Tag Archives: Paul 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 #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 #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 #636: Michael Jackson – ‘Thriller’ (1982)

RITA#636Happy Halloween!

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted local Kiwi soap actor turned Hollywood bit-player Karl Urban in an Auckland shopping mall. After taking a surreptitious photo of him on my phone to send to my jealous wife (a big fan), I retreated with my kids up the escalators to the next level. Halfway up, I turned around to look back, and Urban was following us, a half dozen steps behind. We locked eyes, and I immediately saw the look of dread (dredd?) in his eyes. ‘Oh no…’ I imagined him thinking, ‘…another middle-aged Star Trek fan to make my life a misery. I just wanted to buy some underpants.’

I left him to his shopping (although I believe he was actually going to the cinema, probably the new Queen Latifah film† ), and went off with the kids. If I was any more of a fan, I might have approached him for a selfie, but I’d met him before – my friend asked for his autograph at the same event where I met Quentin Tarantino – and I didn’t get a good vide from him then.

A few minutes later, still buoyed from seeing a Hollywood actor in such a normal place, we stepped inside a shop. Michael Jackson’s Thriller started playing on the shop’s music system just as we walked in. It was the first time in a long time I had heard the song, and definitely the first time in a very long time I had heard it played at a decent volume. Man, what a song. I stayed in there for six minutes, holding my crotch with one hand, the back of my head with the other, and bending my knee in time to the beat, just so I could hear the end of the song. Unfortunately, I’m now banned from all branches of Bendon lingerie.

Often labelled as the best-selling album of all time – and rightly so, despite some strange reporting of sales numbers ranging between 66 million to 120 million – Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a beast of a record. His sixth solo studio record, it is the second album released on the Epic label following 1979’s Off The Wall, traditionally seen as the true starting point of his adult career.

Like Off The Wall, it is produced by Quincy Jones and where the earlier album was a marked departure from Jackson’s recording history with Motown, Thriller went a thousand steps further and turned him into a pop music phenomenon.

Prior to MTV landing in the UK – and light years before such things were readily available on the internet – my Dad would always try and seek out John Landis’ longform music video to Thriller, wherever he could. Every year, there was an American TV show, counting down the top 100 music videos, presented by Casey Kasem, and broadcast in the middle of the night on ITV. I recall my Dad waking me up in the middle of the night on more than one occasion just so we could go and watch the Thriller video in all its gory glory.

That 13-minute video is probably the reason I turned into such a big horror fan in my early teens, and is why I now spend so much time and effort on the internet pre-ordering horror soundtracks from Waxwork Records.

Thriller, the song, is worth the price of admission alone. But it isn’t even the biggest, most enduring hit on there. In fact, it was way down the list, the seventh and final single to be taken from the record.

Side two, song two, kicks off with perhaps one of the greatest locked–in grooves throughout all of pop, soul or funk. It’s such a groove, almost mathematical in its execution, that you can actually see it visually on the surface of the record, almost like a spiral that repeats on every rotation. The song, Billie Jean, is timeless, despite a music video that is – in contrast to the one for Thriller – heavily dated, with graphics and editing techniques showing the early days of MTV on its pastel-pink shirt sleeve.

Beat It, the other US#1 on the record (alongside Billie Jean), is another great song. Proving that Jackson can do hard rock just as well as he can do pop, the song’s centrepiece is a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen – the hottest guitar player at the time. Upon hearing of Jackson’s request to appear on the song, Van Halen initially thought he was being pranked – especially when Jackson phoned and told him, in his high-pitched voice, that “I really like that high, fast stuff you do.” He later recorded his solo in a separate studio to a tape of the backing track, for no charge.

Beat It is clearly the heaviest song on the record, forewarned by a series of ominous synthesiser gongs on the intro (lifted note for note from a demo recording of the Synclavier II synthesiser). The lyrics re-imagine Jackson as a street punk – an idea he would revisit on the title track of his next album, Bad. However, where Beat It genuinely sounds tough, Bad sounds like a pastiche of street violence – with the opening lyric “Your butt is mine” showing how far out of touch Jackson had become since 1987.

The other singles on ThrillerThe Girl Is Mine, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Human Nature and P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) – are all very strong and individually could be the centrepiece of a lesser album. Personally I could do without the opening single, The Girl Is Mine, a duet with Paul McCartney. It isn’t a terrible song, but it’s easily the weakest of the seven singles, and pales in comparison to their other duet, Say Say Say, from McCartney’s Pipes Of Peace album. Released as a single during Jackson’s two-year promotion of the Thriller album, Say Say Say hit US#1; The Girl Is Mine had stalled at US#2.

I have such happy memories of the Thriller record. In terms of albums, I’d definitely choose it as one of my desert island discs. It has everything – songwriting, production and performance; a truly magical record.

Hit: Billie Jean

Hidden Gem: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

†  Queen Latifah gag, copyright Seema Lal 2017

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 #578: Peter And Gordon – ‘Peter And Gordon’ (1964)

RITA#578Having Paul McCartney as your ­almost­ brother-in-law can’t be anything other than a good thing, especially if you’re trying to break into the music business.

In 1963, the Beatles left Liverpool for the Big Smoke of London town. John Lennon rented an apartment with wife Cynthia, while George and Ringo shared a flat together. Paul however moved into the house owned by the parents of his then-girlfriend (and later, fiancé) Jane Asher. Understandably, Paul was not allowed to sleep in Jane’s room, and so shared a room with her brother, Peter Asher.

In 1963, Paul offered the song A World Without Love to Peter and his song-writing partner Gordon Waller, after the duo were signed up by Columbia Records. The song had been written by Paul when he was a teenager, but had been deemed unsuitable for the Beatles. It would appear it was John who held the veto, as he could never get past Paul’s opening lyric. “The funny first line always used to please John,” Paul told Barry Miles in 1997. “’Please lock me away…’ ‘Yes, okay.’ End of song.”

You’d be wrong in thinking that Peter And Gordon were a one-hit wonder. McCartney’s kindness did help them establish their name – it was a number one on both sides of the Atlantic – but they didn’t stop there. They released a number of singles that charted in the Top Twenty, and their approach as a sort of English answer to Simon & Garfunkel would have been quite a refreshing change given that the charts would have been filled with pop, and rock and roll.

This debut album is really strong, and while it’s clear to see that Lennon and McCartney’s A World Without Love is the centrepiece of the record, there’s plenty of highlights along the way, whether it’s their own material, or covers like Little Richard’s Lucille or Ray Charles’ Leave My Woman Alone.

Hit: World Without Love

Hidden Gem: If I Were You