Friday, January 24, 2020

Various Artists - Good Evening, We Are Not The Fall

Today marks the second anniversary of the death of Mark E. Smith, and the end of any of the various and sundry assemblages of his seminal band The Fall. He is still missed and mourned by his legions of fans worldwide, with the Fall Forum "In Memoriam" page still regularly receiving heartfelt remembrances and tributes...

,,,Which is a lot more than can be said for other parts of Fall-world. The Fall Online website, once my go-to source for band news, is almost completely dead - the last update to this site is dated December, 2018. Other group news outlets are also gradually growing quiet as well, although a handful (like Reformation Post TPM) are still fighting the good fight, striving to remain up-to-date and relevant. You might recall that last year this time, I was lamenting the dearth of new/archived Fall music I anticipated being released in the wake of Smith's death; that situation hasn't improved over the past year. The Cog Sinister label put out a series of live sets from the group's many UK appearances over the years - I've already said my piece regarding how much I value these soundboard LPs (to summarize: I don't). And Cherry Red released (1982), a compilation of band music (both studio and live) from that year - but I already owned most of the stuff on it (taken from sources like Hex Enduction Hour, In A Hole, and Room To Live), so I didn't find it worthwhile to acquire.

Brix & The Extricated, fronted by Mark's first wife Brix Smith-Smart backed by various former members of The Fall (including bassist Steve Hanley and his brother Paul on drums) continues lurching forward. In a comment I posted a couple of years ago, I had some disparaging words to say about this band and their first LP, 2017's Part 2, which I likened to sounding like a half-assed Fall karaoke band... an assessment compounded by the fact that the songs the band chose to weakly cover on this disc ("Hotel Bloedel", "Feeling Numb", "L.A.") Brix herself had a hand in writing and performing with the original group. Back at that time, I figured that Brix & The Extricated would be a one-off sort of thing, an opportunity for Brix to perform a couple of numbers in public before returning to her fashion and lifestyle-maven pursuits. But I was wrong.

In the past year and a half, the band released two more albums, 2018's Breaking State and last year's Super Blood Wolf Moon. At least these two LPs have dispensed with the Fall covers... and the musicianship is marginally better. But in my opinion, this band has become little more than a Brix Smith "look at me, world!" outing. Practically EVERY song and lyric uttered on these releases refers in some way to her life and how she views it - how 'nobody believed in her' ("Going Strong", "Vanity", etc.), how 'much she's changed' ("Unrecognisable", "Hustler", etc.), and how 'rough and tough and resilient' she is ("Dinosaur Girl', "Wolves", etc.) - and that kind of crap gets old hella-quick.  The latest album covers are both stylized illustrations of what a "badass" she is now, to wit:

Check out how the heads of the other band members are just tiny appendages/ trophies attached to the fierce, roaring beast that is Brix... I wonder how they reacted to THAT...

Note that all of her latest albums were released under her own private label, Grit Over Glamour Records (sheesh! REALLY?). If I had to hazard a comment, it would be that Ms. Smith-Smart is trying just a wee bit too hard to reclaim some sort of rock credibility, and in the process it's hurting her music. This band has devolved (as if it had that far to fall in the first place) into a vanity project, and I'll be damned if I fund Brix's public therapy sessions to make her feel good about herself. I know that sounds harsh... but that's the way I see it.

Fortunately, these weren't the only new noises coming from that quarter this year. Members of The Fall's final and most lasting lineup (playing with Smith for the last dozen years of the band's existence) - bassist Dave Spurr, drummer Keiron Melling and guitarist Pete Greenway - reconvened with a new lead singer, Sam Curran, and reinvented themselves as Imperial Wax, named after the first Fall album these three stalwarts appeared on in 2008. Imperial Wax's first release, Gastwerk Saboteurs, came out last May... and it's actually pretty good. While the band retains a lot of the power and drive of the old Fall, they were smart enough to not rest on their laurels, but have created their own sound somewhat removed from that of their former band. It's a breath of fresh air, compared to what Brix and her crew are putting out.

Still, it's sort of sad to see how quickly Mark and his group are being forgotten. Therefore, I continue my endeavors to keep the Fall flame alive and burning! Here's the latest:

Back in the mid-1990s, while I was still in grad school in Virginia, a couple of Arizona-based fans, Jonathan Kandell and Andy Halper, gathered up a number of Fall songs covered by various bands from around the world, and put it up for sale on their website. I think I heard about it through the Fall Forum or some other web page dedicated to the group; either way, I couldn't send them my money fast enough!

The cassette-only comp arrived in my mailbox a couple of weeks later. Below is a copy of the liner notes, with details on each song and the band that covered it:

Kandell provided a few more details on how this compilation came to be in an interview in the ninth issue (August 1997) of The Biggest Library Yet, a fantastic Fall fanzine published quarterly from 1994 to 2000 - here's a link to it. Not a lot of info here, but no matter...  Some of the covers here are fantastic, others are merely interesting... and some really aren't that good. But this collection displays the global reach and influence of The Fall. And all in all, this was a longtime labor of love by dedicated and motivated fans.  Some of my favorites include The Gosh Guys' version of "Paintwork" and Eventide's lo-fi "Terry Waite Sez".

The original site for this compilation has long been inactive, so nowadays these tunes are somewhat hard to find. Fortunately, that's why I'm here!

In memory of the late, great Mark E. Smith, I hereby provide to you Good Evening, We Are Not The Fall, a fan-assembled comp of twenty-five Fall covers from across the globe, released in the fall of 1996. This set is burned off of my own personal cassette copy (sorry - it's currently in .mp3 128; when I get the time, I'll kick it up to 320... not that it'll matter, I think - it IS a tape, after all). Have a listen, spend a moment or two communing with the spirit of Mr. Smith... and as always, let me know what you think.

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Monday, December 16, 2019

Various Artists - Now That's What I Call Christmas (2015 Edition) (3-Disc set)

Picked this one up a couple of years ago, one of the Now! Christmas series released in England...

I don't think I need to elaborate much regarding this offering; you pretty much know what you're getting here - a mixture of modern and classic renditions of traditional Christmas songs by popular current and past artists, along with some most recent holiday-related tunes. In this set, there's some great stuff (like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Ella Fitzgerald's "The Christmas Song"), some good stuff (such as The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" and Burl Ives' "Holly Jolly Christmas")... and some utter crap, including Band Aid's cringe-inducing "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (featuring what is possibly the all-time most reprehensible lyric in holiday song history - Bono belting out "Well tonight, thank God it's them instead of youuuuuu!") and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You", one of the most universally despised Christmas songs ever.
[This set also includes the most brutal, tear-inducing, Christmas-buzz-killing song of all time, in my opinion: Nat King Cole's "The Little Boy Who Santa Claus Forget" - I listened to this all the way through ONCE many Christmases ago, and I was depressed for the rest of the day! I fervently recommend you skip over that one, for your own sake.]
Here's the lineup, in case you're interested:

Disc 1:
  1. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
  2. Last Christmas - Wham!
  3. Fairytale of New York - the Pogues Feat. Kirsty MacColl
  4. Driving Home for Christmas - Chris Rea
  5. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Roy Wood & Wizzard
  6. Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
  7. Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord - Boney M
  8. Step Into Christmas - Elton John
  9. Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
  10. Christmas Lights - Coldplay
  11. 2000 Miles - the Pretenders
  12. Stop the Cavalry - Jona Lewie
  13. Santa Baby - Kylie Minogue
  14. Lonely This Christmas - Mud
  15. Merry Christmas Everyone - Shakin' Stevens
  16. Underneath the Tree - Kelly Clarkson
  17. Christmas Wrapping - the Waitresses
  18. One More Sleep - Leona Lewis
  19. December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas) - George Michael
  20. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Whitney Houston
  21. Do You Want to Build a Snowman? - Kristen Bell, Agatha Lee Mon & Katie Lopez

Disc 2:
  1. White Christmas - Bing Crosby with the Ken Darby Singers & John Scott Trotter & His Orchestra
  2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Frank Sinatra
  3. Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
  4. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Dean Martin
  5. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
  6. Frosty the Snowman - the Ronettes
  7. Winter Wonderland - Doris Day
  8. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town - the Crystals
  9. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - the Ronettes
  10. The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot - Nat King Cole
  11. Sleigh Ride - Ella Fitzgerald
  12. Merry Christmas Baby - James Brown
  13. What Christmas Means to Me - Stevie Wonder
  14. Someday at Christmas - the Jackson 5
  15. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
  16. Senor Santa Claus - Jim Reeves
  17. Marshmallow World - Darlene Love
  18. Here Comes Santa Claus - Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans
  19. Never Do a Tango with An Eskimo - Alma Cogan
  20. Lonely Pup (In a Christmas Shop) - Adam Faith
  21. Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
  22. Baby, It's Cold Outside - Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
  23. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Perry Como with Russ Case & His Orchestra
  24. Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
  25. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - the Crystals
  26. Little Saint Nick - the Beach Boys
  27. The Bells of St. Mary - Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans
  28. The Christmas Song - Ella Fitzgerald

Disc 3:
  1. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir
  2. Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid
  3. The Power of Love - Frankie Goes to Hollywood
  4. When a Child Is Born - Johnny Mathis
  5. O Holy Night - Il Divo
  6. Walking in the Air - Aled Jones
  7. Silent Night - Nat King Cole
  8. O Come All Ye Faithful - Perry Como
  9. Silver Bells - Jim Reeves
  10. O Little Town of Bethlehem - Burl Ives
  11. Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby & David Bowie
  12. A Winter's Tale - David Essex
  13. In Dulci Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
  14. A Spaceman Came Travelling - Chris de Burgh
  15. In the Bleak Midwinter - Bert Jansch
  16. Ring Out Solstice Bells - Jethro Tull
  17. Gaudete - Steeleye Span
  18. We Wish You a Merry Christmas - the Weavers
  19. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Blue Blood
  20. The Twelve Days of Christmas - the Spinners
  21. Auld Lang Syne - Susan Boyle
  22. Happy New Year - ABBA

As you can see, overall there's more good music than bad here... and with three discs worth of music to choose from, everyone in your household will find SOMETHING here that they like. Just fire up this set as your Christmas Day background music, and tune out what doesn't float your particular holiday boat at that moment. I know that's not a completely ringing endorsement of the album... but as far as Xmas sets go, you could do a lot worse.

I offer for your enjoyment this holiday season the 2015 edition of Now That's What I Call Christmas, a three-disc set released by Universal Music Group on November 15ht, 2015, and distributed by Sony Music Entertainment. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

James Brown - The Complete James Brown Christmas (2-disc set)

I was completely remiss regarding posting any holiday-related albums last year... so I'm making an attempt this year at getting off my lazy ass and actually providing some Christmas releases
well prior to the day in question. So my first post this month features one of the artists most closely associated with the holiday season - the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Mr. James Brown himself...

Ha ha - just kidding! The Godfather of Soul isn't the first artist that leaps to mind for most people in regards to Christmas music. But James Brown had a love and affinity for that time of year, and believe it or not, over the course of his career he cut not only one, but THREE Christmas albums: James Brown And His Famous Flames Sing Christmas Songs in 1966, A Soulful Christmas in 1968, and Hey America It's Christmas in 1970. The 1966 disc was his most
"traditional" holiday release, per se - on it, Brown and his band cover several holiday standards, like "Please Come Home For Christmas", "Merry Christmas Baby" and "The Christmas Song" (twice) - all recorded at moderate tempos and with full string accompaniments. But the band also comes up with some inspired originals more in keeping with the funky, 'real' JB style, including the R&B workout "Signs Of Christmas", and "Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year", a serious song containing a classic James Brown 'rap'. This was the only Brown record that contained any versions of holiday classics; for his follow-up Christmas records, he and the band followed their own path and sound.

This was evident in the 1968 release, A Soulful Christmas; The eleven originals herein are suffused with soul stylings, jazzy influences and funky drums and horns. And all of them are OUT-standing: standouts include "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" (with its refrain echoing back to one of Brown's earliest hits "Please, Please, Please"), the instrumental "Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)" - prominently featuring a vibraphone - and the amazing "Soulful Christmas". Oddly, the band included a song on this disc not overtly associated with the holiday - "Say It Loud: I'm Black And I'm Proud". This song had been previously released as a single earlier that summer; its inclusion here was its album debut. At first glance, having "Say It Loud..." on a Christmas album seems sort of weird... but somehow, someway, it FITS. And it's a great song to boot - so who are we to argue with the genius of James Brown?

Soul Brother #1's final holiday release, Hey America It's Christmas, came out at the tail end of 1970, and with only eight tracks, it's by far the shortest of the three albums. But it continues in the same vein as the 1968 album: nothing but the classic JB sound - raw, driven, bluesy, funky. Greats on this disc include "Go Power At Christmas Time", "Christmas Is Love", and another classic (and brutal) James Brown 'rap', appropriately titled "My Rapp".

By the late Seventies, all three of these albums had gone out of print. But about ten years ago, Hip-O Select released a compilation set containing every song from all of these Christmas albums, along with selected bonus tracks (singles and unreleased versions). All in all, this is non-mainstream but nonetheless essential Xmas music to own, and a perfect compliment to any holiday gathering where it is played.

So for your listening pleasure, I humbly provide to you The Complete James Brown Christmas comp, put out by Hip-O Select on October 12th, 2010. Bring the noise, bring the funk to your household over the holidays!  And as always, let me know what you think.

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

Diary - "Uni" (single)

I don't usually (as in, EVER) do this... but I heard a FANTASTIC track tonight and thought I'd share it with you all.  It's a new single by a Brooklyn, New York-based band called Diary.

Diary's been around since 2016, and consists of Will Banyard on drums, Christ Croarkin on bass, Andy Brienza on lead guitar and Kevin Bendis on vocals and synthesizer keys.  This song, "Uni", was released over the summer, and is intended to be the first in a series of tunes the band is planning on releasing through the end of the year.

Here's the video:

When I first heard this song, it put me in mind of some classic shoegaze bands from the last century, like My Bloody Valentine and especially The Veldt/Apollo Heights, another Brooklyn-by-way-of-North Carolina band I've written about on this blog earlier.  Diary calls themselve a "dreamwave" band, a synth genre that draws upon the synthesizer pioneers from that earlier era, while adding in something that sounds to me like almost Cocteau Twins-esque atmosphere. Whatever it's called, and however it's categorized, it completely tickled my eardrums - so much so that I immediately went to the group's site on Bandcamp and bought it!

I've received the band's permission to repost it here... so here, for your enjoyment is "Uni" by Diary, released on July 3rd, 2019.  It appears that Diary hasn't toured since mid-summer, but I recommend keeping an eye open for any upcoming shows of theirs in your area.  This is a band to watch for in the future!

Until then, have a listen to this... and as always, let me know what you think.

Diary - "Uni" (single) (direct download link)

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Brady Bunch - It's a Sunshine Day: The Best of The Brady Bunch

Looking back, 1969 was a pretty important year for me. It was the beginning of my formal schooling, with my entrance into kindergarten that fall. And it was the summer I met the best friend of my childhood, when Ricky and his family moved in just down the street. All in all, it's the first full year I can remember fairly clearly even now, not just fleeting bits and pieces from my earlier toddlerhood.

1969 was also pretty memorable for the rest of the world - one of the most pivotal years, full of significant historical and cultural events both here and abroad. As such, this current year (2019) has been chockablock with fiftieth anniversary tributes to that time and era. Over the past twelve months, there have been celebrations and memorials, movies, films, books and museum spectaculars commemorating events as various as the Stonewall riots, Chappaquiddick, the 'Miracle' Mets of baseball, the Manson Murders... and the first artificial heart implantation, 747 flight, ATM machine, and successful moon landing. Culturally,
1969 is remembered for The Beatles' final public performance as a group (the legendary Abbey Road Studios "rooftop concert"), the debut of Monty Python's Flying Circus on BBC1, Woodstock, Altamont, the rise and fall of 'supergroup' Blind Faith, and the deaths of Judy Garland and Brian Jones. It was the year of the debut of beloved children's series like Scooby Doo, The Wacky Races/Penelope Pitstop, Sesame Street and The Pink Panther, and the final seasons for programs fondly recalled to this day. like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Star Trek, and the ignominious demise of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. And as can be judged by the spate of "50th Anniversary" box sets being released this year, 1969 was also a big year for music, with the release of celebrated classics such as The Beatles' Abbey Road, The
Band's Music From Big Pink, The Doors' The Soft Parade,  Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, The Who's Tommy, The Kinks' Arthur, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and debut albums by Santana, David Bowie, The Stooges, Led Zeppelin, The Jackson Five, Elton John and Chicago.

However, there's one culturally significant golden anniversary this year which seems to me hasn't received that much attention: The Brady Bunch premiered on ABC TV fifty years ago today, on September 29th, 1969.

This show was a rite of passage during the early '70s; EVERY kid I knew - shoot, probably every kid in America - watched this show religiously. On Fridays during the summer, the streets would clear of children early on those evenings, as everyone would be inside viewing the program. The critics at the time hated it - but I and ten of millions of other kids like me didn't know about or care about TV pundits panning the show or putting it down. We all just loved seeing kids on screen, doing kid stuff in a bright Day-Glo California world, where the weather was always perfect and the problems always happily resolved in thirty minutes.

The inspiration for The Brady Bunch was a magazine article that longtime TV producer Sherwood Schwartz read in 1966, stating that a third of all U.S. families had at least one child from a previous marriage, Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan's Island and It's About Time, two comedies running on CBS-TV at the time, was searching for a new project as both of these programs were reaching the end of their network TV runs (both were cancelled in 1967). So he wrote up a 30-minute pilot episode about a blended family - a man with three boys marrying a woman with three girls, along with several other potential story ideas regarding the joys and problems this new family would face. Schwartz then shopped it around to the three major networks at the time (ABC, CBS and NBC), where all three expressed a modicum of interest but insisted on changes to the situation and story. The producer, who felt he got burned by the networks with the changes he was forced to make with Gilligan's Island, refused to compromise, and shelved the concept for the time being.

It was two years later, in the wake of the success of the Desilu/United Artists motion picture comedy Yours, Mine And Ours, that the "blended family" show pitch was revived. The movie, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, was based on the true story of the Beardsleys, a Navy officer with ten children who married a woman with eight children of her own. The film was a huge hit, one of the top grossing movies of 1968 and earning back more than ten times its production cost (my parents took my siblings and I to see it at the old drive-in near Janaf Shopping Center in Norfolk, with all of the kids dressed in pajamas seated in the back of the VW van). Of course, nothing changes a corporation's mind like the prospect for huge financial gain... so it was then that the TV networks changed their minds about Schwartz's pilot, and came calling. ABC won the bidding war for rights to the program, and production/casting efforts began immediately. [side note: The real Beardsley family ended up settling in the Monterey, California area and ran several businesses, including a donut shop near the Naval Postgraduate School that I used to regularly patronize as a high school student there.].

The producer began by casting the children; his vision was that of three blonde girls and three dark-haired boys. Over 1,200 kids auditioned, with Schwartz personally interviewing more than a third of them, looking for the right mix/fit. In the end, he cast Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb and Susan Olsen as Marcia, Jan and Cindy Brady, and Barry Williams, Christopher Knight and Michael Lookinland as Greg, Peter and Bobby Brady (this despite the fact that Lookinland had blond hair; it was dyed dark for the duration of the program).

The adult roles were more of a problem. Originally, Schwartz had his eyes on longtime radio and TV veteran Monty Margetts in the role of Alice, the housekeeper, Joyce Bulifant as mother Carol Brady, and for the role of patriarch Mike Brady... none
other than Gene Hackman. But the network balked on Hackman, who, despite his Best Supporting Actor nomination the previous year for his role in the movie Bonnie & Clyde, they considered a relative "unknown" with little TV experience. And Schwartz replaced Bulifant with Florence Henderson after Henderson gave him a phenomenal screen test for the role. With Henderson as Carol Brady, the producer determined
that the role of Alice should be more comedic, serving as the mother's foil, and replaced Margetts with award-winning TV comedy veteran Ann B. Davis. With the network balking on Hackman, Schwartz turned his attention to actor Robert Reed, a Shakespearean-trained actor who had recently completed five seasons on the courtroom drama The Defenders and who was at the time appearing on
Broadway. Reed was under contract to both Paramount Pictures and ABC, and as such was semi-obligated to accept the role of Mike Brady... a decision that Schwartz would soon regret. At any rate, with the cast in place, filming of the Brady Bunch pilot occurred during the second week of October, 1968, with the show destined for an early Friday slot for the upcoming (1969-70) season.

Most of the storylines and overall focus of the series centered around the Brady kids and their trials and tribulations, the ordeals of growing up, both serious (sibling quarrels, parental restrictions, and adolescent love) and somewhat trivial (breaking Mom's favorite vase, missing dolls and treehouse admittance) - all semi-relatable to most kids around that period, which made the show that much more popular with the preteen set. Despite the "blended family" premise of the show, during the first season this aspect was rarely mentioned, and in the following seasons, not at all. The two halves of the family integrated relatively seamlessly - for instance, the kids seemed to have no problem calling their stepparents "Mom" or "Dad".

In the first couple of seasons, there wasn't much thought regarding making the Brady children into a singing group (although an album of Christmas standards sung by the kids was released in the fall of 1970). It wasn't until halfway through the show's run, on the "Dough Re Mi" episode (#65) aired during the third season in January 1972, that the first overt moves were made to establish the Brady Kids as a legitimate pop group. Two songs are featured on this episode: "We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter" and "Time to Change" (yup - this was the one where Peter's voice was changing):

Three months later, the first album, Meet The Brady Bunch, was released, featuring those songs plus a number of covers of recent hits, including "Me And You And A Dog Named Boo", "Baby I'm-A Want You" and "American Pie". Pushed by the network and by exposure on the TV show, Meet The Brady Bunch actually charted, peaking at #108 on the Billboard 200.

Over the next year, more episodes featuring the kids singing were aired, including "Amateur Night" in January 1973 (featuring the tunes "Keep On" and "It's A Sunshine Day") and "Adios,
Johnny Bravo" in September 1973 (where the kids warble "Good Time Music"). During that time, the group released two more pop albums targeted to teens/preteens, The Kids From The Brady Bunch in December 1972 and The Brady Bunch Phonographic Album in June 1973 (in addition, there was a duet album featuring just McCormick and Knight released in late
1973) - none of these albums charted. The group (now billed as "The Brady Bunch Kids") also began a national concert tour, with their first public appearance at the National Orange Show in San Bernadino, CA in May 1972, and subsequent shows at places like Knott's Berry Farm, Atlantic City's Steel Pier and various state fairs. Producer Schwartz wasn't happy
with this latter development, as it began to impact the production schedule of the TV show and removed the kids from his constant direct influence. The Brady Bunch Kids weren't music superstars per se, but they were considered a safe and reliable concert draw for the entire family, and with more bookings nationwide, their popularity grew. As the fifth season wound down, the kids and their agents began pressuring Schwartz to include more musical episodes for the upcoming season.

The Brady Bunch was never a critical or ratings hit. The best the show ever placed in the Nielsens during its entire run was during during its third season (1971-72), when it ended the year just outside of the top 30 programs. That was the same year the
Top 5-rated show Sanford & Son began airing on rival NBC, a program The Brady Bunch was paired against for the next three seasons and regularly got stomped by, in terms of viewership. By then, in many ways, the show was set up as sort of a sacrificial lamb by ABC - I assume they figured they were going to lose that time slot anyway, so draw what viewership it could at 8:00 pm on Fridays (primarily preteen) and use it as a "loss leader" for the more popular and successful network shows that came on immediately afterwards (the top 20 programs The Partridge Family in 1971-72 and 1972-73, and The Six Million Dollar Man in 1973-74). That sufficed for a time, but by late 1973 the show's Nielsen rankings were mired into the mid-50s, with no foreseeable prospects for improvement... not that they didn't try. With the kids in the regular cast getting older, Schwartz made an attempt to goose viewership by the show's much-needed younger
audience with the introduction of a new character late in the season: the Bradys' cousin Oliver (played by Robbie Rist). But the new character was whiny and annoying, upsetting the core Brady family balance, and accelerating the program's slide (to this day, "'Cousin Oliver' Syndrome" is a much-recognized and maligned TV trope, the telltale sign of a show going downhill).

In addition, Robert Reed was increasingly becoming a problem for Sherwood Schwartz. Reed had always considered the show silly and beneath his status as a dramatic and stage actor, and held the producer in contempt over the content and premise of this and his previously-produced CBS comedies, full of what Reed saw as "gag lines" and zany scenarios that pandered to the lowest common denominator. Over the years on the program, Reed fought constantly with production staff and directors, and routinely peppered Schwartz with memos complaining about the themes and content of show scripts and detailed dissertations over character motivations. The producer generally ignored Reed's protests, but on occasion, to alleviate on-set tensions, Schwartz allowed Reed to direct some episodes [To his credit, however, Reed did not direct his disenchantment and dissatisfaction regarding the show at his cast members; He was a consummate professional in front of the camera, and got along well with all of his co-stars. He was especially beloved by the Brady Bunch kids, who saw him as a true father figure].

However, by the end of the 1973-74 season, things between the star and the producer had come to a head. The final show of that season, "The Hair-Brained Scheme", had Bobby trying to get rich by selling homemade hair tonic, with the usual "wacky hijinks" ensuing. Reed sent another memo to Schwartz, pointing out in intricate detail the myriad problems he saw in the hackneyed premise of the script, and suggesting changes. The producer, either by oversight or by choice, didn't read the memo nor make the requested script changes in time for filming, leading to Reed walking off the set. Therefore, the family patriarch does not appear at all in the final episode. That was the final straw for Schwartz, who began making plans to replace/remove the Mike Brady character for the show's upcoming sixth season [As Carol Brady's prior marital status (whether she was divorced or widowed) was never explicitly specified, the producer contemplated writing Reed out of the program and bringing Carol's ex-husband back into the family].

While Schwartz was struggling to deal with the twin problems of Reed and the kids' musical desires, ABC cancelled The Brady Bunch at the end of the season, making any such moves unnecessary. With 117 episodes in the can, the program just barely made the threshold for syndication. In hindsight, the show's cancellation was in all likelihood a blessing in disguise for Schwartz, as it prevented him from overt conflict with his show's stars, and improved his bank balance (with compounded royalties from repeated airings of the program). The Brady Bunch entered syndication a year later, in September 1975... and has never left it. Every single day for the past forty-plus years, somewhere in the world, an episode of this old, formerly critically-reviled program has aired, and it continues to charm audiences, create new fans and reconnect old fans to its uncomplicated, wholesome, nostalgic "good clean fun" premise.

By the 1990s, even with The Brady Bunch firmly established as a pop culture icon after fifteen years of reruns, almost all of The Brady Bunch Kids albums (with the exception of Merry Christmas From The Brady Bunch) had long been out of print. MCA Records, eager to cash in on Brady nostalgia, issued the compilation album It's A Sunshine Day: The Best of The Brady Bunch in 1993. This set features selections from all four Brady Bunch albums, along with a cut from the Chris Knight & Maureen McCormick album and an unreleased Barry Williams number (Williams began work on a solo album in 1974; six tracks were completed before both the show and the album were cancelled). Almost all of the fan-favorite songs are featured here, including the one that, for good or ill, The Bradys will be most remembered for - the title track, "it's A Sunshine Day":

[For some reason, what is in my opinion the best song ever done on the show was left off of this disc - perhaps because it featured another cast member other than one of the Brady Kids. It was on "The Show Must Go On?", a fourth season episode aired in November 1972. In this episode, Marcia (Maureen McCormick) and her mother Carol (Florence Henderson) perform the song "Together Wherever We Go" (from the hit 1959 Broadway stage musical "Gypsy") for Marcia's high school talent show, the "Family Night Frolics". Its a bit fondly remembered by aficionados of the program, and cited by McCormick herself as her all-time favorite moment performing on the show. A clip of this performance is located here.]
The Allmusic review of this album sort of says it all:
"If you have fond memories of watching The Brady Bunch while growing up or if you have all the episodes on tape, there's no escaping it -- It's A Sunshine Day: The Best of the Brady Bunch is indispensable. If your appreciation of The Brady Bunch is not so intense, the abundance of bad singing and playing that clutter this disc will not be charming or endearing; it will just be irritating."
I suppose I'm one in the former group; I've owned my copy of this compilation, on either cassette or CD, for decades, and still derive a guilty pleasure from listening to and reveling in these happy, goofy songs. But the attitude by which you decide to approach this album is up to you - I'm just acting as the source for you all! Here for your listening (dis)pleasure is It's A Sunshine Day: The Best of The Brady Bunch, released by MCA Records on March 2nd, 1993. In any case, as always, let me know what you think.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Various Artists - Woodstock - Back To The Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive (38 Discs)

Fifty years since Woodstock... what else can I say that hasn't already been said in the run-up to this historic anniversary? With the reams of memories, commentaries, scholarly dissertations, criticisms, accolades and contextual perspectives published and broadcast over the past couple of months, there is simply no chink of daylight left for a small-time music blogger like myself to add any fresh thoughts or new ideas regarding this seminal, semi-mythical event.

I believe it's the "semi-mythical" part about Woodstock that makes it so hard for modern-day writers to get a handle on the festival, what it was all about, and what it "meant". So much of what most people in this day and age know about Woodstock comes from fragmentary snippets (such as pictures of topless women dancing in the mud, Country Joe McDonald's infamous "Gimme an F!  Gimme a U! Gimme a..." chant, and of course Jimi Hendrix's electrified "Star Spangled Banner") displayed and broadcast constantly over the decades - images that I feel have served to morph the event from simply a gargantuan and well-attended rock festival into this shining, hippie-fied anti-war wonderland of universal hope and community, truly "three days of peace and love".

In conjunction with this, Michael Wadleigh's 1970 documentary film of the concert, while celebrated, presented only three hours of the three-day show... but it drew in contemporary audiences of the time and future audiences who hadn't been/couldn't have been in attendance at the original concert with a contrived sense that, by seeing the movie, they HAD been there, and they were feeling the same sort of glow from that time and place.  Of course, that "glow" had less to do with the overall vibe there, and a lot to do with Wadleigh's skillful film editing (it even got nominated for an Oscar in the Film Editing category, a rare distinction for a documentary). In his original four-star review of Woodstock, critic Roger Ebert (who should have known better) stated "The remarkable thing about Wadleigh's film is that it succeeds so completely in making us feel how it must have been to be there", adding in a later expanded review, " touching it is in this film to see the full flower of its moment, of its youth and hope."

So, there's a lot of legend and mythology surrounding Woodstock, which I feel skews the perception of the overall concert.  Music producers Brian Kehow and Andy Zax felt the same way regarding the show's legacy, apparently. Instead of presenting to the public only the parts of the festival that fit into the overarching "peace and love" narrative, Zax and Kehow decided to restore and reconstruct the ENTIRE concert, from start to finish, utilizing all available sources. The result of their decade-plus long effort is what I am presenting here today: a 38-disc, 432-track compilation of nearly every song sung, note played and word spoken from the stage in Bethel, New York from the evening of August 15th to the morning of August 18th, 1969, chronologically sequenced (the only tracks missing are two songs from Hendrix's set, "Mastermind" and "Gypsy Woman"/"Aware Of Love", which his estate requested not be included, and a song and a half ("Teenager In Love" and the first half of "Little Darlin") from Sha Na Na's performance due to a gap in the taping). In all, over 250 of the tracks present within this box set have never seen official release.

This set provides more of a "boots on the ground" perspective of the entire event; not just the highs and lows, but some of the more mundane instances and situations involved in the operation of a large rock concert. The many stage announcements included in this set really give you a sense of being there as a participant, and modifies the established view of how it was there over those three days. Pitchfork recently published an article on this set which describes this feeling and function much better than I ever could; here it is.

This is a gargantuan release, and as such was released in extremely limited quantities - only 1,969 copies (cute) of this set were produced, retailing for $800 or more. Two smaller sets containing selections from this box - the three-disc, 42-track Woodstock – Back To The Garden: 50th Anniversary Collection and the ten-disc, 162-track Woodstock – Back To The Garden: 50th Anniversary Experience - were released earlier this year and are more widely available.

But I got my hands on the source, the granddaddy, and thus I present it to you for your perusal and enjoyment (or at least for those of you without a spare $800 lying around...) - Woodstock - Back To The Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive, all thirty-eight discs, released by Rhino Records just last month, on August 2nd, 2019. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Friday, June 7, 2019

Blind Faith - London Hyde Park 1969 (video)

On this date fifty years ago, the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith played its debut concert (and as it turned out, their ONLY live appearance on English soil) on a scorching hot day in London's Hyde Park. Less than three months later, after a 30+-date worldwide tour that ended in Hawaii, the band (comprised of co-lead vocalists keyboardist Steve Winwood (ex-Spencer Davis Group and Traffic) and guiarist Eric Clapton (ex-Bluesbreakers, Yardbirds and Cream), along with drummer Ginger Baker (ex-Cream) and bassist Ric Grech (ex-Family)) called it a day, leaving behind only one
 artifact, their eponymous 1969 album release (with its controversial cover), to mark their passing.

The rapid rise and fall of Blind Faith was the result of wild hype, overblown expectations, and corporate/managerial greed destroying what started out as an informal jam session/get-together between old friends. I would usually go into the details, whys and wherefores of this story of rock 'n' roll misfortune in my own long-winded and inimitable (ha) way... but it appears I won't have to. Writer Johnny Black penned the definitive version of this chronicle for MOJO magazine back in July 1996 - a link to his article is provided here.

So, instead of my blathering on and on regarding the circumstances that led up to this historic day in rock history a half-century ago, how about if I let you all see the performance for yourself?  Here's London Hyde Park 1969, the official video album by the band at their free concert on that day, the full 45-minute show with band member interviews dispersed throughout.  Despite the brevity of the performance, this is still a classic, and worth viewing.

Enjoy London Hyde Park 1969, released on DVD in 2005 and burned to .mp4 format off of my personal copy.  And as always, let me know what you think.

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