Tag Archives: Collectors’ Choice

Sonny Bono: Inner Views

SonnyBono_InnerViewsSonny freaks without Cher

Sonny Bono’s one and only solo album was released in 1967, just as Sonny & Cher’s hits and Cher’s solo success were entering a three-year drought. The obvious touchstone for this 5-track, 33-minute experimental outing is the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Sonny quotes in the album’s title track. But the acid-tinged lyrics (including quotes from both “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “A Day in the Life”) and pseudo-psych musical freakouts have neither the expanded consciousness nor musical inventiveness of the Beatles. The anti-drug Bono might have heard Sgt. Pepper’s, but he didn’t really seem to understand it. The drums, likely played by Wrecking Crew ace Hal Blaine, sound as if they were lifted from a Phil Spector session, and the sitar noodling and tuneless harmonica blasts are indulgent and irritating, especially at the jam-session length (12’45) of the opening track.

The social commentary of “I Told My Girl to Go Away” might have drawn more attention had Bono been a more commercially compelling vocalist, or perhaps if Janis Ian’s scathing “Society’s Child” hadn’t exploded earlier in the year. The 32-year-old Bono sang with an air of defeat that couldn’t compare to Ian’s searing defiance. “I Would Marry You Today” might have made a nice light-pop folk-rock production for Sonny & Cher, and would have greatly benefitted from the latter’s ability to carry a tune. A few years earlier, and with a gender switch and some editing, “My Best Friend’s Girl is Out of Sight,” might have made a good tune for one of the New York girl groups, but sung as light-pop and stretched to over four minutes, it hasn’t the focus of Bono’s hits. The closing “Pammie’s on a Bummer” is more successful with its instrumental experimentation, though its message (prostitution leads to pot leads to LSD) isn’t particularly knowing.

The initial reissue of this album was produced by Rhino Handmade in 1999. That limited edition CD added eleven bonus tracks, including all of Bono’s singles for Atco: his 1965 releases “Laugh at Me” (in three versions) and “The Revolution Kind” along with their instrumental B-sides, and single edits of Inner Views album tracks that still couldn’t make these productions consumable by radio. A subsequent CD edition by Collectors’ Choice dropped the bonuses, and Rhino’s digital reissue restored everything but the shortened album tracks and session backing for “Laugh at Me.” This is by no means a masterpiece; Bono wrote much better songs for Sonny & Cher, and produced more compelling records when he stuck to the classic techniques he’d learned at the feet of Phil Spector. His vocals were never his strong card, and without a catchy angle, his record falls flat. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Frankie Lymon: Rock ‘n’ Roll

Teenager steps out for 1958 solo debut

After two successful years fronting the Teenagers, vocalist Frankie Lymon stepped into a surprisingly unsuccessful solo career with this fine 1958 studio album. Having lost his childhood soprano to adolescence, his 16-year-old voice still had plenty of punch, and continued to leap from the grooves. His out-of-breath delivery of “Waitin in School” has an adolescent everything-is-happening-at-once fervor that Ricky Nelson’s cool-cat style didn’t match. It doesn’t hurt to have an ace guitar player – Mickey Baker, perhaps – tearing thing up in the breaks. Producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore double the vocals on “Wake Up Little Suzie,” creating a more saucy mood than the Everly’s original, and though covers of the Rays’ “Silhouettes” and the Coasters’ “Searchin’” aren’t particularly inspiring, there’s still plenty here to impress. Lymon’s adolescence adds a note of sweet longing to Nat King Cole’s “Send for Me,” and the R&B “Next Time You See Me” and “Short Fat Fanny” give Lymon a chance to really wail. Most impressive are original approaches to “Jailhouse Rock” and “Diana” that pay each song its due without imitating the hits. Several of these tracks were released as singles, but none had the success of the early Teenagers’ sides; worse, with a heroin habit eating away his abilities, Lymon was dropped by Roulette in 1961. He’d record a few sides for other labels, but this album and a handful of non-LP singles for Roulette (that should have been included here as bonus tracks) represents the end of Lymon’s run as a bright thread in the rock ‘n’ roll tapestry. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Anita Kerr Singers: All You Need is Love

Soft-pop vocal arrangements of ‘60s hits

The Anita Kerr singers are among the most heard, and least known-by-name, vocal group in the history of recording. That’s because Kerr’s group was the go-to backing group (along with the Jordanaires) for hundreds of sessions during the Nashville Sound era of the early ‘60s. They appeared almost constantly on the charts backing top country hits by Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, Faron Young, Brenda Lee, pop records by Pat Boone, Perry Como, Bobby Vinton and many, many others. Alongside their choral work, the group recorded several albums for RCA, including the Grammy winning We Dig Mancini. In the mid-60s Kerr disbanded the Nashville edition of her group, convened a new edition in Los Angeles, and commenced recording for Warner Brothers. This is the group’s fourth, and last album for the label, and was originally issued in the flower-power year of 1967.

Kerr picked her material with an arranger’s ear for possibilities, finding new vocal interplay even in songs as originally complex as the Association’s “Never My Love.” The songs are drawn from pop, rock, folk, soul and easy listening, and Kerr’s arrangements and orchestrations always find something new, often with a vocal-jazz feel. She expands on the vocal work of the Mamas & Papas “No Salt on Her Tail” and turns the Bee Gees’ moody “Holiday” into something contemplative. Less successful are her transformations of the soul tunes, “A Natural Woman” and “How Can I Be Sure.” The album is more a period piece than the lasting art Kerr created with her hit background arrangements, but it remains a pleasant breeze that blew across the heavier rock and soul of the ‘60s. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Arthur Conley: Soul Directions

Conley’s tragedy turned into great soul music

Southern soul singer Arthur Conley is known to most for his perfect celebration, “Sweet Soul Music.” Based on a “Yeah Man” by his vocal inspiration, Sam Cooke, and co-written with his mentor, Otis Redding, the song topped out in 1967 at #2 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts and became the lasting emblem of the ‘60s soul movement. But like so many true artists that have one defining single, Conley recorded terrific material both before and after the lightning strike. This 1968 album was a bittersweet affair that collected singles and album sides recorded just months after the airplane crash that killed Redding and the Mar-Keys.

Unlike Conley’s earlier hits, which had been waxed at Muscle Shoals, the album was mostly recorded at the same American Studios in Memphis where Elvis would cap his late-60s comeback. Conley wrote half the songs, including the somber memorial “Otis Sleep On,” and collected a pair from Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn. Memphis horns resound in “Funky Street,” “Hear Say” and “People Sure Act Funny,” and Conley draws from both Redding and Cooke in the pleading “This Love of Mine.” Conley saves his most scorching vocal for the Redding written and produced “Love Comes and Goes.” This is a terrific, deeply felt album that should be in the collection of all soul music fans. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Various Artists: Hot Rod City

Gary Usher and the Challengers tune up some car songs

Though the tracks are credited to the Customs, Quads and Grand Prix, this is apparently the work of the Challengers and legendary writer/producer Gary Usher. The twenty-one tracks (fourteen original and seven bonuses) include workmanlike cover versions of the Four Speeds’ “RPM,” Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” and “Little Queenie,” and the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Shutdown,” and “409.” The originals are laced with the car jargon the genre brought to mass culture, though little of this is as clever as the best that Wilson, Christian and Usher brought to the Top 40. The Everly’s-styled duet on the opening “Candy Apple Buggy” is about the most exciting vocal on an album that’s sung with surprising listlessness; there’s little evidence of the adolescent joy one expects from surf ‘n’ drag music. Collectors might like the cover of Brian Wilson’s “She Rides with Me,” though the Wilson-produced version by Paul Peterson is better and easily found here and here. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Avalanches: Ski Surfin’

1960s L.A. studio players cut some rockin’ instrumentals

The Avalanches were a one-off studio group formed around Los Angeles studio players Billy Strange and Tommy Tedesco on guitar, future Bread main-man David Gates on bass, and legendary Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine. The original instrumentals offered here (in addition to the themed covers, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Winter Wonderland”) are the sort of studio rockers that populated dozens of mid-60s albums and exploitation film soundtracks. Strange and Tedesco blaze away in their respective twangy and fuzz-soaked styles, and the rhythm section burns down the slopes. There’s little here that’s really surf music, aside from a few moments of half-hearted staccato picking; the occasional jabs of pedal steel suggest Alvino Rey and the electric piano leans to the soul rave-ups of Ray Charles. But mostly this sounds like incidental music from a low-budget AIP teen-film. And that’s a complement. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Jefferson Airplane: Return to the Matrix 02/01/68

Jefferson Airplane flies high

In contrast to the three 1966 releases in this collection (Signe’s Farewell, Grace’s Debut and We Have Ignition), this 1968 set finds the Airplane a great deal farther along. By 1968 the classic six-piece Airplane formation had released Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxters in 1967, and were about to embark on recording Crown of Creation. Their performance includes tracks from all three of their released albums (including “It’s No Secret” and a rare performance of “Blues from an Airplane” from Takes Off), a pair of tracks from the upcoming sessions (“Share a Little Joke” and “Ice Cream Phoenix,” the latter still a jam at this point, and each their only known live performance), two covers that had long been in their live set (Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of Life” and Donovan’s “Fat Angel”), and their last known live performance of Leiber & Stoller “Kansas City,” turned into a superb blues jam by Jorma Kaukonen.

The show was something of a homecoming as the Airplane returned to the club where they’d debuted (albeit with a somewhat different lineup) in 1965. By this point the group was internationally famous, with two albums that had cracked the Top 10 and two hit singles, each of of which are played here. They’d become international representatives of the San Francisco scene. The band remained remarkably fresh, even on material that had been in their set for years. Marty Balin sings a wonderfully emotional version of “Today,” the band plays an energetic version of “The Other Side of Life,” and the groove running through “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” pushes the vocalists to terrific heights. The latter is propelled by Jack Casady’s imaginative bass line, and features terrific 12-string figures and a blistering solo. Slick’s show piece, “White Rabbit,” is more fully formed on stage than it as two years earlier, and “Plastic Fanstastic Lover” has a memorable terrific guitar opening.

The chemistry between Balin and Slick, evident immediately in the weeks after she joined the band, is even stronger here, with Slick adding terrific wails behind Balin on his signature “It’s No Secret.” The newer material offers fertile territory for exploration on stage, particularly the multi-part “Won’t You Try / Saturday Afternoon.” Though the tapes are mono, the instruments are more prominent than in the recordings used for We Have Ignition. There’s some tape hiss, the sound system occasionally evidences a buzz, the rhythm guitar is mixed too hot in a few spots, and the vocals can get a bit edgy, but overall this is a dynamic recording of a key performance in the Airplane’s flight. The set closes with a mesmerizing 10-minute version of “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” complete with a raging guitar solo that briefly quotes “Spoonful.”

Airplane fans haven’t ever really been wanting for live material, with Bless Its Pointed Little Head and Thirty Seconds Over Winterland released during the years of the group’s ascension, and archival recordings Sweeping up the Spotlight Live at the Fillmore East, At Golden Gate Park, Last Flight released over the past few years, and numerous bootlegs circulating among collectors. This 1968 performance shows just how well the Airplane had matured with Slick on board, particularly as live performers. Their catalog of original material had grown deeper, and the freedom they found on stage set the stage for their triumphant performance the following year at Woodstock. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Jefferson Airplane: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 11/25/66 & 11/27/66 – We Have Ignition

Jefferson Airplane reaches altitude

Only weeks after making her debut as the new co-vocalist of the Jefferson Airplane (documented on Grace’s Debut), Grace Slick had lost the tentativeness that marked her initial appearance. In the month-and-a-half between performances, the band recorded Surrealistic Pillow (which included the Airplane studio debut of both Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden), and added mightily to their song catalog. Slick brought along the Great Society’s “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” each of which became Top 10 singles, and Balin, Kantner and Kaukonen added originals that make up the bulk of these two live sets. Altogether, seven of Surrealistic Pillow’s eleven tracks are included, and a few pieces left off the original album (Kaukonen’s “In the Morning” and Skip Spence’s “J.P.P. McStep Blues”) were still in the live set. Omitted is the show-stopping “Somebody to Love,” reported to have been played on both the 25th and 26th, but not included here.

For many in the audience, this was the first time they’d heard the band’s new material, as Surrealistic Pillow wasn’t released until the following February. The songs are still very fresh, and the band takes the opportunity to try out “Plastic Fantastic Lover” and “She Has Funny Cars” several times across the multiple sets. The tape opens with the former already in progress, and the interplay between Balin and Slick is electric. These mono recordings are more primitive than the stereo tapes from October’s transitional sets (Signe’s Farewell and Grace’s Debut), but Slick’s imaginative vocalizations still shine, and the band’s playing is tight and hard. Balin and Slick push each other to great heights, both on the band’s originals and on cover songs that had become regular features of the band’s set. Though they’d played it many times before, Balin and Slick wring everything they can out of Billy Ed Wheeler’s “High Flyin’ Bird,” spurring each other higher and higher.

The band lightens up for the sweet vocal interlude “My Best Friend.” Written by Skip Spence (who’d since moved on to Moby Grape), it sounds more like the Grape than the Airplane. The scant applause that greets “White Rabbit” gives a sense of just how new this material was to the audience, and though the band hadn’t fully discovered how to really kill with this song in live performance, the power of Slick’s vocal still makes an incredible impression. So too Balin’s searing lead on “It’s No Secret,” bolstered by terrific harmony singing from Slick. The early set ends with Kaukonen’s “She Has Funny Cars,” bringing to a close a performance that is notably short of jamming. The second set opens with extended treatments of “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of This Life,” each leaving room for instrumental play.

The rest of the first night’s late set includes several of the band’s regular covers (John D. Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road” and a dreamy take on Donovan’s “Fat Angel”), repeats of Surrealistic Pillow album tracks, and the album outtakes “In the Morning” and “J.P.P. McStep B. Blues.” The first evening closes with Jorma Kaukonen singing lead on his original blues “In the Morning.” The second disc covers the band’s late set on Sunday, joining the set opener “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” in progress, repeating songs from the opening night in different order, adding the album outtakes “Let Me In” and “Today,” and stretching out exuberantly on an off-the-cuff encore of “The Other Side of Life.” The surprise encore also offers up the one-off instrumental “My Grandfather’s Clock.” The tape transcriptions leave the inter-song continuity in place, and though the band isn’t particularly chatty, the spaces help give a sense of the show’s pacing.

Airplane fans haven’t ever really been wanting for live material, with Bless Its Pointed Little Head and Thirty Seconds Over Winterland released during the years of the group’s ascension, and archival recordings Sweeping up the Spotlight Live at the Fillmore East, At Golden Gate Park, Last Flight released over the past few years, and numerous bootlegs circulating among collectors. But these pivotal performances (which have been bootlegged for years) show off the Airplane at the apex of their initial flight with Slick. The group would go on to record legendary studio albums that added fresh material to their live performances, but rarely would their sense of discovery as a live unit sound so new. Multiple versions of songs recorded across the three-day stand show how easily the band reacted to one another’s ideas, and how the band’s live act was something separate from their studio work. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Jefferson Airplane: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/16/66 – Grace’s Debut

Jefferson Airplane takes its first flight with Grace Slick

On the final evening of a three-night stand at the original Fillmore, Jefferson Airplane welcomed their new co-lead singer, Grace Slick. The night before they’d bid farewell to singer Signe Anderson (the late set of which has been released on Signe’s Farewell), and in closing out the weekend they put the band’s most famous lineup in place. The Sunday night set list shared several songs with previous night’s, including a cover of “Tobacco Road” that sounds neither like John Loudermilk’s original nor the Nashville Teen’s 1964 hit single, and the Marty Balin originals “And I Like It” and “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds.” The set added songs from the band’s debut and a few more covers, including a pre-Youngbloods take on “Let’s Get Together” and a roaring guitar-fueled vision of Leiber & Stoller’s “Kansas city.”

Slick provided a striking visual addition to the band, as evidenced by a pair of photographs included on this set’s digipack, but her vocal and writing presence in the band was yet to fully flower. She sounds tentative in harmonizing with Balin, and the signature songs she’d brought with her from the Great Society, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” either weren’t played or aren’t included in this condensation of the night’s two sets. Slick’s place in the band would solidify quickly as they gigged, recorded Surrealistic Pillow and returned to the Fillmore the following month, as documented on We Have Ignition. This first set feels tentative in contrast to Anderson’s last, though you can feel them getting more comfortable with each song, and particularly when they hit the finale, “It’s No Secret.”

The second set opens slowly, crawling into the slow blues of “Tobacco Road.” Slick sounds almost transformed from the first set, wailing alongside Balin and cutting through with powerful, original vocal lines on “High Flyin’ Bird.” Kaukonen takes to the spotlight on “Kansas City,” singing lead and playing atmospheric blues guitar. His brief solo on “And I Like It” is even more powerful, and a perfect compliment to a searing vocal by Balin. The band stretches out experimentally on the ten-minute “Thing,” including a Jack Casady bass solo, and closes the set with a strong version of the soon-to-be-recorded “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds.” Slick was still singing the band’s set in the shadow of Anderson’s original performances, but the strength of her vocals and the moments of originality on night number one point to the new combination’s rich future.

Airplane fans haven’t ever really been wanting for live material, with Bless Its Pointed Little Head and Thirty Seconds Over Winterland released during the years of the group’s ascension, and archival recordings Sweeping up the Spotlight Live at the Fillmore East, At Golden Gate Park, Last Flight released over the past few years, and numerous bootlegs circulating among collectors. But this official issue of Grace Slick’s first performances with the band is a most welcome addition, showing off the immediate bond she formed with both her co-vocalists and the instrumental backings. The band’s first great album, Surrealistic Pillow, was just around the corner, and within a matter of weeks they’d return to the Fillmore with Slick firmly established as an equal. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Jefferson Airplane: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66 – Signe’s Farewell

Jefferson Airplane takes its last flight with Signe Anderson

By October of 1966 the Jefferson Airplane had been together for a little over a year and had released their debut album, Takes Off. They had already become a finely-tuned live unit, and the key elements of their San Francisco Sound were almost all in place. What was yet to be added was the dynamic personality and vocals of Grace Slick, who would join the day after this live set bid farewell to the band’s original female vocalist, Signe Anderson. Anderson was officially a co-lead singer with Marty Balin, but as the band’s subsequent albums would show, she didn’t achieve the parity with Balin that Grace Slick would accomplish. It wasn’t for a lack of talent though, as her harmonizing with Balin and her lead vocal on “Chauffeur Blues” show just why she was invited to join the band in the first place.

This twelve-track set presents the late show from Bill Graham’s original Fillmore Auditorium, recorded on a night that many knew was Anderson’s last. Balin says farewell as he introduces Anderson for her signature song, and the album closes with Bill Graham and the crowd giving Anderson a last round of applause before she says goodbye. The group sent her out with a powerful set that mixes covers (“Tobacco Road,” “Fat Angel,” “Midnight Hour” and “High Flyin’ Bird”), originals from their debut (“Runnin’ ‘Round This World,” “Come Up the Years” and “And I Like It”), and originals that were yet to be recorded in the studio (“3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and “Go to Her”). The set shows how easily the band moved back and forth between the concise arrangements of their debut album and the lengthy jams that defined the San Francisco ballroom scene.

Opening with the 9-minute improvisational “Jam,” the live Airplane immediately proved themselves a different band than the one who’d dropped their debut album two months earlier. The folk roots of their first studio work were replaced on stage by harder electric psychedelia, evident in their conversion of “High Flyin’ Bird” from sultry folk-rock to an electric blues-rock wail. The addition of Grace Slick the following night (and the material she’d bring from the Great Society) would further change the band, but you can already hear the evolution in progress here, particularly in the freedom of Balin’s vocals and the instrumental explorations of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. Collectors’ Choice documents the band’s full transition with the following night’s set (Grace’s Debut) and a set recorded six weeks later (We Have Ignition), right after the band had waxed Surrealistic Pillow.

Airplane fans haven’t ever really been wanting for live material, with Bless Its Pointed Little Head and Thirty Seconds Over Winterland released during the years of the group’s ascension, and archival recordings Sweeping up the Spotlight Live at the Fillmore East, At Golden Gate Park, Last Flight released over the past few years, and numerous bootlegs circulating among collectors. But this first official issue of a pre-Grace Slick live recording is a welcome addition to the catalog, documenting the Airplane’s initial formation, showing Signe Anderson to be a terrific foil for Marty Balin (her background wails on “Tobacco Road” truly elevate the performance), and proving the band’s San Francisco sound – missing from their debut album – was firmly entrenched in their live performances early on. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]