Tag: George Harrison

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 956: ‘Scuse Me While I Bust This Guy

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“Show them as scurrilous and depraved. Call attention to their habits and living conditions; explore every possible embarrassment. Send in women and sex; break up marriages. Have them arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap.”

So said a leaked memo written by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, with the aim of fracturing the influence of those hippy-weirdo rock stars on the youth of the late 1960’s. Perhaps they were taking a cue from London Drug Squad detective Norman Pilcher, who had arrested Donovan in mid-1966, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1967, John Lennon and Yoko Ono in late 1968, and George Harrison in March of 1969 – all for drug possession. Of course, Pilcher would later be disgraced for perjury, and was strongly suspected of having planted his evidence. I believe it was Harrison who remarked that there had been drugs in his home, but not the ones that Pilcher found.

It was in the misguided fog of this backwards policy that Jimi Hendrix was busted at Toronto International Airport after a small quantity of hashish and heroin was found in his bag. A conspiracy to undermine his influence? Perhaps – but that so-called conspiracy threatened to steal twenty years of Hendrix’s future.

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After a May 2, 1969 concert at Detroit’s Cobo Hall (check out the INSAAAANE stage design!), the Jimi Hendrix Experience was warned of a possible drug bust the next day. Tour managers Gerry Stickells and Tony Ruffino took this seriously; not only was a gruesome amount of money at stake, but this was a time when no one was really sure if a serious drug bust might ruin a musician’s career (as opposed to now, when we all know it can only help). 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 795: Smelling The Glove – Controversial Album Covers Part 1

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As I’m often heard remarking to strangers in the check-out line at Safeway, music is best when it’s either controversial or being sung by the aural euphony of Michael McDonald. In those sepiatone days when rock music was still gathering its struttin’ legs beneath its warbly frame, artists found new and creative ways to bump their product toward the edge of edgy. And when it wasn’t enough to leave sensitive parental ears cringing in their wake, they’d go a step further.

The visual attack. Shake up that pelvis. Grow that hair. And just when the parents are starting to settle into your schtick, brew up an album cover that will send their socks a-quakin’.

The album cover is most certainly a distinctive facet of its contents’ artistic expression. Perhaps not as much so today, now that its predominant form has shrunk from 12-inch vinyl sleeves to 5-inch CD jackets to a tiny thumbprint embedded into an audio file. But when the Beatles looked up from their album covers at a young fan, rabid and anxious for the tuneage within, it meant something special.

Even when the Beatles were covered in blood, gore and severed doll heads.

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For the Beatles’ ninth Capitol album, photographer Robert Whitaker thought it was a good idea for a little conceptual art to spice up the band’s image. The piece was called A Somnambulant Adventure, and it had literally nothing to do with “Drive My Car”, “Day Tripper”, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, or any other track on the album. After almost four years of mundane pretend-to-be-happy photo shoots, the band was happy to play along. Read more…

Day 790: Pissing Away The Profits – Worst Business Decisions Part 1

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The secret to business success lies in making good decisions. I have no doubt that thousands of qualified individuals could offer monumentally wiser business advice than this, but in that most general, inarguable, obvious-even-to-a-schmuck-like-me way, it all comes down to decisions.

Some culture-shaping decisions were outright brilliant, like JVC and Microsoft spreading VHS and Windows around numerous manufacturers while Sony and Apple kept the Betamax and Macintosh systems to themselves, leading to one’s demise and the other’s miniscule 1990’s market share. Other business decisions, like my choice to devote at least two hours of each of my days over this thousand-day period to producing articles for free public consumption online – not so much.

That’s okay, I can live with it. So what if this project floats gratuitously among the ether, leaving no significant residue upon my personal net worth? It’s art. Art that is smattered with Cliff-Claven-esque trivia and poop jokes, so the best kind of art. And besides, as far removed from savvy fiscal acumen as I may be, at least I can pride myself on not having made the bonehead decisions these folks did.

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Meet Dick. Dick was a successful producer in the 1950’s. By 1962 he was a proud A&R man (that’s ‘Artists & Repertoire’ – the guy who screens potential acts) at Decca Records in England. On a blustery New Year’s Day, Dick sat in the studio as a hopeful young quartet from Liverpool tried to dazzle him with their sound, one which had already billowed many a swoon into excitable young women (and even men) in the northern towns. Those men were John, Paul, George and Pete Best, and they proceeded to make Dick famous.

Famous for flubbery, that is. Dick Rowe told the group’s manager Brian Epstein that guitar groups were “on the way out”, and he turned them down cold. It would take a few months for the Beatles to become the biggest group in the country and years before Dick was able to scrape away all the solidified egg from his face. Read more…

Day 771: On Tonight’s Show… History.

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Once the collective click of a few million TV sets shutting off had resonated throughout North America in the shadowy hours of February 9, 1964, the pentimento of American culture as it existed before that day was almost invisible. This is the news blurb that kids – and I include here many in my generation, those who played their opening number on this earthly stage some years after the 60’s had taken their bow – will gloss over and ignore. Precisely one half of a century has elapsed since the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Trying to rationalize the significance of this broadcast to my children is a fruitless endeavor. Even in my limited history, the only television “events” that embedded a rusty touchstone in our shared timeline were series finales (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld), sporting events or news stories. The first two would get us talking, but eventually they’d meander under the covers of the past. And while the scope of our world might have shifted after we all watched O.J. race through the arteries of Los Angeles in a Ford Bronco or after we saw the towers fall a few years later, television was merely the window through which we’d all observed a salient chapter in history. When the Beatles splashed down into 74 million pairs of eyeballs for the first time, it was culture announcing through its own mouthpiece that everything was about to change.

There had never been an equivalent in the world of popular music. And given the splintered state of our popular tastes and the three-block buffet of media options at our disposal, such a singular jarring of our culture is not likely to ever occur again.

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First of all, there is no parallel to Ed Sullivan today. Sullivan’s show was a weekly stage for performers to hurl their skills at a national audience in hopes the exposure will crank their success meter up to the next notch. You’d see plate-spinners and dog trainers, classically-trained actors and world-renowned singers. The late-night talk show circuit is the closest to an equivalent today, but Ed’s show was about showing off his guests, not interviewing them to hear pre-rehearsed stories about the time George Clooney pranked them in the studio commissary. Sunday nights were our culture’s window into the wider world. Read more…

Day 758: Who Buried Paul?

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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.

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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

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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 367: The Happy Rockin’ New Year’s Day Quiz

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It’s New Year’s Day, and that means forsaking actual research in lieu of a Holiday Quiz. For me, it’s a big jump forward. I can no longer Google “What Day Of The Year Is It” in order to make sure my article numbering is correct; now I have to do math. But today is not the day to dwell on 2013’s responsibilities. Now is the time to nurse one’s hangover, to put on some music, and to try to remember why we moved the refrigerator into the swimming pool last night.

Today’s quiz topic is music. Specifically, fictional musical groups from the past few decades: from film, television, comic books, literature, and maybe one or two I invented in my head and just never told anyone about (or would that be unfair?). Don’t worry, I won’t be reaching for the super-obscure. There will be no questions about the Beau Brummelstones from The Flintstones or Malachai and His Band from The Real Ghostbusters. Our brains only work so well after a good New Year’s Eve – I respect that.Folksmen

  1. This fictional band won’t go away. The subject of a 1984 film, they have probably become the most famous band that isn’t a real band. The above photo is from their ‘other’ band (from another movie), the Folksmen. Seriously, the list of reunions for this heavy metal gag band is tremendous: National Geographic documentaries, a Volkswagen commercial, an environmental benefit concert at Wembley Stadium, as well as three actual album releases. They just announced yet another reunion for a BBC show called Family Tree. Hopefully their drummer will live long enough to see the broadcast. Answer.
  2. Here’s the sitcom pitch. A man dies, leaving behind a wife and five children. They are well-off, but decide the best way to maintain their standard of living would be to start up a family band. Throw Johnny Cash into the pilot episode. The bass player will grow up and become a regular in celebrity boxing, which will totally become a thing by the 1990’s. Answer. Read more…

Day 200: A Man Confesses To His Friend, Using Two Hundred 80s Pop Song Titles

In honor of Day 200, I invite you to dig around and find all 200 song titles in the following dialog.

 

Two old friends, Peter and Ian, are having a drink in Ian’s apartment.

 

IAN: “Peter, what’s wrong? You seem to be under pressure. Do you need one more night of magic with those West End girls, buddy?”

PETER: “I’m gonna tear your playhouse down with this news, Ian. It’ll sound cold-hearted, leave you with broken wings and might push you to the borderline of becoming a maniac. Just don’t react in the heat of the moment.”

IAN: You may be right, but it’s a matter of trust, Peter. I’ve been keeping the faith for the longest time that you’re an innocent man. Don’t ask me why, ever since we lived in Allentown I go to extremes while you have the ability to leave a tender moment alone. Just tell me, old friend.

PETER: It’s your wife…

IAN: Sherrie’s quite an uptown girl, isn’t she?

PETER: Ian, she’s a modern woman.

IAN: What’s that supposed to mean?

PETER: It’s hard to say I’m sorry. If I could turn back time, shake it up and change things…

IAN: Relax! The truth is a good thing, and I’ve got my mind set on you speaking it.

PETER: We had sex.

IAN: Oh, Sherrie! My sweet valley girl!

PETER: It was urgent that I tell you tonight, tonight, tonight, Ian. I’m in too deep in this land of confusion, that’s all. Our friendship? Sure, maybe I’m throwing it all away, but if you could have no reply at all for just a moment, let me explain…

IAN: I thought Sherrie and I were on the holiday road to Paradise City; instead these dreams are breaking us in two! I want to cry all night long (all night)!

PETER: It happened when you were on that Africa-Panama trip.

IAN: Weren’t you dating Rosanna then?

PETER: I know, Rosanna was my angel of Harlem, my Caribbean queen; she’s a beauty! But when we were alone, she was a funky cold Medina.

IAN: A what?

PETER: I mean she was no wild thing in bed. We were free fallin’ out of our jungle love like a two of hearts down a wishing well. Just like that, abracadabra, another one bites the dust.

IAN: But Sherrie…

PETER: Remember your white wedding? It was hot in the city that night and I was dancing with myself. Sherrie brought me an Orange Crush. Don’t get me wrong, nothing happened then, but I knew that night that someday we’d get it on (bang a gong).

IAN: This is hitting me like a sledgehammer. What have I done to deserve this?

PETER: She was no easy lover, and you can’t hurry love, you know. Months later I was on my own, when…

IAN: Say, say say! Was this the night you were airing your dirty laundry when she worked the night shift at the Sunset Grill?

PETER: We got caught up in the rhythm of the night, yes. I remember there was a photograph of some China girl over the deep-frying machine, we were little wasted on the way, and our hormones just seemed to… sail on.

IAN: Do you really want to hurt me with this?

PETER: No! It was no endless love, just part of the walk of life is all.

IAN: That heartbreaker. All she wants to do is dance, ever since she was a centerfold.

PETER: Hey Ian, you’ve got a view to a kill in your eyes…

IAN: Why not? Why shouldn’t this nasty torture make me the king of pain? I oughta rock you like a hurricane, the same way you managed to rock me. Amadeus once said, “never trust a smooth operator.”

PETER: Did he say that?

IAN: I’ll knock you from here to Kokomo.

PETER: This is really turning into a manic Monday.

IAN: I’m sorry Peter. The calendar says it’s a new moon on Monday, and that always makes my inner rebel yell like an old pink Cadillac. Besides, I don’t like Mondays anyway.

PETER: You know, you can call me Al before you can call me someone who’d hurt a friend.

IAN: What about that time you hooked up in that love shack with Sara? Wasn’t she Jesse’s girl?

PETER: I guess I just feel forever young. My desire becomes an obsession. I want someone with angel eyes to be near me, so I get all lost in love like some jukebox hero, then one thing leads to another and I end up making love out of nothing at all.

IAN: I had faith in you, Peter. You were like a father figure to me. I feel so out of touch, like I need to hire private eyes to follow this maneater to see who she gets all one-on-one with. It feels like every kiss on my list of greatest kisses has been a fraud! Say it isn’t so, Peter. I can’t go for that. No can do.

PETER: Ian, it’s a small world, and if this is it, it’s as much a perfect world as we’ll ever see. Sure, the power of love can rip apart your heart and soul, and have you walking on a thin line because of her devil inside. But no one is to blame, and really things can only get better! Before you know it, you’ll be back in the high life.

IAN: I can’t just roll with it, not if this is true. It’s a tainted love now.

PETER: She was a part-time lover to me. But she’s still head over heels for you, she’d shout it from the rooftop! She and I were puttin’ on the Ritz, maybe once or twice we’d pump up the jam, but she’s been sowing the seeds of love with you for years.

IAN: She’s just a private dancer. Our relationship has been on the road to nowhere, it’s a wonder I’m not burning down the house!

PETER: Come on, you’re simply the best. You wouldn’t do that.

IAN: And you! Maybe it’s time you beat it, get out of here. You’re just a gigolo!

PETER: But what about love?

IAN: What’s love got to do with it? I’m all out of love.

PETER: Look Ian, just bang your head against the wall a couple of times, and let’s go out. Yah mo B there for you, man. Throw on that raspberry beret you bought in 1999, I’ll call up 867-5309 (Jenny’s number, I think), get her to invite Mickey and that darling Nikki, and you and I will hop in my little red corvette and get delirious! Come on, let’s go crazy!

IAN: Oh yeah… blah blah blah, de do do do de da da da… forget it! I’m the owner of a lonely heart, remember?

PETER: Bull. Even when you wear your cheap sunglasses at night you’re a sharp dressed man. Remember the freedom of our dance hall days? We’d chug down some red red wine and scream, “We are the world!”

IAN: But Sherrie…

PETER: You got lucky when you married her. I know you’ve felt a heartache tonight, but if you love somebody set them free!

IAN: Keep it down, voices carry through these apartment walls.

PETER: Sorry. Come on, Ian. We built this city in our wild electric youth. Sherrie just can’t get enough of you, I swear. But you’re in the danger zone, dwelling on this, and it’s the final countdown before you get hungry like the wolf and do something stupid.

IAN: I guess this is why she was doodling “P.Y.T.” in her notebook instead of “I.G.Y.” She was thinking of your monogram.

PETER: Forget that. So what, so this is the end of the innocence. I guess that’s why they call it the blues, right?

IAN: Oh, Sherrie…

PETER: Enough! I’m still standing, you’re still standing. Don’t worry, be happy Ian! This isn’t the wild, wild west – you’ll forgive those hungry eyes of hers and stay together forever. Sherrie’s never gonna give you up, you’re simply irresistible!

IAN: If you say so…

PETER: For me it was a brief infatuation, and I’m sorry. But some guys have all the luck; she’ll always be your emotional rescue. Sherrie is wrapped around your finger! She’ll always be right here waiting to give you the look when you come home, and I’ll be alone. So what? C’est la vie. Listen to your heart, Ian.

IAN: I guess you’re right. Pretty smart for a super freak.

PETER: Let’s go. Let’s have one last worthless evening like a pair of Ghostbusters under an invisible sun.

IAN: Let’s do it. Let’s go runnin’ down a dream and do some dancing in the dark.

PETER: These are our glory days, my friend. Leave the shattered dreams for the old man down the road. Don’t stop believing!

IAN: Should I call my cousin, Eileen?

PETER: Please. I wouldn’t come on Eileen undercover of the night, brother.

 

Ian and Peter grab their coats and leave.