Billy Shears in Vienna … Ringo Starr 2018 vinyl reissues of “Ringo” and “Goodnight Vienna”

Well his name is Billy Shears and it certainly has been for so many years.

Do you know who I’m talking about?

Ringo. Ringo Starr. Drummer for The Beatles?

It’s hard to imagine now but in 1973/74 Ringo Starr was not only known for being one fourth of The Beatles, he was also a virtual hit-making machine with a steady stream of radio friendly hits filling the airwaves.

In the first few years after The Beatles broke up, Ringo had one of the best hit-making averages of all the ex-Beatles, just behind Paul McCartney. Nowadays Starr tends to be forgotten as a hit-maker in his own right but in the early 1970’s he was huge!

“It’s Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo” landed in the Top Ten in 1971 and 1972 respectively and then the dam really began to break in 1973 with the release of Starr’s acclaimed “Ringo” album which produced another three Top Ten hits.

By the end of 1974, Ringo had amassed seven Top Ten hits singles as well as two smash hit albums – 1973’s “Ringo” album and 1974’s “Goodnight Vienna”.

Those two albums (“Ringo” and “Goodnight Vienna”) are considered by many to be the artistic peak of Starr’s entire solo musical career and held up to this day as the yardstick to which his work is measured.

(Note: in my opinion Ringo’s later career albums from 1992 to today have produced work equal to these albums but these two are certainly among his best).

The “Ringo” album was Starr’s first true rock album (his first two solo albums featured standards and country tunes) and also featured a slew of famous musicians helping Ringo out.

Of course it didn’t hurt that the “Ringo” album also happened to be the closet thing the four ex-Beatles came to making a reunion album.

All four Beatles played and wrote songs for the “Ringo” album including one track, the Lennon-penned “I’m the Greatest”, that featured all the ex-Beatles (minus McCartney) playing together in the studio at the same time.

Produced by Richard Perry, the “Ringo” album is chock full of great tunes and terrific performances including two number one singles ,”You’re Sixteen” and “Photograph”, as well as the Top Ten smash'”Oh My My”.

1974’s “Goodnight Vienna” followed the same formula as the “Ringo” album (produced by Perry with ex-Beatles and famous friends helping out in the studio) and while successful didn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor though still producing two more Top Ten hits “Only You (And You Alone)” and “No No Song”.

Now all these years later in 2018 these two stellar Ringo albums have been reissued on sparkling new 180-gram vinyl pressings.

Pressed in France, these two reissues came out last Friday (February 9th) and not only sound amazing but have some of the best reproductions of covers and labels I’ve ever seen on solo Beatles releases.

Both albums have bright, clear covers with nice color reproduction and every detail correct down to the nice booklet that came with the “Ringo” album and the specialty labels for each album looking as good if not better than original pressings.

(Note 2: the booklet in the “Ringo” album is printed on glossy paper stock not textured like originals but still looks terrific).

And the vinyl sounds superb – nice and quiet pressings and lovely sound. I’ll have to drag out my original pressings to compare but I doubt the originals sound dramatically better as these discs sound great to my ears.

It’s nice to see these two albums treated so respectfully and well worth tracking down if you’re a fan of Ringo’s work and are looking for stellar vinyl copies to play and enjoy.

As usual I took several photos (above) of both albums. Take a look and see how nice these reissues turned out.

Other Ringo Starr albums have been reissued on vinyl recently but these two reissues are head and shoulders above the others not to mention being better albums as well.

Until next time – Goodnight Vienna!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imaginary Streets, Purple Afternoons, Silver Rain … Wings “London Town” 40 Years On

 

As I’ve mentioned before, this blog is sort of an overview of my life as seen though the music I’ve collected and listened to over the years. Some of the records and the music they contain forever link me to a certain time and place and feeling.

For this post, I’m going to roll back time say about forty years or so to a time and a place in Midwest America circa 1978.

The year began with a terrible blizzard that crippled where I lived for about three weeks and also allowed me to be school free for that same amount of time.

The Bee Gees and disco were all the rage on radio, shows like “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” were huge hits on television and with my friends, “Grease” and “Superman” were tops at the movie box office and squeezed in among all of these things was the release of the sixth studio album by Wings called “London Town”.

I’ve had a soft spot for the “London Town” album since I began to spin the first vinyl copy I owned that came from a Kmart store shortly after the album was released.

Kmart was the store of choice for buying music for me in those days. Actually I had no choice, I couldn’t drive yet and my mother went there frequently.

Now the year 1978 was also a year filled with turmoil and uncertainty. My father had open heart surgery that year and unfortunately ended up passing away in January of 1979.

Music, as always for me, was a refuge from the outside world. More so that year than usual.

I was already quite familiar with the number one smash from the “London Town” album called “With a Little Luck” so I anxiously waited until I finally got a copy of the full album to examine and play.

I remember taking the inner sleeve out of the cover for “London Town” and pouring over the lyrics of the songs as they played.

McCartney albums in the 1970s tended to be filled with characters that were ordinary yet quite odd and eccentric at the same time and the “London Town” album was no exception.

Images of purple afternoons, silver rain, Cafes in Paris, traveling back in time and even the mysterious and urgent Morse Moose and the Grey Goose danced through my head as I escaped into the mist of foggy London and beyond.

It was a long album – over 48 minutes long – so I felt that it gave me time to take some sort of exotic journey through Great Britain and Europe as I listened.

I’ve always loved the folk influenced vibe of this album and the soft rock approach that McCartney applied to this collection of songs.

While some critics took swipes at McCartney for not rocking hard enough and making the album too long, for me the languid feel of the album as a whole fit the rainy London vibe of the front cover and title track to perfection.

Whenever I need to go back to that feeling of getting lost in the fog and escaping from the stresses of life, I pull the “London Town” album from the shelf and descend into the mists of time.

McCartney has approached most of his songwriting in third person, much like an author creating characters while writing a novel. You get the emotion but it’s not direct, you have to see through the eyes of the characters to piece together what’s in McCartney’s head.

As a writer myself I enjoy that aspect of his work, others don’t.

Unlike John Lennon who wrote mainly in first person and more direct emotionally, McCartney is more of a chameleon and not as easy to decipher. He creates characters to distance himself from what he’s saying but if you study his work you can see bits of his personality emerge in his songs.

I think critics, especially in the 1970s, wanted more of that direct emotion as it was more fashionable but over time I find McCartney’s music more fascinating because his work from The Beatles to now is like one gigantic novel filled with exotic characters and places and fun to explore over and over again.

And of course since 1978 I’ve acquired quite a few different versions of the “London Town” album on both vinyl and CD.

In this blog post I’ve included pictures of all the different versions I own (see above) as well as the actual People Magazine review of the album that I clipped from a copy of the magazine in the hospital waiting room where my dad was staying (I know, I know, seriously? Yes. I was twelve years old and already a pack rat, what can I say?!!)

I must say the vinyl albums above, despite their long length, sound pretty good. The CD versions are more of a mixed bag.

The original UK CD version sounds best and sounds very good. The first US version that was released sounded a bit more muted thanks to noise reduction techniques being applied. The first US CD isn’t terrible just a bit more lifeless.

The first US CD also contained a booklet that was blank inside. It was shortly fixed but I have the first issue that was blank.

I also own a later US CD issue that reverts back to the UK artwork inside and out as well as the label. The first US CD has different artwork for the inserts and label.

I also swear that this later US CD pressing sounds identical to the UK version but it may be my mind playing tricks on me. I played it the other day and I thought it sounded pretty darn good.

There are several of McCartney’s solo albums that have different artwork between first and later US issues and I will highlight some of them in future posts.

There’s are also a McCartney Collection CD issue of “London Town” (from 1993) that is a bit muffled sounding due to noise reduction but again isn’t horrible. The first UK CD issue is better and the 1999 Japanese Mini-CD issue I’ve posted photos of above shares the same mastering as the McCartney Collection CD.

Well, there you have it! A journey into my past and my “London Town” collection.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with some lyrics from “Backwards Traveller” from the “London Town” album that sum things up pretty well:

“Hey, did you know that I’m
Always going back in time
Rhyming slang, auld lang syne my dears
Through the years
I am the backwards traveller
Ancient wool unraveller
Sailing songs, wailing on the moon”  – written by Paul McCartney and recorded by Wings 1978

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Song for You – Remembering Karen Carpenter (35 Years Later)

“And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you” – “A Song for You” written by Leon Russell and performed by The Carpenters

Has it really been 35 years since Karen Carpenter passed away?

Wow, I feel old.

On February 4, 1983, when Karen Carpenter died I remember grabbing a copy of their “Yesterday Once More” 2 Lp set from the UK and playing it several times in sadness that day.

I was a junior in high school and The Carpenters were pretty much seen as white-bread and dated music and very uncool. Of course that didn’t deter me one bit, I’ve pretty much liked what I liked other people be damned and that included loving The Carpenters!

Actually, one of my first musical memories involved The Carpenters.

When I was six years old (1972) I used to play the 45 of The Carpenters’ hit song “Hurting Each Other” over and over on a small children’s style portable record player my family owned just staring at the picture sleeve as the record played.

(Note: I spent a lot of time as a child listening to records in case you hadn’t noticed!)

Seems funny now for a six year old to love that song but something about her voice and that song attracted me even at that young age. I think I’ve always related to melancholy music so naturally I became a fan of The Carpenters and Karen Carpenter’s voice especially.

There’s just something unique and smooth as silk about Karen Carpenter’s delivery. She communicated sadness and vulnerability with each and every breath. Now of course we know why (the story of her battle with anorexia is now well known).

It’s hard to believe she was just in her twenties when she recorded the bulk of The Carpenter’s classic hits.

And what classic hits they are: “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “We’ve Only Just Begun”, “(They Long to Be) Close to You”, “Yesterday Once More”, “Goodbye to Love” and “Sing” just to name a few.

I thought a celebration of Karen Carpenter’s life and music was in order so today I’m sharing some of my favorite Carpenters CDs and vinyl that I own. (A few of them are kind of rare and you don’t see photos of them much so see photos of them above here as usual.)

The Carpenter’s original vinyl albums are fairly easy to find in used bins here in the States and for little money so luckily if you’re a new fan you can track down their music pretty effortlessly.

This past year or two for example I’ve found minty vinyl copies of “Close to You” and “A Song for You” both still in their shrink wrap with their very attractive (to me anyway) hype stickers still on them.

There are also a couple of nifty Carpenters CD sets I own that are highlighted on this blog post which are also somewhat difficult to locate nowadays.

The first one is the Japanese 2 CD set called “Live in Japan” (appropriately enough). It was only made for the Japanese market as Richard Carpenter apparently isn’t a fan of live Carpenters recordings thus no complete concert CDs are available in the states.

It s a lovely concert and Karen and Richard were slavish about recreating their studio recordings live so it sounds really nice. It may be a tad bit less spontaneous sounding then one would hope from a live concert but a very nice listen nonetheless.

There are also three other interesting box sets highlighted here and two of the are on the rare side and expensive side as well.

The first one is a PBS exclusive 3 CD set entitled “The Carpenters – The Complete Singles”. This set collects all the 45 single mixes The Carpenters released over the years and is the only official set (beyond an expensive Japanese CD single box set) that contains the true 45 mixes and edits of their music.

The rub is that it’s only available to be purchased by making a donation to PBS stations around the U.S. during their frequent pledge drives and is quite expensive as you have to donate usually around $125 to get the set. I’m a PBS supporter anyway so this was a no-brainer for me but it is expensive though a quite lovely sounding set.

The second rare set is a complete collection of all The Carpenters albums that was released in the UK in 1990 called “The Carpenters Compact Disc Collection”. It has 12 CDs and contains all their studio albums plus the “Lovelines” collection from 1989.

I own the smaller version that fits in your hand. I guess there was a larger format one available as well.

(Note 2: I also read that supposedly the CD of “A Song for You” in this set is a clone of the MFSL CD – for the collectors out there)

The last CD set pictured is the second 4 CD box set overview of The Carpenters musical career compiled by Richard Carpenter called “The Essential Collection (1967-1997)”.

It’s a terrific set and has a much nicer track selection that the first Carpenters box set he released called “From the Top”. Unfortunately “The Essential Collection (1967-1997) is now out of print and is on the expensive side but its a great sounding collection and can probably be found fairly easily.

The last CD featured in this post is the West Germany early pressing of The Carpenter’s “A Song for You” album. This early pressing CD version contains the original mixes (like on the vinyl version) which were later substituted for remixes on later releases of this album on CD.

So, there you have a brief glimpse into some Carpenters goodies that I own on the eve of the 35th anniversary of Karen Carpenter’s death.

I hope Karen and Richard’s music will live on for years to come and that 35 years from now she will still be celebrated as the vocal treasure she was in life.

Until my next blog, be well and have a happy February (hopefully with little snow and cold!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Going to Scarborough Fair? … Simon & Garfunkel “The Complete Albums” Collections

 

Ahhh, Simon and Garfunkel.

I remember the first time I really delved into Simon and Garfunkel’s catalog was in 1985 when I was vacationing at my oldest brother’s home in Salinas, CA.

I stumbled across his copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends” album and I was hooked. I sat for a few restful afternoons that vacation spinning my brother’s copy of that album as I waited from him to get home from work.

I recall hearing the haunting melodies from the “Bookends” album drifting through my mind that entire trip especially as I gazed at the numerous lighthouses that dotted the coast line near Monterey, CA which is near Salinas.

From then on I developed a huge love for Simon and Garfunkel’s music and began to seek out their albums.

My first Simon and Garfunkel purchase was the 1981 vinyl box set entitled “Collected Works” in a reddish cover that contained the following albums: “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.”, “Sounds of Silence”, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”, “Bookends” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

As I remember that vinyl set sounded pretty good and I loved discovering all the terrific songs on the set. I had a particular fondness for “Bookends” and “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” but I grew to love them all.

Somewhere along the line I got rid of that vinyl set but purchased the CD version that came out in 1990 (see photos) which I still own to this day.

The 1990 CD set had decent sound but was marred buy the fact that the masters for the early Simon and Garfunkel albums had been worn down and couldn’t be used.

Columbia Records who released Simon and Garfunkel’s music had a habit of using their master recordings over and over to press records instead of making dubs which wore down the best sources for the albums.

The 1990 set used the best sources possible but a couple of the albums were distorted and muddy and not nearly as good sounding as original vinyl pressings from the 1960’s.

Fast forward to 2014 to the release of better sounding Simon and Garfunkel album collections – “Simon & Garfunkel The Complete Columbia Albums” on vinyl and the really complete “Simon & Garfunkel The Complete Albums” CD collection.

These two superb collections sound great! Columbia used a couple of masters they had sent to Japan (which were very near the quality of the original masters) for some of the earlier albums so every album on this set sounds superb!

The vinyl set just contains the studio albums released on the Columbia Records plus the Greatest Hits while the CD version contains ALL of Simon and Garfunkel’s album releases including several live albums as well as “The Graduate” soundtrack.

Both sets sound terrific but the CD set is the best value with more bang for your buck as it’s cheaper than the vinyl set and contains much more content.

I will say however that the vinyl set sounds darn close to 1960’s pressings and probably has quieter vinyl so if you’re just interested in Simon and Garfunkel’s main studio albums then this set may be the way to go.

Both sets are carefully mastered and I doubt these albums will ever sound better.

As usual I have posted several pictures above featuring everything I spoke about in this blog post.

If you’ve never listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s work, you  need to check some of these albums out – they’re some of the best popular music of the last 60 years for sure!

Until nest time,

TTFN

 

 

 

 

Year in Your Ear (1982) – Billy Joel “The Nylon Curtain”

 

In keeping with remembrances of the past, this blog post is the first of what I’m calling my “Year in Your Ear” series.

“Year in Your Ear” posts will focus on some of my favorite albums from a particular year and for this debut post I chose 1982.

1982 happens to be a very sentimental year for me as  I was a sophomore and a junior that year and several of the albums from that time are still pretty special to me. There’s something about your high school years that sticks with you throughout time – even if I wouldn’t give you a nickel to relive them.

The first album from 1982 I’d like to highlight is one of my most played albums from that year – Bill Joel’s “The Nylon Curtain”.

For me, this is Billy Joel at his absolute zenith. I love quite a few of Joel’s albums – “The Stranger”, “52nd Street”, “Glass Houses” – but this album holds a special place in my heart.

For one, I think this album has Joel’s strongest collection of songs: “Pressure”, “Goodnight Saigon”, “Allentown”, “Where’s the Orchestra?”, “Surprises” and “She’s Right on Time” are all in my list of top songs written by Billy Joel.

Coming out in the Fall of 1982, this album was in heavy rotation for me from September until December of that year.  As it happens this album was also released at a particularly emotional time for my family.

You see my grandmother, the only grandparent I ever knew and who lived with my family, passed away in early November of 1982 at the age of 92.

I was very close to my grandmother and though her death was one of the most peaceful and graceful passings I have ever witnessed, it was nonetheless very sad.

I remember many a night in early December playing this album in the darkened room of my parent’s basement – over and over again.

The song “She’s Right on Time” with its references to putting up Christmas trees really hit home at the time and nowadays whenever I hear that song it brings me back to that darkened room – once again still and reflective and unsure about the future.

Needless to say this album will always hold a special place in my heart and the fact that it’s Joel’s strongest collection of tunes doesn’t hurt either.

Above you can see photos of the various versions of this album I own – the original vinyl pressing still in the shrink wrap with hype sticker (love me some hype stickers!), a Made in Japan for Europe CD first pressing, a Made in Japan for the U.S. first CD pressing and the crown jewel and best sounding version I own a MFSL SACD/Hybrid CD that came out recently.

All of these versions of the album sound good but my most played are the vinyl (you can’t beat the warmth of the first pressing) and the excellent MFSL CD issue.

Somewhere I own a another early U.S. CD pressing in its original longbox but I can’t seem to locate it at the moment. If I do I’ll add it to a later post.

There will be more Billy Joel albums highlighted in future posts but I thought I’d start at the top with “The Nylon Curtain”.

Seeing how it’s the beginning of February I guess the Christmas tree will have to wait a few more months.

I may take a spin into the darkness anyway by putting this album on and letting the past flood over me.

Safe journeys until my next post and may you find light in your darkest nights  – TTFN!

 

 

 

 

I Feel the Earth Move Under My Shelf … Tapestry, Carole King and I

 

 

 

Isn’t it funny how certain songs can evoke such powerful sense memories?

I’m thinking of one song in particular, “It’s Too Late” by Carole King from her seminal album “Tapestry”.

It was 1971, I was five years old and every time I hear”It’s Too Late” I’m transported back in time to the large blue Ford station wagon my mother used to drive.

Now, this was not like today’s cars. This station wagon one was hulking piece of metal that seemed to dominate every road it was on – at least to my memory.

“It’s Too Late” was constantly on the radio from the spring of 1971 onward and it seemed as if it was played at least every five minutes.

My mother always listened to WOWO radio, an AM radio station in Fort Wayne that broadcast in 50,000 watts in those days. I have very clear memories of driving with my mom on rainy days looking out the window as the drops of rain pooled down the glass while listening to this song on the ever trustworthy WOWO.

Now at five years old I had no idea of the meaning of the lyrics for “It’s Too Late” which detailed a broken relationship, I instinctively picked up on the melancholy of the tune and the sadness in King’s voice. I’ve always been a sucker for melancholy even as a child.

Anyway, long way around, this blog today highlights all the different pressings  – CD and vinyl – that I own of Carole King’s monumental album “Tapestry”.

I know some people brush this album off as it has become such a monster in sales, over 25 million sold worldwide I think, and that it inspired the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970’s which some see as bland.

For me “Tapestry” will always be a transformational album and one I return to often for sonic solace. It’s full of great Carole King songs from throughout her career and the feel King puts in her weather worn vocals just moves me every time I play it.

Of course, as a collector, I’ve been inflicted by the disease of “betteristis” in which I continually look for the best sounding version of a favorite album until I find “the best” lol.

Sooo, that means I own several different versions of “Tapestry”.

(Note, You may ask why I don’t get rid of the older versions but as you see I am somewhat of a music hoarder and then there wouldn’t be this blog. Can anyone say rationalize?)

The first version I owned of this album was actually the first CD issue which came in a longbox in the mid-1980’s (yes, I still have the longbox – see photos).

The album is no sonic wonder to begin with but the first CD issue was a bit lifeless with more distortion on the vocals then later CD issues. Not bad but not great either. Thus the search for better sounding versions.

I recently found two vinyl pressings that sound really nice – a 1970’s Ode issue and a later Epic records issue. Of the two I prefer the Epic which sounds lovely and is really clean and quiet.

The best sounding versions I own, two versions that are pretty much equal, are both SACDs.

SACD stands for Super Audio CD and requires a player that plays them. A lot of high end CD players can play them and there are several DVD players with SACD capability.

SACDs are basically a Hi Resolution format that gives you the most resolution you can get from a compact disc.

Most times the SACD version of a particular album has been remastered as carefully as it can be and sounds as good as that album can in the CD format.

Of the two SACDs I own – one released by Sony and one released by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MFSL) – I tend to play the MFSL version the most. Both are excellent and pretty much equal in sound. The MFSL CD is also a hybrid disc meaning it has different layers – one for regular sound and one for SACD Hi Resolution sound.

The regular layer can be played on any CD player but to hear the SACD layer you’ll need an SACD player.

Really, the only version that sounds a bit dull is the first issue CD version. As I said it’s not bad but the other versions I own are better.

The best packaged version by far is the 2007 Japanese Mini-Lp CD which has all the original inserts in miniature including the original inner sleeve. Sound wise it’s identical to the later reissue with bonus tracks and sounds really nice.

The most recent reissue of “Tapestry” is a 2 CD set which comes with a vintage live performance of the whole album which is well worth picking up. The concert is great so that might be worth the double dip if you already own the album on CD.

If you get a vinyl issue I’d highly recommend tracking down an Epic Records pressing from the 1980s as they sound really sweet and aren’t too expensive – I’ve seen them used for cheap a few times.

So enjoy my Carole King “Tapestry” fest! There are photos above to peruse my indulgences.

Take care and be well  – until next time!!!