Review: The New Beatles 3-Part Documentary, ‘Get Back,’ Directed By Peter Jackson

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Well, I finally finished the three part Beatles’ documentary Get Back. I was pretty excited when I heard that Peter Jackson, famed director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, was going to revisit the footage shot for the Beatles’ 1970 film Let It Be. The Beatles shot over 60 hours of footage for what turned out to be an 80 minute film. Everybody knew there was more to the story. It was announced early on that Peter Jackson was going to make this a 3-part mini-series, if you will, as there was just too much footage for a traditional 2 hour movie. And lets face it, Peter Jackson is kind of the king of movie trilogies. This thing had “binge-watch” written all over it for me. I figured the Rock Chick and I would bang this out in three nights after the Thanksgiving day release. I thought this would be a great exercise for B&V as I’m a big Beatles fan (albeit, as mentioned I’m more of a Stones guy) and the Rock Chick is more of a… casual fan. It turns out that casual nature of her interest in this project only allowed us to watch one episode per weekend. That’s all she could handle. The last three Friday nights were our date with the Beatles circa 1969. Hence, it took me three weeks to get through this. So much for my binge watch fantasies.

I was going to go back to the original Let It Be so I’d have a baseline to compare to the new project, entitled Get Back. I guess I didn’t realize they’ve pulled the original 1970 film off the market. It hasn’t been available for purchase since the 1980s. I think it was considered kind of a drag. I actually saw Let It Be at the midnight movies at Oak Park Mall when I was in high school. I’m still unclear how my parents allowed me to stay out until 2am on a Saturday night. Proof I was a natural born salesman. The midnight movie was typically just drunken or stoned mayhem. I saw Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same, one soft-core porn movie, the cartoon Heavy Metal and yes, Let It Be all at the midnight movies. I’m surprised I went to so many of those things. I think I even saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the midnight movies. Crazy times.

I don’t recall much about Let It Be. That may be because of the aforementioned drunken mayhem. Typically when I went to the midnight movies there was beer or vodka involved. Sometimes both. I do remember thinking, like most folks, that it was a bit of a drag. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be more of a concert thing, with complete songs. It turned out it was film of the Beatles rehearsing and working up new material and usually stopping mid-song to debate arrangements. That was McCartney’s idea, to show the Beatles going from nothing to a complete album over the course of January of 1969. So you’d have snippets of songs as they worked out songs, lyrics and arrangements. It was actually a bigger deal than I’d realized at the time. The Beatles hadn’t played together as a band, live, since they’d retired from the road in 1966. They were going to record the rehearsals at Twickenham Studios, a soundstage where they filmed movies, and then play a big concert where they performed the new album. They had all kinds of wacky ideas for the concert. An ancient amphitheater in Tunisia, a cruise ship and other exotic locations were discussed. Someone told me once they’d considered doing it at Stonehenge but that may be apocryphal. You can never trust stoners at the midnight movies.

Episode 1 of Get Back captures the early days of rehearsals at Twickenham Studios. Those rehearsals were basically a disaster. Because the film crew worked during the days, it required the Beatles to show up in the morning… and they were more, let’s say, afternoon and evening people. It was a huge, cold room. They set up their equipment on one side of the soundstage and huddled together trying to come up with ideas. Everyone hated being there. They were used to being at Abbey Road. a more intimate setting. There were to be no overdubs or studio trickery, so George Martin’s role was reduced. Even I’ll admit Episode 1 was hard to watch. The Rock Chick left and went to bed 2/3 of the way through. The Let It Be project has been described as an old couple who are headed for divorce trying to rekindle the relationship by going out on dates to old familiar spots. Episode 1 captures that awkward ethos. Lennon, with Yoko Ono super-glued to his side, seems particularly checked out. The highlight for me was seeing McCartney conjure “Get Back” out of thin air. Paul seems like he’s bursting with music. Every time there’s a break in Episode 1, he’s at the piano working on something. Harrison keeps suggesting songs and Lennon/McCartney basically ignore him. The episode ends with Harrison announcing he’s leaving the group. He’d recently been up in Woodstock visiting Dylan and the Band and realized by seeing how harmoniously they worked that the Beatles were dysfunctional. He says, as he’s walking out, “See you around the clubs.” Lennon suggests giving him a few days, “and then we’ll just get Clapton to replace him.” I’m not sure how that would have worked out. While it was hard to watch, Episode 1 is the perfect set up for Peter Jackson’s narrative.

By Episode 2, they’ve convinced George to come back. He’d agreed on two conditions: a) no live concert, he was terrified by the idea and b) they move back to Apple HQ on Savile Row to the basement studio they’d just installed. Unfortunately the guy they entrusted to install it had been an idiot and nothing worked. George Martin came to the rescue with a mobile recording unit. Episode 2 is where the songs began to gel. It helped that George invited keyboardist Billy Preston to join the sessions. His keyboard work is phenomenal and the Beatles were on their best behavior with him in the room. McCartney who had been very directive of Harrison in Episode 1, has backed off a bit in Episode 2. Lennon is much more engaged. While there aren’t any complete songs in Episode 2, the jams are fun to watch – I especially dug them doing “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” – and the vibe is much better. The original director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg keeps pushing the concert idea but there isn’t much enthusiasm outside Paul. I do have to say, watching the first two episodes makes you realize what a pro Ringo was. The guy doesn’t say much but he shows up on time and he put in the work. He really was the foundation of the band from which they could launch. Jackson takes us from the near disaster of a break up in Episode 1, to progress in Episode 2, which sets up the final chapter.

Episode 3, which I watched last night, is where the songs have finally come together. In fact, they have more than enough songs for an album. A lot of what became Abbey Road is written and demo’d in these sessions. And frankly, a lot of songs that ended up on the Beatles’ early solo records came out of these sessions. They’re still unsure how to end the movie they’re filming. I think it was Ringo who suggested they go up on the roof and play. McCartney’s stepdaughter Heather shows up and she’s yes, adorable… for a while. I can only take so much of her screaming into a microphone. Although I prefer that to Yoko yelling into a microphone. Contrary to the myth, Get Back shows the other Beatles’ being very cordial to Yoko. Sadly you hear Lennon talking enthusiastically about meeting with and hiring Allen Klein, a conman, as their manager. McCartney hated him and refused to sign. The seeds of the break up were planted on film. The other guys started bringing their wives in too. It was a very convivial vibe. Finally, at the end of Episode 3, for the first time ever we get to see the entire Beatles’ roof top concert and it is glorious. The Rock Chick was disappointed they played the same songs a couple times over but that didn’t bother me. There’s a moment when they start playing up there, blowing minds all over the neighborhood, where Lennon and McCartney look at each other and smile and it’s fucking magic. The chemistry is there… all the arguments are gone. It’s amazing footage. After the cops stop them playing (which is good comedy watching the staff stall them) they show the Beatles huddled together in the control room listening to the playback and they all look so joyful. It’s sad to think they couldn’t hold that together.

In the end, dissatisfied with the recordings they shelved the project. They ended up recording Abbey Road next and to fulfill a contract, gave the tapes to Phil Spector to pull together the Let It Be album as their swansong. I’m alone amongst my friends in loving that album. I love a little sloppiness in the music. It makes it feel more authentic to me, but maybe that’s because I dig the Stones so much and they’re nothing if not sloppy. The film they’d been putting together was finally released in May of 1970 to lukewarm reviews. I think the announcement of their break up overshadowed the thing.

Peter Jackson does a nice job setting up the story arc over the three episodes. I don’t know how they did it but they restored this film to pristine shape. The colors – and in the 60s day-glo was in – are gloriously bright and wonderful. George Harrison’s choice of pants’ colors is particularly vibrant. It’s visually stunning to watch. It helps to be a big Beatles fan, as the Rock Chick’s early departures during Episode 1 &2 showed me but it’s more important to just be a big fan of the musical process. It’s fun to watch these guys create new songs out of the air on camera. It’s not just a film of the roof top concert, it’s literally a film about the creative process. If you’re not into this, I think it’s easy to get bored pretty quick. I certainly enjoyed the pay off in Episode 3 of the full roof top concert – their last public concert. That alone to me is worth the price of admission. Everyone should at least watch that episode. 

Instead of saying Cheers as my sign off, I’m going with a more Ringo sign off… Peace and Love everybody!

Review: The Beatles ‘Let It Be – Super Deluxe’ Edition – Is It Worth It?

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While I’ve been immersed in the Beatles’ box set Let It Be (Super Deluxe) for about a week now, having spent much of 2021 listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Edition and other music from 1971 LP anniversaries, I feel like I’ve been immersed the entire year in a groovy, hippy, Beatles’ haze. I really should have invested in that leather, fringe jacket the Rock Chick talked me out of. I don’t think there’s an LP more divisive in the entire Beatles’ canon than Let It Be. It truly had a difficult birth. When I was in college back in the 80s the board game Trivial Pursuit took the world by storm. There were a bunch of knock off versions of the game as well. A guy I knew had a Rock N Roll Trivial Pursuit game that we used to use as a drinking game before went out to the bars to… well, drink more. There were various categories in Rock N Roll Trivia, but the Beatles were special enough they had a category unto themselves. There was a vaguely worded question, “What was the last Beatles’ LP?” The correct answer of course is Abbey Road which was recorded after Let It Be. Unfortunately for my sobriety, the answer on the Trivia card was Let It Be. I finally scratched out the wrong answer and wrote in Abbey Road since despite being released before Let It Be, it was again, recorded afterwards. Stupid game…

The dye was perhaps cast for the Beatles the day they decided to retire from the road. They’d already started to become “studio wizards” on Revolver but after the August 1966 tour they stopped playing together as a unit live. In the studio they would lay down a basic track and then record different parts of the songs piece by piece. I think its safe to say that the thing that creates “chemistry” within in a band is standing on a stage or in a room together, playing your instruments while you look the other guys in the eyes. After manager Brian Epstein died McCartney tried to take over as “the leader.” The rest of the band responded like my stepdaughter when I first met her with a collective, “you’re not the boss of me.” Lennon met Yoko which is fine but then he started bringing her into the inner sanctum, the studio, where no wife or girlfriend was allowed prior. That strained things. I don’t blame Yoko, I blame John on that. Doesn’t matter how whipped you are, certain things are sacrosanct. When they all came home from their ill-fated trip to India – Ringo had come home early because he hated the food which makes me love him even more – there was quite a bit of camaraderie. They gathered at George’s house in Esher and recorded demos which were included in The White Album Super Deluxe Edition. It sounds like they were in a really good place at that point. Sadly, that goodwill quickly dissipated in the studio. John was foisting Yoko on the rest of the band, as mentioned bringing her into the studio… and she had “suggestions.” John and Yoko had been dabbing in heroin which is never positive. Paul drove everybody into the ground doing dozens and dozens of takes on filler like “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” that Lennon derisively described as “granny music.” People say Let It Be was the sound of a band breaking up… I disagree. The White Album is the sound of four guys headed in different directions, growing apart and, to quote Neil Young, “headed for a heartbreak.”

One of the few advances during the recording of The White Album was that they actually did start playing the tracks as a band again vs building a song piece by piece. For their next LP, it was McCartney’s idea that they should “Get Back” to playing live. He saw a documentary on Picasso where they filmed the painter starting with a blank canvas and followed his progress until the painting was done. How cool is it that Picasso and the Beatles existed on this earth at the same time and could influence each other…but I’m getting off topic. He wanted to film the rehearsals for a TV special and then record the new songs they’d developed live in front of an audience of select fans. Different venues were tossed around including a cruise ship or an ancient Greek theater. The recording at Twickenham, the TV sound studio, were disastrous. Harrison quit for three days. His conditions to return to the band were a) no live concert, the idea terrified him and b) they would return to the Apple Studios and ditch the cavernous sound studio. They wrapped up the sessions with the famous Rooftop concert. They set up the gear on the roof of the Apple Studios and surprised the West End of London by jamming over lunch one Thursday in January. It was their last public show.

Since the intention was to record all of this stuff live, George Martin’s role was greatly reduced in these sessions. There was to be no overdubs. Engineer and producer Glyn Johns had a lot more production responsibilities than he’s given credit for. Things had gone so badly during what were called the “Get Back” sessions, they sorta shelved the tapes. Eventually as they were splitting up after Abbey Road came out, they gave the tapes to Phil Spector to pull together another album that Capitol was demanding. I like what George Martin said about Spector’s role in the project. Martin felt the credits should read, “Produced by George Martin, overproduced by Phil Spector.” McCartney wasn’t even consulted with the final mixes and was livid that Spector added a bunch of strings and a harp to “The Long And Winding Road.” You have a project that you want to call “Get Back” to symbolize playing live, unvarnished music and you then turn it over to Phil Spector? Critics roasted them for that. When the LP was released, now named Let It Be it received the worst reviews of the Beatles’ history.

I remember when I was in junior high and high school the local mall had Midnight Movies. A bunch of drunk and stoned people hanging out at the mall while a movie played was basically how it worked. I’m astounded I could talk my parents into letting me actually attend the Midnight Movies. I saw Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains The Same,’ the animated film ‘Heavy Metal’ and yes, I saw the original movie ‘Let It Be.’ I remember thinking, “why aren’t they playing their hits.” I thought it was supposed to be a live concert thing. I remember it seemed like they bickered a lot… but I really don’t recall a lot about seeing the flick. I seem to remember we’d somehow smuggled a 12-pack of beer into the theater… so there’s that. The Beatles took all of the footage of the Let It Be leftover footage and gave it to famed director Peter Jackson (‘Lord of the Rings’), and he’s putting out a six hour mini-series from the footage… restored to glorious condition apparently. It comes out in November. To coincide with that, the Beatles have now released a Super Deluxe edition of Let It Be, much like they did for Abbey Road a few years ago. I personally didn’t think the Abbey Road Super Deluxe was worth owning… I’ve never liked that record, the second side medley drives me crazy as it did Lennon. The question is, is the Let It Be Super Deluxe worth it? I’d have to give you a qualified yes.

I was not a Beatles fanatic. There are Beatles fans who can discern different takes of songs and tell you the day and time the take was recorded. I’m not like that. I’m not that obsessive… well about the Beatles anyway. I bought Let It Be at the used record store on Metcalf when I was in college. I came at it without all the baggage that Beatles fans brought to it. I always thought the Beatles were too polished and safe as a band. I loved Let It Be precisely for the reasons that the critics didn’t – it was raw and kind of sloppy. Maybe its because I’m a Stones guy and they were always a little more raw and that helped me with this LP. Let It Be has the classics “Across The Universe,” the title track and “The Long And Winding Road,” which are all essential Beatles’ songs. “Get Back” is one of their greatest rock songs. But it was the less famous stuff that I absolutely loved. “The Two of Us” which shows a heavy Everly Brothers influence is one of my all time favs. I always thought the song was McCartney writing about Lennon but he was writing about Linda. “I’ve Got A Feeling” is a great, underrated song. Harrison’s two contributions are just great: “For You Blue” is a rare blues tune from them (that I included on my “Rockers Playing Blues” playlist) and “I Me Mine” is played with a rocking vigor. They dusted off one of their oldest Lennon/McCartney tracks, that they’d never recorded, “One After 909” and its a rollicking good time. Disc 1 of the new Let It Be box is the original LP remastered in all its glory. If you’ve never heard Let It Be, this is the way to experience it.

During the tumultuous recording sessions, producer Glyn Johns took the raw tapes and put together an acetate of what he thought the Get Back (as it was still being called) album could be. It was just meant to be a starting place, an idea. He burned four copies and gave them to each of the band members. They weren’t impressed. It was too loose for their tastes. Well, naturally Get Back has been widely bootlegged over the years. I had never heard the bootleg version. Disc 4 in this box is that original, Glyn Johns’ take on Get Back. Again, this is another reason I think this box set is worth it. Get Back is a lot less polished than the version of Let It Be that got released (if that’s possible?). More importantly he kept “Don’t Let Me Down” perhaps my all time favorite Beatles’ song on the LP instead of just releasing it as a B-side. He doesn’t screw with “The Long And Winding Road” by adding strings and harp and yes Paul, its’ better. He also includes a version of “Teddy Boy” which ended up not being released by the Beatles. It became a solo McCartney tune. I really like this version of the album.

Disc 2 and 3 are outtakes and jams from the Let It Be sessions. I have to be honest, while there’s some cool stuff here I was slightly underwhelmed. I’ve been reading forever about all the stuff they recorded. Supposedly there are a ton of older cover songs they jammed on. None of that is really here. Its the knowledge that there is so much more out there – and yes, widely bootlegged – that didn’t make it onto this box that left me a little disappointed. There is some cool stuff – early versions of songs that ended up being solo tracks on the post-break up LPs: Harrison coaxing the band to play “All Things Must Pass,” and Lennon’s “Give Me Some Truth.” There’s a lot more studio chatter on Disc 2 and 3 and its cool to hear these guys interact. There are a lot of the songs that would eventually end up on Abbey Road. Early versions of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “Polythene Pam,” and a sketch of “Something” are all here. Hearing Ringo play “Octopus’s Garden” on piano with George encouraging him is interesting. I like the version of “Oh Darling!” here, it’s more of a jam. There are outtakes that ended up on Anthology 3 that were more fully realized that I would have liked to see included here but alas they are not. Even I have to admit, Disc 2 and 3 are probably for completists only. All of that said though – it is great to listen to these guys rediscover each other as a band to lock into that priceless chemistry they had.

This is a great sounding, fantastic tribute to one of rock n roll’s greatest bands most overlooked and underrated LPs. Is it worth it? At the end of the day I have to say yes based on a) the strength of the remaster of the original LP, especially if you don’t have it, and b) the inclusion of the Get Back album. While I dig the outtakes and studio jams, they might not be for everyone except fanatics like me. It does feel like you’re a fly on the wall. Personally I can’t wait to see what Peter Jackson does with the film… I’m sure I’ll share my reaction with you here…

“You and I have memories that stretches out ahead…” Cheers!

‘McCartney 3,2,1’ Streaming Now On Hulu – Paul Talks Music With Producer Rick Rubin

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“Paul was one of the most innovative bass players that ever played the bass.” – John Lennon

I mentioned on a recent post on the great documentary Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) directed by Questlove, how disappointed the Rock Chick and I are about the dearth of new rock n roll coming out these days.  Well, at least a dearth in the rock n roll we’re interested in here at B&V. People kept saying that musicians, unable to tour in 2020 due to Covid, were holing up in studios and taking the time to write new stuff… I haven’t really seen that come to fruition yet in 2021. I will say, I do believe we’re on the cusp of a bunch of new music coming out – both new stuff and archival. Typically when we find ourselves in a bit of a lull on the new release front as we’ve been lately, I find myself turning to the television. After we wrapped up watching the aforementioned Summer Of Soul last weekend we turned to the new, limited series McCartney 3,2,1. Over the course of six, thirty-minute episodes Paul sits down for a candid, lengthy conversation with uber-producer Rick Rubin. As binge watches go, we burned through this one pretty quickly.

