America…70’s Band Is Back

Something has made America great again.  It’s probably a combination of touring and a recent rash of interviews that’s returning them to popularity.

After their appearance on the CBS program Sunday Morning, I found America had the numbers 3 and 4 positions on the iTunes sales chart with their two greatest hits albums.  That’s pretty impressive for a band that had most of their hits from 1972 to 1976, and their last big hit in 1982.

Americans Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley, and Dan Peek (l-r above) were in London because their fathers were stationed at an Air Force base there.  After high school, the trio of singers, songwriters, and guitarists formed a band.  They called themselves America, so people wouldn’t think they were a British band trying to sound American.

In 1971, they recorded their self-titled first album at Trident studios in London.  America has ringing acoustic guitars and beautiful harmonies, but the album didn’t take off until they added one more song to it…”A Horse With No Name”.  The song is by Dewey Bunnell, and it went all the way to #1 on the Billboard singles chart in March of 1972.  It sounded amazingly similar to the song it replaced at the top…”Heart Of Gold”.  Honestly, for the first few lines of the song, Dewey is channeling Neil Young.  America fit in perfectly with the music scene of CSN&Y and singer-songwriters, and the album went to #1 on the Billboard chart.

The second single from the album was “I Need You” (#9) by Gerry Beckley.

America then came back to the United States to record their appropriately titled second album, Homecoming, in Los Angeles.

It was still 1972.  Homecoming featured the singles “Ventura Highway” (#8) by Dewey Bunnell, and “Don’t Cross The River” (#35) by Dan Peek.  America won the “Best New Artist” Grammy at the 1973 awards ceremony.

Unfortunately, the third album Hat Trick produced no hits in 1973.

So, America went to London in 1974 to have The Beatles’ producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick help them with their fourth album, Holiday.

George Martin added the right touches, and America returned to the Top 10 singles chart with “Tin Man” (#4)  by Dewey Bunnell, and “Lonely People” (#5) by Dan Peek & his wife Catherine.  It was the only Top 10 single with Dan Peek as the songwriter and lead singer.  Both singles hit the top of the Adult Contemporary chart.  The album was also successful…#3 in Billboard.

Their hits continued in 1975 with two songs from Gerry Beckley…”Sister Golden Hair” (#1) and “Daisy Jane” (#20).  The album, Hearts, went to #4 in Billboard.  Also in 1975, America released their greatest hits album, History (they were naming all their albums so they started with an “H”).

The album was #3 and a multi-platinum success.

And then things started going downward.  Their 1976 album Hideaway did okay (#11), but didn’t produce any big hits.  The 1977 follow-up, Harbor, did worse (#21), and had no singles chart.  Dan Peek decided to leave the group to forge a solo career in the Christian Music genre.

America’s last real commercial success came 5 years later with the release of “You Can Do Magic”, a song written and produced by ex-Argent guitarist Russ Ballard.  “Magic” went up to #8 in 1982, and was the last big hit for America.

Fast forward 37 years to 2019.  After all those years of on-and-off touring and less than successful studio and live albums, America (with Dewey Bunnell & Gerry Beckley) is popular again.

I recently read a glowing review of one of their concerts (by a professional critic), and saw a very positive interview and profile on the CBS TV show Sunday Morning.  Their efforts have produced a nice bump in sales for their greatest hits albums.

America: The Complete Greatest Hits is the best collection available.  The song list has all 17 of their charting singles, including seven Top 10 hits, four more that made the Top 40, and some popular album cuts like “Sandman”.

(Click or zoom to enlarge the song list.)

If you haven’t listened to the music of America lately, you might want to stream or maybe download this album.  You may also want to go back and enjoy their breakthrough 1st album.  Of course if they’re in concert nearby, you could check them out, because apparently America is great…still.

Echo In The Canyon…Movie Review

The development of “The California Sound” started in the 1960’s in Laurel Canyon, a part of Los Angeles.  On the left side of the below  movie poster, you can see the artists who were interviewed, and on the right side are more current musicians who performed many of the era’s classic songs in a concert that was woven into the documentary.

Laurel Canyon was a neighborhood that was home to some of the most important music artists of the ‘60’s.  They included members of The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas & The Papas, and more.

The movie starts out with an interview with Tom Petty, who was one of the artists most influenced by the Laurel Canyon musicians and songwriters.  He explained and demonstrated how important the 12-string Rickenbacker guitar was to the sound of The Byrds and The Beatles.  It’s so great that they interviewed Petty before we lost him. This film includes a lot of other important artists whose interviews will also be considered priceless someday.

Above is a performance by Jakob Dylan, Beck, and other musicians in front of a large screen showing The Byrds.  The song was “Goin’ Back” a Byrds track that was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  It was the best performance of the film.  Even though I would have enjoyed archival footage of the original bands playing their songs, it was good to see another generation adding their own touches to the classic songs.

