The Plastic Ono Band
Live Peace In Toronto, 1969
The public is starved for music from the Big Three of rock and roll — an album and maybe a single a year isn't enough, and the rest of the musicians on both sides of the Atlantic are not providing enough excitement on their own to let us take what we get from Dylan, the Stones and the Beatles and be satisfied. We want more, and as the slogan goes, "find a hole and fill it," and thus it's being filled up fast.
Of the two new Dylan pirate albums, John Birch has much better fidelity than the original Great White Wonder set, while Stealin' sounds just fine. LIVE r Than You'll Ever Be, the album of the Stones' Oakland performance, is superb. It almost begins to make one think that in at least one case these are really "pirate" tapes — that is, stolen, from Columbia's vaults. Live Peace in Toronto 1969, by John, Eric, Yoko and friends, was bootlegged for a short time in Michigan, but Apple has put out the real thing, a sort of John Lennon Tour Through the History of Rock and Roll, and it's more fun than anything he's done in a long while, with a great deal more vitality than Abbey Road, in fact.
In a way, the bootleg phenomena may well force artists to respond to what the public wants — or lose a lot of bread. One obvious way to squelch the Great White Wonder album, without arousing any bad feelings, would have been to issue the basement tape; the way to kill the new live Stones' album would be to release a similar LP that was even better.
There are at least two reasons why this isn't happening. First of all, an artist is supposed to be able to select what he wants to release to the public, regardless of what his record company, or the public, thinks it wants; and secondly, it's never too good an idea to flood the market with too much good stuff. Or is it? That's how the Beatles barnstormed their way into our hearts — albums all over the place, singles onetwothreefourfive on the charts.
But the bootleggers might well force more albums out of the Stones and Dylan, in particular. They might also have an opposite result: the Beatles, the Stones, and Dylan might decide that it just isn't worth it to go on the road if any and perhaps every performance is going to be covered and released by the local bootleg squad, without concern for their knowledge, consent, artistic control or financial prerogatives.
John Lennon is the one man who seems to have escaped this dilemma without much trouble at all. With Abbey Road; Two Virgins; Life With the Lions; "Give Peace a Chance"; rock and roll's first day-after-Thanksgiving single, "Cold Turkey"; The Wedding Album; and now Live Peace, he and Yoko are simply documenting their careers, musical and personal, with a total abandonment of privacy and complete genuflection to The Public. It's hard to think of something newsworthy that John has done in the past year that has not been set down, in one way or another, on record. Whatever else you might want to say, they're not holding much back. Except Get Back; but that is exactly the point; with an LP as good as Live Peace to play, we can wait for the next one.
As for these four albums themselves, consider them new records by the Beatles, the Stones, and Dylan (though less so is this case). They aren't going to be around for very long, and simply on the basis of their musical quality, they should be bought right now. None of these albums is a mere "collectors' item," like the Great White Wonder stuff — all of them are listenable and exciting on their own terms.
Stealin' is a collection of hard to find and unreleased Dylan songs, mostly from 1965, but also including four tracks taken from tapes recorded in Minnesota in 1961: "Stealin'," "Hard Times in New York," "Wade in the Water," and "Cocaine." Also included is a cut that was perhaps recorded at Dylan's first Columbia session: "The Cough Song." The master that was used on this cut is better than anything that has surfaced before for this number. The same holds true for "That's Alright Mama" and "Killing Me Alive" — the sound is very clear, if somewhat lacking in bass, and the absence of blips or blank spots that are common on other tapes of the same performances make one think these are first generation Columbia masters. Among the other cuts included that Rolling Stone has previously mentioned are the first "mistaken" version of "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window," "If You Gotta Go, Go Now," and short version of "Bob Dylan's New Orleans Rag."
A few of the cuts on this album have not been available before, either on record or on private tapes with any sort of circulation. These include a solo outtake of "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," which is not up to the version on Bringing It All Back Home; a fantastic hard rock outtake of "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," in the style of "Tombstone Blues" but much more frantic, with lyrics we haven't heard before, and a vocal that will get anyone out of his chair; and two beautiful outtakes, "She Belongs To Me" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit." Both are done with only Bruce Langhorne accompanying Dylan's guitar, and the performances are superior to and much looser than those on Bringing It All Back Home, with a spirit that that was lacking in the takes included on that LP.
"She Belongs To Me," surprisingly, has a vocal that reminds one of Rick Nelson's version; "Love Minus Zero," a song that contains some of the few truly poetic lines Dylan has written, has a gentle, forgiving beauty to it in this performance that gives some of the perfect lines of this song a new warmth and a new impact: "The country doctor rambles/The wind blows cold..."
There are at least two versions of this album about, with the same songs but with different packaging and different labels; no doubt one of these is a bootleg of a bootleg. On both, the sound is perfectly fine.
G.W.W. "John Birch Society Blues" is an interesting and listenable record, with twelve cuts recorded by Dylan in the early Sixties, Four of the songs were previously issued by Columbia: "Mixed-Up Confusion/Corrina, Corrina," Dylan's first single; and "Talking John Birch Society Blues" and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie," from the mistakenly released version of the Freewheelin' album. Surprisingly, the sound quality on these cuts is poorer than on those which are taken from taped performances. The fidelity is a bit muddy here, while it is quite clear on the other performances. Occasionally what seems to be a poor pressing causes some distortion, however. The album also includes the rare "East Laredo Blues," "I'll Keep It With Mine," a live version of "Who Killed Davey Moore," "The Eternal Circle," a take of "Percy's Song" not usually heard, and three cuts from the Minnesota tapes: the brilliant "I Was Young When I Left Home," "Long John," and "Get Lonesome Sleeping By Yourself." Readers interested in fuller descriptions of these songs might take a look at the discography in Rolling Stone #47.
Live Peace opens with this enormous, bone-rattling guitar lick — but it's just Eric Clapton tuning up. He hasn't sounded so good since he played on a Jackie Lomax single earlier in the year. John is in very good voice, his guitar playing is great, and his sidemen — Eric, Klaus Voorman (formerly of Manfred Mann) on bass, Alan White on drums, and Yoko with occasional vocals — all sound just right. There isn't that much to say about the first side: "Blue Suede Shoes," "Money," "Dizzy Miss Lizzie," "Yer Blues," "Cold Turkey," and "Give Peace a Chance" is the progress; John ranges from amused and vibrant on the first numbers to impassioned and virtually desperate on "Money" and "Yer Blues." "Cold Turkey," with Yoko warbling like a weird electronic instrument, is especially fine, much better than the single: John's vocal is scary and Clapton's guitar is absolutely vicious. Anyone who's ever wanted to hear Clapton play really excellent rock and roll will get what he wants out of this one. Clapton even throws in some delightful notes that make "Give Peace a Chance" almost musical.
This is, oddly, the first live album ever recorded by a Beatle; save for a brief snatch of John singing "Twist and Shout" on The Beatles Story, this side is as close as we've gotten to a record of the Beatles on stage. The second side is Yoko's, backed by Eric, and as Yoko's music goes, this is a good bit more tolerable than her previous attempts. But the rock and roll is all on side one, and it's great.
The bootleg Stones album, made up of performances from the second show at the Oakland Coliseum, was almost inevitable, and it, like the Great White Wonder LPs, seems to be from Los Angeles, which at the moment appears to be holding down the title of Bootleg City.
How it was recorded is a more interesting question, though, because the sound quality is superb, full of presence, picking up drums, bass, both guitars and the vocals beautifully. The LP is in stereo; while it doesn't seem to be mixed, the balance is excellent. One of the bootleggers says the recording was done on an eight-track machine; brought in in a briefcase, perhaps? Not to mention that this is a very loud album. From a little hide-away microphone in someone's lap? Not too likely. So these may in fact be tapes that were made on stage by someone involved in setting up the Stones' own sound system.
Whatever and however, the album, as a bootleg disc and as pure music, is almost unbelievable. It captures every thrill of the Stones live on stage, 1969, and in fact it offers more, in someways, than the concerts did — because it sounds even better. The turn-around violence of their sound, the ripping hardness of the guitars, and the energy of the rhythm section is all here.
Jagger himself emerges as perhaps the most imaginative singer we have, if we didn't know it already. He outdoes himself, and Let It Bleed too, for that matter, on the stunning version of "Love In Vain" that opens the LP. Mick Taylor's solo is classic. This, like the whole first side, it seems, was from Oakland.
Then "Midnight Rambler." This recording demonstrates that this song was an epic on stage and a rather flat performance, really nothing more than an idea, on Let It Bleed. The song needs the crowd howling in between the lines, and the band is alive, tough, and mean. Given the other version we have of "Midnight Rambler," this may be the most valuable cut on the album.
"Little Queenie" is next. "All the songs (but this one) are available on legitimate albums," sniffed Billboard. Mick introduces this number: "Here's one from when we were all, uh, falling outa our cradles." And as they move into Chuck Berry's jukebox anthem, Mick quotes the master and says its all:
If it's a slow song, well, omit it
If it's a rocker, get down and get it
If it's good, she'll admit it
C'mon Queenie, let's get with it!
Then: "C'mon San Francisco, let's see how you can shake yo' ahsses! C'mon, let's get it on!" The cheers build, and they hit the crowd with "Honky Tonk Women." Again, they simply outdo themselves. Just after the second verse, the one about "I saw him on the boulevards or Paris/As naked as the day when I will die", Mick pushes Keith into a chorus: "Alright, now go! Go! Go! Go!"
The band is hard, with so much metal in their sound they might be some sort of long-haired construction crew. They end the side with "Street Fighting Man." The lights had been on for a while when this was recorded, and you can hear the crowd at the edge of the stage. The first moments of this cut have an excitement that is devastating, Keith riding the first line of it and then lifting it all into place with one motion. This song seems louder than any of the others on the album — Mick fighting the band for control, it seems, the music pounding, driving, stunning. I just don't believe this one at all.
Side Two: "Carol" is a gas; "Gimmie Shelter" has a magnificent and committed vocal from Jagger, though the rhythm section is not nearly as strong as on the version from Let It Bleed. It's hardly a bad cut, though. "Sympathy for the Devil" is perfect; the slowed-down arrangement they used in concert, Mick sounding alternately terrified and masterful, the two guitars combining in a brilliant show of force.
Just before "I'm Free," something weird happens: Jagger imitates Dylan from the basement tape, hoarsely whispering "Waitin' on you, waitin' on you." Maybe they knew it was gonna be bootlegged all along. The album closes with a fine "Live With Me" — and then you go right back to the first side and play the grooves off of it. All in all the LP is nearly fifty minutes long. It is the most musically exciting record I have heard all year, fully the equal, in its own way, of Let It Bleed, and in some ways better.
All qualifications aside, it is the ultimate Rolling Stones album.
There is only one thing that could top it, and if that's to happen, the Stones will have to show they have the guts we've always given them credit for: issue, as an official album, an unedited tape of their performance at Altamont. Maybe they will do it.
|Album Review Main||