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Update February 2016


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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 

Life at 33 1/3   By Carl Meyer

 

Update February 20, 2016

Neil Young and the dawn of Reagan

Various Artists: ‘Where The Buffalo Roam’ (Soundtrack) (Backstreet/MCA)

Oh what a movie! Bill Murray doesn’t just act his part, he becomes Hunter S. Thompson, the hilarious inventor and guru of Gonzo-journalism – (the guy might even have invented himself). And Peter Boyle! Gasp! His contribution is beyond art, he’s heading straight for the abyss, taking everyone with him.
“Where The Buffalo Roam” (1980) is a stunner. If you haven’t seen it, hurry. You’re gonna laugh yourself sick. Of course it didn’t win any Academy awards. Neither did the soundtrack album, which was just as eccentric as the movie.
You get the usual suspects of course, classic tracks by Jimi Hendrix, Temptations, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Dylan, Four Tops, and a wild take of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by Bill Murray himself. But strange as it may sound, this is a Neil Young album. They hired him to do the soundtrack.
Bet they didn’t expect what they got, coz he’s just doing one song, it’s not even his own song, but that old cowboy anthem “Home On The Range”. And he does it seven times, only from different angles (and under different names as he is also calling the tune “Buffalo Stomp” and “Ode To Wild Bill” for some reason). Six of them are instrumental doodlings, some with band and strings and there’s echo, space, sadness and loneliness, the guitar distorted, Hendrix-style. And when he finally sings the tune (as side 1 closes), he does it without accompaniment as if sitting by a bonfire on the prairie, overwhelmed by the suspicion that he will never see his promised land again.
The record is a strange listening experience. There’s six rock classics on it, but they never get a chance to take control of the proceedings as the Neil Young-snippets keep intercepting, bringing everything to an almost full stop. It’s not a great album, but it’s a different album, and it mirrors something Neil Young must have had on his mind at the time. The year of his yin-yang “Hawks & Doves” (which was released the day before Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States).
Released: 1980
Produced by: David Briggs
Side 1:
1. “Buffalo Stomp” - Neil Young with The Wild Bill Band Of Strings
2. “Ode To Wild Bill # 1” - Neil Young
3. “All Along The Watchtower” - Jimi Hendrix Experience
4. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” - Bill Murray
5. “Ode To Wild Bill # 2” - Neil Young
6. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” - Temptations
7. “Home Home On The Range” - Neil Young
Side 2:
1. “Straight Answers” (dialogue) - Bill Murray
2. “Highway 61” - Bob Dylan
3. “I Can’t Help Myself” - Four Tops
4. “Ode To Wild Bill # 3” - Neil Young
5. “Keep On Chooglin” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
6. “Ode To Wild Bill # 4” - Neil Young
7. “Purple Haze” - Jimi Hendrix Experience
8. “Buffalo Stomp Refrain” - Neil Young with The Wild Bill Band Of Strings


Update February 13, 2016

Birth of the ’Greatest Hits’ album

 The ’Greatest Hits’-album wasn’t necessarily a bad deal back in the 60’s and the early 70’s as they would collect a bunch of popular songs not found on the artist’s regular albums.  The single record was an entity unto itself.  In England big guns like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones rarely or never included singles on their albums.  A single normally was recorded, arranged and mixed for the 45 format only.  In other words, collecting all your scratched 45s on one vinyl album was a nice solution.  You’d even get the chance to listen to your favourites in stereo.

In the early 60’s the pop album was still in its infancy.  Teenagers bought singles, albums were for grown-ups.  This changed in 1963 with the arrival of The Beatles who’s first LP, “Please Please Me”, topped the charts for 29 consecutive weeks, finally being replaced by their second album, “With The Beatles”, which after another 21 chart topping weeks was overtaken by The Rolling Stones’ first LP.

By 1966 both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had clocked up enough hit singles not included on regular albums to consider the release of greatest hits-collections.  For once the Stones beat The Beatles to it by releasing “Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)” in the US in March 1966.  It did good business, reaching #3 and staying in the Billboard-charts for 99 weeks.  An expanded version packed in a superior sleeve was released in England in November 1966.

A few weeks later The Beatles followed suit with “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies… But Goldies!”.  None of these albums were big sellers by the groups’ standards, but they opened the gate.  From now on the ’Greatest Hits’ compilations would be a common sight in the LP charts.

What follows is an introduction to the first wave.

The Rolling Stones: “Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)” (Decca, 1966).  An excellent 14 track album that collects 10 of their 11 British hit singles (omitting “I Wanna Be Your Man”) and some American favourites.  Gatefold sleeve with a booklet of colour photos is wonderful.

The Animals: “Most Of The Animals” (Columbia, 1966).  After seven hit singles and two albums, The Animals left EMI and record producer Mickie Most for Decca.  EMI responded with this 14 track compilation that includes all seven hits, some of them massive, like “House Of the Rising Sun”, “It’s My Life” and “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. Sold quite well this one.

