STEELY DAN: “Bad Sneakers” 1993 was the year Steely Dan became a touring band after a 20-year layoff. When they recorded their first album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, in 1972, leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were surprised when their record company asked them to tour to support it. They were songwriters, not performers, and Fagen certainly didn’t see himself as a front man. The road provided no second takes, shoddy sound reinforcement and no particular allure for the band. But 1993 introduced a great band with a great sound able to project their great songs. Like the old Motown reviews, the backing band would come out and play ahead of the duo’s arrival on stage. All the nuance, dynamics, and deep colors of each song were performed flawlessly. This version of “Bad Sneakers” was not officially released and its inclusion would have enhanced the Dan’s surprisingly unimpressive Alive in America live album released in 1995. —John Stix
THE BEATLES: “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” This is the complete take, an edited version of which appeared on the 1967 edition of The Beatles’ Fan Club’s annual Christmas Flexi Disc sent to Fan Club members, gratis, every year. The track’s off-the-wall Christmas-themed lyrics and classic 1967-vintage Beatles sound are in full flower here. Then there’s John Lennon’s inspired “Krimble” finale, which makes this one golden. This complete take of “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” appeared as the b-side to the “Real Love” single from February 1986.
CLASSICAL INTRO > Pete Townshend: “A Little Is Enough” Ahh, the days of making mixed tapes with my old Nakamichi 500 cassette deck. I was always playing around, looking to concoct some fun segue. In this case I randomly taped a classical station on the radio and thought it would work nicely mashed up with Pete Townshend’s “A Little Is Enough.” I was totally enamored with Pete’s 1980 solo record, Empty Glass. For my taste it was one of the two best records of the year. It had killer songs and I love Pete as a vocalist because his voice isn’t that of a classic “lead singer.” Like Joe Walsh — another favorite singer of mine — Pete has to work at his vocals and own them. I guess it’s his authenticity that attracts me. —John Stix
THE BEATLES et al.: “Help!” Ah, the Nakamichi 500. What a cassette deck. The pause button was so precise that you could stop and start the tape flawlessly. I once tried to get as many different songs splices as I could fit on a 45 minute cassette. I think I got upwards of 40 different songs snippets on there. This opening for “Help” is just one example of how it works. I put this on every mixed tape I made for years. And it was decades before my daughters heard the original Beatles version. Their response was, where’s the opening? —John Stix
“Why Do Fools Fall In Love” (Joni Mitchell/The Happening/Spike Jones) Once again, it’s me using my vintage Nakamichi 500 cassette deck back in the day. I would input two different sources into the deck and mix them live on the fly. The Happenings were kind of a joke band, perhaps influenced by Spike Lee. Joni Mitchell was just all smiles, touring around with Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Michael Brecker and Don Alias. It was probably one of the acclaimed jazz musicians’ better paydays and everyone involved was having fun. — John Stix
“Something’s Coming” (WEST SIDE STORY/Todd Rundgren): Sometime in the late ’60s I purchased a Nakamichi 500 Cassette Deck. That, along with my Dual 1219 Turntable was the pride of my stereo setup. My favorite function on the deck was the pause button. It was automatic. There was not a moment of hesitation, so if there was a break in a song I could pause the tape and whenever I let it go, it would be a flawless segue into the next song. It was magic. In this case I started with the soundtrack to West Side Story and “Something’s Coming” and segued into Todd Rundgren’s version of the same song. Magic! There was a difference in the key that Todd played in, but the Dual had a knob that let you dial in the speed and there you have it.
I used to love making mixed tapes. It took hours to get the volume right, the segue perfect and have the tunes tell a story. It was the most intimate way to share thoughts and emotions with friends. It’s a fact no mixed tapes were ever shared with people you didn’t care about. With the impending death of the CD I’m up a creek. Sharing a playlist just doesn’t cut it.
The so-called death of physical media makes me miss going to record stores just to browse and converse with my fellow hunters. Record stores provided a social glue between friends and strangers who might soon be friends. We recognize there is a hole there and Rock Stamberg and I want to fill it for an hour or so on a regular basis.
I have interviewed hundreds of musicians for various magazines and Rock is also a magazine editor and a major music enthusiast. Together we are stocked with backroom stories about musicians and endless tunes that most people have heard about — or not — but may have never heard. In each episode of NHT we’ll wander into our own little record store, chat about music, and make you a mixed tape that will hopefully get you to where you’re going. Everyone’s invited.
And that’s what we’re talking about.
— John Stix