The Alternate Takes of Classical Hits (2CD, FDR 1998. Overdub versions of hits and other recordings)
Compilations by artist are relatively simple things. There are two definite categories each with two distinct classes, genu-in and cash in. Most common is the genu-in attempt at raising awareness (and hence sales) of an established artist, but that often masks a cash in on a successful act. Similarly, a cash in mixed bag of forgettable recordings can too easily be passed off as a genu-in attempt to collect hard to find material for the fan. “The Alternate Takes of Classical Hits” (Laserlight double CD) is a definite contender for the cash in class of the second category, but there are some revealing moments and maybe a worrying underlying truth.
There are thirty-two tracks, some of which sound like the untouched original T.Rex label release. Nothing here is a true remix of the original issued recording, ie anything more than unremarkable, certainly not good, overdubs on unchanged studio or live masters. However, on this collection the dubs often swamp the voice and guitar of Marc Bolan, and when they don’t threaten to overwhelm they sound far too bright against a rather dull sounding original track (probably using a copy of the master many generations from source).
As much as anything else this set reveals what may have become of Marc Bolan had he not had boundless self-belief, a sympathetic producer, enthusiastic sidemen, or had he recorded in the modern click track and drum machine era. The big problem is that the musos used for these overdubs had little idea of what they were working towards and sound as though they didn’t care either. Many of the arrangements are clichés from the jobbing musical director’s handbook - utterly out of context with the lurching inventiveness of real Bolan Boogie.
I first heard this on my PC using cheap headphones where the fi is pretty lo. However, played on a real hi-fi it just sounds depressing. Sadly this set is aimed at casual fans browsing supermarkets – they will be disappointed. As a budget cash in compilation of the strange and daft I suppose it’s a novelty for the informed listener - but don’t take that as a recommendation. Nice cover though.
Here are the standout tracks, good and bad.
Get It On. The long version with coda in full, with clearer sound than on 'EW Sessions’ without opening chatter and covered in computer generated overdubbed sax, strings, drums and bongos. I quite like this, the overdubbing does not over power the original recording. Done with a bit of understanding. A decent attempt.
Telegram Sam. A tight 80’s keyboard bass obscures the loose and funky intro. Largely harmless twiddly bits over the chorus. Not bad.
Born To Boogie. The overdubs dominate here. Marc is almost inaudible. A ruinous work.
20th Century Boy. The idiots who tackled this put keyboard all over the opening guitar riff. No you’re not dreaming, they overdubbed one of the classic opening rock’n’roll riffs of all time. Unbelievably bad.
Lady. Twiddly keyboard bits stuck where no lady should admit to having bits in the first place. It’s difficult to spoil this song. This tries to do the right thing … and fails.
Girl. The (TillDawn/Spaceball) US radio session version in which Boley hacks away in best bedsit guitar hero style on his most delicate song. Computerised backing, set to maximum Spectorisation (strings, girly choir, piano, drums etc) loses the plot and becomes totally inappropriate as Marc swings the tempo and threatens to scat his way through a load other stuff. Funny if it wasn’t so sad. Appalling.
Light of Love. Pointless overdubs on a song that begs for an open sound.
Summertime Blues. Another from the ‘EW Sessions’. So so.
Life’s A Gap (sic). Subtitled ‘Unplugged’ this is an acoustic version electrically overdubbed. Poor master track. Bad.
I Love to Boogie. Puts in a nice counterpoint guitar but then spoils it with too much other stuff.
Laser Love. I’ve heard it said that this song suffered from thin production. This is a reasonable attempt at filling it out. The original isn’t swamped by the overdubs, and the extra parts are in sympathy with the original, but sadly you can still hear the different recording levels. If they clean up the original or dirty down the dubs a good sound would result. Best on the set.
Woodland Rock. The original track with backward guitars but without the Visconti strings. Overdub drum track franticly overtempo does nothing more than annoy, synth horns. Basic track pushed too far down in the mix. Rather odd and faintly unpleasant.
Debora. Possibly the version found on ‘Acoustic Warrior’ with dubs. Goes on a bit, but Boley was enjoying singing this. A pity it has such a poor sound.
Dandy in the Underworld. Sounds dub free to me, remarkable because it is the album version.
Jeepster. Another guitar and throat only radio version hidden under a mountain of backing. This time as Boley picks up the tempo they manage to stay with him, just (Although “there’s a drum break here” is edited out). The finger picking at the end is mismanaged. Fairly successful.
Slider. Very weird and poor quality vocal track possibly a private demo recording. Marc is really very bluesy but that doesn’t stop the backing bounding along like manic bubblegum. The clash between vocal and instrumental style might be considered art house by some but that obviously wasn’t the intention here. This is a studio exercise in putting an inappropriate backing onto a demo tape. Awful. Joint worst with 20th Century Boy.
Children of the Revolution. From the Bramley’s Till Dawn Bill Legend re-recordings (In which we get to hear the same drummer older and slower and TOO KIN LOWD) this was the attempt to do more than sling a bit of extra noise over the original. It would probably work quite well if we didn’t have Billy boy hammering away like a demented piledriver on top of the mix. Sympathetic but too long at nearly five minutes.
The artwork is as reasonable as it is limited. The decent picture on the box is repeated on one of the disc cases and the picture on the other disc is better than you would expect. The accompanying notes are as bad as you would expect.
Full Track list: (with typos)
[Disc one]; Ride a White Swan, Get it On, Telegram Sam, Metal Guru, Solid Gold Easy Action, Born to Boogie, 20th Century Boy, Truck On (Tyke), Lady, Girl, Baby Strange, Teenage Dream, Light of Love, Honey Don’t, Summertime Blues, Life’s a Gap (unplugged version): [Disc two]; New York City, London Boys, I Love to Boogie, Laser Love, Woodland Rock, Debora, Celebrate Summer, All Alone, Dandy in the Underworld, Life’s an Elevator, Chariot Choogle, Spaceball Ricochet, Cosmic Dancer, Jeepster, Slider, Children of the Revolution