Tag Archives: John Lennon

Rocks In The Attic #724: George Harrison – ‘George Harrison’ (1979)

RITA#724You’d be forgiven for thinking that by the time of George’s eighth solo album, he was bereft of ideas. This 1979 effort finds him not only running out of ideas for album titles, but he also re-uses earlier material: the second-track, Not Guilty, is a leftover from the last self-titled album he was involved in, the Beatles’ eponymous 1968 release.

But there’s lots to like about this record. It’s a bit happier and a bit more laid-back than his previous work, having married Olivia Arias and become a father to Dhani a year earlier.

Side-two opener Faster – “inspired by Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda” – is perhaps one of the last hidden gems of George’s solo career – a non-charting single, released as a picture-disc (a first for a Beatle past or present) with all proceeds going to charity (a cancer fund set up following the death of Swedish F1 driver Gunnar Nilsson in 1978). George must have had enough invested into the song to go to the trouble of filming a promotional video for it.

RITA#724aSpeaking of chart positions, this album comes a full five years after George had a #1 single anywhere in the world – 1973’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), the sole single from Living In The Material World, which topped the US Billboard. His poor chart performance through 1977 and 1978 correlates with the rise of punk, and his more mature songwriting was probably at odds with Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and the rest of the new breed of youth music.

Here Comes The Moon is lovely, the first single Blow Away is great, and there really isn’t a weak song on the album. But that’s probably the rub – while George might not write or record bad songs by this point, he also doesn’t write or record anything particularly outstanding. His next single, All Those Years Ago in 1981 performed much stronger in the wake of John Lennon’s death, and it wouldn’t be until 1987 before he topped the charts again (with his Jeff Lynne-produced cover of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You).

Mention must be made of George’s hairstyle during 1979. The rear cover image shows him walking across his garden, not only in the largest pair of flares this side of the 1960s, but with a perm long enough to make any poodle-breeder proud.

Hit: Blow Away

Hidden Gem: Faster

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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 #679: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Milk And Honey’ (1984)

RITA#679One of the saddest things about losing John Lennon is that his return to recording was starting to produce some really interesting music, first with 1980’s Double Fantasy, and then this, the posthumously released follow-up, Milk And Honey, from 1984.

Lennon’s post-Beatles albums from the ‘70s sometimes make for a hard listen. Awash with the reverb of Phil Spector, they’re often angry, yet balanced with some overly sentimental singles. Finding a musical companion in Yoko Ono seems to have rejuvenated his output, waking him up from an arguably misdirected post-Beatles decade. Ono might not be a writing partner like McCartney was, but the relationship seems to have energised his writing and awakened his competitive spirit.

It’s difficult to imagine what his next studio record would have sounded like. This release was cobbled together from sessions following Double Fantasy, so it makes for a great companion piece to that record. Who knows – a year or two later, Lennon might have tired from the post-punk leanings of that record, and gone in a different direction. His decision to record a version of I’m Losing You backed by Cheap Trick (available on the John Lennon Anthology box-set) perhaps indicates that the 1980s would have been a rockier, band-oriented decade.

Hit: Nobody Told Me

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Wanna Face It

Rocks In The Attic #669: Various Artists – ‘Stand By Me (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#669There were a number of films released through the 1980s which went some way in redefining the seminal singles of the 1950s and 1960s. Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill kicked off the nostalgia in 1983, before Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and Oliver Stone’s Platoon landed in 1986. By the time of 1988’s Good Morning Vietnam, it was almost commonplace for a Hollywood film to feature a ‘golden oldies’ soundtrack.

Along the more obvious hits on this soundtrack – Buddy Holly’s Everyday, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls Of Fire, and of course, Ben E. King’s Stand By Me – there’s one very interesting addition. The Del-Viking’s Come Go With Me might sound like any other late-‘50s R&B, but it was actually the song that a teenage Paul McCartney first saw (a teenage) John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen on the fateful day that they met (July 6th 1957) in Liverpool.

RITA#669aIt’s hard not to like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Adapted from a Stephen King short-story, it has an impressive young cast (Wil Wheaton, River Pheonix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland) and a lovely, wry narration by Richard Dreyfuss. Reiner’s film almost perfectly balances nostalgia with the thrill of youth. The script’s perspective might be of an older man looking backwards, but instead the film is driven by the optimism of the young leads looking forward to the future.

Hit: Stand By Me – Ben E. King

Hidden Gem: Come Go With Me – The Del-Vikings

Rocks In The Attic #657: Nilsson – ‘Son Of Schmilsson’ (1972)

RITA#657What do you do after you release a mainstream breakthrough like Nilsson Schmilsson? Do you repeat the formula and give the record company the same again – propping up their stakeholders and ultimately creating an even bigger expectation for a more difficult next album? Or do you just do whatever you want, and concentrate on the weirder brand of material such as Coconut from Nilsson Schmilsson?

History tells us that Nilsson took the latter route, using sound effects to comedic effect and burping between takes. Son Of Schmilsson might not have the same hit singles as Nilsson Schmilsson, or even the same boundless energy that that evergreen record does, but it’s still an enjoyable listen. I guess making a few bucks for RCA gives you the power to concentrate on your own path – and you can almost hear the anguish from their frustration at Nilsson not playing ball.

A song as delicate and pure as Turn On Your Radio is as timeless as anything on the record’s more well-known predecessor, something that Brian Wilson would have been more than proud to write.

RITA#657aI recently watched the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him)? It’s a sad film to watch as you see an artist slowly give his life (and talent) over to drink, but nice to see so many well-respected musicians talk about him positively.

As well as his talent, Nilsson’s death in 1994 also robbed the world of a prominent and dedicated advocate for gun control (initially sparked by John Lennon’s assassination) – something the United States needs so badly at the moment.

Hit: Remember (Christmas)

Hidden Gem: Turn On Your Radio

Rocks In The Attic #654: Wings – ‘Band On The Run’ (1973)

RITA#654The first time I saw Paul McCartney live in concert. I couldn’t have been closer. It was at Glastonbury 2004, and I endured sets from the likes of Joss Stone and the Black Eyed Peas in the early evening to get to the crash barrier at the very front of the field. It was worth it – getting so close to a living legend.

This time around, in December 2017, I couldn’t have been further away. I went for the cheapest GA standing tickets, not wanting to auction off my remaining kidney for a ticket closer to the stage. It was still a blast, and the hi-def, crystal-clear screens at the side of stage made sure I didn’t miss out on much.

The difference in set-lists between the two times I saw him play was quite interesting. At Glastonbury in 2004, he was playing the hits for what would ultimately be a BBC audience enjoying the festival on the television, sat at home minus the mud and discomfort. In Auckland a few weeks ago, on the final date of the band’s world tour, the set threw up some unexpected numbers.

RITA#654aKicking off with A Hard Day’s Night – ostensibly a ‘John’ song – the set included a couple of other Beatles songs written predominantly by Lennon: Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite and A Day In The Life. Also played were a couple of genuine 50/50 co-written Beatles songs – I’ve Got A Feeling and Birthday – which I was surprised McCartney would even bother with.

Ever since the former Beatle was happy to lean on a Beatles-heavy set-list (post-Flaming Pie?), there’s always been an embarrassment of riches. He can’t possibly play everything, so this time there was no Drive My Car, no Get Back, no Paperback Writer. So it’s even stranger that he made the decision to play some of the songs that he did include. He played Mull Of Kintyre for fuck’s sake!

The Band On The Run record was well represented though. Band On The Run and Jet are probably a feature of the band’s set-list every night, and Let Me Roll It sounds like the kind of song they just love to play live, but it was the appearance of the album’s closer, Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five, that was the most surprising. At four songs, this made Band On The Run the most represented album in McCartney’s back catalogue – not including Beatles compilations of course – a testament to how strong the record is in relation to everything else he has produced in his career.

I prefer Ram, and always will, but it’s clear that Band On The Run is the closest McCartney ever got to replicating the strength of the Beatles’ output.

Hit: Jet

Hidden Gem: Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five

Rocks In The Attic #645: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Double Fantasy’ (1980)

RITA#645I enjoyed the recent Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. When it was first mooted, I, like many others, expressed anger at why Hollywood was daring to mess with something so sacred. This type of revisionism generally ends poorly, but director Denis Villeneuve had a good track record, and the resulting film felt more like a genuine follow up to the 1982 original than I could possibly have imagined.

One thing I read online around the time of the film’s release was somebody claiming that Ryan Gosling is the new Nicolas Cage. Not in looks or acting style, but in his scene-stealing buffoonery that shines through in every film. I used to love Nic Cage – his turn as H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona is one of my favourite cinematic performances of all time – and while he occasionally redeems himself with a great role (Big Daddy in Kick Ass, for example), his performances are generally as woeful as the films he chooses.

But in no way is Ryan Gosling the new Nicolas Cage. Gosling may suffer sometimes from the same level of screen charisma as a vase of flowers, but at least he’s watchable, particularly when he turns his best attribute – moody silence – to brilliant effect in films such as Drive and the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049.

I posit another theory – that the new Nicolas Cage is none other than Gosling’s Blade Runner 2049 co-star, Jared Leto. To take the mantle of the silver screen’s new Nic Cage, his successor must be a recidivist over-actor. Luckily for us, Leto has this in spades.

Not only does he chew the scenery as Blade Runner 2049’s blind villain, Niander Wallace, but he comes across as so self-absorbed that one gets the feeling he’d be more at home performing the film as a one-man stage-play.

RITA#645aLast week I also watched Chapter 27, the film about the murder of John Lennon. Inspired by Won’t You Take Me Down, Jack Jones’ book of interviews with Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, the film is a tough watch, as tough as Jones’ book is to read.

I’m not sure if it glamorises Chapman, but it definitely doesn’t seek to explain why he did what he did – something that he himself was so conflicted about (if Jones’ interviews are to be believed). As a result, the film has a horrible foreboding sense of resignation to it.

Of course, Chapter 27 gives Jared Leto the opportunity to pull out all the stops in his portrayal of Chapman, putting on a great deal of weight for the role and changing his voice to mimic the killer’s childlike whisper. I’m on the fence about whether it’s a great performance, as we really only have Leto’s interpretation to go by. Let’s just say that he definitely earned his salary. Chapman does come across as a creepy motherfucker, and I was quite happy when the film ended as I genuinely couldn’t bear any more time in his company.

It’s so heartbreaking to listen to this record when you consider what happened to Lennon just three weeks after its release. There’s a strong sense of optimism throughout both John and Yoko’s songs, as the couple looked ahead into the new decade.

Hit: Woman

Hidden Gem: I’m Losing You