Thursday, May 7, 2015

Blur - Britain Versus America




Blur – Britain Versus America
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  PopScene
2.  Advert
3.  Colin Zeal
4.  Pressure On Julian
5.  Oily Water
6.  Beachcoma

Side B:
7.  Never Clever
8.  Star Shaped
9.  Into Another
10.  Miss America
11.  Turn It Up
12.  Resigned


In honor of the just-released first Blur album in 12 years—The Magic Whip—I’m offering a reconstruction of the unreleased 1992 Blur album Britain Versus America, which evolved into their sophomore and band-defining 1993 album Modern Life Is Rubbish.  Originally designed to sonically follow their debut Leisure using featuring the Madchester sound, the album got a complete facelift to become the first of their “Life Trilogy” and signaled a new era of the band, featuring a more traditional Brit-Pop sound and image.  This reconstruction attempts to present the album as originally envisioned during the band’s dismal American Tour in 1992 and follows the abandoned aesthetic of their “PopScene” single, using alternate versions and a concise track sequence influenced by the setlists of that tour.  Original masters are used when available and all tracks are volume adjusted for a cohesive listening experience.

Following the initial rush of British stardom upon the release of their single “There’s No Other Way” in 1991, their debut album Leisure was seen as an anticlimax, using the indie aesthetic of the Madchester sound—a mix of dance-grooves juxtaposed with shoegaze guitars—with a more pop-friendly face.   Despite this, Blur soldiered on and by 1992 the band was in debt, embarking on an American tour to recoup and fronted by a new single for the occasion: “PopScene”.  At the time, the song was thought of as their crown achievement by the band, with its punk influenced charisma juxtaposed by a particularly British horn section and vocal melody; unfortunately the Americans disagreed and the single flopped.  As the tour continued, band morale diminished and Blur became resentful of the Americas, creating an “us vs. them” mentality.  This planted the seeds for their next album, which would be decidingly British, combating what they felt was overly American music popular at the time: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc.  Throughout 1992, Blur recorded new material and road-tested the songs for the Americans but received less-than stellar responses, especially when compared to the positive feedback garnished on their British contemporaries.  The planned follow-up single “Never Clever” was scrapped and the band was left with about 20 new, finished studio recordings tracked between November 1991 and August 1992 at Matrix Studios with John Smith, with the tentative title Britain Versus America.  Featuring an aggressive mix of Baggy and British references meant to compete with the American grunge scene, the recordings remained a sonic continuation of the band’s debut… at least for the time being. 

This musical direction was second-guessed by frontman Damon Albarn, opting to give Blur a much-needed facelift, visually and sonically.  Relegating the previous year’s work to demo status and focusing-in and honing the Brit-Pop aspect of the band with a sound reminiscent of The Kinks, The Beatles and The Small Faces, Blur began re-recording the material with XTC member Andy Partridge in September with disparaging results (before a quick single session with Steve Lowell, who had produced “PopScene”).  After a chance meeting, Blur reconvened with Leisure producer Stephen Street to retrack the best of the 20 new songs with a renewed sense of musical purpose.  By the end of 1992, Blur had compiled an album based on the Street and Lovell session, with a handful the best of the Smith material peppered in to round off an album, still provisionally titled Britain Versus America.  This master was rejected by Food Records as not commercial enough and Albarn went back to the drawing board that Christmas, writing the album-defining hits “For Tomorrow” and “Chemical World”.  After more sessions in early 1993, the more commercial (and more British) album was retitled to a safer Modern Life Is Rubbish and eventually reached critical and commercial acclaim, jump-starting the band back to not only British pop icons, but critical darlings.  Note that it was the trajectory of one year that created this landmark; can we turn back the clock and hear how the album was originally intended?

The first step in reconstructing Britain Versus America is to separate the fact from fiction.  There was a long-held belief that Britain Versus America was the unreleased Blur album reportedly compiled in the spring of 1992, which allegedly had a tracklist of: Oily Water / Mace / Badgeman Brown / PopScene / Resigned / Garden Central / Hanging Over / Into Another / Peach / Bone Bag / Never Clever / Coping / My Ark / Pressure on Julian.  Blur guitarist Graham Coxon has recently debunked this myth, dismissing this information.  We now know that not only was there no album compiled at this point, but it could not have even been Britain Versus America anyways, as the title was adopted in late 1992 after the Street sessions!  Conversely, the Food Records-rejected master of Modern Life Is Rubbish from Christmas 1992 (a more likely candidate for the title Britain Versus America) was probably closer to the final album than we think, missing only the hit singles—not a very interesting reconstruction!

For our purposes, we will acknowledge both fact and fiction surrounding Britain Versus America and instead reconstruct an album that illustrates the evolution of Modern Life Is Rubbish.  We will compile the theoretical second Blur album as is stood before the band’s facelift and attempts to re-record the album with Andy Partridge and then Stephen Street, focusing squarely on the best of the Matrix tapes recorded in the Fall of 1991 and throughout 1992.   In effect, we will have an alternate Modern Life Is Rubbish that follows a more guitar-heavy Madchester sound, closer to that of Leisure.  To do so we will use the alternate versions of the MLIR tracks found on the Blur 21 box (paired with the original masters if they were already officially-released tracks) and a track selection and sequence that acknowledges both the track order for MLIR and the actual setlists of Blur’s 1992 American Tour.  This reconstruction also sets a limit of 12-songs, in line with the length of Leisure and avoiding the hour-long lengths of Blur’s “Life Trilogy” albums. 

Our Britain Versus America sets its tone with the quintessential song of this period, “PopScene”, taken from the original US MLIR release.  The album continues much as MLIR does with the early and punkier Matrix versions of “Advert”, “Colin Zeal” and “Pressure On Julian”, all taken from the 21 box.  Following is the exquisite “Oily Water”, this being the most dynamic master taken from the 1991 V2 compilation Volume Two which predated the MLIR album considerably.  Side A concludes with the fantastic b-side “Beachcoma” from the For Tomorrow single and restarts Side B with the single that never was, “Never Clever” taken from the 21 box.  This is followed by the early Matrix version of “Star Shaped” and one of the lost MLIR songs “Into Another” which was performed regularly in 1992, both also from the 21 box.  The apropos “Miss America” from the US MLIR follows, with the album concluding with the more rockin’ Matrix version of “Turn It Up” found on 21 and the climactic “Resigned” from the MLIR US version.  The effectiveness of this reconstruction is certainly up for debate—possibly dependent on if you are American or British!—but offers not only an alternate flavor to a magic whip, but if you might have thought that Modern Life was actually rubbish. Let the battle begin!


Lossless FLAC (part 1, part 2)


Sources used:
Blur 21: The Box (2012 Parlophone CD)
For Tomorrow (1993 Food Records CD single)
Modern Life is Rubbish (1993 SBK Records CD - US version)
Various Artists – Volume 2 (1991 V2 Records compilation CD)


flac --> wav --> editing in Goldwave and Audacity--> flac encoding via TLH lv8
* md5 files, track notes and artwork included

47 comments:

  1. Thanks Sonic look forward to hearing this.

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  3. This is great. Many thanx,

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  4. I've read a lot about unreleased albums, and I'd never heard about this one. Thanks

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  5. I'd love to hear some actually valid releases of some of the unreleased/fantasy albums ive compiled. I do not have the time nor knowledge to do the masterwork you do, but it seems we have similar hobbies:
    http://blashcorecords.blogspot.com/

    Thank you for all of your efforts, you are impressively thorough and knowledgeable.

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  6. Awesome work as always! You should really do one of these days Jan & Dean's original concept for their album ''Filet of Soul''.

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  7. I am still hoping for a Beatles reunion album with songs from McCartney II, George Harrison's self titled album, Double Fantasy, and Stop and Smell the Roses being used. and then possibly another Beatles album in 82 with songs from Tug of War, Milk and Honey, Somewhere in England, Smell the Roses, and the two Anthology singles being used. Please do these albums. Would be a fitting conclusion to the what if Beatles albums

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    1. Look Up EveryDay Chemistry, its tells you how good and how wierd it could have been.

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    2. Everyday Chemistry is one of the weirdest remixes I've heard!

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    3. I have heard parts of Everyday Chemistry. Sort of interesting, but the parts I have heard sound like dance remixes. That doesn't appeal to me very much.

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  8. Enough with the Beatles reunion albums... Jeez..., I'd focus on the Last album of the Hollies with Graham Nash (1968), Kinks - Four More Respected Gentlemen, The final Yardbirds album (1968) , Earthlings - e3 ... all those albums would be far better and offer more variety than a Beatles reunion album.

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  9. kinks and yardbirds would be cool.
    thanks for all the posts

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  10. Here's a good suggestion: How about Bob Marley's "Confrontation" album, as it originally was supposed to sound, without the overdubs/post production.

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  11. Yeah, really. I've tried making a Beatles reunion playlist and it blew. John was the only one with some decent tracks that era. The McCartney album wasn't entirely terrible but it doesn't fit in well with anyone else's material. Sadly, George was having an off-year as well.

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  12. Here's an unreleased album, made by The Black Crowes, using songs from both the Band and Tall Sessions (both different albums), using songs that weren't re-recorded for any future albums, or re-worked, here's my track listing (Most of these are found on Lost Crowes, except one song, "Title Song", found on a Black Crowes bootleg of studio material from the Tall Sessions)


    Dirty Hair Halo
    Feathers
    Tornado
    Thunderstorm
    Another Road Tragedy
    Predictable
    Never Forget This Song
    Lifevest
    Grinnin
    My Heart’s Killing Me

    I did the same for a Smashing Pumpkins album between Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie - here's that track list:


    Blew Away
    Glynis
    Jupiters Lament
    Marquis in Spades
    Autumn Nocturne
    Wishing You Were Real
    Frail & Bedazzled
    God
    Meladori Magpie
    Methusela
    The Boy
    Whir

    thoughts anyone?

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    1. Kinda confused with the SP album above... Blew Away, Glynis, Frail & Bedazzled and Whir were all written in '92 and recorded during the Siamese Dream sessions in '93; Jupiter's Lament, Autumn Nocturne, Wishing You Were Real, Maladori Magpie and Methusela were all acoustic demos written & recorded right after the completion of the Siamese Dream tour in late 1994; God and The Boy were Mellon Collie outtakes recorded in 1995; Marquis in Spades was a Mellon Collie left-over, that was tracked after the completion of the album specifically for b-side purposes.

      My point is that I think, if you are meaning to create a stop-gab sort of album inbetween Siamese and Mellon Collie, the material is a bit disparaging, with half of it very Siamese and half of it very Mellon Collie. A better way is to probably focus solely on the material from the Gravity tapes, since that was apparently made while still on tour for Siamese in 1994, a demo session for riffs & ideas for their next album.

      Although Pisces Iscariot is one of my all-time favorite albums, and I thought it was fine as-is (even though that album itself spans like 4 years)!

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  13. In reference to a '80/'81 or '83 Beatles album I agree that any compilation would be less than stellar. None of the four were releasing anything that could be called Beatley. My solution was to compile a Lennon & McCartney album that consists of John's Milk and Honey tracks and the best of McCartney II. Came out nice. http://beatles-whatif.blogspot.com/2010/04/1981-lennon-mccartney.html

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    1. I know there have been many requests for an Albums That Never Were 80s Beatles Album (or two!) so I just want to comment about that...

      I most likely will not do an 80s Beatles Album on this blog for two reasons:

      1) I am trying to move away from doing "re-imaginations" and stick to album reconstructions with some sort of historical basis to them. That in itself is tricky, but for example look at this reconstruction we are commenting for right now: we have evidence that Blur had an early title for Modern life is Rubbish, and we know they recorded over an album's worth of material before drastically shifting their sound and re-recording the album. While obviously I filled in the blanks with my own guestimation and personal taste/bias, I still feel there was enough of a "historical basis" for this reconstruction. So if an album didn't at least exist in the mind of the artist at some point in time, then I probably won't do it. Thus the 70s Beatles Albums and the Syd Barrett-Pink Floyd albums will remain an anomaly on this blog.

      2) I did in fact start to create an 80s Beatles Album to end that cycle, but I found it's design problematic and it became very tedious to reconstruct, so much in that it ceased to be enjoyable to work on (which is the reason I do any of this in the first place!), So I just left it as a shortlist of 19 songs and some cover art and have had no desire to finish the project.

      The reason it was problematic is because I found there to be 60 minutes of good material--which is too long for a singular album, but there was not enough good material to make a double LP. I found it either too difficult to whittle down by 10-15 minutes or too depressing to pad it out for 20 minutes with horrible material!

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    2. BUT I know this is a highly requested reconstruction, so I will at least give you guys some spoilers about this Album That Never Was That Never Was so that you can use my ideas on it and roll your own, if you choose...

      - There would have been ONE 80s Beatles Album. Tracks in consideration would only be from October 1979 to December 1980 and it would end with John's death. My timeline assumes that while John retired, Paul, George and Ringo recorded their own solo material between 1975-1979 and eventually pooled resources in 1980 as The Beatles. No Dakota demos.

      - I would have called it "Skywriting By Word Of Mouth", and the cover art would have been John's painting "Free As A Bird" (which was used as the cover for the 1986 collection of Lennon's writings Skywriting By Word of Mouth).

      - John tracks in consideration would be the best/appropriate (imo) from the Double Fantasy/Milk & Honey sessions, which were: Just Like Starting Over, Beautiful Boy, Cleanup Time, I'm Losing You, Nobody Told Me, Watching The Wheels and Woman.

      - Paul tracks in consideration would be the best of the Tug of War songs that were demo'd and begun BEFORE John died, which were: Ballroom Dancing, Take It Away, Wanderlust and Tug Of War. I curiously had The Pound Is Sinking and Somebody Who Cares added to the list (even though it dates from after Lennon died) just because they were my favorites of this period and we needed a few more Paul tunes to compete with the John material...

      - George songs in consideration would be the best of the Somewhere In England songs recorded BEFORE John died, which were: Life Itself, Tears of the World, Writing on the Wall and Dream Away (which was recorded the very day that Lennon was assassinated; although meant for the film Time Bandits, it's my all-time favorite Harrisong, and I wanted a place for it on this album)

      - Ringo songs in consideration would have just been Wrack My Brain (recorded with George, a month before Lennon was killed) and You Can't Fight Lightning (recorded with Paul from July 1980 but rejected from the Smell The Roses album when it ceased to be the title track).

      - Just Like Starting Over would have begun side A, and Tug of War (directly crossfaded into Nobody Told Me) would have begun Side B. The album would have ended with Beautiful Boy.

      - There would have been an equal number of John and Paul songs, two Harrisongs and one Ringo song, all somehow evenly distributed over two LP sides. So out of the 19 songs, I would have probably had 13 (5 John, 5 Paul, 2 George and Ringo).

      There you guys go, have at it!

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    3. I understand your reasons for not doing this album. I also find your description of your attempt to construct the album intriguing and can agree with your criteria for what should be included. I think I will see what I can do within those parameters. Love your work.

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    4. Thank you for this info at least. since finding you blog I have found your descriptions of how albums shoulda/woulda/coulda been very interesting.

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    5. Thanks for the tips sonic! This is what my take on 1979 and 1981 Beatles albums would be like. No tracks from Macca II 'cause they clash sonically with the rest:

      1979- Now & Then

      (Side A)
      Free As A Bird
      Old Siam, Sir
      Not Guilty
      Pure Gold
      Getting Closer
      Grow Old With Me

      (Side B)
      Here Comes The Moon
      Now & Then (this version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=34&v=GkMwKvNhK6A)
      Im' Carrying
      Blow Away
      Real Love
      Baby's Request
      Dear One


      1981- Skywriting

      (Side A)
      Tug Of War
      Nobody Told Me
      Ballroom Dancing
      Life Itself
      Take It Away
      Woman

      (Side B)
      Wrack My Brain
      (Just Like) Starting Over
      Wanderlust
      Writing's On The Wall
      Watching The Wheels
      The Pound Is Sinking
      Beautiful Boy

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  14. Would it be possible to do the late 90s album by the Grateful Dead ?

    During the weeks of 2/10/93 - 2/24/93, the band had rehearsed/ recorded an albums worth of material, as well as road tested some of these songs in early 92.

    Here are the songs in an unordered non final listing:
    So Many Roads (available on archive.org)
    Corinna (Ratdog’s Evening Moods)
    Wave To The Wind (Soundcheck 1993 (www.Archive.org)
    Lazy River Road (So Many Roads Compilation Boxset)
    Liberty (There And Back Again, Phil+ Friends CD)
    Samba In The Rain (Missing Man Formation CD)
    Way To Go Home (Studio Rehearsal (GD Hour Broadcast)
    days between (So Many Roads Comp. Boxset)
    Eternity (So Many Roads Boxset)
    Childhood’s End (SBD Version (sounds like studio!!) from 3/27/2000 Phil and Friends (Archive.org)

    Removed “Easy Answers” (Featured on Rob Wassermans Trios album… just doesn’t fit.) and “If The Shoe Fits” (no studio recording/ rehearsal) - based on your preference, you could remove Samba (as most people weren’t too fond of it), and include Easy Answers, but i think the two Vince Songs really equal out the album.

    There were even photo shoots held Feb. 18th, 1993 for the album to be. (page 16 on (www.dead.net)

    Would you be wanting to do this? or would anyone be interested in this ?

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    1. That would be cool, I'd like to hear it.

      I am currently in the process of putting together a collection of Furthur originals , in an attempt to make a Furthur album.

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  15. This excellent reconstruction got me into listening to all the old Blur records again, thank you. It also inspired me to create a compilation album for the current top British guitar band, Arctic Monkeys, along similar lines to The Smiths' Louder Than Bombs collection of rareties and hits. I called it Arctic Monkeys - Mad Sounds.

    Side 1:
    A Certain Romance (demo)
    Fake Tales of San Francisco (demo)
    Riot Van (demo)
    Wavin' Bye to the Train or the Bus (demo)
    Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor (demo)
    When the Sun Goes Down
    Mardy Bum

    Side 2:
    Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys?
    Baby I'm Yours
    Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend
    Fluorescent Adolescent
    Only Ones Who Know
    505

    Side 3:
    You Know I'm No Good (BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge)
    Cornerstone
    The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
    Piledriver Waltz
    Love is a Laserquest

    Side 4:
    Suck It and See
    Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?
    Arabella
    Fireside
    Mad Sounds

    Fits nicely onto one cd and while it is not comprehensive, it's a damn fine listening experience. This compilation also illustrates the influence of The Smiths on the Arctic Monkeys.

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  16. I've created a Reddit forum for discussion if you guys want to discuss anything over there.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/albumsthatneverwere/

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  17. I'd also love to hear your version of "Dylan & The Dead" still don't understand why you wouldn't upload it here, as many people would love to hear it... or the Last Album that i always ask about...

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    1. I went back and I decided I didn't like the sever EQing I applied to some of the tracks. So I'm not sure where it stands right now.

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  19. What about this gem of an album, the ORIGINAL Make Believe album ?... "Weezer 4.5" - from wiki: As early as spring 2002, and at random points in late 2002 and early 2003, demos for possible use on Weezer's fifth album would be uploaded to Weezer.com's audio/visual page. After some time, the band decided to start from scratch with a fresh group of songs. 28 songs in all were uploaded on the website (and can still be found on various fan sites) yet none made the actual album. This batch of songs is commonly referred to as "The A5 Demos" or "Album 4.5", amongst fans.

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  20. one of the title suggestions given by Patrick Wilson was One Thousand Soviet Children Marching Towards The Sun.[8] Another suggestion was Either Way I'm Fine (something Cuomo said often during the sessions when discussing changing elements of a song or sound)

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  21. Here's a good source for those tracks (http://www.weezerpedia.com/wiki/index.php?title=Album_5_demo) album that would've been, if it hadn't of been "Make Believe" (which actually has NO tracks from the other sessions on it...)

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    1. Yep, the Album 5 demos! I remember when those all first leaked I had made a little reconstruction of what their next album could be with the 14 best songs, and little did I know that it would instead be the atrocity Make Believe! But at least that CD-R (I was calling "Weezer V") got a lot of play in 2003 and the best of those songs have a special place in my heart, even though it was definitely the beginning of the end for Weezer...

      One thing though: all those leaks only exist as the 128kps mp3s that Karl leaked, and I only use lossless sources here. Thus I cannot do it. BUT here is my own personal reconstruction of the material, revised last summer by me. You can simply snag the correct mp3s and sequence it like this (Superstar, Modern Dukes and Mad Kow--the best from these sessions imo--are excluded because of overlap with SS2K, but one could add them back I suppose).

      Weezer - Shmedly
      1. Private Message
      2. Mansion of Cardboard
      3. Hey Domingo!
      4. The Victor
      5. Lullabye
      6. Fontana
      7. Sacrifice
      8. Untenable
      9. Queen of Earth
      10. She Who is Militant

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    2. My personal version of this is:

      Weezer- One Thousand Soviet Children Marching Towards The Sun

      1. Untenable (07-02-02)
      2. Private Message (Unknown Date)
      3. Prodigy Lover (07-02-02)
      4. She Who Is Militant (07-19-02)
      5. The Organ Player (07-02-02)
      6. Hey Domingo (06-29-02)
      7. Blowin' My Stack (Death To False Metal)
      8. Queen Of Earth (06-25-02)
      9. The Victor (04-22-02)
      10. Fontana (07-02-02)

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  22. Over half the comments here are from two people... anyone actually download and listen to this or last months?

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  23. This is a fantastic reconstruction. I probably haven't listened to Modern Life in 10 years. So I threw Modern Life and Britain versus America on the ipod and have been listening to both quite a bit. Probably at the time Modern Life seemed more interesting as it was a change in direction and a path to three great albums in a very British centric path following Kinks, Small Faces up though XTC. But I love the heaviness and dirtiness of BvA. I am all for hearing made up albums by Black Crowes, Greatful Dead, etc. As far as a reconstruction of an existing album though you hit a homerun. And the sound is great.

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    1. Hey Ken, I could easily send you the "more original" debut of the Grateful Dead, one that they recorded from 65-67, made up of tracks from Birth of the Dead, Rare Cuts & Oddities, Bonus tracks on their actual debut (which was really just a covers album..., and didn't show their "true" psychedelic sound.)

      Here's my finalized track list for that album, not renamed either, as it was still originally called: "San Francisco's The Grateful Dead"

      Final Tracklist:
      1.Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) (Grateful Dead 1967)
      2.Cardboard Cowboy (Searching For The Sound CD)
      3. Alice D. Millionaire (GD Deluxe edition )
      4.The Only Time Is Now (Birth of the dead )
      5. You Don't Have To Ask (Birth of the dead)
      6.Mindbender (Birth of the dead )
      7. Can't Come Down (Birth of the dead)
      8.Tastebud (w/ vocals) (GD Deluxe edition)
      9. Caution (1965 Demo (birth of the Dead)
      10. Standin' On The Corner (Rare Cuts )
      11.Cream Puff War (Rare Cuts)
      12.You See A Broken Heart (Rare Cuts)

      All studio tracks.

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  24. Here's the Grateful Dead's Final album from 1995. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lM4BhQq9UE

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  25. Thanks for the tip on the "more original" debut. I will have to put that together. I go in and out of Dead stages and I am in one now.

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    1. Here's that album Ken, enjoy :- ) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwjS_potZFw

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  26. Here's "Ramblin' Rose" (1972) - The Grateful Dead https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1FVGZQcBRk :) enjoy!

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  27. Blur's theoretical second album was always supposed to begin with "Intermission" (originally titled "The Intro") and end with "Commercial Break" (originally titled "The Outro"). There is always room for quibbling and wanting other favourites on fantasy track listings, but those two were a lock from very early on.

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    1. This is very interesting - where does that info come from? Presumably before "For Tomorrow" was added, the album opened with "Intermission" (and something else moved to Side Two when "Chemical World" was added). I must admit, I assumed those two were added after the US tour, just because of the music-hall sound.

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  28. This is a great piece, I've been looking for something like this for years. Thanks for doing this. In which interview did Graham nix the idea of the early-92 album being sequenced? I've often wondered if they got that far, as it was clear they dumped a lot of tracks. I also wonder if 7 Days and/or Hanging Over would have made the cut, since they played both in their Evening Session in early '92 - it seems like they thought that was their new direction at the time.

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