GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Part Two)

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

 

GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY (Intro)

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

 

ONE LITTLE TRUMPET RIFF

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

Fall of the Titans

Fall of the Titans
 
            In the last two months we’ve lost some giants. They were icons of their individual fields that were imitated and emulated but stood alone on their own shelves – no one coming close to their level.
***
            Ray Harryhausen died in May at the age of 92. His stop-motion animation made the fantasy sequences of his movies real, especially to an impressionable youngster with a love of fantasy and monster movies. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was real. Mighty Joe Young was real. The skeletons that fought Jason – real. The Kraken, Medusa and Pegasus from “Clash of the Titans” were better actors than Olivier.
            And “The Valley of Gwangi”. Ray assured himself a special place in heaven with “The Valley of Gwangi”.
            Without him I would be taking Jean-Luc Godard and Dziga Vertov seriously.
            A friend’s mother went to high school with him. Her mother still has the year book. Isn’t that cool?
            It’s very easy in this cynical age to look back and say how cheesy his artistry was. “Look at Lord of the Rings,” one would say, “how can any of his work compare to that?” The answer is simple – the son always strives to be better than the father. Peter Jackson would be the first to agree.
            Watch the battle between Jason of “…and the Argonauts” and the undead skeletons near the end of the movie. Imagine you are eight years old. Did you fold your legs under you on your seat?  Were you afraid of a boney hand brushing your ankle from under the sofa? No? You are lying.
            He made me believe in monsters said “Shaun of the Deaddirector Edgar Wright in a memoriam.  Thank you, Ray, for making us believe.
***
            George Jones died in April at age 81. He was one of the last great country singers of his era. For almost sixty years he ruled the country music roost. If there was an award, he won it. His music was of a kind only imitated now.
            His signature tune, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” has been called the greatest country song of all time. It is certainly one of the saddest songs of all time. But that is saying the same thing, isn’t it?
***
            Jonathan Winters died in April at the age of 88. He was a comedian. No one, no one, has been able to match his styling. He didn’t do stand up, he didn’t do monologues, he didn’t do wry political commentary. He did one-man acts; skits with his own sound effects.
            Some comedians start with, “two Jews walk into a bar…”  Winters started with “Colonel, the Apaches are lining the hills…”, or
            “(affecting an elderly lady’s voice) Oh, what a lovely day for a drive…”, or
            “Did you ever undress in front of your dog?”  I laugh out loud still thinking of this bit. I smiled while typing it.
            “Are you queer?” “No, I’m homosexual. My little brother’s queer. He collects little bugs.”
            Marvin Kaplan, his co-star in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” said he worked with two geniuses in his life – Charlie Chaplin and Jonathan Winters. Watch him discuss his time in that movie with Winters giggling alongside at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD5WeFCcu68.
            Jonathan Winters was on Scooby-Doo, he was Papa Smurf, and he was on the Muppet Show. You can see the exact moment Frank Oz as Fozzy Bear gave up trying to improvise with him. The crew’s laughter drowned out the laugh track.
            Robin Williams is the only comedian who has come close to the weird and manic ways of Winters comedy-style; and even he admits he didn’t come close.
            Was he insane? He spent time in a mental institution. But he channeled any mental illness he suffered into a useful and beneficial way. He made us laugh. He made us laugh until our bellies hurt.  Goodbye old friend.
***
            We’ve lost two other artists who I will miss as well. Not the titans of their genre, but I was still saddened by their deaths.
            Richie Havens was a folk artist with a very unique guitar playing style. He died in April at age 72. He will be renowned for being the opening act at Woodstock, but he should also be known for his music. Among his accomplishments include something extremely rare: He remade “Here Comes the Sun” in a version more beautiful that the Beatles’ version.
            Ray Manzarek died at 74 in May. If he had not founded the Doors with Jim Morrison, he would have been known as a great keyboardist – either in rock or jazz. If he would not have stayed in the music business he probably would have been a professor of music at a distinguished university.  I interviewed him in the late 1980s and he was extremely intelligent and funny. He talked about the influence for his opening riff on “Light My Fire” and his relationship with Jim Morrison. He sang on a few Doors song – notably “Close To You”. 
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men

Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men
Thought of the Blog: Dickens says that Bob Cratchet had only met Scrooge’s nephew once (this was in Stave Four in the future: “Mr. Scrooge’s nephew, whon he had scarcely seen but once” – an odd way of putting it if they had met more often than once). This was when Fred visited Scrooge at his counting house and invited him to Christmas dinner.
                This implies one of two things – either this is the first time Fred had come to Scrooge’s counting house for any reason, let along to invite him to his party (Stave Three says he WILL go by year after year but not necessarily HAS in the past); or, if Fred HAS been inviting Scrooge year after year, Cratchet has only been working for Scrooge over the past 364 days at MOST. When Scrooge says, “You’ll want all day tomorrow…” was this the FIRST time he asked this to Cratchet, or was this an annual conversation. It seems to imply this has happened before – getting all day off – perhaps Scrooge comes to expect this from his clerks.
                If Cratchet has only been at his job less than a year – what of the other clerks?  How many has Scrooge had over the years? Can you imagine the job interview? Where had Cratchet worked before? Was he that bad of a clerk this was the only position available? I would think not many people would recommend Scrooge and Marley as an ideal work environment…
WELL KNOWN SCROOGES
                In the late 1960s the Hollywood Musical* as a genre was on its last great gasp. In the 1970s they were as rare as a Jennifer Aniston blockbuster – for every “Cabaret” there were ten “Mame”s.  The theaters were dominated by big-budget wide-screen epics including “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Oliver!”  A Dickens tale as a musical? Sure, and if it worked once…
                *Note that “Scrooge” was filmed and produced in Englandand therefore not, literally, a Hollywood Musical, but it snuggled nicely into the genre.
                “Scrooge” was released in 1970 and starred Albert Finney in the title role. It received four Oscar nominations and Finney won a Golden Globe. It was well received critically.
                Several things differentiate this version of the tale – not least of which is the music. Most “Christmas Carols” contain music – usually brass band versions of old Christmas songs, a small choir singing carols, Tiny Tim’s Peter-Brady-like-cringe-worthy renditions of various tunes; and the occasional song during Fezziwig’s and Fred’s parties. But this was a Musical with a capital “M” – the songs had little to do with the holiday and more to do with reflecting the mood and emotion of the moment: teasing children belt out “Father Christmas”.  “December the 25th”is a fun tune at Fezziwig’s party but not the kind that would become a Christmas classic. There is the genuinely sad “You … you” during which we see the exact moment when the adult Scrooge shut himself off from the world and when his older self realized what he had become. Most people remember the unbelievably catchy “Thank You Very Much” sung twice during the movie. You’ll be humming it all day now.
               Its unique moments are what stand out – seeing the face of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and the scenes set in hell – no other version of the tale has this (“Disney’s Christmas Carol shows a vague face and a coffin deep in the glowing earth, so it is close). In fact, it’s not in the novel at all. But I don’t mind that – if I want a faithful rendition of the novel I would hardly expect it from a musical.
                And it is always fun to see Alec Guinness try to sing. Being of my generation, I did not realize Alec Guinness was Marley until after I had seen him in that OTHER movie he was in. Therefore, I will always associate him with that OTHER movie first. Put another way, every time I see “Scrooge” and the ghost of Marley enters I expect him to say, “Go to Dagobah, Ebenezer, and learn from Yoda…”
RARE SCROOGES
                Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962). WHAT!? This classic is put in the “rare” category!? Yes, in the 1970s it was on TV quite a bit, but it went decades without rebroadcasting. Maybe where you live some local station aired it, but not in my market. Not even the cable channels. It has come back to television recently though – TiVo has helped me find it. This cartoon is usually at the top of most favorites list, so I suspect the show has aired elsewhere annually or I just missed it. For twenty years. … Hmm, I stand by its rarity.
                Now this Magoo isn’t the doddering racist from the weekly cartoon; this is the Magoo from the 1950s UPA shorts – still blind as a bat but painting, hunting, camping as if nothing is remiss. Unfortunately most of those shorts are long gone.
                It presents itself as a musical – hence its inclusion here. The titles bring the tunes to mind – which is a good indication of their longevity – Lord’s Bright Blessing, Ringle Ringle, etc.  The songs were written by the same team that wrote the tunes to “Funny Girl” – which explains why the songs rank so high in retention.
                Jim Backus does the definitive voice of Magoo, the immortal Paul Frees also provides voices. So does Morey Amsterdam – immortal in his own way as Buddy Sorrell (remember him stealing the show on the Christmas episode of Dick Van Dyke? Or for that matter … of every episode of Dick Van Dyke?).
             Its unique moments:
1.       It begins and ends with Magoo and the other characters preparing to perform Carol on stage. In between acts the curtain closes to begin the commercial break. We are watching a cartoon pretending to be a stage production of “A Christmas Carol”.
2.       Gerald McBoingboing speaks!?
3.       This was the first holiday cartoon produced specifically for television. It paved the way for Charlie Brown, Rudolph and all the other animated “Christmas Carols”.
4.       The ghosts were out of order! The Ghost of Christmas Present was first! I have always remembered that: this was one of my first (not THE first – that was the 1969 cartoon) exposure to “Christmas Carol” and I always wondered why “later” versions had the ghosts appear out of order.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                Near the end of NBC’s reign as the #1 broadcast network, it collected some of its stars to be in a musical version of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” in 2004. It was based on an earlier stage musical.
                Kelsey Grammer took a break from Frazier to play Scrooge. Other NBC stars such as Law & Order’s Jesse L. Martin and Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander was Marley.
                I tried watching it, I really did. But I lost interest quickly and turned the channel. The musical numbers were not that catchy and I found it kind of boring.  To me it added nothing unique to the tale.
                It was fun watching Martin and Alexander sing and dance. Seinfeld fans are usually shocked to know Alexander is quite different from his shlub-counterpart George Costanza. Likewise Martin – given his and L&O partner Jerry Orbach’s legendary musical theater background it is too bad the two of them never did anything else together.
                I watched it when it was broadcast. I tried watching it again the next year during a repeat with the same feeling of ennui. I’ve yet to see it all the way through. Maybe it picks up at the end. I doubt it…
NEXT: The Sounds of Silence
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry