Holiday by America

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Holiday by AmericaOne of the most interesting things about doing all these classic rock album reviews are the little tidbits of information you learn along the way, some of which completely shatter your preconceptions about certain artists and works. Choosing to review the album Holiday by the group America seemed like a perfect match for the date July 4th. After all, this is the quintessential American holiday. But then some elementary research revealed that the group is, in fact, British. Who knew? In any case, the album review goes on as we examine this fine effort by the folk rock trio with the patriotic name, kicking off our two month feature on the most important albums released in the year 1974.

Multi instrumentalists and vocalists Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek shared a common lineage as they were all sons of American military fathers and British mothers. They met in high school in London in the mid-1960s and soon found that they complemented each others talents and blended three-part vocal harmony. The trio played their first gigs as America in the London area opening for acts such as Elton John, Pink Floyd, and The Who. America was eventually signed to a Warner Brothers UK subsidiary label in 1971 and released their debut album later that year. This was followed by the successful 1972 album Homecoming which helped win the group a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. However, Hat Trick, America’s third album in 1973 was a critical and commercial disappointment..

For this fourth album, America brought on legendary producer George Martin along with engineer Geoff Emerick, both of whom shaped the sound of the Beatles the decade before. Under Martin’s direction, the group adopted a more British pop style which was enhanced by Martin’s addition of strings and brass. With all three group members composing songs for the album, Martin compared the competition among America as that among Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Each member’s songs were well represented on the album with Martin doing all the final arrangements.


Holiday by America
Released: June 26, 1974 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, April-May 1974
Side One Side Two
Miniature
Tin Man
Another Try
Lonely People
Glad To See You
Mad Dog
Hollywood
Baby It’s Up To You
You
Old Man Took
What Does It Matter
In The Country
Primary Musicians
Gerry Beckley – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Dewey Bunnell – Guitars, Vocals
Dan Peek – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Willie Leacox – Drums, Percussion

 

Holiday begins with an intro instrumental with film soundtrack-like qualities call “Miniature”, which features subtle piano with rich orchestration which swells in presence as the seventy-two second track progresses. After this brief theatrical intro, each of the three permanent group members present their best pop compositions in turn, starting with Bunnell’s “Tin Man”. The great jazzy chord patterns of acoustic and bass set the mood perfectly for this philosophical play on a character in The Wizard of Oz, while Bunnell’s distinctive vocals come through with pristine clarity. The song is uni-directional as it never returns to the verse after the initial one, and the addition of a piano phrase in the final choruses shows Martin’s absolute mastery of production techniques. “Tin Man” became the band’s fourth Top Ten hit, climaxing at number four.

Beckley’s “Another Try” is driven by an upbeat and bouncy piano tune musically, while the lyrics are more somber and downtrodden. Built in the tradition as late 60s British pop ala classic Bee Gees, the song is all piano and bass at the core, a departure from the folk rock for which America is noted, and just a touch of subtle strings and brass are added starting in the second chorus. Peek’s “Lonely People” returns the listener to traditional acoustic folk in a song he co-wrote with his wife Catherine Mayberry. Despite its title, the song is really an upbeat and inspiring tune of encouragement lyrically and contains just the right amount of accordion, harmonica, and boogie piano beneath the strummed acoustic musically. Ironically, the song was inspired as an optimistic antidote to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”, on which Martin had an integral role nearly a decade earlier.

“Glad To See You” contains a moderate, rocking piano with a well-rounded bass and drums and pristine background harmonies, giving it the typical seventies soft rock sound with the added bonus of Martin’s slight touch of orchestration. “Mad Dog” finishes the original first side as a McCarthy-esque bouncy old English dance hall tune with just a touch of 1970s production in the bass and overtone sounds. This entertaining song is about drinking too much, which would make it the perfect pub song.

While the second side of Holiday is not terrible, it very much boilerplate with few new original moments. One exceptional standout is Bunnell’s “Old Man Took”, an acoustic soft jazz track with a cool soul vibe and lyrical content that is more mature and introspective if not quasi-religious. “Hollywood” is a choppy dark folk song with a simple acoustic chord structure and splattered sound effects, while the minor hit “Baby It’s Up To You” dips back into the smooth, love song, folk rock formula. the tracks “You” and “What Does It Matter” are pleasant enough listens while “In The Country” eases the album to its close without anything particularly memorable.

Holiday reached number 3 on the Billboard album chart and was certified gold just a few months after its release. Martin continued to work with America over the next few years and few studio albums, with the group’s popularity peaking in 1975 with the releases of the Martin-produced Hearts LP and the compilation album History.

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1974 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

Abbey Road by The Beatles

1969 Album of the Year

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Abbey Road by The BeatlesShort of careers cut short by tragedy, there are very few times in rock history where a band or artist finished with their greatest work. Abbey Road, the eleventh and final studio album by The Beatles, is one such occasion. Released in October of 1969, This album marks the last true collaboration all four Beatles in the studio with producer George Martin (Let It Be was released in April of 1970, weeks before the Beatles broke up, it was mostly recorded prior to any Abbey Road recording sessions). This final effort with their classic producer and at the studio they would make famous, Abbey Road would go on to tremendous popularity and critical success and become our of the Year for 1969.

It is no secret that the Beatles were going through internal turmoil later in their career. Having lost the glue that held them together, manager Brian Epstein just two years earlier, the band had been going through personal and financial struggles. The strained business relationship was complicated by the addition of John Lennon‘s new love interest, Yoko Ono, who was a constant presence in their recording sessions. During a break in recording in March 1969, Lennon and Ono were married and when Lennon returned from his honeymoon, he approached Paul McCartney with a song he had written about the occasions called “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. The song was immediately recorded without George Harrison or Ringo Starr, who were both away from London when Lennon had his sudden inspiration. With McCartney on piano, bass, and drums, and Lennon on vocals and guitars, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” became the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number one single, all done without half the group members knowledge or consent. But such was the case for the Beatles in 1969.

Early in the year, The Beatles seemed to be on the road to breaking up during the recording of what would become Let it Be, as each member had started doing solo projects. It was McCartney who approached George Martin and asked him to work with them on another studio album. Martin agreed as long as the band agreed to his strict discipline in the studio and let him have control over the production from start to finish. So, recording began in February 1969 with Martin at the helm as well as all four Beatles at Abbey Road Studio. Some of the early recordings for the Abbey Road sessions included non-album material which would surface elsewhere, such as Harrison’s acoustic demo of “All Things Must Pass” (later on a solo album of the same name), McCartney’s “Come And Get It” (a minor hit for Badfinger in 1970), and “Old Brown Shoe”, an interesting composition by Harrison, used as the B-side for “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. However, as the sessions moved along, the Beatles found their magic formula once again and made the classic Abbey Road music which showcases each member of the band performing at their finest level.


Abbey Road by The Beatles
Released: September 26, 1969 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, February-August 1969
Side One Side Two
Come Together
Something
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Oh Darling
Octopus’s Garden
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun
Because
You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King
Mean Mr. Mustard
Polythene Pam
She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End
Her Majesty
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

 

The album aptly begins with the Lennon led “Come Together” While the title sounds like a lead in to a hippie commune sing along, it is actually has a rougher edge to it with a funky bass, bluesy guitar and sloshy drums. “Come Together” and “Something” were released as a double A-sided single. George Harrison’s, “Something”, is often regarded as Harrison’s finest composition. It is certainly one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. It starts with the line, “Something in the way she moves…” and the music flows right along with that movement. It has a natural, fluid feel to it with the steady bass, beautiful guitar riffs and cricket like sounds that lead into a perfect fade out.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a duplicitous song. The lyrics describing the antics of a sociopathic serial killer are in stark contrast to the syrupy sweet music. The anvil banging and McCartney’s mischievous vocal delivery add to the effect that this is a children’s song gone awry, but one can’t help but sing along. The next McCartney led song, “Oh Darling” has a completely different style. McCartney’s voice carries the whole thing. This doo-wop inspired song actually has a tinge of Motown in it with the intense, strained vocal and simple accompaniment.

Ringo Starr’s contribution, “Octopus’s Garden” is another childlike fantasy song. Ringo has said it was inspired by a story he had heard about how octopus like to gather shiny objects and make their own little “garden”. This song lightens the mood after the intensity of “Oh Darling” and the black hole that ends side one, “I Want You, She’s So Heavy”. This is a lengthy indulgence that has some interesting parts, a few moments of brilliance and some superb musicianship. That said it carries on for a nearly eight minute decent into repetitive madness.

Beatles during Abbey Road sessions
 
The second side is where the magic of this album really starts. It opens with the uplifting and fresh sounds of Harrison’s second contribution, the sonic masterpiece, “Here Comes the Sun”. The harmony of vocals and the light, catchy melody capture the feeling of rebirth that comes from a new beginning, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds as winter fades and spring blooms. This, along with the outstanding, “Something” may make this Harrison’s best Beatles album ever. “Because” features a three part harmony tripled in production so it sounds like nine voices over a simple moog synthesizer and harpsichord. The vocals are masterful and the production technique is superb. Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata”, played backwards, inspired the chords of the song.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” drops in perfectly with soft piano chords and dramatic vocals, there is a plethora of music in this piece. The sounds draw you in and the steady drum beat is mesmerizing. The production on this one is masterful as it leads the listener into the medley that is the heart of this production masterpiece. The production of these little vignettes is brilliant in how they blend together into a cohesive story. “Sun King” reprises the triple three part harmonies while, “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are more upbeat and end in a crash. “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” was inspired by a determined female fan who crawled through a bathroom window of Paul’s home. There is a cool riff going on throughout the song.

With a slight pause in the medley, “Golden Slumbers” rises as another melodramatic McCartney contribution showcasing his knack for making pretty melodies. This abruptly leads to “Carry That Weight”, featuring a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” where Ringo is prominent in the vocal harmonies. Fittingly, it all culminates with “The End”. There is a showcase for each performer here. The guitar parts were done by Paul, John and George and Ringo has his only drum solo as a Beatle. It is a grand finale that brings this album, as well as the Beatles recording days, to an end in grand style.

Abbey Road’s cover, though it appears to be a simple shot of the band walking across the street in single file, has been said to have some clues to the rumored death of Paul McCartney. Paul is walking barefoot in a suit, George is dressed in jeans, much like a gravedigger, Ringo is dressed in similar fashion as an undertaker while John is dressed in white to symbolize a minister. Adding to the intrigue is the license plate on the VW that reads, “28 IF” as Paul would have been 28 if he had lived. Of course, Paul McCartney is not dead, but the “clues” became a fan obsession and the band seemed to have an endless supply of “clues” to egg them on.

Of course, the album was a huge success, reaching the top of the charts in scores of countries as the sixties came to an end. The songs on this album lean on each other much as the Beatles needed to lean on each other to produce the quality and quantity of music they made throughout their career. There are a few outstanding singles, but the medley only shines because they put together pieces of songs that weren’t quite complete on their own and created something unique, special and fleeting as the Beatles rode off into history shortly after Abbey Road was released.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

The Beatles

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The Beatles (white album)In 1968, The Beatles released their only double studio album, an eponymous release commonly referred to as The White Album. Despite the official title which emphasized group identity, the actual recordings were segmented and increasingly individualized based on the original composer of each tune.  Much of this was due to dissent and inner turmoil in which members openly objected to certain tunes. In fact, all four members of the group play together on barely half of the album’s 30 tracks and producer George Martin later admitted he advocated for a “very good single album” in lieu of including so many marginal individualized tracks. Thematically, the White Album was a complete withdrawal from The Beatles 1967 albums, retreating from the lush and vivid colorful themes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour with a plain white sleeve (save for the band’s name discreetly embossed) to pair with the most simple of titles. This was also the first release by the group on their independent label, Apple Records.

Even with 30 tracks, the album omitted much potential material. Several songs started during the five months of recording were later included on Abbey Road and several solo albums by the members and the group opted to release the tracks “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” (two of the most popular songs ever by the Beatles) as a pre-release single than include them on the White Album. With such a large amount of tracks, the album contains an eclectic mix of songs from wide musical genres, including folk, country , avant-garde, classical and chamber music, and British dance-hall music. The Beatles only slightly continued their psychedelic leanings from 1967 but spent much more effort returning to basic rock and blues of their earlier years. Such diversity on a single album was largely unprecedented in 1968 and seemed to bring equal measures of praise and criticism from fans and critics over the years. Still, The Beatles was a phenomenal commercial success, reaching number one on both side of the Atlantic and selling well over 10 million copies worldwide.

Many of the songs originated in Rishikesh, India while the band was collectively on a Transcendental Meditation retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the spring of 1968. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney used the time to write songs in earnest and would frequently meet to discuss song ideas (even though this was in contrast to the meditation “course”). Theses songs were composed on acoustic guitar, the only Western instrument available during their Indian visit. Once back in England, the group gathered at George Harrison‘s home to hash out the close to forty new compositions and make preliminary plans for recording. The sessions for The White Album were the first on which the band used 8-track recording, starting with “Hey Jude” at Trident Studios in central London before returning to Abbey Road Studios once EMI installed their own 8-track machine.

During the lengthy sessions from May through October 1968 much internal conflict began, group members later pinpointed this as the beginning of their ultimate breakup. Frustrated with his diminished role on several tracks, drummer Ringo Starr quit the band for a brief time, leaving McCartney as the drummer on a couple of tracks. These were also the first Beatles sessions where wives and girlfriends frequently attended, most notably Lennon’s future wive Yoko Ono, who was constant presence at the sessions. As a result of the tension McCartney and Lennon would often record in separate studios at Abbey Road (there were three), each using different engineers. The turmoil of these sessions extended beyond the band members. Engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked on several albums with the Beatles, abruptly quit and announced he would no longer work with the band and even George Martin took an unannounced holiday midway through the sessions, leaving the group to scramble for an interim producer. In the end, however, Lennon. McCartney, and Martin got together for a 24-hour session to mix, master, and sequence the White Album.


The Beatles by The Beatles
Released: November 22, 1968 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI and Trident Studios, London, May-October, 1968
Side One Side Two
Back In the U.S.S.R.
Dear Prudence
Glass Onion
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Wild Honey Pie
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Blackbird
Piggies
Rocky Raccoon
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
I Will
Julia
Side Three Side Four
Birthday
Yer Blues
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
…Except Me and My Monkey
Sexy Sadie
Helter Skelter
Long, Long, Long
Revolution 1
Honey Pie
Savoy Truffle
Cry Baby Cry
Revolution 9
Good Night
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Saxophone, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Drums, Flugelhorn, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Organ, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

 

McCartney played drums on the first two tracks of The Beatles. The opener “Back in the USSR” commences with jet aircraft effects and breaks into an upbeat rocker, combining elements of earlier Beatles and Beach Boys songs. In fact, Mike Love of the Beach Boys also attended the retreat in Rishikesh and he encouraged McCartney to “talk about the girls all around Russia” when Paul told him of his idea to write a song called “Back in the USSR” as a homage to Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA”. Although no tracks from The White Album were initially released as singles, “Back in the USSR” was released by Parlophone as a single in the UK in 1976, eight years later. “Dear Prudence” arrives like an awakening or a drawing out, with the hypnotically picked, rotating guitars by Lennon. The subject of this song is Prudence Farrow, part of the Rishikesh entourage, who became so serious about her meditation that she rarely came out of the cottage she was living in, prompting others to enlist Lennon to try and make sure she came out more often. Towards the end of the song is a good rock jam which previews some of the finer moments on the album.

