Tag Archives: On Music

The American Music Awards get real (for once)

By Dennis Hartley

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So I was fast-forwarding  past the vapid, over-choreographed, auto-tuned corporate muzak on the AMAs tonight (thank the gods for DVRs), hoping against hope I’d stumble across something that resembled an organic, analog performance…when this happened:

No, you heard it right: “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!”

Oh, yeah. Kick out the jams, motherfuckers.

Can’t wait to see the president-elect’s 3am tweets about that one…

…and one is hope: So long, Leon

By Dennis Hartley

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Leon Russell 1942-2016

It’s getting crowded up there. Leonard Cohen on Friday, now Leon Russell on Sunday? All in all, the weekend’s been a bit of a bummer.

Oh well, we’ll always have their music.

Russell was one of the heavyweights; an in-demand session player for decades, he cut his teeth with the legendary “Wrecking Crew”, who  were profiled in Denny Tedesco’s eponymous 2015 doc (my review).

He also had a prolific recording career as a solo artist, and was a truly  outstanding songwriter. So many classics. Here is but a sampling…

The saddest song in the world: R.I.P. Leonard Cohen

By Dennis Hartley

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1934-2016

It sounds like a bad joke: Man, what a depressing week! [“How depressing was it, Johnny?”]. I’ll tell you, Ed.  American democracy died on Tuesday…and Leonard Cohen was only able to make it to Friday.

(SFX: rim shot)

Hiyo!

Of course that’s not funny. But if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. I’m all cried out.

It goes like this: The fourth, the fifth; the minor fall, the major lift

I’m uplifted already. Halle-fuckin’-lujah. Make the angels cry, Leonard:

Was anyone’s music more cinematic? Robert Altman was an early fan:

From his final album, released just weeks ago.  A true poet to the end:

Start drinking now: A mixtape for election eve

By Dennis Hartley

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Well, this is it.

We find out tomorrow if we still have a future. Drinks/meds on standby? Excellent! I brought chips ‘n’ dip. And tunes. Let’s rock:

  1. Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention – “Plastic People”

2. Barry McGuire – “Eve of Destruction”

3. R.E.M. – “It’s the End of the World”

4.  King Crimson – “Epitaph” (isolated vocal track version)

5. The Youngbloods – “Darkness, Darkness”

6. Roy Orbison – “It’s Over”

7. The Doors – “The End”

8.  John Martyn – “I Don’t Want to Know”

9.  The Ramones – “I Wanna Be Sedated”

10. Styx – “Come Sail Away”

PLEASE VOTE.

Bono drops the mic on Trump

By Dennis Hartley

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From The Los Angeles Times:

Donald Trump has “hijacked” the Republican Party and comes in as possibly the “worst” idea ever for America, the lead singer of the band U2 said.

“America is the best idea the world ever came up with,” Irish singer-songwriter Bono told “CBS This Morning” in an interview that aired Tuesday. “But Donald Trump is potentially the worst idea that ever happened to America – potentially.”

Bono, whose real name is Paul David Hewson, argued that the Republican presidential nominee threatens America’s underlying values of justice and equality for all.

“He’s hijacked the party. I think he’s trying to hijack the idea of America,” he said. And I think it’s bigger than all of us. I think it’s …really dangerous.”

BOOM! Couldn’t have summarized it better myself.

I can’t wait to see Trump’s flurry of after-midnight tweets, firing back:

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Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

“Pudgy Bono” said bad things about me. Ivanka tells me he’s this big deal rock singer. I bet I can do what he does so much better. Believe me.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

I hear Pudgy Bono does lots of work for charities. I don’t know, but that’s what people say. Maybe someone should investigate these “charities”.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

So I hear Pudgy Bono has been performing concerts in America. He’s not even a citizen. Does he have a work visa? I don’t know. We should check.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

Have you seen Pudgy Bono’s tiny little hands? And he’s so short. I think he actually might be a leprechaun. I’m not sure. We’re looking into that.

Stay tuned…

Strictly rude: R.I.P. Prince Buster

By Dennis Hartley

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He may not have been as big of a household name as another Prince we lost earlier this year (what is it with 2016?), but Cecil Bustamente Campbell (aka Prince Buster) was no less an important figure in the music world, particularly to fans of Jamaican ska and rocksteady.

(from the Jamaica Observer)

Ska legend Prince Buster died Thursday morning in a South Florida hospital, his son Kareem Ali has confirmed.

The singer/producer, born Cecil Bustamante Campbell, was 78.

Prince Buster was ailing for some time, after suffering a series of strokes.

From West Kingston, Prince Buster was a protégé of producer Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd. In the late 1950s, he launched his Voice Of The People sound system and label, which released a number of his self-produced hits including Wash Wash, Blackhead Chineyman and Judge Dread.

He also produced the Ffolkes Brothers Oh Carolina in 1961.

Buster had an enduring following in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom where he performed regularly up to 12 years ago.

Here’s one of his classic productions/compositions:

Hush up! My favorite by the man himself:

Seen.

An elpee’s worth of covers: A Labor Day mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 4, 2016)

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It’s Labor Day…so I’m taking the day off as a film critic. And, I’m giving the original artists a day off so I can share an LP’s worth of my favorite cover songs. Enjoy!

  1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “All Along the Watchtower” – “And the wind began to HOWL!” Jimi’s soaring, immaculately produced rendition (from Electric Ladyland) came out 6 months after the original appeared on Dylan’s 1967 John Wesley Harding LP.

  1. Patti Smith– “Because the Night” – OK, Springsteen gave Patti first crack, so it could be argued that his version (recorded later) is technically the “cover”. I do feel Smith’s version is definitive (Bruce wins either way…so long as royalty checks keep rolling in).

  1. Isaac Hayes– “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” – Got 20 minutes? Hayes deconstructs Glen Campbell’s Jimmy Webb-penned hit and builds it into an epic suite that eats up side 2 of Hot Buttered Soul. This is his magnum opus…symphonic, heartbreaking, beautiful.

  1. Savoy Brown– “Can’t Get Next To You” – A bluesy take on the Temptations hit (written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Stong). The song features fine work from Dave Walker (vocals), Paul Raymond (piano) and founding member Kim Simmonds (guitar).

  1. Judas Priest– “Diamonds and Rust” – It sounds like a comedy bit: “Here’s my impression of Judas Priest covering a Joan Baez song.” But it happened, and it’s become one of Priest’s signature tunes. This is a rare stripped-down version, from a VH-1 broadcast.

  1. Julian Cope– “5 o’clock World” – The Teardrop Explodes founder reworks a memorable Top 40 hit by 1960s pop outfit The Vogues. I love how Cope cleverly (and seamlessly) incorporates quotes from Petula Clark’s “I Know a Place” for good measure!

  1. Fanny– “Hey Bulldog” – Pre-dating The Runaways, this all-female rock band kicked ass and took names. Unfortunately, they may have been too early for the party, because they never quite caught fire. This strident Beatles cover is from their 1972 LP Fanny Hill.

  1. Clive Gregson & Christine Collister- “How Men Are” – Gregson (founder of 80s power-pop band Any Trouble) teamed up with singer-songwriter Collister to cut 5 superb albums in the 80s and 90s. Collister’s vocal on this Aztec Camera cover is transcendent.

  1. Chris Spedding– “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” – Spedding is the Zelig of the U.K. music scene; an official member of 11 bands over the years, and a session guitarist who’s played with everybody since the 70s. This Kinks cover is the title cut of his 1980 album.

  1. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes– “Leaving on a Jet Plane” – Definitely not as originally envisioned by the late John Denver…but you can dance to it. This punk pop outfit (specializing in covers) is a communal side project for members of various bands.

  1. Paul Jones – “Pretty Vacant” – I realize the gimmick of doing ironic lounge covers of punk songs is now as “ho-hum” as arrhythmic white guys trying to rap, but when this winking take on a Sex Pistols song was released in 1978, it was a novel idea at the time.

  1. David Bowie– “See Emily Play” – Bowie was always ahead of the curve; even when he went retro. All-cover theme albums weren’t quite the rage yet in 1973, which is when Bowie issued Pin Ups in homage to the 60s artists who influenced him…like Pink Floyd.

  1. The Isley Brothers– “Summer Breeze” – You could always count on the Isleys to inject just as much heart and soul into covers as they did for their own original material. This take on a Seals & Crofts classic is no exception. Ernie Isley’s guitar solo is amazing.

  1. Julee Cruise– “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears” – David Lynch’s favorite chanteuse recorded this Elvis cover for the soundtrack of Wim Wender’s 1991 film Until the End of the World. This haunting rendition is quite reminiscent of the Doors’ “End of the Night”.

