Brian Wilson…A Look Back

The recent news about Brian Wilson (81) has been sad and disheartening.  He lost his wife and “lifeline”, Melinda (77), on January 30th, 2024, and he has been diagnosed with “major neurocognitive disorder” (dementia).

Let’s go back in time, and look at his life in music.

Brian Wilson’s band, The Beach Boys, broke big in 1963 with songs about surfing, cars, and girls.

(Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson & Mike Love)

They used an original combination of Rock & Roll instrumentation and sophisticated vocal arrangements.  Their songs and arrangements evolved into a peak in 1966 with the album Pet Sounds and the hit single, “Good Vibrations”.  That was after Brian had stopped touring with the band.  Instead, he developed more complex instrumental arrangements, and laid down the tracks using studio musicians.   Later, The Beach Boys added their intricate vocals.  Here are their studio albums from 1962 through 1973:

For a refresher of how many great songs and hits there are by The Beach Boys, here are my two “Best Of” playlists from my collection.

I started collecting their music in 1963, and no matter when you became a Beach Boy’s fan, you’ll likely recognize most of these songs, and be able to sing along with a lot of them.

After the artistic high of the Pet Sounds album, and the #1 success of the “Good Vibrations” single, Brian Wilson worked on what he thought would be his best album, Smile.  This period in 1966 and 1967 would be the turning point in his life and career.  Because of mental issues (anxiety and depression) and drug usage (mostly marijuana and amphetamines), Brian Wilson was unable to complete the album.  After that, his participation in Beach Boys albums was significantly limited, and his songwriting was severely reduced.

The solo part of Brian’s career didn’t start until 1987, 20-years after his problems with Smile.

Although Brian Wilson didn’t have a solo career of big hits and top-ranked albums, the above four albums include some significant musical contributions.  The albums are Brian Wilson (1987), Imagination (1998), Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (2010), and No Pier Pressure (2015).  He had a total of ten studio albums, with a variety of original songs, some re-recordings of his older songs, and a few albums were mostly cover songs.

For those who might not be familiar with his solo recordings, here’s my Best Of Brian Wilson playlist (in chronological order) taken from his solo studio albums.

  1. Love And Mercy
  2. Melt Away
  3. Let It Shine
  4. She Says That She Needs Me
  5. Cry
  6. Your Imagination
  7. Where Has Love Been?
  8. Dream Angel
  9. South American (with Jimmy Buffett)
  10. Lay Down Burden
  11. Gettin’ In Over My Head
  12. Southern California
  13. I Got Rhythm
  14. Nothing But Love
  15. Whatever Happened (with Al Jardine & David Marks)
  16. Tell Me Why (with Al Jardine)
  17. The Last Song

Through the years, the legendary recordings from The Beach Boys’ unfinished album Smile became available on bootlegs.  I bought a couple of those bootleg CD’s, but like everyone else, I didn’t know how to assemble all the tracks into Brian’s vision for the album.  That changed in 2004 when Brian released his own version of Smile.  It was made up of mostly the same songs, but with new recordings.

(The original Beach Boys’ Smile cover, and Brian’s solo cover.)

I much prefer the original Beach Boys’ recordings with their youthful 20-something voices and their great vocal blend.  If you’re curious about how good the album is, here’s a 29-minute edit of The Beach Boys’ Smile (odd songs like “ Barnyard” and “Vega-Tables” are omitted, allowing a better musical flow).  The audio plays right on this site.  Here’s the link:

(The list of songs used for the Smile presentation:  1. Our Prayer, 2. Gee/Trombone, 3. Heroes And Villains, 4. Roll Plymouth Rock, 5. Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine, 6. Cabin Essence, 7. Wonderful, 8. Child Is Father Of The Man, 9. Surf’s Up Intro/Surf’s Up, 10. Wind Chimes, 11. Cool Cool Water, 12. Good Vibrations, 13. Heroes And Villains Piano Instrumental.  The songs are segued together to form one complete work.)

The Smile album doesn’t rise to the very high level of Pet Sounds, but it has the strong songs “Good Vibrations”, “Heroes And Villains”, “Wonderful”, and “Surf’s Up”, plus a lot of interesting song segments that link the album together.  To me, it’s better than any of the other Beach Boys’ albums that came after Pet Sounds.  Even if you don’t listen to the whole album above, you’d probably enjoy listening to the one-minute introduction vocalizing song “Our Prayer”…Beach Boys’ harmonies at their finest!

Brian Wilson has rightly been called a “musical genius”.  He co-wrote nearly all the hits by The Beach Boys.  Brian wrote the music, and almost always worked with a lyricist.  They included Mike Love for many of the early hits, Tony Asher for Pet Sounds, and Van Dyke Parks for Smile.  Just as important as Brian’s songwriting and beautiful vocals, was his talent for creatively arranging songs.  Brian Wilson’s music will be everlasting.

Taylor Swift…The Peak Years (Updated)

Three years ago, I wrote an article about Taylor Swift and The Beatles.  She had broken one of their records on the U.K. album chart.  That was just after Swift had released Folklore, Evermore, and Fearless (Taylor’s Version).  Since that time, Taylor Swift’s life seems to have gotten as chaotic as Beatlemania must have been for John, Paul, George & Ringo.

Above are the seven albums Taylor Swift has released in a time period of just three-and-a-quarter years…July 24th, 2020 to October 27th, 2023.  Besides the three albums mentioned earlier, there were Red (Taylor’s Version), Midnights, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), and 1989 (Taylor’s Version).  All 7 of the albums debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and broke a bunch of sales and streaming records.  Those include the most #1 albums by a woman (13), and the most-streamed album in a day, 1989 (Taylor’s Version).  If the quality of her albums wasn’t high, her sales would drop off (if buyers were disappointed with what they heard).  Instead, her whole catalog is selling extremely well.

The sheer volume of her recording output is astonishing.  Yes, four of her last seven albums are re-recordings (Taylor’s Versions), but imagine the effort it takes to recreate intricate recordings that her longtime fans know intimately.  Besides, there are enough new songs on her four re-recorded albums to fill two new albums.  So…in 3-and-a-quarter years…Swift has released the equivalent of five new albums, and four re-recorded albums.

During that same time she wrote and directed her own music videos, and two of them won “Video Of The Year” awards.  Also, for six months of that time she trained & rehearsed for a concert performance that lasts nearly 3-and-a-half hours.  She performed as many as six shows in seven days, and did 66 concerts in 2023.  Is she twins?!

(Nice shirt)

What’s happening with Taylor Swift is extremely similar to what happened with The Beatles.  They had the top 5 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964.  Taylor Swift had the entire top 10 on that chart in 2022.  The method for measuring such things has changed, but the two feats are similar, and no one else has ever owned the whole top 10 before or since.

On the album chart, no other artist (while living) has ever had five albums simultaneously in the top 10.  Swift has done it multiple times.  On the album sales chart Swift is the only person to have the top 4, and the only artist to have 7 of the top 10.  Swift is second only to The Beatles for the number of weeks topping the Billboard 200 album chart.  She has 69 weeks at the top, and they have what may be an unbreakable record of 132 weeks.

That kind of dominance also shows up with Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour.  She has the only tour to earn over 1-Billion dollars.  She did it in 66 stadium concerts over 9-months.  The second-biggest tour of all time was by Elton John.  He earned 939-million-dollars in 330 concerts over 5-years.  Swift not only sold more tickets than her friends, Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran, her tour made more than both of them combined last year.  And, Swift is only about half done with the tour!

The Eras Tour movie made over 261-million-dollars in theaters.  It also made a bundle as a rental.  It starts streaming March 15th, 2024 on Disney+.  They reportedly paid $75-million for the rights.  The film only cost an estimated 10-to-20-million to make, so it’s generated a huge profit.  The streaming version has five additional songs…”Cardigan” and four acoustic performances.  Swift doesn’t need an idea for another album, but a collection of her best solo acoustic performances from the Eras Tour would make a great one.

Taylor Swift is the only entertainer ever named Time’s Person Of The Year.  The honor wasn’t only because of all the records she was setting in 2023, but because her tour was adding billions of dollars to the world’s economy.  She gives millions of dollars to food banks and other charities (a million dollars went to Nashville after a recent tornado). She also gave 55-million dollars in bonuses to all the performers, technicians, and truck drivers who are touring with her.

When Swift attends an NFL game to support her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, the TV ratings go up.  That means more revenue for TV and the NFL.  Some football fans resent that Swift is shown on camera, but she really isn’t shown more than some relatives & friends of other players, or for that matter crazy-dressed fans and the back of player’s helmets.  Swift has been shown for an average of about 30-seconds total per game, and according to Apex Marketing Group, Taylor supporting her boyfriend has generated over 331-million-dollars for the NFL brand.

Update: (2/11/24)

Mastermind Taylor Swift at the Super Bowl planning for the Chiefs to score the winning touchdown on the 13th play of the final drive.  This Super Bowl had over 123-million viewers.  That’s the most-watched TV show since the moon landing.  Guess it was “Taylor’s Version”.  CBS showed her for a total of 54-seconds during the game broadcast.

With the past few years being so huge for Swift, she is definitely in the over-exposure danger zone.  There have been some negative articles written about her recently.  They’re not about anything specifically that she’s done, they’re just the natural reaction to extreme popularity.  The same thing happened to The Beatles, Elton John, and a lot of other artists.  Most of the 2024 portion of Swift’s tour is in other parts of the world, so that may somewhat dial down the swirl of media coverage in the U.S.

Taylor Swift started performing as a teenager over 17 years ago, and her songwriting has developed to the point that her lyrics are reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s style.  They can be clever & complicated.  Swift has performed over 160 of her songs during the Eras Tour.  How does she keep all of those lyrics in her head?

This string of albums (maybe adding two re-recorded albums and one new album in 2024), plus the finalization of the Eras Tour, will likely mark the peak of Taylor Swift’s music career.  No one could keep up that pace!  It would make sense that she would want to devote time to her budding film career, or maybe even start a family.

There were four Beatles who helped each other handle the fame.  Taylor Swift is the sole focus of this mania, so she must have a great support staff, as well as friends and family to help her.

Honestly, it’s practically unbelievable what she has accomplished.  Four years ago, no one, not even “Mastermind” Taylor Swift, could have predicted the dizzying heights her career has reached.

Update:  (The way Billboard reported it.)

The release date is April 19th, 2024.

With Midnights, Taylor Swift won the Grammy for “Album Of The Year” for the 4th time.  That’s a record no other woman, man, or group has accomplished..

Immediate Family…Music Documentary (Review)

Were you listening to albums by James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, or Crosby Stills & Nash in the 1970’s?  If you were like me, you’d put on the album, and then read the information on the album covers to see what musicians helped the star.  If you did, the music documentary Immediate Family is for you.

The movie is about the studio musicians who recorded with singer-songwriters of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.  As you can see on the above poster, the singer-songwriters who were interviewed still get the star billing.  Here’s a recent shot of the studio musicians who now go by the name Immediate Family:

Lee Sklar plays bass, Russ Kunkel drums, Waddy Wachtel guitar, and Danny Kortchmar guitar.

And this is Craig Doerge, who played Keyboards on a lot of recordings with the other guys.

The start of all these musicians getting together was because James Taylor and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar were teenage friends.  They played in the band Flying Machine, and when the band broke up, Danny Kortchmar did some work as a studio musician.  That’s how he met Peter Asher (of Peter & Gordon fame).  Kortchmar knew Asher was the head of A&R for The Beatles’ new Apple label.  He suggested James Taylor contact Peter Asher, and that’s how Taylor’s recording career started n 1968.

A year later, Taylor and Asher were working on the Sweet Baby James album in L.A., and put together a stellar line-up of musicians that included Danny Kortchmar, Carole King, and Russ Kunkel.  These musicians and James Taylor also worked their magic on Carole King’s Tapestry album.  Then Carole had to be replaced on future James Taylor albums by keyboardist, Craig Doerge (pronounced Dur-gee).  Also added was Lee Sklar on bass.  James Taylor gave them the nickname “The Section”.

If you’re familiar with the 1960’s studio musicians, The Wrecking Crew, you know they played on hundreds of hit singles and classic albums.  However, it wasn’t until years later that these musicians became known to anyone but industry insiders.

Credit Peter Asher for the big change for studio musicians in the 1970’s.  He included the names of the musicians, often right on the covers of the albums he produced, and that became the norm for the record industry.

Other recording artists saw the names and wanted those studio musicians too.  Guitarist Waddy Wachtel and lap-steel guitarist David Lindley were soon among this well known group of studio musicians.  Wachtel worked extensively with Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks, and Lindley with Jackson Browne and Neil Young.

Another big difference for the 1970’s studio musicians was that their notariety allowed them to go out on tour without fear that they would be replaced.  When my wife and I saw James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Crosby Stills & Nash in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, those studio musicians were often there.  Almost all of them played on Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty Tour in 1978 (an absolutely great concert!).

L-R: Danny Kortchmar, Jackson Browne, Russ Kunkel, Lee Sklar, David Lindley, and Craig Doerge performing songs from Running On Empty.  And here they are in the studio:

A little closer up with Danny Kortchmar, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Russ Kunkel, Waddy Wachtel, and Lee Sklar in their younger days.

The documentary gives you the inside story, featuring interviews with the Immediate Family and many of the stars they worked with.  The musicians didn’t just play on the albums, they added ideas to the arrangements, and sometimes Kortchmar and Doerge added to the songwriting.  The film is available to buy or rent (at reasonable prices).

Immediate Family in a recent performance.

We also learn that these musicians are like a lot of artists from the Classic Rock era…they still love to play in front of an audience.

Extra:  If you enjoy music documentaries, here are some recommendations.  The Wrecking Crew, Sound City, Standing In The Shadow Of Motown, Laurel Canyon, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice, The Making Of Sgt. Pepper, Get Back, Tom Petty Runnin’ Down A Dream, History of the Eagles, and whatever artists you like in the Classic Albums series.

John Lennon Murder Documentary (Review)

There’s a new three-part documentary on Apple TV, John Lennon: Murder Without A Trial.  I watched it so you don’t have to, but if you do, it’s best to only watch the first 37-minute episode.

