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 — and I'll be damned if I'm going to pay to fix technology only a little less out of date than papyrus and a goose quill pen.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
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?)

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.)

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.")

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.


Uncle Tom said...

Pewter forks?

Mythical Monkey said...

Pewter forks?

Also spoons.