Joel Goldenberg: Albums that should have been revised

Roger Daltrey of The Who at a 1974 Charlton, England Who concert, a difficult year for the band which inspired the mood of The Who By Numbers.

Some albums in pop and rock history are absolute perfection, in my mind, like the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, the Who's Quadrophenia and Who's Next, the Rolling stones' Beggar's Banquet and Exile on Main Street, and many others that were sequenced perfectly and in which each song contributes to the overall atmosphere of the LP.

And as I've written previously, there are some albums that are just a mess, or seem like it, although they have their fans. In the 1960s, those usually were albums put together by record companies if a band was not quick enough with their next all-new release. Those have included the Who's Magic Bus, the Rolling Stones' Flowers and some early Kinks albums in their American incarnations, where Extended Play songs, B-sides, album tracks from the U.K. and even wholly unreleased songs would be slapped together.

And then there are albums that a record label or artist puts together, and while adequate or even good, it could have been better with some minor or major changes. Here are my candidates:

Elvis Now-Elvis Presley: As I've mentioned before, the title of this early 1972 album was highly misleading. The "now" songs were from sessions that took place in Nashville in March and May of 1971, but others took place in Nashville in June 1970, and the oldest song was the worst — an all too casual cover of Hey Jude by the Beatles from the otherwise great early 1969 Memphis sessions.

What they should have done: Yank the older songs like I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago (already heard in snippets on the Elvis Country album) and Hey Jude and replace them with two 1971-vintage songs released as stand-alone singles, my favourite Elvis song of all time, It's Only Love; and the very sad I'm Leavin'. Not only would those two have raised the quality of the album, but we would have heard those two songs in stereo before their 1980 release on the Elvis Aaron Presley box set.

Face Dances-The Who: Although some critics have grown a bit fond of this 1981 post-Keith Moon album, I'm still not a fan. The big hit, You Better You Bet is all right, but the preceding hit, Who Are You from three years before, was so much better. The final song, Another Tricky Day, was a sign of what the "new Who" could have become. The album itself has an overall bland atmosphere, and John Entwistle's contributions are far from his best, lacking his usual macabre humour. My perspective of the album changed somewhat after having listened to a promo-only double LP of The Who (mainly songwriter Pete Townshend) discussing the inspiration behind each song.

What they should have done: This should have been a more toned down production, and Pete Townshend should have sung lead on most, if not, all of the songs. Basically, with the exception of Another Tricky Day, which suits usual lead singer Roger Daltrey, this should have been a Townshend solo album. The songs were too personal for Daltrey's classic rock singing.

Rubber Soul-The Beatles: Beatles purists usually prefer the UK version of their albums, as that is what the band and their producer George Martin put together. But, as I've mentioned previously, I and a whole lot of people in North America grew up on the U.S. versions, altered sound, Duophonic fake stereo and all. Even veteran rock critic Dave Marsh wrote a whole book on the virtues of The Beatles Second Album, a mish-mash of album tracks, single A-sides and B-sides and songs that had not yet been released even in the UK at that point. That latter feature would happen with the Beatles a few more times.

What should have been done: Rubber Soul in its UK incarnation was excellent, but the folky atmosphere of many of its songs stood in sharp contrast with the harder rocking Drive My Car and the silly Ringo country-ish feaure What Goes On. The U.S. version, which has the folky atmosphere throughout by importing songs from the Help! album, should have been released worldwide with 12 songs rather than 14; and the same should have been done with Help! to enable the song transfer.

The Who By Numbers-The Who: This is one of the band's best albums, and reflected Pete Townshend's depressed and burned out mood, with what was basically a venting session backed by wonderful melodies.

What should have been done: One thing really, just yank out the final track, A Hand Or A Face. It sounds nothing like the rest of the album, has inferior sound, and doesn't sound especially inspired in either the songwriting or the performance.

(1) comment

neilbchap

Great read, Joel. I've wondered whether the self-deprecating album cover of The Who By Numbers hurt its sales. Despite their still-formidable swagger, it seems Townshend was intent on being introspective and vulnerable, with mixed results. Not much vulnerable about the bare-chested Daltrey!

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