Thursday, 24 December 2015
Listed below are the bands and singers featured for each month in 2015, including the ongoing "Classic Albums" series which featured several acts including The Thrills (above). The December 2015 blog can be found due right, which features The Stranglers' "Rattus Norvegicus" as part of that series.
The complete list for the year is shown below:
January 2015 - Prince
February 2015 - Echobelly
March 2015 - The Beatles
April 2015 - Neil Young
May 2015 - The Stranglers
June 2015 - The Thrills
July 2015 - Yes
August 2015 - Madonna
September 2015 - Lou Reed
October 2015 - The Moody Blues
November 2015 - Led Zeppelin
December 2015 - The Stranglers
To look at blogs from January to November, just click on the relevant month.
"U better be happy that dress is still on, I heard the rip when U sat down"
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
When it comes to discussing the best Stranglers album, two tend to rise to the surface. First, you have 1978’s “Black And White”, described by some as the first post-punk album - impressive when you consider that punk was actually still going at the time of it‘s release. And then you have 1979’s “The Raven”. By the time this one came out, the band were becoming fascinated by UFO’s, dressing in black, and were getting deadly serious about what they were doing - the tour that followed saw virtually the whole album being played on stage, whilst the likes of “Peaches” and “No More Heroes”, the band’s two biggest hits, had been wiped from the setlists.
It was almost as if the band were slightly embarrassed by their past - that the gobbing nature of the punk scene which had sort of spawned them was something to disown, that the early days reminded them of when they were being accused of being sexist yobs - and so by avoiding some of the music from that period, the band could be seen as having grown up and moved on. But for me, of the four studio albums the band issued in the seventies, my favourite is still the one that emerged at the start when all that gobbing nonsense was still going on - 1977’s debut album “Rattus Norvegicus”.
For some, “Rattus” is a problematic product of it’s time - it’s seen by some as misogynistic and politically incorrect. But if you place those offending lyrics within the right context, then read the band’s own quote about the words being deliberately “silly and absurd”, and then actually sit and listen to the actual music, you will realise that “Rattus” is a remarkable piece of work. It has an inventiveness that was replicated in one form or another on all of the later albums - essentially, whatever LP it is that you like from the band that isn’t this one, it has this album to thank for it’s existence. Without “Down In The Sewer”, you wouldn’t have had “Hallow To Our Men” or “Too Precious” or “Time To Die“ or “Another Camden Afternoon“. This was the album that got the band the ‘Punk Floyd’ tag - in other words, this was a group that at times married the aggressive nature of punk, with the psychedelic ambition of the Floyd. And if the band really WERE chauvinistic pigs, well, the amount of women I see at Stranglers gigs makes me think that somebody, somewhere, really did miss the point.
Now, given that even the band members themselves have struggled to recall the timeline of what happened during the early days, then I can only try and give you what I think is a reasonable view about “what happened next” and when it more or less happened. The origins of the album, and the band, can be traced way back to early 1973, when Hugh Cornwell was guitarist in a group called Johnny Sox. Cornwell was studying at University in Sweden when he formed the band, and after his studies came to an end, he and the band returned to England. They lost two band members along the way - guitarist, keyboard player and founding member Hans Warmling, and a drummer by the name of ’Chicago Mike’. The band located to London, and responded to an advert that had been placed in the Melody Maker by a drummer offering his services.
That drummer was Brian Duffy, AKA Jet Black. Black was older than the rest of the band, and had even had a brief brush with near fame some years earlier - he had a history of drumming in jazz bands, one of which even went to the effort of pressing up a white label 7” EP. The Omega Dance Orchestra was their name, and less than 50 copies of this single were ever made, with possibly less than that still surviving. Born in Ilford, Black had by now relocated to Guildford where he had moved away from music for the most part, and instead ran several local businesses - most famously, he was the owner of a fleet of ice cream vans, and later ran his own off licence. Black came into contact with the band in late 73.
Black thought that whilst Johnny Sox were far from the finished article, they had something lurking under the surface that he liked. He was not impressed with the band’s lead singer, Gyrth Godwin, but did feel that the songs that Cornwell was writing had a certain something. Black agreed to join the group and the band moved down to Guildford to join him.
As the band began to take shape, Black was so determined that they should succeed, that he got frustrated at those members who he felt were letting the side own. Although some reports suggest Gyrth and bass player Jan Knutsson soon became fed up at the band’s lack of progress, Black’s own account of the band at this time was that they ‘get serious or get out’. The result? Gyrth and Knutsson both made the decision to leave the group and return to Sweden.
Johnny Sox, who at some point had become the short lived Wanderlust, were thus temporarily reduced to a two piece of just Black and Cornwell. However, just before his departure from the band, Gyrth had hitched a lift with a Frenchman by the name of Jean Jacques Burnel, who became friends with the fledgling band and remained in touch thereafter. After Gyrth and Knutsson had departed, Burnel happened to mention to the band that he was a classically trained guitarist, but that he fancied the idea of using these techniques with the bass guitar instead. Burnel was thus invited into the group, and the three piece went out on the gigging circuit, with Cornwell as their erstwhile lead singer.
In the summer of 1974, Cornwell felt that the band could do with a beefing up of the sound, and contacted Warmling, inviting him into the band. The group changed their name briefly to The Guildford Stranglers, before shortening it to The Stranglers. Again, so determined was Black for the group to make waves, that he even went to the trouble of officially registering the band’s name as a business name that September.
Demos were taped with Warmling in September 74, including an embryonic version of “Strange Little Girl”. The group continued to play the pub circuit, trying out self penned material alongside cover versions to appease the crowds - legend has it that “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” was in the setlists as a bit of a joke, but Warmling soon left, citing the cover version debacle as one of his reasons for departing. Perhaps more crucially, however, is the fact that another of the covers from the time was the band’s take on “Walk On By”, even today, still a routine part of the setlist.
By early 1975, the band found themselves signing a dubious deal with Safari Records - the ’Xulu Comics’ “Stranglers Discography” mentions an unreleased 7” on the label, “My Young Dreams”, which was one of the tracks that had been demoed with Warmling (although details about whether or not this single actually exists are sketchy). This song, along with the original “SLG” and another early period rarity called “Wasted”, were later included on the 1992 “The Early Years” album. The deal may well have promised the release of a commercially available 45, but this never materialised, and the group ended up managing to escape from the deal. Safari did later claim a level of ownership over the demos the group had made with Warmling, even threatening to release the material themselves once the group had found success. After Warmling had left, there was a brief period with a sax player (thereby pre-dating the sound of “Grip“), before multi-instrumentalist Dave Greenfield joined the band in the summer of 1975, becoming their new keyboard player.
A friend of the band, Brian Crook, became their manager at this point, and set about trying to get the band a proper deal. Demo tapes of “SLG” and “My Young Dreams” were hawked around record companies but to no avail, and a single sided acetate of “SLG” was even pressed up to be played to A&R men. EMI, famously, heard it - and passed!
1976 arrived, and marked the beginning of a heavily intensive gigging campaign, with the group eventually clocking up just shy of 200 shows by the end of the year. The band were regulars on the London circuit, and eventually came to the attention of Albion Management, who signed the group and took over the management duties from Crook. By now, the cover versions had mostly gone (the band had not only stopped performing the likes of “I Saw Her Standing There”, which had been part of their typical 1975 setlist, but also, for a while, ditched “Walk On By” as well) and Albion began arranging gigs for them left right and centre. Amongst these bookings were support slots for groups that were part of the new US Punk scene, such as the Patti Smith Group and The Ramones, even though some people who saw the band struggled to see the lineage between the support act and the headliners. Even the band themselves later stated they were never really punks, but it did seem as though the association with the genre did help to beef up the sound of the group - check out some of the early material on “The Early Years” against the later, studio recorded efforts.
One of Albion’s employees, Dai Davies, was a big fan of the band, and began pestering an A&R rep at United Artists, Andrew Lauder, about this great group he ’had on his books’. During the second half of 76, Lauder started to attend Stranglers gigs, but whenever he showed up, the group would usually undergo some sort of technical malfunction - Greenfield’s bank of keyboards were famously of an OTT creation.
But Albion really believed in The Stranglers, and arranged for the band to play a “demonstration” gig in their own rehearsal studios for Lauder. This might have seemed like an unconventional approach, and could have created an awkward situation, but, away from the stresses of a pub venue, the band were able to set up their equipment correctly and put on a faultless performance. Lauder, who had sensed the band had something special, but had never fully seen it at those “technically hitched” shows, finally saw the light - and pretty much signed the group to UA there and then.
What happened next is also subject to conjecture. UA had, earlier in the year, issued a live album by another one of their acts, Dr Feelgood. They hastily arranged for a last minute gig to be held later that week by the band, with the venue chosen being one of their regular gigging haunts, London’s Nashville Rooms. The gig was scheduled for December 10th. The plan was for the band to play their usual set, and that UA would record it, in order to source material for a (live) debut album. By now, the band had built up a live following (see the stories of Dagenham Dave and the still around today Finchley Boys), and so UA were able to fill the venue despite it being at such short notice. The band played a typical set, a mix of tracks that would later appear on “Rattus”, and many more that would be held over for later releases.
Lauder was later quoted as saying that the gig was only taped to have some material held “in store”, I am guessing that any material that would be deemed to be OK for a commercial release would only have been as a B-side, or perhaps on a future live album. The band and their management team listened back to the show, and deemed it ‘substandard‘, and so any plans that there might have been for the live LP, were shelved. The date of this shelving has been given as the first week of January 77.
The band’s debut single was issued at the end of the month. It was the first of three singles to be issued that year as double-A side releases, with Cornwell taking lead on one side, and Burnel on the other (the band’s fourth 45, “No More Heroes”, featured a Cornwell vocal on both sides of the single, and thus ended the AA-side approach). “Get A Grip On Yourself”/”London Lady” was a sizeable hit, just stalling outside the top 40, and undoubtedly did so well because of the band’s burgeoning fan base. The A-side recalled the early days of the band following their relocation to Guildford, whilst “London Lady” started the debate about the band’s “sexist” stance, as it was either a lyrical attack on the journalist Caroline Coon who it was rumoured had briefly dated Cornwell, or was, according to Coon’s own website, a more generic “woman hating fantasy” which contained “evidence of the sexism and misogyny that contaminates the male dominated music industry”. In reality, the song seems simply to have been written as a vitriolic response from a spurned male lover to a female ex-lover, it could just as easily have been written the other way round. But this was the year after the slightly questionable ad campaign for the Stones’ “Black And Blue”, and by the time we got to “Bring On The Nubiles” and the strippers at Battersea Park, the band were seen as being part and parcel of a bigger problem of sexism in rock and roll, with “London Lady“ being cited as a prime example.
In Holland, the version of the single issued there included an instant rarity, as an alternate mix of “Grip” was included on the a-side, coming complete with an extended ending. I don’t quite know how this happened, but it must have been that the Dutch arm of the label had access to the original master tapes, and ended up creating a different mix - I think you can see how this happened if you listen to the 1989 remixes that were created for EMI’s reissue of the single that year. The song, which was the recipient of a video clip filmed at the Hope And Anchor pub, another old favourite of the band, effectively set up the sound of the band from the off - Burnel’s growling bass, Greenfield’s distinctive keyboard flourishes - as good as a lot of the punk bands were, none of them were quite as tuneful or musically adventurous as this lot was.
The group toured the UK the following month, and then simply kept going in the run up to the album’s release. The album had been recorded during the last few weeks of December 76, and most of January 1977, but was not released in the UK until April. Helped along by the group’s ever increasing following, it entered the UK charts at number 4. With only their second official release, the band had established themselves as major chart players.
The cover art was fascinating. The band’s famous logo, as seen on the “Grip” single and in early merchandise, was not shown on the front cover. Nor was the album title. The record was, at one point, going to be called “Dead On Arrival”, but at some point, this was changed. There also exists (proof?) artwork which shows the famous back cover art in such a way that it looks like a front cover (ie. no song titles) so that could be a clue that these changes took place late on in proceedings. That rear cover, complete with the band logo, shows the famous ’rat against the sunset’ image, still being rebooted for merchandise to this very day. The “rat” image would end up becoming an integral part of the band’s history, and the eventually chosen title for the LP was also the scientific name for the brown rat.
What we did get on the cover was a brilliant shot of the group in what looked like a big country mansion, with Burnel in his leathers looking both menacing and camp in equal measures. The 2010 best of, “Decades Apart”, also paid a passing homage to the image. The band name appeared at the top, and the legend “IV” at the bottom, in a fairly normal low-key typeface. To this day, I am still not sure what this “IV” thing was really for. Some people have assumed that the album title was “IV Rattus Norvegicus”, but given that the “Stranglers IV” legend cropped up again on “No More Heroes”, that puts that suggestion to rest. It seems as through the group, at times, were actually calling themselves “The Stranglers IV” to describe the make up of the group - when the Mark 2 line up emerged in 1991, the five piece version of the band did issue merchandise using a “Stranglers V” logo.
A lot of people prefer the “outtakes” follow up LP that appeared later the same year, “No More Heroes” - but not me. “Rattus”, overall, is a more daring, complex and groundbreaking LP. The opening “Sometimes” is astonishing - it follows the verse chorus verse structure, albeit with a lengthy extended set of solos in the middle, where both Cornwell and Greenfield get to show off their prowess. It’s nearly five minutes long, and as an opening song on a debut LP, is incredibly forward thinking - “progressive rock” even. It’s certainly one hell of a statement of intent to start your album career with and even today, still sounds astonishingly ahead of it’s time.
If you want more proof that the band were not quite the Neanderthal thugs that some parts of the media were painting them as, then look no further than “Goodbye Toulouse” - a whirring Greenfield keyboard intro, Burnel’s “bass guitar as lead guitar” snarl, Black’s powerhouse drumming and a song about “the destruction of Toulouse, as predicted by Nostradamus”. Makes that song Ed Sheeran did about Ellie Goulding dumping him sound even more irrelevant and pointless than you’d previously thought, doesn‘t it?
And on it goes. “London Lady” thrills in a truly bouncy punk rock way, short but spiky, whilst “Princess Of The Streets” swings and shimmies in a sort of off-kilter Frank Sinatra style, it was described as being “burlesque” by somebody on one website, a sort of punk rock waltz. Like much of what appeared on the album, it dated from the pub circuit days, and used to end back then with a “you’ve got me waiting for you girl” coda on stage, which was not used for the studio mix. When a version from a 1975 gig Cornwell taped surfaced in 1992 on “The Early Years”, The Stranglers (Mark 2) then went through a period where they performed the song in concert with the coda intact.
“Hanging Around”, the great Stranglers single that - in the UK - never was, concludes side 1. Always slightly more raucous on stage than on record (this was why, according to some, the Nashville gig had been scheduled, as the band’s studio demos from the period were seen to be ’under par’), it is nevertheless a piece of almost perfect (punk) pop. The classic minimalist intro, Greenfield’s thrilling keyboard lines as the verses move into the choruses, the anthemic roar of those choruses, and Cornwell’s rough around the edges guitar solo in the middle eight, helped to deservedly make this a song which has, through all the line up changes, remained almost permanently nailed into the band’s setlist. It has appeared on “hits” collections on this side of the pond despite never being released as a 45, although it was one of four songs on the US only “Something Better Change” EP issued in late 1977, in a “Grip” style picture sleeve.
“Peaches”, which was being readied as the next 45, was probably one of the most un-radio friendly songs on the record when you look at the lyrics, making it’s choice as single quite perverse. It’s written from the perspective of a slightly deluded macho man trawling the beach, and it’s leering tone is actually quite comical, straight out of the “Carry On” league, completely OTT, and deliriously stupid - a sort of punk/reggae version of those old saucy seaside postcards. It was a song so obviously tongue in cheek it hurts, with lyrics that were done possibly to try and show how “naughty” the punks could be. Over familiarity has dented it’s impact over the years, and although I sometimes wish I would never hear it again, every time that opening Burnel bass line kicks in, you realise just how fun, boorishly ludicrous and insanely catchy it actually is.
“Ugly” could also be seen as another piece of aggressive macho snarling (“I guess I shouldn’t have strangled her to death”), but again, is either very tongue in cheek or just plain silly (“but I had to go to work, and she had laced my coffee with acid...normally I wouldn’t have minded, but I’m allergic to sulphuric acid” - and so on). The song itself is a sort of ugly sounding record, with Cornwell’s spiky guitar coming at you from one direction, and Cornwell’s Doors-esque keyboards from another, whilst the song runs along like a lengthy stream of consciousness, no verse chorus verse approach here. It does pack quite a punch. And then at the end, yet again, the intelligence of the band comes through, with the line “don’t tell me that aesthetics are subjective, you just know the truth when you see it, whatever it is”. Now, that is heavy, heavy stuff.
“Down In The Sewer” just tops it all off. A four part “punk opera” with a lengthy instrumental opening, an even lengthier instrumental ending, and lyrical references to rats, it could stake a claim as being the band’s signature tune. Everybody is on top form here, Cornwell’s acidic guitar, Greenfield’s keyboard histronics, Burnel high up in the mix, and Black excelling during that ‘faster and faster, all hands on deck’ finale. I think that Black later stated that the band usually tried to play it near the end of the gig, if possible, before the encores, so that the band had time to recover! I can’t really describe it here in such a way that does it justice, but if I just say that it’s a cross between The Doors, Yes, The Pistols and the Monty Python theme, that should just about cover it.
When the LP was first issued, the vinyl edition’s first run (10000 copies) came with a free 7” (United Artists UAG 30045 / FREE 3), the free single being housed in an anonymous looking orange cover. On one side was a studio outtake, “Choosey Susie”, and on the other, the only official outing for anything from the Nashville gig, with a version from that show of “Peasant In The Big Shitty”, later to be issued in studio form on “No More Heroes”. Thing is, 10000 copies of an LP in those days was chicken feed, and most people who bought it even quite early on missed the boat, and ended up with an LP with no freebie. As such, copies of the single itself started to change hands for more than the album! A reissue of the single was later conducted, and sold through the band’s fan club - copies featured a different message scratched into the run out groove (“Ello Ellen”). There was an even later reissue from the 80s, which replaced the custom white and red UA/Stranglers labels with the bog standard Liberty labels (the band having shifted sideways to the label by this point, after Liberty swallowed up the UA imprint), which as I understand it, came in a die cut sleeve, instead of the orange original. The EMI Singles boxset issued on CD in 2001 included, interestingly, a reissue of the original single in it’s orange cover, a nice touch for anybody who might still have been trying to track down the 77 pressing.
For it’s release as the next 45, “Peaches” was subjected to a radio edit, in which Cornwell had to re-record the “oh shit” lyric for it to become “oh no“, and replace the references to “clitoris” and “bummer”. Made available commercially on the 1988 “Rarities” album, the radio mix had, up until that point, been only available on either an increasingly valuable 7” promo sent to the radio stations, or a later fan club endorsed re-pressing. The actual commercially released single itself was due to be issued as a AA with “Go Buddy Go”, written by Burnel ’pre-Stranglers’ and presenting a sort of doo-wop 50s style sound. When the single hit the charts, the lyrical content of “Peaches” meant that the band had to perform “Go Buddy Go” when they were invited to appear on “Top Of The Pops” - the line about “I’ve got me some speed” obviously being seen as more acceptable than mentioning parts of the female anatomy!
UA designed a “punk” sleeve for the single - a fairly innocuous image of the band, but with the title of the single spelt out in ’blackmail’ style lettering. The group saw it - and were incensed. The handful of copies that had been pressed were promptly withdrawn at the request of the group, and most copies that helped get the single into the top 10 were actually issued in blank white due cut sleeves. Because 45’s in those days used to just sell and sell, later repressings of the single from 1979 saw it housed in a new picture sleeve - a picture of a peach wearing a pair of bikini bottoms that were being yanked off by an “admirer”, so to speak. As for the blackmail sleeve, it soon became an impossibly expensive rarity, but then became more and more common - the 2001 singles boxset used the image, as did a 2014 Record Store Day reissue - indeed, the “peach” sleeve is now probably more obscure than the blackmail one.
During the 80s, bits and pieces from the original album sessions started to surface - officially and unofficially. A 1980 fan club single was issued with a demo of “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter”, which dated from 1976, and was being billed on some pressings as “First Demo Recording Early 1976”. As such, it really pre-dates the “Rattus“ period by several months, and indeed, the song did seem as though it had been ditched by the end of 76, as it was not in the setlists of the time, whereas material being lined up for “No More Heroes” was. Various editions of the single exist, with a limited number of 1988 pressings coming in a numbered picture sleeve. Demos of “Grip”, “Go Buddy Go” and the “NMH” album track “Bitching” appeared on a 1987 7” bootleg called “3 Early Demos” on the Pan-Vox label, and can all now be found on “The Early Years”. This LP is worth tracking down, as it also includes a tape of one of the band’s support slots for Patti Smith in late 76, and shows how the band’s setlist of the time was a mix of material from both “Rattus” and “No More Heroes” - it seems as though all of these songs were thus being considered as being good enough for release, and that the choice of the nine songs that were issued first on “Rattus” had gone through some sort of selection process. It’s never been too clear to me exactly why the likes of “School Mam” were held over for the second LP, other than the fact that this allowed the debut album to be issued on a single slab of vinyl. But it has been confirmed that some of the material for “Heroes” was actually taped during the original sessions for “Rattus”, shelved, and then exhumed for the follow up.
The first major reissue for the album occurred in 1982, when the LP was reissued by one of EMI’s budget labels, Fame (FA 3001). By this point, both of the band’s pre-Epic labels (UA and Liberty) came under the EMI umbrella. In keeping with the typical reissue approach of the time, the artwork was kept mostly intact, front and back covers in situ, but of course, there was no free single this time around. The labels on the vinyl itself were changed from the original “rat in the sunset” ones to Fame’s own yellow and red design. A Cassette pressing was also made.
