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The Fruits of Another: Paul Carrack’s Career Anthologized on Triple-Disc “Collected”

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Like some sort of blue-eyed soul version of Zelig, Paul Carrack has been a fixture of British rock for decades. As frontman of pub-rock Ace, he took “How Long” to the U.K. Top 20 and to No. 3 on Billboard‘s U.S. chart. He joined Roxy Music for their reunion album Manifesto in 1979, then sang and played keyboards for Squeeze on their iconic East Side Story album in 1981, which yielded the unforgettable “Tempted.”

Even while eking out a solo career post-Squeeze (enjoying U.S. hits with “Don’t Shed a Tear” and “One Good Reason,” the latter co-written by Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford) he was in no less than three notable bands: Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, a new venture for the venerable singer/songwriter/producer; Roger Waters’ Bleeding Heart Band, which backed the ex-Pink Floyd leader on the When the Wind Blows soundtrack and Radio KAOS in 1987; and Mike + The Mechanics, the side-project of Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford where he sang on hits “Silent Running” and the chart-topping ballad “The Living Years.”

As Carrack releases a new album, Good Feeling, this fall, Universal U.K. recently celebrated his diverse career with a three-disc set of Carrack’s work. Collected covers Carrack’s whole solo career, as well as the best of his work with Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics and others. For serious collectors, it’s worth noting that the third disc contains a lot of obscurities, including several non-LP B-sides.

Collected is available now, and yours to order from Amazon U.S. and Amazon U.K. (Thanks to super reader Ludo for the tip on this one!) Hit the jump for the full track list!

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Written by Mike Duquette

October 15, 2012 at 10:57

Review: “A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection”

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On its surface, it seems kind of crazy to make a compilation of tunes from A&M Records. There are plenty of labels with clearer narrative arcs: Columbia was a hotbed for melodic singer-songwriters in the ’60s and ’70s, from Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel to Springsteen and Billy Joel. Burgeoning soul fans started with Motown and graduated to Stax or Atlantic, depending on their region. ZTT was the place for avant-garde dance-pop/rock in the ’80s, much like Elektra was the source for dreamy West Coast folk-pop.

A&M, on the other hand, was an artist, trumpeter Herb Alpert, and a record promoter, Jerry Moss. Two guys working out of a garage. That’s the kind of narrative fit for Apple, not a label that facilitated everything from jazz-pop, British rock and New Wave to polished R&B and even a smidgen of grunge. In a weird way, the lack of narrative is almost a worthy narrative in and of itself – and it’s what makes A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection (A&M/UMe B0016884-02) a potentially vital compilation for your library.

And yet, the set misses the mark, obscuring that free-form narrative with a presentation that suggests uncertainty, as if this whole “A&M 50” venture was even worth it in the first place.

That’s not to say the set is bad. Remember, A&M doesn’t have the kind of market share a Motown might, so the deck is already stacked against the concept. But from a content perspective, A&M 50 excels. The three themed discs – “From AM to FM,” “A Mission to Rock” and “Soul, Jazz and More” – bring some sort of cohesion to the proceedings.

Disc One focuses mostly on the early years of the label, when Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 and the Carpenters were the stars of the A&M roster. Gradually, while the demeanor and ideology of pop artists would change, going from earthy (Cat Stevens, Joan Baez) to ineffectual (The Captain & Tennille, Chris de Burgh) to a mix of both (Amy Grant, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow), that devotion to pop hooks and inoffensive, of-the-moment production was always there.

Disc Two is where things get interesting. The (mostly British) rock scene A&M tapped into not only yielded some of the biggest hits on the label (The Police, Styx, Bryan Adams, Peter Frampton) but kept that smorgasbord mentality of A&M alive. This was a label that hosted guitar-heavy hitters like Procol Harum and Free alongside electronically influenced, wordplay-loving tunesmiths like Joe Jackson, Squeeze and Split Enz (all among the era’s most criminally underappreciated acts!). The two-song transition that closes this disc, Soundgarden‘s “Black Hole Sun” and Sting‘s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” are whiplash-inducing in their dissimilarity, and easily the point where you might agree with this point of view – that variety was the whole point of A&M Records.

The third disc amps up the eclecticism even more. A&M wasn’t content to just give you “soul music.” There were your classics old (the Phil Spector-produced “Black Pearl” by Sonny Charles & The Checkmates, Ltd.) and new (a 1991 cover of The Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool” by Aaron Neville); real jazz (Jobim, Getz, Quincy Jones); some funky stuff (Billy Preston, The Brothers Johnson) and a few heaping helpings of poppy R&B (Jeffrey Osbourne, Janet Jackson, late-period Barry White). The disc earns its “and more” distinction by offering danceable tracks like “Crazay” by Jesse Johnson (formerly of The Time) and “Finally” by CeCe Peniston (unusually presented in its original album version, one of the few idiosyncratic decisions as far as which versions of songs appear on the compilation).

A&M 50 offers some fun discs, which is great. So what’s the problem? The set comes in a four-panel digipak, with a picture of Alpert and Moss and a brief essay (which nobody is credited with writing). The writer and producer credits are consigned to the inner panels, with little information outside of that. It’s very plain, and altogether a bit lacking. While a full-on box set approach might have been a tough sell, a double-sized digipak with a nicely-designed booklet should be less of a luxury and more of a commonality with sets like these.

Ultimately, it’s that lack of “luxury” which fails to elevate A&M 50 past a “Now That’s What I Call Three Sampler CDs from a Particular Label!” level. This was a fun idea that demanded better execution. Alpert and Moss may not have had a unifying goal when they founded that label out of their garage, but they had something worth showing off. It’s a shame that this concept didn’t quite get its due here.

Written by Mike Duquette

September 6, 2012 at 15:56

Release Round-Up: Week of August 28

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Frank Zappa, Official Reissues #15-26 (Zappa Records/UMe)

FZ’s 1972-1979 discography, almost entirely sourced from original analog masters. (Joe breaks it all down for you here!)

Various Artists, A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection (A&M/UMe)

Three discs of hits and favorites from a most eclectic of major labels.

Elvis Presley, A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings (Follow That Dream)

The King’s complete Sun tenure, with single masters, alternates, live takes and more – not to mention an enormous book of liner notes spanning over 500 pages.

Art Garfunkel, The Singer (Columbia/Legacy)

You know the voice; now, take a dive into Art Garfunkel’s career with this double-disc overview, curated by the man himself and featuring Simon & Garfunkel tracks, solo recordings and two brand-new tunes.

Johnny Mathis, Tender is the Night/The Wonderful World of Make-Believe Love is Everything/Broadway (Real Gone)

The first of a series of two-fers bringing Mathis’ Mercury discography back into print, including an unreleased LP of Broadway standards!

David Cassidy, Cassidy Live / Gettin’ It in the Street / Gary Lewis & The Playboys, The Complete Liberty Singles / The Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks Volume 28 (Real Gone)

The rest of Real Gone’s monthly lineup includes two David Cassidy discs on CD for the first time ever.

The Brecker Brothers, The Complete Arista Albums Collection / Etta James, The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock ‘n’ Soul Albums Collection / Sarah Vaughan, The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Legacy)

The latest PopMarket boxes include a Brecker Brothers box entirely full of discs making their CD debuts.

Andrew W.K., I Get Wet: Deluxe Edition (Century Media)

2001’s ultimate party soundtrack, with a bonus disc of live and alternate material.

A&M Records Celebrates Half-Century Mark with Three-Disc Compilation

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Ask the most voracious of music trivia buffs what “A&M Records” stood for and they’ll tell you simply: Herb Alpert, noted jazz trumpeter and bandleader; and music promoter Jerry Moss, a duo who crafted the label from Alpert’s garage in 1962.

50 years later, with the upcoming release of the three-disc A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection, it’s clear that A&M stood for something else, too: one of the most intriguingly eclectic rosters in pop history, encompassing everything from jazz and modern R&B to New Wave and singer/songwriter pop. (There’s been a great amount of activity surrounding the label’s anniversary in Japan, like this compilation of Works by longtime A&M arranger Nick DeCaro.)

The three discs are rather cleverly themed: Disc 1, “From AM to FM,” chronicles some of the label’s earliest and most potent pop radio hits, from Alpert’s “The Lonely Bull” with The Tijuana Brass to the Carpenters’ beautiful “Close to You” all the way to Sheryl Crow’s inescapable “All I Wanna Do.” Things get great on Disc 2, “A Mission to Rock,” which features some of the best rock and New Wave acts of the ’70s and ’80s, including The Police, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Split Enz, Styx, Free, Joe Cocker and many more. Disc 3 loops around to “Soul, Jazz and More,” showcasing the likes of Quincy Jones, Stan Getz, Gato Barbieri, Milton Nascimiento, The Brothers Johnson and Jeffrey Osborne. (All in all, the set covers roughly 30 years of works, with most of A&M’s output after the sale to PolyGram and break-up throughout Universal Music Group – overlooked.)

While there’s not a lot particularly rare on all three discs (save for some of the deep cuts on the ’70s side of things, including tracks from Alpert and Hugh Masekela as well as Alpert’s talented wife, Lani Hall), what does raise eyebrows are some song choices: “Roxanne,” not “Every Breath You Take,” is The Police’s entry, as “Caught Up in You” by 38 Special is included over “Hold On Loosely.” Minor quibbles aside, this looks to be a really fun keepsake of a deservedly-treasured label.

A&M 50 is out on August 28 and can be pre-ordered after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

July 23, 2012 at 11:48

Review: John Cale, “Conflict and Catalysis: Productions and Arrangements 1966-2006”

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Catalysis (ca-tal-y-sis): The action of a catalyst, especially an increase in the rate of a chemical reaction.

With his induction into Ace Records’ Producers series, John Cale joins an esteemed group including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Sly Stone, Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach.  If Cale isn’t always thought of in the same breath as those giants, it’s simply because his career has been so diverse, encompassing writing, performing and arranging for artists ranging from The Stooges to Siouxsie and the Banshees.  Well, there’s simply no better place to appreciate the man’s art than on Conflict and Catalysis (Big Beat CDWIKD 299), the illuminating new anthology devoted to John Cale, producer and arranger.  Taking in the 20 songs on display here, it’s clear that Cale’s catalysis as a producer has led to some of the most distinct work in these artists’ career, making the conflicts along the way well worth the while.

These tracks could be the work of multiple producers, so impossible is it to pin Cale to one stylistic approach.  The musically rebellious Welshman trained at Goldsmith College at the University of London, nurturing his talent on the viola.  He was in the vanguard of the avant-garde Fluxus movement and was an associate of John Cage but perhaps ironically, also a devotee of Aaron Copland.  Cale’s participation in the 18-hour performance of Erik Satie’s “Variations” even landed him a spot on Garry Moore’s popular game show I’ve Got a Secret.  All of this experimentation and fearlessness towards dissonance and musical repetition made him the perfect foil for Lou Reed when they founded The Velvet Underground.  Cale and Reed frequently clashed, but when they found themselves in synch, the results were astonishing.  Reed’s dark, earthy lyrical poetry formed a distinct union with the multi-instrumentalist Cale’s electrically-amplified viola, piano and bass guitar, creating a sound that was only rock music in the sense that it challenged convention.

What will you find on Ace’s career-spanning compilation?  Hit the jump to explore! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 22, 2012 at 10:05

Take It to the Bridge: Squeeze Frontman Releases New Set of Vintage Demos

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Here’s a treat for any of you British pop fans out there: another series of demos from Squeeze songwriter Glenn Tilbrook.

When Daylight Appears: The Demo Tapes 1985-1991 spotlights Squeeze at one of their most underrated stages in a wildly underrated career. In 1985, the band ended a three-year breakup, reuniting singers/songwriters guitarists Tilbrook and Chris Difford, keyboardist Jools Holland (increasingly known outside of Squeeze for his burgeoning television host career on The Tube), drummer Gilson Lavis and new bassist Keith Wilkinson. This new lineup is the closest the famously revolving band can call “classic,” releasing three consecutive albums, Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985), Babylon and On (1987) and Frank (1989). (Another, Play (1991), followed with all but Holland.)

Despite the excellent craftsmanship of the Difford-Tilbrook partnership (which had endured the breakup with the release of an eclectic “solo” album in 1984), the songs, which experimented with increasingly modern production stylings, were not considered much of a return to form for a band championed by no less a New Wave pioneer than Elvis Costello (who produced 1981’s magnum opus East Side Story and signature song “Tempted”). That said, this era found the band reaching their greatest success in the United States, as 1987 single “Hourglass,” with a colorful, visually arresting music video, peaked in the Billboard Top 20.

In all, 15 of the disc’s 19 tracks are clearly demos of songs that later appeared on albums (with “Wedding Bells,” later turning up as the B-side of “Hourglass” and “Happiness is King” appearing on the flip of 1991’s “Satisfied”). Though much of the material is likely lo-fi, four-track demos – usually Tilbrook singing and playing guitar with a drum machine backing him up – it often retains the spirit of the original tracks, with some surprise arrangements from time to time putting new spins on familiar favorites.

Tilbrook, who with Difford has written some of the best and most underrated pop tunes for Squeeze since the late 1970s, has been intermittently releasing entries in a series of five compilations of demos for Squeeze since the band reunited in the mid-2000s to play a lengthy series of concerts across the world. The first set, 2007’s The Past Has Been Bottled, focused solely on songs written for East Side Story, the group’s 1981 magnum opus (or, at least, the one that has their most widely-known song, “Tempted”). In the Sky Above, released a year later, concentrated on demos from the band’s last three albums (Some Fantastic Place (1993), Ridiculous (1995) and Domino (1998)), while Dreams Are Made of This, released in 2009, was the most worthy for collectors, stretching from the duo’s earliest songwriting moments in 1974 all the way to 1981’s excellent Argybargy. Where will the fifth series take us – perhaps between 1982 and 1984, or through Tilbrook’s solo years? Only time will tell. Until then, enjoy a link to the new set after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

December 21, 2011 at 14:26

Release Round Up: McCartney and Michael Dates Plus More Squeeze Reissues?

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  • It looks like we finally can expect Paul McCartney’s Concord catalogue program to start up on September 28. Amazon has a pre-order link up for the promised reissue of Band on the Run for that date.
  • That same date also sees a new title from Legacy: a CD/DVD edition of George Michael’s excellent solo debut Faith (1987). You can pre-order it as well, though there’s no word on bonus content yet (or if it will be included as a Legacy Edition title). (Thanks to Pause & Play for both dates!)
  • Finally, Squeeze’s Chris Difford has mused on next year’s 30th anniversary of East Side Story, which might be commemorated with a tour of sorts. Let’s hope this means an East Side Story reissue of some sort, ending what Glenn Tilbrook calls Universal’s “not want(ing) to play ball with us” over reissues.

Written by Mike Duquette

July 23, 2010 at 11:11

Reissue Theory: Cheap Trick, Squeeze Do-Overs

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Today’s installment of Reissue Theory is going to tread over familiar ground, in honor of two bands who turned out some great live sets last night at New Jersey’s State Theater: Cheap Trick and Squeeze.

Though both bands have their share of hardcore fanatics, they didn’t seem to be as vocal last night – at least one person was heard musing after the show that neither band catered to the greatest-hits crowd (Cheap Trick’s set mixed most of the favorite early tracks with new material – the band is still putting out albums, with The Latest (2009) being, well, the latest – while Squeeze bolstered their set equally with their best-known singles and a few lesser-known singles or album cuts, like “When the Hangover Strikes” or “Hope Fell Down” from the Difford & Tilbrook record.)

In spite of that crowd sentiment – and an admittedly poor sound mix for Cheap Trick – the show was a great night for all involved. And, unsurprisingly, it got your catalogue correspondent thinking about (what else?) back-catalogue affairs. Both of them have had an elevated presence in the reissue world. Cheap Trick’s Epic-era catalogue has been slowly but surely remastered and expanded by Epic starting in the late 1990s, finally picking up steam again a few months ago with a two-fer remaster of One on One (1982) and Next Position Please (1983) on the Friday Music label. Squeeze saw remasters of their first six LPs on CD with mostly unreleased pairs of bonus tracks in 1997; there have been more thorough expansions since of Argybargy (1980), Sweets from a Stranger (1982), Frank (1989) and Ridiculous (1995) (not to mention a set of live BBC recordings and an ongoing series of Squeeze demos released on Glenn Tilbrook’s Quixotic label).

But of course there’s always room for improvement. That reissue of One on One/Next Position Please uses the original LP track listing of the latter album, a playlist that not only removes two tracks that appeared on previous CD issues but also discounts the “Authorized Edition” overseen by the band for digital release in 2006, which reordered the album to the band’s original preference, unearthing two unreleased tracks in the process. It’s rather odd that, after working with their former label on a digital release, the band wouldn’t get such a set out on compact disc.

As for Squeeze, there’s the matter of Play, their grossly underrated 1991 effort. Play is sort of an odd duck as it seems to be one of the least-played offerings from the band (not counting the limp Domino (1998), which is the band’s last new record to date). It’s also one of the only Squeeze albums not released through Universal’s A&M, instead being owned by Warner’s Reprise label. (Universal has licensed some of the Play-era tunes for various compilations, notably Excess Moderation (1996) and Big Squeeze: The Very Best of (2002).) While it has in fact gotten a barely-there CD reissue through Wounded Bird Records, it added none of the B-sides that the band put out during this phase of their career, most notably the fan favorite “Maidstone.”

Thus, The Second Disc openly pictures a world where “Authorized” CDs of Next Position Please and Universal-owned Play reissues would be possible. They’d look a little something like what you’ll see after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

July 19, 2010 at 12:03

Back Tracks: Squeeze

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If The Second Disc has any European readers, allow me to express my intense jealousy that Squeeze, one of the best British pop bands I can name, is embarking on a tour in your neck of the woods later in the year.

It pleases me that Squeeze is not an unknown entity in the United States (the first Squeeze concert I partook in, at Radio CityMusic Hall in 2008, looked pretty sold out), but ask any casual or younger music fan and you’ll likely get blank stares. This may change if you sing a few bars of “Tempted” – arguably their signature song (despite never being a Top 40 hit) – or, if you’re really lucky, you could go for some lines from “Black Coffee in Bed,” “Hourglass” or “Pulling Mussels (from the Shell).”

Regardless of your knowledge, Squeeze are a need-to-know pop band. The core members of the band – lyricist Chris Difford and songwriter Glenn Tilbrook – make up one of the best British duos this side of Lennon and McCartney. And it’s a partnership that, while not churning out dozens of chart hits, has remained consistent and mature over time. Squeeze excels at catchy, balladic tunes that live well past the Top 40 scene – and with Squeeze’s welcome return to touring in 2007 after a nearly decade-long hiatus, perhaps that songwriting magic will find its way into another record before long.

Slowly but surely, Squeeze have gotten their due from Universal Music Group, holders of the majority of the band’s catalogue. Thanks to their strong efforts, the band may yet earn the kind of fans that know what quality they’re capable of (fans like Crap from the Past host Ron Gerber, who put together this fantastic Squeeze playlist in 2007; Jim Drury, writer of the best Squeeze book money can buy; plus some actor named Johnny Depp who’s a big supporter of the band).

While fans abroad count down the days to that tour, we can all take a stroll through Squeeze’s reissues after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

March 24, 2010 at 11:48

Grant Us an Extension

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The other day I was talking about how us catalogue fans can sometimes end up wanting that one missing track to add to our collections. I used the 45 version of Billy Joel’s “Sometimes a Fantasy,” which runs well past the fade-out on the LP, as an example. Interestingly enough, I realized that the track also adhered to another concept I realized I’m enamored of concerning music in general.

When I was a kid, I was always interested in the idea of a fade-out. You’d be listening to a song, getting all excited, and then gradually the song quiets down to nothing, even though the music was still going. That drove me nuts! I frequently risked hearing damage to listen to as much of those fade-outs as I could, quickly turning the sound back down before the next track blared in.

As I became more well-versed in the world of catalogue music, I realized that some artists and compilers seemed to share my opinion on the fade-out. As I got more and more into 12″ remixes, where other bits of the master recording could be utilized, I was hooked. Michael Jackson could be good for that sometimes (notably the 12″ to “Billie Jean,” which is just an unedited version of the song). So could Prince – the grossly underrated “Mountains,” off the Parade album, lets you hear another six or seven minutes of jamming. (This didn’t always work for The Purple One, as anyone who’s heard the 26-minute version of “America” or the unreleased half-hour jam on “I Would Die 4 U” – later edited to ten minutes on the 12″ single – can attest.)

I’ve also earned some vindication from the Rock Band series of video games. I could write a whole series of posts on how it’s opened me up to new acts and let me rediscover songs I’d heard a million times before. But one of the simplest pleasures in those games have been hearing a song that usually fades out come to a complete stop instead. Sometimes the goal is met through obvious editing, but sometimes a concrete ending, or otherwise unheard material, can be unearthed. (Cases in point: Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up,” Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69,” Squeeze’s “Tempted” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”)

So the next time you hop up to turn up your speakers to get those last sounds out of a song, don’t feel bad – you’re in good company. And what fade-out songs do you find yourself turning up? Let’s talk in the comment section.

Written by Mike Duquette

February 9, 2010 at 11:58