Tuesday, November 25, 2008

'A Wonderful Christmastime'

I turned on the local easy-listening channel yesterday. My cat likes it, so I keep it on for him while I'm at work.

This Bay Area station plays nothing but Christmas music during the holidays (which apparently started on Monday!). So what's the first song I hear? Yeah, 'Wonderful Christmastime' by Our Paul.

I remember when it came out. Christmas of 1979. I was somewhat embarrassed by it. Being a Paul McCartney fan at the height of Punk Rock in Portland (a major punk town) was tough in the first place, but it got tougher when he released this one! The 45 sleeve had a goofy pic of our kid wearing a Santa hat. I thought it was some kind of joke! But I must admit, I do kind of like it. Like a lot of Paul's songs, they seem crappy then they grow on you.

Some interesting facts:

It was Paul's first non-Wings release since Ram, eight years earlier.

It has a cool B-Side, a Reggae synthesizer version of 'Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer'.

It didn't even crack the Billboard Top 100 (although it was a hit in the UK). Now it's on everywhere every damn Christmas! But in '79, it didn't get any airplay.

There's a video of it showing Paul and Linda with lots of family and friend types doing the Christmas thing in a Liverpool-type house. I haven't seen it ages.

It's a bonus track (along with 'Rudolph') on the Back to the Egg CD

Along with 'Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John and Yoko, it's the only Christmas Beatle songs that seem to get any airplay.

Ringo put out a Christmas album in 1999, but the only one from that I ever hear (and it's rare) is 'The Christmas Dance'.

George never released a Christmas song, but sometimes 'My Sweet Lord' gets some holiday play.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Artie Lange & Howard Stern Get It Wrong

I love 'The Howard Stern Show'. But like everybody else out there, Howard and his co-hosts love to ramble about the Beatles and often get it wrong.

Today they were discussing Paul's desire to release 'Carnival of Light', a 14-minute Avante Garde recording the Beatles made in 1967. They mentioned how Paul needs the permission of Ringo and Yoko and Olivia Harrison to make it happen. This began a diatribe from Howard about why Ringo needs to be asked and why he is/was an equal partner in the group.

Monday morning quarterbacks might think this a valid question, but the Beatles were a democracy. That's one of the reasons they were so damn good. If any one of them didn't want to do something, it was a no-go. To give John and Paul the power to override decisions would've been disastrous. Sure, we all know, the Beatles were basically the 'John and Paul Show'. But was also 'a band'. It wasn't two guys and two sidemen.

And regarding the money: John and Paul had enough extra cash as songwriters. To impose a larger cut of the 'band's' earnings would've been ridiculous.

And besides, if it did cross their minds, at what point in their career would J&P have made the call to tell the others, 'We're the real stars, so from now on, we're making all the decisions and giving you guys less money'?

They all came into the business with nothing. They all made the same initial gamble to throw themselves 100% into the game to make it big. Can you imagine a broke and unknown 17-year old Paul telling a 16-year old George that he's taking a bigger cut? A bigger cut of what? A few pounds per gig? So what about after they'd made it? Say after the 'Ed Sullivan' show, where it was obvious they were the biggest musical act in the world? How would've that been for the moral of the band? 'Great show guys, but John and I have decided you two don't deserve an equal share of our earnings anymore. Now let's do that tour!'.

And Ringo was important. His drumming was tailor made for them (strong, simple, solid), his persona as the lovable homely one fit nicely with his more handsome partners, and his participation in the films was huge (he's basically the star of all their movies except Let it be). His sense of humor fit in with the others and he came up with the titles for 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Tomorrow Never Knows'.

Another misfire on Stern's show today were comments from Artie Lange. He's reading the new Lennon bio (I haven't got it yet, but hope to find it under the Christmas tree!) and Artie said that 'during Sgt. Pepper they wrote 'A Little Help From My Friends' to 'give Ringo something to do' because he was just 'sitting around playing chess'.

The fact is, Ringo (and George) had a song on every album (with a few exceptions). That was part of the act. One of the Beatles' greatest strengths was the 'variety show' feel of their albums. Unlike the Rolling Stones or The Who, bands that had just one singer, the Beatles had four. The 'sitting around playing chess' bit is half-true. Pepper was the first album made after they decided to stop touring. A lot of time and effort went into it. The idea was to 'send the album on tour'. So yes, Ringo is quoted as saying 'Pepper is where I learned to play chess' because once he laid down the drum and percussion tracks, there wasn't a lot for him to do.

But they weren't throwing him a bone by writing 'A Little Help From My Friends' for him. It was the formula. People expected a Ringo song.

And to suggest that John and Paul should've had more of a say in the direction of the band, or a bigger cut of the money, dismisses another of the reasons the Beatles were so great. They were friends. They did everything together. They were confidants in the most exclusive club in the world. For J&P to decide to tell G&R that they were 'more important' is unthinkable.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Well It's 1969, Okay?

With the new James Bond opening soon, I realize that the Sixties was really all about James Bond and The Beatles. Bond came first, made the British cool, and then along came the fabs.

I think it all really started in 1962 with Dr. No.

18 months later the Beatles were the #1 act in the music biz.

Bond changed movies and television. Not only by giving us fantastic, sexy and modern adventures, in color yet, but by allowing the Brits to infiltrate the American scene. B-actors like David McCallum, Noel Harrison and Judy Carne were suddenly all over the TV. There were even British shows. 'The Avengers', 'Doctor in the House', 'The Prisoner' and 'Monty Python' (yeah, I know Python started in 1970 but I'm including it anyway).

And the great American directors Richard Lester and Stanley Kubrick split for England in the 60's and their films became more British than British ones.

The Beatles spawned the 'British Invasion' of the mid-60's and the Brits have continued to be a main part of the music scene until this day. Before the Beatles, British singers were non-existent in the States.

Then came 1969. Sean Connery had grown tired of being Bond and the Beatles were tired of being Beatles. The last, and some consider the best Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, came out around Christmas. Great script and co-stars. Even the new Bond, George Lazenby seemed okay. But he was no Sean Connery. And he was the magic ingredient.

A few months earlier, The Beatles released their last, and again, some consider their best album, Abbey Road. Great songs, great production, but it could be argued that it was little too slick. After all, where could they go from there? Before Abbey Road they'd gone through a number of phases; simple pop combo (Mersey Beat era), great band and writers adding folky sounds, horns and strings (Rubber Soul/Revolver), the psychedelic sounds of sitars and backwards effects (Pepper/MMT), then with the 'White Album' and Let it be, back to a more stark and basic sound. Abbey Road took the best of all those sounds, packaged it in a slick, tidy package and made an album accessible to just about everybody.

And like there was no turning back after On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Connery returned but his heart wasn't in it and the script was dull), Abbey Road was perhaps the best of what the Beatles could offer at that point. What could they do next? Abbey Road 2?

So that's it. 1962 was the beginning of the Sixties (i.e., Bond and The Beatles), and 1969 was the finale. Okay?