You Say It’s Your Birthday … 50 Years of White, Bees and HEAD

Welcome to 2018!

This is my first blog post of the new year and as I get older these years do seem to pile up faster and faster just like my mother and grandmother once warned they would.

Seeing as my own birthday is just around the corner, I’m a January baby, I thought I’d start the new year off by celebrating another set of birthdays – the 50th birthdays of three of my favorite recordings:

The Beatles self-titled 2 Lp set (nicknamed the “White Album”) and The Monkees two 1968 albums “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” and “HEAD”.

Though I was only two years old at the time these albums were released, these three records have nevertheless through the years seemed like a turning point in my appreciation for both The Beatles and The Monkees music.

You see even in 1968 at the tender age of two I was listening to Monkees records, courtesy of my oldest brothers now worn discs, and was somewhat familiar with “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” when it was first issued.

I didn’t discover the White Album and HEAD until the mid-1970s but I distinctly remember that as a young pop music fan and a fan of Top Forty radio all three of these albums elicited the same mixed reaction on my first few listens: pleasure and fear.

You see all three of these albums while containing some lovely pop classics also contained some rather somber and disturbing numbers as well.

Starting off with “The Birds and The Bees & The Monkees” which, while containing two of the groups most lovely pop songs “Daydream Believer” and “Valleri”, also contained such head scratchers as the over five minute long Mike Nesmith sung and composed “Writing Wrongs” as well as his 1920’s 78 r.p.m tribute “Magnolia Simms” and the psychedelic “Auntie’s Municipal Court”.

I remember at a young age reveling in the pop numbers on this album but skipping the needle over some of the rest which distanced me from truly loving this record until I was much older.

After all where were the fun loving Monkees who were too busy putting people down!

Of course in retrospect this album is the point where a good number of the general public began to lose their affection for the group as well but thank goodness for the weirdness!!!

I think if The Monkees had never taken the left turn from their earlier well crafted pop albums, HEAD most importantly, we might not still be talking about the group over fifty years later.

These two albums are where the band members began to find themselves musically and branched off from being a TV creation into a musical entity.

The same mixture of pleasure and hesitation greeted me when I discovered The Monkees HEAD album which was the soundtrack to their totally un-Monkee like movie of the same name which REALLY perplexed me.

Again, I have grown to truly love this album and find it and the HEAD movie as a true glimpse into the movement in the late 60’s away from the fantasy and lightness of film, TV and recordings from the late fifties and early 60’s to the gritty reality that was creeping into pop culture at the time.

Now some of the weirder tracks on The Birds and Bees and HEAD are some of my favorite Monkees recordings and I tend to listen to them more than the poppier numbers.

But of all three albums in this post it took me the longest to truly warm up to the Beatles epic White Album which I first heard around 1976.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved many of the songs on it from the first go but there were several tracks that down right frightened me such as “Helter Skelter” (with its unfortunate Charles Manson association), “Yer Blues” and the mother of all weirdness “Revolution 9” which to this day still seems like a window into a bad dream lol.

Throw in the weirdness of “Honey Pie”, “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road”, the starkness of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “I’m So Tired” and the giddy sarcasm of George Harrison’s “Piggies” and my ten year old self felt as if I had been thrown into a reality that wasn’t quite comfortable or enjoyable at times.

BUT as time has gone on and as I have grown older all these songs I’ve mentioned as well as all three albums have now found as place as some of my most cherished and played music.

As an adult I really appreciate the grittiness and starkness of a lot of the tracks on these albums and looking back they all seem to stand out of time, especially the White Album and HEAD, and tower above most other pop/rock recordings of the era.

So here’s to the 50th of all three of these classic albums!!!

I will focus on each album individually when the actual date of their 50th anniversaries arise throughout the year and spotlight different pressings I own of each.

Until then let’s just look forward to 2018 and hopefully some of you out there will celebrate or discover these albums for yourself.

Happy New Year!!!

Below are photos of some uncommon CD pressings I own of these three albums including the first CD issue (from Japan) of “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” and the rare UK issue of HEAD on the Lightning label featuring an alternate mix of “Circle Sky” and the Japanese SHM-CD issue of The Beatles featuring a nice mini-Lp sleeve with all the original posters and inner sleeves in miniature.

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Look Out (Here Comes the Box Set)! … More of the Monkees times three

Okay, Christmas has officially arrived at my doorstep albeit two days late!

Today I received the new 3 CD Super Deluxe box set of the first album I ever owned – “More of the Monkees” by, who else, The Monkees!!!

This new Super Deluxe set contains not only the original mono and stereo mixes of the “More of the Monkees” album but it also includes several studio outtakes (including studio floor chatter), alternate mixes, TV mono mixes, live tracks, remixes and everything else even remotely connected to the recording sessions for The Monkees 5 million plus selling second album.

(Plus you get a cool new vinyl 45 that contains a new 2017 remix of “I’m a Believer” backed with a vocal only version of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” in a sweet color picture sleeve as well as a great informative booklet about the album sessions.)

This groovy new 3 CD box is the sixth Super Deluxe Monkees set from Rhino and as a longtime fan I’m just amazed at the amount of stellar music that has remained hidden or lost for all these decades since it was recorded.

Rhino Records, who own the rights to The Monkees recordings and TV show, have been releasing every scrap of Monkees tape in its and Sony Music’s vaults for the last twenty odd years or more and this collection is the culmination of years of hard work and research by Monkee’s archivist extraordinaire Andrew Sandoval.

The first 3 CD Monkees archival set (“The Monkees Headquarters Sessions”) came out in 2000 through Rhino’s Handmade Web division and since that time almost every original 1960s Monkees album but two (so far) have been released in these glorious 3 CD expanded versions.

(Note: technically the Headquarters Sessions box, which began these special Monkees collections, isn’t in quite the same format as every Super Deluxe box set since 2010’s “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” but it was the beginning of Rhino’s major troll through the Monkees audio archives.)

One highlight of this new 3 CD set for me is the backing track for the Boyce and Hart written and produced song “Whatever’s Right” from 1966.

This song had been mentioned for years yet was never heard until it was re-recorded and released officially on last year’s 50th Anniversary Monkees album “Good Times.”

This original version is musically much more laid back than the 2016 version and sounds similar to another Boyce and Hart production outtake from that period, the first version of “I Can’t Get Her Out of My Mind” from 1966 which was later remade in 1967 for The Monkees “Headquarters” album.

Several of the new 2017 remixes present in this set are also quite a revelation especially the new remix of “Sometime in the Morning” which has never sounded clearer and the lovely first takes of “Valleri” and “Words” .

The newly discovered multi-track live songs from the earliest recorded Monkees show from January 1967 are also a blast to hear and sound much better than the bootleg version of this show that has made the rounds for years.

The live versions of “I Can’t Get Her Out of My Mind”, “She’s So Far Out, She’s In”  and “Papa Gene’s Blues” are definitely welcome additions to the live Monkees recordings in existence and as about as good sounding as you could hope for for concert recordings from this era.

I’d say they’re a tad lesser quality than the live tracks available on Rhino’s
“Live 1967” album because some of the vocals aren’t as loud but they sound remarkably good here and are the only live versions of the three songs above and are just raw and rocking and fun.

Having owned all the Rhino Monkees box sets I must say that so far, even though I’ve only skimmed it’s contents, this new set ranks up near the top right next to my favorite Super Deluxe box set “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees.”

While this new set doesn’t quite cover the same wide musical styles/genres as the Birds and Bees set it is nevertheless one of the best sounding Monkees Super Deluxe boxes as the new remixes sound so good and the outtakes are so fresh and fun that I have a feeling I will listen to this new set quite a lot.

This album has stayed with me for over fifty years and in my opinion contains some of the best pop/rock gems from the 1960s. “She” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” alone justify this albums inclusion in any pop/rock music fans collection!

If you’re a Monkees fan or just a fan of this album it’s well worth your time and coin to buy one before they’re gone.

Above and below are photos of my copy of the new “More of the Monkees” set which is a limited edition of only 4,500 and available exclusively from Monkees.com.

Run don’t walk to your nearest Internet connection!

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Have Yourself a Very Pepper Christmas …

Welcome to my 2017 Beatles Christmas post, part II!

Last week I detailed the wonderful Beatles Christmas Records colored vinyl set that was just released and today I’m going to feature another record that came out that same day – a picture disc of The Beatles seminal album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Picture disc you say? Yes, you heard me right, picture disc!

Now those of you reading this who were old enough to experience the 1970s know that this isn’t the first time this Beatles album has been released in the picture disc format.

In 1978 Sgt. Pepper was released on picture disc designed to coincide with the release of the ill-fated “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” movie starring Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees.

Most of you reading this may wonder why on earth release this album on picture disc again, in this day and age? Aren’t picture discs notorious for sounding worse than their black vinyl counterparts and usually more expensive?

Well, first off vinyl reissues are a hot item these past few years and secondly this new version of the Sgt. Pepper picture disc features the new 2017 remix of the album by Giles Martin, son of famed Beatles producer George Martin.

Having succumbed to a pre-Christmas sale, today I took the bait and purchased this new picture disc at a very nice sale price (yes, New Year’s goal must be to work on self control lol!).

Let me say that after having played this disc (I know, most people don’t actually play picture discs!) I am quite surprised to say that it is a really nice sounding disc!

The 2017 remix of Sgt. Pepper has gotten a wide spectrum of feedback from fans with quite a few really enjoying it as well as quite a vocal sector of fandom wishing it had never been tampered with at all.

I can see both sides but I have to say that I do really enjoy the new remix especially on vinyl.

I think a lot of long-time fans like the remix but were turned off by the “hot” (loud) nature of the mix that was on the CD and the Blu-Ray or DVD 5.1 mix that came out as part of the Super Deluxe Edition earlier this year.

Listening to the CD and Blu-Ray/DVD mixes, I can see why long-time fans were a bit turned off. I must admit it is pretty loud, though I’d say not completely brick walled as can be the case with a lot of current mastering in music.

BUT on vinyl, this new 2017 remix of Sgt. Pepper is tamed quite a bit as far as loudness is concerned allowing one to experience the clarity of the new remix without reaching for the volume control to turn it down.

I must say I was surprised to find that this new picture disc version of Pepper sounded even a bit more tamed than the previous black vinyl 2 disc issue that came out earlier this year.

To me that’s a good thing as this disc was the most pleasant listening experience I’ve had yet of the new remix which I now can say I really enjoy.

I was also surprised, for the most part, how quiet this new picture disc was as well. There were a few pops here and there but overall this was a nice clean, quiet pressing that sounded just great!

This is definitely not your father’s picture disc as the 1978 picture disc version of this album is not a pleasant listening experience. As I remember it was a very noisy pressing that sounded flat compared to most of its black vinyl cousins.

I haven’t done a side by side comparison to the black vinyl version of the 2017 Sgt. Pepper remix from earlier this year but I must admit listening to this picture disc was a complete pleasure!

Nice clean fat bass, nice highs and like I said earlier the remix sounds much more tame than the CD counterpart which allows you to get more involved in the listening experience (nice touch including the Sgt. Pepper inner groove at the end of side 2 as well!)

Beatles fans, if you’re so inclined to buy this disc, do so without hesitation!

Granted, it is a niche product and not a necessary purchase by any means but the disc looks great, the cover is nice (I love that they kept the rear album artwork the same as the original album unlike the 1978 version) and it sounds great!

So again, have a very Merry Christmas and if you have a Beatles fan on your  list, you could do way worse than to buy this new picture disc for them. They might actually enjoy playing it which is something I wasn’t sure I’d say!

Merry Crimble and until next time, Peace!!!  (Photos of the new disc above and below)

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Christmas time is here again … Beatles style

Merry Crimble Beatle People!

Well, here we are so close to Christmas … again.

A week from today houses around the world will be filled with wrapping paper, foods of all types, happy and grumpy relatives and hopefully for those vinyl fans out there RECORDS!

This year Apple, The Beatles record company, and Universal have given Beatles fans a rare treat – a sparkling 7-inch colored vinyl collection of all The Beatles Christmas messages called The Beatles Christmas Records!!!

These discs were originally sent out to fan club members as part of their membership in the 1960s. The originals, worth quite a bit of coin nowadays, were pressed on flexi-discs. (Flexi-discs for those who don’t know are very thin discs made of plastic that had music pressed into them and you could play on your turntable but tended to slip and slide and sometimes required a coin taped to them to track/play properly.)

Both sides of the pond, UK and the US, received these cool flexi-discs attached to a newsletter and there were discs sent out for 1963 (UK only), 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.

In 1970 the Beatles fan club sent out a vinyl Lp to all members that contained all the Christmas messages on one long-playing record and that too is a fairly rare and expensive collectible.

Unfortunately, I don’t own any of the original Christmas flexi-discs and because I don’t this new collection of 7-inch reproductions is a welcome treat.

This is the first official release of this material by The Beatles since those fan club issues in the 1960s and for this go-around they are being pressed on vinyl (yay no flimsy flexi discs!) and have sturdy cardboard covers.

The booklet that comes with this new set reproduces the original newsletters as well and Apple Records used the best sources available they have for this material so in actuality these new versions most likely have better fidelity than the originals.

This new set is supposedly a limited edition but I’m not positive how many were pressed. I’ve seen 5,000 mentioned online but that may be what’s available just to the US and not worldwide.

Needless to say if your a vinyl and Beatles fan grab one of these cool looking sets while you can!

(Note: To anyone reading this who may be considering buying this for a Beatles fan in the family and aren’t familiar with The Beatles Christmas messages, these are more mad radio skits than music. There are snatches of music throughout the discs including The Beatles’ Christmas song “Christmas Time is Here Again” which you may here on the radio but really think more Monty Python than Bing Crosby when listening to these discs!)

Feast your eyes on photos (above and below) of this terrific new set as well as a groovy green vinyl Record Store Day Paul McCartney 45 that came out this November of his song “Wonderful Christmastime” that was performed with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots.

I also threw in some photos of a couple of bootleg versions of The Beatles Christmas material just for grins.

Merry Christmas and have a very happy and Beatle-filled New Year!!!

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U2 “Songs of Experience” Deluxe Edition – A Note from the sidelines

U2 has a new album out.

Years ago that sentence was an experience in itself.

But times marches on and “Songs of Experience”, U2’s 14th studio album, lands in a much more cynical climate. The band is not only much older but so is its audience.

Their last album “Songs of Innocence” from 2014 is a companion piece to this new set of recordings. The release of that album with it’s publicity stunt of being given free to any iTunes user whether they wanted it or not took some of the bloom away from U2’s aura as a band committed to issues and smelled of a bit too much commerce.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed that album as well but I do tend to think that U2, especially Bono, worry a bit to much about their relevancy and how the arc of their career is affected by each new release.

Not that those are bad things to think about but they take care of themselves and are mostly out of ones control in my opinion. Music to me is a snapshot of the artist at any particular time.

Some snapshots make you look fat and old and some make you look young and graceful and agile – that’s life. I enjoy seeing the full picture and sometimes it’s pretty and sometimes it’s not.

The theme of this new U2 album and the last one deal with life issues and the changes they bring about so I’m glad to see the group exploring new approaches in their music. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t – that’s also life.

Having said all that, I must say I enjoy this album.

I have read a lot of criticism of the new album and a lot of it has some valid points. The songs are not quite as strong as U2’s best work and don’t have the same level of urgency as say their work from 1984. To me that’s okay.

Sometimes  I tend to think there is a certain kind of vitriol held out just for Bono as sort of a backlash to his humanitarian work and his somewhat precieved pompous tendencies.

However, U2’s music still resonates with me for the most part.

There is a slight weirdness listening to Bono sing about aging and carefree relationship topics. My mind automatically goes to songs like “Bad” or “New Year’s Day” when I hear his voice so it’s sometimes unsettling but why not take on carefree issues?

No, this is not the U2 of “The Unforgettable Fire” or “War” and that’s okay with me.

It’s time for U2 to explore this setting, these melodies and these lyrics.

Do they work? Not always, sometimes the new songs come across a bit bland. I’ve only listened to the album a couple of times so that may possibly change as time goes on.

Does the album suck? No, I think it’s quite enjoyable. I like the musical textures U2 conjures up even on some of the weaker tracks, the album as a whole is very enjoyable.

Is it as relevant to the times as say “The Unforgettable Fire” was in 1984? Probably not but so what? Snapshots are what they are – music is good or bad and I think U2’s music is good.

Highlights of the album for me are mainly the songs with a reflective and atmospheric feel such as  “Love is All We Have Left”, “Lights of Home (St. Peter’s String Version)”, “Summer of Love” and “13 (There is a Light)”.

The rockier songs tend to have a generic feel on first listen but for me  “American Soul” and “The Blackout” are standing out as good performances though maybe Bono is trying a bit too hard with the lyrics.

And maybe that’s the problem for me with some of the songs especially the pop oriented songs like “You’re the Best Thing about Me” and “Get Out of Your Own Way” – the lyrics.

I actually enjoy these songs but for me Bono tends to be overthinking at times or exploring issues that tend to feel awkward.

That’s the weight of their past creeping so maybe in time that will change. Taken on their own and removed from the past these new songs are quite good.

As of now I feel this is a very enjoyable album with a few great songs. Not bad for any artist really. I know Bono wants U2 to be seen, as do many fans, as the most artistically relevant group out there but to me who cares?

They are a great group. this is a good album. End of story. Let history say what the group’s impact is. Like it or don’t like it. But please spare me the angst of oh how the once great have fallen. It’s still good music.

I do hope though in the future Bono and U2 and can let go of the weight of expectation and just let the music be its own snapshot. Don’t worry so much, you’ve done good!

Until then, I want to play this album again. And that is the only criteria I tend to value.

Btw, did you hear U2 has a new album out?

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A Pile of Partridge without a Pear Tree

Well, here we are. Where are we?

This past week has brought to mind all sorts of memories that I had tucked away in the back of my mind for decades.

The death of David Cassidy has brought quite a few sweet childhood memories back to the surface and suddenly I was taken back to being five years old and discovering The Partridge Family and falling in love with their show and music.

For today’s post, I’m going to highlight some of my Partridge Family memorabilia that I’ve kept from my childhood for all these many years.

Remarkably, even though I was only four to eight years old when The Partridge Family was all the rage in pop culture, I kept most of my Partridge Family records and memorabilia in pretty good shape.

Now as the title of this blog suggests, I have a pile of Partridge I’d like to share here. First up – paper dolls and lunchboxes.

Yes, I said paper dolls!

Seriously, I don’t know why my mother bought them but I did enjoy them and remember setting them up to play pretend concerts!

Jeesh sounds funny now but it is a fond memory and in this time of raw politics and ugliness I Cherish (slight pun intended for those who get it) those sweet memories even more.

I have lots more memorabilia I will highlight in future posts – once I can dig it out  – but here are some photos of my paper dolls and my trusty Partridge Family lunch box (1973 version) that I remember taking to school for many a lunch back in the day!

I thought I’d include photos from all sides of the lunchbox since you rarely see what it looks like except for the front.

Enjoy and keep getting happy if you can. Until next time!

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Last Train for Colgems 45’s – Later Day Original Labels

Good evening!

Tonight I’m going to turn the way back switch to the mid-1970s – say 1975, 1976 or so.

My memory is a little bit fuzzy to the exact timeline but the one thing  I do remember clearly is the record store where all this took place – Smoky’s Record store.

You see back in those days there was this little hole in the wall record store in the city where I lived called Smoky’s Records. It was full of hundreds of 45’s of practically every hit song from the 1950s to the present day and its musty floor was filled to the brim with records of all shapes and types stacked everywhere.

The store must have been there since the 1950’s and every corner of it seemed to reek of the distant past. The walls were also lined with various odd instruments and advertising that was carefully overseen by the burly Southern owner – Smoky Montgomery.

Now Smoky had the personality of an car salesman and would have been right at home on the streets of Tijuana, Mexico.

He loved to bargain and follow you around the store to see if you wanted to buy anything. His slow drawl and thick southern accent where always touting something you needed to buy.

My oldest brother loved to go to Smoky’s Records and buy 45’s and sometimes my mother would take the both of us and I would manage to grab some of those old groovy 45’s myself.

Now let me also say that this was back in the time that Monkees records were out of print and hard to find. And of course I had abused most of my Monkees records by playing them to death and was always on the hunt for new copies and most of the time came up short.

The original Colgems pressings of Monkees albums and 45’s went out of print around 1971 so by this time it was pretty hard to find anything but the Flashback 45’s which were in print at that time I believe and available at say Musicland. (Of course we had a Musicland in our local mall but it was sorely lacking the cool atmosphere of Smoky’s and his fun record treasure hunts!)

As usual it was Smoky to the rescue as he had a huge inventory of 45’s and had a lot of old store stock that still lined the bins of his 45 inventory.

I clearly remember one shopping trip stumbling upon three Monkees 45’s on the Colgems label – “Last Train to Clarksville”(with picture sleeve), “I’m a Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

Now I remember being really excited to see these 45’s and equally perplexed by the look of the Colgems label.

I was used to my oldest brothers beat up 45 of “I’m a Believer” with the classic Colgems label but these Colgems 45’s had the later day Colgems logo with the red and white label but no Columbia and Screen Gems logos only the newer Colgems logo in their place.

I managed to talk my mother into buying them for me but for years I was sort of disappointed as they didn’t look like originals and I wanted to find ones with the original Colgems label.

Well I’ve come to find out that these 45’s were the last Colgems versions of these 45’s and are much rarer than the original copies. Now I’m really glad that I have them and in such great shape to boot.

These later day 45’s must have come out in 1970 or 71 (some say 1969) and corresponded to the later reissues of the first two Monkees albums with the newer Colgems logo on the rear of their jackets (more on those in a future post).

Anyway, I thought I’d spotlight those three 45’s that I bought that long ago day and post a few pictures of the labels and the Clarksville picture sleeve.

And since old Smoky has long since passed away it’s with a great fondness that I think of him and his boisterous character whenever I take these 45’s out and give them a spin on the turntable.

Take a look above and below at these most groovy later day Colgems 45 pressings.

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