Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Today in Beatles history

1974: "The Beatles' association is dissolved, with a document signed by each Beatle."

Here's Wikipedia's wide-ranging "Beatles' breakup" page.

New Year's Eve potpourri

From the New York Times: "Hard Day's Night for Beatles Reissues."

Ever the activist, John continues to promote social progress decades after his death. Kinda weird maybe?

Here's an excerpt from a review of Philip Norman's John Lennon: The Life in the Los Angeles Times:

"'What captivated and fascinated Britain in late 1963,' Norman writes about the early bloom of Beatlemania, 'was not just a pop group more extraordinarily and unstoppably successful than any before. It was the new definition of 'pop group' they had created, something closer to the Marx Brothers than any forerunners like the Blue Caps or Shadows -- a gang laughingly on the run from overblown adulation and desire, a brotherhood that in the brightest glare of publicity still kept its own intriguing secrets, the ultimate impenetrable clique.'

That's a great description, and it establishes the key conundrum of the Beatles -- the tension between public image and private life. They spoke to us, but at a distance. Their emergence not only helped usher in the era of pop culture, it changed society at the broadest level by redefining celebrity as a potent social force."

Finally, here's how Yoko has been occupying herself of late.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"The Beatles Game Wish List"

From IGN .

(I very much appreciate that they suggested incorporating harmonies into the game.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Beatles + Guitar Hero/Rock Band= ??

I've been intending to write a post on what Beatles songs I thought would best suit the band's prospective Guitar Hero-type game. Yet even compiling a list of ten has proved far more difficult than I expected. Now The Beatles are undeniably a rock 'n roll band, but much of their music's energy doesn't consistently come from the kind of thick and forceful guitarwork that's associated with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Instead, it more often comes from the shifting interplay between a song's component parts, especially John and Paul's paired vocals.

Consider "She Loves You," for instance. It's a two-plus minute burst of propulsive pop that doesn't feature a commanding guitar part. George's lead establishes a functional and necessary presence but the thrust of the song really takes form in how John and Paul's vocal work maneuvers through the rumbling, Ringo-helmed rhythm. Sometimes they clash and sometimes they weave together. Either way, it's the song's focal point. In short, "She Loves You" boasts the pace, dynamism, and infectious nature that are among the assets of Guitar Hero/Rock Band tunes. Critically though, it lacks an explosive guitar section.

So it goes with much of the Beatles' output. Think "It Won't Be Long," "Can't Buy Me Love," "Help," "Ticket to Ride," "Magical Mystery Tour," etc. These mostly are signature Fab Four songs not without substantial amounts of energy and movement. And none of them, in my estimation, would translate well to the kind of gaming format discussed. They just don't rock out in the right way. It's also worth mentioning, I think, that in their prime, The Beatles handsomely availed themselves of advanced studio methods, which partly resulted in them not touring because their music wasn't conducive to live performances. This logic would seem to suggest similar limitations for a game like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. (I should note that I don't think my views would change depending on whether the game is like Guitar Hero or more involved like Rock Band).

As a result, my selections were minimal, hardly enough to comprise a full video game or present a balanced overview of The Beatles' career. They included "Twist and Shout," (though I'm still not convinced) "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Day Tripper," "Taxman," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Revolution," and "Helter Skelter." Beyond these, I struggled. Other contenders were "I Saw Her Standing There," (weak solo) "Drive My Car," (maybe) "I Me Mine," (too much quiet-then-loud, slow-then-fast activity/not well known) and "Get Back" (again, maybe). It's possible that I've overlooked a couple obvious choices (Abbey Road material, like "I Want You?"). Even so, accounting for a few misses, I'd barely arrive at ten total.

Perusing The Beatles' albums, I found myself more interested in what songs would allow for a rewarding karaoke-type treatment. After all, from the start, John and Paul were both formidable, and later developed into classic, vocalists. On the guitar side, however, George took much longer to come into his own and foster a distinct sound. And when he did, his style wasn't of the hard, shredding, and incendiary variety (i.e., it wasn't very Guitar Hero-esque). My point is that The Beatles' vocals seem to offer better opportunities for imitation and reproduction than do their guitars because the former are more broadly accomplished than the latter. Among those that came to mind were "Act Naturally," "Run for Your Life," "Sgt. Pepper's," "I Am the Walrus," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and many more (see below). With the possible exception of "Sgt. Pepper's," I don't think any of these songs would work terribly well for Guitar Hero or Rock Band (and I write this with full awareness that vocals are integral to Rock Band; it's the other parts that might not hold up).

It's arguable then that a more fitting, though exceedingly less marketable and engaging Fab Four video game would focus on the band's vocals and, among other things, task its users with performing the harmonies that elevated so many of their songs ("Please Please Me," "There's a Place," "From Me to You," "If I Fell," "Drive My Car," "In My Life," "Two of Us," etc.). It's obviously a far-fetched idea. But I think there's merit to my reasoning.

So I'll stand by my skeptical approach to this game. That is, until I play it and in all likelihood enjoy it without a word of protest.

Friday, December 26, 2008

(Light) Friday potpourri

Installments three and four of Paste's "The Coolest Beatles Songs You Might Have Missed." Huge props for the "I'm So Tired" pick in vol. four.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Franz Ferdinand's "It Won't Be Long"

One of my favorite bands doing one of my favorite Beatles songs.

It's far from a knockout, but I can't imagine "It Won't Be Long" is easy to play live (especially the echoing vocal parts).

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The Beatles Anthology, disc 1

Random thoughts and bits of commentary:

- Its use of "In My Life" at the outset is disarming.

- It's important that Paul notes how he admired Buddy Holly for writing his own music.

- At one point in their early years of touring, The Beatles went by the name of "Long John and the Silver Beetles." And Paul was "Paul Ramone." Less hip was George's stage name: "Carl Harrison" (in part a tribute to Carl Perkins).

- It's quite something to watch footage of their performances at the Cavern Club.

- I know I've mentioned this elsewhere on the blog, but it bears repeating: George Martin always comes off as a most refined, clear-headed, and agreeable individual.

- "Twist and Shout" (or The Beatles' rendition of it, anyway) is nothing short of a sublime creation.

- Lastly, it can't be overstated how funny and charismatic The Beatles were.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Downplaying "Carnival of Light"

It's encouraging to see that Paul isn't completely hyping the dickens out of the unreleased "Carnival of Light." He recently warned Beatles faithful to not expect "another 'Strawberry Fields.'" Fair enough. Perhaps, then, he should avoid the kind of chatter that will only enhance expectations (i.e."The time has come for it to get its moment"). Almost a tinge of messianic rhetoric there, huh?

P.S. I know it's easy and probably unfair for me to say this so retrospectively. But, in 2008, doesn't "Carnival of Light" sound like the most hugely cliched and paint-by-numbers title for a piece of formless, druggy freakout music?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paul: the political Beatle, part 2

I don't want to dwell on how immaturely Paul came off with his claim of being the first politically engaged or anti-war Beatle. So just a couple more comments and then we can put the issue to rest.

Let's take Paul at his word and concede that he facilitated The Beatles' involvement in the peace movement. So he met with Bertrand Russell once (the news reports only mention one encounter anyway), became concerned about the Vietnam War, convinced his fellow Beatles of its repellent nature, and then what? How exactly did he follow through on his newfound political awareness? In what way did he try to meaningfully participate in pacifist activism? For doesn't that matter more? How you act upon principles and conviction when they've been awoken to great wrongdoing, etc. Now I'm not a Beatles historian but I don't doubt that Paul contributed to the peace movement in laudable ways. However, he's not an anti-war icon. And, of course, John is. For the cause, John wrote songs, arranged concerts, showed up at rallies, battled deportation, attended the Watergate hearings, and even staged "Bed-ins for Peace." He was a foot-soldier, though one with immense notoriety. It's an unavoidable part of his legacy. And it's something that Paul's will always lack, regardless of how passionate his, umm, animal rights activism is (no offense to these pursuits, but I put a much higher value on work that supports human life). So sure Paul*, you might have introduced John to the moral calamity that was the Vietnam War. But his reaction, a decade and a half of spirited anti-war championing, will always loom quite a bit larger.

*- I hate to sound so disparaging of Paul. But in this case, I think he exercised very suspect judgment.

My favorite Beatles song at the moment

There are few lines in pop music that introduce a chorus as memorably and effectively as, "Christ you know it ain't easy."

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Paul: the political Beatle?

Here's an interesting, even if slightly irritating, article which discusses how Paul recently claimed that he, not John, was responsible for spearheading The Beatles' interest in politics (described curiously as the band's "musical foray for pacifism").

Stepping back from the specifics of this issue, I would only say that it's these kinds of remarks, these petty detours into retroactive oneupsmanship and self-justification, that continue to fuel the overcooked schism between Paul-fans and John-fans. I just don't understand why Paul feels the need to prove himself on matters from the 1960s. Because what he's trying to do, it seems, goes beyond simply setting the record straight.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday potpourri

Paste's "The Coolest Beatles Songs You Might Have Missed, Vol. 2."

Maureen Cleave's famous London Evening Standard article on a day in the life of John Lennon. Money quote:

"He is much the same as he was before. He still peers down his nose, arrogant as an eagle, although contact lenses have righted the short sight that originally caused the expression. He looks more like Henry VIII than ever now that his face has filled out-he is just as imperious, just as unpredictable, indolent, disorganized, childish, vague, charming and quick-witted. He is still easy-going, still tough as hell."

Rolling Stone's "The Legacy of John Lennon" article from December 1990

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oasis' cover of "I am the Walrus"

I was recently at an Oasis and Ryan Adams concert where the Manchester rock 'n rollers closed their encore with a spirited cover of the John Lennon classic. It was similar to this performance from a tour stop in Vancouver last August.

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Monday, December 8, 2008


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Under-the-radar classics

For the next several weeks, Paste's Steve LaBate will be running blog posts on killer Beatles songs that "you might have missed." I'll bite. Lists have a strangely reliable appeal. And one pertaining to the Beatles is almost too easy.

Included in LaBate's first installment were "Cry For a Shadow" (I can't agree with his unbridled enthusiasm: "one of the catchiest songs I've ever heard"), "Act Naturally" (endearing, perfect for Ringo), "I've Just Seen a Face" (it precedes "Yesterday" on Help, making for quite the emotive combo from Paul), "I'm Only Sleeping" (one of The Beatles' most conceptually unique and fully realized songs), and "Rain" (I enjoy seeing Paul's chipped front tooth in the video. It must somehow mean that he died around that time; evidence of an impostor?).

My own list would feature the likes of "It Won't Be Long," "No Reply," "Girl," and "Two of Us." And many more, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

John Lennon: The Life

I starred this article in my Google Reader back in October but only now have unearthed it. It's an insightful and obviously well-informed review of Philip Norman's John Lennon: The Life from David Hajdu, the music critic for The New Republic .

To the heart of the matter:

"There are four thousand holes in John Lennon: The Life, and the one in most dire need of fixing is the absence of illuminating discussion of the creative work that makes Lennon matter. Norman, who has done books on Buddy Holly and Elton John, in addition to his writing on the Beatles, is the rare biographer of musicians who has little evident interest in music itself."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

X-mas list fodder (but not for all of us)

This is the sort of item that a deep recession won't exactly encourage the sale of. But I guess there are only 2500 of them; they should go. Also, consider what its cost might be if The Beatles' musical corpus was available on iTunes. Perhaps the decreased amount of hardware would drive down the full-sticker price of $795.00? And finally, doesn't the notion of receiving CDs (16, no less) as part of a Christmas gift seem quaint? Or at least very 1998? Throw in the iPod and the total package becomes a peculiar mix of past and present.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Smith's (sadly not the Smiths') "Baby It's You"

Here's the highest-charting version of "Baby It's You" (1969). Meh. To me, it sounds confused, like it's somewhere in between soul, funk, and blues but won't commit to any of them. Let's at least say it's the most interesting of the three renditions I've put up.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

The Shirelles' "Baby It's You"

In my estimation, The Beatles' version of "Baby It's You" was a major improvement on the original. The latter, performed by the Shirelles, isn't without moments of recommendation, such as the rumbling, hollowed-out rhythm during the pre-verse "sha-la-las" or the weirdly electro keyboard/organ solo. But to its detriment, the vocals lack the sort of color and vitality that John, Paul, and George's have. The comparison isn't even close, actually. And the dominant rhythm, the one that anchors the verses, has a thin, almost jabbing quality that keeps the song too grounded. Overall, the Shirelles' version just doesn't feel as fully formed as the Beatles'.

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