The Mania Begins! Part One of my review of “Eight Days a Week”

A Review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard (yes that Ron Howard)

Part One: Mania Begins!

This documentary covers the Beatles during their Mania Years (March 1963 through August 1966) focusing primarily on their live performances and then their album recording sessions.

With only a few exceptions, the rest of the Beatle mythology during that time is ignored.

This is fine. As the title suggests, this is about their live shows. If you want a clip of John Lennon reading from “In His Own Write”, however, you had best look elsewhere.

Not that there was that much to leave out: during that time the band’s touring and recording sessions were marathons – it would have drained any mortal human beings. Their time “mach schau”-ing in Hamburg during the Early Years not only improved their musicality (as is frequently pointed out), but their stamina. 25 shows in 30 days while touring America? Grueling? You bet, but at least they are able to sleep at night. In beds. Separately.

The two big documentaries of the Fabs: “the Compleat Beatles” and “Beatles Anthology” encompass the members’ and their entourage’s lives up until 1970. This film has a much narrower focus. Only “the Beatles: The First US Visit” has a more narrow focus – their 1964 US tour. But that was a BBC documentary meant for television, not a feature film.

Most narrative films focus on the Early Years, of which little is really known and there are only vague photographs and fewer recordings extant: the band’s childhood, their formation and early days as a band. Movies such as the excellent “Backbeat” from 1994 and “Nowhere Boy” from 2009 are examples.

More rare are films of the Studio Years or the Solo Years showing the Beatles’ break-up and solo output. 1985’s “John & Yoko: A Love Story”, 2000’s “Two of Us” (although the creators state at the film’s outset that it is entirely fictional) and 2010’s “Lennon Naked” for instance.

And nothing more clearly shows the break-up of the band than “Let It Be”.

But this movie shows us neither the beginning nor the end, but the glorious middle, when Beatlemania was in full flower. For a fun fictional account, find the 1978 Roger Zemeckis movie “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.

The film as a whole shows the mania’s rise and fall. The movie opens with songs from their 1963 show in Manchester – the clips’ vivid color and sound are a wonder! Why isn’t the entire set released on DVD yet? Or has it been?

There is no narration for the film – no Malcom McDowell from “the Compleat Beatles”. It is told to us by the Fab Four themselves and their entourage ala “Beatles Anthology”. Current interviews with Paul and Ringo are interspersed with clips from John and George, as well as Beatle insider/roadie Neil Aspinall – who was with them from the beginning – and their film director Richard Lester. Most of George’s comments were culled from “Anthology” while John’s were taken from various lengthy interviews during the 1970s (Mike Douglas, Tom Snyder, Dick Cavett, etc.).

Note to Hulu: there were a few mistakes in your subtitles. You told us George was speaking when it was John. When asked about the fan reaction, John did NOT say, “the mob was incredible”, he said, “amazing, incredible”

The movie is chronological with only a few interludes taking us further back in time.

One such interlude starts about 4 minutes into the film for a three-and-a-half minute primer on the Early Years. But it was a very quick statement by John Lennon on bringing in Paul and then George and playing in Hamburg – but even here the focus is on the live performances as a upcoming band. Not of growing up in war-torn Liverpool. This means there is no mention of Pete Best, Alan Williams, Cynthia Powell or even Stuart Sutcliffe.

There is a surprisingly tender moment six minutes in – Paul talks about their first session with Ringo as drummer. His eyes mist up and he chokes back a tear. I’ve never seen him so emotional when discussing the Beatles …

After that the movie starts in earnest. It shows us the release of “Please Please Me” and then it’s on to the live shows!

One fun clip was of football fans in 1963 Liverpool singing “She Loves You” in unison. Young men bellow at full throttle whilst old men (wearing hats) are jostled as they keep smiling … but they don’t sing along.

There are the mandatory archival interviews with young people (“I love them!”) and the older generation (“They make an awful row!”).

The live music is real. No studio tracks with an audience dubbed in – as far as I can tell. The clips we watch may not be from the venue the soundtrack was recording, but the editors did an excellent job of splicing it together. Only on occasion does the mouth not match the soundtrack. In some spots, it is obvious the film is slowed down so the soundtrack can keep up, but that is forgivable.

And it is fun after all these years to still be able to see footage I have never seen before! Most notably the European concerts.

More next time …

Corporate shill department: I published a fictional account of John F Kennedy meeting the Beatles, titled, appropriately enough, “The Day John F Kennedy met the Beatles” available here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Original Material copyright 2016 Michael Curry

The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles – the Story Behind the Short Story

Announcing my first frenetic foray into fiction

I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid in grade school. I love writing as much as I love reading but getting my stories published has always been frustrating.

Alas, I am writing in an age where fewer and fewer publishers are … publishing.  Were that this be the early twentieth century when newsstands were lined with magazine after magazine filled with fiction of every genre in all their pulpy goodness!

Those days are gone, but now cyberspace has replaced the old newsstand. You can still read stories of any genre and of any length online.

I have published three books online with some success. Regular readers know the titles by heart as I hype them with the frequency of a carnival barker: Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption, Toddler TV and The Brave & the Bold: from Silent Knight to Dark Knight. All non-fiction.

I have not published any fiction – novels, novelettes or short stories.  Until now!

(trumpet fanfare)

JFK Beatles moptops'

“The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles” is a short story (just over 5000 words) available through Amazon.

Wait, you say, John F Kennedy never met the Beatles. True.

All fiction starts with “What if…?”  What if elves and dragons were real? What if man could sail among the stars? What if vampires and zombies roamed the earth? What if three penniless sisters move to Kent, England during the Regency Period and experience love, romance, sense and …

What if Kennedy had lived? Either by surviving the assassination or by it not having occurred at all? What if he lived to see Beatlemania invade American shores? What if he asked them to perform at the White House?

Why would he ask them? Would the Beatles and their management agree? Would they say, “Stuff it”?

 

As a history buff, my recycling bin is filled with issues of History Channel Magazine (now defunct), Colonial Williamsburg Magazine (name and format now changed), Smithsonian Magazine and Renaissance Magazine.

I wrote “The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles” as if it came from such a magazine. It is very fact-driven – even with faux-footnotes.  Remember the old writing trope “show don’t tell”?  This is filled to the brim with “tells”. Think of it as a piece of fiction that thinks it is a piece of non-fiction.

And I like it! But then I say that about everything I’ve written.

But it’s true – I do like this story! It’s the kind of piece I would enjoy reading. I loved doing the research on the Beatles’ history and melding them with a fictional history of Kennedy’s second term.

I’ve also included quotes from the involved parties. Sometimes it was hard getting the voice correct – but I think I succeeded. I am particularly pleased with the quotes from George Reedy (LBJ’s advisor) and the humor in the press conference (“Did you vote for Kennedy?” Lennon: “I didn’t even vote for the queen.”)

I hope you enjoy it. Look for it on Amazon. It is available for viewing on Kindle and only costs $0.99.  You can enjoy it at lunchtime, before bed, or as one of many stories you can enjoy during a lazy summer.

Kennedy meets the Beatles

Here is the link to the short story available through Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Day-John-Kennedy-Met-Beatles-ebook/dp/B01HQQ7F8K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467304185&sr=8-1&keywords=beatles+kennedy+curry#nav-subnav

More fiction to come!

 

Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

A Night of the Most Excellent Order – a review of “The Beatles – a Night that Changed America, a Grammy Salute

A Night of the Most Excellent Order
A review of “The Beatles – a Night that Changed America, a Grammy Salute”.
            Popular music and I have not said a kind word to each other in over twenty years. That is why, up until the afternoon of February 9, 2014, I had no plans to watch the CBS Special “The Beatles – a Night that Changed America, a Grammy Salute”. It was taped some weeks ago, but it aired 50 years to the day – to the hour – that the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. It was the most-watched television program up to that time.
            Reading through the list of scheduled performers – the ones hyped, that is – was akin to reading “Entertainment Weekly”. Page after page of people I don’t know starring in TV shows and movies I don’t care to see. The only group I had heard of was the reunion of The Eurythmics. Oh joy. A combo I didn’t like 30 years ago are reuniting so I can dislike them all over again.
            But it was necessary to get the public to pry themselves away from reality shows to watch musicians play songs from fifty years before.
            It wasn’t until previews were available on Youtube that I decided to watch it. Well, Tivo it. Stevie Wonder performed. Okay, so it’s not just “American Idol” rejects wailing their way through the Beatle catalog. There was some talent involved.
            Fortunately, instead of a parade of the latest talent-less celebrities known more for their tongue and twerks, we saw some fine performances!
           
            And it was a great show! The performers – all of them – did an excellent job! The bits in between the songs were of more interest to me, but I was not disappointed by the performances. The ones I knew, the ones I only heard of and the ones I never heard of – all did superbly. I have no desire to run out and get their latest albums, but …
            I had to look up the spelling of some of the performers on Google, I apologize if I didn’t get them right…
            The show started with the original intro tag. Coming up next on the “The Ed Sullivan Show” … a great way to start it.
            LL Cool J gave us an introduction to the reason for the special and introduced a clip from the “The Ed Sullivan Show” – the Beatles performing “All My Loving”. It segued into Maroon 5 finishing the song and they then performed “Ticket to Ride”.
            Throughout the show shots of audience members peppered the performances. Mostly they concentrated on Paul and Ringo and their wives in the front row; but occasionally we saw Yoko and Sean and George’s widow Olivia as well as other stars. I only recognized a few of them.
            Next came Stevie Wonder with his hit “We Can Work It Out”. Rumor is he did it twice because he did not like the first take. “Fire me, sue me,” he told the audience. It’s Stevie Wonder. He could have done a dozen more…
            And now we get to see the house band – Peter Frampton doing his usual excellent guitar work. He was an uncredited guitarist on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” album. Steve Lukather, a touring member of Ringo’s All Starr Band also played guitar excellently. Had he played this well with Toto they might not have sucked. Kenny Aaronson played thunderous drums. He played with everyone – EVERYONE – in the 1980s and I know him from the woefully underappreciated album “HSAS” with Sammy Hagar and Neil Schon. The director apparently loved Kenny too – they cut to him playing every six seconds or so.
            Johnny Depp introduced the song “Something” performed by rock veterans Joe Walsh and Jeff Lynne. They were joined by George’s son Dhani. It was the only stage appearance by a Beatle-spawn. Sean Lennon was in the audience but did not perform. Why didn’t he?
            Eric Idle appeared next, reprising his role as the narrator/TV journalist from his “Rutles” specials. They gave his character a name – Nigel Spasm (although his name was never given in the original Rutles programs). He mentioned the Rutles performing that night 50 years ago. He was hilarious.
            He introduced (and narrated) short biographies of the Beatles beginning with John Lennon. John’s was the most effective. It ended with the death of his mother and the line “… the love of music his mother shared … would … transport him our of Liverpool and across the universe.” Lovely.
            Why did they decide to colorize part of the black and white photos in these biographies? We the People do not need big, bright and loud colors to keep our attention; we can handle black and white photos, thank you. Treat us like adults and we will start acting like adults. Deal?
            Next began a series of excellent, excellent, walk-throughs and interviews with Paul, Ringo and David Letterman. They discussed the studio, the set list, their choice of name, etc. It was usually done after the commercial break and was one of the highlights of the show.
            Some of my favorite bits throughout were interviews from women (girls) who were in the audience 50 years before. This was peppered with Ed Sullivan performances of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”
            Kate Beckinsale (someone who starred in movies I’ve not seen) introduced Ed Sheeran (a singer I’ve never heard of) doing “In My Life”. He did an excellent job! Wonderful guitar work – I’d like to learn his version of this song (which was performed at my wedding).
            More audience shots. Ah, I recognize someone – Tom Hanks! Tom Hanks was in an audience that had camera shots and this was the first time he managed to get his mug in front one? Wow.
            They showed a clip from “Let It Be”. They got the rights to show a clip from “Let It Be”. This is akin to showing footage of Bigfoot. It was the rooftop concert version of “Don’t Bring Me Down”.
            In the middle of the song it segued into two singers named John Mayer and Keith Urban singing the song (ala “All My Loving” at the beginning of the show). They cut off a clip of “Let It Be”. THEY CUT OFF A CLIP OF “LET IT BE”. To use the previous analogy – is would be the same as showing ten seconds of authenticated proof of Bigfoot then airing a bit from “Harry and the Hendersons”.
            Katy Perry managed to cover her cleavage long enough to sing “Yesterday”. There was some controversy when she changed the lyrics by switching gender (“I’m not half the girl I used to be”). Oh, get over it. Happens all the time. That is no controversy; leave her alone. 
            Then came the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan performance of “She Loves You”.
            An aside: strange that the two songs most associated with the Beatles – not the most popular but the most iconic – “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” are the two least-covered songs in their repertoire. They did not cut away to anyone “taking over” “She Loves You” from the Ed Sullivan clip – whereas they did twice earlier in the show.
            At this point, and peppered throughout the rest of the show, were my favorite bits. Interviews with the crew of the “Ed Sullivan Show” on that day 50 years ago. Bill Bohnert, art director/set designer, John Moffett, associate director, and Vince Calandra Sr, production assistant and George’s stand-in during rehearsal were interviewed about their work on the show that day and during rehearsals. Bill tells the story that Paul said, “We’ve always wanted to do ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’.”  Funny, not a half-hour ago Paul said they had never heard of “The Ed Sullivan Show” until they were booked on it. No one else seemed to care …
            There was a moving story of John Lennon’s awe at standing in the same spot as Buddy Holly when he did Sullivan a few years before.
            LL Cool J introduced the song “Revolution” performed by Imagine Dragons. “What!?” says I. “The kid’s band? Disney’s version of the Wiggles?”  No, that was Imagination Movers – this is Imagine Dragon. They did a very good acoustic version of the song.
            Dave Grohl was next. He was in the Foo Fighters and Nirvana with Kurt “what a weird bong” Cobain. He gave a moving tribute, saying his mother had always been a fan of the Beatles; saying his daughter is a fan of the Beatles; and lying about HE always being a fan of the Beatles. I recall 22 years ago he and his fellow grungy ilk saying they don’t like music by dead people.
            They stopped saying that when Cobain showed us what his brains looked like.
            I guess being invited to a Beatles tribute helped his love of the group along a bit.
            That being said, he and Jeff Lynne did a superb version of one of the Beatles’ best and least-known songs. “Hey Bulldog”.
            Back to Kate Beckinsale introducing The Eurythmics. There is no “The” in their official name. When they were popular they insisted that DJs NOT call them The Eurythmics, just Eurythmics.
            So THE Eurythmics played “Fool on the Hill”. I said that correctly – they PLAYED “Fool on the Hill”. If you recall The Eurythmics were a purely electronic band; all computerized. Yet, when they performed they had drums, back-up singers and guitars. “If they were true to their art,” I said on the radio back in 1985 or so, “they would set up a computer on stage, put in a floppy disk, press play and tell the audience to enjoy the show.”
            Annie Lennox has a lovely voice and is a powerful singer, but I’ve never liked it personally – oil to my water. Dave Stewart was once in a band in the 1970s called Longdancer. It was an EXCELLENT group. And some of his post-The Eurythmics bands harkens back to those rock ‘n roll days. So The Eurythmics reunite. From the hype you’d think this was the highlight of the show. It wasn’t. It was GOOD, mind you, but not the highlight of the show.
            Alicia Keys andf John Legend gave testimonials and then gave their rendition of “Let It Be”.  I had heard of them both but never heard their music. I only knew of John Legend when I would joke about (ironically) him being in the Beatles with Paul McKenzie.
            John Legend has an excellent voice! Alicia Keys … well, it’s like the issue I have with anyone – ANYONE – on “American Idol”. I would have more respect for her talent if she could sustain a solid note for more than two seconds. Was someone shaking her seat or does she cover the entire musical scale with every note?
            More bits with audience members and crew members. Here they included reminiscings from Mitzie McCall and Charlie Brill – a comedy duo who also performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” that night! I wanted more of this – I wanted to know who else was on the show as well as what else was on that night? What did NBC and ABC air? This show’s main focus was on the Beatles, true, but it was also focused on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, too. I have the Beatles’ appearances on Sullivan on DVD, so I know who else was on the show, but a few clips of the other performers wouldn’t have taken up much time.
            Actress Anna Kendrick, who starred in movies and TV shows I’ve never seen, introduced the song “Here Comes the Sun” and gave us a history of its writing. Would it have violated some law to mention it was a hit for Richie Havens, who died last year? Pharrell Williams and Brad Paisley, whom I have not heard of, performed the song with members of Cirque du Freaks, er, Soleil pole dancing above them. Other members of the circus troupe sat in front of them holding dolls. This circus troupe is popular why?
            Gary Clark Jr., Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh did a rousing rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. A fun moment was the camera cutting away to Ringo who was miming Grohls’s drums. I love Joe Walsh. He is an excellent guitar player and even shared some vocals here (not his strongpoint one must admit). He, as well as the other two, was wonderful, but … would it have been so hard to get Clapton? Really?
            Jeff Bridges gave a wonderful testimonial and introduced Ringo. Ringo then made us forget the past hour and a half and stole the show. He perfomed “Matchbox”, “Boys” and got the audience involved in “Yellow Submarine”. Musically, it was the highlight of the show. And kudos to Ringo for introducing at least one member of the house band – sometimes All-Starr Peter Frampton. Ringo gave a shout-out to Grohl and his daughter. You could tell Ringo was impressed with his drumming.
            Sean Penn, who is looking more and more like DeNiro, introduced Paul McCartney. After Ringo’s funfest this seemed almost anti-climactic. Paul went through rote versions of “Birthday”, “Get Back” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. The house band left and Paul performed with his group. By now Paul could do these songs in his sleep. He nearly did. Too bad. He had nothing to prove, true, but it was almost as if we were supposed to enjoy McCartney being McCartney and not enjoying his performance.
            Case in point: Paul did “Sgt. Pepper”. He would have been forgiven if he changed the lyrics to “50 years ago today…” The press would get on Kate Perry but not HIM. Just before Ringo joined him onstage, Paul sang “Billy Shears”. He could have said “Ringo Starr”. The audience would have loved it. I would have loved it! To me this shows how Paul was going through the motions rather than relishing the moment.
            Paul and Ringo have only performed together (post-Beatles) once in 2010. So their “With a Little Help From My Friends” was momentous and fun. Ringo brought back the enthusiasm he apparently took with him from his previous set.
            For the finale, “Hey Jude” they were joined by the house band and the other performers and producers.
            Yoko, Sean and Olivia never took the stage. I think that was a wise move. They would have been given a standing ovation, to be sure. But they were there to honor their husbands and father.
            It was a wonderful program and I enjoyed it very much. Probably not enough to rush out to get the DVD, but I liked it and was glad I saw it.
            I did have some problems with it: as I said earlier, this was about the Beatles, but there was enough about “The Ed Sullivan Show” to wonder why they didn’t talk about who else was on that “America-changing” day” Why not show a clip of Frank Gorshin’s hilarious stand-up from that night? Or a bit from Sophie Tucker?
            Would it have hurt to have Mickey Dolenz give a two-minute tribute to fellow-Monkee Davy Jones? He was on the show too that night, doing a song from “Oliver” as the Artful Dodger.
            Also, perhaps after two-and-a-half hours the powers-that-be were afraid We the People would not have the attention-span for another 50 minutes; but why not SHOW the entire Ed Sullivan program from February 9, 1964. It couldn’t have been a question of acquiring the rights – they showed a clip from “Let It Be” for god’s sake!
            And where the hell was George Martin?
Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 
 
             

 

 


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A review of The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2

 A review of The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2
 
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});             I received “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” for my birthday. While listening to it I kept thinking about a quote from Roy Carr and Tony Tyler’s excellent “The Beatles, An Illustrated Record” – my copy from 1981. They were critiquing “Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl” and said (I am paraphrasing) – “The Hamburg Tapes” show the Beatles live at their beginning, “Let It Be” shows the band live at their end, but “…Hollywood Bowl” shows them in their glorious middle”.
            The awkwardly-titled “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” also shows them in their glorious middle. At the beginning of their middle, so to speak.
            Most of the tracks aired on the BBC from 1963-1965. I prefer the earlier songs. This was when the Fabs just hit their popularity. Fame and fortune was still new and exciting. They were yet to be labeled “the greatest British composers since Schubert”. The mania was in full swing, but the hurricane had yet to reach Category-Five.
            John Lennon said by the time they reached the USthey were pros and already tired of it all. They weren’t musicians they were pop stars. They enjoyed the taste of fame but didn’t like gorging on it. In an interview on the disks, George Harrison says he was the first to get tired of people asking him the color of his eyes or what he drank at breakfast.
            “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” was in the midst of all that. The best and the worst of Beatlemania.
            “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” shows the musicianship of that glorious middle without the mania – when the Beatles were still enjoying being the Beatles.
            Both Volumes contain songs and banter from the various BBC programs from 1963-1965 – including “Saturday Club” and Beatles specials (“Pop Go the Beatles” for example).
            Only a few of the tracks are performed live in front of a screaming audience. But the rest are studio tracks recorded at the BBC per their regulations. In such shows the Fabs could not simply hand the producers their albums to play. Songs had to be recorded for their specific programs.
            Now we would call it “studio live”. The Beatles may have done many takes of their songs, but each one was done in one take and the best picked to be aired during the BBC specials.
            In other words, these were studio live cuts of their hits – without overdubs, without vocal or music effects. Do You Want to Know a Secret without the reverberated introduction. There’s a Place without the harp/harmonica. These different arrangements highlight their musicianship. I’ll discuss that shortly
            They recorded 88 songs for these BBC shows – all either studio live or live before an audience. 36 of these songs were never recorded in their official (EMI/Capital) catalogue.  
            Most of the non-EMI songs were on Volume 1 – here we have only two that have never been officially released – (1) the standard Beautiful Dreamer – a rocked out version of the ballad recorded before an audience but with awful sound quality; comparable to the Hamburg live tapes. Pity – such a rare track and it sounds as if it were recorded through a fish tank; and (2) the Chuck Berry Rocker Talkin’ Bout You.
            Other rarities include different versions of Hippy Hippy Shake, Sure to Fall, and Lend Me Your Comb – which sounds uncannily like Wake Up Little Susie in places – already released on Volume One.
            And there is a version of “Happy Birthday”. Happy Birthday to you! Now I don’t have to ever play Birthday from the White Album – one of the most overplayed of their third-tiered tunes – again! Oh thank you, BBC, thank you and it’s. about. time. … 
***
            This is where the studio live performances make me enjoy the volumes so much: Songs I have been listening to for (literally) my 49 years on this planet are done differently – even if it is only a difference in the mixing. We hear Paul’s bass much more prominently in most songs. Ringo’s drumming is excellent throughout (and isn’t it time we finally put to bed the critiquing of Ringo’s ability. He’s a good drummer! Accept it!).
            When the initial giddiness of listening to the disks for a few times wears off, I will start rearranging the tracks in the following way:
            I’d like to arrange the tracks from Volumes 1 & 2 in the order of their album releases: in other words, take the song order from “Please Please Me” (their first album) and listen to their BBC versions in the same order. I Saw Her Standing There, then Misery, etc…
            I’ll bet the difference is staggering. In the EMI album “Please Please Me” we have four scared kids from the North going to London on New Year’s Day and nervously recording an album.  The BBC versions will let us hear professionals who are at the top of their craft.
            Perhaps the only disappointment will be Twist and Shout.  In his famous interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon groused about the song ruining his voice during the “Please Please Me” sessions. He said he never recovered the full power of his voice after that. Of course, keep that in perspective: during those interviews he was more bitter over the Beatles than Pete Best was.
            Then I can reconstruct their second album, “Meet the Beatles” with these BBC tracks. And to an extent their movie soundtracks and on until 1965 or so. “New” arrangements of all their songs done studio live at the peak of their musical prowess as a group – as a group, mind you – not as individual musical maestros who happen to share an album – which began with “Rubber Soul” on through “Let It Be”.  With a few exceptions most of the Beatles songs after that were individual efforts, not collaborations.  And even some of those only consisted of adding a line or two. Keep in mind that by “The Beatles” (the White album) they hadn’t even liked each other all that much. Such discord is no where – no where – to be found on these disks.
            On “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2”, they were still good mates and, as John Lennon correctly said in 1980, they were “the best fucking group in the goddamned world”.
***
            The banter in between is pretty banal. McCartney admits so in the liner notes. The hosts were the usual BBC announcers for such things and you could tell how square they were, man.
            The in-between-song bits usually consisted of the Beatles reading fan mail and requests – usually followed by the song itself. “Rita and Freda from West Hempstead love Ringo and think he’s gear and want to hear a song from him. So, here’s Ringo coming out from behind the drum kit to sing … Boys!”
            “And now it’s time for the lads to unshackle themselves as they sing Chains!”  You can almost see Lennon and Harrison look at each other and roll their eyes.
            The banter between the announcer and the band is scripted, although some of it sounds ad-libbed. John jokes about his going to college only to be called a “college pudding” and “posh” by Ringo. I can’t think of a more stinging insult to lob at Lennon. But everyone laughed, Lennon heartiest of all. Such genuine bits of humor are rare and I wish there were more of it.
            What makes up for the lack of non-scripted bits between the shows are interview segments with the four Beatles recorded individually in 1966 or so. Each of the segments are eight minutes plus and contain quiet and candid interviews. John talks about what kind of schooling he wants for his son/ He is hesitant to talk about politics and where he stands on certain issues. Quite a contrast to three years later when you couldn’t get him to shut up about it. George talks about his teen years in school and why he considers himself the Silent (not Quiet) Beatle. These interviews are the best part of the disk.
            Volume One was forgotten quickly, being released so shortly before the “Anthology” series because of the latter’s sheer volume of rare and then-unreleased tracks. “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” led me back to the first volume and I enjoyed it more than I had since its first release.
            Are there going to be Volumes Three and Four? More? I would like to hope so, but no, I doubt it.  The bulk of the 88 tracks have been mined in these first two volumes. There are 40 tracks in this Volume – so what does that leave? A disk of remaining banter would get dull very quickly. Were there guests on these shows? Do we really want to buy a Volume 3 with tracks by Billy J Kramer and Joe Brown (actually I would buy that…)?  I’m not going to worry about that now.
            I have four disks of excellent music from the Beatles’ glorious middle – all done studio live with interesting variations in arrangement and styling. I’ll enjoy those in the meantime.
            I hope you do too.
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry


 

CELEBRATING JOHN LENNON’S BIRTHDAY FAQs

CELEBRATING JOHN LENNON’S BIRTHDAY FAQs

            Today is October 9th, John (and Sean) Lennon’s birthday. I’ve been celebrating this most holy of days for many decades now and am asked many questions as to the proper way to celebrate it. I have compiled a list of questions accumulated through the years.
 
How should we decorate the house?
               I deck the halls with old album covers, photographs and sketches. You can find these cheaply enough at antique stores and ebay. Sketches can be found all through the internet – and you can print them out and use them for free as long as you don’t try to sell it yourself. You should at least print or type the name of the artist on the drawings.
               I dedicate a space in the house for John’s own drawings.
               I line the fireplace mantel with Beatle and Lennon paraphernalia (dolls, figurines, etc.).
               Over the years I have collected Beatle ornaments released during that winter birth-of-Mithras holiday and put them on my Lennon tree.
 
Speaking of the Lennon tree: spruce or pine?
               Who cares?
 
Do you do anything special on Lennon’s Birthday Eve?
               Other than preparing for the following day, there are no special celebrations for Lennon’s Birthday Eve. Now that I am a father, though, I can’t wait to help my daughter set a Whopper and a Brandy Alexander in front of the fireplace to await Lennon’s midnight arrival!
 
What kind of presents do you give?
               Anything at all! But I like to stay with the reason for the season – Julian Lennon has a new album out. So does Yoko. I’m hoping to get something saying “Beatles Live at the BBC Volume 2” has been pre-ordered! Lithographs and t-shirts are always available.
 
What do you do during the day itself?
               After presents we do what Lennon loved doing during his house-husband days – plopping in front of the TV. We usually run “2001 A Space Odyssey” a few times. John said it should be played in a temple 24-hours per day.
               We bake bread just like Lennon did and eat a nice macrobiotic lunch – rice and fish mostly. For dinner we go to or bring home Whoppers from Burger King. He loved Whoppers. He also loved chocolate bars. So we keep plenty of those on hand.
 
When playing music to celebrate, is it okay to listen to … um … solo McCartney?
               We’re not orthodox Lennians, so solo McCartney, Starr and Harrison are played at our house. We even play albums Lennon produced or wrote for and other artists doing his songs.
               Be careful to respect the beliefs of others though, if you bring Harry Nilsson’s “Pussycats” to a friend’s house and he asks you to keep it in the car, please do so. Probably for the best regardless…
 
What about the Lennon sisters?
               Don’t be a smart ass.
 
But … Yoko? I mean … Yoko!?
               Oh once and for all, get over it for god’s sake. Did you know she has had some huge hit singles on the dance charts over the years? It’s true! And Julian has made a name for himself more as a photographer than a musician!
 
What do you do the next day?
               That is for taking down the tree and decorations. A melancholy time. BUT if you use that time to also put up your Halloween decorations, you can get two birds with one stone, so to speak. Remember the old adage – “when life gives you lemons, eat the damn lemons!”
 
Are these really questions frequently asked by others or did you just pull them out of your ass?
               Shut up.
***
 John_Lennon__Cartoon_by_SheerFrost22
               So there you have it, have a wonderful John Lennon’s Birthday! Give Peace a Chance! Imagine There’s No Heaven! Ah b’wakawa pousse pousse!
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

Michael Curry is a life-long Beatles fan and has written the short story “The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles”, available here on Amazon Kindle.

 

GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Part Three)

GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Part Three)
Somewhere in England album (1981): The murder of John Lennon brought out musical tributes from Elton John to Molly Hatchet. George was especially hit by John’s death — George continually thought he would be the next Beatle to be murdered. In a sense he was correct (remember also that he was nearly killed by a crazed assassin on December 31, 1999, were thoughts of John going through his mind?). Lennon’s death also inspired some fine songs from George.
Most notably “All Those Years Ago.” Featuring Paul & Ringo, it is a loving ode to a missing older brother. Other songs also gently reflect these sentiments (“Life Itself”, “Teardrops” —an almost Elton John-like ditty, “Writings on the Wall”). “That Which I Have Lost” and “Save the World” have similar sentiment: what have we become? Wake up and smell the ozone!
George gives tribute to his beloved Hoagy Carmichael by performing two of his songs, “Baltimore Oriole” and “Hong Kong Blues”. Unfortunately, neither are that – memorable.
Gone Troppo album (1982). This was the worst selling of all of George’s albums. It did so poorly, that he quit the industry to concentrate on his film company. Too bad, although by now George’s music is an acquired taste, this contains some of his nicest songs. His sense of humor abounds: “Gone Troppo” is a cute calypso, “Wake Up My Love” is a fast-paced organ-based rocker. The finest song on the album is “That’s the Way it Goes”, a sad song with a nice steady beat once again decrying our materialistic world. He still preaches, but with a lighter hand.
Then there is the terminally weird “Greece“. Strange sounding song, almost an out-take. Too bad it’s so damn catchy.
“I Don’t Want To Do It” single (1985): George comes out of retirement quietly for this song from the soundtrack for, of all movies, Porky’s III. It is later featured in Harrison‘s Handmade Films production, “Nuns on the Run”, that features other Harrisongs.
The song was written by Dylan and produced by Dave Edmunds, a successful British rocker in the 1970s, and fits in with other 1950’s tinged songs (including Jeff Beck’s masterful rework of “Sleepwalk” — what if George performed that instead!). It was a great song and could have been the basis for a good album, but George probably recorded it as a favor for a friend. He would shortly after this get together with another successful British rocker from the 1970s…
 
Cloud Nine album (1987). George’s most successful album since All Things…, and produced his first #1 hit in 13 years with “Got My Mind Set on You” (another remake of an early 60’s tune — see George? There’s nothing wrong with your doing remakes). This album was produced by ELO leader and besotted Beatle worshipper Jeff Lynne. Guest musicians abound, but the album is all Harrison — “Devil’s Radio” is a fun lark, and “When We Was Fab” is a more fun re-working of “All Those Years Ago”.
This was a fun time to be a George Harrison fan — he did interviews with Rolling Stone, Guitar World, etc. He had made peace with his Beatle past and seemed to be on the air and in print everywhere.
One photo inside the album shows George sitting with Ringo, Clapton and Elton John sitting on a couch. How’s that for houseguests?
Traveling Wilburys album (1988). The story is thus: Legends of Rock George, Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne all ran around in the same circles. When George and Jeff were writing tunes together, they decided Orbison might enjoy singing one of them. Dylan came by and brought Petty along in his carryall. They decided on a lark to record some songs together. These five together on one album — the Justice Society of rock music!
The success of this album gave all of them renewed leases on their careers. Dylan and Petty especially were facing lags at the time; for George and Jeff this was a tasty follow-up to Cloud 9; and Orbison finally received the world-wide adulation he deserved — releasing a hit album and being inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame back when that mattered.
Generally whoever performed the song wrote it. Joint collaborations include the unbelievably catchy “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line”. “Heading for the Light” is George’s, a wonderfully upbeat life-affirming song. Guess what? These geezers show that rock and roll can still be fun.
This was the last vinyl album I purchased.
Traveling Wilburys Volume IIIalbum (1990): Roy Orbison died in the middle of the Wilbury success. Oddly, the remaining “members” did something each rarely ever did — acquiesce to corporate pressure! The remaining four decided to put out another album of unmemorable songs. This time the collaboration didn’t work, maybe that was intended. “Cool Dry Place” was memorable – whereas the rest of the album was not, “Wilbury Twist” was another oddity.
“Nobody’s Child” track from Romanian Angel Appeal (1990). A track from the CD Nobody’s Child, this time a charity album for Romanian orphans after the fall of its communist government. George’s wife, Olivia, put the album together, so naturally George participated, bringing the three surviving Wilburys along. Another remake — George sang this in 1961 with the Beatles when they performed as the backup group with Tony Sheridan. George’s announcement that “… this was an old Beatle song …” was somewhat misleading.
The song is wonderful fun, with Jeff Lynne yodeling the chorus and Dylan whining the middle eight. George and Tom Petty each take a verse,
This, along with Wilburys Volume III represent George’s sole output of new material in the 1990s.
Live in Japan (1992): With Clapton in tow, George performs songs ranging his entire career (with emphasis on his then-recently-release Cloud 9). Highlights include “I Want to Tell You”, “If I Needed Someone”, “Something”, “My Sweet Lord”. The audience’s howl of delight at the beginning of Clapton’s guitar solo during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” will bring a shiver down your spine.
“Lead a Horse to Water” single (2001).  George wrote this for ex-Squeeze member Jools Holland and is a good song. Much like the song “Brainwashed”, it is a scathing indictment of the human condition. Why can’t you see the glory in front of you instead of wallowing in the material?  Unfortunately, but for his death, it would have gone unnoticed to all but his die-hard fans.
No, that’s not fair. But for his cancer, George may have continued putting out albums in the late 1990s — especially with the popularity of the Beatles’ Anthology collection. On Anthology Volumes I & II, he performed with Paul & Ringo on two Lennon demos. These songs were cleaned up, added to and re-recorded with the help of Jeff Lynne and George Martin; then presented as “new” Beatle songs. For the first ttme ever George got to share a verse with Lennon and McCartney on a Beatle song. The circle was complete.
The Beatles releases in the 1990s gave us some nice Harrison performances. The Live at the BBC album (1994) had George performing “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” and “Roll Over Beethoven”. The Anthology (1995) had more: Volume I had “Three Cool Cats” and “The Sheik of Araby” from the famed Decca audition tapes. Volume II had interesting alternate versions of “Taxman”, “Only a Northern Song” and “Within You Without You”. Volume III had acoustic versions of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and early versions of “For You Blue”, “All Things Must Pass”, “Old Brown Shoe”, “Something”, “I Me Mine”, and “Not Guilty” (from 1969 — George wouldn’t record it formally until 1979).
Brainwashed album (2002), released posthumously. George laid the tracks and recorded his thoughts on how to produce the album – “a guitar here, horns in this bit” – and left it to his son Dhani and Jeff Lynne to finish it after he had gone. It was his best album in many years.
It was almost a perspective of the last 20 years: “Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)” could have been a Wilbury song. “Never Get Over You” and “Rising Sun” would have fit nicely on “Somewhere …” or “Gone Troppo”.
“Between the Devil and the DeepBlueSea” showcases his love for old tunes. It is the best thing on an excellent album. I dare you to listen to it and not still hum it later that day.
The opening track “Any Road” is quite fun and upbeat – with his ukulele prominent in the mix. It doesn’t sound like it would fit on a previous Harrison album. Perhaps it would have been a new direction.
No discography of George Harrison would be complete without a reminder that he co-wrote with Clapton the excellent Cream song “Badge”.
During his career George did write and perform with other artists: Ron Wood, Billy Preston, Ronnie Spector, Badfinger, Jesse Ed Davis, Gary Wright, Alvin Lee, etc. Mostly though he worked with artists he signed to his own label, most of whom wouldn’t qualify for a “where are they now” article (Scaffold, Jackie Lomax, Doris Troy, David Bromberg). Perhaps for fear of being overshadowed by a Beatle, Harrison was not that much in demand.
Does George have unreleased tracks hidden in a recording studio? Undoubtedly. Will it ever be released? Undoubtedly (… check YouTube for his version of Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy”…). Such an album’s success depends not only on cleaning up the material and whether or not to add new backing tracks, but also on George at the time he recorded them. Personally, I can’t wait to hear it.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Part Two)

GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Part Two)
SOLO GEORGE: George only released three tracks that did not appear on a Harrisonalbum (greatest hits compilations aside), all listed below. By this time rock artists had stopped releasing singles other than to promote the album on which it was pulled. I’ve avoided his two Greatest Hits, as there was no new material on either. Let’s get his first two albums over with quickly.
Wonderwall Music(1968): After George’s dalliance with Indian music after “The Inner Light” he decided to do an entire album of it. This was the second solo work by a Beatle (the first being McCartney’s “The Family Way”). Like McCartney’s, this was a soundtrack album. And like McCartney’s, wasn’t very good.
              The only thing keeping this album from total obscurity release was its Beatle connection. For good Indian music, wait a few years when George co-produces some albums with Ravi Shankar!
  This was the first album released on the Beatle’s Apple label,
              Electronic Sounds (1969): The Beatles formed a second label called Zapple that would include more avant-garde recordings. Nowadays this album would be called electronic new age mood music. Back then they called it crap. “Deep space static” was one of the kinder reviews.
               All Things Must Pass(1970): Much better. George is finally out of the Lennon-McCartney shadow and we can all see what he is capable of. He releases a telling three-album set to show the world (and his band mates) the floodgates have opened.
               Guests abound: Badfinger, Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Ringo, Yes’ Alan White, Cream’s Ginger Baker, Billy Preston, Peter Frampton, and members of Derek and the Dominoes and Procol Harum. When George throws a party, everyone attends.
               The music is nearly perfect: the most famous track being “My Sweet Lord”, a Krishna Mantra made into a catchy jingle. George does a wonderful job in the writing and music. You might say he’s so fine.
               “What Is Life?” is the other big single from the album. Like “Something”, George searches for a way to express his love. This time it’s on a cosmic scale, asking “What is life without you?” In this case he means God, but it applies to anyone you truly love.
               The other songs are less known but just as wonderful: “I’d Have You Anytime” is a co-written with Bob Dylan (who at the time rarely shared writing credits). “Wah — Wah” is a guitar jam (considering the talent on board that’s saying something1).  “Isn’t It a Pity” is a gentle Beatle slam, with “Hey Jude” Na-na-na-na chorus echoing throughout in case you missed the point. Actually, the lyrics are quite sad (“Isn’t it a pity, isn’t it a shame, how we break each other’s hearts and cause each other pain”) “The Lord is Awaiting on You All” is a rolling fun tune, much better than his later proselytizing.
            “Bangladesh” single (1971): Nowadays charity concerts to help the needy is nearly expected of musicians, but George was the first. He wrote and recorded this single to help the starving people of Bangladesh. It’s a good rock tune that chugs along nicely and was meant to raise money, not be a rock classic.
The Concert for Bangladeshalbum (1972): Although Dylan’s acoustic side is the highlight of the album, George plays some fine live tunes, including an acoustic version of “Here Comes the Sun”.
             Living in the Material Worldalbum (1973): George is so involved in his religious beliefs that he can’t help but have it reflect in his songs. Unfortunately, this album seems one long attempt to convert us all. An exception is “Sue Me Sue You Blues”, another Beatle-basher; the lyrics are strange accompanied by the jaunty musicianship — somehow it works.
              The single “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” still gets airplay and is a lovely song. It moves along sweetly and the sentiment is kind and benevolent. Too bad the rest of the songs on the album sound like a sermon. A boring one at that …
              Dark Horse album (1974): the nadir of George’s career. Despite some good songs like the title track — George’s voice is so hoarse from practicing for his up-coming tour that it’s almost hard to recognize him. The gruff flintiness of his voice fits the lyrics and the guitar playing is wonderful. A flute plays between the lines of lyrics like paper in the wind, adding an almost hippie-dippie feel (I mean that in a nice way).
The album also features George’s only Christmas song (“Ding Dong Ding Dong”), although it is a fairly mediocre attempt (on par with McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” — nice song, pretty sentiment, but almost instantly forgettable).
              The rest of the album is more attempts to raise our Krishna Conscienceness. Not as bad as a Jimmy Swaggart sermon, but the sentiment is the same.
              It took George nearly fifteen years to recover from this album. No other album until “Cloud 9” had the advertising support that his first three had.
Extra Texture(Read All About It)  album (1975). George tries to lighten up. Unfortunately, by this time most people had stopped listening. Too bad, it’s a good album. “You” is a plaintive love cry combined with a rocking good beat. This was originally recorded for Ronnie Spector and George simply recorded his vocals over her arrangement.  “The Answer’s At the End” is a good slow sad song (especially since his death — I wonder if he found the answer?). The purpose of “This Guitar Can’t Keep from Crying” is obvious.
“Tired of Midnight Blue” is an interesting song that flows from a hidden funky beat to a slow 6/8 chorus.
The album concludes with “Ladies & Gentlemen” featuring “Larry” Legs Smith from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. It is supposed to be a silly romp filled with spoken quips ala Crosby-Mercer. It was lost a bit in the mix and wasn’t all that funny.
George never seemed too interested in the packaging of his albums with this album as the exception – the album was textured like that of an orange and the lettering was cut out showing a hidden photo on the sleeve.  Pulling the sleeve out reveals a grinning George with the caption “Ohnothimagain” – very much in the vein of George’s humor and shows the listener this might not be as heavy-handed as his previous works. It isn’t, but then most of the songs are only slightly more memorable.
33 and 1/3 album (1976). Forget the last three albums. If we had, this would have been classic. Masterful musicianship throughout, wonderful lyrics.
Cole Porter’s “True Love” is a highlight — why has George been so reluctant to record other people’s songs? Was it because he was forced to as a Beatle?
His sense of humor is rife in the album — “CrackerboxPalace” (the hit single) is a fun and sweet song that softly moves along, a very catchy tune. “This Song” pokes fun at his recent plagiarism lawsuit for “My Sweet Lord”, features Michael Palin as comic relief.
            George alternates between sweet love songs (“Beautiful Girl”) and slow rockers (“Woman Don’t You Cry for Me”, “Pure Smokey”, “It’s What You Value”). Don’t blame George for being too mellow, punk was still two years away and we were in the beginnings of disco.
George Harrison album (1979). My favorite Harrison album. The beat here continues to be steady and easy with the exception of the inspiring “If You Believe” (“…everything you thought is possible …”). That’s not to say this album sounds like The Captain and Tennille singing with Up With People, but it is a lovely flowing album. Its mood is relaxed — George is back and sure of himself and his writing ability. “Love Comes to Everyone” features Clapton and Steve Winwood. “Blow Away” teaches us that anything bad can be conquered with love (“…all I’ve got to do is to love you, all I’ve got to be is to be happy, all it’s got to take is some warmth to make it blow away…”).
“Faster” reflects George’s love of racing — a picture of him and Jackie Stewart adorn the inner cover of the album.
Sometimes the easy beat backfires. The cloying “Here Comes the Moon” and “Soft Touch” are positively anemic. I once played “Here Comes the Moon” at 45 rpm instead of 33 and 1/3; the song was still slow and plodding.
Next: On to the 80s…
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

 

GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Intro)

GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Intro)
            George Harrison died on November 29, 2001 at 1:30 am of the cancer that he had been fighting for years. Ironically, the first photograph of George in the commemorative issue of People magazine shows him with cigarette in hand, the drug that ultimately caused his cancer.
Harrison’s last days seemed peppered with bad news. Remember the maniac who attacked him with a knife on New Year’s Eve of 1999? But for his wife beating the attacker senseless with a lamp we would have lost George then. This led to several public court appearances, but before that he was last seen at Linda McCartney’s funeral, herself a victim of cancer.
            Cynically, George got more publicity after he died than before. Even if he released an album, I doubt he’d have made the cover of TV Guide or People. George only appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine three times before his death. To their credit, Rolling Stone magazine put out a special commemorative issue for him — something they have never done for anyone, even Lennon. It is a great issue — pick it up if you can find it. Rolling Stone releasing a high quality issue instead of following the flavor of the week (as they have done for several decades now) should be encouraged.
            Some would know George as much for his movies as his music. When the Monty Python troop lost their funding for “Life of Brian”, George stepped in. After its success, George decided to form a production company (the fact that his musical career was not doing well also helped the decision). He formed British Handmade Films, and changed it to Handmade Films after the British government said he couldn’t use their name. He produced “Time Bandits” and Michael Palin movies “The Missionary” and “Water”. For a time he had cameo appearances in all his films, ala Hitchcock. I have yet to find him in the Madonna folly “Shanghai Surprise”.
            George’s sister Louise, now in her seventies, lived about twenty-five miles from me. She moved to Macedonia in the 1950s and George came to America in 1963 to visit. He had plenty of Beatle singles in tow, but no radio station in St. Louis or in local Benton would play. The broadcast booth in which he sat while visiting the station is still intact and sitting in the Franklin County museum’s George Harrison room. His sister’s house (in which he stayed in 1963) is now a bed and breakfast.
            While in southern Illinois George listened to and (supposedly) sat in with some dance bands at the American Legion Hall in West Frankfort. He promised that when the Beatles came to America they would play there. It was the Beatles first American booking. Naturally by the time they came to America the idea was nixed.
            I’ve never met his sister, although in college I met a man whose older sister was friends with Louise. They went up to Chicago in 1964 to meet with Louise’s younger brother. I was enthralled to be even this close to someone who knew someone who met a Beatle. “What did she tell you about it?” I asked him. “Well, she remembered that John Lennon had tight brown hair and George had really bad teeth.” Well, he was British after all.
                                    GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Beatle Years)
            John Lennon (life’s little ironies — beginning a George Harrison discography with a quote from Lennon…) would always say it was the music that mattered — that’s what told the story. I agree — all of the Beatles, even as solo artists, told their stories through their music. Listening to the songs reveals where the artists were and what they felt at a particular time,
            George Harrison is no exception. His songs as a Beatle reflect his attitude (and eventual resentment) toward being a supposed second-tiered member, his frustration of supposed success and his eagerness to leave the Fab Four. His solo outings showed his eagerness to spread his religious beliefs, his anger over his Beatle past, his frustration over the “My Sweet Lord” lawsuit,   and finally his pleas for tolerance and understanding.
When George was eulogized, his friends were frequently asked how he would like to be remembered. Almost all of them said, “Musician.” Not Beatle, not ex-Beatle, not Wilbury, just musician.
            I’d like to take some time to remember George the musician throughout his musical career:
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BEATLE GEORGE: The Beatles would release singles and EP (singles with four songs) that would not normally appear on subsequent albums. This was normal for the time. I have listed the Beatles albums in order and only mention singles on which George sang (or wrote) that did not appear on a Beatle album.
            “Cry for a Shadow” performed by the Beatles on Tony Sheridan’s album, now famous for its role in Beatle lore, as opposed to the musicianship. The only tune cited to “Lennon-Harrison” ever, it is a rollicking instrumental typical at the time — jangly guitars with lots of energy and a memorable tune. The sheer joy of recording it comes through.
            Please Please Me album (1963): George and Ringo were typically “allowed” to sing a few songs on each album. George’s contributions on the first Beatle album were “Chains”, originally performed by the Cookies and written by Goffin & King (Lennon’s writing style compares very favorably to Carol King — consciously or subconsciously, she was a great influence on him). The song basically enforces the band’s one-time belief that they are a girl group with guitars.
            “Do You Want to Know a Secret” was written by Lennon and inspired by the wishing well scene from Disney’s “Snow White” movie. The song gets a lot of airplay and fits George’s voice well — and it’s not a simple song to sing. The main verse/chorus is based on an upward scale and the middle twelve is a growling rock counterpoint to the light poppiness of the song.
            With the Beatles album (1963): “Don’t Bother Me” is George’s first composition to appear on a Beatle (or any) album. It was written while he was in the hospital and the nurses wouldn’t leave him alone! It’s an excellent first effort: the music flows and connects to the words effortlessly. Here the vocal range is fairly simple. I have always enjoyed this song and say it is why I admire George Harrison so.  Only he would have a debut song with the lyric “Just go away, leave me alone, don’t bother me…”
            “Roll Over Beethoven”, a song George would sing for the next thirty years, is a Chuck Berry staple. Originally John sang the song in their live shows. Why did they have George sing on the album? Why not? He did an excellent job.
            “Devil in Her Heart” is another pseudo-girl-group song, and a bit of a throwaway. As is typical of even the Beatles’ second-string songs, it has a masterful hook and wonderful musical arrangements. If a girl group or teen idol crooner took it, the song would have been a big hit in the early 60’s. Probably given to George to sing because Lennon and McCartney didn’t want to.
            Hard Day’s Night album (1964): “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” is another often-played song on the radio. Good thing too: it’s a great, catchy song. The lyrics -fit the music snugly and you can dance to it (the latter being much more important in those days). George sings the song prettily, giving Lennon and McCartney the harder job of singing the high-noted back up.
            Beatles for Sale album (1964): “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”. One of three Carl Perkins song the Beatles sang in their career. A good solid, canny version.
            Helpalbum (1965): “I Need You”, George’s second song he wrote to be on a Beatle album is a lovely song. The musicianship and the background chorus make it a pleasant sounding song – despite its very sad lyrics.  “Please remember how I feel about you, I could never really live without you.”
            “You Like Me Too Much”, also written by George, is awkward and rushed to fill in some songs on side two. Despite experimenting with the electric organ, the song never takes off (Paul does much better with his electric organ attempt in “The Night Before”, but it’s unfair to compare anyone’s writing talents to McCartney in late 1965.). Although the verses are interesting lyrically, the middle eight (“I really do…”) sounds tacked on. George should have tinkered with it some more.
            Rubber Soul album (1965): “Norwegian Wood”, although written and sung by John, deserves a mention as it features George’s first attempts to play the sitar on record. Indeed, it is the first sitar played on any serious commercial record (the soundtrack to “Road to Morocco” aside…)
            “If I Needed Someone” is flawless. The lyrics, background vocals and musicianship raise this song to the equal of any on the album (which is saying much), The Hollies took this song and raised the harmonies to the stratosphere. George’s gimmick on this song would serve him well for years to come — lyrics and main guitar licks on the upbeat rather than the downbeat (“Here Comes the Sun” and “Love Comes to Everyone” immediately spring to mind). If this represents George’s writing talent, he deserves more than one song per album!
            Revolveralbum (1966): the other Beatles and George Martin must have agreed with that: George has three songs on the album, all self-penned. One of his songs leads off the album, a great compliment and honor to Beatle #3 (in those days artists were concerned about the order and propriety of songs — there were as yet no CDs to scramble the order randomly).
            “Taxman” starts off the album; reflecting George’s supposed skinflint attitude.
So if he’s one of the most popular rockers of all time, where is his money? A fun rocking tune, with a good guitar solo. George would play this live in Japan in 1992,
            “Love You To” is George’s first foray into Indian music. He is the only Beatle to play an instrument on the track, the rest of the instruments played by professional easterners. The lyrics have a strong pop structure (unlike his later attempts), and the song moves along forcefully. Likeable and listenable.
            “I Want to Tell You” is another of George’s best songs. It almost reflects what must have been his attitude toward his song writing ability (“… my head is filled with things to say…”) and perhaps his discontent as a Beatle is showing through as well (-…I don’t mind, all those words they seem to slip away…). Great guitar riff, perfect background vocals.
            Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band  album (1967): “Within You Without You”. Some people despise this song (it is frequently voted among the Beatle’s worst). It’s not as bad as all that — the instrumental middle is actually quite good, in fact. The song ebbs and flows like the mantra it aspires to be. The lyrics are Hindu-tinged hippie, and it is one of the few Beatles tracks on which none of the four play instruments (oddly, Paul’s “She’s Leaving Home”, also from Sgt. Pepper, is another).
            Magical Mystery Tour album/EP (1967); “Blue Jay Way”. This is almost a rewrite of “Within You…” — odd lyrics backed by some fine Hindu music, but after the first minute we get the point. The Beatles were known for not going into formula — when they have mastered one type of song (girl group, folkie, etc.) they move forward into something else. George proved with      “Love To You” he can mix pop structure with eastern influence. But can we move on now?
            “Lady Madonna” single (1968): Nope. George’s first appearance on a Beatle single was the “B” side to Paul’s “Lady Madonna”, “The Inner Light” is George’s last attempt as a Beatle to eastern music. It has no pop structure (verse, chorus) and supposedly the lyrics are taken straight from the Gita. Paul calls it one of the most lovely songs he had ever heard. One then supposes that the acid wore off.
            The song finally appeared on an album — “Beatles Rarities” — in 1979.
            Was George’s first single evidence of the other’s confidence in his ability? Likely, not, Lennon hated “Lady Madonna” so much he wanted nothing to do with the single. By this point he was accusing McCartney of stifling his creativity.
            The Beatles (the White Album) album (1968): “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, with Eric Clapton on guitar, sides with “Something” as George’s masterwork. After putting down the sitar and picking up the guitar, George writes a powerful rock song about the condition of the world, The lyrics boil down to basically, “J’Accuse”, but the musicianship throughout is masterful.
            “Piggies” — what pissed George off during this album? In a theme later adopted by Pink Floyd in “Animals”, George this time points at the elite upper crust of the world (… in their mind is something lacking, what they need’s a damn good whacking …). This from the vanguard of the love generation? Good song though, George Martin’s arrangements throughout the album is impeccable. Unfortunately the song will be forever linked with Charles Manson and his killing spree.
            “Long Long Long” a very quiet and pretty acoustic tune. It’s been a long long long time since we’ve heard this kind of song from George.
            “Savoy Truffle” is a great fun tune, with a rollicking beat of guitar and horns – (George Martin’s maestro hand shows again). Written when George and Eric Clapton ate an entire box of chocolates, (enough to make Clapton sick) the lyrics were a word-for-word description of the candy found in the box.
            Yellow Submarine (album) 1968: “Only a Northern Song” is good album filler. George is once again angry — this time at the Beatles own song distributing company. The lyrics and notes are not quite right, but it’s intentional. Interesting listening.
            “It’s All Too Much” is better, a good mid-tempo rocking song. The horns at the end add a nice touch. A decade later, Journey would do an excellent cover of the song.
            “The Ballad of John & Yoko” (single) 1969: George’s second Original “B”-side was “Old Brown Shoe”, a good fast-moving rock song. Ringo is featured strongly on the backing vocals and John’s thundering backup on the middle eight is just stunning in its force and effect. Unfortunately, the mix is very thick and sometimes it is hard to make out the lyrics.  The song is found on the American “Hey Jude” album and the Beatles (“Blue”) 1967-1970 album.
            Abbey Road album 1969: Well, here we are. George would never top the two pop classics on these albums.
            Frank Sinatra called “Something” the most beautiful song ever written. Quite a compliment from someone who hated rock music so much he retired (for a short time). And it is a beautiful song — the organ makes for a “smoky” sound — very wispy and not easy to access, (much like the qualities George is trying to describe in song). Excellent combination of words and music — there is definitely a tone and a feel to the song.
            George’s guitar (which excels throughout the album) now has the slide work that would be his signature for the rest of his career.
            “Something” also became George’s first (and only) “A”-side single as a Beatle.
            “Here Comes the Sun” is my personal favorite. Once again the lyrics and music fold perfectly into one another. During the musical break, you can feel the sun rising and warming your face, The catchy-ness of the tune is supernatural. This song was written while sitting in Eric Clapton’s garden. Considering how much inspiration Clapton has had on George’s music lately, I’m surprised George didn’t have Clapton surgically joined to his hip!
N’ do N’ do-do.
            Let It Be album 1970: “I Me Mine” harkens back to “Northern Song”, “Taxman”, etc. in reflecting George’s materialistic side. Played in ‘A time, it’s an interesting sounding song about love fading away. The fact that is was written about his band mates makes the lyrics add to the pain he feels. George is tired of Beatling and wants to move on.
            “For You Blue” is a great song. Catchy and with fine lyrics and great musicianship. Why didn’t the Beatles do more blues? Oddly, despite George’s master musicianship, it is John who plays the slide guitar on the song. Can you blame George for handing the solo to John? Lennon plays perfectly! Although the blues were not part of their background (being more the bailiwick of the Stones and the Who), based on their performances here and on the White Album one shudders at the thought of a strong blues album from the Fabs.
Next: Solo Work
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

 

ONE LITTLE TRUMPET RIFF

ONE LITTLE TRUMPET RIFF
            I subscribe to an APA – Wikipedia calls it “a group of people who produce individual pages or magazines that are sent to a Central mailer for collation and distribution to all members of the group.  APAs were a way for widely distributed groups of people to discuss a common interest together in a single forum before the advent of electronic bulletin boards or the internet.
            In 2001 the subject of the APA I belong to, called WAPA (standing for “Western” and later “Wacky” and then, simply, “W”) was Beatlemania. I kept my contribution (or “zine”) for that WAPA and thought I would share it here.
           Ye Gods, I could fill volumes with musings over the Beatles. Fortunately, volumes have already been written about them – from their music to their movies to their life stories to their children and brothers and sisters’ life stories to their affect on popular culture. This is my take on things…
            The Beatles had an absolute impact on my life and my taste in music. When John Lennon was killed one classmate was surprised I went to school that next day instead of staying home mourning (much like Harrison’s recent death, I didn’t hear about it until the next morning in the car).
            The first song I remember hearing and enjoying distinctly was Paul McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”. I was hypnotized by the trumpet riff in the middle of the song.
            Some years later my brother went into the Air Force. He decided to give me his old albums – including the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ Superstar” and some Richard Pryor albums. Included in the stack were four Beatle albums – the greatest hits packages from 1973 (“Beatles 1962-1966” and “Beatles 1967-1970” known as the Beatles Red & Blue), “The Beatles” (known as the White Album – Red, White & Blue, get it?), and “Alpha & Omega”.
            Alpha & Omega was a bootleg greatest hits package covering their career and included some solo work. The mixing was horrible (although I didn’t notice at the time), but it was a big enough seller that the Beatles decided they were missing the gravy train and released their own “best of’ – the aforementioned Red & Blue.
            At that age I mostly enjoyed their work before 1967 – I have since grown to love their later experiments. Those four albums (ten disks in all) was quite a primer.
Alpha & Omega had a lot of album cuts you didn’t hear much on the radio. The solo works included “Imagine”, “Bangladesh” and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” – “There’s that song!” I exclaimed. Oh how wonderful, I played it and played it, loving every second of it.
            The tune probably influenced my decision to learn to play the trumpet beginning at age 11. The first thing I did when I got it home was practice the notes. I managed to finger the right notes for the trumpet interlude to “Admiral Halsey” and had it written out and played it well by the time of my first lesson.
            The tune therefore led a life devoted to music – collecting albums, learning to play piano and guitar, and ten years as a DJ. All because of one little trumpet riff on a song by an ex-Beatle.
            Album collecting in the 1980s was a passion for me. It was a rush to find some rare out­of-print piece of vinyl — McCartney’s “Thrillington”, the various 1960’s soundtracks by Harrison & McCartney, etc. Plus bootleg LPs of concerts and outtakes.
            One triumphant purchase I especially remember: I saved and saved and spent $40.00 for Paul McCartney’s “Back in the USSR”, released only in the Soviet Union. I got my copy from someone who smuggled it into the free world. I had a friend in law school, whose parents were Russian, read the album to me. I played tracks from it on the radio proudly boasting about its rarity. It was later released in the USon CD, complete with English translation of the liner notes. I still mope.
            I had most of the tracks from the “Beatles Anthology” series on record almost a decade before their official release. It was one of the few times I wished I were still a DJ — I would have loved to have played “Some Other Guy” or “Mailman Bring me No More Blues” officially instead of tucking them between two other Beatle tunes (“We have this on a reel to reel, I have no idea where this came from.”).
           As a teenager, I asked for the Beatles albums for Christmas and birthday gifts. My love of the Beatles naturally (okay, obsessively) led to my enjoying other rock groups — the Moody Blues, Rolling Stones and the Who, solo Beatle projects, etc. The radio would play Yes and the Eagles in between the sacred Beatles hymns. My life was listening to (and playing) rock and roll anthems.
            In high school I started reading my first books about the Beatles — their lives and music. I realized we Americans had been shafted! In England, they would release an album with fourteen songs or so. In the US, they would take about six or seven of those songs, pad it with released singles and “B”-sides and make a new own album. In England, they released “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” while the USreleased “Rubber Soul”, “Yesterday and Today”, and “Revolver”.
            The Beatles didn’t like that arrangement — they spent long hours arguing over the position of the songs — to give the album an ebb and flow (a lost art nowadays). I wanted to hear the songs the way nature intended as well, and my quest for only the British releases ensued for the next several months. Everyone else in the country must have realized the same thing — suddenly British editions of the albums were (thankfully) easy to find. A record store next to a Panterra’s Pizza restaurant in Belleville, Illinoissold the British releases. Note this was decades before ebay. After several months and lots of pizza I completed by collection.
            When the Beatle albums were released on compact disks, it was the British versions. The only exception was “Magical Mystery Tour”, this was the American version, with some added singles from the same time period.
            Some years later “Yellow Submarine” was released. Side Two contained other previously-released Beatle songs from the movie instead of the original instrumental soundtrack music.  The album is better for it. It was the last cassette tape I bought – excellent music to listen to in the car!
            With the CD’s “Past Masters Vol. I & II” all of the Beatles officially released output are available on CD. With “Live at the BBC” and “Anthology I — III”, most of the unreleased work is available as well. Now the rarities are the old American albums we tossed aside in the mid-1980s — like “Something New” and “Hey Jude”.
            To me Beatlemania describes the maelstrom of publicity surrounding the group. As much as the members griped about it later in life, they certainly enjoyed it at the time. Their arguments that the mania was horrific are hard to fathom — their interviews take place in a limo heading to a private jet to take them to their mansion in the Bahamas. Old joke: Fame is a curse, “I should be so cursed”.
            In truth, one thing bad about the mania was it detracted from the music. It is obvious nowadays that talent has little to do with fame — as long as you smile for the camera and be seen with the right people at the right places you don’t have to worry about the music: let the producers and the A&R Men worry about selling records.
            One forgets the most important part of the Beatles — they weren’t lovable mop tops, they were musicians and composers, damn good musicians and composers. The Beatles were not the first superstars to cash in on their success through marketing — Elvis, Johnny Ray, Sinatra and Valentino all graced covers of “teeny-bopper” mags — but the Beatles’ publicity machine certainly went to extremes. In Americathe machine was headed by, of all people, Pat Boone. He obtained the license to sell official Beatle items. “Black market” items were rife just as it is today (as all those parking lot T-shirt and shoe salesmen will deny).
            Yes there were public appearances on variety shows and special magazine supplements, plush pillows, salt-and-pepper shakers, cake toppers, TV dinner trays, jigsaw puzzles; the list goes on and on. Books have been dedicated solely to Beatle collectibles.
            Currently, it is almost expected for stars to grace shirts and throw rugs, have dolls made of them, and even al Saturday morning cartoon, but the Beatles were the first. Folkie-rock star Jewel wrote a book of poetry — John Lennon’s second book of poetry was released before she was born. Child actresses Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen had a syndicated cartoon. Ringo’s grandson watched reruns of the Beatles’ animated TV show long before. Singer Marian Carey’s movie flopped. “Magical Mystery Tour” flopped, but do you think “Glitter” will be called an “amazing portrayal of the times” thirty years from now (actually it is a portrayal of the times — plotless, soulless and very boring)?
            And the comic books (you don’t think I could go this long without mentioning comics books do you?). The Beatles had an “official” comic in 1964 published by Dell illustrating their rise to fame. Later Dell published the comic version of “Yellow Submarine”. In the 1990s Revolutionary Comics did an eight-part series on the lives of the Beatles as a group and as individuals. It’s very hard to find, but worth it. Marvel Comics in the 1970s released a Beatle comic — no, they didn’t fight Galactus; it was another history of the group.
            Otherwise the Beatles appeared as themselves only as an incidental part of the plot: they appeared in Laugh (Archie), Jimmy Olsen, Jerry Lewis and teen romance comics. Mostly comic book writers (fearing having to pay a royalty), just had four or five long hairs calling themselves all kinds of insectoid names — the Mosquitoes, the Roaches, the Bugs, etc.
            The mania surrounding the Beatles was overboard even by today’s standards. But now it is, like the music and movies, also part of Beatle lore. We can either shake our heads or join in on the frenzy. See you at the flea markets!
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry