Steppenwolf – ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection (review)

Steppenwolf – The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection (Real Gone / Geffen) review

The singles as they were meant to be heard

Although there have been several Steppenwolf compilations, The ABC/Dunfill Singles Collection is the first to concentrate on both the A and B sides of the band’s peak years. The two-disc set also marks the first time that the extremely rare mono single mixes were tracked down.

It might seem crazy now, but their signature song, “Born to Be Wild,” was considered by the band to be “just one of eleven songs on the album,” as leader John Kay writes in his extensive liner notes. They first released the atypical ballad, “A Girl I Knew,” which was not a hit. A cover of Don Covay’s “Sookie Sookie” was the next attempt, and also was unsuccessful. Almost in desperation, the band’s label released “Born to Be Wild” as the third single – and the rest is history.

There’s also a great story about the origins of their followup hit, “Magic Carpet Ride,” which began from a jam session. There is a noticeable difference in the single version of this song – featuring a completely different Kay vocal throughout and different edits than the un-official single version which has made it onto several compilations. It’s surprising there was not an edit of the controversial Hoyt Axton track, “The Pusher” (clearly using the words “god damn” many times).

The interesting element here is hearing some of these b-sides surrounded by the more familiar material. For instance, “For Madmen Only” is exactly that – sounding more like a horror movie soundtrack than anything Steppenwolf.

Although this is titled “The Singles Collection,” there is one track which is not in single form. Kay states that his label edited ”Monster” without his consent. He apparently considers the 45 version a travesty and insisted that this collection feature the full-length, nine-minute album version. Unfortunately, the single version is really hard to find, and would’ve been nice to have.

In addition to all of the Steppenwolf singles, four Jon Kay solo tracks are tacked on the end. Oddly for a guy who had made his name as a hard rocker, several of these songs are country-influenced (it was the rage in 1972). The best of the lot is “Nobody Lives Here Anymore.”

For Steppenwolf fans, this is an excellent two-disc distillation of their output. For those wanting to track down the rare single versions, this is a god-send. —Tony Peters