Monday, 5 August 2013
“Woke up this morning, I was laid out on the dark side, with the moon and the room on the wrong side, I took a needle, sewed myself right back into the seams, I saw my universal gleam” “If you believe the, they will be completely in charge, in their marble homes and granite banks, from which they rob the people of the world, under the pretence of bringing them culture” “All I know is I can be everything I want to be, life is short so don’t be shy, spread your wings and learn to fly” “Time to face the people, take a gamble with your pride, time for living, so take today, or take your turn to hide” “Turn your eyes to me, sing it like you talk it so loud, playing to the gallery, when you know it’s time to faced the crowd” “Turn your eyes to me, let me see how real you are, you’ll never understand, I’ll stand up for every scar” “Shake my tree, where’s the apple for me?, tickle my feet with the NME” “Happiness lies in a moment, maybe a song, memories last not forever but pretty long, no need for words when you’re speaking for real, no need to tell me, I know how you feel” “While we were sleeping the world moved on, while we were sleeping the dark turned to dawn, nothing remains of the plans that we made, only a parallel future that fades” “Ten years later we’ll remember throwaway songs we learned today” “God called back when you were out, he wasn’t bothered but then nor are you” “Don’t ‘brother’ me when they’re done, had their little fun, did you shoot your gun?, you say that you’re free but I’m one” “All or nothing, I’ll keep pushing, come on now, give peace a chance” “The men of the cloth got it wrong from the off, out of line, out of reach, me and you were born to seek, shine a light” “We listened to the world going wrong, listening through the hole in the wall”
Beady Eye “Be” (2013)
Flick Of The Finger/Soul Love/Face The Crowd/Second Bite Of The Apple/Soon Come Tomorrow/Iz Rite/I’m Just Saying/Don’t Brother Me/Shine A Light/Ballroom Figured/Start Anew
I start this review of the second Beady Eye by scratching my head in a similar way that I did to the first. Whilst a long way from where they need to be to become the ‘new Beatles’ – or even the ‘new Oasis’ – Beady Eye are way better than any fan had any right to expect: more dangerous, adventurous and outrageous than any of the band members had been for years, yet in a more refined, ‘relaxed’ way that the self-aggrandising parent band never quite managed. We’re on the second record now and already there seems to be a pattern: the band keeping the 1960s influences that styled Oasis but with more emphasis on the folk over the rock and drawing out the melancholy strain of sounds that Oasis, for the most part, kept hidden under a wall of guitars. In these 30 odd tracks (counting B-sides) Beady Eye have proved adept at staying just close enough to the paths already travelled to ‘sound’ like late-period Oasis, without being restricted or pigeon-holed into staying there, this second record particularly enjoying quite a few memorable explorations into the jungle on the side-paths of their old routes. It would have been nice to have had Beady Eye return to the band that Oasis once were before the excesses broke into the act – but it would be unfair to expect a band now in their 40s to have forgotten 15 years’ worth of growing up and, correctly, Beady Eye have surrendered their past energy and noise for a slightly deeper, darker sense of self. In short, if we can’t have Oasis back then this generally consistent band who offer a few tricks up their sleeves is about the best we could hope for.
So why are the reviewers and fans so dismissive of Beady Eye? I always try to have a quick swoosh around the internet before putting pen to paper just to see what the general consensus on an album is and I don’t think I’ve seen this continuous a drubbing of a new AAA album since the equally unfairly-maligned ‘Crosby*Nash’ in 2006. While some reviewers are simply going through their sniffy ‘I never liked Oasis anyway’ phase, most others seem to think that Liam isn’t half the creative force his brother is and that the rest of the band are merely ‘extras’. This blatantly isn’t true: as we said in our period review, Noel’s well-received debut ‘High Flying Birds’ from the end of 2011 wasn’t the masterful return it promised to be – instead it was a hodge-podge of four Oasis era outtakes that were truly fantastic and six new songs that were entirely forgettable, so far removed from the wit and spirit of the earlier songs that it seemed at times like Noel was resigned to the fact that he could no longer ‘cut it’. The fact that this album was so well receives (and many people’s choice as record of the year) reflects both on the ignorance of reviewers and fans (who didn’t know that the two tracks they mostly singled out for praise were over a decade old) and the fact that - a little like after the Beatles’ break-up – the public have already made their mind up about who to blame. The irony of Oasis ending up in as much turbulence as their first loves can’t have been lost on Liam, who for the past three years has been working steadily on a film version of ‘The Longest Cocktail Party In The World’, Richard Di Lello’s revealing if fragmented take on the Beatles’ final Apple years. Back then it was Lennon who called it a day first but McCartney who, almost by a mistake, announced it and – due to a badly handled court case that saw Paul sue the other three in order to ‘protect’ the Beatles’ name from the grubby hands of manager Allen Klein, he who got the blame.
The world at large clearly blames Liam for the final Oasis split too (apparently caused when Liam pushed too hard to include an advert for his clothing company ‘Lo Green’ in the band’s touring programme and who hurled a tangerine at his brother in the ensuing argument; if only it had been an apple the symbolism would have been complete, but even so the greatest group of the 1960s and 1990s both ended their career bickering over fruit!) and however good Beady Eye’s music is (much of it is, by the way) they’re forever tagged with the same hatred that Macca had for the first few years after the Beatles’ split. This is all clearly wrong – note the fact that bassist Andy Bell and guitarist Gem Archer have sides with Liam and blame shouldn’t rest on anybody’s side; Oasis had had their time and were going to slide over something sooner or later anyway. Word has it that Liam will think of quitting for good if this album does badly (as it appears to be so far) – I hope that he keeps going long enough for the Beady Eye equivalent of ‘Band On The Run’, when a stronger-than-average album and a gap of a few years is all it takes for the critics to love them again. In this context the choice of title for this record ‘Be’ is prophetic – not for the first time, it could be that Oasis/Beady Eye are referencing their career in terms of The Beatles and how this period is their equivalent of ‘Let It Be’. Incidentally ‘Apples’ make several appearances here (the film script clearly on Liam’s mind) and like Badfinger before him he makes some puns on the Beatles’ business from his point of view (here the band get a ‘Second Bite Of The Apple’; for Badfinger The Beatles were ‘The Apple Of My Eye’).
If ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ was ‘McCartney’ (some gems, some rubbish, a new sound on almost every track and an overall feel quite different to what we were all expecting) then ‘Be’ is ‘Ram’, the fan-favourite second album that deals with the split head-on and adds a touch of exotic brass and strings that makes the result sound more polished and yet more further away from what the parent band were doing in their final years. Critics made a mincemeat out of ‘Ram’ when it first came out and yet it’s now generally seen as one of McCartney’s greatest solo albums – another fact that won’t be lost on Liam Gallagher, who admitted in interviews a couple of years ago that he was now getting into Macca’s early solo stuff (courtesy of the expensive McCartney re-issues of recent years which include ‘McCartney’ ‘Ram’ and ‘Band On The Run’). Whilst I’m not as keen on this second album as I was on Beady Eye’s first (2011’s ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ – the best AAA album for at least a couple of years), it still contains at least two solid gold nuggets (as good as anything Oasis have made since ‘Morning Glory’) and several solid songs that show this band’s hearts are in the right place and all we fans need to do is be patient for the formula to finally click that last 10% into position. They really are that close. Both ‘Second Bite Of The Apple’ and ‘Don’t Brother Me’ go in a couple of entirely new directions for the band (cool, spare bossa nova in the first; dreamy weirdy electronic landscape in the second) and are every bit as good as anything Oasis ever managed: daring, funny and fully deserving of the swagger in Liam’s voice. Sadly nothing else on the record is quite up to this standard (‘Different Gear’ had a good four or five songs that I really, really loved) – but equally impressive in this day and age is that none of it is bad (the two Oasis-style plodders on ‘Different Gear’ were pretty awful, as even I’ll admit).
This is, quite literally, a ‘brassed off’ album. Brass has never been heard on any previous Oasis record (though a few have had strings) and hearing the two together on tracks like ‘Second Bite Of The Apple’ and especially ‘Flick Of The Finger’ offers up a power and bravado that work really well. I really hope Beady Eye keep up this sound if they make any more recordings after this (please, please, please keep going on the extremely unlikely chance that someone connected to the band reads this!) as it suits their slightly more polished take on Oasis’ angry swagger to a tee. In fact, better still make a whole record like this – a ‘Beady Eye’ version of ‘Stephen Stills II’ would be superb! Perhaps the horns work so well because, like Stills 40 odd years ago, ‘Be’ is such an angsty and sometimes angry record that’s probably more autobiographical than we know, with pot-shots aimed at the band’s low following, plus the world in general (and bother Noel in particular). Thematically, ‘Be’ carries on the theme of ‘Different Gear’ (namely that all good things must come to an end) but if anything is even more open and direct about it all, the band who spent that first record debating amongst themselves if they still had the drive to continue sounding similarly unsure as to whether they should have bothered here. In theory it shouldn’t work - Liam’s voice is born for sneering, not navel-gazing – but his voice has softened with the years and had more layers of subtlety added to it, while the moments Liam ‘suddenly’ starts singing with full power and full bravado swagger make the sincerity of many of these songs (and their final realisation that the band still have a lot to say) deeply affecting.
Liam’s been a bit cagey in interviews about the real inspiration behind ‘Don’t Brother Me’ for instance, but even if the song is about his ‘other’ elder brother Paul (who wrote easily the best book yet about the early Oasis years in the mid-90s and infamously as on the dole for many months after Oasis’ first number one) he must have known that fans would assume he was writing about Noel. A similar mixture of hurt, guilt, anger and olive branch to the last album’s ‘Kill For A Dream’, it even quotes line from one of Noel’s ‘new’ (but actually Oasis-era) songs ‘If I Had A Gun’ (the mocking ‘Did you shoot your little gun?’) yet also offers up ‘Give Peace A Chance, Man’ the Lennon link between the brothers taking on a whole new meaning in this context. Caught somewhere between Lennon’s vile ‘How DO You Sleep?’ and McCartney’s hurt ‘Dear Friend’, it’s one of the two greatest songs on this second album. Other songs address the poor reception of the first album which seems to have caught the band by surprise (as indeed it did me). ‘Shine A Light’ sounds like Andy Bell coaching Liam into believing he is still the same creative force he used to be (like the first album there are no writing credits but it’s good fun trying to work out who wrote what given their past form – more on this below). ‘Face The Crowd’ sounds like a nervous band who know they didn’t quite capture the public’s heart on their first record and have to do something different, to ‘take a gamble with our pride’ as the song’s second line puts it. ‘I’m Just Saying’ is an angry response to being attacked or – worse – ignored by the same people who always used to treat Oasis with respect (and, in a neat summary of this paragraph, that ‘ten years later we’ll remember throwaway songs we learned today’). Finally closing track ‘Start Anew’ promises to do just that and that it’s not too late to win people over. Much of ‘Ram’ is on this same theme, incidentally, a wounded McCartney not sure whether to fight on or accept the inevitable and bide his time; if Beady Eye start singing songs about the environment and mouthy rockers with gibberish lyrics (as per ‘Wildlife’) then we’ll know that they’ve been taking this comparison thing too far!
One thing that McCartney didn’t try till about album three was hire a new producer, but that’s what Beady Eye have done here, hiring Dave Sitek (whose work is so modern I only know about him thanks to a deeply under-rated record by actress Scarlett Johansson, which at three total gems and nine slices of rubbish at least puts it on a creative par with Noel’s record) who adds several neat touches, from flutes to weird electric burbles. On paper this relationship should work a treat: Sitek is something of a musical historian and knows his way round the 1960s (Beady Eye’s de facto starting point) and tends to go for less rather than more (the occasional problem with the first record). Unfortunately in practice this seems to have made the songs in danger of sounding the same (on first few hearings at least), with several ballads crammed together so that it’s the louder, more raucous songs that stand out this time (generally the opposite of ‘Still Speeding’). It’s nice to hear Liam acoustic so often after so many years of singing at full pelt against a sea of guitars, but sadly the reflective nature of a lot of the songs does turn what would have been the ‘second side’ in the vinyl days into something of a slog. There’s no reason given for why the album cover features a girl sleeping in the nude – had I disliked this album more I would have joked that the slowness of the second side (together with the more ‘naked’ lyrics) had lulled her off to sleep. I have to say, too, that I was hoping that Beady Eye would head further into ‘Wigwam’ territory – the standout moment from their debut record – which managed to turn sadness and dejection into rabble-rousing bruised-but-not-defeated singalong by the end. Sadly none of these songs really change direction from beginning to end, with a kind of half-attempt at the end of ‘Start Anew’ coming nowhere close. So why do I like this album so much then? Well, it’s terribly consistent – not a word I used much during Oasis’ last years – and there aren’t any songs here I dislike, even slightly. There’s a feeling, too, that all of these songs belong together here, which might well rob the album of some of its vibrancy but does give it a thematic unity that’s quietly impressive (if Beady Eye continue to experiment like this, fans will easily be able to recognise which song is from which album even in a few decades’ time – the same as with ‘McCartney’ and ‘Ram’ incidentally).
Best of all, Beady Eye continue to sound like a ‘band’. That might sound like a daft thing to say, but actually very few bands sound as if they are all pulling together in the same studio on the same night anymore. The fact that the band have continued their policy of not splitting up the writer’s credits and royalties (with an ‘all songs written by Beady Eye’ notice instead) and the fact that there are only subtle differences between Liam’s, Gem’s and Andy’s songs is a good sign of a band who know where they are going and how to get there. For the record, my guess (based on past writing styles) is that Andy chiefly wrote tracks 1,2, 9 and 11, Gem wrote 3,5 and 10 and Liam wrote 4,6,7 and 8 (I came pretty close with my last review, apparently, when an interviewer finally got out of the band who’d written what). That’s a pretty even split for a band who seem (in the media’s eyes at least) to be all about the frontman and when Beady want to (such as on album opener ‘Flick Of The Finger’) they sound impressively close to their ‘old’ Oasis sound, Gem turning in guitar parts that in another era I’d assume had been played by Noel. Both Gem and Andy seem to ‘fit’ Beady Eye better than Oasis somehow too: Andy’s slightly softer, more sensitive lyrics and Gem’s more 4/4 longer-lined songs adding a depth that often sounded out of kilter with Noel’s songs (and Liam’s early compositions come to that). Strangely the band seem to have added a bass player for this album, Jeff Wootton, but he’s not counted as a ‘full’ member and according to some reports has already left the group (shades of ‘Wings’ there again...) I say strange because Andy’s bass runs, so reminiscent of McCartney’s psychedelia phase, were one of the few things reviewers seemed to like on the first album and the bass parts for this album don’t add quite the same layer of mystery and exotica. As for Liam, I was deeply worried after seeing Beady Eye’s first appearances plugging this record (on Jool’s Holland’s vacuous ‘Later’ programme which still claims to be ‘live’ every Tuesday despite having an ‘extended repeat’ on a Friday which means it can’t be) where he sounded out of tune, out of breath and rather detached from the songs. Thankfully he must have just had a cold or something – his vocals are the highlight of the album, mixed properly back into the centre like the good old days and given a nice range of styles to get his teeth into this time around.
One other direction I wish the band had followed: there was a moment there, when the end of ‘Flick OF The Finger’ suddenly gave way to a political commentary originally written by Jean-Paul Marat (with the speaker sadly not credited on the sleevenotes) when I thought the band had cracked it. Oasis had been trying to use spoken words on their albums for quite a time before the break-up (Liam’s ‘Outta Time’ used a Lennon interview, for instance, while every concert in 2005 ended with the spoken words that inspired that year’s album title ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ – ‘You are sleeping, you do not want to believe...’), but had never used them with much panache. This speech, rescued from an obscure Victorian-era socialist document, sounds entirely in keeping with every recession-era fear the world has right now and echoes more than a few of our own Coalition-beating website posts (‘Don’t be deceived...when they say that there’s no revolution worth speaking of and no more reason for fighting, because if you believe them they will be completely in charge, in their mobile homes and granite banks, from which they rob the people of this world...’). It’s a great find that adds real horror and viciousness to the attack, which is wiped out when you realise that – again – the rest of the song has nothing to do with this speech (lyrically this song is one of many Beady Eye songs merely saying ‘life is for living, not for waiting’) and there are no other uses of speech or references. I still keep hoping, all these years on, that one of my beloved AAA bands is finally going to come good and write an album about the inequality and the blatant power-struggles that go on in this period of our history, the hatred this stirs up amongst a public encouraged to take out their own frustrations on smaller societal groups from other races, abilities, classes and backgrounds and the fear of where the world will go next. Much of ‘Be’ sounds like an album without a future, with the title on down living firmly in the present without dreams of escape or nostalgia for times gone (is it just me that’s noticed the recycling of part of the phrase from third Oasis LP ‘Be Here Now’ though?, itself named after a George Harrison song), from a band that only intermittently want to keep going. It would have been perfect had the band just listened ever so slightly to the world outside their tour bus and if their own revealing songs of confusion, resentment and frustration had been coupled together with a couple more about the similar state of the world we live in. Worried, scared, scarred and tortured, but fighting on with courage and hope, Beady Eye might yet be the band to make the album I’ve dreamed of hearing these past seven years – but sadly it isn’t quite here yet.
What we do have, though, is an album that’s high on melody and stronger than average on lyrics too. While I haven’t fallen head over heels for it the same way I did for ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ there are many great moments on it and even the lesser songs on this album have a few twists and turns in the tale, evidence of a band (or at any rate a producer) who has approached this album with their thinking cap on. I’m almost as frustrated and angry as the band must be to know that Beady Eye have taken a ‘second bite at the apple’ almost as good as the first and yet still seem to have got nowhere with this project. ‘Second Bite Of The Apple’ alone is worth buying the album for and second highlight ‘Don’t Brother Me’ isn’t far behind, whatever you think of the other nine songs. The band shouldn’t give up hope though – and they certainly shouldn’t give up altogether – they’re simply unlucky enough to be on the ‘wrong’ side of the argument in most people’s eyes (despite evidence to the contrary) and releasing records at a time when this kind of impressive experimentation and the band’s ‘parent’ sound are ‘wrong’, at the same time that Noel’s unusually folky solo album seems to have by accident got things ‘right’. History might well record this little battle differently; hopefully Beady Eye’s equivalent of ‘Band On The Run’ will be on it’s way very soon and the band will never again be treated as merely second-best. They are, after all, a ‘three ring circus’, with three members of one of the biggest groups in the world still at their very best – and as second song ‘Soul Love’ puts it ‘The Circus Is Coming Back To Town’. It might just have a longer and more winding journey than both me and band were expecting, that’s all.
‘Flick Of The Finger’ is the most traditional ‘Oasisy’ sounding song on the album, starting like some of the harder-edged songs from ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ and ‘Dig Out Your Soul’. However, it’s not long before the brass section (arranged by Andy Bell) come in and add a whole new wave of sound to the Oasis experience and it’s a wonder the band have never used this trick before – the harsh stinging sound of the brass sounding great against Gem’s ringing guitar and Liam’s electronically-treated snarl. The title ‘Flick Of The Finger’ suggests that this is another of the band’s bravado style songs, but although the music suggests pride and confidence the lyrics are amongst Beady Eye’s most troubled to date. This is a narrator who once had it all and lost it, finding himself ‘waking up on the dark side’ and whose only solace is in drugs (the memorable image of ‘sewing myself up with a needle’ a line Lennon would have been proud of). It’s the third and final, verse that’s the most revealing however (there’s no chorus, like many songs from ‘Different Gear’ I noticed), Liam snarling about not being sure if he wants to be ‘part of the plan’, that ‘sands are shifting’ and that ‘all the best tickets have been sold’. It sounds to me as if Beady Eye have been taking their recent criticism to heart more than they should: it can’t have been easy fighting back to make this second album after the comparative flop of the first and in these new hands the very Oasisy line ‘the future gets written today’ sounds more like a warning than a brash statement. These are troubled times indeed, the one song on this album that we know to have been a collaboration (of sorts) between all three Beady Eyes one of the darkest and most disconcerting songs on the record – not that you’d necessarily know that without listening to the lyrics, such is Liam’s angry snarl and the oppressive minor-key guitar strumming. The most memorable part of the song comes at the last, when a spoken word track from Kayvan Novak via a Jean-Paul Marat speech suddenly erupts when Liam starts speaking. As we said above, it’s a shame this arresting and inventive idea isn’t put to better use – this spot-on diatribe against Governments trying to control their subjects and set them against each other couldn’t be more fitting for the times we live in, but it doesn’t belong in this song. Beady Eye should perhaps have written a new song round this idea and left ‘Flick Of The Finger’ as it was or even added this phrase to the finale of ‘Start Anew’, a song with more of a sense of outrage and hope for the future that would have fitted it better. Even so, it’s a very memorable and strong moment on an album full of good ideas.
‘Soul Love’ is interesting too and tries a similar trick of telling us something different with the words and the music. The sound is creepy and eerie and Liam is at his sarcastic best, singing each line as if he’s sticking two fingers up to the whole world – and yet the sentiments of this song are actually very sweet and genuine. This must, surely, be an Andy Bell song (at least lyrically), the ‘softer’, gentler of the three songwriters in Beady Eye who seems to be the supportive ‘core’ of the trio holding them together. Like ‘Keep The Dream Alive’ from the final Oasis days and ‘Kill For A Dream’ on the first Beady Eye album, this is a state of the union address to the band and like those songs there are several references to other band members’ songs. This time round its two of Liam’s songs that ‘Soul Love’ addresses: the forthcoming ‘Second Bite Of The Apple’ (‘You’re the apple of my eye’) and the last album’s three-ring circus (where Liam, Gem and Andy together are a bigger attraction than Noel on his own: ‘the circus has just come to town’) plus a third from early Oasis days, ‘All I know is I can be everything I want to be’ mirroring the hook-line from breakthrough hit ‘Live Forever’: ‘Maybe I will never be everything I want to be’. I could be well off-beam here, but ‘Soul Love’ sounds like a message from Andy to Liam (whose been outspoken about dissolving Beady Eye if this album doesn’t sell) not to give in just yet, to keep calm and see out hard times. While the opening lines don’t seem much like Liam (‘Get off your knees my friend’), the lines ‘come into my world’ and ‘spread your wings and learn to fly’ do indeed sound like an old friend trying to encourage another old friend to make the most of their talent. Whoever the song is about, they’re obviously someone special – and instead of just being another love song ‘Soul Love’ seems to be very much directed to a male friend rather than a female lover (note the use of ‘my friend’ not ‘my love’ or something similar) and given how many hours Beady Eye have spent together now someone in the band would be a safe bet. Together with the spooky music (for which a lot of credit goes to Gem, for some unusual guitar work and producer Dave Sitek for the unusual but atmospheric electronic noises – of all the tracks on this album this is the closest one to his work with Scarlett Johansson), ‘Soul Love’ is one of the most memorable tracks on the album, sounding like a bare confessional sung in a haunted house.
‘Different Gear’ had a real 50s vibe about it which seems to have disappeared for this second album, with one exception. ‘Face The Crowd’ is a ‘stomper-song’ based around tight rhythms rather than melody, of the sort Oasis used to specialise in (think ‘Lyla’ or ‘Lord Don’t Slow Me Down’) - though till now only in the hands of Noel Gallagher. This more riff-based, less wordy song (by Gem, if my hunch is correct) is another track that rocks as hard as any of the band’s past confident rock and roll songs but lyrically sounds terribly unsure about itself. Sounding as if it was written on the eve of ‘Different Gear’s release, this rockabilly riff song urges someone to ‘face the people, take a gamble with your pride’ which is effectively what the band were doing by continuing the Oasis story without their lead writer and guitarist. Singing that ‘it’s out of my hands’ now the first album is in the public domain, the lyrics urge the band to embrace the new rather than dwell on their ‘old’ sound; to ‘turn the temple4 upside down’ and (in a line that mimics the defining moment in The Who’s ‘Tommy’) to ‘smash the mirror’ of who they used to be. Gem (if I’ve guessed these writers right) then seems to speak to Liam (much like Andy in the last song), saying ‘Turn your eyes to me, sing it the way you talk so loud’ (a line that Liam, characteristically, sings with his trademark snarl). Ending with the lines that the band is ‘playing to the gallery when you know it’s time to face the crowd’, it’s as if the band are acknowledging the main problem with the first Beady Eye album – that it was fixated with the band’s position in history and getting in the first response to the split before Noel’s album. Along the way the band seem to have lost their main audience. Sadly the song never really musically develops from the admittedly great rock and roll hook the tune is built on, with the variation coming from dropping the instruments out of the track in a very effective middle eight. Still a little variety would have helped the song, which is running out of steam by the song’s end. All that said, ‘Face The Crowd’ features one of the best band performances on the album, the rhythm section finally learning how to blend together for a rock attack that sounds twice as loud as the parts playing against each other and Gem turns in another sputtering, thrillingly sprawling guitar solo that sounds like the love child of Jimi Hendrix and ream-era Eric Clapton.
The highlight of the album, though, is ‘Second Bite Of The Apple’, probably Beady Eye’s biggest experiment to date. I may be one of Oasis’ biggest supporters, who will claim many things for this band that most sniffy reviewers miss, but one thing the band had never managed was the sort of detached icy-cool charm that bands like Pink Floyd do so well. Most Oasis songs like to fill the arrangements with everything they can and Beady Eye have continued the trend till now, but the opening of ‘Apple’ is sparse and cool, a simple drum part, a jazzy bass part and a scratchy, ragged guitar chord the main backing for the first part of the song. This is more like the sound of the detached, thoughtful Radiohead (the 1990s polar opposites of the emotional energy-driven Oasis) and yet it suits Beady Eye really well. Liam’s voice doesn’t just sound loud when it kicks in, it sounds revelatory, as if Liam’s sneer has been multiplied several times over. The words, too, are interesting, again referring to the Beady Eye practice of the state of the band by admitting that this is their ‘second’ chance to win fans over and they might not last to a third. The chorus has Liam (as far as I can guess the main composer of this song) urging the band the world is there for the taking if they are ‘tough enough’ – but actually most of the song isn’t about being tough at all. The first verse starts with the most low-key and funny any Oasis members have been for a long time, Liam joking about the band’s poor reception (‘Shake my tree, where’s the apple for me?’) and treating their bad reviews as a joke (‘Tickle my feet with the NME’). Most Beady Eye songs – especially on this second album – sound paranoid about trying to find their niche in a post-Oasis world; ‘Second Bite Of The Apple’ is the only one having a cool, calm joke about itself and the sound works surprisingly well. Liam’s vocal is terrific, easily his best on the album, mocking himself as much as the world around him and even joking on meeting a girl that she doesn’t know or care who he is, she only ‘wants to know what’s in your pocket’. From what I’ve read about this track, the rehearsals treated it very much like every other Beady Eye song with a full guitar/bass/drums attack but producer Sitek suggested stripping the song down to it’s roots and doing something different. If true, then full marks got to Sitek, who correctly recognised that this song was a little out of the ordinary for the band and that they could have fun going somewhere new with it. The brass section that suddenly swoop into the chorus work particularly well, giving the band an oompah-ing strut to match their own and against all the odds this song which basically pokes fun at the band comes off as their most convincing moment of confidence, their swagger sounding genuine rather than affected. The undeniable highlight of the record and a natural choice as the album’s second single, I truly hope that Beady Eye head more in this direction for their third album, if they ever get round to making one of course.
‘Soon Come Tomorrow’ is a by now typical Beady Eye ballad, slow and reflective but in a quite different way to the days of old (when a ‘ballad’ for Oasis more usually meant a bare-bones acoustic number). Like much of the rest of the album, this song (by Gem?) is about trying to get through a difficult short-term by dreaming of a long-term present and how even the worst experiences can turn out to be a positive eventually. The band’s latest analogy, of getting your money’s worth from a cigarette (‘Smoke it, don’t drop it, right to the end’) is such a clever idea I’m surprised it’s never been done before, although it’s the last verse that’s the most revealing: the narrator claiming that ‘while we were sleeping the world moved on’, which is as good an admission as you’re going to get from an ex-member of Oasis that they aren’t seen as the world’s greatest group these days. Judging by this track, though, they ought to be: whilst every band with any integrity has tried at least one ‘1960s style’ song, few have the gift or the empathy of Oasis/Beady Eye and the soundscape on this song is a great example of how they’ve been able to update the ‘old’ sound that so much of this website is based on without sacrificing it’s integrity. Gem’s psychedelicised guitar solo is extraordinary, the sort of thing you’d imagine could only come from Californian bands steeped in decades’ worth of light drugs and rebellion – not from a (comparatively) modern band playing in a modern digital studio in London. While the solo is the highlight of the song, the words are strong too and if this does turn out to be the last thing Beady Eye ever do then it’s a shame this isn’t the last song as it would have made a fine farewell (‘wave goodbye yesterday, we’ll let go of today’ run the opening lines). It’s especially moving to hear the song’s final couplet, that somewhere in a parallel world Beady Eye are enjoying the success the band feel they should be having but that in this future ‘nothing remains of the plans we made’, the band watching horrified as they ‘fade’ from view.
‘Iz Rite’ is one of the lesser songs on the album, if only for the nagging sense that you’ve heard it somewhere before. A slightly faster paced version of ‘The Roller’ from the first album, it features lots of tried and tested Oasis/Beady Eye trademarks in one place (wall of guitars, references to ‘lights’ and the Liam vocal slur on the word ‘sheee-innnne’) without really adding much. That said, there’s nothing wrong with the recording of the song, which is one of the few Beady Eye tracks to feature the band’s rather splendid three-way harmonies and an upbeat bounce that this surprisingly downbeat album arguably needs about now. The Beatle fans amongst you may also have picked up on yet another Beatles reference (the forgotten McCartney gem ‘Only Love Remains’ from ‘Press To Play’, one of the most unfairly overlooked albums across this whole site) and yet more references to ‘soul’, the most overused word in the Oasis lexicon. The swagger and early Merseybeatish trappings suggest to me that this is a ‘Liam’ song, although performance wise at least it sounds as if all three main Beady Eyers worked pretty hard on this. Sadly, though, the song would have been better still had the band pushed for that last missing 10%: ‘Wigwam’ is still the ultimate ‘Beady Eye’ son g to me and there’s a moment in this song just before the chorus kicks in where it sounds as if the band are going to pull off the same trick, an electronically mangled vocal/guitar hybrid cry so ‘real’ it gives you goosbeumps – but sadly the band simply ignore it and kick back into the song proper. Had they turned this song into a ‘optomist-pessimist’ hybrid like ‘Wigwam’ I’d have loved it even more. Not great then, perhaps, but even this song – one of the weakest on the album – is as good as any rock song around in this day and age and light years ahead from the reviews of this album cross-patchy reviewers have been giving the band.
‘I’m Just Saying’ is another upbeat, fast-paced song but driven by anger this time instead of happiness. If my interpretation of this album as a kind of ‘debate’ about whether the band should continue, then this song is Liam (my guess for the song’s main composer) rounding on his critics and sneeringly asking them what gives them the right to dictate his career. The closest Liam’s come to recapturing the untamed fire of his ‘Definitely Maybe’ years for some time, he’s positively spitting flames by the end, even if the rather weak ‘counting chorus’ belongs on Sesame Street (‘1,2,3, you and me...7,8,9, no wasting time’) and hearing Liam feebly spluttering ‘I’m Just Swaying’ in his defence seems an odd thing for one of the greatest loose canons of our age to be doing. What I do love is the double-guitar attack of the track (especially that first psychedelic-feedback opening note, which is almost exactly the same beginning as on Jefferson Airplane’s ‘The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil’) and all the vocals on this track, from Liam’s terrific snarl to the ghostly, creepy falsetto ‘oohs’ that make this song sound other-worldly. The lyrics, too, are clever for the most part, the narrator torn between believing his critics (writing ‘throwaway songs...’) and his certainty that time will judge his work better than his peers do now (‘...Ten years later ‘well remember’).The key line here is Liam’s judgement that ‘it is nearly but it’s not too late’, that Beady Eye might still receive some recognition (alas, only on this site it seems...) and, most thrillingly of all, that 20 years in the spotlight haven’t dimmed the superstars’ desire to speak what’s on his mind, to ‘scratch my name on the wall’. The band might be reduced to playing smaller arenas to smaller audiences and back to making a ‘fistful of pennies’, ‘joining queues’ that Oasis’ huge following had bypassed, but all they need is a break (like the one Oasis got in 1994) and it could come at any minute (if, indeed, it hasn’t come already – hence the song’s best line ‘God called while you were out’). A curious mix of the arrogant and the timid, Liam and the band should have had more confidence in this song which rocks like the days of old and proves that Beady Eye are a force to be reckoned with, if only they hadn’t played safe and gone with a pedestrian chorus that proves nothing other than the fact that the band can count (well, sort of: what happened to ‘4,5,6 – It was sounding great, but we lost it in the mix?!’)
Album highlight number two comes with ‘Don’t Brother Me’, a gorgeous aching ballad that sounds like two songs in one: the first an olive branch to brother Noel which shockingly admits that it’s Liam who keeps doing all the ‘calling’ and ‘pushing to get the band together again and a moody instrumental coda that’s hauntingly beautiful and eerily uncomfortable all at the same time. Many of the songs on the first Beady Eye record have Liam playing the part of peacemaker (‘I’m here if you want to call!’), so like the band must be I’m getting really annoyed every time I read an article about the Oasis split that so heavily takes Noel’s side (if Liam really was as unprofessional and impossible to work with as he claims then why have Gem and Andy elected to work with him?) This is Beady Eye’s version of Wings’ ‘Dear Friend’, a sad and sorry song that’s bewildered as to how it all got so big and fierce so fast (even though it quotes from a Lennon song, ‘Give Peace A Chance’, in the chorus). That said, some of these lines are wicked attacks too – more like Lennon’s unjustified attack on his old songwriting partner (‘How Do You Sleep?’, a song with shock value even now) and some of the lines are very similar, mocking Noel with his own lyrics (‘Did you shoot your gun?’, a reference to the elder Gallagher’s ‘If I Had A Gun’) and the less than peaceful verse ‘I’m sick of all your lying, your scheming and your crying’. Confused and alternating between guilt, glee and anguish, this is a very ‘real’ song that convinces much more than either a relentless attack or a no-holds-barred apology would. That’s what happens with relationship breakdowns after all – and being brothers Liam and Noel can’t escape each other like Ray and Dave Davies of the Beach Boy Wilson brothers before them, their livers tied together forever whether they’re in the same bands or not (note the fact that while both of these examples lived around each other for 20 years, none of them made it past middle age still working together). Of course, Liam’s been characteristically cagey about this song since the album’s release, reminding the world that he has two brothers (‘and they’re both idiots’). That claim won’t work, though, there’s simply too many references to Noel’s first album here for this to be about eldest brother Paul – although one or two lines might well be about both of them (reviewers seem to have assumed this is a ‘Liam’ song by the way even though he’s never said which Beady Eye wrote this; judging by sound and texture, however, I agree). One worrying line by the way: harking back to his one ‘Three Ring Circus’ from ‘Different Gear’, Liam’s now changed his tune, claiming that his band isn’t a democracy and that ‘they say that I’m ‘free/three’ but I’m one’ (as we said in our review for the first album, ‘Three Ring Circus’ is almost certainly based on ‘Three Legs’ from McCartney’s ‘Ram’ album, claiming that if the Beatles carry on without him their ‘greyhound’ will come in ‘last’, hobbling on three legs where he used to effortlessly run). The few reviewers who like this song (the only song from this album anyone has a good word for it seems) still claim that it goes on too long and there is perhaps an extra minute of ghostly electronic sound effects we could have done without. For the most part, though, the instrumental half of this track is terrific, a sad reflective meditative coda that says more than words ever could and sounds not unlike the untitled instrumental ‘howl of defeat’ that ends ‘Heathen Chemistry’, the 2002 Oasis album that was almost their last. Again, though, the success of this passage seems to have more to do with producer than band, being typical of Sitek’s other work(if he ever runs out of music legends to work with Sitek should think about doing TV or film soundtrack work – his subtle but emotional electronic work would be a big improvement on Murray Gold’s music for Dr Who, for instance). All in all, a corker of a song and the second of the two real gems on this album. Personally I can’t wait to see if Noel rises to the bait this time and offers a reply...
‘Shine A Light’ is also the name of a Rolling Stones song from ‘Exile On Main Street’ and it’s certainly very typical of that band’s songs of the early 70s: hard rocking, but with a gospel tinge and lyrics that somehow manages to merge the down-to-earth gritty details with high-falluting, idealistic concepts. Even by Oasis standards this is a ‘bragging’ song, claiming that the ‘world’s religions got it wrong – the narrator is really the son of God, touched by a celestial light! Even Mick Jagger didn’t go that far! The song would be outrageous had it not gone on to say in the third and final verse that all the light the narrator needs is the one that ‘sheeee-innnes’ in his loved one’s eyes and again the suggestion of a put-down of Beady Eye’s critics who the narrator doesn’t listen to either. A catchy chorus makes this one of the more commercial and memorably songs on the album and the ‘shine-a-la-la-shine-a-light’ hook is a classic combination of pop, rock and gospel in one phrase. Some parts of the song are confusing though: there’s a whole ‘alter ego’ for this song when a 1940s style piano phrase and orchestra suddenly cut through the rest of the song that’s never really explored and a very tacky and boring end that adds nearly two minutes onto the playing time with Liam repeating the rather feeble rhyme of ‘Lionize, universalize, ionize, shine a light’ over and over. At least while all that’s going on, though, you can listen to some thrilling guitar work from Gem and some more classic electronic trickery from Sitek. Still, there’s no getting away from it – like many Beady Eye songs this one badly needs a middle eight to add some variety and make the song a classic instead of a near-classic and a fourth verse wouldn’t have gone amiss either. Incidentally, this is the one song on the album where I can’t work out the author – musically this sounds like the fierce rush of a ‘Liam’ song, but the chorus sounds more like Gem’s work and the unusual structure more like Andy’s. Does that mean that we’re looking at a fully three-way effort, perhaps? If so, that would be highly unusual – whatever the joint songwriting credits say.
‘Ballroom Figured’ is the ‘grower’ of the album, a lovely little song that sounds quite dull and generic until you start to listen to it properly. A quiet acoustic ballad of the sort Noel used to sing on Oasis records, it’s a fitting background to what sounds like another letter between the brothers but doesn’t have enough of the surprises and twists and turns we’ve come to expect from Beady Eye. Also, Liam’s voice is built for snarling on top of a sea of noise – his brother is much better suited to songs like these that are meant to sound ‘human’ and fragile. That said, I’m sure this is another ‘Liam’ song and one deliberately written in his brother’s style to boot (a last half-verse, cut off mid sentence, is sung by Liam down a ‘Leslie Speaker’ and buried in the background – the treatment makes Liam sound very like Noel, as if this song is an abandoned duet that can never be. The effect, first used by Lennon on ‘Yer Blues’ from ‘The White Album’, is highly effective). Some of the lines are moving indeed for those of us who’ve followed the Oasis story for two decades now, Liam starting by asking if the songs his brother wrote for him to sing were ‘loaned’ and have to be given back now that they are no longer in the same band and the idea of the two of them ‘watching the world going wrong’, looking at life through a ‘hole in the wall’ (presumably a ‘Wonderwall’). The second verse has the brothers growing further apart and Liam regretting the two never had a chance to celebrate the fact that they’d both found the recognition they were searching for (‘We got the ride of our lives’). The elephant in the room whenever the pair meet up is whether they could ever reform Oasis and whether the two separately can ever go back to using an ‘old’ sound both are reluctant to use right now (‘A sound we’re dancing around’). Liam ends the song in typically ambiguous style, coming to terms with the fact that in life ‘some people change, move out of range’ but still ending the song on an urgent plea of ‘let’s go!’ Sung by Liam alone to just an acoustic guitar, it may be that Liam is the only person to appear on the song (the younger Gallagher has been blossoming as a guitarist recently and the song is relatively simple which suggests that he at least could have played it). The band did the right thing by leaving this song bare, a musical choice that really adds to this idea of two friends trying to go back to where they once were before worldwide fame got in the way, but it is a shame that they couldn’t add at least one surprise to the mix. Still, this is a clever, adult, grown-up song which reveals how much Liam has grown during the past few years and come into his own. His songs have, usually, been much more open and honest than his brother’s and yet more fragile and emotional, too, even if that emotion is often anger. I think that if Liam does continue to make music – in whatever form – then ‘Ballroom Figured’ will come to be seen as a landmark amongst his own songs and maybe, just maybe, the point when a conciliation looked to be on the cards.
I would bet Alan Album Archive mascot Max The Singing Dog’s top hat that album closer ‘Start Anew’ is at least partly an Andy Bell song. The ‘glue’ of both Beady Eye and the second half of the ‘Oasis’ years, Andy’s songs sound the saddest but offer more comfort and hope than either of his partner’s. Like 2005’s ‘Keep The Dream Alive’ (still his best song to date), this song finds the narrator picking himself up after a heavy fall but determined to carry on. I could be running away with myself here, but given Beady Eye’s tendency to write songs to each other, this sounds particularly as if Andy is urging Liam on to stay with the group. The very Oasisy line that ‘we’ve got the whole world in our hands’ suggests a third album might still be on the cards whatever Liam says in interviews and the opening gambit from Andy that ‘I’ll change my point of view – anything for you’ suggests the pair are particularly close at the moment. The song’s melody is delicious, the use of a simple (un-credited) organ part adding a real soft sophistication to this song before Sitek’s electronically-treated orchestras take hold and turn this song into a big epic. Like the similar ‘The Beat Goes On’ from the last album, it’s the softer, quieter, humbler parts of the song that work best though. Unfortunately, again, the song suffers tyhe perennial Beady Eye problem of petering out before the box of tricks have all been used up and, again, this would have been a monster of a song with a middle eight or simply more than three verses (which take up just half of the recording, extended by an endless repeat of the chorus and a lengthy instrumental) attached. Still, it’s nice to hear that Beady Eye have chosen to end the album with a quietly hopeful song instead of one of the album’s more downbeat moments, suggesting that – at least when the album was being put together – the band were hopeful of still having a future.
Beady Eye deserve a future, they really do. It’s a bit too early to tell if this is the AAA album of the year, yet, but there would have to be a truly great slew of releases to stop this record being in our top three by the time we roll our ‘retrospective’ out in December. Certainly the equal and at times the better compared to late-period Oasis, Beady Eye now managed for a second time that difficult trick of sounding just enough like their ‘old’ band to keep fans like me happy while travelling somewhere new where they could never have travelled under their old ‘brand name’. Yes, this second album isn’t perfect and I still reckon that debut ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ would win on points in a straight fight between the two, but I can’t find a single song I don’t like (and even ‘Definitely Maybe’ has ‘Digsy’s Dinner’, remember, a song that everyone skips) and there’s plenty to love, even if only two songs truly excel all the way through. Frankly Noel’s first album wasn’t a quarter as good as this one - and that was despite four excellent Oasis era outtakes to pad it out. Please, please, please keep those Beady Eyes blinking: in time both these first two albums will come to be seen as gems of our time and fans in decades to come will wonder how on earth everyone in the 2010s missed them. Sadly, it’s Oasis-hating season, with all those grudges that have been held against one of the most successful bands of any generation out in force like never before and Beady Eye should more aptly have been called ‘Sitting Ducks’ and this album, like the first, is just unfortunate enough to have been born ‘out of time’. If there’s one thing that writing a website where 50 year old albums rub shoulders with new releases has taught me, however, it’s that time can (and often is) re-written, with albums given second, third or even a dozen chances to be accepted when old scores are settled, new events occur and time simply moves its relentless way on. Beady Eye will come back into their own, you mark my words – the only question now is whether their legacy will be left at two under-valued albums or whether the band are going to lie low for a while; to ‘B.E’ or not to ‘B.E.’, that really is the question. Overall rating – 7/10
Other Oasis/Beady Eye rarticles from this site you might be interested in:
'Definitely Maybe' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/news-views-and-music-issue-105-oasis.html
'The Masterplan' (B sides copmpilation) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-99-oasis-masterplan-1998.html
'Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/news-views-and-music-issue-44-oasis.html
'Definitely Maybe' (DVD soundtrack) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/news-views-and-music-issue-2-oasis.html
‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/oasis-dont-believe-truth-2005.html
'Dig Out Your Soul'
'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/news-views-and-music-issue-93-beady-eye.html
'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-119-noel.html
Some days aren’t like other days. Some days are special days. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, they entirely change the landscape of lives forever and mean that things will never be the same again. Events so big that you can almost sense the time-travellers of the future hiding in the shadows with their cameras and their event-recorders. This is especially true of the AAA crew who – in fact – had so many life-changing events that we’ve had to cut this week’s ‘top twenty’ into a two-parter. So here is part one: arranged chronologically from 1956 to 1966, with more next week. Think we’ve missed any major event out? Then give us a shout by leaving a comment below!
1) Event: John Lennon meets Paul McCartney for the first time. Location: Woolton Village Fete, Merseyside. Date: July 1956
In retrospect, I’m amazed that John Lennon’s band ‘The Quarrymen’ were even asked to take part in a village fete. Even as a 16 year old trouble seemed to follow John Lennon around and it was a trusting official indeed who decided to let a lot of poorly rehearsed teenage wannabes busk on the back of a lorry at their precious festival. Moreover, most of the band (Lennon included) had just left school so the Quarrymen weren’t even an example of fete organisers promoting music and arts in schools. After all, The Quarrymen weren’t even close to being the best band in town: Liverpool was full of musicians even then and this was still the band’s pre-rock and roll days, surrounded by skiffle wash-boards and t-chests. The event was certainly the biggest break the band had had up until that time and dare I say it their cocky lead singer in the check shirt even looks a tad nervous in one of the most famous images of the early Beatles doing the rounds. Less well known is that a brief snippet of their performance (an energetic but unfocussed version of ‘Puttin’ On The Style’) still exists, taped by a man in the crowd actually keener on taping the local brass band following on a later truck and testing the tape out – still unofficially available, have a check on Youtube for it. The setlist has been lost down the years but Paul McCartney, then an envious 14 year old schoolboy looking on eagerly in the crowd, remembers a performance of The Del Monts’ ‘Come Go With Me’ (with a nervous Lennon forgetting the lines and making them up as he went along) as the highlight of the show. Finding that the two have a friend in common – Ivan Vaughan – Macca persuades his friend to introduce him and nervously chats to Lennon about how much he loved the gig. Never one for praise, Lennon is said to be non-plussed and considers Paul to be another teenage hanger-on until McCartney plays him the complex Eddie Cochran number ’20 Flight Rock’ without any fluffs and – even better – tunes Lennon’s guitar for him. Deciding that he’d rather have McCartney in his band than with a rival, the world’s greatest songwriting partnership is duly formed. The Beatles may well have continued without this monumental event (with a line-up of Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Shotton) but there’d be no Paul or George (an even younger friend of McCartney’s from school) and arguably none of that creative friction that paid off so handsomely.
2) Event: Brian Epstein hears The Beatles play at The Cavern and becomes their manager Location: The Cavern, Liverpool Date: 9th November 1961
Arguably the single most important sale of any record was the ‘My Bonnie’ record by ‘Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers’ Brian Epstein sold to a customer named Raymond Jones at his Liverpool NEMS store. Making it his policy to track down any record requests, Epstein’s interest was piqued when this record – ordered in especially from Hamburg – turned out to be by The Beatles (the German record company not having a clue what the word ‘Beatles’ meant) and that despite the many signs listing their appearance as being ‘direct from Germany’ they were in fact all local lads and cooking up quite a storm at the local club literally a stones’ throw away from the NEMS suppliers. Some people dispute this claim: Jones was elusive to track down and many assumed he was a figure made-up for Epstein’s autobiography till he finally came forward in the 1990s and it is true that as a good shop-keeper Epstein couldn’t have failed to notice the ‘Beatles top poll’ headlines in ‘Merseybeat’ magazine. However it is fair to say that it was this sale and the resulting conversation with Jones that piqued his interest and inspired him to visit The Cavern, with assistant Alastair Taylor in tow. Disliking what he saw of the place until The Beatles hit the stage, dressed in leather and cracking jokes, history could have been very different. Would Epstein have given up if the Beatles had been playing that day? Would he in fact have signed their main rivals The Searchers (a group he always admired and was due to talk to about moving to EMI the very day he died?) Would he ever have come into contact again had someone else served Jones that day (it was unusual, though not unknown, for Epstein to have been at the counter of NEMS at all, seeing as he was a manager and usually worked in the back-rooms). And what would have happened if a tired and angry group, forbidding from playing much of their own music on disc, had said ‘no’ to Tony Sheridan’s request of backing them (Pete Best, for one, refused to have anything to do with the record, which is why Ringo – then appearing in Hamburg with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes – plays instead). So many alternate parallel universes to consider – and none of them as exciting as the one we got.
3) Event: The Beatles audition at EMI and meet producer George Martin for the first time Location: Abbey Road Studios Date: April 1962
The final missing piece of the Beatles’ puzzle was a sensitive and empathetic producer. As luck would have it a failed audition with Decca on January 1st 1962 couldn’t have gone better: Decca struggled to record rock and roll until as late as the 1970s and Dick Rowe, a no-nonsense businessman used to getting his way, would have clashed badly with the band from the start. No, instead a funny thing happened. Figuring that EMI had sent him the ‘nicest’ rejection letter, Epstein used all of his NEMS management weight to get EMI to give him and The Beatles a chance to be heard in person. As the most junior producer at EMI, George Martin was given the job, but figured it would probably be a waste of time and went to the canteen for an hour leaving his assistant Ron Richards (later The Hollies’ producer) to take charge. Excited by what he heard, Richards got Martin to take a look and, a few Beatle jokes later (‘Is there anything you don’t like?’ ‘Well, for a start, I don’t like your tie!’) Beatle humour had impressed George Martin into giving them a go and his background working with Lennon heroes The Goons had convinced the fab four they were in the right place. It was revealed, though, years later that The Beatles were there under false pretences – fearing another miserable rejection, which might see the Beatles fire him, Epstein had ‘pretended’ that this first date was a bona fide recording session – in actual fact it was just another audition. How badly that could have gone – and how easily the Beatles could have slipped away, rejected by the two single biggest record companies in the UK in 1962, had first Ron Richards and then George Martin not kept an open ear.
4) Event: Dave Davies decides to slash the speakers of his green amplifier with a razor-blade Location: The Davies’ Family Front Room Date: early 1964
Brother Ray had written ‘You Really Got Me’ on piano a few weeks before, but somehow it never quite sounded right. A song about relentless obsession, it was clearly born for rock and roll but at the moment sounded more like jazz. By a lucky coincidence Dave Davies came up with the perfect sound – by accident more than design. Having spent weeks to save up for an Elpico green amplifier from a radio spares shop down the road – in the hope of improving his croaking guitar sound – Dave was frustrated to find that his new purchase didn’t sound any better. In frustration, he took a Gilette razorblade and physically attacked the speaker cone – expecting nothing to come from the sound, he nervously plugged his guitar in and suddenly found his musical voice. The odds of Dave discovering his distinctive sounds so close to his brother’s milestone composition seems incredible – how different things might have been had, say, the radio repair shop been shut that day, had the Davies’ parents got involved and refused to let their 15 year old son cut up something he’d just spent a fortune on or had, say, Dave simply decided to grow a beard.
5) Event: The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show Location: America Date: 9th February 1964
This date still stands as the evening with the lowest single crime rate in America – because everyone was watching the TV. While the then-record viewing figures have since been beaten, it’s probably fair to say that for American music lovers, this is where it all started and where a youth movement first came into being. The story could have been very different. Despite having a highly successful variety, ED Sullivan was often slow to spotting talent (most of the spots on his show were through ‘favours’ or spotted by production assistants). However even Ed Sullivan couldn’t have missed the thousands of screaming kids at Heathrow airport waving goodbye to the Beatles on their first American tour and it was natural that he should enquire about getting hold of them for his station. The build-up among fans – who’d heard word-of-mouth from friends and family in Europe about the band and the hype behind that months’ single ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ – was intense, and yet bizarrely the success of that one short TV spot seems to have taken the programme makers unawares. They were worried about the screams from fans in the audience, hadn’t bothered to negotiate a follow-up appearance with Brian Epstein and – shockingly – didn’t even put the fab four at the top of the bill (that prize went to the cast of ‘Oliver!’, which just happened to feature a young Davy Jones in a role as the artful dodger). The single day that most helped further the Beatles’ careers and helped inspire new groups to start up like none other before or since, life could have been different for so many AAA musicians had this event not taken place, not just for the Beatles themselves.
6) Event: Brian Wilson suffers a nervous breakdown on-board an aeroplane ahead of a Beach Boy tour Location: A plane flying from LA to Houston Date: December 23rd 1964
The Beach Boys’ career hadn’t just been going well since their debut single in October 1961, it was breaking all American records. Working at the ridiculous rate of four albums and six singles a year, Brian Wilson had somehow managed to keep going, on tour after tour, recording sessions after recording sessions and writing with a series of lyricists who, for one reason or another, had all burnt out. After three years of heavy living, however, something had to give – and it did in spectacular style shortly before a brief Christmas tour. Facing yet more time away from new wife Marilyn, new pressures from the Beatles making it big on Beach Boys home soil and bigger and scarier rows with manager and dad Murray, Brian couldn’t handle it anymore. Booked onto a plane alongside Al Jardine, Brian realised he couldn’t go through with the tour and effectively collapsed, his worried younger brother Carl actually plucking up courage to defy Murray’s wishes and notify the pilot. The story has a (short-term) happy ending though: an in-flight phone call to Marilyn and as many of Brian’s friends as they could meant that a whole gaggle of Wilson supporters were waiting on the runway when Brian finally got off the plane, an event that seems to have moved him like no other if his autobiography (which he has since distanced himself from) is anything to go by – a picture taken of the crowds hung on his wall for decades afterwards. However, some things changed forever: Brian wouldn’t go on a full Beach Boys tour until as late as 2012, his relationship with his dad (who thought he was simply letting the side down) worsened and from now on that awful slide into the bed-bound period, though still three years away, seems ever more inevitable. On the plus side, though, would we really have had ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’ had Brian stayed out on the road with the other Beach Boys? And would he have simply burnt up in a more spectacular way, doing a full ‘Syd Barrett’ on us instead of the incredible return to his old self that he’s so courageously managed the past couple of decades?
7) Event: Stephen Stills and Richie Furay spot Neil Young’s hearse in a busy LA traffic jam and they decide to form ‘Buffalo Springfield’ Location: Date:
Now, stop me if this gets complicated. Stephen Stills and Neil Young had hung out a lot as two folky wannabes in America, but their paths had taken them in two very different directions and they figured they’d probably never see each other again the day Neil left to go back home to Canada. Along the way Stills’ buddy Richie Furay had met up with Neil and fallen in love with one of Neil’s earliest songs ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ and cooked up his own arrangement of it. The two also drifted apart. A telegram from Stills urging Richie to fly out to California and ‘hook up’ with his band turned out to be a hoax (‘the band is me and you’ a sheepish Stills retorted), but the pair decided to perform together anyway and added ‘Clancy’ to their setlist. Things didn’t work out, though and – dejectedly – they decided to fly back to Los Angeles for a last chance of fame, asking vainly in every club they passed if anyone had heard of Neil. Stuck in a traffic jam going nowhere, Richie looked over – and happened to spot a hearse in the traffic with Canadian numberplates. Neil, it turned out, had been looking for either or both of them but had all but given up and decided to go back to Canada. The odds against them meeting up on this road – and that Neil’s faithful and unusual road vehicle was still running, after breaking down several times over the years – are insane. How different life could have been, not just for the Springfield but also for CSNY and all the Stills-Young sparring down the years to come. Never before has the image of a hearse been so directly connected with ‘re-birth’ and beginnings.
8) Event: George Harrison discovers the sitar on the set of ‘Help!’ Location: London Date: Spring 1965
For the Beatles’ second film, Dick Lester could have done anything and come up with a hit. So what – of all plotlines – made him think of India? (Ringo’s ring turns out to be of huge religious importance, true, but the country could have been anywhere). For George Harrison in particular – and musicians in 1967 in general – the choice was a precipitous one, however. Eastern music and philosophy was in the air: The Kinks ‘See My Friends’ and The Searchers’ ‘He’s Got No Love’ both make good use of a ‘droning’ note similar to that on a sitar and – across the pond – David Crosby is already enthusing about an Eastern player named Ravi Shankar. There’s a scene in ‘Help!’ where the Beatles are hiding out at an Indian restaurant in London and a bunch of musicians play ‘Eastern’ versions of Beatle tunes, one of them on a sitar. His interest piqued, Harrison fell in love with the instrument and learned everything he could – playing one (in a highly Western manner) on ‘Norwegian Wood’ at the end of that year, meeting up with Ravi Shankar in 1966 and falling deeper and deeper in love with Indian religion and ways of life (which couldn’t have seemed more opposite to life as a reluctant celebrity in a capitalist state). From hereon-in in the floodgates opened, the sitar dominating many a song from 1967 and 1968, and Indian session musicians in Britain and America inundated with requests, while other adventurous players (such as Justin Hayward and Bert Jansch) learnt to play the instrument themselves (contrary to popular opinion, George never actually plays the instrument again on record after ‘Norwegian Wood’). The sitar is best heard on George’s ‘Wonderwall Music’ though, a real West-meets-East instrumental soundtrack, which shows off how immersed in the instrument George became.
9) Event: An advert is placed in an American newspaper headlined ‘Madness!! Auditions!’ for what will become ‘The Monkees’ Location: Unknown Date: October 1965
The Monkees are, of course, unique among AAA bands and amongst groups in general in having been formed not by friends at school or word-of-mouth suggestions of players but because of an advert in Cashbox magazine (an entertainment publication). Producers Bert Rafelson and Bert Schneider felt, rightly, that television wasn’t really representing the youth of the day and – as both producers were in their early 30s and the latter was related to the head of Screen Gems – they ought to have a go at making a programme for teenagers before anyone else did. Figuring that the biggest interest of the day was music and that there were hundreds of Beatle wannabes who’d seen ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and formed a band, they wrote off an advert that asked for experience of both acting and music. Appealing for ‘boys aged 17-22’ (which was promptly ignored as of the four only Davy was this old) and for a background in ‘folk and roll’ (which of the four only Peter fitted), the producers were shocked to find a total of 437 people turning up at their door. Even accounting for a few hundred who probably weren’t good enough or had the right qualifications, how different The Monkees could have been in any of the various hundred other permutations? Charles Manson is said to have tried out for the series (an idea sometimes challenged depending who you ask), Stephen Stills definitely applied (although he either left when he discovered how little say-so he would have in the music or was dropped because of his receding hairline and bad teeth, depending who you ask) and closest of all was Bill Chadwick, a talented singer-songwriter who hung around long enough to get three of the very best Monkees cover songs on album (‘The Door Into Summer’ ‘Zor and Zam’ plus the unreleased ‘All Of Your Toys’) and become Micky’s double on the TV show. The Monkees were big for a year then laughed at and ridiculed by people who should have known better for – shock, horror – not playing their own instruments (they were actors after all), but for a time between Autumn 1966 and the Summer of 1967 their influence was key, their humour hi-jinks and new brand of fast-paced fun and zany humour shaping an awful lot more recordings in that period than bands would ever admit to later on.
10) Event: Producer Tom Wilson digs out a flop single titled ‘The Sound Of Silence’ and overdubs some electric instruments on top in the vain hope of scoring a hit. Location: L.A. Date: Autumn 1965
Simon and Garfunkel could – and should – have been big several times over, together and apart. From their schoolboy beginnings as Tom and Jerry to their ‘failed’ acoustic album ‘Wednesday Morning 5 AM’ events conspired against them and the pair had split – not for the first or last time – a dejected Paul Simon playing small clubs in the UK while Garfunkel tried to study to become a graphic artist. Somehow, though, serendipity intervened. Without the duo’s knowledge the producer of the ‘Wednesday’ record – Tom Wilson – decided to take a gamble. He’d loved ‘The Sound Of Silence’ when he’d heard it as an acoustic ballad and was surprised when it wasn’t a hit. Figuring that The Beatles had just become popular in American by using electric instruments, he spent his own money paying for a group of the best session musicians of the day to overdub a simple part on top, turning the quiet and inward ‘Silence’ into a catchier hit single. Was it the overdubbing, the extra record company hype, a growing word-of-mouth about the fab new track that few people had heard or simply gifted timing? Who knows – but one thing’s for sure, without this sudden brainstorm (made without the knowledge of either Simon or Garfunkel, whose lives were changed when the song unexpectedly became a ‘hit’) the duo might never have been heard of again and might have turned their backs on music for good (by this time they had spent some eight years trying to make it big and ‘Wednesday’ appears to have been their one last crack at fame, at least together). Life could have been very, very different and, indeed, the success of this new ‘electric’ style song changes the way Paul Simon wrote forever, dropping the ‘folk rock’ style of his early work for a sound that, gradually, comes to encompass rock and roll, world music, psychedelia and – briefly – doo-wop.
Haven’t covered your favourite AAA moment of monumental historical importance? Well fear not – there’ll be another 10 milestone moments coming along next week! Till then – goodbye!