Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bob Marley - Natural Mystic (1992)

Despite the title of this bootleg, it isn't really a collection of solo Bob Marley recordings. Rather, it's a posthumous CD that's a grab-bag of early recordings by various incarnations of the Wailers, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Bob Marley and producer Lee "Scratch" Perry and his house band, the Upsetters.

This came out a quarter century ago, and it's long been superseded by legit collections and at least one huge box set. So why post it? For several reasons. First, it has sentimental value to me. I bought this on the cheap when I had little money to spend on CDs, and I listened to it a lot when I was much younger.

Secondly, the background of these songs were always a mystery to me. Putting this out finally gave me impetus to do some research on the recordings (which I've included in the MP3 tags). I was surprised that they were a hodge-podge of released and unreleased recordings done in a variety of settings.

For one thing, I had no idea Marley recorded as extensively with Lee Perry as he did. I also didn't know that when they put out singles in Jamaica, sometimes they didn't have catalog numbers. But the Internet now allows us to see scans of those old 45 labels and that's the way it was. For example, Marley's early version of "Satisfy My Soul, "Rock My Boat," had no catalog number when it originally came out on the Tuff Gong label in 1971. That's also the case with "Keep On Mooving" (SIC) and "African Herbsman," the latter of which is a cover of a Richie Havens song.

Whenever possible, I corrected the song titles here (bootlegs are notorious for getting them wrong). So "Keep On Movin'" is now "Keep On Mooving," which is what is says on the record label. "Don't Rock My Boat" is titled "Rock My Boat" on the label. If you want the titles as they appeared on the bootleg, just check out the scans.

Finally, if you know little or nothing about Marley's music, you might be in for a surprise here. Where his most popular material is slickly produced, these early recordings are low-fi and gritty. This is the way a lot of early Jamaican music sounded and it's pretty infections -- much like a lot of the American R&B that inspired it.

I was a big reggae fan in the '80s and early '90s, so I have a whole bunch of collections like this by various reggae artists, most of whom are far lesser-known than Marley. In the future, I may post some of the more under-the-radar ones if the mood strikes.

Related posts:
Mikey Dread - S.W.A.L.K. (1982)

Track list:
1. Bob Marley and the Upsetters - Natural Mystic
2. Bob Marley and the Wailers - Rock My Boat
3. Bob Marley and the Wailers- Keep On Mooving
4. Bob Marley and the Upsetters - Lively Up Yourself
5. The Wailers - Stop the Train
6. Bob Marley and the Upsetters - Small Axe
7. Bob Marley and the Wailers - Trench Town Rock
8. Bob Marley and the Wailers - Corner Stone
9. Bob Marley and the Upsetters - Mr. Brown
10. Bob Marley and the Wailers  - Soul Shake Down Party
11. Bob Marley and the Wailers - African Herbsman
12. Bob Marley and the Wailers - Soul Almighty
13. Bob Marley - Treat You Right
14. Bob Marley and the Wailers- It's Alright

Friday, July 21, 2017

Internet Radio Station M3U Playlist (2017)

When it comes to radio, my story isn't unique. My degree of fanaticism about pop music might be -- which is why I'm using this post to tell a long radio-oriented story and share an M3U playlist of online stations. But my actual story isn't so special.

From a really young age I was obsessed with the radio, like I'll bet a lot of you were. I'd stay up past my bedtime and scroll up and down the dial of the Sony "pocket transistor" my aunt gave me for a Christmas gift, looking for something. But since I was really young I wasn't quite what it was I was looking for. Around the time I was in fourth grade, I'd found it. I hit upon a Long Island AM oldies station that was playing a 4 Seasons song I'd never heard before, "Ronnie." After that, they played a Kinks song that was a new one on me, "A Well Respected Man." I was intrigued.

I'd always loved the music from my childhood, but it dawned on me then that there was a world of old music beyond the Supremes/Beatles/Monkees I remembered. So I continued exploring. The FM "album rock" stations that kids in school were starting to tune into didn't thrill me so much. I remember getting an earful of a Hot Tuna song and thinking it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. But getting to hear tunes from decades earlier was exciting for some reason. Still is.

By high school, I was living in the Washington D.C. area and found I could pick up a Virginia station that went by the name "Extra 104" and played only songs from the '50s and '60s. No one back then understood why I listened to this stuff. While both girlfriends and close friends had indulged my interest in the local alternative rock station (WHFS, which I wrote about elsewhere on this blog), they drew the line when it came to songs like the Shirelles' "Foolish Little Girl" or the Fleetwoods' "Mr. Blue."

But that didn't dissuade me from listening on my own, of course. And by the time I was an adult, I'd taken it a giant step further.

In 1992 I discovered a fantastic overnight radio oldies show that broadcast out of Louisville, Kentucky. It could be picked up across most of the U.S. since it was aired on a high-powered AM radio station, WHAS-AM 740. The program was "The Joe Donovan Show" and it further sparked my interest in obscure oldies, since Donovan played any and all records that made the Top 100 from the 1950s to the 1980s.

That might seem ho-hum in the age of YouTube, when almost any obscure oldie can be summoned by the click of a mouse. But in the early 1990s, "The Joe Donovan Show" was pretty much the only source for this kind of music and it felt like a window into a lost world. I'd tape the show each night and listen obsessively to them the next day. This went on for years. Donovan, who was beloved by music fanatics far and wide, died in early 2014, but his spirit lives on in the old tapes of his show that I saved. I may post them here in the future.

But that's not my point today. I'm getting to that. Soon, I promise.

When Joe Donovan went off the air twenty years ago in the summer of 1997, oldies radio seemed to die along with his program. I'm fuzzy on the details, but some anti-monopoly laws that related to media companies were removed from the books. This apparently allowed mega companies like Clear Channel to step in and syndicate their shows in multiple markets across the radio dial. Out went the countless small AM oldies stations I could still pick up in places like Ohio and in came endless airings of talk shows like "The Art Bell Show." (Granted, music was dying on AM anyway, but this was the final blow.)

Still, I was addicted to unexpectedly hearing mysterious-sounding minor hits like "Morning Glory Days" by the Pleasure Fair. What to do?

It took a few years, but eventually online radio started to come into its own. A lot of independent Internet stations had been started by music fanatics who were like me -- only more ambitious. When people started to get rid of their 56K modems and upgrade to DSL and cable, these stations became easier to listen to because the problems with buffering became a thing of the past (remember all that?). I bookmarked a bunch of favorites in my browser and started listening to them all time.

Soon I got the idea to put these stations together in an M3U playlist that I could play in the MP3 player Winamp.  As time went by, I'd add new stations to the playlist and/or refine it. At some point, while "flipping through the stations," it occurred to me that I'd inadvertently created the dream AM radio dial I'd always wanted when I was young. I began sharing M3Us playlists with people I knew, most of whom seemed appreciative but bewildered.

And that's what I'm sharing with you all today.

This particular M3U playlist contains around 75 stations. Most are independently-run and they play music you'd never get on terrestrial stations. I know what you all are thinking, so let me head you off at the pass and say that I'm well aware of Sirius-XM but avoid it. My dislike of corporate media keeps me away. Plus, the BMW-driving, McMansion-living contingent of my extended family swears by it and where they zig, I zag. As for listening in the car, I use that time to play the vinyl rips I post here.

This M3U playlist was arranged to suit my own tastes, not to provide any sort of "well-balanced" musical experience. The stations at the top of the list mostly air music from the '60s. But judging from the massive amount of hits I get on my blog whenever I post '60s music, this set up should work for most of you as well. Further down, there are a lot of other stations loosely grouped together by genre (jazz, folk, old-time music, etc.). I included nothing from genres in which I have no interest, like contemporary country. This is the way I like it. If you have better ideas that suit your own listening habits, feel free to do some rearranging.

Since a lot of these stations are run by music fans, not big companies, they sometimes switch the URLs of their streams without notice or simply go dark unexpectedly. Some only broadcast at specific hours and some turn off and then go back on willy-nilly. That's life. The scope of music they provide more than makes up for any shortcomings. But because of all that, these playlists need to be updated regularly or they become obsolete.

I could explain why I picked the particular stations I did, but that would ruin the elements of surprise and discovery. And that's what made radio really great in the old days -- knowing you could stumble onto the unexpected. That's the fun of it. Wonder what Rewound Radio or the Seven Inch Soul station are playing now? Tune in and find out.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - It's Time For... (1986)

So this is a rarity. Who'd have thought?!

Out of all the records I own, it turns out one that I reviewed for my college paper is now going for $50 or more on eBay. On the bright side, I can make some money off it. On the downside, I guess that means I'm really getting old. Bummer.

But either way, looks like it was a good thing I saved my copy and kept it in excellent condition all these years. Because that means that all of you can now hear one of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers' best albums. The question is: Why exactly did this album become so obscure?

Most likely, it's because it was distributed in the U.S. on a record label that went out of business soon after, namely Upside Records. Richman was signed to Rough Trade in England at the time, so this was a one-shot distribution deal to get the record out domestically, since Richman had been dropped by both Sire Records and Twin/Tone in years preceding this LP.

Upside Records was best known as the U.S. label for British rockers The Woodentops and judging from its listings over at, it was only around during 1986 and 1987. It was just recently that I learned how hard to find this album is, after I read a post about Richman at the It's Psychedelic Baby Mag blog and I noticed the writer didn't even reference it.

So, here's the deal with this album. It's the sixth official studio release by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. It marked the first appearance of two of his best songs, "Corner Store" and "When I Dance," both of which he re-recorded (in inferior form, in my opinion). It also had a bunch of other great tunes, like the nostalgic "Neon Sign" and the romantic ballad "This Love Of Mine." Plus, it has "Double Chocolate Malted" and "Yo Jo Jo," two rockers that now seem silly on record but worked great when I saw him in concert (I saw him multiple times in 1985-86, sometimes going to two shows per night).

When I saw Richman live the first time, his drummer was Andy Paley, who produced this album. These days, Paley is known for his collaborations with Brian Wilson and his work on TV's SpongeBob SquarePants and various movie soundtracks. But this was before all that. During the mid-1980s Paley was a sidekick to Richman, accompanying him on stage and producing two of his albums -- this one and the one that preceded it, Rockin' and Romance.

(Digression: I might have witnessed the dissolution of the Richman-Paley relationship at Washington D.C. gig in 1985 when Paley failed to show up for the first of shows that night. This bothered Richman enough that he kept mentioning it on stage. When Paley finally arrived in time for the second show, Richman didn't seem too pleased. The next time Richman came 'round (in the spring of 1986), he had different musicians with him.)
Paley's production of this album follows the tradition of most Richman LPs in that it's pretty basic. It sounds like it was mostly recorded live and with a minimum of bells and whistles. Wait, forget bells and whistles -- there isn't even any bass bass guitar! The songs have either two guitars or one guitar and a guitarrón, which is am Argentinian stringed instrument tuned to a lower register than a standard guitar. This is the set-up Richman used on stage at this point, and by bringing his live arrangements to the studio unchanged he kept their integrity.

If you're listening to this rip with headphones, you'll notice the mix is very close to mono. That's not a mistake on my part. That's the way it's produced. The mix, the songs, and even the nostalgic thrust of the lyrics hearken back to an earlier era. For anyone who is interested on my opinion as to how and why Richman's music evolved this way, read on.

Where Jonathan Is Coming From

A lot of people who discovered Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers through the rock standard "Roadrunner" seemed bewildered to learn he abandoned that revved-up style and took up "acoustic childlike music." That does describe what he did, but it's not totally accurate and becomes less so when you view his music from a more historical perspective.

Richman didn't start making kid's music per se. What he did was switched up his sources of inspiration. Instead of drawing on the late '60s Velvet Underground rock he loved as a teenager, he went back to the pre-Beatles rock'n'roll of his boyhood. So, out went songs inspired by "Sister Ray," and in came lighter, sillier music fueled by the likes of the Coasters, novelty pioneers like Sheb Wooley, light-hearted folk rock ("The Marvelous Toy," "On Top Of Spaghetti"), and even the 4 Seasons (I've long thought the opening number on this album, "It's You" has its roots in "Big Girls Don't Cry").

Richman's second studio album, Rock'n'Roll With the Modern Lovers, wasn't titled ironically, although critics didn't seem to get this at the time. The "rock'n'roll" he's referencing is the music that blasted out of transistor radios before the Beatles, the Byrds, Bob Dylan and others made it all serious and turned it into "rock." Early rock'n'roll wasn't all Little Richard and Chuck Berry. A lot of it had pretty goofy lyrics and also grew out of a bare-bones musical style that Richman adopted.

Since the '70s were so filled with humorless pomp-rock, people forgot that humor and rock'n'roll went hand-in-hand at one point. Critics can drone on all they want about how Robert Johnson's blues were the main source of rock'n'roll and how rock was about rebellion and such. Maybe so, but most of the kids of the late '50s and early '60s (who included my parents) weren't looking to become blues scholars or upend "societal norms." They were buying records like "Yakety Yak," "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear," "Short Shorts," and "Wake Up Little Susie." Those records weren't only rocking; they were amusing as hell. Ignore the comedic strain of early rock'n'roll and you're being willfully ignorant of history.

The connection between humor and early rock'n'roll was explored in detail in an essay I posted a while back "The In-Between Years (1958-1963),"  which was written by Portland-based musician and critic Mark Sten and featured in the 1978 book "Rock Almanac." Sten not only gets into how novelty songs were an offshoot of rock'n'roll, but he notes how instrumentals were big during this era. Richman excelled in this area too: One of his biggest UK hits was the instrumental "Egyptian Reggae."

Finally Sten mentions that The In-Between Years was also a great time for wistful, elegiac ballads like the Teddy Bears' "To Know Him Is To Love Him" and Thomas Wayne's "Tragedy." This style is echoed in a big way in Richman's music and it reached an apogee of sorts on the closing number of this record, "Ancient Long Ago," which I think is one of the best things Richman ever wrote. For a guy who was supposedly making music for kids, this song, which is about feeling like you've known a woman through the history of time, is pretty damned profound.

Some More Random Notes On 'It's Time For...'

One of the best things about "Ancient Long Ago" is that it features the glowing soprano voice of singer Ellie Marshall, who also appears throughout this LP. Marshall was a great foil for Richman in the 1980s and can be heard on some of his best tunes from this era, including "The Neighbors" (from 1983's Jonathan Sings!) and "Down In Bermuda" (from 1985's Rockin' and Romance).

It's also unclear as to what exactly this album is officially titled. The cover says It's Time For but the label reads It's Time For... with ellipsis. I went with what it said on the label, since it made more sense. The label also included an ampersand in the group's name, so I went with that, too. This all might seem like nitpicking, but I used to do this for a living and it mattered then.

Finally, a word about the quality of the actual pressing of this LP. It's awful. I kept my copy in mint condition all these years and barely played it, so it was disappointing to find that the sound of the actual vinyl was seriously substandard.

One big problem is a low-frequency rumble that pops up from time to time. I assume this came about because the record company used cheaply-made vinyl. But an even worse problem was the way the disc was "cut." As the first side draws to a close, there's distortion on the louder sections of the songs. This showed up when I played the record on both of my turntables, so the problem wasn't on my end.

When I did this rip, I discovered I could sidestep this distortion by using my Numark turntable, which plays in reverse. By recording the closing number on side one backwards, I found that I was able to at least relegate the distortion to one side of the stereo spectrum. After that, it was easy to "shave it off"
using the Stereo Center function of Goldwave Audio Editor, which lets you discreetly alter the volumes of the left, center, and right channels (as opposed to just left and right, like you find on a stereo).

Under normal circumstances, removing a bit of the left channel would affect the "stereo spread" of the music. But it doesn't matter here because, as I mentioned, this album's mix is very close to mono.

With all this in mind, I was able to do a "very good" quality rip of the LP. Regular readers might notice that in this post I stopped short of using my usual descriptions like "pristine" and "excellent." That's because I could only get it so good. Maybe the rest of you can't hear tell the difference, but I like to listen to music with headphones, and I can.

Then again, the LP quality issues here could be considered a type of poetic justice.

Here I am complaining that my rip has a tad bit of distortion, yet I've written elsewhere about how much I love the fuzzy, lo-fi sound of the early rock'n'roll records...the very records that were antecedents of this one. Those records include Robin Luke's "Susie Darling," The Dreamlovers' "When We Get Married," The Premiers' "Farmer John," and Johnnie & Joe's "Over The Mountain, Across The Sea." None of those records are exactly the stuff that audiophiles dream of, and yet they all get their points across pretty well.

With It's Time For..., Jonathan Richman was looking to revive his own glory days of AM radio. So him putting out a perfect-sounding album and me doing a clean-as-a-whistle rip defeats the whole purpose of that. It's supposed to be a bit messy. Sort of like drinking a double chocolate malted.

Related posts:
Trouser Press - Issue #44 (Nov. 1979)

Track list:
1. It's You
2. Let's Take A Trip
3. This Love Of Mine
4. Neon Sign
5. Double Chocolate Malted
6. Just About Seventeen
7. Corner Store
8. The Desert
9. Yo Jo Jo
10. When I Dance
11. Shirin and Fahrad
12. Ancient Long Ago

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Various Artists - Colour Me Pop, Vol. 3

With the third and final installment of the Colour Me Pop series, we have on our hands a full-blown mystery, folks. So I'm calling on the readers to help solve it -- because I sure couldn't get to the bottom of it.

In preparing these collection for this blog, I researched all the records featured on them so I could double-check the song titles and band names. Plus, I wanted to collect info about release dates and songwriters for the MP3 tags. But one song on this volume didn't check out, and no matter how many ways I look it up, I can't get any information on it.

The song in question is Track #7, which is supposedly the group Sight and Sound doing a song called "Gotta Get Out Of My Mind." I say "supposedly," because nowhere online is there any record of Sight and Sound doing a song by this title. Move bassist Rick Price was in this band and being a lifelong fan of the Move, I know a bit about them, and even I can't figure this out.

On top of that, "Gotta Get Out Of My Mind" isn't even the proper title of this song. It was originally titled "Step Out Of Your Mind," when the American Breed released it in 1967. It was their first Top 40 hit in the U.S., hitting #24 on the Hot 100. It was then cut by a British group called The Kool (who had a track featured on the first Colour Me Pop set). Their version can be heard on the second Piccadilly Sunshine collection. This ain't it.

So, did Sight and Sound ever cut this song under the wrong title? Did the record drop into such obscurity that it's not referenced anywhere -- from 45Cat to Discogs to MusicStack? Does anyone know? Rick Price, are you out there somewhere?

If any reader can figure this out, I'll add your comment at the end of this blog post and give you a shout-out.

Other than that, this volume presents more of what the first two offered: Obscure late '60s British pop that's big on whimsy and attitude. I especially like The Roll Movement's "I'm Out On My Own" and The Shame's "Dreams Don't Bother Me." All of the songs here were released on 45s except the Easybeats number "What In The World," which was a track from their second and final British LP, Vigil.

Related posts:
Various Artists - Colour Me Pop, Vol. 1
Various Artists - Colour Me Pop, Vol. 2
30 Psychedelic Collections (Nov. 2016)

Track list:
1. Herman's Hermits - Museum
2. Jo Jo Gunn - Every Story Has An End
3. The Roll Movement - I'm Out On My Own
4. Roger Earl Okin - I Can't Face The Animals
5. Sight and Sound - Gotta Get Out Of My Mind
6. The New Inspiration - Thinking About The Good Times
7. The Bats - You Look Good Together
8. Normie Rowe - Mary, Mary
9. Peppermint Circus - Keeping My Head Above Water
10. Blond - I Wake Up And Call
11. Manfred Mann - She Needs Company
12. Unit 4 Plus 2 - Booby Trap
13. The Scaffold - Charity Bubbles
14. The Downliners Sect - The Cost Of Living
15. The Easybeats - What In The World
16. John Bromley - Wonderland Avenue, U.S.A.
17. Gary Hamilton - Let The Music Play
18. Peter and Gordon - I Feel Like Going Out
19 Procession - One Day In Every Week
20. Ginger Ale - In The Sand
21. Jet Harris - You Only Live Twice
22. Windmill - I Can Fly
23. The Shame - Dreams Don't Bother Me
24. Mike Proctor - Sunday, Sunday, Sunday
25. The Rebel Rousers - Should I
26. Dave Barry - Forever

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Various Artists - Colour Me Pop, Vol. 2

The second installment of the Colour Me Pop series pretty much picks up where the first one left off. There's lots of upbeat late '60s pop tinged with psychedelic overtones.

If you're familiar with the Piccadilly Sunshine collections, the general sound here will be familiar, as will some of the artists. Some of them are familiar from work they did in other areas. Most notable are two future members of 10cc, who are represented by the cuts by the Mindbenders (written by Eric Stewart) and Graham Gouldman.

"Birthday" by the Bunch was also done by Peter and the Wolves. "One Minute Woman" was originally a BeeGees tune. The Manfred Mann tune about "Machines" has some of the most annoying sound effects ever to make it to disc.

There are also some truly great hidden treasures, like the Young Ideas' wistful "Room With A View," the Elastic Band's elegiac "Think Of You Baby," and Steve and Stevie's melancholy "Merry-Go-Round." The "Steve" in that duo is Steve Kipner, who would go on to compose hits for Olivia Newton-John, Christina Aguilera and many others.

But almost all the songs here are good if not great, especially the final stretch of this collection, starting from about song #19. This is the main reason I never forgot about the Colour Me Pop series. When you can't forget the songs, you don't forget the collections. For background, see my post about the first volume.

This is also the only volume of the series that came with full-size cover art, so it also has that to recommend it. It contains a back cover with song titles. Readers with eagle eyes might notice some of those titles differ slightly from the ones in the MP3 files and tags. That's because I looked 'em all up and corrected the ones that were inaccurate.

Doing this led me to an odd situation when I was researching the songs on the third and final volume of this series, which I'll be posting in a few days. Vol. 3 now contains a mystery I haven't been able to solve. So put on your thinking caps, because I'm going to call on readers to help solve it very soon.

Related posts:
Various Artists - Colour Me Pop, Vol. 1
30 Psychedelic Collections (Nov. 2016)

Track list:
1. The Mirror - Gingerbread Man
2. Jigsaw - Lollipop and Goody Man
3. The Mindbenders - The Man Who Loved Trees
4. Double Feature - Just Another Lonely Night
5. Jackie Lomax - One Minute Woman
6. Sounds Around - Red White and You
7. The Gods - Baby's Rich
8. John Bromley - Melody Fayre
9. The Twilights - What's Wrong With the Way I Live
10. Circus - Sink Or Swim
11. Simon Dupree and the Big Sound - Day Time, Night Time
12. The Herd - I Can Fly
13. Graham Gouldman - Upstairs, Downstairs
14. Katch 22- While We're Still Friends
15. The Bunch - Birthday
16. Happy Magazine - Who Belongs To You (Ooby Dooby Doo)
17. The Young Idea - Room With a View
18. Manfred Mann - Machines
19. The Snappers - Upside Down, Inside Out
20. Kippington Lodge - Tomorrow Today
21. Crocheted Doughnut Ring - Maxine's Parlor
22. Grapefruit - Round Going Round
23. The Elastic Band - Think Of You Baby
24. The Nite People - Weird & Funny
25. Onyx - Time Off
26. Steve and Stevie - Merry-Go-Round

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Various Artists - Colour Me Pop, Vol. 1

Here is the first installment of an obscure three-part anthology of British music that has its origins at the long-defunct Faintly Blowing blog, which specialized in obscure 1960s sounds.

The series is a  called Colour Me Pop, and collects up (mostly) obscure British singles from the late '60s. Title notwithstanding, this series has nothing to do with the old British music TV program from the late 1960s that was also called "Colour Me Pop." So if you're expecting a collection of rare live performances by acts like the Small Faces, The Move, etc., you're in the wrong place. These sets are filled with artists that most people don't even know existed.

I discovered the Colour Me Pop sets when Faintly Blowing posted them in 2008. I've listened to them regularly, but apparently few others have 'em because I never see them posted anywhere. So I thought I'd bring them back here, replete with info in the MP3 tags.

If all of this sounds familiar, it's because I did a similar thing back in November, when I posted a full month of psychedelic rock and pop collections (see link below). Back then, I realized I was in possession of the early, original home-brew editions of the Piccadilly Sunshine series, which also originated over at Faintly Blowing.

The focus of Colour Me Pop isn't all that different from Piccadilly Sunshine. Each collection serves up slices of little-heard post Sgt. Pepper pop-rock. The songs are whimsical, lyrical, and defiantly British, at least in most cases. The early BeeGees and Hollies seems to be a touchstone for a lot of these acts. Since these collections are not really psychedelic per se, I didn't include them with all the other psych (and popsike) sets I put out in November. However, there is some psychedelic influence in most of these records, which isn't surprising considering what was happening at the time.

I going on the assumption that the blogger who used to run Faintly Blowing put these together, since I can't find any earlier referenced to them online. If that's the case, let's give him a big metaphorical round of applause since he did a fantastic job. I've listened to these collections regularly for years. To make this all the more mysterious, a third volume of Colour Me Pop also exists but it's not featured in that original blog post. Somehow I obtained it back around 2010, and I'll present that one too. Wonder where I got it? Who knows.

As for the songs, several have become favorites of mine over the years. But I'll single out just one that I especially love: Locomotive's "Rudi's In Love," which was a Top 30 UK hit. It was also and a follow-up to their classic tune "Rudy -- A Message To You," best known for its cover version by The Specials. I'm not sure why the compilers thought to include this pop-reggae tune among the more Lite Pop-styled tracks here, but I'm glad they did.

If you want more info, check the MP3 tags or the file names themselves. These sets came with label info, and I took the time to also add songwriting credits. Speaking of which, the final track was written and performed by some of the guys who later formed 10cc.

Finally, the front cover images in this series are of poor quality because that's the way they were when I got them. I'm guessing that the images were small because back when these were made, everyone had less disc space and the way to cut down on file sizes was to keep the J-Pegs tiny.

Related posts:
30 Psychedelic Collections (Nov. 2016)

Track list:
1. Double Feature - Come On Baby
2. The Gass Company - Everybody Needs Love
3. Los Bravos - Brand New Baby
4. Promise - Just For You
5. Eyes Of Blue - Don't Ask Me To Blend Your Broken Heart
6. The Kool - Room At The Top
7. Jon Gunn - Now It's My Turn
8. Bats - Stop, Don't Do It
9. The Bunch - You Can't Do This
10. Warm Sounds - Birds And Bees
11. The Doughnut Ring - Dance Around Julie
12. Grapefruit - Yes
13. Jigsaw - Let Me Go Home
14. Katch 22 - Makin' My Mind Up
15. Honeybus - Girl Of Independent Means
16. Denny Laine - Ask The People
17. The Montanas - Mystery
18. Simon Dupree And The Big Sound - Thinking About My Life
19. Toby Twirl - Back In Time
20. Young Blood - Green Light
21. The Twilights - Needle In A Haystack
22. The Sweet - Slow Motion
23. The Locomotive - Rudi's In Love
24. Pregnant Insomnia - You Intrigue Me
25. Andy Ellison - Fool From Upper Eden
26. Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon - I'm Beside Myself

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Pat Travers Band - Live at the Warfield - San Francisco (1980)

Canadian hard rocker Pat Travers became known to the masses in America after the release of his 1979 concert LP Live! Go For What You Know. The album contained the FM radio staple "Boom Boom (Out Goes the Lights),"* which also became a minor pop hit, getting to #56.

Travers had put out four studio LPs before Live! Go For What You Know, and while they were good, his live album was a cut above any of them. The music had tons more energy and Travers' songs worked better when given a looser feel. That's also the case with this bootleg, which contains a full Travers gig taped on May 25, 1980 at San Francisco's Warfield concert hall. This was out on some of the other music blogs a long time ago, but it's since disappeared, so I'm bringing it back.
What makes both this recording and Live! Go For What You Know so exciting are the dual lead guitars featured throughout, done by two Pats: Travers and Thrall. From 1978 to 1980, Travers' band included a second lead guitarist, Pat Thrall. As I've written elsewhere, the juxtaposition of Travers' bluesy wailing and Thrall's metal shredding was one of those rare combinations that works perfectly. When the two played together, sparks flew. Shame it didn't last longer.

This basic recording might be familiar to at least some Travers fans because it got a brief release three years ago under the title Snortin' Whiskey at the Warfield. However, it was only put out in a limited edition of 2000 copies in that form, so not too many people got to hear it.

This bootleg actually pre-dates that release, plus it includes an extra song, the opening number, "Rock and Roll Susie." More importantly, this version has a far better mix, at least in my opinion. It emphasizes Tommy Aldridge's rock solid drumming and the sound is much less compressed.

The bad news is that the rip that I have here was taken from a copy of the bootleg that had some scratches. This isn't really evident during most of the songs, but you can hear it at some points when the music cuts out, like during the between-song announcements. Still, a few ticks and pops are a minor pox on a major document of a fantastic hard rock concert from the classic rock era.

Travers was more a traditionalist than a pioneer, but what he did he did very well. He and his band performed unpretentious, no frills bluesy rock with a muscular edge. It's a continuation of the style developed by the early Allman Brothers and Humble Pie as opposed to a precursor to what would come in the '80s. But since a lot of '80s rock tended to be overproduced and a bit too pop-oriented, Travers music, like that of the Allmans, has aged extremely well. This sizzling live show provides a good example as to why.

* "Boom Boom (Out Goes The Lights)" (as opposed to "Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights) is the way Travers spelled the title out on his live album and the way Little Walter spelled it on the original single, even though Walter didn't include the last four words in parenthesis. Conversely, on the single release by Travers, the title was written as "Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)." The original Little Walter 45 also included a comma between each word "Boom," but Travers has never included the comma. Just thought everyone would want all that straightened out, because I know we all live to split hairs over grammar in song titles.

Related posts:
The Pat Travers Band - BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert (1980) 
The Nighthawks - The Nighthawks (1980)
Humble Pie - The Scrubbers Sessions (1997)

Track list:
1. Rock And Roll Susie
2. Hooked On Music
3. Gettin' Betta
4. (Your Love) Can't Be Right
5. Life In London
6. Snortin' Whiskey
7. Stevie
8. Born Under A Bad Sign
9. Boom Boom (Out Goes The Lights)
10. Crash And Burn
11. The Big Event
12. Hammerhead
13. Statesboro Blues

Monday, June 26, 2017

Debbie Gibson - 'Out of the Blue'-Era 7-Inch Singles: A's and B's (1987-88)

If you were tuned into Top 40 radio 30 years ago, you would have been catching your first earful of a new singer-songwriter named Debbie Gibson. The Long Island-bred musical prodigy was just 16 years old at the time, but she was writing her own songs and burning up the charts with the first of a bunch of hit singles, "Only In My Dreams."

"Only In My Dreams" had actually come out in Dec. 1986 as a 12-inch single, but it didn't hit the Top 40 until the 7-inch was released in March of 1987. By May 9, 1987 it had made the Hot 100 (click on Billboard chart graphic at right) and it eventually got to #4 by early summer. Depending on your disposition, Gibson's brand of chirpy, ultra-commercial freestyle dance music was either pure pap or pure pop. I fall into the latter camp. I think her music helped define '80s pop, much the way girl groups defined early '60s music.

Gibson's chart run wasn't long, but it definitely left an impression on the music biz because she influenced the scads of teen-pop singers who ruled the charts a decade later. It's hard to believe now that Britney Spears came along only eleven years after Gibson. I was young then and time moved slower, so the chart reins of each seemed as if they were from two completely different lifetimes.

This collection features Gibson's first five singles and their flip sides. And by that I mean the actual 7-inch singles. These rips are from 45s that are part of my personal collection. They're presented along with high-quality scans of the discs and picture sleeves (including the rare sleeve for the "Staying Together" 45). None of the B-Sides have ever come out on CD and most are specific to the 45 record. Only one of them appeared on one of Gibson's 12-inch singles (which I compiled here).

All of these records have that classic trebly, compressed 45 record sound, which was designed so these songs would "pop" when on radio. This collection should accurately capture what all of us from that era were hearing when we tuned into the local Top 40 station.

Track notes:

1. Only In My Dreams
The original vinyl 45 of Gibson's first single has mix that's different than the LP/CD version. For starters, some of the percussion sounds are panned right instead of centered and in the intro, while the synth sounds themselves are different and much thinner. Also, the electric rhythm guitar is mixed way down. Producer Fred Zarr must have beefed up the backing track for the LP, which came out a few months later, in Aug. 1987. There are also a couple of elements here that aren't on the LP version. First, there's echo on the last few vocal ad libs during the solo. Second, the fade includes some sax playing that was nixed when they mixed it for the album.

2. Only In My Dreams (Dub)
This is a  bare-bones remix/restructuring of the A-Side sans the lead vocal. This mix is unique to this single and never made it onto a 12-inch single.

3. Shake Your Love
Here's the 45 version of Gibson's signature song, which is pretty much the same as the LP version. But since this is directly from the single, it's a bit more trebly and effervescent than what you now get on the CD.

4. Shake Your Love (Bad Dubb Version)
This B-Side is less hard to find than the others because it was also put on the 12-inch single. This is actually a pretty good electronic freestyle groove; they take the song apart and reassemble it into something else entirely. I'll bet this got at least some play in dance clubs at the time.

5. Out Of The Blue
It's hard to tell if this is a slightly different mix than the LP version or if the mastering and compression make it seem different. The high-hat is more trebly here and it's panned center instead of center-right. Also, the track has less reverb -- something that's especially apparent during the guitar solo, which is more in-your-face here. Conversely, the bell-like keyboard sounds during the verses aren't as prominent. Finally, the backing vocalists on the chorus are more prominent here. At the time, this became Gibson's biggest hit to date, getting to #3.

6. Out Of The Blue (Dub Edit aka Edited Dub)
This one is called "Dub Edit" on the sleeve and "Edited Dub" on the label. So, we'll go with both titles here. Unlike the previous B-Sides, this one doesn't have any fancy electronics or cut-and-paste editing. Instead, it's a pretty straightforward edition of the backing track with vocals removed and keyboards replacing parts of the vocal melody. There's also more guitar at the end.

7. Foolish Beat
Gibson's first #1 single is the same as it is on her LP. She produced this herself and remains the youngest artist to write, produce, and sing a #1 single. After George Michael died, she confirmed something I'd long suspected by saying this song was inspired by "Careless Whisper," right down to taking the song title from a line in the second verse, as opposed to the chorus.

8. Foolish Beat (Instrumental)
A Lite Jazz reworking of the A-Side. It features Spanish-styled acoustic guitar and saxophone in place of the vocal (which makes a surprise appearance when the title comes up in the lyrics). As Lite Jazz goes, this is pretty impressive and in some ways as good if not better than the A-Side.

9. Staying Together
For Gibson's fifth and final single from her first album, she re-cut the vocal track. Because of that, Gibson and Zarr (who co-produced) had to give the song a new mix. The biggest difference between this and the LP version (besides the vocal) is that the single has a much heavier bass sound. In fact, it sound to me like they took the twangy synth bass from the album version and layered it with another, deeper bass sound. This might not seem a big deal now, but in that era, the "stacking" of electronic sounds using MIDI was considered cutting-edge.

They also did some tweaking of the drum sounds, most notably altering the sound of the snare drum (MIDI again!). The tambourine that was featured on every other snare drum beat is also brought down in the mix and panned over to the right (instead of dead center).

Finally, the single version runs at a slightly faster tempo and it includes an extra out-chorus before the end. The extra chorus comes in at the 3:30 mark and gives Gibson the chance to do some high-pitched vocal ad libs. All of this makes the single around 15 seconds longer than the LP version, which is weird because singles are usually edited down. Maybe this is why "Staying Together" became Gibson's first effort to miss the Top 10. It only rise to #22 in summer 1988. Then again, five hit singles from one LP is an achievement for any artist, so you can't expect everything to be a grand slam.

10. Staying Together (Dub Edit)
This "Dub Edit" is different than the "Dub Version" on the 12-inch single, which runs over a minute longer. This one is pretty much the single mix without the lead vocal. They did, however, leave in all the backing vocals plus Gibson's harmony vocal, so anyone who wants to sing lead over this should have an easy time. Maybe they should have called it "Karaoke Edit."

Before I sign off, I want to mention that Gibson is still active in the music scene, despite being diagnosed with Lyme Disease a few years ago. Her big appearance this summer will be headlining Brooklyn, New York's Unicorn Carnival, a multi-artist music festival that will take place Saturday, July 8, 1-9 p.m. The festival will be held at Greenwood Beach at Coney Art Walls. Just Google the festival for ticket info.  Update: I just read on Gibson's Facebook page that this festival is being postponed until September and she now won't be there when it happens. Oh well.

Related posts (i.e. the largest collection of Debbie Gibson rarities on the Web):
Debbie Gibson - 12-Inch Singles (1986-88)
Various Artists - The Songs Debbie Gibson Gave Away (1988-92) 
Debbie Gibson - The Alternate Electric Youth (1989)
Debbie Gibson - Rarities (1990-1999)
Debbie Gibson - Acoustic Live (1991) 
Chris Cuevas - Somehow, Someway (1991) 
Deborah Gibson - Memory Lane Volume 1 (2004)
Deborah Gibson - Memory Lane Volume 2 (2005)

Track list:
1. Only In My Dreams
2. Only In My Dreams (Dub)
3. Shake Your Love
4. Shake Your Love (Bad Dubb Version)
5. Out Of The Blue
6. Out Of The Blue (Dub Edit aka Edited Dub)
7. Foolish Beat
8. Foolish Beat (Instrumental)
9. Staying Together
10. Staying Together (Dub Edit)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Dozen Tips for Creating Clean Vinyl Rips

I've mentioned several times on this blog that I planned on writing up a rundown on how I create my vinyl rips -- or "needle-drops," as they're also called. Well, here it is. This is an overview of most of the techniques I employ to convert old albums and 45s into high-quality MP3 files.

When I do needle drops, it's because I want to listen to rare (non-CD) vinyl in my car or on my computer with headphones. Therefore, I try to make my rips as close to CD quality as possible. That means: Clean starting and ending points for each track, no scratches, no surface noise, very little residual turntable noise, and a consistent volume throughout. Over years, this has become an obsession for me and I've discovered more and more ways to get the sound I want.

What follows are the most important techniques I employ in attempting to attain crystal clear vinyl rips. I marked the quirkier techniques I developed myself as "helpful hints," to set them apart from the main text. And, trust me, some of these ideas really are quirky, if not outright strange. But they work for me and should also work for anyone who chooses to use them.

In writing this up, I went on the assumption that everyone reading knows (and has) the basics when it comes to recording vinyl into a computer. You should have an above-average turntable, a good receiver, a pair of high-quality headphones, and some know-how about basic sound editing. Did I mention headphones? I did? Well, I'll mention them again. I can't recommend strongly enough that you monitor the editing process on headphones for close listening. Also, you should do all this in a quiet room, where you don't hear the buzz of the refrigerator or the "whooshing" sound of the HVAC system.

Also, even though USB turntables are sold for this specific purpose, you don't need one to do this. You can just as easily wire the "tape out" jacks of your stereo directly into the "line in" jack on your computer. You also don't need to buy ProTools or any fancy editing program. You can download an excellent freeware program called Audacity and use that to both record and edit. I taught myself digital sound editing with this program in 2002. So can you, I'll bet. For the record (pun intended), when I use Audacity, I set the recording level at 35 and the "Project Rate" at 48000 Hz. Then I hit record, and I'm off-and-running. Now, here's ten other things I recommend.

1). Clean the discs...obsessively
For me, cleaning a record means more than using the popular Discwasher Record Care System. When you have records that are 40- or 50-years old, dust gets embedded deeply in the grooves. Using Discwasher (and its liquid solution) will help, but it can't completely remove decades of dust. I found that water actually works better. Fill a sink up with warm water, then dip LP or 45 in vertically and rotate it, while trying to avoid getting the record's label wet. Then dry thoroughly with a thick, fluffy towel. Then use Discwasher, but without the solution. Use it just use it to collect up the excess dust. And get used to this because you'll be doing it several more times.

Helpful hint: I warned you this was gonna get weird. Well, here the weird part. To bring down the surface noise on old record, play it backwards at least once. Yes, you read that correctly. Backwards. Make like John Lennon and George Martin on "Rain."

Seriously, I discovered by accident that playing a disc in reverse can often wipe away residual noise. I found this by accident while making mixtapes (way back when) and cueing up the beginning of a record. After spinning an intro backwards and forwards to find the perfect "opening" spot, it hit me that the record suddenly sounded cleaner. Who knew?

I used to do this by hand, but started thinking that only insane people spin entire LPs backwards manually. So I went on eBay and bought a used disc jockey turntable -- a Numark TT200 -- that has a switch that allows you to play discs in reverse. (See below.)

To summarize, my entire cleaning ritual is as follows: Clean with water, play disc forward, play disc backwards, then play disc forward again. Preferably twice. And I keep dusting with Discwasher after each spin. Remember: The more you prepare the disc itself for recording, the less editing and correcting you'll have to do later on. An ounce of prevention and all that. Conclusion: When it comes to cleanliness and records, pretend your name is Alice or Hazel (look them up, Millennials).

2). Use ClickRepair...and use it like this
After I record the disc and create a WAV file in Audacity, I run all of my needle-drops through ClickRepair. This program is by far the best when it comes to removing scratches, tics, pops, and surface noise. You can use it for free during a trial period, but after that it's definitely worth it to buy the program and support the guy who invented it, Brian Davies. For me, sending out a vinyl rip without ClickRepair is like leaving the house without clothes.

Helpful hint: I found out that this program is more effective if (you guessed it!) you reverse all your WAV files and run them through ClickRepair backwards. Why is this? Because scratches are percussive in nature and sometimes ClickRepair "interprets" percussive drum hits and hi-hat sounds as scratches -- which leaves you with an awkward popping sound on the drums. But if you flip the music running into it backwards, it "hears" the drums as "whooshes" but still hears the scratches as scratches. Therefore, it works better this way and leaves you with a cleaner, more error-free sound.

I use this program sparingly and have found it works better that way. Less is more. The "DeClick" and "DeCrackle" functions can be set as high as 100, but I only use them at 30 (see below). Sometimes if there's a lot of surface noise, I'll set the "DeCrackle" to 40 or 50.

Helpful hint #2: When dealing with albums (as opposed to 45s), I've found it's most efficient to run each full side individually through ClickRepair. After you do noise reduction (see below) you can then split the WAV up into individual files of songs and do close listening to make sure they're clean enough. But beware of one little quirk regarding albums: The closing tracks on each side of an LP usually sound poorer that the others because the grooves are scrunched closer together. This sometimes results in a bit more noise. If you hear a "sizzle" on the vocal or if the track sounds "fuzzy," what you can do is take that individual song file, make sure it's reversed (of course), and run it back through ClickRepair, using ONLY the DeCrackle feature, set to 45-60. That should clean the rest of it up.

3). Reduce noise, don't try to eliminate it
It's called "noise reduction," not "noise elimination." There's a reason for that. The overuse of noise reduction ruins a lot of needle-drops. If you notice a "swirling" metallic sound when your files fade out, you're overusing this function. That means higher-end frequencies are being reduced along with the noise. You might not notice the loss of high end on its own, but if you do a side-by-side comparison with the original record, it'll become apparent.

As I mentioned, I use the program called Audacity to do my editing. I also use it for noise reduction. The settings I found work best are: Noise reduction (dB): 6; Sensitivity: 4.00; Frequency smoothing (bands): 1. I keep the "noise" option at the bottom set at "Reduce." (See below.)

4). Use noise reduction more efficiently
So how do you reduce noise, but keep the sound of the record intact? First off, let's backtrack a bit. When recording the album, make sure you record a generous portion of the "blank space" on a record before the music starts. This way, you have enough noise from which to grab a "sample." (Noise reduction effects allow you to "sample" a portion of the noise, then subtract it from the file.)

This should go without saying, but after running the files through ClickRepair when you go to do noise reduction, be sure to "un-reverse" them. That way you can sample the noise from the beginning of the album's side as opposed to the end. But...

Helpful hint: I found you you can make your noise reduction much more effective if you employ the effect on each channel individually. Audacity allows you to separate the left and right channels and edit each one independent of the other. To do this, use the "Split Stereo Track" feature in the "Audio Track" function, located directly to the left of your actual WAV file (see the red markings in the graphic below).

Once you've separated the channels, it's time to reduce some noise! First, grab a sample that's drawn from the pre-song blank space at the start of left channel and reduce noise on that channel. Then do the right one. This works wonders. Why does it work so well? Well, if you listen to a record with headphones, you'll notice during the so-called "silent spaces" that the surface noise you hear is slightly different on each side. So doing noise reduction globally (to both channels) is really a compromise that doesn't do justice to either channel. But doing it separately for the left and right sides allows you to remove the specific noise from each side of the stereo spectrum.

Helpful hint: I found it best to use noise reduction after I employ ClickRepair, which is why I've numbered them in this order. Doing this works better for me because sometimes noise reduction smooths out a record "hides" tiny scratches or surface noise artifacts from ClickRepair.

Helpful hint #2: Noise isn't consistent throughout the side of an album. So, someone I'll split up the tracks and do noise reduction to the individual songs. This isn't necessary for most LPs. In most cases, reducing noise for an entire LP side works fine. But for really old noisy albums, doing it per song or to groups of songs (i.e. tracks 1-3/tracks 4-6) might be what's needed.

5). Create clean beginnings and endings for each track
One of the things that annoys me most when listening to some needle-drops is when an MP3 begins three or four seconds into the track. We shouldn't have to wait that long after hitting "play." But on the other hand, files shouldn't start instantaneously when you hit play, because then they can come off sounding like their intros are truncated (especially when you put them in playlists). So...

Helpful hint: I found that placing exactly 30 milliseconds (0.30) of silence before the sound of a WAV file commences gives you the ideal starting point. (See graphic below.) It's just enough for breathing room, but not enough so that the track sounds delayed when it starts.

Helpful hint #2: I use the "fade-in" function to assure these milliseconds before the music starts are totally silent. To assure complete silence in those 30 milliseconds, use the fade-in effect three or four times, sometimes starting at the 10 ms mark and moving outward to 30 ms.

As for the end of tracks, my rule is to put three second of silence after each track...unless there is a special circumstance. Some albums have oddly-timed silences that are part of the presentation (i.e. Elvis Costello's Get Happy!!). In cases like this, I honor what the producer wanted and mimic the exact blank space between tracks.

(Once again, I'll stress that you really need to monitor all this on headphones if you want to make absolutely sure your 30 milliseconds of blank space is silent and your fade-outs are smooth. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you do with with speakers, then decide one day to listen on headphones, you may be in for some disappointing surprises.)

6). Make "spot corrections" on WAV files
Occasionally, you'll find that after all of this, there is still a problem. Call it "the scratch that won't go away" syndrome. Repairing such things can get complicated. I've developed so many solutions to this, that I may do a full write-up on them in the future. For now, I'll relate my simplest solution: Do "spot repairs" on just the offending section, not the while file. Here's how.

Audacity allows you to "cut" a section of the WAV file out, then "paste" in back into the exact same place seamlessly. So what I do is I cut out the offending few seconds that have a scratch, create a new file, and then paste that section into the new file and hit "save." (Audacity requires you to name files when you save them. It makes sense to name these correction files something like CRX.)  Then I run the CRX file through ClickRepair, but this time I push the settings to their limits -- upwards of 70 for DeClick and DeCrackle. So I really hammer the error with ClickRepair. Usually this fixes the problem.

Since the repair portions are so small, you usually don't have to worry about spinning the WAV file in reverse. But you can do that. When ClickRepair is done, just open your CRX file, hit "copy" and paste it back into the main file. You should have a seamless edit.

Helpful hint: Spot corrections can be done on specific channels. Meaning: If the offending scratch is just on the right side (let's say), I use the Split Stereo Track feature and "cut" that portion of just the right channel. Then I make a file for it, send it through ClickRepair, then pull up the file in Audacity. I then delete the blank left channel and cut-and-paste only the corrected right channel back in where I cut it. Yes, it's complicated but it usually works, and Audacity is great with these seamless edits, so long as you don't mess with the original file after you do your cut.

Finally, sometimes when you record a record, a pop will resound during that specific play because nature or the gods or whomever intended it. Go back to the actual disc and listen to that. If the pop isn't there, it was a one-time thing because that's just the nature of vinyl. Sometimes. So re-record that song from scratch. This doesn't usually happen, but it has happened to me, and it's worth at least looking into.

7). Make sure the file is loud enough
Once you're done cleaning up and editing the WAV files, you can convert them to MP3s. But before doing that, make sure they have enough presence. Presence = volume. Listen to your WAV files next to your favorite MP3s. Are they too low? Are they too loud? Usually, LP files are a bit too low and need a little boost. Use the "amplify" function to be sure the WAV file is raised to its maximum level. If the music still doesn't seem loud enough, that's likely because of the idiosyncratic nature of vinyl. Often a record will have big sonic "spikes" and those will prevent you from raising the volume on the whole track, since a few small sections stand out so much that they prevent the rest of the track from being raised (see the red circle in the graphic below).

Helpful hint(s): There are two effects in Audacity you can use to beef up the volume. The first is the limiter which shaves off the peaks. The second is the amplify effect, which then lifts the overall volume. Whatever amount of limiting you do, you'll do the same amount of amplifying. So if you limit - 1 dB, you'll then be able to raise the volume 1 dB. For the record, I never go beyond 3 dB.

Why? Because if you use any more than that, I found, starts to affect the sound -- something that has caused controversy among audiophiles since modern-day producers overuse limiting and compression to make their tracks sound hotter. Unless your goal is competing with Katy and Miley, keep the limiting to a minimum and use it only to saw off the sonic anomalies.

8). Make like the Cookies and use chains
Employing these two aforementioned effects one after the other can get confusing and tedious. So what I've done in Audacity is developed "chains," which let you apply both effects at once. Just make sure you do them in the right order (limiter>amplify). I created a bunch of "limiter/amplify" chains for different occasions, ranging from - 0.50 dB to 3.0 dB.

As for Audacity's chain device: It isn't found in the effects section. Rather, they put it under the "file" tab (first one on the left). Clicking file>edit chains lets you set one up. This can get complicated to explain, and not everyone uses Audacity, so for details, go to the Audacity Forums online. One final note about chains: When you use them, do not highlight the file with your mouse. If you do, Audacity adds a few milliseconds to the end of the tile for some reason.

I personally like doing things like setting up chains and spending days exchanging ideas on the Audacity Forum. Not everyone does, however. So if developing custom chains seems too much of a pain, you can also do limiting and then amplifying individually to each file, as I mentioned earlier. But I found that got too time consuming and left a lot of room for error. I'd be in the middle of doing ten files and then stop to think "Wait, did I limit Track #4 already, or do I need to do that?" The learning curve here is a pain, but once you get it down, it's easy to do (even if it's not so easy to explain in writing).

9). Avoid equalization
Sometimes it's not what you do, but what you don't do that matters. If you want to preserve the integrity of a record, don't use any equalization, ever when ripping vinyl. The goal should be to capture the exact sound of the disc. Yes, using limiting (above) will slightly affect the dynamic, but if you use it sparingly, it will be inaudible. Altering the EQ settings, on the other hand, will change the tonal quality of the recording. The way I see it, when I do rips, it's not my job to alter the amount of bass or treble on a record and second guess the recording engineer and/or producer. If Quincy Jones had wanted more bass on that Lesley Gore LP, it would have had more bass.

10). Converting WAVs to MP3 files in batches
To do this, I use another freeware program called Format Factory. This enables you to do conversions in batches and, again, this leaves less room for error than when you do them one by one through Audacity. I set the MP3 conversion to 320 kbps and 48 khz.

11). Save the WAVs!
I also recommend saving backups of your WAV files. I bought an external hard drive specifically for this. I learned the hard way why you need to save old files. A few times I created rips that I thought were high-quality, only find later on that they had nasty sonic artifacts I missed the first time around. Oops. This recently happened with the rip I did of Marshall Crenshaw's "U.S. Remix." It sounded good last year, but listening again it sounded lame. But I didn't save the files, so I had to re-record the entire disc and re-do the project. Luckily, it was a short EP and not an LP, but still: Lesson learned.

12). Watch your speed
Before doing any needle-drops, make sure your turntable is running at the proper speed. I didn't include this earlier in the list because it sort of goes without saying. But it still needs to be said, so here it is. Fewer things bug me more than finding an old record I love on YouTube only to discover that the person who recorded it has a turntable that runs at (let's say) 36 r.p.m. not 33. I can't listen to things like this.

I found people with belt drive turntables have the biggest issues because the belt stretches over the years and that affects the speed. Even if you have a direct drive turntable, be sure to reference the record your spinning against its CD counterpart. In most cases, this will expose speed issues. What was that old saying? Oh yeah: "Speed kills!" In this case, it kills the ears of those of us who can spot flawed turntables.

Some of my better needle-drops:
Chad & Jeremy - Yesterday's Gone (Mono Mix, 1964)
Cristina - Cristina (Vinyl Edition, 1980)
Keith & Donna - Keith & Donna (1975)
The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. - The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. (1976)
Lindy Stevens - Pure Devotion (1972)
Lucy Simon - Stolen Time (1977)
The Lonesome Rhodes - Sandy & Donna (1967)
NRBQ - RC Cola and a Moon Pie (1986)
The Sidekicks - Featuring 'Fifi the Flea' (1966)
The Velvet Underground - Squeeze (1973)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Various Artists - Sharp Cuts (1980)

The line between good and bad sometimes starts to blur when music recedes into the past. Case in point: This multi-artist collection of new wave acts.

Sharp Cuts, which was subtitled "new music from American bands," was considered a disappointment when it was released in 1980 on producer Richard Perry's vanity label, Planet Records. The review in Trouser Press magazine stated "...this album makes the underground scene seem dead, unoriginal, and dreadfully behind the times." It's definitely not as good as a lot of other compilations of the time, such as 415 Music, which I ripped and posted last year.

Not surprisingly, Sharp Cuts has never come out on CD. This is a high-quality rip from my own mint vinyl copy, replete with cover and label scans, (as well as a scan of the Trouser Press review). Before doing this rip last week, I hadn't played this record in decades. Listening to it again was like being transported back in time. It's not great by any stretch, but it's a lot more interesting now than it was way back when. Why? Because it offers a unique glimpse into a long-gone era -- one that's untainted by memories, since most of these songs were never played on the radio.

The time period it covers is the one just before the dawn of MTV. It was the era of power pop, skinny ties, new wave, and post-punk. A time when rock music by white guys ruled the radio waves. Heck, the time when guys in general ruled the radio. In that sense, it doesn't just represent another time period, but another culture.

To digress a bit from the topic at hand, I've found the same goes for low-budget movies of the same time period: They seem to say more now than they did then. Back in the 1980s, teen flicks like "Hardbodies," "Party Camp," or (my all-time fave!) "The Malibu Bikini Shop" were looked upon as the cinematic equivalent of junk food. These days, they function as windows into our collective past and unwittingly provide insights into the way Americans used to interact and perceive the world. In some perverse way, those trashy films say more about our culture than blockbuster movies like "Top Gun," because their low budgets and hastily-written scripts assured a level of honesty you wouldn't get from big-time movies, where every line was approved by committee.

So it is with this record. The acts presented here weren't guided by record company executives, steering them into money-making trends. What you hear are the grass-roots efforts of a bunch of struggling musicians from various local scenes around the country. Most of the music here might not be brilliant, but this is what was bringing 'em into the clubs back then, so in that sense, it's an honest look at what working musicians were doing and thinking circa 1980.

So, we get founding Blondie member Gary Valentine unironically shouting "I Like Girls" with his band The Know. These days, that statement would bring with it all sorts of political ramifications, but back then it was taken at face value. The Willys (who?!) chime in with "She's Illegal" which I'm pretty sure is a song about jail-bait. This sort of thing was considered a source of humor back then, but would likely get a performer labeled as a "perv" today.

Suburban Lawns, as expected, are weirder than weird, and their track "Unable" packs a lot of angst into its short length. Peter Dayton (now a successful visual artist) chimes in with "Last Supper," a somewhat nihilistic track that seems to be about facing imminent death in the good ol' U.S.A.

Then there's the music itself. There are guitars. Lots of 'em. And old-fashioned analog synths. Without even listening to the words, these sonic elements evoke a feeling. At no other time in pop music would you have heard sounds like these.

OK, enough sociological pretentiousness. Here's are few notes on the tracks.

The version of Single Bullet Theory's "Keep It Tight" included here isn't the same one that became a #73 Hot 100 hit in 1983. This is an earlier version and (in my opinion) a much better one. It received airplay on album rock stations at the time, and seemed hit bound then, but wasn't. The dB's "Soul Kiss" has a different mix than the familiar one that was included as bonus track on CD editions of their first album. It also omits that squiggly opening guitar note.

And if the Billy Thermal number sounds familiar, that's because it was covered by Pat Benatar on her second LP, Crimes of Passion. Billy Thermal was the name of a group headed up by songwriter Billy Steinberg, who went on to co-write some of the biggest hits of the 1980s with partner Tom Kelly, including Madonna's "Like A Virgin." From what I can tell, this song marks his first foray into the music industry.

Related posts:
Various Artists - 415 Music (1980)
Various Artists - The 98 Rock Album (1978)
Various Artists - WKTK Presents Baltimore's Best Rock (1978)

Track List
1. Single Bullet Theory - Keep It Tight
2. Billy Thermal - I'm Gonna Follow You
3. Bates Motel - Live Among The Dancers
4. Peter Dayton - Last Supper
5. The Alleycats - Black Haired Girl
6. The Know - I Like Girls
7. The Willys - She's Illegal
8. The Fast - Kids Just Wanna Dance
9. The dB's - Soul Kiss
10. Suburban Lawns - Unable

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Traffic - Single Mixes and Rarities (1967-74)

If any band exemplified the genre of “album rock” it was Traffic. Some of the group’s best songs were the longer ones that seemed custom-made for the old FM format of the '70s and '80s, like the album rock standard “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” Because the group became AOR favorites, their singles are less known today, even though they had several big hits in England. But in the U.S., they never cracked the Top 40, which now seems curious considering group member Steve Winwood's success in the 1980s.

But during the band's heyday, not only did Traffic regularly release 45s, but they put out some dedicated 45 mixes and/or edits that never made it to CD. I’ve rounded up a bunch of them here. Before I get into what’s what, there’s is one caveat to this collection: I only included tracks that are out-of-print and not currently-available on CD. So the standard single mixes from the group’s first two albums aren’t included because you can get them on the reissue CDs.

What follows is a set of rarities I put together from my own collection. The tracks are in chronological order except for the four bonus rarities (more on this below). In the track descriptions, I only included U.S. record chart info even though some UK singles are included. That's because I only have the Billboard books that cover the good ol' American charts.

Also, I’ve made it a point to accurately transcribe the titles on these singles. So “Rock & Roll Stew...Part 1” gets an ellipses (...), while the various version of “Walking in the Wind” are all written out the way they appeared on the labels. Scans of the discs are included so everyone can see what these elusive singles actually look like.

Track descriptions:

1. Paper Sun (Full-Length Stereo Version With Talking At The End)
“Paper Sun,” which was Traffic’s first charted hit in the U.S. (#94 in Sept. 1967), has an odd history when it comes to full-length stereo mixes. There are two such mixes: The more common one has a regular fade at the end but a rarer one features singer Steve Winwood’s chatter just before the fade. This is that latter, which is why it's included here.

The less-rare stereo mix without the talking appears on the Traffic Gold greatest hits CD and that’s not hard to find. But the rare one that has Steve Winwood, saying “That’s the one” at the very end was only included on an out-of-print CD from 1991 called Smiling Phases. This “talking version” has now become a rarity.

Addendum: If you plan on investing in either the U.S. or UK reissues of Traffic’s debut CD with the bonus tracks, you should know that neither edition has a full-length stereo version without the talking. The U.S. release, titled Heaven Is In Your Mind, has the stereo “Paper Sun,” but it's split into two sections, with the second titled “We’re A Fade, You Missed This.” On the UK album Mr. Fantasy, the full-length mix without the talking appears, but it’s a mono single mix.

2. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (Original 45 Mono Mix With Fade-In)
This is another mix that seems to have made it only to CD on the Smiling Phases CD. It’s the original mono single mix of Traffic’s Nov. 1967 single -- replete with the fade-in. Why is that unique? Because the mono mix that was added as a bonus track to the Mr. Fantasy CD doesn’t fade in, but instead starts when the vocal starts. (To make matters more confusing, the stereo mix added as a bonus cut on the Heaven Is In Your Mind CD does fade in -- but it’s a stereo mix, not the original mono single mix.)

3. Medicated Goo (Mono UK Single Mix)
The mix of this Nov. 1968 single has a different edit starting at the 2:27 mark. At that point, the single comes to a dead stop and then goes into a final chorus. The album mix goes into a percussion break there, and then there’s a short sax solo followed by a short guitar solo. The 45 mix also fades out quicker and runs slightly faster than the version on the Last Exit album.

4. Shanghai Noodle Factory (Mono UK Single Mix)
This was the B-Side to “Medicated Goo” and like that single mix, this one also runs slightly faster than the Last Exit version. It’s also a different, dedicated mono mix. It features more of Chris Wood’s flute, especially on the first break (at 0:57) and during the verses. The vocal harmonies also sound different, with Winwood’s lower register harmony more pronounced. The drum track is also more accentuated, especially the hi-hat.

5. Empty Pages (Stereo US Single Mix)
This unique stereo mix/edit has the instruments placed differently in the stereo field than in more familiar version from the John Barleycorn Must Die album. It also omits the final 30 seconds of the keyboard solo that comes up halfway through the song. Oddly, it also adds (yes, adds) and additional few seconds between the introduction and the entrance of the vocal. Guess they chopped off part of that intro when editing for the LP and for some reason decided to leave it in here.

All of this was done for the U.S. market and the effort was not wasted. The July 1970 release became Traffic’s second single to crack the Hot 100 in the U.S., getting to #74 (“Feelin’ Alright?” had Bubbled Under at #123 in 1968). The flip side was “Stranger To Himself” and it’s the exact same mix from John Barleycorn Must Die, so it’s not included here.

6. Gimme Some Lovin’ Part One
This live version of “Gimme Some Lovin’” runs a full nine minutes on the 1971 album Welcome To The Canteen. For the single, which came out in October of that year, they split the song into two parts, which was the custom back then. But how did they do it?

For the A-Side, they lopped off about a minute of the introduction. After the second chorus, they cut out about fifteen second of guitar riffing and went straight into the organ solo, which is what it fades on. And here’s a bit of trivia for you: This was the highest charting of all Traffic’s four singles that made the Billboard chart. It got to #68.

7. Gimme Some Lovin’ Part Two
The second part fades in from the LP version’s 4:52 mark and is the same from there on in. By the way, if you’re wondering how I made all these “album vs. 45” comparisons (including the one that’s gonna follow below), I did it by utilizing a sound editing program. I lined up the WAV files on top of each other and synced them up as best I could, panning the album tracks to the left and the 45 tracks to the right. Then I listened (and watched) where they diverged.

8. Rock & Roll Stew...Part 1
This gets confusing, so read carefully. To get to what this single is all about, we first have to examine the two different edits of this song that have come out on CD.

The original “Rock & Roll Stew,” which was on the 1971 LP The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, ran 4:25. A longer version was added as a bonus track to the CD edition of that album and it runs 6:09 (and is subtitled “Parts 1 and 2”). Both of these versions are from the same recording (despite what Wikipedia claims), but they’re edited different and each one contains elements specific to it.

The edit point where the two tracks diverge is at 1:47. At that point, the shorter version goes into a guitar solo that’s not included on the longer version (which goes directly into the second verse). But the longer version has a much longer fade which obviously isn’t part of the short version.

That brings us to the actual 45 single, which is what we have here. As the subtitle “Parts 1 and 2” suggests, it’s culled from the longer 6:09 edit. It’s faded on the A-Side near the middle at the guitar solo (at 3:24) then faded back in for the B-Side at that point. Not exactly revelatory, but if you ever wondered “Where did they break it between sides?” now you know. It hit #93 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in Feb. 1972.

9. Rock & Roll Stew...Part 2
See Track 8.

10. Walking In The Wind (Stereo Single Edit)
The single mix of this track from the original (pre-reunion) Traffic’s swan song, When The Eagle Flies, isn’t a complicated edit. It runs almost seven minutes on the LP, and they fade it out early here, at 4:35. Oddly, the single edit contains the 18-second fade-in, replete with the wind sound effect. Had I been doing the editing, I’d have edited most of that out and gotten to the vocal quicker. But I didn’t do the editing so this intro, in my opinion, is a bit meandering for a single. This Oct. 1974 release was Traffic’s final single before the band split up. It didn’t chart in the U.S.

11. Walking In The Wind - Instrumental
This is the B-Side to the above stereo single edit. Its title might make you think it’s an instrumental mix of the whole song, which would have been cool. But, alas, it’s just the final 2:20 from the album version, which is an instrumental section. Hence the title.

12. Walking In The Wind - Short Version Mono
The mono mix of the short edit was only made available on the promo copy of the single. This is the same edit that’s on the stereo single except, obviously, in mono. The other side of this single contains the familiar album version in stereo, so it’s not included here. I’m using the term “other side” here to avoid using the phrases “A-Side” and “B-Side.” That’s because there is no B-Side. This promo single was put out as a double A-Side. The serial number on each side is E-45207-A.

Bonus tracks:

13. I Just Want You to Know (Demo)
This was a bonus track from the 1999 reissue of John Barleycorn Must Die. That one-disc reissue has now been superseded by the “Deluxe Edition,” a two-disc set from 2011. But the newer set omits four bonuus tracks from the 1999 release. This is the first. It’s a Steve Winwood demo where he’s on all instruments. Apparently, Winwood didn’t want this out, which is why it’s been rescinded.

14. Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ of My Love (Demo)
Same history as Track 13.

15. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring (Live at the Fillmore East, Nov. 18, 1970)
This live cut, from the 1999 edition of the John Barleycorn reissue, isn’t the same one included on the two-disc on the 2011 two-disc set. The one on that set was recorded at the Fillmore East Nov. 19. Since Traffic played that venue for two night and this recording is different, it’s safe to assume this one was from the previous night, Nov. 18.

16. Glad (Live at the Fillmore East, Nov. 18, 1970)
Same history as Track 15.

Track list:
1. Paper Sun (Full-Length Stereo Version With Talking At The End)
2. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (Mono Mix With Fade-In)
3. Medicated Goo (Mono UK Single Mix)
4. Shanghai Noodle Factory (Mono UK Single Mix)
5. Empty Pages (Stereo US Single Mix)
6. Gimme Some Lovin’ Part One
7. Gimme Some Lovin’ Part Two
8. Rock & Roll Stew...Part 1
9. Rock & Roll Stew...Part 2
10. Walking In The Wind - Short Version Mono
11. Walking In The Wind (Stereo Single Edit)
12. Walking In The Wind - Instrumental
Bonus tracks:
13. I Just Want You to Know (Demo)
14. Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ of My Love (Demo)
15. Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring (Live at the Fillmore East, Nov. 18, 1970)
16. Glad (Live at the Fillmore East, Nov. 18, 1970)