Thursday, January 7, 2016

Too, Too Funny

Sometimes you read a satire so biting, you just have to share it. To wit, from Richard Brody's movie column in the January 6, 2016 New Yorker:

What endures for the critics and their lay associates, for aesthetes who live for the beauty and the pleasure of movies, is [George] Lucas’s directing—of two films, “Attack of the Clones” and, especially, “Revenge of the Sith.” If Lucas had done nothing else in his life, he’d have an honored place in my personal pantheon for that work.

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Hilarious! Droll! Well-played, sir!

Oh, wait, I think he's serious ...

After twenty years, Katie-Bar-The-Door and I are letting our subscription to the New Yorker magazine lapse. Richard Brody's comments about George Lucas have nothing to do with it, but close enough.

By the way, we very much enjoyed the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. It's fun the way they used to be fun nearly forty years ago now. That there are people, including George Lucas himself, who don't like it for that very reason is explanation enough for how the franchise ran seriously off the rails in the dismal prequel years.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Hateful Eight: Simply Great

"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." — Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

After getting shutout of a sold-out performance Saturday, Katie-Bar-The-Door and I drove back down to the AFI-Silver on Sunday to see the eighth film of Quentin Tarantino's illustrious career, aptly titled The Hateful Eight. Tarantino resurrected the long-abandoned Panasonic Ultra 70 film format, the same ultra-widescreen process used on the 1959 classic Ben-Hur (indeed, the film was shot with the same lens used to shoot the chariot race), and for one week only has released it in 98 theaters as an old-school roadshow engagement, complete with overture, intermission and commemorative program.

Just the way they used to make 'em in my childhood.


The story is essentially a three-hour retelling of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None in a Wild West setting. A motley crew of bounty hunters, war veterans, cow punchers, an Englishman with a fascination for the niceties of public executions and a gallows-bound Jennifer Jason Leigh wind up riding out a blizzard in a strangely-deserted general store deep in the trackless nowhere of a very empty Wyoming. They sit by the fire, drink coffee and talk, talk, talk.

And then when the talking is through, the blood and the bullets start flying.

Stripped of the filigree, this is the plot of every Quentin Tarantino movie ever made.

If you know and love Tarantino the way we do, you know you're in for a banquet of ornate oratory, digressions and shaggy dog stories that for someone eager to get to the point I suppose must be maddening. But I'll tell you right out, I like listening to a man who likes to talk and The Hateful Eight stars some of the great talkers of screen history.


Kurt Russell is the bounty hunter determined to see Jennifer Jason Leigh swing, Samuel L. Jackson is another bounty hunter lugging three dead bodies and a letter from Abraham Lincoln through waist-deep snow, Walton Goggins as a would-be sheriff finally gets a big screen role worthy of his silver-tongued talents, Tim Roth as the hangman channels Eric Blore in Top Hat, Bruce Dern is a broken-down Civil War general, and Michael Madsen is a passing cowboy who says he's just headed home to visit his dear old ma.

For such an out-of-the-way place, this deserted cabin starts to seem a bit like Grand Central Terminal. With the emphasis on "terminal."

This is Tarantino, and you know at some point you're going to get a bloodbath worthy of a 1970s horror movie, violence so over-the-top it has an innocence about it, like something a demented preschooler might doodle in his hymn book during a long, boring church sermon. As I put it in an e-mail to my good pal Mister Muleboy, "it's a 3-hour gabfest ... directed by a drunk Sam Peckinpah right after he'd seen John Carpenter's The Thing."


High praise, indeed.

What rating do I give it? Why, an 8 of course.

(8 stars out of 10).

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sinatra At 100

Today is Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday. I'll skip the usual eight thousand word essay and instead simply suggest some stocking stuffers for that special someone in your life who might be ready to discover Ol' Blue Eyes but has no idea where to start:

The Capitol Years Box Set
(A terrific 3 cd collection from Sinatra's peak years, 1953-1961. 75 classic songs. A must for anyone with ears.)

Songs For Swingin' Lovers! (Unwilling to spring for more than one cd? This is best of the finger-snappin' Sinatra records, including such standards as "You Make Me Feel So Young" "Too Marvelous For Words" and what I consider the single best recording of his career, "I've Got You Under My Skin.")

Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely (Prefer your Sinatra sitting alone in a bar at 3 in the morning? This is the one to get, my favorite Sinatra album, featuring the classic suicide song "One For My Baby.")

Sinatra: Best Of The Best (Okay, so you really, really, really only want all the good stuff and you don't want to spend a lot for it. This has everything from "I've Got The World On A String" to "New York New York" and all the other hits in between. It's like $10. Go for it and feel good, you cheap bastard!)

From Here To Eternity (Sinatra was also an Oscar-winning actor. The best picture of 1953, From Here To Eternity is the story of love in the surf in the final days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.)

The Manchurian Candidate (My favorite Sinatra picture, here he unravels the mystery of a brainwashed American hero doing the bidding of evil Commies.)

On The Town (And one more makes lucky seven, this is a movie from Sinatra's early teen heartthrob period.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Beatles Black Album Meme — Part 5: 1974-1975

Previous posts: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.

This final collection spans two years simply because Lennon put out a studio album of original material in 1974, McCartney in 1975, but not vice versa.

The Beatles Solo: 1974-1975
SIDE ONE
Venus and Mars/Rockshow – Paul (3:46) (A favorite pastime of the press is to build someone up to ridiculous heights, tear him down because he gets a nose bleed way up there on that pedestal, then write a lovely redemption story after he bounces off the bottom — or a "whatever happened to" story if he doesn't. It's a lazy narrative arc and we could surely do with something better, but in the mid-1970s, McCartney was riding his redemption story to the toppermost of the poppermost, with five straight number one albums. Critics eventually went back to ripping him with the release of Back to the Egg in 1979, but he wrote hit singles into the 1980s, hit albums to the present day, and has won every award known to mankind. This is the single edit, which made it to #12 in the U.S. charts.)

Whatever Gets You Thru the Night – John (3:28) (Lennon's only solo #1 hit during his lifetime, part of me thinks even that was only because Elton John sang vocals with him. The song came to him one night when he stumbled across a sermon by Reverend Ike while channel surfing. Elton predicted this track would hit the top of the charts and got the skeptical Lennon to agree that if it did, they would play live together during Elton's upcoming concert at Madison Square Garden. The rest is rock n roll history.)

Stand By Me – John (3:28) (From John's oldies album, Rock 'n' Roll, this cover of the Ben E. King classic was a top twenty hit. For such a simple recording, there's a long, tortuous history behind it, including accusations of plagiarism, lawsuits and countersuits, stolen tapes and gunfire in the studio. You can read about it here. All you really need to know is that this was the last record Lennon released before his five-year self-exile from the music scene.)

Magneto and Titanium Man – Paul (3:16) (Actually, even though Venus and Mars hit number one on the charts, it did so for only a week, and compared to the success of Band on the Run, was considered something of a disappointment. This song, based on the Marvel comic book characters, was the flip side of "Venus and Mars/Rockshow," the third single from the album.)

(It's All Down To) Goodnight Vienna – Ringo (3:01) (The title tune to Ringo's fourth album, Lennon wrote it — that's him on the count-in. Appearing twice on the album, this version combines elements of both and was released as a single in the U.S. It only reached #31 in the charts. Apparently nobody was in the mood to buy this paean to the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)


SIDE TWO
#9 Dream – John (4:47) (Appropriately enough, the lyrics came from a dream. Lennon later dismissed this as a "throwaway," but it's the best thing on Walls and Bridges and it cracked the top ten as a follow-up to "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.")

Dark Horse – George (3:55) (The title tune from George's worst solo album. He was suffering from laryngitis but recorded a record anyway, an effort the critics dubbed "Dark Hoarse." A failed marriage, a return to drugs and alcohol, and the pressure of having to fulfill a recording contract were all getting to him. Still, I love the single, which hit #15 in the U.S. If you like anything else from the album, I'm happy for you.)

Listen to What the Man Said – Paul (3:57) (A #1 hit in the U.S. Recorded in New Orleans with what I think was the fifth iteration of the Wings lineup, with Joe English joining the group on drums and Tom Scott sitting in on saxophone. Looking back at the contemporaneous reviews, the critics wanted to hate this but grudgingly conceded it was really good pop music — damn those catchy melodies! This is the version from Wingspan without the unintelligible muttering between tracks.)

Bless You – John (4:38) (A love letter to Yoko during their long separation. Lennon also offers words of encouragement here to David Spinozza, a session musician from the Mind Games era who may or may not have been sleeping with Yoko in his absence. Certainly John was sleeping with May Pang with Yoko's encouragement. John and Yoko had a very strange relationship, but then they were very strange people.)

Scared – John (4:37) (This is also about Lennon's separation from Yoko, but the other side of the coin. "Hatred and jealousy, gonna be the death of me / I guess I knew it right from the start / Sing out about love and peace / Don't want to see the red raw meat / The green eyed goddamn straight from your heart.")


SIDE THREE
Junior's Farm – Paul (4:24) (Written at songwriter Curly Putman, Jr's farm, recorded in Nashville. Released as a standalone single in 1974, it hit #3 on the U.S. charts, just #16 in the U.K.)

Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox) – John (2:55) (A love song for May Pang, that's Elton John on backing vocals. According to the Beatles Bible, it took three hours of takes for Elton to match Lennon's phrasing. "People were leaving the room," Elton said later. "Razor blades were being passed out!")

No No Song – Ringo (2:34) (Ringo's last unalloyed commercial success, a #3 hit in the U.S. He never cracked the top twenty again. Not being a songwriter himself, Ringo had to rely on the kindness of strangers for his material, and unfortunately, with each passing year strangers and friends alike grew more and more careless, palming off indifferently-written dreck that left Ringo's limited vocal talents very much exposed. I suspect it didn't help that he started chasing musical trends — Ringo does disco! — or, if you'll pardon me for saying so, that he was drinking like a fish. His next album, Rotogravure, limped in at #28 in the charts, the three after at #162, #129 and #98, respectively. In the 1980s, he was the narrator of the Thomas the Tank Engine series.)

Old Dirt Road – John (4:12) (Co-written with Harry Nilsson. Along with the Who's Keith Moon and ex-Beatle Ringo, Nilsson was one of John's drinking mates during the Lost Weekend. Compared to those legendary boozers, Lennon was a relative lightweight. And yet he could fall down with the best of them.)

Letting Go – Paul (4:32) (This is the album version of a song that was later remixed and edited for release as a single. It hit only #39 in the charts, McCartney's first single to miss the top twenty in the U.S. since "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which hardly counts. He wouldn't suffer another flop until "Mull of Kintyre," the biggest selling single in U.K. history at that time but which failed to chart altogether in the U.S.)


SIDE FOUR
You – George (3:43) (George followed up 1974's critically-panned Dark Horse with Extra Texture, the second worst album of his career. Released as a single, "You" made it to #20 in the U.S. The follow-up single, "This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying)" — no, really, that's what it was called — failed to chart at all. Harrison would eventually regain his form, if not all of his commercial appeal, and would make some great records as part of the Traveling Wilburys.)

Sally G – Paul (3:41) (The flip side of "Junior's Farm," this was in itself a top twenty hit. A country-and-western love letter to Nashville where McCartney recorded the single, this got a lot of radio play in my hometown back in the day. That's Johnny Gimble on the fiddle, Lloyd Green on the pedal steel guitar.)

Steel and Glass – John (4:38) (Most people assume this is about Allen Klein, John's choice to manage the Beatles after the death of Brian Epstein, and whom Lennon would later sue, but John said it wasn't that simple. "[L]ike a novel writer, if I'm writing about something other than myself, I use other people I know or have known as examples. If I want to write a 'down' song, I would have to remember being down, and when I wrote Steel And Glass I used various people and objects. If I had listed who they were, it would be a few people, and you would be surprised. But it really isn't about anybody ... For sure, it isn't about Paul and it isn't about Eartha Kitt.")

Nobody Loves You (When You're Down and Out) – John (5:10) (Lennon wrote this one with Frank Sinatra in mind who, unfortunately, never recorded it. Would have made a great companion piece to "One For My Baby.")

Call Me Back Again – Paul (4:59) (McCartney doing a soul number in New Orleans with Jimmy McCulloch on guitar. A live version appeared on Wings Over America.)


Total Running Time: 79:42.

What have we got here — 9 Lennon's, 7 McCartney's, 2 Harrison's, 2 Starr's. The final totals: John 37, Paul 37, George 20, Ringo 9. 103 total.

That's it. As usual for the Monkey, this has been an exhausting exercise in overkill. I hope the nineteen people who read it get a small modicum of pleasure from the effort.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Beatles Black Album Meme — Part 4: 1973

Previous posts: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

1973 was as good to the ex-Beatles as 1972 was rough. Paul went to Nigeria and found his mojo, George released his underrated followup to All Things Must Pass, and Ringo finally recorded a rock n roll record and knocked it out of the park. Only John was having a down year, beginning the drunken odyssey now known as "The Lost Weekend" — a weekend that lasted eighteen months.

The Beatles Solo: 1973
SIDE ONE
Band on the Run – Paul (5:13) (After a series of critical pastings, Paul was looking to get out of town and chose to record his next album at the EMI studios in Lagos, Nigeria, for no real reason other than that it wasn't as far away as China. Just before leaving for Africa, two members of the band quit — guitarist Henry McCullough because he was tired on Paul telling him how to play; and Denny Seiwell because he didn't want to make the trip. Rather than the funny, sunny vacation Paul envisioned, Lagos was all rain, biting insects and a mugging at knifepoint. But maybe the unpleasantness gave the sessions some urgency because it was McCartney's best record yet. A #1 hit in the U.S., the title track was stitched together from three song fragments including one based on George Harrison's promise to give away all his possessions if he could escape yet another interminable business meeting. As an ex-lawyer, I feel his pain.)

Jet – Paul (4:09) (Named for a black lab and rhymed with suffragette for no real reason at all. The first single released from Band on the Run, "Jet" hit #1 hit in the U.S., #7 in the UK.)

I Know (I Know) – John (3:14) (After the critical and commercial failure of Some Time in New York City, Lennon retreated from music and politics for over a year. He finally returned to the studio, perhaps embarrassed that Yoko had recorded not one but two albums during the break. John later poo-poo'ed the resulting album, Mind Games, but it did make it to #9 in the U.S. charts. I don't mind the heavy reverb Lennon laid on top of the record as much as some critics, but I think the acoustic demo version of this song — which some hear as an apology to McCartney for "How Do You Sleep," others as recognition that his marriage to Yoko was falling apart — is clearly superior to the album version. From the John Lennon Anthology box set.)

Don't Let Me Wait Too Long – George (2:59) (Overall, I think All Things Must Pass is the best of George's solo albums, but I actually prefer the four songs I've selected from 1973's Living in the Material World to anything on the former.)

Oh, My My – Ringo (4:17) (Ringo's return to the studio after three years spent making movies. All four Beatles worked on Ringo, but not all at the same time, the closest they ever got to a reunion. The third single released from the album, "Oh My My" was a top five hit in the U.S.)


SIDE TWO
Mind Games – John (4:15) (Originally written as "Make Love, Not War," Lennon had grown wary of political sloganeering after the Some Time debacle. You know, you want to be self-conscious enough to work hard, but not so self-conscious you don't work at all. Which somehow reminds me of a post-game conversation Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins had with New England legend Tom Brady yesterday after the Patriots beat-down of the R'Skins. In so many words, Cousins asked him when do you know you've made it, and Brady told him he's still working on it. Which probably explains the four Super Bowl victories. Well, that and the cheating. I kid.)

Mrs. Vandebilt – Paul (4:42) (Only today did I realize that McCartney had misspelled "Vanderbilt" on this track. What, they didn't have auto-correct in 1973? First added to his live shows in 2008 when it topped a Ukranian poll of song requests before a free concert in Kiev.)

You're Sixteen – Ringo (2:48) (An ex-Beatle rides a wave of nostalgia for all things pre-Beatles and scores the biggest hit of his solo career. It's here because it was #1 with a bullet, even outperforming the original by John Burnette, but from the vantage point of 2015, the notion of a 32 year old man singing a song about playing tonsil hockey with a 16 year old girl is creepy as hell. Not to mention illegal. By the way, that's not a kazoo on the recording, but Paul McCartney vocally imitating a saxophone.)

The Day the World Gets Round – George (2:54) (Harrison had mixed feelings about the Concert for Bangladesh — happy so many people pulled together to make it happen, angry that it had to happen at all, disillusioned by the tax and legal wrangles afterwards. This song came out of that.)

Let Me Roll It – Paul (4:51) (McCartney doing his best post-Beatles Lennon imitation, with heavy reverb and lyrics about finding love in the palm of your hand. A playful pastiche, loving spoof, or brutal boot-stomping depending on what your ears hear.)


SIDE THREE
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) – George (3:38) (A #1 hit in America, knocking Paul's "My Love" off the top of the charts.)

Out the Blue – John (3:21) (Lennon later dismissed this as "nothing special" but I am especially fond of Ken Ascher's piano solo. Written to celebrate his love for Yoko about ten minutes before she kicked him out of the house for a year and half.)

Photograph – Ringo (3:57) (Another #1 hit for Ringo who was a hit machine there for a while. Credited to "Harrison-Starkey," the pair wrote it during the Cannes Film Festival two years earlier.)

Bluebird – Paul (3:25) (Never one of my favorite songs, but I was outside Nationals Park when Paul played it for the sound check before the show there and I thought, in the words of somebody else, the worst you ever gave me is the best I ever had.)

You Are Here – John (4:12) (The title is from Yoko's 1968 London art exhibition, the lyrics are a reworking of Kipling's maxim "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet," and the music is what Lennon called "a Latinesque song in a ballad tradition." There's also a nice version on the John Lennon Anthology box set.)


SIDE FOUR
I'm the Greatest – Ringo (3:22) (By now maybe you've noticed that each of the four "sides" of this cd collection kicks off with the first track from an ex-Beatles' 1973 solo record. Lennon wrote this one then gave it to Ringo, thinking critics would otherwise take it too seriously. John's demo shows up in the John Lennon Anthology box set.

Helen Wheels – Paul (3:48) (A standalone single issued before Band on the Run, hitting #10 in America, Capitol Records insisted it also appear on the album in the U.S. to improve sales. Must have reminded Paul of the old days when Capitol carved up all the Beatles' records prior to Sgt. Pepper to make more sausage out of the same amount of meat.)

Aisumasen (I'm Sorry) – John (4:44) (That's "Sneaky Pete" Kleinow on the steel pedal guitar.)

Be Here Now – George (4:11) (The music came to George while he was drifting off to sleep, the title from Ram Dass's introductory text on Hinduism.)

Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five – Paul (5:29) (McCartney came up with the first line — "No one ever left alive in nineteen hundred and eighty-five" — then took months to come up with a second. Ends with a reprise of "Band on the Run.")


Total running time: 79:31.

That's seven McCartney songs, five Lennon's, four Harrison's and four Starr's. The running total: Paul has pulled ahead with 30, John's in second with 28, George has 18 and Ringo 7. Under the rules of the game, though, Lennon and McCartney have to tie, so John has a little work to do on the last cd.

Next, Part 5: The Beatles Solo 1974-1975.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Beatles Black Album Meme — Part 3: 1972, Sort Of

Previous posts: Part 1; Part 2.

1972 was not a good year for ex-Beatles. John and Yoko's double album, Some Time in New York City, was a commercial and critical disaster. Paul had bottomed out following the disappointment of late-1971's hastily written and recorded Wild Life LP. Ringo had a hit with a single recorded the previous year but was otherwise silent. And George didn't record anything at all.

Altogether, about ten solid minutes of music.

But instead of skipping the year altogether, I swept up all the uncollected singles, B-sides and songs leftover from other albums, and with a handful of songs that appeared in 1973 but were written earlier, cobbled together a sort of Odds and Sods/Anthology. I mean, you gotta put "Cold Turkey" somewhere.

The Beatles Solo: 1972, sort of
SIDE ONE
New York City – John (4:29) (From Some Time in New York City. The lyrics are lazy and the production values are sloppy, but otherwise this is a pretty good rocker. John and Yoko actually opened their double album with "Woman is the N***** of the World" — I can't bring myself to post its full name — which was something Yoko muttered to herself when first confronted with the misogyny of the London art world. I know Lennon thought he was making a point when he wrote a song around the sentiment and he doubled down by releasing it as a single, but it turns out it was the same point Ben Carson made when he compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery, i.e., that he's an idiot. I figure that by 1972 John was so accustomed to success that without someone of the stature of Paul, George or Ringo to say "no," he had grown to believe he could blow his nose and find 24-carat gold nuggets in the handkerchief. John was shattered when the critics and record-buying public apprised him otherwise. You know, there's nothing wrong with devoting yourself to a cause — thank God somebody does — John's problem was investing so much of his self-image in the assumption people would open their wallets and celebrate the effort because his name was "I Used To Be A Beatle.")

John Sinclair – John (3:29) (Upon arriving in New York, Lennon's new-found pals requested a song in support of a local poet jailed for possession of marijuana. John later dismissed this effort as uninspired craftsmanship, but it's actually the best thing on Some Time in New York City. You can put your politics in a song — you can put anything in a song — as long as it's a good song. See, e.g., "Revolution" "Imagine" "Working Class Hero." Hell, even "Come Together" started as a political song.)

C Moon – Paul (4:35) (The flip side of the single "Hi Hi Hi," released in time for Christmas 1972.)

Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) – George (3:54) (From All Things Must Pass. For an explanation of why it's on this cd, see Part 1 of this series.)

Hi Hi Hi – Paul (3:09) (This McCartney single, like "Give Ireland Back to the Irish," was banned by the BBC, here because of overt drug and sexual references. In protest, he recorded and released "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which in retrospect was the most offensive of the three.)


SIDE TWO
Live and Let Die – Paul (3:13) (The theme song from the 1973 James Bond film, this was recorded in 1972. A #2 hit in the U.S., I can say from personal observation, it makes for a fantastic live performance.)

Gimme Some Truth – John (3:17) (A leftover from Imagine, it fits right in with the rest of the agitprop.)

Tomorrow – Paul (3:27) (In an overreaction to the critical beating the highly-polished Ram album took, McCartney taped Wild Life in one week, with five of the eight tracks recorded in a single take. John used to complain that Paul would work his songs to death in the studio trying to refine the sound he heard in his head, but while Lennon's songs often drifted farther and farther from his original vision with each take, McCartney's benefitted from the effort. Not everybody works the same way.)

Bring on the Lucie (Freda Peeple) – John (4:12) (This was recorded in 1973 and released that year on Mind Games. But Lennon first recorded a demo of this in 1971 and, again, it fits with the political nature of his other 1972 releases.)

Smile Away – Paul (3:53) (From Ram.)


SIDE THREE
Power to the People – John (3:19) (Recorded in October 1970, released as a single in March 1971, it hit #11 on the U.S. charts. I have to agree, though, with Hunter S. Thompson's savage assessment of the song which appears in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: "John Lennon's political song, ten years too late. 'That poor fool should have stayed where he was,' said my attorney. 'Punks like that just get in the way when they try to be serious.'" Of course, this was long before John's canonization as a secular saint. No doubt the good doctor's opinion mellowed over the years. You know, like the good doctor himself.)

Oo You – Paul (2:50) (From McCartney.)

My Love – Paul (4:09) (After the critical failures of Ram and Wild Life, McCartney really had no idea what to do next. He spent most of 1972 recording what was going to be a double album called Red Rose Speedway, but in the end he cut it down to a single LP and even that only had two good songs on it, this and "Big Barn Bed." He released "My Love" as a single and it was a #1 hit in the U.S. It's polished enough to appear on Abbey Road while everything else on this c.d. sounds like it was recorded in my garage ...)

If Not For You – George (3:33) (... well, except for George's numbers. He definitely did not record this in anybody's garage.)

Isolation – John (2:53) (From Plastic Ono Band, this would have concluded "side one" of my 1970 collection if it had been a 90-minute cassette tape as originally envisioned.)

Big Barn Bed – Paul (3:50) (From Red Rose Speedway, "Big Barn Bed" is perhaps the most obscure of McCartney's classic songs.)


SIDE FOUR
Give Peace a Chance – John (4:54) (A single recorded in 1969 during John and Yoko's Bed-In Peace protest, it hit #14 in America, #2 in Britain.)

Beware of Darkness – George (3:49) (The last of the songs I've raided from All Things Must Pass, fourteen in all. It's only now I realize that all fourteen are from disc one of the double cd, with none of disc two — four studio numbers and a live jam session — making the cut.)

Bip Bop/Hey Diddle – Paul (3:37) ("Bip Bop" was the sort-of highlight of Wild Life, with this very off-the-cuff rendition appearing on Wingspan.)

Early 1970 – Ringo (2:21) (The flip side of "It Don't Come Easy," Ringo made it clear with this open letter to his former band mates that he really, really, really wanted the Beatles to get back together.)

Cold Turkey – John (5:01) (Part of me would like to think Paul made a big mistake turning down John's suggestion in the Fall of 1969 that "Cold Turkey" be the next Beatles single. Lennon's response was to quit the band and put the song out under his own name. How might have things played out if McCartney had said yes? But the fact is, at least three of the Beatles had been chaffing under the band's yoke since even before India. Lennon had wanted to put out "Across the Universe" "Revolution No. 1" and "Cold Turkey" as singles, Paul wanted to start playing live again which was a non-starter for his bandmates, and George offered up about half of All Things Must Pass only to have all those songs thumbed down. The Beatles were the most inventive, creative band in music history but the moment they started saying, no, we can't do that, they were done, put a fork in it. And put a fork in it, they did. The rest, as they say, is non-Beatles history.)


