Monday, December 28, 2009

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 2

Last week I received the second pair of exclusive vinyl items offered to platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its platinum members every three months. According to the postmark, the records were sent on December 18th. I received mine on the 22nd.

This second set of items consists of a 2-LP live album from the Raconteurs on 180g vinyl, and a White Stripes single featuring alternate versions of two early songs. The package also included a screen-print poster of the Dead Weather’s Horehound album cover image, designed by Rob Jones, which fits neatly inside the LP’s 12-inch sleeve.

The White Stripes single contains alternate takes of the two songs which were released on the duo’s first single in 1998 (Italy Records 003), recorded during the same sessions. “Let’s Shake Hands” is the A-side, and a cover of Marlene Dietrich’s “Look Me Over Closely” is on the B-side. The version of “Let’s Shake Hands” released in 1998 is a great two-minute demonstration of the duo’s small-scale Led Zeppelin ethos. On the other hand, the Dietrich cover on the original single is a somewhat unappealing bit of lo-fi camp. The alternate take of “Let’s Shake Hands” is inferior to the one on the original single; it’s similarly short, with harsher vocals and less coherent chord progressions. By contrast, the alternate take of “Look Me Over Closely” has cleaner sound, a less comical White vocal, and an added second vocal track. It’s an improvement over the take that was originally used, as it now sounds like a proper and credible White Stripes song instead of a case of Jack White mimicking a German torch singer.

The Raconteurs Live In London is from a 2008 show, so it should not be confused with an earlier limited-edition live album issued in 2006. The band co-led by Jack White and Brendan Benson perform 10 songs from their 2008 album Consolers of the Lonely, 4 from their 2006 debut album Broken Boy Soldiers, and a pair of blues covers (“Little Red Rooster” and Charley Jordan’s “Keep It Clean”). Once you get used to the slightly muddy sound quality -– which probably wouldn’t go over well on a proper commercial release –- Live In London delivers the goods. Since the two Raconteurs albums (especially the second one) use a considerable amount of studio effects, it’s good to hear the band prove they are able to perform the songs with raw and ragged glory. “Top Yourself” and the lengthy “Blue Veins” are vintage-sounding blues-rock jams. The band also stretches out comfortably on the epic “Carolina Drama”. White unleashes a burst of infectious energy on the Stripes-like “Salute Your Solution”. Most of the other songs are also well-done; “Hold Up”, “Level”, and “Many Shades of Black” are among the standouts. The only disappointing cut is “Steady As She Goes”, the band’s best known song; it ends up sounding too chaotic, with White and Benson singing around each other in discordant fashion. That unfortunate low point aside, Live In London is a useful though not essential accessory to the Raconteurs’ studio works.

Vinyl lovers will get a kick out of the cover art for Live In London. It intentionally makes the outer sleeve look worn and faded, as if the album has been sitting in someone’s record collection for decades. I wouldn’t be surprised if some Vault members didn’t get the joke and complained to Third Man Records about the quality of the sleeve. A note to those who sell it on eBay: you may need to explain this inside joke to buyers.

Another note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the forgotten practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is evident on these items. Side A of the single has the words “rescued from eBay out of…” carved in the dead wax; Side B has “… the hands of an extortionist Detroit engineer” carved. The Live in London double-LP has the following messages etched in the runout grooves: “The Legion”, “Indiana farm boy”, “Blonde BB gun”, and “Mongo”.


The White Stripes “Let’s Shake Hands” (Alternate take) (b/w “Look Me Over Closely” (Alternate take)) (Third Man single TMR017) 2009

Track Listing:

a. Let’s Shake Hands (Alternate take)
b. Look Me Over Closely (Alternate take)


The Raconteurs “Live In London” (Third Man TMR 018) 2009

Track Listing:

SIDE ONE

1. Intro
2. Consoler Of The Lonely
3. The Switch And The Spur
4. You Don’t Understand Me
5. Top Yourself

SIDE TWO

6. Old Enough
7. Hold Up
8. Keep It Clean
9. Level
10. Steady As She Goes

SIDE THREE

11. Rich Kid Blues
12. Blue Veins
13. Many Shades Of Black

SIDE FOUR

14. Little Red Rooster
15. Intimate Secretary
16. Salute Your Solution
17. Carolina Drama

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alan Mann “Christmas On The Block” (1983)

Rarebird’s Rock and Roll Rarity Reviews would like to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, or whatever you personally call this time of year.

I’m sure that most of you have been hearing plenty of holiday music lately. I’d like to share with you a Christmas song that most of you probably haven’t heard lately, if ever: “Christmas On The Block” by Alan Mann, from 1983.

This song was released only as a 7” single by a small indie label, and it is now very hard to find. However, the miracle of YouTube enables you and me to hear the song and watch its video right here and now.

Alan Mann was a musician based in the Philadelphia, PA area who was little-known outside of that region. But he did gain wider fame during the Christmas seasons in the mid-1980’s, when the then-young MTV network would air the video for “Christmas On The Block”. It’s a moving, one-of-a-kind song inspired by the people who then lived in a group house for the blind in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby. Each year, the residents of that home would decorate a Christmas tree that would be displayed in front of the house. Even though the blind residents could not see the lights and colors themselves, they still showed their holiday spirit by making this tree look pretty for others to see. Mann was so moved by this annual gesture that he wrote and recorded this song about it, and had this video filmed outside of the house.



This poignant Dylanesque song is a precious gift to the world from Mann, who usually displayed a more punk-like aesthetic (as evidenced by the single’s B-side “No Deal – No Sleep”). Tragically, Alan Mann passed away four years after the making of this song and video. In October 1987, at the age of 33, Mann apparently jumped from the second-story window of a burning building. Less than two weeks later, he died from complications caused by his injuries.

Alan Mann “Christmas On The Block” (single) (A&R 0020) 1983

Track Listing:

a. Christmas On The Block
b. No Deal - No Sleep

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bryan Adams’ 1979 disco single

The first single Bryan Adams recorded as a solo artist (following his departure from the Canadian band Sweeney Todd) was called “Let Me Take You Dancing”. The surprising thing is that it was a disco single! The original version of the song, released in Canada in 1978, sounded much like a recording by Nick “Hot Child In The City” Gilder. (Adams had replaced Gilder in Sweeney Todd). The 18-year-old Adams sang in a higher pitch than he did in his later recordings. For the single’s 1979 American release, the song was given a disco remix by John Luongo. Luongo sped up Adams’ vocals to the point where he sounded like a chipmunk! (Luongo was probably aiming to make Adams sound like Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson). For that reason, Adams has always distanced himself from the song, even though it was a minor disco hit, and soon led to Adams being fully signed to A&M Records. Adams has refused to allow the song to be included on any of his subsequent releases.

The single was released in both 7” and 12” formats. The 7” versions usually contained the John Luongo disco mix on the A-side, and a song called “Don’t Turn Me Away” on the B-side. The 12” versions usually contained an extended 5-minute disco mix on the A-side and an instrumental version of “Let Me Take You Dancing” on the B-side.

The shorter Luongo mix does have its charms. It’s quite amusing to hear Adams’ voice altered in this way, and it is fascinating from a historical viewpoint to hear the very uncharacteristic recording that launched the career of this famous commercial rocker. The song is also a better-than-average disco specimen from its time period, although that may be faint praise.

However, the extended Luongo mix found on the 12" version easily wears the song out. And the instrumental version is mostly dull and repetitive without the vocals.

“Don’t Turn Me Away”, the B-side to most of the 7” pressings, is an energetic bit of power pop that is unfortunately marred by the cloying Nick Gilder-ism of Adams’ vocals.

For more insights on this single and to hear snippets of the different versions of “Let Me Take You Dancing”, I recommend visiting the website of Jim Vallance, the song’s co-creator.

Track Listings:

Bryan Adams “Let Me Take You Dancing” b/w “Don’t Turn Me Away” (7” single) (A&M 2163-S) 1979

a. Let Me Take You Dancing (disco version)
b. Don’t Turn Me Away

Bryan Adams “Let Me Take You Dancing” (12” single) (A&M Disco SP-12014) 1979

a. Let Me Take You Dancing (disco version)
b. Let Me Take You Dancing (instrumental version)





Notes: Some early 1978 Canadian promo copies of the single contain the same original version of “Let Me Take You Dancing” on both the A- and B-sides. Some U.K. copies are labeled as containing “Don’t Turn Me Away” on the B-side, but actually contain the instrumental version of “Let Me Take You Dancing” on that side instead. U.S. promo copies of the 7” single contained the shorter disco version of “Let Me Take You Dancing” on both sides.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Attila with Billy Joel

Rarebird's Spotlight Album Review #19 is complete. The subject: the self-titled 1970 album by Attila, a heavy metal duo featuring singer/organist Billy Joel. (You read that right). The review is here:

http://rarebird9.net/attila.html

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Cure "Fade Away: The Early Years Vinyl Box Set" (2009)

For those who are extreme lovers of vinyl and extreme lovers of the Cure, the Vinyl Lovers label is serving up a pricey limited edition package called Fade Away: The Early Years Vinyl Box Set on December 15th. The 7-LP set is limited to 1,000 copies, and contains 180g vinyl discs of the first four Cure albums: Three Imaginary Boys (1979), Seventeen Seconds (1980), Faith (1981), and Pornography (1982). The other three discs in the set contain a total of 29 bonus tracks (including the epic instrumental Carnage Visors), all of which are available on the 2-CD Deluxe Editions of the three latter albums which were released in 2005. A complete track listing for the Fade Away box set can be found here. For those who intend to shell out nearly $200 USD for the set, it can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.