Tag Archives: Beatles

Listen

When you’re in an anechoic chamber—a room full of pyramid-shaped, foot-long absorbers located on the walls, ceiling and floor (there is typically a large screen providing the footing) that keep sound waves from bouncing around—the silence isn’t, as they say, deafening, but it causes a sensation that makes it seem as though the atmosphere is somehow thicker in there. The sound goes away. You move through the space (I’ve had the opportunity to be in chambers capable of accommodating cars and instrumentation, so these chambers are sometimes like large rooms that you could even dance in) and because the nearly silent audible cues that you don’t even pay any attention to in normal activities—sounds like the fabric of your clothes brushing as you walk—are absent, it is a bit eerie. Or a lot eerie. You can hear your blood pumping, though the sound has more consistency than a rhythmic beat. It is not a place you want to be in for too long.

It makes you appreciate, well, sound.

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John Cage’s 4’33” (In Proportional Notation) was first performed by pianist David Tudor on August 29,1952 in Woodstock, New York. There are three movements to the composition. The movements, unlike those in other musical works, consisted of Tudor opening and closing the lid of the keyboard to mark each section.

Cage recalled, according to the Museum of Modern Art, “You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”

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50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong–or Can They?

While the numbers are not laser etched in diamond*, Michael Jackson has sold some 258.9-million albums. This puts him behind the Beatles (289.5 million) but ahead of his first, former father-in-law (well, he would have been had he not been dead for 17 years): 230.6 million. All of these are/were (how do you count when the Beatles no longer exist, nor do either of the two Kings?) pikers compared to Rihanna, who has sold an estimated 334.7 million albums and the 34-year-old billionaire has, presumably, a long career ahead of her.

But back to Jackson. According to Spotify, he has 30,531,780 monthly listeners.

“Billie Jean” has had 1,149,441,023 streams. Consider: the population of China is 1.4-billion people, so it is as though most all of them know that “She’s just a girl who claims I am the one.”

Given these numbers it is safer than houses to claim that there have been a lot of people who have listened to Michael Jackson, either then or right now.

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“Hey, hey, we’re the. . .”

This is odd. To get to the Beatles, my subject, I have to go through the Monkees. This is because as I start this I learn that Mike Nesmith died December 10. He was 78. According to an obit in The Washington Post, “Nesmith just performed less than a month ago, concluding a Monkees farewell tour in Los Angeles with singer and drummer Micky Dolenz, who is now the band’s sole surviving member.” No, he’s the sole surviving member of what was once the band.

Davy Jones died in 2012. Peter Tork in 2019. Wouldn’t that “farewell tour” have really occurred in 2011?

Harrison Smith notes in the WaPo obit, “for a time, the ‘Prefab Four were said to have outsold the Beatles.”

And here we go.

The Beatles were referred to as the “Fab Four.” In this case, “Fab” was short for “Fabulous.”

The Monkees “Prefab Four” moniker doesn’t mean “Prefabulous” but “Prefabricated.” The combination of the four was a result of a casting call, as two TV producers in 1965 had the idea for a situation comedy about a band. This resulted in a TV series, The Monkees, which ran on NBC from September 1966 to March 1968, 58 episodes. The storylines were based on the concept of a band in LA trying to make it.

Nesmith showed up at the audition having seen an ad in a trade mag. Tork was recommended by Stephen Stills. Davy Jones was a musical stage performer (who was in the cast of Oliver! that did a performance on The Ed Sullivan Show the night the Beatles performed on the show). Micky Dolenz was a TV actor, having performed as the star of Circus Boy, where he was the orphan of trapeze artists who was adopted by a clown and his extended family and had a baby elephant as a pet—and people think that some of the bits in The Monkees were surreal.

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In Advance of a Broken Band

There was one scene in the massive filmic edifice that is Get Back, the film of the Beatles nearing the end, the likes of which was only exceeded by the magnitude of Napoleon’s 1812 retreat from Moscow, that made me shake myself from my stupor during which time I was wondering how it was possible for Paul McCartney to be chewing on his fingernails so frequently and yet have the ability to play bass, piano, drums and probably a multitude of other instruments had they been in Twickenham Studios or Savile Row or inside his car or randomly on his route to work.

This was after George Harrison decided that he could continue to be a member of the band and Billy Preston, who happened to be in town, was dragooned, willingly, into the band.

During an exchange between McCartney and Lennon it was pointed out that the Beatles were four, then three, then four, then five. That is, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo/Billy. It was even suggested that they might ask a multitude of others to join the group, equaling, perhaps, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The issue, of course, is the still somewhat alive horse that I’ve flogged over the years, which is: When does a band stop being a band? Or when is it a band in name only?

As is well known there is a tendency for acts to continue on with the name of a band although there are people missing from the lineup that made the band what it was.

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Beatles Studies

Ringo gave an interview to BBC Radio recently in which he said, among other things, “if Paul hadn’t been in the band, we’d probably have made two albums because we were lazy buggers.”

So that would have been Please Please Me and With the Beatles, which were introduced in the U.K. in 1963 eight months apart (March and November).

As for the first, it is actually quite an impressive outing, including: “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Misery,” “Anna (Go to Him),” “Chains,” “Boys,” “Ask Me Why,” “Please Please Me,” “Love Me Do,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Baby It’s You,” “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” “A Taste of Honey,” “There’s a Place,” and “Twist and Shout.”

A solid 32:16 of music.

With the Beatles contains “It Won’t Be Long,” “All I’ve Got to Do,” “All My Loving,” “Don’t Bother Me,” “Little Child,” “Till there Was You,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Hold Me Tight,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Devil in Her Heart,” “Not a Second Time,” and “Money (That’s What I Want).”

That comes in at 33:02.

One of the remarkable things about these two albums is that the band was able to include songs from a wide variety of genres. Consider only With the Beatles. “Till There Was You” was written by Meredith Wilson, the composer of The Music Man. “Roll Over Beethoven” came from Chuck Berry. “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” was written by Smokey Robinson. And “Money” also came out of Hitsville U.S.A., having been written by Motown founder Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford.

Ringo continued, “But Paul’s a workaholic. John and I would be sitting in the garden taking in the color green from the tree, and the phone would ring, and we would know, ‘Hey lads, you want to come in? Let’s go in the studio!’

“So I’ve told Paul this, he knows this story, we made three times more music than we ever would without him because he’s the workaholic and he loves to get going. Once we got there, we loved it, of course, but, ‘Oh no, not again!’”

The world would have certainly been a different place had Paul not been the pain in the ass that he must have been in order to get those guys out of the garden.

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Does This Sound Like the Real Thing or What Is Real?

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership.” —Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 1935

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One of the things that is absolutely taken for granted is the ubiquity of the arts in our daily lives. Music comes from everywhere and while much of it doesn’t necessarily rise to the levels that one would imagine would have required the invocation of Euterpe, think only of the situation of someone 200 years ago:

One of the least expensive, most common instruments, the harmonica, wasn’t invented until 1821.

While we associate harmonicas with blues performers and hobos, it is a pretty good bet that back in the first half of the 19th century Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann’s instrument wasn’t an inexpensive item.

Hearing music–which we don’t even think about–was certainly something special for much longer than it hasn’t been.

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Some Days in July and The Beatles

According to The Beatles Bible, “Lennon was a notoriously bad driver.” On July 1, 1969, the day that recording was to begin for Abbey Road, Lennon, Yoko Ono, her daughter Kyoko and his son Julian were involved in a car accident, as Lennon drove into a ditch in Scotland. He would have probably been better off had he (1) been a better driver or (2) had a better work ethic, such that he’d show up in the studio, which is located in London, on July 1.

He did make it to the studio on July 9. As Yoko sustained more injuries than John, a double bed was ordered from Harrods and delivered to the studio, so she could be on hand in order to provide her insights into the music. Their first bed-in protest against the Vietnam War had occurred a few months earlier, in March, in Amsterdam. May 26-June 1 they had their second, in Montreal. Perhaps this bed was a protest about something else.

The first day Lennon was in the studio the band did takes 1 to 21 of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” The following day they did overdubbing and mixing of the tune.

Lennon, evidently, missed Ringo’s 29th birthday, which was on the 7th.

The song in question is about a serial killer. That Macca is quite the crack-up.

Apparently John was completely dismissive of the song, reportedly not participating. George and Ringo didn’t much like it, either, but they performed on it.

One of the reasons they weren’t chuffed about it was that it took three days to complete. A three-minute, 27-second ditty. Three days.

Paul must have really been invested in it.

Bang! Bang!

Continue reading Some Days in July and The Beatles

On New Year’s Day

On January 1, 1959, Johnny Cash performed at San Quentin State prison; what is interesting is that he’d released “Folsom Prison Blues” in December 1955, and didn’t play at Folsom Prison until 1968, when he recorded a live album there. He followed that up in 1969 with Johnny Cash at San Quentin. When he played the show on New Year’s Day in ’59 Merle Haggard was in the audience; Haggard had been convicted of trying to rob a roadhouse in Bakersfield in ‘57; failed at an escape from Bakersfield Jail, so was transferred to San Quentin. While Cash had never been a convict, Haggard had spent time in several prisons; that New Year’s Day performance by Cash was, Haggard later said, instrumental in his becoming a musician, something that he’d tried to do prior to the Bakersfield job, obviously unsuccessfully at that time.

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On January 1, 1953, Hank Williams—whose given name is Hiram—was being driven to Canton, Ohio, for a concert. Williams—who’d had a long bout of problems with alcohol, amphetamines, etc. (his drunkenness lead to his dismissal from the Grand Ole Opry in 1952; he became part of the show in 1949), although it should be pointed out that he was plagued by severe back problems and later a heart condition, so odds are the substance abuse was meant to relieve the pain—was found dead in the back seat of the Cadillac he was riding in. He was 29. One thing that Williams had pulled off that few others have managed as well as he did was to record as “Luke the Drifter.” Apparently, Luke the Drifter performed religious recitations, which Williams figured would not exactly be helpful vis-a-vis his public career. Somehow songs like “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy” and “Moanin’ the Blues” wouldn’t be Luke the Drifter-approved.

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On January 1, 1962, one of the great fails of all time took place: The Beatles auditioned for Decca Records. And Decca decided that Brian Poole and the Tremeloes would be a better pick. In July 1963 that band made its way to the charts for the first time in the UK with a cover of an Isley Brothers hit, “Twist and Shout.” The Beatles had beaten the band to that song, having released their version in March of the same year. The Tremeloes evidently knew a good thing when they heard it: in a post-Poole lineup, they covered “Good Day Sunshine” in 1966. It didn’t make the charts. Back to the Beatles for a moment: although January 1, 1962 was a Monday, did people really work that day in the UK?

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On January 1, 2007, BBC Radio 2 (According to the company: “The remit of Radio 2 is to be a distinctive mixed music and speech service, targeted at a broad audience, appealing to all age groups over 35”) announced the results of a poll that had been taken of approximately 20,000 of its listeners. It indicated that the greatest British band of all time was not the Beatles. It was Queen. This makes one question the vaunted “wisdom of crowds.”

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On January 1, 1890, the first Rose Parade was conducted by the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club. The association with a football game didn’t occur until January 1, 1902. There is a notable university in Pasadena, California Institute of Technology, better known as “CalTech.” It was established in 1891. It had a football team. The Beavers never played in the Rose Bowl. CalTech did have an “appearance” at the Rose Bowl in 1961. Some clever Sheldons managed to switch flip cards used by the cheerleaders for the Washington Huskies so that people in the stands would be directed to unknowingly spell “CALTECH” during halftime, which was picked up by the national NBC broadcast. (The CalTech football team ceased to exist in 1993.) On January 1, 1972, the first rock band rode on a float during the Tournament of Roses: Three Dog Night. Which makes one question the wisdom of the organizers in Pasadena back then. On January 1, 2021 there was no Rose Parade, having been canceled due to the pandemic. It was the first time the parade had been canceled since 1945, due to a world war.

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On January 1, 1975, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham officially joined Fleetwood Mac. In April 2018 Buckingham was “fired” from the band, ostensibly because of Stevie Nicks. He sued the band in October for dismissal. He had a heart attack in February 2019 and underwent open heart surgery. Due to the intubation, his vocal cords were affected. He recovered and was to have made his first return to a stage at the Beale Street Music Festival, which was to have taken place May 2020, was pushed back to October 2020, and was cancelled. In December 2020 Stevie Nicks sold 80% ownership of her song catalog—including “Dreams,” which had a massive boost in 2020 due to a TikTok video—for a reported $100-million.

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On January 1, 2021, I thought I’d wish you all a good one for the year. The pandemic isn’t over yet. It is not likely to be for several more months. It will. But still: be careful. Because while we are all ready to get out there, know that on February 27, 2020, someone who shall go unnamed said, “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” We’re still waiting.

How to Write an Earworm

In the days of AM radio, when songs were under three minutes long, there were a variety of sequences of songs played—repeatedly—which were generally described by the disc jockey as being the “top 10.” It was never entirely clear what the number described (i.e., top 10 of what?).

But it should be noted that while there was undoubtedly the whiff of something shady (to mix a couple of metaphors), radio station managers knew that they had to be exceedingly careful because of Congressional investigations into so-called “payola” in 1960, which even caused comment by then-president Dwight Eisenhower, who considered this to be an issue of public morality.

Which seems a bit too far.

But be that as it may, the FCC established a law that says, in part, “When a broadcast station transmits any matter for which money, service, or other valuable consideration is paid or promised to, or charged or accepted by such station, the station, at the time of the broadcast, must announce: (1) that such matter is sponsored, paid for, or furnished, either in whole or in part; and (2) by whom or on whose behalf such consideration was supplied.

In other words, the issue was (and conceivably still is) that the station (or more likely the DJ who was getting swag and whatnot from the A&R man repping the label and musician) would play a given cut over and over and over again. The effect would,  presumably, be one of an excessive number of listeners buying into the ad populum fallacy: if it is being played that much it must be good.

Or there is another thing that could have come into play: the Ohrwurm phenomenon. The earworm. The hearing a song “in your head.” A song “stuck” in your head.

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Googling “how to write a hit song” results in 386,000,000 results.

According to Robin Frederick, who operates mysoundcoach.com,

“Here’s the simple skeleton structure on which most hits are built

  • VERSE / CHORUS
  • VERSE / CHORUS
  • BRIDGE / CHORUS”

Ms. Frederick goes on to explain, “Those monster radio hits often add a section between the verse and chorus called the pre-chorus. It’s used to build anticipation and excitement leading up to those huge hooky choruses. Pop/Dance hits will sometimes have a section after the chorus called a post-chorus. This is where the music producer gets to show off his or her chops.”

Got it?

The chorus counts.

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The Crying of Lot 205

Friday, April 10, was the 50th anniversary of the breakup of The Beatles, so what better day than that to buy stuff?

Specifically, Beatles’ stuff.

Let’s face it, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interest in the actual music being put out by the two remaining people who had been part of the band, so that’s not driving a whole lot of revenue for anyone.

So a wide array of things that were associated with the once Fab Four were put up for auction at Julien’s Auctions.

In case you are wondering, that business is not operated by John Lennon’s son: he’s Julian. According to the folks at Julien’s, it is “the world record-breaking auction house to the stars.”

(And as we have a bit of time on our collective hands as we shelter at home, let’s think about that “auction house to the stars” claim for a moment. Also according to the firm, it “received its second placement in the Guinness Book of World Records for the sale of the world’s most expensive dress ever sold at auction, the Marilyn Monroe ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ dress which sold for $4.81 million.” That happened in 2016. Ms. Monroe sang that song to John F. Kennedy in 1962. Ms. Monroe died that same year. So one of the claims to fame of the “auction house to the stars” has no benefit to the star in question, as both the star and the person to whom her slinky vocal stylings were directed have both been dead for more than 50 years. In addition to which, in terms of the auction that we will be looking at in a moment—honest, I will get out of this parenthetical remark soon—again, two of the stars are no longer with us, as John Lennon died in 1980 and George Harrison in 2001, so again, how are they going to benefit from the auction? In case you’re wondering about the first placement in the Guinness Book of World Records, that occurred in 2009, when it auctioned off a white glove that had been worn by Michael Jackson, “making it the most expensive glove ever sold at auction.” Jackson died in 2009. It isn’t clear whether the glove sold before or after his passing. And the whole notion of a glove being owned by him is not worth thinking about too hard, or at all, for that matter.)

Back to the auction of the Beatles’ related materials.

Continue reading The Crying of Lot 205