Yes, top fives have arrived! Starting now, and hopefully once a week from here on out, I will put on the old thinking cap and envision a short list of random greatness in the world of Prog, Folk and Such (What a marvelously broad spectrum!!) Let's start today with something near and dear to my heart: RARE, UNRELEASED RECORDINGS!!!!!!! Or, as they are commonly known, Bootlegs.
TOP FIVE BOOTLEGS
Ahh, but to journey back to the mid-90's! My teenage years were off to a fresh start in 1993, and record stores dotted the landscape. Why, just in the five-mile vicinity of Battleground and Windover Ave. in Greensboro, NC, this record geek had the C.D. Superstore, Peaches, Edward McKay's and the venerable Record Exchange. Of the four, only Edward McKay's remains in this day of digital music, and that is probably because it also sells used books, dvds and video games. But back in the heady 90's, these stores were like pilgrimages into holy lands of discovery.
The Record Exchange was my favorite. It was here that I purchased my first Rolling Stones cd (Beggar's Banquet), My first used vinyl of Dylan ( John Wesley Harding), and my first bootleg cd. In the used cd market, bootlegs ran rampant. Strange titles you had never heard of from your favorite artists were printed up in manufactured cases and silver discs and sold for exorbitant prices (usually 20-30 dollars), with varying levels of sound quality. Some sucked, some didn't. My copy of a Guns N Roses show from the start of the Use Your Illusion Tour of 1991 ruled. Having never been able to see them live, and before the advent of mediafire downloads, this was the closest I was going to get to hearing the band in a live setting. While the double cd was an audience recording, a simple placement of my father's audiophile headphones onto my young noggin and two closed eyes whisked me away to a May night in Illinois two years before.
My love for bootlegs has not lessened in the wake of technological advancements we have seen fly by our faces in the last 17 years. In fact, I would say now is the perfect time to explore the classics of the genre, since so many are available on the web. So, without further adieu, and with only the smallest of hints given to pay attention to the "year of release" hyperlinks, may I present THE TOP FIVE BOOTLEGS OF ALL TIME!!!
The Great White Wonder - Bob Dylan (1969)
The first of its kind. So mind-blowing was its impact that Rolling Stone gave it a leading review in its pages. This represents one of the few places listeners will ever hear Dylan singing his "New Orleans Rag", "Death of Emmit Till" and his covers of "Dink's Tune" and " Poor Lazurus". When the album first arrived in West Coast Record stores in 1969, people honestly though it was a legitimate new Dylan release, and it sold out so quickly, the bootleggers had to make more to meet demand for East Coast Orders!
Smile - The Beach Boys (1967)
For the rest of this list, I will focus on unreleased albums. (Great White Wonder is a compilation bootleg of live cuts, unreleased material and covers) We will start with the most famous of that genre, The Beach Boys' legendary Smile. While the album saw release by Brian Wilson and his touring band in 2004, The Beach Boys recordings have only seen sporadic cuts released on various albums and box sets. Listening to the restored original sessions for the album on a good bootleg is like peeking into Pandora's box, hearing the sounds that drove Brian to madness trying to get them onto vinyl for the world, his "Teenage Symphony to God". In a time where even the Monkees studio chatter is officially released, it boggles my mind that these seminal tracks have never seen a properly sequenced release. Thank God for the boots!!
This video won't let me embed it, but it needs to be seen to witness Brian Wilson doing a solo performance of "Surf's Up" for Leonard Bernstein's 1967 television Special.
The Dream Factory - Prince (1986)
Oh, to be on the roll that His Royal Badness was on in the mid 80's. With the Chart-Hammering Success of Purple Rain and the Psychedelic Pop Bliss of Around the World in a Day already under his belt in the last two years, even the relative failure of the Parade album and Under the Cherry Moon film couldn't stop this man from getting everything her wanted... Except a Double Album. Warner Bros. balked at the idea of the Dream Factory's length, especially when Prince dropped the idea and decided to make a triple disc instead entitled Crystal Ball, which was to include the bulk of Dream Factory as well. This they refused to release outright. Prince eventually conceded, dropped most of the material and The Revolution, and released his classic double platter Sign 'O' the Times. Hearing the double album that could have been is a fascinating insight into Prince's genius, and the song "Crystal Ball" may be the best thing he ever recorded ... ENJOY!!
Here's a great clip of Siskel and Ebert reviewing the Sign 'O' the Times Concert Film in 1987.. I miss these guys!
The Lillywhite Sessions - Dave Matthews Band (2000)
In 2ooo, I was a Junior in college and soaking up any music news I could off the still-nascent web. Napster had spread like wildfire at this time, but CDs were still selling and the itunes/youtube/anything you want for free days of the net net were years off. But the first viral bootleg that snagged us all was Dave's masterpiece. I'm not sure if it was because none of us liked Everyday as much as we thought we should have, or that my circle of friends were huge fans of Steve Lillywhite's production, but we obsessed over this bootleg. When I finally located the download in a dark corner of Webcrawler, it was more exciting than any "purchase" I had made since that day in the Record Exchange in 1993. It took about five hours to download, but listening to that album on my winamp player, burning it to cd, and enjoying it still to this day made me a part of the bootleg process. When Busted Stuff came out later, the songs that finally saw official release still had that power, that "Immortality" as Entertainment Weekly put it. But that campfire like glow of the computer screen with crappy speakers emanating "Grey Street" and "Grace is Gone" over and over again , that wasn't there. But it still is every time I listen to the old cd-r.
Extraordinary Machine (Jon Brion version) - Fiona Apple (2005)
Like Steve Lillywhite before him, Jon Brion is a hell of a producer. And his version of Fiona Apple's third album is better than the released album, much like Steve's is better. They should start a club. Only "Waltz" and the title track were Brion's on the released album....and they were the best tracks. Hearing "Oh, Sailor" in the original version is a revelation, and so are the 8 other tracks. To close out this post, I would like to say that if these boots prove anything, it's that there is a market for these valuable recordings. To hear them in remastered sound as a download or a 180g vinyl would be a dream come true. So what are you waiting for artists?....RELEASE THEM!!!!!!!
PS MGMT's new album Congratulations comes out today!! You can still sream it in its entirety at www.whoisMGMT.com!!!