Thursday, April 25, 2019

Revisiting Tom Petty's Rejected Solo Album 'Songs From The Garage'!

When you consider how much money Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers had made for MCA Records by the late 80's that Tom Petty could turn in an album comprised of nothing but Mike Campbell's farts and the suits at the label would smile and say, "Thank you very much, may we have another?"

First off, everything Petty had touched since he hit L.A.a decade earlier had turned to gold and platinum, so when he turned in his first solo album to the label in 1988, the last thing he expected to hear was that MCA Records had rejected his album.

Usually, with an artist of that stature, you never reject anything, but, rather, suggest that he simply try writing a hit single. The goal is to coax the ego and not piss off the same fella who, in a fit of frustration in the studio, punched a brick wall with all he had a few years prior, requiring a team of top-secret bionics specialists led by Oscar Goldman to rebuild the hand.

After all, MONEY.

The guy is MONEY, has made you MONEY, and, if you are smart enough to just stay the f out of his way, will continue making you MONEY for decades.

Just put out the fucking album.

Instead, the executive brain trust at MCA, now full of accountants and James Spader wanna-be's, chose to insult one of their flagship artists.

Devastated, Petty and producer Jeff Lynne dove headlong into the recording of the first Traveling Wilburys album with Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Bob Dylan.

Released in October 1988, Traveling Wilburys' Volume 1 became a Top 5 smash hit, during which time a corporate bloodletting had taken place within the executive ranks at MCA, leading to the hasty exit of those involved in rejecting Petty's solo record.

The revamped A&R staff at MCA took one listen to the "new" Petty record, now titled Full Moon Fever, and loved it!

Keep in mind that the only changes to the "new" album were the addition of two new songs, neither of which became a single, and the new album title/cover shot.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Wilco's 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' Turns 17 This Month!!

Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" officially turned 18 years old yesterday. What did you do to celebrate?

We at Superior St. raised a glass to Jeff Tweedy who was fronted thousands of dollars by Warner Bros. to record this album in his own studio,

Amazingly, when the album was delivered to the WB, they took one listen and rejected it. Rather than re-tool or start over, WIlco chose to leave the label, taking their newly-completed album with them to shop to other labels.

They also posted it on the web in its entirety, allowing fans to download the album for free, building quite a buzz for the album in the process.

After talking to a few labels, WIlco simply signs to Nonesuch Records (a Warner label, as luck would have it), who then pays the band to license the masters to "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", making WIlco the first band to get a label to pay twice for the same album.
While Tweedy and guitarist Jay Bennett had been inseparable for much of the sessions, their competing chemical dependencies eventually led to misunderstandings and, before long, the two to begin sparring as Tweedy felt Bennett was trying to assume creative control of the band. When the amicable levee between these two broke, the damage was immediate, and big, and would lead to Bennett's messy departure from the band.

Despite millions of people downloading the album for free in the months leading up to its release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was officially released on CD and LP on April 23, 2002. A week later, the album entered the Billboard Top 20 - a feat no other Wilco album had come close to accomplishing.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Overthinking U2's 'Rattle & Hum'!

By the time The Joshua Tree was done holding MTV and every radio station in the country hostage, many die-hard fans of the band had had our fill of the band for awhile. After all, whatever level of popularity the band had achieved with "Pride (In The Name Of Love)", it was dwarfed by the success of The Joshua Tree's many singles, which pummeled us into submission like an ear-chomping Mike Tyson.

For those of us who had purchased the album when it was released, hearing one beloved song after another rendered utterly meaningless by non-stop radio and MTV airplay was a bitter pill to swallow.

As great as "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was on the first hundred or so listens, after the song landed on MTV, even die-hard fans were willing to help Bono find exactly what he was looking for if it meant that he'd stop singing the song for awhile.

Here in Chicago, we got a double dose of the Dublin when the band hit the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena) in April for a single show and again in October for a sold-out three-might stand.

 And then before we could catch our collective breath, the film "Rattle & Hum" was released, pushing the U2 and Paramount Pictures marketing machines into hyper-drive.

You couldn't go anywhere without hearing U2 or hearing about U2.

That would have been cool if Chicago had been the setting of the concert footage, as initially planned.

Sadly, for reasons known only to the producers of the film, the band chose to film in Denver rather than the Rosemont Horizon, thereby robbing Chicago of its rightful place in rock history.

So, how does the album hold up after all these years, you ask?

Opening the album with, of all things, a Beatles cover performed as a vehicle by which the band would "steal" the song back from Charles Manson. I remain just as puzzled by Bono's introduction today as I was then, but you've gotta love The Edge tackling this song with such wild abandon.

Judging by the band's current reliance on triggered parts and backing tracks, it is refreshing to remember a U2 that was capable of working up a stadium-size head of steam all on their own.

Has there ever been an album that successfully mixed live and studio cuts on one album?

Usually such albums are considered gap-fillers, allowing a band to cash-in on the sale of a full album without having to write an entire album worth of new material.

Was Rattle & Hum a gap-filler, you ask?

If not for the massive undertaking of the film for which the album exists, Rattle & Hum could be written off as a cash grab, but when you consider that the band financed much of the film themselves and that such films rarely made money, how much of a sure thing could it have been?

Seems an odd length to go to in order to buy yourself a little time until the next studio album is due, but that's how U2 rolled back then.

A song like "Desire" screams "hit single" but was it really a U2 song?

Seeing U2 take such a full swing at American blues was a great way to show respect for the history of the country they were currently liberating from their Bon Jovi and Poison records, but it was an ill fitting suit the band seemed to wear only as long as the cameras were rolling.

It is this writers fact-based opinion that anytime a band embraces American blues or early rock & roll, they have officially run out of ideas. U2 would be no different, as the sessions for their next record would show the band pulling their hair out to come up with a new musical direction to inspire creativity after years of touring their early material.

The last thing the band wanted to do on "Rattle & Hum", it seems, was sound like U2. Hence the absence of any material prior to The Unforgettable Fire.

While that's an admirable goal as an artist, it was a huge gamble to make the subject of a major motion picture.

To compensate, the band that had so wholeheartedly embraced atmosphere and nuance on The Joshua Tree began painting with broad strokes, free of any and all subtlety or originality: "All Along The Watchtower", "The Star-Spangled Banner", "When Love Comes To Town".

And just in case any of us still needed to hear "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", the band were nice enough to give us another version to add to the collection.

After a live reading of "Pride", the band transformed themselves into the Fabulous Thunderbirds for the "blues" portion of the evening, turning in the soulful "Angel In Harlem" and the backwoods moan of the U2/Bob Dylan-penned "Love Rescue Me".

To this day, I still find this musical excursion to be the most puzzling of the band's long career, and this is counting their ill-advised "Zoo TV" period.

Thankfully for all involved, the band snapped out of their blues stupor and closed out the album with a riveting live take on "Bullet The Blue Sky" and "All I Want Is You", a studio cut that always sounded like an outtake from The Joshua Tree, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Considering that the band has paid no real attention to the album since its release and subsequent multi-platinum chart run, it seems that the album's 30th anniversary (2018) might have merited an expanded edition re-issue, but no such luck.

This is a shame because there is reportedly an entire disc's worth of material, both live and studio, that was recorded for this project that has yet to see the light of  day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Deep Thoughts on CD/LP Release Of Cheap Trick's 'Epic Archives Vol 3'?

On April 26th, reissue label Real Gone Music will release the third and final volume in the Epic Archives collection that was, for a time, only available for streaming or download via Amazon, YouTube, Spotify, and other digital sites.

It was one thing to be able to stream these cuts whenever one felt the urge to revisit Trick's lesser-known gems, like "I Will Survive" from the "Gladiator" soundtrack or "Up The Creek" from the film of the same name starring guys who were so much better in "Animal House"!

Now that Real Gone has made all three volumes available in physical format, with Vol. 3 (1984-1992) available on a limited-edition two-LP set that was the highlight of Record Store Day 2019 for this writer.

 First off, dig this track listing:

1. Up the Creek (Acappella Intro)

 A truly underrated gem, with Jon Brant's baddest bass line. Should it have been a bit? Only if the band wanted to be singing "I'm Up the Creek" on "Conan" 30 years after the fact, so maybe they dodged a bullet.

2. How About You (Alternate Version)
3. Little Sister (Alternate Jack Douglas Mix)
  4. It's Only Love (Single Version)
5. She's Got Motion (Alternate Jack Douglas Mix)

For those of us who always wondered what Standing On The Edge would have sounded like if the band had gone with the Jack Douglas mixes, these three alternate versions should help clear things up. Sadly, not a MASSIVE improvement, but definitely less of the '80s bells 'n whistles that Platt added to the final mix.

Having said that, these Douglas mixes are most likely rough mixes because, as legend has it, Douglas pulled out of the project suddenly to deal with a lawsuit filed against him by Yoko Ono. As a result, to our ears, they sound a little lacking in the "oomph" of a final mix.

6. Mighty Wings (From the motion picture 'Top Gun')

Did a single human being take part in this song's performance and, again, if it had become a huge hit for the band, how embarrassing would it be to have to roll out this song every night?

  7. Tonight It's You (Single Version)
  8. The Flame (Clean)
  9. Don't Be Cruel (Big New Mix)

10. All We Need Is a Dream (Alternate Version)

They chopped off the clunky intro from the album version, leading this fan to wonder aloud "Why didn't they put this version on the album?" This isn't new to anyone who owns Sex! America! Cheap Trick or bought this version on cassingle (!).

11. Money (That's What I Want) [From "Caddyshack II" Original Soundtrack]

Oof, the band's absolute low-point, at least until "Wild Thing" (from the "Encino Man" soundtrack).

12. You Want It (From "Say Anything" Original Soundtrack)

From '1989's "Say Anything" film and soundtrack and obviously recorded during the Lap Of Luxury sessions, but inexplicably left off the album. This song and "Through The Night" (recorded during the same sessions, but issued as the non-LP B-side to "The Flame") coulda been hits. Also, this was already released on the Sex! America! Cheap Trick! box set.

13. Can't Stop Fallin' into Love (Radio Mix)

This was an actual Billboard Top 20 pop single, yet you never hear it on the radio, nor does the band go out of the way to trot it out in their live shows. Weird that they'd bury one of their biggest hits.

14. Big Bang (From Japanese Version of "Busted")

Sure, the lyrics are probably the cheesiest the band ever committed to tape, but singer Robin Zander can sing the phone book and have you hanging on every number. Not sure where this whole "Japanese bonus track" thing started, but, between that and At Budukon being kept from us initially, it always felt like we die-hard U.S. fans continually got the short end of the stick.

  15. Magical Mystery Tour (The "Greatest Hits" Version)

16. I Will Survive (From "Gladiator" Original Soundtrack)

Hey, at least they didn't record a song called "Only The Strong Survive" or something, right? Despite the hokey title that has zero to do with the Gloria Gaynor tune, the band actually manage to work up a nice head of steam here as they saunter off into the sunset, kissing their Epic/CBS/Sony days goodbye.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Netflix Pick: Why 'We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!' Is The 'Rocky' Of Rock Docs!

Much like you can sit a gaggle of rowdy toddlers down with a Sponge Bob cartoon and immediately have their full attention, sit me in front of a music documentary and my legs lose the ability to move until the credits roll.

I don't even have to be particularly fond of the band, either. In fact, sometimes, the band doesn't matter nearly as much as the story itself. Thing is, not every band's story is worth telling.

This writer's mistake was in thinking that Twisted Sister's documentary, "We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!", fell into that category.

Month after month, I'd seen the flick listed among the many music documentaries on Netflix and month after month I'd managed to hesitate, burp, and choose "Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage", "Hired Gun" or Season One of "Man Down" instead.

Though I'm not quite sure what led me to pick today of all days to hit "PLAY", I'm glad I did because, for a couple hours, I got sucked into a parallel musical universe, where nothing made sense.

On the surface, "We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!" sticks to the tried-and-true documentary format by mixing classic live footage with candid interviews with band members, managers, and record company executives. What this one has in spades is a good story.

Imagine "Rocky", but with Balboa in full make-up and dressed in his mom's clothes, beating the ever-loving shit out of Apollo Creed.

As for the band's national heyday when "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" were all over MTV, amazingly, this documentary covers exactly none of that period.

Wait, what?

While many of use are quite familiar with the band's hi-jinx while at their commercial peak, so few of us are aware of how the band got there and that story is one for the '80s Time Capsule. 

Like Rocky Balboa, Twisted Sister were beloved by their hometown fans, but viewed as an oddity by NYC hipsters and the biz. They could have gone on for another few years being top dog in their respective club scene before hair metal flooded the market and made what they were doing commonplace.

That is kind of what ended up happening anyway, except instead of falling from the top of the suburban Long Island music scene, they fell from the top of the world.

Before they did, though, they became an indelible part of the pop culture in the '80s and beyond, which, love 'em or hate 'em, is quite the accomplishment.

What this documentary does, much to my initial chagrin, is completely ignore their successful major label period and downfall.

What truly sets this documentary apart from any other is that it only covers Twisted Sister's uphill fight to get signed by a major label, yet it is crammed full of the same heart-wrenching ups and downs that most signed bands experience over the course of their entire careers.

In other words, a band that is primary known for one song and video ("We're Not Gonna Take It!") made an entire documentary that simply excluded that part of their career and, to their credit, wound up telling a much more interesting story.

All of this raises a very important issue that I have always had with major label A&R dickheads.

There were a dozen or so major labels within spitting distance of Long Island that found it much more glamorous jetting to London or Melbourne to see some "here today, gone later today" buzz band than to simply take proper notice of a band so big in their backyard that major label bands like Zebra (signed to Atlantic) were opening for them and had thousands of kids going full gonzo.

All they'd had to do was finance an album, hammer the band's hometown market with a full-scale media blitz (no need for a costly national campaign), and watch the album ship platinum.

Use that momentum and word-of-mouth to get them on "The Tonight Show" or some other national institution aimed squarely at Joe & Maggie Sixpack and let the rest unfold on its own.

Three minutes of Dee Snider and the boys on national TV in 1980 would have given Tipper Gore a massive coronary and scared the shit out of middle America. The outrage would have been immense, the press coverage intense, all culminating with a multi-night Tom Snyder interview where, again, the parents of America stare in dumbfounded disbelief at Dee the most frightening drag get-up you've ever seen.

Sure, they looked like semi-pro football players in drag, but, as I recall, so did the New York Dolls.

One band played to 3,000 on any given Friday or Saturday night in Long Island and couldn't get signed for seven years while the other, a critically-acclaimed band located in Manhattan, got signed within a year of forming.

What other bands did we miss because the major label A&R "tastemakers" knew better than to sign a ready-made slam dunk?

Every region between here and Saskatchewan had their own Twisted Sister, too, few of which ever managed to get signed to a major label.

Here in Chicago, we had The Kind, whose "Loved By You" single became a regional Top 40 hit in 1982.

Though not as outlandish as Dee Snider's bunch,  The Kind were carved from the same stone as local rock heroes Off Broadway, who were signed to a major label. Though The Kind were unsigned, they had somebody with money and the good sense to hook up with a regional radio airplay veteran Mike Scheid and, voila, "Loved By You" becomes a regional Top 40 radio hit.

In six months, the band goes from playing poorly attended mid-week club gigs to coveted opening slots for every top act coming through town, and still no major label will touch them.

Around this same time, I bought my first Fools Face album via mail-order from an ad in Trouser Press magazine because a music geek like me could tell they weren't signed, but that they weren't going to let that stop them from being rock stars.

When their album arrived, I recognized none of the names or studios where the album was recorded or mastered, yet it looked and sounded as polished and professional as anything with a major label's logo attached on it.

My first roommate in Chicago came from St. Louis and spoke reverently of "The Face" , who confirmed my suspicions that the band was pulling in crowds comparable to those of the Pretenders, Elvis Costello and other major label new wave acts coming through town.
Now, if I was running a record company, anybody that works for me would reflexively whip out a contract anytime they see or hear of a local band selling out a 3,000-seat hall in Poughkeepsie.

All it would have taken was for some label with its own pressing, distribution, and propaganda wings to pull the band aside and say, "Hey, we like what you're doing. Wanna trade that license to print money in Long Island for one to print money all over the country?"

What happened instead makes for one fine documentary and I applaud the members of Twisted Sister for telling their story their way.

Adios, Amigo: 18th Anniversary Of Joey Ramone's Passing!

As if April 15 didn't suck enough already for being Tax Day, it also happens to be the day that we lost Joey Ramone to cancer back in 2001.

It seems longer ago than that for some reason.

Perhaps it is because many of us subconsciously link his death to the end of the Ramones in 1996.

For seven long years, we die-hard, buy-anything-with-the-word-Ramones-on-it fans were left with little to spend our cash on, all the while wondering when Joey would resurface. Before many of us were even aware an album had been in the works, Joey Ramone passes away before it can be finished.

Joey was supposed to grow old and become the elder statesman of punk that he was meant to be. He was meant to witness each new generation embrace the music of the Ramones, which is now prominently used in film, tv, and commercials, generating millions for the Ramones' heir.

Listening to Don't Worry About Me for the first time months after Joey had passed was going to be a heavy experience, no matter which songs you placed in what order, but did they really have to open the album with Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World"?

To this day, I have never listened to the album's next track, "Stop Thinking About It", without puffy eyes and wet cheeks.

While one tends to be suspect of posthumous projects where the music is added after the artist's death, one gets that the project was about 75% finished and that those involved thought it'd be a shame to see the album shelved.

Where does it rank among Ramones albums, you ask?

First off, I can't believe you would ask such a question, but since you have, and there's certainly no taking it back now, I'd put it above Brain Drain, but below Halfway To Sanity.

Wherever you are, Joey, thanks for giving rock & roll the kick in the pants that it needed.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Rock Doc Of The Week: 'A Fat Wreck' (Now On Amazon Prime)!

Growing up on indie labels like I.R.S., Enigma, Rough Trade, Creation, and Factory, among a multitude of others, I tend to view modern-day mall punk indie labels with a detached bemusement that comes from just not being that into modern-day mall punk labels.

Not since Christian punk label Tooth & Nail was in their prime have I seen a label churn out a non-stop assembly line of same-sounding emo punk. Keep in mind that I do not say that as a slam against either label. I applaud anyone who hits upon a winning formula and then exploits the ever-loving shit out of it with an almost pathological intensity.

Erin Burkett of Fat Wreck Chords.
Having said that, "A Fat Wreck", which is streaming on Amazon Prime, was a well-done, expertly-paced glimpse into the personalities behind the biggest mall punk indie label in the known universe.

Rather than blow all the cool, funny, and/or touching parts of this doc to pad out this article, allow me to list a handful of things that NOFX's Fat Mike and his ex-wife Erin -who still manages the day-to-day for the label - have gotten right in running Fat Wreck successfully over the past three decades:

1. They've used the label as a way to work with their friends while making new ones and selling a fuck-load of music in the process. That, my friends, is called "living the dream". I mean, who wants to work with a bunch of people they hate, like Daphne in accounting who steals people's lunches and burns popcorn in the microwave.

2. They didn't get a huge head when the money started rolling in and decide they needed to expand to some multi-million-dollar headquarters in the heart of San Francisco.

NOFX's Fat Mike, co-founder of Fat Wreck Chords.
3. They didn't hand over part/full ownership of the label to some major label to pay off some massive debt caused by doing business with and/or borrowing money from the very same major label (see Mute Records).

4. With music sales falling off a cliff post-Napster, they scaled back the operation rather than continue to lose money on keeping a larger, more cumbersome ship afloat.

5. Over the years, and throughout the documentary, the one thing you hear repeatedly from band after band is that Fat Wreck Chords paid their bands on-time.

That, my friends, is more than enough reason to place Fat Wreck Chords among my favorite indie labels because nobody needs cash more than a band. Now go watch this excellent 2015 rock doc before it disappears from Amazon Prime.