THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: THE COMPLETE REMASTERED SERIES

(RLJ ENTERTAINMENT; 2015)

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Since its debut in October, 1961, Carl Reiner’s grand creation, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, has served as a benchmark for quality ensemble comedy… in my humble estimation, matched in quality only by the first two seasons of MASH in the five-and-a-half decades since. The rubbery-boned Van Dyke led the cast as Rob Petrie, the harried head writer for the Alan Brady Show (Brady was played by Reiner himself). Though the show served as a spoof of early television comedy writers, it was also very much a series about family and friends, with the irrepressible Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie, occasionally getting herself into some very “Lucy-like” situations, while Rob and Laura dealt out a Ward and June Cleaver type of love, wisdom and guidance to their son, Ritchie (played by Larry Mathews) and, quite often, to Rob’s co-writers, Sally Rogers and Buddy Sorrell, played by comedic geniuses Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam. Though he appeared in about half of the series’ episodes during its five-season run, a highlight was always Richard Deacon’s irascible Mel Cooley, the show’s producer and Brady’s brother-in-law; Deacon was a master at these types of smarmy, borderline sleazy characters… he also played Fred Rutherford (father of Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford) on another classic, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.

Dick Van Dyke became one of television’s greatest fall guys, as evidenced by one of the greatest opening title sequences ever (introduced at the start of the second season), as well as the consummate straight man with his often bewildered, bemused reactions to the anarchy taking place around him; he also got to show off his Broadway and movie background as a song-and-dance man, either with Ms Moore or as part of the ensemble-within-the-ensemble cast of the Alan Brady Show. His flustered everyman served as template for set-upon husbands and fathers for decades, until the family situation comedy paradigm began to shift in the late ’90s. Even though it was obvious that the adorable Moore had comedic chops aplenty and generally played Laura as smart and confident, it would have been almost inconceivable that she would become head of the powerful MTM Enterprises later in her career; one of her most endearing catch phrases, the quavering, high-pitched lament, “Ohhh, Rob!,” is still recognized virtually the world over. The comedic timing and phrasing of former vaudeville pro Rose Marie, radio performer and writer Morey Amsterdam and veteran character actor Richard Deacon (whose character, Mel Cooley, was the butt of Amsterdam’s Buddy Sorrell’s one-line barbs) was impeccable. Whether the plot showed off the Petrie’s family life at home or Rob’s manic office job, you were guaranteed a quality script and incredible acting.

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, Richard Deacon) (publicity photo)

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, Richard Deacon) (publicity photo)

Now, just in time for Christmas, RLJ Entertainment has released the entire series (158 episodes, clocking in at just under 66 hours of classic comedy), newly remastered from the original 35 millimeter negatives, in a twenty-five disc box set, filled with plenty of extras (including the original pilot, “Head of the Family”). The set is priced at just below two-hundred bucks (which is in line with the suggested forty dollar price tag for individual season sets), but I’ve seen it available for as low as a C-note, so do some shopping to find the best price and… treat yourself with a great Christmas present this year with THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: THE COMPLETE REMASTERED SERIES… You will thank yourself for being so kind and thoughtful.


THE STEPHEN SONDHEIM COLLECTION

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (747 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

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I’ve never been a big fan of musicals… ain’t gonna apologize for it… it’s just the way things have always worked in my brain-pan. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about them. For instance, when the name Sondheim is evoked, I know that he is one of the most celebrated composers of our lifetime, responsible for some of the most well-known musicals (and individual numbers) ever.

Stephen Sondheim, 2010 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS/HENNY RAY ABRAMS)

Stephen Sondheim, 2010 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS/HENNY RAY ABRAMS)

Just take a look at the offerings on this massive six disc celebration of the life and influential music of the legendary Stephen Sondheim: INTO THE WOODS (way before Disney got their hands on it, this AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE version is from 1991 and stars most of the original Broadway cast, including Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason… so, bonus points for NO Johnny Depp!); SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (another AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE production – from 1986 – and starring Mandy Patinkin and, once again, the sublime Bernadette Peters); COMPANY (an all-star cast headed by Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone and Jon Cryer, performing on stage with the New York Philharmonic in 2011); SWEENEY TOOD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET IN CONCERT (recorded in 2001, with George Hearn, LuPone and Harris in the leads and, again, thankfully, Depp free!). Also included are 2010’s SONDHEIM: THE BIRTHDAY CONCERT, celebrating the lyricist’s 80th birthday, with appearances by just about everyone listed above, David Hyde Pierce (Master of Ceremony) and Sondheim’s long-time collaborator, Paul Gemignani conducting the New York Philharmonic and FOLLIES IN CONCERT, a 1985 film documenting the one night revival of 1971’s FOLLIES, from the first rehearsals to the final curtain call and featuring such luminaries as Lee Remick, Carol Burnett, Hearn, Patinkin and more.

So, while there is nothing new here (aside from the packaging and some much-needed re-mastering), it is a chance to get a whole lot of Stephen Sondheim’s best work in one place for a decent price ($129). Plus, with the Disney version of INTO THE WOODS sending most of the female tween population into a frenzy, this is a nice way to introduce them to a more grounded version of that show and, maybe, get them interested in real theater. You can pre-order the box set at all of the usual online places or hunt it down when it’s released on April 14, 2015.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (17)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(17) GARY NUMAN: LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 AND ’80

(BEGGARS BANQUET RECORDS; English import box set, 1981)

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In the United States, Gary Numan (barring a miraculous surge in record sales) will always be known as the one-hit wonder guy, thanks to the number one 1979 psuedo-techno classic, “Cars.” Those of us with an adventurous disposition (at least where music is concerned) know that – as good as “Cars” was – it is nowhere near the best song Numan ever recorded; we also know (as do his legions of fans in Great Britain and Europe) that – even though he retired for a short period of time to race cars and fly planes – he has hardly been quiet since the song went viral (well… whatever the comparative term for viral was back then) upon its initial release. THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE, the album that featured “Cars,” was Numan’s third in two years (the first two marqueed by his then-current band, Tubeway Army) and the similarly dystopian TELEKON was just a few months away. In September 1979, Numan was moving away from the Tubeway Army sound and name; THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE was still two months from release. The live show still relied very heavily on the popularity of the group’s name and music, but this newer, tighter band was already exploring new territory and introducing Uk fans to the music from Gary’s first solo record; by September 1980, the band had a tougher, futuristic sound as it toured to support the just-released TELEKON.

In an unprecedented move, early 1981 saw the release of two live albums documenting both the 1979 and 1980 tours. This may have been intended as a stop-gap, offering Numan’s loyal fans something with which to remember the tours, before he released the jarringly different DANCE in September; maybe the releases were intended to appease those loyal fans because the next album would be a departure from the sound they’d come to expect from Numan and his well-oiled machine-like band. Whatever the reason, it was soon decided to offer the two records together, in a box set. That box set, not available except as an import in the US, lands the number 17 spot on my list of great live albums. Here’s why:

Gary Numan, 1979 (Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne, Billy Currie, Rrussell Bell) (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1979 (Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne, Billy Currie, Rrussell Bell) (uncredited photo)

The 1979 album was recorded on the group’s second night at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, September 28. LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 has a very disjointed feel, as Numan rearranged the track order and cutting the show down from the 21 songs performed to nine on the released version; due to that editing and shifting, there are fade-outs (and -ins) on many of the tracks, which disrupts the live feel. The quality of the music and performances, however, were never in question. Side one opens with the instrumental “Airlane,” which served as album opener on THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE. The track features a cool synth groove and an awesome power-chording guitar from Rrussell Bell. The worldwide number one hit, “Cars,” is sped up in this live setting. Though Numan’s voice has a rather chilling, robotic feel on the studio version, his performance here may not exactly be dripping with emotion, but it does exhibit more emotion than most are expecting from this period in his career. The Tubeway Army B-side “We Are So Fragile” shows a punkier – dare I say, fiercer – Gary Numan on display. The bass by Paul Gardiner is a definite plus here (and throughout the record). The song, “Films,” features another accelerated tempo, as Gardiner and his partner in rhythm, drummer Cedric Sharpley, are locked into one of those pockets that only a bass/drum tandem can really fall into. Numan’s voice is the disinterested and robotic instrument that we know so well. “Something’s In the House” comes from Tubeway Army’s debut album and has Numan sounding snotty and punky again. There is some amazing interplay between Bell, Sharpley and Gardiner, proving that – regardless of detractors comments – this is a real band… a very solid performing unit. The only problem seems to be a completely out-of-place keyboard/synth solo. I can’t tell if it’s in the wrong key or the wrong tempo or exactly what the problem is; I just know that it doesn’t fit.

Gary Numan, 1979 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1979 (uncredited photo)

My Shadow In Vain,” more spooky punk from the TUBEWAY ARMY album, is the first track on side two. It features a deranged Numan searching for answers, for dead friends and for his shadow… all in vain. I was surprised by the similarity (particularly the bass, guitar and synthesizer melody lines) with the Knack’s “My Sharona,” which was recorded and released a full year after Tubeway Army’s debut. “Conversation” is another quirky tune from THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE (are there any other kind?). Sharpley and Gardiner are in another syncopated groove and Numan’s vocals are “best-of-show” on the track. Billy Currie’s violin coda at the end of the song, as well as the melody line would show up three years later in Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.” The existential punk of the TUBEWAY ARMY cut “The Dream Police” is highlighted by screeching, scraping violin and viola (by Currie and Chris Payne, respectively) and a repetitive guitar riff from Rrussell Bell. “Metal” sounds very much like a leftover from REPLICAS, as it seems to share that album’s cyborg/human machine thematic concept. It does feature the droning synth and machine-like drumming adopted on the next record.

Gary Numan, 1980 (Cedric Sharpley, Rrussell Bell, Roger Mason, Gary Numan, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne) (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (Cedric Sharpley, Rrussell Bell, Roger Mason, Gary Numan, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne) (uncredited photo)

LIVING ORNAMENTS ’80, recorded on September 16 (the second date of a four day stand at the Hammersmith), has more of a live feel, with crowd noises connecting the cuts instead of the off-putting fades (even though the ten tracks were – like the ’79 edition – re-ordered and edited down from the 19 actually played that night). The band line-up has shifted slightly, with Numan now adding synthesizer and guitar duties to his singing and Roger Mason’s keyboards replacing Billy Currie’s keyboard and violin. Set opener “This Wreckage” also opens side one. The still-to-be-released single has the more industrial sound of TELEKON, the album this tour was in support of. A throbbing synth gives way to a pumping bass line and a swinging drum groove brings Numan to the stage, with his disconnected lyrics and disinterested vocal that somehow drips with more emotion than most balladeers can muster. The then-current single, “I Die: You Die,” follows. A sparkling keyboard, Gardiner’s fretless bass and electronic drums from Sharpley are deceptively inviting; a punky guitar slashes and snakes just under the surface as Numan delivers brutal, venomous lyrics about love, lust, lonliness and vengeance: “They crawl out of their holes for me/And I die; you die/Hear them laugh, watch them turn on me/And I die; you die/See my scars, they call me such things/Tear me, tear me, tear me.” An almost majestic sounding tune, “ME” features soaring keyboard and synthesizer. Again, the lyrics focus on death and isolation, a constant theme, especially in Numan’s solo work. The man’s vocal sounds frenzied and a little crazed… in a robotic kind of way. The song continually threatens to fly apart, but Ced Sharpley’s spectacular drumming holds it all together. “Everyday I Die” is one of the few holdovers from the debut Tubeway Army album on this tour. Numan’s vocals have a staccato quality, as he continues to express feelings of lonliness, this time, seemingly, the result of a love lost. The sparse instrumental accompaniment adds to the disturbing tone of the lyrics, making them somehow more frightening. “Down In the Park” is a part of REPLICAS, a grand punk opera about a growing sub-species, more machine than man. It’s a Tubeway Army song, but in name only; a beautiful piano intro gives way to stark, hollow instrumentation and wickedly unemotional vocals.

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

The final side of the box set, actually side two of the ’80 record starts with “Remind Me To Smile.” The TELEKON track is about the price of fame, way before the paparazzi were such a prevalent thing: “Get off the car/Get off the phone/Move from my window, leave me alone.” The band participates vocally, with a call and response chorus. “The Joy Circuit” is mostly instrumental… anthemic with hyperkinetic synth and bass. Even through the droning guitars and looped effects, the song somehow has a… happy feeling. “Tracks” starts with a solitary guitar, eventually moving into a synth-driven soundtrack kinda music. The tune could be about drugs or growing old or missing an older constant (parent?) that’s no longer in your life. Aside from “Cars,” “Are Friends Electric?” may be Numan’s best known song in the States. Numan’s spoken word vocals stab and the guitars slash at and through the sci-fi oriented keyboards and synthesizers, giving the tune a distinct Floydian sound. The final number, “We Are Glass,” is another TELEKON cut. It’s one of the more melodic songs from this early stage of Numan’s career, but the creepy REPLICAS cyborg thing is definitely in the lyrics, with such lines as, “We are cold/We’re not supposed to cry” and “You are replaced.” Over a three or four year period (say, 1979-1982), there were a lot of bands that excelled at the type of music pioneered by Gary Numan… at least in the studio; very few were competent enough to pull it off in a live setting. The band that toured with Numan during this time period proved themselves more than capable of bringing Numan’s dark visions to the stage and that’s why the special edition box set, LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 AND ’80, is one of the greatest live albums ever.

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

The latest versions of the albums were released separately in 2005, but still no American editions. The ’79 album has reconstructed the entire show in the proper running order on two CDs; the two CD edition of the ’80 record features the original released version followed by the entire concert, again, in the proper running order. The full show is sourced from the stage monitor mix, which definitely gives you a different listening experience. Bass player Paul Gardiner died of a heroin overdose; drummer Ced Sharpley passed away in 2012 from cancer. During their time with Tubeway Army, Gary Numan’s solo bands and Dramatis (the samae band, minus Numan), they comprised one of the most potent rhythm sections in all of rock and roll. They are missed.


GEORGE HARRISON: THE APPLE YEARS, 1968-1975

(CAPITOL RECORDS/UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, 7 CD/1 DVD Box Set; 2014)

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For whatever reason, the quiet Beatle’s solo records always seemed to get the short-shrift in the good ol’ US of… with, not only fans of the Fab Four, but with the critics, as well. I guess a lot of people found the albums a little… patchy. That’s a fallacy that persists still, maybe because George wasn’t as outrageous or outspoken as John Lennon (comparatively, his solo material and career was wildly more uneven); wasn’t as “Aw, shucks” self-effacing as Ringo Starr; wasn’t as readily accessible as the Pop Meister General (some would say, the Schlock Meister General), Paul McCartney. He was just… well… George. Honestly, some of the criticism can probably be traced back to George’s first two solo records and, maybe, his embracing Hinduism at a time when such spiritual enlightenment was not readily accepted by America’s Christian majority. This beautifully produced set (including a hard-bound book) should go a long way in dispelling the belief, by some, that George Harrison’s music was somehow… less. Here, we’re going to examine each of the records singularly and on their own merits, beginning with…

George Harrison, 1967 (photo courtesy of and copyrighted by THE HARRISON FAMILY)

George Harrison, 1967 (photo courtesy of and copyrighted by THE HARRISON FAMILY)

WONDERWALL MUSIC (1968)

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Somewhere out there, there exists a movie called WONDERWALL, starring the beautiful Jane Birkin as, somewhat fittingly, Penny Lane. Birkin was probably best known for being a scenester and, generally, for being a scantily clad (if clad at all) scenester; she famously appeared nude with an equally nude Brigitte Bardot in a bedroom scene for a 1973 movie called DON JUAN (OR IF DON JUAN WERE A WOMAN) (I know that most of you men are currently away, Googling the movie title for pictures of that scene… I’ll be here when you get back). But… I digress! As there was a movie called WONDERWALL, it seems only fitting that there should be a WONDERWALL soundtrack. And, there is.

George Harrison WONDERWALL MUSIC (photo credit: ASTRID KIRCHHERR/photo courtesy of and copyrighted by GEORGE HARRISON ESTATE)

George Harrison WONDERWALL MUSIC (photo credit: ASTRID KIRCHHERR/photo courtesy of and copyrighted by GEORGE HARRISON ESTATE)

WONDERWALL MUSIC, aside from being that soundtrack, is an historic piece of musical history: Not only is it the first solo album by George Harrison, it is the first solo album by ANY Beatle, as well as the first release on the lads’ own Apple Records imprint. Even more history-making is the fact that George doesn’t play on the album; he’s credited with writing, arranging and producing only (kinda like John Williams on his numerous soundtrack albums). However, several experts on the Beatles and their music (including Bruce Spizer in his book, THE BEATLES SOLO ON APPLE RECORDS) cite Harrison as providing guitar and mellotron, as well as mentioning appearances by Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Peter Tork (yes… THAT Peter Tork!). The album was recorded at the end of 1967 (and released a full year later, about a month before the movie opened), so George’s work here is heavily influenced by Indian music, into which he had immersed himself after a trip there earlier in the year. There are more than a few of the traditional, droning Indian ragas on display here and, even within the more Western-oriented rock music (credited to the Remo Four), it’s an integral part of the mix (the lone exceptions being the aptly titled “Cowboy Music” and the langorous, piano-driven gypsy love theme, “Wonderwall To Be Here”). Most of the tunes don’t really stick around to be too annoying and too interesting (12 of the original 19 tracks are less than two minutes each), but a couple of those shorter numbers, I wouldn’t have minded to see fleshed out a bit (“Red Lady Too,” “Guru Vandana” and, a track purported to feature either Clapton and Harrison or Clapton alone, “Ski-ing,” which couples with a much more traditional Indian piece called “Gat Kirwani”). Of the longer tracks, “Drilling a Home,” with its jaunty, playful tin-pan alley sound and “Dream Scene,” which is studio deviltry from Harrison – taking three distinct pieces (recorded in London and Bombay), splicing, dicing and looping them together, with various instruments dubbed over the top. You’ll get a very definite “Revolution 9” vibe from the track, which was apparently recorded some months before the Beatles recorded their trippy sound collage. WONDERWALL MUSIC may not be as readily accessible as some of George’s later albums, but it is still quite listenable. Which isn’t bad, considering that, by all accounts, the movie it provided the soundtrack to was virtually unwatchable.

The Remo Four WONDERWALL MUSIC (publicity photo)

The Remo Four WONDERWALL MUSIC (publicity photo)

Of course, then, there are the bonus tracks, because… well, there are always bonus tracks, right? The Remo Four provide “In the First Place,” a wholly Western, mildly psychedelic George-as-Beatle track (which features an odd, very wobbly piano sound, compliments of Tony Ashton). It’s the only true vocal number recorded for the soundtrack and could very well have been a hit single if it had been released in 1968. “Almost Shankara” is a spry, bouncing Indian tune. I could imagine this one popping up in some period movie, as a sheik brings in dancers to entertain his dinner guests. What I’m guesing must be the original, instrumental version of “The Inner Light” completes the trio of bonus tracks. Without Harrison’s vocals, it almost sounds like a completely different song than the version first heard as the B-side to the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” single.

ELECTRONIC SOUND (1969)

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Barely six months after breaking ground with WONDERWALL MUSIC, the quite Beatle is back with another, even more experimental album of solo music. The music on ELECTRONIC SOUND was so experimental, in fact, that it barely even touched the outer fringes of what was then considered music (even by drug-addles hippies), forcing Apple Records to create a subsidiary label – Zapple – just to release it (as well as John and Yoko’s UNFINISHED MUSIC NUMBER 2: LIFE WITH THE LIONS). I guess when you’re a Beatle, though, people give you a bit more latitude than if you were one of Freddy’s Dreamers.

George Harrison ELECTRONIC SOUND (uncredited photo)

George Harrison ELECTRONIC SOUND (uncredited photo)

Thirty-five years later, though, and music’s kinda caught up with George. Listening to the two long tracks (“Under the Mersey Wall” is almost 19 minutes long; “No Time Or Space” comes in a tad over 25 minutes) in a world that has since brought us such obnoxious oddities as Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and music by such outre artists as Throbbing Gristle, the Residents and Tangerine Dream, the album sounds pretty darn good. So, what, exactly was going on in the mustachioed dome of Beatle George that prompted the recording of these noisy soundscapes? Well, as we are all wont to do when we get a new toy, we wanna play with it; George was no different. Having acquired a Moog III synthesizer, he fully intended to put it to use. The first piece, “Under the Mersey Wall,” is the better of the two tracks. It’s more cohesive and, as befits George, is a little more pastoral. When the piece was over, I wasn’t even aware that I’d been listening for over 18 minutes. The second piece is another animal all together. While I generally like the skrees and electronic farts of such music, I found it hard to listen to; at one point, I actually thought that the track must be close to being over, only to discover that there was barely seven minutes gone.It ain’t awful, it just seems to stay a bit too long. Interestingly enough, an electronic innovator and musician named Bernie Krause claims that “No Time Or Space” is actually him teaching George the ins and outs of the Moog III synthesizer. Krause further claims that he didn’t know that he was being recorded until the album was released. The album credits do read, “Recorded in California; with the assistance of Bernie Krause,” so there is some validity to the fact that he did at least work with George in some capacity on the track. I’m guessing that these two numbers were the only ones created/recorded for the album, as there are no bonus tracks on the new reissue. That really doesn’t matter, though, if you’re into this very early, psuedo-Krautrock stuff.

ALL THINGS MUST PASS (1970)

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Harrison’s third album is, for all intents and purposes, his first proper solo album, filled with the sort of tunes that one would expect from a now-former Beatle. The album was a sprawling three-record set, comprised of (mostly) unused songs written for latter-day Beatles releases. George has been quoted as saying of the set, “I didn’t have many tunes on Beatles records, so doing an album like ALL THINGS MUST PASS was like going to the bathroom and letting it out.” While the record may not be perfect, it’s hardly filled with disposable (or flushable) material… though there are those that would question that remark as regards the third record’s “Apple Jam.”

George Harrison ALL THINGS MUST PASS (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)

George Harrison ALL THINGS MUST PASS (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)

By the second song, “My Sweet Lord,” it’s obvious that this is going to be a special album. Released as the lead single from the record, the tune marked another milestone: It was the first solo Beatles single to reach number one in both the US and the UK (it topped the charts worldwide). The production, a joint effort between George and Phil Spector, is everything that John Lennon had hoped for when he and Spector began work three years later on what would eventually become the ROCK ‘N’ ROLL album. The sound of ALL THINGS… is as sparkling and vibrant as one would expect from a Spector production, highlighted by Harrison’s airy vocals and brilliant slide guitar work. And, of course, as mentioned elsewhere, being a Beatle (or, by this time, ex-Beatle) does have its advantages; George had the cream of the crop to pick from, as far as musicians to help bring the record to fruition: Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, Dave Mason and Alan White (the former Plastic Ono Band and future Yes drummer) all make appearances alongside, seemingly, a cast of thousands. The album has plenty of now-familiar highlights, including “What Is Life,” the loping Bob Dylan tune, “If Not For You,” the light country lilt of “Behind That Locked Door,” the Dylan-esque paean to adoring fans, “Apple Scruffs,” the strident, almost giddy pop of “Awaiting On You All,” and the rocking “Art of Dying,” which seems to be the inspiration for the BAND ON THE RUN tune “Missus Vanderbilt.” As far as the “Apple Jam” segment, it is exactly what it sounds like: Harrison jamming with Clapton, drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, the players that would go on to become Derek and the Dominos. As a piece of rock history, I suppose it has a place here but, as I was never a big jam band kinda guy, these tracks don’t get much playing time around here.

George Harrison ALL THINGS MUST PASS (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)

George Harrison ALL THINGS MUST PASS (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)

There are bonus tracks – the same five (demos, alternate takes and a totally disposable 2000 remake of “My Sweet Lord”) that have been on most CD reissues since the remastered version from 2001, which brings me to my primary problem (the only problem, really) with this version of ALL THINGS MUST PASS: I don’t like the sequencing. I don’t really care for bonus material showing up in the middle of things; I would much rather see such things nailed to the end of the original album. I have a couple of fixes that would have worked better for me: First, the first two albums fit nicely onto one CD (trust me, I’ve done the math), which leaves the looser “Apple Jam” material of the third record and the bonus tracks for a second, shorter CD; second, you put the first three sides of the original on disc 1 and the final three (with bonus material) on disc 2, allowing for a more even distribution (time wise) of the material. I would probably opt for the first solution, for exactly the reasons stated; it just makes more sense to me.

LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (1973)

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After two albums of experimental music and the three record set ALL THINGS MUST PASS, which was comprised mostly of songs left over from his time in that other band, as well as the enormous undertaking that was the Concert For Bangladesh relief effort and a world tour, our George was ready to get back to the business of making (new) music. It took nearly three years to follow up ALL THINGS… with the spiritually upbeat LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD. Although the album is highly enjoyable and features a few exceptional tunes, the strain of filling an entire album alone shows. The one consistent running throughout the record’s eleven tracks is the exceptional guitar playing; George has always flown under the radar, talent-wise, because he was surrounded by players like Eric Clapton and Dave Mason or the overpowering personalities of McCartney and Lennon in the Beatles but, the fact was: George Harrison was one of the best guitarists on the face of the planet, mastering and artfully playing in any style the song and the arrangement dictated.

George Harrison LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (uncredited photo)

George Harrison LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (uncredited photo)

The opening track, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth),” a great song with a hopeful message – and reminiscent of “My Sweet Lord,” both melodically and lyrically – was another number one single for George. Possibly the best tune on the album, “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” is a murky, stomping rocker with a swampy slide slithering through out and a great boogie piano over it all. The lyrics are a reaction to the various legal actions taken by the four Beatles, their various management teams and shared holding companies (Apple Records and Apple Corps among others). It stands as one of the meanest (in the nicest kind of way) lyrics ever written by George Harrison. Other stand-out numbers include the pumping title track, the beautifully lilting acoustic love song, “Be Here Now” and the majestic “Try Some, Buy Some,” highlighted John Barham’s soaring orchestration. Overall, the set does tend to an awkward sameness, but is saved by George’s imaginative guitar work and vocal sincerity.

George Harrison LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (photo credit: MAL EVANS)

George Harrison LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (photo credit: MAL EVANS)

The bonus tracks are the two B-sides from the 2006 reissue, “Miss O’Dell,” from the “Give Me Love… ” single and “Deep Blue” from the “Bangladesh” single. As an added bonus, the A-side of that single is presented for the first time anywhere since the 1992 reissue of Apple’s THE BEST OF GEORGE HARRISON package. I must admit that though there are fewer bonus cuts here than on ALL THINGS MUST PASS, this is definitely the better selection, particularly “Bangladesh.”

DARK HORSE (1974)

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With DARK HORSE, George is back in the saddle (so to speak), after a busy year touring, writing and recording, all the while producing several outside projects. The wear and tear was showing, as George fought a worsening bout of laryngitis that drastically affected his vocals. The record may actually give some an indication why George never had more than a couple of songs on the Beatles’ albums; DARK HORSE ain’t all great, but…it ain’t all bad, either. It definitely has problems. This is an instant where Harrison may have been better off staying away from the studio, giving himself time to heal and to write a few more songs to choose from; a writing partner may have helped at this juncture in George’s career, as well. But, having said all of that, let me add that the stuff that works tends to work very well.

George Harrison DARK HORSE (uncredited photo)

George Harrison DARK HORSE (uncredited photo)

The record starts strong with “Hari’s On Tour (Express),” a complex instrumental that coalesces funky rock and boogie woogie with a little country honk with some “smooth Jazz” horns over the top. There’s a very odd, virtually deconstructed cover of the Everly Brother’s “Bye Bye, Love, apparently a shot at Eric Clapton and George’s ex-wife, Patti, who both inexplicably appear on the album. I gotta be honest: That one is hard to listen to. These, on the other hand aren’t: “So Sad,” a jangly Wilbury-esque mid-tempo rocker; “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” a moderately rocking, rather nonsensical song that mysteriously gained an additional “Ding Dong” in the three days since the song was released as a single; the title track, also released as a single, is a solid rocker, with George’s voice sounding very ragged, which actually helps here. There are moments on the other four tracks where you’ll think, “Okay, that sounds pretty cool.” The problem is, those “Oh, wow!” moments aren’t sustained for the entire song.

George Harrison DARK HORSE (photo credit: TERRY DORAN)

George Harrison DARK HORSE (photo credit: TERRY DORAN)

Things are a bit short on the bonus material, but one, a strong acoustic demo of “Dark Horse,” has never been released and, the other, “I Don’t Care Anymore,” the B-side to the “Dark Horse” single in the States and the flip of “Ding Dong” just about everywhere else, is seeing its first CD release. Both are worth a listen.

EXTRA TEXTURE (READ ALL ABOUT IT) (1975)

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So, maybe, in retrospect, a layoff to recover from laryngitis wouldn’t have been a good thing. EXTRA TEXTURE (READ ALL ABOUT IT) sees George morphing into a Vaudevillian version of James Taylor. There is probably a really good album between DARK HORSE and EXTRA TEXTURE… because, again, there is gold amongst the dross.

George Harrison Extra Texture (photo credit: HENRY GROSSMAN)

George Harrison Extra Texture (photo credit: HENRY GROSSMAN)

The first UK single from the album, “You,” is a strong opener, with a ’60s American pop music vibe featuring horns and that charging Motown percussion sound. “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying),” the first US single is a “sequel” to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and, despite the goofy name, features some nice piano and an awesome slide solo from George. It’s probably most evident here than any other track on the record that Harrison is suffering some lingering effects of his illness. For whatever reason, George invisioned himself a soul crooner on “Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You),” aiming for a smooth Teddy Pendergrass or Smokey mid-’70s soul vibe. Needless to say, it doesn’t work. At all! The sound of “Tired of Midnight Blue” moves between an archetypical soft rock piano thing and a bluesy, hand-clapping guitar groover with the bass laying down a funky underpinning that is hard to ignore. There are some good ideas floating around in there which would probably make a couple of pretty decent songs. As they are, “Tired of Midnight Blue” is just a jumbled mess of missed opportunities. “Grey Cloudy Lies” comes on sounding like a slowed down, more somber mix of “Hey, Jude” and “Let It Be,” the doleful tone creating one of the most memorable songs on the entire record. One of the better tracks, album closer “His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)” is a heartfelt ode to George’s long time pal, Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. It’s a goofy, jiving number that brings back memories of the fun-loving atmosphere of the Beatles’ A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP! Movies and features Legs himself, doing his Doo-Dah thing.

George Harrison EXTRA TEXTURE (uncredited photo)

George Harrison EXTRA TEXTURE (uncredited photo)

The sole bonus track is a “reconstructed” demo, originally offered to Dave Stewart in 1992, a reiteration of “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying).” It features George’s acoustic accompaniment and vocal tracks, Stewart’s overdubbed guitar from ’92 and, from a session in 2002, drums from Ringo, guitar from George’s son, Dhani (of which, more later) and vocals from Kara DioGuardi were added. On the whole, this version is superior to the original, as it features a stronger vocal performance from George and heavier, more substantive backing. Harrison’s solo on the original and Stewart’s here… well… it’s a toss up; both are of the finest kind. Had the majority of EXTRA TEXTURE had this sound (or, at least, a close 1975 technological approximation), it may have fared better over the years.

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The exclusive DVD features plenty of archival material, most of which seen (and heard) before as bonus material on various reissues of the individual album. It’s kinda cool to have them all in one place, though. The highlight is, of course, a new seven-and-a-half minute feature called (what else?) “George Harrison – The Apple Years,” lovingly directed by George’s wife, Olivia. While all of the albums are housed in extravagant replicas of the original sleeves, the DVD is cradled in a beautiful book with new essays and rare images.I can’t honestly say that this DVD is worth the price of admission alone but, as you can’t get it anywhere except THE APPLE YEARS, 1968-1975 box set…

Dhani Harrison (uncredited photo)

Dhani Harrison (uncredited photo)

The entire project, meant to complete and compliment THE DARK HORSE YEARS, 1976-1992 set released in 2004, was overseen by George’s son, Dhani, and ably assisted by Olivia. Dhani comments: “I am so happy that what we started a decade ago by releasing THE DARK HORSE YEARS… is now complete with the release of his first six albums as THE APPLE YEARS… .” Dhani spearheaded a premier group of engineers as the music was digitally remastered from the original analogues. Each album is released individually, as well, with the upgrade in sound, for those fans who already have one or more on CD already or for the casual listener who may not want to jump in with both feet on such a huge package.


RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE: XX

(LEGACY/EPIC/SONY; 2012)

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If there is one thing that can be said about the 20th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album, it is this: It is impressive. Impressive and awesome. Hmm… now, wait a minute. Let’s start over. There are two words that can describe the 20th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album. Those words are impressive, awesome and comprehensive. Aawww, shoot! There are several words that can be used to describe the 20th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album. Among those words are impressive, awesome, comprehensive and essential.

Enough of that, huh? I mean, nobody expects a Monty Pythonesque review of one of the seminal albums in the realm of rap-metal. Check that – Rage Against the Machine’s first record is THE seminal album of the then new genre of rap-metal. The politically charged lyrics of Zack de La Rocha and the unique guitar sound and phrasing of Tom Morello gave new meaning to the word “intense.” The imaginative yet rock-steady rhythm section of drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Timmy C (Commerford) provide a bottom you could caulk boats with. Well, then! Using the four words in the previous paragraph, let’s take a look at this set, shall we?

Rage Against the Machine (uncredited photo)

Rage Against the Machine (uncredited photo)

First, impressive. This is where the music is discussed. From the opening track, “Bombtrack,” it is quite obvious that we are listening to something special. For a band with less than a year under their collective belts as a working unit, that is impressive! “Killing In the Name” follows. This is, quite literally, the track that put Rage on the map and in heavy rotation on alternative radio stations and MTV. This riff-heavy tune along with others like “Bullet In the Head,” “Wake Up,” and “Freedom” gives a nod to the band’s forefathers (stylistically, if not lyrically), Black Sabbath. Morello strangles sounds from his guitar that will have you checking the credits for the name of the guy playing the synthesizer. His rhythm work mimics the bass line (and vise versa), blurring the line between the two, much like the interaction between Tony Iommi and Terry “Geezer” Butler. Brad Wilk has a jazzy sensibility that belies the music’s style, much like – again – Sabbath’s Bill Ward. Of course, Zack de La Rocha, is like nothing before – a seething, venom-filled voclist who wears his convictions like a badge. When you add all of this up, what else can you call it but… impressive?

And, so, we move on to awesome. This is where we discuss the breadth (if not the size, which we’ll get to next) of the material here-enclosed. I think that the awesome aspects of this release can be best exemplified by a DVD feature. A camera was rolling as Rage Against the Machine made their public debut on October 23, 1991 on the campus of Cal State, North Ridge. As the band works into “Killing In the Name,” you can see a couple of people milling about; by the time they finish with the second song, “Take the Power Back,” the crowd is growing. As we realize that this group of individuals have been together for just a handful of months, the power and scope of what they’re doing is mind-boggling. Now, you aren’t gonna watch this video for innovative camera angles or production value. You get one camera that appears to be mounted somewhere close to the soundboard. You also get 20 year old technology, a video shot on analog tape. You will, however, watch for the historic significance of the performance, as well as the music, which is fully formed at a very early stage. Take some of the best cuts from the debut album, toss in a few lesser known tunes (“Darkness of Greed” and “Clear the Lane” from the English 12” of KILLING IN THE NAME; “Autologic,” a song from the group’s demo tape; “Hit the Deck,” which I can’t find on any other official release) and a Clash cover (“Clampdown”) and this 52-minute piece of video alone makes this package – if not indispensable – awesome!

Tom Morello (Max Whittaker-Getty Images)

Tom Morello (photo credit: MAX WHITTAKER-GETTY IMAGES)

Up next, we have comprehensive. At this point, we’re gonna talk about the packaging. First off, the “official” name of this reissue is XX, which is Super-Bowlese (or Wrestlemanian, if you rather) for TWENTY. Somewhat fitting for a 20th Anniversary issue, wouldn’t you agree? Now… here’s what you’re getting: One CD with original album (including the three track live bonus EP that was offered with some versions of the 1992 vinyl); another CD of demos, originally given away free at early, pre-record deal Rage shows; a DVD featuring a live show recorded in London on June 6, 2010 along with 12 videos spanning the band’s first eight years (4 of which are either unreleased or are officially available for the first time) and live material from a 1997 compilation; a second DVD which features video of the band’s first public performance in 1991 and 10 more live videos from 1992-94, recorded at various venues. If that’s not enough, you’ve got a vinyl copy of the album, complete with lyrics and that famous 1963 cover photo of the Buddhist Monk who immolated himself in Saigon to protest the Vietnamese government’s persecution of Buddhists. There’s also a 40 page booklet with plenty of pictures, lyrics and an essay by someone who knows a bit about the power of music and politics, Chuck D. Toss in a large 2-sided poster, a postcard and other ephemera and you definitely have something that is… comprehensive!

Rage Against the Machine (Max Whittaker-Getty Images)

Rage Against the Machine (photo credit: MAX WHITTAKER-GETTY IMAGES)

Finally, we get to essential. Well… that’s an easy one. The original 10-track album alone is an essential piece to any music collection. Add to that all of the extras discussed above and a gloriously remastered sound for that original release and you have one of this (or any) year’s essential music purchases. By the way, if you’re not into all of that extra stuff (or if you don’t wanna shell out $100 for the full monty), there are two “smaller” versions of this release: one that features just the 2 CDs and a bonus DVD with six videos from the larger package and one that offers just the first CD (the original album and three bonus tracks).


THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY

(WARNER VIDEO, 2012)

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I have a confession to make: I wasn’t thrilled about BATMAN BEGINS. So much so, in fact, that I never even deemed it worthy of my time to watch it! I think it may have been the title. Maybe, I just didn’t want another BATMAN AND ROBIN (I still have nightmares over George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell’s costume nipples… and often wonder why Alicia Silverstone’s costume was nipple-free). Could be that the truth lies more with me being more of a Marvel guy. Whatever the reason, I have avoided it until now. And, whatever that reason may be, it has also caused me to avoid – plague-like – SUPERMAN RETURNS (apparently, the only thing that one had going for it was a completely nipple-less costume!).

THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY (Christian Bale) (Publicity still)

THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY (Christian Bale) (Publicity still)

Okay, while I’m feeling confessional, I’ll also tell you that the only reason that I went to see THE DARK KNIGHT (at a real, live drive-in, no less!) was because my niece and nephew wanted to see it and I wanted them to enjoy the drive-in experience at least once in their lives. By then, of course, everyone was talking about Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker and Academy Award in the same sentence. Even though Mister Ledger was dead, I knew that even a “pity Oscar” was out of the question for an actor in a “super-hero” flick. A lot of people were even going so far as to say that he absolutely personified the Joker. When friends and acquaintances heard that I’d (finally) seen the film, all I heard was, “What did you think of Heath Ledger’s Joker? Wasn’t he awesome?” To which I replied, “That wasn’t the Joker! Sure, he played a really great psychotic murderer, but that character wasn’t the Joker.” On this point, I was adamant. Why? Comic book tradition and origin stories: The origin story given for this guy wasn’t the origin of Batman’s nemesis, the Joker. It was a story that would make almost anybody criminally insane and homicidal. It simply wasn’t what made the Joker who he was. I didn’t seem to mind that the origin of Two-Face was actually closer to the Joker’s than his true origin. But, I digress!

Next, of course, came the trilogy’s climax, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. What can I say? The Bane character never thrilled me and… Anne Hathaway as Catwoman? No thanks! Not interested! Plus… the thing was like 27 hours long or something. But, then along came Christmas in the year of our Lord 2012. With it came THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY COLLECTOR’S GIFT SET and a really sweet price for all three movies. I’m a sucker for a good deal, so…

Anyway, this is where the kicking of my own butt begins! BATMAN BEGINS wasn’t BATMAN AND ROBIN, PART DEUX. Batman’s origin story wasn’t exactly like the comics, but it was close enough. Christian Bale made an okay Batman and a great Bruce Wayne and iconic characters from Batman lore were treated with respect to their importance to the mythos (particularly Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow). Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon and Michael Caine as the Wayne family butler, Alfred, were almost spot on and both performances were definite highlights. Even at two hours and 20 minutes,I was pleased with the movie overall.

THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY (Heath Ledger and Christian Bale) (publicity still)

THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY (Heath Ledger and Christian Bale) (publicity still)

Bale’s throaty take on Batman begins to deteriorate in THE DARK KNIGHT and I just wanna give the guy a lozenge! That’s a minor complaint, but one that takes on larger proportions in the final film. Heath Ledger shows up early on and, after much consideration, I must say that – origin story aside – he really does make an excellent Joker! Aaron Eckhardt is dutifully solid as hot-shot District Attorney Harvey Dent and dutifully tragic as Two-Face… an acting job that, unfortunately, gets lost amid the manic performance of Ledger. Director Christopher Nolan gets even darker here than he did in BATMAN BEGINS, a portent of things to come (and a fitting homage to writer/artist Frank Miller, whose 1986 comic book mini-series, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, is the basis for Nolan’s vision on this trilogy). This movie takes the Batman to a very dark and violent place… and I like it!

Clocking in at just over three hours, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES takes place ten years after the last movie and sees Bruce Wayne in retirement (or, more precisely, his alter-ego is in retirement) and a Gotham City in desperate need of a hero. Bane (played by Tom Hardy and almost incomprehensible beneath that mask) is brought in to taunt the Batman out of retirement so he can kill him and assure victory for organized crime. I’m not gonna give you any spoilers (I’m sure that there are still people out there who haven’t seen these movies) but, let’s just say that hilarity DOES NOT ensue! Christian Bale’s Batman is even less understandable than in the last flick, but we muddle through. His Bruce Wayne is still good, though. Caine and Oldman are still rock solid as Alfred and (now) Commissioner Gordon, but… Holy Bat-Crap, Adam West! Anne Hathaway is… oh, just to be nice, I’ll merely call her horrible as Catwoman/Selina Kyle! Her take on this iconic villain even makes that turd with Halle Berry look good! Ra’s Al Ghul is back (and a major part of the storyline), but Ken Watanabe has been replaced in the role by Liam Neeson. Toss a coin to decide who delivered the better Ra’s. This finale definitely ups the violence factor, but also adds more of a comic book feel, which I, as true comic geek, certainly appreciate.

The whole thing is nicely packaged and, at right at eight hours of content (not counting special bonus material), a great value. Plus… the fact that the movies are fantastic doesn’t hurt.