Tag Archives: The Beatles

Albums I Thought Were Terrible (But Aren’t)

 

Popmatters recently ran a piece on “Albums that Supposedly Suck (But Don’t) and it got me thinking of which albums I initially hated. Sometimes, it would take a few listens for me to warm up to the music, with other albums it took a bit of revisionist history and also a bit of perspective.

Passengers – Original Soundtracks 1

This side project by U2 and Brian Eno is one of the most confusing (and alienating) pieces of work by a major artist in the last 20 years. Larry Mullen has gone on record as stating that he absolutely hates this record with songs set to (mostly) imaginary movies. Indeed, anyone expecting an album full of the anthems U2 are known will be disappointed.It’s a mostly laid-back, atmospheric and somewhat ambient affair, the perfect soundtrack to a late-night. The songs don’t really seem to have any structure as most U2 songs do, but they reveal themselves with each subsequent listen. The obvious standouts are “Your Blue Room” which is one of U2’s most haunting ballads, and the Pavarotti collaboration “Miss Sarajevo”.  But songs like “United Colors” and “Slug” are inventive and groundbreaking anything U2 has done.

The Who – The Who By Numbers

With the exception of the pop-ditty “Squeeze Box” The Who By Numbers has mostly been forgotten about by the general public. It’s not hard to see why, as it lacks the firepower of albums like Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Instead, Pete Townshend offers up songs about his mortality (“Blue Red and Grey”), alcoholism (“However Much I Booze”), his place in the rock world with the emergence of punk (“They’re All In Love”).  It’s certainly not as consistent as some of their earlier albums, but Townshend lyrics revealed a softer side (and more personal) that he further explored on solo albums like Empty Glass.

The Beatles – The White Album

I first this album when I was young. Even then, I knew there were great songs on it, but I couldn’t understand why the hell songs like “Rocky Raccoon” and “Wild Honey Pie” were included. The only version I had was a dubbed cassette I borrowed from my older brother. I was convinced that he must have taken these terrible songs from The Beatles Anthology and put them on the cassette as a joke. There could be no other logical explanation. In recent years, The White Album has grown to be one of my favorite Beatles’ albums. The quirky detours add to the charm of the record, and counter-balance some of Lennon’s heavier lyrics. And what other album could offer songs as majestic as “Julia” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and others as silly as “Ob-la-Di, Ob-La-Da”?

Beck – Midnite Vultures

I loved Odelay upon its release, so I quickly bought Midnite Vultures based on the bouncy and horn-heavy single, “Sexx Laws”.  I was quickly disappointed, as the rest of the album seemed to be a party album, without a party to accompany it. The songs seemed like Beck was trying to hard to be exciting, and unlike Odelay all the odd sounds annoyed the hell out me. In retrospect, Midnite Vultures is the soundtrack for the end of the party. It’s mesh of sounds while not groundbreaking makes it sound fresh and vital, and “Debra” is one of the best Prince tracks that Prince never wrote.

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

I’ve always heard from various people that The Rolling Stones albums are almost unlistenable after Exile on Main St. While that is certainly their prime, some of their latter days are albums are quite good. I bought Some Girls after reading a positive review in a magazine. This shit didn’t sound like The Rolling Stones. Jagger’s voice was the same, but where was the classic sound? You let me down, rock writers! “Miss You” sounded like a disco song, and “Some Girls” while raunchy, was nowhere as good as “Starfucker”(aka “Star Star”.) As it turns out, I missed the point. “Some Girls” was probably the last time that The Rolling Stones could take a contemporary sound and put their own spin on it without sounding tired and out of ideas. And for the record, I now love “Miss You”.

 

 

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5 Albums For A Rainy Day

It’s raining here in Baltimore –  it’s the perfect day to sit down and read a book while listening to good music.  One of the great things about music, is its ability to pick up on a particular mood and can seep into your subconsciousness.   The mood of a song may feel like raining coming down, even if its lyrical content has nothing to do with the weather.

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues

Fisherman’s Blues is the ultimate rainy day album. With the exception of the title track, and “World Party”, it’s a largely stripped down affair with emphasis on violins (or is it fiddle in this case?) piano and acoustic guitars.  The rhythm of “Strange Boat” unfolds at a snail’s pace.  Elsewhere, their cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing”  brings tension like a torrential rain, but also leaves room for the inevitable clearing of the skies – reenforced by a coda that includes bits of The Beatles’ “Blackbird”.   The lyrics of “The Stolen Child” are adapted from WB Yeats, but with the dominating piano and mystical-sounding flute, its the soundtrack to the dreams you have on a rainy morning when you hit snooze and don’t want to get out of bed.

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire

The Unforgettable Fire is largely remembered as the album that contained the hit “Pride (In The Name of Love)”.   Thanks to Brian Eno’s production, it is also an album that finds U2 exploring sonic textures perfectly suited to a gray and wet day.  Bono is more hushed on this than any other U2 album – “Promenade” is  a whisper from the band that almost goes unnoticed if you don’t pay attention.  While the band occasionally slides into louder territory (“Wire” and “Indian Summer Sky” in particular) most of the album is a quieter affair with the emphasis on The Edge’s guitar effects as a musical paintbrush.

Bob Dylan – Modern Times

Modern Times finds Bob Dylan for exploring old blues records while also incorporating jazz influences. Even the blurry cover and title (which is a homage to the Charlie Chaplin film of the same name) suggest Dylan’s fascination with that era, which leads to one of his mellowest albums to date.  Even the rocker “Rollin and Thumblin” has a shuffle to it, never allowing the song to quite break through and roar. The album perfectly suits what Dylan’s voice has turned into in the past decade – a long, smoky drawl.   Dylan’s interpretation of “When the Levee Breaks”, titled “The Levee’s Gonna Break” travels at a speed which hints at the disaster up ahead, but never actually descends into it.  There might be a storm outside, but you can take comfort with this album.

Fleet Foxes

If I have any criticisms of Fleet Foxes, and their self-titled debut, it’s that their songs are hard to distinguish from one another.  But as a whole, their debut unfolds with lush harmonies and laid-back acoustics rarely since the early days of Crosby, Stills and Nash.  It’s the sound of a band searching for an overall feeling and mood as opposed to a killer single.  That may bother some, but Fleet Foxes manage to impress while being unassuming.

Tom Waits – Closing Time

Closing Time is not only one of the best debut albums of all time, it’s also one of the best of all time.  The combination of folk and jazz lends itself to just simply lounging around.  The trumpets and piano on “Virginia Avenue” and “Midnight Lullaby” get inside your soul in the way that the best jazz compositions do.  While Waits covers a lot of topics on this album, the arrangements and music say just as much.  This is the type of album where you just want to sit inside, look out the window at the rain, and simply listen.

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Top Ten Rock Band List From An Unknown Magazine

According to an article on radio station DC101, a “new magazine” put out a list of the list of the top 10 best bands ever.  Note that the name of the magazine wasn’t listed, and that the article doesn’t state whether it was a reader’s poll or a staff pick.  Either way, I’m pretty sure I won’t be reading this “new magazine”.  It’s a terrible list.

Here’s the list according to the article:

1. The Beatles

2. Led Zeppelin

3. Queen

4. The Cars

5. Heart

6. Green Day

7. Journey

8. Santana

9. Rolling Stones

10. Motley Crue

Personally, I think there’s only two bands which deserve to be there – and I’ll leave you to guess which ones.

What are your top 10 bands?

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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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A Week Full of Hendrix: Hendrix Covers

Not much writing on this post, but check out Hendrix putting his stamp on quite a few classics.  (Note: I’m not including “All Along the Watchtower here – while great, it’s too obvious.)

“Hey Joe/Sunshine of Your Love”:

“Like a Rolling Stone”:

“Wild Thing”:

“Catfish Blues”:

“Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”:

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Fall Mix

I made a Fall mix for my girlfriend (she’s just starting blogging so check out her site) and here’s what I came up.

Old Habits Die Hard – Mick Jagger & Dave Stewart

Nobody Told Me – John Lennon

Born in Time – Bob Dylan

Lost in the Supermarket – The Clash

Pretty (Ugly Before) – Elliot Smith

Into the Fire – Bruce Springsteen

Easy Plateau – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – The Beatles

The Unforgetable Fire – U2

Vito’s Ordination Song – Sufjan Stevens

Strange Boat – The Waterboys

Society- Eddie Vedder

Sprawl II – Arcade Fire

Heaven – Talking Heads

Perfect Circle – R.E.M.

Cold Desert – Kings of Leon

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Digging Through the Vaults

As you probably know I’m pretty excited about the remaster of Exile on Main St, along with the previously unreleased tracks that accompany it.  Usually I’m a bit wary of this type of thing, as most unreleased tracks by artists are unreleased for a reason.  If the recently released single “Plunder My Soul” to promote the remaster is any indication, the rest of the tracks will be high quality.  So here are few my other favorite “previously unreleased” tracks from the vaults.

Bob Dylan – “Blind Willie McTell” (The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3).  Arguably the greatest unreleased track ever, and one of Dylan’s finest songs.  Originally from the Infidels sessions,  the haunting “Blind Willie McTell” finds Dylan on piano backed by Mark Knofler on guitar.   Named after the great American blues singer Blind Willie McTell who developed a rag-time finger picking style which he played on a then unpopular 12 string guitar.  He is noted for never playing a song the same way twice.  (A feat which Dylan is sometimes known for on his “Never-Ending Tour”).  Dylan gives one of his best vocal performances, as he traces American history though references to slavery and music. At the end of each verse he tells us that “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell”.  Well, no can write a rock song like Bob Dylan.  (I might actually try to really write about the song at some point.)

The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever” (Demo Sequence) (The Anthology Vol 2.). This one might be cheating, since “Strawberry Fields” is an official track.  Much has already been discussed about “Strawberry Fields” and its influence on music, but I find that the demo sequence gives an added depth to the story.  The studio version of “Strawberry Fields” is usually noted for its psychedelic sound, but the lyrics reflect on John Lennon’s childhood, loneliness, and self-doubt.   The demo sequence with just Lennon  on acoustic guitar, peels away the wall of sound and reveals the sadness that is at the heart of “Strawberry Fields”.  (Thanks to Ned for bringing my attention to this one.)

Van Morrison – “Wonderful Remark” (The Philosopher’s Stone).  “Wonderful Remark” was a song that originally released on the soundtrack to The King of Comedy, and then released on 1990’s The Best of Van Morrison. This version while of high quality, like most of Morrison’s songs in the late 80s and early 90’s borders on adult contemporary.  The version on Philosopher’s Stone is the one to beat – and like the demo version of  “Strawberry Fields” strips away the excess – with just acoustic guitar, drums, and flute.  Ranks up with “Madame George” as one of Morrison’s best.

Elliot Smith – “A Fond Farewell” (From a Basement on a Hill).  Really any song from this posthumous album could be included since Smith was one of the finest songwriters of his generation.   “A Fond Farewell” would be remembered for its beauty if Smith were still alive, but his suicide has made the song even more memorable.  Looking back it’s hard to tell if Smith was talking about himself or an actual friend.

What are your favorite previously unreleased tracks?

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