Thursday, January 26, 2012


"They loved feedback. First one would feedback, then all of them would be feeding back madly, until the song disappeared beneath torrents of noise. It was like someone tossing a bloody chicken into a school of piranha. Phil would almost be foaming at the mouth, throwing his guitar into his amp. And Jerry would just drop everything and run at his amp, as if he couldn't get back there to start feeding back fast enough....Pigpen hated it."--Mickey Hart

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fictional Album Time Again: The OTHER Best Double Album of 1972

Garcia+Weir, 1972-San Franciscans in the UK.
Jagger+Richards, 1972-Londoners in the States

In a 1991 interview quoted in Blair Jackson's Garcia-An American Life Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter was asked about why so many of the Dead's early '70's songs were spread widely across a triple live album, and Garcia's (excellent) and Weir's (pretty good) debut solo albums: 

His response: "All that material was sort of the kicker follow-up album to AMERICAN BEAUTY ...I 
personally would've liked to hear those songs on an album of their own." 

(I swear I read somewhere that the album would have been called Ramble On Rose. But I can't seem to track down the source)

Well, were I in charge of such things, I'd have compiled the very album you'll see at the bottom of this post. In fact, I think that Rhino, or whoever is putting official Dead stuff out, should do just that. However, I believe that my idea would end up in the same round, metal "suggestion box" with the foot-operated pedal, that my Nesmith in Nashville idea ended up in.

I think, in many ways, were it released at the time, Ramble On Rose would be considered the perfect west coast American counterpart to The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street.  What Exile  was to claustrophobic, cynical, Jack Daniels n' junk, Euro Decadence, Ramble On Rose should have been to wide open, wild west, coke and acid, American Idealism. 

There's a bit of an interesting correlation between The Stones and the Dead in 1972. Both were on creative and chemical highs, and both were touring outside their homelands. But, whereas The Stones tour was a money making machine, with Mick very conscious of who was and wasn't on the guestlist (he wanted to appear equally attractive to the men and women who made up the A-List of both the art and business world--Keith couldn't give a toss, as long as the "tour doctor" was well stocked at all times), The Grateful Dead, by their own admission, were, as a collective, One Big Dumb American Tourist. (or as Garcia stated to  Charles Reich, a Yale law professor, and Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, The Dead are "One Dumb Guy").  The Rainbow Kid on the cover of Europe '72 reflects how they saw themselves. Ugly, loud, attracting the wrong kind of attention. The cliche of how Europeans see American tourists. The people who elicited groans when fellow passengers were unlucky enough to have to sit near them on a transcontinental trip. 

This image was not exactly Truman Capote and Andy Warhol being seen on the Stones' private jet. 

Would you let your daughter date this kid?
Would you kiss your mother with that mouth?

 The Dead were exclusive in a family way ('72 tour)
The Stones were exclusive in a cliquey way. ('72 tour) 

And yet, if one was open-minded enough to start a conversation with one of this motley, hirsuite crew, depending on who they were next to, they would likely get quite an education. And not about the price of weed. Phil Lesh was a walking classical, jazz and avant garde music textbook. And Garcia, judging from the many interviews with him that I've read, could expound upon just about anything. And not be bullshitting. They all might be high as kites, but...well, they're like that kid you know in college who takes acid before his advanced physics final and aces it. Then invents something for NASA. Or Apple. No wonder people hate them. 

Whether we're talking The Stones or The Dead,  these were just cocky, talented, musicians in their mid to late 20's, expressing, in words and music, as well as attitude, what was written in their genetic codes, and selling it to the masses. They grew up in vastly different environments, but had the same influences. A chubby 15 year old anti-authoritarian named Jerry was practicing Chuck Berry licks in San Francisco at the same time as a big-eared, equally rebellious kid named Keith was doing the same in London. They were also practicing to be painters, but preferred the lack of pretentiousness in rock and roll. Making good on these teenage practice sessions, the two men, despite creating hundreds of classics on their own, never stopped showing off their Chuck Berry licks to crowds. 
"Johnny B. Goode", "Promised Land", "Let It Rock", "Run Rudolph, Run", and "Around and Around" were all covered by the Dead and "Around And Around", "Bye Bye Johnny", "Carol", "Sweet Little Sixteen" ,"Come On", "Down The Road A Piece", "Let It Rock", "Little Queenie", "Memphis, Tennessee" and "You Can't Catch Me" were all covered by The Stones. 

From bedroom to arena--compare/contrast the 20-something Keith and Jerry's Chuck Berry licks. Really, this is where the direct comparisons to these two bands begin and end. So I post these clips not as a "awwwwwesommmme" type thing. Just a compare/contrast thing. 

Close your eyes, pretend you've never heard of either band  and you can't tell which band spent 2 hours in hair and makeup and which one is led by 2 guys who look like they've come to repair your roof.. They just sound like grown up rock and roll kids playing a song by one of their faves.

The Stones--November 1969, "Carol"

The Grateful Dead--July 1971, "Johnny B. Goode"

So now to the subject at hand. 

I've compiled what I feel is an album akin to Workingman's Dead and American Beauty--one that qualifies as just good early 70's singer-songwriter pop rock. No jams, no overly ambitious jazz changes...not too wimpy, not too weird, not too lame. All substance. And, as I stated earlier, a sort of American answer to "Exile". 

As stated earlier, these songs are culled from three official sources: 

1) Bob Weir's debut solo album Ace (which was really a Dead album) (1972)
2) Jerry Garcia's debut solo album Garcia (which had Garcia playing everything but drums) (1972)
3) The Grateful Dead's Europe '72 (which had many great new songs alongside live oldies...but all the vocals were overdubbed in a studio, so these are almost like studio versions).

It would have been a classic double album, with the only gimmick being the two short, arty Garcia instrumentals that would have begun side one of each album. 

This is almost a concept album. Like Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection. There are recurring images of gambling, losing (friends, women, money), escaping from shady circumstances...
And then there's the more transcendent, peaceful, Zen stuff ("The Wheel", "Cassidy", "Bird Song" (which is about Janis Joplin but works as a general statement). At the end, in "He's Gone", after describing a litany of horrible images, the loser figure sings the famous "nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile". (Yet another dark Robert Hunter line that becomes associated with the acid-eating grins of Deadheads mindlessly parroting the lines that look best out of context, on bumper stickers, and surrounded by roses). 
And to begin and end, party man Bob Weir rocks it up, screaming his pony tailed head off. 
But even these songs are filled with resigned lines like "don't worry about tomorrow--lord, you'll know it when it comes"--which of course, was how these guys--and The Stones, and most big names of the time--were living.

 You don't need to have any sort of "Dead Degree" or credentials to like this collection. Really. It's just simply good early '70's rock. The songs are almost an even split of Garcia and Weir, with the edge going to Garcia. Plus, one final tune from Pig Pen (the endearing "Mr. Charlie")

So here's the Spotify Link to the fictional, really-should've-been one of the best-selling, critically-acclaimed albums of 1972, RAMBLE ON, ROSE.

Late For Supper    1:38
Greatest Story Ever Told    3:42
Loser    4:10
Jack Straw    4:49
Ramble On Rose    6:04
Looks Like Rain    6:14
Sugaree    5:55
Cassidy    3:45
Bird Song    4:26
To Lay Me Down    6:18
An Odd Little Place    1:39
The Wheel    4:12
Mexicali Blues    3:27
Brown-eyed Women    4:39
Mr. Charlie    3:39
Tennessee Jed    7:19
Black-Throated Wind    5:42
Deal    3:14
He's Gone    6:57
One More Saturday Night    4:31

Watch Kool-Aid turn into Electric Kool-Aid--Rafelson and Schneider Style

(Oh god, he's delving into film AGAIN?!)

If you have a few minutes (which you obviously do if you're reading this), check out the various thematic, visual similarities in these two clips. Both are from those legends of cutting-edge American cinema, Bob Rafelson and (the recently deceased) Bert Schneider.  (and, though Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson weren't involved in The Monkees TV Series, they were hanging out towards the end of it, both for the fun times and research for Head). And yes, I realize that Schneider and Rafelson's roles in each of these clips aren't completely analogous. But they were both involved in one way or another. 

Clip One is from The Monkees in Paris. (One of the strangest episodes-- There's no dialog except in the opening and closing scene, which have The Monkees arguing with the director about the monotony of all the show's scripts). Anyway, this episode is grainy, shot on location all around Paris, and features chicks in mini skirts, guys in leather fringe jackets, a slightly druggy, arty, disturbing vibe, and a scene shot in a cemetery. There's no straight up sex (like in the Easy Rider clip), but some implied sex. And it's just FRANTIC.
Of course, it's from a TV show marketed for 10 year olds, so like I say, this is straight up Kool Aid. Maybe with a couple extra teaspoons of sugar for added fun (and a horrible come down, man.)

Clip Two is from the legendary Easy Rider, filmed only two years later, when The Monkees were still around, but as cold as last week's mac and cheese. 
More chicks in mini skirts, more dudes in fringe, more grainy, on location shots, more disturbing moods, and another scene in a cemetery. But this time, the Kool-Aid had most definitely been spiked.
And, having read some about the making of this film, Dennis Hopper did his very best to make this scene as realistic as possible. It sounds like he was out of his Feck-in head (get it?). For example,  Peter Fonda is really and truly bumming out with that statue. Hopper made him think of some horrible personal stuff while Fonda was in a, shall we say, susceptible state of mind. Nice.
I don't think any one made any one in the Monkees do the same.
So dig.
Oh, hey: 
If you have time, watch all of both, and see the parallels. If you're in a rush, go to 8:30 in clip one and 5:30 in clip two and watch each for 2 minutes.  You'll hopefully see what I mean. Parallels, man, Par-a-llels-uh!

The Monkees in Paris--1967

Easy Rider--1969

And in case you didn't hit the Head link above, here's the one minute goodie you missed and that ties this mother together.

The Monkees influence on Cinema--part 1 of probably 1

Here I go, taking an amateurish dive into the big screen. This is a thought that occurred to me just now, at 8:30 am after dropping the boy off at school. Because, you know, not enough sleep, caffeine working its way into the brain, synapses waking up....

Here are two similar scenarios. I'm no movie or TV buff, so maybe I'm way off. Maybe this is the video equivalent of someone blogging that "I just had this revelation that a lot of Ramones songs sound like other Ramones songs".

Anyway, here's a scene from The Monkees episode, "A Coffin Too Frequent". A rather weak episode from the second season.
And I HATE Davy's middle part. You will too.

Unfortunately, this scene cuts in JUST after Mike makes an obvious (to me and any hip 10 year olds that were watching)  LSD reference. The evil dude has just told Mike and Mickey, for no good reason, to take a special pill in order for a seance to work (because bands often hold seances in their apartments?). Anyway, Mike replies something like, "Oh, I get it. We take one of these pills and we see a guy come back from the dead. We'll also see lots of pretty colors and things crawling up the wall...".

Something a little familiar (and pretty politically incorrect) about that scene...but political correctness has never been foremost on the mind of.....

I just realized why I thought of all this. I was in a pharmacy and Taco's "Puttin' On the Ritz" came on.
That used to be my favorite song for a while in 4th grade. have I posted it here before? I feel like I have.

And, I kind of feel really dumb saying this, but this was my thought as I was dancing like a madman in the vitamin aisle: the music in the last minute (say from 3:50 on), sounds a lot like mid-80's Grateful Dead when they would do their disco jams, with the cheesy synth sounds and the envelope filter on the guitar. And no, I'm not going to post an example of that. If you know what I'm talking about, cool. If you don't, that's just fine.
One last thought: "TacoHead".

Monday, January 23, 2012

Advice for New Bands: Don't All Love the Same Music

 I'll always remember the crestfallen look on my long-time close friend and band mate's face when the realization hit him:
"You'll just never love The Moody Blues, will you, Brian?"
I had to be honest. After all, he and I ranked many of the same artists in the highest regard. From The Zombies to Love to The Stooges.
But The Moody Blues...he was right. I just could not get with them. Still can't, honestly.

Well, before I go any further, and if he is reading this (and crying), I will right now list a few Moody Blues songs that I can say I like very very much and wouldn't kick out of bed, as it were:

1) Peak Hour
2) Tuesday Afternoon
3) Evening (Time to Get Away)
4) Voices in the Sky
5) Questions
6) Thinking Is the Best Way to Travel
7) Lovely to See You

So there. That wasn't so hard.

That same person, I was surprised to find, enjoyed listening to Bob Marley. I couldn't rap my head around that. It took me getting into Desmond Dekker, a few years later, to discover early Marley, and then allow myself to get mellow enough to appreciate the slow stuff (this was when you wouldn't catch me within 20 yards of a Grateful Dead album).

So my point is this: If a band forms because everyone worships and wants to be, say, Radiohead, or Arcade Fire or The Clash, guess what you're going to sound like? And guess how interesting that will be?

Did you form a band just so you could get compared to the band you worship?

In fact, it helps if there's even an unspoken (for the sake of keeping the peace) extreme distaste for an artist within a band. That's how new sounds evolve. Or even a guilty, unspoken love for a band. (Holy Christ, imagine if so and so actually was a HUGE Red Hot Chili Peppers fanatic this whole time?)

So, say.... one guy starts playing a bassline that's totally derivative of a Fall song. The drummer, who knows nothing of the Fall, but loves The Replacements, will steer the song in a totally different, but hopefully compatible direction. The guitar player who worships Richard Thompson might suggest an interesting twist. And badda bing.There's an interesting band. (Just don't mention the name "Richard Thompon" to the bassist or he'll ditch the song--and possibly the band-- immediately).

You see, by not forcing one's taste on the others, but just presenting ideas, the whole band can learn.
It's like putting dill in a recipe and not telling the person who you know would never eat it if that person knew it had dill.

I could get totally turned off if I said "bloody great riff there! It makes the song!" Then the person said "Yeah, it's a total Ben Harper rip off". So sometimes it's good not to say anything.

Let's take for example one band I've played with.

School For the Dead is pretty compatible, in that, for example we all like XTC. But...some of us get off on the over produced, layered, Oranges and Lemons (which could also be called Samples and Triggers (sound geek laughter)), and some of us like the sharp, angular, "seal-bark" vocals, full of jagged herky jerky stops and starts of the early stuff like Go 2 and Drums and Wires. Some find that unrewarding.

Let's look a bit more. I hope this is seen as just a fun sociological study and not a way to break up the band. Crikey, we've been together 10 years.

While sometimes compared to They Might Be Giants, only a couple of us would consider ourselves fans. Some have never seen them or ever would even entertain the idea. Some have only listened to an album of theirs all the way through because their high school girlfriend liked it. Some admit a strong distaste for them. Some really like a handful of singles but that's enough.

Some would declare Neil Diamond "boring".
Some would declare Cat Stevens "unbearable"
Some would declare The Doors "the worst".
Some like "Shattered" by the Stones. Some hate it.
Some can't name more than 3 Rush songs.
Some have probably never sat through all of Axis: Bold As Love. Or Zen Arcade. Or Physical Graffiti.
Or Band on the Run. Or Solitude Standing. Or The Head on the Door. Or anything by Billy Joel.

But some have.

Everyone loves The Velvet Underground and Robyn Hitchcock as far as I know?  

Most will diss anything Clapton post '74.

Some know more about 80's hair metal than they're letting on. 

Some have a hard time not falling asleep to women singing without drums.

Some will say they like King Crimson, despite never having listened to more than two songs.

Some could argue the relative merits of various Beach Boys and Kinks albums for hours, without the help of external stimuli.

One might name their kid Miles after a famous jazz musician.

One would consider naming his kid Elvin for similar reasons. But probably won't.

Elvin would be a great name for a cat, however.

Only a couple of us could name more than 7 Monkees songs.

At least one of us could name 100 Monkees songs, who wrote them and the month they were recorded.

Some can sit through an entire Dire Straits album.
Some can maybe sit through half of a Dire Straits song.

One or two could be happy driving cross country listening to nothing but oldies stations. One or two might arrange for other transport were that the case. 

Some grew up on 70's Pink Floyd. Some have never even listened to Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall beginning to end.

Some only like the Syd Barrett stuff.

Some lives were changed when one got some into Harry Nilsson.

