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Back Tracks: Scott Walker, Part 2 (1975-2014)

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Scott-Walker-b01Where Part 1 of our Back Tracks feature left Scott Walker, he was in a creatively barren period, cranking out albums of AM pop and country, a far cry from the Brel songs and even the Brill Building tearjerkers that characterized his best work. Having left the sublime pop symphonies and edgy chansons behind, he found inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. In 1975, The Walker Brothers reformed, much to the surprise of many. The group recorded the LP No Regrets, which they followed up with 1976’s Lines and 1978’s Nite Flights, all three for the GTO label. (All three titles were reissued in one compact box set by Sony U.K. in 2010.) The first two LPs were both distinguished by quality material from outside songwriters, including songs by old stalwarts Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman and Mickey Newbury, and strong contributions by Boz Scaggs, Kris Kristofferson, Jesse Winchester and Janis Ian. But nobody could have been prepared for the third album.

Nite Flights was entirely self-written by the Walker Brothers, a dark, disquieting album that augured for Walker’s future recordings and set aside any notions of their former pop stardom. Scott’s four Nite Flights songs were strange, indeed: “Shutout,” “Fat Mama Kick,” “Nite Flights” and especially the morbid “The Electrician” all dispensed with traditional song form and any pretense of literal lyrics. Combining nightmarishly odd words with instrumentation ranging from wailing, feedback-laden guitar to even disco-style backing, Walker had discovered a new voice that would lead to the most polarizing, provocative part of his career.  He wouldn’t re-emerge as a recording artist, though, until 1984. Back Tracks follows Scott Walker’s unbelievable journey and transformation after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 23, 2014 at 13:45

Posted in Features, Reissues, Scott Walker

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Back Tracks: Scott Walker, Part 1 (1967-1974)

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Scott WalkerThis week, Scott Walker released his latest studio album, Soused, a predictably unpredictable collaboration with drone-metal band Sunn O))). To mark the occasion, we’re reviewing the musical iconoclast’s complete discography in this two-part Back Tracks series originally presented in June 2010 and freshly updated!

The music business is famous for hyperbole, but it’s no exaggeration to say that few have had a career anything like that of Scott Walker. An American who skyrocketed to fame on British shores in the heady time that was the mid-1960s, Walker (born Noel Scott Engel in 1943) turned his back on the world of a pop idol. He became one of the first major performers to embrace and champion the dark musical melodramas of Jacques Brel but that, too, didn’t last long. After some largely-undistinguished albums recorded during his self-described “lost years” and a period of relative seclusion, Walker emerged, creating provocative soundscapes that dispensed with any traditional notions of melody or songwriting. Whatever other labels may be used to describe him, Scott Walker remains an artist true to himself. Back Tracks takes a look at the solo recordings of one of music’s true eccentrics, just one click away. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 22, 2014 at 13:30

Posted in Features, Reissues, Scott Walker

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Back Tracks: Adam Ant

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It’s the statement few in the Internet age expected to type: today, Adam Ant releases his first album in nearly 20 years. Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunnar’s Daughter (try saying that three times fast) features brand-new original compositions by Ant with longtime collaborators/guitarists Marco Pirroni and Boz Boorer, and is the first album on his new label, the eponymous Blueblack Hussar Records.

Adam AntEarly critical notes indicate an album that’s weird and urgent – fair descriptors of the best of Ant’s work. The man born Stuart Leslie Goddard in London back in 1954 has had a long, unpredictable and at times erratic career (all of which he’s been incredibly candid about as the years have gone on), but the five (now six) albums he’s released have been occasionally brilliant and always catchy. And fortunately for music geeks, there has been plenty of attention to his catalogue, so fans old and new have plenty to collect.

Goddard’s serious musical career began in November 1975, when, as bassist for the pub rock band Bazooka Joe, he watched in amazement a set by the band’s support act: The Sex Pistols. It was their first gig; so taken was Goddard that he soon quit his own band and pursued the punk sound. It was around the same time that, following a depressive episode that left him in the hospital with a pill overdose, Goddard declared himself “dead,” instead naming himself Adam Ant.

Forming a band with guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Andy Warren and drummer David Barbarossa, Adam and The Ants secured a management deal with iconic Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

The rest, which is certainly history, is after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 22, 2013 at 13:04

Back Tracks, In Memoriam: Robin Gibb

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May 20, 2012: We’re deeply saddened to report that Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees passed away this morning in England at 10:47 a.m. (5:47 a.m. ET) at the age of 62.  Gibb’s passing comes following a brave battle with cancer, courageously fought in the public eye.  Robin Gibb will always be remembered for his great gift of song, with his angelic voice having provided comfort to so many of us in our saddest times and pure joy in our most upbeat moments.  Robin, we will miss you. 

In honor of this remarkable man, we offer Back Tracks: In Memoriam, originally published on April 27 as Gibb’s health had taken a turn for the better.    We hope you cue up “First of May,” “Juliet,” “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” “Stayin’ Alive” or “Too Much Heaven” and enjoy this look back at a man whose humanity was as deep as his love.

A lyric from what we believe to be Robin’s final recording, “Don’t Cry Alone” from this year’s Titanic Requiem, comes to mind as a source of comfort:

“I’ll be there for you forever/Don’t you ever cry/I’ll sweep away your tears and sorrow/And I’ll be with you close tomorrow/I’ll be with you/Don’t cry alone.”

Rest in peace, Robin.  Please share your memories of Robin Gibb below.

In the event of something happening to me, there is something I would like you all to see…it’s just a photograph of someone that I knew…

- Barry and Robin Gibb, “New York Mining Disaster 1941”

For many including yours truly, the best news to arrive on Record Store Day this past Saturday, April 21, wasn’t that of a great new vinyl acquisition or found treasure.  Rather, it was the news that Robin Gibb, vocalist, songwriter and Bee Gee, had emerged from a coma.  Gibb’s distinct voice has featured prominently on the Bee Gees’ most memorable hits, including their first song to be issued in the United States, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.”  His soaring vocals could hold their own or add contrast to brother Barry’s falsetto.  The road to Gibb’s recovery is still an uphill one, with the courageous artist facing advanced colorectal cancer and remaining in intensive care.  But Gibb’s physician, Dr. Andrew Thillainayagam, acknowledged that “it is testament to Robin’s extraordinary courage, iron will and deep reserves of physical strength that he has overcome quite incredible odds to get where he is now.”  Music played a central role in Gibb’s recovery, with Barry, wife Dwina, sons Robin-John and Spencer and daughter Melissa all having played music and serenaded Robin at his bedside.  Robin-John told the BBC on April 24, “They gave him an under 10% survival chance and he has beaten the odds… he really is something else,” adding that his father is “completely compos mentis [of sound mind] now.”

As we keep Robin Gibb, 62, in our hearts during this difficult time for him and his family, we’re celebrating the rarely-heard music he created as a solo artist between 1970 and 2012, and hoping that there’s much, much more to come from this singular musician.


Robin’s Reign
(Polydor, 1970)

Despite the beautiful harmony they created as vocalists and songwriters, The Bee Gees couldn’t shake familial tensions as 1968 turned into 1969.  Tension between brothers Barry and Robin grew more intense each day, reaching boiling point when producer Robert Stigwood selected Barry’s “First of May” over Robin’s “Lamplight” as the lead single off the group’s Odessa.  On March 19, 1969, Robin Gibb announced that he would turn his attention to solo recordings.  He began recording almost immediately, but contractual obligations prevented him from doing much in the ensuing months even as Barry and Robin’s twin brother Maurice soldiered on as a duo with the Cucumber Castle television film and album.  As autumn arrived, however, the air was somewhat cleared, and Robin concluded recording the album that became Robin’s Reign by October.  (In an ironic twist of fate, Maurice and Barry would declare The Bee Gees disbanded by year’s end.  Luckily for us, that turned out to be temporary.)

The first London session for Robin’s Reign yielded “Saved by the Bell,” which would become a No. 2 hit single in the U.K., as well as the album’s “Mother and Jack,” and two unreleased tunes, “Alexandria Good Time” and “Janice.”  Kenny Clayton provided orchestral arrangements, and Maurice contributed bass and piano.  Recording didn’t resume until September once Robin was extricated from his contract with Stigwood and signed with NEMS’ Vic Lewis.  In August he had named in the press eleven song titles for an album intended to be called My Own Work (including “Alexandria Good Time”) but none of them were present on Robin’s Reign.  The September and October sessions formed the basis of the eventual album, again employing orchestration (by Clayton and Zack Lawrence) not unlike that of The Bee Gees’ earliest U.K. albums.

The LP was released in February 1970 in the U.K. on Polydor and one month later in the U.S. via Atco.  Robin’s Reign sold so poorly that a second solo album already in progress was never issued, and the album has only appeared on CD in an extremely hard-to-find German pressing.  There’s much to admire here, though, and it’s long overdue for reissue.  In addition to the classic “Saved by the Bell” (which most recalls his work with his brothers), there’s the calypso-flavored “Mother and Jack,” the dark “Most of My Life” and bold “The Worst Girl in This Town.”  Other tracks such as the stately ballad “Down Came the Sun,” though not as distinct, offer strong vocals and sweeping arrangements.  Robin’s Reign is also thought to be one of the first albums to have employed (primitive) drum machines, which gives its sound a unique character.

Of course, The Bee Gees’ vocal blend is what’s missed most on Robin’s Reign, which beefs up the singer’s powerful tenor with multi-tracked vocals that are no substitute for his brothers’ harmonies.  And harmony ultimately won out over dissension.  On August 21, 1970, it was announced that the three Brothers Gibb would reunite.  How sympathetic were the brothers musically?  They reportedly wrote “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” at their very first reunion session.

After the jump, we’ll meet you quite a few years later…1983, in fact! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 20, 2012 at 20:14

Posted in Bee Gees, Features, Reissues, Robin Gibb

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Back Tracks: The Beastie Boys

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With the heartbreaking news of the passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch of The Beastie Boys, who’d been battling cancer for several years, we invite you to enjoy this Back Tracks special from October 27, 2010, in which we revisited the band’s discography and its reissues.

The slightly bizarre news that The Beastie Boys’ upcoming album Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, slated for release this coming spring, will feature virtually every track recorded for the delayed Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 1 is classic Beastie Boys. It’s a specifically off-kilter announcement that reflects the humor we’ve come to expect from the Brooklyn rap trio over the past quarter-century.

Naturally, news of a new album warrants a rediscovery of the band. Adam “MCA” Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-rock” Horovitz have been rhymin’ and stealin’ since the mid-’80s, after a brief stint as a hardcore punk outfit. Their fanbase has extended from urban white boys, to suburban white boys to anyone with a good appreciation for rap-rock stylings.

After the jump, take a look at the many releases, reissues and compilations of The Beastie Boys. It’ll sound so soothin’, we promise. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

May 4, 2012 at 13:14

Back Tracks: Men at Work

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The sudden, recent news of the passing of Greg Ham, saxophonist/flautist and founding member of Australian rock band Men at Work, comes at a strange and sad time. Yesterday in fact marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the band’s breakthrough debut, Business As Usual, in America. More importantly, though, it’s the sad loss of a figure who contributed a lot to early ’80s rock music.

Ham, who was 58, was the spice that set Men at Work’s hard driving, New Wave-inspired sounds apart from their international contemporaries. Scottish-born, Australian-raised vocalist Colin Hay had a keening tenor that recalled Sting in places, and guitarist Ron Strykert’s textures could really turn heads on some songs. But that extra magic on the band’s first two chart-topping singles, “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under,” was all Ham’s, who lent his talents to the saxophone riff of the former and the flute figure of the latter. In a statement, Hay praised the work of his bandmate and friend for 40 years. “The saxophone solo on “Who Can It Be Now” was the rehearsal take. We kept it, that was the one. He’s here forever.”

It’s interesting, then, that the band only had three studio albums to their credit, making for a pretty swift overview by way of reissues and compilations. Join us in paying tribute to Hay, Ham and the rest of Men at Work with this special Back Tracks trip down memory lane.

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Written by Mike Duquette

April 23, 2012 at 12:46

Posted in Compilations, Men at Work, News, Reissues

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Back Tracks: Whitney Houston

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Music was in both the bloodline and the spirit of Whitney Elizabeth Houston (1963-2012).  The native of Newark, New Jersey called Cissy Houston of The Sweet Inspirations her mom, while Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick were her beloved cousins.  Her godmother was none other than Aretha Franklin.  Following in her mother’s footsteps, she began performing at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, singing in the gospel choir as a featured soloist, and began to make inroads in the music business as a background vocalist, again echoing the path of some of her most famous relatives.  When Clive Davis saw the young, beautiful and effervescent Houston performing in New York City, he sensed that great things were in store.  The mogul appeared alongside the singer for her debut on television’s The Merv Griffin Show in 1983; she was off and running.

Over a career spanning nearly thirty years, Whitney Houston proved that there was nothing vocally she couldn’t do.  Though an undisputed legend of pop, soul and R&B, she was at equally home on the dance floor, could do justice to Rodgers and Hammerstein (Cinderella) and Stephen Schwartz (the Academy Award-winning “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt), and even dabbled in hip-hop.  2006’s “Family First” teamed Houston with Dionne and Cissy, and the key presence of family and faith was a source of strength in her often-troubled life.  One can only hope that Houston also found solace in the number of young individuals whose styles she influenced and whose careers she inspired.

Even as our thoughts reside with Whitney Houston’s family at this difficult time, Mike and I have chosen to remember the great singer in the best way we know how: through a tour of her music.  Though Houston wasn’t a prolific artist, the magnitude of her accomplishments looms large.  Put simply and at risk of cliché, we will always love you, Whitney Houston.

We start our guide to Whitney’s discography with 1985’s Whitney Houston after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 13, 2012 at 10:15

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