Happy 50th birthday to The Who Sell Out!

Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

The Who’s third album, released 15 December 1967, came into my own life on 6 December 2000, and is one of my absolute favorites of theirs. They always had a new sound and themes with each album, in spite of the so-called fans who rant and rave about how they dared not do Who’s Next for their entire career.

This, unlike the most overrated album of all time, is a shining example of a consistent concept album. While the concept kind of fizzles out in the middle of the original album, it’s unique and cohesive. The CD remastering improves the concept’s flow.

Sell Out is a spoof of Radio London, a pirate radio station which operated from 23 December 1964–14 August 1967, from a ship anchored in the North Sea. In addition to songs advertising real products, there are also little jingles running between the songs.

The album ended with an instrumental version of a Track Records ad in a locked groove. The CD remastering changed it to a vocal jingle.

Track listing and lead vocals, with stars by bonus tracks:

“Armenia City in the Sky” (using the pronunciation Ar-men-EE-yah, not Ar-MEEN-ee-yah) (written by Speedy Keen and sung by Roger)
“Heinz Baked Beans” (John)
“Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” (Roger and Pete)
“Odorono” (Pete)
“Tattoo” (Roger)
“Our Love Was” (Pete)
“I Can See for Miles” (Roger)
“I Can’t Reach You” (Pete)
“Medac” (John)
“Relax” (Pete)
“Silas Stingy” (John)
“Sunrise” (Pete)
“Rael” (Roger) (the name of my sixth journal)
“Rael 2” (Pete)*
“Glittering Girl” (Pete)*
“Melancholia” (Pete; famously previously released on Scoop, with the hilarious commentary, “I’m pretty sure The Who never heard this one”)*
“Someone’s Coming” (written by John but sung by Roger)*
“Jaguar” (written by Pete but sung by Keith)*
“Early Morning Cold Taxi” (written and sung by Roger)*
“In the Hall of the Mountain King” (instrumental; written by Edvard Grief)*
“Girl’s Eyes” (Keith)*
“Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” (U.S. Mirasound version)*
“Glow Girl” (Roger and Pete)*

The album reached #13 in the U.K., and #48 in the U.S. “I Can See for Miles” reached #10 in the U.K., and #9 in the U.S. This was their only Top 10 song in the U.S., and the first Who song I was consciously aware of hearing, back in ’93. Since they were an active band till I was three, I probably heard them on the radio, but “ICSFM” was the first I specifically remember hearing.

My favorite songs are “ICSFM,” “Sunrise” (which a lot of guy fans hate and bash), “Our Love Was,” “I Can’t Reach You,” “Rael,” “Rael 2,” “Glow Girl,” “Tattoo,” and “Silas Stingy.”

Back in the days of Yahoogroups, the main estrogen Who list was called Glow Girls. It contains the genesis of Tommy, with the music that became “Sparks” and “Underture,” and the outro verse “It’s a girl, Mrs. Walker, it’s a girl,” as the girl in the song dies in a horrific plane crash and is reincarnated. “[O]nly of course Tommy was a dear little boy.”

Many people have seen parallels between “Rael” and Israel, both because 1967 was the year of the Six-Day War, and lines like:

“My heritage is threatened/My roots are torn and cornered”
“Rael, the home of my religion/To me the centre of the Earth”
“The country of my fathers/A proud land of old order/Like a goldfish being swallowed by a whale”

The album has received many positive reviews, both then and now, and is widely considered one of The Who’s very best. Interestingly, Roger only sang lead on five of the original tracks, the same number as Pete. Roger still didn’t have the greatest range or vocal confidence yet. Touring Tommy all over the world was what turned him into a vocal powerhouse.

I highly recommend this album!

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The Jazz Singer at 90, Part I (Plot summary)

Welcome to my long-awaited series on The Jazz Singer on its 90th anniversary! I’m going to be covering topics including the source play, Al Jolson, the history of blackface, the history of Jewish-themed films, the transition from silent to sound film, debunking myths about this era (e.g., the claim that most silent stars had horrible voices), the history of sound-on-film technology, the making of the film, and so much more.

Let’s get started with a general plot summary and review of the film itself!

The story opens in the Lower East Side (described as “the ghetto”), where 13-year-old Jakie Rabinowitz longs to become a jazz singer instead of following in his cantor dad’s footsteps. It’s Erev (the eve of) Yom Kippur, and Jakie still isn’t home to sing with his dad in shul.

Busybody Moisha Yudelson reports he saw Jakie “singing raggy time songs” by a beer garden. Ignoring the fact that Yudelson was in such a supposedly sinful place himself, Cantor Rabinowitz storms over and drags Jakie home.

Jakie’s mother Sara begs her husband to be easy on the boy, but Cantor Rabinowitz declares, “I’ll teach him better than to debase the voice God gave him!” Jakie says he’ll run away and never come back if he’s whipped again, and he indeed does just that.

By the Kol Nidre evening service, Cantor Rabinowitz says he no longer has a son. During the chanting of Kol Nidre, Jakie (who’s quite a mama’s-boy) sneaks back home to pick up a picture of his mother.

Ten years later, Jakie has reinvented himself as Jack Robin. After he wows the crowd at a cabaret with a few songs, he’s introduced to dancer Mary Dale. She offers to help him with his career, and says he’s got a tear in his voice, unlike many other jazz singers.

Jack’s big break comes when Mary helps him to get a leading role in the musical April Follies. He’s very excited to be going back to New York, his home. Best of all, he’ll get to see his mother again.

Mrs. Rabinowitz is ecstatic to see her boy again, and Jack promises all sorts of wonderful things, like moving her to the Bronx and buying her a big house. Jack has also brought a birthday present for his dad. But when Cantor Rabinowitz comes home, the happy mood is crushed (and the dialogue reverts from sound to title cards).

Once again, Jack tries to explain his love of modern music and why he feels it’s more important to him than old traditions, but his father will have none of it. Cantor Rabinowitz banishes him again, and on his way out, Jack says he came home with a heart full of love.

Two weeks later, and twenty-four hours before the opening of April Follies, Cantor Rabinowitz falls very sick. This is also Erev Yom Kippur, which means he won’t be able to chant Kol Nidre. Now, in a decision reminiscent of Sandy Koufax and the 1965 World Series, Jack has to make the difficult choice between his faith and his career. Will he sing in the show or take his father’s place in shul?

This isn’t one of the all-time classic greats of film history, but I’d give it a solid 4 stars. The blackface might make some modern people uncomfortable, but it’s only in two scenes, one towards the end and the other at the end. I was really nervous about that the first time I saw it, but I ended up not taking any offense.

As I’ll discuss in future posts, the use of blackface is actually integral to both this specific story and Al Jolson’s life and career. It wouldn’t be the same story, with the same impact, if it were taken out.

Everyone should see this important piece of film history at least once.

Happy 50th birthday, Butterfly!

Copyright Parlophone; image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

Released 1 November 1967, Butterfly was The Hollies’ seventh album, and my own personal favorite of the Graham Nash era. It also might be my overall favorite, it’s that damn good. I love the psychedelic sound.

This was their third album in a row to be composed entirely of songs by Allan Clarke (lead singer), Tony Hicks (lead guitarist), and Graham Nash (rhythm guitarist).

As with their earlier 1967 release Evolution, none of the songs were released as singles in the U.K., though in the U.S., the lead-off track “Dear Eloise” reached #50. “Try It” was the U.S. B-side of “Jennifer Eccles,” and “Elevated Observations” was the B-side of “Do the Best You Can.”

Track listing:

“Dear Eloise” (for which an early music video, in black and white, was made)
“Away Away Away”
“Maker” (features a sitar)
“Pegasus” (one of the rare times Tony sings lead)
“Would You Believe?”
“Wishyouawish”
“Postcard” (no relation to The Who’s later song by the same name)
“Charlie and Fred”
“Try It”
“Elevated Observations”
“Step Inside”
“Butterfly”

The U.S. and Canadian repackaging, released 27 November 1967, was retitled Dear Eloise/King Midas in Reverse, and used entirely different cover art. It added the single “King Midas in Reverse” and the Evolution track “Leave Me.” Missing from this edition were “Try It,” “Pegasus,” and “Elevated Observations.”

My favorite tracks are “Maker,” “Elevated Observations,” “Would You Believe?,” and “Dear Eloise,” though the entire album is fantastic. The band is in top form, at the height of their creative powers in the Graham Nash era.

People who think The Hollies only made lightweight pop need to listen to this album! They evolved into a new musical style and tried new things, even if you’d never know it from the 4-5 songs left in regular rotation on the average oldies station. This is NOT “I love you, you love me, ooh baby” pablum.

Happy 50th birthday, Evolution!

Copyright Parlophone; image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

Evolution, released 1 June 1967, was the first of two Hollies’ albums to come out in 1967. It was recorded from 11 January–17 March 1967, and is a classic of the psychedelic era. People who perpetuate the myth that The Hollies only did lightweight pop haven’t listened to this album!

The Hollies were always less popular here across the pond than they were in their native U.K., which adds to the lack of familiarity many people may have with it. Of course, there’s also blame to be laid at a certain former bandmember who couldn’t stop talking about how he left because he got too cool for his band.

It reached #13 in the U.K., and is composed entirely of songs written by Allan Clarke (lead singer), Tony Hicks (lead guitarist), and Graham Nash (rhythm guitarist). In addition to serving as the band’s songwriting team, these three also provided their famous harmonies.

Psychedelic photographer Karl Ferris took the photo used on the cover, with the artwork created by The Fool, a Dutch design collective and band. It depicts The Hollies breaking through a membrane to get away from their pop sound into the psychedelic world. They’re pushing into a new musical style and level of consciousness.

Track listing:

“Then the Heartaches Began”
“Stop Right There”
“Water on the Brain”
“Lullaby to Tim” (written for Allan’s firstborn child)
“Have You Ever Loved Somebody?”
“You Need Love”
“Rain on the Window”
“Heading for a Fall”
“Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe”
“When Your Light’s Turned On”
“Leave Me”
“The Games We Play”

The U.S. repackaging, while keeping the title, put the tracks in a different order, remixed everything with heavy echo and reverb, included the single “Carrie-Anne” (the source of my pen name) as the lead-off track, and left off “Water on the Brain,” “Leave Me,” and “When Your Light’s Turned On.”

The U.S. record company also didn’t use The Fool’s overall cover design, wanting the artform to be more consistent with the U.S. psychedelic style. This was The Hollies’ début for their new U.S. record label, Epic.

None of the songs were released as singles in the U.K., and the U.S. only released “Carrie-Anne” (not an original album track) as a single.

My favorite tracks are “Have You Ever Loved Somebody?,” “Then the Heartaches Began,” “Leave Me,” and “Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe.” I highly recommend this if you’re interested in getting to know The Hollies beyond their most overplayed songs.

Happy 50th birthday, PAC&J Ltd.!

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Released 6 November 1967, Pisces, Capricorn, Aquarius, & Jones Ltd. was The Monkees’ fourth album. Like their previous three, it too went to #1. Though picking a favorite Monkees’ album is like picking a favorite child, I’d pick this one in a pinch.

The title comes from the boys’ sun signs. Micky is Pisces, Peter is Aquarius, and Nez and Davy are Capricorn. Since the lattermost two shared a birthday (albeit three years apart), Davy’s surname was also included to avoid any potential confusion.

Track listing and writing credits, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Salesman” (Craig Vincent Smith)
“She Hangs Out” (Jeff Barry)
“The Door into Summer” (Chip Douglas and Bill Martin)
“Love Is Only Sleeping” (Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill)
“Cuddly Toy” (Harry Nilsson)
“Words” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart)
“Hard to Believe” (Davy with Kim Capli, Eddie Brick, and Charlie Rockett)
“What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” (Michael Martin Murphey and Owen Castleman)
“Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” (Peter)
“Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Gerry Goffin and Carole King)
“Daily Nightly” (Nez)
“Don’t Call on Me” (Nez with John London)
“Star Collector” (Goffin and King)
“Goin’ Down” (stereo mix) (all four Monkees with Diane Hilderbrand)*
“Salesman” (alternate stereo mix)*
“She Hangs Out” (alternate stereo mix)*
“Love Is Only Sleeping” (alternate mix)*
“What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” (alternate mix)*
“Star Collector” (alternate stereo mix)*
“Riu Chiu” (TV version) (traditional)*
Original first thirteen tracks in mono*
Special Announcement*
“Salesman” (alternate mono mix)*
“Cuddly Toy” (alternate mix)*
“Goin’ Down” (mono single mix)*
“The Door into Summer” (2007 remastered alternate mix)*
“Daily Nightly” (alternate mix)*
“Star Collector” (alternate mix)*

As with their previous album Headquarters, the boys exercised a great deal of creative control, though there were more studio musicians brought in. Nez takes center stage on five of the original tracks, while Micky only sings lead on three. Micky had vocally dominated their previous three albums.

Davy sings lead on four, and Peter gets the short novelty song “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky.”

The album yielded the double B-side “Pleasant Valley Sunday”/”Words,” the former song of which went to #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100; #2 in New Zealand and Canada; #4 in Norway; #10 in Australia; #11 in Ireland and the U.K.; and #18 in Germany.

“Words” was somewhat less popular on the charts, though it went to a respectable #11 on Billboard.

A Moog synthesizer is famously heard on “Star Collector” (as well as featured in “Daily Nightly” and “Love Is Only Sleeping”). PAC&J was one of the first mainstream, popular albums to feature this instrument, which Micky had discovered and introduced to the band.

My favorite tracks are “The Door into Summer,” “Words,” “Love Is Only Sleeping,” and “Star Collector.” This is an excellent album for new fans to get to know The Monkees beyond their most overplayed singles.