Thursday, October 30, 2014

Abandoned and Heartbroke and All Blown Away


Another dip into the vault. 1998 live performances by Rob Flowers and myself.

"Blown Away" - the 'single' from our '98 CD and the source of this blog's name.

"Soda Jerk" - our cover of the Buffalo Tom song.





Friday, October 24, 2014

If You’re Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From… The Who

Like Elton John, The Who showed remarkable restraint during the bulk of their recording career in terms of releasing greatest hits sets to the public.  Unlike Elton, however, The Who hasn’t maintained this restraint during the CD era.
 
Since 1989, MCA/Geffen, now part of Universal/Polydor (which is also Elton’s label) has released five single-disk collections, a pair of two-disk sets, and a box set.  During that time, the band has recorded one entire album (Endless Wire), and by my count, six additional songs (“Dig” and “Fire” on Pete Townshend’s The Iron Man album, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” for an Elton John tribute disk, “Real Good Looking Boy” and “Old Red Wine” for the single-disk Then and Now!, and  “Be Lucky” for The Who Hits 50!, to be released October 27.)
 
The Who had 23 Top 40 hits in the U.K. (“Substitute” made it twice) and 15 in the U.S., so a one-disk versus a two-disk set is debatable.  On the other hand, some of their most important songs weren’t Top 40 hits (“The Kids Are Alright,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Love Reign O’Er Me”), while some lesser songs did hit the chart (“Magic Bus,” “Relay”).  So, tread carefully, and go for the studio albums if you can.
 
The best option easily obtainable:

 

Greatest Hits

 

Nine bucks for a one-disk set on Amazon is always good, and it’s $6.99 for the download as I write this (Amazon’s prices change like the weather, however).  It’s sometimes found with a disk worth of live versions, which I assume would boost the price considerably.
 
If you need a two-disk set, The Who: The Ultimate Collection is currently $11.88 for the two-disk set on Amazon, but $18.99 for the download (see above comment on Amazon’s pricing policies, and be grateful I can’t find my soapbox right now). My feeling, however, is that while one disk worth of Who hits may not be enough, two may be too much.  (Four songs from Face Dances?)
 
And now, the endless list of Who anthologies:

-         Magic Bus (The Who on Tour) was a typical-of-the-era ripoff record from 1968 courtesy of Decca Records in America (Track Records in the U.K. did not have a similar album), which included a few assorted A- and B-sides, three songs from the previously released A Quick One and The Who Sell Out albums to fill it up, and a title that made buyers think it was live (it wasn’t).  The band was not happy about this release, and it hasn’t been available in the U.S. in years.

-          Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy (1971)was an oddly timed greatest hits set (it came out just two months after Who’s Next) that most people my age owned on vinyl instead of their first three studio albums and the aforementioned Magic Bus.  (I did buy a twofer of A Quick One and Sell Out at a book fair for a dollar.)  It may be one of the oldest rock greatest hits sets still in print today, and it’s just five dollars for the download on Amazon (although it’s $24.99 for the physical CD – no, Amazon isn’t trying to corner the digital market; why would you suggest that?).  On vinyl, it was a terrific deal, especially since a few of the songs weren’t on any other album; on CD at this point, well, it’s okay, but just keep in mind the only songs later than “Magic Bus” are “Pinball Wizard” and the 1970 single “The Seeker.”

-          Odds and Sods (1973) isn’t a hits set at all; it’s basically outtakes and alternate versions.  It’s a common practice among record labels now to drop a few alternate versions or outtakes on catalogue rereleases to gin up sales; it’s certainly wasn’t common in the ‘70s.  Who’s Missing and Two’s Missing, both from the 1980s, are similar, but the latter two are harder to find today; many of the songs on the three disks have been sprinkled on CD rereleases as bonus tracks.

-          Hooligans (1981) is a two-disk set that MCA (Decca’s successor label) released after the band jumped ship for Warner Brothers starting with Face Dances.  Actually, this would have been a good match with Meaty Beaty, as only three songs overlap, but it’s long out of print.

-          The Who’s Greatest Hits (1983) is a one-disk album after the band apparently broke up that covers most of the high points.  Now out of print.

-          I actually like the selection on Who’s Better, Who’s Best (1989) considerably better than Greatest Hits.  It includes “You Better You Bet” (apparently the two Warner Brothers LPs moved to MCA/Geffen’s control at this point), so it’s pretty all encompassing.  Still available on Amazon, but it’s nearly 20 dollars for the disk, and there’s no download option, which may mean that they’re clearing out inventory.

-          Thirty Years of Maximum R&B (1994) is a four-disk box set that I’ve listened to maybe once or twice in 10 years.  All the hits, lots of live versions, and plenty of oddities (four songs by their earlier incarnation as The High Numbers), but way too much for the casual listener.  If you really want to hear Abbie Hoffman berate the crowd at Woodstock and then get literally kicked off the stage by Townshend, then be my guest.  But for me, the breaking point was the two-part “Life With the Moons,” which apparently was dropped in to remind us how crazeee Keith Moon was offstage, but really only makes me think of how sad his story is.  Still in print, however.

-          My Generation: The Very Best of The Who (1996) is very confusingly titled (the band’s first studio album is My Generation, which is still in print), but has a fine track selection for a one-disk set.  However (stop me if you’ve heard this), it’s out of print.

-          20th Century Masters: The Best of The Who – The Millennium Collection (1999) contains ten whole songs, sequenced more or less at random.  This should only be bought if you’re at a truck stop, have nothing left to play that you haven’t already heard five times already, and have hundreds of miles to go before you get to your destination (and no radio stations come in clearly).  Even then, don’t pay more than six bucks for it.

-          Then and Now! (2004 and 2007) comes in two different versions (the latter substitutes “Baba O’Riley” and the recent “It’s Not Enough” for the live “Summertime Blues” and “Old Red Wine”).  I think both are just about out of print today, although there are still copies in stores.

-          Pinball Wizard: The Collection (2012) is a U.K.-only one-disk set which I normally wouldn’t bother mentioning, but I actually have a copy (got it in York for £2.99 when I bought two-CDs hits sets from The Small Faces and Chris Rea, neither of which I would have ever found in the States).  Another shuffle of hits with the usual questionable choices (what the hell is “Batman” doing here?).  Liner notes also apparently aren’t always accurate, either, but that’s becoming more common as the years pass with legacy acts.

-          The Who Hits 50! (2014) is forthcoming, and looks overpriced at nineteen dollars; this is probably being issued to goose sales for the upcoming tour.  Contains one new song, “Be Lucky.”
 
 
My one-disk compilation, which I made for the car, is as follows (original album in parentheses):

“I Can’t Explain” (My Generation)
“My Generation” (My Generation)
“The Kids Are Alright” (My Generation)
“Substitute” (non-album single)
“Happy Jack” (A Quick One/Happy Jack)
“I Can See for Miles” (The Who Sell Out)
“Pinball Wizard” (Tommy)
“See Me, Feel Me” (live, from The Kids Are Alright soundtrack)
“Summertime Blues” (live, from Live at Leeds)
“Baba O”Riley” (Who’s Next)
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” (Who’s Next)
“Join Together” (non-album single)
“The Real Me” (Quadrophenia)
“Love Reign O’Er Me” (Quadrophenia)
“Squeeze Box” (The Who By Numbers)
“Who Are You” (Who Are You)
“You Better, You Bet” (Face Dances)
“Eminence Front” (It’s Hard)
“Dig” (from The Iron Man, the Townshend album mentioned above, but it is Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle)

As for solo greatest hits sets:

-          Roger Daltrey’s released eight solo albums and has charted eight singles in Billboard (although only one, “Without Your Love,” made Top 40).  He’s somehow gotten five hits collections out of that, although none appear to still be in print or available for download.  I have Gold, a two-CD set which is definitely too much (although I didn’t pay much for the album, as I recall).  Daltrey has written less than a half-dozen songs to my knowledge and he plays only a little rhythm guitar, so he’s pretty much at the mercy of whoever he’s working with.  I would have been interested in his take on “Born to Run,” but apparently the track configuration was shuffled around on my copy.

-          All of Townshend’s solo albums are out of print – I’m wondering if he’s getting full rights back somewhere down the line.  The only thing available is the 17-track The Definitive Collection for download, which has all the basics.  I have 1996’s The Best of Pete Townshend, which has a similar track selection and is perfectly representative.  (Of course, I also have a bunch of his solo albums and a few of the Scoop demo albums as well, and I’m gnashing my teeth that I can’t get Rough Mix, his album with ex-Face Ronnie Lane.)

-          John Entwistle released a pile of solo albums, but almost everything is out of print, as are three different greatest hits sets, some of which may be U.K.-only releases.  I’m really not familiar with his solo stuff.

-          And Keith Moon did record a solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, which astonishingly is available for download, with piles and piles of alternate takes.  He only plays drums on three songs, and based on the one song I’ve heard him warble (“When I’m 64,” on the All This and World War II soundtrack, not included here) he’s no singer, so this may be for uberfanatics only.

Friday, October 17, 2014

If You're Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From... Elton John

For somebody who’s been around as long as he has (“Your Song,” his first hit, came out in 1970) and has been as popular as he’s been (54 US Top 40 hits between 1970 and 1999), Elton John has been remarkably restrained when it comes to greatest hits sets.  This is especially astonishing given his catalogue is with Universal/Polygram in the United States, which usually never misses an opportunity to reshuffle songs and release them on an unsuspecting public (ever notice how many Abba greatest hits sets there are in your local store?).

However, since Elton’s been around for so long, trying to find one all-encompassing set is a problem.  By my count, only seven greatest hits sets exist from him (that are still in print), and three are period-specific from certain points in his career.  At the same time, a single-disk set probably won’t do him justice.
 
So, I don’t actually have this, because I have most of his original albums – but here’s what I would get:

 
Greatest Hits 1970-2002

I don’t love the cover – all the artwork around for this guy, and you grab an old photo, have a designer do a Photoshop touchup, and put it on a white background?  It looks better than some of those “album covers” of rerecordings on Amazon that were done by slapping Microsoft Word Art over a picture of a sunset, but not by much.

That said, this is pretty well chosen.  Only two top 10 studio hits are missed (“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Mama Can’t Buy You Love”), and almost everything’s in chronological order (“I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That” and “Nikita” are reversed).  There’s also a bonus disk with some versions that include the hit versions of “Candle in the Wind” (the 1987 one, not the Princess Diana version) and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” with George Michael.  And at $13.88 on Amazon ($16.49 for the download), it’s priced reasonably.

Other options:

-         Greatest Hits, which came out back in 1974, is still in print, and if you’re like me, you have it on vinyl.  It’s still wall-to-wall solid.  You might have Greatest Hits Volume II on vinyl as well, but the CD version is probably different – ownership issues forced MCA to take out “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” for “Tiny Dancer” and “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)” in the early 1990s.  (All of Elton’s songs are now co-owned by him and Universal/Polygram, but they’ve elected to keep the track listing on this and the subsequent Greatest Hits 1976-1986 as they’ve been since 1992.)

-         Greatest Hits 1976-1986 was a substitute for Greatest Hits Volume III when the aforementioned licensing issues came up.   If you’re jonesing to hear the latter, don’t; most of the contents are the same, and you’re not missing anything if you don’t have “Heartache All Over the World,” which was not a big hit and was recorded at one of Elton’s lowest points. 

-         Love Songs actually has quite a few songs not on other greatest hits sets, but my philosophy is “Avoid any compilation called Love Songs by any artist.”

-         To Be Continued… is Elton’s box set, circa 1992.  It was out of print for a long time (again, those licensing issues), and then went back into print in the mid-2000s, and may be close to being out of print again (it’s over a hundred dollars on Amazon, although $39.99 for the download).  Great set – almost all Top 20 hits are represented, lots of alternate versions and curios.  Defensively titled (I think Elton thought only has-beens released box sets at that point), and, of course, nothing after 1992, so you won’t find “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” on this one.  If you can find it somewhere cheap, it’s worth the bucks… until Elton releases a more complete box set down the road.

-         Rocket Man:  Number Ones (which is sometimes subtitled Definitive Hits) is a travesty.  Falsely advertised (it’s missing “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” from 1997, which hit #1 with the Princess Diana version of “Candle in the Wind,” but it includes “Tiny Dancer,” which didn’t even make Top 40), missing key songs (“Honky Cat,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “The Bitch Is Back”), ignoring the 1980s altogether, and haphazardly sequenced (chronological from 1970-1994, then back to “Your Song” and four more songs from the early 1970s; it seems as if they forgot CDs run 80 minutes and just threw more material on to fill), this reeks of a cash grab spearheaded by a 26-year-old lower level exec who has never heard a single Elton John studio album from start to finish.  Given Greatest Hits 1970-2002 is less than five bucks more for an additional disk, there’s absolutely, positively no reason to ever buy this one.
By the way, no Elton John album contains “That's What Friends Are For,” the monster 1985 hit with Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight, so no need to look.

Again, you may not need to get 1970-2002 if you’ve got some of the other hits sets, although it’s the only decent one to represent his ‘90s output.  Here’s a handy comparison (this is all of his American chart hits):

 

 
 
Greatest Hits
Greatest Hits Vol. II
Greatest Hits 1976-1986
To Be Continued
Greatest Hits 1970-2002
Rocket Man: Definitive Hits
Border Song
1970
Yes
 
 
Yes
 
 
Your Song
1971
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Friends
1971
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
Levon
1971
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
 
Tiny Dancer
1972
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Rocket Man
1972
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Honky Cat
1972
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
 
Crocodile Rock
1972
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Daniel
1973
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
1973
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
1973
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Bennie and the Jets
1974
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
1974
Yes
 
 
live version
Yes
 
The Bitch Is Back
1974
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
 
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
1974
 
Yes
 
Yes
 
Yes
Philadelphia Freedom
1975
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
1975
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
 
Island Girl
1975
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Grow Some Funk of Your Own / I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)
1976
 
Yes
 
live version
 
 
Don't Go Breaking My Heart
1976
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
1976
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance)
1977
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ego
1978
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
Part-Time Love
1978
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mama Can't Buy You Love
1979
 
 
Yes
Yes
 
 
Victim of Love
1979
 
 
 
 
 
 
Little Jeannie
1980
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Sartorial Eloquence (Don't Ya Wanna Play This Game No More)
1980
 
 
 
 
 
 
Nobody Wins
1981
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chloe
1981
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
Blue Eyes
1982
 
 
Yes
Yes
 
 
Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)
1982
 
 
Yes
Yes
 
 
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
1983
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
I'm Still Standing
1983
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Kiss the Bride
1983
 
 
Yes
 
 
 
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
1984
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Who Wears These Shoes?
1984
 
 
Yes
 
 
 
In Neon
1984
 
 
 
 
 
 
Nikita
1985
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Wrap Her Up
1985
 
 
Yes
 
 
 
Heartache All Over the World
1986
 
 
 
 
 
 
Candle in the Wind (live)
1987
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That
1988
 
 
 
remix
Yes
 
A Word in Spanish
1988
 
 
 
 
 
 
Healing Hands
1989
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sacrifice
1989
 
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Club at the End of the Street
1990
 
 
 
 
 
 
You Gotta Love Someone
1990
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me (w/ George Michael)
1991
 
 
 
 
 
Yes
The One
1992
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
The Last Song
1992
 
 
 
 
 
 
Simple Life
1993
 
 
 
 
 
 
True Love
1993
 
 
 
 
 
 
Don't Go Breaking My Heart (w/ RuPaul)
1993
 
 
 
 
 
 
Can You Feel the Love Tonight
1994
 
 
 
 
Yes
Yes
Circle of Life
1994
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
Believe
1995
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
Made in England
1995
 
 
 
 
 
 
Blessed
1996
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
You Can Make History (Young Again)
1996
 
 
 
 
 
 
Something About the Way You Look Tonight/Candle in the Wind 1997
1997
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
Recover Your Soul
1998
 
 
 
 
 
 
Written in the Stars
1999
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
Someday Out of the Blue
2000