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.