Thursday, 15 December 2011

Xmas 2011 compilation

As a modest thank-you to everyone who has taken an interest in my blog this year, I've put together a compilation of some of the songs from the late 60s / early 70s that I've most enjoyed in the past twelve months. It can be downloaded here:

Xmas 2011 Compilation

I haven't included the names of the artists or tracks - the first person to identify them all can either have a copy of Endless Trip sent to them, or any record they fancy from the Sunbeam catalogue.

A merry Christmas to us all, my dears!

PS Sorry, no prize for identifying the heroin-wracked Santa to the left.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Thin Lizzy: shades of a green label

Can anyone state definitively which of these is the first UK pressing? The matrix numbers are identical, and the only difference between the sleeves is that the one that came with the bright green label has a wider spine. Thanks.

Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll & The Trinity - Open

Released in November 1967, Open was the second LP on the great Marmalade label (the first was the Blossom Toes' debut, We Are Ever So Clean, which appeared simultaneously). There seems to be confusion as to what constitutes a first pressing, perpetuated by the usual self-appointed eBay experts, so I thought I'd clarify it here.

First pressings of Open came in thick, unlaminated card sleeves, and had textured labels. The majority were mono (607002), though a handful were pressed in stereo (608002). The cover gave some background info about Brian and Jools, but didn't mention the Trinity - guitarist Gary Boyle, bassist David Ambrose and drummer Clive Thacker. The very first batch of LPs remedied this on a square card insert:

Presumably the printing cost was too high to continue, as very few copies of it have surfaced.

Open wasn't a hit, but in April 1968 the band reached #5 with This Wheel's On Fire, prompting the album to be repressed, this time in a thinner, laminated cover and with smooth labels. The vast majority of copies are thus, but if it's a true original you're after, you need the much rarer unlaminated sleeve, with textured labels and insert. Glad we've got that one cleared up. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Beatles acetates: a nice little earner

As most people reading this will know, acetates are fragile lacquer discs that unfinished or as-yet unreleased music used to get pressed on. They were of temporary use for purposes such as reference amongst musicians and producers, quality testing for engineers, advance radio play, or publishers' demos. The point is, very few (if any) were made  for any given recording, and those that survive tend to have done so by accident. At this remove from the 1960s, collectors will pay huge sums for acetates that contain unreleased music or different mixes to familiar songs, and if the band in question is well-known, the price gets higher and higher. No artist is more collectable than the Beatles, so Beatles acetates are perhaps the most desirable of all. This is where it gets complicated. Unlike official releases, there is no way of telling how many acetates exist of a certain recording, and they're pretty easy to fake, seeing as they tended to have simple labels with hand-written or typed info, and plain sleeves. At any time on eBay these days there is a rash of potentially counterfeit Beatles acetates on sale. The main purveyor of them at the moment is based in Jordan, Minnesota. Check out his recent feedback by clicking here. That's $20,000 worth in the last month alone. Not bad, eh?

I emailed him to ask whether his astounding acetates (which span the whole of the Beatles' career) were the genuine article, and his response was as follows: "I cannot guarantee 100% that they are 1960s issues. If you have any doubts, please do not bid on them." Yet he allows no such doubt to cloud his listings - while offering no provenance for them, he simply claims they are 'RARE' and 'vintage' and on 'EMIDisc Records' (there was no such label, this was simply the brand name for EMI's blank acetate discs, which were also available for domestic use). I asked one of the world's leading rock memorabilia experts for his take on this extraordinary haul. He replied as follows: "I don't think John Lennon left these behind in Minnesota, but someone did leave a cutting lathe there, and the result is that a lot of unsophisticated people on eBay are buying worthless fakes. Unfortunately, people's desire for an unbelievable deal trumps common sense. I find that if the deal looks too good to be true, it almost always is - especially if the torrent of stuff never stops. If I thought any of it was remotely authentic, I'd be bidding on all of it, as would all the major dealers. Ridiculous stuff."

I also asked another expert - one of the best-known collectors in the US - for his take, and this is what he wrote back. "I can't recall anyone in the history of eBay offering so many Beatles acetates. To me the labels look wrong, and of course the discs aren't hard to make (after all, they made mono record cutting machines for home use in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, so there are still a lot out there). Assuming for a moment that they're all real, though, it's gotta be a damn short list of people that would have been in possession of all these, right? Like George Martin - but then, he was a tape man. So maybe someone like John Peel. But would he have had the early ones as well as the later ones? Whoever it was, if they had that many Beatles acetates, you'd wonder why they're selling them to an eBay dealer now, and you'd think they would also have some by associated acts like Gerry & The Pacemakers and Cilla Black, who are of course a lot less interesting to collectors."

I'm not going to accuse this seller of cheating his customers, but I am going to say that if these are real, the story behind them is guaranteed to be one of THE greatest record-collecting tales of all time, maybe the greatest... Perhaps he can post a comment here and tell it? In the meantime, this eBay thread makes for intriguing reading:

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Inside Creedence: the worst rock book ever written?

Creedence Clearwater Revival were so popular in 1969 that they even outsold the Beatles, but to a 1990s teenager like me they seemed almost obscure. Their albums were hard to obtain, reference books were vague, and Mojo - pretty much the only magazine that might have covered them - seemed resolutely uninterested. I was therefore intrigued to discover that a book had been written about them in their prime, by one John Hallowell, who'd been granted full access as they worked on Pendulum in the autumn of 1970. Only with the advent of eBay was I able to get my hands on a copy, sent from the US. I read it with mounting disbelief. The book may have been cranked out at considerable speed so it could be promoted alongside the LP, but Hallowell was the worst sort of wannabe hipster hack, and seemed to have no interest in the band beyond using them as a hapless vessel for his ludicrous metaphors ('If CCR is a car, John Fogerty is the steering wheel, Stu Cook is the clutch, Doug Clifford has to be the accelerator and Tom Fogerty the brake. It's that fast, close and complicated. The car itself? A Ferrari'), dream sequences (really) and patronising waffle ('you can't possibly get Inside Creedence without first getting inside each shaggy head, one by one'). There's also an uncomfortable homoerotic subtext to his descriptions of the band's magus, John Fogerty ('mahogany brown hair, eyes that never stop, and a taut body tuned to move, to move fast, like his motorcycle', 'John Fogerty looks like Heathcliff just out of Wuthering Heights', etc etc).

Hallowell was in fact a film writer for Life magazine, which explains the preponderance of tortuous celluloid references in his text ('It would help immensely if one were slightly stoned. Since I am not, the only thing I can do is pretend I am a camera' / 'the Creedence movie running nonstop refers constantly to all the images we've shared, from Nixon and TV commercials to Humphrey Bogart' / 'I decided to get each one alone, as soon as I could, for a close-up. There is no such thing as a star without a close-up', etc etc). Needless to say, it's extremely irritating, not only because of its poor style and scrambled presentation, but because it's such a wasted opportunity. The speed at which it was written is no excuse, as it's short and could clearly have been far better handled by an experienced music writer. Inside Creedence was ridiculed upon publication in January 1971. 'The book is marked by a complete lack of perception into the youth culture and its music', wrote Phonograph Record Magazine, while Rock Magazine said it was 'beyond linear comprehension' and that Creedence should 'be skulking around corners, red-faced at the image the book conveys', and Robert Christgau called it 'positively bad' in Village Voice. Nonetheless, there's a certain campness to its ineptitude ('Drummer Doug trains his eyes high up on the cloud formations: by now those swollen clouds are deep dark giants warring and making love over the earth'), and the photos, quotes and lyrics it incorporates make it worth picking up if you're a Creedence nut like me.