Monday, 1 December 2008
♫ That was the week that was, it’s over let it go…to be forever immortalised in the annals of the AAA Archives. Not a vintage week this week, either for the website or for the lives of the people celebrated within it, but there’s still plenty of goodies for you to gawp at in between all the important jobs in life, such as visiting car boot sales and charity shops and lining your CDs up in alphabetical order. We’ve now reached a record (for us) 47 hits this week. Hello to the three of you I don’t think I know (judging by my ‘statistical demographic’ or whatever the heck it is that tells me where you all live) – hope you’re enjoying yourselves and didn’t just stumble onto this site because you thought it would help you get cheaper car insurance or wean you off the booze. Anyway, on with the news…and the first news is that, for the first time ever in these newsletters, there is no Beatle-related news to tell you. Get a move on, Paul and Ringo, how else am I going to fill these pages?!
♫/♫ Byrds/CSNY/Neil Young News: For those who hadn’t already seen it via BBC 4 during any of its four repeats this year….Wasn’t ‘Hotel California: From The Byrds To The Eagles’ documentary good?! Well, it was if you were a CSN fan anyway – if you tuned in for any other artist (except Joni Mitchell perhaps) you might have felt short-changed – especially if you tuned in to see either of the two groups in the title who were quietly dispatched within about 10 minutes at the beginning and the end of the programme respectively. And why no mention of the Mamas and Papas, who wrote perhaps the ultimate ‘
(‘That’s ‘California Dreaming’ I meant, not ‘Monday Monday’. Although for all I
know, that song might be an even better fit). Still, these quibbles are of minor
importance when you consider what we got about some of the other groups, which
was everything a documentary should be – famous, well loved footage to interest
the newcomers, rare and hardly seen footage to keep the monkeynuts fans like me
(and possibly you if you’re still reading this) happy and new and exclusive
interviews, including some particularly revealing David Crosby comments this
time around, a definite plus for the collector. Why this rockumentary didn’t
receive a BBC2 airing long before this I’ll never know. California
♫ Dire Straits/ Pentangle news: Talking of documentaries, thankyou too BBC for this little gem (or for 8 minutes of it anyway). ‘Guitar Heroes At The BBC’ (which was on last Saturday) was like those good old 1980s documentaries, back in the day when people didn’t need some Z-list celeb linking a lot of un-related music videos (or – even worse – Steve Wright’s fatuous remarks on TOTP2) and would look to captions for information instead. The Dire Straits footage (taken from a 1978 edition of the much-missed ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’) is one of the earliest clips of the band that exist – it’s so early on in their career Mark Knopfler still has hair! This clip is also one of the best ‘live’ versions of ‘Sultans of Swing’ around, so it was great to see again – even if it has been on a few other documentaries in the past and isn’t particularly rare. The Pentangle clip - a performance of ‘Blues In Time’ - wasn’t as impressive musically but is much much rarer than the Knopfler video, with guitarists Jansch and Renbourn putting on their best moody rockstar expressions (although the latter seems to be putting more effort into smoking his cigarette than actually playing!) It’s a shame this wasn’t a track with vocalist Jacqui McShee taking part though – indeed, while we’re on the subject, there was a distinct lack of female guitarists all round (no Chrissie Hynde, for one – though I can see why they didn’t use any of those hideously dated Suzi Quatro clips). Still, this programme was a nice excuse to chuck some old clips together and a welcome diversion from the usual horrors of Saturday night viewing.
♫ Hollies news: The good news is…the Hollies are making a new album!
The bad news is…it’s with the same line up as 2005’s ‘Staying Power’, one of the most distressingly, disturbingly poor AAA-related albums I have ever bought. The other good news however…original members Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott are still there, so let’s just hope that the pair are used in the music a lot more than they were last time (some original songs, perhaps – Hicks in particular is a very under-appreciated writer). This news was from a Hollies fansite by the way and I haven’t read it anywhere else yet, so it looks like the band have just started recording, rather than news that a release is imminent. More news on this new release when we have it.
♫ Lulu/ Monkees news: Lulu and Davy Jones were featured in their 1960s prime in during the first episode of an interesting series ‘Sex , Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll – The Sixties Revealed’ (a very channel five title that!) These old, unseen interviews from early 1968 came from an unfinished and unscreened documentary being made by Bernard Braden, a name well known to documentary-watchers of the 1960s. The footage was then shown to several 60s icons as they are now, a hit-and-miss concept that was still strangely moving in parts. Davy Jones (the 1968 version) says that the Monkees will always be together doing something – a nostalgic Davy Jones (in a 2008 incranation) then tells us how the rot began to set in directly after this interview. Surprisngly, Lulu was the artist who got most emotional, telling us how lonely her younger self looked on cscreen and how her posh accent and her comments showed her ‘trying to put on a brave face’. If only more of the original footage had been used this could have been a great documentary rather than merely a good and bitty one – but as a curio it was still great to see after all these years. Other artists featured on the first episode included Cilla Black (ironically telling us how she hated Tom Jones’ ‘nose job’, which is alarming given how much her own strong voice faded after having hers done), Tom Jones (who came over as a nice guy made lucky, like he usually does), TV presenter Simon Dee (who was by far the most eloquent guest interviewed) and fashion designer Ossie Clark. Alas, next week the series moves onto actors so there’s nothing more to tell you on the AAA front. .
♫ Oasis news: OK, so the few of you who saw it probably don’t care by now, but I’ve just come across my sheet of paper for the Oasis Electric Proms gig that was screened in October. It runs as follows: Rock ‘n’ Roll Star/Shock Of The Lightning/ Ciggies and Alcohol/ Meaning OF Soul/ Morning Glory/ Wonderwall/ I’m Outta Time/ Don’t Look Back In Anger/ Falling Down/
Champagne Supernova/ I Am
♫ We also had a repeat (if it was a repeat – I never noticed it first time around!) of the recent Oasis concert ‘Standing On The Edge Of Noise’. Shorter and less interesting than the other recent ‘electric proms’ gig, this was basically the new Oasis album with a few old friends like ‘Songbird’, ‘Supersonic’ and ‘Slide Away’ thrown in. Set highlight: a surprisingly emotional acoustic arrangement of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ played as a slow passion-burning ballad.
Anniversaries: Chris Hillman (The Byrds 1964-68; Manassas 1972-73) turns 66 on December 4th and Jim Messina (Buffalo Springfield 1968) turns 61 on December 5th. Events this week: In 1967 The Monkees break the record for most American number one albums in a single year (four) with the release of ‘Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd’. For some unknown reason the record is delayed till January 1968 in Britain (December 2); A typically extravagant Keith Moon party ends up causing $6000 of damage to a Montreal hotel, landing the band in prison overnight (December 2 1973); the Beatles release ‘Rubber Soul’, slightly later than their traditional Christmas market releases which usually came out mid-November (December 3 1965); the Rolling Stones hold a press party for the release of their album ‘Beggars Banquet, an event that infamously turns into a messy food fight between the band and leading rock journalists of the day (December 5 1968); four members of the audience die during the awful mess that was the Rolling Stones’ Altamont Festival, also attended by CSNY, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane (December 6 1969) and finally Graham Nash officially announces in the NME that he is to leave the Hollies to work with David Crosby and Stephen Stills (December 7 1967).
♫ And now for this week’s top five. We were so overwhelmed with the success of last week’s column celebrating the White Album (** see note) that we’ve decided to put together another ‘top five’ list of neglected tracks from the Beatles album that turned 40 last week:
(** Note – That’s ‘success’ in its loosest possible terms, naturally. To be perfectly honest, a grand total of one of you emailed in saying how much you enjoyed the opening paragraph of our White Album article while listening to a newly purchased copy of said album – only to be turfed off the computer by an irate parent and moaned at for playing ‘that rubbish at such a bleeding high volume’. Thanks for that extra information there Lizzie and hope you have better success reading part two).
5) Martha, My Dear: Anyone who owns more than, say, two books on the Beatles with pictures will already know the ‘real’ Martha intimately, though perhaps not by name. For Martha was Paul McCartney’s old English Sheepdog, bought during the early phase of the Beatles’ recording career and who stood at Paul’s side throughout the Beatles’ break up, Wings and a good portion of Macca’s solo career. You know the saying that all pets look like their owners after a time? Well, Paul only ever had hair as shaggy as his pet in the 1970 period, but to photographers Martha was every bit as photogenic as her master and seemed to appear in pretty much every ‘informal’ pic taken of the Beatle when he was off duty from recording or performing. This song is, however, the only time she seems to have inspired Paul to write about her in his work.
The fact that this song was written for an English Sheepdog has rather undermined its value in the mind of scholarly Beatlenuts. But in truth it’s a fine song, full of dramatic twists and turns between chorus and verses that shouldn’t go together but somehow do (Macca manages to outdo even this example of the genre on his first solo single ‘Another Day’ by the way). Like many of Mccartney’s unheralded ‘story songs’, it’s a forgotten classic that tells us almost nothing about McCartney’s thought process a la most of Lennon’s late 60s songs and absolutely nothing about his beliefs and spiritual request a la Harrison. In the song Martha is not a sheepdog but the narrator’s ex and – unlike Lennon’s stinging attacks on supposed past girlfriends in song – he still feels warmly about her, worried not about his own feelings but the idea that Martha might forget him and all the good times they had together. Macca probably never meant this song to have any relevance to his own life – but dig deeper behind this song’s sweet little tune and you can see more than a touch of Paul’s relationship with actress Jane Asher here. The pair were in the process of splitting up during the White Album sessions despite announcing their engagement as late as Christmas 1967 – his new partner Linda Eastman was already part of his life, meeting the other Beatles for the first time at the recording session for ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’. Does this account for this song’s sweet but sad nostalgia and its bittersweet feeling of changes on the horizon, even though the narrator doesn’t sound overly sad at losing the first love of his life?
4) Glass Onion: This track was born for analytical Beatle anoraks like me. In fact, this song is Lennon’s spoof of all monkeynuts collectors who tried to see things in the Beatles’ work that their four composers never intended to be there. After teasing us with oodles of rare references to past Beatle songs (Lucy in the sky, walruses played by Paul, Strawberry Fields – ‘the place where nothing is real’ etc) Lennon gives a musical giggle and tells us that all these ideas just peel away to nothing when you analyse them – that they are just a ‘glass onion’. In its original demo form (as heard on Anthology Three) this is a jokey song more in the style of Bungalow Bill than the Helter Skelter-ish recording we got on the White Album. So why the change? Was Lennon just in a particularly angry mood that day, did he think the recording would never work in its original acoustic-meets-sound effects demo form (though it sounds pretty fine to me) or is he fanning the flames, making us think there’s more to this song than there really is? Whatever the intention, ‘Glass Onion’ is a fascinating mystery, full of inside-jokes like ‘the cast iron shore’ (which is really a rather messy and shingle-filled beach on Merseyside) and ‘bent back tulips’ (a table decoration favoured by one of Lennon’s friends, who bent back the stems of tulips for table decorations) which Lennon had been trying to shoe-horn into a song for years. No other Lennon song is such a wonderful catch-all of gibberish (we’ve already covered the reasons why ‘I Am The Walrus’ isn’t gibberish several times on this website – see review no 99 for more and I could stake a claim to the same for ‘I Dig A Pony’ too) and yet so urgent is the music and so dynamic the performance, it still feels that there’s some hidden meaning to this song – even though Lennon categorically stated several times that the whole point of this song is that there isn’t a point to it at all.
3) Yer Blues: Similarly, is this a genuine cry from the heart or a pastiche of all the American blues 78s that Lennon and McCartney used to collect in the 1950s? Almost a prototype for the ‘primal scream therapy’ songs that Lennon will follow in 1970, this is an early example of the Beatles returning to basics after their psychedelic sojourn, recorded by all four members playing in a broom cupboard. Although written at the Maharishi’s in
first wife Cynthia by his side, this song has Yoko Ono’s fingerprints all over
it and is the other side of the coin to ‘Revolution Nine’s complexity. Yoko’s
early work is all about simplicity, about stripping away an idea back to its
core to extract the essence from it, and these ideas really began to strike a
chord with the former rocker Lennon after he got to know the Japanese artist
better. Stupidly transparent as it is, there is no substitute in the whole of
the Beatles’ canon for the chill you get down your spine when Lennon yells into
a deliberately broken-down, muffled microphone ‘Yes I’m lonely, wanna die’
(although the opening to the similarly Yoko-like ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’
runs it close). Lennon’s later response to this song is also fascinating. When
asked about individual Beatles songs, John was almost always 50: 50 split
between declaring them works of genius and some of the worst hack songs ever
produced in modern music. To the best of my knowledge he never ever staked a
claim to ‘Yer Blues’ being great, which suggests he saw it as a throwaway – but
the work chimes in well with lennon’s immediate post-Beatles work and it was
one of his few Beatles compositions to be revived in concert (at the Rolling
Stones Circus jamathon, with Mitch Mitchell on drums, Keith Richards on bass
and Eric Clapton on guitar – if that line up’s just made your mouth water I
strongly recommend you to look out for the DVD). India
2) Dear Prudence: Casual Beatles fans may be surprised to learn that Mia Farrow was part of the Beatles party staying at the Maharishi’s camp in
about meditation. Many of them will also be stunned at the revelation that this
song was written for Mia’s sister Prudence, another visitor to the camp who was
rather deeper into her meditation than most of the followers there (most of
whom seemed to treat the experience as akin to staying at boarding school,
given the comments that have come out since). Prudence spent two whole days
meditating in her tent while the Beatles were there, taking no meals and not
even seeing her sister. India
John Lennon, caught between his very genuine belief in the Maharishi and his naturally short attention span, was already in two minds about the whole experience by the time he came to write this song to coerce Prudence out of her tent to be with the others. In ‘Dear Prudence’ you can hear the Beatle wondering out loud whether having such a large devotion to any belief system is good for you – and yet all the things he uses to coerce Prudence out of her shell are natural and not manmade – ‘the sun is up, the sky is blue’. Along with almost everything else the Beatles learnt during their stay in India, folk singer and fellow Maharishi devotee Donovan thinks the fab four learnt everything they know from him (conveniently forgetting that he adopted a much more ‘Beatlesy’/ ‘White Album’ sound after their meeting, not before). But this track is perhaps the strongest candidate for having Donovan’s fingerprints all over it – it’s certainly not like Lennon’s usual work, which either celebrates life indirectly by using surreal imagery or grumpily dismisses it and everybody in it.
Lennon sounds genuinely happy in this recording, even though it was recorded at the worst of times – not least because the Beatles had fallen out with the Maharishi after some unproved and probably false allegations of misconduct, causing Lennon to write one of his most scathing songs, ‘Sexy Sadie’, especially for his former ‘guru’. All the other songs Lennon wrote in India, however pretty they sounded as demos, had also turned into biting snarling rockers by the time they ended up on record (‘I’m So Tired’, ‘Yer Blues’, ‘…Me And My Monkey’) or ended up sounding dead depressed (all the above plus ‘Julia’). Yet intriguingly Lennon never changed a note of this song despite his bad experiences. Another reason for sounding unhappy was the fact that only three Beatles appear on this track – along with ‘Back In The USSR’ it was recorded when a depressed Ringo had walked out on his band, unsure of his future with three bitching colleagues who no longer felt like a ‘team’. When the band recorded ‘Dear Prudence’ (with Paul doing most of the drumming), they weren’t to know that Ringo would change his mind and rejoin them after just a week – at the time of this song, they very genuinely thought they’d have to break the news to the world that at least one member of the most famous band on the planet was about to leave. How ironic that the band chose to record this lovely song in Ringo’s absence- the epitome of the optimism, companionship and sheer magic that the drummer felt had gone out of the Beatles forever at that point.
1) Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey: Nobody ever mentions this Lennon rocker, not because they think it’s particularly bad but simply because they don’t understand it. Surely the creator of ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘A Day In The Life’ couldn’t write a song with a chorus as banal as ‘the higher you fly the deeper you go, so come on’? Well, ‘Monkey’ is exactly the sort of song you can take as lightly or as deeply as you want. Like many a sloganeering solo Lennon track (‘Power To The People’ is the best fit, though ‘Give Peace A Chance’ fits too), this song has a chorus made as simple as possible for people to follow, but some of the other lyrics are pretty complex both to sing and to understand, as Lennon tries to solve the complex problems of a complex world by getting us all to sing along with a catchy, memorable chorus line. Let’s take a look at that title for a start – it has no lyrical relevance to the rest of the song and its very noticeable paranoia seems at odds with the happy-go-lucky recording of the song. But could it be that Lennon is talking to us here about that very difficult bridge he felt between his simple work and his complex work? Everybody else has something to hide, says Lennon, but ‘me and my monkey’ – we are ‘free’, are not afraid of hiding our true selves or copying our former styles like so many of our compatriots and – despite a number of in-jokes and made-up-on-the-spot-ditties – the White Album is as ‘honest’ and revealing an album as the Beatles ever made. Nasty reviewers who should know better sometimes say that lennon is laughing at his muse Yoko here, likening her to a performing monkey, but I think this song is actually a sly dig at Lennon’s band and how, when they appear in the public eye, they could be labelled ‘performing monkeys’. This is the big brave sarcastic new look 1968 John Lennon recovering the wit he’d buried under three years of heavy drug taking, ready to leave his wife for Yoko, record experimental albums with himself naked on the front cover and become a general pain in the neck for all authority figures he came up against, just as he had been back in the very early Beatle days. He may not have come up with many lyrics to go with his message, but for Lennon this is announcement to the world that he will no longer play ball with anyone anymore and the note-perfect Beatles backing track – with all four members playing in the same room for once on this album – is marvellously urgent, with Paul’s rattled cow bell perfectly setting the tone.
Well, that’s it for another week. More news, views, reviews, muses, recluses, apple juices and quite possibly mooses in next week’s newsletter. Thanks for reading!