Wednesday, June 30, 2010

John gets the digital treatment

Big news from Rolling Stone:

To mark what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday this October, Yoko Ono and EMI will reissue eight of Lennon's solo records, plus a greatest hits collection and a four-disc anthology titled Gimme Some Truth. The reissues and compilations, each digitally remastered from the original mixes, will hit stores on October 5th (four days before Lennon's 70th birthday) and will also be available for download through all major digital retailers.

Unique to the Lennon reissues is a new "stripped down" mix of his final album Double Fantasy. Like the Beatles Let It Be…Naked, Double Fantasy Stripped cuts down on the instrumental embellishments of the production to give the music a more raw and intimate feel. "[It] really allows us to focus our attention on John’s amazing vocals," Ono said in a statement. "Technology has advanced so much that, conversely, I wanted to use new techniques to really frame these amazing songs and John's voice as simply as possible. It was whilst working on the new version of this album that I was hit hardest emotionally, as this was the last album John released before his passing." Ono collaborated with original co-producer Jack Douglas on the new version of Double Fantasy.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Concert brief

- Over the past week-plus, Paul has had gigs at Hampden Park, Glasgow; Millennium Stadium, Cardiff; and Hyde Park, London (go here for highlights from the latter; the performance was for the Born HIV Free charity). Also, I failed to note that, several weeks ago, Paul played a pair of shows at Foro Sol, Mexico City. The biggest news that came from this concerned Macca's tour bus being besieged by local hooligans.

- Ringo's North American tour kicked off last Thursday in Niagara Falls. Here's an interview the Boston Herald recently conducted with Mr. Starkey.

List after list after ....

Last week, with the help of readers and contributors, Gibson counted down The Beatles' top 50 songs . Have a look; I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, especially in regards to the top three, which are close to what mine would be.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday haiku - "Revolution 1"

To back violence
or not to back violence?
John wasn't sure yet.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jacko retains Beatles songs

"Michael Jackson's estate keeping control of 50% stake on rights to more than 250 Beatles songs."

The tunes are the estate's most valuable asset, so the estate executors considered selling to Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC to pay off $500 million in debt.

But they would prefer not to sell off the Beatles catalogue because of its long-term value and the consistent cash it generates, sources told Bloomberg News.

Instead, it's likely the estate will refinance a $300 million loan that's due later this year.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 9

Resuming the conversation after another long and regrettable pause....

Parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight.

Album: Magical Mystery Tour
Three songs: "I Am the Walrus," "Hello, Goodbye," and "Strawberry Fields Forever"
Comments: I'll start with this disclaimer - though the Magical Mystery Tour LP is an artificial creation, its track listing consisting of the MMT EP and some non-album singles that Capitol Records decided to add on, I'm still going to approach it as I have the other albums. The Beatles' disapproval of the LP format won't factor into my thought process; I'm just following the official canon. End of disclaimer.

On some days, maybe even most, MMT is more purely enjoyable than Pepper. Song-wise, it has greater consistency from start to finish, and it doesn't bear the weight of aspirational Significance that saddles its predecessor. It feels like a loose and breezy victory lap, not needing to prove anything but certain that it's great all the same. The Beatles do indeed sound self-assured and commanding here. Carried over from Pepper, there's a lot of studio experimentation at work, which results in some career highlights like "I Am the Walrus" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" (both are trippy, and both are courtesy of John, the self-proclaimed Rock 'n' Roller). Paul matches "Fields" with his own nostalgia tour, "Penny Lane" and also serves up "Your Mother Should Know," another album standout and Tour's answer to "When I'm Sixty-Four." Lastly, though it's his sole contribution, George's "Blue Jay Way" represents one of his finest forays into psychedelia.

To put it succinctly, Magical Mystery Tour is loaded with terrific songs. In thinking about the three best in a row, I had to start with "I Am the Walrus," the album's high point and a song both bombastic and absorbing. From there, you see that "Strawberry Fields Forever" is nearby, with "Hello, Goodbye" separating the two. Now "Hello, Goodbye" doesn't offer much to speak of, but it's pleasant fluff, and the outro is killer. This triumvirate - "Walrus"-"Hello"-"Fields" - won out over the other contender, "Hello"-"Fields"-"Lane," by virtue of "Walrus" being a cut or two above "Lane."

It's a tribute to the overall strength of Magical Mystery Tour that it features a couple of songs superior to the great "Penny Lane." Underrated album in my opinion.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Topic: Cover songs

That is, songs that The Beatles themselves covered, which can be found in plentiful numbers on their early-period albums (excepting only the all-original A Hard Day's Night). I bring this up because Russell Hall, a writer for Gibson, recently published this piece, which describes ten covers that The Beatles recorded. He notes, "The 10 songs ... don’t necessarily represent the very best of those renditions, but the range of styles of these tracks helps explain the eclectic nature of The Beatles’ body of original work." Give it a look; Hall really nails some of the songs. My only comment is that I wish he would've included Paul's version of "Till There Was You," as found on With The Beatles. It was one of Macca's earliest signs to the world that he would become a committed cheese-ball balladeer.

And while we're on the subject, here are my five favorite covers done by The Beatles:
1) "Twist and Shout" - untouchable, both inside and outside of The Fabs' discography; simply electric.
2) "Baby It's You" - features one of John's best vocals - soulful and sensitive, with a smirking undercurrent to boot.
3) "You Really Got a Hold on Me" - doing Motown was second nature to John.
4) "Anna (Go to Him)" - John's vocal again is the star, especially when it grows impassioned on the modulated verses.
5) "Till There Was You" - Paul being refreshingly himself.

With the exception of "Till There Was You," it's John' voice, which I've described as "natural, vivid, and mysterious," that elevates these covers. It was one of The Beatles' most reliable and versatile assets.

Update: Here's Wikipedia's list of The Beatles' covers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Family matters

The McCartney clan has been making news of late with important life developments:

1) Without informing her father, the oh-so cute Mary McCartney wed her beau, Simon Aboud.

"The Wind Cries Mary"

(If the video is removed, go here.)

2) Designer Stella McCartney has a bun in the oven, her fourth with husband Alasdhair Willis.

"Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down" - one of my favorite songs of the 2000s.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday haiku - "Long, Long, Long"

Showing George's faith,
"Long" is a love note to God:
"Now I can see you".

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"A Day in the Life" lyrics sell ...

... for far too much money.

John Lennon's autographed lyrics for "A Day in the Life" -- one of the top tunes from an iconic album -- went for more than a song Friday when it was sold at Sotheby's Auction house in New York for $1,202,500.

The price paid by a private American collector is close to the sale price in 2005 when Lennon's lyrics for "All you need is Love" sold for over $1.2 million.

A total of three bidders weighed in for the manuscript, taking over six minutes until the bidding ended.

The double-sided single sheet of paper written in Lennon's hand includes cross-outs and corrections, and chronicles the evolution of one of the most famous musical masterpieces by the Beatles.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Paul's fave Fab songs

According to the Daily Mail online, Macca has designated "Here, There and Everywhere" and "Blackbird" his two favorite entries from The Beatles' catalogue. This sounds about right, I think: A pair of time-tested classics, one somewhat lesser-known among very casual Beatles fans ("Here") and the other an earnest crowd-pleaser ("Blackbird"). They're very Paul songs, gentle and full of sentiment. Who would've been surprised, though, had he decided on "Yesterday," "Penny Lane," "Hey Jude," "Let It Be," etc.? Unlike John, Paul isn't one to look back on The Beatles' output with contempt and scornfully rue what his youth wrought. Paul indeed seems to cherish most of his songs, regardless of the criticism that's been heaped on many of them over the years (particularly those from the post-Beatles era, of course).

Let me add that the choice of "Blackbird" or, rather, its seemingly hallowed status, has always puzzled me. I've never been able to connect with the song; it hasn't clicked for me. When I listen to "Blackbird," I hear something dull, ponderous, bereft of color, and not even terribly emotive. I realize that Paul's motivation for penning the song - as a response to racial upheaval in America - lends it a certain moral and historical appeal, but that only goes so far.

If I was Paul and had been asked the same question, I would've replied with "I've Just Seen a Face" and "Two of Us." I love both dearly.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Earlier this week, likely in anticipation of Father's Day, John W. Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute explored the subject of Paul's strong and artistically generative relationship with his dad. James McCartney, who passed away in 1976, was a musician himself, at one point heading up a group called Jim Mac's Jazz Band. Because of his influence, Paul learned to play the piano, developed into an expert vocal harmonist, and, in general, became possessed of a passion for music. As a Beatle, he devoted a number of songs to his parents (i.e., "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "Let It Be"), which ran counter to the youth-in-revolt milieu of the late '60s. Whitehead writes: "With the exception of John Lennon, The Beatles grew up in loving, stable homes. And they generally respected and revered their parents, which came through in their music—especially Paul McCartney's." Indeed. This is one of the more intriguing aspects of The Beatles' body of work: Though musically forward-looking and even ground-breaking, a fair number of their songs exude very bourgeois, straight-society notions about family. Consider the titles I mentioned above and also "She's Leaving Home," "Your Mother Should Know," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," and maybe even "Julia." You'll notice that, yes, Paul was behind most of them.

As a whole, the topic deeply interests me, and I'll expound on it more as I treat these and the rest of The Beatles' songs in greater detail.

Here's another excerpt from Whitehead's piece:

The happiness and security of Paul's life were brutally shattered when his mother, Mary, died in 1956, leaving his father James with the task of guiding his two teenage sons through the difficult period of adolescence. Paul later preserved his mother's memory in the beautiful ballad "Let It Be," based on a dream he had about her a decade after her death. Paul's younger brother Michael commented on how their father was there for them after their mother died. "We both owe him a lot. He stayed home and looked after us." But it would be the musical influence of Paul's father that would last.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy 68th to Paul

It's no mean feat for a rock star with nearly a half-century of recording, touring, partying, and intra-band squabbling under his belt to reach the venerable age of 68. And to do it in seemingly sound health? That's a most welcome bonus. So congratulations to Paul, born on this day in 1942 and still alive despite all rumors to the contrary.

Today over at PopMatters, Jessy Krupa toasts Paul by tracing his storied career with the help of YouTube vids aplenty.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Paul McCartney: A Life"

It's an unauthorized biography of Paul written by Peter A. Carlin. I've mentioned it on several prior occasions and, if I remember correctly, the reviews were positive. Below are two more takes on it. I had them stored away on Google Docs for months and just yesterday decided to read them. I was pleased to find some pretty penetrating insights about Macca, excerpted below.

From The Boston Globe:

- But he also offers a complex portrait of an artist whose insecurities were fanned when he was in the presence of talented musicians with strong artistic visions, but who did his best work when around them.

- “ ‘Neil Aspinall [original Beatles road manager and ultimate Apple manager] used to explain that it was John’s band,’ says Nat Weiss. ‘And at that point (in the mid-’60s) Paul was very conscious of wanting the approbation of John, in anything he did. I think Paul felt John was the cool one, the avant-garde one, the true artist. Paul is basically a very bourgeois, middle-class person. Extremely talented, for sure. But the rebel was John.’ ’’

(Editorial comment: When I see Paul labeled "bourgeois," I can't help but think of his avid support of President Obama; the shoe fits. I question whether John would've backed a chief executive who possesses such a taste for war-making and civil-liberties violations.)

From The Globe and Mail:

- Perhaps not surprisingly, Carlin pins the disconnect on the Beatles breakup and especially his falling out with Lennon. Without the partner whom he loved and adored and deeply respected, McCartney lacked the “narrative complexity” that he had effortlessly achieved in his earlier songs. As much as it had inspired him, their legendary relationship came to haunt and even stifle him in later years.

When in the late 1980s he teamed up with Elvis Costello (whose misanthropic lyrics and dark, unsettled emotions recalled Lennon at his best), McCartney grew paranoid: “I thought the critics would say, ‘Oh, they're getting Elvis to prop up his ailing career,' you know,” Carlin quotes him as saying. Eventually, McCartney gave Costello the boot, determined to make his own way, no matter what the cost.

But rather than diminishing him, Carlin argues that McCartney's pride, drive and relentless ambition makes him a more nuanced artist than the stark trite of his Ebony and Ivory ditty might otherwise suggest.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wednesday haiku - "Helter Skelter"

Fierce and clamoring,
and made by Paul for its noise,
"Helter" raises cain.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Assorted John news

- Two reviews of the DVD, John Lennon: Rare and Unseen.

- Yoko recently professed her admiration for Oasis, saying, "We need the power of goodness like them. The goodness is shining from their music." Ah yes, the "goodness" that is two legendarily conceited, querulous, and substance-abusing brothers, rock 'n' roll's non-murderous Cain and Abel (though Abel's becoming qualities aren't much in evidence), who haven't recorded a great album in well over a decade. I love them too, but come on, Yoko.

- Residents of the Dakota, John and Yoko's erstwhile haunt on the Upper West Side, "want tourists to get the fuck (oh my) away from their building."

- Sean Lennon rocks out as the lead-man for his new project, The Ghost of a Saber-Toothed Tiger.

- Finally, a list of events for the forthcoming John Lennon Tribute Season.

Tuesday haiku - "Sexy Sadie"

Packed with bitterness,
John's "Sadie" has one target:
the Maharishi.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Paul at RDS, Dublin

Eamon Sweeney of the Irish Independent offers the standard favorable take on Macca's live show (oh how interesting and off-the-beaten-path it would be if someone took Paul to the woodshed).

When we get down to the business end of the set list, it's a big McCartneyesque thumbs-up all the way. 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Band on the Run', 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da', 'Back in the USSR', 'I've Got a Feeling', 'Paperback Writer' and 'Let it Be' are all stunning.

He inexplicably ruins one of his best songs, 'A Day in the Life', by tagging on a tacky rendition of 'Give Peace a Chance' rather than singing the classic closing track of 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' in its original full glory.

But I'd forgive and forget anything Paul does after another rousing run through of 'Hey Jude' that gets the whole crowd on their feet.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Paul at Isle of Wight

NME reports on the gig.

Playing a career-spanning set, McCartney also paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix, famed for stealing the show at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival, including a few bars from 'Purple Haze' at the end 'Let Me Roll It'.

"I was really lucky to know Jimi and hang out with him a little bit in the '60s, he was a great guy," he told the crowd afterwards. "The biggest tribute we had from him was we [The Beatles] released 'Sgt Pepper' on a Friday and then I went to see him on the Sunday and he learnt it, how cool was that for me? Very cool!"

Update: Spinner links to a Hendrix performance of "Pepper."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

John > Paul? Paul > John? Paul=John?

Two articles (1 - "Go, John;" 2 - "Go, Paul") take up the endless and irresolvable debate in the context of Paul receiving the Gershwin Prize.

From NPR:

- I have to be blunt here and ask, Did Paul McCartney write anything after he split with his partner that holds even a dim candle to what they wrote together? I welcome your suggestions — but think really hard.

Maybe John Lennon remains a little too controversial. His remark, discussing Christianity in a London newspaper, "We're (The Beatles) more popular than Jesus now," still gets quoted. Lennon was direct — maybe too in-your-face for his time. McCartney was always the nice one.

From CultureMap Houston:

- McCartney gave us “Hey Jude”, “Eleanor Rigby”, the bulk of the Abbey Road closing suite, along with innumerable other Beatles' classics. That’s a pretty hefty legacy. I’m not denying John’s fantastic output, both with and without the band, but Paul’s efforts shouldn’t take a backseat to anything.

It’s human nature to dwell on what’s gone. As a result, it’s my perception that, these days, John Lennon and even George Harrison are often held in higher regard, as songwriters, than Paul McCartney. That’s an argument for the ages. But this moment at the White House (which was taped to be broadcast on PBS July 28) is not about looking back.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 8

Parts one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven.

Album: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Three songs: The title track, "With a Little Help from My Friends," and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"
Comments: For the second straight time, an album's opening three tracks proved to be the worthiest. The great tyranny that Help and Rubber Soul worked against has resurrected itself. Injustice reigns!

Here's how I thought through Pepper: Yes, it's a classic. And yes, it's an album that I usually enjoy quite a lot. But sometimes when I listen to it, a nagging and very specific sense of dissatisfaction sets in. What happens on these occasions is this: the songs that follow the opening trio - "Getting Better" to the reprise - all strike me as digressions and detours along the way to "A Day in the Life," the album's untouchable capstone. They seem frivolous and indulgent (some of them often do, in fact, because they are), existing to pass the time, distract, and amuse, all while the extraordinary payoff of the finale lies in wait. "Getting Better" just gambols about, while "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" serves as a parochial sideshow (apropos its subject matter).

Are these characterizations fair? Not entirely. Am I painting with overly broad strokes? Yes. There are some superior songs in that stretch. Delicate and sensitive, "She's Leaving Home" boasts one of Paul and John's most mature lyrics, not to mention a gorgeous string arrangement; I'll always be an unabashed apologist for "When I'm Sixty-Four,"* which I think shows that Paul's predilection for the antiquated could have a treacly charm; and "Lovely Rita" is just a hoot. Because of the heated backlash that's arisen in recent decades against Pepper, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that it's a wonderful record. The problem is that the influence it's exerted on pop music far outstrips how good it is on a song-by-song basis.

As I alluded to, tracks four through twelve (or maybe we should just cut the reprise from the discussion and say, "through 'Good Morning Good Morning'"), that is, the heart of the album and then some, offer a mixed bag, and drag Pepper down to a certain degree. And, returning to the subject of this post, three great songs in a row are hard to come by in a mixed bag. Thus the combination of the title track, "Friends," and "Lucy" presented the obvious choice. They're classics, and you don't need me to explain why.**

* - I've long thought there are two kinds of Beatles fans: those who celebrate "When I'm Sixty-Four" and those who emphatically do not.

** - I made it through the main body of this post without once using the phrase, "concept album."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thursday haiku - "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"

"Me and my monkey" -
it means John and heroin
or John and Yoko.

Paul to play Philly

The August 14th performance will be at the Wachovia Center. More details here.

Topical post of the day

At present, much of the world's attention is trained on that most unifying and hostility-filled of sporting events: the World Cup. Analysis and commentary abound; I even came across this article that describes 32 of the teams in terms of songs by The Beatles. Knowing next to nothing about professional soccer, I can't say how apt any of the selections are. You'll have to be the judge.

Authors Steven D. Stark & Harrison Stark also did something a little different in their book World Cup 2010: The Indespensible Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics. The father-and-son team devote a chapter to each of the 32 World Cup teams, including a line that reads simply “Beatles Song That Best Describes the Team.”

What I like most about this feature is that there’s no subsequent explanation of how or why that song was chosen as best describing that team. In some cases it’s obvious (England) in other not so much (South Korea). But each team’s designated Beatles song gives you pause for thought at the very least. Here’s the complete list, copied from the book with the kind permission of Steven D. Stark. A podcast interview with Harrison Stark follows the list.

Also, the article called to mind this piece about The Beatles as the four professional tennis majors.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wednesday Beatles potpourri

- The Beatles' latest album-sales achievements.

- More "unpublished" pictures of John, Paul, George, and Ringo have emerged.

- The FF "as a cautionary tale on the perils of fame."

- An effusive review of Kristofer Engelhardt's Beatles Deeper Undercover.

- A remembrance of Stu Sutcliffe.

- More mischief from BlueBeat?

- Rain, one of the most successful Beatles tribute bands in the world, is slated to go on Broadway.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A new chapter in "Paul is dead"

It's a film called Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison. Details and a trailer can be found here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

"Up and Coming" update

Paul recently announced a bevy of new dates for his "Up and Coming" tour:

July 15th: Denver, CO - Pepsi Center
July 24th: Kansas City, MO - Sprint Center
July 28th: Charlotte, NC - Time Warner Cable Arena
August 8th: Toronto, ON - Air Canada Centre
August 12th: Montreal, QC - Bell Centre (see Toronto link)
August 18th: Pittsburgh, PA - Consol Energy Center

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday haiku- "Mother Nature's Son"

It's a soothing song
that highlights one side of Paul:
the nature lover.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Andre 3000 covers "All Together Now"

It's for a Nike ad about Kobe's pursuit of a fifth ring. The rendition is loose and spunky, just like the original. Hard to mess up, I would say.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

More on Paul @ the White House

Over the past couple days, Paul has drawn some heat, and I think rightfully so, for an impish remark he made during Wednesday's ceremony at the White House. It went as follows: "After the last eight years, it’s good to have a president that knows what a library is."

Writing on National Review's staff blog, The Corner (an outlet for politically conservative views), Jay Nordlinger firmly chided Paul:

Can anyone tell me why people are such schmucks? Why they are so graceless and clueless and nasty? I mean, Paul McCartney’s like the richest, most popular, most honored musician in the world. Does he not have it in him to behave like a gentleman — or at least a non-boor — while he’s being celebrated at the White House? Does he have to be the Wanda Sykes of popular music? Is it not possible to love Obama, as McCartney does, without hating Bush — or at least insulting him on a high, non-political occasion?

I don’t care that “Penny Lane” is a pretty tune, Paul McCartney is a horse’s butt. Let me amend that: He acted like one, on Wednesday night.

Indeed. Though I'm no admirer of the former president, I agree that the comment was needless and short on tact. Why not stay above petty politics and keep all remarks constructive and celebratory? Why submit to the temptation of using mockery for easy laughs? What's there to gain? Clearly there's much more - respect, goodwill, etc. - to lose. If you're Paul McCartney, a British citizen who is being given an award by the United States Library of Congress as part of a non-political event held at the White House, home of the POTUS, why not go out of your way to be respectful of all the institutions involved, which includes the presidency, which includes former presidents? Doing otherwise makes for an act wholly unbecoming of the occasion. For these reasons, if Obama had witnessed the joke, he likely would have received it with concealed unease. And lastly, if you insist on cracking wise, bring some better material. The comment was both unfunny and inept.

One last note: House Minority Leader John Boehner has asked that Macca apologize.

Friday haiku - "Yer Blues"

A stripped-down blues binge,
"Yer" finds John wracked with anguish:
"Lonely, wanna die".

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Annus Mirabilis"

A poem by Philip Larkin:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Paul plays the White House

The Washington Post has the details on last night's festivities in the East Room (and be sure to check out the links at the bottom of the article).

Arguably the most influential musician alive, the 67-year-old pop architect was in the East Room to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, celebrating an unparalleled career that spans his years with the Beatles, Wings and on his own.

"In a few short years, they changed the way we heard music," Obama said of the Beatles before presenting McCartney with the prize. He added that he was "grateful that a young Englishman shared his dreams with us."

The president also welcomed an array of artists to perform McCartney's tunes and genuflect before the maestro. Stevie Wonder, Dave Grohl, Faith Hill, the Jonas Brothers, Jack White, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Herbie Hancock, Corinne Bailey Rae and classical pianist Lang Lang each offered thoughtful reads on the McCartney songbook.

But McCartney was the first to perform, and despite feigning nerves at a Tuesday news conference, he waltzed into the East Room as if it were his living room. He dived into "Got to Get You Into My Life," plunking away on the same Hofner bass he played on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964 -- his once-boyish yelp now an older, coarser shout.

Also, over at his Paul McCartney Examiner page, Steve Marinucci has posted the full text of Obama's address. There is video as well.

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 7

Parts one, two, three, four, five, and six.

Album: Revolver
Three songs: "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby," and "I'm Only Sleeping"
Comments: Revolver was the album that first led me to consider the matter of the Best Three Songs in a Row on a Beatles record. Specifically, it was the bundled greatness of "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby," and "I'm Only Sleeping" that caught my attention, birthing this series.

Only songs of lasting excellence could manage to stand out on Revolver, The Beatles' seventh album and the one that has, in the minds of many pop critics, overtaken Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as the group's high-water mark (the line on the latter being that it's sonically overworked and too provincial). Indeed. Revolver is a masterpiece, technically innovative but not indulgent and lyrically varied but not ponderous. To no surprise (based on that description), it's studded with top-shelf individual songs, like the ones in question, "Here, There and Everywhere, "For No One," and "Tomorrow Never Knows."

The opening trio really is just superb. "Taxman," George's sardonic fulmination against the British government's gouging ways, is lean, mean rock 'n' roll. I've always enjoyed how Paul's scratchy guitar solo seems to let loose the same frustration that is animating George's lyric. Next comes one of Paul's defining moments: The orchestrally-driven and hauntingly detailed "Eleanor Rigby" shows Macca moving beyond straight pop and into the realm of literary character sketches and string octets. It was a step forward for both him and The Beatles as a whole. Finally, allow me to quote myself in regards to the third track of the trio: "... I've never been able to shake the woozy, narcotic spell of John's 'I'm Only Sleeping.' Few songs have ever matched story and sound so fittingly and brilliantly."

One classic from George, one classic from Paul, and classic one from John - it's a special succession of songs, unmatched on Revolver. If you're curious what trio came in second, I'd probably say "I'm Only Sleeping," "Love You To," and "Here, There and Everywhere." What an album.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"So lay off him"

This was Paul's advice for the journalists who attended his press conference Tuesday at the Library of Congress. The "him" was President Obama, whom Paul referred to as a "great guy." He continued, "...he’s doing great."

Now, while Paul may think this, and while it may or may not be true, he's telling exactly the wrong group of individuals to "lay off" the president. It is the job of journalists to keep watch on those vested with great power and hold them accountable. It's a mammothly important task, one essential to the health of our republic. In other words, the Fourth Estate emphatically does not exist to coddle or prop up or "lay off." I trust Paul knows this, but it seems his personal fondness for Obama got in the way, leading to a rather imprudent comment.

Clarification: I haven't seen video footage of the press conference, which means I don't know the tone Paul used when he delivered the quote under examination. If it was a joking aside or the context gives it a different meaning than the one I took from it, please forgive my rash judgment.

More quotes from the presser:
- “I intend to just try to have fun,” McCartney said, but expressed nervousness about performing “like, three feet away” from President Obama.

“It’s very special. It’s true, I’ve had some great awards, I’ve been really lucky on that score,” McCartney said. “But for an English kid growing up in Liverpool – the White House – that’s very special.”

- Responding to a question at the press conference regarding what advice he would give his fellow environmentalists about the BP oil spill, he said, “I’m not a politician,” but added, “it is a disgrace.”

“I think most of us think it’s a disgrace, and the fact that something like that can happen and the people who are to blame don’t have the ability to instantly cap it and clean it up is something that is going to be addressed.”

More on "Rubber Soul"

While doing some reading for this post about Rubber Soul, I came across a pretty remarkable fact: at the time of Rubber Soul's release, "You Won't See Me" - all of three minutes and twenty-two seconds in length - was the longest song that The Beatles had recorded as a band. Thus, on their first six albums,* no one track exceeded that running time - a mere 3:22. I found this worthy of comment because it underlines one of the most admirable qualities of The Beatles' music: its efficiency. That is, The Beatles were unparalleled in how well they maximized two to three minutes of song time. They could advance from intro to climax to end without rushing matters along; they applied emphasis where it was needed and held back where it wasn't; and they rarely wasted moments, spawning music that hit its spots and didn't overstay its welcome. It was a very compact, workmanlike kind of art.

* - In fact, no song on Revolver was longer than "You Won't See Me." Even "Tomorrow Never Knows," a flourish of experimental psychedelia, clocks in at a methodical 2:57.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Sgt. Pepper" turns 43

The album that many have hailed as both The Beatles' and pop music's masterpiece was unleashed onto the public on this day in 1967.

If you want to do some quick reading on it, here's Pitchfork's review of the digitally remastered Pepper, and here's Slate's (truly insightful) commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the album's release.

Excerpt from the former:
Lyrically, it's an atypical way to usher in the Summer of Love, but musically, the record is wildly inventive, built on double-tracking, tape effects, and studio technology. The dream-like haze of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", the fairground, sawdust feel of "Mr. Kite", and the cavalcade of sound effects at the end of "Good Morning Good Morning" were the most demonstrative sounds on the record, but otherwise benign passages were also steeped in innovation, whether recording from the inside of a brass instrument or plugging instruments directly into the sound board instead of capturing them through mics.

Almost everything done on Sgt. Pepper's turned out to be new and forward-thinking, from the iconic record sleeve to the totemic ending to "A Day in the Life". There are very few moments in pop music history in which you can mark a clear before and after, in which almost everything changed. In the UK, it's arguably happened only five times, and on just four instances in the U.S. (Thriller here; acid house and punk there, and Elvis everywhere, of course); in both nations, the Beatles launched two of those moments.

Excerpt from the latter:
If Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band doesn't have a concept, it does have a theme. It's a record about England in the midst of whirling change, a humorous, sympathetic chronicle of an old culture convulsed by the shock of the new—by new music and new mores, by rising hemlines and lengthening hair and crumbling caste systems. In short, it's a record about the transformations that the Beatles themselves, more than anyone else, were galvanizing. Playing Sgt. Pepper's for the umpteenth time, you marvel at what generous-spirited revolutionaries the Beatles were. Compare the "Don't trust anyone over 30" rhetoric of the Beatles' 1960s fellow travelers to "When I'm 64," the sweetest song about old age ever created by a rock group. Then there's "She's Leaving Home," which hitches one of McCartney's prettiest melodies to a lyric that sympathizes on both sides of the generation gap—with the runaway girl who is "meeting a man from the motor trade," and with her grief-stricken parents: "We gave her most of our lives/ Sacrificed most of our lives/ We gave her everything money could buy." It's a remarkable feat of the artistic imagination, but it may as well have been reportage: Many British parents were saying such things back in the spring before the Summer of Love. Forty years later, if you listen closely, you can hear what Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sounded like that morning at Mama Cass' flat in England in 1967. It sounds like England, in 1967.