Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BATMAN DVD News and Review: Batman '66 #7

Before I get to the review of issue 7, the blockbuster announcement that has been eminent for a year has been made. The 1966 Batman TV series will be released in a DVD box set later this year, just in time for Christmas.  Early reports are that HD transfers made from pristine 35mm prints are being done, and Adam West and Burt Ward will be heading into a recording studio to do audio commentaries.  Hopefully, other bonus features, like Adam West appearing in full costume on shows like Hollywood Palace, will be included.

On to the review.  Jeff Parker returns as writer, and he brings False Face with him.  The story is very good and clever, where False Face impersonates Bruce Wayne, framing him.  Parker brings back Blaze and two of FF's original henchmen from the episode, a first, I think, for this comic book. The story also introduces the Bat Jet, looking just like it would had it been used on the TV show.  My one critique is that FF impersonates the president... Lyndon B. Johnson. Part of the longevity of the original series is that it was timeless.  They rarely mentioned the year, or anything too topical, at least in the first two seasons.  Season three, with all its other shortcomings, is also guilty of being too topical, with references to hippies, mods, surfers, and all other fads of the day.  The LBJ appearance is the second, at the least, reference establishing this comic book being set in the 1960s.  I would prefer it if they avoided that pitfall of season three, and followed the example of the first two seasons by keeping it timeless.  The art by Christopher Jones is excellent, although in a couple panels, as most artists on the series have done, he gives Batman a large gut.  Something else I wish would be dropped from this series.

The second story features the Joker and is written by Tom Peyer with art by Derec Donovan.  Peyer captures the Joker much better than Parker did in issue 3.  This time, I can actually picture Cesar Romero, instead of a generic insane DC Joker.  This may be the best of the short second stories.  Perhaps Peyer should write all of them, and let Parker handle the longer lead stories.  Donovan's art, however, is average, and his Batman looks more like Jack Webb than Adam West.  I wish Donovan drew the lackluster issue 3, while Joe Quinones' superb artwork graced this issue's Joker story. Overall, this is a great issue, and it earns an A-.

Finally, this week also saw the release of the trade paperback, BATMAN: THE TV STORIES, collecting about half of the original comic book stories that were adapted into TV episodes.  This book is a must have, and there has to be a volume 2 planned to collect the remaining stories.  May I also add the cover, by Amanda Conner, is spectacular, and I would love to see her draw an issue or five of BATMAN '66.

For the record, here are the stories that should be included in Volume 2:
"The Menace of False Face" (BATMAN #113 - adapted as "True or False Face/Holy Rat Race")
"The Mental Giant of Gotham City" (DETECTIVE #217 - adapted as "An Egg Grows in Gotham/The Yegg Foes of Gotham")
"The New Crimes of the Mad Hatter" (DETECTIVE #230 - aspects of this story were used in both Mad Hatter episodes)
"The Penguin's Nest" (BATMAN #36 - adapted as "The Penguin's Nest/The Bird's Last Jest")
"Batman's Deadly Birthday" (BATMAN #130 - aspects of this story were used in "Batman's Anniversary/A Riddling Controversy")
and to round out the edition, they can also include
"The Eraser Who Tried To Rub Out Batman" (BATMAN #188, the only comic book story to copy the TV series)
"Mr Freeze's Chilling Deathtrap" (DETECTIVE #373, the first story to use the TV show's Mr Freeze in lieu of the comics' Mr Zero, and to use the TV show's surname Cooper for Aunt Harriet
"Catwoman Sets Her Claws For Batman"(BATMAN #197, the first appearance of Catwoman in the Julie Newmar costume).

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The best Elvis songs you've never heard.

As we celebrate Elvis' birthday, I thought I'd take this opportunity to put a spotlight on Elvis' best overlooked and under appreciated recordings, similar to my previous Monkees post. 

Many of the songs on this list will be from Elvis' movies, often dismissed, yet the source for some real gems.

Baby Let's Play House is one of Elvis' earliest tracks from the Sun Records era, and if ever there was a very definition of "Rock and Roll", it would be this song.

My Baby's Gone is a slow blues tune recorded at Sun that Sam Phillips felt was a little too bluesy, so it was never released. It was remade as an up tempo Rockabilly number under the alternate title I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone.  But it's the original blues version that's the winner.

Mean Woman Blues is a highlight from the movie Loving You and became a Rock and Roll standard covered by many other artists, but it's Elvis' original that set the standard.
Tell Me Why is a blues ballad that showcases Elvis' vocal range in his early years.

A Fool Such As I  is a great example of how Elvis could take a slow, Country song (originally recorded by Hank Snow) and turn it into a breezy, swinging rocker.

Fame And Fortune is a great do-wop ballad with Elvis in great form.  It was the b-side of his first single after getting out of the army, and first true stereo release.

