Yesterday…The Movie

What an idea!

What if no one in the world had ever heard of The Beatles or any of their songs…except for you.  That’s the premise of the new movie Yesterday.

Now suppose you were a pretty good guitar player & singer and had the entire Beatles Songbook to use as if you’d written those songs.  How popular could you become?  That’s what we’re going to find out in the movie.  Here’s the trailer:

Yesterday is a romantic comedy.  It appears to be in good hands, including British screenwriter Richard Curtis who is known for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually, and About Time.  Plus, it’s directed by Academy Award winner Danny Boyle.

The stars of the film are Himesh Patel (from the British TV series EastEnders), Lilly James (from Cinderella, many other movies & Downton Abbey), Kate McKennon (from Saturday Night Live), and Ed Sheeran (from many hit songs).

It’s interesting what Beatles songs they put in the trailer.  Featured are “Yesterday”, “Let It Be”, “Hey Jude”, “Something”,  and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.  That’s a good start on the best known song catalog in history.  Imagine how much the music rights cost!

Since this is a romantic comedy, we don’t want to take the premise too seriously, but it does make you think about why The Beatles remain so popular.  It’s the quality of their songs.  The Beatles’ haircuts, British accents, and Rock & Roll energy may have helped create Beatlemania, but it was their amazing songwriting that kept them popular, and keeps them musically relevant.

Yesterday is set to open June 28th.  The trailer certainly makes it look like fun.  We don’t know whether the main character, Jack, is in a coma dreaming, is in an alternate universe, or whatever else it might be, but the movie should provide some needed escapism from the real world.

Update:  There was no legal reason for The Beatles to approve the movie (except for song rights), but Ringo Starr has already seen “Yesterday”…according to the L.A. Times.

Linda Ronstadt…Live In Hollywood

Linda Ronstadt has released her first concert album, Live In Hollywood.  The concert took place nearly 40 years ago, and the master recording had been lost for decades.

It’s amazing the master tape was even found.  Music producer and friend John Boylan had been checking the internet for any unauthorized use of Linda Ronstadt recordings.  He came across an old poor quality video of a Linda Ronstadt concert that aired on HBO in 1980.  Boylan was interested in finding the master audio recording for possible release, but didn’t have any luck.  Boylan says he was attending his son’s hockey game and told another father, Craig Anderson, the story of the lost recordings.  Anderson is an audio engineer at Warner Brothers, and just a day later he called Boylan and told him he found the master tape.  It had been misfiled.  Boylan says the odds of finding the recordings through a chance meeting at a hockey game must be astronomical.

Linda Ronstadt selected 12 songs from that 1980 concert:

  1. I Can’t Let Go
  2. It’s So Easy
  3. Willin’
  4. Just One Look
  5. Blue Bayou
  6. Faithless Love
  7. Hurt So Bad
  8. Poor Poor Pitiful Me
  9. You’re No Good
  10. How Do I Make You
  11. Back In The U.S.A.
  12. Desperado (The wonderful encore I mentioned in a career-spanning article:  Linda Ronstadt…Queen Of Rock & Roll, which you can read on this site.)

We saw Linda Ronstadt in Omaha during that 1980 tour, and this concert from L.A. captures that time brilliantly.  The whole album is good, with her clear and powerful voice sounding the way we remember it.  The album has a nice flow of rocking moments and softer moments, and Ronstadt uses the appropriate touches of varying dynamics in each song.  It shows her great vocal ability wasn’t limited to the recording studio.

For the most part, the songs are performed like her original hits, but are refreshingly “stripped down” compared with the multi-layered studio versions.  Also, for “Blue Bayou” she sings the final verse and chorus in Spanish as a salute to her family’s roots in Tucson, Arizona….and “You’re No Good” is expanded with an extra guitar break that lets the band do some jamming.

What a band it is!  The lead guitarist is Danny Kortchmar, who also performed with James Taylor and Jackson Browne.  The other guitarist is Kenny Edwards, who worked with Ronstadt since they had the hit “Different Drum” with The Stone Poneys.  Bill Payne, of the band Little Feat, is on Keyboards (his band’s song “Willin'” is covered here).  Rounding out the band are some of L.A.’s finest musicians…Dan Dugmore on pedal steel guitar, Bob Glaub on bass, and Russ Kunkel on drums.  Backing vocals are by Wendy Waldman and Ronstadt’s manager and main record producer, Peter Asher (of Peter & Gordon fame).  Asher also adds percussion.

Linda Ronstadt’s popularity was amazing.  She did what no other woman, man or band had ever done…she was the first artist to ship an album Double-Platinum.

        (Our picture disc of Ronstadt’s Living In The U.S.A. album.)

The album was Living In The U.S.A., released about a year-and-a-half before this concert.  it was her 6th Platinum album in a row.  Her 7th was Mad Love, which was released in conjunction with this 1980 tour.  The Live In Hollywood album features three hits off Mad Love, “I Can’t Let Go”, “Hurt So Bad”, and the intensely rocking “How Do I Make You”.

(Our copies of Linda Ronstadt’s 2013 Simple Dreams autobiography and her 1999 4-CD Box Set.)

Linda Ronstadt was 33 when she recorded her live album.  Now she’s 72, has Parkinson’s Disease, and can no longer sing.  In a  touching interview on CBS, Ronstadt recently said…”I can sing in my brain”…but she greatly misses the physical feeling of actually singing.

It’s important that recordings like Live In Hollywood exist to remind the world Linda Ronstadt once possessed one of the greatest Rock and Pop voices of all time.

Buddy Holly…The Music Didn’t Die

Today, February 3rd, 2019 is the 60th anniversary of the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly (22), Richie Valens (17), and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (28) .  Because of the song “American Pie”, that tragic event is often referred to as “The day the music died”.

I don’t remember the news story from when it first broke.  I was 10 years old, and the news wasn’t everywhere like it is today.  The fact is, except for knowing “That’ll Be The Day” and “Peggy Sue”, I wasn’t very aware of how special Buddy Holly was until many years later.  That’s probably the way it was for most people.

(Buddy Holly and The Crickets…Joe Maudlin, bass & Jerry Allison, drums.)

Buddy Holly had his first hit “That’ll Be The Day” (#1) in 1957, followed that same year by “Peggy Sue” (#3) and “Oh Boy” #(10).   In 1958, he had 4 more Top-40 hits, with “Maybe Baby” being the only major hit at #17.  Richie Valens had the two-sided hit “La Bamba”/”Donna” (#2), and The Big Bopper (who was a radio DJ) had one major hit “Chantilly Lace” (#6).  He also wrote “Running Bear” for Johnny Preston, and it later became a #1 hit.

The importance of Buddy Holly revealed itself over the decades.  Musicians who were influenced by him recorded his songs.  The Beatles released “Words Of Love” on the Beatles For Sale album in 1964 (on Beatles VI in the U.S.), and had been performing the song live since 1958.  They also recorded “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” for the BBC in 1963.

           (John Lennon in his “Buddy Holly Glasses” in 1963.)

The Beatles name was even based on The Crickets.  John Lennon thought it was cool that “Cricket” had two meanings…the insect and the game.  He wasn’t aware that the game, Cricket, wasn’t well know in the U.S.  Of course hearing “Beatles” can bring to mind both the band and the bugs.  Paul McCartney is a major Buddy Holly fan, and he wisely bought the rights to all of Buddy Holly’s songs.

The biggest popularizer of Buddy Holly songs was Linda Ronstadt.  She got major airplay in the mid-seventies with three of his songs “That’ll Be The Day” (#11), “It’s So Easy” (#5), and a popular album track “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” (written for Holly by Paul Anka).

Holly’s “True Love Ways” was a #14 hit for Peter & Gordon in 1965.  The Bobby Fuller Four had a hit with “Love’s Made A Fool Of You” (#26) in 1966.  “Not Fade Away” has been played and recorded by numerous artists through the years, including The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead.  “Rave On” is another popular choice of Rock Bands.  “Everyday” has been recorded by many artists, including James Taylor.  His recording was #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1985.

Eric Clapton saw Buddy Holly in London in 1958, and he says seeing Holly on stage with a Fender Stratocaster guitar made him want to have a career in music.  Bob Dylan also saw Buddy Holly perform, and he says they looked each other directly in the eyes.  Dylan claims it affected his music.  Bruce Springsteen says he plays Buddy Holly songs every time before he goes on stage.  He said, “It keeps me honest”.

