Monday, September 9, 2013

Reissue: Fleetwood Mac Then Play On

About 30 years ago, I was out and about and went to Record Realm to pick up a slew of records that I might enjoy.  Of course back then I was more aware of things, not like today which I can't remember what the hell I did without blogging it down but the memory works better three decades ago.  It was around that time that I picked up Then Play On and then proceeded to waste more money down at Show Biz Pizza (later Chuck E Cheese) and playing a bunch of video games.  What we did before the internet, video arcades and jumping on the trampoline playing space ball.  So, anyway minding my own business and having a short and petite girl watching I struck up a conversation with her.  Her name was Amy, she lived around the bad side of town and had a boyfriend who was in love with his pickup more than she.  Don't know what she seen in me outside of a on the rebound thing but being the nice putz that I was I decided to be friendly with her.

Well anyway, didn't think much about that night and played Then Play On on the player when my mom called me from upstairs and said I had a phone call and somehow Miss Amy must have searched down all the Smiths and finally found me hiding in there. So we chatted for a spell and hooked up at the mall the next day.  Thus begins a three week something other that continued some night time calls and getting together whenever the time was right. Even though it wasn't right. It all came to a head on a moonlight night in July where I ended it.  She was good looking, a body that guys pining for and everything that you could want.  She was still hung up on her boyfriend Bubba and even though he loved his pick em up truck, she still loved him and no matter what I could or would do it wasn't going to work on my end.   So I basically told her to go back to him and went back home, and played Then Play On for the 40th time that month.

Getting to the record at hand, Fleetwood Mac was five years away from the classic lineup that would give them the big hits but there's a few out there that still prefer the Peter Greenbaum led band that started out on Epic Records here in the US, and more of a blues band than Rumours.  The Epic records never sold all that much and the Mac signed with Reprise with the promise of self production.  Then Play On was the result and it was a far cry from the Elmore James blues and Peter Green penned tunes although there was attempts to go rock and roll.  The original Black Magic Woman and the moody Albatross were FM staples (at that time) and a third guitarist in Danny Kirwan joined as well.   But in some ways Then Play On would be the original version of Rumours, to which both Green and Jeremy Spencer would later leave for a higher calling and Kirwan would get booted out for his erratic behavior.

Then Play On is a spare album, very primitive sounding and even on the new remaster the sound is just as bad as the first generation cd, they must have used a very cheap or overused reel to reel tape to record it.  Even on Closing My Eyes, one of the leads bleeds before it starts up and I have it on LP and still heard the same result.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Beginning with a call and respond of guitar leads on Coming Your Way it leads into a jungle drum beat and Kirwan informs us that  I got things to do, I move everyday, I hope you don't mind cause I'm coming your way  and repeats the whole verse again changing I to You and it goes on till the 3 minute mark when the Mac goes into a death jam while Green wails away on guitar....and then it moves into the much more moodier Closing My Eyes a song that Green deems more toward The Almighty although from these ears and the events of July 1982 of the long ago but still in memory Amy.  Whereas Green musing the line Someday I'll die, maybe then I'll be with you, he talks more of God, more than me thinking of someday being with somebody I barely know, blame it on youth and music imagination.

I have no idea how many different versions of Then Play On is out there but here goes. 2 US versions of this came out, the first featured two Kirwan originals, When You Say and the instrumental My Dream before they got replaced by Oh Well (Part 1 and 2) on side 1.  When the original CD came out, those two songs rejoined the album but in the UK, two more Kirwan originals were left off altogether One Sunny Day and Without You and probably the closest they got to the blues on TPO (Side note: the two songs appeared on the Epic English Rose album).  With the new reissue of Then Play On, all the Kirwan originals that didn't appear on the album that I had on LP are now on the CD with The Green Maharishi, Green's last and most profound statement that he would put down as a member as The Mac and a Kirwan instrumental of World In Harmony, a nice pleasant song to finish the record but not essential.  The revised edition is in the UK version of TPO, with Oh Well chopped in 2 parts as the bonus tracks as well as Green Maharishi and World In Harmony.  But for the most part, it's Green and Kirwan playing guitars (Jeremy Spencer hardly shows up except on the piano part of Oh Well P2) into a stripped down setting.  The Madge Jam Session, while staying back to back on the US version, Fighting For Madge goes on Side 1, Searching is on Side 2, both are one takes of free form jamming while Peter Green is thinking up blues licks here and there while Mick bashes away on drums.

While Kirwan has the most fun and throwaway tracks on this album (Although The Sun Is Shining reveals more of behind the scenes of what was going on in the Mac camp at that time), Like Crying is throwaway blues with repeated lines Sometimes she feels like crying, something she feels like dying, woman's got the blues it kinda reminded me of Amy when she was calling at around midnight and having my mom raise a ruckus.  But for every Kirwan blues antidote,   Green would counter with the scathing Show Biz Blues (Tell me anybody now do you really give a damn for me) which would ring in my head when Amy was talking bout the boyfriend spending copious times with his truck and bubba friends.  What can you do.  But I be there lending a ear but at the same time Green's If I needed anybody, baby I take you home with me; but I don't need anybody, I don't need anybody  but Him and me.  Who's Him?  For myself, Him was me.  Or God.

Then Play On at that time was my go to album.  Certainly there was some hard rocking shake and roll like Rattlesnake Shake and the pounding part 1 of Oh Well, although the spaghetti western style of part 2 drags the record down, it does feel like you're out in the desert under 120 degree sun and no shade. Some people think it's the best part of the record but I think it's boring after a while.  Not like the frenzy of Part 1 another of Green searching for God songs with the classic line Don't ask me what I think of you I might not give the answer that you want me to.  The Rockets had a sizable hit of it in 1979 but of course they left out the droning part two.  The Green Maharishi, Judas Priest would turn that into one of their own later on as well but it would be the final testament and closing of the book for Green as he soon left and moved on into a journey of his own.  As for Jeremy Spencer who got shut out of the proceedings, he would do a 5 songs, which may have came out on EP but not in the states but would be tacked on the Vaudeville Years Compilation  later on.  Spencer would figure a great deal on the underrated Kiln House a year later before dropping out to become a Child Of God, but in later years made one album for Atlantic and most recently Blind Pig, to which he goes back to his blues roots.

Which begs the question of if you should get the expanded deluxe edition of Then Play On.  Basically it's a unilateral move for me, true you get the bonus cuts and the original UK running order and of course Green Maharishi as well. But for sound, it's not exactly 5.1 surround sound. And if you're used to the US running order, this might throw you for a loss as well.  Again buyer beware but Then Play On remains a vital statement in my lifetime, not because of what happened to me but rather you're hearing the end of Peter Green as he finally decides to take guitar and run from the guitar god status that fans piled on top of him.  Green continues to record as part of the Green/Splinter Group and while some of it is good it pales next to what he achieved in the Mac.  Fleetwood Mac would continue to add and subtract band members the next five years before settling on a little known duet entity known as Buckingham/Nicks and carving out their own history.

As for Amy, well a fork in the road took us away to different things.  One day in 1988, I was in downtown Cedar Rapids at some festival and ran into Amy and she did eventually married her boyfriend and ended up having a couple of girls of her own.  Chances are she's a grand parent now.  People my age usually are.

Grade A-

1 comment:

TAD said...

Crabby: "Oh Well" & "Green Manalishi" are both pretty friggin' great, & "Rattlesnake Shake" is at least funny. Not sure I've heard any of the rest.
"Green Manalishi" would make a great Halloween song -- you can almost see that demon that Peter Green says is following him around. Lots of great heavy, dark atmosphere. No wonder he went nuts....
Judas Priest's version never worked as well for me. I still play "Manalishi" in the store now & then, & when I tell people it's Fleetwood Mac, they don't believe me....