Friday 23 April 2021

The Who Sell Out - Deluxe Edition

The Who’s 1967 album is given the Super Deluxe enormobox treatment. And there is a lot to get through.

If you are new to this album, this 80 quid box is unlikely to be your starting point, so the assumption is that buyers of this will already be familiar with the album content.

It’s been suggested that Sell Out was an early concept album. Not convinced – there is no narrative, no story thread linking the songs, and no conclusion. What it is is a collection of great songs linked by jingles and adverts. It is more an attempt to celebrate (or perhaps re-create) the experience of listening to Pirate Radio.
The original plan was to sell the space between tracks for real adverts – when this idea didn’t fly, the band created and recorded their own (many of them created by John Entwhistle and Keith Moon in the Pub round the corner from the Studio).

The 13 tracks that make up the original album are a mix of psychedelia, tough-egded pop, and with “I Can See For Miles” a rock edge that would become The Who’s trademark.
Like previous outing ‘A Quick One … While He’s Away’, the album is rounded out with a Pete Townshend mini-opera (“Rael”) – another exercise in Pete stretching himself by taking fragments of ideas and songs and weaving them together into one whole, and yes I think he succeeds. Whatever, it is certainly good practice for (what we now know) was coming next.

This box gives 112 tracks across 5 CDs and 2 additional 7” singles.
You get both the mono and stereo mixes of the album stuffed in this box, plus a host of extra tracks – some have appeared before in the guise of the Maximum R n B Box Set, Odds and Sods compilation, or bonus tracks on previous re-issues, but many are seeing light for the first time.
Also included as bonus tracks of the mono and stereo albums are the contemporary singles “Pictures Of Lily” / “Doctor Doctor”, “The Last Time / “Under My Thumb”, a host of unused advert jingles, and a Who’d up version of Grieg’s “Hall of The Mountain King”

But that’s not all …

A third CD of various takes from the Sessions for the album, and another CD (titled “The Road To Tommy”) of work in progress recordings from 1968, including the singles “Dogs” / “Call Me Lightening”, and “Magic Bus” / “Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde”.

Thing is these 1968 recordings I don’t believe are a nascent Tommy – I believe that was a singular and separate concept, but there are certainly some themes, thoughts, riffs and motifs here which would be re-cycled or re-purposed for Tommy.Like Quads from 1966 (which spawned “I’m A Boy”) or Lifehouse, what this is may be an embryo of an idea, or an unrealised story which would later be broken-down with the best bits salvaged.
Completing the CDs is a disc of Pete Townshend demos which sound well formed – Townshend would always attempt to provide a fully formed demo of his vision for a song and these are no different.

The only issue I have is, that although nice to have – and I think I have 3 albums of Townshend demos (the Scoop series) – I’m not sure they’ll get many plays. Maybe once or twice, but not as often as the original album (but now I have to choose the mono or stereo versions).

The 7” singles in the box are:

- the UK Track single of “I Can See for Miles” / “Someones Coming” (both mono versions)
- the US Decca single of “Magic Bus” / “Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde”.

That may be it for the music, but in the package is a host of extra bumph as we would expect from Super Deluxe boxes.

First off is an 80-page, hard-back full-colour book, including rare period photos, memorabilia, track by track annotation and new sleeve notes by Pete Townshend with comments from the likes of Pete Drummond (Radio Caroline DJ), Richard Evans (designer) & Roy Flynn (the Speakeasy Club manager).
And the extra bits and bobs are: nine posters & inserts, including replicas of the original album posters, a gig poster from The City Hall Newcastle, a Saville Theatre show 8-page programme, a business card for the Bag o’ Nails club, a flyer for Bath Pavilion concerts, a bumper sticker for Wonderful Radio London, Keith Moon’s Speakeasy Club membership card and a Who Fan Club newsletter and photo.

The vaults must now be pretty sparse for this period of The Who. This set offers just about everything before, during, and after this album.

Sell Out is the point where The Who became more focussed as a band on their work, rather than being a singles band, and it shows in Pete’s songwriting, Roger voice, the tightness of the band, and the fact that Sell Out contains no real duffers across it’s 13 tracks.

If you’ve heard (and like) the original album, what could be better than wallowing in the vaults of these songs and times, and all the additional stuff you get with it.

Armenia City In The Sky



Wednesday 21 April 2021

Carry On Carrying On

They're predictable, they're formulaic, they're bawdy, they're filmed on a tiny budget.
They're a regular fixture in TV Bank Holiday schedules.  The best bits have been compiled, re-compiled, re-re-compiled, spoken about, written about, and generally quoted whenever a slight double-entendre is used.  But despite all that, they're eminently watchable and always entertaining (even if you have seen it 1000 times, are speaking along with the script, and you can see the jokes coming a mile off - you still watch it)

1950s Britain was particularly well-served with Comedy films, including the peerless Ealing Comedies. Norman Wisdom films, and the St Trinians and Doctor franchises.  And into this rode a low budget, farcical, and almost satirical dig, at respected professions and conventions.

Conceived by Producer Perter Rogers and Director Gerald Thomas, the Carry On films ran from The core films ran from 1958 to 1978, and was then re-booted for a single film in 1992.
Throughout its life, the films probably had a total budget of about £27, and the furthest location shot was Maidenhead Town Hall. In truth, they did venture to Snowden, Camber Sands, Brighton and Weymouth. but rarely left the confines of Pinewood Studios or the immediate surrounding area.

There are 31 films in the franchise (32 if you include the 1977 compilation film fronted by Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor).
Actually, that 1977 compilation (a contractual obligation?) acts as something of a full-stop to the Carry On heyday.  What came after it was the trading on the name, brave attempt, but not very good Emmannuelle, and then the re-booted name vehicle Columbus.

The first batch were written by Norman Hudis with the laughs coming from the ineptiude of the subjects in unfamiliar surroundings, and/or light satirical jabs.
Talbot Rothwell took over writing duties in 1963, and the smutty quotient rose, and continued to rise when Carry On changed film distributors to the Rank Organistion (the first batch were distributed by Anglo Amalgamated, and with the exception of Cruising, Jack, Cleo, Cowboy and Screaming, in Black and White.

The Cast was effectively a Repertory Company with the same actors and actresses playing differently dressed versions of themselves - Sid James (invariably always called Sid) dirty laugh, Bernard Bresslaw's often terminally confused lurch-type character, Kenneth Williams admonishments (almost veering back to Julian and Sandy territory), Barbara Windsor's giggles, Charles Hawtrey's meek Mummy's Boy, Hattie Jacques Matron (or similar battle-axe-ish character) and Joan Sims big hearted and often the voice of reason.
This cast was joined by a host of other supporting actors, often appearing in many films.
For 1967s "Follow That Camel", big name American actor Phil Silvers was cat in the lead role (as Sid James recent heart attack and recovery prevented him appearing).  For this one-off appearance, Silvers was paid £30,000 (equating to approx 15% of the entire Film's budget) - a marked increase from the top pay of £5,000 for the usual cast.

And the Budget thriftiness did not just apply to the Actors.  Throughout Carry On History there is a litany of Cost Saving measures, including:

  • Carry On Cleo - uses sets left over from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra"
  • Carry On Camping - filmed in October.  Leaves and Grass painted green.  Camera angles set to avoid the mud and shivering Actors
  • Carry On ... Follow That Camel - the Sahara Desert? No, Camber Sands 
  • Whenever a shot of a Housing Estate is required, this will invariably be Pinewood Green Housing Estate.  And it was not uncommon for 2 or 3 House exteriors to be used and re-used on later films
  • Multiple use of the High Streets of Maidenhead, Slough and Windsor

The job of Location Scout for Carry On must've been the easiest in the world - go for a walk around the Pinewood Studio lot, and find a suitable looking building or yard area, or see what other films are being made and what sets are available.

Between 1964 or 1972, 2 films per year were generally released.  So I suppose one can understand the Budget constraints, and the insistence of the Director that the first take is usually the only take required.

Carry On films were always pushing the boundaries of the Film Censors, and on only a couple of occasions were cuts required to achieve and A (or PG in new money) rating.
Two of the cuts being "remove the phrase 'Can I help you with your erection'" (from Carry On Camping), and "leave a pause between the words Fakir and Off" (from Carry On Up The Khyber) 

But were they any good?

In the great tradition of British Music Hall, Seaside Postcards, Mother-In-Law Jokes, and many other things now declared un-PC, they more than hold their own.
If you really wanted to be academic about it (and I'm sure someone has) the Carry On series is an object text on the development of British Society from the slightly repressed, stiff upper-lippedness, "know your place" times of the 1950s, and then watch as the world becomes more colourful and more daring.

And today ... they represent "good, clean fun".  They play to the Britsh humour of farce, word-play, double entendre.  And even though it's the same actors playing versions of themselves, the script and the characterisation creates enough difference.

Personally, I could happily sit for a few weeks watching them all again from start to finish (in fact I did that very thing recently)

I've never seen a Carry On film - where do I start?

For a Carry On novice, my sage advice would be:

Start with Cleo, spin forward to the high point Rank era with Doctor, Up The Khyber, Camping, Again Doctor, Up The Jungle, Henry, At Your Convenience, Matron, Abroad, Girls, and Dick.

From there, devour the rest - try Screaming, Don't Lose Your Head, and Follow That Camel.  And once you've followed the Camel go back to the Anglo-Amalgamated Black and Whites (Sergeant, Nurse, Teacher, Constable, Regardless, Cruising (the first in Colour), Cabby (return to Black & White), Jack (Colour), Spying (Black & White), Cowboy (Colour).

And now mop-up the series with Behind (basically a re-tread of Camping, but in Caravans), England (not one of their best, but watchable nonetheless), and Emmannuelle (how to sully a legacy in 90 minutes)

And here is your handy Cut Out And Keep Guide to the series:

  • Carry On Sergeant (1958)
  • Carry On Nurse (1959)
  • Carry On Teacher (1959)
  • Carry On Constable (1960)
  • Carry On Regardless (1961)
  • Carry On Cruising (1962) 
  • Carry On Cabby (1963)
  • Carry On Jack (1964)
  • Carry On Spying (1964)
  • Carry On Cleo (1964)
  • Carry On Cowboy (1965)
  • Carry On Screaming! (1966)
  • Don't Lose Your Head (1966)
  • Follow That Camel (1967)
  • Carry On Doctor (1967)
  • Carry On Up the Khyber (1968)
  • Carry On Camping (1969)
  • Carry On Again Doctor (1969)
  • Carry On Up the Jungle (1970)
  • Carry On Loving (1970)
  • Carry On Henry (1971)
  • Carry On at Your Convenience (1971)
  • Carry On Matron (1972)
  • Carry On Abroad (1972)
  • Carry On Girls (1973)
  • Carry On Dick (1974)
  • Carry On Behind (1975)
  • Carry On England (1976)
  • That's Carry On! (1977)
  • Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)
  • Carry On Columbus (1992)

Finish off with Columbus - although Carry On in name and intention, and with a few Carry On-esque lines.  It also has Rogers and Thomas at the helm and is partly written by Dave Freeman (who wrote a couple of the later originals).  A Few of the surviving original Cast also put in an appearance.
But it is just trading on the name - the world has moved on, it is no longer "a product of it's time", and some of it feels forced in some places.
It's good, but it aint Carry On

This is ...

Friday 16 April 2021

Neurotic Outsiders

Bringing together well known names under a single umbrella often achieves success.  And why wouldn't it each member of the new collective has their own fan-base- so if you form a super trio, then it follows that your album sales will be 3 times the size of your previous bands efforts.
Good logic, but not exactly correct.

wikipedia defines a Supergroup as:

A musical group whose members are already successful as solo artists or as part of other groups or well known in other musical professions.
The term is sometimes applied retrospectively when several members from a group later achieve notable success in their own right. Supergroups are sometimes formed as side projects and thus not intended to be permanent, while other times can become the primary project of the members' careers. 

I wanted to say "see them Supergroups?  They're not all that super you know."
And then I started looking a bit deeper, and I fear I may be wrong.

When it works:

  • Million Dollar Quartet
    Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash - now that's a SUPER Group (OK, not so much a Supergroup, more of a glorified jam session.  But it fits the bill)
  • The Highwaymen
    The great and good of Outlaw Country -  Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson - come together to produce the best album of their latter years careers
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
    Mancunian Pop bloke relocates to Laurel Canyon, hooks up with a Byrd, 2 Canadians from Buffalo Springfield, and a big bag of grass.  Close harmony country-infused folky soft rock has never sounded this good - before or after.
  • Cream
    Quite simply the best Jazz-Blues players in London at that time (OK, there were a couple of others ..).  In the space of 3 years and 4 albums, and not always the most cordial of relationships, they started and finished on a high, and their influence and legend remains undimmed after 50 years
  • Emerson, Lake and Palmer
    Key players from The Nice, King Crimson and Atomic Rooster, virtuosity was the key, as eventually representing all that was over-blown and pompous about 70s Prog and Rock.  The albums were well received and bear repeated listening (up to about 1977).  But their legend now involves taking 12 Trailers full of kit on Tour, a 2 and a half ton drum kit with a 6 foot diameter gong, and a £6000 Persian rug for the singer to stand on.
  • Bad Company
    Another escapee from King Crimson links up with 2 members of Free and 1 from Mott The Hoople.  Securing the advocacy of Led Zeppelin, the management of Peter Grant, and a fist signing to the Swansong label, Bad Company were pretty much at the top before recording anything.  And when they did, it only re-enforced opinion.  And that opinion continues across 3 further albums (after that it's "tread carefully time").  Like their sponsors - Led Zeppelin - the 80s were not the right time or place fro Bad Company, and they slowly dissolved, save for a couple of (unsuccessful) reformations.
  • Travelling Wilburys
    George Harrison said in the late 80s "I want to be in a band with a bunch of mates and just have a bit of a laugh", and then a couple of years later he was.  He was already working with Jeff Lynne, Jeff Lynne drafted in Roy Orbison (whose album he was producing), George Harrison pulled in Bob Dylan (and not just because he had a studio available), and when he went to retrieve a guitar from Tom Petty, he was invited in too.  The 2 albums they produced were quite simply joyous, harking back to 50s/60s Rock n Roll, with a Country twist, and an update production sheen.
    The Travelling Wilburys were based on the West Cost - shame really, as I think if they'd pulled in Bruce Springsteen it might have been even better.
  • Tin Machine
    Now here's a divisive one - David Bowie wanted to get out of the spotlight and be an equal member of a band.  He took his current guitarist and combined with Iggy Pop's rhythm section to form the band that either adds to his legend (it certainly does in my opinion) or is seen as little more than a footnote or folly.

Seemed like a good idea at the time:

  • The Firm
    Paul Rodgers was still under 30 when Bad Company fell apart - so why not join up with his sponsor Jimmy Page?  The finest set of pipes aligned to the finest plank spanker in Christendom.
    I mean what could possibly go wrong?  Apart from the lack of great songs, a lack of energy in the recording, and the lack of a real audience (only the staunchest of Zep, Free, and Bad Co fans seemed to be on board).
    And denying their past by refusing to play "the hits" can't have helped their case much either.
  • Asia
    Prog Rockers loved a supergroup - members were forever moving between themselves - John Wetton and Carl Palmer being among the most prolific mover-abouters.  But other Steve Howe and Geoff Downes did a fair bit of supergrouping too.  Asia arrived in the early 80s, but were up against it trying to sell Prog in the decade of decadence.  Forever known for their one big song - "Heat Of The Moment".  It was a moment taht, over the course of 4 years never roise above tepid again. 
  • Gogmagog
    2 ex-Iron Maideners (Paul Di'anno and Clive Burr), a soon to be Maidener (Janick Gers), 1 previous Leppard (Pete Willis), and a bass player adding to his already long CV (was it Neiul Murray's ambition to be in every British Heavy Metal band?).
    Brought together by Jonathan King for a purpose long since lost to history (Eurovision probably, knowing the ideas King had), there life span was one EP before they ran out of songs, inspiration, and Mr King lost interest.
  • Power Station
    Take one of Britain's finest Blues singers (Robert Palmer), two parts Duran Duran (John Taylor and Andy Taylor), and the drummer from Chic (Tony Thompson).  Add in Bernard Edwards on the production desk, and what comes out is a collision of Led Zeppelin riffs against a backdrop of Chic grooves.  Well, nearly ...  But it all sounded a bit flat - every player made a contribution, but you just get the feeling they were treading water and filling time until the next shiny thing came along.
  • Velvet Revolver
    Outside of Guns n Roses, is has Slash really achieved that much?  First there's Slash's Snakepit - all well and good, but a tad predictable in sound and delivery.  He then recovened with Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, added Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots, and set about taking the world by storm.  Problem is they didn't - the album is "OK" but not exactly essential. 
  • Hollywood Vampires
    Named after the 1970s drinking club featuring Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nillson, John Belushi,and anyone else in LA who liked a drink.  The band was put together by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry amd Johnny Depp with the intent to honour the fallen by covering their songs.  Their first album of covers is (honestly) only let down by the inclusion of a coupe ot original songs.  By the second album, more originals were tried with no real success - what the band failed to realise was that as a bar room covers band they were at the top of their game.  But not with original material.

Straddling the 2 camps?

  • Sky
    Musicality to the fore, but their lack of image or public persona may have hampered their chances.  Not everything they did found an audience, and in truth I'm not sure what audience they were aiming for.  Made some good music though.
  • Electronic
    Johnny Marr and Barney Sumner join forces with (variously) Neil Tennant and Kraftwerk's Klaus Bartos.  Sounds like a winner, and in the main it is.  I remain unconvinced by their longevity or intent, and see (hear) some of it as being "a bit experimental" for the sake of it, with the songs getting a bit drowned in the production values.
  • Them Crooked Vultures
    Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones join forces and produce a sound that is a combination of it's parts (Nirvana/Foo Fighters meets Queens Of The Stone Age meets Led Zeppelin).  The debut album gives a clue what Led Zep may have sounded like in the 2000a, but as the album goes on it becomes more of a QOTS record with guest players.  Properly great guest players, but I'm not convinced they could've sustained for a second album.  

The Neurotic Outsiders probably belong in the Straddling 2 Camps category (but have a tendency to veer into "Seemed like a good idea at the time" territory) - it was an idea that looked good on paper (or a Viper Room beer mat) but didn't fully translate to the studio.

Formed in the aforementioned Viper Room Nightclub in Hollywood, and like The Hollywood Vampires above as a bar room Jamming band, Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Duff McKagen and Matt Sorum (Guns n Roses) and John Taylor (Duran Duran) were signed up by the moneyed up Maverick label and produced one album of attitude-laden, loud rock music (albeit with a slight nod to late 80s Hair Metal).
But don't let that put you off - songs like "Angelina", "Revolution" and "Jerk" rock and swing with the best of them - hook laden, earworm-esque melodies.  Myabe there is one too many Clash cover versions (there is only one on the album), but on the whole it all works.  There's even a change of pace as Steve Jones becomes almost melancholic on "Union" (his view of the Pistols, and how he wanted the inter-band relationships to be better) and "Story Of My Life".
OK, it's not going to win any awards, but if you want some loud stuff, that isn't trying too hard to be clever, then the Neurotic Outsiders will do the job.

The Neurotic Outsiders lifespn was one album and an EP, so I don't think the Supergroup idea was a career move of all involved, more a way of filling up time until the next Cash Cow arrived - for Duff and Sorum thsat would be the Guns n Roses reformation, John Taylor returned to Duran Duran, and Steve Jones landed a radio presenting gig on LA Radio - Jonesy's Jukebox.  Episodeas are available on YouTube, and those I've seen, it looks like Jonesy can't believe his luck, and every one has been a good watch/listen