The Beatles…Let It Be

There’s been talk recently that a new movie version of Let It Be may be edited together.  Let’s explore what got us to this point.

In November of 1968, The Beatles released their double album The Beatles…known forever as The White Album.  At times The Beatles worked on their songs in separate studios.  The bickering of The Beatles during other recording sessions caused engineer Geoff Emerick to stop working with them, and even somewhat alienated George Martin.

Paul McCartney had an idea…maybe it was a bad one.

McCartney suggested they “Get Back” to playing in the studio as a live band, instead of overdubbing the recordings.  That part of the idea might have been good.  The real error may have been when he suggested they could film their recording sessions for a television special that would end with a live performance of the songs they’d written.  What could go wrong?

(My “Get Back”/“Don’t Let Me Down” single from 1969.)

John Lennon suggested The Beatles should just break up instead.  Ringo Starr had already left the group for a time during the recording of The White Album.  After they started rehearsals at the beginning of January 1969, George Harrison left the band for a few days.  It was up to Paul McCartney to try to hold the band together, but he was resented for taking a leadership role.  And that was just the beginning of the Get Back/Let It Be recording sessions.

Further complicating matters…George Martin was only there for some of the sessions, and Yoko Ono was there for all of the them.  George Martin had relinquished some of his duties to producer/engineer Glyn Johns & tape operator Alan Parsons, and the sessions were much less organized.  That created problems for assembling the album.  Having a girlfriend at Beatles recording sessions was an irritant to the other band members, especially when Yoko would make suggestions.

(Not a happy time.)

The rehearsals and recording sessions for the Get Back album only lasted a month, January 2nd to January 31st, 1969.

So what happened with the music?  Despite all the problems, The Beatles were able to knock out “Get Back” & “Don’t Let Me Down”, and later release them as a strong single.  “Get Back” stayed at #1 for five weeks.  Even though sessions were sometimes contentious, other great music emerged…”Let It Be”, “Two Of Us”, “Across The Universe”,  and “The Long And Winding Road”.

Add to the above six songs…”For You Blue”, “I’ve Got A Feeling”, “One After 909”,  “Dig A Pony”, and maybe one of their jams,  and you’d think Get Back was done.  But, various mixes of the album were rejected, and the album was shelved.  The television project fell through.  The film footage was to be turned into a movie, but it was delayed while the producers waded through 56 hours of film.

After that bad experience,  The Beatles didn’t break up!  Instead, they convinced George Martin and Geoff Emerick to produce an album like they used to make, and they promised to behave.  The resulting excellent album proved to be the last one they recorded, Abbey Road, just a little later in 1969.

So how did Get Back become Let It Be in 1970?  First of all, they couldn’t name the album after a single that had been released a year earlier.  The title was chosen for the album’s best song, and maybe as an indication that the group was simply letting The Beatles be over.

Even on the 2009 digital remaster of Let It Be, they mentioned the “freshness” of the live performances.  In fact, the production had been turned over to wall-of-sound producer Phil Spector.  He added orchestration, a choir, and other major production elements, especially to McCartney’s “The Long And Winding Road” and “Let It Be”.

Maybe the song “Let It Be” is best with the orchestration and a new guitar lead by McCartney, but “Road” is over-the-top with “angel voices” McCartney never approved.  It would be interesting to hear a version that kept the orchestra, but dropped the choir.  McCartney might have been okay with that.  The big productions were the exact opposite of the original intent, and while the result is a mix of good and not so good, it was mostly unnecessary.

The original versions of “Get Back”, “Let It Be”, “Two Of Us”, and “The Long And Winding Road” were excellent long before Phil Spector was involved….as can be seen in the film.  George Harrison’s original non-Spector versions of “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue” sound great, with George’s voice clearer.  Spector also should have chosen the simpler version of John Lennon’s “Across The Universe” that appeared on the anthology series.

Phil Spector certainly deserves credit for wading through the tapes to pull the album together, but maybe George Martin’s quip is the best description of the result.  He said the album jacket should have said “Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector.”

In 2003, Paul McCartney tried to remedy the situation with Let It Be…Naked.  It does a good job of providing the unadorned versions, and it puts back “Don’t Let Me Down”, which should never have been left off the original album in the first place.  But at the same time, this album wasn’t going to replace the version people had enjoyed for over 30 years.  The original album won an Academy Award and a Grammy in their respective soundtrack categories.

About the film…

We saw Let It Be in a theater when it was originally released in 1970, and it was a bit shocking to see The Beatles angry with one another.  Because the film came out at the time The Beatles split, it’s generally believed that the movie portrays the band’s break up.  Although it shows the tension in the group, the movie also shows some excellent live studio performances, plus the fun The Beatles had jamming in the studio and playing together in the rooftop concert.  The real breakup came later with Allen Klein handling the business side of the group and alienating McCartney.  Eventually, all The Beatles fired Klein and battled him in a lawsuit.

(The movie has not been available to the public since the RCA Video Disc release in 1982.  I had this movie & a disc player, but it was not a good system.)

A new version of the film would have to be approved unanimously by the remaining Beatles and the wives of John & George.  The basic idea would be to downplay the bickering, and show more of the positive interactions.

It may be the 50th anniversary of the movie (in 2020) before we know if there will be a new version of the film, or whether they’ll just decide to let it be.

Update:  Meanwhile, a new 50th anniversary release of The White Album is due November 9th.  This is a complete remix of the album, not a simple remaster, plus there will be previously unreleased takes and rehearsal recordings.

