It’s that time of year where swanky box sets and thick-ass coffee table books make even the most tactile-averse stop in their tracks and check out the details. And usually, given the physical and historical heft of these showcase items, they’re usually of the vintage “legacy” variety. (So Oneohtrix Point Never fans, you’ll have to wait a little while for that remastered box set.) Due to post(ish)-recession sobriety, we ditched the idea of a gift guide this year. But this stuff just screams for attention because it’s simply that drool-inducing.
Replacements – Waxed Up Hair & Painted Shoes: The Photographic History (Voyageur Press)
As some of you may be lamenting that yet another year has gone by without the Replacements getting into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (it’s time to let that annual bitch fest jump the shark), salve your soul with this amazing coffee table book of old pictures (from fans and pros), fliers, posters, press clippings, fanzine flailings, etc. from the entire 10-year life of the band. It is a true, well-deserved treasure trove, suffused with some insightful quotes, blurbs, and a new introduction from Jim Walsh, author of the 2009 Replacements bio, The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History. Over the years, as Replacements’ leader Paul Westerberg became a hermitic Brian Wilson for Generation X, the reunion shows this year were a wee bit anti-climactic (at least for those who saw the band way back), and the band keeps just missing the off-ramp to mainstream icon status, Mats fanatics can get annoyingly, sometimes even morosely reverent—a situation which often reared its head in the bio and the ¾-baked 2011 documentary, Color Me Obsessed. So this book, thankfully, is a good, explosive, frantic, eye-popping reminder that the band was above all else a hell of a lot of fun, and one of the most captivating rock’n’roll bands of all time.
Nirvana: The Complete Illustrated History (Voyageur Press)
Kind of odd it took this long for a big cool Replacements visual compendium to come out, considering their influence on much of rock music since. Cue the similar “thump” when this new Nirvana visual history hits the table. Lord knows there are more than enough Nirvana books, but this one works visually to remind that Nirvana—despite Cobain’s increasingly morbid Jesus-like status amongst fans—were always a fuck-up-able bunch who engendered much of their relatablility from their everyman shlubbiness. There are numerous recollections from rock writers like Jim DeRogatis, Mark Yarm, Andrew Earles and others. And the sheer mass of pictures, posters, fliers, records, ticket stubs, etc. show how much real tour work Nirvana put in during their relatively brief six-year run to becoming unwitting demigods. Not exactly the first Nirvana picture book, since the fame they gained led to numerous unauthorized pictorial cheapies over the years. But this would seem to be the most complete and well-done ephemera collection yet.
If You Like The Ramones… – Peter Aaron (Backbeat Books)
Backbeat Books has been doing a fun series of books under the “If You Like” theme, and this is the best one yet (okay, the one whose related band I like the best). The idea is, they pick a mega-popular band who have especially rabid fans, and try to hip said fans to similarly cool stuff in the same spiritual ballpark. And not just music, but films, TV shows, food, earlier influential bands, later imitators and so on. It is bathroom reading of the highest order. And when it comes to a band like the Ramones, whose bathroom humor mixed with a long, thick knowledge of all things crazy fun pop culture, this book is a gutter-fabulous bible. Author Peter Aaron is the longtime leader of the great NYC stomping blues-punk howlers, Chrome Cranks. So a guy like him has no doubt been gobbling up off-the-radar oddities since his pre-teen days, and lived most of his adult years in NYC meeting and befriending loads of Ramonesly folks. Hence he knows from what he gabba gabba heys, and lays it out with a stripped-down writing style that fits fine. Don’t be a pinhead, get this!
Ugly Things #36
And should you want to peer back even further to the lost glue-sniffed past of garage rock, a new Ugly Things magazine is here. That’s like Christmas morning to those who can’t get enough arcane details about obscure weirdo garage-rock noise of the fuzziest ilk. This latest issue is in fact out just in time for Santa to sling at you. Begun in 1983 by Mike Stax, Ugly Things can’t be counted on to come out in any sort of timely fashion – we’re lucky if there’s one a year, though their website has been been updating a little more these days – but once it does, prepare to don your paisley shirt, pull out your bean bag, turn on the lava lamp, crack open a beer and settle in for a few weeks as there is no hard-copy magazine left that finds THE most pathologically informed garage rock-roots writers and lets them go off the nerd cliff for too many pages than Ugly Things. And these mags are also always packed with loads of uber-rare pix and ads from micro-labels that’ll get you caught up on Japanese surf bands, Texas rockabilly comps, Spanish psychedelic history books, more and more Pretty Things history, etc. ad infintum.
Oil City Confidential (MVD)
Someone tells you to watch a documentary about some nuclear accident in 1974 or what nasty crap goes into our food, and you might jump right in, ready to learn something new. When it comes to music docs though, many often gravitate towards watching a doc about a band they probably already knew about, and the music at least will make it go down easy in case it’s another lame documentary, of which there are an ocean’s worth since the advent of good small digital cameras. Well anyway, don’t flake on Oil City Confidential, even if you never heard of its subject, Dr. Feelgood. I say that only because one, it is a monstrously good documentary, directed by the great Julian Temple. Even given his modern rock doc classics like The Filth & the Fury and The Future is Unwritten, this might be his best. But while watching the rare live clips here of Dr. Feelgood, you get the feeling your cat could’ve cobbled together a watchable doc about this intense band. These British pub rock masters never made much of a peep on the U.S. charts. But they were huge in the UK, musically and chartwise. Their mid-70s heyday was filled with packed clubs of sweaty, extremely drunken fans clamoring for something other than lobotomized, early-70s fringe-folk and flute-flounting stadium rock tedium. They got it in spades once the Damned, Sex Pistols, the Clash, et al came kicking around the island a couple years later, deeply indebted to Dr. Feelgood’s manic energy and dug up/spat out roots rock racket.
The film centers around mind-blowing guitarist, Wilko Johnson, who herk-jerked around the stage like if DEVO were speedfreak soccer fans instead of dystopian sci-fi punsters (intriguingly, both those bands were developing concurrently, in similarly super-depressed dying industrial towns). During the making of the movie (and still), Johnson was battling cancer, but if the sickness was affecting him, it did absolutely nothing to his jocular spirit or storytelling abilities. You’ll wonder where this rock’n'roll icon has been all your life.
Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Box Set (Universal)
Lou Reed (R.I.P.) and fellow original Velvet Underground founder, John Cale, both worked on this incredible 3-CD set, uncovering lost studio and live tracks, and helping with some remixing and remastering. And it is a beast, with the stereo and mono mixes of the 1968 album; mono mixes from singles; and the centerpiece: a live set from the Gymnasium in NYC, April 30, 1967, that’s been bootlegged a bunch but here has the best sound quality yet; plus five of the tunes were taken from Cale’s own personal vaults. There’s a version of “Beginning to See the Light,” recorded during Cale’s last aborted studio session with the band. Plus a fine 56-page booklet with rare pictures and liner notes from the ubiquitous but always enthralled David Fricke. Oh, and it’s available in a 2-LP version. Yes! You’d be surprised at how many reissues don’t get a vinyl release, when it’s obvious at this point that the obsessives who buy reissues love their vinyl, and would certainly pay more for it than CDs. But I digress…. Considering that any possible extras may have been exhausted for yet another reissue of the first Velvet Underground album (although I hope not!), for true VU fans, it was time for this bottomless proto-punk masterpiece to get the shmancy treatment. Essential.
Here’s Edie – The Edie Adams Television Collection DVD (MVD)
Even those of us who fancy ourselves vintage culture vultures sometimes swoop into something seemingly ripe for scavenging that they’d never heard of before. Edie Adams went down in subversive pop culture history for the series of sexy Muriel Cigar TV commercials from the early-60s. Her purring invitation, “Why don’t you pick one up and smoke it sometime?” was a naughty bit of flirtation during the family TV hours of that era. Okay, that I knew about. What I didn’t know was that because of the success of that ad campaign, Adams landed a weekly variety show for two seasons, from 1962-64. Well, we also learn from this lovingly compiled collection (beautifully digitally transferred from original 2-inch videotape), that Adams actually had quite the Broadway/theater/cabaret resume behind her before she hosted this show. From the gorgeous graphics of the opening credits, to the scant intrusive audience clap/laugh tracks, to the even mix of seasoned stars (Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr., Soupy Sales) and then fresh envelope-pushers (Peter Faulk, Buddy Hackett), Adams’ broadcast was as classy as this genre came. The show mainly rests on Adams’ gorgeous, nearly surreal torch song renditions. What was once simple segments of, frankly, fairly square white-bread crooning, many of the bits here can come across today—with their infrequent edits, modernist set design, and Adams’ range-impressing vocal histrionics—like languid, dreamlike oddities to our over-populated minds today. And even in the show’s silliest comedy bits and corniest moments (though even “corny” has an intriguing weirdness by now)—like the amazing “these kids and their crazy beat music today” duet with Dick Shawn—Adams never loses her smooth, sexy air for a second. You can see where impressionable fans like Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Ruebens and Sandra Bernhard (both adding some booklet blurbs here) were inspired by Adams’ particular charms. More proof of her considerable talents come in clips from some late-50s variety shows that she guested on, also added in on the third disc. And finally there’s that gorgeous booklet, packed with reminisces and rare photos.
The dusty notion that the 1950s to early-60s was all just some squaresville desert to forget about once the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan always deserves a face-slap every once in awhile. But besides the surreal kicks you might find hidden in this gem of a set, it’s also beaming with good ol’ shiny dress, horns-heaving, show-stopping entertainment. The first time these performances have been available in any formet, your cold, snowy, Sunday night in is begging for this collection.
Oh, and damn, there were amazing Jobriath and Big Star documentaries out this year too! We are in an age of everything folks. Don’t let the weird stuff fall through the cracks.