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Monday, November 30, 2009

Bob Seger, Early Seger Vol. 1

If you talk to me long enough about music, and the conversation turns towards rock 'n' roll from the Great Lakes State, you'll learn that one of my absolute biggest pet peeves is the fact that Bob Seger's pre-Beautiful Loser catalog is out-of-print. The only exception to this is Seger's brilliant 1972 covers album, Smokin' O.P.'s, which was re-released in 2005.

I don't know why this is the case, although I've heard rumors that Seger doesn't like this period of his career. If it's true that Bob is embarrassed by his youthful musical output, the man seriously needs his ears checked because he rocked like a motherfucker back then. Stuff like "2+2=?" (a pissed off, anti-war blast of noise that rocks as hard as anything the MC5 ever did) from Ramblin' Gamblin' Man and "Lucifer" from Mongrel (sounding like CCR on performance-enhancing drugs) are among the best music Seger has ever produced. It's a crying shame that the only way to get a hold of this stuff is by either downloading it illegally or spending tons of money for out-of-print albums/CDs on Amazon.

Seger has taken tentative steps towards rectifying this unfortunate situation through the release of Early Seger Vol. 1. I happened to stumble upon it while shopping at my local Meijer store. I echo the sentiments of most people who have reviewed it in saying that the title is a bit misleading. First of all, none of these songs are from the '60s, and some are actually from the '80s--hardly the "early years." Plus at a measly 10 tracks, the album only scrapes the surface of what it could have been. Oh well, with Seger, you take what you can get.
I implore Capitol Records and/or Bob Seger: please, please begin a re-issue campaign of the following albums: Ramblin' Gamblin Man, Mongrel, Back in '72, Noah (yes, even the much maligned Noah), Brand New Morning, and Seven. The listening public, who know Seger primarily as the MOR balladeer of "Like a Rock," deserve to hear these vital and rockin' old albums.
Here's an interesting overview of Early Seger Vol. 1 by Detroit music writer Gary Graff. I found it on Seger's official web site:

"Early Seger Vol. 1" which goes on sale exclusively at Meijer stores on Nov. 24 and then at on Nov. 30 features songs from a couple different periods of Seger's career. Four of the tracks are previously unreleased, and several have been significantly re-recorded. It's a bit different than its original incarnation, which was a compilation culled from three of Seger's out-of-print albums "Smokin' O.P.'s" in 1972 and 1973's "Back in '72" and "Seven."

But when the project started coming together in September, Seger's manager Ed "Punch" Andrews says the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer "got ahold of it and said, 'No way! I'm putting some new stuff on it.' " Andrews says Seger worked on about a dozen unreleased songs, "some great stuff, but we couldn't use it all. I think he was shocked when he found all these great songs. He picked out his favorites, and that's what's on (the album)."

The presence of those tracks, as well as the "Vol. 1" portion of the title, gives some hope to fans who have been wishing Seger would dig into his prodigious vault of unreleased songs. Seger is continuing to work on material, but Andrews says there are no firm plans yet for additional "Early Seger" releases.

The "Early Seger" project was hatched in September and put together quickly, according to Andrews. The highlights of the collection are the four unreleased tracks, three of which -- "Star Tonight," "Wildfire" and "Days When the Rain Would Come" -- were written during the early '80s and recorded during 1984 and 1985 in consideration for the "Like a Rock" album; "Star Tonight" was recorded by Don Johnson for his "Heartbeat" album in 1986. The hard rocking "Gets Ya Pumpin'," meanwhile, began life as a song called "Pumpin' " originally for Seger's "Seven" album in 1973 and was recorded again in 1977 before being revisited for "Early Seger."

Though "Days When the Rain Would Come" was recorded in 1984, Seger enhanced the original tapes of the other three tracks with fresh vocals, horns and/or other new instrumentation recorded during September at Kid Rock's home studio in Clarkston and Yessian Studios in Farmington Hills. Local musicians such as the Motor City Horns, which accompanied Seger on his 2006-07 tour, and guitarist Marlon Young from Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker Band took part in the sessions.

Seger also did some extensive re-recording on "Long Song Comin' " from the "Seven" album."Early Seger's" other five tracks - a cover of Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" and Seger's own "Someday" from 1972's "Smokin' O.P.'s," a gospel-flavored rendition of the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider" from 1973's "Back in '72" and the "Seven" Tracks "Get Out of Denver" and "U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)" -- were remastered from the original tapes.

Snippets of each song are currently streaming at the web site. Andrews says he's "discussing" whether to sell "Early Seger" via Internet downloads, and if they decided to it will only be sold at Seger's web site and as an entire album rather than individual tracks. Seger is currently not selling any of his music via download.

