"Now the first of December was covered with snow
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Though the Berkshires seem dreamlike on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go..."
Traveling that same road, on our way to spend Christmas with my lovely wife's sister and her family in Connecticut, I thought of this lyric and was damn glad that the "frosting" was merely window decoration at the side of the highway and not on it. Thankfully, life did not imitate the art of James Taylor.
JT must have had Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" in mind while composing "Sweet Baby James"
Miles to go before I sleep
Though it did involve covering many miles, the drive was beautiful with sunny skies and wonderfully clear roads. The scenery in New York State never fails to dazzle the eye. Christmas in the US of A was perfect, as my son had a terrific time with his cousins.
Back home now, looking forward to my buddy's New Year bash, followed by a two night gig at Pier 21 here in Ottawa.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
MR TAMBOURINE MAN
Purists will go to great lengths to protect an art form from becoming diluted or tainted by the introduction of elements that would dare to give it wider commercial appeal.
Populists are generally responsible for pissing them off.
Amusing from a contemporary viewpoint, as most genres of music have been blended many times over, but in the early sixties if you were a fan of folk, rock or pop was a lower form of entertainment. In short, it was viewed as bubblegum for mindless kids to waste their time with.
Collegiate types of that era would be the first to lecture you on the merits of what the performer had to say with special emphasis placed on the fact that many (though not all) who pursued this style of music sang about social injustice, politics and the madness of waging war against fellow human beings. In truth, the folk tradition stretches back further than even the most tenacious music researcher would likely care to investigate. Etymology aside, the revival of the form in the fifties would bring many new converts into the fold and a host of performers that played acoustic instruments and had a message tucked in their back pockets. Many simply gave recorded life to songs that had been passed down through generations.
One young singer-songwriter who came to prominence in the early sixties had captured the minds and hearts of his audience with compelling work that moved peers and listeners alike to appoint him as spokesperson for the "protest movement" that swept college campuses and all corners where words were the most powerful weapons with which to denounce the most reprehensible actions of the establishment. Bob Dylan was practically deified by the folkies.
No one counted on the fact that this guy was not interested in labels or becoming the crown prince of topical song writing. When he released the excellent Bringing It All Back Home LP in '65, his core audience was completely shaken by what they heard. Electric guitars, drums and nary a word that addressed the socio-political upheaval of the times. One tune from this set was co-opted by a newly formed rock group, whose members had themselves been steeped in acoustic folk music. The arrival of the Beatles in the US changed the game plan and for Jim McGuinn, seeing George Harrison playing that electric, 12-string Rickenbacker in the film "A Hard Day's Night" was his epiphany.
The worlds of Dylan and The Beatles collided in the sound of The Byrds and "folk rock" became a buzzword in the summer of 1965.
At that precise moment, a frustrated, idealistic and somewhat drunken folk music purist emptied the contents of his beer on a friend who tried to get him to listen to this groovy new group.
Editing Dylan's verses down to two from the original four, adding floating, ethereal harmonies, bright electric 12 string and employing McGuinn's brilliant arrangement ensured that the Byrds version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" would find a spot at the top of the charts. Within seconds of the start of that chiming, iconic riff, you know what you're listening to. Heralding the promise of all that would follow it, they instantly became one of the most stirring groups in the universe.
Combining literate subject matter, three part harmony and two guitar/bass /drums backing was truly a step forward, with many established acts sitting up and taking notice. All of these ingredients had previously shown up on records by the Searchers ("Needles and Pins" was a precursor to Gene Clark's "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better"), the Beatles, the Animals and Dylan himself, though no one had successfully integrated them until the Byrds came along. Without a doubt, that sound has been bounced off the walls of countless studios by scores of subsequent artists in the decades that followed.
Absolutely stunning vocals were the cornerstone of this record. Gene Clark, David Crosby and McGuinn brought an embarrassment of riches to the table in this department. All had done the folk circuit either on their own or with other small groups. Chris Hillman was the Eddie Van Halen of the mandolin, schooled in country and bluegrass and switched to bass primarily to fill the gap. Michael Clarke looked like Brian Jones, though he was a quick study when it came to picking up the requisite skills to handle the back beat. Together they became a force, though this incarnation of the band fared better in the studio than they did on stage.
That is when they were finally given the green light to do their own instrumental work.
McGuinn was the only Byrd allowed to play on "Mr. Tambourine Man" (the lead single) as the others were sidelined in favor of session players. Hiring members of Phil Spector's famed "Wrecking Crew", Terry Melcher had Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Larry Knetchel, Bill Pittman and Jerry Cole handle the other instruments. The same lineup recorded "I Knew I'd Want You" as well. Crosby and Clark sang on both tracks with McGuinn, though.
They tracked their own parts on all other songs on the disc. Four Dylan tunes appear on Mr. Tambourine Man (the LP) which they interpret quite well. Three more covers made the album, with the remaining space filled by Gene Clark's compositions, several of which were co-written with McGuinn. The one original that stood head and shoulders above the others was the magnificent "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better", with excellent harmonized lines that echo the verses and the indelible stamp of the Rickenbacker 360. Over twenty years later, Tom Petty would re-record this gem for his first solo project and it retained a contemporary freshness that made it seem like a brand new song.
He didn't alter the arrangement at all.
Clark's early efforts have been nailed by some critics as being derivative of British Invasion stylings, though frankly, most of the output of that era followed a blueprint that was designed and engineered for radio playlists. He wrote to hit the benchmarks laid out for that format and did it well, being by far the most accomplished wordsmith of the five at that point.
For me, whether McGuinn pronounced it correctly or not, the best adaptation out of the pack was their take on Pete Seeger's "Bells of Rhymney" which depicts a Welsh coal mining disaster. I can relate to this as I grew up in an industrial area with a number of coal mines. When you heard the pit whistle (kind of close to an air raid siren in tone) it meant something went woefully wrong deep beneath the surface. McGuinn's solo still gives me shivers each time I hear it. This is what I would play to anyone to demonstrate how subtlety is a much more powerful way to evoke emotion in the listener, rather than beating them over the head with histrionics and a "now you're supposed to feel something" vibe. This is the biggest blunder that makers of contemporary film and music continually repeat: They don't think that the masses possess enough intelligence to discern what is being depicted by their art without flash cards.
"Cry here" "Applaud here" "Big laugh now"
Enough of my ranting, please judge for yourself.
Overall, this is one of the strongest debut sets of that era, inspiring their peers right out of their skulls. Reportedly, Dylan felt a bit let down that the Byrds take on "All I Really Want To Do" was beaten in the charts by Sonny and Cher's version. (With everyone clamoring to record his music, his bank account wasn't suffering). McGuinn was an ideal and sympathetic translator of Bob's work, though Dylan started working with other musicians around the same period and his compositions were augmented with electric accompaniment from that point on.
Let's leave the last words to McGuinn, caught here in performance last May.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
DAMN THE TORPEDOES
In "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", Joseph Campbell described apotheosis as the expansion of consciousness that the hero experiences after defeating his foe.
Aptly named, the Heartbreakers' third album was forged under a cloud of trying circumstances, though Petty's tenacity saw him emerge victorious from a legal battle to free himself from a lopsided deal. He recovered ownership of his publishing, secured a decent royalty rate and gained complete artistic control over all future projects. On record, his reputation as a solid song writer was established, with several singles from the album scoring as massive hits.
Slightly altering Campbell's take on things, it's fair to say that the band's profile underwent an expansion into mass consciousness and they officially became rock stars. Thirty years on from official release, "Refugee", "Don't Do Me Like That", "Even the Losers" and "Here Comes My Girl" retain a deserved presence on classic rock playlists.
Damn the Torpedoes could be viewed as Petty's mantra in light of the many battles he has waged to keep the insidious aspects of the record business at bay, while remaining dedicated to honing his craft.
Poised to crack the commercial coconut after releasing two respectable discs, they teamed with producer Jimmy Iovine who helped to clearly define the sonic personalities of the five musicians. Listen for the payoff in the form of a startling exercise in dynamics called "Refugee"
Playing up the strengths of each member, Stan Lynch's drums are way up front in the mix, with a gradual build of ominous sounding guitars grinding out Mike Campbell's now famous F#m, A, E progression. Benmont Tench's swirling Hammond fills are the cherry on top of a very satisfying sundae. Everything is bridled during the verses, allowing for the dramatic punch of everyone hitting the chorus hard and loud.
Quintessential early Heartbreakers.
Deploying several important weapons in their arsenal, not the least of which is the pure skill and precision that Campbell brings to everything that he touches, the first side continues to impress with "Here Comes My Girl". The spoken verses are a masterstroke, building tension that almost threatens to snap before Petty brings the sugar (but not too much) of the chorus. This is the second and last tune co-written with Campbell on the disc, though I really think that he should have been involved in a few more selections as his input was always beneficial to the final product. This is not to say that the rest is disposable.
Far from it.
Petty proudly flies the flag of rock and roll throughout a killer album side. Though there is a fair amount of polish in production, the execution is equally flawless, as the musicianship was nothing short of superb. Designed to leap from the speaker grills, grab you by the ear and make you take notice, this is one big "fuck off" of an album. Doubtlessly, he had drafted and re-written this many times to match the concert that blasted away inside his head.
Could there be a more sympathetic and skilled group of team players than these guys?
Mike Campbell is the most underrated guitarist on the planet. Benmont Tench is a virtual encyclopedia when it comes to music history and a virtuoso in his own right. No less.
