Fantasy Albums: Lennon & McCartney 30th Anniversary Unplugged

It’s Beatles day!  This day in 1964, the Fab Four appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, their  stardom in North America assured.  And this is the 3rd annual celebration of that day here on the ‘Bin of (I can’t believe it).  So, let the very nerdy celebration begin!

As a sort of companion piece to an earlier post of mine, Beatles ’71. That post told the tale of the Beatles taking a break in 1969, re-defining their band for themselves by taking the pressure off with concurrent solo careers, and putting out an album to follow up Abbey Road in 1971.  Here is another in the possible series of fantasy Beatles albums, thought up entirely by me.  Of course, if that earlier post indulged in major revisionist history, then this one multiplies that by ten. In the real timeline of course, Lennon was killed in the street in 1980.  Not so in this timeline, friends.  That’s a pretty big barrier to overcome.  But, that’s the great thing about fantasy, right?

Here’s the story so far.  Besides solo careers, The Beatles released material very sporadically after Beatles ’71. By this time, the Beatles were a hobby band, a refuge rather than a millstone for the four men who created it.  So, they took their time with the Beatles, enough to make sure that the Beatles were, above all things, fun for them.

So, after Beatles ’71 they put out a double-A side single in “Junior’s Farm/#9 Dream” in 1974.  Then, they release a double live album in the year of double live  album releases, 1976. Their last studio album, Free As A Bird is released in 1980.  After that, Harrison ducks out of the music business for most of the 1980s to concentrate on his film company.  And the Beatles never re-emerge on LP before Harrison’s death in 2001, although a new double A-side single is  released in 1987 to celebrate the 20th anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper (‘When We Was Fab“/”Once Upon A Long Ago“).  Another double A-side single is released 1994 in celebration of the Anthology project.

But, while The Beatles are on hiatus, Lennon and McCartney record a very special TV show on MTV and a parallel album in 1993, the 30th year anniversary of the release of their first number one song and album.   The concert would be at the Ed Sullivan Theatre. The duo gathered a band, mostly on McCartney’s recommendation, but with Lennon’s approval.  And it is decided that since this is a celebration of the two young composers they once were, the material on the album is centered on the fruits of their earliest work, plus some of their favourite R&B covers that helped to inspire them.

The setting of the album is subdued and casual, and of course acoustic and live in front of an intimate crowd.  The proceedings are punctuated with humour and of the reminiscing of that earliest period of their careers.

Here is that record!

Lennon & McCartney: 30th Anniversary Unplugged

John Lennon – Vocals, guitar, harmonica

Paul McCartney – Vocals, guitar

Robbie Mckintosh – guitar

Pino Pallidino – Bass

Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens – piano, accordion

Alan White – drums

  1. Love Me Do
  2. Please Please Me
  3. I Call Your Name
  4. Some Other Guy
  5. There’s A Place
  6. Things We Said Today
  7. If I Fell
  8. All My Loving
  9. Baby’s in Black
  10. Money Honey
  11. Hippy Hippy Shake
  12. Not A Second Time
  13. I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party
  14. Soldier of Love
  15. Ask Me Why
  16. Yes It is

Of course, the Beatles Anthology project would be broadcast the next year, with Lennon of course giving new interviews and fresh insights to the proceedings.  A new double A-side single from the Beatles is released in celebration.  A tour is considered, briefly.  But, Harrison holds out, and the others decide concentrate on their personal lives, as a phase of the Beatles as an entity enters what they call its “twilight years”.  All of this despite huge offers for world tours and record deals.

Solo careers continue, and among other projects, McCartney and Lennon record another live album together.

Lennon records an album with Wilco as his backing band …

Anyway, before I get carried away, what’s your take, good people?  Any songs that should be in the running order that I missed? Indulge yourself!


Nick Lowe Sings “Let’s Stay In and Make Love”

nick-lowe-convincerListen to this song by former pub rock stalwart and current classic pop crooner Nick Lowe with a highlight track from his The Convincer.  It’s “Let’s Stay In And Make Love”, the story of a busy couple with a full calendar who one night decide to re-prioritize.

The Convincer had been seen as a completed volume in a trio of albums, starting with 1994’s The Impossible Bird,  and it’s follow-up Dig My Mood in 1998.  With these albums, it was the sound of a new Nick Lowe, a musical place where he excelled in bringing together soul music, country, and tin pan alley pop.  As such, this direction has gone past the trilogy into his newest, At My Age, also in the same vein.

Nick Lowe is one of my favorite singers, with a seasoned and sonorous baritone that once was one applied to pub rock and new wave, notably on his biggest hit “Cruel to Be Kind”. Yet in recent years, Lowe has found a new voice in the vein of classic pop singing, with Sam Cooke-meets-Charlie Rich overtones that really suit him.  And as a songwriter he’s become something of a deft hand at telling tales of love and all of the directions it can take.

I really love this one, a song about how a fast and busy life can often overtake you, and the basic, yet important things get lost too.  This is a pure love song about catching that idea in mid-stream, just as you’re headed out the door to the next big event that everyone is going to.  It’s about reconnecting with love and the things that inspired it in the first place, far from the crowds, and closer to the one who is love’s object.

For more information about Nick Lowe, check out the Nick Lowe Official Website.


Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach Perform “What’s Her Name Today?”

paintedfrommemoryListen to this song by serial musical collaborator Elvis Costello and smooth-as-silk pop classicist Burt Bacharach.  It’s “What’s Her Name Today?” as taken from their must-hear 1998 album Painted from Memory.  It’s  the record which features the higher profile track “God Give Me Strength” as featured in the movie Grace Of My Heart.

Sometimes, the wallflower tune on a record that has plenty of songs which vye for my attention is my favourite of the bunch.  “What’s Her Name Today?” is one of those, packing as hard an emotional and melodic punch as any song on Painted From Memory.  This is  a tale of a man confronting another man about the poor way he treats women, knowing that he does it because he was once ruined by a certain one who’s now out of reach.

It’s a classic tale of revenge, and yet one that ultimately casts the revenger as one who can’t receive any satisfaction.  The one on whom he seeks revenge has long gone.  Yet, behind  lay a trail of innocents whom one can imagine will feel the need to pass along some bitterness of their own. It’s a powerful song, exploring how damage to the human heart often spreads to others if not properly addressed.

Yet, because Costello’s delivery suggests a tone of pity, not judgment, this is not an angry song so much as a sad one.  And this matches most, if not all, of the songs on this extremely well-crafted and emotionally engaged record of love-gone-wrong songs.  And who better to deliver them than Costello, and one of his heroes Burt Bacharach.

Costello had covered “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” way back in 1977 when he toured his first album.  But more recently in 1996,  the two had collaborated on the centrepiece of the movie soundtrack for Grace of My Heart, which was their co-penned “God Give Me Strength”.  A full record was not only welcome, but kind of expected too.

And here you can hear Costello come into his own as a vocalist, with Bacharach’s intricate stylings pushing him beyond his comfort zone to bring out Elvis’ torch singer side.  Costello keeps the proceedings from getting too sentimental, which keeps Bacharach in check.  It’s a great example of a true collaboration, when each artist walks away all the better for having been involved.

Costello has been criticized for his musical tourism, for the thought that after a few pints he’s anybody’s as far as musical collaborations go. I don’t agree. I think he’s a music fan, that’s all. He’s got an extensive record collection, and made a list of his 500 essential must-hear albums published in Vanity Fair magazine in 2000, with artists ranging from ABBA to Bartok, to the Clash, to Count Basie.

But, being Elvis Costello, he adds a dimension to his musical curiosity. When he’s in the position to make a record with an artist he admires, he takes the opportunity to do so.  To me, that just an extension of his being a music fan.  It’s hard to argue with that, even if you don’t approve of the results.

For more information about Elvis Costello, I’d urge you to check out his recently revamped Elvis Costello Official Site.

And for more Burt Bacharach, investigate A House Is Not A Homepage, an unofficial Burt Bacharach webpage with a cool title.


Nick Lowe and Daryl Hall Perform For A ‘Live From Daryl’s House’ Webcast

Thanks to some of my fellow music-geek colleagues bringing it to my attention, here’s a link to a seemingly impromptu (but not really – it’s a webcast!) jam between British songwriting giant Nick Lowe, world-renowned blue-eyed soul and late of Hall & Oates crooner Daryl Hall. Hot session guy T-Bone Wolk joins them for added licks and interplay. This is a part of Daryl Hall’s self-produced webcast series appropriately titled Live at Daryl’s House.

To see the whole show once you get to the site, the show in two parts, or selected clips, click on the images to the right of the viewing screen. If you’re going to cherry-pick, my recommendations are the group’s rendition of “Shelley My Love”, originally from Nick Lowe’s 1994 album The Impossible Bird, and their version of his 1979 radio hit “Cruel to Be Kind”. Actually, watch the whole show and tell me what you think, good people.


Nick LoweNick Lowe has always been a songwriting classicist, letting the trends roll over him as the years went by like they were nothing, and much to his credit. Yet for a number of years, times were tough for him, plying his trade in Beatlesque power pop, country-rock, and 50s & 60s-styled rhythm & blues during a musical period that had pretty much left all that behind in favour of the DX7 synthesizer and Linn drum.

Some years before, he’d been house producer for the independent label Stiff records where he gained his nickname “Basher” for the bash-it-out-in-one-take production style for which he was known at the time. Lowe served as the sonic midwife for albums by Elvis Costello, The Damned, and the Pretenders, among many others. He was also a writer, singer, and bassist in his own right as a solo performer, and previously in the semi-legendary pub rock band Brinsley Swartz. While with the band in the mid-70s, he’d written a little number called “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”, which Elvis Costello had a hit with years later, recording it for his own Armed Forces album in 1979, which Lowe produced. But by the early 90s it would be the song that would keep on giving for Lowe by way of an unlikely source.

In the late 80s and early 90s while Lowe was floundering on the fringes of the pop universe, pop-soul singer Whitney Houston was at its center. At the height of her powers, she made a film with Kevin Costner called the Bodyguard, with a career-defining title track in Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” in the charts. The movie had an impressive box-office showing. But the soundtrack album was a worldwide smash, released at the end of 1992 in North America and spending fourteen weeks at the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It was certified at an incredible 17 x platinum, which means that it sold 17 million units. One of the album tracks on that record was a contribution by soul singer Curtis Stiegers. The song: “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” by Nick Lowe.

Nick Lowe was in again.

Nick LoweWith the continuing proceeds from the Bodyguard Soundtrack (approximately $1 million, all told), Nick Lowe was free to make any sort of album he wanted to make. And the first record he made, the aforementioned The Impossible Bird, was arguably his strongest since his early career. And the money allowed both a tour of the States to support the album, and a follow-up album too.

He would go on to make several other records following a similar stylistic trajectory, all featuring his lustrous baritone, with excursions into the musical traditions of classic pop music; pop-soul, straight-up country, and even tin pan alley jazz. The albums Dig My Mood in 1998 and The Convincer in 2001, were looked upon as completing the trilogy that was started with The Impossible Bird, garnering similar praise from critics along with comfortable sales.

Nick Lowe’s newest album, At My Age, is out now, as is the re-issue of his 1978 debut LP Jesus of Cool, an album which was re-titled for the North American market as Pure Pop For Now People, possibly to avoid record burnings in the bible-belt.

You can read Lowe’s own thoughts on the Bodyguard soundtrack, among other things, in this great interview with Nick Lowe.

For more music, check out the Nick Lowe MySpace page.

For tour information and other fan goodies, hightail it to the official Nick Lowe website.


Song Rendition Showdown: ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, Rufus vs Iz.

Which version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ will triumph? Chamber pop-prince Rufus Wainwright or gentle giant Israel ‘Iz’ Kamakawiwo’ole? You decide!

‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ is probably most associated with Judy Garland, and with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The song was written by legendary American songwriter Harold Arlen and lyricist E.Y Harburg specifically for the film, a tale of a dreamer who wishes for a new world beyond the drabness of her own. Since the film, the song has been interpreted by others many times. In at least two separate shows, I’ve seen it done to great effect; first by Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir who I saw in 1992, and then by the Flaming Lips in 1999 while touring their the Soft Bulletin album. Both times, the crowd was hushed hanging on every note. I think it’s because no matter who is performing this song, it strikes a chord with everyone. I think everyone at times hopes that somewhere, there is a world that is a happy and safe place, that it is the place that our own world should be. As such, it’s pretty universal song that transcends time and genre. It’s been recorded by artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Carly Simon, opera singer Placido Domingo, and cartoon punk band Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, among many others.

But, for our purposes today, which two versions of the song listed here will gain your vote?

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole Facing FutureThis version of the song has graced the soundtracks of a few films, much like the original version served as the centerpiece to The Wizard of Oz. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole infused it with passion, albeit as a Hawaiian folk song and not a Hollywood show tune. The man himself released it along with his album Facing Future in 1993. Since then, it’s appeared on a number of recent soundtrack albums such as 50 First Dates, Fred Claus, Meet Joe Black, and many others. The track is a stripped down take on the tune, with just Iz’s voice and ukulele accompaniment. His voice is both hushed and strong at the same time, and the starkness of the arrangement brings out the gentle simplicity of the song, and its connection with childhood innocence which lays at the heart of it. The spirit of the tune, which is really about optimism, is further accentuated by adding a bit of Bob Thiele’s “What A Wonderful World” into the mix, which was the subject of another song rendition showdown not too long ago.

Iz would have his career and life cut short in 1997 at the age of 38 due to a weight-related illness. But, this version of the classic song is a worthy tribute to his talent as a musician and interpreter.

Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie HallIt’s been firmly established that Judy Garland is one of Rufus Wainwright’s musical heroes, and it’s also of no surprise perhaps that his version is closer to the Garland original which was first recorded in October 1938, and released the next year to become her signature tune until her death in 1969. In the Wainwright version, recorded for his Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall album in 2007, the song lives and breathes again, imbued as it is with Garland’s dramatic delivery . The concert and live album reproduces Garland’s 1961 performance at the same venue note for note, featuring his own soaring tenor against lush strings and sumptuous orchestral backing.

Because he sticks so closely to that latter-day Garland arrangement, he captures something of a different take on the song at the same time. No longer is the song about an innocent looking for a better world, but rather it is the yearning of someone who has been run over by life, scarred by bitter experience, knowing that such a world is out of reach. The song becomes less the optimistic vision, and more the tale of disappointment and weariness. It is the song of someone who knows that the innocence once enjoyed, and the dreams that once came so easily are gone for good. Perhaps this idea is also underscored by the fact that Wainwright is conjuring a fantasy world of his own, a glitzy tin-pan alley Hollywood Musical world which has long since gone, and perhaps never really existed.


So, good people. Which version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ gets your vote? Is it the folky simplicity of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version? Or, is it the lush theatrical Rufus Wainwright version? As always: you decide!