This months starts with a classic from the mid-2000s: Franz Ferdinand’s debut album Franz Ferdinand (2004) – a band I was anti-hyped against back then, but thankfully that wore off quickly. A terrific and essential band of the Noughties.
Next up is Around and Around, an odd compilation from 1964 by the Rolling Stones. It was an essential record for the German (and French) market back then. The music, of course, is good and as sloppy as the front and back cover art.
We then revisit Grant Green’s The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark – recorded in 1961/62, but not published until decades later. Very weird, as it is top-notch quality, if somehow within known standards. I revisit and re-revisit this one often, because I can’t quite wrap my head around how high the quality of the music is against how standardised it sometimes sounds. Fascinating guitar jazz.
Last entry for the month is Out of Frequency (2012) by the Asteroids Galaxy Tour, their second album. This was fresh and spirited indie psych-pop, I’m still very fond of it. Well, there we are.
Still tying up loose ends of the CD-shelf, so there are box set, side projects and the dodgiest kind of compilations: newbie baiting.
We start with the Leonard Cohen-box set The Complete Studio Albums Collection(2011). This came at a neat price, but has a wiff of deceit and squalidness coming from the business end of things… still, got this when it was still reasonably cheap and it’s neat. Read more for details.
Next up are John Cale and Brian Eno with their one-off duo effort Wrong Way Up (1990) – synth-pop I don’t like or understand from two artists I do love and understand. Well.
For something completely different, let’s take a look at the Impulse!-CD-edition of an epochal classic: John Coltrane’s 1965-free jazz sermon Ascension. Now this is a must.
We close with another weird blues compilation from the early 2000s, so when the CD as a format started to decline while good old music was legally available for reissues: King of Guitar Evangelists (2004) by acoustic Texas blues majesty Blind Willie Johnson. This compilation has its heart in the right place and was curated by Gérard Herzhaft who is without overstatement a legend, literally the author of the Encyclopedia of the Blues. But this compilation had no other function than to avert a new audience with its budget price – le’ts hope it did!
That’s it for the album reviews. I also wrote a little something about the old master of piano blues, Roosevelt Sykes. So have fun.
Before we start, the answer is 131 sides. Roosevelt Sykes issued 131 sides on 66 singles between 1929 and 1942. One side was by another artist.
On May 29, 2022, an Arkansas blues historian shared these pictures on Twitter:
They are from the Heroes of the Blues card set by R. Crumb (texts by Stephen Calt).
Here’s a quote on blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes from the card above: “He […] produced nearly 125 sides between 1929 and 1942”. Hm. The cards are neat, but the person tweeting these images asked a very good question: What are we to make of the statement that Sykes recorded “nearly 125 sides”. I mean, this is obviously a clunky way to phrase it, right? (“Beethoven wrote nearly ten symphonies”).
I couldn’t sleep at night because of this, let’s look into it.
To clear up something half-obvious: a side in this context refers to one song on one side of a single disc. Singles were usually double-sided.
So how many sides by Sykes are there, from the beginnings (1929) to the end of the period mentioned on the Crumb-card (1942)? To find out, I first looked into what’s available nowadays. For this, it’s usually best to take a look at the series put out by the Document label. I then cross-referenced this with Stefan Wirz’ online-discography and the professional discography Blues and Gospel Records: 1890–1943 by Robert Dixon and John Godrich (Dixon/Godrich) to see what had been issued at the time, but might not be available today. Of course, I also wanted to know what had not been issued back then, but is issued now. Let’s see.
The Document-series: 125 sides
The Document-series of Roosevelt Sykes’ complete recordings in chronological order feature 165 tracks total from 1929 until 1943 (it’s the first seven volumes). 4 of these tracks (the last four on Vol. 7) were recorded in 1943, so the series features 161 tracks total from 1929 until 1942. 30 of these 161 tracks are credited to other artists, meaning the series features 131 tracks credited to Sykes for said period, 1929 until 1942.
Now, 4 of these 131 tracks appearing on the Document-CDs were never issued before, so they don’t belong among Sykes’ issued sides from the time. This takes the amount of sides published up until 1942 down and leaves us with 127 tracks on the Document-CDs as originally published sides.
However, two song titles, “Essie Mae Blues” and “Dirty Mother for You”, appear twice. The reason being that Sykes recorded numerous songs in nearly identical takes, for example “Essie Mae Blues”, matrix number 67469-A and 67469-B. This was common practice, of course. Sometimes, both takes were used as master takes for distributed singles, treated interchangeably, as identical tracks (which they assumably were, in the grander scheme of things and material music business). So a single would either feature take A or take B but have the same catalogue number, as the takes are virtually non-distinguishable. This is only problematic insofar as the Document-series in one of those cases gives you both of these near-identical takes as two individual tracks, while these were not, in fact, takes issued as different singles. They were used for the same single with the same catalogue number.
So subtract these two takes, and we arrive at 125 sides actually issued on singles findable on the Document-series.
Dixon/Godrich-discography: 131 sides
As the Document-series is neither necessarily complete, nor an indication of what had been issued nor what had been unissued at the time, let’s look at the catalogue-numbers culled from a professional discography.
The discography Dixon/Godrich lists 158 individual matrix-number-entries for this period. 25 of these are listed as originally unissued and can be subtracted, suggesting 133sides issued.
However, commonly the discography lists the “identical takes” used for the same single (as described) above under one entry, like this: “67469-A-B”. This means both takes A and B had been used for the single of this catalogue number. The discography then skips this habit for the two takes of “Eight Ball Blues”, wich each get an entry (67466-A, and 67466-B, respectively), and for “Dirty Mother for You”. For the latter, actually three takes were used interchangeably for the single, and these three takes receive two entries. So there’s two entries for “Eight Ball Blues” and for “Dirty Mother for You” where there arguably should be only one for each. We deduct these entries, and this gets us to: 131 sides for actually issued singles.
Stefan Wirz’ discography: 131 sides
So far, so good. To use a further control mechanism, Stefan Wirz’ unique single-discography mentions 66 singles (132 sides) for this period, and since there is only one side by Sykes on Champion 50071 (the other side is credited to Jimmie LaRue), this gives us 131 sides.
(Technical note: Wirz lists the single Decca 7874 twice, so deduct those, and we arrive at 129. Yet since Wirz’ list in turn omits the two sides on Decca 7252 (“Driving Wheel Blues” / “Barrelhouse Man”), we can add them, and are back at 131 as the originally published sides credited to Sykes for the period 1929–1942.)
What the Document-series misses
The Document-series misses six tracks in total that are listed in the discographies (this makes sense: 125 + 6 = 131). 4 sides indicated in the discography by Dixon/Godrich as originally published do not appear on the Document-CD: A doubled-sided single that was never actually found, and two B-sides that simply weren’t reissued on CD.
This brings the number up to 129 originally published titles. And lastly, both the Dixon/Godrich-discography and the Wirz’-discography list the single Champion 16558, “Steady Grinding” / “I Can’t to Save My Life”, which also does not appear on the Document-series (presumably because it is credited to “Sykes & Johnson”, as in Mary Johnson). But I follow the discographies to include it: We’re back at 131 originally issued titles, 125 of which are nowadays available on Document.
How many sides where there, now?
131 sides. Well, we sort of reverse-engineered this by seeing what’s available nowadays on CD and then filling in the holes with discographical information about matrix-numbers, different takes, issued and unissed sides et cetera.
The whole thing gets a lot easier if we don’t ask about how many sides he recorded, but instead just count the different catalogue numbers of the published singles with different song titles on them. The answer is, as should be obvious by now, 66 singles, 131 sides of which are credited to Roosevelt Sykes from 1929 to 1942. (This disregards all his sideman work, but that was the premise).
Crumb’s “nearly 125 sides”
Now let’s try to make sense of the statement on the Crumb-card: Roosevelt Sykes recorded “nearly 125 sides”… what the hell is that supposed to mean? Why this oddest of phrases, as opposed to “about 125 sides” or “at least 124 sides” or something sufficiently vague? Here go my thoughts: The cards were made in 1980, before the Document-series, before the CD-era. So all expert Stephen Calt, who wrote the bios, had to go on were discographies, LP-compilations and, well, the real sides.
Here is my iffy guess: We established that Sykes had initially issued 131 sides. Sykes used a number of pseudonyms during his career. The most contested of these was “Dobby Bragg”. By 1980, it was already assumed that Dobby Bragg is Roosevelt Sykes, but it was not completely settled and uncontested in all corners of the galaxy. 8 sides are credited to Bragg (2 of which were lost to history, never found). So assuming they didn’t count the sides by Bragg, we end up at 123 sides credited to Sykes. Then give or take some confusion about attribution: Do we count the sides credited to Sykes & Johnson? Yes, we do. (But remember, the Document-series doesn’t). Then there’s another single credited only to Johnson, with Sykes accompanying her. Should we count that one, too? Because that would add two sides…
That would make it… well, nearly 125 sides.
I don’t know, but this is as far as this got me. I would have liked to take a look at the Dixon/Godrich edition from 1969 (the one available to Crumb and Calt in 1980), to see if there was less information available, less sides noted, or anything. But it isn’t available where I live.
I get so sad and emotional about these things. I get up, make coffee, and I just see the brown bubbles come up and disappear. I stand there, I get back pains.
Rummaging through the back end of my CD shelf, so there is highly questionable stuff here.
A welcome encounter was the CD version of Kula Shaker’s 1997 EP Summer Sun – I think this is the only „Extendend Play“ on CD I ever purchased, and with six songs clocking in at 21 minutes, it’s a splendid little mash-up of britpop and raga-psychedelia. Very neat.
Stylistically consistent, we continue with Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (1967) from thirty years earlier – there’s nothing much to add about this classic of Summer-of-Love-mythology, and Kula Shaker sure got a healthy dose from this. The bonus tracks on this CD are very good, some straight Kaukonen-blues.
And now for the dingy and disappointing backwaters of the CD shelf: a 2005 compilation of electric soul blues master Albert King, entitled Born Under a Bad Sign & Other Hits – the title gives away that this is not the album classic you’re looking for, it’s a desperate, but not despicable compilation, actually featuring a non-album single. I don’t remember where I but this, but I was young and on a budget. I do remember that I wanted to original (much more expensive) album Born Under a Bad Sign though and thought: Ah, this is just as good. Well it isn’t and I never got around to buy the actual thing. Compilations like these can deal real and long-lasting emotional damage, as you can see.
Which leads us to the next compilation, from 1996: The Weight by The Band. Now this is just a weird and cynical cash-grab of a CD with no value. I got this from my uncle as kid, since my father once introduced him to The Band through their first album, If I remember correctly. Anyhow, as even the thriftstore in my town doesn’t accept CDs anymore (he can’t resell them, no takers), I don’t know what to do with it.
Since I don’t create single blog entries for my reviews anymore, let’s try a new format. Here we go:
First up is 2009’s Frequencyby IQ – a canonized neo-prog band, and since this isn’t really my cup of tea, I feel bad reviewing it. I only have this since my brother-in-law was and is part of the German neoprog-revival of the early 1990s, and since I review everything in my collection, here we go.
Then there’s 1996’s Moseley Shoalsby Ocean Colour Scene – probably the best ‚also-ran‘-album of the late britpop era. It grew on me!
I try to grapple with 2008’s Psiche by Paolo Conte, where he messes with sophisti-pop and chanson – not too great, but there’s a classic on here.
2012’s Seeed by Seeed is another unfortunate entry, my sister gave it to me and I hate it, this kind of empty dancehall with a pseduo-self-ironic wink. Sorry for the negativity, I usually don’t write about things I dislike, it’s an accident.
And finally 1994’s At the Dear Head Inn by Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, recorded in 1992, reunites Jarrett with Motian after almost 20 years and brings him back to the venue of his early days. It’s exactly what you would expect, pretty neat piano cool jazz.
Rating: 8.1/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: Genre Classic Released: 1973 Specific Genre: Hard Rock, Rock Opera Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Progressive Rock, Symphonic Rock Label: Track
1.1 I Am the Sea 1.2 The Real Me 1.3 Quadrophenia 1.4 Cut My Hair 1.5 The Punk and the Godfather 1.6 I’m One 1.7 The Dirty Jobs 1.8 Helpless Dancer 1.9 Is It in My Head? 1.10 I’ve Had Enough 2.1 5:15 2.2 Sea and Sand 2.3 Drowned 2.4 Bell Boy2.5 Doctor Jimmy 2.6 The Rock 2.7 Love, Reign o’ver Me
Can you see the real me?
Where Tommy (1969) staked its claim as progressive rock by fusing the posture of hard rock with the aesthetics of an all-frills, no-shame broadway show extravaganza, Quadrophenia decidedly takes its cues from Richard Wagner – in posture and attitude, I mean, less in musical terms. A Ring of the Nibelung with a cockney setting, this is Rock Opera with capitals. Everything about it is enormous: the riffs, the vocal arcs, how it shifts between ethereal, foggy gentleness and hard-driving rock&roll with in a song (“Punk and the Godfather”, “I’m One”), the way the motifs and choruses built up and intertwine within a song and across the double-LP. And Wagner does loom large musically on Entwistle’s valkyrian, otherworldly French horn motif dominating the album (it shows up throughout, but check out “Helpless Dancer” for quick reference).
Re-using the overture/”underture” idea from Tommy with recurring motifs, it is difficult to single out songs as highlights – what I’m left with after going through the first two sides is just an overall sense of high-quality music (again, a ‘classical’ reception mode transported through a number of pure hard rock riffs). I remain slightly suspicious of how they beef up the songs with big horn sections and the symphonic keyboard element (pretty new stuff for this context back then) – the Who’s unique strength lay in both mass and volatility, and while this is a massive album, its tide-like, imperative pull is dampened somewhat the longer it runs, as evermore mass comes at the cost of sustainable excitement. Yet this is possibly the Who’s “largest” realized project, and as such: a sure classic in the field of high-concept hard rock.
Rating: 5.8/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: for Fans Released: 1972 Specific Genre: Pop, Pop Rock Main Genre: Pop Undertones: Rock&Roll, Baroque Pop, Country Pop, Vaudeville Pop, Traditional Pop, Orchestral Pop, Folk Pop Label: RCA Victor
1 Take 54 2 Remember (Christmas) 3 Joy 4 Turn on Your Radio 5 You’re Breakin‘ My Heart 6 Spaceman 7 The Lottery Song 8 At My Front Door 9 Ambush 10 I’d Rather Be Dead 11 The Most Beautiful World in the World Bonus Tracks: 12 What’s Your Sign? 13 Take 54 14 Campo de Encino 15 Daybreak
Now this time through, we want everybody to listen to the punchline
Nilsson had hit it big time with the predecessor Schmilsson (1971), but as the B-movie theme of this son-of-album suggests, that success in hindsight might be something like the real life equivalent of The Dude actually getting his rug back. On Son of Schmilsson, Nilsson still straddles the thin line of parody vs. rip-off successfully for the most part, though the sleep-walking confidence is replaced with the lumbering gait of a very lucky drunkard. Evenly divided into earnest, sentimental crooner-anthems of traditional pop or vaudevillian ditties on the on hand and, on the other hand, straight rock&roll parodies, self-referential and thoroughly camp in nature, this album is a showcase of executing (in both senses) genre-stereotypes. Suspicion arises this might work better rated as straight comedy, not music.
While the actual fluff like the wannabe-Crosby-christmas of „Remember“ or the Beach Boys/calypso sent-up of “The Most Beautiful World in the World” makes me chuckle faintly, his stab at wistful country pop ballads, “Joy”, is possibly one of his funniest songs, especially when the cowboy runs out of ways to explain the cycle of relationships: “Things went good, things went bad. Good. Bad. Good, bad. Guuh, baaahhh, guh-bah…”. And „Turn on Your Radio“ or „The Lottery Song“ prove again just how closely Nilsson listened to Lennon/McCartney’s folk pop songcraft of „Blackbird“ or „I Will“ – nowhere near that quality though. These musically competent statements are nothing new to Nilsson and nothing he hadn’t done better before.
But in line with an album containing actual burps, ironic audienc-cheering and someone gurgling liquids and spitting them out as a rhythmic device, almost all the other songs are genre exercises and could be titled „Son of Country Pop“, „Son of Baroque Pop“, „Son of Rock&Roll #2“ or „Son of McCartney“ and so on. If Zappa is Ween’s direct antecedent, Nilsson is their silly uncle. The genre exercises are the interesting aspect of the record, though for different reasons. As mentioned, „Joy“ just is a terrific send-up – a caricature, but highly listenable. After the gorgeously gentle „Turn on Your Radio“, the rocking revenge boogie „You’re Breaking My Heart“ features lines like „You’re breaking my heart / you tear it apart – so fuck you“. This is 1972, show me something like this on, say, Exile on Main St. and I’ll show you Lennon’s coked up drinking buddy. Then show me something like this on a record targeting unsuspecting Burt Bacharach-fans and I’ll show you a bewildered Nilsson: ‘You didn’t get the Schmilsson-message the first time? Well, fuck you.’
The beatlesque „Ambush“ is an inconspicuous piece of baroque pop rock grandeur – really one of Nilsson’s quasi-highlights, with the project idea being: What if “Hey Jude” didn’t quite work, wouldn’t that be fun? Nilsson makes a point of purposely dulling down the song, taking way too obviously long with his endless crowd-cheering („Alright… alright… alright…… alright…“). Still, give it a quasi-spin! „I’d Rather Be Dead“ is silly filler vaudeville pop, „The Most Beautiful World in the World“ is just a general fuck-you to album closers, utilising a deranged calypso pop hook violated by Mary Poppins – Nilsson concludes this quasi-concept album about being a quasi-slave to pop culture (productively and receptively) with another musical nod to cheap sequels: „See you next album!“.
So indeed, there’s a lot of pop competence and a lot of bitter meta-jokes on this album. I didn’t even mention the albums’ best song, the bouncy and indirectly media-critical pop rock of „Spaceman“, since it simply is not the focus of interest: More than half of the album is Nilsson gleefully goofing off, unwilling to care for quality if it doesn’t just happen.