A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Beatles For Sale

BeatlesforsaleNineteen sixty-four was a busy, busy year for The Beatles. They expanded their songwriting capacity and output, made a movie, cut a record, went on tour that took them all over the world, and cut yet another record; this one, Beatles For Sale. Historically speaking, this album never got the love it deserved, wedged between two movie-oriented titles that generally get more props. Also, the record features a lot of covers of old rock ‘n’ roll numbers after having established themselves as independent and very skilled songwriters in their own right.

Is this record a step backward in that respect? Is it a stop-gap album to capture the potential market for being on the Christmas lists of teenagers during that busy year with its title “Beatles For Sale” containing no irony? Or does this album contain more obvious traces of the band they would become even more so than ever before, which was one that was truly revolutionary? Is this a goodbye to their early career, or a hello to the next phase? Is it both somehow?

My friend Graeme and I address these very questions  in this fourth episode of our podcast A Year With The Beatles. We are joined by Joanna Ashwanden who is a writer, blogger, and former high-school English teacher. More specifically, she was our high school English (and drama) teacher, now living in England. So, that’s why we are particularly well-behaved on this episode! For our extra credit homework, we discuss the Beatles fan club Christmas messages recordings the band did between 1963 and 1969 (so that you don’t have to!), and ponder how those recordings can be understood in parallel to their career as a whole.

Listen to the episode right here.

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: A Hard Day’s Night

HardDayUKThe Beatles had a lot on their plate when the time came to write their third album, A Hard Day’s Night. It would be the first and last album in their catalogue that would feature an all Lennon-McCartney line-up of original compositions. Plus, they had a movie to star in, featuring said songs on the record. And they went on tour to promote both the film and the new record. It would be the year of very tight schedules.

This album would be one of two released that year, with accompanying tours and other personal appearances that would make having days off a rarity. Here we find the Beatles at the height of the earliest phase in their career that would introduce them to the world as four smiling boys in suits playing jangly music, and expanding Beatlemania all over the world while they were at it. But, what lay under the surface of their waggling heads, cheeky smiles, and clever quips? As it turns out, quite a lot when one listens closely to the songs.

Discussing these very issues with my old friend Graeme Burk and me is Shannon Dohar, who’s favourite film as a child was, you guessed it, A Hard Day’s Night. Speaking of that film, we talk about what it meant for the band, and what it means as a film on its own. We also talk about ways that the movie, as great as it is, penned them in as narrowly defined versions of themselves for years after its release, with breaking out of that mould becoming a desparate neccessity by the end of the decade.

Take a listen to the episode right here.

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: With The Beatles

WiththebeatlescoverIn the second episode of A Year With The Beatles podcast that I am co-chairing with my good friend Graeme Burk (author, podcaster, bon vivant), we talk about the business of following up a smash debut. Even The Beatles had to do that at one time, right? And how difficult was it for them? Is there a progression to be found here? How is this manifest? Have the Beatles grown as recording artists? What are the tracks that blow us away? What about the cover versions? Do they work just as well on this release as they did on Please Please Me?

Joining Graeme and me is master music mix maker Andrew Flint, a guy who’s followed the band almost from the very beginning. We also examine an historic event in the life of the band, the history of television, and the signs of a growing culture unified by a single event: The February 9, 1964 appearance the band made on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Listen to the episode right here.

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Please Please Me

PleasePleaseMe_audio_coverThe Beatles changed my perception of the world and set me on a path that, among other things, inspired me to create The Delete Bin. As it turns out, that’s not the only thing they have inspired.

My friend of four decades (!) Graeme Burk, is an author, podcaster, and speaker who’s Mastermind subject would undoubtedly be Doctor Who. But, he’s also a big Beatles fan. He invited me to participate in a new podcast, one that would have us listen to twelve Beatles albums, one per month (possibly making allowances for two for the White Album!). This is the first episode, and my first ever co-chair gig on a podcast. Be gentle, commenters!

In it, we are joined by Bill Evenson who help Graeme and me zero in on the Fabs’ first ever full length studio album. We discuss our favourite songs, our ideas on where the band was at in terms of their development, and ask the question of whether or not there are any revolutionary traits in the music that would hint at what the band would come to mean to so many. We also discuss the band’s involvement with Tony Sheridan and their recording of “My Bonnie”.

Have a listen right here.

Enjoy!

10 Elements That Made George Martin A Great Producer

produced by George Martin DVD coverGeorge Martin died last month at the ripe old age of 90 after a life well lived. In many a tribute he was hailed as one of the many “fifth Beatles” that have passed on before him, from manager Brian Epstein, to stalwart roadie and go-for Mal Evans, to Apple office manager and one-time driver Neil Aspinall,  to Beatle-championing US disk jockey Murray The K. But, I think even that honourable distinction of Fifth Beatle limits George Martin.

His revolutionary ideas about what a producer is supposed to be in relation to artists, and what the studio was supposed to be in relation to making albums changed music forever, and for the better. To me, this counts for a lot more than attaching the label of fifth anything to him. His role in the progression of pop music history cannot be underestimated, all Beatles (fifth or otherwise) aside.

What are the ins and outs of this, though? What made George Martin a great producer, enabling him to usher such great music into the world in the manner that he did? Well, that’s what I think we should explore in detail right now, Good People! Here are 10 elements, characteristics, attributes that I feel George Martin possessed that helped him to do what seemed like the work of a saint; turn pop music from a throwaway curiosity and make it into art.

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The Beatles Play “A Day In The Life”

The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club BandListen to this track by former mop-top British Invasion spearheads and pop music boundary pushers The Beatles. It’s “A Day In The Life” as taken from the modestly successful little platter Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released at the top of the summer of love in June 1967.

By the time work was undertaken to begin the making of this song, and this record, the rules hadn’t really been written as to what an album could be – like, say, a way to create a band inside of a band, and to have the record itself do the job of touring instead of the people behind it having to do it.  No one had ever really applied an artistic filter to a record, or to a band in quite this way.

As such, it was a risky approach. There again, the Beatles records always sold well, and I’m sure the project wasn’t thought of as being risky other than by those who undertook it, and who wanted it to be as great as it was on a musical level. The stories around that album, and this track specifically, are fairly well-traveled.  But, there is one common thread running through all of those stories; everything about the project drove everyone involved in making it deep into a place of artistic and technological lateral thinking .

Personally, I think the biggest force behind the record’s success didn’t have anything to do with lofty and unifying artistic concepts or technological innovation. I think it had more to do with an honest expression of where the Beatles were at during that time as it was expressed in the songwriting.  “A Day In The Life” was one of the first songs the band tackled, helping to set the tone and expectations surrounding the project as a whole.

As such, it’s always seemed kind of ironic to me that this final track on an album that is otherwise thought of as the most technicolour of all Beatles records is so full of forboding.

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10 Cover Songs By The Beatles That Helped Define Them

The Beatles established the idea for British beat groups that if you wanted to make your mark, you had to write your own songs.

But, before they were writers, they were music fans and record collectors – just like us! They had influences, like any other band. In their earliest days, The Beatles considered themselves primarily as a rock ‘n’ roll band. But, they pulled in a number of influences that allowed them to define their sound even early on; soul music, rockabilly, traditional pop, movie soundtrack music, Latin music, and more.

The Beatles 1964

A lot of the time, their choice in material was made so as to distinguish their sets from those of other bands working the same clubs as they did. And it also served them as a live act when they were a bar band in Hamburg, playing eight-hour shows. To play sets that long, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground, and make sure you’re ready to play anything for the sometimes volatile audiences. More material is better than less in those situations; better to know it and not have to play it, than having to play it, and not knowing it.

What this anything goes approach also helped them to do of course is to create a template for how wide their reach would be as songwriters on their own. So, which songs did they cover that helped them to do this best? Well, in the tradition of the Delete Bin, here are 10 to consider as great Beatle-starters, and as prime cuts of pure pop magic all on their own. Take a look! Read more

John Lennon Sings “#9 Dream”

Listen to this track by Lost Weekend-embroiled ex-Beatle and solo singer-songwriter John Lennon. It’s “#9 Dream”, a single as taken from his 1974 album Walls and Bridges.  This was the album created during a period that Lennon spent away from his wife Yoko Ono, with the exile purportedly on her mandate. Lennon left New York City with his personal assistant and soon-to-be lover May Pang (with Pang’s going along allegedly also Yoko’s idea), bound for Los Angeles by the end of 1973.

This period is widely associated with a time of indulgence on Lennon’s part. Upon his arrival in L.A, partying (too) hard with Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, and Keith Moon, being rude to staff at the Troubadour Club while wearing a tampon on his head, and actually and getting kicked out of that same club for heckling the Smothers Brothers were among some of the highlights – or low-lights.

It’s not exactly the picture of the peace-loving, and peace-promoting figure we’ve come to associate with Lennon today. And it would have been easy to forget his calibre as a songwriter around this time, too. His previous album Mind Games didn’t fare so well critically speaking. The one before that Some Time In New York City was (and is!) also noted for being uneven at best. Getting his mojo back must have been a mandate for him.  He had a lot to prove by 1974.

“#9 Dream” was certainly a step in the right direction, being a sort of child-like and sonically gauzy tune that captures Lennon’s fantastical eye where subject matter for pop songs is concerned. But, did it get him to where he wanted to go? And if so, where was that exactly?

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Happy Birthday, George Harrison: 10 Cover Versions

George Harrison had always been seen as the kid brother to his bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But, that would change.

Although it took him a while, George soon became as good a songwriter as his partners in The Beatles had become, and did so largely on his own steam. Yet, that was the kind of artist he’d always been, focusing his ear for melody early on in his solos, which were meticulously and very patiently wrought, as much as they were inventive, and later to be applied to some of the most celebrated songs in rock history.

Yet, by the mid-to-late 1960s, he’d pen some of the most enduring songs of that group’s catalog as a songwriter. This would be a skill he’d take with him into his solo career as well.

So, in celebration of that skill, and of the birth of George Harrison which is coming up this Saturday, February 25, 2012 (he would have been 69!), here are ten distinguished covers of Harrison’s songs that span his most fertile period. In that time, he mastered acoustic folk styled tunes, sumptuous psychedelia, Indian traditional music, and of course straight ahead guitar pop too. As such, the artists who covered his songs are varied across the stylistic spectrum as well, from pop crooners, to soul men, to blues players, to singer-songwriters.

Take a listen! Read more