Saturday, July 31, 2010

A dissent ...

... against Paul's decision to play at the White House. Not surprisingly, it comes down to politics. The argument is overwrought, but its heart is in the right place. Three brief quibbles (though I likely have more): 1) It's important to remember that Paul is not John and never was John. 2) We can't know with certainty if John would still possess his activist bent were he alive today. By the late '70s, he seemed to have closed the book on that part of his life. He even made disparaging remarks about the "radical" politics he espoused. 3) It's unfair to paint all Americans as indifferent to the bloodshed that the U.S. government inflicts. I'm friends with, and read the writings of, many concerned, even aghast (fellow) Americans. There are indeed many in this country who bemoan not only the continued loss of American life but also the horror visited on the innocent trapped in these conflicts.

John Lennon would not have been singing to President Obama while President Obama was lying about his "having to" order all his thousands of new Hellfire Missile Predator and Reaper Drones to attack in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq still because of 9/11/2001. (Saudi Arabia is excluded from attack, though it was Saudi Arabians who flew the our airliners into the Pentagon and World Trade Center.)

. . .

I mean at what point does a musician say no, I can't perform if my performing is lending support for war on defenseless populations of poor people, nominally non White poor people, in former colonized, now neocolonized nations.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Great non-Beatles song...

... with a random Beatles reference. Correction: In the song, there are actually two Beatles references (two that are explicit, anyway), neither of which is random. How could they be when the band I'm about to discuss is Oasis? The Brothers Gallagher have always owned up to their obsession with The Beatles, and their music provides ample evidence of it. Oasis' body of work is indeed shot through with nods to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Mainly John, though. One of the group's finest songs, "Don't Look Back in Anger," houses a couple of unmistakable references to the man whom Liam once claimed he is the reincarnation of. (Chutzpah, thy name is....) First, the piano part that introduces "Anger" seems to have been lifted directly from "Imagine;" Wikipedia mentions "Watching the Wheels" as well. Second, Noel has confessed that he filched, from a cassette that contained musings of John's, the line, "So I start a revolution from my bed/Cause you said the brains I had went to my head." A bit shameless, yes, but I can't argue with the results: "Don't Look Back in Anger" is a classic of '90s pop-rock, and that chorus - "So Sally can wait...." - is all kinds of stirring.

The music: Piano introduction
The line: "So I start a revolution from my bed/Cause you said the brains I had went to my head."
The song: "Don't Look Back in Anger."

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"In Performance at the White House"

Last month's concert in the East Room that honored Paul for his receipt of the Gershwin Prize is about to air on PBS. If you can't watch it tonight, it will be available online starting tomorrow. And no, Paul's dig at former President George W. Bush will not be part of the official broadcast.

(Update: Now PBS' website just says, "Check back to watch the entire show online.")

Assorted John news

- Read the official preview of "John Lennon in New York," a new episode of American Masters that will air in November on PBS.

- I'm was not aware of this: After John's death, Paul and Yoko asked that fans never utter the name Mark David Chapman so as to deny him "the fame and notoriety he was seeking." You can see that I'm among the impious. Chapman is tucked away in prison and very well could be for the rest of his life. In my view, that's a just amount of obscurity in and of itself.

- Depending on the public's wishes, John could be the face on the next "Great Britons" coin issued by the Royal Mint.

- Liam Gallagher has fantasized that, out of all of Oasis' songs, John would've covered "I'm Outta Time."

- Finally, Sean Lennon and his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp-Muhl recently put out a single called "Jardin du Luxembourg" as part of their new project, Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

MDC up for parole

Mark David Chapman, the man who shot and killed John Lennon nearly thirty years ago, will be up for parole in early August. It's his sixth bid. For each one, Yoko has submitted a letter to the parole board, stating her opposition to Chapman's release.

In that letter, Ono wrote that if Chapman is released, "I am afraid it will bring back the nightmare, the chaos and confusion once again. Myself and John's two sons would not feel safe for the rest of our lives."

She also wrote that Chapman, now 55, would not be safe if allowed back on the streets.

. . .

Robert Gangi, head of the prisoners' rights group, Correctional Association of America, doubts Chapman will be released because of the public outrage it would cause.

"Given that he commited a high profile crime and he killed one of the most famous and most beloved figures literally in the world, it's highly unlikely three parole commissioners would vote to grant him release," Gangi said.

Editorial note: While I identify with many progressive views on U.S. prison policy and would rather that Chapman's bid for parole not be influenced by the heated emotions tied to John's death, I do think there's a compelling argument to be made that Chapman would not be able to live a safe and secure life outside of prison. The day-to-day routine he now has might be the best he could reasonably hope for.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Ahhhhh girl"

I've made no secret of my fascination with "Girl." Some songs can simply cast a spell on you, and this is what "Girl" has done to me. Much of its allure is owed to John's spellbinding vocal, which I touched on and praised here. I won't rehash those points; instead, I'll dig a bit deeper (by indirect routes) into one of the other elements that accounts for the song's magnetism. And that is the girl herself, the bewildering subject of John's tortured tribute. She makes you wonder: Why is it that John can't help himself? Why can't he see her for what she is? Why can't he rid himself of her once and for all? She must be some prize, albeit a poisonous one.

"She's the kind of girl you want so much/It makes you sorry/Still you don't regret a single day."

I love the formulation of that line, opening as it does with, "She's the kind of girl." It's how someone in real life might lament a girl who has bewitched and beset him. For instance:

She's the kind of girl you shouldn't forgive.

She's the kind of girl who doesn't believe in a straight answer.

She's the kind of girl you know everything and nothing about.

She's the kind of girl who might read this but never openly acknowledge that she did.

She's the kind of girl who lies to herself and the world everyday.

She's the kind of girl you just want to sit next to.

She's the kind of girl you can't quit.

Yes, "Girl" draws you in because of the familiarity of its emotions. The details about the girl may vary. As in, yours may not intend to be cruel like John's does, and yours may not possess her boldness of temperament. Yours in fact may be something close to the opposite: quietly charming, warm-hearted, and fragile. But when the end result is the same, when bitter frustration takes hold after she lets you in for several sweet, fleeting moments and then recoils from you afterward because that's just what she does, that's when John's emotions become your own. That's when you walk in his path. And you realize that all of the thorny and fraught sentiments on "Girl" could easily be reduced to that timeless lyric written by one of John's heroes: "I don't like you/But I love you." I doubt there are eight words which could better capture the vexing experience of love that so many endure.

As John and Smokey convey, it's an experience of limbo: you're caught between love and hate, heart and mind, what you want to do versus what you should do. At times, the problem seems irresolvable. You rightly conclude that, if your love for her has survived such turmoil, then it probably is indeed love and is worth pursuing. Denying it will solve nothing. But neither will attempts to directly address the underlying issues. Or so it seems, anyway. John could rebuke his girl for the abuse she administers, but she would probably find some measure of amusement in his action, only making him feel smaller. And what of our possible real world parallel? You could confront her about everything, but her response would likely be to maintain her insouciant pose. While sprinkling in bits of truth, she would avoid the crux of the matter and leave you feeling embarrassed by how much you've dwelt on her and how you refuse to let go of her and how dear she is to you even as she's offered you scant reason to believe she shares your emotions. She'd give the impression that most of these thoughts had barely dawned on her; you see, she's just been far too wrapped up in living life to trifle with these matters of the heart. And for that, you hate her. "I don't like you/But I love you."

You wish you could be steadfast in the former so as to gradually kill the latter. You try to fool yourself into thinking that what is there actually isn't. Your head stages a coup against your heart. It calls to mind a poignant line from Franz Ferdinand's "Walk Away:" "I cannot turn to see those eyes/As apologies may rise/I must be strong and stay an unbeliever/And love the sound of you walking away."

To no surprise, each coup is foiled. You remain a believer. You press on, clinging to hopes that are fed by the faintest signs of requited affection. Limbo continues.

"And she promises the earth to me/And I believe her/After all this time I don't know why."

Why? That is where John and so many others find themselves stuck. They wonder, "Why must you be the way you are? Why can't our almost-romance be a joy instead of a hardship? Why can't you let me care for you without all of these entanglements rearing their head? If nothing's there, why can't you just say the word and end this?"


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Today in Beatles history

Via Steve Marinucci: On this day in 1968, George recorded a lovely acoustic version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

Have a look/listen:

If the video is removed, go here.

After listening to it, I asked myself this: What is it that is so sad and even fateful about the line, "I look at the floor/And I see it needs sweeping?" George turns a domestic commonplace into something haunting. Ordinary People anyone?

Sunday haiku - "Your Mother Should Know"

Rooted in the past,
in the sound of music-hall,
"Your" shows Paul's quaint tastes.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday haiku - "Blue Jay Way"

George wrote "Blue Jay Way",
The Beatles' most eerie song,
in Los Angeles.

At the White House

Via Spin, PBS has posted video of two performances from the White House concert in June that honored Paul as he received the Gerswhin Prize for Popular Song. Below, watch Jack White do "Mother Nature's Son" and Dave Grohl do "Band on the Run."

"Mother Nature's Son"

Watch the full episode. See more In Performance at The White House.

"Band on the Run"

Watch the full episode. See more In Performance at The White House.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Quote of the day

From the reliably forthright Liam Gallagher:

'I like Lennon's voice. It's all about his voice, I don't care whether he was into peace, or into Yoko, I don't care how big his kn*b was or whether he had one ball or f**king three balls, I just like his voice.'

Charmingly put. The rest of the article is here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Album sobriquets

As you'd expect, my "best-three-songs-in-a-row" project found me perusing all of The Beatles' albums and taking note of many of their salient and subtle features. In particular, the process helped me to get a strong(er) sense of each album's "feel" or theme. What I've written below stemmed from this. I decided to come up with one- or two-word labels that denoted something close to the essence of each album. What is Please Please Me all about, in a word? How do you distill Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band down to three or four syllables? Etc., etc. The answers are as follows:

1) Please Please Me: The Beatles' "live" album. (PPM was, more or less, a studio re-creation of The Beatles' early stage show.)

2) With The Beatles: The Beatles' "Motown" album. (Three of its songs are Motown covers, and two others were inspired by Smokey Robinson.)

3) A Hard Day's Night: The Beatles' "song-writing" album. (It was their first album composed of all originals.)

4) Beatles for Sale: The Beatles' "exhaustion" album. (Wearied by the obligations of their celebrity, the Fabs were low on creative energy in mid-1964 and, as a result, put out an album laden with covers and dour tones.)

5) Help!: The Beatles' "growing-up" album. (It was their first album that featured truly adult, introspective songs from both John and Paul.)

6) Rubber Soul: The Beatles' "weed" album. (The recreational drug played a not insignificant role in the album's formation, and some of the songs even have that languorous, hazy feel of a stoned state.)

7) Revolver: The Beatles' "innovation" album. (The aggressive experimentation on Revolver marked a decisive shift for The Beatles and their art.)

8) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Beatles' "studio" album. (Even more experimental than Revolver, Pepper was crafted so it couldn't be reproduced onstage.)

9) Magical Mystery Tour: The Beatles' "sequel" album. (Loose, flighty, and reflective, MMT comes off as a celebration of all that's great about its predecessor and companion piece, Pepper.)

10) The White Album: The Beatles' "solo" album. (Caused by the band's fractious relations, much of The White Album shows the four Beatles operating as individual artists, not true collaborators.)

11) Yellow Submarine: The Beatles' "children's" album. (The nursery rhyme vibe of the title track and "All Together Now" stands out more than anything else on the album's six originals.)

12) Abbey Road: The Beatles' "reunion" album. (Following the rancorous and near-abortive Get Back sessions, the boys regrouped, reconnected with George Martin, and made Abbey Road.)

13) Let It Be: The Beatles' "breakup" album. (As The Beatles rehearsed for and recorded Let It Be, bickering all the while, their dissolution became close to inevitable.)

Suggestions and counterclaims are welcome.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday haiku - "Flying"

An instrumental,
"Flying" has a daydream feel:
airy and relaxed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday haiku - "The Fool on the Hill"

Earnest yet quirky,
"Fool" is Paul's take on wise men
who come off as nuts.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Beatles: A One-Night Stand in the Heartland

If you're a resident of the Twin Cities, you should go to this. I'll be there tomorrow for Beatles Tribute Night with RetroFit.

Monday Beatles potpourri

- "Unreleased Beatles Ed Sullivan Show Footage Coming in September."

- A provocative question is posed: "Would (The) Beatles make it in today's music world?" (It's actually just a springboard for an examination of how the music industry has changed over the last half-century.)

- Let's once again revisit the day John and Paul met. In other Quarrymen news, Ken Brown, "a guitarist who played alongside three future members of the Beatles -- George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney," passed away last month. And in other Liverpool news: "EVERY Beatles album will be performed live in one day for the first time in history to mark 50 years since the band played under the name." This will take place at Liddypool's Matthew Street Festival in August.

- What Beatles TV programming is worth watching?

- About Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion.

- "Norwegian Wood" has been licensed for use in Norwegian Wood.

- What has Liam Gallagher been fantasizing about lately?

- Members of Guided By Voices and Nada Surf are collaborating on a Beatles tribute project.

- Lastly, the future of the Cow Palace, San Francisco's famed arena, is in limbo.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Lennon Lives"

That is, according to this "Alternate History" at Consequence of Sound, he does.

It was 1980 and John Lennon had just come out of retirement with his first record in five years, Double Fantasy. After a sailing trip to Bermuda, he was itching to begin his career again with a renewed and sober outlook on life, but three weeks after his new album was released, a deranged fan had other plans. That fateful December night, David Chapman attempted to put four bullets in Lennon’s back. In the panic of the moment, he managed one shot in the shoulder before running off. Ironically, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman earlier that day, and now that man had nearly ended his life.

The world was relieved when Lennon pulled through. What would it have done had he not? Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were left badly shaken, with Ono seeming to take it the hardest as she tried to isolate her husband from the outside world, paranoid that something similar would happen again. This strained her relationship with the rest of his camp, especially his old band, even further. This led to an artistic silent period for Lennon, writing at home but not releasing any of it on record until 1984’s Milk and Honey, even though most of the record would consist of songs from the Fantasy sessions. Public appearances were just as rare, and even though Chapman was quickly caught, tried, and sentenced, Lennon still felt a sense of being in constant danger for several years after.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday haiku - "Magical Mystery Tour"

Not a leisure jaunt,
this "Tour" is a trip on drugs -
hence, "Roll up, roll up".

Friday, July 16, 2010

Griping over GaGa

A lot of Fab fanatics are far too sensitive when it comes to matters like the use of The Beatles' music in advertising, or bands doing Beatles covers, or ... Lady Gaga playing John's iconic white piano. My reaction: Who cares!?! Move on; live your life; don't turn every annoyance into a grievance; reserve your anger for issues of real-world consequence. In short, take to heart Sean Lennon's remarks:

"Pianos meant (sic) are to be played," he tweeted in response. "What should we do, lock it away in a dusty room? So judgmental...Come on, lighten up... life's too short, there're (sic) enough real problems in the world. "

If Sean and Yoko don't object, that should settle the controversy.

. . .

An opening at last! Let me take this moment to confess that I'm a casual, though in no way reluctant, fan of Lady Gaga. That said, there's absolutely nothing casual or withholding or sane about my enthusiasm for her scandalously addictive smash single from 2009, "Bad Romance." All I will say is this: Pop is pop. If it feels right, it feels right.

The best three songs in a row on a Beatles album

Here's the final list, untouched by tedious explanation and open to revision. It brings this absurdly drawn-out series to a close.

Worst to best:
13) "Hey Bulldog," "It's All Too Much," and "All You Need Is Love" (from Yellow Submarine)

12) "Ask Me Why," "Please Please Me," and "Love Me Do" (from Please Please Me)

11) "No Reply," "I'm a Loser," and "Baby's in Black" (from Beatles for Sale)

10) "A Hard Day's Night," "I Should Have Known Better," and "If I Fell" (from A Hard Day's Night)

9) "Two of Us," "Dig a Pony," and "Across the Universe" (from Let It Be)

8) "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Because" (from Abbey Road)

7) "I've Just Seen a Face," "Yesterday," and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" (from Help!)

6) "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "With a Little Help from My Friends," and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)

5) "It Won't Be Long," "All I've Got to Do," and "All My Loving" (from With The Beatles)

4) "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "Martha My Dear," and "I'm So Tired" (from The Beatles)

3) "I Am the Walrus," "Hello, Goodbye," and "Strawberry Fields Forever" (from Magical Mystery Tour)

2) "Girl," "I'm Looking Through You," and "In My Life" (from Rubber Soul)

1) "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby," and "I'm Only Sleeping" (from Revolver)


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spector on Macca

In this post from earlier today, I wrote of Let It Be: "It was supposed to mark a return to the group's non-studio-focused, rock 'n' roll roots, but that was only partially realized (Phil Spector had a hand in this, much to Paul's chagrin)."

Responding to Paul's avowed dissatisfaction, Spector didn't mince words (via The Beatles Bible):

Paul had no problem picking up the Academy Award for the Let It Be movie soundtrack, nor did he have any problem in using my arrangement of the string and horn and choir parts when he performed it during 25 years of touring on his own. If Paul wants to get into a pissing contest about it, he's got me mixed up with someone who gives a shit.

Touché, Mr. Spector. You're still crackers, though.

Update: Read about The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, "a documentary portrait of the killer music producer."

Today in Beatles history

One of the most harshly formative days in John's life, July 15, 1958 brought the tragic death of his mother, Julia Lennon.

Just listen to the pain:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 13

Parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve.

Album: Let It Be
Three songs: "Two of Us," "Dig a Pony," and "Across the Universe"
Comments: If pressed, I would submit Let It Be as the one Beatles album I wish they hadn't released. I suspect there are many others who also feel this way. And why is it we do? The reasons are sundry. Consider the famously fraught and cheerless recording sessions that spawned the album. As captured on Michael Lindsay-Hogg's Let It Be film, those early months of 1969 represent something close to the nadir of Beatles relations. Despite Paul's dogged enthusiasm for the Get Back project, which was supposed to document the band as a recording band and maybe even bring about a live performance, the four of them were just not on the same page and ended up torturing themselves, even leading to George's (temporary) departure from the group. It wasn't pretty. I question if there's a compelling argument to be made that The Beatles' legacy would be less rich or engrossing without the album haunted by all of this intra-band acrimony.

Second and of greater importance: By Beatles standards, the album just isn't very good. It was supposed to mark a return to the group's non-studio-focused, rock 'n' roll roots, but that was only partially realized (Phil Spector had a hand in this, much to Paul's chagrin). Along with throwback outings like "One After 909" and "Get Back," there are a number of other genres on display - folk, psychedelic pop, sentimental balladry, and blues -, the diversity of which gives the album an uneven feel. Of course, this stylistic variety would probably count in its favor if the individual songs were of a higher quality. But too many of them are merely good, not great. I'm thinking of "Dig a Pony," "Across the Universe," "I've Got a Feeling," "For You Blue," and even the title track, as beloved as it is. Also, "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae," both of which clock in at under a minute, have always struck me as needless. They're interruptions, not songs.

Third, all of the concerns above are amplified by the fact that, though Abbey Road was recorded later, Let It Be is the final album The Beatles released; so on some level, it has to count as their parting gift to the world. This is unfortunate. What band (or fan of that band) would want their official canon to close on a moment known for its bitterness and strife and (in my opinion) mediocrity? Though my take on the matter is fluid, on some days I'd much prefer if Let It Be had never been issued as a proper album, but instead had existed in singles, bootlegs, anthologies, and the like until 2003 when it received the "naked" treatment. It still wouldn't be official, but it would likely be easier to appreciate.

In short, Let It Be is a lesser album in The Beatles' body of work. As I mentioned earlier, the problem is not that it's overrun with poor songs; rather, weighed down by expectations that only The Beatles could elicit, its half-dozen or so good-to-pretty-good songs just don't cut it. What it needs is several more classics (oh "Don't Let Me Down," where are you?), several more entries on par with, or at least much closer to, "Two of Us," the album's warm and graceful highpoint.

"Two of Us" is also the album opener, and (switching gears) it's where I started in my search for the 3BR (only now, with The Beatles' final release, am I using abbreviations). Its greatness helped to make the process a quick one. The opening three songs - "Two," "Dig a Pony," and "Across the Universe" - form an able contingent. "Two of Us" is disarmingly tender and so much more; the sonically taut "Pony" combines nonsensical lyrics and John's passion for Yoko to interesting effect; and, though overly lush, "Across the Universe" is a beaming kaleidoscope of sound and imagery.

After scanning the track listing and sifting through the various medium lights, I found only one other threesome that seemed like it could contend: "The Long and Winding Road," "For You Blue," and "Get Back." While solid, it doesn't boast anything that could offset the gentle potency of "Two of Us."

Only one post left....

Paul in Utah (7/13)

"McCartney delivers classics, delights crowd."

For a few hours Tuesday night, a motherless boy played as if this show was his last and best shot at getting out of the dead-end town of Liverpool.

There was a resolute, emotional urgency in his voice and words. But then you rubbed your eyes and looked, along with 20,000 other faces, at a 68-year-old multimillionaire.

And in a thrilling, passionate concert at a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, the boy and the man were the same, with the enthusiasm of a boy and the skills of a man.

A still mop-topped Paul McCartney, in his first-ever appearance in Utah, celebrated his 200th show with his crack band by demonstrating that despite the Beatles’ dissolution four decades ago, his body of work from “I’ve Just Seen a Face” to his experimental Fireman project sounds as fresh as if it was the first time you had heard them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Super random

At the outset of "Fine Line," the superb opening track on Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Paul sings, "There is a fine line/Between recklessness and courage." Then, to start the second verse, he sings, "There is a long way/Between chaos and creation." Here's my thought: How cool would it have been had he sort of merged the two parts and, at some point, sang, "There is a fine line/Between chaos and creation." Is that not artful and even a bit profound? It could refer to, maybe, the process of revolution or the "creative destruction" inherent to capitalism. Contrast-driven juxtapositions that are turned on their head and used to point out subtle similarities can make for exceptional art.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 12

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

Album: Abbey Road
Three songs: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Because"
Comments: The last album that The Beatles recorded but their penultimate release, Abbey Road stands as one of the group's best and most distinct offerings. A majority of the time, it's also my personal favorite. Allow me to quote myself:

Abbey Road is just so rewarding on multiple levels. It boasts outstanding individual tracks: "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "Because," "You Never Give Me Your Money," etc. And the Side Two song cycle? Stunningly inventive, richly whimsical, and tastefully indulgent, it's one of pop music's singular creations. Together, all of this music results in an album of impeccable tone and feel, even as it's full of striking contrasts as well. It has a unity and completeness that its free-flowing, capricious sounds would seem to belie. It's an album of technical artistry and thick pop pleasure. It feels both casually and meticulously crafted. And it's a classic, but one that rarely comes off like it's trying to attain that status.

This album, not Let It Be, is The Beatles' swan song, and I don't think they could've made a better one. For whatever reason, it's such a pleasure in ways that other Beatles albums just aren't.

As far as its best three songs in a row are concerned, you've already seen what I decided on: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Because." My thinking followed these lines: The Side Two medley is what first comes to mind when I reflect on Abbey Road. But because it's largely made up of either very short songs or song snippets, it didn't factor much into my consideration of the best three in a row. With the exception of the medley opener, "You Never Give Me Your Money," those songs need each other to flourish. Yes, "Mean Mr. Mustard" makes for a fine time on its own, but how much more do we value it because of the way "Sun King" snugly gives birth to it? Or because of how effectively it pairs with "Polythene Pam?" The same could be said for "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "Golden Slumbers," "The End," etc. This, then, shifted my focus to Abbey Road's first nine tracks, from "Come Together" through "You Never Give Me Your Money."

Next thought: If any song in that stretch but "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" had followed "Come Together" and "Something," then those three would've come out on top. Both "Come Together" and "Something" are classics, the former so playfully hip and the latter so delicately emotive (and compellingly vague). As it is, "Hammer" - a fun but exceptionally lightweight number - was too much of a burden on the other two. From there, after dismissing "Oh! Darling" and "Octopus's Garden," I narrowed it down to a four-song set: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Here Comes the Sun," "Because," and "You Never Give Me Your Money."

Now all four of these range from very good to great. 1) Long and full of obsessive repetition, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is suffused with John's burning desire for Yoko, and both George's thickly overdubbed guitar part and Paul's work on the bass are top-notch; 2) I've never heard or read anyone venture an ill-word about "Here Comes the Sun," George's balmy daydream of a song. 3) The treated harmonies on "Because" make for the most hypnotic moments in The Beatles' catalogue; and 4) The variety of tones and emotions that Paul brings to bear on "Money" really elevates the song, and that romping piano part is irresistible.

