Category Archives: The Beatles

Sgt. Pepper all over again.

June 1, 1967, I was 12 years old and I was in Leesburg Drug Fair. Most likely I had a few comic books in hand when I picked up The Beatles’ new album, or what I thought was the Beatles’ new album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Looking at the cover I didn’t know what the hell was going on except amongst the many faces I saw four, eight really, familiar ones with the words The Beatles arranged in flowers on the ground. So with a little over $10 spent I had my reading material and music in a paper bag as I walked home. I was not expecting how everything would change so quickly.

I was a Beatle kid, from Ed Sullivan to Revolver I was in it. I already had the single Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane so I was anticipating something different from the band, but I wasn’t really ready for this.

Opening Pepper was an experience, it was my first gatefold album, it was the first to have the lyrics printed on it, the first to have an insert of cutouts… it was bright, beautiful, shiny and more than new, it was birthed.


I remember my first listen, it was on my white Sears stereo. I was sitting in the middle of my room with the speakers as wide apart as they would stretch with the volume on “loud”. Suddenly a smash of guitars and someone singing “It was 20 years  ago today….”

I was gone, I didn’t know what I was listening to, I only knew I wanted to hear again and again. It was rock and roll but it was also something all together different. It was Beatle music, not Fab, but Beatle music. That afternoon discovering Pepper is still close to my living awareness. I can almost bring back that strange feeling of a door opening. In retrospect, it was the day I became a teenager. Pepper grabbed my hand and lashed me into a more adult world with plasticine porters with looking glass ties.

Flash forward 50 years. A new remixed version of Sgt. Pepper is released with great hoopla and anticipation.  I received an email notice that an Amazon package arrived at my house. I quickly took the afternoon off, hurried home, opened the package and there was Pepper. Not newly birthed, but it was grinning at me, saying: “well kid, you ready… again”?

I was in the house alone, the volume was on 8 (that’s louder than my 12 year old loud), and that feeling came again, and it was more than what I expected. They did it again. But this time the door did not open to adulthood, it opened a window to that kid in a second floor bedroom with head, ears and heart wide open. I didn’t return to being that kid, but for the first time I could see him with my older eyes. I was equipped with the knowledge of what lies ahead for him in the next 50 years, both good and bad. It was Pepper‘s new gift to me, we are who we were and somewhere deep down in our blood innocence still flows within you and without you.

SG: May 30, 2017

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To answer your question, how does the new mix sound? 

You can search the net on how this new mix came about, it’s a fascinating read especially with George Martin’s son Giles at the board. Here are 10 of my reactions:

  1. It’s a totally new listening experience with dynamic leveled stereo.
  2. Ringo’s drums are brought to the front and he does some of his best work, work that before was buried sonically.
  3. Getting Better rocks harder.
  4. Harmonies and background vocals are much sharper, you can even hear George’s wonderful harmony vocals.
  5. John’s rhythm guitar is very present in the new mix.
  6. Within You Without You is a new experience.
  7. Good Morning‘s tension is turned up and it’s great
  8. There is more space in every song
  9. You can hear The Beatles as a 4 piece band and realize they could have played most of the songs live.
  10. A Day In The Life remains the masterpiece and this new mix throws all pretenders to its crown aside

Here’s a link to the 2 CD Deluxe version.

The vinyl version.

And the 4 CD, DVD, Blu Ray and Anniversary Book version.

I wish there was a record store I could direct you to, or a Drug Fair.

 

 

Ten things I’m thinking….

10things

1. Van Morrison is singing better than ever, this proves it.

2. Cerphe’s Up should be on every music lover’s bookshelf.

3. We need John Lennon today more than ever.

4. It’s scary times when elected officials, especially Congress, are more afraid of the President than the power of the people.

5. The half hour black and white Gunsmoke episodes are better than the full hour color episodes.

6. Saturday morning cartoons suck. I’m so happy I grew up with Hanna-Barbara and Warner Brothers toons.

7. The new Tarzan movie was great and critics are wrong most of the time.

8. Jim Gaffigan, Chelsea Handler, Amy Schumer and Conan O’Brien have never made me laugh.

9. The Beatles could have thrown their careers away in 1964 when the refused to play America’s segregated venues, instead they changed the world.

10. The bottom line is not money, it’s people.

Fab Phases

tumblr_lqh_1889690278

The appeal of The Beatles’ work is their ever changing style, the experimentation, the boundary pushing and the pure unexpected path they would show us from album to album. In this post I’ll break down what I consider the phases of their career and pick a song from that phase. The song may not be their best or my favorite but will act as a gate to their particular wheelhouse at the time.

The Fab Years

From the second you heard or saw them you knew something was up, something just shifted. They popped from the radio with an exuberance that has yet to be equaled. From I Want To Hold Your Hand to Eight Days A Week the songs from 1963 and 1964 were pieces of youthful innocence with just a taste of cheek thrown in. Hold Me Tight sums up that time and their sound, soon it would all change.

The Look Inside Year: 1965

With Beatlemania still raging, The Beatles found a cohort amongst the madness, Bob Dylan.  They both shared a public meteoric rise and the chains that accompany it. They also admired each others’ work, Dylan went electric and The Fabs looked inside. You can hear this new introspective earlier in I’m A Loser but it really blooms in Help! and especially Rubber Soul. Songs like Hide Your Love Away, Tell Me What You See, Norwegian Wood and Nowhere Man come from a place not akin to yeah, yeah, yeah. But it’s In My Life that represents this phase in its glory. I’m still floored that two twenty four year olds penned such a beautiful song about looking back over a life lived.

Peppered

Starting with 1966’s Revolver through 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the boys shook off a lot of Fab. The decision to quit touring and concentrate on studio work, and with EMI giving them full reign and unlimited recording time, they rewarded us with music so new and exciting it was if it came from another place and time.  Songs like Tomorrow Never Knows, Eleanor Rigby, Taxman, A Little Help From My Friends, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and the great A Day In The Life were so different some critics insinuated that it wasn’t really the Beatles, and in a sense they were right. The shot across the bow of this phase was the single Strawberry Fields Forever. It sounded like they recorded a fever dream of John’s and released it on an unsuspecting audience. The shot hit its target square on.

Individually Speaking

A trip of meditation to India, personal problems and shifting tastes all stewed together brought forth 1968’s The Beatles, forever known as The White Album. A wide collection of songs that were mainly written individually and recorded non-collectively. Martha My Dear is just Paul on every instrument. Paul and John even play drums on a few cuts as Ringo left the band for a few weeks. It is evidence of their talent that even in this poisoned atmosphere they got anything done, much less a two-set magnus opus. While My Guitar Gently Weeps represents this beautiful mess brilliantly in the sense that it is a George song that shines with anything John and Paul wrote at the time. It also features an outside musician in a pivotal role: Eric Clapton plays the lead guitar.

The Get Back Days

Feeling lost and anxious The Beatles decided their next album would be a return to roots. (Note:They began recording this album in 1968, due to the unpleasant process and squabbling over mixes the album was not released until 1970 as Let It Be. Even though it was their last official release, Abbey Road was recored after these sessions.) They decided to venture into a new studio, film the sessions, produce the music themselves and record everything live. So begins the band’s breakup. The Get Back sessions were a disaster. Acrimony ruled, petty arguments were so heated George stormed out and didn’t return for days. What was intended as a filmed reunion of sorts became a public recording of a band in crisis. Not that it doesn’t hold brilliant moments: the rooftop concert, the title track Let It Be, Get Back, and Across The Universe; but it is Two Of Us that shines on their purpose. Here John and Paul sing blissful harmony on a song they wrote together at a time when they were falling apart.

Note: In 2003 a new version of Let It Be was released, Let It Be…Naked. These are the original performances recorded sans Phil Spector audio clutter and wild mixes, this truthfully represents The Get Back Sessions.

Swan Songs

One thing about The Beatles, they were self aware. Knowing the troubles and bad feelings of the Get Back Sessions and their unhappiness with the work, they pulled together to do something special. Reconvening at Abbey Road Studios with producer George Martin in 1969, they set out to prove to the public and, more importantly themselves, that they were still The Beatles and still Top o the Pops. They did, they were and they are. First titled Everest, the album Abbey Road is considered by many as their finest hour. The songs are excellent and the performances are as strong as anything they recorded. Something, Come Together, Here Comes The Sun are important canon to their legacy but it is the side two medley that sums up Abbey Road. Their last shout from Everest on their final recording was all anyone could ask for from four young lads from Liverpool.  One sweet dream……

The White Album – Edited

ArticleSharedImage-13491

The Beatles, also known as the White Album, is the ninth studio album by the Beatles, released on 22 November 1968. This was a double album and to many it’s their favorite album by the band. Not me. Don’t get me wrong, I love this work but I’ve always found it a bit, let’s say, over indulgent. I want to hear every song on it but I think it could’ve been an amazing one disc release.

So here is my edited version of The White Album. I cut it to a 12 song album with, IMO, the strongest cuts.

The Beatles

Side one:

1. Back in the USSR

2. Dear Prudence

3. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

4. Happiness is a Warm Gun

5. Martha My Dear

6. I’m So Tired

Side two:

7. Blackbird

8. I Will

9. Helter Skelter

10. Revolution 1

11. Savoy Truffle

12. Cry Baby Cry.

I know the villagers are picking up pitch forks and lighting torches to storm Castle Stilson for omitting Rocky Raccoon, Bungalow Bill, Mother Nature’s Son and many others, but just think, they would comprise the best outtakes album ever released. Here’s the complete list of tracks that didn’t make my cut: Glass Onion, Ob La Di Ob La Da, Wild Honey Pie, Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, Piggies, Rocky Raccoon, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, Julia, Birthday, Yer Blues, Mother Nature’s Son, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey, Sexy Sadie, Long Long Long, Honey Pie, Revolution 9 and Goodnight.

I would love to see your edited version of this classic or your reasons why it’s perfect as is.

images

Five Favorite Album Covers

I love album covers. It’s the thing I miss the most about vinyl. I know vinyl is back, but most of the time the cover is designed for the CD, digital image AND the vinyl album. Not much room for nuance when the design is made for a .375 inch square avatar instead  of a square foot canvas.

The following are five of my favorite covers, I’m not saying they are the best, just five art/designs that hold special to me. I also admit what sound came from their sleeves made an impression on the choices.

5. Sailin’ Shoes – Little Feat  This was not only my initial introduction to the band but to their cover artist, Neon Park. He went on to make many more Feat covers and became a much in-demand  illustrator. Sailin’ Shoes remains my favorite Feat album and my favorite Park cover. I mean an anthropomorphized slice of cake on a swing, half a blue boy and a voyeuristic  snail, come on!

little_feat-sailin_shoes(3)

4. Led Zeppelin  This album burst out of the speakers like a rock blues hurricane, and the album art captures that explosion. All of Zeppelin’s covers were fantastic but its first, and starkest design, is the best. Note: the band and friends thought this album would fail like a lead ballon, thus the band name and the art: crash of the Hindenburg.

led-zeppelini

3. School’s Out – Alice Cooper  A perfect album cover for me at the time. Released in the Summer of 1972, I had just graduated high school and the single and the album became athemic. The cover was also interactive. It was a desk. Using great photography, oragami and wicked attention to detail, this design stood as art or at least a good high school shop project. Note: the original release album sleeve was a pair of girl’s panties soon replaced by a regular paper sleeve. Alice knew his audience, huh?

album-schools-out-front-cover-09-06-11 schoolsout

2. The Band – The Band   Designed by the great Bob Cato, using an Elliot Landy photograph, this simple cover speaks volumes of what waits inside. Their first album, Music From Big Pink (and a contender for this list) did not show the members of the group on either the front or the back; you had to open it up to see the group. Here they confront you head-on, staring at you from another time. This was the time of paisley and psychedelic design and fonts. Not this band, there were dressed as workers, laborers, as if they stepped out of 1940’s  America. Hell, they could’ve been mistaken for hobos then. The album was sepia toned as if taken from our grandparents’ scrapbook. And the music reflected it all, and magnificently. A masterpiece.

the-band-4def7d2ee3e5e

 

1. Revolver – The Beatles  Now you know I could’ve put lots of Fab covers here, as a matter of fact all five spots could be Fab covers: With The Beatles, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles (White Album), Abbey Road. But Revolver is my favorite. Designed and drawn by their friend and fellow musician Klaus Voorman, the cover captured the band as they were moving from Fabdom to somewhere else. It captures this space in time and the music within perfectly. As a professional graphic designer I think it is beautifully rendered and remains timeless. It also won the Grammy for Best Album Cover Design, that’s one they got right.

original_449

 

OK, one more, not really a favorite but this design for Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats freaked me out in 1969 and still does today. Some cats have nightmares about bogeymen and monsters, I have nightmares of Hot Rats.

top-guitar-albums-hot-rats-frank-zappa

I’d love to know some of your favorite covers and why.

 

 

Covers Better Than The Original? Yep.

Everybody loves a list so here’s mine on a topic that is on many music blogs and sites. Now most of the time I prefer an artist’s own rendition of their work. Many people prefer Rod Stewart’s version of Tom Wait’s Downtown Train. Granted Rod has a voice that is like a sandpapered angel, beautiful; Tom’s is a sandpapered frog . But Tom’s version is full of the city’s mean streets and its hard luck citizens. I believe it is the vastly superior version.

So here are five covers I like better than the original, it’s subjective and personal, just like music.

5. Turn, Turn, Turn – The Byrds. That shimmering guitar jangle and Fab-like harmonies make one beautiful song. The great Pete Seeger’s original, not so much.

4.  House Of The Rising Sun – The Animals. This was a traditional blues folk song brought to radio life by a great British Invasion band. Here is an original interpretation by blues legend Leadbelly and his wife.

3. Mr. Bojangles – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Originally recorded by its writer Jerry Jeff Walker and released in 1968. It was a minor hit. In 1971 it was eclipsed by TNGDB and their excellent version.

2. Twist And Shout – The Beatles. Originally recorded by The Top Notes, then more successfully  by the Isley Brothers, the song is now on hold  to The Fabs and John Lennon’s throat tearing vocals. One of the great vocal performances in rock and roll.

1. All Along The Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix. Sorry Bob Dylan, I love you, but Jimi now owns this.

So, there are my favorite covers that outshine the originals, I’d love to hear yours.

The Beatles, hey I can take criticism and dislike but dismissal…nope.

1345925023_855688_1346265053_portadilla_normal

Here is a link to an opinion found in The Washington Post outlook section on Sunday, June 21, 2013, written by Justin Moyer.

LINK.

Here is my reply:

Dear Editor,

As a subscriber for over 40 years of the Post I’ve read many asinine opinions, but not many as asinine as Mr. Moyer’s The Beatles:Let Them Be.

Mr. Moyer must be too young to remember the great music critic Lester Bangs or has never read any of Greil Marcus’ work to have the connection as popular music as art. Mr. Moyer seems to be caught in the celebrity aspect of music or the next thing, nothing wrong with that, nothing unless you dismiss the past. Imagine an art critic dismissing Leonardo or Raphael as old hat and unworthy of attention or a film critic writing about Citizen Kane as unworthy and not worth a view, not with Iron Man 3 in the theatre.

The Beatles are as important to popular music as Beethoven is to classical, imagine the guffaws a critic would bear if they dismissed that master’s work. If we prattle on about dismissing the great works of the past, the seminal pieces that the foundation of that art is built upon, we lose the context of what art is and become purveyors of marketing. By dismissing the past Mr. Moyer makes the future inconsequential.

That or he believes pop music and rock and roll are not art forms but merely commodities, if that is the case, he should start working AR for a record label.

The Beatles are as relevant today as they ever have been, that is if you consider music art and the makers of it artists. Forty five years from now The Fab Four will still be treasured and honored and their art only enriched by new ears, groups such as fun. and The Lumineers will be but trivia answers.

Stilson Greene

My Five and Why.

5

I was asked the other day what are my favorite albums? I really couldn’t answer because I have so many, but I was pressed and I gave an answer. Looking back on it, and having time to ponder, I’ve picked the five that I would have to keep. The five you could only listen to for the rest-of -your-life-five.  I made some parameters: only one from any artist/band, no live albums, no greatest hits and no various collections (no K-tel allowed baby).

1. Rubber Soul – The Beatles. No surprise I’m sure, they are intrinsic to my DNA, picking one was almost impossible, but I listen to Rubber Soul at least once a week, how could I not ever hear it again.

2. The Band (The Brown Album) – The Band – A seminal work for me, easing out Music From Big Pink by a guitar string. This album changed the way I heard and thought about music and it’s rich American heritage. Through this piece of work I discovered Bob Dylan, the blues, country and western, gospel and much more. It forked the road for me from British/American pop to another darker less traveled path.

3. Into the Music – Van Morrison. I can’t imagine never hearing Van’s voice again, and this work shines vocally. In his grunts and swoons I can hear Elvis, Jackie Wilson, Tom Waits, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Frank Sinatra and many more. I chose this for the vocalists I love, with Van at the top of the heap.

4. Broken Moon – Lowen & Navarro. I cannot put into words how I feel about this album, it has healed me many times. I think Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro are two of the best songwriters, singers and performers I have ever had the pleasure to know. I have given this album to friends almost as much as I have given them Rubber Soul;  it’s that good and that important to me. Lowen and Navarro are the brave working troubadours, carrying on a time honored tradition of  songwriting and truth. And brave may be too weak a word.

5. Honky Tonk Heroes – Waylon Jennings. The greatest country album by one of the greatest country artists. The songs of Billy Joe Shafer brought to stunning life by a crackerjack band and a soulful singer. But it’s on the list for more than that, this album is a chapter of my life in 1973-1975 that remains as some of the best years I had as a young man and with the best brothers- in-arms a friend could ask for… and also because of Lakeside Amusement Park, three fingered whiskey and wiiiiiiild buffaloes.

So there’s my five and why, now you do the same, post yours in the comments below and let’s listen to what your life is like.

You Say You Want A Revelation…The Beatles Remasterd.

the-beatles

For those not wanting to read the whole flaming pie, and just want to know if the remastered CDs are worth it? The answer is absolutely, but if you already have all The Beatles you want, and you mainly listen to your iPod and you are going to take the new stuff, pop it in your computer, then place it into iTunes, well, I’d say no. In order to hear the full glory of this marvelous collection, it needs to played on a stereo system, not through a compressed digital link. Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPod, but it’s a snapshot of music compared to uncompressed full sound.

Still there? Let the Magical Mystery Tour begin.

I have the whole remastered catalog, but I’ll just write about the stereo versions. I’ll break them down to the three stages of The Beatles span, first up:

The Fab Years : Please, Please Me/With The Beatles/A Hard Day’s Night/Beatles For Sale/Help

Most of this work was done live in the studio and listening to it you will feel as if the Fabs are in the room with you. The sound is so pristine that you hear the friction of the strings, the crack of the snare and, for the first time for me, the separation of the gorgeous 3-part harmonies. You will ache for John’s vocal chords as he shreds them on a visceral take of  Twist and Shout, the stunning beauty of  If I Fell, the complete joy of that reverberating chord that introduces Hard Day’s Night.Honestly, I felt like that young kid again discovering rock and roll on my Sears record payer, grabbing onto something that was totally foreign to my family, something I could call mine, that a generation called and still calls  “ours”! The Fab years is like dusting off an old sepia photograph of a dear friend and realizing for the first time,  it’s in color.

The Middle Ages: Rubber Soul/Revolver/Sgt. Pepper/ Magical Mystery Tour

Just listen to Nowhere Man, the vocals sublime with a new depth of sound, a guitar solo that to this day remains one of my favorites. The remastering of Rubber Soul is one of the jewels in the crown of this collection, the other being Revolver. Eleanor Rigby, Tomorrow Never Knows and Taxman sound like different versions, the sound is that good. On this record, Ringo and Paul shine; the bass is punched up and the drums are now in the front of the mix, not behind like a tin set. (As a matter of fact the biggest winner in this whole remastering thing is Ringo, his fills and clockwork back beat is such a crucial aspect of The Beatles’ sound you wonder how he can ever be under rated again.) Sgt. Pepper is a sonic boom right from “It was 20 years ago today”” to the masterpiece A Day In The Life. I don’t have to tell you what a thrill it is to hear this work of art shiny and new. A note, the trumpets on Good Morning will knock you out! Roll out! Magical Mystery Tour’s title track sounds great but the true gems here are Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, it sounds like a whole new palette. This is Lennon and McCartney at their best. Here’s the true test of the remastered CDs, for years, at the fade out of Strawberry Fields, it was thought that John said “I buried Paul” here, very clearly, you hear the true words, “cranberry sauce”. Yep the sound is that good.

The Final Acts: The Beatles (The White Album)/ Yellow Submarine/Abbey Road/ Let it Be

Wanna know what a jet sounds like taking off in your house, now you can as The White Album blasts you into the group’s most complex and challenging work. The new sound here is marvelous, with channel separation and fading left to right so crisp it’s startling. Back in the USSR never sounded like this before, nor has Savoy Truffle, they both smack you with sound. Conversely Goodnight and Julia never sounded so wistful and heartbreaking. As John sings “When I cannot sing my heat, I can only speak my mind” you feel his pain of loss, not only for his mother but for a band on the edge of dissolving. Yellow Submarine also sounds great, Bulldog now punches through the speakers as if you were in the mixing room with Mr. Martin. Speaking of Mr. Martin, half of this album is comprised of his instrumental orchestral work from the titled film, and it’s beautiful. Abbey Road *sigh*, Something sounds fantastic, it really is George’s masterpiece. But it’s The Suite (side two) that shines. You can hear George’s fingers on the strings as Here Come the Sun starts, the harmonies on Because are astonishing, you actually hear the single voices in the blend, for those you don’t believe that The Beatles had three of the best singers ever to grace one band, here’s the proof. Golden Slumbers is a audio highlight of this brilliant piece of music, and though released before Let it Be, Abbey Road was the last time all four of the lads were in the studio together, it remains the ultimate rock swan song. Let it Be was to be a “get back to basics” for the band, recorded after the acrimonious sessions of  The White Album, Paul thought that a more live recording process would do them good. The results were a mixed bag, and the project was scrapped, but the tapes were eventually given to Phil Spector to work with.  Let it Be was released after Abbey Road at that time the breakup was on. The result was “The Beatles meet the wall of sound”, and though I love how this album sounds, and it sounds unbelievable now, I prefer the stripped down versions found on Let it Be Naked released a few years ago. But any album with songs like Let it Be, Long and Winding Road, Two of Us and Across the Universe cannot be considered anything but phenomenal, and the remastered version is just that.

Lastly the final CD in the remastered set is Past Masters, it contains the Beatle singles that didn’t appear on the albums, and it’s great. The new sound of Hey Jude brings out the beauty of the piano and the masterful harmony that both John and George contribute. It also has one of my favorite Beatle songs Yes It Is and it sounds great too, but the prize of this set is the remastered Paperback Writer; the bass backhands you like a mad uncle, and the song thumps along powered by a great rock band loaded with great singers. This song sums up what the remastered set is all about: great music and memories that have collected in your heart and soul, brought back for you to revel in today and hopefully pass on to a new generation. This is music magic played and sung by flesh and blood, not manufactured by bytes and programs. It really is the soundtrack of our lives…yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Here’s a direct link to The Beatles Remastered Box Set at Amazon.