Music

Various Artists: Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra 1963-1973

Christian John Wikane

"Creating a compelling alternative music catalog for curious and open ears", to quote Jac Holzman, marks the legacy of Elektra Records and the main selling point for this collection.


Various Artists

Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra 1963-1973

Label: WEA
US Release Date: 2007-01-23
UK Release Date: 2006-11-13
Amazon
iTunes

Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra Records 1963-1973 is really a tribute to the vision of Elektra's founder, Jac Holzman. In an age when the music industry is dominated by Universal, Sony BMG, Warner, and EMI, it's easy to forget that a different "big four" once dominated -- Columbia, Decca, RCA, and Capitol. From that climate 50 years ago, Elektra Records emerged as an independent label with a distinct personality. A cursory glance at the track listing on Forever Changing solidifies Elektra's significance in finding and breaking musical acts across the spectrum of folk, blues, rock, and psychedelia. That Holzman nurtured legendary talents like Judy Collins, the Doors, Love, Carly Simon, Tim Buckley, Queen, and the Stooges is a testament to his motto: "follow the music".

Established in 1950, Elektra spent its first decade signing folk artists, fast becoming the chief competition of the most successful folk label at the time, Vanguard. Forever Changing begins in the early-'60s when a new flock of folk music troubadours and vagabonds nested in coffeehouses and festivals. Having lost Joan Baez, the movement's most commanding performer, to Vanguard, Holzman was determined to find an artist to match. Judy Collins was it. Appropriately, Forever Changing opens with a tune by Collins, who stayed with Elektra for 17 albums through 1984. Her version of Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!", which pre-dates the Byrds' hit, may well be a metaphor for Elektra Records. The label changed with the times, stretching in different directions and experimenting with artists and music that were wholly un-commercial. The good, bad, strange, and sublime are all present and accounted for across these five discs. Compilation producers Stuart Batsford, Mick Houghton, and Phil Smee left no stone unturned in their quest to present the fullest possible range of Elektra's "golden age". It's probably the only place one will find Carly Simon's "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" followed by the Doors' "Riders on the Storm", but such is this collection's thrust -- it's exhaustive, informative, joyfully unpredictable and, to quote Jac Holzman, "respectful of the odd".

In its breadth, the obscure emerges right along with the well known. Disc Five, for example, begins with an artifact from Elektra's short-lived, but successful, line of sound effects albums ("Wind Chimes") and ends with a track by out-and-proud gay performer Jobriath ("World Without End"); this from the label that made both Judy Collins and Jim Morrison stars! Mick Houghton should be commended for his remarkable insight about each track, drawing relationships between otherwise unrelated songs. A long-forgotten band called Crabby Appleton, for example, follows the Stooges on Disc Three. Both bands released albums within months of each other ... and that's where their similarities end. Houghton explains that though the latter was the antithesis of the former, each represented untold potential in the ears of Jac Holzman. Iggy Pop's sneer sounds like a punked-out version of Bob Dylan on "I Wanna Be Your Dog", and the echoey voice of Michael Fennelly, Crabby Appleton's lead singer, led the haunting pop-rock of "Go Back" into the Top 30. And what follows these two strange bedfellows? The lightweight melodies of Bread.

On the surface, it appears that Forever Changing suffers from an identity crisis with so many disparate styles vying for attention (the exception is Disc One which is 7/8 folk music). The essence of this eclecticism is captured on Disc Five which, as Houghton states, provides a "more skewed and tangential perspective" of the label. Here we have the Beefeaters (an early incarnation of the Byrds), a Baroque version of the Beatles' "I’ll Be Back", Bahamas-based guitarist Joseph Spence strumming along wistfully in his leathery voice, cannabis-inspired musical humor by Jack S. Margolis, the Holy Modal Rounders and David Peel; and an early version of Cream's "Crossroads" cut by Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse. The "what if's" and "could have been's" are endless. We learn that the Lovin' Spoonful was originally signed to Elektra but its publisher had already placed a deal with another record label ("Good Time Music" was one of the sides slated to be released on Elektra). Lesser-known is the UK-based Eclection. The short-lived group, with members hailing from Canada, Australia, Norway, and England, was led by singer Kerrilee Male who infuses "Please (Mark II)" (and "Nevertheless" on Disc Two) with a fire worthy of Grace Slick. Regrettably, the group disbanded before it gained any traction from its very fine debut album. Such was the fate of many bands on Elektra Records.

Box sets, especially those celebrating a record label, are often frustrating enterprises. As impressive as Forever Changing is in appearance and scope, not everything here has aged particularly well (though the remastering is superb). Tracks like "Virgo" by the Zodiac Cosmic Sounds and "Swift as the Wind" by the Incredible String Band are hopelessly stuck in the 1960s, but discovering "Apricot Brandy" by Rhinoceros, or hearing Judy Henske's early-'60s version of "High Flying Bird" makes the seven-hour listening experience worthwhile. It's like an art exhibit where you might have to tour the room a few times before finding a painting or sculpture that resonates, aside from the obvious masterpieces. At best, Forever Changing will introduce listeners to acts they might not otherwise explore (the MC5 fan who discovers Tom Paxton for the first time) or didn't know existed (Arts Nova? The Even Dozen Jug Band?). This kind of scavenger hunt will appeal most to listeners who get thrills from the minutiae of popular music history, especially the 1960s, and don't mind patiently sifting through 117 tracks to find the gems.

"Creating a compelling alternative music catalog for curious and open ears", to quote Elektra's founder, marks the legacy of Elektra Records and the main selling point for this collection. Before it became a product of Warner Communications Inc. in the early-'70s, Elektra grew on its own from a boutique label, with hardly any albums in record stores, to a home for trailblazing acts, eventually rivaling the Clive Davis-led Columbia to sign the next-big-thing. Forever Changing serves to remind listeners that in the current state of corporate conglomeration, independent record labels have long co-existed with major labels, and will continue to thrive and flourish.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image