Tag 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)

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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 #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

Rocks In The Attic #625: Fairport Convention – ‘Liege & Lief’ (1969)

RITA#625I’ve been looking for a nice, clean, affordable, original copy of this record for what feels like forever. I recently gave up and bought a minty Back To Black reissue, and I can report that it sounds glorious.

To folk, or not to folk; that is the question. In this case, the answer is very much in the affirmative. This was the band’s fourth studio album, and their third to be released in the year of 1969. Now, that’s what I call prolific!

Hit: Come All Ye

Hidden Gem: Matty Groves

Rocks In The Attic #591: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Live At Woodstock’ (1969)

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A couple of weekends ago, I saw a screening of Woodstock: The Director’s Cut at Auckland’s majestic Civic theatre as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme. I have seen Michael Wadleigh‘s film many times, having owned it on DVD for half my life, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it on the Civic’s supersized screen.

Of course, the biggest draw-card is the appearance at the end of the film by Gypsy Sun & Rainbows, the de-facto name for Hendrix’s temporary band on the day (despite Chip Monck’s stage announcement introducing them as the Jimi Hendrix Experience).

Hendrix was billed to headline the festival, the last act on the third and final day of music (Sunday). However, the storm that ripped through the festival over the weekend, coupled with several technical delays, caused the event to over-run. Hendrix was offered to play at midnight on the Sunday night, but his manager declined, wanting him to perform as the festival’s closing act, as he was billed and contracted to do so.

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The result is good and bad. Unfortunately, half of the audience had gone home by the time Hendrix walked on stage at 9am on the Monday morning, presumably back to their jobs working for ‘the man’ as the week started. On the film of Hendrix’s full performance, it’s clear to see the disappointment on his face on numerous occasions as he looks out at the grounds – half-full of rubbish, and half-full of tired hippies.

It’s also worth considering whether Hendrix’s meandering set-list was influenced by the time of day he played, and the massive reduction in audience numbers compared to the rest of the weekend. It’s far more improvisational than usual, particularly when you compare it to his set at the Isle Of Wight festival a fortnight later.

The one positive aspect of Hendrix playing early in the morning, is that the resulting film of his performance looks fantastic. The stage-lighting at the festival over the previous three evenings was basic, to say the least, and it’s nice to see a rare instance of Hendrix playing in daylight.

While the original cut of Woodstock only featured three songs by Hendrix (The Star Spangled Banner, Purple Haze and Villanova Junction), the expanded director’s cut also adds in a jam (the almost schizophrenic Woodstock Improvisation) and a jaw-dropping rendition of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).

For the longest time, I was bored by Hendrix’s set at Woodstock – too few actual songs, and too much improvisational material. Over the years, the jams have grown on me and now the performance is one of my first go-to’s when I put a record on the turntable. I’ve gradually become obsessed with the performance, going so far as buying the film of his set on blu-ray.

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The lucky thing about the filming of the festival is that they had enough actual film to capture all of Hendrix’s set. Due to the delays over the weekend, the film crews used up far more film than planned, and by the time Hendrix walked on stage on the Monday morning, they had almost run out. The Hendrix performance was also captured by a pair of enterprising young men who smuggled their movie camera into the festival and snuck on stage just before the band’s performance started. This film, a grainy black and white image, is interesting given the different perspective it provides. Presumably so that they wouldn’t run into the festival’s official camera crew, they set up their tripod behind Hendrix and so it’s great to see a moment like Hendrix throwing the peace sign at the start of The Star Spangled Banner, from a reverse angle.

This 3xLP version of Live At Woodstock is the most complete version of Hendrix’s performance available. The two songs sung by rhythm guitarist Larry Lee (Master Mind and Gypsy Woman) are excised completely, while his guitar contributions across the rest of the set are very low, almost inaudible, in the mix.

The record’s greatest mistake however, is in the sequencing of songs between sides. The segue of feedback between Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and The Star Spangled Banner – mere seconds before one of the defining moments of the 1960s – is split across sides four and five. Sacrilege!

Hit: The Star Spangled Banner

Hidden Gem: Message To Love