Tag Archives: Beatles

My rock and roll library update

The Zapple Diaries: The Rise and Fall of the Last Beatles Label by Barry Miles (Harry N. Abrams, 2016)

Do we need another Beatles book? Is there any facet of the Beatles’ 12-year existence as a group that hasn’t been written into the ground? Well, at least until Mark Lewisohn completes his definitive multi-volume history, it looks like we’re going to continue to get more. This one is a specific first-person look at the big-idea, short-lived subsidiary label that the naive idealists formed to release experimental recordings. Miles was hired to record poets such as Charles Bukowski, Laurence Ferlinghetti, and Allen Ginsberg. Spoiler alert: Zapple ended up only releasing two records (vanity projects by George Harrison and John Lennon) before new manager Allen Klein fired everybody and closed shop.

The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America by Michaelangelo Matos (Dey Street, 2015)

I’m probably not the intended audience for this book since I don’t really know the difference between house and techno and jungle and dubstep, and I don’t particularly care. Dance music people are very into genre differentiation, but it’s still rock and roll to me. I do, however, enjoy reading well researched and engaging history, and this book is full of that. Lots of young people doing their own thing, making their own scenes, getting loaded, and digging music. Despite the fact that Matos has claimed “The book is not about recordings,” I could have really used a soundtrack when reading it since virtually all of the music was unfamiliar to me.

Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces… by Glyn Johns (Plume, 2014)

It’s rare that I start but don’t finish a book. This is one of those rarities. For all the characters and events this guy witnessed, you’d think he’d be able to come up with some interesting insights or at least a few good stories. Nope. It’s just tame and boring. Which is a shame because I’ve read interviews with Johns where he’s been hilarious and opinionated. Unfortunately, this book — at least the first half — doesn’t reveal any of that.

Willie Nelson: An Epic Life by Joe Nick Patoski (Back Bay, 2008)

I picked up this book after reading Patoski’s Oxford American article about drummer/character Paul English, “Watching Willie’s Back.” Willie Nelson is an American hero whose greatness has only occasionally been captured on tape despite the fact that he’s got 50+ years of recording under his belt. This book goes a long way in explaining what it is about Willie that makes him such a compelling and unique figure. He’s as close to the Buddha as this country is every going to produce.

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Paul McCartney at Pappy and Harriet’s Looks as Amazing As You’d Imagine

How many times have you watch a bar band cover The Beatles? How many times has that band actually included a Beatle?

On his way to Desert Trip, AKA Oldchella, Paul McCartney and band stopped off to play a quick set at Pappy and Harriet’s, a high desert bar with a capacity of 300 people. Yes, three HUNDRED people.

By the looks of this fan video of the band playing “A Hard Days Night,” I probably would have peed my pants and then exploded had I been there.

Paul McCartney A Hard Days Night live at Pioneertown 10/13/2016

Photo via Paul McCartney’s Facebook.

Timeline of the early Beatles solo era

George Harrison was the first Beatle to put out a solo project when he released his Wonderwall Music soundtrack on November 1, 1968. At that point, the Beatles were still together and had just wrapped up the recording of the White Album. They would spend the month of January 1969 filming and recording what eventually became Let It Be. By the end of August 1969 Abbey Road was in the can, and the next month John Lennon told the other Beatles, “The group’s over, I’m leaving.” They all kept quiet about it while they renegotiated their record contracts. But Paul McCartney told Life magazine in November 1969, “The Beatles thing is over. It has been exploded, partly by what we have done, and partly by other people. We are individuals, all different.” Nobody seems to have picked up on this at the time though.

It wasn’t until April 1970, when Paul released McCartney, that the world figured out that the Beatles had in fact broken up. By that time, though, there had already been six prior solo albums released and three singles.

When you look at the timeline from the release of Wonderwall Music through the end of 1970, it’s crazy how much stuff they put out.

