Tuesday, June 17, 2014

P. F. Sloan--A Passel of Passionate 1960s Demo Recordings--NEW LINKS 25 August 2017!

I summed up the musical career of the late, lamented Phil Sloan in the liner notes for the Ace Records compilation You Baby: Words and Music by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri, which was released in 2010. Buy it, why don'cha? I put a lot of work into this project, including in-depth interviews with Sloan and Barri. I made 400 bucks for my trouble. I am, apparently, persona non grata at Ace Records, for reasons I shall never know.

Still, I am proud of this project, even though some of its song choices are weak, and some key tracks are missing--mostly due to unreasonably high licensing fees.

Destined to be one of the most controversial and maligned figures in that potent decade of pop music progress, Sloan's 1960s Los Angeles career was short but sweet. The years 1964 to 1967 saw a large quantity of original songs, written in a dizzying array of styles, most often with his collaborator, Steve Barri, composed, demoed and sometimes recorded by other artists.

"Eve of Destruction" changed Sloan's life and career. A prior composer of pop, girl group, surf, rock and novelty songs, Sloan was suddenly seen as a serious composer--the first "new Bob Dylan" in pop-rock history.

Like almost all others who had that mantle put upon them, it was more burden than honor. While Sloan continued to write dynamite mainstream pop music material, he also strove to create more complex, advanced songs that uneasily straddled the boundaries of pop and folk musics.

Some of these songs are failures--over-wrought, over-written and awkwardly conceived. But the majority are bracing, exciting and sometimes deeply moving compositions that showed the pop music world that there was more than met the eye to what a commercial piece of music could contain.

Sloan was out of Los Angeles by the end of 1967, and his songs were largely forgotten. Meanwhile, countless other singer-songwriters trod the path he had unconsciously blazed, and his influence--as the first composer to meet the disparate ends of Dylanesque personal songwriting and mainstream commerical material--still hangs over the American musical landscape.

Sloan's solo recordings of this period rarely do him justice. Perhaps at the encouragement of record-label execs, Sloan affects a Dylanish whine to his vocals, and most of the recordings are badly balanced, overly sparse, and betray the lack of TLC afforded them. His two period albums, Songs of Our Times and Twelve More Times, have their moments, but fail to satisfyingly cohere.

Sloan's secret recording career, as the passionate performer of scores of demonstration recordings, was unheard outside the music industry at the time. Sung beautifully in his rich, distinctive voice, and often more elaborately orchestrated than his solo albums, these demos show Sloan at his early best.

A CD of some highlights of these demo recordings was commercially issued in 2001. That disc, Child of Our Times, is the first act of today's post. Though its graphics are shoddy, the mastering of the 20 songs therein is superb. You can nab a 320 rip of that out-of-print seedee HERE.

The disc represented just the tip of the iceberg. I've assembled a bonus volume, containing 25 more demo performances, HERE. (This is a new link on 5/9/17. Please download it to keep it alive!!!)

These 25 songs more accurately show the schizophrenic aspects of Sloan's commercial songwriting. Everything from a cutesy boy-girl duet, and several songs for an apparently abandoned 1964 album project devoted to the "swim" dance craze, to devastatingly good pop songs such as "He's Just That Kind of Guy," "And I Cry Over You" and "Things Are Different Now" and more Dylanesque pieces ("Me And My Captain," "It's No Disgrace") are on deck. There's even a country-pop song, "I Love You More Than Yesterday," that seems to have been written on spec, but never used.

That was the sad fate of so many of these songs: disuse and indifference. 50 years later, we can hear these and marvel at how good they are, even the sillier of them. But back then, when they were part of the commerical currency of the music scene, they were ignored. The music biz is a ruthless profession, and it's chewed up and spit out some very talented individuals.

Sloan is alive and well, and still making music. He has a new album, My Beethoven, and a memoir called What Exactly's The Matter With Me? I own neither one yet (I believe the book is due out in late June), but I hope to acquire them soon. In the meantime, peruse these 45 demo recordings from the mid-1960s, and enjoy one of the era's most passionate voices.