Paul McCartney, Accidental Bassist Extraordinaire

When it comes to Paul McCartney and his accomplishments, where do you even start? Co-founding member of The Beatles, which in my book was the greatest band of all time; a man who has written hundreds of songs, including timeless classics; multiple award-winning two-time inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; and great musician who after more than five decades is sill hungry to perform live are some of the highlights that come to mind. This post focuses on something folks outside musician circles may not fully appreciate: McCartney’s significance in pop and rock music as a bassist.

As frequent readers of the blog know, I used to play bass guitar in my late teens and early twenties. As such, the topic should be right up my alley, so what the heck took me so long to write about it? Frankly, I don’t really have a good answer. I included McCartney in a previous post about some of my favorite bassists, and of course I’ve also covered him on other occasions. Still, as one of my all-time music heroes, Macca and his remarkable bass playing certainly deserve more attention.

The interesting thing one may sometimes forget is that McCartney not only started out as a guitarist but did not have any initial intention to become a bassist. A long interview with Macca, which Tony Bacon conducted in November 1994 as part of his research for a book about the bass, provides some great insights. It was published by online music gear and news website Reverb in January 2018. I’m relying on this interview for quotes throughout the remainder of the post.

The Beatles 1960 Lineup
The Beatles’ lineup in 1960 (from left): John Lennon, George Harrison, Pete Best, Paul McCartney and Stuart Sutcliffe

“The bass player was normally a fat guy who stood at the back,” Macca told Bacon. [Note: This bassist was skinny, and while he has developed a little bit of the belly over the years, he’s far from fat. In fact, his dear wife still says he’s pretty handsome!ūüėÜ] “In our minds it was the fat guy in the group nearly always played the bass, and he stood at the back. None of us wanted that. We wanted to be up front, singing, looking good. That was what we wanted, to pull the birds. There‚Äôs no other reason, basically.”

The above photo shows an early lineup of The Beatles. It must have been taken during the second half of 1960, after Pete Best had joined the band as a drummer. Stuart Sutcliffe, a friend of John Lennon¬†from art school, had been added in January that year, after John and Paul had persuaded him to use prize money he had won for art to purchase a Hofner bass guitar. “So, Stu was suddenly there just because he could afford the bass, and none of us could,” Macca said. Ouch…

“The Hofner kind of dwarfed Stu a bit,” Macca further pointed out. “He was a smallish guy. But it looked kind of heroic‚ÄĒhe stood a certain way, he had shades, he looked the part‚ÄĒbut he wasn‚Äôt that good a player. And that was the problem with me and Stu. It was always much reported that we didn‚Äôt get along. There were two reasons, really. One, I was very ambitious for the group, and I didn‚Äôt actually like anything that might hold us back. There‚Äôs enough stuff holding you back anyway, without someone in the group who‚Äôs not that good, you know?”

Stuart Sutcliffe with Hofner
Stuart Sutcliffe with his 1959 Hofner 500/5 semi-hollow bass

In July 1961, after The Beatles had returned from one of their engagements in Hamburg, Germany, Sutcliffe decided to leave the band to pursue painting. “So it was like oh-oh, we haven‚Äôt got a bass player. And everyone sort of turned round and looked at me,” Macca recalled. “I was a bit lumbered with it, really. It was like, well, it better be you then. I don‚Äôt think you could have caught John doing it‚ÄĒI don‚Äôt think he would have done it. ‘No, you‚Äôre kidding. I‚Äôve got a nice new Rickenbacker.’ I didn‚Äôt have a guitar [at the time], see, so I couldn‚Äôt really say, ‘But I want to be a guitarist.’ They‚Äôd say, Well get a fucking guitar then‚ÄĒthat might be a start! As I say, I‚Äôd been playing piano, which was on the stage, and that was quite good for me, gave me a lot of piano practice. I couldn‚Äôt really play but I learned. So I was quite glad to get back in the front line.”

Sutcliffe ended up lending McCartney his bass for a short time. “Eventually I saw a bass in the window of a shop in Hamburg, this violin-shaped bass, the¬†Hofner. It was a good price, because my dad, as I say, had always said I shouldn‚Äôt do the never-never, but we were earning reasonable money.” And so McCartney essentially became the bassist of The Beatles by, well, accident. “That was it. I had the bass. I was now the bass player in the group, and I kind of took it from there.” Well, he certainly did.

It’s fair to say that McCartney didn’t become a brilliant bassist overnight. He started out largely playing root notes, which probably wasn‚Äôt that much different from Sutcliffe. But McCartney liked to push himself forward by experimenting. ‚ÄúThe thing with the bass on a lot of this stuff was that you‚Äôll try anything once,‚ÄĚ he explained. ‚ÄúSo, I‚Äôll try a capo on a bass…I often used to tune ‚Äėem down, too – tune the strings down a tone, so the E would become a D. You‚Äôd have to be careful how hard you hit them, but it was kind of interesting. I would just mess around with any experimental effects, just to try it.‚ÄĚ

Macca with Bass and Capo
Paul McCartney on the cover of Beat Instrumental magazine, with his Rickenbacker 4001 bass and a capo, together with George Martin and George Harrison

After¬†The Beatles had stopped touring, the studio became a major enabler for experimentation. Advances in technology also allowed the separate recording of instruments. By the time of Sgt. Pepper,¬†Macca would oftentimes record the bass part as one of the last tracks. This allowed him to hear all other instrumental parts and take the bass beyond it‚Äôs traditional role of timekeeper to becoming an additional melody-driving instrument. And this is where Macca’s true magic as a bassist happened. From a strictly technical standpoint, his playing is nothing extraordinary, which he himself has stated in various interviews I’ve read over the years.

When after the breakup of The Beatles¬†Macca formed Wings, many things changed, including his bass playing. Not only did he now consistently use his¬†Rickenbacker 4001S he had been given by Mr. Rickenbacker himself as a freebie during The Beatles’ 1965 U.S. tour, but his playing became more traditional again. Asked about it, he said, ‚ÄúI think it was OK, but I think I never quite had the interest that I had during that sort of dream period around¬†Sgt. Pepper and¬†Rubber Soul, when I was doing something.”

Macca Key Bass Guitars
Paul McCartney with his two signature bass guitars, a Hofner 500/1 violin bass and a Rickenbacker 4001S

‚ÄúSee, with Wings, I was now the band leader, the business manager, the this, the that, the¬†this,” he went on. “We didn‚Äôt have Apple, we didn‚Äôt have Epstein, we didn‚Äôt have anything. It was me doing it all. That was the biggest headache – that‚Äôs difficult. In The Beatles, I‚Äôd been free of all of that. We had a manager, we had three other great guys.‚ÄĚ Macca also could have added that unlike¬†The Beatles in their later stage,¬†Wings was not set up as a studio band.

Asked about his influences for the bass, McCartney said, “Mainly as time went on it was¬†Motown, James Jamerson‚ÄĒwho became just my hero, really. I didn‚Äôt actually know his name until quite recently. James was very melodic, and that got me more interested.¬†Actually he and Brian Wilson [from The Beach Boys] were my two biggest influences: James just because he was so good and melodic. Brian because he went to very unusual places. Brian would use, if you were playing in C, he might stay on the G a lot just to hold it all back, and I started to realize the power you had within the band.”

I’d like to wrap up this post by highlighting some of McCartney‚Äôs great basslines during his time with The Beatles. I apologize to the non-musicians, who may find the following clips a bit geeky. I think the best way to hear Macca in action, especially on a computer or other non hi-fi device, is to listen to his isolated bass parts.¬†First up: Rain, the B-side from the non-album single Paperback Writer, released in May 1966. The song was written by Lennon and, as usually, credited to Lennon-McCartney. This is quite a busy bassline that provides a nice complementary melody to the tune. Since I couldn’t find a YouTube clip with the original isolated part, I’m relying on a chap called Norby Hofner, who does a pretty decent job.

With A Little Help From My Friends from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is an example of a melodic bassline where McCartney nicely varies between sparing and busy playing. The tune wasn’t only credited to Lennon-McCartney but was also written collaboratively.

Another great example of a busy Macca bassline is Hey Bulldog, a song off the Yellow Submarine album, primarily written by Lennon and again credited to Lennon-McCartney. I dig how the bass is pushing the tune forward.

The last bassline I’d like to call out is one of my all-time favorites by Macca: Something. Should I ever go back to playing the bass, this would be on top of my list to learn. This bass part represents such great melodic playing that one can easily enjoy listening to it all by itself. I also think that Something, which appeared on Abbey Road, is one of George Harrison’s best compositions.

Sources: Wikipedia, Reverb, YouTube

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When Bs Should Have Been As

While I suspect most folks can tell an anecdote where they feel a teacher or professor did them wrong, you probably figured this post isn’t about academic grades, though it is somewhat related to grading. I’m talking about the good old-fashioned single from the last Century. Yep, it’s hard to believe that in the age of online streaming and digital downloads there was once was a time when music artists would release singles on vinyl and people would actually buy them!

The most common format of the vinyl single was the 7-inch 45 rpm, which according to Wikipedia was introduced by RCA Victor in March 1949 as a more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for 78 rpm shellac discs. Historically, singles had an A-side and a B-side, and placing a song on the A-side implied it was better than the tune on the flip side. In December 1965, The Beatles disrupted this tradition when they released the first so-called double-A side: We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper. The 70s saw yet another type called double-B, where you had one song on the A-side and two tunes on the B-side. Also known as maxi singles, the initial format was 7 inches and, starting from the mid-70s, 12 inches.

Do singles even matter you might ask. At the end of the day, it’s all music, so who cares how it’s called. Well, I guess I’m a bit of a music nerd, so I get excited about it. That being said,¬†I never got much into buying 45 rpms myself. In retrospect, that’s a good thing, since the handful I ended up were all pretty awful.¬† Three I can still remember include I Was Made For Loving You (Kiss), Heart of Glass (Blondie) and How Could This Go Wrong (Exile) – indeed, how could things have gone so wrong? Well, to my defense it was the disco era and, perhaps more significantly, I was like 12 or 13 years old and slightly less mature!:-)

Before I go any further with this post, I have to give credit where credit is due. The initial inspiration for the topic came from a story on Ultimate Classic Rock about B-sides that became big hits. Then I also remembered that fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews¬†has a recurring feature called Great B-sides. Both together made me curious to do some research and there you have it: a playlist of tunes that initially were released as B-sides, which in my opinion would have deserved an A-side placement or perhaps double-A side status. This doesn’t necessarily mean I feel the corresponding A-sides were inferior. With that being said, let’s get to it!

What better artist to kick off a rock playlist than with Mr. Rock & Roll, Chuck Berry. In September 1956, he released Brown Eyed Handsome Man, a single from his debut album After School Session. The B-side was Too Much Monkey Business, which I personally prefer over the A-side. Both tunes were written by Berry. Like many of his songs, Too Much Monkey Business was widely covered by others like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Yardbirds. Naming them all would be, well, too much monkey business!

Another 1950s artist I dig is Buddy Holly, a true rock & roll and guitar pioneer who during his short recording career released such amazing music.¬†Here’s Not Fade Away, the B-side to Oh, Boy!, a single that appeared in October 1957 under the name of Holly’s band The Crickets. Not Fade Away¬†was credited to Charles Hardin, Holly’s real name, and Norman Petty. In February 1964, The Rolling Stones released a great cover of the tune, their first U.S. single and one of their first hits.

In November 1964, Them fronted by 19-year-old Van Morrison released a cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go, a traditional that had first been popularized by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in 1935. While Them’s take was a great rendition, it was the B-side, Morrison’s¬†Gloria, which became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 10 on the British singles charts. Following the song’s big success, apparently, Gloria was re-released as a single in 1965, with the garage rocker getting its well-deserved A-side placement. G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria,¬†G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria – love this tune!

