Today’s Top 5: Oldies, but Goodies (aka Singles I Purchased Way Back When)

In the late 1990s, just like every other driver, I was dependent on CDs or the radio for my in-car entertainment; and, given that my daily commute to and from the office was a mere 10-15 minutes, that meant the radio more often than not. In no specific order save for the last, stations in my rotation at the time included KYW-1060, Philly’s all-news station, which I listened to for the weather; WIP, a sports-talk station; WXPN, which featured (and still features) the “adult album alternative” music format; WMGK, a “classic hits” station that leaned heavily on the ‘70s; and WOGL, which programmed more traditional oldies.

In those days, I should mention, my company gave us an hour paid lunch. That meant that I zoomed home at noon and, fifty minutes later, zoomed back. It was great. And while the specific year of the sun-soaked spring day that I’m remembering has been lost in my memory banks, in a sense it doesn’t matter. What does is this: On the way back to work from lunch, I tuned to WOGL only to hear the Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket” saunter from the speakers like a wisecracking diner waitress.

“Brass in Pocket” was an oldie?! If not for the fact that I was stopped at a red light, I would’ve driven off the road. The oldies in my mind then and now basically equate to the songs Michael St. John played on his Saturday night oldies show on WPEN-AM in the late 1970s – a musical milieu of pop, rock and doo-wop from the 1950s and early/mid-1960s. They weren’t the songs of my youth.

But, of course, by the late ‘90s they were becoming just that.

So, for today’s Top 5: Oldies, but Goodies (aka, Singles I Purchased in 1977, ’78 & ’79)… in the order that I bought them. I think. (Not all were “oldies” at the time, but those that weren’t definitely are now.)

1)  Jan & Dean – “Sidewalk Surfin’.”

 

2) Dion – “The Wanderer.”

3) The Zombies – “She’s Not There”

4) Carly Simon – “You’re So Vain.”

5) Al Stewart – “Song on the Radio.”

And one bonus:

6) Eddie Cochran – “Twenty Flight Rock.”

Okay, a second bonus…this one from 1981.

7) The Go-Go’s – “Our Lips Are Sealed.”

 

Paul McCartney – Flowers in the Dirt Deluxe Edition

If this morning was all Beatles, this afternoon has been all latter-day Paul McCartney by way of his mammoth Flowers in the Dirt deluxe re-issue.

The set features the original album; a second disc of 10 demos recorded with Elvis Costello; a third disc of 9 of the same demo songs recorded with the nascent Flowers in the Dirt band and produced by Elvis; a fourth disc of b-sides and remixes; and a DVD of videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. (Click on the picture to the left for a rundown of everything included.) The numbered deluxe edition (mine is 4714) also comes with high-res (24/96) downloads and three additional downloads of “cassette demos” with Elvis that could (and probably should) have been placed on the second disc.

It’s a lot to digest, obviously. The original album is now remastered; and, as I listened to it in full for the first time in ages (decades?), I have to say that it has more than held its own. It’s a near tour de force. Buttressed by four songs that were written with Elvis Costello (“My Brave Face,” “You Want Her Too,” “Don’t Be Careless Love” and “That Day Is Done”), the collection stands with the best of his solo/Wings work. “This One” and “We Got Married,” which features a guitar solo by David Gilmour, are both sublime; and “Figure of Eight” has a nice vibe.

I say “near tour de force” because there are a few songs that would’ve worked better as b-sides, such as “How Many People” and “Motor of Love” – and several of the b-sides included on disc four would’ve made the album even better if they’d been included.

One day I may A-B it against the original release to judge the difference in sound quality, but by the time I find the original disc – which is in a box somewhere – others will have beaten me to that punch. For now, though, I can safely say that it sounds great.

Both sets of demos are interesting. The first (disc 2) are just McCartney and Elvis; the performances, all recorded in September and October 1987 are basic sketches (guitar/piano, vocals). The songs are fully formed, just not fleshed out – and it’s quite a joy to hear them. The next batch (disc 3), recorded the following February, are fleshed out thanks to the presence of Hamish Stuart on guitar and Chris Whitten on drums; they’re a blueprint for an alternate Flowers in Dirt. One gets the sense, in listening to them, that they’re less demos and more a road not taken, in other words. The performances are all phenomenal.

The b-sides and remixes are as b-sides and remixes go: some (“Back on My Feet,” “Flying to My Home” and “The First Stone”) would’ve made Flowers in the Dirt a killer set. The others are non-essential, though the Bob Clearmountain mix of “Figure of Eight” is solid. But how many remixed versions of “Ou Est Le Soleil?” does one need to hear? The three bonus songs (“I Don’t Want to Confess,” “Shallow Grave” and “Mistress and Maid”) are well worth the download; as with the original demos on disc 2, they’re just McCartney and Elvis.

I haven’t watched the DVD yet – hey, it’s only 3:30pm as I write! – but even without seeing any of it, I can say that the deluxe set is well worth it for any avid fan.

Today’s Top 5: The Beatles! (via The 910’s January/February Issue)

Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news: The Internet changed everything.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: That ain’t exactly new. And neither’s the main focus of today’s post, bootlegs, which I’ve written about before. (See here and here.) But for any young ‘un who’s stumbled across this blog, or folks who never caught the collecting bug, understand this: There was a time in the not-so-distant past when fans clamoring for more, more, more from their favorite artists skulked through the aisles at record fairs and independent stores in search of unofficial releases – aka bootlegs, which ranged from studio scraps (alternate versions and unreleased songs) to concert recordings – and official, but non-commercial product, such as the King Biscuit Flower Hour live shows distributed on LP or CD to radio stations.

I imagine some, in fact, still do. Plenty of others, however, turn to YouTube, Facebook groups and email lists (are they still a thing?) and trade amongst themselves via whatever free bulk-download site is the flavor of the month. Back in the day, though, pursuing one’s passion meant shelling out bucks. Some fans purchased everything. The rest of us? After I bought a two-CD bootleg of a Bruce Springsteen concert that sounded like the microphone had been placed in a puddle of mud, I did my due diligence the best that I could. That meant asking store clerks to pop a CD into the in-house stereo system so I could check the sound – and, too, reading as much as I could about underground releases.

Helping to separate the wheat from the chaff: newsletters such as ICE, which delved into legitimate releases but also featured a “Going Underground” column; and such fanzines as the Beatle-obsessive 910, Neil Young-centric Broken Arrow and Springsteen-oriented Backstreets. There were plenty of other fanzines focused on other artists and specific genres, too, and many could be purchased at independent record stores – as well as Tower Records and Books.

The 910, today’s example, was and still is focused on all things Beatles. The brainchild of Doug Sulpy, it began life as the Illegal Beatles ‘zine (which I also used to buy) in the 1980s before morphing into the 910, so named as a play on “One After 909.” The difference between the two? The 910 had a wider lens on its scope and included articles on and reviews of legitimate releases in addition to bootlegs. (Sulpy, I should mention, cowrote one of the best books about the Fabs, Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of the Beatles’ Let It Be Disaster.) The 910 also looked nicer. Much nicer.

This edition, which is dated January/February 1992, is a bonanza of insights and news. As the cover and contents page show, it delves deep into a recent crop of Beatle bootlegs; reviews legitimate fare; explores “lost” footage from the Yellow Submarine movie; and chronicles the history of the song “One After 909,” which the Fabs first recorded while still named the Quarrymen in 1960.

1) The Beatles – “Twist and Shout.” A review of the 1990 The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit documentary about the Fabs’ maiden visit to America explains that the film features footage from the Maysles brothers’ 1964 What’s Happening: The Beatles in the USA TV doc combined with the Beatles’ 1964 Ed Sullivan Show performances and Washington Coliseum concert. Although Sulpy has some quibbles with the finished product, he concludes with: “Apple is to be congratulated for assembling and releasing such a marvelously edited and fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the group’s first U.S. tour, and even if completists moan about missing footage, from an artistic standpoint Apple has done it right.”

2) The Beatles – “Hey Bulldog.” So, apparently, the original U.S. print of Yellow Submarine omitted a scene of the animated Fabs set to this under-appreciated John Lennon song. Penned by Steve Shorten, the article explores the whys and wherefores of the cut sequence, and posits that it was initially excised from the finished film for reasons of time. “Because the entire sequence involved plot elements completely tangential to the main plot,” it could be easily chopped without anyone arching an eyebrow. It was likely added to the U.K. print, he surmises, after someone associated with the Beatles noticed that the song was missing from the movie. (The 1999 re-release of the film on DVD, for what it’s worth, features the sequence, so it’s no longer “lost.” For what that’s worth.)

3) The Beatles – “One After 909.” Although released on Let It Be in 1970, “One After 909” is actually one of the earliest of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting efforts, dating to 1957. In the article, Alan Pollack chronicles its known history, which includes the 1960 Quarrymen demos, 1962 Cavern Club rehearsals (which this clip is from), 1963 EMI recordings and numerous renditions from the 1969 “Get Back” sessions.

In a sense, the song was one of few remnants of the raison d’etre for the Let It Be/”Get Back” project, which began as a way for the Beatles (at Paul’s urging) to return to their roots. It’s why so many of the out-takes from the sessions are ramshackle run-throughs of oldies.

4) The Beatles – “She’s a Woman, Take 2.” Steve Shorten reviews Unsurpassed Masters Volume 6 and Volume 7. “Yellow Dog’s releases have proved themselves in the past to be just about the only bootleg CDs worth buying,” he says up top, before summarizing that both volumes are “worthy additions to your CD shelf.”

I have these two bootlegs, actually, purchased not because of this review but because I had (and still have, somewhere) the first five volumes in the series. But, truth be told? The series had run out of steam by this point due to a dearth of interesting out-takes. (There’s only so many alternate versions of any song one needs to hear, in other words.)

5) The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Nothing but Aging from Vigotone Records collects rarities featured on the Lost Lennon Tapes radio series as well as tracks bootlegged elsewhere. I never owned it, as it’s an LP (and by the early ‘90s I was only buying CDs) so don’t know if the “Strawberry Fields Forever” on it is the same as this clip I found on YouTube. But the YouTube clip reminds me of the very first Beatles bootleg I purchased – at the now-defunct City Lights Records in State College, Pa., in the mid ‘80s. Side 2 of that LP featured a string of cuts that tracked the development of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and… well, wow!