Prince: Chaos and Disorder (1996)

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In amongst everything being written about Prince (my thoughts here), this album hasn’t had much of a mention – even this review was largely written up before the news of his death.  A pity, as Chaos and Disorder really is an unjustly overlooked gem which is well worth searching out, particularly if you’re a fan of his rockier tendencies.

Part of the career-damaging run of contractual obligation releases towards the end of his symbol/AFKAP phase, Chaos and Disorder was not a success.  It spawned only one minor hit single and barely troubled the album chart here in the UK.  However, of all those releases, from 1993’s Come to 1999’s The Vault: Old Old Friends For Sale, this is by far the most interesting.

Opening the album, the title track is in-your-face heavy funk rock at its best, the arrangement having started life as the end-jam from early live versions of Peach.  Lyrically though, it’s a social commentary-led close cousin to the likes of Sign O’ the Times and Lovesexy‘s Dance On.

Prince as guitarist is to the fore throughout – Zanalee is straight-up blues rock while The Same December and Into the Light are spiritual psych-pop numbers which would not sound out of place on Around the World in a DayDinner With Delores, the aforementioned hit, is more of the same, a great wee track cut from the same cloth as Starfish and Coffee.

Of the eleven tracks only the more overtly commercial, poppier funk number I Rock Therefore I Am and the bizarrely cod-country tinged Right the Wrong don’t quite cut it but there’s still enough outrageous instrumentalism going on to keep things interesting.  The closing track Had U (a slight song, built on a Mellotron-like guitar and vocal), is ostensibly a relationship number but we know it’s really about Warners, with the last words on Prince’s final album under his original contract for the label being “fuck you – had you”.

PCADA

1996 tape in good order, £8 online (late 2015).  Unavailable in any format for a while but look out for that cynical reissue programme anytime now …

 

 

Love You Till Tuesday (1969)

It’s been a cruel few weeks for music fans.  David Bowie’s death was, for me, robbed of some of its impact coming so soon on the heels of Lemmy’s.  Although I was a fan of Bowie’s work, it was more from a position of admiration than any real kind of emotional connection or visceral appeal (unlike Motörhead).  Nonetheless, he made at least two of my favourite albums (Scary Monsters and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, if you must know) as well as co-producing one of my absolute all timers, Lou Reed’s Transformer.  And the iconography is undeniable – he was David fucking Bowie.

I wasn’t sure what I could write about him or which release to look at but I’d recently picked up a copy of this late ’60’s curio.  It’s something of an oddity which is fitting, more so when considering the sheer variety which characterised his career.

Love You Till Tuesday was conceived as a promotional film by Bowie’s management in 1969 after his first label dropped him.  It seems likely that it was meant for some kind of cinema distribution, probably as a supporting short (that used to be a thing).  In the end it never surfaced, at least not until this 1984 video release.

Nine songs feature in the 28 minute running time, some drawn from Bowie’s Deram debut album plus new recordings Ching-A-Ling, When I’m Five, The Mask and Space Oddity.  Directed by Malcolm J. Thomson (his only directing credit).  The music is typical childhood-and-love obsessed English psychedelic pop of the day, with a more polished Syd Barrett flavour.

Visually, this is mostly Bowie plus an occasional minimal cast miming in a parade of ’60s’ fashions, often against a stark white background.  That’s “mime” in the sense of “lip synch” but also, at one point, in the full-on Marcel Marceau way of things which makes for an … uhm … fascinating (?) watch on the spoken word piece The Mask.

When I’m Five sees Bowie acting in the slightly cringeworthy manner of an infant to a cloying lyric while Let Me Sleep Beside You is a great pop rock number with a straight forward performance clip complete with prop guitar.  Ching-a-Ling features Bowie in backing vocal/rhythm guitar mode and is a pleasant enough piece of psych/folk-pop kitsch, a showcase for Hermione and Hutch (Bowie’s then girlfriend and music partner respectively, presumably under the same management).

The original version of Space Oddity jars a little due to familiarity with the classic version.  The music production is rougher and rootsier, there’s a flute solo, and the visuals are almost cynically “groovy” with sexy spacebirds and that.  Still it’s interesting and is the highlight here, worth checking out by dint of originality if nothing else.

Although of interest largely as a curiosity, Love You Till Tuesday does point towards Bowie’s future groundbreaking tendencies.  I’m not aware of another project quite like this one from the period, and the “video album” – which is essentially what this is – was still more than a decade away.

Tapes For My VCR - David Bowie Love You Till Tuesday

Original 1984 Spectrum sell-through release, about £4 online.

Psych-rock double bill: Experience (1967) & The Undertaker (1994)

Only two titles but a quartet of firsts for Tapes For My VCR – first music videos featured, one of which is also the first documentary; first short films and first double bill.  Contain your excitement, please, and read on …

Experience (1967)

This is Peter Neal’s half-hour swinging London documentary/performance mashup, all about The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  There are dated-in-a-good-way interview segments in which Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell pose the questions to camera and Jimi riffs good-naturedly on the answers, and dated-in-a-bad-way narration from Alexis Korner.  Live footage of Purple Haze and Wild Thing from the Albert Hall mixes with early ‘pop promo’ type clips (Foxy Lady, for instance is set to footage of a lady wandering about swinging London, being foxy).  There is some backstage stuff and famously, the wonderful live-to-camera acoustic take of Hear My Train a Coming.  It ends with a lame, tacked-on-after-the-credits ‘video’ for Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), cut to affected footage from the film.  It doesn’t look too recent so may have been the promo for the 1970 single – it doesn’t belong on the original film, though, which serves as both an entertaining relic and possibly the single most significant piece of film on the band (as distinct from Hendrix himself) outside of D.A. Pennebaker’s Jimi Plays Monterey.

The Undertaker (1994)

A hot ’90s chick (Vanessa Marcil) walks into a random building in search of a telephone on account of it’s 1993 and mobiles are not yet mandatory.  She’s told she can use the phone as long as she’s quick, as there’s a rehearsal on.  During the ensuing call she argues with her boyfriend (“Victor”, Prince pseudonym fans!), gets upset and takes an overdose of pills.  She then wanders into said rehearsal to witness Prince fronting a power trio of the old school in an empty venue (Paisley Park, naturally).  They launch into a half-hour plus of psychedelic heavy blues funk rock jamming and ohdearlord it’s good.  From here in, the ‘overdosing girl’ is a framing device and an excuse to use some instantly dated video effects, as we’re kinda sorta supposed to be watching through her eyes.  One track cuts while she has a quick vomit break – then it’s back to psych-rock heaven.

Brand new tracks (“6 LIVE DIRECT 2 DAT TRACKS” as it says on the box, as well as the studio track Dolphin which would resurface on the following year’s The Gold Experience) sit alongside off-the-cuff renditions of live favourite Bambi and the Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman.  The epic title track is the two note bass riff from Sly Stone’s Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey stretched out to ten minutes of muted anti-guns-and-crack lyrics and massive, face-melting guitar solos.  Make no mistake, this whole film is about Prince the Guitar Hero; effects-drenched funk rock thick with the heaviest electric blues, his playing is nothing short of fantastic.  The super-tight rhythm section of bassist Sonny T. and drummer Michael Bland doesn’t disappoint either.

Directed by Parris Patton, The Undertaker (alongside live video The Sacrifice of Victor) was released on VHS and possibly Laserdisc with very little fanfare in 1994 as part of a flurry of contractual obligation business between Prince and Warner Bros – this was during the “slave”/Artist Formerly Known As Prince period.  Indeed, The Undertaker was itself a cause of dissent between Prince and Warners, as he had wanted an audio version released as a giveaway with the magazine Guitar Player but the label was having none of it.  Since that initial video release, it has never appeared on any other format.  Which is a pity as The Undertaker, whether taken as a short film (it clocks in at 40 minutes) or a video album, is one of Prince’s most interesting and downright rocking releases.

Tapes For My VCR - Prince and Jimi Hendrix

Experience: sell-through 90s reissue, £2 online;  The Undertaker: bought new on original release.

Queen: Queen II (1974)

Queen II is the closest Queen ever got to a concept album (with the possible exception of Made in Heaven), thematically split into Side White and Side Black – the former written largely by Brian May, the latter entirely by Freddie Mercury.  Co-produced by the band with Roy Thomas Baker and Robin G. Cable, here prog, metal, psychedelia and pop combine with lyrics rooted in fantasy to create an overall dark, gothic atmosphere.

The funereal instrumental Procession is an early example of May’s signature guitar orchestrations which sets up the first of two epics on this album, the dramatic Father to Son. With late-’60s The Who serving as an influence, an opaque lyric and layered guitars-and-vocals populate a multifaceted structure before fading through to White Queen (As It Began).  A gorgeous prog ballad, White Queen‘s fantasy imagery is lent weight by the melancholy-to-bombast spread of its instrumental arrangement.  Some Day One Day is one of a handful of great psych-pop numbers written and often, as here, sung by May during Queen’s ’70s heyday.

The side ends with the rude awakening of Roger Taylor’s percussive rocker, Loser In the End.  Apparently not buying into the fantasy themes cooked up by Mercury and May for the album, Taylor (billed here for the last time as Roger Meadows-Taylor) instead offers an acerbic take on cutting the apron strings, arrived at via a memorable drum intro and some caustic soloing from May.  Significantly, Taylor’s lead vocal serves to remind that there was more than one great singer in the band.

Side Black, Mercury’s brainchild, is full of lyrical invention and musical audaciousness.  Kicking off backwards, Ogre Battle is brutal, Queen at their heaviest, the whole band in full flight with May’s guitars commanding the most attention.  This glorious racket is still fading out when some spirited harpsichord playing heralds The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke.  Mercury’s musical take on the painting by Richard Dadd turns what is essentially a detailed description of that painting’s narrative into some entertainingly florid wordplay (“Pedagogue squinting, wears a frown/And a satyr peers under lady’s gown/Dirty fellow … Tatterdemalion and a junketer/There’s a thief and a dragonfly trumpeter/He’s my hero”). All this against a baroque mix of multi-tracked vocals, pianos, guitars, John Deacon’s impressively intricate and melodic bass playing and even Baker on castanets.

The brief piano/vocal interlude Nevermore hardly prepares us for The March of the Black Queen, the antithesis of May’s White Queen.  Long, ambitious, complex and batshit crazy, there is so much going on in there – including, I swear, bell ringing – it beggars belief.  At one point the song builds to an ear-crushing crescendo with multi-overdubbed everything before stopping in its tracks to make way for a solo Mercury vocal taking on the subjects of angels, love and joy, though lyrically it’s otherwise a character study of an evil fairy queen.  Or something.  We’ve got “Water babies singing in a lily-pool delight/Blue powder monkeys praying in the dead of night” while people are put in a cellar and tortured with baby oil and something distressingly called “nigger sugar”.  It is completely unhinged.  After six and half minutes of this mentalness, acoustic guitars start fading through and we’re in Phil Spector territory for Funny How Love Is, which ends the seamless five-song cycle.  Then it’s That Piano Riff, and the album bows out with the still-impressive Seven Seas of Rhye.  The band’s first hit single, it is a reminder that, even at their most Top of the Pops friendly, Queen could still be more than a little out there.  The song fades on an old-school organ-and-crowd singalong of I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside.  Of course it does.

Queen II marked the start of a near-untouchable five album run, completed by Sheer Heart Attack, A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races and News of the World.  Queen’s other albums are worthwhile, some of them even great, but to me that run is just about perfect.  No filler, no compromise.  “No synthesisers”!  Of the other four titles in that list though, only A Day at the Races comes close to matching Queen II‘s dark vibe, undercut as they both are with wit, measured absurdity and a rarely matched creative daring.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com  - Queen: Queen II
The tape I picked up is a crappy Fame reissue.  EMI put out no-frills versions of some of its back catalogue in the early-mid ’80s under the Fame imprint, perhaps because their existing budget label MFP was by that time mostly associated with the easy-listening and MOR of the day.  Here there are no lyrics, not much in the way of credits and even the sides are listed simply as “one’ and “two”.  Whatever, it was cheap – about a quid online – and still plays well.

Jerry Reed: East Bound and Down (1977)

An interesting wee release this.  Throughout the ’70s, Jerry Reed was still churning out albums on the punishing but standard Nashville schedule of two ten-song albums a year and, particularly with movies taking up an increasing share of his time, the occasional compilation inevitably took up some of the slack.  In 1977, Reed had co-starred with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason (not forgetting Mike Henry, Tarzan fans!) in Smokey and The Bandit, boosting his already high profile.  Music for the film is credited to Bill Justis and Jerry Reed, although several other writers were involved, and a soundtrack album on MCA accompanied the movie’s release.  Reed was signed to RCA so, presumably as part of some sort of inter-label agreement, three of the Smokey and the Bandit songs were given their ‘own’ RCA album with the rest of the mandatory ten song total being compiled from earlier releases.  The notes list only the back catalogue cuts as having been previously issued, so it looks like East Bound and Down was the first release of the three Bandit tracks, beating the soundtrack album to the punch.

Side one kicks off with East Bound and Down itself.  Exuberant, banjo-driven fun, it’s firmly rooted in the harmonised electric guitar approach Reed adopted from the mid-’70s on.  By contrast, Lightning Rod (from ’75’s Mind Your Love), is a truly jaw-dropping acoustic instrumental drawing from country, bluegrass, flamenco and gypsy jazz to create a unique whole.  Reed’s nylon-string playing is staggering.  It’s back to Smokey and the Bandit for The Bandit, a rootsy ballad written by Dick Feller, with Jerry on full-on Nashville crooner mode and none the worse for it.  Led by the standard guitars/bass/banjo/drums line-up, there’s a slightly psychedelic wah-wah melody part where we might have expected to hear some steel guitar, which is a nice touch.  Bake, originally found on ’75’s Red Hot Picker, is another instrumental, this time highlighting Reed’s innovative fusion of funk and country.  It leads in nicely to the last of the Bandit cuts, The Legend, infectious storytelling balladry drawing comparisons between Reynolds’ Bandit character and Jesse James etc.

On side two all pretence at this being a ‘proper’ album go out the window as, fresh out of Smokey and the Bandit material, it’s all back catalogue from here.  There’s no obvious theme although the sequencing works well throughout, making for a good listen.

Framed (Ko-Ko Joe, ’71) is Leiber and Stoller’s rock and roll classic reframed (sorry) as an Uptown Poker Club-styled pice of Jerry Reed comic froth while You Took All the Ramblin’ Out of Me (Hot A’Mighty, ’73) is a reminder of Reed’s position as one of the greatest country songwriters there ever was.  Rainbow Ride, from ’73’s Lord Mr. Ford is a strings-saturated pop ballad that works, while Just to Satisfy You from 1970’s Cookin’, is a sweet psych-pop re-imagining of the early Waylon Jennings classic.  Love it.  Wrapping things up is Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right from When You’re Hot You’re Hot (’71).  Unlike Waylon’s own versions of this one, pure-voiced and tender, this a fun reworking of the Dylan original, a virtual re-write with a killer new arrangement and lyric changes (“You’re the reason this ol’ boy don’t walk the line …”).

As an album, Eastbound and Down works surprisingly well.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the compilation element is drawn from the strongest period of Reed’s recording career.  Definitely worth picking up.

At a guess an early ’80s reissue, the tape is in pretty good order and still sounds good.  This one was an unexpected transatlantic gift – thanks Mary!

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Deep Purple: Who Do We Think We Are! (1973)

I never quite “got” Deep Purple or Ritchie Blackmore as a kid. In retrospect that seems odd as my youthful listening centred around Queen, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Rush with side orders of Prince and The Doors.  As an aspiring guitarist, I would regularly hear Blackmore’s name invoked in hushed tones alongside Hendrix, Beck and Page by my guitar-playing chums and yet … I just didn’t get it.

I didn’t mind certain tracks, quite enjoyed the occasional Rainbow thing but that was about that. Then, suddenly, just a few years ago, (creative writing lecturers the world over must surely be rending their cardigans in frustration at a sentence beginning with both “then” and “suddenly”) I watched an early live video of Purple from an old British TV show called Doing Their Thing and I got it.  With fireworks.  Boom.

So, over this past three or four years I’ve been gradually expanding my Deep Purple library, realising quite quickly that the classic ‘Mk.II’ line-up is the one for me.  Certainly, there’s some ’60s fun to be had from the original line-up and Mk.III had their moments but the chemistry between Blackmore, Jon Lord, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Ian Paice is where it’s at. The albums Deep Purple In Rock and Machine Head are obvious stand-outs but I reckon Who Do We Think We Are!, Mk.II’s final studio album before their ’80s reunion, belongs on that list.  I first-and-last checked it out a couple of years ago while enjoying some light refreshments, becoming so refreshed, in fact, that I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it.  This time, stone cold sober, I was blown away.

Before getting to the sounds themselves it’s worth noting that this old cassette (looks like a ’73 original, the gold cover is well worn, yellow paper labels on Purple Records) features a re-jigged running order to give each side an even running time. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in these virtual pages, that used to piss me off but in this instance I think the tape’s track sequence is actually better.

I’m familiar with opening number Rat Bat Blue as I’ve heard it regularly and often as part of an MP3 compilation.  The difference between the MP3 and the tape is marked.  The tape is bigger.  Warmer, yes, that old audiophile chestnut.  Better.  All of which helps emphasise the heavy unison riffage and mental keys solo (indeed Lord’s leads seem to take the spotlight more than Blackmore’s throughout).  There’s a recurring riff in there which I’m pretty sure was lifted by Whitesnake for their hair metal rebirth anthem Still Of The Night.  I’m not going to research that though, as I might accidentally hear Whitesnake.

Next up is Place In Line, the album’s longest track at well over six minutes, a heavy electric blues.  Even as the weakest track here, it’s far from bad.  Our Lady, by contrast, is an almost rootsy rock ballad with a hint of psychedelia helping lend it a Crazyhorse vibe.  Great song, an odd choice for an album closer, as it is on the vinyl/CD etc. but a fine way to bow out of Side One here.

Side Two has no truck with balladry of any sort.  Mary Long is unexpectedly and pleasingly spiteful (Mary Long is a hypocrite/
She does all the things that she tells us not to do/Selling filth from a corner shop/And knitting patterns to the high street queue) while driving power rocker Smooth Dancer mercifully belies its title.  Pub-rock classic Woman From Tokyo follows, laying the foundation for Kiss’ entire mid-late ’70s output but distinguishing itself with a psych-pop turn at the halfway mark.

The tape version of the album closes with Super Trooper, a solid piece of chest-beating with musical ties to Rat Bat Blue. All-in, that’s around thirty-five minutes of near perfection.

The tape is in pretty good order despite its years, with only the occasional fluttery moment and one drop-out to give it away. I paid about a fiver for this online, postage and all.  Well worth it, clearly.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Deep Purple Who Do We Think We Are

DP3

The Monkees: Head (1969)

For the longest time this album was a real rarity and a curio.  When I first worked in record shops as a boy in the mid-80s, you could only get it as a pricey import.  Readily available now to download and even on vinyl, it remains something of curiosity.

Of course, that would be bad enough if this was an album by any number of minor players in the US psych scene of the late 60s.  But it’s by The Monkees, ferfucksake, from a movie co-scripted by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson. Oh, and it’s fucking great.

Perhaps, as The Monkees’ teenybopper audience started slapping their fins for whatever fresh new fish the corporate music machine decided to throw them, the band failed to find a new, more mature, audience due to a lack of perceived credibility.  That might account for the album’s initial lack of success but not its continued relative obscurity.  Oh well.  Onto the music.

The album is a mashup of dialogue/sfx snippets, incidental music and seven original songs, compiled and sequenced from the film soundtrack by Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson), with the songs produced by the band.  It can be something of an assault on the senses but it’s never less than engaging.

Those songs, though, are what make this an honest-to-goodness classic, with most of the tracks being performed by one or two “Monkees” and a host of guest and session musicians.  Amongst those appearing on the album are Ry Cooder, Neil Young, Carole King, Dewey Martin, Stephen Stills and Leon Russell.

Porpoise Song (Theme from Head), written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, is one of the great psych-pop recordings. On this version (the 1985 Rhino reissue), the four-minutes-plus running time is more or less commensurate with the better known single version which is odd as the original album version is under three minutes.  This seems to be a slightly clunky remix/remaster as there’s what at first listen sounds like a vinyl jump at the beginning of the extended section but which might actually be an audible edit.  Whatever, a great number.

Ditty Diego ─ War Chant is a psychedelic piss-take of the original Monkees TV theme, written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, in which the band lays out the nature of the movie’s structure and addresses their image (“Hey hey we are The Monkees/You know we like to please/A manufactured image/With no philosophies”).  This morphs into Mike Nesmith’s terrific garage rocker Circle Sky which is let down by an appalling mix.  The movie version is live and just about perfect but this studio recording, while still worthwhile, has Nesmith’s lead vocal buried so deep in the mix that it’s virtually inaudible.  A problem from the original release frustratingly preserved on the reissue.

Can You Dig It, one of two superior writing efforts here from Peter Tork is a guitar-led psych-pop gem with lead vocal from Mickey Dolenz.  Interesting side-note: musically, Richard Thompson’s Easy There, Steady Now  from 1994’s Mirror Blue is an almost-suspiciously close cousin to this one.

As We Go Along is the album’s mellowest moment, all flute and acoustic guitars.  Another Carole King composition (with Toni Stern), this is the one featuring, amongst others, Cooder, King and Young on guitar.  Daddy’s Song, written by Harry Nilsson, is entertaining and gives Davy Jones his music-hall moment in the spotlight, followed by Frank Zappa’s fitting comment from the film, “[that] song was pretty white”.

The last “proper” song on the album is a rocker with obvious nods to The Doors, Peter Tork’s Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? with Tork taking lead vocal and sharing guitar duties with Stephen Stills.  With its propulsive bass and frustrated lyric , this and Can You Dig It should serve as a rebuttal to those who buy into the myth that Mike Nesmith was The Monkee’s only real songwriting talent.

The album bows out with Swami – Strings etc., another Nicholson sound collage based around a monologue from the film, a reprise of Porpoise Song and the film’s classical-themed orchestral end music.  A suitably chaotic close.

Given its scarcity I willingly shelled out about £6 for the tape.  It’s not really in great condition – after a couple of plays I can’t help but note a slightly stretched quality to the less busy passages – and what really disappoints is just how lame the packaging is.  Where the original LP came in a “mirrored” sleeve (so you looked at the cover and saw your own head, geddit?) here we have a grey, one-sided j-card lacking any recording or release info, not so much as a songwriting credit.  For the factual details above you can thank my ancient creaking memory and Wikipedia.  Unless you’re some kind of cassette purist, I’d suggest looking to another format for this one and perhaps avoiding the 1985 reissue due to that odd glitch in Porpoise Song.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - the monkees head