Top Tunes ’19: Andrew Russ

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Every year WOUB Culture spotlights what music-centric folks in the region have been listening to all year round right in time for the holidays in our annual Top Tunes feature. 

Andrew Russ works for Ohio University by day and listens to and researches music at night. Does some other writing or art too sometimes. Over the last decade he found a lot of the advertisements and articles that were reprinted in the 100-page book in Smog Veil’s Peter Laughner boxed set which chronicled the brief mercurial career of a central figure in Cleveland’s mid-1970s music scene.

Andrew Russ
Andrew Russ with a concrete poem and found sculpture in 2006. (Photo by Will Napoli)

Here’s what I’ve been listening to a lot this year:  boxed sets

After (and while) having spent a lot of time researching and gathering material for the Peter Laughner boxed set, I made a point of listening to some of the boxed sets in my monstrous listening pile.  By their nature, boxed sets take a lot of time to listen to.

1. Bob Dylan: More Blood, More Tracks – The complete New York sessions for Blood On the Tracks on 6 disks along with the final versions of the 5 tracks rerecorded in Minnesota. Bob plays the songs solo, decides to bring in a band (guitar, steel guitar, bass drums, keyboards), then gradually drops members until it’s just him and the bass player. Keeps the best tracks along the way. Then listens to the test pressing and realizes it’s too monotone, so he has his brother and some others rerecord half the album in Minneapolis, then blends it all together into a classic. It’s still interesting to hear what transpired along the way.


2. Bob Dylan: Trouble No More – The gospel years (1978-1981) on 8 CDs and a DVD. Two full concerts (1980 and 1981) on half the discs, with the rest adding lots of unreleased songs, gospel covers, and live versions. Six of the eight CDs lead off with “Slow Train” (that seems to be the key song here). Sympathetic liner notes by nonbeliever Penn Jillette.


3. Jimi Hendrix: Jammin’ With Jimi – Unofficial release (“Licensed from the estate of Michael Jeffries”). My favorite Jimi Hendrix album is Nine To The Universe (or maybe Cry of Love) – pure guitar playing. This box is 6 discs of mostly improvisation – three discs at Jimi’s house in Shokan NY (which is good stuff, if loose and with some meandering), a disc or so with B.B. King (not as exciting as you’d expect), and almost two discs with Buddy Miles Express (which really cooks).


4. The 13th Floor Elevators: Sign of the Three-Eyed Men – Ten CDs with not exactly everything by these Texas psychedelic heroes – first two albums in mono and alternate stereo versions, the third album in standard version and an alternate configuration, “Live” tracks without the fake audience, actual life recordings from Texas and California and some after the breakup. Lots of bonus tracks. Great, but if you can’t find or afford this, there’s a good 3CD box with the standard stereo albums and some live tracks and singles.


5. The Beach Boys: Smile Sessions – This really is Brian Wilson’s masterpiece (even better than Pet Sounds), even though it took 40 years for the technology to catch up with Brian’s ambition. The big box has the final album on two LPs (one side with extra stereo mixes), two singles, two books, a poster, and 5 CDs.  One CD has the final album, one has mostly various takes and pieces of “Heroes and Villains”, one is nothing but “Good Vibrations” under construction, and the rest other songs, fragments, dialogue, sound effects, and “psycodelic sounds” (e.g. “Brian Falls Into a Piano”). Great if you want to get an idea what went into this.  If not, well, everyone should have the 2-disc vinyl or CD edition.


6. Pete Townshend: Lifehouse Chronicles – Pete Townshend’s Smile. Lifehouse was to be the science fiction movie follow-up to the rock opera Tommy. The movie never got off the ground (in part because Pete couldn’t explain the idea very well), so instead of the ambitious double album soundtrack, we got Who’s Next and a pile of singles (so not exactly a failure). Pete was obsessed with the idea and added new songs (e.g. “Who Are You”) and angles (Psychoderelict, a radio play about a washed-up middle-aged rock star). He does a few shows (one on DVD) and then compiles this 6 CD box available by mail order only – two CDs of demos, one of various songs, live recordings, and experiments, one of classical music, and two of a radio play aired on the BBC in 1999. There’s also a book which is mostly the script for the radio play, which involves the washed-up middle-aged rock star driving around in a post-apocalyptic polluted land and picking up his 8 year old self and a shabby superhero he drew back then while trying to track down his missing daughter who ends up on pirate radio. Sounds like Peter still hadn’t sorted out the story (but it does get more intelligible with a few listens, but it still needs some visuals). Pete still hasn’t completely dropped the idea, look for the graphic novel due out next year.


