Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Rolling Stones - Could You Walk On The Water?

The Rolling Stones – Could You Walk On The Water?
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  19th Nervous Breakdown
2.  Sad Day
3.  Take It Or Leave It
4.  Think
5.  Mother’s Little Helper

Side B:
6.  Goin’ Home
7.  Sittin’ On A Fence
8.  Doncha Bother me
9.  Ride On, Baby
10.  Looking Tired

Happy Easter!  In honor of this bunny-hopping holiday, I give you a reconstruction I’ve actually been sitting on for nearly three years now.  This is a reconstruction of the unreleased 1966 Rolling Stones album Could You Walk On The Water.  After Decca Records refused to release such a blasphemous album title, the band restructured the album into their seminal Aftermath album.  This reconstruction gathers all of the best sounding masters of the source material and is presented all in mono, as it was meant to be heard. 

By 1965, The Rolling Stones had become one of the biggest rock bands in the world, proving their value with innovative British interpretations of American R&B music.  In an attempt to keep up with their contemporaries—self-contained bands that wrote their own songs—manager Andrew Loog Oldham pushed the band to compose their own material.  Specifically focusing on creating a song partnership between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tactic proved successful as Jagger/Richards-penned singles “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Get Off Of My Cloud” and “As Tears Go By” were all major hits.  But what of their albums?  Up until then, the Rolling Stones’ albums had been a mixed bag of rock and blues standards with only a sprinkling of their own material.  Possibly taking a cue from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones set out to record an album by the end of the year consisting of all original material. 

While on their fall North American tour in 1965, the band filed into Hollywood’s RCA Studios in December to record the new material they had been composing.  At least nine songs were finished during these fruitful sessions, including: “Doncha Bother Me”, “Goin’ Home”, “Mother’s Little Helper”, “19th Nervous Breakdown”, “Ride On Baby”, “Sad Day”, “Sittin’ On A Fence”, “Take It Or Leave It” and “Think”.  Not only was the band impressed they were able to record nearly a full album of solid, original compositions in a week, but the songs themselves featured impressive exotic adornments by guitarist Brian Jones.  Growing bored of simply playing guitar, Jones literally picked up a number of unusual instruments to contribute, such as an autoharp, harpsichord and koto, giving the songs a colorful, proto-psychedelic flavor.  Finally "Goin Home" was noteworthy as one of the longest continuous performances in recorded rock music thus far, spanning over 11 minutes!  Two tracks from the sessions were selected as a single to be released in February, “19th Nervous Breakdown” b/w “Sad Day”.

Marveling at the results of the RCA sessions, Oldham and the band vied to rush-release all nine finished songs plus a tenth track (the quaint Out Of Our Heads outtake “Looking Tired”, recorded three months prior) in March as Could You Walk On The Water.  Featuring entirely original compositions—as well as the current hit “19th Nervous Breakdown”—the album was supposed to feature cover art from a California reservoir photo shoot and a deluxe gatefold with pictures taken from their recent American tour.  Unfortunately, Decca Records balked at the title, afraid that the name of this decidingly American album would offend the American religious, allegedly stating, “We would not issue it with that title at any price!”  As Oldham negotiated the release of the album, The Rolling Stones continued to tour relentlessly while continuing to compose new material.  As the proposed album release date of March 10th began to close in, it was obvious Could You Walk On The Water would not rise above its own title; with Oldham finally giving in to Decca, it was decided the compilation Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) would be released in its place in the United States and The Stones reevaluated the shelved album. 

Fortunately, there was a silver lining in the failure of Could You Walk On The Water to launch, as the day before its scheduled release date the band returned to RCA Studios to cut another batch of original material.  This second set was more impressive than the first, which included: “Flight 505”, “High and Dry”, “I Am Waiting”, “If You Let Me”, “It’s Not Easy”, “Lady Jane”, “Long Long While”, “Out Of Time”, “Paint It Black”, “Stupid Girl”, “Under My Thumb” and  “What To Do”.  Brian Jones again adorned The Stones' brand of rock with such exotic instruments as a dulcimer, marimba and a sitar.  Now with 21 new songs in total, The Stones combined the best of the December 1965 and March 1966 sessions into one 14-track album.  With “Paint It Black” the lead single in the US market and “Mother’s Little Helper” the lead single in the UK market (both backed with “Lady Jane”), the album—now titled Aftermath—was released in April to critical and commercial acclaim, marking The Rolling Stones’ first masterpiece.  Aftermath not only became one of the greatest albums from the British Invasion era, but stood head-to-head against other legendary rock albums of the time, including Highway 61 Revisited, Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds.  But is it possible to resurrect Could You Walk On The Water, the album that was 'passover' by both Decca and ultimately The Stones themselves?

Luckily the tracklist of Could You Walk On The Water has been published and nearly all of the tracks have been released, allowing many listeners to reconstruct the album.  The difference here is that we will exclusively be using the original mono masters for all songs, as the stereo mixes of the material leave much to be desired, featuring an antiquated soundstage.  Side A opens with “19th Nervous Breakdown” taken from Singles 1965-1967, since The Rolling Stones in Mono boxset used an inferior master with excessive noise floor in-between vocal lines.  Following is “Sad Day”, taken from the Stray Cats discs of the In Mono box set.  “Take It Or Leave It”, “Think” and “Mother’s Little Helper” close out Side A, all taken from the Aftermath disc of In Mono. 

Side B opens with the full-length mix of “Goin Home” from Aftermath.  Although some sources claim there would have been an edited version of the track on the actual Could You Walk On The Water album, I chose to include the full 11-minute version, making Side B about 6 minutes longer than Side A.  While that may seem in err, remember that Side B of the US version of Aftermath was also 6 minutes longer than its side A!  Next is “Sittin’ On a Fence” taken from the Flowers disc of the In Mono box, followed by “Doncha Bother Me” from Aftermath.  “Ride On, Baby” again from Flowers follows, with the album concluding with the as-yet-unreleased “Looking Tired” taken from the bootleg More Stoned Than You’ll Ever Be but collapsed to mono and EQd to match the rest of the album. 

Sources used:
More Stoned Than You'll Ever Be (bootleg CD, Scorpio Records)
The Rolling Stones in Mono (CD boxset, 2016 ABKO Records)
Singles 1965-1967 (CD 2004 ABKO Records)

 flac --> wav --> editing in Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pink Floyd - The Shape of Questions to Heaven (Upgrade)

Pink Floyd – The Shape of Questions to Heaven
(a soniclovenoize re-imagining)

March 2017 UPGRADE

Side A:
1.  Vegetable Man
2.  Apples and Oranges
3.  Remember A Day
4.  a) Golden Hair
     b) Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun
5.  In The Beechwoods

Side B:
6.  John Latham
7.  Paintbox
8.  Scream Thy Last Scream
9.  Jugband Blues

Although I said I wouldn’t, the material spontaneously struck me one day recently and I was motivated to upgrade this original re-imagining from four years ago, which postulates “What if Syd Barrett hadn’t been fired from Pink Floyd?”  The Shape of Questions to Heaven is the theoretical 1968 follow up to 1967’s The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, and culls material from Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets sessions and Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs sessions to create a second album of Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd, an album that most certainly never was.

The updates to this March 2017 edition are:

  • Revised tracklist that focuses more on actual Syd-led Pink Floyd sessions and less reliant on Syd’s solo work without the rest of the band—a true 2nd Pink Floyd album with Syd Barrett
  • “Late Night”, “Lanky Part One” and “Clowns and Jugglers” are dropped from the tracklist and replaced by “In The Beechwoods” and “John Latham” sourced from The Early Years boxset. 
  • More recent (and in my opinion) superior sources are used, including the 2011 remaster of A Saucerful of Secrets and the 2015 remaster of The Madcap Laughs

After a sequence of high-charting singles and the focused attention of the swinging London scene, Pink Floyd looked to broaden their horizon of success.  Their 1967 debut album The Piper at The Gates of Dawn seemed to accentuate the eccentricities of their front man Syd Barrett; it’s marriage of psychedelic pop and experimental space-rock seemed to encapsulate Barrett’s own spaciness.  But all was not well within the Pink Floyd camp…  Just as the album was released in August, Barrett began to show signs of a breakdown, probably due to his escalated use of LSD.  A few shows were canceled that summer due to Barrett’s erratic behavior and attempts to take him to a doctor had failed. 

Struggling through Syd’s antics, the band attempted to record a follow-up single to the newly-released album.  Two new compositions were recorded on August 7th and 8th, 1967 at De Lane Lea Studios: Barrett’s “Scream Thy Last Scream” b/w Roger Waters’ “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun”; unfortunately they were rejected as a single by EMI.  After starting work on a new album proper at Sound Techniques Studios in September with an instrumental backing track for “In The Beechwoods” and two free-form jams “Reaction In G” and “No Title”, Pink Floyd returned to De Lane Lea in early October to record Barrett’s “Vegetable Man” b/w “Jugband Blues” as a prospected single, as well as adding overdubs to an unfinished outtake from The Piper sessions, Richard Wright’s “Remember A Day”.  With “Vegetable Man” also rejected by the record label, Pink Floyd reconvened in late October at De Lane Lea Studios for a third attempt at a single, Barrett’s “Apples and Oranges” b/w Wright’s “Paintbox”.  Even though this single was finally approved by EMI and released in November, it failed to chart.  Also recorded at this session was a 30-minute improvisational piece for John Latham’s experimental animated film Speak; it too was rejected and it has remained in the vaults for nearly 50 years!

Following a disastrous American taping of “Apples and Oranges” at The Pat Boone Show in which Barrett stood motionless instead of performing (as well as a similar spaced-out interview on American Band Stand) the other members of Pink Floyd decided that they needed a fifth member to backup Barrett’s unpredictability.  Drafting Barrett’s guitarist friend from art school, David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd at the end of 1967 as a second guitarist and the band functioned as an awkward quintet for a month in January.  As a five piece, rehearsals commenced for upcoming gigs and new songs were written, often with Barret not showing interest or not even showing up altogether!  Barrett’s madness climaxed during a rehearsal in which Barrett attempted to teach his bandmates a new song, allegedly entitled “Have You Got It Yet?”; after every run-through of the song, Barrett altered the structure so the band could not possibly follow along and then sung to the band members “Have you got it yet?”  With Gilmour on guitar and without Syd at all, the band entered Abbey Roads Studios on January 24th and 25th to record the newly written songs “See-Saw”, “Corporal Clegg” and “Let There Be More Light”.  The very next day, Waters decided not to pick up Barrett on the way to a gig; Syd was out of Pink Floyd, and the rest was history. 

By February 1968 the band realized that they were now absent a lead songwriter who could write pop hits; Wright contributed “It Would Be So Nice” and Waters offered “Julia Dream”, both an attempt to create a formula Syd Barrett psyche-pop single.  The results were dismal as the single failed and the band has since blacklisted the songs as rubbish.  By spring, Pink Floyd assessed what recorded material could make an album, and found they were quite short; they would have to find a new way to operate, without a Syd Barrett.  The answer was “A Saucerful of Secrets”, a 12-minute instrumental epic concerning the effects of war, composed as if it was an architectural design, which became the title track of the album.  By becoming a more conceptual and jam-based band, Pink Floyd were able to free themselves from the unreachable expectations of the ghost of Syd Barrett.  In the end, of Barrett's songs only “Jugband Blues” was used, as well as “Remember A Day” and “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun” (the later which also featured overdubs from Gilmour, making it the only Pink Floyd track to feature all five members).  But is there a way to present this album how it could have been, before Pink Floyd lost their crazy diamond? 

Side A of my reconstruction of a second Barrett-led Pink Floyd album begins with “Vegetable Man”.  Here I am using the mix found on the bootleg The Syd Barrett Tapes, as I think the new 2010 remix found on The Early Years sounds anachronistic and too modern, definetly not fitting with the rest of the album!  This is followed by the stereo mix of “Apples and Oranges” from The Piper at The Gates of Dawn remaster and “Remember A Day” from A Saucerful of Secrets.  Next is my original crossfade of take 5 of “Golden Hair” from The Madcap Laughs and “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun” from A Saucerful; although “Golden Hair” was tracked during the first sessions for Barrett’s first solo album on May 28th 1968, it still fits into the timeline of this reconstruction, but more importantly it sonically fits as Syd’s intro to “Set The Controls”.  Side A concludes with Syd’s (presumably) unfinished song “In The Beechwoods” from The Early Years. 

Side B begins with an abbreviated, nearly-12-minute edit of “John Latham” from The Early Years, effectively taking the place of “Saucerful” on the actual album.  Following is the stereo “Paintbox” from Relics and “Scream Thy Last Scream”, again taken from the bootleg The Barrett Tapes, avoiding the overly-polished 2010 mix from The Early Years.  The album ends just as Saucerful does, with “Jugband Blues”.  

 How does The Shape of Questions To Heaven compare with A Saucerful?  Quite bluntly, we can hear Syd's mind being undone, but at least in a focused and more cohesive manner than on A Madcap Laughs.  What was only suggested on "Jugband Blues" is fully explored on "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream", songs Barrett wrote directly about his madness.  As for "In The Beechwoods", we can only imagine what the vocal melody and lyric would have been, but here it’s just an instrumental that closes Side A. With an interesting yet meandering improvisational piece to occupy half of side B, it's interesting to note that the other band members were already contributing supplemental material with "Paintbox", "Remember A Day" and "Set The Controls", as if they knew Syd was falling short.  Regardless, it is an enjoyable listen and an interesting alternative to A Saucerful of Secrets, and succeeds in creating an album that demonstrates just what Pink Floyd could have done with their lunatic on the grass.  

320 kps mp3s 
Lossless FLAC (part 1, part 2)

Sources used:
Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets (2011 remaster)
Pink Floyd – The Early Years (2016 box set)
Pink Floyd – The Piper at The Gates of Dawn (2007 Remaster)
Pink Floyd – Relics (1996 reissue)
Pink Floyd – The Syd Barrett Tapes (bootleg, 2008 Needledrop Records)
Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs (2015 Harvest remaster)

 flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included