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Archive for June 14th, 2012

His Songs: Elton John “Classic Album Collection,” Mash-Up Set Coming in July

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Do you remember when rock was young?  Many do remember the early days of the former Reginald Dwight, whose first major splash on the American charts was 1970’s Elton John.  Although that album was John’s second, his 1969 debut Empty Sky wouldn’t see U.S. release until 1975, at which point John was one of the biggest superstars on the planet.  More than forty years after the release of Elton John, the now-Sir Elton’s star still shines brightly, with 2010’s The Union having earned him a Grammy nomination and his highest chart placement in the U.S. since 1976.  On July 2, however, John will look both forward and backward, issuing a box set containing his first five albums as well as a new mash-up collection that bears his personal stamp of approval.

Classic Album Selection appears to be Universal U.K.’s answer to the similar, budget-priced boxes already offered by the Sony and Warner/Rhino family of labels.  It will contain Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player, five consecutive albums released between 1970 and 1973.  Each title will be housed in an LP replica sleeve.  Unlike past CD editions, however, all albums will be restored to their original sequences, with no bonus tracks.  Every one of these albums went Top 10 in America, with Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me both reaching pole position.  Some of John’s most beloved songs can be found on these albums: “Your Song” and “Take Me to the Pilot” (Elton John); “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon” (Madman); “Rocket Man” and “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (Honky); “Daniel” and “Crocodile Rock” (Don’t Shoot Me).  No singles were released from the sublime country-influenced Tumbleweed, but “Come Down in Time” and “Country Comfort” both remain fan favorites.

The release of Classic Album Selection is coinciding with another project close to John’s heart.  Good Morning to the Night takes its title from Bernie Taupin’s lyric to “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” and is a production of Australian dance-pop duo Pnau.  John gave the team full access to his multi-track recordings to create this “mash-up” collection.  Hit the jump for more on this unusual new collaboration, including a full list of the album’s tracks including their source songs! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 14, 2012 at 14:02

A Star Beyond Time: Talking “Trek” with Mike Matessino, Part 2

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Captain’s log, Stardate 2012.614. When last we left the crew of the starship Second Disc, they were interviewing renowned soundtrack producer Mike Matessino, whose work on La-La Land’s triple-disc expansion of Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Star Trek: The Motion Picture may be the most vivacious and definitive single soundtrack presentation in a career brimming with many projects.

Our interview with Matessino was lengthy, and the two-hour interview was bound to take up more than one post. Why the delay between the installments, though? Some crew members are whispering that a chance encounter with the mysterious V’Ger itself was to blame – while others are simply citing the captain’s desire for all who ordered this magnificent reissue to enjoy some time alone with it before reading the rest of the insights gleaned from Matessino. In any case, part two of our interview has now come out of warp speed and is on its way to you now!

We’ve talked a lot about Jerry’s approach to the score to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the recording process and the embrace of technology on the soundtrack. Now let’s talk about putting this new package together. I imagine the restoration process was nothing short of painstaking, from allocating the best possible elements and selecting all the right cues to determining what bonus material would be used. Can you take us through that process?

The first question was what [elements] were we going to use. Our first choice was the original two-track live stereo mixes on 1/4” tape, which we’ve been living with since 1979. There were various dubs – other 1/4”s, DAT tapes, and I think there was also a 1/2” reel with the two-track mixes on it. Those were all the same existing mixes.

Then we had the 2” 16-track multitrack reelss, which were run as a backup. In 2000 I had them entirely transferred for work on the Director’s Edition, because we needed to do a five-track mix. Amazingly, technology has changed so fast that those transfers were useless, as they were done at a resolution that’s not considered archival now. I knew [re-transferring them] was going to be a big job; in fact, I was not entirely sure we should go there. I was concerned the live mixes were kind of lightning in a bottle, and if we tried to recreate, reproduce or improve those mixes, it’d be put under a microscope too much. At the same time, I thought the material should be preserved, and this gave us the opportunity to really save it digitally. So Bruce Botnick and Lukas Kendall analyzed a couple of reels and convinced me that we should use the 2” reels, then La-La Land agreed to undertake it.

[Of the] 37 reels, encompassing the entire sessions, one of them was missing, at least since 1992. But it ended up being found among Sony’s mixes in New York. No one knows why. So we reunited it with its 36 siblings, and Bruce and John Davis at Precision Audiosonics undertook this effort to transfer all the reels in the best possible way. That meant doing it at 192K resolution, very high resolution, beyond anything a CD can handle. It’s a lot of data. They made sure to have the exact machines optimized for these particular tapes cutting edge analog-to-digital converter, as well as a great old resolver that assured the tapes would play at exact concert pitch and sync perfectly with the film.

It took awhile to get all of that in place, and get this hard drive with its massive amount of data to Bruce Botnick’s studio, where I then figured out all the correct performances and assembled a program. I carefully listened to those original mixes and took copious notes. We were lucky to have a lot of good ears on the project – myself and Jeff Bond and Lukas and Neil Bulk, people who’ve lived with this forever – to make sure, as we heard the mixes, to cover everything.

Bruce approached the project anew. He was not the original mixer, or even a scoring engineer at the time. He came in as a producer for Columbia, to manage the sessions and run the digital recorder. [The original Columbia LP program was assembled digitally. -ed.] John Neal was the scoring engineer at 20th Century-Fox – he had recorded a lot of Jerry’s scores as well as [doing the remix for] John Williams’ Star Wars. So we dealt with Neal’s arrangement of microphones and how the multitrack was laid out. We needed to figure all that out – a lot of times the documentation on these things is not retained. So you have to audibly figure it out.  We put all those efforts together and Bruce started mixing, with the benefit of 25 years of mixing nearly all of Jerry’s scores. Through January, we worked all day (and I worked evenings) on restoring this thing. He would mix, and I would go ahead to the next round of cues and listen for any bumps, dropouts, ticks or pops that needed to be taken out. It was a lot of effort that basically took over the universe for both of us, but we kept going until we got through it all and laid out a program.

The great thing is the material’s saved now. It was starting to go – we saw signs of wear, and those analog tapes can get sticky.

There’s some fascinating bonus material on the package, from the aforementioned rejected cues to a great deal of alternate takes and even the quirky extra tunes in Bob James’ disco rendition of the main theme and Shaun Cassidy’s “A Star Beyond Time,” which set the beautiful “Ilia’s Theme” to lyrics and recast it as a pop-themed love song. How did you plan everything out, as the extras go?

We wanted to put a package together that’s an embarrassment of riches, that represents the biggest financial as well as technical undertaking that we’ve all put into these kind of releases.

We decided as long as we’re doing this, we may as well put out everything we can. We discovered interesting things about the performances that had been chosen for the movie versus the original album – sometimes they were different – and many of the new cues on Legacy’s expanded edition from 1999 did not use the same performances from the film. So we decided to redo those again while retaining everything the old releases had. With the benefit of the multitrack sessions, we were able to isolate some of the instruments and demonstrate the beam and synthesizer for some of the tracks. We have some of the studio chit-chat and Jerry talking to the orchestra as he runs through the main theme for the first time. All these bits and bobs of great material.

I had it proposed in my original outline to find and license those extra tracks. Lukas Kendall really wanted to include them, as well, so I had some support on that. We figured as long as were going to really try to make this the be-all, end-all, we should use them. There was a core of aficionados who knew they existed, and I had come across Bob James’ recording at Paramount some years ago. When I had found out it had been released on the Columbia label, I figured it couldn’t be that hard to use for our package as a legitimate tie-in to the release of the movie. It really puts the score in context – you have this timeless score, but let’s not forget when it came about. It also speaks to the quality of movie themes of that era, that they could have disco versions or lyrics set to them. You don’t really get that now.

What were the origins of those pop tracks?

I don’t know quite how they came about. Bob James had written the Taxi theme (“Angela”) for Paramount, which was one of their biggest shows at the time. Then there was the wanting to hop on the bandwagon of success that Star Wars had with Meco’s disco version. Interestingly, when we looked for the master at Sony, we found there was a longer version – the original single was three minutes and change, but we found a master that was over five minutes, which is what we included.

I happen to like “A Star Beyond Time,” again because of the nature of the melody, there’s a romanticism to it. We actually played the song for Shirley Jones, and she wept. She had never heard him sing like that! “A Star Beyond Time” was done specifically as a promo in Japan – the idea being if it were to take off over there, Warner would have released it here. But by the time the movie was out in Japan, it was pretty much done in the United States, so it was just buried in the background and sent back to the vaults.

Did Jerry Goldsmith ever go on record about Bob James’ or Shaun Cassidy’s adaptations of his work?

Not that I’m aware of. It’s not the kind of thing I think he would have been concerned with, in the same way that John Williams really got blindsided with Meco’s “Star Wars,” to the point that when he did Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he was told to do his own disco version, which came with the LP. But Meco did his own version, which became the hit.

But there was also another factor in this, which Jerry did talk about. When he came up with the love theme, which was already in place from early cues, Bob Wise thought it would make a good overture, which is a very ‘60s kind of idea. But it had worked on The Sand Pebbles: Jerry’s original overture was something called “The Chinese Love Theme,” but when he wrote the other melody, someone at Fox – it may have been Lionel Newman – said it had the quality that could make it a popular song. Then they contracted Leslie Bricusse to write lyrics to the song, which would become “And We Were Lovers.” It wasn’t on the album or in the movie, but it was recorded by a lot of different artists and became a big hit. So possibly, the idea was [Goldsmith and Wise] had another love theme when working together again, that had the potential to be a good song.

This new edition of the TMP score more than lives up to the hype as a definitive package. It’s interesting to note, then, that when Columbia/Legacy expanded the score for its 20th anniversary in 1999, that Goldsmith famously held back what extra material would be included on the expanded disc. He was, in fact, a firm believer that not all of his music on one set was as worthy a listening experience as a well-curated album – a school of thought which is considerably different from today’s soundtrack superfan, who wants as much music as a disc can hold. Were Jerry still alive today, how do you think he would feel about this lavish presentation of his work?

I like to think Jerry would have mellowed, because he always stayed cutting edge, he always kept moving with the times. Always. So as it became apparent about how the whole specialized soundtrack market was evolving, I think he would have embraced it. Especially going back to Bruce with the project, I like to think he would have supported it. These sets are not going out to 10 million people, unfortunately, and there is the idea of producing a self-contained album, but I think he’d acknowledge that a score as important as this deserves to be out there for the following and the specialized market we’re going after. He may have had to struggle with his own curmudgeonliness at the idea, but I think ultimately, since we involved people like Bruce and Ken Hall on all these projects, I think he would’ve been convinced.

But in 1999, it was a very different era. The idea that we got Rhino to do a two-disc Superman would never fly now. Star Wars, those reissues I worked on in 1997, was sort of the peak of the CD era. In the first two days, I think those sold 28,000 copies. I don’t even think we could still do those numbers with Star Wars – that’s how drastically the market has changed. At that time, Jerry would say, “this is not a representation of what I wanted,” but he would still have been thinking in terms of it going out to millions of people, to Tower Records and Virgin Megastore. Who would have thought there’d be such a short amount of time where people wouldn’t know what a record store is?

The whole thing has evolved lightning-fast. These are collectibles more than record albums, really, and people want to know that the stuff has been saved and they have it when they want to hear it. And if it’s a movie score as powerful as Star Trek, there’s nothing more frustrating than that one piece of music you want not being there. One of the things that drove me to want to do this [kind of work] was the original Superman [double] album – how do you do two records and not have the helicopter scene? These things do have value.

We’ve probably done a lot of albums with a lot of droning or music that people skip over, but we live in the iTunes era now. People make their own playlists. The best thing we can do is put everything out and let people pick and choose and create the listening experience that they want. That’s kind of taken over our lives – we schedule our own TV…everything is in the hands of the end user. The idea of this existing fixed program is almost an antiquated. Even the idea of being in front of the television on a specific night because some show is coming on – that’s a completely outdated idea. Our entertainment is molded to how we want it, where it used to be the other way around. So there’s a whole big paradigm shift there, and I think if Jerry were around he would have gone along with it.

