Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Beck's "Love"

Pitchfork writes:
"On February 14, Starbucks will release a new compilation of covers for Valentine's Day, titled Sweetheart 14. The collection will feature recordings by Fiona Apple, Vampire Weekend, Phosphorescent, and Jim James, among others. Beck also contributes a cover of John Lennon's 'Love', which you can stream above now via Revolt /Consequence of Sound."
Follow those links or have a listen below. Beck certainly puts his stamp on John's moving, mournful, all-time classic ballad off JL/POB. This is "Love" by way of Sea Change, Beck's 2002 LP. No longer lower-case and unadorned but spacious and echoey, with reflective sheen galore. Beck doesn't quite pull it off - "Love" will always work best as an intimate, vapory whisper - but I still admire the effort.
(If the video is removed, go here.)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Today in Beatles history

As I learned from The Beatles Bible (which is an indispensable resource for Fab fanatics), The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on this day in 1988. I highlight this not because their joint appearance (sans Paul, who no-showed) or acceptance speeches are really of any note. Ringo played the part of the too-cool, liquored-up buffoon with dismaying ease and perfection. George was sincere and dignified but not all that forthcoming. And I don't care enough to remark on Yoko. No, it's Mick Jagger's funny and engaging introductory speech that you should watch. I love his recollection of the early days, which includes some ace digs against provincial, backwater Liverpool. And I can't help but wonder what was actually going through his head as he heaped plaudits on his once-rivals. In the history of rock 'n' roll, few can match Mick for ego and pride.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Weekend reading

- A.V. Club: "With Band On The Run, Paul McCartney escaped The Beatles’ shadow"
Noah Cruickshank writes, "John did hold Paul back. But, contrary to what most critics argued, that was a bad thing. Lennon hindered McCartney’s formal experimentation, and the two-part structure of Abbey Road is the best proof of that: Lennon refused to let McCartney and George Martin turn the entire album into a suite of thematically related songs."
No. No, no, no. Band on the Run is the exception that proves the rule. How could you hold The Beatles' catalog and Paul's solo career side-by-side and then draw the conclusion that, "Man, if only John had let Paul run wild." It's absurd, absolutely absurd. To the left, a staggering run of classics; to the right, near-misses, mediocrity, and creative ebbs occasionally interrupted by greatness. The Abbey Road dimension of the argument is no more convincing. The Side Two song cycle works so gloriously well in part because it occupies just one side. Stretching that vision across the whole of Abbey Road would've resulted in a lesser album - something more frivolous and indulgent. Hmmm, that sounds like much of Paul's post-Beatles output, no? The larger point: a key element of the Lennon/McCartney dynamic was that they kept each other's excesses in check. Contra Cruickshank, this remains an unqualified good.
- "The Beatles' US Albums: How the classics were butchered"
- I'm reminded of Capitol Records' ham-fisted retooling of The Beatles' oeuvre every time I dip into Rubber Soul or Revolver on vinyl. From 14 tracks apiece to 12 and 11, respectively. Goodbye "Drive My Car", "Nowhere Man", "I'm Only Sleeping" (!!), "And Your Bird Can Sing", etc. The savagery! The philistinism! More than their early-period works, the Fabs consciously constructed these two LPs (and later ones, Pepper most notably) as unified collections of songs. It was this effect that blew away Brian Wilson when he first heard Rubber Soul. In other words, they were not meant to be altered.
- "The Beatles were the Mitt Romney of the 1960s, and other policy lessons from the Fab Four"
Excerpt: In 1968, when "The White Album" was released, revolutionary fervor was in the air. Vietnam protests were at a high ebb; there was violence in the streets, and there was a sense that the old order was fundamentally broken and needed to be brought down by any means necessary. The Beatles' song "Revolution" combines an almost bombastic revolutionary tone with a more subtle message. "We all want to change the world/But when you talk about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out," John Lennon wrote. "You say you got a real solution/Well, you know/We'd all love to see the plan."
Lennon seems to have meant the song as a rebuke of would-be revolutionaries who, in their dislike of how things worked in the Western democracies, blinded themselves to the brutal realities of rule under Communist regimes ("You say you'll change the constitution/Well, you know/We all want to change your head" and "if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow"). But there are some themes in the song that apply more broadly to policy.
It's easy to look around the world and see all the things that are going wrong, and to want to tear up the system in its entirety. What's a lot harder is the messy work of identifying concrete, practical action that might make peoples' lives better, all the while respecting existing institutions and interests enough to actually make positive change happen through democratic means.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More on Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In"

Before Tune In was released back in October, The Telegraph ran a series of excerpts from the book. You'll find a sample below.
- "The making of Lennon"
I didn't know about these circumstances of Julia's death: She likely wouldn't have been on foot if not for her then-husband being stripped of his driver's license. "Twitchy" (as John called him) had recently been cited for drunk driving. And the reason Julia was out and about at all that night was to ask her sister Mimi if John could move back in with his aunt. Hard times financially. An already very sad story becomes even sadder.
- "The birth of the band"
Excerpt: Through sheer force of personality, John Lennon changed others’ lives, and many went willingly on the journey. For Paul McCartney, who had a fundamental need to be noticed, stepping forward with John was a natural move – he was aligning himself with someone people couldn’t avoid, and who thrust two fingers up to things in a way he envied but would rarely do in full view. At the same time, Paul could apply gloss, where needed, to minimise John’s trail of damage. Their musical group was formed in John’s image and driven ever onward by his restlessness, but without Paul he would have upset too many people too many times to make the progress they both craved. Paul’s other strengths were his great talent, his burning ambition and his high self-regard, and when John felt them becoming overbearing he’d pull him down a peg or two, as only he could.
- "The Sixties Start Here"
Fun fact: "Murry Wilson agreed the Beach Boys’ contract with Capitol Records on 10 May, the day after George Martin, in London, offered Brian Epstein a Parlophone contract for the Beatles."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" discoveries

While researching the initial installment of his sweeping, obsessively detailed three-part history of The Beatles, Mark Lewisohn unearthed the true story of how George Martin came to be the band's producer. Abridged version: It was a punishment of sorts. From a NYT interview with Lewisohn:
Q: One of the biggest surprises in the book concerns how and why George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, signed them to his label, Parlophone. The story was always that when everyone else turned them down, he saw a spark or originality. But it turns out to have been a far more byzantine transaction.
A: When I wrote the “Recording Sessions” book, I found very little paperwork about their first session, on June 6, 1962, and people who were involved remembered it differently. That was thought to have been an audition. But in 1991 I gained access to another archive within EMI, where I found the studio booking forms, and those showed that at the time of that session, they were already under contract. It was not an audition, or an artist test, or any test at all — it was a proper session, under a contract.
This created a mystery: it meant that George Martin had signed them without having heard them perform live. In 1992, I laid all these documents out in front of him, and I said: “George, can you explain this to me? You appear to have signed them before you saw them.” And he appeared genuinely befuddled by it. He said, “Why would I have done that?” We never resolved it, but I knew there had to be more to it.
Q: The key was someone else who had never been interviewed, Kim Bennett, who worked for EMI’s in-house publisher, Ardmore & Beechwood, which published the Beatles’ first songs. Ardmore & Beechwood pushed EMI to sign the Beatles because it wanted to publish their music, and EMI, after first resisting the idea, agreed because the company saw it as a way to punish George Martin for various indiscretions.
A: I had been looking for Kim Bennett to talk about the early publishing, but unbeknownst to me, he had been trying for years to get people to listen to his story about how the Beatles got signed, and nobody wanted to know. I interviewed him extensively over two days, and I grilled him — to the point where he lost his temper, a bit — because I wanted to be sure I understood this properly, and that it stood up. And the story was that for a combination of reasons, George Martin had his arm twisted to sign the Beatles.
. . .
Other noteworthy details from the book:
- MOJO: "The infamous tug-of-love scene in Blackpool, where five-year-old John Lennon is forced to choose between his mother and father, didn’t happen."
- The Weekly Standard: "Lewisohn tells us, for example, that manager Brian Epstein wanted the chief songwriter to get top billing in credits rather than use the Lennon-McCartney nomenclature; that Epstein was not to blame for the lame set list for their disastrous Decca audition; that the band was briefly known as “Japage 3” for John, Paul, and George; and that Paul McCartney was at the low end of the totem pole when the Beatles first played Hamburg (“Everyone hates him,” bassist Stuart Sutcliffe wrote back home)."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Weekend reading

This one has been sitting idle in my repository of Fab links for too long: Stereogum's list of The Beatles' albums from worst to best. As with most undertakings of this kind - and especially those that touch on The Beatles' inviolable discography - there's voluminous room for disagreement. Revolver at #3? "Two of Us" is nothing more than a "minor ditty"? Did I really see the words "I've Got a Feeling" and "slay" in the same sentence? You get the picture. But all told, the list makes for a quality, enjoyable read. It's obvious that Chris DeVille - easily one of my favorite music scribes going today - loves and gets The Beatles.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday links

- From The Atlantic: "'Rubbish,' 'Tiresome,' 'Whoa-Yuk!': The Beatles' Early Haters".
A perhaps crucial data set is missing from this article: the demographics of the BBC listening audience. If the fault line between approval and disapproval correlates with significant age discrepancies (i.e., young: thumbs up; old: thumbs down), then there really isn't anything too noteworthy about The Beatles' so-called mixed reception. On the pop culture front, those were youth-driven times.
- Appearing on Newsweek's website, here's a detail-rich excerpt from John McMillan's new book, Beatles vs. Stones, that carries the header, "You Never Give Me Your Money: How Allen Klein Played The Beatles and The Stones."
Klein in a nutshell:
On his desk, he kept a plaque that parodied Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for I am the biggest motherfucker in the valley.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Shot of the day

I love this pic (found in the slideshow at the bottom of this article). There are John and George - sweaty, frenzied, in the grips of a feverish rock 'n' roll high... and sporting those finely pressed polite-society suits which Brian Epstein mandated that they wear. While in place, this contrast was an integral and fascinating element of The Beatles' image. They played by certain rules and subverted others. Sometimes they leaned Paul, and sometimes they leaned John.