Buddy Holly’s influence shows up in other ways.  He added a rhythm guitar to The Crickets line-up, and two guitars, bass & drums became the blueprint for Rock bands.  He was also one of the first musicians to write, sing, arrange, and produce his own recordings.  He experimented with recording techniques, including double-recording his vocals so he sang harmony with himself.  He sounded a lot like The Everly Brothers.  Shortly before his tragic death, he was working with orchestral arrangements to broaden his sound.  All of this from a young man who was just 22, and whose successful recording career was only about 2-years long!

In just those two years, his impact was so great that he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as one of the first 10 artists.

February 3rd, 1959 wasn’t “The day the music died”.  Buddy Holly’s music continues to live on through all the artists he inspired, and the new artists they inspire.

Tom Petty…The Best Of Everything (Updated)

The estate of Tom Petty has released a major “Greatest Hits” collection.

The Best Of Everything is a 2-disc career-spanning set that came out March 1st, 2019.  It’s nicely priced on the low end of such collections.  You can see the set includes all his major hits and some of his most popular album cuts.  Out of the 38 songs, 21 are not on his previous Greatest Hits album.

Disc 1:

  1. Free Fallin’
  2. Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  3. You Wreck Me
  4. I Won’t Back Down
  5. Saving Grace
  6. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  7. Don’t Do Me Like That
  8. Listen To Her Heart
  9. Breakdown
  10. Walls (Circus)
  11. The Waiting
  12. Don’t Come Around Here No More
  13. Southern Accents
  14. Angel Dream (No. 2)
  15. Dreamville
  16. I Should Have Known It
  17. Refugee
  18. American Girl
  19. The Best Of Everything (Alt. Version)

Disc 2:

  1. Wildflowers
  2. Learning To Fly
  3. Here Comes My Girl
  4. The Last DJ
  5. I Need To Know
  6. Scare Easy
  7. You Got Lucky
  8. Runnin’ Down A Dream
  9. American Dream Plan B
  10. Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (w/ Stevie Nicks)
  11. Trailer
  12. Into The Great Wide Open
  13. Room At The Top
  14. Square One
  15. Jammin’ Me
  16. Even The Losers
  17. Hungry No More
  18. I Forgive It all
  19. For Real (unreleased song)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers sustained their career for 40 years, and Tom Petty’s songwriting was great all the way through.  You’ll notice the order of the songs is not chronological.  Probably the main reason is that the presence of Rock music on Radio declined over the years.  Tom Petty’s later songs got far less exposure than they deserved.  By mixing his songs from the last half of his career with his better known earlier songs, listeners are more likely to get to know the songs they may have missed.

As a collector of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ music since their first hit, there would only be a few changes I would make to the list (adding “It’s Good To Be King” and “Crystal River” in place of a couple other songs, and using the more stripped-down version of “Walls” came to mind), but that’s just personal choice, and minor at that.  The reality is that this will likely be the definitive collection, and Tom Petty’s family has done a good job…with help from Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.

Collectors of their albums know there are a lot more great songs by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, but this kind of “Greatest Hits” treatment is always a good idea to get the music to even more people.  It’s also a helpful guide for future fans in the decades to come.

I don’t take the cynical view that releases like these are “money grabs”.  Rather, I think they help keep alive the interest in musicians like Tom Petty…which is a good thing.

We miss Tom Petty, and it’s sad we’re no longer able to hear more of his songwriting and performing.  The set has one new song, “For Real”.  The lyrics tell us about his approach to music…almost like a note he left for us to find:

“I didn’t do it for no magazine.  Didn’t do it for no video.  Never did it for no CEO.  But I did it for real.   Would’ve done it for free.  I did it for me.  ‘Cause it was all that rang true.  I did it for real.  And I did it for you.”

We can still enjoy all that he did for us…including the music on this new The Best Of Everything collection.

Bonus Analysis:  Just for comparison, here’s what the same collection of songs would look like if they were placed in chronological order like many “Greatest Hits” albums.

Disc 1:

  1. Breakdown
  2. American Girl
  3. I Need To Know
  4. Listen To Her Heart
  5. Refugee
  6. Here Comes My Girl
  7. Even The Losers
  8. Don’t Do Me Like That
  9. The Waiting
  10. Stop Dragging My Heart Around
  11. You Got Lucky
  12. Don’t Come Around Here No More
  13. Southern Accents
  14. The Best Of Everything (Alt. Version)
  15. Jammin’ Me
  16. Free Fallin’
  17. I Won’t Back Down
  18. Runnin’ Down A Dream
  19. Into The Great Wide Open

The four songs on this Disc 1 not on his previous Greatest Hits album are…”Stop Dragging My Heart Around”, “Southern Accents”, “The Best Of Everything” & “Jammin’ Me”.

Disc 2:

  1. Learning To Fly
  2. Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  3. Wildflowers
  4. You Don’t know How It Feels
  5. You Wreck Me
  6. Walls (Circus)
  7. Angel Dream (No. 2)
  8. Room At The Top
  9. The Last DJ
  10. Dreamville
  11. Saving Grace
  12. Square One
  13. Scare Easy
  14. I Should Have Known It
  15. American Dream Plan B
  16. Trailer
  17. Hungry No More
  18. I Forgive It All
  19. For Real (Unreleased)

Only the first two songs on this Disc 2 were on his previous Greatest Hits album.  By the way, the one track that was on the Greatest Hits album, but missing here is “Something In The Air” (originally by Thunderclap Newman).

If you’ve collected Tom Petty’s studio albums and know the songs, you might prefer this order.

Tom Petty was particularly fond of the Wildflowers/She’s The One sessions, and had talked about doing a project based on that music.  There could be a release near November 1st, which would be the 25th anniversary of the 1994 album.

Update:  It’s sad to say, there’s a rift in the Petty family.  Tom Petty’s wife, Dana, was in charge of the two releases since Tom’s death…An American Treasure (mostly outtakes and alternate versions) and The Best Of Everything…with the help of Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.  Now, Tom’s daughters from a previous marriage, Adria and Amakim, are suing Dana.  They claim Dana was supposed to include them in all decisions.  Dana’s concerned the two of them would simply control everything with their two votes.  She says Tom wanted her in charge of his estate.  Hopefully, as Tom Petty sang…”It’ll all work out, eventually”.

The Everly Brothers

If you look up the word “harmony”, it might say…See The Everly Brothers.

(Don Everly [left] and Phil Everly)

Of course it should say…Listen to The Everly Brothers.  It would be hard to find a better example of two voices blending beautifully.  It’s said that family voices blend the best…and it also helps if you have singing talent, play guitars, and write songs.

The Everly Brothers’ parents were folk & country performers who lived at various times in Kentucky, Iowa, and Tennessee.  Don & Phil began singing with the family when Don was eight and Phil was six.  When they were in their teens, guitarist/producer Chet Atkins asked the duo to move to Nashville.  In 1957, when Don was 20 and Phil was 18 they had their first hit…”Bye Bye Love”.  Crossing-over between Pop and Country is not a new thing…the song was #2 on Billboard’s Top 40 chart, and #1 on the Country chart.

Just 4-months later, in the fall of 1957, “Wake Up Little Susie” topped both charts.  In April of 1958, “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, also made #1 on both charts.  Now that’s how you start a career.

Through 1962, The Everly Brothers scored 25 Top 40 hits, with these songs hitting the Top 10:  “Bird Dog” (#1), “Devoted To You” (#10), “Problems” (#2), “(‘Til) I Kissed You” (#4), “Let It Be Me” (#7), “Cathy’s Clown” (#1), “When Will I Be Loved” (#8), “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)” (#7), “Walk Right Back” (#7), “Ebony Eyes” (#8), “Crying In The Rain” (#6), and “That’s Old Fashioned” (#9).

Many of the Everly’s songs were written by the team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, but The Everly Brothers wrote some of their own songs, including “When Will I Be Loved”, “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)” and their multi-million-selling hit “Cathy’s Clown”.