Musicians being interviewed by Jakob Dylan, such as Roger McGuinn and David Crosby above, provided the best moments.  All of the artists opened up about insightful and often humorous events that humanized the time when magical music was coming from the canyon.

Eric Clapton told the story of hanging out at Stephen Stills’ house along with members of Buffalo Springfield (shown above).  Clapton says when neighbors complained about the music being too loud, police officers stopped by.  Because marijuana was being illegally used, Stills slipped out the back of the house.  Stephen Stills embarrassingly confirmed he had abandoned his friends.  Of course the most interesting part is that English musicians like Clapton, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison visited Laurel Canyon and were friends with many of the musicians there.  There was a lot of sharing of musical ideas between the Brits and the Americans.

Michelle Phillips Of The Mamas & The Papas was very candid.  While married to John Phillips, she had an affair with the group’s other male vocalist, Denny Doherty.  She says “Go Where You Wanna Go” (and do what you wanna do)  was written by John as a response to Michelle’s infidelity.  A decade later in Los Angeles, Lindsey Buckingham wrote “Go Your Own Way” after his breakup with Stevie Nicks.  It would also be appropriate to do Echo In The Canyon Volume 2 that focused on all of the 1970’s artists who lived in that same area…the Eagles, Jackson Browne, CSN&Y, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, and more.

If you have an interest in the music and artists represented in this film, it’s really “can’t miss”.  The 90-minute run-time seemed a little short, but there was a good sample of all that “California Dreamin’” that emanated from Laurel Canyon.

Yesterday Movie Review (no spoilers)

The trailer for the movie Yesterday came out in February, and the film finally arrived in theaters this weekend!

The main character, Jack (Himesh Patel), is a struggling musician.  After his bicycle is hit by a bus during a world-wide power outage, he wakes up to find out he’s the only one who even knows The Beatles existed.  He uses Beatles songs as if he had written them, and becomes famous (as shown in the trailer).  Besides that high concept, the main story is the relationship between him and his manager/girlfriend Ellie (Lily James).  Both actors are excellent in these roles.

(All photos by Universal)

So how was the movie?   My wife & I loved it.

You can tell the makers of the movie have great affection for The Beatles, and even though this is a romantic comedy, the legacy of The Beatles is never tarnished in any way.

The excitement of The Beatles (”I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “She Loves You”) and the beauty of their songs (”Yesterday”, “In My Life”) are both there.  Of course Jack is not as good as The Beatles, but the songs still shine.

Helping Jack along the way are Ed Sheeran (as a version of himself), and Sheeran’s manager (played by Kate McKinnon).  Sheeran does a great job, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets more acting roles.  McKinnon is funny as the obviously greedy manager.

The movie also has it’s heart in the right place, and there are some very nicely surprising scenes I won’t spoil.  You’ll be glad you didn’t read any spoilers.

By the way, one of the scenes from the first trailer was eliminated from the movie.  You may have seen where Jack is asked to “write something” on James Corden’s Late Late Show.  Of course Jack writes George Harrison’s “Something” right there.  The scene was cut to eliminate the female character (actress Ana de Armas) Jack was singing to on the show.  The writer and director decided they didn’t want to add a romantic figure in Jack’s life who could interfere with his main relationship with Ellie.

There have been some reviewers who wanted the movie to dig into things such as…would The Beatles’ songs still be relevant to today’s young people?…but that’s another movie (maybe a documentary), and this is just a fun fantasy!  This weekend’s movie goers have rated the movie highly (90% approval), and it won the audience prize at the Montclair film festival.

So, if you love The Beatles and good romantic comedies, do yourself a favor, and see “Yesterday”…it’ll make all your troubles seem so far away.

Buffalo Springfield…Springboard To Fame

Buffalo Springfield was the key to multiple successful careers.

“For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” was the only hit by Buffalo Springfield, but the group turned out to be much more important to Rock & Roll.

The seed for the band was planted when Stephen Stills met Neil Young in Canada in 1965.  Both were in minor groups at the time.  In early 1966, Neil Young decided to drive to L.A. (in an old hearse) with fellow musician Bruce Palmer to look for Stills.  In those days, it would seem to be  an impossible task to somehow find one person in L.A.  After a week, they gave up and were heading out of town.  Stephen Stills and Richie Furay happened to be driving the opposite direction on the same street and spotted the old hearse with Young in it.  Stills turned the car around and flagged down Young and Palmer.  It was meant to be.

The four of them formed a band, along with drummer Dewey Martin.  They chose their name after seeing a sign for a steamroller company, Buffalo-Springfield.  Soon, they had a steady gig at The Troubadour and a contract with Atco Records.  Before the end of 1966, they had recorded their first album.

The album was released just as Stephen Stills wrote “For What It’s Worth” after seeing riots on the Sunset Strip.   As a single, the song made it to #7 in Billboard, and was added to a new pressing of the album in March of 1967.