You work in an industry that’s still going through a maelstrom of flux, and yet the soundtrack labels seem to have their fingers on the pulse of what their core fan base wants – and knows how to get it to them. All the Star Trek expansions of the past few years are phenomenal undertakings that nobody would have ever thought possible many years ago. Put simply, how does it feel to do what you do?

I’m very, very grateful. It means I get to spend my day listening to classic film scores. But I’m also amazed by it. One thing I wish is that we had as much talk about the scores after they came out as we have before. We get a lot of talk about “I want, I want,” then a lot of talk about whether we get our shipping notices. And that’s it! I want to hear the conversation. I want to hear what you think. If you’re saying this music brings people together, let’s have some conversation! We’re all online, we can chat and have good conversation and share new ideas. I’d love to see that keep going more.

But when something arrives and you see people posting pictures of open boxes or what their collection looks like, I love that. I love that you can actually do something to make someone’s life better. We read so much about people who are cruel and doing terrible things to each other. And in your own little way, to know you have some small part in making someone’s life better that you might never meet, who’s thousands of miles away – it’s just a good feeling. And sometimes, with a big, hard project like Star Trek? That makes it all worthwhile.

Again, a special thanks to Mike Matessino for fulfilling a longtime dream in talking soundtracks with him – and continued kudos to Matessino, Bruce Botnick, Lukas Kendall, MV Gerhard, and everyone involved with La-La Land’s superb Star Trek: The Motion Picture set. The bar has been raised – and as it stands right now, “there is no comparison.”

Written by Mike Duquette

June 14, 2012 at 11:38

Before He Met “Mrs. Jones”: Billy Paul’s “Ebony Woman” Reissued By BBR

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It’s inevitable that Billy Paul will be best remembered for that thing he had going on with a certain Mrs. Jones.  But that ode to a steamy extramarital affair hardly told the whole story of Billy Paul.  “A lot of people don’t even know I’m a jazz singer.  That’s what I want to be known for,” Paul tells Andy Kellman in the liner notes to Big Break Records’ must-have reissue of the singer’s second album, Ebony Woman.  Though produced by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, Ebony Woman wasn’t issued on Philadelphia International Records, their label celebrating its landmark 40th year in 2012.  Rather, Ebony Woman was released in 1970 on the Chess-distributed Neptune label, a precursor to PIR.  And although I’d be hard-pressed to call it a jazz album per se, it also bears little relation to the smooth soul of “Me and Mrs. Jones” despite being recorded by Gamble and Huff at Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios.  It is, however, an album that’s most worthy of reassessment and reissue especially during this, PIR’s 40th anniversary year.

Unlike most of the records to come from the Philly hit factory, Ebony Woman is largely populated by contemporary covers, a sensible move considering Paul’s background as an interpretive singer.  As a young man in the mid-1940s, Paul was already known on the Philadelphia airwaves, and he parlayed his success into live gigs with artists as renowned as jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker.  He opened for artists including Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Dinah Washington, and won an amateur night at the Apollo.  Naturally, record labels pursued Paul, and he had been recording since 1959.  It was in that year that Paul recorded the first version of the Morris Bailey song that would give Ebony Woman its title.  Paul was performing at Philadelphia’s Cadillac Club in 1967 when Kenny Gamble spotted him.  He ushered him into the studio for Feelin’ Good at the Cadillac Club, his long-playing album debut for Gamble Records.  (Typical of the era, it was a studio effort despite the live title.  It’s also a prime candidate for reissue.  Perhaps our friends at Big Break are listening…)  Feelin’ Good was primarily composed of theatrical standards (“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “Just in Time,” “Feelin’ Good,” “Somewhere”) with some more recent pop songs also in the mix (“That’s Life,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”)  For Ebony Woman, the emphasis was on pop material, albeit interpreted in an adult, jazz-oriented style by Paul and musical director Stanley Johnson.

Hit the jump for the scoop! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 14, 2012 at 10:04

Posted in Billy Paul, News, Reissues