Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Turtles - Shell Shock (upgrade)

The Turtles – Shell Shock
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)
September 2018 Upgrade

Side A:
1.  Goodbye Surprise
2.  Like It or Not
3.  There You Sit Lonely
4.  We Ain’t Gonna Party No More
5.  Lady-O

Side B: 
6.  Gas Money
7.  Can I Go On
8.  You Want To Be A Woman
9.  If We Only Had The Time
10.  Who Would Ever Think That I Would Mary Margaret?
11.  Teardrops

This is a reconstruction of what was intended to be The Turtles final album Shell Shock.  Produced by Jerry Yester for a 1970 release, the band envisioned Shell Shock as their masterpiece and career coda but it remained unfinished due to extreme meddling from their record label.  White Whale Records went back on their word to fund the album and entrapped frontmen Flo and Eddie to bend to their corporate wishes.  After dissolving the band, White Whale trickled out the Shell Shock material, in various forms of completeness, on various compilation releases until the label themselves dissolved as well.  This reconstruction attempts to cull all the material originally recorded and meant to be a part of the Shell Shock project into a finished, cohesive album, utilizing the best possible masters of each track.

Upgrades to this September 2018 edition are: 
  • Upgraded sources from  All The Singles and the  Turtle Soup remaster

An extreme example of the commercial world destroying the artistic: quite simply, The Turtles are martyrs.  Locked into a record contract so rigid that frontmen Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were not even allowed to use their actual names after the break-up of The Turtles, much of their career in the 60s were spent fighting the industry that restrained them.  Miraculously, many of their successes were an embodiment of this—most notably their hit song “Elenore”, a sarcastic response to their label’s request to write an assembly-line pop hit in the fashion of their signature hit “Happy Together”.  That friction climaxed in 1970 as the band began winding down after years of biting the hands that barely fed them as well as the commercial let-down of their previous album, the Ray Davies-produced Turtle Soup.

In an attempt for a final bravado, the quintet assembled at Sunset Sound studios in January 1970 and began recording their usual mix of originals and outside-written tracks.  Produced by Jerry Yester, the band again sought to record another intelligent and musically diverse album as Turtle Soup, this time a bit more commercial.  At least seven songs are known to have been recorded during these Yester sessions including: original compositions “Can I Go On”, “If We Only Had The Time”, “There You Sit Lonely”, “We Ain’t Gonna Party No More”; guitarist Al Nichol’s “You Want To Be A Woman”; and the Bonner/Gordon leftovers “Goodbye Surprise” & “Like It Or Not”.   The Turtles also recorded a pair of ridiculous songs as: an authentic cover of Jan & Arnie’s “Gas Money” and a cover of the band's live staple, Lee Andrews & The Hearts’ “Teardrops”.  It was released as a very rare, promo-only single in February 1970, credited to The Dedications. 

But midway through the Yester sessions, White Whale desired The Turtles to have a hit single after being dismayed by the lackluster sales of Turtle Soup.  They suggested that Kaylan and Volman fly to Memphis and record vocal overdubs on a pre-recorded backing track for the ridiculously corny song “Who Would Ever Thought That I Would Marry Margaret?”, penned by professional songwriters Ralph Dino and John Sembello.  Kaylan and Volman refused, claiming this transgression would reduce their rock band into transparent pop idols.  In retaliation for their refusal to turn their band into a pair of fake pop singers, White Whale chained the doors to their studio at Sunset Sound and even posted guards outside the door, not allowing The Turtles to even retrieve their own gear, let alone finish the album!

In a desperate attempt to save the Shell Shock recordings and the hope to somehow finish the album, Kaylan and Volman agreed to record “Margaret”, although they refused to add anything other than their necessary lead and backing vocals.  This ‘unfinished’ mix was released to dismal critical and commercial attention—just as the pair had predicted—and the single was a flop.  Despite Kaylan and Volman’s participation, White Whale still refused to let The Turtles finish Shell Shock and both parties sued each other: White Whale sued The Turtles for a breach of contract and The Turtles sued White Whale for a missing $2,500,000 that was owed to them. The band soon called it quits amidst litigation.  In one final plea to salvage the band’s reputation, White Whale allowed Kaylan, Volman and Nichol to record vocals for a final Turtles single, the beautiful “Lady-O”.  Written and performed acoustically by Judee Sill, it was a gentle goodbye to the band.   

Shell Shock remained in the vaults and as Kaylan and Volman regrouped as Flo and Eddie and were absorbed into Frank Zappa’s reformed Mothers of Invention, White Whale continued to exploit The Turtles name, the label’s only charting act.  After re-releasing some of their mid-60s singles, White Whale released the more completed Shell Shock material on the compilation More Golden Hits in 1970.  After the the collapse of the reformed Mothers of Invention, Flo & Eddie recorded their first solo album The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie in 1972, which contained new recordings of "Goodbye Surprise" and "There You Sit Lonely", as well as other tracks that would have been originally meant for Shell Shock, had they been recorded.  Eventually, time would prove our protagonists as victors, as White Whale went bankrupt and their assets auctioned off in 1974.  Who was it that bought The Turtles back-catalog?  Two gentlemen by the name of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan!

As “Happy Together” proved to be a timeless classic, the legacy of The Turtles seemed profitable enough for re-releases, this time controlled by the actual founders of The Turtles.  Notable from this first reissue campaign on Rhino Records was an official reconstruction of Shell Shock released in 1987, attempting to match what the band might have released in 1970 had the album been finished!  Unfortunately, Flo and Eddie’s own official Shell Shock reconstruction is long out-of-print and is not even mentioned in the band’s own online discography.  Luckily for us, all of the songs trickled out as bonus tracks on The Turtles reissues on the Repertoire and Sundazed labels in the 90s.  The most recently, all the material, remastered from the original mastertapes, appeared on the anthology All The Singles and as bonus tracks on Turtle Soup.  Even though the band’s own take on Shell Shock is long forgotten, we have no trouble replicating it… or rather, making our own take on it, an album that never was!

My reconstruction of Shell Shock begins similarly to The Turtles' own out-of-print reconstruction from 1987, with the bombastic rocker “Goodbye Surprise”, taken from the Turtle Soup remaster.  Following is “Like it Or Not” and “There You Sit Lonely”, also taken from the Turtle Soup remaster.  The twin-singles “We Ain’t Gonna Party No More” and “Lady-O” conclude Side A, both in their original stereo single mixes, taken from All The Singles.  Unlike the band’s official reconstruction, I am excluding “Cat In The Window”, it being an outtake from 1967 and not from the 1970 Yester and related singles sessions.   

Side B deviates a bit from the band’s own reconstruction, as my version opens with the ruckus of “Gas Money”, taken from All The Singles.  Following is “Can I Go On”, taken from the Turtle Soup remaster.  Another deviation from the official Shell Shock is my exclusion of “Dance This Dance”, another track misappropriated to Shell Shock by Rhino, it being from the Turtle Soup demo sessions a year prior.  Instead is “You Want To Be a Woman” and “If We Only Had The Time”, both from the Turtle Soup remaster.  While many feel that the atrocious “Who Would Ever Think That I Would Marry Margaret?” was never truly intended to be on the album, I propose it probably would have been White Whale's condition for the album's release and it is included here as a historical curiosity at the very least, in it’s true stereo mix from All The Singles.  My reconstruction ends with “Teardrops”, also taken from All The Singles.   

320kps mp3s
Lossless FLAC

Sources used:
All The Singles (Manifesto, 2016)
Turtle Soup (Manifesto, 2016 remaster)

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Bob Dylan - Medicine Sunday

Bob Dylan – Medicine Sunday
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
2.  I Wanna Be Your Lover
3.  Freeze Out
4.  One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
5.  New York Instrumental #1

Side B:
6.  Positively 4th Street
7.  Brand New Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
8.  I’ll Keep It With Mine
9.  She’s Your Lover Now

This is a reconstruction of a theoretical album consisting of the early sessions for Bob Dylan’s seminal 1966 album Blonde On Blonde.   Abandoning most of these New York-based recording sessions with The Band in favor of rerecording with session musicians in Nashville, these early sessions represent a different sound that would emerge on Blonde On Blonde -- looser but more energetic, closer to a studio capture of Bob Dylan’s live sound in 1965 and 1966.   Using the best sources possible, most tracks feature unique edits and mixes I have created to offer a more finished album with a modern stereophonic soundstage. 

After his ascension from folk hero to rock star with his groundbreaking “Like a Rolling Stone” and its accompanying album Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan buckled down and rode the wave, intending to continue pushing the boundaries of rock music with symbolic, obtuse and intertextual lyrics, juxtaposed with a driving rock rhythm section and the twin chime of electric guitar and Hammond organ.  For that, he would need a band.  His ad hoc assemblage of players for his infamously electric July 1965 Newport Folk Festival performance, including Al Kooper and members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, were not available to continue.  After recommendations from a few associates, Dylan recruited a group of Canadian rockers--Levon and The Hawks--to back him for the national concerts in support of Highway 61 Revisited, who would later rebrand themselves as The Band. 

Meanwhile, Dylan’s management and label continued to feed the machine and keep this new “electric Dylan” product flowing.  Just two months after the release of “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Positively 4th Street” was released as its follow-up single in September 1965.  Despite being simply an outtake from the Highway 61 Revisited sessions from July, the song was a Top 10 hit and is considered one of Dylan’s most cherished tracks.  With fear of losing momentum, Dylan was whisked back into the studio to pump out his next single.  This time Dylan brought with him The Hawks, attempting to capture the electricity from his current live shows.

Unfortunately, Dylan had blown through all of his good material.  Bob and his band gathered on October 5th to woodshed new material at Columbia Studios in New York, but with dismal results: two song fragments, “Jet Pilot” and “Medicine Sunday” (the later evolving into “Temporary Like Achilles”); a merely semi-interesting Robby Robertson-led instrumental; and a scant jam of another Highway 61 Revisited leftover “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”.  The only cut of real value tracked on this day was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, an electrifying and rollicking tribute (or parody?) of the Fab Four, who allegedly influenced Dylan to form a backing band in the first place.  Sometime after the session, drummer Levon Helm left The Hawks, fed up with being a sidesman, as well as the confrontational audiences on Dylan’s tour.

Returning to the studio on November 30th with session drummer Bobby Gregg (whom had already backed Dylan on both Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited) and a brand new composition he believed to be one of his best, Dylan was revitalized to create a follow-up single.  Dylan had a special feeling about his latest epic poem “Freeze Out”—later retitled to “Visions of Johanna”—and special care was given to find the perfect arrangement.  Dylan struggled to find the right sound for the song with The Hawks, and the group plowed through a number of completely different arrangements: Take 4 was a slow, uncertain romp that began quietly with just Dylan on electric guitar, adding instruments as the song built to a rocking end; Take 5 was a more organized version of the previous take, but lacked the suspense, danger and dynamic; Take 7 slowed the tempo but succumbed to typical bar rock trope; Take 8 was an icy, electric march with bursts of celeste; Take 14 was slowed down to ballad territory, the closest to its finial incarnation on Blonde On Blonde.  Despite having several great takes—all sounding completely different (especially 4, 8 and 14)—Dylan was not satisfied with “Freeze Out” and set it aside… temporarily.  Instead, the band focused on a new uptempo arrangement of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”, nailing Take 10, which was rush released as a single in December.  It was a flop, stalling at #58 on the charts.

Refocusing his attention from a single to an album, Dylan reconvened with The Hawks (this time with fill-in drummer Sandy Konikoff) on January 21st, 1966, armed with new material intended to populate this follow-up LP.  Beginning with another heartbreak-themed long-form poem, Dylan searched for the thin, wild mercury sound to accompany it.  “Just Another Glass Of Water”—later published as “She’s Your Lover Now”—could have been one of Dylan’s masterpieces on Blonde On Blonde, on par with “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”.  But Dylan could not find the sound he was looking for, struggling not only to communicate his ideas but for The Hawks to interpret him.  Take 15 came very close, before breaking down halfway through the fourth verse.  Exasperated, Dylan called off the session, the song lost forever.  Before leaving the studio, Dylan recorded a demo of the complete 8-minute composition alone at a piano, at the very least immortalizing his idea before it was abandoned forever. 

The next session on January 21st was more productive.  With Bobby Gregg back behind the kit, the group hammered out another new Dylan composition, this time a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Memphis Blues.  Nailed in presumably one take, “Brand New Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” seemed to fit The Hawks as this steady yet bombastic recording tops the eventual Nashville version released on Blonde on Blonde, in this listener’s humble opinion.  Moving on to a dynamic breakup ballad driven by Paul Griffin’s exquisite piano, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” was eventually perfected by Take 24.  Again rush-released as a single in February, the song did moderately well, charting at #33. 

It was now obvious that the fruits of these New York sessions with the Hawks were few and far between and Dylan grew weary of only stumbling across the right arrangements.  An additional session on January 27th proved mostly uneventful, resulting in yet another song fragment, “Lunatic Princess”.   Despite the previous week’s results, a remake of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” was attempted as well, but Dylan was not even bothered to see it through completion.  Finally, Dylan takes his band through a mere rehearsal of a magnificent song dating back to the initial acoustic Bringing It All Back Home sessions almost exactly a year earlier.  “I’ll Keep It With Mine” is loose, beginning with Dylan solo at a piano, with The Hawks individually coming in as they figured out the changes.  With only this single run-through, Dylan was done with the band—and this city—for recording his follow-up. 

At producer Bob Johnston’s suggestion, Dylan relocated to Nashville in February and March to finish the album that was barely begun, only bringing Robby Robertson and Al Kooper along.  Re-recording both “Visions of Johanna” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”—as well as a sudden wealth of brand new compositions—Dylan completed Blonde On Blonde.  Released to universal acclaim as Dylan’s masterpiece, the only New York recording to make the cut was “One Of Us Must Know”, a tombstone to the album Blonde On Blonde could have been under different conditions.  Is it possible to reconstruct what a New York Blonde On Blonde would have sounded like?

For this reconstruction—which I have named Medicine Sunday, after the song fragment which isn’t actually featured here—we will try to create a single-LP follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited from these late ‘65/early ’66 sessions.  Since the sessions were obviously never completed, it will be difficult to make a complete-sounding album.  The only rule we will implement is to include material with some sort of precedent on other Dylan albums.  Hence, all of the one-minute  song fragments (“Jet Pilot”, “Medicine Sunday” and “Lunatic Princess”) will be excluded, as not only is there no precedent, but their inclusion would make Medicine Sunday sound less complete.  With a lack of finished material, we will have to look at two filler-tracks: the untitled instrumental (here I appropriately titled “New York Instrumental #1”) and “Positively 4th Street”.  While it is true Dylan is known for his distinctive voice and lyric, Dylan would go on to release instrumentals on both Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait.  Just as well, “Positively 4th Street”, while not a part of the New York sessions proper, was the current single at the time.  It is conceivable the label might have included it on the LP anyways as a cash cow, as previous singles like “Like a Rolling Stone” was included on Highway 61 Revisited and “One of Us Must Know” was included on Blonde On Blonde. 

Side A begins with the lead single from these sessions, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”.  Using the complete semi-stereo version found on The Bootleg Series Vol 12: The Cutting Edge, here I have widened the stereo spectrum to further separate the instruments to an ideal nine and three o’clock.  It is followed by “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, again taken from The Cutting Edge with the stereo spectrum widened.  Take 8 of “Visions of Johanna” (here we use its original working title “Freeze Out”) from The Bootleg Series Vol 8: No Direction Home follows, a version that tops the Blonde On Blonde recording in my humble opinion.  Next is my own personal remix of “One of Us Must Know” from the multitrack stems, as provided on The Cutting Edge.  My mix attempts to replicate the balance of the original mono mix, while retaining a modern stereophonic image with a centered drum track.  Likewise, I have replicated the edit before the third verse, only ever heard on the rare mono single mix; thus, this is the first time that original edit has ever appeared in stereo!  Side B concludes with “New York Instrumental #1” as a sort of intermission, again taken from The Cutting Edge with a widened stereophonic spectrum.

Much like many album from the 60s, Side B begins with the previously-released single “Positively 4th Street”, the original stereo mix taken from Side Tracks but with its stereo spectrum narrowed to match the rest of the album.  Next is “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”, taken from No Direction Home, a personal favorite as aforementioned.  Next is “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, taken from The Cutting Edge; in order to make this recording more complete, I have edited out Dylan’s vocal flub in the intro, as well as extracted and patched Bob Johnston’s talk-back interruption during verse one.  Despite being a mere rehearsal and probably meant to have a more thorough and defined arrangement, this recording works as a loose arrangement precursor, as we would soon hear similarly-relaxed Dylan arrangements on The Basement Tapes and New Morning.  Medicine Sunday appropriately concludes with the epic that never was, “She’s Your Lover Now”.  Using pieces of Takes 15 and 16 on The Cutting Edge, I was able to create a complete performance of the song by editing a proper intro onto take 15 and crossfading into take 16 at the point where the band trails off, hopefully giving the illusion that The Hawks intentionally stopped playing and Dylan finished the song solo.  A further edit was made at the outro so that Dylan concludes with the tonic of the song, giving it a resolve and a remorseful vocal improvisation to end the album.  

Sources used:
Bootleg Series Vol 8: No Direction Home (2005)
Bootleg Series Vol 12: The Cutting Edge (2015 Collector’s Edition)
Side Tracks (2013)

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