Hittin’ the high spots, feelin’ groovy

After The Beatles played their last ever concert (San Fransisco’s Candlestick Park, Aug 29 1966), they all went their own ways. George flew to India to study all things…erm…Indian. John flew to Spain to partake in Richard Lester’s film “How I Won The War.”

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Ringo stayed at home, playing the pool and getting bored. Meanwhile Paul, the bachelor Beatle was busy visiting all of London’s art galleries and night clubs and popping in other people’s recording sessions. One known instance is “background hollering” on Donovan’s hit single “Mellow Yellow.”

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A more substantial contribution was to a record by the Escorts. The Escorts were a fine group of very young Liverpudlians, who released an excellent half a dozen of singles between 1964 and 1966, none of which had much impact on the charts, presumably because they sounded too much like yesteryear’s recordings in the fast evolving musical climate of the era. Nevertheless, Paul was there to help with what turned out to be their final session. As usual, Paul couldn’t keep his mouth shut, so he effectively acted as an uncredited co-producer. He also played the tambourine on the A side, a cover of the Miracles’ “From Head To Toe.” More importantly, he also reportedly helped with writing the B side, “Night Time.” It’s another soulful number with falsetto vocals, endearing in their near amateurishness. Of course Paul did not receive a credit for his writing help – but the lyrics do seem to reflect his current life style: “First we go to a movie, then we’ll hit the high spots, feelin’ groovy. That’s why I only operate (yeah) at night time!” The record was a total flop and the Escorts soon disbanded, their records becoming valued collector’s items. Thankfully a CD “From The Blue Angel” on Edsel records collects together all of their recorded output. Higly recommended for all friends of bands like the Swinging Blue Jeans.

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A much more important Macca contribution was penning the music to “The Family Way”, a film by the Boulting brothers. (Some may feel that this is no mere “contribution”, but rather Macca’s first “solo recordings”. Since he doesn’t appear on the recordings and they weren’t even released under his name, I’ve chosen to include them here.) Paul’s initial contribution was to write a single theme (lated dubbed “Theme From Family Way”) and suggest George Martin to arrange it for a brass band. (Brass bands were very much loved in Liverpool and Northern England in general – Paul’s grandfather had played in one.) Martin correctly realised that he couldn’t do a whole film score with just one theme so he went back to ask Paul for something more, interrupting a Lennon/McCartney writing session. A mildly irritated Macca excused his song writing partner, noodled the piano for a few minutes and gave Martin a waltz theme: “Something like that, you mean?” The theme was later titled “Love In The Open Air” and went on to win an Ivor Novello award for the best soundtrack music of the year! George Martin arranged and recorded several variations of these two themes (“brass band”, “waltz”, “rock”, “wedding march”, “go-go” etc.) and a soundtrack LP was released featuring 13 (untitled) variations. The recordings are usually credited to the George Martin Orchestra, though they were actually performed by Neville Marriner’s string quartet and a brass band later dubbed “the Tudor Minstrels” when a single from the LP was released. (To add to confusion, Martin later rerecorded the themes for a single released under his own way.) In any case the album is short but sweet, a true testament to Paul’s ability to come up with memorable melodies and to George Martin’s arrangement and conducting skills. As such it is a neglected and overlooked gem – though this may be partially caused by it’s limited availability. What looks like an official CD release (on Disques XXI – 21 Records) does not sound like one: large chunks of it are copied off a scratchy vinyl and the recording switches back and forth between mono and stereo. On the plus side, it adds guitarist Carl Aubut’s 1995 renditions as well as Macca approved 1999 recordings byFlûte Enchantée Quartet. Highly recommended despite it’s short comings (and once more credited to “the George Martin Orchestra!”)

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Published in: on August 22, 2007 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Aftergeography

(The Stones had an LP called “Aftermath” so Ringo suggested The Beatles should have one called “Aftergeography.” Thanks Ring!:-) )

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After the overhectic past three years, The Beatles wisely took off the first few months of 1966, with no group projects whatsoever. This paid off in a grand way: the results the “Paperback Writer”/”Rain” single and the “Revolver” LP are widely regarded as perhaps their finest work. Interestingly, while all the released 16 tracks approach perfection, there seems not to have been any extra songs. Certainly no unreleased songs from the sessions exist, neither are there any home demos of unheard songs. And no tracks were donated to friends and rivals. The Beatles just wrote and recorded 16 classic tracks and went home. Which was nice. Paul, active as usual, was giving old friends the option to be the first one to do a cover version of one or another of his songs.

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Cilla Black had come a long way since the days of “Love Of The Loved”, making a major hit after another and being perhaps the most popular female artist in the country. She recorded “For No One”, one of Paul’s most beautiful ballads, on Aug 7 1966 – mere two days after the release of Revolver. Considering that the song’s orchestral arrangement had to be worked out beforehand – and that the session was produced by George Martin – it’s safe to assume she was given this song “in advance.” Cilla does her usual precise job, the arrangement follows the original pretty closely and the song has a”hit” written all over it, with the strings adding a radio friendly touch to it. Inexplicably Cilla buried the song on the B side of “A Fool Am I”, which “only” made a #13 in the UK charts. Talk about a wasted opportunity!

If Cilla didn’t really need a hit song from Paul, The Fourmost were some other old friends who certainly did! After “Hello Little Girl” and “I’m In Love”, the group had had their biggest hit with “A Little Loving” and a couple of lesser ones (“Baby I Need Your Loving”, “Girls Girls Girls”) before drifting away from the public’s eye. The trouble was their records sounded very much the same as in years before, at a time when the music was changing faster than ever. Paul offered them the first chance to record “Here There And Everywhere”, possibly the very finest of all Paul McCartney ballads – and that’ saying something! The Fourmost thanked by jogging their way through this number emotionlessly, as if they were advertising Rice Krispies or something, and the public didn’t want to know. How could George Martin ever produce anything as bad as this? Rightfully the record sank without a trace and so did the Fourmost. Apparently Paul had no hard feelings, since a couple of years later he would produce another flop record for them: “Rosetta”/”Just Like Before” – he even played on the A side. These will appear on future blogs: “The Beatles Were On My Record, Honestly!” and “Brushes Of Greatness.”

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Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers were in need of a hit as well. One of Britains more convincing soul/R&B combos, they’d been friends with The Beatles since the two groups had shared a bill in Hamburg’s Star Club in December 1962. Their only hit had been a cover of the Drifters’ “One Way Love” back in 1963 – and ever since they’d been asking Paul to write them a hit. The two group’s paths crossed once again on their mini tour of Germany, in June 1966, and this time Paul had the right song for them. “Got To Get You Into My Life” was his ode to the sweet sounds of soul music – and to the sweet smelling cigarettes of his – and Paul co-produced (uncredited, of course) a quite wonderful version of the song for Bennett & Co. Paul also supposedly plays piano on the record although it doesn’t sound like him. The record was a UK top 10 hit – Bennett’s last, though his records continued being most enjoyable.

All these songs can be found on the compilations discussed before – though a Cliff Bennett compilation would not be such a bad idea for anyone interested in quality music from the 1960’s
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Published in: on August 14, 2007 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

J’et suis Bernard Webb avec bonbons et Jacques Cousteau

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Peter: Hi folks, it’s Peter…

Gordon: …and Gordon…

Peter: of the famous pop duo “Peter and Gordon” and we are very good friends with The Beatles.

Gordon: Speaking of our very good friends, The Beatles, I wonder what they are up to these days?

Peter: Yes, it’s nearly spring…

Gordon: …of 1966

Peter: and we haven’t heard a word of them the whole year!

Gordon: Not a word.

Peter: Well, in the absence of our very good friends The Beatles, how about giving a listen to our latest record?

Gordon: OK, I’ll do that!

Peter: No, not you, the general public!

General public: Uh..wha? Good morning…what year is it?

Gordon: 1966!

Peter: Would you like to hear our latest record, a lovely big ballad in the style of our very good friend Paul McCartney of The Beatles…

Gordon: But it’s not written by our very good friend Paul McCartney of The Beatles…at all!

Peter: No, it’s written by…er…er…

Gordon: Bernard Webb

Peter: Bernard Webb who is a very good friend of ours and a musical student…

Gordon: And he is very French!

General public: If he’s French then why does the publishing credit say “Northern Songs”, just like on the Lennon/McCartney songs which it resembles?

