Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Songs by George Harrison" bonus discs

In 1988 and 1992, two books were issued by the British company Genesis Publications titled Songs by George Harrison. Each of the two volumes was released as a 2,500-copy limited edition. (These books are of no relation to the 2009 compilation CD Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison). These two volumes each featured watercolor paintings by Wales-based artist Keith West, images which aimed to illustrate the lyrics of many of Harrison’s compositions. Each volume contained an afterword written by Harrison. Volume One had a foreword by Jeff Lynne and a middleword by Elton John; Volume Two contained a foreword by Ringo Starr and a middleword by Harry Nilsson. Each volume was hand-crafted in a three-quarter leather binding and came in a Solander box. Each volume came with a bonus disc (offered in vinyl and CD formats) which contained four rare Harrison recordings apiece.

I have not had the pleasure of holding these books in my hands. However, I have been able to listen to the eight audio tracks from the two bonus discs.

Four of these eight tracks were songs that were omitted from Harrison’s 1981 album Somewhere In England, reportedly at the insistence of Warner Brothers. The disc from Volume One contains “Sat Singing”, “Lay His Head”, and “Flying Hour” from this subset; the disc from Volume Two contains the other one, “Tears of the World”. The reported reason for the omission of these songs from Somewhere In England was that they were too downbeat. Ironically, the lovely “Sat Singing” and the agreeable “Flying Hour” are easily more upbeat than many of the songs that were kept on that album. On the other hand, “Lay His Head” and especially “Tears of the World” are of a more downbeat nature, which would have helped them to fit in well on the album, considering the album’s generally bitter tone. Another Somewhere In England-related track is the demo version of “Life Itself”, on which Harrison played all of the instruments. This version is actually prettier than the finished version on the album, though it does not make the listener see the song in any new or different way.

The track “Hottest Gong In Town” is a swinging 1930’s-style jazz delight that Harrison recorded for Shanghai Surprise, the wretched 1986 Sean Penn and Madonna film which Harrison executive produced. Rounding out these eight tracks, each disc features one live performance recorded in Washington, D.C. in 1974. On the disc from Volume One, the live track is “For You Blue”. This bluesy rendition of the Beatles song is very well-played instrumentally, particularly by bassist Willie Weeks, though Harrison’s voice sounds as road-worn as it reportedly was. The live track from the Volume Two disc is “Hari’s On Tour (Express)”, the instrumental from the Dark Horse album. This performance has a more organic sound than the studio version, with Harrison’s slide guitar making a stronger impression.

Notes: A few of these tracks have turned up in other places. “Lay His Head” was the B-side of Harrison’s 1987 #1 single “Got My Mind Set On You”. A remixed “Tears of the World” was a bonus track on the 2004 CD reissue of Thirty-Three and 1/3. “Flying Hour” is available for download on the mp3 version of Somewhere In England.

Bonus disc track listings:

Songs by George Harrison, Volume One (Genesis SGH 777) 1988

1. Sat Singing (recorded March 1980)
2. Lay His Head (recorded April 1980)
3. For You Blue (recorded live in Washington, D.C., December 1974)
4. Flying Hour (recorded March 1978)

Songs by George Harrison, Volume Two (Genesis SGH 778) 1992

1. Life Itself (demo version, all instruments by George Harrison)
2. Hottest Gong In Town
3. Tears of the World
4. Hari’s On Tour Express (recorded live in Washington, D.C. in 1974)

Rarebird's George Harrison Reviews

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 4

I received the fourth 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, my package was sent on June 17th. I received it on the 19th.

This fourth set of items consists of a 2-LP live album from the White Stripes, pressed on 180g vinyl, and a Raconteurs single featuring demos of two songs from their second album Consolers of the Lonely. The package also includes a Dead Weather t-shirt.

The A-side of the Raconteurs single gives us about two-and-a-half minutes of an in-studio rehearsal of the Led Zep-like blues-rock number “Top Yourself”. It’s an enjoyable little jam, marred only by a distracting part where White casually utters a few vocal verses during this otherwise instrumental recording. The B-side is the better one, containing a raw demo of “You Don’t Understand Me” sung and strummed by White on an acoustic guitar. If you only heard this demo, you’d probably never guess that the finished song would become a Beatlesque ballad with wild piano riffing. And that’s what makes the demo good: it stands alone as a spontaneous solo recording by White. This track should have been on the A-side.

The 2-LP set compiles live recordings from the White Stripes’ 2007 tour of Canada, which was the subject of the 2009 documentary film Under Great White Northern Lights. That arty cinema verite film followed Jack and Meg White as they played in Canadian towns big and small, performing in such places as bowling alleys, pool halls, vehicles, and other unlikely venues. The unusual nature of that tour makes the movie interesting to watch. These “B-Show” selections were not included on the commercially released soundtrack album, and are of bootleg quality. According to the liner notes, most of these performances are from relatively unplanned daytime shows and were recorded on the fly using non-professional devices.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take too long to become acclimated to the muddy sound quality. It’s easy to get into the groove before Side One is over; by the time you reach Side Four, the sound quality has long ceased to be an issue. “Hello Operator” and “A Martyr For My Love For You” are standout cuts. The same goes for a thumping version of “Icky Thump” apparently recorded in a pool hall, with no bagpipes to be heard.

There are a surprising number of early Stripes songs included here, including six selections from their self-titled 1999 debut album. “Cannon” is combined with “John The Regulator” just as it was on the album. “I Fought Piranhas” casually incorporates Gun Club and Hound Dog Taylor covers into a medley. The Robert Johnson song “Stop Breaking Down” doesn’t sound as different from the Stripes’ studio version as the liner notes might lead you to think.

The album’s wildest moment is a bizarre version of “Ball and Biscuit” that uses a Mellotron and blistering guitar sounds. The most surprising selection is the traditional folk song “Canadee-I-O”, which the duo reportedly never performed before this tour. The album ends superbly with a fiercely determined performance of “Screwdriver”.

In the film, White explained that the purpose of these “B-Shows” was to perform for people in small Canadian towns who didn’t get to see many concerts in their areas. Although the album could hardly duplicate the feeling of actually being at these events, B-Shows still captures the spirit of White’s intentions. For fans of the White Stripes, this album is nearly as special a treat as the actual shows were for the people in attendance.

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 once again evident on these items. Side A of the single has the words “check the Brit slang” carved in the dead wax. The double-LP has the following messages etched in the runout grooves: “Poutine pour ma reine”, “R. Kelly couldn’t have said it better himself”, “Can we just call it the synthesizer museum?”, and “The punks stole my hat”.

The album’s sleeve contained a small card providing a code that allows the buyer to download “an unreleased track” from the album. This track, which is simply titled “White Stripes Vault Exclusive Download”, is all of three seconds long. It is a recording of the one-note show that the Stripes did in St. John’s, Newfoundland on July 16, 2007. It consists of a single thudding guitar note, and it plays repeatedly until you stop it. Very funny, Jack.

Raconteurs “Top Yourself” (rehearsal demo) b/w “You Don’t Understand Me” (acoustic demo) (Third Man single TMR037) 2010

Track Listing:

a. Top Yourself (rehearsal demo)
b. You Don’t Understand Me (acoustic demo)

White Stripes “Under Great White Northern Lights B-Shows” (Third Man TMR038) 2010

Track Listing:


1. Intro/Royal Black Watch
2. Let’s Shake Hands
3. Baby Blue
4. Lafayette Blues
5. Hello Operator
6. Stop Breaking Down


1. Canadee-I-O
2. A Martyr For My Love For You
3. Hotel Yorba


1. I Fought Piranhas/Ghost on the Highway/For the Love of Ivy/Gimme Back My Wig
2. Apple Blossom
3. Ball and Biscuit


1. Cannon
2. John the Revelator
3. Icky Thump
4. Do
5. Screwdriver