Joe Walsh…Solo Eagles Part 3

Joe Walsh joined the Eagles over 40 years ago…in 1975.  His solo career predates his time with the band, and continued even while the group was active.

Joe’s career included time with The James Gang & Barnstorm…for which he was the principal songwriter, lead guitarist, and lead vocalist.

(The James Gang consisted of Jim Fox, Dale Peters, and Joe Walsh)

Joe Walsh was with The James Gang from 1969 to 1971.  The main songs to come out of that time are…”Funk 49″ and “Walk Away”…plus I recommend their second album The James Gang Rides Again.

Barnstorm didn’t have any hits, but they’re on Joe Walsh’s first official solo album, The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get from 1973.  It includes the classic  guitar song “Rocky Mountain Way”…Walsh’s first Top 40 hit at #23.

Then in December of 1974, before Joe Walsh joined the Eagles, he released his very best album with the help of…the Eagles.

Don’t let the crazy cover and So What title turn you away.  This is a masterful album that every Joe Walsh and Eagles fan should own (or stream).   Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner, and J.D. Souther all contributed.  The songs include “Falling Down” (co-written by Don Henley), “Welcome To The Club”, “Turn To Stone”, “Help Me Through The Night”, and “County Fair”.  Those aren’t hit singles, but all of them were played by Album Oriented Rock stations.  Joe Walsh is an accomplished instrumentalist, and for this album he played guitar, bass, piano, and various synthesizers.  He said at the time that the goal of the album was to make his “Sgt. Pepper”.  If he meant his “best album”, mission accomplished.

In 1976, Walsh and the Eagles released Hotel California.  One of Joe’s many contributions was coming up with the guitar riff for “Life In The Fast Lane”.  Before the Eagles’ next album, The Long Run, Walsh released his 1978 solo album But Seriously, Folks.  I remember dropping the needle on the album.  As I listened, there were no songs I thought were very good…until the very last song.  Finally, I heard some cool guitar riffs, and then the words…”I have a mansion, forget the price.  Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice.”  Instantly, you could tell this was a great song…”Life’s Been Good”.   It was a hit single (#12 in Billboard, #6 in Cash Box), was added to the Eagles’ concerts at the time, and has been a staple of their shows ever since.  It was worth the price of the album.

Joe Walsh continued to release albums while the Eagles were broken-up from 1980 to 1994. The albums include… There Goes The Neighborhood (1981) [Which is when we saw him in concert], You Bought It – You Name It (1983), The Confessor (1985), Got Any Gum? (1987), Ordinary Average Guy (1991), and Songs For A Dying Planet (1992).  His most recent, Analog Man, was released in 2012.  Other popular songs of his include…”All Night Long”, “A Life Of Illusion”, “The Confessor”, “Ordinary Average Guy”, and a couple songs off his latest album “One Day At A Time” and “Lucky That Way”.  That last one is kind of a follow up to “Life’s Been Good”.  It reflects on how his life is now.

Joe Walsh’s solo songs bring a lot of fun and energy to all those Eagles concerts.  He’s considered one of the best guitar players ever, and despite some earlier substance abuse problems, he was a great addition to the Eagles.  He straightened out his personal problems long ago, and life really has been good to him (so far).

Bonus Fun Fact:  Good friends Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr are also family.  Ringo Starr is married to Barbara Bach, and Joe Walsh is married to her sister, Marjorie.  Associated Fun Fact:  Eagles’ drummer Don Henley says his favorite drummer is Ringo Starr.

One more thing:   One of the original Eagles, Randy Meisner, left the band after Hotel California.  He had some really good solo songs…”Deep Inside My Heart” (#22), “Hearts On Fire” (#19), “Gotta Get Away”, and “One More Song” with backing by Don Henley and Glenn Frey.  All four of the songs are on the 1980 album One More Song.  “Hearts On Fire” and “One More Song” would have fit perfectly on an Eagles album.

That concludes the three-part series on the Solo Eagles.  You can find the other two parts listed on the right side of the page, or at the bottom of this article.  Don Henley…Solo Eagles Part 1 and Glen Frey…Solo Eagles Part 2.

Glenn Frey…Solo Eagles Part 2

Glenn Frey was described by the other members of the Eagles as the leader of the band…but when they broke up in 1980…how did he do as a solo artist?

Glenn Frey had success as a recording artist for radio, TV, and movies.  His first album sounds mostly like an Eagles album, but with more saxophone and less variety.

The word play in his 1982 album title, No Fun Aloud, might have referred to how he felt about the Eagles at the time of their tense break up.  The album produced two Top 40 hits…”I Found Somebody” (#31), & “The One You Love” (#15, and #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart).  The song I thought could have dropped right into an Eagles album is “All Those Lies”.  Another good album cut is “That Girl” co-written by Bob Seger.

In 1984, Frey released his second album The Allnighter.  It had “Sexy Girl” (#20), cool album cut “Lover’s Moon”, and “Smuggler’s Blues” (#12)…which was about to become a television episode.  But just before that, Glenn Frey recorded a big hit for the Eddie Murphy movie, Beverly Hills Cop.  “The Heat Is On”, went to #2 on the Billboard singles chart.

1985 was a good year for Frey.  Besides the big movie hit, one of the hottest shows on television, Miami Vice, decided to make an episode based on the lyrics of “Smuggler’s Blues”, they even had Frey guest star.  That led to more acting parts, including a small role as the football team General Manager in the Tom Cruise hit “Jerry MaGuire”.  Miami Vice used the Glenn Frey song, “You Belong To The City” in another episode.  The single was another #2 hit for Frey, and the Miami Vice Soundtrack, (featuring both of Frey’s TV hits), was the #1 album for eleven weeks.

The hot streak cooled down for Glenn Frey by the 1988 release of his third solo album, Soul Searchin’.  The album only went to #36, but he did have two more hit singles (now on the Adult Contemporary chart), “True Love” #2 and “Soul Searchin'” #5.  It should be noted that Jack Tempchin, who wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling” for the first Eagles album, co-wrote eleven of the twelve songs Glenn Frey charted as a solo artist.

Frey released album four in 1991, Strange Weather.  It has some quality music, but only had two songs do fairly well on the Adult Contemporary chart…”Part Of Me, Part Of You” (#7″) and “I’ve Got Mine” (#12).

Then…The Eagles got back together.

(You can check out the article about it:  Eagles…Hell Freezes Over.)

Glenn Frey and Don Henley handled the majority of the lead vocals for the Eagles, so Glenn’s strong and soulful voice is on some of the most popular songs in music history.  His solo career was successful, even though it was not as stellar as his friend and Eagles co-founder, Don Henley.  Like Don Henley, Glenn Frey was a multi-instrumentalist…playing guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums.

The reunited Eagles were a touring force until Frey passed away from health complications in January of 2016.  While John Lennon’s tragic death in 1980 was an extreme shock, Glenn Frey’s death really hit home.  Some of our greatest musicians are leaving us, and our generation is turning the world over to our children…just as Glenn wrote in his last song, “It’s Your World Now”.  Glenn Frey would be proud that his son, Deacon, is helping the Eagles continue to tour with great success.

(This is Part 2 about the solo Eagles.  Don Henley was featured in Part 1, and Joe Walsh is featured in Part 3.)

Don Henley…Solo Eagles Part 1

The Eagles are the most popular American band of all time.  But, how good were their solo careers after the band broke up in 1980?  This is the first of a three-part series on the Eagles as solo artists, and we start with the most successful…Don Henley.

“Going solo” doesn’t work out for a lot of ex-band-members, but Don Henley’s solo work makes an impressive career all by itself.

His first album was I Can’t Stand Still, released in August of 1982.  The album sold well, but of course nothing like an Eagle’s album.  “Dirty Laundry” was a #3 hit single, and Bob Seger co-wrote one of my favorite cuts “Nobody’s Business”.  A couple of ex-Eagles and one almost-Eagle appeared in minor capacities…Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, and J.D. Souther.  Frankly, the musical credits on his albums look like a who’s who in the music business.

Two years later, in 1984, Henley really solidified his solo career with his Building The Perfect Beast album.  It had four hit singles…”The Boys Of Summer”,  “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”, “Not Enough Love In The World”, and “Sunset Grill”.  By this time in the 1980’s there were lots of charts.  “Boys” and “Dance” were both Top 10 hits, and both hit #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart.  Henley was even on the Dance and R&B charts with “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”.  “The Boys Of Summer” won a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal.  Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers produced the song.  The album itself sold over 3-million copies in the U.S. alone.

And the hits just kept on coming.

The End Of The Innocence was Don Henley’s biggest album.  It was released in 1989, and sold over 6-million copies.  It also produced another four hits…”The End Of The Innocence” (co-written with Bruce Hornsby), “The Last Worthless Evening”, “Heart Of The Matter”, and “New York Minute”.  On the Mainstream Rock chart, “Innocence” hit #1, “Evening #4, and “Heart” #2.  “New York Minute” was a hit on the Adult Contemporary chart at #5.  Henley scored another Grammy for Male Rock Vocalist for “The End Of The Innocence”.

Then…The Eagles Got Back Together.

(You can read about it in the article:  Eagles…Hell Freezes Over.)

Don Henley’s career also included many duets.  He had a #6 hit with Stevie Nicks on “Leather And Lace”.  He reached #2 with Patty Smyth on “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”.  He recorded two country hits with Trisha Yearwood…”Walkaway Joe” & “Hearts In Armor”, and he sang with Linda Ronstadt on “Hasten Down The Wind”.

It wasn’t until after years of Eagles’ touring that Don Henley released another album…Inside Job, in 2000.  The album hit #7 on the Billboard album chart.  By now his music was classified as “Adult”, in that the single “For My Wedding” was #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and “Taking You Home” was #12 on the Adult Top 40 chart.  It would be 15 years and more Eagles touring before Henley released another album.

This time it was a country album, although there are still songs that fit the Eagles’ sound.  I realize most people haven’t heard Cass County.  I bought the 16-song deluxe version from iTunes when it came out in 2015, and my review is that it’s one of his best albums.  There are quite a few duets, and lots of country artists…Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, Merle Haggard, Miranda Lambert, Trisha Yearwood, and more.  Although there are a few traditional country songs, the majority of the tracks are new original songs written by Don Henley and Stan Lynch, formerly of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

The Cass County album reached #3 on Billboard’s album chart, and #1 on the Country chart.  Despite the somewhat grumpy looking cover photo, Henley says it’s the most he’s ever enjoyed recording an album, because of all the artists who performed with him.  At this point in his career there’s also much less pressure.

Don Henley is the last original member still in the Eagles.  It would be hard to find many artists who had a career that included so much great music…as part of a group, and as a solo artist.  In his song “The Boys Of Summer” he says “Don’t look back, you can never look back.”, but if he ever does look back at his career…he should be very proud of the music he created.

(Please check out:  Glenn Frey….Solo Eagles Part 2 and Joe Walsh…Solo Eagles Part 3.)

Mamas & Papas…California Dreamin’

Few groups represented the sound of California better than The Mamas And The Papas in the mid 1960’s.  In fact, it was their first hit “California Dreamin'” that introduced them to the world in early 1966.

(John Phillips,  Michelle Philips,  Cass Elliot  &  Denny Doherty)

The Mamas And The Papas were not really a California group.  John Phillips was from South Carolina, Cass Elliot was from Maryland, and Denny Doherty was from Nova Scotia, Canada.  The only native Californian…Michelle Phillips.

John Phillips met Michelle Gilliam when she was pursuing a modeling career in San Francisco.  Phillips was touring with his folk group, The Journeymen.  The couple married in 1962 when Michelle was only 18 (John was 27), and they moved to New York.  It was there they met Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot who were in the folk group The Mugwumps.  The four eventually formed The Mamas And The Papas (their name based on counter-culture slang sometimes used by couples to refer to each other), and they moved to Los Angeles in 1965 to try to make it in the music business.

They had a friend, Barry McGuire (“The Eve Of Destruction”), who had signed with Dunhill Records, co-owned by Lou Adler.  The group auditioned and got a multi-album contract.  Folk Rock was the big sound of 1965, and the group’s folk background was perfect for a move into electric Folk Rock.  Lou Adler was very impressed.  He personally produced their albums, and used some of L.A.’s best studio musicians.

The distinctive looking and sounding two-man/two-woman group appropriately named their first album If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears.  You can see above that the record company decided to cover up the toilet that was in their album photo by posting a list of their featured songs.

In early 1966, “California Dreamin'” went to #4 on the singles chart.

”All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.  I’ve been for a walk on a Winter’s day.  I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.  California Dreamin’ on such a Winter’s day.”  

Here’s John Phillips’ memory of how the song came about…from a 1995 interview at Paramont Studios:

‘It’s my recollection that we were at the Earle Hotel in New York and Michelle was asleep.  I was playing the guitar.  We’d been out for a walk that day and she’d just come from California and all she had was California clothing.  It snowed overnight, and in the morning she didn’t know what the white stuff coming out of the sky was, because it never snowed in Southern California.  So we went for a walk and the song is mostly a narrative of what happened that day, stopped into a church to get her warm, and so on and so on.  And so as I was thinking about it later that night, I was playing and singing and I thought “California Dreamin'” was what we were doing that day.  So I tried to wake Michelle up to write the lyrics down that I was doing.  She said, “Leave me alone. I want to sleep. I want to sleep.” “Wake up.  Write this down.  You’ll never regret it.  I promise you, Michelle.” “Okay.” Then she wrote it down and went back to sleep. (Laughs)  And she told me she’s never regretted getting up and writing it down, since she gets half of (the royalties for) the writing of the song.’

“Monday Monday” made it all the way to #1.   It’s a really good song, and won a Grammy, but it also benefited from having the ice broken by “California Dreamin’”, and having the group become well known.  That’s why artist’s follow-up singles and albums are often bigger than their first.  Both of those singles were million sellers.

The third song listed on the cover was a very original arrangement of a Beatles’ song…”I Call Your Name”.  Cass had a crush on John Lennon, and you can even hear her whisper his name during the song.  One of John Phillips’ specialties was finding new ways to cover songs, so something refreshing was brought to each one.  The album also contained their original song “Go Where You Wanna Go”.

The Mamas And The Papas made a huge impact on radio and television.  Many of their TV appearances were lip-synced…one, because a lot of TV shows were done that way, and two, because they were a vocal group and not a band that could replicate the instrumental portions of their recordings.  Unlike some of today’s artists, they never hid the fact that they were miming to their recordings.  They’d do things like play an “air flute” during the break in “California Dreamin'”.  For other appearances they did perform live with other musicians, and of course they used a band for concerts.

Besides singing harmony, some lead vocals, and co-writing some songs, Michelle brought the look considered the classic “California Girl”…blonde, blue-eyed, and model pretty.  Cass not only had an outstanding voice, her singing style and warm personality resonated with fans.  Denny was the major male vocalist around which many of their hits were built, and John was the leader of the group who was a good guitarist, and an outstanding vocal arranger & songwriter.

By August of 1966, The Mamas & The Papas released their second album.  It was self-titled, with “&” officially replacing “And” in their name for the rest of their recordings.  The album had two big hits.   “I Saw Her Again” (#5) which had a little false start in the middle of the song…”I saw her (pause) I saw her again last night”.  That was actually a tape operator error that Lou Adler decided was a nice touch, so they polished it and left it in the song.   “Words Of Love” with a strong vocal from Cass also went to #5.

Their third album in less than a year was released in February of 1967…The Mamas & The Papas Deliver.  “Look Through Any Window” was a modest hit at #24, and had actually been released in 1966.  The group’s second biggest hit “Dedicated To The One I Love” was #2 for three weeks, and featured Michelle on the lead vocal.  The history of the group was amazingly capsulized in “Creeque Alley” (#5).  That’s the name of a boarding house in the Virgin Islands where they were rehearsing prior to signing with Dunhill.  The song even manages to name-drop some of their friends like John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, and Barry McGuire.  By the way, Creeque was actually pronounced as Creaky in the Virgin Islands, but the song is always called Creek Alley.

Speaking of friends, John Phillips wrote the Summer of Love hit “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” for his friend Scott McKenzie.  The Mamas & The Papas also inspired similar groups to start…like Spanky & Our Gang and The 5th Dimension, whose first hit was a cover of “Go Where You Wanna Go”.

Later in 1967, songs by The Mamas & The Papas failed to climb into the Top 10.  Their last three hits were “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)” (#20), “Glad To Be Unhappy” (#26), and in 1968, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” (#12).  That was pretty much their whole career as a group…early 1966 to mid 1968…not much more than two-and-a-half years.  They did get back together for one unsuccessful album in 1971.

Michelle went on to an acting career in some major movies and television shows.  Denny eventually returned to Canada, doing stage and television acting.  John did some solo musical work, and also put together various musicians to tour using The Mamas & The Papas’ name.  Cass started a promising solo career.  Then after completing a successful two-week engagement at The Palladium in London, she died of a heart attack on July 29th, 1974 at the age of 32.

The Mamas & The Papas career may have been short, but their music has remained popular for decades.  There have been more collections of their hits than the number of albums the group ever released.  The Group was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998.

Badfinger…Day After Day

Badfinger was the first band to be signed by Apple Records, but back then they were called The Iveys.  Their first album, Maybe Tomorrow, was not considered a success, and the title song stalled at #67 on the singles chart in March of 1969.  Enter Paul McCartney.

(Joey  Molland [guitar], Mike Gibbins [drums], Pete Ham [guitar/keyboards] Tom Evans [bass]  Pete, Tom & Joey did most of the lead vocals and songwriting.)  [Do Joey & Pete look a bit like McCartney & Lennon to you?]

Paul McCartney knew Apple’s new band wasn’t happy with their progress…so he wrote a song for them…”Come And Get It”.  He also made a complete demo of the song with him playing all the instruments.  The band heard the song and liked it, but thought they might do it their own way.  Paul told them that if they wanted a hit, they should perform it exactly like the demo.  They did.  “Come And Get It” was a #7 hit in Billboard’s Top Ten in early 1970, and broke the band internationally.

Before the release, there was one other piece of business.  They needed a new name that sounded less lame.  The Beatles had recorded a track at a time when John Lennon hurt his hand, and he was playing the piano with just one finger.  They called the track “Bad Finger Boogie”.  Long-time Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall suggested the band be named Badfinger, and it stuck.

“Come And Get It” was included in the movie The Magic Christian, which starred Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.  Another movie song “Carry On Till Tomorrow” (written by Pete Ham & Tom Evans) was produced by Paul McCartney and featured an arrangement by George Martin.  Badfinger included those songs on their own album which they called Magic Christian Music to take advantage of the publicity generated by the movie.

Notable cuts included a couple of their Iveys’ recordings remixed…”Maybe Tomorrow” and “Dear Angie”, along with a cool rock track “Midnight Sun”.

Badfinger was able to follow up their success with another catchy Top 10 song, “No Matter What” (#8), from the album No Dice in late 1970.  Other standout tracks included “Midnight Caller”, “We’re For The Dark” and “Without You”…with the line…”Can’t live, if living is without you”.  The first time I heard “Without You” wasn’t by Badfinger, but by Harry Nilsson who had a #1 hit with his amazing cover version.  My wife and I were driving home from a movie, we heard the song on the radio, and I said…”Someone’s been listening to Paul McCartney”.  It was only later I found out it was written by Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans.  Badfinger was often compared to The Beatles, and that similarity showed in their songwriting, even through the filter of another vocalist.

Badfinger went back into Abbey Road Studios in January of 1971.  Pete Ham and Tom Evans were producing a new album with the help of Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick.  After they thought it was complete, Apple management rejected it as not being good enough.  Enter George Harrison.

George had already worked with Badfinger when they helped him on his epic All Things Must Pass album.  He produced four songs for Badfinger’s new album, Straight Up, including their biggest hit “Day After Day” (#4) on which Harrison plays a slide guitar duet with Pete Ham.

(George Harrison at the mixing board with Pete Ham in 1971)

Harrison was called away for business in L.A., leading to the Bangladesh benefit concert at which Badfinger performed with Harrison.  The remainder of the album was produced by Todd Rundgren.  Among the cuts he produced was another hit “Baby Blue” (#14).  The hits “Day” and “Blue” were key to the album’s success.

Above is the full lineup of songs on the 1993 CD release of Straight Up, including bonus tracks of the original Geoff Emerick versions.  One of my favorites since the album’s release in late 1971 has been “Name Of The Game” which George Harrison produced.  Then in 1993 I heard the original version that had been produced by Geoff Emerick, and liked it even better!  That version is a little more uptempo and has horns arranged by George Martin.  The Emerick versions of “Money” and “Flying” also include George Martin arrangements, and are better than the Todd Rundgren versions.  Rundgren had sped up the recordings of those two songs, and the vocals sound thin (and a little like The Chipmunks).  Special thanks to Dirt Cheap Records in Lincoln, Nebraska whose owner sold the CD to me before it officially went on sale.

Straight Up is considered Badfinger’s best album, and is referred to as a Power Pop classic.  Just want to note that Pete Ham’s songwriting was at it’s peak.  He wrote and sang the three best cuts…”Day After Day”, “Baby Blue” and “Name Of The Game”.

Badfinger’s career sputtered from there.  They released three more albums with the four-man lineup, but the financial problems at Apple, a switch to Warner Brothers, and bad management (by Stan Polley) brought an end to the band’s success, and left them without the money they had earned.

(Apple released a collection of Badfinger’s best tracks.)

The most tragic part of the Badfinger story is that Pete Ham became depressed and took his own life in 1975 at the age of 27…and that was followed by Tom Evans also taking his own life in 1993.

Badfinger fans are still saddened by what happened, but try to focus on all the great music the band created.  Badfinger member Joey Molland was quoted as saying Pete and Tom would probably be surprised and happy about how their songs have stood the test of time.

Herman’s Hermits

In 1965 they sold more records than The Beatles…

 …but in three years they were done.

The British Invasion gave us all kinds of music, including a fun pop band from Manchester, Herman’s Hermits.  Their first success in the United States was with a Gerry Goffin and Carole King song, “I’m Into Something Good”.  It hit #13 on the Billboard singles chart as 1965 was arriving.  Then came a string of 9 straight Top 10 hits from the beginning of 1965 to mid 1966.  Many of you will be able to hear the melodies just by reading the titles:

  1. “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” (#2)
  2. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” (#1)
  3. “Silhouettes” (#5) (cover of The Rays’ hit)
  4. “Wonderful World” (#4) (written by Sam Cooke)
  5. “I’m Henry The VIII, I Am” (#1) (a song from 1911)
  6. “Just A Little Bit Better” (#7)
  7. “A Must To Avoid” (#8) (written by P.F. Sloan)
  8. “Listen People” (#3)
  9. “Leaning On A Lamp Post” (#9)

By comparison, The Rolling Stones were on the hottest streak of their career during that same time frame, and they had 6 Top 10 hits.

Lead singer Peter Noone (aka Herman), had just turned 17 when they first made the charts in the U.S.  The other members were Derek Leckenby (lead guitar), Karl Green (bass), Barry Whitwam (drums), and Keith Hopwood (rhythm guitar).

A successful string of singles doesn’t just happen.  Herman’s Hermits was led by well-known ’60’s producer/arranger Mickie Most, who also worked with The Animals.  Most of their hits were written by professional songwriters from outside the group.  And, some of England’s best session players worked on their singles, including Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones who also played with The Yardbirds, and would later form Led Zeppelin.

Peter Noone was cute, charming, and an accomplished vocalist.  He and the band played-up their British accents on songs like “Henry The VIII” and “Mrs. Brown”, because American audiences were loving all things British at that time.

Herman’s Hermits’ flame burned brightly, but quickly.  They had only two more Top 10 hits…”Dandy” (#5) [written by Ray Davies of The Kinks] and “There’s A Kind Of Hush” (#4).  “Hush” was their last major U.S. hit, in early 1967.  In all, the group had 18 Top 40 hits, are credited with selling over 80-million records, and were even in three movies thanks to their label, MGM.  Fun Fact:  Their movie “Hold On!” was originally titled “A Must To Avoid”, but MGM decided that was simply handing critics too much ammunition for a bad review.  Fun Fact 2:  In 1967, The Who opened concerts for Herman’s Hermits.  That had to be interesting.

By 1967, Rock & Roll was moving away from the Pop style of Herman’s Hermits.  Song lyrics often contained deeper meanings, and musical genres such as Psychedelic Rock, Country Rock, Blues Rock, Hard Rock, and Singer-Songwriters were taking over.

Herman’s Hermits continued to have some hits in England, but Peter Noone left the group in 1971.  You may have seen him pitching music collections of The British Invasion on TV, or seen him at a nostalgia show performing as Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone.  There’s also another version of the band that just includes drummer Barry Whitwam, so Baby Boomers beware.

Herman’s Hermits’ career may have been short, but they packed a lot of great recordings into that time.  They’re still fun to hear.  So…”Listen People”.

Deja Vu…CSN&Y

Deja Vu was a pivitol time in the career of Crosby, Stills & Nash.  In 1969, they had released their self-titled first album.  It was a huge success with critics and the public alike, but they felt they needed another guitarist for live performances.  Eventually, they decided to add Neil Young…the same musician Stephen Stills fought with when they were in Buffalo Springfield.  Stephen thought it would be different this time.

My wife and I were newlyweds living in Memphis, TN while I attended electronics school.  The day Deja Vu was released (March 11th, 1970), we went to the record store…but it had closed for the day.  We looked in to see a huge display at the front of the store with lots of copies of the album…only a locked door away.  We may have wanted to break in, but we came back when the store was open.  Deja Vu had the leather-looking cover with the gold embossed letters, and an actual photograph glued to the front.

Memphis FM radio stations started playing the album right away.  “Carry On” by Stephen Stills was the first song I heard.  It was the perfect album opener, with excellent harmony and a driving rhythm…a worthy follow-up to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” which had opened their first album.  The hit singles from Deja Vu were Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children” (with Jerry Garcia on steel guitar), Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, and Nash’s “Our House”.  The Stills solo song “4 + 20” got a lot of airplay, and so did David Crosby’s “Deja Vu” (with John Sebastian on harmonica).

Looking back, we know that Neil Young only played on his two tracks “Helpless” & “Country Girl”, plus three more songs “Almost Cut My Hair”, “Woodstock” and “Everybody I Love You”.

It could certainly be debated whether Neil Young’s addition was good or bad for Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Drummer Dallas Taylor, Bassist Greg Reeves, and Engineer Bill Halverson have said the first album was made with great cooperation and enthusiasm, but Deja Vu had the musicians butting heads.  We’ll never know if CSN would have had smoother sailing if they hadn’t added the Y.  What we do know is that even though Neil Young had two very good solo albums prior to joining CSN, they were not very successful.  His solo success came after Deja Vu gave him a much higher profile.  He clearly showcased his talent with After The Gold Rush and Harvest…which were his next two releases.  Those were filled with songs CSN would have loved to record.

Deja Vu hit #1,  and eventually went 7-times Platinum in the U.S. alone.  It’s also one of the best titles ever for a second album.  The album’s popularity not only helped Neil Young’s solo efforts, but the other members of the group had major success with their individual releases.

As originally expected, Neil Young was a great asset to the group’s live shows.  His lead guitar duets with Stills added energy to their electric sets, and his solo songs were a welcome part of their concerts as the years went on.

Neil Young’s greatest contribution to the group’s recordings came in 1970, shortly after the release of Deja Vu…the single “Ohio”.  That song, about the Kent State shootings by the National Guard, fit right in with the band’s political awareness.  It was similar to what Stephen Stills did with “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” after the Sunset Strip demonstrations in 1967.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 48 years since the release of Deja Vu.  It’s songs reflected the times, and yet they still hold up today.  Although Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had a rocky relationship, maybe their combustible passion helped produce such great music.

Bonus story:  If you’re wondering why I didn’t include a photo of my original first-printing copy of Deja Vu, it’s because someone stole it.  When I was a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Nebraska in the mid ’70’s, we could use our own albums for our DJ shifts on the campus radio station.  One time I forgot my albums there, and when I returned for them, the only one missing was Deja Vu.  I had to buy Deja Vu all over again.

What Music Is Most Popular? Who knows!

We used to know what music was the most popular.  It was easy.  The most popular singles and albums were simply the ones that sold the most copies.  That’s not the way it is anymore.

The time of selling albums and singles is fading fast.  In fact, for years Billboard Magazine, and other companies that measure the popularity of music, have been messing with the formula to figure out what music is most popular.  They’ve used various percentages of physical sales, downloads, radio airplay, and streaming, but in reality, it’s impossible…and has been for decades.

Album sales (both physical and downloads) have dwindled drastically since their peak in the ’70’s and ’80’s.  It used to be a #1 debut album would sell a million copies the first week.  These days an album can be #1 by selling 75,000 or fewer.  It looks like albums are mostly going away.

Sheryl Crow announced yesterday that she has recorded her final album (to be released in 2019), and will only be recording singles from time to time.  Most other artists are releasing singles or EP’s, (Extended Play singles) which normally contain about 4 songs.

There was a news story recently that Apple would stop selling albums.  That’s not true.  In reality, they are going to stop selling the “iTunes Albums” that included extra content provided by the labels.  They plan to continue selling whatever albums, EP’s, and singles artists release.  But…the overriding aspect of today’s music consumption is that people are switching to streaming services, rather than buying songs.  It makes sense.  You can have access to 45-million songs for $10 a month or so.  Of course you can only listen to one song at a time, and you might only like a relatively small portion of what’s available.  Still, for most people, it’s more practical to stream than to buy.

So, why don’t we just count the number of times a song is streamed to determine what’s most popular?

First of all, a huge portion of consumers have not yet subscribed to streaming services.  Secondly, just because a song is streamed doesn’t mean someone actually requested it.  Listeners often simply ask their service to play a certain style of music, or they listen to playlists that are made by algorithms or by programmers.  If it’s decided to include a certain song on playlists, that song is going to get more streams.  When a major artist does release an album, It might be that all of the album’s cuts lead streaming as if they had released 17 singles.  That certainly doesn’t mean anyone would have bought all 17 if they really were singles.  It just means that people want to check them out “free” as part of their streaming charge.  The truth is, they might not even like most of the songs.

Just yesterday there was a report that Spotify came up with a big push to help Drake set a new 3-day streaming record, and hoped to force his new album to the top of the Billboard chart.  The ploy included putting Drake on playlists that would not normally include his type of music.  That shows how popularity can be faked.  Some Spotify subscribers asked for refunds, and got them.

We also can’t turn to radio airplay to find out which songs and artists are most popular.  There was a news story yesterday that Taylor Swift (the one artist who this year actually sold over a million albums the first week with Reputation) has topped the Adult Pop chart with her song “Delicate”.  The important part of the story is just how small the sample was to make that determination.  The report said Nielsen Music had surveyed 87 Adult Top-40 radio stations to get that result.  Even their regular Pop Chart only surveys 169 stations (to represent the entire U.S.).  The impact of radio airplay is still strong for artists, but it’s dwindling while streaming grows.  It’s also splintered into so many formats, no one really knows which songs are the most popular.  Is an Adult Pop hit more popular than a Country hit, an Adult Contemporary hit, a Mainstream hit, a Pop hit, a Hot Rock hit, or songs on any of Billboard’s 42 American charts?  No one knows!   The measurement methods vary, so they can’t be compared.

The bottom line is that Billboard and other companies have to have something to report, or they go out of business.  So, they all just come up with some formula…hoping to reflect some measure of popularity.  There is simply no way to compare today’s charts with those of the ’50’s, ’60’s, ’70’s, or 80’s, but Billboard pretends they can.  By the ’90’s, we were already having major problems with too many charts and formats to accurately compare back to the era of a few charts and actual sales.  By the ’90’s, the majority of Americans couldn’t tell you what song was considered #1, and quite possibly they hadn’t even heard it.

(From the 1950’s to the 2010’s…so much changed in how we consume music.)

When you hear about some amazing number of streams, or that so-and-so is the most popular because he has the top 17 songs, or that an artist has almost as many #1’s as The Beatles…you can just smile…and know it’s kinda made up.

Update:  And now it’s happened.  Today (7/10/18) it was announced that Drake has broken The Beatles record of 5 songs in the top 10.  Drake had 7, although not the top 5 like The Beatles.  We smile and know Drake didn’t actually break the record, because there’s simply no way to measure the two feats equally.  In fact, if 7 of Drake’s songs are so popular, why is only 1 of those songs in the top 10 purchased songs on iTunes?  No one can say it’s because his fans don’t purchase his songs, because they do…in this case 1.  If streaming had existed in 1967, it’s possible the songs from Sgt. Pepper would have filled all top 10 positions…but, we can never know.

It’s okay for records to be broken, but to be legitimate, there has to be a consistent form of measurement…such as the distance in a track event.  USA Today says the Drake fiasco “shows how broken the music industry is.”

More important than the popularity of music is how much we enjoy it.

Girl Groups

When people talk about influential artists, too often the Girl Groups are forgotten.  They certainly helped shape the most influential band of all time…The Beatles.

By the early 1960’s, the explosion of Rock & Roll in the 1950’s was mostly over.  Instead, the bulk of the music business had returned to professional songwriters coming up with songs for performers.  The music itself was mainly Pop, with some light trappings of Rock & Roll.  Most of the hits were by teen idols.  Then in 1961 came the first #1 rock era song by what was called a “Girl Group”.

The first big Girl Group hit was “Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, topping the charts in January of 1961.  The song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  The group followed up with “Dedicated To The One I Love” at #3, and also had two big hits in 1962 with “Baby It’s You (#8) and “Soldier Boy”(another #1).

The second #1 by a Girl Group was “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes in December of 1961.  It was the first #1 record for Motown.   By the way, I remember seeing a letter sent by one of my sisters (I think it was Janice) who co-opted a line from that song.  She wrote a very large D on the envelope, and after that D was a column of hyphenated words…-liver, -letter, -sooner, -better.  Hope the postman got a smile out of that.

And then there were more.  The Ronettes (above) and The Crystals were two Girl Groups produced by Phil Spector.  The Crystals hit #1 with “He’s A Rebel” in 1962.  The song was written by singer-songwriter Gene Pitney, who had sixteen of his own Top 40 hits in the ’60’s.  Two other big hits for The Crystals came in 1963…Da Doo Ron Ron (#3), and “Then He Kissed Me” (#6).  Both were written by the team of Jeff Berry & Ellie Greenwich, along with Phil Spector.  Those same three also wrote the #1 hit “Chapel Of Love” by The Dixie Cups.  Spector became know for his “Wall Of Sound” production technique, where he layered on multiple instruments (such as 3 pianos at once) and lots of backing vocals.

Phil Spector did the same thing for The Ronettes.  In 1963, their hits were “Be My Baby” (#2), and “Baby I Love You” (#24).  Again, both songs were written by Berry, Greenwich, and Spector.  “Walking In The Rain” made #23 in 1964, a song written by the team of Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, along with Phil Spector.  The song was a Grammy Award winner.  The Ronettes were named for lead singer Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett, who became Ronnie Spector (Phil’s wife).  The Ronettes bring us back to The Beatles.  The Ronettes toured with The Beatles in England (January of 1964), and became friends with the band.  They also opened for The Beatles during the band’s final tour in 1966.

Let’s look at the influence of Girl Groups on Rock & Roll’s biggest band.  In the early ’60’s The Beatles had four songs by Girl Groups on their albums…”Please Mr. Postman”, “Boys” (it was on the flip-side of the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”), “Baby It’s You”, and “Chains” (#17), a song by The Cookies (and written by Goffin & King).  The influence was multifaceted.  The vocal harmonies of these Girl Group songs were great training for The Beatles’ own harmony singing, and the flowing melodies, written by some of the top songwriters of the day, influenced them too.

The Beach Boys also covered some Girl Group songs, and Brian Wilson was very taken with Phil Spector’s production techniques.

The Angels were studio backup singers, and had their own #1 hit in 1963 with “My Boyfriend’s Back”.  The lead singer warns a boy who’d been bothering her…”My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble.”

(Shangri-La’s lead singer Mary Weiss with twins Marge & Mary Ganser)

The Shangri-las were just high school teenagers in 1964 when they started becoming popular.  Although they look fairly happy in the above photos, their songs were not so chipper.  First came “Remember (Walking In The Sand”) a #5 hit about losing a boyfriend (“He found somebody new.”), followed by “Leader Of The Pack”, a #1 smash about losing a boyfriend…in a motorcycle accident.  They finally found happiness with “Give Him A Great Big Kiss” (#18) in 1965, but sadness returned later that same year with “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” (#6).  Their downbeat songs were even covered by punk bands and Aerosmith.

(The Supremes…Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard.)

Far and away the most successful ‘60’s Girl Group was The Supremes.  Their first big hit was “Where Did Our Love Go” in mid 1964.  That started a string of 5-straight #1’s…”Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In The Name Of Love”, and “Back In My Arms Again”.  In all, The Supremes had twelve #1 hits, and a total of 29 Top 40 hits.  Those songs included…”I Hear A Symphony” (#1), “My World Is Empty Without You” (#5), “You Can’t Hurry Love” (#1), and “You Keep Me Hanging On” (#1).

Some people have said the end of the Girl Groups came with The Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion.  But, The Supremes charted from 1964 to 1970, the same years as The Beatles.  Even as Rock grew, there was room on the charts for Pop.  Eventually though, the continuing trend for artists to write and perform their own songs is what pushed out the Girl Groups.  The positive effect was that more young women started playing instruments and fronting & forming bands…such as Heart in the ‘70’s, and The Bangles & The Go-Go’s in the ’80’s.

Although the golden age of Girl Groups was in the ‘60’s, they never completely disappeared.  The best-selling Girl Group ever, The Spice Girls, were a ‘90’s phenomenon.  They dressed a little differently too.