Tag Archives: Ringo Starr

LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL by The Beatles

I can’t think of a band I associate less with live performance than The Beatles. That’s partly because the group was long disbanded by the time I was born in the early 1980’s (thus no chance of me ever seeing them live). But for the most part, it’s because The Beatles so famously turned their back on touring and became the quintessential studio band. Over the years I’ve heard a handful of live Beatle recordings, mostly from the LIVE AT THE BBC double-album. I remember getting my hands on that set way back in my early Beatle-years and promptly tossing it aside. It’s not that the band was bad in concert, it’s just that live recordings from the era in which the Beatles performed live are spotty at best. So when it was announced that LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL would be coming out in conjunction with Ron Howard’s Beatle documentary THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, I bookmarked the release date but didn’t hurry to get around to listening to it until recently.

LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL documents several concerts from August of 1965, near the very end of the groups touring life. Released originally in 1977, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL has been remastered and remixed. I was pleasantly surprised at how good these recordings sound. I would say that this album is 100% absolutely the best live recordings of The Beatles I’ve ever heard. That said, the performances are solid but ultimately pale comparisons of their studio counterparts. It’s been argued that George Martin is the so-called fifth Beatle, these recordings help make that argument in my opinion. It’s not that the band is terrible live, it’s just that the songs are so damn good on the studio recordings.

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I may be a bit biased, as live albums really aren’t my thing. The only way a live recording can move beyond the good and into the essential is when they capture the intensity of their performance and bring something new to the table. Many songs recorded live differ from their studio versions, either because of technical limitations (no string section? no problem!) or because playing the same song over and over  gets boring for bands and they do something a little different. These live embellishments separate the hacks from the great artists. A decent song can become sublime when stretched out into an intense extended jam. Guitar heroics/wankery can also take a live recording to the next level.  Sadly, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL was recorded before the 1970’s, arguably the heyday of the live album. Thus, The Beatles are just performing their songs as best as they can like they appear on the albums.

What LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is missing is between-the-songs banter. The few times Lennon announces the next song with a goofy voice is a real treat. It’s a shame that there isn’t more of this sort of stuff on the album because it’s something the studio albums don’t have. What there is plenty of, however, is screaming girls. Famously one of the reasons the band quit touring, the girls are screaming on LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL. And. They. Don’t. Stop. It almost feels like a parody there’s so much crowd noise on the recording. Though it never goes away, the audience never really gets in the way, either. I chalk this up to an expert remastering. Ironically, those who’ve listened to LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL have probably heard the concert better than those who attended the show. One of the Beatles (I think it’s Lennon if I recall correctly) even asks the crowd at one point, “Can you hear us?”

Overall, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is a fantastic musical artifact. The album is a bubble of amber perfectly preserving a fly (or Beatle) for all time. I’ve listened to it all the way through three times and frankly can’t imagine putting it on again. I’d much rather listen to the albums. LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is really just for completist and band scholars (such as myself) and not an essential recording. The album has made me want to see Howard’s documentary, which apparently a Hulu-exclusive (which bums me out because now I have to wrangle a Hulu account in order to see it).

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Classic Albums Revisited: REVOLVER

REVOLVER, The Beatles seventh studio album, just celebrated an impressive 50th anniversary earlier this month. Last night I sat down with my son and listened to in its entirety for the first time in many years. Growing up, REVOLVER was my very first Beatles album. It was one of two CD’s my parents owned for many years which means this is The Beatles album I am most familiar with. Because it was the first time my son Warren had heard an entire Beatles album, I decided to try my best to listen with new ears, not an easy task for an old Beatle-fan like myself.

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For starters, I was surprised at how clean and modern REVOLVER sounds. Sure, this type of rock music isn’t what’s in vogue today, the album could still have easily been released today. I know that this isn’t a new revelation, and is, in fact, the chief aspect that makes The Beatles and their work still so relevant. But I was still nonetheless impressed with how well REVOLVER holds up. I also noted, maybe for the first time, what a fantastic bridge album REVOLVER is between the early “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” Beatles and the drugged out later period. The band is still trading on their moptop image/sound but there is a clear effort to craft songs that are both sonically diverse and that cover meaningful topics outside of merely wanting to hold a girl’s hand and/or being in love. There are, history tells us, several factors that contributed heavily to this evolution in the band’s sound. The first is, of course, the band’s exposure to Bob Dylan, which began a sea change in the band’s writing on RUBBER SOUL released the year before. Lennon, in particular, was increasingly trying to say more with his music thanks to Dylan’s influence. Drugs, specifically LSD, and the psychedelic counter-culture movement also played a tremendous influence on the band and REVOLVER. Lastly, I’d also say that George Harrison meeting Ravi Shankar, how expanded upon and improved Harrison’s sitar playing during the summer of 1966 also heavily influenced REVOLVER.

REVOLVER might also best be described as Harrison’s coming out party. Though his best Beatles-era songs are arguably on ABBEY ROAD, I would argue that it is REVOLVER where it becomes apparent that Harrison is just as good a songwriter as Lennon-McCartney. It’s worth noting that this is the first (and only) time that a Harrison-penned song opens a Beatles album. And what an interesting choice “Taxman” is when you consider the song’s subject matter. This is the first time The Beatles get political and it’s not about war but rather their pocketbooks! I’m not sure I would be aware of the tax situation in the UK during this period of history were in not for this song and The Rolling Stones eventual decision to be tax exiles during the recording of EXILE ON MAIN ST. Interestingly enough, unlike many protest/political songs of the era, “Taxman” is probably the closest song to remain topical even to listeners today.

Though largely considered to be the pop Beatle, the one with the keenest commercial sensibilities, even Paul McCartney gets serious on REVOLVER. True, McCartney (like Lennon) had been maturing in his songwriting with each successive album, REVOLVER features one of his darkest songs ever, “Eleanor Rigby.” Though the song was written in conjunction with Lennon, who often gets credit for being the more artistically-serious Beatle, McCartney came up with the impetus for the song. Listening to “Eleanor Rigby” with fresh ears, I was struck at how hopeless the song’s characters are. That McCartney, a wealthy young rock star, would write such a sensitive song about ordinary, lonely people is still surprising to me. Though the similarly melancholy ballad “Yesterday” gets the lion’s share of accolades, I think “Eleanor Rigby” is the better song. The arrangement is more complicated and the lyrics are more evocative. Without devolving into a simplistic story-song, “Eleanor Rigby” manages to paint the listener a few sad vignettes that cut to the very heart of loneliness and the plight of people society at large has forgotten about. Sure, the song is a bit dramatic, perhaps even a bit melodramatic, but I still get chills listening to the track’s mournful strings.

The Beatles dipped their toes into psychedelic music with “I’m Only Sleeping.” A John Lennon song about the joys of staying in bed, the song features reversed or “backward” guitar tracks, a touchstone of psychedelic music, and has an overall druggy feel to it. The song is one of the few Beatles songs that feature an explicit outsider perspective (“I’m a Loser” might be considered a proto-outsider song, “The Fool on the Hill” is a notable example, as is “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”). Was the world judging Lennon because all he wanted to do was sleep or is the song really about drugs (like most things)? It’s difficult to say. During this period Lennon did reportedly enjoy getting high and staying in bed, but I’ve also read that McCartney had to frequently rouse his writing partner from bed before working on their songs. Also worth noting, the interview Lennon gave around this time in which he famously declared The Beatles “bigger than Jesus” was part of an article that contains a quote from a friend of Lennon’s who declared him the “laziest man in England.” So perhaps “I’m Only Sleeping” really is just about napping in bed. Either way, the song’s inventive use of studio trickery was foreshadowing to surreal sounds the band would capture later on REVOLVER (and in their subsequent albums).

“Love You To” is Harrison’s best song on REVOLVER and one of the most daring songs the band ever produced. Though he’d used the sitar on RUBBER SOUL, to great effect on “Norwegian Wood,” it was this track where Harrison truly brought Indian music to the band’s sound. Using a sitar, a tabla (hand drum), tanpura (a special rhythm instrument), and Harrison created a sound that no doubt sounded otherworldly to the majority of Western listeners of the time. Besides launching a whole new phase of the band’s creative life, “Love You To” single-handedly popularized the genre of World Music. A mix of philosophical noodling and romantic love, the track was the undoubtedly the most sexual song the band had recorded up to that point. Harrison repeatedly states “I’ll make love to you/if you want me to” in the chorus of the song.

Another key influence on The Beatles was Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who’s ghost is all over McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere.” The most obvious Wilson-trademark found in the song are the ethereal backing vocals. But the core of the song, being in love and having that love make you a better person is almost a reflection of the themes found in Wilson’s own “God Only Knows.” Though the songs were written and recorded around the same time, this can’t be accidental, can it? A more nuanced and mature love song, “Here, There and Everywhere” takes a larger view of the impact of romantic love beyond the early pleasures of love’s first blush (like most early Beatles love songs). The track is less about how love makes one feel and more about the impact love has on one’s outlook. I think that this song is probably a better example of The Beatles doing a Beach Boys-esque song than “Back in the USSR,” which is just straight parody. The song is nothing but further proof that the band didn’t exist in a vacuum and took cues from the work their peers (besides Dylan).

I can’t tell you how crushed I was when I first learned that “Yellow Submarine” wasn’t actually written by Ringo. The rule for 99.999% of Beatles songs is that whoever is singing lead wrote the track. Sadly, Ringo only wrote two songs during his time with The Beatles, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden.” The song is a fanciful kiddie track that began life as McCartney trying to write both a song for Ringo to sing and a Donovan-esque number. To McCartney’s credit, even though the song is pretty much nonsense, it works wonderfully with Ringo at the helm (pun intended). That this song would later go on to inspire a super-trippy animated film is just icing on the cake. I’d like to hear McCartney sing this one, though I have a hard time imagining what that would be like. It’s odd that two of Ringo’s best known Beatles songs involve the ocean, but then again England is an island and Liverpool is a port city so I suppose it’s not so odd that the boys would have a healthy interest in the sea. I love the song’s goofy little extras, like the crashing wave sound and the ringing bell. Ringo play-acting as a sailor in between verses is also a really nice touch that adds to the song’s theatrical, almost pop-up book-like quality. The Beatles dabbled in so many genres that I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that they ventured into kids music.

“She Said She Said” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” are both ostensibly a dialogue taking place between a man (Lennon) and a woman. “She Said She Said” has a real druggy (acid?) feel to it in which neither party can properly connect or articulate a feeling that they are having. Though the “I know what it’s like to be dead” is definitely the proclamation of chemically altered mind, “I know what it is to be sad” is very real thought/feeling. The juxtaposition between the two has always fascinated me. Is the communication breakdown between the two parties the result of drugs or gender? Who can say? Further complicating matters are the fact that the song was inspired by Henry Fonda, who famously told Lennon at a party “I know what it’s like to be dead.” The song pairs nicely with “And Your Bird Can Sing” which is an indictment against materialism over a personal connection. Both songs share an awesome, iconic opening guitar riff (though “And Your Bird Can Sing” edges out “She Said She Said” in this department). In his book All We Are Saying, author David Sheff quotes Lennon as being dismissive of the song, essentially calling it all style and no substance. I disagree and think Lennon was doing what Lennon often did and disparaged his older work in favor of whatever thing he was doing at the time. The I’ve always really enjoyed the line “You say you’ve seen Seven Wonders/and your bird is green.” That image always stuck with me and I picked up on that line again when I re-listened to the record.

Similarly, “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Into My Life” are very similar McCartney tracks that feel almost like throwbacks to a quainter, simpler time. “Good Day Sunshine” has a very old-timey feel to it, both in its simplicity and with it’s twinkling piano and optimism. In fact, the track wouldn’t be entirely out of place on The Kinks magnum opus VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY. The shining horns on “Got to Get You Into My Life” has a similar effect, though “Got to Get You Into My Life” features a much rougher-sounding vocal performance from McCartney. It’s almost an R&B song and was famously covered by Earth, Wind, & Fire in 1978, so apparently I’m not the only one to pick up on this fact. Paul McCartney has gone on the record to state that “Got to Get You Into My Life” is about marijuana, which I find both perplexing and oddly satisfying. Both tracks share a youthful optimism and exuberance that an older version of the band probably couldn’t pull off. McCartney would later revisit this type of old-fashioned/throwback on The White Album (“Martha My Dear” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”) with diminished results.

“For No One” is one of the band’s most poignant and bare-bones songs. Detailing the end of a relationship, Paul McCartney’s song perfectly captures the sadness one feels when you realize the love is gone. Tastefully understated, the song is memorable for its achingly sad french horn solo near the end. The line “a love that should have lasted years” sounds less accusatory the older I get, which I get is an outside quality that I am bringing to the song. And yet, part of me can’t help but think that McCartney’s choice of words aid this phenomenon by being just a touch vague enough to avoid implying fault on either party. Even Lennon, who could be McCartney’s toughest critic, was a fan of “For No One.” Again, this is another track that lives in the shadow of “Yesterday,” even though I think it does essentially the same thing but better.

Much like “Got to Get You Into My Life,” the song “Dr. Robert” was about drugs. Though the latter was more obviously about drugs than the former, it’s still a bit of a secret drug song. A bit cornball in comparison to many of the band’s other drug songs, “Dr. Robert” is important because it’s ostensibly about the doctor that supplied the band with their first acid trip (a dentist who laced the band’s coffee with the drug after dinner one evening). This track is most notable (in my opinion) for the almost hypnotic quality applied to the lyrics”well, well well you’re feeling fine.” Despite not being as colorful as the band’s later substance songs, this one key feature of the song puts above most other songs of a similar theme recorded by other artists at the time.

The last Harrison-penned song on REVOLVER, “I Want To Tell You” is almost a rallying cry for his creativity. While not exactly stifled, Harrison also didn’t receive the full support of McCartney and Lennon when it came to his songs. “I Want To Tell You” is all about having a tremendous torrent of things to say and the struggle with which Harrison (and really all of us) have trying to express ourselves. There’s a dash of mysticism running through the song, no doubt an influence from his intense studying of all things Eastern. “I Want To Tell You” is a great song because even though it covers a very heady, intellectual topic, the song is still very humble in its presentation (almost low-key in many respects). While not Harrison’s best song, I’d say it was the most emblematic of who he was as an artist and as an individual: highly intellectual with a down-to-earth quality, mystical with an aura of practicality.

The final track on the album is also the best. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a tour de force and easily in my top 5 of all-time Beatles songs. Everything about this song is crafted perfectly, from the odd effect place on Lennon’s vocals to the Indian-influenced drum pattern that Ringo uses. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is probably the first truly great studio track from a band that would soon go on to do nothing but fantastic studio-driven tracks. Using looping tape, The Beatles create an otherworldly soundscape that must have scared the crap out of all the kids tripping on acid the first time they put REVOLVER on. That this is the track to close the album makes the songs feel like an odd, beautiful sunset. The strange, mystical poetry of Lennon’s lyrics are as just a good as anything the man ever wrote. I’m sure this song is highly regarded, but I feel like his later works like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more lauded. And I find that sad in a way, because “Tomorrow Never Knows” is easily the equal of both of those tracks.

Perhaps I don’t run in the right crowds, but I feel like REVOLVER is almost a forgotten masterpiece by The Beatles. RUBBER SOUL is usually the transitional Beatles record that gets the most attention, which is a shame because I think REVOLVER is the superior album. Straddling the line perfectly between both periods of the band’s creative life, REVOLVER has everything one thinks of when they think of The Beatles.

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Beatles For Sale: My Rant Against The American Reissued Beatle Albums

Last month The Beatles American albums were re-issued in a large, expensive boxset. Back in 2009, when the remastered CD’s were issued, I gladly handed over my hard-earned currency for better packaging and most importantly, higher sound quality. While no doubt an opportunity to get my money again, the remastered Beatles albums gave me something I didn’t already have: better sound.  The sound quality, especially on the first few albums was vastly superior. Rather than shitty fake stereo mixes, fans were given pure mono as God, and George Martin, had intended.

"All you need is ca$h"-The Rutles

“All you need is ca$h”-The Rutles

These American re-issues are another story altogether. As far as I’m concerned, this is a disgusting money-grab with no redemptive quality for fans. The Beatles so-called American catalog exists because of corporate greed, which is the same motivating factor behind that bastardization’s re-issue. For those of you unfamiliar with what happened to the Fab Four’s albums in America, buckle-up because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

In 1963, after failing to break into the US, The Beatles were poised to finally conquer the Yankees. Capitol Records, the American counterpart to the band’s UK label EMI, was sitting on small pile of Beatle records. Rather than do the logical thing (i.e. issue the albums as they had been issued in England), Capitol decided to issue all new albums. Instead of releasing albums with 14 songs, as they’d done in England, The Beatles American albums were comprised of 12 songs.  And instead of simply cutting the number of songs down, the songs were swapped around in a confusing jumble.

Another major issue was The Beatles singles. In England it was considered bad form to sell people one song twice, so any song issued as a single was never included on major albums. Thus, songs like “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” were never included on any British Beatles album.  Since this was not the practice in the US, Capitol Records reconfigured the American Beatle albums to include the band’s popular hit singles.

Further clouding the waters, a small independent label called Vee-Jay had the American rights to the band’s first album from 1963 to 1964. Vee-Jay got the rights to this material after Capitol Records initially passed on the Beatles in America. Thus, the band’s album PLEASE PLEASE ME was being circulated prior to Capitol’s involvement as INTRODUCING…THE BEATLES.

That’s how the American Beatles catalog got so messed up. This is how we got records like THE BEATLES IV which contains songs from BEATLES FOR SALE, HELP!, and music from the “Ticket To Ride” single. All of the Beatles records up to 1967’s SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEART’S CLUB BAND are a confusing mosaic of the band’s British output. The madness (mostly) ended with SGT. PEPPER due to the band’s insistence that their albums appear the same everywhere due to the artistic vision they had for that album’s concept.

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The American albums became something of a footnote when they were abandoned completely in the 1980’s when the band’s albums were first put onto CD. Were American fans puzzled when the British albums were released digitally? I’m sure they were, but that was decades ago. In the meantime, people like myself grew up only knowing the proper British albums. Which brings me back to the American reissued albums: who is this supposed to appeal to? Who is supposed to be forking over their money for these? Older fans who might actually remember these albums have by now long adapted to the British releases. Younger fans have never known anything but the British albums. And at this juncture in history, I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of Beatle fans who wish to own the band’s music already do…and anyone buying the band’s records for the first time would surely buy the recognizable, iconic, British albums.

It felt strange rebuying the albums in 2009, but at least I was getting something new with the improved fidelity. But let’s be honest, the 2009 remasters were a double-dip, plain and simple.  So if the 2009 digital remasters, which I’d argue are worth the money, were a double-dip then these American reissued albums are a triple-dip. This is a product aimed squarely at the hardcore Beatle fan, the one that has to own everything with the band’s name on it.  This is a product meant to be purchased and placed on a shelf still in it’s plastic wrap.

Perhaps if I had the money, and the inclination to continue hoarding physical media, I would fall into that camp/trap. But alas, an 800 mile-cross-country move has changed the way I look at money and the owning of material goods. With this American albums reissue, The Beatles have crossed over into the horrible George Lucas/Star Wars money-grab territory.

I’m a Beatles super-fan, I’ve owned multiple copies of each of these records. Hell, I’ve owned LET IT BE in four different formats (cassette tape, vinyl LP, original CD, remastered CD).  But even as a superfan, I can see no reason to own these reissued American releases.  I don’t need different, less-iconic artwork and a swapped around track listing. In short, I don’t need these albums. I never knew them and I don’t feel it necessary to start now.

This reissue ruffles my feathers because it smacks of desperation—the last act of a band with nothing left to sell me. But that’s not true, there is one thing I’d love to buy from The Beatles. One thing that I’ve never experienced that the band continues to deny me. I speak of the lost documentary Let It Be, the legendary film the band made while writing and recording LET IT BE the album. I’ve never seen this footage, largely because it captures the breakup of the band and paints the musicians in a less-than-favorable light.

I understand that I have capitalism to thank for my Beatles albums, and that their corporate masters have every right to keep selling the same material from now until doomsday. But I wish they’d exhaust the vaults completely before they just pump out the same material over and over.

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Gringo Star vs. Ringo Deathstarr

Last night I went on a Magical Mystery Tour deep within the bowels of Spotify.   I do this thing I call “band hopping” where I’ll listen to something and then let Spotify recommend something.  After I’m done listening to that I let it recommend something to me based on THAT song…pretty soon I’m completely and utterly lost.  I wish I could remember what led me to down the weird rabbit-hole of bands named in honor of ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, I bet the trajectory of songs was pretty interesting, but alas…I was in offline mode and my listens were not recorded.

But I digress.  The important thing is there are two really awesome rock bands with Ringo-inspired names.  The first of these bands that I happened upon was Atlanta-based Gringo Star.  What do you think of when you read that name?  I bet you think Gringo Star is a Beatles-inspired pop-rock band, right? I know that’s what I was thinking.  Turns out Gringo Star is a really cool rock band with some British-invasion influences, but mostly is a bit like the UK’s Supergrass.  The band’s latest album COUNT YER LUCKY STARS is a pretty tight collection of rock songs with a lot of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”**

I’m counting ’em…

The album opener “Shadow” invokes both the aforementioned Supergrass as well as Oasis, Blur, with just a hint of Dr. Dog (great harmonies).  The album is full of great songs, but I really like the spanish-influenced “Esmerelda” and the dreamy album-closer “Mexican Coma.”  That last song in particular sounds like it could have been a hit in 1966 by song little-know, post-Beatles invasion-era rock band.  I can almost see the vinyl copy of “Mexican Coma” by The Mudd Turtles or some such thing. It’s a really nice summer chill-out song, with a super-cool guitar solo.  But the song the changed my lust to love was “Got It,” which sounds like an early Kinks single.  It’s got a real nice, super-catchy hook that just digs into your brain and won’t let go.  Right now “Got It” is near the top of the list of best songs I’ve heard this summer (woah! It’s only June) .

From Gringo Star I ended up listening to a band called Ringo Deathstarr.  As far as jokey names go, Ringo Deathstarr beats Gringo Star hands-down.  Besides having the proper number of “R’s” in “Starr” the band’s name is also a freaking STAR WARS pun.

Super-washed out colours.

Now Ringo Deathstarr is a COMPLETELY different animal.  For one thing, their album COLOUR TRIP is more acid/reverb drenched than Gringo Star’s super-crisp rock.  Hailing from Texas, Ringo Deathstarr sounds a bit like The Flaming Lips by way of The Cure.  The band is a girl-and-guy “shoegaze” band that I have to reluctantly admit to being a sucker for. COLOUR TRIP opens with the spaced out “Imagine Hearts” which is a joyous bit of pop.  The album’s best track is “So High,” which sounds how a whacked-out day at the beach feels.  The gentle “Other Things” closes the album with bittersweet introspection.  It’s the kind of song that’s easy to get lost inside.  Some bands exist in space and other create it, and Ringo Deathstarr definitely create their own space–COLOUR TRIP is best enjoyed alone with headphones.  

Both bands (and albums) are pretty awesome, and despite sharing similarities in their name they’re pretty far apart sonically.  For me, Gringo Star has the better songs and Ringo Deathstarr has the better vibes.  Is that a cop-out? I guess, but it’s really like comparing apples to oranges.  Check ’em both out and tell me what you think.

FOOTNOTES:

**TANGENT: I think that modern music needs more “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”  Go back and listen to music, from all genres, of the last 50 years and you’ll hear a ton of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”  But with only a few notable exceptions, COUNT YER LUCKY STARS being one of them, I can’t recall very many bands/albums today that use “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”

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George Harrison & “My Sweet Lord”

In many ways, I can’t think of two people more apart than John Lennon and George Harrison.  During their brief time together as members of The Beatles, it was pretty obvious who the genius songwriter was.  Lennon’s work and tragic murder have (ironically) deified him as rock god. George was always known as “the quiet one.”  And though he did start to come out of his shell towards the end of The Beatles life-span, it wasn’t until he went it alone as a solo artist that George Harrison became, in my opinion, John Lennon’s equal.  Growing up, the first solo-Beatle music I listen to was Paul McCartney and then John Lennon’s solo work.  I never considered Ringo or George’s solo output until I heard a super-catchy, awesome song on the radio one summer afternoon.  It sounded like a lost Beatles track, something off of ABBEY ROAD.  I was able to jot down most of the chorus on a scrap of paper and the next time I got online (dial-up) I was able to do a search. I found out the song I’d heard was “What Is Life?” by George Harrison.  The song comes from George’s landmark solo (double) album ALL THINGS MUST PASS.  That’s a fitting title for an album recorded after the end of one of pop music’s greatest bands.

ALL THINGS MUST PASS is an achingly beautiful record, through and through.  Eric Clapton, Billy “The Fifth Beatle” Preston, and Ringo all played a part in it’s recording–but ALL THINGS MUST PASS is George’s record.  Whereas Paul’s solo music is pretty bubblegum and John’s solo stuff was angry and political (see “Woman is the Nigger of the World”), George Harrison’s solo work is very down-to-earth and deeply personal.  Somewhere between Paul’s commercial cash grab and Lennon’s brash antiestablishmentarianism–lies the music of George Harrison.

The crown jewel of ALL THINGS MUST PASS is a song called “My Sweet Lord.”  This song is a stark contrast to the work of Paul McCartney & Wings.  And it’s 1,000 miles away from John Lennon’s classic “Imagine.”  A deeply spiritual (but not religious) man, Harrison’s song is a devotional ode to his creator.  As an apathetic agnostic, I find myself filled to the brim with envy every time I hear it, the sentiment is so pure and simple.  In fact, the song reminds me a lot of the numerous Medieval poems I had to read in my British Literature classes back in my college days.  Listening to “My Sweet Lord” and then “Imagine” is pretty crazy/disconcerting.  How were these two men from the same planet, let alone in the same band?  I don’t think Lennon or Harrison were “lying” in either case, I think that they were just able to put their differences aside and be friends despite their wildly different world views.

That said, if I had to live in the world of one of those songs, I’d pick “My Sweet Lord” everyday (and twice on Sunday, pun intended).  The song was instantly popular, despite the fact that George didn’t initially have it released as a single.  It wasn’t until radio stations played the crap out of it that public demand led to the song being issued as single in 1971.  “My Sweet Lord” was also the first single by an ex-Beatle to reach #1.  A remarkable feat, one that would come at a heavy price–the increased scrutiny lead to lawsuit.  The song “My Sweet Lord” is fairly similar to a song written by Ronnie Mack called “He’s So Fine.”  Yes, George Harrison may have (subconsciously) used a song made popular by the girl-group The Chiffon’s to write one of the greatest love-letters to God.  The court battle (Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music) was lengthy and George lost, but  in the end we all won because “My Sweet Lord” is a beautiful song and the world is a better place that it exists.

Stripped down acoustic guitar, harmonized slide guitars, George’s distinctive voice, and the sublime lyrical marriage of eastern and western religious chants.  It’s a perfect song, through and through.

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