In 1987 and 88, a major CD reissue campaign of the band’s “EMI” era albums was conducted by the label, focussing on the six studio LP’s and one live album that the band had put out between 77 and 82. Some reissues appeared on Fame, and others - such as “Rattus” - on the main EMI imprint (CDP 7 46362 2). Most of the albums added the odd bonus track from the period to take into account the expanded playing time of the format, with the exception of “Rattus”. This was because the three rarities from the time were shoe-horned onto other releases - “Choosey Susie” was used as the opener to the 1988 “Rarities” set, whilst the live “Peasant” appeared, as you might have expected, on the reissue of “Live (X-Cert)”. As for “Go Buddy Go”, it had turned up on 1986’s “Off The Beaten Track”, a release thus seemingly deemed as being recent enough for the song to be left off. Shame that this album, I believe, had actually been deleted at the time. Hey ho. The radio edit of “Peaches”, meanwhile, was also included on “Rarities”.
Once the reissue campaign was over, EMI decided to issue a singles collection called “Singles The UA Years” and the remixed “Grip” was issued to coincide. Two mixes of the song were made, one a 7” remix and one a 12”, and completists who fancied both could purchase either the 12” or CD edition of the 45 to tick both boxes. “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter” was added as a bonus track to both, the first time it had appeared on a ‘regular’ release, whilst coloured vinyl obsessives had the option of buying a red vinyl 7” pressing as well.
As mentioned elsewhere on this site in the past, 1996 saw the short lived EMI Premier imprint issue the band’s first two albums as expanded “double disc” sets as some sort of “20th Birthday of Punk” excuse. The second disc was used to include all of the relevant rarities from the period, so what you really had was something similar to the original LP release, a full length CD with a free EP. For “Rattus”, this now meant that both sides of the original freebie and “Go Buddy Go” were included in this reissue (PROFCD 5), although I believe it was deleted quite quickly. Of course, the bonus tracks could quite easily have slotted onto the main disc, but the advantage of this double disc approach was that the main album still concluded, as it should do, with “Sewer”.
In 2001, EMI decided it was time to revamp the back catalogue again, and reissued the seven albums from the period as expanded CD pressings once more. This time around, the attempt was made to stick all the rarities onto the expanded releases, meaning things that had turned up back in 88 on “Rarities” were this time around appearing on the corresponding LP from the relevant period. As such, the three tracks from the 1996 double disc pressing of “Rattus” were now simply glued onto the end of the album (7243 5 34406 2 6), meaning “Sewer” was no longer the climax. Boo. However, it fared better than some of the other reissues from the period, as the revamps of things like “The Raven” and “La Folie” came in altered artwork, or with impossible-to-read lyric booklets second time around. “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter” was added to the expanded “Meninblack”, referring to the time of it’s original fan club single release date, and, of course, (the re-recorded) “Strange Little Girl” was added to “La Folie”. This release also included “Cocktail Nubiles”, which had appeared on the flip of the “Hereafter” 7”, and as it’s title suggested, was a supper club version of “Bring On The Nubiles”, taped specifically for the single I do believe in 1980.
In 2003, a slightly odd release from Germany, on Capitol Records, surfaced - a “double disc” reissue of the expanded versions of “Rattus” and “Black And White” (582 3572). These discs were repressings of the 2001 versions, so “Rattus” came with it’s three bonus tracks intact. The album appeared in a thick double jewel case, with a suitably custom designed cover - the band name at the top of the sleeve, and miniature reprints of the two covers below. Inside, the booklets from the two albums were included, quite a simple - and dare I say, sort of clever, but cheap looking - move, but at least it was better than having no booklets at all - although it did make you wonder why these two albums, and none of the other five, were subjected to this treatment. It was almost as if EMI had pressed too many copies of them, and saw this as a way of flogging the excess stock. Surely not?
2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the band, based on the date that Black had registered the band’s name, and despite quotes of much “revamping” of the back catalogue to coincide, there were only a handful of cash in releases. One of these, “Giants And Gems”, was a curious boxset release by Parlophone/Warner Brothers (2564 633677), who by now, were in charge of the EMI/UA/Liberty material. The box set included reissues of the six studio albums from the 77-82 period, and thus included “Rattus” as part of the pack. This time around, there were no bonus tracks. You also got the “Live (X-Cert)” album, “Off The Beaten Track” (to make a reasonably rare album of rarities available again), and the taped-in-77-but-released-in-92 EMI release “Live At The Hope And Anchor”. But it’s a curious release because, despite being concerned with the EMI years, there is no “Norfolk Coast” - there is “Suite XVI”, as expected, but also the independently released “Giants”, which last time I looked, had had no EMI involvement in the UK at all. In other words, the Mark 1 years before they went ‘pop’ and the Mark 4 years. So, a 40th anniversary release that complete ignores everything between 1983 and 2005. Really, no “Norfolk Coast”? It seemed to have been designed specifically for those fans who threw in the towel when they heard the drum machines on “Feline”, but got excited when the band reverted to a 4-piece when Paul walked. Another baffling re-writing of history. A nice starting point for the newbies, but still, a strange release with what it did and did not include. 2014 also saw an expanded reissue of the 1993 boxset “The Old Testament”, which included all nine tracks from “Rattus” on disc 1, and all of the other rarities from the period scattered around the rest of the box.
Keeping up with the trend of vinyl loving retro-ness, 2015 saw the reissue of the band’s first two albums on their own Coursegood imprint as expensive, tarted up, Long Players. The aim was to try and recreate as much as possible how the records looked when they first came out, and so it was that “Rattus” came with it’s freebie 7” again for the first time in many a year (CGLP 1). However, the reissue was actually more ‘intense’ than the original, as it also included the SIS lyric sheet that was produced some years after the original release and distributed independently, along with a re-print of the original promo poster. 500 copies were pressed, so the original asking price of £25 is probably already starting to rise.
“Rattus” really is a good album. It does seem, nearly 40 years on, as though there is still a part of the media that has never forgiven the band for the strippers, the “piece of meat” line in “Princess Of The Streets”, the Guardian described the band as ‘punk bruisers’ in their gig listings quite recently. Which is a shame because this is one of the finest debut albums of all time, and one of the greatest records ever - an inventive, exhilarating, and flawless piece of psychedelic punk rock, and a lot more daring and exciting that any of those massive selling Adele LP’s. There has been, in recent years, an increasing adoration towards this band, and I can only hope that eventually, all those people who have never listed this album in their “top 100 greatest albums” lists will rectify the error. It’s easily up there with The Stone Roses, Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys in terms of classic first records, and hopefully soon, the public at large will catch up and realise this.
"I’ll see you in the sewer darling. Don’t be late."
Wednesday, 18 November 2015
There are a number of things about Led Zepp, apart from the music, that are quite interesting. The fact that they were formed as an incarnation of another already existing group, the fact that they refused to release any singles in the UK, the fact that they never played a gig north of Watford after 1973, the fact that they have issued not one but three “untitled” records, and the fact that they have just completed a reissue campaign which was at times so underwhelming, it makes you wonder why they bothered. More of that later on.
The band’s reputation as possible originators of heavy metal - a claim that, if it were me, I would attempt to disprove - or at least, as one of the leading lights of “hard rock”, is undisputed, and up until the end of the 70s, the group had released a series of solid, and sometimes spectacular, records upon which their legacy was built. This is a brief little overview of what was a relatively short career, but one which has had a long lasting impact. Because the UK discography is relatively simple, eight studio albums, one posthumous single, and a few other bits and pieces, catalogue numbers for each release are shown in the main article itself. This will relate to the original release, be it vinyl, CD or DVD, and the 2014/15 reissue campaign will be mentioned at the very end.
The band’s origins go back to 1967, when guitarist Jimmy Page joined The Yardbirds in time for the release of their “Little Games” album. By 1968, the band had more or less broken up, but there was the small issue of an already scheduled European tour on the cards. Page was given the nod to put together a new line up of the band to fulfil these dates, and the band were to be renamed “The New Yardbirds”. Imagine going to see the “New Oasis” and realising it consists just of Bonehead and four other random people. Anyway, this new version of the band was completed with the hiring of singer Robert “Percy” Plant, bass player John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, through various contacts that Page had, and a concert setlist consisting heavily of covers was put together, alongside the odd old Yardbirds hit, such as “For Your Love“. “Dazed And Confused”, which the original Yardbirds had covered in concert, remained in the set, and a revamped (and re-credited) version would appear on the first Zeppelin album.
Even though The New Yardbirds had been put together to complete the outstanding tour dates, the chemistry that the band members found between themselves as soon as they had done their first rehearsal was regarded as something special. This encouraged them to consider making this a full blown career, rather than just be used as a contractual obligation duty, and after the tour was finished, the group decided to go into the studio to record an LP. A UK tour was also scheduled, and initial dates under “The New Yardbirds” banner were played in October 1968, but the consensus is that the arrangement Page had been granted had just been to complete the European tour, and so when word filtered through of the continued existence of the ‘Yardbirds’ to former member Chris Dreja, the band were informed that a name change would be required. By November 1968, the group had been re-christened Led Zeppelin, although Page has quoted in some interviews that he wanted to change the name anyway to showcase this band as being quite separate from his old one. The name was derived from the phrase ’going down like a lead balloon’, in reference to a conversation Page had had with The Who’s John Entwistle during the final years of the “Old” Yardbirds, about Page’s desire to form a super group with members of The Who and Jeff Beck.
The band’s debut LP, simply titled “Led Zeppelin” (LP, Atlantic 588 171) surfaced in 1969. The band’s R&B roots appear quite heavily across the record, although John Paul Jones’ organ arrangement on “Your Time Is Gonna Come” helps to move this record away from what could otherwise have been just another UK band having yet another stab at traditional US music once again. That, and Page’s guitar histrionics, Bonham’s powerhouse drums, and Plant’s vocal range, help to lift the album‘s quality above that of, say, the first Moody Blues record. I don’t go back to this record as often as some of the others, but when I do, I realise that this is actually a very good beginning to a career that would really blossom on future releases - the blues is in there, but thankfully isn’t of snore-some modern-day Clapton stylings, but is a version spiced with psychedelic splashes, and pure rock and roll noise. Just check out “Communication Breakdown”.
The wheel wasn’t completely reinvented on “Led Zeppelin II” (LP, Atlantic 588198), issued later the same year, but there was an element of the sound being ’expanded’ - the gargantuan roar of “Whole Lotta Love”, the quiet bit loud bit thrill of “What Is And What Should Never Be”, the warped R&B of “The Lemon Song” with it’s famous squeezing the lemon lyric, and the closing “Bring It On Home”, where Percy’s vocals sound like they were recorded on a tape deck where the heads hadn’t been cleaned beforehand for about 50 years. Despite the “no singles” rule in the UK, the overseas arms of the band’s label didn’t comply with this instruction, and by now, the issuing of 45’s in other countries had helped cement the band’s reputation in the USA and beyond, with the likes of “Whole Lotta Love” turning the group into worldwide superstars. An edited version of this track was made available on radio station promos.
“Led Zeppelin III” (LP, Atlantic 2401 002), from 1970, is notable not only for it’s “wheel” artwork, but the fact that the band more or less completely changed direction here, creating an album that was heavily, heavily indebted to acoustic and folk music. You can’t find a single person with a bad word to say about Zepp nowadays, but apparently, back then, the music press hated them, and when they heard this one, hated them even more because of it‘s musical about turn. It’s now seen as a defining moment in rock and roll history, the point at which the Zepp began to make themselves harder to categorize, and helping to make folk-rock no longer be seen as a dirty word. That said, the opening number is still the best, the electrified primal roar that is “Immigrant Song”.
