The Beatles: ‘Abbey Road – 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition’ – Is It Worth It?

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“Last chance to be loud…” – John Lennon, studio chatter, Abbey Road -50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

My younger brother was the first one to be bitten by the addictive attraction of rock and roll. He had a stereo and actual albums long before I did. I’d walk up the stairs in my parent’s home and have to pass by his door before turning left into my room. We shared an adjoining wall and I heard an almost constant stream of music coming through. Back in the really early days, it was mostly the Beatles that he was playing. Later I’d hear some solo George Harrison, but it seems his first love was the Fab Four. Although he also went through a Doors phase… but I’m getting off point.

When I started getting into music, I was a Stones guy. Back then most people were either Stones fans or Beatles fans… it was like the rival gangs from West Side Story (indeed, “what are we going to do about a problem called Maria?”). But despite my loyalty to the Stones, I famously went into my brother’s room with a single cassette because I was going to make a tape of all the Beatles’ “good songs.” Like those would fit on one ninety-minute cassette… the ignorance of youth. I sat in front of my brother’s stereo – it was one of those “all-in-one” units with a tape deck/turntable/radio built into one unit – trying to figure out when to hit pause on the tape deck to skip a song I didn’t like. I pretty quickly realized that uh, all their songs are great. Well, except “Revolution 9.” I remember thinking, this is going to take a few more cassettes…

Even so, it wasn’t until I was in college, heading down to Aggieville to the lone record store in Manhattan, Kansas to buy music that I started buying Beatles LPs. I bought almost every album they had out. Sadly those were mostly the U.S. versions which I feel pale in comparison to the UK versions. When I heard they were releasing an Abbey Road – 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition I went to my vinyl to look at my Beatles collection. As I suspected, I had never purchased Abbey Road. I have it on CD from a Beatles’ box set I own, but I never purchased it on vinyl. It came down to one thing for me – the side two medley. It seems that like John Lennon, I was not fond of the side two mess, er medley. Ten songs, mashed into one. Well, and if I’m being totally honest, I never liked “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and I thought “Octupus’s Garden” was a novelty song for children.

I do remember listening to the record in my brother’s room. I’d stare at the iconic album cover photo of the four Beatles in the crosswalk outside the Abbey Road studios. My brother explained how the album cover featured in the “Paul is dead” rumors. Around the time of Sgt Pepper, some strange cult of people started interpreting things in their songs and album covers that were a secret code indicating that Paul had died and had been replaced by a look-alike. There must have been a lot of bad acid going around in those days. The Abbey Road cover played into those rumors: John, dressed in white, was Jesus; Ringo, dressed in a long black coat was the undertaker (or maybe a Reverend of some kind); Paul was the deceased because he has no shoes on; George, dressed in all denim was the grave digger. That’s a pretty long way to stretch for a theory.

I put Abbey Road on and listened with my headphones recently. I must admit, it holds up better than I remembered. The two George Harrison tracks are flawless. He really came into his own on this album. “Here Comes the Sun” and the exceptional “Something” are his best songs, even though Sinatra, who covered “Something” said it was the most beautiful song ever written by Lennon/McCartney. Poor Frank. I love Lennon’s “Come Together,” which has also been beautifully covered by Aerosmith for a bad movie soundtrack. McCartney’s “Oh, Darling” is a really great track as well. I recently read that Lennon thought he should have sung that song and damn, I think he’s right. It would have fit John better. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” at leasts builds up some heat. I can even accept “Octupus’s Garden” because, well, it’s Ringo. Everybody loves Ringo (“Peace and Love,” baby). I’ll even admit the medley does sound cool with headphones on. George Martin’s production really shines on this album. I think actually playing the songs live, as a group in the studio and then overdubbing helped the process. They’d been recording one instrument at time on multi track prior to that.

All that aside, the medley still bothers me. McCartney has continued to do some version of this medley, thematic tunes stitched together, ever since… from Red Rose Speedway to Egypt Station. And then there’s the boat anchor on this album for me, namely, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” The other members in the band described it as “granny music.” Tension was running high in the band and had been since the recording of The Beatles album. Lennon, who wins the “pussy-whipped” hall of fame MVP, was constantly bringing Yoko into the studio, which was like a clubhouse prior to that (“No Girls Allowed”). It threw the chemistry off. Lennon was using heroin and his moods were, to be generous, mercurial. Harrison felt stifled and under-appreciated. I think everyone but McCartney had quit the band at one time. Lennon was in a car wreck and when he got back the first track McCartney asked him to play on was “Maxwell.” Lennon turned around and went home for two weeks. He was quoted as saying that McCartney ground Harrison and Ringo down recording that song, insisting on take after take after take. There had been some modicum of a return to camaraderie during the recording of the single, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and McCartney blew it away to record an old-timey song about a serial killer. Bad acid indeed.

