Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Doors • Strange Days (Mono Mix)

doors-strangedays-frntWhat’s, errr, strange about this release is it came five years after The Doors’ eponymous debut was reissued on vinyl in its original mono mix. Why did they wait so long? Well, it could be that the band’s second album, Strange Days, wasn’t as big as their first—despite a couple of big hits. Chances are the record company couldn’t expect the kind of sales on this one that they did for the other, and yet, being what amounts to a definite “real fans only” release, you’d expect they could gauge demand well enough to know just how many they could sell and at what price. Maybe it took them five years to do that.

Strange Days arrived originally in September 1967, only nine months after The Doors first hit the scene as the band’s rookie release. Naturally, because LP numero uno was so big, great expectations were foisted onto numero dos. As usually is the case, creating an equally satisfying sophomore album is difficult. To their credit, The Doors did a pretty fine job. doors-strangedays-bandStrange Days is loaded with songs that could only be from Morrison/Krieger/Manzarek/Densmore, and has some of the band’s greatest songs on it, including the title track, “Love Me Two Times,” “People Are Strange” and the epic “When the Music’s Over.” There are also lesser known songs that are every bit as good as the more familiar ones, such as “Moonlight Drive” and ”You’re Lost Little Girl,” which I was first introduced to via Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover (on their 1987 Through the Looking Glass album).

This Record Store Day 2015 issue of Strange Days is the first reissue of the mono mix of the album. Back in the ’60s mono and stereo versions of an LP were very commonplace, since hifi stereos weren’t yet in every home, but by the late ’60s stereo was winning and mono releases were gradually phased out. What that means is, finding a mono copy of this album today is difficult, if not darn near impossible, especially if money is an issue. doors-strangedays-cuSo thank Rhino and The Doors for putting this out. Unfortunately, the mono mixes of these songs aren’t as good as the stereo ones. Take “Strange Days,” the album opener, for instance. Its mix is hampered by a pumping dynamic level that is pretty distracting. Yes, the mixes are slightly different (and the rest of them aren’t as problematic), and that’s why the dedicated fans will want a copy of this. But if you’re just a casual fan you can probably skip this one. I feel the mono mix of The Doors is a much more compelling listen—but then I like that album more.

One thing’s for sure: Doors fans have been clambering for this reissue for sometime, collectively screaming “we want the world and we want it now!” Well, here it is! Grab one while it’s still grabbable.

3/5 (Rhino/Elektra)

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Lord Sitar • Lord Sitar

Who is Lord Sitar? Well, he’s a man known for his sitar playing prowess who, in 1968, recorded the one and only album under his name, Lord Sitar, released originally via EMI Records labels worldwide (in the US on Capitol, in Europe on Parlophone). The LP was one of those from the mid to late ‘60s that presented instrumental arrangements of current hits in order to cash in on a current fad. Think Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, or Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, only this time the sitar is the star.

lordsitarWho is Lord Sitar? He was Big Jim Sullivan (born James Tompkins), the famed English session guitarist who played on literally hundreds of records by mostly British music acts of all ilks. (See the Wikipedia entry on him.) After learning the sitar, Big Jim recorded a couple of clever sitar-based albums, the other being Sitar Beat (credited to Big Jim Sullivan). This one, reissued on 180-gram clear green vinyl for Record Store Day 2015, features covers of a handful of Beatles tunes, including “Blue Jay Way” and “I Am the Walrus,” as well as “Daydream Believer,” “Black Is Black,” and my favorite, The Who’s “I Can See for Miles.” I first heard the Lord Sitar version one day at Jive Time Records in Seattle, immediately asked who it was, and then dutifully researched it until I found a CD copy (Jive Time, alas, only had the tune on a compilation album).

You can hear “I Can See for Miles” on YouTube below.

To today’s ears the album will sound cheesy. There are spunky horn sections, fuzzed out guitar a la Neal Hefti (Batman TV series theme), crazed cellos and of course the sitar, taking the lead vocal part with its elastic, nasal tone. And let’s not forget the inevitable female background choruses (usually singing only “la la las”). bigjimsullivan-lordsitarBut Lord Sitar is so “of its era” that it can’t help but either make you wince at its cheese factor or smile at the enjoyable, carefree arrangements as they merrily make their way out of your speakers. One bummer: Lord Sitar also covered The Rolling Stones’ “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows?”, which appeared on the single of “Black Is Black” but which wasn’t added to this reissue or previous CD issues. It’s a killer cover!

Lord Sitar—that is Big Jim Sullivan—passed away in 2012 with a discography like no one else in popular music. With over 750 charted singles and over 50 number one hits, Big Jim was more of a god than a lord.

3/5 (Parlophone)

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The Family Way • Original Soundtrack Recording

To call The Family Way a holy grail for Paul McCartney fans would be missing a point: Macca wrote only the tunes (or “cues” in movie music-ese) here. He’s not on the record at all. The orchestrations were done by The Beatles’ producer George Martin, who by 1966 had already shown quite a bit of talent at arranging for orchestras and such; he’d done a good bit of it before ever laying ears on Liverpool’s finest. So when McCartney was approached to score this British comedy/drama’s soundtrack, there was probably no doubt who’d be doing the heavy lifting. And yet, without chunes, a record ain’t nothing but a slab of black wax.

the-family-wayThe melody bits Paul gave George to orchestrate are quite catchy, and though a few of them reprise in different forms here and there (as you’d expect in a soundtrack), the barely 27 minute album is nice to listen to, even if you haven’t–and you probably haven’t–seen the movie. Starring Hayley Mills as a newlywed who gets mired in a comical series of events that prevent her and her husband from consummating their marriage, The Family Way was based on a Bill Naughton (Alfie) play, All in Good Time, and released in December 1966, just a half year before The Beatles would introduce Sgt. Pepper to the world.

This release is of the stereo mix of the record, most likely from the 2011 remaster that came from the original first generation master tapes and was used to produce Varese Sarabande’s first-ever stereo CD issue of the soundtrack. Another Record Store Day 2015 release, The Family Way is a nice addition to your Macca collection and certainly costs WAY less than a decent copy of the original vinyl.

2.5/5 (Varese Sarabande)

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Off! • Live from the BBC

off-frontTrying to figure out just what show on the BBC would have a hardcore punk band like Off! on it? How about the BBC Radio One Rock Show. They had this clutch of punk lifers in their London studios in October 2014 to record the ten songs that make up Live from the BBC, an album released on 10” vinyl for Record Store Day 2015.

This epic 16-minute platter brings some of Off!’s best tunes to life, having been played and recorded live in the studio. The mix sounds a bit muffled, perhaps befitting the band’s genre, and the vocals are low enough in the mix that it sounds like the songs were recorded at a show with a weak PA. Intentional or not, it sounds as punky as you’d hope. There’s no lyric sheet so, just like at a gig, it’s hard to tell what Keith Morris is singing about, but off-label“Over Our Heads,” “Meet Your God,” and “Darkness,” for instance, leave no doubt that the band’s bothered about something. There’s nothing all that ground breaking here—it’s pretty hard to break new ground in such a genre—but Off! play the kind of hardcore that most of us either live for or would rather die than hear. I fall somewhere in between, closer to the “I was listening to punk rock before you were even born” side than the “turn that racket DOWN!” one.

3/5 (Vice)

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Dead Men Walking • Easy Piracy

deadmenwalking_band_400pxwideI’m not gonna start this by trying to persuade you that Dead Men Walking are a supergroup, because they’re not—the last group that fit that description hasn’t made a record in over 25 years, and two of the guys aren’t even available to record again even if they wanted to. Besides, calling any group of musicians made up of people already known for other bands they’ve been in is just plain lazy. The only reason you read me using the term is because it’s already been used to describe these guys.

Made up of Captain Sensible from The Damned, Mike Peters of The Alarm, Slim Jim Phantom of Stray Cats, and Chris Cheney of The Living End, Dead Men Walking sound like a rock band with a lot of rockabilly and punk edges. And that’s what you’d expect considering the bands that got them to where they are today. There are a slew of great songs among the fifteen on Easy Piracy, the group’s first actual release. “The Weather Song” sounds like a rockin’ acoustic Damned song (it’s one of the few sung by Sensible), deadmenwalking_300pxwhile “Damned Damned Damned” starts off sounding like a take on Ramones’ “Teenage Lobotomy” until the melody kicks in. The lead off track “Rock and Roll Kills” has some great lyrics, like many of the songs here, while “Whatever Turns You On (Will Turn on You)” isn’t too shabby and wins the Best Song Title award for the album. I can go for “Dr. Henry,” too, but I need to do a little more research to tell you what it’s about. “Song for Eddie,” though, is definitely about rockabilly rebel Eddie Cochran (not the Heinz hit of yesteryear).

You can definitely hear each Dead Men Walking guy’s contribution to the band’s sound (especially if you already know their other bands), and that’s actually a good thing. Too often these “bands made up of dudes you know from other bands” suffer from trying to sound like “Triumph meets April Wine in an alley while Chilliwack channels Loverboy and Bryan Adams gets high.” (A big hello going out to all of my Canadian readers!)

I think this is an album I’ll listen to more than a handful of times. Let’s face it—how often can you say that these days?

3/5 (Slimstyle)

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The Kinks • Kinksize Hits EP, Kinksize Session EP, “You Really Got Me” (live) 7”

kinks_kinksizehits_400pxHere’s a trio of 7” releases for RSD 2015, on the verge of yet another possible Kinks reunion, designed to get you excited for a band that continues to thrill 50+ years after they first laid noise to tape.

Kinksize Hits, an EP first released in 1965, contains only two hits: “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.” (Pretty big hits, I’d say!) The other two tracks barely scraped into the charts—ask most Kinks fans if they’ve heard of “It’s All Right” and “I Gotta Move” and they’d probably have to think about it for a few moments. Regardless, it’s a reissue so you can’t blame the record company. After all, they did at least get the sound quality right!

kinks_kinksizesession_300pxKinksize Session came out in ’64 and features four lesser known tracks: “I’ve Gotta Go Now,” “I’ve Got That Feeling,” “Things Are Getting Better” and “Louie Louie.” This one’s actually a bit nicer because of that—the songs are ones that you’d likely skip over in any other circumstance, but they’re pretty good. (Though even I’d take The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” over this one.) The songs here are the ones that define the old cliché, here re-worded to add some freshness to this sentence, “most bands would kill to have their crap sound this great.” (I’d like to see if anyone ever puts out an EP called Kinks Krap.)  (Kinks Katastrophe?) (How about Kataklysmic Kinks?!)

The third of these releases, “You Really Got Me” (live) b/w “Milk Cow Blues” (live) is pretty superfluous. Both tracks were recorded live in a London TV studio (late ’64 and summer ’65), both sound pretty lousy, and both versions are nowhere near as good as the kinks_youreallygotme_300pxstudio versions. Why didn’t they just reissue another EP, like Kwyet Kinks? (That’s a real one, by the way.) If I wasn’t such a Kinks konneisseur, I’d have either passed on this one or tried to sell it back. But you know I kan’t do that!

You really got to hand it to those folks at the record label. They found that photo of me over a barrel and taped it up in the board room.

3/5, 3/5, 2/5 (INgrooves/Sanctuary/BMG)

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Dionne Warwick/The Stranglers • “Walk On By”

stranglers-warwick_walkonby_400px  Who would have ever thought that British pubrock punkers The Stranglers would cover this Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition, first made a hit by Dionne Warwick, with such glorious results? And then… Who would’ve expected the two versions to share opposing sides of the same 7″ vinyl?

“Walk On By” was a huge hit for Warwick in 1964, her second single to make the US Top Ten, and a breezy, wispy little tune about lost love that floats along beautifully thanks to her soft, expressive voice. Fast forward to 1978 >> The Stranglers, pub rockers turned punk, take a stab at the song, a quite sinister sounding cover carried by Hugh Cornwell’s deep voice, JJ Burnel’s fuzzed-out bass and an organ part that is equal parts Warwick arrangement’s horns and strings. dionne-warwick-walk-on-by_300pxCornwell sounds like, once he’s done crying over losing his love and “seem[ing] broken in two,” he’s gonna grab her, drag her into a dark alley and let his foolish pride finish things up. And this version reached the UK’s #21 slot.

What’s great about Rhino’s Side By Side series of 7″ single pairings is that it can juxtapose two clearly different versions of a song, giving you two ways of looking at the same situation. It’s like having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other and you’ve got to pick which one to go with—except you can choose both. It doesn’t always work: another SBS 7″ from Record Store Day 2015, “Dark Globe” featuring Syd Barrett’s original as well as R.E.M.’s cover, doesn’t achieve the greatness Dionne Warwick and The Stranglers’ versions do because they’re too much alike. the-stranglers-walk-on-by_300pxHats off to the intrepid Rhino who first uttered this idea at a record company meeting expecting to have it shot down like a sitting duck on a pond. Now wouldn’t it be cool to have Dionne actually front The Stranglers and do a live mashup?!

4/5 (Rhino)

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