Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Third Man Records vinyl Vault exclusives, Part 30

The 30th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to Platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in December of 2016. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. 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.

The thirtieth Vault package was designed to touch on all four of White’s well-known musical outlets. Packaged together in a thick yellow box, it contained two LP’s instead of one: a live album by the Raconteurs, and another live album partially featuring the Dead Weather. The single in this package contained a White Stripes song on one side, and a Jack White solo track on the other.

The Raconteurs LP Live At Irving Plaza NYC documents the very first U.S. live show from the Racs. (This LP was pressed in clear vinyl with brown streaks, making it look like it was once dropped in a mud puddle). It was recorded in April 2006, about one month before the release of the band's debut album Broken Boy Soldiers. Although the Raconteurs were a brand new band at the time of this concert, they don’t really sound like one here; after all, these musicians had already known each other for years. Dual singer-songwriter-guitarists White and Brendan Benson are nearly indistinguishable from each other as they take lead vocal turns. The other two Raconteurs, bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler, had worked together for years in the Greenhornes. Joining them for this show was future Dead Weather-man Dean Fertita, playing keyboards and additional guitar. They already sounded like a well-rehearsed outfit, as they played 9 out of 10 songs from the debut album. Except for the ballad “Together”, the rest of the band’s power-pop-with-bits-of-psychedelia rocked pretty hard in this setting. The hit-bound “Steady, As She Goes” is noticeably grittier than the studio version. The jamming gets intense on “Store Bought Bones” and “Broken Boy Soldier”. Their psychobilly rendition of Love’s “A House Is Not A Motel” has a ferocity that is more reminiscent of Arthur Lee’s post-Forever Changes work. The set closes with the “new” song “Five On The Five”, which turned up on the second studio album Consolers Of The Lonely; this track not only foreshadows the direction the Raconteurs would soon take, but also hints at the future Goth-rock sound of the Dead Weather. The Raconteurs may be old news to us at this point, but Live At Irving Plaza NYC manages to capture an exciting time and place when the world was about to be introduced to them.

Flash forward ten years, to April 2016. Live At Disgraceland, pressed in clear vinyl with blue streaks, features live performances that were filmed for, but only briefly appeared in, the October 2016 Nashville episode of the CNN program Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. (That would be Season 8, Episode 2, to be exact. It’s a very interesting episode, by the way, as the celebrity chef offers as many insights about Nashville’s music scene as he does about its eateries). “Disgraceland” is a nickname for the Nashville home of Dead Weather singer Alison Mosshart, where these intimate house party performances took place. The LP starts with three songs by the Kills, Mosshart’s indie-rock duo with British guitarist Jamie Hince. This was a good setting for the Kills’ dark-hued minimalist rock, augmented with bass and drums. All three songs were drawn from the Kills' 2016 album Ash & Ice, which was released two months after this event. The third track, “Whirling Eye”, is the standout, taking on a Stooges-like intensity not heard on the studio version. Those three tracks were a good warmup for the next three, when Mosshart was joined by her Dead Weather mates (White, Lawrence, and Fertita) for a set that draws one song apiece from their three albums. This was the Dead Weather’s only performance in 2016, and they gave it their all, almost perfectly recreating their dark and fuzzy Goth-rock in Mosshart's living room. I don't know what time this house party took place, but the first side of this LP is best enjoyed late at night. On the LP’s second side, we get something completely different: three alt-country instrumental performances by William Tyler, the guitarist who has played with Lambchop and Silver Jews, and now records all-instrumental solo albums. Tyler and three other musicians offer richly-textured electric country rock that is certainly modern, but sounds far removed from the slickness of contemporary commercial country music. On their last track, “Area Code 601”, Tyler and company jam like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but with the constant presence of pedal steel to remind us of what genre we are listening to. Live At Disgraceland illustrates the point made by Bourdain on his program that Nashville is now a musical melting pot for rock and punk as well as country.

The 7-inch single, pressed in clear transparent vinyl with red streaks, contained two tracks that are available on Jack White’s compilation CD Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016. Both songs sound good on vinyl. The White Stripes song “City Lights” is a finished outtake from the 2005 Get Behind Me Satan sessions. It’s a gentle and touching folk-rock ballad about the longing to reunite with a loved one, with Meg White playing with shakers instead of drums. The acoustic mix of Jack White’s solo song “Love Is The Truth” –- which he originally recorded for a 2006 Coca-Cola commercial that only aired once –- is a short-and-sweet pop song with a simple, uplifting love-thy-neighbor message. I think I’ll go out and buy a Coke!

The bonus items in this package are a Third Man silk-screened yellow pennant, and a print of the Rob Jones-designed concert poster from the Raconteurs show, depicting Teddy Roosevelt with vampire fangs.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. The Raconteurs LP has “Forever Changes” and “converge afresh” carved in its respective sides; the Live At Disgraceland LP has “neither feather” and “nor blether” carved. The single has “leaky roof” carved in the White Stripes side, and “Oh evilest truth” carved in the Jack White side.

The Raconteurs “Live At Irving Plaza NYC” (Third Man TMR-415) 2016

Track Listing:

1. Level
2. Intimate Secretary
3. Hands
4. Steady, As She Goes
5. Together
6. A House Is Not A Motel
7. Store Bought Bones
8. Call It A Day
9. Yellow Sun
10. Broken Boy Soldier
11. Five On The Five

The Kills | The Dead Weather | William Tyler “Live At Disgraceland” (Third Man TMR-414) 2016

Track Listing:

1. HEART OF A DOG – The Kills
3. WHIRLING EYE – The Kills
5. GASOLINE – The Dead Weather
7. WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN – William Tyler
9. AREA CODE 601 – William Tyler

The White Stripes “City Lights” / Jack White “Love Is The Truth” (Third Man single TMR-400) 2016

a. The White Stripes – “City Lights”
aa. Jack White – “Love Is The Truth” (Acoustic Mix)

Monday, December 12, 2016

(We Three) Monkees "Christmas Is My Time Of Year" (1976 fan club single)

As noted in an earlier post, Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones of the Monkees attempted a full reunion of the original quartet in 1976, but Michael Nesmith declined, and Peter Tork's whereabouts were unknown. So Dolenz and Jones recorded and toured with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart that year instead. However, Tork did turn up by the end of 1976, and he helped record a Christmas fan club single with Dolenz and Jones, titled "Christmas Is My Time Of Year". The trio was unable to simply bill themselves as the Monkees, due to copyright issues, so they called themselves by their three individual names for this single. The single also reunited them with sometime Monkees producer Chip Douglas, who co-wrote the A-side with his fellow ex-Turtle Howard Kaylan.

The 1976 fan club issue came with no picture sleeve, and some promo copies had no B-side. “Christmas Is My Time Of Year” is a likably jovial three minutes of Yuletide cheer, with lyrics that celebrate the celebratory and family-friendly mood of the holiday season. Dolenz and Jones take turns on the lead vocals, surrounded by musical passages that echo “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy To The World”. Tork played the organ; Douglas provided steel guitar and bass.

As for the copies that did have a B-side, that side featured Davy Jones softly crooning Irving Berlin's classic "White Christmas", gently accompanied by acoustic and steel guitar. Passable.

In 1986, another pressing of the single with both sides remixed was circulated by Chip Douglas at Monkees conventions, around the time of the 20-year anniversary reunion tour. This issue came with a picture sleeve, and billed the trio as "We Three Monkees". The remixed version of “Christmas Is My Time Of Year” had a more synthetic drum sound, which was fashionable in the mid-‘80’s; this version turned up on the 1988 Rhino compilation Cool Yule Volume 2. The remixed “White Christmas” is an improvement over the 1976 version, adding strings and a touch of piano.

So, did the Turtles ever record “Christmas Is My Time Of Year”? Not exactly, but the song was originally recorded and released on a 1968 single by a one-off Howard Kaylan side project called the Christmas Spirit. Kaylan’s collaborators reportedly included Douglas, Mark Volman, Linda Ronstadt, and Byrds-to-be Gram Parsons, Clarence White, and Gene Parsons. It’s difficult to find a complete and definite list of participants, but whoever was involved in this version, it is inferior to the eventual Monkees recording. The original lyrics are of a more personal nature, but otherwise, many of the same ingredients are present, including a country-based guitar sound. The snippets from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy To The World” are delivered vocally here, instead of instrumentally, by Bessie Griffin & the Gospel Pearls. Unfortunately, this version is too hectic, with the song’s various ingredients (especially its countless vocal turns) put together in chaotic fashion. Douglas co-produced this version with Kaylan, but without the smooth professionalism that he would later bring to the Monkees’ version. (Note: This song was recently included on the 2016 Turtles compilation All The Singles).