Having to decide between "I Want You" and "Money" to complete the trio, I went with the former. What an absorbingly weird song it is. As noted on Wikipedia:

The song is an unusual Beatles composition for a variety of reasons, namely its length (nearly eight minutes), small number of lyrics (only fourteen different words are sung), three-minute descent through the same repeated guitar chords (a similar arpeggiated figure appears in another Lennon contribution to the album, "Because" as well as McCartney's "Oh! Darling"), and abrupt ending.

Thus the matter was settled.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul in San Francisco (7/10)

A review from Mercury News:

“It’s great to be back here,” McCartney commented early in the night to the capacity crowd.

And it was great to have him back, even if it did take him a while to warm up. Credit that to the normally frigid July weather in San Francisco, which had fans wrapped up in ski parkas, wool hats and long scarves, as well as to a set list that initially focused strongly on second-rate Wings numbers (“Letting Go,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”) and mediocre recent offerings (“Dance Tonight,” “Highway”).


If you diss "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five," you diss yourself.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday haiku #2 - "Good Night"

Given to Ringo,
"Night" is a sweet lullaby
John wrote for his son.

Saturday haiku - "Revolution 9"

John's long sound collage,
"9" strikes some as avant-garde
and others as tripe.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Inspired by The Beatles

Standard disclaimer: I'm not suggesting that the song below was explicitly inspired by The Beatles. Rather, in one way or another, it simply has a Beatles feel to it. End of disclaimer.

The reach of The Beatles' influence is obviously extensive, and in this case it seems to have worked its way into the output of a grunge-rock act. Pearl Jam, the band in question, released "All Those Yesterdays," the song in question, as the concluding track on their 1998 album, Yield. Sonically retro and structurally meandering, "Yesterdays" is a peculiar song. More to the point, there's something about the combination of its mood and pace and Eddie Vedder's tempered vocal and the unexpected brass section that calls to mind the weirdness of The White Album. If you threw together various elements of, say, "Dear Prudence," "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," and "I'm So Tired," you might get a song in the neighborhood of this one. Finally, how about the name itself? "All Those Yesterdays." Doesn't it sound like a song that John or George might have written? George in fact came close with "All Those Years Ago" (a tribute to the fallen Lennon), and John captured a somewhat similar sentiment with "In My Life." Regardless, it's a poignant combination of words and a meaty title for a memorable (and underrated) song.


(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

One more Ringo post

Here's a wrap-up of last night's birthday gala.

My mother and I had been hoping all along that McCartney might pop up. He was conveniently in between tour dates in London and San Francisco this week, and 70 is a big birthday. But “With A Little Help” transitioned into a sweet singalong of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” followed by a spontaneous crowd rendition of “Happy Birthday” and the aforementioned cake and candles, and Macca was nowhere to be seen. Oh well. Who could complain after all those other guests? And then he turned up after all. His “Birthday,” with Walsh on wicked lead guitar, was the best possible way to end that show. Afterward, teary hugs were exchanged between McCartney, Starr, and Ono. McCartney softly repeated the words “Happy birthday to you” into the microphone. The appreciative surprise on his old friend’s face looked altogether genuine.

A special guest

Sir Paul made an unannounced appearance at Radio City Music Hall yesterday and joined Ringo, the birthday boy, for a performance of (what else?) "Birthday."

Via Steve Marinucci, here's footage:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More Ringo business

- An observation: If you've been reading news stories about Ringo's current tour and/or his 70th birthday, then you've been saturated with references to "With a Little Help from My Friends" (e.g., "Ringo celebrates birthday with a little...."). It quickly gets nettlesome. I wouldn't have minded more allusions to Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends and Shining Time Station. Who could deny that Ringo was in his element on those shows?

- Ringo has stated that he will not be authoring an autobiography.

- Ringo's gold-plated Ludwig snare drum will be on display the rest of the year at the Met.

- Finally, "Ringo Starr: The rime of the ancient yellow submariner."

Happy 70th to Ringo

Richard Parkin Starkey was born on July 7, 1940. He was the oldest Beatle and, due to a number of childhood health complications, he wasn't supposed to make it much beyond his youth. History obviously had different plans in mind for the future Ringo Starr, and now he has reached the august age of 70. Félicitations!

To mark the occasion, Ringo just wants you to offer up some "peace and love." Specifically at noon, if possible.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When pop music changed forever

53 years ago today: When Paul met John.

Apple to open up vault ...

... and "sell remastered CDs and downloadable tracks from 15 albums featuring ... Apple hitmakers from the 1960s and early 1970s including James Taylor, Badfinger, Billy Preston, Mary Hopkin, and Jackie Lomax." Always overlooked, always a quartet of bridesmaids, The Beatles will eventually have their day in the sun. More here.

Assorted Macca news

- Paul on The Beatles' drug use; the Internet and how it affects musicians; "green festivals;" Nowhere Boy; Beatles films in general; his snide shot at GWB; the Gulf oil spill; and commercial whaling.

- Future projects for Macca: writing the music for a ballet and directing a photo-film about The Beatles based on pics taken by his late wife Linda.

- Neil McCormick on Linda and her art.

- A report about Paul's performance at the Old Vic fundraiser.

- Paul being a good shit.

- Finally, Billboard has deemed "Say Say Say," a collaboration between Michael Jackson and Paul, the deceased icon's most popular song. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Monday haiku - "Cry Baby Cry"

A nursery rhyme
that John later regretted,
“Cry” ends with a twist.

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 11

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

Album: Yellow Submarine
Three songs: "Hey Bulldog," "It's All Too Much," and "All You Need Is Love"
Comments: Despite its abundance of tracks, I didn't struggle to nail down The White Album's best three in a row. In contrast, there were only six songs to choose from on Yellow Submarine (side two consists of a symphonic score arranged by George Martin), and for a while I found myself unable to commit one way or another. Curious, huh? The problem was that, relatively speaking, the gap in song quality between the album's best and worst track isn't very wide. Though Yellow Submarine is the most negligible record in The Beatles' canon, all of its songs hold their own, ranging from fluffy but solidly enjoyable to inventive and hugely enjoyable. Thus it took me a bit to establish a best-to-worst order. All of this for Yellow Submarine?

I started under the assumption that "All You Need Is Love" was the finest of the lot, but this soon didn't feel right. I think I was mistaking its enduringly iconic status for greatness. In the end, it's little more than pleasant and tuneful (cheeringly so, I should add). Disabused of that notion, I dropped "Love" down a couple of spots and elevated the strutting, rollicking "Hey Bulldog" to the top. After some hemming-and-hawing and tinkering, this is what my list ended up looking like: 1) "Hey Bulldog" 2) "It's All Too Much 3) "All You Need Is Love" 4) "All Together Now" 5) "Only a Northern Song" 6) "Yellow Submarine." Conveniently, the top three come right in a row on the album.

About them ... "Bulldog" is all panache and aplomb, easily one of The Beatles' most fun songs; "It's All Too Much" achieves a deft blend of psychedelia and rock; and "Love" is exactly as I described it above. The rest of the album is either a bit too light and sugary (e.g., the title track and "All Together Now") or clever but awkward (e.g., "Only a Northern Song). But again, there isn't an outright dud among the six, which tripped me up in a way that no previous Beatles album had.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sunday haiku - "Savoy Truffle"

Slowhand's love of sweets
prompted George to write "Savoy",
a goofy tribute.

"It's all in the mind"

As I did with A Hard Day's Night (the movie), I've put together a quasi-profile of Yellow Submarine. What curious films The Beatles were part of....

- Best classical reference: "Oh, I haven't laughed so much since Pompeii." - The Chief of the Blue Meanies
- Best use of lyrics from "When I Get Home": "No time for trivialities." - Lord Mayor
- Best play on U.F.O: "unidentified flying cupcakes" - Ringo
- Best entrance of the four Beatles: George's
- Best visual sequence: The heady rush of images that comes after the Yellow Submarine leaves Liverpool, set to the climax of "A Day in the Life."
- Best use of a song: "Eleanor Rigby"
- Second best use of a song: "When I'm Sixty-Four" (I love the way that the song and the count to 60 are incorporated).
- Best sea: Sea of Monsters
- Best name for a monster: The kinky boot-beast
- Best voice of a Beatle: Paul Angelis as Ringo (the best, but that doesn't mean it was any good).
- Worst voice of a Beatle: John Clive as John
- Funniest moment: It occurs during the real Beatles' cameo at the end, when John utters the line, "Newer and bluer Meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theatre." His delivery, which overflows with boyish apprehension, is hysterical (and so is the way he screams out, "four," in the build-up to "All Together Now" and the credits).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saturday haiku - "Honey Pie"

Paul wrote this ditty
in dainty music-hall style,
and sounds right at home.

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 10

Parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine:

Album: The Beatles (aka The White Album)
Three songs: "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "Martha My Dear," and "I'm So Tired"
Comments: One might suspect that, regarding my mission with these posts, The White Album would present some difficulties. After all, it's long and sprawling, needing 30 songs and four sides to get from start to finish. That's a wealth of room for strong stretches of music. And most Beatles fans would agree that, bloat and all, it is a very rewarding album, even uniquely so. A staple observation from White Album reviews is that, on some level, the double LP benefits from its excesses and indulgences; they're a source of charm. And who could really imagine the experience of The White Album without all those animal songs, or with "Revolution 1" but not "Revolution 9?" We accept it as it is and enjoy it as it is.

That doesn't mean we enjoy the whole of it, though. It's an inescapable fact that not all of The White Album's oddities and affected amusements (many of them essentially solo compositions, a product of the band's disunity) are very satisfying, and some are downright masturbatory. When you combine these songs - the bad and the ugly - with the good, it can make for uneven listening. For instance, disc one tracks like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," Wild Honey Pie," "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," and "Piggies" often just seem to be in the way, disrupting the momentum whipped up by the many outstanding entries around them. Buried amidst the 17 songs of that disc is an efficiently masterful album; what The Beatles left for us was something longer and perhaps more memorable and interesting, but also eccentric to a fault. Conversely, disc two, which for the most part lacks highlights on par with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," and "Martha My Dear," could not function well on its own. In a way, it feeds off the strength of disc one. Though I really dig songs like "Sexy Sadie," "Long, Long, Long," and "Cry Baby Cry" the only true classic there may be Paul's blistering, bludgeoning "Helter Skelter."

These are some of the thoughts that occupied me as I started to consider The White Album's three best in a row; and in the end, they helped make my task fairly easy. Eliminating all of disc two right off the bat obviously narrowed the field quite a bit. Its sole contender, "Sexy Sadie"-"Helter Skelter"-"Long, Long, Long," isn't without substantial merit, but it wasn't hard to see that some combination of songs on disc one would prove superior. Again, disc one is the better of the two, boasting a handful of classics and some very solid second-tier tracks. For my purposes, it didn't hurt that three of its lesser songs - "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Wild Honey Pie," and "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" - come one after the other. Mind you, they still have a disruptive presence, but it's not broadly distributed. Pushing them to the side left these in the running: "Back in the U.S.S.R"-"Dear Prudence"-"Glass Onion" and then everything from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" to "Julia," the concluding track of disc one. In other words, a bevy of superlative music remained. But that didn't mean that I struggled to arrive at my pick.

First of all, when you look at the songs that populate disc one, you find that "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" - a song so very much and only itself - is just staring at you, not letting you even entertain its exclusion. It's the anchor of tracks 1-17 and possibly the best song on all of The White Album. Critically, it's also surrounded by other high-caliber tunes. George's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" precedes; Paul's "Martha My Dear" follows; and "I'm So Tired," which on some days is my favorite Beatles song period, comes after the latter. That's possibly the best four-song stretch in the hallowed discography under discussion. But keeping it to three meant deciding between "Weeps" and "Tired." An earnest, darkly balladic guitar-burner versus a piquant, small-bore cry for sanity. Acknowledging my bias, I still went with "Tired." The way it captures John in a particular moment and in a particular state of mind is absorbing. And that vocal, which "caresses and crackles, soothes and snarls," stands as one of his finest.

Thus, "Happiness"-"Martha"-"Tired" emerged from that foursome, and it took the prize over other combinations like "U.S.S.R."-"Prudence"-"Onion" and "Dear"-"Tired"-"Blackbird." Though I wrote at length about it, the choice (again) struck me as the obvious one.

Friday, July 2, 2010

"You Never Give Me Your Money"

It's a great song, of course, but it's also the name of a new book by Peter Doggett about the famously ugly breakup of The Beatles (I made mention of it a while back). Below is a pair of positive, in-depth reviews. Note to Hugo Lindgren of Bloomberg Businessweek: I read your piece with interest and learned from it, but the Metallica comparison was not at all instructive. Therapy?

From the LA Times:
But equally disruptive was the group's partnership agreement, dismantled only at the end of 1974. Until then, all four Beatles shared equally in the proceeds of one another's albums, guaranteeing resentment from the bigger sellers (Harrison and McCartney, primarily) as well as an abiding feeling of being trapped. How could they be considered to have broken up, "You Never Give Me Your Money" asks, when for years after their final recording sessions, they were regularly brought together for lawsuits and contractual negotiations and maintained a financial stake in one another's work? It was only in October 1996, after McCartney, Harrison and Starr finished work on the final "Anthology" CD set of unreleased outtakes and alternative versions from the Beatles archive, that Apple released a statement declaring, "The end has finally arrived."

From Bloomberg Businessweek:
Of course, money alone was too weak an incentive to keep the Beatles together. Although they disgraced themselves fighting over it, they always had plenty. Up until Lennon's murder in 1980, the Beatles were routinely offered giant sums to reunite, including a $30 million offer for a single album from David Geffen in 1974, which sounds like a ton of money even today.

Had they been less financially secure, the Beatles might have had no choice but to soldier on. That was the Stones' secret. As British music journalist Nick Kent describes in his recent memoir, Apathy for the Devil, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards couldn't afford their own Lennon-McCartney-style psychodrama. Around the same time the Beatles imploded, Jagger, writes Kent, "discovered that most of the money the Stones had made in the Sixties had been pocketed by manager Allen Klein along with all the rights to their recorded back catalogue."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Devil does The Beatles

When events like the World Cup (which doesn't really interest me) and Wimbledon (with which I am smitten) take place, my state of mind becomes far more internationally-oriented. Under such circumstances, no band quite hits the spot like the biggest band in the world, U2. My older brother and I exchanged emails on this subject, and he was kind enough to send along this fantastic YouTube vid of U2 doing "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" on their '92-93 Zoo TV Tour. Notably, it shows Bono in MacPhisto mode, lampooning the United Nations and even singing an abridged cover of "Help" (relevance to the blog finally established).

(If the video is removed, go here).