Beatles’ expert Robert Rodriguez’s latest book, Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock n’ Roll, delves into the classic album, which always seems to play second fiddle to the record that followed it, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In addition to covering the writing and recording process, he delves into the band’s decision to stop touring, and the controversy surrounding John Lennon’s claim that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” – two items that lessened the album’s impact at the time. He debunks several myths surrounding the Revolver, and uncovers some interesting tidbits – including how Paul McCartney actually quit the band during the recording of “She Said, She Said.”
Pianist David Lanz continues his homage to the Beatles with his new CD, Here Comes the Sun. Like his first tribute, Liverpool: Re-imagining the Beatles, this album takes classics by the Fab Four and reworks them with stunning results. Lanz returns to Icon Fetch to talk about choosing this new batch of songs, how “I Am the Walrus” took several months to arrange, and why he decided to include songs by George Harrison this time around. He also touches on an upcoming 25th anniversary edition of his landmark Cristofori’s Dream album.
Mitch Ryder stormed out of Michigan with the Detroit Wheels scoring mid-60’s hits with “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Devil With the Blue Dress On,” and “Sock it To Me-Baby!” For a shining moment, he was one of the few American artists that could rival the British bands in intensity. But, after the hits dried up, Ryder’s career collapsed in a haze of drugs and shady management deals. He managed to pick himself up and find a whole new adoring audience in Europe.
He’s just written his autobiography, Devils and Blue Dresses – My Wild Ride As a Rock and Roll Legend (Cool Titles), and released a brand new album produced by Don Was called The Promise. Icon Fetch talks with Ryder about doing music his way and the possibility of a musical based on his life. He also tells a great story about how John Lennon saved his life.
The Smithereens have become legends for their brand of no-nonsense rock n’ roll, scoring hits with “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “A Girl Like You,” “Only a Memory,” and “Too Much Passion.” Their first album of original material in twelve years – 2011 – is being hailed as one of the best records of their entire career (it made Icon Fetch’s “Sweet Sixteen” – the Best of 2011 list. Icon Fetch talks with lead singer Pat Dinizio about their upcoming tour of the east coast, as well as the revealing story of why it took so long between releases. He also touches on his current, year-long stand in Las Vegas with his “Confessions of a Rock Star.”
Paul McCartney – McCartney II (Archive Collection) (Hear Music) CD review
Ten years later, Paul McCartney found himself in a similar situation – without a band. During a break in touring with Wings, he retreated to his farm in Scotland to do some recording in 1979. He then hit the road with the band for an ill-fated trip to Japan, where he was once again busted for pot, jailed and deported. After returning home, he decided to dissolve Wings and issue these home tapes. Just like the first McCartney LP, Paul plays all the instruments. But, this time around, he found himself experimenting with the synthesizer technology of the day.
As a result, the album sounds somewhat dated, especially on keyboard-heavy numbers like “Temporary Secretary.” As in his debut album, McCartney II is made up mostly of unpolished tracks with a handful of fully-realized songs sprinkled in. The sax-led “Coming Up” which opens the disc, has an almost ska feel to the guitar work. The very slow “Waterfalls” was also released as a single, but the understated “One of These Days,” with guitar that recalls the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” is the better of the two ballads. “On the Way” showcases some fine blues guitar work, while “Nobody Knows” is similar in its juiced-up delivery and raw percussion to some of the punkish tracks on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. There are also a couple of instrumentals, but they sound more like experiments than actual songs. Oddly, just as it had to take a live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” for the song to become a hit, the same goes for “Coming Up,” which only hit number one in the US after having a live rendition included on the original single.
The bonus disc actually adds to the overall quality of the album by including the live, hit version of “Coming Up,” as well as the holiday number “Wonderful Christmastime.” Also of note is “Check My Machine,” which is just that, McCartney testing out his equipment with rather strange results, featuring snippets of cartoons and a vocal sounding like Alvin & the Chipmunks. The best unreleased track is the ethereal “Blue Sway” featuring strings, sax, and an echoed McCartney vocal. Perhaps it’s the use of synths or maybe it’s because Paul was in a different time in his life, but McCartney II lacks much of the warmth and charm that made his first solo record such a treat. Still, there are some decent songs here, and if you add in the bonus CD, there is certainly enough to recommend. –Tony Peters
Paul McCartney – McCartney (Hear Music) CD review –
After the breakup of the Beatles, each member chose a very different path for their first solo album: George, who was only allowed one song per record while in the band, had tons of great tracks saved up for All Things Must Pass, while Ringo got all nostalgic for pre-rock n’ roll on Sentimental Journey, and John chose to exercise his childhood demons with the cathartic Plastic Ono Band. Paul’s debut, McCartney, is just as raw, but in a completely different way
— understated, unpolished, and unfinished – essentially the polar opposite of the pristine Abbey Road, the Beatles’ swan song. McCartney was, and always has been a perfectionist, yet, for this album, he chose to leave things rough around the edges. His debut solo album stands as a bridge between his colossal former band, and the monumental success he would achieve through Wings and beyond; sort of the musical equivalent of taking a breather. Paul had purchased some recording equipment and much of the record was recorded at home, with him singing and playing all the instruments, save for the occasional backing vocal from wife Linda. And, almost half of the album’s length is taken up by instrumentals, adding to the unfinished feel.
McCartney opens with an abrupt start of a tape, as if in mid-session -“The Lovely Linda” clocks in at a mere 42 seconds, and is just a fragment. Then comes “That Would Be Something,” which features acoustic guitar, bass and simple percussion and only two lines of repeated lyrics. Next is “Valentine Day,” an instrumental with some fine, distorted guitar playing from Paul. It’s not until track four where we get a fully realized song – the jangly acoustic “Every Night.” “Momma Miss America” is actually two different instrumentals – the first part has a groove that Paul would reuse with much better effect on “1985,” and the second part sounds a lot like the same backing track for “Come and Get It,” the song he wrote (and played on) for Badfinger. The gentle “Junk” is featured in two versions – one with vocals, and one without, but featuring better instrumentation (piano and Mellotron). “Teddy Boy” has a pre-rock, Tin Pan Alley feel – it’s as if Paul wasn’t sure this rock n’ roll thing was going to last and wanted to make sure he still had a career if the genre went belly up. Of course, the most famous song on the album is “Maybe I’m Amazed,” one of several songs he would write for Linda. “Kreen-Akrore” serves as a coda to “Maybe,” with similar instrumentation, heavy percussion (there’s even a drum solo), wordless chanting and heavy breathing.
This new Archive Collection edition comes with a second CD containing seven bonus tracks. Of note is an additional version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” recorded with Wings two years later. It’s amazing how far the song had grown – there’s more inflection in Paul’s delivery and it’s longer with more soloing. This is the blueprint for what would become the hit version from the live Wings Over America in 1976. “Suicide” is an unused song with Paul on piano. There’s a live version of “Hot as Sun” which turns into a mariachi band thing at the end. He also thanks Duane Eddy! The bonus CD ends with the goofy demo of “Woman Kind” which encourages the ladies to burn your bras. The album’s packaging is also very nice, featuring some fantastic photos taken by Linda, as well as all the lyrics.
Upon its original release, McCartney confused many people – it didn’t contain any hit singles and probably sounded like a mere whimper compared to Lennon’s first album. Yet, with the ability to look back, Paul McCartney’s solo debut helped usher in the era of “do it yourself” musicians – those playing multiple instruments and recording at home. Because of its lo-fi aesthetic, it’s actually proved to be one of Paul’s most durable releases. –Tony Peters
December 8, 1980 – The Day John Lennon Died – Keith Elliot Greenberg (Backbeat Books) Book review
There are certain dates that, if you lived through them, are etched in your memory – Lennon’s murder is one of those instances. On the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death, December 8, 1980 offers a unique angle, focusing on that final day of his life. You might ask how you can write a book on just one day? Greenberg tackles this by introducing each character that plays a role in Lennon’s final hours, and then gives a back story to each one.
So, you get background on Lennon, his wife, Yoko Ono, his killer Mark David Chapman, his record label president David Geffen and others. One aspect that Greenberg focuses on is Lennon’s love of New York City; it’s true, the singer could have chosen any place on the planet to live, yet he became enamored with the Big Apple. The author interviews ordinary people for their recollections as well, helping to paint a more complete picture of what the city was like thirty years ago. He also tracks down lesser known figures, like a fellow fan that had waited outside the Dakota and talked with Chapman just hours before the muder; the police officer who drove Lennon to the hospital after being fatally shot; the doctor who operated on him, and the disc jockey who first broke the news to the world.
Several realizations come from the book: first, for a man who, just a few months earlier, was changing diapers and cooking dinner, this final day of his life must’ve seemed extremely hectic, with an extensive RKO interview, a photo shoot, and a recording session. You also realize how different a time that was media-wise: before 24 hour news channels, cellphones and online social networking, the news of Lennon’s murder traveled extremely slow. Many people found out by watching Monday Night Football. Not surprisingly, you also get a clearer idea of how much of a nutbag Chapman truly was. And, for those who are scoffing at the added security measures at airports these days? Greenberg reveals that Chapman managed to take his gun and bullets back and forth from his home in Hawaii to New York at least three times, simply by concealing them in his suitcase. This is as close as you can get to understanding how that fateful day unfolded. –Tony Peters
Starting Over – The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy – Ken Sharp (Gallery Books) Book review
Imagine taking five years off from your job. Then, imagine having to return to work and pick up where you left off – it wouldn’t be easy, right? Now imagine the whole world watching you. Those were the circumstances surrounding John Lennon’s return to the studio in the summer of 1980, after spending the last half of the 1970’s raising his young son.
In Starting Over – The Making of Double Fantasy, Ken Sharp profiles the sessions that would lead to Lennon’s final studio album released during his lifetime. He manages to track down just about everyone who was involved in the project: from Lennon’s partner Yoko Ono, to producer Jack Douglas, and every member of the studio band, to engineers, and label personnel, Sharp attempts to paint a complete picture of what it was like in the studio.
While we consider Lennon one of the greatest musicians of all-time, several of the interviews reveal just how little confidence the singer had in his own abilities, especially early on. Every person in the studio was told to keep quiet about the sessions and was sworn to secrecy. Another highlight of the book is the story behind the sessions which involved the members of Cheap Trick. The two songs laid down were ultimately deemed too abrasive and were replaced by more slick renditions by the in-house band.
In a unique approach, the author does very little editorializing; instead letting the people involved with the album speak for themselves. As you might expect with three decades removed from the project, each and every person has nothing but fond memories of the time in the studio with Lennon. In fact, that may be the one flaw in the book; there’s really nothing bad said about anyone, including the usually polarizing Ono, which I find a little hard to believe.
Nevertheless, what is revealed was how focused the singer was – especially once he began to see positive results and regained his confidence. Curiously, the book reveals that the sessions were well documented on video, yet the tapes have now gone missing. Also, Douglas had a hidden tape machine rolling at all times; capturing the between song banter – yet, nothing of this sort has surfaced either. While Double Fantasy was not Lennon’s finest work, it would be his last, and this book offers excellent insight into it’s creation. –Tony Peters
David Lanz – Liverpool: Re-imagining the Beatles (Moon Boy Music)
It’s always been somewhat unfair labeling the music of David Lanz as new age. His Cristofori’s Dream from 1988 was the first big success of the fledgling Narada label, and did help jump-start the New Age movement. Yet, unlike his contemporaries, who seemed content on creating relaxing, dreamy mood music; Lanz was, and still is, a songwriter, and it’s his sense of melody that has set his work above the genre.
He is also gifted as an arranger of other people’s works; it’s his re-tooling of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” that first got him noticed. Liverpool – Re-imagining the Beatles finds the pianist tackling some hallowed territory, along with friends Gary Stroutsos on flute and Walter Gray on cello. Now, instrumental Beatles music is dangerous territory: if you stick too close to note-for-note readings, it could border on Musak. Conversely, if you take too much liberty here, it could be blasphemy. Not to worry – Lanz’s capable hands pull it off. The key here is that these songs aren’t meant as direct copies; some even take several minutes for you to recognize which song it is. It also helps that he’s chosen to skip over the really familiar hits, focusing on mostly album cuts.
Especially good are the medleys where Lanz effortlessly segues from one song to another, and back again, as in “Because / I’m Only Sleeping.” Sometimes, he focuses on just a fragment of a song, as the bridge of “Eight Days a Week” in the medley “Rain / Eight Days a Week.” He can take a relatively simple composition and really bring out new elements, as in “Things We Said Today,” which stresses the minor chords, adding a darker overtone. Another highlight is the little-known “Yes It Is,” originally relegated to the b-side of “Ticket to Ride”; Lanz uncovers a sadness and longing not known in the Beatles’ version.
The disc opens with the lone original, “Liverpool,” and it’s a fun listen; Lanz has hidden ten snippets of Beatles’ songs within the piece – it might take some detective work to hunt them all out. Above all, what sets this record apart from all the other Beatles’ covers albums is that it’s first and foremost a David Lanz record; it’s his unique and melodic style that dominates – it just happens that he’s doing Lennon and McCartney tunes. –Tony Peters
Thursday night marked the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. We pay tribute to one of the most influential musicians in the history of music through a special 2-hour edition of Icon Fetch. The show will feature live calls from listeners and recorded interviews with a wide array of musicians who were affected by Lennon’s talent. Among the guests are May Pang, who was Lennon’s girlfriend during the year and a half “Lost Weekend;” Delbert McClinton, who taught Lennon how to play the harmonica in the early days of the Beatles; and Tommy James, Gary Wright and Wally Bryson of the Raspberries, who all had a chance to meet Lennon during his lifetime.
Other artists include Grammy winners Shelby Lynne and David Lanz; rockers Dwight Twilley and Donnie Iris; melodic songwriters Marshall Crenshaw and Jason Falkner; and underground veterans Peter Case and Steve Wynn. Several authors who have written recent books about the singer, including Robert Rodriguez, Ken Sharp and Keith Elliot Greenberg, will also weigh in with their thoughts.