McCartney III is the Charm of Macca’s DIY Home-Made Albums

I was excited when Paul McCartney announced his new album McCartney III back in October, though my expectations weren’t very high. McCartney and McCartney II, the two previous albums in his DIY homemade trilogy, for the most part never appealed to me. While McCartney III is no Band on the Run, Tug of War or predecessor Egypt Station for that matter, there’s something charming about the album, which was released today (December 18). With each additional listening, I feel a bit like what Sir Paul sang 53 years ago: It’s getting better all the time.

Unlike McCartney and McCartney II, McCartney III had not be planned. From the previous announcement on McCartney’s website: “I was living lockdown life on my farm with my family and I would go to my studio every day. I had to do a little bit of work on some film music and that turned into the opening track and then when it was done I thought what will I do next? I had some stuff I’d worked on over the years but sometimes time would run out and it would be left half-finished so I started thinking about what I had.  Each day I’d start recording with the instrument I wrote the song on and then gradually layer it all up, it was a lot of fun.  It was about making music for yourself rather than making music that has to do a job.  So, I just did stuff I fancied doing. I had no idea this would end up as an album.” 

McCartney III feels a bit like a hodgepodge of tunes, including somewhat experimental music, full-blown rock and more typical acoustic McCartney type songs. That’s part of its charm! Like on his two DIY predecessors, McCartney plays all instruments himself, including guitar, bass, piano, harpsichord, mellotron, synthesizer and drums. There’s one exception. On the rocker Slidin, he did get a little help from Rusty Anderson (guitar) and Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums), two longtime members of his backing band in the studio and on the road.

There’s also When Winter Comes, an unreleased track that was previously recorded in the early ’90s and co-produced by George Martin. Macca wrote a new passage for the song, which inspired album opener Long Tailed Winter Bird. In turn, that tune sparked the process for McCartney to work on songs and of course extra time he had on his hands during the extended COVID-19 lockdown. Let’s get to some music.

I’d like to kick it off with the aforementioned opener Long Tailed Winter Bird, a largely instrumental track that’s the most adventurous on the album. I had to listen to the tune a few times before it started speaking to me – certainly not typical McCartney.

Find My Way sounds more like a McCartney pop tune. It’s got some nice harmony guitar accents. I also like the harpsichord. And the legendary Höfner violin bass! Here’s the official video.

Lavatory Lil is a nice rocker with a cool descending bassline. Some reviews I’ve seen called it reminiscent of Polythene Pam. Whichever way you want to describe it, I think it’s a cool tune!

Let’s follow it up with another rocker: the above noted Slidin’, the hardest rockin’ tune on the album.

How about some classic McCartney acoustic guitar tune? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s The Kiss Of Venus.

The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Winter Bird/When Winter Comes. Don’t get fooled by the beginning, which sounds like a reprise of the opener. About 27 seconds into the track, When Winter Comes begins, another nice acoustic tune.

McCartney III has a few additional parallels to McCartney and McCartney II. The photography stayed in the family. In the case of the two predecessors, it was Linda McCartney. On the new album, the principal photos were shot by McCartney’s daughter Mary McCartney, with additional photos by his nephew Sonny McCartney and some shots Paul took on his phone. Each of the three albums appeared during the first year of a new decade around major developments: The breakup of The Beatles, the end of Wings and the turmoil caused by a global pandemic.

Unlike McCartney and McCartney II, which initially had lukewarm receptions from critics, the majority of reviews I’ve seen for McCartney III are pretty positive. Perhaps the critics have mellowed because of COVID-19, or perhaps they are simply happy that one of the most beloved artists on the planet still feels passionate about his craft and releases new music. I can’t deny the latter is a factor in my judgment.

McCartney III appears on Capitol Records and is available via digital platforms, on CD, and on LP. According to McCartney’s website, the latter are manufactured by Third Man Pressing. Vinyl configurations range from standard 180g to a Third Man Edition of 3000 hand-numbered red vinyl copies, a ‘333’ Edition sold only via Third Man Records online store and limited to 333 copies on yellow-with-black-dots vinyl created using 33 recycled vinyl copies of McCartney and McCartney II, a U.S. indie retail exclusive pressing of 4000 hand-numbered white vinyl LPs, and more. 

Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube

Bond, James Bond…

“Bond, James Bond…” These words fascinated me from the very first 007 picture I saw when I was a kid growing up in Germany. I can’t remember how old I was but believe it was Goldfinger. On television. Sean Connery as the British super-spy, the silver Aston Martin DB5 with all the cool features, German actor Gert Fröbe as the ultimate bad guy Mr. Goldfinger – and, since this blog isn’t about movies – the killer title track performed by Shirley Bassey, an amazing vocalist!

Between TV and the movie theater, I pretty much have seen all of the 24 pictures released in the series to date. Of course, the difference between then and now is that I have so much matured that I would never want to be James Bond, driving down a winding road in a DB5 with an attractive woman sitting next to him. But taking a look at the 007 soundtracks sounds legitimate for a music blogger, doesn’t it?

Sean Connery 007 with Aston Martin
Sean Connery with the classic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger

Okay, when it comes to Bond music, we’re not exactly talking Hendrix, Clapton or The Beatles here, though in one case we come close. Plus, 007 title tracks have been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Duran Duran and Sheryl Crow, to name a few. Let’s get to some of them – of course, shaken, not stirred! Hence in chronological order.

What could possibly be a better way to kick things off than with the classic James Bond Theme, which first appeared in the film that started it all: Dr. No. from 1962, introducing the movie world to “my 007”, Sean Connery. The piece was written by Monty Norman. John Barry, who composed the soundtracks for 11 Bond movies, arranged it for Dr. No. I’ve always dug the combination of the cool guitar theme that reminds me a bit of Hank Marvin and the jazz orchestra. It’s a timeless movie classic, in my opinion, right up there with Casablanca.

If I could only select one 007 title song, I think it would be the above noted Goldfinger, composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. This also happens to be my favorite Bond picture. Bassey’s killer vocal performance still gives me goosebumps to this day. Goldfinger peaked at no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the vocalist born in Wales, England her only top 40 hit in the U.S., and a no. 21 on the UK Singles Chart.

On to Sir Paul and Live and Let Die. The 1973 picture was the first in the series to star Roger Moore as 007, my second favorite Bond actor and very close to Sean Connery. Co-written by Paul McCartney and his then-wife Linda McCartney, and recorded by McCartney’s band Wings, the tune became the most successful Bond title track up to that point, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. The song also reunited McCartney with Fab Four producer George Martin

In 1977, the 10th Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me came out. The title track Nobody Does It Better, composed by Marvin Hamlish with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, was performed by Carly Simon. It became Simon’s second most successful single in the U.S. and the UK, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart, respectively.

Jumping to the ’80s, here’s the only Bond track to date that ever topped the Billboard Hot 100A View to a Kill from the 1985 picture, the last to feature Roger Moore. Co-written by Duran Duran and John Barry and performed by the English new wave band, the song also climbed to no. 2 in the UK, giving Duran Duran one of their biggest hits

The last Bond movie of the ’80s was License to Kill starring Timothy Dalton as 007, not my favorite choice; but I guess following Sean Connery and Roger Moore almost was mission impossible. The title track was co-written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff. Gladys Knight performed the tune, marking her last charting solo single in the UK with a no. 6 top position.

This brings us to the ’90s. Who would have ever thought that Bono and U2 would get into the 007 action? Well, they did, writing the title track for the 95 picture GoldenEye, the first to star Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. He’s my favorite “late” 007. The title track, which incorporates a clever dose of nostalgia into a contemporary pop song, was performed by Tina Turner, who may not quite match Bassey’s Goldfinger but undoubtedly was a compelling vocalist.

Let’s pick another one from the same decade: Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997, Brosnan’s second lead role as 007. The title track was co-written by Shery Crow and the song’s producer Mitchell Froom. While the song peaked at no. 12 in the UK, it didn’t chart in the U.S.

This brings us to the current century. I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. The 007 movies and their title tracks haven’t gotten better over the decades. I still wanted to capture two examples from the 21st Century. Here’s You Know My Name from the 2006 picture Casino Royale, the first installment with Daniel Craig. Co-written by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and soundtrack composer David Arnold, the tune was performed by Cornell. If I see this correctly, it was Cornell’s most successful single as a solo artist in the UK, where it hit no. 7. It also reached the top 10 in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Switzerland; it was less successful in the U.S., where it climbed to no. 79.

Last but not least, perhaps you wonder how a 007 title track sounds these days. Ask and you shall receive. Here’s No Time to Die from the upcoming picture, the 25th in the series. Scheduled to hit U.S. movie theaters on April 10, it once again stars Daniel Craig as 007. Co-written by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, the tune is performed by Eilish. It was released as a single on February 13th and debuted on top of the UK Singles Chart and the Irish Singles Chart. At age 18, the American singer is the youngest artist to write and perform a Bond title track. Apparently, the song is also the first 007 theme track to top the British charts – the times they are a changin!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

50th Anniversary Editions Of Two Iconic Albums Released

The Beatles’ White Album and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland are celebrated with major reissues

Today could be a first, or in case I’m wrong, it’s safe to say this doesn’t happen often: Two major reissues of albums by iconic music artists appearing the same day. The White Album by The Beatles and Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience are now officially out. Other than what’s currently available in Apple Music I don’t have access to any of the actual special releases at this time, yet I’d feel remiss not write about these special editions.

While the White Album isn’t my favorite Beatles album and I tend to agree with those who say they should have put the strongest songs on one record rather than releasing a double album, The Beatles remain my all-time favorite band. That’s likely not going to change. Moreover, based on what I’ve read and heard, this reissue definitely features material that intrigues me. As for Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland would be my no. one album choice overall, even though it doesn’t include my two favorite Hendrix tunes: Purple Haze and Hey Joe.

The White Album 50th Anniversary Configurations

The White Album reissue is available in four configurations: A Super Deluxe 7-disc set (on the left in above picture) featuring 50 mostly previously unreleased recordings all newly mixed with 5.1 surround audio as well as the so-called Esher Demos; a deluxe 4-LP edition; a 2-LP issue (pictured above in the middle); and a deluxe 3-CD set (on the right in the above image). The remixed original tracks, the Esher Demos and additional takes are also available on iTunes/Apple Music and other digital and streaming services.

Similar to last year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band anniversary edition, Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, worked together with mix engineer Sam Okell. They newly mixed the album’s 30 original tracks in stereo and 5.1 surround audio, together with 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes, most of which weren’t released in any form previously. While I have no doubt the sound is fantastic and superior to previous recordings, for the most part I can’t hear the differences. That’s largely because the streaming versions are lower quality than the CDs or vinyl records. And, yes, part of it may also be explained by some hearing loss I can’t deny! Here’s a cool lyric video of the 2018 mix of Back In The U.S.S.R.

Given the above mentioned sound quality constraints, what’s more intriguing to me, are the additional demo and session tracks, particularly the Esher Demos that were recorded in May 1968 at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher located to the southwest of London. These are early and unplugged versions of most of the original album tracks, along with a few additional songs that didn’t make the album.

Two of the tunes that weren’t included on the White Album, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, ended up on Abbey Road. Not Guilty, a Harrison composition, was eventually released on his eponymous studio album from February 1979, his eighth studio record. And then there’s John Lennon’s Child Of Nature, which became Jealous Guy and was included on Lennon’s second solo album Imagine from September 1971 – admittedly stuff that is likely to primarily excite Beatles fans like myself.

Two things are very striking to me about these Esher Demos. The amount of writing was just remarkable during a time when tensions among The Beatles were increasing, which even led to Ringo Starr’s temporary departure. But despite their differences, somehow these guys were still able to engage as a band. They even has some fun, as background chatter on some of these home recordings suggests. Here’s the Esher Demo of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. While it’s clearly not my favorite Beatles tune, does this sound to you like a band in distress?

The Electric Ladyland Deluxe 50th Anniversary Box Set comes in two formats: 3-CD/one Blu-ray or 6-LP/one Blue-ray. It features a newly remastered Electric Ladyland album; Electric Ladyland: The Early Takes (unreleased demos); Live At The Hollywood Bowl 9/14/68 (unreleased concert); the previously released documentary about the making of the album At Last … The Beginning with 40 minutes of new footage; 5.1 surround sound mix of Electric Ladyland album; Linda McCartney’s original cover photo as chosen by Jimi Hendrix but rejected by the record company; a 48-page book featuring unpublished photos; and new essays by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke and Hendrix biographer John McDermott.

Electric Ladyland Box Set

CD mastering and the 5.1 surround sound mix were done by Eddie Kramer, sound engineer on all Hendrix albums released during his lifetime. Vinyl mastering was done by Bernie Grundman, who has mastered albums, such as Aja (Steely Dan), Thriller (Michael Jackson) and various Prince records.

Similar to Abbey Road, which couldn’t have been more different from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Electric Ladyland marked a significant change for Jimi Hendrix. Unlike the first two albums by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, where producer Chas Chandler tightly managed the recording process, Hendrix was fully in charge on Electric Ladyland. Recording sessions were no longer determined by Chandler’s tight organization and time management, but by Hendrix’s unconstrained perfectionism. Hendrix also repeatedly invited friends and guests to join him in the studio, such Brian Jones (still with The Rolling Stones at the time), Steve Winwood and Al Kooper. This created oftentimes chaotic recording conditions, which eventually led to Chandler to walk out on Hendrix.

Except for some tracks from the documentary At Last … The Beginning, currently, nothing else from the Electric Ladyland reissue is available on iTunes or Apple Music. I suspect it is similar for other digital or streaming platforms. That’s unfortunate and I assume done by design to encourage purchases of the actual box set. Probably for the same reason, I also couldn’t find any YouTube clips of songs from the reissue. The CD version currently sells for $42.39 on Amazon, while the vinyl configuration is going for $98.39. Here’s a fun clip of Eddie Kramer talking about Electric Ladyland and the new box set.

Sources: Wikipedia, Beatles website, Jimi Hendrix website, YouTube