My Beatles Weekend: ‘Eight Days A Week’ Documentary & Classic Album Sundays, ‘Sgt Pepper’

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Weekends this summer have been pretty quiet since my daughter visited us over Memorial Day. The Rock Chick and I have been laying low, as the saying goes. There’s nothing wrong with laying low, but every now and then you need a good old fashioned rock and roll weekend. Usually this involves strong, dark, murky brown fluids. In the case of this weekend that meant a lot of Templeton Rye. And of course, you need some loud music and the accompanying debauchery that implies…

The Rock Chick and my musical tastes are very aligned. I’ve probably never known anybody whose rock proclivities match mine this closely. It’s important that you marry someone who likes good music. What to do if you were to come down one morning to find your spouse listening to Neil Diamond? Grounds for divorce? I think so… As closely aligned as my wife and my musical tastes are, they are the classic Venn Diagram. Two large circles that partially overlap (or in my case, significantly overlap) but leaving some music outside our shared likes. One blind spot for the Rock Chick has always been, surprisingly, The Beatles. I consider this a failure of classic rock radio but I don’t want to get started on that…

I think it was my friend, Drummer Blake, who alerted me that the excellent Ron Howard documentary, ‘Eight Days A Week’ was now streaming on Netflix. While I bought the live LP that was released at the same time, ‘Live At The Hollywood Bowl’ (reviewed on a previous post), I never got around to watching the related documentary. As you would expect from Ron Howard the documentary is exceptional. What doesn’t that guy do well? The focus of the film is on the Beatles touring years, when they were still a working, concert band. Saturday night, I pulled it up and screened it for the Rock Chick… and to my delight she really enjoyed this film. We ended up listening to several early Beatles records after that, including ‘Rubber Soul’ (my favorite) and ‘Help!’

When the Beatles decided in the fall of 1966 to stop touring it was a pretty big deal. There were all kinds of rumors that they were breaking up. It came as a bit of a surprise, since the road was where they made most of their money. However, watching this documentary made me wonder why anybody would be surprised that the Beatles quit touring. It was utter madness. Beatle-mania should have been called Beatle-mayhem. The crowds were crazed and in some cases menacing. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for the four lads from Liverpool, hiding in a bathroom at the Plaza Hotel in New York, staring at each others, mouths agape, wondering what they had unleashed.

If you contrast the beginning of the film, the Beatles triumphant arrival in New York, with how they look towards the end of the touring years, you can see how haggard they were. That first press conference at the airport in New York, they were fresh, bright eyed kids. They joked with the reporters and you could feel the love they had inspired. They showed an excerpt from a press conference on the last tour and to quote the Rock Chick, they sounded “snarky.” The difference in their appearance was arresting. They were clearly exhausted and tired of the circus. John had inadvertently compared the Beatles popularity to that of Jesus and that made the religious right, especially in the Southern part of the U.S., go a little crazy. The film of the organized burning of Beatles albums reminded me of Nazi book burnings. At one point during the latter press conference a reporter asked how the Beatles felt that their upcoming concert wasn’t sold out… Lennon sneered, “Rich,” as a response. Why do the press always want to tear people down?

After a few months off, the Beatles barricaded themselves in Abbey Road studios and decided to focus on recording albums with George Martin. The last image from the touring years was the cover of ‘Sgt Pepper’s.’ Quitting touring allowed the Beatles to really stretch out and stretch the boundaries of what had been done before in the idiom of rock and roll music. The movie did fade out with shots of the Beatles iconic last show from the roof of Apple. Quitting touring, while momentous to the concert world, meant even bigger things to come from the Beatles in the  studio.

Coincidentally, after watching the documentary, the next day was ClassicAlbum Sundays and the featured album was ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ It’s the 50th anniversary, and despite the album of the month actually being ‘Exile On Mainstreet,’ our local host chose to do ‘Sgt Pepper’ instead. It turned out that watching ‘Eight Days a Week’ was the perfect lead up for the ClassicAlbum Sunday’s fare. Once a month, intrepid music fans in Kansas City (and other cities across the globe) gather at a local pizza joint, like early Christians in the catacombs, to hear the greatest albums ever recorded. This Sunday was the June presentation.

As usual, our host had a superb collection of music. He curated a fantastic afternoon of music. I wondered if he would do a history of the Beatles or more of a snapshot of 1967. He actually did a little of both. He played selections from the Beatles prior albums, ‘Rubber Soul,’ and ‘Revolver’ which were the records that really set the stage for ‘Sgt Pepper.’ Alongside that he played several cuts from bands from Northern England from that time period, The Hollies and Gerry and the Pacemakers. It gave you a real feel for the Mersey Sound.

From there we heard a host of contemporary cuts from 66 and 67. Beach Boys, Otis Redding, Spencer Davis Group, Jimi Hendrix and even the Monkees. Particularly inspired choices were Pink Floyd’s ‘Arnold Layne’ and  Frank Zappa’s ‘Hungry Freaks, Daddy.’ Zappa’s LP ‘Freak Out’ had heavily influenced McCartney and ‘Pet Sounds’ by the Beach Boys had heavily influenced John Lennon. The way the afternoon was curated it really gave you a feel for the musical landscape that helped birth ‘Sgt Pepper.’ It also made you realize how revolutionary it was. The sound, as usual, was spectacular. You could have heard a pin drop as the last, long piano chord was struck. They played the newly released, Giles Martin produced, stereo version of the album which surprised me, as I thought they’d go with the mono version. However, the choice was a good one, as this new stereo version is spectacular.

While McCartney was clearly the driving force behind ‘Sgt Pepper,’ the sheer quality of Lennon’s work on this LP, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “A Day In The Life” just to name two, is simply astonishing. These guys did things in the studio that had never been done before and will likely never be done again. Yesterday merely underscored for me what I already knew… ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ is the absolute greatest rock and roll album ever released.

And more importantly, to me at least, the Rock Chick now digs the Beatles. A splendid time, was indeed, had by all…

Cheers!

Classic Album Sunday: A Great Way For A Music Fan to Spend Sunday Afternoon

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The older I get, the less social I’ve become. If it weren’t for the Rock Chick, I might never leave the house… If only the HOA would let me build that moat I pitched at the last meeting… If it were up to me, I’d sit in my home office and listen to tunes all night long. Thankfully my wife lures me downstairs for meals and the occasional shower… Her social network seems to continually grow as my circle shrinks as all my friends disappear into the fog of parenthood. Luckily, my dearest old pal Doug, from junior high school no less, still lives in KC. Like the Rock Chick, Doug is one of the few people who can coax me out of my tower and across my metaphorical moat and out into the world. I always chuckle as both my daughter and his daughters always reacted the same way when they heard Doug and I were venturing out on the town… “Oh, you’re going out to drink beer…” Little teapots have big handles as my mom used to say.

Doug had approached me a couple of weeks ago, while my hapless Chiefs were still “alive” in the NFL playoffs… I think we all knew where that would end, but I digress… (the wounds never heal). Anyway, Doug approached me about something called “Classic Album Sundays.” The Classic Album on this particular Sunday was to be, and this is awesome, “Houses of the Holy,” Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece fifth album. I was intrigued but didn’t want to commit until the Chiefs were out of the playoffs…sigh. It was being billed as a group of rock n’roll music fans, gathering in cities across the world to listen to the same classic rock album on a Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t sure what to think about all of this but I decided early on this would be worth checking out. I investigated the website, and found that there are Classic Album Sundays across the planet. From London to Oslo to New York and Chicago to Kansas City to Los Angeles… This started to look more and more interesting. I would urge any of you with an interest to check out their website, posted here:

http://classicalbumsundays.com

When the time came, I must admit, I was a little nervous. This was something that was so outside my current comfort zone. I finally took a deep breath and decided, “no expectations.” It was time to venture out of my cave. I swung by and picked up my buddy Doug, and we headed down to Waldo Pizza, the gracious host establishment for Classic Album Sundays. I walked in and quite to my surprise, the place was full. There had to be between 40 and 50 people in there. The room was bustling with tables full of beer drinking, pizza eating, music lovers of all ages, albeit the demographic probably skewed more toward older er, classic folks. They were packed in there like early Christians, strangers sitting together, elbow to elbow, true believers. The local host, who was wearing a t-shirt with a vinyl album on it, couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming. I could tell I was in the presence of someone who really knew his music. Most importantly, the first thing I spotted was a stack of vinyl albums. I knew this was going to be a great time.

Doug and I quickly squeezed into a picnic style table and introduced ourselves to the welcoming rock fans around the table. Any anxiety I had before I sat down was gone immediately. Of course that may have been the hourglass of Boulevard Tank 7 ale I was drinking… The host stood up and outlined the gear he had set up to play the vinyl albums with. Oh my God: Klipsch speakers, Ankoru Amps, TT2 Turntable… The amps had old style tubes! I’m no stereo gear guy but I could tell we were in for a magnificent soundscape. I wasn’t wrong.

The best part, aside from the great communal music-fan vibe and the great stereo gear, was the wonderful, careful curation of the musical afternoon. You don’t just show up and they play the album. The host had carefully selected a slate of music that told the story and set the back drop for the album. It was a really brilliant ramp up for the main event. He started off by setting the historical backdrop of Led Zeppelin’s blues influences. He played songs from B.B. King, Robert Johnson (“Traveling Riverside Blues” later covered by Led Zeppelin), Jimmy Reed and Little Milton. From there he took us through the British Blues rock scene with tunes from John Mayall, Cream, and the Yardbirds. During intermissions between songs he explained where Zeppelin fit in, what the background of forming the band was, all with this great music as a backdrop. I was surprised and thrilled when he played a James Brown song, which was a huge influence on the “Houses” song “The Crunge” and some Bob Marley, whose influence is felt on the album’s “D’yer Maker.”

Once the host set up the back drop, he moved to playing songs from 1973, when “Houses of the Holy” was released to help compare and contrast what the then current music scene was like when Zeppelin released the album. We heard Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd (“Time,” which was great), Queen (“Keep Yourself Alive” from their debut), Aerosmith (“Dream On” from their debut), and David Bowie (“Let’s Spend The Night Together” his Stones cover from ‘Aladin Sane,’ an inspired choice). It really gave you a feel of where Zeppelin fit in on the contemporary music scene – and it helped you feel the huge influence of the mighty Led Zeppelin (esp on Queen and Aerosmith). On the equipment this guy had set up, all of this music sounded spectacular. For a second I thought Pink Floyd was actually at the front of the room, playing live, thus was the clarity of the sound.

The host did take one small break from the musical story of “Houses of the Holy” for what apparently is the monthly ‘In Memoriam’ section of the program. He played, and this was to a Zeppelin crowd, a George Michael song, “Faith.” I have to admit, that took some balls. He held up a copy of Wham’s album, and lamented that he couldn’t play a song from the LP as it was still in the original factory seal. Someone yelled, “and better off keeping it sealed…” Ah, Zep fans. I do think it’s great they would take a moment to honor a fallen musician, even if their style didn’t fit the program. He also said if he’d had the vinyl version of “Singing In the Rain” he’d have played a Debbie Reynolds’ song. I think honoring the music of all genres is perfectly within the spirit of the afternoon. Well played, sir, well played.

He then took us through some Zeppelin, to catch us up on what music they had released prior to “Houses of the Holy.” He did a great selection from each of the first four Zeppelin records, not always the most popular tunes: “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” “Communication Breakdown,” “Whole Lotta Love,” the Rock Chick’s favorite “Tangerine,” “The Immigrant Song,” and finally “Black Dog.” It really showed you how they’d developed from a blues cover band (essentially) to a hard rock juggernaut.

Finally, it was time for the main event, the album of the afternoon, “Houses of the Holy.” There had been some chatting and chatter during the earlier songs, but when the host dropped the needle on “Houses” the room was a hushed silence. It felt like rock n’ roll church in there. The monster riff of “The Song Remains The Same” burst out of the speakers like a clarion call… I couldn’t help but glance around the room. Many people had their head down, eyes closed, listening with intense focus. There was an older guy, a table away from me who was dancing in his chair… he was bouncing around, nodding his head. The host was on the side of the room, head bopping to the music. I couldn’t help but think, these are my people. By the time “The Rain Song” was over the room was all rapt attention. It was really a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The host even played a second version of “The Ocean,” the last song on the album, from the first pressing of the album, because every other pressing has changed the sound… which was news to me, so even I can learn something new about Led Zeppelin.

I think Classic Album Sundays is a must for any classic rock fan who is lucky enough to have a local chapter in their city. We’re fortunate here in Kansas City to have Waldo Pizza as a host location, because the sound in that room is perfect. The next album up for February is “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. I’m not a jazz-bo but I gotta tell you, I’m already trying to figure out how to buy tickets (at only $5/each it’s quite a bargain). I feel like I’d learn something by attending. In KC they have a great slate of albums picked for 2017: “Sgt Peppers,” “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Dr Dre’s “The Chronic,” (which I love how they span genre’s from jazz to rock to R&B and rap), Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” “The Velvet Underground and Nico” and Steely Dan’s “Aja.” I may not hit every single one of these, but I’m going to make more than I miss. Again, it’s a great afternoon of food, booze and learning about rock n roll classic albums.

Check it out! Cheers!