Sunday, January 28, 2024

Pink Floyd - Vantage Point (upgrade)

 

Pink Floyd - Vantage Point

(soniclovenoize reimagining)

January 2024 UPGRADE



Side A:

1.  Ibiza Bar

2.  No Man’s Land

3.  Long Gone

4.  Octopus

5.  Crying Song

6.  Rhamadan 


Side B:

7.  The Nile Song

8.  No Good Trying

9.  Love You

10.  Swan Lee

11.  Embryo

10. Late Night



Here is a long-overdue upgrade to one of my favorite series of album “re-imaginings”, which postulates: “What if Syd Barrett hadn’t been fired from Pink Floyd?”  Vantage Point is the second in a trilogy of Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd albums (joined with 1968’s The Shapes Of Questions To Heaven and 1970’s Themes From an Imaginary Western), that would have theoretically been released in early-ish 1969.  Vantage Point is a combination of the band-oriented The Madcap Laughs-era tracks, and various other 1960-era Pink Floyd tracks that seemed to compliment and gel the entire album together.  This upgrade is noteworthy, as I’ve used Ozone Izotope to rebalance the instrumental mix of some of the Madcap Laughs tracks to match the rest of the album.  I have also created my own, unique eight-minute edit of the rare Barrett track “Rhamadan”, to act as the album’s centerpiece “epic” improvisational soundscape track.  Admittedly, I should have probably renamed the album, as “Cymbaline” is no longer featured here; I am keeping the name regardless for the sake of clarity and continuity.  


After Syd Barrett’s unanimous dismissal from Pink Floyd in February 1968, manager Peter Jenner followed the exit, believing Barrett as the creative genius of the band.  Promptly starting sessions for his first solo album in May and June using Soft Machine as his backing band, Syd and Jenner tracked a handful of songs that expounded on his signature pop-psychedelia: “Silas Lang”, “Late Night”, “Clowns and Jugglers”, and a musical accompaniment of a James Joyce poem, “Golden Hair.”  There were also several aimless and monotonal improvisations, such as “Lanky” and “Rhamadan.”  Despite its promise, the tapes seemed more like demos and fragments, and the project was shelved, leaving Barrett in self-imposed seclusion after a brief stint of psychological care, and Jenner’s notion of Barrett as a solo star dashed.  


Meanwhile, Pink Floyd were busy searching for their own muse.  After completing their sophomore album A Saucerful of Secrets in June and a series of scant psyche-pop singles that failed to chart, the quartet shifted gears to their experimental and improvisational prowess, notably with the extended jams of b-side “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”.  While the band began demo sessions for their third album in November with “Embryo”, their trajectory changed; impressed by the cinematic scope of this new incarnation of the band, director Barbet Schroeder drafted The Floyd to compose the soundtrack to his new film, More.  Grouping at Pye Studios for two weeks in January and February 1969, the band wrote and recorded a number of new songs, including “Cirrus Minor”, “The Nile Song”, “The Crying Song”, “Green is The Colour”, “Cymbaline” and “Ibiza Bar”, as well as a number of instrumental pieces in varying genres, meant as incidental music for the film.  


Barrett’s luck improved by March 1969, having received the greenlight for a solo album under EMI’s new progressive rock umbrella Harvest Records.  This time produced by Harvest head Malcolm Jones, the duo reviewed the tapes from the previous year’s Jenner sessions, to see what was salvageable.  Throughout March and April, overdubs were added to the tapes, and a handful of new songs were recorded, ideally to round out an album: “Love You”, “Opel”, “It’s No Good Trying”, “Terrapin”, “No Man’s Land” and “Here I Go.”  Despite the barrage of work, the sessions became grueling as Barrett’s erratic recording nuances and inability to articulate what he actually wanted, led him to seek guidance from his old friend and literal replacement in Pink Floyd: David Gilmour.  


Gilmour & Co. themselves were in the midst of a series of performances of their conceptual piece The Man and The Journey, which included “Cymbaline” and “Green is The Colour” from More, as well as newer pieces “Grantchester Meadows”, “The Narrow Way”, and a number of instrumental interstitial pieces.  The later two songs were also destined for their third studio album proper, Ummagumma, which was being crafted as solo recordings from each individual member of the band.  Inbwteen mixing of Ummagumma, Roger Waters and David Gilmour rejoined their former band-mate to save his solo album and shape something listenable out of the mountainous jumble of recordings from both Jenner and Jones.


In June 1969, The trio recorded brand new versions of “Golden Hair” and “Clowns and Jugglers”--now retitled “Octopus”-- as well as new compositions “Dark Globe”, “Long Gone”, “She Took a Long, Cold Look”, “Feel” and “If It’s In You.”  Final mixing of the album occurred in August, with “Octopus” released as the lead single in November, a week after Pink Floyd’s UmmagummaThe Madcap Laughs was finally released in January 1970, nearly two years after the sessions had begun!  Both albums became cult favorites, with Barrett continuing with a slightly less schizophrenic second solo album Barrett, and Pink Floyd continuing, well, into eventual superstardom.  


But could this have all played out differently?  This reimaging continues the “Pink Floyd featuring Syd Barrett” timeline began in The Shape of Questions To Heaven, and uses the earlier (and decidedly weirder) Jenner sessions as the base of a theoretical Pink Floyd album led by Syd Barrett; ironically, those sessions sounded more like a plausible Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd than the later sessions that actually featured David Gilmour!  To bookend the album and gel it together, we are going to utilize Pink Floyd’s earlier 1969 session material–notably “Embryo” and some of the More songs–which seems to fit in with the Jenner sessions.  Note we are going to exclude the More and Ummagumma tracks destined for The Man and The Journey, so that it and Vantage Point can coexist in the same timeline; perhaps they could be considered separate discs of a double album, or an intentional compromise of separate “Barret Songs Album” vs “Band Concept Album”?  


Side A begins with Waters’ “Ibiza Bar” from More, an outlier in the Pink Floyd canon because of it’s awesome heaviness, but here sets up the dark psychedelic album that Pink Floyd never made.  This is followed by my own demaster of “No Man’s Land” from The Madcap Laughs, and “Long Gone” from, again, Madcap Laughs.  Next is my demaster of “Clowns and Jugglers” from Opel, using the more weird Soft Machine version, which seems to fit better with the album.  Breaking the tension is “Crying Song” from More, which works well as a deep-album cut.  The side concludes with my own eight-minute edit of “Rhamadan”, sourced from a lossless stream via TIDAL; I included several of my favorite sections in this edit, and becomes a fairly interesting listen when assembled in this fashion.  


Side B unintentionally (I swear!) follows the pattern of opening with Waters’ heavy psyche “The Nile Song” from More, and then a dual of Barrett’s “No Good Trying” and “Love You” from The Madcap Laughs.  Following is my demaster of the wonderfully bizarre “Swan Lee” from Opel, which is followed by the band studio demo of “Embryo”, a long lost gem from The Early Years.  The album closes with my own demaster of “Late Night” from The Madcap Laughs, as if we were waking from this psychedelic nightmare.  



Sources used:

Pink Floyd – Soundtrack to the Film ‘More’ (2011 remaster)

Pink Floyd – The Early Years (2016 box set)  

Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs (2006 remaster)

Syd Barrett – Rhamadan 2010 Mix (rip of lossless TIDAL stream)

Syd Barrett – Opal (1994 Harvest remaster)


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Friday, December 29, 2023

The Beatles - Calico Skies

  
The Beatles - Calico Skies

(soniclovenoize reimagining)



  1. Free As a Bird

  2. The World Tonight

  3. Any Road

  4. Calico Skies

  5. Now and Then

  6. Rising Sun

  7. Real Love

  8. Little Willow

  9. Rocking Chair in Hawaii

  10.  Beautiful Night

  11.  Grow Old With Me

  12.  Brainwashed



Happy New Year's Eve!  To welcome in 2024, here is a reimagining that has been in the back of my mind for sometime, and the release of “Now and Then” spurred me to complete it.  This is a reimagining of a late-1990s Beatles album that presumes that The Threetles not only completed all four of the proposed Lennon demos given to them by Yoko Ono, but continued to make an entire album of Threetles material.  One could consider this the final entry (chronologically speaking) into my “What If The Beatles Didn’t Break Up?” series of album reimaginations.  This reimaging is notable because it features my own mix of “Now and Then”, which attempts to present the song in a mid-90s-sounding fashion, sounding closer to “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”.  I have also remastered the Brainwashed tracks to sound closer to the rest of the album, specifically lowering the volume of George’s lead vocal with Ozone 10.  


As with my previous Beatles “What If?” albums, we will follow four key rules:

  1. All material presented must be more or less concurrently-recorded and represent a specific timeframe.  This rule is easily sufficed, as both Paul and George were in the midst of recording Flaming Pie and Brainwashed, respectively, as they were working on completing the Lennon songs given to them by Yoko. The only exception given is the drum track and lead guitar of “Now and Then”, which was recorded in 2022.  

  2. Balance of all Beatles songwriting contributions.  Here, we will use the four Lennon songs, with four Flaming Pie songs and four Brainwashed songs.  Note that Ringo's theoretical contribution is included in Paul’s “Beautiful Night”.

  3. All songs must be Beatle-esque in nature, and less reliant on the idiosyncratic stylings of the individual Beatles’ solo career.  

  4. The songs must flow together as a cohesive whole.  Note that, this being a theoretical late-90s release, this album would have been primarily a compact-disc release, we are not beholden to two 20-minute sides.  With that said, the album is still organized into two halves–this is just how I hear albums!



How this album relates to the actual Beatles Anthology, is up to the listener.  It might make the most sense to consider this album and the Anthology projects as separate (but related) entities; perhaps The Threetles used the momentum of the Anthology project to make one final Beatles album, released in 1998?  Also of note is the unifying influence here: Jeff Lynn.  Clearly he was the driving force of the Lennon demos and George’s album, but he was also producing much of Flaming Pie.  It’s also super convenient that the drums on both Flaming Pie and Brainwashed sound explicitly Ringo-esque!  And as with all of these Beatles reimaginings, suspension of disbelief is required for maximum enjoyment.  


Calico Skies opens with the centrifugal force of the project itself– “Free As a Bird”, taken from Anthology 1.  This sets the stage for the tone of the album and is followed by one of Paul’s strongest offerings in this period, “The World Tonight” from the otherwise overhyped Flaming Pie.  George then ups the ante with “Any Road”, using Ozone 10 to make the vocals less upfront, or at least mixed to a similar level as John and Paul songs; George’s opening banter is moved elsewhere in the album.  Paul’s fantastic “Calico Skies” follows but is more of a linking track to John’s “Now and Then”.  


Here I have used the extracted stems courtesy of Rock Band Stems, to make a new mix of “Now and Then” that sounds closer to the mid-90s mixes of “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love.”  This includes capturing the drum room sound from the aforementioned using Camaleon2, and mixing George’s guitars and Paul’s bass to be more upfront.  Also, we have mostly stripped away Giles Martin’s orchestration (although it does return briefly near the end of the song) and have completely removed Paul’s modern backing vocals and (misguided) attempt at “completing” the song with new lyrics.  Left with no chorus, I have removed the last few bars of the chorus entirely, and restructured John’s vocal to sing “Now and then I want you to turn to me…” (cryptically Lennon-esque, imo!).  Thus this section of the song simply becomes a middle-eight, for an otherwise chorus-less Lennon song (which is totally fine for an album-cut like this).  Additionally, I have mixed Paul’s slide guitar solo upward and added a spinning Leslie effect to it, in order to make it more Beatle-esque.  Finally, it is mastered to be as equally loud as “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”, and ideally sounds of the era.  


George’s “Rising Sun”--one of the highlights from Brainwashed, imo, follows to close the first half of Calico Skies.  “Real Love” from Anthology 2 hits the reset button, followed by Paul’s exemplary “Little Willow” from Flaming Pie.  It is gently crossfaded into George’s “Rocking Chair in Hawaii”; although technically better George songs were on Brainwashed, this one really serves the vibe of Side B the most precisely.   Paul’s “Beautiful Night” follows, which we are here considering a collaboration with Ringo, sufficing as his contribution to the album (anything from Vertical Man would have ruined Calico Skies, sorry/not-sorry!).  This is followed by “Grow Old With Me” from The John Lennon Anthology, featuring George Martin’s orchestral arrangements and overdubs–the closest to a “Beatles” version we have (ignoring the terrible Ringo Starr cover).  Closing the album is one of George’s best songs, “Brainwashed”; although this really starts to bend my Rule #3, I will give an exception, being what it is–the grandest of finales.  Perhaps George got the last laugh over Paul in the end?  



Sources used:

The Beatles - Anthology 1 (1995)

The Beatles - Anthology 2 (1996)

The Beatles - Now and Then (2023 stem extraction by Rock Band Stems)

George Harrison - Brainwashed (2002)

John Lennon - John Lennon Anthology (1998)

Paul McCartney - Flaming Pie (1996)

 

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Thursday, November 23, 2023

Bob Dylan - New York Skyline

 


Bob Dylan - New York Skyline

(New Morning double-album re-imagining)


 

Side A:

  1. The Man in Me

  2. Winterlude

  3. Mary Anne

  4. One More Weekend

  5. Mr. Bojangles


Side B:

  1. Tomorrow is a Long Time

  2. Three Angels

  3. The Ballad of Ira Hayes

  4. If Dogs Run Free


Side C:

  1. New Morning

  2. Lily of The West

  3. Alligator Man

  4. I Went To See The Gypsy

  5. Sign On The Window


Side D:

  1. Time Passes Slowly

  2. Father of Night

  3. If Not For You

  4. Long Black Veil

  5. Spanish is The Living Tongue 



Happy Thanksgiving!  This re-imagining was voted by my top-tier Patreons to be the November 2023 release on Albums That Never Were, so here it is!  I call this New York Skyline, which is a double-album re-imagining of Bob Dylan’s 1970 classic album New Morning.  The first disc is a reconstruction of Al Kooper’s original cut of the New Morning album, as he envisioned it near the conclusion of the sessions; the second disc was constructed by myself, comprising the best of the rest of the material not featured on Al Kooper’s cut, assembled as the second half of a theoretical double album which compliments the first half.  


As the curtain closed on the 1960s, one of its founding fathers, Bob Dylan, attempted to close the curtain on his own legacy.  After reinventing his songwriting during his legendary Basement Tapes “sessions” throughout 1967, Dylan returned with a more concise and direct approach, abandoning the “thin, wild, mercury sound” for influences derived from The Great American Songbook.  This was immediately seen in 1968’s John Wesley Harding, which replaced his epic, surreal poetics for more concise Americana with a stately, sparse instrumentation.  1969’s Nashville Skyline took the progression even farther, embracing commercial Country and Western music, recorded in said city and featuring a new “Dylan voice” that seemed to be reminiscent of the classic crooners of a bygone era, if not Kermit The Frog.  


But the real trip began with the release of Self Portrait in June, 1970.  A double album that contained a seemingly random mix of more Nashville standards, classic Americana traditionals embellished by studio musicians, confusingly scant originals like “Wigwam” or “All The Tired Horses” and live recordings with The Band from their 1969 Isle of Wight performance.  Divisive to this day, with Rolling Stone’s Greil Marcus famously prefacing his review of the album with “What is this shit?”, Dylan seemed to be intentionally dismantling the legend he had built for himself throughout the 1960s, either out of frustration, boredom, or even his own amusement.  While this is a fair assessment, it also misses a key nuance: New Morning.


In the spring of 1970, Dylan was drafted to compose the music for a new Archibold MacLeish play called Scratch, based upon Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story The Devil and Daniel Webster.  Although Dylan eventually bowed out of the production due to creative differences with the producers, he had salvaged three new key compositions that created the momentum for a new album: “New Morning”, “Father of Night” and “Time Passes Slowly”.  


Dylan returned to the studio a month before the release of the intentionally divisive Self Portrait,  demoing material for an album to harbor the Scratch leftovers.  Armed with Nashville veterans Russ Kunkle on drums, Charlie Daniels on bass, Al Kooper on keyboards, and an old-pal guitarist named George Harrison, Dylan breezed through a few of his new compositions, including  “Sign On The Window”, “Time Passes Slowly”, “I Went To See The Gypsy”, and a song he had co-written with Harrison, “If Not For You.”  The session also included a jam of a number of 50s Rock n Roll standards and Bob Dylan classics, to varying degrees of success.  


A literal week before the release of Self Portrait, Dylan began the sessions proper, assembling a backing band with Kooper, Daniels and Krunkle, and the addition of Dave Bromberg on guitar and a set of female backing vocalists.  A tad looser than the previous year’s Nashville Skyline sessions, the vibe was distinct from Dylan’s previous work and continued the laid back, yet nuanced instrumentation from the final Self Portrait sessions.  Featured heavily are a trio of female backing vocalists, a sound that would re-emerge later in Dylan’s career.  Dylan’s voice had a more natural and less forced inflection, sounding both road-weary yet optimistic–a surviving pop-philosopher of the turbulent decade that had just concluded.  Although he was still in his “Nashville-era”, these recordings seemed to be decidedly “New York”.  Although intending to record his new originals, he put just as much work into even more Country covers and American standards.  Knowing this, these sessions–which would form the basis of his 1970 album New Morning–were more a direct continuation of Self Portrait, rather than a reevaluation.  


The first day of the week’s recording yielded the traditional songs “Mary Anne” and “Sarah Jane”, Jimmy Newman’s “Alligator Man” and Peter la Farge’s “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”.  The second day of recording yielded Dylan’s own “If Not For You” and “Time Passes Slowly”, a cover of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” and the traditional “Spanish is the Living Tongue”, a song Dylan seemed to have a vast affinity for.   Day three saw the recording of Dylan’s own “One More Weekend”, as well as the traditionals “Jamaica Goodbye” and “Lily of The West”, the classic Elvis Presely ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” and Lefty Frizell’s “Long Black Veil.”  Day four of recording saw Dylan’s own “Three Angels”, “Tomorrow is a Long Time” and “New Morning”, as well as Ledbelly’s “Bring Me A Little Water, Sylvie” and Joni Mitchel’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”  The fifth and final marathon recording session yielded a number of masters: Dylan originals “If Dogs Run Free”, “I Went To See The Gypsy”, “Sign On The Window”, “Winterlude”, “The Man In Me” and “Father Of Night”, as well as Elvis Presley’s “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” and a new, sparser version of “Lily of The West.”  


With approximately 25 finished songs recorded over five days, New Morning Was basically a wrap three days before Self Portrait was even released.  At this time, Dylan’s current musical compatriot Al Kooper assembled a rough acetate of how he envisioned the album, which included: “The Man In Me”, “Winterlude”, “Mary Anne”, “One More Weekend”, “Mr Bojangles”, “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, “Three Angels”, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “If Dogs Run Free.”  


After experiencing (or relishing?) the blow-back from Self Portrait, it was decided that New Morning still needed more work and producer Bob Johnson oversaw a pair of sweetening sessions in July which saw horn overdubs on “New Morning”, string overdubs on “Sign On The Window” and Bluegrass instrumentation to “If Not For You.”  One final recording session in August with a hastily-assembled band of Dylan, Kooper, Harvey Brooks and Buzzy Feiten yielded new versions of “If Not For You” and “Time Passes Slowly”, as well as a newly-written original concerning Dylan’s honorary Princeton doctorate “Day of The Locusts.”  Refining the tracklist to include only the twelve Dylan originals, New Morning was released in October, and fans were assured that Dylan hadn’t “lost it”--even if New Morning wasn’t anything near the intimacy of John Wesley Harding or the power of Blonde On Blonde.  Seven of the covers from the New Morning sessions appeared in the slightly-unauthorized 1973 album Dylan (which was also marketed as A Fool Such As I), and the remandiner stayed in the vault until Dylan’s recent Bootleg Series and COpyright Extension collections.  Has the sun set on this new morning, or is it time for a reappraisal?  


This re-imagination attempts to offer a reassessment of this “lesser” Dylan album that holds a very specific place in my heart; although not his best work of the period, the sound was unique and its vibe is very comfy–not to mention harnessing my favorite “Dylan voice” which he would not precisely repeat.  I offer this revised, double album New Morning to counter the narrative that the album was meant to silence the critics that hated Self Portrait, and suggest it as a literal continuation, for better or for worse.  The first disc is a reconstruction of Al Kooper’s master of the album, with a second disc assembled from the remaining sessions, to complement Kooper’s master.  We are also presuming the album was completely finished in July, and thus the August 1970 session was not needed.  


Reconstructing Al Kooper’s master, Side A opens with Jeffery Lebowski’s theme, “The Man In Me”, followed by “Winterlude”, both from New Morning.  This is followed by “Mary Anne” taken from Dylan (A Fool Such As I), EQd to match the rest of this reconstruction.  Next is “One More Weekend”, again from New Morning, and the side concluding with “Mr Bojangles”, again re-EQd from Dylan.  Side B opens with “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, sourced from a 2007 leak of the pre-mastered reels, the best source for the song.  This is followed by “Three Angels” from New Morning and “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” re-EQd from Dylan.  Disc one ends with the far superior version of “If Dogs Run Free”, taken from The Bootleg Series Volume 10, which suggests angelic longing rather than crappy scatty jazz-pop.  Bob, what were you even thinking?  


With a ton of material leftover from Kooper’s cut, my goal was to make a second disc that matches and compliments his selections (much like my reconstruction of Hendrix’s First Rays of The New Rising Sun); it is not intended to be a complete retrospective of these sessions.  Side C opens with the brass overdubbed version of “New Morning” from The Bootleg Series Volume 10, followed by the more atmospheric, alternate take of “Lily of The West” from The 50th Anniversary Collection.  Although one could consider it a blemish, here in the tracklist “Alligator Man” becomes a good-time uplift, also taken from The 50th Anniversary Collection.  My personal favorite take 1 of “Went To See The Gypsy” from the June 5th session follows, also from The 50th Anniversary Collection.  Closing the side is the orchestral version of “Sign on The Window” from The Bootleg Series Volume 10.


Side D opens with one of the best recordings of these sessions, which was so surprisingly ignored by Dylan: the hard rock version of “Time Passes Slowly” from The Bootleg Series Volume 10.  Here a deep-cut rather than an album closer, “Father of Night” from New Morning is next.  Mid-side we have “If Not For You”, but I am using what take I felt fit the best in this context: take 2 from the June 2nd session, taken from the 50th Anniversary Collection.  “Long Black Veil”, also from the 50th Anniversary collection, follows, and the album closes with a serene end of “Spanish is The Living Tongue”, also taken from the 2007 premaster leak.  



Sources used:

The 50th Anniversary Collection: 1970 (2020 CD release)

A Few Files From a Data DVD Disc (bootleg, 2007)

The Bootleg Series Volume 10 (2013 CD release)

Dylan (A Fool Such As I) (2013 CD Remaster)

New Morning (2009 CD remaster)

 

 

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Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Doors - Rock is Dead


The Doors - Rock is Dead

(soniclovenoize reimagining)

Side A:

  1. Touch Me
  2. Who Scared You
  3. Shaman’s Blues
  4. Whiskey, Mystics & Men
  5. Queen of The Highway
  6. Do It

Side B:

  1. Rock is Dead

Hello there, and welcome to the new Patreon-based incarnation of Albums That Never Were!  The very first reconstruction to be featured in this new format is a reimagining of The Doors fourth album, here called Rock is Dead.  This reimagining attempts to restructure the band’s otherwise dismal 1969 album The Soft Parade into a release more in-line with the band’s established Morrison-led, psychedelic-rock sound, rather than an over-produced hodge-podge of unfinished material.  Side A features what is essentially the best material from The Soft Parade sessions, and are all “band only mixes” that exclude producer Paul Rothchild’s misguided brass and string overdubs. The entirety of Side B consists of my own, custom made 20-minute edit of The Door’s infamous hour-long jam “Rock is Dead”, intended as this album’s epic (as “The End”, “When The Music’s Over” and “Celebration of The Lizard” were for the previous three albums).

By 1969, the creative minds behind The Doors were running on empty.  After two groundbreaking 1967 albums The Doors and Strange Days and a third entry with 1968’s Waiting For The Sun (which was reconstructed on this blog as Celebration of the Lizard), The Doors were simply out of original material to create a fourth album.  With the daunting task of writing completely new material in the studio for a market hungry for new Doors material, the band relied heavily on contributions from guitarist Robby Kreiger; although he had written the band’s break-through hit “Light My Fire”, the soul of the band lied within vocalist Jim Morrison’s words, coupled with the collective strength of the rest of the band’s idiosyncratic musicality.  Unfortunately, Morrison was completely disillusioned from “The Rock Star Life” and was more interested in his two other passions: alcohol and poetry.   Left to herd the cats was producer Paul Rothchild, tasked to coax out an album’s worth of material from a band adrift.  Additionally, Rothchild made the erroneous blunder to overdub lush horns and strings onto the new Doors material, to follow the symphonic rock trend paved by his perceived main competition, The Beatles.

The album sessions began in July 1968, directly after the completion of Waiting For The Sun, with the recording of Morrison’s “Wild Child” and Krieger’s “Wishful Sinful”, neither of which contained the excitement of the band’s previous work.  Also tracked was a demo of a song which would be revisited years later: “Roadhouse Blues”, featuring keyboardist Ray Manzerek on lead vocals!  The Doors then embarked on an infamous European tour with Jefferson Airplane (which included Morrison’s drunken tryst with Grace Slick, and Ray’s first foray into replacing the our-of-commission frontman of the band), returning to work on the album in November.

The first two new songs to be tracked at the band’s new Elektra Studios that Fall would be a pair of Krieger originals with decidedly pop overtones: “Touch Me” and “Tell All The People.”  While the former has potential, the later was a soupy ballad to flower power.  In contrast, Jim and Robby offered a pair of co-written rockers: “Do It” and “Who Scared You”.  Finally, Jim offered up his own material in “Shaman’s Blues”, “Queen of The Highway” and “Whiskey, Mystics and Men”; the latter two would be scrapped and later re-recorded for Morrison Hotel.  The following week, Rothschild overdubbed horns to “Touch Me”, “Tell All The People”, “Wishful Sinful” and “Who Scared You”, and strings to “Touch Me” and “Wishful Sinful.”

The excruciating recording process had yet to yield an albums-worth of material, so the band returned after Christmas to record Robby’s own bizarre tribute to Ottis Redding, “Runnin’ Blue”, which received hoedown overdubs after the New Year.  After attempting and then abandoning a “jazzier” remake version of “Queen of the Highway” (which was abandoned as well), the quartet proceeded to record a number of musical fragments, culled from the final bits of poetry from Morrison’s lyric book which had birthed so many Doors classics only three years earlier.  The resulting scatterbrained medley “The Soft Parade” would last nearly nine minutes in length, yet lacked the soul of The Doors’ previous epic album songs.

But the real curiosity of the sessions occurred on February 25th, 1969: an hour-long in-studio jam that has since been dubbed “Rock is Dead.”  Its infamy has only grown over the years, spawning an intense mythos often concerning an intentional overview of the entire history of Rock n Roll, The Doors self-awareness of their place in it all, and Jim’s alleged conclusion that Rock was dead.  Judging by what can actually be heard on the tape, it sounds more like a drunk Doors jamming to oldies for an hour, with varying levels of success.  Regardless, its legendary status in The Doors vault was secured as various edits and mixes of “Rock is Dead” scouted the bootleg market for years.

With teeth finally extracted, The Soft Parade was released in July 1969, with “Touch Me” hitting number three on the Billboard charts.  Whilst admittedly a great Doors song, this listener could not help but wonder “What would it have sounded like without the schlocky Las Vegas horns?”  Fifty years later, The Doors issued “band only” mixes of most of the overproduced Soft Parade songs–as well as the entirely of the “Rock is Dead” jam session–allowing fans to re-imagine the album into a more “traditional"-sounding Doors album, as well as a more Jim Morrison-centered one.

Side A of this Doors reimagining begins with the aforementioned band-only mix of “Touch Me”, which loses none of its bombast that some had presumed without the horn section.  Following is the band-only remix of “Who Scared You”, originally released with horns as the b-side to “Wishful Sinful”, followed by the original mix of “Shaman’s Blues.”  At this point, we shift to two Jim Morrison-led outtakes from The Soft Parade sessions that could have been finished and greatly improved the original album: “Whiskey, Mystics and Men” (here the original November 1968 outtake, rather than the re-recording which featured American Prayer-era band overdubs) adds the darkness and mysticism lacking on The Soft Parade; following is my own edit of the original November 1968 “Queen of The Highway” from the Morrison Hotel boxset (yes, the “Get naked and fuck!” version!) that effectively creates a cohesive version from four different sections and takes.  Side A ends with a bang with the original album mix of “Do It.”

Since Rock is Dead is meant to be closer in sound and tone to the debut, Strange Days and Celebration of The Lizard, the only way this album could be presented would be with an edit of “Rock is Dead” occupying the entire Side B of this reimagined album!  I have removed all the bum notes and false starts, the outhouse Robby solos and unnecessarily repeated musical sections to create a more cohesive performance.  This “Rock is Dead” ends up sounding like a more refined live improvisation, much like what one would hear at a Doors concert and something that was never really captured in the studio.  It might lack real meat, but it is honest; if you have never bothered listening to this piece, my edit is probably your best bet.  Some might construe it as rough and slightly meandering, but is that any worse than what we got on The Soft Parade?

 

Sources used:

Morrison Hotel (50th Anniversary boxset)

The Soft Parade (50th Anniversary boxset)

 

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