3.2.23

US AND THEM: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis by Mark Blake

… And after all, we’re only ordinary men. Well, not according to Mark Blake. There was nothing ordinary about Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, ying and yang, friends and enemies, partners in the design team Hipgnosis, responsible for some, if not most, of those magically surreal LP covers designed for close scrutiny after smoking something unavailable at the corner shop. Back then cover art conveyed a message about the music inside and those who created it, an intrinsic component of the package that is dearly missed by those of us a bit long in tooth. 

“Storm was the rough and Po was the smooth,” writes Blake. “Storm’s maddening, brilliant artistry was enabled by Po’s practical nous and Olympic gold medal-standard hustling. Had you removed one or the other, the whole thing would have collapsed.”

        “The double act was amazing,” recalls Robert Plant. “The charming, amiable bonhomie of Aubrey and the belligerent ‘Do I have to deal with these scum musicians?’ approach from Storm. It was marvellous.”

I can vouch for these sentiments. Twice I tangled with Storm, over the books Taken By Storm and Mind Over Matter, the former a Hipgnosis retrospective published by Omnibus and the latter a Pink Floyd art book that Omnibus acquired and updated through buying out its original publisher. In both cases, negotiations, production and delivery were fraught with issues brought about by Storm’s intransigence, his often maddening I Know Best stance that, admittedly, worked out in the books’ favour in the long term. 

        As Us And Them makes clear, all those weird, surreal, thoughtful images created for Floyd and everyone else weren’t done by Photoshop or by faking it as computers enable today. They were real photographs for which he’d assemble the props, the models, the lighting and the backdrop, which invariably involved travel to exotic locations at considerable expense, and it often took him ages, like weeks, to get it right. He was a stickler, a perfectionist, an artist, and that’s why it was both a privilege and – occasionally – a pain in the neck to work with him. I probably wasn’t the only one to mutter ‘Storm by name, Storm by nature’ under my breath. 

        So, Mark Blake’s illuminating book tells Storm’s story, which begins in Cambridge where he befriends some of those who will become Pink Floyd, and that of Powell, born in Worthing but raised largely in the Middle East where his dad served with the RAF. Both had uncommon, Bohemian upbringings and, separately, discovered abstract art, beat poetry and cool music. They met in Cambridge and bonded at a party that was disrupted by the unwelcome arrival of policemen looking for drugs. Most of the guests fled but Storm, his girlfriend and Po stood their ground. “By staying behind, I’d passed a test,” says Po. “After that, I seemed to spend every other day with Storm and his friends.”

Storm

Po

        They got into a good deal of trouble, especially Po who narrowly avoided jail over a financial scam, but in 1968 were asked by their friends in the Floyd to produce a cover for their second LP, A Saucerful Of Secrets. Storm’s belief that there was nothing more boring than a photo of a band on a record cover was Hipgnosis’ mantra. “All of us, including the Floyd, shared the same interests,” he said. “Atmosphere, emotions, space, politics, the war, drugs, girls…” 

        The Saucerful design, which looked a bit like the bottom of a fish tank, was sufficiently weird to cement a relationship that lasted years and led to everything else. The two non-Cambridge Floydians, Rick Wright and Nick Mason, were as nonplussed by the duo as everyone else. “There was one slightly oddball character in Storm and one slightly more measured character in the shape of Po,” recalls Mason. “And it stayed that way for the next fifty years.”

        While the early chapters of Us And Them double as a fairly detailed study of the comings and goings of those connected with the early Floyd, to a certain extent reiterating the same material found in Blake’s definitive Floyd biography Pigs Might Fly, the next fifty years become the meat and potatoes of his book. Alongside his accounts of the weird and wonderful ways of Hipgnosis, we read about other developments in the realm of LP cover art, and interactions with their many clients, prominent among them Led Zeppelin and Paul McCartney, the cue for page after page of inside stories, all of them hilarious, eye-opening and, often, unflattering. The same applies to Hipgnosis’ involvement in making a promotional movie for Now Voyager, the 1984 solo LP by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. Without giving away too much, Storm threw a wobbly over Barry’s beard.

        In their heyday the money rolled into Hipgnosis’ coffers and both Po and Storm drove Porsches but in 1985 they fell out over debts incurred by their film company and didn’t speak for 12 years. What finally got them back together, loosely, were offers from publishers to compile books of their work but the friction was still there. Storm had the same careless disregard for money as our last-but-one Prime Minister, and was wilfully reckless when it came to selling off potentially valuable artwork. “Storm was selling loads of Hipgnosis’s work to collectors,” says Po. “People were wandering into the studio – ‘Can I have this?’ ‘Yes, five hundred quid, please.’” When he sold some Led Zeppelin artwork that the group owned – or thought they owned – Jimmy Page was not pleased.

Nick Mason, for one, was probably aware of Storm’s predicament. When Taken By Storm was published in 2007 an exhibition of Hipgnosis’ work was held at a gallery near Denmark Street. On opening night Mason arrived in his leathers having biked in from somewhere and wanted to buy a book. I was manning the sales counter at the time and told him he could have it for free because he was, well, Nick Mason. He wasn't having it. From his bulging wallet he produced a £50 note, handed it to me and said, simply, “Its for Storm.” 

        Storm died in 2013 but Po is still with us and contributes a Foreword. Like many of the best rock books, Us And Them recalls an era long before corporate interests had the final say in what they now call ‘product’. As Po points out, it was a time when nobody ever said no. It was better then, believe me. 




28.1.23

LEAD SISTER: The Story Of Karen Carpenter by Lucy O’Brien

If ever a girl seemed destined to marry her childhood sweetheart, have 2.7 children and become a ‘home-maker’, it was Karen Carpenter. Unfortunately for her, it didn’t happen that way. Blessed with a deep, honey-drenched and distinctively pure contralto voice, and a natural talent for the drums, she became one half of the Carpenters, the brother and sister easy listening duo that in the 1970s sold over 100 million records and rallied behind the Stars & Stripes for Republican America when all around them the rock world was bent on delivering something entirely different, musically, politically and socially. This brought renown and anguish in opposing measure, and when anguish won Karen died from anorexia, aged just 32. 

        This, in a nutshell, is the story adeptly conveyed by Lucy O’Brien in Lead Sister, the first biography of Karen Carpenter that I have ever read so I can’t compare it with others. Judging from the diligence reflected in her earlier work, however, and the list of interviewees at the back, among them myself, it’s a safe bet to assume it’s the best yet. 

        Among them myself? Yes. In complete contrast to the kind of music to which I was inclined, the first substantial interview I did when I arrived in Los Angeles as Melody Maker’s man in America in the autumn of 1973 was with Richard and Karen Carpenter at their family home in Downey, a conservative suburb south of LA. Then aged 27 and 24 respectively, I was astonished that they still lived with their parents in this comfortable detached house, at the back of which was their own recording studio and music room where we sat down and talked for an hour while Agnes, their mum, delivered tea and biscuits. 

        Lucy O’Brien spoke to me about this encounter and it’s relayed in her book. “They were really sweet people,” I told her. “They struck me as the kind who got dressed in their Sunday best and went to church. Karen looked like a bank teller, not Hollywood flash at all, no glamour, no tights and plunging neckline. At that point I was immersed in the rock scene, men in denim shirts unbuttoned to the waist and girls flaunting themselves. Richard looked like an estate agent. They seemed like a suburban couple, even though they were brother and sister.”

        Sweet as they were, they seemed strangely naïve about the rock world, set apart from it yet rubbing shoulders in the charts with the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Stones. In this respect they were the American equivalent of Abba*, creators of precisely produced pop perfection that catered to a large but undemonstrative constituency discomfited by the vigorous sedition of long-haired musicians in faded jeans with wailing guitars and sleazy habits. 

Lucy O’Brien traces the Carpenter family’s upwardly-mobile journey from the East Coast of America to the West when Karen was 13, not an age when girls appreciate being separated from their friends, as I learned myself when we yanked our 14-year-old daughter from West London to deepest Surrey and all hell broke loose. But I digress. Karen was on the timid side and, even then, concerned about her weight. A bit of a tomboy, she found a life for herself through the drums, which she played in her school’s marching band. The vocals came later. Richard, meanwhile, was a musical prodigy, expected to become the star of a hard-working, all-American, Christian family keen on self-improvement. 

As with any determined act, there are false starts but eventually their hard work and talent win out, and by the end of the Sixties they have secured a contract with A&M Records for whom they would record their most successful work, which OBrien analyses comprehensively. Richard and Karen befriend the strata of musical families you would expect, the Boones, the Jacksons and the Osmonds, one of whom, Alan, ‘dates’ Karen when the pair meet in Las Vegas but it’s unlikely the dating went much further than simply holding hands. 

While this is no rags to riches story – the family’s work ethic ensures a degree of comfort from the outset – it seems to enact the American Dream insofar as honest toil, clean living and deference to the Flag will be rewarded. Unfortunately, the family, especially mother Agnes, smother Karen who feels unable to break away, “like a bird in a gilded cage”, even as her star rose and the money rolled in. Boyfriends are kept at arm’s length, not least because Agnes believes they must be gold diggers. In the meantime, Karen worries about her image, her looks, her clothes and – most pressingly – her weight, even though in realty she has no need to. 

        With the benefit of hindsight and medical texts published since Karen’s death, O’Brien addresses the cause of her demise perceptively and in ways that leaves readers in no doubt that the need to conform to an unwritten law that female entertainers must be thin leads to her undoing. “I never thought of her as fat but she had that complex,” says video director Clare Baren. “Now you can have a big ass and be a huge star, like Lizzo. But it was different for women in the 1970s. All those handling her career were men. I’m sure she got told, ‘You have a big ass’ by the wrong people, many times.”

        Similarly, friends note that when Karen did finally manage to break away from the family home, moving into a luxury apartment building at the age of 26, she appeared to suffer from OCD. “Her clothes were hung exactly a quarter of an inch apart and rigidly grouped according to type,” notes one, while her pal Olivia Newton-John says her apartment was “always immaculate. She was very clean, very tidy.” Compulsive tidying, notes O’Brien, was reminiscent of Agnes. 

        In a more enlightened age, better advice would have been sought and given but when the Carpenters were on top of the world this wasn’t available. It’s no surprise, then, that the second half of Lead Sister charts Karen’s foreseeable decline, a sorry tale exacerbated by brother Richard’s increasing dependence on sleeping pills. Psychotherapy proved ineffective – she’s economical with the truth about the medication she’s taking – and the failure of her brief and somewhat hasty marriage to Tom Burris seems to have been the last straw. When the end came, it was sudden. On the morning of February 4, 1983, Karen awoke at her parents’ house, went downstairs to make coffee and returned to her bedroom where she suffered a cardiac arrest. She died in hospital shortly afterwards.   

        While acknowledging that Karen’s death will forever dominate her story, O’Brien concludes Lead Sister by returning to her theme of how outside pressure was its prime cause. “Karen kept her battle secret,” she writes, “but many younger female singers – like Taylor Swift, Kesha, Halsey and Lady Gaga – are critiquing that cultural idea of thinness. What contributed to Karen Carpenter’s isolation was the belief that anorexia was shameful and taboo. Younger women, emboldened by Third Wave and MeToo feminism, are calling for more support.” 

        Lead Sister, a salutary tale, offers just that. 

---

*While both acts chose to sweeten one of their most popular songs with a children’s choir to an extent that would see off an entire hospital ward of diabetics, there are notable differences between Abba and the Carpenters. Abba relied exclusively on their in-house songwriting team, principally Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, but the Carpenters cast their net wider for material, reinterpreting tested classics alongside Richard’s own songs, and the ratio of ballads to up-tempo material is much higher in the Carpenters’ oeuvre than it is in that of Abba. Perhaps more importantly, the Carpenters are Conservative with a capital C, while Abba, musically bolder, sexier and more visionary, are apolitical. Nevertheless Universal, which by the turn of the millennium owned the catalogues of both acts, saw fit in 2000 to release a hits compilation called Carpenters Gold, no doubt hoping to emulate the extraordinary success of Abba Gold eight years earlier. In a further bid to attract a similar demographic, the packaging was identical. 


20.1.23

DAVID CROSBY BY JOHNNY ROGAN

I met David Crosby only once, and briefly at that, in Denver in 1974, but his passing hurts not just because a rebellious spirit, wonderful harmony singer and great songwriter has been silenced but because Crosby will always remind me of my great friend Johnny Rogan, The Byrds’ foremost biographer. 

        Had Johnny not left us 2021, he would undoubtedly have been on the phone to me this morning to talk about Crosby, and for ages too. He would also have been called upon by someone to write something for a magazine or a website, an obituary, a tribute, an epitaph, or at the very least been asked for a quote by someone who was writing about Crosby and needed an expert to guide them. Since Johnny can’t be here to do that in person, I hope he will forgive me for using his 1,200-page Byrds book Requiem For The Timeless (Volume 1) as the basis for this post about Crosby, a tribute of sorts to both of them. 

        The Byrds was unquestionably Johnny Rogan’s favourite group and David Crosby was certainly Johnny’s favourite Byrd, and his favourite musician from CSN&Y too, even though he wrote a separate book, Zero To Sixty, about Neil Young. In Requiem you can read everything you could possibly want to know about Crosby, from his birth in 1941 to 2012, the year the book was published. Had its author been writing still, I’m pretty sure he’d have started work this morning on a new chapter for Requiem Volume 2 which tells the stories of the six former Byrds, now seven, who have passed away.

        That’s speculative, of course, but around 1980 Johnny caught up with Crosby, then addicted to freebasing, in London “at a small guest house in Denbigh Street” and tried to take him to a pub, The Lord High Admiral “to see a different world but he wouldn’t be distracted from his stash”.

        “His descent into freebase hell later in the decade could not disguise a resilient spirit,” writes Johnny. “He was a burning mass of passion, pride, hubris and regret, but blessed with a clear-eyed, almost painful honesty, that was genuinely moving. Always the most articulate of The Byrds, he gave me the best interview of my life. It was an extremely moving experience, never to be forgotten.”

        The interview lasted two days, afternoons and evenings, and in the course of their conversation Crosby showed Johnny a picture of the Mayan, his boat. “He suggested a visit to San Francisco and even dangled a tentative, if unlikely, book project. It was difficult not to be swept along by the sheer force of his passion. He seemed to care more about The Byrds and its legacy than [Roger] McGuinn did at the time, and was more trusting than [Chris] Hillman and a better communicator than [Gene] Clark.”

        Later in the book, referencing the same interview, Johnny writes: “Despite [the drugs] Crosby remained lucid, sharp, and thoroughly in command of proceedings, as though the drug was no more potent than a packet of cigarettes. …. [He] still looked in good shape, dressed casually but cleanly, ate well and was conducting his business affairs with assiduous skill and clarity. His acoustic performances were a joy to behold and his articulation onstage and off was undiminished by his habit. He could talk for entire afternoons and evenings, answering often difficult questions with a precision and perspicuity beyond the power of his fellow Byrds…

        “Always a barometer of emotion, Crosby could be arrogant, immodest, humble, aggressive and terribly loving. Temperamentally, he was the perfect foil for McGuinn. It was difficult to imagine two more strikingly different personalities: passionate forcefulness versus cool deliberation. Crosby’s passion for The Byrds, as for all his music, was positively tangible.” 

        The introduction to Requiem closes with Johnny acknowledging the greatness of The Byrds. “By then [the 1980s] they were part of rock’s history rather than its future. Nevertheless, their influence was everywhere and the phrase ‘Byrds-like’ had virtually become a cliché. By the end of the decade, their past was being reassembled in the manner of an archaeological dig, courtesy of the many unearthed tapes recorded during their golden era… Gloriously, their music continues to resonate with new meaning as well as reaffirming the beauty of a treasured past.”

        Thanks Johnny, and David. 

(The photograph of David Crosby, taken in 1965, at the top of this post appears in Requiem For The Timeless Volume 1 and is credited to CBS Records.)

17.1.23

JEM RECORDS CELEBRATES PETE TOWNSHEND


Musical Anglophilia in the USA was rife when I lived in New York way back when. It revealed itself in magazines like Trouser Press, the first Beatles fan convention ever to be held anywhere and High Numbers t-shirts on sale outside Madison Square Garden when The Who played there in 1974, and it’s pleasing to note it’s still alive and well. This Jem Records album, released last October, exemplifies the ongoing depth of fondness for Pete Townshend’s songs among bands a generation or two down the line from him, Roger, John and Keith. 

        If the virtue of an album of covers can be measured at all, then surely it hinges on two issues: the enthusiasm with which the artists tackle the songs and the imagination displayed in their interpretations. On the first count I’ll give this record 100% and on the second 75%. Not all the 10 bands on the 14-track CD elect to add their own design to the originals, but those that do invariably trump the ones that stick to The Who’s own arrangements. All of them, however, relish in the opportunity to pay tribute to a songwriter they greatly admire and a band whose pioneering spirit no doubt inspired them. It’s the sound of respect, and love too. 

        The record opens back to front, by which I mean Lisa Mychols and her band Super 8 opt to begin ‘Baba O’Riley’ with the melody and tempo of the violin solo heard normally at the end, over the synthesiser loop, played here on guitar or mandolin, very quickly, so much so it sounds a bit like a plucked harp, at least until the power chord that launches the first verse, ‘Out here in the fields…’.  It’s great to hear it sung by a girl, melodically, double-tracked after the ‘Don’t cry…’ refrain, so it sounds like a choir, the way Abba might have recorded it, and for the best part of one minute the coda cunningly resolves into the chorus of ‘Who Are You’, vocals crossed with the violin part until, like The Who, it reaches a crest then stops. Whoever sequenced this album took their cue from The Who, who were no fools to chose ‘Baba’ as Whos Nexts opener.

        ‘I’m Free’ by the Grip Weeds begins with four shaky chords played in the style of Link Wray before the main riff clangs in, and sounds much like The Who, only a bit more metallic, until a guitar solo thats out on a limb. For the most part it’s played straight, as is ‘Let My Love Open The Door’ by The Midnight Callers, apart from a spiky little riff between verses. So, too, is ‘The Seeker’ by Nick Piunti, all crashing guitars amid a fat, wall-of-sound production. 

        The plane crash solo before the ‘It’s a girl Mrs Walker…’ refrain lifts The Anderson’ Council’s version of ‘Glow Girl’, giving it an unexpected but welcome twist, as does the similarly untamed ending. This contrasts markedly with ‘I Can’t Explain’, Lisa Mychols & Super 8’s second contribution. As with ‘Baba’, they take the song well out of Who territory, instilling it with a cool, jazzy feel that reminds me of Peggy Lee singing ‘Fever’. It’s mostly acoustic, with finger snapping and a bluesy harmonica joining in at the end, and a trace of electric guitar, all nicely low-key.

        Jonathan Pushkar follows party lines on ‘The Kids Are Alright’, perfect power pop, while The Gold Needles, a British band, enhance ‘So Sad About Us’ with a brass section, possibly synthed, to emphasise the neat little up-and-down riff that’s always a pleasure to hear. 

        On their second contribution The Grip Weeds take on the onerous task of covering ‘A Quick One’ in all its complexity, with a few nice variations too, all from their singing guitarist Rick Reil. I liked the newly-constructed, chiming solo after the first section, the smooth slide in the ‘Soon Be Home’ bit and Beatle-ish guitar line – a hint of George’s part in ‘And You Bird Can Sing’ – that precedes the next part, sung here by Kristin Pinell, their secret weapon, hitherto largely unheard but appropriate since these lines are surely meant to be sung by she who sat on Ivor’s lap. Closing with what was once known as a rave up, I have no doubt the group had enormous fun recording ‘A Quick One’. My only complaint is singer Rick over emoting a bit on the spoken parts. 

        The Weeklings, whose day job is a Beatles tribute act, sound anything but weak in ‘I Can See For Miles’. Perhaps wisely, they opt to stay true to The Who’s magic blueprint, with drummer Joe Bellia channelling his inner Moon to perfection. The Anderson Council return with ‘Mary Ann With The Shaky Hand’, prefacing their arrangement with a full-tilt choral intro before stepping back to contrast the verses, sang over a nicely played solo guitar, with full-tilt choruses. As they did on ‘Glow Girl’, they add a newly-conceived but far from unwelcome guitar part and close out with the choral idea they used at the start. 

        Richard Barone is more laid back than Roger on ‘Let’s See Action’, no bad thing, and his words are echoed more or less throughout, the whole concept adding a bit more gravitas to a song I always felt was a bit of a throwaway. A synthesiser line threads its way into this version, replacing Pete’s guitar part. 

        The Gold Needles return for a suitably psychedelic take of ‘The Good’s Gone’ that reminded me of Syd’s Pink Floyd, and the album closes with an unlikely mash-up of ‘Substitute’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ by Airport 77, who call it ‘Substifool’. It works, too, with the synthesiser riff threaded in here and there, Roger’s shout making an unlikely appearance half way through, and John’s bass part high in the mix at the close. 

        Finally, at the very end, we have a pretty good Keith impersonator yelling “Jem Records” in the same style the real Keith once yelled “Track Records” for Sell Out. A nice touch. 


12.1.23

JEFF BECK – Trying Something Different


“I’ve no idea what I do on guitar when I get up there,” Jeff Beck told me in 1976. “I don’t have a clue musically what it is when I’m working the fretboard. It’s all totally by ear. I don’t even watch my fingers which is good because if someone ever poked my eyes out, I’d still be able to get a job.”
        Getting a job never worried Jeff Beck. Throughout his career he was wilfully nonchalant about job security or what might be beyond the next horizon. What he was secure about, though, was his own talent, an extraordinary dexterity that astonished his peers. Most of them will happily admit he was eclipsed only by Hendrix. 
        Then again, I don’t think anyone, not even Hendrix, explored the sonic possibilities of a Fender Stratocaster more than Jeff Beck. In his hands, an invariably pristine white Strat with a rosewood neck became a tool box, a paint brush and, eventually, a laptop. Picking predominantly with his thumb and, occasionally, fingers, he conjured up a palette of sound as broad as the horizon, a cello, a trombone, a weather event, a hot rod, you name it. He pulled and pushed on his whammy bar and even fiddled with his tuning heads, and adjusted the pick-up, tone and volume controls while applying his own unique string bending and hammering techniques, playing chords, runs, scales and arpeggios, and single notes that flew off like sparks or sustained until he whipped his hand off the neck for a second then reconnected elsewhere in lightning time. For Jeff it was effortless, as if his hands and fingers had minds of their own, and while doing what he did, sometimes grinning, sometimes wandering purposefully around his stage, he always, like really always, looked outrageously fucking cool. I once wrote that Jeff could impress an audience while performing on a block of wood with strings made from rubber bands. Make that one rubber band. 
        My long interview with Jeff from which the quote above was extracted took place backstage at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in New York before a show with the Jan Hammer Group, and the chief sub at Melody Maker chose to headline the 2,000+ word piece I wrote LIVE WIRED BECK. It was apt. Beck was a live wire. Though I never saw him playing one, I have no doubt he was adept on acoustic guitar but for me he was always an electric guitarist and an electrician to boot, the kind of craftsman who would spend many happy hours taking his instrument completely apart with a screwdriver and pliers, then tamper a bit, perhaps rewire a pick-up or the control knobs, or adjust the action by fiddling with the bridge, then reassemble it piece by piece, and finally plug it in, turn the volume up to 11 and check the results by playing the same scales he learned as a teenager. By all accounts he could strip a car and reassemble it, so doing the same with an electric guitar would have been child’s play to him. If his reassembled guitar didn’t sound like it did before, or like anyone else, the experiment was worthwhile.
        This need to alter things was reflected in the restlessness that characterised his career. Unlike his two great ex-Yardbirds rivals Eric and Jimmy, he never stayed in one place too long. “I don’t like the responsibility of having a permanent band because I don’t work that much,” he told me in that same interview, the only one I ever did with him. “I can’t have a group hanging around my neck all the time because I can’t provide them with enough work. I’m not the type to say, ‘Come with me for all time. We’re buddies in this forever’ to musicians.”
        In this respect, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Jeff was working in the wrong genre, that his talents might have been better suited to jazz, in which musicians switch and rove far more than they do in rock. He half agreed when I put this to him, but while acknowledging that Page and Clapton found greater acceptance and, consequently, greater fame because they stuck with groups, he cared little about the situation. “It doesn’t take much to work out why it’s happened that way,” he told me. “They’re band-type players who form groups, whereas I’ve gone from pillar to post and I’m too elusive for the average person to be able to latch on to what I’m doing. 
        “I’m indecisive in what I do and you can understand people preferring to get into something that’s more permanent. I’m too mobile. I’ve probably got a lot of the old sound still in me, but my mind is miles away from it. I can’t put myself in the same comparative class as Page or Clapton because I’m strongly jazz-influenced, whereas they’re flat-out white rock and roll with stereotyped vocalists with fancy clothes and all that.
        “I mean... it’s all right, I’m not knocking them, but I couldn’t see me doing it. I’d just be another one of the bunch if I formed a band like that. I like to feel that I’m at least trying something different. I’m making a good living at it. I’m not starving by any means.
        “I would hate to live and die in the same band. That wouldn’t be my idea of fun at all. A lot of these groups stay together because they are insecure individually.”
        I began this little tribute to Jeff Beck with a comment on his lack of insecurity. In 1984 I happened to be sitting behind him at the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road where the film This Is Spinal Tap was having an invite-only UK preview. It’s no secret that Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel, played by Christopher Guest, was the spitting image of Jeff, perhaps even modelled on him. While some musicians might have been insulted, or just a bit miffed, by this evident parody, it gives me enormous pleasure to record that Jeff laughed his head off throughout the entire movie. No insecurity there, I thought. 

11.1.23

SPECTOR – Sky Documentary

There was no more pathetic sight than the prison shots of Phil Spector, wrinkled and bald, his dignity in ruins, his vanity undone, his arrogance tamed; the great record producer – some say the greatest ever – reduced to little more than a husk. Most of the interviewees in Spector, the Sky documentary film aired this week, believe he got his just deserts and it’s hard to argue with them, though his daughter Nicole does her best and a handful of figures from his past, musicians and studio hands who’d worked with him long ago, draw more attention to his accomplishments than to the way it all ended.

        The story unfolds over four hour-long episodes: how Lana Clarkson was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, working on the door at the Los Angeles House of Blues when Spector, whom she failed to recognise, turned up very late and very drunk. Two ‘dates’ had already abandoned him that night but he was still on the prowl for female company, so he coerced Clarkson into accompanying him back to his palatial home where he shot her in the mouth, the penalty for declining to accompany him to the bedroom, as was alleged in court at two separate trials, the second of which saw Spector found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 19-years in prison, where he died in 2021.

        On the previous day, The Sunday Telegraph Magazine had published an interview Spector gave to the writer Mick Brown a few weeks before. It was the first interview the famously reclusive Spector had given in 25 years, and when news of Clarkson’s murder reached the Telegraph’s offices in London Brown’s colleagues were concerned that something he had written might have triggered events. Brown, who went on to write the book Tearing Down The Walls Of Sound: The Rise & Fall of Phil Spector, is the most prominent, and lucid, of all the interviewees in the documentary because he straddles both camps, acclaiming Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ production style, as do many in the film’s first hour, yet siding with the prosecution as Clarkson’s fate and its consequences dominate the film’s later episodes. He’s also eloquent on Spector’s madness, or eccentricity, or genius, or whatever you want to call it. 

        The producers go to great lengths to avoid the errors of judgement that clouded those Spector obituaries that devoted the lion’s share of space to his music while mentioning Clarkson merely as a footnote. Over the four hours we learn as much about the life and career of Lana Clarkson as we do about the life and career of Phil Spector, his far greater celebrity of less weight than the need to present an evenly-balanced portrayal, with comments by Spector acolytes repeatedly countered by those who knew and admired Clarkson, among them her mother. The oft-used, pejorative, description of her as a ‘B-movie actress’ is soundly disparaged by her friends, as are suggestions by Spector’s defence team that she was ‘washed up’ and might have had reason to deliberately kill herself. 

        I would have been 11 years old when Phil Spector first arrived in my consciousness. ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’ was playing on the jukebox in the coffee bar just across Mill Bridge in Skipton, where I often listened to records in those days. The melody was very simple, trite even, but there was something about the way it was recorded, a haunting quality that accentuated the love-struck singer’s palpable sincerity, that appealed to me, and I liked the way the middle-eight ramped up the emotion, that soaring high note, and how it resolved into the verse via a tidy descending run. Within a month I had badgered my parents into buying it for me, a 7-inch single on the invariably dependable black and silver London American label, same as Jerry Lee, Eddie Cochran and the Everly Brothers. I have loved the records that Spector made ever since, including those by Beatles John and George. 

        In a December 24 post about the virtues of Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You, I recalled that around 44 years after first hearing ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’, on February 3, 2003, I was having lunch with Richard Williams, an old Melody Maker colleague, at the precise moment – 5am in California, 1pm in London – when Clarkson was shot. The purpose of our lunch was to discuss Omnibus Press, of which I was editor, republishing Phil Spector: Out Of His Head, Richard’s critical study of Spector’s work, first published in 1972 and long out of print. While unbeknownst to us Spector was being taken into custody, Richard and I were concluding an agreement that saw Out Of His Head, with a new introduction and revised conclusion, appear in the shops later that year. Cynics no doubt thought its reappearance was motivated purely by the events of that day in LA but this was not the case – it really was an astonishing coincidence – though I can’t deny the circumstances didn’t strengthen my resolve to get the new edition out promptly. Today, almost twenty years later, its still in print. 

        Nevertheless, the timing of our lunch was still a bit weird, but weirdness clung to Spector like a limpet, as this documentary makes clear, and maybe this happenstance was simply another manifestation of Spector-related weirdness. This is a repeated theme in the film and it connects with Spector’s credo that timing, good and bad, is what really matters in life; not just Hal Blaine’s immaculate sense of timing as his snare launches the chorus of a fabulous Ronette’s record, or how A Christmas Gift For You was stymied through being released on the same day that JFK was shot, or even how Mick Brown’s interview appeared the day before Clarkson lost her life, but how the timing and sequence of unforeseen events really does govern our lives. This gripping documentary hinges on that exact same premise  a tragedy of timing for everyone involved.


8.1.23

ELVIS – 88 TODAY

Eighty-eight years ago today at shortly after four in the morning Gladys Presley gave birth to twin boys at the wooden shack she called her home in Tupelo, Mississippi. The first child was stillborn but the second, who arrived about 35 minutes later, survived to become America’s most popular singer ever, one of the most successful recording artists of all time and a man who, though it was never his intention, changed the world for the better.

        Elvis changed my life insofar as his was the first music that really excited me, and that led to a career writing about it. Elvis is widely referred to as the King of Rock’n’Roll but, in reality, his work stretched across every area of popular music: rock, ballads, country, R&B, soul, blues, pure pop and even light opera if you consider ‘O Sole Mio’ (aka ‘It’s Now Or Never’), by his own admission his favourite recording, which was written in 1898 and also recorded by Pavarotti. 

        Eternally fascinated by Elvis, in 2016 I completed a novel about him, Caught In A Trap, which I’d been working on for years. The book imagines a scenario in which he is kidnapped, the motive to compel him to perform for the kidnapper’s Elvis-worshipping wife. The sub-plots involve the bonding that occurs between Elvis and his kidnappers, how he opens up to them about his life, and what happens when he is obliged to conduct himself in public, unrecognised, when he is released. Caught In a Trap, published in 2017, was today ranked number 1,534,115 on Amazon’s book chart, so there’s room for improvement there, not that this excuses my shameless plug. 



        To mark Elvis’ birthday, I’ll revisit an earlier post. My favourite Elvis songs are ‘Mystery Train’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’, but instead of writing about these pretty obvious choices here’s a list of ten others, some not so well known, that I also love.

YOU’RE A HEARTBREAKER (1955)

Young Elvis at his frolicsome best, a joyful blend of country and rockabilly. With a spring in his step, he and his Sun crew create a new genre. I particularly like the way Scotty shifts to the off-beat on the middle eight.

RIP IT UP (1956)

The best way to understand why Elvis was light years ahead of Bill Haley & The Comets is to listen to their respective recordings of this song by Bumps Blackwell. Elvis tears into it like he means business, like it really is Saturday night and he feels fine, and the ball really is jumping, while poor old Bill Haley just shuffles along like his Saturday night will end with a whist drive and a cup of Ovaltine before the pillow beckons. Little Richard’s original version is pretty good too, but I’ll take Elvis every time.

ONE NIGHT (OF SIN) (1957)

This was the original title of ‘One Night’, as recorded by its writer Smiley Lewis, but it was too risqué for the fifties, so Elvis toned it down to ‘One Night (With You)’ on his recording, released in January 1957. The unadulterated version, with Elvis as sexed up as anywhere else in his catalogue, remained in the vaults until 1985 when it appeared on a CD compilation called Reconsider Baby. No wonder the girls screamed.

YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL (1957)

One of Elvis’ loveliest ballads, as sincere as anything he ever recorded and for my money far better than the more well-known ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ which is taken at the same slow tempo. From the Jailhouse Rock soundtrack. I also have a heartfelt live version of this song by Aaron Neville.

FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1962)

I hadn’t paid much attention to this song until I heard Bruce Springsteen perform it at Wembley Arena in June 1981 on his River tour. As Bruce explained, Elvis followed his dream and this gave it an importance beyond its rather lightweight pop veneer. At just over 90 seconds, it’s very short and sweet but Elvis sings it with consummate professionalism, a pop master at work.

TOMORROW IS A LONG TIME (1966)

This cover of an early Bob Dylan song appeared on the otherwise worthless Spinout soundtrack album in 1966, recorded on May 27, 1966, at RCA’s studios in Nashville during sessions for the gospel album How Great Thou Art. Elvis was taped singing two verses of ‘I Shall Be Released’ too, and like the only other known recording of Elvis singing a Dylan song – ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’ – it was the product of a spirited jam session. When I worked for RCA between 1979 and 1980 I suggested to the A&R department that unedited versions of these songs might make a decent double A-sided 12” single or an EP called Elvis Sings Dylan. No one was interested.

LONG BLACK LIMOUSINE (1969)

This morality tale takes on greater meaning in the light of its autobiographical symbolism. Opening with an ominous tolling of what appears to be a monotonous funeral bell, its the story of a girl who’d left behind her poverty-stricken background to find riches but paid the ultimate price for her sins. Elvis’ intense vocal turns the song into a kind of Biblical parable, his voice weary and despairing, perhaps drawing an analogy between his own life and, morbidly prescient, the way it would end.

I JUST CAN’T HELP BELIEVING (1970)

By Barrie Mann and Cynthia Weill, Elvis in pure pop mode. The live version I have, on his 70s Masters set, finds him in wonderful voice, missing a beat on the first verse and then, for reasons unexplained, acknowledging a burst of applause that inspires him to a great performance.

ALWAYS ON MY MIND (1972)

Another emotion-packed vocal performance, surely aimed at Priscilla whenever he sang it live. This was Elvis’ last release of 1972 coupled wwith ‘Separate Ways’; a much-covered country song first recorded by Gwen McCrae that same year. The Pet Shop Boys released a version of the same song in 1987.

DANNY BOY (1976)

Elvis tackles ‘The Londonderry Air’ with both respect and reserve. This is proof positive that towards the end of his life, when his health and personal life was falling apart, he could still summon up those extraordinary vocal skills when he was sufficiently inspired by a beautiful melody; a master singer indeed. Lovely background vocals too. 


30.12.22

TOTALLY WIRED: The Rise & Fall of the Music Press by Paul Gorman

The home computer and its promiscuous offspring the internet were wrecking balls, demolishing much that was worth treasuring. Amidst the debris they left behind, the typewriters, fax machines and paper maps, was the UK’s once magnificent weekly music press, the history and culture of which is the subject of Totally Wired

        Unlike the monthly music magazines of today, which rely largely on nostalgia, the institution Paul Gorman writes about was immediate, spontaneous, opinionated and uncontrollable. It stirred battles royal over content and musical direction, drug- and alcohol-induced recklessness and titanic egos that exploded in desperate power struggles. It was a vibrant, messy, unforgiving arena that gave voice to countless writers of note. Bought by millions and read by millions more, that it no longer exists in recognisable form makes Totally Wired a document of great importance for anyone studying the evolution of the UK’s print media during the 20th Century. It is also, in its own way, a despairing eulogy, a tragedy for both aspiring writers and the music industry itself. 

        Herein are documented the rise and fall of scores of music papers, from titans like New Musical Express and Melody Maker to radical papers like Oz and IT, from later, hugely successful, glossies like Smash Hits, The Face and Q to publications that were little more than Xeroxed fanzines, all of them staffed by schemers and dreamers drawn to the bright lights of pop, most of them engaging characters of one sort or another whose work is documented and, to some extent, assessed by colleagues and the author himself. Furthermore, although the emphasis is on the UK, Totally Wired extends its reach to the US with its dry trade journals like Billboard, twinkling teenybop mags like 16 and hard-nosed monthlies like Creem, and where the struggle to outshine Rolling Stone continues to this day.

        Totally Wired begins and ends with Melody Maker, my own alma mater, for the simple reason that, in 1926, it was the first music paper ever to be published anywhere, and, aside from a brief epilogue, Paul Gorman chooses to conclude his book at the turn of the millennium, which is when MM bit the dust. It might surprise some to discover that MM had the field to itself for 20 years, chronologically over a quarter of this book’s time span, until the arrival of Accordion Times & Musical Express, which after a change in ownership became NME in 1952. Thereafter, the rivalry between the two is one of Totally Wired’s many sub-plots, with NME eventually coming out on top, not just because it remained in print for 18 years longer than MM but because once Nick Logan took over the editor’s chair in 1973 it became more daring, more fun to read and sold more copies.

        Lest the impression is given here that the book’s focus is on these two publications, be assured this is far from the case. With the odd exception – see below – just about every music paper you care to name gets a mention, regardless of its significance, circulation or readership demographic. Paul Gorman’s remit is comprehensive – he’s fastidious about quoting circulation figures and largely impartial in his assessments of editorial quality – but while the tone of the book leans more towards the fortunes of the actual papers, the greater fascination for me (because I know or knew many of them) lies in the stories of those who created their content. Prominent among them are NME’s trio of seventies literati, Ian MacDonald, Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray, who were pitted against MM’s Richard Williams, Michael Watts and Allan Jones, amongst others, but also in the Hall of Fame of those who shaped our music press we find heroes both sung and unsung: Max Jones, Val Wilmer, Ray Coleman, Penny Valentine, Chris Welch, Caroline Coon, Pete Frame, Mick Farren, Julie Birchill, Tony Parsons, Neil Spencer, Mark Perry, David Hepworth, Mark Ellen, Alan Lewis, Barney Hoskyns, Paul Morley, Jon Savage and Chris Salewicz; and in the US Paul Williams, Greg Shaw, Gloria Stavers, Lisa Robinson, Lenny Kaye, Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs, Jon Landau and Rolling Stone supremo Jann Wenner. In Totally Wired we hear from, or about, them all, and apologies to those I’ve missed from this very selective list. 

There are omissions, among the most glaring Record Collector, launched in 1979 by Sean O’Mahoney, who under the pseudonym of Johnny Dean was also the mastermind behind The Beatles Book, the only periodical authorised by the group, which at its peak sold 300,000 copies per monthly issue, a statistic worth a mention in itself. Other, perhaps more understandable, omissions are Dark Star, the eccentric but discerning music ’zine issued sporadically between 1975 and 1980 that gave my great friend and noted rock biographer Johnny Rogan his first by-line, and Tony Fletcher’s nationally-distributed Jamming!. Also, the impression is given that the music press was limited to the UK and US but this is not the case. In the seventies MM’s content was licensed to Go-Set in Australia, and most counties in Continental Europe boasted at least one rock mag, my favourite France’s Inrockuptibles.  

But these is minor quibbles. Totally Wired is an exhaustive, superbly researched, 382-page volume about an important subject dear to my heart, illustrated with loads of front covers. The tragedy that is at the heart of the book, the death of our beloved music press, is best summed up by Q and Mojo founder David Hepworth in its closing words: “You’re going to miss the music press,” he wrote, addressing the music industry. “It did the one thing you failed to value. Through its lens it made your acts seem exciting and larger than life, even when they weren’t.”


24.12.22

PHIL SPECTOR: A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU

It was Derek Taylor, the eminent Beatles PR, who gave me my first copy of A Christmas Gift For You, Phil Spector’s classic Christmas LP. It was 1972 and Derek was working for WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Records at the time, head of Special Projects I think, but had taken it upon himself to promote a record on a competing label. The edition Derek gave me was a reissue on Apple Records, which had nothing to do with Warner Bros, but he had no compunction about moonlighting for his old chums since Spector, who had produced records by John and George, was sort of family I guess. More to the point, Derek believed in the record and felt, rightly, that it deserved the second chance this Apple reissue offered. 

        Before we go any further with this I ought to state that what follows does not in any way excuse Phil Spector’s conviction for the killing of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson, following which he was sentenced to 19 years to life, dying in a prison hospital in 2021. Whatever opprobrium was deservedly heaped upon Spector, however, does not reduce the merits of A Christmas Gift For You nor his skills as a record producer, and Derek Taylor had died six years before all this happened. 

        Recorded at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles over many sessions during the summer of 1963, A Christmas Gift For You was first released in the US on Philles, Spector’s own label, on November 22 that year, by a quirk of fate the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas. America was in no mood for festive fun, and Spector’s masterpiece died a death as a result. Which is why I was unaware of it until I happened to be in Derek’s office in the week before Christmas 1972. 

        I was too late to join in the merriment to be found in Derek’s Apple office, described in jaw-dropping detail by ‘office hippie’ Richard DiLello in his book The Longest Cocktail Party, but Derek continued to host lower-key, early evening soirees in his corner office at WEA, sitting in his peacock chair and pouring drinks for visiting music writers. It wasn’t unusual for members of The Faces to be hanging out in Derek’s office as they were favourites with the girls who worked there, along with his PA Mandi Newall and the more jovial members of his staff like dapper promo man Des Brown. 

Derek in his peacock chair

        The LP, now retitled Phil Spectors Christmas Album, was playing when I arrived for my festive drink and when I remarked on it, Derek extracted a copy for me from a box of them on the floor beside his desk. “Happy Christmas, old boy,” he said with a twinkle in his eye as I left with it tucked under my arm. When I got back to my flat in Bayswater, I played it for the first time. And I’ve been playing it ever since, though nowadays it’s more likely to be the CD enclosed within the 1991 Back To Mono Spector collection of three separate CDs, 60 tracks in all. 

The Apple reissue I was given 

        A Christmas Gift For You contains 13 tracks; only one of them, the closing ‘Silent Night’ with its monologue by Phil himself, sacred, and from a glance at the titles, you could be forgiven for assuming it was all a bit cheesy. ‘Frosty The Snowman’, ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Marshmallow World’ might appear childish, but from the opening notes of opener ‘White Christmas’, an ascending line on the bass notes of a piano, and Darlene Love’s pronunciation of ‘I’m’ as ‘Ahiyam’, the stage is set for a Christmas record like no other. The wall of sound thunders in and after a couple of verses steps back. “The sun is shining, the grass is green,” Darlene tells us, half talking, half singing. “The orange and palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day in old LA. But it’s December 24th and I’m longing to be up north. So I can have my very own White Christmas. Oooohh yeahhhh… Ahiyam dreaming…” and off we go again, another verse with a closing nod to ‘Jingle Bells’.

        Almost all the tracks are prefaced by brief, melodic orchestral preludes before the Spector mix of guitars, horns, pianos, bass, drums and additional strings kick in, and every track is a joy. “He had a grand idea,” writes my former Melody Maker colleague Richard Williams in Out Of His Head, his Spector book first published in 1972. “He wanted to make a Christmas album. It sounded like a terrible, corny idea, but Spector knew different: playing on the sentimental core hidden inside his freakishness, he decided he wanted to take all the usual Christmas songs and, using all his artists, really do them over differently.”

        Nowadays they’re not so much different as standard, at least in our house. That’s because it’s been played more often than any other Christmas record, so much so that my kids actually assumed that similar sounding ‘wall-of-sound’ tracks by The Ronettes, like ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby I Love You’, and by The Crystals, like ‘Then He Kissed Me’ and ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, were Christmas songs too, at least until I pointed things out. 

        “It was an artistic triumph,” writes Richard. “He truly captured the secular spirit of Christmas. Listen to The Ronettes’ ‘Sleigh Ride’, to the care with which it is produced, to the bells and horses’ hooves, and to the way Ronnie sounds like she’s singing from inside a big fur coat. Listen to ‘The Bells Of St Mary’, on which Bobby Sheen sings his McPhatterish heart out over one of [Jack] Nitzsche’s most brain-storming arrangements, with an occasional interjection from Darlene and [drummer] Hal Blaine at his wildest on the fade.”

        I couldn’t agree more and this was why I determined to put Richard’s Spector book back into print while I was running Omnibus Press. To this end, Richard and I met in an Indian restaurant on Soho’s Bateman Street and over lunch agreed terms for a new, slightly revised edition of Out Of His Head. The date was February 3, 2003, but little did we know that at the exact moment we were digesting our chicken tikkas, over in LA Phil Spector was being arrested for murder. Some coincidence.

The original UK edition of Out Of His Head, published by Abacus in 1974

The Omnibus Press edition of Out Of His Head, published in 2003

        We emailed one another the next day, both of us astounded by this quirk of fate, one that surely ranks with the original release date of A Christmas Gift For You. 

        As Richard writes: Just as A Christmas Gift For You was hitting the shops, the new came that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. Suddenly no one wanted tinkling glockenspiels and horses hooves and songs about Mommy kissing Santa Claus. Phil Spectors magnum opus was dead in the water. It would take ten years and the patronage of The Beatles before the album emerged from the status of collectors item to claim a permanent as a seasonal favourite.


17.12.22

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS – Live at The Fillmore, 1997


“Oh, baby doll,” exclaims Tom Petty in his endearing Southern drawl at the start of this 2-CD set drawn from six of the 20 nights he and his Heartbreakers played at San Francisco’s Fillmore West between January 10 and February 7, 1997. Then they’re off and into ‘Jammin’ Me’, the song he wrote with Bob Dylan and ace guitarist Mike Campbell, followed by ‘Listen To Her Heart’, two of the 14 originals offered up here alongside a host of well-chosen covers.

    The six Fillmore shows can be found on two packages released last month, a 4-CD deluxe package with bells and whistles and a more user-friendly double CD set that I’ve been playing for the past couple of weeks. It offers a generous two hours plus of music and proves beyond any doubt that Tom’s Heartbreakers vie with Bruce’s E Street men for gold in the US bar-band Olympics. 

    Indeed. Live At The Fillmore 1997 establishes a copper-bottomed claim that Tom and his men are the best tribute band in the world. Between stage patter – “This is going out on the internet… whatever that is” – we get Chuck (‘Around And Around’ and ‘Bye Bye Johnny’), Kinks (‘You Really Got Me’), Stones (‘Time Is On My Side’, ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘It’s All Over Now’), Byrds (‘It Can’t Be Wrong’, ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ and ‘Eight Miles High’, with Roger McGuinn), Led Zep (‘Black Dog’, disguised as ‘Ugly Homecoming Queen’), Them (‘Gloria’) with a touch of Dylan (‘Knocking On Heavens’ Door) and even a sprinkling of Who (‘Shakin’ All Over’, as a Pirates/Who fusion). 

    Almost all of these are performed true to the originals. Mike Campbell pays homage to the group’s heroes by lovingly replicating guitar solos as you expect to hear them, deftly recreating Dave Davies’ ‘ripped speaker’ solo on ‘You Really Got Me’ and getting the fuzz tone dead right on ‘Satisfaction’. Tom pronounces the heavenly door as ‘dooer’, and for my money has always sounded a bit like Roger McGuinn, while the group can sound uncannily like The Byrds when they want to anyway.

    The fun they had is reflected in ‘Heartbreakers Beach Party’, which Tom claims they never played before, and the grungy ‘Louie Louie’ which morphs into ‘Gloria’ but for all the fun and games the highlight of CD1, and for my money the entire set, is the golden triptych of Angel DreamThe Wild One, Forever and a delicious acoustic take of ‘American Girl’, all three drenched in emotion, tenderness and the same brand of understated eloquence that Tom brought to I Need You at the Concert For George in 2002. 

    Playing nightly for a week or more in the same venue is not a new concept. It happens in Vegas all the time and early on The Beatles did pretty much the same thing, first in Hamburg, then at UK seaside resorts during 1963 and finally at their Christmas shows at the Finsbury Park Astoria. The Who tried it at the Young Vic in London in early 1971, an ambitious experiment by Pete Townshend that didn’t really work out, and Eric Clapton did it for years at the Royal Albert Hall. Still, Petty & The Heartbreaker’s stint at the Fillmore West was clearly something extra special, for both the band and the audience.

    Tom wanted to get away from the soulless stadiums he and his band had graduated towards, and the whole crew felt the need to do something other than play the same set, their best-known songs, night after night, as they had felt obliged to do when facing audiences of 10,000 or more. This is the result, loving compiled by Mike Campbell now that his boss is no longer with us. “I will always remember those nights with joy and inspiration,” he writes in a preface to the top notch booklet notes by Joel Selvin, rock critic on the San Francisco Examiner