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.
. . .

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.
* - 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":