Author Paul Zollo did extensive interviews with Tom Petty, including discussing almost all of his songs, and the results are fascinating. I strongly recommend the recently updated book to all Tom Petty fans. There is so much revealed, and it was particularly interesting to hear about Tom’s relationship with George Harrison.
Tom said he originally saw George Harrison and Ringo Starr in 1974, when they visited Leon Russell’s studio. It was right after Tom and his band began practicing there for their first album. It wasn’t until the next decade, when Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were in England with Bob Dylan in 1987, that Tom actually met George Harrison.
This was a really big deal for Tom. He said seeing The Beatles during their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 was when he wanted to form a band. But by the time he actually met George Harrison, his own experience with fans informed him to not act like one with George.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, with Tom describing how it was to meet George Harrison:
“The Hindus think that when you meet someone and you feel really close to them immediately, that maybe you knew them in a past life. And that was how it was with George. We instantly became very close. And I remember him saying to me, ‘You know I’m not going to let you out of my life now’. We really got along well. And shared a sense of humor. And we became very close friends.”
Petty said The Heartbreakers and Bob Dylan played several more nights in London. After one of the shows, they hung out with George, Ringo, former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, and their wives. It was a day later, on Tom Petty’s birthday (October 20th), that George gave Tom a cassette with his just completed album, Cloud Nine, and asked him to “Let me know if you like it.”
The album was produced by The Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, and of course Tom loved it. When it was released later in 1987 (November), it went Platinum and had two hit singles, “Got My Mind Set On You” (#1 on the Hot 100) and “When We Was Fab” (#2 on the Rock chart).
Tom Petty’s meeting with George Harrison also led him to a friendship with Jeff Lynne. In fact, Tom happened to spot Jeff while they were both driving in L.A. traffic one day. As it turns out, Jeff Lynne had moved into a house not far from where Tom lived. The two got together and eventually Jeff Lynne produced Tom’s most successful album, Full Moon Fever. Jeff even co-wrote “Free Fallin’”, “I Won’t Back Down”, and “Runnin’ Down A Dream”.
Shortly after that (still in 1987), there was another chance meeting. This time, Tom and his daughter, Adria, we’re out Christmas shopping and decided to stop at a restaurant. After they we’re seated, the waiter told Tom that someone in the restaurant had asked to see him. Tom and Adria were escorted to a room and found George Harrison and Jeff Lynne. George had just been asking Jeff for Tom’s number, because he wanted to visit with him. George followed Tom to his house. They hung out all afternoon, laughing and playing guitars.
The next day was Christmas Eve, and George returned with his wife Olivia and son Dhani. After that, the two families made it a tradition to spend Christmas together whenever possible.
All of these friendships…Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne led to The Traveling Wilburys in 1988.
Of course Roy Orbison was added because Jeff Lynne was producing an album for him at that time, and also because all of them were Roy Orbison fans. Tom and Jeff even wrote two songs with Roy…”You Got It” and “California Blue”…the two best songs on Roy’s album.
Tom Petty says George Harrison’s reputation as “The Quiet Beatle” wasn’t how he really was. Petty said…”He was so funny. It’s hard to explain. He was the funniest guy I ever met.”
“Such a keen sense of humor, a lot of fun! He was a wise person, and really wanted to know the meaning of it all, but he was light-hearted.”
That’s just an extremely small sample of Paul Zollo’s book. It’s filled with Tom’s very forthcoming comments. The above picture of Tom was taken by the author as Tom exited the stage at his last concert, September 25th, 2017…exactly one week before he died.
We miss both Tom Petty and George Harrison, two great friends who enriched our lives with timeless music.
Flaming Pie was originally released in 1997, and is now remastered with extra tracks in 2020.
Here’s the original 1997 CD along side the new Remaster, which has a cardboard cover like the vinyl album I also bought in 1997. Over the years, I’ve purchased nearly all of McCartney’s albums, and Flaming Pie is my second favorite after Band On The Run. There are two main reasons I like Flaming Pie so much…”Calico Skies” and “Somedays”.
McCartney says in the liner notes that this album was recorded after he, George, and Ringo had worked on The Beatles Anthology albums and videos. He allowed himself to incorporate some of The Beatles’ style into Flaming Pie. “Calico Skies” & “Somedays” would have sounded good on Beatles albums. “Beautiful Night” (with Ringo), “The World Tonight”, and a few other cuts, would probably have fit in too.
Although a more extensive box set is available, I bought the two-disc version. The second disc contains 21 cuts that are mostly home demos and early run-throughs. As interesting as it is to hear Paul’s early efforts, the home recordings seem like Paul was just trying to get the basic songs on tape, and he wasn’t singing like he expected anyone to ever hear them. They sound like they were recorded with a portable tape recorder, and one of the songs even has a phone ringing loudly in the background.
The bottom line is: The album itself is worth buying if you don’t have it, but the 1997 CD sounds just as good as the remastered album, and the extra disc has no cuts that are major additions. I also didn’t find any “must have” tracks when I listened to the box set on Apple Music.
Let’s look at the quality of the original album itself.
Paul recruited some talented people to help him. George Martin did some production and orchestral arranging. Jeff Lynne helped produce some tracks and added vocals, guitar and more. Steve Miller added some lead guitar & vocals, and co-wrote a song. Ringo Starr provided some drumming and backing vocals. Linda McCartney added harmony vocals, and their son James has a featured guitar part.
Album buyers know there are extremely few albums that are all good. For many decades I’ve put onto tape, and then playlists, the good songs from each album. Here’s my playlist for Flaming Pie:
The World Tonight
Heaven On A Sunday
Used To Be Bad (with Steve Miller)
If You Wanna
Beautiful Night (with Ringo Starr)
It’s rare that we ever get ten songs to enjoy from one album. “Somedays” and “Beautiful Night” feature orchestrations by George Martin, and are very Beatle-sounding. Upon release of the album, Paul McCartney mentioned in an interview that “Calico Skies” ranks with his best songs. It’s mostly about his love for Linda, who was dying of cancer at the time. “Little Willow” is a beautifully gentle song that Paul wrote in tribute to his friend (and Ringo’s ex-wife) Maureen, who was also a cancer victim. “Used To Be Bad” is a solid blues duet with Steve Miller, who’s also on “If You Wanna”. “Heaven On A Sunday” features Linda and James. The two singles are “The World Tonight” and “Young Boy”. The album and this playlist conclude with a slight but fun little tune, “Great Day”.
The original album was hurt by starting with one of the weakest tracks, “The Song We Were Singing”. Sure it’s a song about John & Paul, and we want to like it, but it doesn’t quite work. Unfortunately, it created a poor first impression for an album with a lot of good songs.
Flaming Pie came out 23 years ago, and 27 years after The Beatles split. The album is one of the highlights of Paul McCartney’s 50 years of solo work.
This will be the definitive documentary about the music that came from the artists living in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon from 1965 to 1975.
The two-part documentary is available to stream on Epix, and includes all the artists listed on the above poster and more. We see an amazing collection of old film and photos, plus we hear old and new interviews. The key decision in the making of this film is that the artists are only seen as they were back in the sixties and seventies. That’s because only the audio is used from the newer interviews. This allows viewers to be taken back in time without thinking about how the stars have aged.
The director of the film is Alison Ellwood, shown above with the Eagles in 2013 when she did the acclaimed “History Of The Eagles” documentary. Ellwood and her Laurel Canyon staff deserve praise for finding all of the film and photos from about half-a-century ago, and then determining how to assemble them into a cohesive narrative. The documentary is only semi-chronological, with artists interwoven throughout. That way we don’t just get one artist followed by another. In fact, it’s similar to the way these artists were interacting musically as they visited each other‘s houses in Laurel Canyon.
Here we see a group of musicians, including Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliot (who was often the hostess for such gatherings).
Photographer Henry Diltz says (visitor from England) Eric Clapton was fascinated by the guitar tunings and style of chord playing by Joni Mitchell.
Diltz provided most of the historic photos, and was friends with nearly all of the artists. He narrated portions of the film, and was shown at his current age. Henry Diltz, who was at one time a folk musician, did the album cover photography for a lot of the Laurel Canyon artists, including The Doors, Crosby Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and many more. Here’s a photo he took of Joni Mitchell.
It was from outside her home in the canyon, and was taken as Diltz and a friend had just approached the house.
Diltz also took this shot of Joni with Graham Nash. Nash told the story of how he wrote “Our House” when the two lived together. It was the same time Mitchell was writing her albums Ladies Of The Canyon and Blue.
Additional historic photos were by Nurit Wilde, who is shown here on the 1960’s set of The Monkees TV show. Like Henry Diltz, she narrated parts of the film and was shown at her current age. She mentioned that she ran the lights and sound for Buffalo Springfield at the Whisky A Go Go club.
At one time Stephen Stills and Peter Tork were roommates. Stills had been considered for The Monkees, but when he was told his crooked teeth disqualified him, he suggested Peter audition.
Included in the film were the stories of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” about demonstrations in the 1960’s, and CSN&Y’s “Ohio” about how four Kent State students were shot while protesting the Vietnam War in 1970. The film doesn’t shy away from other bad news of the time, such as the Manson murders, but mostly the documentary concentrates on the artists.
Besides the more expected artists, Laurel Canyon provided significant coverage of other artists like The Doors (shown above), Love, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Little Feat, Alice Cooper, The Turtles, The Monkees, Bonnie Raitt, and Frank Zappa. It didn’t matter what type of music you made, you were accepted by the Laurel Canyon family of musicians.
The documentary had some excellent rare film footage of Linda Ronstadt. She told the story of how boyfriend J.D. Souther wrote “Faithless Love”. Linda quipped that she and J.D. would have a fight, he’d go write a song about it, and she’d record it.
Most people know that the Eagles formed after Don Henley and Glenn Frey had backed Ronstadt on tour. They added former Flying Burrito guitarist Bernie Leadon, shown on the left in the above photo, and Poco bassist Randy Meisner, who is next to Bernie. Both had played in Ronstadt’s band earlier, and she recommended them to complete the original Eagles.
(Couldn’t leave out this cool shot of Glenn Frey & old Chevy.)
Last year’s enjoyable documentary Echo In The Canyon covered 1965 through 1968. The even better Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time covers an extra seven years. Director Alison Ellwood says she had wanted to make the film for twenty years, and the project was started before Echo. She made it a point not to see that film, so it wouldn’t affect her work on Laurel Canyon.
The documentary starts in 1965 with the music of The Byrds and The Turtles, and goes through 1975 when the Eagles really take off prior to their peak of Hotel California. It’s impressive how much information is included about all the artists, and yet the just over two-and-a-half-hour film never lags or seems too long.
Laurel Canyon is not just a cool film for Baby Boomers. It’s a great historic record of an almost mythical place and time.
Extra: For even greater depth, you can also seek out individual documentaries, such as CSNY: Fifty by Four, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice, The Doors: When You’re Strange, Jackson Browne: Going Home, History Of The Eagles, etc. Most streaming services have a music documentary category, and some are on YouTube.
Everyone knows the 1970’s were great years for singer-songwriters, but until I put together some playlists from that decade, I didn’t realize how massive the list of artists actually is. This is not so much an article, as it is a large list to take us back to that golden time. For each name listed, there are a couple of their 70’s song titles for reference. You’ll probably remember most of these songs, and be reminded of more great songs by many of these artists.
James Taylor…Fire And Rain, Shower The People
Jackson Browne…Doctor My Eyes, Running On Empty
Bob Dylan…Tangled Up In Blue, If Not For You
Cat Stevens…Wild World, Father & Son
John Denver…Rocky Mountain High, Annie’s Song
Bill Withers…Lean On Me, Ain’t No Sunshine
Karla Bonoff…Someone To Lay Down Beside Me, Lose Again
Elton John…Your Song, Rocket Man
Harry Nilsson…Coconut, Without Her
Carly Simon…You’re So Vain, Anticipation
Carole King…It’s Too Late, You’ve Got A Friend
Randy Newman…Sail Away, Mama Told Me Not To Come
John Lennon…Imagine, Instant Karma
Stephen Stills…Love The One You’re With, Change Partners
Paul Simon…American Tune, Kodachrome
Dan Fogelberg…Longer, Leader Of The Band
Leon Russell…Tight Rope, This Masquerade
Stevie Wonder…Superstition, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
Gordon Lightfoot…Sundown, Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald
Joni Mitchell…Big Yellow Taxi, Help Me
Billy Joel…Piano Man, Just The Way You Are
Neil Young…Heart Of Gold, After The Gold Rush
Rod Stewart…Maggie May, You Wear It Well
Van Morrison…Domino, Moondance
Jim Croce…You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, Time In A Bottle
Gerry Rafferty…Baker Street, Right Down The Line
Neil Diamond…Sweet Caroline, Song Sung Blue
Kris Kristofferson…Me & Bobby McGee, Loving Her Was Easier
Harry Chapin…Taxi, Cats In The Cradle
Dave Mason…We Just Disagree, Feelin’ Alright?
John Sebastian…Welcome Back, Stories We Could Tell
Jimmy Buffett…Margaritaville, Come Monday
J.D. Souther…You’re Only Lonely, Faithless Love
Paul McCartney…Maybe I’m Amazed, Band On The Run
J.J. Cale…After Midnight, Cocaine
Eric Clapton…Wonderful Tonight, Layla
George Harrison…My Sweet Lord, What Is Life
John Fogerty…Centerfield, The Old Man Down The Road
Jonathan Edwards…Sunshine (Go Away Today), Sometimes
Ringo Starr…It Don’t Come Easy, Photograph
Joan Baez…Diamonds & Rust, Winds Of The Old Days
John Prine…Angel From Montgomery, Hello In There
Graham Nash…(Please Come To) Chicago, Simple Man
The above three are really singer-songwriters who just happened to have their own backing bands.
Tom Petty…Breakdown, Refugee
Bob Seger…Night Moves, Turn The Page
Bruce Springsteen…Born To Run, Thunder Road
It’s not a complete list of artists (the names are only from my collection), but it gives an idea of the abundance of singer-songwriters in the 1970’s. You can find individual articles on many of these artists on this site.
Bonus: To round out the information on the decade…more great songwriters could be found in 70’s bands.
Led Zeppelin, Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Van Halen, Pink Floyd, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, The Allman Brothers Band, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Doobie Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chicago, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, America, Loggins & Messina, Supertramp, Steely Dan, Boston, Steve Miller Band, Foreigner, The Moody Blues, Heart, The Guess Who, Kiss, Deep Purple, Dire Straits, Yes, and more.
Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.
There are really only four serious candidates for the title of “Fifth Beatle”. It’s a term that has been used to describe who was the next most important person in the career of the four Beatles.
The first candidate is Stuart Sutcliffe. He was literally the fifth Beatle when he played bass with the original four Beatles, including during their time in Hamburg, Germany. He mainly joined the group because of his friendship with John Lennon after they met in Art School. Stuart left The Beatles in July of 1961 to remain in Germany to study art. Tragically, he died of a brain aneurysm in 1962.
The second candidate is Pete Best. He was the original drummer for the band, but was replaced by Ringo Starr just before The Beatles began their rise to fame in late 1962. He may seem like the unluckiest guy ever, but he did eventually become a millionaire from royalties after The Beatles included some of their earliest recordings on their Anthology series in the 1990’s.
Here’s the full line-up in Germany:
L-to-R: Pete Best, George, John, Paul, Stuart Sutcliffe
Next is Brian Epstein. He’s the record store owner who came to manage The Beatles after seeing them perform at The Cavern Club in Liverpool. Brian was monumental in helping The Beatles get a recording contract and guiding their career through touring and appearances throughout the world. He died of an accidental drug overdose in 1967. The Beatles sorely missed his guidance in the following years.
The final candidate is George Martin. He very wisely signed The Beatles to a recording contract at EMI when they had been turned down by other labels. He then guided them through the most astonishing recording career in history.
We can eliminate Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best as candidates. Even though they were significant in Beatles’ history, their impact on the group was nowhere near the importance of Brian Epstein and George Martin.
Without Brian Epstein, The Beatles might not have even stayed together or had a recording career. But, once they started recording, the most important person in their career was George Martin.
The real legacy of The Beatles can be found in all the studio recordings the four of them did from 1962 through 1969. (The only session in 1970 was just Paul, George and Ringo working on “I Me Mine” in January of that year.) Almost their entire catalogue was produced by George Martin.
George helped critique and encourage the early songwriting of Lennon and McCartney. He was a musician himself and performed on many Beatles recordings…often on keyboards. Of course he also wrote beautiful orchestral arrangements and smaller string and horn accompaniments that were so important to Beatles songs.
No one else worked as closely and as long with The Beatles, and no one helped them realize their musical visions like George Martin.
He earned his place in their history, and is the person most qualified to be called The Fifth Beatle.
In America, we didn’t know the high quality of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and Help! albums. The soundtrack albums in the U.S. only had 8 and 7 Beatle songs respectively, compared with 13 and 14 songs each in England. Instead, the American albums had instrumental “filler” from the movies.
If you listen to the British versions, you realize the quality of these albums is a lot closer to Rubber Soul than we would have originally thought. A Hard Day’s Night (July 10th, 1964) was the first Beatles album to feature all original songs…all written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The first seven songs (side one of the record) are all from the movie, and the quality is extremely high. There are two #1 hits, “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “A Hard Day’s Night”…two of The Beatle’s best ballads, “And I Love Her” and “If I Fell”…two more good rockers, “I Should Have Known Better” and “Tell Me Why”…plus a song written for George, “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”. No filler at all.
A defense for Capitol Records is that United Artists had a contract for the A Hard Day’s Night movie soundtrack, but that doesn’t explain why Capitol did the same thing with Help! in August of 1965.
I bought the American versions of these albums as they came out, as well as all the other Beatles albums, so I’ve heard these songs thousands of times. When I listened to the British version of Help! recently, it struck me how many really good songs are on that album.
On side one, John Lennon provided four quality songs… two #1 hits, “Help” and “Ticket To Ride”, plus the Dylan-like “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and “You’re Going To Lose That Girl”. Paul’s songs are the melodic “The Night Before” and “Another Girl”…and George contributed “I Need You”. That’s a strong side.
None of the songs on side two were on the American version. Capitol again scattered the songs across other albums. That includes a third #1 hit, the most-recorded song of all time, “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney, and another fan favorite of his “I’ve Just Seen A Face”, which opened the American version of Rubber Soul. The opening of side two of that album also used a song from Help!, “It’s Only Love”. The George Harrison song “You Like Me Too Much”, and Lennon & McCartney’s “Tell Me What You See” finish off the 12 songs written by The Beatles.
Ringo’s version of “Act Naturally” by Buck Owens, and John’s take on the old-fashioned rocker, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, finalize the album’s songs. If Capitol had simply left off those two non-originals (making it 12 songs like most American albums), they would have had a Beatles album approaching the quality of Rubber Soul. Help! would also be thought of more highly by American fans. It’s the first Beatles album with three #1 hits. Let It Be also has three. They could have had more big hits on their albums, but many of their #1 singles were not included on their regular albums.
The Beatles spent 1964 and 1965 touring the world, writing songs whenever they could, and recording four albums…A Hard Days Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, and Rubber Soul. Oh, and they starred in two movies. Those years were hectic for John, Paul, George & Ringo.
Odd fact: On the original vinyl stereo album of A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles songs were all in mono. Only the instrumental tracks were stereo. I took my album back to the store and just bought the cheaper mono version.
The Beatles had three other “Movie Albums”. The Yellow Submarine animated film has a newer Songtrack that is far better than the original soundtrack. The Magical Mystery Tour TV special has a really good album, because Capitol added some previously released hit singles. The Let It Be film is being released in a new form August 27th, 2021. It will have a newly remixed soundtrack, and is titled The Beatles: Get Back.
The films The Beatles made were always because of, and secondary to, their music. United Artists admitted they were less interested in the movie A Hard Day’s Night than in getting the soundtrack. Of course they had no way of knowing the movie would become a classic.
And, for nearly two decades, Americans had no way of knowing how good A Hard Day’s Night and Help! were, because we’d formed our opinions by only hearing half of the albums.
Although songs by The Buckinghams have been popular for decades, all their hits are from just one amazing year!
The world was introduced to The Buckinghams with their #1 single “Kind Of A Drag”. It was on the U.S.A. Records label from Chicago, just like the band. The single became #1 on February 18th, 1967, and stayed there for two weeks. How did this big hit come about?
The band had been called The Pulsations, but when they were regularly appearing on a local Chicago TV show, the band was asked to change their name to something that fit in better with the British Invasion. From a list of possibilities, the band chose The Buckinghams. The group felt there was still a connection with Chicago, because of the city’s Buckingham Fountain.
“Kind Of A Drag” was written by Jim Holvay, who was in another Chicago band, The Mob. He didn’t think the song was right for his group, so he gave it to The Buckinghams. Although the band didn’t include any horn players, arranger Frank Tesinsky used horns to help give the song a fresh sound.
And then the story gets weird. After the U.S.A. label released the single, and before the song broke big time, the label dropped The Buckinghams! It may be the only time in history when a band with a #1 hit was unsigned to a label, and had also been dropped by their manager. What next?
Drummer John Poulos had a friend, who had a cousin, who was working for Chad & Jeremy…James William Guercio. The Buckinghams met with Guercio (who was also from Chicago), and signed a management agreement with him. Guercio then had the pleasure of pitching a band with a #1 hit, and Columbia signed them.
The new manager/producer selected another song by Jim Holvay (and co-writer Gary Beisbier)… “Don’t You Care”. The song was their second hit, going to #6 in April of ‘67.
The Buckinghams’ first Columbia album is Time And Charges. It includes their third big hit of the year, “Mercy Mercy Mercy” (#5). I had purchased the single “Kind Of A Drag”, and then bought all of their albums as they were released. My band also learned their hits as they came out. I love the horn arrangements and the voice of lead singer Dennis Tufano.
Time And Charges has a very original arrangement of The Beatles song “I’ll Be Back”, and Tufano’s singing really makes it work. It’s worth checking out.
Besides lead singer Dennis Tufano and drummer John Poulo, the 1967 Buckinghams included keyboardist Marty Grebb, and guitarists Carl Giammarese & Nick Fortuna.
By September of 1967, it was time for two more hits and another album.
“Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” made it to #12, and “Susan” went to #11. Both songs were written by the same team of Jim Holvay and Gary Beisbier.
Billboard Magazine said The Buckinghams were the most listened to band in America in 1967.
The year ended, and so did the hits. What happened?
The Buckinghams and James William Guercio had a falling out. Part of the problem was a disagreement over the song “Susan”. Guercio added a psychedelic section to “Susan”, and the band didn’t want it included. Guercio released it his way, but radio stations agreed with the band, and took the highly unusual action of editing out that section.
Guercio and The Buckinghams split. Guercio went on to produce the bands Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. The Buckinghams released In One Ear And Gone Tomorrow.
Unfortunately, the title pretty well told how the album performed, and where The Buckinghams’ recording career was headed. It was their last album, and contained no Top 40 hits. A friend at college, Roger Annin, often stopped in my dorm room and requested “Song Of The Breeze”. I liked “Back In Love Again”, and even bought their single “Where Did You Come From” (that had the piccolo trumpet like “Penny Lane”), but alas, there were no more hits. That was 1968, and by 1970 The Buckinghams had called it quits.
In the early 1980’s there were some special appearances by members of the group, and there have been various versions of The Buckinghams touring since then. However, fans missed out on Lead singer Dennis Tufano, because he was not with any of the touring versions.
As sad as it is that The Buckinghams’ hit-making only lasted one year, think how many groups would have loved a year like that! And The Buckinghams know… “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Songs)”…maybe forever.
In late 1977, we bought tickets to Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” concert in Omaha, which was set for January, 1978. Opening for him was Karla Bonoff. She had just released her self-titled album (above). We had heard of Bonoff, because she had been a backup singer for Linda Ronstadt, and had written three songs that appeared on Ronstadt’s Hasten Down The Wind album…”Someone To Lay Down Beside Me”, “Lose Again” and “If He’s Ever Near”.
We always liked to get to know the opening acts, so we bought Karla Bonoff’s album.
Besides the songs she wrote for Ronstadt, the album has a couple of songs that should have been hits… “I Can’t Hold On”, and “Isn’t It Always Love”, plus the beautiful “Falling Star”, and really, the whole album is good.
So she opens the concert, and the crowd is extremely responsive to her performance. In fact, she gets what few opening acts get, an encore. We knew what her encore song would be, because she hadn’t performed “Falling Star” during her set.
Here’s a photo of Karla taken less than a month after we first saw her. It’s amazing that Karla Bonoff never really broke through to Radio, or on the charts. She had just one Top 20 hit, “Personally”, which was an old cover song. It might have been a mixed blessing when Linda Ronstadt recorded her songs. With Ronstadt’s following, Bonoff’s songs became much better known (and the royalties would be large), but Karla was never able to come close to Linda’s level of popularity. That doesn’t mean Karla Bonoff didn’t sing beautifully, write great songs, and release solid albums.
Karla’s second album, Restless Nights (1979), is also a record you could just drop the needle on and enjoy. There’s one song on it that’s extremely well-crafted and catchy. I still have trouble believing it wasn’t a hit. “Baby Don’t Go” featured Andrew Gold and Kenny Edwards (who co-wrote it with Karla) on guitars and harmony vocals. Stream the song, and you’ll hear how it should have been a big Radio hit.
Karla Bonoff’s third album is Wild Heart Of The Young. It was released in 1982, and although it contains the hit “Personally”, it was her weakest album. It wasn’t until 1988 that Bonoff released her next (excellent) album New World.
This one includes some her best songwriting and recordings. The title track, “New World”, is one of our favorites. Interestingly, with this return to form, Linda Ronstadt again chose three of Bonoff’s songs for her multi-platinum album, Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind. The songs chosen were “All My Life”, “Goodbye My Friend”, and “All Walk Alone”. Her recording of “All My Life” with Aaron Neville won a Grammy Award for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group” in 1989.
We’ve seen Karla Bonoff in concert three times. The latest one was in January of 2017, 39-years to the month after the first time.
This was at The Shedd Institute, a nice smaller venue here in Eugene, Oregon. She accompanied herself on guitar and piano, and was supported by an additional guitarist (Nina Gerber). It was an excellent concert for an enthusiastic crowd.
As she told some stories about her songs, she mentioned “All My Life”. She admitted she was a little envious of Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville winning the Grammy for her song while she had to watch from home.
After the show, Karla Bonoff graciously talked with fans and posed for photos. Here she is with my wife, Jeannette, who like Karla, was born in 1951.
In 2019, Karla Bonoff released the album Carry Me Home. Unfortunately, it’s mostly re-recordings of her already released songs. It’s still a very good listen, because amazingly her voice sounds the same. The better recommendation is to stream or buy the collection of some of her best recordings, All My Life.
Once you get to know her songs, you can join the fans who believe she deserved to be much more popular.
The new version of the Let It Be movie is now The Beatles: Get Back, and will be released on August 27th, 2021. The film has been delayed a year, because of the pandemic. The director of The Lord Of The Rings, Peter Jackson, completed the restoration and revision from the film footage that was shot in January of 1969.
In a news release, Paul McCartney said: “I am really happy that Peter (Jackson) has delivered into our archives a film that shows the truth about The Beatles recording together. The friendship and love between us comes over and reminds me of what a crazily beautiful time we had.”
Ringo Starr agrees the film more accurately reflects the fun The Beatles had while recording. Dhani Harrison says he was very impressed with the restoration of the film and the clarity of the images. The new movie includes rehearsals of songs that appeared on Abbey Road, which they began recording just shortly after the Let It Be sessions.
A companion book, also called The Beatles: Get Back is to be released August 31st, 2021. The book is 240 pages. It includes transcribed conversations of the four Beatles from the film footage, and hundreds of previously unpublished photos by Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney.
Interestingly, there was no 50th Anniversary album remix of Let It Be. The anniversary was in May. Instead, the music in the movie was remixed by Giles Martin and Sam Okell. There will likely be a Soundtrack album released with the film.
The original announcement of the new version of Let It Be was made on January 30th, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the famous rooftop concert (which will be in the new documentary).
For the Get Back film, director Peter Jackson used 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.”
The movie has been restored, and the release date set, so while we wait, 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. He also 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? Actually, we’re lucky to have film of them working in the studio.
John Lennon suggested The Beatles should just break up. 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.
(Apparently, things weren’t going well at this moment.)
George Martin had relinquished some of his duties to producer/engineer Glyn Johns & tape operator Alan Parsons, and the sessions were 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.
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 in April of 1969 released them as a strong single.
(My “Get Back”/“Don’t Let Me Down” single from 1969.)
“Get Back” stayed at #1 for five weeks. Even though sessions were sometimes contentious, other great music emerged that January…”Let It Be” (#1, 1970), “Two Of Us”, “Across The Universe”, and “The Long And Winding Road” (#1, 1970).
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 troubled 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”.
Maybe the song “Let It Be” is best with the Phil Spector mix (of the George Martin production), but “The Long And Winding 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 (just The Beatles) 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 upset with one another. We were used to seeing The Beatles having fun in A Hard Day’s Night and Help. Because the Let It Be 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.)
The new version of the film was approved unanimously by Paul, Ringo, and the wives of John & George. The basic idea was to downplay the bickering, and show more of the positive interactions, plus to greatly improve the technical quality of the film.
It’s also the plan to make a technically improved original version of the Let It Be movie available for streaming after the release of this new documentary.
So it’s come full circle. In 1969 the album/film was called Get Back. In 1970 the title was changed to Let It Be. Fifty years later we’re back to Get Back.
The Beatles: Get Back…to premiere August 27th, 2021.
James Taylor has released an album of classic songs that are considered “American Standards”.
The very melodic tunes on this album are mostly from a time when professional songwriters like Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rogers, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, and many more wrote songs that multiple artists performed. These became the “Standards” that almost everyone heard while growing up. The songs were on our parent’s albums, performed on TV, and in old movies. It wasn’t all Rock & Roll and Blues that influenced the singer-songwriters of the Rock era.
It was actually 28 years ago (1992) when James Taylor proved he could handle such classic tunes. He recorded “It’s Only A Paper Moon” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” for the A League of Their Own movie soundtrack. A year later he performed “The Way You Look Tonight” with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Then in 1997 he sang “Walking My Baby Back Home” on his Hourglass album. My wife and I have loved listening to those recordings for over two decades, so we were thrilled to hear about James Taylor’s brand new American Standard album.
(Click to make images larger and clearer.)
We even had to purchase the CD at Target in order to get their two exclusive bonus tracks. One of those, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” turned out to be a must have.
Update: In November 2020, those extra two cuts plus “Over The Rainbow” were released as an EP. We picked up “Rainbow” off iTunes. It’s a really nice version, just James and his guitar.
The key that makes the album successful is that James has mostly adapted the songs to his normal guitar-based style. He refrained from over-producing or over-singing. There are beautiful extra instrumental enhancements, like a horn, violin, saxophone, or clarinet, and all with just the right touch. The musicians are all first-rate studio professionals.
In the CD booklet, James explains they tried several titles for the album…”Used Music”, “Reliquary” and “Still”. But in the end, he says he chose the first title that came to him, ”because they are American songs and Standards for sure”. There is no “s” at the end of Standard in the title, because James decided to go with the name that was glazed into the white porcelain sink in the house where he grew up. It said in cool blue letters “American Standard”.
Even if you’re a Rock fan, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating well-written songs from the past. The standout tracks include “Teach Me Tonight”, “The Nearness Of You”, “Moon River”, & “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”. This is an easy album to recommend. Just look over the song list. If you like the songs, and you like James Taylor, you’ll definitely enjoy American Standard.
Extra: Look who showed up on our American Songwriter magazine.
The interview really gets into songwriting, and of course James speaks very insightfully.