Sunday, 11 February 2018

"Rock On" by HUMBLE PIE (2007, 2009, 2010, 2016 JAPAN-Only 'SHM-CD" Reissues - 2007, 2009 and 2016 in Mini LP Repro Artwork) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…Jam Tart Lips…"

Humble Pie's ‘rawk’ sound properly emerged with their self-titled July 1970 debut album for Herb Albert’s A&M Records - “Humble Pie”. Step two came with the appropriately titled “Rock On” in March of the following year only to be hammered home with the force of a mallet in November 1971 when they joined the pantheon of huge Rock bands with their storming “Performance – Rockin’ The Fillmore” double live album – the record that broke them everywhere.

Although both the studio albums “Humble Pie” and “Rock On” laid the foundations for their rightly praised live performances – they’re unfairly forgotten now in the mists of receding time. And for such a huge band – their CD reissues from this Classic Rock period seem to be all based overseas – namely Japan.

"Rock On" was originally UK released on A&M Records AMLS 2013 in March 1971 (May 1971 in the USA on A&M Records SP 4301) – their fourth studio album and the British band's first charting in the USA eventually peaking at a decidedly humble No.118. "Rock On" had a straightforward 10-track CD reissue in the USA on A&M/Rebound 314 520 240-2 (Barcode 731452024022) in the Nineties – yet I'd argue that the stunning 24-bit Digital Remaster carried out in Japan in 2007 (and used ever since) is a whole different sonic ballgame.

But in 2018 - I calculate there are now no less four Japanese release dates for SHM-CD reissues – and I’d like to sort out what’s what. "Rock On" by HUMBLE PIE first appeared 14 February 2007 in Japan on Universal/A&M UICY-93220 (Barcode 4988005459749) in a 5" Mini Album Sleeve Repro – part of their 'Paper Sleeve Collection' Series. Like its 1970 "Humble Pie" predecessor (the first in that series) - "Rock On" aped the original UK gatefold sleeve artwork in all its cops-on-motorbikes gatefold glory. It too came with a Japanese worded booklet (dated 25 Dec 2006) and an outer OBI strip (the matt gatefold). Perhaps most importantly though - it had a new 2007 24-bit Remaster. But - as is the habit in Japan with these 'supposed' limited editions – they seem to get reissued every two or three years and that’s what’s happened here.

22 April 2009 saw the second Japanese SHM-CD version on Universal/A&M UICY-94067 (Barcode 4988005555168 that also used the 2007 remaster (another paper-sleeve series).

Third came 22 December 2010 using the 2007 Remaster – a SHM-CD in a jewel case on Universal/A&M UICY-22094 (Barcode 4988005638960). There were only four titles in this series -“Humble Pie”, “Rock On”, “Performance” and “Smokin’”.

And now this fourth outing – "Rock On" by HUMBLE PIE reissued 23 November 2016 on Universal/A&M Records UICY-77978 (Barcode 4988031188118) – the latest version again using that HIDEAKI NISHIMURA Remaster from 2007). If you cut and paste any of the above barcodes into Amazon’s search bar – you will get the issue you want (check them because prices can fluctuate wildly – and not in a good way).

A SHM-CD doesn't require a special CD player to play it on (compatible on all) nor does it need audiophile kit to hear the benefits. It's a new form of the format that picks up the nuances of the transfer better (top quality make). I own about 25 of them and they're uniformly superb. Let's get to the music (38:48 minutes):

1. Shine On [Side 1]
2. Sour Grain
3. 79th And Sunset
4. Stone Cold Fever
5. Rolling Stone
6. A Song For Jenny [Side 2]
7. The Light
8. Big George
9. Strange Days
10. Red Neck Jump

STEVE MARRIOTT – Guitars, Harmonica and Lead Vocals
PETER FRAMPTON – Guitars, Keyboards and Lead Vocals
GREG RIDLEY – Bass, Guitar and Lead Vocals ("Big George" only)
JERRY SHIRLEY – Drums and Keyboards

BOBBY KEYS – Saxophone on "Big George"
BJ COLE – Pedal Steel Guitar on "79th And Sunset" and "A Song For Jenny"
CLAUDIA LENNEAR, DORIS TROY, P.P. ARNOLD and ALEXIS KORNER – Backing Vocals on “Sour Grain” and "A Song For Jenny" (Alexis Korner on "Big George")

Like those other great British bands Free and Led Zeppelin – Humble Pie produced the most brilliant Classic Rock albums in 1970 and 1971 with what seemed like effortless ease. Both their own "Stone Cold Fever" and the Muddy Waters cover of "Rolling Stone" (from "Rock On") would feature prominently on the November 1971 double-live monster “Performance – Rockin' The Fillmore” – the LP that broke them worldwide.

"Rock On" opens with a fantastic Peter Frampton written moment – "Shine On" – with PF on Lead Vocals. Sporting a wicked riff worthy of The Who's "Who's Next" (which would arrive in August 1971) - its organ and guitar pairing is bolstered by a trio of great female vocalists. The Tina Turner luscious Claudia Lennear famously had "Brown Sugar" written about her on The Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" album - Soul Heroine Doris Troy was now over on the prestigious Beatles Apple label and P.P. Arnold of "First Cut Is The Deepest" fame on Immediate Records would have to wait decades for her comeback. Frampton would make a huge feature of the "Shine On" song on his "Frampton Comes Alive" specially priced juggernaut double-album in 1976. Next up is Marriott growling to spectacular effect on the boozy "Sour Grain" – a straight up rocker. "79th And Sunset" is a lewd barroom stroller – Marriott casually discussing red-eyed Ruby in downtown LA with her "...nut-crushing boobs and jam-tart lips..." where he informs us there’s such a lot of good ways to be bad (BJ Cole gets a Pedal Steel Guitar solo towards its end). Swagger boys, swagger.

Side 1 ends on a great double-whammy - the raucous "Stone Cold Fever" – a rocker with a Funky break half way through and you can so hear why it was used as Track 3 on Side 1 of "Performance..." – followed by the Rock Blues of "Rollin' Stone" – English boys paying fitting tribute to their Chess Records hero Muddy Waters. Marriott wrings the emotional neck out of "Rollin' Stone" – singing it with fantastic (echoed) gusto - warbling on the Harmonica in-between licks and that huge Bass line. I don't know if its Frampton or Marriott who provides the final Jimmy Page-esque solo on “Rollin’ Stone” just before they go into that fantastic (and uncredited) rocking break – slipping in the "she's so fine" lyrics and riff to The Righteous Brothers "My Babe" (a forgotten London 45 for the clean-cut American duo issued in November 1963 - written by Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield). Humble Pie takes a snippet of it and nasty-rocks-that-sucker-up - and man does it work! Foghat (more Brit rockers done-good in the USA) would return to "My Babe" on their equally cool "Fool For The City" album in October 1975 on Bearsville Records. Hell - their version might as well have been Humble Pie. Whichever version you dig - "Rollin' Stone" is a highlight on this album.

Side 2 opens on an unexpected moment of Acoustic Guitar and Pedal Steel sweetness “A Song For Jenny" – the three ladies giving it some soulful backing vocals too. It's a love letter from on the road that works so well. Frampton gets Funky as he complains of someone stealing his axe in "The Light" – singing about waiting and worrying and living in fear (Marriott does a great counter vocal doing the chorus). Bassist Greg Ridley wrote and sings Lead Vocals on "Big George" - another Faces-sloppy song about dodgy geezers with size ten feet (Bobby Keys of Rolling Stones fame helps out on Saxophone thereby sealing the song's boozy credentials). And I'd swear that's the mighty Alexis Korner from C.C.S. giving it some backing vocals just as the song fades out.

"Strange Days" actually feels like The Doors who of course had an album by the same name – Marriott freaked out by FBI stools mixing with drug dealers – both flogging their wares and slavery. It has a Soulful-Rock feel despite those Bluesy drum whacks, echoed vocals, dirty-sounding guitars and Little Feet funky piano fills. I love it. The album ends of a giggling bop-shoo-waddy boozer of a tune – broken bottles and barroom pianos playing out "Red Neck Jump" – an invite to stomp and hang it all out.

November of 1971 would see the band take flight and destroy all comers with the mighty “Performance – Rockin’ The Fillmore” – the kind of live double you go absolutely nuts about (to this day just looking at its sleeve makes me weak at the knobbly knees). “Smokin’” from 1972 and the underrated double-album "Eat It" from 1973 still had many moments of HP magic - but after that it all seemed to plunge downhill fast in a blizzard of drugs, tantrums and health issues. Best we remember them in their glory moments...and "Rock On" is one of them.

At roughly a twenty-spot or a wee bit more (in the right places) - these 2016 Japanese SHM-CD reissues can be pricey I know. But if you’re a fan – seek them out – both sonically and visually - they’re so worth it…

PS: Titles in the 23 November 2016 Japanese SHM-CD Reissue Series:
1. "Humble Pie" (1970) – Universal/A&M UICY-77977 (Barcode 4988031188101)
2. "Rock On" (1971) – Universal/A&M UICY-77978 (Barcode 4988031188118)
3. "Performance – Rockin' The Fillmore" (1971, Live 2LP Set onto 1CD) – Universal/A&M UICY-77979 (Barcode 4988031188125)
4. "Smokin'" (1972) – Universal/A&M UICY-77980 (Barcode 4988031188132)
5. "Eat It" (1973) – Universal/A&M UICY-77981 (Barcode 4988031188149)
6. "Thunderbox" (1974) – Universal/A&M UICY-77982 (Barcode 4988031188095)
7. "Street Rats" (1975) – Universal/A&M UICY-77983 (Barcode 4988031188156) – 11 Tracks
8. "Street Rats – UK Version" (1975) – Universal/A&M UICY-77984 (Barcode 4988031188163) – 15 Tracks

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