Tagged: album sequencing, production, Sound Elixir
March 26, 2020 at 4:49 am #9329Chris HludzikParticipant
Chris Hludzik here with another “short note”. Here goes…
I may have mentioned this back on your old site, but “Sound Elixir” is one of my favorite Nazareth albums. I know you think it’s the worst thing you guys ever did, but I wanted to know why, because by your own accounts, you had good memories recording it.
One thing I saw a while back on Manny’s old forum, was that although the album was produced by Manny, it was really, in Manny’s words, the “Pete and Billy show”. I know Manny hadn’t produced the previous 3 albums (plus the new ‘Snaz songs), and from what I understand, he was never happy about that (I don’t recall him saying anything knocking John Punter, but he’s made it well known that he didn’t like Jeff Baxter). So you would think that Manny getting to be in the producer’s chair again would have made him happy, and he would have put in a good effort. Perhaps he was burnt out on Nazareth by this point? Or he just didn’t care anymore, because the balance of power in the group at that time wasn’t on his side? Or, maybe he just relented to you guys, because you were coming up with more of the material?
At any rate, the album is great. Great songs, great production (no matter who did it) and it’s well performed, well engineered, well mixed and well mastered. For a recording from 1983, it sounds as though it could have been done yesterday. Calum Malcolm and Mike Fraser did an outstanding job. I believe I mentioned to you on your old site that as an engineer myself, I liked the work Calum did with Nazareth. The version I have of Sound Elixir is the U.S. pressing on MCA which was mastered by Greg Fulginiti at Artisan, and sounds huge and dynamic. The U.K. version was mastered at Town House, and while I don’t have that version, other albums I have that were cut there sound great. Only knock I have on the U.S. version is, it doesn’t have the lyric sleeve that literally every other version has. Even my A&M Canadian pressing has it (it’s the only reason I have that version, actually, as I will explain in great detail below).
I think one reason some Nazareth fans point to concerning this albums’ general disregard, is that the production isn’t cohesive. But in all honesty, how could it have been? This wasn’t a by-the-numbers Nazareth album. There are lots of different styles here, and getting that all to flow isn’t easy. But I have a few bigger places to lay blame on the album’s lack of appeal/success: One being something MCA Records did WRONG, and the other being something I believe MCA did RIGHT that all the other labels who released this around the world did wrong.
First, the wrong. MCA apparently did nothing to promote this album. I’m guessing they figured, “Hey, it’s Nazareth, they’ve had hits, they’ll be fine”. Even bands who have had hits still need a promotional push if they’re on a new label. I’m guessing A&M nurtured Nazareth over the years, and MCA just left you guys out in the cold, and figured you didn’t need nurturing. Another thing I find interesting, is that almost every copy of the U.S. pressing of Sound Elixir that I’ve come across is a gold stamped promo copy. My very copy I bought was still sealed, and it’s a gold stamped promo. Did MCA just GIVE this album away? Did they think that if they gave it to people for free that the album would just take off on its’ own? Hell, I’ve even seen cassette promo copies of this album. CASSETTE! What were the marketing people at MCA doing?
