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
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 of 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.)

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.)

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.)

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.

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