First, I’ve always been a big Rick Rubin fan. He’s produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Cult, the Black Crowes, the Beastie Boys, Metallica and AC/DC. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. He literally resurrected Johnny Cash who had been left for dead by the Country Music “establishment.” When producing Black Sabbath’s 13, he told them, “Pretend you’ve just recorded your first album. What comes next?” He’s clearly a vibe guy, not a technician. I saw a documentary about the Avett Brothers and Rick Rubin was producing them. I think he owns and maybe lives in the Malibu studio (named Shangri La) where the Avett Brothers doc was filmed. Bob Dylan and the Band recorded Planet Waves there. The man is a rock n roll Guru…and frankly looks the part.

I am also a huge McCartney fan. When you came of age in the mid to late 70s, McCartney was at a zenith and was most people’s favorite ex-Beatle. Lennon went into semi-seclusion in 1975 when he went into his “house-husband” phase after the birth of his son Sean. The late 70s saw the once promising careers of George Harrison and Ringo Starr sort of… fade. McCartney kind of became the de-facto “favorite” as he was the only one in the public eye in a big way at the time. I will say, even then my brother’s favorite Beatle was George… the Quiet Beatle. Which makes sense as I got the loud/obnoxious gene that he was able to avoid. Were I quizzed now, with the benefit of time and reflection I’d probably say John was my “favorite” Beatle. Although I absolutely love much of George Harrison’s solo output. And, I still love Paul McCartney. His late career stuff from Flaming Pie onward is the type of stuff that B&V was founded on – older artists making phenomenal, oft-overlooked new music. I loved his latest, last year’s McCartney III. Having just written all of that, I can’t help but think that maybe I don’t have a “favorite”… maybe I just like the Beatles.

A few years back I saw Black Sabbath on the tour for the aforementioned 13. I met a dude who plays the drums in a local band, the Sunset Sinners. The guy has been around music and musicians his whole life. We’ve had kind of an on-going dialogue about music and the creative process ever since. He has a term for certain bands, albums or songs. He says some stuff is too “musician-y.” Meaning, that the song or the band is so geared toward other musicians that it may not be popular on a broad scale. He once told me he thought the Queens of the Stone Age were too much of a “musician-y” band that they’d never reach a mass audience. (That was me using the term in a sentence for all you Spelling Bee fans.) It’s like when political commentators talk about conversations that are too “Inside the Beltway,” which I assume means its too “wonky” for most of us folks on the street. Or perhaps when a comedian tells an “inside joke.” Same concept, loosely speaking.

McCartney 3,2,1 finds Paul – and isn’t it cool after all these years we still know him by his first name – and Rick Rubin sitting in a studio (maybe it’s Rick Rubin’s Shangri La, I’m not sure). The show is filmed in black and white which classes everything up. McCartney has on what appears to be jeans, a white t-shirt and a cool jacket. After all this time McCartney, especially without hair-dye, is still the person with the coolest hair in the room. Rick Rubin looks like a beach bum who has wandered in off the strand. Rubin looks indistinct and rumpled. He’s got baggy shorts on with a t-shirt that I’d be willing to bet has food stains on it. He’s barefoot during most of the shoot. At times he sits down with his legs crossed and he really looks like a Rock N Roll Buddha. Buddha is always laughing but Rick Rubin is almost always smiling through his thick and unruly beard. He looks like a rock version of Yosemite Sam. I will say Rick is tan – that comes across even in black and white – and looks trimmer than he used to. The clothes, wild hair (whats left of it) and beard make Rubin look like some crazy, rock n roll aesthete or monk.

The Rock Star and the Producer spend the entire time talking music. It’s clear that Rubin is the fan here, smiling and geeking out at some of the things McCartney is describing. They sit, like in an interview show, but not for long. They’re often standing up as though so excited about the conversation and music that they can’t sit down which is understandable. They stand for the most part at a mixing console where Rubin summons up different songs from McCartney’s past. It’s mostly Beatles stuff but there are a few solo or Wings’ tracks that get played. They keep the conversation very lively although at one point I thanked the Rock Chick for hanging in there for six episodes because it’s basically watching two experts stand around and talk about their craft. It’s like being in a bar and overhearing people talk about their favorite sports team. When Rubin starts a track he usually turns elements of the song up loud and other elements down. He’ll break down the bass part or the drums. He likes to focus on guitar solo’s because, well, who doesn’t? He’s very interested in how the Beatles were able to do things in the studio that nobody had done before. Rubin is like a pupil with a master. I enjoyed that but I thoroughly understand that doing all of that, breaking down/analyzing songs is really well, musician-y. This is inside stuff. Most of us listen to the song on the radio and let the whole thing wash over us. Some of us put the headphones on and try to concentrate on the bass or the drums. These guys take that and blow it up to infinity. You won’t hear a complete song, with all parts played. It’s fascinating to hear how they put together a song but again… you gotta really love music which luckily I do. It really sheds light on a song when you strip it down to the studs.

By deconstructing all of these songs it does make you realize what an amazing bassist McCartney is. He talks about how the bass line in some of the tracks helped change the shape and sound of certain tracks. Nowhere is that more evident than on John’s “Come Together” which started as more of a Chuck Berry riff. McCartney talks a lot about the recording process and how the Beatles came up with certain sounds. He has nothing but praise for producer George Martin. They played a guitar solo and Rubin, who is obviously having the time of his life asks who played the solo. McCartney says, “I want to say I did because it was so bad.” That got a chuckle.

During the course of the six programs, while discussing certain songs and the piece parts of tracks McCartney does share some great Beatles stories. Although be prepared, the conversation is non-linear and they bounce all over the place. One could call it a rambling conversation. On one episode they’re talking Beatles and out of nowhere jump to “Band On the Run” which caused the Rock Chick to say, “Wait, I thought this was a McCartney solo song.” Some of the changes of subject matter may cause a little whiplash. Paul tells about the genesis of the song “Michelle” coming from his going to parties at Lennon’s place when John was in art school and pretending sing in French to get “the girls.” He mentions that Lennon was never complimentary of much but that he once told him he really liked one of Paul’s songs when they heard it during an album playback. You can just tell how much that meant to Paul. Rubin at one point reads a quote where the speaker talks about what a great bass player Paul is. Rubin asks him, “Do you know who said that?” Paul didn’t know but it was John who said all of it (excerpted above). It was a nice moment as you could tell that meant a ton to McCartney. He seemed a little flustered.

He also tells the story of the first time they played with Ringo on drums, “He elevated the whole band.” He also said that George was incredibly generous to “let” Eric Clapton play the guitar solos on Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I’m guessing not a lot of people realized how in the Beatles they all played parts interchangeably on songs – McCartney exclusively played bass but Lennon, he and Harrison all played guitars including lead. Whoever had the hot hand in the band got to play the part. George Martin often jumped in on piano. They were so open to the creative process and that freedom and their confidence let them really do extraordinary things that other bands couldn’t do.

I thought all of this stuff was incredibly fascinating. If you’re a Beatles fan this is a “must see.” Although I will admit and warn everyone again, there are parts of this that are very, very “musician-y.” I watched it all in two sittings and maybe breaking it up a bit would be better if you’re not into the craft and details. Its certainly fun to watch Rick Rubin geek out in such a big way. Paul is still an amazingly charismatic and charming man. You might need to turn it up a little because, a) its the Beatles’ music which needs to be played loud and b) McCartney is prone to mumbling… especially in the scenes where he’s chewing gum. I really enjoyed this rare, up-close-and-personal candid conversation with one of Rock n Roll’s legends. I think you will too.

Cheers!

Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem

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I have a recurring nightmare where I’m a student again. In this frightening dream, I walk into a classroom and am presented with a blank sheet of paper and asked to write an essay about the topics covered in the class over the course of the year. The only problem I have is that I haven’t been in this dreamworld class, ever. I haven’t been a student in many, many years. I’m doomed to fail which apparently means I have to repeat that grade, a deep-seated fear instilled in me by my father. He used to say if I flunked a grade I’d have to live in the backyard. It’d be pretty embarrassing for a man of my age to have to repeat fifth grade. I wouldn’t be able to fit in the desks. I usually awake screaming, terrifying the Rock Chick and pulling her from what’s usually a peaceful sleep. It’s not even my worst nightmare, I have many others. What can I say, for me, Sleep Is Hell. I think the root of this particular nightmare is that lingering memory of returning to grade school after each summer break and on Day 1 the teachers (who apparently were colluding) would all ask us to write an essay entitled “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”

I’m not sure what fascinating things those teachers thought we children were up to. It’s pretty hard to stretch “played baseball” and “went to the swimming pool” to two whole pages. And, as long time readers know, I can ramble with the best of them. Thinking about all of this, in my imagination, I wondered what it would be like if we all had to write an essay, “What I Did In Lockdown.” This whole lockdown thing has kind of been like a summer break – much of our lives have been put on hold. Sure, I’ve done a lot of writing on B&V, I’ve read some books, binge watched a lot of Netflix. I’ve certainly eaten more than I should and just destroyed a lot of bourbon. I have friends who have landscaped or gardened. I have one friend who is restoring an old MG convertible. His midlife crisis is apparently going to be dangerous. Obviously, the people I’m talking about here are the ones lucky enough to still have a job and who are still able to feed their families. My heart goes out to the folks who are struggling out there… I don’t care what any of you out there have done, I don’t think anybody has “won” this Lockdown, or as he calls it Rockdown, in more a convincing fashion than Paul McCartney. He set his “essay” to music. Last Friday he delivered the homespun gem McCartney III to a world in need of his sunny melodies.

