Monday, August 31, 2009

"Rock Band" vs. "Guitar Hero"

The LA Times reports on the business dynamic between the two games.

But as MTV launches the game (The Beatles: Rock Band) with its distribution partner, it's also implementing a new strategy: Flee the hardware business. Sure, there's a limited-edition, $250 hardware package, but quantities are limited. And there's a $160 "value bundle" featuring original Rock Band hardware that MTV is eager to get rid of.

If you're new to music video games and want controllers for The Beatles: Rock Band, MTV has a preferred solution: Buy Guitar Hero.

“The opportunities around hardware are really limited,” said Scott Guthrie, general manager of MTV Games. “We are getting into a focus on software and [downloadable song] revenue streams.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday YouTube

"Please Mister Postman"

(If the video is removed, go here.)

P.S. Handclaps can elevate a song like few other touches.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ann Powers on "Rock Band"

Earlier in the week, LA Times music critic Ann Powers voiced her tentative misgivings about The Beatles: Rock Band and how it might affect the musical tastes of a younger generation. In essence, she fears that the game will encourage a "rockist" bias against The Beatles' more immediate and straightforward early-period work (i.e. their poppier material) and in favor of their more challenging and experimental pursuits on Rubber Soul through Abbey Road (or so I presume, anyway).

Powers writes:
The Beatles also taught me that pop could be a serious thing. Following the group's evolution across the tracks of the Red and Blue collections, I got an inkling of what artistic evolution sounded like. Little did I know that the story of the Beatles' transformation from a fun bunch of lads imitating Little Richard and Ronnie Spector to a serious quartet influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Andy Warhol would become the foundation for a whole system of defining popular music's worth, which would become known as "rockism," and which favored the more "artistic" kind of rock on the second collection. Or that, decades later, a new gang of artists and thinkers, sometimes called "poptimists," would battle that legacy -- arguing for mop-top red over granny-glasses blue.

Poptimists (myself included) don't hate the Beatles -- how could anyone who loves a great radio-friendly dance hit reject "Drive My Car," or "Helter Skelter," for that matter? But that narrative, of a band's music becoming more meaningful as it becomes less obviously catchy and commercial, has done a lot of damage. It has caused some taste makers to favor album-oriented rock, which favors earphones and contemplation, over equally sophisticated but more socially friendly musical forms like disco and funk. It's also led to an emphasis on the mostly white, mostly male artists of the classic rock era over the often black and female stars of pop before and after that counter-cultural moment.

She continues:
The game's recently revealed story mode reinforces the classic Beatles myth: that the band started out as a bunch of cute bobble-heads and became smarter and somehow more human as their music evolved. (The trailer now available for viewing gives you a glimpse into the story.) Re-creating settings that help tell the group's history, from the Cavern Club of their rough-boy beginnings to dreamscapes that evoke the mind expansion of their studio-only period, the Beatles: Rock Band honors all of the band's music, but reinforces the idea that the later, more "mind-blowing" stuff somehow mattered more.

In response, I'd start by echoing a point which Powers herself makes: It's quite uncertain if the finer implications of this "narrative" will register with gamers. I can't imagine it will for many. These just aren't the kind of thoughts that a video game readily prompts. Furthermore, I think Powers is wrong when she seemingly suggests that if you perceive some form of this narrative in the game, then you're likely to be convinced of all that it entails. Can't you value how The Beatles evolved musically without looking down on their earlier, more accessible work? Not everyone falls (or needs to fall) into the "rockist" or "poptimist" camp. It's probable that, of those who have their first prolonged contact with The Beatles through this game, the majority will find songs to like and dislike from both periods and not see them as being in tension with one another. The potential for exposing a younger generation to a broad swath of the Fabs' art is reason enough to celebrate The Beatles: Rock Band.

Saturday potpourri

"Generation Gap Narrows, and Beatles Are a Bridge"

"BBC Beatles doc uncovers new outtakes"

"Details of Beatles Remasters summarized in Chicago"

"Are The Beatles Coming to iTunes in September?"

"All Aboard! ‘Yellow Submarine’ Remake in the Works"

"Revealed: How The Beatles brought down communism"

"Film about Beatles manager Brian Epstein on the way"

"McCartney sees game spurring 'another Beatles thing'"

"ALERT: Beatles Bonanza on MTV/Vh1 Through 9/9/9"

Friday, August 28, 2009

Yesterday in Beatles history

August 27, 1967- the death of Brian Epstein, an event that had mammoth ramifications for The Beatles as a functioning band. Here's a link to an article from The Guardian that reported on the untimely passing of The Beatles' manager.

Brian Epstein was always considered as the Svengali who, by magic, created the Beatles and the resulting beat music boom. But he denied that he had "created" the Beatles, and their long-running success has proved him right in this, while reinforcing his own capacity to pick talent.

He was far more the Diaghilev of Pop music than a Svengali. Indeed, his personal tastes were for the exotic, artistic, and classical. He loved classical music and enjoyed talking about it, which he could do in some depth. He was far removed from the caricature of the stage manager and, although his success gave him a life that must have been the ideal and envy of many, he was always shy and sensitive.


A tribute:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Meet (and be) the Beatles"

Here's that Sunday LA Times piece (evidently available early) on the remasters and The Beatles: Rock Band that I referenced in my last post.

Preview of the remastered Beatles albums

From Pop & Hiss, the Los Angeles Times' music blog. Note how Randy Lewis mentions that this Sunday's Arts and Music section of the Times will feature more on the remasters as well as a look into The Beatles: Rock Band.

But here are a few observations from the preview session:

• “Till There Was You”: On the ’87 CD, Paul McCartney’s voice still sounds dreamily mellow, somewhat masked, on the Meredith Willson love song from “The Music Man”; the new version brings out more fullness in his voice, as well as more crispness in the percussion work.

• “Eight Days A Week”: This exuberant track sounded immediately compressed in the old CD master; the new one gains openness and adds noticeable presence to the signature hand claps.

• “Yesterday”: Remastering can’t alter the beauty of McCartney’s classic lament, but now the pluck of his fingers on the strings of his acoustic guitar is even more visceral.

• “In My Life”: As in many of the previewed tracks, it’s the drums and bass that are most immediately improved. Even though it’s not a powerhouse track, Ringo’s rhythmic accents are bigger and sharper.

• “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”: The opening guitar riff felt like it would rip through the speakers in Capitol’s Studio C with the added vibrancy Paul's lead guitar gets in the new version.

• “Good Night”: The closing track from “The Beatles,” a.k.a. the White Album, starts with string accompaniment that sounded canned on the old CD. I noted a slight harshness in the remastered version but also a fuller orchestral sound and an especially appealing purity in the flutes behind Ringo’s sweetly melancholy vocal.

• “The Long and Winding Road”: Paul may cringe at those sweeping strings that Phil Spector overdubbed onto his swan-song Beatles ballad, but they sound even broader and more spacious on the remaster than on the 1987 CD.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

McCartney on Lennon

Paul was recently interviewed by the Radio Times and had this to say about John: "Whatever bad things John said about me, he would also slip his glasses to the end of his nose and say, 'I love you'."

More here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Turn Me On, Dead Man"

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently read (the first edition of) Andru Reeve's Turn Me On, Dead Man, a chronicle of the truly bizarre "Paul-is-Dead" hoax that transfixed so many Beatles fans in the late '60s and early '70s. It's the second book I've taken in on the subject. To be frank, it's vastly superior to the other one, R. Gary Patterson's The Walrus Was Paul, which is a sophomoric and atrociously written effort. I'd prefer to not be so uncharitable, but it's true. Turn Me On, Dead Man, conversely, doesn't suffer from any glaring weaknesses. It's well-structured, thoroughly researched, and accessible. Reeve is a capable and even inventive writer. He employs a "non-fiction novel" approach which allows him to recreate, inter alia, conversations between major players in the hoax as they might have occurred. Though not without drawbacks, Reeve's method is successful on the whole, I think, and makes for an interesting read. People like WKNR-FM's Russ Gibb and the University of Michigan student Fred Labour come to life more than they perhaps otherwise would have. The focus of the book, though, never strays from the many, many clues that obsessive fans creatively uncovered and used as the basis for concluding that Paul McCartney had died years earlier in a tragic car accident.

It seems clear, then, that I enjoyed Turn Me On, Dead Man and have an active interest in the subject. Allow me to issue a qualification. It dawned on me recently that the more I read about the "Paul-is-Dead" hoax, the less intrigued I become. Learning about some of the inanely far-fetched clues that fans propagated has had the effect of weakening the sense of fascination that, say, the Abbey Road album cover once instilled in me. In my mind, that's the ne plus ultra of "Paul-is-Dead" clues. Yes, it's implausible like the rest and doesn't actually mean anything. But its purported symbolism is so rich and absorbing; it seems to work perfectly. But so many of the other clues, like the alleged telephone number on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour or certain parts of the lyric from "Come Together," amount to tedious overkill and only cheapen the genuinely captivating aspects. The lesser clues really underscore the rumor's inherent silliness. Be warned, then: To know too much about the "Paul-is-Dead" hoax is to risk, perhaps, your former appreciation of it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"While My Guitar Gently Beeps," cont'd

I finally got around to reading the NYT Magazine cover story about The Beatles: Rock Band , and it's fascinating material. Daniel Radosh explores how the video game came to fruition, but also touches on how Harmonix is becoming a consequential player in the marketing of singles/albums and how the company hopes its newest product will help to establish "interactivity" as the next major development in pop music. The piece is far-ranging, informed, readable, and quite entertaining.

Here are several excerpts:
Playing music games requires an intense focus on the separate elements of a song, which leads to a greater intuitive knowledge of musical composition. “When you need to move your body in synchrony with the music in specific ways, it connects you with the music in a deeper way than when you are just listening to it,” Rigopulos went on to say. Paul McCartney said much the same thing when I spoke with him in June. “That’s what you want,” he told me. “You want people to get engaged.” McCartney sees the game as “a natural, modern extension” of what the Beatles did in the ’60s, only now people can feel as if “they possess or own the song, that they’ve been in it.”


So for all the painstaking work that went into, for example, making sure the pockets on the Beatles’ matching suits were properly placed, quite a few of the more complicated facets of the band’s career have been smoothed over to project what Martin calls a “fantasy version” of four lads who were always in harmony. You won’t see Eric Clapton playing on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” or Paul playing drums as he did on some of the White Album when Ringo went AWOL, or any of the band recording their parts separately as they did frequently during their troubled years. Not to mention that the virtual John does not wheel a bed into Studio Two for a virtual Yoko. In the hermetic, idealized world of The Beatles: Rock Band, the Apple rooftop performance isn’t an emotionally fraught grasp at a vanishing past; it’s just a gig — despite the unique opportunities a video game might present. (“Well, there is a death match,” Martin joked. “It’s the breakup. They push each other off the roof.”)


On the other hand, it’s possible the Beatles are simply too sacred an institution to be the catalyst for this new medium to reach its full potential. Rigopulos is right when he says there are no other artists with a broad-enough appeal and a rich-enough body of work to instantly expand the audience for interactive music. Yet precisely because of that, Harmonix had to “dial back” some of the interactive elements of its previous games, he acknowledges. Unlike in Rock Band, the Beatles game will afford players no opportunities to throw in quick drum fills or guitar flourishes of their own making. Harmonix’s earliest creations were about pure improvisation, and though these were unsuccessful, Rigopulos said he didn’t believe that meant interactive music games of the future would be as constrained as they are now. “There’s a spectrum between total freedom and total limitation. It hasn’t really been explored yet.” But if Rock Band took small steps into the future of more freedom, the Beatles version takes some big ones back.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thoughts on "Cloud Nine"

I've been regularly listening to George's Cloud Nine the last few weeks. And to be honest, it's been a curious experience. Prior to this, I was plenty familiar with the album and considered it a solid if somewhat dated affair. Recently though, I've found myself oscillating between two divergent minds: one is enthusiastic about what it's hearing while the other is much less so; one detects a skilled and canny sense of song-craftsmanship that emphasizes the complementary aspects of pop and rock while the other often picks up the unfortunate scent of cheesy '80s schlock. How to reconcile these inclinations?

It's possible that my original opinion - "solid if somewhat dated" - remains what I actually think and, in a way, represents the sum of the two takes that have been competing within me. That seems amiss though, because the reactions that Cloud Nine has elicited from me of late have been strong and pointed (even if contradictory). In other words, they're not suited for an aggregate view marked by slightly hesitant approval. After the first listen several weeks ago, I happily bought into the aims and execution of the album. Song after song, from the mid-tempo moodiness of the title track to the nuanced swagger of "Fish on the Sand" to celebratory affection of "Got My Mind Set on You," seemed to confirm that slick and stylized pop was not only not beneath George but was even a winning fit for his talents. The union of producer/ELO frontman Jeff Lynne and George appeared to work swimmingly.

But not long after this idea formed I started to sour on the album. I think elements of its '80s-ness really began to stand out and challenge my prior appreciation. The more I focused on the details of certain songs - like the bridge on "That's What It Takes" or sections of the lyric from "Wreck of the Hesperus" - the more I felt I had inadequately scrutinized the whole of Cloud Nine and would likely need to scale back my enthusiasm in a significant way. Owing to moments of schlock, over-production, and hollow lyricism, this did happen. Though relapses would subsequently occur, continuing my confused digestion of the album.

So where do I stand? I trust that I, like many others, will always tout "When We Was Fab" and "Got My Mind Set on You" as genuine classics. They're both remarkable songs. Below them, in the "solidly satisfying" category, I'd place the title track, "Fish on the Sand," and "Just For Today." Stepping back, I think Cloud Nine is one of those albums with an abundance of surface appeal. As a whole, it tends to feel right and delivers a kind of sonic pleasure that doesn't always penetrate too far into you, but more so satisfies when you're largely just aware of the vibe and texture of a song. The general thrust of Cloud Nine is not without bona fide rewards, then, but a more deliberate intake of the album produces something different. It produces a measure of disappointment. It produces a measure of frustration with various manifestations of a pop style that almost inevitably were to age imperfectly (and in some cases, quite poorly). Cloud Nine just can't overcome certain aspects of the context in which it was made. It's a pleasing pop album and still "works" to a large extent. But in 2009, I find it's successful in proportion to what you demand of the listening experience.

Beatles "Actually Terrible"

From The Onion:

LONDON—Just days after the discovery of several previously unreleased Beatles recordings in the attic of Abbey Road Studios, fans and critics across the globe have renounced their enthusiasm for the rock and roll band that was once revered by millions. "This unfortunate find has forced music historians to completely reassess the talents of John, Paul, George, and Ringo," said Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn, who has dated the tapes to early 1968. "These songs are awful. That one sax solo alone has utterly negated the genius of Magical Mystery Tour and Rubber Soul combined. Certainly this missing link goes a long way toward explaining their solo careers." In reaction to the discovery, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has shown dramatic signs of improved mental health.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reviews of Paul's Dallas show (8/19)

From the Star-Telegram, the Dallas Observer's local entertainment blog DC9 At Night , and The Dallas Morning News (which provides the passage I excerpt below).

Paul McCartney's career spans more than just decades – it travels through lifetimes. His work with the Beatles, which is the most influential band of all time, and then with Wings, his solo output and even his side projects as the Fireman could each be separate books detailing the creative existence of different artists.

So when you witness him in concert offering songs from those varied phases, as he did Wednesday night before a packed audience at Cowboys Stadium, they conjure up a vast assortment of memories. McCartney's music is the soundtrack for life's stages.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Rock Band" catch-up

I haven't been posting as much as I'd like to of late, which means I've fallen behind on many of the key Rock Band updates/news-bits that have come out. Below is my attempt at getting reasonably caught up:

Like Abbey Road, both Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band will be available in full as downloadable content.

"The Beatles: Rock Band Story Mode Revealed"

Random details, and more detail on those details.

Videos for "Birthday," "Ticket to Ride," "Revolution," Gameplay Trailer 2, and Gameplay Trailer 3 .

"SingStar Beatles NOT Coming To PS3"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review of Paul in Tulsa (8/17)

George Lang of The Oklahoman and StaticBlog offers ecstatic praise of Paul's performance at Tulsa's BOK Center.

Paul McCartney does not sell out stadiums simply because he’s Paul McCartney. Sure, he could roll out a little over an hour’s worth of effort and generations of fans would be perfectly happy hearing a handful of Beatles classics and standout solo hits from his 50-year career, then go home and tell their friends and family that they had a nice, pleasant time with a legend. Instead, McCartney put his seemingly endless reservoir of energy to work ensuring that no one will forget the three hours they spent with him Monday night at Tulsa’s BOK Center, a concert that celebrated the venue’s first anniversary.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Today in Beatles history

Today is the 47th anniversary of Ringo's first performance officially as a Beatle. In other words, it was the first time that The Beatles were truly The Beatles onstage. Via Steve Marinucci, the concert was "at Hulme Hall in Port Sunlight near Birkenhead."

Money quote from an interview with Paul

Courtesy of Access Atlanta:

Q: You’ve written more No. 1 songs than anyone alive. You’re about to raise $1.5 million for Atlanta’s favorite park. You’re still touring, making albums and venturing into new kinds of music. You’re 67, eligible for a pension. You could be “doing the garden, digging the weed.” What drives you?

A: I love it, that’s all. Sheer love of what I do. I always said, you know, if I didn’t do it for a living, I’d do it for a hobby. I’d still wake up in the morning and if I had a little bit of time and saw my guitar, I’d want to play, and I’d probably want to write a song, just because it’s a great privilege to be able to do that stuff. It’s a gift, you know? People, when we were kids, used to say, “It’s a God-given gift.” Now I listen to those words a little more carefully. I think, you know what? That makes a lot of sense. It’s a gift, it’s a great blessing.

Review of Paul in Atlanta (8/15)

From (?)

I confess being cynical, I feared a stale show and an overly sympathetic audience; what we got was rejuvenation and joy. I was rightly humbled and damn impressed with the quality of McCartney’s voice, his utter comfort on stage, and being allowed to take a flesh-and-blood look through the past that is very much alive in the present.

"Rock Band" tracklist update

Harmonix and MTV Games recently announced 19 more songs that will be part of The Beatles: Rock Band, putting the number of known tracks at 44 (out of 45 total).

The new ones (and the venue for each) are:
- "Boys"(Cavern Club)
- "A Hard Day's Night"(Ed Sullivan Theater)
- "I'm Looking Through You"(Shea Stadium)
- "If I Needed Someone"(Shea Stadium)
- "Ticket to Ride"(Shea Stadium)
- "Drive My Car"(Budokan)
- "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Getting Better"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Good Morning"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Hello, Goodbye"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Hey Bulldog"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Dear Prudence"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Helter Skelter"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Something"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Come Together"(Abbey Road Dreamscape)
- "Don't Let Me Down"(Rooftop Concert)
- "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"(Rooftop Concert)
- "I Me Mine"(Rooftop Concert)

Here, then, is the most up-to-date official list. As far as the final song is concerned, I would be rather surprised if it's not "Hey Jude." Yes, it's piano-based and rather long. But it's also an adored classic and The Beatles' biggest-selling single ever. And it would make for loud and spirited sing-a-longs.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"While My Guitar Gently Beeps"

That's the name of the Daniel Radosh-penned cover story for this week's NYT Magazine. It's about The Beatles: Rock Band, and it's lengthy (as per usual).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday YouTube

"When We Was Fab"

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Please Please Me" profile

Album: Please Please Me
Release date: March 22, 1963
Producer: George Martin
Label: Parlophone
Sales/chart position: 30 weeks at #1
Singles: -1)"Love Me Do"/"P.S. I Love You" 2)"Please Please Me"/"Ask Me Why" 3)"Twist and Shout"/"There's a Place" 4)"Do You Want to Know a Secret"/"Thank You Girl"
Best track: "Twist and Shout"
Least best track: "A Taste of Honey"
Best original: "There's a Place"
Best cover: "Twist and Shout"
Most underrated track: "Baby It's You"
Most overrated track: "Love Me Do"
Best track that references a girl not yet 18 years old: "I Saw Her Standing There"
Best lyric (original): "Please please me oh yeah/Like I please you."
Sample review: "For productivity alone, it is one of the greatest first albums in rock. But even at this early stage, the Beatles had invented a bracing new sound for a rock band -- an assault of thrumming energy and impeccable vocal harmonies -- and they nailed it here...."
(from Rolling Stone)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Twist and Shout" three more times

The original version, performed by the Top Notes:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

The YouTube heading for the next one reads, "Isley Brothers Live - Twist and Shout - Sexy Dancers." I'm including this only because the Isley Brothers were the first act to make a hit out of the song. Enjoy:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

And lastly, the "just rattle your jewelry" rendition by The Beatles. Classic stuff:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ferris Bueller does The Beatles

After writing at length about "Twist and Shout," I knew I would be putting together a subsequent entry on the song's beloved and rapturous inclusion in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And then last week, of course, John Hughes passed away, which only added to the relevance of my planned post. Like (and because of ) "Twist and Shout," the parade scene in Ferris Bueller bursts with energy and joy; it's a spectacle of wild merriment. Hughes constructed a scene which, in its loose and vibrant physicality, perfectly matched the stimulating essence of The Beatles' classic. What we see Ferris and the throng of parade attendees doing is how "Twist and Shout" sounds. Bodies that flail around are like John's scorching vocal; hips that shake are like the song's crunchy rhythm. It's an ingenious marriage of what the cinema and pop music can individually accomplish.

The most important detail of the scene, though, is this: Ferris is lip-synching, not performing karaoke-style. Which means that even one of the coolest and most endearing dudes of the '80s couldn't pull off this magic on his own. He needed some help. Or, rather, John's vocal is just so immortal that it's not worth trying to replace. Back to School, another quintessentially '80s film, tried this by having Rodney Dangerfield's character handle the lead for "Twist and Shout" in one scene. It's a fun part, no doubt. But it doesn't hold a candle to the charmed antics of Ferris Bueller.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday potpourri

Some of the (abundant) news items below might be a little old. My apologies.

"Bio of Beatles' Sgt. Pepper in the Works"

"Unseen photographs of The Beatles up for sale"

The Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy will premiere as the closing movie of the Times BFI London Film Festival in October.

"Charles Manson's Race War: The Beatles and Helter Skelter"

Rolling Stone's three-and-a-half star review of Yim Yames' (Jim James of My Morning Jacket) Tribute To.

An "instrument compatibility chart" for The Beatles: Rock Band.

"Beatles Atlanta show made history in more ways than one"

Steve Marinucci interviews Allan Rouse, an engineer who was part of the team that digitally remastered The Beatles' albums.

"Paul McCartney Sets Fenway Park Concert Attendance Record"

"Beatles Copyrights in McCartney's (distant) Sights"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Abbey Road crossing: "death trap?"

"Move to shift star Beatles’ crossing"

In full:
Councillors say tourists flocking to be snapped on the road are causing crashes, with the accident rate on the rise.

There have been four more this decade than during the 80s and 90s.

Last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the photo taken outside the Abbey Road recording studio in St John's Wood, North West London.

Hundreds of fans gathered there on Saturday as Sgt Pepper's Only Dartboard Band, dressed in replica clothing, played Beatles hits.

But Lindsey Hall, a councillor in the Abbey Road ward, pointed out there had been 22 accidents there since 2000.

She said: "Maybe it's time to end this once and for all and move the zebra crossing. It may end up with that."

Colleague Judith Warner added: "I have asked our transport department if it is in the most appropriate place."

Fans vowed to fight any attempts to move the iconic crossing.

And last night a spokesman for Westminster City Council hinted they may let it be.

He said: "There is nothing to indicate any more cause for concern than on any other road."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

More on the "Abbey Road" cover

The Daily Mail runs down the litany of "death" clues on the Abbey Road album cover.

For Beatles obsessives with fevered imaginations, it was ultimate proof of the bizarre theory of the time - that Paul McCartney was, in fact, dead.

According to the legend, Paul had died in a car accident and been replaced by an impostor. The band, it was said, subsequently felt guilty about the deception, and so placed hidden clues on the album cover for their fans.

Thus, even today, despite the apparent rude health of McCartney, they insist that if you look closely at the images on the front and back of the album it is packed with deathly symbolism.

"Miss him, miss him, miss him"

I just finished reading Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Complete Story of the Paul McCartney Death Hoax by Andru J. Reeve. It was terrific, and I plan to write some sort of review in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I want to highlight an insightful passage from Barbara Suczek's academic essay "The Curious Case of the 'Death' of Paul McCartney," the whole of which serves as the second appendix for Reeve's book. I found the essay itself to be tedious and overwrought, but the paragraph below expertly articulates one of the main conundrums that underlay the hoax.

It reads:
To account for the initial appearance of the rumor is, perhaps, the most perplexing aspect of the phenomenon. It seemed to emerge from out of nowhere, in response to nothing in particular and, as if at once to explain and justify its presence, the clues seemed similarly to emerge. But to realize the fact of the death depended upon recognizing the existence of the clues, and the clues were only recognizable if one were aware of the death. And so there is no external logic to guide a decision as to where the fundamental ambiguity lies- in the death or the clues- since it is impossible to establish a priority between them.

The "Abbey Road" cover 40 years later

It's been much discussed this week that today marks the 40th anniversary of the brief photo shoot in north London that produced the Abbey Road album cover. Here are two articles on the subject.

I'm not sure what more there is to say about the image: it's simple, it's legendary, it's poignant, it's symbolic, it's triumphant. It gave added significance to zebra street crossings. It helped fuel the "Paul is dead" rumor-mongering. It showed John, Paul, George, and Ringo still as a band, still as The Beatles, though the end of their union was close at hand. And it's the cover of friggin Abbey Road, one of the greatest albums of all-time. This richness of history and meaning has as its genesis August 8, 1969, and it's the reason why that date is so worthy of note.

P.S. Last November, I did a post on a Wired article that explored the origins of zebra crossings. Here's the link.

Friday, August 7, 2009

(Late) Friday youtube

"How Do You Do It?"

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Two more reviews...

... of last night's show at Fenway. The first one comes from Blast Magazine out of Boston, and it was penned by Jill Vallecorsa, a blogger and writer whom I follow on Twitter.

Not once during the two and a half hour set (plus two encores) did McCartney ever appear tired, not even for a second. The ever dapper musician is 67-years-old, although if you ignored the giant screens, from where I sat one would think he was still that young cherub-cheeked lad from Liverpool.

From the instantly recognizable opening of “Drive My Car” to the final resounding notes of “The End” there were predictable, nostalgic and some surprising song choices. A multitude of Beatles’ hits went down including “Got to Get You into My Life,” “Back in the USSR” and “Let it Be.” Whatever McCartney’s doing to preserve his vocal chords is working — he can still belt out “I’m Down” and “Helter Skelter” with no trouble at all.

The second review is courtesy of The Boston Globe.

McCartney is not an ostentatious performer, but he’s a lovable ham. A few songs in, he removed his buttoned-up jacket to reveal a white Oxford shirt with red suspenders. On two occasions, he rallied the ladies to scream by casually mentioning how the Beatles could never hear themselves in the old days because of the deafening shrieks. You have to hand it to him: This guy knows he’s beloved and loves his fans right back.

A review of Paul's show...

... by the Boston Herald.

He rocked new songs: “Highway” boomed like Cream with electronica overtones, while “Sing the Changes,” complete with Edge guitar and Larry Mullen drums, came off like top-notch U2. And he rocked old songs: “I’m Down” had a Ramones vibe, and “Helter Skelter” became a wicked sonic mess.

Between rockers (“Band On The Run, “Back In The USSR” and literally a dozen more), Paul got gushy. He recounted the origin of “Blackbird” as a civil rights ballad, dedicated “Here Today” to John Lennon and saluted George Harrison with “Something,” played on a ukulele the Quiet One gave him. Hmm, where was the Ringo Starr love?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Adam Sandler's "Real Love"

Below is the cover of "Real Love" that Adam Sandler contributed to the Funny People soundtrack. No one, I hope, will be surprised to find that it's a lesser song than the original. That's obvious enough. At the same time, it doesn't by any means cheapen John's work; Sandler isn't goofing off here. His version is serious and has something of an emotive kick. That sweet and affecting voice arouses sympathy with ease, and the lyric itself is just so touching. Furthermore, he makes small changes to the song, which is sometimes better than passively aping the original. He trades in the guitar solo for a whistling section and adds a bridge with new lines. All told, it works reasonably well. Even if a Beatles original and a Beatles cover are typically worlds apart, new interpretations like Sandler's don't have to be without merit.

Update: See here.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Another Paul interview

This one comes from the Boston Herald.

Q: The Web has been buzzing, thanks mostly to info from unreliable sources, that you’re retiring. Any truth at all to those rumors?

A: I was thinking this morning that it was five years ago that this same rumor went around. All I can say is that I’m not retiring. It’s like, “Paul is dead.” “No, I’m not,” is all I could say. I did talk about retirement in one sentence in one story and only to say, “No way Jose.” But someone must have only read part of that one sentence. As long as people want to come and hear me, I’ll probably be doing this. It’s just so easy to star rumors. Wanna start one now?

Q: Um, sure, let me think for a minute.

A: How about Stevie Wonder is moving to Alaska?

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Problems Plague Paul McCartney Concert"

From the WaPo:

It was a hard day's night for many Paul McCartney fans who saw the Beatles legend perform at FedEx Field on Saturday night.

Traffic delays of more than two hours forced the concert to start more than an hour late so people could get to their seats.

Cars backed up in parking lots for several hours after the show, too.

Washington Redskins spokesman Zack Bolno says the team apologizes to fans for the inconvenience.

There were also problems inside FedEx. Water had been turned off to parts of the stadium, leaving no working toilets or sinks and causing sewage backups. Bolno says a blocked pipe caused the problems and was fixed within 25 minutes.

Bolno says much of the crowd of 50,000-plus was unfamiliar with the stadium, and most used only one of its five entrances.

"Twist and Shout"

The Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout" is one of the most sheerly joyous songs in pop music history. When its exuberant sounds hop, skip, and strut through my head, I often find myself reduced to laughter, the laughter of euphoria. Though I'm sure many experience this, it's still hard to explain. The song just always feels so fresh and electric, so right and true. It showcases the passion, swagger, and verve that gave rock 'n' roll such spellbinding appeal in the first place. It's a sonic orgasm; it's instant gratification; and it's the thrilling entry that closes out The Beatles' superb debut Please Please Me.

"Twist and Shout" is also the last song that The Beatles recorded during their ten-hour session for the album. It's a critical detail. As the famous story goes, John was battling a cold at the time and, despite medicating a bit, couldn't expect to deliver a clean vocal on all of his songs. George Martin was aware that the lead part for "Twist and Shout" would be especially taxing on the young man in his ill state. But he knew he couldn't allow John's voice to weaken too early in the session. So he delayed that particular recording until the very end, at which point John would basically have one chance to lay down a usable track. Any further attempts (and one did occur) would prove too much.

That vocal- raucous but vivid, straining but purposeful- sets "Twist and Shout" aflame. It's the heart and soul of the song. It's the reason why "Twist and Shout" is giddily life-affirming rather than merely exciting. John didn't think he could sing the part, and to our immense benefit, the end result sort of confirms this suspicion. For those two-plus minutes, his voice is rough and disheveled, only just getting by. Without losing those qualities, it's also energetic and triumphant; rarely has a singer sounded so alive. A crisp and lucid vocal simply would not have produced the same magic. And it's all in the service of boy-to-girl banter like: "Come on and twist a little closer now/And let me know that you're mine." For such flirty, saccharine sentiments, John seems to be putting everything on the line.

Of course, the other three Beatles aren't absent from the song. They are all involved and very in the moment. Paul and George memorably supply the backup vocals with their harmonized repetitions of John's pleas ("shake it a-baby," the chorus, etc.). The same three also contribute to the steady buildup of "aaahs" on the bridge, which climaxes with an eruption of delirious screams and exclamations. Everything goes wildly into flight. It's almost as if The Beatles were imitating the raw hysteria that they elicited from their fans (though Beatlemania hadn't fully taken off yet). Musically, "Twist and Shout" plays like a controlled firecracker of a song. The guitar parts jab and cut with precision while Ringo keeps the rhythm snappy. It is at once rather routine and also iconic.

Though "Twist and Shout" was written by Phil Medley and Bert Burns, recorded first by the Top Notes, and popularized by the Isley Brothers, The Beatles were the band to make a vital force out of the song. In their hands, it's nothing short of glorious. At weddings, in movies, on an iPod, and over the radio waves, "Twist and Shout" is a song that delivers the joy of pop music in its most sublime and unmistakable form.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday potpourri

The Boston Globe previews Paul's upcoming shows at Fenway Park.

The soundtrack for Funny People features a song each by John, Paul, and Ringo as solo artists plus Adam Sandler's cover of "Real Love."

"The Beatles are the Latest Victims of Zombiemania."

The fifth installment of Rock Band-rival Guitar Hero will be released on September 1st of this year, a mere eight days before The Beatles' game hits stores.

Review of last night's show

In this review, Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Sessa writes glowingly of Paul's performance at FedEx Field.

Age be damned, McCartney still has the boyish charm that won him legions of fans in the '60s. He bowed deeply and held up his bass guitar after nearly every song -- something that would seem gratuitous coming from most other musicians. But seeing McCartney do it, you couldn't help but smile. He's just so likable.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Re: Paul to retire?

Here's the WaPo-Paul interview that Steve Marinucci mentioned in his article about the Beatle (not likely) retiring.

For an official senior citizen -- impossibly, he's now 67 -- McCartney looks remarkably youthful. He's slim, almost slight, and truth be told, could even stand a few more pounds. The famously cherubic face is fleshier and lined just enough to remind you that McCartney isn't 21 anymore. The tousled hair is a flat brown. This is reassuring; who wants a Beatle, particularly the doe-eyed, ever-boyish Paul, to seem old or even to age at all?

The even better news is that McCartney's voice remains as strong and supple as it was in his youth, even in this, his 50th year of performing. Critics generally applauded the vocals and writing on his last album, "Electric Arguments," released last year under his Fireman alter ego. But McCartney is a revelation in concert. He plays straight through for about 2 1/2 hours each night, offering more than 30 tunes from his vast catalog. The set list ranges from such sweetly sung classics as "Blackbird" and the inevitable "Yesterday" to the frantic, voice-shredding chestnut "I'm Down." (On this day, even his sound check is a mini-concert, featuring a dozen or more songs, including a lovely version of "Midnight Special.")