Tag: Abbey Road

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

Header

This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

Frustrated-1

This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 872: Here Come Ol’ Levy, He Come Groovin’ Up Slowly

Header

A survey of music lovers who possess even so much as a passing interest in the Beatles’ music will undoubtedly reveal “Come Together” to be one of the most universally beloved bullets in their melodic clip. From its swampy bass, its percussive “Shoot me” refrain to its absurdist and almost comically weird lyrics, the song righteously opens the gates to the magnificent Abbey Road album, tantalizing and gratifying most every pair of ears it meets.

It’s almost shocking to imagine the pretzel of nefarious backlash it provoked. “Come Together” may have begun its life as John Lennon’s attempt to pen a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s quest to unseat Ronald Reagan as governor of California, but it wound up inadvertently connecting Lennon with one of the most insidious corners of the music industry.

If only it were as simple as Lennon scribbling a new idea then slapping it onto vinyl with his buddies through the immaculate channel of producer George Martin. For the origin story of the madness that would follow, we need to travel back to 1956, back to when songs about cars were a veritable genre unto themselves. To a little single by rock ‘n roll’s illustrious grandpa, Chuck Berry.

YouCantCatchMe-1

In 1956, Chuck released a song called “You Can’t Catch Me”. Lennon’s song boasts a similar vocal melody and a set of lyrics (“Here come old flattop, he come goovin’ up slowly” to “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me”). The similarity ends there – Berry’s song is about driving quickly whereas Lennon’s is about something called ‘toe-jam football’ and some guy with feet below his knees. But it was enough to snag the ear of music publisher Morris Levy, who owned the rights to Berry’s song and promptly launched an infringement lawsuit against Lennon. Read more…

Day 758: Who Buried Paul?

Header

It was a cold November night in 1966 – or maybe it was January of ‘67, depending on whose account you choose to believe – when a car crash fatality forever changed the course of popular music.

Or did it?

Okay, there’s no real mystery here. The reality is that there was no car crash, or if there was, the bass player and co-creative force of the greatest band in the history of recorded music was most certainly not decapitated. But there was a time when legitimate news outlets needed to point this out to an apprehensive world. And not only was there no fatal wreck, but that band didn’t surgically alter a look-alike to carry on in the artist’s place, fooling throngs of adulating fans for the ensuing 40+ years.

It was a hoax. Perhaps the most entertaining hoax our media has seen outside of a work of fiction, because the so-called evidence supporting it as truth had been seeping into the public’s eyes and ears all this time and no one had noticed. Photos and music that had not only become fully integrated with popular culture, but had come to define the very zeitgeist of the era. Album covers that were iconic upon arrival, songs that hundreds of millions could sing by heart.

And even once the dust of speculation had been billowed away by a cool gust of truth, that evidence remains as a perpetual quirk.

OriginalArticle

On September 17, 1969, the above article appeared in the student newspaper at Drake University in Iowa. It speculates that Paul McCartney was indeed dead, that the Beatles had cleverly sprinkled clues throughout their music and album packaging, and states that these concerns were spreading rampantly around the campus gossip vine. Three and a half weeks later, Detroit radio DJ Russ Gibb was discussing the rumor over an hour’s worth of airtime, his listeners calling in to pick apart the clues. This continued at various American stations for another couple of weeks before Derek Taylor, press officer for the Beatles and their Apple Records label, issued a statement that insisted that the Paul McCartney in the band today was the same guy who’d been in the band three years earlier. Read more…

Day 408: A Half-Century of Beatles Gold

Header

First off, I’d like to apologize in advance to all members of the baby boomer generation. This article may assist in making you feel old. That said, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that every significant cultural accomplishment of the 1960’s is going to turn 50 soon, and that begins today.

When the Beatles woke up in the morning of February 11, 1963, they had two British singles under their belt: “Love Me Do”, which had barely cracked the top 20, and “Please Please Me”, which was threatening to do the same. They reported to EMI Studios on Abbey Road around 10:00am, with a plan to devote the next thirteen hours to recording the entirety of their first album. It was the 60’s. They had too much to conquer; there was no time to waste.

They even wore suits, but no jackets. They were in a hurry.

They even wore suits, but no jackets. They were in a hurry.

British pop albums traditionally came bundled with 14 songs, because songs were generally less than three minutes long, and prog-rock/jam-band/one-song-a-side albums hadn’t been invented yet. The Beatles had two A-sides and two B-sides ready, but ten vacancies that needed to be filled. Read more…

Day 177: Congratulations! You Discovered The Bonus Track!

Today’s helpful article from the trusty e-quill of Mr. Handy serves to remind you that your music collection may in fact be larger than you think. Your favorite album may contain a hidden track, concealed from the general public by its omission from the album’s packaging, and designed to incite a squeal of ‘insiderness’ for those True Fans who make the effort to hunt it down.

Like almost everything innovative that ever happened in rock music, this can be traced back to the Beatles.

They also invented guitars, harmony, cowbells, and moustaches.

If you have never listened to “A Day In The Life”, the final cut on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you need to first telephone your parents and declare that you now have evidence that they failed in your upbringing, then listen to the track immediately. Many consider this song to be among the Beatles’ finest achievements, and if you haven’t been blasted into unconsciousness by the triumphant final piano chord, you’ll hear what may be the first hidden track in album history.

After a quick 15-kilohertz tone that your dog will likely hear more clearly than you, there’s a two-second loop of laughter and gibberish that repeats and fades out. Most importantly, it only fades out because you likely listened to the CD track or a digital download. This snippet was actually laid into the vinyl album’s middle groove, so people who had turntables that didn’t automatically lift up and re-dock after the end of a side (which was most people) would hear that loop endlessly.

Also, if you play it backwards, it allegedly kind of sounds like they’re saying “We’ll fuck you like Superman.” I’m not making that up. Read more…

Day 83: The Rise And Fall And Rise Of The Moog

Today, in a roundabout way, we will be discussing the man who invented the 1980s.

The 80s were the decade of synthesizers. The handful of pop songs which allowed clanging guitars to step out front were eclipsed by a deluge of synthesized modernity, providing an identifiable date-stamp on the sound of the era. As a kid, I loved the synth. As an adult, I probably still love the synth, but I won’t admit it.

Before the Thompson Twins splattered synth like ketchup all over their songs, before Stevie Wonder turned synthesizers into a band, we have to go back to where it all began: the Moog.

Robert Moog started out selling theremins when he was a student (probably not door-to-door; the article doesn’t say). He started to tinker with sound-making devices. Up to this point, any kind of sound synthesizer had to be custom-made, using a number of filters and oscillators that could bend and warp sounds. This video features a 1952 composition by Otto Luenig, an electronic music pioneer. It’s trippy, like someone playing the wine glasses with a major echo effect. Listening to it, I feel as though I should burn some incense, maybe get a foot massage.

But it ain’t no “Final Countdown.”

The time was right for Moog. The advent of the transistor meant that a synthesizer could be built without vacuum tubes – it could be smaller, cheaper, and maybe someday turn into this:

In the 60s, we dreamed we'd all be flying around in our Aero Skyblazers, playing our keytars by 1986.

An analog synthesizer doesn’t come equipped with presets, like “strings”, “oboe”, or “cowbell”; you’d alter the noise by tweaking knobs and stringing patch cables. Cowbells would have to be bolted onto the sides and struck manually. It was a primitive time. Read more…