November 1, 1968: Wonderwall Music (George)
November 11, 1968: Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (John)
November 22, 1968: The Beatles (White Album) (Beatles)
January 13, 1969: Yellow Submarine (Beatles)
April 11, 1969: “Get Back” (Beatles)
May 30, 1969: “The Ballad of John and Yoko” (Beatles)
May 9, 1969: Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions (John)
May 9, 1969: Electronic Sound (George)
July 4, 1969: “Give Peace a Chance” (John)
September 26, 1969: Abbey Road (Beatles)
October 6, 1969: “Something”/”Come Together” (Beatles)
October 20, 1969: Wedding Album (John)
October 20, 1969: “Cold Turkey” (John)
December 12, 1969: Live Peace in Toronto 1969 (John)
February 6, 1970: “Instant Karma!” (John)
February 26, 1970: Hey Jude album (Beatles)
March 6, 1970: “Let It Be” single (Beatles)
March 27, 1970: Sentimental Journey (Ringo)
April 17, 1970: McCartney (Paul)
May 8, 1970: Let It Be album (Beatles)
May 11, 1970: “The Long and Winding Road” (Beatles)
September 25, 1970: Beaucoups of Blues album (Ringo)
October 5, 1970: “Beaucoups of Blues” single (Ringo)
November 23, 1970: “My Sweet Lord” (George)
November 27, 1970: All Things Must Pass (George)
December 11, 1970: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (John)
December 28, 1970: “Mother” (John)

* When UK and US release dates differ, the earlier of the two is displayed.

Image is a detail of the cover of Electronic Sound, painted by George Harrison.

When was Blonde on Blonde released? Nobody knows.

Fifty years is not ancient history. And yet mysteries are still possible.

Earlier this week everybody celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the release of two groundbreaking albums: the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Both of them are masterpieces but only one of them was released on May 16, 1966.

Why is there confusion around the release date of Blonde on Blonde? Aren’t these things documented? Especially for an artist with the stature and scrutiny of Bob Dylan! Of course they are, but sometimes we don’t have immediate access to everything.

But we do have enough information to definitively rule out the idea that Blonde on Blonde came out on the same day as Pet Sounds.

On Monday morning when I checked my twitter and started seeing people celebrating this milestone, I wondered how many people were fans of both albums at the time. Can you imagine going into the record store and seeing those two albums side by side on the new release shelf? But in 1966, were the Beach Boys loved by the same people who loved Bob Dylan? It’s a fascinating question but there weren’t many publications at the time that took rock and roll very seriously, so it’s hard to find any contemporary comparisons. Rolling Stone wouldn’t publish its first issue for another year and a half (November 1967).

I busted out my trusty edition of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Albums to see how the two albums sold and was surprised that while Pet Sounds debuted on Billboard’s Top LPs chart on May 28, Blonde on Blonde didn’t bow on the chart until July 23. That seemed odd since Dylan was coming off a hit single with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” His new album couldn’t have been that much of a sleeper, could it?

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Adele’s Album Sales Are Historically Bonkers

Adele’s new album, 25, sold 3.38 million copies in its first week in the United States. This is bonkers. That’s more — way more — than any other album has sold in a week since Nielsen started tracking real sales in 1991.

Only one other album has sold more than two million albums in a week, and nobody’s sold three million. *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached sold 2.42 million in 2000. For the mathematically challenged, 25 sold 960,000 more copies than its closest rival which happened to be released at the absolute zenith of record sales. Billboard‘s Glenn Peoples has some crazy figures that claim that adjusted for inflation (or something) this would somehow be “equivalent to her selling 7.59 million units in 2000.” I don’t know about that, but I know that 3.38 million is a shitload of records in 2015 or any other year.

Pre-SoundScan data is unreliable at best, but it took Sgt. Pepper three months to sell 2.5 million copies according Bob Spitz’s Beatles biography. Beatles' Record-Busting LP (Rolling Stone Dec 21 1968)It took Meet the Beatles four years to sell 5.8 million copies, according to issue No. 24 of Rolling Stone. That same 1968 article points out that the top selling album of all time then was The Sound of Music soundtrack with 8 million. It was front page news that Capitol Records had shipped 3,301,275 copies of the White Album to stores.

So this is big news.

In addition to those 3.38 million “pure album sales” 25 also moved 96,000 “track equivalent album units” and another 8,000 “streaming equivalent album units” bringing its official Nielsen total to 3.48 million equivalent album units.

More sales details: 1.71 million compact discs, 1.64 million digital albums, 22,000 vinyl albums. Sorry hipsters, there was no official cassette release.

A year ago when Taylor Swift sold 1,287,000 copies of 1989, I pointed out how rare it’s always been to sell more than a million albums in a week. SoundScan began compiling its figures May 25, 1991, and for the first 8 years there were only two albums that achieved it. The year 2000 was insane when there were 5 albums that broke the million mark, but since then it’s been about one album per year despite the fact that album sales have been declining steadily. It’s obvious now that 2000 was a bubble.

But Adele is a force of nature. The question now is how long will 25 keep selling? I was mesmerized by the staying power of 21, which managed to sell 100,000 copies every week for what seemed like forever. Will 25 have those kinds of legs? We shall see.

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The Beatles: Dying Young

If we think back to our English 101 classes, classes that occurred so long ago, we’ll undoubtedly recall a poem by A.E. Housman, even though we have no idea who the hell A.E. Housman was, which is somewhat understandable, given that he died in 1936, and we’d be unlikely to have any reason to read him outside of an English 101 class.  (Sort of sad to think that he is considered one of the greatest scholars of all time, and here I am, dismissing him like some circus curiosity.)

Our familiarity would be with one of his poems, “To an Athlete Dying Young.”  The opening quatrain:

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

But then, as the title indicates, the athlete died.  And Housman writes:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

 

Which brings me to the Beatles.

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I’m Down With Alan Thicke

I’ve mostly avoided the hullabaloo around Robin Thicke because I thought I didn’t care, but the truth is that it bugs the shit out of me. Not because I feel a need to defend him (but I will) or that I think he’s some amazing artist (who cares?) but because the hypocrisy of the whole thing is just obnoxious. I mean, really…are we really ready to surrender to the squares?

The basic argument against Thicke breaks down along two lines:

  1. He “stole” Marvin Gaye’s mojo for his song of the summer, “Blurred Lines”
  2. He’s a lout for carrying on with Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards and calling women bitches

The first is so preposterous I am amazed I even have to address it, but here it goes: Popular music always has and always will feed on itself.

Traditional folk music and bluegrass structure is built around a handful of simple patterns. Same with the blues. Same with most rock and roll, including so much of the rock canon we all adore.

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Strange Fruit: The Beatle’s Apple Records

Strange Fruit: The Beatles’ Apple Records (Sexy Intellectuals)

As record companies become less and less relevant in today’s digital age, the story of The Beatles’ own foray into the record business stands to risk its own extinction. While it is exciting to watch the industry transform back into a singles-based culture with the gap between musician and audience shortening, it’s easy to forget that record labels at one time were a vital chain in the music industry.

The Beatles were one of the first bands who were keenly aware of this power, watching themselves become delegated to the sidelines when it came to matters of their label, Parlophone in the U.K. and Capitol here in the States.

The discord was so great that the band not only set about creating their own label as soon as their existing contracts ran out, they also set about changing the very idea of what a record company could be. From their perspective, most of the bigger labels of the day were filled with tenured music folks who had no real reason to change. But to the younger artists, they were seen as roadblocks to creative will, challenging everything including the very manner in which their music was recorded.

There would be none of that within Apple Records.

The Beatles invested themselves into this new record label that would change all of this. Not only would the new venture find certain success with any Beatles related product that was released, it would also find a curious pattern to the band member’s personal stamp of approval to any project that they brought to fruition. They resembled their own tastes, for sure, but the releases also mirrored the member’s own worldview.

Strange Fruit: The Beatles’ Apple Records documents the life cycle of the Fab 4’s project. From Apple Records’  Utopian beginnings to its obligatory legal scavenging in the mid-70s, this documentary–made without the band’s consent–details the curious story of the label that turned out to be so much more than the boutique created by ego and fame. Instead, it was a label created with more good intention than business acumen.

As a kid, I associated Apple Records with the Beatles, or their solo counterparts. I remember Ringo’s “Back Off Boogaloo” had a blue apple while my copy of Let It Be came with a Red Delicious label.

It wasn’t until I got Badfinger’s Straight Up album that I became aware of other artists besides the Beatles that were also housed on the Apple label. Years later when I became fully enthralled with Beatlemania I discovered the full lengths of what the label actually was, and even then I’m sure I didn’t have a full appreciation of what they were trying to achieve.

Strange Fruit gives novices and even well read fans a comprehensive overview of their initial forays into the record industry with personal antidotes from some of the label’s first signings.

As expected, John’s first projects involved Yoko Ono, including their infamous Two Virgins release as well as their subsequent Wedding Album complete with a copy of John and Yoko’s marriage certificate, a booklet, and even a photo of the couple’s wedding cake.

Lennon was also responsible for signing David Peel, as well as coordinating a release for Elephant Memory, his backing band for Sometime In New York City release. It’s obvious that Lennon’s choices were music of the street and an aural diary of his new home, New York City.

However, he deferred much of his focus on Apple to making sure Yoko Ono was provided the best of everything when it came time for her annual releases. The label executives, placed at the behest of the band, were very aware that they were to spare no expense when it came to a new Yoko Ono record, even when the accountants couldn’t help notice that she was one of the lowest selling artists on the roster.

Strange Fruit hints at this and to this day, even the artists that may have suffered from the lack of budget tread quietly on the Yoko word. Listening to some of these less notable artists, you begin to formulate your own opinion if an extra advertising budget would even make much of an impact on sales.

You also get the sense that these bands were at the mercy of the Beatles themselves, whose flight of fancy could spell the end of other artists careers whenever the novelty of being an A&R executive ran out.

Ringo’s attention was the most brief, kicking off the label’s first release: a one copy only release of “The Lady Is A Champ” re-titled “Maureen Is A Champ,” a birthday present from Ringo to his wife for her 21st birthday. The record was never officially released to the public and aside from a few singles the Beatle drummer coaxed along the way early on, his true passion seemed to be with films, both behind and in front of the camera.

If one were to gauge the commercial success of the Beatles’ own stable, you’d have to acknowledge McCartney’s out of the gate smash of Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days.” McCartney found the song, an old Russian standard, being used in a film, fell in love with it. He paired a young Welsh girl with the song that kept circling his head, and the result was the second release in Apple’s catalog and a worldwide smash.

McCartney also provided one of his songs to members of The Ivey’s, a Welsh band that Beatle roadie Mal Evans thought the world of, to the point where he approached nearly every Beatle to okay their signing. He got a receptive ear from Paul, who handed the band his demo for “Come And Get It” with firm instructions to not change a thing when re-doing it. They didn’t. And with a quick name change to Badfinger, they found “Come And Get It” as their first worldwide hit.

It was George Harrison who found the most fertile ground with Apple Records, taking every opportunity to find talent that may not have been the most commercially viable, but instead, the most spiritually satisfying. He was first tallied with the responsibility finding an outlet for Jackie Lomax, actually one of Brian Epstein’s findings who was well known locally. When Epstein committed suicide in 1967, Lomax found all of his good fortunes suddenly slipping away. Harrison put his hand in the ring and turned Lomax’s debut album into a pet project, calling up other Beatles and other famous friends to help fill out the arrangement.

The sound was not the same as Lomax’s versions, but when you’re being directed by a Beatle and he hands over your first “hit,” a strangely arranged song called “Sour Milk Sea,” you don’t refuse it even when it sounds like nothing that would make its way up the charts.

He coordinated the Radha Krishna Temple recording including the infamous “Hare Krishna Mantra” that progressively minded FM stations around the world would play on occasion in their free-format playlists.

George worked with Ravi Shankar for the Concert For Bangladesh and even released a live Shankar album shortly afterward but it wasn’t before he too lost interest, intrusting the few remaining items on his plate to be completed by longtime friend Klaus Voormann.

Not only were the funds of Apple Records’ budget becoming increasingly drained, but so were the creative forces behind it.

One of the most notable Apple Records’ releases was the solo debut effort by James Taylor. Since Peter Asher’s first chart entry as Peter and Gordon composed by his sister’s boyfriend, Paul McCartney, his ties to the band were strong enough that he became one of Apple Record’s first A&R men.

Asher’s first discovery was Taylor, and he managed to get a good size promotional budget for his debut release. It sold well, but not at the levels that Asher achieved with other labels when he took Taylor’s contract as part of his own resignation.

The producers of Strange Fruit wisely keep a wide birth between the inevitable tales of the legal wrangling that everyone faced in this experiment of making a label entirely out of the creative engine of some very talented people. But some very talented people try to work beyond their capabilities and often the results are poor.

And The Beatles were not very business-minded at all, shoring up their own deficiencies with such sharks like Alan Klein who could see nothing in the Utopian blueprint that the Beatles dreamed except a never-ending way to bleed all of those poor hippie schmucks all the way to bank.

Even without much on the label’s legal story, Strange Fruit remains a very calm, collected, and somewhat long-winded documentary. The interviews are somewhat relevant, but they contain none of the history divulging tales that would make this documentary a vital artifact.

It’s best appreciated by Beatlemaniacs who want a glimpse into the Beatles’ entrepreneurial spirit built on a wonderful platform of whimsy and good intentions.

But even inside those good intentions was a project both naïve and poorly executed. Strange Fruit does not hold back at these unflattering moments, but instead it forgives it all with the same rose colored lenses that only a true fan would use.

Everyone seems to acknowledge the folly of the whole thing with an almost youthful shrug. It suggests that it was a learning model for sure, but during the brief moment it shined, Apple Records sounded like the not only the place to work, but also just the place to be.

Flaming Lips – I Am the Walrus

Video: Flaming Lips – “I Am the Walrus”

I actually expected this to be a lot weirder than it is. It’s a surprisingly faithful rendition of the Beatles classic, considering the stripped-down nature of the effort. It’s almost entirely driven by the fuzzed out Rickenbacker bass, but Drozd fills in all the sound effects with his own mouth.

I can remember buying the Beatles’ “Blue Album” on vinyl from Believe in Music on Plainfield Avenue. I was in junior high, and it made a big impression on me. “Walrus” was my favorite. The lyrics blew my innocent mind. I had never heard anything like it with its self-references (“See how they fly like Lucy in the Sky”) and its graphic, gory images (“Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye”). It’s an intense song.

The Lips do it justice, reveling in the psychedelia, but not taking themselves too seriously. It’s a rock song, and these guys emphasize that. People are too reverential about the Beatles. Putting them so high up on a pedestal obscures the fact that the Beatles were just four guys who wrote and played cool songs. You don’t have to be a God to do that. You just need to find someone to pound the shit out of a drum set.

Speaking of drummers, dig that Tonight’s the Night shirt!

Beatles Sitting On Restored Films Since 1995

George at SheaA recent interview with Beatles film archivist Ron Furmanek reveals that Apple Records and EMI have been sitting on fully restored, complete versions of “The Beatles at Shea Stadium” and “Let It Be” that Furmanek worked on during the time of the Anthology series in 1995.

“You can’t beat the original camera negative. Apple has the originals. It doesn’t have any fades. If there’s a fadeout for a commercial, the negative doesn’t have the fadeout,” he says. “Shea Stadium, other than the sound issues, of any rock concert that was ever shot in the ’60s of any group, I think Shea Stadium is the highest quality film. It looks better than ‘Woodstock,’ ‘Gimme Shelter,’ ‘Monterey Pop.’ It really does. Go look at it in ‘Anthology.” It’s stunning. Put on the headphones and listen to it in ‘Anthology’. You’re going to hear some true stereo there, like ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy and ‘I’m Down’.”

He says the restored “Let It Be” looks equally fantastic.”When I restored it, I sat down with (Neil Aspinall) and Derek (Taylor) up in the screening room where we were editing ‘Anthology’. And they sat and watched the entire film. They were blown away. They couldn’t believe the difference. It’s a fun film to watch after I restored it. It’s lively. It’s crystal clear. There’s no grain. There’s no blow-up. There’s one time Paul says something to George, but other than that, the movie’s a lot of fun.

“It’s not dark, it’s not poor quality like the VHS or laserdisc that was released. It was shot in 16mm Kodachrome and Echtachrome and it’s gorgeous. There’s no problem with it. I remixed the entire second half of the film from the 8 track master multitrack tapes and it is in stereo, starting with the sessions in the studio and the concert on the roof.”

Derek Taylor died in 1997. It’s time to release this stuff.

The Beatles: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, eMusic, MOG, wiki

Via shtv.

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