Posted in 1960s, Music, The Monkees

Happy 50th birthday to The Monkees Present!

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

Released 1 October 1969, The Monkees Present was the band’s eighth studio album, and their last with Nez until 1996’s Justus. Peter had already left in late ’68. This album was their final attempt to regain popularity and commercial viability after the cancellation of their TV show.

Despite heavy promotion, the album only reached #100, and the two singles didn’t even make the Top 50. Shortly after release, Nez announced his plans to form a new band. Due to unfair stigma about The Monkees’ origins and poppier style of music, many people didn’t take Nez seriously, and The First National Band only lasted two years.

Originally, the plan was to release a double LP, with one side for each bandmember. After Peter left, that idea was no longer possible. The band’s plummeting popularity also compelled them into making a normal single LP.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Little Girl” (Micky)
“Good Clean Fun” (Nez) (#83 in the U.S.; #26 in Australia)
“If I Knew” (Davy and Bill Chadwick)
“Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye” (Micky and Ric Klein)
“Never Tell a Woman Yes” (Nez)
“Looking for the Good Times” (written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart; sung by Davy)
“Ladies Aid Society” (written by Boyce and Hart; sung by Davy)
“Listen to the Band” (Nez) (#63 in the U.S.; #15 in Australia)
“French Song” (written by Bill Chadwick; sung by Davy)
“Mommy and Daddy” (Micky)
“Oklahoma Backroom Dancer” (written by Michael Martin Murphey; sung by Nez)
“Pillow Time” (written by Janelle Scott and Matt Willis; sung by Micky)
“Calico Girlfriend Samba” (Nez)*
“The Good Earth” (short poem written by Ben Nisbet and delivered by Davy)*
“Listen to the Band” (alternate take)*
“Mommy and Daddy” (alternate take)*
Radio promo for the album (delivered by unknown person)

In 2013, the wonderful Rhino released a deluxe three-CD set with lots of bonus tracks, in addition to a vinyl 45 with two songs.

My favourite tracks are “Mommy and Daddy” (one of Micky’s most criminally underrated songs!), “Listen to the Band” (one of The Monkees’ signature songs), and “Ladies Aid Society.”

I really like this album. It’s my favourite of their two 1969 records, and shows yet again they were capable of so much more than easily-disposable teenypop. The Monkees evolved into a very mature, stylish sound, and produced some incredible records after their peak of popularity.

Posted in 1960s, Music

Happy 50th birthday, Abbey Road!

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

Released 26 September 1969, Abbey Road was The Beatles’ last studio album in terms of when it was recorded. Though the painfully spotty Let It Be was released in May 1970, the bulk of it was recorded before AR.

This would’ve been the perfect swan song to go out on. The album is absolutely brilliant, lightyears away from LIB. Though some people complain about all the song snippets on Side Two, they work perfectly in the musical context. Without all these miniature songs blending in and out of one another, it wouldn’t be the same album.

Recording began 22 February 1969, with producer George Martin agreeing to work with the band again on strict condition they let him produce it “the way we used to do it.” They also had to promise to adhere to a reasonable measure of discipline and behave themselves properly.

It seemed an impossible proposition after the acrimonious mood during the recording of their previous two albums, but in spite of continuing interpersonal tensions, it was a much more enjoyable experience all around.

The resulting album was a compromise between two schools of style. John wanted a traditional album with distinct, unrelated songs, while Paul and George Martin wanted a running theme like they’d done on the most overrated album of all time. Side One follows John’s style, while Side Two famously adheres to the latter vision.

John, never one to mince words, wasn’t exactly fond of the resulting product. He would’ve preferred his songs on one side and Paul’s on the other, and lit into Paul’s lightweight “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” as granny music. As for Side Two, John thought the medleys were “junk…just bits of songs thrown together.”

The band did little to promote AR, though it shot to #1 regardless, in the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Spain, and West Germany. Over the last fifty years, critics have by and large highly praised it. It’s in my own Top 5 of fave Beatles’ albums.

Track listing:

“Come Together” (#1 in the U.S., #4 in the U.K.)
“Something” (#1 in the U.S., Australia, West Germany, Canada, and New Zealand; #2 in Norway; #3 in Ireland; #4 in the U.K.; #5 in Sweden; #11 in Austria)
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
“Oh! Darling”
“Octopus’s Garden”
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (recorded the last time all four Beatles were in the studio together, and a forerunner to doom metal)
“Here Comes the Sun”
“Because” (Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played backwards)
“You Never Give Me Your Money” (first of the mini-songs)
“Sun King”
“Mean Mr. Mustard”
“Polythene Pam”
“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
“Golden Slumbers” (a poem from Thomas Dekker’s play Patient Grissel, written 1599 and published 1603)
“Carry That Weight”
“The End”
“Your Majesty” (an ultra-short snippet after fourteen seconds of silence)

My fave tracks are “I Want You” (which wasn’t so popular originally), “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “The End.” I love the emotionally expectant mood of the final few songs (not counting hidden track “Your Majesty”), this tension building and building till the most perfect, bittersweet swan song ever.

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, holidays, Music

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave songs

To mark DDAD 2019, I decided to showcase ten of my favourite songs. One of the many reasons I’ve been a Duranie for almost eight and a half years is because of the wonderful lyrics. So many of their songs are like poetry.

1: “The Seventh Stranger,” last track on Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983). Where to start! Every line is like pure poetry. I’ve used the line “like splinters of ice” in my own writing, and titled a chapter “Trading in His Shelter for Danger.”

2: “Secret Oktober,” B-side of “Union of the Snake” (1983). It’s like an avant-garde, surrealistic poem. I really want to use some of the lines as part of chapter titles.

3: “My Antarctica,” sixth track on Liberty (1991). While Liberty is one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard (even worse than Extra Texture), this is one of two standout gems. So romantic! I titled one chapter “Heat Beneath His Winter.”

4: “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” third track on Rio (1982). It’s so beautiful and romantic. I have a chapter entitled “Lonely in Their Nightmares,” and called the first part of a book “Angry in His Nightmare.”

5: “Perfect Day,” third track on Thank You (1995), an album of covers. This was originally a Lou Reed song, and one of the album’s standouts. It reached #28 in the U.K. Lou said, “I think Duran Duran’s version of ‘Perfect Day’ is possibly the best rerecording of a song of mine. I’m not sure that I sang it as well as Simon sang it. I think he sings it better than I. If I could’ve sung it the way he did, I would’ve. It wasn’t from lack of trying.”

6: “To the Shore,” fourth track on their eponymous début (1981). More beautiful surrealistic poetry! It’s a shame this lovely song was left off the U.S. repackaging of their first album, replaced with the single “Is There Something I Should Know?”

7: “Out of My Mind,” fourth track on Medazzaland (1997). The video is so deliciously macabre, making the lyrics even better and taking them in such a wonderfully dark direction. It reached #21 in the U.K. and #14 in Italy.

8: “Beautiful Colours,” recorded 2005 but not officially released on an album or as a single. I love the line “Life isn’t standard-issue, it’s customised.” I’ve used riffs on that line a number of times in my writing.

9: “Palomino,” seventh track on Big Thing (1988). Absolutely gorgeous, lush poetry!

10: “Come Undone,” sixth track on The Wedding Album (1993). Officially, it’s their second eponymous album, but just about everyone calls it The Wedding Album because of the cover art with photos of the bandmembers’ parents’ weddings. The song reached #2 in Canada, #6 in Italy, #7 in the U.S., #9 in Ireland, #13 in the U.K., #16 in New Zealand, #19 in Finland and Australia, and #42 in Belgium and Germany.

This was the song that flipped the switch and made me a Duranie on Valentine’s Day 2011. Someone named it as one of their most romantic songs, and I looked up the video and ended up watching it over and over. This song made me come undone!

Posted in 1960s, Music, The Who

Happy 50th birthday to Tommy, Part III (What it means to me)

Tommy was my first Who album, bought at the original location of Mystery Train Records in Amherst, Massachusetts on 7 September 2000. At the time, I had no idea that was Keith Moon’s 22nd Jahrzeit. It was truly one of those times where I knew, even before I knew.

I became interested in The Who at age thirteen, in ’93, and liked them from the time I was fourteen. At age twenty, in early 2000, I finally began graduating to serious fandom. Long story short, I chickened out on buying an album several times before deciding it was now or never.

That was the only Who CD in stock, though they had a bunch of their LPs. For almost all my succeeding trips to the various music stores in Amherst, this was my default modus operandi. I bought the sole CD, or sometimes two CDs, available. As I got more albums, I had to buy the one(s) I didn’t have yet.

I’d been so reticent about taking the plunge already because I was afraid of not liking an entire album of unfamiliar songs. I only knew the massively overplayed “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me.”

I played the first three songs on 8 September, but didn’t have the time to play it all the way through till 9 September, a Saturday night. Until pretty far into my junior year, I obediently went home to Pittsfield every weekend instead of staying on campus like a normal person. Learnt helplessness, but I digress.

I didn’t know what to do with this album at first. It was so unlike The Beatles’ albums which I was so familiar with. At one point, I almost thought about returning it, since this kind of music was so different.

The more I listened to it, the more it grew on me, though I didn’t understand what all was going on for awhile. Some things definitely aren’t directly stated in the songs, but the listener can fill in the blanks based on context clues and one’s own imagination.

As Charles Chaplin said, “While watching a silent picture, each individual supplies the unspoken words according to his own understanding of the action. The dullard sees the story in his own way as does the intelligent, the wise, and so on–each one, as I said before, supplying his own understanding, and everyone is pleased…”

At this early stage of the game, I didn’t even know who was whom, except Roger, the only blonde and lead singer. I correctly guessed straightaway Pete was the one with the higher-pitched voice, and John had the thicker, lower voice. It was obvious which one Keith was. Then I learnt to distinguish the three dark-haired ones.

As a child, I had a character named Carmel Allison Jaywalker, who loses all her senses on the eve of her third birthday. In my juvenile mind, the culprit was “the killer pimples,” giant pimples growing over her eyes, ears, nose, mouth, tongue, and skin as she slept. Tommy’s surname is Walker. It’s another of those uncanny experiences of knowing, even before one knows.

From an early age, I’ve been fascinated by the blind-deaf. What must it be like to be cut off from the two most major senses, living so deeply in one’s own mind, processing everything through sensations, communicating without speech or sign language? I did a paper on the blind-deaf in a class I took on special education in 2005. Someday I’d like to resurrect Carmel.

It’s such a powerful, intense journey, both for the character of Tommy and one’s own emotional feelings listening to the story. Every time feels like the first time all over again. Tommy isn’t what I’d personally recommend as an ideal first album for a new fan, but it was my first Who album, and as such is so, so, so special to me.

Once I began understanding it and was firmly in love, there was no turning back. My amazing journey had begun, and I’ve never regretted it. This band has had my heart, soul, and mind since I was twenty years old. All these years, they’ve never been unseated as my #1.

And it all started with the story of a blind-deaf-mute boy which saved The Who from bankruptcy and breakup. If Tommy hadn’t succeeded, they might never have gone on to become such legends, and I never would’ve fallen so deeply in love with them and been interested in buying any of their albums.

Posted in 1960s, Music, The Who

Happy 50th birthday to Tommy, Part II (Behind the scenes)

Note: All images are used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and thus consistent with Fair Use Doctrine.

Tommy was recorded from 19 September 1968–7 March 1969, and inspired by Pete’s guru Meher Baba (25 February 1894–31 January 1969). This is particularly meaningful in the context of Tommy because Meher Baba voluntarily went silent on 10 July 1925 and remained so till his death. He communicated with an alphabet board and hand signals. To this day, many of his followers observe Silence Day on 10 July.

From the early days of The Who, Pete wanted to break out of the box of three-minute pop singles, and to explore deeper themes even within said short songs. Traces of his magnum opus Lifehouse can be heard as early as 1966’s “I’m a Boy.”

Pete’s musical evolution continued full-force with the very uncharacteristic (for the era) nine-minute title closing track on A Quick One. This song has six different movements, telling one continuous story.

The Who’s 1967 album closes with another mini-opera, “Rael,” which continues with the brief “Rael 2” on the CD remaster. The roots of “Sparks” and “Underture” are heard here. “Glow Girl,” the closing bonus track (which also appears on 1974’s Odds and Sods), is about a plane crash ending in reincarnation and the refrain “It’s a girl, Mrs. Walker, it’s a girl.”

This became “It’s a Boy,” only “Of course, Tommy was a dear little boy,” as Pete wrote in the liner notes to O&S.

A number of Tommy‘s songs were originally written for other projects or about other subjects, but Pete repurposed them. In August 1968, he gave an interview to Rolling Stone in which he went into great detail about this album in progress. He described the storyline better than the final product!

Pete later regretted spilling so many details, since he felt compelled to follow them precisely instead of editing and revising his story as he felt necessary. The other three bandmembers loved his ideas, however, and gave him complete creative control.

Working titles included Journey into Space, The Brain Opera, Amazing Journey, Omnibus, and Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy. In that era, “dumb” was the standard word for “mute,” though of course we know today that mutism doesn’t mean one is stupid. It wasn’t used to be deliberately offensive and hurtful. Context and intent are so important in looking at things from bygone eras.

Pete settled on Tommy because it was a nickname for soldiers in WWI, and a common British name of the time. Being the self-admitted pretentious guy he is, Pete prefers to call this album Thomas.

John wrote and sang “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About” because Pete couldn’t bring himself to handle such dark subjects as bullying and child molestation. Contrary to what certain people are still convinced of, Pete has long campaigned against child abuse, and was molested himself.

All evidence has cleared Pete and the thousands of others wrongly accused during the mishandled Operation Ore. Real fans know this, and Pete himself admits he did something really stupid and dangerous to try to take down the real abusers. Unlike a certain other person (coughmichaeljacksoncough), he doesn’t have a decades-long history of huge red flags and creepy behaviour with kids.

Unusual for the band at the time, many songs were more vocally-driven than instrumental. Tommy has a less hard rock sound in its studio version, though it absolutely cooks live.

Though Keith probably didn’t write “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” he got songwriting credit for suggesting the idea.

After rock journalist Nik Cohn (born 1946) poorly reviewed a working version, Pete suggested Tommy might become a pinball champion. Mr. Cohn, a huge pinball fan, immediately changed his tune. And thus was born one of the most overplayed songs in the history of classic rock radio.

Co-manager Kit Lambert wanted an orchestra, but Pete was firmly against it. That was too pretentious even for him, and their budget and schedule wouldn’t allow it anyway.

Like 1973’s QuadropheniaTommy had Sides 1 and 4 on one LP and 2 and 3 on the other, to accommodate record changers. These devices played multiple LPs in sequence without a human flipping them.

Tommy was #2 in the U.K. and #4 in the U.S., and reached gold status in the U.S. on 18 August. It had mixed critical reviews, but saved The Who from breakup and bankruptcy. Final track “Listening to You” was a genuine song of thanks to their loyal fans who stood by them for so many years, in lean times as well as prosperous.

Over the years, Tommy has been adapted by several opera and dance companies, and became a movie in 1975 and a Broadway musical in 1992. The Who played the album live until 20 December 1970, and used shorter portions throughout the decade. They revived it in its entirety during their 1989 reunion tour, often called The Who on Ice because of all the extra musicians and backup singers.

Tommy is truly the miracle that turned The Who’s entire career around forever.