5/5 (Ape House APEBOX002)
[blurb originally published 1/18/2010 on Skratchdisc]
Today being the 50th Anniversary of its release, here’s my take on THE BEATLES’ quintessential record.
“I get high with a little help from my friends,” sings Ringo Starr near the beginning of the most written about album in rock. I still feel “high” when I listen to it, having discovered it among my parents’ records as a kid. For its 50th anniversary, THE BEATLES have released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in a new mix and a bevy of formats designed to shed new light on their pop art masterpiece. Of course, five decades on the album has been both heralded and hacked. But the fact of the matter is: it’s still being written about. You can say all you want about it – badmouth it, throw sticks and stones at it – but it refuses to be influenced by naysayers or acclaimists. So let’s skip all of that (after all, fifty years of criticism is hard to summarize) and just get to the heart of this release.
Giles Martin, son of legendary producer and “fifth Beatle” George Martin (who produced the original), got the go-ahead to give the legendary Sgt. Pepper a makeover. Giles & Co. used the original 4-track tapes (including session tapes that, luckily, weren’t recorded over or discarded) and created a new stereo mix designed to deliver the punch and clarity of the original mono mix, which was done by George Martin and The Beatles over the course of a few weeks in the Spring of 1967. The original stereo mix – the one we’re all used to – was created over a few days without the Fab Four’s oversight. It became the de facto official version because stereo became the default configuration for future rock releases. Eventually the mono mix was put out to pasture, and that’s too bad because it was quite good (though it’s now again available on both vinyl and CD). Giles Martin’s new stereo mix relies less on gimmicky over-separation and goes for a more evenhanded approach, and it largely succeeds. (Stereo was new to the pop audience of the mid ’60s so exaggerated separation was the order of the day – sort of like over-enunciating in order to be understood.) Though some changes on the new stereo mix are too subtle for the typical listener to notice, it’s just as enjoyable. I like the more pronounced bass and drums, the clarity of some of the guitar and piano parts, and of course, the lovely sound of John, Paul, George and Ringo’s vocal harmonies. I could go into detail (I took notes during my first playback), but really, you can find that online in many places. Go ahead if you want to, or just go pick up a copy and hear for yourself.
As for the various formats available of this 50th Anniversary release, there are Sgt. Peppers to suit every budget and lifestyle. I decided to start with this 2CD version, which features the new stereo mix on disc one and a similarly-sequenced program on disc two that features early versions, false starts, instrumentals and more. It comes with a 50-page book (quite generous with photos and notes) and the original cutouts in a nice little slipcase. I got it on sale for $20 locally so it’s pretty affordable. You can also buy a single CD (just the new stereo mixes), a 2LP version (new stereo mixes on record one, some alternate versions and such on record two), and of course, the super deluxe 4CD/DVD/Bluray box set with even more alternate takes, a 140-page hardcover book and a brand new 5.1 surround mix in high resolution audio. Don’t get me wrong – I will get the big deal box – but the 2CD version is probably your best Beatles buy if you’re not bothered with all the extras. My purchase of it came with a nice poster of the inside of the original gatefold album cover (pictured above), which is pretty cool despite the extreme cropping of a very familiar image.
So there you have it, hopefully not too long-winded and with just the right info to pick the perfect Pepper.
4.5/5 (Apple/Capitol/UMe B0026524-02)
Another Record Store Day release, and one that was heavily anticipated and criticized, BOWPROMO is a box set version of a DAVID BOWIE rarity. What was once upon a time a promotional record with one side dedicated to rough mixes of tunes that mostly ended up on Hunky Dory, this RSD version features half of that record along with era ephemera included in a nice little clamshell box. Let me clarify.
