|FRIDAY OCTOBER 4
MY GENERATION: (STILL) MUCH TOO MUCH
I haven't heard a new composition from The Who in 20 years until this week, when I finally got round to purchasing the My Generation re-issue and was able to hear 'Instant Party Mixture' for the very first time. (The double CD was released in the late summer, but I figured I'd waited all these years for producer Shel Talmy and the band to reach a financial/legal agreement that would enable the album's remixing/remastering and reissue with bonus tracks; what difference did a few more weeks make?)
Everything about the 'Deluxe Edition' reinforces why I fell for The Who as a kid and why I expended so much time and energy writing Keith Moon's biography. Originally recorded and issued in 1965, My Generation was, in essence, three different albums. Firstly, there was the whole album of R&B covers recorded in the spring of 1965, on the heels of 'I Can't Explain's success: the project was wisely shelved, though 'I Don't Mind' 'Please Please' and 'I'm A Man' made it to the final cut. Then, later that year, the Who returned to the studio to record a number of the bitterly twisted 'pop' songs Pete Townshend had just written, many of which stand as the finest singles of the decade never to be released: the first side trio of 'The Good's Gone', 'La-La-La Lies' and 'Much Too Much' has never been rivaled on a studio album as far as I'm concerned, not by the Buzzcocks, the Jam, or anyone.
And to round things off, there were a couple of phenomenal hard rock anthems the title track, perhaps the only song here to have dated over the decades, and the instrumental 'The Ox,' which has been remixed to better amplify and separate each instrument and sounds so devastating coming out of my speakers now, that I hesitate to think what impact it had on the kids (let alone their parents!) back in the sixties. At a time when most artists were still releasing 30-minute albums primarily of cover versions, My Generation was a one-off statement of youthful discontent and voluminous arrogance that continues to put all its contemporaies to shame. Through most of my teens, I considered My Generation among the greatest albums ever made; I don't think differently now.
The bonus disc gives us the rejected cover versions from the spring 1965 sessions, all of which I believe have shown up on assorted compilations and bootlegs over the years. (Though until now, they'd been neither remixed, nor remastered; I can certainly appreciate the clarity and strength in these newly released versions.) Listening to them gathered together, it's clear that Shel Talmy and the Who knew what they were doing when they discarded these covers; even though I have an enormous soft spot for Martha and the Vandellas' 'Heatwave' and 'Motoring,' it was far wiser in the long run for the Who to use James Brown's 'I Don't Mind' and 'Please Please Please' instead.
'Instant Party Mixture,' though hardly a Who classic, is a witty drug song and fun to own given that I, among others, thought that the well of unearthed material had run dry; obsessives like myself will be equally happy to possess an instrumental of 'My Generation,' unedited versions of 'I Don't Mind' and 'The Good's Gone' a rare alternate version of 'Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere' from a French EP, with entirely different vocals; and mono versions with different guitar overdubs of both 'A Legal Matter' and 'My Generation.' There are those truly obsessed Who fans that spend much (too much) of their time online arguing the failings of these remixes, and it's true that anytime you remix, you're messing with history. In the case of My Generation, it appears that Townshend added many guitar overdubs as the tracks were mixed to 3-track, a common practice at the time but one that means those overdubs never survived in isolation; Talmy had no choice but to leave them off his new remixes, much to the chagrin of many Who fans. Yet in doing so, Roger Daltrey's voice is given more room to shine (check the a capella 'Anytime You Want Me' for proof of his early singing prowess) and similarly, John Entwistle's bass sounds bigger and boomier.
But such arguments are relative anyway: it wasn't until after I wrote Dear Boy that I bought the whole sixties Who catalogue on 7" and realised that the versions of 'I'm A Boy' and 'I Can See For Miles' I'd been listening to all these years (on Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy) were not in fact the original singles renditions. There will therefore be people who get their hands on the My Generation Deluxe Edition and assume that these new, clearer and occasionally incomplete versions were the original recordingss. Chances are they'll be too amazed by what they're listening to to think about the potential differences.
I have to emphasise that, however unscrupulous Shel Talmy may been with the Who in his business dealings, we're extremely fortunate to have had him at the controls in 1965, allowing the band close to free riotous reign, rather than someone who would have tamed them and softened them. And the three sets of sleeve notes (including one by my pal Andy Neill, co-author of the superb Anyway Anyhow Anywhere coffee table tome), though they add little historically that we didn't already presume, are accompanied by a number of nostalgic photographs that almost look like pastiches of the 1960s, they're so perfectly clichéd. They make me no less desirous to have lived during that era than ever!
You may have noticed I got through the above without mentioning Mr Moon's contributions. In Dear Boy,I wrote extensively about how his drumming on the My Generation album marked a revolution in rock; the re-issue only reinforces that claim.
Talking of Moon though, I was asked recently if any of his recordings with the Beachcombers had survived: the answer, sadly, is no. Over on the ijamming! Forum, there's lively discussion on whether he committed suicide or not; there are several other items there that I want to jump in on as well, but I'm determined to post some of the promised features here first. The next few days should see the Underworld interview up, the second part of the Richard Butler interview up, and some book reviews for the October Hitlist. Search around, surf around, have fun, and enjoy your weekend.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 3
FIRST, the good news: I wrote yesterday about how the Morel album Queen of the Highway made my 2001 Year End list. I'm delighted to say I'll be DJing soon alongside not one but two other acts that made the same list: The Charlatans' Tim Burgess, and Mint Royale, at the Boys and Girls night at Filter 14 in the Meatpacking District, Wednesday October 23. Admission will set you back all of five bucks, so don't dare ask for guest list and don't give me excuses for not showing. (Unless you don't live here, of course
I've also written extensively these past few months of my admiration for American-based British writer Christopher Hitchens, a free-thinking leftist who's proven as willing to write a negative book on the Clintons (or Henry Kissinger, or even Mother Theresa) as he has a positive one on George Orwell. Sadly, Hitchens' independent stance, which has seen him rail against much of the American left-wing for its tepid response to the 9/11 attacks, has resulted in his quitting the publication The Nation after 20 years as a leading columnist. Hitchens' right-wing counterpart, fellow Brit-in-America Andrew Sullivan, wrote an extremely complimentary obituary of sorts for the British Sunday Times last week; it's archived here. Sullivan's enthusiasm for war gets on my nerves no end (there's plenty places to sign up if you're that keen to kill or be killed, Andrew), but his analysis of Hitchens' actions seems inherently accurate when he writes, "He quit for the possibility of thinking outside of any political loyalties at a time when such loyalties are as trivial as they are corrupting."
I have to wonder what Hitchens made of Bill Clinton's appearance at the Labour Party Conference yesterday. The BBC compared the former President to an "ageing rock star" and the British Times noted how he is "older, grayer, but Elvis still, the King." In other words, he received the sort of response normally reserved for the Rolling Stones on tour in America. During a week in which I gather the Brits are having a good old laugh at poor John Major's expense (the ex-PM's extra-marital affair with vampish former Minister Edwina Currie being made public ten years after the fact), I don't know how much was whispered in the corridors of Blackpool about Monica's blowjobs in the hallways of the White House, but regardless of the rampant hypocrisy among our moralizing politicians, it seems clear from this end of the pond that Clinton probably saved Tony Blair's political hide with the Labour left wing just by showing up. That he then spent an hour singing Blair's praises while digging at Dubya, all the while insisting we "call Saddam Hussein's bluff" is the stuff that Blair could only have dreamed of.
On the surface, I agree with every word of Clinton's hour-long speech I've so far read or seen, especially the part where, as the NYTimes paraphrases, "He said the most important anti-terror mission should be wiping out Al Qaeda." It's just a shame he didn't voice this opinion more clearly, let alone act on it, during his eight years in office or the world might not be in such a perilous state right now
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 2
MOREL COMES OUT TO PLAY - AT LAST
It makes sense when you think about it. A few weeks ago I went to CBGBs for a showcase sponsored by Guitar World and saw a girl group playing without any instruments whatsoever, let alone guitars. Why shouldn't I then go to the launch party for the Billboard Dance Summit and find that the showcase act features no DJ, no female singers, and no keyboard players, but two guitarists, a bassist, two drummers and a balding, goateed front man who sings songs complete with verses, bridges, choruses, and middle eights?
|Guitars and drums at the Billboard-sponsored Dance Summit, as Morel plays Shelter, Sep 30,
||A distinct lack of guitars (or any instruments, come to that) at the Guitar World sponsored MEANY Fest, as Untamed play CBGBs, Sep 14.
That's the way it should be, though. While there are those dance aficionados who live only for dark clubs with bright lights, DJs at turntables and the occasional female vocalist performing a PA to backing tracks, the vast majority of us who love a good beat also love a good song; we like singers we can identify with, musicians who ad lib live on stage; we appreciate lyrics we can wrap our heads around, and we love a performer who actually performs.
Morel lived up to all these requirements and more when he made his New York debut Monday night at Shelter. For those who don't know and sadly that's too many Richard Morel is a late-blooming singer-songwriter who received attention as singer on Deep Dish's debut album Junk Science before releasing his own opus, Queen Of The Highway, at the end of last year. Despite melding Underworld 's rhythmic skills with the Pet Shop Boys' lyrical prowess, New Order's accessibility with Moby's sense of symphony, this potentially enormous cross-over album spectacularly failed to cross over. It made a few end of year Top 10 Lists (enough to see a spirited re-release effort in the spring) but as things stand, Queen of The Highway has fallen somewhere between a cult classic and an ignored masterpiece.
I dearly hope that the album's subject matter had nothing to do with its lack of mainstream acceptance. Morel's lyrics are affirmatively queer, and while it's a mark of his inclusive songwriting that I can appreciate them even though I don't necessarily identify with them, I'm perhaps more tolerant that most radio programmers. As such, it makes sense for Morel to set his stall in the gay-centric house music scene, where the brutal honesty of songs like 'True (The Faggot Is You)' and 'A World Set Free' is applauded rather than rejected.
It's well worth noting that the only mention Morel made of sexuality on stage Monday night was, funnily enough, to announce how everyone thinks the title song 'Queen Of The Highway' is about a "homo" when it was actually written about his mother, "who was most definitely not a homo." Otherwise, his performance was straight down the middle: Morel wore a sober brown suit, flanked by an equally conservatively-dressed bass player, Pat Flood, and the rapidly be-shirted, insanely funky guitarist John Allen; behind them, a guest percussionist, Dwayne Tyree, added flavor, while drummer Rob Black kept crisp time while also playing along to a backing track of taped keyboard s and occasional additional rhythms.
|For all that I wish the keyboard parts were played live, it was still an organic performance full of precise musicianship, with Morel crouching low, eyes closed, as he sung one great album track after another: 'Funny Car,' 'Over,' 'All Of The Sweet Ones' and the near-symphonic 'Queen of the Highway'. It was no surprise that 'True,' which was a substantial hit in the house scene, received the night's best response, but new songs 'Driving To Heaven' and 'I'll Do What I Can' showed there's plenty more infectious and intelligent music where that came from.
In the middle of the set the multi-talented Morel, who produced his entire album and frequently engineers for Deep Dish, donned a guitar of his own, at which point the distinctions between rock band, dance act and gay lyricist blurred entirely. (Thankfully.) Morel's live show has been a long time coming, and sadly his album has languished while we've been waiting, but having witnessed its introduction, I only hope it marks the start of something special, not the end of something that should have been.
|"He said 'You're a pussy like Ru-Paul,' I'm a man, that is all." Morel sings 'True' to form.
APRIL OCTOBER 1
WHO SAYS THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH? PART 2
(part 1 was Wilson Pickett)
||Got up this morning to find an announcement from the NYHappenings List that the White Stripes were playing Union Square Park today at midday, for free. Pinch, punch, first of the month. But this is October 1, not April Fools Day, and a quick jump over to Whitestripes.com confirmed the rumor. The beauty - and danger - of being self-employed is that I can get to an event like this without asking permission from the boss, and I therefore found myself at the Park shortly before the appointed noon hour where indeed, there was a PA system and a stage, with Meg White's distinctive bass drum at its center, and a hand-scrawled message up at the Mixing Board: The White Stripes: Today At Noon!!
I didn't find out until after the show precisely what the event was in aid of, though the lengthy truck with fancy car pictured on its side, parked directly behind the stage, gave a clue. Turns out Nissan are launching some new vehicle and had hired the White Stripes to help launch it. Presumably, Nissan now make their American cars in Detroit and, assuming that presumption is correct (it's hard to imagine the White Stripes whoring themselves for a car company that isn't in Detroit), it's a win-win-win situation for the duo: get paid lots of money, play for free in New York, and maybe even help home town Motor City's economy in the process. The fact that Jack and Meg White said nothing whatsoever about the sponsorship throughout the set indicates they were pretty happy to simply get out and play.
Detroit Motor City comes to New York City.
The White Stripes promote Nissan in Union Square Park, Tuesday October 1st.
The incredible short notice given the event was, it turns out, more to do with the duo's last minute commit ment than fears about crowd size. But the lack of advance knowledge nonetheless kept the numbers manageable - no more than a couple of thousand, on the sort of perfect day, with blue skies and temperatures in the high 70s, which simply doesnt belong in October. And maybe it was the considerable heat, maybe it was the early start, maybe it was just the sensible size of crowd, but everyone was extremely well-mannered - there was no jostling for position, let alone moshing. Everyone seemed grateful enough to have something for nothing that they didn't want to spoil it.
Rather than take humbrage, Jack came to stage front, quietened the crowd, and sang the old blues song 'Boll Weevil' acapella and without a working microphone. By the third verse, he had the crowd clapping and singing along, Meg offering some tempered percussion, and everyone heading home happy. In the process, Mr White proved that the blues is a music for all eternity, one that needs nothing more than a voice and a soul to shine (though a lone guitar and some drums help out no end) - but that given too much freedom to run around the riffs repeatedly, the blues can quickly mutate into self-indulgent hard rock. At their best - and that's most of the time - the White Stripes have stripped the blues to a post-punk minimalism that's striking for its audacious immediacy. As long as they remember that that's what we love about them, they'll continue to blaze a formidable trail. And a couple of thousand New Yorkers will likely long remember this blazing hot Indian summer's day for its unexpected free lunch.
|The hour-long set broke into two distinct sections. The first 40 minutes saw Jack and Meg playing a number of their better-known songs with barely a pause for introductions. From 'Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground' to a cover of Dolly Parton's 'Jolene,' from 'Apple Blossom' to 'Sugar Never Tasted So Good,' and from 'We're Going To Be Friends' to a hilarious new Led Zep style blues thumper with the boast "New York women won't let Jack White rest" (and you can imagine the response from the alt-college girls in the crowd to that line) it was one example after another as to why The White Stripes are such a success: primal, raucous, witty, cocky and entirely unpretentious. Jack's voice, as well as his guitar playing, was in particularly fine form for such an early start; and Meg was clearly having fun while holding the beat and singing along to the likes of 'Hotel Yorba'.
Jack then switched guitar to play some mean slide blues (see pic at right), and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. But when he switched back for the song 'Astro,' it was cue for the duo to start jamming extensively, speeding up and slowing down, losing interest in the crowd and turning in on themselves. Most of us could tell from frantic onstage activity what Jack White, totally self-absorbed, could not - that a 1pm curfew was fast approaching and the White Stripes were out of time. At last, coming out of a ten-minute jam, Jack attempted to make amends by launching into one final song, but somewhat cruelly and abruptly for such a successful act, the power was cut the moment he opened his mouth to sing.
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 30
The more astute among you may have noticed the absence of a September Hitlist. I skipped a month, so as to get a head start on October. And, I'm delighted to say, the October Hitlist is up as of Now!, with 30 Albums, and 10 Songs currently rocking my world. All come with capsule reviews. Get on over there! And some of them have been highlighted, elaborated upon and given their own space in the Albums sections. Please take time out to read about Fuzz Townshend's eponymous album; the Ten Years retrospectives by BT and Banco De Gaia (they each took the same album title - why not review them together?); and the whole bloody 1990s Half Man Half Biscuit back catalogue. Insane? Sure!
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 29
DONE IT! Broke the twenty-mile barrier today, the longest distance I've ever run, as the last of my 'going long' fortnightly exercises in masochism. For the next five weeks I'll be tapering down the distances, until the big one on Nov 3. (In case you just tuned in to this site and my life, I'm doing the NYC Marathon for the first time ever this year.) Anyway, though I'm not still standing, I'm at least sitting, breathing, functioning. But no way you're getting any more out of me on the web site today. I'll be keeping daily comments to a minimum this week as I get long-overdue features, reviews, archive material up instead. Oh...And I've been getting lots of interesting postings on The Forum, but I seem to be the only one answering them. Nobody else got anything to say? Hope everyone's been having a good weekend and not putting themselves through the same pain drain as me. . .
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 28
NO WHINE, JUST WINE
One of the reasons I've turned into an oenophile is because wine pushes all the same buttons for me as does music. (See my original wine posting: WHAT WINE FANS AND MUSIC DEVOTEES HAVE IN COMMON ) One of the reasons I've persisted with it is that the people I've met in pursuit of my obsession have proven to be almost uniformly devoted and passionate to their cause - and absurdly generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge, enthusiasm, and wine collections. In addition, whether they be the small family producers and retailers, or the major distributors and importers, I've been struck not just by how hard these people work, or by how little rivalry there is between them, but by how much fun they have.
This was all especially evident over a seven day period just passed, when I was fortunate enough to attend one fellow "wine geek"'s 'bring your own' birthday gathering in Brooklyn, and two of the leading distributors' annual tastings in Manhattan. All three occasions were brightened by the appearance of wine makers as well as by the quality of the wines on show. (Continue here for the rest of this lengthy wine round-up. Warning: there's no music content.)