Numerous singles from Steppenwolf’s best era (1968-1972) have remained obscure, but this double CD box now makes these memorable tracks digitally available. Superb remastering by engineer Aaron Kannowski and a twenty-four page booklet make for a first-class collection chock-filled with pertinent information and informative details via John Kay’s extensive track-by-track liner notes that were captured by co-producer Ed Osborne. “The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection” features the A and B-sides of each of the band’s singles, including their late-’60’s smashes “Magic Carpet Ride” “Born to Be Wild,” and “Rock Me.” Within a nine month span these three classics ruled the airwaves during the cosmic years of 1968 and 1969. Formed from the Canadian band The Sparrow, Steppenwolf carried on charting with nearly a dozen singles, releasing fourteen albums over a twenty year timeframe.
Disc one opens with “A Girl I Knew,” followed by “The Ostrich,” the band starts hitting their stride rocking-out covering Don Covay’s soul chestnut “Sookie, Sookie.” The acidic “Born to be Wild” and Hoyt Axton’s “The Pusher” rightfully found their way onto the soundtrack of “Easy Rider.” Both of these tunes exude more dynamics than I recall especially “The Pusher” for its mind-bending, dual tracking stereo separation. Other favorites “Magic Carpet Ride” and the bluesy “Rock Me” also jump out of your speakers. The lengthy nine minute plus “Monster” (how’d they get that onto a forty-five single) was perfect for late-night – early days of stretch-out FM radio play, receives a technological audio boast because of the later date recording techniques; it sounds fabulous here. Kay and the band pay tribute to Chuck Berry with their “Berry Rides Again,” create a Blues ditty “Hey Lawdy Mama,” and cover the traditional Blues tune “Corina, Corina.”
Disc two comprises Steppenwolf’s later day and lesser known recordings, some good, others not as virtuous. “Who Needs Ya” has a comparable vocal harmonic vibe of Creedence Clearwater Revival. There are three instrumentals “Earsschplittenloudenboomer” intros with a German-like spoken word segment, Kay’s liners reveal were more akin to Sid Caesar’s non-German comedic rants, yet the tune is cool with the band hitting on all cylinders and in the pocket with occasional horns and acoustic and electric guitars. The second instrumental “For Madmen Only” is purely experimental gimmickry that not only goes on for far too long (8:46) heads nowhere with zero cohesion and was probably added to Steppenwolf’s final solo album “For Ladies Only” as filler, there’s no other way for me to explain this forever to be forgotten segment. Plus there’s one more instrumental (perhaps the band had lost its way of writing new material) “Black Pit” but this one’s sharp with slide guitar playing, vibraphone, and a heady straight guitar solo that takes us into the fadeout that could have been longer than the allotted four minutes. The balance of disc two is not memorable other than noting the transformation away from the distinctive Steppenwolf sound. Especially John Kay’s released material under his own name as a solo artist, even covering Hank Williams “You Win Again.” The Steppenwolf era was obviously worn-out and in need of a makeover. Taking on (can you imagine) a country feel, and even covering Alan O’Day’s “Easy Evil” a song I enjoyed, but didn’t care for Kay’s take here.
In summary: These two discs contain thirty-eight tracks; with a handful of photos that make this Real Gone Music collection (even though track-times are nowhere to be found) the definitive and ultimate Steppenwolf collection of all-time. Mr. Kay’s recent liner note inclusions confirm its authenticity and Kay’s apparent approval and enthusiasm for this very fine project. It’s definitely a set for both: Steppenwolf fans and completest, that (for the most part) is nicely done from beginning to end. Well-deserved kudos to all involved.
For nearly 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal at WFDU with his Sounds of Blue radio show (Wed. & Fri. 9am-1pm) www.SoundsofBlue.com –5 times the most pledged to radio program at http://wfdu.fm Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune & www.MakingAScene.org.
Bob was the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted by directing email to: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com.