Those who dismiss Tom Petty and his cohorts are also writing off several genres of fantastic music in doing so. His songs are not facile, it is just that he works very hard to make it look easy. Don't be fooled, as thousands of hours went into producing his stellar discography. Arguably, his output has only grown stronger with the passage of time.
Dylanesque inflection,(with the twist being that he's blessed with greater range as a vocalist) ringing, 12 string Byrdsian jangle, airtight harmonies and concise arrangements all contribute to something that is ultimately quite timeless. Petty wore his influences on his sleeve (and still does), though his brilliance lies in the fact that he has been able to synthesize the best elements of what came before with his own slant.
This is a very good record.
All nine tracks hit the mark and for those that were concerned about the health of the industry in the late 70s, Petty was seen as a savior of sorts. In performance, they delivered as well or better than they did in the studio because they gave a shit about quality. The impact of Damn the Torpedoes was huge, though it was kept from hitting number one by Roger Waters Oedipal opus, The Wall. My first encounter with this marvelous platter came by flipping through the record collection of my buddy's older sister. It wasn't until Long After Dark in '82 when I really caught up with him, but he has done very little to change my mind about his talent and commitment to excellence after all these years.
"Louisiana Rain" closes out the set on a somewhat down tempo note. One of his finest early songs, it dates from the ill-fated, but productive sessions that were undertaken as his previous band, Mudcrutch was breathing its last. This wistful, country tinged confection hinted at the change in direction that would lead him on to very interesting paths and collaborations as the eighties unfolded. Damn the Torpedoes created lifelong fans out of listeners and his peers.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Another sad anniversary is marked today, which needs no explanation. It is hard to believe that twenty-nine years have passed since a very senseless act triggered a shockwave of grief and outrage that stretched around the globe.
It seemed surreal hearing the radio report that morning as I was getting ready for school. Lennon’s voice was as familiar to me as that of a family member. I remember playing the "Starting Over" single, which I had bought just a couple of weeks prior (and still have) before heading out in the cold to catch the bus.
At twelve, the generational impact wasn’t a factor in my reaction, though I do recall staring at the gatefold picture of Sgt. Pepper later that evening and thinking how strange it was that the smiling, bespectacled guy in that photo was gone.
In a kinder universe, the Beatles Anthology project would have ended with an absolutely mind blowing Unplugged set.
It seemed surreal hearing the radio report that morning as I was getting ready for school. Lennon’s voice was as familiar to me as that of a family member. I remember playing the "Starting Over" single, which I had bought just a couple of weeks prior (and still have) before heading out in the cold to catch the bus.
At twelve, the generational impact wasn’t a factor in my reaction, though I do recall staring at the gatefold picture of Sgt. Pepper later that evening and thinking how strange it was that the smiling, bespectacled guy in that photo was gone.
In a kinder universe, the Beatles Anthology project would have ended with an absolutely mind blowing Unplugged set.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Parting gifts come in varied forms, garnering different reactions from their recipients. When the bearers of said farewell offering do it right, everyone should leave with a drop of telltale moisture etched around the eyes. No doubt that this was the case when Cream capped a career that was notorious for its brilliance as well as its brevity.
Privately, the intense dislike that Bruce and Baker had for each other kept the aggregation on the cusp of implosion during their entire run. Curiously, the end really came when Clapton received a copy of The Band's Music From Big Pink LP and thus spent the rest of his career trying to emulate it, feeling that he and his mates had veered wildly away from their original vision.
Virtuosos all, merely saying that these guys could really play is simply a mild restatement of the obvious.
They were absolute fucking monsters on their respective instruments, standing about ten feet taller than their contemporaries as a live act.
Showing more than a touch of musical split personality disorder, Goodbye was a truncated version of Wheels of Fire with the studio cuts sounding decidedly un-Cream like. The live tunes were taken from a particularly inspired night at the LA Forum in the fall of '68.
Jack Bruce is a force, as he conducts a masterclass in symphonic four string art through every second of "I'm So Glad". It is a performance worthy of Orpheus, producing a cascade of notes through an electronic lyre, leaving the Macedonian hills ringing and the guard dog of Hades sitting pretty, offering his right paw, tail wagging happily.
The evil Furies weep and the Sirens' voices are tamed as all three solo like madmen in tandem.
No less impressive are their renditions of "Politician" and "Sitting On Top of the World". Anyone that was fortunate enough to have seen them in their excessive prime was treated to the spectacle of two massive towers of Marshall amps sitting on either side of Ginger's impressive drum kit. Playing with sheer abandon, there was little that came close to the electric thrill that emanated from every stage that they walked upon. Clapton's magic combo of white Gibson SG through the stack was a unique voice (sonically almost a cross between violin and guitar) and Baker tuned his drums to the point where they transcended percussion.
Having divested themselves of the US touring commitment, the next step was to produce a monumental spectacular that would rival "Wheels of Fire" in scope. Lacking the heart to carry on with such an undertaking, they managed to tape foundation work on a mere three selections at Wally Heider's facility in LA before calling a halt to the sessions.
Trooping back to the UK with tape boxes marked “Eric’s Tune”, “Jack’s Tune” and “Ginger’s Tune”, Cream prepared to give their Farewell Concert in November of 1968. The last original music that they would ever wax could scarcely be more different than the wild, improvisational flights captured in their live sets. These songs sound as if they had been laid down by a completely different band.
In truth, they hinted at what their sound may have morphed into had they not been ripped apart by their extreme personal differences. Their hardcore following had already painted them into a corner from which they would not be allowed out of. Tiring of playing to type, the operation came to an authoritative stop.
So they hastily completed their respective compositions at London's IBC Studios, with Felix Pappalardi on hand tp produce.
Fellow Band enthusiast and pal George Harrison had originally supplied the majority of "Eric's Tune" to Clapton.
Harrison: " I wrote most of the words and Eric had the bridge and the first couple of chord changes. I was writing the words down and, when we came to the middle bit, I wrote 'bridge'. Sitting opposite to me, he looked and said, 'What's that- badge'? So he called it 'Badge' because it made him laugh."
George plays rhythm up to the pregnant pause and then Eric does the best GH imitation ever, complete with Leslie toned arpeggios and a laid back solo. Funky bass lines and piano are provided by Bruce, culminating in one of the most accessible, melodic things that they ever did. Ringo Starr added the lines about "our kid" (younger sibling) marrying Mabel and the swans in the park.
Bruce's whimsical "Doing That Scrapyard Thing" had most of the lyric supplied by Pete Brown over the telephone, around midnight in the midst of the recording. This is a remarkably bizarre tune, though I say this in the kindest sense as it is stacked with fantastic changes, prominent piano breaks and falsetto vocals. Jack claims that it was autobiographical, though with so much going on it seems tough to pin down any specific meaning. Ginger's "What A Bringdown" was anything but, as it represents his finest offering to the Cream discography. Barreling through changes in time signature and sporting surreal words, it brings the LP to a close with edgy uncertainty.
That was it.
Well, it would be 25 years before all three would find themselves playing together again in a one-off gig for their rock hall of fame induction. Following this, twelve more years would pass before they reformed once more in 2005 for a series of concerts that will likely stand as their last shows.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
ARTHUR (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
"You're gonna find out just how powerful America is, you Limey bastard!!"
Following backstage fist fight with a union official prior to taping one of Dick Clark's TV specials back in 1965, Raymond Douglas Davies would soon find his opponent's shouted threat to be all too prophetic. The Kinks would be banned from performing in the States for several years as a direct result of this incident and general bad behavior during their visit.
What type of shit do you have to cause to warrant such a decree? Watch this clip.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Kinks missed out on a golden opportunity to cash in on the lucrative US touring market. They played venues in Europe, while other acts rode the crest of the "British Invasion" marketing tsunami that roared ashore in America.
Fate would then steer Davies down an incredibly creative avenue.
Taking inspiration from his own backyard, he began to write from a decidedly "English" point of view and set the group up with a string of classic singles. With regard to his craft, I believe that he was without peer during this period as the quality of the work was nothing short of stunning. "Sunny Afternoon", "See My Friends", "A Well Respected Man", "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", "Waterloo Sunset" and "Autumn Almanac" are but a few examples of the truly fantastic output that poured forth from Davies in the mid-sixties.
If you do not know or own these songs, you are missing out on true works of art. I could not give more effusive praise to any of his contemporaries. His masterpiece, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society album, consolidated many of his pet subjects and presented several characters that populated his imaginary, ideal and very British locale.
Under-exposure, poor marketing and Davies determination not to cop out and distort his vision by co-opting the day-glo bullshit that was commonplace in the era of psychedelic rock almost finished off the KInks as a commercial entity. 1969 brought a series of seismic shifts in circumstance as charter member/bassist Pete Quaife quit the group and Ray, with screenwriter Julian Mitchell, embarked on writing material that would form the basis of a combination album/made for TV film, loosely based on the real life departure of his older sister, Rosie, who emigrated to Australia some years before with her husband Arthur. The production never made it past the preliminary stages.
Fortunately, the album did not meet the same fate. Beating Pete Townshend's Tommy to the stores by a month as the first "rock opera" (though the Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow pre-dates both), the premise is that Arthur’s children are planning to emigrate to "the promised land" of Australia. He sits by the fire, thinks back on where he and his country went wrong, argues with his son, and realizes that the world has passed him by.
In the midst of creating his masterwork, Ray found time to head to LA and produce Turtle Soup for the Turtles. While there, he helped broker a deal with the musicians union that would allow the Kinks to play live in America again.
Things were looking up.
"Victoria" could very well be the quintessential Kinks song. Setting up the listener for the things that the main character sees as an ideal, now lost, the tune itself sees Davies, in a rather dichotomous fashion, aping the stylings of American group Canned Heat, while singing the praises of the British monarch for whom an era was named.
In devising his paean to long gone traditions, Davies almost comes off as Evelyn Waugh in reverse. Waugh wrote one of my favorite novels, "A Handful of Dust" and was known for his dark, satiric take on landed gentry. (Tony Last, the main character in the book is a man out of time, preoccupied with the upkeep of Hetton Abbey, a sprawling, Victorian Gothic dwelling. Things quickly degenerate for the hapless protagonist, though who am I to ruin a good story.)
The point here is that, through Arthur's eyes, we look wistfully at an England that was, without any dark punchlines attached. "Victoria" is the sum total of everything that Davies had been writing about in the years leading up to its release. Driving the rhythm section with a pumping bass line was new recruit, John Dalton. He had stood in with the group briefly in 1966, when Quaife took leave due to an accident (and an intention to bail for good, though he came back). Dalton and drummer Mick Avory gel quite well on each track, leaving the Davies brothers a solid foundation upon which to layer guitars.
Brass arrangements also add a regal touch to the mix.
Arthur represents an extremely beneficial leap forward in terms of engineering and the final mixes. Despite the brilliance of Ray's songs, the finished product had always left little to be desired when it came to balance of sound. It seemed, at times, that certain basics were not adhered to in getting instrumental parts to tape. No such issues are present with this disc.
Drawing the listener so deftly into another world that you almost breathe in time with the characters presented, every line is thoughtfully integrated into the bigger picture, though the songs stand on their own outside of the concept. "Shangri-La" is the best example of this, another outstanding creation whose theme transcends the era in which it was constructed. In class-conscious England, climbing beyond your social standing, sitting contentedly in relative comfort is given an edgy lyrical treatment
The little man who gets the train, got a mortgage hanging over his head
But he's too scared to complain, cause he's conditioned that way
Time goes by and he pays off his debts
Got a TV set and a radio, for seven shillings a week
It is by far the best song on the record.
Elsewhere, there are a couple of clumsy moments. On "Australia" they shift into "jam band" mode toward the end and fail spectacularly due to lack of structure. Similarly, the reading of Winston Churchill's speeches ("Mr. Churchill Said") drives home the point in a less than subtle fashion. Davies usual flair for cloaking his messages smartly eludes him here, though as an integral part of the "plot" it remains. He also picks his own pocket for the main melody on "Drivin'", cribbing a bit from Village Green's "Picture Book". The chord structure is phenomenal, though it went nowhere when issued as a single.
"Brainwashed" marks the return of Dave Davies' patented distorted guitar, which had been muted somewhat over the course of recent albums and sees Ray hurling invective at the masses, calling them out for their complacency.
The aristocrats and bureaucrats
Are dirty rats
For making you what you are
They're up there and you re down here
You're on the ground and they're up with the stars
All your life they've kicked you around and pushed you around
Till you can't take any more
To them you're just a speck of dirt
But you don't want to get up off the floor
Mister you're just brainwashed
"She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina" may be one of the album's saddest pieces, once again illustrating the tendency of the poorer classes to emulate those in the upper crust. Redolent of the music hall stylings that would soon become a trademark of the Kinks' sound in the early to mid seventies, it is another display of the versatility that made it tough for the trendy taste-makers to pin down and define from a marketing perspective. There's a great live version of it here, though you have to jump past the titles for the film "The Virgin Soldiers" in the middle of this video.
Overall, this is work that simply needs to be heard. The playing is superb, with all of the elements that made them great firmly in place. All that was missing was a receptive audience. Sadly, the massive success of the Who's Tommy relegated this disc to the cut-out bins before it even had a chance to be evaluated.
Without the massive support that was thrown behind their contemporaries, the greatest crime to befall any band of this calibre saw little or no chart action for Arthur (# 105 was its highest placement) and weak sales. It is with conviction that I would urge anyone who has an appreciation for music to investigate this great lost treasure. Conceptually, Arthur does not grab the would-be listener, forcefully, demanding immediate attention. Rather, it charms with melody, ease of expression and takes you on a journey through the mental landscape of one of the greatest song writers of our time.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Presenting the Rolling Stones on their much documented 1969 US tour.
They came, packed venues and laid a somewhat dubious claim to the title of "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band". ( The Who, anyone?) This is not to say that they played poorly or were doing show tunes, though there were other groups that were firing on liquid hydrogen compared to Mick and his crew at that time.
Maybe they had the World's Greatest PR Firm on their side.
Arguments about branding aside, this is definitely an extremely worthwhile disc in many respects. Captured in excellent form in New York's hallowed Madison Square Garden over two nights, the Stones played with renewed fire thanks to their newest member, guitarist Mick Taylor. Brian Jones had been elbowed from the fold earlier that year and died under mysterious circumstances not long after. Taylor's public initiation with the band could have scarcely been more unnerving, as he found himself playing to 500,000 people in London's Hyde Park in July, just two days after Jones' passing.
Though you (regrettably) don't see him execute the brilliant slide solo that he lays down here on their reworking of Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain", you definitely hear and feel it. Panache wins the day.
Fast forward to the fall gigs in the States.
Working their way across North America, with new technology (monitors) that afforded everyone the luxury of hearing themselves on stage for the first time, they also had the means to project their sound to larger audiences. People now expected value for their concert dollar, had grown with their favorite artists and were now coming to the gigs to actually listen.
Having been away from the US touring circuit for three years, the pressure was on to bring a monumental spectacle to each city. To their credit, the Stones delivered. Kicking off with a trippy collage of overlapping introductions, the album opens with "Jumping Jack Flash".
Jagger, resplendent in his Uncle Sam top hat, cape and stage uniform emblazoned with the Omega symbol provides the ultimate lesson in how to front a band with aplomb. Charlie and Bill hold down the rhythm expertly, leaving Keith and Mick Taylor a solid foundation over which they weave their six-string magic. There is a certain energy that emanates from this record that you feel across all of the forty years that have elapsed since they played these shows. Dirtier than the toilet on the cover of Beggars Banquet, there is no doubt that they tapped into a fantastic vibe, amplifying it considerably. "Sympathy For the Devil" finds them particularly inspired and deep in their own groove.
Here is something to ponder as you pound the tabletop in time with Charlie Watts' impeccable playing. Why is it that kids in the early 80s were not rushing out to buy Glenn Miller records on the fortieth anniversary of his passing? Surely, live recordings of "In the Mood" should have been repackaged and had people clamoring to get their hands on them?
The same amount of water has drifted under the bridge since these performances and the expanded, 40th anniversary edition of "Ya Ya's" is available, with legions of fans going out of pocket to possess it. The reissue contains five extra tunes, plus a bonus disc featuring the opening sets by both B B King AND Ike and Tina Turner. You also get the DVD, vinyl copy and a small vial of the special serum that has allowed Keith Richards to avoid many scheduled lunch dates with the Grim Reaper since 1966.
"Prodigal Son" is a highlight amongst the extras.
Personally, I have a soft spot for this disc. It sits proudly in my collection (vinyl copy), gets dusted off every so often and cranked. Fixed up with some post production work, mainly to correct vocals, it remains a great testament to the tight-knit, live powerhouse that the Rolling Stones became as the calendar page turned to close out the tumultuous sixties. The material on the official release was culled from their most recent LPs at that time (Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed) with two Chuck Berry covers ("Carol" and "Little Queenie") and the aforementioned "Love In Vain". I can't ever listen to them doing "Carol" without thinking of Berry giving Keith shit about the opening bend in the riff while they were rehearsing for the concert that ends Taylor Hackford's brilliant film, "Hail.Hail Rock and Roll".
"Midnight Rambler" is a high watermark in showcasing the live blues tightrope that they walked so well, complete with dark subject matter and dynamite, gritty harp playing from Jagger. "Stray Cat Blues" is literally attacked in performance, put across beautifully with a different arrangement than the album version. There is a great sense of purpose in this endeavor, almost as if to let people know that they were still vital, sharp and not about to relinquish their position in the commercial arena. Quite funny to think about now, when you consider that they were all still quite young, though, to be fair, so was rock music and a year away from the scene meant that you ran the risk of ending up as yesterday's news.
Bootleg recordings of their 1969 shows started circulating following the tour, not a penny of which was making its way back to the group. "Live'r Than You'll Ever Be" was an audience recording of a gig in Oakland (in fairly decent fidelity) that had record executives nervous and was even treated to a review in the music papers of that era. The official release was far superior, yet there is a treasure trove of live recordings to be found from this period, if you are a collector.
The final word belongs to Keith Richards.
You've got the sun, you've got the moon, and you've got the Rolling Stones.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
ALL THE BEST COWBOYS HAVE CHINESE EYES
Mid-points in any journey or experience are a curious place at which to arrive. You can look over your shoulder and cringe at some of the things you have said/done, over-analyzing just about every step that carried you to your present destination. At the same time, the wisdom gained along the way will (hopefully) prepare you for the second leg of the journey.
Would you like the rest of that mid-life crisis packed up to go?
Pete Townshend has never been shy about laundering his thoughts and hanging them out to dry in full view of the general public. All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes followed a spectacular crash and rehabilitation period that caught him with his feet straddling two very different sides of the artistic fence. One had him writing songs for the group that he had been a part of since the early sixties, while the other was pointed toward an exit from said situation. The sticking point with the Who was a need to tailor the lyrics so that they would sit well with frontman/interpreter Roger Daltrey. Townshend needed to express himself as freely as possible, which is why his solo work sat so uncomfortably in juxtaposition with the Who LPs of the early 80s.
Writing from the gut, his inner treasures/turmoils could be voiced by no one other than himself.
"I've now decided that there is one kind of writing for the band and one kind for me."
Sporting the then- trendy "New Wave" coiffure, he retired the past to the closet in favor of the synthisizer-driven leanings that were beginning to grab the ear of the masses. Never one to reduce his work to faddish, inconsequential bullshit, he infused the tunes with enough imagination to escape the gravity imposed by the universal time/date stamp. Production was handled by Chris Thomas, who saw that the artist's vision was delivered in an immaculately wrapped aural package. Supporting players hit their marks with clean precision, with special mention going to the percussive wizardry that Simon Phillips brought to the table.
Pretension creeps in (not for the first time), but I ask one question: Would you rather put up with a great artist erring toward pomposity in an attempt to reach a bit higher or sit and listen to homogeneously produced banality until someone plunges knitting needles through both of your eardrums in an act of mercy?
Effectively, the problems that plagued Townshend from his earliest days were always, by alchemic process, filtered into wonderful songs. This isn't to say that he sat around the house, interminably unhappy, writing self-pitying slabs of desiderata. He could have, considering that his marriage was failing, old friends were meeting untimely ends and the clock was winding down on his membership in the Who, soon to embark on a "Farewell Tour". Drink had always been a factor, though he had long since forsworn drug use, only to take it up again with a vengeance following several monumental personal losses.
"Somebody saved me, from a fate worse than Heaven"
He sought treatment for his addictions, escaping having his name carved into rock's obituary section prematurely. Putting a group together, he wrote material specifically for them to perform ("The Sea Refuses No River", "Slit Skirts") and started into pre-production rehearsals. Townshend's continued maturation as a writer is the main draw here, although no attempt is made to sketch out an album length conceptual piece. Some of the music was written originally for the Who ("Somebody Saved Me"), while other selections touch on recovery period in California ("Exquisitely Bored"). Ultimately, the songs are stronger because he lends his own voice to them, with emotions emerging undiluted as they amy have been if placed in the hands of a surrogate vocalist.
" 'Comunication' is a song about people pretending to relate to one another when they're actually not."
Spoken word interludes come into play, as they do in the brilliant "Stop Hurting People", easing some poetry into the mix, which may be the root cause of some fans intense dislike of this record. Poppier synth tones probably drove off those who yearned for the guitars to be pummeled with windmilling fury.
Had no one taken notice of the Who's transition from 'rock' to 'pop' band? Certainly shouldn't have been a huge shock, given the haircuts and the complete sonic overhaul that was previewed on Face Dances.
Interestingly enough, the album title spawned a sequel-song/bizarre video called "Face Dances Part 2". Somewhat amusing now, these videos only serve to point out just how unnecessary they were.
Melodic, overwrought at times, with slight shades of Andrew Lloyd-Webber-itis, he still manages to mingle deeply personal revelation with more universal statements. Balancing his synthesizer orchestrations with driving bed-tracks, steps are also taken not to completely submerge guitars or stray down the dangerous path of complete self absorption. It's ultimately a very satisfying listen.
Feeling no great urge to lean on the heavier side of his multi-faceted musical gifts, Townshend put a great deal of care into arrangements, not making any concessions to past triumphs by merely recycling them in the guise of new work. The best track is saved for the end and "Slit Skirts" burns with barely veiled themes that reveal the insecurities so many feel when approaching the changes wrought by middle age.
"Can't pretend that growing older never hurts"
Saturday, November 14, 2009
One of the most versatile singer/songwriter/instrumentalists to ever grace the stage, Bobby Darin packed quite a bit of accomplishment into his 37 years. Throw in acting/production credits and you begin to get a picture of the ambition that pushed him to work to the end, despite frail health.
Walden Robert Cassotto passed away on December 20, 1973.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Bat Out of Hell-Live
Filmed at the Stadthalle Offenbach, Bat Out of Hell: The Original Tour captures the raw excitement of Meat Loaf’s epic stage show. Larger-than-life songs like “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” and “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” sounded absolutely extravagant performed live. Not only does Meat Loaf dominate the stage, but he also captivates audiences with the riveting nature of his songs, with the help of the album’s songwriter Jim Steinman and female vocalist Karla DeVito.
Bruce Kulick's presence in the band gave the tunes a heavier edge that trumped the album versions.
Its visual proof of the power of Bat Out Of Hell, which certified 10x Platinum and sold over 40 million copies. Also included is a bonus interview from 1978 with Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman.
1.) Great Boleros Of Fire
2.) Bat Out Of Hell
3.) You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)
4.) All Revved Up With No Place To Go
5.) Paradise By The Dashboard Light
6.) Introducing The Band
7.) Johnny B Goode
8.) River Deep, Mountain High
9.) Johnny B Goode (reprise)
10.) Two Out Of Three Ain¹t Bad
11.) All Revved Up With No Place To Go (reprise)
It sees official release on Nov 10th, so check it out.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
LED ZEPPELIN II
Some of the finest albums of the rock era are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, with Abbey Road, Tommy and Let It Bleed being just a few notable releases that hit turntables for the first time in 1969. When a quartet of hirsute Englishmen released their sophomore disc in the fall of that year, which came wrapped in appropriate autumnal colors, it heralded another great sea change in popular music.
Grandiloquence aside, Led Zeppelin II remains a mainstay of classic rock play lists and continues to attract scores of new converts.
Around the time that they exploded on the scene, a rock writer joked that the Beatles battled the Rolling Stones in a parking lot and Led Zeppelin won. Sonically, Zeppelin helped usher in the 70s with this massive, mind-blowing head trip that borrowed (very liberally) from the blues, refashioned it into a precision assault and marketed it to an unsuspecting public. A friend of mine saw them in 1970 (he was 15) and his brain was pinned against the back of his skull, cowering, for a week. There were heavy bands out there, though very few were this loud and exceptionally gifted all at once.
Comprised of two session-playing veterans (Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones) and two young upstarts (Robert Plant and John Bonham), Led Zeppelin was formed out of the wreckage of The Yardbirds in 1968 from which Page was left as the last man standing. The now-famous name came out of a drinking session that involved Keith Moon and John Entwistle, who were seriously considering leaving the Who to team up with Page and possibly Steve Marriot to embark on a project that would follow the blueprint of the Jeff Beck Group. Moon quipped that they would likely go over like a lead balloon or a lead zeppelin.
You never know what will come out of having a few pints.
When the actual lineup coalesced, they recorded the first LP quickly and the response was overwhelming. Touted as a “supergroup”, anticipation grew in advance of the follow up. Ultimately, they delivered a glimpse of a future where “guitar hero” would enter the rock vocabulary. Devising an aural template that has been widely imitated but never successfully duplicated, the combined talents of Jimmy Page and engineer Eddie Kramer were enough to ensure that rock records would never sound the same again. Despite the fact that the Zep II tracks were recorded on the fly while they were on tour, utilizing a number of different studios, the overall production does not sound piecemeal. It is an incredibly fresh sounding disc that, frankly, put all of their competitors to shame in terms of fidelity. Audiophiles of that era had to have been overjoyed that they weren’t straining to pick out the nuances in the contributions of the individual players. Power and clarity make for a gripping listening experience, though the key to most everything they did was an inherent understanding of dynamics. There is plenty of evidence that the three instrumentalists were in lock-step with each other, especially if you have spent any serious time listening to quality bootleg recordings of their better performances (preferably before 1975). Telepathy is the best descriptor of the interplay amongst them on stage as even mistakes were turned around, on the fly, into gold.
Having two brilliant arrangers in the band didn’t hurt either.
Retrospectively, Zeppelin is often seen as the band that slammed the door shut on the sixties and sonically vanquished all existing groups with an unprecedented volume that was as subtle as a charging rhino. Indeed, the cover of Led Zep II pretty much says it all. Equating themselves with Germany’s deadly WW I aviation squadron, Jasta 11, (the Flying Circus) you see the band member’s (plus Richard Cole and Peter Grant) faces superimposed on a now famous photograph of that division, which was led by Manfred von Richthofen aka The Red Baron. Tying themselves by name to another German invention, the dirigible that terrorized Britons during the first world war, the underlying message was clear:
When you put this record on, it’s going to carpet bomb you back to the Stone Age.
Opening with a muffled laugh, the monstrous, Les Paul/Marshall driven riff that heralds “Whole Lotta Love” is quickly joined by the bass and Plant’s vocal. When Bonham lays into his kit, it is with the power of a screaming formation of Messerschmitts darkening the skies, ready to drop their destructive payload on targets below. The blues have mutated here into a punishing, relentless blast designed and engineered to shock the already blown minds of the hippies and deliver the ultimate headphone trip-out, replete with noises equipped to rouse the dead. Page and Kramer apparently went to great lengths in manipulating the board to achieve the insanity unleashed in the mid-section of the tune. Utilizing a mad percussive base, snippets of extreme vocalizations from Plant and a theramin, love never sounded so deranged.
There was something that rang all too familiar about this track, though. Patterned on Willie Dixon’s composition "You Need Love" and the Small Faces take on it, from which Plant heavily drew on the vocal mannerisms of Steve Marriott, blues purists immediately began to cry foul when no credit was listed for Dixon on the LP.
Musically, it was a revelation, though Page would later lament the fact that Plant didn’t tweak the lyric enough for them to escape charges of plagiarism. Regardless of this, the impact of “Whole Lotta Love” was undeniable, especially the turnaround after the wig-out in the middle as Bonham comes back in hard and Page tromps his Wah pedal to the floor and spits out three, picture perfect lead lines that bring us back to the main theme, which fades with Plant’s primal screams.
There’s a reason for those “Get the Led Out” specials that still factor heavily in the formats of rock stations.
“What Is and What Should Never Be” is an exercise in “light and shade”, with a languid, jazzy intro in which the star of the show is the bassmanship of John Paul Jones. Just as you’re lulled into a false sense of security, Bonham’s bricklayer hands smack the snare and the dynamic is altered. Rather than bulldozing their way through ten tracks, without stopping to take a breath, they generally chose to vary the pace of their program and this is a wonderful example. Page’s slide solo straddles the two themes and the outro is pure gold, with guitar panned madly across the stereo divide, gong and more histrionics from Plant.
The remainder of the first side is devoted to a reworking of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” during the course of which everyone has a chance to go ballistic on their respective instruments, while Plant gives specific instructions on how to deal with his lemon, which no doubt inspired the re-titling of said tune. “Thank you” is a gentle, mid-temp affair, with prominent Hammond fills from JPJ and an excellent acoustic solo, though it trails off with a slightly meandering keyboard theme that follows the trick ending. You can imagine the faithful snapped out of their reverie in a smoke filled room, with a roach or two in the ashtray, thinking that the needle should have skidded into the run-out groove by that point.
Speaking of vinyl, those that turned over the disc for the first time to hear side two were treated to another monster riff over a groovy shuffle. “Heartbreaker” must certainly be in the top ten when it comes to songs that originally inspired the concept of “air guitar”. Building in intensity, the main figure changes key signatures at several points until it comes to a dead stop.
It is here that Page enshrines himself in the guitar god hall of fame by peeling off the now-famous solo lines that have been imitated thousands of times in the intervening years since this LP first appeared. In performance, this section was filled with every imaginable improvisation, ranging from Bach to "The 59th Street Bridge Song" . Back on record, the band joins him in a furious Yardbirds-esque rave up to continue the mayhem at maximum speed (for 1969 anyway) dragged along by another excellent Page-ism (later to be co-opted by Alex Lifeson to form the bulk of Rush’s “Beneath, Between and Behind”). This scorching solo comes to a screeching halt once again and we're back into the verse, heading for the homestretch.
Those would-be imitators who followed them never quite got it, either.
Seriously evaluating the remainder of the disc, you have a quick, non-descript rocker ("Living Loving Maid") followed up by a really fantastic acoustic-electric gem with outstanding bass lines. "Ramble On" really stands out as a key to the versatility of Zeppelin. This tune qualifies my previous remark about those groups that fell short in their attempts to follow LZ's lead. Beautifully understated, there is a serious degree of finesse displayed by everyone involved, with an intentionally insane amount of panning between the channels in the fade (listen with headphones). One thing has always bothered me in reading the musings of various rock critics on Zep is the ink that has been devoted to Plant's love of Tolkien's prose and his incorporation of Middle Earth into the lyrics.
I don't hear it.
Aside from mentioning "the darkest depths of Mordor" and the slithery Gollum in the verse of "Ramble On", there is no sword and sorcery action at all on this disc. Worse yet, the same idiot rock writiers all trashed this excellent platter when it was new, preferring to list what drug they were on while listening, rather than fairly taking in the work.These scribes either had their ears packed with gauze or were frightened by the muscular sounds they were hearing. For a good laugh, look up John Mendelsohn's cringe worthy description of the LP, which appeared in Rolling Stone shortly after it was released.
If you ran out and bought everything recommended within the pages of Rolling Stone, you would be in possession of the shittiest collection of music on the planet.
"Moby Dick" is introduced by the riff from Bobby Parker’s 1961 hit, "Watch your Step" which mirrors the model, but not the music, set up by Cream for Ginger Baker in “Toad”. This development would lead to the stadium rock syndrome of allowing the drummer to flail away, interminably, as the other band members trooped off-stage for booze, drugs, sex or all three.
Bonham made his showcase count, as he knew how to tune his drum heads properly, was technically skilled and went the extra mile by playing a good portion of the solo with his bare hands.
Now, that’s rock and roll.
Snapping off abruptly, the end game is set up with a scratchy, 12 bar snippet that features Plant blowing a mean harp, slurring his words in the guise of an old bluesman. Some have singled this out as an embarrassingly racist pastiche, though I truly believe that it was performed as a genuine, fulsome tribute to the blues artists that both Plant and Page were obsessed with. Had they seen fit to list proper song writing credits, where they were due, they would have completely leveled their karma. Just as this interlude ends on one breath drawn in on Plant's harmonica, Page cuts in with a bold, distorted guitar line, which became epic in his hands with harmonized overdubs. The rhythm section burns with the intensity of a blast furnace as everyone truly "brings it on home". Nothing of this magnitude had ever graced a disc and yet sounded so precise. Countless needles were offered up in ritual sacrifice as kids bought the LP by the truckload, wearing it out from continuous play. Knocking Abbey Road out of the number one spot (twice) in those fateful, dying months of the 1960's, Led Zeppelin II made everything that came before seem quaint by comparison.
Critical opinion has long since been revised with respect to Zeppelin's output, though at the time their very existence was seen as a cynical, money-grabbing ploy by record executives. The sheer force of their collective talents went a long way in dispelling the ideas that they hadn't payed their dues playing dives and were merely the product of hype.
Led Zeppelin II sealed their position in the stratosphere and rock grew several feet taller, losing its baby fat in the process.
Monday, November 02, 2009
October 21st saw the release of "Big Man", the larger than life autobiography of Clarence Clemons.
Recognized as the most accomplished and well known member of the E-Street Band, saxophonist Clarence Clemons is delivering the inside story of his life before, during and beyond the E-Street Band, including unbelievable, never-before-told adventures with Bruce Springsteen, the band, and an incredible cast of other famous characters recounted by himself and his best friend, television writer/ producer Don Reo in Big Man.
This is a must-read for all fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Widely hailed as their supreme recorded achievement, an opinion with which the band members themselves concur, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was quite a departure from the aural template that the group had set in place with their first few releases. Choosing to retreat somewhat from their relentless touring and recording schedule in 1973, the members of Black Sabbath reconvened to work on the new tracks at a more leisurely pace. Vol. 4 had several signposts that pointed to a new direction, including a gradual abandonment of their signature lugubrious, sludgy sound. One significant difference with this record is that Tony Iommi had drastically altered his guitar tone. Production values were also much higher than before with strings and keyboard augmentation becoming more of a rule than an exception.
Still, there was no worry about Sabbath straying into Barry Manilow’s territory.
While recording the tracks for Vol. 4 back in ‘72, the Sabs hung out in LA, snorted mountains of coke and availed themselves of the pleasures of being rock stars in sunny California in the “let it all hang out” early seventies. Seeking to duplicate the process, the lads jetted back to the US to set about getting some new material together at the Record Plant. Trouble set in immediately as the vibe in the studio wasn’t the same due to the banks of keyboards and synths that had been brought in by Stevie Wonder, who was also working on a new project. The root of the problem was that Iommi was going through a brief dry spell with respect to new ideas. Generally, the others looked to him to come in with riffs and musical passages to which they could add their parts, sketch out melody lines and add lyrics. Cutting their losses, they trooped back to the UK and took some time to rethink their approach as Iommi went back to the drawing board.
The new rehearsal space was the dungeon in a castle in Wales, with band members continually having a go at scaring the shit out of each other. Once ensconced, Iommi reconnected with his muse and came up with the signature opening blast that became the title cut on the disc. Had things not turned around, the Sabbath story might well have ended right here. Once this temporary creative block was removed, the songs flowed beautifully and took several very uncharacteristic turns as they were mapped out.
Black Sabbath should be counted as one of the most important bands to ever plug in and play.
Want to know why?
Innovation by accident.
Most rock aficionados know about the unfortunate injury that a 17 year old Tony Iommi sustained to his fret hand while he was on his last shift in a sheet metal factory. The machine he was working with caught the tips of his middle fingers on his right hand, severing them instantly. He was a lefty and the incident almost brought an end to his guitar playing days. Perseverance coupled with invention allowed him to continue. He fashioned plastic finger tips to bear the brunt of applying pressure to the strings, though the guitar in standard tuning still made it painful to depress them with enough force to produce proper notes. His solution was to detune the guitar, thus slackening the pounds per square inch on the neck and making it much easier to play with prosthetic finger tips.
This significant event would eventually spawn a completely new genre. When Sabbath took shape, Geezer Butler detuned his bass to match Iommi and they became the heaviest sounding group of their time. Heavy metal in the darkest shade of black had arrived. Their approach was not without precedent, as Blue Cheer and Mountain had been walking the same sonic path, although Iommi's departure from basic blues structures gave them a unique angle, unlike anything else in the marketplace.
Critical reaction to the band was fairly chilly, quite often singling their material out as being plodding and simplistic.
“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” was a giant, raised middle finger to each and every writer who had ripped them, not recognizing that they stood in the vanguard as originators of a new type of music. It also stands as a very powerful opening salvo, which is solidly anchored by the rhythm section. Suddenly shifting gears, the riff is replaced with a delicate figure that leaps from the Wes Montgomery jazz playbook.
Nobody will ever let you know, when you ask the reason why
They’ll just tell you that you’re on your own, fill your head all full of lies
This section is reminiscent of the verses in the Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down” which also features a prominent F sharp minor. Crashing back into the main theme followed by a solo, things take yet another ominous turn with one of the most foreboding set of changes over which Ozzy floats his “helium voice”.
Distancing themselves from that incredible, bottom heavy sound on record may have been disconcerting for fans that were looking for more of the same. The quality output found on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was sufficient to silence even the harshest critic. The production is clean, while managing to avoid that antiseptic feel, as the listener is always reminded that a real band is kicking throughout. Out of the eight selections, only one falls flat with respect to standing up to repeated listening and that is the tedious “Who Are You”, livened up only by some decorative keyboard and mini-moog work by Rick Wakeman.
Wakeman lends his virtuosity on the 88s to “Sabbra Cadabra” as well as handling harpsichord and piano duties on “Fluff”. Legend has it that he exacted no more than a couple of pints of John Courage Best Bitter as payment for his services. He had struck up a friendship with the quartet when Yes and Sabbath toured together and was far more committed to having a good time than his Yes-mates were. Hence, some fun drinking sessions with Osbourne and Ward ensued and everyone bonded through the magic of cocktails.
In my view, just about everyone who picks up an electric guitar and thrashes out a rock song these days automatically owes mechanical royalties to Tony Iommi. Merely stating that he was prolific when it came to creating iconic riffs does not properly do him justice. Using a few examples from this LP, let’s have a look at the six-string bounty that was heaped upon them.
“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” – Five distinct themes
“A National Acrobat” - Six changes
“Killing Yourself to Live”- Six changes
He had so much going on in some of these compositions that, in some cases, he didn’t even trouble himself to return to the introductory guitar figure. This is one of many reasons why I think that people who knock the band demonstrate a profound ignorance of their accomplishments and influence.
Even a cursory glance at the lyric sheet for this disc would be enough to raise an eyebrow. “A National Acrobat” explores the eternal cosmic questions that Geezer Butler playfully dismissed as being, “about having a wank.” Deflecting the controversial nature of his subject matter with humor, Butler knowingly wades into the long debated topic of “at what point does life begin?” with an ease of expression and deftly ties it to the concept of reincarnation. This is one of my favorites in their entire catalogue, as it is intelligently constructed on all fronts. Ozzy delivers the song with a wink (and a laugh toward the end).
Bill Ward propels the slow, twisting riff with his usual dexterity, steering the others smartly through all of the changes. He gave Sabbath an extremely important anchor for many of their flights of fancy, though what separated him from many of his heavy-rock contemporaries was his ability to infuse his time-keeping with swing. He was never lead-footed and you can hear a slight Elvin Jones influence in the way he flew around the kit.. There is a tendency to forget how much Ward contributed as a percussionist as he was overshadowed by John Bonham and Keith Moon in the flash department. His jazzy touches provide a finesse that balances well with some of the more ponderous explorations of early Sabbath, almost akin to the example of a heavy person that is surprisingly light on their feet. Those flourishes at the tail end of “Sabbra Cadabra” are prime evidence of his skills and lighter touch(not to mention the entire song-it cooks!)
Sabbath always had time for a mellow guitar interlude that generally served as a buffer to give the listener a breather from the exercises in brain-melting riffology. “Fluff” is the most developed of these themes to date. The guitar break in the bridge is pure Hard Day’s Night era Beatles, so convincing that it sounds as if George Harrison himself showed up to play on the session. Wakeman's harpsichord and piano decoration add up to a very sophisticated final product.
Both "Sabbra Cadabra" and "Killing Yourself to Live" are multi-part epics. They are also the last really heavy songs on the LP with the former seeing the band straying into near-Zeppelin territory. Ozzy howls about "his woman", though his distinctive phrasing is miles away from Robert Plant and borders on pathos in the breakdowns. Though he was never a technically perfect singer, he developed a style that perfectly suited the onslaught created by Iommi, Butler and Ward. Don't forget that this is the same John Osbourne that spent hours in front of the mirror as a teen trying to imitate his idol, Paul McCartney. It is to his credit that he found his own voice and niche as a front man.
"Who Are You" is simply boring, which was rare in their case.
Curiously, two very un-Sabbath-like selections were chosen for the homestretch and close the proceedings in majestic fashion. "Looking For Today" hammers home a "here today, gone later today" lyrical theme, cleverly taking a shot at the ascendance of the Me Decade's greedy, disposable consumer culture. Ward lays down a groove throughout the verses that echoes the scattershot patterns that Keith Moon employed in "Happy Jack" and "I Can See For Miles", though he plays it straight on the chorus. Iommi adds flute to the mix and the tune rides out on a repeated arpeggiated wig-out, topped off by dueling guitar solos.
Nothing in this remarkable set prepares the listener for the grandiosity of the finale.
Prefaced by a slice of faux-classical acoustic picking, the haunting theme gives way to a supercharged electric intro, fired by intense high-hat work and dramatic punches. Iommi does a nice scale excercise and the drums tumble into a very pretty, orchestrated verse.
Sorcerers of madness
Selling me their time
Child of god sitting in the sun
Giving peace of mind
On a black snow sky
Sadness kills the superman
Even fathers cry
Sweeping strings lead into the chorus, written by Ward. Overall, the sheer impact of "Spiral Architect" is quite stunning. Wil Malone's arrangement is tasteful and the momentum builds right up to the end as the tension snaps on the last note, applause is dubbed in and Sabbath take their bows. Bass and drums provide the perfect outro to fade. To say that this is a beautiful song is an understatement.
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath marked a great turning point in the development of their sound, which saw them turn away from where they had started. Litigation, pharmaceutical intake and internal disagreement about how to proceed followed this excellent disc, with all three virtually bringing their operation to a halt for a period. Fans would see the group release just one more "classic" record the following year with Sabotage, though it would, sadly, be their last high calibre work of the decade.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Every now and then, a band lands on the music scene like a ton of bricks on a cupcake.
What else can be said about these guys?
Here they are, the original "not yet ready for prime time players" in 1977, long before they were hired to play Mr. Burns' birthday party...
Saturday, October 17, 2009
WORLD WIDE LIVE
Have you ever seen a more excited bunch of faces superimposed on an album cover? Look at Rudy Schenker (top left). He seems particularly proud to be part of the action.
Germany ’s finest melodic hard rock export hit their peak of popularity when World Wide Live rolled off of the production line in 1985. Released close on the heels of Blackout and Love At First Sting, this double live set played up their recent commercial successes while also offering up a few fantastic versions of tunes that stretch back to 1979's Lovedrive LP.
The Scorpions had a rotating cast of musicians that had been making music together since the sixties. From the release of their debut in 1971, the band saw quite a few line up changes, though fuzzy-headed lead singer Klaus Meine was a constant fixture from this date and the group remained relatively stable through the 80s.
Boasting a tight rhythm section and some very flashy dual lead playing courtesy of Rudy Schencker and Mattias Jabs, they burn through stone heavy renditions of “Blackout” and “Big City Nights”. The performances were taken from five different venues in the US and Europe during their 1984 tour and are nicely sequenced by producer Dieter's Dance Party Dierks.
Perfecting their blend of distortion and melody in the seventies, the band entered the 80’s with a string of big albums. Embracing the MTV craze, they also made a series of videos that would have made Spinal Tap proud. (I’m looking at you, director of the “Rock You Like A Hurricane” clip)
Spandex-laden, poodle-on-the-head visuals aside, World Wide Live delivers as a really great document of the heavy “Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert” experience.
Except that you don’t get a tour T-shirt.
I would be willing to wager a pair of leather pants and three, dog-collared girls in a cage with 80’s mall-hair on the fact that these guys will continue playing excellent music together regardless of trends or fads.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
FREE FOR ALL
Quite often, in the midst of the feeding frenzies that accompany trends in music, a record will quietly appear that has little to do with the current flavor of the month. Without the haircut, ridiculous uniform or whatever other element that is au courant with the great unwashed masses, there is little hope of said release attracting much revenue, let alone attention. In the early 90s, with grunge all the rage, one such disc hit stores to the sound of one hand clapping.
Far too many of these stories are prevalent in the music business, lined up like empties in a dive bar at closing time. This one concerns the criminally underrated Michael Penn, brother of Sean, husband of Aimie Mann (also an excellent song writer) who is generally noted for his “hit” (“No Myth”) from his debut solo album, March.
His second full length effort, Free for All, is quite worthy of your time, should you be fortunate enough to find a copy. This is not to say that the contents will change your life, though you will be pleasantly surprised if you favor slightly dark, melodic pop.
1992 was not a banner year for those who mined this genre.
There were more than a few artists at that time (Neil Finn, Karl Wallinger, Lenny Kravitz, Matthew Sweet) who were taking a page from the "Golden Book of Mid-Sixties Song Structure" . Personally, I believe that 1966 was a high watermark in terms of creativity and saw the construction of a template that has been adopted by countless performers ever since. Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Beatles Revolver, The Stones Aftermath, The Byrds Fifth Dimension…the list of gems from that fabled year is staggering. All would figure prominently in shaping the listening tastes of Michael Penn.
While he does wear some of the stylistic devices of his influences on his sleeve, the material has a twinkle in its eye and a cutting wit behind it that often belies the straightforward nature of the tunes. Grey clouds hover over this set right from the opener ("Long Way Down") which is a model of economy in arrangement, with a hint of bile in the lyric.
Now I would suppose that I'm not the only one and one never knows... but I got a feeling she's been sleeping with the whole wide world
His musical partner in crime, keyboardist Patrick Warren, fleshes out the soundscape by employing a Chamberlin (named for its inventor Harry Chamberlin) to provide the ethereal coloring that adds much to the retro feel of this disc. First unveiled in 1946, it is a musical instrument that was also able to play pre-recorded magnetic tapes and was the precursor to the Mellotron, which is functionally the same thing.
Here's an interesting interview with Chamberlin himself, should you have a moment to spare.
All things considered, Free For All showcases a writer who can turn a very important trick: Sounding upbeat when the subject matter is often fairly heavy and serious. Highlights are "Free Time", "Seen the Doctor", "By the Book" and the brilliant closer, "Now We're Even". Tastefully executed, it really doesn't have a bad track out of the ten. Your reward in all of this, aside from sturdy melodies, will be the multi-layered wordplay, at which he excels.
I loved a girl once beyond compare, She saw inside me and gave me air, She was assisting my surgery my heart was opened as she put a mask on me, I'm breathing but it's become a chore, now that you've seen the doctor don't call me anymore
Repeated listening will reveal the charms of this record, as it won't immediately grab you by the lapels and demand that you sit still for its duration. Out of step with contemporary tastes, it's a great pity that this one simply got lost in the shuffle when it was brand new.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Faced with the prospect of trying to wring a marketable product out of the Get Back tapes, the group members chose to sit on the material. Word has it that the band was under the assumption that all of these tracks were purely for the movie/TV soundtrack. Therefore, they had no intention of putting it out as an LP until the film was edited and ready for release.
Two days after these film/recording sessions wrapped, Allen Klein was brought in as manager and the long, litigious mess that would hover over their monetary/business affairs for decades began to unfold.
Meanwhile, decisions about what course would be taken next were looming. Meetings were held and the general consensus was bittersweet. They would regroup to make one last great album as their Get Back episode yielded less than spectacular results. Lennon later candidly referred to it as, “the shittiest load of badly recorded shit ever, with a lousy feeling to it.”
Tell us how you really feel, Johnny.
Paul again was the catalyst for getting the project in motion. George Martin thought that he would not be involved in another Beatle session again, as the January recording period was nightmarish. When he took the call from McCartney, he was skeptical about the promise that everyone had agreed to make an album “like they used to”, free of the arguments and dissention that had marred the last two endeavors. The difference with Abbey Road was a commitment to make something that would maintain the magnificent standard they had set with their stellar discography to date and allow the group to end their time together on a high note.
Production values were at their highest for this LP as the studio it was named for had just installed a brand new 16 track desk which provided greater freedom to add layers without losing clarity in the final mix. Geoff Emerick returned to the team, joined by a young tape op named Alan Parsons who would be a guiding hand behind many successful recordings, including Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and his own “Project” (The Turn of a Friendly Card album is one of his best). One element that really jumps out when you listen to Abbey Road is the bass-heavy mix. In the early years, this was one feature that their records were sadly deprived of and the bottom end frequencies here more than compensate for that. (Ringo’s bass drum is very present in the mix.) Critics have often pointed to the fact that things sound almost too polished, but I disagree. My belief is that they had learned a valuable lesson in flogging themselves endlessly to get perfect live takes back in January. Namely, that their forte had always lain in their ability to take good material and perfect it in the studio at their own pace. This became a necessity as their ideas grew more complex with each subsequent disc. They were an excellent live band when they were switched on, though song craft in studio played a much larger role following their departure from the stage in 1966.
Cordial would best describe the studio atmosphere during this period, though guitars were still banged down in anger from time to time and arguments erupted. It was nothing compared to the past year, though and this made for some extremely rewarding end product. The suite of songs on side two alone is a masterful blend of odds and ends that emphasizes the whole over the sum of its parts. It also lined George Martin and McCartney up against Lennon in terms of what each side wanted to hear. The “pop symphony” or “long medley” as it was called was openly criticized by Lennon, who reportedly said that he was fine with listening to the “Something”/”Come Together” single and didn’t care for the rest of Abbey Road. He even stated at one point that he wanted McCartney’s songs grouped on one side and his own on the other.
Fortunately, democracy won the day.
Lennon’s first utterance on the rough and ready opener, “Come Together”, is obscured by tape echo, hand claps and the kick drum. It’s a bit spooky and somewhat prescient in light of the tragic circumstances that prematurely ended his life. Originally conceived as a campaign song for Timothy Leary who was seriously (!) considering entering the race to become Governor of California, Lennon revised the lyric and came up with one of his best late period pieces. He also screwed himself by incorporating (and altering) a line from Chuck Berry’s ode to fast cars (“You Can’t Catch Me”) to start the song (“Here come old flat top, she come groovin’ up slowly”). Morris Levy, who owned the copyright, would later engage Lennon in court, with the settlement triggering another legal battle, from which Lennon would win damages as a result.
Great feel, with impeccable playing from everyone involved is key to the energy generated here, while the wordplay is genuinely inspired.
Snaky, gliding bass work and smooth tom rolls broken only by quick high hat flourishes introduce the piece and the Beatles add yet another distinctive album opener to their already impressive canon. Within thirty seconds, without even a hint of the opening verse, “Come Together” announces its arrival with authority. Their prodigious talent as arrangers is too often overlooked. Close your eyes and listen to the homogeneity of contemporary radio and you will barely be able to tell one band/song from another. This was never an issue when it came to the music produced by Lennon/McCartney/Harrison as they created so many varied and memorable intros. Rarely would they fail to surprise or dazzle when crafting parts for each song.
George Harrison’s two spotlighted contributions to the LP rank as his absolute best Beatle compositions. Long time associate Derek Taylor had a running joke with Harrison whenever either of them had an idea. Invariably, they would always say, “This could be the Big One!”
“Something” was indeed just that.
Conceived while the White Album was in production, it fulfilled every bit of the promise that Chris Thomas saw in it when George first played it to him and was a huge hit when it was pulled as the A-side to the only single released from Abbey Road. John named it as his favorite track on the record, while Frank Sinatra reportedly thought that it was the greatest love song of the past fifty years and added it to his live repetoire.
Harrison was not amused by the fact that he perpetually introduced it in concert as a Lennon/McCartney number.
Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.
Nudging into McCartney’s territory in terms of melody, “Something” benefits from excellent foundation playing, especially the exquisitely tasteful bass work. Harrison redid his guitar solo live as the strings were being added. It is an incredible effort on all counts and truly represents the full flowering of Harrison's songwriting ability.
As the last note fades, one gets the feeling that this could be their best disc and with your appetite whetted by the one-two punch of the opening selections, you certainly wouldn’t be faulted for believing just that.
Then “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” kicks in.
Cue loud screaming of a naughty word, a crane shot of an anguished listener on their knees in front of their stereo and then cut to flocks of birds exploding out of neighboring trees.
Abbey Road quite literally becomes “ Subpar Avenue ” with the clank of an anvil. “Maxwell’s Homicidal Adventures in Tinklyland” should not have been included in this set. He should have waited and stuck it on Wings Wild Life, where it would have been a two thumbs up, thrill ride of the century, number one with a self inflicted shot gun blast to the head. Which is pretty much what John and George wanted to do after frittering away precious time, endlessly rehearsing this inane children’s ditty.
John: "The Beatles could have gone on appealing to a wide audience as long as we taped nice little folk songs like "Maxwell's Siver Hammer" for the grannies to dig."
George: "Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. I mean, my God, 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' was so fruity..."
“Oh Darling is better, featuring a shredding McCartney vocal that he achieved by coming in to the studio early every day for a week to scream until it was honed to perfection. Essentially an update of fifties doo-wop with great harmonies, it still doesn't amount to much more than the fact that McCartney had probably been listening to Zappa's Cruising With Reuben and the Jets LP. Paul's take on the genre isn't very substantial, though it is flawlessly executed and contains a very cutting, distorted rhythm guitar part. Ringo's "Octopuses Garden" is an inoffensive tune, though it again weighs down the record with more fluff. Harrison generously stepped back, uncredited, as he obviously did much to shape the song and give it the country-ish solos that make it seem more interesting than it actually is.
Just as the whole operation seems destined for mediocrity, the ominous guitar figure that heralds "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" enters and makes you forget about the last three tunes. Suggestive of Mel Torme's "Comin' Home Baby", the lyric is a minimalist, primal declaration of lust that is torn from Lennon's gut. That great big "fuck off" riff is hammered home after basic blues changes, with excellent Hammond insanity provided by Billy Preston, dive bombing bass runs and inventive drumming from Mr. Starkey. John and George piled on the guitars while Lennon employed Harrison's newly acquired Moog synth to create the white noise that builds toward the end, slowly covering the instruments as the guitar part cycles over and over, hypnotically, until it ends abruptly. Lennon sat with Alan Parsons, listening to the finished product and instructed him to cut the tape at that point, using silence to jar the potential listener with an unexpected full stop. It is by far the heaviest cut and the second longest Beatle track, beaten only by "Revolution 9".
Side two of Abbey Road is truly what makes the record, with Paul and George Martin taking a number of fragments, slotting them in with fully formed creations and threading them together in a suite that comprises one of their finest song cycles. Often referred to as the “Long Medley” or the “Big One”, none of the tunes are related to one another, though like Sgt. Pepper it is clever sequencing and cross fading work that gives the impression of seamlessness. This remains quite brilliant forty years on and lifts the tension created by the weaker tunes on the flip.
Before delving into this excellent “back nine” of the disc, it’s important to note that much of this material dated back to the previous year as well as the Get Back sessions. No less than twelve of the seventeen tracks on Abbey Road were worked on during filming in January of that year. Lennon’s only new offerings were “Come Together”, “Because” and “Sun King”. Paul chipped in “You Never Give Me Your Money” and was the driving force behind “Carry That Weight” and how the pop symphony that comprised the second side took shape. This is not to say that there was a creative trough, but rather that the principal songwriters weren’t prepared to submit anything more than they absolutely had to for the sake of a band that was on its last legs. It is quite likely that they were hoarding newly penned songs with an eye toward placing them in the context of future solo work.
The second “Harrisong” of the set starts with a delicate, tricky acoustic riff that provides yet another signature side opener. There is a deft swoop into the first verse that suggests the arrival of that familiar solar orb in the morning sky. “Here Comes the Sun” was written in Eric Clapton’s garden during a morning where Harrison was playing truant, as he had grown weary of attending the interminable Apple board meetings that were the cause of consternation for all group members and those in the inner circle. Quite a pretty melody it is, as well. George also deploys the Moog synth to provide atmospheric coloring, as he did on several other Abbey Road selections. It’s never overdone, nor is it a cornerstone of all the arrangements. Certain artists tend to go overboard when discovering new sounds or exotic instruments, though the Beatles team generally chose to go the tasteful route with their experiments.
This is a “Threetles” performance as Lennon was recovering from a recent car accident. Ringo’s playing is inventive and he instinctively manages the subtle variances in timing with great precision. Look up ‘feel player’ in your music dictionary and Mr. Starkey would easily be in the top five. For all of the friction that had occurred between Paul and George, the former generally took great care to craft excellent parts which enhanced the latter’s work. I would tend to agree with Lennon’s estimation when he spoke about George’s position as the invisible man, taking notes and absorbing all that he could about the writing process from his senior band mates.
Lennon is uncharacteristically mute on this record, composition-wise. “Beacause” is one of his last (for a while) to feature word games and fanciful imagery within the body of the lyric. Yoko’s influence on his art would loom quite large. Her reasoning that all creativity should be an expression and a deep exploration of the artist’s personal feelings would color his writing for some time. Bottom line: If it wasn’t about you, it didn’t count. This approach would be taken to great lengths on his first proper solo LP, which comes close to musical exorcism at times. Here, John runs some very clever puns together as Paul and George join him to triple track some beautiful three part harmonies over a foundation of harpsichord, bass and Moog.
You never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper.
Kicking off with a minor key, solo piano intro, McCartney’s subdued vocal is tinged with an uncharacteristic sadness. This multi-part highlight starts off sounding like he’s alluding to the fragmented affairs of the group and has surrendered any hopes of things returning to the way they were. Talk of negotiations is certainly reflective of what was becoming routine for the four, who were now sitting in boardrooms, often with lawyers present. When legal wrangling started in earnest, there was one particular occasion when McCartney sent his solicitor along to a meeting and didn’t attend himself. The others asked the startled barrister why he didn’t bring his bass.
Moving swiftly into a fast boogie theme and then shifting gears into what would be very memorable outro complete with a creepy, harmonized “1,2,3,4,5,6,7 all good children go to heaven” that cross fades into “Sun King”, they pack much invention into the guitar parts and allow for a nice solo in the bargain. Listen right here for what they edited out at the end of the track, including some extended Claptonesque lead playing courtesy of Mr. H.
Sunrise is again evoked thanks to a little bag of tape loops that Paul had made and brought in to assist with the transition into an understated Lennon tune that began life as a jam inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song "Albatross". This is the Peter Green incarnation of the band, several years away from pop superstardom and still very much rooted in the blues, as all three were alumni of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Then again, who didn't play in that band. John's "Sun King" is highlighted by harmonized gibberish lyrics and a rotating riff that abruptly ends with a drum pickup and we are suddenly treated to two quick vignettes, welded together as they are merely song fragments that Lennon demoed back in '68 and weren't taken much further lyrically.
"Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam" fly by, with the latter sung in a very thick Liverpudlian Scouse accent and was apparently inspired by an evening that John spent with poet Royston Ellis and his girlfriend, Stephanie. The three wore bags made of "polythene", a common British contraction of polyethylene, and slept in the same bed out of curiosity about kinky sex.
Lennon dismissed both as, "a bit of crap that I wrote in India."
"She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" really changed from the arrangement worked out in January. It was given a quicker tempo and George provides a running commentary of guitar coloring, almost countryish in flavor, in response to each line of the verse. Paul wrote this about an incident where one of the so-called "Apple Scruffs" (female fans that hung around constantly waiting for members of the group) did climb through the bathroom window of his home and stole a picture of his father Jim. There are several different takes of this one and the version chosen for Anthology 3 is scarily close to the structure of "Free As A Bird".
A 17th century poem by Thomas Dekker was adapted by McCartney to form the bulk of the lyric to "Golden Slumbers". He came up with the tune, though. What is interesting is this clip of them listening to take one, roughly 25 years after the fact. No one seems to have a handle on who played bass on this pass through.
The segue into "Carry That Weight" has everyone hollering into the mic, with a breakdown that features an brief orchestral reprise of a line from "You Never Give Me Your Money" a full stop and we're back into "carrying that weight" for another few bars until the gears shift to the familiar C to A major arpeggio that faded into "Sun King" earlier on. The homestretch of Abbey Road gives all four the chance to solo. Ringo goes first, with an insistent bass drum thump over which he executes a few tom rolls. Never a champion of the "drum solo" he keeps his bit short and sweet and the group blasts into a rock motif over which the words "Love you" are chanted in unison, going up the scale as Paul, George and John (in that order) each take two bar solos that cycle until everything comes to a dead stop, save for a lone, insistent piano.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make
With that, came "The End" of an incredible recording career.
Not so fast.
Roughly 20 seconds after the last note fades and just as the needle was poised to slide into the run out groove, a cymbal crash comes out of nowhere. This is followed by a quick acoustic snippet by McCartney which mirrors the surprise ending on side one by having the last guitar chord lopped off, ending mid strum. "Her Majesty"'s opening was the final, crashing chord of "Mean Mr. Mustard", while that last note remained buried in the mix of "Polythene Pam" as it was originally slotted between those two tunes in the medley. It was a happy accident, as engineer John Kurlander was told to edit the song out of the mix. Knowing that he was not to discard anything that they recorded, he spliced it onto the end of the master tape. Everyone got an acetate copy of this, liked what they heard and it remained in place when the album was pressed.
AND IN THE END...
This was a very slick record, made very much with the aim of doing something better than what came out of Get Back/Let It Be. It was greeted with mixed reviews at the time of issue. Side two justifies its existence, though it loses points for some of the crap on side one. Imagine if you will, a full group recording of "Come and Get It" in place of "Maxwell's Getting Hammered" and "All Things Must Pass" nudging out "Octopuses Garden".
Then it would have been their finest disc.
Abbey Road sold more copies in the US than any of its predecessors (roughly 5 million right out of the gate back in ‘69) and it seemed that the group could do no wrong. No details surrounding the band’s continued existence (or lack thereof) were made public, so listeners assumed that it would be business as usual in 1970. Some saw Lennon and Harrison’s moves (albeit separately) back to live performance as a hint that the quartet might be gearing up to tour again. Advancements in technology saw sound systems and stage gear grow larger, giving artists the ability to project their sets to massive audiences.
All of this speculation would come to nothing though, as the greatest songwriting partnership of the sixties was finished. Flaming out amongst personal, creative and business differences, the four men who had instigated a revolution in sound and culture would never regroup to make new music.
The last studio session with everyone present took place on August 20th, 1969.
Their legacy was further tarnished by a slew of legal issues that dragged on for years and put more than a few lawyer’s kids through university. Lennon’s shocking murder in 1980 stunned a generation, cruelly cutting short the life of a great talent and robbing his family of a husband and father. The possibility of a group reunion passed with him, giving poignancy to the fact that there are no happy endings when you tell the rest of the story.
Settlement of long standing litigation in the late eighties brought some form of closure to the tangled monetary and business situation of the surviving group members. This opened the door to complete The Beatles Anthology project, giving Paul, George and Ringo a chance to retrace their time in the biggest group on the planet. Entertaining it is, candid it is not (with a few exceptions). Serving as a chronological roadmap that tracks their progression from birth right through to the break up of the band, the documentary has much to commend it and is packed with amazing performance and interview footage.
Ultimately, when we pass, we have no control over the guardianship of our history. For the average person, family members pass on the stories and photographs, though most of us are forgotten with the passage of time after we've left the 3-D realm.
The ability to tell your story properly depends on how well you have documented it.
The Beatles story is a larger than life fairy tale that has grown to epic proportions. Two members are now gone, leaving McCartney and Starr as primary caretakers. Every subsequent generation that discovers their music, as I did so many years ago, sees and hears the genius behind it.
For myself, taking the time to write about their recorded output has been a lot of fun. Striving to provide a more objective overview of their work, I really wanted to avoid the myths and focus on both their strengths and weaknesses as writers. Now, with the re-mastering and re-release of their entire catalogue, they are once again the top selling artists on the planet at the time of this writing.
Not bad for an act that disbanded 40 years ago.