There’s Gonna Be a Showdown: Best of 2005

Because I’m lazy, a few of these are cut/paste jobs from CD reviews I never got around to finishing.  That’s no reflection of the quality of the winners, all which come highly recommended. 

REISSUE OF THE YEAR:  The Stooges (Elektra/Rhino CD), The Stooges – Fun House (Elektra/Rhino CD)

Amazingly, it took until now for someone in the Warner empire to dust off ‘n’ polish up the tapes to these two most cataclysmic of albums.  Of course, that statement overlooks Rhino’s stuffed ‘Complete Fun House Sessions’ effort; a box set comprised of eight hours of studio outtakes.  Maybe it’s because the bonus tracks on this latest ‘Fun House’ upgrade hail from that already-issued ‘Sessions’ mother lode that I’m finding the considerably less-documented debut the more fascinating of these latest discs. 

When ya get right down to it, though, it’s really a case of priorities.  Does your mania drift towards aural visions of ready to eat, also half-baked and in some cases burnt studio takes of familiar Stooge standards (in sledgehammer sound, for a change)?  Then this latest ‘Fun House’ expanded set oughta do the trick, assuming you missed-out on the box set.  

On the other hand, if one wishes to immerse themselves in the familiar/essential versions, albeit in substantially different light i.e. the legendary/rumored John Cale mixes, then the 2-CD relaunch of ‘The Stooges’ is your ticket. 

(For those of you in a hurry, this is as good a time as any to mention that you should just buy ‘em both.  Without hesitation.  Now, back to those of you at work…) 

As far as ‘The Stooges’ goes, the remaster of the original two album sides is top flight.  Whereas Elektra’s ‘80s CD sounded passable for its day but balls-less by today’s standards, the upgrade is nice ‘n’ loud.  “1969”, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, “No Fun” and “Real Cool Time”, in fact, never sounded better.  

For years, my obsessed ears have also locked-in on the undervalued “Not Right”.  For anyone that knows the two Elektra albums (and we all know ‘em frontward and backwards by now), there’s an obvious shift in intensity from the first to ‘Fun House’, eh?  To my way of listening, “Not Right” has always been the performance on ‘The Stooges’ that bridges these two distinct stages in sonic Stoogeness.  It opened the gates to the fun house, if you will.

OK, this song has a comparatively tame vocal and is pretty indistinguishable from the other short tracks on the debut’s side two (“Real Cool Time”, etc.) except beginning with what the guy in the drum chair is doing.  Whereas his pounding was beyond basic - to a strength - throughout the rest of the album, here Scott Asheton lays into a slammin’ back beat with no shortage of power.  He flails ‘n’ fills with a level of ability that just ain’t evident on the rest of the record (foreshadowing similar feats on the next album’s “Loose”).  Brother Ron Asheton’s rhythm guitar is also a helluva lot more energetic here, not that it was exactly dragging on “No Fun” or other faves on the album. 

Early in “Not Right” (after the first verse), Ron’s lead guitar sounds kinda cheesy even by Stooges first album standards.  That first solo note sounds like a clarinet run through a fuzz box.  But he really catches fire towards the end.  By the song’s final faded note, he’s produced the amp distortion equivalent of an atomic bomb blast.  You can barely hear it yet it is a complete saturation of sound just as the song evaporates.  I’ll go so far as to vote it the all-time greatest song fade.

Flipping over to the second disc (of alternate mixes/vocals and unreleased full length versions), kicking off the bonus program with those unearthed John Cale mixes proves a good move.  The opener, “No Fun” is kinda startling at first.  To say the rhythm guitar is submerged in this mix would be, well, irresponsible.  And the fuzzed-out lead guitar is now enough to fry speaker cones.  Though otherwise kinda ridiculous, this Cale mix of “No Fun” is valid indeed thanks to the extreme close-up on Iggy’s best moment (“well, come ahhhnnn/come ahhhnnn…”).  I’m afraid Cale’s emphasis on hand claps wears-out its welcome by the next track, “1969”; all the more dubious as it’s presented in a sub-three minute edit. 

A big deal is made of the full-length version of “Ann”.  I’m sure the five minute thudding, monotonous band romp at the end is a good recreation of an early Psychedelic Stooges practice session but shouldn’t demand repeated listens.   It’s nice to hear young Iggy’s voice in such a cozy setting, though. 
Less of a curiosity but more digestible are longer edits of “Not Right” and “Real Cool Time”; the former for proving the LP was edited perfectly and the latter for including an extra minute of Asheton brothers instro brutality.  It comes to a pretty exciting crash at 3:22 only to be followed by Cale asking if they can cut it off at 2:20!  Next producer, please.  It’s worth noting, too, that these two alternates suffer from a weak wide-stereo mix (Rock Action’s drums sounding phoned in from detention hall). 

The icing on the cake is disc two’s closer; a 6:49 version of “No Fun”, this time with a different, less feral vocal and lots more of that Ron Asheton fuzz in full assault mode. 

This is Rhino so the packaging is, of course, another source of praise.  Alice Cooper’s introduction is particularly cool (and a lot more enlightening than a similar short piece from Jack White included in the other disc).  Ben Edmonds’ liner notes are fine as usual but not nearly as informative as an interview he has since done with the Detroit Metro Times (http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=8062); where it is revealed that he once booked the Stooges for their first ever out of town gig way back in ’69, among other essential recollections. 

Not surprisingly, I also like what Rhino engineer Bill Inglot has done with ‘Fun House’.  Back to the days of vinyl, it was never disadvantaged by its murky mix but in the hands of the wrong modern age digital meddler (like Iggy!), this could’ve been pushed over the muffled abyss.  In fact, Inglot is the only remastering genius to get right Mott the Hoople’s similarly dense ‘Brain Capers’ (though the tracks he transferred for a Rhino Mott comp, ‘Backsliding Furiously’, are now out of print). 
There’s just the right amount of clear, loud high end to serve Ron’s crucial contributions (ditto, bone-chipping snare sound from Scott).  Bass and drums, especially on the long, spacious tracks (“Dirt”, “Fun House”) are in murderously good sound. 

The original album of ‘Fun House’ sounds so good, I’ll just skip straight to the auxiliary disc.  First off, how perfect is it that one of the other Stooge fellers calls Iggy a punk (during his wrestler routine) in the opening studio banter?!  The ensuing take of “TV Eye” is dead on and even features Mr. Jimmy on tambourine. 
The three-song sequence of “Loose” is also cleverly assembled; sort of an evolution of punk rock, from sloppy demo to scrappy contender (Take 22).  Best of all is what’s sandwiched in-between:  In “Loose” Take 2, Iggy test drives a lyric that is simply too slick ‘n’ greasy to describe in a family publication such as this.  What a shame that Lester Bangs ain’t around to muse on this and other highlights from these sessions.       

Surely Bangs would expound rhapsodically ‘bout the two extended outtakes of “Fun House”.  All I’m able to add is an observation that right outta the gate, Take 2 proves this long cut was already pretty well whipped into shape.  Only here it sweats more danger than even the album version (with a tremendous alternate vocal, a heavier, switchblade-sharp guitar plus the expected big dose of, yes, “cold sweat”).       

This is not to say that this sessions highlights disc gets acquitted on all counts.  Unreleased tracks like “Lost in the Future” and “Slide (Slidin’ the Blues)” are little more than dull blues jams (which the Stooges never seemed to get outta their system during their various ‘70s runs).  Forget ‘em and fast. 

The single remix of “Down on the Street”, with thee cheesiest Doors-ish keyboard overdub, qualifies as the real bottom of the barrel here.  It could have been left off.  The single mix/edit of its original b-side, “1970”, on the other hand in punchy monophonic sound is most definitely worth a spin.  Especially when scored on a limited edition, hip vinyl reissue from Rhino (b/w with a Cale mix of “Not Right”; non-compact disc and admittedly crummy compared to the official album version).
This time with a booklet more biased towards color photography (vs. ‘The Stooges’), it’s enough to remind me of that old ‘No Fun’ comp from the early ‘80s with its array of ‘Fun House’ photo outtakes.  Now that the vaults have been raided, it’s pretty obvious that while there may be further efforts to repackage this music in years to come, we can rest easy knowing that it doesn’t get any better than these editions.      

DVD OF THE YEAR: Marc Bolan T. Rex - ‘Born to Boogie’ (Sanctuary)
Runner-up: Deep Purple - ‘Live in Concert 72/73’ (Eagle Vision)
As a consumer and as usual, I’m late to the game on all of this digital video technology.  And for all I know, DVDs are already passé.  Regardless, this was the year that I began to seriously embrace the format (after the initial disappointment of 2004’s ‘Glitz, Blitz and Hitz’ Sweet DVD interview snoozefest). 
From what I’ve seen so far …which is admittedly not much, Led Zeppelin’s imaginatively-titled ‘DVD’ (2003) is the yardstick for measuring quality ‘n’ generosity in vintage music digital video.  It’s not just the five-plus hours of largely pristine footage and remastered sound, but the little details, too; like deluxe packaging and even a vibrant, non-static menu. 

This year’s reissue of the old T. Rex ‘Born to Boogie’ film (directed by Ringo Starr?!) is the first I’ve seen of a DVD multi-disc set on par, on all fronts, with the Zep set.  For one thing, it also busts the five hour barrier.  While the actual movie (fully restored here) is a mess, the bonus program of two complete concerts is an excuse for why to buy. 

Lester Bangs once offered this summary of Marc Bolan’s legacy:  “All his songs sounded the same and his live act was oatmeal.”  That’s funny and a little accurate.  But these two concerts, one which served as the backbone of the ‘Boogie’ film, show Bolan as a charismatic stage ham.  

Note: Eagle Vision in the US just released a no frills but recommended DVD of T. Rex and Roxy Music compiled from various appearances on German TV’s ‘Musik Laden’.  A ’73 clip of Bolan performing “20th Century Boy” is disturbing.  One year after these ‘Born to Boogie’ shows, the close up camera work reveals a now-bloated Bolan looking waxen with a gaze that could only be described as dead.  The caped Liberace look only adds to the decadent, failed “glamour”.  This DVD’s denim-clad clips from ’71 (“Life’s a Gas”, “Jeepster”; plus the Roxy Music performances with Eno in similarly perplexing plumage) are more like it.  Good ‘n’ cheap.    
         
DVD moment of ’05 belongs to the gonzo “Mandrake Root” finale from Deep Purple’s ‘Live in Concert 72/73’ also out on Eagle Vision (Purple Recs outside of the US).  Filmed in high resolution black ‘n’ white from a Copenhagen show in early ’72, this is the regular set finish similarly captured on ‘Made in Japan’ and other DP concerts and basically a showcase for wildman Ritchie Blackmore.  I should own up that technically it’s an uncredited coda to “Spacetruckin’”. 

While the rest of the band merely shakes their heads like Neanderthals for an hour or so, Blackmore jumps around like some demented devil-ballerina.  Most of his “Mandrake” moves are right from the Jimi at Monterey playbook but much more punk.  Hell, he even plays a solo on his ass …while jogging in place!  The color footage from the following year (rescued from an old ABC ‘In Concert’ episode) is equally excellent making this a must-have DVD.

BEST 45 RPM SINGLE OF 2005 (TIE): COUNTS IV – “Discussion of the Unorthodox Council” + 2 (Sundazed); THE SPARKLES – “No Friend of Mine”/”Hipsville 29 B.C.”/”I Wanna Be Free” (Sundazed)
Runner-ups:  THE STOOGES – “1970”/”Not Right” (Unreleased John Cale Mix; Rhino); IGGY & THE STOOGES – “Search and Destroy”/”Penetration” (Sundazed)
This year, Sundazed mopped up the competition in this category.  Then again, where was the competition?  OK, Rhino gets a consolation prize for their limited pressing of the Stooges “1970”, mentioned elsewhere in this list.  Either it or the stupendously great a-side offering on Sundazed’s Iggy & the Stooges single would’ve won “best 45” honors hands down if not for weak flips.  Imperfect, essential. 

It should be noted that both these Stooges seven inches are encased in eye-catching sleeves.  The Sparkles, on the other hand, get a dish water dull, artificially tinted sleeve.  But why care when you can score three songs of this caliber (two perfect, pricey ’66 garage standards + the less comp’d protest-punker, “I Wanna Be Free”) on one five dollar 45? 

Almost as much a hoot as the Sparkles 45 is the Counts IV record.  A frat-rock update of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” sounds roughly eight million times better than in an earlier appearance on AIP’s ‘Highs in the Mid-Sixties’.  These boys had versatility, though, as exhibited in the Yardbirds-inspired lunacy of “Discussion of the Unorthodox Council” and a superb “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.  Best sleeve in the bunch, too.                  

Cleaning out the garage: This year’s best teen band reissues
‘Uptight Tonight: The Ultimate 60s Garage Collection’ (Big Beat)
‘Garage Beat ’66 – Volume 4 & Volume 5’ (Sundazed)
? and the Mysterians – ‘The Best of ? and the Mysterians’ (Abkco)
‘The Ikon Records Story’ (Frantic; reviewed by me here) was the highlight for the hard cores, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better garage comp than, ‘Uptight Tonight: The Ultimate 60s Garage Collection’ (Big Beat).  While this includes too many repeats for me (“Pushin’ Too Hard”, “Psychotic Reaction”, “Talk Talk”, “Action Woman”, “Liar Liar”; sorry, you can’t please everyone), it also serves as a stompin’ sampler from the UK label’s less exposed (US) artists, not to mention a few eardrum-denting surprises. 

Direct from the ‘Ikon’ disc, the boss Madd, Inc. appear here as does the killer title obscurity by Flash & the Memphis Casuals, “Foolish Woman” by the (Pre-Blue Cheer) Oxford Circle, and the long-unavailable “99th Floor” by the Moving Sidewalks; the latter featuring a teenage Billy Gibbons and featured for the first time in a full-length version.

Making this list for the second year in a row, the ‘Garage Beat ‘66’ (Sundazed) series is back with more action-packed volumes.  Highlights include the aforementioned Counts IV plus lots of primo Midwest teen-punk from the Cuca Records archives (Vol. 4) and a long overdue sonic upgrade for Texas icons the Bad Seeds, Liberty Bell, Knight’s Bridge and Headstones.  The all-girl Heart Beats increase the fun factor.  All of these can be scored on Vol. 5.  More volumes, please! 

Of course, no year-end round-up of garage would be complete without a mention of 2005’s most overdue release, ‘The Best of ? and the Mysterians’ (Abkco).  To put it into perspective, this is the first official Question collection since ‘67!  We all know the material so it’s just a matter of weighing in on whether Abkco got it right. 

There’s a lot of stereo but it only bugs me considerably on “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby” and “Girl (You Captivate Me)”.  Otherwise, a very a-ok package from Abkco.  Now, they need to follow-up with a single disc of Michigan’s finest garage-punkers on Cameo, featuring the usual suspects (Bob Seger & the Last Heard, the Rationals, Terry Knight & the Pack & mono single mixes of those Mysterians tunes mentioned above).

SOUL REISSUE OF THE YEAR: Archie Bell & the Drells – ‘There’s Gonna Be a Showdown’ (Rhino/UK)
Runner-up: V/A – ‘The Mirwood Soul Story (Kent/UK)                  
In psychedelic ‘68, two of the most memorable records of the year were funky, simple and safe as milk.  We're talkin' Archie Bell & the Drells' immortal "Tighten Up" and its follow-up, "I Can't Stop Dancing".  Each of these blockbusters produced an aptly-titled album of the same name.  Both are awful, with credit to Atlantic Records for weighing the need for quick product over Archie's absence (he was stuck doing a stint with the Army in Germany; much of the 'Tighten Up' LP is glaringly Archie-less).  In the UK, these longplaying dogs were paired up on a single CD in late ’04.

Late in ‘68, Archie had exited the Army, opening an opportunity for more sympathetic recording plans under the helm of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.  The best of these tracks were collected into a third Drells album, named after a final hit on Atlantic, “There's Gonna Be a Showdown" (New York Dolls fans take note).  This was also given the re-release treatment by the Brits and one year later, now the subject of my belated recognition. 

Almost miraculously, this resulted in a wonderfully listenable album that benefits from Gamble & Huff's peerless songwriting/production, extraordinary Philly-soul session sounds and lots of B-side highlights ("Do the Hand Jive", "Houston Texas", "Go For What You Know", "Here I Go Again"; all overlooked on Rhino's earlier Drells anthology).  Archie Bell is none too shabby here, either.  He proves himself an appealing singer; more than just the emcee of "Tighten Up".  ‘Showdown’ includes 15 bonus tracks.      

Leave it to the soul fanatics at Ace Records to release another long overdue label comp, ‘The Mirwood Story’ (on their Kent soul stamp).  Mirwood was an L.A.-based operation that flourished briefly with driving records like Jackie Lee’s “Shotgun and the Duck” and his big hit, “The Duck” (neither of which are included, leading to panic here until I see Volume 2 announced!).  Best individual soul moment of 2005:  “That Beatin’ Rhythm” by Richard Temple on the Mirwood disc.  Ooh, my soul.

ESSENTIAL ROCKABILLY: Charlie Feathers & Mac Curtis – ‘Rockabilly Kings’ (Ace/UK)
…And how did I miss this one: Johnny Burnette & the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio – ‘The Complete Coral Rock ‘n Roll Trio Recordings’ (Hip-O Select)
As its liner notes explain, ‘Rockabilly Kings’ is the first-time CD reissue of a pivotal UK album compiled back in the early ‘70s, of all eras.  Ace have done this one up right, raiding the King Records vaults, coming up with the original master tapes and in the process eight (or is it ten?) bonus tracks. 

Teenage Mac Curtis (“Grandaddy’s Rockin’”) churns out Class A rockers but the real reason I’m grateful for this comp is the collecting of these Charlie Feathers cuts in best-ever sound.  Rockabilly doesn’t get any better than the infectious Feathers boppers “Bottle to the Baby” and “One Hand Loose”, both included in their singles and equally nailed alternate takes.   

I’m not sure how I overlooked the 2004 reissue of Johnny Burnette & the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio.  Johnny, bass playing brother Dorsey, and guitarist Paul Burlison created some of the most scorching rock ‘n’ roll ever.  Their “Train Kept A-Rollin’” (and “Honey Hush”) was the launch pad for guitarists like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.   This hi energy level is held-up on other classics, from “Tear it Up” and “All By Myself” (where the conviction in Johnny’s performance would net him a restraining order these 50 years later) to “Rock Billy Boogie” and the best ever version of “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”. 

Released on the (US) mail order-only Hip-O Select  label, ‘The Complete Rock ‘n Roll Trio Recordings’ is in a limited edition of 2500 copies.  I didn’t get around to
ordering mine until August and even then, mine is numbered 978.  The world ain’t round, it’s square.

BEST (NON-STOOGES) SEVENTIES REISSUE:  SWEET – ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ (RCA/UK)
Make no mistake, America poached the best cuts from this album (“Sweet F.A.”, “Set Me Free”, for starters) for the US bastardized/improved version of ‘Desolation Boulevard’.  There are duds placed strategically throughout the original UK album but all in all, and especially now that it’s enhanced with all of their five star classic ‘73/’74 A’s & B’s, the sum is greater than the farts. 

