Archive for the ‘1992’ Category

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

There was a harvest moon last night. For those who don’t know what that is, the Oxford Dictionary definition describes it as thus: “the full moon that is nearest to the time of the autumnal equinox.” An equinox occurs when Earth’s equator aligns with the center of the sun, which happens twice a year. One marks the start of spring and the second marks the beginning of fall. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the autumnal equinox almost always occurs on September 22nd or 23rd; and this year it’s early morning of the 23rd. 

The term “harvest moon” itself dates to the early 1700s, if not before, in England, and Oxford credits it to the “country people.” With days growing short, farmers made use of the moonlight while harvesting their summer crops.

Anyway, last night, by the time I left work, cascading clouds in the night sky blocked my view of the moon, yet I felt its power and heard its vibrations thanks to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album, which he released on November 2, 1992. The lore behind it is well-known, at least among Neil fans: Recording Ragged Glory with Crazy Horse in 1990 and reaching for electric nirvana on their subsequent tour left him with tinnitus. Rather than risk permanent damage to his hearing, he downshifted to a softer sound – and delivered one of his best albums.

He saw it as a sequel in style, mood and personnel to Harvest, his much-loved 1972 album, although the same could also be said, to varying extents, of Comes a Time, Hawks & Doves and Old Ways, among other outings. It did well, too, peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard charts, going double-platinum, and winning plaudits from critics and fans alike.

Accented by acoustic guitars, harmonica, and backup vocals supplied by fellow travelers Nicolette Larson, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and (half-sister) Astrid Young, the 10-song set is a contemplative affair that mixes brushstrokes of reality with hues of the heart. “Unknown Legend,” the opener, was written for the Comes a Time album, and tells the story of a woman in a diner who once lived free but is now dealing with the responsibilities of adulthood. 

“From Hank to Hendrix” tells the story of a couple’s relationship that may or may not last despite the years (“from Marilyn to Madonna”) they’ve put into it. (“The same thing that makes you live/can kill you in the end.”) Many folks like to read what inspired specific songs, but to me inspiration matters less than the result. And the result here is memorable.

The title track, on the other hand, is a celebration of a long-lasting, loving relationship – maybe even the same one. “But now it’s getting late/And the moon is climbin’ high/I want to celebrate/See it shinin’ in your eye/Because I’m still in love with you/I want to see you dance again/Because I’m still in love with you/On this harvest moon…” 

“War of Man” is another stirring track:

Another favorite track of mine is “Dreamin’ Man,” which sports a lilting melody and lyrics that spin a disturbing tale about a stalker: “I park my Aerostar/Dreamin’ man/With a loaded gun/And sweet dreams of you/I’ll always be a dreamin’ man/I don’t have to understand/I know it’s alright…”  

As Nicolette and Astrid sing behind Neil at the end, “He’s got a problem.”

One possible inspiration (though it’s just a hunch on my part): Robert John Bardo, the stalker who killed My Sister Sam actress Rebecca Schaeffer on July 18, 1989. Neil would have been exposed to stories in the newspapers and on TV, I’m sure. But, again, it matters not. The juxtaposition of the dreamy with the sordid is meant to jar, and make us think.

What else? Neil flipped the normal routine of albums for Harvest Moon, touring the songs first and then releasing them. We saw him in March of ’92 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., from the back of the balcony. Everyone roared for the opener, “Long May You Run,” but murmurs began soon after he launched into the second of eight unfamiliar songs in a row (seven from the future Harvest Moon and “Silver and Gold”). It was a great night.

The track list:

Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news: The Internet changed everything.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: That ain’t exactly new. And neither’s the main focus of today’s post, bootlegs, which I’ve written about before. (See here and here.) But for any young ‘un who’s stumbled across this blog, or folks who never caught the collecting bug, understand this: There was a time in the not-so-distant past when fans clamoring for more, more, more from their favorite artists skulked through the aisles at record fairs and independent stores in search of unofficial releases – aka bootlegs, which ranged from studio scraps (alternate versions and unreleased songs) to concert recordings – and official, but non-commercial product, such as the King Biscuit Flower Hour live shows distributed on LP or CD to radio stations.

I imagine some, in fact, still do. Plenty of others, however, turn to YouTube, Facebook groups and email lists (are they still a thing?) and trade amongst themselves via whatever free bulk-download site is the flavor of the month. Back in the day, though, pursuing one’s passion meant shelling out bucks. Some fans purchased everything. The rest of us? After I bought a two-CD bootleg of a Bruce Springsteen concert that sounded like the microphone had been placed in a puddle of mud, I did my due diligence the best that I could. That meant asking store clerks to pop a CD into the in-house stereo system so I could check the sound – and, too, reading as much as I could about underground releases.

Helping to separate the wheat from the chaff: newsletters such as ICE, which delved into legitimate releases but also featured a “Going Underground” column; and such fanzines as the Beatle-obsessive 910, Neil Young-centric Broken Arrow and Springsteen-oriented Backstreets. There were plenty of other fanzines focused on other artists and specific genres, too, and many could be purchased at independent record stores – as well as Tower Records and Books.

The 910, today’s example, was and still is focused on all things Beatles. The brainchild of Doug Sulpy, it began life as the Illegal Beatles ‘zine (which I also used to buy) in the 1980s before morphing into the 910, so named as a play on “One After 909.” The difference between the two? The 910 had a wider lens on its scope and included articles on and reviews of legitimate releases in addition to bootlegs. (Sulpy, I should mention, cowrote one of the best books about the Fabs, Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of the Beatles’ Let It Be Disaster.) The 910 also looked nicer. Much nicer.

This edition, which is dated January/February 1992, is a bonanza of insights and news. As the cover and contents page show, it delves deep into a recent crop of Beatle bootlegs; reviews legitimate fare; explores “lost” footage from the Yellow Submarine movie; and chronicles the history of the song “One After 909,” which the Fabs first recorded while still named the Quarrymen in 1960.

1) The Beatles – “Twist and Shout.” A review of the 1990 The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit documentary about the Fabs’ maiden visit to America explains that the film features footage from the Maysles brothers’ 1964 What’s Happening: The Beatles in the USA TV doc combined with the Beatles’ 1964 Ed Sullivan Show performances and Washington Coliseum concert. Although Sulpy has some quibbles with the finished product, he concludes with: “Apple is to be congratulated for assembling and releasing such a marvelously edited and fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the group’s first U.S. tour, and even if completists moan about missing footage, from an artistic standpoint Apple has done it right.”

2) The Beatles – “Hey Bulldog.” So, apparently, the original U.S. print of Yellow Submarine omitted a scene of the animated Fabs set to this under-appreciated John Lennon song. Penned by Steve Shorten, the article explores the whys and wherefores of the cut sequence, and posits that it was initially excised from the finished film for reasons of time. “Because the entire sequence involved plot elements completely tangential to the main plot,” it could be easily chopped without anyone arching an eyebrow. It was likely added to the U.K. print, he surmises, after someone associated with the Beatles noticed that the song was missing from the movie. (The 1999 re-release of the film on DVD, for what it’s worth, features the sequence, so it’s no longer “lost.” For what that’s worth.)

3) The Beatles – “One After 909.” Although released on Let It Be in 1970, “One After 909” is actually one of the earliest of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting efforts, dating to 1957. In the article, Alan Pollack chronicles its known history, which includes the 1960 Quarrymen demos, 1962 Cavern Club rehearsals (which this clip is from), 1963 EMI recordings and numerous renditions from the 1969 “Get Back” sessions.

In a sense, the song was one of few remnants of the raison d’etre for the Let It Be/”Get Back” project, which began as a way for the Beatles (at Paul’s urging) to return to their roots. It’s why so many of the out-takes from the sessions are ramshackle run-throughs of oldies.

4) The Beatles – “She’s a Woman, Take 2.” Steve Shorten reviews Unsurpassed Masters Volume 6 and Volume 7. “Yellow Dog’s releases have proved themselves in the past to be just about the only bootleg CDs worth buying,” he says up top, before summarizing that both volumes are “worthy additions to your CD shelf.”

I have these two bootlegs, actually, purchased not because of this review but because I had (and still have, somewhere) the first five volumes in the series. But, truth be told? The series had run out of steam by this point due to a dearth of interesting out-takes. (There’s only so many alternate versions of any song one needs to hear, in other words.)

5) The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Nothing but Aging from Vigotone Records collects rarities featured on the Lost Lennon Tapes radio series as well as tracks bootlegged elsewhere. I never owned it, as it’s an LP (and by the early ‘90s I was only buying CDs) so don’t know if the “Strawberry Fields Forever” on it is the same as this clip I found on YouTube. But the YouTube clip reminds me of the very first Beatles bootleg I purchased – at the now-defunct City Lights Records in State College, Pa., in the mid ‘80s. Side 2 of that LP featured a string of cuts that tracked the development of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and… well, wow!

sanfran91001

All in all, as I remember it, 1992 was a good year. In the spring, Diane and I flew the friendly skies to Californ-i-a, where we toured Hollywood and Beverly Hills, explored Haight-Asbury and Fisherman’s Wharf, and mined for gold in the hills of Nevada City. (That’s me, in San Francisco, above. I was 26.) And, in the fall, we saw one of my Top 10 Concerts of All Time: 10,000 Maniacs at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-11-03-06-amIn between, and before and after, we saw many good-to-great shows, beginning in January with John Mellencamp at the Philadelphia Spectrum and ending with…well, my memory’s blank. The early ‘90s have blurred together for me, and rather than list an act we may have seen in 1991, ’93 or ’94, I’ll share the certainties: Neil Young at the Tower Theater (from the very last row in the balcony); Bruce Springsteen and the Non-Street Band four times at the Spectrum; Shawn Colvin at the TLA; and Graham Parker with Lucinda Williams at the Trocadero. We also took in Billy Bragg, Nanci Griffith and others at the WXPN Singer-Songwriter Weekend at Penn’s Landing – unlike their mid-summer fetes nowadays, it was free.

Of the uncertainties: the Tin Angel, which is slated to close next month, opened its doors that year; and the Chestnut Cabaret was still open. I’m sure we saw shows at both venues. The Keswick Theater in Glenside was open for business, too, and we definitely saw a show or two there…though who, I can’t say. The Valley Forge Music Fair was another favorite concert stop – provided there was someone we wanted to see, of course. (And we did see Trisha Yearwood there on her Hearts in Armor tour…but that could have been 1993.)

Diane and I, by then, were also in the sandboxed universe of Prodigy.

In the wider world, Microsoft released Windows 3.1 in April; riots in L.A. erupted in April after four LAPD officers were acquitted of using excessive force against Rodney King; Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show and Jay Leno was named as his replacement; the siege at Ruby Ridge in Idaho helped spark the antigovernment/militia movement that culminated in 1995 with the Oklahoma City bombing; and Bill Clinton won that fall’s presidential election.

Oh, and there was one other important event this year: Bob Fest!

And, with that, today’s Top 5: My Top Albums of 1992.

1) 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden. As I mentioned in this Top 5, I pretty much played this, the studio swan song of the 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant, nonstop – well, as close to nonstop as possible. It’s everything I love about music: It’s poppy, rocky, bright, light and deep, with melodies that soar and lyrics that, if one listens to them, mean more than most. The juxtaposition of the jangly with the profound is something I adore.

2) R.E.M. – Automatic for the People. Released on October 6th, the same day as Our Time in Eden, this classic offering from R.E.M. is just that – a classic. “Hey, kids, rock ’n’ roll…”

3) Neil Young – Harvest Moon. So, perhaps, my memory is playing tricks with me: Although I remember playing Our Time in Eden nonstop…this low-key classic from Neil Young, released on October 27th, received much attention from me (as did R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, for that matter). Of note, in typical Neil fashion, he toured with the album long before it was released; when we saw him in March, he pretty much played the entire album with just a smattering of past favorites.

4) Lucinda Williams – Sweet Old World. Above, I mentioned having seen Graham Parker and Lucinda in concert this year – one of the more unlikely pairings we’ve witnessed, really. Guitarist Gurf Morlix was with her, and he was just phenomenal; and by the time she and the band left the stage…well, I have no memory of Parker, who was the headliner. Which speaks volumes, given that I remember quite a bit about Lucinda’s set – “Hot Blood,” especially.

5) Suzanne Vega – 99.9F. Up until this point, Suzanne was a somewhat conventional urban folkie. On this album, however, she expanded her straightforward sound to include electronic textures and seductive rhythms. The title song is a masterpiece; and the album is, too.

There were quite a few other solid albums released this year: Juliana Hatfield’s solo debut, Hey Babe; Bruce Springsteen’s Human Touch and Lucky Town; Tracy Chapman’s Matters of the Heart; Robert Cray’s I Was Warned; the Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray; Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On; Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience; Trisha Yearwood’s Hearts in Armor; the Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall; Keith Richards’ Main Offender… and another longtime favorite of mine, Neneh Cherry’s jazzy Homebrew. Here’s “Move With Me” from it:

tickets_large_x2

My first concert, the Kinks at the long-gone Philadelphia Spectrum, was in 1983; the last was this past Friday when Diane and I saw Natalie Merchant at the Keswick Theatre in the Philly suburb of Glenside. In between I’ve been to more shows than I can count. I haven’t saved the ticket stubs from each and every one, as many fans do, and those I’ve kept are generally the result of happenstance, not purpose. They were tossed in drawers and forgotten about until our recent move.

But I have saved memories of most, which I thought I’d share in this space from time to time – some posts will be long, others short, and a few may even include links to YouTube videos. (If only camera-equipped cell phones were available back in the day….) And what better way to start than with one of my favorite shows by one of my favorite bands…

First, though, let me return to this past Friday, when we saw Natalie Merchant. Prior to the concert, I participated in a project to commemorate next year’s 20th anniversary of her solo debut, Tigerlily: I stepped in front of a camera and shared my memories of the album as well as my favorite song from it. (I doubt that my contribution will make the final cut, but let’s hope.) As we were getting ready – lighting, sound, etc. – I mentioned to the young woman overseeing the process that I’ve been a Natalie fan since 1986 and The Wishing Chair, the major-label debut of her old group, 10,000 Maniacs. What I didn’t say: time and circumstance kept me from seeing them for years. And years.

Which leads me to September 17, 1992, when 10,000 Maniacs performed at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia as part of an ActionAIDS/World Cafe benefit billed as a “Five-Star Night.” They followed Happy Rhodes, Jeffrey Gaines, Shawn Colvin and Live, an overtly U2-influenced group from nearby York, Pa. Marshall Crenshaw emceed the evening.

And Diane scored us great seats.

Now, that late-summer’s eve fell 12 days before the release of the group’s Our Time in Eden album; and if any song from it was being played on the radio, well, I may or may not have heard it – my memory is foggy there.

What I do remember: the concert. The lights showered the stage to reveal Max Weinberg of the E Street Band behind the drums and not the group’s regular drummer, Jerry Augustyniak, who was at home recuperating from a broken collarbone. A horn section was there, too – the JB Horns, I believe. Within seconds, or possibly simultaneously, an unfamiliar, uptempo tune kicked in – and Natalie skipped from the wings to stage center, hands clasped behind her and a wide smile across her face. “These are days you’ll remember,” she sang upon reaching the microphone…

It was the start of a magical, mesmerizing set, accented for me by the sweeping “Stockton Gala Days” (introduced by Natalie as “fast becoming a campus favorite everywhere”) and the gloriously sarcastic “Candy Everybody Wants” – the “hey, hey!” bit was (and remains) infectious. Another highlight was “Hey Jack Kerouac” – and, in a few months, I’d thankfully own that performance and two of the night’s other songs, “Eat for Two” and “My Sister Rose,” as they showed up as bonus tracks on the British CD single of “Candy Everybody Wants.”

All the while, during those fast numbers, Natalie swirled, twirled, whirled and danced with abandon when not at the microphone. I don’t remember her speaking much between songs, save for the band introductions, the “Stockton Gala Days” intro and right before the night’s finale, when blue light bathed the stage. “We’d like to take you back to 1967,” she intoned as the first notes of “To Sir With Love,” Lulu’s pop masterpiece, floated forth.

We saw them two more times the next summer at the Mann. Both shows were equally good – my jaw dropped at guitarist Rob Buck’s pyrotechnics during “Don’t Talk” – but it was that first time that comes to mind whenever I think of them in concert.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote up the show here.

And here’s the group with Max Weinberg on drums performing “These Are Days” from a week or two later, at Carnegie Hall in New York:

And here’s “To Sir With Love” from the same show:

(It should be noted that 10,000 Maniacs are still a working band, and released the very good Music From the Motion Picture album last year,)