Friday, December 30, 2011

The Flaming Lips are the eggmen

In preparation for two New Year's performances with Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, the Flaming Lips recorded a cover of the song that arguably gave birth to their sound: John's psychedelic masterpiece "I Am the Walrus." While the original is a thrillingly weird aural feast, the Lips' rendition is just graspingly weird and coarse to the ears. Much like their take on "Revolution," it's an exercise in oddity, not an attempt at artistry. The one grace note comes at the end when the band starts chanting, "Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot," which I'll interpret (perhaps too charitably) as a self-mocking acknowledgment that drugs will surely be blamed for everything bizarre about the song. Go here to watch and listen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roy Orbison on The Beatles

Below is an audio clip of Roy Orbison talking about his 1963 tour with The Beatles, his favorite song of theirs, and how music was developing at the time.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The world's only operatic rockabilly singer"

"I used to listen to a group called The Beatles; do you remember them? The very first record I ever had by them was called 'Please Please Me,' and that was written for Roy Orbison. If you slow that song right down, you can hear Roy Orbison in it. And that's the story."

So says Elvis Costello during the closing credits of A Black and White Night, the gorgeously shot 1988 concert special that spotlights the incomparable, groundbreaking talent that was Roy Orbison. It's among my favorite concert movies, and I watched it last night for probably the ninth or tenth time. As Costello suggests, The Beatles were huge admirers of Orbison and operated under his influence early in their career (go here for more). In the 1980s, George and Orbison even collaborated as members of the Traveling Wilburys.

Capturing a master singer-songwriter at work, A Black and White Night underscores just how influential Orbison was. He is joined by Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, James Burton, Jennifer Warnes, and other devotees to perform his indelible songs. The supporting cast is an astounding collection of stars - many legends in their own right - and yet they all happily play second-fiddle (or lower) to that melancholy man with the black sunglasses and heavenly three-octave voice.

The joy shown onstage by these folks says it all. There's the shit-eating grin on Tom Waits' face at the rousing conclusion of "Mean Woman Blues;" there's the eager, daughterly affection conveyed by Raitt, lang, and Warnes as they supply backup vocals; and most memorably, there's the recurring sight of Bruce Springsteen - brawny, brash Bruce Springsteen - reduced to a puddle of boyish glee. In the presence of one of his heroes, Springsteen wears a reverence and elation on his face that couldn't be more genuine. As he trades guitar solos with Burton and Orbison during "Ooby Dooby," he occasionally looks up at them with the expression of a young boy excitedly seeking approval from his father. You've never seen the Boss quite like this.

It's all for Roy, and if you don't understand why, watch A Black and White Night and let Orbison's mesmerizing, immortal voice work its magic; it will transport you. Though most of the songs - like "Only the Lonely, "Dream Baby," "Oh, Pretty Woman," and more - are deserving classics, I'll highlight "In Dreams," because it's a pop gem as unorthodox as it is beautiful. Like other songs by Orbison, it has no verse-bridge-chorus structure to speak of. It just flows, wondrously following the desires and whims of Orbison's sad, dreamy vocal. As Jennifer Warnes observes at the end of the concert, it's "timeless stuff."

*The quote in the title comes from J.D. Souther.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Paul's "Valentine"

"And I will never let a day go by / Without remembering the reasons why/ She makes me certain that I can fly."

The line is unadulterated schmaltz. It's also very Paul. Before he became a rock 'n' roller, young Macca was steeped in the melodrama of big band and Tin Pan Alley. His fondness for this style never wavered, manifesting itself throughout the Beatle years and beyond. Paul's next album, which will be released in February, is a love-note to the music of his youth. It will feature a variety of covers and two new songs, one of which - "My Valentine" - is the source of the lyrics above. You can listen to it here. On a certain level, this is who Paul is: a sappy balladeer who delights in even the most corny of sentiments.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Isn't that fantastic!?!"

For your Saturday morning pleasure:

To learn more, go here. If the video is removed, go here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jude on John

In an interview from September, Julian Lennon spoke very candidly about how his painful childhood has affected him as an adult. Admirably, he sounds determined to not repeat the sins of his father.

Excerpts from this article:

- “He was young and didn’t know what the hell he was doing," Julian said. "That’s the reason I haven’t had children yet. I didn’t want to do the same thing. No, I’m not ready. I want to know who I am first.”

- “Mum was more about love than Dad. He sang about it, he spoke about, but he never really gave it, at least not to me as his son."

- He added that he had to control the aggression he inherited from his father: “The darker side definitely comes from Dad. Whenever I get too aggressive, which comes from Dad's side, I try to calm myself down, be more positive."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wilco's "I'm Only Sleeping"

In comparison with the original, Jeff Tweedy and co's live acoustic rendition is unadorned, nimble and alert. I don't think I've heard anyone attempt a truly faithful cover. It would probably be a losing effort. Wilco's, on the other hand, is a modest winner, with its easy, even if routine, charm.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

"John Lennon's Bad Theology"

A Christian writer takes aim at John's concept of God and the "blatantly nihilistic" message of "Imagine."

Editorial comment: Though I reject utopian thinking and don't care for "Imagine," I find this characterization of the song to be mistaken. Using the word "blatantly" suggests that the perceived nihilism of "Imagine" was intentional on John's part, i.e., John wanted the song to come off that way. He certainly didn't, though the naivete that's on display in the lyric continues to open him up to plenty of legitimate criticism.

As the 1960s became the 1970s, Lennon’s legion of admirers would follow him in his forays into Indian mysticism, transcendental meditation, and primal therapy. In 1970, now a post-hippie but still a seeker, Lennon sang of a personal god that was neither omniscient, transcendental, nor redemptive, but merely “a concept by which we measure our pain.” This clever bit of pop theology was instantly embraced by an exhausted and defeated flower-power generation searching for moral renewal at the dawn of the new decade.

But, appealing as this view of God was—and remains for a great many Lennon enthusiasts—it came with troubling implications. If God is merely a concept by which we measure our pain, then, ipso facto, where pain can be eliminated, God is no longer necessary. This perhaps explains the escapism and drug abuse of so many of the 60s generation, including Lennon, who himself battled heroin addiction throughout the early 1970s. Radicals, freaks, and lotus-eaters everywhere finally had a deity they could relate to. One who didn’t judge them, or tell them how to live their lives. You know, a god who just lets you be yourself and doesn’t harsh your mellow.

. . .

“Imagine” is in fact a blatantly nihilistic evocation of an atheist global utopia where the triple-scourge of possessions, greed, and hunger have all been abolished in the name of international brotherhood. Think of it as a North Korean propaganda film with a great piano riff and a nice string arrangement.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8, 1980

Just when John Lennon had found peace and contentment on this earth - as a husband to Yoko and a father to Sean - he was robbed of his life. We all shine on.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Days of remembrance like this one encourage hyperbole. Even so, is there a more thrilling chorus in all of pop music than what you hear above? It's passionate and defiant. It surges with life and burns with John's singular spirit. It's the sound of triumph.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A true Beach Boy

On this day in 1944, Dennis Wilson - brother of Brian and Carl, cousin of Mike Love, drummer, and late-blooming talent - was born. Dennis, of course, was a member of the Beach Boys and, later, a solo artist. Overshadowed by his more naturally gifted siblings, Dennis left a legacy that in great measure is unrelated to his abilities as a singer-songwriter and musician: he was the wild, self-destructive Beach Boy; he was the lone member of the group who avidly surfed; and he was, at one time, a friend to Charles Manson. But, as songs like "Forever" demonstrate, he did eventually come into his own. Described by Brian as a "rock and roll prayer," "Forever" is one of pop's finest love songs - a ballad of aching beauty powered by Dennis' sad, weary vocal. What a moving line this is: "Let the love I have for you / Live in your heart and be forever."

Dennis drowned in 1983 at the age of 39. RIP.


(If the video is removed, go here.)