This was re-mastered previously in ’99 but on that try, all of the hard edges were smothered in some poorly executed noise reduction.  Not this time.  Drummer Mick Tucker once again sounds like he’s cracking baseball bats on “Ballroom Blitz”.  And I may be wrong about one cut that we Americans passed on: “Rebel Rouser” (not the Duane Eddy song …hardly).  This anthemic raver would’ve fit perfectly in their sequence of UK hits; say, between “Hell Raiser” and “Blitz”. 
Ugly Things magazine proclaimed a few months ago, “Scream and yell in protest all you want, but I’m convinced Sweet was the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world in 1974.”  I’m not about to argue with that.

Other junk……….

BEST TV MOMENT: Gene Vincent Steals the Show
While watching the Dylan ‘No Direction Home’ DVD on Public TV a few months back, I caught a glimpse of Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps with guitarist Johnny Meeks and Gene goin’ absolutely MENTAL on a Little Richard cover.  I’ve gotta cough up the bucks for that (German) Bear Family DVD of this entire performance.  Sundazed issues a swank-lookin’ LP edition any day now.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Cream Reunion
I just took a break from bashing-out the above Gene Vincent bit to watch tonight’s Public TV offering; an airing of that Cream Royal Albert Hall Reunion DVD.  OK, I finally get why all o’ you punks hate these guys.  Practically every song is the same, with a perfunctory vocal followed by an endless, boring guitar solo (made worse by Clapton’s absence of Cream-style heavy tone). 

I forgot how bad “Sweet Wine” was or is it just this version?  But I was pleasantly surprised by Baker, who looks grandfatherly but still plays like an octopus.  Bruce is equally strong, even if he can’t wail those high notes on “N.S.U.” and “I’m So Glad” (two all-time faves, at least in their studio form). 
Even if his solo on “N.S.U.” these days sounds exactly like his solo on “Cocaine”, Clapton sings passionately and does ok on the guitar, for what it’s worth.  Damn, they’re romping thru “Pressed Rat and Warthog” as I write this.  Bizarre! 

Default Best Local Gig: Snatches of Pink – Slim’s Bar (Raleigh, NC) 11/2005
I don’t know if this qualifies as best live show of the year ‘cause as I scratch my head thinking about it, this is the only show I can recall going to this year!  (A few years ago, in a ‘zine piece, some writer/inciter named Sleazegrinder took issue with my old fogey lifestyle.  %$#@, he was right.)
         
When I mentioned a few weeks back to another Bar regular ‘bout my digging this trashy set by North Carolina’s own disheveled rebels, I was greeted with, “I guess there’s no accounting for taste”!!!  In the face of that insult alone, SOP would probably make my list.  But I’ve seen these guys a couple times now and dug their glam-rawk vibe (and choice covers like “Billion Dollar Babies”). 

At Slim’s, they previewed the material that’ll make up their next album and it was a return to the sonic swagger of a few years back (‘Hyena’, MoRisen, 2003).  This ain’t to suggest that their latest, ‘Stag’ (MoRisen, again), fails to rock.  It’s just that from the opening riff fireworks thru an increasingly unraveling program, it serves more as a rock ‘n’ roll lost weekend.  Replete with great belching guitar breaks, toxic vocals (which admittedly grow tiresome across a 40 minute CD) and really inebriated tempos, file this under: wasted.

Favorite rediscovery: Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
Though unfashionable in a universe of Johnny Thunders worship, guitarist Peter Green is every bit as deserving of your attention.  This year, for no apparent reason other than I’ve been wading through early Mac’s confusing back catalog, I’m likely to say more deserving. 
   
There’s a new and very cheap 3-CD set from this period, ‘Men of the World’ (Sanctuary) that amounts to two excellent discs of studio outtakes & storming live tracks (rounded-out with less essential material, some in ratty sound quality) and worth checking-out.

Jeff Jarema
December 2005


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