Listening To The Beatles, Fresh After 50 Years

If you are a serious fan of The Beatles — and what lover of rock ‘n roll isn’t? — imagine hearing that there are recorded Beatles songs that you’ve never heard.

You bought every album and played them until the grooves were worn thin, and then you went and bought every CD.  You’ve been a sucker for each new “Beatles’ rarities” collection, laid out good money for Let It Be Naked, and listened to bootlegs and live recordings with crappy sound quality.  You’ve eagerly read Shout! and every other book and biography and thumbed through The Beatles Day by Day.  You thought you’ve heard everything the Fab Four ever recorded on every bit of tape and wax — but now it turns our you’re wrong.

The long lost Decca master audition tape has been located and is now for sale.  It’s a kind of the Holy Grail for Beatles fans.  It was recorded in January 1962 at the Decca studios in London.  It features Pete Best on drums and — even better — is said to feature stunning, top-notch studio quality sound.

The tape includes the Beatles covering seven songs — including Money (That’s What I Want), a song that the Beatles later memorably released, with stunning John Lennon vocals, on With the Beatles — and three Beatles original compositions. (It’s not clear whether the original songs are all Lennon-McCartney compositions, but I imagine Sir Paul McCartney could clear that up.)  The Decca executives famously decided not to sign the group to a contract, thinking they had no future.  (Remember that the next time some know-it-all confidently predicts your future.)

It’s not clear what will happen with the tape after it is auctioned, and whether the recordings will become available to the public.  I hope so, because I sure would like to hear them.  Imagine — listening to the world’s greatest group, at the dawn of their careers, playing and singing songs that haven’t been heard for 50 years!

The Joggers’ Wave

There are morning walkers, and then there are morning joggers.  Walkers uniformly greet each other with a hearty “good morning!”  Some joggers, on the other hand, just . . . wave.

Actually, calling it a wave isn’t all that accurate, because there’s no side-to-side motion.  It’s just a flip of the wrist and showing of the open palm, as if the jogger wanted to demonstrate that he isn’t carrying a knife or revolver.  It’s like the hand that appeared above the head of Paul McCartney on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover, which was supposed to be another of the clues demonstrating that McCartney was killed in a car crash.  No wonder the joggers’ wave doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of my heart.

I’m not quite sure why the joggers’ wave bugs me.  It’s a bit embarrassing to say hello and get the joggers’ wave in return, but that’s not the only issue.  It’s like the joggers who do the flip wave think they are better than the walkers, because they’re moving faster and they wear spiffy jogging outfits and have bottles of water hooked at their beltlines, whereas the walkers look like they’ve just rolled out of bed.  The joggers are willing to condescend to acknowledge the existence of the ant-like walkers — so far below the Olympian joggers — but they don’t want to be too familiar and encourage too much unwanted interaction.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this.  Maybe the joggers just don’t want to let the walkers know that they are so gassed they can’t say hello without gasping for air.  Maybe they can barely summon the energy to do their lame excuse for a wave without stumbling to the side of the road and sprawling on the grass.

I’ll think of that happy thought the next time I’m walking the dogs, say hello, and have to endure another desultory joggers’ wave.

Happy Birthday, Sir Paul

Today is Paul McCartney’s birthday.  Born on June 18, 1942, then going on to become part of one of the most successful songwriting duos in history, the heart of the Beatles and the head of Wings, and ultimately knighted for his many accomplishments, Sir Paul turns 70 today.

McCartney has packed a lot of achievement into his 70 years.  His output is astonishing.  Most musicians would be happy to write one song like Yesterday (which is generally regarded as the most “covered” song in history, having been recorded more than 3,000 times) but McCartney wrote dozens of classics, from I Saw Her Standing There, Hey Jude, and Let It Be with the Beatles, to Maybe I’m Amazed and Too Many People in his solo career, to Band on the Run and My Love with Wings — and this list barely begins to scratch the surface.

McCartney wasn’t just a songwriter, however.  He was a fabulous band mate who arguably was the greatest rock ‘n roll bass player ever — listen to his stunning bass line on the Beatles’ Come Together if you don’t believe me — and his back-up singing helped to make the Beatles songs unique.  George Harrison’s Something is a wonderful love song, but McCartney’s back-up singing helps to ensure that the Beatles’ recording of that song will never been matched.  McCartney’s inventiveness and musical adventurousness also are remarkable.  In an era when many bands found a successful formula and then stuck with it, over and over and over again, McCartney constantly probed new areas, new instruments, and new sounds.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the epic second side of Abbey Road would not exist but for Sir Paul McCartney.  And the same goes, of course, for the Wings’ Band on the Run album, which was on the turntable, playing constantly, during my senior year in high school.

A few years ago, Richard and I went to watch Paul McCartney perform live in Cleveland.  It was a birthday present for Richard, but it was a huge treat for me, too.  McCartney’s performance was terrific, including an awesome version of Back in the U.S.S.R. and a heartfelt tribute to George Harrison played on the ukelele.  It’s obvious that McCartney still has a lot of love for music and passion for performance.  I’d go see him again in a heartbeat.

