Friday, May 31, 2024

Bob Dylan - Songs For Dwarf Music (Stereo Mix) UPGRADE


Bob Dylan - Songs For Dwarf Music

(soniclovenoize stereo Basement Tapes reconstruction)


Side A:

1.  Million Dollar Bash

2.  Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread

3.  Please Mrs. Henry

4.  Crash on The Levee

5.  Lo and Behold!

6.  Tiny Montgomery

7.  This Wheels On Fire

Side B:

8.  You Ain't Going Nowhere

9.  I Shall Be Released

10.  Too Much of Nothing

11.  Tears of Rage

12.  Quinn The Eskimo

13.  Open The Door, Homer

14.  Nothing Was Delivered

This upgrade is an explicitly stereo reconstruction of the 14-song acetate compiled in January 1968 of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes recordings for his music publishing company, Dwarf Music.  Intended for distribution to recording industry insiders in order to shop the songs around for other artists to cover, it was this acetate that was used to create the very first bootleg album, Great White WonderMany believe this specific collection is the closest official word to a vintage, proper Dylan album compiled from the 1967 Basement Tapes recordings.  While the pristine mono master of Garth Hudson’s original fourteen-song acetate was released as a vinyl-only RSD exclusive in 2015, this reconstruction attempts to make an exclusively stereo version of Hudson’s master.  Sourced from the bootlegged two-track masters leaked on several bootlegs and mixed with modern techniques, we are able to make a centralized stereo mix with Dylan’s vocal centered, the bass panned to the right and the keyboards and backing vocals panned left.  

Infamously concluding his electric, amphetamine-fueled 1966 World Tour with a “debilitating” motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan was left to retire from the public eye and become the family-man he allegedly always wanted to be.  But his old desire to make music eventually crept in, which amounted to Dylan placing phone calls systematically to the members of The Hawks, his backing band for his previous tour.  Being on retainer, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel—whom themselves were thinking about regrouping and renaming their own outfit into The Band—arrived to Dylan’s Woodstock home in the summer of 1967 and began simply jamming to old country, gospel and traditional standards while the world around them snacked on psychedelic pop.  Hudson recorded the highlights of the proceedings for posterity to two-track tape and the quintet quickly amassed a pile of reels, unsure exactly what to do with them.  The Basement Tapes were born.

But without a new Dylan album or tour on the horizon, manager Albert Grossman needed new product.  Thus the gears eventually shifted and the daily basement jams evolved into demo sessions for new Dylan compositions, intended to be sold to other artists.  Even though Dylan tailor-wrote each serious original for a specific artist, his originals were very different during this period, informed by the structure of the folk standards the quintet had jammed on during the previous months.  Dylan’s lyrics were paired down from the verbose poetics of Blonde on Blonde to be concise, with every singular line being important and justified; many songs became structurally and even thematically similar to sea shanties and drinking songs.  But the most notable characteristics are the full band arrangements, which often included: Dylan’s 12-string acoustic guitar and idiosyncratic voice; Rick Danko’s electric bass keeping the rhythm in Levon Helm's absence, reminiscent of Sun Records' drumless recordings; Richard Manuel’s piano keeping the backbone with Dylan’s acoustic; only Robbie Robertson’s tasteful electric lead guitar and Garth Hudson’s celestial electric organ remained from the previous year’s 'wild mercury sound’.  Remarkably, some of Bob Dylan’s most cherished songs spawned from these sessions and the Basement Tapes set the standard for Dylan’s concise songwriting method and style for his following albums, from John Wesley Harding up to Planet Waves

The first collection of demos was compiled by Hudson (who was acting as impromptu producer) in October 1967, a set of ten songs from Reels 8 & 9, sequenced in the order they were recorded (although “Tiny Montgomery” from Reel 4 was stuck in-between): Million Dollar Bash / Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread / Please Mrs. Henry / Crash on the Levee / Lo and Behold! / Tiny Montgomery / This Wheel’s On Fire / You Ain’t Going Nowhere / I Shall Be Released / Too Much of Nothing.  It was this original tape that secured the initial covers of the Basement Tapes material, including Flatt & Scruggs take on “Crash on the Levee”, Brian Auger & The Trinity’s take on “This Wheel’s On Fire”, The Byrds take on “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and Peter, Paul & Mary’s take on “Too Much of Nothing.”

With The Byrds and Peter, Paul & Mary charting with Dylan originals, Albert Grossman asked for more songs.  A second, five-song tape was compiled in January 1968 with the best songs from Reels 10 & 13 that included: Tears of Rage / Quinn The Eskimo / Open The Door, Homer / Nothing Was Delivered / Get Your Rocks Off.  Eventually the final song was dropped, and the remaining four songs were tagged onto the end of the previous 10-song reel, creating the final 14-song acetate that lead to Manfred Mann’s take on “Quinn The Eskimo” charting as well as The Byrds take on “Nothing Was Delivered”.  It was this 14-song configuration that made the most rounds in the inner circles, arriving not only in the hands of both music industry professionals and curious musicians, but in the hands of Jann Wenner who famously published an article about the great unreleased Bob Dylan album in Rolling Stone.   It also arrived in the hands of Ken and Dub who pressed their own  vinyl run of the material (coupled with recordings from 1961) and sold their wares under-the-counter to drooling Dylan fans starving for the originals of his currently-charting originals otherwise were unavailable to the general public.  Eventually dubbed The Great White Wonder, this was the first bootleg record. 

The mythology of The Basement Tapes grew throughout the 60s and 70s, largely due to the notoriety of those specific Dylan songs he never released, Wenner’s Rolling Stone article and the emergence of bootleg recordings.  Meeting the demands for an official document of the Basement Tapes recordings, Robbie Robertson with Levon Helm (who did not appear in the Basement Tapes sessions until the 14-song acetate was completed) compiled and then overdubbed a double album of the recordings in 1975.  While a great listen, the inherent faults of the album (anachronistic overdubs, poor sound quality of some source material, inclusions of unrelated Band material, exclusion of “I Shall Be Released” and “Quinn the Eskimo”) did not quench many Dylan fans’ thirst for the vintage Basement Tapes recordings.  Since then, a number of bootlegs including A Tree With Roots and The Genuine Basement Tapes offered a more vintage anthology of the available material.  Both sets were finally trumped by the official 6-CD box set The Bootleg Series vol 11: The Basement Tapes Complete, remastered (mostly) from the master reels, presented as a rather limited stereophonic mix with the vocal track panned at two-o-clock and the remaining track panned at eighto-clock.  The epic box set was everything a Basement Tapes aficionado would desire, but it lacked one thing: a remastered reproduction of that original fourteen-song acetate for Dwarf Music, the recording that started it all, what many Dylan fans believe is the true missing Dylan album from 1967. 

While I originally made a mono reconstruction of Hudson’s 14-song master for my blog in March of 2015–a facsimile based upon John Peel’s own copy as reference–I was soon trumped by the man himself, who released Hudson’s original mono master in all it’s analog glory, as an exclusive vinyl-only release for Record Store Day a month later!  For the last nine years, that released version had been my go-to cut of the material; but I wondered, although it was clearly meant to be in mono, was it possible to make a more modern stereo mix of this exact historical compilation?  It was a cumbersome task, as all of the tapes were tracked live to two-track tape, with Dylan’s acoustic and vocal in one track and all of the remaining instruments in the other track!  That end result, if mixed to stereo directly, is a difficult listen akin to the awkward mixes of early Beatles albums in which the vocals are trapped in one channel and instruments in the other.  

Regardless, I set out to make a more blanched stereo mix utilizing some more modern mixing techniques.  First and foremost, we will take the “utility” track that contains everything but the vocals, and split the bass frequencies into its own track.  Panning that to the right and the remaining frequencies to the left, we are able to make a stereo soundstage which could allow the vocals to be centered; but more importantly, in separating the bass frequencies and rebalancing the track, we are able to reveal and appreciate some of the intricacies that were otherwise overshadowed by Danko’s bass.  Particularly, Manuel’s piano now jumps out and Hudson’s magical organ becomes a near duet with Dylan’s vocal–not unlike his “Electric Trilogy” of albums!  An effect of the way I have created this soundstage is that the recordings are no longer bass-driven, as Danko’s bass is now balanced appropriately with either Manuel’s piano or Hudson’s organ.  This becomes a new way to listen to this album.  

Additionally, we are able to not only center Dylan’s vocal, but here we use a reverb plugin that uses an AI algorithm to sample and emulate specific room interiors, to replicate the unique reverb featured on Dylan’s vocals throughout the session (most likely the spring reverb on their PA).  Thus we are able to create a stereo spread of this reverb, giving these mixes more space and atmosphere, as well as more treble information to be coupled with the bass for the right channel.  

What songs should be included?  Luckily there is a lot of documentation that clarifies which takes were used and in what order, and we will follow that template (for better or for worse).  Side A of my reconstruction begins with take 2 of “Million Dollar Bash”, followed by take 2 of “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread”, “Please Mrs. Henry”, take 2 of “Crash on the Levee”, take 2 of “Lo and Behold!”, “Tiny Montgomery” and “This Wheel’s On Fire”.  Side B begins with take 2 of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” followed by take 2 of “I Shall Be Released”.  Take 1 of “Too Much of Nothing” was used on the acetate (as opposed to take 2 featured and overdubbed on the 1975 Basement Tapes album) and Peter, Paul and Mary’s cover version logically reflects that arrangement.  Likewise, take 1 of “Tears of Rage” (as opposed to take 3 on the 1975 Basement Tapes album) and take 1 of “Quinn The Eskimo” (as opposed to the superior take 2 on Biograph and The Essential Bob Dylan) were both featured on the original acetate.  This reconstruction concludes with takes 1 of “Open The Door, Homer” and (regrettably) take 1 of “Nothing Was Delivered”.  While I don’t totally agree on these take selections (notably for “Nothing Was Delivered” and “Quinn The Eskimo”) we will concede to present an accurate artifact. 

Sources used:

A Tree With Roots

The Genuine Basement Tapes

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8

* md5 files, track notes and artwork included



Thursday, May 2, 2024

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Early Version)


The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

(Early Version reconstruction by soniclovenoize)

1.  Do You Realize???

2.  Are You A Hypnotist?

3.  Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots pt 1

4.  Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots pt 2

5.  Funeral In My Head

6.  Up Above The Daily Hum

7.  Fight Test 

8.  One More Robot

9.  Sympathy 3000-21

10.  Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell

11.  In The Morning of The Magicians

12.  It’s Summertime

13.  All We Have is Now

14.  Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)

This is a very special Album That Never Was– unlike most of my reconstructions, there is little to no information available on it, and admittedly, much of this reconstruction is based on my own personal memory of it.  Often, it seems I was the only one who actually remembers the brief existence of this, a sole historian to tout its significance!  So in a belated honor of the 20th anniversary of The Flaming Lips’ mainstream breakthrough album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, this is a reconstruction of the pre-mastered, fourteen-track “early version” of the album that was leaked several months before its release, which featured a completely different tracklist, among other subtle mixing differences.  

By the early 2000s, The Flaming Lips had already done it all: a decade as a thriving weirdo indie band; one-hit-wonders with 1994’s “She Don’t Use Jelly”; experimental boundary-pushers with 1997’s four-disc album Zaireeka (meant to be played simultaneously!) and 1998’s Boombox Experiments (which employed fifty audience member-helmed boomboxes as a chaotic symphony literally conducted by the band members themselves); and finally the genius arteurs of 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, the album dubbed “The Pet Sounds of The 90s”.  Treading uncertain ground, the trio went from ‘nothing left to lose’, to being the face of cutting edge music in the 21st Century.  What next?

It was evident that the band themselves were not quite sure how to follow-up the masterpiece of The Soft Bulletin, as seen by their decision to showcase entirely new material in their 1999 BBC sessions in April and June.  Including the ominous Can-influenced “The Switch That Turned Off The Universe”, the acoustic ballad “We Can’t Predict The Future”, and two tunes that seemed cut from the Soft Bulletin cloth, “Up Above The Daily Hum” and the meandering instrumental “It Remained Unrealisable”, the songs only hinted at a path forward, and certainly did not have a unified sound or concept.  Unsure of the quality of the new material, the band shifted gears and started separate “side quests” which would inform their upcoming tenth studio album, creating the sound that would finally break the band through to the mainstream– Yoshimi Battle The Pink Robots.  

The Lips’ first stop to battling the pink robots was their old home of Oklahoma City– or at least the backwoods of it.  Director and long-time friend of the band Bradley Beasly tasked the band to craft the soundtrack to his upcoming documentary Okie Noodling, a short film about a unique style of handfishing in rural Oklahoma.  Returning to their homemade studio and practice space, the band crafted several folk-influenced tracks that sounded less like the triumphant and majestic pop of The Soft Bulletin, and more like a cartoonish Zeppelin III.  While the material was never meant for a widespread release (only a promo single was released, featuring the only vocal-based recording of the batch, “The Southern Oklahoma Cosmic Trigger Contest”), the laidback acoustics felt refreshing to the band after the multilayered complexities of the studio-created The Soft Bulletin.  

Next, Flaming Lips figurehead Wayne Coyne decided he wanted to make a movie– and it was going to be about the first Chrstmas on Mars!  Never a stranger to self-made media, including directing their own music videos and on-stage video content, Coyne sought to write and direct the band’s own foray into film using household objects and junkyard acquisitions to create the interior of a space station orbiting Mars.  With the clout of their own absurdity and sheer DIY optimism–as well as friends in high-ish places such as actor Elijah Wood and former Blues Clues host Steve Burns–The Flaming Lips slowly started to assemble their own indie B movie flick.  Naturally, one of the first steps in the film's creation was the soundtrack itself, and unlike the very human-sounding Okie Noodling soundtrack, the Christmas on Mars soundtrack became very electronic and lonely.  

Although the film itself wouldn’t be completed and released until 2008, these early electronic-driven sound experiments set a new series of sonic explorations in motion: the intentional merging of the contrasting sounds of the acoustic Okie Noodling soundtrack and the electronic Christmas on Mars soundtrack.  By spring 2001, The band convened at long-time producer Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Studios to record the album proper, tracking “It’s Summertime”, “Are You a Hypnotist”, “Utopia Planitia” and “Sytris Major”, all featuring a very distinct sound from the DIY symphonic pop majesty of The Soft Bulletin, that incorporated the aesthetics of both Okie Noodling and Christmas on Mars soundtracks.  

Additional studio bouts throughout the summer of 2001 yielded even more material such as “All We Have is Now”, “Do You Realize?”, “Ego Tripping at The Gates of Hell”, “Funeral in My Head”, “In The Mourning of The Magicians”, a new, more polished version of “Up Above The Daily Hum” and a cryptically titled “The Pink Robots”.  It was this final track that seemed to tie everything together, coupled with more material recorded later that year: “Fight Test” and “One More Robot”; although not initially intended as a concept album, the series of songs could be loosely connected into a storyline that would unify and define the album.  

Released in July 2002 to instant critical acclaim but a slow burn to commercial success, it wasn’t the singles “Do You Realize” or “Fight Test” that secured a well-earned mainstream popularity.  Instead, the band toured relentlessly with less of a live rock show, but more of a surreal multimedia extravaganza, which seemed to translate particularly well to the burgeoning “jam band” festival crowd.  Also, a fabricated feud with notoriously eccentric alt-folk rocker Beck couldn’t hurt!  

Although Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots became a long-shot 2000s classic, the album was very nearly a very different album.  Although a number of fans have debated if The Flaming Lips had intended the album to be a loose concept album or not, the original sequence of the album that had leaked several months before it’s street date showed a much more esoteric album, with the “conceptual” songs peppered throughout rather than setting the album’s stage in the top-half, revealing Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots as more of another collection of late-era Flaming Lips songs that contemplated love and death, sentience and madness, than a story about a Japanese warrior battling pink robots!  

Strangely enough, this alternate fourteen-track version of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots has been completely lost to time.  Originally leaking on Napster and other file-sharing programs in the spring of 2002, this listener promptly burned it to a CD-R and spent his final spring in college playing out this clearly unmastered cut from his favorite band, a secret only I knew.  It was much to my surprise when the album was properly released a few months later, hearing a number of subtle mixing differences, the literal lack of two complete tracks (one of them my favorite of the album!) and the album opening with “Fight Test” instead of the obvious “Do You Realize”.  Even more surprising, I have found very few Flaming Lips fans who even remember this leak, let alone the specifics of it.  In this sense, this Album That Never Was is very different from the rest, which usually tries to rely on confirmable data and primary sources; here, you’ll just have to take my word for it!  

In reconstructing this original version of Yoshimi, we will generally use the final album mixes, since they are the most refined; my memory states that it was not the final mixes I originally heard in the Spring of 2002, although those specific mix differences I no longer are able to recall.  Here I am crossfading the songs as I recall hearing them.  We will also be using some selections from the stealthly-released One More Robot promo CD, which was former-drummer Kliph Scurlock’s compilation of alternate and early mixes of the Yoshimi album (which partly replicates this early version I have reconstructed!).  It is of note that an idisyncracity of the original leaked pre-master was that 1) the synth intro to “One More Robot” was presented as its own, short track and 2) the ending of “One More Robot” (the “Sympathy 3000-21” segment) was cut-off abruptly.  I have always thought this was a double-mastering error, and here I present my own “fix”, what I believe was originally intended: “One More Robot” and its outro “Sympathy 3000-21” are simply presented as their own separate tracks. 

The album begins with “Do You Realize”, truly one of the greatest pop songs of the 2000s, here as a slightly different mastering found on the One More Robot CD.  This is then followed by “Are You a Hypnotist” from the original album master, which was actually the second track of the album before being unfairly pushed forward to the last third of the proper release; this is a much better place for it!  Following are both parts of “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” from the original album, that directly crossfades into the audience introduction to “Funeral In My Head” (taken from the One More Robot promo CD), one of the songs dropped from the album entirely and released as a b-side to the “Do You Realize” single.  This is followed by “Up Above The Daily Hum”, another song dropped from the album and relinquished to b-side territory, taken from the Do You Realize CD single.  

“Fight Test” begins the second half of the album (rather than the first on the proper release), segueing into “One More Robot”, both taken from the original album.  As aforementioned, “Sympathy 3000-21” is made into its own track, although we are using the full version, rather than the leak which cuts out early.  Next is “Ego Tripping at The Gates of Hell”, mostly occupying the middle-album as the final version of the album, here an alternate master taken from One More Robot.  Following is the epic “In The Mourning of The Magicians”, here placed much later in the album (before moved up to take the space vacated by “Funeral In My Head”); since the original version had the cold synth intro without the audience noise from “Yoshimi Part 2”, here we use the version from One More Robot with a clean intro!  This is followed by the extended version of “It’s Summertime”, also taken from One More Robot.  Closing out both iterations of the album are “All We Have is Now” and “Approaching Pavis Mons by Balloon”, both taken from the original Yoshimi master.  

How does this version compare with what was finally released?  First off, this version of the album is LONG.  Up until that point, most Flaming Lips albums spanned 12 songs over 45 minutes or so; this is a fourteen track album spanning nearly an hour!  Although I rued the decision to cut the album down to a more standard length, I understood why it was done, and even agreed about the songs cut.  Also, the sequence of the first half of the album creates a more meandering yet epic feel to the album; it’s final release seems more direct, and makes more sense if it was to be considered a concept record (which I never believed it was in the first place!).  Either way, here is a new and interesting way to listen to Yoshimi, unheard for twenty years!  

Sources used:

  • Do You Realize (2002 CD single)
  • Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (original 2002 CD master)
  • One More Robot (2012 promo CD)