A retail price for the album is currently being determined as well. Andrews says the Meijer tie-in, with 190 stores in five Midwest states, felt appropriate to the early '70s time period when most of the songs were written and/or recorded. "They're in the (region) where we toured all those years and where these records sold the most," he explains. "Meijer made it worthwhile to do this. They're pretty excited about it. It's a perfect combo."

Andrews says "Early Seger" may go into wider release in the future, but probably not until after the winter holidays. Seger, meanwhile, is not expected to tour or perform live to promote the album.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bargain Bin Finds #1: The Byrds--Younger Than Yesterday

I've been a Byrds fan since at least high school, and always a big lover of that heavenly 12-string Rickenbacker sound. The first Byrds album I owned was Original Singles 1965-1967 that I bought on cassette at the now defunct, but fondly remembered, Woolworth in Caro, Michigan, for something like $3.99. This was probably in about 1985, when a 17 year old into the Byrds was not exactly the most common occurrence. (But don't let me paint myself as some sort of self-aware iconoclast. I listened to plenty of popular mid-eighties dreck like Thompson Twins, etc. In fact, by and large, my musical taste at this point was so unrefined as to be somewhat embarrassing. That could be fodder for a future post).

By the early nineties, I'd graduated to the Byrds' box set and picked up most of their studio albums along the way, Mr. Tambourine Man (I still have my parents' old vinyl copy in addition to the first Columbia CD pressing--never bothered to pick up the 1996 reissue). I also HAD their second album Turn! Turn! Turn! on cassette (eradicated during my Great Cassette Purge of 2002, resently and quite happily reacquired on CD), Fifth Dimension (I may have got that from Columbia House for about $5.99 in one of their big blowout back catalog sales), 1968's Notorious Byrd Brothers and 1969's Ballad of Easy Rider, and gleefully snatched up Sweetheart of the Rodeo when it was reissued in 1997. Okay, sorry to get all "Rain Man" on you with my boring history of Byrds purchases. What all of this comes down to is that, for whatever reason, I never got around to the Byrds' fourth (and some may argue, best) album Younger than Yesterday, until I found a lone copy of it in the Schuler Books and Music bargain bin.

Younger than Yesterday always intrigued me. It was originally released in January 1967, and opened the first salvo of the great musical year that was '67, but somewhere along the line kind of got lost in the shuffle, while flashier '67 albums (like The Velvet Underground and Nico, the Doors' self-titled debut, Cream's Disraeli Gears, the first two Jimi Hendrix Experience LPs, and of course Sgt. Pepper) get most of the attention.

Younger than Yesterday opens up with "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," with its bitingly cynical lyrics about the music industry, but it truly is Hugh Masekela, guest trumpeter, that makes the song. The rest of the album covers breezy pop (Chris Hillman's "Have You Seen Her Face"), tentative stabs at country rock (once again, Hillman comes through with gems like "Time Between" and "The Girl With No Name"), druggy paranoid moodiness from David Crosby (the excellent "Everybody's Been Burned") and Tim Buckleyesque jazzy weirdness (Crosby again on "Mind Gardens." Crosby's vocals on this song are so uncharacteristically dissonant that I wonder if he was trying to sabotage the album out of spite--then again, his other songs on the album are great, so that probably blows up that theory). There is also the usual Roger McGuinn obsession with flight and space travel (the goofy "CTA-102" with its alien voices--nine months or so before Hendrix did the same thing on "EXP" from Axis: Bold as Love). I can't forget to mention the wonderful hippy-dippiness of Crosby's "Renaissance Fair," "Hillman's underrated "Thoughts and Words" (Mr. Hillman really blossoms as a songwriter on this album), nor the sublime cover of Dylan's "My Back Pages."

This reissue of Younger than Yesterday doesn't scrimp on the bonus tracks. There is some wonderful stuff like Crosby's dour "It Happens Each Day" (sort of a companion piece to "Everybody's Been Burned") and his more upbeat "Lady Friend" with its gorgeous multi-tracked harmony vocals. We also get take one of "Mind Gardens" with a more tuneful vocal from Crosby.

Younger than Yesterday is as good as I thought it would be, and makes me wonder why I waited so long to finally obtain it. I'd say it's the best six dollars (or so) I've spent in awhile.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Day to be Thankful

It's typically chaotic at my house this morning, so I don't have much time to write. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there in cyberspace. I will be heading over to my sister-in-law's house for turkey, sweets, drinks, and football.

I am thankful for my health (knock on wood!) and the good health of all my family members. I am thankful that I have a full-time job in this dreadful Michigan economy. Let's all take some time today to reflect on the good things we have in our lives.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Great college football rivalries, and other college football thoughts

With the upcoming Michigan/Ohio State game, why not take a look at the great college football rivalries.

Michigan/Ohio State, although its light has dimmed in the last few years due to Michigan's non-competitiveness, is still a pretty big deal nationally. Frankly, it probably means way more to the Ohio State fans than to the Michigan fans (although I'm sure many Michigan people would argue vehemently with this). I'm not a fan of either school, although I root for Ohio State in the game, but I do enjoy watching this game every year.

For pageantry and tradition, the Army/Navy game can't be beat. Since almost every American has family member(s) who are in (or were in) either the army or navy, just about everybody has a stake in the game. In my case, I have an uncle who is a West Point graduate, so I pull for Army. Rooting for the Cadets has been hard recently, since the Midshipmen have dominated the series the last few years.

Back when Penn State joined the Big Ten, George Perles had the idea of creating a "rivalry" game between the two pioneer land grant universities, Michigan State and Penn State. I think at least a few MSU fans audibly groaned when it was announced that MSU and PSU would meet the last weekend of every season for the Land Grant Trophy. "Great, that means we have to play Penn State every year." As I expected, MSU hasn't done a particularly good job holding up their end of this supposed "rivalry." MSU has never won in Happy Valley since the series started in 1993, and the Spartans are only 4-4 in East Lansing.

Last year, there was actually something at stake in the MSU/PSU game, with each team playing for the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth. Unfortunately, Penn State destroyed MSU, 49-18. Many MSU fans were bothered by what looked like Penn State running up the score, and Penn State celebrating their bid to the Rose Bowl before the game even ended. If the Spartans can pay back the Nittany Lions this weekend in East Lansing, then this game may actually approach something resembling a rivalry. For now, though, the MSU/PSU game is a completely manufactured, fake "rivalry."

Back to great college football rivalries: there's always bad blood between Florida and Florida State, and Auburn/Alabama is about as intense as it gets. Someday, I'd love to go down South and witness the Auburn/Alabama game in person. I am told that Harvard/Yale is a big rivarly going all the way back to about 1760 or so (just kidding), but it's the Ivy League for crying out loud, what Midwesterner like myself really gives a hoot about Harvard/Yale?

As the Big Ten season wraps up, it's certainly been an unusual season. If Michigan loses to Ohio State, the Wolverines will finish in last place for the first time since 1962. (Excuse me while I attempt to stifle my laughter). The divisiveness in Ann Arbor is a joy to behold. Rich Rodriguez deserves at least one more year as U of M's coach, but if the Wolverines get pounded on Saturday, the pressure may be on to remove him. I rather enjoy having him around. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Catching up

It's been awhile since I last posted, and I don't have any legitimate excuse. Probably laziness more than anything else.

What have I been up to lately, you ask? Well, last Saturday my wife scored free tickets to the Michigan State/Western Michigan football game. It was easily the best day of the entire autumn, weather-wise and without a doubt the most pleasant November football game I've attended. Seated next to us were a young couple with a baby, and directly in front were two pre-teen girls, so I knew I had to be on my best behavior. Thankfully, the Spartans gave me no reason to even think of hurling an F-bomb, as they won easily, 49-14.

I've been lucking out with free tickets to sporting events. Last Monday, my sister-in-law's husband (does that make him my brother-in-law?) asked me if I'd like to join him to watch the Spartan basketball team take on Grand Valley State. My niece was originally going to go, but had too much homework (imagine that, a kid passing up something fun in order to catch up with homework!). Naturally, not having any homework of my own, I said yes. It was only an exhibition game, but I enjoyed seeing the new faces on this year's team. The Spartans won without a problem.

I haven't forgotten about my "Bargain Bin Finds" reviews. I have a few that I want to do, it's just a matter of finding the time to listen to the albums, jot down some ideas, and write it in this blog. I have had a hell of a time finding ANY time, but it's something I want to do and I promise it'll get done.

I've wanted to write something about baseball, but haven't gotten around to that either. I am a fairly big baseball fan, but not nearly the fan that I was as a child, teen, and young adult. Bud Selig, who has to be the worst commissioner in major league history, has gone out of his way to crush enthusiasm for the national pastime. I could name a litany of reasons why baseball is losing fans, but the most glaring problem is the season is simply too long. The World Series should NEVER be played in November, and I hope that Major League Baseball realizes this and does something to ensure the Fall Classic returns to October.

Looks like I'm gonna have to cut this short. Hope to check in again soon.