compilations

REVIEW: Deep Purple – 24 Carat Purple (1975)

DEEP PURPLE – 24 Carat Purple (1975 EMI)

I can’t resist reviewing this golden oldie, the first compilation released by Purple Records in 1975.  Purple had not yet broken up  — that wouldn’t happen for another year — but most of the members on this record had left the band.  It’s rarely a good sign when a band in their final death throes release a compilation album.

This CD is extraordinarily rare in these parts.  When I first started managing the Record Store at which I spent most of my years, I put my name in “reserve” for any used copies that may come in.  That was April 1996.  Here we are in June 2015, and I only just got it on CD.  I did get it on vinyl in the late 90’s, even though I have all the songs, because I enjoy having significant greatest hits albums in my collection.  (See point 4, “Historical significance”, in Getting More Tale #367.)  Unfortunately, as was the case with many CD issues from the late 80’s, the cover art isn’t even near the same colour as the original golden LP.  The CD renders it to a dark, pee-stain yellow.

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Saucy Aaron, from the KeepsMeAlive, texted me last month from Toronto, in Sonic Boom on Spadina.  “Cool Purple comp,” he texted.  “Very short though.”  He sent me a pic with a $7.99 price tag, and I told him to snag it!  That’s the kind of guy he is.  He saw a Purple compilation CD and texted me a photo, unsure if I’d even care, on the off-chance that he’d be helping out a fellow collector.  And he did!  All it needed was a new jewel case.

Because I have all the songs elsewhere, I haven’t played 24 Carat Purple in a long time.  It’s interesting that this, their first kinda-official hits album, only focuses on the Ian Gillan years, even though another version of Purple was currently functioning.  I suppose that makes sense, from a contemporary point of view.

“Woman From Tokyo” is a great track to get the party started.  I’ve only seen Purple once, on the Purpendicular tour.  I recall that this was tune that really got the dudes in their mid-40’s bouncing.  Now I’m in my mid-40’s, and I’m still bouncing to it.  It’s a nice, safe Purple single.  Jon Lord’s piano solo is, well, bouncy!  I defy you to sit perfectly still with this song playing.

More to my taste is the accelerated blast through the clouds that is “Fireball”.  To me, this track has it all — the perfect Purple mixture of adrenaline, speed, musicianship and that organ!  The live “Strange Kind of Woman” brings things back to a moderate pace.  Most of the time, I would be opposed to a live track substituting a studio version on a “hits” set, but Made in Japan was more popular than many of their studio albums!  This live take, complete with Ian laughing through some of the lines, is probably my favourite anyway.  Because Purple were as much a live act as an album band, one can easily make arguments for including live tracks of this stature.

“Never Before”, on the other hand, may have been a single but it’s nobody’s favourite Purple song.  Of all their singles, perhaps it is the most ordinary.  But at 4:00, it was about the right length to squeeze in before “Black Night” on a side of vinyl.  “Black Night” was the real treat for fans in 1975, since this was the live version released only as a B-side before.  This electric version is a must-own for its ferocity.  It was recorded at the final show of the three that were taped for Made in Japan.  Feedback-laden and ragged, this version of “Black Night” kills the others.

Side two of the record was devoted to long bombers, with “Speed King” coming in shortest at 5:50.  That means this is the full-on version of “Speed King” complete with intro, which was edited off American copies of Deep Purple In Rock.  For some listeners, this intro (purely 50 seconds of instrumental guitar-fucking and drum-wailing, followed by a mellow organ passage) would be completely new to them.  Normally you would expect a record label to plop on an edited single version.

Made in Japan is the source for the last two tracks, “Smoke on the Water” and “Child in Time”.  The mathematically inclined have probably already calculated that this means 24 Carat Purple is actually 57% live!  I think that’s OK in the long run.  Consider: “Smoke on the Water” in its live incarnation was released as a successful single.  The live “Child in Time” contains, according to my friend Uncle Meat, “the greatest guitar solo of all time.”  Since he said it, it must be true, and therefore inclusion of these two live versions is forgiven.

I feel like giving this long-deleted album a number rating is kind of meaningless.  Yes it was a great listen, but it’s just a compilation from a band that most people agree are an albums band.

3/5 stars

#364: Greatest Hits

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#364: Greatest Hits

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, greatest hits records have been around for as long as rock and roll has.  Elvis’ Golden Records, one of the most famous early greatest hits albums from 1958, has sold over 6 million copies.  Some believe it to be the  very first greatest hits album, ever.  Elvis only had four albums out at that point, one of them a Christmas record.  It was a selection of Elvis’ single A’s and B’s, and its success meant that it would be followed by many sequels.  (Interestingly, five hits on it were composed by the duo of Lieber and Stoller!)

A couple decades later, the Eagles released their best selling album of all time.  Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) has sold over 42 million copies to date, and is the third highest selling album in history.  Not long after, Aerosmith released their first Greatest Hits, a collection of single edits and radio versions of their best songs, and one non-album track (“Come Together”, from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack).  It has sold over 11 million copies.

These releases, and many more, have made greatest hits discs a lucrative cash cow for record labels.  On it on it goes; you’re not a success until you’ve released your first greatest hits disc.  Some bands have always resisted releasing collections of pre-existing music, others have not put such value in their integrity.  Hits albums are usually looked at with disdain by the die-hards and “purists”, but make an easy gateway purchase for people not (yet) interested in the discography.

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Why do die-hard fans look down on hits albums so much?

1. A more recent practice from the 1980’s and 1990’s was to include two or three new songs, forcing fans to buy old songs over again just to get the new ones.  It’s such a common practice now that it’s expected, but we still resent it.

2. Live versions. Even if we choose to buy or listen to a greatest hits album, a lot of the time the familiar original versions are replaced with inferior live ones.  Casual music listeners don’t usually seek live versions, and die hard fans usually already have the live albums.  It just serves to make the listening experience less than it should be.

3. While it is certainly not a rule, for the kind of music we listen to, a studio album is often a self contained work, not just a collection of songs.  There is usually a direction and purpose for the songs.  Listening to songs out of their intended context doesn’t always work, but nine times out of ten, they are best appreciated on the original album.

4. Who else but a die-hard fan would be a better self-proclaimed expert to criticize the song selections on a “greatest hits”?

5. Artistic non-involvement. Few hits albums have any input from the artists themselves.  Without the artist contributing, a greatest hits becomes just another product assembled by record company suits, most of the time.

6. Cash grab. Many greatest hits album stink of the whiff of “record company cash-grab”, usually at opportune times.

7. Snob attitude. “Don’t buy the greatest hits!  Just buy all the albums!”

What do you like about greatest hits albums?

lebrainsgreatest

REVIEW: Soundgarden – Telephantasm (2010)

SOUNDGARDEN – Telephantasm (2010)

Soundgarden was one of the first Seattle bands I tweaked onto, mainly because Soundgarden (and Alice in Chains) were the most metallic in their approach. I refused to call them grunge — not with riffs this Sabbathy and a singer who could have been Ronnie James Dio’s protege!

Soundgarden broke up for 13 years, and Chris Cornell started (in my opinion) a lucklustre solo career, while Matt Cameron fared better as the longtime drummer in Pearl Jam. There’s a certain renaissance for these kinds of bands now, what with recent critically acclaimed albums by Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam (and that new studio Soundgarden record) being very well received. Telephantasm acts as a sort of “Anthology” collection. Back in the 90’s this deluxe edition would have been considered a boxed set. Just that today, we’ve done away with the box! It’s not quite a greatest hits set (live versions of “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Pretty Noose” are subbed into for the familiar singles), and not quite a rarities set (9 of the 24 tracks are rare or unreleased).

What Telephantasm is, is a really good overview of one of Seattle’s best. From the Deep Six compilation to their final pre-breakup album Down on the Upside, this set chronologically presents Soundgarden at their very best, live and in the studio. Personally I haven’t listened to old Soundgarden in a while. I have a bunch of albums and singles at home, but after I quit the record store, I reverted back to my metal roots and didn’t listen to Soundgarden much anymore. For me, this was almost like the first time again. Hearing the songs in this new context didn’t take away from what they were on albums either.

TELEPHANTASM_0003Outstanding classics for me include: “Fopp”, “Superunknown”, “My Wave”, “Dusty”, “Burden In My Hand”, “Rusty Cage”, and “Spoonman”. I mean, every fan of musicianship absolutely needs a song in their collection with a killer spoons solo!

Outstanding rarities for me were: the video mix of “Fell On Black Days”, and live versions of “Pretty Noose”, “Flower”, “Blow Up The Outside World”, and a frenetic “Jesus Christ Pose”. Hard to believe that Cameron can play those complex rhythms live. Unbelievable!

Of course there is the much hyped “Black Rain”, an unreleased track from the Down on the Upside sessions. Sounds great. Could have been written for Badmotorfinger. Liner notes are excellent. There are two essays, one by guitarist Kim Thayil (who seems like one of the coolest guys in rock). There are a handful of photos and exhaustive credits. I’m not too keen on the cover art, but there is a big fold out revealing the whole thing, and it’s quite expansive.

Of course there’s the DVD, for some this will be worth the price of purchase alone! This is a pretty comprehensive collection of music videos including uncensored and international versions. For new fans who are upset that they didn’t get the studio versions of “Jesus Christ Pose” or “Pretty Noose” on the CDs, they are here on the DVD.

TELEPHANTASM_0005There is a bonus track on some versions — the unreleased song “The Telephantasm”. However the best way to get that song is to buy the 7″ single, which also includes a killer, killer live version of “Gun”. This is a brand new live version by the reunited band. If you want the truly complete picture of Telephantasm, go out and get that single while you still can. Also required, but much more expensive and still unacquired by me: There is a bonus track on the deluxe vinyl version of the album: “Beyond the Wheel”, live by the reunited band.  This is on a included 7″ single, which I would very much like to get.

Lastly I’ll have to say a few words about the mastering of this album. Unfortunately the “Loudness Wars” can add Soundgarden to its body count. The album was mastered way too loud, and it really takes its toll on the sound. You can really hear it on the cymbals. It’s unfortunate, since so many of these songs are previously unreleased. This is the only way you can hear them, and it’s not as good as it should be, thanks to the record company mastering this damned thing too loudly.

Regardless, the music is incredible.

4/5 stars