Saturday, 3 March 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 135 (Top Six); Beatles Albums That Might Have Been

We’re going to have a little bit of fun with this week’s top whatever-the-heck-it-is-this-week. Keeping in with our solo Beatles and ‘what might have been’ theme, we’ve taken our cue from an interview a harassed John Lennon gave to the Daily Express when asked yet again about the likelihood of a Beatles reunion in 1972: ‘If people need the Beatles so much, all they have to do is to buy each solo album, put it on tape, track by track, one of me, one of Paul, one of George, one of Ringo if they really need it that much...’ Of course here in 2012 we really do need The Beatles, more than ever if this week’s top 10 albums chart is anything to go by (Adele #1? Again?!) So here’s my mischievous guide to the albums that might have been had The Beatles patched up their differences and continued to work with each other. Of course, many of the tracks on solo Beatles albums would never have turned out the same way had they been ‘band’ records (would George have ever got away with ‘Ding Dong Ding Dong?’ Would Lennon ever have bared his soul to primal scream therapy? Would Paul ever have written so many stadium rockers without Wings?) so we’ve taken a few liberties here and told you about them along with each album. This is all a bit like playing ‘Beetledrive’, actually, but instead of adding parts of an insect and putting them together you’re doing it with tracks from assorted Beatles solo albums instead.

It’s worth nothing here 1) George did very little in 1971 and 1972 so we’re assuming that, limited to the Beatles’ method of three George songs-per-album, he’d only have got the chance to release his ‘All Things Must Pass’ songs a little bit at a time and 2) That The Beatles finally broke up when Lennon announced his retirement in 1975, making just one more album when he returned from his ‘house-husband’ phase in 1980 (we’d love to have an alternate reality where he was never shot and to this day lives with Yoko on a rocking chair in Scotland, his dream of the 1970s, but I wouldn’t dare to invent John Lennon song titles he might have gone on to write so that’s where we’re finishing this list). All songs issued by all four Beatles between 1970 and 1974, plus 1980, are up for grabs (we’re assuming here that Paul George and Ringo would have released their 1975-79 material solo before reforming so that material is null and void – we’re also refusing any material later than that although we’ve made a special case for George and Ringo, who both had albums in the pipeline at the time of Lennon’s death). We’ve also had some fun with the names and some possibly track listings – we seriously doubt any of these album titles would ever have been used but they seemed to fit (and made for a lot more hilarity than simply naming the albums after the solo releases). Think we missed anything major out? Let us know on our forum!

Album #1 “Every Night Is Another Day” (1970)

Another Day/Working Class Hero/My Sweet Lord/Junk/Love/Maybe I’m Amazed//All Things Must Pass/Beaucoups Of Blues/Every Night/Run Of The Mill/God/Give Peace A Chance

Review: ‘The Beatles’ most thoughtful album, this album shows how close the band came to breaking up after the rigours of ‘Let It Be’ and various court cases, following on from the moodier second side of ‘Abbey Road’. Lennon has found his scathing tongue again, especially on album highlight ‘Working Class Hero’ (oh so nearly a single before Macca came up with ‘Another Day’ at the last minute), although its the surprise affirmation ‘yes I do believe in Beatles’ on ‘God’ and the singalong Beatles extended version of ‘Give Peace A Chance’ that are the most moving moments. Paul’s moments are more guarded and anxious, especially the other album highlight ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ with a terrific guitar solo from George and Beatles harmonies to die for. George continues the strong run of form he had on ‘Abbey Road’ and is clearly the band’s ‘conscious; at work here, reminding the band of their near-failures in the delightful ‘All Things Must Pass’ and song-of-burned-friendship ‘Run Of The Mill’, although its the religious ‘My Sweet Lord’ (with strummed guitars from all 3 Beatles minus Ringo) that’s got the critics talking (Lennon even took out a line on ‘God’ about ‘I don’t believe in religion’ to please his old buddy). While Ringo is under-represented, with only a cover of a country song to his name as in the days of ‘Help!’, even that fits into the melancholy feel of this subdued, almost unplugged album. As the band title says, this is a band still with a great deal to give, not content to look back on ‘Yesterday’ and full of the dreams that if they can go back to working together again then world peace in the 1970s should be a doddle. The band cover, of the group in soft focus underneath a tree clutching bowls of cherries, has caused a lot of speculation – I much prefer the back cover of all the Beatles with their babies/toddlers sticking out of their jackets. Another magnificent creation that should compete well with this year’s mania for super-groups’.

Album #2 ‘Imagine-nation’ (1971)

Power To The People/Heart Of The Country/Beware Of Darkness/Jealous Guy/Ram On/Long Haired Lady/Isn’t It A Pity?//It Don’t Come Easy/Gimme Some Truth/What Is Life?/Oh My Love Back Seat Of My Car/Imagine

Review: ‘Another album by the lads (now all grown up) finds Lennon strongly back in charge. He’s been talking a lot in the press of late about how he wants the band to de-camp to America or, failing that, create their own ‘Nutopia’ and let the human race start again from scratch. Perhaps that’s why this album has such an upbeat feel to it, especially after the doom and gloom of the band in 1970, with the band’s latest international hit (‘Imagine’) striking a chord with youth all over the world (the fact that John and Paul play on two pianos, black and white, back to back, in the video is another pleasing touch). Elsewhere Paul is in comparatively pensive mood with two epic songscapes (‘Lady’ and ‘Car’) in stark contrast to the funkier songs he provided on the last LP. The delightful ‘Heart Of The Country’ is also strongly suited to the theme of starting again, though, and ‘Ram On’ (this album’s title track at one stage) sounds delightful with a full orchestra and Beatle accompaniment. Yet again George takes the honours with this album’s second single ‘What Is Life?’, complete with criss-crossing guitars from John and Paul and his moody song of warning ‘Beware Of Darkness’ is easily up to the high standards of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team. Even Ringo delights with his collaboration with George ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, a breezy classy pop song that the band clearly relish playing with Merseybeat nostalgia. A refreshingly hopeful and impressive album, with only Lennon’s acerbic bite on ‘Gimme Some Truth’ (once recorded for ‘Let It Be’ we understand) upsetting the ‘applecart’. Word has it the band also revived ‘Not Guilty’ from the White Album sessions for this record, but gave up after a trying series of a further 300 takes. The album cover, with John nursing a pig, Paul holding a ram, Ringo holding a whisky bottle and George clutching a gnome is good for a few laughs though and will surely add much to the ‘Beatles are Dead and actually disbanded in 1969’ rumour that’s sweeping the planet. Should put those glam rockers in their place, despite the growing friendship between Marc Bolan and Ringo.’

Album #3 ‘Tomorrow Is A New Yesterday’ (1972)

Woman Is The Nigger Of The World/I Am Your Singer/Back Off Boogaloo/Some People Never Know/John Sinclair/Attica State/The Art Of Dying//Tomorrow/The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)/Apple Scruffs/Medley: Sunday Bloody Sunday-Give Ireland Back To The Irish-Luck Of The Irish/Dear Friend

Review: ‘The fab four (still with Billy Preston since 1969) have come up with a brave album for 1972 that should ruffle more feathers than any Beatles album thus far. Yes, in common with many of the 1960s bands still going (how sad that the Stones should have split up so soon after finding their mojo again with ‘Stikcy Fingers’) The Beatles have gone all political on this album. The talking point will no doubt be the ‘Abbey Road’ style Irish medley, made up of three leftover Lennon and McCartney songs stuck together by the aid of some fiery Harrison guitarwork. It’s no ‘A Day In The Life’ but this song does make more sense with the Beatles working together than apart and its interesting how after all this time both Lennon and McCartney hold similar political views. Elsewhere this album marks something of a backward step after past glories, with Lennon obsessed by all things American (he still keeps threatening to move there one day on a permanent basis) and McCartney reduced to recycling the key changes of ‘Yesterday’ for the band’s latest single ‘Tomorrow’, although his song of companionship with John on the 10th anniversary of the first Beatles single (‘Dear Friend’) should bring a lump to the throat of fans (especially when all four Beatles kick in during the fade-out to what is otherwise a solo Macca song). George’s contributions still continue to shine, though perhaps not as brightly as on the first two albums, whilst Ringo’s retro rock contribution ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ sounds very odd in the context of the album, with the band aping the recent success of Marc Bolan rather than stretching forward as before. The album cover is odd too, with a mock-up newspaper of the band featuring gnomes and a shot of them all balancing precariously on a tree above a river. A curious album, this one, which finds The Beatles on rather lacklustre form in 1972. It’s still better than the surprise hit of the year Slade, though, as at least The Beatles can spell their song titles’. 

Album #4 ‘This Is So Sad That I Am Sorry (Aisumasen)’ (1973)

Big Barn Bed/Bring On The Lucie (And Freeda People)/Little Lamb Dragonfly/I’m The Greatest/Living In The Material World/Mind Games//C Moon/The Mess/I Know (I Know)/My Love/Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)/Aisumasen/Photograph

Review: ‘The Beatles’ record of 1973 finds the band in apologetic form, split equally between stomping urgent rockers and sweet insecure ballads. Ringo is the surprise package of the album, featured via three songs written by the other Beatles (John’s ‘I’m The Greatest’ George’s ‘Photograph’ and Paul’s ‘C Moon’, which works especially well with Ringo’s drawling delivery). John’s recent split with Yoko Ono has clearly affected his mood for the album, although his four selections on the album are under-rated at the moment, with the one last surge of political activism on ‘Bring On The Lucie’ especially strong  (even though its current Beatles single ‘Mind Games’, with its stunning Beatles tape loops, that’s getting the biggest response). Paul’s ‘My Love’, the Beatles hit of a few months ago, features excellent guitar work from George although its his delightful rocker ‘The Mess’ and the complex song-suite ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’ that mark his greatest moments. George excels too with his ‘Give Me Love’ ballad the most Beatlesy moment on the album, although its ‘Living In The Material World with its fab four references (‘John and Paul were living in the material world...’) that’s causing the biggest fuss among fans. For my money though the best track is psychedelic band jam ‘Loup (1st Indian On The Moon)’, taken from the b-side of The Beatles’ news single and as psychedelic as anything they did in the summer of love. All in all this is a stronger album than last year’s effort, although in places it feels a little sorry for itself and needs another couple of world-beaters to rank among the band’s best efforts. The cover is intriguing though: the band standing in front of a ‘speedway’ bike with flowers in their mouths. Should do well against the sheer mess that represents the record charts in 1973, where the only thing to get excited about is a slight rock and roll revival’

Album #5 “Sgt Pepper Is On The Run” (1974)

Band On The Run/Whatever Gets You Thru The Night/So Sad/Let Me Roll It/The No No Song/Steel and Glass//Dark Horse/Goodnight Vienna/Jet!/Scared/It Is He (Jai Sri Krishna)/#9 Dream/1985/Goodnight Vienna (Reprise)

Review: ‘Well, here it is at last, the album we thought we’d never see. To mark the 10th anniversary of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ the band have returned to their heyday and updated their story of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, picturing him now as a shadowy figure out playing gigs in the dead of night to get the message of truth across. This loose theme of fugitives plays over and over again across this fascinating return to form: from the ‘Band On The Run’ of the opening track (with the band, playing live for once, clearly relishing the mood changes in the song), to Lennon’s paranoid songs ‘Scared’ and ‘Steel and Glass’, his best in a while. Listen out for Paul pretending to be John on ‘Let Me Roll It’ and John pretending to be Paul on ‘Thru The Night’. George is often penned as the ‘dark horse’ of the group (they stopped calling him the ‘quiet Beatle’ a couple of years ago when he helped get the band back touring in a series of Bangladesh benefit concerts and wouldn’t stop talking about it), with the four Beatles’ psychedelic interplay on ‘It Is He’ particularly memorable. Ringo, meanwhile, is the comedy relief on this album with ‘The No No Song’, while his collaboration with Lennon, ‘Goodnight Vienna’, is pretty weird. The album ends with a memorable two song nostalgia fest in ‘#9 Dream’ and ‘1985, with John’s song clearly speaking about the band’s past (‘so long ago, was it just a dream?’) and Paul’s song ‘1985’ (‘she will be right, she may be fine, she might buy albums and they’ll be mine’) the band’s future. I’m particularly impressed with the way the song manages to circle back to ‘Band On The Run’ via snippets of ‘She Loves You’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Get Back’ before heading into a reprise of Ringo’s Lennon-penned opening track. Overall, pretty funky, with the double ‘a’ side ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’/’Jet!’ currently doing well in the charts. There’s a terrific album cover too: three of the band caught in a prison light but silhouetted in night, surrounded by key 1970s figures Michael Parkinson, Kenny Lynch, Vincent Price (Macca’s choice), Richard Nixon and Jerry Rubin (Lennon’s choice), the robot from the film ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ (Ringo’s choice), plus various Hindu deities and some garden gnomes (George’s choice). Above them all hovers Ringo as a graceful angel whose just arrived in a spaceship to save them and is dressed as a robot, perhaps The Beatles’ most striking cover yet. Who’d’ve thought it, eh? The Beatles latest is as a strong as any album in their canon and beats anything else released in this forgettable year by aeons, matched only by the honest-to-God CSNY reunion ‘Human Highway’, which looked for one awful moment there like it might have been lost for good’.

Album #6 ‘Like A Flower’ (1980)

Coming Up/Beautiful Boy/Private Property/I’m Losing You/All Those Years Ago/Borrowed Time/One Of These Days//Blood From A Clone/Wrack My Brain/Secret Friend/I’m Steppin’ Out/Life Itself/Life Begins At 40/Real Love/Waterfalls

Review: ‘Well here we are again with another Beatles album that, as its title says, finds the band blooming once again. Following Lennon’s shock retirement (his announcement at the end of the last record ‘this is Dr Winston O’Boogie saying goodnight’ should have given us a clue) there’s been much speculation as to what a Beatles reunion album would sound like. And the results are, erm, mixed. The break hasn’t really done Lennon’s writing any favours, although the presence of a band backing on ‘Real Love’ is interesting (at the time of writing, the last Beatles single) and the funky powerhouse rock and roll on a couple of the tracks does make them sound a lot better than the demos that were broadcast on the ‘Lost Lennon’ radioshow John did during his sabbatical in new York. ‘Borrowed Time’ is a classic song too, much better than the song he gave away to poor Ringo, ‘Life Begins At 40’, although that said neither Paul’s ‘Ringo’ song (‘Private Property’) or George’s (‘Wrack My Brain’) are up to much. Paul’s on pretty good form, though, with current hit ‘Coming Up’ showing how well the band have adapted to the synthesisers that have become all the rage in their absence and ‘Waterfalls’, with its ghostly harmonies, one of his better ballads. George’s nostalgia song ‘All Those Years Ago’ is a bit of a limp song for such an auspicious project, however, and it’s his lovely religious ballad ‘Life Itself’ that remains his greatest song on the album. We expected a bit better, having heard how excited John was to return to work and how spurred on he was by the ‘Coming Up’ tape Paul played him. The cover is an odd one too: two blurry Paul McCartney’s look on from either side of the sleeve, whilst Lennon kisses Yoko, Ringo kisses a rose and George kisses a paving slab. At least it’s better than the latest wannabe Blondie though (rumour is John tried to get Ringo to cover their ‘Heart Of Glass’ for the album as his ‘Ringo’ contribution to the record) and at least Paul’s contributions have a bit of a ‘new wave’ feel to them, especially his spacey psychedelic flashback jam ‘Secret Friend’.’ 
And that’s enough parallel time-streams for another week! See you next issue!

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