Thursday, December 14, 2017

Merry Keithmas! Part one: bev davies, the Rolling Stones, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band vs. Their Satanic Majesties' Request

bev davies and I - she likes her name all in lowercase, unless you're just calling her by her first name, Bev - had just been discussing the Rolling Stones a few weeks ago. We're both fans. She had taken earlier photos, but some of her first major pics are from the Stones Toronto show in 1965, at Maple Leaf Gardens (left); she had been following their music for a year or so previously, having been introduced to it on a trip to England, which was also how she learned about the Beatles, before they were a sensation here. The top pic here is from the Stones' Toronto hotel, April 26th, 1965: "I was way too intimidated to go, 'Hey Brian, look up here,' so we have the top of Brian’s head," Bev explains. "And we have Keith’s head, and we have Mick looking at me." (Mick was the one for Bev, apparently). Then the bottom one is from a press conference the night before at Maple Leaf Gardens, in what looks to be some sort of changing room for hockey players. Imagine a brown haired teenage girl snapping these while press mill around busily - and then realize that that same girl (minus the brown) will be taking photos at Keithmas this Saturday. I mean, holy fuck, right?

Vancouver's pretty lucky to have her.

Left: the Rolling Stones by Bev Davies,
not to be reused without permission

Right: Bev Davies in London, 1963

The whole story - including Bev's meeting with Brian Jones, whom she visited along with Brian's lookalike Glynn Bell of Toronto garage group (and one-time all-Stones cover band) the Ugly Ducklings, will appear, a couple of issues from the current one, in Big Takeover magazine (81 has my Art feature part one, 82 will have Art part 2 and maybe a Slow thing, and 83 should have Bev... if things go to plan, which they may not!). As I say, there is some stuff on Bev in the current and probably final issue of BC Musician, print-only, and availalbe for free at selected record stores and venues right now (I've seen copies at the Fox and Neptoon almost always has it. It has a Jim Cummins cover painting, and a photo Bev took inside of Jim painting behind a K-Tels gig at the Cultch!). With BC Musician folding, though - sad, because they were pretty great! - I had to find another English-language home for Bev's story, and Jack at BT jumped at it...

Anyhow, when the Stones came up, we had been discussing the Beatles - whom Bev had also seen in Toronto, but without her camera. And it was interesting to learn that - as I think was the case with Lemmy, too - she liked the early Beatles best, and tuned out post-Rubber Soul. (I go one further in the sequence: my favourite Beatles album is Revolver, but - some fondness for Abbey Road aside, mostly because of "Here Comes the Sun" - there's not many other albums by them I spin, ever; more often than not my go-to Beatles-related album is John and Yoko's Some Time in New York City, which I admit is a bit perverse of me). It was great to bond with her on how overrated Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band seems. "I just didn’t think it was real,” she said. “I thought, they really want to jump on the bandwagon, don’t they? I thought it was really calculated."

Which is what I have always felt. Nevermind being generally annoyed by the kitschy vaudeville of Paul McCartney - like I would EVER want to put on a side of an album where "When I'm 64" pops up! - there's something insincere about Sgt. Pepper's. I don't care how many drugs they were doing, or how iconic some of the songs on it became, it lacks the spontaneity and surprise and flat-out weirdness that belong to the psychedelic experience: there is just too much mediation, too much "thinking-about" to capture something as immersive and experiential as an acid trip. Some of the best songs on it - Ringo's "With a Little Help From My Friends," not made great until Joe Cocker interpreted it at Woodstock, but still - aren't even remotely trippy. And hell, Lennon wouldn't even admit - EVER -  that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was about LSD, while the trippy stuff in "A Day in the Life" seems more like it is coming from a studied avant-garde compositional approach than a stoned jam (with Paul McCartney soft-shoeing his way into that song, too - not being too too "obladi" about it - it is actually my favourite "vaudeville Paul" moments - but still). Hearing Bev kinda dismiss Sgt. Peppers' was one of those great "yeaah!" moments, where someone you respect says something you always thought, but haven't ever talked to anyone about.

The Pointed Sticks, July 2 2016, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Nick Jones of the Pointed Sticks - also playing Keithmas this Saturday - is of a similar mind, it turns out. "Sgt Pepper's is among the most overrated LPs ever, and not even in my Beatles top five. I like the early stuff best." (We'll have more from Nick in part two of this, though - since I know he's an opinionated guy - I also asked him if he prefers the stereo or mono version of Their Satanic Majesties' Request - the Stones' "response" to the Beatles, and he says, " Its a psychedelic record. Stereo, obviously." I confess to never having compared the two closely - I know some albums fare REALLY well in mono - I won't listen to the Kinks' The Village Green Preservation Society any other way, now that I've heard it).

So how does Bev feel about the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request? "I liked the idea that that was their answer to Sgt. Peppers. It was sort of more truthful than I thought the Beatles were at the time. People are going to hate me for saying this!"

Not me. I love Their Satanic Majesties Request. I have the original lenticular cover (a mono pressing, too). Anyone wanting to spend a hundred clams on a fun Christmas gift for me, buy me the deluxe reissue. Keith Richards is pretty dismissive about the album (and not so kind to acid, which Brian Jones was into in a major way) in Life, but I love pretty much all of Their Satanic Majesties' Request, can listen to it any day of the week.

What do other people involved in Keithmas think? If you could only pick one, would it be Sgt Pepper's, or Satanic Majesties?

The Rickshaw's Mo Tarmohamed won't commit, even off the record, but we share a big fondness for Revolver, it turns out. "I always thought Revolver was more groundbreaking," he writes, compared to Sgt. Pepper's - which I agree with."'Tomorrow Never Knows' was so different than anything else!"

(Personally, I'd rather Their Satanic Majesties over Revolver, too, but that's a bit apples-and-oranges, so we'll just leave Mo alone).

Rich Hope and His Evil Doers drummer and Straight writer/ movies editor Adrian Mack goes straight to the point, though: "If I was on a desert island, of course it would be Sgt. Pepper's. I'm not crazy."

(Rich Hope and his Evil Doers, Keithmas 2016, photo by Adam PW Smith - not to be reused without permission). 

And neither is Rich Hope - whose unit the Evil Doers has appeared at every Keithmas so far, and who will be present this Saturday, headlining. Rich is an awesome showman and the perfect dude to cover anything Keith Richards-related, so I am stoked to see him in this context (especially hearing that last year he tapped into some '80's Stones tunes, like the under-rated "Under Cover of the Night" - probably the last Stones album I really have paid attention to besides Blue and Lonesome (which is pretty great too). More from Rich in part two, but meantime, he agrees with his longtime collaborator. "I’d actually take Sgt. Pepper's only because its a way better record. I’ve never loved Satanic Majesties - except for 'Citadel.'"

Mack seconds "Citadel," and and remains adamant, no matter what I rant at him about the greatness of "She's a Rainbow" (or "2000 Light Years From Home," or...), about how Sgt. Pepper's reading The Psychedelic Experience and taking notes while Their Satanic Majesties is colouring on the walls with a crayon... I go on and on.  And score at least one point: "'She's a Rainbow' is wonderful, actually, agreed," Mack replies. "But the rest of what you just wrote is basically insane." He here gives a rare Mack emoticon: " :P " (which I believe indicates peeing on someone's colon). "Satanic Majesties isn't 'calculated?' Really?"

Well, okay, okay, the cover is calculated, sure. The decision to DO a psych record is calculated. Even some of the songs have every bit of crafted calculation as Sgt. Pepper's. But the moments I like most - check out "The Lantern" - sure don't feel that way!

As for Sgt. Pepper's, Mack continues: "I think it's an amazing record. Divinely inspired. it's certainly composed and artful, as you say. But I'm still listening, 37 years on from my first encounter. Satanic Majesties? Not so much."

All living members of the Rolling Stones would probably agree with him (though I suspect Bev's friend Anton Newcombe would be in our corner, and Genesis P-Orridge, and bev and I are prolly making the ghost of Brian Jones real happy, too). But I don't want Bev to feel, like, isolated on this point, so I put the question to Keithmas co-founder John Hewer: Sgt. Pepper's or Satanic Majesties?

"It’s much easier than you would think. I have never given two fucks for Sgt Pepper's. Never owned it and never listened to it all the way through. In some ways one of the worst things that could have happened to rock and roll. On the other hand I had the original holographic cover Majesties and for all the shit that record has received I defy another band to come up with 'Citadel,' 'She’s a Rainbow' and '2000 Light Years from home' and have it considered their worst album!"

Now we're talking! Take that, Mack and Hope! Satan for the win!

Part Two of my Keithmas interviews will appear presently, also with more from John Hewer, but meantime, which do you prefer, Sgt. Pepper's or Their Satanic Majesties Request? (And feel free to specify mono or stereo!).

Note: Keithmas 8 tickets are nearly sold out but there were still some at Red Cat yesterday, and maybe at other stores too! Facebook event page here


Unknown said...

Mono Pepper, always!

Allan MacInnis said...

Maybe that's my problem - I've only ever heard it in stereo!

Unknown said...

In that case I know what we're doing next time you hit the island

Unknown said...

Can I change my vote? :P

Allan MacInnis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JMH said...

If you’re smart you will

David M. said...

Mack is correct about mono Sgt. Pepper. I bought that one when it came out because a) the cover looked way better without the dumb yellow "STEREO" strip at the top, and b) I only had a mono record player at the time. Later, when all you could get was the stereo version on LP, and even later, when all you could get was the stereo version on CD, I enjoyed the stereo separation but it never sounded right to me or balanced properly. Only the mono version sounds right to me, maybe because I heard the mono version on a mono record player for about two years before I ever heard a stereo version, or maybe because it's what the Beatles and George Martin thought was the proper version and I was responding to that. As for "Satanic Majesties Request", let's just say that I was tremendously relieved when "Beggars Banquet" came out.

Allan MacInnis said...

In the film Lemmy, Lemmy very definitely weighs in on mono Beatles as being better. Since Village Green Preservation Society I have been a convert - to hell with this artificially re-channelled for stereo jive, if it was recorded as a mono album for mono players, and then messed with after the fact, mono is the way to go, it is how the album was SUPPOSED to sound. Of course I think there may be a few grey-area albums that were done both ways at thw same time, right at the mono-stereo changeover, where both are equally valid - like watching Herzog's Nosferatu in English or German. Not sure about how Sgt Pepper's and TSMR fit - but if they were released in mono before stereo came out, that seems like the way to go!

Allan MacInnis said...

Then we enter the world of dedicated mono mixes versus fold downs of stereo... Usually considered inferior. I am not enough of a collector to navigate confidently but I gather Let It Bleed was a rare good fold down (but actually originally recorded for stereo, if i understand this) whereas TSMR was a dedicated mono mix... Gonna look at Sgt Peppers next...

Allan MacInnis said...

There is a poll on that Steve Hoffman forum for Sgt Pepper's where it is lime 65/35 in favour of mono. But this article is more educational!

Allan MacInnis said...

Lime = like. Not a Gorgo reference: fat thumb on the phone keyboard!