The Kinks: “Well Respected Kinks” (Marble Arch, 1966).  PYE Records hated Ray Davies’ album ambitions.  To them The Kinks were for kiddies.  Blocking the release of the groups’ excellent “Face To Face” album for months, they rushed out this compilation on budget label Marble Arch instead.  Just ten tracks, recorded in 1964 and 1965, and except for the title track not at all representative for where the group was at in 1966/67.  It outsold “Face To Face”, to Davies’ annoyance.

The Beach Boys: “Best Of The Beach Boys” (Capitol, 1966).  The Beach Boys were new to most British ears before “Barbara Ann” hit #4 in March 1966.  Then came “Sloop John B” (#2), the marvellous ‘Pet Sounds” album, “God Only Knows” (#2) and finally “Good Vibrations”, the group’s only number one hit in Britain.  By the end of 1966 The Beach Boys even eclipsed The Beatles in popularity.  Thus this 14 track compilation makes sense as it rounds up ten biggies from the past, unfamiliar to most British, and adds four recent 45-sides.  The package plays extremely well and sold truck loads.

The Beatles: “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies… But Goldies!” (Parlophone, 1966). Value for money compilation, 16 tracks of which 13 were British hits (“Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” are absent), 2 were crossover favourites (“Yesterday” and “Michelle”) and one (“Bad Boy”) had only been released on an American album before.  Lousy sleeve, though.

Bob Dylan: “Greatest Hits” (Columbia/CBS, 1967). Confusing release, as contents of American, British and European versions are all different.  Best buy is the US version, being the only one that includes the non-album track “Positively 4th Street”.

The Beach Boys: “Best Of The Beach Boys Vol. 2” (Capitol, 1967).  As the group’s popularity was slowly declining, Capitol opted for yet another compilation, having more than enough from the group’s extensive back catalogue to pick from, and rounding the package off with that forever monster classic “Good Vibrations”.

Diana Ross & The The Supremes: “Greatest Hits” (Tamla Motown, 1968). Released as a 20 track double album in the US, and a huge success.  Trimmed down to a superb 16 track single album in the UK, topping the charts for six weeks.  A marvellous stack of hits recorded between 1964 and 1967.

The Four Tops: “Greatest Hits” (Tamla Motown, 1968). Released simultaneously with the compilation mentioned above, same 16 track concept, and another biggie.  The Four Tops were the greatest vocal group in the world at the time.  Their legacy is timeless.  Try “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”, “7 Rooms Of Gloom”, “I Can’t Help Myself” and “Bernadette” for a start.

The Hollies: “Hollies’ Greatest” (Parlophone, 1968). By 1968 greatest hits albums were becoming the hip thing.  It was perfect for The Hollies as they were in a tight position, Graham Nash leaving, the future uncertain.  Then came this compilation collecting most of their hits (but including an alternate take of “Yes I Will” by mistake).  It topped the album charts for 10 weeks, providing the group with some sorely needed breathing space, and their stock rose just when they needed it most.

The Who: “Direct Hits” (Track, 1968). The Who of course did not play the game by the rules, so their first hits collection was eccentric as it completely ignored their Brunswick-releases from 1965-66 (for copyright reasons), focusing instead on the singles released on Reaction and Track during 1966-68, including the very odd “Dogs”.  Seven A-sides, an EP track that was a hit in Sweden (?!), three B-sides and the alternate version of “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand” only found on an American album.  The rather mysterious sleeve didn’t help, and the album soon disappeared, being replaced a couple of years later by the superior “Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy”.

Fleetwood Mac: “The Pious Bird Of Good Omen” (Blue Horizon, 1969). As Fletwwod Mac hit the big time, they left blues label Blue Horizon for Reprise (stopping over at Immediate for the single “Man Of The World”).  So Blue Horizon responded with this, a nice enough introduction to the band’s first phase.  You get both sides of their four singles for the label, including the #1 “Albatross”, one track from each of their two albums, and two tracks with blues singer Eddie Boyd being backed by members of the band.

The Rolling Stones: “Through The Past Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2)” (Decca, 1969).  This one came a bit too soon as they had only released four singles since the first “Big Hits”-compilation appeared in November 1966.  They solved the problem by including tracks only released as singles in the US (like “She’s A Rainbow” and “Street Fighting Man”), some strong B-sides, an EP-cut from 1964 and the 1966-demo “Sittin’ On A Fence”.  Strange hybrid, but plays absolutely fantastic.  Appeared in an octagonal-shaped sleeve.

The Bee Gees: “Best Of The Bee Gees” (Polydor, 1969).  They’d only been around for a couple of years, but they already had enough hits to fill an album.  Impressive.  Ten of the 12 tracks had been released as A-sides (including the US only “Holiday” and “I Started A Joke”), the remaining two were B-sides and should have been replaced by their “Jumbo” /”The Singer Sang His Song” double A-side from early spring 1968.  They probably didn’t want to be reminded as it had bombed painfully.

Cream: “Best Of Cream” (Polydor, 1969). Released after Cream had disbanded.  As Cream always were an albums band, this compilation didn’t make much sense, although it did contain “I Feel Free” and the single edit of “White Room”.

Small Faces: “The Autumn Stone” (Immediate, 1969).  Maybe the finest compilation album ever released in the 60’s.  Not just a collection of hits, but also a handful of live nuggets and bits and pieces from the aborted album they were working on when the band imploded.  Four sides of pure joy.  How it was possible for an album containing tracks like “The Universal”, “Tin Soldier”, “Itchycoo Park”, “All Or Nothing”, “Lazy Sunday” and “Afterglow” not to chart is a mystery to me.  I absolutely love “The Autumn Stone”.

Not counting Elvis who started it all back in 1958 with “Elvis’ Golden Records”, this then was how that ‘Greatest Hits’ thing developed during the late 60’s.  It was a period of transition, with the 45 record still holding its own as a piece of instant pop art. But for lasting value, the record buyers now wanted these stray recordings collected on albums as well.  For some years the answer was the compilation album.  Then, as songs weren’t recorded exclusively for the singles format anymore, but were just strong tracks lifted from albums, the 45 died, and ‘Greatest Hits’ compilations turned into something completely different: Stop gap releases thrown onto the market every time an artist or a band ran out of ideas.


Update February 6, 2016

The Holton/Steel-experiment

Gary Holton And Casino Steel, Gary Holton & Casino Steel (Polydor)

Casino Steel left Trondheim (in Norway) for London in the early 70’s, and formed glampunk legends Hollywood Brats with Andrew Matheson.  They broke up in 1974 as record companies had no faith in them.  Steel then eventually drifted into new wave band The Boys after a short stint with London SS.  He had befriended actor and musician Gary Holton of Heavy Metal Kids fame back in ‘74, and in 1980 the two of them recorded a version of the Kenny Rogers-chestnut “Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town”, first released as a Holton solo-single.  It didn’t get much airplay however as they had rewritten the key lines of the lyrics, shifting the song’s focus from the Vietnam War to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The two of them decided to test the Norwegian market, building an act and an album on “Ruby”.  At first they called themselves Lip Service (recording “Goodnight Irene” under that name), but eventually settled for Gary Holton & Casino Steel.

Thanks to a video shown on Norwegian TV, they struck gold immediately, hitting #1 with both the album and the “Ruby”-single (now credited Gary Holton & Casino Steel).

They named their musical style “Rig-rock”, cowboy-rock for the North Sea oil rig workers.  Don’t know if those guys took the album to heart, but it sure hit the mainland.  Suddenly Holton/Steel were stars, especially among young girls.

The album was recorded over a long period of time, and this explains the lack of a coherent sound.  Actually the rig-rock concept became much sharper on Steel’s first solo-album “Steel Works” (1983).  “Gary Holton And Casino Steel” sifts through styles, moving from  Mott The Hoople’ish ballads like “Gary’s Song” through blasting rockers like “Runaway” (one of the weakest versions I’ve ever heard of this Del Shannon chestnut) to the real rig-rock where the eccentric mix of dirty Rolling Stones-riffing, wall of sound glam and tearful George Jones lap steel mysteriously succeeds.  This mix is undoubtedly what made the album a chart topper, and well deserved.

Gary Holton’s raucous voice is perfect for the material, he’s having a ball, he’s an actor and this is a play.  Camp and tongue-in-cheek, a rock’n’roll-celebration high on electric guitars, but with a dark undertow of vulnerable emotions.  Holton once told me his favourite song was The Rolling Stones’ “Fool To Cry”.  It makes sense.

The irresistible production is big and mighty, created in Nidaros Studios in Trondheim by sound wizard Björn Nessjö.  My favourite tracks are “Ruby”, “Thinking Of You”, “Goodnight Irene” and the fine country ballad “Almost persuaded”. 

It is an uneven album, though, short on playing time, and not exactly chock-full of classics, some tracks are downright ordinary.  Come to think of it, they could have thought up something more adventurous and less sugary when they had the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra at their disposal.

But all in all this was a remarkable start for a concept that would last for four albums (involving some of Norway’s most respected rock musicians as well as partners in crime from The Boys – Geir Waade and Matt Dangerfield to name but two), and might have taken them even further if Gary Holton, suffering from poor health and drug abuse, hadn’t left us in October 1985.  At the time the British adored him for his part in the popular TV comedy “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”.  They had no idea he was a huge rock’n’roll star in Norway.

This album is part of his legacy and 35 years on it still sounds like a good plan.  Investigate.  It shouldn’t be too hard to find as it sold truckloads in Norway.  There’s some nice CD-compilations out there too.

Released: November 1981

Produced by: Björn Nessjö

Contents: I’ll Find It Where I Can/Gary’s Song/Runaway/Thinking of You/Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love to Town)/Goodnight, Irene/Almost Presuaded/B-17/Good OI’ Gary/Jimmy Brown.
 


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Neil Young and the dawn of Reagan

Birth of the ’Greatest Hits’ album

The Holton/Steel-experiment
 

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