Saturday, 28 November 2009
♫ And finally we end this week’s newsletter with a top five honouring the 40th anniversary of the White Album on Saturday. Now, considering this album has more than double the amount of tracks of any other 1960s Beatles release, its no surprise that many tracks have been unfairly forgotten while their more famous cousins (Back in the USSR, Blackbird, Revolution, While MY Guitair Gently Weeps, etc) get to parade through the nation’s consciousness in time-honoured Beatle fashion. So here are five under-rated White Album classics, discussed in greater detail than most books devote space to (for more, see review no 25): 5) Revolution Number 9: According to an old article in the much-missed Beatles Book, ♫ And finally we end this week’s newsletter with a top five honouring the 40th anniversary of the White Album on Saturday. Now, considering this album has more than double the amount of tracks of any other 1960s Beatles release, its no surprise that many tracks have been unfairly forgotten while their more famous cousins (Back in the USSR, Blackbird, Revolution, While MY Guitair Gently Weeps, etc) get to parade through the nation’s consciousness in time-honoured Beatle fashion. So here are five under-rated White Album classics, discussed in greater detail than most books devote space to (for more, see review no 25): 5) Revolution Number 9: According to an old article in the much-missed Beatles Book, this is the most widely owned avant garde track in history, the song that introduced tape loops and vari-speeded sound effects to more music lovers around the world than Stockhausen ever dreamed of doing. According to another Beatles Book article, it’s the most skipped Beatles track in their whole catalogue. You can divide Beatles fans pretty neatly in half as to whether they think this seven-minute marvel is a masterpiece or a master-con - whether it’s the most forward-thinking spot-on description of real life that John Lennon ever made or proof of how ego-mad even the fab four got when giving full reign to their imaginations. There has been masses of speculation as to what this song is about, the favourite of the moment being that, as Lennon himself sequenced the song between his childlike ‘Cry Baby Cry’ and childish ‘Goodnight’, it represents some sort of speculation on childhood, with the many criss-crossing fragments representing the babble that babies hear before they are old enough to distinguish and understand language. What we do know is that the ‘number 9’ of the title is no throwaway title and its repeated mantra throughout the song - extracted from an old examination tape raided from the Abbey Road archives - is no loss of imagination either. The number 9 was always important to Lennon who was big into numerology in this period (as are many AAA artists incidentally – cat Stevens did a whole concept album of the stuff) and firmly believed in the importance of the number, being the ‘highest’ point you could reach before you began repeating yourself and using the same numbers over again. Whichever way you look at it, the fact that I can find so much to write about this track – and can’t think of anything interesting to write about, say, ‘What’s The new Mary Jane’, an originally unreleased avant garde Beatles song recorded near the same time – says oodles about this song’s possible depth to me and its bravery in placing unrelated pieces together is impressive. Eldorado. Take this brother, may it serve you well. 4) Cry Baby Cry: And here is that song’s predecessor. Inspired by an advert (what for, nobody’s quite sure) that ran something along the lines of ‘Cry Baby Cry, Make Your Mother Buy’, this song started in Lennon’s head as a straight lampoon of commercialism before becoming a lot more surreal. The song is sung surprisingly straight by a weary-sounding Lennon, even though its nonsense lyrics and jingle-like tune could have seen it performed as a pastiche a la ‘Bungalow Bill’ or ‘Glass Onion’, which suggests it meant something more to its creator than these family fun tunes. Nearly every reviewer of the White Album has called this childish song ‘creepy’, which is odd given that the characters in the song do little more than count their money and put on plays ‘for a lark’. What this song implies, and unusually for Lennon never states out-loud, is either that life is all downhill from the childhood present in the song (a regular theme for Lennon, especially the hints here that absurdity in childhood is funny, but absurdity continued through to adulthood is frightening because you are afraid of having nothing of any reliable value to hold on to, something you accept as a child when all the world seems peculiar) or - via the primal therapy that’s about to take over Lennon’s creative life in a year or two- that the baby’s cries are mirrored by the other character’s wasted lives in the song, as if none of us ever stop physically crying throughout our live, we just vcent our feelings with words instead of mournful cries. A true one-off in the Beatles’ canon, this relatively obscure song truly has more layers than a Glass Onion. 3) Mother Nature’s Son: Nowadays when we think of Paul McCartney, we quite often think of Macca the country lad, enjoying life on his Mull of Kintyre farm with Linda, some horses and a ram or two. But back in 1968 Paul had lived all of his life in big smoky cities – indeed, he was the only Beatle to continue living in London with Jane Asher right through to the dying embers of the fab four’s career, despite the others moving out to the suburbs of Surrey as early as 1964. While Macca had always had an interest in animals from childhood and housed an assortment of pets throughout most of his Beatles career, the start of Paul as a simple nature-loving character rather than a town-loving industrialist largely began here on this unfairly forgotten ballad. Like many White Album tracks, this song began life during the Beatles’ stay with the Maharishi in India and was directly inspired by one of the guru’s lectures, one about how mankind is only one part of the great cycle of nature and shouldn’t get ideas above his station. Like many of Paul’s simple songs from this period, its subject is about dropping the ego and becoming humble, seeing if there is something ‘more’ to life than the narrator’s senses tell him, but acknowledging that spiritual presence in every small detail he sees. However, Paul sounds content here – much more so than on the song’s closest cousins; the delightfully scatter-brained Two Of Us or the half-joyful half-pained Heart Of The Country, sure at last that he’s found his place in the world as he sits, for the benefit of others, ‘singing songs’. A beautiful reflective two-minute sojourn on the White Album’s otherwise uncharacteristically aggressive side three, this is Paul putting the LP’s other songs in perspective, with that typical Beatlesy mix of the deep and the accessible. 2) Happiness Is A Warm Gun: It was recorded in a broom cupboard. The four most famous musicians on the planet and they record the best group performance of the White Album – or indeed of any of their post-Revolver LPs – in a cubby hole that used to be used for hanging coats. There’s a famous Beatles line that Lennon and McCartney used to work ‘eyeball to eyeball’ when writing their early songs, before they got further and further estranged from each other in more ways than the geographical – but, more to the point, the Beatles used to record eyeball-to-eyeball too, all huddled round the same microphones and all playing at the same time, right up until about Rubber Soul. This rare return to the Beatles’ early recording days really brings out the best in each Beatle – the complicated jumps of time signatures are handled with ease by al four and this peculiar Lennon collage comes out sounding much more than the sum of its parts. In order of section we get a newly-in-love Lennon singing a paen to Yoko (who has never been summed up better than on the opening line ‘She’s not a girl who misses much’) before moving on to surrealist gibberish (‘She’s well acquainted with the touch of a hand, like a lizard on a window-pane’ indeed), onto a typical Lennon moan circa 1968 (‘I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down…’), a rockier take on Yoko’s character and the way she helped Lennon bring out the peaceful rather than warlike tendencies in his character (‘Mother superior jumped (ie beat) the gun’) before ending with a sarcastic hymn to the gun culture mob, stolen from a magazine belonging to George Martin. It’s a great shame that Lennon’s about to embrace simplicity pretty much for good after this track because - even more than Lennon’s other epics – this song is working on several levels at once. Johnny Rhythm is in love and – if you take the gun imagery as a euphemism – in a lustful mood, plus he’s comparing his romantic (and not so romantic) feelings with his need for drugs and the highs both give him, plus he’s preparing a stinging attack on war and military minds which is about to come into its own with Give Peace A Chance in two year’s time. In other words, this is Lennon’s poetic, romantic side at full odds with his baser, human instincts; whether having a warm gun really is satisfying to his ‘animal’ spirit– or whether instead he would feel more fulfilled thinking intellectually about peace and poetry. In other words, happiness isn’t just about having a warm gun – it’s about having a warm heart too. 1) Long Long Long: Nobody seems to know about this song. Even to George Harrison fans, this is the song that everyone who doesn’t know the White Album left, right, upside down and right-way up always goes ‘I don’t remember that song – how does it go again?!’ Yet study it closely and this most understated of Beatle tracks is about the most mind-bogglingly thought-provoking that any of the four ever wrote. Like many of George’s songs of this period, it’s about death – or rather, it’s about the kernel of each person’s life that cannot be extinguished and is merely re-created in some separate form as part of a greater whole. Unlike most disgruntled philosophers, chomping at the bit over the 22,000 days most of us are given to fulfil our lives, George thinks the human soul spends a long long long time on earth and he’s impatient to re-connect with his creator and to get all of this money-making malarkey over with. The song only really bursts forth on the middle eight, but oh what a middle eight it is – ‘So many years I was searching, so many tears I was wasting’. All that fuss about the ‘material world’, says George, ‘and none of it mattered one iota in the end’. And does our spiritual narrator find peace at the end of the song? Well no, surprisingly. Thanks to a typically-perfect Beatles accident (a wine bottle on McCartney’s organ that accidentally vibrated when he hit the song’s closing note) the song turns into Armageddon, as this most beautiful and expressive of pieces descends into noise, with all of the narrator’s efforts and struggles throughout his life turning into nothingness as the song staggers to a lopsided end. Breath-taking in the extreme, this overlooked song rewards close observers greatly and stands as one of the most thrilling and powerful moments on any Beatles album. And, boy, is that saying something. Well that’s all for another issue – sorry this one’s been so long long long. See you all next week for some more news, views and – especially – music.
Friday, 27 November 2009
♫ Hello again dear AAA reader and welcome to another week of news, views and music. While you’re busy pulling up a chair and squinting at your computer screen, we’ll get on with the business of telling you what we’ve been up to this week. Well, we put together a rather fetching promo for the website to be shown on Youtube – but our computer crashed; we tried to put together another list of rare albums for our Amazon readers – but our computer crashed; we tried to hunt for another web host to put our website on – but our computer crashed; we then gave up on the whole thing and decided to have fun cooking virtual pizzas on facebook – but our computer crashed; in the end we said ‘the heck with it’ and read a biography of John Lennon instead. But we do still have our Youtube clip ready to play and will let you know when its uploaded so you can all go and see us and support the site. Till then, it’s on with the news section...
♫ Belle and Sebastian News: According to the B and S fansite, the band have been busy gathering material for their first album in what will be four years and are due to go back into the recording studio in the new year. We were mentioning just a few issues ago how quiet B and S suddenly were and after the various band members had scattered off to record solo albums and play with Snow Patrol it seemed that B and S were all over, so that’s very welcome new indeed. More news if and when we hear it!
♫ Johnny Cash/Neil Young News: We don’t always mention what Johnny Cash’s estate has been up to seeing as he’s not a fully fledged AAA member (although his catalogue seems to be busier than ever since Johnny’s sad death in 2004), but UK viewers keep your eyes peeled for a second Johnny Cash night on BBC4 this week! Documentaries this time around include the first TV showing of the previously DVD-only ‘Folsom Prison Album’ documentary, looking at the making of Johnny’s most influential album of 1968. There will also be an hour compilation of highlights from the sadly short-lived Johnny Cash Show that ran from 1968-70 which will definitely feature Neil Young singing ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ according to all the usual TV guides and may also feature The Monkees singing ‘Nine Times Blue’ from 1969 as well (although that might just be wishful thinking on our part!)
♫ Oasis News: Further confirmation that Oasis really have split for good this time is the news that Liam Gallagher is busy recording a solo LP for release sometime in the new year. Liam is using the rest of Oasis as his backing band but understandably is not featuring brother Noel – further blurring the lines as to why the band have really split (according to Noel they were all fed up of Liam’s being late and drunk for gigs and showing disinterest in recording). More news if and when.
♫ Cat Stevens News: And in a good fortnight for television, Yusuf Islam – formerly known as Cat Stevens – will be appearing in an episode of channel 4’s ‘Live At Abbey Road’ series in the early hours of Saturday night> Sunday Morning (November 28th/29th).
♫ Neil Young News: Wow. I mean wow. Neil Young’s ridiculously-expensive-on-DVD-so-amazingly-I-don’t-own-it acoustic concert film ‘Heart Of Gold’ is to receive its terrestrial premiere on Channel 4 on the Afternoon of Saturday, December 5th. Next you’ll be telling me Neil’s 1972 film ‘Journey Through The Past’ will be getting its television premiere. No? Didn’t think so somehow, but ‘Heart Of Gold’ is a nice treat all the same, reuniting Neil with much of the Nashville musicians and audience he made with his best-selling album ‘Harvest’.
♫ ANNIVERSARIES: Many happy returns of the dates section to the following AAA luminaries (November 27th-December 3rd): Gilbert O’Sullivan who turns 63 on December 1st and Chris Hillman (bassist with The Byrds 1965-68 and guitarist with Manassas 1972-74) who turns 67 on December 4th. Anniversaries of events include: The Beatles release the double EP set ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, a full month before the TV special of the same name is given a screening on Boxing Day (November 27th 1967); The Rolling Stones record their infamous live LP ‘Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!’ during a four-day stay at Madison Square Garden (November 27th-30th 1969); John Lennon gives his last ever live show – singing three songs as special guest at an Elton John show in Madison Square Garden. It’s also the night he gets back together with Yoko after their ‘lost weekend’ (November 28th 1974); On the same day in 1968 Lennon causes controversy with the release of the ‘Two Virgins’ record and its full frontal cover and Lennon becomes the first Beatle to be fined for drugs possession (November 29th 1968); Paul McCartney doesn’t have much of a better time on November 30th, when Wings’ second ever single becomes their second to be banned from airplay for ‘suggestive lyrics’ (‘Hi! Hi! Hi!’, released in 1972); Lennon then releases ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ in 1971 – contrary to popular opinion, it’s a huge flop at first – mainly because its released too late in the day for Christmas airplay; The Monkees break the American record for most #1 LPs in a single year when 4th release ‘Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD’ reaches the top spot on December 2nd 1967 (its no 18 on our list!); The original Moody Blues sign off with the release of their last ‘proper’ album ‘Seventh Sojourn’ (its album no 53 on our list!); The Who spend their one and only night (so far!) in prison as a group – after causing $6000 of damage to a hotel room in Montreal (Its news to John Entwistle, who went to bed early and got woken up by a policeman in his bedroom!) (December 2nd 1973); Pigs might fly – well they do for Pink Floyd anyway when a 40ft inflatable porkie being photographed above Battersea Power Station for the album cover ‘Animals’ gets loose and causes havoc with air traffic before being finally shot down (irony of ironies the final cover is photo-shopped and doesn’t feature the errant pig at all!) (December 3rd 1976) and finally, 11 people die during a crush to gain entry to a Who concert on December 3rd 1979 – the band don’t spell it out as such but this pretty much ends the band’s time as a live act (December 3rd 1979);
♫ And so to our farewell finale: the top five AAA Youtube clips not currently available in any other form. Now there were lots of competitors for this spot as I’m sure you can imagine (a special mention for the George Harrison-sung demo of Ringo’s song ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, an amazing vintage clip of the early 1964 vintage Hollies in the Willie Rushton film ‘It’s All Over Town’, an amazing collection of Dave Davies demos from the period of his ‘lost album’ 1968-69,a rare Manassas concert from 1972 that came out on DVD for about a week before being deleted, Johnny Cash duetting with Miss Piggy on ‘Jackson’ (technically not available till series 5 of The Muppets comes out – they’re up to series 3 at the moment!), a good 50 Neil Young songs that are still unreleased even with the mammoth ‘Archives’ box set that came out this year and the rare 8-track cartridge version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Pigs On The Wing’ which features Snowy White bridging the gap between the two versions of the song (it makes it sound one hell of a lot better, actually!) But here on this list are the most unexpected treats – the ones I never thought I’d see in a million years...
5) The Hollies “Very Last Day” (Live In Sweden 1966). Next time some idiot of a music journalist writes that the Hollies were an OK band in the studio but couldn’t play live for toffee I’m marching right round to their house/office/mansion/cardboard box and showing them this magical clip of the band during one of their Scandinavian tours in 1966, their last full year of touring with the Graham Nash line-up. Fans have always rated ‘Very Last Day’ (originally recorded for the 1965 album ‘The Hollies’) very highly, which is suprising given how un-Hollies it sounds. Its nothing short of a Christian Armageddon protest song, telling everyone to mend their days because everybody’s going to be judged when the world ends. This live version is a killer in a very different sense of the word – Clarke and Nash sour to heaven with their harmonies whilst Bobby Elliott’s most out of control drumming yet truly does sound the last stirrings hell. Magic.
4) Paul McCartney and Wings “There’s A Morse Moose Coming Up” AKA “Coming Up (Remix)”. In which one bootlegger with a minute budget does better than the whole of the weird Apple/Beatles ‘Love’ remix album in one stroke! Two of Paul’s better solo songs – Morse Moose from ‘London Town’ and ‘Coming Up’ from ‘McCartney II’ are seamlessly woven together in a magical medley which takes the pounding beat of the former and the eccentric lyrics of the latter and turns it into a monster of a song. I’ve always adored both songs (each of them gets plugged shamelessly on this website as it is) so hearing the two together is fantastic. Look out too for the accompanying video: the already pretty spiffing promo for ‘Coming Up’ (featuring Paul in a variety of musical guises and characters playing in the same band) looks even better thanks to some fancy editing and some fun with the speed with which its played back. And I agree with John Lennon’s introduction (taken from one of his last interviews in 1980 – legend has it its ‘Coming Up’ that persuaded John to get back to recording again because his partner had ‘finally done something good!’) – I prefer the ‘freaky’ version too! The sort of thing you’ll never see anywhere else.
3) Grateful Dead “Mountains Of The Moon/St Stephen/Turn On Your Lovelight” (Live on Playboy After Dark 1969).This show is legendary in Dead circles – stuffy Playboy millionaire High Hefner playing host to one of the most ‘with it’ 60s bands of them all – talk about when worlds collide! Actually when you see the clip both sides are having fun with each other, with Jerry Garcia replying that they’d love to perform their latest single ‘absolutely...not’. Rumour has it all that awkward laughing came about because the Dead road crew spiked the TV crew and the extras with acid backstage...Even without the equal parts stilted, equal parts hilarious dialogue however, this clip is well worth watching for the three performances – perhaps the three best tracks the Dead were performing in 1969. ‘Mountains’ was hardly ever given a live reading and this fairly fast but still angelic version is well up there with the studio version; ‘St Stephen’ sounds magical in any version and is the perfect song to perform at a multi-generational show like this (see ‘news and views 20’ for my take on the song’s meaning) and ‘Turn On Your Lovelight’ sounds cracking...right up to the point two minutes in when the credits roll and the show ends. Ah well, two amazing pieces is still pretty good going.
2) The Kinks “A Soap Opera” (A Musical Play, 1974). Screened once and left to gather dust and cobwebs for 35 years, this is proof yet again of how important YouTube can be, reminding record companies that there is an interest in obscure shows that might never be seen again. Despite being slated at the time, ‘A Soap Opera’ stands up now as one of the very best of Ray Davies’ ‘concept’ ideas (with a ‘star’ infiltrating the home of a ‘nobody’ to get ideas for his songs before the boundaries blur and the star finds himself a nobody instead) and the TV show is heads and shoulders better than the record, trimming the album’s lesser moments and adding more story, humour and pathos to the work. Sure the rest of the band look deeply uncomfortable and the whole thing seems woefully under-rehearsed (Ray forgets his lines in a couple of places and has to cover by improvising lyrics – which to be fair sound better than the real thing!) – but watch this show in order (the full 40 mins are on YouTube) and its truly moving, especially when Ray slinks off the stage after performing his most unfairly forgotten song ‘A Face In the Crowd’ and takes a seat in the audience to cheer along to brother Dave’s performance of ‘You Can’t Stop The Music’. Well worth seeing for anybody even slightly Kinky.
1) Pink Floyd “Moonlandings” (1969). I thought these tapes had been wiped long ago – a section of the BBC’s coverage of the July 1969 moon landings, complete with ‘mood music’ from a then-forgotten group called Pink Floyd, caught halfway between their Syd Barrett hey-day and their resurrection with ‘Dark Side Of the Moon’. The track, dubbed ‘moon landings’, sounds completely unlike anything the band ever did again, led by Rick Wright’s hazy organ and some other-wordly licks from david Gilmour’s guitar, but is still recognisably Floydy. You even get the picture/sound of astronauts seemingly dancing to the song in the moon’s light gravity. Hmm, talk about the first band in space! And yes, OK, I do believe the moon landings were faked by the American Government and very badly too - thankfully the BBC rescued the day for posterity by getting the music right.
Well, that’s all for another week of archive treasure-hunting! If any of you are having problems searching for these clips just have a look for me at ‘alansalbumarchives’ – they are all saved in my ‘favourites’ list along with lots of other goodies (please send in more if you think I’ve missed anything as well...) Right, that’s it for now – until next week, keep rocking!