roll hierarchy, Larry Williams and Guy Stevens (who, if I knew my storylines a little better, could explain how their “careers” crossed paths).
Ever since handing over my teenage lawn mowing money for ‘London Calling’ and in the same year picking up the cheesy Mott the Hoople cut-out comp, ‘Rock & Roll Queen’, I wondered just who was this Guy Stevens guy? I mean, this heavy duty character produced “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” and “Working for the Clampdown” and yet where was the info? I wouldn’t stumble across a photo of him for almost two decades.
When interviewing original members of Mott the Hoople (and Mick Farren) eight or nine years ago, I really started getting an education. It turns out, Stevens was the original smartly dressed (mod), hip R&B record collector D.J. at the Scene club in London in the early sixties. As explained in the liner notes spread across these three volumes (one farmed-out to soul sister label Kent), he hooked up with Chris Blackwell and for the next several years helmed an R&B licensing operation at Island Records. Stevens’ Island-backed imprint was Sue Records.
It was a labor (labour?) of love, as is evident in this diverse collection which mixes classic soul (Bob & Earl, Inez & Charlie Foxx) with the most esoteric (Donnie Elbert, the Anglos) and even mediocre (forgettable inclusions from the otherwise redoubtable Otis Redding, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and Jerry Butler).
As much as the “hits” disc keeps returning on investment, the real selling point of the Larry Williams package is a bonus disc of studio outtakes. Some of these vintage rockers escaped on the Specialty label in the ‘80s and now they are once again available, augmented by more unreleased takes. The studio chatter is priceless (Larry knowingly introduces one particular classic as, “’Bad Boy’ or ‘Junior Behave Yourself’ or you’ll probably call it, ‘Letter to an Angel’!” Larry & Co. then proceed to turn in a version in some sort of crazy triple-time tempo. Wild!
6. Garage Beat ’66, Volume 1-3 (Sundazed)
Here’s another good one from Sundazed, contents no different than as titled. Disclaimer: I was involved with volume one, so not only am I partial to this series, I’m partial to volume one. The other two are good, too, though and what’s really got me anxious is what to expect in the next batch. I’ve already sent my wish list to Coxsackie. Quite frankly, I’d be a-ok if they included more from the bands on these inaugural releases, specifically the Mourning Reign (“Our Fate”, please), Olivers (“I Saw What You Did”), Spiders (“No Price Tag”), Great Scots (“That’s My Girl”), and Ugly Ducklings (“She Ain’t No Use To Me”, maybe).
7. Misunderstood – The Lost Acetates 1965-1966 (UT); Ugly Things #22
While on the subject of worthwhile garage music, I see no reason not to remind a few more folks ‘bout the intrinsic wildness of the Misunderstood. Their epic story (which I never would have guessed was so, er, epic) typically takes up about 50 pages an issue in the long running garage ‘zine, Ugly Things. The latest issue shows no sign of reconsidering as it embarks on far-flung chapters based on weird paths traveled immediately upon the band’s demise in ’67. While researching the story, Ugly Things came across a holy grail of preserved acetates that mix-up primal R&B (“Got Love If You Want It” here slays their heroes, the Yardbirds) with alternate versions of the epochal overseas cuts (“Children of the Sun” + three). Both available from: Ugly Things, 3707 Fifth Avenue, #145, San Diego, CA 92103 USA
8. Pretty Things – The BBC Sessions (Repertoire)
While on the subject of Ugly Things, do you mind if I ask you to just refer to my review of this there? If you can’t be bothered, at least go ahead and buy this CD.
9. Mott the Hoople – Live, 30th Anniversary Edition (Sony/UK)
What a beauty, and to think that it is based on one of the most unanticipated reissues of all time. The original album, as we all know, stunk. There was one exception, however, in the form of a blistering extended medley that closed side two. Some of us (with too much time on our hands) have always wondered if the best stuff was left on the shelf. For sure, more of trademark hi-energy Mott rock must have been overlooked. How else then could one explain the dirgy boat anchors (“Rest in Peace”, “Rose”) that killed any momentum on either of the original LP sides?
