Friday, March 1, 2024

Nazz - Fungo Bat


Nazz - Fungo Bat

(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:

1.  Forget All About It

2.  Only One Winner

3.  Magic Me

4.  Gonna Cry Today

5.  Meridian Leeward

6.  Under The Ice

Side B:

7.  Some People

8.  Rain Rider

9.  Resolution

10.  Old Time Love-Making

11.  Featherbedding Lover

12.  Take The Hand

13.  How Can You Call That Beautiful

Side C:

1.  Loosen Up

2.  Sing You A Song/Good Lovin’ Woman/Sing You A Song (Reprise)

3.  It’s Not That Easy

4.  Plenty of Lovin’

5.  Letters Don’t Count

6.  Kiddie Boy

7.  Christopher Columbus

Side D:

8.  Hang On Paul

9.  Not Wrong Long

10.  You Are My Window

11.  A Beautiful Song

A leap-year post seems appropriate for this album that never was!  This is a reconstruction of the unreleased 1969 Nazz double-album Fungo Bat.  Recorded amidst the actual disintegration of the band, the album was paired down to the single-album release of Nazz Nazz, with the remaining material seeing the light of day as the posthumous Nazz III in 1971.  This reconstruction those two albums and attempts to present what a finished Fungo Bat would have sounded like, using Todd Rundgren’s personal acetates as a blueprint.  I’ve also personally remastered the tracks to not only function as a cohesive whole, but to be a more listenable album with a more balanced high-end and more articulated low end, what I perceived as sonic limitations of the original album.  

Philadelphia hometown kids making good, teenaged garage-rockers Nazz miraculously scored a record deal with Colgems and some high-profile gigs opening for such luminaries The Doors and The Bee Gees.  Although stifled by performance venues for being underage, the quartet was also marketed as a heavier alternative for teeny-boppers and scored their first hits in 1968 with “Open My Eyes” and “Hello It’s Me”, penned by their prodigal guitarist: one Mr. Todd Rundgren.  Being simultaneously influenced by the electric Blues of the British Invasion, yet also distinctly (and curtly) American, Nazz seemed to have a fast and high trajectory behind their self-titled debut, effortlessly courting Garage Rock and shades of Psychedelia and creating the template for Power Pop.  But some things were just simply not meant to last, as the cracks in the band began to show upon the sessions for the sophomore album.  

Taking cue from the newly-released Beatles The White Album, Rundgren planned Nazz’s follow-up also as a double-album of newly composed songs.  Additionally, much of the material was ballad-heavy, influenced by his current obsession with keyboardist Laura Nyro– much to the chagrin of the rest of the band, who just wanted to rock!  While on tour in Europe in January 1969, Nazz booked studio time at Trident Studios to start tracking the album.  With one song in, the British Musicians Union immediately shut the four 19-year old Americans down and ejected them from the studio.  

Returning to their home base of ID Sound Studios in Hollywood with The Electric Prunes’ James Lowe behind the board, the quarter restarted sessions for the double album, with the intention of self-producing the album entirely.  Political divisions between the band members further hampered progress– a Rundgren resolved to refine his vision of the sprawling double album by secretly replacing singer/keyboardist Stewkey’s organ parts with session musicians, and a Stewkey who outright refused to sing on Rundgren’s pop ballads that, to him, sounded more like solo efforts.  

Stewkey and drummer Thom Mooney pleaded with their label to intervene with the as-yet unnamed double album (although the inside-joke “Fungo Bat” had been used to designate recordings meant for the album, it was not actually meant as the album title proper, contrary to general belief!).  Colgems Records put the hammer down on Rundgren and made the executive decision to trim the double album down to a single LP length, claiming it too pretentious for such a new band to release such a mountain of material as their second-ever release.  Rundgren acquiesced and the “Fungo Bat” material was reduced to a single LP of the most band-oriented songs and released as Nazz Nazz in April 1969… but not before the outright resignation of bassist Carson Van Osten, who had tired of the band drama.  

After a handful of replacement bassists and several gigs to support Nazz Nazz, Rundgren, too, tired of the drama–or probably what he considered artistic compromises in his burgeoning solo career–and quit the band as well.  Stewky and Mooney continued until 1970 as a trio and with fill-in musicians, only to officially call it quits shortly thereafter.  But record labels being record labels, Colgems wouldn’t let it rest and went searching for the remaining, partially unfinished leftovers from Nazz Nazz.  Still in possession by Mooney, he reunited with Stewkey and Lowe to finish the material, which was ill-advised by the pair yet ultimately released as Nazz III in May 1971, leaving a most puzzling epitaph to a short-lived band.  But is it possible to take a second swing at Fungo Bat, to hear the album Todd Rundgren originally wanted to release?

Luckily, a set of extremely rare production acetates have survived over the years, which blueprinted  Rundgren’s vision of how the 24 songs were to be constructed.  Those rough-ish mono acetates were only recently released in December 2022, demonstrating that the Rundgren-helmed Nazz had actually intended to create a fairly impressive double album that covers a majority of the pop landscape in 1969, and even veers into Progressive Rock territory!  For this reconstruction, we will use the aforementioned acetates as merely a guidepost, and combine the final Nazz Nazz and Nazz III albums into a more-or-less finished Nazz Nazz double-LP as Rundgred envisioned; this includes Stewkey’s 1970-overdubbed vocal versions rather than Rundgren’s original guide vocals, as they sound more complete and, well, finished.  Although the record has also been recently corrected that the material was never intended to be named “Fungo Bat”, we will use this title regardless in the name of historical continuity of music nerdity.  

It is also of note, that I have extensively re-EQed this album, as I thought this was a really great double-album ruined by very curious ear-piercing equalization choices.  In trying to make a more listenable master, I have significantly calmed down the high end– specicily 3dB cuts at 1kHz, 2kHz and 5kHz, with some songs even receiving an additional cut at 3kHz.  Conversely, there was a severe lack of low end on this album, so I have added some bottom to it as well.  It is conceivable that I have eliminated some of this album’s charm; to them, I say you are free to listen to the originals at any time.  

Side A opens with the fantastic “Forget About It All” from Nazz Nazz, which hard-edits into the Stewky-vocal version of “Only One Winner” from Nazz III, as demonstrated on Rundgren’s acetates.  This is again hard-edited into “Magic Me” from Nazz III, also as mapped out on Rundgren’s acetates.  This is followed by the killer trio of “Gonna Cry Today”, “Meridian Leeward” and “Under The Ice” from Nazz Nazz.  Side B opens with Nazz III’s “Some People”, followed by Nazz Nazz’s “Rain Rider”.  This is followed by the superior Stewkey-vocal version of “Resolution” and “Old Time Love-Making” from Nazz III, “Featherbedding Lover” from Nazz Nazz, and the record concluding with the Stewkey-sung versions of “Take The Hand” and “How Can You Call That Beautiful”.

Side C goes a bit down the rabbit hole, opening with the banter of “Loosen Up” and the chatter of “Sing You A Song”; note that although Rundgren’s acetates contain the entire four minutes of the “Good Lovin’ Woman” interlude, but I am only using the 40 seconds of it as heard in the bonus track from The Fungo Bat Sessions– and we are all better off for that!  This is followed by the Stewkey-sung versions of “It’s Not That Easy” and “Plenty of Lovin” from Nazz III.  Next is “Letters Don’t Count” and “Kiddie Boy” from Nazz Nazz and the highlight of the album, “Christopher Columbus” from Nazz III.   Side D opens with the manic psyche-pop of “Hang On Paul” and “Not Wrong Long” from Nazz Nazz, followed by “You Are My Window” from Nazz II and “A Beautiful Song” from Nazz Nazz, crossfaded as originally intended to become one 17-minute epic album closer.  

Sources used:

Nazz - Nazz Nazz including Nazz III - The Fungo Bat Sessions (2006 Sanctuary Records) 




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)


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)