Haggard’s original 1960s Capitol singles – A’s and B’s
As with their collections of singles on Wanda Jackson and George Jones, Ominvore’s anthology of twenty-eight Merle Haggard sides – fourteen A’s and their respective B’s – shows off a perspective not covered by greatest hits collections or original album reissues. In addition to Haggard’s thirteen charting 1960s Capitol A-sides (eight of which topped the charts), the set includes the non-charting “Shade Tree Fix-it-Man.” Haggard wrote all but one of the A-sides (“The Fugitive,” penned by Liz Anderson), and most of the flips, but his first Capitol single was backed by a lush-stringed arrangement of Ralph Mooney’s “Falling for You,” and he later covered Anderson’s sorrowful “This Town’s Not Big Enough.”
Haggard’s B-sides are far from the filler many producers used to force DJ’s onto the plug side; the productions were carefully crafted, and the instrumental backings are often highlighted by Ralph Mooney’s piercing steel and Roy Nichols’ sharply picked electric and resophonic guitars. It’s hard to imagine how DJs kept themselves from flipping “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” to play the equally attractive “I Started Loving You Again.” There are a few lighter sides, like “The Girl Turned Ripe,” but the lyrics are most often of afflicted love – relationships bound to end, ending, or receding too slowly in the rear view mirror. Haggard’s jazzier inclinations come out on Hank Cochran’s “Loneliness is Eating Me Alive” and the original “Good Times,” and his love of Jimmie Rodgers is heard in a cover of “California Blues.”
Recent collections of singles from Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Ray Charles and others have shed new light on much-loved performers. In addition to well-known hits, these anthologies highlight the valiant misses and B-sides that faded from an artist’s repertoire as their catalog was reduced to greatest hits collections. Wanda Jackson’s rockabilly and country recordings have been well-served in reissue, with both original albums and anthologies in print, but Omnivore’s 29-track collection provides an expanded view of her career as a singles artist. In addition to her well-loved A-sides “Hot Dog! That Made Him Made,” “Cool Love,” “Fujiyama Mama,” “Honey Bop,” “Mean Mean Man,” “Rock Your Baby,” “Let’s Have a Party,” “Riot in Cell Block Number Nine,” “Right or Wrong,” and “In the Middle of a Heartache,” the set is stocked with ace chart-misses and B-sides.
As early as 1956 Jackson was backing up her incendiary rockabilly singles with country flips that included “Half a Good a Girl” and the maiden recording of Jack Rhodes and Dick Reynolds’ “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” She added a rockabilly croon to the Cadillacs’ bluesy doo-wop B-side “Let Me Explain” and shined brightly on Boudleaux Bryant’s calypso novelty “Don’a Wan’a.” Her ballads were often backed by Jordanaires-styled male harmonies and hard-twanging guitars (courtesy of A-list players Joe Maphis and Buck Owens) that keep her rock ‘n’ roll roots simmering. Even more straightforward country weepers like “No Wedding Bells for Joe” and “Sinful Heart” have downbeats that are more insistent than their Nashville contemporaries.
Jackson’s original “Little Charm Bracelet” didn’t make the charts, but it’s a cleverly written story of a relationship’s hopeful start and interrupted ending. Fans may be surprised to find that the favorite “Funnel of Love” was actually a B-side (to the country hit “Right or Wrong”), as the release signaled the beginnings of Jackson’s transition to the country charts. Still, even as the A-sides turned country, the B-sides held onto their sass with originals “I’d Be Ashamed” and “You Bug Me Bad,” and a bouncy version of Bobby Bare’s “Sympathy.” The productions are split between Los Angeles (tracks 1-17) and Nashville (tracks 18-29), and while the latter show countrypolitan touches, several of Jackson’s hottest rock ‘n’ roll records were recorded with Roy Clark and other Music City luminaries.
Career-spanning 3-CD/1-DVD box set with many previously unreleased treats
There has been no shortage of hits packages for Heart, starting with 1980’s Heart’s Greatest Hits: Live, which at the time seemed to sum up a fading band’s run of commercial success. But with the release of 1985’s Heart, the Wilson sisters sparked a major comeback with their band, and by 1995, set off nearly annual production of anthologies and album reissues. In addition to single- and double-disc sets (including 1998’s Greatest Hits and 2002’s Essential), the band released a live run-through of their debut album on both CD and DVD. But as the band’s career stretched into the twenty-first century with Jupiters Darling and Red Velvet Car, and the Wilson sisters recorded solo and with their side-project, The Lovemongers, existing anthologies have fallen out of date.
Epic/Legacy cures this problem with a 3-CD, 1-DVD set that expands across Heart’s entire recorded legacy, including hits, album sides, live performances, demos and rarities. And rounding out the Wilsons’ legacy are solo selections and a pair by the Lovemongers. All together, twenty of the CDs’ fifty-one tracks are previously unreleased, and the DVD serves up a fifty-five minute live performance recorded in 1976 at Washington State University’s television station, KWSU. The opening instrumental of this vintage performance, as well as a scorching version of “Sing Child Sing,” shows the group’s progressive colors, but as they kick into “Heartless,” it’s clear that Heart was ready to rock. Hard. With the band’s debut album just released, they had the goods, but not yet the fame the album’s hits would bring. The video’s lighting, camera work and mono sound are good, and the picture (including some primitive special effects) holds up well for something no one probably thought would become historically important.
The CD set begins the Wilsons’ very first single, “Through Eyes and Glass” recorded as Ann Wilson & The Daybreaks in 1968, and released locally on the Topaz label. Key elements of Heart can be heard in the elder Wilson’s voice and flute, though the brooding mood is more connected to 1960s ballrooms than 1970s arenas. Skipping ahead to mid-70s demos, it feels as if the gauze of ‘60s acid culture has been lifted. Even in this early form, “Magic Man,” crackles with passion in both the rhythm and vocals. There’s a healthy dose of neo-psych in the guitar solo, but the song is undeniably powerful and anthemic. Other demos, such as “How Deep it Goes” and “Crazy on You,” are closer to final form, with Heart’s signature blend of electric and hard-strummed acoustic in place on the latter. Ann Wilson had yet to unleash her full vocal power in these demos, but you can hear how the songs will push her to great heights.
Though the box set covers songs from all thirteen Heart studio albums, they’re presented in a mix of studio, live and demo versions. The disputed Magazine album is represented by demos of “Here Song” and “Heartless,” the first of which actually sounds more polished than its album release, and a live version of “Devil Delight” that appears on the DVD. 1990’s Brigade offers up a demo of “Under the Sky” that is truly compelling in its lack of big studio gloss. Other demos, like the acoustic-guitar accompanied “Dog & Butterfly” show off the Wilsons’ songwriting, rather than Heart’s instrumental and production talents. Although the band’s commercial fortunes began to decline after 1980’s Bebe le Strange, they returned to commercial dominance in 1985 with five singles from Heart. Chief among the successes, and indicative of the band’s changes, was “These Dreams.” Written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page, and sung by Nancy Wilson, the sound traded in the band’s guitar rock for synth-dominated modern pop, and navigated the commercial winds for the band’s first chart topper.
Heart remained commercially vital throughout the ‘80s, with Bad Animals and Brigade selling multi-platinum and spinning off multiple charting singles, but artistically, their demos, such as the terrific “Unconditional Love” and “Under the Sky” often showed more earthiness and soul than their heavily-produced albums. The first-half of the set’s third-disc is devoted to non-Heart material from the Lovemongers, solo performances, and live and demo tracks that were never remade in the studio. With the big hair ‘90s receding in the rear view mirror, the Wilsons returned to the more organic rock and blues roots with which they started the ‘70s, and the demos show that they still had ideas other people couldn’t fathom as Heart material. The disc closes out with songs from the band’s last three albums, plus “Little Problems, Little Lies,” from Ann Wilson’s solo release.
Clever late-70s studio rock finally rescued from obscurity
The Durocs 1979 debut (and, as it turns out, album swansong) was a singular combination of collaborators and the times in which they collaborated. The two principals, Ron Nagle and Scott Mathews, had already been working together for a few years when they signed a deal with Capitol in the late ‘70s. Nagle had co-founded San Francisco’s Mystery Trend in 1965, playing key venues and releasing a single on Verve. He went on to record a Jack Nitzsche-produced solo album, Bad Rice, in 1970, but garnered his primary renown as a ceramicist and university art professor. Mathews was a songwriter and producer whose multi-instrumental talents made him something of a child prodigy. The pair wrote songs for other artists and produced audio for film soundtracks, leading them, via their connection to Nitasche, to Capitol.
Nagle and Mathews produced the album with Elliot Mazur, in their own San Franciscostudio, overdubbing most of the instruments and vocals, and adding selected guests, such as sax player Steve Douglas. Their thick production sound brings to mind Todd Rundgren (both as an artist and producer), the Tubes (for whom Nagle co-wrote the signature “Don’t Touch Me There”), and Phil Spector’s later work on the Ramones’ 1981 End of the Century. Nagle explains in the liner notes, “restraint just wasn’t our forte at the time,” which explains both their over-the-top production and the enthusiasms of their lyrics. They’re equally unbridled confessing the shame of a cuckold as they are reveling in the connections of a successful relationship. They excoriate the excesses of ‘70s self-empowerment as easily as they offer reassurance to a partner in need.
The early ‘70s singer-songwriter roots of Rick Springfield
By the time that Rick Springfield hit it big as a pop star, with 1981’s “Jessie’s Girl,” his fame as an actor all but obscured his very real roots as a musician. But a decade before topping the U.S. charts, Springfield was a working musician in the rock band Zoot (on whose heavy cover of “Eleanor Rigby” a young Springfield can be seen playing guitar) and a solo artist with a Top 10 hit in Australia. A reworked version of that hit single, “Speak to the Sky,” reached the Billboard Top 20, and took this debut album into the Top 40. The 1981 view of a dilettante actor dabbling in music is wiped away by this record of his earlier work, for which Springfield wrote ten original tunes, sang and played guitar, keyboards and banjo.
Springfield’s songs and the production sound are heavily indebted to late ‘60s and early ‘70s rock, particularly the bass, drums and piano sounds of the Beatles, Badfinger and Big Star. The album mixes deeper numbers with bubblegum, showing Springfield’s voice to work well in both heavy and light arrangements. “The Unhappy Ending” anticipates the histrionics of Queen (and presages the opening of “Killer Queen”), while the happy-go-lucky (but war-tinged) “Hooky Jo” sports hooks worthy of Kasnetz-Katz and Graham Gouldman. Springfield’s infatuation with Paul McCartney is evidenced by the album’s chugging beats, but there are notes of soul, country-rock and pop.
Carole King recovers from the death of her third husband
King’s third album for Capitol was originally released in 1978, and is now being reissued on her own Rockingdale imprint with the original track list and an eight-page booklet that includes liner notes, lyrics, photos and album art. Unlike her other Capitol albums, this was recorded in Austin, Texas, with a soulful group of musicians who were then backing Jerry Jeff Walker. The country-tinged sound is a great deal earthier than the slick studio work on Simple Things and Welcome Home, and King is more contemplative in voice and melancholy in lyrical mood, no doubt due to the death of her third husband, Rick Evers, earlier in the year.
That said, King remained, as she had been on her two previous Capitol albums, generally optimistic. There’s genuine pain in “Dreamlike I Wander,” but she realizes you can both remember and move forward, providing herself the opportunity to heal on “Walk With Me” and emotional advice and pep talks with “Move Lightly,” “Passing of the Days” and “Eagle.” Leo LeBlanc’s pedal steel and Mark Hallman’s mandolin fit nicely behind King’s more emotional vocals, and though she only plays piano on three tracks, Reese Wymans adds expressive keyboards throughout the rest of the album.
A middling Carole King album with a few moments of inspiration
Carole King’s second album for Capitol was originally released in 1978, and is now being reissued on her own Rockingale imprint with its original track list and an eight-page booklet that includes liner notes, lyrics, photos and album art. The songwriting continued her work with then-third-husband Rick Evers, who co-wrote two of the titles, and also continued King’s weakening commercial success. The album scratched just below the Hot 100, and a lone single (“Morning Sun”) just missed the A/C Top 40. As on her Capitol debut, Simple Things, King’s songs are incredibly optimistic, perhaps sparked by the communal living she and Evers had set up. Evers died, reportedly of a heroin overdose, a few months after the album was recorded, so the album’s sunny vibe was thrown into shadow by the songwriter’s loss.
King reaches back to the Brill Building for the cruisin’ themed “Main Street Saturday Night,” but it doesn’t crackle with the authenticity of her earlier work, and Evers’ new-agey lyrics for “Sun Bird” must have seemed deep at the time, but don’t hold a candle to the expressiveness of even King’s lesser works. Even stranger is the catchy “Venusian Diamond,” which combines late-60s Beatleisms with the too-clean studio sounds that marked many productions of the era. Even that’s explainable compared to the bandwagon “Disco Tech,” though even here you get the sense that King has a deeper sense of music’s primordial hold on the soul than many of the hacks writing disco at the time.
Previously reissued on CD in Japan, King’s 1977 Capitol debut is now being reissued domestically on her own Rockingale imprint with its original ten tracks and an eight-page booklet that includes lyrics and album art. Simple Things was King’s last album to reach the Top 20 and be certified Gold, breaking a string of Top 10’s that stretched back to 1971’s Tapestry. This set also includes her first collaborations with future-third-husband Rick Evans, who co-wrote three songs. Like all four of her Capitol releases, Simple Things showcases King’s songwriting craft, soulful voice and keyboard playing, but failed to make a serious dent in the charts. Even her fellow singer-songwriters – Carly Simon and James Taylor – were then having hits with other people’s material.
Originally released only in Japan, this 54-minute set found Campbell entertaining with a tightly-paced set at Tokyo’s Kosei Nenkin Hall in May 1975. The chart-topping run Campbell had started with 1967’s “Gentle on My Mind” was slipping ever so slightly lower by the early ‘70s, as his television program ended in 1972. Campbell’s albums started to edge out of the Top 10 and his singles out of the Top 20, but three days before this show, he released “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and rode it to the top of the country, pop and adult contemporary charts. Oddly, the single had yet to ingratiate itself into a starring spot in Campbell’s live set, and is not included here.
Given the depth of Campbell’s catalog of hits, his live set only highlighted a few in full, and added five more in medley form. The set opens with a horn-and-tympani intro to a slick, stirring cover of Mac Davis’ “I Believe in Music.” Campbell is in terrific voice, opening “Galveston” with a few riveting a cappella notes and investing himself fully in the drama of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.” The set holds several surprises, including the southern soul of bassist Bill C. Graham’s album track, “Lovelight,” touching covers of Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You” and John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” and the Japanese single “Coming Home (to Meet My Brother),” which had originally been popularized as a Coca-Cola jingle.
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