So after everybody’s favorite Who album, Who’s Next, in 1971, Pete Townshend set upon one-upping my favorite Who album (their fourth), 1969’s Tommy. Tommy (along with Arthur by The Kinks) laid the rock-opera groundwork. Townshend’s mission was to improve upon and expand the concept. Thus, Quadrophenia, the 1973 masterwork chronicling the tale of a Mod everyman named Jimmy, a composite character who encapsulated all the inherent angst and alienation felt by drummer Moon, bassist Entwistle, singer Daltrey and Townshend himself.
In wading thigh-high through the five-CD Quadrophenia: The Director’s Cut boxed set (released by Universal Music Enterprises in Nov. 2011), I was struck by the songs that didn’t make the album (most of which are just as good as the ones that did). Continuing the trend of releasing song “ideas” before they became full-fledged songs is a genius stroke (a trend that came to hugely popular fruition in 1995 with the first volume of Anthology by The Beatles). Who wouldn’t want to hear the genesis of “The Real Me,” for instance, or “Doctor Jimmy?” There are 25 such demos on discs three and four. Disc number five is an eight-track surround-sound DVD. Add the 100-page hard-cover book with a 13,000-word Townshend essay, track-by-track commentary, studio diary, personal notes and photographs as well as a seven-inch vinyl single of “5:15” and “Water” and you’ve got a Who bonanza.
I just hope whoever has the rights to Arthur does the same thing.
Arista/Legacy has opened up the vault to a 19-year Aretha Franklin era that heretofore just didn’t get any respect. Aretha’s greatest sides have been well-documented (you should already own Queen Of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings) as has her earlier years (Take A Look: Aretha Franklin Complete On Columbia, a monster 12-CD box). Now comes Knew You Were Waiting: The Best Of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998. At first I flinched: “uh oh, disco Aretha?” But in celebrating Lady Soul’s 70th birthday, this 16-song stunner has her successfully collaborating with Keith Richards, Eurythmics, George Benson, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Elton John and Michael McDonald. You should hear her wail “Jumping Jack Flash!” And “Freeway Of Love” sounds just as good now as when it went number three in 1985. All hail the mighty Aretha! This one’s a keeper too.
What’s not a keeper is the truly awful Giant Single: The Profile Records Rap Anthology (Legacy), a two-disc mess of this label’s admittedly pioneering chapter in hip-hop history. Sure, you get such classic tracks as Run DMC’s “Walk This Way” Aerosmith duet as well as seminal cuts by DJ Quik (“Born And Raised In Compton”) and Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock (“It Takes Two”) but the 31 tracks spread out over two and a half agonizing hours also features the kind of rappers you just want to turn the fuck off like Disco Four, Pumpkin & The Profile All-Stars, Dana Dane and Pebblee-Poo. It all sounds so antiquated now. Hip-hop’s progressed to the point where these days its sophistication, rhymes and beats are eminently listenable. Back in the day, though, rappers rapped like carnival show hucksters or totally obnoxious game show hosts, thus this set, in a word, is annoying.
Finally, Back Porch Dogma (on San Francisco’s Blind Pig Records) by Las Vegas’ Contino is well worth picking up. This eclectic roots quintet (accordion, upright bass, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, keyboards, drums and vocals) fuses zydeco, rockabilly and the blues into an Americana gumbo of satisfying proportions. 11 tracks. No filler. Opening with the great “Rotgut Run,” covering Lieber & Stoller’s “Three Cool Cats,” and even featuring a duet with Maria Muldaur (“Big Tent”), band leader Pete Contino keeps the energy high and the cool quotient consistent.