Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Beck - Diamond Bollocks

(Bong Load, 1998)

This: a sharp little bonus included in the Mutations LP, with a deluxe sleeve that folds out into a full-color lyric sheet. Thank you, Bong Load Records! And thank you, future pimply eBay idiot who will horribly overpay me for said LP + 7”! Now that we’re all COOL with each other after that groovy intro, let’s discuss the contents of this extremely valuable and OOP and RARE and MINT and L@@K!! and NO RESERVE bit of music. “Diamond Bollocks” is an unlisted track on the CD version of the album – sensibly, because it’s very different from the rest of that material – and HECK, if I went and called “Halo of Gold” multisectioned in an earlier review, I sure as shoot shoulda held off until I got to this one. Fast sections, slow sections, weird multitracked vocals, harpsichord, fuzz guitar freakout (hilariously cut into by the sound of birds chirping)… it’s all here in this sprawling, bewildering mess that still manages to be totally catchy at every turn. Rocks uncharacteristically hard at times, too, thanks to excellent live drumming by (I assume) Joey Waronker. Too bad that B-side rarity “Runners Dial Zero” spoils the party by being such a dirge and a drag; just echo-heavy vox, a plunked piano, and some sort of bassy rumble, all of which adds up to NUTTIN MUCH. So screw it and screw you.

No! Wait wait wait wait wait! Not you. I LIKE you.

Oh, hey, when bidding starts, can we somehow get the morons who drive the prices on Brian Jonestown Massacre 12”s up into the triple digits to become involved as well? Thanks; that would be great.

Beck - Tropicalia

(Geffen, 1998)

Beck gets all sun-drenched on the first Mutations single, piggybacking on elements of the titular musical movement, throwing in some fat electro-squelch, and delivering the lyrics in his new and improved singing voice. There’s a sleeker, more organic feel here as Nigel Godrich enters the production picture and the samples exit; it’s also worth mentioning that the tight, sympathetic band playing on “Tropicalia” had been working together through the long years of Odelay touring. There’s a similarly appealing sound on “Halo of Gold,” a Skip Spence cover whose original bare-bones outlines Beck fills in, creating a rich, multisectioned bit of alternately twangy and fuzzy Beckpop. There’s almost a cut-and-paste sensibility at work here, especially when the song breaks into its closing, percussive “Cecilia” (!!) homage.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Beck - Jack-Ass

(Geffen, 1997)

When it came time to release his fifth Odelay single, Beck cried out “Say! I’m no lazy Jane!” by dropping a six-song double 7” to show everyone what a steeldrivin’ man of music he was. OK, four of those six are versions of “Jack-Ass,” but two of those are new re-recordings that add something substantial to the picture. More about that in a minute. The two NEW new songs (uh, recorded in 1994 and 1995) are a raw – abused acoustic + growly voice – cover of the blues moldy oldie “Devil Got My Woman” and the very dark ’n’ mysterious “Brother,” whose piano, ominous bass, formless guitar squalls, and surprisingly emotive vocal make it creepier and more foreboding than anything else I’ve heard outta Beck. Intriguing stuff, and a nice companion to the similarly praiseworthy remake of “Feather in Your Cap.”

Back to “Jack-Ass.” But first, a question: This is a pretty, introspective song that is a lot more “emotionally mature” than the rest of Odelay… did Beck feel the need to saddle it with such a goofily self-critical title and then end it with the braying donkey punchline because he didn’t want to come off as “serious”? Self-conscious self-sabotage? Hmm. I saw a band once that played really nice, simple, poppy boy-girl toonz, but they were part of this larger punkhouse scene and they called themselves “The Fags,” because I suppose they thought they hadta make fun of and denigrate themselves rather than just be honest and admit/embrace the fact that, hey, we’re a silly and fun and probably twee pop group? I thought it was sad. I really did! See what I’m saying? The connection between the two? Those are my deep observations for the night.

Back to “Jack-Ass.” For REALZ!

The “Butch Vig Mix” sticks close enough to the LP version that it isn’t worth much mention. It’s shorter (to the point that it feels rushed), has a re-jiggered ending, and is generally more radio friendly than the rather lengthy and languid album take. Thanks to a pressing error, we get it twice on this EP instead of hearing the promised – and promisingly titled! – “Lowrider Mix.” Don’t worry; that one pops up on the American 12” and the European CD, and it pretty much just adds a dumb – but fun – bass thump and hip-hop beat throughout the song. “Strange Invitation”? “Jack-Ass” as performed on acoustic guitar with handsome string backing as arranged by Beck’s own daddy. Mellow cello! And that singing: significant leaps taken here towards legitimacy as a vocal bigshot. Last on the menu is the infamous “Burro,” a full-on mariachi version, crooned in Spanish. Beck would later incorporate Mexican/Latino influences more fully into his music, but back in ’97 this felt like a wacky gimmick… though one that is carefully executed and works quite well.

