Category Archives: mono

Pink Floyd • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (50th Anniversary Mono Ed.) [LP]

Just over fifty years ago, PINK FLOYD’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released. Like so many of the records issued in the mid ’60s, it was put out in both mono and stereo versions. Since stereo eventually became the de facto standard, the mono version eventually faded away and was never reissued, except as part of the 40th Anniversary 3CD box set from 2007 (see red image below). Finally, that epochal original mono mix has been reissued on vinyl.

A Record Store Day 2018 release, this limited edition puts Piper back into the dawn it was born in, when an experimental English band – led by a mercurial guitarist named Syd Barrett – played at the UFO Club amid projected light shows that really added to the goings-on, especially if you were tripping. (I’m going by all the things I’ve read over the years – I was only four in ’67.) The album starts off with a lengthy almost-instrumental called “Astronomy Domine” (“Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon Miranda and Titania / Neptune Titan, stars can frighten…”), ascending to Barrett’s telecaster trickery and keyboardist Richard Wright’s imaginative meanderings. Next comes a short one, “Lucifer Sam,” about a Siam cat who is “something I can’t explain.” Another descender but with much more of a pop hook, it’s the should’ve-been single that wasn’t. (The English believed a single shouldn’t also be on an album; huh?) Following from there, “Matilda Mother,” “Flaming” (two nursery rhyme-esque Barrett tunes), “Pow R. Toc H.,” and side closer “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk,” bass player Roger Waters’ first solo writing credit on a Floyd record and a percussive popper.

Flip over the record and The Floyd shift into “Interstellar Overdrive,” at once ascending and descending into space, a song that has since become a staple of alt-rock bands wanting to prove their Pink prowess. (I saw Camper Van Beethoven do it at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA a few years ago.) The rest of the album is dominated by Barrett material, with a few more kiddie corkers like “The Gnome” (“a story about a little man… called Grimble Gromble”) and “Bike” (“I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house, I don’t know why I call him Gerald / He’s getting rather old but he’s a good mouse”). Fans of the album will wonder why I haven’t mentioned “The Scarecrow” (which has a pretty cool “video”) or “Chapter 24,” though now I have so they can quit wondering. (See how I did that?)

Its place in the great rock albums hall of fame can’t be denied, and not just because The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was the first album by Pink Floyd and the start of their illustrious career. Piper came out when pop groups were actively trying to push out the boundaries, before they became rock bands, and still somehow managing to chart (although not with their most out-there stuff). Barrett & Co. managed to do just that. This version of that album comes in an engaging outer box (pictured at the top of this column) with a new design based on the original’s back cover image, and a replica version of the actual cover inside the box sleeving up a heavy vinyl record with Columbia labels (that was their record company in England), and a poster depicting the band – Syd way up front and Roger all the way in the back. (Did Waters approve that? Good on ya, Rog!) Probably already sold out in your local record shop, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in magnificent mono is one I wouldn’t hesitate to pay a few extra bucks for.

5/5 (Pink Floyd Records PFRLP26, 1967/2018)

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The Turtles • All the Singles [2CD]

If you know THE TURTLES only by the sublime “Happy Together” you’re missing out on a lot of late ’60s rock ’n’ roll fun. All the Singles is a 2CD compilation of the group’s original White Whale 45s and it’s a wide ranging collection of sounds ’n’ styles these guys, known for their killer harmonies, put out during their original half decade of success.

turtles_allthesingles_400pxThis compilation, released on the band’s own FloEdCo imprint (via Manifesto), is a mainly mono affair, in keeping with the “singles” vibe the title conjures. What comes through loud and clear — besides the pristine melodies and harmonies singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo & Eddie) vocalized – is the driving, sometimes envelope pushing arrangements courtesy of their own rhythm section (bassist Jim Pons and drummer John Barbata, mainly) and the host of different producers they used. Starting with June 1965’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and encompassing “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “Elenore,” “You Showed Me” and more, the 48 songs here go a long way to demonstrating that these L.A. teenagers (who started out as a surf group called The Crossfires) were more than the sum of their surf ’n’ folk roots. In fact, soon after their first single the guys were determined to move on from folk to something more poppy, hence their latter, aforementioned A-sides. Their B-sides were frequently penned by the band themselves and some of them were quite good – though some were inevitably forgettable. I cite “Buzz Saw,” “Come Over” and “Surfer Dan” among the memorable ones.

Another thing they did was an ingenious exercise called The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, an album in which they took on various then-current pop genres as if they were actually different groups. They went so far as to name the bands for each track (though it was always The Turtles); on this comp you get Nature’s Children (“You Showed Me”), Howie, Mark, Johnie, Jim & Al (“Elenore”), The Fabulous Dawgs and The Cross Fires, but the concept begs further investigation for sure. Later on (early 1970) The Turtles put out a single under the name The Dedications, and both the doo woppy A-side “Teardrops” and the garage/Jan & Deanie flipside “Gas Money” are here.

As for production, the singles herturtles_band_350pxe were helmed by a host of producers including the legendary Bones Howe, Joe Wissert, Chip Douglas and even The Kinks’ Ray Davies (yeah, kool!), who oversaw 1969’s Turtle Soup and its attendant singles “House on the Hill,” “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain,” and the poignant, cheeky “Bachelor Mother.” Different producers didn’t really change the group’s sound much, though the Davies-produced cuts do have a slightly Kinky feel to them.

Have I mentioned “Can’t You Hear the Cows”? It’s a B-side (to the Nilsson-written “The Story of Rock and Roll”) and has my name written all over it. According to the copious liner notes it “might have had a deeper significance that is now lost to time.” Ahem: “Each and every day / Eatin’ all that hay / Moo baby, moo baby.” The Beach Boys never sounded this swell!

All the Singles represents yet another case – like me discovering The Blues Magoos – of me thinking, how the hell did I let The Turtles escape my complete immersion all of these years?! Sure, I knew the obvious singles. I knew that Flo & Eddie were later members of Frank Zappa’s amazing Mothers and sang on Fillmore East – June 1971 (“Mud sh-sh-shark!”) and even T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” yet somehow all I had until now was a 14-track cheapie CD comp. Good God, Gooch! What took you so damned long?!

5/5 (FloEdCo/Manifesto)

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The Doors • The Doors [mono LP]

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Doors’ debut LP – released this day in 1967 – I am re-running this review I wrote for my original blog, Skratchdisc, in November 2010.

doors_thedoors-mono_350pxAnother 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…

4/5 (Elektra/Rhino)

Today (1/4/2017), Rhino announced a 50th anniversary box set of The Doors, coming on March 31, that will feature three CDs (the original stereo mix, this mono mix [first time on CD], and a disc of live tracks recorded in San Francisco in April 1967) and the mono mix on vinyl. Whether it’ll be worth the cost probably depends on how many versions of this album you already have…
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The Blues Magoos • The Mercury Singles (1966-1968) [CD, LP]

Blues MagoosSometimes I think about things like: what if I would have been around to dig bands like The Blues Magoos as they were happening? Would I have appreciated them, as a nascent rock enthusiast, the way I do now? So I thank Sundazed for putting out The Mercury Singles (1966-1968), a compilation of the 7″ sides the NYC band did for Mercury at the birth of psychedelia. Driven by a wild guitarist and kick-ass keyboardist (Peppy Castro and Ralph Scala), the Magoos came up with two of the greatest psych psingles of all time, “Tobacco Road” and “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet,” and merged the folk and rock scenes into a unique sound that has never been duplicated. This album makes it easy to get an idea of what it might’ve been like, in ’66, to get a load of their idea of rock.

Blues Magoos Mercury SinglesMade up of the eight mono singles they released during their short stay with the label, The Mercury Singles includes the aforementioned classics and their B-sides (a few of which were never originally released on LP), plus “One by One,” “There She Goes” and its flip “Life Is Just a Cher O’Bowlies,” a take on The Move’s then-current “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and even a Christmas single with a psyched-up “Jingle Bells.” There are a few not-so-hot sides but overall you can’t go wrong with this baby. Sundazed did a great mastering job (as usual) and that makes it worth considering their other other Blues Magoos releases, the band’s first two albums Psychedelic Lollipop and Electric Comic Book, too.

Fans of West Coast garage bands like the Sonics ought to give the Magoos a listen if they’re not already familiar with these nuggets of psychedelia. Even if you’re already familiar, this compilation is definitely too psuperb to pass up.

4/5 (Sundazed)

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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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