McCartney III is seen as a sequel to two other, similarly named albums that McCartney had previously released. In 1970 during the breakup of the Beatles, McCartney was in a deep depression. He retreated to his farm in Scotland and at the urging of his wife Linda began to record an album, which he finished at his home in London. McCartney wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on the resulting album, his solo debut, 1970’s McCartney. It’s release was fraught with Beatles’ politics and the backlash on announcing their breakup caused critics at the time to savage it. McCartney was also a homespun gem and in retrospect Paul is given credit for inventing lo-fi, indie rock. No one had ever locked themselves in a room alone at home, not in a studio, and recorded an entire album. McCartney has two of my favorite Paul songs on it, “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Every Night.” It also had some instrumentals and goofy stuff. It was clear Paul was finding joy in his sadness over the Beatles in simply creating music. It’s a true classic.

In 1980, after Wings broke up – the band he’d formed in the 70s – McCartney locked himself in a home studio in London and once again wrote and performed alone as a one man band for McCartney II. McCartney II was Paul at his most experimental. He was enjoying playing with the latest synthesizer technology. I liked the first single, the live version of “Coming Up.” Unfortunately that track wasn’t on the album, the LP featured the studio version which didn’t have the same energy. I remember my brother bought that album and they’d hurriedly placed a single in its own sleeve on the outside of the album inside the shrink-wrap so when you bought it you’d get the live version of “Coming Up” too. Listening to the studio version of “Coming Up” all these years later, it wasn’t a bad tune it was just overshadowed. Likewise, the murder of John Lennon 5 months after McCartney II likely overshadowed this album. I have never been a huge fan of II. Critics rave about “Temporary Secretary” but I just can’t connect with that song, I find it annoying. But listening to that album in my brother’s room, I can remember really liking “Waterfalls.” It’s a trippy ballad. “On The Way” and “One of These Days” are also good tracks. It was overall much more polished and “out there” than McCartney.

A few of the things I’ve read about this new album, McCartney III, hype it as a sequel to records “made 50 and 40 years ago.” Yes, its McCartney once again alone, writing all the songs and playing all the instruments but to me it’s a piece with the music he’s been making late in his career. After a mid-career slump that started in the early 80s – and I’ve always insisted that was because he was deeply, spiritually upset about the loss of John Lennon – McCartney hit his stride again starting with 1997’s Flaming Pie. Since then, he’s put out some killer records like Chaos And Creation In the Backyard, Memory Almost Full (which also featured only Paul playing instruments) and New. I thought his 2018 album Egypt Station was the album of that year, LP Review: Paul McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ – All Aboard For The Album Of the YearTypically we’ve waited four or five years between new McCartney albums but this time we only had to wait 2 years. There was no band breakup to spur this truly solo LP like the last two “McCarney” albums.

The first thing that jumped out at me on McCartney III is that McCartney is playing all “natural” instruments. Like McCartney this album is all acoustic & electric guitar, piano, bass and drums. There’s none of that synth stuff like McCartney II. The record starts off with great acoustic guitar riff on “Long Tailed Winter Bird.” It’s mostly an instrumental track with McCartney singing “Do you miss me” over and over at the end. My  mind keeps coming back to that riff. I said early this year that Fiona Apple had recorded the ultimate lockdown album (Review: Fiona Apple, ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ – Genius Unleashed) but I think McCartney may have surpassed her on the track “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes” which lists all the things around the house we all do to keep ourselves busy these days with nowhere to go. It’s a pretty track. “Pretty Boys” is another acoustic driven mid tempo/ballad that is just super. Nobody records tracks like this anymore – unpolished, unvarnished. Even McCartney’s voice has some rough edges to it that frankly I just love. Like McCartney, this is no “grand statement” album, it’s just a genius practicing his craft. “Woman And Wives” is a piano ballad where McCartney’s voice drops lower and rougher than I’ve ever heard. It’s a stately, somber ballad.

McCartney III isn’t all mellow ballads though. There are some nice feisty rockers on here. “Find My Way” is a pop-fuel rock tune that sounds like a hit to me. “Lavatroy Lil” – yes, ridiculous title – is a great rocker with a great, dirty guitar riff and an insistent drum beat. “Slidin'” is another big rocker. I don’t know how one guy gets this kind of sound. “Slidin'” is just a nasty rocker. Much can be said about the lyrics being simplistic but if you listen carefully, like on “Slidin'” you hear a plea to be free of our current situation. While you won’t find the experimentation of McCartney II,  “Deep Deep Feeling” starts with just drums and voice and builds to over 8-minutes. It’s probably the closest to II you’ll find here. “Deep Down” almost has a funky feel and is another favorite here. “Seize The Day” starts with electric piano turns into a nice mid tempo rocker and seems to be a plea for us all to do good.

McCartney has dropped a wonderful Christmas gift to all of us. McCartney III is an absolute gem of a record and a fine addition to Paul’s catalog. It’s the perfect ending to an otherwise miserable year. I highly recommend this one for all fans of rock and roll, Paul or the Beatles. It’s a real return to the roots of McCartney and should rank amongst his most beloved works.

Have a safe Christmas everybody out there. Social distance. And if you can’t do that, hit the egg nog, maybe that’ll help. The year is gonna end in a pretty dark and weird fashion, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Happy Holidays and as always, Cheers!

How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s

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I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that whole Grunge era in the 90s lately. I think the whole Grunge thing was the last musical movement that I actually got caught up in. On my first date with the Rock Chick, back in my swashbuckling bachelor days, we actually talked about music and she said, “I hate that Kurt Cobain destroyed everything that came before him.” That was sadly a very true statement. When Cobain came along – and lets face it, it wasn’t just him, there was an army of bands who came with him & Nirvana, like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden (to name a few of my favorites) – he laid waste to everything that came prior.

The Rock Chick went on to say that day, “I liked some of those hard rock, hair-metal bands like Motley Crue, Van Halen and Cinderella. You just don’t hear that kind of music any more.” Talk about love at first conversation. This was our first date! My heart throbbed, but enough of that mushy stuff. It wasn’t only those “hair bands” who bit the dust in the wake of Grunge, everybody went down. Billy Joel crawled off to write symphonies. Bruce Springsteen decided he was John Steinbeck with a guitar. Grunge shook rock and roll to its foundation. Grunge was rock and roll stripped of its artifice, more primal and visceral in nature. Gone were drum machines and synths… enter guitar, drums and a whole lot of angst. No hair spray or frankly, bathing needed.  The Rock Chick, ever adaptable, did morph into a huge “alternative” rock fan, the offspring of Grunge if you will. One door closes, another opens as the saying goes.

Of course, this isn’t the first musical wave to rise up and challenge the established order. Punk rock, which one could describe as the pierced, demented grandfather of Grunge, was just as primal and visceral, if not way more so. Both punk and Grunge, to my uneducated ears at least, seem to strip away layers of polish that had accumulated on rock and roll and get it back to that four or five guys (or gals) in a garage bashing out tunes kinda vibe. Punk, rather than express the angst of Grunge, had more of a social protest angle to it. Punk bands, especially out of England were protesting the economic and social conditions they found themselves in and it challenged the somewhat complacent rock establishment. There was an almost nihilistic bent to it that made it dangerous. Of course, I was really, really late getting on the punk bandwagon…

Here in the middle of America, we didn’t hear a lot of punk music on the radio… Not even American punk from New York like the Ramones made it on the radio here. I can remember in the late/mid-70s sitting on the couch at the house one Sunday night and my dad was watching 60 Minutes. They did a segment on the English punk movement. They showed a bunch of young kids, a little older than I was, with safety pins piercing their nose or cheeks. They had Mohawk hair cuts and wore a lot of leather. They were all slamming violently into each other on the dance floor, not unlike a rugby scrum. My father, whose sensibilities on everything are firmly rooted in the 50s, looked over at my brother and I with a look that I now realize can only be described as… fear. I felt that he had the strong urge to jump up and cover my brother’s ears and perhaps backhand me… Looking at me, in his mind’s eye, he probably saw my hair morphing into a Mohawk… a safety pin springing magically out of my cheek. He knew how drawn I was to rebellion.

For my part, I was just as terrified. The 60 Minutes crew shot the live footage at the punk concert – a Sex Pistols’ show – and didn’t do anything to mix the sound. It sounded like harsh, frightening noise with a crazed singer screaming at people. They didn’t play any studio stuff. The old farts on that show just marveled at Johnny Rotten singing “God Save the Queen.” They actually had subtitles to highlight what I’m sure they considered subversive lyrics. This was a sign of the coming apocalypse… To me, it just sounded awful. I need a little melody. It took me years – like 20 years – to finally buy a Clash album. It was a revelation. I quickly picked up the Ramones and the Stooges. Those are some of my favorite punk rock bands. At last, I finally picked up Never Mind the Bollocks, from the once scary (to me) Sex Pistols only about 10 years ago and it’s awesome. Very simple, straight forward guitar rock. As Lou Reed said, “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” But as my friend Doug told me once, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is an asshole.”

Punk rockers challenged the established rock acts that were already ensconced on the top of the world, the Rock Stars. Rock n roll had gotten bloated. There were Art Rock bands doing 15-minute, multi suite tracks like Rush or Yes, that almost had more in common with classical music than rock and roll. There were strings and overly polished production. Rock had gotten fat and comfortable. Along came punk to shake things up, and thank God it did. Instead of destroying everything that came before it like Grunge, a curious thing happened… the established rock bands, for lack of a better word, absorbed the energy and vibe. Although I’ll admit some of the artists ignored punk: Dylan had found Jesus, Bowie was over in Berlin doing his thing, Steely Dan’s jazz-influenced bubble never burst and hard rockers like Black Sabbath and AC/DC didn’t change a thing. But so many rockers were influenced by punk.

I’ve compiled the following list of some of my favorite band/artist reactions to the punk movement. At the time I’d have hardly known the stylistic change in music came from punk rock, but you live and learn.

  1. Queen, News Of The World – Queen was just coming off two albums of long, complicated music (A Day At the Races, Night On the Town) and were already considering a shift to shorter, more stripped down tracks. While recording News, the Sex Pistols were in the next studio… Freddie Mercury ran into Sid Vicious (who he had been calling Sid Ferocious) and Sid asked, “Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses yet?” Queen, and Freddie especially had been the target of the punk’s ire, and he replied, “We’re doing our best, dear.” Queen went into the studio and delivered a stylistically adventurous LP with tighter, shorter tracks. Sure, “It’s Late” was six and a half minutes long, but what a guitar riff. The crowning glory was Freddie and Brian May’s double-single response to the punks – “We Will Rock You” (their statement of purpose) and “We Are the Champions” (Freddie’s fuck you to them). The lyrics, “no time for losers, ’cause we are the champions” were pretty clear.
  2. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls – The Stones totally absorbed the punk ethos on this album. Of course on tracks like “Miss You” they also absorbed the disco thing too. Mick always picked up on what was now, and Keith keeps them centered and connected to their roots. Songs like “Lies,” and especially “Shattered” were stripped down with rocking guitar. No strings, no fat, just awesome. On “Respectable,” they even mocked the punk’s criticism, “Well now we’re respected in society, We don’t worry about the things that we used to be.”
  3. The Who, Who Are You – No one was more disturbed by the punk’s criticism than Pete Townshend, who saw a lot of the early Who in the punks. Who Are You was seen as a return to form for them, with loud guitars and bombastic drums. Townshend’s title track was directly addressed to the punks, “who the fuck are you?”
  4. Pete Townshend, Empty Glass – So obsessed with the punks was Pete, he continued to write songs about them on his first “proper” solo album. “Rough Boys” sounds like he wants to be friends with them. On “Jools and Jim” he complains, “they don’t give a shit Keith Moon is dead.” From his interviews lately, it sounds like Pete doesn’t care either…
  5. Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps – Nobody dug the punks as much as Neil Young did. The punks seemed to wake Neil from the torpor he was under at the time. The first half of this album was acoustic but the second half is a bunch of blistering guitar workouts. He revamped a heavily bootlegged “Sedan Delivery” and speeded it up so it was very punk. Both the opening and closing, variations of the same song, “Hey Hey, My My” were addressed to Johnny Rotten.
  6. Iggy Pop, New Values – Iggy’s first band, the Stooges was highly influential on the punks… not as much as the Ramones as I understand it but even now hard rock guys from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Guns N Roses cite Raw Power as an influence. I didn’t hear it until a few years ago and yes its great. I wouldn’t have understood it at 13. With all that adulation how could Iggy not jump on the punk bandwagon and release this album, collaborating with old Stooge, James Williamson and Scott Thurston who believe it or not ended up in the Heartbreakers. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em Iggy.
  7. Bruce Springsteen, Darkness On the Edge of Town – Springsteen had been locked in a legal battle with his first manager since Born To Run. He was already pissed off so the punk ethos probably fit the songs he was writing. If you listen to The Promise, the box set for Darkness, many of the tunes sound like the natural progression from Born To Run, but Springsteen opted to only include dark, guitar-centric tracks here. Sonically it’s miles away from his breakthrough album and remains one of my favorites… well, it remains amongst almost every Springsteen fan’s favorites.
  8. Billy Joel, Glass Houses – Like Springsteen, Joel coopted the punk energy and took a stylistic left turn from his previous album, the E-Street-ish 52nd Street. Punchy, guitar-driven tracks like “You May Be Right” and “Sleeping With the Televison On” dominate the album. Like Iggy, if you can’t beat them, absorb them!
  9. Fleetwood Mac, Tusk – Lindsey Buckingham was so afraid of repeating himself after Rumors, and so enamored with the “fuck it” attitude of the punks he decided to take Fleetwood Mac in a totally different direction. I love Tusk, although it was seen as a failure at the time. I’m sure the band struggled as Stevie was delivering songs like “Sara” and Christine McVie with “Over and Over” and Lindsey countering with the punky “It’s Not That Funny,” or “What Makes You Think You’re the One.” Buckingham took a lot of liberties with the record and it makes it all the more interesting.
  10. Paul McCartney & Wings, Back To the Egg – McCartney is the most confounding entry here. I really liked Back To the Egg, McCartney’s attempt at doing more upbeat rock and roll again. I think he really wanted to absorb some of that punk energy but he just couldn’t commit to it through an entire album. I thought “Old Siam Sir” was rocking. But Macca just can’t help himself, he’s gotta go with soft, gauzy ballads like “Arrow Through Me.” I look at this one as a lost opportunity. But hey, it’s McCartney, he can do what he wants.

As I sit here, only 1/3 of the way through the annual “Dry January” I can’t help but think I need a little punk energy to get me going… If you feel that way during the doldrums of winter, put one of these albums on and see where it takes you.

Cheers!

B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs

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As a kid growing up, my parents didn’t even have basic cable. All the TVs at the house had the old rabbit-ear type antenna. When there were multiple football games being broadcast on New Year’s Day, my dad would bring three TVs down to the living room and watch all three major networks (yes, only three) to catch every game. If one of the TV’s screens was out of wack, I’d often have to stand in the corner, one hand on the TV set, one hand in the air, just to make the picture clear. I was the Human Antenna. Thankfully in those days I wasn’t facing the New Year’s Day hangover… that didn’t come until later.

Eventually, shamed by other parents, my parents got basic cable so we kiddos could watch Sesame Street to build our young minds. We had the most bare-bones cable package you could get. My father, who closely modulated the thermostat to save cash, wasn’t about to “piss away money” on cable TV. There was no HBO or Showtime at the house. If I wanted to see any R-rated stuff, I had to do it the old fashion way, sneak into a theater (thank you Bo Derek for 10). The neighbors had HBO and on a sleepover I once saw Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, in a biker movie and she was topless. It was like “discovering plutonium” as they say on Seinfeld. I couldn’t help but think, at that tender age, “fuck yes, I’m getting HBO when I’m on my own…I’ll never leave the house.”

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered there was something called MTV, short for Music Television. My buddy Matthew and I went up to Kansas State to visit some older friends of ours who were already up at University. As I was wandering around the labyrinth of the dorm filled with hallways and separate rooms (it was like walking in a human-sized ant farm), I came upon a room with like 5 guys crammed around a TV. They invited me in and lo and behold, they were watching MTV. Back then MTV was like radio with videos, one after another… Mostly the videos were crude concert footage with low grade effects, but I thought it was really cool.

Eventually, much to everyone’s surprise I graduated from high school and was accepted to a state university. Where I lived, they had the opposite philosophy as my father and bought the most expensive cable package available. We had every channel on the planet, save for pornography, on the TV in the common room. Invariably, late at night on weekends, I’d end up in the basement in front of the TV with a few of the other drunken, lonely heart’s club types and we’d watch MTV videos until the sun came up. The crowd down there got thicker during finals week… we all needed something mindless after exams so after drinking we’d end up watching countless videos. Of course, there were great videos and then crappy, pop music type videos. I can always remember thinking, “Ok, if the next video sucks, I’m going to bed…” Invariably one more decent video would come on and I’d be stuck for another thirty minutes. It was so relaxing it could be described as mind erasing.

When I moved into exile in Arkansas, there was literally no rock and roll radio. MTV, who had begun to schedule some regular broadcast shows into their programming was still predominantly playing videos. Nowadays you’re more likely to see a music video n the weather channel… MTV got me through the tough years down there. MTV is where I discovered Guns N Roses, the Black Crowes and many other bands. They certainly weren’t playing that music on the radio in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It was around that time, I believe in 1989, that MTV began what may be their greatest legacy, the ‘Unplugged’ series. I’d always heard they were inspired by a video awards show where Jon Bon Jovi, looking coke-addled (he always looked that way to me) and Richie Sambora got on stage with only two acoustic guitars and played “Wanted, Dead Or Alive.” That was cool, lets do a show like that… The concept was simple, put a band on stage, give them acoustic guitars and let them play stripped-down versions of their tunes.

They started the series with some minor to semi-big bands. I think Squeeze was on once. But it wasn’t until 1991 when Paul McCartney performed on ‘Unplugged’ that the show took on some “next-level” kind of rock and roll credibility. McCartney took the next step and actually released his performance as an album (well, as a CD), the first artist to do so. It was a limited edition of only 500,000 copies and I had one in my hand in a record store in Warrensburg, Mo but didn’t have the cash and passed up buying it, which I obviously regret to this day. After that it was Katie-bar-the-door. Everybody was on ‘MTV Unplugged’ after that. Strangely though, not all the artists released the results on an album/CD.

There were all manner of performances on ‘MTV Unplugged’ from the sublime to the questionable. It got to the point where ‘MTV Unplugged’ became “appointment television” for me and my friends. If there was a band we really loved, we’d make sure we were together, beer iced down, in front of the television ready to watch. I remember I was flying back from St. Thomas the night Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did their Unledded episode of the show but I got stuck in a hotel in Atlanta and missed the show. I was in the only hotel on the planet without MTV. I was pissed.

Thinking about those ‘Unplugged’ shows I decided to compile a list of the B&V favorite ‘Unplugged’ albums. This is not a list of the best performances from the show – many acts chose not to release an album after being on ‘Unplugged.’ But, for the ones who did, and there were many, these are the 10 albums I find myself going back to after all this time. Again, we’re only talking about actual LPs here, not performances on MTV. Yeah, they’re a little mellow, but who cares, a good acoustic evening is just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Honorable Mention

  1. Pearl Jam – Eddie Vedder was simply unhinged on this performance. He writes “Pro-Life” on his arm in magic marker while teetering on a very unstable bar stool. They put a blu-ray disc of the performance in the rerelease of Ten, but have yet to release it as an album. I wish they would.
  2. Aerosmith – I have a bootleg of this performance and it’s awesome. They were still bluesy and sounding like the old 70s Aerosmith at this point. Huge mistake not to release this one.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Stripped – The Stones never deigned to be on MTV’s ‘Unplugged,’ but they went ahead and recorded their own, predominantly acoustic album and it’s one of their better live documents.

The BourbonAndVinyl Top 10 ‘Unplugged’ Albums

  1. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged In New York – This is simply the best MTV Unplugged ever. This was a sublime performance. Stripped of the sturm und drang, Cobain’s brilliance as a songwriter and dare I say, writer of melodies rises to the fore. This is not only a great acoustic concert it’s just a great concert. Bittersweet as it was released after Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.
  2. Alice In Chains, MTV Unplugged – I love AIC when they’re heavy, like on “Man In A Box” but I always loved the acoustic based Jar of Flies. This performance was a perfect extension of that. While I’m the first to admit nobody probably needed an acoustic version of “Frogs” there are some great versions of “Killer Is Me,” and “Over Now” just to name a few. It would be Layne Staley’s last concert.
  3. Paul McCartney, Unplugged – I love McCartney in this stripped down show. Like his recently released Amoeba Gig (Live) album (LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?), playing in front of a small audience brings out the best of him. Beatles tunes, solo hits, and rare covers make this a special performance.
  4. R.E.M., Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions – This album only got released in 2014 and I’m hoping it serves as an example to all those bands who held back on releasing their performances. R.E.M. was a very strumming/acoustic based band to start with… They’re perfect for the ‘Unplugged’ setting. I probably lean more toward the 1991 session, which was when they were touring for Out of Time. However, the 2001 set, when they were touring behind Reveal has some beautiful and melancholy moments that are irresistible. Obviously, I’d play one disc at a time.
  5. Rod Stewart, Unplugged…And Seated – Rod has always had that perfect melding of acoustic and electric, folky and rocker. The thing I love about this album is he brings back Ronnie Wood, his erstwhile band mate in the Faces and they return to Rod’s best period, when he was on the Mercury label, and tear it up! I believe there was a lot of drink involved.
  6. Eric Clapton, Unplugged – McCartney may have given ‘Unplugged’ it’s credibility, but Clapton showed that these albums could be a commercial juggernaut. This thing sold a ka-jillion copies. At the time we all loved the acoustic version of “Layla,” done here as a shuffle… It kind of got worn out. I like the older blues covers he throws in here. Chuck Leavell who plays with the Stones now is on piano and he has a fabulous solo in the song, “Old Love.”
  7. Page/Plant, No Quarter (aka Unledded) – These guys turned the whole concept of ‘Unplugged’ on its head. Some tracks are live, electric versions of their old Zeppelin tunes. Some are straight up acoustic and some are just great experiments, fucking with their sound, i.e. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The spirt of experimentation ran through three new tracks released on this album, the first Page/Plant collaborations since Zeppelin broke up. It would have been nice to see John Paul Jones here too, but that’d have upped the pressure.
  8. Eagles, Hell Freezes Over – I may be fudging a little here… this started off as an ‘Unplugged,’ but there is really only one acoustic take on a classic, on a sublime version of “Hotel California.” This was the first time in 14 years the Eagles got together, if they want to plug the electric guitars in and go for it, why not… It’s certainly what Springsteen did on his ‘Unplugged’ with much less spectacular results.
  9. Bob Dylan, MTV Unplugged – People will scoff at this entry. Dylan was coming off two great, unappreciated folk/acoustic records when he did this ‘Unplugged.’ He’s engaged and playing faithful versions of classics here. It was, for me, the beginning of his recording come back. It seemed like he cared for the first time in a long time. There are great versions of “Shooting Star” and “Dignity” on this record too.
  10. 10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged – I’m like most guys from this era. I don’t have any 10,000 Maniacs, I never liked the 10,000 Maniacs, I never bought their albums. However, almost every woman I dated, and there were a few, had this or some of their other albums. After  hearing a few times… because I was a bit of a man about town in those days, I realized Natalie Merchant’s vocal performance makes this the only 10,000 Manaics album you need. I love the cover of “Because the Night” written by Springsteen but made famous by Patti Smith.

Cheers!

 

LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?

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Some of us out here just love live albums. The first live album I ever got was Frampton Comes Alive. Admittedly, my Sainted Grandmother bought it for me… My friend Drummer Blake on several occasions has cited Humble Pie’s Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore as a favorite. Dr. Rock once told me that the J. Geils Band’s Blow Your Face Out was essential listening (he was, as usual, correct). Now, I realize that not everybody feels that way. Here at B&V, the Rock Chick does not like live albums and usually says something like, “Something sounds wrong with this song,” when I play a live track. Matrimony, sigh. Tom Petty once famously drawled, “Live albums are just your greatest hits played faster,” which was a pretty snarky thing to say from a performer whose live music is just phenomenal.

Naysayers aside, there are a lot of us who used to huddle around the radio if the local station was broadcasting a concert. There were some of us who stayed up late on Sunday night (at least here in KC), to listen to the King Biscuit Flower Hour to hear our favorite bands live. I remember hearing April Wine one night. I think every band was on that show at some point. I didn’t have money for concert tickets, hell, let’s listen to a live broadcast. Although I will admit, hearing those concerts on the radio usually had me so jacked up I was a wreck on Monday morning from lack of sleep. The sacrifices we make for rock and roll.

Every great band can bring it live. Every great band usually has a great live album. The Who have Live At Leeds, The Stones have Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, and the Allman Brothers Band has Live At the Fillmore East. When playing live, bands can stretch out, jam a little bit. It’s always fun to hear a great energetic crowd and how the band feeds off of that – I can’t help but cite B.B. King’s Live At the Regal here as an example. Sometimes it’s just hard for a band to capture the energy of their live performances in a studio. A song that may have been a dud in its studio incarnation becomes an international hit, like say, “Turn The Page” from Bob Seger’s Live Bullet. This post is for all of you who are like me who love a good live album.

I consider Paul McCartney to be one of the greatest artists in rock and roll, ever. Some might say that he’s never really put out a great live album. I would argue that point. McCartney (& Wings, no less) released a 3-LP live album in 1976 from their tour in support of Wings At the Speed of Sound, entitled Wings Over America that I would argue is a great live album. It’s often dismissed as his stab at “arena rock” or a “concert souvenir”… and I say, what’s wrong with that? Arena rock, yes please. I think there was still critical backlash for McCartney with the rock press because he was the one who announced the Beatles had broken up. Move on, people. Anyway, Wings Over America is a sprawling trip through his solo hits, Beatles tracks, and a few odd covers. He even lets other band members sing a few tracks. He even does an acoustic set that takes up one whole side of the album. Very cool, indeed.

Since then, though, the story isn’t as great. Other than his fabulous Unplugged album – which I had in my hands back in 1991 in a record store in Warrensburg and didn’t buy (it was a limited release and I blew it) – his live albums have been spotty. The Stones are in the habit of releasing a live album after every tour. There are some of those live albums I’ve enjoyed but they feel like contract obligations after a while. McCartney of late has followed the same album, tour, live album cycle. Live LPs like Tripping The Live Fantastic or Paul Is Live weren’t great examples of what Paul could do live. Good Evening New York was a little better but none of these improved on Wings Over America. 

A short while ago, Paul finally released the full length recording of a show he did in a record store, Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, CA. He’d released Amoeba Secret a 4-song EP excerpt from the show back in 2007 when they recorded the show, I believe as a Record Store Day special. I don’t know why they sat on the entire recording for over a decade, but Rock Stars, what are you going to do? I can’t believe this performance wasn’t more widely bootlegged… The new release is entitled Amoeba Gig (Live) and despite my low expectations it’s a very pleasant surprise.

McCartney was on tour for his then current LP, Memory Almost Full, which is probably my favorite of his late period albums. I’ll be the first to admit that McCartney hit a creative lull in the 80s and early 90s. I have to wonder if the death of John Lennon in 1980 didn’t affect Paul more deeply than anybody realized. It wasn’t until 1997’s Flaming Pie that Paul found his groove again. Every record he’s put out since then has been compelling. Chaos and Creation In the Backyard was a bit downbeat and took a few listens to get into, but even it is a brilliant record. Memory Almost Full is chock full of great songs. As part of the promotion, McCartney and his backing band set up in this big record store and played for a small crowd. Even Ringo showed up for it. Although this must be a pretty big record store, it sounds like a bigger crowd than I’d have expected.

Playing in such an intimate setting, which McCartney describes as “the most surreal gig,” seems to really ignite McCartney and his backing band. I like to call his backing band, the Haircuts, mostly because of Rusty Anderson (lead guitar) and Brian Ray (guitar/bass). Those guys use more product in their hair than Motley Crue. They look like hot soccer moms from my old neighborhood. Although that moniker, the Haircuts is probably unfair as drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr is bald. David Arch on keyboards rounds out the outfit. McCartney plays bass, guitar, keyboards, and I think, ukulele.

McCartney and the backing band tear through a bunch of Beatles tracks and solo hits. They open up with one of my all time favorite Beatles’ tracks, a rollicking “Drive My Car.” What I like about this performance so much is they play a broad selection of songs from Memory Almost Full, including “Dance Tonight,” “Nod  Your Head,” “Only Mama Knows,” and “That Was Me.” The then-new material really stands up well. He also digs a little deeper into his solo catalog for this show. He plays “Calico Skies” a deep track from Flaming Pie. McCartney chokes up during “Here Today” from Tug of War, a song he wrote for John, and dedicates it to him, George and Linda. Its rare you see that kind of emotion from a rock star on stage. It’s a beautiful moment. He does the reggae-tinged “C-Moon” which I just loved.

What translates most here was that on this day in L.A., McCartney was having a great time performing. When the Stones play a big arena or stadium, Keith always wants to dig deeper into the catalog and Mick wants to play the well-known tracks as he feels people expect it. Personally, I prefer the deep tracks… McCartney, I think, gets stuck in that Mick-style thinking too. It’s great to hear him kind of play what he wants to.

That said there are great Beatles tracks here. He plays “The Long and Winding Road.” That songs lead to “I’ll Follow The Sun” which was always kind of a sad song, but so exuberant is McCartney it almost sounds happy here. The song I was most thrilled too see on the track list was “I’ve Got A Feeling,” although I’ll be the first to admit you really miss Lennon’s vocal part, taken by the Haircuts here. He does a rocking version of the Carl Perkins’ tune “Matchbox” that almost sounds punky, except for the horns. The show ends on a great version of “I Saw Her Standing There.”

Call me crazy, but the intimate setting, the great album he was touring on, and the excitement in that room all combine to make this a great live album. Its certainly easy to say this is his best live album since Wings Over America. Well, except maybe that Unplugged album, which was also a smaller show in an intimate setting. In these small shows, it’s clear he feels less pressure to please and more freedom to do “his thing,” which paradoxically pleases the crowd more. If you dig McCartney and you like live stuff, this is definitely worth your while to check out.

Cheers!

 

LP Review: Paul McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ – All Aboard For The Album Of the Year

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Well, it took all the way to September, but I think finally – spoiler alert! – we have the B&V Album of the year in Paul McCartney’s epic new record Egypt Station. I reserve the right to change my mind should something stunning come out between now and New Year’s Eve… but I highly doubt anything like this will. We have to remember people, when the former Beatle puts an album out, it’s a pretty big fucking deal. McCartney’s late career renaissance continues. I’m still recovering from my Florida trip, but I have to say, this album really grabbed me. I’ve been thinking a lot since seeing Robert Plant on Monday night about artists who have to grapple with past glories but remain creative today (Concert Review: Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, KC 9/10/18). While Plant has headed off in different directions from Zeppelin, McCartney just continues to hone his gifts and create new melodic pop/rock.

The world was such a different place when the Beatles broke up. The world was devastated and as usual in break ups, everyone was looking for someone to blame. Many blamed Yoko, which is bullshit, we always seem to blame the girlfriend. Since McCartney was the one who announced it, he was widely blamed especially in the rock press. He quietly just released a series of great albums, which at the time were only moderately appreciated by critics, but are now widely lauded. From McCartney, Ram, Band On The Run through the mellow London Town McCartney remained popular with the fans. He was a hit-single machine. No wonder he has so many Greatest Hits packages. You have to wonder if Lennon and McCartney’s rivalry in those days might have been like Hemingway and Fitzgerald – Hemingway always admired Fitzgerald’s writing style and Fitzgerald always envied Hemingway’s sales numbers. I’ll let you guess who is who in that analogy… but I’m off on a tangent.

Things had already started to cool off for McCartney when in 1980 John Lennon was tragically assassinated. I remember walking into a record store in ’82 and the clerk had slipped Tug Of War on the turntable. I wasn’t there to buy that record, but I ended up doing so. That was such a brilliant album, well except for those Stevie Wonder duets. Many of those tracks were directly about John. After that McCartney’s career started to stall. The magic seemed to be gone. He’d have a great song every now and then like “No More Lonely Nights” or “Spies Like Us” but his music became more convoluted and impenetrable. I always wondered if Lennon’s absence unmoored him a bit. They always brought out the best in each other – McCartney sweetened Lennon and Lennon toughened up McCartney. Even though they weren’t working together anymore you wonder if the loss shook McCartney more than even he realized. People play up the feud, but at the heart of that relationship was friendship.

I had written McCartney off in terms of buying his records, but I always kept one eye, or perhaps more correctly, one ear on what he was doing. I even bought Press To Play, which in retrospect was ill advised. There was always an interesting single that would pierce my indifference. Then in 1995-1996 McCartney immersed himself in the wonderful Beatles Anthology series of albums and documentary. By returning to that early music I think he rediscovered the magic of simplicity and melody.

When he re-emerged from the Anthology thing with 1997’s Flaming Pie it was a comeback as seismic as Dylan’s Time Out of Mind comeback.To prep for this I listened to that record again and it’s one of his best ever. Thus began the McCartney renaissance. If you’ve been ignoring him, it’s at your own peril. His late career albums are the type of records this blog is built on. Run Devil Run recorded and released a year after he tragically lost his wife Linda, was a return to the music of McCartney’s youth, namely, old school rock and roll. It was joyful and cathartic. From there he’s been on fire – Driving Rain (a more experimental but great McCartney album), Chaos and Creation (a mellow grower of a record) were both great records. As great as all of those records are, they were each very distinctive, ie, the songs on those albums were all of the same sound. Flaming was built on acoustic guitars. Devil was straight up rock  (kudos to David Gilmour on guitar). Driving Rain was trippy. They each had a coherency and showed off a singular strength of McCartney, of which there are many.

By 2005, I think McCartney decided, to hell with it, I do a lot of things well and I’m going to do it all on each record. His melody writing and penchant for hooks have not diminished over the years. Memory Almost Full was brilliant. It even had a mini-suit of songs toward the end that hark back to side two of Abbey Road. He followed that up with New that saw McCartney stretching out even farther. Ballads, rockers and “Queenie Eye” a song that wouldn’t have been out of place on the “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields” single… If you like the Beatles New is the record for you.

A few months ago on social media I began seeing McCartney posting black and white photos of instruments. A guitar leaning on an amp. Piano keys… Something was afoot. Indeed it was. He has returned after a five year absence with Egypt Station, a record he’s described as a “concept album.” I think that’s a conceit, as the concept is the listener boards a musical train at “Egypt Station” and each song is a stop along the line. It’s an odd concept, but it works in that it allows McCartney to go in any direction his creativity and melodies take him. There are ballads, rockers, even political songs on this album. Despite the variety of the material on the record, it hangs together very well. It was produced by Greg Kurstin who has worked with, gasp, Adele. Don’t let that scare you, this isn’t a mellow record. Kurstin puts a modern sheen on McCartney’s classic style. The record sounds current and yet timeless at the same time.The best moments on this album evoke past glories without wallowing in any nostalgia.

The first single, “Come On To Me” was a great crunchy rocker about sex. It’s catchy as hell. “Who Cares” starts with guitar feedback and deals with haters, “who cares what the idiots say?” “Caesar Rocks” (read that She’s a Rock) is another randy song about sex. For a guy 76 years old, this cat is horny still. We should all be so lucky. The only rocker that left me cold was the vulgar “Fuh You” (read Fuck You). It’s not the vulgarity, hell I cuss all the time, it’s that it’s a great riff and song but the lyric is kinda stupid.

There are great ballads in here as well. “I Don’t Know” starts the record with a beautiful, melancholy piano. It may still be my favorite song on the record (Paul McCartney: Two New Songs From The Upcoming ‘Egypt Station’). McCartney has a reputation as being Mr. Sunshine, but there are sadder elements just under the surface here. “Do It Now” is another sweet, but slightly sad ballad where someone seems to be saying goodbye. “Happy With You” is a stunning acoustic guitar driven song about the joys of domestic bliss. McCartney sings, “I liked to get wasted, but these days I don’t, ’cause I’m happy with you.” Somehow, with a name like BourbonAndVinyl, I can relate to that. The Rock Chick saved my life, but that’s another blog post. “Hand In Hand” is another piano driven track that’s just straight up about love. The one song that also jumped out at me from the mellower end of things was “Confidante.” I don’t know if he’s singing to an ex-lover, John Lennon, or both. It’s a great track. There are so many layers to this music.

I was glad to see McCartney, an old hippy, take up the topic of politics. “People Want Peace” is a big anthem of a track. You wonder if McCartney has been hanging with Ringo, Mr. Peace & Love. It’s a short track but effective. “Dominoes” is another catchy rocker with distorted guitars and nice drums and seems to be a call for unity when he sings, “Soon we’ll see that you and me, we’re really friends.” “Come Together” people… right now! The heart of this record for me, was the brilliant political allegory, “Despite Repeated Warnings,” about a ship being piloted by a crazy captain. The line, “how can we stop him, grab the keys and lock him up,” tells you all you need to know. At almost seven minutes long, it’s pretty epic.

The only track that lost me here was “Back In Brazil.” Even a genius can throw a curve ball at you. The chorus of “Ichi Ban” being repeated over and over made me think somebody should have pushed back on that one… The album ends with an old-style Red Rose Speedway medley, “Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link.” The “Hunt You Down” portion rocks. “C-Link” is some tasty guitar solo’ing.

Egypt Station finds McCartney in fine voice. His instrument has not diminished at all. I think he plays all the musical instruments too. It’s a sprawling epic McCartney’s been doing since the “White Album,” although, it’s only one guy so that comparison may be hyperbolic on my part. This is a highly recommended album to all fans of The Beatles, Paul McCartney and great rock everywhere. It’s a shame music like this can’t find a place on modern radio…

Enjoy this one, it’s a treasure!

Paul McCartney: Two New Songs From The Upcoming ‘Egypt Station’

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It’s been a tough year… for rock and roll and for pretty much everything else. Personally, I’ve been in a bit of funk of late. Work hassles and other mounting issues occasionally feel like they’re going to overwhelm me. The loss of Anthony Bourdain continues to puzzle and bum me out. Being a Kansas City native, even the loss of Kate Spade has touched me. Her father died the morning of her funeral, two hours prior, apparently from despair. It’s a dark time in all of our lives.  It’s in the dark times, for me at least, that I’ve always turned to music for solace and lets be honest, escape.

However, music this year has been, well, not great. Nineties stalwart’s the Dave Matthews Band and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong have put out strong albums this year but that’s about it. Jack White’s album was wildly disappointing, although I still think he’s a genius. Too bad Meg White went into witness protection (come back Meg, we miss you). It was nice to hear David Byrne come out with an album that was accessible in a very Talking Heads’ way. Those few examples of great albums in 2018 aside, I was beginning to despair that no great music was going to come out this year. Most the stuff I’ve liked this year have been vault releases or re-releases.

It was a couple of weeks ago I started to see legend, former Beatle and kick ass bass-player Paul McCartney began to tease new music on what the kids call, “the social media.” On both Twitter and Instagram, McCartney started posting black and white pictures of himself in the studio. Or he’d post a picture of his guitar, or the keyboard of a piano, and in one post the knobs on his amp.

It’s been since 2013 that McCartney put out a proper album, the great New. I can’t believe it’s been five years. Prior to that you have to go all the way back to 2007’s exceptional Memory Almost Full for a McCartney album. Two proper records in over a decade, I’d say Paul was overdue. For many of us, it’s a big fucking deal when a Beatle puts out an album. For McCartney, it’s a doubly big deal since after a rocky period during the 80s and the early 90s, a period where many of us stopped listening to him, he found his footing again with the comeback album, Flaming Pie. After collaborating with the remaining Beatles on the Anthology series, McCartney said he’d rediscovered his approach to making music. I don’t know what happened, but every album he’s put out since then has been sensational. Unfortunately terrestrial radio doesn’t play artists like McCartney any more… but that’s another post.

This Friday, McCartney put out two new songs from the impending album Egypt Station (release date: September 7th). Based on these first two new tracks, “Come On To Me” and “I Don’t Know,” I needn’t worry that some superb music will be released this year. I think Egypt Station might be another in a string of great, late period McCartney albums. McCartney’s hot streak, From Flaming Pie to Chaos And Creation In The Backyard to New are the type of albums that inspired BourbonAndVinyl in the first place…

The first track I heard was “Come On To Me.” It’s a bouncy rocker. Even the Rock Chick, who doesn’t dig the Beatles, (like me she’s more of a Stones’ person) said, “That’s really good…” Obviously I haven’t seen the liner notes, but I suspect that McCartney played all the instruments on this album. Many guitarists have an instantly recognizable sound or tone on their instrument. McCartney has a very distinguishable drum sound, so that’s got to be him behind the kit…and I love the drumming that drives this song. “Come On To Me,” in my mind, shows how McCartney has re-discovered his inner “Beatles-ness.” There are guitar parts that almost sound like a sitar and every now and then a big horn section comes in. This song is big and bold and I love it. Paul throws everything into this song. Towards the end, McCartney growls, “Yes, I will, yes I will, now…” and you can tell he’s having a blast.

The other track, “I Don’t Know” is a classic McCartney ballad. The man should be known as the Magician of Melody. The song starts off with a beautiful, meditative solo piano. I love that McCartney has long abandoned synthesizers and gone back to real instruments like piano and acoustic guitar. This song really affected me. The lines, “What am I doing wrong? I don’t know,” just seem to fit for me right now. I’m always a sucker for a great ballad… I had an ex who once said, “You only like the sad songs…” and at first “I Don’t Know” almost grabbed me harder than “Come On To Me.” It’s a truly beautiful song. I would tell Paul, you’re not doing anything wrong. Both of these songs are among the best stuff I’ve heard this year.

Let’s hope the rest of the album is this strong. I could really use a great Paul McCartney album about now. I bet you could too.

Cheers!

 

Review: Paul McCartney’s LP ‘Flowers In The Dirt: Special Edition’

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Paul McCartney has been on such a great roll since 1997’s superb LP ‘Flaming Pie,’ all the way through 2013’s ‘New’ really, it’s sometimes easy to forget what a bad decade the 1980’s were for the former Beatle. I am a big Paul fan, but having purchased the abysmal 1986 LP, ‘Press To Play’ even I lost faith. I still shudder when I think about his ill conceived movie project ‘Give My Regards To Broadstreet.’

The decade had started for McCartney with such promise. His 1982 LP, ‘Tug of War’ which was partially a response to the senseless murder of John Lennon was such an amazing record. The title track remains one of my favorite McCartney tracks. “Here Today” was one of the most touching of the many, many tribute songs for John Lennon by any artist. I will admit the two Stevie Wonder collaborations on the album were utter cheeseball, especially the song “Ebony And Ivory,” which still makes me jump to the fast forward button when it comes on the stereo.

His follow up to ‘Tug of War,’ 1983’s ‘Pipes of Peace’ has aged better than we received it back in 1983. It was almost a carbon copy of the formula that had produced ‘Tug of War’ and I think it sold reasonably well. I wasn’t a big fan of that record, nor was anybody I knew. That LP seemed to signal the beginning of a downturn for Paul. After that, man, McCartney hit the skids. He released some awful records. Looking at it from a macro view, 1983 to really, 1997 was an awful patch for McCartney. I will admit there were some exceptions, I loved his ‘Unplugged’ album.

It’s hard to understand what went wrong with McCartney. One has to wonder if he was more deeply affected by the lost of his old comrade and later frenemy, John Lennon. In the second half of the 70s Lennon had withdrawn to self imposed exile to become a house husband/father. In that void, McCartney recorded some of his best, and best selling records. It’s always been my theory, as an armchair bourbon psychologist, if subconsciously McCartney was recording for the broader audience on one level in the late 70s, but down deep was really trying to impress Lennon. Maybe Lennon was a psychological governor in his head, preventing bad ideas and choking off some of Paul’s “cheesier” instincts. With Lennon gone, maybe McCartney became a tad unmoored from a creative standpoint.

One of the exceptions from this fallow period for McCartney was 1989’s decade ending, ‘Flowers In the Dirt.’ It was a good McCartney album, although I’d say not a great McCartney album. It was certainly seen as somewhat of a comeback at the time, although not the big comeback that was hoped for. “My Brave Face” was the first single, which was ok. If you delve into the album a little deeper there are some great deep tracks on this album. “Figure of Eight,” “Rough Ride,” “Put It There” and “This One” are all really strong tracks.

What the LP was also noted for, besides being a bit of a “return to form” for McCartney, was it marked a collaboration with Elvis Costello. The two wrote a number of songs together that ended up on both McCartney’s records and others on Costello’s albums. I have to admit, it was an inspired pairing. Elvis was another guy from Liverpool, who was kind of prickly, who seemed to click musically with McCartney and even wore glasses… remind you of anybody? I don’t know if Costello pushed McCartney or vice versa but it was a great musical collaboration. The song “Veronica” the two wrote together was even a hit for Costello. And, naturally, some of the better tracks the two wrote together ended up on ‘Flowers In The Dirt.’ One highlight was the great duet, “You Want Her Too.” “That Day Is Done” and “Don’t Be Careless Love” were also great collaborations by the duo.

Fast forward to now, and McCartney has given “Flowers In The Dirt” the deluxe/special edition treatment. I was sort of “meh” about the whole thing until I recently put the bonus tracks on. Typically bonus tracks can be a mixed bag. Sometimes their great songs that just didn’t fit on an album. At their worst they’re “remixes” which I loath. A lot of times bonus tracks are just the tossed off, rough demo’s and aren’t worth listening to.

Not so here! On “Flowers In The Dirt” there are nine demos of just McCartney and Costello working through songs with a piano, acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. I have to tell you, I like these demos better than the actual album that was released. Costello wasn’t likely trying to imitate John Lennon but his vocals paired with McCartney have that same vibe if not the same magical harmonies. These demos, half of which were released in more produced/polished, finished versions on the album, half of which were not, are a revelation. It’s great to hear McCartney singing so passionately. It’s like hearing a couple of guys get up in a bar and bash out a quick acoustic set. I had the same feeling I had when I listened to the Beatles ‘Anthology’ discs when I listened to these demos.

I have to wonder what happens to a McCartney song between it’s rough hewn inception, like we hear on these demos, and the actual produced, released product. The guy is one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time, he might take a cue from these demos and stop polishing off these great rough edges.

Is ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ worth purchasing, or repurchasing just for these bonus tracks? Well, if you don’t have ‘Flowers’ in your collection I’d say definitely. If you already own the record, I’ll leave it up to you as to whether it’s worth a re-buy, but these demos are awfully sweet. Paul and Elvis might want to consider collaborating again… it’s that good.

Cheers!