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Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Glass Family Electric Band (1969) [US Original]

The Glass Family - Electric Band (1969)

Original USA stereo promo pressing
 Warner Bros. - Seven Arts Records – WS 1776  (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip at 96 kHz / 24 bit FLAC + full high-res scans!~

The Glass Family Electric Band is a blissful psych-rock experience released in early 1969, at the tail end of the psychedelic wave. Despite its evolution in the burgeoning Southern California music scene, it fell off the map without a trace. This record has sounds perhaps better suited for 1967 or 1968, but nonetheless contains some stunning psychedelic tracks with highly trippy effects à la Country Joe & The Fish. Unfortunately it has never seen a reissue from the tapes, and so original pressings are still the best way to hear it. I've been wanting to put this underground psychedelic disc on the blog for about 5 years, and so it is with great excitement that I finally share it with you now!

Many thanks to Mark H. for turning me on to this great record, and also
to Jim Callon for his friendly correspondence about his experiences in the band!

Review in Billboard, 15 Feb 1969
It's a shame that The Glass Family isn't more well-known, even among psychedelic music enthusiasts. The band had the same instrumentation as their L.A. neighbors The Doors, with the Farfisa organ playing an essential element in the two groups' west-coast sound. Some band members lived in Topanga Canyon with Spirit, Neil Young (who married Jim Callon's girlfriend), Canned Heat, and others. The California hippie vibe is palpable on their recordings. As one band member writes: "We were all about mind expanding (in the '60s)  NO alcohol, speed, cocaine, heroin, etc... Marijuana, mushrooms, LSD were our thing. One time at the Fillmore in SF, we played for 4 nights behind acid. Stanley Owsley left little cups for us on our amplifiers…"

The group made some demos in 1967, but after they were rejected for major-label release, the band did some woodshedding and lots of local playing until their psychedelic record was finally recorded for WB and readied for release in February 1969. Upon its appearance, initial reviews were very positive, and despite their underground status, WB seems to have utilized standard resources advertising The Glass Family's music, including sending out promo copies to local DJs with personalized notes. The album was a non-mover, though, as evidenced by the relative rarity of the record today compared to other WB releases (Grateful Dead, Peter Paul & Mary, etc.). To hazard a guess, this was likely due to the rapidly shifting musical tides; the "progressive rock" movement had already begun, and within a month Led Zeppelin would release their first album and begin taking the world by storm. A great effort, but the Kesey bus had left the station.

The Glass Family must have been quite the live act, though sadly it seems that none of their live recordings have ever been released. The group opened for the Grateful Dead and Junior Walker at the Fillmore, but despite my best searching amongst the Deadhead collective, none of the religious San Franciscan tapers seem to have captured any of these performances on tape. There may have also been several filmed performances in southern California, as Jim Callon recalls: "We used to do free concerts a few summers in the '60s on Topanga Beach. At that time there were a few houses on the beach and they built a stage for us in front of one of the houses. They were all filmmakers who lived there, and I know they took a lot of footage… I have no idea how to get a hold of any of them, but I know they were real into us doing this… It was quite a scene… helicopters overhead (making sure the hippies didn’t get too wild), girls without tops, dancing on the sand and once a couple fell to the ground in front of the stage (during our climactic 'a Gorn') and started making love / fucking  and then everyone gathered around them to watch  I stopped the band at that point because of a moral dilemma going on in my mind; were we contributing to hedonism? / Have we gone too far with this free love stuff?..... This was all filmed."

Strangely enough, The Glass Family went on to record another album as a disco group in the 1970s, which of course is outside the scope of this blog. Lead songwriter Jim Callon (a.k.a. Ralph Parrett) spent much part of his later career as a recording engineer, notably working with Funkadelic (George Clinton, Eddie Hazel, ...), before starting a record label, branching out into distribution and opening a record store. (By the way, his label, JDC Records, has issued an awesome Hendrix-sounding CD of solo Hazel recordings; see here.) However, in 2022 the band reformed to record their second psychedelia-flavored LP entitled Invisible World. For fans of psychedelic music and especially of this band, it's essential to check out, and can be bought on CD and LP here and via digital download here.

The Glass Family album lifts off with a sound collage of electronic tape effects, wind chimes, and drums rocketing into the completely tripped-out "House Of Glass." What an incredible album opener -- responsive vocals drenched in echo bounce between speakers while guitars, organ, and aux percussion dual for the center stage. The track is timeless enough that Warner Music Group (then WEA Records) included it on their fantastic Hallucinations compilation CD in 2004, which was mastered from tapes and with excellent sound. There are a few other interesting moments on side 1, including the organ-and-clean-guitar-driven "The Means," though there are some duds here, too. "Do You Remember," while having some pleasant acoustic guitar, piano, and vibraphone, is just too sleepy for me, and the nearly pornographic last verse ("In the morning when my love was still so deep inside of you...") just doesn't sit well with me.

Flipping over to side 2, though, we are immediately treated to screeching electric guitar and bluesy wails which kick off 20 minutes of dud-free listening. The pounding "I Want To See My Baby" is followed by the funky "Lady Blue," which is best described as a '69 SoCal version of "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine" complete with dismissive lyrics, organ vibrato, dual guitars, and a background piano driving the beat. The group clearly spent a lot of time working on their overdubs, crafting a unique and entertaining soundscape to match their psychedelic visions. Following two lighter rock tracks, the looping guitars of "Guess I'll Let You Go," still my favorite song on this album, drift into psychedelic landscapes adorned with percussion overdubs (bongos, tambourine) and a driving bass line. According to Jim Callon, this track (and single) apparently made it to the top-of-the-charts in The Philippines.

The closing instrumental "Agorn" floats in similar psychedelic territory with good drum work and intense organ leads. This is also the only contemporary psychedelic song or album I know which references the original series of Star Trek; a "gorn" is an alien reptile humanoid which Captain Kirk is forced to fight late in the show's first season. According to Jim Callon: "All of us loved Star Trek and Mr. Spock. When we played at Cal Tech (Jet Propulsion Labratories), everyone watched Star Trek so we couldn’t start the show until afterwards. Some of those science minded guys built this incredible water pipe… We always concluded our shows back then with A Gorn the instrumental last track on the LP…The subtitle: 'Elements Of Complex Variables' was the title of a a math book that our drummer had…"

Gatefold sleeve design from 2015 reissue, featuring the band's story

Fillmore poster, 5-8 June 1969, when the
band opened on Owsley acid for the Dead

Billboard blurb mentioning the group, 15 Feb 1969

This album was bootlegged in 2010 and 2012 from vinyl source by the Mandala and Kismet labels, both with very poor sound quality (heavy noise reduction). It then received an official reissue in 2015 on Maplewood Records, including a full bonus LP of previously-unreleased demos mastered from the original tapes. One of those bonus cuts, "Two X Two", was apparently utilized in the soundtrack of the 2018 film A Futile And Stupid Gesture, though I haven't seen it. Unfortunately this reissue was so completely brickwalled, and the vinyl itself so noisy, that the record is sadly unlistenable for me. That same mastering has now been released for web download and streaming, but since the dynamics of the original LP are so much better, this project remained high on my to-do list.

This rip presents this album in the digital realm as it was meant to be heard back in 1969. The sound is a bit bass-heavy, and after hearing "House Of Glass" from the WEA Hallucinations CD, it might take some internal adjustment to appreciate this. Nonetheless, I believe this is the best-sounding version of the album currently available, and is an essential document of the psychedelic sixties from a Californian perspective. I'll give the final word to Jim Callon, who writes: "There were so many good things about the Hippie Movement, but unfortunately it became degraded with all of the excess. Many retained their 'hippy heart', however… Now if we could just round them all up…"

Vinyl condition: Near Mint (NM) / Mint Minus (M-)
Dynamic range
DR 12

Track listing:
1) House Of Glass -- 3:16
2) Born In The U.S.A. -- 2:39
3) Once Again -- 2:43
4) Sometimes You Wander -- 3:08
5) The Means -- 4:15
6) Do You Remember -- 3:30
7) I Want To See My Baby -- 3:50
8) Lady Blue -- 2:53
9) Passage #17 -- 2:37
10) Mr. Happy Glee -- 2:43
11) Guess I'll Let You Go -- 2:53
12) Agorn (Elements of Complex Variables) -- 4:17

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96kHz / 24bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2022 (recording)
– iZotope RX 10 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 3.4.x (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.16 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)

Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks!

Enjoy!  :)

May 2022 flyer advertisement for a band show and the new Invisible World album

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Velvert Turner Group - s/t (1972) [2019 Reissue]

Velvert Turner Group - Velvert Turner Group (1972)

2019 reissue with unreleased alternate mixes
ORG Music – 2151  (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip at 96 kHz / 24 bit FLAC + high-res scans!~

This is the first entry in a series of Velvert posts that I plan to make. There are several mixes of this album, including two original stereo mixes released in 1972 and a further set of demo mixes pirated in 1976. This 2019 reissue is the first official reissue of the Velvert Turner Group record, and it is essential not only because of its excellent sound quality (mastered from tapes) but because it introduced a further set of previously-unreleased alternate mixes, including several that compete quite favorably with the 1972 originals.

Many thanks to the record phantom C.F. for turning me onto this great record, and
for loaning out several original pressings, wayyy back in the day...

2019 reissue, front cover artwork

Among psychedelic artists, there are few musicians as widely and deeply loved and respected by fans as Jimi Hendrix, and I am certainly no exception. I still fondly remember my first time 'experiencing' Hendrix after chewing down several hundred heavenly blue morning glory seeds; as dynamically-colored kaleidoscopes filtered my sight and danced along with the multi-layered sonic effects, Jimi's voice echoed in directions that I didn't know existed, causing my young teenage brain to think: "how could mere mortal human beings have made this...??"

It's a shame that, despite some notable attempts, most artists failed continuing on Jimi's footpath after his untimely demise. Velvert Turner, however, is one exception. Velvert was a friend and musical acquaintance of the master himself, and musical similarities are immediately obvious between canonical Hendrix tracks and Velvert's own compositions. That's not to say that Velvert Turner Group is totally derivative, because it's not; there are elements of funk, pop, and soul that make it unique, and the great production makes it an enjoyable record from start to finish. 

There are two original versions of this album, which can be distinguished only by their corresponding runout matrices, and they are commonly referred to as the "rock mix" and "soul mix." This naming convention, however, is somewhat of a misnomer, as many of the tracks are completely different takes (not "mixes"), while other tracks are actually identical (or nearly so) between them. The style doesn't really change significantly between the two versions, though the so-called "rock" version has some extra guitar parts, while the "soul" copies are more generally well-polished. This convention comes from collector folklore, where it has been suspected that the "rock" version, which came earlier, was withdrawn in favor of the "soul" version, which was better aimed at radio airplay (which probably never happened anyway), where Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, and Al Green were the rulers, not Jimi Hendrix.

However, it's also possible that after the first stampers (-1 / -1) wore out, Monarch simply created new ones (-2 / -2) using the alternate mix/takes, which stayed in-print for several years as it was repressed at other facilities (e.g. NAMI). Who knows?

There are lots of broad connections to this group. Keyboardist Chris Robison, for example, was previously a member of Elephants Memory (also backing John & Yoko in the early '70s) and Steam. Bassist Prescott Niles later became a founder of The Knack. Tim McGovern would drum for several California rock groups through the 1970s-1980s. Richard Lloyd from the American band Television was also a friend of Velvert's, and Lloyd's quotes are often seen in connection with this record. Velvert produced a track ("Going Home") for the Hendrix tribute CD, Power Of Soul. Crazily enough, there is also a Michael Lang (Woodstock) connection here, as Michael acted as producer along with Artie Ripp. 

Sadly, the great public expectation that Velvert's group would become the next Hendrix live act was simply too much pressure for the group, which caused them to crumble sometime after the release of this sole LP. You can read more about the birth and downfall of the Velvert Turner Group on Klemen Breznikar's excellent It's Psychedelic Baby interview with Prescott Niles here.

Velvert Turner with guitarist Richard Lloyd from Television (courtesy Jenny Lens Punk Archive)

I was very intrigued to see this reissue appear for RSD back in 2019, but I was a bit hesitant to buy it myself after being scarred by the plethora of bad reissues on the market. In preparation for posting the original "rock" and "soul" versions to this blog, though, I decided to cough up the $15 or whatever it was so that I could at least comment on what mixes were found inside. What a great decision that was! I was stunned to find that not only do both "rock" and "soul" versions appear side-by-side, but that many tracks were completely different mixes than I'd ever heard before. These alt versions rock hard and may even be better than the original pressings, especially "Madonna," which features a vocal chorus unheard anywhere else, and "Three O'Clock Train," which feels like the mix it always should have been, complete with emulated chugga-chugga/train whistle sounds in complete Hendrix fashion. Basic details have now been added to the Discogs page, but I will also color-code the track listing below for easy identification.

Overall the repressing has excellent sound quality, and if nothing else this blog post should inspire you to get a copy for yourself. ORG Music and especially the mastering engineer Dave Gardner did a good job here. The album is definitely cut from tapes (probably with a digital step), and though there might be a bit more compression than the original LPs, it's not extensive enough to ruin the dynamic range (DR 12); rather, it might even improve the overall hard-rock impact of the LP. It's definitely not brickwalled in any sense, and the bright pink vinyl does not seem to affect the sound quality. There is a bit less treble response than the original LPs, perhaps signifying that safety tapes were used, but the lows and midrange response is phenomenally clear. It sounds good enough to me that I thought it would be a great starting point for this blog's trek into Velvert territory, though which version you play will always be a matter of personal preference. However, since no version of this album has ever been officially released on CD / digital, this rip is absolutely essential.

Color key: (symbols added to help colorblind folks -- this be an inclusive blog)
* = original "rock mix"
^ = original "soul mix"
† = previously-unreleased alternate mix
Adding both *^ indicates that the "soul mix" and "rock mix" versions are identical, or nearly so.

Vinyl condition: Mint (brand new, virgin playing)
Dynamic range
DR 12

Track listing:
1) "Madonna (Of The Seven Moons)" -- 2:44
2) "Talkin' 'Bout My Baby" * -- 4:01
3) "Country Chicken" *^ -- 2:48
4) "Strangely Neww" ^ -- 4:56
5) "Scarlet Warrior" * -- 3:32
6) "Three O'Clock Train"  -- 4:57
7) "Just Look And See" -- 4:08
8) "'Xcuse Me, Gentlemen (The Fall Of Atlantis)" ^ -- 4:38
9) "(Love Rides...) The Slow Swirling Seas" ^ -- 3:42
10) "Freedom" (Jimi Hendrix) --  6:02
Bonus Track:
11) "Madonna (Of The Seven Moons)" [Alternate Mix] -- 3:37

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96kHz / 24bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2022 (recording)
– iZotope RX 10 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 3.4.x (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.16 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)

Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks!

Enjoy!  :)

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Blues Magoos - Psychedelic Lollipop (1966) [Mono Mix]

Blues Magoos - Psychedelic Lollipop (1966)

Original USA genuine mono pressing
Mercury – MG-21096  (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip in 96 kHz / 24 bit FLAC + full high-res scans!~

The Blues Magoos' first album, Psychedelic Lollipop, is probably both their best and most well-known LP. It was issued in both stereo and mono formats, but surprisingly, most vinyl copies which were labelled mono actually play in stereo. Finding a true mono original -- which, due to its relative rarity, many had assumed for years didn't even exist -- can be quite a challenge, as most people seem to be unaware (or don't care) of this mysterious major-label gaffe/experiment. Finding a true mono copy is a worthy task, however, as the mono mix sounds a bit different and also includes the unique single mixes aimed at AM radio. 

Psychedelic Lollipop was first issued in mid-October 1966 and was preceded by a 45 of "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" backed with "Gotta Get Away" a couple weeks earlier. This single slowly rose in the ratings throughout the winter and into 1967, when the Magoos were riding their wave of fame and playing to teen crowds numbered in the thousands. Musically the album leans a little more towards the "psychsploitation" side of the spectrum than the genuine "acid" side, but that's not to say that it's without trippy elements and excellent garage pounders: "She's Coming Home" is as good as anything on The Remains' LP, and "Sometimes I Think About" just oozes cool (as Brent Marley says), though a guitar dripping with Echoplex still can't turn James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy" into psych-rock. The album is nonetheless notable as being one of the first commercially available records using the word "psychedelic" to describe its music, followed shortly by The Deep's Psychedelic Moods and the 13th Floor Elevators' Psychedelic Sounds that November. The release was timely and the Blues Magoos debut sold well, and it was kept in-print into the 1980s.

Advertisement in Billboard, 26 Nov 1966

Review in Cash Box, 12 Nov 1966

Review in Record World, 19 Nov 1966

Genuine original mono copies of this LP are notoriously difficult to find and to identify, as there are a plethora of stereo misprinted copies which have mono labels and came in mono covers and are all but identical to the true mono discs, apart from a couple of minor differences. The clearest identifier is "21096" stamped into the runouts of true mono copies, whereas stereo discs have "2/61096". The genuine monos seem to have all been pressed by the three Columbia pressing plants, which would lead one to believe that there are at least a couple thousand in existence. They are vastly outnumbered (maybe 100-to-1), however, by the stereo misprint copies, which seem to have all been pressed at Mercury's own facility. This includes the white-label mono promos, which also play in wide stereo!

It's not clear why this was done. Collectors have suggested that it was a record company test to see if anyone could tell, or if anyone would complain; it was expensive to produce two different mixes of the same album, and even by 1966 record companies were eager to cut those costs. CSG processing didn't exist yet, and while most of the public saw stereo as preferable over mono, stereo records were more expensive to buy. Whatever the reason, Mercury replicated their stereo misprinting behavior on several other albums around this time, but by the time the Blues Magoos' second record came out in 1967, Mercury had reverted to using mono plates for all their mono discs. They then continued making mono records until 1968, when mono was completely phased out like on the other major labels.

It's not clear how many of the songs on this album are truly dedicated mixes. The mono versions of "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" and "Gotta Get Away" are certainly dedicated, and match the mono single mixes. "Sometimes I Think About" also matches the 45 version and is around 30 seconds shorter than its stereo counterpart, owing to a truncated solo section. A number of tracks, however, have some phase cancellations in the treble which smell like fold-downs. Even so, they sound noticeably different from the stereo LP, which is brighter and seems to lack the instrument balance found here. The differences are subtle: like the slightly different harmony balance in "Love Seems Doomed," or the reduced reverb in "Queen Of My Nights."

It's also uncertain how many of these mixes have survived. The mono mix of "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" has appeared on CD from tape, first on an '80s Mercury comp (reprocessed into fake stereo) and then again on the recent Sundazed compilation. (It also appeared in mono on the Nuggets box-set, but this was a fold-down from the stereo mix.) The Sundazed set also includes the same mono mixes of "Gotta Get Away," "Tobacco Road," and "Sometimes I Think About" which are found here, but the latter two tracks seem to have been sourced from rips of a noisy styrene 45 and patched with stereo fold-downs from tape, in somewhat typical Sundazed fashion (Safe As Milk, Ultimate Spinach, ...). All other tracks can only be found in mono on the 1966 vinyl LPs, which makes preserving them here essential. 

In order to produce this master, I selected the best-sounding out of 5 genuine original "true" mono copies of this LP that I tracked down, including at least one copy from all three Columbia facilities. The mono mix is somewhat dull, with a lo-fi EQ that was aimed at AM radio. There's not a lot of meaningful frequency information above 12 kHz or so. I decided to keep the sound of this album exactly as-is, only carefully cleaning up vinyl clicks and some inner-groove distortion, so that this rare mono version can be heard as it was meant to be heard those nearly 60 years ago. It is not perfect, but it is the most neutral and best-sounding version of these mixes available to date.

The Magoos' Mike Esposito playing his Tele-with-Strat-neck
hybrid guitar in NYC, ca. 1966 (photo: Don Paulsen)
The Blues Magoos:
Ralph Scala: vocals, organ
Ronnie Gilbert: bass guitar
Peppy Castro: rhythm guitar
Mike Esposito: lead guitar
Geoff Daking: drums

Vinyl condition: VG+ (it cleaned up nicely!)
Dynamic range
DR 11

Matrix numbers: (Pitman pressing)
Side 1 (everything stamped except for the |):
   ᴑ MG 21096A  M1      P                Λ|||||
Side 2 (everything stamped):
   0 MG 21096B  M1      P

Track listing:
1) (We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet -- 2:19
2) Love Seems Doomed -- 3:04
3) Tobacco Road -- 4:37
4) Queen Of My Nights -- 3:06
5) I'll Go Crazy -- 2:04
6) Gotta Get Away -- 2:33
7) Sometimes I Think About -- 3:41
8) One By One -- 2:55
9) Worried Life Blues -- 3:52
10) She's Coming Home -- 2:43

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96kHz / 24bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2022 (recording)
– iZotope RX 10 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 3.4.x (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.16 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)

Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks!

Enjoy!  :)

The Blues Magoos live in NYC, ca. 1966 (photo: Don Paulsen)

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Bitter Fruit & Lost Opportunities - WCPAEB

Recently I have received several comments from folks who are querying my input in regards to the recent 4 CD reissue of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band's entire Warner Bros./Reprise catalog, on Grapefruit Records (a subsidiary of the British label Cherry Red, managed by David Wells). In addition to the stereo mixes, the deluxe box-set brags the first mono reissues of Part One, Vol. 2, and A Child's Guide To Good And Evil on CD. This reissue has been long-anticipated (I first heard rumors of it at least two years ago) and has made quite a splash upon its release.

Unfortunately, as one might have guessed from the title of this post, the mastering on this reissue is not definitive nor archival in any form, and therefore I will keep my posts for the aforementioned mono mixes active for the time being. Rather than edit those essays with descriptions of the mastering issues present on this 2023 reissue, I figured that I would make a dedicated post to enumerate the problems which kept this compilation from being what it could have been. Hopefully this helps shed some light for folks who are interested in purchasing this box set.

Please note that this is a review and there are no downloads here.
You can purchase this new deluxe reissue (as I did) here: Amazon

The 4 CD box set A Door Inside Your Mind: The Complete Reprise Recordings 1966-1968 was mastered by Alec Palao, a well-known Bay-area musician and producer who has worked on countless projects over the last 30+ years. Most of us have Big Beat and Ace CDs on our shelves that were done with his touch. The mastering is typically signed with boosted treble and added gain, which can sound pleasing on some of these old recordings (e.g. the remixed Frumious Bandersnatch), or other times not so great (e.g. Kak-Ola, as compared to the excellent-sounding original Kak CD).

The West Coast Pop Art recordings on this box set may sound okay on first listen, but when juxtaposed with what they could (should?) have been, the excitement quickly drains. A treble boost is immediately apparent upon listening, with an estimated 3 to 6 dB high shelf starting above 3 kHz.

Approximate EQ differences for the mono mix of Part One, averaged over the entire album.
Original white-label promo LP (green); 2023 remaster (white); effective EQ difference (orange).

The dynamic range of the new remaster is also compromised, which can be heard by a lack of presence on the CD as compared to previous issues. Without close comparison or knowing the sound by heart, though, it would be easy to miss this, even checking the waveforms by eye. The peaks were limited (the audio was compressed), and then for some reason negative gain was added afterwards, while maintaining the clipped peaks. The result is that the mastering has neither the benefits of a boost (higher volume) nor the appeal of a neutral approach (full DR). Below are some example waveform screenshots; you can click to blow these up to full-screen.

"Shifting Sands" (stereo), 2023 remaster, no edits.
"Shifting Sands" (stereo), 2023 remaster, +5.906 dB (bring existing peaks to 0 db).
The clipping on this remaster is now readily apparent.
"Shifting Sands" (stereo), 2001 Sundazed Music SC 6173, no edits.
There is some limiting, but not as severe as the 2023 remaster.

A quick look at the spectrograms reveals excessive levels of dither to the point of noise modulation above ~18 kHz. It is frustrating to see this on CD masters, as dithering is the least audible part of digital mastering and there are no benefits from it being overdone. Nonetheless, the unnecessary reduction in amplitude by an approximate factor of 2 (as seen above) will result in higher quantization errors, increasing the need to dither. 

Dither (noise) added during the CD mastering of "Shifting Sands" (mono), 2023 remaster.

There also appears to be some adaptive noise reduction (NR) which was used on several mono tracks. The digital source files which were used for both the 2017 Jackpot mono LPs and 2023 mono CDs have phase issues that are not present on the original 1967 pressings. These problems are consistent with a damaged tape. In order to cover this up, some light processing was apparently applied in places where the noise fluctuations caused the biggest problems. The differences in noise levels can be seen by comparing the spectrograms from these various masterings.

Spectrogram comparisons for "Shifting Sands" (mono).
Top: original 1967 mono pressing. Tape noise is smooth and consistent throughout.
Middle: 2017 Jackpot LP reissue. Fluctuating tape noise is audible in the master.
Bottom: 2023 remaster. The phase issues remain, with apparent NR above ~12 kHz being used to limit audibility.

While using inferior audio sources for the haphazardly-done remaster, the producers of this reissue still managed to visit this blog to "lift" some scans for their reissue, without any contact given to me. While this blog definitely floats in grey territory, it is still disheartening that these producers did not even care to write a note of thanks for making money off of my hard work and investments. Below is a photo comparison between a scan posted to my blog in January 2022 and the rear sleeve image for the Part One CD included in this box set.

Left: scan from my mono LP, posted to this blog in January 2022.
Right: back cover image of the picture sleeve from 2023 box. Notice the identical splotches of ring wear over the dark areas.

The producers also apparently failed to check the market for previous issues of this material. CD 4 -- the only disc which retains any value, as no previously existing digital versions are available for most tracks -- includes a few single edits which were also included on the 2001 Sundazed CD reissue of Part One. Remarkably, despite the Sundazed versions being mastered from tape with excellent sound, the 2023 Grapefruit versions were seemingly mastered from vinyl, with a low-pass shelf around 14 kHz and only meaningless distortion and artifacts above that. 

Spectrogram comparisons for the mono single edit of "Unfree Child".
Top: 2001 Sundazed CD, mastered from tape with full frequency response.
Bottom: 2023 Grapefruit remaster, with truncated frequency response.

In summary, the 2023 Grapefruit Records remasters of the Warner/Reprise catalog of WCPAEB is a bitter disappointment. While in-the-works for years, the producers failed to check appropriate sources, neglected to give appropriate credit for the sources that were used, and degenerated to amateurish mastering faults. The anthology is neither definitive nor archival in nature, and while its sprawling 40-page booklet is a wonderful feature, it fails to make up for the hefty $40 price tag. For the original stereo mixes, the Sundazed CDs remain superior listening sources; for the mono ones, the vinyl transfers available here remain untrumped. I suggest to folks who want to own the original mono mixes to track down one of the various Jackpot LP reissues, which appear to have been uncompressed cuts from the surviving WB masters, despite their faults.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Lee Michaels - Carnival Of Life (1968) [US Original Stereo]

Lee Michaels - Carnival Of Life

Original 1968 USA stereo pressing
A&M Records SP 4140 (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip at 96 kHz / 24 bit + full high-res scans!~

"WTF is that cover?" Now, don't be deceived; if you've never heard this album before, prepare for everything you thought you knew about Lee Michaels to be thrown out the window. "Lee Michaels, on UPV? Seriously?" Yes, I too had a couple of his '70s albums which ended up being donated to the Salvation Army in years passed, but this LP is truly a hidden gem. Disguised behind that stupid face are unexpected fuzz detonations with heroic-dosage-level songwriting, completely in line with other psych rock records of the era. You probably didn't know that Jimi Hendrix and Lee Michaels used to jam the blues together in the 'Electric Church,' nor that Lee Michaels used to share gigs at the Avalon and Fillmore in San Francisco with Country Joe & The Fish and Blue Cheer. Now you do.

Many thanks to my Dutch friend J.T. for turning me on to this great record,
and doubly thanks to the Record Phantom C.F. for his usual essential contributions!

The album begins with the bombastic opener "Hello," complete with blazing fuzz guitars, psychedelic carnie organ in full tremolo, and Michaels recanting lyrics which sculpt a psalm of happiness. For anyone with doubts about this album's greatness, this track should quickly appease them: anyone with functioning ears will immediately realize that this is a superb west-coast psych rock act that's tight, well-rehearsed, and excellently engineered. The second track, "Another One," is apparently a stream-of-thought poem from the acidified head of an elevated Michaels, complete with an instrumental 'inner trip' section of the journey. After the catchy dynamic track "Streetcar," the opening side closes with the sonorous "Love": in my head I am immediately transported to a live show at the Avalon in 1967, with guitars screaming distorted fuzztones, Michaels hollering along, the organ oscillating while drums thrash along in perfect time. What an experience it must have been to see this short-lived group do their live California stint in those days.

Lee Michaels in 1968
One flip and we're treated to five more excellent tracks ("all killer, no filler," as J.T. says). The tracks "Why" and "Tomorrow" are personal favorites, the former using a tack piano during the chorus to excellent effect; it sounds like a carnival indeed. I can't imagine what being at a carnival on acid would be like, going through an existential crisis of personality while half a million enticing lights merge with some clown dressed like a traveling salesman or perhaps something you'd expect out of a John Wayne movie, whirling around as you frantically grasp for a sliver of reality. What a hellish nightmare; it must be like that merry-go-round scene from Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas. This album has much, much better vibes: hope, happiness, youthfulness. It's not nearly as tripped out as what Pink Floyd was doing at this time, for example, but simultaneously that fact makes the Carnival Of Life much more approachable for the layman, yet still very casually enjoyable for the experienced journeyman.

The album continues with "Sounding The Sleeping," building up quietly to the blaring fuzz of before. C.F. pointed out that this song borrows its melodic line from The Mothers' "Let's Make The Water Turn Black," an obvious cue that Frank Zappa and company had influenced nearly every gigging band in the L.A. area. This track eventually fades away much the same way it appeared, before suddenly blasting into the album closer, "My Friends." Drenched in vintage analog reverb and complete with a number of charming backwards sound effects, one must wonder what songs like this sounded like when performed live, which they most certainly were; the closer is quite dreamy and trippy, but I could equally imagine it as a crowd-mover when these guys had their amps cranked up.

Blurb in Record World, November 11, 1967
The secret ingredient to this Lee Michaels debut, if indeed there is one, is probably guitarist Hamilton W. Watt, also known as Hamilton Wesley Watt, Jr., who later became the guitarist for Euphoria, a group that recorded one album for Capitol (A Gift From Euphoria) in the summer of 1968, half a year after Lee Michaels' album had already hit shelves nationwide. Watt's layered guitar tracks on Carnival Of Life were engineered by one Jim Messina (misspelled Mecina), better known for his association with Buffalo Springfield and as a founding member of Poco. Lee Michaels, a keyboardist, most often just sang with this band, while Gary Davis (later of The Comfortable Chair) covered organist duties. Session drummer Eddie Hoh (who worked with The Monkees, Tim Buckley, Kim Fowley, Harvey Mandel, The Flying Burrito Bros., and others) is credited on the album, although he only played on the closing track, with most of the drumming duties being performed by an uncredited David F. Potter, who later became drummer for the Texan psychedelic band Endle St. Cloud In The Rain, the band who shared a label with the Elevators. Bassist John Keski completed the ensemble, a (relatively speaking) little-known musician who played with some other recording artists in the late '70s.

Carnival Of Life first debuted on the west coast around November 18, 1967, to much excitement in the local music press. A review in Record World hailed it simply as a "masterpiece." To put this date in context, well-known S.F. hard rockers Steve Miller and Quicksilver Messenger Service would sign their first record contracts with Capitol a month after this record had already hit California turntables. A nationwide release of Lee Michaels' debut came the following January, with positive reviews appearing in various publications over the next few months. Promo posters were created to hang in some record shops where the album was sold, but lack of psychedelic styling coupled with an ugly cover photo were unhelpful in promoting sales. Some generic "Winter Sköl from A&M Records" ads were placed in Billboard, Cash Box, and Record World that February, but no other promotion was done. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the record failed to chart.

Review in Record World, January 13, 1968
Review in Cash Box, March 16 & 23, 1968
Review in Billboard Magazine, 10 Feb 1968
Lee Michaels, it seems, was not discouraged; Carnival Of Life's pop-oriented producer Larry Marks, who also worked with Sagittarius and Harpers Bizarre, would be dropped as Michaels himself signed a producer contract with A&M in April 1968, a few short months after this album's release, and would move to self-produce his second album Recital later that year. Unfortunately for us, Michaels' sound immediately became quite different. Hamilton Watt was replaced by Drake Levin (later of Brotherhood), that is, on the one(?) track where any guitar appears at all. The rest of Recital was filled with material more in the singer/songwriter and pop-rock vein, and while he would experiment with hard rock later in his career, Michaels' style would never return again to the acid-influenced style found here.

1967 and 1968 were a tumultuous time in music as well as audio engineering, as record companies plotted the public execution of the mono format. At one point, the United States government even launched a probe to investigate the price difference between mono and stereo records as suspected collusion. Cue engineer Howard Holzer, with an invention he called the "compatible stereo generator" (CSG): by applying a relative phase rotation between the two channels of a stereo recording, Holzer claimed that his machine -- which record labels could rent at the mere price of $1000 per month, with a minimum year-long contract -- eliminated the need to make separate mono and stereo mixes, fixing the problem of bloated center channel information in stereo fold-downs. Atlantic (and its subsidiaries) were immediately keen to this, and started preparing new releases using the CSG system, as well as preparing remasters of their back catalog with the same system. A&M was slightly more modest in their approach, but they used this CSG methodology first on a mono version of this very Lee Michaels recording, to prepare a 45 RPM single ("Love" b/w "Sounding The Sleeping") for nationwide release. In the end, three different mono singles from this album appeared, as well as a very rare mono LP, all apparently using the CSG process: therefore, nothing too unique is found upon them. We are now left wondering what Carnival Of Life could have sounded like if an engineer like Jim Messina had been given the opportunity to make a dedicated mono mix for AM radio listeners, which is a question we shall never know the answer to. On the other hand, it makes one less thing for me to have to clean up, which is always a plus.

Original promo-only mono pressing. Above: front and back cover, below: labels

This album has been reissued from the master tapes before. The first digital reissue appeared in 1996 on One Way Records, and largely preserved the dynamic range of the original recording. However, the EQ is noticeably different from the original pressing, which sounds more laid-back and natural by comparison. The last two tracks also suffer prominent noise reduction, which damaged the treble response. A digital remaster has also recently appeared on various streaming platforms, including Qobuz and Deezer, which overall more closely approached the original's sound than the 1996 CD, but was vastly more compressed and dynamically limited. Therefore, despite the tapes of this release clearly still being available, I would argue that original pressings, now 55 years in age, still present the best available sound quality for this California acid excursion.

Since this package apparently had a release on the west coast which preceded its appearance nationwide, one might assume that the Monarch pressings of this LP were the earliest ones on the market and thus have superior sound. The Monarch plant is well-known by audiophiles for their pressings, which were often the best that appeared for many of the California bands (yet people ignore the plethora of terrible styrene 45s that appeared from this facility). This album, in any case, is an outlier. A white-label promotional copy pressed at the Monarch plant was lent to me by the Record Phantom for ripping, which I quickly discovered had high levels of background noise from the use of inferior vinyl. The mono copy pictured above was also from the Monarch plant, and suffers from the same problem. Due to this issue, I purchased a mint-minus stock copy pressed at the Terre Haute plant, which turned out to have superior sound to the other discs I auditioned.

I maintain hope that someday Lee Michaels, perhaps after reading this blog post, will make available flat, high-resolution transfers from the master tapes for all to enjoy. Until that day, this remains the truest available representation of the Carnival Of Life.

Original promo poster which would have hung in record shops at the time of release

Link includes the artwork and various Lee Michaels paraphernalia from this period which I've been able to uncover. The rare promo poster above was scanned in full high-resolution 1200 dpi / 24-bit color, but has been down-sampled for the purposes of this post. If you would like the original 12 GB .psb file, or if you find more Lee Michaels material which is in need of high-resolution scans, please contact me using the email address listed on the side of this page.

Promo photo with paisley and beads, circa 1968
- Lee Michaels: piano, organ, harpsichord, vocals
- Hamilton Watt: lead guitar(s)
- Gary Davis: organ
- John Keski: bass guitar
- David Potter: drums (tr. 1-8)
- Eddie Hoh: drums (tr. 9)

Engineered by Jim Messina
Produced by Larry Marks
Album photography by Guy Webster

Vinyl condition: M-
Dynamic range: DR 12

Track listing:
1) Hello -- 4:29
2) Another One -- 4:12
3) Streetcar -- 3:39
4) Love -- 5:12
5) Carnival Of Live -- 3:06
6) Why -- 3:26
7) Tomorrow -- 4:37
8) Sounding The Sleeping -- 4:15
9) My Friends -- 2:42

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96kHz / 24bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2022 (recording)
– iZotope RX 10 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 3.3.x (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.16 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)

Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks! 

Enjoy the Carnival, it's a wild ride!  :)

Sexualized teenage hotspot in Fifteen Magazine, June 1968 

Post-Recital feature in Phoenix newspaper A Closer Look, June 1, 1968