Stephen Stills & Richie Furay sing “For What It’s Worth” on TV

Buffalo Springfield had two more albums and no more hits.  Neil Young was wanting to record on his own, and the group decided to disband in 1968.  I had only purchased the single “For What It’s Worth”, but then bought their album Retrospective in early 1969.

Atco did a great job of choosing the right songs.  Besides their hit single, the best songs by Stephen Stills include  “Rock And Roll Woman” and “Bluebird”.  Neil Young’s songs that later became part of his concerts include ”Mr. Soul”, “On The Way Home” and “I Am A Child”.  Richie Furay wrote and sang “Kind Woman”.  The band’s use of banjo and pedal steel guitar for some of the songs put them on the leading edge of country rock.  There was plenty of regular rock, along with some innovative arrangements.

On the back of the album was a paragraph from the head of Atlantic/Atco Records, Ahmet Ertegun:

“Of all the groups to have emerged in the middle sixties, Buffalo Springfield will be remembered as one of the most creative and exciting.  The very power of the individual writing and performing talents of the members was also the reason for the breakup of the group.  It was comprised of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin, and Bruce Palmer, later replaced by Jim Messina.  More will be heard from all of them.”

At the time, February of 1969, it seemed like hype for a group that hadn’t really made it.  Actually, it was very prophetic.

Dewey Martin (drums), Jim Messina (bass & production), Neil Young (guitar), Richie Furay (guitar), Stephen Stills (guitar & keyboards)

The end of Buffalo Springfield meant the beginning of several more bands.

Stephen Stills formed Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Neil Young recorded a solo album, and then added the band Crazy Horse.  Of course he soon joined Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Richie Furay and Jim Messina started the Country Rock band Poco.

Later, Jim Messina joined Kenny Loggins to form Loggins & Messina.

Richie Furay got together with John David Souther and ex-Byrd Chris Hillman as The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band.

Manassas was a really great group of musicians brought together by Stephen Stills.  They released two albums in the seventies.

Of course, Stills and Young have had impressive solo careers, and have played on-and-off together for five decades.

All because Neil Young was driving an old hearse.

Lennon Or McCartney?

This used to be the question that was asked….”Who do you like better, Lennon or McCartney?”  I think it was meant to determine how cool you were.  Since Paul was considered the cute/commercial one, and John was thought of as the poet/cerebral one, the “John” answer was supposed to be cooler.  You might get even more points for answering “George” or “Ringo”.

That assessment has changed over the years.  We know they were both excellent musicians and vocalists, so let’s compare Lennon & McCartney as songwriters for The Beatles.

From the beginning of their fame (1963 in England, and 1964 in America), John and Paul were quickly recognized as a great songwriting team.  Often, they would sit across from each other with acoustic guitars and work out songs together.  McCartney said they never had a writing session that wasn’t successful.

As early as 1964, fans began to see that there were “Paul songs” and “John songs”.  Normally, the main songwriter would also sing the lead vocal.

Let’s look at the “Lennon or McCartney” question a bit differently.  Which one…Lennon or McCartney…wrote the biggest hits and best known songs for The Beatles?  Here’s a list of their #1 hits in the U.S., showing the main songwriter(s).

  1. I Want To Hold Your Hand…both
  2. She Loves You…both
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love…Paul
  4. Love Me Do…both
  5. A Hard Day’s Night…John
  6. I Feel Fine…John
  7. Eight Days A Week…both
  8. Ticket To Ride…John
  9. Help…John
  10. Yesterday…Paul
  11. We Can Work It Out…both
  12. Paperback Writer…Paul
  13. Penny Lane…Paul
  14. All You Need Is Love…John
  15. Hello Goodbye…Paul
  16. Hey Jude…Paul
  17. Get Back…Paul
  18. Come Together…John
  19. Let It Be…Paul
  20. The Long And Winding Road…Paul

For those keeping score, that’s 9 for Paul, 6 for John, and 5 together.  By the way, The Beatles spent a record 132 weeks at #1.  Second place is 52 weeks.

It also shows the progression.  John was stronger in the early years.  John had 4 of the first ten #1’s, Paul had 2 and together they wrote 4.   By 1966, things changed.   Paul had 7 of the last ten #1’s, John had 2, and they had 1 together.

Of course, even though John & Paul admitted they were competitive, such as trying to get the A-sides of singles, they also readily helped each other with lyrics and song structures in order to make each recording the best possible version.

To compare their output, here are two lists of songs that can mostly be attributed to the individual Beatles as the main songwriter.

Beatles songs by John:

  1. You Can’t Do That
  2. This Boy
  3. A Hard Day’s Night
  4. If I Fell
  5. I Feel Fine
  6. Yes It Is
  7. Help!
  8. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
  9. Ticket To Ride
  10. Girl
  11. Norwegian Wood
  12. Nowhere Man
  13. In My Life
  14. Rain
  15. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  16. Strawberry Fields Forever
  17. A Day In The Life (John’s song, Paul’s “bridge”)
  18. I Am The Walrus
  19. All You Need Is Love
  20. Revolution
  21. Julia
  22. Don’t Let Me Down
  23. Across The Universe
  24. Come Together
  25. Because

Beatles songs by Paul:

  1. I Saw Her Standing There
  2. All My Loving
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love
  4. And I Love Her
  5. I’ll Follow The Sun
  6. Yesterday
  7. We Can Work It Out (Paul’s song, John’s “bridge”)
  8. Michelle
  9. Paperback Writer
  10. Eleanor Rigby
  11. For No One
  12. Here There And Everywhere
  13. Penny Lane
  14. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  15. When I’m Sixty-Four
  16. The Fool On The Hill
  17. Lady Madonna
  18. Hey Jude
  19. Back In The U.S.S.R.
  20. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
  21. Blackbird
  22. I Will
  23. Get Back
  24. The Long And Winding Road
  25. Let It Be

If you spend a little time with the lists, you can determine which group of songs is stronger to you.  Of course Beatles fans like most of the songs from both lists.  I wouldn’t want to be without any of them.

It’s generally agreed that John was the better lyricist, and Paul the better melody writer.  The above examples show just how strong they each were at both words & music.

Music critics tend to look to the lyrics of songs as they search for meanings upon which to write reviews.  John’s songs often had thought provoking lyrics and clever word play.  He was generally more popular with critics.

For the public, melodies come first, and the meanings of songs come later as the lyrics become familiar.   Paul was generally more popular with the public, because of his memorable melodies.  Even John knew that.  He said he never expected to be walking down the street and hear someone whistling “I Am The Walrus”.

As for their solo success from 1970 through 1980, Paul was the best-selling singles artist of the 1970’s.  He edged out Elton John.  He also had five #1 albums (7 platinum).  John Lennon wasn’t nearly as active (he took time off when Sean was born), but had three #1 (platinum) albums, and his best song did come from his solo career…”Imagine”.  Paul’s best song came from his time with The Beatles, but is it “Yesterday”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Hey Jude”, or “Let It Be”?

The most important reason The Beatles were far and away the most popular group ever, is because John Lennon and Paul McCartney were in it together.

Lennon or McCartney?  The coolest answer is…both.

Sunshine Rock / Spanky & Our Gang

Sunshine Rock isn’t real.  No artists were making “Sunshine Rock”.  It’s not like Folk Rock, Country Rock, or Psychedelic Rock…which artists were consciously developing.  No one called any music Sunshine Rock in the ‘60’s.

This CD was released in 1988.  The name was invented as a way of looking back at the 1960’s and grouping various artists into a “Greatest Hits” album.  The artists and songs selected only loosely fit together.  I bought this disc, because back then it was the first time most of these songs were available digitally.

You can see the songs kind of go together, and kind of don’t.  “Bus Stop” is one of the best songs by The Hollies, but whose brilliant idea was it to start out a collection called “Sunshine Rock” with a song about meeting in a rainstorm?

The Hollies, The Monkees, The 5th Dimension, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Spanky & Our Gang could put out Greatest Hits albums themselves, but most of the other artists were limited to one or two hits.  This was a way for music companies to make money from those old hits.  They weren’t going to sell any more singles or albums by themselves.

Some of the cuts that fit the theme are “Happy” by The Sunshine Company, “Come On Down To My Boat” by Every Mother’s Son, “Hello Hello” by Sopwith Camel”, “More Today Than Yesterday” by Spiral Starecase, and “Red Rubber Ball” (a Paul Simon song) by The Cyrkle.  Of course mixing in some bigger hits provides value, and helps sell the lesser songs.

Spanky & Our Gang (shown above with lead singer Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane) might be the group most associated with Sunshine Rock, or as it has morphed into today, Sunshine Pop.  Their hits “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, “Lazy Day”, “Sunday Mornin'”, and “Like To Get To Know You” fit perfectly on such lists, even though their arrangements sometimes have elements of Psychedelic Rock and jazz vocals.

They also could do serious songs rooted in folk lyrics, such as “Give A Damn”, which is about visiting a ghetto.  They sing:  “And it might begin to teach you, how to give a damn about your fellow man”.  It’s a really good song, but might have been a bit harsh for Top 40 radio.

Spanky & Our Gang were only popular from 1966 to 1969.  Their crowning achievement is the album Anything You Choose/Without Rhyme Or Reason.