I was also hoping to post the Beach Boys' cover of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," which features Dennis on lead vocals. Unfortunately, it's not available on YouTube.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A minor classic from the Quiet Beatle

On this, the 10th anniversary of George's death, I want to highlight my appreciation for a song of his that I find to be woefully undervalued: "Blue Jay Way." The standard line of criticism goes that "Blue Jay Way" is boring, tedious, monotonous, and the like. It's drone-pop that never comes to life, leaving listeners to share in the chief concern that George expresses in the song's lyric: wanting to go to sleep. I'm of a separate mind. I don't hear boring and tedious; I hear eerie and mysterious. In my view, this moody psychedelic gem from Magical Mystery Tour is among the most richly atmospheric and even cinematic songs in The Beatles' catalog.

The sound matches the subject: "Blue Jay Way" is about a confused and foggy night in LA. In August of 1967, George was staying at a rented house on the aforementioned street in the Hollywood Hills. He was tired after the flight in, but wanted to remain awake until The Beatles' former press officer, Derek Taylor, and his wife arrived. Blue Jay Way is apparently difficult to locate as it is, and the fog certainly didn't help. In the interim, George began writing:

"There's a fog upon LA / And my friends have lost their way / We'll be over soon they say / Now they've lost themselves instead."

He then respectfully pleads: "Please don't be long/ Please don't you be very long / Please don't be long / For I may be asleep."

It's all very uncertain and unsettled. Though the back-story belies this, I often get the impression that more is going on than George allows us to know, perhaps even something sinister. The sonics are just too creepy for the fairly mundane scenario presented in the lyric. There's the pounding rhythm, George's woozy, warped vocal, the atmospherics of the Hammond organ and cello, and the spectral backing vocals. Complementing all of this is the pace of the song, which builds and builds, escalating the urgency of George's words. By the end, he even stops saying "please," chanting simply, "Don't be long." Is that "be long" or "belong"? And what does the climax signify, anyway? Narratively speaking, what has the song been moving toward? Still more mysteries.

It is indeed this sense of mystery that draws me to "Blue Jay Way." It's like film-noir: inscrutable but absorbing.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"George's God: The Faith of the Quiet Beatle"

In the wake of Martin Scorsese's documentary and the accompanying book by Olivia Harrison, Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard has written a wry, penetrating piece about the manifestations and challenges of George's Hindu faith over the years. I won't go into more detail. Just read it; it's first-rate work.

As a reader who has compulsively consumed the ever-expanding body of Beatles literature for 40 years, I have trouble picking out a favorite anecdote or most memorable quote. Is it John’s “If there is such a thing as a genius, I am one”? Or the note Paul sent John one day in the waning days of the group: “You and your Jap tart think you’re hot s—”? Or maybe it’s the time an airline stewardess offered George a glass of wine, not knowing he was deep in meditation. “F— off,” the spiritual Beatle replied.

One of George Harrison’s most appealing traits was self-awareness. He would have seen (and said) how absurd such talk was. “I was never a real guitarist,” he once told his friend Klaus Voormann. And he wasn’t; he couldn’t launch the fireworks like Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck, and the disciplined technique of AndrĂ©s Segovia or Julian Bream never interested him. About his songwriting, he told an interviewer: “There’s no comparison between me and someone who sits and writes music. What I do is really simple.” Right again. He compared himself to a pastry chef, able to combine musical ingredients nicked from others to make a pleasing presentation of songcraft. He made many marvelous records, but as a source of fresh musical ideas, he said, “I’m not really that good.”

When the cancer finally carried him off, his family’s formal statement insisted that he had never feared his own death, and even welcomed it, so sure was his faith in an afterlife and in God. The claim is repeated emphatically in the documentary. But this has the feel of a white lie—another bit of Beatle mythmaking. His last months were, in truth, a frantic scramble around Europe and North America in search of experimental cures that might keep his spirit housed in his body a few months longer. None of them worked.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quote of the day

From James Parker's review of Lennon, the new biography of John written by Tim Riley:

And yet Lennon in certain aspects was really quite hateable. Cruel at times, chaotic, dissociated: on his bad days little more, so it seems, than a gigantic human flaw through which the shifting light of genius displayed itself.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nilsson covers The Beatles

I've been on a Harry Nilsson kick of late. Several weeks back, I watched the newish documentary, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?, and wrote about it here. Subsequently, I bought his most celebrated record, Nilsson Schmilsson, and a greatest hits compilation. Both have been very rewarding, set apart by Nilsson's pop smarts, generous personality, and spellbinding voice.

Previously on the blog, I'd done posts about Nilsson's covers of "She's Leaving Home" and "You Can't Do That", and laid bare my affection for "Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga," a shimmering choral treat from the Lennon-produced album, Pussy Cats.

Below is another instance of Nilsson crossing paths with The Beatles. It's a cover of Paul's pristine and reverent ballad, "Mother Nature's Son." Nilsson replaced horns with strings, but didn't deviate much beyond that. He didn't need to because, as always, his rich voice is the main attraction. All of Paul's vocal garnishes from the original - the "dooos," the humming - seem tailor made for Nilsson.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"The Private Life of George Harrison"

After doing two George-heavy posts in the past couple days, I decided to reread Rolling Stone's September 15th cover story (unavailable online, sadly) about the "Quiet Beatle." Penned by Brian Hiatt, it explores George's life outside the glow of Beatles stardom. I don't think it contains much that's new or surprising, but Hiatt does a fine job of underscoring how little The Beatles eventually factored into George's vision of a fulfilling life. From the mid-'60s onward, he pursued an existence of inner spiritual richness... that is, except for when he partied, slept around, and engaged in other acts that satisfied the flesh. Much like John, George abounded with the most human contradictions.

Rolling Stone, I hope that posting these excerpts is permissible.

- But his bandmates never quite shook their idea of him as a junior partner - an "economy-class Beatle," in Harrison's sardonic formulation - and he soon began pushing for an upgrade.

- He was an escape artist, forever evading labels and expectations. Harrison challenged Lennon and McCartney's songwriting primacy; almost single-handedly introduced the West to the rest of the world's music through his friendship with Ravi Shankar; became the first person to make rock & roll a vehicle for both unabashed spiritual expression and, with the Concert for Bangladesh, large-scale philanthropy; had the most Hollywood success of any Beatle, producing movies including Monty Python's Life of Brian; and belied a rep as a solitary recluse by putting together the Traveling Wilburys, a band that was as much social club as supergroup.

- As a small boy, Dhani (George's son) says, "I was pretty sure he was just a gardener" - a reasonable conclusion, since Harrison would work 12-hour days out there, missing family dinners as he pursued his vision, planting trees and flowers. "Being a gardener and not hanging out with anyone and just being home, that was pretty rock & roll, you know?" says Dhani, who understood his father's affinity: "When you're in a really beautiful garden, it reminds you constantly of God."

- The Wilburys recorded two albums (Dhani remembers hanging with Jakob Dylan and playing Duck Hunt on his Nintendo while the band worked on the second one downstairs), but never managed a live show.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Michael Lindsay-Hogg on The Beatles, "Let It Be"

While the subject of The Beatles' breakup is fresh in our minds, it makes sense to have a look at two excerpts from Michael Lindsay-Hogg's recently published memoir, Luck and Circumstance. As the director of the Let It Be documentary, Lindsay-Hogg had an insider's view of The Beatles in turmoil. Like only a few others, he was able to breath the air of some of their worst days. In the passages below, he comments on the fractious band dynamic that unfolded before him.

From excerpt #1:
And there was no idea that any of us could agree on, to do with the TV special. Ringo wanted to do it at the Cavern, the little club in Liverpool where Brian Epstein had first seen them. John and Yoko didn't really care where we did it but did seem up for some sort of adventure, or maybe they just wanted to get out of the cold barn at Twickenham. George didn't seem to want to do it at all. Paul was the one who kept pushing for us to make a plan. His character is resolute, and I think in his heart Paul felt if he couldn't get them to agree as a group to do something as a group that they might fall apart, and, because of his nature, that was the last thing he wanted.

From excerpt #2:
His (George) position was a difficult one. He didn't want them to perform in public again; it had all gotten too crazy. I saw one of their final public appearances at a theater in London. The screaming was so loud, the balcony shaking, that they couldn't hear themselves play and had abandoned the show after a song or two. George just wanted to make an album and felt his position within the group wasn't as valued as his talent should demand. He'd been the youngest, fifteen, when Paul was sixteen and John seventeen, and, the story was, he'd carry the guitar cases as the other two strode ahead, discussing their great plans. And also, probably, he wasn't happy with the traditional album shake- out, artistically or financially. If there were twelve tracks, say, nine would probably be Len/Mac, another with Ringo, and two by George. And George knew he was soon to stake his claim to be his own man, a unique musician, passionate, tender, and ironic.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hunter Davies on George Harrison

"How George Harrison Split The Beatles"

The headline somewhat misrepresents the points made by Davies. Here's the passage that comes closest to saying that George triggered The Beatles' demise:

George was the first, from my observation, to get pissed off by being a Beatle. He had by then developed – ahead of them. Long before the Apple rows or before Yoko came into John’s life, or Linda into Paul’s, elements usually listed in their break-up, George was desperate to move on and leave them all behind. He’d done all that, that phase in his life was over, and found wanting.

It's clear that George grew very disillusioned with life as a Beatle. He may have even done so before John did. But George didn't act on those emotions in the same vocal, confrontational way that John did; he lacked John's angry force of will. After manager Brian Epstein died in 1967 and Paul attempted to fill the resulting leadership void - what I view as the beginning of the long end - , it was primarily John who pushed back against the move. It was John who, more than anyone else, refused to play nice at being a Beatle. George, on the other hand, was more of a passive presence. Just think of when he told Paul that he'd play whatever he wanted him to while rehearsing during the "Get Back" sessions. John would not have displayed that kind of grace, however passive-aggressive it was.

Because The Beatles' breakup was such a tangled web, I sometimes content myself with the broad, evasive explanation for it: To greater and lesser degrees, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were all responsible, and yet each of them was also a helpless player in this grand drama that pitted them against forces beyond their control. No one of them created The Beatles, and no one of them destroyed The Beatles.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The charms of "I'm So Tired"

I welcome any reason to reflect on "I'm So Tired" - my favorite song by The Beatles - even if that reason is the scourge of restless sleep. When the body is weary but the mind still sharp and active, it's the ideal moment to share in John's comic exasperation with being unable to shut down for the night.

What I enjoy most about the song is John's vocal, so rich in tonal shifts, so full of humor, frustration, and wild-eyed conviction, and so indicative of the singer's messy, complicated nature.

John comes out of the gate as languid and defeated as you might expect. "I'm so tired / I haven't slept a wink / I'm so-ooo tired / My mind is on the blink / I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink / No-no-no-oh." He couldn't sound any more drained of life, underscoring the toll of his inability to sleep but also the cruel, nagging humor of it (Note that, when he wrote the song, he couldn't do drugs because he was in India at a Transcendental Mediation camp). He continues: "I'm so tired / I don't know what to do / I'm so-oo-oh tired / My mind is set on you." The "you" is Yoko, and the mere thought of her instills John with vigor. From there to the end of the chorus ("You know I'd give you everything I got for a little peace of mind"), he sings as a man renewed, though in reality it's the anxiety of being separated from Yoko that sets him ablaze. He could suffer this bout of insomnia if only his future wife was at his side. Without her, he's pushed to the edge of madness ("I'm goin' insane"). At the start of the next verse, he retreats from it, but only briefly. He soon finds himself again overcome by vexation ("I'm feelin' so upset"), which spills into a miniature comic tirade against Sir Walter Raleigh, the "stupid git" who popularized tobacco use in England. Then another chorus and various repetitions follow, sung in the same vein.

A perfect song.

"I'm So Tired" is the sound of John's oversize personality working its charm. It's the sound of John stricken not only with the inability to sleep but, more so, the human condition. It's the sound of John laughing, crying, hating, and loving all at once.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Revolution" revamped

In honor of Steve Jobs, indie rock veterans the Flaming Lips crafted a cover of "Revolution" that was recorded using nothing but iPads. The accompanying video, featured at the O Music Awards, is here. You'll need to side-scroll for a while at the bottom of the page and then bypass a much-too cleavaged Yoko Ono to get there. When you do, you may find yourself nonplussed, even annoyed. The song's novelty (which is admittedly quite cool in the abstract) quickly wears thin, and what remains is a sonically grating, robotized misfire. I suppose it's close to what you'd expect of a tribute from the kooky, stunt-happy Lips. If anything is of interest, it's the band's decision to tap John's moment of vacillation from the original version of the song - "And when you talk about destruction / Don't you know that you can count me out/ In." Beyond that (which isn't much), the song offers little else.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Nilsson's my favorite group"

It's a shame that more people aren't familiar with Harry Nilsson. You could also say it's something of a surprise. I mean, how is it that the singer-songwriter whom John Lennon once publicly deemed his favorite artist often seems lost to history? How did the vocal talent behind "Without You" (one of pop's enduring love songs), "One," and "Everybody's Talkin'" become more of an historical footnote than an easy reference point? Maybe he was too quirky or too much of a renegade. Maybe his refusal to perform live - born of extreme insecurity - played a role. Or maybe he didn't deliver the goods for long enough.

Whatever the reason, it's unfortunate, because any fan of pop music who hasn't experienced the thrill and the charm and the beauty and the pain of Nilsson's voice - to say nothing of his singular songwriting prowess - has been deprived. While it was in working order, he could do anything with his voice. It's comparable to Roy Orbison's, and that's a rare statement.

All of this is on my mind because I recently watched Who is Harry Nilsson... (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?), a documentary directed by John Scheinfeld (who was also responsible for The U.S. vs. John Lennon). It's a terrific film, conventional in terms of its style and technique but full of warmth, humor, sadness and music for the ages. And for fans of The Beatles, there's much to enjoy in how often the Fabs make an appearance in Nilsson's story.

Here's a summary of what the film had to say:

Nilsson claimed to dislike The Beatles initially because he felt they had beaten him to the punch in a creative sense. He eventually relented, coming to the conclusion that they were the only band that mattered. Later, The Beatles returned the favor. At a press conference, John responded to a question about the influence of other acts by saying: "Nilsson's my favorite group." This professional respect eventually spawned close friendships between Nilsson and John as well as Ringo. Nilsson and John doubtlessly spotted much of themselves in each other, as both were abandoned by parents as children; both fought insecurity and deep-seated anger for much of their lives; and both saw their first marriages result in divorce and the neglect of young children. The most notorious overlap between their individual narratives came in 1973 and 1974 when Nilsson was a co-debauchee in John's year-plus, binge-fueled separation from Yoko known as his "Lost Weekend." It was during this period that the two made Pussy Cats. In the process of recording the album, Nilsson did permanent damage to his voice, the result of playful one-upmanship between him and John over who could belt out the more ragged, gritty vocal. That's the kind of bond they shared, "a friendship made in hell," according to one colleague of Nilsson's, but a friendship all the same. After John was murdered, Nilsson was distraught and became heavily involved in anti-hand gun activism. Though, as close as those two were, Nilsson and Ringo nurtured a deeper friendship. They recorded together, made silly films, and Ringo even fulfilled best man duties when Nilsson married his second wife.

My favorite Beatles-related story actually comes from Nilsson's funeral in 1994. George Harrison was in attendance and at one point started talking about Nilsson's music. He pegged "You're Breakin' My Heart" as his favorite song. According to another attendee, this inspired George and others to perform an a-capella rendition of the song - complete with its frank, ear-catching punch line - right next to Nilsson's grave. It was a moment perfectly suited to its honoree: sad, salty and sweet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Beatles on "Morning Joe"

Tim Riley, author of Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music - The Definitive Life, was recently on Morning Joe to discuss his new book. Go here for the video of him taking up John's harrowing drug addiction, his childhood defined by abandonment, and his attachment to Yoko.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Renaming "The White Album"

A favorite parlor game among Beatles fanatics is to prune and rearrange the 30 songs on "The White Album," creating a track listing that fits onto two sides instead of four. Though the double album's bloat is part of its appeal, I'm sure most would agree that not all of the songs hit their mark, and some are just downright baffling ("Wild Honey Pie" and "Revolution 9" are atop that list). Such is the case with The Beatles' ninth album: because of its size and colorful oddity, it often confounds us and prompts us to second-guess.

Other games are possible. What of the curiously plain cover art? It's iconic, to be sure, but it's not exactly a feast for the eyes. And then there's the album's name, The Beatles or "The White Album," neither of which stokes the imagination.

Finding suitable replacements for the album's cover art and name would clearly be more difficult than the first exercise because the former require that you come up with something new as opposed to just marking songs for deletion. With that in mind, I thought of an alternative: use existing concepts. As in, what album name that already exists would be fitting for "The White Album"?

Two ideas: Pet Sounds or Animals.

"The White Album" is suffused with animal imagery. There's a walrus on "Glass Onion," tigers and elephants on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," and a lizard on "Happiness Is a Warm Gun;" "Martha My Dear" is about a dog; there are songs named "Blackbird," "Piggies," "Rocky Raccoon," and "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey;" and "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" was inspired by the sight of monkeys having sex.

God bless "The White Album."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Notes on "Yesterday"

After listening to "Yesterday" recently, it occurred to me that one line didn't sound quite right. From the second verse: "Oh yesterday came suddenly." The thought I had is, given the context provided by the other lines, shouldn't Paul be saying that "yesterday," in fact, "left suddenly." Let me elaborate. In the lyric, Paul describes "yesterday" as something positive, a time when all his troubles seemed so far away, a time when he was with the girl he loved, a time which he believes in and longs for. "Yesterday" only became "yesterday" after his lover broke his heart. And she seems to have done so in a rather abrupt fashion: "Why she had to go/ I don't know/ She wouldn't say." It took him by surprise. Thus, this period of love and contentment - "yesterday" - was taken from Paul unexpectedly; that is, "yesterday left suddenly."

Using the rest of the lyric as a guide, it isn't clear to me what Paul means by the line he used. Any thoughts?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday cover

As a public figure, Ringo Starr seems irrepressibly upbeat. In interviews, he always has a smile ready, and you can't imagine him turning down an opportunity to advocate "peace and love." As a recording artist, he's much the same these days. On his cover of Buddy Holly's "Think It Over" - part of the compilation Listen To Me: Buddy Holly - he makes a lover's plea for reconciliation sound like a warm and jaunty trip down memory lane.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Revolution in the Head" - Part 1.2

One feeling I've had in response to reading Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head is a pleasant sort of shame. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, it's undeniable that MacDonald thoroughly knows The Beatles' catalogue, and what this can lead to is him essentially telling you, on grounds or in terms you hadn't previously considered, why you like a particular song or why it's so compelling. You might adore "It Won't Be Long" and have well thought-out reasons for doing so, but MacDonald will supply you with better, more incisive ones. It can leave you a bit embarrassed, but you should also welcome the new perspective.

A notable example comes in the section on "From Me to You." MacDonald writes: Like most of Lennon and McCartney's few recorded full fifty-fifty collaborations, FROM ME TO YOU proceeds in the two-bar phrases a pair of writers typically adopt when tentatively ad-libbing at each other. The usual result of such a synthetic process, in which neither contributor is free to develop the melody-line in his normal way, is a competition to produce surprising developments of the initial idea. As in I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND, the variation surprise in FROM ME TO YOU consists of a sudden falsetto octave leap, a motif first tried on the chorus of PLEASE PLEASE ME (itself rewritten in this to-and-fro fashion) (pg. 78).

Let me first say that I've long considered "From Me to You" one of the Fabs' strongest early-period songs. When I wrote about it here, I highlighted some of the parts that MacDonald emphasized, like the falsetto ("The breezy joy they were undoubtedly experiencing reveals itself throughout the song. It's in the high notes that John reaches for on the harmony"). In short, I felt I knew exactly why I appreciated the song so much. But then I read MacDonald's take and found out differently. He nails it: it's not just the mere inclusion of the giddy falsetto that makes the song; it's the "surprise" of it, the way it seems to come out of nowhere.

The author elaborates: Yet where the Americans built falsetto into their four-part harmony, The Beatles wielded it as an isolated device, and it was mainly these sudden hair-raising wails that made their early records so rivetingly strange (pg. 79).

MacDonald makes it all seem so obvious.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"George Harrison: Living in the Material World" reviewed

The Hollywood Reporter offers a flattering appraisal of the Martin Scorsese documentary coming out in October.

Scorsese doesn't try to make a case either for Harrison being as an important an artist as Dylan or his band mates John Lennon and Paul McCartney, or for his having been somewhat neglected. But that the film entirely commands full attention for 209 minutes is itself testimony not only to its quality but to the idea that the public may have underestimated this old schoolmate of Paul's whose voice wasn't that great, who wasn't as cute as the other two original Beatles, didn't contribute many songs at first and got into that weird Indian sitar stuff but had perhaps the most diverse and unusual life journey of any of them.

. . .

One major coup is a rare, amply sampled interview with Phil Spector, obviously made before his 2009 murder conviction. A producer on “Let It Be,” “All Things” and “A Concert for Bangladesh,” Spector is sometimes hilarious and even more often insightful, a real plus for the documentary.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Beatles on "Morning Joe"

One of the few TV shows I consistently watch, Morning Joe, did a segment on Friday about The Beatles with Rolling Stone's Alan Light. (He's the pop critic you remember from all those VH1 countdown specials with the pleasantly hoarse voice.) The panel swooned over the Fabs while discussing two new issues of Rolling Stone. Watch it here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Fabs and the King

Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of The Beatles' first and only encounter with Elvis Presley. On The Atlantic's website a few weeks back, there was an article about Jerry Schilling, a close friend of Presley's and a member of his inner circle, which was known as the "Memphis Mafia." Below is a long excerpt about the historic meeting between the Fabs and the King that took place on August 27, 1965.

August also saw the first and only meeting between Presley and the Beatles. The Fab Four showed up at the door of Elvis’ Bel Air home on August 27, 1965, to pay their respects. The Beatles were in Los Angeles to perform their music at the Hollywood Bowl; Presley was in town to begrudgingly fulfill his film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Schilling was among those present that night.

The visit between two of the most influential forces in rock ‘n’ roll history was at first a bit awkward, Schilling remembers. John, Paul, George and Ringo—then at the height of their fame—seemed dumbstruck in the presence of their idol. “We didn’t know who was going to say what,” says Schilling. “And then Elvis, having a great sense of British humor, said, ‘OK guys, if you’re just going to sit here and look at me all night, I’m going to bed.’ Everybody including Elvis died laughing, and that broke the ice.”

If Presley and the Beatles played music together that night, Schilling doesn’t remember it. Neither did Paul, George or Ringo, though John Lennon later claimed a jam session took place. George Harrison at one point said he remembered smoking a joint out by the swimming pool that night, so his recall may have been a bit hazy. Nevertheless, the one memory still so brilliant that no one present could forget it is of Presley entertaining his guests by playing his Fender bass along with a Charlie Rich single called “Mohair Sam” that was looping on his jukebox.

The next day, before the Beatles’ concert, Lennon confided something to Schilling that the Elvis fan was too nervous to say in the presence of Presley. “John pointed to his sideburns and said, ‘Do you see these? I almost got kicked out of high school because I wanted to look like Elvis. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.’ Later that day, I told Elvis what John Lennon said, and Elvis just smiled. That said everything to me. He didn’t make a comment, but what John said really meant something to him.”

For Schilling, looking back on that night at Presley’s house on Perugia Way is bittersweet. Presley, though not jealous of the success the Beatles were enjoying, saw up close the creative freedom they enjoyed—something he once had but somehow had let slip away.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Trailer for Scorsese doc about George

George Harrison: Living in the Material World:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday Beatles cover

Below is a stellar performance of "Don't Let Me Down" by '90s alt-rockers Garbage. Nimbly moving from forceful to restrained and then back, Shirley Manson's voice suits the material quite well.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Revolution in the Head" - Part 1.1

A major factor in the appeal of Revolution in the Head is the way that Ian MacDonald structured it. As I mentioned in a previous post, MacDonald tells the story of The Beatles through their songs - every one of them. Not only does he analyze them in detail, but because he goes in the order they were recorded, he's also able to piece together a narrative of the band's history. Thus, in the section on "My Bonnie," you learn about both the song itself and The Beatles' formative years in Hamburg, including their time spent as the backing band for British rock 'n' roller Tony Sheridan. MacDonald rightly judged that the historical context for these songs was too important to ignore.

So far, I've only made my way through Please Please Me, which entails recordings from the summer of 1961 to early 1963. My thoughts on this part are below.

- People like to snicker at Decca's rejection of The Beatles in early 1962, perhaps thinking that what's obvious to us now should have been obvious to record labels then. Not so. MacDonald provides some context:

From pgs. 49-50: Forced by the Decca engineers to use the studio equipment rather than their own battered Vox amps, The Beatles were unable to reproduce the energy and dirty, overdriven sound which made their stage-act so exciting. Nor were they helped by a recording regime which budgeted for one take per song and no overdubs.

And from pg. 53: The first prerequisite for an early Sixties recording contract was presentability: potential 'artistes' had to be 'professional', i.e., musically competent, groomable, and acquiescent to the demands of their producers who, it was assumed, would select their songs for them from batches circulated by writing teams through the normal channels. Loud, long-haired, and seemingly incapable of desisting from laughter, The Beatles did not meet these requirements. Nor, at this stage, did they have much going for them as songwriters.

- MacDonald's description of an early Beatles backbencher, "How Do You Do It?," is dead on. I can't imagine a band sounding more pleasantly bored than The Beatles do on this song by Mitch Murray. MacDonald writes that it "revolves around a shamelessly bright, breezy, and childish G major tune" and that the Fabs' rendition "ingeniously combines obliging efficiency with affable indifference." Best of all, he notes its "faceless catchiness" (all from pg. 57). There's something both infectious and soporific about the song. It's that rare ear-worm that could put you to sleep.

- It's bizarre to think that, in 1962, "Love Me Do" was "extraordinarily raw by the standards of its time" (pg. 59). It now seems so sedate, so earthbound. MacDonald closes the recap of the song with this: "The first faint chime of a revolutionary bell, LOVE ME DO represented far more than the sum of its simple parts. A new spirit was abroad: artless yet unabashed - and awed by nothing" (pgs. 60-61).

- I was pleased to find that MacDonald had such high praise for "There's a Place," the song I consider the best original on Please Please Me. As usual, MacDonald was forceful with his opinions, venturing that "There's a Place" was "an assertion of self-sufficient defiance which, matched by music of pride and poignancy, marks a minor milestone in the emergence of the new youth culture" (pg. 65).

- I must part ways with MacDonald when he implies that Arthur Alexander's version of "Anna (Go to Him)" is superior to The Beatles'. Between the two, I'd say it's a wash when it comes to the verses and chorus (which are basically merged into one). But John's impassioned, yearning, and needy delivery on the "middle sixteen" (pg. 73) - "All of my life...."- decisively swings the contest in The Beatles' favor. He kills that part.

- Finally, MacDonald on the sublime creation that is The Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout": Yet the result is remarkable for its time: raw to a degree unmatched by other white artists - and far too wild to be acceptable to the older generation. As such, it became the symbolic fixture of the group's act during Beatlemania: the song where parents, however liberal, feared to tread (pg. 77).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Piers Morgan on Paul, Heather, and the phone-hacking scandal

Last night on Conan, Piers Morgan - the former editor of the Daily Mirror - responded to allegations that he was somehow complicit in phone-hacking Paul and/or Heather Mills years back when their marriage was turning sour. It's an enjoyable mini charm offensive. Watch below:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

More on the story here.

Beatlemania hits Havana

This interesting story from the New York Times tells of how the Cuban government has finally learned to stop worrying and love The Beatles, in the form of a new bar called the Yellow Submarine.

The hair and accents were wrong, but the audience cared about just one thing: the house band was singing the Beatles, here, in a new bar called the Yellow Submarine, in Cuba, where such an act might have led to arrests in the mid-1960s.

Better yet, perhaps because of that history, the band played like rebels. Fast and raw, they zipped up and down the bass lines of “Dear Prudence” as if the song were new. They raced through “Rocky Raccoon,” and when they reached the opening words of “Let It Be” — “When I find myself in times of trouble” — the entire crowd began singing along, swaying, staring at the band or belting out the chorus with their eyes closed in rapture.

“If there’s no Beatles, there’s no rock ’n’ roll,” said Guille Vilar, a co-creator of the bar. “This is music created with authenticity.”

Maybe so, but Cuba’s revolutionaries were not sure what to make of it when it first came out. Though today the bonds between counterculture rock and leftist politics are well established, back then, Cuban authorities — at least some of them — saw anything in English as American and practically treasonous. The Beatles, along with long hair, bell-bottom jeans and homosexuality, were all seen as cause for alarm or arrest at a time when green fatigues were a statement of great importance.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Today in Beatles history

This day in 1969 witnessed a brief photo-shoot that would turn out to produce one of the most legendary album covers in music history. In my opinion, it doesn't get any better than the Abbey Road zebra crossing.

Excerpt from the Gibson article:
The album’s iconic cover, with all four Beatles walking across a zebra crossing on Abbey Road outside of the EMI Studios, was based on sketch ideas from McCartney. At 11:30 a.m. on this day in 1969, photographer Iain Macmillan was given 10 minutes to get the shot he wanted while a policeman held up traffic. Macmillan climbed a stepladder in the middle of Abbey Road and photographed the band as they walked, single file, from left to right. With Lennon in front, followed by Ringo Starr, McCartney and George Harrison, all members except for Harrison were dressed in suits, while Harrison wore blue jeans and a blue denim shirt.

When rumors of McCartney’s death began to surface, the imagery from Abbey Road’s cover helped fuel the nonsense, with many seeing each band member’s attire symbolizing some role in a funeral sequence. Lennon, dressed in a white suit, was seen as a sort of evangelical preacher, while Ringo, dressed in black, was a mourner. Harrison, with his denim pants and shirt, represented a gravedigger, while Paul, dressed in a nice suit and barefoot, was the decedent (though many believed it wasn’t actually McCartney in the photo but a look-alike). The fact that Paul is out of step with the other three further fanned the flames of his untimely demise.

Paul in Cincinnati (8/4)


Julie Lyle was 10 years old in 1964 when she won tickets from WSAI-AM to see the Beatles at Cincinnati Gardens. Unfortunately her mother wasn’t about to let the pre-teen go to the show, so she had to give them to her sister, Nancy, who was 15.

“I had to wait 47 years,” said Lyle, who sat on her screened-in porch on Alta Vista Avenue in Cheviot with a transistor radio next to her ear listening to DJ Dusty Rhodes. “I have a memory. You better believe we’ve discussed it over the years.”

Apparently the wait was worth it.

"Oh my God, I teared up, then I calmed down, then he played ‘The Night Before,’ then ‘Maybe I'm Amazed’ and I lost it again,” said Lyle, who went with her daughter Liz. “He's wearing the old shoes he used to wear with the Beatles. I can't get over this.”

McCartney was indeed wearing Beatle boots, with a red sport coat (“Good evening, Cincinnati. Dig the jacket; home of the Reds.”).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Weekend reading #2

From Jewish Ideas Daily, here's a review of a newly released book, John Lennon and the Jews.

Side-note: It seems that the primary placement of John's name in the title strongly oversells his role in the book. But the phrase "John Lennon and the Jews" does have a compelling ring to it.

The book is an extended defense of passionate love for the Jewish people, written by an American immigrant long settled in Israel, a highly-respected professor of Arabic literature and Islamic history who also happens to be the 1983 International Frisbee Golf Champion (Junior Division) and a former member of the IDF's tank corps. Maghen's target audience is the population of tepid, English-speaking Jews whose love for their people has been displaced by the dictates of universalism and rationalism—a cohort whose instincts I know intimately.

John Lennon and the Jews opens with Maghen's chance meeting, real or imagined, at Los Angeles International Airport with Shira, Ofer, and Doron: "three Hebrew Hare Krishnas," dressed in regulation saffron robes. Maghen can't stomach that these young Israelis have abandoned Hebraism for Hinduism. Whipping out a Bible, he proclaims "This is your book!!!" But the three, dreaming of a world without nations, borders, or hierarchy—in short, the world evoked in Lennon's famous thought exercise "Imagine" ("Imagine there's no countries . . . nothing to kill or die for . . . ")—aren't impressed. Shira presents a universalist challenge to Jewish particularism; Ofer goes on the rationalist attack; and Doron basically tells Maghen to chill out.

Reflecting on this encounter at LAX, Maghen contends that Lennon's "beautiful ballad is in reality a death-march, a requiem mass for the human race." His book is an extended defense of this position, presented in three parts, each a response to the arguments laid out by Shira, Ofer, and Doron, respectively.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Today in Beatles history / Weekend reading

"10 Things You May Not Know About The Beatles' Revolver" (which was released in the UK on this day in 1966).

The 35-minute, 14-track Revolver took the Beatles 300 hours of studio time to complete. They only spent 150 hours on Rubber Soul.

More on Paul and the phone-hacking scandal

To no surprise, a new development in the UK's newspaper phone-hacking scandal directly involves Paul and Heather Mills:

Heather Mills, the ex-wife of former Beatle Paul McCartney, dramatically widened the phone-hacking row Wednesday night to include another newspaper group, telling the BBC that a journalist from The Mirror Group had hacked her phone messages in 2001.

Mills did not identify the reporter in question, but said it was not Piers Morgan, the CNN anchor and America’s Got Talent judge, who was then editor of The Daily Mirror. She said the reporter had quoted “verbatim” details of a phone message left by McCartney following a fight between the couple.

- Despite there being "no plans to quiz Piers Morgan," he is not out of the woods (from the article above):

But Newsnight pointed to a column Morgan wrote in The Mail on Sunday in 2006 about the couple’s breakdown, which appeared to show that that Morgan had listened to the illegally hacked message.

“At one stage I was played a tape of a message Paul had left Heather on her mobile phone,” he wrote in his column. “It was heartbreaking. He sounded lonely, miserable and desperate and even sang ‘We Can Work It Out’ into the answer phone.”

- Finally, in an interview about his experience on 9/11, Paul acknowledged the unfolding situation:

"When I go back after this tour, I'm going to tak (sic) to the police because I apparently have been hacked. ... I do think it's a horrendous violation of privacy and I think it's been going on for a long time, and more people than we've heard about knew about it."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thursday cover

Though the sound quality is a bit rough, it's still a pleasure listening to David Bowie cover "This Boy." He possesses just the voice for the song's more eruptive sections.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Revolution in the Head" - Introduction

As I mentioned in the introductory post for my Revolution in the Head reading-project, Ian MacDonald opens his book with an essay on the 1960s, examining the decade (the "Disappearing Decade") as a period of momentous change, a battleground for future ideological clashes, and The Beatles' moment. I just finished the piece, and I'm still trying to process all of the material that MacDonald covered.

In truth, it should be book-length. Condensing a cultural history of the '60s (and one, no less, that burrows into the past - the Beats, the Angry Young Men, early rock 'n' roll, and more - and touches on aspects of later decades - punk rock, Reagan and Thatcher, etc.) into just under 40 pages is going to have some drawbacks. For one, MacDonald often speaks in very sweeping terms. Two, he doesn't leave much room for statistical analysis that would support the many bold claims he makes. Admittedly, citing tedious facts wouldn't fit his method, and it would interrupt the narrative momentum he builds by stringing together one provocative and confidently asserted opinion after another. Indeed, anyone reading this book should try to avoid being lulled into submission by the elan and certainty of MacDonald's literary voice. His writing style is charmingly verbose and extravagant - he's so convincing - but you have to stay aware of how generalized many of his statements are and how they frequently lack scientific corroboration. Had he spread the essay out over an entire book, some of this might be different. As it is, it needs to be read with an especially alert and critical eye.

That said, I did find many of MacDonald's points to be persuasive. His central argument is this: the true revolution of the 1960s "was an inner one of feeling and assumption - a revolution in the head" (pg. 27), not centering on hippies or New Leftists or any other ephemeral movement but rather mainstream society as a whole. Brought on by an historic rise in affluence and the aggressive advance of science, this revolution empowered "ordinary people" to achieve their "desires" (both pg. 36) but also spearheaded the breakdown of Western society by promoting self-determination, materialism, secularism and instant gratification. MacDonald further argues that no product of the '60s better captured and reflected the era's changes and vitality than The Beatles, who were so unorthodox, so new. Thus, the subtitle of the book: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties.

I'll stop there with the summary. If you're intrigued and want to know more, just read the book.

But before I dig into MacDonald's take on all of The Beatles' songs (which constitutes the rest of the book), here are some quick hits and random observations:

- I wonder if MacDonald too often conflates American and British politics when discussing the 1980s, the age of Reagan and Thatcher. Because of the pair's overlapping ideological visions, MacDonald seems to make few distinctions between the partisan battles that were taking place in the US and the UK at the time, possibly in error.

- As brashly opinionated as MacDonald is, it seems he harbors competing views on the '60s as a whole, one side of him being a non-establishment type and the other something of a moralist. This can lead to surprising, though not incoherent, shifts in tone.

- MacDonald's contrast of John ("sedentary, ironic") and Paul ("a natural melodist") is riveting (both 12).

- Lastly, a few thoughts on his prose. Where some writers might give you two or even three sentences, MacDonald often finds a way to piece together just one. He also has a weakness for superfluous but colorful adjectives and a knack for lively word combinations, "Euro-Maoism" being among my favorites. He applies it in earnest, while I think it could be used for strong comedic effect.

Next: The Beatles' "buoyant, poignant, hopeful, love-advocating songs" (pg. 37).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Paul's rep: 2012 Olympics aren't a given

Read more here.

The Examiner reports that Olympic officials were in touch with the Liverpool Echo, and the officials told the paper it's too early to know for sure who would be participating. “We are still a year away from opening ceremony. Discussions are taking place with lots of high-profile people but it is too early to confirm anyone," said the official.

Best, Epstein recognized

Two important figures in Beatles history are being honored with landmarks in Liverpool. Pete Best, the Fabs' drummer prior to Ringo, now has a street named after him, and Brian Epstein, the band's longtime manager, now shares his name with the former Neptune Theatre.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Paul in Chicago (7/31)

From Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune:
The takeaway moment for this concertgoer was “Maybe I’m Amazed,” with McCartney at the grand piano, bringing the song to a simmer and then taking it higher and harder, with some improbable falsetto notes. The beat at times suggested the sunniness of reggae, with rhythm guitar chopping against the melody, before a flourish of drums and McCartney's fevered vocal nearly tore the song loose from its foundation.

Today in (post) Beatles history

Today is the 40th anniversary of George's star-studded and precedent-setting Concert for Bangladesh, which took place at Madison Square Garden in response to a humanitarian crisis in Asia. Read about the legacy of the event below.

- From The Guardian:
"It was uncharted territory, the scale of it," says Jonathan Clyde, of Apple (the Beatles' company, not the tech company), who oversees the Concert's legacy, alongside Harrison's widow, Olivia. "The money did eventually reach Bangladesh, although perhaps not in time to help the refugees at that point. The big mistake was that Unicef wasn't chosen beforehand, and so the IRS [the US tax service] took the view that because the charity wasn't involved in the mounting of the concert, they'd take their cut. This distressed George hugely, it really angered him. There was an ongoing tussle for years, but I'm afraid even now the IRS still take their slice."

Many of these lessons have been learned by those seeking to replicate Harrison's pioneering work, but raising cash through making music remains oddly inefficient.

- From CBS News:
That day - almost 40 years ago - Harrison and his friends helped put Bangladesh on the map. What's more - they gave musicians a new way to give back.

"The template was set by Bangladesh," DeCurtis said. "It becomes sort of the emotional backdrop I think for, you know, Live Aid and all the other concerts that have come over these few decades."

- Finally, here's a short post I wrote about the concert (which, by the way, is still streaming on George's official website).

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Paul to play 2012 Olympics?

The report is that Paul has agreed to perform at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Sir Paul told Olympic organisers he's "up for" doing the show but detailed plans and choice of songs have yet to be finalised.

The Rolling Stones reportedly declined an offer to perform and Led Zeppelin are also said to be staying away after frontman Robert Plant said he was not interested.

A music industry source told the Daily Mirror: "The hope was to have the cream of British music all in the line up but it now looks like Macca will be joined by some younger stars on stage.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday cover

From the Sucker Punch soundtrack, "Tomorrow Never Knows" by Alison Mosshart (lead vocalist for the Kills) and Carla Azar. Of significance, it's nearly 5 minutes longer than the original, adding a roaming instrumental break in the middle.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Paul in Montreal (7/26 and 7/27)

From The Montreal Gazette.

Night one:
McCartney’s band has been working with him for 10 years – longer than the Beatles (at least with Ringo Starr) were together. Bassist Brian Ray, guitarist Rusty Anderson, drummer Abe Loboriel, Jr., and keyboard player Paul “Wix” Wickens are as comfortable rocking up Birthday and Back In the U.S.S.R as they are providing the wordless, note-perfect harmonies in Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five or the Frere Jacques background vocals in Paperback Writer. And never do they stray far from the studio recordings. I’m Looking Through You, for example, sounded almost as sweet and breezy as its Rubber Soul source.

Night two:
But the second show was more satisfying for me because it was my good fortune to see it almost like a fan, without deadline worries, constant note-taking or non-stop thinking about what needed to be mentioned in the review. During Live and Let Die, I even allowed myself the luxury of a weird hallucinatory take on the stage action. As fireworks went off al over the place and plumes of fire shot up in front and back of the stage, a grinning McCartney looked as if he was gleefully playing through the apocalypse.

And the image made a lot of sense. There are many who find themselves in times of trouble and discover that it`s not Mother Mary, but Father McCartney – that was to be the priest`s name in Eleanor Rigby – who brings, if not the words of wisdom, then the notes that soothe their soul. It`s been a constant comfort for many in crisis. You can ask the 34,000 people who sang, shouted, clapped, beamed and cried their way through a pair of three-hour sets over the two nights.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My next project: "Revolution in the Head"

Now that I've completed my Beatles haiku project, I'm moving on to something much different and far more conventional: reading and analyzing a book. Of the vast number of books written about The Beatles, it seems none has received more praise than Ian MacDonald's 1994 classic, Revolution in the Head. As many of you likely know, MacDonald doesn't deliver a formal historical narrative but instead uses a song-by-song examination of The Beatles' catalog to tell their story. I don't think there's a better approach if one's aim is to capture the band's essence; The Beatles are their songs. Furthermore, MacDonald opens the book with a provocative cultural analysis of the 1960s, exploring how the Fabs were central to the societal disruptions of that decade and what the ramifications were.

My plan is to read the book at a rather measured pace, take notes, and regularly post commentaries on what I find most interesting. Thus far, I've only made it through the two prefaces, but already I've been struck by MacDonald's insights about various topics: the importance of the UK's system of art schools in fashioning the whimsical, concept-oriented tendencies of British pop acts; the differences between British and American sensibilities in music (the former generally characterized by sardonic irony and the latter by earnestness and naturalism); and the best way to view The Beatles as lyricists (i.e., not as great but as effective). It's stimulating material, and I have yet to reach page one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Paul's cover of "Hitch Hike" by Marvin Gaye

It's from his performance over the weekend in Detroit.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Paul in Detroit (7/24)

A recap of last night's concert at Comerica Park from the Detroit Free Press.

With a mix of enthusiasm and reverence, he talked about his visit to the Motown Historical Museum — the former studio complex on West Grand Boulevard that he called “the holy grail.” (He’d spent about two hours there today, according to a museum official.)

“That took me back,” he said, going on to recall his younger years studying Motown records to learn parts. He and his band then launched into a lively cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” picked “especially for Detroit,” McCartney said.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Assorted Paul news (pt. 2)

- During the second of his two recent shows at Yankee Stadium, Paul was joined onstage by Billy Joel for a rendition of "I Saw Her Standing There."

- Paul is revisiting the sonic wizardry of "Tomorrow Never Knows."

- About a week prior to last Thursday's landing, astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis received a wake-up call from Macca.

- Rolling Stone: "Paul McCartney on 'Beatles 1,' Losing Linda and Being in New York on September 11th."

- Chicago Tribune: "Excerpts from Kot interviews with McCartney since 2001."

- Lastly, be sure to check out Mervyn Dendy's series of detailed articles that break down and analyze Paul's post-Beatles career.

Weekend reading

"Paul McCartney: Busting a few myths," by Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune.

Myth No. 2: Paul's just the bass player

Sure, and Mozart was just a hack piano player from Salzburg. The bass may be an unsung instrument, but it’s the bedrock of rock ‘n’ roll and soul. What’s more, McCartney reinvented its role in the Beatles, not just laying down a foundation for the song but often playing a strong counterpoint to the lead vocal. One of the reasons the Beatles’ songs sound so rich is the depth of composition, the melodic and harmonic layers – and McCartney’s ability to straddle rhythm and melody on bass was critical.

His flair was already apparent on the band’s earliest hits; on “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1964), the bass is on equal footing with the guitars, and it’s like a song in itself on “Michelle” (1965). By the time of “Paperback Writer” (1966), McCartney is the lead instrumentalist, ushering in each verse like Britain’s answer to Motown’s James Jamerson. He’s nearly in subterranean funk territory with the deep tones of “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” (1967) and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (1968), and stomps likeGodzilla through “Rain” (1966) and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” (1968).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ringo confirms he won't do 2012 Olympics

At last week's Mojo Awards, where he was recognized as an "icon," Ringo once again shot down rumors about him playing the 2012 Olympics in London. Watch below.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Amy Winehouse, RIP

The wildly talented but troubled singer, 27, was found dead in her London apartment earlier today.

Here she is doing a cover of "All My Loving":

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Showtime to air Paul's 9/11 doc on 9/10

More here.

Paul McCartney is at the heart of a new documentary marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The Love We Make, by Gimme Shelter co-director Albert Maysles, follows the singer around New York in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. It will air in the US on 10 September.

"There was so much suffering as a result of 9/11 it's hard to imagine how one might bring relief to those who were impacted by the attacks," Maysles explained to the New York Times. "But Paul had the answer: music and a film that would tell the full story."

On the morning of 11 September 2001, McCartney was in a grounded airplane in New York. After hearing of the terrorist attacks the former Beatle returned to the city, visiting Ground Zero, talking to residents, and planning an October benefit show, the Concert for New York City. The Love We Make follows McCartney through these six weeks, including backstage footage featuring David Bowie, Mick Jagger and former US president Bill Clinton.

Some have raised questions about the project.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Assorted Paul news (pt. 1)

- Paul worked with surfer/filmmaker Jack McCoy to craft a video for "Blue Sway," a previously unreleased song that is now seeing the light of day as a bonus track on the reissue of McCartney II. Watch it here.

- Paul may collaborate with Gorillaz at some point in the future.

- Macca says yes to cloud computing and crowd sourcing.

- Baby, you can drive Paul's (?) car.

- Finally, Huffington Post: "Why Sir Paul McCartney Might Be Justified In Not Having A Pre-Nup."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Assorted Beatles news (pt. 2)

- "Inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Beatles Exhibit," via Rolling Stone.

- Have a look at some previously unpublished pics of The Beatles' first concert in the U.S. Read more about them here.

- A power struggle that broke out between rival Beatles tribute bands has been resolved.

- The famous music critic Jane Scott died in early July at the age of 92.

- After ten years in the making, the Museum of Liverpool has opened.

- Finally, Gibson lists the "Top 10 Legendary Rock Couples."

Assorted Beatles news (pt. 1)

- David Mason, the British musician who played the piccolo trumpet solo on "Penny Lane," died in April at the age of 85. (Excerpt: Before the session, the musician didn't know who the Beatles were and he was paid around $45 for his work.)

- The original gates to Liverpool's Strawberry Fields are being replaced in the interest of preservation.

- "The 100% For Sure Top Five Worst Beatles Songs Ever" and "The Top (Fab) Four Songs on Beatles' Solo Albums," according to LA Weekly.

- SF Weekly weighs in with "The Absolute, No-Debate Worst Song Any Beatle Ever Recorded."

- Lastly, Sir George Martin recently received an honorary degree from Oxford University.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Paul targeted by "News of the World"?

The phone-hacking scandal that is rocking London reportedly entails a subplot involving Paul.

Outside’s founder, Alan Edwards, and Sir Paul’s personal spokesman, Stuart Bell, who now runs his own public relations company, both allegedly had their telephones hacked during the period when the former Beatle separated from Miss Mills in 2006, after four years’ marriage. The High Court ordered Sir Paul to pay Miss Mills almost £25 million.

It is not thought that Sir Paul was hacked directly because his mobile phone number was known to only a handful of his closest friends, family and advisers.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Do you think they would kill a closet republican?"

It's sad that the most unhelpful response to the story about John being a "closet republican" has come from the person who likely knew him best - Yoko. On Twitter, Yoko asked followers to submit questions to her, after which she would post her replies. One such exchange went as follows:

Is it true that John was a closet Republican? Media claiming he supported Reagan.
How could you even ask that question? John would be appalled. Nothing was kept in his closet. Whatever he believed in, he said it all out there. Do you think they would kill a closet republican? Think!

These are unfortunate words, to say the least. First, Yoko needs to clarify who exactly "they" are, because, from what I can gather, Mark David Chapman was and remains only one person. Is she insinuating that a conspiracy or cabal of some kind was behind John's murder? If so, she should be upfront about this instead of hiding behind an anonymous pronoun. Second, the implication of her statement is that John's political views were a contributing factor in his death (carried out by "they"). As Yoko well knows, by 1980 (and even much earlier) John had disengaged from radical politics and was comfortably living out his life as a family man; he posed no threat to the American political establishment (then in the hands of a Democrat). It begs the question: why would he be targeted then? Once again, Yoko didn't feel compelled to square this matter with her idle paranoid musings.

At the end of her response, Yoko implores her fan to "think." Indeed - heal thyself, Ms. Ono. Or, at a minimum, explain thyself.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Paul in NYC (7/15)

Here's a recap of Paul's performance from the New York Times.

As always, melody let Mr. McCartney put across musical and verbal non sequiturs few other songwriters could get away with: songs such as “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” with its sudden interlude of Beach Boys harmony, or “Let ‘Em In,” which switches from piano bounce to military tattoo, with whistling, and has lyrics that juxtapose Martin Luther and Phil and Don (the Everly Brothers?). Melody easily carried Mr. McCartney through idiom after idiom: toe-tapping country in “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” hard rock in “Helter Skelter,” lilting ballad in “I Will,” something like ska in “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and the quasi-Slavic oompah in “Mrs. Vandebilt” (Mr. McCartney announced that they loved it in Ukraine).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Beatles "reunion" rumors rebuffed

In their own words or through representatives, Paul, Ringo, and Julian Lennon have all denied the report that a Beatles reunion (of sorts) might take place at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Representatives for both McCartney and Starr have shot down those reports, with McCartney calling it “tabloid stuff.” A rep for Starr said “this is not true.”

Julian Lennon, who theoretically would have filled his father’s role on stage at this event, commented via his Facebook page: “There will NEVER be a Beatles reunion, because two of the members of the band have since passed… And NO ONE could, or should try to replace them.”

Macca at Yankee Stadium tonight...

... and to mark the occasion, the New York Times published a meandering but not un-interesting piece about Paul, stadium rock, and baseball.

In a way the Beatles and stadium rock stumbled into each other unprepared. The Beatles, at the time, were using amplifiers less powerful than those in most people’s living room stereo systems today. And stadium public-address systems were designed for announcements and a bit of organ music, not for the pounding beat and rich instrumental textures of a rock band. Not that it mattered in the Beatles’ case: all that could be heard was the shrill roar of 56,000 screeching fans, and better amplification would hardly have helped. But a great deal of technical innovation was required before stadium shows could be regarded as anything like artistic experiences, let alone the gargantuan, carefully choreographed audio-video productions they are today.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Assorted John news

- Read about the short yet productive stretch of time that John lived at Tittenhurst Park in Ascot.

- John's handwritten lyrics for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" sold for nearly $250,000 at an auction in May; one of his microphones (referenced in the top article) brought in significantly less; and a copy of Double Fantasy that he signed mere hours before his death was procured for about $40,000.

- Reportedly, Yoko is threatening to sue the owner of a Lennon-themed bar for copyright infringement.

- Satirist Stephen Colbert strengthens the case for John as a conservative.

- Lastly, Rolling Stone: "Bob Dylan on Drugs, John Lennon and Much More in 1969"

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Old news: Keef, the Stones, and the Fabs

- Keith Richards on his favorite Beatles song (and more).

- Video footage of Keef on Jimmy Fallon: segment 1, segment 2, and segment 3.

- Lastly, Paul has revealed that Mick Jagger used to refer to The Beatles as "the Four-headed Monster."

Doc about George to debut on HBO

Directed by Martin Scorsese, the two-part documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World will reach the occupants of this material world via HBO on October 5 and 6.

The cable network said on Wednesday that it had acquired the North American television rights to “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” a nonfiction feature from Mr. Scorsese that chronicles Harrison’s artistic and spiritual development through interviews, performances, home movies and other previously unseen footage. Among the colleagues and loved ones who appear in on-camera interviews are Harrison’s former band mates Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr; his collaborator and sometime romantic rival Eric Clapton; and the “Monty Python” alums Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle, as well as George Martin, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty, Phil Spector and Jackie Stewart.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reviews of "Rave On"

Rave On is the newly released Buddy Holly tribute album that features Paul's raucous cover of "It's So Easy." Below are two takes on it.

From New York Daily News:
Two oldsters do wonders by bringing in surprising references to their own pasts.

Softie Paul McCartney stretches himself by reviving his distorted voice from "Birthday" for "It's So Easy," while rocking the track with far more Jerry Lee Lewis madness than Buddy Holly reserve. He even channels Wolfman Jack in a wild spoken coda.

Lou Reed goes even further with "Peggy Sue," bringing back the violins from "Heroin" to add grit and abstraction to a formerly innocent ditty.

From Pitchfork:
The departures from the originals are generally more entertaining than the straight readings. Lou Reed, an under-appreciated humorist, sings "Peggy Sue" with the aimless intensity of a very drunk person grinding through karaoke. "It's So Easy"-- a song Holly originally sang with a gee-whiz kind of tone-- is turned into a noisy blues about how hard it is to control yourself when you're horny. Happily, comfortingly, it is sung by Paul McCartney, the only Beatle funny enough to write a song about his sheepdog

Movies, etc.

Here's a round-up of recent news bits and articles dealing with The Beatles and movies:

- The Washington Times catalogs "Movies that rock."

- Paste lists "The 10 Best Musicians Biopics." (Editorial note: Quarryman, not "Quarrman;" and culminating, not "cultivating.")

- On the subject of biopics, one about Brian Epstein has received funding.

- Finally, Liam Gallagher's delusions of grandeur continue.

Monday, July 11, 2011

One last article about John's political evolution

"Lennon's freedom," via American Thinker.

Lennon was against abuse of power in his most raggedy radical days. Government is power, and it is the biggest abuser of power. Lennon was against war. What good person isn't? How we deal with these things is what separates the ideologies.

An Olympics reunion for the Fabs?

From Londonist:

Could Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr be joined on stage by the children of the other Beatles for a gig at the Olympics opening or closing ceremony?

The possibility comes at the end of a long chain of speculation by The Sun. First Macca teases an interviewer thus: “I hear there’s a rumour that I might be involved.” An ‘insider’ then provides additional, juicier details. “The organisers want The Beatles legend to appear alongside other big British acts…and they want Ringo on stage as well to make it extra special. There’s also the possibility that George Harrison and John Lennon could be represented by their kids.” (Note: Quote edited to remove The Sun’s shouty formatting.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Happy Beatles Day!

The fourth annual event is taking place today in Liverpool.

Jeremy Roberts, chairman of the Albert Dock Tenants' Association said: "Beatles Day is a fantastic celebration of the Fab Four and we are thrilled to host this year's event at the Albert Dock.

"The day is going to be action packed with music and entertainment, with all of the dock venues getting into the spirit with special offers and prize giveaways.

"We have been working very closely with the organisers to make this year's Beatles Day the best ever, and we are really looking forward to welcoming people from far and wide to join us."