Here at RPM we’ve been bouncing ideas around about getting our audience/writers all involved when the reissue of a classic LP comes through, then in the immortal words of Mr Benn “As if by magic” this baby was bought by just about everybody on pre-sale.
Nev – Now I’ve followed Primal Scream religiously since Sonic Flower Groove, own the whole back catalogue and as a fan boy was aware that George Drakoulis (producer of the Black Crowes) had been drafted in to re-do Give Out but Don’t Give Up, with the record company reportedly at the time not happy with the original version. That’s the Tom Dowd, responsible for producing amongst many others Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin as well as engineering on work by Ray Charles, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane version.
Now throw in The Memphis Horns and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section of Roger Hood and David Hawkins and you wonder what could have possibly gone wrong? Remember this a Primal Scream that had just had their biggest breakthrough with Screamadelica and that Creation had just signed a huge deal with Sony with the follow up hugely anticipated.
Now to get one up on the new versions arrival I reacquainted myself with the original? I still at this point really got the Southern rock strut/glamtastic “Rocks “and “Jailbird” and still thoroughly enjoyed what else it had to offer. So my thoughts began to drift to so why release these Muscle Shoals versions? It couldn’t possibly better what Drakoulis had done, could it?
Now I’m a bit of a vinyl fan and wanted to put it against my vinyl version of the Drakoulis LP, so stayed away from the double cd, even tho’ there was a bonus disc of unreleased stuff. (I later found I had received a download code for the bonus material)
Dropping the needle the first thing that hits you is a sense of wonder, the tracks ooze, quality and style, rather than shouting at you from a rock standpoint, the soul and gospel lifts itself up and forward, everything’s understated, but it all commands attention, and you realize how powerful that rhythm section is but breathing, moving with the music, feeling what the rest of the band are doing, picking up on the organ, guitar, vocal embellishments and caressing it. Fuck this is/was a grown-up LP, truth be told too grown up for a Primal Scream holding on to their Rock/Punk leanings at the time.
You really get what musicianship is all about, a group bouncing off each other ebbing and flowing taking the spotlight in turn. Being brutally honest after one play I put the Drakoulis version back on and didn’t last a playthrough, it doesn’t even come close to the version that had been shelved.
So back to the original premise, do re-release/re-mastered LP’s have a place, this baby to me blows what came after out of the water, but it does make you wonder where primal scream would be if this had come out? Would they have gone down the same path, would they have given us Exterminator? Maybe it’s with hindsight we truly appreciate what we did before? Over to you Ben.
Primal Scream – Memphis Recordings
Ben – I wasn’t even a fan of Primal Scream back in ’94. That changed the day I heard ‘Rocks’ for the very first time blasting from my friend’s car stereo through the suburbs of Cardiff. Who the fuck was this glam stomper by? Primal Scream… but they’re an indie band, right? At the time I was surviving on a diet of The Wildhearts, The Manics, Redd Kross and Jellyfish. The likes of ‘Screamadelica’ I would not discover until a few years later.
Yet, I remember being disappointed with ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ when I first heard it. Even though it had a contemporary sound for the times, I was expecting a full album of ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Rocks’ style tunes and for me, it felt overlong and fleshed out with funky dub elements and jams which just weren’t my thing at the time. Yet, it grew on me in the months to come and became a constant on my stereo through the 90’s and beyond.
I went for the CD version of ‘The Original Memphis Recordings’ simply as it had a second disc of outtakes. For me, these are as essential as the album itself, as it shows the development of certain songs, especially in the case of ‘Free’. While the stunning Denise Johnson version on this album is surely the definitive recording, the bonus disc contains 2 full band rehearsal versions with Bobby Gillespie on lead vocals. Amongst early rehearsals and jams, there are also covers of ‘To Love Somebody’ and a live acoustic ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ as well as the original recording of ‘Funky Jam’. The monitor mix of ‘Call On Me’ sends shivers down the spine and a barebones ‘Cry Myself Blind’, stripped of all the backing harmonies is heartfelt, it segues into a jam of ‘Big Jet Plane’ with Gillespie seemingly trying out harmony ideas over the main chord progression. These outtakes are a great fly on the wall insight and essential listening for fans of this album.
This release sheds a whole new light on ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’. And while I will always like the Drakoulis version, the Memphis recordings are definitive.
It sounds more organic, more soulful. The prominence of the Memphis Horns and the soulful backing vocals of Denise Johnson, Jackie Johnson and Susan Marshall are just sublime. The live in the studio feel perfectly captured by Tom Dowd.
I have heard people say this album sounds like a long-lost Stones album and I would have to agree that ‘The Original Memphis Recordings’ is Primal Scream’s ‘Exile On Main Street’. A timeless classic!
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and now listening to this stunning album I may find it hard to imagine why the band and their management felt underwhelmed by these recordings back in 1993, but it was a different time and the band were in a different mindset. As Andrew Innes states in the informative booklet “we were trying to fix a record that didn’t need fixing”. So for a final view on the Memphis Sessions, the last word over to you Dom
Primal Scream-The Memphis Recordings
Dom -Maybe its time playing tricks and it didn’t really matter back in the 90’s because the Scream were better than most of what else was on offer anyway, but the original album to me sounded bang on the money. I also was a big fan of the band and loved What Gillespie had grown into having been a big fan of The Jesus And Mary Chain back in school how could I not dip into Primal Scream (great name as well). I did like the early stuff but ‘Screamadelica’ went viral and everybody wanted a piece of the band and then in the explosion that was Britpop and the phoney wars of Blur V’s Oasis, all the while the Scream were over there, outside it all doing their own thing and seemingly oblivious (looking back and reading about their excesses such as the tour with Depeche Mode maybe they were oblivious as to what was going on anywhere else) Going to America and recording with Tom Dowd seemed strange circa 94 and where the Scream were musically.
Sure resulting recordings from those classic sessions showcase the band cutting loose and exploring their Faces side and really going for it. It’s Primal Scream as you’ve never heard them before. What you have on this new recording is the Tom Dowd mix as well as a whole heap of outtakes and jams that show what was going on – it wasn’t all hard drugs and booze (well it might have been but they did actually do some work too) and the resulting newly found in a basement (yeah right) tapes sound so good I’m delighted they’ve seen the light of day.
There will be a BBC 4 documentary behind the ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ story broadcasting later this year which should be a must see for all music fans because there is certainly some magic captured in these newly released recordings none more evident that the album’s highlight ‘Cry Myself Blind’. Sure it’s not as “produced” but the emotion captured in this take is stunning and Gillespie’s raspy vocals are beautiful. Surely the point of heading to Memphis to record was all about overdoing the choir and the loose rhythm and just as the likes of the Stones and Faces before them isn’t Rock n Roll about excess? Isn’t it about getting out of the humdrum and living it large? Jailbird and Rocks were and still are bombastic cock rock and whilst many want to shy away from that I love the fact that they sang about booze, Cadillacs and drugs they did it so we didn’t have to, we should be thanking them. I love the horns honkin’ on ‘the album opener and wish I’d been able to hear that from 94 but like one of the main inspirations on this once said ‘You can’t always get what you want’ but now it seems we can and if Bobby wants to go rummaging through any lofts or wardrobes then feel free I’d love to hear what else they can uncover.
Sure it wasn’t ‘Screamadelica’ version 2 – they’d already been there and done that this was a band moving forwards (always were and always will be) and despite what some might suggest I loved the likes of ‘Cry Myself Blind’ and still do and with the added swing and laid-back versions I can have a choice of what to play and so what if the lyrics are a bit cheesy on times I couldn’t care any less. There are some albums and moments in time where cheesy cliché driven lyrics and riffs are bang on the money and this boys and girls is one of them. You can keep your Britpop because Primal Scream were global and continent sweeping not insular and inward-looking and to this day they’re innovative and risk-taking rock n rollers unlike the other headline grabbers of their day who sit on their piles of dosh self-plagiarising and growing fat and old. ‘Give out but don’t give up’ still holds true. and the accompaniment of these Memphis sessions are most welcome I for one can’t wait for this BBC 4 documentary on these sessions to be aired later this year, Awesome.
Now if Bobby (Gillespie) or Alan (McGee) read this maybe you can go rummage through a cellar or attic and see what else you might have that we can immerse ourselves in and keep a note to self don’t lose tapes like these again 😉 Lost tapes my arse. haha!
But what do you think?