Tuesday, September 4, 2012

#587: Bits&pieces

Ken Scott is a helluva producer & engineer. He's worked on summa my favorite albums ever. Probly summa yer faves too: MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, WHITE ALBUM, ZIGGY STARDUST, CRIME OF THE CENTURY, BIRDS OF FIRE, HONKY CHATEAU, DON'T SHOOT ME I'M ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER, like that. He's worked with some great bands: Beatles, Stones, Bowie & the Spiders, Elton, Mahavishnu, Supertramp, Missing Persons, Dixie Dregs, Happy the Man, etc.
But Scott's book, ABBEY ROAD TO ZIGGY STARDUST (2012), is kinda dull, kinda choppy, kinda annoying -- & I feel like kind of an ass 4 pointing it out. I wanted to love this book like I love summa the albums Scott's been involved with.
Summa the music he's recorded is really glorious. I think he got down mosta Bowie's best moments, some top-notch stuff from Elton, 1 pretty-great album from Supertramp, ... & 1 of Happy the Man's albums is in my all-time Top 20. + there's his Beatles Xperiences from back when Scott was just starting out.
There's some great stuff here. But what Scott & his co-writer Bobby Owsinski can't do thru mosta this 400-pg book is make these Xperiences intresting. There's magic in the music, but there isn't much in these stories.
Scott admits sevral times that he doesn't always remember much from a given session. This is a problem early in the book when he's working 4 the Beatles on stuff like "I Am the Walrus" & the WHITE ALBUM sessions. He confirms that Yoko & Linda didn't cause as much disruption as has sometimes been described -- but if you're a Beatles fan or have read Geoff Emerick's HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE, you've heard these stories B4, or stories like them about the atmosphere around EMI's Abbey Road studios, etc.
The early part of the book is also written in choppy, small chapters to get the most out of Scott's choppy memory. The book smooths out a bit with Chapter 13, when David Bowie arrives on the scene, & continues pretty smoothly from there -- altho there R too many typographical errors. Somebody proofread 2 fast.
There R some suprises here -- that the original Mahavishnu Orch broke up in squabbles over songwriting credits & the fact that guitarist/leader John McLaughlin apparently wouldn't let anybody else contribute tunes; the lengths The Tubes went to 2 get sincere, believable vocals on their YOUNG AND RICH album; the fact that Happy the Man's Stan Whittaker had to take a "refreshment" break B4 recording his mechanical vocal on the knockout "Wind-Up Doll Day Wind"; that Scott hadta teach Dixie Dregs' drummer Rod Morgenstein how 2 play less 2 get a better drum sound....
There R some errors & omissions. Scott takes Mahavishnu 2 record at Miami's Criteria Studios, mentioned in the book as acclaimed 4 the disco sound the Bee Gees were getting there at the time ... but when Mahavishnu visits, it's 3 years before the Bee Gees actually achieved that sound.
There's no mention of the $250,000 that Arista Records allegedly spent 2 record Happy the Man's 1st 2 albums -- or that Scott allegedly had Happy record at 1/2-speed 2 successfully get their complex music down on-tape ... a technique Scott says he's used many times with other bands.
The story of Scott's 1st venture into artist-management -- the rise & fall of early-'80s New Wave band Missing Persons -- really IS pretty intresting. If you're intrested -- I was. But it eats up 40 pgs. The Beatles memories take about 50.
While Scott always enjoys himself, enjoys the music, hardly ever is he floored, astonished, steamrolled by some of the artists he gets on tape. He admits he needs to be "grabbed in the stomach" to know if he wants to work with someone. But he is seldom awestruck. Maybe that's what happens when you start out working for the Fab 4.
Turns out Scott's reputation as a perfectionist isn't totally accurate, either -- tho 1 un-named person in the book blames the rise of Punk Rock on Scott's supposed "lack of feel." But it was the high-tech production sheen he seemed 2 get on everything (especially Happy the Man, Supertramp, Dixie Dregs, Missing Persons) that always attracted me 2 Scott's work.
Unlike some books of this sort, there really is a detailed discography included, listing all the albums Scott's worked on -- you'll recognize a LOT of them.... It's here you'll learn that Scott helped engineer Van der Graaf Generator's 1971 cult classic PAWN HEARTS. Can you imagine what a mind-warping Xperience THAT must've been? Well, you'll HAVE to imagine it, because there's nothing else about it in the book....
It's 2 bad this book couldn't have been a double-CD -- THE BEST OF KEN SCOTT. In the music is where all the magic is. & it woulda been a helluva album....


rastronomicals said...

Interesting read, Tad. Why would you write a book when you really don't remember all that much of what happened?

I found your comment on how Scott produced the best parts of Bowie interesting; I would have thought it was Eno who did

TAD said...

Rastro: The 1 part of Scott's book you might enjoy is a brief section on Mahavishnu's "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love," a 45-second track offa BIRDS OF FIRE that (if I remember right) you wrote-up 4 LA HISTORIA awhile back.
Scott Xplains how the track was a group improv/Xperiment that got on-tape mostly by accident, & that afterwards McLaughlin insisted on taking the "songwriting" credit rather than sharing it with the resta the band -- & that sorta thing was what broke-up the original MO....
On Bowie, I haven't heard that much of the Eno-produced stuff: Have heard some of LODGER, just the title song of "Heroes," none of LOW, so I'm surely not qualified 2 judge that stuff. (Did Eno produce SCARY MONSTERS? I've heard mosta that....) I just can't argue with "Suffragette City," "Changes," "Space Oddity," "Sorrow," etc....