Each of us who has enjoyed listening to the Beatles, and whose spirits have been lifted by listening to a song like You Never Give Me Your Money or Michelle, owes a debt of gratitude to Paul McCartney.  Happy birthday, Sir Paul!

The Value Of Lennon’s Suit

The white suit that John Lennon wore on the cover of Abbey Road recently sold at auction for $46,000.  The two-piece suit, which had been made for Lennon by a French designer, was purchased by an on-line bidder who wanted to remain anonymous.  It is not clear whether the suit will end up in a museum or in some private collector’s basement.

What is the value of this kind of memorabilia?  In this case, the value is precisely the $46,000 the anonymous bidder was willing to pony up.  More broadly, of course, the value of such items is that they evoke a time, a place, and a person.  Anyone who sees the suit and hears what it is will think of the iconic cover photo, where Lennon led Ringo Starr, a barefoot, smoking Paul McCartney, and George Harrison across the street on a striped crosswalk, with the white Volkswagen in the background.  And knowing that the suit has been worn by an important historical or cultural figure allows the viewer to establish a more intimate connection with that figure.  “Hey, John Lennon wore this very suit.  Gee, I thought he was taller.”

I am not a collector, and I can’t imagine paying thousands of dollars for an old suit.  But Lennon’s suit would be a nice thing to see in an appropriate museum — say, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — so visitors could look at it and think of a blue sky day when four rock music giants who were coming to a brilliant end to their collaboration walked across a British street.

Practice Makes Perfect

Sir Paul McCartney (apparently known to British tabloids as “Macca”) recently stated that when the Beatles started out in Hamburg, they weren’t a very good rock band. Playing constantly at different clubs, working at their craft, learning new songs, and figuring out how to bring customers in to their venue, as opposed to the club down the street, turned the Beatles from a mediocre act into the greatest rock music act in history.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

It Was 40 Years Ago Today . . . .

A London Times reporter who covered the Beatles at the end of their musical partnership has gone through some old tapes and written an interesting article about John Lennon and his views on the end of The Beatles. He says it was 40 years ago that the Beatles really broke up, when John Lennon said “I want a divorce.” The writer’s thesis is that Lennon had an unerring sense about the shifting sands of popular culture and ended the Beatles at just the right time, when they were at their peak and hadn’t disappointed anyone with a bad, or even mediocre, album. I think that may be giving Lennon too much credit; more likely he was just tired of being typecast as a Beatle and wanted to forge his own path. Still, it is true that the Beatles are one of the very few musical groups who managed to quit at the top, leaving the public still ravenous for more of their music.

The Beatles

The Beatles

This particular article is an enjoyable read because Lennon does not come across as bitter, as he does in so many post-Beatles interview pieces. He seems proud about the Beatles’ music and work and his contribution to it, and he says some kind words about Paul McCartney. I never liked (or, frankly, truly believed) some of the harsher things that Lennon apparently said about McCartney after the break-up. There is no way that two individuals could have worked so closely together for so many extraordinary years without having tremendous respect and affection for each other.

It is fascinating that the Beatles have had such extraordinary staying power. Even now, their albums continue to sell, books about their lives make the best seller lists, and their music is the main feature of a Las Vegas show. I enjoyed them when I was a kid, I listened to them constantly when I was in college in the late ’70s, and I still find so much to enjoy in their music. I took Richard to an excellent Paul McCartney concert for his 18th birthday, and he gave a his junior speech at Columbus Academy on the Beatles’ music. I’ve relished their music, and so has my son. Why not? So many of their finest songs are timeless.

The Sad Story of Badfinger

For some reason, I was thinking today about Badfinger, the rock band with the saddest fate.

Badfinger

Badfinger

Badfinger actually had an auspicious beginning. The Beatles liked them enough (despite their ridiculous hairstyles) to sign them to their new Apple record label in 1968. Over the next few years, they came out with a string of high-quality pop hits such as “Come and Get It” (written by Paul McCartney), “Baby Blue”, “Day After Day” and “No Matter What.”

Then, as happens so often in the rock business, success turned things ugly. After achieving worldwide fame, the band hired well-known New York businessman Stan Polley as business manager. Polley turned out to be a scoundrel, stealing the band’s money and leading them into a bad contract that resulted in a painful lawsuit. The band’s fame diminished in the midst of these troubles.

In 1975, The band’s lead guitarist, Pete Ham, hung himself out of despair over his finances. His suicide note ended thus: “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

After a half-decade of inactivity, two of the remaining members had a legal dispute over access to earnings and rights to the band’s name. Following an argument on the telephone, one of them, Tom Evans, hung himself in his garden.

Ironically, their songs are mostly heartwarming. Here is a performance from their happier days:

Badfinger – “Baby Blue”