Gripe that I can’t cram in anywhere else: Annoyingly, the A-sides of both 7”s are much louder than the B’s. Whyzat?!

Hey, wondering why Bob Dylan gets a writing credit on “Jack-Ass”? Of course you were. The meat of the musical track here is a shimmering sample from “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” crucial enough to the song’s foundation to elevate Dylan to co-writer status. But here’s the crazy part! This particular sample is from Them’s cover of “Baby Blue,” and it’s an element that was not in Dylan’s version; Bobert D’s really getting away with one here! Ah well. More fun Dylan facts: There were rumors going around in 1997 that Beck, Dylan, and Paul McCartney were going to tape an Unplugged performance with Allen Ginsberg (McCartney had been collaborating with Ginsberg around this time). Old Al dropped dead, though, so it didn’t happen. However, Beck and Dylan did play a show together in Los Angeles at the end of that year, so all was right with the world. The end.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beck - Sissyneck

(Geffen, 1997)

“Sissyneck” always felt like the neglected Odelay single. No video, no remixes, no American release (the other four songs pulled from the LP had US 12”s)… no hit! A shame, too, because this is a fun little smirk-free shitkicker, a trashed-out tale of late-90s, beer-swillin’, dime-store outlawry with some appropriate pedal steel in the chorus. What’s not to like? The B-side, a second stab at “Feather in Your Cap” (which was first on the “It’s All in Your Mind” 7”), is a champ as well. This time around, Beck slows the tempo, alters some lyrics, and builds a moody, evocative arrangement that suits the song far better than the tossed-off feel of the original. In its depressed beauty, “Feather” is quite different from the rest of the Odelay material – other than “Jack-Ass,” perhaps – and foreshadows the direction in which Beck would soon head on Mutations.

I’m sorry these reviews are so boring lately, it’s just that I, like so many others this time of year, have a serious case of “State of the Union Fever” and can think of nothing else. I can’t wait to see our wonderful President lay out his brilliant 2008 plans in eloquent – poetic, even – terms on Monday night. As I insist (tears in my eyes) every evening when I’m leading my family in saying grace before dinner, we’re so lucky to be living in an age where we share the same air as George W. Bush. God bless you, sir; you’re my favorite President since the late, great Richard M. Nixon. America wins again.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beck - Devil's Haircut

(Geffen, 1996)

Not a terribly interesting song, “Devil’s Haircut” is built around an endlessly repeated sample (interpolation?) of the guitar riff from “I Can Only Give You Anything” and never launches off into any surprising directions. Catchy enough and rockin’ enough, but no great shakes at the end of the day; probably the least exciting of the five Odelay singles. The slinky, funky “Lloyd Price Express” is a remix of “Where It’s At” that successfully reimagines the song as a smooth, soulful jam instead of a hip-hop-based number. This won’t be included on the upcoming deluxe edition of Odelay (only place to find it on CD is the Japanese “Where It’s At” EP), so hang onto your “Devil’s Haircut” 45, son, hang on for dear life.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Beck - It's All In Your Mind

(K, 1995)

I’ll talk about this Beck record now. I’ll talk about it real good. About how it’s three songs from the One Foot In The Grave sessions ladled onto seven inches o’ waxy sadness. Not too many laughs on this one, sirs and madams! It bein’ barebones and all. Early stabs at sincerity, yeah. Simple, acoustic introspection up the wazoo!! Many tentative steps toward the emotional openness to come. He redid the surprisingly straightforward and mournful “It’s All In Your Mind” on Sea Change, but the production molasses did nothing to improve the song; the naked original – gtr and voice – on here is far more affecting. The similarly stripped-down “Feather In Your Cap” is thrashed at and sung in a sorta sardonic voice, as if to belie the lyrics (“Disappointment/Is a feather in your cap,” etc.), which are clearly heartfelt. This one was treated to a remake as well – showing up on the Suburbia soundtrack and “Sissyneck” single – and that lush, expanded version actually brings out the track’s buried melancholy by slowing it down and focusing on it the appropriate seriousness and care it isn’t given here. By far the peppiest song is “Whiskey Can Can,” a bouncy popper that is sunnier and more featherweight than most anything else in the Beck catalog, even though it does fit into his early-days habit of shoehorning the word ‘whiskey’ into every available lyric. Peppy? Here? Holy incongruity! Still, an interesting, moving disc, and eagle-eyed richies can find these songs as bonuses on the Japanese CD release of One Foot.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Beck - Steve Threw Up

(Bong Load, 1994)

An early Beck single, and the only label-released pre-Odelay material – other than the Western Harvestfield 10” – to remain unavailable on the popular CD format (The goofy NIN-esque noizefest “Mutherfuker” on the B-side is essentially the same as the Mellow Gold version, despite the alternate spelling. There is a brief, profane rap appended to it, however). Friend Hansen was actually a funny fellow back in those days, churning out entertaining little story-songs left n right – “Steve Threw Up,” “Mexico,” “Satan Gave Me a Taco” – which, sadly, was to no longer be the case once he got all Serious and Grown Up and Critically Acclaimed by the late 1990s. Too bad: those were some hilarious ditties! Now, take for example this here “Steve Threw Up,” whose lyrics first establish that Steve took some bad acid, then describe the increasing horror of the streetfair at which he finds himself, then list the many disgusting foods he recently consumed, then, finally, the whole thing explodes into violent electronic retching to simulate the titular upchucking. Delivered in that marble-mouthed, pre-“Deadweight” drawl, Beck lays out his tale over some humorously pretty acoustic guitar, violin, female “aaaah”s, and brushed drums. Well done all around; worth many a laugh, yet strong enough to warrant wheelbarrows of repeat listens and elevate itself above novelty-song status. There are a bunch of colored-vinyl repressings glutting the market, so why not check the heck outta one of em?

You know, I vaguely remembered reading on the ancient Truck-run Beck site, back in ’96 or so, about the REAL STEVE who inspired this song. Looking into the matter again twelve years on, it turns out that the dude is my pal on Facebook! And he made a film about Neil Hamburger! Who can deny that this internet is a crazy thing!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Beautiful New Born Children - Do The Do

(Domino, 2005)

I feel guilty and dopey comparing a garage rawk single to both the White Stripes and the Strokes, but sit back now and watch as I do it anyway. Here we’ve got two short bursts of fast, trebly, guitar-based rock ’n’ roll with bash-bash-bash drumming; very American! Seeks simple transcendence through anyone-can-do-it boneheadedness – though no hints of rock brutality, unfortunately – and the lead vox wail away atop everything with a definite Jack White-style nasal twang. Golly, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in those misty memories of the class of ’01, especially as the over-saturated vocals also seem to employ the same recording technique used on the early Strokes records. And such comparisons only hurt Beautiful New Born Children, cuz their elders, though their faults were many, simply wrote better songs than these (Granted: B-side “Paper Mill” does have a jaunty, choppy rhythm that is itself rather Strokesian and rather pleasant). This single’s not quite a dud, but really, you’ve heard it all before, and none of this is catchy enough or wild enough (no wacky coconuts, no wacky loco-nuts here) to make any of it matter. For fetishists only.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Beatles - Abbey Road Part Two

(Ree Ben, 1988)

Another bootleg, and you might as well scoot on down to your local bootleg distribution center to buy this one, because it has some stuff that didn’t get included on the Anthology or BBC records. Like 1969’s “Goodbye,” a wispy “White Album”-esque acoustic number from Paul McCartney that he sings in that high-pitched voice he uses on “I Will.” And “Bad to Me” (1963), a charming Lennon guitar demo that would actually have been nice to hear with a full-band treatment on With the Beatles. The tracks that went legit over the course of the band’s ’90s archive clearings are Paul’s 1968 “Come and Get it” demo, which sounds exactly like what Badfinger eventually released; “That Means a Lot” (1965), a nifty, echo-laden (Spectorian, almost) pop trifle with a dramatic McCartney vocal; a 1963 BBC recording of the gentle Buddy Holly-soundalike “I’ll Be On My Way”; and John’s indifferent demo for the tossed-off “I’m the Greatest,” a solo Ringo hit in 1973 (this one snuck out on the John Lennon Anthology box set). There’s certainly nothing major on here – which the bootleggers seem to realize with the disc’s tongue-in-cheek title – but it’s a handy collection of six fun tracks that never appeared on the canonical studio albums, and the two rarities are useful additions to any goofball’s collection. Funny cover, too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Beatles - How Do You Do It

(SOK, 1976)

Gah, a bootleg! Released by one of the early superfan organizations! Plz don’t tell that hat-wearing lawsuit-lover Neil Aspinall that I own such a thing! I don’t want my front door kicked down by the Apple Corps... my things thrown about... me cuffed n led away... interrogated... savagely beaten... thrown in a basement cell with the rotting corpse of Jackie Lomax. But hey hey! Legality aside, have you heard this record? I have. Everyone has. They love it.


“How Do You Do it” could’ve easily been on Please Please Me, as it’s another one of those pleasant yet pussified early-Beatle cover toonz, still halfway between old-timey pop and actual rock ’n’ roll. It’s perhaps a little thinner than most, but super bouncy and melodic nonetheless. Whoopdee-doo; don’t care. The real prize on here is the elusive video mix of “Revolution,” which, somehow, still has not been officially released on discy thingy. More distortion, a different lead vocal, and Paul and George do the “shooby-doo-wap” parts from “Revolution 1”; it’s a tasty combo of the single version and the album version, and it’s certainly my FAVORITE versionversionversion! Hot dog this is a lively number! Why wasn’t this released as part of the Anthology project? A CRIME. Could’ve at least been a B-side on “Real Love” or sumpin. I just don’t get why that ball was dropped. Ball-droppin’ jerks, all of ’em.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Beatles - Real Love

(Apple/Capitol, 1996)

The second reunion single, and this one feels a lot less organic than “Free as a Bird,” possibly because it doesn’t have the benefit of those gut-punch Paul- and George-sung bridges. The vocals are, in fact, an issue throughout. John’s ghostly warbling doesn’t work as well here as it does on “FaaB” as he’s completely overwhelmed by the other Beatles’ rich instrumental overdubs. But in fairness, those overdubs are quite nifty, especially George’s guitar solo and Ringo’s well-placed cymbal crashes in the chorus. “Real Love” is not a bad song by any stretch, and is actually rather catchy (especially that chorus!), but it’s definitely mid-tier Lennon at best, limp adult-pap at worst. The B-side? Pointless live version of “Baby’s in Black” that seems to have been included solely to show off John’s funny, sneering stage banter. The music itself is pure snoozer.

I’ll add that the band didn’t help the A-side’s cause from the get-go by premiering it via a LOUSY video 24 hours after the unleashing of the awesome “Free as a Bird” vid, making it feel like the afterthought it was eventually considered. The airing of the “Bird” clip, by the way, beats out the 2004 ALCS as the most exciting television experience of my life… that countdown on ABC – “ABeatleC” har har – while the credits rolled on the first installment of the Anthology special back in ’95? MAN! I remember exactly where I was sitting in the room at the time, and I think I even shed a secret tear or two. SHADDUP.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Beatles - Free As A Bird

(Apple/Capitol, 1995)

“Free as a Bird” straight-up rules hard, but a lotta jerkasses want to give this one the old pooh-pooh. Why?! What did you want from a Beatles reunion in 1995? What did you expect?? Rapping? Hott beatz? This is loose, natural, and SOUNDS like the Beatles, and that’s absolutely the best possible outcome (imagine the bitching that would’ve occurred if they’d done something completely outta left-field!). Grave-dwelling John’s in introspective, melodic mode; George puts down some awesome, Georgely slide guitar; Ringo has that crisp, tasteful drum sound that he rocked in the olden days; and while Paul doesn’t get too crazy on the bass, his vocals and new lyrics fit in perfectly. Heck, they even pulled Geoff Fuggin’ Emerick out of mothballs to engineer the thing! Don’t forget that the fellas didn’t sit down, stroke their chins, and try to write a hot-shit “Beatley” song from scratch; they were bound to a minor, late-70s – LATE-70s! – Lennon piano demo and dudes STILL managed to make it sound like a real group effort that coulda come from ANY decade, just like the best Beatle stuff does. Blends into the catalog quite nicely. And for cryin’ out loud, all the tons of idiotic non-musical baggage aside, this is simply a satisfying effort as a SONG: it’s a moody, engaging piece of music with some lovely – occasionally soaring – playing and singing. So lay off! Even the B-side’s a winner, as we finally get an uninterrupted version of the band’s 1967 psychedelic holiday jam, “Christmas Time (is Here Again).” If one can drop the ridiculous and unreasonable expectations, there’s just nothing to dislike about this 45. A real crowd pleaser, end to end.

And wait! What’s with all the Lynne bashing that went (and goes) on? His ear was the right ear to have in the studio for the two reunion tracks. Guy’s a stone-cold miracle worker and always has a good haircut. So impressed and inspired was I by his efforts, I worked on a screenplay about Jeff Lynne (Jeff Lynne: The Movie) for a while in high school. The only detail I remember is that he hurled Ringo through an upper-story window at one point.

The Beatles - Baby It's You

(Apple/Capitol 1995)

Hello 1990s and hello at last to previously unreleased material. The title track has been pulled from the Live at the BBC album, and the other three are exclusive to this particular hunk of wax. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get all that jazzed about the Beatles’ slew of reverent early-period covers – except maybe “Please Mister Postman” – and this EP, all of which was recorded live in 1963 and 1964, is cram-jammed with three of ’em: “Baby it’s You,” “Devil in Her Heart,” and “Boys.” Acoustic ditty “I’ll Follow the Sun” is the lone original on here, and Paul plays it straight; it’s basically a rougher-sounding version of what’s on Beatles For Sale. Which is the problem on all of these songs…they’re too close to the studio versions to be of any real value or interest. EXCEPT – and this is crazy – “Boys,” on Please Please Me a worthless dud of a Ringo showcase, but here a crackling, exciting track with raw vox (both lead and backing) that propel it into ever more rockin’ territory. Yikes! Should’ve been the A-side, and that’s no joke. You know, there’s some food for thought in the fact that every Beatleboy gets a lead vocal on this record; cute, sure, but did Apple politics cause the compilers to leave off better material?

P.S.: Take a gander at the cover photo and notice the lousy retouch the art department attempted. You can see Ringo’s blurry head (from the album cover shot) over the right shoulder of the superimposed, dancing Ringo! Whoops.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Beatles - The Beatles' Movie Medley

(Capitol, 1982)

Even in the grim period of late-’70s/early-’80s reissue singles, this is an embarrassing low. Capitol strings together seven excerpts from the soundtracks of the Beatles’ movies and comes up with a crude medley to accompany its barrel-scraping Reel Music album (Why did the label think anyone needed a theme compilation like Reel Music in 1982?? After many sleepless nights, the only theory I can come up with is that this was around the time the group’s films were being released on home video, and the LP served as an easy tie-in…?). Don’t have time to listen to your favorite hits like “Magical Mystery Tour,” “All You Need is Love,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Get Back” in their entirety? Then this steaming pile is just the disc for you! Yes, you’re gonna love hearing snippets of those songs crammed into a 3:56 abortion that features choppy edits, little logic in its excerpt-to-excerpt flow, and, best of all, a comically sped-up “Ticket to Ride.” If the cretins at Capitol wanted to pull a “Stars on 45” and make this record a little interesting, they should have at least had the decency to go all the way and toss a handclappy disco beat under the whole thing. But no. Incompetence abounds in medleytown!

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

(EMI, 1978)

Having successfully cashed in on the Manson murders two years earlier with the 45rpm re-release of “Helter Skelter,” the record label Powers That Be decided it was time once again to reach into the Beatles’ back catalog and turn a quick buck on an unspeakable tragedy. But instead of hitching their wagon to media-star serial killers, they would now hop onto the back of the Bee Gees’ much-hyped cinematic Sgt. Pepper fiasco. And so we have this lazy single, which slaps the opening Pepper mini-medley on one side and “A Day in the Life” on the other. Here, stripped of its context, that A-side is exposed as the slight intro piece it really is; it feels naked without the rest of the album following, its ending abrupt and unsatisfying. The listener can easily forgive the song(s) thanks to the undeniable presence of much charm – and the power of familiarity – but when listened to critically, “Sgt. Pepper”/“With a Little Help From My Friends” simply doesn’t work on a 7”. While “A Day in the Life” holds its own as a standalone track, EMI manages to screw things up by including a version (as on the 1967-1970 compilation) that does not have a clean beginning; despite trying to mask this fact by employing a quick fade-in, the audience noise from the end of the Pepper reprise can still be heard quite clearly at the song’s outset. Strictly amateur, to the point of being insulting. Faint praise or not, at least the sleeve on this Italian issue is attractive, which is more than can be said for the yellow monstrosity vomited forth by Capitol in the United States.

The Beatles - Got To Get You Into My Life

(Capitol, 1976)

The first “new” Beatles single since “The Long and Winding Road,” and it’s an ugly-sleeved laff. Why it exists: Capitol released Paul’s punchy ode to the dreaded P-O-T (that’s what PMcC sez it’s about, anyway) to promote its braindead Rock ’N’ Roll Music compilation, see. Can’t say that this horn-driven slice of whiteboy soul is the rockinest or rollinest choice they coulda made for single – or even that it shoulda been included on said comp in the first place – but it made the top ten, so what do I know? In a Beatle first, McCartney dominates both sides of the disc, his ’68 sledgehammer “Helter Skelter” on the B. An r’n’r themed 45, and it’s AllPaul! Which is quite amusing, cuz Paulie was at this very time wussing out horribly with the flufftastic Wings at the Speed of Sound. The universe has a sense of humor! Or at least someone at Capitol does/did.

Know what else is weird? CBS ran a high-profile TV movie about the Manson killings called Helter Skelter in April of 1976, and then Capitol released “Helter Skelter” on a single in May of 1976. Funny how that worked out. Classy, too.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Beatles - Let It Be

(Apple, 1970)

McCartney dips his toe into some gospel biz with “Let it Be” and sells the package with that forceful deeper register he used so often – and so well – during his bearded phase. Given what I’ve heard of Billy Preston’s work, it seems reasonable to assume that his presence in the Beatles’ sphere at this time had considerable influence on the song’s development. Either way, his rich, churchy organ is a key component in the arrangement, so hats off to you, Mr. Billy “Recently Deceased” Preston! This 7” mix (included on Past Masters Volume Two) differs from the superior Let it Be LP version, with, among other sonic subtleties, an alternate guitar solo.

Things take a turn for the zany on “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” a jazzy, multi-sectioned goof that feels an awful lot like an early Bonzo Dog Band outtake. While a little tedious at 4:19, the casual jokiness of the song serves as a nice answer to the A-side’s solemnity. Lennon had actually been scheming to release “You Know My Name” and the obnoxious “What’s the New Mary Jane” as a solo 7”, and it’s a shame he didn’t get his way; that would have been one of the most perverse and unlistenable singles of all time. Aside from “Gone Troppo,” that is. Haw!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Beatles - Something

(Apple, 1969)

Harrison’s lush “Something” is his most direct and “big”-sounding song yet, and clearly points the way to the following year’s All Things Must Pass album. At this stage in the game, Lennon was a back-to-basics junkie and McCartney was interested in cute (though oft-successful) stylistic exercises; Harrison was focused and had the grandest songwriting aspirations of the three as the Beatles wound down (or perhaps just a whole lotta songs stored up and an artistic chip on his shoulder). To his credit, though, Lennon contributes the other side of this single, and, continuing in his recent rock vein, tosses off a good one: “Come Together” – all sleek, menacing groove and unsettling imagery – is essentially the r’n’r cousin of “I am the Walrus.” Funky electric piano!

Oh, and Ringo’s totally about the toms on both of these songs… praise ye the Lord for that; can rarely go wrong when pitching some fine thumpa-thumpa into the stew. To beat the point to death: That guy’s drumming (and drumsound) was great throughout the band’s career – absolutely the right man for the job – and listening to all these singles back-to-back for weeks has really drilled that into me. Cock an ear drumwards sometime soon and hear what I mean.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Beatles - Hey Jude

(Odeon, 1968)

Those savvy Beatles cover all the bases by trotting out a fast one and a slow one in advance of the “White Album,” and promptly (predictably) sell a gazillion of the things. McCartney perfects the mega-ballad with his seven-minute piano monster, whose slow-build and raucous ending he would later revisit on songs like “The Back Seat of My Car,” “C’mon People,” and “Beautiful Night.” With its tasteful arrangement and singing – restraint was not to be a strong point for the musical descedents of “Hey Jude” – Paul does it right and does it best on his first attempt. The B-side conveniently bolsters the John/rocker, Paul/wimp stereotypes, as “Revolution” sees the Beatles get uncharacteristically heavy and distorted under Lennon’s raw vocals. Overall, one of their best, and not a bum second on either side.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour EP

(Parlophone, 1967)

“Magical Mystery Tour” was released in the UK as a double-7” EP soundtrack to the Beatles’ ill-advised adventure in filmmaking (hence the reappearance of “I am the Walrus”). The five new songs stack up favorably next to the rest of the band’s impressive and inventive 1967 output, and, as a whole, this loose, out-there package tops Sgt. Pepper as a work of smart, expansive psychedelia. Quite a capper on twelve months of vinyl activity that included the “Penny Lane,” “All You Need is Love,” and “Hello Goodbye” singles as well as the Pepper LP. Yow! I’m lazy, so let’s just go through this one track by track for maximum dullness and minimum readability. But before we do that, hey, guess what? The EP doesn’t have the same running order as the LP/CD!! Oh, I’m sorry… was your mind just blown?

It’s a big, brassy opening with the driving (HA! It has bus sound effects!) title track; a better use of horns on a Beatle song I cannot call to mind. Punchy drums, too! There exists a hilarious outtake with a spoken interlude that is well worth locating posthaste – “When a man buys a ticket for a magical mystery tour, he knows what to expect… And we guarantee him THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME. And that’s just what he gets… The INCREDIBLE… MAGICAL… MYSTERY TOUR!!!” Haw. “Your Mother Should Know” takes us back into winking, old-timey “When I’m Sixty-Four” territory, but is a touch sprightlier and sassier than its Pepper McCousin. Next to the plate is our friend “I am the Walrus,” which both ups the overall freakiness and gives the otherwise under-represented Lennon a chance to have his say on this release.

END OF RECORD ONE. INTERMISSION. START OF RECORD TWO (a little Help! humor for you there, everyone!).

I can never make up my mind about “The Fool on the Hill.” Is it a quirky, mellow-time character study that interestingly presages “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” in its “fast” sections? Or just a tedious drag that never quite gets off the ground? Today, I happen to think it’s the former, but why don’t YOU TELL ME?? “Flying”? Unstoppable! Bass- and Mellotron-heavy mood-piece – and rare full-group composition – that shows the Beatles of ’67 could indeed get its psych across without layering truckloads of overdubs and aural weirdness atop itself. Short, sweet, ’n’ plenty effective! George’s creepy-crawly “Blue Jay Way” ends the set on an unsettling note. The “back to basics” movement would take hold after this (“Lady Madonna” was the group’s next release), so it’s rather fitting that the band’s full-on psychedelic phase should unwittingly close out with such a nightmarish, squirming bit of paranoia, a dark, underbelly-of-the-Summer-of-Love lead-in to a period of gettin’ back to where they once belonged (ugh, sorry; had to say that, I guess).

Lazy though it is, I sincerely hope everyone appreciates this entry, because I went through some distressing times to get my hands on this, a mono first pressing ($$!!) of “MMT”: A desperate and deranged booze-hound with whom I spoke at a bar one night insisted on selling it to me for twenty bucks when he learned I was a fan of the Beatles. Knowing this was a hugely unfair deal, I tried to decline, but he wasn’t hearing it. We walked to his place, and I sweated uncomfortably as we made the transaction in his dank rat’s nest, surrounded by disturbing, wall-sized collages and, yes, voodoo dolls.

A few months later, I watched him pick up a girl hours after he’d had serious oral surgery; his mouth was bleeding and, by his own admission, his breath smelled of vomit.

I miss that guy.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Beatles - Hello Goodbye

(Capitol, 1967)

QUIT PHONING IT IN, PAUL! I have a longstanding rep to uphold as America’s top McCartney bootlicker, but dude’s making it hard when he tosses off shit like “Hello Goodbye,” and in so doing proves every hack naysayer right about his money-grabbing vapidity. Argh! It’s certainly not a terrible song; there’s some rather nice drumming (note the pattern thus far: Ringo’s always good), slide guitar, and backing vox, and it’s obviously CATCHY...the problem here is largely the lyrics: it’s just the most braindead of oompah-oompahs, with the sickly-sweetest Paul-vocal in the canon. Gross treacle. But a funny video! The Beatles’ knowledge of their own fast-blooming legacy by this point made for some of the earliest hyper-self-aware rock, but other than the undeniable trace of faux-innocence here, as underscored in the vid’s gentle poke at Beatlemania-style na├»vete, self-referentialism wasn’t to fully manifest itself for another album or so (“Glass Onion,” “Get Back”). Still, do not doubt that the foundation has been laid…

Lennon saves the operation with “I am the Walrus,” a wonderfully overstuffed piece of psychedelic nonsense that is only topped – barely – by “Strawberry Fields Forever” when it comes to delivering pure, Beatlish lysergic delight. “Walrus,” to its credit, has a much harder edge; John spits the lyrics out, very sensitive to timing the relevant consonants to the drumbeat, and gives his voice a raspy quality that would normally be better suited to a straight-up rock performance. This is a true kitchen-sink production with the endless samples and musical asides, and it’s a shame that Lennon would never again be so ambitious from an arrangement standpoint. Lotsa great music soon to come from Paul and John, but little of it would be as freewheeling, forward-thinking, and weird as what they were attempting in ’66 and ’67. TRUTH.

The Beatles - Todo lo que Necesitas es Amor

(Capitol, 1967)

A quaint artifact. I hope that doesn’t sound too sneering; there just isn’t another Beatles record that dates itself quite the way this musty Summer o’ Love souvenir does. Dippy we’re-all-one sentiments, a salute to “the beautiful people,” ornate production, a highly era-appropriate sleeve... it’s all here, buddy.

Still soaking everything in horns and violins in the wake of Sgt. Pepper – though there is a little guitar solo on here – the band shoots for Timeless Statement with the truly lightweight anthem-to-order “All You Need is Love.” It’s easy to roll eyes at the dimwitted “profundities” contained in the lyrics, but I will concede that if you’re trying to get a Big Message across, sure, easy-to-remember simplicity, musically and lyrically, is the smart route. Just like when Paul McCartney wrote the chart-topping classic “Freedom” in late 2001 and healed the wounds of a nation!

“Baby You’re a Rich Man,” while no masterpiece itself, is at least a whole buncha fun with its chugging rhythm, “With a Little Help From My Friends”-style Q & A lyrics, and an atypical falsetto vocal from John (who actually sings lead on both sides of this record). It also boasts one of the most ridiculous throwaway lines in Beatle history (“You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside the zoo / What a thing to do!”), but it’s silly enough to bring on a laugh every once in a while, so I’m happy to let it slide. And am I remembering correctly that the Fat Boys, of all groups, put out a “Rich Man” cover about 20 years ago? Strange.

Scared and confused by the image and title accompanying this entry? Me too! That’s the Mexican release, which includes the same music as the U.S. single, just in a far uglier sleeve; basically looks like a cheap black-and-white photocopy of the American version. This one was affordable, though, so I bought it right up.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Beatles - Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever

(Parlophone, 1967)

Imagine my surprise when, tonight, the Mayor of the Internet showed up at my doorstep to present me with a CERTIFICATE OF ACHIEVEMENT for receiving 1,000 hits on this very site! Apparently, this is the first time in the history of “the web” that this previously unimaginable plateau has ever been reached! So, in light of this incredible honor, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for making this The Most Popular Site In The History Of The Internet; and I’d especially like to thank the mystery visitor from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who pushed me over the top at 11:53pm Eastern. You are the real hero here, nameless Comcast subscriber. And – let’s be honest – the real winner, too, because during your visit, like 999 others before, you got to read gut-twistingly insightful and incisive commentary by me, a thoughtful, chin-stroking, pretend-recognized 7” reviewer. I take my lofty perch very seriously, and I want to assure everyone that I’ll never let you down. I’ll review every 7” from A to Z, and then back again. But even that won’t be good enough. No, I’ll never rest until I’ve reviewed TEN MILLION 7”s! Just watch me! Only 9,999,947 left, but the slow and steady bird gets the worm, right? And so we move on…

…To this grrrrrrrrrr-reat single by the Beatles!! It’s the first of the famous “Moustache Trilogy” (copyright: me), which also includes “All You Need Is Love” and “Hello Goodbye.” But forget those other two for now, because “Penny Lane” / “Strawberry Fields Forever” stands as the biggest, boldest pole-vault upwards ’n’ onwards that I have ever heard single-to-single from any band. These songs aren’t semi-regressive or self-consciously whimsical like the “Eleanor Rigby” / “Yellow Submarine” pairing, these pre-Pepper shockers are a coupla cannonballs into absolute paisley newness. Paul’s “Penny Lane” certainly feels more mannered and stiff than the endlessly-fiddled-with bizarreness of “Strawberry Fields,” but it’s still impressive in its wide-eyed ability to lift its subjects’ mundanity into the realm of the acid-fucked sublime. And has there ever been another band that was able reach into its bag o’ tricky tricks to plunk more instruments front-n-center on a one-off basis than the Beatles? NO! This time it’s a goshdang TRUMPET stealing the show!!

On the other side, more mind-blow: “Strawberry Fields”?? Holy CROW! Never mind the sumptuous mellotron, backwards cymbals (always a fine touch; it’s what MADE Jimi Hendrix’s one good song) and crazy-flute/tom-heavy fake ending: the lyrics are what truly win the day here. “That is, you can’t, you know, tune in, but it’s all right… That is, I think it’s not too bad,” takes John’s raging insecurity into the LSD era, but he really tops himself with this one, which might be the best lyric in any major pop hit, ever: “I think… Er, no… I mean… Er, yes… But it’s all wrong. That is, I think I disagree.” KAPOW, yeah? One more big thumbs-up is owed to the “misunderstanding all you see” bit, which has pleasantly baffled me since kiddiehood. Does he mean that misunderstanding IS all you see? Or that you misunderstand all you see? Dunno! That’s why it’s a good line! A good line on a freakishly high-quality single! Honestly, I could punctuate ’til the end of the night when it comes to this one. IT IS THAT FINE.

Oh, here are some more caps: AND FOR CRIMINY’S SAKE, THANK GOODNESS THERE’S FINALLY A DIFFERENT GRAPHIC LAYOUT ON A BEATLES SLEEVE. (Psst, historical note: Parlophone in the UK reissued all of the band’s 45s in the early ’80s, and that’s the “Penny Lane” I happen to own. Head-scratchingly, those art-hating Brits saw to it that this and “Let It Be” were the only two singles to have been released with picture sleeves in England during the group’s lifetime; the reissues retain that artwork while the others all add newly-created sleeves.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Beatles - Eleanor Rigby / Yellow Submarine

(Capitol, 1966)

Another year down the ol’ tubes. Stats? In 2007, I acquired 1,019 records at a cost of $6,399.84. Of these, 273 were new, 746 were used. Breaking down by format, 436 were CDs or CDRs, 569 were vinyl (342 LPs, 178 7”s, 46 12”s, and three 10”s), six were cassettes, and eight were mixed formats or “other.” I bought the most records in January (131), the least in June (47). I completed discographies for the Dave Clark Five, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Moose, Loop, Killdozer, Appliance, the Animals (except for the reunion albums), and the Monkees (except for Justus). I saw exactly 100 movies; only seven were repeat viewings. July and December were the months in which I watched the most films (15), May the fewest (1). The best movies were Death Race 2000, Children of Men, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, while the worst were Little Man and Women’s Camp 119. I read 32 books in the last year, a total of 8,773 pages. I attended 43 concerts, where I witnessed 99 sets. I was seeing 62 of those bands for the first time. My weight dipped and is consistently below 130 these days; this is not a problem, as I’m still a hearty lad who can scrap with the best of them. I also charted which pants and shirts I wore each day over the last 12 months, but that information is not easily summarized.

Well. I’m glad I got that off my chest. Especially since it used up a lot of space that I would have otherwise had to fill with thoughts about two songs that are both famous enough to make me feel silly offering much commentary. On “Eleanor Rigby,” Paul’s at it again with those strings (this is Great McCartney Ballad #2), they’re all a-pluckin’ and a-sawin’ away behind him as he lays out his gloomy tale of loneliness and death. Boy, the Beatles sure did have a lot of glum songs on their singles from 1965 onward. What’s the story there? Everybody everywhere should be happy all the time. Didn’t drugs teach them that? Things are much sunnier on the other side, though, thanks to that bouncy hunk of Ringo-crooned kiddie psychedelia, “Yellow Submarine.” Like the “Paperback Writer” single, neither song here deals in the sort of vague mass-appeal “I/you” lyrics of earlier days: these are specific, imagined selves (“Paperback Writer,” “Yellow Submarine”); character sketches (“Eleanor Rigby”); or idiosyncratic – chemically-aided? – flights o’ fancy (“Rain”). It’s also worth noting that guitars are barely present on this disc. While this is very much a POP single, it’s the first Beatles 45 that can’t accurately be called a ROCK ’N’ ROLL single. Cuz it just ain’t.