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)



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)




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)



Friday, October 13, 2023

Hey There...

Hey there. 


If I sell FIVE Albums That Never Were shirts, Then I'll post a new reconstruction this weekend.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Jefferson Airplane - Another Missile is Flying


Jefferson Airplane - Another Missile is Flying

(soniclovenoize “1970 album” reconstruction)

Side A:

1.  Have You Seen The Saucers?

2.  Up or Down

3.  Sunrise 

4.  Starship

Side B:

5.  Bludgeon of a Bluecoat

6.  Emergency

7.  Mexico

8.  Pretty As You Feel

9.  Mau Mau (Amerikon)

To celebrate America’s birthday, here is an album reconstruction from the quintessential American psychedelic band, Jefferson Airplane.  This is a reconstruction of Jefferson Airplane’s relatively un-made album, intended to be released in 1970.  Due to the contrasting trajectories of the individual band members– with Grace Slick and Paul Katner focusing on their solo album Blows Against The Empire, Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen focusing on their side project Hot Tuna, and Marty Balin simply disengaging from the band entirely– an all-original, studio 1970 Jefferson Airplane album instead materialized as a label-created greatest collection.  The band would eventually regroup and complete the album as Bark in 1971, without founding member Marty Balin and much of the band’s creative core.  

By 1969, the Jefferson Airplane had become the mainstream face of groundbreaking American psychedelic rock.  Armed with a trio of lead singer/songwriters in Marty Balin, Paul Katner and Grace Slick (who uniquely weaved in and out of harmony, unison and their own solo vocalization, creating a distinct “communal” vocal sound) and the virtuosic improvisations of bassist Jack Casady and lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, the band’s Volunteers album became the year’s banner of the counterculture.  But after headlining Woodstock, the Airplane began a slow descent with the loss of their long-time drummer Spencer Dryden.  His replacement was the much younger and more energetic Joey Covington, who had already been playing in Casady & Kaukonen’s electric (and sometimes acoustic) blues side project Hot Tuna.  His more dynamic style gave Jefferson Airplane a much needed lift and the band slowly began to debut new material throughout the tour to support Volunteers that Fall:  Marty Balin’s soul-rockers “Up and Down”, “Drifting” and “Dresses Too Short”; Grace Slick’s comment on the emerging War On Drugs, “Mexico”; and Paul Kanter’s proto-grunge political anthem “Mau Mau (Amerikon)”.  

The band went into the studio in February 1970 to record “Mexico” as a single, along with another of Kantner’s newer compositions, “Have You Seen The Saucers”, a song that heralded his love of science fiction themes in his songs.  Also recorded for consideration was “Up and Down”, as well as another new Balin composition, “Emergency”, and demos for Slick’s “Frozen Nose” & Kaukonen’s “Been So Long”.  

The single received a very lukewarm release in May, damaging the group’s confidence and coinciding with an era of wandering and disinterest from the various members of the band.  Casady, Kaukonen and Covington ventured out as Hot Tuna, leaving Slick and Kantner– now officially a couple and pregnant with their first child– alone to record demos for the next studio Jefferson Airplane album.  Balin, in contrast, had grown particularly impatient with the split of the two camps in the band, and chose to spend his time bumming around on the beach.  

As it became more and more apparent that a 1970 Jefferson Airplane album wasn’t happening, Slick & Katner repurposed their demos into the duo’s first solo album, Blows Against The Empire, released under the banner Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship (no relation to the later, actual Jefferson Starship).  Featuring a slew of Bay Area musician friends such as Jerry Garcia, Graham Nash and David Crosby, the album featured a new version of “Mau Mau (Amerikon)”, as well as a number of songs that continued Kantner’s sci-fi obsession, specifically concerning a group of hippies hijacking a starship to leave Earth for a new, utopian planet.  

Although their songs were earmarked for Blows Against The Empire, Grace & Paul continued playing sporadic gigs with Jefferson Airplane if all six members were available.  Debuted later in 1970 were two compositions from drummer Covington, “Whatever The Old Man Does (Is Always Right)” and “Bludgeon of a Bluecoat”, and curiously an improbably cohesive jam of Slick & Kantner’s “Starship”.  Apparently returning to the studio that Fall, the band worked on Covington-led tracks that featured some heavy-hitter guests: “Bludgeon of a Bluecoat” featured Little Richard and his “Pretty As You Feel” was extracted from a 30-minute jam with Carlos Santana!

Although the release of Blows Against The Empire was eminent, Paul and Grace conducted an October interview that claimed the next Jefferson Airplane album was well on its way, and specifically name dropped the songs in consideration: Covington’s “Bludgeon of a Bluecoat” and “Pretty As You Feel”; Balin’s “Emergency” and “Up or Down”; Kantner’s “To Dianna” and “Today We Are All One”; Slick’s “Crazy Miranda” and “Flying Fishman”; and two unnamed Kaukonen tracks written by his brother, Peter Kaukonen.  Kanter also curiously stated their intent to include live versions of both “Mexico” and “Have You Seen The Saucers” on the next album as well.  Despite the positive assessment of the band’s progress, RCA instead released The Worse of Jefferson Airplane, a greatest hits compilation that November.  

More turbulence occurred with even more personnel changes: the addition of electric fiddle player Papa John Creach (who had been rediscovered by Covington and subsequently played with Hot Tuna), and the loss of Marty Balin, who had finally had enough of the band politics, lack of focus and drug use.  Although by April 1971 Balin was gone and the Airplane had no pilot, the group buckled down to finish the album begun the previous year.  After dropping all of Balin’s songs and replacing them with newer compositions such as the great “Feel So Good”, “When The Earth Moves Again” and “Third Week In The Chelsea” (as well as a depressing slew of unmemorable ones), the resultant album Bark was released in September.  Although it charted 11 on the Billboard album charts (thanks to the hit “Pretty As You Feel”), it marked the creative decline of the band, who would only last for an additional lackluster studio album (1972’s Long John Silver) before crashing– and it’s rebirth into Jefferson Starship in 1974.  But is it possible to imagine what a Marty Balin-led 1970 Jefferson Airplane could have been?  

For this reconstruction, we will assume that Jefferson Airplane somehow did not splinter apart throughout 1970, which would then designate any songs from Blows Against The Empire as fair game for inclusion (although we will generally focus on the songs featuring other Airplane members).  Additionally, since much of the material intended for their 1970 album remained unrecorded (or, at least, unavailable to us), then we will also draw upon some high-quality live recordings– specifically the pair of shows from 9/14/70 and 9/15/70, which serene rips of the actual master reels are available in bootleg circles.  For this reconstruction, we will only use recordings that date from the February 1970 single sessions, up until the end of the year, solely when Marty Balin was still in the band; thus although Kantner specifically mentioned the songs as in consideration in 1970, “Crazy” Mary”, “To Dianna” and “Flying Fishman” are disqualified, as they were recorded after this time period.  

Side A begins with what I think of as the gateway song of this era, “Have You Seen The Saucers.”  Although Kantner specifically noted a live version would have been featured on their actual 1970 album, we will use the original studio version here to account for an unfortunate lack of group studio recordings of this era; this version is the rare alternate mix from the Early Flight compilation, which rocks way harder to my ears.  Following is “Up or Down”, also a studio recording found on Early Flight.  This crossfades into “Sunrise” from Blows Against The Empire, used here as it features both Grace and Jack Casady on fuzz bass.  This itself crossfades into the lengthy live take of “Starship” from the 9/14/70 bootleg, with specific instrumental flubs edited out and using Izotope Ozone to adjust the levels of the various instruments to match the rest of the reconstruction.  

Side B begins with Covington’s “Bludgeon of a Bluecoat” and Balin’s “Emergency”, both also taken from the 9/14/70 tape, rebalanced in Ozone.  Again, we use the studio take of “Mexico” from Early Flight, followed by “Pretty As You Feel” from The Essential Jefferson Airplane, again rebalanced with Ozone to construct a mix that doesn’t sound like the band was recorded in a different room; note that while it was claimed “Pretty as You Feel” was tracked in 1971, the fact that the recording was referenced in two separate interviews from October 1970 suggested that the song was actually recorded before Balin left the group, and is fortunately fair game for this reconstruction!  The album closes with Kantner’s “Mau Mau (Amerikon)”, included as it also features Joey Covington on drums and backing vocals (as well as the fact that Jefferson Airplane actually performed an early version in 1969).  

The resulting album–which I call Another Missile is Flying–is an excellent upgrade from the oft-dismal Bark, continues the trajectory of Volunteers, and incorporates the best parts of Blows Against The Empire.  Although we only hear the trio of Marty, Paul and Grace singing on “Have You Seen The Saucers” (which is one of my favorite songs of all time, by the way), the mix of Marty’s songs is still a welcome consolation.  The true heroes and the glue that makes the album cohesive is Covington’s manic drums and Casady’s fat, virtuosic bass, each on all but one track.  With that, come and join us on the other side of the sun…

Sources used:

Jefferson Airplane - Early Flight (1997 CD Remaster)

Jefferson Airplane - The Essential Jefferson Airplane (2005 digital download )

Jefferson Airplane - 9/14/70 (2013 remaster by BRUNO from the master reels)

Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship - Blows Against The Empire (2005 Legacy Remaster)

Monday, April 24, 2023

The flaming Lips - 7 Skies H3 (100 minute edit) UPGRADE


 The Flaming Lips – 7 Skies H3

(100-Minute Edit by soniclovenoize)
April 2023 Upgrade

Side A:
1. I Can’t Shut Off My Head
2. Meepy Morp (Calliope Trance with Major and Minor Celestial Sections)
3. Radiation Wind
4. Battling Voices From Beyond
5. Electronic Toy Factory
6. In A Dream

Side B:
7. Metamorphosis

Side C:
8. Requiem
9. An Outpouring of Immaculate Light From The Heavens Consumes Your Body

Side D:
10. Meepy Morp (Reprise)
11. Riot In My Brain!!
12. 7 Skies H3 (Main Theme)
13. Can’t Let It Go

This is an upgrade of my own unique edit of The Flaming Lips’ epic 24-hour song, “7 Skies H3”, edited to the length of a 100-minute double-album.  Each of the song’s fourteen movements were extracted from the 24-hour piece to represent a “song” on the “album”; each song was then edited down to an appropriate length for that particular song in the context of a double-album.  In effect, some tracks act as mere transitions to others, while some tracks remained epic in scope (in the context of a double-album anyways).  While similar to the band’s own official 50-minute edit released on limited edition vinyl for Record Store Day in 2014, my 100-minute edit is twice that length and much more inclusive; not only allowing specific songs a more epic breath that they deserved but including music that was completely removed from the RSD release altogether.  All track segues are intact and this album can play as a continuous 100-minute piece--although one could separate tracks into four separate 25-minute sides of a vinyl record: tracks 1-6, track 7, tracks 8 & 9, and tracks 10-13.  

By the 2010s, The Flaming Lips have reached a mid-life crisis.  They had already made their cherished acid-punk indie releases in the 1980s; they already had their breakthrough noise-pop hit in 1993 with “She Don’t Use Jelly”; they already made their self-serving experimental four-disc 1997 album, Zaireeka; they had already made their critically acclaimed symphonic-pop masterpiece The Soft Bulletin in 1999; they had already managed the trick of gaining mainstream success while still retaining their core audience with Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots in 2002; they had already made a complete musical about-face into dark, hypnotic Krautrock for Embryonic in 2009.  If they refuse to break-up, what does a band who has already done everything do next?  The answer: whatever the fuck they want.

This of course meant a series of bizarre EP releases throughout 2011 which included: a song meant to be played on 12 different cell phones simultaneously; recordings released on flash drives encased in marijuana-flavored gummy skulls; and a six-hour song released inside a strobe light toy.  While one could perceive this as pure gimmick, this observer saw it as a result of the combined boredom with the typical rock-band archetype and the realization of ultimate artistic freedom, something earned after 30 years of making music.  But it was that six-hour song, “I Found A Star On The Ground”, that set a new bar for the band searching for something interesting to fill their time in 2011: how does one top a six-hour song?  With a 24-hour song, of course!

“7 Skies H3” tells the story of a protagonist whose love commits suicide, and the listener embarks on a psychedelic journey through his grief process as well as a musical representation of her afterlife.  The song—becoming an insane challenge for Flaming Lips fans to even listen to it in its entirety—was released to a limited edition of 13 copies on Halloween 2011, encased in an actual human skull.  It was also broadcast as a live webstream, which continually (and to this day) plays the song indefinitely.  While detractors found even more gimmick to condemn, there was one thing they could not argue: “7 Skies H3”contained some of the best music The Flaming Lips ever produced.

Unfortunately, much of that great music was lost to its own daunting massiveness.  Does one really have the time, energy and will-power to sift through a literal day of music to appreciate the highlights?  Some fans did... notably StrangePets who made both a 90-minute and 213-minute cut of "7 Skies H3" (which urged me to do the same!).  The Flaming Lips probably took notice, and issued their own condensed 50-minute version as an exclusive Record Store Day release in 2014.  Their "distillation" RSD cut showcased some of the most interesting music they'd made in their 30 year career as a standalone album, rather than a 24-hour endeavor.  Unfortunately not all of the magical moments from the full endeavor made the cut, notably the atmospheric interlude of "Radiation Wind", the quaint chaos of "Electronic Toy Factory", the ending jam of "Requiem" and it's following "The Other Side", and the driving ecstatic jam of “An Outpouring of Immaculate Light From the Heavens Consumes Your Body” and it's singular rainstorm breakdown.  And criminally, the centerpiece of 7 Skies H3--the seven-hour emotionally-catastrophic sound-experiment "Metamorphosis"--was reduced to a trite five minutes and lacked any of the nuances that made it one of The Flaming Lips' masterworks.  Is it possible to make a concise 7 Skies H3 as a typical album that could not only be enjoyed in one sitting, but also retain the aforementioned epic attributes?  I have found a run-time that precisely doubles the RSD release is the perfect length, assembled as a double LP--discs timing 50 minutes each--while still edited for continuous play just as the original 24-hour song.

Side A:
1.  “I Can’t Shut Off My Head” [8:01]
My 100-minute edit of 7 Skies H3 begins with one of the four lyric-based compositions that explains the concept of the album itself.  While the original full-length version of “I Can’t Shut Off My Head” contained eight verses and ran 25:39, the Record Store Day edit cut it down to three verses and running at 8:23 (as well as adding superfluous echo onto Wayne’s vocals).  My edit is structured similarly as the RSD edit, as I chose to include what I felt were the three best verses as well as an instrumental introduction.  Additionally, each verse was edited down from seven to five lines, omitting the two weakest lines of lyric for each verse.  The instrumental passages were then edited to match the length of each verse.  Because of this, my edit is a bit more concise than the official RSD edit, clocking in at 8:01. The upgraded version is a new edit, using verses 1, 3 and 6, rather than my original edit with verses 1, 2 & 4.  

2.  “Meepy Morp (Calliope Trance with Major and Minor Celestial Sections)” [3:14]
Following is what fans called “Calliope Trance with Major and Minor Celestial Sections” but was officially titled “Meepy Morp” on the RSD record.  Originally an hour in length, I have reduced it down to just over three minutes to keep the album moving, featuring three different sections of the piece to give a feeling of variation as the instrumental progresses.  The same edit was used in this upgrade.  

3.  “Radiation Wind” [1:58]
An officially unnamed track “Radiation Wind”, originally running 37 minutes and not appearing on the RSD version at all, is reduced to a two-minute interlude before the battle begins.  This upgraded edit is slightly shorter, clocking in at 1:58 from my original edit’s 2:36.   

4.  “Battling Voices From Beyond” [4:10]
The epic “Battling Voices From Beyond” was a grueling two hours and 37 minutes on the original 24-hour "7 Skies H3".   While it was edited down to 3:05 on the RSD vinyl, my edit is a paced 4:10, which showcases several of the interesting sounds that dance around the pounding main vocal riff.  This upgraded version particularly focuses on the synth “vocal solos” found near the end of the piece.  

5.  “Electronic Toy Factory” [3:58]
Another track that was completely omitted from the 50-minute RSD edit, the 10-minute and unnamed “Electronic Toy Factory” (featuring the experimental duo Pitchwafuzz), is edited down to a reasonable 3:58, acting as simply a linking track between two main selections.   This updated edit is more representative of the original piece, since the runtime is almost doubled from my original edit length of 2:27.  

6.  “In A Dream” [3:39]
The original version of the second of four lyrical songs ran an hour and 4 minutes, which was edited down to a feasible 4:51 on the RSD release and included additional vocal overdubs to smooth of the mix.  Here I present an even more concise edit spanning 3:39, as opposed to my older hypnotic 6:28 mix.  

Side B:
7.  “Metamorphosis” [25:00]
The massive centerpiece of 7 Skies H3 is “Metamorphosis”, which originally ran seven hours in length!  It was reduced to an anticlimactic five minutes on the RSD edit, fading out at the end of side A.  With a theoretical double-album format, we can allow “Metamorphosis” to retain its true epic proportions.  My edit spans a reasonable 25:00 and features my favorite elements of the original seven-hour piece.  It is meant to span the entire second side of the first disc of our theoretical 7 Skies H3 double album.  

Side C:
8.  “Requiem” [5:15]
The second disc begins with the third of four lyric-based compositions on the album, which is also coincidentally the mid-point of the 24-hour "7 Skies H3".  Originally spanning 23:20—essentially a 3-minute song with a 20-minute jam—the RSD release unfortunately exorcised the ending 20 minutes completely.  Here I have restored the ending jam and showcasing the range of weird overdubs The Flaming Lips sprinkled throughout.  This upgraded edit runs 7:22, as opposed to my older edit of 5:14.  

9.  “An Outpouring of Immaculate Light From the Heavens Consumes Your Body” [17:38]
The series of musical movements which follow are mostly absent from the RSD edit, what Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne describes as “the other side of this long journey through death”, and seems to musically depict the significant other's journey in the afterlife. It starts with the unnamed but aptly fan-titled “The Other Side”; originally clocking in at over an hour, an edit of the serene piece eventually found a way onto 2013's The Terror as the outro to "You Lust".  Because of this, I have excluded “The Other Side” from my edit of 7 Skies H3 in the name of redundancy. Next is the unnamed yet fan-titled “An Outpouring of Immaculate Light From the Heavens Consumes Your Body” (but described by Wayne as a “Bb chord with varying accompaniment”, which would also suffice as a title, I suppose), originally spanning three and a half hours and also completely missing from the RSD release.  In reality, the movement is a loop of the same 26-minute no-wave jam in Bb with different sets of embellishments upon each repeat (with one even being played backwards!).   Although my original edit presented its complete 26-minute incarnation, this upgrade whittles it down to a respectable 17:38, which also includes one of the greatest moments of the original 24-hour edit: a between-rotation breakdown of a rainstorm, ticking stopwatch and chiming keyboards.  

Side D:
10. “Meepy Morp (Reprise)” [2:25]
“Meepy Morp (Reprise)”—also known as the fan-titled “Movement of Celestial Bodies”—was originally two hours and 15 minutes in length, although it is simply a loop of the same eleven-minute piece.  On the RSD edit, “Meepy Morp” is paired down to a short, two-minute interlude.  My upgraded edit runs 2:25, slightly shorter than my previous edit of 2:42.  

11.  “Riot In My Brain!!!” [3:31]
The destructive noise jam “Riot In My Brain!!!” originally totals an exhausting hour and a half, but was trimmed down to a digestible 4:28 on the RSD release; I have made a similar edit. This upgraded edit runs 3:31, more concise than my previous edit of 4:32.  

12.  “7 Skies H3 (Main Theme)” [10:34]
The gorgeous main theme to 7 Skies H3 (fan-titled “Forever Floating”) drifts on for two hours and 12 minutes and includes three movements; the RSD release condenses it down to 6:26.  While my original edit had that same runtime, I choose to expand it considerably to 10:34!  

13.  “Can’t Let It Go” [8:30]
The closing song—the fourth lyric-based composition—originally ran eight minutes in length, with the RSD release not bothering to edit it at all.  While my original edit trimmed the song down to 6:08, my upgraded version does what the RSD release did: present the full, 8:30.  

Flac/shn --> wav --> mixing & editing in SONAR & Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8

*md5, artwork and tracknotes included