Social Distancing Spins – Day 54

By Joel Francis

Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People: Acoustic (2016) A British folk singer with a punk rocker’s heart (and musical approach), Frank Turner released his sixth album in two forms, acoustic and electric. Either version gets me in the feels. The acoustic versions are just as powerful in their stripped-down arrangements. It’s not hard to imagine Turner on a stool singing directly to you. The material lives up to the Zig Zigler-approved title, although the chorus to “The Next Storm,” one of my favorite songs, is a little awkward in this time of physical distancing. When Turner sings “I don’t want to spend the whole of my life indoors/Laying low, waiting for the next storm,” I guarantee he wasn’t think of this reality. I’m also fairly confident Turner would counter with the chorus of another song here: “We could get better/because we’re not dead yet.” Amen.

Dwight Yoakam – Dwight Sings Buck (2007) This one’s so obvious the only question is why it didn’t happen sooner. Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens, who pioneered the Bakersfield sound of country music, first shared the mic in 1988 and took the song all the way to No. 1 on the country charts. Yoakam embraced the rock-driven, electric instrumentation Owens helped established. Owens’ death in 2006 must have inspired Yoakam to pay tribute. Of course none of the 15 songs here will replaces Owens’ indelible recordings, but Yoakam is clearly both having a ball and dead serious about this homage to his mentor. My favorites here are “Act Naturally” – which I first heard from Ringo – “Cryin’ Time” and “Foolin’ Around.”  There’s not a bad song (or performance) in the bunch.

The Who – Who Are You (1978)
The Who – Face Dances (1981)
I like to play these Who albums back-to-back because despite having different drummers, I don’t think they are as dissimilar as traditionally thought. For a while, I thought Face Dances was the better of the two albums, but playing them consecutively for the first time convinced me otherwise. Who Are You caught The Who at a low point. Drummer Keith Moon was out of shape and punk had changed the landscape of rock music. Pete Townshend reached back to the decade-old, abandoned Lifehouse concept for several songs. Bass player John Entwistle wrote his songs in singer Roger Daltrey’s range so they would have a better shot at getting on the album. Both moves worked. Entwistle placed a record three songs on the album and Townshend’s leftovers – including the title song – were solid. I think Who Are You gets more credit than deserved because of the iconic title number and Moon’s death less than a month after the album was released. I also think Face Dances gets knocked unfairly because of Moon’s absence. To my ears, Townshend’s writing on the whole of Face Dances is just as reliable as that on Who Are You. “You Better You Bet” may not be as good as “Who Are You,” but it doesn’t miss by much. “Don’t Let Go the Coat” and “Another Tricky Day” should be on every expansive Who playlist alongside “Guitar and Pen” and “Sister Disco.” Although Who Are You gets the nod as a slightly better album, both releases are second-tier Who. Unfortunately, the band has yet to release a first-tier album in the decades since these.

R.E.M. – The Best of R.E.M. at the BBC (compilation) I was a pretty intense R.E.M. fan for a long time, but after they broke up in 2011, their music gradually fell out of regular rotation. This 2018 collection made me fall in love with the band all over again. The two-record set cherry picks the best cuts from the eight CD set. The first LP pulls from the band’s studio sessions, while the second draws from concerts recorded in 1984, 1985 and 1999. Because founding member Bill Berry only appears on a third of cuts, the album inadvertently becomes a showcase for late-period R.E.M. While the albums released without Berry certainly weren’t as strong as those with him on board, each of them still had several amazing moments. It is fantastic to have many of those late-period high points collected here. The later in-concert material shows that while R.E.M. may have slipped on record, they remained an undeniable live force until the end.

Special mention must be made of drummer Bill Rieflin, who became R.E.M.’s drummer in 2004. He only appears on two songs here but beat the skins for the band’s final three albums. Rieflin also appeared on albums by Ministry, Swans, Robyn Hitchcock, King Crimson and KMFDM. Rieflin died of cancer a little over a month ago, in late March. Thanks for the music, Bill.

Beatles’ cash grab redefines “Money for Nothing”

(Above: Generations later, Paul’s message still rings out: “You Never Give Me Your Money.”)

By Joel Francis

Hold tight to your pocketbooks; 9/9/9, the inverted day of the Beast draws neigh.

As any Beatle fan will tell you, Aug. 9 is not only the day Beatles edition of Rock Band lands in stores, but when the remastered Beatles albums will finally be released. On CD, that is, not to iTunes.

That information has been second only to anything related to Michael Jackson or Jack White in the online news hemisphere. The buried story, however, is that the Beatles trail only KISS in their devotion to part fans from their money.

Earlier this week, Paul and Ringo teased the public with their “Box of Vision,” an LP-sized storage container-cum-book for the upcoming remasters. The $90 artifact contains full-size replicas of all the original LP artwork, spiffy new sleeves to house the disc and a “Catalography” guidebook. Inventing new words doesn’t make this a better value.

Basically what you get with this set is a guidebook of discography information readily accessed online, blow-ups of all the artwork that will accompany the CDs and a mega-expensive flip-book. To top off the insult, the flip-book contains slots not only for the traditional catalog (i.e. “Please Please Me” through “Let It Be”) but posthumous releases like “Live at the BBC,” “Love,” and the “Anthology” series. That’s fine, but why are there spaces designated for the red and blue albums and “1” collection? That material is already presented throughout the rest of the catalog.

It’s easy to be cynical and say this move is designed to rankle completes and make them buy redundant collections. It’s easy because even a quick glance at the Beatles online store will jade the most intensely optimistic fans.

When the 40th anniversary of the White Album hit last summer, the Beatles did not release the long hoped-for remastered edition. They offered a $530 white pen. Last year also marked the 40th anniversary of the “Yellow Submarine” film, which one could commemorate with a $200 9-inch figurine or a $65 Yellow Submarine “musical globe with Nowhere Man base.” (I wonder who decided they could get more for a Nowhere Man base over a Blue Meanie base.) Oh, and don’t forget to get a jump start on the 45th anniversary of “Help” buy grabbing the $121 deluxe edition DVD with a reproduction of the script and 60-page book with rarely seen photos.

Official band stores are rarely a bargain, but asking $33 for “Live at the BBC,” $30 for the red and blue albums and $35 for the “Anthology” entries is insulting, especially since all these items may be found on Amazon for about $10 (some are significantly cheaper). You can find a used version of the “Help” deluxe edition for $25 there, too.

The Beatles have a big and diverse enough fan base that more than a few of their admirers can afford to spend extravagantly. But shouldn’t they be getting more bang for their buck than $1,000 album cover lithograph collection?  (I wonder if there’s a connection between these prints and what appears in the Box of Vision.) Is a Beatles edition of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit really worth double the price ($40)?

Instead of wasting fans’ time and money with worthless trinkets, the band giving the fans what they want. The remastered CDs would have meant something if they appeared six or seven years ago when the upgraded Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones catalogs were introduced. And instead of hoarding the non-album and alternate cuts until the Past Masters and Anthology releases, they could have been sprinkled on the intended albums, creating a sense of context.

Ironically, by trying to dictate the conversation and sell overpriced novelties, Paul and Ringo have inadvertently left piles of cash on the table. Unable to find legitimate remasters, the “purple chick” bootlegs appeared. Unable to legally download the catalog, torrents and illegal MP3s proliferated the Web.

If Paul and Ringo really wanted to create a stir and control the game, they would mine the Apple vaults and create something as innovative, comprehensive and entertaining as Neil Young’s “Archives” box set. Instead, the pair end up looking as backwards and out-of-touch as all the bands that tried to keep up them back in the ‘60s.