Side Trips: Beck – “Beautiful Way” (1998-2014 mix)

Cover art by Odilon Redon.

I rate Beck as a major talent. Lyrically, he can break your heart or conjure up a startling, surreal image as well as anyone. He’s a great observer of relationships, emotional turmoil, and the weirdness of contemporary culture. Musically, he’s covered a vast spread of styles with excellent results. 

When he won a GRAMMY in 2014, it was for “Morning Phase,” an album made in his “lush beauty” style – which has a history going back to nearly the beginning of his recording career. It is possibly his most instinctual mode of songwriting, based on the quantity of songs in it and his frequent returns to it.

How to describe it? It has something of the 1969 Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says”/”Pale Blue Eyes” vibe. (The song “Beautiful Way” rips off the melody of VU’s “Countess from Hong Kong.") I’m also reminded, a lot, of Acetone’s later records. Nick Drake is in there somewhere, but this music also features vast-sounding arrangements and production that put you into late Beatles/George Martin territory. But then, there’s also a C&W twinge to most of it. It’s got rhythm, a groove even, but it’s narcotic. It is a giant, slow wave of beautiful sadness. 

I cherish this kind of Beck, but the same characteristics that make it consistently alluring also result in a sameness fatigue factor. I wouldn’t have given a GRAMMY to “Morning Phase,” but I fully support a GRAMMY for the music Beck has made in this style, across the years. This mix is my argument in support of that position. 

Sources: Morning Phase (4), Sea Change (4), Mutations (3), Midnite Vultures (1), The Information (1)

13-song, 55-minute, 320kbps, ripped-from-CDs, mp3 mix here

  • Blackbird Chain
  • Dead Melodies
  • Beautiful Way
  • Heart is a Drum
  • Paper Tiger
  • Turn Away
  • Lost Cause
  • Guess I'm Doing Fine
  • Waking Light
  • We Live Again
  • New Round
  • Nobody's Fault But My Own
  • The Golden Age


Side Trips: David Bowie - "BOWIEAMERICANYEAR" (1974 reconfiguration)

This is a fake 2-LP Bowie album from 1974, made up of 19 officially released songs. It is intended to be the soul-funk-disco Bowie edifice that the year’s albums implied but never quite pulled off, IMO. 

I’m talking about “Young Americans,” “The Gouster,” “David Live,” and to a limited extent “Diamond Dogs.” (There’s also an outtake here, from the “Sound & Vision” collection.) Soul-funk-disco Bowie got put in a lot of different places. 

I would argue that the year’s output was great, but that it was not a trail-blazing moment for Bowie. Instead, it was mostly a shaggy homage to varied Black American music, some of it old, some of it contemporary. He was definitely intuitive about where popular music was going in the mid-to-late 1970s, but he didn’t make it thoroughly his own the way he did glam beforehand and Krautrock/”new wave” afterwards. 

So, I don’t think you get to the strongest case for 1974 soul-funk-disco Bowie by trying to find the 10 best songs; you aim to cover as many angles as possible, with as many songs as possible. I got to 19 before I thought I was pushing the premise too far.

The Rolling Stones: Taylor-Era Studio Companions (1969-1974)

My dive into innumerable, overlapping, frustrating Stones bootlegs yielded three studio companions to the Mick Taylor years (1969-1974). A handful of interesting “Let It Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers” alternate takes didn’t fit into this arrangement, but otherwise, this is pretty close to a thorough account of unreleased songs and a generous curation of all available material. Going deeper into iterative bootlegged versions of this sort of Stones material is a recipe for madness, based on my experience.

Shake Your Hips (outtakes ’69-’72)

This mix is comprised of "Exile" outtakes and kindred material. I have not taken into account what was released  on the “Exile” bonus disc from a few years ago (some tracks overdubbed by today’s Stones); everything here comes from bootlegs and is as-recorded originally. The dating goes back to 1969 because some of these songs were demoed that far back. They played “Loving Cup” at Hyde Park, July 5, 1969, their first – and historically gigantic – show after their drug busts and Brian Jones’ death. 

Sidetrips: Prince – Best Obscure Tracks Vol. 1 & 2

These are all finished Prince tracks that didn’t appear on his general release albums. Many of them were released online through the NPG Music Club. One appeared as a CD b-side. Some remain unreleased.

If you like 1990s Prince, and don’t know this material, you will be knocked out. If you like Prince, but aren’t sure you can name any of his 1990s albums, these compilations are probably a good way to persuade you to look into that decade. He could seem to be trying a little too hard (to do/be what?) on some of those albums, but this stuff all sounds effortless.

The two fake albums presented here came about in the usual way. I swam around in oceans of non-album/unreleased Prince for a long time, until tracks I couldn’t get tired of started to sort themselves into groups. (The dates with the titles are recording dates taken from the invaluable Prince Vault site.)

Pop Album (52 minutes)

  • Vavoom (2000)
  • Eye Am the DJ (1995-1996)
  • Van Gogh (1995)
  • Peace (1999-2000)
  • Northside (2000-2001)
  • Horny Pony (1991)
  • The Sex of It (1987)
  • Get Blue (1990)
  • Feel Good (1995)
  • Beautiful Strange (1998-2000)
  • Empty Room (live 2002)

Groove Album (72 minutes)

  • The Daisy Chain (2000)
  • Sadomasochistic Groove (1997)
  • Well Done (1990-1993)
  • Poor Goo (1993)
  • Good Life (2000)
  • Paradigm (1990-1992 & 2000 with George Clinton)
  • The Undertaker (1993)
  • Habibi (1998)
  • Nagoya (2002)
  • My Pony (1990-1991 with George Clinton)
  • U Gotta Shake Something (1985)

Both in one mp3 file here

Sidetrips: The Clash – “Midnight to Six” (1978)

49-minute mp3 folder here

  • English Civil War
  • White Man in Hammersmith Palais
  • Tommy Gun
  • I Fought the Law
  • Groovy Times
  • Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad
  • Guns on the Roof
  • Gates of the West
  • Last Gang in Town
  • Pressure Drop
  • Safe European Home
  • Stay Free
  • Time is Tight
  • Capital Radio 2

This mix aims to be the absolutely fantastic second Clash album that might have been. At least as good as “The Clash” and “London Calling.”  It might even have been the one you would have given to a friend to try to convert them to the band – far more mature than the first album, shinier and less shaggy than the third one. 

The main problems with “Give 'Em Enough Rope” are that all of the 1978 songs that sound most alike are on it, some of them are the weakest of the year, and there are only 10, total. Tempo and mood keep coming back to the same place. It feels like a heavy slab and an insubstantial album at the same time.

Side Trips: The Rolling Stones – “Winter” 1971-1974 (Made in the Shade LP 2)

In 1975, about to go on tour with Ron Wood and unable to get Black and Blue out in time, the Stones released Made in the Shade, a canon-building, tour-supporting compilation drawn from their four most recent albums: Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, and It’s Only Rock and Roll. The album defined the early Seventies as “Bitch,” “Angie,” “Tumbling Dice,” “It’s Only Rock and Roll,” etc. – the foundation of what would become the permanent post-Sixties Rolling Stones brand. 

This companion compilation is drawn from the same four albums as Made in the Shade and is intended to be its opposite. 

Side Trips: The Rolling Stones “Some Girls” Companions

Three disc companion, in mp3 format, here

I spent untold hours collecting and assessing Rolling Stones bootlegs, 1969-1981, and ended up with a 13-disc live/studio companion that I shared with  a few friends via a flash drive titled “Jumping Jack Flash Drive.”

For the purposes of this dodgy bootleg blog, I’m including just three installments associated with the “Some Girls” sessions/tour, which the Stones really failed to represent adequately with their recent re-release and bonus disc.

This period was arguably the band's last gasp as a working band, and the sessions resulted in a huge number of songs, finished, half-finished, and roughly-sketched. At least one version of everything that was at least close to half-finished is included here, unless the only version I could find had audio too shitty to tolerate.

Side Trips: The Concise Beatles Get Back/Let It Be Sessions

75-minute mp3 zipped file here

I downloaded and studied something like 28 discs of these sessions. They mostly sucked as hard as every two-LP bootleg of them that I bought in my youth. I came away with one disc that reliably delights me and suggests/simulates a band that was really going for it, collectively. Most of their supposed recordings of (seemingly juicy) covers during these sessions were lame piss-takes that inspired no real band performance. So, my picks are mostly focused on interesting/hot performances of original tunes, which they attempted 1000 times each, plus some outliers. 


Side Trips: Imaginary Post-Punk Maxi-12-Inch Split Single

"It was in the city of shapes that she made love to several apes. She felt weird for a couple of days, but pretty soon she got used to their ways." (Robyn Hitchcock) I think you'll have a similar encounter with these mixes.

mp3s here  

Talking Heads: One Mix About Buildings and Food (8:51): An edit made up of pieces from nearly every song on "More Songs About Buildings and Food" that is looking for the proto-“Remain in Light” jam lurking inside it.

Television: Marquee Miniature (4:51): An almost entirely instrumental recombination of most of the album's  short instrumental breaks, which results in something that sounds surprisingly prog-y, and surprisingly like one song.

Talking Heads vs. NEU! (6:34): NEU!’s “Negativland” segues seamlessly into the “Psycho Killer” jam from the Talking Heads’ live performance in Sydney, Australia in 1979. A hint about what The Talking Heads were listening to and being inspired by.

Side Trips: Bob Dylan: Outtakes/Album Companions 1962-1964

For reasons unknown, Sony decided not to release expanded editions of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” in 2012, 2013, and 2014. 

In those years, Sony was required to “officially” release any unreleased material that they wanted copyright ownership of in Europe, prior to that material turning 50 years old. If they didn’t release it, it would become public domain. 

To meet this requirement, they released something like 100 vinyl boxed sets of studio outtakes and live recordings from each year. These did not in any way attempt to curate the material or to weave it together with outtakes or live material that had been previously released somewhere at some time. The only consideration was to publish previously unreleased material. Nonetheless, it meant that everything remaining in the vault was finally available in high fidelity.

For 1965-1966, Sony got wise and released three different versions of “The Cutting Edge,” ranging from two discs of studio outtakes from that period to a massive box including everything that was recorded during the sessions for the three relevant albums. It was the “copyright box” for 1965-1966, but it also included the previously-released material from those sessions.

So… there is still no canonical set of studio outtake companions to Bob Dylan’s official releases prior to 1965. That’s what the mixes here attempt to provide: the best general audience-through-semi-fanatic companion albums I can engineer, pulling from every official release there is, volume-equalizing it all, and assembling it into coherent listening experiences. Each of the three companions parallels the recording dates of their respective albums. 

They aren't complete, but they go deep enough that when I couldn't choose between two versions of a song, I included them both. With very few exceptions, my omissions were more takes of the same songs.

Hopefully, Sony won’t smack me down too hard for sharing these, since they have shown no interest in a general releases of this sort.