I say “half” a record because the original promo was dedicated to two artists, Bowie and a female singer named Dana Gillespie. A management stablemate of Bowie’s, her songs comprised the other side of the record, which was sent out to drum up interest in GEM Management’s two artists. For this release Gillespie’s songs – her side of the record – were removed, so we have a one-sided 12″ with half an album’s worth of prime David Bowie. The mixes of these songs are different from what ended up being officially released (five of the seven tracks ended up on 1971’s Hunky Dory), and are therefore officially interesting to Bowiephiles around the world. The mixes’ original master hasn’t survived into the 2000s and so these were culled from an actual pressing of the promo – and they sound quite good. In fact, listening to these songs, which include “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Kooks” and “Queen Bitch,” makes me want to give Hunky Dory another try. I have a copy somewhere (I believe the Virgin CD reissue), but as the latest batch of Bowie vinyl reissues has been so good (I never got a chance to review Diamond Dogs, but it’s a stunner!) I may just have to pick it up on record. I can tell you that all of the songs here are epic, including “It Ain’t Easy,” which is muscular as hell, and “Bombers,” which finally saw release on the Rykodisc CD version of HD.
Packaging on BOWPROMO is first-rate – as it should be, considering the pretty penny they charged for it. Picked up for fifty bucks locally, the release comes in a thin box that houses the one-sided 12″ (nothing pressed on the other side) which comes in its own cover sheathed in green wrapping paper, plus a manila envelope with color photos of our boy-ie, and a press release-style printout detailing the differences in these mixes from their official released versions, as well as info on the original promo release. Many have complained online about the fact that there are only seven songs here, but this presentation is worth the $50 I got it for. Whether it’s worth more or less depends on you, more or less. One might consider the old adage “a fool and his money are soon parted,” as one person did on one of the music blogs I read, but who’s to say what constitutes a fool-ish action? If I think it’s worth what I paid, then you are a fool to consider me a fool. (And I’m dying to finish this with “And I pity the fool!”)
You can see the original press release for this reissue on David Bowie’s web site.
Another Record Store Day Exclusive (for Black Friday, that is), The Doors’ first LP, The Doors, has been re-released in a limited edition mono pressing. Previously only available in a vinyl box set from a few years ago (and its initial ’67 release, of course), it’s another great example of how songs can benefit from being mixed in mono.
The 180 gram audiophile pressing (made by the renowned RTI outfit) has the original Elektra catalog number and label, and is a godsend for those who’ve been trying to find a clean original pressing, let alone those who can’t brave the typical $200 price tag you’d find on Ebay. I really like “Break on Through,” which sounds like a different vocal take to me (though my hardcore Doors phase was over about twenty years ago so I could be high), “Alabama Song” sounds even more psychedelic since the carnival organ is equally in both speakers rather than primarily in one, and “The End” sounds easily as chilling in mono as it does in stereo. The drums in “Light My Fire” feel like they’re being pounded a lot harder, too.
Maybe all this mono hype will convince Elektra or Sundazed or someone to release the first three Love albums in monaural…
Finally got my turntable hooked up in the new place so I can now give this Ramones box set a full and proper whirl. And that’s because the main big deal here is the vinyl: it’s the original album, Ramones, newly remixed by original producer Craig Leon in mono. There are three CDs, too, with the original stereo mix, the new mono mix, a disc of single mixes, demos and outtakes, and a disc containing a never-before released live set recorded in Los Angeles at the Roxy in ’76. Finally, a 12″-sized booklet delves into the early history of the band and their freshman release, still a purely powerful punch in the face forty years later.
The first thing I felt when putting on the vinyl was that these cuts were made for mono. The impact is apparent the moment “Blitzkrieg Bop” blasts outta the speakers. Compared to the original stereo mix (via a mid 2000s pressing), the difference is greater than you’d expect, considering what stands out most in stereo are the cymbals, high hats and tambourines, which are panned fairly left or right. The lead vocals, guitars and bass were pretty much mono anyway, so the high end being panned one way or the other is almost a gimmick or an afterthought. According to Leon, despite feeling then that mono was the way to go, there was no way in 1976 they could release the record in anything but stereo. Eventually he came up with a suitable stereo mix, and that’s what we’re all used to. But you’re gonna wanna hear it in mono if you already like this record. And I know you do!
Because it’s a deluxe edition, on top of the essential vinyl you also get the previously noted CDs with lots of fun Ramones stuff. I like the live disc best – it’s got both sets the Ramones did at the Roxy in L.A. on August 12, 1976. The first set was mixed in ’76 while the second set was recently mixed by Craig Leon and Sam Okell and both sets are great, though not very different from each other. Still, if you’re gonna do a 40th anniversary release, why not pull out all the stops?
The box set is presented in a 12″x12″-ish hardcover book and it’s really nice. I could’ve used more photos and less verbiage (says me, the writer), but otherwise, Ramones couldn’t be better served by this package. Instead of sniffing some glue or going down to the basement, I suggest you snap this baby up, pronto.
It’s amazing that Paul McCartney hadn’t gotten around to a compilation of his solo/Wings material of this magnitude until now. Pure McCartney follows in the footsteps of his previous best-ofs in that it completely overlooks chapters of his output as if he’s embarrassed by them… Or warning the marketplace that a certain album is about to be given the Archive Series treatment and thus including none of its tracks. Could he be that canny? That crass? I hate to say it: Yes.
As is the custom these days, this compilation comes in multiple form factors: you have the budget 2CD version, the 4LP version and the mega 4CD version. With 67 tracks on this behemoth, you’d think Macca could cover all of the ground he’s trodden since his first solo album in 1970 and yet he completely avoids Driving Rain (not the greatest album), Run Devil Run (a ’90s album of covers) and 1989’s brilliant Flowers in the Dirt. I’d expect a 4CD collection of a 45 year solo career to favor some albums more than others – Band on the Run and Ram are heavily represented – but I’d also figure at least one song from each album would be manageable. And since Flowers is such a classic, you’d think a big hit like “My Brave Face” would make the cut. Nope. (Don’t get me started on the fact that there’s only two songs from Venus and Mars here.) There’s no reason to not represent Flowers except that he’s trying to avoid cannibalising an Archive Series release later in the year. And that smacks of pure commercialism.
My grumbling aside, Pure McCartney still has no trouble showing what a brilliant songwriter, bass player and singer the man is. What he does include here sees to that handily, even on the 2CD version. No need for me to go over the individual tracks except to say I’m sure no one could match this man’s output in terms of quality. Still, it’s not like each CD is 80-minutes-full, so there was certainly room for reps from Flowers, Driving Rain and Run Devil Run. Oh well. It’s his best-of and he can do what he wants with it. In fact, it IS pure McCartney to purposefully skip over bits ‘n’ bobs of his catalog. Wings Greatest (a one LP comp from 1978) skipped “Listen to What the Man Said” (a #1 hit!) and 1987’s All The Best! and 2001’s Wingspan similarly missed key tracks depending on what country’s version you bought. (All the Best! in the UK featured his then current single, “Once Upon a Long Ago,” which wasn’t even released in the US and thus didn’t make the American version of the compilation. Yet here on Pure McCartney there are five songs from his latest, New. Maybe his memory’s going and so the most recent stuff is at the forefront of his genius brain.)
Take a look at the tracklist of the various versions to decide whether you need this release. For me, I have everything on the 4CD version so I expect to be skipping over this one, at least for now. And that, my friends, is Pure Gooch.
3/5 for contents, 5/5 for quality! (Hear Music)
The return of the son of the Thin White Duke…? Station to Station was one of the many times over his career where David Bowie sought to reinvent himself. In 1976 it was more rockin’ than Young Americans, more soulful than Diamond Dogs, and even considered “modern” (whatever that meant then).
When I first came across this album (in the early ’80s), I didn’t really like much of it, save for “Golden Years,” which upon release was the first record I was ever aware of that was by this “bisexual” guy Bowie. (In ’74 I was eleven.) That single’s always been one of my favorites, and over the years I’ve come to like most of the rest of Station to Station. “TVC 15” starts out with a Professor Longhair piano riff, and that barrelhouse vibe carries through the verses until you get to the chorus, which takes the tune into a very different realm. It’s a successful transmogrification. “Stay” is a rock/funk jam that showcases the entire band, especially drummer Dennis Davis. Throughout the record, he, guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist George Murray and pianist Roy Bittan back up Bowie with a muscular, sometimes tender sound that foreshadowed where DB would go with his music in the early Eighties. (Earl Slick also shows up here, as does “Warren Peace” on vocals, who if memory serves me, is Luther Vandross [?]) And “Word on a Wing” really captures that sweet, yearning thing that Bowie does so well.
This release, the third or fourth time Station to Station has been on CD, comes in a few different versions, ranging from the standard one CD to the absolutely over the top 5CD/1DVD/3LP box that only the richest, most trainspotting of Bowie’s fans would buy. ($150!) I opted for the middle version, the 3CD one that has the original album on one disc, and then the oft-bootlegged 1976 Nassau Coliseum show on the other two. This live concert makes this the station from which to depart. The setlist is fairly imaginative for Bowie at this point, incorporating just the right amount of hits and other cool tunes, like “Waiting for the Man” (yes, the Velvets song), “Five Years” and “Life on Mars?” Almost the same band as on Station, these guys tackle Bowie’s set with vim and vigor, and a few reinterpretations that make this show worth the ticket price.
Sure, we’re all getting a little weary of these reissues—do we really need another rendition of a limited edition 7 CD box set of the Stooges’ Fun House sessions?—but apparently they’re almost the only thing keeping the major labels afloat these days. Still, the often nagginess (is that a word? well, it is now) of the thought “Do I really need this version?” that trails the purchase of such an endeavor can get to be taxing. But if music is the thing that floats your boat, then you need to keep that baby above water!
Upon reexamination in early 2016, I give the over-the-top Deluxe Edition a 5/5. A few years ago I got it, brand new, severely discounted by one online retailer or another. Hooray for me! R.I.P. David Bowie. – Ed.
Well, well, well. A few months ago they finally released the John Lennon Signature box set on vinyl. I finally got a copy when a couple of stars aligned in my own universe: I got a good paying job again and the price went down enough to make it doable. Comprising all eight of Lennon’s studio albums, the 9-record set (one album is two records) puts almost everything John ever recorded as a solo artist in the studio together in one place. There are some singles missing, though. “Instant Karma!,” “Cold Turkey” and “Give Peace a Chance” weren’t on any of his albums until the best of compilation Shaved Fish (see a forthcoming review), so for those you’ll need to go back to your record library and dig out that or one of the many other collections (Lennon Legend, The John Lennon Collection) that they showed up on. (The CD version of this box set actually had a disc with these songs and some stray B-sides on it; they didn’t reproduce that here. And no, I don’t know why.)
What you do get is: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Some Time in New York City, Mind Games, Walls and Bridges, Rock and Roll, Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey. All are mastered from the digital 24-bit/96kHz digital files they used for the 2010 CD box, which, after The Beatles In Mono vinyl box of last year, seems like a bit of a let down – at least on paper. Those were all mastered in analog from the original analog master tapes. But put any of these albums on your turntable and you’ll find the blokes at Abbey Road did a helluva careful job making sure things sounded great. Aside from one colossal boo boo, this box set is amazing. Here’s the big oopsie: Rock and Roll has one song on there twice and another missing completely. This kind of thing can happen when you’re mastering from digital – the wrong song title gets linked to the wrong digital file in the workstation – so it’s not exactly unlikely, though you’d think they would have caught that in quality control. Have no fear, Lennonites. If you got the box set and yours is one with the bad disc, you can get a replacement. (Click here for details.) So don’t let that stop you from picking this up if you want all of Lennon’s studio stuff on wax.
Aside from Live Peace in Toronto and Shaved Fish, all of Lennon’s non-posthumous solo output is here and it’s a great addition to your Beatles vault. Having these eight albums together in a nice, simple but elegant box set is, ummm, just like starting over.