For this first spring installment, Claude Lemaire selected six albums from three different eras and genres. What they have in common is that they are all musically excellent in their own right, but save for the first selection, they deserve much better sound quality. 

As always, if you find my recommended pressings too expensive, you can usually replace them by other more affordable pressings but be aware that the sound quality may differ quite a lot from my sonic descriptions and be wary of any digital intermediates in the complex chain.

1- Donna Summer – Four Seasons of Love. Casablanca, Bellaphon – NB 7036 (Ger.), Durium Marche Estere – D.AI. 30257 (Ital.), Casablanca – NBLP 7038 (Oct. 1976), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Euro disco.

What better way to start off this Six-Pack Spring Suggestions’ edition than with Donna Summer sensuously singing “Spring Affair” from her fourth LP Four Seasons of Love. Now most people presume this is her third release which is quite understandable given that her debut Lady of the Night was never pressed or released worlwide, and once you hear it, you’ll probably agree why they chose so. Having no disco or ground-breaking tracks per see, I suggest skipping over it. One thing that is not in dispute is that FSOL was the first of four concept albums, generally well received, though not as transformative and popular as the previous two, nor subsequent four. It no doubt draws inspiration, at least conceptually, to Vivaldi’s famous four concerti The Four Seasons, composed around 1717. The original pressing included a four-fold calendar for 1977 depicting Donna in seasonable attire. Another departure from the previous two LPs–where one 17 minute or so hit song occupied the entirety of side A–here we have two tracks sharing side A, with three others sharing the second side, and in both instances, the songs segued into the next. The best track remains “Spring Affair”, but “Summer Fever”, Autumn Changes”, and the country-tinged soul ballad “Winter Melody”–released as a second single from the LP–are all quite excellent in their own right. This is followed by a reprise of the main track in shorter form mimicking the return of spring after a full year. Accompanied by The Munich Machine, it was produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Belotte, and arranged by Thor Baldursson. Engineer Juergen Koppers recorded it in August and September 1976 at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, while Giogio handled the mixing. My copy is the US first press, probably cut by Alan Zentz, which sounds nicely balanced with just a slight lack of top octave energy, leading to a roundish bass and warm low-mid. I do not have the original German–which I speculate would be more defined but perhaps cooler-sounding–nor the Italian pressing on Durium which I often prefer overall. 

2- Donna Summer – Once Upon a Time…. Atlantic – ATL 60 132, NBLP 7078-2 (Ger.), Casablanca – CA. LP 5010, CA. LP 5011 (distributed by Durium S.p.A (Ital.), Casablanca – NBLP 7078-2 (Nov. 1977), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: progressive Euro disco, electro disco.

Once upon a time there was... an extraordinary musical fairy tail high, that unfortunately was hampered by disappointing sound quality. Such is the case with Donna Summer’s sixth, and most progressive, pioneering album of her career. She developed the idea with Joyce Bogart–Casablanca founder Neil Bogart’s wife–and manager Susan Munao. This was the first, and one of the rare disco double-LP releases ever conceived. Though not uncommon in the rock arena–especially for “live albums” or prog projects–but almost non-existant within disco. Donna would duplicate the feat on two other occasions; excluding Greatest Hits compilations of course. The fact that she did pull off this outstanding release at the time is noteworthy. Three out of the four sides is monumental material, about as daring and progressive as the genre permitted while still remaining disco at its core, and most of the songs seamlessly segue into the next on the three disco sides–side C being boring ballads, and is the exception. The title track opens the Cinderella story with a slow majestic instrumental intro comprising piano and sweeping strings until the rapid-paced rhythm explodes with Donna delivering the goods, walking us “Faster and Faster to Nowhere”. Side two is definitely the most ambitious avant-garde electro disco material she ever put forth. Of course the latter was only possible thanks to Giorgio’s visionary mindset and extraordinary talent. Following in the footsteps of his ground-breaking “I Feel Love” and “From Here to Eternity”, released a few months prior; here he presents us with the cathedralesque “Now I Need You” segueing into the typewriter-organ-wall of sound “Working the Midnight Shift”. Surprisingly and unfortunately the following “Queen for a Day” disconnects from the former two tracks, which breaks the electronic vibe. The final side beautifully culminates with “Rumour Has It”, “I Love You”, and no surprise “Happily Ever After” as any great fairy tail must end. Engineer Juergen “Quantity” Koppers, assisted by Gerhard Vates, recorded and mixed it–presumably between December 1976 and April 1977–at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. Günther F. Pfanz lacquer cut the German Atlantic pressing–a German Casablanca pressing also exists. Chris Bellman and Brian Gardner mastered and cut the US pressing at Alan Zentz Mastering in California. The Italian pressing is non-credited. I have all three of the above plus a UK [Casablanca CALD 5003] and a Canadian [NBLP 7078] and all are below average in sound for a Summer or disco release, showing signs of compression,  and lacking warmth and punch in the bass and kick drum. The least compromised of the lot in tonal balance and top end detail is the Italian pressing, followed by the US. If ever there was a superb disco album in need of a decent all-analog remastering, this is it. Unfortunately I wouldn’t hold by breath waiting for such a reissue to surface. MoFi, Analogue Productions, Craft? Anybody listening? 

3- The Savage Resurrection – The Savage Resurrection. Mercury – SR 61156 (March 1968), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: psychedelic, acid rock, garage rock, blues rock, hard rhythm and blues.

The self-titled debut and sole album by this San Francisco Bay area quintet is striking not only for its psychedelic sound but also its relative obscurity from fame. Then again, the years 1966 to 1969 offered so many outstanding rock albums and emerging new trends, that these young savages–some even teenagers at the time–got overlooked by the bigger guns in the business. I happened to fall upon the group sporting the colorful psy-artwork, bin-browsing back in the mid-1980s, fetching it brand new for a dollar or two. Though certainly sounding more amateur than the better-known Bay area bands, this perhaps adds to their charm including the raw, unpolished sound. Most of the tracks are excellent, starting with “Thing in E”–the sole single–sounding very groovy and heavily Hendrix-inspired instrumentally, though the vocals lean more towards The Who’s “I Can See for Miles” from fall 1967. “Every Little Song” sounds a bit like early-Pink Floyd period–think “Arnold Layne” from March 1967. “Talking to You” taps into Hendrix’ heavy blues rock style once again. As its gong fades in plus delicate use of wah-wah pedal, “Tahitian Melody” prepares us for a slow meditative Idian-inspired psychedelic voyage predating Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” from their second album A Saucerful of Secrets from June 1968 [Columbia SCX 6158]. “Jammin'” starts off blues rock, then progresses into more heavily-distorted sound, approaching proto early-Led Zep territory. “Fox is Sick” reminds me of early Cream. “Appeal to the Happy” breaks a bit from the rest, and will appeal more to hard energetic R&B/rock and roll aficianados than the usual LSD crowd. “Expectation”‘s intro foresees The Guess Who’s “American Woman” from 1970, turning very acidic-psy with the two guitars sounding full fuzztone with lots of presence, dialoguing in each channel playing Arabic scales, making it one of my favorites of the album. Produced by Abe “Voco” Kesh–originally a San Francisco-based deejay–who also produced Blue Cheer’s debut and second album, both from 1968. I don’t have the original US pressing, mine being the first-press stereo Canadian black label Mercury copy. The sound is fairly good but is a bit compressed and mid-centered, lacking both frequency extremes. Would welcome an all-analog remastering by MoFi or K. Gray’s ‘touch’.

4- Alice Cooper – Pretties for You. Straight – STS 1051 (June 1969), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: psychedelic, acid rock, experimental, hard rock, art rock.

Detroit-based singer Vincent Furnier, better known by his shock rock stage persona and original band name Alice Cooper got his first big break in 1969 signing with Frank Zappa’s Straight Records–a small short-lived independant label distributed by Warner Bros. Records. The band’s debut LP, sporting the slightly provocative Pulp Fiction cover, did not garner great commercial success when first released in June of that year; remaining under the radar ever since. Things would turn two years later with their third album Love It to Death [Straight WS 1883]. The LP comprises thirteen mostly short tracks . “Titanic Overture” opens the bizarre ride with a short symphonic instrumental intro that could be found on some late-1960s, early-1970s symphonic rock or prog albums. “10 Minutes Before the Worm” is very experimental psychedelic, kind of what you’d expect from the earliest Pink Floyd material such as the middle part of “Interstellar Overdrive” from 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn [Columbia SCX 6157] then transitions to Beatle-type melodies and harmonies laced with strong dissonance. “Swing Low, Sweet Cheerio” changes styles completely, evoking jazzy chords in the vain of The Zombies and The Doors. “Today Mueller” sounds more like mid-60s Beatles. “Living” goes off in another direction making it harder to pin down. “Fields of Regret” gets heavier, experimental-Doorsy, and quite cacophonous some places. The short but excellent “No Longer Umpire” sounds again like The Beatles, but on a bad trip. The eerie “Levity Ball (Live at the Cheetah)” borrows heavily from Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” found on their debut LP, almost proto space rock. “B.B. on Mars” last a mere minute but is in constant flux. “Reflected” was the band’s first and sole single released from the album, and bears some foresight into their 1973 hit “Elected” from Billion Dollar Babies [Warner Bros. BS 2685] but the electric guitars have better bite, crunching the psychedelic solos. “Earwigs to Eternity” in its sprint surprises by constantly modulating its pace with vocals doubling the guitar. Lastly, as the title suggests “Changing Arranging” has interesting vocal arrangements lifting the spirit of the song as the drum pummels away alternating between very slow and energetically away. Engineer Dick Kunc is credited. Mastered at Customatrix, a subsidiary of CBS. Pressed at Columbia Records Pressing Plant, Santa Maria in California. The original US pressing is an all-orange label but there are several variations on the pink label, all within the same year–1969. My copy is the ‘pink’ Canadian first-press. The sound is not that good, being mid-concentrated and compressed, and quite curtailed in the lows and top end. Definitely NOT DEMO-worthy.

5- Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. Cherry Red – B RED 10 (UK) (Sept. 1980), I.R.S. Records – SP 70014 (1981), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: punk, hardcore.

Bridging the gap between Britain’s Sex Pistols in the mid-1970s, and America’s Rage Against the Machine in the 1990s, California’s Dead Kennedys carved out a reputation in the 1980s reuniting aggressive performances with provocative, political, and controversial lyrics. Formed in San Francisco in 1978, the quintet led by singer Eric Reed Boucher better known as Jello Biafra released four studio albums between 1980 and 1986 starting with Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables–perhaps my preferred dish picking from the musical menu. Of course it contains their debut single, the delightfully sarcastic “California über alles”–originally composed for Biafra’s former band The Healers–first released on seven-inch format in June 1979 [Alternative Tentacles 95-41]. It centers around a satirical-fictive song based on then-Governer of California Jerry Brown, intertwined with Nazism, and encapsulates the best elements of the group–high-octane energy, powerful guitar, strong vocal delivery, multiple tempo and groovy rhythmic shifts within a same song. The fourteen-track LP includes also their second and third single releases, “Holiday in Cambodia” and “Kill the Poor”. All songs range between a minute and a half, and just over four minutes long. Engineer Oliver Dicicco (Norm) produced and recorded them in May and June 1980 at Mobius Music in San Francisco, CA. The first UK pressing was mastered by Kevin Metcalfe, and lacquer cut by George “Porky” Peckham. Plated by Maxwell ‘MAX’ Anandappa, and pressed by Lyntone Recordings Ltd. in London. The first US pressing on I.R.S. Records was remastered by Paul Stubblebine at A&M Mastering Studios in Los Angeles, CA., and pressed by Columbia Records Pressing Plant, Santa Maria in California. My version is the 1981 red vinyl UK pressing. The sound lacks bass and punch unfortunately. I don’t know if the US corrects this problem, which is possible for it was remastered and pressed by different engineers and facilities. This again could make a killer reissue!  

6- Anthrax – Among the Living. Island Records, Megaforce Worldwide – 90584-1 (March 1987), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: thrash metal.

Among the Living is among my all-time favorite metal albums, and in my book, best Anthrax LP period. Pushing forth exciting toe-tapping, aggressive yet catchy metal riffs, the New York City quintet distinguish themselves by reuniting raw elements of speed metal, hard rock, and hardcore punk, all rolled into one. For their third LP, the group alongside executive producer Jon Zazula, joined forces with producer, engineer extraordinaire Eddie Kramer–responsible for some of the best-sounding and important rock releases of the likes of Hendrix, Led Zep, and Kiss–lead singer Joe Belladonna does remind me of Paul Stanley’s energy at times. There is never a dull moment in this nine track thrash triumph. Engineers Chris Rutherford assisted by Chip Schane recorded the tracks at Quadridial Studios in North Miami, Florida, while Francis McSweeney mixed it at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. Although Paul Hamingson and Kramer create a driving mean mix, the mastering by George Marino at Sterling Sound in New York is a bit mid-emphasized with some frequency curtailing in both directions, perhaps attributed by the DMM cutting instead of using a lacquer. It is pressed at Specialty Records Corporation in Olyphant, PA. Another album that would greatly benefit from a top-notch analog remastering.

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