Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend reading

"You Are Here: The 10 Best John Lennon Solo Songs"

#6 “Jealous Guy”

Though the melody dated back to his days as a Beatle (composed during the infamous trip to India, specifically), the lyrics came together during the Imagine sessions, resulting in the greatest non-singles in Lennon’s catalog. One of the most unique love songs ever written, the unusually paranoid perspective (he sings of “shivering inside” and losing “control” throughout) offers an emotional core far more striking than the standard “Moon/June/Spoon” conceits. While it’s hard to imagine anyone being this concerned over their proposed soulmate, Lennon was clearly uneasy. Given his history—and what was to come—he had a right to be.

"Jealous Guy" would be my choice for Lennon's best solo outing.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday reading

"Revolutionary Man: John Lennon As Political Artist"

Lennon’s capacity and desire to move across cultures is evident in his art and politics. “Imagine” has been defanged and sanitized through kitsch oversaturation and appropriation by those committed to the constraints of borders. Espousing a radical humanism and internationalism in its conception of a world without borders, it is, however, more revolutionary than ever. How many people, particularly those in the wealthy nations of the North, would be willing to surrender their nationality, to effectively do away with their country? Imagine no land to defend, no national sports team to support. Inspired by the ethos of “Imagine”, Lennon called a press conference in 1973 to announce the establishment of Nutopia, “a conceptual country” that “has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.’ Nutopia’s national anthem- a brief line of silence- appears on the album Mind Games (1973). The event was intended to be both playful and provocative. The following words by James Joyce suggest Lennon’s spirit: “When the soul of a man is born in this country, there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language and religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.” (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916).

John Lennon helped to transform the art and image of the pop star. His very public political activism and socially and politically aware lyrics have earned him a prominent place in the creative and political history of rock. Lennon was at once noble and narcissistic. He had both an artist’s arrogance and empathy. But what cannot be doubted is his creative intelligence, intellectual curiosity, capacity for growth and willingness to take risks.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The true "Fifth Beatle"

A new BBC documentary, Produced by George Martin, has the legendary producer back in the news.

- Jon Savage of the Guardian examines Martin's role in the beat-rock revolution of 1963.

But the Beatles were unprecedented, and, as 1963 went on, the mania built. You can hear it in the records as they escalate in confidence and intensity: From Me to You is still teen pop, but She Loves You is incandescent. Sophisticated yet ecstatic, tricksy yet, on occasion, pulverising, With the Beatles defined the pop album.

This excitement spread into the pop charts in general that year, with, among others, the Searchers (Sweets for My Sweet), the Hollies (Stay), and the Rolling Stones (I Wanna Be Your Man, a Beatles cover). It was the year of Phil Spector's peak, with UK top 10s by the Crystals (Then He Kissed Me, Da Doo Ron Ron) and the Ronettes (Be My Baby).

The question remains: why did this happen in 1963? Some of it is to do with a natural pop cycle. Although Cliff Richard was almost exactly the same age as John Lennon, he had been having hits since 1958 and was thoroughly integrated into showbiz. A younger generation – coinciding with the demographic surge of the postwar baby boom – wanted something of their own.

- The Irish Independent's interview with Martin.

But his ability to remain grounded doesn't lead him to underestimate their achievement altogether. He may regard it as just work, but he knows The Beatles' work was very good.

"I think we recorded well over 200 titles and of those probably 60% were great songs. I mean not just a pass-by thing, but really great. And I would have given my teeth to have written even one of them."

I am unable to resist asking the most clich├ęd of all Beatles questions. "Do you have a favourite song?" He grimaces slightly: "Not really, no. People ask me this all the time."

But when I promise to tell him mine if he tells me his, the characteristic Martin humour and courtesy triumphs and he relents. I say 'Here, There and Everywhere' and he replies: "Well now, if I ever give an answer, I take it into Paul and John's territory. If it's Paul, I say 'Here, There and Everywhere' and if it's John, 'Strawberry Fields Forever'."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Another round of reissues

Two of Paul's solo albums, McCartney and McCartney II, will be getting the reissue treatment, with a release date of June 14. All of the usual details apply ("extensive liner notes, bonus tracks, film footage...").

McCartney oversaw all aspects of these reissues, and it shows in the many extras that will be featured. Each album will be released in both pared-down two-disc versions and multidisc/DVD packages, the latter of which will include extensive liner notes, bonus tracks, film footage and a hardbound book featuring photos by both McCartney and his late wife Linda McCartney, whose stunning images documented the couple's seemingly idyllic life.

Assorted Ringo news

- Ringo's next album may have an autobiographical bent to it.

- Details on Mr. Starr's upcoming Euro tour.

- Ringo's good deed.

- Ringo co-wrote two of the tracks on Ben Harper's yet-to-be-released new album, Give Till It’s Gone.

- Finally, Mr. Starkey also contributed a song (an old one) to the soundtrack for Ceremony, a "dramedy" starring Uma Thurman.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More on "Imagine"

I often find satisfaction in the desecration of sacred cows. When it comes to pop culture, "Imagine" is indubitably one of the most sacred. With that in mind...

From The Daily Dish's Andrew Sullivan:
Personally, I have extremely mixed feelings about this song. Most times it makes me want to vomit because of its self-serving sanctimony and silliness. I mean: Lennon did not have to imagine, he could have sold every thing he owned to the poor as Jesus recommended to the rich young man. But life in the Dakota was somehow preferable. But I must confess that occasionally - if heard purely as a utopian fantasy - it can work. Musically, it's sublime. And then you hear David Archuleta's version and you're back to cleaning the puke off your laptop.

From one of Sullivan's readers:
Regarding the “I wonder if you can" line in the song, when Neil Young performed it at the concert to honor the victims of 9/11, he changed the line to “I wonder if I can?” Not so sanctimonious that way, but rather a humble challenge to himself. That one word changes the whole song.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Assorted George news

- Martin Scorsese's Living in the Material World project, which consists of a documentary and an illustrated book about George, will see the light of day this fall.

- Read about the short note that George wrote to Pattie Boyd several years after she ditched him for Eric Clapton.

- Finally, rock 'n' roll and Hinduism.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend reading #2

"Exploitation, isolation and death: revisiting the Beatles’ Revolver"

It's not a very convincing piece - the argument is that Revolver suffers from its thematic darkness - but I always appreciate unpopular views in the general discourse on The Beatles.

There is no doubt that Revolver is a classic, which fully deserves the five-star ratings heaped on it by one reviewer after another. But it has never resonated with me to the same extent as Sgt Pepper, The Beatles (the White Album), Abbey Road or even (dare I say it) Let It Be, all of which I regard as preferred listening. Among the critics, the one sceptic is Sean Egan, who in his The Mammoth Book of the Beatles (2009) hits the nail on the head when he calls Revolver “something to admire, not to love”. Egan even adds that to him “large parts of it will always sound like The Beatles as approximated by a computer”. While this last remark goes, I think, a step too far, Revolver is not even one of my 100 favourite albums and I don’t particularly warm to it, despite the fact that I hugely admire many of the individual songs on it. So I sat down and listened again, over a dozen times through, to the recently remastered CDs of Revolver, in both its mono and stereo configurations, and tried to figure out why I feel as I do about this celebrated album. Is there something I have been overlooking about Revolver all these years?

My revisitation of Revolver reaffirms my earlier view that it is a brilliant album. But the problem is that it is also a cold and dark one, whose main themes are exploitation, isolation and death. These are hardly joyous or engaging topics – and they have been dealt with more profoundly by John Lennon on his 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and in a more riveting and compelling manner by Pink Floyd on all of the albums they released between 1973 (Dark Side of the Moon) and 1983 (The Final Cut).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend reading

"I Love Lucy: George Harrison’s Favorite Gibson Guitars"

George Harrison was the “quiet Beatle” – at least until he plugged in an electric guitar and, to paraphrase another famed guitar wrangler of the era, “let his freak flag fly.”

One of the key instruments in Harrison’s guitarsenal was “Lucy,” a more solid-bodied relative of B.B. King’s beloved “Lucille”. Lucy is one of the world’s most famous Gibson Les Paul Standards, although her 1957 date of birth dictates that she began her life as a Les Paul Gold Top.

Eric Clapton gave the guitar to Harrison in August 1968, and Harrison named the deep cherry red instrument “Lucy” after popular red-haired comedienne Lucille Ball. The elegant tone machine made its debut in the studio during the “White Album” sessions, although the first song Harrison played it on, “Guilty,” did not make the disc. Shortly after that, Harrison’s Lucy made her TV debut in the promo video for “Revolution,” which premiered in America on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Imagine," subversively interpreted

From this National Review article, which features (to no surprise) several negative takes on the song:

“When ‘Imagine’ was new, and I was young, I, of course, took it literally as the way the world should work. Since at least partially growing up (being 57 now), I have come to understand John Lennon as one sarcastic SOB who delighted in demonstrations of his superiority over lesser beings. I am thinking that ‘Imagine’ was meant as a send-up of liberal utopia, an insult hidden in the open.”

High unlikely but impishly ingenious. Confession: I find "Imagine" plodding and bland.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"...and no religion too"

Preface: I'm trying to clear out a Google Doc overrun by Beatles links. So expect to see a fair amount of posts in the near future with older material.

Below is an article from last fall that explores a fascinating theme: John Lennon and his amorphous spirituality.

"John Lennon's spirituality"

Despite the images in "Imagine," Lennon "certainly wasn't an atheist, he was clear about that," noted Father Robert Hart, an Anglican traditionalist from Chapel Hill, N.C., whose "Hard to Imagine" essay was recently published in the journal Touchstone.

"What he was missing in his life was the certainty of a specific, definitive revelation of a particular religious truth. It's not that he denied that this kind of truth existed, but he was never able to find it. That's what he lacked and he knew it."

In other words, he was a vivid example of an attitude toward faith that has gained power in the decades since his death. Lennon was "spiritual," but not "religious" before that stance became all too common.

Here's a link to the essay by Father Robert Hart.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"The Lovely Linda"

Have a look inside Linda McCartney: Life in Photographs, a recently released compendium of Linda's work that Paul helped put together.

Ringo's birth-home may be saved...

... if only temporarily.

Councillors on Liverpool's planning committee dismissed impassioned pleas and voted in favour of demolition.

But they were thwarted by Housing Minister Grant Shapps who imposed legal block on their move.

He said there must be consideration to whether an Environmental Impact Assessment is required - a move that could mean a delay of 12 months or more.

The move came in an email and letter received less than 24 hours before the planning committee was due to consider the scheme.

. . .

One Welsh Street resident told of her frustration at the block on demolition.

Mary Mantle, of Treborth Street said: ‘I'm angry there is going to be more delay.

‘This move by the Government means more suffering for people like me who are left to live in these sub-standard houses.

‘I don't believe they can be renovated at an economic price. They're riddled with damp and have got no foundations.

‘The area is blighted and the only way out for us is demolition and building the new homes that we were promised.’

Monday, April 18, 2011

More "Taxman"

Greg Mitchell of The Nation links to several renditions of George's famously surly tune, including one helmed by President Obama (which I posted here at some point last year). Enjoy.

The Left and the Right assess "Taxman"

"George Harrison and the Taxman," via Counterpunch. (Note: it's obvious that this piece wasn't carefully edited, but I still really enjoyed its detailed analysis of "Taxman.")

The opening count-off mocks itself: George Harrison’s voice is apparently slowed down by the tape and is heard with a nasal fustiness, as if he were counting money rather than launching one of the up-tempo album openers beloved and expected of the Beatles when Revolver was snapped up by eager fans in the summer of 1966. This count-off seems to to undo the Ancient Greek formulation that music is number in sound. Harrison’s vocalized numbers are precisely metronomic without being invested with the musical life we know as rhythm: the deadeningly accurate enunciations of the taxman are an accounting of time not an animation of it. It is a brilliant lead-in, simultaneously parodying the idea of the count-off while also creating a vision of the auditor, who seems to hover the rest of a song so resistant to his ways and wants. The tone has been set before a note is played or sung.

And from the Right: "What the Taxman Wrought", via National Review. (Note: the notion that lower taxes might have saved The Beatles strikes me as quite a reach. It discounts so many other factors.)