Gordon: You tell him, Peter!

Peter: Er…Mr Webb was in England and er…Dick James heard the song and liked it and asked him if he could publish it!

Gordon: Yes! And Mr. Webb said yes!

Peter: Yes!

General public: Then why does it sound exactly like a Paul McCartney song?

Gordon: You tell him, Peter !

Peter: Er..because he’s very good!

Gordon: Yes!

Peter: So it’s not a pseudonym for our very good friend Paul McCartney of The Beatles…

Gordon: At all!

General public: Look, I know Paul is fed up with people saying his songs are only hits because he wrote them…

Gordon: And we are sick of people saying we rely too much on our very good friend Paul McCartney of The Beatles…

Peter: Shut up

General public: I ain’t buying that crap , bye.

Peter: Darn! Hey Paul, looks like our experiment didn’t work…They found out it was you!

Paul: Cor blimey!

Gordon: And they didn’t buy the record anyway!

Paul: Bloody hell!You should have used the “little string arrangement” like I told you!

Gordon: It was top 30, though…and who’s idea was the new arrangement anyway?

Paul: Shut up or I’ll give you no more hits!

Peter: I wouldn’t call that a hit – in the true sense of the word…

Paul: You too! I’ll marry yer sister!

Peter: You can try…

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Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Songs about Lesbians and Prostitutes

(No, I’m not trying to generate Google based traffic 🙂 This is just a refence to a 1966 article in Time magazine, which revealed the “hidden meaning” of “Norwegian Wood” and “Day Tripper”. Not.)

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Late 1965 was a typically hectic period in The Beatles’ lives. Having just come back from a long and tiring tour of USA, the group was soon ushered into the recording studio to produce yet anhother LP – their sixth in under three years! – even though the Help! LP had been out just two months. On top of that, the band also had a UK tour to complete, while recording. That the resulting LP – “Rubber Soul”- and it’s accompanying double A-sided, non-album single – “We Can Work It Out”/”Day Tripper” – rank among The Beatles’ finest works speaks volume for the lads’ ability to deliver the goods under pressure. Understandably this schedule left little time to compose songs for anyone else, but there were cover versions, as usual – plenty of them! A couple are of interest to us.

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“Michelle” had been around since the early 1960’s as a vaguely French sounding instrumental, with which Paul tried to impress the art school girls… With a desperate lack of new material, this ditty was turned into a real song, and became perhaps the most popular track on the LP, spawning two cover versions – both of which became UK top 20 hits! The Overlanders made # 15, while David & Jonathan got to #9. David & Jonathan (actually Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook) were old mates of The Beatles since the days the two had been members of the Kestrels (“There’s A Place”) on the Helen Shapiro tour of early 1963. Frankly I don’t know when their version was recorded, but with their Beatles connections – and producer George Martin – it’s been suggested that this number was “earmarked” for the duo before the LP’s release. Whatever the case David & Jonathan do a virtual note to note copy of the original recording, albeit sounding less bluesy and more MOR. Oh well, originality and soulfulness probably weren’t high on their agenda. “Michelle” can be found on every David & Jonathan CD you can find in your local supermarket’s “3 CDs for 3 $” bins – but if you have extra cash you might want to check out the five CD George Martin boxed set pictured below.

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While John and Paul had been producing hit after hit, George Harrison had been watching and learning the craft of song writing. His fifth recorded composition, “If I Needed Someone” is the first one to appear on this set of exclusives and “semi-exclusives”. The Hollies were one of the biggest bands of the 60’s with an impressive string of eight consecutive top 20hits already behind them – and much more to come. In theory George Harrison should have been proud when the Hollies decided to record If I Needed Someone”. Well, he wasn’t, publically calling the record “soulless” and adding that the group sounded like “session men”. In those days when a Beatle spoke, everybody listened and the song became a comparative flop, making “only” # 21. The angry Hollies replied that they only recorded the song because they were told that George had written it specially for them – and that there were better songs around! In a sense both parties were right. The Beatles’ record is made memorable by the wonderful three-part harmonies and the Byrds’ influenced 12-string guitars – the Hollies’ version suggests that the song itself wasn’t very strong, only The Beatles’ recording of it. Nevertheless, the Hollies version can be found on the excellent CD “The Hollies at Abbey Road 1963-1966”.

