Tag Archives: Essentials

The Essentials: Dusty Springfield – Complete A and B Sides 1963-1970

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once in their life. Also, although the primary focus is on unique albums, from time-to-time must-have collections – such as the one below – will be spotlighted.)

By my count, some 34 Dusty Springfield compilations have been released through the years, with about a half dozen still being in print. Most, obviously, collect her hits; others, such as the box sets or double-disc collections, mix in pertinent album tracks and/or rarities; and yet others hone in on specific years or recording sessions, such as the delightful Come for a Dream: The U.K. Sessions 1970-71.

The Complete A and B Sides, which was released in 2006, takes a different tack. Compiled by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley, it features Dusty’s original British singles on Disc 1 and the original B-sides on Disc 2 – and most feature the original mono mixes.

Mono, of course, uses one channel so that what one hears out of each speaker will be exactly the same. Stereo, on the other hand, expands the soundscape to two channels – a right and a left. A guitar may be heard coming from the right speaker and not from the left, for example. One isn’t intrinsically better than the other, though – these days – stereo is the norm.

The further back in time one travels, however – like, say, to the 1960s – the more likely it is that the original release was mono; and that stereo versions of the same recordings, if available, were afterthoughts. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is probably the greatest example: John Lennon and Paul McCartney were hands-on for the mono mix, spending about three weeks to get everything exactly right. The stereo mix, however, was created without their input over the course of two days.

While Dusty’s productions never matched that of Sgt. Pepper, one can argue that her emotional acumen did, in fact, rival theirs. And the original mono mixes of her material are – as the back cover says – “punchy.” They just sound more alive. (That’s not always the case, however; though some tracks sound as good as their stereo counterparts, as a whole the mono Dusty in Memphis sounds flatter and duller.)

Anyway, that’s really getting beside the point of this essential pick: Each disc is a great set unto itself. Yes, the A-side half lacks a few of her stateside hits, such as “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” because they weren’t released as singles in Britain; but the B-side half more than makes up for it with such overlooked wonders as “Summer Is Over”…

…“Don’t Say It Baby”…

…and “I’m Gonna Leave You,” the flip side to one of her greatest singles…

…the Goffin-King classic “Goin’ Back.”

(That’s the stereo version above, I should mention; YouTube doesn’t have the mono. For shame, YouTube. For shame!)

Here’s another oft-overlooked A-side:

Here’s the track listing in full:

 

The Essentials: Emmylou Harris – The Ballad of Sally Rose

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once in their life.)

In February 1985. Emmylou Harris released her 11th album, The Ballad of Sally Rose. I bought it on vinyl on the 17th of that month, a Sunday, and liked it so much that, a few weeks later, I picked it up on cassette so that I could listen to it while driving my new old car, a ’79 Chevette. I also scored tickets to see her at the Academy of Music in Philly around the same time. In my Of Concerts Past piece about that show, I mentioned that it’s not necessarily her best work. It is, however, one of her most ambitious efforts. A true flawed masterpiece.

A concept album inspired by her relationship with Gram Parsons, the songs – written by Emmy and her husband at the time, Paul Kennerly – chart the story of a young woman who falls for a charismatic singer only to be wooed away from him by the promise of stardom. And just when she realizes her mistake and sets out to rejoin him…he dies in a car crash. Bad news, huh?

The scan, by the way, is of the flyer handed out at that 1985 concert, and it explains the story in a bit more depth.

As with many concept albums, the set’s weakness comes from having to tell a cohesive story over a succession of songs that also need to be able to stand alone. While the music remains strong throughout, lyrically a few tracks fall short. The flip side is this: Many are just plain great. The title cut, which kicks off the album, for instance, would have been at home on any of Emmy’s non-concept albums:

As I note in that Of Concerts Past piece, “Rhythm Guitar” and “Woman Walk the Line” are memorable, too. Likewise, the rest of Side One – up until “Bad News,” which doesn’t quite work. Side Two has its moments, as well, and the closing “Sweet Chariot” is sheer genius.

Here’s a YouTube playlist of the album in full:

Side One:

  1. The Ballad of Sally Rose
  2. Rhythm Guitar
  3. I Think I Love Him
  4. Heart to Heart
  5. Woman Walk the Line
  6. Bad News
  7. Timberline

Side Two:

  1. Long Tall Sally Rose
  2. White Line
  3. Diamond in My Crown
  4. The Sweetheart of the Rodeo
  5. KSOS
  6. Sweet Chariot

The Essentials: 10,000 Maniacs’ Our Time in Eden

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once in their life.)

Natalie Merchant’s reasonably priced mega-box set is due out next month, though my pre-ordered copy is already in the UPS pipeline. I’ll have more to say about it after I receive it, no doubt, but one thing I can say is:

I’m saddened that the same love and affection shown to Natalie’s solo career hasn’t been applied to her days with her old group, 10,000 Maniacs.

Don’t get me wrong: the 2004 2-CD collection Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure and Unknown Recordings of 10,000 Maniacs is an excellent compilation. But that early era of the Maniacs (who are still a working, and excellent, band) deserves more – at the least, a series of official concert recordings, given that they were such an incredible live band. (Unplugged, while a fine set, doesn’t do them justice.) I’d love nothing more than to relive their short set at WXPN’s Five-Star Night in 1992…and given that three of those songs turned up as bonus tracks the 1993 British “Candy Everybody Wants” CD single, one wonders why the entire show wasn’t released. The same goes for their 1988 set at Sadler Wells Theatre in London, which was recorded by BBC 6 Radio, plus others.

Which is all beside the point of this “Essentials” plug, I suppose. Forgive the rant.

Anyway, from their first independent releases to their last CD, Unplugged, the Natalie-era 10K Maniacs never released a bum album. But – when it comes to stone-cold classics – two have more than stood the test of time: their 1987 breakthrough, In My Tribe, and their 1992 studio swan song, Our Time in Eden. At some to-be-determined time in the future, I’ll revisit the former; today, however, I’m spotlighting the latter.To my ears, it’s a perfect set. As I explained in my recap of 1992, it’s “everything I love about music: It’s poppy, rocky, bright, light and deep, with melodies that soar and lyrics that, if one listens to them, mean more than most. The juxtaposition of the jangly with the profound is something I adore.” I’d simply add that the addition of the horns and woodwinds from the J.B.’s (James Brown’s band) was a masterstroke, adding a depth to the proceedings. The Maniacs jumped into the deep end of the pool by adding the JB Horns, in other words, and swam with ease.

The album opens with the mesmerizing “Noah’s Dove,” which may well feature Natalie’s finest-ever vocal – or, more likely, one of her best.

It also includes the once-upon-a-long-ago radio and MTV staples of “These Are Days” and “Candy Everybody Wants” –

Other highlights include the fast-tempo “Few and Far Between” and sweeping “Stockton Gala Days” –

One additional thought: The album should have a warning label affixed to it. One listen will beget two and, then, three, four and more – as just happened to me. So, be forewarned.

Here’s the album as a whole:

The Songs:

  1. Noah’s Dove
  2. These Are Days
  3. Eden
  4. Few and Far Between
  5. Stockton Gala Days
  6. Gold Rush Brides
  7. Jezebel
  8. How You’ve Grown
  9. Candy Everybody Wants
  10. Tolerance
  11. Circle Dream
  12. If You Intend
  13. I’m Not the Man