Tag Archives: 1968

Rocks In The Attic #718: The Beatles – ‘The Beatles & Esher Demos’ (1968)

RITA#718You can hear the differences straight away. Paul’s snare beat on Back In The U.S.S.R. is punchier and his vocal ad-libs in the fade-out are much clearer. Then John’s acoustic guitar fades into Dear Prudence and Paul’s pulsing bass sounds on top of everything, front and centre.

Released yesterday to celebrate the record’s fifty-year anniversary, Giles Martin’s new 2018 stereo remix of the Beatles’ ‘self-titled’ White Album is an early Christmas present for fans of the band.

Repeating the successful formula employed on last year’s stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper’s, Martin Jr. has broken down the White Album recordings, and built them back up again. Untrained ears might not be able to tell the difference, we’re talking subtle changes. Clarity and focus are the operative words, not revisionism.

RITA#718aThe sliding, uptempo bass line in Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da transforms one of my least favourite Beatle songs into a stormer. Eric Clapton’s swirling guitar lines in George’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps feel even more hypnotic. Paul’s bassline in Why Don’t We Do It In The Road sounds funkier. Birthday sounds as insane as the band probably intended it to. Paul’s screaming salvo into Helter Skelter sounds at war with Ringo’s drums. The horns in Savoy Truffle are sharper, the electronic piano line closer to the front of the mix.

The 2014 mono remaster was previously my favourite version of this album. I didn’t think anything could beat that. How wrong I was. All in all, this new release is like listening to the album for the first time, with fresh ears. And if that wasn’t enough, the other half of the box-set is just as revelatory.

In May 1968, fresh from their Rishikesh trip, the Beatles convened at Kinfauns, George’s house in Esher, Surrey. There, they recorded demo versions of 26 of the White Albums’s 40 tracks, plus songs that didn’t make the intended album.

Glimpsed on 1997’s Anthology 3, Giles Martin has now remixed these tapes and re-sequenced them into a double-LP with – where possible – the same running order as the 1968 album.

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Hearing McCartney doing a loosely double-tracked Back In The U.S.S.R. on an acoustic guitar – complete with a sung guitar solo – is just fantastic, and really fills me with hope that there’s more material like this yet to see an official release.

The songs that were worked out in the White Album studio sessions – Wild Honey Pie, Martha My Dear, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, I Will, Birthday, Helter Skelter, Long, Long, Long, Savoy Truffle, Revolution 9 and Good Night – don’t appear here in demo form. Instead we get a raft of songs intended for the album, but which appeared elsewhere: George’s Sour Milk Sea (a single for Jackie Lomax), Not Guilty (re-recorded for his 1979 record, George Harrison), and Circles (re-recorded for 1982’s Gone Troppo), Paul’s Junk (soon to be heard on 1970’s McCartney), and John’s Child Of Nature (reworked as Jealous Guy from 1971’s Imagine). Two other Lennon demos presented here – Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam would be reworked into the medley on Abbey Road in 1969.

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The demos make for a fantastic listen. Complete with between-take chatter, coughs and sniffs, the sound quality is mostly very good with the occasional bit of tape-hiss evident on some tracks. In hindsight, the Beatles probably didn’t need to go to Abbey Road and Trident to re-record these demos – they could have just released this back in 1968.

While it now seems inevitable that Giles Martin will provide similar remix duties for next year’s half-century release of Abbey Road, followed by Let It Be in 2020, I really hope he continues with the pre-Pepper albums as they begin their sixty-year celebrations from 2023.

And hopefully he’s training his son in the finer techniques of audio engineering, ready for the next generation of reissues…

Hit: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Hidden Gem: Helter Skelter

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Rocks In The Attic #674: Wilson Pickett – ‘The Midnight Mover’ (1968)

RITA#674Aside from Mustang Sally, In The Midnight Hour or The Land Of 1,000 Dances, Wilson Pickett doesn’t get half the credit he deserves.

The Midnight Mover was largely co-written with a then-unknown Bobby Womack, and finds Pickett trying his hardest to continue his successes of the previous couple of years. The title of the album – and its lead single – is a clear allusion to his 1965 hit In The Midnight Hour; he even name-checks the song in the fade-out of side-B’s Down By The Sea.

Ever since seeing Edgar Wright’s 2017 film, Baby Driver, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for songs about girls called Deborah. There’s more than you’d think! Not only did Wright overlook Pickett’s Deborah for his soundtrack – opting instead for Debora by T. Rex and Debra by Beck – but Pickett sings his song partly in Italian, something you’d never expect to hear from a soul screamer from Alabama.

Hit: I’m A Midnight Mover

Hidden Gem: I Found A True Love

Rocks In The Attic #630: Krzysztof Komeda – ‘Rosemary’s Baby (O.S.T.)’ (1968)

tp0004c_SP_DPGate_CoverThere’s a moment in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby where, during what we’re initially led to believe is a dream sequence, Mia Farrow’s Rosemary is raped by an unseen person while the residents of her apartment complex look on, naked. As the camera pans across the small crowd, from left to right, we spot Rosemary’s husband, Guy.

‘She’s awake, she sees,’ he says to their neighbour Minnie.

‘She don’t see,’ Minnie replies.

‘THIS IS NO DREAM! THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!’ shouts Rosemary.

This small exchange is one of the most horrifying moments in American cinema. The prospect of being targeted by a Satanic cult is one thing; the realisation that your husband and protector might be part of the conspiracy is even more shocking.

RITA#630b.jpgIt provokes the same gut-wrenching sense of doom as the final moments of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982), in which Tom Atkins’ character screams down the phone to the television company, pleading with them to not play the commercial that is going to cause so much carnage.

This is when horror really connects; when it really matters. Hollywood loves jump-scare horror, because it sells tickets, but psychological horror is far more effective. The truly disturbing thing about Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) isn’t the shower scene, it’s the thought that one day you might stay at the seemingly benign Bates Motel; and no matter what precautions you take, that nice motel manager you just met always has a key to your room.

RITA#630aSpielberg’s Jaws (1975) – often derided when labelled as a horror film – is just as shocking as Polanski and Hitchcock’s work. What could be more horrific than the thought, just the lingering idea, that a killer shark might be circling in the gloomy darkness beneath you as you swim? It plants a seed, just like the prospect of Norman Bates making plans behind closed doors.

Released in June 1968, Rosemary’s Baby is an oddity for the horror genre. It’s an urban horror, taking part in a metropolitan area (New York) as opposed to the conventional rural- or suburban-set horror. The lighting of the film also goes against type. This isn’t a film of shadow and darkness; much of the picture takes place during the daytime, and in the scenes that do take place after the sun has set, most shots are well lit. This isn’t the kind of film where evil lurks in the shadows; instead it exists in plain sight where you’d least expect it.

Komeda’s score is the strongest indicator that the film rightfully belongs in the horror genre. The location, the cast and the script might all scream drama – or at most, thriller – but the music is right out of a haunted house. Most unnerving is Mia Farrow’s lullaby over the waltzing opening titles; an ominous foreboding of innocence corrupted.

The film left a sour taste in popular culture. Not only are there the obvious parallels with the murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, a year later at the hands of the satanic Manson cult, but the final shot foreshadows yet another tragedy.

RITA#630c.jpgThe film’s end credits roll over a high crane shot looking down at Rosemary’s apartment complex, the Bramford. In reality, the location is the Dakota complex in Manhattan, which was used for external shots only. Well-known as the residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1973 onwards, the Dakota’s architecture looks well-suited as the location of a film about devil worship in New York City. As the camera pans down, the final frame of the film shows two people walking into the building’s south entrance, the same archway through which Lennon was walking as he was gunned down by his assassin, Mark Chapman, in December 1980.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Furnishing The Apartment

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Rocks In The Attic #623: The Band – ‘Music From Big Pink’ (1968)

RITA#623I recently saw The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s film of the final Band performance in 1976. I don’t know why I had avoided this for so long; perhaps it was the feeling that when you’ve seen one classic rock superstar concert line-up, you’ve seen them all. “Get Eric Clapton on the phone, we’re having a get-together.” Or perhaps it was the suspicion that Scorsese’s presence might taint the Band, just like his sycophancy for the Rolling Stones has left that band a little less dangerous.

Watching the film – which I enjoyed immensely – I was struck by the feeling of how inadequate my collection of Band records is. I have this, their classic debut, and I also have their self-titled follow-up, but that’s it. No more. Zilch.

Of course, I’ve been operating under the illusion that that’s all I needed, and that if I made the effort to check out their later recordings then I’d be disappointed. But watching the 1976 version of the group perform in The Last Waltz, it seems like the Band couldn’t write a bad song if they tried.

My favourite guest star in The Waltz was Joni Mitchell – another artist seriously under-represented in my record collection. I have Ladies Of The Canyon, Blue and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, but I need more, so much more. I might grow my hair and start wearing flares this summer.

Hit: The Weight

Hidden Gem: Chest Fever

Rocks In The Attic #586: Walter Carlos – ‘Switched On Bach’ (1968)

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I’ve been hearing a lot about this record recently, as I make my way through the Beatles Anthology Revisited – a sublime 28-hour ‘unofficial’ podcast I managed to hunt down online (despite it being continually taken down at the behest of Apple).

An influence on the Beatles’ swansong Abbey Road – if only a technical inspiration – Switched On Bach pointed to the way that a Moog synthesiser could be employed on record. I’m sure the Beatles would have been paying close attention to this album before they utilised George’s Moog on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Here Comes The Sun, Because and I Want You (She’s So Heavy).

Thankfully, the Beatles’ use of the synthesiser was relatively subtle and not as plinky-plonky as Walter – now Wendy – Carlos’ homage to Bach. It really sounds like music conceived inside a computer – which of course, it is – and it’s not hard to imagine this sounding so futuristic back in the late ‘60s. It still sounds futuristic!

Carlos would repeat the formula in 1971 on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, this time playing the Moog to reproduce a couple of Ludwig Van’s big hits.

Hit: Air On A G String

Hidden Gem: Sinfonia To Cantata No. 29

Rocks In The Attic #553: Al Martino – ‘Love Is Blue’ (1968)

RITA#553.jpgAl Martino is probably best known for his portrayal of Johnny Fontane in the Godfather films. He plays the Godson of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone, and appears at Connie’s wedding at the start of the film to rapturous screams from the girls present. Johnny’s career has gone onto bigger and better things since they last saw him, with more than a little help from his Godfather early on in his career.

I often wonder, with his character being based on unsavoury rumours concerning Frank Sinatra’s early career, what repercussions Martino felt in his day job as a singer.  The horse head scene in the Godfather, designed to intimidate producer Jack Woltz into giving Fontane a part in a war film, is supposedly influenced by Sinatra’s casting in From Here To Eternity. It would have made for one interesting atmosphere if Martino ever ran into Sinatra backstage somewhere in Vegas. I fear that the Rat Pack would have driven him out of the business – his recording output slowed down considerably following the release of The Godfather in 1972.

Love Is Blue is a collection of quite syrupy ballads from 1968. Martino has a great voice, but the overblown orchestral instrumentation on the record stands him apart from the likes of Sinatra and his like. As a result the record strays too near to the likes of easy listening to be taken serious. It isn’t surprising then that Martino was chosen to sing such a syrupy ballad to Connie Corleone (If Have But One Heart) at her wedding…

Hit: Call Me

Hidden Gem: Goin’ Out Of My Head

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Rocks In The Attic #469: José Feliciano – ‘Feliciano!’ (1968)

RITA#469Feliciano!, José’s 1968 collection of rock and pop covers, in great condition, for the princely sum of fifty cents? Yes please!

There’s not much I can say about this record other than how good it is. But you probably already know that. It’s one of those records that could very easily stray into the nursing home stratosphere of easy listening, but there’s an element of cool that you just can’t argue with.

Even if you just take his instrumental cuts – the Beatles’ And I Love Her and Here, There And Everywhere for example – it’s just marvellous. His voice on the other tracks is just the cherry on the top.

Feliciano! is actually his fourth English album in as many years, but that didn’t stop the Grammys giving him the Best New Artist award in 1969. He was also nominated for Album Of The Year, but lost out to Glen Campbell for By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

Hit: Light My Fire

Hidden Gem: And I Love Her