“Glass Onion” contains lyrics and music that acts as an epilogue to Magical Mystery Tour. Like a psychedelic trip through the past year, the lyrics call out earlier Beatles songs by name with provocative lyrics to fans such as; “Well here’s another clue for you all, the Walrus was Paul”, which Lennon later dismissed as having no deeper meaning. On the gibberish front, McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” may contain sophomoric lyrics, but this song shines for its pure sonic quality, starting with McCartney’s vocals which sound like nothing else he had (or has) done. Thematically, this infectiously fun song is an expression of the pure joy of everyday, ordinary life. While Lennon, openly detested this song in its original, reggae-influenced form, the band spent many sessions reworking it towards its finished form.

George HarrisonAfter the filler experimental piece “Wild Honey Pie”, a flamenco guitar phrase introduces “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”. Like a kids song gone rogue, the song mocks a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took break from meditation to go hunting tigers. Recorded later in the album sessions, “Bungalow Bill” features Yoko Ono singing co-lead vocals for a single line, the only female lead vocal in the Beatles library. Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the best moment on the album. With a great piano intro and chord structure, the song features a pulsating rhythm beneath the profound vocals of Harrison and wild guitar  by guest Eric Clapton. Inspiration for the song came from reading the I Ching which prompted Harrison to experiment by writing a song based on the first words he saw upon opening a random book. Those words were “gently weeps” and he immediately began writing the song, although many of his verses were later omitted. The presence of Clapton also served to temporarily alleviate the studio tension, as the band members were on their best behavior during his time in the studio.

The fantastic first side concludes with Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, an asymmetrical mini suite, which moves several sections rapidly, each becoming more anthemic and rocking. Lennon claims the title came from the cover of a gun magazine that George Martin showed him. and it has been cited by both McCartney and Harrison as one of their favorites on the White Album.

Paul McCartney“Martha My Dear” begins with a great piano through intro, soon accompanied by orchestration and a very slight thumping rock section during the middle of the bridge. McCartney is the only Beatle to appear on this track (written about his English sheepdog), which includes nice brass and string arrangements by Martin. “I’m So Tired” is another short masterpiece by Lennon with very emotive vocals masterfully adjusted for differing effects. A direct, first-person account of a sleepless night in India, the unabashed examination of his own fragile state of mind, previews later solo work by Lennon such as Plastic Ono Band. Back to McCartney, with the solo recording of “Blackbird”, a beautiful acoustic solo piece with music based on J.S. Bach’s “Bourrée”. The hypnotizing acoustic, double-tracked vocals and tapping percussion and the guitar make for a pretty and inspirational tune with lyrics inspired by the Civil Rights struggle.

“Piggies” is a Baroque influenced song by Harrison as social commentary on the class system. Originally written in 1966 at his parents’ home, Harrison’s mother provided the line “What they need’s a damn good whacking” while Lennon contributed the line “clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.” The predominant harpsichord is accompanied by a string quartet, produced by Chris Thomas in Martin’s absence. Ringo Starr“Rocky Raccoon” is a Western saloon type folk song with McCartney on consistent acoustic and lead vocals, Lennon providing harmonica and harmonium, and George Martin adding the nice honky-tonk piano breaks. An actual collaboration between McCartney and Lennon, this storytelling song originated during a three man acoustic jam with folk singer Donovan on retreat in India. “Don’t Pass Me By” is the first composition credited to Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) and would have made for a good Ringo Starr solo track. Starr also provides an interesting tack piano, accompanied by great bluegrass fiddle playing by guest Jack Fallon. The song was a #1 hit in Denmark in April 1969.

Following his frivolous, minute and a half “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”, McCartney provides the retro feeling “I Will”. With much nod towards early Beatles, this song contains a unique arrangement with vocal bass and unconvential percussion. Although simple and short, “I Will” took 67 takes to record. Lennon’s solo ballad “Julia” is a finger-picking acoustic song written for his mother Julia Lennon, who died in car accident when John was 17 years old. The fun celebration rocker “Birthday” starts the album’s third side. One of the rare tracks written in the studio, the song features a catchy blues progression guitar riff augmented by choppy piano.

This third side is where some of the White Album’s weaker spots come to the fore. “Yer Blues” is one of these, as an almost-annoying blues tune with the only redeeming quality being the slight middle jam section that is unfortunately cut short by a return to the repetitive verse. “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” is another marginal song by Lennon, albeit a little more interesting due to its frantic rocking style, complete with groovy late sixties guitars and rudiments. in between these is the pleasant folk diddy “Mother Nature’s Son” by McCartney, the best song on this side. This song completely captures the intended mood with great acoustic riffs and horns ensemble musically and inspired lyrics based on a lecture by the Maharishi. McCartney recorded it “live”, singing and playing acoustic guitar simultaneously with overdubs done later.

John LennonThe four Beatles left India at different times and with different opinions of the Maharishi. Lennon, a t one point a “true believer”, ultimately became the most jaded by the experience and expressed this brilliantly on the song “Sexy Sadie”. starting with an interesting reverbed piano, the song is arranged in manner frequently used by the group Queen a decade later, with lush backing vocal choruses, other parts laden with effects, and a lead guitar lying sharply above the mix. “Helter Skelter” is a style piece, with little substance by McCartney, in a deliberate effort to create a sound as loud and dirty as possible. Still, this became one of the most famous (or infamous) on the album following the Manson family murder spree and its use as title for the subsequent book. After the 18th take, Ringo Starr flung his drum sticks across the studio and screamed, “I got blisters on me fingers!”, included on the stereo mix of the song. Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long” completes side three as a cross between jazz waltz, folk, and psychedelia with good underlying riffs and great drum interludes, but not very cohesive overall. With the topical organ this track sounds like it may have been influenced by Pink Floyd.

And then there is Lennon’s “Revolution”. Originally, a single ten-minute piece comprised of a song proper and an improvised coda, the first part of the song was edited out as “Revolution 1”, a slow acoustic blues number with “shooby-do-wah” vocals and added horns. However, most of the Beatles were unhappy with this version, so a heavier, more upbeat version of “Revolution” was recorded and released as the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single. Still, Lennon wanted to return to the earlier recording and fought to have “Revolution 1” included on the White Album as well as re-record the avant-garde sound collage as the track “Revolution 9”, using the last six minutes of the original recording as a starting point. With numerous sound effects, tape loops, and overdubs, and virtually no musical melody, the eight and a half minute track is the longest track that the Beatles officially released. McCartney was against including this song on the album and Beatles fans have debated its merits for four and a half decades. In any case, it was a dissatisfying “tour de force” for this otherwise fine musical collection.

The Beatles was quickly followed up by Yellow Submarine less than two months later in January 1969. By then the band had already moved on to their next project, which was eventually released as Let It Be. Despite the unevenness of the music, the controversial inclusions, and the utter lack of promotion, the album became a classic. As McCartney later unapologetically put it, “it’s the bloody Beatles White Album!”

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

The Beatles in 1967

Buy Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Buy Magical Mystery Tour

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesThere has never been (nor probably will ever be) a year in which a single band produced so much quality material as The Beatles did during the year 1967. In order to properly pay tribute, we at Classic Rock Review have put together our largest article ever. This includes extensive reviews of both the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour albums along with a look at all the rest of the band’s output from that year  which included recordings for future projects, several promotional videos, a live television special, and their third dedicated film. Unlike our normal album reviews, we look at everything in a strictly chronological order, delving into everything as it came about in sequence. This method works best because so many projects and elements overlapped during the year and only found their proper, permanent place as history unfolded.

Before diving into 1967, it is important to provide the context of the Beatles’ career in 1966. By that time the Beatles had conquered the musical world like no other rock act before, but still things were starting to unravel. There was major controversy over John Lennon‘s “more popular than Jesus” comments, causing the members to need heavy guards everywhere they went and they had nearly lost their lives in the Philippines after offending dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Further, the band was getting tired of the constant touring and frenzied fans and decided to halt touring altogether by the end of the summer of ’66. Despite putting out the brilliant album Revolver, it was under-appreciated in its day and many wondered whether the band was past its peak. All four members decided to take an extended break and decide what to do next. George Harrison took his first trip to India while Lennon starred in the major motion picture How I Won the War. On his way home from a vacation in  America, Paul McCartney came up with the idea of doing an album from the perspective of an alter-ego band.

Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesThe band reconvened at Abbey Road Studios on November 24, 1966 (Thanksgiving in the USA, but just a normal Thursday in England) to start their new album. That night they recorded one song, a simple folk song by Lennon called “Strawberry Fields Forever”. But ultimately, this song would be anything but simple as it took a total of 45 hours to record,  and this initial version of the song would not even be used. A second version was started at the end of November, this time featuring a mellotron intro by McCartney. The instrument had just been introduced to the band by Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues (who at the time was working at the instrument’s manufacturing factory) and “Strawberry Fields” would become the first song by a major act to use the instrument. It gave this version of the song a surreal element and atmosphere. Still, Lennon thought he could do more with the song and a third distinct version, scored by producer George Martin, including brass, strings, backwards masking, and complex rhythm section led by Ringo Starr and “about 9 or 10 other players.” When Lennon couldn’t decide if he wanted to use the second or third version of the song, the true magic took place. Martin fused the two together, even though version 3 was at a faster tempo and in a higher key, by using two tape machines varying the speed of one. The result is a production masterpiece which blazed the path for the upcoming Sgt. Pepper album.

Ironically, “Strawberry Fields Forever” would not be included on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. It  was released as a “double A” single along with McCartney’s companion piece, “Penny Lane”, at the urging of manager Brian Epstein who wanted a song on the charts. Both songs shared the theme of nostalgia for their early years in Liverpool and both referred to actual locations familiar to all of the Beatles. Although possessing many of the same surreal elements, “Penny Lane” is more sing-songy, like a children’s ballad. It takes a typical suburban scene and turns into something dreamier, like a parade of life. The song has a basic piano melody overlaid by several brass elements and a distinctive piccolo trumpet lead by Dave Mason, who McCartney saw perform on television and commissioned for this song. Although Martin has stated that he believes “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the greatest single ever released by the group, it peaked at #2 on the UK charts.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesSgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released: June 1, 1967 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – April 1967
Side One Side Two
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds
Getting Better
Fixing a Hole
She’s Leaving Home
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Within You Without You
When I’m Sixty-Four
Lovely Rita
Good Morning Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise)
A Day in the Life
Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesMagical Mystery Tour
Released: November 27, 1967 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – December 1967
Side One Side Two
Magical Mystery Tour
The Fool On the Hill
Flying
Blue Jay Way
Your Mother Should Know
I Am the Walrus!
Hello, Goodbye
Strawberry Fields Forever
Penny Lane
Baby You’re a Rich Man
All You Need Is Love
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Mellotron, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Mellotron, Recorder, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Tambala, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The earliest recording to actually end up on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a vaudevillian number called “When I’m Sixty-Four”, which was recorded during the same sessions as “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”. Written by McCartney when he was only 16 (about 8 years earlier), the song includes a clarinet trio and sounds like it needs a companion, choreographed stage dance routine to go with it. It was recorded as homage to Paul’s father James McCartney, who actually had turned 64 earlier in 1966.

In early 1967, the Beatles were considering releasing a companion film with the Sgt. Pepper’s album, and recorded a lot of footage of their massive sessions for the song “A Day In the Life” in January and February. The song would be the final track on the album and its crowning jewel as it fused separate compositions by Lennon and McCartney into a singular masterpiece. It starts with Lennon’s folk ballad based on contemporary newspaper articles, accompanied by a strummed acoustic guitar, a bouncy, staccato piano, and great drum fills by Starr. After the initial recordings, Lennon felt like the song needed something more in the middle and McCartney had a short, happy-go-lucky song about his youth which was added. Unsure of how to connect the sections, 24 bars of “empty space” was left on either side of the middle section with assistant engineer Mal Evans counting out the bars on top of a simple, repeating piano. This section was later “filled in” with a building, “orgasmic” orchestral passage, conducted by McCartney and Martin, using 40 players which were later quadriple-tracked to give the effect of an orchestra of 160. The result is perhaps the best Beatles composition ever, ending with the most famous chord in rock history, a single strike played by Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Martin simultaneously on four separate pianos and sustained four over a minute to finish the song and the album.
 

 
Along with “A Day In the Life”, Lennon and McCartney fully collaborated with the duet “She’s Leaving Home”, after reading a newspaper story about a young girl who’d left home and, at the time, was not again found (until many year later). With Martin unavailable to do the score, McCartney enlisted Mike Leander to do the orchestration, including a harp was played by Sheila Bromberg, who became the first female musician to appear on a Beatles record. The song would become one of the last true collaborations by Lennon and McCartney, who constantly worked together during the early years but would each maintain more solo control over future Beatles compositions.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesThe title song to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, written by McCartney, is an entertaining albeit tacky song which fits in with the overall image of the album, right down to the cover art which included a montage of of the Beatles’ “heroes” on designed by artist Peter Blake. The song itself has a strong rock presence with a super electric guitar tied together beautifully by a great rock vocal by McCartney, interspersed by many production elements including French horns and audience sounds. The song is reprised later, as a “closing” message just prior to “A Day In the Life”. The opening song segues into “With a Little Help From My Friends”, an entertaining number with a double meaning written by McCartney for Ringo Starr to sing.

McCartney also wrote several other upbeat rock songs for the album including “Lovely Rita”, a literal song about a female traffic warden featuring a piano solo by Martin and “Getting Better”, an optimistic creed featuring some excellent instrumentation. Lennon plays a distinct, choppy guitar, while Harrison adds an Indian tambura part and all Beatles sing fine harmonies throughout. “Fixing a Hole” is a more moderate pop song led by Martin’s harpsichord and Harrison’s double-tracked guitar riffs. McCartney said he wrote the song about the the fans who hung around outside his home day and night.

The Beatles in 1967

Lennon’s compositions on the album were more experimental than McCartney’s. “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by a drawing that his young son made in nursery school. The song modulates between musical keys, with Lennon singing a monotone verse over an increasingly complicated underlying arrangement featuring Harrison’s tambura and a counter-melody organ played by McCartney. Although the song has long been associated with “LSD”, the Beatles firmly deny that was ever the intent in this case while openly admitting that drugs influenced other songs. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” contained lyrics which were lifted from an old poster, nearly verbatim. Musically, Lennon wanted a strong carnival atmosphere and this was accomplished by using tape loops from the Abbey Road library, several odd instruments, including a real steam organ and a big bass harmonica, influenced by the sounds on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. On the sarcastic “Good Morning Good Morning”, Lennon did a sonic version of Andy Warhol’s pop art by lifting themes and phrases from television commercials and shows and adding a sequence of animal sounds to the end, with each successive animal being capable of devouring the one before.

George Harrison with a sitarAside from the aforementioned songs excluded for a single release, the only song recorded for Sgt. Pepper’s and not included on the album was Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song”, a protest of the Beatles’ music publishing practice which gave Lennon and McCartney higher royalties to all songs by the band, even those composed by Harrison. With this exclusion, Harrison had only one composition on the album, “Within You Without You”. This song was heavily influenced by the sitar, the virtuoso Ravi Shankar, and Indian music in general. The recording featured several uncredited Indian musicians along with several more session players. Harrison was the only actual Beatle to perform on the song. This was originally written as a 30-minute piece, but was abbreviated to about 5 minutes for the album.

Although Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was not released until June 1, 1967, recording had wrapped by mid April and the Beatles dove right into writing and recording new material. Some of these sessions proved fruitless, such as an Abbey Road session on May 7th, where the band “jammed” for over seven hours with little committed to tape and no new material to build on. They also spent several sessions working on “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”, perhaps the weirdest song in the Beatles collection which is only really interesting because it features a saxophone part by Rolling Stone Brian Jones. This song was not released for nearly 3 years when it became the ‘B’ side for the 1970 single “Let It Be”.

Yellow Submarine soundtrackDuring this time the band also wrote and recorded the bulk of the new material for the upcoming animated film Yellow Submarine (although that soundtrack would not be released until January 1969). Along with “Only a Northern Song”, the soundtrack would include The June 1967 recordings “All Together Now”, which McCartney described as a children’s sing-along in the music hall tradition and “It’s All Too Much”, one of the few Beatles songs to be recorded in a studio outside of Abbey Road. Another song written and recorded during that time for Yellow Submarine was “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, a hybrid of two songs which makes heavy use of the clavioline, an unusual instrument. However, this last song was pushed up for release, first as the ‘B’ side to their next single “All You Need Is Love” and later included on the US version of the album Magical Mystery Tour.

“All You Need Is Love” was written specifically for a worldwide television broadcast called Our World, which was the first ever live global television broadcast on June 25, 1967, and was watched by 400 million people worldwide. The BBC had commissioned The Beatles to write a song as the United Kingdom’s contribution, requesting a song containing a simple message that could be understood by all nationalities. Lennon gladly took up the task and wrote the song in a short time with Martin arranging a live orchestra in the studio for the broadcast with the band accompanied by friends and acquaintances seated on the floor. The result is a simple anthem with the message “nothing else means anything without love”, and the leading indicator for what would be termed the “summer of love”. The single “All You Need Is Love”/”Baby You’re a Rich Man” was released on July 7, 1967 and reached the #1 position in every major country that had a pop chart.

After the live broadcast, the Beatles took much of the rest of the summer off to plan for their next project. In August, all four members of the band traveled to Bangor, Wales to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who they collectively regarded as their spiritual advisor at the time. Brian Epstein death announcementWhile in Wales, the band received the tragic news that their manager Brian Epstein had died from an accidental drug overdose. Later referred to by band members as “the fifth Beatle”, Epstein had forged the band’s image and shaped their early career through all the madness of “Beatlemania”. After the band ceased touring in 1966, Epstein’s role in the band diminished quickly and he began to display erratic behavior and developed chemical dependency. Many music historians would later pin-point this moment, the moment of Epstein’s death, as setting the ultimate course for the band’s eventual breakup.

The band returned to Abbey Road studio on August 22nd to work on material for their next project, a film and score called Magical Mystery Tour. The title came from a song the band recorded back in May, which would serve the same basic purpose as the title song for Sgt. Pepper’s – an introduction for the listener to the adventure they are about to take. This catchy tune contains good effects and production techniques. The songs key lyric, “Roll up, roll up” served the duo purpose of harkening back to the old circus barkers as well as a veiled reference to rolling up a joint. The first song written specifically for Magical Mystery Tour was “Your Mother Should Know”, serving as an old-fashioned dance segment choreographed for the film to the sounds of this song with fine organ interludes. Here McCartney sported a black carnation, different than the rest of the band, which was cited as one of the many clues in the “Paul is dead” conspiracy.

Beatles on bus 1967

The film was made in September in various English locations which were traveled to by the bus carrying the band and cast members. There was no script, as the emphasis was on the “mystery” of what would happen during the tour. Nothing much did, and the band grew increasingly frustrated by fans who began to trail the band along the way. Still, the band made some very interesting music during the fall of 1967. Included here was the cool instrumental “Flying”, featuring a dual guitar by McCartney and Harrison and a mellotron lead by Lennon. This was the only Beatles song credited to all four members of the band. “The Fool On The Hill” is a fine ballad by McCartney, written during a visit back to his father’s house in Liverpool. Lyrically, the song paints a pictures in the mind and fits in perfectly with the music, mainly performed by McCartney. Harrison’s contribution to the album is the surreal “Blue Jay Way”, with creepy, and literal Lyrics.

Lennon later admitted that “I Am the Walrus” was written during an acid trip. It was a combination of three separate songs that Lennon had been working on, with the Walrus being a reference to a Lewis Carroll poem. Lennon also intentionally wrote the most amusing lyrics he could when he was informed that a teacher at his old high school was deciphering Beatle lyrics in one of his classes and found the the whole process absurd. Musically, the song employs many of the techniques started in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with orchestral parts laid on top of a driving electric piano and some fine drumming by Starr.

Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesThe band wrote and recorded “Hello Goodbye” as their next single. Lyrically, the song derived from a songwriting demonstration that McCartney gave when he asked the participant to shout out the opposite of what he sang. Musically, it is a throwback to the mop-top pop days of the band, with some fine overdubs of electric guitar and viola. The song reprises with a coda which came about spontaneously in the studio. The single was released in late November and reached #1 in 10 countries.

Magical Mystery Tour was released on December 8, 1967 as a six song double EP in the UK, featuring only the songs recorded specifically for the film. In the US, these songs were combined with the five songs released on singles earlier in the year – “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, “All You Need is Love”, “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, and “Hello, Goodbye” – in order to make a full LP, which was later adapted as the official version of the album. Although the album hasn’t received the same critical acclaim as its predecessor, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album is of similar quality when weighted with the quality singles. On December 26th, the Magical Mystery Tour film was screened on the BBC-1 in black and white and promptly savaged by critics, which may have soured some to the fine music of the album.

The Beatles would continue with a few more years of top quality output prior to their breakup in April 1970. However, they would not again reach the phenomenal level they achieved in 1967.

~

1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1967 albums.

 

The Beatles’ Last Audition

At the end of the Beatles last ever live performance (on a London rooftop) John Lennon jokingly said “I hope we passed the audition”. Well, there was actually a time when the band had to pass auditions and the last of these instances happened 50 years ago today, when the band entered Abbey Road Studios for the first time.

Although the actual recordings made that day were nothing spectacular, several events happened that day which would change the course of rock history…

Special Feature on Beatles’ 50th Anniversary of First Abbey Road Session

The Beatles First
Abbey Road Session

Abbey Road Studios, LondonAt the very end of The Beatles’ very last live performance, an improvised concert on the roof of a building in January 1969, John Lennon jokingly stated, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” This, of course, was met with laughter at the absurdity of the most popular band in the world having to pass an audition. But there was a time when the Beatles did audition on a regular basis (and didn’t always pass those auditions). The last real audition by the band was held less than seven years prior to that rooftop concert, and they were far from assured whether they would “pass” that one. It was held on June 6, 1962 at what would later be re-named Abbey Road Studios.

That was exactly a half century ago today. On that day, no one involved could have possibly imagined how historically connected this building in London and that shaggy rock band from Liverpool would become. Within 18 months, the Beatles would become the top rock band in the world, remain so until their breakup in 1970, and to this day remain the most popular act ever. This despite the fact that the band completely stopped touring midway through their career, relying solely on their studio recordings to maintain their fame, and these recordings have become legendary. And, with the exception of the Let It Be sessions, every one of the band’s singles, albums, and film soundtracks was recorded at this studio, with the band’s final studio album being a dedication which bore the name Abbey Road. Check out any major publication’s top whatever list of all-time albums and you’re likely to find multiple Beatles albums in the top ten, all of which were likely recorded at this studio.
(SIDE NOTE: Classic Rock Review does not make such lists, but we do extensively review each important album. The Beatles’ Revolver was reviewed last year, with Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour coming later this summer, while the rest will be scheduled during their respective anniversary years)

The Quarrymen in 1958The four band members arrived together at what was then known as EMI Studios at 3 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London in a beat-up white van. Although they were four, they weren’t quite yet the “fab four”. The core three members – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison – had been together since 1957 when they went by the name The Quarrymen. Each was a guitarist with vocal abilities and a passion for American rock n roll. The group went through several rotating members in the early years, the most notable being bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, who is credited by many for coming up with the name “Beatles” (although Lennon later contended it was his idea). In 1960, the band landed their first gigs in Hamburg, Germany, but the club owner specifically wanted a five-piece band so they hired drummer Pete Best. When the first Hamburg tour abruptly ended (three band members were deported), Sutcliffe decided to stay with his German girlfriend and attend art school in Hamburg. McCartney moved over to bass and The Beatles were now a quartet of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Best.

After the band unloaded their gear for the session scheduled for 6:00 pm, the studio engineers were dissatisfied with the quality and shape of the amplifiers, especially McCartney’s bass rig. So the session was delayed for about an hour while the crew went down to one of the studio’s famous echo chambers in the basement of the building to retrieve a suitable bass speaker and solder the appropriate inputs. The band members were directed to the building’s canteen where they nervously sipped tea and awaited the call to report to the sound stage. The building itself was already very old at that point. It was built in 1830 as a 9-bedroom townhouse along a footpath that lead to Kilburn Abbey. About a century later, in 1931, it was acquired by the Gramophone Company and converted into recording studios with the first recordings being of the London Symphony Orchestra. The company later amalgamated to form EMI (Electric and Musical Industries) an in 1957 it EMI acquired Capitol Records for distribution in American markets.

The Beatles at the Cavern, 1961Coming into 1962, it appeared to be a promising year for The Beatles. The previous year had seen ever greater success with further Hamburg gigs and a dedicated following back in Liverpool where they frequently headlined The Cavern Club. The band had backed up singer Tony Sheridan (as “The Beat Brothers”) for a single called “My Bonnie” which was making waves in Germany and caught the ear of a local Liverpool record store owner named Brian Epstein, who approached the band with an offer to manage them. Epstein got the band more money for gigs, better clothes, and their first real promise of landing a major record deal.

However, the early part of 1962 had been quite a bummer for the band thus far. They had performed their first major label studio audition for Decca in London on New Year’s Day, recording 15 tracks live. But by February, Decca had turned down the group because (in their infinite wisdom) they had concluded that “guitar music” was on the decline. Then in April the band received the tragic news that their former colleague Stuart Sutcliffe had died suddenly in Hamburg from a brain hemorrhage. All the while, Epstein was using the Decca audition tapes in an attempt to draw some interest from other major labels, but no one was biting. Finally, a producer and A&R man from EMI’s Parlophone label named George Martin gave the green light to audition the band in June.

Although Martin was the type of personality that wasn’t quick to dispose of any possibility, he did not sincerely believe that anything would come of this session. In fact, he had no intention of attending it personally, as he delegated production responsibilities to Ron Richards (the resident “rock n roll” guy). With Norman Smith as engineer, The Beatles started their first Abbey Road recording session at around 7:00 pm that evening.

John Lennon and Paul Mccartney at EMI Studios, 1962Now, this article may have thus far built up expectations that something truly magical happened on that day fifty years ago. But the truth is, this Beatles’ session was quite ordinary, even sub-par to the rejected Decca session recordings. In fact, the master tapes were soon destroyed when the record company determined there was nothing of commercial value from these sessions, so there was no “inferno” of musical genius or creativity. But there were several little “sparks” on that day which set the course of music history. The first of these came when the band first performed “Love Me Do”, which Smith recognized as a potential radio hit (in 1962, it was 100% about finding the next “radio hit”). He sent for George Martin down in the canteen and Martin came up to the control room and took over as producer for the rest of the session. The Beatles recorded four songs that night. Aside from “Love Me Do”, there were two more Lennon-McCartney originals; “P.S. I Love You” and “Ask Me Why”, and “Besame Mucho”, an old Latin crooner song that had been covered by The Coasters in 1960.

When the session wrapped up at around 10:00 pm, Martin called the band members into the control room and gave what was later described as a “lecture”. According to Smith;

…he gave them a long lecture about their equipment and what would have to be done about it if they were to become recording artists. They didn’t say a word, they didn’t even nod their heads in agreement. When he finished, George said ‘Look, I’ve laid into you for quite a time, you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’ I remember they all looked at each other for a long while, shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said ‘Yeah, I don’t like your tie!’ That cracked the ice for us…”

Martin, whose specialty to that point was comedy and entertainment, was struck by the personalities, humor, and wit of the band members and within 15 minutes of giving his lecture he had decided to sign the band. However, Martin did have some problems with Pete Best’s drumming and later made it clear to Epstein that he reserved the right to enlist a drummer of his choosing for any future sessions. This final point was another spark from that day which ignited the Beatles’ destiny, as Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison decided to pursue the drummer they wanted all along, Ringo Starr.

Richard Starkey was a bit of a Liverpool legend to the rest of the Beatles. He was a little older, and had actually made some money as the long-time drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Around 1960, it was fashionable for all musicians to have a stage name (Lennon was “Long John”, McCartney was “Paul Rabon”, and George became “Carl Harrison”) and “Ringo Starr” was one of the few who actually kept his permanently. During a time when both bands were playing in Hamburg, Starr actually sat in with The Beatles when Best could not make a couple of gigs. Also, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, did a recording session with Starr at Akustik Studio in Hamburg in October 1960, backing up Hurricanes’ bassist Lu Walters on his cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Until Martin’s comments, The Beatles were not bold enough to try and poach Starr from his longtime band, but they decided the time was right to make the move and Starr agreed to join the band so long as he could finish out his committed dates with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. In August 1962, Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as the drummer of The Beatles and the true “fab four” were in place.

Fall 1962 Abbey Road sessions with Ringo StarrThe Beatles returned to Liverpool and resumed their regular gigs at the Cavern through the summer of 1962, not returning again to the Abbey Road studios until September. When they did return, there was a bit more turmoil as Martin had booked session drummer Alan White, not realizing that the group had replaced Best in the interim. So it was White who performed on Beatles’ first single “Love Me Do”, with Ringo Starr relegated to playing maracas and tambourine in order to receive pay for the sessions. However, the Beatles did assert themselves that future sessions include Ringo as a permanent member of the band. They also took a stand when Martin went to “Tin Pan Alley” to get them a “hit” song called “How Do You Do It?”. The band did record it, but refused to release it as a single saying they’d “never be able to show their face in Liverpool again”. Ironically, the song was later recorded by another Liverpool group, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and it did reach #1 on the U.K. charts.

Martin would not have to wait long for the Beatles to score their own #1 hit, “Please Please Me”, recorded in November and released in January, 1963. With this rapid success, EMI commissioned the production of the first Beatles’ album. On a single day – February 11, 1963 – the band recorded the bulk of what would become the Please Please Me album. The effect of this goliath session was best captured on the day’s final recording “Twist and Shout”, where Lennon’s voice is torn to shreds from the long day, giving it an unintended edge, which was one of the great happy accidents of rock history. The album was released by late March, and the rest as they say, is history.

Who knows what may have happened if The Beatles did not get that last “audition” on June 6, 1962? They were certainly a talented and determined band, and chances are we’d still be talking about them today anyway. But it is unlikely that the eternal marriage between The Beatles and Abbey Road would have come to be. Pete Best may have been a member of an alternate “fab four” and George Martin may have never realized his calling as rock’s greatest producer. Fortunately, things worked out in the way they were destined.

Also fortunate is the fact that one of the engineers secretly made mono copies of “Love Me Do” and “Besame Mucho” before the master tape from that session was destroyed, historically preserving some of the product of that historic day. This was not revealed until the 1980s, and these two tracks were finally released to the public on Anthology 1 in 1995, giving Pete Best his first ever royalties as a Beatle thirty-three years after the fact.

~

Ric Albano

Tug Of War by Paul McCartney

Tug Of War by Paul McCartneyThe naive belief that one could end war by political correctness at a time when no major wars were occurring in the Western world may be the best way to describe the underlying theme of Tug Of War, the 1982 album by Paul McCartney. It comes in the wake of many events including the death of John Lennon and the dissolution of McCartney’s post-Beatles group, Wings. In fact, the earliest sessions for Tug Of War (in late 1980) were actually intended for the final Wings album. But following Lennon’s assassination, recording was suspended and that album was never completed. Lacking direction, McCartney called in Beatles producer George Martin to work on his material for the first time since the “Fab Four” broke up.

Reuniting with Martin guaranteed that the album would receive much attention. Much of the production is rich and rewarding, as one would expect from a George Martin production. However, the creative muse from McCartney seems contrived at times. Aside from the songs with his ex-Wings band mates, there are two collaborations with Stevie Wonder, one with Carl Perkins, and one with fellow Beatle, Ringo Starr.

