Tag Archives: McCartney

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 #379: Wings – ‘Wild Life’ (1971)

RITA#379This is the debut record of Paul McCartney’s second band – the name of his first one escapes me at the moment. In terms of where this is placed in his solo career, it’s record number three after McCartney and Ram. Those two albums showed a natural progression – from the back to basics experimentation of McCartney to the sublime perfection of Ram – which sadly ends here. You can almost imagine his new band-members Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell looking at each other and wondering ‘Well…where are the songs?’

I love Ram – alongside Band On The Run, it’s probably the one album in his career that gets close to escaping from the shadow of that former band. His songwriting on Ram is just as good as anything he contributed to Abbey Road, which makes it even more dumbfounding how he really pressed the reset button with this one. There are songs on the album – Wild Life itself is a nice tune – but gibberish like Mumbo and Bip Bop are reminiscent of the out-of-ideas DIY wankery on his first solo album.

Album closer Dear Friend is a thinly veiled attempt at a reconciliation with Lennon, after Lennon’s no-veil snipe at McCartney on Imagine’s How Do You Sleep? If I was McCartney, I would have written a rebuttal song titled Quite Well Actually, How About You, You Wife-Beating Smack-Head? I doubt it would get picked for a single though, but you can’t win them all.

Hit: Dear Friend

Hidden Gem: Wild Life

Rocks In The Attic #261: Paul McCartney – ‘McCartney’ (1970)

RITA#261I’ve written about George’s mammoth first solo album, Ringo’s crooning debut, and John’s first album proper, so this entry completes the set. Why have I left Paul’s until last? Well, on paper it might sound like a more compelling prospect than an album of covers by a drummer with a woeful singing voice, but Ringo’s offering is far more enjoyable. Arguably McCartney may be the most musically talented Beatles – depending on how you define talent – but his first outing on his own is just half-hearted at best.

Aside from Maybe I’m Amazed (a big song, and a true classic that he still performs in concert to this day), McCartney is filled with low-fi home recordings, all self-played, with the occasional “harmony” from wife Linda. It relies too much on its charm, and it’s hard to find an album charming when the inner-gatefold is a collage of photographs of said Beatle acting like a prat.

McCartney’s next album, Ram, is probably my favourite solo album by a Beatle and so it’s hard to understand why he got it so right on that one, and so wrong on this one. If you look at the timeline of events, McCartney was released just after he heard Phil Spector’s treatment of the Let It Be sessions and within a year he would file suit for the dissolution of the band, so let’s just say he had a few things on his mind other than the quality control of his work.

Hit: Maybe I’m Amazed

Hidden Gem: Momma Miss America

Rocks In The Attic #127: Paul & Linda McCartney – ‘Ram’ (1971)

Rocks In The Attic #127: Paul & Linda McCartney - ‘Ram’ (1971)I’m with Moo on this one – mono is pretty pointless. It makes sense if the artist originally mixed it in mono, and intended its release in mono, but most of the time it’s a marketing ploy aimed at audiophiles.

Take this release for example – the limited edition release of McCartney’s second solo album in mono, complete with the most minimal sleeve I’ve ever seen (aside from the scrawl on the top left of the sleeve, the only mention of the album name and artist is on a small slip of paper inside the inner sleeve – it makes the packaging of The White Album look like Sgt. Pepper’s). There’s no reason for it to exist. Mono had been left behind by this point, and all releases were universally in stereo. It exists merely as a curiosity.

However, it’s by a Beatle, it’s a limited collection, and therefore it’s collectable – hence why I bought it. I have the stereo version, with its garish sleeve (possibly the reason this mono release is so minimalist?) and it’s always been a firm favourite. In fact, I swapped my CD copy of the album for the vinyl version back in the late 90s. My Huddersfield friend Dom Beresford had it on vinyl and wanted it on CD. I felt the opposite, so we did a fair trade. The record is forever marked by this transaction – a sticker on the label around the centre of the disc proudly declares it is the property of Kirklees Libraries & Arts.

There’s been a hell of a lot of love for this album of late. It is very good – about a million times better than his hotchpotch debut album; but as much as I love it, and regard it as my favourite McCartney album, it’s not as good as Band On The Run.  I don’t subscribe to the theory that his Wings material is more of a group offering – to me, they’re McCartney albums with a couple of hired hands to play some of the instruments so he didn’t have to play everything.

In terms of the quality of the songwriting here, he matches the strength of his output on Abbey Road. The melodies are strong enough to support an orchestral version of the album – something I’ve been listening to a lot recently. To me, Ram is as strong an album as Imagine – in fact they’d make a killer double album – but it’ll never be as loved by the public as Lennon’s album. There are no big hits, and definitely nothing close to the universality of Imagine’s titular track.

Hit: Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey

Hidden Gem: Ram On

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