Posts Tagged ‘Mick Ronson’

Sleeve for Lou Reed's Transformer

Commercial success and critical acclaim together or apart are not really the true measure of an artist’s work. History and public acceptance can ‘transform’ the perspective and create a re-evaluation, or revisionist history towards how the art is viewed. No other work quite typifies this more than Lou Reed with his second solo effort “Transformer”.

Transformer is an incarnation of Reed at his most tuneful and accessible, just right for an almost-teenager. Just wrong, you might say. If the swooping basslines and whooping choruses drew me in, the lyrics kept me riveted and puzzling. “Shaved her legs and then he was a she” I could work out. But what was the “Up-all-oh”? “Angel dust”? “Giving head”? What about “hustler”? Oh, how Google would have helped me then

With the Velvet Underground, Reed became a beacon to the outsider experience and while album sales were low, critics and musicians had found a kind of anti-hero on whom to heap praise. Once the Velvets had broken up, Reed continued his stories and of counter-culture misfits but to a more commercialized effect on Transformer. Produced by David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson, Transformer would be heavily influenced by Bowie’s then ‘glam’ movement and blur the same androgynous lines can be heard singing backing vocals (his falsetto seems obvious on Satellite of Love, . However, Reed would use his own brand of wry observation and deadpan delivery to create characters that lived with and amongst his crowd as opposed to embodying the characters space as Bowie did with Ziggy and Aladdin Sane.

As with its predecessor Lou Reed, Transformer contains songs Reed composed while still in the Velvet Underground (here, four out of ten). “Andy’s Chest” was first recorded by the band in 1969 and “Satellite of Love” demoed in 1970; these versions were released on VU and Peel Slowly and See, respectively. For Transformer, the original up-tempo pace of these songs was slowed down.

“New York Telephone Conversation” and “Goodnight Ladies” are known to have been played live during the band’s summer 1970 residency at Max’s Kansas City; the latter takes its title refrain from the last line of the second section (“A Game of Chess”) of T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land: “Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.”, which is itself a quote from Ophelia in Hamlet.

As in Reed’s Velvet Underground days, the connection to artist Andy Warhol remained strong. According to Reed, Warhol told him he should write a song about someone vicious. When Reed asked what he meant by vicious, Warhol replied, “Oh, you know, like I hit you with a flower”,resulting in the song “Vicious”.

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Oddly, it was “Walk On The Wild Side” a song that spoke of transsexuality, oral sex and drug use that propelled the album to heights neither seen by the Velvet Underground or Reed himself in previous efforts. It wouldn’t be until the 1990’s that “Perfect Day” would become an underground hit. The supposed ode to his drug habit, Perfect Day, only works because, no matter who the song is dedicated to, it is a beautiful ballad. Then there is the epic, neon-drenched goodbye to his association with Andy Warhol and his factory acolytes,

On its release in 1972, Transformer was given mixed reviews by critics who claimed it was overly “art-y” and overly sexual. History of course has shed new light and Transformer has made just about every magazines ‘Best All-Time’ list. There was a BBC documentary devoted entirely to Walk on the Wild Side. My questions were answered. There was Holly, who did indeed “come from Miami FLA”. It turned out “Up-all-oh” was the Apollo theatre in Harlem, and “Sugar Plum fairy” a drug dealer. Though Candy and Jackie had departed this world, Joe Dallesandro was there, wistfully contemplating wasted opportunities. And then there was Lou – decked out in leather jacket and leathery skin – complaining about people using Walk on the Wild Side without permission.

Despite, or maybe due to its recognition, finding vinyl editions of Transformer is pretty easy, but figuring out what works best for you might get a little more difficult. You can find used copies pretty much anywhere. I’m sure a lot of people who bought Transformer to get similar material to “Walk On The Wild Side” only to find that it wasn’t like that. As for new, eight official vinyl editions have come out since 2004 with four in just the last three years. On RSD 2012 a straight re-issue was put out in record stores, and is still the most common new copy you will find. In 2013 – 2014 unofficial green and blue versions were released in the UK. Finally, a few weeks ago Newbury Comics put out a Limited Edition half black and half gold version. There were 1200 copies printed and each was gold stamp numbered.

Due to the sheer amount of what is available, you can get most copies of Transformer for less than $30.00 (including the unofficial UK copies). Only the Newbury edition is commanding high prices on the resale market, and that’s pretty damn silly, because you can still get a copy from Newbury for less than $30.00. The split colour looks awesome and indeed sounds great.

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You can get it here. Anyway, with his recent induction into the “Rock Hall of fame” you can expect some renewed interest and copies of Transformer may begin to disappear. You might want to give that some thought this time if you’ve been sitting on the fence.

Last November, on the 45th anniversary of Lou Reed’s legendary Transformer album, photographer Mick Rock joined Rolling Stone editor David Fricke in a conversation for readers at the New York Public Library. Marking the anniversary, Mick kindly signed 45 bookplates specially for readers around the globe. Accordingly, 45 Collector copies are now available, each additionally including:

  • The new 24-page booklet with an essay by Mick Rock and 50 previously unpublished photographs
  • The looseleaf ‘Rock and Roll Heart’ facsimile handwritten lyric sheet
  • The commemorative New York Public Library bookplate signed by Mick Rock on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of Transformer
  • Transformer book bag and publishing prospectus

Transformer

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Those who love Mott The Hoople love Mott The Hoople with all their might. This film is for them. Chris Hall and Mike Kerry’s documentary takes us back to the time before there was a Mott, describing how The Buddies and The Soulents merged to create a new entity, how the group came to the attention of mercurial producer Guy Stevens and how the rest became the ballad of Mott The Hoople.

It was Stevens who suggested that then-vocalist Stan Tippins get the ol’ heave-ho. Enter Ian Hunter (a few years older than the other lads) and enter one of the most interesting eras in British rock music. Stevens, more a cheerleader and catalyst than an actual producer, oversaw the sessions for several of the band’s early albums, including the dark Mad Shadows (1970) and the 1971 classic Brain Capers, and the memories shared of him her mostly carry a waft of kindness that the passing of time often brings.

But the studio was not really where the band thrived. The place to really hear Mott The Hoople was the stage (Clash guitarist Mick Jones was an early convert, and he testifies with enthusiasm to Hunter and Co.’s live prowess). The group’s records sold slowly and no one could really seem to settle on a direction early on. By early 1972 the group decided to pack it in.

Enter David Bowie who convinced the band that they should soldier on; he also gave the band its biggest hit, “All The Young Dudes”, and produced the 1972 album of the same name. Success saw a rift grow in the ranks resulting in the departure of Mick Ralphs (who went on to form Bad Company) and Hunter’s ascent to leader of the band.

From there, the end came rather quickly, amid the strains of touring and band politics; no one seemed a good fit after Ralphs (ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson apparently refused to speak to other members of the band) and thus the end came perhaps sooner than anyone expected. What isn’t told in the film is how the group attempted to soldier on without Hunter under the name Mott, then as British Lions.

A beautiful documentary about a beautiful guy.

There will be no doubt left in anyone’s mind after spending 90 minutes with this film that the original Spiders from Mars guitarist was an overlooked and underappreciated player in the rise to prominence of David Bowie. The Hull, U.K. born and bred musician was a classically trained arranger and pianist as well as a phenomenally talented guitarist. His contributions to not only Bowie’s early efforts through Pin Ups, but Lou Reed’s Transformer album and work from artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Elton John, Ian Hunter and Morrissey are generally undervalued, a fact attested to by a litany of talking heads.

Fascinating and often rare footage, along with testimonials from family, friends and associates, paint a remarkably vivid picture of a talent who was best at supporting others. When his management tried to make him a frontman after the dissolution of the Spiders, it failed miserably. No, Ronno (as his friends nicknamed him) was the ultimate sideman, the Keith to someone else’s Mick, and it was in that role that he felt most comfortable.

As the movie’s title suggests, the bulk (about an hour) of the film follows his association with David Bowie. But the final 30 minutes is just as important, and often unnerving. For all his musical talents, Ronson was horrible at managing money, and even during his short 18-month Spiders from Mars stint with Bowie that found the band graduating from clubs to arenas and worldwide fame, he was never compensated appropriately for his substantial, and ultimately historical, artistic contributions. That continued until the end of his life, cut short in 1993 at 47 by liver cancer, as he often lived paycheck to paycheck, eventually leading to his wife asking others for financial assistance.

The milestones and specifics of his relatively brief career can be found online, but this film succeeds because of the loving tributes from the people that knew him best, and most importantly by two fascinating interviews with Ronson interspersed into the timeline. Anecdotes from his management, Lou Reed and not surprisingly David Bowie, along with Bowie’s ex-wife Angie, help paint a colorful portrait of a guy who never achieved the fame or respect he clearly deserved. And while there are extensive interviews with producer Tony Visconti, Ian Hunter and pianist Mike Garson (Ronson hired him for Bowie’s band), his association with Bob Dylan with whom he toured as part of the Rolling Thunder Revue, is practically ignored. And his work with Roger McGuinn (Ronson produced 1976’s Cardiff Rose) is completely snubbed. It would also have been helpful to hear from Morrissey, whose Your Arsenal release Ronson produced, but he too is MIA.

While this might be a few decades too late in appearing, we’ll add it to the better-late-than-never bin. We can now rejoice in a lovingly-constructed documentary on a guy who, despite being in the right place at the right time, hasn’t been given the reverence, nor financial rewards, his significant contributions to Bowie and others should have provided.