Tag Archives: Paul McCartney

Random Song of the Day: “Land of 1,000 Dances” – Wilson Pickett

If there’s ever a song that will automatically put me in a good mood, it’s Wilson Pickett’s version of “Land of 1,000 Dances”.  The song is bursting with energy that practically blows from the speakers. Paul McCartney might have the most famous count-off in rock history at the beginning of “I Saw Her Standing There”, but Pickett’s count-off comes in at a close second in my book. The sexual urgency in his voice as he calls out, “One two, three” not once, but twice is only hints at things to come.

Pickett’s band takes off in full flight. There’s a slight hint of chaos, but they’re so tight. The refrain of Charlie Chalmers and Andrew Love’s tenor saxophone playing can barely keep up with Pickett as he shouts out the differences dances. Then of course there’s the famous “na na na na na”  refrain (which wasn’t in the original version by Chris Kenner).  If there was ever a song that demanded audience participation, it’s Pickett’s version.

I first came across the song in The Great Outdoors (that ludicrous movie starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd).  Come to think of it, Dan Aykroyd is probably responsible for exposing me to soul music in general with the Blues Brothers.  For years I always referred to it as “that song from The Great Doors‘.  Luckily, I don’t have that problem now.

As if the song couldn’t be any cooler, Patti Smith also includes several lines from the song in her song “Land” of her debut Horses.

 

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Why The Early Beatles Albums Are Under-Rated

Chances are, if you ask anyone to name their favorite Beatles album they will probably reply with almost any album from 1965 on. Every single album after Help! was drastically different in its approach and sound. Rubber Soul and Revolver showed a “grown-up” version of the band ready to move beyond songs about love. Sergeant Pepper re-wrote the rules about what an album could be, and for better or worse made rock and form into a viable form of art. The White Album was a stark contrast to the Pepper’s excess as The Beatles embracing every genre under the sun. Abbey Road was a culmination of their entire career – it was an adult album, but the entire second half was a nod to their early pop days.

Since these albums changed popular music and the world, it seems as if their early albums tend to get lost in the shuffle. When was the last time you heard someone say their favorite Beatles album was Beatles For Sale, With The Beatles, or Please Please Me? It might be a bit simplistic, but unless you’re like to complete an artist’s catalog or grew up with the band, their early days seem to be reduced to images of appearing on Ed Sullivan or the singles collected on 1.

The general consensus seems to be that The Beatles really didn’t really make “albums” until Rubber Soul. Rock critics love to hammer this into the ground, as do fellow musicians. When Rolling Stone recruited various musicians, critics and other rock dignitaries to compile the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Sergeant Pepper, The White Album, Rubber Soul and Revolver were all included in the Top 10. Abbey Road came in at 14 and it wasn’t until number 39 that Please Please Me was listed. The American re-hashing and reinterpretation of With The Beatles dubbed Meet the Beatles was included at 59, but after that the early Beatles albums disappear until Help! appears at 332, while A Hard Day’s Night comes in at 388. I could gripe for paragraphs about this list, but is The Neil Diamond Collection really better than Help! or A Hard Day’s Night?  

I suppose this shouldn’t really come as a shock since even The Beatles themselves have gone on record in preference of their later albums. Lennon in particular dismissed their early songs, wanting instead to create music that actually meant something and deal with more worldly problems than simple love songs.

It’s certainly easy to cut their career in two parts – the early “Beatle-mania” years, and the “studio” years. But to overlook their early records undercuts Lennon and McCartney’s early brilliance and enthusiasm for rock and roll.

Please Please Me, With the Beatles, Beatles For Sale, and A Hard Day’s Night all fly by with an irresistible and joyful energy that has rarely been equaled. They may not be as groundbreaking as Revolver or The White Album, but Paul and John’s ability to churn out song after song each one with an impeccable melody is no less than staggering. Even revered pop songwriters should be jealous of Lennon and McCartney’s consistency across these albums.

Now, to the actual albums.

Please Please Me starts with one of the best opening songs ever – the infectious “I Saw Her Standing There”.  There’s no way to not get caught up in McCartney’s yelps and whoops. Harrison also gives one of his best solos from the early period here as well. “Boys” is more rocking fun complete with Doo-Wop backing vocals. While some of the material has dated slightly – “Chains” in particular, the most impressive aspect of Please Please Me is how their original songs stand up to the R&B classic “Twist and Shout”.  Apparently, The Beatles recorded the entire album in a 24-hour period, which makes the performances even more impressive.

With The Beatles follow the same template as Please Please Me, but there are subtle differences.  The rockers are tighter and sharper especially “It Won’t Be Long” and “Little Child” which contains a pretty impressive Harmonica solo. With The Beatles might be the first Beatles album where they really proved that they could tackle various styles of music, while still maintaining their own identity. There’s R&B (the superb cover of “You Really Got a Hold On Me”), beautiful ballads (“Till There Was You”) straight up pop (“All My Loving”). Like Please Please Me, the originals on With The Beatles easily stand alongside the covers, which is no easy feat when you decide to play Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”.

A Hard Day’s Night (which is actually my favorite Beatles album) is the first album composed entirely of Lennon/McCartney originals.  The title track is one of the best songs the Beatles ever recorded, and a great showcase for the vocal interplay between the two lead singers. On “I Should Have Known Better” there’s a slight bittersweet quality, which would become of Lennon’s trademark qualities as the years went on. Paul displays a great leap in his songwriting with the immortal “Things We Said Today”.  Ultimately, A Hard Day’s Night retains the best elements of their early rocking years while also incorporating a more reflective side further explored on subsequent albums.

Beatles For Sale might be the weakest of their early albums, as the quality slips slightly. There’s still plenty of fun and joy throughout, but Lennon’s songwriter seems to take a slightly darker undertone on such songs, as “I’m a Loser”. Up until this album, The Beatles cover versions had been just as good (if not better in some cases) than the originals, but “Mr. Moonlight” is slightly embarrassing and goes nowhere. The best song on the album is “Eight Days A Week” which remains under-rated as far as I’m concerned, even if it is the most well known song on the album.

Help! is probably the album where The Beatles really tried to escape Beatle-mania for the first time. On the title track, for the first time Lennon shows his genius for combining a serious topic with a sweet melody, a gift that he would take to creative and artistic heights on “Imagine”.  “The Night Before” is one of Paul’s bounciest songs which I’ve always thought of as a sweeter and distant cousin to Bob Dylan’s “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met”). Speaking of Dylan, his influence is all over this record particularly the acoustic based “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”.  I haven’t mentioned Ringo yet, but on Help! his personality really begins to shine through. Those who dismiss him a crap drummer should listen again to his inventive drumming on the verses of “Ticket to Ride”. Plus he gets his first chance on lead vocals on the hilarious “Act Naturally” which acts as a counter-weight to the heavier songs like “Yesterday”.

After Help! The Beatles would shed new skin and completely come into their own and continue a string of creativity that has never been rivaled in popular music. But if they had stopped recording after Help! there’s no doubt in my mind that they still would be considered the greatest band to ever exist.

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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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“My Mummy’s Dead”: The Connection Between John Lennon and Harry Potter

The abandonment of a parent can leave a scar.  John Lennon was forced to live with aunt and uncle as child, abandoned by his parents after a heated argument. Lennon harbored deep emotions for years, even if on the outside he sang, “All You Need is Love” with The Beatles.   The fictional Harry Potter, received a scar as a baby when his parents were killed by the evil wizard, Voldemort.  Both would end up living with their respective aunt and uncle for years, and both would be famous for entirely different reasons. Yet neither could ever truly escape the events that happened to them when they were younger.

Lennon’s fame did nothing to soothe his pain.  In fact, it only got worse.  On the outside, he may have sung about love, but on songs like “Help!”, he was desperately crying out.  “Julia”, was an ode to his mother who had died in a car crash when he was 17.  By the time The Beatles broke up in 1970, Lennon had been a drug-addict, his love-affair with his second wife Yoko Ono was scorned by fans, the media, to a certain extent, other Beatles.  When he recorded his first “proper” solo album Plastic Ono Band in 1970, here was a man close to the edge.  The cries of “Mommy don’t go! Daddy come home!” at the end of “Mother” were real and cut to the bone.  Lennon didn’t scream his way through “Well Well Well”, because the song required it.  It was a form of bereavement from his childhood, finally catching up with him.

This confessional collection was a long way from The Beatles early songs such as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”.  The Beatles may have started out as a “pop” band, with fans getting swept up in “Beatlemania”, but with each new release they took rock music further than any group before or since. And yet, their popularity never wavered.  Each new release was met with excitement and captured the imagination of entire generations.  At the end of “God” on Plastic Ono Band, Lennon declared that  “the dream is over”.  This statement must have come as a shock to fans, who had looked up to Lennon as something of a spokesman for peace and love.  If he was presenting this disillusionment, things must really be dark.

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series also captured the imagination of the world.  “Pottermania” was not unlike the “Beatlemania” thirty years earlier. At first it was deemed “kids-fare”, but it quickly moved into darker territory with each new book eventually reaching adults who would not normally read a fantasy series as well.

As a baby, Harry Potter survived an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort that killed his parents.  Harry was only left with a scar, but Voldemort was left powerless.  As a result, Harry would be forced to live with his non-magical aunt and uncle, unaware of his true fate – that he would be destined to destroy the very same wizard who hunted down his parents.  By the time that Harry began attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry he was famous because of what happened that fateful night.

Throughout the 7 book series, Harry is forced into situations that would test even the strongest of wizards.  He narrowly escapes Voldemort’s wrath several times.  Yet the death of his parents is what truly haunts him even as Voldemort plays tricks with his mind.  When he looks into the Mirror of Erised, which reveals a person’s deepest desires, Harry sees himself reunited with his dead parents.  He later learns that it was his mother’s love and sacrifice that caused him to survive Voldemort’s attack as a baby.

Harry has his “Plastic Ono Band-moment” in the fifth book of the series, Harry Potter And The Order of Phoenix. No one in the wizarding world seems to believe him that Voldemort has in fact returned to full-power.  Fictional articles are written about him in the newspapers, and even his closest confidant, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is ignoring him.  He is angry at everyone even his closest friends, and even throws tantrums for no reason.  After his godfather Sirius Black is killed in battle, he takes his anger out on the headmaster smashing some of Dumbledore’s possessions.  Everyone he knows has abandoned him in one form or another.

Lennon probably felt similarly while recording Plastic Ono Band. The media hung him out to dry with his relationship with Yoko Ono.  Many accused her of breaking up “the world’s biggest band”.  Paul McCartney, Lennon’s songwriting partner and closest friend announced he was leaving The Beatles in 1970 as a way to promote his first solo album, even though Lennon had in fact parted ways with the band the previous year.  Pain was the only thing he could turn to.

In the final book of the series, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Harry is forced into a final showdown with Voldemort.  In order for Voldemort to truly be destroyed, Harry must sacrifice himself.  It is this same selflessness that forced his mother to sacrifice herself for Harry when he was a baby.  As he is about to accept his death, Harry uses a magical object known as the Resurrection Stone to bring back the spirits of the dead – his parents, his godfather, and one of his former teachers – to comfort him on his final journey.  He asks his mother to stay close, before Voldemort makes the kill.

Some five years after the release of Plastic Ono Band, Lennon himself also makes a sacrifice – though not as drastic as Harry Potter. With the birth of his son Sean in 1975, Lennon took an extended break from music for five years. He left music – his lifeline for so many years – to become the father to his son that he never had. (It must be noted that Lennon did have a son from his earlier marriage.)  But he finally found out love, and was willing to give up his career to be with his family.  He became domesticated, and seemed to enjoy life at home – something for years he had strived to get away from.

Ultimately, Harry does not die at the hands of Voldemort.  Part of Voldemort’s soul had attached itself to Harry during the attack as a baby, and that was the part that was destroyed.  After being in limbo, and talking with the dead Dumbledore, Harry is given a choice to go back and finally take down Voldemort.  In the end, Harry wins the battle, because he has outsmarted Voldemort, who cannot understand love and sacrifice. This inability to understand human nature, becomes the evil wizard’s ultimate undoing.

Though the story is told in compelling and interesting ways, at the core of JK Rowling’s entire Harry Potter series is the concept that love will conquer all.  Harry’s mother let herself be killed in order to save baby Harry.  And Harry’s desperation for love from his dead parents, and his ability to love his friends and family and let himself be killed is the very thing that finally sets him free.  The relationship that Harry has towards his parents is at the center of everything he does in the series.

While Plastic Ono Band is a significant piece of work, it ultimately does not live up to the rest of Lennon’s or The Beatles’ work because of its pain.  While The Beatles changed rock and roll forever, their songs remain enduring in part of they sung about love and peace.  John Lennon’s death was a terrible tragedy in part because it was a violent death for a man who desperately wanted to be loved, but also spread the message of love.  In the end, both Harry and Lennon discovered that “love is all you need”.

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