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Published in: on August 7, 2007 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Eight Arms To Hold You

1965 was a curious year for The Beatles. Basically they did everything they had done the year before: two albums, three singles, tours of the UK, Europe and USA, another film. Another book of John’s. But it was also a year of artistic growth and some decisions which foreshadowed their decision to leave the concert stages for good the following year. First, after their 52nd (!) appearance on the BBC radio in May, they finally stopped providing the “Auntie” exclusive musical material. Later in the year they stopped appearing live on television, sending specially filmed “promtional films” (ie videos) instead. As song writers John and Paul were as productive as ever, but they largely kept their songs to The Beatles.
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The sessions for the “Help!” LP produced no less than 20 tracks. 14 were selected for the album, two became B sides, one a filler track on an American LP, one was left off for the next one while two were discarded altogether. John’s “If You’ve Got Trouble” certainly deserved this fate. A fast rocker with not much of a melody, a daft lyric plus a Ringo vocal, slightly reminiscent of earlier throwaways such as “Hold Me Tight” and “One And One Is Two” seems not to have been even offered to anyone. Which was nobody’s loss.

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Paul’s “ThatMeans A Lot” was a much more promising number, which the group had a hard time recording. A perfectly acceptable rendition, slightly reminiscent of “Tell Me What You See”, was cut in February, but not to The Beatles’ satisfaction. The group experimented with several new arrangement ideas in March, but finally gave up and decided to give the song to someone who could do it justice. Enter PJ Proby, a ponytailed(!) balladeer, known for his Elvis impersonations and a controversial stage show, which would climax with ripped velvet trousers! Proby says he was drinking in one of those fashionable London night clubs with John and asked for a song (Now, who wouldn’t?) John came back the following night with “That Means A Lot” and the delighted Proby asked if he could use George Martin as a producer. Apparently this was a bit too much for Lennon who exploded: “You got my song, now you want my producer! What next? My Life, my wife, my kid?” Martin did produce the record in the end in a somewhat bombastic orchestral arrangement and the result was a moderate top 40 hit in the UK. In my opinion the heavy handed orchestration merely makes it more clear that this isn’t one of Paul’s better ones. I much prefer The Beatles’ own version, finally released on Anthology 2. PJ’s version can be found on any number of compilations, such as “The Very Best of PJ Proby” on EMI.
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The big musical craze of 1965 was folk music. Brian Epstein tried to stay in tune with the times by signing the Silkie, a Peter Paul & Mary type of male/female folk group of university students. For their debut single they were given John Lennon’s lovely Bob Dylan influenced “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”. The Beatles’ version had been out for just three days, so this can be considered “exclusive”, especially since the record was advertised as being “produced by Lennon & McCartney”. Paul also reportedly played guitar on the record while George added a bit of percussion. All this hype made the record a minor (top 30) hit in the UK and a major one in the USA. To my ears their type of folk music sounds decidedly outdated and unimpressive so I have no idea what became of the group or if their other recordings are available. You find that out yourself:D YGTHYLA is available on the “Lennon/McCartney Songbook” CD mentioned several times before.

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And then there was “Yesterday.” No, don’t worry, I won’t you bore with the story of how Paul woke up one morning with the tune in his head, put some temporary lyrics about scrambled eggs on it and bugged everyone for months by asking if they’d heard the tune before. Ooops..what did I just do:D Considering how many thousands of cover versions of the tune exist, it’ s somewhat surprising to find out that it took two months for the first one to emerge. Marianne Faithful, the stunningly beautiful, frighteningly young pop star of the day (and girl friend of several Rolling Stones) wanted to record the song and Paul was all for it. Her innocent image and angelic voice did make an effective contrast to the song’s world weary lyrics. Apparently Paul co-produced the track (uncredited) which became a minor hit, losing the battle to a simultaneous version by the slimy balladeer Matt Monroe. Faithful’s version can be found on the same CD as the previous track – not to mention any of the numerous Marianne Faithful’s compilations. Her later work is also higly respected – and entirely different – but that’s another blog. 😉

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Published in: on August 5, 2007 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment