Tag: Ringo Starr

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 862: Uoy Tpurroc Ot Sdrow Dnasuoht A

Header

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.

Rain-1

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…

Day 771: On Tonight’s Show… History.

Header

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.

SammyDavis&Ella

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?

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 574: The Big Box O’ Juke – 60s Edition

Header

The day after writing about someone’s horribly-botched circumcision and subsequent medical torture, I really need to punch that gearshift into a new socket and spend this gloriously overcast day in a happier, more uplifting place.

It is for this reason that we order up a shake, pull out that roll of quarters from our pocket that proves we’re not happy to see anybody, and saunter back over to the Big ol’ Box O’ Juke for another mini-binge on some of the great songs in history. Having jumped through the 70’s, the 80’s and the 90’s, I’m going to point my Flux Capacitor at the decade which produced the greatest classics-to-pap ratio in modern music history: the 1960’s.

Smokey&TheMiracles

We may as well start at the beginning, with this attractive group who were known for deeply admiring mysterious things to their immediate left. That is, of course, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and the single that smashed its bubbly Dom over the hull of Motown, christening the label and launching it into the Billboard stratosphere was called “Shop Around.”

Smokey wrote the song with Motown honcho Barry Gordy, recording a slower, bluesier version that found itself dispatched through Detroit airwaves, receiving a fairly solid response from the locals. But Gordy had his sights set on conquering the world, so one night at 3:00AM he brought the Miracles in to record the more upbeat pop number we all know. Presumably members of the Funk Brothers, the Motown house band that never received any credit from the Motown PR corps, despite their performances having truly defined the label’s signature sound, were also called in to the session. 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 251: Yoko, Pre-John

Yoko Ono has been called many things: an artist, a philanthropist, the anti-Beatle, and several terms I don’t care to use in mixed company, unless I’m dealing with traffic. I never bought into the Dragon-Lady angle. It’s a cop-out to say that she broke up the Beatles, when clearly the reasons behind their demise were far more layered and complex.

Mostly it had to do with Ringo’s 1969 ‘stache.

I will say this. Yoko is a terrible singer. I know, I know… “art”. But forget it, her singing voice is simply not aesthetically pleasing to my ears. We used to flip Lennon 45’s over and play the Yoko songs on 33 1/3 RPM so that she sounded more demonic and less… shrieky.

Rather than pen a thousand-word diatribe about why John should not have insisted on including her in his musical exploits, I’m going to take a more positive approach and try to learn about the lady. She is notoriously generous, caretaker of my favorite corner of Central Park, and hosts one of the most fantastical Twitter feeds you’ll ever read.

And she had a life before she met John Lennon. Read more…

Day 131: The Beatles Get Lei’ed

Every so often I come across a website that reminds me, “This is why the Internet exists.”

Having undertaken a ridiculous labor of love myself (this one), I feel a kinship with David Barratt. His site states that “if every citizen spent a little bit of time playing the ukulele, the world would be a better place.” To that end, he created The Beatles Complete On Ukulele, a project in which features the weekly release of a Beatles song, featuring David’s favorite instrument.

A few details elevate his site from kitchy to brilliant. First, he doesn’t record and sing every track himself. Listening to the same vocalist powering through all these songs would be redundant. Second, the songs are not all strummed and solo, like an Israel Kamakawiwo’ole tune. The styles stretch from folk to psychedelic, so each week’s release is a fresh interpretation.

So why the Beatles? Why the ukulele? And who is this guy? The first question is unnecessary (I mean come on… who else?), the second can be summed up by the unquestionably joyful sound of the instrument, and the third is surprisingly impressive.

David Barratt is not some schmuck from the corner of nowhere, trying to make a name for himself by doing something weird and new online. (by the way, I love it when I can pigeon-hole myself into inadequacy through my own writing)

Barratt is a London-born composer with actual credits on his resume. He has worked with Robert Plant and David Bowie, and has scored a slew of TV and radio spots for brands like Dr Pepper, Verizon, Sony, BMW, and a bunch  more. He created an audio sculpture that found its way into the UN’s General Assembly. He is the reason that aspiring musicians should want to be musicians – he has made a great living doing what he loves.

His project is intertwined with another artistic salad of ukuleletude and joy: the 10 Ukuleles project. Barratt had ten NYC artists decorate ten ukuleles to be presented to the ten most important people in the world. These folks include Vladimir Putin, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Paul McCartney (of course). No word yet on how this project turned out – I’m hoping Barratt will keep us updated.

On to the music. Read more…