Original Motion Picture Score – Ned Kelly (1970)

This is an unfairly overlooked album, representing a pivotal period in the Outlaw country scene. The original Outlaw movement is generally attributed to Waylon Jennings, who did the actual rebelling-against-the-Nashville-mainstream-from-within-the-system that led to the scene’s ascendance, though both Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson were more than doing their bit from outside Nashville (and Johnny Cash had been all along). Other established acts soon followed their lead, including Bobby Bare, whose finest moment must surely be Lullabys, Legends and Lies, his 1973 double album of songs by Shel Silverstein.

Silverstein, it seems to me, is the great unsung hero of the Outlaw scene. He wrote for, and with, various outlaw-related artists including Jennings, Kristofferson and Cash and apart from supplying Bare’s best material, he did the same for Jennings’ cohort Tompall Glaser who also released a full album of Silverstein songs with Put Another Log on the Fire appearing on the the seminal Wanted: The Outlaws album.

In later years Silverstein supplied the songs for the Old Dogs album, a sorta-kinda Outlaw supergroup featuring Jennings and Bare with Merle Tillis and Jerry Reed. But back in 1970, pretty much Outlaw Year Zero (also released that year were Waylon’s transitional Singer of Sad Songs and Kris’ debut, Kristofferson), he wrote the song score to the movie Ned Kelly, starring Mick Jagger as the infamous Australian criminal. And you thought I was going to say “outlaw”.

The album credits Waylon Jennings as the main performer – in fact while he sings the lion’s share of the tracks, Kris Kristofferson takes three, stealing the show on Son of a Scoundrel while fledgling Nashville journeyman Tom Ghent handles the movie’s end title song Hey Ned. Jagger’s underwhelming onscreen performance of The Wayfaring Stranger also features, sounding out of place not least because it’s sourced from the mono location recording and processed for stereo here.

Silverstein’s songs are terrific, with the production (by Ron Haffkine) and arrangements absolutely in step with Jennings’ burgeoning movement. The lyrics reflect the film’s narrative but the songs work independently of the source material, together serving as a concept album.  Shadow of the Gallows and Lonegan’s Widow are wonderful tracks, which would and should belong on any “Best Of Waylon Jennings” compilation. Waylon’s singing on Pleasures Of A Sunday Afternoon is gorgeous, a reminder of just how technically good he was. Son of a Scoundrel is an unsubtle, raucous take on Australian ancestry with Kris on fine form, as he is on The Kellys Keep Coming, an atmospheric spoken word piece with a barroom crowd chorus.

The LP cover is quite the piece of misdirection, utilising the movie poster to the effect that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Mick Jagger album (a cynically packaged CD reissue in the mid ’90s repeated the conceit without even the excuse of using the original poster). I don’t think the album is currently available but it is absolutely worth tracking down (prices for the vinyl seem to start at around £20, which is roughly what my copy, in excellent condition, set me back a couple of years ago).  It’s a hell of a record, ripe for rediscovery.

Ned Kelly

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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!

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Jerry Reed East Bound and Down

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

Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)

I’ve never been much of a Bob Dylan acolyte.  There’s a type of Mojo-reader (also Mojo editor, Mojo writer…) that worships at the Altar of His Bobness, throwing praise at his every croaky utterance, undeterred by mere accusations of plagiarism.  That’s not really me.

Bringing It All Back Home?  Wonderful. Highway 61 Revisited?  Oh yes.  Blonde on Blonde?  Fantastic.  Desire?  Good stuff.  Blood On The Tracks?  Aye, okay.  Other than that, there’s more quality material of course but he’s trotted out out mediocrity and shite in fairly equal measures.  He also popularised the rack harmonica, which is hard to forgive. Whatever; some of my favourite records are covers of Dylan songs (Jimi Hendrix’s comprehensive retooling of All Along The Watchtower and Johnny Winter’s immaculate Highway 61 Revisited are obvious examples, Roger Taylor’s odd, proggy/electronica take on Masters of War less so) and he gets points for the fact that he was actually in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.  Of course, he was also in that Hearts of Fire with Rupert Everett and Fiona but theres no need to get bitchy.

So then, the album (Dylan’s soundtrack for the great Sam Peckinpah film).  Regardless of his stellar reputation as a lyricist, I shouldn’t imagine many would rate Dylan as a particularly accomplished music composer and this is all too apparent on the opening pair of instrumentals (Main Title Theme and Cantina Theme) which drift by unremarkably.  They’re not even particularly well recorded, with one of the acoustic guitars overloading the mic noticeably throughout.  Still, the other instrumental on this side, Bunkhouse Theme is sweet enough.

The actual songs here, though, are very good.  There are three “Billy” songs on the album, entitled Billy 1, Billy 4 and Billy 7 respectively.  Just because.  1 and 4 are on side one and they’re both reminiscent of Kris Kristofferson.  Never a bad thing.  Perhaps Dylan was influenced by Kristofferson’s involvement in the film itself (he plays Billy – hardly a “kid” himself at the time but excellent in the role).  Regardless they’re nice pieces of country balladry.

Side two begins with Turkey Chase, a natty wee uptempo bluegrass instrumental replete with banjo and fiddle.  The other instrumentals on this side are Final Theme – there’s a flute on that one – and River Theme which serves as a short and sweet outro.  Song-wise there’s the third and final “Billy” – Billy 7, which drops the Kristoffersonisms and is perhaps surprisingly none the worse for it.  The album’s jewel, buried as the second song on side two, is Knocking On Heaven’s Door.  It would be perfect but for its brevity, barely clocking in at two and a half minutes where we could listen to it all night.  Over-familiarity with its multitudinous cover versions in no way overshadows the sheer beauty of the original, making it easy to cast Axl Rose’s strained warblings to the back of your mind and to mentally tell Eric Clapton’s cloying cod-reggae arse-gravy to fuck right off.

A first for Tapes For My Walkman – it’s only the sixth review overall, mind – this is an album I hadn’t heard before, at least not that I remember.  An interesting if slight listen, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is a pleasant enough affair, peppered with glimpses of Dylan’s much vaunted genius and worth a purchase for Knocking On Heaven’s Door alone. 

The tape itself, picked up for a lucky £1.99 online, is an old one and in pretty decent playable order considering.  A couple of wee dropouts but that’s as bad as it gets.  Paper labels, pre-bar code with a surprisingly decent inlay which folds out to a nice wee Bob-centric still from the movie.  Still no musician or production credits but that was par for the course in the ’70s.  The track running order has been slightly re-jigged too (something that used to drive me nuts about tapes back in the day), to save all that pesky fast-forwarding between unevenly long sides.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Bob Dylan Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Bob Dylan Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid