Monday, November 16, 2009

Velvet Underground and Nico: original 1966 acetate

There seems to be a general consensus that the most valuable record in existence is the original acetate copy of the first Velvet Underground album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, from 1966. This acetate was originally presented to Columbia Records, who rejected it. (The album was released by the Verve label in 1967). Earlier this decade, the acetate was purchased at a yard sale in New York for 75 cents, and was sold on eBay for a whopping $25,000! The full story is here. The fragile acetate is now reportedly stored in a safe place. But, thanks to this blog entry by New York indie radio station WFMU (91.1 FM), the rest of us can listen to it online.

The acetate contained rougher mixes of 9 of the album’s 11 tracks. (“Sunday Morning” and “There She Goes Again” are absent). One thing that is odd is the sequence of the tracks, which is virtually in reverse order from that of the finished album. Placing the bizarre “European Son” at the beginning was an ill-advised idea, and it probably made a bad first impression on the folks at Columbia. This version of “European Son” is noticeably easier on the ears than the released version, even though the mostly instrumental track is no less strange. Nico’s voice sounds closer in the acetate's mix of “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, and it sounds more distant on “I’ll Be Your Mirror”. She muffed one of her lines on the latter song – or did she? An entirely different take of “Heroin” was used; it has a demo-like quality, but it does build up to an impressively intense climax. An entirely different take is also used for “Venus In Furs”; it mostly lacks the hallucinogenic mood of the released version. The acetate's take of “I’m Waiting For The Man” also sounds like a demo, but it does have a rugged live-in-the-studio type of appeal. Still, it’s easy to understand why the people at Columbia were probably not charmed by Lou Reed’s vocal on this version. The differences in the other three tracks (“Run Run Run”, “Femme Fatale”, and “Black Angel’s Death Song”) are audible but insignificant.

This acetate does not contain any startling revelations, but it is still fascinating to listen to the rough draft of this classic, influential, and ground-breaking album.

Update 12/16/12: On October 30, 2012, two special editions of the Velvet Underground and Nico album were issued to mark the album's 45th anniversary: a 2-CD "Deluxe Edition" and a 6-CD "Super Deluxe Edition". Both editions contained the nine acetate recordings as bonus tracks.

Update 3/16/13: On November 23, 2012, the acetate recordings were released on a vinyl LP titled Scepter Studios Sessions. Copies from the first Record Store Day printing were gold foil stamped with individual numbers. A green vinyl version is set to be released on Record Store Day in April 2013.

Update 5/24/14: The original acetate of the album was auctioned in July 2014 by Shuga Records in Chicago, on behalf of the acetate's owner.

Update 11/12/14: After months of being listed on eBay, first as an auction and then as a Buy It Now item, the acetate was reportedly sold for $48,750 as of November 5, 2014.

Update 12/21/14: On December 20th, 2014, I took another look at the ended eBay listing. It now appears to say that the acetate sold for $65,000.

Velvet Underground and Nico: original 1966 acetate (Scepter Studio XTV-122402) 1966

Track listing and sequence:

1. European Son
2. Black Angel’s Death Song
3. All Tomorrow’s Parties
4. I’ll Be Your Mirror
5. Heroin
6. Femme Fatale
7. Venus In Furs
8. I’m Waiting For The Man
9. Run Run Run

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Katy Hudson (aka Katy Perry)

Several years before she scored a controversial worldwide smash hit about kissing a girl and liking it, brash pop singer Katy Perry recorded something that is arguably the polar opposite: a Christian music album, under her real name Katy Hudson. (She has since changed her name to avoid confusion with the actress Kate Hudson). The self-titled 2001 CD Katy Hudson was released on the now-defunct Red Hill label. The singer was 16 years old at the time of its recording.

Perry’s hit 2008 album One Of The Boys is a generally repellent collection of noisy, in-your-face pop songs, long on attitude and short on song craft. Perry is essentially the Alanis Morissette of the late ‘00’s, having been mentored by Glen Ballard on creating angst-ridden songs which are unlike the ones she recorded as a teenager.

Katy Hudson - Katy Hudson

At first, the Katy Hudson album doesn’t sound completely different from her newer work; the first two tracks have a similarly edgy pop sound with recognizable vocals. Also, the message of “Spit” gets lost in excessive hard-rock noise. But much of the album manages to break out of these mundane trappings to show greater depth and more vocal range. “Faith Won’t Fail”, “Search Me”, and “When There’s Nothing Left” are fairly transcendent expressions of faith. On “My Own Monster”, Katy’s emotions sound real as she begs the Lord to deliver her from evil. “Naturally” and the droll “Growing Pains” have an arty Fiona Apple feel. (This similarity may have been accidental. Katy is the daughter of two non-denominational church pastors, and she was reportedly not allowed to listen to secular music when she was a teenager).

Katy Hudson is not an extraordinary album. After all, Katy was only 16 when she recorded it. However, it does show that she is capable of far more than the obnoxious contemporary trash-pop found on One Of The Boys. Now that she has succeeded at becoming famous, let’s hope that she will utilize more of her talent for her next pop offering.

(Side note: For those who are fans of Perry’s One Of The Boys album, it is worth noting that its Wal-Mart-only bonus track “Cup of Coffee” and its iTunes bonus track “I Think I’m Ready” are better than most of the album’s proper tracks. Go figure.)

Katy Hudson “Katy Hudson” (Red Hill RHCD 2223) 2001

Track Listing:

1. Trust in Me
2. Piercing
3. Search Me
4. Last Call
5. Growing Pains
6. My Own Monster
7. Spit
8. Faith Won't Fail
9. Naturally
10. When There's Nothing Left

Monday, November 09, 2009

AC/DC studio rarities

A new AC/DC box set titled Backtracks is being released this week. It contains 2 CDs and one DVD. The first CD contains 12 rare studio tracks, while the second CD contains 15 live cuts recorded between 1977 and 2000.

Although my hobby of searching out rare rock recordings did not fully develop until I was 20 or so, my first Rarebird moment came when I was a teenage metal-head in 1983. Although I owned every American-issued AC/DC album released up to that point (up until Flick of the Switch, to be exact), I still made a habit of flipping through the AC/DC bins every time I walked into record stores. One night, I came across an import copy of the band’s 1976 album High Voltage with different cover art. I had heard that the Australian versions of most of the Bon Scott-era albums contained at least one different track apiece. I was quite surprised when I examined the Australian High Voltage track listing, and found that it contained six songs which were unavailable in the States! (Most of the tracks from the American High Voltage release were released in Australia on an album called T.N.T.). As a kid who took pride in owning all of AC/DC’s albums, I was dying to hear these six songs that I didn't have. So I purchased my first rare/import album.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I got when I took it home and put it on the turntable. I thought it was so cool that I had six AC/DC songs that most fans probably did not know existed. And I liked all six of those songs, to boot. About one year later, four of those six songs were released in America on the 5-song EP ’74 Jailbreak. But the other two songs remained unreleased in the U.S. until now, as they are included on Backtracks. One of them, titled “Stick Around”, is exactly the type of unapologetically raunchy hard rock song we expect from AC/DC, and it rocks. However, the other newly reissued song from the Australian High Voltage is unlike anything else they have ever done. “Love Song” is just what its title says it is; it’s a tender and totally uncharacteristic glam-rock ballad, with a (gasp!) sensitive-sounding Bon crooning like a romantic softie. Some AC/DC fans hate the song, arguing that it’s the opposite of everything that the band has ever been about – but I love it.

The other track that was issued in America on the ’74 Jailbreak EP was the song “Jailbreak”, which was from the Australian version of the 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. There was another song from that album’s Australian edition which was unreleased in the States until it was included on Backtracks. “R.I.P. (Rock In Peace)” is a decent rocker that fits into the Dirty Deeds template, although its lyrics are actually sillier than most of the others. Another related cut included on Backtracks is “Fling Thing”, the B-side to the Australian “Jailbreak” single; it’s an odd instrumental, based on an old traditional Scottish song.

Backtracks also contains two nifty tracks from the 1977 Let There Be Rock sessions. “Crabsody in Blue” was released on the Aussie version of that album. Although its lyrics are in bad taste, it’s a good mid-tempo tune, similar to “Ride On” from Dirty Deeds. The other one, “Carry Me Home”, was the B-side of the Aussie single “Dog Eat Dog”. It’s a wilder song, with a more uninhibited Bon vocal.

Backtracks contains one other obscure Bon Scott-era studio track: “Cold Hearted Man” was the Australian B-side of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation”. It’s not great, but admirers of the 1978 Powerage album will take interest in it.

The other five studio tracks contained on the first Backtracks disc are rarities from the Brian Johnson era. Four of them (“Snake Eye”, “Borrowed Time”, “Down on the Borderline”, and “Cyberspace”) are Australian B-sides. The other one, “Big Gun”, was first released on the soundtrack for the 1993 Schwarzenegger movie The Last Action Hero. All five songs deliver the reliable, if predictable, hard-nosed attack that we expect from the Johnson-fronted AC/DC.

There are at least three Australian-released tracks which are conspicuously absent from Backtracks. The aforementioned T.N.T. album contained a cover of Chuck Berry’s “School Days”. That song was made available on the 1997 box set Bonfire. It’s listenable but hardly inspired. And where, oh where, is the very first AC/DC single? The original version of “Can I Sit Next To You Girl”, featuring their original vocalist Dave Evans, was the A-side of their 1974 debut single (Albert Productions AP-10551). The B-side was the Evans-sung “Rockin’ In The Parlour”. Evans was a fairly dynamic singer with a Burton Cummings-like voice, but he seems very tame in comparison to Bon Scott and Brian Johnson. Although most people probably don’t care about this long-forgotten part of the band’s history, I personally wish that the two Evans-sung tracks could have been included on Backtracks.

It’s good to see so many of these tracks finally receiving a long-overdue release in the United States. Although the younger Rarebird once felt like some sort of elitist for having these songs in my collection, I’m now at the age where I am simply happy that more AC/DC fans will have easy access to these songs.