How it was on at least one night of a tour that keeps getting extended. If it comes near you, see it if you possibly can.
1) The band comes on. Then McGuinn and Hillman walk in from the wings and launch into the opening chords of “My Back Pages,” which turn out to be as recognizable as “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Turn, Turn, Turn.” I’m not sure why this surprises me.
2) McGuinn turns out to be the (even) better story teller. First story of the night involves the first time he heard the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face.”
“Sounded like bluegrass to me….”
3) Turns out he also does a killer Bob Dylan imitation. Anyone who hears him do it just before he demonstrates how he changed the dynamics of “Mr. Tambourine Man” completely (and made it a groundbreaking hit–and one of the most important records of the twentieth century–in the process) will no longer need to labor under the illusion that, in forging the Dylan/Beatles combination that came to be called folk rock (and which everyone thought was as natural as breathing the minute after it happened), the Byrds were somehow lesser.
4) Chris Hillman: “It is true that Gram Parsons and I met in a bank….” I don’t remember if that was before or after he explained how he wrote his first song when he came home from a jazz session with Hugh Masekela’s band. He does not explain why it came out a country song (“Time Between”) except to say that he does not know. This leads to other stories about actually going to Nashville with Gram in tow. The best involves McGuinn demonstrating a riff on the three-finger banjo to one of Nashville’s top session men.
You better let me do that, the fellow said.
5) Marty Stuart’s band is in support and Marty steps out in front a few times. His first memorable moment is just after the intermission when he comes out to warm up the crowd for the second half and plays something from his new album that incorporates the basic riffs from “Eight Miles High” and “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”
Which turn out to be as instantly recognizable as “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” And “My Back Pages.”
6) Then it’s on to Sweetheart material proper and McGuinn’s complete intro to “I Like the Christian Life.”
“When we recorded this song, I didn’t know what it meant. I do now.”
7) And, of course, the umpteenth retelling of being given the cold shoulder by Ralph Emery. Still funny. Still painful. Still suggestive of lost possibilities for American music for generations to come. (He who shall remain nameless McGuinn says. Ralph! the crowd shouts.) Followed by a version of “Drug Store Truck Driving Man” that should be no more than a goof and instead, stings like a rattler. The record sounded like a petulant whine. The version I heard Sunday a week ago was tougher, meaner and funnier. By a factor of ten.
8) The musical highlight of the evening…out of nowhere: “You Don’t Miss Your Water” with McGuinn, Hillman and Stuart in three-part harmony. I’ve only been to the one show so I don’t know if they capture this every time out, but for one night in Atlanta, at least, it was beyond even the Everly Brothers. If Brian Wilson had been there he wouldn’t have needed LSD to see God again.
I wasn’t alone in thinking so. The crowd consisted largely of aging hippies. I think it’s safe to say they had, on average, a minimum of three beers apiece in them by then. And if anyone had dropped a pin between first note and last, it would have sounded like an atom bomb. (Avoid the versions available on YouTube which have spotty sound and barely hint at the quality of what I heard.)
9) For an encore: Proof that, on the right stage with the right sound system, “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” rocks as hard as anything that has ever hit the air. Then the inevitable Now people tell us we sure do a great version of that Tom Petty song…which segues nicely into a tribute to Petty, the highlight of which is Stuart and his band doing a bluegrass version of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” that builds and builds and lays to rest any question of whether Tom Petty was a genius.
10) A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late….
Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman have lost none of their formidable musical skills and they both sing far better than they did in any clips from the sixties I’ve come across.
These days they’re master showmen as well, but, better than that, they’re Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, the surviving core of the greatest band assembled on American shores after Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens. Just to be in a hall with them was a life-defining experience for me. That there would be so much real magic was almost too much to hope for.
Brother, I’d do it again.
And I confess I didn’t realize this was as close as they would get to either Waycross (Gram Parsons’ principal childhood home) or South Carolina (of the many tall pines)….but, looking back, there might have been a ghost or two wandering about.
I don’t have the deep knowledge to do justice to either man so I’ll keep my part brief.
Gary S. Paxton
Gary S. Paxton kept himself on the vital margins of Rock and Roll America throughout its founding and impetuous youth. He started out normal enough, as half of Skip & Flip (“It Was I,” “Cherry Pie”…Skip was Skip Battin, who went on the play with a late edition of the Byrds).
Then he took a left turn: lead voice on the Hollywood Argyles “Alley Oop,” which he also produced, along with Bobby Pickett’s “The Monster Mash”–in other words about as hard a left turn as the times allowed.
Then he just kept turning. First to a role as all around L.A. record man–producer, writer, engineer, label owner, whatever–with his fingerprints here, there and everywhere behind the scenes. Then, in the mid-sixties, to the town’s burgeoning country-rock scene, where he had the commitment and contacts to play in Gram Parsons’ league. Not bad for a guy who was producing Tommy Roe and the Association. But, despite starting Bakersfield International and giving the Gosdin Brothers a start, he never managed to make his particular genius achieve lift-off in the new context.
Not to fear. His commitment was real enough, more than a phase. From there he went on to Nashville, where he wrote this late signature tune for the great Don Gibson which is a particular favorite of mine:
Around the same time, God came calling, and Gary had consumed enough who-hit-John to be in a mood to listen. Despite keeping a toe in the country world, he spent the rest of his life devoted primarily to gospel, where he made heads spin from left (“Will There Be Hippies in Heaven”) to right (“The Big A = The Big M”…approach with caution) and, in a sense went back to working the road he had started down with a string of teenage bands when rock and roll was still a gleam in Chuck Berry’s eye.
Along the way there were Grammy’s, three bullets from a hit man (the early eighties, when survival was the name of the game), time in Branson and, earlier this month, the meeting with his maker. He wore a thousand faces when he was here. What they all had in common was a smile.
He did for the second half of the American Century what Norman Rockwell did for the first half–defined some elemental image of us as we wanted to see ourselves. Until I started hunting around for images on the news of his death, I had no idea how much he had shaped the visual imagination of fifty million childhoods. I’ll let a smattering of what I found tell the story.
Yup. That’s my autobiography. Yours, too, probably.
Jack’s probably on the River Styx tonight. But, wherever he is, I bet somebody’s offering him a commission.
(L–R: Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie: Fleetwood Mac, circa nineteen seventy-something…What could possibly go wrong? Clearly these folks love each other!)
In the late seventies Fleetwood Mac’s music was so ubiquitous I never bothered to buy any of it. If I wanted to hear them they were never more than a radio click and half an hour away. (“Dreams” alone filled the air so insidiously that I knew the words without ever once having paid the slightest attention or even begun to wonder what they might mean.)
Anyway, I was on a budget and I kind of figured they were going to be around.
I liked them, then, when they were everywhere…but they weren’t exactly the soundtrack of my inner life.
They’ve come pretty close to being that in the last five years or so.
Sure, I’d gotten around to buying their records long before that. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk… Some comps, one or two things from their earlier period with Bob Welch and their even earlier period with the great Peter Green (eventually even the fantastic box set with all the Green-era music).
I’d even gotten around to listening to them. Quite a lot.
Good things abounded. Great things weren’t uncommon.
I think I resisted Rumours a bit more than the rest, though, kept it squarely in the like-don’t-love category for far too long, for the usual lunk-headed reason. You know, how could anything that popular (27 million sold to date “officially”…which, given the standard accounting practices of the forever-going-broke music business, means the 40 million often mentioned as the “real” number is likely still low-balling) be that good?
I mean, I’ve never thought The Dark Side of the Moon, or Thriller, or the Saturday NIght Fever soundtrack, or Born In the U.S.A. or Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band–to mention some albums with similarly stratospheric sales numbers that I actually like–were that good or that special.
Not change-my-life special. Not forever-deep-in-the-marrow special.
So it came as quite a surprise to me when Rumours somehow joined the list of those select few that are forever-deep-in-the-marrow-life-changing. Even more of a surprise because, even now, I’d be hard pressed to say why and how this occurred.
Normally, I’m spilling over with ideas on a subject like that.
But, with Rumours I come up dry.
Of course, bonding with rich So-Cal rock stars (who had previously been, for the most part, either semi-rich British blues-rock stars or No-Cal rich kids) is not my usual thing.
And, as far as the album’s major theme goes, I’ve never had any heartbreak romances to start with, let alone gone-to-pot-cry-in-your-cocaine aftermaths.
But that doesn’t explain much. I never particularly needed any kind of personal identification badge to bond with the musicians I loved. Just as a for instance, the soundtrack of that inner life I mentioned in the late-seventies when I was living in the deep South and politely ignoring Fleetwood Mac (and most of the rest of the decade), was the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons.
I’d never touched a surfboard or been anywhere near a knee-cracking Jersey goom-bah either. Didn’t matter.
Then again, Brian Wilson didn’t actually surf and Frankie Valli was running hard to get away from the Tony Sopranos of the world. So I learned not to be too surprised by the barriers rock and rollers could break through, including those set up by their marketing departments.
Besides, when Fleetwood Mac’s then-latest incarnation reached us down South they didn’t need a marketing department.
One day, nobody ever heard of them. Next day they were scratch-their-name-on-your-school-desk cool. With everybody. Well, probably not with punks, but if there were any punks running around my part of Jackson County, Florida in 1977, they were keeping quiet about it (which I guess would mean they weren’t really punks anyway). For everybody else, “Over My Head” was the fanfare, and Rumours, arriving the following year, was the coronation. I mean, I knew at least one person who condescended to (“You like them?”) and/or despised (“Oh God, I can’t stand them!”) every single band that mattered. The two bands everybody agreed on were the Beatles (who everybody loved…except for the few people who merely liked them) and “the Mac” (who everybody liked…except for the few people who actually loved them).
I wonder what we, and the rest of the world, would have thought if we’d heard the version of Rumors that now exists, strewn across bonus discs for the 2-CD version released in 2004 and the 3-CD set released in 2013? (NOTE; There’s also a 4-CD version, which apparently has both bonus discs, a DVD, vinyl version, etc….but that’s for when I’m really rich.)
I’ve heard both bonus discs before this week…had these particular releases around for a while and was actually quite struck by the 2004 release the one time I sat and paid attention all the way through.
What I heard this week, though, when I finally sat down to listen close, was something different, something that probably has to do with just how much I’ve absorbed the original Rumours LP over the years (especially since acquiring that 2004 version, which has “Silver Springs” restored to the original release and nesting smack dab in the middle, where it was originally slated until it was nixed at the last minute, supposedly because its length would compromise the fidelity of the album back in the pre-digital age, more likely because Lindsey Buckingham, from some combination of fear, anger and spite, wanted Stevie Nicks to have as little room to fight back as possible).
So while I still have no real idea how the original Rumours (meaning the album that the public originally heard, which, in this case maybe even more than usual, was not the album originally created) came to occupy such a place of consummate familiarity, I have all kinds of ideas why the other album nested inside it is likely to grab hold just as deeply, now that I’ve finally managed to hear it.
The first reason is that, miraculously, that underlying/undermining album isn’t merely half-formed, the usual series of interesting false starts, confined to mere allegations of the greatness that’s only waiting for a last coat of studio polish to bring it kicking to life, but a thing that’s every bit as great as the final product while also being a markedly different entity altogether.
Mind you, the perfect alternate Rumours doesn’t exist in a neat package. The cuts on the 2004 release and the 2013 release are completely different with the former being mostly outtakes (that is something close to finished tracks) and the latter mostly demos (meaning very rough early takes, often with the sparest possible accompaniment and different lyrics). Each has a few songs or fragments (other than “Silver Springs”) which didn’t make the final cut.
What’s remarkable is that just about everything deepens and enhances an album known to millions, rather than distracting from it or “replacing” anything.
There are some stunning numbers on the 2013 “demo” disc. I’d point especially to a version of “The Chain” (the one song from the finished LP not included on the 2004 extra disc) that reveals it as the Stevie Nicks’ song it was always meant to be (Buckingham and Christine McVie shared mighty leads on the finished cut); a slightly slowed down, passionate take on Buckinghham’s “Go Your Own Way” with a key line altered; a stunning track from McVie called “Keep Me There” which is as fine as anything she ever did (and which was eventually combined with Nicks’ song to make the final version of “The Chain); and a heart-stopping Nicks’ vocal on a fragment of the never-finished “Doesn’t Anything Last” that answers Buckingham’s tormented fragment of the same song on the earlier disc, the brevity of which amounts to a tragedy.
One could dive deep in other words and I would certainly need these tracks at the very least to program the dream double-LP the thirty-four “extra” tracks spread across the two discs could easily comprise, even pared to essentials.
But, for the sake of clarity, I’ll stick to the 2004 disc as its own mystery.
Or maybe I should say its own clarification: the ghost that haunts the great heart of an LP that defined its troubled era as thoroughly as any album has defined any era before or since so thoroughly that it finally lights up the dark places and throws shadows on all the easy assumptions 40 million and counting are bound to have engendered.
The first eleven tracks of what I’ll now call the Ghost Disc, track Rumours closely. Ten of the twelve songs (including “Silver Springs”) are placed in their familiar running order, with “The Chain” and “I Don’t Want to Know” (the song that, according to Nicks, replaced “Silver Springs” on the finished LP) omitted and a track called “Think About It” added.
Deprived of that “polish” I mentioned, the Ghost Disc becomes a lot of new things: an unlikely marriage of Gram Parsons and Fairport Convention; a hard link between the “country-rock” of seventies L.A. and the “alt-country” movement that would emerge a few years later in bands like Lone Justice and Jason and the Scorchers; a sharp reminder that Rumours itself was born largely of the intersection between pain felt and pain masked.
And, most of all, a singer’s album, by which I mean an album where writing and producing and playing become truly secondary and the voices of the three greatest singers to ever join in one band (and with the possible exception of the early Temptations, the three greatest to ever be in one vocal group) to tell parts of the tale with a clarity that was bound to be blunted or buried when fame had to be validated and front office suits had to be mollified.
I don’t mean that the versions of “Second Hand News,” “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop,” et al, which exist here are “better” than the famous versions. That would be silly. Rumours, after all did validate their fame and pretty much every claim ever made for it or them.
For instance, I certainly wouldn’t want the world to be without the irresistible, anthemic flourish that opens the finished version of “Don’t Stop,” which here is reduced to a soft piano roll with a hint of Randy Newman in it before it gives way to the Fats Domino stomp it always was (and maybe thereby proves just how much both Randy Newman and Christine McVie owed to Fats).
But, now that I know it exists, I wouldn’t want to be without the subtle shift found in the song’s tone here either.
In it’s never-wear-out hit form it was the most optimistic song imaginable (and a breath of fresh air on Rumours itself, a welcome respite breaking up the vicious, epic cutting contest the just-broken-up Lindsey and Stevie were carrying on), a straightforward assurance that tomorrow will be better.
Here, with the production muted, the emphasis in the harmonies ever-so-slightly altered, the song becomes double-edged, precisely poised. The difference between joy and melancholy, reassurance and doubt, is left hanging on the knife edge until the “O-o-o-o-o-h” that lifts the hit version into the world’s best smile, shifts the tone entirely in the direction the hit refused to go.
Suddenly “don’t you look back” carries an unmistakable hint of its famous corollary….
You know…”Because something might be gaining on you.”
Then the band break up into giggles and it sounds like they’re trying to fend off a haint that just walked through the door.
No longer suitable for a presidential campaign’s theme music in other words.
Those kinds of twists and turns exist throughout the Ghost Disc.
The voices, brought forward in the mix, singly or in harmony, carry new dimensions on every single track (“Never Going Back Again,” the one track that’s now an instrumental, sounds like a delicate piece of chamber music crossed with somebody’s bluegrass record collection…in other words, it suits the mood just fine).
“Dreams” is more forceful, less wistful. “Second Hand News,” stripped of Mick Fleetwood’s thrilling, just-right, drum flourishes (here he sounds like he’s driving nails or maybe like he just learned to keep time on the kit and can’t get over the rush) becomes naked, vulnerable, as if the man singing is actually hurting rather than remembering hurt. “Songbird,” always quiet, becomes utterly still. “Silver Springs” too, becomes quieter, less epic, more personal. Ditto “Gold Dust Woman,” (which starts here with somebody screaming in the other room, rides the country guitar licks that got buried in the final mix, and then gets repeated, quieter still, more vital still, in the “demos” section of the disc). “You Make Loving Fun,” always a bit of an (admittedly deathless) sing-a-long before, here levitates between unstoppable passion and nagging doubt and moves to the very top of McVie’s vocal chart.
After that, you get a killer version of “Oh Daddy” that amounts to a duet between McVie and her ex-husband’s bass, punctuated by McVie/Nicks harmonies that would raise the hair on a corpse.
And all of that is followed by what might be the album’s piece-de-resistance, a Nicks’ number called “Think About It.”
As deservedly famous as “Silver Springs” became over the years for being what somebody called “the greatest song ever left off an album,” “Think About It” (a version of which ended up on Nicks’ first solo album, where it was about a tenth as good) might deserve the title even more. Since it didn’t appear on the original album, and apparently wasn’t even considered, there’s nothing to compare it to.
There or elsewhere.
The closest I can come is to say it’s probably what a band like Little Feat was always aiming for and, if they never quite got all the way there, it’s probably because they didn’t have Stevie Nicks.
There are five additional demos and two “jams” and they’re hardly incidental. They include the aforementioned extra take of “Gold Dust Woman,” Buckingham’s version of “Doesn’t Anything Last,” and his killer guitar work on “For Duster (The Blues).” Every cut is worthy of interest. Every cut adds something to both the legacy and the mystery. Taken together they demonstrate, all by themselves, just how off-the-charts the raw talent in this band actually was when it was producing the album that defined them.
But I’ll leave it there. It will probably be years before I fully absorb the implications of all this. I haven’t encountered anything like it before–a truly “alternate” version of a truly great album that has just as much to offer–and I’ll be surprised if I ever encounter the like again.
But I listen to this and think about what might have been and God how I wish that picture at the top was a lie…that something other than paychecks and professionalism could have somehow held them together all these decades.
[NOTE: I have an attachment to album covers in part because, for me, they were a big way into the music. Since I had often not actually heard most (or sometimes any) of the music inside, when I started chasing the music of the fifties and sixties in the seventies and eighties, I studied LP covers for clues.
But, more importantly, I also “felt” them. I formed ideas about what I was going to hear and there were times when it actually took me years to really hear the music if the LP cover hadn’t done a good enough job of prepping me for the experience.
I suspect there are some fine albums I haven’t managed to appreciate yet for this very reason–though, of course I can’t say which ones. Yet.
Later, much later, I took to framing them and hanging them around my house, collecting books dedicated to them and so forth, but even these things only go so far. In the heart of the rock and roll era, LP covers were a world unto themselves. So I’m gonna start sharing some of my favorites, some with extensive commentary, some with just a caption–whatever strikes me as appropriate.]
To really appreciate this one, you have to keep in mind what surrounded it on the racks at the time of its release in January of 1968. Not that I was cognizant at the time–I was told to cross to the other side of the mall when I passed the record store because, invariably, even in the mall, people who were clearly dope-smoking hippies hung about the place. But I’m familiar enough, in retrospect, to imagine the impact.
Granted, the impact was mostly on the future. Notorious did not sell particularly well and was the first Byrds’ LP to fail to produce a Top 40 single.
This is from the age of Sgt. Pepper and Their Satanic Majesties’ Request and Forever Changes, though, and it’s a telling peek at what was just around the corner. Yes, there were plain-song equivalents around, too, in the aftermath of the Summer of Love, but few were so prescient. You can look at this now and feel (not “hear” because once you got to the vinyl, The Notorious Byrd Brothers was its own thing and not much like anything else that had ever happened or ever would, out there even by the Byrds’ other-worldly standards) the coming of CCR, Southern Rock, California Rock, Country Rock, Outlaw Country, Alt-Country and even some elements of Grunge.
Some version of Cowboy Hippie, then, or at very least Cowboy Long-Hair.
And when Peter Fonda said he modeled his character in Easy Rider after Roger McGuinn (pictured in the middle here–Dennis Hopper was channeling David Crosby, who left the band part-way through the recording of Notorious and, thus, wasn’t included in the LP cover shoot), I always felt like it was this Roger McGuinn he specifically meant.
This was the last Byrds’ album released by the original band. Michael Clarke (pictured at the right) would depart before their next LP, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (which had a more immediately visceral cover and, with Gram Parsons on board, actually did sound at least sort of like “the future.” though it still sounded like a lot of other things, too). Chris Hillman (left), split not long after that.
But while they lasted–and however many copies of any given record they sold–you could always tell what was coming down the pike by what the Byrds got up to.
Even if it was just messing around in a horse barn with camera shutters clicking.
“It was while overseas that Elvis also met a nymphet named Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he would make the mistake of marrying in 1967 (a mistake because Elvis never wanted to behave as anything but a bachelor).”
James Wolcott (Source: “King of Kings” Vanity Fair, November, 2001)
Then, for comparison’s sake:
“No one had more freedom than Mackenzie Phillips, now 42, sober and acting again. At 13, after running away from her mother’s house, she showed up at her father’s Bel Air mansion, where he was living with his third wife, Genevieve. In step with the latest trends, John Phillips answered the door wearing a floor-length, tie-dyed Indian caftan and a Jesus beard and smoking a joint.
“‘Dad, I’m moving in–could you pay for the taxi?’ Mackenzie remembers saying
“‘Sure kid, come on in.’
“‘What are the rules?’ Mackenzie asked.
“‘Well, let me see,’ he said. After a moment of heavy contemplation, John replied, ‘You have to come home at least once a week. And if you come home from going out the night before and it’s light out, always bring a change of clothing, because a lady is never seen during daylight hours wearing evening clothing.’
“She walked in to say hi to Dad’s friends–Gram Parsons, Keith Richards, Donovan, and Mick Jagger, most of whom she wanted to have sex with. Her little girl’s dream came true, when, at the age of 18, she found herself over at Mick’s place making tuna sandwiches with her father. John left to go get mayonaisse, and ‘Mick turned around and locked the door, and looked at me, and said, “I’ve been waiting to do this since you were ten years old,”’ Mackenzie recalls. ‘My dad is banging on the door, “Mick, be nice to her! Don’t hurt her.” And I’m going, “Dad, leave us alone. It’s fine.” And we slept together.’ The next morning Jagger gave her a beautiful robe and fed her tea, toast and fresh strawberries.”
Evegenia Peretz (Source: “Born to be Wild” Vanity Fair, November, 2001)
Laying aside whether James Wolcott (or anyone) could know how Elvis Presley (or anyone) “never wanted” to behave, I do think it’s kinda’ creepy to say anybody else’s marriage is a “mistake” unless they themselves say it first (which I don’t believe either Elvis or his “nymphet” ever did).
I mean, I wouldn’t even say that about the multiple marriages of John Phillips or Mick Jagger, neither of whom–in keeping with a rather normal, albeit distasteful, standard for celebrity males which Elvis hardly challenged, let alone exceeded–ever gave any convincing impression of wanting to go about “behaving as anything but a bachelor” (at least not until age or infirmity slowed them down).
But then again, I doubt James Wolcott would say such things about Phillips or Jagger either. There’s no way to prove that, of course, but I’ve certainly never seen the slightest bit of evidence that he finds them to be what he clearly considered the un-marriage-worthy Elvis–namely, the wrong sort of people–or that he could continue being published in any periodical as swank as Vanity Fair if he did.
No need to speculate either, about what Elvis himself might have done if he had lived a bit longer and somehow found himself in a situation where Mick Jagger (or anyone) was jumping Lisa Marie’s eighteen-year-old bones on the other side of a locked door, though I’m guessing he wouldn’t have plaintively begged Mick not to hurt her and then doped and raped her and forced a ten-year incestuous affair on her, as Mackenzie would later reveal (or, if you prefer, claim) her own father had done, beginning a year or so after the charming incident related above.
For that you need the right kind of people.
On that cheery note, I’ll leave you with the old Japanese proverb, which is one thing that applies equally to even the crit-illuminati‘s definition of wrong and right sorts of people
“In the beginning the man takes the drugs. In the end, the drugs take the man.”
And proof of how far the fall can be, even for the right sort: