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By Stewart Mason

FEBRUARY 7, 2000: 

The Stooges 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions (Rhino Handmade)

Wow, it's already starting to be time for 30th anniversary editions of punk classics. And unlike most boxed sets that boast "The Complete Sessions," this one means it. Every take, every rehearsal, every false start, every bit of studio conversation from the week-long recording session in May 1970 for the Stooges' second album, Fun House, is collected here on seven CDs. Included is a bonus disc featuring both sides of the album's now impossibly rare single -- edited, remixed and overdubbed versions of "Down on the Street" and "1970" (retitled "I Feel Alright") -- packaged to look exactly like the original Elektra single, complete with die-cut white paper sleeve and a price sticker from Detroit department store chain, Hudson's.

Now, the obvious question is, Do you really want to hear 34 (count 'em!) takes of "Loose"? If the answer is yes, then you need this set. If the answer is maybe, here's what you get: First off, the sound is simply amazing. Fun House has long been one of my favorite albums, but until now, something has always been lost in translation. In the extensive liner notes, the band and producer Don Gallucci explain that the effect they were going for was a pristine, crystal-clear recording of the Stooges' enormous, roaring live sound, as opposed to the more compressed sound producer John Cale had given their self-titled debut the year before. Unfortunately, every previous vinyl and CD version I have owned of this album has sounded like sludge. Wildly exciting and deceptively complex sludge, true, but sludge nonetheless. Thanks to remastering engineer extraordinaire Bill Inglot, Fun House at last sounds like the Stooges intended. These CDs sound like you're in the room with Iggy, Scott, Ron, Dave and Steven, and at times, that's a mildly scary place to be.

Then there's the matter of all the alternate takes. Contrary to popular belief, the Stooges were not artless. Along with their Michigan compatriots the MC5 and producer Gallucci's former band the Kingsmen -- he's the one playing that exquisitely sloppy organ on "Louie Louie" -- the Stooges were heavily influenced by free-jazzers like Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders. And it' showcased particularly on this album, where tenor saxophonist Steven Mackay adds Coltrane-like sheets of sound to everything, especially the closing improvised freakout "Dirt," here in its original 18-minute length. Not only is it interesting to hear the evolution of the songs as the takes pile up, but each complete take is like a new and fascinating re-examination of a familiar recording. Many of the early takes, particularly a radically revised "1970" with different lyrics ("All night in a world that's lame," a line so astonishingly apt it's a wonder Iggy changed it), absolutely shred the final released versions.

As always with Rhino Handmade releases, these gorgeously-packaged limited edition CDs are available only through their Web site, www.rhinohandmade.com. If you have $120 to drop, and even if you have to scrape it together ... well, you really have no choice. Even if you've played it every day for years, you have truly never heard this album before.

B.B. King Let The Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan (MCA)

Though a wry humor permeates many of B.B. King's classic performances, "funny" is not necessarily the first word which comes to mind when you hear, say, "The Thrill Is Gone." That makes this collection of rollicking tunes written or popularized by jump-blues genius Louis Jordan seem an odd project at first. However, any doubts are vanquished within the first minute of the opener, "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," when King nearly cackles with delight over Jordan's tricky verbiage.

Wisely avoiding straight imitation of Jordan's unique style, King adapts the songs to suit himself. This means that "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" gains a sly swagger and a slightly risque undertone, as if the question is purely rhetorical. And, of course, his guitar playing is typically exquisite throughout. Being nearly the only member of his blues generation to still be touring and recording actively at the turn of the century, King could be forgiven for trading on past glories, but Let The Good Times Roll shows this blues master at the top of his game.

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