Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weekend reading #2

- "20 Awesome Unreleased Beatles Recordings We Want To Hear" - I wasn't aware of this alternate rendition of "Two of Us". Electric, more uptempo. Nothing could ever supplant the official version in my book, but I'd be curious to hear a full-length cut. And I really enjoyed the video clip too, with John and Paul singing nose-to-nose and goofing around. See, it wasn't all tension and acrimony during the "Get Back" sessions.
- Kudos to Stephen Deusner for directing attention to some of the other classic songs released in 1963 (that is, non-Fabs entries, like "Be My Baby", "In My Room", "Ring of Fire" and more). But spare me the trendy, quasi-poptimist criticism of The Beatles' post-Help! (or so) evolution. Yes, how lamentable it is that the band discovered sounds and influences beyond "Long Tall Sally". And yes, how sad it is that they failed to recognize their accountability to some vague ideal of True Rock 'N' Roll.
- Rolling Stone: "The 12 Weirdest Paul McCartney Songs". When life gets you down, just remember: we live in a world where "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" reached the top of the charts.
- From "Paul McCartney at 71: still here, there and everywhere" (The Guardian): "Such Macca fatigue seems peculiarly British – our national sense of cool is so nuanced as to be completely baffling to the rest of the world. Every other country would be proud to claim the 71-year-old McCartney as their own, to celebrate him as an actual living legend who changed the world through his talent. Whereas I feel as though I'm going to interview the NHS or the BBC, some well-loved British institution that inspires immense gratitude for past glories but is considered exasperating in its current form. Not necessarily by me, but that's the general air."
- From Slate: Macca's best solo songs.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Weekend reading #1

Some older links and some newer ones:
- "A shit hole - but with soul." Among the bevy of half-centennials we hit this year was that of The Beatles' final show at the Cavern Club.
- Read about the connection between George's maiden trip to America and his smash cover of "Got My Mind Set on You."
- Was "Beatlemania" born on the afternoon of October 13, 1963?
- More reading on that topic here.
- "Rattle your jewelry" = probably my favorite Lennon one-liner. Money quote: "The band’s twin attitudes toward authority—angry rebel and reassuring showman—were at the heart of their all-encompassing appeal. But loath as Lennon may have been to admit it, there was still nothing bigger to a British boy than playing for the Queen."
- "But Beatles vs. Stones tells a more nuanced story; it exposes the rivalry between the two bands as part myth, part publicity stunt, part invention of the press, and mostly an extension of their managers’ personalities." (Book review)
Note: Even if the Stones were viewed as a raised fist in counterpoint to The Beatles' peace sign, the two bands shared this in common: any political impact they might have had was merely symbolic in nature. Gestures and overtures usually don't amount to much. When rock stars embraced left-wing causes in the late '60s and early '70s, the whiff of radical chic was often overwhelming.
- "Thinking of visiting the Macs in New Orleans." What might have been.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Words of Love" video

I'm not crazy about the new video, which is part of the promotional campaign for On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2. It's breezy fun for sure, but I would've preferred that the old footage remain free of animation. The added color and the fanciful flourishes just end up having a cheesy, distracting effect. Why not keep the clips of The Beatles and their fans unaltered and then intercut those scenes with purely animated ones? I think the final product would've been much better. In any event, if the video isn't your style, still check it out for the song itself (a Buddy Holly cover, for those unaware). The sound quality is superb, especially on John and Paul's harmonized "hmms." They're little moments of dreamy perfection.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Paul on "Fallon"

Late once again...
The clip below is quite fetching.
For more of Macca's appearance on Late Night, go here.

Reviews of "New"

- Pitchfork: "But really, there isn’t a cut out of the thirteen on New that doesn’t make a compelling argument for McCartney continuing to produce music. As his evolving relationship with shmaltz goes to show, he’s continued to stretch out as an artist long after most artists from his generation slipped into a comfortable rut. While it’s not as radical an aesthetic statement his searingly noisy 2008 Electric Arguments, his appearance on a recent EDM banger by Bloody Beetroots, or his stint as frontman for Nirvana, it still pushes hard against the popular conception of what a Paul McCartney record’s supposed to sound like, which is a wonderful thing."
- The New York Times: "But in “Early Days,” Mr. McCartney lets his perpetual boyishness fall away. To a folky tune akin to “Mother Nature’s Son,” he recalls the very beginnings of his pop career. His voice isn’t entirely smooth; there’s a scratch in it, and a little peevishness as he complains about retrospective credit for Beatles achievements: “Everybody seems to have their own opinion, who did this and who did that.” It’s a reminder that his usual charm isn’t as effortless as his melodies can make it seem."
- Rolling Stone: "The Ronson collaborations are the best moments, splitting the difference between then and now: the Sgt. Pepper-y "New" and "Alligator," which shuffles White Album guitar grit with stoner synth-pop ambience. "I need a place where I can rest my weary bones and have a conversation not too deep," McCartney sings in the latter, which sounds par for the course. But, hell, if it's this catchy, we're in."
- The New Yorker: "He’s Paul McCartney, and he’s Paul McCartney now the way that he was Paul McCartney ten years ago, or thirty, generically exhorting listeners to action or reminding them of glory of love or sketching the outlines of a less pleasant emotion (fear, sadness, unregulated anger) without any real specifics. On album after album, McCartney has been content to be a rock star seen from the outside rather than an artist seen from the inside... In that sense, “New” is a perfect Paul McCartney album. It’s filled with songs that are without meaning but not meaningless. Whether in the wonderfully eerie “Appreciate,” the lovely, Indian-inflected “Hosanna,” or the happily crack-brained nursery rhyme “Queenie Eye,” McCartney makes songs that work extremely well on their own terms while remaining largely sealed off from anything approaching real or raw emotion."
For a comprehensive menu of New reviews, visit Metacritic. And to stream the album, go here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy Friday from John and Paul!

Maybe it's due to his pose or the shine of his leather jacket or the lighting in general, but doesn't John's upper half - especially his head - look creepily waxen? And Paul's hair is just next-level unbecoming.
Read more about the image here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Macca on "Jimmy Kimmel"

I finally got around to watching Paul's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. For the most part, it was exactly what you'd expect: Paul - ever loose and charming - reminisced about days past (e.g., his maiden trip to Hollywood, pre-Beatles jobs, meeting Elvis, etc.), Kimmel cracked some decent though not first-rate jokes, the audience devoured every moment, and then at the end Paul and company played a live set. Enjoyable but predictable. However, there was something about Paul's manner that caught my attention: the old-timer was clearly feeling a bit randy that night. When he was asked what stood out about his first time in Los Angeles, Paul mentioned all the pretty girls. He continued, "We were young, we were healthy, we were ready to roll." Cheeky. And then later, in the middle of a discussion about Elvis and his enormous popularity, Kimmel observed that it was strange to think The Beatles were ever "beneath" anyone in the rock 'n' roll hierarchy. Paul responded, "Oh we were beneath many people in our day. Believe me." Oh Paul, you're incorrigible.
Interview part 1
Interview part 2
Interview part 3

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Paul debuts "New" songs

Macca played the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas this past weekend and live-debuted three cuts from his forthcoming record, New. One was the title track, which I wrote about here. The other two, "Everybody Out There" and "Save Us", can be found below. Enjoy.
New will be released stateside on October 15th.
"Everybody Out There"
"Save Us"

Friday, September 20, 2013

Inspired by The Beatles - "No. 1 Party Anthem"

Alex Turner has long been primed for a John Lennon moment. If you're unaware, Turner is the hyper-talented frontman of the British guitar-rock combo Arctic Monkeys, who earlier this month dropped their fifth LP, AM. Midway through this ace record, after a run of dark, moody, swaggering cuts, Turner switches gears and goes into full-on Lennon mode with "No. 1 Party Anthem". It's a big ballad in the vein of, say, "Mind Games" or John's "Angel Baby" cover. It's layered, echoey, and shimmering, with a heavy gait and slow swoop. Producer James Ford applies a widescreen treatment to what is really a modest construction. Call it the "Phil Spector effect", something John knew all about.
The rest matches up too. Typical of Turner, the lyric - which wryly describes the hesitations of an after-hours romeo - boasts sharply drawn narration and clever turns-of-phrase. Money line: "It's not like I'm falling in love / I just want you to do me no good / And you look like you could." Calls to mind one of John's Rubber Soul flames, no? And when you next listen to the song, close your eyes and imagine Lennon delivering the lead. From the verses to the chorus to dazzling bridge ("The look of love" / "The rush of blood..."), the shoe fits impeccably.
Here's to hoping that Turner revisits this generous well in the near future.
(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Obvious fact: The Beatles had great voices

If you haven't listened to the vocals-only Beatles tracks that have been floating around the Internet of late, you really should. They cast in sharp, crystal-clear relief some truths we've long known: the Fabs' harmonized voices interlocked with beautiful precision; John often sang as if everything was on the line; and Paul could really wail. The place to start is the Side Two song cycle of Abbey Road (below). There's no need for me to rhapsodize about what a dazzling display of pop craftsmanship it is; that's self-evident. But I will say this: even with just the isolated vocal, "Golden Slumbers" is still as spirited and reviving as ever. Again, Paul could wail.
(If the video is removed, go here.)
"Pop & Hiss," the L.A. Times' music blog, has more.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"New" (acoustic)

Speaking of Paul's zest for life, this "impromptu" acoustic rendition of "New" is a little ball of cheery vibes. More here.
(If the video is removed, go here.)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"New"

I'm exceedingly late to the ball, but I still wanted to opine...
The already-standard take on Macca's gleaming and sunny new single really does hit the mark: for a song entitled "New", there's no small amount of the past on display. The feel and flow of the verses recall "Got to Get You into My Life" and "Penny Lane"; the bouyant rhythm bears the fingerprints of "Getting Better"; and the surprise coda - a barbershop quartet contraption with a hint of the Beach Boys - comes from the playbook of "Hello, Goodbye". "New" is a masterful lesson in Beatles-esque from one of the originators.
If anything's "new", it's 1) the producer, Mark Ronson, who applies a spotless pop polish to the harpsichord-driven arrangement, and 2) the source of Paul's inspiration, Nancy Shevell, who wed the ex-Beatle in October of 2011. When Macca sings, "We can do what we want / We can live as we choose," you can't help but take his youthful enthusiasms at face value. An unparalleled talent, a towering cultural icon, and a happily married man, Paul runs on joie de vivre. "New" is just another victory lap.
(If the video is removed, go here.)
Paul's forthcoming album, New, is due out on 10/15. The track listing is here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Nilsson! Nilsson for president!"

If you don't have the time or inclination to read Alyn Shipton's new biography of Harry Nilsson, you can still get your fill of the incomparable singer-songwriter through the superb reviews, commentaries, and excerpts that have accompanied the book's release. I've posted a handful below. Tie-ins with The Beatles are plentiful of course.
- Slate: "Lennon + McCartney = Nilsson"
- The New Yorker: "The Ten Best Lesser-Known Nilsson Songs"
- Daily Mail: "When Harry met... John, Paul, George and Ringo: The American Beatle's 18-month 'lost weekend' with Lennon." It's an excerpt from Shipton's book. I love this quote by Harry: "Ringo and I spent a thousand hours laughing." Those two shared a special and lasting bond.
- Grantland: "Deconstructing Harry"
These articles reinforce and deepen what Nilsson lovers (like myself) already know: Both as a person and an artist, Harry Edward Nilsson III contained multitudes.
For more on the American Beatle, go here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Revolution 20"

From The Onion's A.V. Club:
In 1968, The Beatles released three versions of "Revolution." "Revolution 1" is the mellow, mostly acoustic version that leads off side four of The White Album. "Revolution 2," released as the flip side of "Hey Jude," is the anthemic, guitar-driven version you're most familiar with. "Revolution 9" is the self-indulgent marathon of found sounds and tape loops, also from The White Album.
Still, rumors have abounded for years that the group recorded as many as 22 different takes on the song, each as different to each other as the three we're familiar with. But, as none were included on The Beatles Anthology, it was assumed they would never see the light of day, if they existed at all.
But yesterday, Open Culture posted almost completely unheard—albeit, uploaded to YouTube in 2009—material from 45-year-old sessions by the most scrutinized band of all time. "Revolution 20" is a 10-minute long alternate take on the song. After some chatter from the band (a snippet of which you'll recognized from "Revolution 2"), the song starts off in a similar vein to The White Album version, but gets progressively stranger as it goes, with a few clips also used in "Revolution 9" making an appearance. It may not replace the single version in anyone's iPod, but it's a fascinating glimpse at The Beatles' process as they attacked the song from all angles before settling on the versions they wanted to release.
__________
What I find so interesting about "Revolution 20" is that it represents a rather unlikely bridge between "Revolution 1" and "Revolution 9" - a pair of songs situated on opposite ends of the musical style and accessibility spectrum. "Revolution 20" doesn't exactly make sense of the radical disparity, but it links the two "White Album" entries in a way that we likely couldn't have imagined on our own.
There's a subtle sense of balance about the recording that caught my ear. The first four minutes or so hew somewhat closely to "Revolution 1," with one major exception being the squealing Mellotron line inserted at many points. It plays like a cautionary intimation of the madness to come. But when the chaotic experimental jam does kick in, it's leavened to a certain degree by the background "shoo-bi-doo-wahs" that recur throughout the entire track. Amidst a heated avant-garde digression, these classic rock 'n' roll garnishes stand out, almost as if they're waving the flag for familiarity and conventionality.
To be sure, "Revolution 20" is still a very first-half vs. second-half kind of construction, but the break isn't perfectly clean. The pop side and the experimental side interact with one another for the full running time, creating symmetry where it doesn't seem to belong.
A shorter description: "Revolution 20" is weird, serious, playful, and indulgent all at once (sounds like John, no?). Have a listen below. If nothing else, what a fertile and creative period for The Beatles, despite the friction and infighting. Somehow, their art was still soaring.
(If the video is removed, go here.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book review: "Lucy in the Mind of Lennon"

While reading Tim Kasser’s Lucy in the Mind of Lennon, a slim but detailed “psychobiography” about John Lennon and the disputed meaning behind “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, I kept veering between two poles.
At many turns, I wanted to follow Kasser down the rabbit hole into Lennon’s messy, complex, deeply scarred psyche to glimpse behind the curtain of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. As much as the late Beatle has been written about and lionized over the years, he remains an extraordinarily compelling figure. Beyond the astounding talent and personal magnetism, Lennon was just so human (“insecure, anxious, and vulnerable” in Kasser’s sober estimation), and his life was riddled with fascinating twists and turns.
And then there’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. What a song! Weird, eerily cryptic, and bursting with psychedelic whimsy, “Lucy” is a first-ballot Beatles classic. In contrast to much of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it has aged quite well.
If these winning elements are in place, then what accounts for my other reaction, which was wariness of Kasser’s analysis? The problem is an off-putting interplay that’s central to Lucy in the Mind of Lennon. Kasser isn’t some run-of-the-mill rock historian or professional Beatles fanatic. He’s a professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois. Per the practices of a research psychologist, his approach to scrutinizing why Lennon composed “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” relies on statistical comparisons, the promiscuous use of charts, and data sets with names like “Standard Deviation of Recent Hit Songs”. It often has the feel of a plastic glove.
In essence, Kasser applies very clinical and invasive methods of inquiry to something that falls into the category of art. It's rock 'n' roll meets a psychology lab. For reasons that shouldn’t be hard to grasp, this jarring clash frequently left an unpleasant aftertaste.
The long and short of Kasser’s theory is that, when connected with Lennon’s distant and recent past, everything from the story, linguistic style, and word selections of “Lucy” to its key signatures and chord progression suggests that Lennon was addressing (though obliquely and at an emotional remove) his long-standing but long-suppressed hang-up with being abandoned by women. (“And she’s gone…”). This stemmed not just from the premature death of his mother, Julia, but in fact went all the way back to Lennon’s early childhood, when Julia was an on-again/mostly off-again presence in his life. The well-worn theories that involve LSD and the fanciful picture that Lennon’s son Julian drew aren’t dismissed outright, but Kasser instead ascribes them more of a facilitating function.
It’s a testament to my frustrating ambivalence about this book that, even as the form and feel of Kasser’s research steadfastly rubbed me the wrong way, I couldn’t shake how convincing and at times even illuminating parts of his argument were (his conclusion being no exception). The section that compares “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to songs that Lennon wrote in subsequent years, from material off The Beatles to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, is especially insightful. It appears to demonstrate the significant degree to which Lennon’s changing circumstances – Cynthia to Yoko, LSD to heroin, etc. – influenced if and how he confronted his separation demons. In novel fashion, Kasser makes sense of the tortuous journey from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to the bleak, raw, and harrowing likes of “Mother” and “My Mummy’s Dead”.
At the same time, there are many moments when Kasser overreaches in his examination or leans too heavily on a very mechanical and insular understanding of the songwriting process. Take his observation that because the imagery John chose for “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” doesn’t better reflect the “typical” experience of an acid tripper, it undermines the LSD theory. Even if you accept the notion of a “typical” acid trip, who’s to say one or more of Lennon’s wasn’t wildly different because of any number of random variables? Or, even if “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was based on a “typical” experience, maybe the words he decided on for the lyric were the product of multiple influences operating on him at once. Like too much of the book, it’s all so overdetermined, so biased toward order, so A must yield B must yield C. Kasser rarely gives any weight to chance, chaos, and the unpredictable.
Some interesting questions arise: How comfortable are you with the idea of an artistic creation being so thoroughly probed and explained away that it can be reduced to a series of chartable findings? Does this rob art of its distinct magic? And, contra the conceit that everything has to bear deeper meaning and we should leave no stone unturned in arriving at a final interpretation, is there perhaps value in deferring to mystery for why specific words were chosen or how a melody was constructed? The overarching question seems to be: What is the appropriate intersection of scientific inquiry and art?
How you respond to these questions may be a reliable gauge for how much stock you’ll put in Lucy in the Mind of Lennon.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"It's contrapuntal, man!"

I'm open to correction, but it strikes me that the most talked-about Beatles song of 2013 has been "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!." Weird, no? It owes to Paul's (questionable) decision to dust off the Sgt. Pepper's circus curio for his current tour. In my humble opinion, it ill-fits the stage (follow the appropriate link here to arrive at your own conclusion). But I do salute Macca for keeping his set-lists fresh. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, he elaborated on the history of "Kite!" and the thought process that led to its resurrection. Interesting remarks.
Excerpt:
You've added a few new Beatles songs to the set – "Lovely Rita," "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and "All Together Now." What's it like playing those live for the first time ever?
That's challenging. I mean, something like "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" is hard to do. Ask a bass player who sings. It's contrapuntal, man! It really is. I've got to sing a melody that's going to one place, and then I've got to play this bassline that's going to other places. It's a concentration thing. But that's half the fun of the show. I'm still practicing, still trying to figure it out, particularly on the new numbers. It's like, "How does this one go again?"
What made you want to revisit those particular songs?
Well, for instance, "Mr. Kite" is such a crazy, oddball song that I thought it would freshen up the set. Plus the fact that I'd never done it. None of us in the Beatles ever did that song [in concert]. And I have great memories of writing it with John. I read, occasionally, people say, "Oh, John wrote that one." I say, "Wait a minute, what was that afternoon I spent with him, then, looking at this poster?" He happened to have a poster in his living room at home. I was out at his house, and we just got this idea, because the poster said "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite" – and then we put in, you know, "there will be a show tonight," and then it was like, "of course," then it had "Henry the Horse dances the waltz." You know, whatever. "The Hendersons, Pablo Fanques, somersets…" We said, "What was 'somersets'? It must have been an old-fashioned way of saying somersaults." The song just wrote itself. So, yeah, I was happy to kind of reclaim it as partially mine. But like I said, you've got to look what you're doing when you play that one.
Does it feel like you're coming full circle when you sing those words in front of these huge crowds after all those years?
You know, it's more a question of what a delight it is to finally play it. We played it when we recorded it – for instance, "Mr. Kite," when we recorded it, we laid down the track as a group, and then I put the bass on afterwards, as I often did in those days. So that gave me the opportunity to really think about the bassline and make it melodic. But, of course, if I'd have thought, like, "Tomorrow you're going to have to play this live," I don't think I'd have made it so complicated! "Day Tripper" was another one. I thought, "I just can't do it." It's like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. It's not that easy to do. You've got to practice up on that. I goofed it a million times in rehearsal. Then, finally, I just thought, "OK, wait a minute, I'll do that . . ." And I worked out how I was going to do it. So it's great for me, reviewing the past, and just thinking, "This is cool." It's still up-to-date. The combination of all of that makes it quite a joy to do.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Happy Friday from Macca!

Was Paul the proto-hipster/indie popster?
Brandish (the site where I found the image above) thinks so.
Excerpt:
Fast forward over forty years and there is a growing number of both critics and fans that rate Ram as the very best post Beatles solo album. Macca had in Ram delivered the template for much of what we now know as indie pop. It is all there; twee pop (Uncle Albert), folky acoustic strumming (Ram On), re-inventing the Beach Boys (Dear Boy), power pop (Too Many People). Music that delights in big melodies and that wears it tweeness as a badge of honour.
But also take a look at this pic. Macca wasn’t only light years ahead in his music,. He also delivered the template for men’s hipster fashion in 2013. Unkempt beard – check, Fair-isle jumper – check, retro camera -check, ironic tea drinking – check.
. . .
I'd add that, even before Ram, Paul was setting the stage for the independent music scene. McCartney, his solo debut, is very much a homespun, DIY affair. Or, expanding the scope of the inquiry, how about "The White Album" as a whole, with its kaleidoscopic variety and fizzy currents of whimsy? There's likely a compelling case to be made that it helped give birth to much of what falls under the rubric of indie pop.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Weekend viewing and reading

Viewing:
- Watch Paul - along with Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins, George Martin, and other legends - play a sizable chunk of the Abbey Road medley at a benefit show back in 1997.
- Here's Why Don't We Do It in the Road, a five-minute documentary about the most storied zebra crossing in world history.
- Lastly, another snippet from the behind-the-scenes feature that accompanies the Help! Blu-ray release. Spoiler: The Beatles were naughty potheads in the mid-Sixties.
____________
Reading:
- "1963: The Year the Beatles Found Their Voice"
Excerpt: In 1963, the Beatles were exploding in England. Their debut LP, Please Please Me, came out in March, followed by their megahit single “She Loves You” in August. Their second album, With the Beatles, and another hit single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” followed in the fall. Screaming girls, throngs of fans, bushels of albums being sold—this was when it all started. But the Beatles were also a veritable human jukebox that year. One of their many commitments was to turn up semi-regularly at the BBC, horse around on air, read requests, make fun of each other, make fun of the presenter, and play live versions of whatever people wanted to hear, whether that was their own material or a vast range of covers: Elvis Presley numbers; obscure rhythm-and-blues songs by lost-to-time bands like the Jodimars; Broadway show tunes; Americana; vamps on Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry; rearrangements of girl-group cuts; torch songs. If you wanted to hear what made the Beatles the Beatles, here is where you would want to start.
- More on that same topic here.
Excerpt: Well, I think people like to focus on [Sgt.] Pepper from '67, maybe Rubber Soul from '65 or Revolver from '66. But if you wanted to know what The Beatles liked, what they listened to, what they were trying to become and, in large part, who they already were and who they would be, the '63 BBC recordings would be your one-stop shopping destination. When they tackled ... a crucial rock 'n' roll text like Elvis' "That's All Right, Mama," you can hear that they keep elements of the past — that burnished country tone that Elvis' band excelled at — but they've added a sort of stomping, northern soul element to it. So they're really overhauling the past.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Macca on "The Colbert Report"

Still in catch-up mode and still wondering why Paul decided to add "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" to his live arsenal. It should have stayed dusty and moth-eaten. Beyond that, the performances, as well as the interview, are terrific. (If the video is removed or doesn't work, go here.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Catching up on Beatles news

A thousand apologies for the lengthy absence from this space. I'll try to resume semi-regular blogging starting now. Below is a news round-up from my time away.
- Paul will appear on The Colbert Report this Wednesday for an hour-long music special. Colbert: "I think this McCartney kid’s got something special and I’m gonna put him on the map!"
- In Memphis for a gig late last month, Macca visited Graceland for the first time and left a memento at Elvis' grave.
- From Rolling Stone's review of the Wings Over America re-issue: "There’s something daft and touching about how McCartney strives for band democracy: Whenever Denny Laine sings lead, you can almost hear the fans stampede for their bathroom weed break. Here's a better, more detailed appraisal. And here are some streaming tracks from the triple album. And video. Ah, the Seventies!
- The news that John felt some shame over his spell as a radical activist is not news at all. It's been well documented for years. The more interesting part of this story deals with John's desire near the end of his life to return to Liverpool. He "wanted to sail into the city on board luxury liner Queen Elizabeth 2 as his fans lined the shore."
- Photograph, a collection of pictures that Ringo took on tour and in the studio as a Beatle, is being released in e-book form on June 12th and in (laughably overpriced) physical form next December.
- June 1st was the 46th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper's. In her infinite wisdom, The Gray Lady sneered at it.
- It's a staple of "How The Beatles Impacted History" journalism: Yes, The Beatles won the Cold War. I love this detail: "A widely held fantasy that Woodhead (an ex-British spy turned filmmaker who traveled throughout Soviet Russia) heard over and over was that the Beatles landed in the USSR to play an impromptu concert on the wing of their tour airplane on their way to Japan. The Soviet city would change in each telling but people sincerely believed that this undocumented performance happened."
- A guitar played by John and George was recently auctioned off for $408,000.
- Help! is coming to Blu-ray later this month.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Friday from Paul (and Harold)!

(Image source: BBC)
From The Daily Mail:
His band The Beatles are arguably the most famous musical group of all time.
But on Tuesday night, Paul McCartney was more about the grasshoppers as he found his stage invaded by a swarm of the insects during a concert in Goiania, Brazil.
The 70-year-old musician was forced to complete his three-hour performance as clouds of the Esperanca Grilo creatures buzzed around him.
However, animal-lover Macca appeared unfazed by the stage intrusion as he pushed through and delighted the 47,000 crowd with his songs.
Sir Paul even introduced one of the little grasshoppers as Harold during a performance of hit song Hey Jude.
As he sang the track, Sir Paul turned to Harold as he sang the words 'the movement you need is on your shoulder', adding 'it certainly is now'.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Paul's "Out There" playlist

When a Beatles song is played live for the first time, it's no minor event. Last Saturday, at the kickoff to his "Out There" world tour in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Paul debuted not just one but four: "All Together Now," "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!," (a curious choice, no?*) "Lovely Rita," and "Your Mother Should Know." Also included on the setlist were "Eight Days a Week," which The Beatles performed live just once back in 1965, and "Another Day" (Paul's solo-years answer to "Eleanor Rigby"), which had been absent from his concert repertoire since 1993. Kudos for the variety, Sir Macca.
*I say this because 1) the lumpy and un-melodic "Kite!" isn't exactly begging for a live treatment; and 2) While Paul occasionally performs material written by other Beatles (in this instance, John), it's usually done explicitly as a tribute, and that doesn't seem to be the case here.
"Eight Days a Week"

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Rock Family Trees - The Mersey Sound

To learn about the rapid rise and fall of Liverpool's Merseybeat scene, "the first truly authentic British contribution to pop history," watch the documentary below.
(If the video is removed, go here.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review of "Beatles Stories"

Last night I watched Beatles Stories (2011), a warm and good-hearted but ultimately rather dull documentary by songwriter and author Seth Swirsky. In the film, Swirsky travels all over to interview people - often famous people - about their encounters with the Fab Four. The guest list is impressively high-profile, ranging from music legends like Brian Wilson and Smokey Robinson to Hollywood celebrities like Jon Voight and Henry Winkler to notable figures from Beatles history like Klaus Voorman and Sir George Martin himself. Beatles Stories is certainly not lacking in star power, not to mention likable lesser-knowns. It's also true that many of the stories are charming and memorable. As a rabid fan of The Beatles, how could I not enjoy hearing about Ray Manzarek's stoned realization that the Fabs themselves were stoners, or the time when Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues kindly reminded George how to play "I'm Only Sleeping." It's all catnip for Beatles devotees.
Then why did I come away from Beatles Stories unfulfilled? I see two reasons. First, the organization of the film. The running time is under 90 minutes, but Swirksky still manages to squeeze in roughly 45 stories, which is overkill. One anecdote comes after another in rapid succession, making for a really uneven viewing experience. The start-stop-start-stop dynamic doesn't allow for the individual stories to build on one another or interact in any narrative sense. It's just a bunch of amusing snippets loosely held together, with no apparent rhyme or reason for the particular order they follow. I think Swirsky should've excised a sizable number of the stories and then added narration that pertained to Beatles history. This way, he may have been able to connect some of the strands and develop actual themes.
Second, the stories are for the most part enjoyable, but few of them are all that revealing. Few of them help us to arrive at a deeper understanding of The Beatles. There are some moments that pack insight and emotion - like when Art Garfunkel talks about meeting John in the '70s and discussing their respective ex-partnerships with guys named Paul, or when Denny Laine reflects on Paul's reaction to the news of John's death - but they're few and far between. The stories rarely amount to anything more than cute and amusing, like one guy eating beans-on-toast with Ringo or former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams sharing a sweaty hug with Macca. Overall, the vibe is pleasantly trivial.
I feel like a jerk being critical of such a winningly-premised and enthusiastic film. I genuinely wanted to like Beatles Stories, but it just never clicked for me. Nevertheless, I still salute Seth Swirsky for his obvious love of The Beatles. Passion projects like this one often don't come to fruition. That Beatles Stories actually got made is alone a cause for good cheer.
Update: I should have mentioned this in the post. It caused something of a stir and left many Beatles fans nonplussed and rankled.
Trailer:

Friday, April 19, 2013

"The world is still spinning"

I'm going to play catch up with some important days in Beatles history that recently came and went. Last week Wednesday, April 10th, marked the 43rd anniversary of the day that Paul's notorious "break up" Q&A was published in the British press. Made available April 9th, the Q&A, which served as promotional material for Paul's forthcoming debut solo record, contained some testy, hard-to-miss lines. Though Paul said he didn't intend for his responses to signal The Beatles' split, the press had other ideas, and the Q&A immediately took on a life of its own.
Excerpts:
Q: Did you miss the other Beatles and George Martin? Was there a moment when you thought, 'I wish Ringo were here for this break?'
A: No.
Q: Assuming this is a very big hit album, will you do another?
A: Even if it isn't, I will continue to do what I want, when I want to.
Q: Are you planning a new album or single with the Beatles?
A: No.
Q: Is this album a rest away from the Beatles or the start of a solo career?
A: Time will tell. Being a solo album means it's "the start of a solo career..." and not being done with the Beatles means it's just a rest. So it's both.
Q: Is your break with the Beatles temporary or permanent, due to personal differences or musical ones?
A: Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family. Temporary or permanent? I don't really know.
Q: Do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again?
A: No.
________________
That same day, Apple submitted what turned out to be The Beatles' final press release. It was in response to all the noise created by Paul's statements.
It read:
April 10 1970
Spring is here and Leeds play Chelsea tomorrow and Ringo and John and George and Paul are alive and well and full of hope.
The world is still spinning and so are we and so are you.
When the spinning stops - that'll be the time to worry. Not before.
Until then, The Beatles are alive and well and the Beat goes on, the Beat goes on.
________________
Then a week later, Paul released McCartney, punctuating a drama-filled stretch of The Beatles' career. (My review is here.) The end, mercifully and not at all prematurely, had come.
Excerpts from the review:
I find McCartney enjoyable but far from memorable. It boasts some inspired moments but not nearly enough. Too much of its charm fades as quickly as it sets in, due in large measure to how many of the songs feel like rushed, incomplete thoughts. Yes, Paul shows considerable range in his songwriting. And yes, there's a certain appeal to the DIY aesthetic. But McCartney was the first proper solo album to be released by any of The Beatles, and it's understandable that most people were expecting something more than a rumpled collection of demo-like jams, loopy instrumentals, and acoustic ditties broken up by a few gems. It disappointed then, and it still disappoints today.
. . .
Of course, Linda was the inspiration for the best and most enduring cut on McCartney, "Maybe I'm Amazed." Like "Every Night," it shows Paul in a vulnerable state: "Maybe I'm afraid of the way I love you." Unlike "Every Night," "Maybe I'm Amazed" wraps Paul's confession of weakness in dramatic, even triumphant sonics. With a monster backbeat, lively piano fills, and that impassioned vocal, the song soars. When Paul exclaims, "Baby I'm a man/And maybe you're the only woman/Who could ever help me," it's the sound of him moving on with his life. Worthy of The Beatles' better output, "Maybe I'm Amazed" hasn't aged a day because Paul's emotions, delivered with such thrilling conviction, still ring true.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Happy Friday from Phil!

The legendary producer and mad man wishes you a safe and sane weekend.
(I stole the image from Matt Blick's superb Beatles Songwriting Academy blog. Do check it out.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Minor key "Hey Jude"

I'm not a fan. It's too much of a departure. The reworking takes a bittersweet but ultimately encouraging song and makes it sad. Going from major to minor neuters the sense of hope and uplift that builds throughout the original. In this way it violates the spirit behind Paul's purpose in writing the song: to comfort Julian Lennon. No thanks. A "Hey Jude" that doesn't aim to inspire is no "Hey Jude."
(If the video is removed, go here.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Love songs or something else?

Around Valentine's Day, I started writing a post about The Beatles' greatest love songs, but I eventually scrapped it because of an uncertainty: I didn't know if my top picks – "In My Life" and "Two of Us" – actually qualified as love songs. Both contain affectionate sentiments that typify a conventional love song, but there are other themes at work too – themes that suggest multiple aims and multiple subject matters. Let me elaborate.
On "In My Life," John opens with a nostalgic rumination: "There are places I remember/All my life/Though some have changed." And so it goes for the rest of the first verse. John sings of places and people that have come and gone but remain meaningful to him. Nostalgia dominates the early going. It isn't until the second verse that he directly addresses someone: "But of all these friends and lovers/There is no one (who) compares with you." Here the lyric seems to be moving in a more concrete direction, but one question never gets answered: To whom is John speaking? Is it a friend or a lover? It's not clear. Even when he sings, "In my life/I love you more," the context doesn’t illuminate the precise nature of his love. John could simply be honoring a dear friend. He may love that person, but that doesn't make "In My Life" a "love song" in the familiar sense. Memory, the past, undefined but deep affection - these are the concerns of "In My Life." John himself said the song was rooted in reflections on his childhood.
"Two of Us" is perhaps a more interesting case. The lyric doesn't contain any straightforward expressions of romantic love. The word "love," in fact, is nowhere to be found. Rather, Paul paints tender and almost gauzy little scenes of togetherness - "riding nowhere," "sending postcards," "wearing raincoats" (in the sun, no less) - that seem to be drawn from real life, i.e., his relationship with Linda. And Paul has stated she was the song's primary inspiration. However, what to make of the line, "You and I have memories/Longer than/The road that stretches out ahead"? Or "You and me chasing paper/Getting nowhere"? Paul hadn't known Linda that long, and "chasing paper" calls to mind The Beatles' complicated business dealings. If not Linda, then who? John, of course. Thus, "Two of Us" operates on dual levels: it's a song of romantic love and brotherly love, paying tribute to both Linda and John. There are two sets of two. One would help to define Paul's future, while the other would soon belong to his past.
If these interpretations are accurate, I think they speak to the nimbleness and dexterity of John and Paul as songwriters. To fashion a workable and compelling lyric that expresses more than one kind of love is no easy task. "In My Life" and "Two of Us" probably aren't the only examples.

Friday, April 5, 2013

"Let It Be" vs. "Let It Be...Naked"

It was announced earlier in the week that Let It Be…Naked (2003), the remixed, Phil Spector-less version of The Beatles' final record, is at long last available on iTunes. The news inspired me to revisit the album and note what I like and don't like about the major differences. I didn't find many negatives.
Like:
- The best change by far was the addition of "Don't Let Me Down." What a song, what a vocal. It never should have been excluded from the 1970 release. That, combined with the removal of "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" – two short and goofy superfluities best left as outtakes -, improved the flow of the songs and their overall quality.
- Generally speaking, the track order is much better. "Get Back" works more naturally as an opener than a closer, and "Let It Be" finishes the album on an appropriately elegiac note. I'm not a huge fan of "Let It Be," but I don't like that it was buried on Side 1 of the original. It deserved better.
- I stand with Paul on "The Long and Winding Road." He hated that Spector lavished the song with ornate instrumentation. He saw it as an insulting deviation from the "back-to-basics" sound that The Beatles had aimed for on the album. The gentler, more earth-bound version on Naked is an upgrade. The same goes for "Across the Universe," which sheds the gooey, underwater encasement that Spector had overdubbed onto an earlier recording of the song. In these instances anyway, less is more.
Don't like:
- Notwithstanding what I said about "Get Back" as a winning opener, I still prefer "Two of Us" in that spot. It's probably due to a combination of: 1) I treasure the song; 2) Hearing it at the outset, with its warm melancholy and autumnal ease, seems to improve everything that follows; and 3) I dig John's mock intro.
And that's basically it. Canon fealty be damned, I prefer the unified, precise polish of Naked to the incongruous clutter of the original.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Assorted Beatles links

- Paul: "… when she (Yoko) turned up at the studio and sat in the middle of us, doing nothing I still admit now that we were all cheesed off." Cheesed off! The quote comes from an interview Paul did with Q. The British mag's most recent issue celebrates The Beatles' 50th anniversary.
- Which bassist had the largest influence on Macca? Motown's James Jamerson.
- Ray Connolly on Paul and his mother, Mary.
- Paul will be featured on the score for Michel Gondry’s upcoming film, Mood Indigo. He contributed bass parts to several instrumental compositions.
- Paul has a new album of his own in the works, and three of the tracks were produced by Mark Ronson.
- Read about Paul’s original plan for “Yesterday.”
- Peter Brown, friend and assistant to Brian Epstein and a former Apple Corps executive, reflects on life with The Beatles.
- Via Slate, "photos from the early days of Beatlemania."
- Rolling Stone’s Jody Rosen on Please Please Me: “It captures the group at its scruffiest and most 'bar band' – it is a document, as Lennon once said, of the Beatles before they were "the 'clever' Beatles."
- And here are 10 facts about PPM.
- Lastly, a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s that was autographed by all four Beatles just sold for nearly $300,000. Madness!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Happy Friday from Paul!

(Source: SB Nation)
Why is Paul wearing a Texas Tech jersey? It's a reasonable question. The most likely explanation is that he sprung for one while visiting Lubbock, TX to honor Buddy Holly. Lubbock is both home to Texas Tech and Holly's place of birth. So, a red jersey, green pants, brown loafers and white socks... what a foxy ensemble. If it isn't the apex of early '90s dad-rock fashion, I haven't a clue what is.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Beatles' album covers, from worst to best

As I did with album names, I've now done with album covers. And like last time, my focus is only on the core catalog (British releases plus Magical Mystery Tour.) The "Butcher Cover" is nowhere to be found here.
. . .
13) Yellow Submarine – Like the name of the album, it's dated psychedelia. The sundry colors and shapes are all too much. Minor kudos for the "NOTHING IS REAL" detail, which appears right below the title on the UK release.
12) Magical Mystery Tour – Silly psychedelia once again, though I admire its unabashed oddity. I'm also a sucker for "Paul is dead" clues (as ridiculous as they are), in this case Macca's costume. As John revealed on "Glass Onion," Paul was the walrus – an animal that apparently represented death in various ancient cultures.
11) The Beatles – Is it conceptual art hokum or inspired simplicity? Is it too clever by half or a sly way of implying that no visual representation could do justice to "The White Album," a kaleidoscopic, everything-under-the-sun grab-bag? I oscillate between both views, with neither holding a stronger claim than the other.
10) Let It Be – The cover's conventional design reflects the back-to-basics approach of the Let It Be project. Those head shots tell a story. The Beatles were all shy of 30, but their faces (well, except George's) indicate the toll of the previous decade. Another option was available: an updated version of the Please Please Me cover, which was originally designated for the aborted "Get Back" album and later used on the "Blue" greatest hits.
9) Help! - Conceived by photographer Robert Freeman, the cryptic style of the flag semaphore cover may hint at the Fabs' changing orientation to the world. On some level, they were starting to withdraw into their own. They were no doubt evolving musically.
8) Please Please Me - Taken at EMI's London headquarters in Manchester Square, Angus McBean's memorable shot shows The Beatles youthful and carefree - a disposition that wouldn't and couldn't last. So much was to come.
7) A Hard Day's Night - The Beatles' spirited goofiness shines through in this spread of photo booth-style head shots. Also conveyed is the bang-bang pace of their professional existence, which - at that time, anyway - seemed to feed their impish personalities.
6) Revolver - A combination of drawings and collage created by The Beatles' friend Klaus Voorman, the imaginatively weird cover illustration is, alas, too busy for its own good. Rubber Soul communicates the same message of redefined identity in a more pleasingly simplified form. Still, the surrealistic mess of heads is unique and eye-catching.
5) Beatles for Sale - The second of four covers done by Robert Freeman, this plainspoken shot taken at Hyde Park captures The Beatles in a glum, world-weary, exhausted place - the price of being the biggest band in the world. Not for nothing, their mop-tops are unkempt and overgrown.
4) Rubber Soul - Between the distinctive lettering, the absence of The Beatles' name and, of course, the famous "stretched" effect (which came about by accident), Freeman's final cover unmistakably signaled that the boyish Fabs were long gone. My favorite detail: John's supercilious, barely-there smirk.
3) With The Beatles - Once again, Robert Freeman. This heavily shadowed B&W image is a marvel of austere beauty. It stands in stark contrast to the inviting warmth of Please Please Me and serves as a pre-echo of Beatles for Sale sternness (despite the band's state of mind being far more upbeat at this earlier stage).
2) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Designed by Peter Blake, it remains to this day the most iconic album cover in pop music history. Colorful, crowded and cryptic, the festive funeral scene doubles as a bold act of self-mythologizing. Surrounded by a host of showbiz notables and literary luminaries, The Beatles were positioning themselves as the bridge between entertainment and art. Bonus: it was the wellspring of "Paul is dead" rumor-mongering.
1) Abbey Road – The most poignant and symbolic of the 13 covers, the zebra crossing shot shows the band's valedictory march. They were walking away from life as The Beatles. When they reached the other side, one can imagine them all heading in separate directions. It's a moving picture of the end. (I won't taint this entry with more trifling "Paul is dead" talk. There's already been too much.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The "God" trilogy

"God," the penultimate track on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, is a powerful pop sermon of unbelief and rejection. It's so powerful, in fact, that it inspired two sequels - one by U2 and the other by Larry Norman, a pioneer of the Christian rock genre. I first heard U2's "God Part II" a few weeks ago while listening to Rattle and Hum. Intrigued, I read up on the song and then came across this article, which explores the relationship between the three parts. Their conflicting theological perspectives make for a compelling interplay. I especially like Bono's lyric, which addresses the inner discord that holds sway in the life of a sinner.
Excerpts:
U2's music often includes religious content, but it is a highly creative, restless and wondering relationship with religious mysteries. They look for the baby Jesus under the trash and would take bread and wine if there were a church they could receive in, but their articulation of sacred themes is often playful and always incomplete, as if they never quite find what they are looking for.
. . .
Larry Norman's "God Part III" does not include the same subtlety or affection for Lennon we find in Bono's lyrics. Norman begins his song not with a statement about religion, like Lennon and U2, but instead with the words "i don't believe in beatles, i don't believe in rock," taking the first phrase directly from Lennon's song. The liner notes to Norman's Stranded in Babylon describe "God Part III" as a "response to John's song," which suggests something far less affectionate than U2's note that their song is "for John Lennon." Unlike U2's generous affirmation of the rightness and truth of Lennon's emphasis on love, Norman's direct confrontation with Lennon, the Beatles and rock more generally suggests there is no truth to be found in music; "you can easily hit number one with a bullet," he says, "and totally miss the heart." Bono disagrees, finding truth in Lennon, even if he is misguided in certain particulars.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Re: BBC on John and Jesus

If you listened to this BBC Radio program about "more popular than Jesus" or are otherwise well acquainted with the details of the row, you know what John's defense was. He claimed that his words were taken out of context - long live the "context" defense! - and twisted into something that was far removed from what he had intended. John insisted that he wasn't denouncing Christianity or the person of Christ or God but merely observing that the church in England had reached a pitifully low ebb by 1966, to the point where, especially among the youth, The Beatles held a higher standing than Jesus himself. He added that he could have substituted "TV" or "cinema" for "The Beatles," and his remark would have remained true. The point wasn't that The Beatles were massively popular (which, of course, they were). It was that the church was massively unpopular.
In his explanation, John did sound very sincere. According to Tony Barrow, The Beatles' longtime press officer, John suffered a major breakdown during the band's U.S. tour that year, which was atypical of him. It clearly wasn't his aim to create a media firestorm or provoke fans. The backlash caught him completely unawares, and it stung.
However, what feeds my skepticism a bit about his defense is the snide and arrogant tone of his words to Maureen Cleave. It seems to belie his appeal that he was just making an observation and there was no value judgment involved. Here's the relevant part:
'Christianity will go,' he said. 'It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.'
I think I can be excused for not mistaking John for a social scientist here. What he's engaging in is not impartial analysis but triumphant gloating, however premature. "I'm right and I will be proved right." That's the sound of someone who's just fine with the withering away of Christianity. Of course, John's entitled to that view, but it certainly doesn't square with his defense. Furthermore, the chutzpah on display is a tad vexing. There's John – not an academic or an intellectual but an uneducated musician – making brazen armchair predictions about the future of Christianity, a belief system that was still in existence nearly two millennia after its founding. He was simply out of his depth. Maybe he had read a couple of books on the subject, but that hardly would've made him a qualified commentator. He probably should've held his tongue or, at the very least, softened his tone.
All told, I still sympathize with John over what he endured. The reaction in America was unhelpful and way overdone. Still, he didn't really do himself any favors in the matter.

Monday, March 11, 2013

BBC on John and Jesus

Returning to the "more popular than Jesus" remark, below is a documentary about the controversy, which BBC Radio 2 aired back in 2009. It was news to me that John once opined, again in the presence of Maureen Cleave, that "Show business is an extension of the Jewish religion." Oops. This much is clear: John Lennon as we know him wouldn't have been possible in this day and age. Our contemporary media culture, with its rigorously observed PC pieties, would never have allowed it.
(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"More popular than Jesus"

John's infamous claim about The Beatles' popularity relative to Jesus Christ's was first published 47 years ago on Monday. It was part of an article written by Maureen Cleave for the London Evening Standard entitled, "How does a Beatle live? John Lennon lives like this." Perhaps a better headline would have been, "John Lennon owns too much stuff." Cleave paints John as a somewhat befuddled megastar steeped in superfluous possessions and disconnected from reality. It's an interesting piece. You can tell that Cleave very much likes John on a personal level - she was a friend of The Beatles' - but the way she describes him at times is far from flattering. She's sympathetic but not uncritical, charmed but bemused.
Read the entire article here.
Excerpts:
He is much the same as he was before. He still peers down his nose, arrogant as an eagle, although contact lenses have righted the short sight that originally caused the expression. He looks more like Henry VIII than ever now that his face has filled out - he is just as imperious, just as unpredictable, indolent, disorganised, childish, vague, charming and quick-witted. He is still easy-going, still tough as hell. 'You never asked after Fred Lennon,' he said, disappointed. (Fred is his father; he emerged after they got famous.) 'He was here a few weeks ago. It was only the second time in my life I'd seen him - I showed him the door.' He went on cheerfully: 'I wasn't having him in the house.'
. . .
One feels that his possessions - to which he adds daily - have got the upper hand; all the tape recorders, the five television sets, the cars, the telephones of which he knows not a single number. The moment he approaches a switch it fuses; six of the winking boxes, guaranteed to last till next Christmas, have gone funny already. His cars - the Rolls, the Mini-Cooper (black wheels, black windows), the Ferrari (being painted black) - puzzle him. Then there's the swimming pool, the trees sloping away beneath it. 'Nothing like what I ordered,' he said resignedly. He wanted the bottom to be a mirror. 'It's an amazing household,' he said. 'None of my gadgets really work except the gorilla suit - that's the only suit that fits me.'

Monday, February 25, 2013

Happy birthday, George!

The Quiet Beatle would've been 70 today. To celebrate the occasion, PopMatters compiled a list of George's top solo hits.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Back Off Boogaloo"

Circling back to the topic of Ringo and Marc Bolan's collaborative partnership, below is "Back Off Boogaloo," a 1972 single from Ringo that was apparently sparked into existence by Bolan.
Via Wikipedia: In a 1977 interview, Starr explained that the phrase "Back Off Boogaloo" was inspired when he and fellow musician (and close friend) Marc Bolan had dinner one night, and Bolan used the word "boogaloo" multiple times in his sentences. Starr said that after dinner, when he had been half awake and half asleep, the beat and tune for the song had become stuck in his head. He went to find a tape recorder to record the song but had trouble when all his tape recorders either were broken or had no batteries, adding, "So, I stole batteries from the kids toys and I got the song down."[citation needed] Ringo also reiterated this story in 1998 on VH1 Storytellers. This would contradict a popular legend that 'Boogaloo' was a nickname for Paul McCartney and that the song was Starr's message to McCartney to "back off" the lawsuits and return to making good music (as the lyric says, "give me something tasty"); and not to "pretend that you're dead" as the "Paul is dead" rumor had perpetuated.[citation needed]
Produced by George, "Back Off Boogaloo" was a hit for Ringo, reaching #9 on the U.S. charts and #2 in the U.K. I can understand why. It's a chugging, chorus-happy earworm that, when paired with its whimsical odd-couple video, has the feel of inspired nonsense.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tony Sheridan, R.I.P.

From The New York Times:
Though Mr. Sheridan’s involvement with the Beatles was brief, it proved crucial to their career. They met in 1960, when the Beatles — then a quintet that included John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison on guitars, Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums — arrived in Hamburg to work as a club band.
Mr. Sheridan, already an accomplished performer, was also playing in Hamburg, and the Beatles both admired his work and emulated his performance style. At times they performed together, and in recent years Mr. Sheridan claimed to have arranged for Ringo Starr’s first performances with the group. Mr. McCartney took over as bassist when Mr. Sutcliffe left the band at the end of 1960, and Mr. Starr replaced Mr. Best as the group’s drummer in 1962.
In the spring of 1961, the German producer and composer Bert Kaempfert offered recording contracts to both Mr. Sheridan and the Beatles, with the intention of using the Beatles as Mr. Sheridan’s backup band, but with the option of recording them separately as well.
During sessions in Hamburg in 1961 and 1962, Mr. Sheridan and the Beatles recorded nine songs together. Mr. Sheridan sang seven of them — “My Bonnie,” “The Saints,” “Why (Can’t You Love Me Again),” “Nobody’s Child,” “Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Swanee River.” The other two were purely Beatles performances: “Cry for a Shadow,” an instrumental by Lennon and Harrison, and “Ain’t She Sweet,” with Lennon singing.
. . .
"Why"

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"He struts, man, and I like that about him"

It's a blessing from above that there exists a direct connection between The Beatles and glam rock pioneers T. Rex. Some backstory first. After Beatlemania, T. Rextasy was the next pop phenomenon to sweep the U.K. For many, the frenzied fan reaction that T. Rex elicited in the early '70s – typically young girls convulsing with elation – called to mind Beatle-generated hysteria. At the center of it all was T. Rex's Mad Hatter gypsy lead singer, Marc Bolan. A lusty, swaggering, mysterious, androgynously handsome frontman, Bolan was born for the stage. He was "born to boogie."
Indeed. That's the name of a T. Rex concert movie from 1972. And here's where the Beatles connection comes in. The director of the project? Our own Ringo Starr, who was Managing Director of Apple Films at the time. Ringo admired Bolan for his brash star power (see the title quote) and reached out to him about doing a film, which they centered around two concerts at Wembley Empire Pool. There's more. Per Wikipedia: "Born to Boogie consists of concert footage; recording studio scenes with Ringo Starr and Elton John, filmed at the Apple Studios in Savile Row, London; and various vignettes reminiscent of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, shot at Denham and Tittenhurst Park, Sunninghill (the latter of which was home to both John and Ringo at different points)."
I recently watched Born to Boogie - what a hoot. It showcases some of the most fun and flavorful rock 'n' roll that the often self-serious '70s had to offer. The mood is always light, the performances are electric, and Bolan of course steals the show. Oh, but don't miss Ringo's elegantly understated beard/mullet combo. It's bottom-heavy but top-shelf. It may change your mind about some things.
Here's the trailer:
Other T. Rex-related posts: "Great non-Beatles song..."

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Beatles' album titles, from worst to best

Motivated by nothing so much as the peculiar satisfaction of compiling lists, I ranked The Beatles' album titles.*
13) Yellow Submarine - A soundtrack for the kooky cartoon feature, but still part of the sanctioned canon. The title is, indeed, too cartoony, too late '60s.
12) With The Beatles - It lacks punch and distinction, smacking of a name that Capitol Records would have used for one of their mish-mash Fab releases. The cover is an entirely different story.
11) Please Please Me - For The Beatles' debut, it's understandable that Parlaphone (or George Martin?) played it safe and recycled the name of the album's breakthrough single. Built-in familiarity, though, can be boring. PPM also lacks the self-referential commentary of other titles.
10) Magical Mystery Tour - It's less corny than Yellow Submarine but, similarly, it hasn't aged well. That said, the dual meaning - invoking both a charabanc bus trip and that very different kind of trip - plays out well in the context of the Magical Mystery Tour film.
9) The Beatles - Releasing a self-titled album in 1968 - a late and fractious stage of the band's career - merits some kudos. But it's still just their name. "A Doll's House" was a possibility. Even better in my opinion: "The White Album" as the official title.
8) Let It Be - It's soft and mawkish, but it conveys a sense of finality that was appropriate for the final album The Beatles released.
7) A Hard Day's Night - Legend has it that Ringo coined the phrase, but it may have been John. Whoever the source, it's witty and energetic, accurately pinpointing the boys in their early prime.
6) Help! - Borrowed from the opening track - an urgent plea for support by John - the earnest name reflects the more emotionally mature direction the Fabs were pursuing as songwriters. See the title track, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Yesterday," etc.
5) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - A pre-rock 'n' roll alternate persona for the band, it's full of verve, color and laughs, which is exactly how we should want to remember The Beatles.
4) Beatles for Sale - The light humor of A Hard Day's Night turned memorably mordant here, as The Beatles fell victim to the exhausting rigors of being The Beatles. Notice the change in tone from A Hard Day's Night to Beatles for Sale to Help!. The trajectory speaks volumes.
3) Revolver - Ambiguous, perhaps darkly so, Revolver could mean a gun or the rotation of a record. It's loaded, compelling, forceful imagery - a must for such a landmark album.
2) Abbey Road - The site of one triumph after another. No title captures more of the band's history. Simple, nostalgic, reverent, affectionate.
1) Rubber Soul - Obviously.
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* - I'm only concerned here with the core catalog (the canon, if you will), which - with the exception of Magical Mystery Tour - consists entirely of British releases.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Recently in Beatles history

Momentous occasions of late. Last Thursday, February 7th, was the 49th anniversary of The Beatles' arrival in America. With "I Want to Hold Your Hand" atop U.S. charts, the band felt poised for a takeover. The British Invasion was officially underway.
Here's a snippet of the press conference The Beatles did that day at JFK Airport in New York.
Just a bunch of wise guys...
Two days later, The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and changed everything. Below you'll find the full five song performance, which really is something special. There's a joyful magnetism about the band's presence; it's hard not to stare, smile helplessly and be transported, as surely happened with most of the crowd.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Henry Grossman and The Beatles

These superb shots are the work of Henry Grossman, a photographer who trained his camera on The Beatles frequently in the mid-to-late '60s. Go here for more pics. This past December, Grossman released Places I Remember: My Time With The Beatles, which features over 1000 images from his collection.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The kinetic genius of Billy Preston, the "Fifth Beatle"

I caught a snippet of the video below in the documentary Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records and was blown away. Just watch it - watch and learn and don't even attempt to imitate. Preston's moves defy reason; they're nothing short of otherworldly. The whole package - the voice, the dancing, the presence, the suit - is shot through with star power.
"Agent Double O Soul":

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Today in Beatles history: "I hope we passed the audition"

It's among the most iconic moments in Beatles history: the rooftop concert. Around noon on January 30, 1969, The Beatles made their way - without advance public notice or police permission - to the top of the Apple building at 3 Savile Row and staged their final live performance. Bundled up due to the cold, blustery conditions, the band, along with keyboardist Billy Preston, debuted songs from the "Get Back"/"Let It Be" sessions, including "Get Back," "Don't Let Me Down" and "I've Got a Feeling." With a film crew on hand, the performance was to serve as the climax of the Let It Be documentary, which - when completed - showed The Beatles in disarray and hurtling toward a nasty divorce. So part of what makes the rooftop concert such a pleasure is that, if only briefly, the band swapped bitterness for fun - boyish, mischievous fun rooted in the thrill of live rock 'n' roll performance. They ad-libbed during songs, they cracked jokes between songs and they practically begged the police, who eventually shut down the gig because of crowds that had gathered, to arrest them. (What a finale that would have been.) Even better, they visibly enjoyed each other's company. I'm thinking of a moment during "Don't Let Me Down." Midway through the song, after John blanks on a line and really hams it up, he looks to Paul for guidance. Facing one another, the two deliver the next line accurately and then exchange smiles that seem to reflect the many years of shared history between them. Even near the end, even amidst severe infighting, the Fabs could still bring out the best in each other. And I would add that, after the joyless process of recording Let It Be, they owed themselves the rooftop concert. A bright spot in stormy times.
Part 1:
Part 2

Monday, January 28, 2013

My favorite (ex)Beatles song right now

When critics assail Paul for his lightweight material, it's songs like "Tomorrow" that they have in mind. I'm glad I don't belong to those circles, because I can't imagine not appreciating all of the melodic charm, rosewater whimsy and - believe it or not - disguised tension that "Tomorrow" has to offer. Notably more fetching than "Yesterday," this polished, piano-driven cut from 1971's Wild Life - the debut record by Wings - finds Paul beseeching his dear to stay strong and true as they map out a brighter future. Using an altered vocal that makes him sound younger and more tender and backed by airy "ohs" and "ahs," Paul projects hope - urgent, infectious hope - even as doubt and pain are plainly evident. "Don't you let me down tomorrow" doesn't exactly brim with confidence, and "Holding hands we both abandon sorrow" means there's sorrow to overcome. And as he sings in my favorite line, "Through the week we beg and steal and borrow/Oh for a chance to get away tomorrow." It's a tricky balancing act - cloudy skies and uncertainty mixed with idyllic visions of picnics and "country air." The glue seems to be those spacious, sustained "ohs" that Paul belts out again and again. They pack both anxiety and optimism. Far from merely twee, "Tomorrow" is fraught emotion made irresistible.
(If the video is removed, go here.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

Money quote from John

I was never really a street kid or a tough guy. I used to dress like a teddy boy and identify with Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley, but I was just a suburban kid, imitating the rockers. I spent the whole of my childhood walking in complete fear, but with the toughest-looking face you've ever seen. It took a lot of wrestling to stop doing that, even though I still fall into it when I get insecure and nervous.
With John, it's not just the music that keeps us coming back - it's the real, raw humanity as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Beach Boys/Beatles party

I’ve been listening to Beach Boys’ Party! quite a bit of late. As I’ve written elsewhere, Beach Boys’ Party! is a studio record that’s meant to sound like a hootenanny, complete with audience involvement, giddy chatter and lyrical flubs. In August of 1965, Capitol Records told the Beach Boys they would need to release an album for the Christmas season. Because Brian Wilson’s next planned project – Pet Sounds – was too ambitious to fit that timeframe, the band sought a quick fix in the “live party” concept. (Side-note: From a party album to Pet Sounds? What a titanic shift.) They also sped up the process by mainly recording covers, including three songs by The Beatles. Herein lies the album’s relevance to this blog. Below is a rundown of those covers.
- "I Should Have Known Better"
A standout from the band’s early-period repertoire and a personal favorite, “I Should Have Known Better” is easily the best of the bunch. Everything works. Its tone is perfect for the album’s staged atmosphere of merriment; the lyric and the melody make for a natural sing-a-long; and the Beach Boys perform it well, even adding some signature “bow-wows.” If only they would’ve scrapped their abbreviated version in favor of the whole song.
(If the video is removed, hit the link above.)
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- "Tell Me Why"
Another success, though a few notches below the first. Despite being a self-pitying lament, the song maintains a high energy level and boasts a roaring chorus – both of which likely appealed to the Beach Boys. I just wish they would’ve had more people join in for the climactic line, “'Cause I really can’t stand it/ I’m so in love with you.” It deserves more oomph.
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- "You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away"
A brutally mournful piece, the original is just not compatible with a revelrous environment. And while the Beach Boys limit the background noise on their rendition, there’s still enough included to ruin the performance. The boisterous pre-chorus “Hey” and the accompanying giggles strike precisely the wrong note. Heavy ballads need to be played straight.
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The Beach Boys also recorded a cover of “Ticket to Ride” for the album but I couldn't find a proper version on YouTube.