Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Through a Vast Crystal Sphere Presents: History of Chillout vol. 1 (1946-1958)

Compilation (various artist)

Stress: it's a factor that none of us can hope to avoid. Sure, I've devoted a large portion of my life towards running away from it, but as with its close cousins heartache and loss, stress is simply an inescapable inevitability. As such, the acceptance that one must deal with it as one must with every other facet of existence can actually lead to an overall reduction in the adverse side effects normally associated with stress. Thus, we are faced with a paradox, but one that can ultimately be manipulated if not controlled outright.

It is theorized (correctly, I believe) that stress is created when the challenges we face begin to overwhelm us. As such, it is the opposite of boredom, which arises only when one is not adequately challenged. In between these two intolerable extremes lies flow. When one is flowing through life, the challenges are surmountable and become interesting, never tedious. It is through flow that one finds passion, the basis of meaningful existence.

It is critically important that when a person finds themself overwhelmed with the peculiar negative energy that only evolves out of stress, that they step back, disassociate, breathe and finally refocus their energy. You see, unlike with anger, stress is often not a choice, but it can be coped with using the simple mechanisms I just mentioned. Once one makes the decision to remove oneself from stress-induced trauma by means of re-evaluating or re-prioritizing their immediate challenges, they may see that life is not so chaotic after all.

It is often possible to actually lessen or even eliminate stress before it starts. The key to preventative stress management is acknowledgement. If a person is logical and clear-headed in their daily interactions, there is a good chance that they will not only acknowledge the onset of stress as it begins to affect their psyche, but they may actually (consciously or subconsciously) employ anti-stress measures at the outset of these emotions in order to keep their cool and maintain control.

One very groovy method for alleviating stressful thoughts is reflecting on nature in all Her beauty. It's been observed by many a philosopher throughout history that when man is in the grips of nature's radiance, all Earthly concerns fall by the wayside. Much in the way of great art and music has been achieved while its creators were enraptured under nature's gentle spell.

Modern studies in the field of neuroscience have actually dealt with questions regarding stress, boredom and flow. One of the bigger questions humankind has often wondered about has to do with personality types. For example, how is it that children of similar ethnocentric and societal makeup, born under seemingly similar circumstances, can grow so different from one another later in life? This argument is often referred to as "nature vs. nurture", as doctors, scientists and philosophers have long argued over whether parental upbringing or societal norms have more overall impact on human development.

While this question will likely never be answered to anyone's satisfaction, medical surveys conducted by neurologists have yielded some fantastic insights into brain development. For example, Dr. Richard Davidson, who surveyed numerous individuals for his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain, monitored their cerebral activity using CAT scans and found that overall the participants with the highest degree of adult brain development (or neuroplasticity) were those who actively partook in both meditation and aerobic exercise. The ancient practice of yoga has also been found to be extremely beneficial to both physiological and psychological well-being.

Taking the previous factors into account, it becomes self-evident that the life best led for most people is one that contains a significant assortment of challenges, but one that is also tempered with an appropriate amount of both relaxation and introspection. Socrates himself is famously quoted as saying, "the unexamined life is not worth living", and as time passes on his wisdom surely continues to resonate.

The pace of the modern world can be exceedingly hectic, and as such it is increasingly important for all persons from all walks of life to remember that stress, while a great motivator, can be toxic in large amounts. What is most important, however, is not what you do to alleviate yourself from your daily burdens, but only that you find a way that works for you.

We sincerely hope that this new compilation, along with its upcoming counterparts, will help you to achieve your flow!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

MONKEES ’69: An Alternate History

So at the risk of coming off sounding like a complete dork, I’m going to go ahead and post this anyway. Yes folks, this is what I actually think about when I get bored.

 I guess it’s no worse than collecting comic books or, God forbid, action figures, but holy Jeff Spicole do I feel like a loser by even sharing the fact that I spend my free time considering stuff like this, when I should be out getting laid or doing other approved alpha male activities like ultimate fighting while riding motorcycles.

Wait a second!  Do you see what I just did there? I just admitted feeling guilty over my own pet passion. I mean really, why should I be ashamed?  Just because I spend far too much time making up fantasy career paths for a 45 year old manufactured pop band?  Now that’s just silly!

Okay, so anyway let’s set the scene. It’s November of 1968, and The Monkees were just experiencing the first major commercial failures of their collective career: the motion picture Head, its corresponding soundtrack album and its accompanying single “The Porpoise Song”/ “As We Go Along”. This lack of success in the charts reflected a group that was splintering at its core.  Since the departure of producer Chip Douglas only a year before, the four Monkees were now operating as a coherent recording entity in name only. While they would still tour together for the time being, all studio recordings were now being held at independent sessions by each band member. Each of the four could pick whomever they wanted to work with in the studio and produce their own sessions if they so chose.