  1. Ronnie Montrose – “Town Without Pity” – I had the privilege of seeing this extraordinary guitarist perform in San Francisco in 1980, and 2011 in Seattle (sadly, he died in 2012). He was one of the best. This is an instrumental cover of Gene Pitney’s hit.

Funny how: Can We Take a Joke? *** & Eat That Question ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

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“I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.” – George Carlin

In my recent review of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, I noted an observation by actress Joann Lumley (one of the film’s co-stars), excerpted from a Stylist interview:

[… ] And now the world is much more sensitive. People take offence at the smallest things, which in [the 1990s] were just funny. In the future, it’s going to be harder to write anything.

To which I added my 2 cents worth:

I’m going to risk crucifixion here (won’t be the first time) and heartily concur with [Joann Lumley’s] point regarding the intersection of P.C. and Funny these days. Now, I’m a card-carryin’, tree-huggin’, NPR-listenin’ pinko lib’rul, and I fully understand the subjective nature of humor. But speaking as a lifelong comedy fan (and ex-standup performer myself), I remain a firm believer in the credo that in comedy, nothing is sacred. I don’t always agree with Bill Maher, but I’m with him 100% on his crusade to counter a new Bizarro World Hays Code from segments of the Left that has even forced mainstream fixtures like Jerry Seinfeld to swear off playing college gigs.

Life is hard out on the streets for professional funny people. But don’t feel singled out, fellow liberals…for The Uptight Brigade is a non-partisan club, with members hailing from Left, Right, and Center. All you need to join is a sense of moral superiority and an active Twitter account. Consider the hot water that self-deprecating comic Jim Gaffigan got into in 2013 with a fairly benign “men are from Mars/women are from Venus” tweet:

(from Gawker)

So yesterday, stand-up-comedian-slash-fat dad Jim Gaffigan decided to make what he thought was a mostly harmless joke about women and their nails.

“Ladies I hope getting your nails done feels good because not a single man notices you got them done,” Gaffigan tweeted to his 1.6 million followers.

Ha! Women be getting their nails done, am I right fellas?

Anyway, commence TOTAL MELTDOWN:

“If you think I make my nails pretty for anyone other than myself, you are a fool,” replied @gesa “or maybe some women do things not to impress other people,” offered @oceana roll. “you’re such an asshole,” @phaserstostun. And the tweets kept coming. Dozens every minute.

“If you think people are overreacting to my edgy ‘nails done’ post here,” Gaffigan followed up a short while ago, “you have to see the anger on my Tumblr.”

And sure enough, since the joke was posted there yesterday, it has racked up over 100,000 notes, most of them far less subtle than those being made on Twitter. […]

For his part, Gaffigan did issue a worrying apology, telling those who were offended by his “edgy ‘nails done’ joke’ that he’s sorry and he’ll “attempt to be more sensitive in the future.”

Do people get irony anymore? Obviously (well, to me) he was making a point about how self-centered and clueless men are. Gaffigan got the last laugh, using the incident as fuel for one of this current season of The Jim Gaffigan Show’s best episodes. In “The Trial”, Gaffigan (who plays ‘himself’, a la Seinfeld, Louis, and Maron) is in a Kafkaesque alternate reality where he gets tossed into Social Outrage Jail (his cellmate Carrot Top has been doing time “since the mid-90s”) and tried in The Court of Public Opinion (presiding judge: comic Judy Gold) as a result of his offensive nail tweet. Jim is saved by the bell when shocking news arrives that Ricky Gervais just tweeted ‘Miley Cyrus has a dad bod’. Pitchforks are issued immediately, a mob forms and the courtroom empties out.

(*sigh*)

August 3rd marked the 50th anniversary of Lenny Bruce’s death; in my tribute, I wrote:

For years following his passing, he was arguably more famous for the suffering he endured for his art, rather than the visionary nature of it.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2003, after years of lobbying by members of the entertainment industry and free speech advocates, that New York governor George Pataki issued Bruce an official posthumous pardon for his 1964 obscenity conviction. It is worth noting that no comedians have been jailed in America for telling jokes to roomfuls of drunks since Bruce died. […]

Of course by now everybody has jumped on the bandwagon and acknowledges the man’s genius and the groundbreaking nature of his material. But I can’t help but wonder how Lenny would have fared in the age of social media, or in front of a modern college audience (oy).

I’m not alone in that speculation, as evidenced by a new documentary called Can We Take a Joke? (available on VOD), throughout which Lenny Bruce frequently serves as a touchstone. Writer-director Ted Balaker’s film examines the impact of “outrage culture” on modern comedy. Balaker assembles a sizable coterie of comics who thrive on pushing the envelope, like Lisa Lampanelli, Jim Norton, Adam Carolla, Gilbert Gottfried, and Penn Jillette. He also invites opinions from social observers and free speech advocates.

The film’s underlying thesis (in so many words) boils down to that good old school yard chestnut: “If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.” As one interviewee puts it, “Along with the right to speak freely, comes a responsibility to have a thick skin. Words can be hurtful, but they are not the same as violence; and they can be countered with other words. And that’s our responsibility…the responsibility to put up with being offended.”

Balaker offers anecdotal evidence that seems to indicate not only that America’s skin is stretching ever thinner, but suggests something more threatening is occurring as a result. One of the interviewees offers this tidbit: “There was this huge study that’s done every year; and they ask citizens whether or not they think the First Amendment went too far. 47% of people between the ages of 18 and 30 said that the First Amendment goes too far. This is terrifying to those of us who care about free speech and the future of free speech.”

Is he just concern trolling? Consider this further observation: “One of the first things you know when a society is turning authoritarian is the comedians start to worry. When they start going for the comedians, everyone else needs to sweat.”

One of the more notable examples cited regarding this creeping trend of “chilling speech” occurred at the WSU campus in Pullman, Washington (where, oddly enough, I once did a comedy gig). African-American student Chris Lee created a satirical play (“Passion of the Musical”), which he admitted was designed “to offend everybody.” It caused such a ruckus that he earned the nickname “Black Hitler”. But that’s not the disturbing part, which is that WSU administrators comped students who wanted to attend for the sole purpose to disrupt it.

Again, is this a tempest in a teapot? How bad can it get? Two words: Charlie Hebdo. The Hebdo massacre is mentioned in the film, but only in passing; this is one avenue that the film glosses over. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity, especially in light of what’s happening in our current political climate, which begs some glaring questions. Namely, is there in fact, despite what the great George Carlin said, a “line” no one should dare cross?

Amy Goodman featured a rare interview with political satirist Garry Trudeau just this week on her Democracy Now radio program. She brought up a controversial piece he wrote for The Atlantic in 2015, called “The Abuse of Satire”. It’s a great read, and presents a flipside view to the thrust of Can We Take a Joke? Here’s a pertinent excerpt:

I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since [the Charlie Hebdo massacre]. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. […]

And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain. Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest. […]

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. […]

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

I’m aware that I make these observations from a special position, one of safety. In America, no one goes into cartooning for the adrenaline. As Jon Stewart said in the aftermath of the killings, comedy in a free society shouldn’t take courage.

There’s another twisty corollary that the film misses, concerning certain political candidates who cynically conflate themselves as if they were colleagues of professional humorists (as opposed to possible future leaders of the Free World, who should be choosing their words much more carefully). How many times now has Donald Trump gotten away with tweeting something incredibly offensive by backpedaling afterwards that “it was meant as a joke, folks”… thereby (disingenuously) positioning himself as a  ‘victim’ of the P.C. police?

Clearly, there are equally viable arguments for both camps of First Amendment interpretation (i.e., the constitutional “right” for offenders to offend and for the offended to condemn). But as Garry Trudeau cautioned in his piece in The Atlantic , “Freedom should always be discussed in the context of responsibility.” Can We Take a Joke?won’t break the impasse,  but it does succeed in prompting a dialog.

As Jim Norton notes in the film: “Everyone says ‘I love free speech, I love free thought, I love free expression’…but deep down they’re going: ‘Except for when, except for when.’ There’s always that little asterisk: ‘But that doesn’t apply here.’” So you see? Cracking wise is more complex than it is, erm, cracked up to be…especially in this current  political climate. As Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean (allegedly) said on his deathbed: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

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“There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.”      –Frank Zappa

If there’s a missing link between today’s creative types who risk persecution in the (virtual) court of public opinion for the sake of their art, and Lenny Bruce’s battles in the actual courts for the right to even continue practicing his art as a free citizen, I would nominate composer-musician-producer-actor-satirist-provocateur Frank Zappa, who is profiled in Thorsten Schutte’s new documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words (in limited release).

