50th Anniversary Editions Of Two Iconic Albums Released

The Beatles’ White Album and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland are celebrated with major reissues

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Today could be a first, or in case I’m wrong, it’s safe to say this doesn’t happen often: Two major reissues of albums by iconic music artists appearing the same day. The White Album by The Beatles and Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience are now officially out. Other than what’s currently available in Apple Music I don’t have access to any of the actual special releases at this time, yet I’d feel remiss not write about these special editions.

While the White Album isn’t my favorite Beatles album and I tend to agree with those who say they should have put the strongest songs on one record rather than releasing a double album, The Beatles remain my all-time favorite band. That’s likely not going to change. Moreover, based on what I’ve read and heard, this reissue definitely features material that intrigues me. As for Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland would be my no. one album choice overall, even though it doesn’t include my two favorite Hendrix tunes: Purple Haze and Hey Joe.

The White Album 50th Anniversary Configurations

The White Album reissue is available in four configurations: A Super Deluxe 7-disc set (on the left in above picture) featuring 50 mostly previously unreleased recordings all newly mixed with 5.1 surround audio as well as the so-called Esher Demos; a deluxe 4-LP edition; a 2-LP issue (pictured above in the middle); and a deluxe 3-CD set (on the right in the above image). The remixed original tracks, the Esher Demos and additional takes are also available on iTunes/Apple Music and other digital and streaming services.

Similar to last year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band anniversary edition, Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, worked together with mix engineer Sam Okell. They newly mixed the album’s 30 original tracks in stereo and 5.1 surround audio, together with 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes, most of which weren’t released in any form previously. While I have no doubt the sound is fantastic and superior to previous recordings, for the most part I can’t hear the differences. That’s largely because the streaming versions are lower quality than the CDs or vinyl records. And, yes, part of it may also be explained by some hearing loss I can’t deny! Here’s a cool lyric video of the 2018 mix of Back In The U.S.S.R.

Given the above mentioned sound quality constraints, what’s more intriguing to me, are the additional demo and session tracks, particularly the Esher Demos that were recorded in May 1968 at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher located to the southwest of London. These are early and unplugged versions of most of the original album tracks, along with a few additional songs that didn’t make the album.

Two of the tunes that weren’t included on the White Album, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, ended up on Abbey Road. Not Guilty, a Harrison composition, was eventually released on his eponymous studio album from February 1979, his eighth studio record. And then there’s John Lennon’s Child Of Nature, which became Jealous Guy and was included on Lennon’s second solo album Imagine from September 1971 – admittedly stuff that is likely to primarily excite Beatles fans like myself.

Two things are very striking to me about these Esher Demos. The amount of writing was just remarkable during a time when tensions among The Beatles were increasing, which even led to Ringo Starr’s temporary departure. But despite their differences, somehow these guys were still able to engage as a band. They even has some fun, as background chatter on some of these home recordings suggests. Here’s the Esher Demo of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. While it’s clearly not my favorite Beatles tune, does this sound to you like a band in distress?

The Electric Ladyland Deluxe 50th Anniversary Box Set comes in two formats: 3-CD/one Blu-ray or 6-LP/one Blue-ray. It features a newly remastered Electric Ladyland album; Electric Ladyland: The Early Takes (unreleased demos); Live At The Hollywood Bowl 9/14/68 (unreleased concert); the previously released documentary about the making of the album At Last … The Beginning with 40 minutes of new footage; 5.1 surround sound mix of Electric Ladyland album; Linda McCartney’s original cover photo as chosen by Jimi Hendrix but rejected by the record company; a 48-page book featuring unpublished photos; and new essays by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke and Hendrix biographer John McDermott.

Electric Ladyland Box Set

CD mastering and the 5.1 surround sound mix were done by Eddie Kramer, sound engineer on all Hendrix albums released during his lifetime. Vinyl mastering was done by Bernie Grundman, who has mastered albums, such as Aja (Steely Dan), Thriller (Michael Jackson) and various Prince records.

Similar to Abbey Road, which couldn’t have been more different from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Electric Ladyland marked a significant change for Jimi Hendrix. Unlike the first two albums by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, where producer Chas Chandler tightly managed the recording process, Hendrix was fully in charge on Electric Ladyland. Recording sessions were no longer determined by Chandler’s tight organization and time management, but by Hendrix’s unconstrained perfectionism. Hendrix also repeatedly invited friends and guests to join him in the studio, such Brian Jones (still with The Rolling Stones at the time), Steve Winwood and Al Kooper. This created oftentimes chaotic recording conditions, which eventually led to Chandler to walk out on Hendrix.

Except for some tracks from the documentary At Last … The Beginning, currently, nothing else from the Electric Ladyland reissue is available on iTunes or Apple Music. I suspect it is similar for other digital or streaming platforms. That’s unfortunate and I assume done by design to encourage purchases of the actual box set. Probably for the same reason, I also couldn’t find any YouTube clips of songs from the reissue. The CD version currently sells for $42.39 on Amazon, while the vinyl configuration is going for $98.39. Here’s a fun clip of Eddie Kramer talking about Electric Ladyland and the new box set.

Sources: Wikipedia, Beatles website, Jimi Hendrix website, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: America/ History: America’s Greatest Hits

America’s vocal harmonies and smooth folk rock sound make for one of the best ’70s greatest hits compilations

I was nine or 10 years old when I listened to History: America’s Greatest Hits for the first time. The album grabbed me right from the beginning. It was one of the vinyl records my older sister had, which among others also included Carole King’s Tapestry; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu; and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits – all albums I dig to this day.

Recently, I rediscovered History. To me, it’s one of the best greatest hits compilations I know, which were released in the ’70s. Others that come to my mind are Neil Young’s Decade, Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), Santana’s Greatest HitsSteely Dan’s Greatest Hits and the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel album. There are probably some others I’m forgetting – in any case, it’s not meant to be a complete list.

I recall reading somewhere that America were dismissed by some as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young knock-off. While I generally don’t think highly of music critics in the first place, I feel this notion is silly. Yes, America’s three-part harmony vocals are reminiscent of CSN/CSNY, but this doesn’t make them a copycat or somehow bad artists! On the contrary, if anything, the vocal similarity to CSN/CSNY is a huge accomplishment – after all, there aren’t many bands that can harmonize like CSN/CSNY did! On to History.

America
America (from left): Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek & Dewey Bunnell

Released in November 1975, History encompasses America’s 11 most successful singles at the time, plus an edited take of Sandman from their December 1971 eponymous debut. In addition to that album, History includes material from four additional studio records: Homecoming (November 1972), Hat Trick (October 1973), Holiday (June 1974) and Hearts (March 1975).

History opens with one of my favorite America tunes: A Horse With No Name from their debut album. It was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed America with Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley in London in 1970. The three had met there in the mid-’60s as high school students whose fathers were stationed on a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

A Horse With No Name became America’s most successful single topping the Billboard Hot 100. It also stirred some controversy due to the similarity of Bunnell’s voice to Neil Young, and what some viewed as mediocre lyrics. Coincidentally, the song knocked Young’s Heart Of Gold off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. I really don’t care whether it sounds like Young, who by the way is one of my favorite artists. With its two chords and killer harmony vocals, this tune simply gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

Ventura Highway, another Bunnell composition, is from the Homecoming album. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can literally picture myself in an open convertible driving on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from L.A. up north to San Francisco. I actually did that trip in 1980 as a 14-year-old, together with my parents. Even though we had a lame station wagon as a rental, not some hot convertible, it was an unforgettable experience! Ventura Highway became a top 10 Billboard single for America, reaching no. 8 and no. 3 on the Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, respectively.

Another beautiful tune is Lonely People, which was credited to Dan Peek and his wife Catherine Peek. The song was written a few weeks after their marriage. An obituary in TMR that appeared in the wake of Peek’s death in July 2011 at the age of 60 quotes him: “I wrote it probably within a month of getting married to my long-lost love Catherine…I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now I felt like I’d won.” America  initially recorded Lonely People for their fourth studio album Holiday. It topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at no. 5 on the Hot 100.

One of my favorite songs on History written by Gerry Beckley is Sister Golden Hair. Recorded for America’s fifth studio album Hearts, the tune also became the band’s second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were inspired by Jackson Browne. In this context, John Corbett’s America Revisited quotes Beckley: “Jackson Browne has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.” I guess this means in addition to CSN/CSNY, America also stole from Browne – unbelievable!

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track on the History compilation: Woman Tonight. It’s another tune from the Hearts album and was written by Peek. Released as the third single, it charted within the top 50 in the U.S.

History was produced by none other than George Martin, who had started working with America on their fourth studio album Holiday. Martin also remixed the first seven tracks on History, which he had not produced originally. The compilation became a huge success in the U.S., giving America a no. 3 on the Billboard 200. In October 1986, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album 4X Multi-Platinum.

Since History, America have released 12 additional studio albums, 10 live records and numerous other compilations. Now in their 48th year, America continue to perform, featuring co-founders Beckley and Bunnell. Peek left the band in May 1977, long before his death, after he had renewed his Christian faith.

The band’s current tour schedule on their website is filled with dates until January 2019. After playing the MTV music festival Gibraltar Calling in the British overseas territory on September 21, the band is off to a series of gigs in the U.S., including Denver (Sep 27), Emporia, KS (Sep 28), Dodge City, KS (Sep 29), San Jose (Oct 4) and San Diego (Oct 5),  before going back over the Atlantic to Israel and doing some shows in Europe.

Sources: Wikipedia; TMR; John Corbett: “America Revisited”, AccessBackstage.com, May 29, 2004; RIAA Gold & Platinum certifications; America website; YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: August 5

1957: The music program American Bandstand debuted on U.S. national television. It was hosted by Dick Clark who had joined the show the previous year when it still had been known as Bandstand and aired on Philadelphia TV station WFIL-TV (now local ABC affiliate WPVI-TV). The program, which ran until 1989, featured many artists who lip-synced their latest hits. While as such it was chart-oriented, it coincided with time periods when great music was part of the mainstream. So it’s perhaps not a surprise to see which artists appeared on the show. According to Wikipedia, American Bandstand  helped introduce famous artists to Americans, such as Prince, Michael Jackson and Aerosmith. Some of the other acts who were on the program included The Animals, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Van Morrison, R.E.M., Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and even Pink Floyd. Here’s a clip of a 1966 appearance of Roy Orbison performing Oh, Pretty Woman, featuring one of the coolest ’60s guitar riffs that still sounds awesome to this day.

1966: The Beatles released their seventh studio album in the U.K., Revolver, which many fans consider the band’s best record. While it’s undoubtedly a great album, if I had to choose, I would go with the follow-on release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Revolver, apart from gems like Taxman, Eleanor Rigby and Got To Get You Into My Life, stands out for the introduction of various new recording techniques, including tape loops, backwards recordings, varispeeding and, most significantly, Artificial Double Tracking (ADT). George Martin’s string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby broke conventions by blending classical and pop music. George Harrison, who took on a bigger role in the album’s songwriting, introduced another Indian instrument to pop music after the sitar on predecessor Rubber Soul: the tambura. Here’s a clip of Eleanor Rigby.

1978: The Rolling Stones hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with Miss You, their eighth and last no. 1 single in the U.S. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was written by Jagger while jamming with Billy Preston during rehearsals in 1977. It became the lead single for Some Girls, the band’s 14th and 16th British and American studio album, respectively. Apparently, there is some disagreement between Jagger and Ronnie Wood who maintain the track wasn’t supposed to be a disco song, while according to Richards, “Miss You’ was a damn good disco record; it was calculated to be one.” To me it’s obvious that Richards hates the tune. In my humble opinion, there’s no question the Stones have released much better songs.

1984: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band played the first of 10 gigs at Brendan Byrne Arena, now called Meadowlands Arena, in East Rutherford, N.J. during the Born In The U.S.A. Tour, Springsteen’s longest and most successful tour to date. The show included two sets and an encore, with a total of 28 tracks. As is typical for The Boss, he went far beyond the album that the tour supported and dug deep into his catalog. He also played a number of covers. Here’s a cool clip of a 21-minute medley captured during the same tour two weeks earlier in Toronto, Canada. The medley includes Devil With The Blue Dress, Good Golly Miss Molly, CC Rider, Jenny Jenny, I Hear A Train, Twist And Shout and Do You Love Me. The band is absolutely killing it – rock & roll simply doesn’t get better than this! The crazy thing is that Springsteen pretty performed with the same intensity 32 years later when I saw him last in August 2016 at MetLife Stadium, right across the highway from Meadowlands.

1992: Jeff Porcaro, best known as co-founder and drummer of Toto, passed away at the young age of 38 years. The circumstances of his death remain ambiguous. According to the band history on the official Toto website, Porcaro died from a heart attack that resulted from a severe allergic reaction to chemicals in pesticide he had sprayed in his garden earlier that day. But the Los Angeles Times reported the heart attack stemmed from atherosclerosis triggered by years of cocaine use. One thing is clear: Porcaro was an excellent, sought after session drummer, who apart from Toto worked with Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Boz Scaggs, among others. Here’s a clip of Rosanna from Toto IV, which I think features some of Porcaro’s finest drum work.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music.com; Billboard Hot 100 chart history; setlist.fm; Toto website; YouTube

Celebrating Music Giants Lost in 2016

Following are my favorite memories of five exceptional music personalities we lost in 2016.

Other than briefly acknowledging some of the big music personalities who passed away in this year, I had not planned to further cover this rather sad subject. Yesterday’s news about the untimely death of George Michael at age 53 made me change my mind. But instead of writing a traditional obituary type of post, I’d like to celebrate each personality’s life by recalling my favorite memories of them.

Glenn Frey

The Eagles are among my all-time favorite 70s rock band. Not only was Glenn Frey one of the founding members, but he also wrote, co-wrote and sang lead on many of their tunes. One such gem is Already Gone, the opener to the Eagles’ 1974 album On the Border. Written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, this rocker features Frey on lead vocals and sharing lead guitar responsibilities with Don Felder. I had the great fortune to see the Eagles as part of their History tour in Atlantic City in July 2015, six months prior to Frey’s death. Here is a nice clip of Already Gone, which apparently was captured during an Eagles gig in New Zealand in late 1995. It definitely brings back memories of that unforgettable show in Atlantic City.

Prince

While I immediately liked Purple Rain when I listened to it for the first time, other Prince songs were more of an acquired taste. But one thing that impressed me from the very beginning about Prince is that he was a multi-instrumentalist. In fact, I read he played almost all instruments on his first five studio albums, including an incredible 27 instruments on his debut! Undoubtedly, his signature instrument was the guitar, and nothing illustrates his mastery better than the killer solo he played on While My Guitar Gently Weeps during his 2004 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here is a clip of this unbelievable performance, together with a pretty cool band that includes Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood and Dhani Harrison, among others.

David Bowie

The first David Bowie song I ever heard on the radio was Space Oddity, and it continues to be one of my favorite songs. The tune is the opener of his 1969 album David Bowie, which was his second studio album. I always thought one of the song’s cool features is how Bowie is harmonizing with himself. Another aspect that immediately attracted me is the acoustic guitar part – I guess in part because I was learning to play the guitar myself at the time. Here is a clip of the song’s official video from 1972.

Maurice White

The founder of Earth, Wind & Fire was instrumental for the band’s success, especially between 1970 and his official retirement in 1994 due to Parkinson’s disease. He was the band’s main song writer and producer, and sang co-lead with Philip Bailey. In addition to their amazing voices, the thing I’ve always loved about Earth, Wind & Fire is that their music makes you want to dance. The band has recorded so many great songs, but if I would have to name one in particular, it would be September. Co-written by White, Al McKay and Allee Willis and produced by White, the tune was initially released as a single in Sep 1978. It was also included on the band’s The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which appeared in Nov that year. Here is an audio clip.

George Martin

While he was not a performing artist, what would The Beatles have been without their great producer, Sir George Henry Martin?  There is a reason why he was called the “Fifth Beatle,” including by Paul McCartney. Martin had extensive involvement in all of The Beatles 12 original albums. His musical expertise proved particularly valuable for orchestral arrangements on the band’s later albums. In addition to The Beatles, Martin produced recordings for many other artists, such as America, Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick, Elton John and Little River Band. In my opinion, one of his greatest accomplishments with The Beatles was the stings arrangement for Eleanor Rigby. Here is a clip of this gem from the 1969 album Yellow Submarine.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube