Tag Archives: Beatles

The Grey Album: The Return of Sampling, The End of New Music, and The Fall of Western Civilization

The Grey AlbumIt’s the most significant rap album since Paul’s Boutique, arguably the only one since the Beastie’s groundbreaking acid trip that can really lay claim to a significant political stance in the upcoming epic battle over corporate copyright laws. While the Beasties may not have set out to craft the ultimate “fuck you” to Disney and the late Sonny Bono, revisionist history says they came damn close. DJ Danger Mouse, however, just put his foot so far up the RIAA’s asshole, Nutty McShithead will be tasting his boot-soles for years.

Continue reading The Grey Album: The Return of Sampling, The End of New Music, and The Fall of Western Civilization

Early Nineteen Seventy-Something Pt. 2

The BeatlesThe making of Come and Get It, the last Beatles album that never was

The conclusion of this descent into madness that resulted in a masterpiece mixtape and a bleeding ulcer for the author. Paging Doctor Roberts…

Be sure to read Pt. 1 if you haven’t already.

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Early Nineteen Seventy-Something Pt. 1

The BeatlesThe making of Come and Get It, the last Beatles album that never was…

A two-part series of the special kind of lunacy that sets in with avid mix tape/CD makers. What if the Beatles had made one more album? What would it sound like?

Continue reading Early Nineteen Seventy-Something Pt. 1

Please, For the Love of God, Let it Be

Paul and Yoko duke it out once more, but for what?

So what’s the big stink? Paul wants to switch the order of names on the songs he mainly wrote. Who cares? Apperently, Yoko. Though I tend to see it as a lot of hot air, most media outlets have reported that Yoko Ono is investigating her legal options to force McCartney to switch back the names on later releases of his Back in the U.S. Live 2002 album. Is there any legal ground?

Continue reading Please, For the Love of God, Let it Be

Music By the Numbers

EMI Group announces that it will eliminate about 20% of its staff. There is a frisson of demiexcitement in the indie community as a transient feeling of “I told you so emerges.” Then the realization sets in that the 20% of the 9,400 employees who will be given their walking papers are probably individuals who are not of the corner-office variety, just regular folks who are going to be thinking long and hard about putting down $18.95 or so for a Lenny Kravitz disc. Meanwhile, the suits—who undoubtedly dress in a more calculated déclassé manner befitting of the rockdom that they inhabit—continue on in their positions. Oh, yes, and some 400 acts will also be unsupported, or have their legs cut out from under them. You can be confident that these people will not be getting the Mariah Carey treatment. Most of them will probably get dunning notices from the accounting offices of Capitol, Virgin, and other EMI labels.

Does this shaking of the manufacturer whose products sell at a level that makes it the fifth-largest recording company in the U.S. indicate that there is a real threat to Big Business by small labels and Internet downloading? Probably not. Rather, it is simply the same sort of thing that is happening throughout corporations, whether they’re manufacturers of cars or copying machines. Companies are looking for the ways and means to bolster their stock prices, and one way of doing that is by dumping what many of them refer to as their “most valuable asset”: their people. In the case of EMI, the debulking, according to EMI Recorded Music CEO Alain Levy, should save the firm $140 million a year by 2004; margins, he calculates, should be up to 13% by 2005, from an anticipated 5.1% this year. You’d think that people who run businesses would come to the recognition that what makes a company make money is great product, not the elimination of people. (Certainly, if there is waste in the organization, then it should be worked out of the system. But muda-busting alone will not be the solution for success.)

Interestingly, what helped the outfit make its nut in late 2000/early 2001 was the release of an album by a non-existent group: The Beatles. Its 1., which was simply the repackaging of music that had already been, in effect, bought and paid for at an earlier time, sold exceedingly solidly. Not even the guys at Enron could pull off a feat like that.

When announcing the cuts to a group of stock analysts, Levy is reported to have stated, “Not having star power tends to take the margins out of the music and makes it a commodity.”

Sure, and having a diminished roster of performers so that’s what is likely to be left is nothing more than brand-name acts (i.e., “star power”) is to do something other than to create commodities that will sell in greater volumes. One thing it will do, certainly: Make the stock analysts happy.

Yellow Matter Custard. . .

While doing a bit of research for something other than this, I chanced upon the John Lennon biography on the Rolling Stone website. Prior to reading it, I anticipated that the unsigned item would be nothing less than the most fawning hagiography imaginable. After all, of the Beatles, Lennon was evidently the most in keeping with RS‘s ostensible ethos of edginess in all things.

But much to my surprise, I find that the Lennon biography is downright dismissive of much of Lennon’s work and archly critical (perhaps the old damning with faint praise approach) of his lifestyle.

In the opening paragraph, the writer notes that Lennon and McCartney split the songwriting for the Beatles, and that while McCartney’s songs were “more pop-oriented,” Lennon “contributed more experimental and mystical music during the band’s later years.” There is no mention of the type of music contributed by either during the band’s earlier years; the implication, however, is that the songs were neither experimental nor mystical. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Presumably there is an explanation for this musical wackiness: “Lennon also led the group into drug use during the mid-’60s and encouraged them to follow his guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.” While the mid-’60s isn’t exactly their later years, one can see the seeds of discord.

As the bio moves on, we learn that John had a “rocky” marriage with Cynthia Powell, mother of Julian, “especially after Lennon began openly dating an older Japanese-American artist named Yoko Ono.” [Enter villain, stage right] An “older Japanese-American artist”? What’s interesting here is that while the first sentence of the piece indicates John’s date of birth (10/9/40), there isn’t any other discussion of age. So I can only assume that the writer figured that s/he couldn’t get away with the adjectives that were really being thought of when the dreaded Ono appears in this story.

In ’68, not only were John and Cynthia divorced, but the Beatles produced The White Album. Then the other shoe (yes, I know that this would be the third one) drops: “John and Yoko released the experimental ‘found sound’ collection Unfinished Music, No. 1—Two Virgins.” This is the recording with the naked John and “older Japanese-American artist” on the cover. The Beatles put out a blank cover; Unfinished Music, No. 1, was banned from many stores and caused a hue and cry from the media: “reporters speculated that Ono was ‘controlling’ Lennon and causing trouble for the beloved Beatles.” The “beloved Beatles”? Beloved by whom? The structure of the phrase is unclear whether it is the reporters who love them or, what is more likely, the anonymous biographer.

1969 sees “Lennon and a very pregnant Ono”—note, again, the adjective—”embarked on a ‘honeymoon’ in Europe, stopping along the way to get married in Gibraltar on March 20th.” The quotation marks around “honeymoon” can be construed as some raised eyebrows: How dare they! The two “staged a notorious ‘Bed-In’ at the Amsterdam Hilton.” Notorious in what way? could be wondered but never answered. The duo went on to “constantly” decry “political injustices from their celebrity bully pulpit.” The bully pulpit, of course, is something that is ordinarily associated with historic figures like, say, Theodore Roosevelt, not a falling rock star and his controlling interest.

Next, the biographer claims that in order to deal with the “anguish” of a miscarriage that Ono experienced in May, 1969, the two “hastily recorded two more avante- [sic] garde albums, Life with the Lions—Unfinished Music No. 2 (which features such ‘songs’ as flipping through various radio stations and several minutes of silence) and The Wedding Album (whose entire B-side consists of John and Yoko screaming each other’s name).” At this point the venom of the biographer is almost palpable, especially since 1969 was the year of Abbey Road, yet John had to go form that damned Plastic Ono Band the same year.

“As Lennon spent more time collaborating with Ono, he began to distance himself from the other Beatles”—which is obviously a heinous thing. He wanted to quit the band in late ’69, but “contract negotiations were underway with EMI,” so he kept his mouth shut. Presumably, John was wise enough to know that he wasn’t going to be earning quite the same royalties from things like Unfinished Music as he would from Beatles’ records. In the spring of ’70, Paul McCartney evidently didn’t have such compunction because not only did he release his first solo album, but he publicly announced the End of the Beatles. [I’ll pause here for genuflection and a moment of silence.]

The David Caruso Factor

The Beatles are a sterling example of the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It came as something of a surprise to me—a pleasant surprise, I must say—that there was no blow-by-blow breakdown of the “tribute” to John Lennon that appeared on cable earlier this week. Although I still remember where I was when I heard that Lennon had been shot (for some reason, remembrances of such things are supposed to signify an import beyond the norm, which I’m not so sure about, as it could simply be a function of difference, not significance), it has always seemed to me that his post-Beatles career with such things as “Instant Karma,” wasn’t much more than a variant of a Ray Stevens novelty act.

The whole veneration of Lennon goes back to something that happened during my generation, when The Beatles were new and we were children. Everyone had their “favorite” Beatle. Although they were considered as individuals (e.g., “Paul is the cute one”; “George is the shy one”), the band members were inextricably tied to the band as a whole; there was no notion that there could be solos. Of course, the main dichotomy was between John and Paul for the simple reason that they were the two up front: No one—at least no one at age 10—was pouring over the small type on the label on the vinyl to see who was responsible for what. Even on the Saturday morning cartoon of the band there were obvious differences between the two. John was the guy who made the most cracks while Paul evinced a certain niceness. And so it has remained ever since.

But let’s face it: for every “Mind Games” or “Maybe I’m Amazed,” there has been a whole lot of post-Beatles dreck. Not that I think that those guys should have stopped working after the band broke up, but it does seem to me that there should have been a bit of critical distance applied to their subsequent music. Less fawning. More listening.

For some reason, musicians who have gained success, recognition and popularity through their membership in a band almost never (I really can’t think of a good counter example, but I’m keeping my options open) do as well solo. Think, for example, of all of the albums released by Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Pete Townshend and on and on and on. How many of these are better than the Stones, Zeppelin, Who, or Whomever?

Note how the Patron Musician of this site, Neil Young, has been a part of many bands but has always been apart from them. In my argument, Buffalo Springfield been successful, we would probably not be giving Neil quite as many props today—if any at all.

O Brave New World

Two points:

1. This is not one of the long, thoughtful pieces that appear below on this page. If you’re looking for that, well, simply go below

2. I am becoming somewhat disturbed that I even noticed this topic and even annoyed that I have essayed this band more than once on this site.

Here’s the thing: Has anyone else noticed that the cover of ‘Nsync’s Celebrity is an updated rip of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an update that is seen through the cockeyed lens of “Entertainment Tonight,” “E.” People, Teen People, Homunculi People, etc.?

Ah, the debasement continues.