Taylor Swift Is An Unparalleled Singer-Songwriter (Updates)

No singer-songwriter in history (male or female) has matched the accomplishments of Taylor Swift.  Billy Joel said Taylor Swift is like her generation’s Beatles.  It sounded like an exaggeration when he said it, but he may be right…or at least not crazy.

At age 33, Taylor Swift has a total of 12 #1 albums (as of July 16th, 2023).  Only The Beatles and Elvis Presley have spent more weeks at #1 on the Billboard album chart, and Swift should pass Elvis in the near future.  The Beatles and Taylor Swift are the only artists to have five albums stay at #1 for six-plus weeks, and the only artists to have three singles together in the Top-10 from three different albums.

Because of the re-recording of Speak Now, Swift placed 4 albums simultaneously in the Top-10.  The last time a living artist has done that was Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass in 1966.  The rankings for Swift’s albums were #1 Speak Now, #5 Midnights, #7 Lover, & #10 Folklore.  By having her 12th #1 album, Taylor Swift passes Barbra Streisand as the woman with the most #1’s.  Speak Now also had the biggest sales week of 2023, which made it the biggest week since Swift’s Midnights in October of 2022.

Once artists break through, they typically have the greatest success of their careers in the first five to ten years.  After that, their recordings start to sell less (and stream less), even if they’re still major concert draws.  Yet Taylor Swift has sustained her career, and is at her peak 17 years after she started.

Like Elton John, Carole King, and Brian Wilson, Taylor Swift often uses co-writers.  For example, on two of her best albums, Folklore and Evermore, many of the songs were co-written by Aaron Dessner.  During the time of COVID in 2020, Dessner would send instrumental “song starters” to Swift.  She would then write the melody and lyrics to go along with the chord progressions.  It’s basically the same way guitarist Mike Campbell provided chords and riffs for Tom Petty for some songs, like “Runnin’ Down A Dream”.  Taylor Swift has also written enough songs all by herself to fill five albums, and has written hits for other artists..

The women singer-songwriters of the classic era of the 1970’s…like Carole King, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell…wrote some historically great songs, but they never had to also be able to sing them while performing dance choreography.   Sure, other female Pop stars do choreography, but their careers have not kept up with the accomplishments of Taylor Swift.  In just the last three years, she’s had six #1 albums.  No other singer-songwriter has done that.  She also has won the Grammy for Album Of The Year a record three times (Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, & Frank Sinatra are tied with her).

Of course Swift also grabs a guitar or sits at a piano and delivers performances in the classic singer-songwriter style. 

In 2023 poll, 53-percent of Americans said they are fans of Taylor Swift. That’s a major accomplishment in these days of scattered media and niche music.  On an international level, Taylor Swift was the Global Recording Artist of the Year for 2022.  The IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) gave the award to Swift for having the most global sales and streaming.  She’s earned the award a record three times in the ten years of its existence.  In other years, she’s placed second twice, and third twice.  Taylor Swift is also the only artist to have 9 albums in the top 40 (while still living), and the only one to have that for five weeks (as of June, 2023).

When Taylor Swift released her 2022 album, Midnights, she became the first artist to have all of the Top 10 Billboard singles at the same time.  Unlike the old days when artists would only release one or two singles at a time, album tracks are now considered singles as the albums are played on the streaming services.  The most notable aspect is that no other singles were able to keep Taylor’s 10 songs from taking over.  She also writes and directs her own award-winning music videos.

And Taylor Swift is setting new records for live performances.  Despite some problems with Ticketmaster, she sold more tickets in one day than any other artist in history.  This is projected to be the highest grossing U.S. tour in history.  Her “Eras Tour” started with two sold out shows at a 70,000 seat stadium in Arizona.  She’s also sold out even larger stadiums for as many as six nights.  Unbelievably, Swift performs 44 songs during a show that lasts over 3-hours.  Bruce Springsteen comes to mind as someone who’s done shows that long, minus all the choreography and stage production.

Let’s hope Taylor Swift can keep up the pace!  Besides her 53 stadium concerts in the U.S., there are also 78 international shows scheduled from August of 2023 through August of 2024.  Stops include Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil into November 2023.  Then, the tour will continue in 2024 with concerts in Asia, Australia, the U.K. and Europe.  And in August of 2023, Swift announced 9 more U.S. dates and 6 in Toronto, Canada for the fall of 2024.  That’s a total of 146 performances.

After the Australian dates were announced, 4-million people were in the queue trying to buy tickets.  That’s enough people to sell out 40 concerts at 100,000 seat stadiums!  Plus, Taylor Swift had the top five positions on the album charts there.  That’s a new record.  The Eras Tour is expected to be the first ever to break a gross of one-billion-dollars, and new projections show it could top 2-Billion.


Bonus:  Getty Images provided some great photos that show the size of the production on the “Eras Tour” (tap or click to enlarge).

And these are just a sample of the many production designs.  A great effort was made to give fans a unique experience.  Update:  Taylor Swift’s concerts have had such a large positive financial impact in each of the cities she’s played that the Fed says she is helping to lift the overall U.S. economy.  Market research firm QuestionPro estimates Swift’s tour could add $5-billion to the world economy.

Update:  Taylor Swift’s re-recorded Speak Now album was released on July 7th, 2023.  It was Swift’s 12th album in a row to debut at #1.  It features six never-released songs, and has a total of 22 tracks.  The original Speak Now was Swift’s third album, and to prove a point, she wrote it completely on her own.  It had six hit singles, spent six weeks at #1, and went six-times platinum.

Update:  As Taylor Swift approached the final U.S. Eras shows in L.A., she gave bonuses to her entire crew, truck drivers, and backup musicians totaling 55-million-dollars!  Beyoncé & Ed Sheeren…it’s your move.

Update:  At her final concert in L.A. (8/9), Taylor Swift announced her album 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is being released this October 27th (the same date the original album was released nine years ago).  It will have five new “from the vault” tracks, and is sure to be her 13th #1 album.  The Queen of Marketing has already made available multiple covers and colors of records, CD’s, & cassettes.

The Eras Tour concert film is coming to a theater near you!  The film opens in North America & many international theaters on October 13th, 2023, just two months after Taylor Swifts’ final U.S. concert in August.  New York’s largest IMAX theater sold out right after the announcement was made, and a record 37-million-dollars in tickets were sold the first day.  It’s going to be really interesting to see how big a concert movie can be.  The film is scheduled to run four weekends, but that’s expected to be extended..

The Beatles…Ranking The Songs On Each Album

It gives you a different perspective of The Beatles’ albums when you see the tracks listed in the order of quality.  If you’re trying to find the elusive answer to which Beatles album is the best, you can compare the lists of songs to see which you think has the greatest number of their best songs.  This method also lets us see the peaks for each of the songwriters.

After enjoying The Beatles since 1964, and years of programming their songs on multiple radio stations…here’s how I rank the tracks for each of their original British albums.  See how the lists match-up with your own thoughts about these songs.  (Each list can be enlarged with a click.)

On their first album, The Beatles had two of their very best rock recordings, “I Saw Her Standing There” & “Twist And Shout”.  The latter is the song they played the most during their touring years.  Because of its strong melody, “P.S. I Love You” is listed just ahead of “Love Me Do”.  It’s hard to believe the flip side of “Please Please Me”, “From Me To You”, was not on the album, especially since they included six cover songs.

The second album by The Beatles didn’t have any singles, even though “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “This Boy”, and “She Loves You” were available to be included.  “All My Loving” is the obvious choice for what could have been a single, and was the first song they played on The Ed Sullivan Show.  “Money” is another great rock vocal by John Lennon, and The Beatles put their own touches to R&B songs “You Really Got A Hold On Me” and “Please Mister Postman”.

A Hard Day’s Night is the first album of all original songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  The first ten songs are especially strong, even though this 1964 album was still early in The Beatles’ career.  In the U.S., we only had seven of these songs on the Hard Day’s Night movie soundtrack.  Having the whole album shows how great it really is.  This list starts with two #1 hits, followed by one of McCartney’s best ballads, and the quality continues down the list.

The Beatles had eight really good original songs on this album, but also included six cover songs like on their first album.  It would have elevated the project if they had included the two songs they recorded for a single during these sessions, “I Feel Fine” and “She’s A Woman”.  They could have replaced the last two songs on this list.

Help is another great album that probably gets less love than it deserves, because Capitol Records only put seven of these songs on the U.S. soundtrack.  The first three songs are #1 hits, including the most recorded song of all time, “Yesterday”.  The final two songs on the list were the last cover songs The Beatles included on their albums (except the brief song snippet “Maggie May” on Let It Be).

Even though there was a six song difference between the U.K. And U.S. versions of Rubber Soul, it was loved on both sides of the Atlantic.  This was another impressive songwriting showing for John Lennon (like Help).  He wrote three of the four best songs, and they are among his finest efforts.  Of the seven Lennon songs, only one is a lyrical miss.  “Run For Your Life” has the “I’d rather see you dead” line he took from a song that had been recorded by Elvis.

Paul McCartney had already written some of the most recorded songs in history, including “Yesterday”, “And I Love Her”, and  “Michelle”.  Revolver was another step forward for him, and he continued to have a major impact on the remaining albums and singles.  He’s the main songwriter on six of the songs, and the quality is very high.  “Eleanor Rigby” is another “most recorded song”, and “Here, There And Everywhere” is the song McCartney has mentioned as his favorite.  This album is rightly known for its studio innovations, but it’s also an album with great songs.

John Lennon tended to refer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as Paul McCartney’s album, but when you look at the song list, Lennon’s contributions were impressive.  “A Day In The Life” is a critically acclaimed group effort that started with Lennon’s songwriting.  He also wrote the excellent “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, the extremely clever “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, and “Good Morning Good Morning”.  George Harrison contributed “Within You Without You”.  Paul McCartney was the main writer on the remaining eight tracks, so Lennon’s perspective was not entirely wrong. There’s not a bad song on the album, and the creativity in both the arrangements & the recording process is off the charts.

Magical Mystery Tour was not an album The Beatles planned, but rather a combination of songs from a TV special (released as an EP in England), and an album side of previous singles that were not on any other albums.  You can see how strong the songs are.  It has three #1 singles “Penny Lane”, “All You Need Is Love”, and “Hello Goodbye”…and as noted on the list…it has another three songs better than two of those #1’s.

Because it’s a double album with 30 tracks, The White Album is divided into two parts…the 15 best songs, and the 15 remaining.  There’s an amazing variety of musical styles on the album, with beloved songs like “Blackbird” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.  Beatles fans will recognize most of the titles, even though none of the tracks were released as singles.

Although there are some good songs in the bottom 15, there are not enough of them to make a good album.

The two best songs on Abbey Road are by George Harrison.  Despite not being a single, “Here Comes The Sun” is the most streamed Beatles song, and “Something” is a classic love song.  The next two songs are by John Lennon.   Paul McCartney contributed the best songs that are in the popular side-two medley.

Maybe Paul McCartney was a little light on songs for Abbey Road, because of his very impressive contributions for the album recorded just a little earlier in 1969, Let It Be.  Paul wrote the three #1 hits, “Get Back”, “Let It Be”, and “The Long And Winding Road”, plus the equally good “Two Of Us”.  In fact, considering the quality of the first eight songs (plus the should-have-been-included “Don’t Let Me Down”), Let It Be is a strong album.  Even back when I was using a reel-to-reel recorder, “Don’t Let  Me Down” was always on my Let It Be playlist.

Looking at each Beatles album with these lists shows how many great songs they included on each one.  We were so lucky to have been a part of it.

Aging Rock Stars (How old are they?)

With the recent losses of…David Crosby 81, Christine McVie 79, Jeff Beck 78, the Eagles’ Randy Meisner 77 (died 7/26/2023), Robbie Robertson 80 of The Band (died 8/9/23), Jimmy Buffett 76 (died 9/1/23), and Gary “Dream Weaver” Wright 80 (died 9/4/23).  We’re reminded that the music is running out for many of our favorite artists of the Classic Rock era.  Some of us can certainly identify with their situation.

Here are the current ages (as of January 20th, 2023) of the rest of CSN&Y…Stephen Stills 78 (1/3/45), Graham Nash 80 (2/2/42), and Neil Young 77 (12/12/45).  Crosby’s friend from The Byrds, Roger McGuinn, is 80 (7/13/42).

Christine McVie’s Fleetwood Mac mates are…Mick Fleetwood 75 (6/24/47), Stevie Nicks 74 (5/26/48), John McVie 77 (11/26/45), and Lindsey Buckingham 73 (10/3/49).

The remaining Beatles are both in their 80’s…Ringo Starr 82 (7/7/40), and Paul McCartney 80 (6/18/42).  Both have been very active, with Ringo scheduled for a 2023 tour.  John Lennon was murdered in 1980 at age 40, and George Harrison died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 58.

Eagles singer-songwriter Glenn Frey died in 2016 at the age of 67 and bassist Randy Meisner at the age of 77 in 2023.  The remaining Eagles are all 75…Timothy B. Schmit (10/30/47), Don Henley (7/22/47), and Joe Walsh (11/20/47).

(photos I took at their concerts)

Two of our best solo artists really are 70’s singer-songwriters.  James Taylor and Jackson Browne are both 74, and will turn 75 in 2023.  James Taylor (3/12/48) and Jackson Browne (10/9/48).

Here’s a selection of some of our classic artists listed according to their current ages (as of Jan 20th, 2023).  Each one includes their birth date, so you can track their ages as we move into the future.

81:  Paul Simon (10/13/41), Art Garfunkel (11/5/41), Bob Dylan (8/14/41)

80:  Carole King (2/9/42), Brian Wilson (6/20/42)

79:  Joni Mitchell (11/7/43), Keith Richards (12/18/43), Mick Jagger (7/26/43), Steve Miller (10/5/43), Roger Waters (9/6/43)

78:  Rod Stewart (1/10/45), Ray Davies (6/21/44), Roger Daltry (3/1/44), John Sebastian (3/17/44), Jimmy Page (1/9/44)

77:  Van Morrison (8/31/45), Debbie Harry (7/1/45), John Fogerty (5/28/45), Pete Townshend (5/19/45), Bob Seger (5/6/45), Eric Clapton (3/30/45)

76:  Linda Ronstadt (7/16/46), David Gilmour (3/6/46), Justin Hayward (10/14/46)

75:  Elton John (3/25/47), Jeff Lynne (12/30/47), Carlos Santana (7/20/47)

74:  Robert Plant (8/20/48), Steven Tyler (3/26/48), Cat Stevens (7/21/48)

73:  Bruce Springsteen (9/23/49), Billy Joel (5/9/49), Mark Knopfler (8/12/49), Bonnie Raitt (11/8/49)

We’ve enjoyed an abundance of fantastic music from this generation of musicians, but as Jackson Browne sang…“All good things gotta come to an end.”

Here are some lyrics from a Cat Stevens song that can be applied to the situation.  “And though you want them to last forever, you know they never will.  You know they never will.  And the goodbye makes the journey harder still.”

Hopefully, a good portion of our classic artists’ songs will be enjoyed for many decades to come.

Full Size HomePod is Back!

In February of 2018, Apple launched the HomePod smart speaker.  We bought one immediately, and then added another one as soon as HomePods could be linked in stereo.  The price was $350 each.  Our old stereo system had well-reviewed components that cost a lot more, but didn’t sound as good as the HomePods.  We absolutely love the convenience of just asking for the playlist we want.  Here’s our setup in the living room.

About three years later, Apple stopped producing the HomePod, and instead introduced the $99 HomePod Mini.  It was a fraction of the cost, and a fraction of the sound quality.

As of February 3rd, 2023, the full size HomePod is back!

The new HomePod (second generation) looks like the original HomePod, but there are some differences.  The lighted display now covers the whole top, and the dark color is “Midnight” black instead of a dark gray.  Inside is Apple’s S7 chip with “enhanced Siri”.  The new HomePod has the same size woofer, but five tweeters instead of seven, and 4 microphones instead of six.  It would be hard to believe that the 2nd generation of HomePods could possibly sound better.  The original has impressive bass, and balanced midrange & treble, without distortion, even at high volume.  Most reviews say the original and the new HomePods sound nearly identical.

We mainly use our HomePods to play our entire music collection we have stored on iTunes, but HomePods can also serve as a hub for smart home devices.  By the way, the white covers on our 5-year-old HomePods look as good as the day we got them.

The price of the new HomePod is $299, which is the same price they eventually used for the original HomePod.  It’s surprising the price isn’t a bit lower, since price seemed to be the biggest concern in the past.  Maybe Apple hopes that since a lot of people have experienced the HomePod Mini, they may be ready to move up to the excellent sound of the full size model.

Half Of Vinyl Buyers Don’t Own Turntables!

Buried deep in a report by Luminate on 2022 music buying, was the statistic that only 50% of people who purchase vinyl records even own turntables.  What’s going on is that some people are buying records as keepsakes to have a physical connection to the artists and music they’re streaming.  Besides being cool souvenirs, buying albums is a way for fans to support their favorite artists.

The 50% “no record player” number was shocking.  My guess might have been that 10% of buyers bought records only as souvenirs.  But let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to ask Siri or Alexa to play your favorite album than it is to get out a record, play it on a turntable, and flip it over halfway through.  A stereo system like the one above costs about the same as three years of a music subscription service.  Plus, records are not a portable music form.

The statistic doesn’t mean that half of all records bought go unused.  People who have turntables buy a lot more records than those who don’t, and those records are being enjoyed.

No demographic statistics were given, but record company executives believe that some albums being bought as keepsakes are new releases by artists like Taylor Swift and Harry Styles, who had the two biggest selling albums of 2022.  Classic albums by artists like The Beatles and Pink Floyd are probably getting played by fans who want to enjoy the original vinyl experience from when those albums were new.

According to the new report, Taylor Swift is the vinyl queen.  She has the modern record (since 1991) for most vinyl sold for her Midnights album from October of 2022.  It’s the first album in 35 years to sell more vinyl records than CD’s.  Overall, Swift sold the most albums in all forms in 2022.  Second place wasn’t close.  That was Harry Styles, and Swift nearly tripled his sales.  She had nine albums simultaneously in the Top 200 in 2022.  Third place went to The Beatles, who had the Revolver remix release and their catalog of albums.

Music consumption in the U.S. was up 9.2% in 2022.  Streaming accounts for a whopping 84% of music income.

Now, we just need to get turntables to some of the younger music fans.

(Photo & stereo by Mark Gallagher)

We’d be glad to show the younger generations how to set-up stereo systems and use them, as long as they’re willing to keep helping us with our phones and apps.

200 Greatest Singers?

A good friend, Al Koontz, recently suggested a story idea.  He thought I should write an article about the best vocalists.  Among those he mentioned were John Lennon, Stephen Stills, and Linda Ronstadt.  I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that it’s impossible to separate the vocalist from the music they perform.  If you don’t like a particular song or style of music, you’re not going to like the vocalist.  If you like the music, you’re certainly more likely to think the singer is good.  Plus, some singers are great interpreters of their own songs, but don’t have great voices.

So I’m still thinking about how to write an article along those lines, and Rolling Stone comes out with a list of the “The 200 Greatest Singers Of All Time”.  Here’s the artwork they used:

Of course it’s not…”Of All Time”, because you won’t find Bing Crosby on the list (my dad’s favorite singer).  They also make it clear they’re not talking about which artists have the best voices, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to include some of the artists I like, such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan.  But, it’s really hard (and probably wrong) to not include the quality of a voice…good range, good tone, good pitch…when seeking the “greatest singer”.

The rankings are highly questionable.  Is Ozzy Osbourne (#112) really a better singer than Barbra Streisand (#147)?  The musical genres are so varied that it’s impossible to definitively rank the artists.

If you’re looking for a Rock artist, don’t look at the top ten, because they’re all Soul singers (it’s a glaring bias).  In fact, there aren’t even ten  Rock singers in the top 50.  #1 on the Rolling Stone list is Aretha Franklin.  Aretha had a wonderful soulful style, and an amazing voice.  She’s a solid choice, but the Greatest 200 Singers list is basically a joke.  Here are the top ten singers on their list.  See how many of your favorites are included.

  1. Aretha Franklin
  2. Whitney Houston
  3. Sam Cooke
  4. Billie Holiday
  5. Mariah Carey
  6. Ray Charles
  7. Stevie Wonder
  8. Beyonce
  9. Otis Redding
  10. Al Green

Only two of these artists are pictured in the graphic that accompanied the article.  They had to go farther down the list to find any balance for the look of it.  The top ten are all good R&B singers, but it would be easy to slot-in Pop and Rock singers who are at least as good as most of them.

The first Classic Rock artist is John Lennon at #12.  He was #5 when they did a similar list in 2008.  I love John Lennon’s singing.  He could rock uptempo songs (“Twist and Shout”), or express the beauty of lyrics in a ballad (“In My Life”).  But, was he even the best singer in The Beatles?  Paul McCartney could also rock a vocal like “Helter Skelter” or “Long Tall Sally”, and sing ballads like “Here There And Everywhere”.  Plus, Paul had a better vocal range, and could make a song soar with his upper register.  Paul was ranked the 26th best singer (down from #11 in 2008).  Bob Dylan was 15th.  He’s a great songwriter, but is he a better singer than Paul McCartney or Frank Sinatra (#19)?…or maybe most of the other 185 singers ranked lower?  The people who developed this list often confused “Greatest Artist” for “Greatest Singer”.

Here’s an interesting comparison.  About three years ago, Billboard Magazine published a list of the Top Artists Of All Time.  It’s based on how the artists performed on the albums and singles charts, which is mostly by sales and now streaming.

  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

Only two artists made both top tens (Mariah Carey & Stevie Wonder).  No ranking is perfect, but people spending their time and money on artists is probably more important and accurate than some people sitting in a room making up a list of “the greatest singers” using their own biases as to what makes a great singer.

Without deeply analyzing the list, a couple of omissions jumped out.  James Taylor and Alison Krauss are not on the list.  James Taylor’s recordings display his excellent baritone voice, and they show his nuanced way of expressing lyrics.  James Taylor and Neil Young (#133) are two of my very favorite artists, but James is clearly the better singer.  Alison Krauss is a 27-time Grammy winner, with one of the clearest most beautiful voices in music history.  There  are a lot of country artists on the list who can’t touch her singing ability.

Just a few more who didn’t  make the list:

Don Henley, Stephen Stills, Billy Joel

Jim Morrison (Doors), Justin Hayward (Moody Blues), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

Plus…Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Ann Wilson (Heart), Jackson Browne, Pat Benatar, Sting, Tom Petty, Carole King, Neil Diamond, and so many more classic artists, including many great lead singers of bands.

While I’m thinking about the Classic Rock artists, others in the public were shocked that singers like Celine Dion, Tony Bennett, Jennifer Hudson, and Nat King Cole were left off.  Choosing and ranking the 200 greatest singers is a fool’s errand, and apparently that’s who did it.

The list is just designed to get the magazine some publicity, and to generate public discussion over some of the oddball choices and positioning of the artists.  The sad part is this list will be cited in other articles as some type of authority that so-and-so is the __th greatest singer ever!

Extra:  You won’t believe what Rolling Stone did to the 500 Greatest Albums list, here’s the link:


Abbey Road Studios…If These Walls Could Sing (Review)

Some of the best music ever recorded came out of Abbey Road Studios.  Now, there’s a 90-minute documentary about the nine decades of recording there.

The film is directed by someone who practically grew up at the studio, Mary McCartney.  Early on, we see Mary McCartney as a baby on the floor in Abbey Road Studio Two, which is where The Beatles and her dad, Paul McCartney, often recorded.  Mary McCartney was a perfect choice for this documentary because of her affection for the studio, her career as a professional photographer, and her access to the artists who recorded there.  The documentary is now streaming on Disney+.

Abbey Road Studios started as EMI Recording Studios in 1931.  It was the largest studio in London, and was mostly used to record classical music.  The problem with classical music is that it’s not a big money maker.  By the mid 1950’s, the studio began recording Pop music, and by 1958 they were recording that new music style, Rock & Roll.  Shortly after that, they hired producer, George Martin.  He was made the youngest head of one of their labels, Parlophone Records.  Let’s see, who could he find to make the label a success?

George Martin signed The Beatles in 1962, and in 1963 Beatlemania was raging in England.  By 1964, artists produced by George Martin on Parlophone Records spent 36 weeks out of the year in the #1 position on the English singles chart.  Other artists included Gerry & The Pacemakers and Cilla Black.

At the premiere of the If These Walls Could Sing were Giles Martin (George’s son), Mary McCartney, Ringo Starr & his wife Barbara, Elton John, and Paul McCartney & his wife Nancy.

Ringo Starr talked about when The Beatles recorded ten of the songs for their first album in about 12-hours.  He said the long session didn’t wear them out, because “We were playing, that’s what’s important.”  And in an understatement, he added “It worked out really well for us.”  Ringo singled out “Yer Blues” off The White Album as his favorite recording session.  He says they were in a small room, and just playing tight as a band.

Paul McCartney said they eventually had in their contract that The Beatles had limitless recording time at Abbey Road.  He says, “It was our home”.  He also treats us to a bit of “Lady Madonna” on the piano he originally used to record it.

Elton John was known as Reg Dwight in the late ‘60’s.  He was a studio musician at Abbey Road in 1969 when he recorded “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” with The Hollies.  If you listen closely to the recording, you can hear Elton John’s piano style shine through.  Elton’s fondest memory of a session is that he was treated to a live performance of “Hey Jude”.  Paul McCartney had stopped into the studio, and the band asked Paul to sing it.

Of the many other artists who commented on Abbey Road were Roger Waters & David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and singer-songwriter Kate Bush, who all recorded there.

Pink Floyd was recording their first album at the time The Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Roger Waters said that Sgt. Pepper is “an amazing piece of work.”  “It freed a whole generation of young artists.”  He said it gave them permission to write songs about real things, and gave them courage to accept their feelings.

David Gilmour talked about recording The Dark Side Of The Moon at Abbey Road Studios.  He said the group clashed at times, because they all wanted the album to be as good as possible.  He said they recorded the parts separately, and didn’t know what they really had until they finished and finally pushed the play button.  He said, “It was absolutely magical.  It was the best time I ever heard it.”

The change from EMI Studios to the name Abbey Road Studios came about in 1976, to tie in with The Beatles Abbey Road album, and because artists called it that anyway.  It’s hard to believe, but during a slow time at the end of the ‘70’s, Abbey Road was almost tuned into a car park.  It was saved by Indiana Jones.

When a London studio that was used for recording movie scores closed, the large Studio One at Abbey Road was fitted with a big screen and a projector.  Composer/conductor John Williams recorded the soundtrack to the film Raiders Of The Lost Ark at Abbey Road.

After that, many movies including the remaining Star Wars movies and other John Williams scores were recorded there.  Director George Lucas said the recording of the scores was the most fun.  He said, Abbey Road was “like a second home”.  John Williams said Studio One is the perfect size to get the sound he wants.  He calls Abbey Road “a gift to music”.

Mary McCartney interviewed many more musicians, so the hour-and-a-half is filled with interesting stories about Abbey Road and the music recorded there, as well as historic film and photos.  If you don’t have Disney+, you might be able to use a free trial to watch this film and the 8-hour Get Back documentary.

Neil Young…Harvest Box Set Review

The Harvest 50th Anniversary box set is a celebration of a peak time in Neil Young’s life.

(The cover of my box set.)

The vinyl set includes the original album, an album of Neil Young’s 8-song 1971 BBC-TV solo acoustic concert, and a 7-inch single with three outtakes… “Journey Through The Past”, “Bad Fog Of Loneliness” and “Dance Dance Dance”.

There’s a hard bound album-size 50-page book with lots of photos, lyrics, and information about the recording of the album.  It’s well done, as you can see by the above pages.

You’ll also find a numbered black & white photo of Neil Young at his ranch, and a poster of Neil and The Stray Gators in the barn where some of the album was recorded.

Included are two DVD’s, the Harvest Time 2-hour documentary, and a half-hour 1971 BBC-TV solo acoustic concert.  They store in pockets on the inside of the back cover of the book.

For the first time, I got both the vinyl & CD versions of a box set.  Here’s the size difference.

The reason Neil is smiling is because he’s imagining us trying to decipher his handwritten lyrics in that small CD book.  The only thing missing from the CD set is the numbered photo of Neil.

The Harvest album is great, the BBC concert is good, and the three outtakes are nice to have, especially “Journey Through The Past”.  The real highlights of the box set are the book and the Harvest Time film.

Like Neil Young, Harvest Time is a little rough around the edges, but filled with talent.  And that talent includes the Nashville musicians who make up Neil’s backing band, The Stray Gators.  In 1971, Neil Young had purchased a ranch near San Francisco that he named Broken Arrow Ranch.

As the film begins, we see Neil Young and The Stray Gators playing in a large old barn on the ranch.  It’s not a custom studio built into a barn, but rather an actual barn with a recording truck parked outside of it.  There are microphones inside the barn, and the audio is fed to large tape decks in the truck.

The first song we hear is “Alabama”, and it sounds really good, even though they’re recording with the big barn door open and the vocal harmonies are missing.  Other songs they play include “Words (Between The Lines Of Age)”, “Are You Ready For The Country”, and several extended instrumental jams.  You can see how much all of these guys love playing music.

It’s unfortunate that the filming for this documentary wasn’t started sooner.  Neil Young met all these musicians when he went to Nashville to appear on The Johnny Cash Show.  After the show, Neil went into a studio with Linda Ronstadt & James Taylor who had also been on the show.  The musicians that recorded with them that night became Neil’s backing band for Harvest and other albums.  By the way, the two songs recorded that night were “Heart Of Gold” and “Old Man”.  Sure wish we could have seen those sessions!

The film moves to a recording studio in New York.  We see Stephen Stills and David Crosby join Neil to record the vocal harmonies for the track “Alabama” that was recorded in the barn.  At one point, Neil plays a piano as they work on their harmonies.  Stephen & David lean in so close that the three singers are almost touching heads.  They’re obviously enjoying working together.

Later, we see Graham Nash join Neil & Stephen to record the harmonies for “Words (Between The Lines Of Age)”.  The three singers are standing at a single microphone, and Graham and Neil are holding beers.  The harmony sounds off, and it looks like it could be because of the beers, but eventually you see them work out the parts, and nail the final take.

We get to watch Neil Young record two songs with The London Symphony Orchestra… “A Man Needs A Maid” and “There’s A World”.  Neil recorded the songs live with the orchestra instead of having the orchestra overdubbed.  This is a fascinating part of the film.  Here’s this long-haired hippie in a flannel shirt playing with a large orchestra made up of men who are mostly in suits & ties.  You wonder what they think of Neil.  He doesn’t look or sound like the musicians they normally accompany.  Initially there’s some trouble keeping the orchestra in synch with Neil, but they work it out.  We even see some of the musicians getting Neil Young’s autograph at the end.

The film is not up to today’s technical standards.  It’s in the old 4:3 ratio instead of wide screen.  It doesn’t have any kind of typical documentary narrative, but Neil Young fans can immerse themselves in the joy of the music.  Neil Young is obviously loving being at his ranch, and enjoying this time in his 25-year-old life.

At one point, someone asks if this is a film that will be in theaters.  Neil says… “Yeah, maybe pretty soon.”

CSN&Y…New Photo Book, Old Photos

The Good news is that there is a new Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young book.  The bad news is that it’s very expensive.  The name is CSN&Y Love The One You’re With.  The release was in June, 2023.

Above is the Collector’s Edition, with the book and a dark red box to hold it.  The book has about 1,000 images by renowned Classic Rock photographer Henry Diltz, who is the author.  The accompanying text includes comments from Diltz and from past interviews with the band members.  I went to the Genesis Publications website to get details.  The pre-order price was about $350 ($850 on another site), and is limited to 1,650 copies.  There was a Deluxe Version which was limited to 350 copies, but that is shown as sold out.  I did find it on a different website priced at $1,750.

The Genesis website provided a lot of samples from the book, and here are some of them (enlarge with a click or touch):

No photographer captured the Classic Rock artists of the West Coast better than Henry Diltz.

Diltz was a fellow musician and a friend to the Laurel Canyon artists.  He was already photographing the members of CSN&Y when they were still with their old groups…The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies.  Graham Nash said…“Henry was part of whatever was going on at any moment.  We certainly never thought that this was history as he was shooting us.  We thought, there’s Henry with his camera, and we trusted him.”

Here are some of the iconic CSNY photos by Henry Diltz:

Remember, these were taken before the digital age.  Imagine how many rolls of film Henry Diltz carried around so he wouldn’t miss a shot.  He had to wait to develop the film to even know if the photos were good.

Seriously, only 2,000 books?  That’s not serving much of the fan base for a band that used to play stadiums.  The reality is that these books are made for just a small number of fans who are willing to pay the high price tag.

A news story on the book said… “This marks the first time Diltz’s photos of the band have been presented in a book format.”  That’s not true.

This is my book from 1984.  You can see at the bottom of the cover that this authorized biography has photography by Henry Diltz.  There were a lot of photos that were mostly black & white, but some color pages were included.

By the way, the price of the book was $13.95.  The good part for us is that we’ve enjoyed most of the best of Diltz’s CSN&Y photos through the years on album covers, in articles, and in books.

We’re lucky that Crosby Stills Nash & Young provided so much great music as a band and as solo artists.  We’re also fortunate that Henry Diltz photographed them throughout their careers.

Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie…An Appreciation

We’ve lost another of our Classic Rock artists…singer-songwriter & keyboardist Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.  She died at the age of 79 on November 30th, 2022.  Christine herself had recently revealed in an interview that she was not healthy, and she died while hospitalized.  Later it was revealed that she died of a massive stroke brought on by an aggressive form of cancer.

Since Fleetwood Mac had such strong personalities…Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood…the general public might not realize how important the quieter Christine McVie was to the popularity of the group.

(John McVie, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham)

Christine McVie (whose birth name was Christine Perfect) was already well known in England when she joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970.  The group was successful in the U.K., but had trouble really breaking through in the U.S.  It was when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band (just as 1975 began) that everything clicked.

McVie met with Stevie Nicks prior to the new lineup being approved, and the two women hit it off.  They knew how unique it was for a Rock & Roll band to have two strong women as primary singer-songwriters, and they were happy to join forces.

Christine McVie also gained the arranging and production expertise of Lindsey Buckingham, and she started writing hits.  McVie wrote the first U.S. Top 20 hit for Fleetwood Mac, “Over My Head” from the group’s 1975 Fleetwood Mac album.  McVie also wrote their third hit, “Say You Love Me” (#11), and the album track “Warm Ways”, which was also played on FM radio.

The phenomenal 1977 album, Rumours was #1 for an amazing 31 weeks.  Two of the four Top-10 hits on the album were written by Christine McVie…”Don’t Stop” (#3) and “You Make Loving Fun” (#9).

As Fleetwood Mac continued through the ‘80’s and beyond, Christine McVie provided their two biggest hits of that time…”Hold Me” (#4) and “Little Lies” (#4), plus Mac’s last big hit “Everywhere” (#14).

It wasn’t just the hits, Christine wrote some great album tracks, including a song that she says came to her in the middle of the night, “Songbird”.  In an interview in 2016 she said “I played it on a little piano I have in my room.  I sang it from beginning to end, everything.  It was as if I’d been visited.  It was a very spiritual thing.”  It’s a beautiful ballad that Fleetwood Mac often used to close their shows…just Christine McVie and a grand piano.  Even though it was never released as a single, “Songbird” became her signature song.

Tributes poured in from around the world and from multiple generations of musicians who admired McVie.  From those closest to her…Stevie Nicks said Christine was her “best friend in the whole world since the first day of 1975.  See you on the other side my love.”  Lindsey Buckingham called her passing heartbreaking, and said her spirit will live on through her body of work.  Mick Fleetwood said, “Part of my heart has flown away today.  I will miss everything about you.”

Bonus Material:  A key to the great success of Fleetwood Mac was that they had three excellent songwriters.  Since Christine McVie’s songs are being highlighted in the media, I’m also including the main songs written by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham to provide a fuller picture of the band.  The lists include singles and album tracks that made Fleetwood Mac so popular.

Stevie Nicks:  “Rhiannon” (#11), “Landslide”, “Dreams” (#1), “Gold Dust Woman”, “The Chain” (co-written from her demo), “Silver Springs”, “Sara” (#7), “Gypsy” (#12), “Seven Wonders” (#19), and some solo hits that were performed live by Fleetwood Mac.

Lindsey Buckingham:  “Monday Morning”, “Go Your Own Way” (#10), “Second Hand News”, “Never Going Back Again”, “Tusk” (#8), “Big Love” (#5), “Tango In The Night”, and some solo hits that were performed live by Fleetwood Mac.

Christine McVie:  “Over My Head” (#20), “Say You Love Me” (#11), “Warm Ways”, “Don’t Stop” (#3), “You Make Loving Fun” (#9), “Songbird”, “Think About Me” (#20), “Hold Me” (#4), “Little Lies” (#4), “Everywhere” (#14), and “As Long As You Follow”.