Monday, 31 January 2011
Gosh, issue 89 already and still so much music to cover, still so much to say. Our random-ometer has been going a bit haywire recently, with two top five albums reviewed for you, so we thought we’d go back to basics this week and give you one of the obscurer AAA albums to ponder – an album that should have come out in 1974 but is only available as part of a 1998 box-set (and one that sold fairly badly at that). Meanwhile, we’re up to 4291 hits, seem to have stalled at £7 revenue and have had an interesting week with the Beatle family on our Sims game (George is still a five star celebrity and the ‘boys’ have moved into a luxurious mansion – only for Lennon to fall out with his ‘agency’ and McCartney to suddenly up sticks from his paperclip company after only a week as a director to become – wait for it – a football team mascot (?!)) That’s about all you really need to know – if, indeed, you even needed to know that much – so on with the news...
♫ CSN News: No more news since last week, really, but I’m still struggling to take it in. Metallica? Why?! No record contract? No zillions of sales? No rebirth of the magic sound fans know and love with a master of keeping things real at the helm? What a waste! I despair of being a collector sometimes I really do...For those who haven’t read last week’s issue yet and having got a clue what I’m on about, the two year on-and-off project of a CSN covers album, with Johnny Cash producer Rick Rubin at the helm, is at an end because Rubin is spending too much time with his other acts and can’t dedicate his full attention to CSN. And those acts more important than the greatest band in the universe include...erm, Metallica, who the bearded one is working with as we speak. So that’s put an end to the seven-figure salary CSN were promised in a two album deal, an end to years’ worth of speculation about what covers would have been on the album (The Dead’s ‘Uncle John’s Band’ and The Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’ among them), an end to the trio’s best chance at regaining their lost audience since the early 80s and the end of the universe as we know it. Why?! Why?!? Why?!?!? OK, sorry about that, I’m better now, honest. Oh alright then, one last one. Why?!?!?!?!?!?
♫ Monkees News: Music impressario Don Kirshner, ‘the man with the golden ear’, has died of heart failure at the age of 76. Kirshner, pretty much the last of the tin pan alley music publishers who sought to find the right songs for the right singers, was at one stage of his career so successful that he ‘owned’ three different recoprd companies at once, scoring many hits with a wide range of artists including Bobby Darin and Carol King as well as ‘discovering’ the group Kansas. However, it’s Kirshner’s work with The Monkees that brought him the greatest successes of his long career, with three massive hits in ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ ‘I’m A Believer’ and ‘Little Bit Me, Little Bit You’. Kirshner’s hands-on, I-know-best role with the band also gave him his biggest headaches, however. There are two schools of thought among Monkees collectors about Don’s role in the band. To many fans and much of the band he was a controlling figure who gave the four Monkees no room to breathe and an interfering impresario who considered the TV series to be just a chance to plug some songs rather than the reason deitre of the project. But to others he was the whole reason the project existed in the first place, honing the band’s musical direction into something much more palatable for daytime television, discovering songwriters like Neil Diamond and Jeff Barry along the way and making sure The Monkees recorded only the best material. Certainly, their records never sold as well without Kirshner on board, although to be fair that probably owed more to the shock-horror with which the music press learnt that The Monkees didn’t always play on their own recordings (as if they would, what with recording 32 episodes a year of a TV series as well!) Don was famously sacked by the band and creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider after releasing the all-important third single ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’ after being promising to give the band more input into their records and not even telling the band about its release. A similar tale relates to second album ‘More Of The Monkees’, which the band actually had to buy from a record store in order to hear - and Kirshner’s music choices often owed more to the writers he was ‘friends’ with rather than a reflection of each song’s merits. But it’s probably fair to say that had Kirshner not been there at the start of The Monkees project, it might not have happened at all – the band needed his reputation as a music maker to interest the TV schedulers in the project and, even if he did make his fair share of mistakes, it’s generally agreed that Kirshner’s choice of A-side material was spot-on. After Kirshner was unceremoniously booted off the show he went on to found the animated group The Archies - parts really played by a group of anonymous session musicians who could easily be replaced if they started getting as stroppy as The Monkees had done – and present his own music television show in America, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert which ran for a year in 1972. His last achievement before his death was to co-launch the company RockRena, dedicated to finding new musical talent among online bands, which reached the net just a few days before Don’s death. He had two sons, five grandchildren and is survived by his wife of 50 years Sheila.
♫ Gilbert O’Sullivan News: Gilbert never used to be that prolific an artists – he only released four albums during the 1970s and three each during the 1980s and 1990s. But the news is that, after only three years away, Gilbert is back with a new record entitled ‘Gilbertville’. The record was partly recorded in Nashville, a first for Gilbert, and the biggest talking point among fans is the surprisingly dark final track ‘Talking Of Murder’, with musing about violence in the modern world and how everyone has the potential to be a killer!
♫ Pink Floyd News: Surprising news this: not only have the band ended their multi-year battle with record label EMI over making songs from their back catalogue available rather than simply as albums, as the band have requested, but they have now re-signed with the struggling label for a full five years! The band’s other biggest non-Beatles artists – like Radiohead and Queen – jumped ship last year, but the Floyd seem to have stuck it out with their old pals at EMI.
♫ Paul Simon News: At last, after five years of waiting, Paul Simon has announced that a new album is due for release. ‘So Beautiful Or So What?’ is due for releaswe in April and looks set to be Paul Simon’s biggest debate about life, death and the universe since ‘Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme’ right back in 1966! One sad thing about the album, though, is that it ends a good few years’ worth of speculation about a sixth Simon and Garfunkel album, following the duo’s successful tours a few years back - although the pair seem to have gone their separate ways again. More news if and when we hear it!
ANNIVERSARIES: Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear AAA stars born between January 26th-February 1st, happy birthday to you!: Nick Mason (drummer with Pink Floyd 1967-94) turns 66 on January 27th, Marty Balin (singer with Jefferson Airplane/Starship 1965-70 and 1974-78) turns 69 on January 30th and Steve Marriott (guitarist with The Small Faces 1965-68) would have been 64 on January 30th. Anniversaries of events include: Otis Redding charts with his ‘breakthrough’ UK hit ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ (January 26th 1967); John Lennon writes and records ‘Instant Karma’ during a 24 hour period (January 26th 1970); The Who make the first of many appearances during ‘their’ TV show ‘Ready Steady Go!’ (January 28th 1965); The Who are temporarily banned from touring America after a slight fracas involving Keith Moon, several bottles of spirits and a sobbing waitress (January 28th 1968); A tribute concert for Brian Epstein is held at London’s Marquee Club, including a performance by The Who (January 29th 1968); Guitarist Henry McCullough officially joins Wings after leaving Joe Cocker’s Grease Band (January 29th 1972); The Beatles’ last ever performance takes place, on top of the roof of their Apple building (January 30th 1969); The Beatles abandon their intended eighth album project of childhood songs and start recording what will become the title track of ‘Sgt Peppers’ (February 1st 1967) and finally, Beatles music publisher Dick James dies (February 1st 1986).
This week, another of our mad little existential debates for you. Anyone who has done even a little amount of research into the 1960s will know that the sudden impact of the Beatles was bound to happen sometime, some place, in some format to somebody. It just seems like something had to give – the more you read about the years up to 1963 and the outpouring of Beatlemania more or less around the world in that year the more you realise that the world was just waiting for something to happen. The Beatles were just lucky enough (or unlucky enough, given George Harrison’s later comments about ‘giving up his nervous system’ to be in the band) to be there (and The Beatles were hardly the only band connecting to rock and roll and looking for something new either – almost every artist on our list from the 1960s was gigging before the band had even met Brian Epstein). Of course it goes without saying that the biggest influences on the bands were other bands, mainly American musicians like Elvis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly or unsung heroes like The Everly Brothers, Arthur Alexander and The Kingsmen. But that would be boring and far too straightforward for our top five (we also covered something similar with our five greatest pre-Beatles/Beach Boys songs on ‘News, Views and Music’ no 27 if that’s the sort of thing you want to read). So here are the top five non-musical influences on the 1960s era in general that broke the mould and allowed the unstoppable force of Beatlemania to take hold.
5) The Marx Brothers: What do a bunch of comedians who were arguably at their peak some 30 years before ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ have to do with the 1960s spirit of freedom and equality? Well, that question can only be asked by anybody who hasn’t actually seen the films (and I recommend every Beatles and Monkees fan does, simply to see where their filmic influences came from) because The Marx Brothers are pure 1960s nihilism in every way but the dress sense. Every time Groucho Marx insults a celebrity, every time Harpo insults social class by running off with a young rich girl, every time Chico wreaks havoc with a piano in stark contrast to how you were told top behave in your prim and proper music lessons, you can just see the children of the 1930s and 40s going ‘wow, I so wish I could do that’, even if they don’t always get the jokes the brothers put in simply to keep the mums and dads amused. Anyone whose ever seen Groucho Marx stand up to authority, actively insult it and get away with it without question and laughed their socks off as the fuming aristocrats is surely a child of the 60s, whatever their generation, and the comedy partnership’s influence on the whole anti-establishment flower power era, via the jokes in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and The Monkees’ TV show, is incalculable. Surprisingly though the only Marx Brothers reference I can find in song is a throwaway line on Cat Stevens’ ‘Ghost Town’, where Chico and Harpo are throwing custard pies at their ‘brother’ Karl Marx! Another leading influence is of course The Goon Show – and particularly chief writers Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine – who were even more directly responsible for inspiring John Lennon in particular, but that’s something that’s been better written about by other writers elsewhere. Suffice to say the word-punning of Beatles press conferences, their Christmas fanclub records and Lennon’s three books of prose would never have been the same without Eccles, Bluebottle and Neddy Seagoon.
4) Tony Hancock, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson: While The Marx Brothers and their many gag writers specialised in situations you wanted to be in but could never possibly be brave enough to do, the other side of the coin is comedians who specialised in making real life funny. Writers Galton and Simpson were masters of the art, the first real writers to make working class situations palatable and hilarious to middle class audiences and Tony Hancock was the world’s greatest comedic interpreter then and now, delivering more with a raised eyebrow and an obstinate silence than a modern comedians’ hours worth of dialogue. The team’s influence on the 1960s is huge, pointing out a world that isn’t as good as it should have been despite the promises of 1950s reform back in a time when any criticism of the period immediately after World War Two was frowned upon and effectively turning chuckling at your problems into a mainstream art. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that without Hancock and the few who came after him to pave the way the social protest of the 1960s, starting with folk and moving through to psychedelia, would have been enjoyed by the fringes only rather than the average man in the street. Hancock even gets a mention on the Dave Davies song ‘Fortis Green’ from his ‘Bug’ album, with a young Dave settling back in his chair to listen to ‘Ancock’s ‘Alf ‘Our’) and Roger Waters surely had Hancock in mind for his snappy, disillusioned child-hating teacher delivering a ‘requiem for the post-war dream’ (as on Pink Floyd’s ‘The Final Cut’ LP).
3) James Dean: I must admit I’ve never cared much for James Dean films, which are often poorly acted and, by comparison to what came later, badly thought out. But the difference between the ‘look’ before and the ‘look’ after Jimmy Dean’s portrayal of troubled teenagers is quite extraordinary, giving some sort of a voice to teenagers of the 1950s who felt abandoned by WW2 and the lack of opportunities in post-war Britain. The look also chimed well with the music coming out of America at the time – the sort of music outlined above that became anglicised and grew into the 1960s, even if there’s little or no music in his films for real, so simply had to be mentioned here as perhaps the biggest example of pre-Beatles rebellion in the 20th century. The one musical reference we can point you to is Brian Wilson’s moving a capella Beach Boys song ‘A Young Man Is Gone’, from the ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ album.
2) JFK: Nowadays you look at JFK’s three-year legacy and think ‘what was the man doing?!’ Despite the promise of radical reform and change, most of Kennedy’s time in office was marked by avoidable accidents like the Cuban Missile Crisis and it was only in his last year that Kennedy was anything like as good as his reputation supposes, when he at last stuck his neck on the line concerning civil rights. But of course history didn’t record it that way at the time and the fact that a ‘young’ man (at 40!), quite distinct from the old and weary world war generation was having a go at running the country with a promise of ‘change’ meant that when he died in office a wave of grief swept the Western world. (Obama is to JFK what 9/11 is to WW2, but that’s another essay for another time). I’m not the first fan to point out that the three months between Kennedy’s assassination in Novemeber 1963 and the first, hysterically-greeted Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964 is perfect timing, giving America long enough to grieve their fallen hero and a certain amount of hope and escapism thereafter. But I will go even further and say that, in America at least,The Beatles and all who came after them are Kennedy’s successors much more than they are Elvis’ or (shudder) Cliff Richard’s, offering a new alternative way of life based on greater freedom for all that represented the changing of the guard via youth and vigourthat goes far beyond just their music. Dare I say it, JFK was too unpopular at the time he died to make a second term of office (unless things had radically changed of course and to be fair he was changing in 1963, so I’ll guess we’’ll never know) and dare I say it The Beatles would never have been quite the phenomenon they were in America had he lost that election of 1964. Musical AAA references for JFK abound, albeit mainly in later recordings about his assassination (The Beach Boys’ ‘The Warmth Of The Sun’ is the best, a moving eulogy written the night after his death should be your first port of call, while The Kinks’ ‘Give The People What They Want’ and The Monkees’ ‘Mommy and Daddy’ are the best examples of songs looking at the JFK assassination conspiracy).
1) Hitler: Undoubtedly the biggest single influence on the 1960s happened over a decade before, when Hitler pushed his luck too far and by invading Poland started a World War (that, erm, only happened in Europe, America, Japan and Russia but we’ll forget about that for now). I cannot stress how important WW2 is for the 1960s philosophy: childhoods spent on bombsites or having been evacuated with or without parents dead from bombings or on the frontline haunt many an AAA song (Roger Waters is again the biggest example, with the death of his dad in the war, despite being a conscientious objector, a key influence on most of the mid-to-late period Pink Floyd albums). Furthermore, having lived through or in most cases been born into a terrifying World War not of their making turned more and more AAA members into musicians, making them determined to create a new society based more on peace and not at all like the austere, frightening world they were brought up in (at least they will once things get moving on a bit – oh and Pete Townshend is still the only AAA artists to come right out and say all this, mind, but you can’t write a site like this without a little bit of conjecture). So why this world war and not, say the first World War? Well, nobody ever really talked about that war once they got home by and large – it’s only since the 1970s when our vertans started dying of old age that we’ve heard endless documentaries and interviews recorded for posterity before it’s all forgotten. But when the soldiers first got home in 1919 they simply didn’t talk about such things, they brought back too many unhappy memories and distressed the wives and children they’d left behind. The same would undoubtedly have happened in WW2 had it not been for the bombing raids that involved civilians not just soldiers on both sides of the war for the first time and rationing, which meant it was a subject that stared everyone in the face for six years and couldn’t be avoided (unless you’re American of course, in which case make that two). In short, something akin to the 1960s was inevitable in some form after the events of 1939-45 and as luck would have it the best practitioners for this brave new world turned out to be four musicians from Liverpool, not a group of artists, writers or politicians. To end this little speech, I have to add how fantastic its always seemed to me that the real start of the 1960s and the promise of a new era happens when The Beatles, who grew up in bomb-shelters and the devastation of Liverpool, end up playing in a German club surrounded by the bomb-shelters and devastation of Hamburg. In 1960, less than 15 years after the end of the Second World War, a whole new way of life is growing up for people everywhere – and its happening to five people who were physically born into the devastation of WW2 (Lennon was, famously, born during a Liverpool air raid in October 1940) . The road to peace still starts here and the fact that it couldn’t last is no shame on those early pioneers who started it.
And that’s it, another end of another issue. See you next time!