Tag: Beatles

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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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.

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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 959: Day Two Of Peace & Music

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Said I’m going down to Yasgur’s farm, going to join in a rock & roll band.

Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.

 

Somewhere amid the cultural symbolism and the anthemic declarations of a generation’s identity lies the actual music performed at the Woodstock festival. Contrasting that weekend with the tighter and more disciplined Monterey Pop Festival from two years earlier reveals an evolution in rock culture: the glittering aftermath of psychedelia, the re-blossoming of foundational blues and folk through rock-tinted lenses, and the collective embrace of instrumental mastery.

The Who sent jaws dropping to the dusty floor in ’67 when Pete Townsend assaulted his guitar into pieces; at Woodstock they were neck-deep in exploring the possibility of rock-opera. The Jefferson Airplane soared on the strength of their early hits at Monterey; two years later their music was more introspective and demure. Soul music, which had tickled the Monterey crowd to the tune of Otis Redding, Lou Rawls and Booker T. & The MG’s, had rocketed into the realm of cosmic funk by 1969, with Sly & The Family Stone representing. And Janis… well she was just Janis. No higher compliment could be given.

Some of the Woodstock performances were iconic. Others were merely adequate. Then there was Sha Na Na, which fit into the vibe of the festival like a can of tuna fits onto a dessert cart. But the music is unquestionably the skeleton that gives the experience its historic form and structure.

Just imagine what could have been.

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A number of acts were either rumored or invited, but never made the bill. Bob Dylan, the poet-rebel of the Newport Folk Festival four years earlier, was the most logical invitee. He lived near Bethel in the actual town of Woodstock, but he’d already committed to the Isle of Wight Festival at the end of the month. Shiny new superstars Led Zeppelin were selected, but promoter Frank Barsalona didn’t want his band to be just another name on the bill. The Doors figured it would be a second-rate Monterey Pop so they turned it down, an act that guitarist Robby Krieger claimed they later regretted. Read more…

Day 936: Number One With An Irreverent Bullet

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Here’s the part where the guy twitching in the hungry crosshairs of 40 tells you how the music topping the charts these days won’t inspire so much as a quiver of his trigger finger. But really, who cares? The purveyors of popular song have no interest in capturing my iTunes money. Just as my parents wondered desperately who on earth would want anyone to Rock Them Amadeus, I can’t fathom why Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, a piece of simplistic monotony with a Clueless rip-off video, spent a month this summer at #1.

Ever since the end of the halcyon days of 80’s pop, the soundtrack that flipped the pages of my childhood, I have paid scant attention to the Billboard Hot 100 chart. While MC Hammer’s parachute pants flapped in the raucous wind of his success, my high school friends and I were discovering the mystical quests within the grooves of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd records. So I guess I haven’t been hip in about twenty-five years. I’m okay with that.

I’d always been a trifle suspicious of this chart anyway. What is it counting? Sales? Radio airplay? Likelihood of ending up as a parody on Weird Al’s next album? There is actually some math to this madness, and it’s far too complex for my mid-week brain to tabulate without a nap under its belt. But I’ll do my best.

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For almost two decades prior to the Hot 100’s debut in the pages of Billboard (yes kids, Billboard was and is an actual magazine. A magazine is kind of like Buzzfeed.com made out of trees), the chart tabulators kept track of three separate stats: the best-sellers, the songs most played by disc jockeys and the songs most played in jukeboxes. That last one was key, as a disgraceful clump of radio stations were refusing to play rock ‘n roll in the mid-1950’s. Billboard had to track what was big with the kids. Read more…

Day 918: The Historically Misplaced Colony Of Roanoke Island

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While I’m anything but the most amateur of amateur historians, I’ve got a feeling that people went missing all the time in the 16th century. You dig yourself into some serious debt, maybe sleep with a nobleman’s wife or abscond with the goodies from the church collection plate, making yourself scarce would be a pretty easy feat. Got yourself murdered? Bad news for you – forensics don’t exist and if your killer knows even a little about properly hiding a body, you’ll simply make the ranks of the missing.

But how do 115 people disappear? Ruling out a violent attack (since there would be some leftover evidence of such) or a sudden collective yen for new surroundings, a mass vanishing of this scale has to turn some heads. Some four centuries later, we still don’t know for certain what became of the residents of the Roanoke Colony.

There are theories, of course. And investigators are trying to use modern scientific gadgetry to uncover the mystery, but it’s not easy reconstructing an event when your only crime scene photos are a handful of 400-year-old etchings and there’s a good chance your archeological data may be presently sitting beneath a Walmart parking lot. But historians love a good challenge, so chances are this hunt will remain at the forefront of someone’s life’s work for the foreseeable future.

Sir Walter Raleigh: Quite a flowery collar for such a stupid git. (yes, that's a Beatles joke for you)

Sir Walter Raleigh: Quite a flowery collar for such a stupid git. (yes, that’s a Beatles joke for you)

In March of 1584, Queen Elizabeth I decided it was time to slap down some English tootsies into the North American mud and start earning a profit and staking out some land. England was at war with Spain, and she thought North America would be a good vantage point from which they could mess with the Spanish treasure fleets. She put Sir Walter Raleigh on the job, which he immediately subcontracted because hey, Walter was a busy Sir and he had other things to do. Read more…

Day 916: I’m About To Lose My Worried Mind – Led Zep 4Ever

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With practically the entirety of recorded music’s history available at the touch of a trackpad, it’s hard to find a lot of common ground among the masses. Back in the sepiatone days when I was in high school, there was certainly a cultural splintering effect afoot – some grooved to Hammer-time, others nodded angrily and forcefully to Nirvana, while still others begged C+C Music Factory to make them sweat upon a hormone-clogged dance floor – but there remained some sacred touchstones.

For whatever reason – and I pray a sociological study will one day uncover the mystery behind this collective madness – the girls in my high school were united under the secret thrill of ABBA. The boys, however discreetly some of them held back their own cravings for retro Swedish vocal-pop, united under an unwavering commitment to one of the greatest rock bands in ear-thumping history: Led Zeppelin.

Most of us had bands we liked more. For me, there was always the Beatles, while my other friends leaned toward Pink Floyd, Roxette or Extreme (yes, Josh, I’m talking about you). But we all sang along when Robert Plant belted out the first “Hey hey, mama” of their conspicuously untitled fourth album. Today Zep nets a kilograph, if for no other reason than as a thank you for the respite they provided after five straight listens of “More Than Words.”

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The group’s origin story funnels straight back to this guy, one of the most awe-inspiring yet least well-known (among today’s younger rock-lovers) guitar gods of the 1960’s. Jeff Beck had joined up with the Yardbirds after Eric Clapton had left the group in frustration. Now Jeff was feeling the pull of sweet freedom, and his frustration led him to record his own thing, away from the rest of the group. He invited his buddy (and future Yardbirdian) Jimmy Page to play guitar. Read more…

Day One After 909: Mr. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer Of Quality Education

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It is the final day of classes. Just a day in the life of Mr. Maxwell, a grade six teacher who’ll be flying across the street to teach summer school next week. It’s not the end for him, just the annual hello/goodbye to this year’s crop of kids. The man has a real love for his profession, but something doesn’t feel right today. This boy wants a vacation. And his kids are running here, there and everywhere with the bottled-up energy of ten months’ anticipation of being – finally – free as a bird.

 

MAXWELL:  Good morning! Good morning everyone. Take a seat.

JIMMY: Mr. Maxwell?

MAXWELL: Yes Jimmy?

JIMMY: I forgot to remember… to forget… to get a note from my mom about our end-of-year picnic today.

MAXWELL: I’ve got a feeling you’re still half-asleep. The picnic was last week. Remember the rain?

JIMMY: Right. Those three cool cats were sniffing an old brown shoe while two of us threw rocks at it by the new grazeeboo.

MAXWELL: The what? What’s the new – Mary-Jane, tell me why you just smacked Joey in the head? You can’t do that.

MARY-JANE: He told me, “Run for your life, cuz I’m searchin’ for a taste of honey, and baby, it’s you.” He’s always so bad to me!

JOEY: Oh yeah? Well she said… she said I was the sun king.

MARY-JANE: I did not!

MAXWELL: Alright, that’s enough. Mitchell, slow down and get back to your desk; you’re liable to trip and roll over Beethoven, the class gerbil, and I ain’t using my first aid skills for no one on the last day of school.

After all, the school's first aid kid is woefully out of date.

After all, the school’s first aid kid is woefully out of date.

MITCHELL: Yes Mr. Maxwell.

MAXWELL: Okay everyone. It’s the last day! Let’s talk about the summer. I’ll be on my way to the airport after dismissal today. I’m headed back in the USSR on a long, long, long flight (please let it be a smooth one). It won’t be long though, and I’ll be back here with another class of bad boys – sorry, just ‘boys’ – and girls. Ha ha.

JULIA: Mr. Maxwell?

MAXWELL: Yes, Julia?

JULIA: Why do you call it the USSR? It’s Russia, isn’t it?

MAXWELL: I call it the USSR just as I call your name – it’s how I’ve always known it. You see, in my life there’s a place in my heart for Moscow in the 80’s. The inner light of that city always spoke to me; I’m so tired of hearing how bad it was back then. The night before I left last time, the warm and lovely Rita – she’s a girl I’d just met – whispered words of love into my ear. She said, “I need you to know that I’m happy just to dance with you, but that true happiness is a warm gun.” Yep, that’s what I loved about Moscow – the girl and the guns. Read more…

Day 885: Video Predates The Radio Star

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Now a haven for reality shows and programming that has little or nothing to do with anything resembling music, MTV was once the go-to station for the ubiquitously 80’s art form known as the music video. But flipping one’s video rolodex back to the Buggles singing “Video Killed The Radio Star” is hardly an act of embracing the retro when it comes to the timeline of the music video.

You’ll have to travel farther back still than the pre-taped lip-sync videos the Beatles sent in to the Ed Sullivan Show when they no longer wanted to contend with the manic theater crowds to appear live. No, the music video is literally about as old as the medium of film itself.

As with any conceptual progress in the medium of film, the music video had to be squeezed through the skinny tube of innovation, and a quizzical defining of its language. But make no mistake – the music video was always about the music. In particular, about selling the music. Of course, in the beginning it wasn’t sex and sweat and slow-motion twerking that sold the music; it was the technology itself. This was some pretty sophisticated stuff.

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In 1894, a button salesman/lyricist named Edward B. Marks and a necktie salesman/pianist named Joseph W. Stern teamed up to write a song called “The Lost Little Child.” It was a cute little folk story about a policeman finding a lost child who turns out to belong to his estranged wife who once traded a donkey to Grover Cleveland for a magic whistle that could summon Poseidon inside a special thimble she’d wear in her hair, but only on Tuesdays when the barometer displayed a curious lack of humidity. Or something – I haven’t actually listened to the entire thing. The point is, music promoter George H. Thomas knew how to sell this thing. Read more…

Day 874: Browsing The Naughty Bits Of Reddit

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I’m going to let you, my loyal readers, in on a secret. My weapon of choice with which I take aim at any number of strange stories, from murderous ice cream vendors to toilet gods, is Reddit. If you’re unfamiliar with the social news site, let me fill you in on how it works.

Reddit is split into roughly a gazillion communities, known as subreddits. When you join (which is free), you subscribe to the ones that interest you. For example, r/funny is where you’ll find everything from church sign typos to pugs dressed like the Blues Brothers. r/foodporn features exquisite shots of steaks and BBQ shrimp skewers and whatever else will make you regret eating Hellman’s mayonnaise with a spoon for supper. There are also subreddits for all types of fandom, from the Beatles to classic films to the TV show Community (not the happiest subreddit right now, trust me).

And naturally there are boobies. While I restrict my redditing to perusing my front page, which I have customized to my own wonky obsessions, and the r/Wikipedia subreddit, which is filled with a bevy of interesting and obscure topics like the ones I cited above, there are communities for all sorts of fetishes and quirks. And like any landscape in which freedom of speech is the guiding tenet, sometimes things go too far.

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I’m offering this photo of an elephant driving a car because searching for images to represent r/jailbait will get me fired from my day job.

Reddit is comprised of a notoriously small staff. Volunteer moderators police a number of the forums, ensuring that posts in r/Modern_Family don’t feature online Ponzi schemes or links to bestiality. Also, the general public can upvote the best or most interesting posts, while downvoting the stuff they don’t like, resulting in a democratic front page of generally high-quality posts. The site’s administrators originally had no intention of hosting pornographic material. They didn’t want the hassle. Read more…

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

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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.

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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 862: Uoy Tpurroc Ot Sdrow Dnasuoht A

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I was fifteen years old when my dad utilized his extensive technological prowess to produce a cassette recording for me of all the Beatles’ so-called backward messages. By “prowess” I mean he played a reel-to-reel tape backwards. It wasn’t tricky.

Playing music backwards is a phenomenon that has existed since the advent of recorded music. Occultist and all-around weird cat Aleister Crowley  suggested in 1913 that anyone who was wishing to become fluent in the language of magic should listen to phonograph records backwards in order to train their brains. The realm of avant-garde music has experimented with backwards music for decades. But apart from the occasional squonked-brain traipse through the Beatles “Revolution 9” (forward or backward – there’s very little difference), I don’t care much for the avant-garde.

Luckily, the more ear-friendly genres under the canopy of rock music have toyed with stashing backwards lyrics – known as backmasking – within the folds of some well-known songs. Sometimes it’s done as a joke, and other times it’s because rock musicians are clearly in league with Satan and have devised a way to plant subliminal backwards messages in their music in order to corrupt our children and get them to take up smoking. Or something.

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One evening whilst under the strictly medicinal effects of marijuana, John Lennon accidentally played the vocal track for “Rain”, his band’s new single, backwards. He loved the effect, and within a few short months the track was released with a snippet of lyrics at the end played backwards, sounding a little like John had picked up a foreign language during Ringo’s extended drum fill. Their accompanying album, Revolver, featured two backwards guitar solos, but it was the vocal message that really weirded people out. Read more…