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 LP the Beatles recorded together?” 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 (different venues were tossed around including a cruise ship or an ancient Greek theater) of select fans. 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. 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,” so 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 version 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!

George Harrison’s Magnum Opus ‘All Things Must Pass – 50th Anniversary’ Edition

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“Sunrise doesn’t last all morning, a cloudburst doesn’t last all day. Seems my love is up and left you with no warning, its not always going to be this grey…” – George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”

Since its been a whole month since this new 50th anniversary version of All Things Must Pass came out on August 6th I’ll have to admit to you, it’s taken me a while to get this piece written. Other things kept popping up from Plant/Krauss to Metallica that prevented me from getting this done. The original LP/vinyl version of George Harrison’s first (official) solo album All Things Must Pass was three albums long – already a magnum opus – the 50th anniversary edition is 5 CDs. That’s a lot to digest. I had been shying away from sharing my thoughts on big editions like this that are focused on one album. Well, I’ve been shying away from anything like this by anybody but Prince. Prince’s “deluxe editions” are always packed with an enormous amount of unreleased material. John Lennon did a 50th anniversary edition of Imagine and I didn’t even check it out. I figured it would be all roughed out demos and “alternate takes.” Only the true collectors could delve into those waters. The box set that changed my opinion on this was CSNY’s Deja Vu – 50th Anniversary. That set blew me away. And admittedly I’ve been in a heavy celebration of all the great music of 1971 all year long…

I remember when the sitcom Seinfeld was on television. Seinfeld was a huge Superman fan. It reignited a debate from when I was a kid. The question always was, are you a Batman fan or a Superman fan? We like to create rivalries on all things it seems. Supposedly, which side you fall on in this debate tells us something about your personality. For the record, I’m a Batman fan. He was darker… his origin story was more violent and horrible. Anyway, there was a similar debate when I started listening to music – are you a Beatles guy or a Stones guy? In the late 70s when I first started listening to music, I was 100% a Stones guy. Not surprisingly, my brother who usually tends to line up on the opposite side from me, was a Beatles fan. Frankly, all these years later I believe it’s possible to be a fan of both… the Stones and the Beatles, not Superman and Batman… you have to make a choice on the latter. For Beatles fans, it wasn’t enough to be a Beatles fan, you had to declare a “favorite Beatle.” Purists, what are you going to do? I think, and I would never dare to speak for him, my brother was a George fan. George was the quiet Beatle. I think George was considered the quiet Beatle because he could never get a word in edgewise with McCartney and Lennon hogging the spotlight. I always thought of him as more the sullen, frustrated Beatle. He wrote songs like “Taxman,” or “You Like Me Too Much.”

When the Beatles finally disintegrated in acrimony, they all went on to solo careers. For years Harrison had been stockpiling songs. Lennon and especially McCartney prevented his songs from making the released Beatles albums. His contributions to the Beatles’ last LP, Abbey Road, couldn’t be ignored however. The songs “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” were the best songs on the album. Sinatra once covered “Something” in concert and announced it as the best song Lennon/McCartney ever wrote… probably too much bourbon for Frank. There was some thought that McCartney was threatened by Harrison’s amazing development as a songwriter and that was another contributing factor in the Beatles break up. McCartney’s penchant for doing dozens and dozens of takes on trifles like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” couldn’t have helped. Lennon used to refer to those types of songs as McCartney’s “granny-style” music.

Harrison really had developed as a songwriter and with Lennon/McCartney keeping his songs off the Beatles records he had this incredible number of great songs he was sitting on. Uber-producer Phil Spector had worked with the Beatles on what would become Let It Be and had worked with John Lennon on his early solo stuff. Harrison decided to bring him in for All Things Must Pass. Spector’s “wall of sound” was considered the perfect background for Harrison’s “reedy” voice. I’ve always liked his voice, I’m not sure where that assessment comes from. The burst of creativity that is All Things Must Pass is nothing short of breathtaking. It was a statement to the world, George Harrison would be silenced no longer. It was a double album with a third LP sub-titled Apple Jams all packaged in a small box. Three LPs was almost unheard of in the 70s. I remember going into my brothers room and marveling at the enormity of it all. He had that box and the Concert For The People of Bangladesh which was also a triple- LP packaged in a large box. Those are probably worth some money these days. I don’t know where my brother got all this bread to buy these giant box sets but clearly his allowance was larger than mine.

To me, All Things Must Pass is the greatest solo LP from any Beatle. Ok, I could probably do without the Apple Jams third album. Like most people who discovered rock n roll in the 70s I started off as a big McCartney fan. Then by college I’d shifted to being a Lennon guy. I love their solo work but nothing compares to All Things Must Pass. The sheer volume of top shelf material here is astounding. Harrison has spent the end of ’69 up at Woodstock with Dylan and the Band and his obsession with the sitar ended and he rediscovered playing guitar. That experience supposedly inspired “Run of the Mill,” a track that ends the first album. He also covers Dylan’s “If Not For You.” “My Sweet Lord” was the first single, one of Harrison’s signature songs. So many great tracks: “Wah Wah” about the guitar, a farewell to his former bandmates in the title track, “Let It Down,” “Beware of Darkness,” and so many more. Every track on the first two albums could have been a hit. Maybe if Harrison had held back some of these tracks he could have solidified his solo career in the early days. There’s rock and roll, folk influences, gospel chords and of course, Eastern religion plays heavily here. It was an explosion of creativity that signified everything Harrison was into and everything he was about. It’s enormous yet a very personal statement. “Awaiting On You All” has been running through my brain non-stop all month. I’m a non believer and I’m singing, “the lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see.” I’m not sure that’s true but what a great song and sentiment. 

The band backing him on this album is also quite extraordinary. Clapton brought all the guys he’d met while on tour with Blind Faith from the opening band, Delaney and Bonnie inlcuding Jim Gordon (drums) and Carl Radle (bass). Those guys went on to form Derek and the Dominos. Ringo shows up as well as John and Yoko on a track. Tellingly, only McCartney is absent. If you dig deep enough it’s a who’s who of British rock. Ginger Baker from Cream plays drums on a track. Klaus Voorman, bassist friend of the Beatles is here. Peter Frampton is on acoustic guitar. Billy Preston and Bobby Whitlock show up on keyboards. Dave Mason, guitarist of Traffic is on the LP. Alan White, later of Yes shows up on drums. Spector’s “wall of sound” approach usually included multiple drummers, guitars and backing singers on all songs. One could imagine him saying, “More guitars and drums and you two in the back, pick up those tubas and play something… horns, more horns.” The sound is all encompassing and powerful. It’s really incredible.

All of that said, I really dig the bonus material here and believe me, with three discs of it, there is plenty. Disc 3 on the CD version of the box is probably my favorite. It’s Harrison laying down demos of the tracks for Spector. It’s just Harrison, typically on acoustic guitar with Ringo on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass. That’s a similar line up of who recorded Lennon’s Plastic Ono album. Just Lennon and that same rhythm section. I think Spector’s decision to add all the backing musicians and turn it up to 11 was the right decision but I like these quiet, stripped down versions. They’re all (for the most part) fully realized songs. It makes for a much more personal statement from Harrison. The focus is more clearly on the lyrics. It feels like you’re sitting around the campfire jamming. They aren’t all acoustic tracks, “What Is LIfe” is still a rollicking rocker in this stripped down form. These early takes are so different from the released LP I found them fascinating. There are a few unreleased tracks here too. “Going Down to Golders Green” is a track he gave to another artist. There are two Eastern themed songs, “Om Hare Om” and one I really dug, “Dehra Dun.” Considering the unreleased stuff, he could have done three LPs without the jam LP. “Sour Milk Sea” was another acoustic track that would have translated well to an electric, full-band version. “Awaiting On You All” has different lyrics which include a swipe at the Pope which I thought was funny.

Disc 4 continues the demos theme. It’s mostly acoustic but this time just George alone with an acoustic guitar. I like “Everybody/Nobody” which was not included on the LP. “Beautiful Girl” is a track that eventually saw the light of day on the album Thirty Three & 1/3. “Tell Me What Happened To You” was an interesting outtake as is “Nowhere to Go,” which finds George alone on electric. “Cosmic Empire” is a track that I thought could have been a hit with a band. It’s a great little ditty. “Mother Divine” is another track I wish he’d pursued. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the acoustic versions of these songs presented here but it does hint at the fact there was so much more here.

The final disc, disc 5, has outtakes featuring the whole band backing him up. “Hear Me Lord” sounds like a jam that could have been a Derek and the Dominos outtake. What a great, big rock n roll tune that one is. George and the band do a funny rendition of “Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Gang of Mine.” The lyrics of this version of “Isn’t It A Pity” start off with “Isn’t it so shitty, we do so many takes, now we’re doing it again.” I wonder if that is a swipe at McCartney or Spector? They even include a version of the Beatles’ “Get Back” that is a sloppy delight. I like the bluesy “Down to the River (Rocking Chair Blues).” The bluesy, acoustic “Woman Don’t Your Cry For Me” is completely different than the version released on Extra Texture. The musicians he has in the studio with him really were extraordinary.

There is so much to like in these unreleased demos and outtakes. It does remind me of the recent 50th anniversary edition of CSNY’s Deja Vu. The quality of the unreleased stuff is on par with what was finally released. It just underscores what a huge, freeing, creative burst this album was for Harrison. I’ve come to appreciate a lot of George’s solo work over the years but this box really reconnected me to his masterwork. It’s well worth the investment of time.

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!

B&V’s Favorite ‘Live At the BBC’ LPs – Classic Bands, Classic Performances

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I think I’m like most working-stiffs. I put in my 10-hour work day for the benefit of my corporate masters then stagger out of my home office to dinner followed by the inevitable collapse on the couch in front of the television. My ten year old self would be amazed at the plethora of viewing options I have now. When I was a kid we had three channels – ABC, NBC, and CBS. I grew up middle-class but my dad was one of those, “close the door we’re not trying to air condition the entire outside” kinda guys. The thought of spending extra money for “basic cable” was outside my dad’s wheelhouse. I was in my teens before I ever saw HBO at a friend’s house on a sleepover. We watched Linda Carter, the first Wonder Woman, in a movie where she appeared topless which changed my life… It was like discovering the formula for nuclear fusion. Now, perhaps as a direct result of seeing that Linda Carter movie, I have all the movie channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and god knows what else. I am continually amazed that with all these options I still can’t find shit to watch on TV. I am continually bored, which I’m told is a sign of a weak mind.

Radio was a different story, it was free. We had all kinds of selections to choose from on the radio. There was AM radio, which was a favorite of my father. It featured a lot talk radio programs. My dad is huge sports buff so whenever we were in the car he’d crank it all the way up to hear people talk about the Royals. I don’t remember people discussing the Chiefs much when I was kid… they kind of sucked. Then there was the FM side of the dial, “FM, no static at all” as Steely Dan used to sing. The first radio station I can remember was Q104. They played pop music. When we were real little kids my brother would have my mom tune into Q104 whenever we were in her car and it was his turn to pick the station. We never really listened to the radio in the house, we weren’t a musical family, sadly. My mother liked KUDL, aka “Cuddle,” the shitty mellow pop station. Yacht Rock would have been considered thrash-metal on “Cuddle.” Before my rock n roll “awakening” the only time I turned on the radio was when I was listening to a Royals’ baseball game in bed at night. After discovering the Rolling Stones and rock n roll my station was KY102. I had to have the radio on for all waking moments except when doing homework… I had to focus.

Despite my family’s rather narrow radio focus, there were a lot of choices. There were the weird Public stations and weirder still college stations at the smaller end of the dial. Any radio station broadcasting under the number 90 was weird in our eyes. There was a classical station. There was an oldies station. I’m gonna guess that there was a country music station but who really cares? I grew up assuming that everybody had this wild, varied selection on their radios… well, not in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. When I lived there they didn’t have a decent radio station by anybody’s standards. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started reading about Britain, the BBC (The British Broadcasting Company) and pirate radio stations when I realized the airways were ruled differently in far away places.

I know the BBC does TV also, I get that channel here at the house (thank you Linda Carter). But for purposes of a rock and roll blog, I’m only thinking about radio here. I think, and can’t verify this, but the BBC was the only radio station in Britain up until the late 60s when the Pirate Radio movement happened. Pirate Radio were a bunch of outlaws who set up radio broadcasting equipment on ships off the shore of Britain who broadcasted all kinds of stuff that the BBC wasn’t broadcasting. I think in the late 60s other radio stations emerged over there which seems late in the game but my research on this is inconclusive…

Even so, I think the BBC was quite a big deal for popular music in the UK. I’ve read all about artists who talk about being on the Beeb. They would appear on Top of the Pops or on a program with legendary DJ John Peel. Even a rock and roll obsessive from Kansas knows about John Peel… he was friends with a lot of the rock and roll bands I worshipped. Not only was getting your records played on the BBC a big deal, often bands would go into the BBC studios in London and play live. Either live in studio or sometimes they’d play live in a theater to a small crowd and the BBC would broadcast the performance like a British “King Biscuit Flower Hour,” complete with rather posh-sounding accents from the DJs. Broadcasting a live performance to a largely “captive” audience had to be a huge boost to the band’s career. I mean “captive” in the sense that there was no where else to hear this stuff.

It’s my understanding in bootleg circles these BBC performances were somewhat widely circulated. These radio broadcasts would be the perfect fodder for a bootleg recording. Finally record companies realized they had a treasure trove of unreleased music from these BBC recordings and started releasing the performances. I don’t know what the hold up was on this, it seems like a really good idea that was way overdue. Maybe the BBC wasn’t cool with it or the artists were concerned about sound quality. I am a huge fan of live music and live albums (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). And there are a few of these BBC releases that I just love, much like my ardor for the old MTV Unplugged series, B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs. I feel like these following six “BBC” albums are essential to each artist’s catalog. The sound quality on these are very bootleg-like, in spots it can be a little rough. But if you can handle that, there are some revelatory performances to be found here… amidst some, as I said before, rather posh British accents which are really cool. As you would expect, my favorites are generally the greatest bands of all time. There were plenty of recordings to select from. Honorable mention goes to the Faces (who put all their BBC stuff on the superb box set Five Guys Walk Into A Bar), Cream and the Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac. The latter are 2 great recordings, just really hard to find. Queen and Free released most of their BBC stuff as “bonus material” on later remasters of their LPs and deserve mention here as well.

  1. The Beatles, Live At the BBC – The Beatles are, arguably, the biggest band of all time. It’s hard to estimate how big they were and remain today. In the latter half of their career, they holed up in the studio. They stopped touring all together. They made some of the most imaginative, creative music in all of rock, truly elevating this “pop” music to the level of art. On Live At the BBC, we go back to the days when they were “Fab.” This is the sound of a working band. They play their asses off. There are so many covers songs that they never got around to recording that everyone needs to hear. I even love their banter with the DJs, its all very Beatlesque. This album, along with Live At the Hollywood Bowl (LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”), puts a little meat on the bones of the legend.
  2. Led Zeppelin, BBC Sessions – During their lifetime as a band, I’m not sure that Zeppelin ever captured an “essential,” must-have live LP. The Song Remains The Same was certainly a snap-shot of a point in time. I think BBC Sessions might be that essential live LP. It covers their career through the first four albums. They expand “Whole Lotta Love” to over 13 minutes. The power of this music is unmistakable. They also have a few unreleased, rare tracks – “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and “Something Else.” The sound quality is pretty great throughout as well. .
  3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, BBC Sessions – I know there’s a ton of live Hendrix out there but this is yet another essential album for Hendrix fans. The opening track on this collection, “Foxey Lady” explodes from the speakers. The Experience is so tight on this thing and yet so powerful. Hendrix does some great covers, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” (Dylan), “Day Tripper” (Beatles) and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Cream) proving Hendrix could do anything. No matter how psychedelic his music became he was firmly rooted in the blues and he plays a ton of it on this album.
  4. David Bowie, Bowie At the Beeb – This one may be my favorite… We trace Bowie from his early, early career (pre- The Man Who Sold The World) to the superstardom of Ziggy Stardust. There are some rarities that I’d never heard – “Cygnet Committee,” “Karma Man,” and “God Knows I’m Lucky” – to name a few… although I’m not the deepest expert on anything Bowie put out before The Man Who Sold… I love the version of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For the Man” here. There isn’t a ton of great live Bowie out there so this is a great addition to anybody’s collection.
  5. The Who, BBC Sessions – The Who muscling through hits (“My Generation,” “Substitute”), cover songs (“Good Lovin’,” “Just You And Me Darling”) and rarities (“Leaving Here,” “See My Way”). The Who started by playing a lot of R&B stuff and you really hear the influences on this album. I love that like the Beatles it chronicles that early period of the Who’s career. They end with a great version of “Long Live Rock.”
  6. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording – Like the Beatles and the Who on this list, the Stones entry focuses on the early part of their career. This disc chronicles the blues-heavy, Brian Jones’ days of the band. I will say, disc 2 seems a bit short at only 35 minutes (and the sound quality gets rougher on disc 2 as well). I love it when the Stones play the blues. They also do a lot of great Chuck Berry covers. I dig the version of “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” found here.

I know there are some Siouxsie and the Banshees fans out there who clapback at me on my list… Her BBC album is three discs long. Thin Lizzy has a great box of BBC performances but it’s like 5 discs long… I stuck with my favorites here. If I’ve missed one that you love, let me know in the comments.

Be safe!

 

 

 

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!