From many, myself included, it‘s the fourth album which was the first real Zepp classic - and is probably still the best. Famously issued without a title as an apparent two fingered salute to the music critics, the appearance of four symbols on the cover and the fact this was the next release after “Zepp 3“ explains why everybody and their dog refers to their 1971 album release as “Led Zeppelin IV” (LP, Atlantic 2401 012). Home to the much scoffed at, but epically awesome madness that is “Stairway To Heaven”, this record rocks hard - the snarling double whammy opener of “Black Dog” and “Rock And Roll”, the organ driven throb of “Misty Mountain Hop”, the acoustic swirl of the sublime “Going To California” and the thunderous pounding of “When The Levee Breaks”, where Bonham’s drums sound like they have been transported in from the depths of hell, this is a record that hipsters might want to try and moan about, but it really is as good as it’s reputation suggests. As a live band, the Zepp were now starting to move away from clubs and theatres to bigger and bolder venues, and the era of stadium rock was starting to dawn.
But the music still remained good for the next few albums. 1973‘s “Houses Of The Holy” (LP, Atlantic K 50014) may well have been home to the awful cod-reggae of “D’Yer Maker” (a reminder that, along with UB40, you should really leave this sort of stuff to the experts - or at least, to The Clash), but was also home to the storming rock of “The Song Remains The Same”, the melodic beauty of “The Rain Song” or the keyboard twizzles of the majestic “No Quarter”. Such was the quality of what made this set, was that they left the (potential) title track off the LP altogether. The group headed out on tour, and were now firmly established as arena conquering rock beasts. They played three shows at New York’s Madison Square Gardens, which were filmed for a potential concert film, only for the concept to be temporarily shelved. There was no UK tour conducted in support of the record, the band’s last UK gig having been back in January (two months before the album’s release) at the modestly sized Preston Guildhall. For some, the retrospective view here is that this was the beginning of the end.
The aforementioned recording of “Houses Of The Holy“, the song, was resurrected for the band’s 1975 release “Physical Graffiti” (2xLP, Swan Song SSK 89400). The first release by the band on their own, newly formed, record label, and again housed in a fancy sleeve (a die cut front cover, displaying a house, which allowed you to alter what you could see through the windows), it’s regarded by many who don’t view the fourth LP as the bona fide classic, as the bona fide classic. It’s a sprawling affair, being a double album, and was split more or less half and half between newly recorded material, and older outtakes, brushed off and given a tarting up. But repeated listens only help to reveal it’s brilliance, be it the boogie woogie fun of “Boogie With Stu”, the strutting funk of “Trampled Underfoot” or the enormous, gargantuan, roar of “Kashmir”, a song so massively huge, it makes the entire AC/DC back catalogue sound like Belle And Sebastian.
So popular were the Zepp, the consensus was, in their homeland at least, that there were simply no venues big enough around the provinces of the UK to house them if they wished to tour. So their UK “tour” to promote the album consisted of a 5-night residency at London’s Earls Court. At the time, the idea of a band holing themselves up in a single venue was considered highly unusual, and promo material was designed to try and sell this to people as an “event” - fans from across the UK were encouraged to take the train to visit the band play in the capital. A novel idea at the time, but a sure-fire sign that Zeppelin were effectively starting to get ‘too big’, and that the era of mega acts just playing in London as part of their so-called “World Tour” was slowly emerging.
A planned tour outside the UK to promote the album was cancelled when Plant was involved in a car crash in August 1975, which left him with serious injuries which took some time to heal. Plant was still in a wheelchair as the band began work on a new studio album instead several months later, released the following March as “Presence” (LP, Swan Song SSK 59402). It again came in a quite iconic sleeve, with a number of slightly surrealistic images of people being photographed with a strange black obelisk shaped object sitting in front of them, known as “The Object“. Critics were rather harsh on the record, which is strange, given that it is home to the stop-start groove of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and the monumental blast of opener “Achilles Last Stand”. With a tour impossible to conduct, due to the slow recovery of Plant from his injuries, attention instead turned to the “postponed” 1973 concert film. By the end of the year, footage from the gigs had been turned into the movie “The Song Remains The Same”. Given that home video was yet to be properly invented, a soundtrack album was created so fans could buy some form of document to tie in with the event (2xLP, Swan Song SSK 89402). The LP wasn’t quite a genuine soundtrack, as several songs featured in the film were absent from the record (and vice versa) whilst some of the songs that did appear on both versions were sourced from different shows for the different formats. Critics again were harsh, as were band members, none of whom felt it captured the full blown Zeppelin concert experience. It did, if nothing else, officially document the elongated versions of “Dazed And Confused” that the band played in concert, with the version here weighing in at 27 minutes in length.
By 1977, Plant and the band were ready to tour again, and conducted a tour of North America. Plans to play in the UK were not considered, as UK tax legislation had been set at such high levels for high earners, that the band would have played the entire tour at a complete loss - the days of gigging at the Dagenham Roundhouse were now over. Given that the band’s last album was now a year old, the group only played a handful of songs from it, and instead opted for a sort of greatest hits set instead. But barely two years after Plant’s car accident, disaster struck again. A fortnight before the tour was due to finish, Plant received news that his son back in the UK had died of a stomach infection. The remaining five dates were immediately cancelled, and the Zepp were back on hold again as Plant flew back to the UK.
In late 1978, the band reconvened to record what would be their eighth, and final, studio album. Legend goes that neither Bonham nor Page were in great shakes health wise, and that the album was heavily driven along by Plant and Jones. This goes someway to explaining why the album seems a bit guitar-lite, and why some of us are a bit under whelmed by “In Through The Out Door” (LP, Swan Song SSK 59410), which was released in late summer 1979. Bizarrely, for an album released in the seventies, it seems to almost be an indicator of how bland and over-produced music would become in the EIGHTIES, the record was sort of ahead of it’s time but in a bad way. Yes, the keyboard driven buzz of “Carouselambra” is quite thrilling, and the retro rock and roll of “Hot Dog” is fun, but the polished AOR sound of “In The Evening” and “All My Love” sound completely out of place when compared to anything the Zepp had done before.
The LP was housed in another fascinating sleeve, a brown paper bag designed to give it the look of a bootleg album (a bit odd, given that it was simply the new studio LP). Inside, there was a piece of black and white artwork which - and god knows why anybody decided to do this - would colour itself in if it was washed in water. The album was being seen as the Zepp’s big comeback, and the band announced a comeback gig at the ludicrously large Knebworth Park for August 1979 (to be preceded by some smaller shows in Copenhagen the month before). Despite having not played in the UK since 1975, and with punk having threatened to get rid of them, the Zepp were still hugely popular, and the show sold out. A second gig was lined up at the same venue, but for the following weekend, and although the plan was to release the album in time for the shows, technical hitches meant that by the time the band hit the Knebworth stage for the first time, the LP was still on the “to be released” schedules, and eventually surfaced after the second Knebworth show.
The Knebworth shows may well have shown how monumentally big the band were, but the Zepp themselves were unhappy with the gigs, feeling that it was too big a venue to conduct a comeback, that the crowd didn't feel fully involved, and that the band themselves were a bit shaky. But it was all supposed to be the start of the rehabilitation of the band, and in 1980, a tour of Europe was lined up. Beginning with a show in Dortmund on 17th June 1980, the band adopted a new approach - a shorter setlist, and a more stripped back style, an attempt to try and get away from the excesses of the more recent shows, and a throwback to the band’s more intimate club roots. The final show was in West Berlin on 7th July.
A US tour was due next, with the first dates due to take place that October. Rehearsals were scheduled for September, but early on in proceedings, John Bonham died from asphyxiation, caused by a heavy drinking session during the previous 24 hours. He was found by band mate Jones, and immediately, any plans to continue with the planned tour were abandoned. With the band having had no line up changes thus far, things were not going to change now, and in December 1980, the band issued a press statement announcing that Led Zeppelin were no more.
In 1982, as a sort of official “signing off”, the band issued the short but sweet outtakes album “Coda” (LP, Swan Song A 0051). It consisted of what the band claimed were the only outtakes left in the vaults, along with some live recordings and alternate versions of previously available songs. Most of the second half of the LP consisted of outtakes from the sessions for “In Through The Out Door” and were so good, you wondered how these had been overlooked in favour of some of what did make the grade. The band reformed briefly in 1985 for the US leg of Live Aid, with Phil Collins and ex-Chic drummer Tony Thompson standing in for Bonham. The performance was regarded by the band as being nothing short of shambolic, and when a DVD release of the event was being put together twenty years later, the band refused to allow any part of their set to be used, and instead donated a sum of money to charity to make up for any shortcomings their lack of involvement might have had on the release. Bootlegs of the performance do exist, whilst high quality audio clips are also floating around, helped by the fact that BBC Radio 1 included part of the band’s set in remixed form on their “Live Aid: 10 Years On” show in 1995.
By the end of the eighties, the Zepp had briefly reformed once more - with John’s son Jason on drums - in 1988 for the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary show, although once again, the band were slightly unhappy with their performance. The band’s back catalogue was also issued on CD. By 1990, Page had been tasked with the remastering of the band’s recordings, and a selection of his results were issued on an untitled boxset issued later that year - housed in a sleeve depicting a take on the famous alien ‘crop circles’ phenomenon of the time, it was later followed by a release called “Boxed Set 2”, so we shall refer to this one as “Boxed Set” (4xCD, Atlantic 7567 82144-5). It ran in more or less chronological order, but was designed actually to work as a vinyl or cassette release, and so certain songs were placed ‘out of sync’ so that they could open or close a particular side of the record. It included four rarities - previously unreleased performances of “Travelling Riverside Blues” and “White Summer / Black Mountain Side”, both lifted from BBC session performances, and a hybrid mash up of the two Bonham drum showcases, “Moby Dick” and “Bonzo’s Montreux”, originally to be found on “Led Zeppelin 3” and “Coda”. There was also a B-side, not bad for a band who didn’t “do” singles, “Hey Hey What Can I Do”, which had slipped out in overseas territories on the flip of the “Immigrant Song” 45 and was thus making it’s UK debut here. An edited highlights set, “Remasters” (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 80415-2) was issued before the end of the year, also in a “crop circles” style sleeve, which made no attempt at all to include any of the rarities this time around. “TRB”, by the way, saw another set of lemon squeezing lyrics, for those of you who like to know about such stuff.
The aforementioned “Boxed Set 2” (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 82477-2) surfaced in 93, with another variant on the crop circle imagery on it’s cover. It’s main duty was to sweep up all of the band’s remaining recorded (studio) output that hadn’t made it onto the first box, and also came with an ’incentive purchase’ track in the form of the previously unreleased “Baby Come On Home”. It was followed by the career spanning “The Complete Studio Recordings” (10xCD, Atlantic 7-82526 2), a US only import according to Discogs, which did what it said on the tin - reissues of all eight studio albums and “Coda” (it’s 10 discs because, of course, “Physical Graffiti” was a double album). The version of “Coda” included here was expanded to include the two BBC tracks from “Boxed Set”, “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and “Baby Come On Home”. The Bonham mash up was left off presumably because it was not a ’proper’ song. The individual albums were then reissued and were, until last year, the latest versions available in the shops, and were identified by their “remastered” legend on the left hand side of the cover.
I can’t remember the exact reasoning behind why “Whole Lotta Love” (CD single, Atlantic AT 0013CD) was issued as a 45 in the UK in 1997. Perhaps it was in a advert, or it had won a “greatest ever riff” poll, I really don’t recall. But appear as a single it did, with a newly created radio edit that was shorter than the LP mix, but longer than the original shortened version that had been created for the original overseas single and promo releases in 69/70. Nothing massively rare appeared as b-sides, “Travelling Riverside Blues” from the first box, and “Baby Come On Home” from the second. All copies of the single were numbered, but in those days, physical singles still sold in big numbers, so thousands of copies were pressed. The same year saw the release of “BBC Sessions” (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 83061-2), which compiled most - but not all - of the recordings the band made for the BBC in 1969 on disc 1, with disc 2 devoted to the band’s heavily bootlegged BBC “In Concert” show at the Paris Theatre in London on 1st April 1971. The band were simply ‘too big’ to return to the Beeb in later years, and so whilst the release is incomplete, it still offers a fairly decent overview of the band’s visits to the Corporation in those couple of years.
After a couple of slightly pointless best of sets in the early 00’s, “Early Days” and “Latter Days” (later compiled into a box set - 2xCD, Atlantic 7567 83619 2), the Zepp once again rose back up over the parapet in 2003 with some more new material. First up was another anonymously titled release, the band’s debut DVD release, which usually gets referred to as “Led Zeppelin DVD” (2xDVD, Warner Music Vision 0349 70198-2), which included TV show footage and gig performances from across the band’s entire career, including footage of the Earls Court and Knebworth shows. It was issued at the same time as a new live album, “How The West Was Won” (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 83587 9), an attempt to try and capture the live Led Zepp sound in a way that “The Song Remains The Same” had failed to do - it was compiled from shows the band had played in the USA in June 1972.
In December 2007, the band reformed for another one off show. Their first since the often overlooked reunion at the 1995 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, it was the band’s first full length show since Knebworth, but was another charity event, meaning tickets were only available through a lottery style random selection process. Another best of set, “Mothership” (2xCD, Swan Song 8122 79961 5) had been issued in the run up to the reunion, alongside a revamped DVD reissue of “The Song Remains The Same” (DVD, Warner Brothers Z5 72654) - the CD edition of the soundtrack was also reissued in slightly reworked form.
After yet another boxset release in 2008 of the band’s studio output (essentially a retitled repressing of the 1993 box), it all finally went quiet. The 2007 reunion show was finally issued on a variety of formats, all taking the basic gig and spreading it across multiple discs, one of the more bog standard being the 3 disc set released in 2012 as “Celebration Day” (2xCD + DVD, Swan Song 8122 79688-7), before it all went quiet again.
Until last year. Despite having said thirty odd years before that there was really nothing in the vaults, the band announced a complete expanded reissue of their back catalogue (or at least, “Coda” and the eight studio efforts) in 2014. How were you to expand an album which supposedly spawned no outtakes? Simple, just offer “different” versions of songs everybody knew. Simples!
And so, starting in the summer of 2014, we got bigger versions of albums with the promise of nothing particularly new. Aside from regular LP and CD reissues of the original albums, there were double disc releases planned (or, in the case of the already double “Physical Graffiti”, a triple) with the extra disc being a “companion” disc upon which alternate versions of material on the regular album were placed, with both expanded CD and Vinyl editions available. The nine albums appeared in chunks, with the first three albums surfacing in June 2014, and “Presence”, “In Through The Out Door” and “Coda” being released just a few months ago. Aside from the four already mentioned formats, each album was also due to appear as a £100 rated super deluxe boxset, which would simply include the double album, double CD and a fancy book. Pointless really, but with the design of each due to be “similar” in style, I guess, anybody with £1000 to spare would find it quite nice buying them all to put next to each other on a shelf.
Given that I already had most of the Zepp’s albums by this point, I gave most of them a miss - but Wikipedia helpfully has a dedicated page to the reissues which explains what you were getting for your cash. Certain albums had a different approach, “Led Zepp 1” features a period gig from the time mostly consisting of tracks from the debut, whereas “Led Zepp 2” features mostly alternate studio mixes of the same songs.
In most instances, the companion disc had a running time that was fairly brief, I guess, so that the material could be easily housed on a single slab of vinyl for the LP versions, meaning that for “Physical Graffiti”, reissued in isolation in Feb 2015, the 80-odd minute album still only came with 40 minutes of extras. The band did get a bit of a knocking for offering what were, at times, barely altered mixes when compared to the original - indeed, I bought a deluxe “ITTOD” and thought that my companion disc was mispressed because it sounded so similar to the original. However, this reissue offered an genuine “alternate album”, the same LP (ie. Identical track timings) but with variant mixes - it’s just a shame some of these variant mixes have sound differences so difficult to spot, even my dogs couldn’t hear them. Despite some songs appearing with totally different titles suggesting they were work in progress versions of the completed songs, they are not - “The Hook” is simply a mono mix of “All My Love”, codeword for “sounding muffled”. Whether this mix was produced at the time for a genuine, proper reason, or if it was just Page having to make something up to fill up the disc, I really don’t know. The sheer pointlessness of it all is, in a way, admirable.
However, the band did push the boat out a bit for the “Coda” reissue. Although they cheated a bit by selling this as “the only reissue to feature TWO companion discs”, the running time of each was designed to balance out with the original - ie. Each disc is only about half an hour long, so even though all the bonuses could have been squeezed onto a single disc, you get asked to pay over the odds for a triple album. Cheeky sods. However, because the original album was an outtakes set, Page made the decision here to use the bonus discs to provide a “history” of the band, and as such, as well as getting alternate takes of “Coda” material, you also get alternate takes of stuff from across the board, such as a “rough mix” version of “When The Levee Breaks”. Now, that’s what I’m talking about.
In theory, the deluxe reissues should put a lid on the Zeppelin history books. It’s unlikely, given that record companies have in recent years become obsessed with repackaging their heritage acts, knowing full well any old tat will sell. Just look at the now annual Dylan outtakes albums. Anyway, that’s not the point here. The point is the Zepp have now been brought back into the public eye again, and in doing so, you can see where Royal Blood got half their ideas from (the other half being Queens Of The Stone Age). There is no doubting that, whilst they are possibly hero worshipped a bit too much by some - still lagging behind The Who in my books - they made some damn fine records, and in some respects, Percy’s decision not to reform is quite honorable. They are not in danger of tarnishing their reputation by staying dead and buried, as it’s difficult to see how a reformed Zepp could ever record another “Kashmir” or “Stairway” or “Levee” - monumental pieces of rock and roll, which helped move them into the upper echelons of music history.
Wednesday, 14 October 2015
The Moodies are another one of those bands who, after a split many years ago, have reformed and are still going, albeit in a slightly altered form. And, like the Quo, Deep Purple and Yes, they are another one of those reformed bands who don’t quite do it for me nowadays. This may be because, between 1967 and 1971, The Moody Blues released a run of six - yep, count ‘em - six absolutely stunning albums, an incredible workrate which produced a series of prog rock classics that rarely drop below levels of utter genius. So it’s always been hard to equate the quality of the material that this version of the band produced, with the one that did bouncy pop like “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” a decade or two later on.
But let’s not worry about what they are doing at the moment, and instead concentrate on the first incarnation(s) of the group.
The first line up of the band consisted of Mike Pinder on keyboards, Ray Thomas on flute and percussion, Graeme Edge on drums, Clint Warwick on bass, and future Wings member Denny Laine as their guitarist and lead singer. They were signed to Decca Records and released their debut single in 1964. Over the next couple of years, the band recorded a sizeable chunk of material, enough to fill up nearly seven singles as well as a debut LP, “The Magnificent Moodies”. Most of these releases failed to do much, a handful dented the top 40, but the album failed to chart in the UK at all. However, their cover of “Go Now”, released as their second 45 in late 64, gave them - statistically - their biggest ever hit, as it went to the top of the UK singles charts. Not even “Nights In White Satin” managed that.
The band’s sound was best categorised as R&B, or a Brummie-version of Merseybeat, and half of the debut album was covers of US R&B, with versions of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and old James Brown records. The band’s US label revamped the album, issuing it in a different cover and replacing several of the songs with material that had been issued in the UK on 45. But by 1966, the group were still struggling to make any real commercial headway, and mid 66 saw the departure of Clint Warwick from the group. He was replaced by Rod Clark, but by the end of the year, Clark had also walked along with, quite crucially, Denny Laine.
Decca continued to issue material by the band - the stand alone 45 “Boulevard De La Madelaine” was released in the UK as their next single, and in France as the lead track on an EP, which also included a previously unreleased track called “People Gotta Go”. There was plenty of more “Mark 1” material already in the can, but after a hyper rare release for “Life’s Not Life” in early 1967, the decision was taken to head in a different direction.
The band’s “classic” lineup was formed in late 1966 by the arrival of new bassist John Lodge, and singer and guitarist Justin Hayward. Initially, the change was gradual - the band remained signed to Decca, and their first single with Hayward, “Fly Me High”, was a flop, which even included an “old style” flipside in the form of “Really Haven’t Got The Time” - it dated from the Mark 1 sessions for the abandoned second album, but was appearing here in a re-recorded form by the new lineup. A second Decca 45, “Love And Beauty”, continued to showcase the band’s move away from their slightly simplistic R&B roots, but was still another non-hit.
The story of how the Moodies went from primitive R&B groovers into space-rock pioneers is open to question, but the legend goes that the group, after all these flop records, were in debt to Decca. Decca sound engineers had been working on a method of trying to improve the sound of new fangled stereo recordings, and had developed something called “Decca Panoramic Sound”. An offshoot label, formed from the title of this invention was launched as Deram, and the Moodies were allegedly approached by Decca with an offer - they would write off the debt, if the Moodies agreed to record an album that could be mixed in - what was now being called - the “Deramic Sound System”. A number of orchestral albums were due to be issued in this way in late 67, and Decca wanted the band to collaborate with their own in-house orchestra to create a rock/classic hybrid album.
Apparently, the plan was to record an adaptation of the classical piece “Symphony No 9”, but that once in the studio, the band simply set about recording an album of completely original songs, although the move from Decca to Deram did happen, and the “Deramic Sound System” logo appeared on the next album cover. The in-house orchestra, dubbed the “London Festival Orchestra”, did appear on this album as planned, but there remains scepticism about the backstory of the record, with some sources stating that the plan to record the symphony was something that was later talked about with the band in the 1970s.
Either way, album number two was issued in November 1967 - the ground breaking “Days Of Future Passed”, seen by some as the originator of the ‘concept LP’, more so than “Tommy” or “SF Sorrow”. It represented a mind boggling leap forward from the debut album, and was designed to showcase a typical 24 hour day. The album consisted of seven “pieces” of music, starting with “The Day Begins”, going through “Dawn“, “The Morning“, “Lunch Break“, “The Afternoon“, “Evening” and ending with “The Night”. Each of these pieces included at least one original piece of Moodies music, alongside a short orchestral section written by Peter Knight. The orchestral sections were designed to link each of the songs together, so that the album ran continuously across both sides of the record, but - like Deep Purple’s later “Concerto For Group And Orchestra” - the rock/classical hybrid was not perfect, as at no point did the band and the orchestra actually appear on the same individual song together...the nearest we got was that the LP mix of “Nights In White Satin” (which formed most of “The Night”) concluded with a Knight conducted orchestral flourish, something totally absent from the single mix.
There are moments of genius throughout - the opening and closing sections feature Graeme Edge poems narrated by Mike Pinder, both of which feature lines about the “cold hearted orb” - ie. The Moon. By repeating these lines at the end of “The Night”, it successfully brings the album full circle. And then we have the sheer beauty of “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)”, later issued as an edited overseas 45, the punchy bounce of “Peak Hour”, the growling piano driven roar of “Twilight Time” - this is a genuine masterpiece, and gave the band the commercial break through they deserved.
It was the first of seven albums to be issued with this lineup of the band before their mid 70s “split”, and the start of a run of much loved LP’s that sometimes get referred to as the “Core 7”. Each of these albums would usually follow a theme of sorts, although none were as explicitly spelt out as “Days Of Future Passed” had been. 1968 saw the release of the second of the “Core 7”, “In Search Of The Lost Chord”. It came housed in a gatefold sleeve, something that would become par for the course for the next few years, with a suitably proggy front cover. Again, the music was often spectacular - the romping pop of “Ride My See Saw”, the trippy pop of “Legend Of A Mind”, the spaced out psych of “The Best Way To Travel”, the hippyish, Indianesque rumble of the closing “Om” - this was light years away from “Go Now“. As per “Days”, the songs cross faded into one another to produce what were effectively two long pieces of uninterrupted music. This was music designed to be listened to in one setting. Please do not let me catch you streaming “part of it”. This cross fading trick would be repeated on future releases in the “Core 7” series.
1969’s “On The Threshold Of A Dream” was the first of five albums to be issued in gatefold sleeves whose full artwork was only revealed when the gatefold was fully folded out. In true proggy “respect the artwork” style, the track listing was completely absent from the back cover, and the inside had a posh lyric booklet. Yet again, the music was often flawless. The album title provided inspiration for the band, who then formed their own Threshold Records imprint, and issued their second LP of the year on their “new” label in late 69, “To Our Children’s Children’s Children”, which was home to the sublime “Watching And Waiting”, and several numbers which appeared separately throughout the record but which were ’linked’ (the two parts of “Eyes Of A Child”, along with side 1‘s “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred” and side 2’s “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million”).
On the subsequent tour, the band found it almost impossible to recreate any of this material on stage, such was the psychedelic complexity of it all, and so decided to “scale it back” for 1970’s “A Question Of Balance”, which was designed as a more ’rock and roll’ album. The artwork was still gloriously OTT, this time in a portrait-gatefold sleeve (ie. designed to be opened out and folded downwards, not left to right), and was home to the enormo-hit “Question”, a gloriously raucous acoustic guitar driven semi-orchestral romp, that despite being part of the new scaled back sound, was still as brilliantly noisy and anthemic as anything that had come before.
1971 gave us “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”, it’s title derived from the EGBDF mnemonic ’music’ formula, which like some of it’s predecessors (“Departure“ on “Lost Chord“, the robotic madness of “In The Beginning“ on “Threshold“), opened with a short but sweet introductory number designed to sort of wind the album up from a standstill, this time around being the big booming mostly instrumental proggy growl that was “Procession”, in which the band slowly chanted the words “Desolation, creation, communication”, before launching into the ultra-pop throb of “The Story In Your Eyes”. Glorious stuff. This particular song was issued as single, which like many of the band’s post-”White Satin” 45’s, was a spectacular flop. It was almost as if the band were seen by their fan base as a genuine “albums act”, what with all those bonkers opening numbers, concept album features and constant cross-fading, and these singles were not how you were ’supposed’ to listen to the band.
Now, you would need to ask my sister - who had bought all of the “Core 7” records pretty much when they first came out up until this point - as to why she never bothered with “Seventh Sojourn”, the band’s eighth LP but only their seventh with Hayward, hence the title. I eventually tracked it down in a charity shop years later. It may be psychological, having listened to her collection of the other records in the “Core 7” many many times for many many years before, but I’ve never gone back and listened to this one as much as the previous six. “Uncut” apparently only gave it two out of five, so perhaps she didn’t buy it at the time because it was seen as patchy, and maybe I don’t play it a lot because I think it must be patchy. But it does feature the complex pomp of “Isn’t Life Strange”, all wobbly vocal madness in the verses, followed by big, grandiose, mega-ness in the choruses. And you also get the harmony driven glory of “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock And Roll Band”, where more or less everybody in the group takes lead vocals AT THE SAME TIME and follows The Byrds’ own “So You Wanna Be A Rock And Roll Star” in proclaiming the slight pointlessness of rock and roll music, and was reportedly written to deflate their fans own view of the band, who allegedly saw them as music messiahs who had mystical healing powers, so I am told (see Wikipedia). The LP went top 5, and “Singer” dented the top 40, but “Nights In White Satin” was still floating around like an albatross, and repressed copies of the original 1967 release sold in such high numbers after a Deram driven promo campaign, that it made it into the top 10. It even went top 20 again as part of a third “revamp” for the release in 1979.
The band did head back into the studio in 1973 to begin work on album number nine, and at least one song, “Island”, was finished, before the band decided they probably needed a break, as there hadn’t been a period of more than a year without new Moodies material (“Island” was later added as a bonus track to an expanded “Seventh Sojourn”). A ’final’ tour to promote the album was conducted, before the band announced their hiatus. To mark their “temporary” sabbatical, Threshold issued the utterly monumental “This Is The Moody Blues” in 1974. Ignoring the Denny Laine years completely, this double LP set offered a run through of singles, flipside “A Simple Game” (later covered by The Four Tops) and standout album tracks (such as the two parts of “Have You Heard” that were used to bookend “The Voyage“, and the haunting genius of “Melancholy Man“). In keeping with the original albums, cross fading was employed here, and because many of the songs were appearing here ‘out of context’ from their original LP’s, the cross fades were thus mostly different, meaning that pretty much everything here was appearing in what were essentially new mixes. A collectors dream. “Nights In White Satin” and “Late Lament”, which had formed the bulk of “The Night” on “Days Of Future Passed”, were again used here as album closers.
In 1977, with the band still on hold, Decca rummaged through the vaults and pieced together the “Caught Live +5” set which, despite featuring then contemporary photos of the band on the cover, consisted entirely of material from the 60s. A double LP, the first three sides documented the band’s Royal Albert Hall gig on 12.12.69, with the fourth side a set of 5 studio outtakes (hence the title). The band seemingly disowned it, I guess that was the reason this stuff had been left in the storeroom for eight years.
The group reformed later that year to begin work on the follow up to the “Core 7”, with the appropriately titled “Octave”. However, as the final stages of the recording process took place, Pinder decided to leave the band, and by the time it was released, the band were being presented to the public as a four piece. Former Yes man Patrick Moraz joined, although after he left, the rest of the group claimed he was never more than a session musician. Ray Thomas left a few years ago due to ill health, reducing the band to a trio. This does mean, for anybody who is still keeping the faith, that drummer Graeme Edge is now the sole surviving member, just like Paicey in Purple.
Compilations and Reissues
For those of you who are only interested in the Mark 1 and 2 lineups, once you have “This Is The Moody Blues” in your life, what next? Well, I would certainly recommend the Dutch only 2001 release on BR Music called “The Singles +”, which features all of the band’s UK a-sides from the period, along with stuff that made it to A-side status overseas (“Stop”, “Melancholy Man”), the odd b-side and stuff from after 1973, including Justin Hayward’s quite charming “Forever Autumn”. For the stuff from the Deram and Threshold years, this means you get rare 7” edits from the period.
1989’s “Greatest Hits”, which covers the 1967-1988 period, includes two 1988 “reworkings” of stuff from the “Core 7” years - slightly pointless, especially as these re-recorded songs lack the punch of the originals - alongside five “untouched“ songs from the Mark 2 years. The 1994 boxset “Time Traveller” is mostly concerned with the Mark 2 years, and includes an alternate mix of “House Of Four Doors” which sees the original “Pt 1” and “Pt 2” mixes glued together. There have also been several “posthumous” releases, such as the BBC sessions album “Live At The BBC 1967-1970” (issued 2007) and “Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970” (issued 2008). A couple of Moodies’ best ofs in more recent times have made the effort to include “Go Now” at the start of the proceedings, including 1997’s “The Best Of The Moody Blues”, whilst completists may be interested in 1987’s “Prelude”, which cobbled together the “genuine” standalone A-sides and B-sides from the Mark 2 years (ie. not the 7” mixes of album tracks that were issued as flipsides) along with the five studio outtakes from “Caught Live”. 2006’s “An Introduction To The Moody Blues” was concerned entirely with the Mark 1 lineup.
All of the eight albums from this period have now appeared in expanded form. “The Magnificent Moodies” has appeared on a number of occasions in expanded form, more so than any of the “Core 7”, suggesting Decca have never cared for it a great deal so have left everyone else to step in every so often to have a go at revamping it. A late 80s reissue of the album was issued on Decca, and included all 13 of the non-album A-sides and B-sides that appeared before Hayward joined, which was then followed by a slightly bizarre reissue on Repertoire Records in the 90s which included only a random selection of the same batch of material. My copy is a later Repertoire reissue, from 2006, which includes the 13 rarities plus “People Gotta Go”. The most recent reissue has been this year, to tie in with the 50th anniversary, which does all this and then adds a second disc of outtakes, including material from the aborted second LP.
The “Core 7” albums were subjected to a special reissue program in 2006/7. Now, given that - “Seventh Sojourn” aside - there is, in my opinion, little to choose between this lot in terms of their sonic genius, it’s difficult to work out why some were subjected to 2-CD Deluxe repressings, and others were given more bog standard single-disc reissues, with just a handful of bonuses shoved onto the end of the original album. Many of these releases were issued as hybrid SACD releases, and featured a big chunk of material taped for the BBC - but after the Beeb material was shoehorned onto the “Live At The BBC” set, then all of the albums were reissued as regular CD’s in 2008 (the SACD is now, officially, a dead duck of a format) with the original double disc releases repackaged as single disc releases, with much of the BBC session material now missing. However, the ‘08 reissue of “Lost Chord” saw some of it’s non-BBC rarity material go AWOL as well, so I would urge anybody starting from scratch to try and go for the double CD sets if they can. I assume the decision to reissue these ones as single discs was so that the prices for each could be set at a standard level.
Legend has it, that the original master tapes for “Future Passed” had reached a level of deterioration by the late 70s, so much so that a new mix of the album had to be created for future releases. Therefore, anybody owning a copy of this record on vinyl or cassette that was pressed before 1978 has in their hands, a now unavailable mix. I did read somewhere, or maybe I imagined it, that some other albums may also have been affected. So, for fun, the discography below lists the original pressings of the eight studio albums, on the basis that at least one is an essential buy - and then, the details of either the most recent reissue, or the most important one, from the noughties and beyond. We also have some of the important “other” releases thereafter and all of the singles from the period.
ORIGINAL STUDIO ALBUMS AND LATER IMPORTANT REISSUES
The Magnificent Moodies (1965, LP, Decca LK 4711)
The Magnificent Moodies (2015 reissue, 2xCD, Esoteric ECLEC 22473)
Days Of Future Passed (1967, LP, Deram SML 707)
Days Of Future Passed (2006 reissue, 2xCD, Deram 983 2150)
In Search Of The Lost Chord (1968, LP, Deram SML 711)
In Search Of The Lost Chord (2006 reissue, 2xCD, Deram 983 214 7)
On The Threshold Of A Dream (1969, LP, Deram SML 1035)
On The Threshold Of A Dream (2006 reissue, CD, Deram 983 2153)
To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969, LP, Threshold THS 1)
To Our Children’s Children’s Children (2006 reissue, 2xCD, Threshold 983 2156)
A Question Of Balance (1970, LP, Threshold THS 3)
A Question Of Balance (2006 reissue, CD, Threshold 983 7706)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971, LP, Threshold THS 5)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (2007 reissue, CD, Threshold 984 5506)
Seventh Sojourn (1972, LP, Threshold THS 7)
Seventh Sojourn (2007 reissue, CD, Threshold 984 5507)
Note: it is also worth pointing out that 8 track cartridge versions of these records exist, many including alternate mixes of a number of the tracks, due to the “logistics” of the format - “House Of Four Doors“, on “In Search Of The Lost Chord“ for example, appears in three sections, as opposed to the two sections you get on LP. Whether you can play any of these or not once you find a copy, is another story.
OTHER CDS OF NOTE
This Is The Moody Blues (1974, 2xCD, Threshold 820 007-2, 1989 reissue with booklet and foam inner)
Caught Live +5 (1977, CD, Threshold 820 161-2)
Greatest Hits (1988, CD, Threshold 840 659 2)
The Singles + (2001, 2xCD, BR Music BS 8123-2)
Live At The BBC (2007, 2xCD, Deram 984 720-2)
Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival (2008, CD, Eagle EAGCD 380)
Steal Your Heart Away/Loose Your Money (7”, Decca F11971)
Go Now/It’s Easy Child (7”, Decca F12022, reissued in 1985 with “I Don‘t Want To Go On Without You“ on B-side on Old Gold)
I Don’t Want To Go On Without You/Time Is On My Side (7”, Decca F12095)
The Moody Blues EP: Go Now/Loose Your Money/I Don’t Want To Go On Without You/Steal Your Heart Away (7”, Decca DFE 8622, p/s)
From The Bottom Of My Heart/And My Baby’s Gone (7”, Decca F12166)
Everyday/You Don’t (7”, Decca F12266)
Boulevard De La Madelaine/This Is My House (But Nobody Calls) (7”, Decca F12498)
Life’s Not Life/He Can Win (7”, Decca F12543)
Fly Me High/Really Haven’t Got The Times (7”, Decca F12607)
Love And Beauty/Leave This Man Alone (7”, Decca F12670)
Nights In White Satin/Cities (7”, Deram DM161, later reissued in 1983 on Old Gold)
Voices In The Sky (7” Mix)/Dr Livingstone I Presume (7” Mix) (7”, Deram DM196)
Ride My See Saw (7” Mix)/A Simple Game (7”, Deram DM213)
Never Comes The Day (7” Mix)/So Deep Within You (7” Mix) (7”, Deram DM247)
Watching And Waiting (7” Mix)/Out And In (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH1)
Question (7” Mix)/Candle Of Life (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH4, later reissued in 1983 on Old Gold)
The Story In Your Eyes (7” Mix)/My Song (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH6)
Isn’t Life Strange (7” Mix)/After You Came (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH9)
I’m Just A Singer In A Rock And Roll Band (7” Mix)/For My Lady (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH13)
Tuesday, 15 September 2015
In 1989, Lou Reed released a ‘comeback’ album called “New York”. Critics queued up to worship at it’s altar, whilst Reed himself provided some very brief sleeve notes about it being a return to the basic 3-man “guitar, bass, drums” rock band set up. Reed was newly signed to Warners offshoot Sire Records, and it was one of three glorious releases Warner Brothers put out the same year, alongside “Like A Prayer” and “Batman”.
By the end of the year, one of Reed’s former labels, RCA, decided to cash in on Reed’s new found fame, by issuing a compilation LP called “Retro”. Now, there may have been some record company ‘issues’ going on, but with the exception of mid-80s fluke hit 45 “I Love You Suzanne”, EVERYTHING on the record dated from a period between 1972 and 1976. Had Reed been so unproductive in the following 13 years that he only managed one album?
In the days before the internet, you had to work harder to find out what you had missed - and when. And slowly but surely, the gaps began to get filled in. I found myself in a record shop in Reading in December 1991, where I picked up a copy of the 1984 double-LP “Live In Italy”. It had the hits on it, Velvets tunes and a load of songs I had never heard of - these were songs that I later found out had been featured on what was, at the time, Lou’s latest studio venture, 1983’s “Legendary Hearts”. When I saw Lou on his 1996 tour, he wheeled out the title track of 1984’s “New Sensations”. I heard people, some time later, talking with great excitement about 1982’s “The Blue Mask”. The video for “No Money Down”, from 1986’s “Mistrial”, got the Beavis and Butthead treatment.
If we add to the mix 1980’s “Growing Up In Public”, then that was the eighties sorted out. But what about the late 70’s? Well, I did hear a story about the tour to support 1979’s “The Bells”, where during one show at the Hammersmith Odeon, Lou and his band apparently finished with a lengthy heavy metal jam, done seemingly to infuriate the crowd so much, that they would take it as their cue to leave. And I eventually heard about “Rock And Roll Heart”, the first Reed album to appear on Arista in 76, but only that it was a so-so, passable follow up to the sublime “Coney Island Baby”.
Before she moved out to Norfolk, my sister Sharon lived in Leytonstone, and then Harold Wood - both on the edges of London. Me and my mum would go to visit every so often, where I would rummage through her record collection. I remember seeing a copy of an album by Lou called “Take No Prisoners”, which despite being released whilst Reed was still signed to Arista in the UK, was some form of Dutch pressing on RCA. I think she said that it was a hard album to find, and this was the only way she had been able to get a copy. It explains also how several of the Genesis albums I inherited from her when she got married were pressed in Portugal.
I borrowed the record and taped it off her to have a listen (she would eventually buy me a CD copy some years later which, again, was a European RCA pressing that she had had to trawl the internet for - this was an album that, quite obviously, was not as common to find as “Transformer” in any form). It was a strange record. On several songs, Reed would launch into the opening chords of one of his most famous songs, then stop to tell jokes and rant about rock critics. There is a 17 minute long version of “Walk On The Wild Side”, during which Reed manages no more than about half the lyrics of the song, spending the rest of time doing his rock star / stand up comedian routine, as the band just plays the riff over and over.
Whilst this is, in it’s own way, kind of entertaining, it’s a shame - because when, elsewhere on the record, Reed simply decides to play something straight, the effect is devastating. The version of “Berlin” that is on here, is based on the original ’rock and roll’ version on the self titled debut LP, and it’s rocks hard. The LP was compiled from a series of shows Reed had played at the Bottom Line club in New York in May 1978 - again, another story I heard about these shows was that on one night, he turned up late, got heckled before he had even played a note, and that set the tone for the evening. Whether or not the “rambling” versions of the hits on “TNP” were from this show, or whether or not Reed was routinely treating his back catalogue with a sort of bored disdain, I am not sure. But the album did prove that when Reed and his band let rip, they were nothing short of unstoppable.
Included on here were three songs that had appeared in studio form on the album Reed was promoting at the time of the Bottom Line shows - 1978’s “Street Hassle”. They were three of the most impressive pieces of work on the whole LP. Side 1 offered the politically incorrect “I Wanna Be Black”, an anti-racism rant which has it’s origins, as you’d expect in typical Reed style, in black music - specifically Soul Music, just check out those E Street style horns - whilst featuring the sort of lyrics that nowadays, in this world of social media, would have had the less than intelligent types berating Reed for being stereotypical, or possibly even being an actual racist himself (“I wanna be black...and have a big prick too”) but which actually paints a darker picture of the USA (“wanna be like Martin Luther King, and get myself shot in spring”). Then there was the snarling, scowling, one chord wonder that was the closing “Leave Me Alone”, in which Reed seemingly demands the entire world, well, leave him alone. I get it Lou, I get it. But arguably the masterpiece was the 10-minute-plus multi-part rock opera that was “Street Hassle”, complete with more lyrics that even now sound shocking (“hey, that cunt’s not breathing”), but whose main selling point was it’s almost poetic, and epic, form of song writing - building and building to a big climax, and despite it’s lengthy running time, something that felt like it was all over all too quickly.
Round about the time that the Virgin Megastore chains were turning into Zavvi, I recall going into their shop in Birmingham on a weekly basis in the mid-noughties. They were having a clearout. “Less celebrated” CD’s were being knocked out at a fiver a pop. Those late 70’s Lou ones were all there. Looks can be deceiving, but there seemed to be something of a “who cares” attitude that surrounded these records. They, despite all originally coming out on the same label in the UK, were now on slightly different labels. “Rock And Roll Heart” had been repackaged quite nicely to make it look swish, with the legend “A 70’s Classic” printed on a sticker on the front, but I wasn’t so sure - I’d never heard anybody claim it to be better than, say, “Sally Can’t Dance”. Both it and “The Bells” had been reissued on a relatively obscure label called Buddha Records, which suggested the main division of Arista didn’t care a great deal for it (although the labels were all part of a bigger conglomerate).
“Street Hassle” was also in there. It had suffered the biggest indignity. Whilst the other pair had been given the fancy reissue treatment to at least try to revamp them for a new generation, this one was the very same CD edition that had been made back in the early 90s. The original album cover, for reasons unknown, had been shrunk in size, and placed inside a thick, sky blue coloured border. It had a copyright date for when it had been pressed (1992), which sort of showed how long it had been left in the wilderness when compared to the more recent reissues of it‘s cousins. It didn’t really have anything approaching what you might call sleeve notes - this was par for the course with 80s/90s bog standard CD pressings (check out all those almost lo-fi Cohen and Dylan reissues that CBS used to toss out without any real care in the same period), so you just got a fold over piece of card attempting to act like a booklet, with the track listing and nothing else. It was the old style silver CD, with no fancy label design. It was almost as if Buddha believed a bit in “RNRH” and “The Bells”, as if they were long lost classics seeking re-evaluation, but cared little for “Street Hassle” and so simply didn’t bother. It was almost as if Arista had, back in 92, just thought, “well, we’d better stick it out on CD - RCA have put “Metal Machine Music” out so we really can’t justify leaving this one out in that case“, and just knocked it up, design wise, during a lunch break. It felt unloved, and uncared for. I bought it to complete the set, and took it home expecting it to just be another one of those ’quite pleasant’ records that you, as a collector, have to buy, but which you are unlikely to go back to very often.
