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Archive for December 8th, 2011

Christmas’ Other Big Man: Unreleased Clarence Clemons Holiday Recordings Discovered

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What would Christmas be without the sound of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone ringing out through C.W. Post on Long Island as Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band ran through a spirited rendition of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” on December 12, 1975. The Big Man’s saxophone solo is a high point of the searing live take – released first on the Sesame Street compilation In Harmony 2 in 1982 and again on the flipside of the “My Hometown” single in 1985 – and his jovial “ho ho ho”s are enough to get The Boss laughing mid-song – one of the warmest onstage moments officially released by Springsteen, for sure.

Now, at the close of a year when we’ve had to do the unthinkable and bid farewell to Clemons, Oceangate Records has unearthed two vintage recordings from the saxophonist and have made them available on CD or for download. Recorded in 1981, the two tracks are a cover of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” and “There’s Still Christmas,” written by Stevie Betts and Dennis Bourke, the latter of whom co-produced these tracks and worked with The Clarence Clemons Trust in releasing these recordings.

Due credit to VVN Music for picking up this story. Get the tracks, digitally or physically, through Amazon right here.

Written by Mike Duquette

December 8, 2011 at 15:34

The Second Disc Buyers Guide: The 100 Greatest Reissues of All Time, Part 9 (#60-55)

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We’re nearing the halfway point of our list of all the reissues of Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 greatest albums of all time. How many do you have? What are your favorites? Which ones need reissues? Don’t be afraid to sound off! Today’s installment has a few of my own favorite albums, and all-around classics to boot.

60. Sly & The Family Stone, Greatest Hits (Epic, 1970)

Including tracks from Dance to the MusicLife and Stand! – three excellent ’60s funk albums – was impressive enough. But Sly and The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits added not one, not two, but three extra tracks, taken from singles in the summer of ’69, that were every bit as good as every single they’d released before. “Hot Fun in the Summertime” was a No. 2 pop hit and one of the season’s best feel-good grooves. But the highlight of the new material was easily the chart-topping double A-side “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and “Everybody is a Star,” the former of which included a sound that had rarely been heard in pop music: the slap bass. Pioneered by both Graham and bassist Louis Johnson, this percussive style of playing the bass guitar – with the middle of the thumb striking the strings and the other fingers plucking them hard – became a cornerstone of the burgeoning funk style of music that Sly & The Family Stone were pioneering.

Though there were no bonus cuts on either the original CD release of the compilation (Epic EK 30325, 1990) or its Vic Anesini-remastered edition in 2007 (Epic/Legacy 82876 75910-2),  there was likely meant to have been. Legacy: Music for the Next Generation, a 1990 promotional CD heralding the start of the Legacy label, featured a version of “Thank You” that was a good minute-and-a-half longer than the original version. It’s also worth pointing out that CD versions of Greatest Hits mark the first time any of the three new tracks were heard in true stereo; LP copies used fake stereo versions rechanneled from the original mono single versions. There was, however, two quadraphonic mixes of the album (a commercially released one and an earlier test mix) that remain unreleased on CD…

59. The Beatles, Meet The Beatles! (Capitol, 1964)

Meet The Beatles! is hailed on the sleeve as “the first album by England’s phenomenal pop combo.” And while that isn’t technically true on either side of the Atlantic (Parlophone debut Please Please Me came out in England in March 1963, ten months before Meet hit the U.S., and the troubled Vee-Jay label released a cut-down version of that disc, Introducing…The Beatles, ten days before Meet), this 12-track, 27-minute disc was indeed, for many, the first opportunity to hear John, Paul, George and Ringo in the studio.

Culled from the sessions that yielded Please Please Me and follow-up With The Beatles (with which this album shared a striking front cover), Meet is certainly an intriguing album by virtue of its focus almost entirely on Lennon-McCartney compositions, rather than the mix of originals and rock and R&B covers from the first two British albums. While that’s sort of betraying the understanding of the band’s roots you get with the “official” albums, it’s hard to argue with the greatness on display here.

Meet The Beatles!, along with all the major American albums prior to 1966’s Revolver (the first album where the band’s Stateside output was more or less parallel with what Parlophone was putting out in the U.K.), was roundly ignored on CD for nearly two decades after The Fab Four made their debut on compact disc in 1987. (The equivalent worldwide albums, Please Please Me and With The Beatles, were released on CD in mono only at the time.) It wasn’t until 2004 – a good five years before the exalted release of Beatles remasters across the globe – that the release of The Capitol Albums, Volume 1 (Apple/Capitol CDP 72438 66878 2 1) gave new and old fans a chance to experience those American LPs on compact disc. The four-disc set featured Meet The Beatles, The Beatles’ Second Album, Something New and Beatles ’65 in both mono and stereo, marking the first time songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “All My Loving” were heard on CD through two channels. Between this box and its 2006 sequel, audiences had a decent placeholder until the big catalogue guns came out in 2009. (The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 exists in two editions on CD. The other, Apple/Capitol CDP 72438 75656 2 3, is packaged as a standard-sized “brick” rather than in a longbox.)

Things get strange and soulful after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

December 8, 2011 at 14:44

Holiday Gift Guide Review: The Who, “Quadrophenia: Super Deluxe Edition”

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Welcome to our Second Disc Holiday Gift Guide, in which we review some titles we might have missed over the past few weeks! The titles we’re spotlighting in this occasional series just might be candidates on your own holiday shopping list!

It was a most unusual moment on June 6, 1993 when the winners of the Tony Award for Best Score of a Musical were announced. John Kander and Fred Ebb, the Broadway legends behind Cabaret, Chicago and “(Theme From) New York, New York,” picked up the statuettes for their work on Kiss of the SpiderWoman in a tie. Their company that evening in the winners’ circle was none other than Pete Townshend for his musical The Who’s Tommy. No doubt classic rock fans and theatre fans alike were a bit bewildered as the rock icon shared the stage with the elder statesmen of the musical. But the line from the work of Kander and Ebb to that of Pete Townshend wasn’t as difficult to draw as many might have thought. Townshend had been writing songs for characters and situations in long forms for roughly 25 years when he picked up the Tony Award. Never has his work as a dramatic craftsman come into as sharp focus, however, as it does now with the remastered reissue of The Who’s 1973 opus Quadrophenia. Widely seen at the time as the proper follow-up to the original 1969 Tommy, Quadrophenia also used the format of a “concept album” for a Townshend rock opera about a troubled youth. But, especially in its lavish 4-CD/1-DVD Super Deluxe Edition (Polydor/Universal 277840, 2011, a case can be made for Quadrophenia as the stronger, more compelling work, both musically and dramatically. This comprehensive “Director’s Cut” box set, produced and copiously annotated by Townshend himself, is one of the most engaging and revelatory sets of its kind yet. It’s also quite heavy, in both senses of the word! “Bigger is better” could be the music industry’s tagline nowadays, but in this case, it’s also true! (The original, remastered album and a small selection of the demos are also available in a basic Deluxe Edition from Universal.)

Through and through, the original Quadrophenia proved Townshend to be one of the rare composers who can marshal pure and true rock in service of a story (however intentionally sketchy, and he goes into detail about that in his notes.) In the beautiful new remastering by Jon Astley, crisp sound and stereo spatiality bring the story of Jimmy (the Mod) into sharp focus. Townshend envisioned telling the story of a mod youth’s coming of age through an examination of four of his personality traits, each trait corresponding to a member of The Who. (A four-channel surround sound experience was also envisioned from the earliest conception.) Jimmy experiences up and downs, including experiences with drugs and alcohol, as he seeks to find just who he really is.

The Opera: Is It In My Head?

In delving into Quadrophenia, it’s apparent how well-constructed the opera is, with use of recurring themes (or leitmotifs) for each band member, and each character. (If you only know “5:15” the single and are hearing the album for the first time, it’s a pivotal moment when the “Why should I care…” motif is introduced in “Cut My Hair,” early on! Similarly, the “finale” “Love Reign O’er Me” recurs.) When Roger Daltrey’s ghostly tone pierces from a distance in “I Am the Sea” as echoes of music we’ve yet to hear fill the soundscape, the effect is positively haunting. When the piece segues into the proper opening, “The Real Me,” Daltrey’s thunderous vocal, full of character and fire, practically explodes from the speakers. You can easily picture him taking the stage, spot-lit, in a prologue to the extended instrumental Overture. The visceral guitar and keyboard interplay is very much of the work of the same band that created the hard rock of Who’s Next, but the ambition of the music is lofty, indeed.

Townshend knew when to deploy each singer, including himself. His sensitive lead on “I’m One” (“Ill-fitting clothes/And I blend in with the crowd/Fingers so clumsy/Voice too loud/But I’m one)” enhances his honest adolescent anthem and perfectly complements John Entwistle’s rock-steady bass and Keith Moon’s perfectly controlled-yet-uncontrollable drums. For Townshend, acting as producer with the entirety of The Who, knew that the sound had to come first on a rock album, and made sure the instrumental interplay and textures were as exciting as the songwriting. The strings and piano on “The Dirty Jobs” will take you by surprise, much as the brass band interlude and piercing piano on “Helpless Dancer” will. Daltrey’s vocal travels on “Dancer” from speaker to speaker, the grand mock-operatic vocals contrasting with the ripples of Townshend’s guitar and the subtly-commenting horns.

Amazingly, even the lesser-known songs on Quadrophenia could have been singles, so melodically accessible and forcefully played are they. Lyrically, Townshend addresses themes of anger and paranoia, but he doesn’t condescend about youth and its confusions. In the disaffected “I’ve Had Enough,” Daltrey’s vocal grows more intense with each verse as he sings of a simply-expressed truth: “You were under the impression/That when you were walking forwards/You’d end up further onward/But things ain’t quite that simple.”

“5:15” might be the centerpiece of Quadrophenia, and it’s one of the most perfect Who songs ever, adding frenetic horns and pounding piano to the band equation. Amazingly, this most intricate of songs was written on the spot in the studio, based on some of the musical content found elsewhere in the opera. It captures Jimmy’s train journey in the story, those tight, ferocious guitars and drums keeping the anxiety level high. On “Sea and Sand,” which follows “5:15,” Townshend’s music adjusts as each verse depicts a changing state of mind for Jimmy. The verses beginning “The girl I love is a perfect dresser…” and “I see her dancing, across the ballroom…” are more reflective before the music returns to the crunchy rock chords; even without the lyrics the music would reveal the character.

Water is another major element of Quadrophenia, most explicitly in the desperate “Drowned” (“I want to drown…in cold water”) in which Jimmy loses himself to a spiritual flood. Although Townshend didn’t elect to do mod pastiche for Quadrophenia (effectively, he would have been pastiching his own sound from a few years earlier), there’s a touch of an even earlier style – vaudeville – in Keith Moon’s performance on “Bell Boy.” As Moon croons in his best Cockney drawl as an older man who Jimmy finds even more pitiable than himself, the keyboards shimmer.

“Doctor Jimmy” was reportedly inspired by Moon’s real-life rages (“What is it? I’ll take it! Who is she? I’ll rape it! Gonna bet there? I’ll meet it! Getting high? You can’t beat it!”) as Jimmy exposes his most unbridled, untamed and wild side. The character asks many questions throughout the album: “Is it me?,” “Is it in my head?,” “Why should I care?,” and so on. This track is an epic explosion.\

By the time the water washes over Jimmy as the opening piano chords to “Love Reign O’er Me” begin, the listener is both exhilarated and exhausted. Townshend has spoken of the importance of keeping the story sketchy enough so that listeners can insert themselves into it; one can conservatively say that he most definitely succeeded with the double album Quadrophenia.

We delve into Pete Townshend’s demo recordings, this box set’s raison d’être, after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 8, 2011 at 12:17

Posted in Box Sets, Features, News, The Who

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