Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The stories behind three seminal albums by Nirvana, The Beach Boys, and Billy Joel

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 8:15 AM

Ah yes, the age-old tale of the un-releasable album. How many times have you sat back in your chair, staring longingly at the glossy inserts wondering how many channels it had to pass through to end up in your hands? Here, we take a look at three albums that, at the time of their release, were deemed un-releasable by one person or another, whether it be because of the mix, the direction of the sound, or the speed of the album. Lets take a look, shall we, and thumb through these three albums that almost didn't make it out at all.

1) Nirvana – In Utero

click to enlarge in-utero
While Kurt Cobain said this album would alienate most of Nirvana's fans,  In Utero debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Prior to its release, Nirvana's label, DGC, deemed the album un-releasable because of two tracks" "All Apologies" and "Heart Shaped Box." When the band hired Scott Litt of R.E.M fame to remix the two tracks, they caused quite a stir with the album's original producer, Steve Albini. Not only was In Utero deemed un-releasable, but it was also pegged as un-listenable. Apart from the sound of the album, the front and back cover were scrutinized as well. The front features a transparent woman with wings, her insides exposed to the world. Big name retail stores found this image offensive, much like they did with Nirvana's previous album, Nevermind, which featured a naked baby swimming under water. The back cover shows plastic figures of babies In Utero, turtles, body parts, flowers, and other randomness along with the track listing. Track four, "Rape Me," was changed to "Waif Me" so that the album could be sold in WalMart, K-Mart and other larger retailers. The back cover was airbrushed as well so that the only visible items were a turtle and flowers; all other "offensive" material had been removed. Both versions of the album are available with the airbrushed back cover and the song title change in addition to the un-edited version. Un-mixed versions of "All Apologies" and "Heart Shaped Box," have sprouted up on bootlegs since the albums release back in 1993.

2)Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

click to enlarge Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
When Brian Wilson heard Rubber Soul by The Beatles, the fluidity and thematic feel of the album blew him away and inspired him to write one of the most influential albums of all time, Pet Sounds, with help from friend Tony Asher. Wilson put it together in the studio alone while the rest of the Beach Boys were on the road with Bruce Johnston serving as Wilson's replacement, Wilson's fear of performing live keeping him out of the spotlight and in the studio where he belonged.

Wilson composed all the new material in the midst of a dealing with a nervous breakdown. What transpired was a collaboration with some of finest studio musicians, including Carol Kaye on bass and Hal Blaine on drums, to create what is, to this day, one of the most awe-inspiring albums in musical history. Paul McCartney stated that he weeps every time Pet Sounds is played. Upon returning from shows in the Far East, the rest of the band was not enthused by what Wilson and co. had come up with while they were away. Al Jardine and Mike Love in particular were afraid of the album's lack of surf anthems and the non-commercialism of what they heard. With the same fears in mind, Capital Records released Pet Sounds at the same time as two "Best Of" records. Capital's plan was to turn people away from Pet Sounds and appeal to the more "die-hard" fans who were solely interested in surf-themed songs.

Pet Sounds was never actually called un-releasable, but rather, was an album looked upon as a complete and unwelcome diversion from their formulaic method, and therefore considered a flop even before its release. To the surprise of many, the album produced three singles and all rated in the top 10 of the Billboard charts. Regardless of any negativity towards the album that the members had at the time and deny having today, Pet Sounds has influenced a wide range of artists. Paul McCartney, Elton John, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan all site Pet Sounds as a major influence. Dylan himself is quoted as saying that "Brian Wilson's ear belongs in the Smithsonian." The Beatles owe many thanks to Mr. Wilson due to Pet Sounds gearing them towards the recording of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Wilson has also got kudos from Mick Jagger and crew as the recording of Her Majesties Satanic Request was heavily inspired by Pet Sounds. Since its release on May 16, 1966, Pet Sounds has gone on to be re-released and re-issued on CD and vinyl numerous times, as well as in a box set titled The Pet Sounds Sessions. Rolling Stone named Pet Sounds the second greatest album ever made. Although Pet Sounds was released in a normal fashion, the process, thought and intent behind it were rejected by those same folks who are now praising the album as a masterpiece; a title it deserved from day one.

click to enlarge Billy Joel - Cold Spring Harbor

3)Billy Joel – Cold Spring Harbor

The first solo album from the then-unknown Joel. An error in the mastering process caused the album's speed to increase a half step. This made Joel's vocals higher than normal. An updated version was released in 1983 by Columbia Records with added instrumentation, leaving the original producer to bow out on the credit. The album was released in 1971 on the Family Productions label despite the error. Songs such as "She's Got A Way" and "Everybody Loves You Now" just didn't sound the same back in '71. Although Cold Spring Harbor was never deemed un-releasable, the original version makes for an interesting collectors item. Today, the original LP release on the Family Productions label fetches anywhere between $15 to $60.

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