Sunday, March 30, 2008

Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles

I remember my brother and me talking my mom into buying us a copy of Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles on a weird label called VeeJay. It was at Montgomery Wards in Portland, Oregon sometime late in 1964. I can still remember looking up at it and thinking, "Wow. This looks good!".

My family only had one other Beatles album at the time, the Second Album, so needless to say, Songs, Pictures was much loved and much played by me and my big brother.

Songs, Pictures was actually just one of many repackaging jobs of VeeJay's Introducing...The Beatles. I won't go into the long and dull details of the various versions, the VeeJay vs. Capitol battle over the Beatles, or the similar Capitol album, The Early Beatles. The only truly interesting fact in the saga is that the VeeJay versions were the only place one could find "Misery" and "There's a Place" until Rarities came out in 1980.

What I will go into is how much I love the packaging of Songs, Pictures. Unlike Introducing, which has a depressing brownish cover and the boys looking uncomfortable in bad suits and even worse haircuts, Songs, Pictures was a blast.

It had a unique 3/4 gatefold cover, cheesy painted portraits, reproduced autographs, and a back cover where girls could paste their picture under their favorite Beatle with the caption "Ringo Loves" (or Paul, John, George). And "for you fellows tough luck!" (does that mean tough luck that we can't participate in the fun or tough luck that all the girls love the Beatles?)

And I love the blurb on the cover that promises inside you will find their likes and dislikes including "Favorite Types of Girls" (e.g., "Ringo can't stand girls who wear jeans when their not built for it").

Other funny stuff includes "Paul loathes pajamas and prefers to sleep raw", and that "George was the only one of the Beatles who had been to the United States before the group came here and he had the privilege of meeting President Kennedy at the time." Funny, I don't recall a story about a "before he was fab" George meeting Kennedy.

Oh, and George's "Favorite Hate" is "Having his hair cut". I like that category: "Favorite Hate". Good name for a punk album. Maybe I'll use it someday. Ringo's Favorite Hate is "Riding a scooter". How weird is that?

Political correctness aside, and knowing the Beatles themselves had nothing to do with it, the packaging is a blast. It's pure Beatlemania at it's goofiest. And the tinted pictures and song listings are actually tastefully done.

Anyway, after losing my copy many moons ago, I'm finally reunited with a copy of Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles. I plunked down $100 for a nice copy and am obviously enjoying it. When I put it on, I could anticipate what the next song would be even though I haven't heard any version of the album for over 30 years. Funny how those things never leave your brain.

Monday, March 24, 2008

So Long, Neil

Cancer has claimed the true "Fifth Beatle", Neil Aspinall.

You can read all about him to your heart's content all over the internet. My own thoughts are those of a guy who was there from the beginning, who was always loyal and as Apple's main-man, made sure that all the new products they released were up to snuff.

Making up a list of The Beatles, their wives/girlfriends and the others in the "true" inner circle, I'm stuck by the high body count. We've lost half of them: Stu, Brian, Mal, John, George, Maureen, Linda, and now Neil. All gone and all too young.

Let's hope that Paul, Ringo, Pete, Cynthia, Yoko, Jane, Patti, Olivia and George Martin will all live to be about 100.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Interesting Read

The 58-page McCartney/Mills "Judgement" in available on Go to the site and click on "Judgements and Guidance" and there it is.

Interesting stuff about her claims that he stifled her career, the various homes they owned, Paul's art collection, and his net worth.

The most telling bit was where Paul is explaining that although he made a lot of money from concerts during their time together, he was mostly performing material he wrote before he met her. And he goes on to say "I have created new work during the marriage which though critically acclaimed, has not been profitable."

That's so Paul. Critically acclaimed? Not from me. And not from Steve Colbert. A few weeks ago, Starbucks closed all of their stores for three hours to retrain the people who make the coffee. Steve quipped: "The only place you could hear Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full was...nowhere." It got a big laugh, too.

May Pang's Book

Got May Pang's "Instamatic Karma". When I first opened the Amazon box, I thought, "Hmmm...kinda slim." But I did get it for 2/3rds the price since I pre-ordered, so I plunged ahead hoping for some new, candid shots.

My initial reaction was lukewarm, but after a week or so, I'm liking it more. It's got some great stuff:

The first one that caught my eye was a shot of J&P by the pool in LA. Paul is in his short-lived "second mustache" period. Remember that? It's not a great pic. Paul is covering his eyes from the sun, and John's face is obscured by a hat. But there's some interesting body language. Paul seems very relaxed while John appears a bit uptight. Legs crossed, hands covering his head. John being the introspective one, I imagine him wondering "How should I be with this guy? Friend, partner, enemy, prick...? All the above. And we came from nothing together and experienced something other people can only dream of. But it's weird hanging out with him."

While Paul, the regular fella, is probably just wondering when they're gonna jam and smoke some weed.

There's a happy pic of Ringo and Paul at the piano, reminiscent of the Let it be scene where they play a diddy together.

Another great one is a close-up of the document that officially dissolved the Beatles. Paul's signature is on top, followed by George, and Ringo's appears to be signed RStarkey. John is signing (he's on the "e" in "Lennon") and in another second the Beatles will be officially disbanded. He signed it while on vacation at Disney World. Ironic that the Beatles would end in the "happiest place on earth" which was created by a man who had as much of an impact on modern culture as the Beatles did.

There are some shots of John and friends in Calico, which is an old mining town between LA and Vegas. I actually went there as a kid (about seven years before John's visit) and loved it.

The funniest one was taken at Caesars Palace. It's one of those corny shots that gets taken by one of those photographers who cruise dining rooms and shows, trying to talk people into having their pciture taken. May still has them in the fake leather holder with a worn Caesars Palace logo.

But my favorite is one that doesn't have any people in it. It's inside Tower Records in LA, and shows a display promoting Walls and Bridges. The cool part is that it shows the record rack, and how Tower put the Beatles and solo Beatles records all in the same area.

You can see multiple copies of The Beatles Story and the American A Hard Day's Night (both long out of print in any format). Wish I could go inside that pic and grab a handful.

The Paul section is next to the Beatles' and has lots of Band on the Runs and Rams on hand, but the Wild Life section is mighty slim. George is next with racks full of his first three albums, then comes John's stuff, which you can't really see as it's at the edge of the pic.

It reminded me of how popular their solo albums were at the time (and records in general). Ram was three years old by then, but they must have 40 copies! And it's interesting to see the store's Beatles' pecking order circa 1974: Beatles/Paul/George/John/(and I assume) Ringo last. I wonder how many Sentimental Journeys they had in stock?

Get the book. Even though it's skinny, there are some cool things in there. Good job, May!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ringo's Solo Albums

I've been listening to Ringo's solo catalog lately.

I remember once a major Beatle fan once told me that he bought all the solo stuff except Ringo's albums. He may have bought the most popular one at the time, Ringo, because it was a major deal. The "other" three all contributed which was a first back then in '73.

But the other albums didn't interest him, and I can understand why. Ringo's role in the Beatles was, at the time, considered a minor one. He was good in the movies, and his drumming was decent, but his solo numbers were never very interesting. The one exception for me would be "With a Little Help From My Friends", which is by far his best number and perfectly suited to his style and personality.

Even "Yellow Submarine", which was a major hit, is one of my least favorite Beatle numbers. Yes, he added to the variety of a Beatles' album, which was always one of their strengths, but nobody was clamoring for an album of Ringo songs.

But I do like some of his LPs quite a bit. And if I was recommending which ones to buy if your Ringo collection is lacking, here's a list for you:

Beaucoups of Blues: This came out right after the Beatles' split, didn't sell many copies and was dismissed in the wake of the other three's early solo outings. But it's a nice little record and really grows on you.

Ringo: The one you MUST have. It's got all four Beatles together again for the first time on an LP, and it's full of hits like "You're Sixteen" and "Photograph" and the CD also has his huge single "It Don't Come Easy", which is probably the best Ringo solo song ever.

Goodnight Vienna: With a little help from John Lennon, this album was riding high on the heels of Ringo and is a nice follow-up. "The No-No Song" is super and the CD contains another great single, "Back off Boogaloo".

Rotogravure: Again, the other three Beatles contribute songs. This was Ringo's last gasp as a successful recording artist. In the same spirit as Ringo and Vienna (i.e., Ringo surrounded by great sidemen and a party atmosphere), it's a fun record.

I Wanna Be Santa Claus: Ok, I know what you're thinking. But it is the only Christmas album by a Beatle and "The Christmas Dance" is a great tune.

There is a newer compilation album, Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr, but I don't have it. I can gather from looking at the track listings that it's a fairly robust collection and even includes a few numbers I've never heard of. Maybe I'll get it one day, but does Ringo really need a "hits" or "best of" record?

And I don't have Old Wave, which is a bit of a collector's item. It's $40 on Amazon. Some of the tracks are on another comp album, Starr Stuck, and they sound interesting. I am curious and would like to get my hands on it one day.

In the meantime, I'm happy to put on Ringo, Goodnight Vienna and Rotogravure on shuffle and recall those early post-break up days when Ringo was the only guy on the planet who could get John, Paul and George to appear together on record. And I'll toss in Beaucoups of Blues, too.

And every December, I'll put on I Wanna Be Santa Claus once in a while just because.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Jane Asher in "Death at a Funeral"

Netflix'd Death at a Funeral, and whatta ya know, Jane Asher has a major role in it. Checking her filmography on, she mostly does British TV stuff, which is why I haven't seen her in a couple of decades.

It took me a second to recognize her. It's like running into an old friend you haven't seen in a long time. But as soon as I got a look at her profile, I could see the Jane I remember so well. And yes, she's still sexy.

The movie was so-so, but she was very good in it and I really enjoyed seeing her. And one can't help but wonder "what if?". Had Paul gotten over his hang-up of her having a career, and had Linda never come around, what they would be like as a couple today? A pretty nice looking older pair, I'd say. And you gotta hand it to her. She's never blabbed about her "Beatles" days. Not yet, at least.