Well, they are both still here however now bolstered by more guitar-oriented fare. My only complaint is with a few uneven performances: Ian Hunter’s singing is flat on the otherwise obnoxiously enjoyable “Walkin’ With a Mountain”, on both versions! On the first disc in particular, his guitar tone is the pits. Drummer Buffin and especially short-term guitarist Ariel Bender veer between greatness and the occasional instrumental blunder.
Niggling aside, the opening set (Uris Theatre, ’74; I was there in ’81 and they still had a picture of Mott in the lobby), tracks 1 through 6, would have made the perfect LP side. Beyond the inept opening number, the Hammersmith ’73 disc is even hotter. Bad costumes, great music. Get it.
10. ‘60s videos
Leave it to Mike Dugo, editor of the excellent www.60sgaragebands.com site to pull all of this stuff together for me. While I can appreciate the ‘Shivaree’ lip-sync clips of ‘Pebbles’ heroes the Preachers and Guilloteens (good animated drummer in the latter, like Moulty!), much better yet are the hit makers such as the Leaves, Love, & Electric Prunes on ‘American Bandstand’ (more wild drum-sync) as well as Blues Magoos and 13th Floor Elevators on ‘Where The Action Is’ (had forgotten how much Stacy Sutherland resembles a serial killer in this clip!).
Years ago, Barry Tashian told me how awful the Remains were on the live ‘Ed Sullivan Show’. With no disrespect, you gotta see this amazing clip! The band is on fire. What command, what cool! Too many other phenomenal clips worth mentioning but one final word about a home movie of the Shadows of Knight raving it up at a Chicago teen fair in color. Too great, this stuff which needs a home on DVD. That’s about it for this year’s highlights. It’s Christmas here so I’m listening to Davie Allan’s brand new CD, ‘Fuzz for the Holidays’ (Wicked Cool Records). Hopefully, there’ll be some music under the Christmas tree including the Beatles’ ‘Capitol Albums, Volume One’. I saw this one in the store a few weeks ago and must say that the packaging (at least the exterior which is a flimsy throwback to c. 1989 CD long boxes) is an insult. For now, I’ll assume that the remastered music makes up for it in spades.
Whether in the defunct Hit List (and my own long-gone ‘zine, Here ‘Tis) or last Bar column, it seems an obituary is part of the drill these days. This is not a good trend but then again, it’s life. It was really sad news to hear that Greg Shaw passed away this fall. Back in ’88/89, I got the bug to start a sixties garage reissue label. While living in Richmond, Virginia, I lined up two or three cool projects but found myself less successful with any sensible financing (to pay licensing advances, mastering, pressing, and art work). I called up Greg Shaw for advice and instead, he offered to let me learn the ropes at Bomp. I arrived in LA within a week or two.
I also worked as an intern at Rhino and it was interesting to observe the difference in the two operations. Rhino was going through huge growth and were jettisoning vinyl only a year after their “Save the LP” campaign. Bomp, on the other hand, was still doing only vinyl! But the big difference was in the office environments. Everyone at Rhino seemed swell enough but Bomp’s warehouse digs was a real vision of rock ‘n’ roll mania, piled to the rafters with the best kinda clutter (old records, magazines, posters, etc.). As it turned out, Greg paid me to come in and work on some goofy newsletter plus my own first reissue (‘The Dunwich Records Story on Voxx vinyl) but mainly for me to pour over every KRLA Beat, Go, Zig Zag, Hit Parader and Creem.
This went on for a year. We conducted a great interview there with an ex-employee of Immediate Records, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the guy’s name. It wasn’t Andrew Oldham. I would have remembered that. After the Dunwich LP was released, my interest began to wane, I moved back east and fell out of touch with Greg (and another fave at Bomp, Suzy Shaw). But I remember fondly those times and can conclude with little doubt that you have great memories of Shaw, too (or at the very least have his records and Bomp mags on your shelf).