Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Compare and Contrast: Tales From Paul Nelson's Record Collection

Well, I just finished that biography of legendary rock critic Paul Nelson [1936 -- 2006] that I raved about in medias res yesterday and it's actually an even better book than I let on. Unfortunately, it's also the most depressing thing I've read in ages, which is to say the downward arc of the last two decades of Nelson's life has scared the shit out of me. Or at the very least made me wonder about certain career choices I've made over the years.

In any case, as I also mentioned yesterday, one of the reasons Nelson deserves a hoisted glass from anybody who's ever hung out here is that during his stint as an A&R guy, he was responsible for signing power pop legends Blue Ash to Mercury Records.

From Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson: by Kevin Avery:
The four weeks of recording sessions lasted from mid-February through mid-March of 1973, Paul flying over to Youngstown [Ohio] on Monday and returning home [to Manhattan] on Friday. In addition to cautioning the band never to sequence two songs in the same key next to each other on an album, he gave them a bootlegged tape of an obscure Dylan number called "Dusty Old Fairgrounds" and encouraged them to cover it. Mercury tried to obtain the necessary release from Dylan's publishing company, but they didn't recognize the song and had to forward a copy to Dylan, who confirmed that he had indeed written it.
Here's the Dylan version -- from a 1963 Town Hall concert -- that Paul gave to the band.

And from the Blue Ash album No More, No Less (1973), here's the cover.

I love both of them, but if truth be told, I'm still unsure what Nelson heard in the Dylan version that made him figure -- correctly, as it turned out -- that it would make a great Who-esque rock track, let alone a good fit for Blue Ash.