Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kennedy's Shattered Head



Our resident Misfits expert Mark Kennedy unlocks the mysteries of the Misfits unreleased "12 Hits From Hell" LP. Enjoy!

12 Hits From Hell: The MSP Sessions

After their drummer ditched them during the botched 1979 tour of England opening for the Damned, the Misfits experienced a brief period of inactivity. It took them four months to find a replacement drummer, and their next live performance didn’t occur until July 1980. That show must have rejuvenated them, however, because the following month, the band entered Master Sound Productions studio to begin recording a batch of new songs.

With Glenn Danzig on vocals, Jerry Only on bass, Bobby Steele on guitar, and newcomer Arthur Googy on drums, the band cranked out twelve now-familiar songs: Halloween, Vampira, I Turned Into A Martian, Skulls, London Dungeon, Night Of The Living Dead, Horror Hotel, Ghouls Night Out, Astro Zombies, Where Eagles Dare, Violent World, and Halloween II. With the exception of London Dungeon, the band recorded each song live in one take. Steele then overdubbed additional guitar so that each song had three guitar tracks: two rhythm and one lead.

In early September, several members of the band returned to the studio, this time with Jerry Only’s younger brother (and future Misfits guitarist) Doyle instead of Steele. Doyle added new guitar tracks to the songs, which were then mixed with his new guitar tracks as the centerpiece and Steele’s original tracks relegated to the background. A few weeks later, shortly before the band’s annual Halloween show, Steele received the official word that he was out and Doyle was in.

For whatever reason, the band decided to release only four of the songs. Three appeared on the appropriately-named 3 Hits From Hell and the fourth was the B-side to Halloween. The band then recorded new versions of many of the songs for 1982’s Walk Among Us album. After the Misfits broke up in 1983, bits and pieces of the recording session popped up on compilations such as Legacy Of Brutality (1985), Collection I (1986), Collection II (1995), and the Box Set (1996), but the complete session never appeared as a standalone package. Caroline Records planned to change that on Halloween 2001 with the release of 12 Hits From Hell: The MSP Sessions.

Tom Begrowicz, a long-time Misfits fan who had produced, co-produced, or contributed to all of Caroline’s 1990s Misfits releases, was selected to accomplish the task. To properly represent the historical significance of the recording session, Begrowicz gathered an assortment of obscure photos and memorabilia for the packaging and summoned Eerie Von for the liner notes. The final product was beautiful—in baseball, you might compare it to an out-of-the-park grand slam home run. Begrowicz even wrote his own liner notes, which are worthy of inclusion here:

Originally intended to be a full-length release, like so many recordings before it, the MSP session instead became the launching pad for their legendary Walk Among Us album. Recorded on August 7, 1980, several of the twelve recorded tracks ended up being released on two classic Plan 9 Records singles, while the rest of the tracks remained unheard outside of tape dubbing and bootlegging. Part of the “Halloween” single was taken from these recordings while the “3 Hits from Hell” 7”, which came out in April 1981, drew upon this session for “London Dungeon”, “Horror Hotel” and “Ghouls Night Out”.

These recordings came at a very important time for the band. A time in which they ultimately and unceremoniously kicked out guitarist Bobby Steele and replaced him with Jerry’s little brother, Doyle. In fact, both Bobby and Doyle recorded various guitar tracks in this session (with Bobby laying down a vast majority of them) although the band was never actually a five-piece. Together, however, their styles intertwined to create a sound that the world hadn’t experienced to date, and hasn’t heard since.

This album is sequenced exactly as the band had envisioned it back in 1980, based on original hand-written notes on MSP letterhead (the handwritten song titles on the back are from those very notes). Like Static Age before it, 12 Hits From Hell gives us all a proper historical view of the band. It’s not simply a compilation or a splicing-together of random tracks from over the years – 12 Hits From Hell is very much a perfectly focused picture of the band. This allows us a glimpse of where the Misfits were at the time as well as where they were going in the years to come.


As impressive as the packaging was, Begrowicz’s work on the recording was even more inventive. All of the songs from the session already had been widely available for years—in some cases for more than two decades. Instead of selling the fans the same old thing, Begrowicz remixed the session to highlight both Doyle’s and Steele’s guitar tracks, thereby creating a hybrid sound that was new and vibrant, yet very much true to the classic Misfits sound. As a bonus, Begrowicz also mixed in some alternate lyrics to Horror Hotel (from a vocals-only scratch track) and included the previously unreleased second take of London Dungeon.

Caroline Records geared up for the release by distributing several thousand promotional CDs and printing stickers and posters. The label also created an acetate, several test pressings, and a few LP sleeves for the proposed colored vinyl issue. And then the unthinkable happened. On October 11, just weeks before the official release, Caroline sent a letter to music stores recalling all promotional material and announcing that the album had been postponed due to “an inferior mastering error.” Caroline subsequently destroyed all of the promotional material and the 40,000 CD copies pressed for the initial run.

What was that mastering error? In e-mail messages to fans, Ashley Warren of Caroline Records provided a few likely explanations: “The reason why Caroline has held up the release was because literally weeks before the release it was discovered that Glenn had been left out of involvement and that the Misfits while fully knowing about the project felt the mix was of an inferior nature.” Later, he added, “The version that was withdrawn was not pleasing to the Misfits because this was a false remix and not a representation of the band’s authentic sound as it had 2 guitars in the mix – the Misfits never had two guitarists.” The fallacy of the latter comment is obvious. Although it is correct that the band never had two guitarists at the same time, the original mixes of the songs already included tracks by both guitarists! Most fans speculate that the real objection to the album’s release centered on the fact that the new mix showcased the talent of the much-maligned Bobby Steele, who has unjustifiably become a scapegoat for seemingly everything under the sun since the early 1980s.

Because this gem will never see the light of day in a properly released form, bootleggers and collectors have had a field day with the small amount of material that escaped from Caroline Records unharmed. For a very thorough and accurate analysis, click here.

Click here to see a complete view of the layout and packaging.

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