Like A Baby is one of Elvis' best tracks off one of his best albums, Elvis Is Back! (1960). A blues number that fits Elvis' pleading vocal performance perfectly and is proof that he was one of the best blues singer of all time.

Summer Kisses Winter Tears is a nice Western ballad that was cut from the movie Flaming Star but went on to be released as a single.

That's Someone You Never Forget is a hauntingly beautiful ballad.  It is one of a very few songs Elvis co-wrote when he tried songwriting in the early 1960s with his Memphis Mafioso Red West (tracks from the 1950s that gave Elvis songwriting credit were due to his song arrangements and occasional lyric revisions, the main exception being the four Love Me Tender soundtrack songs, which were essentially a form of "payola"). It's too bad Elvis didn't have the interest to continue with songwriting, as this track proves, in time, he could have been a major songwriting talent.

She's Not You is the result of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller teaming up with Doc Pomus, to form a songwriting supergroup.  While not the hard rocking track one would expect from such a collaboration, it is never-the-less, a nice mid-tempo pop tune.

What A Wonderful Life is a swinging, bouncy number from the movie Follow That Dream and in a way, perfectly captures the essence of the "Elvis Presley movie franchise".

King of The Whole Wide World is a bouncy rocker from Kid Galahad.

A Mess of Blues is just what the title says, and has since become something of a blues standard.

Long Lonely Highway is song that urges one to go on even though things aren't very good. Very good track that was later incorporated (with horn overdubs) into the movie Tickle Me

Kiss Me Quick is a cute and fun pop track that shows how musically versatile Elvis could be.

C'mon Everybody is a fantastic rocker from the movie "Viva Las Vegas", not to be confused with the Eddie Cochran song with the same title. The official released version was mono, but seeking out the alternate stereo mix is worth the effort, as it really rocks.

The Meanest Girl In Town is a rocker from the movie Girl Happy that was so good, Bill Haley and His Comets recorded it days after Elvis under the alternate title Yeah She's Evil, and rushed its release before Elvis' version with the hopes of reviving the Comets' career.

Spinout is a bluesy, up tempo soul number, kind of a counterpoint to the soul classic Expressway To Your Heart. With its driving bass line, and some killer Hammond organ riffs this is an overlooked gem that would fit in perfectly at dream cruises and classic car shows.  Elvis must have liked the song, too, since when he performs it in the movie of the same name, he breaks into some of his old 1950s dance moves, something he only did in the 1960s when he was really having fun.

Hard Luck from the movie Frankie & Johnny is a great blues tune with some wailing harmonica playing by Charlie McCoy.

Hey Little Girl is a fun and cute rocker from Harum Scarum that really should have been a major hit.

Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On) is a short but fun rocker from the movie Double Trouble. With the Jordanaires' old-school doo-wop backing vocals, and Elvis singing great lyrics like "walk in stilts in ten foot leaps" looking for the elusive title character, it is impossible not to like this song.

Too Much Monkey Business is a cover of the Chuck Berry classic Elvis recorded with Jerry Reed providing the guitar work.  Recorded at the same session that included Guitar Man, Big Boss Man, Hi-Heel Sneakers, U.S. Male (arguably an early precursor of rap), and Stay Away Joe, each of these songs are gems and reignited Elvis' creativity after years of soundtrack albums, and was the first step of his "Comeback".  An interesting footnote:  in the 1960s, Elvis was always lambasted by critics for being "out of touch" with the world around him, living in his own protected bubble.  Yet, in this song, Elvis alters Berry's original lyric to include a reference to the Vietnam war.  Maybe Elvis wasn't as out of touch as everyone was led to believe.

Let Yourself Go from the movie Speedway is such a great song that Elvis remade it for his 1968 Comeback special.

All I Needed Was The Rain is a down on your luck blues tune from Stay Away Joe with some great harmonica and resonator guitar.

Wearin' That Loved On Look is a Soul-Rhythm & Blues track from another of Elvis' best albums, From Elvis In Memphis (1969). The entire album is excellent and is, unfortunately, the only all-out Soul/R&B album Elvis ever made.  This song was the first track, and set the pace for the album.

If You Talk In Your Sleep is a funky 1970s track, co-written by Red West, with a "Blues Brothers" style horn arrangement. For most of the 1970s, Elvis' recordings tended to be on the Country-rock side.  So, in the final couple years of his life, when he began to record funky, bluesier numbers like this and Way Down, and treaded into 1950s nostalgia tracks like Pledging My Love and Hurt, it kind of gives you an idea of where Elvis would have gone musically had he lived into the 1980s.

Any one of these songs, if reissued today, would be a number one hit, much like A Little Less Conversation, another lesser known movie soundtrack song, was when it was remixed and reissued in 2002.  I may have to do a "Part 2" to this article sometime.