Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dez's Record Guides: The Byrds

I am not including compilations in this Guide. The Byrds released a ton of different compilations both during their tenure and after. They are worth exploring on their full records, but if you do want the best conventional compilation, 2003’s The Essential Byrds **** probably does the best job. To get a real picture of their greatness and influence, the box set There Is a Season (2006) ***** is outstanding.

Mr. Tambourine Man (1965) *****
Folk, meet rock. Rock, meet folk. Now go change the music world with that jingle jangle sound.

Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965) ****
Doesn’t move the ball forward from Mr. Tambourine Man, but when you start a musical revolution, I guess you can be forgiven for consolidating your position for another record or so. Especially if the material is this great, even though there is some filler in the latter half. It has the heaviest Gene Clark presence of all of their records, and that is never a bad thing.

Fifth Dimension (1966) ****
Classic folk rock/psychedelic work sit amongst some filler, but the greatness outweighs the mediocre, justifying the rating. At the risk of reigniting this debate, I’ll say it again: “Eight Miles High” is the greatest single of the 1960’s.

Younger Than Yesterday (1967) ***
The last record from the first groundbreaking phase. With the departure of Gene Clark the year before, David Crosby and Chris Hillman are given more room to stretch their wings here alongside leader Roger McGuinn. Generally speaking, that is a good thing, although when you give Crosby too much rope you get “Mind Gardens.”

The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968) *****
How such a gorgeous, mysterious, folk-psychedelic masterpiece of a record came out of such turmoil and transition is pretty amazing. If only all divorces could sound so tranquil. (You want to hear how acrimonious it gets? The newer version has some great bonus tracks, including a 24 minute take of a song that mostly consists of arguing and studio acrimony, it is a fascinating window into the studio process, centering on a heated exchange about Michael Clarke’s drumbeat for some song). Listening to individual tracks of this one does not work very well, it is really a case of the whole being much greater than the parts. But as a listening experience from start to finish, it is hard to beat for creating a mood. Crosby and Clarke would both be gone before the next record.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) ***
Let me explain. I had real trouble rating this one. It is unquestionably one of the most important records ever released, it is viewed with awe by most musicians who stride the line between country and rock, and it is the only Byrds record recorded during mythic figure Gram Parsons’ tenure as a Byrd. I just don’t really like it all that much and I have never understood the Parsons worship. The music here is good, but it “just” sounds like a good country record to me, nothing more. If this record guide is really from the Dez point of view, I can’t go above three stars, just note that most record guides and critics and music history books would have this firmly in five star territory for its massive influence.

Preflyte (unreleased material recorded pre-Mr. Tambourine Man) (1969/1964) ***
Gram Parsons and Hillman left The Byrds after Sweetheart (to form The Flying Burrito Brothers so they could further explore their country/rock fusion), and the Byrds were once again in flux as McGuinn tried to assemble a new line-up. In the meantime, they released this interesting stopgap collection of early recordings from the original group. Mainly of interest to Gene Clark enthusiasts.

Note: The Byrds line-up is pretty stable from here on out, and this latterday Byrds has many admirers, including myself. The records themselves are less consistent than during their most celebrated period, but there is much to love. As important as McGuinn during this time is the jawdropping, fluid guitar playing of Clarence White. I think these later records settle on a more authentic and intriguing country/rock fusion than the more celebrated Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which to me sounds like just a country record without much rock.

Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde (1969) ***
Dark and strange, you can hear them still trying to find their sound with the new line-up.

Live at the Fillmore 1969 (live) (2000/1969) ***
Ragged live outing from the newly formed latterday Byrds line-up. Of interest mainly for Clarence White’s guitar flights.

Ballad of Easy Rider (1969) ****
Breezy country/rock/folk gem featuring a gorgeous cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

Untitled (part live, part studio) (1970) ***
Many critics view this as the peak of the latterday Byrds, although I prefer Easy Rider. It is a bit bloated, as most double albums are, but there are some fantastic individual tracks to be found.

Live At Royal Albert Hall (live) (2008/1971) ***
Read the Fillmore review above and repeat.

Byrdmaniax (1971) **
Buried under the horrid overproduction provided by producer Terry Melcher, there are actually some very good songs here. The production ruins it. Fans have been asking McGuinn for years to get his hands on these tapes and to remix and remaster it so we can hear what they actually intended.

Farther Along (1971) ***
The Byrds were so displeased by the hatchet job Melcher did on Byrdmaniax, they rushed this self-produced follow-up out within six months. It has some great songs (“Bugler” is gorgeous), but overall it is an unremarkable finale to this Byrds line-up.

Byrds (1973) *
Much ballyhooed reunion of the original Byrds line-up (McGuinn, Clark, Crosby, Hillman and Clarke) turns out to be a bust; only Gene Clark delivers the goods, the rest seem to have been there to collect the paycheck.

Never Before (rarities and outtakes compilation) (1987) Not Rated.

Bottom Line: The Byrds were one of the most important and influential bands in the world from 1965-68. All of that material is essential stuff, even if some of it hasn't aged as well as it should. But don’t overlook the later material, it has substantial charms of its own.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Thinking Has Evolved

On the eve of an important Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage, many people in this country have been forced to rethink or confront their own views on the subject. I have long been opposed to gay marriage but fine with civil unions. My feelings on the subject were neither religiously based, in particular, nor rooted in any sort of prejudice. I will now use the cliche of "I have many gay friends." I do. My feelings have been rooted more in a historical and psychological argument, in that the family unit has always been one of the most basic structures in civilized society, and I have always been very wary of redefining what has been accepted for most of human civilized history.

I see the consequences of the deterioration of the family structure first hand in my teaching. Some of my students have difficult situations at home, and that puts a substantial obstacle in front of them for success. Obviously those obstacles can be overcome, but the road is much harder. The family structure in this country has been deteriorating for some time, through the ridiculous divorce rate, the epidemic of absentee fathers, children being raised by grandparents, children being raised by other children. People put forth many reasons for why our schools are in such trouble. As a teacher, I can say that I try to do what I can. I see your child for less than an hour a day in a room with about 30 other kids. Aside from being surrogate parent in some cases, psychologist, therapist, friend, and support, I also try and fit a little history in there too. But parents, you have access to your kids much more than I do. Who do you think is more responsible for their success in school and in life? We don't like to say it sometimes, but the broken family structure is, in my view, the root cause of much of the problems in schools. If the kids don't have support or stability or mature role models at home, there is only so much I can do in the limited time I see them. To be honest, I am often shocked and flooded with admiration for many of my students that do as well as they do considering some of their situations at home. I am not speaking of all (or maybe even a majority) of my kids. Many of them do, in fact, have great home lives and wonderfully responsible parents. And that shows in their success. But so many of them don't. And that shows too.

What does this have to do with gay marriage? I guess the fact that I have been concerned about the family structure in this country for so long, I was holding on to some sort of traditional structure, some sort of traditional mooring that we could have left. But I have come to realize that ship has sailed. Just as many more reasonable types in the Republican Party have begun to realize, I see we need to evolve as a country and as a society. My personal beliefs on what is and what is not marriage are not that significant to this fundamental question. Nor are those of any religious groups. The fundamental questions before the Court deal with whether the laws they are considering (mainly Prop 8 in California) violate Constitutional rights. Gays are not a strictly protected class, but that will probably change too. And perhaps sexual orientation should be strictly protected. My idealized view of what a family should be has already passed. It is time to allow gays to marry, at least in a civil setting.

Just as religious beliefs should not be a factor for the Court in deciding a Constitutional question, protection of religious freedom should protect religious organizations from having to perform ceremonies for gay couples. If the Court eventually states that gay marriage is a right, then they will also have to deal with a host of issues dealing with religious organizations and their tax-exempt status, hiring practices, etc. when their doctrine does not condone homosexual behavior. That will be interesting. Gay marriage as a civil right vs. protection of religious freedom and practice.

Anyway, the Court will probably rule as narrowly as possible. They usually do. They will probably throw out Prop 8, but stop shy of declaring gay marriage a federally protected right. But personally, "my thinking has evolved," as Obama and Hillary both said theirs had recently. Honestly, I don't think Obama has really changed his personal opinion, nor do I think Hillary changed hers. They both changed their stances due to where they saw the political winds blowing. Obama probably still personally feels gay marriage is wrong (based on my understanding of his religious beliefs), and Hillary I think always thought it was OK in the first place, but now it is politically expedient for her to say how she really feels on the subject. But that is just the cynic in me. Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject. Yours?

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Next List

Summer is fast approaching. Yes, it means a new baby in our family. Yes, it means fun and sun. And yes, it means some time off for yours truly (although, teaching classes full of teenagers might be more relaxing than taking care of a three year old and newborn, we'll see.) But most importantly, it means another GNABB list. I wanted to get some suggestions from my loyal readers for a topic. I've done lots of Music, so I want to steer clear of that this summer (albums, songs, artists...all complete. Listing five star albums, the ongoing record guides). I've done favorite Movies already. I think I want to go historical. The Presidents Rankings list was a success. Rightly or wrongly, I deem a list a success or failure based on how much conversation it generates. There was lots of debate and discussion on the Presidential Rankings. So any historical topic suggestions for this summer's list?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Nostalgia and Anxiety: Dez Presents a Kinks Album Guide

I was driving to work this morning listening to 1983’s State of Confusion, partly because I had not heard it in a long time and partly to better assess it for this Guide, and I was struck by the thought that nobody does nostalgia or anxiety better than Ray Davies. Another great rock songwriter, Pete Townshend, once said that Ray Davies is rock’s “poet laureate.” I think that is probably true at least during their most accomplished period, 1965-71. The Kinks are interesting because they are the most English of the British Invasion bands. It wasn’t until the Arista Years (1977-84) that they really broke through and felt comfortable to American audiences. Perhaps that partly explains that while they are considered one of the heavyweight Brit Invasion bands, they are also like a cult band in many ways (Ray often addresses this outsider view in song: “Misfits,” “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”). Ray’s songs can be sweet and nostalgic or cynical and bitter, sometimes all within the same three minutes. I admire The Kinks for many reasons, but mainly it is that they influenced rock and roll several times over. The early ragged classics are Garage Rock 101. The mid to late 60’s showed Davies to be one of the most observant and witty commentators on British daily life and he perfected the concept album. The early to mid 70’s showed us a perversely stubborn Davies going off the deep end, only to turn The Kinks into unlikely first class arena rockers in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Each era has substantial merits (well, maybe not the mid-70's), and the first two eras are essential rock history. I have not even mentioned the great brother Dave Davies, who is one of the most important rock guitarists. Not to mention a fine songwriter in his own right, and I often prefer Dave’s wail over Ray’s vocals. Onward to your record guide...

Kinks (1964) **
Kinda Kinks (1965) **
The Kink Kontroversy (1965) ***
Live at Kelvin Hall (live) (1968) *

Like most other British Invasion bands, The Kinks got their start trying to play American blues and R&B. They sound about as awkward as The Who doing it on their early records. Some gems are here, but they are surrounded by much filler. I know that Kelvin Hall is slightly out of chronological order, but it really belongs with this early material as it is a throwback, and anyway, it is completely inessential. Sloppy performances with the band drowned out by screaming teenagers.

Greatest Hits (compilation) (1966) *****
The songs on this now criminally out of print Greatest Hits collection can be found on expanded versions of their discs and scattered on other compilations, but hunt this down (I saw an import version on Amazon for about $30 the other day). It features all of their early groundbreaking singles and b-sides (many of which did not appear on the records) in one potent package, and is quite simply one of the most essential rock records you can own. If they had stopped here, they would still be a legendary and influential band.

Face To Face (1966) *****
First essential Kinks record, kicks off their Golden Age, and, notwithstanding The Beatles middle period, the best British pop record of the 1960’s.

Something Else By the Kinks (1967) ****
Much beloved by critics, some of it honestly doesn’t hit me; yet the good stuff is simply outstanding. “Waterloo Sunset” closes the record, a song critic Robert Christgau famously called “the prettiest song in the English language”…don’t know about that, but it is damn lovely.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) *****
Was Ray Davies the real “radical” of the period, turning his back on flower power and hippies, and instead recording a lovely, pastoral paean to an England that probably never was?

Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969) *****
The Who’s Tommy is the more famous rock opera of 1969, but The Kinks’ largely forgotten Arthur is much more coherent in story and theme, and Arthur kicks Tommy's pinball playing ass. Ray deftly paints a picture of decline in middle class England, as the people struggle with tougher economic times and the psychological impact of losing the Empire. As close to a work of art a rock record can be.

Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Pt. 1 (1970) *****
Just in case you forgot that The Kinks practically invented garage rock (and you can be forgiven for forgetting, considering their last four records), Dave Davies’ gritty guitar is once again allowed to slash through to the forefront on this rocker. This is still Ray Davies’ show, though, so there must be high concept in this witty and bitter look at rock and roll stardom and the biz.

'Percy' (soundtrack) (1971) **
A couple of pretty tunes, but largely a footnote in their discography.

Muswell Hillbillies (1971) ***
Ray Davies tries to write a record about Americana, but it ends up sounding more like drunken British music hall. A strange record much beloved by critics and fans. Not one of my favorites.

The Kink Kronikles (compilation) (1972) ****
A much admired compilation that misses some obvious choices (so it isn’t really a hits collection) in favor of more thematic ones, including some choice rarities. Think of it as a worthy, alternative jaunt through The Kinks’ most important period, ’66-70. Less a compilation and more a thematic double album in its own right.

Everybody’s in Showbiz (live/studio) (1972) ***
Double record (one studio, one live) that is a loose concept album about being a rock musician on the road. It is not a thrilling tale of excess and groupies, but one of dull hotels and bad food (lots of bad food), while the live disc may be the sloppiest and drunkest performance ever released by a major artist, not that it’s bad. In fact it is charming. One stone cold masterpiece is here, “Celluloid Heroes.”

The Great Lost Kinks Album (1973) ****
This was a record released without The Kinks approval, and it was pulled from circulation in ’75 after a lawsuit filed by The Davies brothers, so it is quite the collector’s item. Featuring many outstanding rarities and tunes from the never released Dave Davies solo record slated for the late 60’s, most of these songs can now be found on expanded versions of their 60’s records and Dave Davies compilations. Some great music here from their prime period.

Preservation: Act 1 (1973) **
Preservation: Act 2 (1974) *
Soap Opera (1975) **
Schoolboys in Disgrace (1975) **
The Kinks Greatest: Celluloid Heroes (compilation) (1976) ****
BBC Sessions: 1964-77 (compilation/live) (2001/1964-77) ***

The most difficult period even for fans, when Ray Davies was willfully difficult and wrote concept albums mostly to please himself. Not even the rest of The Kinks, especially Dave, liked these. Can be skipped by all but the most diehard, although the Celluloid Heroes collection successfully salvages the best out of this period.

Sleepwalker (1977) ***
After a difficult period, The Kinks were signed to Arista and Ray Davies was given strict instructions: “no concept albums.” Ray went back to writing rock songs again, he unleashed brother Dave on the guitar once more, and The Kinks had one of the more unlikely revivals, becoming more popular than ever before in the U.S. as reinvented arena rockers.

Misfits (1978) ****
All Music Guide calls this one of the great midlife crisis records, full of anxiety and doubt. “Misfits” and “Rock and Roll Fantasy” are so, so perfect.

Low Budget (1979) ****
OK, I know I said Ray wasn’t allowed to write any concept albums while on Arista, but he just couldn’t help himself. This is a hard hitting record that loosely addresses the anxiety in America in the late 70’s with the energy crisis and a crisis of confidence (as Carter put it). It is also a reaction to punk, and a convincing one at that.

One For the Road (live) (1980) ***
Energized live record with a few tracks of true greatness, like a blistering “You Really Got Me” (which sounds like Dave Davies responding to the challenge of Van Halen’s recent cover) and versions of “Lola” and “Celluloid Heroes” that surpass their studio counterparts.

Give the People What They Want (1981) **
Ray can sometimes veer too far into cynicism, and from the title of this record to many of the songs on it, it sounds like Ray is saying “f**k you, buy this record.”

State of Confusion (1983) ***
The last good Kinks record, featuring their biggest American hit since the 1960’s (the joyous “Come Dancing”) and some biting songs of the heart (“Labour of Love,” “Property”).

Word of Mouth (1984) **
This is the record that made me a fan, and it isn’t even that good. It does feature one gem each from Ray (the dizzy rocker “Do It Again”) and Dave (who outdoes Ray on the nostalgia front with the stunning “Living on a Thin Line,” Dave’s best song). The rest, though, is mediocre Kinks.

Come Dancing With The Kinks: The Best of 1977-86(compilation) (1986) ****
Here’s the thing: this era stands on its own, ignoring their history. I came to The Kinks as a fan in ’83 and ’84, not through discovering “You Really Got Me” or Arthur, but through hearing “Come Dancing” on the radio and watching the “Do It Again” video on MTV. Only then did I investigate and learn the history. If Sleepwalker had been this band’s debut, the ’77-’84 era would still have been successful, even if their name wasn’t The Kinks. Can you say the same for post Some Girls Stones, post Zooropa U2, post Let’s Dance Bowie, post Born in the USA Springsteen? Those periods were only successful in terms of referencing their past. The Kinks Arista years stand alone as containing some great rock and roll, regardless of their history. Unfortunately, while it does have some killer songs, this collection in its current form does not do the era justice (the original double LP release was the best).

Think Visual (1986) *
Live: The Road (studio/live) (1988) *
UK Jive (1989) **
Lost and Found (1986-89) (compilation) **
Phobia (1993) *
To the Bone (studio/live) (1994) ***
The Ultimate Collection (compilation) (2007) ****
Picture Book (box set/compilation) (2008) ****

The Kinks had a slow and disappointing decline until (as of this writing) they simply fizzled out. It has been a sorry end to the greatest cult band in history. As the All-Music Guide stated in reviewing Phobia, “Ray Davies continues to write a couple of brilliant songs that nobody will hear” per album, but these albums are also composed primarily of subpar filler. Ray and Dave’s solo careers are both chugging along nicely now, so a reunion of the still contentious brothers remains unlikely.

Bottom Line: As per the 10 Year JMW Rule, you should own all of 1966-72, other than ‘Percy’ and Live at Kelvin Hall. Fortunately, The Kinks have distinct compilations covering each period. So after purchasing ’66-’72, you can then buy Greatest Hits (for the crucial ’64-’66 singles and b-sides), The Kinks Greatest: Celluloid Heroes for ’72-’76 and Come Dancing With the Kinks for ’77-’86. Come Dancing is flawed, it has been re-released with different track listings three times, and unfortunately, they got it best on the very first (and out of print) version. God Save The Kinks.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Leave No Man Behind

This is a link sent to me by a friend of mine to a lengthy but fascinating bit of reporting by Sidney Schanberg on what he claims has been a longstanding government cover-up regarding the existence of a substantial number of POW's from the Vietnam War that were believed to be alive in Laos and Vietnam at least into the late 1980's. The link is here. I haven't investigated further into the issue, and have not read articles presenting the counterview, so I am linking to it with serious caveats. That being said, it is a compelling read if you are interested in the subject, and if Schanberg is to be believed, from the Nixon administration on, there seems to have been a concerted effort by those in power to bury this evidence. Interestingly, he really goes after John McCain (whom I have admired a great deal) as one of the main culprits. Anyway, fascinating reading, and I'm curious on your thoughts or if any of my dear readers have read anything else on this subject.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dez Reviews Yo Gabba Gabba Live!

In the old days, I’d be reviewing a Springsteen show, perhaps U2 or the Police reunion tour. Now, it is Yo Gabba Gabba Live! Not that I didn’t enjoy the Gabba show that I attended Saturday night with my wife and daughter. It was actually greatness. If you are unfamiliar with Yo Gabba Gabba, it is a trippy children’s show. Here’s a clip…

The show was at San Antonio’s Majestic Theater, and that wonderful venue can make almost any show at least bearable. At the Majestic I have seen Neil Young, Lyle Lovett, The Gypsy Kings, ‘Wicked’…but Yo Gabba Gabba rocked them all (to quote Bon Jovi).

They came out just like rock stars. Dramatic music, lights, smoke…and Brobee! (Screams). Muno! (Screams). Toodee! (Screams). Foofa! (Screams). Plex! (Screams). DJ Lance Rock! This is what Woodstock must have felt like. Or maybe Altamont? Anyway, they opened strong and hard with a thumping version of “Get the Sillies Out.” My daughter was screaming and dancing in delirium. The whole theater shook. The thing with Gabba, a disturbing number of adults really enjoy it too. It is sort of a hipster’s kids show. For instance, the art guy on each episode, who teaches the kids how to draw snow skiing squirrels or walking bowling balls, is “Mark,” as in Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, BELOW:

The excitement became too much for me to take, so I retired to the lovely Majestic lobby for some M&M’s and Cheez-Its being sold at the concessions, just to cool down. Soon after returning to my seat, they brought it down with one of their best slowburners, “Don’t Be Afraid (Of the Dark)”. Yes! They didn’t play that the last time. (This is my second Gabba concert, we saw the previous tour too).

After intermission (so the audience can change diapers and get in some quick naps) they came out with guns blazing, pulling out the Gabba “Stairway To Heaven,” that being “There’s a Party In My Tummy.” Green Beans and Carrots came out for the song too. The show cresecendoed with a personal appearance by rapper Biz Markie, of "Just a Friend" fame. He brought some kids onstage to participate in the Biz’s Beat of the Day segment, a favorite segment of the show. Biz looks like a tough dude, not someone you would want to meet on the streets of Compton. And he is coming up to these intimidated four year olds, right in their face, and asks “what’s yo name?” Then he makes them beat box with him.

ABOVE: "gather round for Biz's Beat of the Day"

It was a well paced show, my daughter had a blast and therefore so did I. I am sure she will look back on Gabba Live in the same way I look back on seeing Dire Straits in ’85.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dez's Record Guides: The Rolling Stones, Pt. 2

"If I commit suicide, I'm gonna miss the next Stones album." - Patti Smith

I know I just posted Part 1 yesterday, but I had the whole thing ready to go, so why wait? Here is Part 2...

Goat’s Head Soup (1973) ***
GHS isn’t a bad record; half if it is killer, but the other half is coasting.

It’s Only Rock and Roll (1974) ***
My friend ANCIANT was recently complaining about how critics jump the gun in reviewing new releases from David Bowie, how each new record is “his best since Scary Monsters” (the dreaded “return to form” compliment), but they turn out to not being close in quality to Scary Monsters. Sean Egan, in his book ‘The Rough Guide to the Rolling Stones,’ has a similar complaint about latterday Stones releases and critics declaring what turn out to be false “new Stones dawns,” and offers what he calls “the It’s Only Rock and Roll litmus test.” He says that whenever a new Rolling Stones record is released, ask the question “is it as good as IORAR?” IORAR is a solid but not outstanding Stones record, and the implication is that none of their recent releases have even reached IORAR quality. It’s a good test.

Metamorphosis (compilation of rarities and outtakes) (1975) ***
An odds ‘n sods collection with some interesting tracks, including outtakes of some familiars that are substantially different.

From the Vault: L.A. Forum (Live in 1975) (live) (2014/1975) ***1/2
The second in a new series of archival live releases, this one captures The Stones on Ron Wood's first tour as a Stone. Wood really proves to be a fantastic guitarist here, in fact the whole band really stretches out and cooks on much of this. Jagger is the weakest link here, though, slurring his words. The music often makes up for it, though.

Black and Blue (1976) ***
Both a funky, loose and scattered album and auditions for Mick Taylor’s replacement on guitar. Legend has it that Jeff Beck auditioned, but then scoffed at the simple arrangements of the Stones repertoire, and Keith Richards was so insulted that he wiped all of Beck’s contributions clean from the tapes.

Love You Live (live) (1977) ***
The first in a long series of inessential live releases, but this is probably the best of the inessential ones.

Some Girls (1978) *****
A burst of life and inspiration from seedy late 70’s New York, Mick is entranced by the new disco club culture, and Keith stands firm on keeping the rock riffs strong. It is this tug of war (Mick wanting to jump on new trends and stay relevant and Keith trying to preserve Stones tradition) that makes the record so vital.

Emotional Rescue (1980) **
Clearly Some Girls leftovers.

Tattoo You (1981) ****
A deceptive record, in that it was presented as a new release but in reality it was a clearing out of the vaults, as some of these songs date back to the mid-70’s in recording. That being said, it holds together as a surprisingly strong and coherent record.

Still Life (live) (1982) *
A apt title. Or maybe Stillborn would have been better.

From the Vaults: Hampton Colliseum (Live in 1981) (live) (2014/1981) ****
The first release in a new series of Stones live archival releases. Amazingly, much of Still Life was taken from this show, but where a perfunctory, heavily edited, randomly sequenced single record was a boring mess, the entire show actually comes to life and is fantastic. They are invigorated by the success of Tattoo You (this is from that tour) and it shows. Showbiz professionals at this point and no longer a dangerous rock and roll band, they nonetheless tear through this set with verve and vigor. Notable for the encore of "Satisfaction" where a crazy fan rushed Mick onstage and Keef intercepted him and knocked him down with his guitar and kept playing the riff.

Undercover (1983) ****
What the f**k is wrong with you people? By “you people,” I mean almost all of the record buying public and most critics. Undercover is generally considered one of the worst records in their entire catalogue. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Outside of their peak period, it is one of their best! Music critic Robert Christgau asked, in his review for Undercover, "what do people hear in this murky, overblown, incoherent piece of sh*t?" I hear a brutal, mean, sleazy, furious near masterpiece; the last time The Stones were really trying, the last time they sounded like they had something to prove or something at stake. Mick wants to bring them into the 80’s with slick dance grooves and New Wave sounds, while Keith and Ron Wood rebel with some of their dirtiest guitar work on record. Mick’s frustration comes across in his singing that sounds more like snarling at times. The music video for the knockout “Too Much Blood” is telling, with Keith gleefully chasing Mick around with a chainsaw.

Rewind (1971-84) (compilation) (1984) *****
Almost flawless single disc collection that puts the 70’s and early 80’s work in the best light.

Dirty Work (1986) **
The nadir of Keith and Mick’s fragile relationship, there is hatred in these grooves. Just look at the song titles: “One Hit,” “Fight,” “Too Rude,” “Winning Ugly,” “Had It With You”…I just don’t think the songs are all that good. Funny, Robert Christgau gave a famous and lengthy review of this record, giving it his highest rating and arguing at length for its brilliance. Yet he didn't like Undercover. Respectfully, Mr. Christgau, you got it backwards. (Cool guitar work, though, from Jimmy Page on the record's best song, "One Hit (To the Body)").

Steel Wheels (1989) **
Flashpoint (live) (1991) **
Voodoo Lounge (1994) ***
Stripped (live) (1995) **
Bridges To Babylon (1997) **
No Security (live) (1998) **
Forty Licks (compilation) (2002) ****
Jump Back, ’71-’89 (compilation) (2004) ***
Live Licks (live) (2004) **
Rarities 1971-2003 (compilation of rarities) (2005) ***
A Bigger Bang (2005) **
Shine a Light (live) (2008) ***
GRRR! (compilation) (2012) ****

Jump Back replaces Rewind (which is now out of print), but Rewind was a much better collection. From 1989 on, The Stones were putting out mere product, pure and simple. They were professional and talented enough to make it sound pretty good at times. It is product, it is trading on their reputation, it is doing variations on already established sounds, it is making money. The records are largely excuses to set up incredibly lucrative tours. Voodoo Lounge is the best of the latterday lot, featuring the killer Keith Richards sung “Thru and Thru” (used brilliantly in the closing scene of Season 2 of ‘The Sopranos’). To be honest, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards solo records during this period are better and more interesting.

Bottom Line: Hey, it’s The Rolling Stones. Aside from The Beatles, no rock band was more important than The Stones from about 1965-72. I would argue that they were probably even more influential than the Fab Four if you really analyze it, but that’s kind of like arguing between Ellington and Basie. After ’72, you’ve got to tread carefully. The serious rock fan should own everything between ’65 and ’72, own Hot Rocks on principle, then get at least Some Girls and find a used copy of Rewind. If you still want more, then move on to It’s Only Rock and Roll and Tattoo You.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dez’s Record Guides: The Rolling Stones

Celebrating their 50th year as a recording band this year, some might see a trip through the discography of The Rolling Stones as a daunting task. Never fear, Dez is here to make some sense of it all for you. Obviously this will need to be divided into two posts. Are they the “Greatest Rock and Roll Band” in the world? I think you can argue that at times they have been, although never my very favorite. But if you were to pick one quintessential rock band for all time, even over The Beatles, I’d probably have to pick The Stones. We’ve discussed JMW’s 10 Year Rule quite a bit around here, and you can also apply it to the Stones. While they’ve recorded for 50 years, their essential recordings can be found 1965-78 (with some weak sauce in the mid-70’s). I love to look at streaks, and between 1968-72, The Stones had the most impressive streak in rock history. I will take The Stones ’68-’72 and you can put up anybody you want from a similar length of time, and The Stones will defeat them.

The early Stones discography is particularly confusing due to the nature of U.S. vs. UK releases during the 1960’s. In the early to mid-60’s, many bands released substantially different versions of the same album title in the U.S. vs. Europe. This is partly because in Europe, singles were seen more as their own entities and often not included on the LPs, whereas in the States we have always repackaged singles onto albums as well. I will rate and analyze each version. It was not until 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request that The Stones started to release the same record on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Rolling Stones (UK-1964) ***
England’s Newest Hitmakers (US-1964) ***
12X5 (US-1964) ***
Rolling Stones No. 2 (UK-1965) ***
The Rolling Stones, Now! (US-1965) ***
Out of Our Heads (US-1965) ****
Out of Our Heads (UK-1965) ***
December’s Children (and Everybody’s) (US-1965) ****
Got Live If You Want It (live) (US-1966) *
The Stones started out like many of the early British Invasion bands, playing in clubs slavishly trying to recreate American blues and R&B. They couldn’t quite get it, and that is the root of their own unique sound, trying and failing to be middle aged American black men. Others were better at it, like The Animals and Yardbirds, but there was a grit and wit about the Stones that was unique. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are the second most celebrated songwriting duo in rock (behind Lennon-McCartney), but in the early days the band relied heavily on covers while Mick and Keith were still trying to find their songwriting footing. The best out of this early batch is the American version of Out of Our Heads. Got Live If You Want It, sounding muddled and drowned out in teenage screams, started the dubious tradition of tossed off, largely pointless live records (with the exception of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out) that the band continues to roll out whenever Mick and Keith want some more cash.

Aftermath (UK-1966) ****
Aftermath (US-1966) ****
Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) (compilation) (US-1966) ****
Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) (compilation) (UK-1966) ****

Most consider Aftermath to be the first classic Stones record, and it is the first one where Jagger and Richards write all of the songs, finally discarding the blues/R&B covers crutch. Brian Jones is a star here, taking these songs to new places with his daring playing and instrumentation (like the sitar on “Paint It Black,” the dulcimer on “Lady Jane,” and the marimbas on “Under My Thumb”).

Between the Buttons (UK-1967) ****
Between the Buttons (US-1967) ****
Flowers (compilation) (US-1967) ****

My daughter was one day old when I decided to introduce her to the finer things in this life. The first music she ever heard on this earth was the UK version of Between the Buttons. Flowers collects some great tunes previously only available on UK releases, but it is actually an excellent listen in its own right.

Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) ***
Considered a rather embarrassing flop upon release, its reputation has been rehabilitated over time (going too far in the other direction, though). The Stones tried (and failed) to match The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, but there are some great songs here, “2000 Light Years From Home” is genuinely creepy psychedelia, while “2000 Man” is one of their most underrated songs (improbably but wonderfully covered years later by KISS).

Beggar’s Banquet (1968) *****
They are no longer copying America’s music, they are using the templates and making their own thrilling blues, country, rock and folk out of it.

Let It Bleed (1969) *****
The best Stones record? If you open with the harrowing “Gimme Shelter” and close with the glorious, redemptive “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and then fill the middle with nightmares like “Midnight Rambler” and “Monkey Man” and the finest cover of their career (Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” turned into a mournful country lament)…this should be in the discussion for greatest rock record…period.

Through the Past, Darkly (compilation) (US-1969) ****
Through the Past, Darkly (compilation) (UK-1969) ****
Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (live) (1970) *****

The only remotely essential live Stones record is Ya-Ya’s.

Sticky Fingers (1971) *****
Let It Bleed may be their best, but this is my favorite Stones record. Weariness never sounded so good.

BELOW: Record collectors must have Sticky Fingers on vinyl, with the working zipper on the album cover (designed by Andy Warhol).

Hot Rocks 1964-71 (compilation) (1971) *****
More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies) (compilation) (1972) ****
Singles Collection: The London Years (compilation) (1989/1963-70) *****

Hot Rocks is one of those rare compilations that takes on a life of its own, in that it is absolute perfection spread over two discs. Every collection should have Hot Rocks in it on principle alone, I don’t care if you also own all of the albums. The Singles Collection is exactly what it sounds like, every Stones single and b-side released between 1963-1970. Speaks for itself.

Exile on Main Street (1972) *****
Funny how time gives you perspective. Exile was reviewed as a sprawling, muddy mess when it was released, and critics found it to be a disappointment. But now the critical consensus is that it is the Stones’ greatest album. A sprawling, double album masterpiece from the gutter, it caps off this remarkable run.

The rest next time…

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I'm not Catholic, at present I'm agnostic. But I've always had a soft spot for the Catholic Church, and if I ever decide that I can commit to Christianity and a Christian life, I'd probably go the Catholic route. I visited the Vatican and St. Peter's on one of my trips to Italy in my younger days, and it left an impression, the place is an awesome thing to behold and experience. I always tell my students that the cathedrals in Europe were built to awe, where they wanted you to walk in and say "oh my God." Mission accomplished at The Vatican. Anyway, I'm following the conclave with interest. I'd love to see a non-European become Pope. That could be a shot in the arm the Church needs. Religion is dying in heathen Europe anyway, they should look to Latin America, Africa or Asia. They need a combination of a charismatic figure ( a la John Paul II) who is also open to some serious reforms. Also, most importantly, someone who will address the child sex abuse scandals with candor, seriousness and humility. It is not just that it happened, but almost worse is how the Church authorities reacted and closed ranks afterwards.


I am victorious in my Dead Pool. If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's the original post. My friend Kyle has capitulated after I took such a commanding lead that it was becoming a rout. We were going to go from July 2012 to July 2013, but he realized the futility of his efforts. My RIP list: Andy Griffith, Michael Clarke Duncan, Arlen Spector, George McGovern and Hugo Chavez. All Kyle had was Ernest Borgnine. Once I grabbed Valerie Harper (to take Chavez's recently vacated slot), he gave up.


I am enjoying the new David Bowie release, The Next Day. It has been ten years since his last one, and most people had assumed that he had slipped into quiet retirement. Not so. Perhaps a review soon, but I am anxious to hear what our local Bowie expert ANCIANT has to say. I am also really enjoying Pete Townshend's early to mid 80's albums Empty Glass, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes and even White City - A Novel. So good.


Exciting news from space. The Mars rover has confirmed what we have long suspected. Not only was there once water on Mars billions of years ago, but water with such perfect balance that, to quote one of the scientists, humans "could have taken a drink." The chances that life exists somewhere out there just increased almost exponentially. The fact that we found that essential conditions for some sort of life (even if only at the micro level) were present so close to Earth, the chances that those same conditions are out there on some of the many billions of other planets or moons is very, very good. Now that they have discovered that life indeed could have existed on Mars at some point, they can search for the evidence that it was there. Perhaps the Martian Chronicles wasn't so far off after all.

ABOVE: If you happened to stop by Mars several billions of years ago, you could have had a refreshing glass of water


I finally saw "Argo." Enjoyed it a great deal, but I would like to do some more research on the events. Was it actually that close of a getaway? I saw on the news that some Iranian government officials viewed the film and of course, deny it all. In fact, they are looking file a lawsuit against producers Ben Affleck and George Clooney and are demanding an apology from them. Good luck with that.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Quoting Stalin

"One death is a tragedy, a million [deaths] is a statistic." - Josef Stalin

To say that I have always loved that quote is not the right way to put, more like it has always intrigued me. I'm at the point in the school year where I am teaching World War II in my AP U.S. History class, which is one of the easiest topics to keep their attention. They are always interested in WWII, and it is one of the few topics that they come into it already knowing a great deal. I understand where my students are coming from, when I was their age (and younger) I couldn't get enough WWII. I read books, watched movies, ate it up. Is it the ultimate epic struggle? Is it because it is one of the few times in history where it seems the lines are so clear? Nothing in history is more obviously evil as Nazi Germany, right? At least on the surface, it does seem just like in the movies. Good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. The villains even conveniently wear bad guy-looking uniforms and call themselves "stormtroopers" and things like that. Of course I am simplifying, you can look at the Allied firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, the Japanese-American internment camps in this country, etc. and it is not quite so easy to paint us with a broad brush as "the good guys," but still, the Nazis were obviously the baddest of the bad guys (even though Stalin's death count ended up being much higher than Hitler's, he at least had a "reason" for it besides pure hatred and eugenics theories, that being the largely successful rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union. And funny enough, Stalin is still held in high regard by many Russians).

But every year I run across an interesting and somewhat disturbing phenomenon. I get a decent number of students who seem to express admiration for Hitler and the Nazi war machine. It is predictable that I will hear the word "genius" attributed to him each year in many of my classes. I don't know why this is. Perhaps it is a fascination with villains and outlaws that we have always had in our society, and Hitler is the ultimate historical outlaw. Enough time has passed to where the Holocaust and related events have become historical abstractions, as distant for these kids as Roman legions or the Trojan War.

I have always struggled with how to handle that. On the one hand, I try to have a classroom open to many points of views, a place where students are safe to express opinions and ideas, or more accurately, struggle with them and form them. A place where even controversial topics and views can at least be discussed in a civilized manner. I feel that is one of the most basic characteristics of a good classroom, especially a History one. Yet, I cannot let such statements regarding Hitler go unchallenged. I just can't. But I've always struggled with finding a way to address it without simply lecturing them or berating them for ignorance (Barbarosa) and youthful callousness. As a historian, too, I also need to grapple with and explain to my students why a whole nation of seemingly reasonable people could also fall under the sway of something so evil as Nazism (answer: desperate times during a worldwide Depression and crushing debt from Versailles had brought Germany to a state of chaos and along came a strong and charismatic figure who promised to end the suffering and blame the suffering on outsiders, and he did deliver on those promises, initially).

It helps to go back to my own history with the subject. I recall reading and studying WWII as a youth, and there is a basic attraction to power and strength, especially for young males (although, I hear the "genius" tag attributed to Hitler more from female students than male ones, and I have absolutely no explanation for that.) The Nazi propaganda machine remains to this day one of the most effective the world has ever seen...the pageantry and the spectacle of the Nuremberg rallies, the demonstration of unity and purpose and sheer strength. Power still attracts, and everything about what Hitler and Goebbels and his minions displayed to the masses was the messaging of power, confidence and strength, something that attracts people today just as it appealed to a defeated German people in the 1930's. And on pure military grounds, the German military in WWII was indeed an awesome thing. I still do admire someone like Field Marshall Erwin Rommel for his brilliant and daring tactical mind (and a man who never did embrace Nazi ideology and who was forced to commit suicide by Hitler after his name got wrapped up in the failed assassination plot). I think teenagers can get wrapped up in the excitement and daring of war and forget the human toll.

Which brings me back to Stalin's quote. My teaching of WWII changed three years ago when I had my daughter. It was strange, because I could not explain it at first. But in her first year when I taught WWII and started discussing Nazism and the Holocaust, I got incredibly emotional. But now I understand it. I couldn't grasp the horror of the human cost until I had someone in my life so innocent, so trusting, so in need of and open to care and love...and then visualizing her, in my mind, in that place. World War II had always really been an abstract historical subject until my daughter could humanize it for me. That was it. That was the hook which I could use with my students to bring home the human toll without simply telling them "it was bad."

I started class last week with Stalin's quote on the board and just asked them what he meant by that, setting aside that Stalin was a sociopath and psychopath. It did please me that some students were a bit disturbed by the quote even before we started to discuss it. And the students got where I was going with it. If we know an individual and they meet a gruesome end, it really is a human tragedy, it hits us emotionally. But if we are dealing in millions, our minds cannot even grasp it. It does become just a number. I can roll off 12 million killed in the Holocaust, or 40-60 million killed in Stalin's USSR, in my lectures and it is an abstract historical fact for them. But I told the kids that they have to always humanize those numbers. I talk about my daughter a lot in class throughout the year, I've got two very cute pictures of her on my desk, so my students always ask about her and even bring little presents for me to give to her from time to time. I grabbed her sweet smiling photo from my desk and held it up, and I told them that whenever they think of Hitler's deeds dispassionately, imagine her in the ovens of Auschwitz or on the operating table of Dr. Mengele. (Or imagine anyone that they are close to, be it their own little brother or sister, best friend, mother). That is the real human element and madness of it all. It's not just Panzers and Blitzkrieg and battlefield daring. Anyway, for the first time in my many years of teaching WWII, I think that I finally got that across the way that I wanted to, you could just see it registering on their faces, especially after I gave them a little detail of Dr. Mengele's experiments on children. It was uncomfortable for them, and it should be. But I think that I had to really understand it and feel it first, before I could then make them grasp it too.

ABOVE: If you want to explore the depths of human depravity, study the experiments conducted by the "Angel of Death," the Auschwitz camp doctor Josef Mengele who conducted unspeakable experiments on the children of Auschwitz

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dez's Record Guides: The Who

In response to some recent suggestions from my dear readers, I am forcing myself to have two non-music posts between music posts. It is now time for some Who...

NOTE: I am only including compilations that have something unique to offer, like rarities, new tracks, live tracks, etc. The Who have released about 30,000 different compilations. If you want the best conventional one, I guess 2002’s two disc Ultimate Collection covers most of the essential bases.

My Generation (1965) ****
Advertised as “maximum R&B,” their explosive debut is higher on the maximum and less potent on the R&B. Unlike some contemporaries like The Stones or The Animals, The Who never really sounded very natural playing the revved up blues and R&B that was the bedrock for many of those first wave of British Invasion groups.

A Quick One (1966) ***
Spotty but interesting sophomore effort featuring compositions from each of the four band members (this was due to a publishing rights dispute). There is a reason that Who songs are generally written by Pete Townshend or John Entwistle, not Roger Daltrey or Keith Moon. It is demonstrated here.

The Who Sell Out (1967) *****
Tommy is more famous, but this concept album is better. The Who as a killer 60’s pop band, this faux pirate radio broadcast (complete with Who-recorded commercials between songs) is a shimmering set of Townshend-penned pop gems before they moved on to help define “classic rock.”

Magic Bus – The Who on Tour (compilation of singles, rarities) (1968) **
False advertising (it is not live) and a BS release – a mix of random album tracks, obscure studio jams and a few singles. Justly forgotten in the discography.

Tommy (1969) ****
The story is incoherent and ridiculous, but no matter, the music kicks ass. Keith Moon’s finest studio moments as a drummer are here.

Live at Leeds (live) (1970/1995/2001/2010) *****
Greatest live album ever? Maybe. For those used to wonderful 60’s pop Who and pinball wizards, this weapon of mass destruction will melt your face.
NOTE: The four dates indicate that it was originally released as a single album in 1970, but those subsequent years include ever expanding tracks from the show, until finally they released the entire set for the night. Great marketing from Townshend, as the Who fanatics have now purchased it four times. I should be mad, but the music is so damn good, it doesn’t matter. Get the deluxe edition for the full set, it is worth the cash.

Live at Hull (live) (2012/1970) Not Rated
Pete Townshend wants your money. Recorded the night after Leeds and almost identical setlist.

Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 (live) (1996/1970) ***
Great show, made somewhat redundant by Leeds. But the setlist is different enough to be worthwhile for the fan.

Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy (compilation) (1971) *****
This and Odds & Sods are the only essential Who compilations to own for those who also own the other releases. It collects their wonderful 60’s singles, many of which did not appear on the albums and is an essential listen from start to finish.

Who’s Next (1971) *****
If you don’t know why this is one of the greatest rock records ever made by now, then I cannot help you. Please exit the blog now.

Quadrophenia (1973) ****
It fails as a coherent narrative, the story is even more muddled than Tommy, but it also contains some of The Who’s most complex and rewarding music. John Entwistle’s bass playing on “The Real Me”? My God.

Odds & Sods (compilation) (1974) ***
A clearing out of the vaults of rarities and outtakes, but who’s complaining with “Naked Eye,” “Pure and Easy” and “Long Live Rock”?

The Who By Numbers (1975) ****
Townshend’s neurotic confessional album, it really grows on you with repeated listenings. John Entwistle’s bass playing on “Dreaming From the Waist”? My God.

Who Are You (1978) ***
The last proper Who record before Moon’s demise; they all sound ragged and tired, but there are some great songs here nonetheless.

'The Kids Are Alright' (compilation, live) (1979) ****
Soundtrack to the film becomes a live rarities wake of sorts for Keith Moon (and actually the band as we knew it), but it is an alternate history that is an excellent listen in its own right.

Face Dances (1981) ***
It’s Hard (1982) **
Who’s Last (live) (1984) **
Who’s Missing (compilation of rarities) (1985) **
Two’s Missing (compilation of rarities) (1987) **
Join Together (live) (1990) **
Thirty Years of Maximum R&B (box set compilation of hits, album tracks and rarities) (1994) ****
Live at the BBC (live compilation) (2000) ***
Live at the Royal Albert Hall (live) (2003) ***
Then and Now (compilation and new tracks) (2004) ***
Wire & Glass (EP) (2006) *
Endless Wire (2006) **
Greatest Hits Live (live compilation) (2010) ***

The Who were one of those rare bands where each member was essential to their sound. Once Keith Moon died in ’78 (John Entwistle has also since passed on) it was a different band. Townshend always said that The Who died with Moon, they still use the name for their work, but it is nothing more than “a brand name” to him at this point. No doubt, Townshend and Daltrey benefit from using that name vs. touring and recording under another moniker, but I guess they’ve earned the right. But it is a different animal. They tried to carry on as an actual band for a couple of albums, with ex-Faces drummer Kenney Jones replacing the irreplaceable Keith Moon. It wasn’t a good fit, but you can’t blame Face Dances and It’s Hard on Jones. Pete Townshend was splitting his songs between The Who and his burgeoning solo career, and you get the feeling he was keeping the best for himself during this period (this was the same time his outstanding Empty Glass and All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes came out). Face Dances is actually a bit underrated, they had something to prove on that one and laid a legitimate template to move forward in the 80’s had they so chosen. I’ve got a soft spot for the going-through-the-motions Who’s Last, as it was my introduction to the band. Their material definitely has a hold on me, as something that mediocre still turned me into a fanatic. The box set is cool, but it could have been more. Live at the Royal Albert Hall is notable as it is John Entwistle’s final recording before his demise. His astounding bass playing was undiminished. Endless Wire, their first record of new material in 24 years, was a letdown.

Bottom Line: The Who was important until Keith Moon died, so their material 1965-78 is Classic Rock Canon stuff. (If you want to stick with the JMW Ten Year Rule, you could really cut it off at ‘73’s Quadrophenia as their last absolutely essential release). But don’t overlook some sparks of greatness after ’78, “You Better You Bet” and “Eminence Front” were great early 80’s singles, the latter actually being one of their best songs.

ADDENDUM added June 2014: Pete Townshend solo

Each of the original members of The Who released solo work. Predictably, Moon's and Daltrey's are negligible. Entwistle's is of interest primarily for his playing. Pete Townshend had the most substantial solo career, and his work is worth commenting on as well. He worked on several records with other artists in honor of his spiritual mentor Meher Baba, I am not including those.

Who Came First (1972)***
WCF seems to be a place for Townshend to get some music out that didn't quite fit with The Who. It works as a good album on its own, though. You have the first versions of "Pure and Easy" and "Let's See Action," songs that would eventually get Who treatment and appear on compilations. "Sheraton Gibson" is a delightful acoustic tune ruminating on life on the road.

Rough Mix (with Ronnie Lane) (1977) ***
Townshend always had a close relationship with the criminally underrated Ronnie Lane of The Faces. Their low key 1977 duet record is fantastic. Townshend's hilarious self-deprecating "Misunderstood" and the lovely "Heart to Hang Onto" are highlights.

Empty Glass (1980) ****
Previous Townshend solo projects were clearly side projects to keep busy while The Who were in hiatus at different times. EG is the first Townshend record that sounds like a major artistic statement outside of The Who, and in fact, it is much better than the actual Who records of the early 80's. "Rough Boys" is an angry answer to the punk movement that called Townshend a dinosaur and "Let My Love Open The Door" is a fantastic pop song that was his first solo hit.

All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982) *****
I've written about ATBCHCE many times, it is one of the most challenging records, lyrically, from any major artist. Townshend himself claims to not remember recording it at all as he was in a cocaine fog at the time. Some critics panned it, pretentious critic Robert Christgau said it was "pretentious at an unprecedented level," while retrospective appraisals are much more positive. It is always thought provoking and compelling, and Townshend surrounds his complex lyrics with more approachable music in any case.

White City: a Novel (1985) ***
An ambitious failure of a concept album about growing up in a rough part of London, the record nonetheless contains some fantastic individual songs, several of which feature David Gilmour's distintive guitar work.

Deep End Live! (live) (1986) ***
A solid live outing where Pete mixes Who tunes with solo and rarities. The setlist is often unexpected.

The Iron Man: The Musical By Pete Townshend (1989) *
Psychoderelict (1993) *

Woo, these are bad. Two embarrasing concept albums.

Scoop (compilation of demos) (1983) NR
Another Scoop (compilation of demos) (1987) NR
Scoop 3 (compilation of demos) (1994)
Scooped (compilation of demos) (1995) ****

Towshend always had one of the most complex home studios in the world, and from the early 70's on, he would create very realized demos for both The Who and solo. These demos are quite listenable in their own right, and so with the Scoop series of releases, he started to put out his demos. Many are relevatory. Each of the Scoop records is a double album. The collection Scooped is the one to get, as it is a two disc compilation of the six Scoop discs.

The Best of Pete Townshend (compilation) (1996) ****
An excellent single disc sampler of Townshend's solo work.

Pete Townshend Live: a Benefit For Maryville Academy (live) (1999) ***
Solid live outing with a few standout performances, including a gorgeous version of Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country."

Lifehouse Chronicles (box set) NR
Lifehouse Elements (compilation) NR

After the success of Tommy, Townshend tried to write an extremely ambitious follow-up concept album that never came to pass. Elements of the Lifehouse material appeared on Who's Next, Odds 'n Sods, Who Are You and Who By Numbers, as well as standalone singles. LC is a six disc set of Townshend's demos from the aborted Lifehouse project, and LE is a single disc sampler. Since I have most of the significant material from Lifehouse on other Who and Townshend releases, I never had the energy to grab a six disc revisit.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Some stunning recent photos of our neighbor Saturn from the spacecraft Cassini...

ABOVE: The moon Titan is in the background

ABOVE: Saturn from above

For more, go here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Divide and Conquer

ABOVE: Evil Genius laughing with glee at her shrewd manipulations

My three year old daughter recently discovered the most potent weapon to battle the intransigence of parents. I knew the day would come, but so soon? If Mommy or Daddy says “no,” go to the other one. And lie.

At dinner one evening, my daughter insisted on having three separate drinks at the table – water, milk and orange juice. For whatever reason, Mommy thought it was fine to honor the request. Since then, she has demanded similar beverage service at each meal. I decided that this was ridiculous, so the other night I told her she could only have two drinks at the table at any one time. I told her that Daddy only has one and Mommy only has one, so she can make do with two. She had milk and water, and was demanding orange juice. I told her she had to make a choice, give up one if she wanted orange juice to replace it. You would have thought that I had offered her ‘Sophie’s Choice’ with all of the drama that ensued. We proceeded to have a ten minute discussion/debate over the issue. I was making very cogent arguments as to why two beverages should be sufficient, but she kept countering with “but I need three drinks, Daddy.” “Why?” “Because I need three drinks, Daddy” (very matter of fact and staring me straight in the eye and with a slight hint of exasperation and irritation, like she is the authority and I am the child needing the explanation). My wife started to look fatigued, she started to look like she might give in and bring the orange juice. No! We must not have any weakness along the battle lines. Never surrender! I was willing to hold my ground for the next three hours if need be. You must sacrifice either your water or milk if you want orange juice! Life is about hard choices that must be made. It is about sacrifice. This was not a question of mere refreshments. It was a primal power struggle, a battle of indomitable wills. The very question of ultimate familial authority was a stake…for some reason my wife could not see this and thought we were just arguing over drinks.

But my daughter knew what was at stake. Oh yes. Sensing weakness, she pounced like Patton bursting through the French forests. She went straight for the Mommy flank. Only, she still has not mastered the art of secrecy. In front of both of us, and I quote verbatim, she says “I want Daddy to go upstairs so I can have three drinks, Mommy.” Mommy says, after much laughter, “did your Daddy say you could have three drinks?” And with the cutest, wide-eyed look of pure innocence and sweetness, she answered “Yes, he did. Daddy said I need three drinks.” This is right after she and I had argued for ten minutes on the issue with Mommy sitting right there. I thought my position had been clear.

Now, replace two vs. three beverages at the dinner table with staying out until 2 a.m., going out with her new ex-con boyfriend, or driving to New Orleans for a weekend with her friends. We need to show strength now, with these issues, before she thinks she can dictate the terms later. It’s always about more than the drinks. Oh, I can’t wait until the teenage years.