As a whole, the album is almost interesting musically but not cohesive in the slightest. In total, there is about half of a great album here of well-produced and melodic songs. This shows that there was great potential in this reunion of McCartney and Martin. But then there’s the rest of the album which sounds like it should have been reserved for some kind of celebrity collection.
 


Tug Of War by Paul McCartney
Released: April 26, 1982 (EMI)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, 1981
Side One Side Two
Tug Of War
Take It Away
Somebody Who Cares
What’s That You’re Doing?
Here Today
Ballroom Dancing
The Pound Is Sinking
Wanderlust
Get It
Be What You See (Link)
Dress Me Up As a Robber
Ebony and Ivory
Primary Musicians
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards
Eric Stewart – Guitars, Vocals | Denny Laine – Guitars
George Martin – Piano | Stevie Wonder – Keyboards, Vocals
Steve Gadd – Drums

 
In March 1982, McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder, “Ebony and Ivory”, was released to broad acclaim. It reached #1 in many countries and consequently, Tug Of War immediately hit #1 on the album charts when it was released in April. The song uses the allegory of the ebony (black) and ivory (white) keys on a piano to make a statement on racial harmony, in a quite simplistic and tacky way. Still, it was a very popular song and the second most popular of McCartney’s entire career behind the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. The other collaboration with Wonder is “What’s That You’re Doing?”, a song that is quite off-putting because of the cheap electronics brought to the forefront. For the amount of talent between these two geniuses, this is really a low quality, throwaway track, extended way too long in length with sounds generated as if a couple of teenagers got a hold of a synthesizer.

“Here Today” was written as a bittersweet folk melody in memoriam of John Lennon with a string arrangement by Martin. But these fall short of magic and even the song written in tribute to Lennon seemed fluffy and lacking true substance, as if McCartney wrote the song he thought people wanted him to write rather than something deep and REAL. Some have compared the opening title song, “Tug of War” to Lennon’s “Imagine”, but that is a bit generous. It is a fine enough song, with good melody and interesting changes, but it is far from a classic.

“Take It Away” may be the last great Wings song, and it is certainly the best song on the album. It contains elements that harken back to greats like “Listen to What the Man Said”, with sonic supremacy, excellent vocal choruses, and just the right brass added at just the right time. The song starts as  reggae but morphs into something for show-style. If the rest of the album was of this quality, it would have been a great album
 

 
The second side opens with a few fine tracks, starting with the fun “Ballroom Dancing”, which is  well-produced with great sonic flavorings throughout. “The Pound Is Sinking” is a good acoustic song with a country and western type rhythm edged with a elements of doomy-ness and theatrics reminiscent to early Genesis. “Wanderlust” is a great piano song with good production and excellent vocals. It nods towards McCartney’s 1979 marijuana bust in Japan without getting too specific.

“Get It” is a duet with Carl Perkins, that is not totally unpleasant, but out of place here among some of the finer compositions. A weird “link” called “Be What You See” leads to “Dress Me Up As a Robber”, a funked-up disco with high-pitched vocals, which again calls into question some of the selections on this album (he should let Earth, Wind, and Fire be Earth, Wind, and Fire) The only really interesting part is the lead, Spanish-style acoustic.

In the end, Tug Of War would end up being the crossroads between McCartney’s fine albums of the seventies and the rather forgettable albums of the eighties.

~
R.A.
 


1982 Images

 

 

The Album

AlbumsClassic Rock Review is built around the concept of the “album”which we define as a collection of professionally recorded songs by a single artist published together usually through a single source of media. If that description sounds a bit convoluted, you may be right, but there really is no simple and concrete way to describe an atomic album. We don’t review singles or compilation sets, nor will we delve too deeply into different forms like live recordings, remastered works, or bonus tracks. Today we offer our first Special Feature (that is non-album review) on our understanding of this basic element of the site’s existence. We split this in two sections, looking at the evolution of the physical media followed by the practical casting of the music itself, which plays a big role on which specific eras we’ve decided to focus our reviews.

The Physical Media

Many people think “vinyl record” when they hear the term “album”, and this was certainly true for most of the eras that we review at CRR. But the truth is many types of media were used for recorded music before and after vinyl was prominent.

Wax CylindersAs we all learned in school, the first known recording was made by Thomas Edison in 1877 in his lab in New Jersey. The first commercial recordings became available in the next decade and these included various forms of discs and cylinders made of various materials including hard rubber.

By the turn of the century, the first earlier materials were largely replaced by a rather brittle formula of shellac, a cotton compound, powdered slate, and a small amount of a wax lubricant. The shellac record was the prominent form of media for over half a century (reigning even longer than vinyl) until the 1950s. These recordings played at 78 rpm and only contained four to five minutes of music per side on each 12 inch disc. This presented a problem for certain genres where longer pieces were custom, especially classical and free form jazz. To work around this problem, record companies began releasing a set of records together as “albums”. In the 1930s this practice became commonplace for all genres, as record companies began issuing multi-disc collections of 78 rpm records by one performer or of one type of music. Artwork began appearing on the front cover and liner notes on the back, with most albums including three to four two-sided records, or six to eight songs each album.

Old 78 RecordsThe first vinyl records appeared around 1940 and were used for commercial recordings that were mailed to several radio stations because vinyl was less breakable. Vinyl was also used for recordings shipped to U.S. troops overseas during World War II, for much the same reason. Most of these were still played at 78 rpm and so they had the same time restrictions as their shellac counterparts.

On June 21, 1948, the Long Play (LP) 33⅓ rpm microgroove 12-inch record album was introduced by Columbia Records. In response, RCA Victor came up with its own format – a 7-inch, 45 rpm single with a large center hole. The 45s kept many of the same properties of conventional 78s, one song per side and multiple discs per album, but were much more compact in size. However, over time it proved much more efficient to release albums on a single LP rather than multiple 45s (or 78s, which continued to be mass produced alongside the newer formats until about 1960 in the U.S.). The 45 did prove useful for promotional “singles” as the hit parade and rock n roll eras began in the 1950s.

Also in the mid-1950s, the common “record player” began to feature multiple speeds, so that a single unit could play LPs, 45s, and 78s, rather than separate units for each. This feature did much to keep both the new formats viable and artists began making recordings for both LP and single 45 release (or both). Other enhancements in technology began to make recordings sound better than ever, including the introduction of stereo and equalization in the late 1950s and noise reduction later on. However, some problems did persist with vinyl records, especially LPs. The latter tracks on a side had lower fidelity because there was less vinyl per second available closer to the center of the disc. This problem sparked research in other types of media.

Inside an 8-Track CartridgeEight-track cartridges, originally known as Stereo 8, were developed in the early sixties and experienced about a decade and a half of popularity through the 1970s. These cartridges used 3.75 inch magnetic tape that played in an endless loop tape with a track-change sensor that could be switched among four stereo “programs” played side on the tape. However, this format did not last long due to the inability to rewind, a feature available on 1/4″ cassette tapes, and the relatively low quality of sound as compared to higher end 2″ reel to reel tape. Soon the cassette tape took over the one area where the eight-track had reigned, the car stereo. For a while that format rivaled the LP for top format, especially after the development of mobile “boom boxes” in the late 1970s. The eight-track was phased out of production completely by 1982.

That same year Sony Corporation began producing symphonic music in a purely digital format called a Compact Disc (CD). Sampled at 44.1 kHz, the CD seemed to top all other formats in every phase. It had a greater frequency range from approximately 20 Hz to 20 kHz, as compared to LPs which had a bass turnover setting of 250–300 Hz and a treble rolloff at 10 kHz. Also, the digital format was the first to have “true stereo”, where other formats “bled” about 20% of one channel to the opposite channel and vice-versa. Finally, at 74 minutes a single CD held a nearly 50% higher capcity of music, as compared to the typical 40-48 minutes of a vinyl LP. The complete transition from vinyl to CD took over a decade as music consumers witnessed CD sections in record stores grow as the LP sections gradually shrunk and companies slowly made all mainstream material available on compact disc. But just when it seemed like the CD would be the dominant media for the foreseeable future, yet another innovation changed things.

Ever since the invention of the CD, several research groups and companies had been working on developing the next level standard. One such group was the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), which sought to develop digital compression to make motion pictures available. The group progressively developed formats starting in 1993 with MPEG-1, 1995 with MPEG-2, and 1996 with MPEG-3. This latest format was idea for file-sharing of music and became commonly know as mp3 due to its online extension format (.mp3). Nearly overnight music was being shared on the Internet through various services like Napster and CD sales began to plummet. After some desperate lawsuits and other tactics, the major labels eventually submitted to the new trend and today most albums are available in digital format and most songs can be purchased separately.

The Logical Album

As we mentioned eariler, music albums first physically consisted of multiple 78 rpm discs before later being released on vinyl LPs. However, there was also an evolution of the “logical” album.

At the dawn of the rock era, albums were simply a collection of songs, mainly a sales item and barely a cohesive, artistic statement. Songs were often developed with strict formulas and included as “fillers”, with a handful of popular songs being the main sales draw. The most popular songs were often featured on many albums, making a definite lineage of sequential works hard to trace for many early artists. Most songs were written by company employed songwriters or teams and creative control was placed firmly with record company producers.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan by Bob DylanThis all started to change in the 1960s. Led by artists like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, original compositions by top artists went from a tiny minority at the beginning of the decade to a vast majority by the end of the 1960s. Released in 1963, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan contained 12 originals out of 13 tracks and may well be one of the first “albums” as we at Classic Rock Review have come to define that term. The Beatles were also releasing albums as early as 1963, but they had different sets of albums for the UK and the US through 1966. In fact, the Beatles music was delayed from being released on CD until 1988 because there was a long debate on which path to follow for the first seven or eight releases, until the UK releases were deemed “official”.

Rubber Soul by The Beatles Also, during the height of the Beatles phenom, hit songs were intentionally kept off albums so that the most dedicated fans would buy both the LP and 45. For this reason, two new albums were created in 1988 (Past Masters I & II) to include the vast amount of A and B sides which were never included on any official Beatles album. Even though the album Rubber Soul had significant differences between the two versions, it may be the first work that was recorded as a cohesive “album” and not just a collection of songs. American musician Brian Wilson was so inspired by this album that he set out to produce his own masterpiece for The Beach Boys called Pet Sounds in 1966, which itself inspired the Beatles next album Revolver.

Classic Rock Review chose the year 1966 to begin our regular reviews, because it is when we believe the classic rock album first proliferated on all fronts – with most songs composed by the artist, the album a cohesive unit, and enough quality works available to review. There were certainly several classic works available before this time but those were fewer and further between. Similarly, we chose 1995 as our endpoint because that was just before the mp3 revolution, when the whole concept of “the album” began to break down and single, individual songs were treated (once again) as autonomous units. While this is beneficial to the music listener in many ways, what is lost is the artwork, the sides, the sequence, and a lot of the conversation that many of us knew and loved in earlier days.

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Ric Albano

Revolver by The Beatles

Buy Revolver

Revolver by The BeatlesAs many times as I’ve heard someone say they love The Beatles, I have heard someone else say they think they are overrated. To a generation of listeners raised in the digital era, this lack of appreciation may be understandable. It is like trying to explain what people did to entertain themselves before every home had a television. The genius of the Beatles lies in their innovation. Their songs are tangible evidence of what was possible when you broke the rules of accepted songwriting styles and production techniques. What they produced nearly half a century ago on analog tape with limited tracks stands the test of time. It remains relevant even in today’s age of digital production, seemingly limitless tracks, and computer aided sound engineering.

Due to their unprecedented and phenomenal success, The Beatles had a license to kill. By the end of summer 1966, the band stopped touring all together. Their primary focus would be recording albums as the individual members settled into domestic life in England. While Rubber Soul, released in December 1965, kicked off the Beatles evolution from four mop tops playing simple guitar based pop/rock songs to ventures with ethnic instruments and a folk rock sound, Revolver pushed the band into a new direction with an eclectic mix of sounds spun together in unconventional ways that shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it work brilliantly, it laid the groundwork for the future of sound production. The album also marks the beginning of more individualistic styles in the band’s songwriting. Like in the past, most of the songs are credited to “Lennon/McCartney”, but on Revolver the songs are more distinctly Paul McCartney or more distinctly John Lennon.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of this review of Revolver, it is important to realize that there were two different versions of this album. It was customary at this point in the international music business to release a UK version of an album as well as an altered US release with less songs and jumbled sequence. Revolver was not released in the US in its present form until the release of the digital CD in 1987. This was when it was settled that the UK versions were the “official” Beatles albums, so this is the version we have reviewed.


Revolver by The Beatles
Released: August 5, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, April-June, 1966
Side One Side Two
Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
I’m Only Sleeping
Love You To
Here, There, and Everywhere
Yellow Submarine
She Said, She Said
Good Day Sunshine
And Your Bird Can Sing
For No One
Doctor Robert
I Want to Tell You
Got to Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows
Band Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Synths, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitar, Piano, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album kicks off with George Harrison’s “Taxman”, inspired by the shockingly high income taxes paid by the band and other high earners in Great Britain – sometimes as high as 95%. It is a political song that takes a direct shot at Harold Wilson, the British Labour Prime Minister, and Edward Heath, Britain’s Conservative Leader of the Opposition. This was a very bold move for the times. Like “Taxman”, there are several straight-forward rock/pop songs on Revolver, molded in the Beatles’ mid-60s, “Swinging London” style. These include Lennon’s guitar driven “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert”, and McCartney’s uplifting “Good Day Sunshine”. But the heart of the album is built from multiple unconventional songs.

“Eleanor Rigby” consists of layers of strings and vocals. The stark instrumentation and arrangement set the scene perfectly for the tale of the ‘lonely people” in the song. It is noteworthy that this is a song where no Beatle plays any instrument, just McCartney’s lead locals and backing vocals by the other band members. The music is driven by a string octet arranged by producer George Martin. McCartney also wrote “For No One”, a mellow song featuring the writer playing clavichord and a famous horn solo played by guest Alan Civil, and “Here, There, and Everywhere” which showcases his knack for writing and arranging stunningly beautiful melodies.

Got To Get You Into My Life by The BeatlesMcCartney’s “Got to Get You into My Life” was influenced by the Motown sound with extensive use of brass. The song was not released as a single in the US until 1976, ten years after Revolver and six years after the Beatles disbanded, and amazingly, it became a top ten hit at that time. Harrison’s “Love You To” is a nod to his fascination with Indian music featuring the sitar front and center, which was used previously on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul, but is more famously used here. Harrison’s third and final composition on the album is the piano-driven “I Want To Tell You”, a far more traditional song with lyrics about his difficulty expressing himself.

John Lennon wrote “I’m Only Sleeping”, an odd stroll through a state (most likely drug induced) between being awake and being asleep. The backwards guitars add to the confused and muddled feeling of John Lennon’s vocals. “She Said, She Said” includes lyrics taken almost verbatim from a conversation between Lennon and actor Peter Fonda while they were under the influence of LSD in California in 1965. During a conversation, Fonda said “I know what it’s like to be dead,” because as a boy he had almost died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Beatles in 1966

The most groundbreaking song on this album from a technical aspect is the psychedelic final song, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary’s book, “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead”. Musically, the drone-like song included such groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects. The elaborate recording, which included several simultaneous tape machines and creative processing of Lennon’s vocals, was conducted by engineer Geoff Emerick.

The light and childlike “Yellow Submarine” was written to provide Ringo Starr his token lead vocal for Revolver. With the help of all band members and the Abbey Road production team, overdubbed stock sound effects from the studios’ tape library were used to add the memorable soundscape to this famous song.

Revolver is considered by many critics to be one of the top albums of all time. It marked the beginning of the second half of the Beatles’ career, when they produced a string of highly influential, classic albums right up to the very end of their storied run.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.