The first episode is titled The Last Day.  It focuses on John Lennon’s activities on December 8th, 1980, before he was shot in cold blood outside his home in New York City.  You also see news coverage and reactions from John Lennon’s fans.  If you were old enough to be aware at the time, you might have found out about Lennon’s death on Monday Night Football, like so many of us did.  You probably also remember much of the TV coverage of the crowds that gathered outside the Dakota Apartments and in Central Park.

Parts 2 and 3 are best skipped.  They’re about John Lennon’s killer.  Part 2 is called The Investigation.  Well, very little investigation was needed, because the guy that did it remained on the scene until the police arrived.  That’s because his admitted reason for the killing was that he wanted to be famous.  He even told the cab driver his name as he was dropped off at the Dakota, and said “you’ll remember it”.

The episode wastes time mentioning that the justice department had been following Lennon’s activities, possibly even tapping his phone.  This was some half-baked attempt to allude to a conspiracy.  But, the surveillance happened under the Nixon administration in the early ‘70’s, when Lennon was protesting against the Vietnam war.  Lennon had been out of the public eye for nearly five years, and was a threat to no one.

Part 3 is called The Trial, which is ridiculous, since the title of the documentary tells you there was no trial.  The killer pleaded guilty to second degree murder.  The debate is whether he was insane or not.  It could be argued that any cold-blooded killer is insane, but he pre-planned the murder, and definitely knew what he was doing.  He remains in prison, and has been denied parole 12 times.

Above is some “wire copy” from United Press International that I saved.  Most of it is from the morning after the murder.  At the time, I was the News Director for a couple of radio stations south of Lincoln, Nebraska.  One of the stories mentions how London is mad at the United States for having a gun culture that killed John Lennon.  The editorial says… “John Lennon’s meaningless murder is increasingly typical of New York and the United States in general, where freedom to carry guns has brought forth monsters.”  The monster who killed John Lennon was born in Texas, raised in Georgia, lived in Hawaii, and flew to New York City to commit the murder.

Like most radio stations during the week of December 8th, 1980, we played a lot of music by John Lennon and The Beatles.  I also wrote and produced a news special that covered Lennon’s life and career.  John had just turned 40 when he was taken from us.  As we see Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still being creative into their 80’s, imagine how much more great art we would have received from John Lennon if he hadn’t been gunned down 43 years ago.

Band On The Run 50th Anniversary Edition (Updated)

Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run was released on December 5th, 1973.

It quickly became McCartney’s most popular album.  Band On The Run topped the charts, went multi-platinum, and had the hit singles “Jet” #7, “Helen Wheels” #10, and “Band On The Run” #1, plus the tracks “Let Me Roll It” and “Bluebird”.  The critics and the public agreed it was excellent, and it’s still considered his best album. Even Paul’s sometimes critical friend, John Lennon, called it “a great album” during a 1975 Rolling Stone interview.

It’s now 50-years later, and we’re able to hear the album in a new way. The two-disc or two-record 50th Anniversary sets include a version that McCartney calls “underdubbed”.  That means we can hear the album in its raw form, before the orchestration was overdubbed onto the album’s songs.  The Band On The Run 50th Anniversary edition was released February 2nd, 2024.  We’ll look at the specifics of the sets available, but first a little about the original album.

This was McCartney’s fifth album, and was listed under the band name Wings, even though Paul & Linda McCartney and guitarist Denny Laine were the only members left.  (Update:  Sadly, Denny Laine passed away from lung disease December 5th, 2023 at the age of 79.  Besides being in Wings, he was a cofounder of The Moody Blues, and sang lead on their first hit, “Go Now”.)

The three musicians (and engineer Geoff Emerick) flew to Lagos to record the album.  It’s very close to being a “one man band” album.  Paul sang the lead vocals & some background vocals, played most of the lead guitar parts, acoustic guitars, bass, piano/keyboards, drums, and percussion.  Denny added guitars and background vocals, and Linda added some keyboards and background vocals.

It’s interesting to hear the stripped-down versions of the songs we know, but we miss the orchestration that brought power to songs like the title track, and subtle touches to other songs.  By the way, Band On The Run won the Grammy Award for best engineered album, thanks to Geoff Emerick.

Update:  Paul McCartney did an early release of the “underdubbed” version of the song “Band On The Run”.  The audio quality is excellent, with great clarity to the voices and instruments, but what it truly shows is how important those missing finishing touches were to making the song a hit.  The changes from one section of the medley to another are less powerful without the orchestration.  The main thing missing is the accent guitar part that plays on the choruses, right after Paul sings the title.  As interesting as the stripped-down version is to listen to once, it’s better to spend your 5-minutes listening to the fully produced version of “Band On The Run”.

Update 2 (Feb 2nd, 2024):  The stripped down versions all sound good, but the overdubs were needed to complete them.  For example…“Bluebird” sorely misses the beautiful saxophone solo that gave the song such a cool feel.  “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five” is the instrumental bed, without the lead vocal.  It’s best to enjoy the original versions as they were released.

Here are the various sets available (with prices) as shown on Paul McCartney’s website.  You can click to enlarge.

It will also be available digitally.  Here are the CD tracks:

You can see the “underdubbed” version has a different/earlier running order of the songs.  “Helen Wheels” is missing from Disc 2, because it was originally only on the U.S. release.

The two-record vinyl set is half-speed mastered.  It has the same tracks as shown above, with the side-ones each having five tracks.

Buying the Band On The Run record in 1973 wasn’t enough for me.  I also bought the original CD in the ‘80’s, and then this 25th Anniversary set in 1998:

It’s 25 years later, and it seems I shouldn’t buy Band On The Run yet again.  This time I was able to listen to the “underdubbed” songs on my streaming service.

The Beatles Green Album Added To Red & Blue

The new expanded remixes of The Beatles Red Album & Blue Album have had excellent sales; however, hardcore fans have still been complaining about songs that were left off.  Plus, Apple knows they can cash in…so they’re releasing The Beatles Green Album.

Just kidding.  This is for fun, and to look at the depth of The Beatles’ library of recordings.  The Beatles have so many worthy songs that are not among the 75 on the Red & Blue albums.  It was a real gift to hear all those older Beatles songs remixed in true stereo, so wouldn’t it be great to get another big batch?  In that spirit, here are 40 more songs ready to be put on CD’s or green-vinyl records.

Disc 1:

  1. It Won’t Be Long
  2. Money (That’s What I Want)
  3. Do You Want To Know A Secret
  4. I Call Your Name
  5. I Should Have Known Better
  6. If I Fell
  7. I’m Happy Just To Dance With You
  8. Things We Said Today
  9. Tell Me Why
  10. I’ll Be Back
  11. She’s A Woman
  12. No Reply
  13. I’m A loser
  14. Baby’s In Black
  15. Rock And Roll Music
  16. I’ll Follow The Sun
  17. I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party
  18. The Night Before
  19. I Need You
  20. Act Naturally

This song list starts energetically with “It Won’t Be Long”.  It was the lead song of The Beatles second album of 1963, With The Beatles.  Then it moves on to a cover song with a great John Lennon vocal, “Money (That’s What I Want)”.  Farther down the list is another one, “Rock And Roll Music”.   Third is a song that hit #2 in the U.S., the George Harrison sung “Do You Want To Know A Secret”.  George’s first solo-written Beatles song “Don’t Bother Me” would be an alternate choice.

Then it’s a lot of excellent songs, including…”If I Fell”, “Things We Said Today”, “She’s A Woman”, “I’m A Loser”, “I’ll Follow The Sun”, “I’ll Be Back”, and ending with the third and final cover song, Ringo Starr’s “Act Naturally”.  Beatles fans should enjoy them all.  If you put the songs into a playlist, you’ll hear the quality of the collection.

Disc 2:

  1. I’ve Just Seen A Face
  2. You’re Going To Lose That Girl
  3. Think For Yourself
  4. You Won’t See Me
  5. I’m Looking Through You
  6. Rain
  7. Good Day Sunshine
  8. And Your Bird Can Sing
  9. For No One
  10. When I’m Sixty-Four
  11. She’s Leaving Home
  12. I Will
  13. Julia
  14. Birthday
  15. For You Blue
  16. Two Of Us
  17. Because
  18. Golden Slumbers
  19. Carry That Weight
  20. The End

The second disc starts with the song that led-off the American version of Rubber Soul, “I’ve Just Seen A Face”.  Another 19 great songs follow, with the highlights being…”Rain”, “For No One”, “She’s Leaving Home”, “I Will”, “Two Of Us”, and “Because”.  It all wraps up with the three-song medley that is the climax of Abbey Road (the last album The Beatles recorded together).  Really, the whole list makes an excellent collection.  Besides, nowhere else will you find pairings like “You Won’t See Me” & “I’m Looking Through You”.  Or the short weather forecast, “Rain” followed by “Good Day Sunshine”.

So, do you know all the songs on the two lists?  Most of them are album tracks rather than singles, but they’re likely familiar to the majority of Beatles fans.  Even with these extra 40 selections, some fan favorites will still be missing.

Extra:  In putting together the lists, I just wanted the best songs, and paid no attention to how many were “John songs” or “Paul songs”.  I did consciously make sure to include a decent sampling of “George songs”.  After publication, I found there were 17 songs by John, and 17 by Paul.  John dominates the earlier Beatles, and Paul dominates the later Beatles.

The Beatles Red & Blue Remixes (Review & Perspective)

After waiting a year (actually many years) for the remix of Rubber Soul, Apple pulls a fast one and instead releases the remixes of the Red & Blue Albums, but that turns out to be a good thing.

The Red Album (The Beatles 1962-1966) is the most interesting, because it contains 30 tracks (out of 38) that are new 2023 remixes.  Previously, most of the songs were in poor quality stereo.  Now, the instruments and voices have been separated and reassembled in wide-spectrum stereo.  So, how do they sound?

Wow!  You aren’t going to believe how much more you can hear with these wide stereo mixes!  I’ve been following The Beatles closely since late 1963, and for the first time I can really hear the individual voices of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison as they sing three part harmony on these early recordings.  George’s guitar leads and John’s rhythm parts ring like never before.  Paul’s bass and Ringo Starr’s drumming have a new fullness.  Everything sounds more real.

(Photo from the Red booklet)

We always knew that the poorest sounding recordings were the early ones, because they didn’t have the number of studio tracks they needed, and instruments and voices got shoved together in an unnatural way.  Partly that was because mono was king in the early portion of The Beatles’ career.  These remixes are a revelation about how good those songs and voices really are.  John and Paul’s lead vocals sound great, and listening to George’s vocal and guitar on “Roll Over Beethoven” reveals why that song was added.

Here are the track lists.  We’ll cover more of the remixes after that.  *Indicates songs not on the original 1973 release.

The last 8 tracks are from the Revolver remix released in 2022.  The lack of songs from that album was the biggest flaw in 1973, and the addition of 5 songs from that album is a big improvement for the Red Album.  The two-disc set has an excellent selection of tracks…no bad songs…and even more could have been added.  Think of the musical progress The Beatles made in four years…from “Love Me Do” to “Tomorrow Never Knows”!  By the way, many of these songs were on The Beatles 1 album that was remixed in 2015, but they are newly remixed here.

The first song, “Love Me Do”, is great to hear in stereo for the first time.  It’s slightly disappointing that the version they selected is the original British single.  The #1 hit version released in America has a better vocal by Paul, but it’s missing Ringo on drums (which is likely why the other version was chosen).  As the individual tracks played, I put some letter grades next to many of them, and A+ got used the most.  I was afraid that rockers like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist And Shout” would lose their power, but they didn’t, and Paul and John’s voices come across better than ever.

As the songs moved into Help and Rubber Soul the quality of the recordings seemed even better with the more sophisticated arrangements.  “Ticket To Ride”, “We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper” come alive, and you feel like you’re in the middle of the band.  Really, except for feeling a bit of vocal or a guitar part could have been a little higher in the mix, these remixes are very impressive.  (Note to Giles Martin, you’ve done a great job, but please turn up the guitar solo in the middle section of “Drive My Car” before you finish the Rubber Soul box set.)

The Blue Album (The Beatles 1967-1970) mostly has songs that have already been available in their remixed form in the 50th Anniversary releases.  Only six of the tracks are newly remixed, including songs from the Magical Mystery Tour album.  There are nine added songs that were not on the 1973 release.  Those are indicated with *.

The six new remixes are…”I Am The Walrus”, “Fool On The Hill”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Revolution”, “Hey Bulldog”, and “Old Brown Shoe”, plus the new recording “Now And Then”.

The two biggest differences are with “I Am The Walrus” and “Magical Mystery Tour”.  The audio on “Walrus” comes close to dropping out at about 2:08 with a stereo-effect transition that was less noticeable on the original version.  For “Magical Mystery Tour” the introductory vocal is too buried in the mix (but the rest is good).  These are actually minor variances in the two songs, but they’re noticeable because the original recordings have been imbedded in our brains.  These two new remixes are sonically better than the old mixes, but with some noticeable changes.  Overall, the remixed 50th Anniversary box sets have been very welcome, and the songs included here are excellent sounding.  All of the previously remixed albums are reviewed individually on this site.

(Photo from the Blue booklet)

A few details you might be wondering about…  “A Day In The Life” has the intro that doesn’t include a cross-fade from “Sgt. Pepper Reprise”.  “Dear Prudence” does not cross-fade with “Back In The U.S.S.R.”.  “Within You Without You” includes the laughter at the end, which might have been eliminated since it’s a song on a collection and not actually on the Sgt. Pepper album.  This is especially true with the vinyl, which has it separate from the other Sgt. Pepper songs.  The impressive remix of “Don’t Let Me Down” doesn’t have the studio chatter that was included with the Let It Be box set.

(Shown with optional colored vinyl)

The vinyl versions of these two double albums are three-records-long.  The first two discs have exactly the same songs as the original 1973 releases, and the third vinyl disc has the added songs for 2023.  That’s twelve tracks for the Red Album, and nine for the Blue Album.

Of the 21 songs added to the 2023 sets…11 have John Lennon as the primary writer (or were sung by him), 5 have Paul McCartney as the primary writer, and 5 have George Harrison as the writer (or were sung by him).

In total, the Red Album and the Blue Album have 75 songs that represent the varied musical styles of the world’s greatest group.  All of these songs, except “Now And Then”, were recorded while John, Paul, George & Ringo were in their 20’s.

(My CD’s. Each booklet has an essay, photos, and all lyrics.)

There certainly can be debate about which songs should or should not be on these two albums.  Rather than point out some songs that could have been omitted, here are a dozen songs that could have been included (in chronological order).  “If I Fell”, “Things We Said Today”, ”I’ll Be Back”, “I’ll Follow The Sun”, “Rain”, “For No One”, “She’s Leaving Home”, “I Will”, “Julia”, “Two Of Us”, “Because”, and “Carry That Weight/The End”.

(Everything old is new again…the 1987 CD’s & 2023 CD’s.)

The new expanded versions of the Red and Blue albums are significantly better.  Adding more songs from Revolver, a few cover songs that influenced the group, and some key songs like “Blackbird”, present a more complete picture of The Beatles.

Extra:  These new versions have sold very well.  In the U.K., the Blue Album went to #2, the Red Album to #3…exactly their rankings in 1973…while “Now And Then” hit #1 on the U.K. singles chart.

The Beatles’ Last Single “Now And Then” (Updates & Review)

The Beatles releasing their last single in 2023 is a bit surreal.  They broke up in 1970.  John Lennon died in 1980 (at age 40), and George Harrison died in 2001 (at age 58).  Paul McCartney is 81, and Ringo Starr is 83.  How is it possible to get a brand new single?

It all started 1977 when John Lennon recorded a lo-fi cassette demo of “Now And Then”.

In 1995, the three remaining Beatles…Paul, George, and Ringo…recorded parts to go with the demo.  This was during the Anthologies sessions that produced “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”.

The “Now And Then” project was  abandoned, because the audio of John’s voice was just too poor sounding.  Almost three decades later, advanced Artificial Intelligence audio technology (utilized in the Get Back documentary & the Revolver remix) was used to extract a better quality vocal from John Lennon’s demo.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr decided to give “Now And Then” another try.  Paul McCartney added guitar, bass, keyboards, and vocals.  Ringo added drums and vocals.

(Ringo & Paul recording their new parts for the song)

They used guitar and vocals that George had recorded in 1995 (Paul’s slide guitar part is a salute to George’s style).  Producers Paul McCartney and Giles Martin added a string arrangement, and even a blend of background voices from the recordings of “Here, There And Everywhere”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Because”.  That means a bit of George Martin’s production is also present on the final Beatles single.

Was it all worth it?

Yes.  It’s great to hear John Lennon singing as the song begins.  His voice is almost as good as we know it, but not quite.  There’s great nostalgia hearing The Beatles on a new recording.  Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and co-producer Giles Martin have done an admirable job of taking a rough demo and making it a fully realized song.  It’s not among The Beatles best songs, but at this point we have to accept the reality that this is as close as we can get.

Update Nov. 10, 2023:  “Now And Then” went to #1 in England.  The Beatles have the record for having #1 songs over a span of 60 years!  The song hit #7 on the U.S. Hot 100.

John’s one-time girlfriend, May Pang, recently confirmed that John told her (in the mid ’70’s) that he wanted to work with Paul McCartney again.  That’s one interpretation of “Now And Then”.  Here’s part of the chorus:  “Now and then, I miss you.  Oh, now and then I want you to be there for me.”

In an interview with Variety, producer Giles Martin said about Paul McCartney… “I think he just misses John and he wants to work on a song with him.  It’s just as simple as that.”

The physical single was released on November 3rd, 2023 in various vinyl versions, and on cassette…bringing John’s recording full circle. The flip side is the new stereo remix of “Love Me Do”.  It was The Beatles’ first single in England, but a different version was a #1 hit in America.  The Now & Then clock on the back cover was purchased that way by George Harrison.  His wife Olivia added the photo of The Beatles when the decision was made to release the song as a single.

A 12-minute movie about the making of the recording debuted on YouTube on Wednesday, November 1st, 2023.  On Thursday, November 2nd, the audio of the single was released.  Then on Friday November 3rd, the music video for the song, directed by Peter Jackson, debuted (review below).

Update Nov. 1st, 2023:  Watched the 12-minute Now And Then – The Last Beatles Song (Short Film).  Besides being informative, it was emotional seeing John & George, but also fun.  That’s because it included cleverly edited video clips from across the years.  We get bits of the song, but we don’t get to hear the completed recording.  We do hear John’s voice, and it sounds very clear.  Here are a couple screen shots:

Update Nov. 3rd, 2023:  Right after it became available, my wife and I watched the music video for “Now And Then”.  As it ended, my wife just said “That was amazing!”.  The video mixes film from throughout The Beatles time together, also from the 1995 Anthology sessions when Paul, George and Ringo were originally working on the song, and adds recent footage of Paul and Ringo.

One problem with the video…for a serious song, Director Peter Jackson used too much film of John goofing around.  Other than that, it’s very impressive film-making, and a joy to see The Beatles together.

Here’s the link to the video on YouTube:

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr say this is “the last Beatles song”, but you gotta wonder if Artificial Intelligence technology could be used on other demos, song fragments, or even improving John’s voice on “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”.  John Lennon’s son, Sean, and George Harrison’s wife, Olivia, gave their approval for the “Now And Then” project.  Who knows what future projects could be approved by the heirs of John, Paul, George, & Ringo.

The Beatles…Red & Blue Albums Remixed

There’s good news, bad news, and half-good news.

The good news is there are new and expanded remixed stereo versions of the Red & Blue collections.

The bad news is the Rubber Soul remixed box set is delayed.

The half-good news is that half of the Rubber Soul remix (7 songs) can be found on the Red remix.

Because this year is the 50h Anniversary of the Red & Blue albums, Apple decided to issue expanded and remixed versions.  The release date was November 10th, 2023.

The Red Album is the main attraction for Beatles fans in that it’s filled with remixed stereo versions of songs that had poor stereo mixes, or even just monophonic versions.  In fact, the first 30 songs are brand new remixes.  Three classic songs The Beatles didn’t write (like “Twist And Shout”) are  included, the Revolver album is much better represented, and so is George Harrison.  Here are the song lists.  *Indicates added songs.

The Blue Album  has only six songs that hadn’t been remixed, but it also has nine songs that weren’t on the original release.  *Indicates added songs.

You can see the set ends with “Now And Then”.  It’s a new recording that was released on November 2nd, 2023.  “Now And Then” is from a 1977 demo by John Lennon.  Using new technology, they were able to extract and enhance John’s voice.  Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr added instrumental and vocal parts, and George Harrison’s guitar and background vocals came from an earlier attempt of the song at the time of the Anthologies in the ‘90’s.  Here’s the artwork for the single.

There are various versions of the single that can be ordered through The Beatles Apple Store online.

The song is also available to stream, or to buy digitally.  There’s a link to a review of the single and music video at the end of this article.  Update:  “Now And Then” went to #1 in the U.K., 54 years after their last British #1 in 1969.

Here are the various CD and vinyl album versions as shown on The Beatles site.  Some of the colored vinyl versions will only be available at that online store.  Photos can be enlarged with a touch or click.

(A sleeve is added if you buy the discs as a set.) [They sold out]

The song order for the vinyl versions is not completely in chronological order like the CD’s.  The first two vinyl albums in each set are exactly like the original releases, and the third albums contain the added songs.

Red Album:

Blue Album:

Looking at how well various albums are represented…there are 9 songs from the Rubber Soul recording sessions, 8 from the Revolver sessions, 8 from the White Album sessions, 7 from the Sgt. Pepper sessions, and 6 each from the Let It Be and Abbey Road sessions..

The Red & Blue albums are not really “Greatest Hits” collections (many of the songs were not singles), nor “Best Of” collections (there are other Beatles songs that are better than some of these).  But, the expanded versions give a good overview of The Beatles’ full career.

Review:  Here’s a link to my “Review & Perspective” of the remixed Red & Blue sets:

Extra:  For a review of the “Now And Then” single & video, click this link:

Fleetwood Mac Is Done

It’s not just a rumour, Fleetwood Mac is finished…according to Stevie Nicks.  Their Fleetwood Mac and Rumours albums from the mid ‘70’s are two of the most popular albums of all time, and every tour they played since then was very successful.

(Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, & Stevie Nicks in the 1970’s.)

This week, Stevie Nicks said it’s over, and that it actually ended when Christine McVie passed away (on November 30th, 2022).  Nicks says there’s no reason to get together without Christine.  The band continued to tour when McVie took an 18-year break from the group.  She returned in 2014, and the band toured into 2019.  Nicks says the band would miss all of the pop-style hits McVie wrote for the group.

Another unspoken reason Fleetwood Mac has ended is that the band is also without Lindsey Buckingham.  They were missing Buckingham on their last tour.  He had a falling out with the group in 2018, and was replaced by Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and Neil Finn of Crowded House.  Stevie Nicks recently toured with Billy Joel, and has continued touring solo.

The reason talk of Fleetwood Mac’s end came up is that Stevie Nicks was asked the question during the recent release of the “Stevie Doll”.  It’s a Barbie doll custom-made to look like Fleetwood Mac’s most popular member.

The doll is based on Nick’s appearance at the time of the Rumours album (1977).

Although the doll is not an exact image of Stevie Nicks, it does a decent job of representing her.

Stevie Nick’s fans must have been happy with it, because the doll sold out in one day.  It was $55 from Mattel, and the doll was seen online the next day for $160.  Who knows what a rabid fan might be willing to pay…probably not the $65,000 someone jokingly put on eBay.

Although there will be no new recordings or touring by Fleetwood Mac, it wouldn’t be surprising if their label finds a way to re-release their old recordings.  In fact, there was a recent release of an old concert.  The album title is Rumours Live.

The album is a performance from 1977 that was released on September 8th, 2023.  Maybe future releases will include an anthology of alternate studio versions and demos.  That might be a good one.