I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap Special Edition: Best Reissues of 2009. We're talking pop-rock this year, though in previous years I was more open to persuasion and all things Al Green. Methodology? I missed that day in school.
1) Various Artists – Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 [BOX SET]
Had been there, but been square… well, mostly too young yet to hop over the hill from the Valley into L.A. proper or improper. The Whiskey a Go Go, the Roxy and so would come later, but I sure discovered radio big time, mostly pre-FM rock AM Top 40-style KRLA, KHJ Boss Radio, and weak sister KFWB (big-muscled R&B and brother Wolfman “XERB” Jack, shipped out to Mexico, had to be listened to clandestinely late at night under the covers).
The artists on this Rhino collection of L.A. Nuggets are indeed various and while this box set celebrates a cross-section of commercial Sunset Stripoids with obscurities from the likes of the Doors to Love, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Seeds, and Sonny and Cher, it does take time out to recognize some rarely heard garage rock and psychedelia featuring The Guilloteens, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Velvet Illusion (“Acid Head”), and Captain Beefheart (“Zig Zag Wanderer”); some intriguing finds like the harmonizing Chymes and the off-kilter folk-rock and horns of Everpresent Fullness (who brought with them a coulda-been career and noteworthy backstory); and some solid reminders such as the Merry Go Round – the infectious L.A. hit “Live” isn’t here, but one-hit wunderkind leader Emitt Rhodes’ “Listen, Listen!” is more than listenable. As are early efforts by Lowell George, Warren Zevon, and startling ones by showbiz kids Peter Fonda and a toughened-up Dino, Desi, and Billy, transformed bubblegummers who have to contend with the fact that they’re now, apparently… “The Rebel Kind”!
Indeed, Los Angeles Nuggets fascinates with parallel-universe hit parade highlights on those familiar artists undertaking the uncharacteristic, such as the”Happy Together” Turtles’ sneering rendition “Grim Reaper of Love” (“Killing the living / And Living to kill / Grim Reaper of Love thrives on pain / People beware” ). And though I have a feeling that Ozzie and Harriet would just say No, the irrepressible Rick Nelson’s “mind starts groovin’” — sitars and all – on “Marshmallow Skies.” I was brought back down to earth, however, by the no-nonsense Buffalo Springfield, for Stephen Stills original “Sit Down I Think I Love You,” but, for what it’s worth, I found that compared to the shimmering pop gem that was Mojo Men’s 1967 hit version, nowadays Furay can’t even sing.
Keith Allison, though, a Paul McCartney lookalike and future member of Paul Revere and the Raiders, did all right with writing and recording the Nuggets entry “Action, Action, Action,” which became the theme song for Dick Clark’s TV show Where the Action Is. Amongst the more personally precious nuggets Rhino has unearthed – go-to CD tracks that were once modest hurry-up-and-wait radio pop tunes or record collection cast-offs when “cooler” trends or puberty kicked in – are Yellow Balloon’s K-tel catchy “Yellow Balloon,” and the tremulously tuneful and sublimely stuck-in-your-head “Roses and Rainbows” by pre-Three Dog Nightman Danny Hutton. Of course, with 101 tracks sending all sorts of mixed pop-cultural signals, many social grooves will be aligned through your head from the first, the Standells bugged-out “Riot on Sunset Strip” to the last track, “Inner-Manipulations,” by a mellowed-out and meandering Barry McGuire, resigned to the fact that, hey, “I could get my fill on the changes that keep going down… do do do do do…” That’s not the kind of thing I may not want him to tell me “over and over and over and over again my friend!” I may have gotten the impression we were on the eve of destruction, when I was warned to “Take a look around you boy / It’s bound to scare you boy!”
Then again, if it looks like “McGuinn and McGuire just a-gettin' higher in L.A. / You know where that's at” — and I decide the novelty has worn thin on where the action is not, there is that option to change tracks and move on to any other of the 100 Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968. Another plus of treasure hunting in the richly musical L.A. Basin!
2) The Beatles – The Beatles Stereo Box / In Mono [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED]
Monaural? You’re soaking in it… Actually, I’m not taking sides in the mono versus stereo debate, only to the extent to note that both formats, with the expertise finally given to the two, are vastly superior to what had come before (oh, those “simulated stereo effect” Capital LPs!). So I’m still experimenting with the subtleties in sound between the two sets (I have the mono set and a quite a few of a growing collection of individual stereo CDs, including my favorite, Revolver), being both subjective – when the occasion calls for it — and objective. I tend to favor the remastered stereo so far, except for those isolated cases like the mono A Hard Days Night, comparing it a lot to the colossal, full-frontal (yes!) sound that overwhelmed a nine-year-old neophyte me and a Corbin Theater full of screaming and staggered kids and teens back in 1964. I also looked for which retained McCartney’s melodic bass lines best, and except for, say, a blurry bottom in “You Won’t See Me” on the stereo Rubber Soul (maybe I’m used to the punched-up mono clarity because that edition was a birthday present from a cool cousin in ‘65), I found it to be a draw so far, “Paperback Writer” included.” In any case, I was satisfied that the annoying percussion in “You’re Going to Lose that Girl” in both the Help! stereo and mono soundtracks got smoothed over and the vocal “ribit” (I think it’s Ringo doing)toward the end of “Good Day Sunshine” on both sets’ Revolver was retained. Anyway, I resolve to find more time and money to spend in 2010 in devotion to Beatle-y pursuits, to at once and for all spend late nights all alone with a test-tube and indicate precisely what I mean to say. Ribit.
3) R.E.M. – Reckoning [2 CD Deluxe Edition] [EXTRA TRACKS] [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED Reckoning originally came out in 1984 in an era when Stipe sat down like an embodied murmur on the American Bandstand steps during Q&A, but swung like a banshee in a drenching rain onstage in one of the best live shows I’d seen back then. It was one of those jingle-jangle mourning recordings bound to have a harrowing affect on me, mostly due to the haunting “So. Central Rain.” Who says you can’t do anything about the weather?
4) Neil Young - After the Gold Rush [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED] Remastered, yes, but always masterful, cohesive, and one of the most evocative albums I’ve ever heard.
5) The Pixies – Minotaur (Deluxe) I was once dropped off into the middle of the Arizona desert to run a record store and, oddly enough, I was turned on to records by this new Boston band called the Pixies. I was saved by loudQUIETloud. But no one cared because I was in the middle of the Arizona desert. Monster Pixies here.
6) Nirvana – Bleach (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) [EXTRA TRACKS] [DELUXE EDITION] New and improved with tiny enzymes of Cobain!
7) The Dukes of Stratosphear - 25 O'Clock [ENHANCED] [LIMITED EDITION] [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED You’ll randomly hear the colors and see the sounds. For precisely 67:28.
8) Big Star - Keep An Eye On The Sky [BOX SET] [ENHANCED] [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED] Now I never travel far, without a big Big Star… invisible men who can sing in a visible voice…
9) Lou Reed – New Sensations [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED] Coney Island… Maybe. But I’ll take it.
10) The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses 20th Anniversary (2CD/1 DVD Deluxe Edition) [ENHANCED] [EXTRA TRACKS] They just want to be adored… Is that so wrong?