Album Reviews

Jan & Dean: Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings (Omnivore)

 

Filet of Soul is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad album.

Amazingly, that’s exactly the reaction its creators Jan & Dean anticipated. See, in the annals of Rock Music, there’s nothing more interesting than the “contractual obligation” album. Initially, bands would hand over live albums or greatest-hits packages in order to close out their draconian recording contracts. Some labels were smart enough to catch onto this and inserted clauses that exempted such records. Sometimes, the results have been dreadful–just look at Prince’s vast 1990s catalog of outtakes and rejects and new albums formed out of mediocre outtakes—while sometimes they take on their own half-life, becoming reevaluated as something better than they were, i.e., Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear.

In 1965, Surf duo Jan & Dean were tired of their record label, Liberty. They had had hits, but they didn’t feel like their label was serving them properly, and that their music—which was rapidly growing more sophisticated even as it was growing out of fashion—could be better served by a more cooperative label. They were also in the midst of starring in their own TV show, and were hoping to use it to share and promote their music as well. So they devised a plan: a “comedy” album recorded “live,” one that featured jokes, routines, and a few half-assed cover versions and new takes on old favorites. When they presented the album to their label executives at the begging of 1966, the label bosses were appalled, and informed the duo there was was no way that the album would be released. A few weeks later, Jan Berry was in a serious car accident that put him in a months-long coma, and Liberty took the tapes, edited out the jokes, and released just the songs. It was to be their penultimate album release for Liberty; a follow-up, Popsicle, would be a compilation of outtakes and recent single sides.

Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings presents the original concept, and, truthfully, it really is a bad record. It’s a mixture of cornball jokes, goofy sound effects, tape-manipulated snippets of songs, and half-hearted, incomplete numbers, it’s a frustrating listen, 50 years later. It’s a shame, really, because some of these snippets start off quite promising; their takes on The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” and Lou Christie’s “Lightnin’ Strikes” start off sounding great, but they’re rushed and one can hear the insincerity in their singing. Better is their take on “Michelle,” which is stuck in between some truly horrible comedy routines. When they do go straight, such as on “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and Len Barry’s “1-2-3,” the results are fantastic.

As is often the case of the Jan & Dean story, there’s always an interesting linkage back to the legendary Brian Wilson. Dean had appeared on Beach Boys’ Party, adding vocals to “Barbara Ann,” and the loose, freewheeling fake live recording concept must have been on Dean’s mind when they came up with this set, and that they share a cover version (“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”) isn’t hard to miss. But what makes it even more compelling is that Wilson would soon start work on his drug hell conceptual humor album, Smile, and hearing the naff sound effects and the poor attempts at humor, one can’t help but wonder if Wilson was inspired by the theory of Filet of Soul. Speculation on my part, but still…

Legendary Rock & Roll stories aren’t always pretty, and in many cases, the story is better than the music involved. That’s the case with Filet of Soul, which is, at best, a curious listen; it isn’t nearly as funny as its creators meant it to be–if it ever really was–but it is more entertaining as a curiosity of what a band will do to get out of its contractual obligations.

Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings is available now via
Omnivore Recordings.

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