Friday, September 25, 2015

THE BEATLES: Hollywood Bowl (three complete shows)

One of the very first things I ever heard from them was this album, in the summer of 1979, when I was only three years old. Dad had been playing them, and I was amazed at everything I was hearing by them so far, although we were still playing just the earlier stuff for now. We had the "red album", which held a lot of favorites, but songs like "She Loves You", "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "It Won't Be Long" were major favorites of mine. While they were playing, nothing else in the world mattered.

The copy of the album we had disappeared, and we got it again in 1986 at Golden Oldies during one of the first times we ever went there. I fell in love with it all over again, and played it often. As the years went on, I waited to see if it would ever make its way onto CD when all of their other albums made it onto that format, but for some reason, it never did. In the meantime, I read different things about how the album was recorded with 3-track equipment, and how they didn't have to bother putting out any recording mikes to catch the sound of the was all captured perfectly!

There were plans to release the 1964 show as a live album not long after it happened, and acetates were pressed, but the recording quality was apparently not quite up to snuff, so it went unreleased (although transfers from the acetates made the rounds as bootlegs of the show for years to come). I've also read where Phil Spector was even tapped to perhaps do something with the recording (in 1971, after the band had broken up), but thankfully nothing happened in that department. He might have dubbed a 90-piece orchestra and choir on top of the music!

One of the things I looked for when I first got a computer at home was any live shows by the Beatles on YouTube. Not only was there a rip of the album on there, but the three concerts that comprised the album, in their entirety! I downloaded them, cut them onto CD's, then I put them on, and turned up the volume.

The first thing I noticed upon hearing these shows in their entirety is that they are raw stereo mixes, without any added echo to the vocals or instruments. Bass and drums in the left channel, guitars in the right, and the vocals in the center. They sound a lot clearer to me, and for some reason, the never-ending wall of screaming girls doesn't sound as gratingly loud on this as they do on the album.

The August 1964 show is excellent all the way through. There is a surprisingly good version of "You Can't Do That", which should have made the album, and they even do "Yes It Is" rather well. For not having any monitors or PA to hear themselves, let alone over all the screaming, they actually pulled off a really good show in the face of all that, and they actually sounded like they were having fun onstage.

A year later, they played two shows: August 28 and 30. The first show of the two was not used for the album at all, except for a few edit pieces. The vocals did not come through on the recording for some odd reason. Otherwise--again--we have the same simple rawness to the recordings and mixes that make them such a joy to hear. The August 30th show is a really good one. In fact, most of this show makes up the album, although we get to hear Ringo sing "I Wanna Be Your Man" on this one, and the show closes with "I'm Down".

Well worth giving a listen to, if you come across them on YouTube. As you listen to them, you realize just how good they were as a live band. If only they'd had really good PA and monitor systems back then, they might not have given up on touring quite so easily, but just imagine how different their story might have turned out!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Beatles: "Live At The Star-Club, Hamburg, 1962"

There seems to be quite a variety of differing versions of the Beatles' final Hamburg show from New Year's Eve of 1962, with different track-listings and sound quality between them. Okay, so they're far from being perfect...far from being bootleg quality, to some ears...but this is all there is, and not only is it exciting, but you're hearing them as you would never hear them again. They weren't the leather-jacketed scruffs anymore, and not quite the four "mop-tops" yet.

It was amazing the scope of music and songs that they had in their repertoire at the time ("To Know Him Is To Love Him", "Til There Was You", etc.) , and also quite a number of their own songs, and some bitchin' rockers, such as "Hippy Hippy Shake", "Ain't Nothin' Shakin'", "Some Other Guy", and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You)", all of which would have made some immortal classics if they had recorded them. We ended up getting them on Live At The BBC, but they all would have been some killer singles.

The first time I had ever seen or had known of the early recordings were from a double-album I would see at the library, on the Pickwick label. I remember getting it once, and listening to it at home, but the sound quality didn't sit well with me at the time, or some of the material, so I didn't appreciate what I was hearing. It wasn't until year later that I heard the "official" version of the German edition on the Lingasong label that it sounded better, and was much more enjoyable. You can just imagine what it must have been like to have been there as you listen to it.

One of the last things George Harrison did before he died was put an injunction on these recordings, so that they would never be released again. Quite a shame, as it would be fascinating to hear what they would sound like now, especially with such a massive leap forward in remastering technology since they were first released.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Doors: "Live In Boston"

I was surprised to see this one when it came out. Not only as a full show, but that they had played two shows that night...and it was a show where (as I had read in a few books about them) the hall managers had pulled the plug on them, mid-song. That alone was going to be worth the price of admission, so I got it.

The first thing you notice right away is that Jim Morrison is drunk. I mean, falling-down drunk, with sloppy and slurry yells as soon as he hits the microphone, but lets rip with a scream as they go into "Roadhouse Blues". And then he actually turns in a coherent show, in spite of his condition, although he slurs one word during "Ship Of Fools" and changes the entire meaning of it: "The human waste was dying out!".

And he's not without some humor during the show. In the middle of "When The Music's Over", he makes a joke out of a long-standing accusation that he'd whipped it out onstage in Miami the year before. He half-sings "What would you do with it?" to the girls in the audience, and then asks it again a little more serious this time. After hearing some yells and some suggestions, he cracks, "I think I'll pass!".

For the second show, they'd started a bit late (which did them no favors, as we shall soon hear!), but sounded like the band was ready to give it another go, although Jim was still a few sails into the wind. He gets through the first few opening songs without incident...but as soon as they hit "Five To One", something odd happens. It's as if not only the band is hit with a wave of newfound energy, but Jim actually seems to sober up a little bit, and puts a whole lot more into his performance.

The performance of "Light My Fire" that kicks of Disc 3 is well worth the price of admission. Not only is it inspired, with Ray Manzarek playing a lengthy keyboard solo, but it makes a couple of references to "Summertime". After Robby Krieger's solo, Jim directs the band to cool down and stop altogether, and then he sings some of "St. James Infirmary" a capella, and recites the "Graveyard Poem" (later insterted into another version of the song on Alive, She Cried). They then plow into the final verse of the song, which is spoiled by Jim singing into the mic with his hand over it (or something), but--wow, what a rendition of the song!

One little-mentioned aspect of these later-era shows is that Ray played some of the bluesier numbers on the guitar, while Robby played an actual bass guitar; in this format, they usually played "Maggie Magill", "Been Down So Long" and a loose encore of "Roadhouse Blues"...which is what they just swing into, and then the plug gets pulled on them. The crowd jeers, Jim goes on a rant about "these cocksuckers!" pulling the plug on them, there's more booing, and the band has no choice but to pack it in for the night. It sounds like chairs being tossed onto the stage after they've left.

All in all, an interesting ride. Maybe not a great starting point for newbies, or for anyone who's never heard their live stuff, but an interesting listening experience.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pete Townshend: "The Tommy Demos"

After hearing the two Scoop volumes, and a few bootleg compilations, I was always curious as to how his demos for Tommy were like. There were two cuts on Another Scoop, and a handful of them on the Deluxe Edition of Tommy in 2003, but I'd always wanted to hear the whole albums' worth of demos.

I never found a CD of them anywhere around here, but I eventually found them all on YouTube. They come from a bootleg compilation showcasing all the home demo recordings for the album. I was able to hear all of them, and was quite amazed at what I was hearing. The song structures are all pretty much identical to the final versions on the album, save for the occasional different lyric, but it's astounding to hear it all played and sung by Pete himself at his home studio.

A vast majority of the songs are carried along simply with just acoustic guitar, piano and vocals. The demo for "Pinball Wizard" is simply acoustic guitar, electric guitar and double-tracked vocals, and it sounds amazing on its own like that. The one song that seemed to be missing was "Go To The Mirror, Boy", replaced by a short interlude called "Success", presumably sung by the doctor after Tommy's "miracle cure".

All of Pete's home recording should be released, as they're so fascinating, with a lot of as-yet-unheard gems to be discovered, I'm sure. It's amazing that just one guy wrote all of these songs, and so many of them became classics.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

YES: "Yes" (1969) / "Time And A Word" (1970)

The earliest Yes I'd ever heard was by seeing a vintage black-and-white video clip of them from Beat-Club on Night Flight, doing a cover of Richie Havens' "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed", although I didn't know it wasn't an original tune then. My exposure to them was pretty limited, so I wasn't aware of their early history, other than The Yes Album. I didn't know that they had done some more before that one.

In November of 1990, I was at Golden Oldies when I saw the album with that song on it, on what I assumed was their first album. It only cost me four dollars, and I was excited to hear what it sounded like. Sure enough, that was the lead-off song on side one, but was accompanied by a loud, clunky orchestra, as were most of the other songs on the album. But beyond the strings, I was impressed and amazed by what I was hearing. They even had a different guitarist (Peter Banks), although Steve Howe was confusingly on the front cover.

There was some great rockin' stuff on this one, such as "Then" and "Astral Traveler", but I was most impressed with their haunting cover of Buffalo Springfield's "Everydays". On my fifteenth birthday, I went and got myself a cassette copy of the album at Tower Records, so I could blast it on the Walkman whenever I went out anywhere.

Speaking of cassettes, a while after getting that one on tape, I found another on by them, only it didn't have a title on it. I immediately figured that this must be their first album...but this time, I didn't have the money to get it. As luck would have it, an 8-track copy of the album turned up at St. Vincent de Paul, and this time, it went home with me. Thankfully, it was in good condition, and played just nicely.

This one was a little rawer and rougher around the edges, but there were some great songs on it, even a Beatles tune ("Every Little Thing"). I was impressed with "Looking Around", and there was a glint of things to come with the opening of "Survival". In the summer of 1993, on a trip to Fred Meyer, there was a close-out section where they were getting rid of all their unwanted vinyl albums...and a sealed copy of this very album was in that rack...for twenty-five cents!!! Score!

Many years later, and I'm buying myself the remastered CD's, the ones with the original British album covers, and bonus tracks on both of them. I really liked the early non-stringed version of "Everydays", and it was cool to hear alternate mixes of songs from the West German version of Time And A Word. They both sounded amazing, and the first album in particularly sounded very impressive. Much fuller, and less brittle than on the original vinyl. A lot of people always complain about that album's production values (or lack of them), but I personally think that it compliments the music just perfectly. They simply got better as they went along, didn't they?

As with Metamorphosis, these two albums are always played a lot around the end of the summer, and well into fall...that time of the year just seems to suit the music, for me, anyway.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Iron Butterfly: "Metamorphosis" (1970)

In my teens, when I was really getting into collecting, one thing I would do is find 8-tracks at either the Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores that we had around the area. They were always cheap, usually in pretty good condition, and it was a good way to check something out before seeking it out on vinyl.

At the end of August of 1990, this was such a case. I'd been a fan of these guys for years, but this album was a bit of a mystery. Dad didn't have it, and there were a few cuts on it on the album-spanning compilation album Evolution. I tried to listen to the three songs that were on there, but they didn't do much of anything to me. Maybe it was that they sounded way different than what preceded it, more guitar-driven than keyboard-driven. The 8-track was only 39 cents, and I figured What the hell!

I stuck it into my player when I got it home, and played it all the way through...and I loved it! Yes, it was much different with Mike Pinera and Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt on guitars in Erik Braunn's place, but that was exactly the point of this album. There are more than a few instances where the dual lead-guitar lines sound something like the Allman Brothers. Hearing Doug Ingle on the Hammond organ instead of the old Vox Continental was quite a welcome surprise.

Great timing to have found this one...I was just entering high school that September, so life was going through a metamorphosis of its own. I recorded the 8-track onto cassette, and it was played often, just as soon as I got home from school. I still think of this album at the end of the summer, just as it's on its way into the autumnal equinox.

Later on, I would find further adventures with these guys (in a way) by discovering that Rhino and Lee Dorman joined forces with Deep Purple's original singer Rod Evans, and Johnny Winter's drummer Bobby Caldwell, and formed Captain Beyond. That would be a handful of years in the future, and quite a handful out of my pocket (especially that their albums were only available on Japanese import CD's at the time), but that's another story to be told soon.