Staff Picks Category: 1960s rock music

Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter by Alyn Shipton []

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John Lennon once stated “Nilsson’s my favorite group.”

Harry Nilsson, the tenor with the golden, three and a half octave  vocal range/the brilliant songwriter/the ultimate interpreter of songs/the boozer/the raconteur/the sometimes screenwriter, lived the most of his 52 years. His life was a colorful one that began with much sadness. Despite his setbacks and despair, Nilsson managed to keep his spirits high and he chose the path of adventure. He sang the theme song to Midnight Cowboy, released a brilliant run of albums from 1966-1980 (with music ranging from ballads to Beatlesy pop to country send-ups to wild rockers to standards from the Great American Songbook to Calypso to rude comedy numbers), conceived the animated children’s classic The Point!, collected a couple Grammy’s, raised hell with Ringo Starr and other music royalty, started a film production company and eventually settled as a family man.

Using a myriad of resources, interviews and quotes from Nilsson’s unfinished autobiography, Alyn Shipton writes a loving biography without sensationalizing the life of this sensational artist.

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Made In California by The Beach Boys []

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Wow.

New paragraph: this Beach Boys box is something to behold. Set up like a high school yearbook with large glossy photographs, interviews, articles and fake advertisements, Made In California is a thing of beauty. We flip to the last page and we see six cds filled to the max with hits, album cuts, rarities, outtakes and live versions. The set commemorates 50 years of Beach Boysdom from Brian’s “Surfin’” demo right up to their 2012 single “That’s Why God Made the Radio”.

Made In California has enough newly unearthed material for completests, music scholars and other varying degrees of nerd. It is also consistent in high standards so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming for someone who is just discovering that this group isn’t a band that only sings about surfing and cars. You need not have to comb through sub-par tracks.

Obviously, the genius Brian Wilson is at the forefront of the productions here. We truly realize how special the body of work he had produced and see the heights of creative genius and musical innovation. Wilson can safely be put alongside Gershwin, Copland and Ellington in the Hall of Great American Composers (this building does not exist). His baby brothers shine as well; Dennis, the drummer/rebellious middle child, is represented with a multitude of brilliant heart-aching ballads (mostly unreleased until now) and Carl, the finest singer of the lot, is clearly the soul of the Beach Boys. The latter comment becomes evident as you make your way through the recordings… trust me on this.

If you’re familiar with their catalog, look out these newly issued gems “Sail Plane Song”, “Sound of Free”, “California Feelin’”, “You’re Still A Mystery” and “Where Is She?”. For those unfamiliar to the Beach Boys, how I envy you to be able to experience hearing this wonderful music for the first time.

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Simon & Garkfunkel: The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970 by Simon & Garfunkel []

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Simon & Garfunkel never felt like a singles band to me. Sure, there’s the massive, mega-hits: “Mrs. Robinson”, “The Sound of Silence”, “The Boxer”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Cecelia”, etc., but Paul Simon’s songwriting abilities were never simply tunnel visioned to the radio dial. All five of Paul & Artie’s studio albums are classics that are meant to be heard front to back and then back to front again. With the Columbia Studio Recordings boxed set, we can hear every song, every angelic harmony, every sweet acoustic guitar move and every perfect arrangement.

Six or seven years is not a whole lot time in the grand scheme of things, but Simon & Garfunkel made it count with their prolific run as Columbia Records recording artists.

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Headquarters by the Monkees []

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To earn the Monkees the right to play on their own records, Michael Nesmith’s fist had punch a wall accompanied with the threat “that could’ve been your face”.  Thankfully the powers that be relented because Headquarters, the band’s third release, is possibly their  most unified, spirited effort.

And now a bit about the personnel… Nesmith handles much of the guitar duties, the classically trained Peter Tork plays keyboards, guitars, basses and banjos, Mickey Dolenz sits behind the drum kit and dabbles on the guitar and Davy Jones shakes a mean tambourine and maraca.  All four sing.  Producer Chip Talyor plays the occasional bass.

Michael Nesmith, asserting himself as the band’s most prolific songwriter, contributes the twangiest of tunes including “Sunny Girlfriend” and “You Just May Be the One”. Peter Tork writes “For Pete’s Sake”, the groovy number that became the track which rolled over the end credits of the band’s television program.  Davy tackles the Hildebrand/Keller number “Early Morning Blues and Green” replete with Wurlitzer electric piano and a wild, distorted organ.  Mickey Dolenz sings and writes the psychedelic “Randy Scouse Git” (included on most Monkees “best of” compilations), a song that was inspired by the band’s trip to London and hanging out with the original Fab Four.

Headquarters sounds like a band working together trying to find their sound.  It’s garage, it’s pop, it’s joyful.

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Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys by Mark Dillon []

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Mark Dillon’s book is an entertaining look at fifty Beach Boys tunes.  The selections are listed chronologically and an admirer (most often a musician) shares a personal memory attached to each song.  Some contributors were colleagues and spent time with the guys, others grew up listening to the records.  The surviving Beach Boys are also among the fifty selected.  In addition to the recollections, Dillon provides historical recording notes, songwriting origins and wonderful Beach Boys factoids.

Memorable bits for me come from the Byrd’s Roger McGuinn on “Don’t Worry Baby”, Beach Boys session player Carol Kaye “California Girls”, actress/musician Zooey Deschanel on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, director Cameron Crowe on “Feel Flows” and brief-Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin’s take on “Sail on Sailor”.

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Walk Away Renée/ Pretty Ballerina by The Left Banke []

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Fans of The Zombies, The Free Design or The Hollies will most likely enjoy the soft, baroque sounds of The Left Banke.  Though the two hits that divide up the album’s title are the obvious stand outs, the entire recording is a strong set of 1960’s magic. The arrangements throughout are harmonically sophisticated and borrow heavily from classical music.
This New York quintet sounds decidedly British and I’d liken Steve Martin Caro’s voice to The Zombies frontman, Colin Blunstone.  Both singers have a perfect, gentle tenor with unbelievable range.  Martin Caro and many members of the group share songwriting and lead vocal duties.  Michael Brown, then a teenager, is responsible for the hits on the record.  He managed to compose music that blends youthful angst and longing with haunting melodies.
Other highlights include “I’ve Got Something On My Mind” and “Shadows Breaking Over My Head”, which come close to rivaling the title tracks.

I give this Left Banke album an A+++, eighteen stars, two thumbs up and three golden tickets.

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