Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Check It: Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra 1963 - 1973

In January Rhino Records released the box set Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra 1963 - 1973 which follows Jac Holzman's tenure at the helm of the initially folk-based label that would eventually bring the world Rock 'n Roll icons like the Doors and later Queen.

I'd written a long-hand, real-time recount of what I experienced when I opened one of the only two copies of the compilation when it arrived in the US a few months ago that starts like this...After peeling through the wrapping, one uncovers a huge, hard-bound 11 x 14", 95-page book filled with a printed and photographic history of all things Elektra where even those who think they know the label's whole story (even those in the record industry) will find quotes, facts and trivia...underneath the book, I see...you'll find a folder that's choc-a-bloc with vintage Elektra Records goodies that had me salivating like the Pavlovian tune-hound that I am. in it I found a CD-ROM which holds an illustrated album discography called "Follow the Music" (created exclusively for the box set); four menu-like pamphlets with the tracklistings/ credits for each of the four respective CD buried deeper in the box, black and white promo glossies of Queen's Freddie Mercury, Tom Rush, Love, and the Doors. On the other flap of the folder I unsheathed 9 post cards with archived photos of Carly Simon, Tom Paxton, the Butterfield Blues Band, Tim Buckley, Fred Neil, Nico, the Stooges and David Ackles-- each one bearing the caption "...is on Elektra Records" under the name of the respective act...all of this is topped off with an official card of authenticity with product number (the one I'm looking through is 0009) -- pretty sweet from a collectors' perspective...underneath the folder is a thick, vinyl LP-sized envelope which holds album covers for Judy Collins' #3, the Doors' Strange Days, Love's Forever Changes and Bread's eponymous debut LP...and then I get to the real gold...the music! Nestled at the bottom of all of these goodies is a velvet-covered tableaux which holds five discs, the first four are filled to the brim with the tunes printed on the aforementioned track lists with a fifth bonus disc to boot. It's here that I slap on the first CD, pick up the book and start reading about Elektra's humble birth...I think a little context is in order...

The story of Elektra Records itself begins with the advent of the LP on the world of music in the late 40s-- this is where the hard-bound book, which includes a forward written by Jac Holzman, himself, begins....Knowing full well that launching an indie label was akin to ice skating uphill when the 78 RPM record was the coin-of-the-realm, as four major record companies (Columbia, Decca, RCA and Capitol) held all of the keys to the kingdom. The Big Four, as they were called, had all record pressing/ distribution technologies in an iron-fisted grip in the decades prior but the crisper sounding, more durable LP would alter that paradigm and Forever Changing chronicles some of the watershed recording sessions and artists that encouraged Holzman to marshal the wherewithal to sally forth and form the Elektra label despite all the odds...The book, filled with rare photographs and time lines, is an excellent listening companion to read while absorbing the tunes on the discs. In his foreword Holzman writes "In the aggregate, the independent labels didn't yet add up to much of a 'movement' but you could already sense the energy generated by a collection of strong-willed, unstoppable music fiends committed to a broad exploration of the global 'songbook'...which was already written but ignored...which could take seed in the encouragement and freedom of the independent record companies...This music included plenty of everything ignored by the 'Big Four'." Plainly put, there were tons of artists who were simply getting overlooked by the mainstream majors and galvanized by this omission, Holzman (and a handful of others) saw an in for rootsy, homegrown American music and slipped through the door

...as one would imagine, there a grip of music on these discs performed by artists who would go on and conquer the world for music geeks like yours truly, however, I'm all about the people you don't hear a lot about for whatever reason. There's a treasure trove of the latter and it's making my eyes roll-over-white in delight some of my faves are Judy Henske's "High Flying Bird" and Dick Rosmini performing the traditional bluegrass cut "Shady Grove" and later "Little Brown Dog." The American musicology lesson continues with Koerner, Ray & Glover's haunting, a capella "Linin' Train"...Later, it comes to me that I'm realizing Vince Martin & Fred Neil's performance of "Wild Child in a World of Trouble" had my toes tapping from the jump...The tempo picks up on the second disc and cuts that pulled my coat were Love's "My Little Red Book" and later "She Comes in Colors"; David Blue's "So Easy She Goes By", Judy Collins' "Hard Lovin' Loser", Clear Lights' "Black Roses" and Eclection's "Nevertheless" is a bonafide nugget as well, these truly are some rare rock grooves that will put the jam in your jelly and there's a couple more must-hear cuts. Be sure to check for Bamboo's groovy-as-hell "Girl of the Seasons" and "I Want You" by The Waphphle as they're quite good and, clearly, tunes which captured the feel of the under-the-mainstream-radar sound that Holzman was shooting for...what a find!

...The bonus disc, entitled Another Time, Another Place, is replete with rare singles from acts like Wind Chimes, The Beefeaters -- who later become The Byrds ("Don't Be Long"), Joseph Spence ("We Shall Be Happy"), The Charles River Valley Boys ("She's a Woman"), Simon Stokes & the Nighthawks ("Voodoo Woman"), The Rainbow Band ("Lotus") and Aztec Two-Step ("The Persecution & Restoration of Dean Moriarty")...Too, there's a double-scoop of rare finds in Eric Clapton and Powerhouse's version of "Crossroads" and David Peel & the Lower East Side's "Alphabet Song".

...Commissioned by Nick Stewart at Rhino UK, Forever Changing scours every nook and cranny of 23-years worth of Elektra recordings and reveal gem after gem of sonic beauty that would make a fine addition to any audiophile's stash...if you weren't born yet or old enough to recall the times, the book, music and media take you there from the narrow streets behind folk-era Washington Square in NYC's Greenwich Village to the world-stage that Rock would become-- even if you were, there's probably still something to learn here that you didn't know-- Jac Holzman himself admits that some of these cuts he'd forgotten were recorded which is telling...If even the man behind the curtain got a re-education of what went down at Elektra...In the course of a few sittings I got turned onto Judy Henske, Dick Rosmini, Bamboo, Waphphle and David Blue to name a few-- just imagine what you might find find!

...oh yeah, if you'd like to check the PodCast I did back in January with Stuart Batsford and Mick Haughton (the compilation's producers) click here

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