Category Archives: 1969

Rocks In The Attic #793: The Beatles – ‘Abbey Road (3LP Anniversary Edition)’ (1969/2019)

RITA#793Christmas continues to come twice a year for fans of the Fab Four, with 2019’s banner Beatles release. 50 years and a day after its original release on 26th September 1969, Abbey Road  has been given the same makeover afforded to last year’s White Album anniversary set.

Packaged in a similar sized box to the White Album / Esher Demos package, the set is comprised of the new 2019 mix by Giles Martin (with credit given to mix engineer Sam Okell on the hype sticker) in its own sleeve, two LPs of outtakes from the sessions presented in an ‘alternate’ cover sleeve, and a four-panel booklet of liner notes, featuring forewords by Paul McCartney and Giles Martin.

It’s a wonderful package down to the smallest details. The blue font used on the hype sticker and in the ‘3LP Anniversary Edition’ labelling on the side of the box echoes the blue sky that takes up the negative space on the album’s world-famous cover shot. Or is it the blue of the dress worn by the girl blurrily walking out of shot on the rear cover? Maybe it’s just the same blue as gravedigger George’s double-denim?
RITA#793aAs with the White Album’s 2018 mix, the 2019 mix of Abbey Road is intimately revealing. Casual listeners probably won’t be able to spot the changes, but if you grew up listening to the album on headphones during your formative years, the differences are massive. Following on from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin’s remastering campaigns in recent years, the key words here are clarity and presence. It isn’t merely a money-grab release by simply making things LOUDER, although I’m sure the EMI accountants will all be in line for a sizable end-of-year bonus. Thankfully, Giles Martin and team have done more than just ‘make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder.’

John’s vocal on the first stop in Come Together – ‘got to be a joker, he just do what he please’ – reveals the first tweak. You can hear him bite down – or hold back? – on that last word even harder than before. George’s jangly guitar on Octopus’s Garden is even janglier, strengthening the song’s Country credentials. And Ringo’s fills, particularly on The End, have more weight in them. ‘The sound was the result of having new calfskin drum heads,’ Ringo explains in Kevin Howlett’s liner notes. ‘There’s a lot of tom-tom work on that record. I got the new heads and I naturally used them a lot – they were so great.’

The biggest change in the remix however is in the bottom end. Paul’s bass is pushed further into the front of this mix – if such a thing is possible given how front and centre it already was in the original 1969 mix. This is a good thing; the bass playing throughout the album represents the peak of McCartney’s playing, and his fluid, walking basslines are one of the album’s key ingredients.

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In terms of bonus content, it feels like a missed opportunity that Martin Jr. wasn’t tasked to produce a mono mix of the album. With the White Album being the last Beatles record to enjoy a mono mix upon release, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be have only been available in stereo, the decade’s eventual winning format (even though Martin Sr. and team were still mixing the singles in mono in 1969, with Get Back appearing in April of that year as the band’s final mono single in the UK). If mono mixes of Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be don’t already exist somewhere in the archive, even as reference mixes, then it seems a missed opportunity to not hand this challenge to Martin The Younger. Of course, nobody really needs a mono mix of these albums, but given his achievements, from 2006’s Love soundtrack album of the Cirque du Soleil show, to the remixes of Pepper, the White Album and now Abbey Road, he’s the perfect candidate to do something a little different sonically to compliment the respective stereo mixes.

What we do get as extras are still brilliant: twenty-three tracks of demos, outtakes and orchestral instrumentals. As with the outtakes in last year’s White Album set, some have seen the light of day in one form or another across the Anthology project, but the vast majority have been officially unreleased until now.

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The studio chatter preceding the first track – a run-through of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) at Trident studios – offers a glimpse at the joys that lie ahead:

“Is it possible, without affecting yourselves too much, to turn down a little?” somebody politely asks in the background, off-mic. “Apparently there’s been a complaint.”

“From who?” asks John.

“Somebody outside the building,” comes the reply.

“Well, what are they doing here at this time of night? What guy?” fires back a frustrated John.

Several voices debate for a few seconds. In the background, Paul says ‘It’s his own fault for getting a house in such a lousy district!’

John then comes back on the microphone. “Well, we’ll try it once more very loud, and if we don’t get it, we’ll try it quiet….Last chance to be loud!”

As much as I love hearing the alternate versions of these fifty-year old songs, it’s the banter in the studio that’s just as revealing. As we’ve heard before, Paul is always the most playful in the studio. At the beginning of a take of You Never Give Me Your Money, a croaky Paul – at exactly half-past-two, he tells us, presumably in the A.M. – sings ‘You never give me your coffee.’ At the start of the first take of Golden Slumbers, he changes the piano chord from minor to major (specifically from Am7 to D6), singing ‘Day after day…’, the opening line of The Fool On The Hill, before stopping abruptly to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s annoying when the later, solo-years McCartney peppers his releases with this kind of studio tomfoolery. Listening to him larking about as a grown-up feels akin to tolerating a precocious child. Here, as a fresh-faced 27-year old, he’s just endearing.

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As for the album itself, fifty years young, for me it represents their artistic peak. It’s always been in my top 3 Beatles albums, and contests that top spot on an almost daily basis with Revolver and the White Album. It has such a magical vibe, and seems to be full to the brim with positivity. Even John’s default songwriting setting – pessimist – doesn’t seem to derail the proceedings.

Speaking of which, forget other contenders (The Who, The Byrds, and the Beatles’ own Helter Skelter) for the first heavy, heavy sound. Surely the roots of heavy metal can be traced back to John’s doom-laden arpeggios in I Want You (She’s So Heavy). It’s surely the song that feels it’s opening the door for Black Sabbath’s debut just five months later. Lennon and Harrison’s use of arpeggios thoughout their Beatles career – from songs as varied as And I Love Her to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – feel like one of least celebrated aspects of their musicianship. Mark Lewisohn, in the first volume of his Beatles mega-biography, goes to great pains to point out that it was the band’s vocal harmonies that made them stand out from their contemporaries in their early years. I hope Lewisohn will give the band as much credit for their intricate rhythm guitar lines, in the eagerly anticipated next volume of his biography (currently due in 2020).

Abbey Road also represents the songwriting peak of George Harrison, with two of the album’s songs penned by him. It’s a peak that would last at least as long as his debut record, arguably longer, but there’s no debate that in terms of maturity, both Something and Here Comes The Sun are miles ahead of anything he submitted to the White Album or the Let It Be sessions.

Those calfskin toms on Ringo’s drums get the spotlight at the end of the record, with the break leading into The End serving as a brilliantly held-back bit of drumming. Some might see it as a half-hearted drum-solo, but Ringo’s subtlety and less-is-more ethos, as always, works wonders.

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More than anything, it sounds like McCartney’s enthusiasm – the driving force of the band since the death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967 – has led the band to this point, from movie-making and the aborted attempts to get back to their roots as a performing band, to getting together to record again with George Martin. The studio banter on the sessions discs sound as good natured as the biographies would have us believe all these years, and there doesn’t sound to be any kind of tension from the business affairs that were looming in the background.

The album’s very special to me for one specific reason. Once, during my teens, I was on a holiday over Christmas in the snowy highlands of Scotland. My parents fell sick with food poisoning for a few days, and so I was left to my own company. Out of boredom one day, I decided to walk to the next village and back – a 6-mile round trip, through heavy snow. I took off, with the last Beatles album to be unlocked in my brain – Abbey Road – sitting in my portable CD player. I probably listened to the album 6 or 7 times, back to back, as I made my way through the snow. Those magical elements to the album seemed to be heightened in the landscape and even now I associate it with that hike from Newtonmore to Kingussie and back. In terms of location, it’s not a million miles away from the Mull Of Kintyre, where McCartney might have been wintering with Linda at the time, and so the connection feels just right.

Hit: Here Comes The Sun

Hidden Gem: Goodbye (Home Demo)

Rocks In The Attic #787: Jefferson Airplane – ‘Woodstock, Sunday, August 17, 1969′ (1969)

RITA#787To say that they were both the intended headliners (of the Saturday and Sunday nights respectively), both Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix did a hell of a lot of endless jamming during their sets. It’s taken me years to appreciate Hendrix’s set, I fear it may take me even longer to appreciate the Airplane’s.

The sixth individual Woodstock performance LP in my collection (joining Santana, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix), this marks the first time Jefferson’s Airplane early Sunday morning set has been available on vinyl.

RITA#787aThere’s definitely something causing this rambling lack of focus – possibly a mixture of tiredness, the after-effects of drugs, and a general bubbling anger at having to play at such an ungodly hour in the morning. Or maybe it just helps when you’re stone-cold sober and pregnant, like Joan Baez during her far more coherent Friday headline slot.

Still, the Airplane’s set delivers some real gems. Somebody To Love gets rolled out two songs in, and the band preview their upcoming studio album Volunteers by playing the title track and their version of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Wooden Ships (co-written by Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner with Stills and Crosby). This song would also be performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young during the electric part of their set later that day.

RITA#787bBut this is Woodstock, and so the highlight of Jefferson Airplane’s 90-minute set is Grace Slick’s hippy anthem, White Rabbit, which makes an appearance as their penultimate song of the morning. Forget Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, written later in a fit of regret and jealousy at having missed out on the proceedings, this is the song that defines the festival.

This album is the latest in a range of individual Woodstock performance LPs – long may they continue – with this one released by Real Gone Music. It’s a triple-LP in ‘New Dawn’ transparent blue vinyl, housed in a three-panel gatefold sleeve with liner notes. A free gift came with the album when purchased directly from Real Gone’s website – a Jefferson Airplane pillbox with three sections in the shape of the CND / peace symbol – perfect for storing your brown, green and orange LSD.

Hit: Somebody To Love

Hidden Gem: Volunteers

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Rocks In The Attic #782: Santana – ‘Woodstock, Saturday, August 16, 1969’ (1969)

RITA#782Featuring a 20-year old Michael Shrieve on drums, the youngest performer at the festival, Santana’s set at Woodstock started at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon. Carlos Santana was only 21 himself, as he walked onto the stage, virtually unknown. 45 minutes later he’d be a household name in the making.

Soul Sacrifice is easily a standout performance on Michael Wadleigh’s documentary film of the festival, and Shrieve’s blustering drum fills are a big reason why. It’s one of my favourite moments in the film. I’ve never liked the night-time performances in the film, as the lighting rig was extremely basic, but these daytime performances in the stark sunshine of New York state look amazing.

RITA#782abHaving read about the forgettable performances which took place during the Friday, it almost feels like Santana kick-started the festival when they played on the Saturday afternoon. Having listened to WXPN’s online stream of the festival in “real time” to mark its 50th anniversary last weekend, it appears that the next band to play with anywhere close to the same kind of energy was Creedence, ten hours later in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Hendrix’s 3 x LP set has long been a regular visitor to my turntable, but these individual performance Woodstock LPs that have started to see the light of day in the last couple of years are great, and are starting to become quite an addiction. Santana’s set was released for Record Store Day in 2017, and this year’s Record Store Day also added performances by Janis Joplin and The Kozmic Blues Band, and Sly And The Family Stone to my collection. I’ve also recently acquired Johnny Winter’s performance (spoiler alert: that albino genius can PLAY the guitar, although his singing sounds like Bobcat Goldthwait), and Jefferson Airplane’s 3 x LP set is en route.

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My fingers are crossed for Sha-Na-Na’s performance to be released for Record Store Day 2020. I can see the gold lamé jumpsuits now…

Hit: Soul Sacrifice

Hidden Gem: Waiting

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Rocks In The Attic #781: Various Artists – ‘Easy Rider (O.S.T.)’ (1969)

RITA#781Peter Fonda died on the weekend. The original Captain America from 1969’s New Hollywood hit Easy Rider, he co-wrote the film alongside Terry Southern and director and co-star Dennis Hopper. It almost seems like fate that Fonda would pass away on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. You’d be far pushed to find a more appropriate icon of that period in American counterculture.

All weekend I listened to WXPN’s live stream of the ’69 Woodstock festival, aired as close to ‘real time’ as possible, including all of the stage announcements and weather delays. It seemed to be streaming about 24 hours ahead of time, as they were streaming it by date rather than sticking to the Friday to Monday morning timeframe. Still, it was great to tune in to listen to most of the sets.

RITA#781aNot only were there quite a lot of forgettable acts early on in the festival, it also sounded very chaotic with the stage announcements offering a glimpse at the bedlam going on between sets. Lost thyroid pills and lost people, broken limbs, bad brown acid to avoid, and hitchhikers hoping to get back into the car they arrived in to get their ‘medication’. The coming of the huge storm minutes after Joe Cocker’s set sounded like the end of times.

Of the dozens of bands who missed out or turned down playing the festival, the funniest story is surely that of Iron Butterfly. Stuck at an airport, they sent a telegram to the festival: ‘We will arrive at LaGuardia / You will have helicopters pick us up / We will fly straight to the show / We will perform immediately / And then we will be flown out.’ Production co-ordinator John Morris sent a telegram back in reply: ‘For reasons I can’t go into / Until you are here / Clarifying your situation / Knowing you are having problems / You will have to find / Other transportation / Unless you plan not to come.’ The first letter of each line of his acrostic reply spelled out his true feelings.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Easy Rider. It’s one of those films that obviously needed to happen, as an important stepping stone in wrestling power away from the studios and into the hands of writers and directors, but as a piece of art I don’t think it’s dated terribly well. In fact, after the opening thrill of Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild, the rest of the picture is a bit of a slog. It probably works better when you’re high?

But if this film opened the door and led to Coppola making The Godfather, or Friedkin making The Exorcist, and ultimately to Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’ Star Wars, then it’s more than alright by me.

Hit: Born To Be Wild – Steppenwolf

Hidden Gem: The Pusher – Steppenwolf

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Rocks In The Attic #767: Bill Cosby – ‘It’s True! It’s True!’ (1969)

RITA#767.jpgThomas Newman’s American Beauty score landed in my mailbox this week. Showing the LP to a young colleague at work – who was born only a couple of years prior to its release – I felt a pang of shame mentioning Kevin Spacey’s name in the cast. I loved this film when it came out, but now it feels illicit, like I have to justify liking it. It got me thinking about this climate we’ve found ourselves living in.

Kevin Spacey. Bill Cosby. Rolf Harris. Michael Jackson. Woody Allen. There are others. The list seems to be endless. Formerly loved and respected musicians, artists, and actors, shrouded in a cloud of disgust. Some found guilty in a court of law, some in the court of social media. It doesn’t matter anymore with respect to how the general public think about them. Guilt and perception are intertwined.

Hang around on social media for a while and you will encounter three types of people. The liberals among us will say that you have to separate the art from the artist. At the other end of the spectrum, people will feel that the art is forever tainted by the crime of the artist. And in the middle will be the fence-sitters who either don’t care, or will agree with the last person who spoke.

For me, I have to separate the art from the artist. I just have to. I just can’t live without American Beauty. Or Thriller. Or Manhattan. Or Chinatown. Or the genius of Bill Cosby’s early stand-up. Think what you think, but I just have to.

If you do take the hard stance against the art for the crimes of the artist, then where do you draw the line? If we take Spacey as an example, do you distance yourself from all of his films? And if so, what about the directors of those films, or the studios that released them? Do you stand outside movie theatres and protest every time Sam Mendes directs a film, and set fire to billboards every time Dreamworks Pictures advertise their latest release?

One extreme example is the work of Welsh rock band Lostprophets. Their singer was jailed in 2013 for a string of truly horrible offences. Justice was served. But I’ve always felt sorry for the other members of his band, who had worked hard to get to that stage in their careers. The same goes for those in the periphery of the band – the technicians, record company people, and anybody else who had contributed to their success. All of their hard work is now swept under the carpet. The other band members have moved on and formed another band, yet the level of success they reached in Lostprophets has eluded them. It doesn’t seem fair.

Will I look back on this blog post in ten or twenty years’ time and see its naivety, or will I applaud myself for being able to overlook a piece of art for what has tainted it in real life? I don’t know.

Hit: It’s The Women’s Fault

Hidden Gem: Burlesque Shows

Rocks In The Attic #761: John Barry – ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969)

RITA#761I’m currently counting down the months until the release of Bond 25 by watching all of the previous 24 films, in order of release. I have a fellow Bond nut and Facebook friend to thank for the idea; it’s given me a good excuse to watch two Bond films a month. Watching the films in order is also pretty rewarding as you get to see the character and the franchise progress over the decades.

Having recently watched On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it’s amazing to see how well it stands up to its neighbouring films in the canon. 1967’s You Only Live Twice found Sean Connery tired of playing James Bond; the culmination of a run of films more and more reliant on gadgets and special effects. Connery’s return to the character, in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, found him again sleepwalking through the role in a film that was very hard to take seriously.

OHMSS is undoubtedly a stronger film than both. It tries to ground the action, without the reliance on gadgets and special effects. This is something the franchise would repeatedly do every time the films started to cross into the realms of implausibility – the serious tone of For Your Eyes Only followed the space-farce of Moonraker, the overtly-political backdrop of The Living Daylights tried to get back to basics after Roger Moore’s aged swansong in A View To A Kill, and Casino Royale successfully rebooted the franchise after the invisible car and messy CGI of Die Another Day. Shudder.

Up to this point, only three directors had helmed Bond films – Terence Young, Guy Hamilton and Lewis Gilbert. For OHMSS, the producers turned to a member of the production team who had made an indelible contribution to the series since its inception: editor Peter Hunt.

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Hunt had effectively invented the pace of modern action film editing, particularly with a technique he called crash-cutting. Realising that audiences didn’t need to see slow, irrelevant shots of scenes that added nothing and slowed the pace of the film – the protagonist walking down a set of stairs, for example – Hunt cut them, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks, thereby keeping the action flowing. He deployed the form first in 1962’s Dr. No – although that film does feature its fair share of shoe-leather, particularly in the travelog scenes of Connery walking through the airport in Jamaica – before perfecting the technique in From Russia With Love the following year.

Hunt had proved himself as second-unit director in ‘67’s You Only Live Twice, and so the producers took a chance on him to call the shots as director on the next film in the series. Luckily for Hunt, he wasn’t the producer’s riskiest proposition. After five films, Connery had departed, leaving the role in the untested hands of Australian male model George Lazenby.

RITA#761a.pgLazenby had never acted before, aside from TV commercials, but secured the role through sheer charm and charisma. He sought out, and made the use of, Connery’s tailor and barber, and presented himself to the producers, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, fully dressed as Bond. Originally offered a contract for seven films, he decided during the filming of OHMSS – on the strength of bad advice from his agent – to only film one. Bond films were too square and represented The Man, he thought. The emerging New Hollywood of Easy Rider, The Graduate and Bonnie And Clyde was surely the way forward.

It’s definitely strange to see another actor play 007. All of the other Bond actors played the character over at least two films, and without a follow-up film it’s hard to imagine what Lazenby might have added to the franchise. His overly-chiselled features might have seemed less stark in the neon lighting of Diamonds Are Forever, and maybe his campy charm and strange accent would have suited that film better.

RITA#761bDespite Lazenby’s inexperience, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains a cinematic masterpiece. It’s the first film in the series to go out of its way to look truly beautiful, mainly due to the cinematography of Michael Reed (something that hasn’t escaped the recent attention of fellow director Steven Soderbergh). Reed’s framing of shots raises the film above its predecessors, and we wouldn’t see another artistic-looking Bond film until director Marc Forster and cinematographer Roberto Schaefer’s work on 2008’s Quantum Of Solace.

Of course, the one element of the film that raises it above its contemporaries is the wonderful score by John Barry. This might just be the peak of Barry’s Bond work; a score so strong, he decided on using an instrumental over the now-familiar opening credits. It’s a score that screams cinema.

Hit: We Have All The Time In The World

Hidden Gem: Ski Chase

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Rocks In The Attic #749: Alice Cooper – ‘Live At The Whiskey A-Go-Go 1969’ (1969)

RITA#749This live set, recorded in 1969 at Los Angeles’ famed Whiskey-A-Go-Go, represents one of Alice Cooper’s earliest live recordings. Compared to the classic rock of 1970s Alice Cooper, it sounds terrible, but still makes for an interesting listen.

At this point, the band were very much protégés of Frank Zappa, who co-produced their first album Pretties For You (1969). As a result, the style of music on this live album sits somewhere in the middle of Zappa-esque avant-gard rock and roll and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Side one closer Levity Ball even includes a descending passage, with howling vocals, lifted directly from Interstellar Overdrive.

RITA#749aThere isn’t a great deal of promise on this record. I expect every acid-influenced band on the Sunset Strip sounded this bad.

Hit: No Longer Umpire

Hidden Gem: Levity Ball