I had a listen to it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. After just one listen, “Street Hassle” had left me gobsmacked. It was - excuse my language - fucking astounding.
History, increasingly, seems to be showing “Street Hassle” as Reed’s REAL long lost classic - perhaps even more so than “The Blue Mask”. It was a record that was released slap bang in the middle of punk by somebody who had been in the industry for well over a decade, but who had succeeded, somehow, in making a record that was far more “punk” than some of the records being made by the so-called “punk” bands. It was far more raucous than, say, any of the records made so far by The Jam and at times, lyrically, far more daring, challenging, and downright brutal than anything on “Never Mind The Bollocks“ or “The Clash“. This was, at times, rock and roll at it’s most cutting edge.
The opening “Gimmie Some Good Times” begins with what is possibly the cleverest first 30 seconds on any album EVER. The riff from “Sweet Jane” kicks in. A heckler (voiced by Reed) shouts the opening line “Hey, if that ain’t the Rock N Roll Animal himself”, whilst Reed, as himself, sings the opening line “standing on the corner...suitcase in my hand”. The album has barely started, and Reed has managed to self-reference both his former band and the name of one of his live solo records without even breaking sweat. This is, without doubt, pop art of the highest order. Total and utter genius.
“Dirt” reminds me of Iggy Pop, a sort of growling, dirgy, snarl that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “The Idiot”, with guitars that sound like a sort of warped version of the riff that would later be used on Bowie’s “Fashion”, as Reed once again plays with pop culture references so brilliantly, it sounds like he could do this sort of stuff in his sleep...”do you remember that song by a dude named Bobby Fuller...I fought the law and the law won” he slurs. Monumental.
The title track still, all the years after I had first head it, had the power to shock and amaze. The beautiful orchestral intro that extends throughout the first section, the plaintive female vocals that “ooh ooh ooh” away quietly in the middle, the spoken word (and uncredited) passage courtesy of Bruce Springsteen - the King of New York and the King Of New Jersey on the same record, Holy Cow. The middle section is quite violent in it’s imagery (“you know that bitch will never fuck again”) but it’s obviously Reed writing, and speaking, from the perspective of a third person, whose coarse language is simply the way they choose to express themselves, and is, in a way, no different to the vicious language you might get from a Scorsese gangster film. It is, in some respects, an astounding piece of daring art. By the time Springsteen reads out the “tramps like us, we were born to pay” line, in another piece of self-referential pop culture brilliance, and the song starts to slowly build to the climax of it’s 11 minute long journey, it’s difficult not to feel astonished by what you have just heard. Ditto “I Wanna Be Black”. Just as eye wateringly offensive as it was when I first it, it was still just as brilliantly clever lyrically, and musically, as funky as hell.
“Real Good Time Together” was the latest in a long line of re-recordings of, at the time, unissued Velvets tunes by Reed. It starts off with Lou and his guitar wobbling in and out of the speakers, as if it was recorded on a dodgy C90, and the microphone was dangling underwater. Then, as it approaches the finale, you start to hear a more “professional” version approaching slowly, fading in, getting louder and louder until it drowns out the “shaky” version. It’s glorious - full blown, hi-octane, high energy rock and roll, and it is absolutely awesome. Suddenly, the spirit of the rock and roll is in the room, powerhouse drumming, saxophone wailing, and the effect of the change of pace is devastatingly exhilarating.
A number of songs on the album were actually recorded live, or at least partly recorded live, and you can hear the crowd mumbling as “Shooting Star” kicks into life. Probably the one song on the LP that needs more listens to stick in the head than the rest, but still, pretty much flawless. More sax, more growling electric guitar, and more of Lou’s trademark drawling vocal, it sounds like a cross between T Rex, anything off Transformer and mid 70s Bowie. And then you have the masterful “Leave Me Alone”, with it’s sample line “leave me leave me leave me leave me leave me alone” and “John I’m Only Dancing”-esque sax breaks. Also recorded live, it - just like the others - uses this to it’s advantage, the sound booms, it’s simply feels bigger and bolder and brasher and warmer - I apologise if it was actually recorded fully in the studio, but it certainly FEELS live, and not watered down by any tinny production a studio concoction can sometimes produce.
“Wait”, on first listen, sounds like it’s the first take of a demo. But that’s the secret of it’s brilliance. Opening with a none-more-Bruce and the E Street band influenced sax-driven starting section, Lou sounds like he’s on the verge of a breakdown throughout, whilst sounding simultaneously quite sweetly charming and even lovelorn, delivering his lines with an air of almost worryingly edgy vulnerability, whilst a female singer sings a completely different set of lyrics at the same time. There’s so much going on - I love it. It’s both ramshackle, shambolic, and monumentally pop all at the same time. As the female backing vocalists pitch in at the dying end with what I think is a line which goes “I met him on a Sunday”, evoking the spirit of The Ronettes or The Crystals, well, it’s just the most perfect end to a most brilliant album.
I would be lying if I were to claim that “Street Hassle” is better than “Transformer” - after all, that’s the one with “Vicious”, “Andy’s Chest”, “Perfect Day”, “Satellite Of Love” and “Hangin’ Around” on, 36 minutes of glam rock brilliance. But the sheer unexpectedness of “Street Hassle”, an album which until I heard it, had never even come close to registering on those “100 Greatest Albums Ever” polls, and yet when I heard it throughout for the first time, left me open mouthed at the sheer brilliance of it all, is something that should be celebrated. Where had this record been all my life? And why, even now, is it still never mentioned in the same breath as “Rubber Soul”, or “Surf’s Up”, when it’s not far off the greatness of those records - or is, perhaps, actually even better than both? Who knows. But all I can say, is that whenever I go back to this album, which I do far more than “The Blue Mask”, it never ceases to amaze. It is, in it’s own way, one of the great punk records of our time. Albeit one seemingly unknown to most human beings. A crying shame really. Now is your time to discover it.
Oh, and I know it’s been a while now, but Lou, thanks for the music - especially the stuff on this one. Rest In Peace.
Now. For whatever reason, Lou hasn’t had much of a makeover of his back catalogue, with only a handful of releases being given expanded reissues. Others have been repressed to keep them on catalogue, but otherwise look and sound just like they did when they first appeared. But, to try and give you an idea of what is currently available, the list below are what I am 99% certain are the most recent editions of all of Lou’s studio and live albums. I haven’t listed some of his more recent collaborations (the Metallica one, the one recorded by his Metal Machine Music band, etc) but I have listed the John Cale releases (“Drella” and “Bataclan”) because of the obvious VU links. And also because “Drella” is absolutely essential.
You will see a wide variety of labels here - many of them are, nowadays, part of a single bigger outfit...this explains how there are releases on Buddha of both RCA and Arista albums, which in the 70‘s, were completely separate from one another. “American Poet” and “Batalcan” were both originally released by labels to which Lou never had any connection, which probably explains why the most recent releases are on totally different labels as well - it would seem the rights to these recordings are available to anybody who fancies having a go at releasing this material, so don’t be surprised if they reappear on yet another indie label in a few years time. I have not listed the ever growing list of similar “unofficial but not bootleg” live albums that, by being radio broadcasts, also seem to get round copyright issues, as the list of these is difficult to get 100% accurate, so I have left them alone for now.
It’s also worth pointing out that a number of these releases have been included in boxsets that, especially if you want more than one album, are often cheaper than trying to buy a regular single CD release. The latest versions of “Lou Reed” and “Transformer” were included in a 2-in-1 boxset release in late 2002, whilst the run of the five studio albums from the Warners years from “New York” to “Ecstasy” can be bought en masse courtesy of the “Original Album Series” release.
There are two RCA era “Original Album Classics” sets - one which runs from “Lou Reed” to “Coney Island”, although it ignores the live albums and “MMM”, but includes all the bonus tracks from the previous expanded reissues of what is here, and another which covers all the studio and live albums for the period from “Blue Mask” to “Mistrial”. The merging of labels means there is a third one, which includes the expanded “Rock N Roll Animal”, “Rock N Roll Heart”, “The Bells”, “Growing Up” and “Street Hassle” itself. Buying these last four will give you a massive chunk of the back catalogue for less than £60. Which is a lot less than what each of those individual Led Zepp super deluxe reissues have been knocking about for!
LOU LP DISCOGRAPHY
Lou Reed (1972, CD, Camden Deluxe 74321 727122)
Transformer (1972, CD, RCA Heritage 07863 65132 2, 2002 expanded reissue with bonus demos of “Hangin‘ Round“ and “Perfect Day“)
Berlin (1973, CD, RCA 88697 104162)
Rock N Roll Animal (1974, CD, RCA 07863 67948 2, 2000 expanded reissue with previously unissued versions of “How Do You Think It Feels” and “Caroline Says I”)
Sally Can’t Dance (1974, CD, RCA 07863 69383 2, 2001 expanded reissue with unreleased bonus track and single mix of title track)
Lou Reed Live (1975, CD, RCA ND 83752)
Metal Machine Music (1975, CD, Buddha 74465 99752 2)
Coney Island Baby (1976, CD, RCA Legacy 82876 78251 2, 2006 expanded reissue with bonus B-side material and previously unreleased alternate takes)
Rock And Roll Heart (1976, CD, Buddha 74465 99657 2)
Street Hassle (1978, CD, Arista 262 270)
Take No Prisoners (1978, 2xCD, Arista Heritage 07822 10609 2)
The Bells (1979, CD, Buddha 74465 99659 2)
Growing Up In Public (1980, CD, Buddha 74465 99658 2)
The Blue Mask (1982, CD, RCA 07863 542212)
Legendary Hearts (1983, CD, RCA ND 89843)
Live In Italy (1984, CD, Sony/Music On CD 86272 21051, available for some years as a budget price release called “Live In Concert” in a unique p/s, pressings from 2005 reverted to original title in new sleeve, this 2014 release replicates the original vinyl release)
New Sensations (1984, CD, RCA ND 90671, some websites currently advertise a 2013 repressing which may use a different cat number)
Mistrial (1986, CD, RCA ND 90253)
New York (1989, CD, Sire 7599 25829 2)
Songs For Drella (1990, CD, Sire 7599 26140 2)
Magic And Loss (1992, CD, Sire 7599 26662 2)
Set The Twilight Reeling (1996, CD, Sire 9362 46159 2)
Perfect Night: Live In London (1997, CD, Reprise 9362 46917 2)
Ecstasy (2000, CD, Reprise 9362 47425 2)
American Poet (2001, CD, Easy Action 23566 03802, 2005 reissue)
The Raven (2003, 2xCD, Reprise 9362 48373 2)
Animal Serenade (2004, CD, Reprise 9362 48678 2)
Le Bataclan 72 (2004, CD, AEPI 291012 900821, 2013 reissue)
Hudson River Wind Meditations (2007, CD, Sounds True M1117D)
Berlin: Live at St Ann’s Warehouse (2008, CD, Matador OLE 8492)
PS. A Lou UK singles blog will appear on this site at some time. It took me several years to finally get this one on here, so don’t hold your breath.