Monday, May 05, 2014

5 best bootleg stories

hi there

music stories are always class, are they not? well, i think so. the unusual stories too, the ones of "fun" excess and strange releases in particular. if you agree, you may enjoy this, or you may not.

to qualify, these five "best" are the best "in my opinion" and all that, this being my blog. feel free, with confidence, to disagree. there will also be a stack of things you disagree with, perhaps even dispute. that's because the nature of some of these recordings - and their odd release - are shrouded in folklore and myth. so i do not pretend this is definitive; these are the tales just on the stories i have heard.

this, kids, is a tape. you used to put it into something called a "stereo". you could record onto the tape, which was what we did instead of "downloading"; the Commodore 64 not being the best conduit for illegal downloads. well, except for Weird Science.

what did you tape? the top ten off of Radio 1 on a Sunday used to fit perfectly onto one side of a 90 minute blank. most albums ran for 40 - 44 mins, so you could make copies of an album or two your mate had. you made your own smart "mix tapes" to listen to on your walkman; with a walkman being, to keep things simple here, a prototype iPod, only way better. you made mix tapes to impress girls with, to play at parties, that sort of thing. it was awesome, and it was an art. getting a mix onto a tape so it ran either length perfectly was difficult. no digital time things for us, we had to guess how much tape we had left.

tapes were also used for bootlegs. mostly, and i have excluded for being too obvious these from this list, people had advanced walkmans that you could record on, and people recorded gigs onto tapes. every now and then, though, someone could get onto a tape something that was even more in the category of "you are not supposed to hear this" than a recording of a gig.

somehow, and we shall explore the ways here to an extent, sometimes people were able to get their hands on recordings of musicians that were never intended for release. demo recordings, ditched albums, that sort of thing. if you got your hands on such a rarity - whether you actually liked the band or if it was any good - you were celebrated. you were cool.

here, in a sort of order that amuses me, are the top five stories of bootlegs, then.

5. Rodriguez : Cold Fact

maybe this should not be so low down on the list, but this one is so well known thanks to the superb Searching For Sugar Man documentary, one that i encourage you to see, that i need not to say too much.

every generation has an album that defines it. actually, that's not true. there are more than one sometimes. there are so many albums from the 80s or early 90s that could define mine i would fear just selecting a personal choice, so i will not. for South Africans - not just whites - growing up in the 70s and 80s, it was without doubt this album. and it all started with, so far as anyone has been able to work out, a random taped copy of it arriving in Cape Town from America.

i would not wish to steal the thunder of the documentary if you have not seen it, but basically that's the power of music right there. one person bringing one tape to a country and the sound spread across it. no plugging, no PR, no press, no forcing it down the throats. just the music spread. from an album that was a sales disaster in the States. just let that sink in - of the 1000 or so copies it sold, one person took it with them to Africa and laid the seeds of the artist being a huge, huge success there. wow.

5a. Barbs - Kismet Records

yes, because it is Barbs, and Barbs has been absent here for far too long. here she is.

this cheats a little on what i said above, as some of the stuff in the Kismet Records are indeed live recordings. for the most part, however, they are not. but still, i have not given her a number all to herself anyway, rather including her with Rodriguez as they are both important to South Africa. maybe.

the Kismet records by Barbs are fandom gone insane, long before there were internets or any other means of worldwide exposure of insanity. scraped together were any odd or unusual recording - concert, non-English versions, outtakes, things dubbed off a television set with a microphone - put together in 12 loving records that only a dedicated fan could do. much, no doubt, to the distress of Barbs and her people, especially the legal ones.

no, i do not own any of the Kismet records, and no i will not. i am happy with the official Barbs that i have, thank you, and i would not want to upset her by having these.

i wonder if Barbs or her people ever sent anything back to my address in South Africa? i suppose that i shall never know. i do know for a fact that the SABC keep sending statements to me, since they are still debiting my account, sone 5 months later.

but moving on......

4. Prince - The Black Album

there is a case to say that this album defines my generation, you know. for all sorts of reason.

much has been said and speculated of this album. hopefully i shall not bore you repeating all that much of what you already know, but in the interests of recording it, a brief semi-correct history of the album.

this album was to be the follow up to Prince's celebrated, arguably greatest musical achievement, Sign O The Times. yes, i know that people prefer Purple Rain, but Sign is the true work of genius. everyone was all excited, this was going to be brilliant, and then, like that, it was "gone". about 10 days before it was due to be released, word came out that it was not to be released.

why not? a variety of reasons. and if the handwriting on this tape looks familiar, well, you will be all the more glad that blogs are typed. big, big thanks to JM and SL for sharing this image! but back to black.

the official word was that Prince decided that the album was "too spooky" to be released. there has always been a suggestion that Mr Nelson found it too spooky after listening to it on drugs, an early version of ecstacy in particular, but that's never been confirmed.

another reason - and a more plausible one - was that Warner and Prince agreed that it would be a commercial disaster. Prince sold many records to many people, you see - of any and all colour. this led, in particular with his massive, massive love-in with Europe - to jealous types accusing him of being a "sell out" and "performing for whites". an aggressive, funk-soul statement that was all black was an interesting way for him to respond.

except, of course, it would not have been. the black people who were critical of him were not worth answering, and they might have taken some of the stuff on here as him teasing and taking the proverbial rather than "returning to roots", whatever the hell that means. basically, would have given more all the more reason to be critical. as for the large "white" audience, i don't think in the late 80s they were quite ready for, say Superfunkicalifragisexy, in which Prince explores the amazing sex possible after eating squirrel meat, or Bob George, a pimptastic, sweary masterpiece. and let's not go near West Compton.

but of course, this was the first album to be cancelled at the start of the "digital age". many copies were already pressed, in particular on CD. and some of these copies, when the order came to cancel, were taken away by those people working at the plants making them, and bootleg copies thus spread far and wide across record fairs.

that was awesome. trawling record fairs to buy bootleg releases like this. you kids today illegally downloading leaked, early releases of albums have it easy, granted, but lack the fun and excitement factor.

of course, The Black Album did get a limited, two month release. you can get second hand copies of that easy enough.

why did it get released? legend has it that Prince had an idea that he could get out of his contract with Warner Bros if he released it. a more compelling legend has it that Prince was paid by Warner a straight $1,000,000 to be allowed to release it; Warner believing that they would easily coin that back in via sales of such a legendary album.

they missed the point, somewhat, of what fun it had become to try and get the album in an unofficial way, but in fairness they did appreciate the fans with the PR and advertising they gave it.

no, i just bought a copy of the official release, thanks. if i had a copy of it before the official release, and i am not saying that i did, then i would imagine i would have kept it and the memories, thanks.

3. The Troggs - Tapes

again, i suspect this is one that i don't need to say all that much about, as one would think that many know of this most celebrated studio meltdown, with most having heard it.

putting some fairy dust over it indeed. the tape is some 12 minutes of swearing. directed swearing, in fairness, but swearing all the same. it was all directed at an ill-fated attempt to record a song, one that the amount of swearing and accusations going on indicate that the recording of the song - Tranquility, since you asked - were not going at all well as one would have hoped.

how the tapes made it out into the world is a fairly well known thing - the engineers, so caught up in the swearing and astonishing meltdown in front of them, simply did not think to switch off, and either they or the producer (all, and indeed Reg Presley, claim credit for the release) let other hear it, and thus it spread.

how exactly it spread as far as America, inspiring sketches on Saturday Night Live and indeed much of Spinal Tap, is unknown. the best, most interesting theory is that our old friend, money and divorce enthusiast Ronnie Wood, is responsible. legend has it that he once played the Troggs Tape for Bob Dylan. Mr Dylan, apparently of a better sense of humour than his records suggest (except maybe his Christmas one), believed this to be the funniest thing ever. he met with Reg Presley as a consequence of hearing the Troggs Tapes, apparently. so there is every chance that Bob took a copy off of Ronnie (and i would not imagine that Ronnie charged him. much) and took it to back to the States, playing it for his mates like John Belushi and Bill Murray.

that probably didn't happen, but i like to think it did. imagine how ace it is to live in a world where legendary, celebrated rock stars, actors and comedians are as thrilled to get their hands on a rare, unusual recording and share it with their mates, too.

2. The Beatles - White Album Version 1

Beatles bootlegs are not, and have never been, all that rare. for every official release of the fab four there seems to exist 5 or 6 bootlegs, mostly of alternate mixes, the odd demo or even some radio stuff. they probably just edge out Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in terms of "most unofficial releases" out there in the world.

this one, though, is different. it is better, as it has a way more class and amazing story behind it than any other bootleg of the band.

this release, most commonly called The Year Of Revolt as you see here, comprises of early versions of the songs that would form most of their self-titled double album that became known as the White Album for ease of reference. sure, you are saying, there are several recordings from these sessions about, both official and unofficial in respect of songs from these sessions. but not quite of the same provenance as this particular collection.

yes, that right there is Peter Sellers. he is the one behind these particular bootlegs of the White Album sessions.

Ringo Starr, you see, gave Peter a tape of the songs they were working on for him to have a listen to, or perhaps to try and impress the comedy legend. or maybe in the hope that he would pass them on to his mate Stanley Kubrick, and then Stanley would be so not displeased with Ringo that he would make a Beatles film or something. Peter, it seems, pretty much forgot all about the tape (something that one likes to think happens with every gift Ringo has ever given anyone), as it was shoved in a box and only discovered several years after his passing. it was auctioned off not long after discovery, of course, with the legalities of it all being quite tricky, one would expect.

so if you own this bootleg, you own something that came off of a tape that Peter Sellers owned. that's the kind of thing that impresses me.

in terms of that, you may want to make it Musicians 0 Comedians 1 if you are keeping a score. but my number one is an interesting reversal, with the musicians getting an equaliser, and in classic schoolboy rules, last goal is the winner.

1. Monty Python - Hastily Cobbled Together For A Fast Buck

not, i will confess, in the strictest sense a rock album, but it has music on it, so it counts.

Hastily Cobbled Together For A Fast Buck is pretty much what this album was to be. sat with a record contract and an album short, the team threw together some out-takes and unused things - notably amongst them an unreleased song from Life Of Brian - to keep the record company happy. the name of the album was in keeping with the sheer contempt Python held such records for the most part - lest we forget an earlier record was called Contractual Obligations. part joke to share with the fans, part dig at the label extracting money from the fans.

for some reason, though, it never got released. but if you are a Python fan, you will have heard it, and may well have a copy.

how is it that you were able to hear it or get a copy? the answer, as indeed is the answer to many things in this world, is Lemmy.

it is pretty much as straightforward as that, really, but to give more information, Python have always been known for their love of no-nonsense, mother my dog British rock, the pinnacle of which is Lemmy. Michael Palin was invited to do a bit of a guest spot on a Motorhead album - i think Rock N Roll, but it could have been another - and for the hell of it gave one of the few surviving tapes of Hastily Cobbled Together to Lemmy as a sort of thank you gift.

other copies of the album may have existed, or been floating around somewhere, but it was only after Lemmy got a copy of it off of Michael Palin that fans even became aware that it existed, let alone got to hear it.

it is possible, i suppose, that someone with it decided to "leak" or sell it and just let Lemmy take the blame, responsibility for it. if you were going to do that to Lemmy's name and reputation, though, you would need two big massive, sturdy balls of steel - both roughly the size of modern Asia. nothing at all about Lemmy, or his millions of admirers, of which i am one, says that he would stand for having his name slandered.

perhaps Python threw it out into the wild on their own, telling the record label and anyone else interested that they "gave it to Lemmy" safe in the knowledge that none of them would ever dare question Mr Kilmister. but it's better to think of Lemmy taking the tape, saying cheers, and letting mates have a copy and a listen.

with the exception of Barbs, perhaps, the answer is yes - all of the above are well worth getting your hands on, by fair means or foul i suppose. i have no idea at all what the Barbs ones sound like. sorry.

and that will do. many thanks for reading stories that you may well be alredy familiar with, or different versions of stories that you have heard. if there has been one or two new ones here for you, well, so much the better.

and with that, bedtime i think.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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