This arrangement was inarguably most beneficial to Michael Nesmith, who during the past year had been writing music that was less Monkee-like, and more in the emerging vein of what would soon be labeled “country rock”.  Back in May, Nesmith had taken a sojourn down to Nashville to record a handful of sessions with many of the city’s crack backing musicians, known collectively as Area Code 615.  The resulting material was of the highest quality, and it brilliantly anticipated the coming country rock trend that would weave its way throughout the pop landscape over the next few years.

With the addition of a few cuts recorded back in L.A., the results were released by Dot Records in December of 1968:

The album was largely ignored commercially (#108 Billboard), but found favor amongst musicians and “in the know” industry types, ultimately laying the groundwork for Nesmith’s post-Monkees deal with his First National Band. Jim Miller, writing for Rolling Stone, gave the record a positive review citing both Mike’s improved singing and his ability to pen memorable material.  A single pulled from the record, the Glen Campbell-esque “If I Ever Get to Saginaw Again”, did relatively well on both the Billboard country and adult contemporary charts, as well as briefly scraping the bottom reaches of their pop charts at #87.

As mentioned previously, despite the band’s independence within the recording studio, The Monkees were still being sold to America as a self-contained entity. And so to honor the terms of the network deal that ended their TV show after just two seasons, the group set about working on the first of three planned made-for-TV specials. 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee would be directed by legendary Shindig! auteur Jack Good, with music produced by Bones Howe who was currently riding a hot streak with The Association, The 5th Dimension, The Turtles and others.

As with Head, 33 1/3 was a surreal Rafelson/ Schneider mind fuck designed to simultaneously mock and tear down viewers’ preconceptions of The Monkees.  Yet despite guest appearances from everyone from Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino to Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and Buddy Miles, the TV special failed to register with mainstream America, most of whom were busy watching the Oscars during the premier of the Monkees' new special on April 14, 1969. Nevertheless, Colgems did compile a limited edition soundtrack LP and released it a month after 33 1/3 debuted. The soundtrack was to be sold only in Hallmark stores, instantly turning original copies into sought after Monkee collectables.

During the interim period between the filming of 33 1/3 and its release, the busy Monkees also released their first non-soundtrack studio album in nearly a year.  Titled Instant Replay after the newly invented technological gimmick, the new record was the result of a long standing group initiative.  Since the end of the Chip Douglas era, an idea had been circulating throughout the Monkee organization to release a double LP featuring one album side devoted to each band member.  With the amount of individual recording sessions the four had been holding throughout the previous year or so, realizing this ambition was not hard to do; and in the wake of the successful Beatles White Album, it was decided that the time was now right for The Monkees to release their own double album masterpiece the following February.

However, unbeknownst to the general public, Peter Tork had already made a decision to part ways with the group prior to Instant Replay’s release.  Following the band’s 1968 tour of Japan, Tork was exhausted and generally disenchanted with the way things were going within the group, as he was the main proponent of keeping The Monkees a self-contained recording entity.

Wrote Micky Dolenz in his autobiography I'm a Believer (1993 Hyperion Press; co-written with Mark Bego): "Peter had never gotten over his disappointment when we decided not to go back into the studio and work together as we had on Headquarters. He even cited that as his main reason for resigning. But I suspect there were other influences as well. The truth was, we were all living in the eye of a hurricane. The world was falling apart around us, the winds of change were tossing our careers and our lives around like so many paper puppets, and, for the most part, we were oblivious to it all."

After his strong contributions to both the Head and 33 1/3 soundtracks, Peter donated six more of his songs to Instant Replay to fulfill his contractual obligation and quietly bowed out of The Monkees for nearly another 20 years.

A shame then, as unlike with the group’s past few efforts, Instant Replay was ultimately both well received and a modest commercial success, peaking as high as #15 on Billboard’s pop albums chart. For perhaps the first time in The Monkees’ career, reviews in the press were mainly positive, largely focusing on the individual talents of the four musicians as heard within. And since Colgems’ publicity machine was now for the first time making no effort to portray The Monkees to the public as a unified group, the critics tended to be much less concerned with that fact in their respective analyses.

Of course the main reason for the relative success of Instant Replay was the fact it contained the group’s strongest batch of new material since Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.  While The Birds, the Bees and The Monkees had been bogged down by some weaker songs, and the Head soundtrack presented some great musical selections engulfed in a sea of oddball sound clips from the movie, Instant Replay was simply a heaping helping of great tunes that most everyone could enjoy.

The new album’s artwork was quite unique as well, featuring an eye-catching collage on the front cover and a famous black-and-white Henry Diltz photo in the gatefold. In the picture the four Monkees are seen standing around in a rundown section of San Francisco. Michael, wearing his black leather jacket while standing next to a cherry 1969 Pontiac Ram Air IV Judge GTO, is in the foreground looking perturbed, while Micky is seen leaning over the car’s open hood, admiring its engine. Davy is further off to the right hand side of the photo, smoking a cigarette and seemingly trying to hustle a disinterested looking blonde, while Peter stands on the far left in a flowered Nehru and Indian boots, pensively looking off towards something far away from the rest of the action.

The track order for Instant Replay was also conceived in a distinctive fashion. Rather than tagging either face of each disc as side 1, 2, 3 or 4 respectively, each label on the original pressing simply bared the name of whichever band member the side belonged to. However, observant fans would note that the track credits in the gatefold are listed side by side, left to right, in the following order: Michael, Peter, Davy, Micky. This would heretofore be seen as Replay’s “proper” running sequence.

Two singles were ultimately derived from Instant Replay, one as a trial balloon and one shortly after the release of the album proper. “Teardrop City”, an old recording of a Boyce & Hart number that had been dusted off and sped up, did quite well, hitting #23 and giving the group its biggest hit in a year, while its flip “A Man without a Dream” also charted in the lower regions, peaking at #88.

The follow-up 45, the Bones Howe produced “Someday Man”, experienced the rare occurrence of actually being eclipsed by its own flip side, Mike’s own “Listen to the Band”. An embellished version of a track first found on Carlisle Wheeling, the re-worked Instant Replay take of “Band” caught on with certain radio programmers who began flipping the record over, pushing it all the way to #34 nationwide. (“Someday Man”, still the featured side in certain U.S. markets, would also make the charts, reaching as high as #62).

With the relative success of Instant Replay providing a much needed kick-start to the group’s ailing career, plans were immediately drawn up for the now-trio to tour and record a follow-up album. Complicating the scenario however was one David Jones, who with the tacit approval of Colgems had recently arranged for a covert, multi-album deal between his independent production company and Bell Records. This deal would not only allow Jones to record any artists he signed, but also allowed for the licensing of any unused Colgems-owned masters of his material.

Out of such a complicated business arrangement came the new album Davy!, released by Bell in July of 1969. Despite being cobbled together out of songs that were mainly deemed unworthy for The Monkees, and featuring a cover clearly designed to play off Jones’ teen idol image, the record was not too shabby artistically speaking and became a modest hit, rising as high as #38 on Billboard.  The associated single, “Love To Love” b/w “Don’t Listen to Linda”, also did well, peaking at #26.

While the group continued to make the rounds on a variety of television shows in support of Replay (including a memorable performance of Mike’s “Nine Times Blue” on The Johnny Cash Show) their main agenda remained the summer ’69 North American tour. While out carousing on Sunset one night, Mike stopped by a small club on the Strip called Soul'd Out and discovered a black r&b unit by the name of Sam & The Goodtimers, whom he thought would make a perfect choice to both open for and back The Monkees during this upcoming set of dates. The Goodtimers had previously functioned as Ike & Tina's backing revue and were all crack instrumentalists, and they agreed to go do the tour. While the venues The Monkees were now booked at were for the most part smaller than the ones they played during their previous American tour back in ’67, they still performed to enthusiastic crowds, and the reviews in the press of their new stage show featuring The Goodtimers were generally superb.

But while the collective conglomeration known as The Monkees could still pack ‘em in, it was becoming apparent to all but the most unobservant listener/ spectator that this was no longer a band in any real sense, but rather an amalgamation of three individual performers with little in the way of common ground to hold them together.  While Micky’s soul music influence, Davy’s Broadway pop sense and Mike’s countrified leanings gave the group an attractive assortment of modern sounds, for the most part each individual was incapable of assisting the other, apart from the occasional exception such as Nesmith’s “My Share of the Sidewalk”, which he wrote and produced specifically with Davy in mind.

Thus the trio’s final album together, The Monkees Present, effectively represents the work of three separate individuals more than anything approaching a unified group sound.  While this approach made sense on the clearly delineated Instant Replay, when mixed together indiscriminately the results now sounded a bit haphazard, though the songs themselves remained strong for the most part.  The best of the new tracks was Micky’s reading of Chip Douglas’s “Steam Engine”, which was released as a single (backed by Mike’s own “Little Red Rider”) just before the album hit stores.  This soulful rocker gave the band their final hit, charting as high as #44 in October of ‘69.  (Present itself would fare slightly less well, peaking at #50 on Billboard.)


With the departure of Mike Nesmith during the waning days of the decade, The Monkees were over in all but name.  Accordingly, Colgems flew Micky and Davy out to New York for a final series of sessions with producer Jeff Barry in a last ditch attempt to capture lightning in a bottle.  Comprised mainly of leftover compositions by Barry and his protégés Andy Kim and Bobby Bloom, the resulting LP Changes and its accompanying single “Oh My My”/ “I Love You Better” weren’t half bad, but underperformed on the charts.  Dolenz and Jones amicably parted ways to pursue solo careers, and despite a final single released in 1971 (“Do It in the Name of Love”/ “Lady Jane”) The Monkees were over, and would remain so until their 1986 reunion.

However one interesting curio managed to find its way onto the trader’s circuit later in the decade: a discarded mono master reel of an early assemblage of Instant Replay. This fascinating oddity not only revealed many never-before-heard vintage mono mixes, but it also featured a slightly different track line-up including several unheard alternate versions of familiar songs, and even contained two previously unreleased Peter Tork compositions, "Alvin" and “Tear the Top Right Off My Head”. This was a great discovery for Monkees fans who may have thought they had heard it all.

The Monkees story doesn’t end here thankfully, as the 1986 reunion saw the original four members get back together for the first time in nearly 20 years.  We hope you all have enjoyed this latest installment of phony Monkees history, and as always, we invite you to please dig the music and spread the word!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Phish - A Live Pass

Compilation (single artist)

Phish is one of those bands that can alternately thrill me or bore me to death.  At their best they are capable of reaching spellbinding heights of instrumental glory, but alas they're nearly as likely to lose my attention whenever their focus shifts away from the structured grooves that generally make them so formidable. Likewise, I find that their songwriting runs the gamut from inspired to insufferable. I think one could easily make a case for them as the most consistently inconsistent band of their era!

Oh, you can try to recommend various soundboards to me-- God knows many have-- but I can assure you that I will find even their best of shows to be hit or miss affairs. And that's not even considering their stinky patchouli-scented fan base!

While this long-winded introduction describing my relationship with the band may seem pointless (just like everything else I write), it may also go some way towards explaining why I decided to create this latest effort of mine. You see, for once I wanted a Phish CD I could spin in my car that was packed end to end with what I consider "the good stuff". No endless vamps, atonal wankery or mouth solos. Just tight songwriting and badass jams.

For sources I simply used my two favorite Phish concert recordings: 1997's Slip, Stitch and Pass and disc one of 1995's A Live One. The essential task was to whittle away the weak/ sloppy/ boring stuff from each disc and cram the good shit onto one 80 minute CD-R. Obviously a few halfway decent moments would also have to be sacrificed amidst the dross; but if the end result was the best single disc live Phish experience known to man, then it would all be worth it.

I'll never forget the marathon editing session that led to this mutant release. It was late Thursday night, I was all set to drive down to San Diego the next day with a girl I liked, and I needed this one for the car. 

To prepare for the session, I retrieved several tall bottles of a locally brewed double IPA called Drake's Hopocalypse (9.3% ABV, 100+ IBUs, in case you were wondering) and sat my ass down in front of the computer. The waveforms I had amassed were lossless and totaled over 110 minutes. Some surgery was clearly needed, but the surgeon was already well on his way towards being hammered.

With reckless abandon I nevertheless jumped in, quickly tossing aside a few of the lesser tracks and steadying myself for the core task of editing this fucker down to just under 80 minutes. Soon markers and splice points decorated the waveforms on my display. Sure I could have resorted to hackwork and just cut off arbitrary chunks of audio in order to fit within the time limit of a recordable disc. But would any good surgeon simply splice off his patient's appendages just to get them down to their target weight? No effing way! I had been tapped on the shoulder by a higher deity and commanded to make the world's first completely listenable Phish CD, not just for the good of my road trip but for the good of all mankind!

Click! Click! went my fingers on the mouse. Glug! Glug! went the Drake's down my throat. I sweated and slaved (by which I mean, barely moved) to create the perfect Phish concert. The edits were meticulous, the crossfades sublime. I remember the spirit of Trey Anastasio hovering above me at one point, advising me of the exact spot where his third solo in "You Enjoy Myself" got slightly less "crunchy" and thus could be justifiably spliced out.

By 2 a.m. I was completely finished, both with the beer and the mix. Final run time, 79 minutes and change. I passed out and then struggled through a few hours of work the next day before picking up the girl and doing the nine hour drive down to San Diego. Needless to say, we never did hook up on that trip, but at least the music was good. Thanks, Phish... and thank you, Drake's!