Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'Something New'

This record, Capitol's third Beatles' album, is often maligned and regarded as weak. It was the first indication that Capitol was getting greedy and willing to 'Capitolize' on the fans. Five of the eleven tracks had come out less than a month earlier on the A Hard Day's Night United Artists soundtrack.

I remember when it came out and we were all like 'Hey, I've already got half of these songs!. It's basically A Hard Day's Night without the hits!'

But let's forget the fact that in the Summer of 1964, we American fans felt taken. In retrospect, it's a rockin' little album with a lot going for it. I especially like Side One. 'Things We Said Today' is one of their best tunes ever and shows a sophistication that seems more like something from 1966, not 1964. Ironic, since the singer is projecting himself into the future. And you know the Beatles liked it cuz it was a favorite in their live shows and they always seemed to have fun doing the rockin bit, 'Me, I'm just the lucky kind, etc.'

'Any Time At All' is one of Lennon's greatest vocals and effortlessly transitions from hard rock to sweet lovey-dovey.

And what about 'Slow Down'? A super little rocker, and my favorite of the three Larry Williams songs Lennon would cover as a Beatle (the others being 'Dizzy Miss Lizzy' and 'Bad Boy').

'Matchbox', a Carl Perkins rockabilly number sung by Ringo closes Side One. For years I never understood the lyrics. What's a 'matchbox hole'!? Then I saw the lyrics somewhere and realized he's actually saying 'a matchbox holding my clothes'. After all that time the song suddenly made sense.

Side Two is mostly A Hard Day's Night songs, and closes with the strange 'Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand', which is, as the back cover states, ('I Want To Hold Your Hand'...sung in German). I love it for the sheer weirdness. And it's interesting historically because it was recorded in Paris, along with a German version of 'She Loves You'. It's the only time they recorded outside of London (except for some early stuff in Liverpool and Hamburg before they were famous). The Beatles apparently hated the idea of doing them, but complied nevertheless.

And even though Side Two is a A Hard Day's Night rerun, it did allow American fans to listen to the non-hit songs from the film without the interruption of the George Martin soundtrack instrumentals that are scattered throughout the United Artists album (I love those instrumentals, but they were a buzz-kill if you put it on for a party).

So let's give Something New it's due: It's a fun album and also boasts a cool cover picture of the boys from their debut on the 'Ed Sullivan Show'. Seeing that pic in color (Ed was in B&W and few people had color sets in 1964 anyway) was mind blowing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

'John Lennon: The Life'

I had high-hopes for Philip Norman's new Lennon bio. After all, he wrote what I consider the best of all the Beatle books, 'Shout'. And while 'John Lennon: The Life' is a damn good read, I'm afraid most of the material has been covered before.

I found myself most interested in the early and later parts. The middle bits (1964-1970) has been done to death, and there's little new in that department. But Norman does uncover some interesting post-Beatles stuff, some good background info on Yoko (she was interviewed for it), and does a great job painting a picture of Lennon's childhood and teen years.

As time passes, the early life of the Beatles in Liverpool becomes more fascinating to me. Norman's description of early-fifties Britain makes one realize how the world has changed so very much. The Beatles grew up in a world where music was only heard on old-fashioned cranked turntables or on the radio (with one BBC channel) in the families home. No piped in music in shops, airports and waiting rooms. No portable devices. Television was non-existent.

Guitars, pianos and drums were a luxury. Lennon eventually picked up the harmonica, and started to make his own kind of music.

By comparison, my childhood (only ten years later in Portland) was filled with music. Everyone had records and record players and numerous radios, including portable transistor ones. There were a couple of rock 'n roll stations, four or five television channels, and if one was inclined, easy access to musical instruments.

But again, by comparison, the world today, thanks to the technology boom, makes Portland circa 1966 seem primitive.

I often wonder if the lack of music I find interesting is due to my age or to the fact that my nerve endings have been so honed down by over exposure to anything I fancy, nothing new seems all that special.

And what about the creative process itself? New music seems to be just variations of things that came before. Instead of being inspired by the music in their heads, are songwriters simply inspired by the music all around them? And in a world where you don't have to listen to anything you don't instantly enjoy, has their exposure to different types of music actually been hampered?

It could also be the fact that pop music (or pop culture in general) is spent. Sure, there's still good stuff out there, but face it. After punk rock and it's off-shot 'grunge', there hasn't been anything worth getting excited about.

Personally, I like the first theory better. That most of the great rock 'n rollers came from a era where you really treasured that new record and spent hours figuring out a song on the guitar. That being said, our only hope for a new phase in pop music will come from some dirty, little known city, from somebody without Internet access and a cheap broken down guitar. Just like Lennon in Liverpool.