Elton on the Shelf – With Diamonds

 

 

 

Color me skeptical.

You see, I’m a huge Elton John fan and I own a goodly portion of his albums on compact disc dating back to his first album release entitled “Empty Sky” from 1969.

I also own quite a few collections of his greatest hits on CD ranging from the sublime mastering of Elton’s 1974 “Greatest Hits” from the DCC specialty label to the not so great mastering of “Rocket Man: The Definitive Hits” which was released on Mercury Records in 2007.

Does the world really need another Elton John hits collection? Do I? Apparently the answer to both those questions is yes.

“Elton John – Diamonds” was released this past November and when I first read about it I shrugged. Looks nice but there’s a million Elton John hits CDs out there I thought to myself.

Besides the trend for Elton John reissues in the past decade and a half or so that highlight his peak hit-making years have tended to be mastered very loud or as audiophiles call them “brickwalled”.

Brickwalled CDs sound very loud at low volumes and lack the dynamics and warmth of the vinyl versions as well as early CD versions of an artist’s material.

I’ve not been impressed with the louder and more recent Elton John collections so this new set seemed pretty uneventful at first glance.

Anyway, “Diamonds” comes in four different versions – a single CD disc, a double CD set, a 3 CD box set and a 2 Lp vinyl set.

The 3 CD set comes in a nifty box with a small hardback book and some small prints and contains a nice 3rd disc of  fairly interesting and somewhat obscure Elton John songs that Elton himself selected.

Of course the more expensive box set is the only one of the four that really peaked my interest!

I must say the song selection on all three versions of Elton John “Diamonds” is okay but in general, while a nice overview of the hits, I didn’t really have any need to buy another Elton John hits collection.

So, I avoided this particular set. Until now.

As usual, Amazon (will I ever learn to avoid that Website!) had a very decent price on the 3 CD box set version so I threw caution (or candles lol) to the wind last week and ordered one.

The other main reason I was also tempted to buy “Diamonds” is that I read online that it was mastered by renowned audio engineer Bob Ludwig. Ludwig has recently remastered several of John’s albums for vinyl reissues and the two of those that I’ve heard sound fantastic!

Ludwig’s involvement was all I really needed to peek my curiosity into overdrive and into purchase mode. Thus here we are!

So, today this tiny blue box of Elton goodness appeared at my snow-covered door.

I plopped the first CD into my player as I looked through the book that came with it I thought “mmm, not too bad.”

I skimmed through a few of the selections on all three discs and I must say that I was relieved to find that this set does indeed sound pretty good.

Some songs are a bit louder than others but there is a clarity and presence on these tracks that makes them sound quite fresh and alive.

There are some instances where the clarity is so different I wonder if there has been some remixing going on on a few of the tracks.

“Philadelphia Freedom” for example stands out as sounding different enough in the level of certain instruments in the mix that it just sounds like a remix to me.

I’d say that while the tracks are a bit hotter than I’d prefer, in general I think the clarity and presence on this set is pretty impressive. It could have been mastered a tad bit quieter but overall is pretty nice.

A song like “Little Jeannie” has never sounded as good as it does on this new set.

So after all the back and forth in my mind on purchasing this new collection, I’m glad I did. I think I’ll return to it quite often as I really enjoy how fresh these well played songs now sound.

I’m pretty certain this will be my last Elton John hits collection, at least I think so, and if so it’s a nice place to stop.

Above as always are a few photos of the 3 CD box set I just received.

I see that Amazon has raised the price on the box and it seems to becoming harder to find. So if you can find the box at a good price, it’s really a pretty nice collection.

This may not be the end all best Elton John hits collection ever released but it is better than I expected and for a novice or casual fan I’d say it’s an exceptional purchase.

For true blue Elton fans it’s certainly not essential but for the right price you could do worse and it certainly sounds better than the last few hits collections of Elton’s music that have been released.

Until next time, enjoy a nice serving of Elton John and as always be well and spin some more music!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleetwood Mac – Landslides, Blue Letters, Warm Ways and Deluxe CDs

“Even children get older and I’m getting older too …”

Those eloquent words sung in a stunningly beautiful early take of the song “Landslide” are drifting over my head as I write this blog.

As I dive headlong into my fifties “Landslide” from the Fleetwood Mac album “Fleetwood Mac”, the first Fleetwood Mac album that features Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, grows ever more poignant and meaningful to me.

The 1975 “Fleetwood Mac” album has just been released in a wonderful deluxe box set that contains 3 CDs, a DVD (featuring a 5.1 surround sound mix of the album and its singles), a vinyl copy of the album and a lovely booklet.

I finally received my copy of this set this past weekend from Amazon UK (anyone reading this should really investigate Amazon UK as this set cost nearly half the price of buying it from the US) and it’s truly an excellent listen.

All five of Fleetwood Mac’s classic lineup albums including “Rumours”, “Tusk”, “Mirage” and “Tango in the Night” and now “Fleetwood Mac” have been chronicled in Deluxe CD/vinyl editions and this new set may be the best of the bunch.

As a big fan of outtakes and early versions, these Fleetwood Mac sets have set the bar high for getting an inside glimpse into the making of these albums which I consider some of the best albums made in the 1970s and 1980s.

While the earlier sets like “Tusk” and “Mirage” were filled with terrific outtakes that really gave the listener a new appreciation for the breadth and wealth of good material recorded for those albums, the new “Fleetwood Mac” set relies more on alternate/early takes from the 1975 sessions.

And what stunning early takes these are! “Landslide” and “Crystal” are two of the most achingly beautiful versions of these songs I’ve ever heard.

I love the stripped down, intimate feel of the early takes which form an alternate version of the entire album. The early takes while not as produced as the final versions may be the highlight of the Fleetwood Mac canon for me.

While the Fleetwood Mac album was a big seller, it seems to be overshadowed somewhat from the other Fleetwood Mac albums in the wake of the monster-selling “Rumors” but really it’s one of the best set of songs the group ever put to vinyl as every song is a gem.

I always forget how much I love this album and hearing these lovely early takes makes me really appreciate the three great songwriters in the group – Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham.

McVie’s  languid “Warm Ways” along with Nick’s heartbreaking “Crystal” and Buckingham’s thundering “I’m So Afraid” are true highlights of Fleetwood Mac’s long and varied career.

This new set, like the earlier ones, also includes some live material recorded at the time of the albums release and I have to say that this live disc (Disc 3 in the Deluxe set) is probably my favorite set of live Fleetwood Mac recordings released so far.

Though a new band with Nicks and Buckingham having only joined a few months before, the live material is tough and ballsy, well song, well played and includes a few songs that I wasn’t familiar with (Get Like You Used to Be and Station Man) that are just superb. Did the band ever sound more powerful?

The blistering live version of “Blue Letter” which just smokes the studio take is reason enough to buy this set!

The set also includes a 5.1 surround sound mix which, while I’m not a huge 5.1 guy, sounds terrific though I’ve just skimmed it so far. I look forward to really digging into it in the days ahead.

As usual I’ve included some photos (above) of the set so folks can see what to expect if they decide to buy it.

Anyone out there whose a Fleetwood Mac fan or a fan of truly superb 70’s era rock needs to check this set out.

Until next time, TTFN!

 

 

 

 

A Knight in SHM Armor – Paul McCartney on SHM-CD

 

What on earth are SHM-CD’s?

Well, that’s a good question.

SHM-CD stands for Super High Material Compact Disc and was developed in Japan by Universal Music Japan and are made of a higher quality material that supposedly enhances the sound quality of the compact disc format.

Another CD format, seriously?

Well if you’re reading this blog you know I how I feel about physical media and fortunately for collectors Japan still has a healthy appetite for physical media such as compact discs and vinyl – thank goodness.

Now hear’s the rub – these discs are only available as Japanese imports in the States and are limited in quantity, expensive and are sometimes a pain to track down.

(Note: Thank goodness I’ve never let reason get in my way or this blog would be completely blank right now.)

While quite a few audiophiles and music aficionados think that SHM-CD’s are just snake oil and they sound exactly the same as any standard pressing of the CD (as long as it’s not a new mastering) I beg to differ … go figure.

Also SHM-CDs are usually packaged with the collector in mind (anyone in the room raising their hands but me!) and are immaculately packaged and often are released in what’s called a Mini-Lp style.

Mini-Lp style CD’s mimic the way the original vinyl issue of the disc looked right down to replicas of all inner sleeves and posters that came with that first vinyl release (I love miniature replicas!)

And of course as a true blue collector (hoarder?) I have indulged in quite a few SHM-CD pressings and unlike most of my fellow music enthusiasts, it seems, I’ve found them to be uniformly excellent in the sound department.

Now it may just be Jedi mind tricks or some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy or delusion (did  I really pay that much for these?) but on my system at least I can hear a difference when playing these discs.

Okay, I can see quite a few eyes rolling but I swear I do.

The biggest difference that stands out right away to me is the bass.

The bass seems to be more solid, more fluid or more present. I don’t know how else to say it. The bass on these discs just thunders along and seems to jump out of the speakers more vividly than on the regular US pressings I own of this same material.

Okay, it’s not a night or day difference but it is there.

The other thing I notice about these SHM-CDs is that the stereo separation seems to be more distinct and the background vocals also seem to leap out a bit more.

Again, not a night and day difference but it’s as if the slight distortion on some of this music has been lifted or smoothed out and the clarity has been amplified just every so slightly. At least that’s what I tell myself.

If nothing else these discs sure are purdy to look at!

I have included a gallery of ten Paul McCartney Archive Collection CDs I own that have been released in the SHM-CD format in Japan.

Five of the discs I own are 2 CD versions that came out when McCartney was with the Concord label and five are 2017 Mini-Lp CD versions that just came out this past December.

(Note 2: I just have to say that the mastering on these McCartney Archive releases is uniformly excellent and should be checked out whether you can locate SHM-CD versions or not.)

I’ve really enjoyed playing these discs and as I’ve said I find them to be better sounding than their US counterparts but again while not a night and day difference they do sound sweet.

Above are some photos of the discs for those who have never seen them.

I’m just glad I haven’t caved and bought one of the Super Deluxe monster Paul McCartney Archive SHM-CD sets that have been released in Japan!

At least not yet anyway. If I do I’ll be sure to post it here so folks can get a glimpse before they cart me away to the funny farm!

So until our next therapy session, enjoy and RAM ON! (so to speak)

 

 

 

 

 

Cinco Vision – Through the Looking Glass … Instant Replay times five

Seeing multiples you say?

Well, you’re certainly not having double vision.

Cinco vision perhaps?

Maybe you’re just experiencing an “Instant Replay”. That’s it, that’s the ticket!

Today here in my own personal vinyl land we’re celebrating The Monkees first platter released as a trio. Yes, for all you Monkee fans who dropped out after their fifth album, there is no Peter Tork on the cover of this album for a reason – he left!

In February 1969, The Monkees, now a trio, released their last Top Forty album (until 1986’s “Then and Now – The Best of The Monkees”) called appropriately enough “Instant Replay”.

Not only does this album contain some of my favorite Monkee music but hands down this is my favorite Monkees album cover. I love the bright multi-colored shots on the sleeve and have stared at it incessantly for over forty years now.

Anyway, as time has gone on this has also turned out to be one of my most played and most enjoyed albums by any group. Yes, and that includes many of the albums put out by many of the more respected groups of the era.

BUT at the time it came out, I had quite a different reaction.  I thought it was a bit … strange.

Of course I was only four years old (there is actual home movie footage of me getting this album as a gift for my fourth birthday in 1970 – seriously!) and I was used to the more happy/poppy sound of “More of the Monkees” which I had played to death even by this young age.

It was quite a leap from “I’m a Believer” from the “More” album to Micky Dolenz’ epic five minute ode to his cat “Shorty Blackwell” or the pure country of Mike Nesmith’s “Don’t Wait for Me.”

Not to mention the tough rocking “You and I” written by Davy Jones that dealt with the fleeting fickleness of fame (“In a year or maybe two, we’ll be gone and someone new will take our place, they’ll be another song, another voice, another pretty face”) as well as Dolenz other pop confection the minimalist “Just a Game”.

