Monday, 9 March 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 24 (Intro)

March 9:

Hellloooooo to you all and welcome to another slice of your favourite weird and wonderful weekly newsletter devoted to AAA artistes. As you might have noticed, we’ve added a ‘puzzle page’ to the website and hope to bring you lots of quizzes and things in the months to come. For those of you who are already giving us ‘cross words’, we have included the solutions in print form along with each puzzle – though for some reason the links don’t seem to work on all computers so apologies if your computer happens to be one of those that takes one look at the links and has a nervous breakdown. Feel free to submit your own, although alas we can’t offer any prizes – unless of course you count being named in these pages as an AAA clever clogs. We’ll notify you in these newsletters every time we add a puzzle. We forgot to mention last week that we had also added a new section of short stories. These aren’t related to music, but we’ve got nowhere else to put them and thought you might like them – and even if you don’t, they’re there all the same! A trhird and final piece of website news this week – we’ve added our link to up-and-coming website fanpop. Basically the idea is that anyone can write anything they like about any group of any era and make quizzes and swap photographs and videos and stuff. It’s well worth checking out if you haven’t already (or, indeed, if you haven’t already visited us from that link – hello to you all!) – be sure to give us a rating of five stars on your way out!

Beach Boys News: Alas I haven’t bought it yet so I’m not eligible, but those of you who own Brian Wilson’s latest DVD ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ are invited to take part in a great competition at  Brian’s official website are offering a goody bag full of Brian-related and Brian-signed prizes to the person who can answer the most questions about the DVD correctly. If you happen to win, remember where you read this news and send us in a t-shirt or a surfboard or two! (Only kidding, have them framed instead and send us a picture!)

Beatles News: Paul and Ringo are getting back together! Well, sort of – the two are playing the same charity gig in New York on April 6th and rumour has it the two former moptops might play a few songs together. This would be the first time the two Beatles have worked together since the George Harrison memorial concert in 2002 – and would, amazingly, be only the second time the two Beatles have played together on stage (they’ve met up lots of times in the studio though!) More news if and when we hear it!

Lindisfarne News: It’s getting nearer to J-day! Just in case you haven’t read the last couple of newsletters, Lindisfarne spin-off Jack the Lad’s fourth and final album ‘Jackpot’ will be securing its first CD release on March 23rd. A review should be coming your way sometime in April!

Monkees News: Sad news I’m afraid. Peter Tork announced on his official website on Tuesday that he was suffering from a rare form of cancer of the head and neck. He’s been suffering for a while apparently but has only just released the news. Luckily the prognosis is good – Peter underwent surgery this week in New York which seems to have been a success and prevented the cancer from spreading. After a short rest he is due to start radiation treatment for it – more news to follow if and when we hear it. It goes without saying that all of us at the AAA wish Peter a happy and speedy recovery and hope he’ll up to more monkee business soon.

Who News: The Who look like they will sell out of copies of ‘The Who Sell Out’ on release day, given the amount of fuss the album seems to be causing in several music papers. The release day is March 16th by the way so you’ve just got time to start queuing outside HMV and ensure you get a copy! Alas, there are no free tins of beans, John Mason Cars or even rotosound strings to go with the CD!

Anniversaries: Hippo Birthdays this week go to Phil Lesh (bass player with the Grateful Dead 1965-95) who turns 69 on March 15th, Mike Love (singer with the Beach Boys 1961-present day) who turns 68 on the same day and AAA reader Lizzie Carnogan who turns 27 on the same day yet again. Many happy returns and CD-shaped presents to all. Anniversaries of events this week include: The Blue Jays (Justin Hayward and John Lodge) attend the playback of their spin-off album of the same name with nearly 3000 fans in a rather prestigious setting - Carnegie Hall! (March 10th 1975), Neil Young enjoys having a #1 album in both the US and UK (‘Harvest’, March 11th 1971) and Paul and Linda McCartney got married at Marleybone Registry Office 40 years ago this week (March 12th  1969).

News, Views and Music Issue 24 (Top Five): Other BBC Session Sets

♫ As promised, here is opur latest top five – a handy laptop-computer-sized guide to the other five AAA-related BBC recording sets you might want to own.

5) The Animals ‘Complete BBC Sessions’ (released circa 1996). OK, so the Animals aren’t official AAA members, but that’s because in their short lifespan they never quite managed to achieve an album that was amazing all the way through. Out of all their releases I have to say the Animals’ BBC set might well be the closest to a ‘definitive’ Animals record. All the great songs are here without too many of the lacklustre covers, covering all periods of the Animals’ history (even their under-rated psychedelic years!) Highlights include a sprightly version of pop classic ‘Monterey’ (with lyrics about the 1967 festival, please somebody invent a time machine so I can go back and visit it PLEASE!! Oh sorry, got carried away there…), a chilling version of Eric Burdon’s best-ever song ‘When I Was Young’ – the perfect stepping stone between the downtrodden working classes of the band’s early singles and their loud, proud and battle-scarred voice-of-a-nation selves circa the third line-up 1967) and a fantastic bluesy reading of ‘Hey Gyp’, a Bo Diddley-like bonanza with psychedelic swirls. Recommended – overall rating 7/10.

4) Dire Straits ‘Live at the BBC’ (released circa 1996). Alas the Dire Straits only ever made BBC recordings in the late 70s and so this set loses points for being 1) ridiculously short and 2) only containing tracks from the band’s first eponymous album. But for those who like their Dire Straits bright and early this set makes for a fine alternative listen to the first album, with the changes subtle enough to be interesting but not different enough to sound daft. Mark knopfler, as ever, plays a mean guitar solo and is obviously thriving playing live in this period – what a shame the band didn’t record a live album till the second-half of their careers when they were already partway towards stadium-induced anonymity. Highlights: a moody ‘Down To The Waterline’ and the most confident version of ‘Sultans Of Swing’ you’ll ever hear. Good if you like that sort of thing - overall rating 6/10.

3) Moody Blues ‘At The BBC’ (2005). I’d have killed for this release any year previous to 2003 (but didn’t, I hasten to add, just in case someone’s tapping my website) – 40 Moody Blues recordings with their ‘classic’ line-up, full of stripped-down alternate versions of their usually terribly-polished songs. Alas back in 2003 the band started re-issuing all of their albums in ‘deluxe’ format’ and had already cherry-picked the best recordings by the time this set appeared. It really isn’t worth digging out this set if you already own the Moodies’ albums with bonus tracks (and if you don’t, then buy the Moodies’ CD reissues with bonus tracks rather than this muck). The star of the show is undoubtedly Mike Pinder – how he ever got his mellotron to play in tune, in synch with the rest of the band and against the ever-present BBC time limit qwhen most musicians couldn’t get the darn thing to work with endless hours of studio time I’ll never know. Highlights include a barn-storming version of one of the band’s few all-out rockers ‘Peak Hour’, a delightful breathless jig through Ray Thomas’ witty ‘Dr Livingstone’, a lovely ethereal take on the dreamy ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ and a delightful version of Justin Hayward’s exquisite ballad ‘Never Comes The Day’. Buy it if you don’t have it already, but be warned about duplicates - overall rating 4/10.

2) The Kinks ‘BBC Sessions’ (2000). A generous 2-CD issue that, like the Beatles’ set, is a highly welcome set that nevertheless barely touched the surface on what recordings exist and all too often uses the wrong stuff. Like many a BBC set, the best stuff is tucked away early on disc one with the 1964 line-up of the band thrust into the limelight out of nowhere after their ‘surprise’ hit with ‘You Really Got Me’ and having to adjust their setlist and personalities accordingly. The interviews are, if anything, even more enlightening than the Beatles’ set – a 19-year-old Ray Davies delivers his serious take on successful songwriting (It’s got to be sincere! That’s the main thing!) while 16-year-old Dave mucks around. Musical highlights include an unreleased cover (Dave Davies doing ‘Good Luck Charm’, which would have been a fine addition to his proposed but never-released solo album in the 60s), an eventful cover of ‘C-A-D-I-L-L-A-C’ and a lovely highly different arrangement of ‘Demolition!’, the finale to the first act of Preservation. The absolute highlight though – and this would be a highlight on nearly all the Kinks’ 60s recordings – is a punk-like speeded up version of Dave’s ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’, with Dave singing from the heart on this tale of lost girlfriends and desperation to be needed. Worth the price of the set alone - although why there are so many poor 1970s recordings on here (including two almost identical versions of ‘Money Talks’) and a full hour of space that could have been used despite the fact that there are dozens of superior recordings left in the vaults I’ll never know. You might chunter a bit, but BUY BUY BUY! This is the best BBC set after the Beatles one! Overall rating 7/10.

1) The Who ‘BBC Sessions’ (1999). This archive set was very badly reviewed when it came out, but I’ve no idea why. There’s a handful of rarities here (covers of ‘Good Loving’, ‘You And Me, Darling’, ‘Dancing In the Street’, ‘Man With Money’ and – until the deluxe Live At Leeds came out – the only place you could hear the popular live medley of ‘Shakin’ All Over’ and ‘Spoonful’) and the track listing isn’t as obvious as it might have been (we get a fine and rare hearing of the EP-only ‘Disguises’ and an alternate version of lengthy ‘mini opera’ A Quick One’ for starters). There’s even an emphasis on 1960s recordings with only four tracks coming from a later vintage – unlike both the Moodies and Kinks sets. Perhaps it’s just that the Who never really got to grips with this recording lark, unlike their one-take contemporaries which seems surprising given the band’s live prestige. But then again it’s the lack of an audience and the unfamiliar settings that account for most of this record – reduced to recording to set time lengths quickly the Who were never going to shine. Nevertheless there’s lots of good things here – highlights include a chilling version of ‘The Good’s Gone’, a powerpop ‘Run Run Run’, a hilarious ‘Boris The Spider’ and a spiffing re-recording of under-rated single ‘Relay’. Not the Who’s greatest, but a generous proportion of rarities make this more than justa  curio – overall rating 6/10.

That’s all for another week – we’ll just leave you with these fine words from our resident know-all Philosophy Phil. ‘If you knock on every door and they still won’t let you in, go build your own door!’ See you next time!  



The Beatles "Live At The BBC" (1994) (News, Views and Music 24)

You Can Buy The Alan's Album Archived Guide To All Things Beatles By Clicking Here!

“My name’s John and I too play a guitar – sometimes I also play the fool”

“Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music, got a backbeat you can’t lose it, any old time you use it, just got to be rock and roll music if you want to dance with me”

The Beatles “Live At The BBC” (recorded 1963-65, released 1994)

Back in 1963 the old established traditional cautious giant that was the BBC met the young and energetic beat groups head on. Reduced to re-creating their often complex and technical masterpieces in a single take before an audience of sceptical and time-watching tape operators, many of the 1960s’ greatest beat groups crumbled and truth be told most of the rest didn’t care all that much. A majority of the 1960’s groups went onto the airwaves primarily to plug records and were fully aware that, once broadcast, the tapes were unlikely to be re-used or re-issued. For the BBC it meant that, for a minimal price, they could virtually guarantee a weekly teenage audience and could be seen to be fulfilling their age-long remit of providing cultural to all spectrums of their audience, not just the ‘educated’ or ‘high-art-loving’ mums and dads. Hearing these stripped-down often-one take recordings is a generally messy but genuinely revealing experience, with the chance of hearing what got left out of these recordings reminding us of what was there on the original. All too often this is the closest we’ll ever get to hearing most of these groups live, in relatively decent sound at least, and in the Beatles’ case is the closest we’ll ever come to hearing what they were like in their Hamburg days (yes OK we have the ‘Star Club’ tapes’, but by their own admission they feature a bored Beatles at the end of their last booking wondering when they can go home).

The Beatles’ BBC set paved the way for most of the others that came out in the 1990s – the Animals, the Kinks, the Who, the Moody Blues, etc, all detailed below – but is by far and away the best, partly because of the sheer volume of Beatles radio recordings compared to their colleagues and also the sheer volume of otherwise unreleased covers the fab four did. The set is a revealing one, a set that underlined just how tight and professional the band were in their early recording days and above all just how enthusiastic they were for their music, especially that of their early influences. The vast majority of the Beatles’ 2CD set is made up of cover material of skiffle, rock and ballads from the 1950s – but, even more revealing is the fact that only a few of these previously unreleased songs sound familiar. Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Searchers were equally influenced by American 1950s recordings, but whereas they would more often than not cover the more famous A-sides, the Beatles’ encyclopaedic knowledge and the amount of hours they were forced to play in their Hamburg days allowed them to cover more obscure songs, with a definite emphasis on flip-sides. For instance, most bands covering Buddy Holly would do ‘Peggy Sue’ or ‘That’ll Be The Day’ – in this period of their career the fab four covered ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’; most bands covering the Everly Brothers sang ‘Bye Bye Love’ or ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ – the Beatles covered ‘So How Come No One Loves Me?’ The Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins choices are rather less original, admittedly, but back in 1963 had any other band even heard of the Ann Margret-sung rarity ‘I Just Don’t Understand’ or the Johnny Burnette trio’s ‘Lonesome Tears In My Eyes?’

Generally speaking, the ‘Beatles At the BBC’ is and was a big success. It sold in much higher numbers than anyone at Apple or EMI had hoped for (it became the second-best selling album of 1994, which isn’t bad going for a double-disc set) and even the spin-off single of ‘Baby It’s You’ made #7. It also proved to the Beatles that there was a market for their half-planned Anthology project – and yet in many ways the band, their advisors and the record companies involved still manages to mess things up badly. ‘BBC’ was marketed very much as a ‘collector’s release rather than a mainstream one, unlike the Anthology out-takes project(s) – but surely they got the two mixed up the wrong way around? The general public has much more patience with unreleased recordings as long as they sound ‘finished’ as per the BBC recordings – Anthology was very badly received on most fronts because to the general collector those recordings didn’t always sound that different from the originals. Also Anthology came out as three double-disc (and pricey) sets which didn’t mine the archives as well as true Beatles collectors had hoped but did so in far too much detail for the average fan. On the otherhand two CD’s worth of BBC recordings seems like short shrift given that the Beatles recorded no less than 52 radio shows for the BBC, most half an hour and some an hour in length. Even accounting for the occasional guest stars, this means 88 separate Beatles songs/covers were taped between 1962-65 (and there are a good dozen recordings each of tracks like ‘She’s Love You’ ‘From Me To You’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, nearly all of them good and the vast majority fascinating. The 1994 set releases just 57 of those (with three more on the back of the tie-in single) and certainly not the best.

On top of that, most of the links between songs – typically hilarious half-serious half-tongue in cheek banter from the band – has been cut, understandably in the case of reading out requests from fans (who, legally, would not have given permission for a re-release of their names being read out 30 years in the future and would have proved too hard to trace!) but less understandably given the banter between BBC DJs and the Beatles. Also, back in 1963-65, hearing your favourite group sing songs for free (well, the cost of a radio license, but you got to hear other programmes for that money too) was typical of the Beatles’ generosity and respect for their fans. Forking out £20 for the same rushed material 30 years later, all too often with bum notes and annoying dialogue, and suddenly the set seems less value for money and merely a reflection on how money-grabbing everything connected to the music business seems to be these days. Oh and would it have really hurt Apple to have organised the thing into chronological order? Hearing the likes of ‘Ticket To Ride’ before ‘Love Me Do’ even in a reduced, no overdubs version, is just plain wrong! No wonder the collector feels short changed, especially given all the material we’d have rather had on the set – but then no wonder the general public who had never heard the Beatles sound as raw and fun-loving as this took to this album so well.   

Above all, this set is fun. Recording a weekly radio show in-between constant touring (often on the same day) and keeping up a ridiculous stream of single and album releases might not sound fun, but for the most part this is the Beatles letting off steam without the pressures of their recording work or the I-can’t-hear-above-the-noise lethargy of the concerts. There are several highlights here. Lennon’s take on ‘I Got A Woman’ gets the set off to a flying start once the opening title music and dialogue are out the way, with Lennon outdoing Elvis in every conceivable way, being both playful and deadly deadly serious. Everybody in the 60s seemed to record a version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ (the Hollies and the Kinks among them), but the Beatles’ radio version here is  the best of all. George Harrison’s solo is one of the Beatles’ best on record, simply flying away with the song at 100 mph while Lennon simply spears Berry’s frustrated lyrics with those classic rock and roll tonsils of his and Paul and Ringo cook up a mean storm in their anchoring role as the band’s rhythm section.

The under-rated Arthur Alexander (who wrote ‘Anna Go To Him’ as recorded by the fabs on ‘Please Please Me’) is well represented too, with Lennon obviously identifying with the African-American’s emotional and obsession-filled songs far more than the other often trivial pop the Beatles cover. ‘Soldier of Love’ especially is a classic recording, with John yelling, Paul and George answering and all four Beatles pushing the song to its limits as the narrator tells his partner to stop giving him the cold shoulder. Lennon (again!) successfully drops the tempo of Phil Spector’s ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’, a song that meant a lot to its composer and to its cover artist – Spector wrote the song at a ridiculously young age after a line chalked on his father’s tombstone; Lennon of course lost his mother in tragic circumstances when he was 16. No wonder the pair got on so well in the 70s – most versions, including the original it has to be said, make a classic and emotional song sound like standard tweeny-bop fare of the mid-1950s but on the Beatles’ version Lennon simply howls the middle eight (‘Oh why, why can’t she see?...’) and like all good Beatles recordings it has the power to it raise the hairs on the back of your neck like no other band. Hearing songs like these you understand just why the Beatles made such an impact in the clubs of Hamburg once they’d got their act together (and extended it by six or seven hours) and why their style became so important to the world on their return back home.   

The Beatles’ originals are a mixed bunch, with most of them adding little or nothing to the original (the perfunctory version of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ here has even put me off the song it sounds so bad), but there are two stand-outs here. ‘I Feel Fine’ – one of the Beats’ most unfairly neglected singles - sounds fabulous, especially the re-creation of the opening feedback drenched guitar note, which is obviously done live in the studio rather than recorded later and added on (as happened with George Martin’s piano solo in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’). The other song is ‘I’ll Be On My Way’ – no, I thought you’d never have heard of that song but it is a genuine Lennon/McCartney original, one that was given away to Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and was in fact relegated to a B-side (this in a period when any Beatles cover seemed to scale the charts!) You can see why John and Paul gave it away – the short line scansion of the song means that the pair had little room to manoeuvre when filling in the song and it is indeed full of some of the most atrocious lyrics they ever penned (‘as the moonlight turns to Junelight…’). But the actual melody of the song is terrific, with a gentle hummable tune guaranteed to stay stuck in your head, plus there’s a sweet country-rock guitar introduction from George and a delightful reflectful middle eight that acts as a pre-cursor to the downbeat tone of ‘Beatles For Sale’ (‘They were right, I was wrong – true love didn’t last long’).

John has been mentioned several times in this review already and it’s no surprise really – he was the undoubted star of the group in the 1963-65 period (Macca largely took over after that) and he takes the majority of the vocals here. Despite the ridiculous time pressures on the group, not one of his vocals for the BBC radio broadcasts are poor or in any way half-hearted – a staggering achievement by anyone’s standards. However, the other standout Beatle here is George – freed of his bandmates’ perfectionist leanings and thriving on the time pressures, he turns in some fantastic guitar solos here. ‘Monkey Business’, as mentioned above, may well be his best solo on record. More than anything, George seems to be enjoying being a ‘Beatle’ on most of these tracks – a true music fan, collector and connousier, many of the unusual material choices here are George’s and you can hear his passion for this period of music shining through. He gets more vocals than usual on this album too, although this early in his career (George was barely 22 when the last Beatles’ radio show went on air) he hasn’t yet mastered the art of staying on key!

George too is the subtly humorous star of the ‘banter’ part of this double-disc, the all too brief excursions into Beatles humours that acts as far more of a time vault for the 60s than the timeless music. The announcers – be it Brian Matthew, ‘Fluff’ Freeman or Rodney Burke (annoyingly Rolf Harris’ turn as the compere of a Beatles’ show isn’t represented on this record – he’s the best of the four!) are treating the show as nay other BBC programme, with a mixture of grandfatherly indulgence and genuine interest in what mad sounds these teenagers are coming up with. The Beatles share an equal mixture of wanting to reveal to the mums and dads of the world just what their music is all about – and sending the whole thing up at the same time. All four Beatles’ personalities shine through loud and clear, whether its John interrupting a semi-serious interview with McCartney to plug his newly-published collection of prose ‘In His Own Write’ and comparing the Beatles programme to the Goon Show, Paul letting down his guard slightly to tell us how he misses simple things like ‘riding on a bus’ (the Liverpool buses must have been a lot nicer in his day!), a 22-year-old George getting so obsessed with the guitar lick from ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ that he keeps kicking back into the song and telling us that he’s been singing ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ for 28 years and finally Ringo yelling to us from the back of the studio that he likes grapes. Alas, so many other classic bits of Beatle banter are missing – George telling us that it really was his mother who wrote in with the last request and that’s she’s probably listening to the show while digging in the back garden, Paul reading out a letter from his old school and the nicknames for all his old teachers and all four Beatles and all four Beatles chastising Rolf Harris for forgetting the words to his own special Beatles-orientated take on ‘Tier Me Kangaroo Down Sport’. Lovable, witty, intelligent and wise, these clips are rivalled only by the Beatles’ long-unheard Christmas fan-club discs in terms of recording their effervescent personalities for posterity.

It has to be said, though, there’s an awful lot of filler – even for the collector who wants everything. Hearing alternate versions of songs like ‘She’s A Woman’, ‘Things We Said Today’ ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzie’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’ sounds like an inviting prospect (especially given that George plays on this version of ‘Woman’ but was poorly for the studio recording) – but, alas, inspiration is all too obviously wearing thin and time is running all too short. And why on earth did the record company choose to release the hideous poor quality cover of ‘Keep Your Hands Off My Baby’ on which only Lennon shines instead of the fantastic but poor quality cover of ‘Dream Baby’ (which is also one of the most important recordings of the Beatles’ careers – the only song that exists from the band’s first radio recording and the introduction to the general masses outside Liverpool and Hamburg of their talent). Also, why use a live version of classic B-side ‘Thank-you Girl’ where the band obviously can’t hear what each other is playing (even with 1990s clean-up technology the listener can only just tell) when there exists a staggeringly 1964 BBC radio recording which knocks spots off the studio take? And where oh where are the Beatles’ surprisingly polished radio recordings of their early originals ‘There’s A Place’ and ‘Misery’, both of which sound great. Grrrr, Apple have blown it for us Beatlemaniacs yet again.

But having said that, there’s simply so much here to smile about and that Beatles collectors might never have got the chance to hear that it’s still hard to find anything to fault this set with. The Beatles are free and innocent as never before, the sound is – with the two exceptions outlined above – among the best their recordings have ever sounded and this set is never less than fascinating and frequently essential. It remains, too, the best BBC recordings release by some margin, outdoing all of the Beats’ contemporaries with ease (though I might beg to differ if they ever dig out some Hollies or Searchers recordings). A must for all Beatles fans or anyone curious about the 60s – which, let’s face it, in my book should cover just about everybody – every single human being should listen to stuff like this at least once. Bet we wouldn’t have the Spice Girls still around then would we? Classic time capsule stuff which makes us feel young again (even those of us who weren’t there at the time…)

A now complete list of Beatles links available at this website:
'Rubber Soul' (1965)

'Revolver' (1966)
'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band' (1967)

'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967)

'The Beatles' aka 'The White Album' (1968)
'Yellow Submarine' (1969)
The Best Unreleased Beatles Recordings

A Complete AAA Guide To The Beatles Cartoons
The Beatles: Surviving TV Appearances
A 'Bite' Of Beatles Label 'Apple'
The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part One: 1958-63
 The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part Two: 1964-67
The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part Three: 1968-96
The Beatles: Compilations/Live Albums/Rarities Sets Part One: 1962-74
The Beatles: Compilations/Live Albums/Rarities Sets Part Two: 1976-2013
Beatles Bonuses: The Songs John and Paul Gave Away To The World/To Ringo!

Essay: The Ways In Which The Beatles Changed The World For The Better
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions