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California Dreaming: Bibliography

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on September 10, 2014

I thought tonight I’d post the bibliography for the book I’ve been serialising here. It’s not complete yet, but it serves as a reasonable guide I think:

It’s literally impossible to list all, or even most, of the books that have been useful in writing this book — the information in it comes from decades of reading and discussions with fans and musicians, and often one tiny piece of useful information will come up in an otherwise off-topic magazine article or book.

The resources listed below are, among all those used, the ones that either contain the most useful information or which are most readable. They’re not a complete guide to any of the bands and musicians discussed in this book, but between them they work well as starting points for further exploration.

I have not listed here my own previous books on these subjects (The Beach Boys On CD vols 1 and 2 and the forthcoming vol 3, and Monkee Music) — judge for yourself after reading this book if my level of insight makes those seem worthwhile to you.

Catch A Wave, The Rise, Fall And Redemption Of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, by Peter A Carlin is the least sensationalised biography of a band that have been mostly looked at for their value as fodder for tabloid prurience than for their music.

The Beach Boys FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About America’s Band
by Jon Stebbins is a good overview that does a lot to dispell the worst of the myths about the band.

Andrew Doe’s Bellagio site, http://www.esquarterly.com/bellagio/ is undoubtedly the best resource for checking matters of pure fact about the Beach Boys.

The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story Of The ’60s TV Pop Sensation by Andrew Sandoval is the best book on the Monkees ever written — the ultimate reference book on the band, it covers every detail of their career up to the point that they split for the first time.

Monkee Magic by Melanie Mitchell is the definitive book on the Monkees’ TV show — something I haven’t covered in much depth here but which is an important part of their career.

Forever Changes: Arthur Lee & The Story Of Love
by Paul Cooper is essentially an expanded version of Lee’s unfinished autobiography, and is absolutely essential reading for anyone who is interested in Love.

The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa and Peter Ochigorosso is biased as hell, but funnier than anything else in this list.

The California Sound: A Musical Biography of Gary Lee Usher
by Stephen J McParland, is one of many thoroughly-researched books by McParland which provide us with much fascinating information on the 60s surf and hot-rod music scene.

What’s Exactly The Matter With Me? by PF Sloan and SE Feinberg is Sloan’s autobiography. It should be taken with several tubs full of salt (if one is to believe Sloan, every single thing that happened in the 60s, from the Beatles’ career through to the extension of voting rights in the US to eighteen-year-olds, happened because of him), but if nothing else it gives a good impression of what the people involved in the LA music scene were actually like.

Beefheart Through The Eyes Of Magic
by John French is the most extensive autobiography of any of the musicians featured here, and while it could have used the hands of a good editor, it is ridiculously informative about the Magic Band and, to a lesser extent, the Mothers Of Invention, the Rising Sons, and many other bands discussed in this book.

Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter
by Alyn Shipton is so far the only biography of this remarkable man, and luckily Shipton does a good enough job of covering his life that it may be the only one necessary.

Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand on Hollywood by Domenic Priore is a great Gonzo impression of the Sunset Strip scene, though with a number of irritating lapses in research.

Shell-Shocked: My Life With The Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. by Howard Kaylan is a fun, if thin, autobiography that leans a little too much on “hilarious” dope-smoking anecdotes, but is the only place you’ll find out the nickname Tom Jones gives his penis.

The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited by Johnny Rogan is the definitive biography of the band.

Turn Up The Radio!: Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972
by Harvey Kubernick is a great collection of interviews with almost anyone who ever set foot in an LA recording studio during the period it covers. It’s a coffee-table book, and stronger on anecdote than on data, but it gives more of an impression of what that time must have been like than any of the other books.

Dead Man’s Curve and Back: The Jan & Dean Story
by Mark Thomas Passmore is a labour of love, covering the duo from birth up until the end of their career (it was published a few months before Jan Berry’s death). Passmore is sometimes too keen to trust Dean Torrence’s claims to have sung on other people’s records, but in general does a good job at sorting out what really happened in Jan and Dean’s career.

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California Dreaming: Hungry Freaks Daddy

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on September 10, 2014

In 1965 [FOOTNOTE Zappa always claimed much of what follows happened in 1964, but as shown at http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/misc/1965-69.html the most reasonable timeline for these events has it as 1965.], Frank Zappa was desperate for a gig. Studio Z had been closed down almost as soon as it had opened, thanks to his arrest on pornography charges, and he had no money, no artistic outlet, and no prospects.

So when his old songwriting partner Ray Collins, who was singing with a band called The Soul Giants, fell out with the band’s guitarist and called on Zappa to join them for a while, he agreed straight away. The gig was a straightforward one — play Louie, Louie, Midnight Hour, Wooly Bully, and anything else that would get people up and dancing with minimal effort. But the band themselves were interesting.

They were one of the small number of mixed-race bands playing the bar circuit — while Collins was white, bass player Roy Estrada was of Mexican heritage and drummer Jimmy Carl Black was Native American — which gave the band members an outlook and sound that suited Zappa rather more than the white musicians in LA (who irritated Zappa with their tendency to play very little but jangly suspended D chords). Zappa was particularly impressed with Black, who was one of the best drummers on the circuit, but he didn’t get on very well with the band’s leader, saxophonist Davey Coronado. Zappa believed that the band could have some success if they played original material, while Coronado insisted that they’d get fired if they played anything the bars’ customers didn’t know. Zappa eventually persuaded the rest of the band that he could make them rich and famous if they played his songs, Coronado quit, and the band promptly got fired from every bar job they could get, especially after, on Mothers’ Day, they changed their name to The Mothers (a sure sign that Zappa had taken over the band — he’d previously led a trio called The Muthers).

However, they slowly but surely moved up the ladder, going from playing the outskirts of LA to playing the city itself, where they fell in with the arty crowd based around Carl Franzoni and Sue Vito. Artist Mark Cheka agreed to co-manage them, and brought in Herb Cohen, an actual professional manager who had managed the Modern Folk Quartet among others, who got the band better bookings, playing top LA nightclubs like The Trip and the Whisky A-Go-Go.

They added a second guitarist, Henry Vestine, an astonishingly fluent blues player, who quickly left because he was only interested in playing the blues. But while Vestine was in the band, Herb Cohen persuaded Tom Wilson, a record producer for MGM, to come and see the band at the Whisky.

As Zappa always told the story, Wilson agreed to sign the band based on hearing only one song, the straightforward blues protest song Trouble Every Day, in the belief that they were a white blues band in the style of the Paul Butterfield Band. Whether this is true or not, this was a very lucky combination, for while Wilson was best known for producing folk-rock hits by Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan (including Like A Rolling Stone, one of the few chart hits Zappa appreciated), he had started his career running an independent label putting out the most extreme jazz he could, and had produced Sun Ra’s first album and early recordings by Cecil Taylor. Wilson was thus probably the only producer in America who had both the commercial clout and the musical adventurousness to sign such a different band.

But even between getting signed and making their first record, the line-up continued to change. Vestine quit, and was replaced by Jim Guercio (later of the band Chicago), who was himself replaced by Elliot Ingber, the former guitarist of the Gamblers. Collins quit and rejoined, in what would become a pattern for him. And Zappa was still searching for a keyboard player for the band — one possibility was session pianist Mac Rebbenack, who was getting tired of playing Wrecking Crew dates for Sonny & Cher records and wanted to play something more interesting, but who fell out with Zappa over drug use (Rebbenack was a user of most things, while Zappa was very much against use of any intoxicants other than tobacco and coffee).

Rebbenack did play, as a session player, on the first session, but quickly walked out, and for the most part the album was performed by the line-up of Zappa, Collins, Estrada, Black and Ingber, with session musicians only adding additional colour.

Freak Out!, the band’s first album, was the first double album in rock and roll [FOOTNOTE It was released the week after Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, but was recorded first.], and its opening track is one of the great opening salvos of any rock band ever. Over a riff parodying the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, played by Estrada and session guitarist Carol Kaye[FOOTNOTE Kaye claims it's her on 12-string doubling the bass on this track, rather than a second bass. While she is not always the most reliable of sources, she is credited as a member of “the Mothers' auxiliary” on the album, and it seems reasonable to take her word in this case.], with simple clanking piano chords and odd vibraphone notes, Zappa and Collins double each other sneering through a lyric that was punk ten years before punk was invented — “Mr. America, walk on by your schools that do not teach/Mr. America, walk on by the minds that won’t be reached”, before a sarcastic kazoo breaks in.

It’s classic sneery garage punk, and had Freak Out! been the Mothers’ only album, they would be remembered in the same breath as bands like the Seeds or the Standells. But Zappa already had his mind set on bigger things, and he was going to need a bigger band.

And that wasn’t the only change that needed to be made. Verve refused to put the record out, not because of the content, but because of the band name, thinking that Mothers, being short for “motherfuckers”, would stop the record being played on the radio.

So out of necessity, they became the Mothers of Invention.

Hungry Freaks Daddy

Composer: Frank Zappa

Line-up: Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals), Ray Collins (vocals), Roy Estrada (bass), Elliot Ingber (guitar), Jimmy Carl Black (drums), Carole Kaye (12-string guitar), Eugene DiNovi or Les McCann (piano)[FOOTNOTE Three pianists are credited in “the Mothers' auxiliary” on the record sleeve, but Mac Rebbenack only played on the March 8 session, while this track was recorded on March 9. Either of the other two could have played the part.], Gene Estes (vibraphone)

Original release: Freak Out! The Mothers Of Invention, Verve V6-5005-2

Currently available on: Freak Out! UMC CD

Skylarking: Corrected Polarity Edition

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on September 9, 2014

Skylarking by XTC has been a favourite album of mine since I first heard it about thirteen years ago, and is the closest thing to a perfect album XTC ever made.
While it’s often described as a psychedelic album (and XTC were certainly in a psychedelic mood at the time, as the two Dukes Of Stratosphear records made either side of this one show), this owes less even to the psych-pop of Syd Barret or Roy Wood than to the pastoral pop of the same time — Odessey & Oracle by the Zombies, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, Turtle Soup — and is the point where Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding’s songwriting styles gelled the best.
It’s really a three-man collaboration, but the three men aren’t the three members of XTC (Moulding, Partridge and guitarist/keyboardist Dave Gregory), but rather Moulding, Partridge and producer Todd Rundgren. Rundgren took the demos that Moulding and Partridge had made of their songs (having asked to have tapes of literally everything they had, even half-finished noodling), selected the songs and radically restructured them, chopping out verses to make the songs punchier, and sequenced the album, before even meeting the band.
And Rundgren’s shaping of the material was a miraculously transformative one. I’ve always far preferred Andy Partridge’s songs on this album (which are mostly witty metaphors, extended to ludicrous degrees in an almost John Donne like way, with every possible aspect of the metaphor examined with a near-mechanical precision, but with beautiful pop melodies), but the placement of Moulding’s songs (continuing the almost dreamlike, elemental, themes of his work on Mummer) turns them into key parts of the album.
Rundgren’s sequencing pulls songs as disparate as “Beatnik existential spy movie soundtrack” The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul and That’s Really Super, Supergirl (a catchy pop song about “Supergirl’s emo boyfriend”, as Holly put it) together into a sequence that manages to tell a coherent story on a number of levels — it tells the story of a life, from youth to death (and then rebirth in Moulding’s Wicker Man-esque Sacrificial Bonfire), of a summer’s day, of the four seasons, and of the four elements. While Partridge has talked of the influence of the Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile (especially on the lovely Season Cycle, a song which actually reminds me more of My World Fell Down by Sagittarius), this sequence is remarkably reminiscent of Smile.
Were it not for the incongruous presence of the bludgeoning, facile, New Atheist anthem Dear God, originally a non-album B-side but included on later versions of the album after it became an unexpected hit, it would be close to perfect.
While the band didn’t get on at all with Rundgren on a personal level, they all agreed that his sequencing and arrangement was extraordinarily good. They were less keen, however, on his general sloppiness in the studio, and he often aggravated the perfectionist Partridge by getting them to stop after one or two takes because it was “good enough”, or by playing sloppy two-finger keyboard lines (in the case of That’s Really Super, Supergirl, Rundgren actually got the chords wrong while playing the keyboard parts that are the bedrock of the album).
When the album came out, it sounded thin to the band, and they put this down to Rundgren’s sloppy attitude to the engineering side of production (while eventually singing his praises when it came to the arrangement side of things). But then in 2010 Andy Partridge’s APE Records decided to put out a new audiophile vinyl release of the album, taken directly from the original analogue masters, mastered on two discs at 45RPM for better sound quality, and all that stuff. While doing this, the engineer in charge noticed that there was a polarity reversal problem on the master, and fixed this for the vinyl release.
Now, I’d just assumed that this was a thing for people with dog ears (and not even all of them — the thread about this on an audiophile board, where I looked to see what difference this might make, goes to 22 pages mostly arguing over whether there even is a difference when polarity is reversed), and since my hearing is not great and I don’t have very good stereo equipment (and indeed do 90% of my music listening on the computer), I didn’t want to buy an overpriced audiophile edition for what may be no difference. It seemed to me that this might be on the same level as the people who really argue that the quality of an ethernet cable can affect sound quality (which is scientifically absurd).
However, recently the “corrected polarity” master was issued on CD (in the original intended cover, with daisies threaded through the pubic hair of a woman on the front and of a man on the back, so possibly not something to ask your elderly mother-in-law to buy you for Xmas, as I nearly did), and my friend Chris Browning, who isn’t especially audiophilic, raved about the quality of the new CD, so I picked it up.
My first thought (even when listening on a laptop with cheap earbuds) was “Wow! Colin Moulding actually played on this album!” — the bass is so much more audible that for the first time it actually sounds like an integral part of the recording. The stereo spectrum seems wider, the percussion more resonant, and the various effects on the vocals stand out more.
The album sounds, in general, clearer, and the individual elements are much, much easier to pick out, but in particular all those bits where percussion pans across the stereo spectrum become truly spectacular sounding.
I have no idea how much of this is down to the polarity change, and how much to other things. Doing an A-B comparison with the older CD release shows that the new master is much less compressed (a nice change itself in these days of brickwallking), and obviously the EQ is different. So how much of the difference I’m hearing is the polarity, how much the compression, how much the EQ and other aspects of remastering, how much going back to the original tapes, and how much me just hearing what I want to hear, I don’t know.
And I would emphasise that this is not a remix — it’s a remastering. The balance of the instruments hasn’t changed, and the music is still the same music (apart from the end of Dear God, here placed after The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul and crossfaded with the beginning of Dying, as on the US releases in the 80s, rather than at the end as a bonus track, as on the previous CD release — an improvement, if it had to be on the CD at all, as Dying and Sacrificial Bonfire are clearly the proper ending to the album). But it sounds, to my ears at least, like such an improvement that I can’t see myself ever listening to the old version again.
If you already know and love the album, you owe it to yourself to upgrade to this version. If you don’t, then buy the album, and make sure you get this version when you do (the old version, with the blue-green cover, is still available on Virgin records; you want the brown cover version from APE).

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Linkblogging for 07/09/14

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on September 7, 2014
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Against Primaries

Posted in politics by Andrew Hickey on September 6, 2014

One of the things I’ve been seeing a lot recently is the repetition by people who should know better of the idea that what we need in British politics is primary elections. It started with the Tories, who are more prone than most to a disease that affects almost everyone in Britain — fetishising the United States, especially those aspects of it we don’t really understand, to the point that they want to make cargo-cult versions of everything American — but I’ve recently seen it being brought up, apparently seriously, on Lib Dem Voice of all places, where it’s been suggested that open primaries should be compulsory and that we should demand this in future coalition negotiations.

Now, I have no problem with parties choosing to use primaries if that’s what they wish to do, but compulsory open primaries would be such a ludicrously stupid idea it’s hard to know where to begin.

Firstly, the Lib Dems already have a policy that would, were it to be enacted, solve all the problems that primaries supposedly solve — STV. Advocating two mutually exclusive solutions (and you can’t have both) to the same problem would make no sense whatsoever.

There are no problems that primaries solve that wouldn’t be solved by STV, and they have a large number of problems that they bring about. If you have compulsory primaries, how are they administered? Who pays the cost of the primaries and, if the government, how can you avoid that being in many cases effectively government subsidised partisan campaigning? Do you let the Bring Back Birching, Legalise Marijuana and Close All Schools Party run a “primary” with only one candidate? If not, how do you force them to get a second candidate when they only have one member? If you do, how do you stop the Tories also running a primary with just one candidate?

But the most important problem is that it is solving the wrong problem. The problem we have at the moment is that people aren’t getting their voices heard when it comes to who represents them in Parliament (a problem which STV would solve). Primaries don’t solve that — they instead give people a voice in deciding who represents *a particular party* in *an election campaign*.

Political parties are private organisations, and should have the right to run themselves as their members see fit. I do not think George Osborne or Ed Balls are particularly good candidates, but that’s because I’m not a member of those parties. I do not, and should not, have the right to impose someone who thinks more like I do as the Conservative or Labour candidate. The Conservative candidate should be chosen by the Conservative Party — that’s what being the Conservative candidate means. Of course, should any party choose, voluntarily, to open their selection process up to the public, that too is their right, but if Labour say in 2015 that they are putting Gerald Kaufman up as candidate in my constituency because he is the person they think best represents what the Labour Party stands for, what right do I have, as someone who is not a member of that party, to say they should put up a different candidate?

It is the absolute right of private membership organisations to choose representatives who actually represent them, and not to have people who don’t represent their positions foist upon them. If you don’t like your Tory MP, the solution is to vote for a party other than the Tories, not to make the Tories devote time and resources to campaigning for a candidate they don’t believe represents the Conservative Party.

And if voting them out doesn’t work, because you’re in a safe seat… then we need to get in a voting system that lets you do that. And that, not copying the Americans and getting it wrong, is what we should be devoting our campaigning time to.

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