The Fifth Beatle

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.

The Beatles…A Hard Day’s Night/Help

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.

Side two also contains some high-quality songs, especially “Things We Said Today”, “You Can’t Do That” and “I’ll Be Back”.  All the songs on side two ended up scattered onto other American albums.  You can find out where all The Beatles singles ended up in the article:

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.

The Buckinghams…They’re Playing Our Songs

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.

Karla Bonoff

She deserved to be more popular.

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, because nobody is going to win a vocal comparison with Ronstadt.  But, 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.

Extra:  Our CD-length playlist

Let It Be is now Get Back (2020 Updates)

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.

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

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.

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.

(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 in April of 1969 released 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” (#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, 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…now moved to August 27th, 2021.

James Taylor…American Standard (Review)

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.

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.

Alison Krauss

If the question was asked…”What singer has won the most Grammy Awards?”…not many people would know the answer is Alison Krauss.  She’s won 27 Grammys.  That’s more than any other vocal performer…man, woman, or group.  Only two non-performers have more Grammys, a Classical Music conductor, and a producer.

(Concert photos are from a 2011 performance we attended in Bend, Oregon.  Click to enlarge photos.)

Born in 1971, Alison Kraus first became popular as a Bluegrass artist.  She was playing the fiddle and winning local talent contests at 10 years of age.  By 12 she was in a band, and by 14 she had a recording contract.  By then, her soprano voice was featured as much as her violin.  It was at the age of 20 she won her first Grammy, and at 21 she became the (then) youngest member of The Grand Ole Oprey.

We became aware of Alison Kraus as she hit the mainstream in 1995 with the songs “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” and “When You Say Nothing At All”.  Although both were remakes, they had original arrangements that made them fresh.  The album, Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, with her group Union Station, was her first double-platinum album and won four CMA awards.

From that point on, we bought all of her albums, including these solo albums as shown on her site:

(All photos can be enlarged with a click.)

Alison Krauss has always collaborated with other artists.  Her duet with James Taylor on “How’s The World Treating You”, from the above album, is one of our all-time favorite recordings.

In 2007 she recorded the album, Raising Sand, with Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant.  This unusual pairing was produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett.

The album was nominated for five Grammy Awards, and won all five, including Album Of The Year.  Only three country albums have ever won that category.

Her latest album, Windy City, is an excellent collection of classic Country/Pop songs.  Alison’s singing style is mostly Pop, the arrangements make it Country.  Windy City might be the best album to stream if you’re still getting to know her.  The ten songs are all good, and her vocals are impeccable.

It was a beautiful evening in July of 2011 when we saw Alison Krauss & Union Station at an outdoor concert in Bend, Oregon.

We were seated in the fourth row (good for taking photos), and the sound was perfect.  Because it was an open-air theater, the music came to us, and then kept on going instead of bouncing around like it does in an auditorium.  Alison Krauss’ voice was crystal clear and beautiful.

Union Station’s players were all impressive, and gave Alison great support on a wide range of uptempo songs, as well as ballads.  Guitarist Dan Tyminski (in the center above) also contributed some lead vocals.

The concert concluded with the singers in harmony around a single microphone, and using only light acoustic accompaniment.  It was gorgeous.  Maybe they’re always this amazing, or maybe it was a magical night.

Peter Asher…The Beatles A to Zed

Just when you think there are no more books that need to be written about The Beatles, there’s one with new personal insights.  Peter Asher became friends with The Beatles early on in their recording career, and he’s still friends with Paul and Ringo.

In the book, The Beatles From A to Zed, Asher takes us on an alphabetical journey through many songs and events associated with The Beatles.  The important part is that Asher adds his own impressions and first-hand knowledge. You’ll learn a lot about The Beatles, and about Peter Asher.

(Paul McCartney and his girlfriend, Jane Asher, and Jane with her older brother Peter.)

For a time, starting in 1963, the Asher family had Paul McCartney as a live-in guest, and he had a room next to Peter’s.  In the book, Peter tells the story of how John Lennon came over to do some songwriting with Paul.  Instead of grabbing their guitars, the two went downstairs to use the Asher’s piano.  After a while, they yelled for Peter to come down and listen to a song they had just written.  Peter says John and Paul played the piano together and sang “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.  Asher says… “I told them how brilliant I thought it was, and begged them to play it again, which they gladly did”.  And we all wish we were there.

Having a songwriter staying in the house certainly was fortunate.  Paul provided several songs, including “A World Without Love” and “Woman”, to greatly help Peter and Gordon (Waller) with their musical career.

Asher provides more details of the experience, including John Lennon’s reluctance to record “A World Without Love” with The Beatles.  John stopped Paul singing it as soon as he heard the opening line…”Please lock me away”.  However, music fans liked the the song all the way to #1 in the U.K. and U.S.  It was the worldwide breakthrough hit for Peter and Gordon.

When you examine the lyrics, they’re actually quite good:

”Please lock me away, and don’t allow the day, here inside, where I hide with my loneliness.  I don’t care what they say I won’t stay in a world without love.”

They’re somewhat reminiscent of the feelings John would write about in “Help” and “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” the following year.

When The Beatles started Apple Records, they hired Peter Asher to run their A&R Department.  So, the book includes inside information about what happened as The Beatles were winding down their time together near the end of the sixties.

(Peter & Paul with Linda & Linda)

The Beatles From A to Zed goes beyond The Beatle years to include their solo work and information about artists Peter produced, like James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.

The book is filled with Peter Asher’s perspective as a producer and musician.  For example, when he gets to the “R” chapter, he analyzes Ringo’s drum part on “Rain”.  He explains the many ways a drum can be set for various sounds, how it can be miked & equalized, and of course the drummer makes all the choices regarding the playing.

Ringo’s drumming on “Rain” has been universally praised.  When Asher asked Ringo about it, he said he came up with the drum pattern specifically for that song, and has never used it in any other recording.

Peter Asher was an insider with The Beatles and many of the music artists of the sixties, seventies and beyond.  If you enjoy getting extra details about the era, The Beatles From A to Zed is definitely a good read.

By the way, Zed is the way the British pronounce the letter “Z”.  It’s pronounced that same way in the majority of English speaking nations.

This is the final photo in the book.  Peter Asher might be saying…”There you have it”, or maybe he’s simply happy after looking back at the life he’s led.

Beatles vs Stones…55 years later!

It’s almost unbelievable that over 50 years after the “British Invasion” the “Top Artist of All Time” title came down to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones!

Billboard magazine’s 125th Anniversary turned into a battle of the bands with The Beatles at #1 and The Stones at #2.  The way the magazine ranked all the artists was a combination of their U.S. chart success on the Hot 100 singles chart, along with the success of their albums on the Top 200 chart.  We’ll look at the top thirty artists, but first let’s compare the two biggest artists.

The Billboard statistics are actually overwhelming for The Beatles compared with The Stones (or anybody else).  The Beatles spent 132 weeks at #1 on the album chart, and the next closest is only 52 weeks (80 weeks less!).

The Beatles had 20 #1 singles, The Stones had 8.  The Beatles had 19 #1 albums, and The Stones had 9.  Where The Stones surpassed The Beatles is that they stayed together!  That means they charted 37 albums over the years, and that’s the impressive reason they earned the #2 position on the top artists list.  The Beatles vs The Stones was always a rivalry between friends, and in the end, they both won in their own ways.

Here’s the list of the top thirty artists in Billboard’s 125th Anniversary issue:

  1. The Beatles
  2. The Rolling Stones
  3. Elton John
  4. Mariah Carey
  5. Madonna
  6. Barbra Streisand
  7. Michael Jackson
  8. Taylor Swift
  9. Stevie Wonder
  10. Chicago
  11. Whitney Houston
  12. Paul McCartney
  13. Elvis Presley
  14. Janet Jackson
  15. Rod Stewart
  16. Drake
  17. Prince
  18. Rihanna
  19. Billy Joel
  20. Garth Brooks
  21. Herb Alpert
  22. Eminem
  23. Usher
  24. Bruce Springsteen
  25. Neil Diamond
  26. The Supremes
  27. Eagles
  28. Bee Gees
  29. The Beach Boys
  30. Fleetwood Mac

You can see the #3 position and top solo artist went to Elton John.

The top female artist is right behind Elton at #4, Mariah Carey.

There are three surprises in the Top 10.

  1. The Easy Listening/Broadway recordings of Barbra Streisand placed her high at #6.
  2. The only recent star is Taylor Swift at #8…which is very impressive for someone who’s only been charting for 13 years.  It also means she easily out-performed all her contemporaries.
  3. Chicago at #10 beat out many acts that might have been expected to outrank them.

Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, contemporaries of Chicago, are at #27 & #30.  Of course Eagles recorded the #1 and #3 best-selling albums of all time, and Fleetwood Mac is not far behind.  It accents that these rankings are based on Billboard’s weekly charts, which are not the same as overall sales.  For instance, Billy Joel has actually outsold Elton John and Michael Jackson in the U.S., even though he is ranked lower here.

In their explanation of how they did the rankings Billboard said…Due to changes in chart methodology and title turnover rates, certain periods for each chart recap were weighted differently to ensure as equal a representation as possible among all eras.”  The cynical interpretation would be “We just make this stuff up”.  The fact is, sales and radio airplay no longer drive Billboard’s charts, and streaming is not an accurate measurement either, so they just do the best they can.

It’s actually impossible to directly compare chart success from one era to another, but we can still have fun with The Beatles vs The Stones.  There’s a certain satisfaction to it, so we can’t just let it be.

Rodney Crowell…In Concert

We only own about a dozen songs from Rodney Crowell’s long career, but when we saw he was coming to Eugene, we immediately bought tickets to his concert.

It’s been a trend for us lately, deciding to see artists even though they’re well past their hit-making years.  Rodney Crowell, at 69, is still in great voice, is still writing good songs, and can still really play his trusty black & white guitar.  Throw in two virtuoso musicians on lead guitar and violin, and you get an excellent evening of music!  Guitarist Joe Robinson was especially impressive with his intricate playing, similar to Chet Atkins’ full mastery of the instrument.  Robinson was given the spotlight for two of his own songs.

The peak of Crowell’s career was over three decades ago, with his album Diamonds & Dirt In 1988.

The album produced five #1 hits on the country chart.  Although his music is classified as country, some of it seems built more on blues and rock & roll.  Maybe “Outlaw Country” is the closest label.

Some of Crowell’s better known songs include “‘Til I Gain Control Again”, “Shame On The Moon” (covered by Bob Seger), “I Ain’t Livin’ Long LikeThis” (covered by Waylon Jennings), “An American Dream” (covered by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Linda Ronstadt), and “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried”.

Even though we didn’t know many of the songs Crowell played at the concert, they all came off great, and the crowd was enthusiastic.

Other older artists we’ve seen in the past couple years include:

(Guitarist Leo Kottke)

(Kris Kristofferson)

(Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary)

The point is, all of the shows were well worth the time and the price of the tickets.  We recommend attending concerts like these when established artists are in your area.  You’re almost certain to have a great time with their music and their stories.

After the Rodney Crowell concert, the venue (The Shedd Institute in Eugene) sent us a thank you card with this photo:

That was a nice touch!