About the Forever Changes 50th anniversary box

While my entry on Love’s Forever Changes was supposed to be the first of a five-part series on great rock albums celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2017, I never wrote the other four. Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself though, because Rhino and Elektra didn’t get the Forever Changes 50th anniversary box set out until a couple months ago–in 2018, when the album turns 51.

It’s curious that they didn’t get it out by last November 1–the actual 50th anniversary–because all the content was ready by 2015. Bruce Botnick, the former Elektra house guru who co-produced the album with Love’s Arthur Lee, finished his remastering work that year. And the bulk of these 2015 remasters has been available on streaming services and HQ-download stores for a while now.

This set only features two previously unreleased tracks, and they’re both instrumental backing tracks of previously-heard songs.

No matter though. The target audience for this box is the die-hard fan who is more than happy to buy this album over and over again.

That fan will surely be satisfied with the first CD appearance of the album’s mono version. Forever Changes rarely suffers from extreme stereo separation like a lot of 1960s albums do, but many have wanted to hear a clean version of the dedicated mono mix anyway. A vinyl rip of the original mono LP has been available on YouTube for a while now but, like many Forever Changes original pressings, it suffers from a lot of snap-crackle-and-pop.

Also available on YouTube since 2006, the video for “Your Mind and We Belong Together” appears on this set’s DVD, looking much better than the faded print online. The DVD’s main selling point is a 24/192 stereo mix. However, this too has been available to be purchased for a while now, from sites that sell hi-res audio downloads.

So should you buy this set? That depends on how much you want the 2015 remastered stereo edition on CD, LP, and in 24/192 audio on DVD, along with the mono mix and the 2015 remasters of the bonus tracks. For the right price, it was worth it to me. But if you’re looking for new content, this (admittedly gorgeous) box can’t deliver–mainly because Elektra has already went to the Forever Changes reissue well too many times already and there’s nothing left in the vault.

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The Velvet Underground – 1969 Live With Lou Reed private remaster

The Velvet Underground are my favorite band (fellow fans will notice that this blog’s title comes from a line in their song “New Age”). Their fantastic double-live album 1969: Velvet Underground Live With Lou Reed is one of my favorites of their releases.

When 1969 Live was first issued in 1974, it was a revelation to the band’s fanbase. Nearly every song is different in style and arrangement from its studio counterpart. It features early versions of some songs that were radically different than their eventual studio versions. And it has some songs that have never had a studio version released. With most audience applause edited out, its sound is often more akin to the lo-fi genre than your typical live rock album.

Even with all that considered, 1969 Live was always a bit compromised. The bulk of the album comes from recordings made in November of that year at the famous San Francisco venue The Matrix, which featured an eight-track recording desk at its soundboard. But when compiling 1969 Live, Mercury Records didn’t use the original eight-track recordings, working with two-track mixdowns instead. Four of the songs were recorded a month earlier in Texas at the oddly named venue End Cole Avenue. Even though fine-sounding tapes of the End Cole shows have circulated for years (under the name End of Cole Avenue, more pleasing to the ear but technically incorrect) the ones that made it to Mercury were clearly second (or third) generation copies.

Upon the album’s release, the owners of The Matrix sued right away, claiming ownership of the 13 songs recorded there. By using multi-generation two-track copies instead of the original eight-track recordings,  it does seem as if Mercury were trying to avoid working with The Matrix. An out-of-court settlement was reached fairly quickly.

When the album made it to CD in 1988, even some of those two-track mixdowns must have been misplaced by Mercury, as a good portion of the CD is obviously sourced from a vinyl copy of 1969 Live. This is an album that has badly needed a remaster.

All the while, the original eight-track recordings were in possession of The Matrix’s owners (or their heirs). Money issues were apparently still the reason these first-generation recordings never saw release, until an agreement was finally reached in 2014. That year, the cream of the crop of the Matrix tapes were released across two CDs in the 6xCD “super deluxe” 45th anniversary edition of the band’s third album. A year later, the entirety of all the recordings were finally released, 46 years after they were laid down on tape, as the 4xCD box set The Complete Matrix Tapes.

Using The Complete Matrix Tapes and the bootleg CD Live at the End of Cole Avenue: The Second Night, I have reconstructed 1969 Live with the best sounding materials available. I have attempted to match the edits of applause and fade-outs as they were originally applied on 1969, although I didn’t get it quite right on some songs. But I don’t think anyone will mind, given the vast improvement in sound.

As mentioned above, the CD version of 1969 is quite lacking. Beyond the sound quality issues, Mercury split the double album into two CDs, labeled Volume 1 and Volume 2, and sold them separately. On the positive side, both CDs were budget-priced, and each featured an extra track. But while the addition of “I Can’t Stand It” on Volume 2 was much appreciated, adding another version of “Heroin” at the end of Volume 1 was a bit redundant. If you listen to both CDs in order, trying to duplicate the running order of the original double LP, you’ll hear “Heroin” and then hear it again right after “Ocean” and “Pale Blue Eyes.”

To fix this, I’ve added the awesome guitar-rave-up version of “There She Goes Again” that debuted on 45th anniversary edition of the third album, as the bonus track on disc one. Disc two follows the Volume 2 CD tracklisting and features “I Can’t Stand It” as its penultimate song.

I think all Velvets fans who love 1969 will really enjoy this private remaster. Grab the zipped-up FLACs from the download links below. Enjoy!

Live 1969 (ninog remaster) disc 1 –– Live 1969 (ninog remaster) disc 2

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New Order – Substance private remaster, disc 2

Based on the response I got from my private remaster of New Order’s Substance (disc 1), I have whipped up a remaster of disc 2.

Once again, this is based on the US version of the second CD. The tracklist for Substance varied a bit from region to region, and format to format, but I’ve reconstructed the CD version I know.

Also once again, the 2008 New Order Collector’s Editions provided the sources for most of the songs. In fact, the only track for which I had to use the original Substance CD was “Kiss of Death,” as I found no suitable replacement that sounded better than taking the gain up a bit on the original.

One small change from the original CD is that “Murder” runs a few second longer, thanks to a bit of a quiet intro on the Collector’s Edition version that is not present on Substance.

Without further ado, download the ninog remaster of disc 2: .zip download from Dropbox. Enjoy!

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New Order – Substance private remaster

I’ve done a few vinyl rips (that is, recording vinyl records onto computer audio files) of some of my rare LPs that haven’t made it to CD. It’s a long process, but fun and worth it when somebody else enjoys the work. I’ve called these “ninog remasters,” based on a nickname (it’s a long story what a “ninog” is). Today I present something different, inspired by the “private remasters” that are available on YouTube and elsewhere, and the wonderful lost-album reconstruction blog Albums That Never Were: the ninog remaster of New Order’s Substance.

While not a rare album, Substance has been in dire need of a remaster, due to it being released in the thick of the early CD era, 1987. With a few notable exceptions, most CDs of the era sound flat and lack dynamic range in comparison to their vinyl and cassette counterparts.

Substance is also, frustratingly, not available on streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. I also have iCloud Library with my Apple Music subscription, which allows me to upload and stream albums that are not available in Apple Music proper, but its matching algorithm sometimes makes mistakes. In the case of Substance, it insists on opening up the album with the original 7″ version of “Ceremony,” when it should be the later re-recording. And iCloud Library can’t fix the outdated CD mastering.

As to why Substance is not available to stream, I’d guess it’s because most of its tracks were included in the 2008 “Collector’s Edition” reissues of New Order’s 1981-1989 back catalog. But, frustration again–those collector’s editions used to be on streaming services, but now they are not. (Actually, the Brotherhood collector’s edition is still on Spotify, but none of the rest. Spotify is great, but I’ll never understand these peculiarities.)

My remaster actually uses the collector’s edition bonus discs to re-create Substance. Or, to be technical, disc one of Substance. The B-sides that make up the second CD are not included on the vinyl or cassette releases of Substance (the American releases, anyway), so I tend to think of Substance as the 12 A-sides collected on the first CD.

But, of course, reconstructing Substance couldn’t be that easy. “Temptation” and “Confusion” were re-recorded in May 1987 specifically for Substance, and I’d guess the reason why is the originals already sounded dated four and five years later. These versions are not on the collector’s editions, so I used the original Substance CD for these two tracks. I just adjusted their gain a bit so that they don’t sound quieter than the rest of the CD. It doesn’t make up for the lack of dynamic range, but I greatly prefer these versions of these two songs over the originals, which were included on the collector’s editions.

The CD version of Substance omits approximately 47 seconds of “The Perfect Kiss,” due to the time limitations of CDs in 1987. This edit has always bothered me, so thankfully the full version is here.

All versions of Substance also edited down “Subculture” by three minutes or so. In the most radical departure from the original Substance, I’ve decided to include the full-length version here, as it appears on the Low-Life collector’s edition bonus disc.

The last problem to deal with was “True Faith.” The collector’s edition of Brotherhood features the “Eschreamer Dub” version. Searching for other releases of the Substance version, I picked the one from the 2002 best-of compilation International. The only problem with this version is it has been “brickwalled” and is so loud compared to the much better collector’s edition remasters. I ended up taking the gain down on this one a bit, and I think it ended up coming out pretty good.

If there’s enough interest, I’ll do a private remaster of the second CD of Substance. Off the top of my head, I believe most (if not all) of those b-sides are on the collector’s editions.

Without further ado, download this .zip of Substance (ninog remaster). All the songs are in the lossless FLAC format, as per the standard of these types of projects. If you need help playing FLACs, or converting them to MP3s, Google is your friend. So is VLC.


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Blog status update

I originally started this blog to post my Mad Men reviews, which were longer takes on my posts at the Mad Men subreddit‘s rewatch of the show.

The rewatch effort over there has fizzled out for now. And I’m not 100% happy with my posts as they are here. Most of them were written in a pretty rushed fashion, trying to keep up with the initially fast pace of the /r/madmen rewatch.

I plan on going back and fixing up those reviews at some point. It’s my goal to re-write them with more thought and depth. Ideally, I’d like to do a recap of all 92 episodes of the show similar in quality to the Sopranos Autopsy blog. Ron’s Sopranos writing on that blog is analytical, authoritative, scholarly, yet always fun and breezy to read. I know I can do the same thing for Mad Men, but I’m going to have to put in more effort.

So for right now, I’m changing up what I plan to do with this blog.

First of all, subscribers and interested readers can now find me here at leamancrews.blog, which is prettier than leamancrews.wordpress.com.

Second, I do plan on finishing my 1967 in music series by the end of the year, while it’s still the 50th anniversary of all those great albums.

Finally, I plan on doing more writing on music, technology, and general editorializing, in addition to the television reviews. In short, I need to write more, and I need to write about all of my interests.

Thanks to the subscribers and all those of have liked posts so far. I feel like a lot of blogs run out of steam eventually, and I’d like to avoid that by posting quality content, slow and steady. Posting three half-assed Mad Men reviews a week does not fit that criteria.

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Mad Men episode 201: “For Those Who Think Young”

The second season of Mad Men finds the show settling into its groove. As great as Season 1 was (it did win the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series), it feels a tad disjointed in comparison to the rest of the seasons. Season 2 is the first time that the show perfects its “slow burn” style and introspective aesthetic. From here on out, Mad Men demands study, repeat viewings, and close analysis of things not spelled out for the audience. What’s on the screen this season is great, but equally important is what’s not seen.

Immediately apparent right off the bat is that we didn’t see 1961 at all: Season 1 ended on Thanksgiving 1960, and Season 2 starts at Valentine’s Day 1962. Part of the joy of the season is piecing together what happened in that long gap that we’ll never see on screen. For instance, we don’t immediately find out what happened with Peggy’s pregnancy. We do see her in the opening montage, obviously slimmer. We soon see she’s left secretarial work behind, and is learning the ropes as a copywriter. The details of exactly what happened to her and Pete’s baby will reveal themselves in time. But there’s also 1961 events that aren’t addressed explicitly, but teased out in little bits and pieces. First and foremost in what must be pieced together is the state of Betty and Don’s marriage.

By the end of the Season 1 finale, “The Wheel,” Betty confronted Don about his infidelity indirectly by talking to her shrink about it. Betty had found out that Don had been calling Dr. Wayne to get check-ins on what Betty said while on the psychiatrist’s couch. She openly expressed her wish that Don would be faithful, knowing that would make its way back to Don. For his part, Don came to realize a big part of his unhappiness may be related to his serious lack of commitment to his family. Once he realized home is where he can be loved, he came home to an empty house.

In Don’s first scene this season, he’s getting an insurance-mandated physical. Of course, he can’t bring himself to be truthful about his drinking and smoking to the doctor, but he does say something that initially seems to be a throwaway line but is actually very telling: “I’ve been good.”

A Los Angeles Times article published after Mad Men’s finale aired in 2015 (so heads up, spoilers for the entire series are obviously in the article) details the working relationship between series creator Matthew Weiner and star Jon Hamm. Starting with the break between the first two seasons, the two would get together and map out at a high level where they thought Don’s journey would head in the upcoming season. And for their first such meeting, when Weiner wanted Hamm’s thoughts on where Don would be 15 months after the events of “The Wheel,” Hamm replied that he thought Don was behaving, trying to make his marriage to Betty work, and appreciating what he had in his life. But he also speculated that Don would be pretty bored with all this.

With that in mind, we’ll come to see that the “I’ve been good” dialogue actually means a lot more when reading between the lines. But it won’t be shown in any way that is overly dramatic or earth-shattering. As mentioned above, this is the point where Mad Men really kicks into gear, with much to ponder and analyze beyond what’s shown and said on-screen. Season 2, in fact, is probably the most oblique and slow-burning of all the Mad Men seasons. This season opener is a perfect harbinger of the tiny mysteries that will be unfolded over 13 episodes.

The “catch up with everyone” season-opening montage ends with Betty and her friend Sarah Beth Carson at horse stables. Betty’s picked up a new hobby, one perfectly suited to the upper-middle class. There’s also a handsome young man, Arthur Case, who is a regular at the stables who is flattered by the interest the older ladies show in him (and vice-versa).

Back at the office, Don’s absence is felt. A creatives meeting in the conference room is waiting for him to show up so it can get started in earnest.  He’s went to the doctor for the insurance physical, and then had an early lunch at a bar where he sees a young man reading Frank O’Hara’s short story collection Meditations in an Emergency. Don asks the stranger if it’s any good; he gets the response “I don’t think you’d like it.” The title of this episode is a reference to a Pepsi ad campaign contemporary to 1962, but early on, the episode is exploring the start of the generation gap that will become a huge part of 1960s American culture, the growing rift between young and old. Along the same lines, Duck Phillips, now with over a year served at Sterling Cooper, approaches Roger about the best way to get a young writer-and-artist team for Martinson’s Coffee. Clients are asking for youth, because America is a young country in early 1962, with a young president who has a baby living in the White House.

The scene between Roger and Duck also drops hints that there’s somewhat of a gap between Duck and Don. Roger asks Duck why he just doesn’t ask Don about it, and Duck replies that he thought Roger was the liaison between accounts and creative at Sterling Cooper. Roger tells Duck that doesn’t sound like something he’d say and encourages him to approach Don the way one would approach a young child who always gets what he wants.

In other catching-up news, Joan is now engaged to a doctor, while trying to find a place for the office’s first Xerox machine, a giant piece of machinery which could take up a whole office. Roger lets Joan know he’s happy/not happy about her engagement––he knew their affair would end at some point, but he’s still not prepared to let her go.

Harry Crane has reunited with wife Jennifer, and Jennifer’s pregnant. Pete Campbell’s wife Trudy is not happy about that, as Campbells have apparently had some trouble conceiving. Pete is somewhat insensitive to his wife’s disappointment about not being able to join the “big club” of parents.

Later in the office, he asks Peggy just what the “big deal” about kids is. Awkwardly for Peggy, Pete also asks her if she wants kids. “Eventually,” she replies hesitantly. Apparently no one knows she had a baby (the office gossip says she went away to a “fat farm” to slim down), least of all Pete, who fathered the child. Pete’s obliviousness while being one of the most dedicated and innovative workers at Sterling Cooper is part of what makes him such a fascinating character.

As the last final bit of catch-up, we see that closeted homosexual Sal Romano has married a pretty young woman named Kitty. Speaking of obliviousness, Kitty is not picking up on the clues that would set off most everyone’s gaydar in this day and age. While the two are watching the television special that Jackie Kennedy hosted on that Valentine’s Day in 1962, a tour of the White House, Sal shows a lot of interest in interior decoration and wonders where Jackie’s handsome husband is in this show.

Don and Betty end up watching the Kennedy special on TV also, although that was not their plan. Don rented them a room at the Savoy Hotel, going all out for dinner, drinks and a luxurious suite. Betty, for her part, is wearing some very sexy lingerie underneath her dress. Everything’s set for a very romantic evening in the city for the Drapers…and then Don suffers erectile dysfunction. Betty asks Don for some help in keeping him excited in bed, but quickly blames the situation on how much they drank. They quickly slip into the same routine they could have done at home, watching TV while having food and drinks.

The Drapers’ plan for a night of passionate Valentine’s Day lovemaking may have not worked out, but that doesn’t stop Betty from letting BFF/neighbor Francine think it was very hot and heavy. When Francine talks about the Jackie Kennedy TV special, Betty pretends like she didn’t see it due to all the (imaginary) sex she was having with Don.

In this episode so concerned with the young and the old––with “young” being defined at a much lower age than before––Betty seems to feel she and Don are getting old and feels the need to lie to cover it up.

Don, for his part, also felt the sting of perceived aging. The young man at the bar reading Frank O’Hara told Don he probably “wouldn’t like it,” but that made Don want to go out and buy the book, intrigued by what the much younger man saw in it that he supposedly could not. Ironically, O’Hara’s writing is something Don would immediately identify with. The younger reader may look at O’Hara’s studies of East Coast suburbia as some sort of scathing indictment, but O’Hara’s writing is actually much more concerned with telling honest and moving stories of people like Don Draper. (Appropriately enough, Weiner has named O’Hara as one of his biggest inspirations.)

The book does resonate with Don, but he doesn’t keep it. He signs it with the mysterious inscription “Made me think of you –D.” Don then puts the book in an envelope, and drops it in the mailbox. We don’t know who he’s sending the book to, or if this person knows “D” to be “Dick” or “Don.” It’s another seed planted to grow in the story of Season 2.

If there was any question of whether O’Hara’s writing would resonate with Don, the selected piece that we hear Don read via voiceover describes a mood and a feeling that Don, always looking for his identity and a sense of peace, surely appreciates:

Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting and modern.

“The country is gray and brown and white and trees. Snows and skies of laughter are always diminishing. Less funny, not just darker. Not just gray.

“It may be the coldest day of the year. What does he think of that? I mean, what do I?

“And if I do, perhaps I am myself again.”

This sets the stage for the ground that Season 2 will cover. This season won’t feature big reveals like a stolen identity coming to the forefront because a long lost brother showed up, or a heart attack in the office while having sex with a woman young enough to be your daughter, and fighting off annoying young hippies with your superior wit. No, this is one of the most literary television shows of all time, and it’s going to tell a tale as small as the everyday lives of a handful of people, yet as big as the pondering the whole of the human condition.



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Rock 1967, 50 years later, part 1: Love, Forever Changes

This is the first of a five-part series where I look back at seven of my favorite albums from one of rock’s most storied years, 1967, and how they hold up 50 years later.

Love were the original kings of the Sunset Strip scene before they were eclipsed in popularity by their biggest fans, The Doors. Following two essential garage-rocking classics released in 1966 (Love in March, Da Capo in November), Elektra Records gave the band a large amount of studio time to craft their third album, Forever Changes, which dropped in November 1967. Elektra anticipated that Forever Changes would be a masterpiece, buying up presumably expensive billboard space in front of the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood months in advance of the album’s release.


Like Love’s first two albums, Forever Changes was a hit with critics and in their hometown of Los Angeles, but didn’t do so well in the rest of the United States. Love’s self-titled debut and Da Capo had both birthed Top 40 hits (the proto-punk classics “My Little Red Book” and “7 and 7 Is,” respectively), but no singles from Forever Changes made an impact. The album fared a bit better in the U.K. than it did in the U.S.A. But the record’s downer atmosphere was seriously out of touch with 1967’s hippy-dippy flower power trends. And with some of the most impenetrable lyrics you’ll hear on a pop record this side of a Steely Dan album, Love’s third LP never had great prospects to connect with a mass audience. This was an album doomed from the start to be a critical favorite, only to be appreciated by audiences years later.

In 1989 and 1990, I was a 16-year-old discovering a lot of new music, and one of the many genres I was into could be roughly called “the psychedelic ’60s.” I was reading as much rock criticism as I could get my hands on, and Forever Changes was always noted by critics as a masterpiece. This was clearly a record I had to have. Even though I worked all throughout high school, the retail price of a new CD was about one-third of my weekly income, so I ended up opting to buy the album on cassette when I came across it; it was about 40% less than the CD. (I’ve since come to find out that the 1987 Elektra CD sounds like crap, like a lot of catalog titles released early in the CD era, so I’m glad I saved some money and got a better sounding copy of the album.)

Suffice it to say that I was not immediately enraptured by Forever Changes. The quieter tunes sounded somewhat in the same ballpark as 1967 psychedelia to me, thanks to a generous dose of Sgt. Pepper-ish horns. But overall, sonically this was something quite different from its contemporaries. And then there are those lyrics. “It’s getting better all the time,” this was not. In fact, what my teenaged self could comprehend was that these were tunes about how it’s getting worse all the time. I couldn’t pinpoint it in exact lyrics at the time, but the feeling I got from this album was of someone locked in their bedroom because they feared an impending apocalypse. I knew this much: this was a bum trip.

I eventually came around to Forever Changes, finally understanding what all the critical hype was about. To say this album is a grower is an understatement, but it also helps that even if it doesn’t click on first listen, you do feel the need to give it another chance.

Perhaps the thing that helped me appreciate Forever Changes the most was to go back and listen to the first two Love albums. I recommend this to anyone thinking about getting into Love––don’t start with Forever Changes, despite it truly being their masterpiece. The first two albums are much easier to digest, and work as a primer for frontman Arthur Lee’s persona before one dives into the emotional complications of Forever Changes. The self-titled debut in particular goes down smoother than freshly brewed iced tea on a hot and humid day. It’s just so much fun. Da Capo is sonically very similar but with the addition of some harpsichord. Apocalyptic tracks like “7 and 7 Is” and the lengthy “Revelation” helps one to segue between the debut’s garage-punk rock attitude and Forever Changes‘ meditations on the fall of Babylon (a/k/a the Hollywood Hills, where the members of Love lived together in a house they called “The Castle”).

On Forever Changes, Lee and Love’s other singer/songwriter, Bryan MacLean, predict the end of the Flower Power era, because peace-and-love hippies were staying stoned out of their minds while war raged in Vietnam. The violence of war would soon sneak its way into the counterculture, via Altamont and the other ugly events that led to the end of the 1960s and into the “Me Decade” 1970s. Lee in particular comes across as a sage, sitting in The Castle and looking out on the streets of Los Angeles below, assured that the end of the world is coming soon. In the album’s most gripping moments, Lee looks inward and holds himself accountable for the part he plays in it. On the stunning centerpiece “Maybe the People Would be Times or Between Clark and Hilldale,” the last part of title refers to two cross-streets of Sunset Blvd. where Love would often play. “Here, they always play my song,” Lee desperately sings, “and I wonder if it’s…” Lee leaves out the word “wrong,” but our brains fill in the word for him anyway.


From the booklet of the 2008 2xCD reissue, a 1967 photo of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, between Clark and Hilldale streets.

Repeated listens reveal the album’s lyrical durability, complex musicianship, and studio trickery (check out the ending of “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This,” which sounds like a skipping CD, a decade-and-a-half before CDs came out), all of which make for one of the most rewarding albums in rock––1960s or not. Out of all the albums I’ll cover in this series, it also sounds the most contemporary, even more than The Velvet Underground & Nico, which has been an influential touchpoint in every decade since its release.

Forever Changes has been reissued ad nauseam, which doesn’t help things when you have the record collector’s disease like I do. In the picture below is every copy of the album I own: an original mono LP, an original stereo LP, the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) 45 RPM 2xLP reissue, that cassette that introduced me to the album, the compilations Love Story and Love Songs, both of which contain the album in full, the 2008 2xCD reissue with an excellent alternate mix of the album along with the requisite bonus tracks, and finally the MFSL SACD. With so many versions to choose from, I’ve studied this record a lot and, to my ears, the best digital version is on the Love Story comp, while the best vinyl version (and the best-sounding version, period) is the MFSL 45 RPM 2xLP. (Remember I said record collecting is a disease. It’s true!)


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Mad Men episode 113: “The Wheel”

In the first season finale, Pete continues to trend downward, as he’s hen-pecked at home for not getting Trudy pregnant yet and feeling powerless at the office. After gaining the Clearisil account from his father-in-law, Don promotes Peggy to junior copywriter. Pete can’t help but think that it’s another insult from Don, as Peggy joined Sterling Cooper to be a secretary, not a writer. Regardless of the circumstances, Peggy’s happy with her promotion, but promptly gets a severe stomachache, which she finds out is actually a baby she’s getting ready to deliver. Meanwhile, Don deals with emotional fallout of his actions all season long.

The first season of Mad Men wraps up with the excellent “The Wheel.” As I said in the closing to my recap of episode 12, we left Don in a paradoxical situation. He won his office showdown with season-long office nemesis Pete. He’s got wealth, status, prestige, a beautiful wife, two beautiful children, all the epitome of the American Dream. But he’s still extremely unhappy.

Running parallel with Don’s story all season long has been that of his wife, Betty. She too, seems to be living the American Dream, but she hasn’t even pretended to be happy, as she and Don grow further apart. In the first scene featuring the Drapers this episode, they are in bed making plans for the Thanksgiving weekend. They are going to see Betty’s family in Pennsylvania, and Don says he can’t go because it’s a busy time of the year at Sterling Cooper and he’s a partner now. Betty accuses him of not even wanting to go, and Don responds with “Was I not clear on that?”

All this year, we’ve seen Betty feel Don slipping away from her. We saw her lay next to him in bed, wondering aloud who is “in there.” She told him that she thinks about him all day long, looking forward to putting to the kids to sleep and going to bed with him, looking for a similar passion from him. We’ve also seen her suffer with some unnamed and invisible anxiety that led to her losing control of her hands and going to see a shrink. In this episode, Betty is forced to confront why things aren’t great with her and Don; the big marriage problem that she has buried and refused to consider or discuss until her best friend, Francine, shows up at her house in tears.

Francine’s upset because she stumbled into confirmation that her husband, Carlton, has been cheating on her. She forgot to pay the phone bill that she never looks at. Going to the phone company’s office to get service restored, she looks at the bill and sees several calls from their suburban home in Ossining to Manhattan. She calls the number, a woman answers, and Francine pretends to be a secretary and tells the woman Carlton would like to meet her tonight in the “usual place.” Francine’s devastated and runs to Betty because she figures Betty should know how to handle it.

Francine’s assertion is a shocker that wakes Betty up. The thought of Don being unfaithful is something she hasn’t wanted to confront, but what Francine says makes her think that it must be obvious to everyone else that Don cheats on her. Betty takes a look at her own phone bill and also sees calls to Manhattan, and calls the number. Instead of another woman answering, she gets a shock when her psychiatrist, Dr. Wayne answers. She realizes what we’ve known for a while: Don has been calling to check in on her sessions.

Knowing that Dr. Wayne will relay it back to Don, Betty lays on her shrink’s couch and talks about the signs of Don’s infidelity––late nights in the city, the smell of perfume on his clothes.

Meanwhile, Harry Crane is spending the night in the office because he admitted his infidelity to his wife, Jennifer. She has kicked him out but we can tell from their phone calls (where Harry pretends to be bunking with Ken Cosgrove) that their separation will probably be temporary, once Jennifer’s hurt subsides. Late at night, Harry runs into Don at the office, who is throwing himself into work rather than going home. There’s some irony in Betty confronting Don’s infidelity via her psychiatrist now, because Don is not cheating at this point. Rachel has permanently ended their affair, and Don grew tired of Midge. While she may think Don’s not coming home this night because of an affair, it’s actually because he’s looking for an angle on Kodak’s new slide projector, which they have given the prototype name “The Wheel.”

Don finds his angle for the Kodak presentation, leading to perhaps the show’s most iconic pitch. As Don uses the new slide projector to display happy images of his wedding and home life with Betty and the kids, he gives his most potent pitch yet:

Technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.

My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new.” Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.

Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine.

It goes backwards, forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.

The pitch signifies universally because it touches on the basic human needs to belong, to have a home, to have people in our lives who love us, and to be surrounded by them. That “the glittering lure of technology” can bring us closer to that promise of happiness is a golden opportunity in the world of advertising, one that Don exploits masterfully, leaving the Kodak executives in the room stunned. It also sends Harry Crane running out of the presentation in tears.

The pitch even seems to get to Don. While saying the above words, and looking at the slides of his picture-perfect family, Don seems to get that what’s missing in his life is at home. The pitch may have been bullshit (was there ever really a Teddy at the fur company?) but he sold Kodak on it, and even sold himself. On his train ride home, Don imagines coming home to Betty and the kids, just as they are ready to leave, offering to pack up the car and spend the long weekend with family.

Of course, the reality is much different. He gets home too late, to an empty house. This final scene of Mad Men’s first season masterfully portrays the loneliness Don is feeling upon coming home to an empty house. If you listen close, you can even hear a little draft of wind running through the house as the only response to Don’s calls of “Hello? Hello?” Realizing he didn’t make it back home in time, Don takes a seat at the bottom of the steps. We see Don as we did in the opening shot of the series––the iconic view of the back of his head, the man who has turned his back on everyone, including us, the viewing audience.

As Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” starts up, the camera dollies away for a fade to black and the closing credits. Mad Men proves here, and will continue to prove over its other six seasons, that it can relate complex emotions within the limitations of moving pictures. The emotion here is one that we’ve all felt: being sad and upset, but realizing it’s all our own fault, which makes it even worse.

This is still one of my favorite scenes in Mad Men, and surely one of the most effective season-ending scenes; it makes us realize what a long journey we’ve been through from March to November 1960, since that first time we met Don by getting a look at the back of his head. One thing I keep in mind when viewing this season-ender is that this very well could have been the series finale of Mad Men. The show was usually very good about not using anachronistic music, but the Dylan song would not be released for nearly three years at the time this scene is set (“Don’t Think Twice” first appeared on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released in August 1963). When questioned on that, Matt Weiner said he didn’t know yet if Mad Men would come back for a second season. So, beyond how appropriate the song is to the scene, it’s a little peek into what would come down the road in the 1960s if the show never returned.

If Mad Men had ended here, it would have been one of the greatest one-season wonders in TV history. This first season captured American life in 1960, in what I’m told is a very realistic fashion (I myself wasn’t born until the 1970s). It covered a range of emotions and issues. And, if this had been the end, this would have been one of the best show-ending scenes ever. Thankfully though, Mad Men would continue for another six seasons over the next eight years, and would get even better.

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Mad Men episode 112: “Nixon vs. Kennedy”

Sterling Cooper throws an election night party that gets out of hand. Ken Cosgrove finds a pithy stage play written by Paul Kinsey, which is acted out and reveals the author’s many insecurities. Harry Crane cheats on his wife with Pete’s secretary, Hildy. The next day, in the fallout of the stunning Nixon defeat, Don fights his biggest battle yet when Pete threatens to out the secrets of Dick Whitman.

“Nixon vs. Kennedy,” the penultimate episode of Mad Men’s first season, can be seen to have a double meaning in its title. First and most obvious is the 1960 presidential election, the campaigns of which have played a small part in the background of this season. The episode spends much of its run-time on an election night party at the Sterling Cooper offices.

The second, and more hidden, meaning references something Don said earlier in the season. When describing the two candidates, Don expressed his distaste for Kennedy as a “silver spoon” spoiled rich boy. Nixon grew up poor during the Great Depression, but pulled himself up by the bootstraps to go through law school, serve his country in World War II, and work his way through politics all the way up to the vice presidency. Don said when he looked at Nixon, he saw himself. With Pete being somewhat of “silver spoon” lineage himself,  the episode is a battle of an ersatz Nixon (Don) vs. an ersatz Kennedy (Pete).

Pete wants the head of accounts job, and feels Don hasn’t been taking him seriously as a candidate. Only now, Pete has blackmail material–in the ending of the previous episode, he was mistakenly given the package that Adam Whitman sent Don. The package is full of pictures of young Adam and a younger version of Don…but the pictures are labeled “Dick” instead of “Don.”

Pete has a friend, Russ, who works in the Department of Defense. Pete uses this contact to find out that Dick Whitman died in the Korean War, and the real Don Draper should be 43 years old. It doesn’t take Pete long to figure out that Dick Whitman actually survived Korea and stole the identity of Lt. Don Draper. (We also see flashbacks to how it all played about in Korea; while building a mobile hospital, Lt. Draper and Pvt. Whitman were bombed. Dick peed his pants, dropped his lighter and blew up his commanding officer. Then he traded dog tags with the dead man.)

When Pete sees Don bring Herman “Duck” Phillips in to the office, Pete’s ready to attack. Duck is an advertising industry vet. Ken Cosgrove mentions that Duck is known to have a drinking problem, was working in London most recently, and things apparently went spectacularly bad for Duck over in the U.K. Pete recognizes right away that Don’s going bargain shopping, getting someone with experience who will take the job for relatively little compensation, to get back in the game.

Pete confronts Don and, after about five seconds of playing nice, makes it clear he knows Don’s secret and will have no problem using it as blackmail in exchange for getting the head of accounts job. Don tries it to play it cool, at first denying the validity of Pete’s claims. When Pete refuses to relent, saying he will go to Bert Cooper with this news if he’s not given the head of accounts job, Don’s still not sweating, but he loses his cool a bit. He tells Pete to stop and think about his supposed intel: if it’s powerful enough to get something out of somebody they normally wouldn’t give, what else can it make them do? Pete is unfazed. When he walks out of Don’s office, we finally see that Don is indeed in panic mode. He’s ready to run.

Don goes to Menken’s department store and rushes into Rachel’s office. He proposes they run off to Mexico or Los Angeles. At first she thinks it’s just a weekend trip, but she quickly realizes Don means forever. Everything starts to click into place for Rachel: Don doesn’t want to run away with her, he just wants to run away, leaving his kids fatherless, and all for some reason he can’t even verbalize to her. She throws Don out of her office, ending their romance by calling it a “tawdry affair.”

Dejected, Don heads back to the office to face his fate. Opening the door to his office, he finds a crying Peggy. It’s the night after the election party that she mostly skipped out on, and she walked in to find vomit in the trash can by her desk. Her locker was raided too, and she lost some cash. When all the hungover guys in the office offer no help, she looked for a safe place to cry. Don tries to be understanding, but obviously he’s having a bad day and snaps at Peggy. When he calms down a bit, he offers her a drink, and Peggy talks about how unfair it is that honest, hardworking people have to suffer while selfish people can get away with whatever they want (she’s also upset because an African American janitor lost his job over the theft, when she’s positive he was innocent).

Don decides to take action over the Pete situation, and heads to Cooper’s office. It’s easy to read his inspiration from Peggy’s speech one way: Pete is the bad guy, doing whatever he wants to get whatever he wants (blackmailing Don to get the promotion). But maybe Don got some other sort of inspiration from Peggy’s speech? Don is the one who stole a dead guy’s identity so that he could desert the U.S. Army, let his family think he was dead, and take over someone else’s life which he has used to get to the top. Perhaps he thought about it, realized he was one of the dishonest guys Peggy says always win, and felt confident about his luck.

Sure enough, Pete follows Don into Cooper’s office (hilariously, they have to slow their rush into the office to take off their shoes, per the rules of germaphobe/neat freak Cooper). Don tells Cooper he’s hiring Duck for the head of accounts job. Cooper approves. There’s an awkward silence. Pete spits out everything he’s found about Dick/Don. Cooper gets up from his desk, gives Don a look, but then delivers one of the greatest lines of the show’s early run: “Mr. Campbell, who cares? Who cares? This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you’ve imagined here.”

Pete counters that he’s not imagining anything. Cooper still says to forget it; whatever the past is, Don Draper is in this room now, and there’s more profit in forgetting this and moving on.

With that, Don has put Pete in his place. In the pilot episode, Pete made it clear he wanted to join the executive suite with Don. Pete was the only one in the office to verbally disagree with Don’s promotion to partner. Pete took Don on in this showdown. Don has won, and is sitting pretty as we head into the final episode.

Except that Don has nothing to be happy about. He blew his chance with Rachel for good this time. Midge is gone to the beatniks and proto-hippies he left her with. All that’s left for him is at home, and the gulf between him and Betty has never been bigger. We’ve learned a little bit about who Don Draper is this season, but the season finale will tackle the question of “can he be happy?”

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Mad Men episode 111: “Indian Summer”

Chickens come home to roost, as Mad Men deals with the fallout of several recent events: Roger’s heart attack, Peggy’s success writing copy for Belle Jolie, and Don pushing away both his half-brother and his wife out of his personal life.

“Indian Summer” finds Mad Men following up on plot threads from throughout the season and pushing them farther along towards the finish line of the first season, with only two episodes left after this one.

The episode starts with revisiting Don’s estranged half-brother, Adam Whitman. We see he’s still living in the same pay-by-the-week dump where Don left him in “5G.” Adam didn’t take Don’s advice to take the five grand of money and start a new life far away from New York City. Without his mom, Abigail, Uncle Mack, or his brother, Dick, in his life, he sees no reason to keep on living. He prepares a package of photos to be delivered to “Donild Draper” at the Sterling Cooper agency on Madison Avenue, pays for its postage with the desk clerk, heads back up to his apartment and hangs himself. Don won’t find out about the box of photos or the suicide for a little while, but suffice to say that both will leave a lasting impact in the life of Don Draper.

After his heart attack the previous month (we’re told the Indian Summer of the title is in October 1960), Roger is still not doing well. Lucky Strike, by far the firm’s largest client, is worried. Roger comes in the office for a meeting with Lucky Strike’s Lee Garner Sr. and Jr. It’s all for show, as Roger doesn’t look any better than he did when Don sat by his hospital bed. Bert and Don ask Joan to use her makeup to make Roger look a little less like a dead man walking, but it’s all for naught, as Roger has another heart attack a few minutes (and a couple of puffs on a Lucky) into the meeting. Mona is furious at Bert, saying she didn’t know a price could be put on human life, but she didn’t check on that with Bert.

Lee Garner Sr. also has some words for Bert: Sterling Cooper needs to firm up its management in case Roger can’t return, and he’d recommend starting these efforts by showing Don Draper how he is appreciated by Sterling Cooper. Bert makes Don a partner in the firm, with a 12.5% ownership stake, and tells Don to start the search a new head of accounts.

Betty is happy with the news of Don’s good fortune at work, but can’t resist getting under his skin to get his attention. She tells him that an air conditioning salesman visited their house earlier, and she let him in to learn why their house is losing cool air. In 1960, it was a major breach of proper etiquette for a woman who is home alone to let a strange man in to her house. Don flies off the handle–just the reaction Betty had hoped for. She later tells friend and neighbor Francine about the incident and can’t hold back a smile when she talks about Don’s protectiveness.

But the whole reason for getting under Don’s skin is that Betty is still feeling a major gap between her and Don. She is not feeling loved or wanted by Don. Later on when doing the laundry, she enjoys the vibrations of the washing machine a bit too much and has a fantasy about the AC salesman. For someone like Betty, who was brought up to believe that her whole worth in life was based around her looks, it is devastating to her that Don is showing so little interest in her sexually.

Peggy also receives sexual vibrations from an unexpected source, by way of her second writing assignment. It’s for a supposed weight loss device, the Relax-a-Cisor. The idea is that it vibrates a woman’s stomach area to simulate the exercise of calisthenics, but it’s actually just a vibrator that brings women to orgasm. After receiving the assignment, Peggy is shy about talking about its “benefits” with Don. She also is suspicious about getting an assignment for a woman’s weight-loss product. Although she doesn’t want to confront it, it’s obvious to everyone else in the office that Peggy has put on quite a bit of weight.

Pete seems to be the only one of the office gang not happy for Don’s promotion to partner. While Harry and Ken see it as a good thing–old guys move out, leaving room for younger guys to get promotions–Pete doesn’t think Don is deserving of the partnership, or the responsibility of picking the new head of accounts. After Don leaves early and tells Peggy to do the same because they both had a good day, Pete sits in Don’s chair for a bit, feet up on the desk. Adam’s package of Whitman family photos gets delivered to Don’s office…and into’s Pete’s hands.


Pete: “Wouldn’t it be great if there were some blackmail material in this package?”

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