The Grateful Dead’s Spring Tour of 1977 is deservedly legendary, and one of our absolute favorites here at Music Mook. We’ve previously reviewed one of the Dead’s greatest releases, Dick’s Picks Vol. 29, which featured two complete shows from May 19 and May 21 (read here). We also took a look at the simply wonderful Winterland 1977 box set which featured three complete shows from June 7, 8 and 9 (read here). Technically the last show of the tour was May 28, released officially as To Terrapin, but the boys made one last stop at Winterland to deliver some truly magical music. Included with that box was a bonus disc featuring a killer segment of the second set from May 12 which turned out to be one of my absolute favorite single discs of Dead ever. Looks like this complete show will now be included in the upcoming box!
The shows included in the May ’77 box, 14 discs in all, will be:
The Grateful Dead in May 1977? We gotta say…we’re excited!
Now up for sale on www.dead.net!
I remember it like it was yesterday, hearing Is This It for the first time and being completely blown away. I knew at the time there was some hype floating around about some band being the saviors of rock. Please. At the time the only thing that was going to “save rock” (what a ridiculous term that is) was a new release from Led Zeppelin’s vaults, otherwise, at least in my musical world, there was nothing else going at the time. Call me a stodgy music snob if you will, but I was only listening to music made by bands long lost to the ravages of time (come to think of it I’m still that way). But here it was, The Strokes, with a 36 minute album that almost came and went without my notice.
Except, that is, the mere chance and perfect timing of the fact that my sister was graduating college around the same time (well, actually it was a year or two later but whatever). And with that came a small party in the late summer where she and her friends put this album on ye olde family stereo. And I heard Julian singing those simple melodies through what sounded like a distorted megaphone and I was completely and utterly hooked. There was something there, something that I liked immediately that clicked something within me. 11 songs of simple rock melodies, cut short and to the point, that took a hold of me in a deep and profound way.
Of course saying all that makes it seem like this was some sort of rock nirvana of a record. It wasn’t. There were no huge guitar solos or mind-bending jams. There was nothing truly out of the ordinary with this record. It was, if you could ignore all the hype at the time, sort of quietly unassuming, just a simple collection of songs with a nice rocking sound and clever, and at time humorous, lyrics. It just…was.
It felt so current and young, fresh amongst my world of classic album reissues and artists either long dead or long past their prime that I could not connect with no matter how much I wanted to. And then there were these guys. A bunch of 20-somethings rocking away on their simple riffs and melodies, singing about parties and friends and all sorts of subjects that were open to (my) interpretation. That was me. I was a 20-something rambling through life and wondering what was out there, seeking out what to do and where to do it. The Strokes, in their plain clothes jeans and t-shirts, guitars and shaggy hair, were, at least in my mind, just like me. Sure, I was nowhere near as cool, but hell, how can I compete with them? Still, they made a connection that continues to this day.
Is this what young guys felt like hearing Zeppelin back in the 70s, growing with them with each new album, being around the same age and having similar, albeit far less glamorously rock star, experiences?
“Is This It” kicks things off with a steady, simple beat that does everything it needs to in its two minutes and 35 seconds. Julian croons along like he does while the band lays down a solid framework that sets the tone not only for the album, but perhaps their entire career. Lazy, loping riffs take all the time in the world and just feel right. “Modern Age” raises the pace a bit while “Soma” is just…well, just awesome. Julian’s vocals are pushed into ultra lo-fi distorted territory amidst a killer rock riff that sounds like a modern day reading of some sort of long lost glam rock riff.
“Barely Legal” streams by with an awesome melody – and really the entire album, and the Strokes musical career is all based on those fantastic melodies. “Someday” follows and I could listen to it all day. Seriously, where are they coming up with this stuff? When I was working my way through this album way back in the day, this was one of the standout tracks for me. There was, at least to me, nothing else like it up to that point. It sounded so fresh and exciting, it was just real. “And now my fears, they come to me in threes..” yeah, I can dig that Jules. I can totally dig that.
In some ways The Strokes remind me a lot of the Velvet Underground, and not just because of the raw and lean glam rock leanings (and the Velvets were doing glam rock before that was even a thing). No, not just the sound, but a lot of the lyrics sound like small character studies that invite you into their world. Is the “Lisa” from “Alone Together” a real world reference to a friend, or girlfriend, of theirs? And is someone really drinking too much? Who knows? It made sense to me at the time and I made my own connections to the lyrics. That’s what’s great about music, it’s all up to you, the listener, to make a call about what something means.
“Last Night,” easily their biggest hit from the album – so much so it was later covered by Madonna – packs in all the melodies Julian can muster into one short song. And it’s great. Awesomely great. But as great as it is, “Hard to Explain” is where it’s at for me. The driving riffs and clockwork rhythm of the bass and drums is simply awesome, and with Julian crooning over top it becomes something just a little more. I remember cruising down the highway with this song cranked, I just couldn’t get enough of it. It has heart, soul, and everything else. If I could rock like this I would…but I can’t so I leave it to The Strokes to handle.
“When It Started” features a well place breakdown about midway through, along with some excellently melodic bass lines that dance in line with some fantastic vocals. And then there’s “Trying Your Luck,” jeez. One song after another they just keep bringing it. Maybe it’s the times I was going through back in 2001-2003, but these songs just all hit me so hard. They became a part of me, still are in fact. “Take It or Leave It” closes the album with a fury, in complete contrast to the almost laid back style of the album opener. Awesome.
Every time I listen to Is This It I am taken back to a simpler time. My early 20s were a time of uncertainty and filled with both excitement and fear for the future. Not much has changed as those feelings are still there. Perhaps they never go away. But throughout it all The Strokes have been there. Now, that may sound absolutely ridiculous to some of you. And hey, I understand. But if you were there back in 2001, and rock was looking like a sorry bunch of whining losers, well, The Strokes came along and made it cool again. With t-shirts, denim jackets and torn jeans they made it cool. And they’ve been making it cool all these years. Julian, Nick, Albert, Nikolai, Fab, thanks. Thanks for the times guys. Next time you’re around town I’ll buy you all a beer.
It’s on me.
Recorded and released in 1974 for CTI Records, Bad Benson marks a decidedly aggressive and funky point in Benson’s long jazz career. Sure, he always played with a touch of funk and he could jam in-the-pocket with the best of them. But something happened here that pushed his funk just a little bit further.
With CTI mainstay Ron Carter holding down impossibly solid bass and drummer Steve Gadd dancing around him, the band, including additional guitarist Phil Upchurch and Kenny Barron on electric piano, weave a rich tapestry of 70s CTI funk that lays back just enough for Benson to glide over. The sound, like most CTI recordings, is thick, dense and downright beautiful, aided by the always welcome orchestral touches that were a hallmark of the CTI sound (could I say CTI any more in one paragraph?).
Benson’s take on Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” made famous by Dave Brubeck, is played with an almost aggressive fury that showcases Benson’s penchant for quick runs up and down the guitar with astonishing clarity and accuracy. I remember hearing this for the first time years ago in high school and being absolutely blown away by the sound of the band acting as one musical entity. Of course back then I didn’t know what made it quite so special, but now I can pick apart the pieces – Gadd’s funky drums, Carter’s fluid bass, Upchurch’s intensely funky rhythm guitar, and Barron’s sparkling clean piano all contribute towards the climax of hearing Benson go to town. Awesome.
“My Latin Brother” takes an initial laid back bossa nova approach that belies the fireworks Benson delivers as the song progresses. Punctuated by stunning bursts of orchestral flavor, the song ebbs and flows in intensity yet never leaves the groove. Really, the whole album is all about the groove but what else would you expect from George Benson and the CTI crew in 1974?
Speaking of groove, “No Sooner Said Than Done” starts off like some sort of 70s love ballad, complete with smooth echoey piano and a damn near romantic guitar drenched in tremelo and reverb. Even as Benson starts his solo around 1:20 everything is calm, the waters completely still. But give him time, because as soon as Upchurch flips on his wah pedal things get thick with funk. The band is cooking now, holding down heavy slick grooves that Benson glides over with ease as the orchestra floats in again and again, creeping in just enough to keep things on the right side of beauty. Barron, taking one of his many beautifully engaging solos throughout the album, is so enchanting I don’t even mind that I’m not hearing more Benson.
“Full Compass” follows and sounds exactly like Zappa from this same time period. The abstract riffs and tight stop/start movement of the band is mesmerizing, especially as it leads into Bensons sharp and angular solo that is somehow also smooth and fluid at the same time. Once again the band holds down a smoldering groove so thick you can almost see the smoke in the studio, hanging low like a gauze net. It’s experimental tracks like this that made CTI such a varied and interesting record label. Thanks CTI.
The original album closes with the introspective “The Changing World,” the kind of beautiful song you put on as you turn away from a loved one and walk off into the sunset if we all lived in a 70s made-for-tv movie. Regardless, it’s beautiful music for music’s sake and nothing else and it’s a wonderful way to wind things down.
The 3 bonus tracks are stellar and include “Take the A Train,” “Serbian Blue,” and “From Now On.” While all three are fantastic, it’s “Serbian Blue” that really gets me. I mean really. Not only is it one of my favorite Benson tracks but it’s also one of my favorite jazz guitar tracks of all time. Things start out innocently enough with a slinky, late night groove that sets the mood for a journey of impeccable taste and utter awe.
Benson’s solo here, again aided by touches of orchestral flair along with some wonderfully placed congas, is superb. At first he’s just feeling the waters, sliding into things slowly so as not to upset the delicate groove that floats along with a steady river-like pace. After another wonderful Barron piano solo Benson comes in with some deep, low notes that quickly begin to rise to a controlled fury. He continues on, unstoppable in his clean dexterity and seemingly unending pocketful of jazz riffs. At this point, around 8 minutes in you think this is just a nice, smooth jazz track. But Benson isn’t done yet. He builds it, builds everything, lays the foundation for future jazz guitarists sitting in their basements and trying to figure out just what the hell he’s doing. I’ve done this myself many times and I’m still just as astonished at what happens next.
Right around 9 minutes things really start getting serious. The band and the orchestra are cooking and Benson is starting to fly out of the realm of what the rest of us are capable of. His lines are becoming faster amid more and more clusters of notes and impossible runs up the neck of his guitar. Still, at 11 minutes in he’s not done yet.
All of sudden, without any warning, he just starts flying off the handle and doing seriously impossible things with a guitar. His notes are furious, too many too humanly fit into one line and yet there he is, making the rest of us all look bad. Gee, thanks Benson. Even when you think the song is just about done Benson has more to give, more shock and awe to throw your way, and the song ends with a flurry of notes that he peels off as if they were nothing. And the most shocking part of all, the reality that gets me the most, is that he’s doing all this without ever leaving the smooth groove that he set down 10 minutes ago. Holy crap George, give the rest of us a chance.
Music Mook Review lives. It lives…
I was driving around a few weeks ago and a somewhat foreshortened pick-up truck pulled up next to me, blaring – in an instance of awesomeness hitherto unknown to me from passing motorists – “Valarie,” the wonderful last track from 1970’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich.
A week later, while walking around downtown, yet another motorist passed by blaring Frank’s stone cold guitar solo from “The Nancy and Mary Music” on 1970’s Chunga’s Revenge.
What’s going on here? It’s 2012 and Frank Zappa is suddenly everywhere, including iTunes (seriously never thought I’d see that)! I can see the iTunes crowd now, seeing this long haired fellow with the most awesome mustache of all time, and wondering “what the wha?”
But I digress…
So what’s a Music Mook to do in a situation like this? Well, buy some reissues that’s what! I figured I’d start off slow, take it in like the fine vintage it is, and let it simmer around in my brain a bit. First I took a look at what exactly has been remastered, and what is just a simple reissue. The following list contains all the reissues that have been remastered from the original analog tapes:
Anything not on that list is identical to the original 1995 Rykos, so if you already have them, that’s that. BUT, for the ones that do go back to the analog tapes you’re in for a real treat. From that list I picked up Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Chunga’s Revenge, with Hot Rats, Waka/Jawaka, Zoot Allures, Sleep Dirt, and Sheik Yerbouti on the way. I also took this opportunity to go ahead and pick up MOFO (Making of Freak Out!) which contains the original stereo mix, since the Freak Out! reissue is the same old Ryko master.
So, where were we? Oh yeah, Zappa! Of the two reissues I have so far they sound fantastic. Not just sort of good, not maybe sorta. No, these are Fantastic with an F three times taller than you. It’s like hearing Frank again for the first time, if you can believe that. It’s like all those countless hours listening to FZ for the past 15-20 years just disappeared and it’s all new again. I never thought that could even happen, that I could hear FZ again for the first time, but, well, it’s happening man. A time machine has been invented by the ZFT to take us through the passing eons, back to a time where new FZ albums were coming out at an astounding pace. Jazz is not dead…
Burnt Weeny Sandwich, an album that I feel is the peak of the original Mothers of Invention, is a revelation. Gone are the reverb soaked, tinny sounding mixes of 1995. Gone is the glitch during the piano intro of “Little House I Used to Live In.” Instead we get fat analog sound that is thick and warm and resplendent in the small details such as percussion and guitar. The doo-wop of the opening track, “WPLJ,” is doo-woppier, while the psychedelic masterpiece of “Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich” is all the more so, Frank’s guitar swimming in a sea of clockwork percussion. “Valarie,” my God “Valarie,” is as greasy as it always was, so much so you don’t just listen to it, you put it in your hair. I simply cannot believe the difference between this and the old Ryko.
Chunga’s Revenge kicks. Hard. Never before has this album rocked so hard, and with such heavy onslaught. “Transylvania Boogie” charges forth like a herd of storming elephants, Ansley Dunbar’s drums building up a wall of fury amidst one of Frank’s most biting solos of the era. “Twenty Small Cigars” is deeply jazzy, “Tell Me You Love Me” abounds in rock riffery just dripping with awesome, and the title track smokes as always. “Sharleena” sounds fresher, deeper, and just all around more satisfying than ever before. Even that refreshing little “Ahh!” during the intro sounds better than ever. Amazing.
We plan on doing full reviews for all the reissues that we purchased, including MOFO (I never realized how explosively awesome this album is), so check back soon.
In the meantime it’s 2012 and Frank Zappa’s music is very, very much alive.
After amassing countless hours of officially released live Dead shows I had to stop and ask myself if I have, just perhaps, too much? And if so, why did I just go and order two more live releases from dead.net?
Back in February, Wifey got me three shows from Europe ’72: April 24 Rheinhalle, Dusseldorf (previously released as Rockin’ the Rhein), May 11 Rotterdam, and May 26 at the Lyceum, London (the last show of the tour, a large chunk of which was used on the original Europe ’72 album). She decided to leave out the fourth show on my wish list, April 26 at Jarhunderhalle, Germany (previously released in edited form as Hundred Year Hall) since just those three shows alone were 12 discs of Dead. 12 discs. I get it, it’s a lot. A whole lot.
But man, I want more.
It’s been almost 2 months now and I still haven’t even cracked the plastic wrapping on the May 26 show. I have been deeply enjoying, immensely I might add, the true beast of a show that is April 24 Rheinhalle. It smokes right out of the gate with a superb “Truckin’” and doesn’t let up until the last notes of “One More Saturday Night” ring throughout the hall. It’s so good, and so long, I’ve needed all this time just to digest it and I’m still not done with my total aural absorption.
And then there’s May 11 Rotterdam, which is simply stunning. It has been blowing my mind with superbly played songs, a devastating “Dark Star > Drums > Dark Star,” and immaculate crystal clear sound. Both 4/24 and 5/11 are so immensely awesome that I just can’t get past them. I listen to them all week long and then I listen to them again. I think about them while I’m sitting in the office not listening to them, and think about how much I want to get in my car and crank them up. Meanwhile 5/26 is sitting in my collection just waiting to unleash its most assuredly awesome sonic adventure.
So, with all that, why would I go and order two more shows? And not just any shows but the previously mentioned four disc 4/26 Germany show and the newly released, and now sold out, 3 disc Dave’s Picks Vol. 2 from July 31, 1974 at Dillon Stadium in Hartford, CT. That’s 7 more discs right there for a total of, if my math is correct, 19 discs of live Grateful Dead material in just shy of three months!
That’s a heck of a lotta’ Dead for sure. But, is it too much? Have I gone completely insane in my attempts to connect with total Zen bliss that can be found in the best versions of this song and that?
What is it about the Grateful Dead that make them so damn interesting? Well, there’s just something there, something that is simply indescribable and powerfully beautiful. It’s a feel, a vibe. It’s something that unless you’re on board you just can’t understand. I’m on board and even I don’t understand it. Do I really need to hear another version of “Playing in the Band?” Do I really need 4 shows done on the same tour, all recorded within weeks, and in some cases DAYS, of each other?
Yes. Yes, I do. Because man, I am simply hooked on the Grateful Dead.
After running a few calculations, my live Dead collection stands at 83 discs. That’s eighty-three. I know that sounds like a lot, a veritable ton, but the thing is that when it comes to live Dead, it’s not about the number of discs or the total hours (no, I’m not doing that math). No, it’s about the whole organic experience that is a single live Grateful Dead show (or at the very least, a collection of songs from specific shows).
Among those 83 discs are 25 distinct shows (thereabouts, some of the releases are compilations of multiple shows) that each have their own personality, flow, decade, sound, and uniqueness. Some I reach for to enjoy the long days of summer, while others work best on a cold Autumn night. Some are perfect in the morning, others in the afternoon. And what those shows mean to me will mean something completely different to the next person. It’s quite remarkable really, that one band could touch so many people, on so many levels, and somehow still manage to keep us all interested after so many years. There’s nothing quite like the Dead and there never will be again.
Of course, I still need to pick up the Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack from October of ’74, and there are a ton of Dick’s Picks, Road Trips, and other assorted shows I’ve missed…the obsession will surely continue.
Jeez, there’s still a Christmas post sitting on the front page? Sorry about that everyone. We are still here and, trust me, we have a ton of review to write. Individual shows from the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour plus more Dick’s Picks and Road Trips releases; David Crosby’s awesome Voyage box set; Grover Washington Jr Live at the Bijou; more than several Sinatra albums including the staggeringly awesome 7 disc, 14 hour DVD box set; and other assorted fun and craziness!
Trust me, we’re still here and we’ll be rocking it soon enough.
*insert cricket sounds here*
For Kim. You’re my Christmas friend…
In our excitement to discuss the previously unheard gems on The Complete James Brown Christmas, we neglected to talk about the pure perfection that is James Brown’s Funky Christmas. Turn it loose, ‘cus it’s a mother…
Funky Christmas, later remastered and renamed as 20th Century Masters: The Christmas Collection, is the one that we reach for every December 1 to kick off the Holiday season. If there is a perfect Christmas album, an album so stunning it could almost be listened to year round, this is it. Its James Brown recorded at the peak of his powers between 1966 and 1970 belting out both Christmas classics and funky originals. Fantabulous!
What I always marvel at every year – and surely wifey gets tired of me saying this – is just how amazing it is that JB could make such a stunning Christmas album full of song after song of pure holiday perfection. These songs aren’t just throw-away novelties to be strewn about like so much discarded wrapping paper. No, these are real songs by real musicians with heart and soul and everything else. JB is just as passionate singing these songs as he is singing “Cold Sweat” or “There Was a Time.”
So, how does James Brown start his holiday season? With “Go Power!” Oh man, that horn line smacks you right in the face with good time Christmas cheer that doesn’t let up until the last note fades away. It’s a classic JB session that includes screams, yelps, and some fantastic JB mutterings about the good old days. Wifey and I often tell each other we need to find some “go power” just to get through the season…
“Let’s Unite the Whole World at Christmas” finds JB pleading for happy faces and good times over top of some wonderfully emotive music. This small slice of quiet contemplation is the perfect lead-in to the always awesome, always fantastic “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto.” Of all of JB’s Christmas songs, this is probably the one most people have heard, or at least heard of.
The band sets up a very funky beat and JB goes into full-on pleading mode, calling on Santa Claus to make a stop in the ghetto for everyone there. It’s funky and emotional at the same time. Heck even JB gets a little upset when he ad lib proclaims “I never thought I’d realize, I’d be singing this song with water in my eyes…” There’s a reason this song became somewhat of a hit, it’s a JB classic in the truest sense of the word.
“Merry Christmas Baby” finds JB in a very blue mood with some uniquely distinctive vocals and a wonderful late night feel. Methinks he may have hot a hot toddy or two during the recording, as he most definitely sounds “lit up,” although that’s probably more just pure emotion than anything else. Of course, by the time “Let’s Make This Christmas Mean Something This Year” rolls around all bets are off and JB is back into his thing with a fury.
Things start off easy enough, a simple beat, some nice violins and girl group backing vocals. But then something spectacular happens. The very spirit of Christmas, the very spirit of everything that makes this such a magical time, the very soul of everything good, comes pouring out of James Brown in a stunning and emotional display of gut wrenching screams. He continually straddles that fine line between singing and preaching, and along the way he screams his sweet old soul right out of the speakers. It is positively electrifying to hear this much soulful Christmas emotion coming from one man. Of course, it’s James Brown so I would expect no less.
Speaking of soul, “Soulful Christmas,” man, what a killer groove that is! The band lay down a sparkling stop/start riff that will most definitely get your party swelling to epic dancing proportions. Good God indeed!
“The Christmas Song” and “Sweet Little Baby Boy” remind everyone what a wonderfully controlled singer Brown could be when he settled down long enough to sing something slow and sweet. In direct contrast is the hard hitting pure funk of “Christmas is Love” that is guaranteed to set you soul on fire. What more do you expect with bottom rattling bass, chicken scratch guitar, and James Brown saying the word “fantabulous” more than a few times?
“Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Definitely Here to Stay” are two more tracks that feature nothing but pure emotion set upon simply beautiful musical arrangements. The horn lines in “Santa Claus is Definitely Here to Stay” are especially gorgeous and even on the instrumental version available on The Complete James Brown Christmas, it still manages to move me to tears. Hey, it’s emotional, what can I say!
“Tit For Tat (Ain’t No Taking Back)” provides only slight funk relief before the gut wrenching and emotional devastation that is “Santa Claus, Santa Claus” ravages your very soul. Jeez, this is one of the saddest and most powerful Christmas song I have ever, ever heard. It’s downright heartbreaking and yet so utterly beautiful that whenever it comes on everything in my world stops. Brown calls upon his poor and tumultuous upbringing to deliver some heavy, heavy lines about how hard things are and that without anyone to help him he has to help himself. I hope you can take some time this season and truly listen to this song and contemplate the pure emotion Brown is experiencing. It just might make you a better person.
Whew, after such an emotional toll JB brings everything back with some wintery funk in “Merry Christmas, I Love You” and the bright, bouncy, and almost slinky rhythm of “Signs of Christmas.” One last beautiful ballad is found in “Christmas in Heaven” before the entire album signs off with “Hey America,” a stunning slice of 70s funk that simply cooks.
So, there it is. James Brown’s 20th Century Masters: The Christmas Collection in all its glory. What a fantabulous way for JB to say he loves us. We certainly love him and everything he’s given us. Thanks, thanks JB, for all the wonderful music. And let’s make our next year be just as good.
You are always definitely here to stay.