Tag Archives: Decca

The Rolling Stones: Their Satanic Majesties Request

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]

The Rolling Stones’ Home Page

Gene Rains: Far Away Lands – The Exotic Music of Gene Rains

GeneRains_FarAwayLandsAn exotica original finally gets his digital due

Like his exotica compatriot Arthur Lyman, Gene Rains was a vibraphonist with a jazz background. And like Lyman, and Lyman’s former band leader Martin Denny, Rains held a tenure at the Hawaiian Village Hotel’s famed Shell Bar. Unlike Lyman and Denny, however, Rains recording career was rather short – three original albums in all – and began a few years after Denny’s 1957 breakthrough with Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village” and Lyman’s return to exotica with 1958’s Taboo. Rains’ three albums for Decca didn’t gain the public renown that greeted Denny and Lyman’s releases, and until this eighteen-track sampler, his music remained available only on pricey, highly sought-after original releases.

Rains’ albums followed the same template as Denny’s and Lyman’s, combining Hawaiian folk melodies with standards, Broadway and film tunes and newly written island songs. Rains’ jazz quartet of vibes, piano, bass and world percussion were deft mixologists, and Decca’s engineers captured their sound in crisp, audiophile-quality recordings. The arrangements are alternately lush, romantic and dramatic, though even with vibraphone at their core, they don’t often swing as freely as Lyman’s work. Pianists Paul Conrad and Bryon Peterson add dramatic arpeggios and deep low notes, and bassist Archie Grant (who’d join Arthur Lyman’s group in the mid-60s) also adds flute, and several tunes are garnished with exotica’s requisite bird and animal calls.

Many of this compilation’s titles will be familiar to those who’ve collected Denny’s and Lyman’s albums, but Rains and his quartet put their own spin on the arrangements. Ernesto Lecuona’s “Jungle Drums,” which had been a hit for Artie Shaw in the late ’30s, opens with a dramatic introduction before leaning more heavily on the song’s Latin rhythm than Martin Denny’s vocal chorus arrangement. And “Caravan” (one of the three pillars of Exotica) is really more jazz than exotica, with the vibes, piano and bass each getting a solo spotlight. This is a superb collection, filled with lively playing and original nuances, and the song list includes exotica classics, jazz and popular standards, and a few inventive adaptations.

The collection’s 16-page booklet includes full-panel reproductions of all three original albums’ front and back covers, liner notes by Randy Poe, and a front-cover photo of noted mermaid, Marina; the disc is screened with a reproduction of Decca’s rainbow label. Due to a loss of the original masters, this set was sourced from vinyl, but the transfers, though not flawless, speak to the long-lived high fidelity of early ’60s pressings. It’s too bad that Real Gone didn’t go the full monty and reissue the three original albums in full; still, some Gene Rains is a whole lot better than no Gene Rains, and this disc belongs in the collection of every exotica lover. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Cuff Links: Tracy

The Archies’ Ron Dante sings sweet bubblegum pop as the Cuff Links

Vocalist Ron Dante is the American version of British studio singer Tony Burrows. Though he didn’t duplicate Burrows’ feat of charting hit singles as the lead singer of four different groups in a single year (Edison Lighthouse, White Plains, Pipkins, Brotherhood of Man, all in 1970), Dante’s singing was nearly as ubiquitous. His first brush with fame came with the novelty single “Leader of the Laundromat,” by the Detergents, and he was widely heard singing the famous “you deserve a break today” jingle for McDonald’s. But his biggest score was as the lead singer of the Archies, minting the single-of-the-year (and the national anthem of the bubblegum world), “Sugar, Sugar.” In parallel with the Archies’ ride on the charts, Dante re-teamed with Detergents’ songwriter-producers Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss and cooked up this album under the Cuff Links banner.

The Cuff Links were, like Tony Burrows’ “bands,” a studio concoction rather than a working group. Dante provided both lead and brilliantly arranged backing voices, and as on the Archies’ records, went uncredited. Though he recorded a solo album in 1970, his first real claim to named fame came a few years later as the producer of many Barry Manilow hit records, and later as an award-winning Broadway producer. His anonymous work with the Detergents, Archies and Cuff Links has been sporadically anthologized and reissued over the years, focusing mostly on the hit singles; this CD release reintroduces the Cuff Links first album back to the market, adding a handful of singles drawn from the group’s still-unissued second album, and several more bonuses.

The album is a by-product of the effervescent single “Tracy,” which became a hit just as the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” started to fade on the charts. The album was recorded quickly to capitalize on the single’s success, but with songs drawn from Vance and Pockriss’ catalog of co-writes, plus a pair of well selected covers, it’s a great deal more solid than the short time in the studio would suggest. Rupert Holmes (who would later hit with “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”) was brought in to arrange the strings, and his simple lines perfectly complement Dante’s overlaid vocals. The bubbly tone of the title track is balanced by wistful tunes, including the moving antiwar sentiments of “All the Young Women,” the Left Banke-styled nostalgia of “I Remember,” and the autumnal lost-love B-side “Where Do You Go?”

The two cover songs are given nice twists, with a catchy organ riff and memorable call-and-response vocals on “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” and an effective Burt Bacharach-styled treatment of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The songs run deeper than comparable bubblegum tunes written expressly for the pre-teen crowd, but their melodies remain hummable, and the lyrics catchy. Like the music that came out of Don Kirshner’s world, the craft here is superb – just listen how the album’s second single, “When Julie Comes Around,” builds masterfully from a tense organ and drum opening into a perfect mix of electric and acoustic guitars and then builds into a joyous melody in parallel with the lyrics turn from loneliness to happiness; the transitions back and forth between desperation and elation are handled just as perfectly as the song finally plays itself out with a smile.

With the single a hit and the album edging onto the charts, the producers assembled a road band, but Dante declined to tour and vocalist Joe Cord took his place. For the self-titled follow-up album, Dante and Cord split the lead vocals. The album’s first three bonus tracks are drawn from the second album’s singles, “Run Sally Run” (in mono), “Robin’s World” and “Thank You Pretty Baby” (also in mono). The first of the three has a hurried tempo, the second is a terrifically relaxed piece of mid-tempo sunshine pop, and the latter a catchy staccato vocal pop production. Of the three remaining bonus tracks (all in mono), “The Kiss,” “All Because of You,” and “Wake Up Judy,” the middle one was the group’s last single on Decca. The other two are unexplained in John Purdue’s otherwise detailed liner notes. If you love sunshine and bubblegum pop, snap this one up before it goes out of print again! [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Ron Dante’s Home Page
The Cuff Links’ Home Page

The Cuff Links touring band:

The Small Faces: All or Nothing – 1965-1968

Stellar documentary of British Invasion giants

All or Nothing 1965-1968 is one of four documentaries released as part of a five-DVD British Invasion box set by Reelin’ in the Years Productions. It is a spectacular collection of footage that spans twenty-seven complete vintage performances, interviews with the principle band members reflecting on their time as seminal mod and psychedelic rockers, and superb vintage clips of the band creating in the studio, shopping on Carnaby Street and gigging at iconic clubs like the Marquee. The producers have performed miracles in digging up rare television and film footage, and archival interviews with Steve Marriott (from 1985) and Ronnie Lane (from 1988, his last filmed appearance) are complemented by contemporary interviews with Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan.

Though the Small Faces had only one chart hit in the U.S. (1968’s “Itchycoo Park”), their fame in the UK and Europe, not to mention their style, sound and musicianship, were in league with the Who and Stones. The band members post-Small Faces gigs brought a greater helping of stateside fame (Marriott with Humble Pie; Lane, McLagan and Jones with the Faces; and Jones with the latter-day Who), but this 101-minute documentary shows the Small Faces were a group to be reckoned with. Marriott was a ferocious front-man with an aggressive vocal delivery, hot guitar licks and a songwriting partnership with Ronnie Lane that matured from derivative R&B to original tunes that wove pop, rock and psych influences into their bedrock soul. The interviews trace the group’s original influences, the pop sides forced upon them, and the turning points at which they made artistic leaps forward.

Among the biggest events in the Small Faces’ development was a change in management and label from Don Arden and Decca to Andrew Loog Oldham and Immediate. The mod sounds and styles of their early singles quickly became psychedelic, but not before launching their new phase with the 1967 ode to methadrine, “Here Comes the Nice.” Their hair and fashions in the accompanying television performance find the band in transition between the dandy style of the mods and the floral and flowing elements of the hippie revolution. The influence of LSD can be heard in “Green Shadows” and the band’s U.S. breakthrough, “Itchycoo Park,” which McLagan suggests was a rebuttal to England’s formal system of higher education. The group’s pièce de résistance, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, is essayed here with a lip-synched clip of the title tune and a seven-song live-sung (but not played) set from the BBC’s Colour Me Pop.

The progression from the hard R&B of “Whatch Gonna Do About It” to their crowning concept album is impressive, but that it happened in only three years is amazing. The story of the Small Faces is told here in the band’s words and music, with interview footage woven among the music clips. The full performances, including four not featured in the documentary, can be viewed separately via DVD menu options. Lane’s full interview and a photo gallery are included as extras, along with a 24-page booklet featuring detailed credits and song notes. This disc will strike a deep nostalgic chord for UK fans, and will be a voyage of discovery for Americans familiar only with “All or Nothing,” “Itchycoo Park,” “Tin Soldier,” and “Lazy Sunday.” [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

The Small Faces’ Home Page
Reelin’ in the Years’ Home Page

Rufus Wainwright: Milwaukee at Last!!!

RufusWainwright_MilwaukeeAtLastRufus Wainwright makes himself at home on stage

Rufus Wainwright’s performances have often been larger than a recording studio could fully capture. His cabaret-styled vocals and opera-sized emotion are more naturally at home on stage, and captured live they resound not only with unbridled emotion but with the interplay of a performer and his audience. His tour of the classic American songbook on 2007’s Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall is now eclipsed as a live document by this tour through eight original compositions and covers of Noël Coward’s “If I Love Were All” (borrowed from the Garland set list), and the early twentieth-century Irish love song “Macushla.” Wainwright draws his own material almost entirely from 2007’s Release the Stars, closing the album with 2004’s “Gay Messiah.” His measured, emotional vocals hold down center stage, supported by rock band arrangements that would sound at home in a stage theater’s pit. He soars up and dips down with glissandos, reels listeners in with intimately quiet sections, and drives his lyrics home with dramatically held notes. The dynamic range speaks to both his talent as a live performer, and the raptness with which his audience is willing to pay attention. The result offers a great deal more delicacy, nuance and power than the average live album, and it provides a startling accurate portrayal of Wainwright’s magic. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Stream Milwaukee at Last!!!
Rufus Wainwright’s Home Page
Rufus Wainwright’s MySpace Page

The Who: Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy

who_meatybeatybigandbouncyThe Who’s first stateside Greatest Hits album

In the wake of The Who’s triumphant showcase at Woodstock and the releases of Tommy and Who’s Next, Decca released the group’s first U.S. hits collection in time for Christmas of 1971. The fourteen sides stretch from the group’s first single under the Who banner, 1965’s “I Can’t Explain,” to their last studio A-side before Who’s Next, 1970’s “The Seeker.” In between are landmarks such as “My Generation,” “I Can See for Miles,” “The Magic Bus,” and “Pinball Wizard,” that cover everything from the group’s early pill-fueled mod-rock to the visionary work that had run through The Who Sell Out and Tommy, and would fuel Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Two John Entwistle tunes (“A Legal Matter” and “Boris the Spider”) complement a dozen from Pete Townshend, and the inclusion of several non-LP singles (“I Can’t Explain,” “Pictures of Lily,” “The Seeker,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “Substitute,” and “I’m a Boy,”) and the use of original mono mixes give this collection a terrific AM radio punch. Everything here is mono except for tracks 4, 7, 9, 11, 12 and 14. Unfortunately this CD edition doesn’t fully replicate the experience of the original vinyl: the LP’s mono “Boris the Spider” is replaced here with stereo, and the 4-1/2 minute stereo version of “The Magic Bus” is replaced here with a shorter edit. Assumedly the master reels for the album had to be reassembled, and a lack of original masters forced the substitutions. A dozen Who anthologies have been issued since this album’s 1971 release, and while they have the advantage of post-Tommy material, they lose this set’s crisp focus on the Who as a mid-60s rock ‘n’ roll singles band. This collection is no substitute for the group’s albums, but as an artifact of the Who’s first six years, it provides a rock solid essay on the talents of Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon and Townshend. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]