Despite his massive catalog (62 albums released in his lifetime, 43 posthumously), Zappa, like Bruce, is probably remembered more for his fights against censorship, rather than for the actual material in question (which includes some pretty hummable stuff, I must say). Most famously, he took on Tipper Gore and the Parents Resource Music Center in 1985, joining fellow musicians Dee Snider (from Twisted Sister) and John Denver (!) to testify at a Senate hearing over the “Parental Advisory” sticker controversy.

One of the highlights of the film is a clip from a 1986 appearance Zappa made on CNN’s Crossfire. In an observation that now seems quite prescient, Zappa opines, “The biggest threat to America today is not Communism, its moving America toward a fascist theocracy, and everything that’s happened under the Reagan administration is steering us down that pipe.” Of course now, I almost long for those “good old days”, when the Republican Party was but a tool for the Religious Right-in lieu of, uh, whatever it is now.

That said, I should point out that Zappa was not an artist who went out of his way seeking dragons to slay; it’s just that somehow, the dragons had a tendency to seek him out. While he definitely leaned Libertarian when it came to freedom of expression, he was otherwise politically…fluid. Through the course of the film (culled from archival interview/performance footage and contextualized via Schutte’s editing choices), Zappa dumps on the Left, the Right, Hippies, politicians, religion, pop music, record companies, consumer culture (his pet rant), corporate America, and even on his own most rabid fans.

As far as those rabid fans were concerned, the more curmudgeonly and autocratic Zappa’s stance became (regardless of whether or not it was just  show biz shtick), the more they loved him (in that narrow context, there’s a weird parallel with Donald Trump…the obvious difference being that Trump has never really created anything that is of  value to anyone but himself). Zappa was kind of an asshole, but in that Mozart kind of way, as he was an extremely gifted and prolific asshole (was Tipper his secret Salieri? Discuss). Like Picasso, he kept experimenting and creating until he expired (after a long battle, Zappa succumbed to cancer at 52 in 1993).

Let me be up front…this documentary will play best for members of the choir (guilty!). If you’ve never been much of a Zappa fan, the largely non-contextualized pastiche of vintage clips will likely do little to win you over. This impressionistic approach can still paint a compelling portrait; if you’re patient enough to observe, and absorb (consider 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, which remains my favorite biopic, despite the fact that I had never even heard of him when I first saw it, and I still don’t own any of his albums).

There is genuine poignancy as well. In a Today Show interview, an obviously gravely ill Zappa is asked how he wants to be remembered. “It’s not important to even be remembered.” After an awkward silence that implies his interviewer did not see that one coming, he continues, “The people who worry about being remembered are guys like Reagan, Bush…these people want to be remembered, and they’ll spend a lot of money and do a lot of work to make sure that remembrance is just terrific.” “And for Frank Zappa?” she presses. Without missing a beat, he replies “Don’t care.” Back to you, Katie.

I suspect you really did care, Frank. But I know if I ask, I’ll end up eating that question.

#   #   #

In case you’ve forgotten what a lyrical player he was (when he chose to be)

Of the beginning: On Revolver at 50

By Dennis Hartley

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The Beatles were beside themselves with glee. Stoned – which they were most of the time in the studio – the experiments became part prank, part innovation. In that kind of dreamy, altered, impractical state, the possibilities were limitless. Recording became no longer just another way of putting out songs, but a new way of creating them.

 –from Bob Spitz’s 2005 biography The Beatles, regarding the sessions for Revolver

On August 5, 1966, The Beatles released an LP that not only represents the pinnacle of their oeuvre, but remains one of the best pop albums of all time. Yes, as painful as it may be for some of us of “a certain age” to process, Revolver turns 50 years old this week (!).

It’s even more mind-blowing that Revolver arrived just 8 months after Rubber Soul, an album that in and of itself reflected a quantum leap in musical and lyrical sophistication for the band. And whereas Rubber Soul demonstrated an earnest embrace of eclecticism (incorporating everything from rock, pop, and R&B to country, folk, and chanson), Revolver ups the ante further. As Tim Riley nicely summates in his book, Tell Me Why:

Rubber Soul has a romantic astonishment, the echoing realization that teenage quandaries don’t dissipate with age; they dilate. Starker realities intrude on Revolver: embracing life also means accepting death.

That’s a heavy observation; but lest you begin contemplating opening your veins, keep in mind that while “Tomorrow Never Knows” suggests you surrender to the void, and “She Said, She Said” insists I know what it’s like to be dead…this is the same album that gifted us the loopy singalong of “Yellow Submarine” and upbeat pop of “Good Day Sunshine”.

Yet Revolver works as a whole; 14 cuts of pure pop nirvana, with no filler. As someone once astutely observed, “They were probably the most avant-garde group in Britain [in the 1960s], but also the most commercial.” Therein lies the genius of the Beatles; their ability to transcend that dichotomy with sheer talent and craftsmanship. It is significant to note that when recording sessions for Revolver began in April of 1966, the Beatles were nearing the end of their touring days. It’s a logical  assumption that the less  time they spent touring, the more time they had to experiment and innovate in the studio.

How quickly were they evolving? Consider this, from a 1966 UK newspaper article:

LONDON – They’re calling it the end of an era, the Beatles’ era.  […]

 Last Sunday night, about 200 [fans] picketed the London home of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, demanding to see more of their idols. The foursome has not toured Britain this year and there are no plans for personal appearances […]

 The obvious conclusion, supported by their words and actions in the past months, is that they are bored with being the Beatles. […]

 With their success, they have gained a certain sophistication. Their last album, Revolver, was musically far ahead of their efforts at the height of their popularity and they are well aware of the fact.

 “Songs like ‘Eight Days a Week’ and ‘She Loves You’ sound like right drags to me now,” John told an interviewer recently. “I turn the radio off if they’re on.” *

(*Source: Things We Said Today: Conversations with the Beatles, by Geoffrey and Vrnda Giuliano)

It’s very telling that Lennon distances himself from “Eight Days a Week” and relegates it to a bygone era, even though it was released just the year before (in February of 1965). You just don’t see that kind of accelerated artistic growth nowadays (Has Taylor Swift’s music “progressed” since last year? Sounds like the same over-compressed, auto-tuned corporate Pablum to me…but let’s throw her another Grammy, cuz she’s so awesome!).

At any rate, in celebration of Revolver hitting the half-century mark (with very little sign of aging), I thought it would be fun to revisit it, track-by-track, and see why it stands the test of time. In addition to giving a nod to the original UK 14-track sequence, I am prefacing with the double-sided 45 RPM release of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” – as they were recorded during the same sessions and shore up this truly amazing song cycle.

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Paperback WriterAuthorship: McCartney (.8) Lennon (.2) *

One of the classic riff songs (it may have “inspired” the suspiciously similar hook for the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday”), featuring proto-metal guitar tone from George and a sonic Rickenbacker bass line from Paul. In a Ray Davies-styled turn, Paul assumes the character of a cynical pulp writer, drafting a letter of introduction that he hopes to be his entree to fame and fortune: Please Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look? Later in the song, he synopsizes it as a dirty story of a dirty man…and his clinging wife doesn’t understand. He’s flexible: I can make it longer if you like the style. Listen for George and John’s “Frere Jacques” quote in the backing vocals.

RainAuthorship: Lennon (1.00) *

This is a Lennon song all the way; and generally regarded as the birth of psychedelia (the latter by virtue of actual release date, as it was preceded in the sessions by the equally trippy “Tomorrow Never Knows” the week before). The tune’s signature backward tape-looping was an innovative trick accidentally “discovered” by a very stoned John, who put the reels on upside down while listening back to a demo at home. The harmony vocals are very “raga-rock”. It’s a great track, with excellent drumming by Ringo (who concurs, stating once in an interview “I think it’s the best out of all the records I’ve ever made.”).

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TaxmanAuthorship: Harrison (.9) Lennon (.1) *

Back in the old days, before “shuffle play” was a gleam in a code writer’s eye (or “mix tapes” were a thing) Side 1, Cut 1 held import; it really meant something. Sequencing an album was a science; as that opening cut set the tone for the next 30 minutes of your life (slightly longer in the UK). This funky number, the first of 3 Harrison contributions to Revolver, is a perfect kickoff. It sports a catchy riff (I’m pretty sure Paul Weller had it stuck in his head when he wrote the Jam song “Start”), and strident (almost punky) bursts of lead lines from Paul. To my knowledge, this is the Beatles’ first foray into agitprop, with a stinging lyric that name checks politicians, and advises Inland Revenue to fuck off.

Eleanor RigbyAuthorship: McCartney (.8) Lennon (.2) *

This is one of “those” songs that anyone who has ever sat down and attempted to compose a piece of music would gladly sell their soul to have written. Paul’s original working version was the sad tale of a “Miss Daisy Hawkins”, but eventually morphed into the sad tale of an “Eleanor” (after actress Eleanor Bron, who co-starred in the Beatles’ 1965 film, Help) “Rigby” (the name of a shop, according to Paul). It was a masterstroke to add the string backing (Paul’s idea, but producer George Martin’s arrangement), which makes this melancholic, yet hauntingly beautiful song even more so.

I’m Only SleepingAuthorship: Lennon (1.00) *

 Lennon really ran with that backward looping thing during these sessions; the resultant “yawning” guitar effect gives this lovely, hypnotic number an appropriately “drowsy” vibe, lulling the listener into an agreeable alpha state for 3 minutes. My favorite quote regarding the song is by Lennon’s BFF Pete Shotten, who observed that it “…brilliantly evokes the state of chemically induced lethargy into which John had…drifted.” Ouch. If you want to hear an unapologetic lift, check out the song “Sweet Dreams” by The Knack.

Love You ToAuthorship: Harrison (1.00) *

While George had already introduced Beatle fans to the exotic eastern twang of the sitar on Rubber Soul, he would later insist that the iconic 13-note run that repeats throughout “Norwegian Wood” was “accidental” (he was ever the wry one). There is nothing “accidental” about the Indian influences on this proto-Worldbeat song, which features Anil Bhagwat on tabla, as well as “session musicians”. Interestingly, George (sitar and vocals) is the sole Beatle on the track; if I’m not mistaken, the only precedent at that time would have been “Yesterday” (essentially Paul, and session players). Akin to “Taxman”, its couplets wax acerbic: There’s people standing round / who’ll screw you in the ground.

Here, There, and EverywhereAuthorship: McCartney (1.00) *

Paul has made it no secret over the years that he was really taken by the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, so much so that he developed an acute case of Brian Wilson Envy and lobbied his band mates to “go to 11” with Revolver to blow Wilson’s irksome masterpiece out of the water. Funnily enough, Brian Wilson would later claim that Sgt. Pepper’s had a likewise effect on him! At any rate, this achingly beautiful love ballad was allegedly Paul’s self-conscious attempt to specifically one-up “God Only Knows”. He gets close.

Yellow SubmarineAuthorship: McCartney (.8) Lennon (.2) *

It’s a novelty tune. But as far as novelty tunes go, it’s a bonafide classic. This was Ringo’s “one song” for this album (OK, occasionally they would let him sing two, but not as a rule). While it has been interpreted by some as a song about drugs, or about war, Paul and Ringo insist that it was designed to be exactly what it sounds like…a kid’s song (sometimes, a yellow submarine is just a yellow submarine). It sounds like they had fun making it, which apparently they did. George Martin says they “all had a giggle”. He even pitched in on the fade-out chorus, which included Patti Harrison and studio staffers.

She Said She SaidAuthorship: Lennon (1.00) *

Another psychedelic gem written by John, which in this case was literally inspired by psychedelics, because he came up with the idea for the song in the aftermath of an acid trip he took in 1965, while partying with The Byrds in L.A. (and you know that those motherfuckers had the good shit, probably Sandoz). At any rate, the story goes that John got freaked out by Peter Fonda, who kept cornering him and whispering in his ear: “I know what it’s like to be dead.” Obviously, this unsettling mantra stuck with Lennon, who modified the final lyric, so that it became “she” said…I know what it’s like to be dead

(End of Side 1. I’ll give you a moment to flip the record over.)

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Good Day SunshineAuthorship: McCartney (1.00) *

The kickoff to Side 2 is Paul in full cockeyed optimist mode. Everything about it is “happy”, from the lyrics (I feel good, in a special way / I’m in love and it’s a sunny day) and the bright harmonies, to George Martin’s jaunty ragtime piano solo. Paul has said that he was inspired by the Lovin’ Spoonful; and indeed the song does have that “Do You Believe in Magic?” / “Rain on the Roof” / “Daydream” kind of vibe to it. So lighten up!

And Your Bird Can SingAuthorship: Lennon (1.00) *

It’s always fascinating to me how artists view their own work, as opposed to their audience’s perceptions. This song is a perfect example. In interviews over the years, John dismissed it as “Another horror.” (Hit Parader, 1972) and “Another of my throwaways.” (Playboy, 1980). But as far as I’m concerned, he was wrong. This easily places in my top 5 Beatles favorites; a perfect 2 minute slab of power pop goodness, replete with chiming open chords for the verses and Lennon’s patented chromatically descending bass lines on the bridge. And for a “throwaway”, its double-tracked harmony guitar parts sound pretty sophisticated to my ears (to this day, I can’t figure out how to reproduce those note runs).

For No OneMcCartney (1.00) *

Another unmistakably “McCartney-esque” ballad; this one a melancholic lament about a relationship gone sour. It features one of Paul’s most beautiful melodies (this guy tosses them off in his sleep-it’s a genuine gift) and sophisticated lyrics. The narrative is the aural equivalent of a “split-screen” view, observing two ex-lovers as they go about their daily routines; one still pines, the other has moved on (typical!). Alan Civil’s transcendent horn solo rips your heart out. Lennon once named this as one of his favorite McCartney tunes.

Dr. RobertAuthorship: Lennon (.75) McCartney (.25) *

Prince had “Dr. Michael”, Michael Jackson had “Dr. Conrad”, Elvis had “Dr. Nick”, but the (more often than not) dubiously titled “personal physician” is no stranger to show biz (or professional sports…or to the rich and famous in general). Back in the 1960s, NYC-based Dr. Charles Roberts became popular with Andy Warhol and the Factory crowd for his, shall we say, open-mindedness when it came to administering “medicine” (mostly in the form of injections; vitamins, speed and even LSD). This was John’s in-jokey homage.

I Want to Tell YouAuthorship: Harrison (1.00) *

This superb cut from George is one of his best tunes, with a memorable riff. A musician I work with at my day job, more versed in music theory than I (I’m largely self-taught) has been kind enough to occasionally enlighten an old dog on some new scales and chord theory and such (it’s never too late to start). Recently, I asked him to deconstruct this particular song for me, because I’ve always wanted someone to explain to me why that purposely dissonant piano figure that Paul pounds out at the end of each verse “works” so well. Naturally, it went in one ear and out the other, but it made sense to me at the time!

Got to Get You into My LifeAuthorship: McCartney (1.00) *

Paul’s self-proclaimed Motown homage (and possible nod to the Northern Soul movement that flourished in the U.K. at that time) was also one of his most self-consciously “radio-friendly” compositions to date (witness its belated official release as a “single” in 1976, when it managed to climb up to #7 on the charts…six years after the Beatles disbanded). Of course, Paul’s little in-joke may be embedded in the lyrics, which he later confessed to be an ode to the joys of weed (a predilection that once landed him a night in jail while touring Japan, as you may recall). At any rate, it’s a fab song, no matter how you interpret it, with a fully funkified soul/R&B flavored horn chart (a Beatles first).

Tomorrow Never Knows Authorship: Lennon (1.00) *

Just when you think the Fabs couldn’t possibly top the creative juggernaut of the previous 13 cuts, they save the best for last (ironically, the very first number they had worked on for these sessions, which lends the whole song cycle a certain poetic symmetry of its own, especially considering TNK’s refrain: So play the game “Existence” to the end / Of the beginning…of the beginning…). In a 1980 Playboy interview, John explained, “That’s me in my ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ period. I took one of Ringo’s malapropisms as the title, to sort of take the edge off the heavy philosophical lyrics.” It’s heavy, all right-and doesn’t sound like anything in Western pop music up to that time; a truly innovative piece of music. It’s basically a drone in “C”, with John’s vocals recorded through a loudspeaker, which George Martin simply turned to the side of the studio microphone. This gave John the sound of a “Dalai Lama singing on a hilltop” (as he had requested). Backward tape loops add to the eerily mesmerizing vibe, and Ringo lays down a thunderous, primal beat that drives the tune quite powerfully. Which brings us to the end.

Of the beginning…

 

( * ‘Authorship’ sourced from  Beatlesongs, by William J. Dowlding)

I got yer campaign song right heah

By Dennis Hartley

I did a post back in June about Donald Trump co-opting Queen’s “We Are the Champions”  as a music cue for his grand entrances.  To be fair, he’s not the first politician to utilize a popular song  without first securing permission from the artist and/or  agreeing to pay licensing fees.  Yesterday, on his HBO program Last Week Tonight, John Oliver debuted a hilarious (and pointed) music video addressing this issue: