June 2 – Ringo Got A Little Help From His Friends

It was a big day for North American music fans 56 years back. That day in 1967 kicked off the “Summer of Love” … and signified that the ’67 The Beatles weren’t your daddy’s Beatles. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band hit the stores here that day, about a week after they had over in Britain (which was earlier than the label had planned to release it there; a story for another day).

The album was a landmark, both musically and culturally and we’ve looked at it before, as well as its iconic cover picture. So today we’ll look at one of its iconic songs – “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

The song kicks in directly seguing from the opening title track (meaning radio usually played both together since they merge on the LP) and stands out from the rest of the album because it’s sung by Ringo Starr. Or “Billy Shears” in his Sgt. Pepper alter-ego. By then the band typically allowed Ringo one song per album to sing and take a bit of the spotlight on. Mind you, it wasn’t til their “White Album” that they actually trusted to write the song. So this one was a Lennon/McCartney one, although generally it’s believed to be more Paul than John. Lennon himself verified that. While at the time of the album he said it was about “fifty-fifty” writing, by 1980 he said the song was “Paul, with a little help from me.” Paul is believed to have written the lyrics but John tweaked them and helped compose it, on piano. He had an injured index finger, leading him to play primarily with his middle finger… which led to the band’s working title for it, “Bad Finger Boogie.” The title changed, but wasn’t wasted. Apple Records first non-Beatles stars took the name “Badfinger” from it. No matter whose words and whose finger may have been sprained, it was seen as one of the last songs John & Paul actually wrote together, no matter what the publishing credits might show.

They wrote it specifically for Ringo however, and he rose to the occasion. He sang it superbly, even the prolonged high note ending it, at about 5 AM after they’d already done 10 takes of the song. Interestingly, on those recordings John played piano, producer George Martin was on a Hammond organ and George played lead guitar. Paul’s bass and a bit of John guitar (and cowbell!) were added in later. And it was the perfect song for Starr. After the band broke up, the others had gigantic success for varying lengths of time, but Ringo did OK for a couple of albums then disappeared from the charts. But not from the stage or fans hearts; his All Starr Bands over the last 30 years or so have been live music highlights for millions and feature Ringo … with a little help from his friends who could range from Todd Rundgren to members of Men At Work and Average White Band to Joe Walsh. Everyone loves Ringo, and he traditionally closes his live shows with the song. Even Paul has joined him on the song at least three times, including a Grammy Awards Tribute to the Beatles with additional help from friends like Stevie Wonder, Dave Grohl and Miley Cyrus! Everyone loves Ringo.

So too must Joe Cocker. The Mad Dog Englishman made his version of it (with Jimmy Page on guitar) his first album’s title and it quickly became his only #1 song in the UK. As such, it ranks in the rarified air with another Sgt. Pepper song – “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – as a Beatles song where a cover version not only exceeded the original in popularity, but actually hit #1.(The Lucy cover being by Elton John of course.)  Joe’s version was a hit in the ’60s, made his name known when he appeared at Woodstock and later was used as the theme song for the TV show The Wonder Years. Not everyone liked his gravel-road, bluesy rendition of it, but many did, including Paul McCartney. Cocker made it into an homage to Ray Charles and McCartney said “it was just mind-blowing. Totally turned the song into a soul anthem, I was forever grateful for him doing that.”

As many know, The Beatles didn’t release any songs off Sgt, Pepper as singles in ’67; relying instead on standalone releases of “Penny Lane”, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “All You Need is Love” to keep them on the airwaves that summer. They did release it in 1979 (to capitalize on the … well, not quite “popularity”… but the presence of the Sgt. Pepper movie) but it failed to hit the top 40 in major markets. The album however, was another story.


May 30 – The Beatles Booked Another Smash Hit

The Beatles were about as hot as you could be in 1965, particularly at home in Britain. But they had one critic at least. “Why do you always write songs about love all the time? Can’t you ever write about a horse, or a summit conference or something interesting?”

So asked Paul McCartney’s aunt Lil of the mop-top superstar. And he accepted the challenge, the result being “Paperback Writer” which came out as a standalone single on this day in 1966. Not a horse nor a summit but at least for Lil’s sake it wasn’t about love…unless you count the love of books. It’s suggested that Paul got the idea from his friends opening the Indica Bookshop of which he was the first customer. Whether or not that was the case, it was clearly a McCartney creation although credited to “Lennon/McCartney” as was their norm then. Lennon said it was “the son of ‘Day Tripper’, meaning a rock’n’roll song with a guitar lick or a fuzzy, loud guitar song. But it’s Paul’s song.”

Not only were the lyrics, about an aspiring novelist trying to hit the Best-sellers list a bit different than their ordinary fare upto that point, so was the sound which involved a bit more overdubbing than previous singles and more Paul… they amped up the bass parts a bit. Oddly it was John, not Paul, who requested that; he felt the band’s records lacked enough bass oomph til that point. So engineer Geoff Emerick boosted that instrument in the mix and had Paul try out a new Rickenbacker bass instead of his usual Hofner. Emerick noted it was “the first time the bass has been heard in all of its excitement.”

EMI in Britain put out the 7” on this day, with it being about six months since the Rubber Soul album was released and a couple of months before Revolver would be ready for the stores. While the band became known for the somewhat unusual practise of releasing singles that weren’t on the albums they were currently promoting, which might have been a way of getting radio play (from the single) without cutting into the LP sales, this one was simply because the record company felt they’d been too long without a hit single (weeks!) and needed one out quickly. They put a lot of effort into promoting it, some quite innovative and successful, some not so much. They initially promoted it using the infamous “butcher cover” photo with the band bloodied, standing around decapitated dolls… it also was used on a limited number of Yesterday and Today album sleeves before being pulled. This got noticed, but not in a positive way, so they quickly replaced that with other photos of the band, including on some editions a photo of them playing live, but with the photo reversed so George and John seem to be playing left-handed.

More successful was their decision to promote the song heavily on TV. They got them onto several British programs including Top of the Pops (which, Peter Asher noted, per usual, the BBC taped over on their master tapes to save money, leaving only one known copy of the appearance – a home taping without sound) and recorded a “promotional clip” – what would later be called a “video” – of it with the band at Chiswick House and its gardens in London. That would be shown on Ed Sullivan in North America and lives on in Youtube glory and elsewhere.

How did people react to the new, not-talkin’-’bout-love Fab Four. Critics mostly liked it. Cashbox for example said it would “continue their run of blockbuster singles”, calling it “a rhythmic, pulsating ode with an infectious, repeating riff all about the creative urge.” A few British publications sniped at it a little, thinking it a bit too experimental or “a trifle too clever for its own good.”

The public didn’t seem to think it too clever to enjoy. It debuted at #1 in the UK and spent two weeks on top in the U.S., making it their 12th #1 there. It also hit #1 in Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany and quite a few other lands. It helped that American listeners wouldn’t be able to buy it on an album until the Hey Jude compilation in 1970. However, it might have signaled to discerning watchers that perhaps the Midas Touch was dimming a little for them; despite being a #1 it sold fewer copies in the UK than any single of theirs since “Love Me Do.”

The band must’ve liked the change though; Revolver delivered the most experimental sounds from them upto then and a wider range of song topics (“Taxman”, “Eleanor Rigby” etc) than fans had come to expect. Thanks Aunt Lil!

May 16 – Turntable Talk 14 : The King Reigned In Germany

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks once again to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 14th instalment…if you’re wondering about past topics, I indexed the first dozen here. For any new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columnists from other music sites, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is Feels Like The First Time. No, no, we’re not going X-rated here, we’re talking about a different kind of first – the first album our guests ever bought.

Today we have Christian , from Christian’s Music Musings. He looks at new releases and spotlights older great songs there, and unlike the rest of our guest writers, grew up in Europe so his first LP might have been bought in Deutschemarks:

Thanks, Dave, for inviting me back for another Turntable Talk contribution. Your recurring feature truly is a gift that keeps on giving. I particularly enjoy reading the posts from fellow bloggers and the insights I gain in both their music tastes and personalities. And since I love writing about music, of course, it’s also fun sharing my own two cents.

This time, Dave asked us to reflect on the first album we bought, whether on vinyl, CD or in other formats. Jeez, I oftentimes can’t recall what I did the previous day, so remembering what I did some 45-plus years ago seems to be impossible. So, I decided to take some liberty with the topic.

While I really can’t remember the first record I bought with my own money, which to be clear would be my monthly allowance or any German Marks I received as a gift for my birthday or Christmas, I’m fairly certain three records were among the very first I owned and still do to this day!

Two of them are pictured above.

I believe The Beatles compilation I bought with my “own” money. The greatest hits sampler by The Everly Brothers, on the other hand, was a gift.

Obviously, I could have picked The Beatles, my all-time favorite band. But I’ve written multiple times about them, including once for Turntable Talk. That’s the main reason I picked the following record. Plus, given Elvis Presley was my first and only childhood idol before I discovered the four lads from Liverpool, there’s a high probability I owned Elvis’s 40 Greatest prior to getting the Beatles compilation.

Before I get to the record, let me tell you a little bit about my obsession with Elvis as a kid back in Germany. While my six-year-older sister introduced me to some of the greatest music ever recorded, such as Carole King’s Tapestry, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu, the “King of Rock and Roll” was my own discovery.

I must have “met” the man for the first time on the radio. We’re talking about 1976 or 1977, when I was 10 or 11 years old. I can’t recall specifically what it was that grabbed my attention in ways no other music had done before then. Mind you, I didn’t understand or speak any English, so I was reacting to Elvis’ amazing voice, as well as the cool groove and incredible energy projected by tunes like “Tutti Frutti and “Jailhouse Rock”.

I became truly infatuated with Elvis and wanted to know everything about him. Obviously, there was no Internet back then, so I couldn’t simply ask Mr. Google or check Wikipedia! I do recall reading a bio published in paperback but sadly don’t remember the author or the title. Mr. Google didn’t help either, but since that bio included Elvis’ death in August 1977, obviously, it must have appeared thereafter – I assume sometime in 1978.

I also watched Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite on German TV. Given the original broadcast aired in 1973, it must have been a re-run, likely in the wake of Elvis’s passing. I also recall watching the Western Flaming Star (1960). Elvis starred in many movies, most of which were forgettable. I would say Flaming Star and Jailhouse Rock (1957) were among the best ones.

My obsession with Elvis culminated in attempts to impersonate the King in front of the mirror. I would even put grease in my hair. Once I also “costumed” as Elvis during the so-called Karneval season, which is prominent in the Rhineland, the area where I grew up, especially in the cities of Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Aachen and Mainz. Costuming, dancing, parades, drinking and happiness (or is it really forced silliness?) are part of the celebration, which reaches its climax in the week leading up to Ash Wednesday when ‘everything is over,’ as the Karneval fans say.

Once I started picking up the guitar as a 12- or 13-year-old, incorporating the instrument became part of my Elvis impersonation package. One of the first Elvis tunes I learned was “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”. My poor parents really had a lot to endure!

Okay, I think you get the picture. I idolized Elvis, of course in an innocent childish way.

Time to finally get to some music and the aforementioned compilation, which according to Discogs was released in 1978. I know I got it as a present for Christmas, and we’re likely talking about the holiday in that same year.

As also noted above, I still own that copy. While a bit worn it’s still playable. To prove it, I’ll leave with clips of four tunes I captured myself, one from each side of the double LP.

Side 1, Track 7: (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear (1957) – of course, I couldn’t skip that one!

Side 2, Track 2: Hard Headed Woman (1958) – this song just rocks; love the cool guitar solo by the great Scotty Moore!

Side 3, Track 10: Can’t Help Falling In Love (1961) – call it schmaltz, but that tune is a true beauty, which literally has brought me to tears!

Side 4, Track 8: Suspicious Minds (1969) – one of my all-time favorites I couldn’t skip!

While since those days back in the second half of the ‘70s I’ve become a bit more mature (I think!) and no longer idolize Elvis, or anyone else for that matter, I still enjoy much of his music. I also think Elvis was an incredible performer, especially in the ‘50s before joining the U.S. Army in March 1958 for his military service.

May 15 – Turntable Talk 14 : Fab Four A Fab First

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks once again to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 14th instalment…if you’re wondering about past topics, I indexed the first dozen here. For any new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columnists from other music sites, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is Feels Like The First Time. No, no, we’re not going X-rated here, we’re talking about a different kind of first – the first album our guests ever bought.

Today we have Max , from the Power Pop blog. There he regularly writes great bits about songs, power pop or not as well as at times looks back on classic TV like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. His first time to the cash register:

Dave wanted to know the first album I bought myself. So that’s my next topic- Feels Like The First Time. Do you remember what the first album you bought was? LP? CD? Reel to reel, LOL? Why that one? Do you still have it? Would you want to ?

I didn’t know this album was a greatest hits package when I purchased it. I’m picking this album because of the personal connection to it…and it might be the album that influenced me the most in my life. I was only 8 years old and I bought it on vinyl. I do still have the jacket somewhere but the album was lost with all of the moving I did in my twenties.

Is this the best Beatles greatest hits album? No, not by a long shot but it was the first Beatle album (or any album) I bought and was not handed down by my sister or relatives. I had some money given to me by a relative and mom helped me with the rest. The first Beatle album I listened to was my cousin’s copy of Meet The Beatles…he let me borrow it for a while. The Hey Jude album sent me down the road of getting into music that was at least a generation before me…and I’m still in that generation. I don’t regret a thing, because I’m still discovering new old music and new music that has its influences.

My cousin kept telling me of this great song called “Paperback Writer” and he didn’t have a copy. He built the song up so much that I had to listen to it. Of course, back then there was no internet and no easy way to listen to a song. I found this album at a record store that I begged my mom to take me. I went through the Beatles albums and this one had “Paperback Writer”. I couldn’t believe these bearded guys were in the same band as on Meet The Beatles. So when I was 8 years old I got two albums… one was a birthday present… the soundtrack to Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang (that I requested), and then I bought this one. My mom asked…are you sure? A nod of my head and I bought a ticket to enter the Beatles world which I still reside.

It has a slight mixture of older, middle, and at that time, newer songs. This was a collection of non-album singles and B sides from the Beatles on the American Capitol label.

The album was conceived by Allen Klein (boooo) and Apple Records and released in 1970. The original name was going to be “The Beatles Again” but they wanted to capitalize on the hit “Hey Jude”. It was a nice album that should have included more of their earlier hits but it gave us a couple… “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better”.

My favorite at that time was of course “Paperback Writer…that guitar and those backing vocals…were/are great! If that song would not have lived up to my cousin’s building…I may not have stuck with The Beatles. Remember, all I’d heard to that point was their first album with Capitol, Meet The Beatles, so I couldn’t believe that “Rain” and the rest came from the same band that played “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. I didn’t know the history. My 8-year-old mind thought…”What the hell happened?…” Where I am musically now…all started with this album purchase.

This album brings back memories of playing it on a green portable turn table I had at the time with removable speakers.

Like this but green…image001

the songs:

Can’t Buy Me Love
I Should Have Known Better
Paperback Writer
Lady Madonna
Hey Jude
Old Brown Shoe
Don’t Let Me Down
Ballad Of John And Yoko

April 17 – When Paul Had Left The Building

The Beatles were done by this day in 1970…but it was when it became pretty obvious to the public. That because Paul McCartney put out his first solo album, simply entitled McCartney.

Now, in reality, the Beatles had done their finale, on the Apple building roof and had already agreed to part ways. But it wasn’t yet known to the public, and there was still one more Beatles album to come out – Let It Be. And other Beatles had stepped out on their own already – Ringo Starr had released his debut three weeks earlier and John Lennon had done some experimental things with Yoko like The Wedding Album, and had formed the Plastic Ono Band which put out their Live Peace In Toronto about five months prior. But these were assumed to be mere side-projects by most. When Paul put one out with only a wee bit of help from wife Linda, people seemed to clue in to the fact that the greatest band of the ’60s were not going to be around in the ’70s.

Paul put out the album (the first of 26 he’s done since the Fab Four) on their Apple label, which made keeping it secret from the others all the more difficult. He began recording it in his home late in ’69, suspended the project for the Get Back sessions (documented in the recent hit documentary) then finished it off at Abbey Road right afterwards… at times working in one studio while Phil Spector finished up Let it Be in a neighboring room! When the other Beatles found out, it didn’t sit well with them. They went to Apple to try and get them to roll back Paul’s record release, so it wouldn’t conflict with Let it Be, which was due in only a couple of weeks, and the compilation album Hey Jude which had only just come out. Paul refused, even when Ringo went to his house in person to ask. He admits to throwing Ringo out. Starr said Paul “went crazy” and yelled “I’ll finish you now!” on his way out. He threw gas on the fire when he told interviewers he didn’t miss Ringo’s drumming at all and he didn’t “envisage a time” when he and John would ever write together again.

All of this didn’t sit very well with a number of people – others in the Beatles realm, critics and fans alike. The album itself didn’t help. The overall reaction tended towards “he broke up the Beatles for this?”. That because the record was distinctly low-fi, and had a rather unfinished demo quality to it. Paul played all the instruments on it, in general singing and playing acoustic guitar, recording it on a basic four-track recorder and then later played other instruments like his usual bass, plus drums, some piano and even “wine glasses” and dubbing them in, as well as a few backing vocals from Linda. Speaking of her, her photos on the album cover and inside liner notes (including a famous picture of Paul holding their newborn Mary on the back cover) were one of the few things widely lauded about it.

There were 13 songs, running about 34 minutes, including a few instrumentals, like “Kreen Akrore”, an interesting four minutes of building percussion inspired by a TV show he had seen about natives of the Amazonian rainforest. “Glasses”, as one might expect, featured him playing wine glasses. The album kicked off with “The Lovely Linda”, a ditty that ran under a minute and was designed just to be a soundcheck for him. The one standout and comparatively finished song on it was “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which kept a low-profile then but became a hit for him when he released a live version with Wings in 1976.

At the time it arrived, few cared much for it. As Beatles biographer Nicholas Schaffer said, “many…found the whole confused, tasteless.” The Guardian more clearly stated he sounded like “a man preoccupied with himself…he seems to believe that anything that comes into his head is worth having. And he’s wrong.” Rolling Stone found it “distinctly second-rate” although it did like “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Only the NME liked it, thinking it “sheer brilliance” which “exudes warmth and happiness.” Later reviews became a bit more fond of it. Rolling Stone would this century give it a middling 2.5-stars, allmusic, 4-stars. An undercurrent of feelings that it seemed “unfinished” – songs with potential but left half-baked – ran through most.

Despite not having a hit single, the album did well. It actually spent three weeks at #1 in the U.S. (before being replaced by, what else, Let it Be) and also was a #1 in Canada, and reached #2 at home for him, as well as #3 in Australia and #13 as far away as Japan.

McCartney has reverted to the one-man band approach a couple more times, with McCartney II and in 2020 with McCartney III.

March 21 – Did Capitol Look A Little Foolish? ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’.

Was it a record that changed music forever? Was it almost a huge entertainment blunder? The answer to both is “yeah, yeah, yeah”! The Beatles hit #1 on the U.S. charts this day in 1964 with “She Loves You.”

Remarkably, to do that it had to knock off the previous #1 single…which for the previous seven weeks had been “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” It was the first time in Billboard “hot 100” chart history that one song by an artist had replaced another by the same act at #1. And to top that off, two weeks later, yet another Beatles song, “Can’t Buy Me Love” took over for five more weeks. It was a trifecta not duplicated in the 20th Century, although the Bee Gees came close in 1978 (one of their songs was knocked off by their younger brother Andy for a week before another Bee Gees one hit #1). More remarkable, American buyers gobbled up the single that was put out by Swan Records. The American company that held their rights, Capitol, didn’t think it sounded promising and wouldn’t release it, unlike their Canadian counterparts, or Parlophone, the British label.

The song was written quickly by Paul McCartney and John Lennon one night after a concert in Newcastle. They started it on the bus, then finished it in the hotel, “John and I sitting on twin beds with guitars,” according to Paul. He says it was loosely inspired by him hearing “Forget Him” by Bobby Rydell. “As often happens, you think of one song when you write another.”

McCartney remembers playing it for his dad shortly after. “That’s very nice son, t there’s enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn’t you sing ‘she loves you, yes, yes, yes!’ instead?” Thankfully, they didn’t make that change and took George Harrison’s suggestion of harmonizing on it, even though George Martin didn’t think that worked well. They did agree with Martin though on a new start for the song, beginning it with the chorus, a highly unusual idea for a pop song back then.

It came out in the summer of 1963 in their homeland and dominated the charts for the rest of the year. Parlophone had pre-orders for an incredible 500 000 singles of it (enough to make it platinum on its day of release, had platinum records actually been awarded back then) and by November it had topped a million. Eventually it was not only the biggest-seller of ’63 in the UK, but of the entire decade. In fact, it would stay the biggest-selling single in Britain until 1977, when who else but Paul McCartney (with Wings) topped it with “Mull of Kintyre.” “She Loves You” remains one of their top 10 ever. Yet, even seeing how popular it was there, Capitol in L.A. balked at putting it out.

Initially it looked like they were wise. Swan Records didn’t have a great deal of clout or marketing power, so when first put out in early fall of ’63, it failed to make much impact on radio and sold perhaps a measly 1000 copies. However, it soon became a hit in Canada, doubtless winning a few ears over in border cities like Buffalo and Detroit. Then of course, come February ’64, they showed up in America, were on the Ed Sullivan Show and the rest is history. Swan still had the 45 rights but Capitol quickly added it to The Beatles Second Album.

Around the same time, the Fab Four went back to the studio to hastily record a German version, “Sie Libt dich’, because the German record company figured that despite their popularity performing so often in Hamburg, their records wouldn’t sell there if in English. The German version got to #7 there; the regular English version topped charts in Canada, New Zealand and Sweden among other lands.

The song soon became part of the cultural landscape. The Flintstones spoofed it the next year and it’s still listed among Rolling Stone‘s 100 greatest songs of all-time. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds points to it as highly influential on him and credits it with being one of the first-ever rock songs to incorporate folk music chord changes. Still, for all that it had a detractor or two (besides Paul’s grammarian father). The leader of communist East Germany once asked “is it truly the case that we have to copy every dirt that comes from the West? I think, comrades, with the monotony of ‘yeah yeah yeah’ and whatever else it is called, yes – we should put an end to it!”

By the way, if you have a Swan Records 45 of it in your hands, you have a piece of music history – but not a retirement plan. Copies seem to sell for $10-15 online these days.

March 8 – The First ‘Fifth Beatle’

The “Fifth Beatle” passed away in his sleep at the ripe old age of 90 on this day seven years ago. George Martin might never have become a household name had he not liked John Lennon & Paul McCartney’s harmonies and George Harrison’s wit.

After all, initially he called the Beatles “rather unpromising” when Brian Epstein first played a demo for him in 1962. “They had that idiotic sense of humor that I love too, and that made me want to be with them,” he later explained. Before that he’d produced mainly comedy records for the likes of Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. And, as he says, back then being a producer meant “I was responsible for the work on that label. I had to choose not only the artists but what they were doing, make sure they were going to make a record that was going to sell.” Back at that point, Martin was largely a fan of classical music and rock & roll was rather foreign to Britain anyway, so he went in to work with them rather “blind.” That helped along the way as he went on to add to many Beatles songs, like adding the strings to “Yesterday” (initially against Paul’s wishes) and “Eleanor Rigby” as well as adding his own piano work to songs like “Lovely Rita.” He was quite a good keyboardist and expert in arranging string sections and in fact whole orchestras, as we also found out on “All You Need is Love”, . Although he was used to working with simple consoles and spoken word before the music of the Beatles, soon he got to be proficient as their producer, with his studio magic including mixing together two different recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever” to make the single we know and the funky organ on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. After the Beatles broke up, he continued to work with Paul on several of his records, like “Live and Let Die’ (for which Martin composed the movie score) and “Ebony & Ivory” but was distant from John, who said he “took too much credit for Beatles music.” Julian Lennon saw things differently though. “The fifth Beatle, without a doubt.” Although manager Brian Epstein has also been referred to as such , and later Billy Preston who played such big part in their final year as a band and the famed “rooftop concert“, it seems fair to say no one other person had more to do with making The Beatles, well, The Beatles than Martin.

He also produced hits in the ’70s and ’80s for the likes of America, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck and Little River Band and won one of his six Grammys for his work on The Who’s stage version of Tommy in 1993. Fittingly, Martin was one of the first producers enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1999. 

February 26 – Fans Found Smaller Discs Fab ‘Four’ Sure

If you were a Baby Boomer, you were excited 36 years ago. Or at least, the New York Times said so, because the boomers were finally able to finally “use their favorite audio device – the compact disc player – to listen to their favorite music – the Beatles.” On this day in 1987, for the first time fans could buy music by the Beatles on CD. (* Legally that is – a small run in Japan a few years earlier had been quashed by the owners of the Beatles catalog, EMI Records) EMI began a year-long process of releasing the band’s music on compact disc with a quartet of their earliest releases – four fab albums from The Fab Four.

The record company decided to release the albums chronologically, and to use the original British versions. Those familiar with the band’s history know that in their first few years, their music came out in rather a scattershot method, with albums sometimes having different song lists and covers depending on country. While typically we think of the North American market as rather contiguous when it comes to records, with The Beatles, often even Canada and the States had different versions of more or less the same albums. So, the fans first CDs to enjoy, cardboard “longbox” package and all, were the UK 1963-64 albums Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles For Sale. Curiously, because the releases were true to the British versions, their early smashes “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were not included, as in Britain they were issued as 7” singles only. Fans would have to wait until compilation CDs were made available to get them on disc. Still, few complained as the four albums included favorites aplenty like “And I Love Her”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Twist and Shout” and of course, “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The four were issued initially only in mono, the wish of producer George Martin. “They were going to issue fake stereo – the bane of my life for the last two decades – and I said ‘well, these were recorded in mono, so why?’”.

For many it seemed a long time coming. CDs had been available for about five years by that point, and sales had been doubling annually then. It was two years after the release of Dire Straits great Brothers in Arms which was not only the first release to sell more on CD than LP, but the first million-seller in CD format in the U.S. EMI explained that by saying they wanted to get it right, and also to wait until their manufacturing capacity could accommodate the demand for John, Paul, George and Ringo. The band on the other hand, said the record label was trying to get leverage over them because they (The Beatles) had been suing the company over withheld royalties. If you think the influx of money from the CD sales would put an end to that… well, we direct you over to Aerosmith and “Dream On.” By the summer of that year, they had launched yet another lawsuit against EMI alleging that they were being shortchanged on CD royalties!

Fans didn’t care much about who was getting how much, as long as they could listen to the Beatles on disc. The albums hit the top 20 in some lands, some two dozen years after they first came out, and caused lineups in some American stores. Music Plus reported that the week they hit the shelves was their biggest “non holiday-season” week ever for sales. And the best was yet to come, with Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and the “White Album” coming out on CD later that year. Of course, the irony of it all is that the most recent thing close to matching the excitement has been when they have released newly remastered editions of the albums… on LP again!

February 23 – George Tried To ‘Blow Away’ Problems Of The ’70s

In the early days of the ’70s, in the first year or so after the breakup of The Beatles, people may have guessed that George Harrison (or even Ringo Starr) was going to be the solo superstar from the Fab Four. His All Things Must Pass was not only great, it was a triple album. That’s a lot of talent. But by the tail-end of the decade, the tide had shifted. John had fashioned out a nice career, Ringo was largely an afterthought and it was Paul, with his band Wings, who stayed in the public eye and rolled out hit after hit. And George? George? “Oh yeah, that guy. Isn’t he making movies or something?” Harrison had largely fallen from the radar.

He set out to change that this day in 1979 with the release of his self-titled album, the sixth studio one of his post-Beatles career. Although he’d put out records now and then throughout the decade (his previous one, 33 and a Third came out in late-’76) but few garnered had garnered attention after Living in the Material World in ’73. In the years between, he’d been involved in a lengthy court case over the song “My Sweet Lord”, become a bit disillusioned by the music industry, briefly fallen back into heavy substance abuse, split up with Pattie Boyd and then started a film company, Handmade, largely to help his friends in Monty Python put out the Life of Brian. However, during 1978 things began to change for the better. Life of Brian got made and came out to generally great reviews and George fell in love again, got married to Olivia and became a father. They took a lengthy holiday in Hawaii and there he wrote much of what would become George Harrison.

The ten-song, 40-minute release wasn’t nearly as ambitious as his opuses All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World, but was a nice, well-made record with a sound that fit the times – at least those in North America, perhaps because of the production. While George recorded it in Britain and used a lot of British talent to help out, he had Russ Titelman to produce it with him. Titelman was an American who’d won accolades chiefly working with James Taylor and Randy Newman earlier in the decade. Among the talent George called on to lend a hand on the record were Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Gary Wright and drummer Andy Newmark. Harrison himself played guitars, mandolins, dobro and even reprised his trusty sitar from the “White Album” era. Speaking of which, one song, “Not Guilty” had first been done with the Beatles for that album but hadn’t made the cut. Another song, “Here Comes the Moon” was created as an obvious sequel to his Beatles hit “Here Comes the Sun.”

The other songs were new, and largely upbeat. “Faster” was written about F1 racing, then a passion of his and his new bride. Said George then “everything has been happening nicely for me. My life is getting better all the time and I’m happy and I think it’s reflected in the music.”

Most critics were happy enough with happy George. Billboard back then labeled it the “spotlight album” – the best of the weeks new arrivals. The NME compared it to the better work of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. Rolling Stone called it his best since All Things Must Pass, a “refreshingly light-hearted” listen reminding us Harrison “was always a better tunesmith than priest.” Even years later, Uncut would rate it 4-stars, labeling it “a minor treat, a fulsome rocker replete with sunshine melodies and gorgeous slide guitars.” Only allmusic disagree, with them rating it just 2.5-stars, lowest of his solo career at that point. While they liked the hit “Blow Away”, they found it too “polished, L.A.-made” in sound and very “ordinary album from an extraordinary talent.” As to the public, the NME probably hit the nail on the head when a few years after they noted that while bands like the Doobie Brothers ruled U.S. airwaves in ’79, the new wave sound was king in the UK and “interest in Beatle product was probably at an all-time low.”

So it was that the record did alright in North America but flopped in his homeland. “Blow Away” hit #16 in the U.S., #7 in Canada where it was his biggest hit since 1971, but topped out at #51 in the UK. “Love Comes to Everyone” didn’t make the sales chart but did get decent airplay on North American radio, helping the album hit #14 in both the States and Canada, and go gold in the U.S. In Britain it got to just #39 and quickly disappeared from the charts. Happy George dabbled in music again on and off through the ’80s until returning in a big way with the Traveling Wilburys and the solo comeback Cloud Nine.

February 15 – Turntable Talk 11 : Before They Were Fab…

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 11th instalment! But for new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is A Really Big Show. We’ve asked our guests if they had a time machine, and could go back and see one concert what would it be? It could be a show from before they were born, one tey missed or one they actually attended and would like to relive. Big festival, small club show, you name it.

Today we have Max from the Power Pop Blog. There he recently put up his 3000th post, most of which have looked at music he loves, often from bands who indeed define “power pop”. Would his dream concert follow suit?:

Dave at A Sound Day gave writers a question to write about: If you could safely go back in time and move about for one day, what one concert or live performance would you choose to go to?

Well, that narrows it down to me because there are two cities that come to mind after he asked that. Now…if this was a baseball question I would go to New York in the twenties and see who I think is the best baseball player ever…Babe Ruth. But it’s music so the two cities are Hamburg and Liverpool…the Star Club in Hamburg or the Cavern in Liverpool…and I shouldn’t have to name the band.

I’m going to pick Hamburg…and the reason is The Beatles would play 6-8 hours a night compared to lunchtime sessions at the Cavern so to Germany I go! From everything I’ve read the performances there were off the charts. They played loud sweaty rock and roll there and accumulated way past 1000 hours playing there in a 3-year stretch. It’s not a stretch to say at that time they could have had more hours on a stage than any other rock band.

Between August 1960 and December 1962, the Beatles played over 250 nights in the seedy red-light district of Hamburg. If you average 6 hours a show that would be 1500 hours…that is why they could play so well with a wall of screaming in their ears later on. They would get to know the gangsters who would buy them champagne, the barmaids who would sell or give them  Preludin (a type of diet pill speed so they could play all night…”prellies”), and the prostitutes who would take them in and befriend them. They also met Little Richard, Billy Preston, and Gene Vincent there.

They slowed down in 1962 and didn’t play as long of sets but near the end they had Ringo. I would want to see them in 1960-61 when Stuart Sutcliffe was on bass and Pete Best was drumming. Other bands from England started to come over but none of them had the impact of the Beatles. They lived off of prellies and beer when they played and would go have an English breakfast when they could afford it. There are pictures of them holding a  Preludin metal tube (what they came in) and grinning manically. They would write a few songs but mostly played covers through this period of learning. They caused all kinds of trouble and there were rumors of John Lennon urinating off of a balcony on nuns…but that has been disproven…no he did urinate off of balconies but left the nuns alone. He once appeared with a real toilet seat around his head on stage after being angered and ripping it off a toilet. George was booted out of the country for being underaged and Paul and Pete were accused of trying to burn down a cinema. Stuart Sutcliffe found his true love there Astrid Kirchherr. He would die in 1962 of a brain hemorrhage at 22.

When they came back from Hamburg in 1960 to Liverpool…people were amazed and at first thought, they were a German band with their all leather clothes. They were a sensation because they played like no one else. Without Hamburg…there would probably be no Beatles. After they got back they started to play the Cavern regularly and the promoters were wary of them because of their reputation but soon knew they would make them a lot of money. They were NOT the grinning mop-tops that the world came to love. They were rough and tough growing up in Liverpool with further education in Hamburg. Often after shows in Liverpool, they would have to fight because of the rough audiences being jealous of their girlfriends who were fawning over them.

Well, that was long-winded…but Hamburg in 1961… is where I want Dave’s time machine to take me. I might hijack it and make another trip to the Cavern if Dave is not watching. So what is the saying about rock music? Sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll? This probably helped that saying along.

There are some low-fi recordings of them in Hamburg in 1962 with Ringo drumming which shows how stripped down and raw they were.