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.
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…
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.
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…
When the afternoon sun of one’s mortal stroll hits high in its arc, when one’s thirties begin preparing their thunderous finale from the stage in anticipation of the always-disappointing forties act to follow, one can’t help but face a myriad of reminders that one is getting old.
Not let’s-check-out-some-area-homes old, but with a distinct sense that what’s hip in the world, what’s culturally relevant, suddenly has nothing to do with you or your generation. My parents never had to go through this. The Baby-Boomers have made a strong case that their generation will continue to matter throughout the annals of history, and hey, they invented the Beatles and Gilligan’s Island so who am I to argue? I’m a part of Generation X, or really, Generation Meh. We don’t care about our place in history.
But kids – and I’m speaking here to the Bieberfied, autotune-blind masses who presently claim dominance over this silly excuse of a pop culture – your time will come. Your children, should they survive the inevitable robot and/or steroid-injected Super-Pelican uprising, will not know what to make of these:
When my daughter was two or three, I took her into a used record store because she was two or three and powerless to quell my whim to flip longingly through shelves of inexplicably overpriced 40-year-old vinyl. She pointed to one and exclaimed, “Look, Daddy! Look at the big CD!”
And just as my own flesh and blood found it curious that we would manipulate these clunky analog devices that produce only 20-25 minutes before needing a flip, your own kids will wonder why you’d want to listen to the new album by the Chad Kroeger / Avril Lavigne offspring on a disc-shaped piece of plastic, instead of simply injecting the data-fluid into your bloodstream so you can listen to it whenever you want. Read more…