Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More on MJ and The Beatles

Here's a concise history of how Jacko acquired the publishing rights to many of The Beatles' songs and an explanation of what that kind of ownership actually means.

Important excerpt:
The Beatles assigned their publishing rights to Northern Songs, a company created by Beatles manager Brian Epstein and music publisher Dick James in 1963. The Beatles (particularly John Lennon and Paul McCartney) were soon earning so much money from songwriting royalties, record sales, concert performances, and merchandise licensing that they were losing over 90% of their income in taxes, and they were advised to find a way of receiving their revenue in the form of capital gains rather than income (the former being taxed at a much lower rate), such as selling their song rights or putting their money into a public company. The Beatles opted for the latter route, and Northern Songs went public on the London Stock Exchange in 1965.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday potpourri

My Morning Jacket's frontman to release an EP of George Harrison covers.

Paul tour update.

The Irish Times on How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll.

Paul to record original material for High in the Clouds, an animated movie based on a story that he wrote about a squirrel.

"Michael Jackson's death won't affect any Beatles-iTunes deal."

"The Girl is Mine," cont'd

Conor Friedersdorf, a politics and culture blogger at The American Scene, opines on the song that he considers the unmistakable low point of Thriller.

A pair of legends

Over the weekend, Paul joined Neil Young onstage at the Canadian legend's concert in Hyde Park for a rendition of "A Day in the Life." It's a thrill to watch:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

There's a lot to enjoy about this clip: seeing two icons of music joyfully rock out together and even embrace one another, hearing the crowd faithfully sing along to The Beatles' classic and erupt when Paul makes his appearance, and just realizing what a blessing it is that both are still alive. Let's hope for more collaborations down the line.

And here are the two, back in 2004, performing Young's poignant "Only Love Can Break Your Heart:"

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mea culpa, James Ray, etc.

Several days ago, an anonymous reader commented on my post from January about "Got My Mind Set on You." He or she corrected me on my mistaken assertion that George Harrison had written the song. That distinction actually falls on Rudy Clark, an American songwriter of the '60s and '70s who was also responsible for "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)." And an R&B singer named James Ray was the first to record it. Here's the youtube of that version:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

I certainly still prefer Harrison's take. It's a more immediate and joyous affair, and the way that its various elements cleanly and energetically coalesce makes for a magnetic appeal. Ray's version, though, is far from a dud, especially in terms of the vocals. Very natural and limber.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Paul on MJ

From Paul's website:

It's so sad and shocking. I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy man with a gentle soul. His music will be remembered forever and my memories of our time together will be happy ones.

I send my deepest sympathy to his mother and the whole family and to his countless fans all around the world.

Brief editorial comment: the phrase "boy man" is likely to raise some eyebrows even if it is a pithy description of Jacko.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

MJ and the Beatles

Here's a helpful time-line that shows the history of Michael Jackson's ownership of the publishing rights to many Beatles songs.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Time" interviews Elijah Wald



How were they (the Beatles) a problem?
The Beatles were the first superstar pop group to simply cease to exist except on record. As late as the 1940s, pop music was what bands played when people went out dancing. The records were just what you listened to at home. The Beatles were the first group to realize that pop had become records, and that they never needed to step on a stage again in their lives. That's a huge shift, and [although] I think it would have happened without them, they were the catalysts.

The thing I'm not at all sure would have happened without them is the racial split. American pop music has always been an interaction between black and white musicians — and it's often oversimplified into black musicians creating and white musicians stealing. But black musicians always kept up with what the white musicians were doing, just the way that white musicians tried to keep up with what the black musicians were doing. By 1963, the pop charts really were intensely integrated. Billboard magazine stopped having a separate pop and R&B chart because the two charts were virtually identical. And the Beatles single-handedly re-segregated those charts. The Beatles hit white America like the biggest thing to happen maybe ever, and they hardly hit black America at all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Animated promo for "Rock Band"

It's a stimulating visual feast, done by Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlett. The festive procession of animals at the end is especially eye-catching.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Celebrating Macca's work

Over the weekend, rollingstone.com's Rock and Roll Daily section marked the occasion of Paul's 67th birthday by making him the subject of its "Weekend Rock List." Here's what the RS folks came up with as a sampling of their most cherished Macca tunes from any stage of his career. And here's the Readers' List. May I mention, hopefully without too much of a self-interested tone, that neither list features "I've Just Seen a Face," which happens to be the only dominantly Paul song that I had on my circumscribed menu of underappreciated Beatles songs. I'm really not sure how something so beautifully rendered can fall under the radar.

If I was to lay out my dozen favorite Paul songs (that is, Beatles songs on which Paul supplies the lead vocal), the following would likely make the cut (in no particular order): "I Saw Her Standing There," "When I'm 64," "Rocky Raccoon," "Here, There and Everywhere," "You Never Give Me Your Money," "Hey Jude," "Two of Us," "I've Just Seen a Face," "For No One," "Martha My Dear," "I Will," and "Michelle."

Monday, June 22, 2009


Here's a link to the podcast that my old cohort Christian Schneider so generously put together. As he notes on his blog, we mainly chatted about songs that we deem to be among The Beatles' most underappreciated ("It Won't Be Long," "No Reply," "Two of Us," etc.). We also touched on the digitally remastered Fab albums coming out in September, the thesis of How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll, and (naturally) Justin Timberlake. Overall, it was a terrific time and, happily, listening to the actual podcast didn't bring on too many winces (that is, in response to my own performance; Chris is very natural in his role as the discussion facilitator). Anyways, thanks once again to Chris, and I hope you enjoy.

Two corrections - 1) "Eight Days a Week" is one song off of Beatles For Sale that is on their greatest hits-type collections. 2) I believe I stated that The Beatles included Motown covers on their second and third albums. A Hard Day's Night was their third album, and it was in fact their first release with all original material. I regret the errors.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The five best decisions the Beatles ever made

According to a comedy writer and regular keynote speaker named Bill Stainton. First, Steve Marinucci's guess at what they might have been. Then, a book review that details each decision.

P.S. I've written off complete sentences.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


(If the video is removed, go here.)

Programming note

This afternoon, I was part of a truly enjoyable Beatles-themed podcast with a friend of mine, blogger extraordinaire Christian Schneider. It'll be up on his blog early next week. My only hope is that I didn't commit too many factual errors and completely come off as a sophomoric wannabe expert. I know that I'm far from an expert. Ideally, the podcast won't reinforce this truth too aggressively.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Several reviews of "Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison"

1) PopMatters - 6 out of 10.
2) allmusic - 4.5 stars.
3) BBC - positive.

The A.V. Club on Elijah Wald's book

Michaelangelo Matos gives high marks to How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll.

Instead, via careful research and his own insider’s view, L.A. musician and historian Elijah Wald seeks to even out the historical imbalances between what the pop eras from the 1890s through the 1960s are best remembered for—say, Duke Ellington in the late ’20s—and what was actually most popular during each period—say, Paul Whiteman in the late ’20s.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When I'm 67

Happy 67th to Paul.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Inspired by The Beatles

"Beetlebum," the opener on Blur's self-titled fifth album. I won't lay out any sort of detailed comparison between this '90s classic and the various Fab songs that it might call to mind. I tried to, actually, and it proved a surprising struggle. Surprising because "Beetlebum" contains clear artistic nods to The Beatles, most notably in the chorus. In fact, all you need to hear is Damon Albarn's bracing chorus-intro ("And when she lets me slip away") and the connection rushes into focus. It's a supremely Lennon-esque vocal (think "Don't Let Me Down"). And overall, the song stands as one of Blur's finest.

Official video:

From a show the reunited Blur recently put on:

(If either of the embeddings is disabled, go here and here, respectively.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday potpourri

Paul calls for "meatless Mondays."

In more Macca news, he has extended his upcoming stint at New York's Citi Field from two performances to three.

Olivia Harrison discusses Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison and the dominant qualities of her late husband's music.

A review of Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band's gig at the Meltdown Festival. At one point, the writer Neil McCormick derides Yoko as "a professional artistic irritant." Ouch, and kudos.

Lastly, a double book review, which includes a take on the much buzzed-about How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Money quote...

... from the book that I vaguely cited in my previous post. The title is The Beatles Come to America (by Martin Goldsmith), and it's a learned, enthusiastic, and efficient (if not terribly revealing) read about the Fabs' career up through their triumphant invasion of the U.S. in February of 1964.

The Beatles took another stand during those sessions- a stand crucial to establishing their signature sound and, more important, their integrity as an ensemble. It was established convention that songwriters, music publishers, and record producers, all working together, would simply instruct the musicians, usually dismissively referred to as "the talent," to play whatever was put in front of them. That was the context in which George Martin had asked the Beatles to record "How Do You Do It?" But they insisted that the song just wasn't them. George Harrison called it "corny," and Paul declared that they couldn't go back up to Liverpool and face their fans and fellow musicians with that song attached to their names. George Martin deeply believed that "How Do You Do It?" was a potential number-one song. But in the face of a firm opinion expressed by a seasoned producer speaking in the venerable home of EMI, the four young men, the oldest of them barely twenty-two, stood their ground. It would be their songs that would introduce them to the world.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"What Songs The Beatles Sang"

I came across a reference to this in a book I was going through earlier today. It's always of interest to me reading descriptions, reviews, or accounts of The Beatles that were written while they were still an active band and, in particular, before they were widely regarded as the greatest of all time. Knowledge of their future ascendancy can't help but inform how you respond to such writings.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Two covers of a classic

This one ranks among my three or four favorite Fab songs of all time:

From Elliott Smith:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

And from Of Montreal:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

A few thoughts on "How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll"

Or at least its contrarian thesis. I haven't read the book, which will certainly inhibit my arguments. But there's enough in the title alone and the general thrust of its contention that seems worthy of comment (go here for a quick synopsis). First, I'm leery of Elijah Wald's suggestion that there's any blame to be assigned for something that one band couldn't have likely known it was doing (i.e. helping to segregate rock 'n' roll) and shouldn't have needed to care about too greatly anyway. The world of pop music doesn't operate like a republic. The Beatles are not elected representatives. They are not responsible, in any sort of moral terms, for how their music might have affected the artistic tastes of different racial groups, even if a regrettable splintering did occur. It's something that a single band couldn't control anyway. The Beatles' direction should have and did come from a devotion to cultivating, perfecting, and remaking their art. Leave the populism to unseemly politicians. Secondly, part of Wald's thesis strikes me as necessarily reactionary. The implication behind the notion that The Beatles "destroyed rock 'n' roll" is that they shouldn't have allowed their sound to evolve into the arty, more experimental material of their later albums. A static course, then, would have better suited Wald's vision of what form rock 'n' roll should have taken throughout the '60s. Ergo, eliminate a handful of the greatest albums of all time and a wealth of consequential music that other bands created in part because of the Fabs. Goodbye Rubber Soul and farewell (possibly) Pet Sounds. How dreary. And just to keep this relatively short, I'll make one final point. How can Wald stress that record sales (in other words, fan approval), as opposed to after-the-fact assessments by aloof critics and historians, are the best means of judging what music was truly valued (and thus important) while he also dismisses much of The Beatles' catalogue, which seemed to do alright for itself in terms of moving units. Maybe those sales were just too "white," thereby undoing Wald's utopian yesteryear when all rock 'n' roll fans, hand-in-hand, danced the night away to "Long Tall Sally."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thursday potpourri

A review of How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll.

Cheap Trick is set to perform Sgt. Pepper's again, this time at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Revisiting The Beatles' coming-of-age experiences in Hamburg.

"How Beatles Rock Band's Vocal Harmonies Work."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll"

Provocative material (hat tip: Chris). More on this in the coming days.

The Emerald City

This past weekend, a friend and I took a brief trip to Seattle. The main reason for our visit was to see a Jens Lekman concert, which was immensely enjoyable. As part of our more standard tourist activities, we went to Paul Allen's unique and richly detailed Experience Music Project and took in as much as we could. There was the Jimi Hendrix exhibition, the Northwest Passage (a section that traces the history of music in Seattle and beyond from the age of speakeasy jazz to Heart to grunge to Sleater Kinney - very cool), an area that featured a slew of posters by Nashville's Hatch Show Print, and much more. We also checked out the Sound Lab, an interactive collection of studio technology that allows visitors to lay down a vocal track or remix a song or even record one. It was a hoot. One of the stations actually played an audio clip of Sir George Martin describing the convoluted process that he and others concocted to create the untamed crescendo on "A Day in the Life." It was a bit confusing but also pretty interesting. Needless to say, their inventive work paid off handsomely. More on the making of that masterpiece here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Different takes on "A Taste of Honey"

Here's the once popular instrumental by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

The first vocal version, performed by Lenny Welch in 1962:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

A very enjoyable cover by the Hollies:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

And finally, an adult-contemporary interpretation by Patricia Barber:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday potpourri

A chronicle of the legendary meeting between Elvis and The Beatles.

The inspiration behind "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" has fallen very ill.

An event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of The Beatles' iconic crossing of Abbey Road.

Are the Fabs still the biggest rock band in the world? They do move a ton of units (P.S. I dig the Kids in the Hall clip).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"A Taste of Honey"

"A Taste of Honey" is probably the least essential track on Please Please Me. It's a rather flimsy pop standard from the early 1960s that hasn't aged well and likely found its way onto The Beatles' debut because, at the time, an instrumental version was relatively popular, the boys needed songs, and this was one they knew. It's possible I'm wrong, but I strain to find what might have attracted The Beatles to this song, separate from the facts above. For the most part, it's dull and plodding, a sluggish trot that doesn't offer much in the way of melodic or rhythmic appeal. From a technical standpoint, Paul handles the lead vocal without any difficulty. But he just seems to be going through the motions. And overall, there's little happening sonically.

More importantly, there's something about The Beatles' execution that gives "Honey" a tone which my modern ears find uneven and a bit awkward. The lyric centers on a guy yearning for the sweet sensation ("a taste of honey") that he experiences when kissing a certain girl. Not surprising for early '60s pop. It's far from a serious song but The Beatles don't accentuate much of its potential silliness. Or maybe they do with one part, only unknowingly. The silliness I mention comes mainly from the repeated and sometimes melodramatic use of the word "honey." I understand that, as employed, it's a convenient proxy for feelings of physical pleasure (however innocent or otherwise). That's obvious enough. But in this case, it also lends a frivolous quality to the proceedings. How can you take a song seriously when the lead singer is earnestly vowing to return for a taste of that irresistible "honey," while at the same time, little else about the song seems consciously humorous? The rest is pretty straightforward, in fact. If The Beatles had done more to emphasize "Honey's" ironic side (i.e. by adding a colorful guitar section or a more playful vocal- anything to liven and loosen things up), then maybe it wouldn't have struck me as such a misfire. Without any of that, without more evidence of a comic intent, it's hard to interpret the one silly part- the hammed-up use of "honey"- as a willful attempt at humor. As is (and aided by my 21st century sensibilities), the various parts of "A Taste of Honey" don't add up.

Thankfully, the two tracks that follow "A Taste of Honey" and conclude Please Please Me are both unmissable classics: "There's a Place" and "Twist and Shout."

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"The Beatles: Rock Band" song list (incomplete)

The songs that have been confirmed thus far as part of the game are: "Day Tripper," "I Am the Walrus," "Back in the USSR," "Taxman," "Here Comes the Sun," "Octopus's Garden," "I Feel Fine," "Get Back," and "All You Need Is Love."

In December, I wrote a lengthy post in which I voiced my skepticism about the game but also mentioned the songs I thought might suit the format. Let's see how they stack up against what we now know (I apologize if this seems like an indulgent exercise):

1) "Day Tripper"- I was for it.
2) "I Am the Walrus"- For it, but only because I thought it would be fun to perform vocally.
3) "Back in the USSR"- For it.
4) "Taxman"- For it.
5) "Here Comes the Sun"- I didn't suggest this song and I'll stand by that.
6) "Octopus's Garden"- Didn't suggest and probably still wouldn't; a bit ho-hum.
7) "I Feel Fine"- Didn't suggest, but I'm more open to this one.
8) "Get Back" - For it, but not wholeheartedly.
9) "All You Need Is Love"- Didn't suggest, but I'm interested to see it in action.

To be sure, my picks were fairly obvious. But overall, not too bad. Apparently, the game will feature 45 songs plus full albums for download, the first one being Abbey Road. Bravo. I'm very curious to find out what lesser-known Beatles tunes made the cut. You can achieve quite a variety with 45 songs at your disposal.

Monday, June 1, 2009

More buildup to "The Beatles: Rock Band" release

Earlier this morning, Paul and Ringo were in LA at a Microsoft press conference to promote "The Beatles: Rock Band," which is set for release in September. The event was a prelude to this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Rolling Stone has more.

Also, here's a trailer for the game and footage of a demo being played.