The Sound and the Fury

September 3, 2020

Attacking the Music Backlog


The record releases keep piling up during the lockdown

By Gillian G. Gaar

Since publication of RCN was suspended for a time, releases have really piled up at home. So this column will be devoted to attacking the backlog.

Return of the Undead: I was pleased as punch to get the new Zombies reissues in lovely new vinyl editions from Craft Recordings. The Zombies was the first U.S. album by the group, featuring tracks from their first UK album (Begin Here), a self-titled EP, and their two best-known numbers in the states at the time, “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.” But the group’s repertoire extended to more than well-crafted British Invasion pop, as seen in their covers of “Got My Mojo Working,” and a medley of “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me”/“Bring It On Home to Me.” Not to mention their dreamy take on “Summertime,” released three years before Janis Joplin recorded it for Cheap Thrills.

I Love You was a compilation originally released in the Europe and Asia. For being a seemingly random collection of tracks, there’s nonetheless a cohesiveness to the album, which has the pre-psychedelic/post-teenage angst of a Pet Sounds — and doesn’t a title like “Gotta Get a Hold of Myself” sound like it could’ve been on a Beach Boys’ album? The blues covers are left by the wayside on this outing; I Love You is trippy — if melancholy — pop. Even the title song, isn’t a smooth moon-and-June crooner, but a lament about how awkward it is to say those three little words. Both The Zombies and I Love You are in mono, by the way.

And then there’s R.I.P. The Zombies split up at the end of 1967, only to have a single from their final album, 1968’s Odessey and Oracle, become a posthumous hit, with “Time of the Season” peaking at No. 3 in the US in 1969. As a follow up, original Zombies Rod Argent (keyboard) and Chris White (bass) were tapped to write songs for a new album, R.I.P., which would be filled out with previously unreleased Zombies tracks. But R.I.P. was cancelled, and though a few tracks were released over the years, it wasn’t until 2000 that a full album of the material was first released.

Now it’s returned on vinyl (CD editions do have bonus tracks). There’s something of a schizophrenic feeling to the album. The vintage Zombies stuff is on side two, recorded in 1964 and 1965, and featuring original vocalist Colin Blunstone. The songs are a good deal poppier than the Argent/White tracks on side one, which are more akin to the ethereal Odessey and Oracle album. It’s was still a good wrap up of assorted Zombies material, if you didn’t want to spring for the comprehensive Zombie Heaven box set. All three albums reveal there’s a lot more to this underrated group than their classic
pop hits.

Hey, Good Lookin’: Hank Williams: Pictures From Life’s Other Side (BMG) is a set that compiles all of Williams’ radio shows for WSM, sponsored by the Mother’s Best Flour Company, packaged inside a 272-page book.

Due to Williams’ hectic touring schedule, his radio shows were often recorded on transcription discs, which were used when he couldn’t appear live. These priceless recordings came close to being lost, when they were being carted off to a dumpster one day, but happily Grand Ole Opry photographer Les Leverett happened to be on hand, recognized their importance, and rescued them. Williams fans have been grateful ever since.

This isn’t the first time this material has been released. If you’re a completist, maybe you already have Time-Life’s 15-CD set The Complete Mother’s Best Shows (2016) that has each show in its entirety. Pictures From Life’s Other Side is more of a “highlights” release, focusing solely on the songs that Williams himself sang on his shows; not the instrumentals, Audrey Williams’ solo numbers, the between-songs banter, or the commercials. It’s more like The Beatles’ Live at the BBC, which similarly focused on the Beatles’ performances on the programs, as opposed to the myriad unofficial releases that have the complete Beatles BBC appearances.

To some, that makes Pictures a more enjoyable listening experience. Among the 144 tracks are numerous renditions of his best-known work (“Cold Cold Heart,” “Move It On Over”), and also lesser known tracks, including some songs that Williams never recorded. And those who own the complete shows set might still want to pick this one up anyway, not only for the superior sound quality of the recordings, but for the accompanying book. The compilers dug deep into many archives, coming up with a wealth of rare and previously unseen photos. I would’ve liked a longer essay from Colin Escott. But overall, this is a great set that offers a comprehensive look at Williams’ Mother’s Best shows, with some excellent visual accompaniment.


Post Punk Glory Days: After Cherry Red issued 1977: The Year Punk Broke, what else was there to do but follow up with 1978: The Year The UK Turned Day-Glo. Each of the three CDs gets off to a riveting start, with the barreling “Borstal Breakout” (Sham 69), the earth-shattering declamations of Poly Styrene in “The Day The World Turned Day-Glo” (X-Ray Spex), and John Lydon laying on it the line in “Public Image” (Public Image Ltd.). Punk opened the door and inspired countless others to make their own kind of music, and Day-Glo is a bountiful cornucopia of vibrant sounds, from the rantings of poet John Cooper Clarke (“Kung Fu International”) to the pithy rawness of the Electric Chairs (“Bad in Bed”) to the right-over-the-top romantic whining of Jilted John (aka Graham Fellows) in the song of the same name, with John bemoaning his loveless state, the result of that infernal Gordon-the-Moron pinching his bird.

Yes, there are plenty of familiar names, Ultravox, the Jam, Johnny Thunders, the Stranglers, and the Boomtown Rats among them. But what’s always fun about compilations from this label is discovering the lesser known acts; the Doll, with their frantic “Don’t Tango On My Heart,” the power pop of the Vibrators’ “Automatic Lover,” or the ’60s-era sweetness of “Weekend Girl” by the Bozos. Dig in.

Blues in the Night: The Midnight Special: Live in Nottingham 1957 (Org Music) is a welcome addition to the catalogue of live recordings by stellar bluesman Big Bill Broonzy. This 14-song release mixes blues, folk, and spirituals with a touch of social commentary; “There’s no Jim Crow and no discrimination on this train,” Broonzy sings in his revamping of “This Train.” The prisoner’s lament, “Midnight Special,” also has lyrics that resonate today: “If you ever go to Memphis/Boy, you better walk right/’Cause the police will arrest you/He will carry you down.” Other highlights include a terrific “Trouble in Mind” that highlights the strength of his vocals, and a heartfelt acapella version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” The sound quality of this vintage recording is also excellent. Available on black vinyl from Org Music; a limited edition on colored vinyl was available from, but is now out of print.


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