Posts Tagged ‘ABKCO’

The Rolling Stones: Their Satanic Majesties Request

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

The Stones’ red-headed stepchild gets a lavish 50th birthday party

Released between Between the Buttons and Beggars Banquet, the Rolling Stones’ 1967 foray into psychedelia has often been heard as a divisive outlier. Recorded in sessions spread throughout a tumultuous year, and often relegated to also-ran status as a me-too derivation of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album hadn’t the conceptual grandiosity to create such a stir. Worse, the band’s own indifference, exemplified by quotes printed inside this lavish four-panel album-sized package, hasn’t redeemed the album’s image. But on this fiftieth anniversary, one can ask whether the album has been fairly assessed, and see if hindsight illuminates the work more clearly than the flashing, multicolored light shows of 1967.

First and foremost, Satanic Majesties was a clear break from the tough, R&B-driven music on which the Stones had minted their reputation. The overt use of mellotron, oscillators and studio manipulations gives this album textures unlike any of the band’s other releases. And while drugs certainly influence other Stones recordings, none are so entrenched in psychedelia as this album. 1967 was a year of band turmoil, with Mick and Keith having been arrested on drug charges in February, Brian Jones’ girlfriend leaving him for Richards in March, Jones being arrested on drug charges in May, and the band’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, leaving the fold. And it was at an intersection of personal tribulation and acid-drenched communal ethos that the Stones recorded this album.

The sessions were chaotic and weighed-down by hangers-on, and with Oldham abandoning ship, the band was left to produce themselves. The results were uneven – with jeweled classics rubbing elbows with uneventful jams. The album’s release on December 8 was foreshadowed by the single “In Another Land,” written and sung by bassist Bill Wyman. The tremelo-processed vocal, harpsichord, mellotron and dream-within-a-dream lyrics fit the album’s mood. With the A-side credited to Wyman (and with the B-side, “The Lantern,” credited to the Stones), the single scraped into the Top 100, leaving the album to generate its own publicity.

The LP performed well commercially, reaching #2 on the U.S. chart with the help of a late December single of “She’s a Rainbow” backed by “2000 Light Years From Home.” Critics were mixed, and though the album earned a gold record in America, it seems to have been largely forgotten by the Stones the moment it was released. The studio recording of “2000 Light Years From Home” was used to introduce the group’s 1972 stage show, but it wasn’t until 1989 that they performed it live, and it was another eight years before they performed “She’s a Rainbow.” The rest of the material remained at rest on record, and the group’s return to rock ‘n’ roll with 1968’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the rock, blues and country of Beggars Banquet, rendered Satanic Majesties an anomaly.

Beyond the hit single, the album has many charms. “Sing This All Together,” while not of the caliber as the hit single, opens the album with group vocals that echo the feeling of communal opportunity that was in the 1967 air. The track’s middle jam is edged along by percussion and horns until the vocals return and lead into the memorable guitar-riff that opens “Citadel,” “In Another Land” and the terrific “2000 Man.” Side one closes with the return of “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” which, unlike the taut reprise of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” is an unstructured eight-minute improvisational jam that returns to the album-opening mood before segueing into a theremin rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

The indulgence that closes side one is redeemed by the perfection that opens side two. Introduced by a carnival barker, Nicky Hopkins’ music-box piano and John Paul Jones’ string arrangement key the brilliant and beautiful “She’s a Rainbow,” with bass and acoustic rhythm guitar reigniting the song each time it slows. The group’s blues roots shine through “The Lantern,” particularly in the blistering electric guitar riffs, but the tablas and flute jam of “Gomper” hasn’t aged well. The latter pales in particular comparison to the inspiration of “2000 Light Years From Home.” It’s this latter track, with discordant piano, mellotron, theremin, dulcimer, oscillator flourishes and a lyric of growing physical and emotional distance that will haunt your memory long after the record’s finished playing.

The music hall closer, “On With the Show,” seems to both mimic the frame of Sgt. Pepper’s and anticipate that of Magical Mystery Tour, and provides an entertaining coda to the album. The album’s psychedelic underpinnings glow on many tracks, including the band’s preceding hit, “Ruby Tuesday,” and singles recorded during the Satanic Majesties sessions, “We Love You” and “Dandelion.” Unfortunately, these period tracks aren’t included as bonuses – nor are the outtakes and demos that have been bootlegged elsewhere. But what’s here was freshly remastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering (2016-mono, 2017-stereo), and pressed onto both vinyl (from a lacquer cut by Sean Magee at Abbey Road) and hybrid SACDs.

The two vinyl LPs and two SACDs are housed in a heavyweight, four-panel fold-out cover, with the album’s original lenticular art restored to the front cover and the gatefold art to the inside. A 20-page booklet includes an essay by Rob Bowman, and candid photos from Michael Cooper’s original cover shoot photo session. The package is hand numbered, and the pressing is advertised as a limited edition. So what’s actually new here? The mono master is the same as was used for the 2016 box set (vinyl and CD), but it’s reproduced here with a new vinyl lacquer, and as a first-ever high resolution mono release on the hybrid SACD. The stereo remaster is new, as is its vinyl lacquer. The lenticular cover art isn’t new, but has been out of circulation for many years.

For those who’ve already collected the original mono and stereo vinyl, reissue stereo vinyl and SACD, and reissue mono vinyl and CD, the wholly new elements here are the high-resolution layer on the mono hybrid SACD and Bob Ludwig’s new stereo remaster. Are they worth the duplication? That depends on how much you value this album – particularly the punchier mono mix – or whether having mono, stereo, vinyl, redbook and high resolution digital in one three-pound package simply tickles your collector’s fancy. The absence of contemporaneously recorded singles, alternates and outtakes may disappoint some, but having the original dozen tracks, mono and stereo, with lenticular cover art intact will be a treat for the album’s faithful fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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The Valentinos: Lookin’ for a Love

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Valentinos_LookinForALoveGospel-soul gold from Sam Cooke’s SAR label

The goldmine that is the ABKCO vault continues to pour out its riches. Earlier releases from the Stones, Sam Cooke, Herman’s Hermits, and the Cameo-Parkway catalog, are now complemented by a pair of seminal compilations by the Soul Stirrers and Valentinos. The former launched Sam Cooke’s career, and he returned the favor by signing the group to his own SAR label. The latter, comprised of future solo-legend Bobby Womack and his four brothers, (Friendly Jr., Curtis, Harry and Cecil), wove their father Friendly Sr.’s deep faith into a soulful sound born of Cleveland’s meanest streets. They held onto the fire of their church grounding even as their material moved from gospel to secular, and the arrangements from harmony-laden worship to hard-charging soul.

The group’s transition from sacred to profane didn’t happen all at once, nor ever completely. The driving rhythm of their first single, “Somebody’s Wrong,” and the soulful croon of “Somewhere There’s a God,” were never really left behind. Their lyrics soon turned to a search for romantic love, but the vocal fervor continued to resound with a congregant’s search for heavenly connection. Having himself made the transition from gospel to R&B in the mid-50s, Sam Cooke well understood both the stigma and opportunities. But after failing to gain commercial traction with Bobby Womack’s original gospel “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” Cooke convinced the group to try R&B, commissioned his staff songwriters to rework the melodic hook of “Pray” into “Lookin’ for a Love,” rechristened the group as the Valentino’s, and scored their first and biggest hit single in 1962.

It wasn’t the last time that the Womacks and their songwriters would develop R&B material from gospel roots. The 1962 B-side, “Somewhere There’s a Girl” borrowed its melody and lyrical structure from 1961’s “Somewhere There’s a God,” and 1963’s “She’s So Good to Me” was based on the gospel standard, “God is Good to Me.” Curtis and Bobby Womack wrote the lion’s share of the group’s material, supplemented by songs from Sam Cooke, J.W. Alexander and a few others. “Lookin’ for a Love” was followed by the low-charting “I’ll Make it Alright” and the non-charting “Baby Lots of Luck,” putting the group’s commercial fortune in question. But two years after their breakthrough, Bobby Womack offered up a song that would top the charts. Just not by the Valentinos.

The Valentino’s country-tinged original “It’s All Over Now,” co-written by Womack and his sister in law, Shirley, was just starting to gain notice when the Rolling Stones rushed into the Chess studio in Chicago to wax their immortal cover. The Valentinos original still managed to climb to #21 R&B, but stalled out in the low 90s Pop as the Stones version rode to the chart’s upper reaches. Womack initially felt oppressed, like so many other African-American artists before him who’d been covered on pop radio, but his mood quickly turned. As he told Terry Gross in 1999, “Well, I didn’t like their version ’cause I didn’t think Mick Jagger – and to this day I say Mick Jagger can’t out-sing me. You know, but, when I saw that first royalty check, I liked their version.”

A final single for SAR, “Everybody Wants to Fall in Love,” was released in 1964, and with Cooke’s death in December of that year, the label folded. Bobby Womack, who’d been playing in Cooke’s road band, moved on to session work and solo stardom, and a depleted Valentinos finished out the decade with Chess and Jubilee. Of the nineteen tracks included here, ten appeared on the 2001 anthology Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story, but – incredibly – this is the first official reissue of the Valentinos’ full SAR catalog, including both sides of all seven singles, six previously unreleased masters (13, 15, 18, 19, 20, and 21), and a hidden bonus track of Sam Cooke giving direction in the studio. The 12-page booklet features session, chart and personnel data, photos, ephemera and extensive liner notes by Bill Dahl. This collection is decades overdue, but now that it’s here, you’ll find it was more than worth the wait. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

The Rolling Stones: Charlie is My Darling

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

RollingStones_CharlieIsMyDarlingThe Rolling Stones at their 1965 peak

Filmed on a two day Rolling Stones tour of Ireland in September 1965, Peter Whitehead’s fifty-minute documentary garnered only limited showings before being shelved. In 2012, ABKCO returned to the source material to restore and expand the film to sixty-five minutes, releasing it as a single DVD and a five-disc box set that included the DVD, a Blu-ray, an LP and two CDs.  The second of those CDs featured thirteen live tracks from the tour’s concerts, recorded at the peak of the Stones first incarnation. Those tracks are now being released as digital downloads, augmenting the meager selection of commercially released early live performances, such as 1964’s T.A.M.I. Show and 1965’s UK EP Got Live if You Want It.

Included among the tracks are many icons of the Stones early live set, including covers of Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” Bo Diddley’s rave-up “I’m Alright,” Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On,” Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” Allen Toussaint’s “Pain in My Heart,” Bobby Troup’s “Route 66,” Jerry Ragovoy’s “Time is on My Side,” and two Jagger/Richards’ originals, “Off the Hook” and “The Last Time.” The latter was the Stones’ first hit single of 1965, but by the time of their Irish tour, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (which is included on the box set’s first CD) had already topped the U.S. chart and was just about to peak in the UK.

The mono recordings are surprisingly listenable, given the state of mobile recording in 1965. These tracks don’t have the presence or instrumental separation of live albums made a decade later, but Jagger’s vocals are seated nicely into the mix, and the guitars, bass and drums are all legible. Better yet, the screaming crowd adds electricity without often overwhelming the music. The only thing that would be better is for the live tracks from the box set’s first CD to have been added here; at only 28 minutes (and as a digital collection with no physical length limitation), there’s plenty of room. Stones fans will want to see the documentary, but will also need the audio tracks for more regular rocking. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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