Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What's So Bad about the 70's?

I was sad to see the passing of Tom Snyder yesterday. When I was a teenager in the 70's, the Tomorrow Show was one of my favorites. And even though Tom was a square, he was a great TV personality, especially for late night.

In the pre-cable era, when stations actually went off the air in the early AM, Tomorrow was an oasis for this teenage rock and roller. Tom not only had John Lennon and Paul McCartney on his show (not together obviously), but he also had Patti Smith, Johnny Rotten, the Ramones, and the Plasmatics. And lots of writers, film and television personalities. And kooks like Charles Manson, too.

Tom was a good guy. And like Dick Cavett, he actually asked interesting questions and we learned stuff. Talk shows today are just exercises in pre-fab one-liners.

And it got me thinking about the 70's. For years now, I've been telling people "Hey, the 70's were cool!" But it's a hard sell. The goofy clothes and disco seem to dominate people's opinion of the times.

Sure the 60's were exciting, but in the 70's the country was at its most liberal politically and had some of the best movies, TV shows and music. The 70's was what the 60's wanted to be. Women's Lib came on strong and the Gay scene came out of the closet.

Here's a list of some of the movies and television show from the 70's that I love: The Godfather movies, M*A*S*H (the movie and the pre-BJ episodes), Chinatown, the Mary Tyler Moore show, Kung Fu, Columbo, Taxi Driver, Jaws, The Waltons (yes, it was a good show for the first couple years), A Clockwork Orange, Paper Moon, The Streets of San Francisco, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Annie Hall...the list could go on and on. And I could include more obscure stuff, like a couple of cool westerns: Alias Smith and Jones and the wonderful short-lived show starring James Garner called Nichols.

As far as music goes, how about Punk? It was the last important thing that happened in music, and the Sex Pistols were the last important act in the business.

Regarding the Beatles, it was the era of their greatest solo work. McCartney, Ram, Band on the Run, All Things Must Pass, Plastic Ono Band, Walls and Bridges, "It Don't Come Easy", "Live and Let Die", and "Imagine" were all great. Even albums we thought as sketchy like Wild Life seem refreshing in retrospect. And the Wings Tour in 1976 was a huge event and a great concert. I saw them in Seattle and loved ever second of it. The 70's was the last time Paul McCartney was cool.

Sure, there have been some great things since: The Sopranos and Nirvana, for instance. But the best thing about the post-70's is that we have better technology and we can watch and listen to all the great old stuff with superior picture and sound and availability.

I have theories as to why I feel the way I do. It might be because it was "my era" (I was 13 in 1970). It might be that "pop culture" had exhausted itself by the 80's. Or maybe we're just over-stuffed. 500 TV channels, DVDs, the Internet, satellite radio...What was it that Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane said? "You buy a bag of peanuts in this town and you get a song written about you." So true.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Within You, Without You

John Lennon always dismissed the whole idea that Sgt. Pepper was a concept album. He said, more or less, that the whole concept of it being presented as a show with Sgt. Pepper and his band fell apart after the first two cuts, and then pops up again with the "Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)" track.

But at the end of "Within You, Without You", you hear the chuckle of laughter from the audience. So that makes one other piece of the album being "like a show". Also, the fact that some tracks blended into each other also made it seem more "live" and not like the normal dozen or so separate songs previously experienced on all former Beatles' albums.

Also, if it was intended or not, the album does have a melancholy mood, a sense of "loneliness", which ties in nicely with the fact that the fictitious band is from the "Lonely Hearts Club".

Maybe Lennon was being a bit coy to dismiss it all. And putting the concept idea down might have been a jab at Paul since the album was his "baby". But I think it was right to tone down the original idea of "instead of touring, we send the album on tour" idea. It would've been silly to have more talking (e.g., "And now we'd like to do a song about a meter maid!") and audience sounds. It's perfect the way it is. A great studio album with a little presentation thrown in to give us a taste of something different.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Revolver has always been one of my "summer" albums, so I popped the CD in the car the other day and gave it a listen. I remember a few years ago Virgin conducted a huge poll of record buyers and journalists and Revolver was voted the greatest album of all time. I think it was a British only poll, but regardless of input by Americans or Canadians or whoever, Revolver is a recognized highpoint for the Beatles. Not as flashy as Sgt. Pepper or as slick as Abbey Road, it's a great snapshot of them in a pre-psychedelic and post mop top period.

But what I wanted to get at today is the difference between the American LP (which I grew up listening to) and the British (now official) version.

Capitol often short-changed us, and ended up squeezing five extra albums out of the Beatles seven year recording run. British records generally ran 14 songs whereas the US versions were around 12.

I don't know the logistics of who and how the editing choices were made (I'm sure there's a book out there that details it all. I simply can't keep up with all of the Beatle books that have come out over the last 15 years), but Revolver has got to be the worst example of Capitol's need to lift songs from an otherwise fine album.

In their defense, I actually like the American Rubber Soul better than the British one. The best thing they did was remove the opening cut, "Drive My Car" and Ringo's "What Goes On". And even though we got the usual 12 for 14, they stuck in songs from the British Help! LP that were more fitting to the folksy sound of Soul: "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love". Of course we also lost "Nowhere Man", which would've been fine, but overall, the American version has a better overall mood and tone than the EMI one.

I also really like the Capitol LP The Beatles Second Album, which was compiled from singles, EPs and leftovers from their first two LPs. Second Album is a rocking good time.

Revolver, on the other hand, is a mess. They simply plucked three songs from the lineup and added nothing. And the weird part is that the three songs were all Lennon tunes leaving him only two, each one stuck in the lonely spot of last cut on each side. The remaining Lennon cuts were "She Said She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows". Cut were "I'm Only Sleeping" (one of his best), "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "Doctor Robert". They were all thrown on the Yesterday and Today record, which oddly, came out a few months before Revolver. So American listeners actually got to hear those cuts before the British fans.

I'm not a big fan of Yesterday and Today because not only does it have two (count 'em, TWO!) Ringo songs, but it also has "Yesterday", which along with "Yellow Submarine" is one of the few Beatle tunes I can go the rest of my life without listening to ever again.

So why did they cut only John songs? Hell, George has three to John's two. I didn't really notice it at the time (probably due to the fact that there was so much Beatle product that it didn't seem like John was being neglected), but in retrospect, it seems like a radical bit of editing. I doubt the people in charge even realized it was an "all Lennon" edit. They probably couldn't tell the difference between a song sung by George and one sung by John. But it's hard to believe that nobody pointed it out. That nobody said, "Hey, the three songs we're cutting are all by John Freaking Lennon. Isn't he kind of the main talent here?" Paul didn't really come into his own until the next one (Pepper) and George and Ringo...well, 'nuff said.

It's a mystery to me, and will make the re release of it on the next Capitol Albums set a bit weak. But Revolver would be the last time the American versions were different. From Pepper on, the tracks would be the same. There was of course the British only Collection of Beatles Oldies and the American only Hey Jude, but the "real" albums would be the same after Revolver. Maybe it was the last straw? I've never read or heard Lennon's thoughts on it, but it must've pissed him off. And I bet George was giddy over it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Beatles and Zombies

This is a funny clip. Thanks to my buddy Mark for sending it along.