Let’s treasure Petty’s legacy and damn the torpedoes

Lifestyle

JUST FOR THE RECORD

Let’s treasure Petty’s legacy and damn the torpedoes

A fortnightly review of the world of vinyl

Andrew Donaldson

The death in October last year of Tom Petty, three weeks before his 67th birthday, put paid to a remarkable career that will be be celebrated on the first anniversary of his passing with the release by Reprise Records of An American Treasure, a 60-track set on four CDs featuring previously unreleased recordings, alternate versions of classic songs, rarities, historic live performances and deep cuts that spotlight the depth and evolution of revered and influential songwriter, recording artist and performer. A deluxe six-disc vinyl box set featuring all 60 tracks and a 48-page book will be released later in the year, on November 23.Petty’s masterpiece remains 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes (Backstreet Records), a set he’d recorded with backing band The Heartbreakers, one in which his vision of a Stones-Byrds fusion was finally realised. With songs like Refugee, American Girl, Here Comes My Girl, Louisiana Girl and Even the Losers, it’s virtually a “Greatest Hits” of Petty’s earlier years. There were few mainstream rock albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s as strong as this, and it remains one of the great records of the album rock era. It was widely reissued on vinyl by Geffen Records/Universal Music Group last year.
FURTHER TO THE 50TH ANNIVERSARIES …
On Thursday, August 16, cinemas across Britain will be screening a rebooted version of Elvis Presley’s famed 1968 NBC concert special, an event the Observer newspaper has described as “one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll comebacks, and also one of the biggest television events in history”.
The show stunned many critics who’d felt Presley’s career was all but over at the time, trapped as he was in “creative exile”, as one put it, contractually churning out a stream of increasingly awful and anodyne Hollywood musicals. Here, though, the singer never looked more dynamic and meaner, clad in black leather, and belting through his hits in what were effectively his first live performances in eight years.The screening is bound to rekindle interest in the RCA Victor records that Presley released at this time, two of which are perhaps essential. The first, Elvis (NBC TV Special), released in December 1968, is basically a dramatic live recording of the show, and showcases a blend of rock and soul, gospel and pop, blues and country that Presley made his own. There have been subsequent compilation reissues on CD, which have included more material from the performances and rehearsals, but the original vinyl is a more than adequate document. It was reissued in punchy mono in 2013 by RCA, with some versions on red vinyl.Even better is From Elvis in Memphis, which was released in May 1969. Built on the success of the TV show, and the realisation that he still was the exciting and vital performer that he’d been a dozen years earlier, the album is widely regarded as one of the greatest white soul albums ever released, with brief but considerable forays into country, pop, and blues as well. What’s more, Presley was supported here by the best playing and backup vocals in his entire recording history. There are a number of reissues on vinyl, including a limited edition Danish double album set that packs in outtakes and alternative versions of the album’s original dynamite dozen songs.
VINTAGE CORNER
Like many of the Jamaican producers who’d follow in his footsteps, Prince Buster was a man born to experiment. His earliest work, for acts like the Skatalites and Desmond Dekker, revealed how he built songs around rhythm patterns that involved Rasta drumming and thus rescued the island’s musical acts from being mere R&B imitators and forged the new and exuberant forms of ska and later, rocksteady. 
His own work as a singer, however, on songs like Madness, Shaking Up Orange Street and Burke’s Law helped establish a footprint outside of his native Jamaica and his early long players — essentially collections of his single releases — are worth hunting down.His 1963 LP, I Feel the Spirit, initially on Fab Records, was the first ska album to be released outside Jamaica on the British Bluebeat label. It’s an excellent introduction to Buster’s earliest work, which served as an inspiration, almost two decades later, for the Two-Tone movement in the UK in the early 1980s. Better still is the 1968 compilation, initially on Fab Records, Fabulous Greatest Hits. The original pressings may be rare, but there are countless reissues out there, some of dubious legality, but absolutely crucial nonetheless.BURIED TREASURE
International record collectors and soul aficionados continue to express amazement at the supposedly “best kept secret” that was the 1960s Durban export, The Flames. They started life in the early 1960s as an excellent cover outfit, scoring an international hit in 1968 with a version of the Impressions’ R&B classic, For Your Precious Love. In fact, listening to the group — the Fataar brothers Edries “Brother”, Ricky and Steve, along with Blondie Chaplin — it was difficult to discern they were in fact South African.Their early albums, 1967’s Burning Soul! and 1968’s Soulfire!! (both on Rave Records), were reissued by Teal in 1989 on vinyl, and these, rather than the earlier versions, are commonly found at vinyl fairs and record markets. They’re both crammed with essential tunes from the Stax and Motown labels, including Try a Little Tenderness, You Keep Me Hanging On, Knock On Wood, Land of a Thousand Dances, Hold On I’m Coming and, just for variety, one of the earliest ever covers of a Hendrix tune, Purple Haze.
Things got interesting when the band moved to England where the Beach Boys’ Al Jardine caught their act and convinced Carl Wilson to sign them to Brother Records, the Beach Boys’ label. There followed a drawn-out legal and political process to allow the band to move to the US and work there. And they had to drop the “s” from their name to avoid confusion with James Brown’s backing band.Only one album emerged from their work with the Beach Boys, 1970’s 10-song set, the self-titled The Flame. Critics noted that it was largely inspired by the Beatles’ later work, and generally approved of the material. Sales were dismal and the songs here may have sunk without trace had not Chaplin and Ricky Fataar briefly joined the Beach Boys’ touring band in the early 1970s and included some of their compositions in the Beach Boys’ repertoire. In 2006, Fallout Records issued a “needle drop” version of The Flame on CD but it is a poor substitute for the original vinyl release. Here is a taste: https://youtu.be/R8MmosnYn4s

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