Come and Watch Us Sing and Play – The Monkees Live in St. Louis

Come and Watch Us Sing and Play

          The Monkees at the Fabulous Fox Theater, June 5th, 2014

St. Louis, Missouri

Part One

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This was my sister’s fourth Monkees concert – two with Davy and now two with Mike. This was my first. I was a Monkees fan before I was even a Beatles fan – the pre-Fab Four’s TV show reruns on Saturday mornings helped their songs to be as familiar to me as the theme songs to HR Pufinstuf or Scooby-Doo.

With some exceptions I have retired from concert-going since 1992. Shows were expensive even back then and my poor ears were suffering from enough tinnitus I didn’t need to aggravate it. I wore earplugs to my last shows – even Bob Dylan. During one, ZZ Top, I pulled out an earplug just to see how bad it was. I winced. Not at the music – they were in good form and supporting a great album – but at the volume.

I’ve come out of retirement twice not counting this show – Ringo Starr playing free at the VP Fair in St. Louis (a Beatle for free? Yes, I will come out of retirement to see a Beatle for free) and Rik Emmett playing a solo show in San Antonio (do I want to see the founder of Triumph for ten bucks? Oh yes…). I’ve not attended any other concerts. Rock concerts … the Wiggles and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra notwithstanding…

Until now.

The Monkees concert was a gift from my sister in exchange for purchasing some DVDs for her at Comic Con. She took her ten-year-old son and asked if I wanted to go.

They’ve toured extensively over the past eleven years; but I had to ask myself: “when am I ever going to get to see the Monkees again?”

Their story is familiar: NBC wanted a TV show to cash in on the success of the Beatles and capture the fun of their movies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help”. The execs thought about getting an actual group – legend says the Loving Spoonful was considered – but decided to cobble together a group from actor/musicians. Stephen Stills tried out and convinced his friend Peter Tork to do likewise. Mike Nesmith was another budding musician. Davy Jones appeared on the famous Ed Sullivan show featuring the Beatles’ first appearance along with his fellow cast-members of “Oliver”. Mickey Dolenz was also child actor.

The plots of the show dealt with an up-and-coming band playing gigs and getting into various zany antics – spies, monsters, gangsters, and mistaken identities – the gamut of 1960’s sitcom fare.

But the music set it apart. During this show the band showed their admiration for the many wonderful song-writers they used and named them – Goffin/King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Harry Nilsson, etc. And rightly so…

At the time the songs and the Monkees – although very successful on the music charts – were written off as bubblegum music. Well, that term came a few years later, but the criticism was the same.

The Monkees were mocked for not playing their own instruments on their songs and albums. The band members complained about this too, and were allowed to do so beginning with their Headquarters album.

Eventually the show was cancelled, their movie and TV special each bombed and their albums and singles failed to chart. One by one they left the group to do their own thing.

Their popularity grew as new fans discovered their show’s reruns on Saturday Morning (me) and in the 1980s on MTV (my sister). Their detractors were silenced over time as their music aged well. Very well.

They would reunite throughout the decades, usually Mike being the hold-out as his career was moving along and his participation was not necessary.

I am a big fan of Nesmith’s solo music and a subscriber to his video ranch productions. Check it out: http://www.videoranch.com/

Nesmith appeared on stage with the other three on occasion and helped with the album and TV special for their last album “Justus” in 1996. But otherwise, when the members were not doing solo shows or participating in “Teen Idol” festivals, the Monkees toured as Davy, Mickey and Peter.

Davy Jones died in 2012. Mike agreed to tour with Peter and Mickey in 2012 and again this year. Among the excellent band members were Mike’s son Christian on guitar and Mickey’s sister as one of the back-up singers. The other back-up singer, Circe Link and Christian are in a band called “Circle Jerks” and the bass player is their manager – so there was a lot of family up on the stage.

 

The musicians were wonderful. They rocked even during the more poppy numbers. Throughout the show I was amazed at how well these songs have aged.

And the Monkees themselves have also aged well. Mickey can still hit the high notes – particularly on “Words” and “Randy Scouse Git” and only rarely being unable to hit the higher ranges – most notably on “She”. Mike still sang with a caramel smoothness. Peter suffered the most from comparison, but then, he was never known for his strong vocals.

Recommendation: the Monkees should think about making a studio album of their live set to show off their musicians and the new, wonderful arrangements of their classic songs. Their version of “Daydream Believer” will likely make the charts, or at least be a popular download.

A video screen above the band showed constant clips of the TV show, their movie and TV special. At times I found it distracting. I’m there to watch the show, not clips from “The Monkees’ Paw”. But it helped give the band a break during sets and keep the audience cheering.

Next: Part 2 – the set list!

 

Copyright 2014 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 “A Mannheim Steamroller Christmas” with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

A review of “A Mannheim Steamroller Christmas” with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
 
 
            My wife and I went to Powell Symphony Hall to watch the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra perform “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas” on December 14, 2013.
            A college roommate introduced me to Mannheim Steamroller in 1982, one year after the release of their “Fresh Air IV” album. I was hooked.
            They combined classical music (particularly baroque) with jazz and rock into a light-progressive instrumental style. It featured Chip Davis, the founder, on drums, Jackson Berkey on the various keyboards – from piano to pipe organ to, particularly, harpsichord, and Eric Hanson on bass guitar.
            Their music avoids labeling – it has been called everything from New Age to Baroque-and-Roll (this label was first used on the group “The Left Bank” – a proto prog-pop band from the mid-1960s). The band does not embrace the New Age label, nor do most New Age enthusiasts embrace their inclusion into the genre.
             I am the exception. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I hosted “A New Age” at my local NPR station on Sunday nights. I happily included Mannheim’s music in addition to other artists outside the genre – Ravi Shankar, Isao Tomita and Blue Chip Orchesta along with stalwarts Kitaro, David Arkenstone and Enya. By this time there were surprisingly good so-called New Age music from the likes of even John Tesh and Barbie Benton.
            “Fresh Aire IV” combined medieval instruments on pop and rock arrangements of damnably catchy melodies. Ancient instruments playing tightly structured songs but with enough obtuse and unexpected variations on the melody to keep me listening.
            Four more “Fresh Aire” albums were to come – each album with a “theme”: the excellent “V” (a trip to the moon), “VI” (Greek Mythology), “7” (themes involving the number 7 – 7 seas, 7 chakras, Sunday, and “8” (infinity) – these last two reaching Number Two on the newly-created New Age charts; the only chart their music would seemingly fit.
            In 1984 Mannheim Steamroller released a Christmas album. For this ensemble known for its quirkiness and undefinability to enter the realm of Perry Como, Johnny Mathis and Percy Faith was the last thing one would expect – so of course it was a natural thing to do!
            Jazz musicians have released Christmas songs for decades, and there have been Christmas versions of electronic music; but for a still-obscure musical group to release a Christmas album was a substantial financial risk. Would those who enjoy traditional Christmas fare buy an album from this eclectic group? Would fans of this eclectic group buy an album of traditional Christmas fare?
            Fortunately for Mannheim Steamroller, both groups did. That first album “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas” was done in their unique style while still respecting the traditions of Yule. It spawned twelve other holiday albums with tunes ranging from original compositions to “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch”. They have sold in the millions and over the past thirty years the songs are considered Christmas classics.
            I saw Chip Davis and company perform their Christmas and Fresh Aire tunes in Chicago in 1987 on their first tour. They’ve toured at Christmastime regularly ever since – the band now down to Chip Davis, various session men and orchestras big and small.
           
            In October I was looking at what was happening in St. Louis during the Christmas season – perhaps we could see “A Christmas Carol” being performed, or a madrigal or a special concert. Perhaps the Nutcracker.
            “Elf” was playing at the Fox. Nah. No special individual Christmas shows were announced yet – not even Trans-Siberian Orchestra (another eclectic group – although firmly ensconced in the rock idiom – that had taken some of the thunder from Mannheim’s Christmas popularity). The St. Louis Symphony was going to perform a Gospel Messiah during the week of December 7th and their traditional Christmas program on the 21st. But the weekend of the 14thwas set for the Music of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.
            I misread it at first and thought it was Mannheim Steamroller performing with the Symphony. Stop right there. We have a winner. My wife was excited too – especially since there were still front row seats available.
            A closer look shows it was not Mannheim Steamroller themselves (or himself – the “group” is now solely Chip Davis’s baby) but the St. LouisSymphony performing its music.
            Fine by me; fine with my wife, too. Would I like to go see one of the best symphony orchestras perform some of my favorite holiday music from one of my favorite performers from the front row? Sure, what the hell…
           
            The conductor/arranger of the concert program was Arnie Roth, the orchestral arranger for Mannheim Steamroller for many decades; so there was at least a connection with Chip Davis. He was there in spirit.
            I was interested in seeing how the orchestra would handle some of Steamroller’s electronic doodlings: the synthesizer intro to “Deck the Halls”, the mechanics of “Little Drummer Boy”, the swirling ending of “Silent Night”. 
            I needn’t have worried – the strings (cello and bass violin in particular) handled the “Deck the Halls” intro, for example. We sat right in front of the violins. I was enraptured by their ability and talents. Throughout the concert the violins played in the quiet, serene background. When they took the lead of a song – they were majestic and moving.
            There are no bad seats at Powell, but one unfortunate side effect of the front row is we could watch the violinists play masterfully at the cost of not seeing anyone else. The brass, percussion, harp and piano/harpsichord were heard but not seen. I could spot one trumpeter between the legs and feet of the viola section, but that was it. And unfortunately the brass, percussion, harp and piano/harpsichord were the main instruments in the concert. From the intro of “Hark the Herald Trumpets Sing” I knew I was missing watching professionals playing excellent music. I didn’t mind though – I got to observe the entire violin section. I have been tinkering with the violin for many years and, as with guitarists, I loved watching their playing techniques.
            So next time we’ll sit a little further back.
            There were only a few sour notes – twice from the brass section. A missed note and an early intro; I have already forgotten which songs because frankly, I didn’t care. The drummer did an excellent job keeping the beat, but there were times he lagged behind the rest of the orchestra; I think it was during “Joy to the World”. Again, who cares? It did not distract from a superb show!
The set list:
Hark Fanfare
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Do You Hear What I Hear
Traditions of Christmas (an original Chip Daviscomposition)
The Little Drummer Boy
Greensleeves
We Three Kings
Cantique de Noel
Carol of the Bells
Hallelujah (a highlight of the concert)
Intermission
Deck the Halls
Pat-a-Pan/Fum Fum Fum Medley (another highlight)
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Joy to the World
Renaissance Suite: (my favorite part of the concert, a personal highlight)
            Gagliarda
            Il duci jubilo
            Wassail, Wassail
            Carol of the Birds
            I Saw Three Ships
            God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman
Silent Night
encore Angels We have Heard on High
            During the 1987 concert, Mannheim performed the Renaissance version of “God Rest Ye …” and broke into “The William Tell Overture” between lines. I was hoping for the same here, but they did not. The smiles in this concert came not from humor but from enjoying superb musicianship playing superb arrangements.
           
            Here is another review of the concert from a classical radio station in St. Louis – another interesting view that touches on the differences between this orchestral performance and the original arrangements: http://kdhx.org/music/reviews/st-louis-symphony-a-mannheim-steamroller-christmas
            My wife and I enjoyed our evening at Powell very much! During the intermission the line to the rest rooms were in the dozens. I told my wife I would chance it and miss the beginning of “Deck the Halls”. Don’t worry, I said, we’ll hear it on the radio on the way home.
            Over the years the various Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums have not been played on my stereo. They are played on the radio at Christmastime – a lot. A lot. But this concert gave me a new appreciation of the music from the albums and their quirky arrangements. Here we heard these quirky arrangements done in a very traditional way with a fine, fine orchestra. Loving this concert made me love the original arrangements as well. I even dug out my old Fresh Aire CDs to play in my car and in the 5-CD changer in the living room.
            Welcome back to the rotation, my friend. I had forgotten how much I missed you.
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry
             


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The Ten Worst Christmas Songs of All Time

The Ten Worst Christmas Songs of All Time

                I finished my list of the best Christmas songs of all time (see prior blog). It is only natural to follow up with the worst Christmas songs of all time. My jaw is already clenching thinking about these overblown, overplayed and overdramatic pieces of tripe.
                Funny that, with a few exceptions, this list isn’t composed of individual performances but the songs in general – or at least in the way they are usually performed. So you won’t see individually bad tunes by New Kids on the Block (“Funky Christmas”), John Denver (“Daddy Please Don’t Get Drunk for Christmas”) or the Clay Aiken masterpiece of drivel “Merry Christmas with Love” on the list. And besides, those don’t get much airplay anyway.
                I’m sorry if you like any of the songs on this list. I am truly sorry. I am sorry for you and for the people sitting next to you as you play the tunes and sing along.
 
                These are in no particular order:
 
1.       Little Drummer Boy. What!? Two versions of this song made my Top Ten Best Christmas Songs. True. How then can the song also make my Top Ten Worst Christmas Songs list?  Excellent question. With two exceptions (the Crosby-Bowie duet and the Vince Guaraldi version) this song is performed in the most over-produced and pompous way possible: thick orchestration and operatic voices. Diana Ross’ version is particularly annoying. Even the iconic version by the Harry Simeone Choirale is overwrought at times – although the choir sings it softly and quietly, the “brum-brum” male singers in the background get a bit carried away. The story: a child plays his drum to the baby king. He didn’t bring gold or lavish him with other gifts. He played his drum for him. He played his best for him. It’s the widow’s mite story; it’s the sinful woman from the Book of Luke washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. A humble story should not have full orchestra and choir. Imagine watching a love scene in a movie and the theme from “Jaws” starts playing; or “Psycho” (I’ve been in situations where that is appropriate, though); or “Rocky” (ditto, I am proud to say…). But you get my point here. Pretention has no place in this song. That’s the point of the song.
2.       The Twelve Days of Christmas. The rock-concert-drum-solo of Christmas songs. When the song is on the radio or on a TV special it is a good time for a bathroom break or to go get a snack in the kitchen or vacuum the rugs or go visit a friend or head to the office or take a weekend vacation. It’ll be just wrapping up when you get back. Over long and the “five gold rings” part is usually over-dramatic. Not even the Muppets could salvage this one. Ray Conniff has a good version of the song – if only because his singers race through it and finish it in just under two hours, rather than the standard six. It’s the German opera of Christmas songs.
3.       Christmas Shoes. Things are looking up as to this tear-jerker and garment-render – some stations make a point of saying they will NOT play the song. If the boycott boosts their ratings enough we may never have to hear it broadcast again! The people who poo-poo the derision with arguments that it is a lovely story and shows the real meaning of the holiday are missing the point. Yes it is a wonderful story, but the rest of us think it is as melodramatic as a nineteenth-century vaudeville drama. The kid buying the shoes might as well cross a raging river on patches of ice. With hound dogs chasing him. And his mother’s cancer portrayed by a guy wearing a top hat twirling a long mustache. Videos of the song may as well come with placards telling us when to “Boo” and “Hiss”. Yet every year people talk about how bad the song is and yet every year it is played over and over. All I can say when it comes on the radio is “Curses! Foiled again!”
4.       Mary Did You Know. This isn’t played very often on commercial stations and not very often nowadays even on Christian stations, but it was played and played a lot a decade ago or so. Another song that is usually done with a high level of pomposity and over-production. It doesn’t even have the saving grace of “Christmas Shoes” by being a lovely story. “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou has found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and his kingdom there shall be no end.” Luke 1: 30-33; King James Version – the only real version of the Bible, or as I like to put it, the version Jesus wrote. “Mary Did You Know”? “Yes, yes, I did. But thanks for asking…”
5.       Any Christmas Spoof. This is more of a category of songs rather than one in particular. And I’m talking spoofs, not novelty songs. “The Chipmunk Song”, “…Two Front Teeth” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” – these are novelty songs (although most novelty songs belong on this list too). Spoofs are pre-existing songs with different lyrics – presumably knee-slappingly hilarious lyrics. The most famous of which is “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg …” Two reasons this makes the list – with rare exception spoofs are 1) too long and 2) not that funny. Usually after the first line we get it. The secret to humor is not only surprise but brevity. The aforesaid “Batman smells” is a good example: four lines and done. But most spoofs go on with verse, chorus, verse, chorus. The reactions are as follows: “Ha! Ha! That’s hilarious!” (second verse) “Heh, heh! That’s great!” (second chorus) “Hmm-hmm, that’s funny.” (third verse) “Do you have any big plans for New Year’s Eve?” (third chorus) “Is that song still playing?” There are lots of spoofs to the tune of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” and “The Christmas Song” but the most popular song spoofed is “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It’s the perfect example of why spoofs generally suck: a song that goes on too long being made into a spoof that goes on too long.
6.        Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. And speaking of novelty songs. This inbred ditty usually makes most Top Ten Worst Christmas Songs lists and yet it still constantly airs during the season. Yes, when it came out everyone hyucked it up, whistled between their missing teeth and tapped their web-toed feet. But after the first listen and the first (and last) laugh it is time to stop wallowing so gleefully in its ignorance.
7.       Baby it’s Cold Outside. Or as I like to call it, “The Date Rape Song”. The song has nothing to do with Christmas. Of course, neither does “Jingle Bells”. But then “Jingle Bells” isn’t a song about a misogynist who slips Zolpidem into a lady’s drink and traps her in his house during a winter storm. The song is performed as a dialog between the victim and the rapist, with the victim singing first. Some verses left out of the original version: “Uncuff me at once; Baby it’s cold outside. I’m not going down there; Baby it’s cold outside. Is that a pit?; Baby it’s cold outside. I’m dialing nine-one {whack}{thud}; Baby it’s cold outside…”
8.       Santa Baby is the flip side to “Baby it’s Cold Outside”. A gold digger seduces Santa into giving her diamonds and minks. Even Eartha Kitt’s version comes off as slutty. The male back-up singers sound like those old Warner Brothers’ cartoons where men turn into wolves and drool over pretty women. After the song airs I feel like I need a shot of penicillin. It reminds me of the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit – it’s not a bad song, it’s just written that way.
9.       Grown Up Christmas List is not as pompous as “Mary Did You Know” or as overproduced as “Little Drummer Boy” nor is it as laughably melodramatic as “Christmas Shoes”, but it combines the three into a canny and boring song. “But it’s a wonderful sentiment!” Ho-hum, let’s move onto the next song. It’s even bad at being a bad song.
10.   Wonderful Christmastime. Oh how it pains me to put any song by Paul McCartney on a “worst” list, but let’s face it, the lyrics are banal and the music is awful. McCartney was experimenting with synthesizers at the time (late 1970s) and this was his first attempt at a structured song. He would get MUCH better at it (the following album “McCartney II” with the hits “Coming Up” and “Waterfalls”). The telling factor here is listening to the remakes. They are not very good either. After 45 seconds the song is done and we have to listen to it repeated four or five more times – usually with lots of cheering in between by the back-up singers. “…a wonderful Christmastime.” {gleeful cheers) “Yea! The song it done! Oh, nope, here’s another reprise … the moon is right, the spirit’s up…”
11.   Oh what the heck, one more, after all, it’s Christmas. This Christmas. When it was only done by Wham, it could be duly ignored, but I’ve heard people remake this lame-o tune.  Listen to the lyrics, I mean listen to them. What the heck does this have to do with Christmas? Nothing! If the song included something about “why this time of year” or “being Christmas makes our break-up especially sad”, the song would … well, it would still suck, but it wouldn’t have made the list. There is one line about his love wrapped up and sent. But that connection to Christmas is pretty thin. Try this experiment: next time you hear this song, substitute the word “Christmas” with “Wednesday”. Has the song changed in any way? No.
 
                After listing these I now have to do something to lower my blood pressure. I know, I can go back and read my Top Ten Best Christmas Songs list. Ahhhh … that’s better.
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry


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The Ten Best Christmas Songs of All Time

The Ten Best  Christmas Songs of All Time
 
                Despite what retailers have been telling you since before Halloween, the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving.
                Now that has passed and the Christmas season is in full swing.  Some radio stations are playing holiday tunes 24/7. As is usual with radio broadcasting in its current state (see my prior blog titled “I Finally Bury a Long-Dead Friend”), you will likely hear the same ten songs over and over instead of a wide variety of cuts.
                Some songs you will undoubted be sick of by December 25th; some songs you are still sick of from all the airplay last year. Some songs will make you smile. And there are some songs you’d wish they play even just once.
                I used to say the holiday season doesn’t really commence until I hear two specific songs: “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen.  The latter was hard to catch on the radio, if it was played at all; but now thanks to Youtube I can listen to the tune even on a hot August day.  Those two are on the list, by the way.
                I’m listing individual tracks. I could do another list just on general songs that I enjoy (although some versions are grating): “Holly & Ivy”, “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabelle” and “I Saw Three Ships” would make that list.
                These are the songs that transcend the genre: the “He Stopped Loving Her Today” or “Layla” of holiday music. And these are in no particular order.
                I’d love to know YOUR list of favorites:

1.       Joy to the World by Percy Faith. The opening fanfare of this song makes you rise from your seat. It makes you want to march out in the snow with arms stretched outward and shout “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Listening to this makes you picture a bustling city street seen through swirling snow. This should be played when the Ghost of Christmas Present is showing Scrooge Christmas morning in Old London. It’s as majestic as it is iconic. It is the opening song of “A Christmas Story”.  It should be the first song played at the start of the season.
2.       Ring Those Christmas Bells by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. I’ll bet you’ve not heard this one. If you have, you know how strange this song is – especially since it was produced in the 1950s. It has an early 1970s post-psychedelic feel to it. It starts off with the singers talking merrily and then break into a chorus of Jingle Bells. Someone chants “Merry Merry Christmas” and it is repeated by the singers as a mantra. That segues into “Ring Those Christmas Bells”; a song whose tune sounds vaguely like the theme to “Green Acres”. At the end the “Merry Merry Christmas” mantra returns. It’s a bizarre tune. I love it! It is on Youtube.
3.       Silent Night by Mannheim Steamroller. The first two tunes on the list are upbeat songs of celebration. This is a very quiet song, appropriately. You listen to this song sitting on the couch in the evening drinking hot cocoa and watching the snow fall. Being Mannheim Steamroller, this version of the song is filled with electronics tweets and whistles and notes that don’t quite sound like they fit, but eventually do. And the end is beautiful; a swelling crescendo followed by a wisp of the first four notes played as if by a child on a toy piano. Absolutely beautiful.
4.       All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey. A fun romping song that sounds like it came off of a Phil Spector Christmas album. Mariah has the chops to pull off the vocal acrobatics of the song and the sex-kittenish sensuality of the lyrics and her delivery (especially the introduction) makes the song a favorite. Ignore the remakes and stick to the original. You’ll thank me. The song is alluring, and not in the creepy sexiness of a “Santa Baby”. Whereas the latter requires a shot of penicillin after every listen, “All I Want …” is a wonderful upbeat happy song for the holidays. This song sometimes makes lists of worst Christmas songs, and there are some remakes that are pretty bad, but I like the original.
5.       Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon. I used to joke, “You know it is Christmastime when you hear Bing Crosby and Yoko Ono on the radio”.  Yoko sings the middle eight of this sweet song. Like “Imagine”, this is likened unto a children’s song. However, I always found it a sad song. Not only because Lennon was murdered in the month of December and this song was on the playlists at the time; but also because I hear the lyrics as an accusation or condemnation. A man looking at himself in the mirror – “so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun…” Another year passed with unfulfilled expectations.
6.       Snoopy’s Christmas by the Royal Guardsmen. The band hit big in 1966 with “Snoopy vs The Red Baron” and this is a sequel from 1967. Our man Snoopy is once again called upon to fight his arch enemy.  Without giving away the ending, I wonder if the band knew this is similar to an actual event – the Christmas Truce.  In 1914 German and British soldiers exchanged greeting and songs across “no man’s land” – even exchanging gifts such as food and souvenirs. At the end the opposing troops sang carols together and played football (that’s soccer for you mouth-breathers…).  But soon the unofficial truce was over and such fraternization was banned by the so-called superior officers and both sides went back to slaughtering each other over the next four years.
7.       My Little Drum by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. It’s a shame that Vince Guaraldi will be known for only his work on the Charlie Brown cartoons, as he should be remembered for the piano-playing genius he was. We are lucky we have his soundtrack to “Charlie Brown Christmas” available on CD. Every song on the album could be included in a Top Ten, but “My Little Drum” is a unique take on the traditional song (that being “Little Drummer Boy”). Once you hear it, you’ll want to hit the back button and listen to it again. Minor and major notes are hit on the beat and off; and the children singing and humming and prrrrr-ump-ump-ing make a sweet counterpoint to the jazzy beatnik arrangement. It’s the cat’s meow, man. One of the best songs from one of the best holiday albums of all time.
8.       Must Be Santa by Bob Dylan. Even at his best Dylan’s vocal “style” is an acquired taste. Now that he is older and his voice is scorched from too many tours, he sounds the way an oak tree would sound it if could sing. “Someone is vivisecting a wildebeest!” “No, it’s Dylan’s latest album.”  BUT, his voice fits this genuinely great, great version of the Christmas song. It sounds like a rollicking good party was going on while recording it (and the video accompanying the song plays that out to great effect. Mordant bleu, Bob Dylan dances in the video – dances!!). The song is a chestnut of Mitch Miller’s Christmas song chest, but here Dylan made the song fun without quite pushing it into novelty territory.
9.       Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. The 1977 Christmas special from which this song aired is available on DVD. It is strange watching Crosby introduce the video of Bowie’s “Heroes” standing behind a Christmas trees and twinkling lights. The legend says that Bowie hated “Drummer” and did not want to sing it as a duet with der Bingle. So the writers whipped up “Peace on Earth” to act as a descant to “Little Drummer Boy” and also a middle eight for Bing and Bowie to duet. It worked. Bowie’s high vocals paired beautifully with Crosby’s baritone. Crosby sang the main song quietly. This is important. “Little Drummer Boy” is usually performed as a big production filled with artificial melodrama in complete contrast to the ideals within the song. Here the song is quiet and respectful – a small child presenting the only gift he could give to the infant king. Plus I like Crosby’s vocals in his later years. His voice deepened and rumbled. Water glasses vibrated when he sang. It’s a lovely song. And it was Crosby’s last Christmas single. That lends a sadness to it that it otherwise might not have.
10.   Jingle Jingle Jingle by Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer soundtrack. I have not heard anyone remake this song, but it is one of my favorite Christmas songs, perhaps THE favorite. Clocking in at just over two minutes, it is sung by Santa in a deep baritone. A predictable song of ascending and descending notes with staccato trumpets and strings. A simple song for children that captures the season in their eyes. A sweet and lovable song.
11.   OK, one more, what the heck, it’s Christmas. Plus, this list is pretty bare as far as Bing Crosby – only one? You might think I’m building up to “White Christmas” – the song is so iconic and I think the past two generations have forgotten how tremendously HUGE that song was and is. But I want to go with another song by Bing that brings a holiday smile – Melaka Leke Maka. I love singing along and imitating Bing’s low rumble. He sounds like he’s having a fun time with it too. The song is so much fun the Andrews Sisters tolerated each other long enough to sing backing vocals.  And by the way, “Melaka Leke Maka” is NOT the Hawaiian term for “Merry Christmas” – it is the phonetic spelling of a Hawaiian native trying to SAY “Merry Christmas”.

                And there we have the ten best individual songs! Are any of these already stuck in your head? Lucky you…

Thanks for reminiscing with me!
Copyright 2013 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.

 

We’re Off to See the Wiggles… A review of the Wiggles US Tour 2013

We’re Off to See the Wiggles…
A review of the Wiggles US Tour 2013
 
 
                September 18, 2013 my wife, daughter and I saw the Wiggles in concert at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri.
                I retired from concert-going in 1992. My hearing was shot even then and with a screeching baby the tinnitus has not gotten better. Going to concerts would rip apart what was left of my hearing, as well as rip apart what was left of my bank account. Five hundred bucks to see the Eagles?  I can hear them for free every time I turn on the radio. Every. Time.  Not even if they performed in my front room.  I came out of retirement three times – once to see Ringo Starr do a free concert under the St. Louis Arch on July 4thin the late nineties (a Beatle for free? Yes, I will come out of retirement to see a Beatle for free…), once last year to see Rik Emmett ($10.00, yes, I will come out of retirement to hear Triumph’s Greatest Hits live for $10.00), and now to take my daughter to see the Wiggles.
                This was the tour supporting their DVD “Taking Off” and was the first “solo” tour of the new Wiggles. Founders Jeff, Murray and Greg retired. Anthony continued with three new Wiggles – although all of them were with the franchise either playing secondary characters or back-up singers and dancers.
                The new members were Simon, Lachy and Emma. It was quite a controversy when the new Wiggles took over, but most of their world-wide fans wished them the best when the shock wore off.
                My daughter discovered the Wiggles early in 2013. To her mind, Emma is as much a Wiggle as Greg. Or Sam for that matter. She adores Emma. She is her favorite. So of course she wanted to dress like Emma for the show. Easy enough – she already has a black skirt, black leggings and a yellow shirt.
                She looks good in yellow, with her dark skin. My wife has always been happy about that.
                I was afraid I would be the only adult male at the show. I wasn’t. I was afraid I would be the oldest father there. Surprisingly, I wasn’t. In fact, most of the fathers I saw there were about my age. Some of them had children younger than mine (this concert was her fourth birthday present).
                I’m not sure what to make of that. I am afraid of generalizing by saying younger fathers wouldn’t bother going to such a thing … but I have no facts to support my theory.  Would an older father tolerate these things easier than a younger one? “See the Wiggles!?  And miss Kill Division playing across town!?”
                The stage cast consisted of Anthony, Emma, Lachy, Simon and Paul Paddick as Captain Feathersword along with three back-up dancers and singers. They would take turns as the costumed characters of the franchise: Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog and Henry the Octopus.
                They did an excellent job of keeping the pace going so that you never noticed who was missing from the stage when the costumed characters were on.  Paddick does the voice for Henry the Octopus. I didn’t notice if he was on-stage or off-stage while Henry was “singing” his song. He may have been IN the costume for all I know.
                The set was sparse considering the concert videos you can purchase or watch on You Tube. This isn’t Madison Square Garden or a packed amphitheater in Australia. This was the last few weeks of a two-month North American tour playing smaller venues. The following night they were in Nashville, then Detroit, then Chicago for two shows on Saturday. The following week they played two matinees in New York. Remember this was the same franchise that sold out twelve shows in a row at Madison Square Garden
                So there were no elaborate sets depicting Wiggle Town or the Wiggle House, no 12-foot blow-up Wiggles, no working Big Red Car. The backdrop was a replica of the cover of their new DVD that set behind a drum kit and keyboards and guitars. The only props were a cardboard castle set in front of a tall stand as well as a camel and airplane costume – each worn by Captain Feathersword.
 
                Sparse settings made sense, though. Who knows how successful this tour would be? Who wants to spend millions on setting up, tearing down and moving elaborate sets for half-filled stadiums?
                They needn’t have worried. They went for smaller venues and all of them are sold out. I checked the tour venues online and there were only forty or so seats remaining in each venue for the rest of the tour. All but forty seats available for a 3,500-seat venue (at least for Peabody)? I’d say that’s pretty good.
                I checked and checked online for a set list for this tour with little luck. The only review I found was on a blog of a Detroit mother. I thought I would do a set list and review the show. By the time this post gets to most of my readers the tour will be over, of course. But perhaps if they tour next year (or more likely the year after) this will give parents who know nothing of Wiggle concerts a taste of what to expect.
                I spent most of my time talking photos, writing down names of songs and smiling at a squealing and giggling three-year-old. Near the end of the show, my daughter and two others were on the far left aisle dancing. I had to warn my daughter not to flail around too much for fear of hurting the other children.
                The mother of one of the little girls asked her to stay near. She kept her arm around her daughter at first. She didn’t want her daughter dancing with other girls while some tall, fat, bald man took their pictures. But she soon relented.
                During the last song my daughter finally took that tumble I warned her about. She cried and I picked her up. It was by now 7:50 and she was very tired. As the Wiggles waved goodbye I told her they were leaving and to say goodbye. She stopped crying immediately – as children of that age do – and shouted goodbye to everyone on stage.
                Before and after the concert we took pics of the stage. An usher very kindly took a picture of the three of us in front of the stage when the show was done. Although sold-out, by 7:30 quite a few of the ticket-holders left with their sleepy charges. We ended up with only a few people in our Orchestra Left section.
                This allowed me to stand and take plenty of photos of the performers. Earlier I was afraid to stand too long for fear of blocking the people behind me. One of the few younger fathers sat two rows ahead of me. He wore his hair in high spikes, which blocked most of my camera’s flash. Near the end, as there was no one behind me; I could stand and hold the camera as high as I wished – his light-absorbing head no longer a problem.
                We had great seats. Well, Peabody Opera House (I still think of it as Keil Opera House – I saw Clapton there in the 1980s) does not have a bad seat; but we had particularly good ones. We were seventh row to the far left. The front rows taper outward. This means there were three rows between us and the far stage left. 
 
                 Lachey spent some time on our side of the audience. He gave my daughter a high-five!
                 When Anthony stood on the end of the stage he was ten feet in front of us. He waved back at Abby and me. Yes, I was waving at Anthony – I am one of the few surviving Cockroaches fans in the States…
                The Wiggles and their troupe sang and played their instruments live.  In most of the concert footage they look like they are lip-synching. With all their dancing and activity that isn’t surprising. And this is the Wiggles, not Milli Vanilli – who cares?
                But we were close enough to tell. They sang live. And their instruments were live, too. Good for them.
                This despite the fact that there was LOTS of dancing going on. Every song had its own moves. The children (and most adults) followed along faithfully. Captain Feathersword played bass, Anthony played acoustic and electric guitar and drums, Emma played drums, Lachy played keyboards and the glockenspiel. And even the dancers played percussion, drums and guitar as needed.
                Speaking of the dancers… They were introduced at the end, but by then I was dancing with and photographing my daughter.  Looking online doesn’t help identify the three dancers.  The beautiful Catarina Mete has a bit of a following and hers is the only name I can find. The other lady is Lauren –  I hope the spelling is correct.  She was named in a concert segment on the Wiggles’ new TV show.  The male dancer, Nick, looks a lot like Lachy; so much so my daughter thought it WAS Lachy when he came on stage.  
                He was the first one on stage. He gave us a safety lecture much like the stewardi on a plane – find your exits, watch your children, that sort of thing.  He also told us to tweet what we think about the show and they will later read their favorites during the concert.
                So spend the concert staring at your phone? Um, no. I disagree – My tweet would read, “I would love to watch the show but I haven’t seen a minute of it because I am trying to tweet.”  Don’t text and wiggle.  
                Like I’m one to talk. I spent the concert taking photos and jotting down the playlist.
                Speaking of which:
 
Rock a Bye Your Bear
Can You Point Your Finger and Do the Twist
Quack Quack
(My Sharona – spoof)
Monkey Dance
Here Comes a Bear
D*O*R*O*T*H*Y
Romp Pomp a Chomp
(The Rose – spoof)
Joannie Works With One Hammer
Numbers Rhumba
Shakey Shakey
Fruit Salad
Peanut Butter
Toot Toot Chugga Chugga
(If I Could Turn Back Time – spoof)
Captain’s Magic Buttons
Five Little Joeys
Emma (With a Bow in Her Hair)
We’re Dancing With Wags the Dog
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Henry’s Dance
Simon Says
There Was a Princess Long Ago
I’ve Got My Glasses On
Shimmy Shake
Hot Potato
Do the Propeller
                Oh, and I tried keeping a “Gee C’mon” tab, but I lost track among the other things going on. I know Anthony said it two or three times.
                Emma left the stage for a time to say hello to the fans. Doing my best stage-mother imitation, I grabbed my daughter and walked with her to the center aisle and plopped her in front of Emma. 
 
                “You’re wearing a yellow skivvie and a black skirt just like mine!” Emma said. My daughter was giddy! She met Emma! Her favorite! I was so happy for her!
                I knew my daughter was getting tired when she kept asking, “Is it over?” after ever song during the second half.  But not in a whiney way, just like asking if a TV show is over. She had a ball. She squealed with delight and laughed and giggled when she recognized a song. By the end, though, she was happy just to dance along with the songs in the side aisles. It made both of us so tremendously happy to see her so happy.
                There were enough nods to the adults to keep us smiling, too. Captain Feathersword did a funny Cher imitation.  Anthony made a Lady Gaga reference. He said, “We used to say Miley Cyrus but we changed that a few weeks ago.” It was funny but I’ll bet he was also very serious. There were comical homages to the songs “The Rose” and “My Sharona”.
                We might get one last Wiggles concert out of our daughter before she gets too old for that sort of thing and starts dragging us to the boy band dujour.  But I’ll cherish the look on her face and the sound of her laugh. Thanks Wiggles!
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

 

I Finally Bury a Long-Dead Friend

 

I Finally Bury a Long-Dead Friend

 

Begin the day with a friendly voice
A companion unobtrusive
Plays that song that’s so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood

Off on your way, hit the open road
There is magic at your fingers
For the Spirit ever lingers
Undemanding contact in your happy solitude

Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free

All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open hearted
Not so coldly charted
It’s really just a question of your honesty, yeah
Your honesty
One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity

For the words of the prophets were written on the studio wall
Concert hall
And echoes with the sounds of salesmen

Spirit of Radio – Rush

I’d sit alone and watch your light
My only friend through teenage nights
And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio

You gave them all those old time stars
Through wars of worlds – invaded by Mars
You made ’em laugh – you made ’em cry
You made us feel like we could fly.

So don’t become some background noise
A backdrop for the girls and boys
Who just don’t know or just don’t care
And just complain when you’re not there
You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Radio.

All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio goo goo, Radio ga ga
All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio blah blah, Radio what’s new?
Radio, someone still loves you!

We watch the shows – we watch the stars
On videos for hours and hours
We hardly need to use our ears
How music changes through the years.

Let’s hope you never leave old friend
Like all good things on you we depend
So stick around cos we might miss you
When we grow tired of all this visual
You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Radio – Radio.

Radio Gaga – Queen

 

                I’ve loved broadcast radio ever since I was a little child. Late at night (sometimes past midnight! Ooo…) I would turn on my AM radio shaped like Superman and slide under the covers to listen to my favorite stations. Going up and down the dial I would sometimes get Mexico, but usually I listened to rock-and-roll programs.
                As I got older and my radios/stereos got bigger and better I discovered FM stations. And LPs. Now I was really rocking and rolling.
                But as was the case with some friendships, things changed. The relationship soured.
                I was a disk jockey for ten years during (mostly) the 1980s. I got tired of hearing the same songs repeated – I joked that I suffered from Bachman Turner Overdose. The name was a pun on one of the more overplayed groups.
                My job as a DJ, in my mind, was to share music with the listener. Here’s a good song, here’s another one. Here’s a rare track you probably haven’t heard before, but I hope you like it. Here’s something brand new. Yes, that was the Rolling Stones, but here’s Budgie! Yes, that was Boston, here’s Badfinger!
                A show had a flow and ebb. Slow songs giving way to fast songs and then back to slow songs. In between I would pepper information about the songs. “That was Larry Knechtel on bass on that song by the Doors. He was later a member of Bread. Can you believe a person from Bread playing with the Doors?”
                I left the business when I graduated law school. I moved to a large town to practice law where there were, at that time,  four stations that played rock music. I am too far away to get any rock stations from St. Louis – so I have to rely on these smaller markets.
                Two of the stations were quite far away – one changed over to country music and the other has become a band of static. I occasionally can hear what they play, but it is usually white noise.
                That left the oldies station and one last rock station. Presently, the oldies station plays mostly music from the late 1970s and 1980s, including Michael Jackson and Madonna. And lots of BeeGees. The disco stuff, not the older songs. That’s fine if you like that kind of music, but I do not. I want my oldies station to play …well … oldies. Beach Boys, Chuck Berry – when was the last time you heard Fats Domino on an oldies station?
                And the rock station … it aggravated me from the first time I tuned in. The DJs were mostly canned – I heard the same announcers while driving through Vermont. The local ones were awful. They mispronounced names. They got the songs wrong.
                When Linda McCartney died, Chrissie Hynde said her next album would feature a photo of her taken by Linda. The DJ said, “It doesn’t say here whether the photo was taken before or after her death.” I’d guess before.
                Another DJ said “House of the Rising Sun” was the biggest single the Rolling Stones ever had.
                My Facebook status often stated what the local dolt on the radio got wrong that morning.
                If you are going to be an announcer, it’s okay not to know everything, but check the pronunciations and facts before you say them.  I wasn’t a perfect DJ – I mispronounced names (I don’t think I ever said “Yehudi Menuhin” the same way twice … he did an album with Ravi Shankar I used to play the album on my New Age show), but only once. And I kept lots of reference books nearby to check session men, producers, writers, etc.
                By the way, the local morning dolt mispronounced Ravi Shankar’s name during his Beatles show.
                At the station I worked at in 1989 our clueless program director wrote this on a Left Banke CD – “mention this group features Steve Martin”. I had to write underneath – “not THAT Steve Martin”. I still hear him on the air when I drive through the city in which he works (I don’t want to say which one).  I expect he is telling everyone John Legend is his favorite Beatle.
                Back to the local “rock” station… I once described its format as Red Neck ‘n Roll. Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Skynyrd, repeat. A Facebook post of mine said if you tune in to the station and they are NOT playing Zeppelin, Aerosmith, or Lynyrd Skynyrd I would give you a dollar. One person posted. “Damn, you’re right.” 
                Every few weeks the station would change the songs. The artists would stay the same though. Every few hours they would play “Turn the Page” by Bob Seger. A few weeks later every few hours they would play “Hollywood Nights”. But always Bob Seger. Always Bob Seger.
***
                I got a new car in July. Well, new to me. It has a CD player as well as an MP3 player. My wife lets me use her ipod and I filled it with songs I have on CD but have not heard on the radio since … well, since I played them.
                My old car only had a cassette player – it was a 1999 model. I listen to cassettes but they would wear out or I would get as tired of hearing them as I was tired of listening to the radio.
                On the Thursday before I got my car (on that Saturday), I had the oldies station on. They did their top-of-the-hour station ID. “WQRL,” it said (real station).
                “Cue Home Depot commercial,” I said.
                A Home Depot commercial came on.
                I shut off the radio and haven’t listened to it since. I finally accepted the fact. My friend is dead.
                Now I listen to CDs or my ipad/pod for music and audiobooks while I drive. The issue of bulky, flimsy and repetitive cassette tapes is behind me. So is broadcast radio.
                There may be stations that broadcast the way they used to, somewhere.
                 There is an independent public station in Carbondale that plays an eclectic mix. A woman who once worked with me at the local NPR station works there and plays her jazz and big band favorites. She fled the NPR station when it went to all-classical – they would have gotten rid of Morning Edition, All Things Considered and (gasp) Prairie Home Companion if they could have gotten away with it. She is knowledgeable about the genre and has a good voice. I like her show. I like a few others – one fellow plays folk music – but some of it still has the taint of a bad college station. Oh boy, more punk raga… Happy 1987 everyone…
                Perhaps someday I will explore satellite radio and see what choices it gives me. No DJs or commercial interruptions sounds good, but are their playlists diverse enough to keep me from running my car into a tree? “Turn the page .. Woo-ooooo-woo-oo-oooooooo….”
                Goodbye old friend. I have happy memories of for sharing that Superman radio and using you to test out the stereo I got for Christmas. 
Well you can’t turn him into a company man
You can’t turn him into a whore
And the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore
Well the top brass don’t like him talking so much,
And he won’t play what they say to play
And he don’t want to change what don’t need to change

There goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say, hey hey hey…

And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
There goes the last DJ

Well some folks say they’re gonna hang him so high
‘Cause you just can’t do what he did
There’re some things you just can’t put in the minds of those kids

As we celebrate mediocrity all the boys upstairs want to see
How much you’ll pay for what you used to get for free

Well he got him a station down in Mexico
And sometimes it’ll kind of come in
And I’ll bust a move and remember how it was back then

The Last DJ – Tom Petty
Original material copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

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