5 Shades of RAM or The Vinyl Wouldn’t Melt So I Put it in a Protective Sleeve

“Ram” by Paul and Linda McCartney.

Does it ring a bell?

If you’ve never heard it, you really should give it a try. It’s a great album!

Probably one of the best solo Beatles albums ever released and there are quite a few excellent ones; definitely in my top five along with “All Things Must Pass”, “Imagine”, “Band on the Run” and “Ringo”.

Top five you say? Wasn’t that album practically panned when it came out in 1971?

Well, yes it was BUT you see dear readers hindsight has revealed that much of the music press at the time had a huge grudge against McCartney who was seen as the man who broke up The Beatles.

“Ram” was Paul McCartney’s second full solo album (third if you count “The Family Way” soundtrack which I’m not lol) away from The Beatles.

McCartney’s first album, titled simply “McCartney”, was practically a one-man show with McCartney playing all the instruments himself and recording much of it at his home.

Critics weren’t overly fond of that first solo album and really had their knives out for McCartney’s second release especially since he credited his wife Linda as co-writer and performer, which to say mildly didn’t go down well.

Taken out of the context of its time, Paul and Linda McCartney’s “Ram” is one hell of a great record. It was lushly produced and more in line with a Beatles style production than what McCartney had done on his first solo album.

The songs and production on “Ram” have a very whimsical quality about them and are filled with slightly mad characters like Uncle Albert from the No. 1 U.S. hit “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and slightly mad takes on the world like the almost manic “Monkberry  Moon Delight” along with dream like interludes like the songs “Long Haired Lady” and the ukulele based “Ram On”.

With musical styles ranging from rock to pop to country to almost psychedelic, “Ram” takes listeners on an aural journey filled with rich textures and swaths of color much like the musical equivalent of an impressionist painting.

Even the brightly colored cover of “Ram” with it’s cut out photos and scrapbook like  appearance suggest an almost adult comic book feel which along with the music makes the album stand out as some sort of post psychedelic reaction to the 1960s.

Well, at least to me.

You see as a second generation Beatles fan I discovered “Ram” in the summer of 1976, the same summer I discovered The Beatles’s “Magical Mystery Tour” album.

I had no preconceived notions of McCartney’s music, I was just taking his career as one big whole – Beatles music and solo music were all one thing to me.

In fact it’s funny how “Ram” and “Magical Mystery Tour” fit so well next to each other. Both are slightly mad and colorful and both are impressionistic.

“Ram” has always seemed to me to be a natural extension from the music of “Magical Mystery Tour”.

That’s why I believe some of McCartney’s solo work has been seen in a much different light lately as the cloud that surrounded The Beatles break-up is long gone and people now look at the music more on its merits than its history.

Anyway, take a look at some of the different “Ram” pressings in my collection. The first copy of “Ram” that was given to me was on the black Capitol label (see below).

I also have an original U.S. copy (in shrink wrap), a copy from France, a copy on the Columbia label (from McCartney’s short stint on that record label) and a lovely copy of the mono pressing which was released a few years ago in 2012.

The mono copy comes from a true mono mix of the “Ram” album that McCartney made for radio use in 1971 when the album was released.

When the “Ram” album was given a special re-issue in 2012 as part of McCartney’s Archive Collection this rare mix was released on CD as part of a big box set as well as this limited vinyl pressing.

The mono mix is fantastic sounding and well worth seeking out if you are or become a fan of this album.

To quote Paul McCartney – Ram On!

Until next time …

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Come On, Get Happy … Or A Partridge in a Record Tree

Well, here we are again.

It feels like the brisk Autumn night it is as I sit down to write this little merry post.

For tonight’s episode, I’d like to take you back a few years. Quite a few years in fact.

Say 47 years or so, give or take a few depending on your mileage.

Ah, 1970, I was four years old at the time. That’s right four.

First let me stop right here  … I have always been obsessed with music.

ALWAYS, lol.

My older two siblings, one who is nine years older than me and one who is eight, have told me me that even when I was in diapers I would drag myself over to the edge of the old huge console-style Magnavox stereo my parent’s owned and dance to music.

Usually music from my older brother’s records, of course, which I helped put a ton of miles, and scratches, on!

Anyway, knowing this fact will hopefully make the following stories seem less strange. Okay, I was a strange kid, I admit it lol.

Two of my fleeting memories from 1970 both involve The Partridge Family.

Yes, the TV show and recording act that most folks reading this over the age of forty will recognize.

For those not old enough to know, The Partridge Family was a television show about a successful musical family and pop group that was based on an actual musical family and pop group called The Cowsills who had a few hits in the late 1960s.

The Partridge Family show was a very big hit that also produced several million-selling singles and albums by the fictional group that featured vocals from two of the show’s stars – lead vocals by David Cassidy and background vocals by Oscar-winning actress Shirley Jones (also Cassidy’s step-mother in real life).

Wes Farrell, who was ironically also producer of The Cowsills, took the production role on all Partridge Family recordings and not only produced the music but wrote a lot of it himself and basically oversaw every single aspect of any recording that was released under The Partridge Family banner.

Now, the first time I became acquainted with The Partridge Family was when one of my other older brothers, I’m the youngest of five, and I were shopping with my mother in an L.S. Ayres department store, of all places.

L.S. Ayres had a small record section and my brother asked if he could get the 45 (with a picture sleeve I might add) of The Partridge Family’s first hit single ” I Think I Love You”.

Well my mother caved in and, just to keep me quite I suppose, bought me a copy as well. You see I wanted whatever my older brother wanted I guess as  I certainly had never heard of The Partridge Family.

This must have been in late 1970 as the song came out in the August of that year and was a number one million-seller by November.

The other early memory I have is being taken to nursery school around that time or even possibly in early 1971 and, wait for it, making the poor teachers at the school play my Partridge Family album (their first) that I had obviously been given.

Even as a kid I didn’t like nursery rhyme type children’s music so I’m sure I was a strange site; a four year old throwing a fit so he could listen to his Partridge Family album. Yikes!

Well, all these years later I STILL love the music of The Partridge Family. Yes, it was never cool (neither was I) and yes it is a bit MOR (middle of the road) and not edgy AT ALL.

BUT it’s also some damn fine pop music sung exceptionally well by David Cassidy who became one of the biggest, if not the biggest, teen idols of the 1970s.

A lot of The Partridge Family’s music was written by great Brill Building songwriters (some of whom also contributed to The Monkees music) like Gerry Goffin and Bobby Hart as well as some terrific contributions from newer songwriters like Tony Romeo (writer of “I Think I Love You”) and Terry Cashman and Tommy West.

I’ve never grown tried of the lush harmonies and catchy pop perfection that make up quite a lot of the music from The Partridge Family.

Yes, it could be formulaic at times but the best of it stands up as some truly wonderful examples of pop music from the 1970s.

Below are some of the vinyl, as well as a few older CDs I own thrown in for good measure, that I acquired this year in various flea markets, antique stores and Amazon.

I found three albums recently in pristine shape still in their shrink wrap their with hype stickers and price tags still on them. And as I’ve said before I LOVE old stickers on my albums lol.

One rare album (see below) which I never owned until this year is a double Lp set called “The World of the Partridge Family” which is one of the best sounding slabs of Partridge vinyl I’ve ever heard.

Partridge Family vinyl is hit or miss as some of the pressings of their albums had very noisy vinyl and but this set is a true gem and just sounds tremendous.

Also below is the rear of a UK pressing of the first Partridge Family Album, that features “I Think I Love You”, which also sounds a step above most Partridge albums in my collection.

Partridge Family albums aren’t that expensive and certainly are disdained by many but who cares? The fact that people get their knickers in a twist about the group makes no difference to me at all.

These recordings bring back sweet memories and fill me with a joy that comes from the undiluted and innocent joy of youth and that’s irreplaceable.

So all you haters, feast your eyes on some Partridge platters and “Come On, Get Happy”!!!

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Monkees in the Land of the Rising Sun … or with 13 You Get Egg Rolls

Ah, Japan.

Kimonos, beautiful Japanese temples, sushi, dragons … Monkees.

Monkees?

Seriously?

Quite!

Not only does Japan have some of the best architecture and food in the world but they also have some of the biggest Monkees fans in the world too.

Who would have thought?

Okay, true to form, today I’m here to talk about some really fun and rarely seen Monkees collectible vinyl and CDs from Japan that I have in my personnel collection.

Japanese vinyl and CD products are some of the best made and best sounding products in the world.

Whether it’s Monkees or Beatles, or what have you, the care in the sound quality of the products and the packaging has sent collectors around the world in a frenzy to find Japanese issues of their favorite artists albums.

While Monkees recordings went out of print here in the States around 1971, Japan has always kept the flame burning with their Monkees product constantly in print due to the group’s continued popularity in that county.

In fact from 1980-82 Monkees albums raced up the charts in Japan due to the song “Daydream Believer” being used in a Kodak television commercial and The Monkees TV show returning to the air.

Due to a full-fledged outbreak of Monkeemania, tons of new vinyl reissues were put out as well as books and other Monkees items causing Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork (all separately) to tour the country in 1981 and 1982 due to the demand for all things Monkees.

My first taste of a Japanese Monkees album came in 1976 or 1977 (it’s hard to remember lol) when my oldest brother, who was serving in the Navy at the time, bought me a mid-70s Japanese pressing of “More of the Monkees” on the Arista label (see above and below).

This was well before the 1980 Monkeemania breakout obviously and this particular Japanese pressing is rarely seen these days.

Funny enough, I did notice that the Japanese CD reissue of “More of the Monkees” from 1992 did use the back cover form the mid-70s reissue and of course I have that CD too.

Anyway, below are some really nice items that I have from Japan in my Monkees cupboard.

Photos include:

  • 1981 Japanese reissues of “The Monkees”, “More of the Monkees”, “Headquarters”, “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.”, “Head” and “Instant Replay”
  • 3 CD set called “By Request” which came out in 1989. Note: I got this set in L.A. with the same brother who bought me “More of the Monkees”. This was the first issue of a huge chunk of Monkees music on CD and I was thrilled to get it! It’s still a nice set with some unique mixes that aren’t commonly available nowadays
  • “Pool It!” Rhino Japanese CD
  • “Monkees Rare Tracks” – an obscure legit 1993 Japanese CD issue of a selection of Rhino’s Missing Links Monkees outtakes
  • Japanese issues of the 2 CD Deluxe sets from 2007 of “The Monkees” and “More of the Monkees”. The CDs were wrapped in paper that had CD artwork with Japanese writing on it but the regular issues of the CDs inside.
  • Mid-70s Japanese vinyl issue of “More of the Monkees” on Arista (front and back and vinyl with inner lyric booklet)
  • 1992 rear of “More of the Monkees” Japanese CD reissue

Happy Monkeeing around the world!

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Living Off the Wall or Roller Skating through a cemetery

Okay, we’re just four days from Halloween.

For some reason, Halloween always reminds me of skating parties and Michael Jackson.

Really?

I know, weird but it’s true.

When I was in 7th and 8th grades (1979/1980), skating parties were all the rage – maybe they still are.

Anyway, I vividly remember going to a couple of them which must have been held right near Halloween. Or my foggy memory places them near Halloween.

And, as I always do, I relate those experiences to music.

You see Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” was HUGE back in 1979!

The album had been released in August of that year and I clearly remember fumbling at those skating parties to “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” which were playing in a continuous loop it seemed.

You couldn’t turn the radio on anywhere in those days without hearing those songs every five minutes or so.

Besides skating parties, Micheal Jackson’s album “Thriller” also reminds me of  Halloween with the title track’s Vincent Price spoken word dialogue and that eerie laugh.

After all these years Michael Jackson, Fall and Halloween are tied together in one big blur – at least for me.

Thus this early Halloween post!

Soooo, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the three Michael Jackson albums I own on CD.

Michael Jackson, much like Richard Carpenter from The Carpenters, was well-known for tweaking his music repeatedly, even after it had been released!

Two of Jackson’s albums, “Off the Wall” and “Bad” contain several different mixes of certain songs.

Depending on when you happened to buy the vinyl or CD you got either old or new mixes or a mixture of both.

Luckily, most vinyl and early CD issues of these two albums contain the first versions, or Lp mixes, of all the songs.

Being that I am an anal collector I, of course, tracked down the first CD issues of these albums when I finally decided to buy them again after having gotten rid of my vinyl versions years ago.

There’s something in my DNA that makes me prone to reach out for the way things were first issued. Don’t know why, probably not healthy, but I do.

Because of that, I own early CD issues of “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” and a first issue of “Bad” as well as a later issue with several remixes.

Let’s start with “Off the Wall”:

The original vinyl of the “Off the Wall” Lp contains different (and better in my mind) mixes of “Rock With You” and “Get on the Floor”.

“Rock With You” has no hand claps on the original mix and different guitar work and less echo or reverb than the later remix and “Get on the Floor” is much drier sounding with the drums louder.

These mixes were even changed I believe on some later vinyl issues but fortunately the early CD pressings of the album do feature the original mix with the hand claps free “Rock With You” and funkier “Get on the Flour.”

One of the only ways to make sure you get one of these early mix versions on CD is purchase a one that states “Made in Japan” on the outer edge of the CD label.

There are versions of this Made in Japan CD manufactured for the U.S. and European markets. The copy I have (see photos) is one of the early European pressings which you can easily tell by the catalog number on the CD – CDEPC83468.

One of the other things that also changed on “Off the Wall” was the cover. On the original CD pressing, Michael Jackson is facing sideways on the front cover (from the way the photo is positioned on the booklet). Later issues have him facing upright against the brick wall. This is also one way to spot an early issue of the CD.

“Thriller”:

The “Thriller” CD doesn’t have any mix differences that I’m aware of but again the early Made in Japan CD versions sound much better with a nice relaxed mastering that’s easy on the ears, very crankable with nice bass.

I’ve heard the SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc) version of this album is the way to go as far as sound goes but I don’t own that one.

I’m just happy to have the original CD pressing as the newer versions of this album are mastered way too loud for my tastes and are very fatiguing to listen to for any length of time. Same goes for newer versions of all three of these albums.

“Bad”:

For the “Bad” CD, the first issues feature the original LP mixes.

Three tracks, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” (with spoken word intro which was later dropped), “Dirty Diana” and “The Way You Make Me Feel”, have noticeably different mixes on the first CD issue that were changed in later pressings.

Some of the other tracks may have differences too in later pressings but these are the three that stick out in my mind.

One way to spot an early issue of the “Bad” CD is to check the way the Epic looks on the back CD cover. If it’s a fat and puffy Epic (see photos) more than likely it’s got the early mixes. If it has three circles around a rod over the word Epic it’s most likely the later mixes.

I guess the “Bad” CD can be found with original mixes, some old and some new mixes and all new remixes! I own one with all original mixes and one with later remixes.

Oh, and don’t be fooled by the small sticker that says “Includes the Bonus Track “Leave Me Alone”. I thought only early issues of this CD carried that sticker but the later pressing I own with remixes has that sticker on it and my earlier pressing doesn’t.

Whew, that’s a lot to process! Hope it wasn’t a case of TMI.

So, happy hunting if you decide to track down any of these rare early CD versions of these epic (sorry, couldn’t resist) Michael Jackson albums. They were expensive right after his death but have come down again in price and can be found with some patience.

Btw, I still love the music but I’ve NEVER been a fan of skating lol, go figure!

Feast your eyes on some on the four CDs that I own of these albums and Happy Halloween early!!!

 

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Knowing Me, Knowing You … ABBA and Wistful Summer Days

Childhood Memories.

Summer childhood memories.

Is there anything more powerful?

Whenever I hear the opening bars to ABBA’s 1977 hit “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, from their album “Arrival”, I am quickly taken back to hot summer days, car radios and childhood places long ago changed from the way they were in those fleeting few months in the late 1970s.

The din from a small radio blaring out into the midday summer sun and images of looking out over a sparkling lake come rushing back to me every time I hear that ABBA song.

You see in my youth, in the 1970s, my family lived in a small lake cottage in the Midwest during the summer months.

My father would drive the 20 miles or so to work each day, back to the town where we had our main address, while we stayed at the lake just so the family could experience life in a relaxed, small town atmosphere.

And of course, as I do with everything, I also remember every single bit of the music I was listening to on those hot, steamy summers.

Surprisingly, along with Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Listen to What the Man Said” and “Silly Love Songs” as well as Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”; ABBA’s song “Knowing Me, Knowing You” conjures up those wonderful summer memories in crystal clear fashion like some eternal time machine.

Maybe it’s the melancholy that laces each bar of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” or maybe it’s that that song just happens to be tied to some long forgotten event but whatever it is, it’s siren like call is surely a testament to the lasting power of music.

So, after a short detour lol, I wanted to highlight a few ABBA CDs that I found in the past couple of years.

Now that we live in what I call the golden age of buying used CDs, I happened to stumble upon rare early West Germany CD pressings of four ABBA albums – “Arrival”, “Voulez-Vous”, “The Visitors” and “Super Trouper” – very cheap and in great shape.

Collectors like me and the audiophile crowd love early CD pressings from West Germany and Japan as they were pressed in the beginning days of the compact disc (1983-85) and usually sound very warm and have their full dynamic range, close to their vinyl counterparts.

Many CDs, beginning in the mid-1990s until now, can suffer from excessive loudness where the dynamics have been sucked out of the recording increasing the audio levels so that the music sounds good on Ipods and car radios but when played on a good stereo are painful to listen to for very long.

I used to own the “ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits” CD that featured most of ABBA’s biggest hits but I found that it suffered from that same excessive loudness which made listening to it very fatiguing on the ears.

I also used to own the 2 Lp vinyl set of “The Singles” by ABBA so after finally tracking that collection down on CD – which only exists on early CD pressings as its out of print – I began to revel once again in the pop loveliness that is ABBA.

I had never owned any ABBA’s music beyond their hits but my recent discoveries of these early pressings of some of their studio albums has made me much more a fan of their work.

I’m so pleased with these ABBA CDs, they are wonderful sounding and sound so much better than the currently available CD versions of ABBA’s albums.

Do yourself a favor, if you like ABBA, try to find early pressings of either their hits albums or studio albums, you won’t be disappointed!

You might also want to grab their recent 2 CD live album that came out in 2014, “ABBA Live at Wembley Arena”. I bought it on a whim and I must say it’s one terrific sounding CD.

I read some reviews which said that the performances were top notch and the sound of the CD wasn’t compressed and horribly loud and those reviews were right on both accounts. I especially love the live versions of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and one of my other favorite ABBA songs “Fernando”.

I was worried that the group wouldn’t sound as good live as their vocal blend and harmonies may not translate to a live setting but I was pleasantly surprised by how good ABBA were as a live performers.

It’s a super set and well worth checking out!

Well as every summer ends, so must this post. Enjoy some photos of my ABBA finds (above and below) and until next time, be well!

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Exclusives, freebies and bonuses or Hype Stickers Are Alright Tonight

Stickers … again?

For those of you who’ve been exploring any of my previous posts here in Collector’s Land, better known as my Records, CDs and Music blog, today I’m going to take another look at the elusive hype sticker.

Hype stickers, as I’ve said previously, come on either a sealed album or CD and usually promote the hit single from that particular album or, in the case of many of the items I’m showcasing today, the exclusive freebie that’s contained inside the package.

Previously I showed a few of my favorite vinyl hype stickers but today I’m sticking (no pun intended) to some of my favorite hype stickers from CDs – many of which came on chain store exclusive versions of those CDs.

(Note: I’m also throwing in some non-exclusive hype stickers and fun CD packaging just for grins lol.)

Best Buy, when it used to actually STOCK CDs, was particularly good at enticing the greedy collector with exclusive content if you bought the CD from their stores.

Items from ranging from 45’s, tote bags and photo cards to bonus CDs with exclusive tracks and DVDs with bonus footage where dangled in front of collector’s wallets and, as I am somewhat embarrassed to say, I usually took the bait!

Below are quite a few Paul McCartney exclusives from Best Buy and Target stores but there are also a few interesting banner cards or Japanese OBI type strips that I found on certain CDs and never saw again.

Btw, an OBI is thin strip of paper wrapped around a vinyl album or CD and is common on Japanese music products. Some US record companies use that OBI style on their music CDs and vinyl from time to time as well.

The lone Ringo Starr exclusive Best Buy CD in the photos below reminds me how glad I am that we live in the age of buying from the Internet.

The Ringo Starr CD entitled “Vertical Man” came out in 1998 and in those days I remember having to get to the Best Buy store just at the right time to hunt the shelves for the two or three copies of the exclusive CD they had buried in back somewhere.

You usually had to be there right near opening in the morning and then you had to chase down a doe-eyed young store employee who usually just stared at you in a foggy haze as you frantically spelled the artists name until they said they didn’t stock that item.

I remember that happened with this Ringo Starr CD when from the corner of my eye  I happened to look over at a cart waiting to be shelved and pulled the CD out and said, “You mean this one?”

One thing my older age has taught me is if I can’t get it online or mail order, it ain’t happening!

To quote Ringo Starr:

“Oh, you can bet I never let the things I get,
Get the best of me.
When I get blue, here’s what I do and so can you,
It is no mystery when you sing.
La de da, like que sera, whatever la de da”

– from “La De Da”, Vertical Man album 1998

More hype sticker, fun CD packaging love below:

(The last two photos include a special slipcase packaging for Paul McCartney’s “Driving Rain” CD as well as his withdrawn CD single for “From a Lover to A Friend” from that same album.)

Enjoy!

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50 Years of Daydreaming … Or I’ve Got Birds and Bees Wax Stuck in My CD Player!

“What number is this Chip? 7A!” …

Fifty years, my how time flies.

I remember it just like it was yesterday when I was … one?

Okay I really don’t remember 1967 at all but fifty years ago today The Monkees last number one single called “Daydream Believer” was released and made its way to hearts of millions of fans around the world.

Whenever I hear that delicate piano intro, played by Peter Tork, I’m instantly transported to a carefree time sitting in front of a small record player on the floor as a child playing that song over and over … and over (just ask my siblings lol).

Anyway, since the “Daydream Believer/Goin’ Down” 45 is celebrating the big 5-0, I thought I’d commemorate the occasion in true collector’s (hoarder?) fashion by sharing all the CD versions I own of the album on which “Daydream Believer” makes its home.

As Monkees fans know, “Daydream Believer” came out shortly before The Monkees’ fourth album entitled “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.” which was released in November of 1967.

Surprisingly “Daydream Believer” wasn’t a part of that album but instead was released several months later in the spring of 1968 on an album called  “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees”, the group’s fifth long player and fifth gold album.

Technically “Daydream Believer” is really a part of the sessions for “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.” but since this is my blog and I love a good anniversary as much as anyone I thought a look at the various CD releases of “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” would be fun.

Note: I spent years not being able to buy new copies of my worn out original Monkees albums which had gone out of print so now I’m obviously over compensating – as you may be able to tell lol.

Most of the CD issues of “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” sound similar but the one that I’m most sentimental about would have to be the first compact disc issue of this album from Japan in 1992 on Arista Records.

It has a slightly different back cover and is mastered very well and I remember being thrilled to death to see it released on compact disc as I wasn’t sure if all The Monkees albums would make it to this new digital format.

The 1994 Rhino CD release of “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees”, which sounds just as good as the Japanese disc, includes some terrific alternate versions of songs as bonus tracks. Because of that it’s probably my favorite go to single disc version of the album available on CD.

Both the 1992 and 1994 CDs are out of print but the 1994 Rhino disc is easy to find and is much cheaper than the Japanese issue.

The cream of the crop reissue of “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” arrived in 2010 as a Super Deluxe box set and was made available as an online only release by Rhino Records on their Rhino Handmade imprint.

Consisting of 3 CDs, a booklet and a bonus 45, this magnificent box set includes remastered versions of the stereo and ultra rare mono Lp mixes as well as dozens of outtakes, alternates and rare mixes.

The box set sold out pretty quickly – only 5,000 copies were made – and is pretty expensive these days. Of course this now expensive box set is the best representation of this album and the truly sprawling sessions that the group undertook to make it.

By the time “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” was recorded in late 1967/early 1968 The Monkees were no longer working together as a self-contained quartet in the recording studio as they mostly had on their third and fourth albums (“Headquarters” and “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.”).

Each group member was now going into the studio by themselves and creating music produced under The Monkees banner but made individually with top session players; more in line with the way the first two Monkees albums – “The Monkees” and “More of The Monkees” – were made.

This created a HUGE backlog of finished songs that ended up languishing in Colgems (Sony/Columbia’s) vaults until they were rescued from obscurity by Rhino Records beginning in the 1980s.

Some of my personal favorites from the Deluxe box set include “My Share of the Sidewalk” (written by Mike Nesmith with versions sung by both Nesmith and Davy Jones), “Ceiling in My Room” (a reflective Davy Jones ballad), “Come On In” (a lovely Peter Tork track) and “Nine Times Blue” (a Mike Nesmith tune sung by Davy Jones).

Other quality tracks that are a thrill to hear include Micky Dolenz’ proto-punk “Rosemarie”, early mixes of “Through the Looking Glass” (later found on the “Instant Replay” Lp) and Peter Tork’s acid rocker “Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?” (later found on “HEAD” soundtrack Lp), a wonderful early version of “The Girl I Left Behind Me” (sung by Davy Jones) and “(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love (Second Recorded Version)”.

The set also includes some really interesting backing tracks, songs before vocals were added, including “We Were Made for Each Other” which was produced by Chip Douglas (esteemed Monkees producer) and “Wasn’t Born to Follow” which was finished in 2016 with a lovely Peter Tork vocal and put on The Monkees 50th reunion album “Good Times”.

The outtakes and rarities on this set really flesh out the sessions for “The  Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” highlighting a variety of musical styles ranging from country, folk, pop, rock to a bit of Broadway thrown in for good measure courtesy of Mr. Jones.

This exhaustive box set really showcases the group as quality songwriters, producers and performers. Not bad for the cast of a TV show that really wasn’t a group when the Monkees project began.

The two latest issues of this album on CD, from 2012 and 2016, are taken from the stereo version that comes from the Super Deluxe box set.

Whew, so there you have it!

Happy 50th birthday “Daydream Believer” and help yourself to a sampling of the album it’s found on – “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees”; a lovely example of some terrific, melodic, sometimes psychedelic, sometimes bizarre pop/rock goodness.

Below you’ll find photos of all of the CDs mentioned except the 1994 Rhino CD which is seen as part the photo at the top of this page:

  • First issue Japan Arista CD 1992
  • Super Deluxe Box Set 2010
  • Rhino single CD (no bonus tracks) 2012
  • Rhino paper sleeve version from 2016 Monkees Classic Album Collection box set

 

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Wide Awake in an Unforgettable Fire – U2 in 1984

Since it’s a rainy, wet day here as I’m writing this, I thought it would be the perfect time to share some thoughts on one of my favorite albums from 1984, or any year for that matter, U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire”.

To me this album is U2 at its peak – passionate, mysterious and a bit edgy.

I saw the group perform in 1985 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in support of this album and that show and the “Unforgettable Fire” album itself cemented U2 in my mind as one of the truly great bands to rise out of the ashes of the 60s generation.

This is the first of many posts where I’m going to compare and contrast different pressings I own of a particular favorite album of mine and share not only a bit of what was in the air at the time I bought it originally but also give a sense of which version sounds best.

So, let me take you back to 1984 for a minute.

This album was released in the fall of 1984 and I had just graduated high school the previous spring. I was in a major flux as to what to do with my life and when this album hit the store shelves it was a refuge of sorts for me.

That fall I was attending a local trade college trying to decide where my life was going. I eventually went to a four-year college but the 1984-85 time frame was a bit murky and filled with turmoil.

Not to mention the mythic vibe that the year 1984 was given due to the book of the same name by George Orwell. Seems we’re actually closer to his vision of Big Brother in 2017 but back then things in that year seemed to be going in a bad direction.

Nonetheless, U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” was the perfect soundtrack for the times, at least for me.

“The Unforgettable Fire” album was dark and murky with spots of hopefulness among a group of songs that spoke about loss and being lost.

The album had an overall feeling of imminent danger approaching and the passion that Bono, the group’s lead singer, put into his vocals and the musical textures the group wove into the music was (and is) mesmerizing.

I can put this album on, as I frequently have over the decades, and it still feels out of time or timeless to me.

It doesn’t sound like 1984; it isn’t full of drum machines and slick production. It feels now, as it did then, like an impressionist painting come to life through audio.

Now on to the CD pressings I own (I don’t own this on vinyl … yet!)

I own the first U.S. CD pressing on Island Records that was made in Japan that came out around the time the album was released, a gold CD pressing by Mobile Fidelity Sounds Labs (a audiophile reissue label) released in 1995 and a Super Deluxe Box Set with 2 CDs, DVD, hard back booklet and pack of photos that U2 released in 2009.

In comparing the three issues of this CD, the first issue is very dark and murky sounding much like I remember it. The bass is a bit thin and the instruments seem to lack clear highs like they’re under a bit of a blanket but in my mind this is how I remember the album sounding.

The Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MFSL) pressing is a step up for sure. The bass is fuller, the guitars and production shine through the haze more and the album’s sound is crisp and clear and a bit louder than the first U.S. CD pressing.

The MFSL pressing also has a few longer or maybe alternate mixes on some songs so it is a bit of a different sounding pressing but overall is an excellent representation of the album sound wise.

The cream of the crop is the Super Deluxe Edition issue. The album sounds excellent though maybe a bit too loud. It’s got the best bass and clarity of all the issues but one point down for a bit too much compression, for me anyway.

BUT you get a disc full of b-sides and outtakes from the album and a great DVD that includes the terrific documentary of U2 making the album which they recorded in a castle in Ireland.

You also get a great booklet and photos which make this set a must for fans of this album.

Overall, I feel the best audio version of the album by itself would have to go to the MFSL issue but any of the three would make a nice choice.

I still pull out my first CD issue of this album from time to time as its murkiness in sound appeals to my memory of the the times in which it was released.

If I just want to listen to the main album I more often reach for the MFSL pressing just because it sounds so good.

I do enjoy the DVD from the Super Deluxe set as well so really I’m glad I have all three.

See why I love physical media so much?!! Different pressing are like wine, they each have their own merit and have different flavors and hues lol!

For those strictly going by sound grab the MFSL issue if you can find it cheap. It’s a bit expensive now as it’s out of print.

The box set, which represents the best issue of this album for fans, is kind of pricey now too so it’s your call as to how much you like this album.

If you can’t find the MFSL, grab the most recent CD issue which is the same as the box set pressing. The original CD issue is dirt cheap and plentiful in used bins though so that might be a good choice if you just want to dip your toes in so to speak just to experience this terrific album.

Happy hunting!

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Lighting Strikes, Maybe Once, Maybe Twice … Fleetwood Mac’s “Mirage” Deluxe Box Set proves a timeless treasure

Every now again an album you once loved and haven’t listened to in ages comes creeping back into your life taking you on an emotional roller coaster ride through the past.

All of the highs and lows that are associated with the time that album arrived in your life come rushing back over you like a tidal wave of sound – sometimes leaving you warm and satisfied and other times just leaving you cold and wet.

Well, with Fleetwood Mac’s album “Mirage” I’ve been taking a very enjoyable warm ride back to 1982.

A year ago this September a new Deluxe Edition of “Mirage” was released that included three CDs filled with the remastered album plus outtakes and alternate versions from the sessions that produced the album plus a live show performed in Los Angeles from October 1982.

A fourth disc contains a DVD with a 5.1 Surround mix of the album along with a 24/96 HiRez stereo version for those folks who really enjoy hearing their music spread out around them or all polished up in pristine high quality sound.

A vinyl Lp of the album is also part of the package and adds a nice touch of vintage that makes this package a real treat – at least for me.

As for the album, it’s always been one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac albums.

I can see how at the time some critics viewed the album as a retreat back to the style of the mega successful 1977 “Rumours” album after the much more experimental 2 Lp “Tusk” album from 1979 but I’ve always found the album to be quite good especially Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks’ material.

Stevie Nicks in particular was at her vocal peak and could sing anything and infuse it with passion and on these sessions she sounds superb.

Two of her songs, the country tinged “That’s Alright” and the rockier “Straight Back”, are two of my personal favorites of her Fleetwood Mac material and it’s a treat to hear the vinyl album version of the latter song (on CD Disc 2) as it was replaced with a remixed version for the CD age.

The nice thing about this set is that with the addition of the outtake material from the sessions, this set takes on a more “Tusk”ish vibe especially Lindsay Buckingham’s material for it was Buckingham who was the architect of the “Tusk” album and the one most prone to being experimental.

Hearing his works in progress gives me a new appreciation for his material on this album which I’ve always felt could be a bit too quirky for me at times.

Maybe it’s the from the vantage of time or my own advancing age but I like Lindsay’s songs on this album much better now especially the rawer versions of this material on the outtakes disc.

You can now make a nice double album from the material on this new Deluxe Edition which could definitely now be seen as a step brother to the terrific “Tusk” which to this day is my favorite Fleetwood Mac album.

Some of the lovely Stevie Nicks songs like the outtakes “If You Were My Love”and “Smile at You” (later part of the “Say You Will” album) along with Lindsay Buckingham’s very Brian Wilson infused cover of “Cool Water” (which was the B-Side to “Gypsy”) and his “Goodbye Angel” really flesh these sessions out and make for a much more interesting collection of songs.

This album will forever be tied to my sophomore year in high school and one of my first part-time jobs (hanging letters for advertisement signs at a local shopping center) and the video for “Gypsy” which was a stable of the early days of MTV.

Ahhh, to be young again.

With this album I am young once more and through this new set the album takes on a much deeper and eclectic feel through the discarded songs left sitting in Fleetwood Mac’s vaults for all these years.

“And you will fly
Like some little wing
Straight back to the sun
The dream was never over
The dream has just begun”  – Stevie Nicks “Straight Back” from Mirage 

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The Beat Goes on 50 or How I was Dextorized into Submission

1964, what a great year for music!

I remember it well.

Well actually I don’t remember it at all since as I wasn’t born until 1966 but it was a great year for music nonetheless.

Even looking back through the mists of time I can see The Beatles’ music to this day feels like a jolt of dynamite compared to what music was popular before them especially in the few years right before they broke in America.

Ah, America. Now we’ve come to the point of this particular post – The Beatles American albums.

Love ’em or leave ’em, The Beatles U.S. Capitol albums tend to generate a lot of heated discussion for fans all over the Net as those who love them are really passionate about them.

I, for one, grew up listening to the American albums and loved them at the time. I’m a second generation fan who first got the Beatles bug listening to the The Beatles 1962-1966 set (the “Red Album”) in 1975 a couple of years after it was released.

Shortly thereafter my grandmother bought me a copy of “The Beatles Second Album” (a copy on the Apple label lol) in a Sears store no less because  I was fascinated by the cover that was filled with photos from The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show from February 1964.

Now, fast forward to 2014 and the 50th anniversary of The Beatles landing in America.

Capitol Records and Apple (The Beatles company Apple, not the computer company) decided to commemorate the event by issuing “The Beatles U.S. Albums” box set with the CDs also available to purchase separately.

“The Beatles U.S. Albums” set comes in a study box with a slip out tray to hold the CDs and includes a nice, thick booklet that’s chock full of good information (and photos) about the U.S. Beatles Capitol album.

The box set has the added draw of the exclusive appearance of “The Beatles Story”, a somewhat cheesy audio documentary of the group that was issued on Lp in 1964.

Of course most Beatles freaks have a soft spot for the album and Capitol wanted to entice them into buying the whole box – bingo, it worked lol!

Anyway, there was a lot of buzz on music Internet sites about the fact that instead of making direct transfers of the Capitol albums from the American Capitol master tapes, Capitol and Apple decided to mostly use the 2009 UK mono and stereo remasters and only use the unique Capitol mono and stereo mixes where appropriate.

There were a few songs mixed especially for Capitol that only exist on the U.S. album masters – thus that is what I refer to as being unique Capitol mixes.

You see the American Capitol albums were vastly different to the UK Parlophone issues. The UK albums mainly contained 14 songs and almost never had the hit singles on them. Singles were considered a separate thing in Britain, at least by The Beatles.

The U.S. albums usually had 11 or 12 songs and always contained the hit singles on them to entice buyers.

Capitol, or Dave Dexter who was assigned by Capitol to oversee The Beatles U.S. albums, had a tendency to add echo to the albums as well and make mono tracks that weren’t available in stereo into fake stereo or Duophonic as they called it.

The Capitol albums also had vastly different lineups than their British counterparts. The different lineups and shorter song selections created much more product for Capitol as there are many more U.S. albums than what The Beatles issued in the UK.

Having said all that, there is a place for the U.S. albums as they are historic artifacts of the time and valuable to go back to as that is how The Beatles broke in the U.S. and it is the way U.S. fans were introduced to The Beatles work.

Over time I have come to be more a fan of the original UK releases as I believe that is what The Beatles and their producer George Martin had intended at the time and it is how the remaining Beatles feel their legacy should be viewed or enjoyed.

A lot of Beatles fans are still, over three years later, really miffed that Capitol didn’t use the exact tapes that originally generated these U.S. Capitol albums.

For me it’s not a big issue and I’ll tell you why.

Firs off, Capitol and Apple DID release the first eight U.S. Capitol Beatles albums in 2004 and 2006 in two box sets called “The Beatles Capitol Albums” Vol. 1 and 2 which DID use the exact Capitol tapes with all the echo and fake stereo in all its glory.

And I’m so glad they did as those sets are a great timepiece and the Capitol albums are a fun listen especially “The Beatles Second Album” where the added echo actually works to make the songs really pop out at you and rock a bit harder.

Some of the Capitol albums – Meet the Beatles, The Beatles Second Album, Rubber Soul -work quite well in their Capitol forms.

Most of the time though the Capitol albums feel like the hodge podge collections they are and I prefer the clean, crisp sound of the original UK versions. The U.S. albums were a few generations removed from the original UK tapes and you can tell it by the sometimes muffled and distorted sound of the Capitol tapes.

BUT for the first time with the 2014 “The Beatles U.S. Albums” set I feel like I have the best of both worlds – great UK sound with the unique Capitol lineups. The sound of this new set is impeccable!

“The Beatles U.S. Albums” includes both mono and stereo mixes on one CD and has fantastic mini cover reproductions of the Capitol albums in sturdy cardboard as well as reproductions of the groovy Capitol inner sleeves.

Plus the mono mixes are true mono now as many of the early Capitol albums used a process where they folded down the stereo master to create fake mono and then added echo on top of that – jeesh.

To me this new set is just an extension of Capitol using the best sources to compile new immaculate versions of these historic albums.

Throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s Capitol often upgraded the sound of the Capitol albums by substituting better sources than they originally used.

Some purists vehemently hate this set but remarkably I’m not one of them. I love everything about this set and now it is my go to for listening to the Beatles early music.

Most of the unique Capitol mixes (mixes only available in U.S. and not on UK albums) are here and sound great. They missed three unique stereo mixes from the “Yesterday and Today” album but those stereo mixes were upgrades that didn’t appear until the late 60s or early 70s and weren’t available on original pressings.

Sure I’d love to have them but I can see the reasoning for making these albums represent the mixes of the first issues, well mostly.

One note: they did use the 1987 stereo remixes George Martin did for the “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” CDs which IS one of the flaws of this set. Thy should have used original stereo mixes but the new CDs sound great despite that mistake.

The 2009 masters also sound better on this set as I read that they were re-transferred from directly from the HiRez source and the mono and stereo are the same volume which gives a nice edge to the mono versions, I feel anyway.

Truly superb is how I would rate this set!

If you buy the titles individually, you may note that the labels on the individual CDs are a bit different. The CDs in the box have the original vinyl album catalog numbers on the discs where the individual ones don’t (see photos below).

The publishing info is a bit different on the labels as well between the box and individually. Nitpicky I know but that’s the kind of stuff collectors love to know. Trust me.

Oh and you also get a cool “Butcher Cover” (a story for another day) and a trunk cover sticker for the “Yesterday and Today” CD. This CD is like that whether you buy the box or individually (again, see photo below).

You’re never going to convince the naysayers, who do have a valid point, but for the novice fan or someone who bought these albums in this form originally these recreations will surely please, please.

It’s probably the obsessives anyway that even remotely care that the original vinyl had extra echo, etc.

Have a gander at the set below as well as the single releases with the black Japanese obi looking strips (yes, I couldn’t resist owning both, it’s a sickness lol!) and the promo CD for the set to boot!

It will take you back in time or let you experience another era from bygone days.

Happy Beatleing!!!

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