Tag 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

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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….

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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

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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

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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.

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BADFINGER – A primer

20140320_532a5e9028fcaFormed in 1961 as the Iveys, Badfinger was one of the first acts signed to The Beatles’ new record label Apple. Their first album, Magic Christian Music, was a home run with their first smash single, written by Paul McCartney, Come And Get It.

They followed that single with No Matter What You Are, Day After Day and Baby Blue, all worldwide hits. They were all over George Harrison’s opus All Things Must Past, they backed up Ringo on his hit It Don’t Come Easy, they played on most of John Lennon’s Imagine album and they were the stage band for George’s famous Concert for Bangladesh.

With a pedigree like that you would think they would be part of rock’s canon. But no. Badfinger was plagued by bad management, lost opportunities and sadly, two tragic suicides.  You can read a good synopsis of their journey on their Wikipedia page.

So this post is just a introduction to some Badfinger you may not be familiar with, but should be, let’s get to it.

The followup to Magic Christian was the album No Dice.  This work contained the hit No Matter What and a soon to be world wide hit for Harry Nilsson and eventually Mariah Carey, Without You. Every cut on No Dice is great and each one moves further away from The Fab’s shadow.  Here is a beautiful song about the tragic life of a London call girl, beautifully rendered cinematically by writer Peter Ham, Midnight Caller.

The album Straight Up followed and became the band’s biggest seller. Both Day After Day and Baby Blue were on this seminal album, but they were not alone. Here is the poignant Perfection, whose lyrics are as relevant today as they were in 1971.

Also on this album was the great Name Of The Game.

Subsequent albums followed, all worthwhile, but none as powerful as No Dice or Straight Up.  Leaving Apple Badfinger signed with Warner Bros., their second Warner release Wish You Were Here was released in October 1974 and garnered glowing reviews. Unfortunately the bird was mired in management and label woes, thus the album never received any push from either. The band then went on a sad and tragic spiral. (Note:Today, Joey Molland, guitarist and vocalist, keeps the band’s music and legacy alive, you can follow him on Twitter @BadfingerJoey). Wish You Were Here is now considered the band’s masterpiece and one of the great lost classics of rock and roll. I agree, it is a beautiful work. It is hard to find, but if you can ever get a copy, get it. The above Amazon link has it in stock periodically.  Here is a fantastic cut from Wish You Were Here, No One Knows It.

I hope this will open the door for you to discover more of Badfinger. There are some very good Best of collections available, but start with the three albums above, No Dice, Straight Up and Wish You Were Here.

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

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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

Your Life’s Playlist, So Far.

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Imagine you have to choose twenty songs that represent who you are, not just your favorite songs but songs that are you. Twenty songs that make up your life’s playlist as you stand right now. Twenty songs that friends would reflect upon you, but more importantly, twenty songs that a stranger would hear and form a glimpse of the person you are. Well, here’s mine.

1. When You Wish Upon A Star – Jiminy Cricket

2. Jailhouse Rock – Elvis

3. Old Wooden Cross – Johnny Cash

4. I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

5. A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

6. Country Comfort – Elton John

7. Every Picture Tells A Story – Rod Stewart

8. Willie The Wandering Gypsy and Me – Waylon Jennings

9. Kentucky Avenue  – Tom Waits

10. Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones

11. Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight – Bob Dylan

12. Daniel And The Sacred Harp- The Band

13. Real Love – John Lennon

14. Wonderful Remark – Van Morrison

15. When Johnny Strikes Up The Band – Warren Zevon

16. Buffalo River Home – John Hiatt

17. Alien Love Song – Todd Wright

18. Here (A Song For Tammy) – Stilson Greene

19. The Weight – The Band

20. In My Life – The Beatles

So as of today, there’s mine, it could change tomorrow. I’d love to hear yours, so post on……