Author Archives: Steve Matteo

Graded on a Curve:
Carly Simon,
Live At Grand Central

Singer-songwriter Carly Simon, who has won just about every prestigious music award imaginable (along with an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), has performed live infrequently throughout her career. Simon has admittedly suffered on occasion from stage fright. This is surprising given her many gifts as an artist. Simon is an engaging performer with one of the most commanding vocal styles in pop music history.

Regardless of her bouts with stage fright, she does like to ham it up a little when she does perform, but in a playful way. She is also a performer that you simply can’t take your eyes off of when she sings, with her wide, disarming smile and statuesque countenance. It helps that she has such a vast catalog of her own remarkable timeless songs to draw from and the ability to interpret everything from rock, folk, and pop, to soul, jazz, and classical. When Simon does perform, it’s quite a treat and thankfully she has released several live albums and videos.

For fans of Simon and for the many who may not have had the opportunity to see her perform live, she has done two HBO specials of live concerts: Live From Martha’s Vineyard in 1987 and Carly in Concert: My Romance from 1990, which has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray. There is a companion album to the Martha’s Vineyard concert: Greatest Hits Live, released in 1988.

In 2005, Simon released the live A Moonlight Serenade on the Queen Mary 2 on DVD. Prior to that live project, Simon did a Lifetime Special, Carly Simon: Live at Grand Central, which is now finally available on Blu-ray, CD, and as a double album, gatefold vinyl release. These new packages have a slightly different running order than the original DVD and add one more song (“Like A River”). There are no extras and the audio is only available in two-channel stereo.

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Time Fades Away: A Journey Through the Past (and Present) with Neil Young

“Here I am with this old guitar. Doing what I do.”“From Hank to Hendrix”

Ever since the Covid lockdown hit in March, 2020, people’s lives have been disrupted. Like most people, I encountered various lockdown-related challenges. I mostly cover vinyl and CD reissues and archival releases, so the idea of reviewing music from a download or a stream doesn’t work. Streaming is not the optimal way to listen to music and given the care that goes into the packaging of archival projects and reissues, the physical object itself is sometimes a major reason people buy reissues. Throughout the years I have written extensively about Neil Young, but during the pandemic, obtaining physical media of new Young archival releases and reissues became almost impossible. With the pandemic winding down and business getting back to normal, the good folks at Young’s record label caught me up with a number of releases from the period in question.

Although the following doesn’t constitute all of the physical music (and media) released by Young since March of 2019, it is eleven releases. There is only one vinyl album, one Blu-ray, and one release that goes back to 2018. Young’s archives are bursting with incredible music and historic concerts. Also, Young has released several albums of brand-new music during this period. His artistic well never seems dry. He writes new songs, records them quickly, releases them, and then is on to the next thing. He is like Picasso: restless, creative, inspired, uncompromising, exploring, working in different mediums, and always without a filter, searching.

Unlike many musical artists who create art as if they are launching a line of clothing, Young is a pure artist. His label Reprise (with a stop at Geffen, that didn’t work) has allowed him to work in this unconventional manner, while offering him the support and backing of a major record label. It is a partnership that hopefully continues indefinitely. Spending the last several months listening to these albums (and in one case watching a Blu-ray) has been a revelatory experience. Young’s singular talent and vast musical palette produce music that is timeless. Some of these recordings are more than 50 years old, but they haven’t dated. And the new music reflects an artist unwilling to rest on past laurels or pander to contemporary pop music conventions.

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Graded on a Curve:
Ten Years After,
A Space in Time (50th Anniversary Edition)

This is a most welcome reissue of an album that may not rank as one of the biggest or most important albums of the 1970s, but one worthy of some serious re-evaluation.

Ten Years After (brothers Alvin Lee and Ric Lee, Leo Lyons, and Chick Churchill) was one of the many groups or artists to first emerge out of the 1960s British blues and R&B boom, to become part of the fabric of British rock that dominated in the mid-to-late 1960s and most of the 1970s. Hailing from Nottingham, the group’s heavy blues music quickly morphed into a more psychedelic sound on its self-titled debut album in 1967 and on its next two albums, Stonedhenge and Ssssh, both released in 1969.

1969 was a key year for Ten Years After, as the group’s incendiary performance at Woodstock, highlighted by “I’m Going Home” featured in the Woodstock film, put it on the musical map. Through 1970s Cricklewood Green and Watt, the band didn’t completely shake off its heavy blues rock and psychedelic sound, but the former in particular showed the group to be capable of making a great album.

With A Space in Time, released in 1971, the group went beyond the promise of Cricklewood Green and made what is perhaps its best album. The album included the track “I’d Love to Change the World” that perfectly captured the times, lyrically and musically. The album was one of the group’s most diverse and showed lead guitarist Alvin Lee just as adept at acoustic guitar work as he was as a blazing hot electric player. There are even a few prog and orchestral touches giving the album a little more of the feel that the title suggests.

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Graded on a Curve: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Los Angeles Forum: April 26, 1969

Jimi Hendrix would have turned 80 on February 22nd. Experience Hendrix, the estate of Jimi Hendrix, continues to reissue music from the late guitarist and new, previously unreleased projects. There have not been many musical artists from the past with more posthumous releases than Hendrix. Fortunately, the quality of these releases has mostly been quite good.

The reissues have also been reflective of the many format changes of music since his death in 1970. While very soon after his death, many Hendrix reissues came out, the CD age, beginning in the early ’80s, offered an opportunity to put out previously released recordings, but also a plethora of unreleased live and studio works. With the advent of the more recent vinyl revival, releases of music from Hendrix have brought about reissues and new releases that reflect the way his music was meant to be experienced, on vinyl.

This latest, new release is yet another previously unreleased live concert recording, this one from The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Hendrix, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell). The vinyl set is a two-LP, gatefold package with archival inner sleeves and a 12-page color booklet, and it includes essays by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and former Los Angeles Times pop music writer Randy Lewis. It is also available on CD.

It is from a key year in Hendrix history: 1969. The show is from April 26th and it was recorded at the Los Angeles Forum, a still relatively new venue and one that had only been presenting concerts for a short time. This was in an era when arena concerts were becoming more common and the Experience was peaking in terms of its fame. It was also during a period though, when the group was beginning to slowly drift apart.

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Graded on a Curve: Bobby Weir,
Ace: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Ace was the debut solo album from Bob Weir (credited here as Bobby Weir). It was a key release in the history and evolution of the Grateful Dead, and it was the second release in 1972 from a member of the Grateful Dead. Garcia, from Jerry Garcia, was also a debut solo album from a member of the group and came out in January of that year. The two albums signified that the group would do outside projects, but the Dead would carry on.

While the Garcia album only featured one member of the Dead other than Garcia (drummer Bill Kruetzmann), Ace featured the entire group of that time except for Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Donna Jean Godchaux. The primary group on the album, along with Weir, consisted of Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bill Kruetzmann, and Keith Godchaux. The album came during a three-year gap in studio albums from the Grateful Dead between American Beauty (1970) and Wake of the Flood (1973).

Ace would launch a long and varied career for Weir outside the Dead that would include albums from groups he led, including Bobby and the Midnites, Rat Dog, and most recently the Wolf Brothers (more on them later). Since most of the members of the Dead were on the Ace album, it did have the feeling of another Dead album during a time when the group wasn’t recording.

Additionally, several songs are included here that would become the official studio recordings of songs that were staples of recent live Dead tours and appeared on the second official live Dead album (Skull and Roses): “Playing in the Band” and on the third (Europe 72); “One More Saturday Night.” Playing in the Band,” clocking in here at nearly eight minutes, is not as long as the typical length of a Dead live workout nor as improvisational, but it is a definitive classic Dead recording which did not appear on a Grateful Dead studio album. Similarly, “One More Saturday Night” works as a fully realized studio recording without sacrificing the magic, spark, and spontaneity of the Dead live on stage.

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Graded on a Curve:
David Crosby &
The Lighthouse Band, Live At The Capitol Theatre

In what will be the last album David Crosby released in his lifetime, this one and only full-length release featuring the Lighthouse Band, was recorded live at the Capitol Theatre, in Port Chester, New York (a village in Westchester, that straddles New York and Connecticut) on December 8th, 2018. (David Crosby and the Lighthouse Band released a four-song, ten-inch live EP for Record Store Day in 2017).

Featuring David Crosby, the group is rounded out by Becca Stevens, Michael League, and Michelle Willis. The 2018 Crosby studio album, Here If You Listen, also featured Stevens, League and Willis. The Lighthouse Band came together when League was set to produce an album for Crosby, and League had suggested Stevens and Willis sing with them. Crosby had previously met them during the recording for the Snarky Puppy’s Family Dinner 2.

The Lighthouse Band is similar in some cases to CPR, a group that Crosby led, which also included Jeff Pevar and Crosby’s son James Raymond. That group released two studio albums and two live albums between 1998 and 2001. In the case of both groups, Crosby shares the stage with younger, less-known musical artists, but musicians clearly in tune with his unique sound.

This live album, like those two CPR live albums, puts more emphasis on recent Crosby compositions and group compositions, with music from his more well-known solo studio albums and iconic groups rounding out the release. Considering some of the heavyweight groups Crosby was part of (The Byrds, CSNY), the chemistry and harmonizing here is worthy of his past associations.

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Graded on a Curve:
Joni Mitchell,
The Asylum Albums

It is fitting that Joni Mitchell – The Asylum Albums 1971-1975, a four-album box set, is being released at this time. Mitchell’s miraculous recovery from a series of life-threatening health scares and her return to performing at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 2022, have rekindled interest in her remarkable career. Tentative plans for possible multiple live dates have been rumored, as have possible new recordings.

For the past several years there have been a plethora of reissues, primarily previously unreleased live tracks and a host of demos and other releases, under the moniker of the Joni Mitchell Archive Series. This new box is very much a follow-up to the four-album The Reprise Albums 1968-1971 box released in 2021, that included her first four albums Song To A Seagull (1968), Clouds (1969), Ladies Of The Canyon (1970), and Blue (1971). Those four albums primarily represented Mitchell’s early folk-based recordings, that gradually became slightly more expansive, culminating in her iconic, quintessential singer-songwriter watershed Blue album.

This new box set picks up where Blue left off, but Mitchell’s shift to Asylum was significant. While Reprise was a home for artists like Mitchell, fellow Canadian Neil Young and others, Asylum, launched by David Geffen, was the kind of artist-centric boutique label that could offer Mitchell the creative space and special attention to her music that she craved. At the time, Asylum was the de-facto home of California singer-songwriter-based pop-rock and laid-back LA cool. Geffen signed the Eagles and Jackson Browne to his label and poached Linda Ronstadt from Capitol.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Dave Clark Five,
All The Hits: The 7″ Collection

The Dave Clark Five may be one of the most underrated groups of the British Invasion. While it was one of the many groups from the era who faded away after its hit success in the early and mid-’60s, they scored many hits and their music holds up extremely well.

The group had eight top ten hits in the UK and the US, and one number one in the UK and the US. Unlike most of the artists who hailed from the original British Invasion, the group was not from Liverpool, but was instead from Tottenham, in North London. The group’s powerful sound was led by Clark on drums and keyboardist Mike Smith, and also sometimes included honking brass from Denis Payton. The other two original members were Rick Huxley and Lenny Davidson. The group was most well-known for its hits “Glad All Over,” “Bits and Pieces,” “Anyway You Want It,” “Because,” and its powerhouse cover of “Do You Love Me,” but also for such singles as “Catch Us If You Can,” “Having A Wild Weekend,” and “Over and Over.”

Dave Clark has been an attentive curator of the group’s legacy and the last few years have seen a number of excellent reissues. The latest reissue is All The Hits: The 7″ Collection. The box set includes 10 seven-inch, 45 RPM releases. Rather than duplicating UK or US singles from the 1960s, these 10 records are reconfigured “double-A” sides, with newly conceived picture sleeve cover art and labels that are new BMG labels of various colors. The music was remastered at Abbey Road by Miles Showell under the supervision of Dave Clark in 2019. As can be expected, the sound quality is superb and listening to these dazzling British Invasion hits on 45-RPM, seven-inch vinyl is the way to go.

In some cases, this box set goes against the way more and more reissues are formatted. Typically, new mixes of original albums or individual tracks are presented, along with B-sides, outtakes, demos, and various studio takes. Also, album jackets, gatefolds, inner sleeves, labels, and original extras usually are preserved with great attention to detail, or in some cases are augmented with additional new materials and lavish books.

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Graded on a Curve:
Ringo Starr: “Zoom In,” “Change the World,”
and “EP3”

Since March of 2021, Ringo Starr has released three EPs. Rather than making a full album, Ringo has quickly recorded and released one five-song EP and two four-song EPs. One of the reasons for working in this format was to get the music out quickly with his intention partly to offer hopeful, uplifting and positive music, lyrical themes, and general good vibes for people weary of the pandemic. This approach has resulted in some of the best music Starr has made in years and, coupled with his previous full-length album What’s My Name? from 2019, makes this one of the best musical periods for Starr in some time. All will be reviewed here in their vinyl format.

The first EP, “Zoom In,” released in March 2021, is a five-song, 12-inch black vinyl EP with a title no-doubt inspired by how the A/V teleconferencing chat format Zoom became the major communication source for those at home in lockdown. The EP starts off with the sometimes mournful, yet ultimately uplifting “Here’s to the Nights,” featuring an all-star chorus including Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Sheryl Crow, Jenny Lewis, Lenny Kravitz, Chris Stapleton, Yola, Ben Harper, Dave Grohl, Finneas O’Connell, Eric Burton, and Corinne Bailey Rae.

“Zoom In Zoom Out” has a classic Ringo Starr boogie rock feel. “Teach Me to Tango” rocks with a Dr. John feel on the intro. “Waiting for the Tide” has an authentic dub reggae sound. The closing track, “Not Enough Love in the World,” is filled with Starr’s peace and love vibe and closes out an EP with not one bad or mediocre track. Along with the all-star chorus, Ringo had help from such heavyweights as Robbie Krieger from the Doors, Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Nathan East, and current All-Star band member Steve Lukather. The sound quality of the vinyl is superb and the EP comes in a poly-lined sleeve, but the package contains no liner notes.

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Graded on a Curve:
Paul McCartney,
The 7″ Singles Box

The continued intense interest, unprecedented influence, and mythology of The Beatles can sometimes obscure and undervalue the musical contribution of the solo works of the four Beatles. More significantly, the works from the four that came after what is perceived as their solo heyday in the 1970s are given even less fair treatment.

Ringo Starr’s studio work has probably received the least praise, but his live All-Starr bands and his film and television work add more to his creative resume. John Lennon didn’t have a chance to move forward with his music, due to his senseless murder in 1980. One of the joys of the lives of fans of Lennon would have been to see what he would have done musically over the decades. George Harrison had some post-’70s glory with his Cloud Nine album and especially his two albums with the Traveling Wilburys, not to mention his place in cinema with Handmade Films.

Paul McCartney, however, has had a fruitful, if uneven, post-’70s musical life. While he has released some truly classic albums throughout his entire Wings and solo career, some of his albums have been inconsistent. Much of his work during the ’70s was as part of the group Wings with his wife Linda, Denny Laine, and a rotating cast of studio and live members, most notably Denny Seiwell, Henry McCullough, Jimmy McCulloch, Geoff Britton, Joe English, Laurence Juber, and Steve Holley.

His output as a singles artist is more consistent, as is evidenced by the uber 7″ Singles Box. Released in a limited, numbered quantity of 3,000 and including 81 singles (plus a 148-page booklet), the set is housed in a Redwood pine and Birch Ply wooden art crate that was made in the UK, while the actual entire physical package was made in France. This is a wide-ranging collection that covers 50 years. It is a remarkably consistent and listenable experience and McCartney’s uncanny knack for writing catchy, yet quirky and adventurous songs, with charm and wit, is in full display.

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Graded on a Curve: VA, Holidays Rule & Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas

While few can disagree that the playing of holiday music shouldn’t start on the radio the day after Halloween, there are many who warm up to listening to Christmas music in December. Recent reissues reflect the two major sides of popular holiday music; fresh new music and tried-and-true staples from the past.

Holidays Rule, although a reissue of a ten-year-old release, very much fits into the category of new holiday sounds. This translucent red, two-LP, vinyl gatefold package features such artists as The Civil Wars, Heartless Bastards, Calexico, Punch Brothers, and The Head and the Heart. Paul McCartney performs “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire),” and the Shins sing Paul’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

Other than the opening track by fun., the music on this reissue has aged well. The emphasis is on groups and artists with an organic sound and their heartfelt, non-glossy take on holiday-themed music works exceptionally well. The throwback sounds of Irma Thomas with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with “May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas,” complements the music here from newer artists and the song is an instant classic.

The duet between Sharon Van Atten and Rufus Wainwright, a cover of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was an instant classic upon release and will be a favorite for some time to come. The album ends with two New Year’s Eve songs, making this a reissue you will want to listen to long after December 25th. There was a Holidays Rule, Vol. 2 CD release in 2017. It will be interesting to see if that release is reissued on vinyl next holiday season (or in 2027). If so, it will no doubt be on green vinyl.

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Needle Drop: Roxy Music, Roxy Music, Flesh + Blood & Avalon, Abbey Road Half Speed Masters

All eight Roxy Music albums have been reissued as half-speed masters and are available for the first time as individual albums. They were pressed on 180-gram vinyl in Germany at Optimal. The albums all come in poly-lined sleeves and include the original album sleeves. Miles Showell cut the previous discs at half speed in 2016, but these new cuts were done on upgraded equipment. For our purposes here, we only have access to Roxy Music, Flesh + Blood, and Avalon.

The group’s self-titled debut in 1972 was a groundbreaking work. Coming right in the middle of the late ’60s/early ’70s hippie days, the album was like a musical visitor from outer space. The initial lineup, which included Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, and Andy MacKay, has remained intact right up until the group’s most recent tour this year. The rhythm section for the album was Paul Thompson and Graham Simpson. Thompson would last all the way through until Siren, and Simpson would leave after the group’s debut.

A rotating cast of bass players followed on the group’s next seven releases. More significantly, the group’s debut and second album included Brian Eno. Eno would of course leave the group after its second album and pursue ambient music, collaborate with Robert Fripp and David Byrne and, more significantly, become an in-demand and highly successful record producer.

Even 50 years later the album is a jarring and garish mix of styles and attitude. This is the height of DIY art rock. The album has touches of glam, glitter, or prog and the group dipped far back to mix in old jazz, cabaret, musique concrete, and the influences of crooners on Ferry’s vocals. The packaging includes a gatefold jacket, original sleeve, and the album in a poly-lined sleeve. The pressing is excellent and the sound is natural, with only the limitations of the original recording taking away from the overall sound.

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Needle Drop: Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On 50th Anniversary 2LP Edition

What’s Going On from Marvin Gaye, released in 1971, is arguably one of the greatest albums of the pop-rock/soul era. It is Gaye’s masterpiece. It’s a deep, spiritual and musically sophisticated concept album that transcends R&B, soul, and pop.

Gaye, like Stevie Wonder, met resistance from Motown head honcho Berry Gordy for making an album that eschewed the hit Motown formula for creating a personal artistic statement, but Gaye prevailed. Many of the themes Gaye explored on the album—war, race, the environment, economic inequality and lack of human empathy—are just as relevant today. The way Gaye wove R&B, soul, pop, gospel, and orchestrated music into a suite of interconnected and often repeated songs and themes has rarely been matched.

While groups like The Beatles, The Who, and Pink Floyd, among others, have created sweeping and fulsome concept albums that are timeless, solo artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan have come close, but perhaps only Stevie Wonder has created any works to match this stunning musical and recording achievement.

The sound quality is very natural. The strings and church feel have a mesmerizing ambience and Gaye’s voice is front and center. This reissue was mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, was pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Precision in Canada, and comes in a 2-LP, gatefold tip-on jacket.

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Needle Drop: The Who, The Who Sell Out & Tommy, Abbey Road Half Speed Masters

The Who Sell Out, released in 1967 and the group’s third album, was a major breakthrough for The Who. It was the group’s first album that proved throughout that the band was more than a post-R&B, heavy English pop band. The thematic concept album presaged Tommy—which was more ambitious and a double album—by two years. With The Who Sell Out, Townshend and The Who offered a concept album, but one that was light and fun.

The album did include “I Can See for Miles,” another of the group’s dynamic hits, but it was now clear that Pete Townshend was a songwriter with lofty goals and the talent to back it up. The album featured faux radio commercials and station IDs with songs that reflected new pop ideas about commerce and youth culture, often from a very English point of view.

This new 180-gram vinyl reissue, which was remastered by Jon Astley, cut by Miles Showell at Abbey Road, and pressed in Germany at Optimal, comes on the heels of the 2020 deluxe CD box and vinyl remaster of the album. At first this new vinyl album remaster, particularly in terms of the vocals, doesn’t sound quite as bright as previous reissues and, in fact, at times it sounds best when the fake radio material is presented.

The album package comes complete with an OBI-strip, the original psychedelic poster that came with the record and a certificate of authentication, but the LP is only in a paper sleeve. Overall, however, this Abbey Road remaster is a worthy addition for Who fans.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Kinks,
Muswell Hillbillies / Everybody’s in Show-Biz Everybody’s A Star

Ever since the 50th anniversary reissue of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (2018), considered the first concept album from The Kinks, the group has been rolling out some box sets befitting its exalted place in the pantheon of rock and pop music history.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society was followed by Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) in 2019 (the group’s last ’60s concept album) and Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, in 2020, its first concept album in the ’70s. Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One was a biting critique of the music industry and cast a jaundiced eye on the pitfalls of musical stardom, or obscurity, clearly from first-hand experience. It would be the group’s last album released by Reprise in America, surprisingly a very artist-friendly record label at that time.

While Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One is certainly a bitter album from a veteran pop music insider, it isn’t heavy. Davies conceives these albums as conceptually thematic, but unlike some others who created concept albums in this period, he avoids the weighty pretentiousness and grandiose egotistical bombast that often mars otherwise ambitious and worthy works. Also, Davies does not write about working-class people from the lofty perch of a rich and famous pop star, or simply paint the rich and famous as bad either, but instead brings empathy to the writing of both kinds of characters.

Between Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One and Muswell Hillbillies (1971), its RCA debut, the group was involved in the soundtrack for the film Percy, released in 1971. It was directed by Ralph Thomas and was based on the novel by Raymond Hitchcock, and the screenplay was co-written by Michael Palin.

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