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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Do You Mean, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”?

On my Facebook page for Dave’s Music Database, I recently posted a link about the newest Jimi Hendrix box, due for a November release. I mockingly asserted that the set was necessary because Hendrix just hasn’t been anthologized enough.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. For a man dead since 1970, he has an astonishing ability to continue to release product. On my DMDB web page for Hendrix, I spotlight nine collections of studio material released after his death and six live albums. These are just the most significant official releases.

I’ve long joked that the true sign of a great musician is an ability to make music from beyond the grave. The best dead stars all have this talent – Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, and Tupac Shakur. The late rap titan has even landed three posthumous #1 albums, a feat which, to my knowledge, has yet to be matched by any other performer six feet under.

Of course, the bigger commentary here concerns recording companies’ crass efforts to turn the deceased’s every grunt, croak, or belch captured on tape into gold. Perhaps nowhere is this greed better on display than via the handlers of Hendrix’s catalog through the ‘70s and well into the ‘90s, before the Hendrix estate wrestled control back. The three studio albums made during Jimi’s life are staples on best-of-all-time album lists; you won’t see anything after he died showing up on these lists.

Still, record companies don’t shovel out the product in steady streams if no one’s dropping cash. Fortunately for them, there will always be lunatics and freaks willing to shell out the bucks for that never-before-released thirteenth take of “Insert Title of Obscure Album Track Here” because, after all, this is the one that included the producer barking out a couple orders to the formerly-living-and-breathing music maker before recording commenced.

It is here that I will attempt to both awkwardly distance myself from such behavior while simultaneously embracing it. In the aforementioned Facebook post, I confessed to having 21 versions of “Purple Haze.” I don’t mean covers of the song – I mean 21 versions all done by Hendrix. I didn’t intentionally seek out that many; I just slowly accumulated them from picking up a live collection here, a box set of studio outtakes there. This is, by my own admission, behavior worthy of serious psychological evaluation. What can one possibly need with that many versions of a song?

Well, my friends, this is the distinction between the casual music fan and the gone-round-the-bend fanatic. Frankly, my completist tendencies rear their ugly head once an act crosses from the “yeah, I like them” to the “oh, I love them” threshold. My sanity goes out the window and I gobble up every scrap I can find like a vampire craving a blood smoothie. I have 33 CDs of Kevin Gilbert music; only ten are official releases and even those are obscure.

For some, such behavior is all about bragging rights. Maybe it’s a Deadhead who can boast to possessing a rare bootleg of a long ago show or a Beatlemaniac who claims to have tape of the long-lost “Carnival of Lights” track. Sometimes it is just about “having it all.” Once you have the thirty-something studio albums by Dylan, why stop?

For others, it genuinely is a musical journey in which they legitimately pick out the distinctions in 21 different versions of “Purple Haze.” Maybe they can trace how the song first developed in the studio to how it transformed on the stage. Maybe they become enthralled with how Hendrix changes the guitar solo here and there.

Personally, I lack the musicianship to notice that the third take of some long forgotten album cut included a snare drum absent from the version released on the B-side of an obscure Scottish single. As for impressing others with individual acts in my collection, most people are in awe enough of the sheer total size to dig deep enough to notice that I have over six hundred Bob Dylan songs.

So why do I have 600+ Dylan songs and 33 Kevin Gilbert CDs and 21 versions of “Purple Haze”? Dunno. Just do. Stay tuned – numbers destined to change as quickly as the miles roll by on an odometer.

For daily doses of my musical obsession, check out Dave’s Music Database Facebook page.

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