Now, in keeping with 50th anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper and The Beatles we have an expanded Super Deluxe version of Abbey Road with two discs of outtakes and additional material. I had largely ignored the Sgt. Pepper 50th until I went to a Classic Album Sundays session and heard the new stereo mix by Giles Martin, George’s son, and fell in love with it. Prior to that the mono version was the definitive. I bought that on vinyl. I bought the 50th edition of The Beatles for much the same reason – a definitive stereo version. However, The Beatles also had a treasure trove of additional material including the mostly acoustic, famous Esher demos (‘The Beatles (The White Album) – Super Deluxe’ – “So I Guess I’ll Have to Buy ‘The White Album’ Again”).

I have to admit, I don’t hear a lot in Giles’ stereo mix that outdoes his father’s original stereo mix of the album. Some of Ringo’s drums sound better but that’s about the only thing I can distinguish. If you’re into Abbey Road there are some choice tracks in the bonus material. McCartney’s demos for songs he gave away, “Goodbye” and “Come And Get It” are nice finds (although “Come And Get It” was on the Anthology albums). I love Billy Preston’s monster organ playing on the “I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – Trident Recording Session” version. Early takes on “Old Brown Shoe” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko” are interesting for completists. “Here Come the Sun (Take 9)” makes Ringo really shine. I think the gold for most collectors is the original running order of the medley, here known as “The Long One” where they reinsert “Her Majesty” back in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” I don’t know why they cut it out and left it as a coda. It makes more sense in the middle. Purest are really geeking out about this version.

Other than that, early versions of the tracks that ended up in the medley do very little for me. Ditto for “Octupus’s Garden (Take 9).” They include two orchestral backing tracks to showcase George Martin’s brilliant composing abilities. And I get it, I love George Martin as a producer, but two tracks? Seemed like overkill.

This album has largely been seen as a “farewell” from the Beatles. Everyone seemed to think they knew this was the end. However, there is a recording of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison in the studio, sitting around shooting the shit. Lennon suggests they do another album with the songwriting equally divided, four tracks each by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. They’d let Ringo have 2 tracks too. Very egalitarian…Lennon had really come around on Harrison’s songwriting and thought “Something” was the best song on Abbey Road. McCartney seems offended that Harrison would get an equal number of songs and implies he didn’t think any of Harrison’s previous songs were any good… big balls indeed. Lennon goes on and suggests that maybe McCartney should start farming out his old-time sounding tunes like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to other acts and should focus on rock and roll. McCartney replies with, “I recorded it because I liked it.” Sounds like it was over before it started…

I’ll be honest, I really think this edition of Abbey Road is strictly for Beatles nuts and completists only. I think, in terms of purchase, I’m going to sit this one out. It’s a lot to lay out for what you get. For me it boils down to not loving Abbey Road in the first place. It was the Beatles biggest selling album, so I’m probably in the minority. It’s certainly an interesting listen. If you’re not in love with Abbey Road, you’re probably not reading this anyway, and should probably steer clear of the new package.

Cheers!

B&V Playlist: Beatles vs Stones Covers? No, Our Favorite Beatles AND Stones Covers!

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*Image of Jagger, Wyman & the McCartneys (and unidentified groovy chicks) taken from the internet, and likely subject to copyright

The world has become a really divisive place. Whatever the issue, there always seems to be disagreement these days. Politics, don’t get me started. Religion, I’m not qualified to talk about. For every opinion in the universe there exists an equally strong, opposite one. Meat eaters vs the vegans, hedonists vs the devout, drinkers vs the sober, and I could go on and on. I believe it was Sir Isaac Newton, that groovy cat with the apple and gravity, who stated in his Third Law, that for every action there is an equal, opposite reaction. For example, I would like to quit my job and sit around listening to rock and roll records all day. Perhaps I would occasionally take a break from that strenuous activity to head down to the used record store to check out some additional vinyl, only to return home and hang out. My wife has the opposite reaction to this idea and wants to work me like one of the old mules from the farm she grew up on until I collapse. Marriage, it seems, like life is a compromise.

However, we shouldn’t pretend that these disagreements are a new and modern convention. I remember, as a child in the 70s, there were similar fault lines amongst the population. I remember there was a fierce, Superman vs Batman thing. You were either a fan of the man from Krypton or you were on team Caped Crusader, and you couldn’t dig both. Me, I was a Batman fan. Ironically I later roomed with a guy whose nickname was Batman. We’d get crank calls in the middle of the night from his friends asking for Batman… When I’d say he wasn’t home they’d ask to leave a message from the Joker, or Commissionor Gordon. Real fuckin’ funny guys at 3 am. I think which Super Hero you dug said a lot about your personality. You were either the ideal of virtue and the perfect man or you were a troubled guy who hung out late at night looking for bad situations. Hmmm.

Anyway, one of the fiercer battles in the old days revolved around the Beatles and the Stones. The Beatles were huge. They were, well, the Beatles. In the late sixties the Stones began to get tagged with the nickname, “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World.” I don’t know if it was the nickname, but suddenly the debate was real. The feud began even before Led Zeppelin came along, so all you Zep fans, stay calm and keep reading. There was suddenly a Superman-Batman type of line drawn. You were either a Beatles fan or you were a Stones fan and never shall the twain meet, as they say. It was the 60s version of East Coast vs West Coast, without the guns. Lennon claimed once that everything the Beatles did the Stones would do six months later. While you might cite Their Satanic Majesties, the Stones ill-fated trip into psychedelic music (after the Beatles Sgt Pepper album) as proof, I think after that the Stones forged their own bluesy, rootsy road.

But once a feud always a feud. I have often thought of my brother and I as polar opposites, which isn’t true, but we all have stories we tell ourselves about our families. My brother, who got into music way before me was a solid Beatles guy. He had the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks, perhaps the best “greatest hits” package ever released, but he had every Beatles album out there. I think he had UK and US versions of each album, although I could be wrong about that. I bet he’s sitting on a stack of very valuable vinyl. Anyway, my first love, of course, was the Rolling Stones. I can’t say that fueled any tension between he and I, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

Eventually, I realized feuds were silly. I like both the Beatles and the Stones. They’d both be on my greatest bands of all time list… although the Stones will always be #1 for me. That doesn’t mean I can’t love the Beatles too. Hell, Keith Richards once said, about John Lennon, that he wasn’t as “hen-pecked” by Yoko in his latter days as people say… he said whenever the Stones were in New York he and Lennon would party their ass off. Now that’s something I wish I’d have gotten in on. How much fun would that be? Lennon, Richards, I wanna party with you guys. Alas, I was just a kid in junior high school.

I was noodling around with some playlist ideas and I came across the idea of doing a playlist of Stones covers, of which there are too few. Then I started thinking of doing a list of covers of Beatles tunes, of which there are myriad artists to choose from. I was thinking of battling playlists, this could potentially be a B&V thing. But then a weird thing happened. I combined the two playlists and frankly I really enjoyed the results. Since it’s a slow time musically right now, I thought I’d share it with all of you. This is not a comprehensive or complete list of Beatles or Stones cover songs, it’s just a list of my favorites. As always you can find this playlist on Spotify by searching on kcorsini64 or BourbonAndVinyl (at least I sure hope so). Enjoy… and if you have any additions you think I missed, please mention them in the comments and I’ll add to the Spotify list. My comments on each tune below this link. And I’ll say again, there are always more Beatles covers than Stones covers… oh, well.

  1. Aerosmith, “Come Together” – What a great place to start. Lets all come together over the Beatles and the Stones.
  2. Black Keys, “She Said, She Said” – I love this song. I never figured the Keys to cover the Beatles but they do so beautifully.
  3. Peter Frampton, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – I like the live version and the studio version.
  4. Linda Ronstadt, “Tumbling Dice” – My favorite song of hers, save anything she covered by Warren Zevon or Lowell George.
  5. David Bowie, “Let’s Spend The Night Together” – Bowie’s frenetic take on the classic Stones track.
  6. Soundgarden, “Everybodys’ Got Something To Hide (Except Me and My Monkey) – God do we miss Chris Cornell.
  7. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” – Great track from a soundtrack. A track also nicely done by Bowie… but he’s already on here.
  8. Phil Collins, “Tomorrow Never Knows” – Say what you want about Collins but it took some real balls to cover this song.
  9. Montrose, “Connection” – Great, slowed down version of the Stones track.
  10. Cheap Trick, “Magical Mystery Tour” – Was any band more influenced by the Beatles than Cheap Trick? Well, besides ELO?
  11. Billy Joel, “A Hard Days Night (Live)” – Ok, maybe Joel was as influenced by the Beatles as Cheap Trick. It’s probably a coin toss.
  12. Social Distortion, “Backstreet Girl” – Social D doing a a down and dirty Stones cover. Whats not to love?
  13. Siouxsie And The Banshees, “Dear Prudence” – I almost like this version more than the Beatles original.
  14. Joe Cocker, “A Little Help From My Friends” – This one was a huge hit for Joe.
  15. The Allman Brothers Band, “Heart of Stone” – From their last studio album.
  16. U2, “Paint It Black” – One of their best covers!
  17. Lindsey Buckingham, “She Smiled Sweetly” – Buckingham recreates a whole band just plucking an acoustic guitar.
  18. Johnny Winter, “Stray Cat Blues” – A lot of blues guys cover the Stones.
  19. Motley Crue, “Helter Skelter” – A lot of folks have done this one, but this is my nasty favorite.
  20. Ray Charles, “Eleanor Rigby” – Also done beautifully by Aretha.
  21. Aerosmith, “I’m Down” – Great track from Permanent Vacation. 
  22. Billy Joel, “I’ll Cry Instead (Live) – Like I said, he rivals Cheap Trick in his love of the Beatles.
  23. Luther Allison, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Obscure blues track but I love it.
  24. Guns N Roses, “Sympathy For the Devil” – From the ‘Interview With A Vampire’ soundtrack, believe it or not. This was the best thing to come out of that movie.
  25. The Who, “Under My Thumb” – Yep, the Who covering the Stones…worlds collide.
  26. Otis Redding, “Satisfaction” – The Rock Chick always laughs at me when I play this. I think it’s all the horns. Otis was soulful…
  27. Elton John, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” – As a youngster I liked this track better than the original. What fools these mortals be…
  28. CSNY, “Blackbird” – Love the version on CSNY 1974. Stills takes the lead vocals, but those harmonies kick in, oh, man!
  29. Rod Stewart, “Get Back” – An outtake from the Tonight’s the Night album.
  30. Taj Mahal, “Honky Tonk Woman” – Stripped down to vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica, it’s like a porch blues jam.
  31. Tom Petty, “Taxman” – Petty covering his friend George.
  32. Cheap Trick, “Day Tripper” – They do the Beatles rockier stuff so well.
  33. Rage Against the Machine, “Street Fighting Man” – I chose this version to show the diversity of groups who cover these two bands.
  34. The Longshot, “As Tears Go By” – Billie Joe Armstrong’s side project on a nice Stones’ cover.
  35. Dhani Harrison, Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – From the Rock Hall of Fame ceremonies… Prince’s guitar solo is on fire. If you’ve seen the video, the other guys just stand there with their jaws dropped as Prince shreds… If Clapton was there I trust he snuck out quickly.

I may have dug deeper in some areas than most folks would have expected. I may have dug a little too shallow in other areas. But in the end, my Spotify playlists are for anybody whose interested. I add songs from the comments suggestions to the playlist all the time. Enjoy and I hope you all find this as an enjoyable a listen as I did! Beatles + Stones… Peace and Love, baby!

 

 

‘The Beatles (The White Album) – Super Deluxe’ – “So I Guess I’ll Have to Buy ‘The White Album’ Again”

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Oddly, one of the few things I remember about the 1997 movie ‘Men In Black’ is a joke about the Beatles. ‘Men In Black’ is about a secret security organization that interface with and police extra terrestrials here on Earth. Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Agent J is showing Will Smith’s character, Agent K around MIB Headquarters. K asks how they pay for all of it. J explains that over the years they’ve confiscated several technologies from the visiting aliens that MIB have been able to monetize, like velcro, microwave ovens and liposuction. He then holds up a small disc and describes it as a “fascinating little gadget… gonna replace CDs soon.” And then, in that Tommy Lee Jones world-weary way, he says, “I guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again.” Only a rock n roll obsessive with a blog would probably remember that joke, but here it is….

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In my early days I didn’t even buy The Beatles album, commonly known as The White Album for it’s blank cover with only their name embossed on it. I was a Stones fan back then. My brother, who’d discovered rock n roll way before I did and who purchased a little all-in-one unit stereo (with turntable, cassette and radio all built in) was the Beatles fan. Back then the world was divided into two camps, Stones fans or Beatles fans… it’s like being either on Batman’s or Superman’s bandwagon… you’re not supposed to dig both of them. By the time I’d started to buy albums, my brother had amassed a huge collection of Beatles records, including of course, The White Album. I guess being an obsessive complete-ist runs in the family. Instead of buying the album myself, I wandered into the forbidden zone, er, my brother’s room with a bunch of blank cassettes. I had a Sony Walkman and was committing vinyl to cassette so I could wander around the world with music in my ears…which beat talking to people.

I didn’t know much about the Beatles, only that my parents dug them and had the Blue edition of their greatest hits. I was going to record only “my own” Beatles greatest hits, the songs I liked. I was a bit daunted by The White Album. It was a double LP and besides “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” I didn’t really recognize any of the tunes. I set out to only tape the tracks I liked. I’d hit pause after each song which was hard because like a Pink Floyd LP, they kind of bled into one another. By the time I was halfway through side 1, all the way to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” I just said fuck it, all of this is good, I’m recording the whole thing. Well, until I got to “Revolution 9.” I still skip that sound montage.

It wasn’t until college, when I was going down to the town’s lone record store, spelunking for rock and roll with my roomy Drew, that I finally broke down and made that double-album commitment and properly bought The White Album. It’s truly an essential album for every rock and roll fan to own. I was extremely tardy in making that purchase…youth is wasted on the young. Then of course, vinyl faded (briefly) and CDs became all the rage. I bought The White Album a second time on CD. Then years later I ended up buying the Stereo box set of Beatles albums. Then I realized, on the early stuff, the Mono recordings were the ones to have. If I include my “bootleg” taping of The White Album I’m already up to four times purchasing the goddam White Album (and of course, 1 time stealing it). And now, for the 50th Anniversary, the Beatles have released a box set, The Beatles (The White Album) [Super Deluxe] a six-disc extravaganza remastered (masterfully) again by Giles Martin, the son of genius producer George Martin (RIP George Martin, Producer Extrodinaire of the Beatles). I bought the Giles’ remastered version of Sgt Pepper and it’s mind blowing. He’s doing some fabulous work for the Beatles including a crackerjack job on Live At the Hollywood Bowl LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”. Here I am in 2018, and like Tommy Lee Jones said in ‘Men In Black,’ “I guess I’m going to have to buy The White Album again.

By 1968 the Beatles had conquered the world. Sgt Pepper had seen commercial and critical success that no rock album before it (or since, really) received. They were on top of the world. They had gotten a little criticism over their TV special, The Magical Mystery Tour but the fans loved it and the music was sound. They made the fatal mistake of forming Apple Corps, because they thought they could do anything and succeed. Ah, hubris. The Beatles then decided to indulge John and especially George’s interest in Eastern religions and they decamped to Rishikesh, India to learn about mediation from the Maharishi. They took only acoustic guitars and marijuana, they didn’t want to risk smuggling acid. It was with clear heads and calm hearts that they sat out in the middle of nowhere, and instead of meditating, they wrote songs. The period of February to April of 1968 was a particularly fruitful time for the Beatles’ songwriting, especially for George Harrison. Hari really came into his own as a songwriter in that period. Ringo was the first to split India, he didn’t like the food… a man after my own heart, I can’t stomach curry.

The Beatles reconvened as a band in May of ’68 at George’s house in the London neighborhood of Esher. They cut a bunch of acoustic demos that have come to be known by bootleggers as the Esher Sessions. Disc 3 of this new box is the (basically) complete Esher sessions, which makes this a must have for Beatles fans. A few of these tracks had been released on the Anthology series, but this is the whole thing. It proves their time in India had indeed been fruitful. Although when you think about 1968 and all the political turmoil – the Tet Offensive, LBJ announces he’s not running for re-election, MLK is assassinated, RFK runs for President and is also assassinated, the student riots in Paris (which inspired the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man”) – the music on The White Album can seem a bit frivolous and light. It wasn’t the grand political statement people were hoping for, but I doubt they had TV coverage in the ashram.

The White Album has some of the most diverse stuff the Beatles ever did. They go from rock n roll (“Back In the USSR”) to blues (“Yer Blues”) to country (“Rocky Racoon”) to lush ballads (“Long, Long, Long”). Even Ringo wrote a song. When they entered the studio, fresh from the previous year’s success of Sgt Pepper and the Indian retreat, they booked massive amounts of studio time. Unfortunately, at least emotionally, they used it all. They’d record over 100 takes of each song, even songs they’d later scrap (“Not Guilty” got 102 takes and was criminally left off the album). They hadn’t really played as a foursome in a long time – they’d create a basic backing track and then overdub the other parts. Here they just jammed and overdubbed on the best versions. It took a long, long time to get a take they liked. McCartney’s perfectionism drove the others nuts. Ringo quit during the sessions for a week. They were a long way from four guys bashing it out at the Cavern Club. They had to relearn how to play with each other. The Apple Corps turned out to be a disaster financially and critically. That failure cranked up the pressure on the lads. Lennon hated the songs McCartney brought in, they were too saccharine for him. McCartney hated John’s stuff, he thought they lacked melody and were too contentious. Eventually they’d end up working in two different studios. You could cut the tension with a knife. Also, Lennon violated the “boys club,” “No girls allowed” rule and brought Yoko into the studio. A lot of people blame Yoko for the break up but hey, it was John who insisted she be there. It fundamentally changed the chemistry of the band and destroyed the communication between Lennon and the rest of the band, but especially McCartney. Even George Martin took off for an unannounced vacation and longtime engineer George Emerick up and quit.

I’ve heard Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours described as the recording of an orgy gone wrong. The White Album is really the soundtrack to a beloved band breaking up. It was clear they were all moving in different directions. The chemistry was irrevocably altered by Lennon’s love for Yoko. But damn, if this isn’t still a towering achievement. I can’t stop listening to this newly remastered version. Giles Martin has made this music sound fantastic. The version found here, on disc 1 and 2 is simply the definitive version from a sound perspective. I can’t stop listening to “Sexy Sadie.”

After disc 1 & 2, the original album, and disc 3, the Esher sessions, you find three discs of studio outtakes and earlier versions of the tracks on the albums. During The White Album sessions they recorded and released the double-sided single, “Hey Jude”/”Revolution” and you’ll find early versions of the former here. There’s an early sketch of “Let It Be.” While there are some rehearsals and some instrumental tracks that are probably only for the true complete-ist among you, there are a lot of little treasures. There is an almost 13 minute version of “Helter Skelter” that’s played slowly, like a blues tune that knocked me out. You’ll find the orchestral intro piece that George Martin put together for “Don’t Pass Me By” that got cut from the original release here as well. The 102’d take of “Not Guilty” is here as well. It’s a great song. Harrison did it later, not as well, on a later solo record. I wonder what took him so long to come back to that song…It isn’t until you get to disc 6 that you find some stuff that might be characterized as “superfluous.” I loved hearing the studio chatter of the band members in the studio. So, yes, this box set is really worth it.

I found something to love on all three of the latter discs. And of course, The White Album totally remastered and the complete Esher Sessions make this a B&V must have. I know what you’re thinking… like Agent J… Yes, you’re “gonna have to buy The White Album again.” But trust me, it’s totally worth it.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

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!

Humor – The Song Stuck In My Head From Vacation: “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”

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This may be my weirdest post yet…but I have to exorcise a demon…

While I like to consider myself a “man of leisure,” it has occurred to me over the years I’m not a “vacation guy.” I like going on vacation. If it were up to me I’d be on vacation all the time but the Rock Chick says we have bills to pay. After a two year time lapse, the Rock Chick made it clear we were overdue for a real vacation. Not the, “take Friday off for a long weekend, run up to Chicago” type of vacation, but a vacation involving sandy beaches and sunscreen. Like most married dudes, I acquiesced immediately. The next thing I knew through the grace of a smoking deal on travel, I was in the beautiful Dominican Republic…sandy beaches, beautiful people, and unfortunately on a couple of days… rain.

On a beach vacation, as I’ve posted before, I like to lay on my lounge and listen to my Summer/Sun Playlist. Listening to music is one of the best parts of the entire vacation for me… well, one of my favorite things I can actually write about (heh, heh, ahem). I slip on the headphones and float away. If I’m lucky, I nap. Every day should be like this. But unfortunately the rain made that impossible on one of my vacation days. We quickly decamped to the open air lobby of the resort and found a small table in the corner of the bar. Luckily the Rock Chick had brought a deck of cards and with a dark rum and Sprite with a lime in hand (a drink I had formerly been unfamiliar with and now love) I was having my ass completely kicked in a game of Crazy-8’s. Yes, Crazy-8… that’s as heavy as the Rock Chick and I get into cards… I’m no gambler. Getting out of bed every day is enough of a gamble for me.

It was this rainy afternoon, that I discovered the resort held what I dubbed, “The Sad Saxophone Hour” every day. This dude showed up with a saxophone and a drum machine and some pre recorded keyboards and played sad songs for an hour or two. The prior days of my vacation I’d been passed out on the beach or in my room and had missed “sad sax” hour. At one point the Rock Chick pointed out he was playing the theme from ‘Titanic.’ The horror, the horror. First rain, then losing at cards, then Celine Dion… my worst nightmare.

I had pretty much tuned him out, but toward the end of the performance, I realized he was playing something I recognized… I knew that I knew the song, but it took  me a while to place the melody. Towards the end of the song, I realized he was playing the old Motown chestnut, “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.” I don’t know why, perhaps it was the exercise of trying to identify the song, but once I’d figured out what it was, the song lodged in my brain and has remained there ever since. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of Motown. I’m a hard rock/blues rock kind of person. I like classic rock. When I was in the mood for great soulful music, I was always more of a Sam Cooke man… Sure, I dug some of the later things Marvin Gaye did. Martha and the Vandelas had a few great moments, “No Where To Run To” springs to mind. But overall Motown doesn’t do a lot for me and other than the Supremes I can’t think of an act I like less than Smokey Robinson and the Miracles who wrote and originally performed “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.”

But as this song lodged in my brain for a few days, I began to realize what a great tune it really is. As I thought about it, the obsessive way I think about music, it occurred to me that there are a lot of different versions of this song. Everybody has covered this thing from The Jackson 5 (Michael on lead vocals, naturally) and Diana Ross to Phil Collins and Rod Stewart (gasp, sadly in the “Songbook” period of his career). Like “Yesterday” it seems that almost everybody has taken a crack at this song… Some versions are much better than others. In my opinion, there are only three versions of this song that matter… or that I can listen to. And so, in an effort to get this song to leave my brain, I shall list the three essential versions of “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” here on the pages of B&V in the hopes that I can then move on with my life. Like I said, this may be my weirdest post yet…

Smokey Robinson And The Miracles – I have to chock my love of this version of the tune to my musical theory that every band has one good song. I never liked “Tears of a Clown” or any other Smokey tune. His voice is great, he’s an amazing writer and producer but I just never dug Smokey. But I have to admit, his impassioned vocal on this song, and the great piano figure that drives it just sinks into your brain. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here. It reached me all the way down in the Dominican Republic and won’t leave me…

The Beatles – The Beatles covered this song expertly on ‘With The Beatles.’ John Lennon takes the lead vocal and I have to say he kills it. He brings even more urgency than Smokey did on the original. You can tell Lennon is really pushing himself vocally, it sounds like his voice almost breaks down midway through the song. The rest of the Fab Four harmonize beautifully on the background vocals. Toward the end it almost feels bluesy. Fabulous lamentations by the Beatles. They even nail the piano figure at the end. It’s a great cover by the Beatles but what song didn’t they make better?

Eddie Money – Yes, Eddie Money. Inexplicably Eddie Money covered this song on his debut album and while this will be considered blasphemy and blow any musical credibility I have established in these pages, this is my favorite version. There’s no background harmonizing. Eddie ditches the piano for guitars to drive the tune. He completely reimagines the song. It’s a laid back, baby “you do me wrong” kind of song. Eddie even plays a fantastic sax solo in the middle of the track. “Sad Sax” guy could learn a thing or two from Eddie… I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think Eddie owns this tune for me… over Smokey and The Beatles? I know, it sounds crazy. When I think of this song, this is the version I think of. Eddie just seems to feel it more.

Thank God, after all these years, I can finally get this off my chest and confess my love of the Eddie Money version of the tune. I just feel better now. It’s not very often I can say I dig the Money Man… but there it is. I’m hopeful now that I’m home and surrounded by the myriad of LPs here at the house that I can drowned out this song in my head…but you never know. This might be permanent… I could end up walking around singing, “I wanna quit, but I just can’t split” like an urban hipster for the rest of my life…

Thank you for reading and allowing this catharsis. Cheers! (ps – try a dark rum/sprite with a squeeze of lime, it’ll put you in that summer mood…)

LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”

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Long before BourbonAndVinyl, long before I collected hundreds of albums and CDs, long before my music obsession, there was my brother’s stereo… I had an old black-and-white TV in my room, and a clock radio but I only turned the clock radio on if I was listening to the Royals or the Chiefs. I never listened to music. I was a sports guy, not a music guy. My brother, who I’ve mentioned in these very pages as the polar opposite of me, didn’t have a TV but he did have a stereo. It was one of those turntable/tape deck/receiver all in one jobs. I couldn’t understand what he was doing spending all of his spare money on those albums, it made no sense to me. Be careful what you make fun of, it eventually takes you over.

I would walk by his closed door on the way to my own room and I’d hear all these… sounds… coming from his room. What the hell was going on in there. More often than not those “sounds” were the Beatles. They say you can tell a lot about a person by which Beatle they favor… My brother was a George guy. I’m more of a John guy. I’ll let Beatle-0logists decipher the meaning of that. Maybe if our family dentist had dosed my brother and I with LSD like John and George, we’d have been closer as kids, but that time has passed. I eventually knocked on the closed door and after being admitted entrance to my brother’s inner sanctum, plopped down on the floor to listen to these Beatles he was so fond of. It took the Stones to put out “Some Girls” to completely turn me onto music, but my brother’s vast Beatles LP collection certainly pushed me onto that path. Its odd that on so many things my younger brother led the way…

Like I was to eventually become, my brother was nothing if not a completist. He’d buy a greatest hits album if it had an unreleased single on it even if he owned all the other tunes already. One of the albums he seemed to play a lot was the Beatles’ “Live at the Hollywood Bowl.” It sounded like a bunch of girls screaming like a cat in a blender to me but my brother loved that record. I remember the liner notes, printed on the back of the album sleeve. George Martin, who had been asked to put the album together in 1977, long after the Beatles’ break up, wrote the essay printed on the back. If I recall correctly, he said he was only convinced to put the Live LP together after his granddaughter (or maybe it was his daughter) had asked him if the Beatles had been “as big as” or “as exciting as the Bay City Rollers.” I’d say he proved the point. Game, set and match to Mr. Martin.

I sort of forgot about “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” until I got to college. One of my roommates, Drew would sit and listen to that album and laugh his ass off when the Beatles would speak between songs. It was so obvious they were mocking the entire Beatlemania thing. Before “Hard Days Night” John Lennon says, “we made two movies, one in color and one in black and white…” He sounds like a game show host. That was after my conversion to “music junkie” and it was the first time I gave that album a serious listen.

The Beatles famously quit touring in 1966. After that they became studio wizards. The breadth and depth of the music they recorded is amazing. Every album seemed to create two or three sub genre’s of music. It’s easy to think of them as composers like Mozart or Bach and it’s sometimes easy to forget that they were a working band, since after ’66 they only played live once on the roof of the Apple offices in London for the “Let It Be” album. That’s why this document of them as a touring, live band is so important.

In anticipation of hearing this album again, I started listening to the “Live at the BBC” album. It’s a great document of what was, what we tend to forget, a great band. It’s like they’ve turned the BBC studios into their own Hamburg club. They play a lot of their own music, but so many great covers that they never got around to recording and releasing in the studio. The only thing the “BBC” album leaves out is a studio audience. There’s nobody to react to the performances except the jolly BBC DJ. It’s a bit of a sterile live experience. Still, it’s a pleasure to hear these guys playing live together.

Which all leads me to the newly remastered “Live at the Hollywood Bowl.” I kept wondering if they’d ever get around to releasing this album. With every new remastered version, box set, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” was always left out. I can’t confirm this without flying to Houston and having my brother put the old vinyl on the stereo, but it sounds like they’ve boosted the music up in the mix and turned down the screaming fans. Have no doubt about it, this is a great album. It’s so fun to actually put some flesh and blood on the legends. Taken with the “BBC” live album it helps round out a fuller picture of the Beatles. You see those old films of them performing at stadiums in the 60s and its a little like watching old-timey films of baseball players one hundred years ago. A crude document of history being made.

“Hollywood Bowl” is a fun, fun listen. The chemistry of the Beatles on stage is just amazing. You have to remember with the crude equipment they were using, they likely couldn’t even hear each other. It’s kind of hard to play as a band if you can’t hear the other guys. They bash away with a hearty gusto. I have to say, Ringo takes a lot of shit for not being a very good drummer, but he’s really bashing away on this record. Paul McCartney’s bass sounds like Flea. He lays down the most amazing bass lines. How these guys harmonize with all the screaming is just a miracle.

I love that they open with “Twist And Shout,” as if the rabid teenage girls at the Hollywood Bowl weren’t frothy enough, they start with one of their biggest jams. They play a lot of their early, classic hits, up through “Help!” but its great to hear them tear through some of those older cover tunes that they’d probably been playing since Hamburg: “Long Tall Sally,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and even “Roll Over Beethoven.” They even let Ringo have a turn at the mic with “Boys.” Despite all the harrowing stories of their touring, it does sound like they’re having a good time on stage.

“Ticket to Ride,” “Things We Said Today,” and “She’s a Woman” all near the front of the album are a toss up for my favorite. These guys could do no wrong with a song. They add four additional “bonus” tracks that weren’t on the original vinyl LP at the end. They’re all very good songs and for those of us who know the original album, it’s almost like they’ve come back for an encore.

This is not only a great album, and a definite recommended buy from B&V, I would go so far as to say this is essential listening, not only for Beatles fans, but for fans of rock and roll in general.

Play this one loud. And as Ringo would probably say, Peace and Love, people. Cheers!