Richard Butterworth — On Track... Pink Floyd
It was only a matter of time before someone within SonicBond's team of writers would address the legacy of the progressive mastodon Pink Floyd. Credit for this well-crafted book befalls on Richard Butterworth, graphic designer and author of the On Track edition on Jefferson Airplane.
Butterworth is a lifelong fan of Pink Floyd who over the years has assembled an extensive array of knowledge of the band and their music and lyrics, most of which he delightfully shares with a high degree of literacy in this latest On Track offering.
His word-smithery is most excellent, although it must be mentioned that it requires a more-than-basic understanding of the English language. Especially in light of his use of metaphors, sentence building and vocabulary. As a consequence, the first part of the book demanded full focus on my part, which made it at times feel a bit dry. This could just as easily be down to my own detachment from Floyd's music during these early years which features albums like Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother and the soundtrack Music From The Film 'More'. Apart from several songs, most of them deriving from Syd Barrett's time with the band (Arnold Layne, See Emily Play), these aren't amongst my favourite PF albums.
Therefore, Butterworth's statement that with 1971's Echoes (from Meddle) "anyone who might have felt alienated by early Floyd, now receives a warm welcome" is to me a spot-on conclusion. As it happens, I received this warm welcome some nine years after this song's original release when, aged 10, Another Brick In The Wall hammered its way into our Dutch charts. Provoked by the memorable video and excellent guitar work from David Gilmour, it didn't take long before I explored The Wall, Dark Side Of The Moon and the compilation album Relics.
Several months later, a sunny holiday in Spain was well spent in buying a cassette of what I believed to be Meddle. Sadly I parted ways with that specific cassette long ago, for if memory serves me right, this wasn't PF's own recording, but one done by a Spanish cover band. Memory also tells me that I used this "mysterious" tape once to my advantage in primary school, when we had to lecture about a song. I chose Echoes to minimise my time of speech. I was always way better at maths.
With Butterworth paints the understandings between Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Rick Wright and David Gilmour perfectly, without taking sides. The book is well underway before he successfully gets to address Dark Side Of The Moon on page 71. In this chapter, he proves that after 40 years of everything being said on this iconic album, there's still room for more praise and interesting elaborations. From this point, my interest is not only awakened on a musical level, with the marvellous Wish You Were Here shortly after to show for it, but also through Butterworth's excellent analysis on the various albums that follow.
Leaving no stone unturned, he tells (in typical On Track style) about the recordings, themes and messages of the albums and gives a great insightful run down of The Wall's narrative. He does not hide his admiration for Waters during these albums, and also makes sure to give Gilmour due credit for his mighty achievements on the underrated Animals and defining songs like Run Like Hell and Comfortably Numb, two of PF's most pristine moments. The accomplishments of Wright and Mason, however, remain fairly under-exposed.
Taking in most of Butterworth's words and musical preferences with agreement, it's his judgement on "the magnificent" The Final Cut that puts his appraisal to the test; but that's obviously down to taste.
With growing tensions, accounted for beautifully by Butterworth on various levels, the band's story ultimately results in a large dispute and ongoing legal battles between Gilmour and Waters. An issue still not solved as the book's penultimate chapter on PF's 2022's Ukrainian benefit song Hey Hey, Rise Up so painfully shows, with Waters declining the offer to participate on PF's last feat of arms.
The split-up aside, it's both Waters and Gilmour that reap its benefits to the fullest, the latter astounding fans with the mighty A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, an album justly rated by Butterworth as 'the most Floydian Floyd' albums since Animals. What follows is a monumental tour which, amongst others, brings them in front of me and 59,999 like-minded enthusiastic fans at the Goffertpark in Nijmegen on the 10th of July, 1989. A magical moment, still cherished today.
A massively televised stop at Venice, although not mentioned in the book, takes place five days later. After this, the majestic Delicate Sound Of Thunder, the pristine The Division Bell and the excellent P.U.L.S.E. establish Pink Floyd as one of prog's biggest names. Their ongoing influence towards many progressive artists, as evidenced by the numerous tags appearing in many of DPRP's reviews, is still very much seen and heard today.
After a final admiration on Butterworth's behalf towards the unexpected epitaph entitled The Endless River, the book comes to a comprehensive and satisfying close with a sum-up of live recordings (surprisingly short), compilation albums (surprisingly long), miscellaneous efforts, and a list of eleven personal Floydian highlights from the author. Including the various anecdotes, quotes, lyrical insertions, and 16 pages of full-coloured pictures that cover all the different eras of the band, Butterworth's enchanting tale proves to be a fine addition to the On Track series, despite not completely catering on the "every song" department for understandable reasons explained in Butterworth's foreword.
Overall Butterworth's entertaining read is a must for Pink Floyd fans and highly recommended for those that show an (insatiable) interest into prog and musical history. As is often the case, the book's passionate outcome sees me reconnect to the band in question, this time filling up my Christmas wish-list nicely. Any help to locate a decent copy of my once-owned illustrious tape that shined with bubbly pink letters in a galactic deep-blue design would however be much appreciated, for to my sorrow it seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth.
Peter Gallagher — Decades - Kiss In The 1970s
After his book on Warron Zevon and Marc Bolan, and another on Tyrannosaurus Rex and T.Rex, author Peter Gallagher returns with his third effort taking a closer look at Kiss in the 1970s. With this book, Gallagher actually happens to play right into my musical upbringing. As such, this read-in-one-go effort is a feast of recognition in many ways that reconnects me once again with cherished memories, the music, the era, and all that was forged during those days.
It has to be said that not all of my musical exposure automatically fits DPRP's guidelines, far from it, and from a prog point of view, Kiss predominant hard rock style is indeed stretching it a bit, with only a handful of songs and their excellent 1976 artistic highlight Destroyer fitting a "prog" bill during this period. However, mixing disco and hard rock on their 1979 international breakthrough album Dynasty, and a subsequent proggy surprise two years later in form of the concept album Music From The Elder, stunning fans, critics and enemies in a variety of ways, shows how the band did make some very progressive steps at the time.
Some of these steps I witnessed first-hand directly after I Was Made For Loving You's video was first aired in 1979 on Ad Visser's show TopPop. This unforgettable historic event essentially jump-started my love affair with music, and turned me into a certified Kiss addict at the age of ten. The sheer impact of the band's never-before-seen visual spectacle was the talk of the town (read: school yard) and soon after resulted in lifelong friendships.
Gallagher's perfectly entertaining story captures almost all the aspects we discovered during those days. This obviously included all the albums released prior to Dynasty, such as the rock hard Love Gun, their excellent eponymous debut and the iconic Kiss Alive! and Kiss Alive II albums. We didn't know about the individual drug addictions and the various "ghost"-musicians playing on Dynasty, the studio side of Alive II and the soon-to-be released Unmasked, as this was kept well hidden by the band's management. Over time, we eventually found out. The first sign was when Peter Criss was replaced by Eric Carr in 1980.
If only we had Gallagher's engagingly told book in those days! Although it would have to have been in Dutch, as English wasn't taught at elementary school back then. So when Shandi was released, we probably thought this song was about a fizzy alcoholic drink (yeah, right), while Mr. Speed was obviously fast-driving, and Love Gun couldn't be anything other than a miraculous weapon of peace. Oh, to be young again! Gallagher's excellent detailed track and lyric analysis, laced with funny remarks, would burst our bubble in no time.
It also would have saved us the trouble of watching the disastrous The Phantom Of The Park movie, finding out about the origins of Wicked Lester and the real names of our heroes. And the peace-keeping reasons behind the simultaneously released 1978 solo albums by the original members Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. And let's not forget the success of the mind-boggling, syrupy piano ballad Beth, the outrageous costumes and revolutionary live shows. The Kiss Army, the merchandise machine and the face-painted characters of The Starchild, The Spaceman, The Demon, and The Catman. I could go on and on...
It therefore shouldn't come as a big surprise that when Kiss announced a concert for the 5th of October 1980 at Groenoordhallen (Leiden, Netherlands), supported by Iron Maiden, we spent every single guilder we had on tickets. Money extremely well spent, for we were blown away by their phenomenal show of fire-breathing, flying guitars that burned, a high rising drum plateau, Simmons' memorable bloody shock-rock performance during God Of Thunder and an orgy of other-worldly fireworks.
Building his insightful and informative story, Gallagher ends his narrative in 1980 with Unmasked, the final album to mention (but not feature) all four original members. Hereafter he shortly addresses the events that followed, such as the band's 1995 MTV unplugged show and the subsequent official 1996 reunion tour (witnessed!), the new recruits Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, and finally mentions the band's End Of The Road farewell tour. A tour, which as a nostalgic fan I had to attend in 2019 for the third and final time.
On whether this really marks the end, I'm a bit sceptic. But according to Gallagher, apparently Simmons and Stanley are adamant that this time it's truly the end. The end of 50 years being in the spotlight as the most recognisable act in the world, with influences of their huge achievements to be found in every corner of the world. Be it in the comics, pin-ball machines, the gaming world, movies, tributes, Eurovision song-festivals (Lordi anyone?), pop music (Robbie Williams) or metal (Rammstein), to give just a few examples.
Needless to say, this excellent read is highly recommended for Kiss fans, young and old, who want to get all the intel and insights on their superheroes during their prime. Those interested in musical history, prog-fans included, should be equally pleased to check out this well-written overview. Top tip: listen to Music from The Elder while your at it. I swear you might be pleasantly surprised once the brilliant The Oath starts.
Emma Stott — On Track... Jimi Hendrix
Many, many books have been written about Jimi Hendrix and his music. I've read several, most of which were written in a biography style (some loosely, I have to add), following his life as much as his music. As we know, the On Track series follows a different course.
The books written by people who were there and close to him (Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding and Jimi's brother Leon Hendrix), are in a field of their own. (Billy Cox and Eddie Kramer helped on books by others, mostly chronological information on sessions. If Cox or Kramer would ever write biographies, I would buy them immediately.)
The benchmark book Electric Gypsy (Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek) is a great read as a biography, plus an excellent source for collectors - another book category. I also enjoyed John McDermott's works a lot (Billy Cox helped him out), also focusing on chronological data, which is great for a collector like me. I found Crosstown Traffic by Charles Shaar Murray harder to read. It is more of a novel with literature-aspiring language than a biography.
(Some books I have little interest in reading. Mick Wall has proved to be a lazy journalist in some writings. And step-sister Janie Hendrix has met her step-brother probably only once at an age she can hardly remember, and is now making the estate look money-hungry; two reasons for my not being interested.)
And then there is this book. It might get drowned with the massive flow of On Track publications, but it deserves more. With its mere 140 pages it is probably one of the thinnest in the series but offers more value than some of the others.
With only four official albums released in his lifetime (the three Experience albums plus Band Of Gypsys), there is a lot of room to give extra info, bring in cultural references, and nods to other books. There was more of this than I expected, making it a fascinating read. It is making a connection to those other books.
Stott pays attention to a lot of detail (music, lyrics, recording details, cultural situation) and takes relevant quotes from many sources, bringing it all together to paint a picture as complete as possible. There's her opinion, and she's not afraid to say certain songs are not up to par. By describing the songs, the evolution of Hendrix's music and notes from people who were there, you still get the biographical story.
Stott is a lover of 1960s and 1970s music, a writer and an English teacher. A great combination. She knows what makes a good read. Her writing style makes for fast reading, even for those with English as a second language (like myself). Not because the language is simple, but because it's a great read. As a teacher, Stott must realise how readers read a book.
She references other books in ways that you can be sure she has read them all. She mentions cultural aspects that I knew about but never made the connection with. This is refreshing to read, and it never feels far-fetched (which was one problem I had with Crosstown Traffic).
Several years ago, I switched from collecting albums (and for some artists, even different pressings of a release) to collecting recordings. Albums are just collections of recordings, especially after an artist dies and the estate releases a lot of albums. (I've not bought an Experience Hendrix release in two decades). Reading Stott's book, I realised that my focus on the chronology of recordings has made me overlook some gems (a song like Gypsy Eyes, for example), which are very visible on an album, but got a bit lost when having everything based on date of recording. So my rediscovery of songs like that is also due to this book.
The format of the On Track series is that the songs are viewed based on albums. Stott does a good job bringing in tracks that were released as singles and only sometimes added as bonus tracks, and all the tracks from the UK and US versions of the first album. Later on, she deals with a few posthumous releases with many previously unreleased tracks. With the huge amount of recordings and different versions that Hendrix made, it is not doable to discuss everything. I would love to read her thoughts on several of the unreleased versions though. Perhaps an idea for a blog Ms. Stott? But for now, we have this book, and it is a wonderful read.
Guy M. Tkach, Peter M. Sieker — Steven Wilson Footprints II: Solo, Production & Contributions
Last year, the first volume of the complete Steven Wilson, Footprints Volume 1: Early Years & Porcupine Tree was issued by authors Guy Tkach and Peter Sieker for the price of a charitable donation. Given the detail and the time taken to compile all the information contained within, it was a very generous gesture by the authors. To date, that book has raised over £6,700 and provided valuable aid to nearly two hundred different charities worldwide.
This second volume concerns itself with Wilson's solo work, his work as a producer and various musical projects that he has contributed to. The solo work is not just confined to material put out under his own name, but also includes the ambient Bass Communion and the so-called 'Krautrock'-inspired improvisations of I.E.M.
The lore than 1,500 pages contain all you ever wanted to know, and probably a lot you never need to know, about Wilson's non-band output since 1981. As an aside, it is remarkable to think that Wilson, seen as a modern purveyor of prog music and beyond, has a back catalogue that extends to 41 years!
Much more than a discography, the electronic book is split into six chapters that cover various periods over Wilson's solo and production career. Of course, they are not all equal, for example the first chapter (Taste My Dreams) covers 1980 - 2010, while the next three chapters cover two years each, and the final two chapters cover three years apiece. Each chapter contains the author's summary of Wilson's activity within the period described and also numerous posts from music papers, fanzines, social media and Wilson's own communications to his fan-base from on-line diaries, Twitter, website updates and just about every source imaginable.
In many ways it is an obsession taken to the extreme, but it is done with such care and attention-to-detail that it is an almost unbelievable achievement. After all, no one thinks Mark Lewishom is some kind of weird stalker figure for compiling the day-today activity of The Beatles (but of course, the Fab Four are on a totally different level to Wilson, no disrespect to all that Wilson has achieved in his career to date).
This volume also contains seven appendices which, quite properly, includes a full bibliography, reference list and picture credits, this is a professional publication right down to the ISBN number! Other appendices cover newsletters and interviews from 2015 / 2016 (not sure why it is limited to these years, perhaps Wilson only issued newsletters in that period), a 22-year collection of play-lists, which is perhaps rather excessive but does demonstrate Wilson's broad musical tastes, and most handily for the ardent collector a discography with images of each release.
One cannot fault the endeavour and its charitable aims. This volume alone will keep even the most casual supporter occupied for many hours. And there is still a third volume covering his collaborations to come. Although (almost) everyone is suffering in the current economic crisis, if money is tight maybe add this book to a Christmas list; safe in the knowledge that all the money will go to a good cause of your choosing.