Lastly, the B-side of that 1968 Christmas Spirit single was “Will You Still Believe In Me”. It was a mellow folk-rock ballad sung by Chip Douglas, with a harmony vocal by Linda Ronstadt. It was written by Bobby Kimmel, Ronstadt’s bandmate from the Stone Poneys. It’s imperfect but pleasant enough, with Douglas singing in a warm tenor. The vocal interaction between him and Ronstadt is not unlike that of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris in the duets they would record a few years later. Therefore, it's possible that this session may have had an impact on Gram's musical development. Both songs from this once-rare Christmas Spirit single are currently available digitally as part of the 2004 compilation album Out Of Nowhere: The White Whale Story Volume 2.

Micky Dolenz / Davy Jones / Peter Tork - Christmas Is My Time of Year / White Christmas

Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork "Christmas Is My Time Of Year" b/w "White Christmas" (single) (Christmas CDS-700) 1976

Track Listing:

a. "Christmas Is My Time Of Year" - Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork
b. "White Christmas" - Davy Jones

We Three Monkees...Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork "Christmas Is My Time Of Year" b/w "White Christmas" (single) (Christmas CDS-702) 1986

Track Listing:

a. Christmas Is My Time Of Year
b. White Christmas

The Christmas Spirit - Christmas Is My Time of Year  / Will You Still Believe in Me

The Christmas Spirit “Christmas Is My Time Of Year” b/w “Will You Still Believe In Me” (White Whale WW 290) 1968

a. Christmas Is My Time Of Year
b. Will You Still Believe In Me

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Monkees "Good Times! Plus!" (2016 RSDBF EP)

Later the same year of the release of the Monkees reunion album Good Times!, a 10-inch vinyl EP titled Good Times! Plus! was released on Record Store Day Black Friday 2016. Pressed in red translucent vinyl and limited to 2,500 copies, the EP collected four tracks which previously appeared as bonus tracks on various editions of the full-length album.

The two tracks on Side One were bonus tracks on digital versions of the album, both produced by Adam Schlesinger from Fountains Of Wayne. "Terrifying", written by Zach Rogue of the indie-pop band Rogue Wave, is an innocent pop song sung by Micky Dolenz, about the scary feeling of being in love. Although Dolenz is now in his 70’s, he can still convincingly sing from the point of view of a man who is “feeling like a schoolboy”. Notably, this is the only song on the EP that all three surviving Monkees (Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith) played on.

"Me & Magdalena (Version 2)" is an alternate take of an album track written by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. The version on the album is a gentle piano-based ballad sung by Nesmith and Dolenz. The version on this EP has a faster tempo and is propelled by a jangly guitar, giving it a more buoyant power-pop vibe. If the album version sounds like the Monkees doing Death Cab, Version 2 sounds more like the Monkees doing R.E.M.

On Side Two, the EP contains "A Better World", which appeared as a bonus track on the versions of the full-length CD sold at Barnes & Noble and FYE stores. Sung by Peter Tork and written by Nick Thorkelson (Tork’s graphic-artist brother), the ballad’s lyrics are reminiscent of ‘60’s protest songs. The laid-back string arrangement is also reminiscent of that time period, although the production (by Tork and Andrew Sandoval) gives the song a modern-enough feel.

Finally, Good Times! Plus! ends with "Love's What I Want", a bonus track from the Japanese CD as well as the Barnes & Noble version. Written by XTC’s Andy Partridge, and produced by Sandoval, this song resembles many of the classic Monkees hits that were sung by Dolenz, although (like “A Better World”) it does have serious overtones.

The Monkees - Good Times! Plus!

The Monkees “Good Times! Plus!” EP (Rhino R1 557113 ) 2016

Track Listing:

1. Terrifying
2. Me & Magdalena (Version 2)
3. A Better World
4. Love's What I Want