A flash of inspiration turned into an essay of experience
Shawn Mullins was six years and four albums into his recording career when he waxed the 1998 breakthrough album Soulâ€™s Core. He was at the point in a musicianâ€™s career when they start to wonder if theyâ€™ll ever break out of the artistically-rich but commercially-lean orbit in which theyâ€™ve been traveling. The pace of recording often turns studio sessions into snapshots of inspiration, with a long tail of discovery ahead as the album is toured. The initial writing and recording are coated in layers of experience as songs are contextualized in the flow of a live set, developed by a road bandâ€™s chemistry, reflected by audience reaction, and interpreted through the changing circumstances of the performer. Material with artistic depth is in a sense never finished.
Given the pivotal role that Soulâ€™s Core played in Mullinsâ€™ career, itâ€™s no surprise that many of the albumâ€™s songs have remained central to his live set, and that over time, his relationship to the material, and his perspective on its meaning has deepened. For this self-released double-CD, Mullins has re-recorded the album twice: once with his road band, and once in an acoustic solo setting. The formerâ€™s live-in-the-studio setting captures the bandâ€™s decades-long development of the songs as stage material, while the latter more deeply introspects the songwriterâ€™s changes in personal relationship to his younger self. The band disc perfectly blends the tight playing of oft-played material with the stretching and exploration of songs whose core theses have become second nature; the solo disc gives Mullins an opportunity to look back twenty years on his own.
You might be excused for thinking John Einarsonâ€™s fascinating, detailed liner notes for this reissue are an early draft of the script for That Thing You Do! Much like the fictional Wonders, the Rose Garden managed to catch breaks and side-step many of the pitfalls that line the path to fame, only to be pulled back to shore by the tide that grounded many of the bands that followed in the Beatlesâ€™ wake. They pulled together a band, worked hard to gain local notice, crossed paths with an artistic mentor, signed with well-connected managers, scored a major label contract with the Atlantic subsidiary Atco, recorded an album, had a hit single, toured on package bills, and appeared on American Bandstand. The group reached the Top 20 with â€œNext Plane to London,â€ but internal conflicts and two members awaiting disposition from their draft boards led to label disinterest, a stillborn follow-up single (â€œIf My World Falls Through),â€ foundering and disbandment.
Had the Rose Garden been nothing more than a studio concoction, their epitaph would have been an endlessly anthologized needle drop of the hit single. But the group had more going for it than their brief brush with fame might suggest, and their album, augmented here by the post-album single and fourteen bonus tracks, provides a lesser-seen view of the culturally fertile mid-60s Los Angeles music scene. The Beatles and the Byrds may have been the groupâ€™s north stars, but influences also included the Seekers, Mamas & Papas, Lovinâ€™ Spoonful, Beau Brummels and early Grass Roots. The group played nearly all the instruments on the album – unusual for the time – but didnâ€™t write any of the material. The one song credited to the group, â€œFlower Town,â€ is a rewrite of Derroll Adams â€œPortland Townâ€ that substitutes â€œflowerâ€ for â€œPortlandâ€ and elides the songâ€™s most stridently anti-war verses. What the group did bring to the song is a new approach that turned the original folk vocal and banjo arrangement into a languorous, flute-lined flower-power tune.
Of specific interest to Byrds fans are two songs given to the band by Gene Clark: â€œTill Todayâ€ and â€œLong Time,â€ the former of which Clark recorded with the band as a demo thatâ€™s included among the bonus tracks. Additional material was drawn from Bob Johnston & Wes Farrell, and in an original arrangement, Bob Dylanâ€™s â€œShe Belongs to Me.â€ John Noreenâ€™s 12-string Rickenbacker lends a Byrdsian tone to many of the albumâ€™s tracks, but none more so than Pat Vegasâ€™ â€œCoins of Fun,â€ with a terrific duet vocal from Jim Groshong and Diana De Rose. The wide range of writers from which the material was drawn, and the shuffling of lead vocal duties might have produced an album with no band identity, but the collection hangs together as it ranges through beat pop, sunshine harmonies and flower power. The band suggests that their instrumental abilities were shortchanged by their managersâ€™ lack of production prowess, but the forward mix of the vocals is quite engaging.
Like its companion singles collection, this album box is a labor of love from the Turtlesâ€™ founders, songwriters and vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. The six CD set includes all six original Turtles albums, the first three in both mono and stereo, and a wealth of impressive bonus tracks. This is an essential partner to the singles collection, not just for the greater reach of its album sides, but for album-specific takes and mixes of songs that had separate lives as singles. Listeners will discover the Turtles as a band, thriving and growing together as their imagination and musical ability stretched beyond the familiar pop of their hits. The groupâ€™s albums reveal a treasure trove of original material, deftly selected songs from rising Los Angeles writers, and interesting experiments that flew beyond commercial concerns.
The groupâ€™s 1965 debut, It Ainâ€™t Me Babe, is filled with the jangle of West Coast folk-rock, and includes three Dylan covers. The groupâ€™s hit singles often came from the pens of other writers, but their original material, such as the terrific â€œWanderinâ€™ Kind,â€ could be just as good. The album includes a Dave Clark-styled rave-up of Kenny Dinoâ€™s â€œYour Maw Said You Cried Last Nightâ€ and a prematurally anguished take on â€œIt Was a Very Good Year.â€ The latter originally entered the folk scene with the Kingston Trio, but was turned into a Grammy-winning signature for Frank Sinatra just a month before the Turtles album dropped. A pair of P.F. Sloan tunes includes an early version of â€œEve of Destructionâ€ and the single â€œLet Me Be,â€ Mann & Weil offered up the memorable â€œGlitter and Gold,â€ and Kaylinâ€™s hearty â€œLet the Cold Winds Blowâ€ takes the Turtles into Folksmen territory.
The groupâ€™s second album, You Baby, expanded beyond chiming 12-string with a mix of garage rock and harmony pop, including P.F. Sloan and Steve Barriâ€™s superb title tune. Kaylan was still writing wayfaring folk-rock like â€œHouse of Painâ€ (with a tortured protagonist living on â€œcrumbs and sternoâ€), but ventures into dystopian social criticism with â€œPall Bearing, Ball Bearing World.â€ Turtles Al Nichol, Chuck Portz and Jim Tucker join in the songwriting with â€œFlying Highâ€ and â€œI Need Someone,â€ Bob Lindâ€™s â€œDown in Suburbiaâ€ highlights the groupâ€™s growing sense of humor, and Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeldâ€™s “Just a Room” is a real sleeper. The album closes with a superb vocal arrangement of the folk revival standard â€œAll My Trialsâ€ (rewritten here as â€œAll My Problemsâ€) and Kaylanâ€™s Kinks-styled rave-up â€œAlmost There.â€
Lineup changes saw the departure of Portz and Murray, and the arrival of John Barbata, ex-Leaves Jim Pons, and briefly, Chip Douglas. The resulting LP, 1967â€™s Happy Together, was the groupâ€™s biggest hit on the album chart, led by the chart-topping, group-defining title song and its follow-up â€œSheâ€™d Rather Be With Me,â€ both written by the team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon. Noteworthy album tracks in include the original â€œThink Iâ€™ll Run Away,â€ and sophisticated material from Eric Eisner and Warren Zevon. 1968â€™s concept album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, reimagined the group playing soul, psych, pop, country, R&B, surf and even bluegrass. The albumâ€™s singles, the last of the Turtlesâ€™ Top 40s, include their first group-written hit, â€œEleanor,â€ and a radically reworked cover of Roger McGuinn and Gene Clarkâ€™s â€œYou Showed Me.â€
Battle of the Bands shows off the bandâ€™s imagination and talent in full flight. The soulful opener cues a revue-style album, as the group takes the stage in a variety of guises. Ironically, the song that most sounds like the Turtles, â€œEleanorâ€ was written as a lampoon of â€œHappy Together,â€ intended to get the bandâ€™s label off their backs. Without a mono version of the album to fill this disc, the original stereo album is augmented by bonus tracks, including a trio of singles (â€œSheâ€™s My Girl,â€ â€œSound Asleepâ€ and â€œThe Story of Rock â€˜nâ€™ Rollâ€) that appeared on the 1970 anthology More Golden Hits, and their non-LP B-sides. Outtakes include alternate versions of â€œThe Last Thing I Rememberâ€ and â€œEarth Anthem,â€ a pair of songs (including the superb â€œTo See the Sunâ€) that didnâ€™t make the albumâ€™s final cut, a 3-minute radio spot.
The groupâ€™s final original album, 1969â€™s Turtle Soup, was produced by the Kinksâ€™ Ray Davies in his first and nearly his last producerâ€™s credit outside the Kinks. Two group-written singles, “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” and “Love in the City,â€ scraped into the Top 100, and despite its strong performance and message, â€œHouse on the Hillâ€ missed entirely. The album remains the Turtlesâ€™ most satisfying and musically coherent long player, but with White Whale seeking only cookie-cutter pop that played to the groupâ€™s legacy of chart hits, positive reviews didnâ€™t translate into sales. It remains a terrific album that deserves a much higher profile than its original release garnered. The original dozen tracks are supplemented here by a dozen bonuses, including demos, acoustic material from Kaylan and Volman, a period radio spot, and tracks completed for the aborted Shell Shock.
Shell Shock was to be the Turtles sixth and final album for White Whale, but with the group and the label both teetering on the edge of existence, the groupâ€™s last release was the 1970 odds and sods album Wooden Head. Reaching back to 1965-66, producer Bones Howe combined nine previously unreleased selections with the album track â€œWanderinâ€™ Kindâ€ and B-side â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Again,â€ to create a surprisingly consistent album of golden age pop. The originals found the group developing their pop hooks alongside material from Peter & Gordon, Sloan & Barri, David Gates and a sprightly cover of Vera Lynnâ€™s WWII classic â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Again.â€ The bonus material includes tracks drawn from Golden Hits and More Golden Hits, highlighted by balanced stereo remixes of â€œYou Baby,â€ â€œLet Me Beâ€ and â€œIt Ainâ€™t Me Babe.â€
From their first single, the group established a vocal sound unlike any other. Kaylanâ€™s leads were sweet, but with an underlying toughness that was bolstered by Volmanâ€™s harmonies. The bandâ€™s instrumental backings were tight and fetchingly melodic, and though the albums didnâ€™t chart well (only 1967â€™s Happy Together made the Top 40), theyâ€™re filled with terrific music that shows off the groupâ€™s imagination and ability to respond to changing times. The primitive stereo mixes of the first two albums split the voices left and instruments right, and though great to have in print, the mono mixes are more coherent. It wasnâ€™t until 1967â€™s Happy Together that a full stereo mix was made, and the following yearâ€™s The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands abandoned mono altogether.
Complete collection of singles – the hits and well beyond!
Although the Turtles had a parallel life as album artists, it was their singles that first reverberated in listenersâ€™ ears. Starting with a 1965 cover of Dylanâ€™s â€œIt Ainâ€™t Me Babe,â€ the group navigated folk-rock and harmony-laden pop to the top of the charts with 1967â€™s â€œHappy Together.â€ They scored nine Top 40 hits and five Top 10â€™s, all of which are included in this more-than-complete recitation of their singles. â€œMore than,â€ because the full slate of commercial 45s is augmented by unissued singles, and sides released under nom de plumes. Tieing it all together is a 20-page booklet decorated with record label and picture sleeve reproductions, and stuffed with encylopedic (and microscopic) notes by Los Angeles music historian Andrew Sandoval.
The hits include titles written by Dylan, P.F. Sloan (â€œLet Me Beâ€ and â€œYou Babyâ€), Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon (â€œHappy Together,â€ â€œSheâ€™d Rather Be With Me,â€ â€œYou Know What I Meanâ€ and â€œSheâ€™s My Girlâ€) and Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark (a radically reimagined version of the Byrdsâ€™ â€œYou Showed Meâ€). But they also wrote their own hits (notably 1968â€™s â€œElenoreâ€), as well as a host of fantastic low-charting singles and B-sides that ranged from folk to sunshine pop to garage rock to psychedelic and progressive rock. The bandâ€™s reach wasnâ€™t always evident on their hits, but their lower-charting singles and flipsides tip the even greater breadth of their albums.
That same inventiveness led the group to reimagine Kenny Dinoâ€™s â€œYour Maw Said You Criedâ€ as a Dave Clark 5-styled rave-up, and Vera Lynnâ€™s WWII-era â€œWeâ€™ll Meet Againâ€ (a song that had been renewed in the mid-60s consciousness by Dr. Strangelove) as Lovinâ€™ Spoonful-styled good-time music. They stretched themselves even further with original material â€œRugs of Woods and Flowers,â€ â€œSound Asleep,â€ and â€œChicken Little Was Right.â€ The latterâ€™s sitar arrangement differs greatly from the album track, making this single version unique. B-sides were often given to artistically rewarding material, such as Warren Zevonâ€™s â€œLike the Seasons,â€ rather than throwaways (though there are the Red Krayola-styled freakout â€œUmbassa the Dragonâ€ and Brian Wilsonish â€œCanâ€™t You Hear the Cows.â€).
While some of their A-sides may have been ill conceived commercially as singles, others simply failed to gain the response they deserved. Sloan & Barriâ€™s deliciously sweet â€œCan I Get to Know You Betterâ€ has all the hallmarks of a Turtlesâ€™ hit, yet struggled to only #89, Nilssonâ€™s â€œThe Story of Rock & Rollâ€ was scooped by a same-week release from the Collage, and three Ray Davies-produced singles from Turtle Soup failed to cracked the Top 40. Ditto for the beautiful â€œLady-O.â€ There are several B-side gems, including Warren Zevonâ€™s â€œOutside Chanceâ€ and the original â€œBuzz Saw,â€ that managed to find their own form of popularity – the former as a favorite of the Beatniks, Sounds Like Us, Bangles and Chesterfield Kings, the latter as a much loved break-beat sample.
The setâ€™s bonuses include two singles that never saw release. First is the original 1966 mono single of Goffin & Kingâ€™s â€œSo Goes Love,â€ and its Al Nichol-penned B-side â€œOn a Summer Day.â€ Though the former was included on 1967â€™s Golden Hits, and the latter on 1970â€™s Wooden Head, the mono single mixes are previously unreleased. The second is an early version of the Ray Davies-produced â€œHow You Love Me,â€ featuring Howard Kaylan on lead vocal. Additional rarities include a horn-free single mix of â€œMaking Up My Mind,â€ the holiday single (as The Christmas Spirit) â€œChristmas is My Time of Year,â€ a cover of Lee Andrews and the Heartsâ€™ â€œTeardropsâ€ (released as the Dedications), its unreleased B-side cover of Jan & Arnieâ€™s â€œGas Money,â€ and the promo-only â€œIs It Any Wonder.â€ Also included are unlisted tracks at the end of each disc featuring period Turtles-sung commercials for Pepsi and Camaro.
The Banglesâ€™ Rosetta stone is their fansâ€™ holy grail
For anyone who latched onto the Bangles before their major label makeover on Columbia, the first half of this CD remains the bandâ€™s Rosetta stone. Though hits and international fame would come later, the eight tracks released in 1981-2 remain the groupâ€™s purest statement of their 60s-tinged harmony rock. They never wrote, played or sang with more elan, and the youthful effervescence of this early work is as compelling today as it was thirty-five years ago. The group first appeared on vinyl as The Bangs with the fan club single â€œGetting Out of Handâ€ b/w â€œCall On Me.â€ Its local circulation left most listeners to meet the band, renamed as The Bangles, on the compilation Rodney on the ROQ, Vol. III, and then retroactively track down the singleâ€™s more widely circulated reissue.
In 1982, amid the the Salvation Armyâ€™s self-titled debut, Green on Redâ€™s debut EP, the Dream Syndicateâ€™s Days of Wine and Roses, the Three Oâ€™Clockâ€™s Baroque Hoedown, and the Rain Paradeâ€™s first single, there was the Banglesâ€™ self-titled five song EP on Faulty. The EPâ€™s four original songs were the perfect lead-in to a scorching cover of the La De Daâ€™s â€œHow is the Air Up There?â€ Though reissued by IRS, the EP was mostly lost to fans the band picked up with their major label debut, All Over the Place, and even more so in the full rush of fame brought by Different Light. Bits and pieces of the EP reappeared as B-sides and on compilations, but the full EP remained unreissued until this collection was released as MP3s in 2014. Now on CD, the EP can be heard without compression.
Superb melding of acoustic roots, folk-rockÂ and pop
Nashville’s Farewell Drifters are often likened to the Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons, and though there’s merit in these comparisons, lead vocalist Zach Bevill’s earnest tone often has more in common with the uplift of Tim DeLaughter’s Polyphonic Spree than acoustic roots acts. The group’s anthemic unison singing, and the addition of drums and electric guitar, bring to mind the Spree’s larger productions, and the Farewell Drifters’ citation of Brian Wilson as a primary influence is heard in touches of 1960s harmony, such as the opening chorale of “Starting Over,” and the instrumental production.
The opening “Modern Age” spins up from its plaintive start to a rousing mid-tempo awakening, with group vocals and an orchestral chime for extra lift. The acoustic strums of “Bring ’em Back Around” similarly build into a full-on rock song (with nostalgic lyrics that press many the same emotional buttons as Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling“), and “Motions” turns from spare piano into a drum-and-strings crescendo, transforming the lyric’s pessimistic premise into an optimistic expectation. The productions aren’t as grandiose as Art Decade‘s orchestral rock, but they draw inspiration from the same pop-rock well.
Former Silos bassist extends his catalog as a singer-songwriter
Tom Freund is a songwriter who’s something of a musical chameleon. His latest release opens with “Angel Eyes,” a tune whose sharp edged lyric, “funny how when you leave L.A. you gotta drive into the desert / out of the frying pan and into the fire,” is worthy of Randy Newman. Freund’s lap steel further echoes Los Angeles with its David-Lindley-esque tone, and his guitar complements Al Gamble’s organ on “Heavy Balloon” with atmospheric notes and a meaty solo that builds the track to its close. The latter is a fitting background to a lyric that graduates from ambivalence to skepticism to possibility to hope.
Such sophisticated, and often contrasting, shades of emotion are central to Freund’s songwriting. “Happy Days Lunch Box,” ostensibly a nostalgic tribute to childhood, is freighted with adult hindsight, and the anti-love song “Next Time Around” paradoxically embraces the missing embrace of a partner and wraps it in a 20s-styled tune. The album’s bittersweet closer “Sweetie Pie” is an appreciation of a love that’s ended, sung to acoustic guitar and bass. Freund has a nasally voice that suggests Dylan, songwriter Moon Martin, and on the riff-driven “Grooves Out of My Heart,” Joe Walsh, with a nod to Led Zeppelin in the fadeout for good measure.
Keith Allison’s discovery at a taping of Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is is an only-in-Hollywood tale to rival that of Lana Turner’s first sighting at the Top Hat Malt Shop. Allison had been living a relatively anonymous life as a session musician (that’s his harmonica on the Monkees “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day“) and latter-day band member for his cousin Jerry Allison’s Crickets. Allison’s appearance as an audience member on Where the Action Is quickly led to a featured slot and a recording contract with Columbia. The latter gave Allison an opportunity to work with producer Terry Melcher for a single and Gary Usher for a pop-rock album.
His first Columbia release turned Joey Brooks and the Baroque Folk’s “I Ain’t Blamin’ You” into folk-rock, and featured an excellent, original B-side, “Look at Me” that turned up two years later as a Cher album track. His next single brought him Boyce & Hart’s “Action, Action, Action” and Mann & Weil’s bounch sunshine pop, “Glitter and Gold.” The former, produced by future Scooby Doo theme song vocalist Larry Marks, is offered here in both its stereo album and mono single mixes.
Allison’s full-length album played to his television audience, who knew him for his covers of hits-of-the-day. The album’s lone original is the very fine country rock “Freeborn Man,” co-written with Mark Lindsay; the rest of the track list is filled with tunes from Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond, Donovan, Ray Charles and Lindsay. As the liner notes highlight, the variety of material provided a showcase for Allison’s versatility, even when the covers don’t add anything radical to the better-known hits. “Louise” and “Good Thing” give an early indication of how easily Allison would later fit into Paul Revere & The Raiders, and the country-rock arrangement of “Colours” adds something vital to Donovan’s original.
More interesting is the discovery of Neil Diamond’s early single “Do It,” the rave-up “Action, Action, Action,” and a take on “Leave My Woman Alone” that adds a psychedelic edge to the Everly Brothers earlier interpretation. Real Gone’s twenty-three track collection pulls together the Columbia album and singles and adds a self-produced one-off single for Amy that backs Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” with the Byrdsian original “I Don’t Want Nobody But You.” The post-LP singles include an emotional cover of “To Know Her is to Love Her,” a rave-up medley of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and a lite-psych version of Tommy Roe’s “Everybody.”