One didn't think anyone under 40 listened to solo Paul Simon (back when we were all far from 40)

One could expound for an hour on all the differences between 1969, 1973 and 1977 Grateful Dead and why they sound like three different bands. Then offer to fully demonstrate using an 11.3 hour playlist.

That same person might need some money or medication if made to listen to Phish.

Some may have never thought they'd be in a band where the singer played an acoustic guitar.

Some really like Queen. Some just don't get it. One had to admit that he'd never paid full attention to Bohemian Rhapsody until made to play it for a few thousand people.

Some love The Fall. Some just don't get it.
Some love Exile on Main Street. Some probably never will.
Most love the Beatles.
Some much more than others.

Some might prefer newer bands that sound like The Beatles.

Some might find Buzzcocks much more interesting than The Ramones.

Some might like Frank Zappa? Some definitely don't. 

Some might not be able to see what the fuss is about with NRBQ or Steely Dan. Some won't care to try to find out. Some may ask for a mix CD to learn and be eternally thankful.

And yet, whenever we get together, since the first time, we sound like School For the Dead. Crazy, that.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Primitive Noise

This idea came from two directions. First, I'm always a Yoko Ono defender. There were character flaws, but you can't say that they were any worse than any of her late husband John's.
And I'm not here to start that debate.
I'm only here to show this wicked cool clip. I was made aware of a treasure trove of Let It Be film outtakes through the latest Lennon biography,
His mention of the scene where Peter Sellers drops in was enough to send me hunting on You Tube.
But my favorite thing that I found was filmed on January 10, 1969.
We all know the famous scene where George and Paul have a very quiet falling out (and what band hasn't jokingly said amongst each other, "I'll play what you want me to play or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play. Whatever it is that pleases you, I'll do it". Which is probably the most awesome thing anyone's ever said in response to Paul McCartney's  extreme annoying-ness during those sessions.
Anyway, George soon packed up, famously said "See you 'round the clubs" and went home.
Lennon half-jokingly suggested "giving Eric (Clapton) a call".
And to blow off steam. The Beatles, minus George, plus Yoko Ono on the microphone, proceeded to kick out some serious, serious noise jams. Paul's up against the amp, Ringo is moving like Keith Moon, John and Yoko are doing their junkie-artist-couple thing, and what a coup to get Paul and Ringo into it. Check it out. (The only thing I'd be embarrassed about is that Yoko keeps screaming "John, John". I'd be embarrassed if my wife just kept screaming "Brian, Brian!" were I in the same position.)

So, that was for real. What comes next is a creation of my mine. 
After reading so many posts on Grateful Dead forums debating the merits of both Donna Godchaux and Ned Lagin, I had an idea. Use the toys on my Mac to make the ultimate duet (strange that it never happened in reality).
First off, my candid opinion of each:

Ned: Though I may not always want to sit through 20 minutes of analog synth noise, I find him to be one of the most fascinating and mysterious characters in the Dead family. That he was accepted (by mostly Jerry and Phil, it would seem, as they still retained avant garde aspirations) is a very cool thing. That he voluntarily erased himself from GD history (as much as possible) is even weirder and cooler. That he was doing what he was doing in front of 30,000 people was way cool. No avant garde electronic noise artiste could ever aspire to that.

Donna: When I was 15, I totally had a crush on Donna in the GD Movie. Then I succumbed to the "Donna Sux" cult, without much thought. A 12 year anti-Dead period followed, and when I delved hardcore back into the band (4 years ago), I reevaluated her. The verdict: she was WILD! That's why the guys loved her! How unfitting would it be if these untrained singers and often sloppy musicians had Emmy Lou Harris with them? Why do you think Joan Baez totally sucked the couple times she sat in with them? Donna was one of the boys! Unpredictable as a Jerry guitar solo (will it suck? will it make us swoon?)

Re-listen to "Cassidy" from ACE or all of Garcia's Cats Under the Stars album. Donna rules!
So I'm firmly pro-Donna now. I was saying. I made this movie, imagining a crazy, noisy duet between Ned (and Phil) and Donna.
I know, it's a bit of a rush job, but I think it's worth a gander....It was fun to make, and I consulted the Dead forums on for some choice Donna off-the-rails moments.

(if you've not taken a look, the intended audience in my Dead-related youtube clips and forums is that of someone who likes a lot of different kinds of pop, punk, classic rock, new wave...but doesn't really get the Dead. My videos are intended to educate a bit. To create a middle ground between the closest-minded Deadhead zealot and the biggest Dead hater. Some have objected to my attempts at humor, but those are exactly the humorless people the jokes aren't intended for.) Anyway,
This video was done as a tribute to the greatness of Ned and Donna, who I think should get a lot more love. Hope you enjoy it at least for a hoot. Again, it was fun to make. Let's hear it for the noise!.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Warlock East, Warlock West. Well hello, Jerry Lou.

 A Tale of Two Mullets in 1989! (but believe me, this post is not really about that. It's just it's..just...WTF? It was a PLAGUE!!! The Hairdresser Community's REVENGE!
Ok. Had to get that out of the way first.)

The following videos may look familiar, but you sure didn't see them on You Tube! They didn't allow them.
I made them last year, only to be crushed by copyright law upon upload.
So, I think I put them on Facebook, which really isn't ideal.

Vimeo, (for now at least) is wicked cool and doesn't flip out if I use 3 seconds of a song.

So here. This is a two part series all about the cultural and musical parallels in the lives of Lou Reed and Jerry Garcia. Neither of whom I can say I love unconditionally, but both of whom I can say have meant a great great deal in my life. Enjoy.

Part One: A Tale of Two Warlocks: The Velvets and The Dead-1965-70. 

A Tale of Two Warlocks from Brian Marchese on Vimeo.

Part Two: Lou and Jerry in the 70's, and Those Three Chords

Take a Walk on Franklin's Girl from Brian Marchese on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Beatles With Ill-Advised Perms

                                                      That's all, really, for now.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Greyfolded (say it fast, aloud).

John Oswald-Canadian Sound Artist

 This essay will discuss what, in many ways, is the coolest Grateful Dead album: John Oswald's Grayfolded, released in 1994. It is one continuous piece of music (2 CDs) consisting of over 100 versions of the Dead's signature piece, "Dark Star". There may be 2 seconds of one version, 12 seconds of just one isolated instrument from another version, or 7 uninterrupted minutes of yet another version. There may be a 1971 Phil Lesh playing bass to a 1990 Garcia lead with a 1974 Bill Kreutzmann ratta-tatting away. The vocals (very few and far between) feature multiple Garcia's spanning 20 years. The over all effect is his young voice, but with close listen you can detect a few layers of croaky old Jerry from 1989-92.

JG-No Glasses. 1987
JG-No Glasses. 1969

Some of the coolest moments are when, for example, a 1970 Garcia run seems to perfectly complement something he was playing in 1991. (of course, that '70 tone--an SG through a Fender amp is much more palatable to these ears than the custom guitar, MIDI set up, a zillion effects blah blah...which, to me, took all the life out the entire band's sound. And no doubt cost a fortune. Why couldn't have they been more like Crazy Horse? Well, if one does their homework, The Grateful Dead were always total tech nerds.)
Anyway, Grayfolded...

Here's a movie I made of my favorite track. Vimeo let me upload it. You Tube did not. I may be a convert. Or not. Anyway, watch this and be prepared to be blown out of your beanbag:
(Give this track 90 seconds to take off...then make sure your volume isn't too high. Not many people are aware of this aspect of the Dead)

Fault Forces--John Oswald mixes up some noisy Dead moments from Brian Marchese on Vimeo.

 Commissioned by the band, Oswald, the Canadian composer/sound-collage artist, whose work was admired by members of the Dead (he'd remixed Michael Jackson's BAD, which apparently the band loved), knew little to nothing of the Dead's music. He had quite a task on his hands: compile "the ultimate 'Dark Star' out of the hundreds of versions in the Dead's vault. But not with the humor of the MJ project (even though there's always inherent humor in most of what the Dead do...)

Yeah, disturbing, to say the least.

Oswald was given full access to the famous Dead Vault, and brought to the project a total objectivity. He'd never seen the Dead (he did see two sub par shows while working on the project) and had stopped listening to them after 1969's Live Dead. So suddenly having every version at his fingertips must have been a combination of overwhelming, disgusting, addictive and intimidating.

I can't even imagine. I'm STILL discovering versions of Dark Star that make me say "OH! THIS is THE ONE!". Since I've delved in to Dead-land (about 4 years ago), I seem to hear a Dark Star that replaces my old favorite one about once every other month. I could list my faves, but I really don't want to do that. I don't want to know that I did that.

Like most casual Dead fans, my first taste of "Dark Star" was what many still feel is "the one"; the one from LIVE/DEAD, recorded on 2/27/69. And yes, that one will forever hold up. In my teens, I had both a peak and a dreadful experience with that version. The peak came one late night, wearing headphones, staring at the glow-in-the-dark-stars on my ceiling and at the movies behind my eyelids. That's when I got it: "The instruments are talking to each other! Jerry asks a question, Bob makes a joke, Phil comments on it, Jerry answers his own question, now Bob is laughing and Phil getting a bit fed up with the subject and wants to change it....". That was when I feel I sort of "passed the test".
However, not long after, I had a girl over. I thought I'd set the mood with a long, spacy song that could just be in the background. However, she didn't dig it one bit...."ugh! What is this? Take it off!". And the mood was ruined.
And so, my opinion of the Dead was ruined for the immediate future.And that was compounded by college hippies. "The Dead? Hate 'em!"

No bother, all the cutest and smartest girls liked The Cure, The Smiths and Jane's Addiction anyway. I found hippie chicks to be a little too immodest for my tastes. Gimme some knee high Doc Martens over open toe whateverthefucks any day of the week. Still.
But enough about me. Grayfolded.

How does one describe it? I'll kind of sort of try, I guess.

You see these half-assed scans I took?

 These are from the liner notes to Grayfolded (Grayfolded is like a slurred version of Grateful...yeah, you got it). And they are visual representations of what the music sounds like. I'm glad Oswald included this. Not only to show the work that went into it, but also, to someone like me, if I hear a particularly cool passage, I can consult the chart--which goes minute by minute, track by track--and say "Oh! 12-01-71 in Boston? Never heard that show! Sounds like just my type of thing!" And then I can seek out that show on some site or blog or what not.
To me, the whole process is fascinating research.  And as far as the layering of different versions of things,  I have done my own poor-man's versions on a few occasions. Like THIS and THIS. But this, of course, is a major work, using state of the art technology and months of steady, paid work.

To the untrained ear, the average "Dark Star" sounds like this: "deedle deedle noodle noodle wanky wanky crash boom dum dum da da noodle noodle Dark Star something/ space rock lyrics total dork fest doodle dee smoke another, dude, stoner twirly spinny dancer psychedelic space rock..."
And that's...OK. I refuse to get huffy about such relatively unimportant matters. But I will tell you a few factual things.

1) Dark Star started as a 3 minute single. Intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, out. This was late 1967.

2) Throughout 1968, it slowed slightly and could be as long as 10 minutes. The instrumentals were largely Garcia soloing over Weir's simple chord pattern, and Lesh doing his usual non-bass-playing (like The Who's John Entwistle, Phil Lesh ignores the concept of "locking in with the kick drum" and goes for the holes, and becomes almost another lead instrument.  He's like an invasive weed or climbing ivy).

3) In 1969 it slowed even more, and was allowed to breath and mature. Tom Constanten relieved Pig Pen on organ. This was good, because Pig, as cool of a line as it was, would spend 10-12 minutes repeating the same 6 note pattern. It did make it more like Stereolab or something, but it also made the others seem like dogs straining at their leashes. Constanten was an avant/classical player who played flourishes that would be embraced by any Prog-Art band. Also. the drummers, who, had been spending the whole song keeping a steady pulse on shakers and guiro, were now also opening up. The pulse was still there, but one might do a tom flourish. And of course, Garcia's vocabulary was expanding by the minute. There were stock phrases he'd always incorporate, but often many breathtaking inventions.

While I'm at it: It's funny that in 1988 I was listening to both The Dead and Jane's Addiction, but never noticed this until now:     Go to 1:30 and listen to the guitar figure that Dave Navarro starts to play during the middle section of "Trip Away" from the first Jane's album.

Got It?

Now go here and foward to 12:00 and hear what Jerry stumbles into. (By the way, this is the aforementioned definitive "Dark Star" in many people's books. The one where "I got it" and the one that repulsed the girl in my room. It's still great and engaging all the way through.

I don't know,  O guitar players: Is this a fairly common figure for "now I'm gonna get trippy, folks" or you think Dave was paying tribute to Jerry? (Remember, Jane's Addiction did an amazing version of "Ripple". which incorporates both "The Other One" and "BirdSong" at the end..)

So 1969 Dark Stars. Truly psychedelic, spacy, pretty, shades of prog-rock. Also, in the spring (I'm thinking 4/5/69 Avalon and 4/22/69 at the Ark in Boston), it could get just aggressive, noisy and heavy in a very 1969 rock way. 

3) Late 1969 and 1970 saw some of the coolest Dark Stars that can only be described as "arty". Listen to 1970-05-15, or  9-19 and you'll see what I mean. There will be like full 2 minute periods where you think "did my speakers die?" And then someone will lightly scrape their pick against the strings on the bridge or head of the guitar (sonic youth anyone?). 10 seconds later, a 2 second burst of feedback. Then a very quick mallet-on-cymbal wash. The tension build. The audience is totally silent. Maybe you hear one tripping girl screech in fear. Because it is scary. Like, what could happen next?
Thank God Jim Morrison wasn't there to scream something dumb.
Then someone like Weir will suggest something goofy and light to break up the mood. Like Archie Bell's "Tighten Up" or Paul Simon's "Feelin' Groovy" and they'll jam on that for 5 minutes, before heading back into the main riff and eventually a sung verse.

4) In 1971, they lost Micky Hart, and Constanten, and it was back to the original 5-piece. And Pig Pen still wasn't adding much to the more adventurous stuff, so he'd sit out and wait for a blues song (yawn). So, '71 didn't have many "Dark Stars", but it is very cool to hear what they did with basically a quartet. Many find the 10/31/71 to be among the best ever. Without the distractions and frills, one can hear really the genius of Garcia/Lesh/Weir working as a team. They were all about listening. having a three way chat. "Ensemble Improvisation" is how Jerry Garcia put it, differentiating them from "jazz fusion". Because he knew that none of the players were going to win any virtuoso awards--because they didn't want to be virtuosos. Where do you go from there? So they'd intentionally put road blocks in their way. Try to trick each other, or, as was often the case with many of them, just be so high that your mind plays tricks and your fingers get a different message than what your brain was trying to tell them.You don't know down from up, the one from four beat, or 5 seconds from 5 minutes.

5) 1972-74--It Gets Truly Weird. And long.  Keith Godchaux joins on piano, and hits the ground running. He had jazz training, so he knew how to improvise. And what he brought lent a, I dunno, Keith Jarret vibe to things at times. He never took over, and if there's anything to complain about, he'd sometimes parrot a line or two that Jerry just played. I read that this annoyed Jerry towards the end of Keith's tenure, but I notice it all the way back in '72. In '72, "Dark Star"'s tempo slowed down dramatically, and a sort of pattern started to emerge. And this is sort of the pattern that Oswald attempted to emulate in Grayfolded:

--opening riff (a cheer of recognition from the crowd)
--meandering, finding a vibe. Like walking into a crowded room and deciding who you're going to talk to. Or into a forest and deciding which trail to follow. If it was a novel, this would be the first 2 chapters setting up the characters and relationships.
--if it's a good one, there will be many cool ideas exchanged, with some great "dialog" between the characters. But it's usually still a bit reserved. Sometimes, a forceful statement is made--say with a Garcia figure or a restless Kreutzmann flourish.
--Then it's time to wind down and the signature riff repeats a few times.
--Garcia steps to the mic and sings "Daaaark Staaar Crashes...." and we get the first verse and chorus ("Shall we go....)
--Intro again, and then often times, all hell breaks loose. In a truly great Dark Star, this section (between first and second verse) is transfixing. Ideas abound, and sometimes these are ideas that some bands would immediately take note of and remember for future reference. Not the Dead. Like a late night "enhanced" conversation, so many ideas are flying around that no one has the wits to remember them or follow the thread to the end. Sometimes, they will recur in a future version, but what makes a Dark Star fan keep coming back for more is to see exactly what occurs at this section.
--A couple things that have a good chance of happening: In late '72, Phil Lesh briefly introduced what has become known as the "Philo-Stomp" (coined, I think, by the late archivist Dick Vitala). I love this. Phil does this bass chord riffing that is somewhere between a Stones riff and something Peter Hook would do in Joy Division. I SO WISH the band all joined on this in a totally ballsy way. But, being the Dead, Phil's vision of a heavy moment is spurned. If this was, say, LED ZEPPELIN, this would have become one of those awesome head banging riffs they'd go into in the middle of "Dazed and Confused" or "Whole Lotta Love". But instead, Jerry noodles, Bill can't seem to find the "one" and the promise of complete rock and roll satisfaction is dashed. Thus, this section only lasted a couple months. Well, ok--I'm being harsh. There is one version that seems to get it together--1972-11-13, 70% of which is just a total noise orgy. Dig it.
--One thing that often happened, and never failed, and I could listen to 50 examples in a row is what some call "The Tiger" (credit Deadheads for these goofy names). Jerry's foot is on the wah pedal. He teases with some dissonant scratches. Meanwhile, Bob and Phil start to build a bed of feedback. As it builds, Jerry SHREDS THE LIVING CRAP out of his distorted guitar, with the wah going crazy, going up and up and up and up the neck until he can't bend the strings any higher on the highest frets, and then keeps that going for about 20 seconds, collapsing into Phil and Bob's feedback bed. it truly does sound like stuff Sonic Youth and Butthole Surfers routinely did 10-15 years later. It's the most glorious noise ever. Sometimes Kreutzmann joins in, sometimes he lays out until order is restored. (this type of freakout could also happen in the middle of "The Other One", "Playin In the Band", or even "Here Comes Sunshine". Or sometimes, just on its own.

Watch the last 2 minutes of this clip for the only real video evidence of what I mean. This is relatively tame compared to others (possibly because it was apparently 98 degrees at this show), but it's video nonetheless:

--By then, most everyone is ready to settle into the second verse/chorus and the end. Or, as would often happen, Bob Weir, Mr. Showbiz, would lighten the mood by bringing the band into one of his beloved country covers like "El Paso" or "Me and My Uncle", because no one ever gets sick of those songs, right? (blecchhh).  Perhaps it was an old acid trick that I don't understand.

Then the last verse was sung--or not--and the band would segue into something sad and beautiful like "Morning Dew", "Stella Blue" or "China Doll". Basically, after taking you on a tour through the universe, Jerry wanted to see you weep. 

So that was pretty much Dark Star as it evolved from 1968-74.

After that, it disappeared until 12/31/1978. (I really don't listen to much 80's-90's Dead) Then a couple in '79, 81...I think one in 1984...then it appeared a few dozen times between 1989-94. One guy on the Dead forum on put it best when he said that (I'm paraphrasing), from '78 onwards, Dark Star was like a treasured car that the boys would take for a spin around the block but never dare to cut across 3 lanes at 90 mph while flipping off old couples, and taking the wrong way down one way streets while rolling joints with one hand. No, modern day Dark Stars were safe, kinda boring, Jerry's vocal would be strained and the goddamn fucking reentry after the first chorus was always a train wreck. What's so hard, fellas? Phil does the 5 note lick, then everyone falls in with the riff! You got it perfectly every time from 68-74, and most of you were tripping your faces off!
(Ok, 2 good Dark Stars I've heard from "the modern age": One is fall '90 in NYC shortly after Brent died. It took BRUCE HORNSBY of all people to re-inspire the band. So they do a good one. A year before that, the guys must have got their hands on some primo Miami blow, because they do a Dark Star that sounds like 7 glue-sniffing teenagers let loose in a MIDI convention. It's the Art of Noise 10/26/89 in Miami).

The many forums on cover so much ground. And there are some outstanding and thoughtful writers who really know their stuff (there are also a lot of haters and people with shockingly closed minds and argument styles right out of the Limbaugh book. These are the Deadheads that are all about the Sheep Mentality and wouldn't be able to think for themselves if their lives depended on it. Really? Give us a reason why Donna sucks other than that she is a woman? Hey wait, are those racist or homophobic tones behind some of those reactionary diatribes? I mean, at least I could give a few educated reasons why Pig Pen and Brent bore me most of the time. They're bluesy and a bit simplistic and I just think Jerry and Phil wanted the new and the weird to rule the day. But I could also give you many things I love about them).

Wow, sidetrack supreme.

I bonded with "Dark Star" again about 2 years ago when I had a job where I would drive all day around every town in the western half of Massachusetts. I'd download a Dead podcast (Shakedown Stream or The Deadpod--this was after I got my first iPhone, yo) and either dig it or hate it. But one thing I loved was to be listening to a Dark Star for the first time, while driving through, say, Sandisfield or Richmond on a weird-weather day, and feel like the twists and turns in the song were corresponding to the old roads and the weather. It was like navigating through a new universe. I even had a great idea for a Dark Star video game, but 1) I can't design video games and 2) someone else is doing a Dead video game. But mine would have RULED! Let me know, o reader, if you design video games.

And NO I never EVER was on any illegal substances while on the job. I swear on whatever it is you want me to swear on. This is why I like listening to the Dead a) ALONE and b) STRAIGHT. I listen as a musician and I'm either totally wowed or completely disgusted.

I find Grayfolded to go best with driving on a rainy day. Not a passing shower. I mean steady (but not scary) rain. That's just me.
Grayfolded is spread across two CDs. Initially, the first CD, called Transitive Axis was the whole shebang. But Oswald had more ideas and too much good material he had yet to use. So we got CD 2, known as Mirror Ashes, and which branches out into "Dark Star"s cousin, "The Other One" (with its proto metal beat, borrowed by Weir from The Yardbirds' "Little Games" and soon was the official "this is a head banging song" beat. You know the one. Triplets against a 4/4. 
Much like I enjoy some Dark Stars more than others, I also enjoy different tracks more than others.
Here they are and why--and yes, for me, like in actual "Dark Stars", it takes about 10 minutes to get anywhere interesting. In this case, tracks 1-3 are "eh". But they succeed in setting up the plot. Use the first three tracks to clean the wine glasses, clear out the bowl, wash the dishes, put the kid to sleep, write an email, whatever. If you smoke weed, spark up in the middle of track 3. Then we get to my faves:

--Track 4) "Clouds Cast"": Because it mainly follows one fairly straight forward 1968 version. Brisk and rhythmic and engaging. And it's the first appearance of the "Jerry Chorus". The phrase "Dark Star Crashes" is stretched (through reverb and echo and stuff) over one minute, and it's EIGHT Jerry's singing in unison: 3 from 1969, 1 from 1970, 1 from 1972, 1 from 1992 and 2 from 1993. Cool idea. And softens the blow of creaky old 90's Jerry.

--Track 5) "Through"--This is mainly some suspenseful, feeling out, cautiously seeing what's around the next corner... which side street to walk down (if we're in an industrial mood) or what trail to take (if on a walk in the woods). We also hear what some have thought was some lost "acoustic Dark Star", but it's really the end of "Mountains of the Moon", the acoustic song that would segue into "Dark Star" in early '69. Jerry and Bob would put on the electrics while Phil and co would continue the groove. It's otherwise a lot of 1971 and 1974, clean toned meandering, with some 1990 at the end. It's a set up for...

--Track 6) "Fault Forces" (the one I did the video for)--you can re-watch, so I won't go over it again. Suffice to say, once again, I'm a sucker for Garcia's "Tiger" freakout.

--Track 8) "La Estrella Oscura"-- this takes us on a historic tour through what became known as the "Spanish Jam". You know. "Bolero", "White Rabbit", "Sketches of Spain"...2 repeating chords, half a step apart. The guys liked to sometimes do this in the middle of "Dark Star", but not exclusively. In any case, this is neat because it shows the very different live sounds in the band in several different eras: --1992--Jerry's got his MIDI trumpet effect, living out all his Miles Davis fantasies. Sounds a bit like drunken muzak to my ears. No real groove or feeling.
--1973--this is verry groovy and inspired. Everyone's listening to each other. Kreutzmann is at the top of his jazz game and Lesh is driving it. Jerry gets into jagged, dissonant chords
--1974--famous version, if I may be such a goddamn nerd. 6/23/74. One of my fave shows. The Dead were at their coked out best. "Inbred" as Bob Weir put it. Phil is out of hand. Overdriven, sticking forceful bass chords wherever the fuck, and Jerry's got that weird distortion that he had in the Wall Of Sound Years.
--1968--lastly, hey wait, I'm about to praise Pig Pen. Because when he just wanted to be a Hammond player filling out the sound, he was great. He's got a great sound here. And of course, there's NO BEATING Jerry's sharp, acidic tone in 1968. It's a close cousin at times to The Velvet's White Light White Heat. It's dangerous. It just wants to be ugly and thus, make you feel right at home.

--Track 9) "Recedes"--ends CD one. It takes us out of that January '68 Spanish Jam and into the telltale "Caution" beat. It's only 1:56 long and basically has Jerry doing some of his fast '68 type runs, while hinting at the "Dark Star" riff. Another "Jerry Chorus ('69-92) sings a bit more, and a very fast opening "Dark Star" riff ends the CD. Kind of like hearing Glenn Miller doing "Kind of Blue".

Disc 2:
 --Track 1) "Transilience"--only 47 seconds long. It's a Jerry chorus (all 1969-70) singing "..the transitive nightfall of diamonds.."

--Track 2) "73rd Star Bridge Sonanta"--this track is an anomaly for two reasons. First off, it's all from one performance--the famous 2/13/70 at the Fillmore East. The Dead always loved NYC because they knew the audiences there would let them know if they sucked. So they always brought their "A Game".
Second of all, Oswald took a few favorite passages and floated them in and out of the track, sometimes adding an effect (tastefully) So it's not a straight reproduction of 2/13/70's Dark Star. It's the 13 minutes between verse one and two, during which Garcia, Weir, Lesh and the drummers operate SO WELL together. So psychically.  So, about that title: It's a play on "59th Street Bridge Song", by Simon and Garfunkel. Because Weir starts in on that progression, Lesh follows and Garcia plays (kinda) the melody. They did this a few times, but this is the most famous. It only lasts a minute, and goes into several other ideas.
(Do you know The Who's Live At Leeds? Wouldn't you say that The Who were doing their own version of this kind of thing back then? Townshend spacing out, everything going quiet, everyone exploding, riff-o-ramas etc? Different bands, obviously, but similar idea, I feel).
One last thought. Anyone who disses Bob Weir, please listen to this track. He is contributing a lot. Chord-wise AND rhythm-wise. He had about 5 excellent years--1969-74. Then his tone gradually got lamer and lamer and you could still hear good ideas, but the tone was barfburgers.

Track 4--"The Speed of Space"--I'd forgotten about this one. What's the theme of it? Oh yes. It's mainly mid-late 1972, with some 1974. When the Dead were doing their version of "fusion".
I don't like fusion because I really don't need to hear a group of virtuosos jerking each other off and then giving each other sticky High Fives. Sorry if that's totally insulting. It's just not what I'm in it for at all. The Dead doing fusion was more like "Holy Fucking Shit! Look what happens when a jug band who took too much acid starts to play 150 concerts a year together! We end up with dozens of top notch conventional pop rock songs, AND the ability to play together fearlessly! Without any real goal but to satisfy ourselves!" And what does that sound like? It sounds like rockpopnoisecountryballadjazzfusionavantgardebluesprog.
Like Jerry said, "The Grateful Dead is no one's idea of what a band or what music should sound like". There was no leader. No one wanted to be told what to do and so no one told anyone what to do.

Anyway, this 72-74 madness starts to give way to some more modern tones, and the hint of the riff re-enters. A crowd cheers, and then another "Jerry Chorus" sings the whole second verse/chorus. Once in a while a 90's  Jerry is isolated and you can hear the young Jerry still lives in the old emphysemic croak. (truth be told, I've heard some '94-95 Garcia that shows that he must have either gotten nodes removed or just cut down smoking). The best part of the end of the last chorus in the old days was Phil's countermelody. Very cool. Why'd he have to go and wreck his voice? But that last minute is a great hyperspeed time warp. And prepares us for.....

Track 5) "Dark Matter Problem/Every Leaf is Turning"--which is all about Bob Weir's "The Other One", a song they never stopped doing. It starts with about 30 Bill Kreutzmann's banging out the drum intro, out of sync with each other. The effect? Sitting in your car during the most frightening hail storm. Then a distant gun shot (Pig Pen and Micky Hart were fond of firing cap guns during quiet moments).
So then, a great mix of "Other One's. No words. Just some great moments (from 68-73) which blend together magically. A bit of feedback and are in an exhillerating climax (of "Cauton) from 2/28/69. It's not just "rocks in relative Dead terms" (which I am well aware of), it rocks in all that is rock and roll terms. Then back to some more '69 "The Other One" which--kind of a downer--goes into a limp late '78 Garcia lead, with a 1990 Weir rhythm track (ugh!) with Phil's '69 bass remaining (yay!).

Now what happens is muy interesante: a collage, from many shows, of the opening notes of songs that The Dead would meander into once "Dark Star" had imploded: "St Stephen", "Stella Blue", "Wharf Rat", "Eyes of the World", "Morning Dew"...probably more that I'm not hearing.
If you haven't guessed, I'm sort of "live blogging". But the advantage is that I can go back and re-listen to a moment if I missed it. But trying to be as live as possible.

So now...finally (and Jesus, I'm sorry this turned into such a beast. I need to shower after this. Or have another beer.)

Track 6--"Foldback Time": From 67-69, every Dead show would end in ear splitting feedback. Maybe for 12 minutes, maybe for 2. Maybe until the hall cut the power. I kind of hoped this track would kick out the jams and be a "best of feedback". But Oswald is too kind. There's some feedback, but there's a lot of MIDI strings, like a John Williams score coming to an end. The last thing you hear is a couple tinkling piano keys, and according to the chart, I believe it's Brent. Fair enough.

And bloody long enough. I won't bore you like this again, I promise.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

There They Go, Walking Down the Street (and Into the Sunset)

The Three-kees. "I think I'm a little high". 1969. Photo by Henry Diltz.

 Last month, Rhino Records thankfully continued their line of Monkees Deluxe reissues. Some have been "meatier" (ugh, I hate that term, but it works here) than others. The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees was hands down the best so far, in that it captured the band still on a popular high, while on a creative high (and yes, some of them were often just plain high). I won't go into it, as I've already written about it on this blog. Suffice to say, it contains many a goodie.

Last year's Head reissue was...well the good parts are really good, so I won't get on the "rip-off!" train that some have chosen to board. I love hearing any live Monkees, and while I wish there was more, I do still enjoy the sloppy-as-hell Salt Lake City '68 tracks. I also love hearing what just may be Nesmith and Nilsson playing together on the alternate/extended version of "Daddy's Song". And Peter's demo version of "Do I Have to Do This All Over Again" sounds like a great Nuggets track. Or like something off the first Moby Grape album.

But I'm here to write about the latest release: 1969's Instant Replay, the first Monkees album released after Peter Tork quit the band. Not a good move on Tork's part in retrospect, but he really wanted to get out of the Monkees scene, and in on the next phase of the Laurel Canyon/Groupies and Dope scene that was being born under his nose (or rather, on his patio). Crosby, Stills and Nash were starting, Neil Young was buzzing between them and a solo career, Hendrix and Buddy Miles were jamming...And Peter was partying and playing with all of those cats. So, he reasoned (and why not?), "I'm leaving this sinking Monkee ship, in which I've not been emotionally invested for a while, and, using my recent enormous popularity, I shall ease into the new hip underground. I've got the connections, I've got the musical chops, I've jammed with the best dudes, slept with the best chicks, and in six months I'll be rocking at the Fillmore with my new band."
So what happened? Sadly, not much. He got a band together, Release. His girlfriend played drums. They recorded a demo in NYC for Atlantic,  and no one bit. Tork has no idea where the demo is today (which sucks! Who wouldn't want to hear it?).

Peter Tork and/or Release. 1969.

Dick Clark tells a story in which Peter called him up after he quit The Monkees and said "you know how you presented a Monkees tour? Well, I got a new band and we wanna tour!". And Dick Clark said "um, well, that's not how it works. You're kind of so two years ago" I'm not sure if Release played many gigs or if they just hung out and got high. How about some quickie research?

 Peter and Girlfriend/Drummer Reine Stewart, 1969-70
"You are too a hippie!"--Peter Tork


                                  According to

"Striking out on his own, he formed a group called 'Peter Tork And/Or Release' with girlfriend Reine Stewart on drums (she had played drums on part of 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee), Riley "Wildflower" Cummings on bass and - sometimes - singer/keyboard player Judy Mayhan. Tork said in April 1969, "We sometimes have four. We're thinking of having a rotating fourth. Right now, the fourth is that girl I'm promoting named Judy Mayhan." "We're like Peter's back-up band", added Stewart, "except we happen to be a group instead of a back-up band." Release hoped to have a record out immediately, and Tork has said that they did record some demos, which he may still have stored away somewhere. According to Stewart the band were supposed to go to Muscle Shoals as the backing band for Mayhan's Atlantic Records solo album Moments (1970) but they were ultimately replaced. They mainly played parties for their "in" friends and one of their songs was considered for the soundtrack to Easy Rider, but the producers - who had also produced Head - eventually decided not to include it. Release could not secure a record contract, and by 1970 Tork was once again a solo artist, as he later recalled, "I didn't know how to stick to it. I ran out of money and told the band members, 'I can't support us as a crew any more, you'll just have to find your own way."

So there went Peter, off to supposedly greener pastures. Unfortunately, he ended up selling his prime Laurel Canyon real estate (to old buddy Stephen Stills, with whom he had been a starving folkie in Greenwich Village just five years previous), from which he was asked to stay away when The Rolling Stones were staying there in November 1969. That is some primo back stabbing assholery right there. (I'd drink to oblivion too, Pete.)

Of course, at that point, Stephen Stills was on the rock elite A List, where he would stay throughout the 70's. And Peter was about to become pretty invisible for the next 15 years, until he re-emerged, sober and prancing the stage with Dolenz and Jones, in the worst 80's pastels.

What kind of band did The Monkees become after Peter left? Umm, they became a band only in name. They were more like three solo acts who told somewhat lame jokes sometimes.

According to some quotes, Mike Nesmith was ecstatic after Peter left. There are many unflattering Nesmith quotes in which he doesn't mince words about his dislike for Peter. For example, in Hit Parader in February 1972, Nez said "I don't like Peter Tork. Never have liked him. I don't like him as a man..and I probably will never like him. I didn't enjoy playing in a band with him, and I still don't".

Well, that's gotta hurt too. (I think the liquor store's still open, Pete.)

He does go on to say that Peter "did a lot of wonderful things for and to me" and attributes his dislike to a "very visceral attitude". Truth be told, in 1972, Nesmith was on a creative tear while also going through a divorce (just listen to the excellent And the Hits Just Keep On Coming, which I see as Nesmith's Blood On the Tracks), so his mind and mood were probably not as stable as could be.

Speaking of tracks, I've once again gone way off them. 1969! Monkees! Instant Replay!

Ok. Tork's gone. The film Head flopped beyond belief. Rafelson disowned them, despite both Nesmith and Tork asking about contributing a song to Easy Rider. Teeny boppers were growing out of the Monkees, and older fans could care less about what the dudes were doing.

Even their famous friends (Beatles, Hendrix, Mamas and Papas etc) were inching away because The Monkees, nice and talented as they may be, were collecting dust on the discount rack, and were being marked down from $2.99 to $.49.  

So..what to do?

Try whatever you can and see what sticks. So they tried the following:

"It's our CSN bag! Which way to Woodstock?"

Ready for the Electric Power Trio Set. Or not....
                They did only exactly one appearance as an acoustic trio, on The Johnny Cash Show.

The Johnny Cash Show. 1969.
They did a wonderful CSN style version of Nesmith's "Nine Times Blue", but then had to go and ruin it with some embarassing-as-hell comedy schtick and talk about what "long haired freaks" they were
(in Nashville, yes, but in rock world '69, those three were pretty friggin' tame in the music world. Have a look at The Grateful Dead on the Hugh Hefner Playboy Hour, from the same time. Or The Doors on PBS Critique. Or the muddy, direct-from-Woodstock clan that invaded Dick Cavett later that year. Them thar were freaks). The Monkees at this point were about as out-on-a-limb as The Beach Boys.

Here's the lovely song. This was left off the Johnny Cash Show DVD and that really kind of makes me angry. No justice. Cash loved The Monkees, for reals.

So that appearance didn't stop the world or get them a call from Bill Graham to open for The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Nesmith also was quoted at this time as saying that he thought The Monkees' future lay in "adult comedy" a la Laugh In. This may have been the seed for his 1980 "Television Parts".
And it did seem to maybe be a smart way to keep the band afloat. I mean, at least Mickey was totally crazy and Nesmith was dry and witty. Perhaps get them on Laugh-In!

With Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In. 1969

Well, that went Ok....but still didn't seem right. They may have been a bit too on the side of "stoned musicians" and not enough on the "cutting edge comedy". Though how cool is Nesmith with his beard and shades?

Well, then. TV commercials. For Kool-Aid. It's back to kids-ville, but maybe a certain kind of wink-nudge, "Hey, Kool-Aid! Get It? Look how happy we look! Psychedelic!" vibe would resonate with the older teens.
But again, no one really felt like caring.

On the set of a Kool-Aid Commercial.

They also did other appearances, like on The Tonight Show, the Joey Bishop Show and Hollywood Squares. But none of it was happening. Simply put, without good writing, they didn't come across as particularly funny. Especially as a trio.  If they wanted to get back on the radar, they had to deliver some serious musical goods. And that was no guarantee either.

The vacant, glassy-eyed look. 

So what did the world get with Instant Replay? They got a serious mish mash which shows just how quickly pop music had evolved in three short years. In fact, arguably THE three years in which pop/rock evolved the fastest. And to their credit, The Monkees were on top of it, and changed with it. They just changed in three completely different ways.
Instant Replay contains a handful of songs that were recorded for The Monkees first two albums.
I hate that fact. It's like Crosby Stills and Nash putting "Bus Stop", "Go and Say Goodbye" and "Lady Friend" on their first album (Hollies, Buffalo Springfield and Byrds songs respectively).
It's jarring and stale and lame. Especially because all three Monkees had dozens of current, unreleased, quality songs in the can. (the one old song I dig is "I Won't Be The Same Without Her", which would have made More of The Monkees a lot less of a crapwich). But Instant Replay really would not have appealed to too many people. It's spread way too thin.

As for the new songs, well, now we're (mostly) talking.

Micky Dolenz wrote two winners: "Just a Game" and "Shorty Blackwell". The first had been worked on in 1967 for Headquarters. He described it as a "modern rock song" in the early '67 studio chatter. But it was unfinished. By 1969, under the spell of Harry Nilsson, Dolenz gives the finished song a feel that wouldn't sound out of place on Harry's Ariel Ballet.

"Shorty Blackwell" is....where to start? I've always said that, had Brian Wilson wrote this, there'd be BOOKS about it. "What was he thinking? Why this chord and not that chord? Was he barefoot?"
I also see it as the grandfather of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Think about that next time you hear it. Dolenz was a lazy songwriter. He wrote 5 great Monkees songs and said "that's enough. Let's smoke". "Shorty Blackwell" is a master work. It's insanity. I'll get to the alternate version in a bit.

Davy Jones: As always, there are Davy songs that I can only imagine appeal to 95 year old women in nursing homes. They disgust me, frankly. "Don't Listen to Linda"? How about "DON'T LISTEN TO THIS SONG? EVER!?"

(EDITOR'S NOTE: this blog entry was written a few weeks before Davy's untimely death. otherwise, I would have chosen kinder words. still, I can't change how I feel about said song. kinder words come below.)

However, this album has one of Davy's most shining moments; his contribution to HARD ROCK '69, and a very perceptive insight to The Monkees' sinking ship... I speak of "You and I".
Great great tune. Starts with Neil Young's decapitating riff. Really. It'll chop off what ever part of you that is sticking out closest to your speakers.  Later, plays a very Neil solo, and I always picture him doing that herky jerky head/torso bob (you know the one, Neil fans!) as he repeats the three note figure at the end of the solo. And again, the alternate mix is rad.

Mike Nesmith: winner and reigning champion....well, how could he NOT be? "While I Cry" is just a wonderful, maudlin song that has the advantage of not sounding like 70% of Nesmith songs from this time (he found a new progression! and when that happens, amazing things happen!)

There's also "Don't Wait For Me". Ok, good tune. One of the 9 tunes from the Nashville sessions...but perhaps the most strained. It's still a great song. But it's no "Crippled Lion" (one of the most beautiful songs Nez ever wrote).

I read in reviews from the time on THIS AWESOME SITE THAT YOU NEED TO CHECK OUT that on tour, Nesmith would do this song solo acoustic. I do wish I could see/hear that. Unfortunately, not many people bothered with documenting the '69 tour. Or even attending it.
Follow that link to see.

So yeah, then they toured.
Davy, in suspenders and no shirt, appears to be ready to pass the doobie. 
It seems to have been all about partially-filled stadiums, and strange Vegas-like performances. 
Rolling Stone finally decided to write a story on them, and probably because they knew that their '69 Oakland show would be a sad site. The writer is sympathetic, and The Monkees all seem to be aware  of of their dead scene. Poor guys.                                                                                                          

So, The box set....

What to say. Once again, like with Birds and Bees, if The Monkees were in complete creative control in 1969, this could have been a much hipper album.  Not visionary, per se, as Birds and Bees COULD have been. This is like 3 distinctive dudes walking in three directions. Davy and Mickey wanted nothing to do with pedal steels. Mike steered clear of Vegas. Micky....was visiting other planets, bars and weed dealers.

I've prepared a Spotify mix at the end that presents a different and hipper story than the semi-limp album that Colgems released in 1969.
Kudos to Andrew Sandoval for presenting the entire Nesmith Nashville '68 sessions, even if he didn't listen to my advice about how to go about it (yeah yeah, I know I'm just another revisionist nerd with no industry power...still, I woulda done it.)

So here's my Best of The Instant Replay Box Playlist, with some commentary and a link to the special Spotify playlist for your listening enjoyment. I've divided it into chapters, if you will...

Brian's Best of The Instant Replay Box: 

I: 33 and 1/3 Television Special: This was The foursome Monkees' last gasp. A TV show that was supposed to be "far out", with guests like Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll and Buddy Miles. Instead, it veered between chaotic and lame. The best parts were Nesmith's solo bit and the first 3 minutes of the "Listen to the Band" finale (before 100 people start playing at once, and not at all in a cool way). I did not include Peter's song, "I Prithee" because it's just not good. I know he'd stopped caring, but if he wanted to go out with a splash, he could have like done a sci fi jam with David Crosby and Paul Kantner.
What I did include was Nesmith's awesome "Fuck You!" to Donnie Kirshner, "Naked Persimmon", and a few Nesmith-produced backing tracks to the show's songs. They are in fact MUCH COOLER without vocals. And I alsways love Nesmith's voice giving orders in the control booth. In "Goldie Locks", his contempt for the cheesiness of the song is wrapped in humor.

1) Wind Up Man (Backing Track - Take 1)    1:10
2) Naked Persimmon    2:36
3) Darwin (Backing Track - Take 2)    0:52
4 ) String For My Kite (Version 2 Backing Track - Take 1)    1:14
5) Goldie Locks Sometime (Backing Track - Take 4)    3:30

II: Best songs from the original Instant Replay release. Remastered and sounding GREAT! 

6) Just A Game    1:49
7) Don't Wait For Me    2:41
8) I Won't Be The Same Without Her (Backing Track - Take 1)    3:58 (I put the backing track because, doncha know, Mike broke the rules and had Peter Tork play guitar on this song. Not sure which of the 4 guitars, but I'm gonna take a guess that that is him noodling around before the take. He does a lot of that type of noodling during the Headquarters sessions. Possibly trying to impress the session pros.)
9) While I Cry    3:00

III: Alternate takes/mixes of songs from the Instant Replay Album that I think are superior. 

10) Through The Looking Glass [Fuzz Guitar Vesion - Mono Mix]    2:50 (WILD HENDRIX-ISH LEADS played by ???)

11) You And I [1968 Rough Mix]    2:26--great multi-layered harmonies. Gives a, what, Vanilla Fudge vibe? Heavy man.

12) Shorty Blackwell [Alternate Stereo Mix]    6:15--Coco Dolenz is more apparent and it over all is less jarring than the original album track.

IV: Nesmith's Country Session in Hollywood with Red Rhodes on Pedal Steel, Chip Douglas on bass and Nesmith on acoustic and electric guitars. 

13) Carlisle Wheeling [Alternate Stereo Mix]    3:17
14) Nine Times Blue (Backing Track Take 6)    2:22

I put the vocal-less version of Nine Times Blue because 1) how many times do you need to hear that song and 2) it's always groovy to hear Nez pickin' away. And this was the seed of his life long musical relationship with Mr Rhodes.

V: Nez in Nashville! Refer to my aforementioned post. Suffice to say, this in itself, especially with 2011 mastering, makes for a great EP. If the world only knew what he was up to. This was all happening as The Byrds were making waves with Swetheart of the Rodeo. ("Don't Wait For Me" was also recorded in the Nashville sessions, but I put it rightfully with the Instant Replay original album tracks).

15) The Crippled Lion [1968 Stereo Mix]    2:50
16) Don't Wait For Me [Alternate 1968 Stereo Mix]    2:35
17) Good Clean Fun [Mono Mix]    2:19
18) Hollywood [1968 Stereo Mix]    2:17
19) How Insensitive    2:32
20) Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care) [1968 Stereo Mix]    3:21
21) Some Of Shelly's Blues [1968 Mono Mix]    2:30
22) St. Matthew (Alternate Vocal)    2:48

VI: Davy Steps Out and Gets Down! Davy was working hard trying to establish himself as a "Broadway Rocker" for the Neil Diamond et al crowd. The 9-5ers who were smoking grass on weekends but still dropping their kids at school each day. This also should have happened, but didn't. Shame, because these are all good songs. "Smile", like "You and I" has Neil Young on guitar.
23) Smile [1968 Mono Mix]    2:24
24) War Games [1968 Mono Mix]    2:51
25) Party [1968 Mono Mix]    3:07
26) Look Down    2:51
27) Changes [1968 Mono Mix]    2:36
28) Someday Man    2:42

VI: Micky Trips Out! Only two songs from Dolenz. The first would be scrubbed clean of the more objectionable lyrics. The second would emerge on Missing Links in 1990. I always loved disco dancing to this song in my dorm room. Shut up. It was fun. You try it. 

29) Mommy And Daddy [1968 Mono Mix]    2:27
30) Rosemarie (Alternate Stereo Mix)    2:36

 VII: Random: 

"Saginaw" was slated to be a sort of Nesmith-does-Glen Campbell-doing-Jimmy Webb, but it was never released. They lyrics aren't weird enough anyway. But I enjoy playing and singing this on the acoustic every once in a while. Especially because I don't have any illegitimate kids to feel guilty about that I had with a 17 year old. It's a lovely song. 
"Sidewalk" was the TREASURE of the boxset in my book. An instrumental, rearranged version of this already great song. It has that 60's Hollywood feel that the best Brian Wilson instrumentals have. You must hear it. It makes me very very happy. 
Lastly, "That's What It's Like.." is a backing track to a great sounding Davy Jones/Steve Pitts song that never got any vocals put to it. This was the same session that Neil Young showed up for, but he wasn't on this track.

31) If I Ever Get To Saginaw Again    2:45
32) My Share Of The Sidewalk [Version 2 - Mono Backing Track]    2:51
33) That's What It's Like Loving You (Backing Track - Take 1)    3:04

So that's that! A scattered album, but this playlist is nothing if not rewarding and enjoyable. So reward yourself by enjoying it. As you would with a pizelle or a flan.