s Tom Hull: Rearview Mirror

Rearview Mirror #6

Crazy Blues, Classic Rock

by Tom Hull

Live 1964: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6
(1964, Columbia/Legacy)

One way to track the turbulent changes in Dylan's career is to note how his live albums rework his old songs. Before the Flood, in particular, tore into his early work with bare contempt. But he was still a steadfast folkie, just four rapidly evolving albums into his career, when he presented this Philharmonic Hall concert, played solo (aside from four dreadful Joan Baez duets). He was by then a big fish in a small pond, with a handful of iconic songs, but not so many that the concert dwells on the overly familiar. The crowd is adulatory. His stage patter is awkward. His harmonica is piercing, while his guitar seems vestigial. Whereas later he'd rush through these songs, the most striking ones here are distinguished by patience: the love song "To Ramona" and the dialectical "It's Alright Ma," where "money doesn't talk, it swears" and "even the president of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked." Reminds one that in his heyday, Dylan was regarded as an oracle.

From Small Things: The Best of Dave Edmunds
(1970-2002, Columbia/Legacy)

Seconds of Pleasure
(1980, Columbia/Legacy)

Dave Edmunds came along too late for the British Invasion -- the great work of introducing America's teens to the hard-rocking music of their elders had already been done. But he copped an asterisk: a hard-rocking version of "I Hear You Knockin'." Edmunds was so devoted to old-fashioned rock and roll and had so little artistic ambition that he became the favored producer of England's pub rockers. But his pals were prolific enough that he got a shot at songs like "I Knew the Bride" (Nick Lowe), "Girls Talk" (Elvis Costello), and "Crawling From the Wreckage" (Graham Parker), parlaying them into a series of classic albums that peaked with 1979's Repeat When Necessary. His studio band on that album, including Lowe, went on tour, using the name of Edmunds' first album: Rockpile. For a while they sounded like the great rock and roll band of the era, but their one-and-only album, Seconds of Pleasure, didn't quite live up to their rep. They fought, they split up, and none was ever as good again. The new reissue of Seconds is padded out with their EP of Everly Brothers covers and cranked up with three smoking live cuts. Now that there's no place for anti-hype, it sounds a lot better. The new Edmunds best-of is cranked up even more, covering a lot of years without indulging his marginalia. All it does is rock.

Singles 1963-1965
(1963-65, Abkco)

This is what you get for $59.98 list: one small box, 5.5 inches square, 1.25 inches thick; 12 CDs, most under six minutes with just two songs, in jackets scaled down from the original artwork; a 28-page booklet, heavily illustrated with collectorama; three cards with pictures of the band. This covers nine singles and three EPs released in the UK: 33 short songs, which with a different marketing strategy would fit on a single CD. So most of what you pay for here is packaging, and most of what you get for all that packaging is a way to focus on the emergence of a great rock and roll band single-by-single in a time when singles were still the name of the game. With this focus you can see that as early as "I Want to Be Loved" (Disc 1), they were distinctive interpreters, and as early as "Stoned" (Disc 2), they could write a jazzy vamp that let them flex their chops. They mostly recorded covers up to "Little Red Rooster" (Disc 9) -- a series that grew more distinctive, from Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" (Disc 4) and the Valentinos' "It's All Over Now" (Disc 5) to Irma Thomas' "Time Is on My Side" (Disc 8). Meanwhile, their own songs started to take shape, including the magnificent "Tell Me" (Disc 7) and the ominous ballad "Play With Fire" (Disc 11). The box stops just short of "Satisfaction," but you know the rest.

Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot
(1897-1925, Archeophone)

Mamie Smith's 1920 "Crazy Blues" is famous as the first recorded blues. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band were the first recorded jazz band in 1917. Both are included here, along with 1925's "Cake Walking Babies From Home," by Clarence Williams' Blue Five, but nowadays more commonly filed under the name of the cornet player, Louis Armstrong. We tend to think of these records as the beginnings of recorded music, but they are the end points of this erudite chronicle, which starts with a march Thomas Edison recorded circa 1897 and traces out the birth of the hot style that made the '20s roar. The ancient recordings here include marches, rags, dance songs, and minstrelsy that sounds as offensive now as it seemed normal then. It's shocking how much the world has changed in little more than a century, and surprising that music so far removed from anything we've experienced still signifies so powerfully.