7. The Velvet Underground: The Complete Matrix Tapes – Four disks of 1969 recordings in pristine sound, about half of which were on the superdeluxe version of the third album, and some of which was on the 1969 Live album (but not properly mixed). Crucial stuff, including a 36 minute version of “Sister Ray”, and a lot of other songs stretched out. Some early Loaded songs (notably the original arrangement of “Sweet Jane”) and unreleased tunes.


8. Big Star: Complete Third + Alex Chilton: Bach’s Bottom – The sound of a band disintegrating in the wake of commercial failure and giving up and just doing art instead. This evokes everything in me from Nick Drake to the Jesus and Mary Chain. While the original PVC album from 1978 (the album wasn’t released at the time of recording in 1975) is the definitive track sequence, this collection takes you roughly chronologically from the demos through the rough mixes and dead ends and culminates with the final album. Alex Chilton went back for more the next year to record Bach’s Bottom, which is even looser and more shambolic. The most exhausted sounding version of “I’m So Tired” ever.  And “Take Me Home and Make Me Like It” comes in a version that’s as sloppy as “I’m So Tired” and another version that’s punk enough to get released on Ork records.


9. Roxy Music: The Complete Studio Recordings – I got this for the two-disc collection of single mixes and B-sides, but it also had all 8 albums. Definitely check out the first two albums (sleazy glam featuring Brian Eno making odd noises) and the last two (some of the lushest music ever).


10. The Doors: Perception – The six studio albums in 2006 remixes plus bonus tracks ranging from the ho-hum (studio chatter), to the interesting (“Indian Summer” was originally recorded for the first album), to the crucial (the complete “Celebration of the Lizard”).  A nice way to reconnect with this band.  Also comes with DVD-audio versions with surround-sound mixes.


11. Cecilia Bartoli: Maria – One of today’s opera stars has had a long obsession with Maria Malibran, whose brief career (1825-1836) took her from Europe to New York (perhaps the first true diva in America) and back to Europe, where she became a major superstar. Cecilia has spent years gathering scores (including opera pieces rewritten for her and even some songs by her), old posters and playbills, artifacts, and even nineteenth century tour merchandise (e.g. a pipe and a coffee service with her picture on it).  This was packaged as a 200-page book (though it’s in four languages, so you really only need to read a quarter of that) with a CD (featuring Cecilia’s lovely performances of these scores) and DVD.  If nothing else, it’s an effort similar to what I was involved with on Peter Laughner, so I could appreciate it on that level.


12. Angela Perley: 4:30 – Her first two albums were full of catchy country psychedelic ear worms, and this is more of the same, with perhaps more emphasis on slower ballads.  If you’ve been to a show in the last couple years, you will recognize some of these, augmented with additional instruments or studio sheen.


13. Dana: Glowing Auras and Black Money – Columbus noise punks featuring a female lead singer who doubles on theremin.  They cover Pere Ubu and Devo, but mostly their own songs.  The album title comes from a New York Times headline regarding “The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program”, which gives an idea of the band’s esoteric subject matter.  I first got this as a cassette at Melted in February.  I later got a second copy at Lost Weekend after being the first run was somehow defective (I didn’t notice the difference – maybe not all copies were affected?).  Then I got the third version released a couple months ago.  The main difference being the removal of some samples.  Great noisy fun.


14. Cotton Candy: Top Notch & First Rate – This is the debut album by the dynamic duo of Teenbeat head honcho Mark Robinson (Unrest, Air Miami, Flin Flon) and Evelyn Hurley (Blast Off Country Style, Hot Pursuit (not the Columbus police officer band) whose sets consist mostly of advertising jingles.  This album has 27 tracks on vinyl, and the recordable CD copy I got (mislabeled as an earlier demo) had another 10 or so bonus tracks (mostly instrumental/karaoke versions, and a trailer/ad for the album (“from dance music to heavy metal, it’s all here”).  There’s a certain level of ADD hyperactivity in this, which can occasionally get almost industrial on the more electronic numbers, but there’s also poppy almost new wave music as well.  We need to bring them to the No-Fi cabin at Nelsonville Music Festival.


15. Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde – I developed an obsession with this album over the last few years because of all the different mixes (Up to three mono and five stereo and one surround mix, not including various edits and single versions. See Roger Ford’s story “Blonde on Blonde: The Record That Can’t Be Set Straight”).  I repurchased a late 1970s vinyl copy like the first copy I had and had since sold and a Mobile Fidelity audiophile hybrid SACD with a remastered version of the definitive 2003 mix.  The vinyl sounded just like I remembered it from years ago, while the CD sounds really clear – on the verses of “Obviously 5 Believers” I can hear the shaker inside my head.