Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Fall - TV Appearances 1978-2004

And for my final posting in my week of Fall-related releases in the wake of the death of Mark E. Smith, here's a fan-assembled compilation (in .mp4 format) of television appearances, videos and interviews by the band over more than a quarter-century. You could say that this amalgamation serves as the visual
companion to The Fall's Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 box set, released in 2005. There are some superb and iconic performances featured here, from the band's appearance on Tony Wilson's So It Goes program in the late 1970's to the "Cruiser's Creek" video. Get ready for over TWO HOURS of Fall goodness!

Enjoy and remember what we'll all be missing, now that Mr. Smith is no longer with us. And as always, let me know what you think.

R.I.P., Mark.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Von Südenfed - Tromatic Reflexxions

In August 2004, German electronic collective Mouse On Mars released their eighth album, Radical Connector.  On this album, the group continued its shift from a pure electronic sound (evident on some of their earlier '90s albums like Vulvaland and Autoditacker) to a warmer, more poppier and almost danceable vein, a sound the band had begun fully experimenting with on their previous album, 2001's Idiology.

One of the songs on Radical Connector included a funky and thumping, although somewhat leaden and plodding, tune called "Wipe That Sound", which featured Mouse On Mars' percussionist Dodo Nkishi on vocals:

The album received generally good reviews, but it wasn't considered a significant departure from what the band produced on Idiology.

The next year, Mouse On Mars produced a Wipe That Sound EP, reworking/reimagining this track with guest vocals from The Fall's Mark E. Smith. In lieu of my own words, I'll refer to an analysis of this EP track provided by the blog Music Geek Corner:
"It's a major re-thinking: the track begins with a new drum part whose offbeat hi-hat accents work well to diffuse the original's clompiness. Smith's vocal, of course, adds a completely new texture to the track - but what's often overlooked about Smith is his skill as melodic minimalist. Smith essentially adds a two-note chorus to the song (the recurring bit about the garden), and it provides an effective hook to the track. The string synth part also makes this version more song-like (and commercial, in fact - although the multiple tracks of crosstalking MES are unlikely to contribute to that direction)."
I really didn't follow Mouse On Mars back in the mid-2000s, so I don't know when or how I first became aware of this track. But once I heard it, I thought it was fantastic, and quickly ran out to acquire the song. I heartily agree with every word of Music Geek Corner's analysis above.

I think it was sometime in late 2006/early 2007 that I got word that Smith's work with Mouse On Mars members Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner wasn't just a one-off; they had joined forces into a supergroup of sorts called Von Südenfed. At first, it seemed sort of weird to me that Smith would expend so much time on and effort with an electronic music group, a genre that in the past he'd expressed nothing but disdain for. But, after reflection, I realized that his work with the group was no weirder than his previous collaborations with other unlikely musicians, included Coldcut and Edwyn Collins. Plus, I'd enjoyed what the combo had released on that EP in 2005. So I was somewhat looking forward to hearing what this musical meeting of the minds would generate.

The collective's first release, Tromatic Reflexxions, came out in 2007; I had it rush-delivered to me via mail order. And I have to say that I was NOT disappointed. The album is actually very funky, quirky and dancable, and Smith is in fine form here. He actually sounds happy on some of the songs, perhaps because he's free of the structures (mostly self-imposed) inherent in his main group.

On this album, they even redo the 2005 version of "Wipe That Sound" (retitled "That Sound Wiped" here), and actually improve upon what I thought was already near-perfect. In the Von Südenfed version, they open up the song and the beat, allowing Smith more space to rant and croon - yes, he's actually singing here! - about the "yellow-helmeted bike messenger" who "don't look like no goddamn singer-songwriter" to him. Just a superb effort:

There are so many other great songs on this album - including the very dancable "Fledermaus Can't Get It" and my personal fave "The Rhinohead".

All in all, I found this disc to be a superb addition to the Mark E. Smith canon, and came at a time when he and The Fall were enjoying a critical resurgence of sorts, with the band's album release that year (Imperial Wax Solvent) making it into the British Top 40 (their first appearance of a Fall album there since 1993's Top Ten The Infotainment Scan). I was looking forward to hearing more from this group... but later that year, in December 2007, Smith sent out a notice on the official Fall website that he had been "sacked" from Von Südenfed. There was some confusion as to whether this was true; from all indications, Toma and St. Werner kept the door open for Smith to rejoin them. But for some reason this never happened, and now with Smith's death, never will... which is a damn shame.

At least we have their sole release as some consolation. Here's Tromatic Reflexxions, released by Von Südenfed (with group member Mark E. Smith) on Domino Records on May 21st, 2007. Have a listen, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Fall - Demos & Rarities


Nabbed this one donkey's years ago from an online source; I think it was The Ultimate Bootleg Experience (T.U.B.E.), although it's been so long now, I simply don't recall.

No matter; this is a superb collection of heretofore unreleased/hard-to-find Fall music, recorded between 1981 and 2002. Here's the track lineup:
01. Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul (1981 demo)
02. Neighbourhood Of Infinity (1983 demo)
03. C.R.E.E.P. (1983 demo)
04. Hey! Mark Riley (1985 demo)
05. Whizz Bang (1989 Peel Session, never broadcast)
06. Simon’s Dream (1990 demo)
07. Middle Class Revolt (Prozac mix, Drum Club remix 1994-95)
08. Middle Class Revolt (Orange In The Mouth mix, Drum Club remix, 1994-95)
09. Bonkers In Phoenix (1994 demo)
10. The Chiselers (1996 demo)
11. The Ballad Of J. Drummer (1996 demo)
12. The Horror In Clay (”Post Nearly Man” 1998 demo)
13. Nev’s Country (”Hot Runes” 2000 demo)
14. Rubber (”The Unutterable” 2000 outtake)
15. Weirdo (”The Unutterable” 2000 outtake)
16. Iodeo (”Green Eyed Loco Man” 2002 demo)
17. Dramatic (”Country On The Click”/”Real New Fall LP” 2002 outtake)
18. 1983 MES Interview
Not much else needs to be said regarding this offering - it's real, it's rare, it's The Fall!

So enjoy the band's Demos & Rarities bootleg, posted online way back in the mid-2000s (probably around 2006, although I'm dating it from the last song included), and a pain in the butt to track down nowadays. So it's provided here for your edification and convenience.

As always... well, you know.

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Mark E. Smith And Ed Blaney ‎– Smith And Blaney

A late-2000s one-off "collaboration" between Mark E. Smith and on-again/off-again band member, manager and Fall second-in-command Ed Blaney. I use the term "collaboration" loosely, because it appears to be mostly a Blaney effort, with Smith (as vocalist) present on maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the dozen tracks. And speaking of that effort, it doesn't seem that Blaney put very much into it here - three of the seemingly half-thought out songs on this disc ("Transfusion" (a cover of a Nervous Norvus tune), "The Train" and "Ludite" (misspelled in the track list)) appear twice in various forms, or barely modified at all. Included on this track list is a version of The Velvet Underground's "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together"; needless to say, Patti Smith's definitive cover version of this song has nothing to fear from the Smith/Blaney go at it. Frankly, in my opinion, a lot of these tunes sound like leftovers from the Are You Are Missing Winner debacle from years earlier, that Blaney was also involved in (see previous post for details on that disaster).

With that being said, there are some songs and portions that are somewhat interesting, and differ in some ways from the music The Fall generally puts out. But there's nothing truly essential on this disc; it's mainly for Fall completists only, and not worth breaking the bank over...

Instead of doing that, you can get it here for free! Here's Smith And Blaney, released on Voiceprint Records on October 13th, 2008. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

The Fall - Country On The Click (Bootleg Version)

In the aftermath of the infamous April 1998 punch-up at The Fall's Brownies gig in New York, when most of the band (including longtime stalwarts like Steve Hanley and Karl Burns) permanently departed the group, Mark E. Smith and remaining member (and his then-girlfriend) keyboardist Julia Nagle quickly cobbled together some replacement musicians (including bass guitarist Adam Halal, drummer Tom Head and guitarist Neville Wilding) to constitute a 'new' Fall. This hastily assembled lineup somehow managed to coalesce
into a unit, and released two well-received and critically acclaimed albums, 1999's The Marshall Suite and 2000's superb The Unutterable.

But, as usual and true to form, Smith just couldn't leave well enough alone. Due to either real or contrived reasons (some reports suggested that there was a royalty payment dispute among band members, although Halal later denied this), he sacked all of the new members in early 2001, reducing The Fall to just himself and Nagle once again. After another chaotic, haphazard scramble for new members (which was apparently too much for Nagle; she too left the band that spring), another group lineup (consisting of guitarists Ben Pritchard and Ed Blaney, drummer Spencer Birtwistle and bassist Jim Watts) was assembled. I assume that in doing so, Smith hoped he could once again recapture the same sort of creative magic he got just two years earlier, from musicians not fully initiated into the whys and wherefores, the history and mythology of The Mighty Fall. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way, initially.

Although The Unutterable was superior to its predecessor and got outstanding reviews, its sales and chart position were significantly below that of The Marshall Suite. This was probably due to the lack of support from the band's new label; Smith attempted to parlay the success of The Marshall Suite into a better recording deal, and moved from Artful Records to Eagle Records (a division of Universal Music Group) in late 1999/early 2000. But the English label (home to ancient prog-rock groups like Deep Purple, Yes, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer) didn't quite know how to market The Fall, with predictable results.

The result of this was that the band was in dire financial straits in 2001. So while it was necessary to get an album released that year to generate some much-needed revenue for the group, they really didn't have the funds to do a top-notch job of producing it. Feeling that they had been mismanaged and underpromoted, The Fall had left Eagle for Voiceprint Records earlier that year (the latter label had acquired Smith's own Cog Sinister imprint in 1997) - but this label wasn't exactly rolling in money either (Voiceprint's holding company ended up going insolvent a few years later). As a result, the first album with this latest lineup was recorded on the cheap, very quickly in subpar conditions. Ben Pritchard later described the wretchedness of the situation:
"It was a very miserable experience making that album. We were recording it in a studio where there were rats running around. There was a weightlifter's gymnasium above us, you'd be recording a take and suddenly you'd hear BOOM dropping barbells and dumb-bells on the floor and you'd have to stop and start again... I wasn't there a lot of the time they were recording that album. Just cos I couldn't deal with it. Ed Blaney, Jim, Spen, Mark, Steve Lloyd the producer was there. I didn't really know anyone, it was my first time recording and it was a miserable, horrible experience... [It was] rushed. Two or three weeks, it was done. He needed the album out, the group needed the money for it."
The resultant disc, Are You Are Missing Winner (released in November 2001), frankly sucked, in my opinion - full of (mostly) bad songs ill-conceived and poorly executed, recorded with a wildly uneven mix; apparently the album was pushed out the door so fast, there was little time spent properly mastering the tracks. Even Pritchard, who played on it, referred to it as a "horrible album". The critics savaged it, and it was the first Fall album since 1983's Perverted By Language to completely miss the British Top 200 charts. Are You Are Missing Winner was a trainwreck from start to finish.

In serious trouble now, the group responded by touring relentlessly during the latter part of 2001 and the first half of 2002. These shows included an extensive U.S. tour in the fall of 2001, the first in this country by the band since the Brownies debacle nearly four years earlier (I saw them play at the Knitting Factory in New York that November, during their three-night stand at that venue), along with two full-scale
European tours.  This intense series of concerts produced 2G+2, a June 2002 release (on yet another new label, Action Records) consisting mostly of live material culled from their U.S. shows, along with three new studio songs ("New Formation Sermon", "I Wake Up in the City" and "Distilled Mug Art"). This album actually charted in Britain this time; no great heights (#116), but high enough to keep the wolf from the band's door for a bit.

The scheduling of this multitude of shows, one on top of the other, had another more salubrious effect; it transformed this version of The Fall into a cohesive group, with chops honed from dozens of live performances. This group was more than ready for their next challenge; to improve upon their debut studio recording debacle.

The Fall entered Gracieland Studios in Lancashire in December 2002 to begin work on this latest release, sessions helmed once again by longtime band producer Grant Showbiz. After eight weeks of recording and a month of remixing by Showbiz and Watts, promo copies of the new album, titled Country On The Click, were made from the mixing reference discs and forwarded to selected reviewers, with an eye towards an early spring 2003 release date.

However, an unnamed and unidentified individual, for reasons of his/her own, leaked these demo versions onto the Internet shortly before the scheduled release.  As Jim Watts recalled in a post on The Fall Forum about three years ago:
"I found one of the reference CDs in a drawer recently. The leak came from those CDs and if I remember correctly there were only a handful ever made. I think I worked out exactly who leaked the album in the end. I know they meant well but at the time I was just as annoyed as Mark about the leak. I think they thought by getting it out there it reinforced our version versus Mark's but it just made a bad situation worse.

The leak version was pretty much mine and Grant Showbiz's vision. We edited and mixed all the tracks. I followed Grant's lead as at that point he was the named producer of the album and I thought we had Mark's blessing. I really wanted the album to be a lot more solid than [Are You Are] Missing Winner musically and sonically. I slept on the engineers drafty living room floor for 5 days while we were mixing in London."
The unauthorized release of these album tracks enraged Smith; just as Watts mentioned above, Mark saw it as a power move by the producer to subvert his "artistic vision" of what he wanted the release to sound like:
"Mark heard that CD and was really unhappy with it. I totally understand why, me and Grant had painstakingly gone through every single utterance of Mark's from the tapes then edited the vocals very heavily. Obviously after all my effort I was quite upset too. We fell out and Mark took the album into Dingo's studio and they worked on it."
In his rage, Smith commandeered the basic album tracks from Showbiz and, as Watts mentioned, took them to Simon 'Dingo' Archer's 6dB Studios in Salford (Mark's hometown), whereupon he proceeded to remix and partially re-record the disc (Archer's bass-playing skills were utilized in the new recordings of four songs, including "Green Eyed Loco Man" and "Mad Mock Goth"). These efforts took up most of the summer (during which The Fall made another swing through the U.S., to make up for a planned late 2002 tour that fell through). At the end of this, Smith used
his remastered tracks to re-sequence the entire album, and renamed it The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click). The disc was released in England in October 2003.

The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click) was greeted with near-ecstatic reviews by the critics. A few examples of the praise for this album:
"If The Fall... have not just released their best record in a decade, they have certainly released a more consistent and accessible one, just in time for the tail-end of the post-punk renaissance."

"This is the sound, throughout, of a remarkable institution doing all the things they do best and sounding as alive as they ever have."

"Great by Smith's standards. Practically genius by everybody else's."

"It's brilliant."
Smith completely disowned the leaked version of this album, and as time has passed, this initial mix has faded into the background, obscured and buried beneath the torrent of praise the released version engendered. But that isn't to say that the Showbiz/Watts version is without merit. There are significant differences in the music featured on both versions, but in my opinion not enough to sway one's overall preference from one to another. I think BOTH versions are superb. And in that, I completely agree with Watts' assessment:
"I 100% support the released version as the definitive album... But I suppose more than enough time has passed now for the leaked version to be accepted for what it is without stealing the official version's thunder now."
And here it is, for you all to listen to and accept for yourself: the bootleg version of Country On The Click, the alternate mix of The Real New Fall LP, released under shady circumstances onto the Internet in early 2003. Enjoy, and as always let me know what you think.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mark E. Smith - The Post Nearly Man

In the day since Mark E. Smith's passing, there have been tributes and commentaries galore about the nature of the man and his music. In addition to the Guardian's notice I posted yesterday, here's but a small sampling of what's been published in the past 24 hours:
The New York Times
BBC News
The Scottish Herald
The Evening Standard
The Irish Times
His local paper The Salford Star
The French magazine Liberation
The Dutch online newspaper NU
The Spanish daily paper ABC
... and, of course, the Times of London
I don't feel that I'm up to the task of matching this worldwide outpouring of eloquence in regards to the life and work of this man.  Nor do I feel the necessity to reiterate how much Mark and his band have meant to me over the years; I've covered that topic seemingly countless times in this blog. Smith and The Fall have been a reliable constant in my life for decades, and I looked forward to each new offering that appeared like clockwork year after year; no matter if the band's latest disc was brilliant or banal - it was The Fall, and that was enough for me. It is odd to contemplate the fact that there will no longer be any new music arriving from that quarter; Smith's voice has been stilled, and his brilliant, strange, obtuse and thought-provoking wordplay will no longer grace my eyes and ears. His death leaves a giant hole in my musical life, one that I can't foresee will ever be adequately filled again.

Enough of my overwrought prattle about a singer and band that the vast majority of people in the world were profoundly unfamiliar with, uninterested in and/or indifferent to. Mark E. Smith and The Fall's music was definitely an acquired taste; I'm just glad I was admitted to the banquet... and brave/open-minded enough to sample and appreciate the wares being offered. If you're a fellow Fall fan, you know exactly what I mean.

I think that, instead of words, the greatest tribute I can render unto the man on this blog is to provide to you all over the next few days with access to some of my favorite, most obscure works of his (either with The Fall, individually or with other artists) from my collection of Fall-orabilia. I'll start with his first solo spoken word release, The Post Nearly Man, released on Artful Records in August 1998.

Enjoy, remember, and as always, let me know what you think.

More to come...

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mark E. Smith, 1957-2018

I am floored.

The Guardian's obituary.

Can't even comment coherently on this now. For me, a profound loss - the leader of my all-time favorite band is no more. Don't know what to say.

More later...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The B-52's - Various Rarities

This year marks the 40th anniversary of The B-52's as recording artists - hard to believe they've been around, and have been part of my life, for so long! I'm sure that none of the members of this "tacky little dance band from Georgia" ever contemplated that four decades removed from their first late-night jam session after getting buzzed on Flaming Volcano drinks at a restaurant in downtown Athens, they'd still be at it all these years later, packing in fans the world over. Love, love, LOVE me some Bee-Fives!

In honor of their anniversary year, and in response to some recent requests, I thought I'd make available a few of the following group rarities/hard-to-find items:
"Rock Lobster" b/w "52 Girls" - The record that started it all; the original DB Records pressing, released on that 
label in April 1978. Both of these versions are faster and rawer than the rerecorded ones that came out on Warner Brothers the following year; I've always found all versions of these songs equally enjoyable.
    What I find very weird is that, given the humongous significance and importance of these tunes in the overall B-52's canon, these 1978 versions have NEVER appeared on CD in any band compilation release. What's maddening is that the label itself (Warner Bros.), not the band, put the kibosh on any and all efforts to bring these versions to a wider audience.
    From what I can gather, the 1998 compilation album Time Capsule was originally planned as a box set featuring rarities from across the band's career and several new tracks, as well as remastered older tracks. Warner Brothers management, assheads that they were, didn't think a comp like that would sell - instead, they had the band cut it back to a single disc, heavily weighted towards later-period B-52's tunes (I've already said my piece about what a sorry, half-assed set this turned out to be). Had Time Capsule been released as per the band's wishes, it would have included not only the original single versions of "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls", but also a whole host of demos and outtakes that Cindy Wilson had prepared, and a number of new songs that the band had been working on (not just "Debbie" and "Hallucinating Pluto", as it turned out)... and in all likelihood I wouldn't be writing this post, since most of the stuff provided here probably would have been included.  A dumb decision driven by Corporate Accounting Department logic on Warner's part, in my opinion.

    "Adios Desconocida" - I've already said quite a bit in a previous post about the band working with David Byrne in
    the early '80s on the aborted Mesopotamia sessions. As I mentioned in that post, Warner Brothers was anticipating releasing a full-blown B-52's album in 1981, not an EP; to that end, the group had worked up a number of songs with their producer that were in various stages of production by the time Byrne left/was fired from the project. The tentative lineup for the expected Mesopotamia album (in no particular order) was:
      "Deep Sleep"
      "Nip It In The Bud"
      "Throw That Beat In The Garbage Can"
      "Big Bird"
      "Queen Of Las Vegas"
      "Adios Desconocida"
      Of course, only the first six songs made it onto the various abbreviated Mesopotamia EPs released in 1982. As for the other four songs, the first three were all re-recorded and included on The B-52's follow-up album, 1983's Whammy!. On that album, "Queen Of Las Vegas" was changed drastically from the Mesopotamia demo (which can be heard on the Nude On The Moon anthology). And I recall the group playing "Big Bird" during the Providence leg of their Meso-Americans tour, a show I attended in early 1982 - the Whammy! version was identical to what I heard back then. As for "Butterbean", the earlier version has never been released, so I couldn't tell you if the 1983 version was that much different.

      That leaves only "Adios Desconocida" as the only unreleased track from those sessions. This tune is unusual for the band in that it's a languid guitar-driven romantic ballad, sung by Fred Schneider with backing vocals by Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson - very atypical, and unrelated in almost any way to both the band's signature sound from their previous two albums or the slate of tunes from those Byrne sessions. I've tried to determine whether the song was written by group members or brought in from outside, but can't find any definitive information on authorship. It's my guess that it was the latter, because after the demo was recorded, Fred himself nixed any further work on it, citing his boredom with and disinterest in the song, and the rest of the band didn't raise much of a fuss about it. As such, "Adios Desconocida" was scrapped, and never appeared in any version on subsequent releases. Rightfully so, in my opinion; like I said, it just doesn't seem to "fit" with what The B-52's were about. But have a listen and decide for yourselves.

      "Don't Worry" - Before his death, John Lennon specifically cited The B-52's (in particular their song "Rock Lobster") as the catalyst/inspiration for his return to the recording studio in 1980. Taken from a recent article in Atlanta magazine:
        In Bermuda, an assistant dragged the reclusive ex-Beatle to Disco 40. Upstairs, a DJ was spinning the club’s namesake musical genre. But the downstairs bar was dedicated to New Wave, where “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s was playing.

        “I said, ‘That’s Yoko!,’” Lennon recalled that fall in an interview with the BBC. “I thought there were two records going at once or something. Because it was so her. I mean, this person had studied her. I thought, ‘Get out the ax and call the wife!’ I called her and I said, ‘You won’t believe this, but I was in a disco and there was somebody doing your voice. This time, they’re ready for us!”
        After Lennon's death, The B-52's became great friends with his widow, Yoko Ono, a dream come true for most of them, since they'd all been fans of hers for years (Cindy later admitted that the noises she made on "Rock Lobster" were indeed a homage to Ono's music). As an acknowledgement of/tribute to their relationship, the group dedicated a song on Whammy! to her, the seventh track "Don't Worry" (a nod to Ono's 1969 release "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)", the b-side to The Plastic Ono Band's "Cold Turkey" single).

        While the Whammy! song was definitely NOT a cover of Ono's tune, the band still listed Ono in the credits for "Don't Worry" - apparently believing that this further acknowledgement of their friendship was a good idea that would please Yoko.

        Well, apparently The B-52's didn't realize that in doing this, they would be obligated to pay royalties to Yoko based on Whammy!'s sales. As the album rose higher on the charts in 1983 (eventually reaching #29 and going Gold), Ono's attorneys began licking their chops, and began making demands for a sizable amount in songwriting royalties on behalf of their client (while it doesn't seem that Ono instigated these actions against the group - they were apparently corporate-driven - I'm sort of curious as to why she didn't tell her lawyers to stand down...). To avoid paying out big bucks, The B-52's agreed to replace the track with "Moon '83" (a remix of "There's A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon)" off of The Yellow Album) in later album pressings.

        "Don't Worry" rapidly disappeared from the album track list, and since then has been somewhat difficult to find; fortunately, I purchased an early copy of Whammy! which has the song. It's not the greatest tune in the Bee-Fives' ouevre... but they probably could have avoided a TON of trouble and kept it on the album had they just checked with Ono's lawyers first and got everything straightened out beforehand. Oh well. I will mention that, to their credit, both The B-52's and Yoko Ono didn't let this incident poison their connection; they all remain good friends to this day.

        "Creature In A Black Bikini" - Ricky Wilson found out he was stricken with AIDS in 1983, during the Whammy! sessions, and was understandably terrified by this diagnosis. He was reluctant to let anyone know about his condition, but eventually broke the news to band member Keith Strickland, his best friend from their childhood days in Athens, Georgia. Keith was shocked as well, but determined to support and help his friend. He and Ricky began taking trips to New York City together, away from the other band members (everyone had moved up from Georgia and settled in and around the Bethel, NY area), to plot a plan of action. It was during these trips that the two decided the band should work on another album, with the feeling being that the activity would do Ricky good.
          After flying down to Brazil to take part in the Rock In Rio festival on the weekend of January 18th-20th, 1985 (Ricky's last public performance with the group), The B-52's entered Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia later that year for the Bouncing Off The Satellites sessions. Initially, the band was very productive - they quickly recorded the Wilson/Strickland-penned songs "Wig", "Detour Through Your Mind" and "Communicate", and jammed together on a number of other songs the two came up with, that eventually never made it onto the album.
          But as Ricky's condition deteriorated over that summer and fall, so did his creativity and ability to write tunes. He still continued to contribute songs for the album, including "Ain't It A Shame" and "She Brakes For Rainbows", but these songs have a noticeably downbeat quality compared to the earlier music he wrote - perhaps reflecting his attitude at the time.

          It got to the point where, due to his obviously declining health, he was spent creatively. Ricky and Keith told the other band members that if they had any solo material to offer, even stuff recorded with different bands, they could put it on the album as well - Fred and Kate responded with "Juicy Jungle" and "Housework", respectively (I've always felt these two songs didn't quite "fit" on Bouncing Off The Satellites - now I know why). For all intents and purposes, most of the basic album tracks were completed by September.

          Ricky Wilson was admitted to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City in early October, 1985. It was only then that the rest of the band was informed about the nature and severity of his condition. He died three days later, on October 12th. The group still wanted to release the album, as per Ricky's desires and as a final tribute to him. But most of them (especially his sister Cindy) were too distraught to participate in final mixing and overdubs - Keith and a host of session musicians took care of that. The final album did not entirely fit Ricky's vision for it; Warner Brothers insisted that the group add more synthesizers to their music, to make it more "commercial". And in the end, Keith/the band acquiesced to the label's wishes - they just wanted to see the album out. Bouncing Off The Satellites was released in September 1986 with little label support and no band appearances or tours to promote it, and quickly faded off the charts. It was the band's last release for almost three years.

          It's too bad that Ricky hadn't lived; Bouncing Off The Satellites would have ended up a much different and better album - possibly one of the band's greatest. As I mentioned earlier, there were a number of brilliant songs that Wilson and Strickland came up with during these sessions that the band noodled over, but never quite committed to. One of the best was "Creature In A Black Bikini" - only an excerpt from a recorded jam session survives, but it's enough to whet the appetites of B-52's fans who've heard it (and they're not many of those who have, as this tune has never been released) and have them wistfully wonder "what if?"...

          I've got a couple of other hard-to-find B-52's nuggets laying around (mostly b-sides of some of their late '70s/early '80s singles releases), but I think I might post that stuff later. For now, here for your listening pleasure are the following:
          • "Rock Lobster" b/w "52 Girls", recorded by producer Danny Beard in Athens, GA in February 1978 and released on his DB Records label in April 1978;
          • "Adios Desconocida", from the aborted Mesopotamia sessions, recorded at Blank Tape Studios in New York City in September 1981 (never released);
          • "Don't Worry", recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas in December 1982/January 1983, and originally a track on the 1983 album Whammy! before being subsequently pulled; and
          • "Creature In A Black Bikini", a jam session outtake from the Bouncing Off The Satellites sessions, recorded in Philadelphia in the spring/summer of 1985 (never released).
          This post is for the true B-52's fans! If you count yourself amongst them, as I do, here you are! Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

          Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

          "Rock Lobster" single (1978): Send Email
          "Adios Desconocida": Send Email
          "Don't Worry": Send Email
          "Creature In A Black Bikini": Send Email

          Sunday, January 7, 2018

          The Keane Brothers - The Keane Brothers

          I wrote in an earlier post that I spent my last year of high school in Monterey, California, after my Navy-officer dad was transferred there from our previous home in Massachusetts. As I mentioned, that first summer on the Monterey Peninsula, and that first month of school starting that September, were rough and depressing for me - up until a music-related incident occurred there that changed my whole attitude and outlook on the area. I began enjoying California more and more, and got involved in several activities - the track team and drama club at school, and my after-school job at nearby Santa Catalina (a private girls school) - that brought me a host of new friends.

          One of my new buddies, Wayne, was a fellow member on the track team (he ran middle distance; I was a sprinter). Originally from Southern California, his family had moved to Monterey in the late 1970s, a couple of years before mine. In addition to the sports team, Wayne was also in a couple of my classes, and he quickly became part of a group I regularly had lunch with, either in the school cafeteria or at the pizza place in the nearby downtown area (I commented in an earlier post how flabbergasted I was at how open and liberal California schools were, compared with what I had been used to all my life in Eastern schools).

          As I recall, it was during one of these noontime pizza parlor sessions with the guys that we started talking about the cartoons and other shows we liked when we were younger. We yammered on about old Saturday morning shows like Super Friends, Hong Kong Phooey
          and the stalwart Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, which had anchored CBS's cartoon schedule for years (BB/RR would ultimately air on either CBS or ABC for more than four decades, one of the longest network runs in history). The talk then shifted to the old weekday after-school shows that used to air; everyone there professed a love of Speed Racer and other great Japanese-made children's programs from the Sixties (During my first year living in Annapolis, Maryland as a kid, WDCA Channel 20 out of Washington, DC used to air a two-hour long block of
          shows - Speed Racer, Marine Boy (my personal favorite), Ultraman, and Johnny Sokko & His Flying Robot - hosted by the channel's popular mascot Captain 20. During that time, there would be practically tumbleweeds rolling down the neighborhood streets; just about every kid in the neighborhood would be inside, watching those shows!). And we found that we all enjoyed Star Blazers and Battle Of The Planets.

          When I mentioned that I used to be a big fan of the mid-Seventies revival of The Mickey Mouse Club, a few of the guys began to laugh and razz me a little. But Wayne stopped all of us cold with the following declaration: "I was almost ON that program." He then provided us with some info and insight on his early life: while living in the Los Angeles area, he'd been a fairly active child actor!

          As a small boy, he expressed interest in acting with his parents, who responded by enrolling him in speech, music and drama classes, and taking him to casting calls for the many TV commercials being filmed in the area. He appeared in a few TV ads, mostly for local merchants. His folks helped him acquire an agent, who began looking for more lucrative opportunities for Wayne in television and movies. But nothing of that larger scope and reach ever seemed to pan out for him. When he was eleven, his agent made one final all-out effort on his behalf: he entered him into a nationwide search for child actors to host The New Mickey Mouse Club, scheduled to begin airing in early 1977. The casting call attracted thousands of hopefuls along with Wayne; according to him, he made it very far into the audition process. He claimed to have reached the next-to-last group of kids (the final two dozen or so contenders) before he was finally cut. That pretty much ended his adolescent acting days, and his family moved north, away from the hub of that sort of activity, shortly thereafter.

          Of course, half the guys thought that Wayne was BSing all of us, but he backed up his claims with further questioning. The only host I remembered from the program was a black kid named 'Pop' Attmore; Mickey Mouse was the last role he had in a brief early-70's child actor career (he also appeared on the "Kelly's Kids" episode of The Brady Bunch a few years earlier). When I asked Wayne about him, he responded instantly: "Billy? Yeah - he was kind of a dick!", and regaled us with some of Attmore's actions during the audition process. And Wayne claimed to still have the mouse ears the Disney people gave him and the others in his penultimate group; a couple of weeks later, he brought them to school to show us. Yes, he could have just acquired them during an earlier visit to Disneyland... but by then I was fairly convinced his story was true.

          However, the thing Wayne said that clinched my belief in him was "I had the same agent as the Keane Brothers." Holy flashback - I'd almost all but forgotten about those guys! The Keane Brothers were a short-lived preteen pop group out of Southern California who achieved some mid-70's national recognition (including a network TV program) without the merest shred of chart success or any remote semblance of an expansive fan base.

          The story of Tom Keane (born 1964) and John Keane (born 1965) begins with their father, Bob Keane. The elder Keane was a long-time record producer and label owner who, through a series of bad breaks and insanely bad luck, never quite made it into the big time. To wit:
          • In the mid-Fifties, Keane entered into an oral agreement with a Los Angeles businessman in setting up his first label, Keen Records. As the A&R man (Artists & Repertoire, i.e. talent scout), Keane did all the legwork
            and quickly came across a demo cut by a gospel singer, Sam Cook, trying to break into pop music. He signed the artist to a long-term deal, and the demo of "Summertime" b/w "You Send Me" was pressed as the label's first
            release, under the singer's new name of Sam Cooke. The B-side eventually reached #1 on the Billboard charts in late 1957, making Keen Records a fortune - but Bob Keane never saw a nickel of it. Since he didn't have a written contract, his businessman "partner" screwed him over, and ruthlessly forced him out of the company.
          • Keane set up a new label, Del-Fi Records, in 1958, and had some minor successes early that year with a couple of the imprint's singles releases. That May, he received a tip that a teenaged performer from nearby Pacoima, known locally as "the Little Richard of San Fernando", would be playing a weekend matinee show at a theater in the valley. Keane went to see this kid in action, and was so blown away by his performance that he immediately invited him over to audition at his basement recording studio. By the end of the month Keane had signed the seventeen-year-old Richard Valenzuela to Del-Fi, who through Keane's
            recommendation changed his recording name to "Ritchie Valens". Valens' first single, "Come On, Let's Go" (co-written by the singer and label head) was released in July to great acclaim, and by the autumn of 1958, Valens was a major star. Keane served as his manager, booking appearances for his charge at locations across the United States and arranging performances on television programs (including American Bandstand) and movies (Go, Johnny, Go!). With the release of "Donna" b/w "La Bamba" in late December, Valens' fame shot into the stratosphere, and it seemed that Keane had made up for his earlier
            mistake with Keen Records. Both his and Ritchie's future looked bright and limitless... right up until February 3rd, 1959, when Valens was killed in a Iowa plane crash while on tour (along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, the "Day The Music Died"). Keane had been associated with Ritchie for all of nine months.
          • After Valens' death, Del-Fi Records limped along for many years, releasing a lot of music by surf bands (including The Lively Ones and The Surfaris), Frank Zappa (some of his early recordings), and Chan Romero, who had a late-50's hit with "Hippy Hippy Shake". But Keane wouldn't find his next big star until 1964, when the label signed The Bobby Fuller Four. The band recorded eight singles and two
            albums on Del-Fi, including the late-1965 smash hit "I Fought The Law" that shot the group to stardom. But once again, fate intervened... group leader Bobby Fuller was found dead, soaked in gasoline, in his mother's car outside of his Hollywood apartment in July 1966.
          The circumstances behind Fuller's death - whether suicide, murder or misadventure - have never been fully explained. But Fuller's death led to the imminent demise of the group, and subsequently that of Del-Fi Records - the label shut down in 1967. Bob Keane then entered a new career far removed from the music business, selling burglar alarm systems to his celebrity friends. That was his main focus until the early Seventies, when he discovered that his young sons Tom and John had developed natural musical ability on their own. Seeing them as his entree back into production, Keane began actively coaching and promoting his progeny's talents.

          The boys began small, playing at shopping malls, store openings and the like in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. With their father's drive, backing and industry experience, they began expanding their horizons and looking beyond local success - not that the boys were necessarily concerned with that. By all indications, they got into music because they genuinely enjoyed it, and weren't obsessed with becoming stars. Their
          first studio effort, the single "Sherry" b/w "God Loves Little Girls", was released in 1976, when the boys were twelve and eleven years old, respectively. This lightweight, bubblegummy record did relatively little here in America, reaching only #84 on the Billboard charts. But it was a Number One hit in Canada, and got them noticed south of the border here in the States. Their first self-titled LP was released shortly thereafter in early 1977, and Tom and John began making well-received appearances on shows like Dinah, The Tonight Show and - yes - The New Mickey Mouse Club to promote it. On the strength of these features, Bob Keane negotiated a deal with CBS for the boys to host their own prime-time variety series, to air on the network during the summer of 1977 in the timeslot for Wonder Woman, then on seasonal hiatus.

          As for why CBS would take such a chance and provide relatively unknown performers with substantial airtime, you have to remember that in the Seventies, the networks routinely scheduled short-run summer replacement comedy/variety shows headlined by fresh talent as an alternative to reruns, to retain viewership while their regularly-scheduled series took time off. These shows were relatively inexpensive to produce in comparison to the programs they were subbing for, and early 
          on, some of them became hits. Hee Haw, for example, started out as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1969; the show ended up running for nearly a quarter-century. And Sonny & Cher also began that way, as a 1971 seasonal replacement for Ed Sullivan; it proved so popular that it led to the performers' long-running prime time series. In the first half of the 1970's, The Carpenters, Melba Moore, Jerry Reed, Helen Reddy, Tony Orlando & Dawn, The Hudson Brothers, Mac Davis and The Manhattan Transfer all headlined their own short-lived summer TV variety showcases. All of these met with varying degrees of success, but none of them proved to be the runaway hits that the network hoped for, and none were picked up as a regular season series.

          Looking for a guaranteed winner, in 1976 CBS scheduled a summer show starring The Jacksons, who at that point had fallen on hard times; their string of big Motown hits had dried up two years earlier, and they were in the midst of a protracted dispute with their label that led to them leaving Motown for Epic Records in 1975. The network figured that their stardom and youth appeal would draw eyeballs, and despite Michael Jackson's trepidation regarding what the show would do the the band's image and sales, the
          group signed on. CBS's calculations were spot-on - The Jacksons garnered huge ratings that summer during its four-week run (my family and I never missed an episode), so much so that the series was picked up as a mid-season replacement in January 1977 following Good Times. But the program got spanked in the Nielsens by the Top 20 hit show The Bionic Woman, and was off the air by March of that year.

          The Jacksons was pretty much the peak of the summer replacement format; by then, the genre was becoming increasingly dated and passe. But CBS gave it one more shot in 1977, scheduling summer variety shows with Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. (formerly of The 5th Dimension), one-hit wonders The Starland Vocal Band (a program which featured the talents of a then-unknown comedian named David Letterman), the mime duo Shields & Yarnell... and The Keane Brothers. The Keane Brothers Show began airing that August, for a half-hour at 8:30 pm on Friday. I watched every one of the four shows, as I was fascinated that two kids exactly my age had come so far. Here's the show opening:

          The format was standard variety-show hokum, with Tom and John interacting with their various guest stars from the world of prime time TV (like Betty White and Sonny Bono) in lame comedy routines, interspersed between the duo performing a couple of songs off of their then-sole album. The boys were fresh-faced, professional and engaging on TV, and you could see that they had some genuine musical talent. Tom could whale on the keyboards, and exhibited a great set of pipes - at times belting out a song with abandon, sounding preternaturally like a preteen Elton John. His brother John was a virtuoso at the drum kit, and was no slouch in the vocal department himself.  But the material they performed (almost all of the songs on the album were written by the two of them) was abysmal, even judging it by the standards of Seventies pop - their music made The Bay City Rollers seem like The Sex Pistols by comparison.

          Here's what I regard as the nadir: their on-air performance of "Amy (Show The World You're There)", a 'tribute' to Amy Carter, the nine-year-old daughter of the newly-elected U.S. President Jimmy Carter - I think the lyrics are absolutely HYSTERICAL:

          If anything, this tune could serve as The Keane Brothers' ironclad entry into the Unintentional Comedy Hall of Fame.

          The Keane Brothers Show aired its fourth and final episode on August 26th, 1977. This also signaled the end of the networks' experiments with summer replacement variety shows; it would be eleven years before CBS tried again, with The Smothers Brothers in 1988. And with that seemingly came the end of the Keane Brothers as a pop act - after that summer, they seemed to fall off the face of the Earth, and I don't recall hearing another thing about them again. In a very short time, the duo became a vague and distant memory. I assumed they'd moved on from music after they reached their teens... but I was incorrect.

          The Keane Brothers continued to perform and record for another five years. Their second album, the disco-influenced Taking Off, was released in 1979. In the early '80s, the boys added a couple of new members (including future Chicago bassist Jason Scheff) and changed their band name to Keane (not to be confused with the future Britpop band of the same name). Keane put out two pop LPs on CBS/Sony, a self-titled album in 1981 and Today, Tomorrow and Tonight in 1982. All of these releases went exactly nowhere.

          Since that time, both brothers have continued their careers in music. Tom found success as a songwriter, churning out well-received tunes for the likes of Chaka Kahn, Jermaine Jackson and Patti LaBelle. And John established a lucrative career scoring hit television shows, including The Amazing Race and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. They both still do session work on occasion, and over the past twenty years, each has released a couple of solo albums that were all received with resounding crickets.

          It's been many years since I'd seen or thought of my old friend Wayne; he only recently came to mind again when I was browsing through an old high school yearbook. And in thinking of him, I recalled his connection to The Keane Brothers, and began seeking some of their music out. Needless to say, most of it has long been out of print here in the States (a couple of their LPs were reissued on CD in Japan in 2011). But I managed to track down their debut album. Again, it's no Grammy Award winner... but it's still a nice and amusing dollop of innocent adolescent pop music from that long-ago decade, the Seventies.

          Here's The Keane Brothers, released on 20th Century Records (a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation) in January 1977. Enjoy (if you're able), and as always, let me know what you think.

          Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

          Send Email