Saturday, July 21, 2012

Grateful Dead "Aoxomoxoa" 1969 and 1971 mixes

In 1969, the Grateful Dead released their third studio album, titled Aoxomoxoa (pronounced "ox-oh-mox-oh-ah"). This album marked the beginning of a long partnership with lyricist Robert Hunter, who was the Dead’s non-participating songwriter. The album was highly experimental, and the band reportedly ran up a big recording budget that did not make the Warner Brothers executives happy. The album was remixed in 1971 by Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh, and the original 1969 mix was discontinued. The original 1969 master tapes were reportedly misplaced, and that mix was subsequently unavailable for four decades. The original mix finally resurfaced recently as one of the 5 LP’s in Rhino’s vinyl-only box set The Warner Bros. Studio Albums, released in 2010. Rhino also released the original mix on a separate vinyl LP in 2011. As of this writing, the 1969 mix is still unavailable on CD.

The experimental sound of the original 1969 release may have been partially due to the participation of keyboardist Tom Constanten, whose brief involvement with the Dead ended shortly after this album’s release. The band was also experimenting with then-new 16-track recording technology, and the album was recorded during sporadic sessions that took place over the course of eight months.

In 1971, after the Dead had built up a larger following with their 1970 albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, Garcia and Lesh returned to the studio to remix Aoxomoxoa, undoing most of the album’s experimental qualities.

Speaking as someone who has never been much of a Deadhead, I tend to prefer the remixed 1971 version of the album. These later mixes sound more professional and straightforward. Deadheads tend to prefer the 1969 mix, but in my opinion, that mix often comes across as sloppy avant-gardism. I’m all for creative freedom and musical experimentalism, but the original Aoxomoxoa is too self-indulgent, making the Dead come across as pretentious hippies running amok in a high-tech recording studio. The most obvious example to illustrate this point is the eight-minute “What’s Become of the Baby”, an embarrassing attempt to create an arty and surrealistic mood piece. The echo and phasing effects added to Garcia’s vocals are relentlessly annoying, as their tone constantly changes for no apparent reason except to be bizarre. The remixed 1971 version of the song is less annoying, mainly because the echo-laden vocals are more consistent in tone, and many extraneous noises have also been excised. But both versions pointlessly drown Hunter’s poetic lyrics, thus the song is a self-indulgent mistake in either form. The 1971 remixes of “St. Stephen” and “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” have a fuller, crisper sound than their original 1969 mixes. The 1969 version of “Doin’ That Rag” ends with an a cappella finale, while the remixed version simply fades out.

One song that does work better in its 1969 mix is the baroque “Mountains of the Moon”, which is more majestic in its 1969 form, due in large part to the presence of angelic background vocals. The remixed version, which had the choir sounds removed from its backdrop, has less hypnotic power. The original mix of “China Cat Sunflower” has a looser jam-band vibe than its 1971 remix; for example, the 1971 version fades out, but the 1969 mix does not. One mix of that song is not necessarily preferable to the other. The original mix of the bluesy “Cosmic Charlie” has more distant sounding vocals, perhaps to emphasize the “cosmic” theme. The song’s 1971 remix sounds more down-to-earth. Again, neither version is necessarily better than the other.

The Warner Bros. catalogue number is WS 1790 for both versions of the Aoxomoxoa LP, but the original 1969 release bore the imprint of Seven Arts Records, a company which was merged with Warner Bros from 1967 until 1969. The 2011 Rhino vinyl release duplicates the 1969 Seven Arts sticker in the center of the disc. The back LP cover of the 1971 mix reads “Remixed September, 1971”. If you are searching for the 1969 mix, the best thing to do is check the back LP cover to see if this note appears.

Trivial footnote: a five-year-old Courtney Love is depicted in the back cover art of Aoxomoxoa. Her father, Hank Harrison, was the Dead’s road manager at the time.

Grateful Dead - Aoxomoxoa

Grateful Dead “Aoxomoxoa” (Warner Bros. / Seven Arts WS 1790) 1969

Track Listing:

1. St. Stephen
2. Dupree’s Diamond Blues
3. Rosemary
4. Doin’ That Rag
5. Mountains of the Moon
6. China Cat Sunflower
7. What’s Become of the Baby
8. Cosmic Charlie

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Iggy and the Stooges “Raw Power” mixes

On Record Store Day 2012, a special double-LP edition was released of Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges’ Raw Power (Legacy 88691959351), containing the David Bowie mix of the album which was originally released in 1973, as well as the 1997 version of the album as remixed by Iggy Pop. The Bowie mix was out of print during the late-‘90’s and in the ‘00’s after it was deleted in favor of Iggy’s mix. Iggy’s newer mix has received much criticism, but this is one case where I personally don’t prefer one mix over the other. The two mixes are very different, and each of them serves its own purpose. Bowie’s 1973 mix is clearly the one that is historically important. When you hear musicians and magazine writers discussing the impact of Raw Power on the evolution of rock music, they are certainly not referring to the 1997 version. But Iggy’s mix possesses a raw power of its own.

Raw Power was the third and final album by the Stooges before the start of Iggy Pop’s solo career. Unlike the band’s two Elektra releases before it, this Columbia album billed the band as Iggy and the Stooges, instead of just the Stooges. Original lead guitarist Ron Asheton played the bass on this album, replacing the troubled Dave Alexander. James Williamson played the lead guitar on this album. There is no denying how influential the 1973 album was to the punk rock movement that emerged a few years later. The music sounds like a primitive, garage-based form of heavy metal. Iggy comes on like a barbaric, nihilistic anarchist, much like the angry and hostile screamers who appeared later in the decade.

The original 1973 release (Columbia KC 32111) was mixed by David Bowie after the folks at Columbia refused to release the too-raw initial mix turned in by Iggy and company. Although Bowie made the album more presentable, he also made it sound quite bizarre in some ways. Doing all of his work in one day, and using equipment that was archaic even at the time, Bowie tended to place Iggy’s vocals way up front in the mix, with the lead guitar at almost the same level, while pushing the other instruments further into the background. Although Raw Power is considered to be an early punk album, the 1973 mix clearly sounds pre-punk despite its unapologetically primitive sound. The ballad “Gimme Danger” sounds much like an Alice Cooper song from the period, and on the particularly wild closing track “Death Trip”, Iggy very much resembles an even more uninhibited Jim Morrison. (Ray Manzarek reportedly considered enlisting Iggy to replace Morrison in the Doors). This version of the Stooges packs a harder punch than the band did on the first two albums; “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell” is reminiscent of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” from the 1969 debut, except that it noticeably rocks harder. The 1973 album is a raw and powerful musical statement, for that time and this one.

The 1997 Legacy reissue (Legacy CK 66229) was remixed by Iggy at the label’s request (sound familiar?). With benefit of newer technology, a bigger budget, and over two decades’ worth of perspective, Iggy made the material sound more cohesive, and gave it more immediacy for ‘90’s alternative listeners. No one can accuse Iggy of watering these tracks down; while they sound less primitive, they certainly still have loud, brutish power. Iggy himself described his mix as “very violent”. But a more sophisticated mix isn’t necessarily a better one. Part of the album’s importance comes from the fact that it was ahead of its time. For that reason, the 1973 Bowie mix sounds both dated and timeless at once. Therefore, making the album sound more contemporary and less chaotic does not necessarily improve it. The good news is that Iggy’s mix usually does not hurt the material, either. One arguable exception is “Penetration”, which loses much of the sleazy Stones-like charm of the 1973 mix, although it rescues the xylophone sounds that Bowie nearly buried. The 1997 re-release of Raw Power is still a potent, barbaric burst of hard-rock energy. Just don’t think of it as a replacement for the 1973 mix.

Beware of the 1989 CD issue of Raw Power from Columbia (Columbia CK 32111), which is reputed to be a poorly remastered edition of the Bowie mix. The 2-CD Legacy Edition from 2010 (Legacy 88697 65714 2) contains the newly remastered Bowie mix on the first disc, and a second disc with previously unreleased live tracks and studio outtakes.

In 1995, two short years before Iggy’s mix hit the shelves, the indie punk label Bomp issued Rough Power (Bomp 4049-2), which purportedly contains the Stooges’ original pre-Bowie mixes of the Raw Power tracks. If the first seven tracks (from which “Shake Appeal” is missing) really are the mixes that the Stooges originally submitted to Columbia, then it’s hard to blame the company for wanting the album remixed. (Personally, I’m guessing that they are either not the first-generation masters, or that anomalies have formed from the aging of the source tapes, or both). On “Search and Destroy” and “Gimme Danger”, Iggy’s vocals sound less glam-rock-y, and they don’t stand out enough from the instrumentation. This is even more true of the messy “Hard To Beat” (the original title for “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell”), where Iggy’s vocals almost disappear; one can easily understand why Bowie felt compelled to bring the vocals further to the front in his mix. “Death Trip” doesn’t sound bad here, but Bowie definitely improved on it. On the upside, “I Need Somebody” sounds just right as a specimen of ‘70’s garage rock. Meanwhile, “Penetration” and “Raw Power” are decorated with xylophone sounds that are more audible than they were on Bowie’s mixes; Iggy’s vocals sound more raw on the former, and more distorted on the latter.

Rough Power also contains a Detroit radio broadcast from early 1973, featuring yet more rough mixes of several songs, and on-air comments from Ron Asheton. This broadcast sounds like it was sourced from someone’s homemade cassette recording, which actually adds to the fun. Although the CD packaging states that it is “Guaranteed Bowie-free!!”, a few of these tracks from the broadcast may actually be the Bowie mixes filtered through white-noisy recording; for example, it’s hard to tell any difference on “Search and Destroy” and “I Need Somebody”. But the tape and/or broadcast distortion actually adds an extra edge to “Raw Power” and “Shake Appeal”, almost giving us a feel for how those songs probably came across to ’73 listeners. This version of “Hard To Beat” is a bit too scratchy, but it’s better than the other version on this CD. The outtake “Not Right” sounds as if it wasn’t fully formed, but that doesn’t stop it from being a good, sloppy rocking-out track.

The last three tracks on the CD are listed as “still more Stooges mixes” which are “possibly” from November of ’72. Wherever and whenever those three tracks came from, they are redundancies scraped from the very bottom of the barrel, and have truly subterranean sound quality. The types of obsessive Stooges fanatics who actually listened to the entire 6-CD Rhino box set 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions are probably the only ones who will need to hear them.

The Stooges - Raw Power

Track Listing for 1973 and 1997 Raw Power releases:

1. Search and Destroy
2. Gimme Danger
3. Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell
4. Penetration
5. Raw Power
6. I Need Somebody
7. Shake Appeal
8. Death Trip

The Stooges - Rough Power

Rough Power Track Listing:

1. Search and Destroy (3/10/72)
2. Gimme Danger (3/10/72)
3. Hard To Beat (Pretty Face) (4/10/72)
4. Penetration (4/10/72)
5. Raw Power (3/10/72)
6. I Need Somebody (4/10/72)
7. Death Trip (4/10/72)

Complete WABX broadcast, early 1973

8. I Need Somebody
9. Hard To Beat
10. Death Trip
11. Raw Power
12. Search and Destroy
13. Shake Appeal
14. Not Right (previously unknown outtake)

Bonus: still more Stooges mixes (possibly 11/28/72)

15. Raw Power
16. Shake Appeal
17. Search and Destroy