Monday, April 12, 2010

Lost Albums

Since it's been a long time, this entry is like a "lost entry" and so I feel like it's fair to discuss "lost albums":

Lost albums in rock lore are pretty much legendary.  Sometimes they surface soon.  Sometimes they surface much later.  Sometimes they don't.  Sometimes it's just a bunch of tapes that are compiled later, or sometimes they are completely re-imagined from the ground up.  Here's a look at the more famous ones (and some personal favorites)

Cases in point:

1. The Beach Boys - Smile

This is probably the most fabled one of the "lost albums" bunch.  This was supposed to be Brian Wilson's "teenage symphony to God."  It was supposed to eclipse, yes, eclipse Pet Sounds.  How the hell is that supposed to happen?  Make another record more perfect than one of the most perfect pop records ever?  But for one reason or another, this album became lost.  Brian Wilson went a bit bananas, battling various sorts of not-very-good mental states, group conflict, and the ilk, all causing the project to fall to the wayside.  This record was bootlegged heavily, with fights all over, trying to compile the definitive statement regarding Smile.  But all that was, for most intents and purposes, settled in 2004 when Brian Wilson, finally returning to peak form, completed the record (now with strange capitalization schemes) we all know and love as SMiLE:

 Who knows if this is as good as the original was supposed to be?  I prefer to not think about that and just rejoice in the perfect pop that the record is.  In some sense, with age changing Brian Wilson's voice, the songs take on a new meaning, one of wizened (and therefore sly) reflection rather than the youth and innocence that so starkly characterized Pet Sounds...but it gives the record a second meaning.  And as I said, it's neither here nor there, as the album is as good as it gets (and I consider it one of the best entries of the previous decade).

2. Bob Dylan & the Band - The Basement Tapes

Another ubiquitous "lost album" that found its way to shelves when its commercial power was realized.  And what a powerful set of songs this is.  Down home folk, rolling blues, and the like, all casually tossed off as if recorded over breakfast or during a brief period of downtime in the middle of the day.  The songs ooze cool, nonchalance, a folksy wisdom that only Bob Dylan and the Band have been able to replicate (the Band moreso than Bobby D, but I think Bob Dylan made the conscious choice to avoid the same path).

Dylan was recovering from a motorcycle accident that had nearly ended him, and just recording by himself and the Band.  No one knows the particulars and the details, and various forms of the set of tapes exist.  In some ways, this album is still lost because there is no definitive statement on this time period outside of either going whole-hog with the entire complete set of the Basement Tapes (something like a five-disc set with at least three takes of most tracks) to the very short two-disc version missing some tracks.  The debate will always continue, and I honestly think Bob Dylan prefers it that way.

3. The Velvet Underground - VU

So perhaps this not necessarily a straight up "lost album" like Smile or just a smattering of tapes all thrown together like the Basement Tapes (despite similar origins), but the record has been compiled from rough mixes and demos into a finely tuned, muscular beast.  Mostly from the end of their career at MGM records, these tracks were supposed to be the last record on their deal there, but for reasons no man can fathom, they were unceremoniously booted from the label.  These demos and rough mixes were recorded for MGM before they left and recorded Loaded, but these tracks were left undiscovered until the 1980s when the Velvet Underground underwent a bit of a renaissance in terms of sales and opinion.

The record may seem to be a sort of outtakes and demos compilation that seems pre-solo Lou Reed more than anything else, but the (obvious) secret is that Lou Reed's best outfit for performing his songs had been and will always forever be with the Velvet Underground (i.e. John or Doug, Moe, and Sterling).  So yes, "Andy's Chest" shows up on Transformer, but the lazy beat on his solo work is replaced by a bouncing giddy-ness here that is superior.  "Stephanie Says" became "Caroline Says II" on Berlin, but to be frank, "Caroline Says II" is not great whereas "Stephanie Says" is perfect...a slightly cruel, very melancholy ballad that was likely directed at their manager at the time.

The record was prepared with as much care and consideration as, to a great extent, any other Velvet Underground record.  I consider it more or less canon, placing it in its recorded-chronological place rather than its release-chronological place (i.e. between the Velvet Underground and Loaded rather than post-Loaded).  The urge to wax more eloquent on this record is tempting, but I will prevent myself on doing so because it's quite contrary to the point of this entry.

There are other examples, both great and not so great, but given these case studies (Smile being the famous one, the Basement Tapes being the pretty famous one, and VU being the personal favorite), it is clear that at some point, a lost album will always be found.  As the myth indicates, "all that wander are not lost," and perhaps the idiom applies to a great extent for records in rock music.

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