Monday, November 19, 2018

BADFINGER Expanded editions reviewed!



Stephen SPAZ Schnee reviews Real Gone Music's 
expanded reissues of 
BADFINGER and WISH YOU WHERE HERE


There’s no story in Rock ‘n’ Roll more tragic than the story of Badfinger. What started out as a dream-come-true for all four members – Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Mike Gibbins and Joey Molland – ended up a clusterfuck of bad luck and tragedy. If you want to know more about Badfinger, author Dan Matovina wrote a fantastic biography entitled WITHOUT YOU: THE TRAGIC STORY OF BADFINGER so you should try to track down a copy of that. For this review, I’ll summarize the band’s career leading up to the release of their two albums on Warner Brothers:

British rock quartet The Iveys signed a deal with The Beatles’ Apple Records label. They recorded an album, but it received limited release to little fanfare. They changed their name to Badfinger (replacing Iveys member Ron Griffiths with Molland) and Paul McCartney wrote and produced their first hit single “Come And Get It.” Badfinger achieved more success with their singles “No Matter What,” “Day After Day.” and “Baby Blue”. Harry Nilsson recorded a massively successful version of the Ham/Evans-penned “Without You.” By 1972, the band was having issues with their management and Apple Records, which was experiencing problems of its own. When ASS, their long-awaited follow-up to the 1971 hit album STRAIGHT UP was constantly delayed, they left Apple Records and signed with Warner Bros. in 1973.

OK, now you’re caught up…

When signed to Apple, Badfinger were constantly in The Beatles’ shadow. While they were proud of their affiliation with the Fab Four, the press would focus on The Beatles and constantly ask the members of Badfinger questions about them rather than focusing on whatever Badfinger release they were promoting. Switching from Apple to Warners was a creative and emotional break with the past, allowing the band to shake off those Beatles chains and spread their musical wings. ASS producer Chris Thomas stuck with the band, producing their self-titled debut for Warners. BADFINGER - released in February 1974 - was most certainly a stylistic change from anything the band had recorded up to that point. From the Country Rock flavored “Shine On” to the Average White Band-influenced “Matted Spam,” nothing was off limits, stylistically, for the band.


BADFINGER

Showcasing their skills as musicians and songwriters, BADFINGER was a bold attempt to move away from their ‘mentors’ and assume their own musical identity. However, the album’s broad musical palette might have been too much of a change for the record buying audience. Side One begins with the whimsical Ham ballad “I Miss You,” which was paired as a single with the album’s next track, “Shine On.” Molland’s restrained rocker “Love Is Easy” has a slight Glam influence and was an odd choice for a single, but perhaps this was a decision to prove that they were more than just a vehicle for Pete Ham’s Pop hits. Tommy’s “Why Don’t We Talk” is a great slice of Pop from Evans while “Island” is another fine Molland rocker. Side Two is especially eclectic. Beginning with the aforementioned AWB/Doobie Brothers-esque “Matted Spam,” the album takes a lot of creatively successful twists and turns. The Caribbean vibes of Evans’ “Where Do We Go From Here?” is followed by the gentle finger-picked Folk of Gibbins’ “My Heart Goes Out,” which then leads into Ham’s McCartney-esque ballad, “Lonely You.” Molland’s moody and emotionally powerful “Give It Up” and his rocking “Andy Norris” close the album. Though stylistically divergent, the tracks do fit together well, showcasing their individual talents. Fans who consider Badfinger a Power Pop fan may not find much on the album that fit that genre’s description but there is still so much to love on BADFINGER. Sadly, the album was greeted by a genuinely confused fanbase who had just gone out and bought ASS, which was finally released by Apple just two short months earlier. Record buyers had been waiting two years for new Badfinger music and were suddenly greeted with a pair of stylistically different albums in such a short amount of time. Needless to say, neither ASS nor BADFINGER made a big dent in the charts. (For the record, if “Lonely You” had been released shortly after “Day After Day,” it could have been a massive hit.)



Real Gone Music’s Expanded Edition of BADFINGER features a remaster of the original album, a previously unreleased song penned by Evans and ‘work in progress’ mixes of nine tracks from the album. These mixes are early versions of recordings that made the album in various early stages of mixing. To hear “Matted Spam” without the horn section and “Lonely You” without the lead guitar is quite fascinating. Every ‘work in progress’ mix is a must-hear for Badfinger lovers… which probably means YOU, the reader, since you’ve come this far!

WISH YOU WERE HERE

With two commercially unsuccessful albums under their belts, the band needed to rectify the situation and headed straight into the studio to record their second album for Warners. It has been said that the band were totally unprepared when they began recording WISH YOU WERE HERE, but you’d never know it by listening to the end results. Produced again by Chris Thomas, WISH YOU WERE HERE finds Badfinger refocused and at the peak of their Pop powers. Every single note on WYWH has a purpose. Every melody sounds like it floated down from Heaven. While the band may have spent the previous few years trying to escape the specter of The Beatles, WISH YOU WERE HERE, for all intents and purposes, is their ABBEY ROAD. Thomas’ lush and warm production manages to take the band’s excellent batch of songs to the next level. Recorded in 1974 under a lot of pressure, this is an album that sounds… timeless (Badfinger pun intended).

On previous Badfinger albums, Joey Molland had been the meat-and-potatoes Rock ‘n’ Roll glue that acted as a bridge between the Pop leanings of Ham and Evans. While he certainly proved he had a way with a melody on past albums (particularly on STRAIGHT UP), WYWH is when he really stepped up to the plate and offered up some absolute Power Pop classics. The album also focused on Joey’s harmonies with Pete, who would normally be paired up with Tommy in the past. For the first time, it was as if the ‘new kid’ was finally getting his time to shine.

Album opener “Just A Chance” (by Ham) has become an acknowledged Power Pop classic but hardly reveals the depth of the album. Gibbins’ “Your (sic) So Fine” is dominated by great Molland/Ham harmonies and a jaunty, Country Rock flavored vibe. Molland’s “Got To Get Out Of Here” is dark and brooding, as powerful as it is lovely. “Know One Knows” is another Ham gem (and was released as a single in some territories). Pete’s emotional “Dennis” closes out Side One. While everyone mentions the two medleys on Side Two, “Dennis” is essentially a medley of three Ham songs linked together by a similar lyrical theme. The final third of the song is stunningly beautiful. Side Two opens with “In The Meantime/Some Other Time,” a jaw-dropping medley of songs composed separately by Gibbins and Molland. The arrangement of the track combines Power Pop with just a hint of Prog. Molland’s tender “Love Time” follows, buoyed by some great harmonies and pretty melody. Evans makes his only songwriting and lead vocal appearance with the delicious Soft Pop of “King Of The Load (T).” The album’s closer, “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke” is another remarkable medley featuring a song by Pete joined at the hip with one by Joey. The melodic hooks of the track are carried along by a Rock ‘n’ Roll boogie groove that feels like it points towards the band’s future. STRAIGHT UP may be their most beloved album but WISH YOU WERE HERE is their masterpiece. The band’s internal issues, problems with their management and financial worries could have added tension that explains the muscular sound of the album, but Thomas must receive a lot of credit for the end results. He and the members of Badfinger created not only one of the greatest Power Pop albums of all time – it is #11 (out of 200) in John M. Borack’s SHAKE SOME ACTION 2.0 book – they also created one of the greatest albums of our generation. WISH YOU WERE HERE is an astonishing album from start to finish.

Unfortunately, Warner Bros. discovered that Badfinger’s manager had siphoned money from an account and they pulled the album from the shelves roughly two months after it was released. The band were forced to record yet another album but Pete Ham, devastated by the band’s financial issues, committed suicide in April 1975. That final album - HEAD FIRST - remained unreleased for over two decades.



Real Gone Music’s Expanded Edition of WISH YOU WERE HERE features a digital remaster of the album, a previously unreleased band demo of a song by Tom Evans, and 2018 mixes of eight of the album’s tracks. These modern mixes turn down some of the familiar elements of the released versions and focuses on vocals and instruments that were mixed down on – or out of - the final mix. The horn fanfare on “Got To Get Out Of Here” is stunning, making it sound like it was influenced by SGT. PEPPER. There are additional strings and unheard Molland vocal harmonies on “In The Meantime/Some Other Time.” There are some great horn blasts on “Just A Chance.” There’s a harmonica running loose on “Your So Fine.” And the list goes on. While these mixes will not necessarily replace the original mixes in fans hearts, it is a fascinating and often stunning new ‘look’ at this sorely underrated album.

Both of these releases were overseen by Badfinger biographer Dan Matovina. He definitely deserves a warm round of applause! 

Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

Friday, November 16, 2018

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: DONNY OSMOND/ONE NIGHT ONLY


DONNY OSMOND
ONE NIGHT ONLY
 (2CD)

Also available:

DONNY OSMOND
ONE NIGHT ONLY 
(DVD)


11.16.18


Sixty years ago, the journey began. From the humble barbershop beginnings of The Osmond Brothers quartet (Merrill, Jay, Alan and Wayne) in 1958 up through their Pop/Rock success in the early ‘70s with lil’ brother Donny on board, The Osmonds were far from a boyband created for teens and tweens. All throughout their career, their appeal has reached audiences of all ages. They wowed America during their appearances on The Andy Williams Show in the ‘60s and they’ve never really left the public eye since then. Who can forget their string of hits in the early ‘70s?  On top of that, Donny’s solo career was equally successful. And we can’t talk about The Osmonds without mentioning the Donny & Marie Show. Or Jimmy Osmond’s career as a singer and clever businessman.  Even when things got tough in the ‘80s, they would always bounce back. Their message of love and family permeated everything that they did. Regardless of what musical trends have come and gone over the last six decades, the Osmond family are still standing, still entertaining, and always moving forward while remaining proud of their legacy. They have a devoted fanbase that has stuck with them through thick and thin. And let’s be honest, the world would be a darker place had it not been for the Osmond family’s unwavering desire to bring joy into the music business.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

LARKIN POE: An EXCLUSIVE Q&A




VENOM & FAITH:
An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with LARKIN POE’s Megan and Rebecca Lovell.

SPAZ: Your album VENOM & FAITH is ready for release. How are you feeling about how the album turned out and the reaction you’ve had so far?
MEGAN LOVELL: Thus far, the response to VENOM & FAITH has been incredibly positive. We feel very fortunate to have a supportive and openminded fanbase; as we have continued to grow and shift over the years, honing our sound, our fans have been willing to make the musical journey of Larkin Poe with us.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

BOW WOW WOW/Your Box Set Pet (3CDs) reviewed!





BOW WOW WOW
YOUR BOX SET PET (3CDs)
(Cherry Red Records)


Best remembered for their U.S. hit, “I Want Candy,” in 1982, Bow Wow Wow was one of the most unique Pop bands of the ‘80s. And by calling them a ‘Pop’ band, that is high praise indeed. On paper, all the elements that made up the sound of Bow Wow Wow – the tribal drumming of Dave Barbarossa, the manic Funk plunking of bassist Leigh Gorman, the ‘50s guitar twang of Matthew Ashman, and the playful and mesmerizing vocals of Annabella Lwin – should NEVER have worked. Add the lunacy of early string puller Malcolm McLaren and you’ve got a band that should never have made it past one disappointing release before they imploded. However, that first release – YOUR CASSETTE PET (1980) – was far from disappointing. In fact, it was truly exciting and far exceeded expectations. Yes, it was strange but it was exactly what Pop music needed – a kick up the arse! Bow Wow Wow was a flying saucer with four different pilots that crash landed on earth and made a glorious sound. For the next three years, this quartet managed to raise a racket while serving up some massive tunes that still sound magnificent today. Cherry Red Records’ YOUR BOX SET PET compiles all of the band’s studio recordings together into one three CD set that is jam packed with loads of energy and more hooks than a fleet of pirate ships. And to think it all started when Adam lost his Ants…

Friday, November 9, 2018

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: LAURA JANE GRACE/BOUGHT TO ROT


LAURA JANE GRACE 
& THE DEVOURING MOTHERS
BOUGHT TO ROT
(Bloodshot Records)

Available NOW!

Whether or not you immediately recognize her name, musician/author/activist Laura Jane Grace has been on the international music radar for over two decades. As leader of Punk outfit Against Me!, Laura has blended honesty, Punk, audio blunt force trauma and Rock ‘n’ Roll into a fiery brew. Originally hailing from Gainesville, Florida, Laura and her Against Me! mates may not sound like the Rock legends that emerged from her hometown – Tom Petty and The Eagles’ Don Felder and Bernie Leadon to name a few – but she has certainly become a force to be reckoned with.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Shake 'n' Pop: BILLY BREMNER's Singled Out reviewed!


BILLY BREMNER
SINGLED OUT
(RPM/Cherry Red Records)

Available NOW!


Rockpile remains one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s most respected but commercially overlooked bands. In terms of credibility, how could you go wrong with a band featuring Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams? While Rockpile recorded albums that were credited to either Edmunds or Lowe, they only recorded one proper studio album under their collective name – 1980’s SECONDS OF PLEASURE - before the band split up. Nick and Dave continued their successful solo careers while Terry joined Dire Straits. The band’s secret weapon – guitarist/vocalist Bremner – also pursued a solo career as well as working with The Pretenders (that’s him playing lead guitar on “Back On The Chain Gang”), Shakin’ Stevens, and many others. He did appear on Lowe and Edmunds’ solo albums as well. While not as high profile as his former bandmates, Bremner has released four solo albums over the years and worked with a multitude of other artists. Often overlooked on his own merits, the best of Billy’s solo material has finally been compiled on the excellent SINGLED OUT collection courtesy of RPM/Cherry Red.

Friday, November 2, 2018

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: EXO/DON'T MESS UP MY TEMPO


EXO
DON'T MESS UP MY TEMPO

11.2.18


K-Pop is one of the most popular genres in music today. And if you have no idea what K-Pop is, you really haven’t been paying attention. In a nutshell, K-Pop – an abbreviation of Korean Pop – originated two decades ago in South Korea and combines smooth R&B, sparkling Dance Music, pulsating Electro and shimmering Pop into one perfectly produced package. While the K-Pop landscape is littered with both male and female artists, boy bands dominate the genre. While artists like N*Sync, Backstreet Boys and One Direction kept the U.S. market interested over the past two decades, K-Pop’s popularity began to rise. In the last few years, K-Pop has infiltrated the U.S. market and bands like BTS and Super Junior have taken the charts by storm. One of the most beloved and respected K-Pop groups today is EXO, an eight member Korean-Chinese group that features the multi-million selling solo artist Lay as a core member. Lay is making his EXO return on DON’T MESS UP MY TEMPO after two years on his own.