Category Archives: Ringo Starr

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.

RITA#793b
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.

RITA#793c

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.

RITA#793d

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.

RITA#793e

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)

A Little South Of Sanity

It’s May in New Zealand. That means another summer’s worth of gigs is over. Since moving to this country five years ago, standout gigs have been few and far between – we’re a little off the beaten track for international acts – but this summer has yielded many, many fruit.

It makes sense for international acts to tour here during the summer. It means they have the best of both worlds. They get to tour Europe and the US during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and then they take a trip over the equator and make the most of our summer while touring here and Australia. Nice work – if you can find it!

weezerlive2012

Summer kicked off in January with a nostalgia trip back to 1994. Weezer were in town, playing the Vector Arena. I love Weezer’s debut album – the Blue Album. It’s always remained a favourite over the years, and even though I haven’t really appreciated anything else they’ve done – aside from the sublime Hash Pipe – the promise of that first album played in its entirety was just too much.

Local support band U.M.O. (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) have been receiving many plaudits over the past few months with the release of their second album, so I was looking forward to catching them. I wish I hadn’t. Whether they were plagued by bad sound, or whether they just can’t play live, I was disappointed to see them. A tuneless dirge.

A quick catch-up with some old friends, and then Weezer appeared to play their first set, a greatest hits set. I didn’t recognise half of the songs, but it didn’t matter. On his way around the arena – ‘connecting’ with the fans – I got to high-five Rivers Cuomo. That’s not something I get to do every day.

The intermission, before they came back on to play The Blue Album, provided a nice touch. The lights remained down, and a slideshow of early band photographs was shown on the big screen behind the stage. Narrated by a member of the road crew, it showed the band in their early days, in their respective bands before Weezer, through to the recording and subsequent promotion of their first album.

I haven’t seen any of the tours in the last decade or so where a band play one of their classic albums in its entirety. I always thought I’d see one by accident – at a festival or something like that – so I was glad that the first one I would see would be an album I love. It was great to see.

Highlight: Say It Ain’t So

A month later I saw a Beatle in the same venue. I’ve seen McCartney play before, but this was my chance to see Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. I’m a card-carrying Beatles obsessive but this was just the most bizarre mishmash of popular culture imaginable. This version of Ringo’s band included Steve Lukather (from Toto), Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie (from Santana) and Richard Page (from Mr. Mister).

Ringo

Aside from the inevitable Beatles songs associated with Ringo which, yes, sounded just as bad as they do on record, we were ‘treated’ to a couple of songs from his new album (2012). It’s hard to keep a straight face when you’re faced with lyrics of such elegance as ‘This is an anthem, for peace and love / We’ve gotta keep trying, we can’t give up’.

The rest of the show was taken up with cover versions of the band member’s hits from their respective bands. So we had the likes of Rosanna, Africa and Hold The Line (courtesy of Steve Lukather), Broken Wings (courtesy of Richard Page) and Black Magic Woman (courtesy of Gregg Rolie). Thankfully, Ringo left the vocals to his bandmates for these ones. Bless him.

Highlight: I Saw The Light

Rodriguez

A month later we saw Sixto Rodriguez come back from the dead at the ASB Showgrounds. The last time I was there, I was watching two porn stars jelly-wrestling. There wasn’ any jelly-wrestling this time, thankfully, but it was great to see Rodriguez after finally watching Searching For Sugar Man last year. Given his condition (he had to be led out to the microphone as his eyesight isn’t the best), I don’t think I’ll get the chance to see this frail old man perform again.

Note to self: avoid gigs at the ASB Showgrounds in the future. It’s not a great venue for music with some seats at an almost 90° angle to the edge of the stage, and pillars blocking the view from some. I might go back for the jelly-wrestling though.

Highlight: Sugar Man

Fred

Four days after Rodriguez, I went to see Fred Wesley and the JBs at The Powerstation. It’s almost impossible to not get a good view of the band in The Powerstation, and this makes it my favourite Auckland venue hands-down. Being able to see the band is especially important when seeing Fred Wesley and his band, if only to see the looks on their faces when they glance around the stage. It looks as if they’ve just smelled something truly awful, as though they’re accusing each other of farting, but they’re simply congratulating each other for playing something unbelievably funky.

After dancing for two hours, I was absolutely shattered so on my way out, despite seeing Fred make a beeline for the merchandise booth (presumably to sign autographs), I went straight home. I regret that massively.

Highlight: Pass The Peas

Plant

Another regret came a few weeks later when we saw Robert Plant (supported by The Blind Boys Of Alabama), back in Vector Arena. I don’t regret seeing Plant – for the third time, after catching him twice at Glastonbury over the years – but I regret not paying more for my ticket. We were sat right at the back of the arena, next to the sound desk, and although we enjoyed the fantastic sound from being sat there, I should have bought better tickets. If tickets had been released earlier, I maybe would have bought premium seats, but as it was, it was one of the last shows announced for the summer, so funds had to stretch accordingly.

With an impressive band (The Sensational Space Shifters), including one of the guys from Massive Attack shaping the overall sound, Plant shone across nine Zeppelin songs. Some of them were ‘re-imaginings’ but the more acoustic ones like Going To California and show-opener Friends, from Led Zeppelin III, were right on the money.

Highlight: Friends

I returned to Vector Arena nine days later to see something I thought I’d never see in person: a reformed Black Sabbath. Unfortunately Bill Ward wasn’t present, but it was still great to see Ozzy, Tony and Geezer; and the drummer they brought with them – Tommy Clufetos – was fantastic.

Shihad

I had celebrated Record Store Day earlier that day by buying Shihad’s debut record, Churn, on vinyl for the very first time, and so it was great to see them support Sabbath. I’ve always admired Shihad from afar, and it was interesting to see them play such a heavy set, in contrast to the more radio-friendly set I saw them play when they supported AC/CD at Western Springs a couple of years ago.

Highlight: Factory

Black Sabbath.Auckland.logo.0420-13

Sabbath were every kind of awesome. Just hearing Ozzy’s voice for the first time while the stage was still shrouded in darkness was unbelievable. He might not be the best singer in the world, but his voice is unreal. I read somewhere recently that in the entire lyrics of the first Sabbath album, there are only two or three words that are longer than two syllables. Thankfully the guitar riffs are where it’s at with this band, rather than the wordplay, and it was really Tony Iommi who was the star of the show.

Highlight: War Pigs

A few days later, I flew down to Dunedin on my own (leaving a heavily pregnant wife at home with our 16-month old) to see Aerosmith. I don’t think I ever thought they would play in New Zealand, so I was ecstatic when I heard they’d announced a show, but then equally dismayed that their one and only show was to be in a city in the deep south of the country.

A cheap flight with Jetstar, and some cheap accommodation meant the trip wasn’t too expensive, but I didn’t account for how wilfully backwards they are down there. The airport is about half an hour’s drive out of the city, and there’s no public transport from one to the other. So the choice was a $70 taxi ride or a $30 shuttle minibus. Somebody is getting very rich off this arrangement.

It hardly stopped raining in Dunedin all the time I was down there. As soon as I reached my accommodation, I braved the rain to walk down to the local supermarket (going down the same hill that the steepest street in the world is on, just a few streets away). I instantly regretted my choice of footwear – a pair of old Adidas with a hole in one of the soles. Grr. I had to spend the next couple of days with plastic bags lining my right foot to keep it dry – to various shades of success.

FBS_ASmithNew

There’s a couple of rumours why Aerosmith chose to play somewhere so isolated. Either the promoter offered them big bucks to play there (and there only) – or the other thing I’ve heard is that Auckland doesn’t have an indoor venue big enough for one show (the Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin has a roof, which my right foot was very thankful of) and they didn’t want to risk an outdoor show because of the weather at this time of year. I think the former seems the more likely. Elton John did exactly the same thing a couple of years ago, and avoided both Auckland and Wellington to play down there.

The thing is, Aerosmith undersold. The stadium’s capacity is 40,000 but they only sold 20,000 tickets – and according to some bloke from the Dunedin Hotel and Motel association, all the accommodation was booked up. So I don’t know where they expected people to stay the night, if the show had sold out?

Still, I’ll take the opportunity. My favourite band, and all that.

dead daisies

Some of the support bands left a lot to be desired. Local try-hards Diva Demolition kicked things off with a short set – short on melody. They were followed by arrogant cocks Head Like A Hole, whose only saving grace was a great cover of El Bosso’s I’m On Fire. The next band up was The Dead Daisies – whose truly awful name was rivalled only by their truly awful middle-of-the-road Dad rock.

Wolfmother

Finally, Wolfmother saved the day. I’d been a fan of their first album, but then they sort of drifted off my radar over the last couple of years. They bounced onto the stage like puppies with their huge hair, and played a set that really warmed the stadium up. Apparently this was to be the last Wolfmother show, with lead singer Andrew Stockdale intending to tour and release work under his own name going forward.

Highlight: Joker & The Thief

Half an hour later, Aerosmith took the stage. This was the fifth time I’ve seen them, and again the set was very different to the last time I saw them, indicating that they’re getting more and more comfortable playing their older material. The set list seemed to alternate between old songs and new (Geffen onwards) songs, which was nice to hear after the Geffen heavy sets they played the first three times I saw them.

Aerosmith

The highlight for me was No More No More, one of my favourite songs from Toys In The Attic, which I’d never seen them play live before; and their version of Come Together – again a song that I’ve never seen them play live, but know like the back of my hand from listening to their studio version countless times.

Highlight: Being this f**king close!

I walked back to my accommodation in the rain, with a wet right foot, a new Aerosmith t-shirt and ringing in my ears. Here’s to next summer!

Rocks In The Attic #148: Peter Frampton – ‘I’m In You’ (1977)

Rocks In The Attic #148: Peter Frampton - ‘I’m In You’ (1977)This is a pretty star-studded recording – Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Ringo Starr all pop on this album in various guises. I guess when you release a successful album like Frampton Comes Alive!, your next album is always going to attract attention from certain quarters.

Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the first records I ‘borrowed’ from my Dad’s collection – and like most people, I know that album much better than his studio albums.

It seems that …Alive! was Frampton’s peak – and all that remained for his solo career was a slippery slope downhill. The cover of this album says it all – his career is no longer aimed at fans of Humble Pie and classic rock in general; it’s now aimed at the bedroom walls of pubescent teenage girls.

Hit: Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)

Hidden Gem: Won’t You Be My Friend

Rocks In The Attic #122: The Beatles – ‘Please Please Me’ (1963)

Rocks In The Attic #122: The Beatles - ‘Please Please Me’ (1963)When I first listened to this, the debut album by The Beatles, I used to think it would have sounded pretty revolutionary at the time. In hindsight, you can hear that it’s still got one foot firmly planted in the 1950s. Dylan followed Please Please Me two months later with The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and that’s like a futuristic text compared to the childlike nature of this album.

This album is notable for a few things. Firstly, the original compositions are attributed to ‘McCartney-Lennon’, not long before the decision was made to reverse the surnames. I heard a few years ago that McCartney was lobbying Yoko Ono to get the rest of their back catalogue changed back to this original song-writing credit. Thankfully it didn’t happen, and anyway, you never know if things like that are even true. I wouldn’t put it past McCartney to try something like this – he obviously waited until George Harrison died to release Let It Be…Naked – but you’d get the impression that after 40 or so years, he’d be content that his name comes last in 99% of their song-writing credits.

Secondly, the album was famously recorded in one day. I don’t really see that as being anything special though. This happens for a lot of bands – especially on their debut albums – and perhaps this should be a rite of passage for bands recording their first batch of songs.

In terms of their song choices though, I do think that there are a few mistakes. Their original songs really sound very good alongside some very odd covers, but maybe that was the intention. There were better covers recorded during the New Years Day 1962 Decca audition (available on Anthology 1), that would have fit better than some of the covers here, and are closer to the standard of covers they recorded on their second album.

Thirdly, Ringo Starr isn’t the only drummer on the album. He’d later be replaced by McCartney on the occasional track later in their career, but here he is replaced by session man Andy White on their prior single, Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You – both sides of which open the second side of the album. George Martin had expected them to turn up to the session with Pete Best (who had played on their first Parlophone session), had told Brian Epstein that he wouldn’t allow Best to play on another session and that he would supply the drummer next time. When The Beatles then arrived with their newly appointed drummer in tow, Ringo was relegated to tambourine. If nothing else, this story confirms that the band was right to fire Pete Best.

All in all, a very simple album that’s very hard not to like. Sometimes that simplicity turns me off, but I also think that’s where most of its charm comes from. The Beatles would produce works of much greater value and innovation, and it wouldn’t take them long.

Hit: Twist And Shout

Hidden Gem: Baby It’s You

Rocks In The Attic #121: John Lennon – ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ (1970)

Rocks In The Attic #121: John Lennon - ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ (1970)Although this album is starkly minimalist and deals with pain, anger and isolation, I find it to be a really chilled-out album. Of the four debut solo albums by the recently split Beatles in 1970, this is probably my favourite, closely followed by Ringo’s Sentimental Journey. McCartney’s debut is too childlike and home-made; and Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is too self-indulgent, warranting a lengthy amount of time to sit down and listen to it in full.

I can definitely imagine relaxing to this, with a joint, on its release – but like most people I would probably have been a little let down with its unBeatleness. All of the four albums are as removed from The Beatles as possible, with each member trying to escape from that shadow, but Lennon’s album sounds to me to be the furthest away.

Although McCartney’s album sounds like a hastily assembled bunch of demo recordings, Lennon’s album sounds more mature – and even though there is a very minimal arrangement and production, it doesn’t come off as sounding infantile like his former writing partner’s debut offering.

Hit: Working Class Hero

Hidden Gem: Look At Me

Rocks In The Attic #49: The Beatles – ‘Beatles For Sale’ (1964)

Rocks In The Attic #49: The Beatles - ‘Beatles For Sale’ (1964)The fourth Beatles album – also known as the ‘haphazardly-put-together-between-tours-to-get-it-out-in-time-for-Christmas’ album – and for me, just as good as the albums on either side of it.

I read somewhere that Eight Days A Week is notable as the first ever pop song with a faded-in intro. Now, I don’t know if that’s true – I’m sure whoever came up with that fact hadn’t listened to every pop song that came before this, but it does seem a little unlikely. Especially since the way recording had progressed from single takes into multitracking. With single takes, it’s far more likely that a song would be faded in at the start. Anyway, who knows? Or cares?

I sometime have great difficulty picking the ‘Hidden Gem’ on albums to detail at the foot of these blogs, but with Beatles For Sale it was too easy. The McCartney song What You’re Doing is so underrated – essentially unknown – that it’s almost criminal.

It’s also worth mentioning I Feel Fine (b/w She’s A Woman) which was released a week before this album – a great single, with a lead-guitar riff setting the template for rock music, and proof again that they were starting to get better and better at capturing the excitement of their live performances in the studio.

Hit: Eight Days A Week

Hidden Gem: What You’re Doing

Rocks In The Attic #38: Ringo Starr – ‘Sentimental Journey’ (1970)

Rocks In The Attic #38: Ringo Starr - ‘Sentimental Journey’ (1970)I bought this recently, really as research for a piece of writing I’m working on, thinking it would be terrible, but it’s actually pretty good. This is Ringo’s first solo album – the first Beatles solo album in fact, not including live or avant-guarde releases – and is comprised of old standards arranged by the likes of Paul McCartney, George Martin, Maurice Gibb and Elmer Bernstein. Mostly it’s big band arrangements, with Ringo doing his best to croon over the top of them.

This might give me a bit of confidence to listen to his second album – Beaucoups Of Blues – again, although I’m not sure my initial opinion of that will change much. Maybe it will.

You have to wonder what teenybopper Beatles fans would have made of this, and its country follow-up. ‘Disappointed’ is a word that I’m sure would have been bandied about. Three weeks after this came McCartney and that’s so home-made it almost sounds like a demo recording. It wouldn’t be until much later in the year, when Harrison released All Things Must Pass that one of them released something that sounded vaguely Beatle-ly.

Hit: Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

Hidden Gem: Dream