Total running time: 77:57.

Eight by Lennon, nine by McCartney, three by Harrison and one by Starr. In total now, Paul finally catches John at 23, George has 14 and Ringo 3.

Next, Part 4: The Beatles Solo 1973

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Beatles Black Album Meme — Part 2: 1971

To read Part 1, click here.

A good year for the ex-Beatles, at least when viewed from the comfort of 2015. Lennon's Imagine was a commercial hit, McCartney's Ram is now regarded as a masterpiece, Harrison pulled off the wildly-acclaimed Concert for Bangladesh and even Ringo had a top ten hit. In actuality, Paul filed suit against the other three even as the critics were clubbing him over the head, John still couldn't quite believe Yoko wouldn't leave him, George's benefit concert wound up mired in all sorts of accounting and legal tangles, and Ringo was getting black-out drunk every night.

Thematically, there's not much to tie this collection together. While in 1970, John, Paul, George and Ringo were reflecting on what the "ex" in "ex-Beatle" might mean, by 1971 they were already moving in different directions. Musically, Paul is giddy, John's anxious, the holdovers from George's All Things Must Pass are reflective, and Ringo's "Back Off Boogaloo," while a lot of fun, doesn't really fit with anything. I've tried to arrange it all to maximize flow and minimize whiplash.

The Beatles Solo: 1971
SIDE ONE
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey – Paul (4:51) (A #1 hit for Macca in the U.S., this is the version from Wingspan which is three second shorter. I went back to see whether the contemporary reviews of McCartney's Ram were as harsh as I remember. They were worse. Rolling Stone labeled it "incredibly inconsequential," The Village Voice said it was "a bad record," some guy named Alan Smith called it "unrelieved tedium," and Playboy accused him of "substituting facility for any real substance" — and if anybody would know about substituting facility for substance, it would be Playboy. These days, Ram is rightly regarded as one of McCartney's best solo efforts.)

Apple Scruffs – George (3:09) (As noted in Part 1 of this essay, Harrison wouldn't release another studio album until 1973. He did put together the benefit concert for the refugees of the Bangladesh Liberation War and the album of the show hit #2 in the U.S. But let's be honest, the single "Bangla Desh" isn't really very good — at least it's nothing I want to listen to. Instead, George is represented here by five more songs from All Things Must Pass.)

Jealous Guy – John (4:15) (Lennon wrote the tune in India in 1968 and demo'ed it as "Child of Nature" during the Esher sessions at George's house. Repurposed for Imagine as the first of many apologies to Yoko for this that and the other.)

Run of the Mill – George (2:53) (The ever-reliable Wikipedia says Harrison wrote this about the imminent breakup of the Beatles. The title was allegedly muttered during the Get Back sessions by one of George's fellow Beatles as an assessment of his songwriting skills. Wow.)

The Back Seat of My Car – Paul (4:28) (Katie-Bar-The-Door always giggles at the rhyme "pretty" and "Mexico City" — and not in a good way. But, you know, otherwise a fine song. McCartney released this rather than "Uncle Albert" as the single in the UK. It only reached #39. He wouldn't have a number one hit in his home country until "Mull of Kintyre" in 1977. To quote Jerry Lee Lewis, "England can kiss my ass!" No, not really. Lived there, loved it, miss it, would go back if the opportunity presented itself.)


SIDE TWO
Well (Baby Please Don't Go) – John (4:06) (Not the song Van Morrison and Them made famous in the mid-1960s, but a Walter Ward blues number Lennon covered as a birthday present for Yoko. Reportedly, her reaction was "Meh," either because she wouldn't know good rock-n-roll if it bit her on the posterior or because she was secretly repelled by the stalker-like neediness of the lyric. Possibly both. A live version of this song appeared on Some Time in New York City a year later. This is the studio version on the John Lennon Anthology box set.)

Heart of the Country – Paul (2:25) (A catchy would-be real estate jingle from the man who wrote "Mother Nature's Son.")

Oh My Love – John (2:46) (Written in 1968 during or immediately after the White Album sessions. That's George on the guitar. A personal fave.)

Wah-Wah – George (5:38) (Harrison temporarily quit the Beatles on the morning of January 10, 1969, and wrote this song that afternoon. Lyrically, it's a middle finger aimed at John who dismissed his abilities as a songwriter and Paul who micro-managed his guitar playing. Musically, it's a Phil Spector wall-of-sound that Harrison ultimately criticized as overproduced.)

Back Off Boogaloo – Ringo (3:20) (This was a top 10 hit in 1972 but Ringo recorded it in September 1971, so here it is. Until 1973, there's not a lot of Ringo to choose from so once again, I've cheated in the interests of goodness, which is how we got into the Vietnam war and look how that turned out. What are you going to do?)


SIDE THREE
Imagine – John (3:05) (Lennon put out his most commercial solo album, Imagine, in 1971 and if it isn't as good as Plastic Ono Band, still, it did give us his most beloved solo song. Beloved, but not a number one, the single topped out at #3 in America. Lennon wouldn't have a number one hit until 1974.)

Dear Boy – Paul (2:15) (McCartney's neener-neener to Linda's ex-husband.)

Long-Haired Lady – Paul (6:04) (Two song fragments welded together. Another favorite of mine.)

Awaiting on You All – George (2:51) (A rocking spiritual.)

I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier – John (6:08) (In the lyrically-simplistic style of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." An awful lot of Lennon's politics boils down to "hey, Nixon, get off my lawn!" See, e.g., "Gimme Some Truth.")


SIDE FOUR
Too Many People – Paul (4:13) (McCartney's dig at John and Yoko for "preaching practices" but oblique enough to work as a song. See my comment on "It's So Hard" below.)

It's So Hard – John (2:28) (No, no "How Do You Sleep?" — sorry — an admittedly interesting little ditty from a historical perspective, and if I'd put it here, a nice juxtaposition with the McCartney song Lennon says inspired his notorious riposte. But it doesn't really fit the mood of this or any other collection, including Imagine, where it floats in the middle of the otherwise inspiring material like the proverbial foreign object in the punch bowl. There's an art to being deeply personal without being transparently autobiographical, and John had mastered the form in such songs as "In My Life" "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Don't Let Me Down," classics all. "How Do You Sleep?" is no classic.)

Let It Down – George (4:57) (Another song John and Paul rejected. No wonder the guy quit!)

Monkberry Moon Delight – Paul (5:25) (Written for Linda's kids, a fun bit of nonsense.)

Oh Yoko! – John (4:17) (I've read there's an alternate version of this bouncy little mash note that makes "Cold Turkey" sound like "Good Day Sunshine," and if one were to read the lyrics with that in mind, "Oh Yoko!" fits right in with the rest of John's paeans to acute separation anxiety. But I've never heard it and I can't confirm it ever existed outside my memories of a session sideman's long-after-the-fact recollections.)


Total running time: 79:36

Seven Lennon's, seven McCartney's, five Harrison's and one Starkey. Overall now, the count is John 15, Paul 14, George 11, Ringo 2.

Next, Part 3: The Beatles Solo 1972, sort of.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Beatles Black Album Meme — Part 1: 1970

A year or so ago, Ethan Hawke put out what he called "The Black Album" — his ultimate play list of Beatles solo music, combining the work of John Lennon, the Plastic Ono Band, Paul McCartney, Wings, George Harrison and Ringo Starr into a three-disc set — which I first read about on one of my everyday go-to blogs, Hey Dullblog.

Me being me, not only a huge movie and baseball fan, but also a Beatles fan, went to work on my own Black Album, too. But unlike Mr. Hawke, I didn't see it in terms of a fan in the present looking back on everything the solo Beatles ever did but as an exercise in alternate reality science fiction, which is to say John, Paul, George and Ringo would show up in the studio at the end of every calendar year between 1970 and 1975 and say "whatcha got?" and then they'd assemble a double album out of it in time for the Christmas rush.

Originally, I had figured I'd listen to the end product of this exercise in my own car, a 21+ year old Honda Civic so old it only has a cassette player. Thus, 90-minute tapes, 45-minutes to a side. But then I discovered the tape deck on my living room stereo is broken — no new tapes for me! — and I'll be damned if I'm going to pay to fix technology only a little less out of date than papyrus and a goose quill pen.


So now the exercise is for my little brother who is coming down for Thanksgiving dinner and needs some Beatles solo stuff to go with his Beatles mono box set. He has a cd player in his car so, viola, 80-minute cd's.

My self-imposed rules:

(1) Each 80-minute cd has to be divided into four "sides," if only in my head, as if the Beatles were putting this out back in the day on vinyl.

(2) At the end of the exercise (five cd's total), the number of Lennon songs have to equal the number of McCartney songs, and Harrison has to contribute at least 50% as much as either of the other two, e.g., if there are 20 John songs, there have to be 20 Paul songs and at least 10 George songs. That's total, not per cd.

(3) At least one Ringo song per cd.

(4) Nobody gets three songs in a row anywhere, John or Paul can have as many as two songs in a row, George and Ringo never get two in a row. Pretty much a holdover from the real Beatle records.

(5) As much as possible, I try to avoid what Hey Dullblog guru Michael Gerber calls "sonic whiplash," the sort of juxtaposition that would make anyone listening to the radio change the station — for example, the Sex Pistols "Anarchy in the UK" followed by a Michael Bolton record. This gets particularly tough right in the middle when I'm trying to fit McCartney's lush and sweetly sentimental "My Love" on a cd with Lennon's Some Time in New York City radical leftist agitprop.

(6) All songs are commercially available — no bootlegs — so you can play along at home.

(7) Anything else? Probably. My universe if filled with a complex set of rules (no pewter forks, as few left turns as possible, etc.), too many to mention here. I'll comment as I go along.


The Beatles Solo: 1970
SIDE ONE
Instant Karma! (We All Shine On) – John (3:23) (Written and recorded in one day, and released the following week, this was the first solo Beatle single to sell a million copies.)

Another Day – Paul (3:43) (Recorded in 1970, released in 1971, McCartney's first solo single, about a sad, lonely woman and a series of one-night stands, works better on this cd, I think. Fits the overall indigo mood of the collection.)

I'd Have You Anytime – George (2:59) (Harrison put out his magnificent triple album All Things Must Pass at the end of 1970 and then didn't release another studio album until 1973. Rather than use up all his songs here and then have nothing on the next two cd's, I split his work up over three cd's. That'd probably piss him off, but working with Lennon & McCartney, he was used to it, so there.)

Teddy Boy – Paul (2:25) (From McCartney, this was originally intended for what became the Let It Be album. On the third volume of the Beatles Anthology you can hear Lennon singing a savage parody of it even as Paul is trying to record it. Maybe the subject matter — about a clingy, rock n roll mama's boy — hit a little too close to home.)

I Found Out – John (3:38) (From Plastic Ono Band, Lennon's best solo album in my opinion, and certainly my favorite.)

What is Life – George (4:20) (A top ten hit. If there's a theme to side one it's "baiting the commercial hook." I mean, I want to sell some records here, you know?)


SIDE TWO
Mother – John (5:37) (Released as a single from Plastic Ono Band, "Mother" topped out at #43. I read on Wikipedia that Barbra Streisand covered it in 1971, but mercifully, I've never heard it.)

That Would Be Something – Paul (2:43) (From McCartney. Also appears on the 1991 live c.d. Unplugged. One of his best solo songs, in my humble opinion.)

Love – John (2:32) (This is the version from the Acoustic cd, not because I prefer it but because the Plastic Ono Band version has that long, long, long fade in and fade out that works fine when you're listening to it with headphones but not so much in the car.)

Maybe I'm Amazed – Paul (3:54) (One of McCartney's best with or without the Beatles, the live version of this from 1976's Wings Over America was a top 10 hit in the U.S. Paul himself tucked this away as the next-to-last song on McCartney between "Singalong Junk" and "Kreen-Akrore." Talk about burying the lede!)

Hold On – John (1:53) (With Ringo on drums and Klaus Voormann — the guy who designed the cover of Revolver — on bass.)

All Things Must Pass – George (3:50) (I went back and forth on whether to end side two with this or "My Sweet Lord," thinking the latter would fit a side full of songs reflecting on what love means, but listening to them one more time, I decided these are really songs about hanging on by your fingernails. I mean, even "That Would Be Something" is in the conditional tense. Anyway, Harrison recorded a demo of this in 1969 — see the Beatles Anthology Vol. 3 — and introduced it to the other Beatles during the Get Back sessions, but like most of his work, it fell on deaf ears. Billy Preston recorded it next and released it in the Fall of 1970. Wound up as the title tune to what many consider the best Beatles solo album ever.)


SIDE THREE
Remember – John (4:36) (An angry tub thumper that makes the personal, political, and vice versa. Like everything else on side three.)

Every Night – Paul (2:40) (Another song McCartney first introduced during the Get Back sessions. Sex, sloth and apathy is a political philosophy of sorts, isn't it? Else I've wasted a good portion of my life.)

Working Class Hero – John (3:51) (Judging by the t-shirts at the time, people took this as a populist statement extolling the virtues of the blue collar worker, but it's clearly a criticism of the values that so emotionally damaged Lennon. "If you want to be a basket case, too," he says in so many words, "just follow me.")

Isn't It a Pity (Version One) – George (7:11) (The flip side to "My Sweet Lord," there are actually two versions of "Isn't It a Pity" on All Things Must Pass. This is the long one. Reminds me of "Within You, Without You.")


SIDE FOUR
Man We Was Lonely – Paul (3:00) (A common knock against McCartney is that he's unknowable, the perfect buttoned-down corporate rocker. Nonsense. When people say that, it just means they aren't listening. Granted, he never claimed to reveal himself through his art the way Lennon did but if you listen to the subject matter of Paul's songs, they clearly indicate his state of mind. His first solo album, McCartney, is chock full of lyrics about fear, loneliness, torpor and wanting to hump his wife Linda, which from what I have read, pretty accurately reflects his mood in the wake of the Beatles' breakup.)

Behind That Locked Door – George (3:08) (Written in 1969 to buck up pal Bob Dylan who was contemplating performing live for the first time since his motorcycle accident.)

Junk – Paul (1:57) (First demo'ed in George's house in 1968 prior to the "White Album" sessions.)

My Sweet Lord – George (4:41) (A #1 hit, later the subject of a plagiarism suit. Not sandwiched here between "Junk" and "God" as a half-witted joke but as part of a four-song run reflecting on what the "ex" in ex-Beatle might mean with each man groping for his own way forward. At least that's the way I hear it.)

God – John (4:11) (Not sure how you square the sentiment "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me" with the fiction that the Beatles stayed together, but it's one of the strongest tracks of Lennon's career, so here it is.)

It Don't Come Easy – Ringo (3:03) (recorded in 1970, released in early 1971, this single hit #4 on the Billboard charts. Ringo put out a couple of albums in 1970 — a collection of standards, Sentimental Journey, and a country album, Beaucoups of Blues — and I could have chosen something from one of them but let's just say I feel they don't represent my all-time favorite rock n roll drummer at his best and leave it at that.)


Total running time: 79:17.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's 8 Lennon songs, 7 McCartney's, 6 Harrison's and 1 Ringo.

Next, Part 2: The Beatles Solo 1971.