POWER POP LEGENDS Sorrows

Frontman Arthur
Alexander discusses the “new” Sorrows album while offering a cautionary tale to
young musicians. Watch video clips, below.

 

BY FRED MILLS & BARRY ST. VITUS

 

Elsewhere on our site today you’ll read the review of the
recently-issued Bad Times Good Times by
Sorrows, power pop kings who, during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, blazed a
righteous path down Beatles Road,
Badfinger Avenue,
Flamin’ Groovies Lane
and Plimsouls Alley while forging a uniquely memorable sound in the process.
Fronted by songwriter-guitarist Arthur Alexander, they were signed to CBS
during the major label power pop/new wave feeding frenzy of that era and issued
a pair of classic albums, 1980’s Teenage
Heartbreak
and 1981’s Love Too Much,
but they ultimately notched more critical acclaim than commercial rewards,
eventually breaking up in the mid ‘80s.

 

Cut to 2010: for years, Alexander has had his sights set on
getting those two platters reissued, but in dealing with CBS (now Sony) he
repeatedly hit a wall – as he tells BLURT, “They showed no interest in doing
anything.” This isn’t a unique story. Scores of artists will similarly outline
their own horror stories of trying to pry their recordings out of the clutches
of major labels – and even certain indies – and either being turned down
outright or getting quoted a ridiculous sum of money for licensing the
material.

 

So out of the blue this fall, a “new” Sorrows album, Bad Times Good Times, arrived on CD and
vinyl, courtesy ace archival label Bomp!, and Alexander also reassembled his
band for reunion shows to promote it and reclaim  his band’s proper turf. The Bomp! album
includes a note on the back cover indicating that it is not a reissue but
instead a collection of demos, live tracks and previously unreleased tapes;
according to the label, they were discovered in a demolition dumpster when the
original recording studio, MediaSound, was being turned into a Vietnamese
restaurant. (Stranger things have happened with studios’ troves of tapes when
the businesses move or the buildings get torn down.) However, the sound quality
is jaw-droppingly superb on most tracks, and since 12 of the 16 songs duplicate
the track listing (though not the song order) of Teenage Heartbreak, some fans and reviewers decided that BTGT was, in actuality, a cleaned-up
(possibly remixed) and ultimately identical reissue of the 1980 LP with four
bonus tracks added.

 

One critic, for example, wrote at AllMusic.com, “While the
liner notes are coy about the source of this material, this appears to be a
remixed and reworked version of Teenage
Heartbreak
, featuring the same 12 songs (with the album’s original
producer, Mark Milchman, credited with recording) as well as two unreleased
demos and a pair of live recordings.” And at Amazon, one fan/reviewer stated
flatly, “This is the first Sorrows album, with the tracks rearranged.”

 

You can imagine that some fans and collectors were
rightfully confused, and it wasn’t a stretch to reckon that if somebody at Sony
got wind of all this, a call to Bomp! from the Sony legal department wouldn’t
be long in coming. So since we at BLURT pride ourselves in setting the record
straight (not to mention being die-hard power pop geeks and proud owners of
those original Sorrows LPs), we went directly to the source, Patrick Boissel at
Bomp!, and Arthur Alexander. What follows is part of our email dialogue with
Alexander, described by Boissel as “a man on a mission.” That’s something
Alexander emphatically agreed with, stating, “I most certainly am a man
on a mission! And baby, I’m just gettin’ started! But I also hope this is kinda
‘educational’ for the next generation of starry-eyed rock upstart hopefuls.”

 

Meanwhile, read our review of the album, then run, don’t
walk, to your nearest indie emporium to purchase it, and rest assured it is
100% sonic gold. Check out Alexander and the band on Facebook and at MySpace.

 

***

 

Arthur Alexander on…

 

…trying to get
Sorrows albums reissued by Sony:
I have spent a good 20 years trying to get
CBS, then SONY, to release Sorrows’ Teenage
Heartbreak
and got zip to show for it, other than miles of emails and hours
of phone conversations with various “people in charge”, which all
amounted to nothing but one big “jerk-around”.  Rest assured
that we would have loved nothing more than to be able to re-release Teenage Heartbreak, including the
artwork and all, except for two problems: (1) I did not have the permission
from CBS/SONY to do so, and they showed no interest in doing anything; and (2) in
the process of trying to get those masters licensed out of CBS/SONY, it came to
light (or so they claim) that they do not have the multi-track master tapes of
the album, only the 2-track stereo masters of the album. The problem with that
was that the final master mixes and mastering work on that album were total
crap… so, who the fuck needs that?!?!

 

…his frustration with
the 1980 album:
I was never happy with the way the mixes on [the original]
album sounded.  It was a far cry from the sound I heard in my head and the
vision I had for the band.  The band sounded small, puny, no punch! The guitars were buried, the
drums thin and crackly… nothing like the ferocious Power Pop machine Sorrows
were on stage. In fact, you’re listening to it now [on Bad Times Good Times] – or more to the point, as close to that [original]
vision as I will ever be able to get to, short of remixing the record from the
original, and supposedly non-existent, multitrack tapes. What you hear on the
Bomp! release are not the Teenage
Heartbreak
Masters, modified or otherwise tweaked or whatever.  You
have my personal assurance that you can take the official Bomp! product
description literally and at its face value: these are “alternate versions, demos, NEVER before released
versions of these songs, etc.”

     

…assembling Bad Times Good Times for Bomp!: On
the surface of it, a lot of it sounds “identical” to the original album, but
remember, as we were getting ready to do the album, even the demos started to
take shape of and to sound like what was to become the “record version.”
 I simply took the best of what I had and used that as the foundation for what became the final
tracks on Bad Times Good Times. There
are all kinds of differences, large and small, in what people perceive as “identical”
to the original album.         [Some
good examples] to listen and compare to the original on vinyl: drum break in
the middle of “I Want You Tonight” – it’s also quite faster. “She Comes and
Goes” – the last verse with a cello duet rather than a single cello, not to mention
the whole middle part. My vision was that when that part comes in, and you were
listening at a nice loud volume, it was supposed to rip your fucking head off! Phil
Spector, meets The Shangri Las, meets Foo Fighters 30 years ahead of their time…
what we got instead was Phil Spector who didn’t have his Wheaties that morning!
 So, you give that track to the best remixer in the world and let’s
see if he can just take that and simply “remix” it into what’s on this album.
       Not to get overly technical about
the process, but in absence of the original multitrack tapes, and since I had
zero interest in creating Teenage
Heartbreak – Version 2
from scratch – we loved the album the way we
recorded it, just not the way it ended up sounding on that record – what I had
to use to make this record was a creative mix of newly recorded performances,
recording and mixing techniques, married to the outtakes and demos I had from
that time.  

 

…the bottom line: My
main goal and concern: to create a record which was as faithful to the original
in sound and attitude as much as I could get it, yet giving me the ability to
bring about the balance and sound that were so sorely lacking on the original
release. Even my choices of the audio gear I used closely followed the original
gear used by us at MediaSound Studios in NYC, where we cut this album.  It
was a murderous and time consuming process which took years, a true labor of
love, but I feel I’ve succeeded in that goal. So, I suppose you could call your
review: “Sorrows – Bad Times Good Times
or what Teenage Heartbreak should
have sounded like!”

 

…what’s up with the
band’s second album:
When the “reissue” of Sorrows’ Love Too Late comes out next year, you will not only have far less
to clear up, but when I go public and start spilling the dirt about that one
you’ll need a shovel to keep afloat! This one’s a Disney movie compared to the
dirt behind Love Too Late. Yes, ours
is a pretty amazing story, but as you know all too well, not so uncommon. Seems
like there’s a common thread to many of them and the only thing that varies is
the shades of ugliness behind every one of those stories.




2 thoughts on “POWER POP LEGENDS Sorrows

  1. revnorb

    Thanks for this. I bought “Teenage Heartbreak” when it was a new release, when i was fourteen. I always thought it was kinda eh, although the songs seemed fairly decent. I finally got around to picking up a copy of “Good Times Bad Times” in 2014…i had seen it around for a while, but figured why bother, the original album wasn’t all THAT great, how necessary could it be to own some sort of demo/outtake version of it? I was quite surprised at how great “Good Times Bad Times” is, and, like most listeners, was fairly befuddled as to what the album was, exactly…i went to the Amazon page for enlightenment in the product description, of which there was none, but came across your review. The link to this story was disabled, but a little quick and dirty googlin’ brought me here. Very informative. Thanks again!

  2. Pingback: The iTunes 180! #128: Sorrows’ “Christabelle” | Split Like Light Refracted - Tim's Music Blog

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