Tag Archives: George Harrison

Martin Scorcese’s Use of Music In Film

My first introduction to The Crystals “Then He Kissed Me” was in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas. As Henry Hill takes his then-girlfriend Karen through the back of a restaurant (avoiding the lines outside) the entire song plays in the background. It’s a single-shot and the camera follows them as they wind their way through the kitchens before finally coming to their table. Karen is naturally impressed, just like Darlene Love’s surprise that her man kissed her.

It’s an oddly sweet moment in a movie which otherwise violent and profane. Unlike many other film-makers Scorcese knows how to use music in movies effectively. The songs simply aren’t put in to take over a scene. Sometimes they are just in the background to extra tension. The swampy sounds of The Rolling Stone’s “Let It Loose” in The Departed heighten the drama between Billy Costigan’s cop turned mole (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Fran Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) mob boss. What starts out as a simple conversation, leads Costigan to believe Costello knows his true identity. The song plays in the background throughout the entire scene, but the song slowly builds to its conclusion as the tension between the two grows. The opening credits of Mean Streets use The Ronettes “Be My Baby” as grainy footage of Robert DeNiro, Harvey Kitel and others are shown. There’s no romance involved. Yet, somehow the images and the song work together creating one of the most iconic opening sequences in movie history.

Then there are his musical documentaries. If there was any question that Scorcese was a fan of rock and roll, you only need to look at The Last Waltz. Hailed as one of the best rock documentaries, The Last Waltz shows The Band playing their final show and performing songs with their closest friends and admirers.  But it’s not just a concert movie. The movie plays a historical version of The Band’s career and influences. Muddy Waters and Dr. John are given just as much time in the movie as The Band’s contemporaries such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.  While The Band was always seen as one of rock’s most impressive bands during their hey-day, there’s little doubt that The Last Waltz helped secure their legacy.

In 2008, Scorcese directed Shine A Light, which showcase the Rolling Stones perform an intimate performance at the Beacon Theater, New York on 2006. While not as transcendent as The Last Waltz, Shine a Light proved that The Rolling Stones could still pack a punch at 60. The performances weren’t overblown.  Instead the ban tore through classics like “Jumpin Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction”. And like The Last Waltz, there a guest-stars whose appearance represents how vast the Stones arm reaches. There’s Buddy Guy who represents the Stones’ blues roots, and Jack White the blues revival wonder. Christina Aguilera’s appearance is slightly questionable, but her rebellious spirit (at the time) seemed to fit with the band.

Scorcese’s latest project is an upcoming documentary on the life of George Harrison dubbed George Harrison: Living in the Material World. If Scorcese’s Bob Dylan project No Direction Home is any indication, rock fans are in for a treat. I just saw the trailer for the documentary and the focus seems to be Harrison’s struggle between spirituality and the life of a famous rock star. While I’m naturally excited the subject material, in Scorcese’s hands, the documentary will no doubt be a worthy tribute to a true genius.

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Literature in Music: “Tomorrow Never Knows”

 

 

When The Beatles Remasters came out in 2009, I bought a copy of Abbey Road and Revolver. Anxious to hear the sonic upgrade, the first song I played on my stereo was “Tomorrow Never Knows”. If any song would benefit from remastering, it would certainly be Revolver’s closing song with its tape-loops, John Lennon’s distorted voice, and Ringo Starr’s non-traditional drum pattern.

And I was not to be disappointed. The drums wrapped themselves around the room, the odd sounds that are the song’s trademark came from every angle, and George Harrison’s guitar break cut through the chaos like a knife. Lennon’s call to “surrender to the void” was an announcement from a hidden Buddhist Temple. Moments like this are why I love music so much. Songs can take you places you never thought existed, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” is one of rock’s wildest trips.

It should be no surprise then the song’s lyrics were adapted from The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert.  As its name suggests, the book is a manual inspired by the Buddhist funerary text Liberation Through Hearing During The Intermediate State, more commonly known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Eastern philosophy became en vogue during the mid-1960s and Lennon became attracted to its themes of death, rebirth, and “clear light of reality”.  Most of the book focuses on the interval between death and the next reincarnation, known in Tibetan as “Bardo”.

Many of Lennon’s lyrics on Revolver deal with death and fatigue (“I know what it’s like to be dead” in “She Said, She Said”, and apathy of “I’m Only Sleeping”). “Tomorrow Never Knows” paints a different picture, though.  It is surrender to the void and an acceptance of the afterlife. Even though Lennon’s voice is pushed to the background of the song, it seeps into your sub-consciousness. He half-sings the lyrics like the prayers they are.

I’ve always thought of Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” as foils. The first deals with inner-peace and the second deals with world-peace and equality. They are both mantras of sorts – a call to arms. In “Imagine”, Lennon invites the listener to envision a world with “no heaven, and no religion too”. While there’s a certain cynicism to the lyrics, it’s still inviting. No such luck on “Tomorrow Never Knows”. It’s a command. “Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream,” Lennon enthuses in the opening line. You’re either going to take this trip with him or you’re not.  Even in “Imagine” Lennon know that he will have his critics. “Tomorrow Never Knows” offers no respite. Your mind will be expanded, and the music only reinforces this.

Clearly the Beatles knew the significance of this song, and that’s why it was the last track on Revolver. They were no longer boys, but grown-ups. And if you didn’t figure it out, you would be the time Sergeant Pepper came out

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My Morning Jacket: The Band That Jams For Those Who Don’t Like Jambands

As a general rule, I don’t particularly like jam-bands.  I’m sure that I might be missing out on some classic music (The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers), but I usually find the endless sonic detours into nowhere rather boring.  The extended jams seem to suggest (to me anyway) that they want the audience to know how well they play, not how good their songs are.

A friend of mine in college (a huge fan of all types of jam-bands) first told me about My Morning Jacket, my junior year in college, which was around the fall of 2002 or the spring of 2003.  “Augh, you know I don’t like jam-bands,” I told him with a bit of smugness.  I had already had enough of listening to the Dead at the numerous parties which were always held in his room.  One more band like that, would be one too many for me.   A few years later, another mutual friend told me to check out My Morning Jacket’s Okonokos live CD.  This friend was also a huge fan of jam-bands, but he also had a pretty broad taste, I didn’t dismiss his suggestion right away.  That being said, I never acted upon it.

I finally came around in 2006, when My Morning Jacket opened for Pearl Jam (who ranks among my best concerts list).  It quickly became apparent that My Morning Jacket might rival Pearl Jam.   Sure, their jams were extended – but they were loud.  But the biggest impact was Jim James’ magnificent voice.  There was a subtle tenderness for the slower songs, and cry from the tops of the mountains for the louder songs.  It seemed to cut through the band was playing.

After that show, I went out and bought (what was at the time) their latest album, Z, which remains one of my favorite albums of the past 10 years.  Its the soundtrack to summer twilight – hot and sweaty, and orange/reddish in color.  It rocks, but it’s also laid-back and relaxed.  You also hear each individual member of the band.  Jim James (sorry I can’t refer to him as Yim Yames) might be the frontman, but he never overshadows the music.

James may lead his band into adventurous territory, but his emphasis has always been on songwriting – which is  why his side projects have included Monsters of Folk with Connor Oberst and an EP tribute to George Harrison.  Though they might be considered a “jam-band” by nature and rock out like the best 1970s bands, My Morning Jacket have a down-home feel that takes more cues from The Band, than The Grateful Dead.  “I’m Amazed” (one of the best rock singles in the past few years) sounds like a Basement Tape out-take.

When My Morning Jacket do jam, the extended instrumental feels as if they written into the song, to give the song the extra punch and emotional power. Sometimes they contain loud and slow passages (“Dondante”), other times it’s cathartic (“Gideon”) or just a logical step (“Off the Record”).  The Okonokos CD showcases a band at the height of their power – one who is not afraid to take chances taking their audience for a ride, but also one who knows when to bring it in as well.

I’ve only listened to their latest CD Circuital once, but so far its seems like James and company have made another masterpiece – 2008’s “Evil Urges” was a little too bizarre and scattershot though it did have some great moments – once again making a claim for America’s best band.

“Gideon”

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Beady Eye – Stealing From The Beatles Even More Than Oasis

I have to admit that I have a bit of curiosity for Beady Eye, the group that Liam Gallagher formed since his brother Noel Gallagher split from Oasis.  Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have even known that he had formed another band if it weren’t for my occasional reading of British Rock magazines such as Mojo, Uncut, and Q.  Unlike US rock magazines, the British rock world hasn’t seem to have gotten tired of the Gallagher’s antics.

Oasis’ place in rock history isn’t quite as cemented as the British press would have you believe.  Their first two albums (Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story )Morning Glory?) are great, but not life-changing.  But post-Glory, the most interesting thing about the band was the flares between the two brothers.  But despite the name-calling their drama can easily  be summed up by Noel’s hubris over his songwriting, and Liam’s insistence of being a “real” rock star.

Different Gear, Still Speeding sounds like Paul McCartney discovered some long lost Beatles demos and gave them to Liam Gallagher.   But at least Noel had the instinct to slightly cover up his Beatles’ obsession with loud guitars, and the occasional slight detour into the Manchester sound as if to prove he listened to new music post-1975.  But on Beady Eye’s debut, Liam not only takes cues from The Beatles, he’s even retained some of the Fab Four’s sonic textures.  George Harrison’s ghost plays some pretty great riffs, and busts out some pretty fantastic solos. “Millionaire” is  probably the song George Harrison wrote after his tax problems.  “The Roller” takes cues from Lennon’s White Album-era songwriting.  And “Bright Light” is a Paul McCartney rave-up on the likes of “I’m Down” and “The Night Before”.   Even the names of the songs themselves don’t disguise the younger Gallagher’s love for The Beatles. “Three Ring Circus” – “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite”, anybody?  And there’s no way “Wigwam” isn’t taken from the lyrics of “Hey Bulldog”: “Wigwam, frightening of the dark”

Of course, it’s kind of redundant to pick apart Gallagher’s obsession with The Beatles. When Oasis came out, it might have seemed that some people forgot about The Beatles, or didn’t view them as cool – I’m looking at you, Seattle.  Circa 1994-1995, Oasis filled a void of classicist pop that was missing, at least from American shores.  Since then, sales of Beatles albums and collections have soared, so it remains to be seen whether people will still be interested in a Beatles retread band without the drama.

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George Harrison

Solo: “Wah Wah”

Today would be George Harrison’s 68th birthday.  Oddly enough, I was listening to All Things Must Pass earlier this morning without realizing it was his birthday until I saw it on list of birthdays I have on one of my news aps for my phone.  Thanks for the inspiration, George.

Beatles:

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5 Rarity/Unreleased Collections

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series 1-3


The Basement Tapes had already proved that Dylan had a tendency to leave some of his best material in the vaults – which I’m not including because I could write an entire post on the subject.  This is certainly true on this first installment of his famous Bootleg Series. “She’s Your Lover Now”, “Talking John Birch Society Blues” rank among with some of his work from the 1960s.  Elsewhere, “Blind Willie McTell“, “Foot of Pride”, and “Series of Dreams”  show that no one could write a song like Dylan, despite decent but not earth-shattering albums such as Infidels and Oh Mercy. But for me, the real revelations comes from alternate versions of familiar songs.   The original version of “Tangled Up in Blue” opens up like a novel becomes even more poignant and devastating than the original.  “Idiot Wind” loses some of its bite from the scathing version found on Blood on the Tracks, but the sting is worse.  Dylan seemed more wounded here than the possessed.  “If Not For You” gets some extra help from George Harrison – who would later take this arrangement for his own cover of the song on All Things Must Pass. Many artists would kill to have songs Dylan just seems to leave on the cutting-floor.  And this isn’t even my favorite installment of the Bootleg Series – that would go to Volume 8 – Tell Tale Signs.

The WhoOdds & Sods


I admit to not having listened to Odds & Sods in a few years until the other day since I’ve come out of my Who-phase.  This was one of the first of these collections that I bought.  In high school, I was obsessed with The Who – they’re the perfect soundtrack for teenage angst.  The original material is interesting and worthwhile for Who fanatics.  The kid’s story of “Little Billy” is a  anti-smoking ditty with some of Keith Moon’s best drumming.  The Lifehouse center-piece “Pure and Easy” has border-line pretentious existentialist lyrics, which is saved bv the music which contains some of the Who’s best 1970s harmonies and a pretty awesome fade-out.  But the real highlight of the set comes from the early R&B covers including frenzied versions of “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “Leaving Here”.  With these versions The Who rightfully secure their infamous “maximum R&B” tag.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise


I don’t have Tracks, so I can’t comment on that particular set.  But The Promise, unlike a lot of similar collections is a full-realized work albeit in different ways then its spawn, Darkness on the Edge of Town.  While there is some of the bleakness on The Promise (particularly the title track) many of the songs show Springsteen’s affection for early rock and roll and pop songs from the 1960s.  The backing vocals on “Gotta Get That Feeing” recall some of the early Phil Spector singles.  “Wrong of the Side Street” is rocking fun in the best possible E-Street Band way.  The inclusion of Springsteen’s version of “Fire” and “Because the Night” are a nice addition, but Patti Smith’s version of the latter remains the definitive version.  What is most interesting about The Promise though is that Springsteen ditched some of his most accessible work here in favor of the more challenging songs found on Darkness. What would his stature be like if he had released some of these songs between Born to Run and Darkness?  It’s hard to say.

Pearl Jam – Lost Dogs


Lost Dogs is a collection that won’t bring any converts to Pearl Jam.  But it does contain some stellar material that showcases Pearl Jam taking on a wide variety of styles thats not always apparent on their proper albums.  The Howard Zinn inspired “Down” is one of their catchiest songs.  “Alone” is Ten-style rocker that should have replaced “Deep”.  Surprisingly for Pearl Jam there are a lot of songs that are pure fun.  Guitarist Stone Gossard takes lead vocals for the crunchy rocker “Don’t Gimme No Lip” which has very few words outside of the title.  “Whale Song” contains some cool guitar effects to recreate the sound of whale calls.  And then there’s “Dirty Frank” a ridiculous ode to one of their bus drivers.

R.E.M. – Dead Letter Office


By no means a great collection and Peter Buck admits as much in the liner notes.  But I have a soft spot for this collection since it was one of the first ones of these I owned and it introduced me to the Velvet Underground with three covers – “Femme Fatale”, “There She Goes Again” and “Pale Blue Eyes“.   Like Lost Dogs, R.E.M. show their playful side here with the surf inspired “White Tornado”, and the hilarious “Seven Chinese Brothers” alternate take, “Voice Of Herald” which finds Michael Stipe singing lyrics off of an old Christian LP.  A must!  Worth having because the CD version contains their first LP Chronic Town.

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Great Songs With Horns

A friend of mine suggested a while ago that the use of horns in rock and roll is very under-rated.  While a horn section is certainly a staple of soul and old school R&B, it’s not an instrument that comes directly to mind when you’re thinking of rock and roll.   So for this blog post I’ve decided to list some of my favorite rock songs that make full use of horns.

The Rolling StonesRocks Off

I could probably list about 15 different songs by The Rolling Stones alone for this.  The obvious choices would be “Waiting on a Friend” with the saxophone solo by the great Sonny Rollins.  But I’m going to go with Rocks Off for this.  For starters, it’s one of the Stones’ best rockers.  It’s messy, and the harmonies on the chorus don’t entirely sync, and the horns nearly drown out the vocals.   Yet they all carry the same melody and somehow it works – you get the horns stuck in your head.  After the final chorus Mick Jagger lets out an exuberant, “Wooo!”.  It’s as if even he knows it can’t get any better than that.

Bruce SpringsteenThunder Road

I’m sure lots of people will read this post and suggest that I choose “Jungleland” – The Big Man’s de facto anthem.  Truth is, I don’t rank Jungleland as highly as one of Bruce’s best as other people do.  But on “Thunder Road” rarely has a saxophone solo sounded so triumphant as it does here.  “Thunder Road” is as perfect rock song as they get, but the entire song rests on Clarence Clemon’s saxophone at the end.  The open road would not sound as as convincing without it.  The song may be about getting away, but the saxophone represents the possibilities of the destination.

U2 – Angel of Harlem

One of my favorite U2 songs, and one of their best.  Bono name drops Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and A Love Supreme on a song about Billie Holiday which would almost be unbearable if it weren’t for the sheer joy he shows in the song.  But it’s really the brass that makes the song.  The horns weave in and out between Bono’s lines during the verses, adding extra life to his ode to Billie Holiday.  In concert Bono has often declared that “the goal is soul” – they achieved it in spades on this song.

The Beatles – Penny Lane

An obvious choice, but you could also pick about a dozen or so other Beatles songs just like The Rolling Stones.  I’m going with Penny Lane, because the trumpet is so an integral part of the song.  It’s a song about childhood, and like the flip-side of the single Strawberry Fields which saw Lennon experimenting with both lyrics and music- Penny Lane is also experimental just not quite as extreme.  The trumpet solo is in fact in a mock-Baroque style, which also fits the over-all sound of the song extremely well.

George Harrison – What Is Life

Without a doubt, George Harrison’s best song as solo artist.  The use of both the saxophone and the trumpet elevate this song right as soon as the drums kick in.  Thanks to Phil Spector‘s wall of sound, the horns almost completely take over the chorus which is one of George’s catchiest.

David BowieYoung Americans

I couldn’t make this list, without listing this one.  It’s Bowie during his “plastic soul” phase.  It’s borderline campy, which is kind of the point.  The saxophone is one of the trademarks of the song – it’s trying to keep up with Bowie’s fast vocal delivery, and it’s a close call over who actually wins until Bowie delivers the famous “ain’t no one song” line near the end.

The Clash – The Right Profile

Just like Montgomery Clift (who the song is about) this song nearly veers out of control several times.  The horns seem to be the only thing actually anchoring it down.  The horns blast around the band and Strummer who delivers one of his best vocal performances describing the destruction of the life of Montgomery Cliff sometimes in horrific detail.  The saxophone solo in the bridge provides some added weight, and lets Strummer breathe for a few moments.

 

 

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