Archive for the ‘Beatles’ Category

Meet the Beatles (again!)

Posted: February 7, 2014 in Album Reviews, Beatles

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Anyone who has spent a great deal of time with me knows I’m obsessed with the Beatles. Although I love a wide variety of music, there will never be another Beatles in my mind. My dad has always been a huge Beatles fan. He remembers vividly watching their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and he was instantly hooked. He passed that love for all things Beatle to me basically from birth. He played Beatles records and 8-tracks (kids, you’ll have to google those terms!) all the time, and sang Beatles/Paul McCartney tunes whenever it was naptime. My dad would buy blank 8-tracks to make mix tapes from his records. I was 3 or 4 and I always wanted him to make me a mix tape, too. Half of mine would contain various kids songs (probably at the behest of my mom) and the other half would be Beatles tunes. I always liked the Beatles songs better (sorry, mom!). As years went by, the obsession just grew. Even though my dad had all the records, I wanted my own copies and by the time I was 10, I pretty much did (although I had now graduated to cassettes and CDs). I have bought their catalogue a few times over, buying everything again when they remastered it in 2009 in both the stereo and mono box sets. I’ve even got most of the American albums on CD (through the first half of their career, Capitol Records issued different albums in the United States than in Britain, including non-album singles and mixing and matching tracks from the original albums  to the disgust of the band). So as we celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles landing on our shores, I’d like to rank their 13 albums. Please note that all 13 albums are recommended. Give me the Beatles talking in the studio over anything released by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and the endless cesspool of ineptitude that passes for popular music these days. Here’s to the days when bands actually played instruments and wrote timeless songs. And now, the album rankings:

 

1. The Beatles (White Album, 1968)
A bit of a controversial choice here, since these sessions are referenced as the beginning of the end for the band. In early 1968, the group convened in India to study transcendental meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While in India, the band wrote a wealth of material for their next album. By the time they got back to England, they had more than 30 songs ready to record. When they got to the studio, tensions began to mount. John Lennon had just left his wife for the conceptual artist Yoko Ono, and the pair were inseparable. Yoko’s presence in the studio didn’t sit well with the others, since nobody’s wife or girlfriend had ever spent an extended period of time in the studio while the group was recording. The fact she would make suggestions made things worse. But to blame the band’s breakup on Yoko is extremely short-sighted. There were other problems. George Harrison, who had played second fiddle to the dynamic Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, was becoming a prolific songwriter in his own right. Since he was usually allotted two songs per album (three on Revolver, four on the White Album), he began to feel creatively stifled, a situation which would lead to his temporary leaving of the band in early 1969 during the contentious Let It Be sessions. During the White Album sessions, the Beatles seemed more a group of four individuals at times than a band, and that’s because they often recorded tracks individually due to the sheer wealth of material and the deadline to produce the album. But I’ve always loved the White Album. Through the course of two discs, the Beatles tackle just about every style of music and do it well. You’ve got beautiful acoustic ditties like Mother Nature’s Son and Julia on one hand to the heavy-metal menace of Helter Skelter on the other. There’s a country tune penned by Ringo (his first-ever songwriting credit) in Don’t Pass Me By. The old-western, sitting in a saloon feel of Rocky Raccoon shares album space with the caterwauling Yer Blues. A doo-wop, slowed down version of Revolution (titled Revolution 1, since it was the take Lennon wanted to put out as a single before the others vetoed it, saying it was too slow, which led to the faster, classic heavy version issued as Hey Jude’s B-side) segues into the vaudeville/music hall leanings of Honey Pie. And there’s the controversial avant-garde sound collage Revolution 9, which some people hate, but I love (even though it scared the living hell out of me when I was a child) just because the band was pushing the boundaries of pop music as always. And I haven’t even mentioned one of my favorite tunes Dear Prudence yet. Over the years, some critics have opined the band should have made this a single disc, ripping it for it’s sprawl. But I tend to side with Paul McCartney who said during the Anthology series in the 90s ‘It sold, it’s the Beatles bloody White Album, shut up!’ Couldn’t have said it better myself.

2. Revolver (1966)

The album where the Beatles shed the lovable moptop image for good. Their most concise effort, and again, an eclectic one. The band was growing tired of touring (they’d stop for good in August 1966), partly because no one could hear them play and also because they were beginning to really stretch out in the studio. No touring would allow them to devote more time to experiment, and even though they hadn’t yet quit the road, Revolver is where you can really see them branching out. Harrison was now fully devoted to Indian music, taking lessons with sitar master Ravi Shankar. Harrison had introduced the sitar in Norwegian Wood the year before, but he brings a full-on Indian tune here in Love You To, one of three Harrison songs included (the biting commentary Taxman and the excellent I Want to Tell You are the others). McCartney had incorporated a string quartet for Yesterday in 1965, so he brought in a full-orchestra treatment for his classic Eleanor Rigby, one of the greatest tunes about loneliness ever written. Lennon was now into his LSD period, delivering mind-bending tunes like She Said, She Said and the trippy Tomorrow Never Knows, full with tape-loop effects and backwards guitar. The band completely on the top of their game here.

 

3. Rubber Soul (1965)

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Beatles’ career is how far they came during a short period of time. Their early singles (She Loves You, Please Please Me, I Want to Hold Your Hand, etc.) exuded an effervescent charm and real knack for hooks, but they were love songs lyrically, mainly dealing with boy-girl relationships. In late 1964, that began to change with songs like No Reply and I’m a Loser off Beatles for Sale, as the band delved into more mature subject matter. That’s completely evident on Rubber Soul, or what many refer to as the Beatles’ folk album (although that’s stating it way too simply). Here, Lennon churns out the standard ‘In My Life,’ reminiscing about the people and places that were important to him. McCartney’s love songs now had a bit of bite to them, as ‘You Won’t See Me’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’ chronicle the problems he was having with girlfriend Jame Asher. The previously mentioned ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)’ not only introduced the sitar to rock music, but told a story about an affair Lennon was having at the time, except in this tale, he burns the woman’s house down at the end of it. Even deep album cuts like ‘Run for Your Life’ and the Ringo-led ‘What Goes On’ are executed with aplomb. 

 

4. Abbey Road (1969)

Oh, what a sendoff! The Beatles were falling apart at the seams in 1969, plagued by money issues caused by their ill-advised company, Apple, and personality issues. Their previous attempts at recording an album that year sat on the shelf because nobody wanted to deal with the endless reels of tape and what they viewed as uninspired performances (those sessions would later come out as Let It Be in 1970, the last album the band released but not the last one it recorded). Somehow, maybe because they didn’t want to go out on such a whimper, the Beatles put aside their differences enough to come up with a grand closing statement. Abbey Road qualifies as perhaps their most polished effort. The vocals are immaculate (especially on breathtaking tracks like ‘Because’ and ‘Sun King’), showing the three-part harmony of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison at the absolute peak of its powers. Harrison again showed he was being under-utilized by delivering the classics ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ Ringo contributed his second Beatles track, ‘Octopus’ Garden’ and McCartney showed his pop craftsmanship by putting together the brilliant closing medley on Side Two from fragments of songs the band had lying around the last two years. Lennon gave the album a proper kick-off with the swampy blues of ‘Come Together.’ He also contributed the pleading ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy), a song with simplistic lyrics but gut-wrenching vocals, and an almost apocalyptic guitar/synthesizer workout at the end. McCartney deals with some of the money problems the band was having at the time with ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ and also brings to mind old 50s rock with ‘Oh Darling.’ And the ending statement “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make’ is such an awesome line and should have been the final words the band sang. Instead, that came in the form of ‘Her Majesty’, a 23-second snippet taken out of the Side 2 medley but accidentally spliced at the end of the tape. When the band heard it, they decided to leave it because it sounded cool. Oh, those Beatles.

 

5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

For many, this is the crown jewel in the Beatles’ catalogue. Now free from the rigors of touring, the Beatles had ample studio time and they used it wisely here, crafting a psychedelic pop masterpiece and the soundtrack for the Summer of Love. It’s often called rock’s first concept album, although as Lennon would later admit, the concept doesn’t really go anywhere beyond the first two songs and a reprise of the title track later. Nevertheless, it feels like a grand statement or thematic concept, as the songs blended seamlessly and the entire work seems connected somehow, even if it’s not lyrically. Lennon was in a bit of a songwriting slump volume-wise, but oh did he make up for it in quality. The psychedelic trip ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ contained some of his most far-out and vivid imagery, while the album closer ‘A Day in the Life’ is quite simply one of the greatest pop achievements of all time. McCartney came up with the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ theme and song as an idea to dress the band up as a different group (hence the colorful band outfits and the mustaches they had grown during the time), and the elaborate artwork featuring many of the band’s heroes was ahead of its time. 

 

OK, I’ve been at this an hour and a half. My wife is getting antsy so I’m going to do the rest of the albums in a rapid-fire capsule form:

6. A Hard Day’s Night (1964): The first Beatles album to contain no cover songs, and it’s brilliant. Many songs featured on the band’s first film (of the same name), including the title track and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love. Other key tracks: If I Fell, And I Love Her, I’ll Be Back (ah the whole damn thing).

7. Magical Mystery Tour (1967): Title of band’s ill-fated U.K. TV special and the first critical backlash they ever received (for the show, not the album). The music here is phenomenal, although it’s a hodgepodge effort. The first side featured songs from the film, and the second side rounded up their non-Pepper singles of 1967. But my oh my were those singles awesome. Key tracks: Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, The Fool On the Hill, I Am the Walrus

8. Help! (1965): A transitional album and also the last one to feature cover songs. Still, the songs from the Beatles’ second film are awesome, especially the title track and Ticket To Ride. The non-soundtrack side is also great, featuring Yesterday. Other key tracks: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, The Night Before, It’s Only Love

9. With the Beatles (1963): The album Meet the Beatles, Capitol’s first U.S. release, was based on. Only thing is, Meet the Beatles was superior (only time this really happened) due to the inclusion of the classic single I Want to Hold Your Hand/This Boy and I Saw Her Standing There. Still, With the Beatles contains an outstanding collection of cover songs and originals. Key tracks: It Won’t Be Long, All My Loving, Money (That’s What I Want), You Really Gotta Hold on Me

10. Please Please Me (1963): The Beatles’ opening salvo. The product of a monumental 12-hour recording session, in which the band replicated their club set under the helpful guidance of producer George Martin (can’t believe I haven’t mentioned his genius yet). Key tracks: Please Please Me, Twist and Shout, I Saw Her Standing There

11. Let it Be (1970): Lennon and Harrison brought uber-producer Phil Spector in to clean up the early 1969 tracks, sessions which were being filmed in the hopes of showing the Beatles getting their act together to produce a live show. The live show’s location couldn’t be agreed upon, and with tensions coming to a boil (Harrison left the band temporarily), they decided to film a short show on the Apple Records rooftop, their final live performance. During those sessions, the Beatles wanted to ‘get back’ to their roots, meaning no overdubs and takes recorded live. By bringing in Spector, who put orchestral and choral flourishes to tracks like ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and ‘Across the Universe’, this didn’t happen. And McCartney was pissed. He announced his departure from the band a month before this was released. Key tracks: Two of Us, Dig a Pony, I’ve Got a Feeling, Let it Be, Across the Universe

12. Beatles for Sale (1964): The originals here are first-rate early Beatles, with Lennon especially showing songwriting growth in tunes like No Reply, I’m a Loser and Baby’s in Black. Just gets a bit bogged down with covers, as the band’s relentless touring and promotional schedule that year caused a dip in songwriting productivity. Other key tracks: Every Little Thing, What You’re Doing, I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party, Eight Days a Week

13. Yellow Submarine (1969): Album really should be credited to Beatles and George Martin, as the first side collects songs from the band’s animated film and the second side featured soundtrack offerings orchestrated by Martin. Of the six band songs, only four were new (Yellow Submarine and All You Need is Love were previously released). These tracks were basically holdovers from previous sessions, but the Beatles’ scraps were still more interesting than others’ best efforts. Harrison’s psychedelic showcase ‘It’s All Too Much’ is the best of that group. Other key tracks: Hey Bulldog, All Together Now

 

And here’s a few others to check out:

Anthology 1, Anthology 2, Anthology 3 (1995-96): The three double-disc volumes of Beatles outtakes released in conjunction with the documentary of the same name. Anthology 1 and Anthology 2 contained the ‘reunion’ tracks Free As a Bird and Real Love, as the three surviving Beatles cleaned up old Lennon demos provided by Yoko and released them as singles to promote the project. They’re actually quite good and would be even better today, as technology has advanced where Lennon’s vocals could be further cleaned up. But the outtakes throughout this collection are fascinating, showing the Beatles tinkered with songs’ arrangements constantly. And while they always picked the best one, early versions are pretty damn entertaining.

Live at the BBC, Volumes 1 and 2 (1994, 2013): Since there are no live Beatles albums in print (1977’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl was never put out on CD), this is about the close we can get to hearing the band recorded live. From 1962 to 1965, the Beatles recorded a series of shows for British Broadcasting, taping many songs they never put down in the studio, including oodles of rock covers from the 50s.

Meet the Beatles! (1964): The album that started it all for the Beatles in America. A bastardized version of their November 1963 release With the Beatles, this was one case where the American version was better. Only one cover here, and the inclusion of the I Want to Hold Your Hand single makes this one essential listening (as all Beatle recordings are).
Past Masters Volumes 1 and 2 (1988): A collection of all the tracks released during the band’s career but not included on the official British albums, i.e. singles and B-sides. If you included this in the album rankings, it would place in the top five easily with presence of great singles like Day Tripper, Hey Jude, Paperback Writer, Lady Madonna, etc.

 

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For his first official solo album in six years (2008’s excellent The Fireman album doesn’t quite count), Paul McCartney enlisted the help of four producers with the hopes of finding the right one.

Turns out, the former Beatle enjoyed working with them all. Two of the producers have Beatles connections, or at least their dads do. Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George, and Ethan Johns, son of Glyn (who worked on the ill-fated Let it Be project) lend support, as do Paul Epworth (Adele) and Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars).

Working with younger collaborators seems to have lit a spark under Sir Paul, as his new album (aptly titled New) continues McCartney’s late-period renaissance (which began with 1997’s excellent Flaming Pie)

The album contains a variety ofu musical styles from the straight-ahead Strokes-like rocker Save Us to the almost Penny Lane like title track (complete with harpsichord), there is much here to like.

Queenie Eye contains a throw everything at the kitchen sink psychedelic vibe, complete with a mid-song breakdown which sounds like it was lifted from another song entirely. It’s marvelous, showing McCartney is still adventurous at age 71.

One of the more reflective pieces on the album is Early Days, where McCartney recalls his pre-Beatle days with John Lennon, where they were looking for anyone to listen to their music. He also takes issue for the many Beatle scribes over the years who claim to know everything about the band’s history but “weren’t where it was at.”

On My Way to Work shows off McCartney’s storytelling ability, as he sings about “riding on a big green bus” and watching the people as waits arrive at work. Again, it takes the listener back to a time before McCartney was one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.

There are interesting stylistic detours and modern production flourishes included on tracks like Road, which has an almost trancelike feel to it (it would have fit nicely on the aforementioned Fireman album) and even features a xylophone quite prominently.

Everybody Out There and I Can Bet should fit quite well into Paul’s arena set, with easy to sing along choruses and a huge rock sound.

The bonus tracks on the deluxe edition aren’t mere filler. Turned Out almost sounds like a lost George Harrison track, while Get Me Out of Here shows off Paul as a 1920s bluesman.

New is a refreshing batch of McCartney tunes, growing on the listener with every spin.

Sod rating: *****

 

As a lifelong Beatles fan, I’m interested in any Beatle-related project. Recently (and I’ve reviewed several of the releases here), I’ve purchased several great releases from the Beatles’ Apple label. Many of these albums had direct involvement from individual Beatles (and in some cases, multiple Beatles).
The latest album up for discussion is one of the two recorded for Apple by funk and soul master/piano ace Billy Preston.
That’s the Way God Planned It was released in 1969 and was produced by George Harrison. George also plays guitar throughout the record along with buddy Eric Clapton. If that wasn’t enough for star power, Keith Richards turns up on bass and Cream’s Ginger Baker pounds the skins. A classic rock supergroup indeed, as Preston’s piano/keyboard/organ work is legendary, as he was one of the few people who could say they were prominent contributors on Beatles and Rolling Stones records. Preston also forged a solid solo career in the 1970s with hits like “Will it Go Round in Circles,” “Nothin from Nothin” and “Outta Space.”
Those hits came after his Apple days, which saw his first vocal efforts after years of instrumental-only releases. Preston acquits himself quite nicely as a singer, with a soulful style to go along with his masterful keyboard work.
That’s the Way God Planned It showcases his skills nicely, whether its on rock pieces like “Do What You Want,” gospel on the title track or soulful R&B ballads like “Morning Star.”
It’s a record well worth seeking out if you enjoy kick-ass piano playing, funk, gospel or rock. He covers all the bases here and does it well. And the follow-up Encouraging Words is said to be even better. Haven’t gotten that one yet, but I will certainly be picking it up in the future.

Sod rating: ****


There was a time I fell into the naive segment of Beatles fandom who believed John Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono was a big factor in dissolving the band.
I also was pretty dismissive of Yoko’s merits as an artist, particularly as a musician, without ever really listening to her music and investigating what it was John found so groundbreaking about her work. I used to think it was just John’s blind love for Yoko which made him be such a staunch advocate of her work, but as the old Beatles song goes, I should have known better.
And while the chances of Yoko reading this are almost as likely as me winning the lottery tomorrow, I’d still like to issue a public apology for the ignorance of my youth.
As I’ve delved into Yoko’s work, I’ve found much to like. I’m fast becoming a big fan, actually.
Yoko’s first real foray into rock came with the 1970 release of Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. She and John had released a few avant garde sound experiments in the previous two years, but here Yoko fronts what amounts to a kick-ass garage band: John on guitar, Ringo Starr on drums and longtime Beatle friend Klaus Voormann on bass.
An advance warning to anyone seeking out this release: it’s a far cry from anything the Beatles ever did, yet it’s unbelievably interesting all the same.
The band often times plays with ferocious intensity, particularly on the opening track ‘Why.’
Yoko, who would eventually write more conventional rock songs on later releases, really gives her voice a workout on this album. It’s not so much singing as screaming, but her voice conveys such raw emotion even though there aren’t really lyrics per se. On ‘Why,’ Yoko basically screams ‘Why’ in many different ways, holding it out longer and also saying it in shorter bursts. It was during this era that John and Yoko had taken ‘primal scream’ therapy, a sort of psychological exorcism in a way where one expresses deep-down emotions by ‘screaming it out.’ I’m probably over-simplifying the therapy, but that’s the basic gist of it. On John’s companion album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, he employs some intense screaming of his own on tracks like ‘Mother’ and ‘Well Well Well.’
While John called that album his ‘primal scream album’, Yoko’s is even more true to that feel.
On ‘Why,’ you almost feel a part of her primal scream therapy, as her searing vocals seem to convey her releasing emotions about something bad that has happened to her. You feel anger, sadness, frustration all at once, and the music backing it is appropriate. John really gets the guitar going at full blast, the backing track almost sounds grungeish, predating the genre by 20 years. The next track ‘Why Not’ is the flipside to ‘Why’. It’s a nearly 10-minute slow-burning blues track, and Yoko’s vocals are certainly toned down. If ‘Why’ is the realization and vocalization of something gone terribly wrong in one’s life, ‘Why Not’ is the coming to terms and dealing with the problem.
The next track is my favorite, the spacey, trance-like “Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City.” It’s definitely got an Eastern feel going in the beginning, before the band settles into a steady groove. Yoko’s vocals are mesmerizing here, seeming to portray a sense of loss (maybe from the recent miscarriages she and John went through). It’s powerful stuff and proof you don’t need a lot of lyrics in a song to bring real feelings through.
‘AOS’ is the only track done here not including Lennon, Starr and Voormann, as it was recorded two years earlier with the Ornette Coleman Jazz Quartet. It’s interesting, but a bit long for my taste and I find myself missing the band. They return on the album’s final two tracks, “Touch Me” and “Paper Shoes.” The final track, “Paper Shoes” is another favorite of mine. It starts out with nearly two minutes of sound effects, basically of a train chugging along the tracks from a distance. Ringo’s manic bass drum eventually takes over for the train sound, with Yoko’s vocals soaring over top of the menacing beat. “Touch Me” stops and starts and stops again, speeding up and slowing down at will. The bonus tracks on the cd version are pretty good as well, especially an early version of “Open Your Box.” It’s pretty funky and fits well with the rest of the album. The 16-minute “The South Wind” gets old after awhile, but still is worthwhile to hear John and Yoko basically coming up with something on the spot. John noodles around with his acoustic guitar to produce some strange sounds while Yoko vocalizes.
Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band was heavily panned upon its release in 1970. It appears the music establishment wasn’t ready for something so abrasive, so bold. Also, there was a great deal of people still pissed off about the Beatles’ breakup and a good many of those placing the blame squarely on Yoko. But as time has gone on, many punk musicians and prominent female rockers cited Yoko’s early work as an influence. The Allmusic album guide gave it 4 1/2 stars and praised its cutting-edge aesthetic. It’s no easy listening, that’s for sure. And the screaming can be a little offputting at first for the uninitiated. But once you really get into the record, you find yourself listening to it again and again, as there really aren’t too many (if any) like it. And Beatles fans should find it interesting to hear John really let loose on the guitar and Ringo pound on the skins like a man on a mission. I’m very glad I gave this album a chance. Open your mind, and you’ll find the same.

Sod rating: **** 1/2

Jackie Lomax never made it big in the record business, although the opportunity was certainly there for him in the late 60s. The stars aligned perfectly for him when he landed on the Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1968.
The Beatles had known Lomax for several years, as the soul singer hailed from Liverpool just as they did. Lomax toiled in a few bands and was eventually noticed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who was interested in signing Lomax in 1967. Epstein died of a drug overdose that year, but when the Beatles launched Apple Records in early 1968, Lomax had his big chance at stardom.
He certainly had the chops to make an impact, and his debut single with Apple Records, “Sour Milk Sea” is one of the greatest rock songs you’ve never heard. For on this track, 3/4 of the Beatles (George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr), Eric Clapton, and Rolling Stones session ace pianist Nicky Hopkins join Lomax on one hell of a rocker. Clapton and Harrison exchange guitar solos as Macca, Ringo and Hopkins lay down a relentless groove. “Sour Milk Sea” was a tune Harrison had written just prior to the White Album sessions, but he wrote it with Lomax in mind. The song fits his vocal style perfectly, and I really wish there were more kick-ass rockers like this one on the corresponding album, Is This What You Want?, recently reissued by Apple as part of their massive reissue campaign.
While “Sour Milk Sea” is the unquestionable highlight (how could it not be with all that star power), the rest of the album is a bit of a forgotten gem, as Lomax takes on a number of musical styles effectively.
Harrison produced the album and plays guitar with Lomax on most every track on the album (aside from the few rarities included as bonus tracks), while Clapton pops up again on the bluesy “You’ve Got Me Thinking.”
The other rocker on the set, “The Eagle Laughs at You”, features a double-tracked guitar solo from Harrison, and it was released as the B-side to “Sour Milk Sea” in August 1968 (the same day the Beatles’ Hey Jude/Revolution single was released, talk about overshadowing).
This set has other interesting tunes, such as the almost “I Am the Walrus” vibe given by title track “Is This What You Want?,” the soulful “Little Yellow Pills,” and lovely ballads like “Fall Inside Your Eyes,” “How Can You Say Goodbye,” and “Baby You’re A Lover.”
Of the bonus tracks, “Thumbin’ A Ride” is notable since it was produced by McCartney as a B-side to the Harrison-produced “How the Web Was Woven”
Overall, this is enjoyable stuff for any Beatles fan. There aren’t many releases featuring members of the Beatles that are less known as this. And at least one Beatle performs on every track, another plus.

Sod rating: *** 1/2

30 years ago today

Posted: December 8, 2010 in Beatles


On Dec. 8, 1980, a crazed sociopath (who shall remain nameless, since all he wanted was to be famous) gunned down one of the most influential musicians and songwriters of all time.
John Lennon was assassinated in front of the Dakota apartment building he shared with wife Yoko Ono and five-year old son Sean. They lost a husband and father, and the world lost a visionary.
I often wonder what John would have created had he lived. He was just experiencing a creative rebirth with the release of his first album in five years, Double Fantasy, a collaboration with Yoko. Another album’s worth of material was already in the can and was eventually released four years later as Milk and Honey.
I truly believe the Beatles would have eventually re-united, probably for some huge cause like 1985’s Live Aid, and possibly for another album or tour. Lennon and Paul McCartney had long put their differences behind them, so it really could have happened (Lennon himself said in a 1974 interview that he’d be open to recording with the Beatles again). It almost did actually happen in 1975, when, on one of the first Saturday Night Lives where George Harrison was the musical guest, Lorne Michaels made a joke offer of $500 for the Beatles to reunite. McCartney was visiting Lennon in New York at the time watching the show, almost calling a taxi to drive them to the TV studio where the show was being filmed. They decided against it, but man that would have been awesome!
Regardless, the world has been missing John for 30 years now. I was five years old when he was killed, so I really don’t remember that night (I was probably already in bed dreaming of my next Star Wars toy), but I’ve seen the TV footage of that night and following week many times over the years and get choked up every time.
So, wherever you are, crank up some Beatles and Lennon today. That crazy a-hole may have robbed us of a great man, but he couldn’t take away the timeless music. That will live on forever.

Beatles finally on iTunes

Posted: November 18, 2010 in Beatles

Here’s a post I wrote for my friend Stan’s wonderful blog, The Ignorant Immigrant:

It’s been quite the long and winding road when it comes to the Beatles and iTunes. Since the online music store was launched seven years ago, it has tried to strike a deal with the Beatles and their legal representatives which would allow the storied catalog to finally be purchased from your personal computer.

What does it all mean?

Despite having broken up 40 years ago, the Beatles remain one of the highest grossing acts in the world. Just last year, their entire catalog was digitally remastered and reissued to glowing reviews and strong sales (a noteworthy feat in this day and age, as CDs appear to be heading down the path of extinction, where they will join their forefathers Angelo Album, Abe Eight Track, Corey Cassette and Frankie 45.)

I was skeptical about how well the Beatles would do on iTunes, given so many people already own the CDs and have ripped them on to their computers or have simply downloaded their songs from now defunct file sharing centers like Napster and Limewire.

It appears the Beatles, as they always do, are thriving on iTunes. Three of their albums (Abbey Road, The White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) are in the top 10 of the iTunes album chart, while several individual songs are in the top 50, led by Here Comes the Sun at No. 20.

Why did it take so long?

For one, the Beatles have always had a contentious relationship with Apple Computers, dating back to a late 70s copyright infringement lawsuit (the Beatles’ own Apple Corps. was formed a decade earlier). Since then, the two sides have sniped back and forth on various issues over the years.

I’m sure the two sides couldn’t agree on the price tag, with the Beatles holding the leverage as iTunes seemed to need them more than the other way around.
Also, the legendary group probably didn’t see an overwhelming need to make their music available digitally, as it continued to sell very well in the CD medium.
The merging of the two “Apples” doesn’t impact me very much, as I’m stuck in the stone age and don’t have an iPod, but there’s one thing the Beatles could have done to give this news more sizzle. Like I stated before, many people already have the Fab Four’s music on their computers.

So why not sweeten the pot for those consumers? Offering previously unreleased tracks would have been an outstanding way of appealing to more people. The Beatles issued a ton of unissued material in the mid ’90s on the three double-disc Anthology albums.

However, there are still interesting tracks available in the vault. How about the nearly 14-minute avant garde track “Carnival of Light,” only heard in an early 1967 art exhibition. Paul McCartney has often lauded this track and tried to get it issued on Anthology 2, but the late George Harrison protested and referred to avant garde music as “avant garde a clue.” There’s also the eight-minute jam “Dig It”, heard in a 40-second snippet on the Beatles’ swan song Let it Be.

If they thought eight minutes was too long, there was a pared down four-minute version which would have been included on the early version of the album (when it was known as Get Back), but that album was rejected and later reworked by Phil Spector. A nearly 10-minute take of “Revolution 1” appeared on the Internet last year which was very interesting, showing the early gestation of Revolution 9 (which was recorded over the instrumental bed of Revolution 1, although you can’t hear that on the album version).

The White Album acoustic demos recorded at Harrison’s estate in 1968 are outstanding. A few of them saw release on Anthology 3, but there were nearly 30 songs, including Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea,” which would later be given to Apple label-mate Jackie Lomax, as well as “Child of Nature,” the beautiful song which later became “Jealous Guy” on John Lennon’s 1971 solo effort, “Imagine”. Live tracks from the Hollywood Bowl and Shea Stadium concerts would be of great interest. I’m holding out hope this stuff sees the light of day in the future, and it would have made this week’s news into a much bigger event.

To visit Stan’s site, go to http://stanyann.tumblr.com/

“Odds and ends, odds and ends, lost time is not found again” – Bob Dylan and the Band, The Basement Tapes

Some random thoughts and observations….
If I had to choose one album I couldn’t live without, one I could literally listen to every day if I had to, it would be The Beatles’ White Album, no doubt.
For one, it’s a double album of the Beatles, which alone is worth the price of admission. The Beatles are the greatest band of all time, hands down, and I’ve loved them seemingly since joining the Earth in 1975. I remember as a little kid, my parents bought my brothers and I kids’ records (back before the CD era of course). You know, ABCs, 123s, Smurf Singalongs, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. But I always demanded Beatles albums, even as a 2-year old. That’s what I wanted.
But I digress, it’s hard to pick a favorite Beatles album (like picking a favorite kid) but if I had to, The White Album is the one I’d choose. The Beatles were coming out of the Summer of Love, the psychedelic period, after recording their studio masterpiece Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and the ill-fated (yet wonderful musically) Magical Mystery Tour film project looking for a new direction, also searching for the meaning of it all.
They embarked on a trip to India in early 1968 for some transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and while they were there, they wrote over 30 songs, most of which would land on their next album. Because they had so much material, they decided to make the new record a double album, and it was also their first album release for their self-owned Apple Records (the failing of that company was a big factor in their breakup less than two years later).
On the self-titled album, which they presented in a plain white sleeve with only a faded gray type of “the beatles” included, the band spanned the musical globe, flirting with reggae on “Obladi Oblada”, heavy metal on “Helter Skelter,” blues on “Yer Blues” beautiful pop rockers like “Dear Prudence”, the countrified “Don’t Pass Me By” and a far-out sound collage/avant garde piece in “Revolution 9.” Some complain the record is a bit disjointed and doesn’t have the flow of other Beatles’ records like Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, but I think it flows just fine. While I appreciate the pop masterpiece of Sgt. Pepper, it’s a bit too much of a studio record. The band and George Martin recorded take after take for that one, overdubbing orchestras and other effects throughout. Drummer Ringo Starr has often said he didn’t enjoy the recording of that record, because there was often times not much to do while all the overdubs were being laid on. He also said the White Album was where they became a band again (even though they were often bickering by this point). And most of the tunes on the White Album could be played live quite easily, which couldn’t be said of most of the tunes on Pepper and the previous masterpiece Revolver (my second favorite Beatles album). The White Album is clearly my desert island album, my go-to record in the clutch if you will. If you’re not a fan of the Beatles (how dare you) but like good rock music, try The White Album. You may form a new opinion.

NFL comes up with new overtime rule: The NFL did what I thought should have been done a long time ago – they altered the way overtime is played, at least in the postseason. The old rule was a strict sudden-death OT – first team to score wins. However, most of the time (well over half, by the stats) the team that won the coin toss won the game, most times on the first possession. It seemed you could get a good kickoff return (or a kick goes out of bounds for a penalty), put a couple first downs together, kick a field goal and get out of there. Not any more. The new rule has a few twists: you can still win the coin toss and win the game without the other team getting the ball, but you’ve got to score a touchdown to do it. If the receiving team in OT kicks a field goal, the opponent gets a possession to at least match the field goal. If the opponent scores a touchdown, the game is over. If they score a field goal, it’s tied and we go back to the previous sudden-death rule. I like it. I think it’s a bit more fair, especially in the playoffs (although I think they should expand it to the regular season to be consistent). If you’ve made it to the playoffs and battle to a tie after regulation of a playoff game, your fate shouldn’t be determined by “heads” or “tails.”

Rolling Stones to release deluxe edition of Exile: I recently found out that the Rolling Stones are about to release an expanded edition of their 1972 masterpiece Exile on Main Street and I couldn’t be happier.
Exile capped a four-year streak of brilliance for the band, one they’ve never repeated (although subsequent releases have still been good). Those years included the classic albums Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers as well as brilliant non-album singles like Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women.
Exile just might be the best of all, a double album (single cd though) with a taste of blues, country and gospel all included. Even more exciting, the album will be presented in pristine quality and include 11 bonus tracks. These unheard gems include alternate versions of album cuts like “Soul Survivor” and “Loving Cup,” and songs I’ve never heard of before like “Plundered My Soul,” “Dancing in the Light,” “Pass the Wine,” and “Following the River.” Ultimate score for Stones and classic rock fans everywhere.

Beatlemania lives

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Beatles

beatles-stereo-box
It’s about time.
The Beatles, the greatest rock band of all time in my and many others’ humble opinions, finally get the sonic treatment they deserved with this week’s re-release of their entire catalogue, digitally remastered.
The release coincides with the unveiling of the Beatles RockBand video game to the world, which gives the band a new outlet to introduce their music to today’s youth.
For me, the reworking of the band’s catalogue is the real treat. All 13 original albums plus a two-disc collection of all the non-album singles/b-sides have been cleaned up. The songs are already great, but the sound quality is light years ahead of the original cd releases (which came in 1987). The Beatles’ catalogue was long neglected, while contemporaries such as the Rolling Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin had their work remastered, in some cases twice.
The packaging of these new cds is something to behold, as they come with lots of pics (some of which I’d never seen) and updated liner notes to fill a listener in on the recording of each album. Each cd also has an embedded mini-documentary which gives you even more information on how the albums came to be.
But the key is the sound. The instruments jump out of the speakers like never before. I always knew Paul McCartney was a fantastic bass player, but you can really hear the intricate bass lines on these remasters. Ringo doesn’t get enough credit as a top-flight drummer, but you can hear his wonderfully placed fills and impeccable timing. And the singing? Always fantastic but never clearer than presented here.
I bought the stereo box set at Best Buy and haven’t listened to all the discs yet (although I’ve put a good dent in them). To let you know how much I think of these albums, I also bought the new Jay-Z and Phish discs, and haven’t opened them up yet. I may have heard the Beatles’ songs a million times, but I just can’t begin to explain their music’s impact on my life. There truly will never be another Beatles. I’m utterly amazed on their staying power. It’s been almost 40 years since they broke up, yet they’re arguably just as popular today as they were then. Fab indeed.

No Macca-Dylan duet after all

Posted: June 29, 2009 in Beatles

Guess this was just something that got stoked on the internet coals. It’s a shame, because I would have loved to see a McCartney-Dylan collaboration.

http://www.digitalspy.com/music/a162585/mccartney-no-plans-for-dylan-duet.html