It’s brilliant.  Possibly the only reason I know the album, is because it was a commercial failure.  I spotted it in a dollar bin in the late ’60’s, and bought it.  When I looked at the two sides of the album they were labeled Side 1 and Side A.  Which one to play first?  Anyway, each side is complexly and cleverly arranged so the songs flow into one another.  This was not some simple cross-fading or other studio trick, but well thought-out musical transitions.  The songs are good too.  Besides “Give A Damn” (which just missed the Top 40), there are minor hits like “Yesterday’s Rain”, “And She’s Mine”, and “Anything You Choose”.  The album might be available to stream.  It takes some time to get to know the songs, and they might not fit everyone’s taste in pop; however, we have the whole album as part of our Spanky & Our Gang playlist.

There are a lot of 1960’s Pop Rock songs that fit the Sunshine Pop theme.  Those include:  “Every Day With You Girl” by The Classics IV, “I Will Always Think About You” by The New Colony Six, “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy”) by Harper’s Bizarre, “Groovin'” by The Rascals, “Daydream” by The Lovin Spoonful, “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan, “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Windy” by The Association…and even songs by The Beach Boys and The Mamas & The Papas are sometimes placed in that category.

A lot of Soft Rock music from the 1970’s could also be called Sunshine Rock or Sunshine Pop.   In fact, there are so many songs, Rhino Records has released 25 volumes of it.  But, they came up with a uniquely 70’s way to describe the music…Have A Nice Day.

A few examples of the songs include…”It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond, “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, “Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare, “Brandy, You’re A Fine Girl” by Looking Glass, and “Nice To Be With You” by Gallery.

When you listen to this stuff, you know you’re going to be feelin’ groovy and have a nice day.

Haley Reinhart…Live

                  (Haley Reinhart…performing in Portland, Oregon)

Haley Reinhart owns the stage.  She’s a theatrical type of performer who dresses in costumes rather than the cool fashions of the day.  She writes or co-writes most of her songs, which are a mix of pop, rock, soul, and jazz.  We experienced all of those styles when we saw Haley in Portland on April 23rd.

When we bought the tickets, we didn’t know it was a standing only show.  We got there early, standing in line for an hour, and then standing more than two hours for the show.  But, at least we were right by the stage.  That also gave us a chance to talk with a young man who had been the producer/engineer on one of Haley’s new songs, and with a guy who regularly video’s shows for Haley.  Both expressed belief in her singing talent, and expect the 28-year-old to break through to larger audiences at some point…versus the 500 capacity of the Hawthorne Theatre where this event was held.

Haley Reinhart was introduced to the nation through American Idol in 2011, when the TV show was still extremely popular.  Even though she finished third to a couple of likable country singers, Haley was obviously the best vocalist on the show.  Her three octave range and ability to tackle any style of music was reminiscent of Kelly Clarkson’s Idol run.

Musicians took note.  American Idol had requested the use of songs by Led Zeppelin for performers on the show, but had been turned down.  When Robert Plant and Jimmy Page saw Haley Reinhart perform, they called American Idol and said she could perform one of their songs.  In the above photo she’s singing Zeppelin’s “What Is, And What Should Never Be”.  Likewise, Lady Gaga was a fan and gave permission for Haley to sing one of her brand new songs at the time, “You And I”.

Three of Haley Reinhart’s videos are the most viewed in the show’s history, and for years after her time on Idol, her studio recordings from the show held 8 of the top 10 most-purchased American Idol tracks on iTunes.

So, has she gone on to conquer the music world?  No…but there have been some impressive successes.

Haley performed with Jazz groups in high school, college, and before-and-after American Idol.  Her videos with the group Postmodern Jukebox have topped the Jazz charts and have garnered hundreds-of-millions of views.

Haley Rinehart’s first album Listen Up made it to #17 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, and included her singles “Free” & “Oh My!”, as well as popular cuts “Wasted Time” and “Hit The Ground Running”.

Her most successful single is “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (the old Elvis hit).  Her recording has over 250-million streams, and has been certified as “Gold” by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Haley Reinhart has toured the U.S. coast to coast, and has toured in Asia.  She also toured Europe with Postmodern Jukebox.

Her two most recent albums are What’s That Sound?, featuring many 1960’s hits, plus some original songs, and Lo-Fi Soul, which is her newest album of all-original songs.

The album has received excellent reviews, and has a 5-star rating on iTunes.  It features a mix of pop and soul, with elements of rock and jazz.  Haley sang most of the album’s songs during the Portland concert.

She certainly showed us her full vocal range and power.

Here, the two guitarists had just finished a major battle of dueling rock guitars, and dropped to their knees as if they were exhausted.  The uptempo songs and dramatic vocals gave way at times to ballads and intricate jazz vocals.

The enthusiastic fans at the concert certainly think Haley Reinhart’s career is on the way up.

The Beatles…Rubber Soul (Two Versions)

Rubber Soul is a great album, but it might actually be a little under-appreciated.  These days, Sgt. Pepper and Revolver get most of the praise, and a lot of fans think Rubber Soul should be right there with them.

One reason it might not be, is because of the differences between the British and American versions.  They’re somewhat like two separate albums…with a six song variance.

The American version starts off with a song that had been on Help in England…”I’ve Just Seen A Face”…a country-tinged acoustic song.    The first track on side two was also from Help, “It’s Only Love”, another acoustic song.  Capitol Records apparently wanted Rubber Soul (released December 3rd, 1965) to fit in with the Folk Rock trend of that year.  Besides adding the two acoustic songs, they took away 4 songs…”Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man” (released as a single in February, 1966), “What Goes On”, and “If I Needed Someone”.

The British version of Rubber Soul started with a rocker, “Drive My Car”.  Paul McCartney said “Drive My Car” and some of the other songs were influenced by American soul music.  The name Rubber Soul came about after McCartney heard an American musician use the term “plastic soul” when referring to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.  McCartney said he thought of Rubber Soul as an English version of soul music.

Meanwhile, American fans mostly thought of Rubber Soul as a Folk Rock album, because of the song choices.  Here are the album track lists.  The U.S. version has 12 songs, and the U.K. version 14.  The original vinyl  albums divided the songs equally between the two sides.

Here’s a confession.  Although my Beatles playlists basically follow the British album versions, I placed “I’ve Just Seen A Face” at the beginning (and moved “Drive My Car” to the middle), because to me it’s not Rubber Soul without it!

Capitol Records succeeded in having Rubber Soul be mostly an acoustic album to fit the trend, but in doing so, they left off three really strong songs…”Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car”, and “If I Needed Someone”, which hurts the overall impression of the quality of the album with Americans (even though it was extremely popular as it was).  Surprisingly, the American version of Rubber Soul included no singles at all.  That did have the positive effect of the album being thought of as an artistic statement, rather than just a collection of songs.

Let’s look at how the full version of Rubber Soul came to be.

Already in 1965, The Beatles had been touring, wrote and recorded the songs for the album Help, filmed the movie of the same name, and then toured America (including the Shea Stadium concert).  So of course their record company wanted them to do another album before Christmas.  Holy night!  How much can one band do!

It was already mid October, 1965.  The Beatles needed to write, record, and mix 16 new songs (14 for the album, and 2 for a single) in about a month and a half!  As crazy as that sounds now, it was actually more uninterrupted time than their hectic schedule had allowed for previous albums.

While on tour, The Beatles had interacted with Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and other American artists.  Dylan introduced them to marijuana and his lyrics.  Both would expand The Beatles thinking and affect Rubber Soul.

The Beatles’ songwriters came through.

John Lennon was the most prolific.  He was the lead writer on 9 songs…including “Norwegian Wood”, “In My Life”, “Day Tripper”, “Girl”, and “Nowhere Man”…which John said just came to him all at once.

Paul McCartney was the main writer on 5 songs…“Drive My Car”, “You Won’t See Me”, “We Can Work It Out”, “I’m Looking Through You”, and “Michelle”…one of the most recorded songs of all time.

George Harrison provided 2 songs…”Think For Yourself” and “If I Needed Someone”…which was a salute to the style of their new friends, The Byrds.

“We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper” were selected as a double A-sided single to be released the same day as the album, but were not actually on the album.

Rubber Soul accented intricate three-part vocal harmonies to go with the more sophisticated lyrics.

Even though The Beatles were on a deadline, they were innovative.  This was the first rock/pop album to use a sitar.  They also incorporated other unusual instruments, including a harmonium (a type of pump organ).  George Martin was able to produce a Baroque harpsichord sound by playing a piano part along with a slowed down tape of “In My Life”, and then having the effect sound perfect at regular speed.  Rubber Soul was the transitional step The Beatles needed to get to the full studio experimentation of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.

We all know there is no definitive answer as to what Beatles album is best.  Our own opinions can change.  But, how does Rubber Soul stack up?  When The Beatles put together their 4-record “best of” collection known as the red and blue albums, they selected more songs from Rubber Soul than any other album…8 of the 16 songs recorded during those sessions.  In a 1995 interview, George Harrison said it was his favorite Beatles album.

The Beatles…Revolver

Revolver was a revolution for Rock & Roll.

It’s hard to believe this 1966 album was made just two years after The Beatles broke in America with songs like  “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Can’t buy Me Love”.  They’re excellent songs, but nothing like the style of recordings The Beatles created for Revolver.

The very first song of the Revolver sessions was “Tomorrow Never Knows” in April of 1966.  This is the one where John Lennon sings:  “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.”  The recording has backwards guitars, ADT (automatic double-tracked) vocal, experimental tape loops that sound a bit like seagulls, variable-speed recording, psychedelic lyrics, and half of Lennon’s vocals were through the spinning horns of a Leslie Hammond organ speaker.   A far cry from “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.  I admit it took me awhile to get into “Tomorrow Never Knows” when I first got the album in 1966.  The song was startlingly different from anything I’d ever heard.

The Beatles had obviously embraced the recording studio as an art form, and didn’t care if they could play these songs on their final concert tour that year.

Before “Eleanor Rigby”, no one would have imagined a Beatles song with none of them playing on it.  The instrumentation is only an octet of strings impressively arranged by George Martin.  Like most of the songs on Revolver, the lyrics had evolved far beyond The Beatles’ early work.  Paul McCartney did the lead vocal, and George & John provided background vocals.

This album was a high point for Paul McCartney.  Besides “Eleanor Rigby”, his songs include two of his most beautiful…”Here There and Everywhere” and “For No One”.  Plus, “Good Day Sunshine”, “Got To Get You Into My Life”, and he was the main writer of “Yellow Submarine”.  He also wrote “Paperback Writer” which was a #1 single from the Revolver sessions.

Besides “Tomorrow Never Knows”, John Lennon contributed “She Said She Said”, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “Doctor Robert”, and “I’m Only Sleeping”.  Almost unbelievably, those last three songs were taken from the album and released about a month and a half earlier on the American album “Yesterday”…and Today.  Sure that meant Americans got an early sample of the new album (although we didn’t know it at the time), but it left Lennon with only two songs on the U.S. version of Revolver.  After that, all Beatles albums were the same in England and America (except albums that collected old singles).

Lennon also wrote “Rain”, which was the flip side of “Paperback Writer”, the single released prior to the album.  Rain was the first rock/pop song to have a backward vocal.  George Martin had reversed the tape for the last line of the song, and The Beatles liked it.  Backward recordings were used throughout the album to give the instruments new and unusual sounds.  That included George Harrison carefully constructing guitar solos so the melodies worked when the tapes were played backwards.

If you’ve never listened closely to “Rain”, check out the extremely effective and unusual drumming by Ringo Starr.  It’s doubtful any other drummer could have come up with anything so perfect for the song.

For the first time, a George Harrison song, “Taxman”, was the lead track on a Beatles album.  The song lyrics are in response to the English government taking 95% of their money when they entered the highest tax bracket.  “Taxman” is a rocking song, with excellent guitar solos by Harrison and McCartney.  George also wrote “Love You To”, which featured extensive use of Indian instruments, and “I Want To Tell You”.  The latter is a good song, but the prominent dissonant piano notes usually caused me to move the turntable needle to the next song.  For me, that arrangement choice is the only real flaw of the entire album.

(My Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby sleeve & Corgi metal sub.)

“Yellow Submarine” and “Eleanor Rigby” were the only singles released from the album, and they were on the same 45.  Paul McCartney says “Yellow Submarine” was always meant as a children’s sing-a-long song, and doesn’t have any unusual meanings as sometimes speculated.  When McCartney played his unfinished song for Donovan, the singer/songwriter gave McCartney the line “Sky of blue, sea of green”.

“Eleanor Rigby” is a masterpiece.  It was mostly by Paul McCartney, but he did get some lyric suggestions from Lennon & Harrison, plus that brilliant string arrangement from producer George Martin.  Martin said he based the attack-style violin playing on the music used in Alfred Hitchcock’ movie Psycho.  If someone pushed me to name my favorite Beatles song, I’d say “Eleanor Rigby”.  I later found out it’s the only song The Beatles ever recorded on my birth date…April 28th.  Coincidence?

There were engineering and production techniques that assisted The Beatles in realizing their vision for the album.  Geoff Emerick, then just 20 years old, became the engineer for producer George Martin.  Emerick was the one who suggested putting Lennon’s voice through a Leslie speaker when the singer asked to have his voice sound like “The Dalai Lama singing from a mountain top.”  Emerick also used new techniques for improving the recording of Paul’s bass guitar and Ringo’s bass drum.

His innovation with placing microphones close to instruments missed when he put them inside the bells of the horns on “Got To Get You Into My Life”.  Yeah, it was different, but the tone came out sounding thin and pinched.  The technique has probably not been used since.  But, that’s just one small misstep among the otherwise innovative engineering, and it didn’t ruin the song.  Emerick went on to win Grammy Awards for engineering Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.

The appreciation for Revolver has grown over time.  For decades, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has topped most lists that attempt to rank the best albums of all time.  In recent years, Revolver has sometimes taken over that spot, or has been very close to the top.  Some of that may be to simply provide a change from the usual choice, but it may also be because people came to realize how Revolver was truly a breakthrough.

Peter Paul and Mary

It was 1962.  The initial surge of ‘50’s Rock & Roll had given way to lighter pop music and teen idols.  There was an opening for a revival of folk music.  Leading the way was a group with three singers…Peter, Paul and Mary.

(Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers)

Music manager Albert Grossman (who also represented Bob Dylan) had put the trio together from artists who played in Greenwich Village in New York City.  Their first album, Peter, Paul and Mary, was released in May of 1962.  It was filled with acoustic guitars, beautiful harmonies, and poignant lyrics.

The album went to #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for seven weeks, and stayed in the Top 10 for ten months.  That was a breakthrough for folk music.  Although Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey (whose first name is Noel) are both accomplished songwriters who would later write hits, this album mostly brought some classic folk songs to the masses.  It included “Lemon Tree” (#35) and “If I Had A Hammer” (#10) both appearing in the Top 40 for the first time, even though the songs had been around for over a decade.  Plus, the album included “500 Miles”, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, and more traditional folk songs.

Peter Paul and Mary were building upon the success of other folk groups, like the Kingston Trio which had the hits “Tom Dooley” and “M.T.A. in the late ’50’s, and continued into the early ’60’s.

In 1963, Peter Paul and Mary had two hit albums, and three major singles.  “Puff The Magic Dragon” is a song by Peter Yarrow that was based on a poem of a little boy growing up.  It was not about smoking weed, which was a silly rumor, probably started by someone smoking weed.  The second big hit was the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ In The Wind”.   Both of those songs went to #2 on the Billboard Top 40.  The third 1963 hit was “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (#9), another Bob Dylan penned song.  They also recorded Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” as an album track.  Dylan was not very well known, but the Peter Paul and Mary recordings brought his songwriting to the forefront.

Folk music regularly dealt with serious topics, and Peter Paul and Mary were active in the social movements of the 1960’s.  For example, they performed at a march for racial equality in Selma, Alabama, and at the March On Washington (as pictured above).  This is the 1963 event that included Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.  Prior to that speech, Peter Paul & Mary sang “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind” to the large crowd.

The Folk Revival, as it was now called, was monetized by ABC Television.  They developed a show called Hootenanny, which was a term used for a gathering where folk artists performed.  The show was on from 1963 to 1964, and featured folk groups like The Limeliters, The Chad Mitchell Trio, and The New Christy Minstrels.  Hootenanny was about to be renewed in April of 1964, but there was a monumental shift in the music scene.  That month, The Beatles held the top five positions on the Billboard Top 40.  The British Invasion had wiped out the Folk Revival.  Hootenanny was soon replaced by Hullabaloo and Shindig.

Peter Paul and Mary’s popularity on the charts took a hit.  They wouldn’t have another Top 10 song until 1967.  In the meantime, Folk Music became Folk Rock.  Artists who had come from the same Greenwich Village scene, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful, and Bob Dylan were now electrified and having hits.  Dylan’s first major singles success came with “Like A Rolling Stone” (#2) and “Positively 4th Street” (#7) in 1965.

It wasn’t until 1967 that Peter Paul and Mary once again hit the Top 10.  A song written by Noel Paul Stookey, James Mason, and Dave Dixon had some fun with the more current musical styles of The Mamas & The Papas, Donovan, and The Beatles.  “I Dig Rock And Roll Music” was filled with good humor and impressive vocal work, and was rewarded with a #7 in the Top 10.  The 1967 album it came from was Album 1700, which referred to the Warner Brother’s catalog number for the disc.

Peter Paul and Mary’s biggest hit was also their last.  The song came from the same album, and was written by a friend and unknown songwriter, John Denver.  His first popular song was “Leaving On A Jet Plane” performed by Peter Paul and Mary.  It hit #1 in 1969.  Although there were solo albums and many “reunion” performances over the following decades, that was the last real chart success for the group.

Fast forward to March 20th, 2019.

Noel Paul Stookey came to Corvallis, Oregon for an interview (by Bob Santelli) and a performance at The Majestic Theater.  It was part of Oregon State’s cool American Strings series.

Paul Stookey told us he started as an “M.C.”, as well as a singer, at folk performances in Greenwich Village.  Then he took us all the way through his career, including the protests in the ’60’s, and his solo work that followed.  In 1971, he wrote and performed “The Wedding Song (There Is Love)”.  It was written for Peter Yarrow’s wedding, and has been performed at thousands of weddings since.  We bought his solo album, Paul and, in 1971 and have songs from it on our Peter Paul and Mary playlist.

Mary Travers passed away in 2009 while being treated for leukemia.  Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey still perform together at times, and Stookey’s baritone voice remains strong, despite his age of 81.  His humor is also intact, and he had us all laughing.

Noel Paul Stookey still writes songs…he played some new ones…and he also had the sold-out audience of about 300 singing along emotionally with “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind”.

Besides the importance that folk music has played in America’s history, maybe the most interesting comment was one about how Peter Yarrow, Mary Travers and he sang.  Stookey asked us to think about listening to vocal groups today and how the singers often seem to be competing with each other by using “an edge” to their voices.  He said Peter Paul and Mary always “pulled back” their voices a little…so they would “blend together”.

We could use more blending together these days.