Of course there were also a slew of delectable pop nuggets such as the “Last Train to Clarksville” recycled cousin “Teardrop City” as well as “Through the Looking Glass”, “A Man Without a Dream” and “I Won’t Be the Same Without Her”; it’s just that all the pop songs now took on a much sadder and mature tone then on earlier Monkees records.

As an adult I absolutely LOVE this more mature (some say downer) feel of this material but at the time it came out I was puzzled by it.

What’s interesting is that a lot of these tunes were leftovers from earlier Monkees recording sessions as far back as 1966. These older recordings were mixed with newer songs that Dolenz, Nesmith and Jones had written and surprisingly they work well together and make a very nice collection.

They feel as if they belong together even if they were probably more haphazardly selected to fill out an album.

So, I thought today I would share five different pressings of “Instant Replay” that I own from around the world – three US pressings (from 1969, 1985 and 2012) and two 1969 mono pressings, one from the UK and one from Brazil.

(Note: I love foreign pressings of Monkees albums especially when they’re reworked a bit like the cover from Brazil.)

I know these two mono pressings are just fold-down mixes (not true mono but stereo folded down to make mono) but they are a fun listen nonetheless.

“While I Cry” in mono from the UK just sounds so different in this mono version and the Brazil mono version of “Shorty Blackwell” is truncated, missing the dramatic instrumental opening on all other versions.

All of these pressings of “Instant Replay” sound really nice and there’s just something special about hearing the clicks and pops of the vinyl as that’s the way I grew up listening to this record and it does bring back sweet memories!

As usual there’s a photo collection above of all this groovy vinyl. Take a look and if you’ve never seen the one from Brazil I absolutely love how this one looks and I’ve rarely seen photos of it online.

Enjoy and until next time – Monkee on!

 

 

 

 

 

Eggs Up! – A “Back to the Egg”-stravaganza!!! (Part One – Sunny Side Up)

 

Welcome to my “Back to the Egg”-stravaganza!!!

Today I’m going to highlight one of my favorite albums by Paul McCartney and Wings – 1979’s “Back to the Egg”.

First, let me cast you back a few years, oh say thirty-nine years or so, give or take a few.

Back in 1979, when I was just the tender age of 13 (yikes!), things weren’t quite the same in my record buying life.

First off there was no Internet. That means no Facebook, no chat rooms that endlessly chattered on about upcoming new releases and certainly no pre-ordering of a new title from Amazon.

In these creaky old fuddy duddy days of physical music media there were precious few outlets that I was aware of when it came to new releases by my favorite artists.

My first taste of anything from the “Back to the Egg” album was of course hearing the first single released from the album on the radio. That single was called “Getting Closer” and it was a fine rocking number with slightly goofy lyrics – my salamander (cough, cough).

I knew that a new Wings album was imminent but since I didn’t drive I had to rely on happenstance for the just the right occasion to be with my mother or brothers who could take me to a mall that had a record store.

In June of 1979 I found myself on a family trip to Chicago and of course since my mother was going to a mall with the friends we were visiting it was the perfect chance for me to investigate the racks.

I remember clearly walking to a local Chicago mall and stumbling on the “Getting Closer” 45 in a small blue sleeve with the songs title written in pink as well as the new Wings album it was from – “Back to the Egg”.

Little did I know this was a rare release of this 45 as this particular sleeve I guess wasn’t that common but it was the only copy I saw of the record and I grabbed it and the album and took it home and then proceeded to torture my family by playing the album to death for the rest of the vacation!

Anyway, I’ve always loved this particular record and in fact I’d say the period from 1978 to 1984 holds some of my fondest memories of Paul McCartney’s solo music and I come back to this period frequently as it’s the most sentimental time in my musical life.

While the “Back to the Egg” album may not hold a high place in the critical overview of Paul McCartney’s solo work it has always been one of my favorite McCartney albums. I love almost every song on it.

From the strangeness of the mostly spoken word “The Broadcast” to the punk rock feel of “Spin it On” and “Old Siam, Sir” to the starkness of “Winter Rose/ Love Awake” to the forties feel of “Baby’s Request”, this album still packs a punch and takes me back to a much simpler time and place.

So in celebration of this fine McCartney collection of late seventies goodness, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite “Back to the Egg” CD pressings with photos (see gallery). I’ve also thrown in a couple photos of the rare “Getting Closer” picture sleeve just for grins.

The one “Egg” collectible that I’ve never seen or read much about is a UK promotional CD box set that supposedly mimics a promotional box set that was released for the original vinyl version of the album.

The one I own is a bit water damaged but still looks nice, the cover is worn, and has a groovy t-shirt that I love and it’s in my size! (Note: of course I’ve never worn it but maybe someday!)

I’ve never seen another one and thought it might be nice to show some photos of it here for those rabid Macca collectors out there like me!

The other really nice collectible I own is the first US CD pressing of “Egg” with its longbox – the rare issue with the inner booklet without any content, just the cover photo and blank pages inside.

I also own another later US “Egg” CD which reverts to the UK cover (no mention of 3 bonus tracks) and UK blue label. I swear that this later US pressing also sounds like the UK version as well.

My first US CD pressing has some noise reduction as I recall (I’ll have to play it again to make sure) and I just played the later US pressing and it sounds really nice, much like the UK first CD issue.

(Note: my personal favorite CD pressing of this album is the first Japanese CD pressing (see photos) that just sounds a tad bit better than even the first UK CD pressing.)

In future posts I’ll examine some other US solo McCartney CD pressings that have differences between first and later pressings.

So as McCartney says in concert these days, this post is for the Wings fans!!! In a coming soon Part 2 to this post I’ll take a look at some of my “Back to the Egg” vinyl pressings.

Enjoy and until next time keep spinning on!

 

 

 

 

Bees Around the World … Monkees Birds Recordings in Mono/Stereo

“Fine man, crazy man, he can’t see
Sound of the sunset, sound of the sea
Why do the people always look at me?
Nobody here can see that we are you
We are you
She’s him, too
She’s him, too
Fine man, crazy man, he can’t see
Sound of the sunset, sound of the sea
Mmmmmmmmm
Mmmmmmmmm
” – from “Auntie’s Municipal Court” written by Mike Nesmith and Keith Allison, recorded by The Monkees

Ahhh, the guitar licks from that song buzz through my mind like a shot of electricity every time I read the lyrics above.

Even though the words don’t make complete sense literally; they somehow fit together in a way that makes perfect sense figuratively. Like some crazy quilt poem that floats in the air creating a psychedelic and impressionistic sound painting.

See, that’s what I love about recordings from the late 1960s. They are so different and much more interesting, to me anyway, than any other decade. The best of them take me to a place far away and out of time and remain eternally odd yet endearing.

Several songs on “The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees” album take me to places far away and seem so out of time that they are from the distant past and the present at the same time.

Mike Nesmith’s other epic song from that album, “Writing Wrongs”, is another wild and somewhat psychedelic journey through the mind poetically. Eerie yet interesting – compelling.

You can skip from the roaring twenties with “Magnolia Simms”, leap to the smooth as silk “Daydream Believer”, one of the best pop confections ever put to vinyl, and then land on the unfortunately ever relevant war protest rant “Zor and Zam”.

Seriously, could any other decade have produced a song called “Zor and Zam”!

Of course there’s plenty of other sublime pop moments sprinkled throughout the album as well and while this album is not the height of The Monkees recorded output it has over time become one of my favorite recordings by the group.

Note: Anyone interested in this album needs to check out, if you can, the 3 CD Super Deluxe box set that includes a plethora of unreleased songs, mixes and alternate takes that raise this album to one of the most interesting periods in The Monkees’ recording career.

As it stands though the album is a fine slab of late 1960’s pop/rock psychedelia that sure does have its moments! And those moments sound even more in your face and psychedelic when listening to the rare mono mix.

Anyway, long story short, for this post I’m starting 2018 with a few photos of some rare copies of vinyl I own of “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees” recordings (pictured above and below).

My favorite is the E.P. (extended play) 45 I own from Mexico that features the true mono mixes of “Valleri”, “Auntie’s Municipal Court”, “Tapioca Tundra” and “P.O. Box 9847”.

I know the mono mixes have been included in the Super Deluxe box set I mentioned above but there’s something much more powerful when listening to the mixes off a clean vinyl pressing.

The Mexican E.P. I own is in great shape and sounds superb – the songs just jump out of the speakers with a vitality that’s missing from the CD transfer. And since it includes two of my favorite songs on the album, “Auntie’s Municipal Court” and “P.O. Box 9847”, it’s probably my favorite vinyl issue I own of “Birds and Bees” recordings.

Unfortunately I don’t own a true mono vinyl pressing of the whole album but I’m ever hopeful to stumble across one without taking out a mortgage!

The other two pressings shown are a mono copy of the album that was pressed in Brazil (not the true mono mix unfortunately but a fold down) and a really nice stereo copy of the album from France.

All of these pressings come from my early days on ebay and were obtained fairly cheaply I might add. I got quite a lot of rare material about fifteen or twenty years ago when ebay first burst on the scene.

So, enjoy these photos and throughout the year I’ll add more cool variations of this and The Monkees “HEAD” and The Beatles “White Album” in celebration of their big 5-0!

Mmmmmmm!

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It Was 50 Years Ago (Plus Two!) … Monkees 50th Anniversary in review

And now for something completely different …

I know the 50th Anniversary posts a keep a comin’ but since there are so many fun anniversary releases that have come out in the past few years I just can’t resist posting photos and stories of  them.

Since I didn’t have this blog two years ago, I thought it might be fun to do a quick overview of some of the special items that came out in 2016 for the 50th anniversary of The Monkees TV show and recordings!

And of course I, as usual, happened to snag quite a few of the record and memorabilia that came out that year and above and below you can take a gander a some of my favorite releases from that year-long Monkee fest (has it really been two years already?!!)

As you can see, record releases were full of color that year! One of my favorite releases was the box set of all colored vinyl called the Classic Album Collection. It came out as part of Record Store Day that year and was also released in a cool CD version that was available at independent record stores.

There was also a special blue vinyl copy of The Monkees first album available at FYE record stores as well as a special red vinyl copy of “Live 1967” that was sold through the Collector’s Choice Website (see photos of each).

Note: FYE also issued an exclusive version of the Monkees “Good Times!” CD which included Peter Tork’s song “A Better World” as a bonus track. You can see the rear of that CD in the photo of the FYE blue vinyl copy of “The Monkees.” lp.

There were some questionable releases like the cereal box reissues and dolls which were both fun but not necessary. As you see I did buy them  – a sickness I know.

I guess you can also include the reproduction of Micky Dolenz’s, as he calls it table cloth, poncho that was sold with merchandise tables at tour stops on the Monkees 50th Anniversary Tour which hit my town earlier that summer.

I did also manage to interview  Peter Tork for the second time and write a couple of articles about the “Good Times!” reunion album.

Click below if you want to read any of those articles or listen to my interviews with Peter Tork: 

http://www.mulberrygrovebooks.com/id1.html

All in all it was a fantastic year and one of the best celebrations of The Monkees and truth be told maybe one of my favorite reunion years because the “Good Times!” album was so good and I got to help promote it through my work as a journalist.

Oh, and the mother of all Monkees releases (IMHO) also came out that year – the Blu-Ray box set of all the Monkees TV episodes which included their movie HEAD and 1968 TV special 33 and 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee! I just included a small photo of the discs as I plan to do a later post highlighting the box by itself.

So feast your eyes on some groovy 2016 Monkees items!

Items include

50th Anniversary Classic Album Collection – vinyl and CD box sets

Four cereal box records

Monkees Logo shaped picture disc of “Saturday’s Child” / “You Just May Be the One” – TV versions

Instant Replay – Friday Music re-release CD

Live 1967 – red vinyl release

Two Monkees dolls 

Reproduction of Micky Dolenz 1967 poncho worn on the TV show several times.

Discs covers from the Monkees Blu-Ray TV show collection

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