Saturday, March 28, 2009

McCartney: The Album

One of the primary Beatles facts for the album McCartney is that it was the first solo album released by the Beatle. Recorded from November 1969 to March 1970, it was released on April 17, 1970. The other Beatles tried to delay its release since it might potentially conflict with the impending release of the controversial Let It Be LP and film. Phil Spector was still mixing the album as late as March of 1970. McCartney not only declined to postpone the release of his album but declared on April 10, 1970 that he was leaving the band, in part because of his dissatisfaction with Spector's work on Let It Be. The group, of course, had already begun to slowly disintegrate during the White Album sessions.

A portion of the album was recorded at McCartney's home in London on a four-track tape recorder. Another portion was recorded at Abbey Road Studios under the pseudonym of Billy Martin. Some of the tracks were instrumentals (see below).

Except for some backing vocals from his wife Linda McCartney, Paul played all instruments on the album and sang all lead vocals. The instrumentation was quite varied and included electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, organ, Mellotron, and mini-xylophone.

While George Harrison thought the album had merit, John Lennon thought that the LP lacked distinction given McCartney's perpetual desire for perfection in the recording studio.

The tracks include:

The Lovely Linda
That Would Be Something
Valentine Day (instrumental)
Every Night
Hot as Sun/Glasses (instrumental)
Man We Was Lonely
Oo You
Momma Miss America
Teddy Boy
Junk (instrumental)
Maybe I'm Amazed

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Double Fantasy

Of the many Beatles facts related to Double Fantasy, the saddest is that is was John Lennon's last release (not counting anthologies, compilations, archival material, and performances released posthumously since Lennon was assassinated on December 8, 1980, shortly after the double album's release). It was recorded at The Hit Factory for the Geffen label from August 4, 1980 to late September of that same year. Produced by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Jack Douglas, it was released on November 17, 1980.

The album marked Lennon's new burst of creativity, one that followed a five-year period, beginning in 1975, during which he suspended his recording career (except for occasional demos done at his apartment in the Dakota) in order to take care of his son Sean. His new creative energies had been kindled after sailing to Bermuda on the schooner Megan Jayne. When the schooner ran into heavy squalls and the crew became ill, Lennon lashed himself to the chrome railing and began to sing old Liverpool sea chanteys. It was as if he were exorcising himself of personal demons that had plagued him for years. Upon arriving in Bermuda, he began to compose again, calling Yoko on the phone to play early drafts of the songs. Indeed, so prolific was his output at this time that he would accumulate enough songs for more than just Double Fantasy. Another album, Milk and Honey, was already in the planning stage when Lennon was killed. In the months before he was shot, Lennon even called Julian in England to ask his older son's opinion of some tracks, and the greatest tragedy perhaps is that Lennon's road to reconciliation with Julian was cut short at this time of their lives.

The album was re-released in 2000. Singles issued from "Double Fantasy" (both releases) included "Watching the Wheels," "Woman," "Walking on Thin Ice," and "Just Like Starting Over." Double Fantasy won the Grammy Award for 1981 Album of the Year.

Lennon believed the personal demos of some of the tracks were exceptionally good because they conveyed immediacy and emotion, and he reworked some of the demos at the Dakota as well as the recording studio. The concept of the album was that the songs were John and Yoko singing to each other, an idea that appealed to the Lennons inasmuch as they were releasing to the public an intimate side of themselves. (Seven of the album's tracks are Ono's.) The LP's cover, showing a black and white photo of John and Yoko kissing, has become iconic in the world of music and beyond.

The tracks include:

(Just Like) Starting Over
Kiss Kiss Kiss *
Cleanup Time
Give Me Something *
I'm Losing You
I'm Moving On *
Beautiful Boy
Watching the Wheels
Yes I'm Your Angel *
Beautiful Boys *
Dear Yoko
Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him *
Hard Times Are Over *

(Songs with asterisks represent Yoko Ono's contributions.)

The 2000 re-release included the following extra tracks:

Help Me to Help Myself
Walking on Thin Ice *
Central Park Stroll (brief conversation)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Want to Hold Your Hand

There are many Beatles facts associated with "I Want to Hold Your Hand," but the most pertinent is that before the issue of this song in the United States, Capitol Records had declined to release the Beatles' successful UK singles in America, songs such as "Please Please Me," "From Me to You," "Love Me Do," and "She Loves You." Producer George Martin believed that the latter song had been good enough to crack the American charts.

In preparation for the Beatles' first tour of America and their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, Brian Epstein reassured Capitol that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was a record that would sell well in America.

The song was released as a single in the UK on November 29, 1963. It was released in the U.S. on January 13, 1964 and was the song most responsible, in tandem with the Sullivan appearance, for the beginning of Beatlemania in America.

This early composition was an equal collaboration between Lennon and McCartney, and part of the song was written in Jane Asher's basement. It was then recorded on October 17, 1963 at Abbey Road Studios, this session representing the first time that the Beatles used four-track recording equipment.

The song was performed live by the band in 1963 and 1964, and was performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, as well as at the Washington Coliseum and Carnegie Hall on the first American tour in February of 1964. "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand," a German version of the song (i.e., the song was recorded in German) appeared as a single in 1964 and was later issued on the LPs Something New, Rarities, and Past Masters, Volume 1.

Lennon and McCartney share lead vocals. Lennon plays rhythm guitar, Harrison lead, McCartney bass, and Starr drums.

Inside John Lennon: Free Online Film

A great Beatles fact for those who have not seen the 2003 Inside John Lennon is that it is now available for free online viewing (if you are willing to sit through a sixty second commercial every now and then).

There have been numerous documentaries about John Lennon, many of them hopelessly redundant except to the hardcore Beatles or Lennon fan. Inside John Lennon , however, is an exception. While the film does indeed cover the familiar phases of his life, from his birth in Liverpool to rise to fame with the Beatles to his solo career and days as peace activist with Yoko Ono, the film is compact and approaches Lennon's life with clarity through great interviews and lesser-used film footage.

Both Paul McCartney and George Martin have relevant and informative comments on their former colleague, and there are many interviews with former members of The Quarrymen, who relate what it was like to play music with Lennon during the skiffle craze in Liverpool. There are also comments from the Beatles' first manager, Allan Williams, and John's half-sister, Julia Baird. This is definitely a film worth watching.

Inside John Lennon may be purchased from Amazon or may be viewed online for free at Inside John Lennon

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Album

There are more Beatles facts associated with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band than with any other of the group's albums. It was released in the UK on June 1, 1967 and in the U.S. one day later. Recorded from December 6, 1966 to April 3, 1967, it remained on the Billboard Top 100 chart for more than eighty weeks. The album broke with tradition radically inasmuch as the Beatles, now a studio band tired of touring, decided to add far greater instrumentation, imagination, and texture to their tracks.

The concept for the album came from McCartney, who had been thinking of small carnival bands with odd names such as Dr. Hook's Medicine Show (a real band) or Captain Tim's Traveling Circus Band. In McCartney's mind, the Beatles would take the persona of such a band for the entire LP. Even though many songs segue from one to the other, and despite the reprise of the song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," Lennon said repeatedly that he didn't see any real concept in the album at all and that any given song could stand on its own, the exception being the connection between the opening track and "With a Little Help from My Friends."

The other derivation for the album came from the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which had impressed McCartney with its innovative use of instruments and distinctive harmonies. "Good Vibrations" is a perfect example of how the Beach Boys were stretching a standard pop number to new limits. (It should be noted that the Beach Boys had made their album because they were so impressed with the innovative Revolver and its own departure into experimentation.) When Sgt. Pepper was finally released, it changed the very foundation of rock and roll at the time and was praised by fans as well as artists far outside the mainstream of pop music as being one of the most creative albums in decades.

The album took an estimated seven hundred hours to record. The songs were methodically thought out before the backing tracks were laid down. After that, many rehearsals were used to do the overdubs since the recording equipment didn't have as many channels available as modern recording equipment. An overdub might include a tambourine, guitar, and piano on a single channel, and if a mistake was made on one instrument, all instruments on the overdub had to be redone as well.

The Beatles were well into their psychedelic period by this time, and Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall would have joints rolled and ready for the Beatles, who smoked them in the bathrooms at Abbey Road. Producer George Martin knew they were smoking marijuana but said nothing. Lennon was also using LSD at the time, and various biographies have reported the same account of Lennon freaking out in the studio while tripping and then running to the roof of Abbey Road, where McCartney followed in order to make sure Lennon was safe.

Lennon told Derek Taylor that the Pepper sessions were some of the most enjoyable he'd had with the Beatles. McCartney felt that his bass playing was more versatile and lyrical. Harrison, although he felt as though there wasn't much interest by his band mates for "Within You Without You," produced a phenomenal track thanks to many Indian session musicians and a violin section scored by George Martin, As for Ringo's drumming, many record producers feel that Sgt. Pepper goes far beyond ordinary drum fills, making the album that much more distinctive.

Feeling free to experiment with all phases of the album, the cover and package were equally distinctive. The Beatles, wearing colorful band costumes, are seen on the front cover standing in a garden surrounded by dozens of well known figures such as Mae West, Johnny Weissmuller, Aldous Huxley, Laurel and Hardy, Fred Astaire, Bob Dylan, Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, H. G. Wells and a host of others. The LP's song lyrics were printed legibly on the back cover, and the inside of the fold-out design included cardboard cut-outs of moustaches, badges, and the Beatles as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

George Martin has said many times over the years that "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" should have been included on the album since they mesh so well with the album's overall sound and represent what the Beatles were doing during this time period. As in other previous instances, however, singles were not included on Parlophone LPs.

The final track on the album was originally missed by most fans and is now on the CD despite the fact that its title stems from vinyl copies of the LP. If one let the stereo's tone arm continue tracing the grooves long enough, a thirty second sound loop of gibberish was heard.

The tracks included:

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Getting Better
Fixing a Hole
She's Leaving Home
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Within You Without You
When I'm Sixty-four
Lovely Rita
Good Morning, Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)
A Day in the Life
The Inner Groove