(My Family’s 1961 copy of “Walk Right Back” & “Ebony Eyes”)

My two older sisters, Veronica & Janice, collected records by The Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, and other stars of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Ronnie and Jan were both good singers, and they had that “sibling blend” like The Everly Brothers.  I remember hearing them sing “Teen Angel” together, and it definitely sounded better than the hit version by Mark Dinning.  By the way, The Everly Brothers’ “Ebony Eyes”…like “Teen Angel” and “Last Kiss”…had that somewhat creepy “dead teenager” theme popular at that time.

The Everly Brothers had a major impact on other musicians.  The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Hollies, The Bee Gees, CSN&Y and many other musicians of the Sixties and Seventies have said that listening to Phil & Don Everly helped teach them how to sing harmony.

Artists also covered songs by The Everly Brothers.  Linda Ronstadt had a big hit with “When Will I Be Loved”, and James Taylor and Carly Simon had a hit with “Devoted To You”.  In 2007, The Everly Brothers song, “Gone Gone Gone” was the featured single for the Grammy winning album Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.  Many more Everly songs can be found as album tracks, including a personal favorite…Art Garfunkel and James Taylor doing “Crying In The Rain”.

As you can see, The Everly Brothers changed their hair after The British Invasion started in 1964 (the year “Gone Gone Gone” was a hit for them).  They never regained the popularity they had in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s.

Despite some personal problems and sibling conflicts, they did continue to (off-and-on) record and perform live, including a successful tour with Simon & Garfunkel in 2003. 

Simon & Garfunkel have always said The Everly Brothers were the biggest influence on their own career, so they were thrilled to perform with them.

Phil Everly passed away from lung disease at the age of 75 in 2014.  Don Everly says he thinks of his brother every day.

The importance of The Everly Brothers has always been recognized in the music community.  In 1986, they were in the very first group of 10 artists inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

Beatles Expert

After 55 years of being a Beatles fan, I finally had a chance to meet an expert…someone who has studied, investigated, and written books about The Beatles.

Oregon State University in Corvallis brought in Kenneth Womack.  His many books include…The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four, Long and Winding Roads, and two recent volumes on George Martin…Maximum Volume and Sound pictures.

(Kenneth Womack [left] was interviewed by Bob Santelli, who is OSU’s Director of Popular Music and Performing Arts.  He’s also the Executive Director Of The Grammy Museum In L.A.)

The interview format was excellent, with Bob Santelli asking questions that guided us through the Beatle era.  Kenneth Womack proved to be a living encyclopedia of Beatle information.  He knew just how to answer each question in an enlightening and entertaining way, without trying to stuff-in too many facts.

The audience was mostly fans who grew up with The Beatles, and about a dozen raised their hands when asked who had actually seen The Beatles in concert.  The above photo (of people sitting behind us) was taken before the event…those empty seats filled up.  You’ll notice there are some younger people mixed in, and in fact, it was my son, Paul, who suggested we attend the event.  It’s always great to see other generations appreciate Beatles music.  Kenneth Womack told the crowd he believes the songs of The Beatles will live on in the same way as those of Mozart.

Womack had a relaxed and sometimes humorous way of talking about The Beatles.  It was easy to see that he and Bob Santelli both love music.  They fit right in with the audience of Beatles fans.

Besides collecting every bit of music by The Beatles as their singles and albums came out, I started reading books about them with the release of their first biography by Hunter Davies in 1968.  In the above photo, it’s the top book with the yellow The Beatles on the binding.  The other books are ones I’ve kept.  Some of my Beatle books were passed on to other fans, and some are in digital form.  My favorite book is The Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn.

Lewisohn’s 1988 book chronicled all the recording sessions by The Beatles.  Because the book concentrates so much on how the music was created, it’s fascinating.  We can thank the author for guiding Apple to many of the tracks released on The Anthologies collections.

After the interview and Q&A at OSU, Kenneth Womack took the time to visit personally with a few of us who lingered.  I found out he too loves the new remix of The White Album.  He even pulled out his phone and shared some fascinating extra audio outtakes!  Now that’s a Beatles fan!

Received my copy of Womack’s The Beatles Encyclopedia. It’s filled with great detail and interesting information about everything Beatles.  You can read it like a regular book, or simply go to the Beatles songs or topics that interest you the most, because everything is in alphabetical order.

The Beatles…Remix History

It may seem like the remixing of Beatles music started recently, but it actually began over 20 years ago.

Although George Martin did a little bit of remixing on Rubber Soul for the 1987 CD release, it was really during the time of The Anthologies in 1995 & 1996 when the modern remixing of Beatles music started.

(I had collected the three promotional posters as each anthology was released from 1995 to 1996.  If you put the posters side by side, they formed one large art piece by Klaus Voormann.  I had the posters mounted together and framed, and eventually gave it to a record shop in Lincoln, NE when we moved to Eugene, OR in 2008.)

As Apple went through all the original recordings by The Beatles to find alternate versions and unreleased songs for The Anthology series, they also started manipulating those recordings.  Most of these “takes” of the songs had never really been mixed before, so it had to be done for this release.  I remember some fans being upset that the producers had “flown in” a guitar solo from another take to complete the anthology version of “One After 909”.  “How dare they mess with what The Beatles had done!”  In reality, The Anthologies were a welcome gift to Beatles fans.  We were able to hear the alternate versions writer Mark Lewisohn had praised in his excellent 1988 book The Beatles Recording Sessions.

An early take of “Here There And Everywhere” was not included on The Anthologies, but was an extra cut on a CD single.  The track is mostly a solo McCartney vocal, but for the final chorus of the song the beautiful background vocals were added in a stunning effect.  The text said the ending was an example of how Beatles songs could be remixed (instead of just remastered) in order to improve the sound quality and stereo mix.

The first big remixing project of familiar Beatles recordings was the release of the Yellow Submarine Songtrack in 1999.  This was a clever choice, because instead of remixing a well-loved album, this was a new collection of songs that had been in the movie, rather than the old soundtrack, which only had a limited number of these songs.  So how did it come out?  The results were, well…mixed.  Some of the songs, particularly “Eleanor Rigby”, “Yellow Submarine” and “Nowhere Man” were the best-sounding versions ever.  The songs from Sgt. Pepper were less successful, probably because they are more complex recordings.  Overall, engineer Peter Cobbin and his staff did an admirable job on a risky project.  It was well received enough to allow for future remixing.

Although it wasn’t really a remixing of a Beatles album, George Martin and his son Giles used Beatles songs in unusual mashup mixes to create a soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s Love show in 2006.

(The 2015 CD of The Beatles 1 remix, with accompanying video DVD.)

The next major project was also a collection of songs, The Beatles 1.  The original release of the album was in 2000, and it’s one of the best selling albums ever.  In 2015, Producer Giles Martin and Engineer Sam Okell released their remixed version.  Luckily for Apple, the reviews for these new mixes were widely positive.  That was encouragement to green-light more projects.

Then came the riskiest project of all…the remixing of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 2017.  The beloved album was painstakingly remixed by Giles Martin.  It was almost unanimously praised.  There’s an article dedicated to it on this site.

And now we have the new remix of The White Album.  There’s a full review of it on this site, but the short review is that it sounds amazing.  It seems the simpler arrangements on The White Album (in comparison to Sgt. Pepper) allowed Giles Martin to do an even more impressive remix.

What’s next?

Giles Martin answered the “What’s next?” question recently by saying we should take some time to enjoy The White Album while he works on a project for Elton John.  When an interviewer mentioned Abbey Road, it was interesting that Martin suggested Let It Be might be next since it was recorded first.  Of course if they keep with the 50th anniversary of the release dates, 2019 would be the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road, and 2020 the anniversary of Let It Be.

It’s obvious the albums that could benefit most from remixing are the older albums…Rubber Soul and Revolver.  The marketers wouldn’t like leaving the 50th anniversary connection behind, but It would be more interesting to hear those two albums remixed first.

No one could have predicted we’d be looking forward to new mixes of Beatles albums more than 50 years later.

Postscript:  Those of us who were there at the beginning of Beatlemania learned to love their music while listening to small transistor radios and on car radios that had one low-quality speaker in the middle of the dash.  If you played the new remixes through those devices (or today’s phone speakers), they would sound just like the originals.

There should be no backlash against remixes.  People can always listen to their own original mixes anyway.  Giles Martin has done a great job of recreating the songs the way we know them…only with better sound quality.  When we listen on good audio equipment, it’s more like what The Beatles themselves heard in the studio.

The Beatles…White Album Remix

It was 50 years ago (1968) when I bought my first copy of The White Album on the day it was released.  I went through at least two vinyl copies, the original CD release in 1987, the remastered CD’s in 2009, and now I bought the new 2018 Remix (Deluxe Version) on the day it was released.

This 3 CD version is new, in that all of the songs have been completely remixed from the original studio tapes.  Of course the original production was by George Martin, and this remix was done by his son Giles.

According to Giles Martin (shown above with his dad), the main purpose of remixing The Beatles albums is to improve the sound so that the recordings don’t seem dated when played beside more recent recordings.  He feels it also increases the possibility that future generations will enjoy the recordings.

Giles does a great job with the remixes.  Basically, he  centers the lead vocals and balances the instruments into a good stereo mix.  He also provides a greater fullness by reducing the compression that is on the original mixes.  Plus, he uses the original recordings before they were “bounced down” to other tapes to make room for more instruments.  It all gives the recordings a cleaner sound that allows us to hear the voices and instruments with new clarity.  These new mixes don’t take away from the original visions for the songs, and of course they’ve been approved by Paul McCartney  & Ringo Starr.  In fact, in a new Rolling Stone interview, Ringo says with the clearer mix “…you can really hear the drums”.  He joked…”I have to pay Giles extra for that.”

The other addition to the “Deluxe” album is a third disc filled with demo versions of the songs.  These are the rehearsal sessions that were recorded at George Harrison’s house in Esher prior to taking all these songs into the Abbey Road Studio.  Most of the songs for The Beatles’ only double album were written while John, Paul, George & Ringo were on a break, studying with the Maharishi in India.  The three main songwriters came back bursting with new tunes, and appeared anxious to share them.

The “Esher Demos”, as these recordings are called, have been bootlegged for years, but this is the best they’ve ever sounded.  For the most part, the demos (27 of them) are as if The Beatles are sitting around with acoustic guitars in an “unplugged” performance.  The difference is that near the end of many of the demos, The Beatles do something silly, or out of character with the song, probably because they haven’t yet developed an ending.  So what you have are raw versions that are much simpler than the finished product, and they certainly could never replace the versions we know.  Still, it’s an interesting glimpse into how the songs were written, and there’s an appeal to the casual intimacy of the recordings.  It sounds like The Beatles are having fun.   It also shows that The Beatles had already decided how to approach each of these songs, because there are few drastic differences between these recordings, and the final interpretations.

Giles Martin says even though the sessions for The White Album are infamous for The Beatles being at odds with one another, the tape recordings reveal a well-functioning band.  One of the reasons they were going off on their own to separate studios, was because they were recording so many songs.  There are 30 tracks on the double album…which is more than twice as many as their regular albums.  They had even more songs that didn’t make the final cut.

So, the question is…do you need to buy this 3-disc “Deluxe” set.  No, you can get by with the 2009 remastering that gives you the best copies of the recordings exactly as we have known them for these five decades.  However, if you want to listen to these songs with new depth and clarity of sound, they’re more than worth the $24 price tag.  As a bonus, you’ll get the demos (and people used to pay $24 just for the demo bootlegs).  The more I listen to The White Album remix, the more I realize it’s a major improvement…a real listening pleasure!  Anyone with a good sound system should treat themselves to the remix.

By the way, there  are a few people who have decided to hate remixes of Beatles songs.  There’s no reason for that, because they can simply listen to whatever mix they prefer, and in whatever format they prefer.  The remixes do them no harm.  Any future listeners will still hear the spirit and genius of The Beatles through the remixes.

There’s also a “Super Deluxe” set for fans who want to dig even deeper into the album.  It costs $139 on Amazon, and includes a 164 page book that details more of the recording process.  The biggest draw is that the set includes 50 alternate recording studio takes.  If you just want the digital downloads, the Super Deluxe set is $70 on iTunes.

The alternate recording takes are fascinating to listen to, but for the most part, they simply show how much better the final recordings are.  It’s hard to listen to these without subconsciously hearing all the missing instruments, harmonies, and other details of the final recordings.

The alternate version that’s attracting the most attention is Take 10 of “Good Night”.  It’s a song written by John Lennon, with the lead sung by Ringo Starr.  This version includes the other Beatles supporting Ringo’s vocal with harmony parts, and a nice acoustic guitar part by Lennon (that was actually from Take 5).  The other versions that drew my attention the most were the instrumental backings for “Back In The U.S.S.R.” and “Revolution”.  They accent how rocking those songs are.  You hear the really crunchy distortion of the guitars on “Revolution”.  Besides singing lead, Paul McCartney played drums,bass and lead guitar on “Back In The U.S.S.R.”  John and George also played multiple instruments.  This was while Ringo was on break from the band, but he soon returned.

Last year, I bought the “Super Deluxe” version of Sgt. Pepper, but found that I don’t really listen to the alternate versions very much.  So, for The White Album, I just bought the $24 “Deluxe” set, and then bought my favorite alternate takes from the iTunes version of the “Super Deluxe” download.

Giles Martin will very likely be doing more remixing of Beatles albums, and we’ll probably buy them.

Actually, I’m so impressed with his work, I know I’ll buy them.

Bonus:  The White Album has been on iTunes for many years now, so I was curious how those 30 songs rank with buyers.  Here they are in order of popularity.

  1. Blackbird
  2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  3. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
  4. Birthday
  5. Dear Prudence
  6. Back In The U.S.S.R.
  7. Rocky Raccoon
  8. I Will
  9. Helter Skelter
  10. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  11. Julia
  12. Revolution 1
  13. Martha My Dear
  14. I’m So Tired
  15. Mother Nature’s Son
  16. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
  17. Glass Onion
  18. Cry Baby Cry
  19. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
  20.  Sexy Sadie
  21. Yer Blues
  22.  Good Night
  23.  Honey Pie
  24.  Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
  25.  Revolution #9
  26.  Don’t Pass Me By
  27.  Savoy Truffle
  28.  Long Long Long
  29.  Piggies
  30.  Wild Honey Pie

A quick analysis shows 7 of the top 10 songs are by Paul McCartney.  George’s great song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is #2, but his other three songs are at the bottom of the list, with only the short not-really-a-song “Wild Honey Pie” lower.  While not exact science, I think we can agree that the public’s top 15 songs would make a much better single album than the bottom 15.

The White Album is the one where it became very obvious which Beatle had written each song.  There was also less co-writing by John and Paul.  Still, the Beatles stayed together, and there was a lot of great music to come!

The Beatles…Let It Be (Updated 2019)

There’s been talk recently that a new movie version of Let It Be may be edited together.  (Update:  Yes!  It was announced on January 30th, 2019.  More info on that farther below.)  But first, 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 group 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.  Further confusion with recording takes vs filming takes 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.

(Apparently, things weren’t going well at this moment.)

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”, “I Me Mine”, 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.

As can be seen in the film, 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.  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…

My wife and I 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:  It was announced on January 30th, 2019 (the 50th anniversary of the famous rooftop concert) that Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson will be putting together a Beatles documentary.  The news release said he will be using in-studio film from January of 1969.  This would be the 56 hours of Let It Be footage.  Here’s a statement from Jackson where he says the footage is much more upbeat than the general feeling of the Let It Be movie:

”I was relieved to discover the reality is very different to the myth.  After reviewing all the footage and audio that Michael Linsey-Hogg shot 18 months before they broke up, it’s simply an amazing historical treasure trove.  Sure, there’s moments of drama, but none of the discord this project has long been associated with.  Watching John, Paul, George and Ringo work together, creating now-classic songs from scratch, is not only fascinating, it’s funny, uplifting and surprisingly intimate.  I’m thrilled and honored to have been entrusted with this remarkable footage.  Making this movie will be a sheer joy.”

The film footage will be restored to a pristine condition, and the completed project will likely be released in 2020, which is the 50th anniversary of the original movie.

Interestingly, the original version of the Let It Be movie will also be made available for streaming after the release of this new documentary.  It wouldn’t be surprising if the new movie is called Get Back, but maybe it should be called The Long And Winding Road.  It seems like that was the path it took.

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.