Klein was on a collision course with McCartney from day one. Klein’s laser focus on money often slighted artistic goals — witness the doctored Let It Be tapes, released without McCartney’s consent. McCartney, finding the prospect of continuing with Klein unacceptable, ultimately enraged the other Beatles by suing them to dissolve their partnership in 1970.

This story is widely known. But what often gets overlooked is the fact that without the potent tax dilemma, it is doubtful that the Apple group of companies would ever have been founded in the first place. In other words, no super tax, no Apple fiasco. No Apple fiasco, no Allen Klein. No Allen Klein, no lawsuit.

In fact, from beyond the grave, Lloyd George had forced the Beatles to spend more time figuring out how to shelter their wealth than making music. It is hard to believe that they would not have behaved more rationally, and stayed together longer as a working band, under a milder tax policy.

Happy Tax Day!

(If the video is removed, go here.)

"Why in the world are we here?"

While clearing out a Google Doc, I came upon a link to this list: "A Drummer's Favorite Drum Songs." The first entry is worth posting in full; see below. (And if you scroll down the list, you'll find some more love for The Beatles.)

“Instant Karma!” is not, at least on the surface, a technically complex song, particularly on the drums. But it is extremely potent; people have identified with its message for years, and it’s become almost a rallying cry for peace. But for me, what transforms the song from a straightforward anthem to an indisputable classic is one little drum fill. It kicks in during the second verse. John Lennon shouts, “Why in the world are we here?” And suddenly, from seeming nothingness, Alan White answers with one of the most brilliantly disjointed drum fills ever recorded, as if, over-excited by the strength of Lennon’s words, he burst with a boundless and unbidden energy. It’s the punctuation mark on Lennon’s peaceful poetry, the voice crying to everyone who would doubt, “Listen to this!” I can always tell whether someone truly understands music by their reaction to that fill. If they don’t notice it, well, I just know they’re not paying enough attention to the world around them.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday cover

"I Am the Walrus," as interpreted by Men Without Hats:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Macca tour update

It was recently announced that Paul will be playing not one but two shows in Rio and has added his first American stop to the tour - June 10th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Macca, covers, and the Cure

I dig the sound of this: an album of Wings and solo-Macca covers that features the Cure.

I refuse to turn down this opening: here's "Close to Me" by Robert Smith and co., one of my favorite songs of all-time:

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday haiku - "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)"

A campy pastiche,
"Name" might deserve this title:
the Fabs' strangest song.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday haiku - "Old Brown Shoe"

Like "Hello, Goodbye",
George's "Old" deals with contrasts:
right/wrong, early/late.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Details on "The Lennon Letters"

The Lennon Letters is the first collection of John's correspondences to be compiled, and it will be available in October of 2012 through the publisher Little, Brown and Company.

In the release about "The Lennon Letters," the publisher points out that Lennon, who died in 1980, never had a chance to convert to email. He was inclined to reach for pen and paper:

He lived -- and died -- in an age before emails and texts. Pen and ink were his medium. John wrote letters and postcards all of his life; to his friends, family, strangers, newspapers, organisations, lawyers and the laundry -- most of which were funny, informative, campaigning, wise, mad, poetic, anguished and sometimes heartbreaking....many of the letters are reproduced as they were, in his handwriting or typing, plus the odd cartoon or doodle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday haiku - "The Ballad of John and Yoko"

A droll travelogue,
"John" tracks the newly hitched pair
all across Europe.

Today in Beatles history

Via Gibson:

Stuart Sutcliffe, the so-called “Fifth Beatle” – or perhaps the “First Beetle,” since it was he who named them The Beetles – died at just 21 years of age, on this very day, in 1962.

The early Beatles’ unofficial style guru, Sutcliffe was revered by John Lennon from the day they met in art school in 1958. Lennon wanted Sutcliffe in The Quarrymen and when Stu encouraged him to change the band’s name, he did so without hesitation.

. . .

On April 10, a day before the Beatles were due back in Hamburg to start their run at the Star Club, Stuart, who was living with Astrid’s family, took violently ill. Astrid was called by her mother to come home immediately. Sutcliffe was doubled up in agony and about to be taken to hospital by ambulance when Astrid got back to her family house. She cradled the diminutive figure in her arms but Stuart died en route to hospital. Doctors believed that it was a ruptured aneurysm that killed him.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday cover

U2 tackle "Rain":

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Saturday haiku - "Don't Let Me Down"

In tones of anguish,
John makes a plea for Yoko
to always love him.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"The Real Story Behind the Beatles' Last Days"

You can't accurately tell the story of The Beatles' breakup in 1970 without noting developments that occurred as far back as Brian Epstein's death in 1967 (or perhaps even earlier). This account done by David Browne of Rolling Stone is limited to the span of less than a month (3/20/1970 - 4/16/1970); keep that in mind as you read it and navigate its very Paul-centric narrative.

More on Paul's South America tour

In addition to his stop in Peru, Paul will also be heading to Chile and Brazil for the South American leg of his Up and Coming Tour 2011. More details here.

9th May will see Paul’s first ever show in Lima, Peru at the Estadio Monumental. The tour then travels to Santiago, Chile, returning there for the first time since 1993 with a show on 11th May at Estadio Nacional. The run of shows will finish in Rio de Janeiro at the Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange on the 22nd of May with Paul being the first ever artist to perform at this venue. The last time Paul played in Rio, 21 years ago, a World Record was set for the ‘Largest Stadium Attendance’ in history.

Friday haiku - "Revolution"

John wrote two versions,
and on this more forceful one,
he spurns violence.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Beatles on "American Idol" last night

Watch James Durbin lend his crisp, versatile voice to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and nail it.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday haiku - "Hey Jude"

"Jude" is Julian,
John's young son whom Paul cared for
and sought to comfort.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday haiku - "The Inner Light"

When he wrote "Inner",
George drew from the Tao Te Ching,
an old Chinese text.

Today in Beatles history

On this day in 1966, The Beatles took a bold step forward, musically, as they began work on their experimental psychedelic masterpiece, "Tomorrow Never Knows."

But it was the otherworldly, floating vocals of Lennon that proved both the most challenging aspect of the recording and the most significant. Lennon wanted his vocals to sound like something never recorded before. As producer George Martin recalled in

Anthology: “‘For Tomorrow Never Knows’ he said to me he wanted his voice to sound like the Dalai Lama chanting from a hilltop, and I said, ‘It’s a bit expensive, going to Tibet. Can we make do with it here?’ I knew perfectly well that ordinary echo or reverb wouldn’t work, because it would just put a very distant voice on. We needed to have something a bit weird and metallic...

“A Leslie speaker is a rotating speaker, a Hammond console, and the speed at which it rotates can be varied according to a knob on the control. By putting his voice through that and then recoding it again, you got a kind of intermittent vibrato effect, which is what we hear on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’ I don’t think anyone had done that before. It was quite a revolutionary track for Revolver.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Today in Beatles history

On this day in 1964, The Beatles held the top five spots on the U.S. singles chart. It was an historic feat.

On February 7, 1964, 4,000 screaming fans gathered at Heathrow Airport to send the The Beatles off to America. Despite selling just under 3 million copies of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in the two weeks leading up to their arrival in America, the band were still uncertain how they would be welcomed. Their concerns were for naught as they were greeted by thousands of screaming fans at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Just two days later, they performed for 74 million television viewers on The Ed Sullivan Show. After a number of wildly successful concerts, including their first concert on American soil, at Washington Coliseum, and a very successful show at Carnegie Hall, they finished their U.S. trip with a second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Shortly after returning to the U.K. from America, on this day in 1964, The Beatles held the top five places on Billboard’s U.S. singles chart with “Can’t By Me Love” (#1), “Love Me Do” (#2), “Roll Over Beethoven” (#3), “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (#4) and “Please Please Me” (#5). They also had another nine singles in the Hot 100, bringing their grand total to 14 at one time.

"Blackbird, fly"

I think it's appropriate to mark the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination by posting "Blackbird," Paul's beloved tribute to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.


(If the video is removed, go here.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday haiku - "Lady Madonna"

On this romping tune,
Paul sings like Fats Domino
and salutes mothers.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday haiku - "Rain"

Held up by many
as the Fabs' finest B-side,
"Rain" is trippy rock.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday haiku - "Paperback Writer"

To promote his book -
a long and "dirty" novel -
Paul presents a pitch.