Now, here’s what I believe they did right. THEY SEQUENCED THE ALBUM DIFFERENTLY, AND TO GREATER (BETTER) EFFECT THAN THE REST OF THE WORLD. When I saw the tracklist of every other country’s version of Sound Elixir, I scratched my head. For those who don’t know, here’s the tracklisting for the rest of the world:
A1 All Nite Radio
A2 Milk And Honey
A3 Whippin’ Boy
A4 Rain On The Window
A5 Backroom Boys
B1 Why Don’t You Read The Book
B2 I Ran
B3 Rags To Riches
B4 Local Still
B5 Where Are You Now
The album starts with a darker, slow number, and while it rocks and does build up a bit as it goes on, it doesn’t exactly start the album off strong. Then, another dark song. Then a hard rocker, which would be fine where it is on this side if it were not for the 2 songs that precede it. Next, a light-hearted folk ballad? Great song, but here on the album, it doesn’t work. Then to close out side 1, a mid tempo kinda rocker…? We’re already halfway through the album, and it hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet. Whippin’ Boy may have held peoples’ attention, but I’m guessing a lot of people lost interest after that. Side 2 starts with a good uptempo number, but again, by this point it’s too late. Then a weird, funky number with strange lyrics to follow (not a knock – I love the song, it’s just a little out of left field, ya know?). Again, it might spark someone’s interest, but it’s not looking good. Next up, a hard rocker in the same spot on this side as the other hard rocker on the album was on side 1…and it’s the same result, caught in the middle with no place to go. Then another folky number, but uptempo this time. This would have been good anywhere on the album to help it either pick up some momentum or maintain it, but here near the end of the album, its’ potential is wasted. And finally, we end this version of Sound Elixir the same way we started it off, with a slow, dark song, this time a ballad. Considering that this would become the biggest and best known song from the album (ESPECIALLY in some of the countries that used this very tracklisting), you would think this song would have been positioned a little better. Overall, this version of Sound Elixir is dull.
AND HERE’S THE U.S. TRACKLISTING:
A1 Why Don’t You Read The Book
A2 Whippin’ Boy
A3 All Nite Radio
A4 Where Are You Now
A5 Backroom Boys
B1 Rags To Riches
B2 Local Still
B3 I Ran
B4 Rain On The Window
B5 Milk And Honey
HOLY SHIT! We’re going to start the album with an uptempo number to get the ball rolling, and then KEEP said ball rolling with a good hard rocker, then gear down JUST A LITTLE BIT with a dark, moody rocker, and then gear down a little more for a dark moody ballad, and then finish off the first side with a nice mid tempo number to bring the mood back up just enough. Then side 2 opens and POW! A good hard rocker that continues the pallet-cleansing of the darker songs that was started by the last song on side 1. Then an uptempo folky number to turn the volume down a little but keep the spirits up. Follow it up with that out of left field song, which actually fits in nicely between the previous song and the next song, the folky ballad. The out of left field song also serves as a bit of a pallet cleanser in a weird way. Then after the folky ballad, close it off with the other dark moody song that has a big finish to close off the album right.
THE U.S VERSION IS LIKE A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ALBUM, AND BETTER IN EVERY WAY AS A RESULT.
If it were released this way throughout the rest of the world, who knows how differently it might have been received. If Phonogram and their associated labels or A&M Canada used this tracklisting and actually put some promotional muscle behind the album – which MCA failed to do – there’s no telling how successful this album might have been. I don’t know how involved the band was in sequencing albums, or if that was strictly a management and/or label decision, but either way, MCA got it right. If only they could have got EVERYTHING ELSE right…
Perspective is everything.
And with that, I will now rest my case for Sound Elixir, an underrated album in the Nazareth canon. Mr. Rankin, you may take the stand with any evidence you may have… 😉
Many thanks in advance,
P.S., I also love “On The Run”, the b-side to the “Where Are You Now?” single, which I think is as good as anything on the album. Any stories/insight about that one Billy?March 26, 2020 at 6:58 pm #9338
That was a long one (even by your standards) but I appreciate your efforts in trying to celebrate what, to the rest of us was a “Piece of Shit” though it wasn’t as bad as Snakes & Ladders…
I’d never heard Manny refer to Sound Elixir as the Pete and Billy show before but if you consider it purely from the songwriting then he’s right.
I’m sure you’re aware of who wrote what so I won’t go into that. However, none of my contributions turned out the way I’d hoped: Take a listen to my demos on this site or indeed the re-recording of Where Are You Now on Growin’ Up Too Fast for examples.
I think I did a pretty thorough job of explaining things from my perspective on the site itself but in essence Manny was more interested in producing a soundscape (which Calum could do brilliantly) rather than capturing a twin-guitar wielding Rock band like Nazareth (The complete lack of guitar solos I think backs this up).
I’m impressed with your comparing of track running order as yet another (in my opinion) failure to validate what was a disappointing end product. Well done for that Chris, but you’re not convincing me, sorry.
Opening with Why Don’t You Read the Book, a song I threw together with Dan in 5 minutes is not a strong start imo.
Manny’s return to production duties should’ve given us another Hair of the Dog, and that’s where his “Pete and Billy Show” reference has some validity: The songs. Myself and Darrell had been trying to write catchy hits while Pete had discovered his ability to play acoustic guitar: I Ran and On the Run were prime examples so this is where I’ll put my hand up and admit my part in the whole fiasco. The songs I contributed on 2XS were, again imo better than those on Sound Elixir. I did have a great time in Vancouver recording the album but ultimately having a great time doesn’t always result in quality. Best way I can sum it up is by retelling an occasion in the studio from the website. Just to be clear here, Manny and I never argued over who should play any particular solo so when he bagged the one on Whipping Boy I left him to it. It was Shit, and I told him so. “Fuck your guitar synth Manny! Strap on the Les Paul and tear it up.” His response: “No. That’s just what they’d expect.”
I rest my case Chris.
You’ve made a worthy defence but sorry. Always good to talk mate. See you in court, soon.
All the best, Billy.March 26, 2020 at 10:19 pm #9339Chris HludzikParticipant
OUCH! Well, I tried Billy lol. Thanks for the honest response. I actually like the solo on Whippin’ Boy, but, different strokes for different folks, I guess. And it was done through a guitar synth? Could’ve fooled me. Also, if I could write a tune as cool as “Why Don’t You Read The Book” in 5 minutes, I’d be pretty pleased with myself. Then again, I also didn’t write “Dream On” or “Games” either, so… And I love your demos with Darrell, they definitely have more grit than the album versions, so I see what you’re saying in that respect. I also agree with you about the best experience recording not necessarily equating to the best album. Hair Of The Dog for instance was recorded at Escape Studio, which was apparently very run down, and engineer Tony Taverner was constantly just trying to keep the equipment up and running, and well, we know what that album went on to do…
I will now make my retreat and never bring up Sound Elixir again…maybe lol
Thanks Billy, if I think of another album I can inquire about, I’ll write another short note. 😉
Chris.March 27, 2020 at 11:03 pm #9342
Okay Chris, you got me.
Whipping Boy was not the song I was thinking of, but having forced myself to listen to it again my opinion stands.
Just for the record, Manny didn’t use the synth on the solo but I did attempt to improve the ending with an actual real effort.
Bring on your next question, I’ll be more accurate in future, sorry.March 30, 2020 at 1:18 am #9351nssworldParticipant
I stand with Chris, Sound Elixir is brilliant. Rain on the Window should have been the hit on the album.March 31, 2020 at 3:44 pm #9377Suf22ismParticipant
For what it’s worth, I think Sound Elixir lacks focus, drive and a sense of where exactly the band was going at the time. The production is the only poorly produced album that Manny was responsible for; all the others veer from the brilliantly produced / ‘HOD’, ‘NMCity’ ‘Close Enough…to the good ‘Expect NO Mercy, ‘Playin the game’. The demos of Sound Elixir that Billy has kindly uploaded on the site are SOOOO much better than the finished product, although I agree that ‘Rain on the Window’ is probably the best song on the album.March 31, 2020 at 6:31 pm #9379
Interesting fact about Rain on the Window: Pete wrote it based on the hook line his son Lee sang to him. (I think it was Lee, Pete has 4 musical kids)April 2, 2020 at 12:14 am #9384nssworldParticipant
When I was in the UK in 2003 and staying at Ronnie & Bev Dalrymple’s place, Ronnie gave me a CD by a band called Sattelite Falls (if memory serves). Said band featured two or three of Pete’s boys and I don’t think it ever got released, but it was bloody brilliant and it’s obvious that they were talented.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.