Month: December 2019

Ringo Starr – Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr

ARTIST: Ringo Starr Photograph_-_The_Very_Best_of_Ringo_Starr_cover_art

TITLE:  Photograph: The Very Best of

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: #130 US, #26 UK

SINGLES: Top 10: It Don’t Come Easy (#4 US, #4 UK), Back off Boogaloo (#9 US, #2 UK), Photograph (#1 US, #8 UK), You’re Sixteen (#1 US, #4 UK), Oh My My (#5 US), Only You (And You Alone) (#6 US, #28 UK), No No Song / Snookeroo (#3 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  I’m the Greatest, (It’s All Down to) Goodnight Vienna

LINEUP:  Ringo! Along with John, Paul, George, The Band, Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston, Steve Cropper, Jim Keltner (!), Martha Reeves, Merry Clayton, Peter Frampton, Dr. John, Nicky Hopkins, Melissa Manchester, Eric Clapton, Harry Nillson, and many many more. Everyone wanted to help Ringo.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Comprehensive comp of Ringo hits all of his high spots of his 70’s solo work (putting his other 70’s and 80’s work in the dustbin for the most part) and a few tracks from his career comeback.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Ringo, of all people, wrote and recorded three of the best post-breakup Beatles songs (“It Don’t Come Easy”, “Back Off Boogaloo”, and “Photograph” – the first and third co-written with George), and the most sentimental track of the breakup (“Early 1970”). He recorded a couple of fun, if top-heavy records, a country album (which I reviewed), and an album for his mum. Then, he careened off of a cliff – both personally and musically.

From 1975 to today, only “Wrack My Brain” hit the Top 40, and that may have been the best track from 1974-1991. Now, he’s recording some OK records and touring a lot with his All-Starr Band (basically whoever wants to have fun on stage with him for a while) and reveling in being Ringo. That’s perfectly OK – he’s got nothing to prove to anyone.

This is the best distillation of Starr’s recorded output for casual fans. Ringo devotees can check out his albums in full – but not many of the records on Polydor and Boardwalk are streaming, and one wasn’t even domestically released. There are good reasons for that.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The streaming and download version skipped the tracks from Ringo’s Rotogravure and one later track, replacing it with three tracks from his best two records. That’s just fine and dandy.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B+:  Ringo’s always fun.

Sham 69 – If the Kids Are United: The Best of

ARTIST: Sham 69 71z+dS6P9kL._SS500_

TITLE:  If the Kids Are United – the Best Of

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Charting: Angels with Dirty Faces (#19 UK), If the Kids Are United (#9 UK), Hurry Up Harry (#10 UK), Tell the Children (#45 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  Borstal Breakout

LINEUP:  Jimmy Pursey, Dave Parsons, Dave Tregunna, Mark Cain. A few tracks had other people.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Working class punks capture the populism of the unemployed class in late 70’s UK.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Dave Pursey found the right combo of backing musicians to make timeless late 70’s punk rock, and that quartet sped through some of the most poignant of hits for the underclass youth in the UK as they were leading to Thatcher-ism.

“Borstal Breakout” and “If the Kids Are United” are their classics, but they also had other solid tracks and brought the energy of the football pitch to their music. The issue, though, was that their message to the unemployed and the frustrations of youth led to an unwanted fandom – the National Front and their skinhead legions. They stopped playing live due to this and that slowed their career way down.

They’ve broken up, and reformed a couple times, and have put out some decent songs here and there since the late 70’s (a couple are included here), but they’ll be known for their late 70’s punk anthems. 517sEKDqBpL

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Due to licensing (no doubt) there are some live tracks replacing some of their singles. Those can be found on another compilation The Very Best of the Hersham Boys

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B:  Only because it’s not really complete with the live tracks as a sub. Putting those two comps together would make it an A- for sure.

The Dramatics – Millenium Collection – 20th Century Masters

ARTIST: The Dramatics 71BZX23Ho-L._SX522_

TITLE:  Millennium Collection – 20th Century Masters

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 10: Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get (#9, #3 R&B), In the Rain (#5, #1 R&B), Hey You, Get Off My Mountain (#43, #5 R&B), Me & Mrs. Jones (#47, #4 R&B), You’re Fooling You (#87, #10 R&B), Be My Girl (#53, #3 R&B), I Can’t Get Over You (#101, #9 R&B), Shake It Well (#76, #4 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  No, not really.

LINEUP:  Ron Banks, William Howard, Elbert Wilkins, Willie Ford, Larry Demps. LJ Reynolds and Larry Mayes replaced Howard and Wilkins when they went rogue.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Long standing R&B vocal group had some essential early 70’s hits, and some good R&B radio songs until the disco era.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After logging serious time in the Detroit circuit with just a few singles, the Dramatics hit it big in 1971 with “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get”. Then “In the Rain” hit and the Dramatics legacy was pretty much cemented with those two tracks.

As the decade went on, the Dramatics and their producers added a bit more funk, then disco, into their songs, but their vocal blend was still pretty tasty. The only misstep early on was a cover of “Me & Mrs. Jones”, which hit big but really added nothing to the original.

These 12 tracks show the Dramatics as a group that tried to survive as long as they could as R&B moved to funk and then disco. They put out some classic numbers and deserve not to be forgotten.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The group played a big role in the 1967 incident at the Algeirs Hotel that sparked the Detroit riots. Their valet was killed in the ensuing violence.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but there are longer comps.

GRADE: B:  It’s not 100% essential but the early tracks need to be in a basic catalog.

 

Britney Spears – The Essential Britney Spears

ARTIST: Britney Spears  81svo0iDQJL._SX522_

TITLE:  The Essential Britney Spears

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: #185

SINGLES: Top 10: …Baby One More Time (#1 US, #1 UK), Sometimes (#21 US, #3 UK), (You Drive Me) Crazy (#10 US, #5 UK), Oops! I Did It Again (#9 US, #1 UK), Lucky (#23 US, #5 UK), Stronger (#11 US, #7 UK), I’m a Slave 4 U (#27 US, #4 UK), Overprotected (#86 US, #4 UK), I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman (#102 US, #2 UK), Boys (#122 US, #7 UK), Me Against the Music (#35 US, #2 UK), Toxic (#9 US, #1 UK), Everytime (#15 US, #1 UK), My Prerogative (#101 US, #3 UK), Do Somethin (#100 US, #6 UK), Gimme More (#3 US, #3 UK), Piece of Me (#1 US, #3 UK), Circus (#3 US, #13 UK), 3 (#1 US, #7 UK), Hold It Against Me (#1 US, #6 UK), ‘Til the World Ends (#3 US, #21 UK), I Wanna Go (#7 US, #111 UK), Scream and Shout (#3 US, #1 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  Oh, probably…

LINEUP:  Britney Spears, producers, song doctors, session musicians, the pop machine.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A fairly complete overview of the first 13 or so years of the pop phenomenon known as Britney Spears.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Beginning with “…Baby One More Time”, and rolling through her singles as of 2012, this collection of Ms. Spears hits shows her changing with the pop winds – moving from Lolita to Succubus along the way.

Ear candy to the nth degree, Spears was fed some outstanding pop tracks for her first releases, and then succumbed to formula (the second sugar rush isn’t as good as the first) for a while. She never did become an innovator, but broke out of the teen pop when that didn’t prove to be a long term prospect (in the US, the UK kept buying her stuff anyway).

Spears isn’t the best singer, and the ballads really expose her weaknesses (along with the lack of creativity in the songwriting), but she’s a perfect vehicle for semi-randy pop nuggets.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There are a few hits that came after this collection, the last being in 2016.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: C+:  Maybe too much for casual fans, and probably best for nostalgia, but a few songs are all-timers in the pop realm.

The Moody Blues – On the Threshold of a Dream

ARTIST: The Moody Blues 220px-Thresholdofadream

TITLE: On the Threshold of a Dream

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #20 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Never Comes the Day (#91)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lovely to See You

LINEUP: Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Hoo boy. A muddled album that seems to have a theme, but doesn’t except for the most part the Moody Blues are thirsty.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s some real good 60’s hippie hokum in the poems and lyrics here (“In the Beginning” is a ‘poem’ of sorts that has awful sound effects and puerile scare mongering), and that’s not the worst of it. Ray Thomas’ songs seem to be flown in from another concept album, and Mike Pinder’s “Have You Heard” and its nonsense is broken up by “The Voyage” which is an excuse for him to use his mellotron and other effects.

But most of the tracks in the middle, are, frankly, about the Moody Blues wanting to bed down some hippie chicks from London. “To Share Our Love”, “So Deep Within You”, and “Never Comes the Day” are almost embarrassing in their brazen codes for “get naked with me”, using most of the clichés of the business.

Lyrics aside (and they were supposed to be a deep group, too), the tunes themselves are memorable, with nice hooks and arrangements, and they even make the ‘love’ songs tolerable. The label also messed up and didn’t release the best pop song (and least embarrassing love song) “Lovely to See You” as a single.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The electronic sounds at the beginning also were in the run-out groove of the second side, so you couldn’t escape them.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, alternate takes and BBC sessions.

 GRADE C+: I really like some parts of this record, but some of this is just too embarrassing.

The Moody Blues – In Search of the Lost Chord

ARTIST: The Moody Blues 220px-In_search_of_the_lost_chord

TITLE: In Search of the Lost Chord

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #23 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Voices in the Sky (#27 UK), Ride My See-Saw (#61 US, #42 UK

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Legend of a Mind

LINEUP: Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Moodys follow up their breakthrough with a very well arranged and played album that contains quite a bit of late 60’s philosophical hooey.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Ditching the orchestra and using Mike Pinder’s mellotron and Roy Thomas’ windwoods for that ‘orchestra’ feel, The Moody Blues create a well-crafted album with great pop and rock elements.

“Ride My See-Saw” is first rate, and “Dr. Livingstone I Presume”, “The Best Way to Travel”, “Voices in the Sky”, and “Legend of a Mind” are great examples of a meld of progressive ideas in rock-and-roll. They share the stage with some tracks that are a bit…outlandish…and of that time. (I’m looking at you “House of Four Doors” and “Om”).

The lyrics are definitely of a time and place. Tributes to Timothy Leary and going to another plane of conscious thought (I guess) abound. Really, it’s best to kind of realize that this was a 1968 record for 1968 heads, and enjoy the tunes for what they are.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The title was inspired by a Jimmy Durante song.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, many with bonus tracks and other content.

GRADE A-: It’s sometimes ridiculous, but mostly enjoyable, and definitely transports you to 1968, man.

The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed

ARTIST: The Moody Blues 220px-TheMoodyBlues-album-daysoffuturepassed

TITLE: Days of Future Passed

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #3 US, #27 UK

SINGLES: Nights in White Satin (#103 US, #19 UK originally, #2 US, #9 UK on 1972 release), Tuesday Afternoon (#24 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really, but you could surprise me

LINEUP: Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A last chance record, aimed to help Decca incorporate stereo in pop music by demonstrating its classical stereo technique, turns into a defining record for the 60’s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Moody Blues changed personnel, and released a few singles with their new group to no notice. They had one last chance with Decca – make a record demonstrating their classical music “Deramic Sound” for their Deram imprint.

The group had worked up a song cycle about the day and night of an everyman, and it was this cycle that they recorded and allowed Peter Knight and his orchestra to add the classical pieces. Graeme Edge wrote two poems to begin and end the cycle (recited by Mike Pinder) and the album was complete and released. Surprisingly, it took off on FM radio in the States and became a constant seller even with the original single not doing that well.

As important as the album is (the first real progressive rock album many say), as a piece, it seems both short and bloated. The orchestral pieces fluff out the songs, sometimes to the detriment of the actual songs themselves. (Some would say the orchestral pieces are mainly fluff themselves). Meanwhile, there are only eight tracks of songs (many are combined into suites on side two) and at times those are shortchanged. Yet the quality of many of the tracks is high, especially “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)” (listed as “Tuesday Afternoon” on the single), “(Evening) Time to Get Away”, and “Twilight Time”.

The band left their beat group roots behind (only “Lunch Break: Peak Hour” has any traces of their past), and became a leader in the progressive / psychedelic genre. This is an album to have for what it is, though as a record it’s overrated a tad.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: By 1972, when they wanted to re-release “Nights in White Satin”, it was found the masters for the record were in bad shape, so they remixed the album for use (altering it a bit) and only could restore the original mix in 2017 (by recording a pristine copy of the LP digitially).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, several. One has the singles that the new version of the group recorded before this album released. They weren’t hits for a good reason.

GRADE B+: Fluffy strings, poems, and some pretension somewhat mar a decent cycle of songs.

The Feelies – Only Life

ARTIST: The Feelies Feeliesonlylife

TITLE: Only Life

YEAR RELEASED: 1988

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Away (#6 Modern Rock)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover What Goes On by the VU

LINEUP: Glenn Mercer, Bill Million, Stan Demeski, Brenda Sauter, Dave Weckerman

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A major label record, but the Feelies don’t really change up anything. And that’s just peachy.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The band’s biggest influence was the Velvet Underground, and the title track definitely is of a piece of later-period VU with Glenn Mercer’s voice having a definite Lou Reed vibe. They also cover “What Goes On” by Reed and company as the album ender, so the VU is a big part of this album.

Not everything specifically apes the Velvets. Many tracks are back to the gentle jangly strumming plus guitar solo of The Good Earth, with more emphasis on song than on mode. (The guitar solos are the secret weapon – not really distorted but not exactly clean, either). Tracks like “For Awhile” and “The Undertow” show some growth in songcraft, while maintaining their signature sound. They also use secondary percussionist Dave Weckerman to great effect on many tracks.

One thing about the Feelies is that they’re consistent. Their first three albums deliver exactly what the listener expects.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The title track is used as the theme of a podcast by the Harvard Business Review.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Solid album that solidified the Feelies’ place in college and alternative rock.

Blue Cheer – New! Improved!

ARTIST: Blue Cheer 220px-Blue_cheer_new_improved

TITLE: New! Improved!

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #84

SINGLES: West Coast Child of Sunshine

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover a Dylan song

LINEUP: Dickie Peterson, Paul Whaley. Bruce Stephens and Ralph Burns Kellogg are on side one. Randy Holden is on side two.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A move away from proto-metal after lineup shifts does nothing for the band, and many fans jump ship after this.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Dropping the needle on side one, track one, and you get “When It All Gets Old”, a song written by now full-time member Ralph Burns Kellogg. It’s not heavy, not at all. The second track, the single, has some of the old feel, but the record shows the band to have devolved into a semi-folky hippie band, complete with a bad Dylan cover.

Then, there’s side two. The way the band was supposed to sound. Randy Holden (famous for being an unknown guitarist of the 60’s and 70’s – seriously) led the band through two out-of-this-world psychedelic rock tracks in “Peace of Mind” and “Fruit and Icebergs” (go-to songs for mixes for those in the know – especially the latter). Blue Cheer as a power trio with guitars at the fore – that’s the band we know and love.

But that’s all we got from Holden, and Peterson and Whaley had to scramble to finish the record after Holden left. So that’s why the first half is the way it is, and why Blue Cheer moved away from their best selves.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Holden joined after Leigh Stephens left due to deafness or in protest of Peterson’s drug use. Holden left suddenly when he found he had no money as the money went to Peterson’s habit. Oh, this isn’t streaming, but the good Holden tracks are on a Blue Cheer comp that’s still around.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple of extra tracks.

 GRADE C-: An A for Side Two, with Holden. You can tell what I think about the other side, and Blue Cheer going forward.

Blue Cheer – Outsideinside

ARTIST: Blue Cheer

TITLE: Outsideinside220px-Blue_cheer_outsideinside

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #90

SINGLES: Just a Little Bit (#92), Feathers From Your Tree, The Hunter

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Satisfaction

LINEUP: Dickie Peterson, Leigh Stephens, Paul Whaley. Ralph Kellogg added the keyboards.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Toning down the volume but not the drugs, the follow-up by Blue Cheer is surprisingly nuanced, especially in contrast to their bludgeon of a debut.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sure, there are a couple of songs that are loud just to be loud, but Blue Cheer’s second album is more than an excuse for deafness.

Starting out with the nuanced “Feathers From Your Tree” and the relatively mellow “Sun Cycle”, Blue Cheer is more in the psychedelic camp this time around. And even with some of the songs being loud, tracks like “Gypsy Ball” and “The Hunter” are more than just amp-cranking exercises.

They do stumble with a cover of “Satisfaction” which kind of sounds half-hearted, and “Come and Get It” is something that just thuds along with no remorse, but this is an overall better record that is more varied without alienating the fans of volume.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It’s called Outsideinside since they recorded some tracks at Muir Beach in California and Pier 57 in NYC, along with using four actual studios.. Also soundman Peter Wagner is credited for co-writing three songs.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A remaster with one outtake, again. They didn’t waste much.

 GRADE B: There are a couple of stumbles here, but the good tracks are better. It’s also loud as heck at times, again.