Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Essential Sweet Jane I - V.U. & Lou Reed

You could argue that "Sweet Jane" is one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. I would. Never mind that Rolling Stone, in their infinite lack of wisdom, ranked it at 342 on their list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Which puts it one just behind such timeless efforts as Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and a few notches down from Queen's "We Will Rock You".

In any event, your humble author has travelled to the ends of the Earth (well, YouTube) to find some of the most noteworthy versions of the song written by Lou Reed and popularized by the Velvet Underground. This first installment presents versions by the Velvet Underground and selections from Lou Reed's 40-odd years as a solo artist. Installment two will be devoted to notable cover versions. Stay tuned.

It's all subjective, mind you. If you'd like to nominate a version of Sweet Jane to be added to the list, feel free to leave a comment.

(Dates listed are the dates of performances/recordings, not release dates. )

Lou Reed Lectures on Sweet Jane (2008)
You’d think that 40 years after the fact Lou Reed would had gotten tired of playing "Sweet Jane", something he must have done at least hundreds of times. But even later in life he still found the time to explain to Elvis Costello and the audience of Costello’s short-lived TV show, Spectacle: Elvis Costello with..., how the song was structured, while demonstrating his points on an acoustic guitar.

1969: The Velvet Underground Live (1969)
The genesis of "Sweet Jane" is not completely clear but it began appearing in the Velvet Underground’s live shows as early as late 1969. Which is when the version immortalized on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live was recorded. Although the album itself didn’t see the light of day until a half decade later. It's a downright laconic version of the song that contains the infamous bridge that fell by the wayside in many later versions. Cowboy Junkies fans will find it all quite familiar.

The Velvet Underground - Loaded (1970)
Founding Velvet member John Cale had moved on by the time of Loaded, the group's fourth album, but three-fourths of the group were still on board, including Lou Reed, who proceeded to give the world a song called "Sweet Jane". The version contained here, the first to be loosed on the world at large, is considerably more lively than the hypnotic version from 1969: The Velvet Underground Live.

Lou Reed - Rock and Roll Animal (1973)
This version was recorded in late 1973 and released the following year on Rock and Roll Animal, the first of a pair of live albums that rolled out during Lou Reed's RCA years. The album opens with a heavy guitar duet by Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, who work their way through a lengthy instrumental piece that gives way to a radically reconstructed version of "Sweet Jane".

Lou Reed - Live in Paris (1974)
A half a year later or so and "Sweet Jane" had undergone another transformation, though perhaps not as radical as some others. A few members of the Rock and Roll Animal band were on hand for this version but Hunter and Wagner had moved on. It's less heavy than Rock and Roll Animal and even waxes a bit funky at times, with emphasis on the organ in parts. Watch for the moves from the bleached-blonde Lou Reed, who looks like he's about to break into some James Brown at any moment.

Lou Reed - Live in New York (1977)
Probably my favorite of all the non-cover versions. It was recorded at New York's Bottom Line about a year before the version that's next on the list, the one that made onto an actual live bonafide album release. Heavy, heavy and heavy, but in a slightly different manner than Rock and Roll Animal, and there's even some judicious use of a saxophone.

Lou Reed - Live: Take No Prisoners (1978)
Lou Reed's double live album from his Arista years is something of a mixed bag. The band is great and so are the performances, mostly of classic Lou Reed songs and a few newer ones. The downside is his tendency to derail several of the songs with lengthy spoken asides that are somewhere between monologue and standup comedy. Which is the case with the version of "Sweet Jane" immortalized therein. If it weren't for those asides - which are quite witty, it should be said - it could have been one of the greatest versions of the song ever.

Lou Reed - Acoustic Version on Spanish TV (1998?)
"I do Lou Reed better than anyone" -Lou Reed

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Hippy TV - The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Every Mother's Son, who scored with the hit "Come on Down to My Boat," play in the midst of a knockdown, drag out brawl.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Hippy TV - The Flying Nun

Another real-life band, who got their start in the Sixties. The Sundowners in an appearance on The Flying Nun.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hippy TV - Get Smart (Larry Storch)

Thrill thrill thrill! Kill kill kill! Featuring the Sacred Cows and Larry Storch, of F Troop, as The Groovy Guru.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hippy TV - The Beverly Hillbillies

Featuring The Peppermint Trolley Company, a real-life band responsible for performing an early version of the theme song for The Brady Bunch.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3C – Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Origin of Supernatural Probabilities

I mentioned in my last entry that "Nebulous Dawn," the second track on Zeit, was a “monumental” work of space music. I stand by that. The next track, "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities," is also a monumental work of space music, but in a decidedly different way. "Nebulous Dawn" could be described as a free floating assemblage of spacey sounds, with not very much of a rhythmic pulse to it. "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities," on the other hand, has a strong rhythm. It’s one that may or may not actually be made with a sequencer but which strongly resembles the sequencer-heavy works of Tangerine Dream’s so-called Virgin years, which at this time were still a few years in their future.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3B – Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Nebulous Dawn

This is space music. Space music of monumental proportions. Though it should be noted that there’s not much here that sounds like music in the traditional sense that most of us know. Better to think of it as well conceived assemblage of assorted and sundry ambient shards of sound that starts slow, builds to a peak, and then wanes again. I’ve seen this album referred to as one of the pioneering works of dark ambient – whatever that is. I suppose that’s a fair enough description of what’s going on here, if you like labeling things.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 3A - Zeit

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Zeit (1972)
Birth of Liquid Plejades

Prior to starting this project I hadn’t ever heard Tangerine Dream’s first album, Electronic Meditations. It did not impress and I doubt that I’ll listen to it again. Revisiting their second album, Alpha Centauri, after a long time, I thought it showed some promise but didn’t quite come together.

Their third album, Zeit, is another matter entirely and showed that they were finally starting to hit their stride. You could argue the point, I suppose, but this is the first time where Tangerine Dream actually begins to sound like Tangerine Dream.

To kick things off, there’s "Birth of Liquid Plejades." Which is a pretty keen title, if you don’t take the time to analyze it much. As far as the track itself goes, it doesn’t work for me as well as the other three on the album, but it has its moments. The group employed some “real” musicians for this one, namely a quartet of cellists. Who dominate the first half of the proceedings with long droning tones that come and go, weaving in and out of the piece, before finally giving way to the organ that dominates so much of early Tangerine Dream.

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2C – Alpha Centauri

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Alpha Centauri

I haven’t listened to Alpha Centauri for quite a long time but I had vaguely fond memories of it. Which were pretty much dashed when I listened to it again. The first two of the three tracks weren’t exactly bad but they weren’t anything to write home about.

Then there’s the 22-minute title track. The first time I revisited it for this project I had to grit my teeth and bear down just to get through it. The second time I revisited it – just one day later – I found it quite intriguing. Until about the half way mark, that is, and then it started to wear.

On a third listen I was again entranced by the opening, with tones that are so static that they seem like vast sheets of sound. But before long the trippy flute kicks in and kind of spoils things, before fading out and giving way to slightly more melodious droning tones interspersed with freaky sounds of indeterminate origin. Unfortunately, it’s not long before the flute reappears and noodles and doodles along with various other instruments and makes kind of a mess of things. It could have been a contender, as the saying goes, but it never quite coheres.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2B – Fly and Collision of Comas Sola

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Fly and Collision of Comas Sola

A couple minutes of eerie echoing tones in the upper register to start and then, like the first song on the album, the kinda churchy sounding organ takes over. To be joined here and there by some trippy sounding flute interludes and then a bit of fairly frenetic percussion that closes things out. Not so bad, as this sort of thing goes, but I wouldn’t rank it too high on my list of favorite Tangerine Dream tracks.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 2A – Sunrise in the Third System

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Alpha Centauri (1971)
Sunrise in the Third System

Electronic Meditations, Tangerine Dream’s first album, is one I never listened to before starting this project. Chances are I’ll never listen to it again. Alpha Centauri, their second effort, found them moving in the direction of what they would become. But they weren't quite there yet. "Sunrise in the Third System" has a title that seems intriguing enough if you don’t think about it too hard. But the piece itself doesn’t quite click. It starts with a mix of eerie sounds that eventually blends with a churchy sounding organ and proceeds on like this until just past the four-minute mark.

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1E – Resurrection

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)

Electronic Meditations is not the Tangerine Dream most of us know. It would take a few more albums before they evolved into that group. But throughout their first album there are a few frustratingly brief hints of what's to come, mixed in amongst so-so instrumentals that are pretty well suited to the waning days of the psychedelic age.

"Resurrection" kicks off like nothing special with a churchy sounding organ and a recitation of some sort, presumably in German. Just as I was about to dismiss it it gave way to a short snippet that offers yet another hint of what's to come. Perhaps the best bit on the album, even though it only lasts for about two minutes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1D – Ashes to Ashes

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Ashes to Ashes

Yes, Virginia, those are drums on that Tangerine Dream song. It’s a pretty straightforward rocking piece, this one, albeit a little bit trippy, and there’s some organ in the background. But mostly its Edgar Froese on guitar who steals the spotlight here. Not hard to listen to but also not particularly memorable.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1C – Cold Smoke

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Cold Smoke

"Cold Smoke" starts out somewhat like "Genesis," the song that opens Electronic Meditations, with a moody soundscape. Like "Genesis" it also gives way to something else entirely. It's not quite a frenetic as the previous song, with primal drums and organ carrying the day at first and then a heavy guitar lead taking over. But it also is not a track I'll be in a hurry to listen to again.

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1B - Journey Through a Burning Brain

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)
Journey Through a Burning Brain

This one sounds a lot like aimless noodling and doodling to me. It’s mostly of the guitar-based variety, with a bit of organ thrown in for good measure.

Not that this sort of thing can’t be done well. If you doubt it try "Amboss," a song I only recently ran across. It’s from Ash Ra Tempel’s first album, which came out a year after this one. It’s considerably longer – at about 18 minutes – and yet there’s rarely a dull moment.

Interestingly, these two albums shared a player in common. Klaus Schulze, who played on the first Tangerine Dream album and then did an album with Ash Ra Tempel before moving onto a solo career making music not all that unlike that of his old comrades in Tangerine Dream.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tangerine Dream Track by Track 1A – Genesis

Tangerine Dream Track by Track is a song-by-song, chronological look at Tangerine Dream’s “official” releases.

Electronic Meditations (1970)

Everything has a beginning (with the possible exception of eternity or a circle). When it comes to Tangerine Dream’s recorded output it starts here, for the most part. With the appropriately titled "Genesis," the first song from their first album, Electronic Meditations.

Which starts out in an interesting enough fashion, as a kind of noisy soundscape using instruments of seemingly indeterminate origin. Things evolve quickly over the course of six minutes, adding more conventional instruments and building to a frenetic improvisatory workout that's akin to free jazz with a dash of psychedelia thrown in for good measure.

I’d never heard it before, so it’s an interesting curiosity. But I'm in no great hurry to listen to it again.