Another great B-side is I’ll Feel A Lot Better by The Byrds, which they put on the flip side of their second single All I Really Want To Do from June 1965. It was written by founding member Gene Clark, the band’s main writer of original songs between 1964 and early 1966. Like the Bob Dylan tune All I Really Want To Do, I’ll Feel A Lot Better appeared on The Byrds’ debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. I’m a huge fan of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker jingle-jangle guitar sound. Another reason I’ve always liked The Byrds is because of their great harmony singing. It’s the kind of true music craftsmanship you hardly hear any longer these days.

My next selection won’t come as a shock to frequent readers of the blog: I’m The Walrus by The Beatles. Other than the fact that The Fab Four are my all-time favorite band, there’s another valid reason I included them in this playlist.¬†You can file this one under ‘what were they thinking relegating the tune to the B-side and giving the A-side to¬†Hello Goodbye.’ Hello? According to The Beatles Bible, not only was John Lennon’s push to¬†make Walrus the A-side overturned by Paul McCartney and George Martin, who both felt Hello Goodbye would be more commercially successful, but it created real resentment from Lennon. And frankly who can blame him! After the band’s breakup, he complained “I got sick and tired of being Paul’s backup band.” Yes, Hello Goodbye ended up peaking at no. 1 but also as one of the worst Beatles singles!

Next up: Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the B-side to Proud Mary, a single released in January 1969. Unlike the previous case, I think this is a great example of two killer tunes that are each A-side material. Written by John Fogerty, both songs appeared on CCR’s second studio album Bayou Country that also came out in January 1969.

In October 1969, Led Zeppelin issued Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their debut, and one of their best albums, in my opinion. The opening track Whole Lotta Love was released as a single in November that year. The B-side was Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman). It may not be quite on par with Whole Lotta Love, but it sure as heck is an excellent tune with a great riff. The song was co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

The Needle And The Damage Done is one of my favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite artists: Neil Young. It became the B-side to Old Man, which Young released as a single in April 1972 off Harvest, his excellent fourth studio album that had appeared in February that year.

Also in April 1972, David Bowie came out with Starman, the lead single from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album and my favorite Bowie record. The B-side was Suffragette City, a kick-ass glam rocker. Like all tracks on Ziggy Stardust, it was written by Bowie.

Of course, this playlist wouldn’t be complete without featuring a tune from one of my other all-time favorite bands, The Rolling Stones. I decided to go with¬†When The Whip Comes Down, the B-side to Beast Of Burden, which was released as a single in September 1978. As usually co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both tunes appeared on Some Girls, the Stones’ 14th British and 16th U.S. studio album from June that year. That’s according to Wikipedia – I didn’t count them myself!

Sources: Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock, Radio X, Smooth Radio, Forgotten Hits, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: January 23

Even though I’ve already done numerous installments for this recurrent feature, many of the 365 dates remain to be explored. Let’s take a look at some of the events on January 23 in rock & roll history.

1956: Cleveland, Ohio banned rock & roll fans under the age of 18 from dancing in public unless accompanied by an adult, after the Ohio police had re-introduced a law dating back to 1931. Music bans rarely work, and there was no way young people could be kept away from rock & roll. Ironically, 27 years later, the very same city saw¬†the founding of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The times they are a-changin’.

50s dance ban

1965: Petula Clark¬†hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Downtown, the first female singer from the U.K. to reach the top of the U.S. chart since Vera Lynn in 1952. The tune, which peaked at no. 2 in the U.K., was written by Tony Hatch, who also produced it for Clark. The song’s recording session on October 16, 1964 at Pye Studios in London was attended by a popular studio guitarist. His name: Jimmy Page. That same year, his session work also included As Tears Go By (Marianne Faithfull), Heart Of Stone (The Rolling Stones) and Baby, Please Don’t Go (Them), among others.

1969: The Beatles were working at Abbey Road Studios as part of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. They spent a great deal of time on Get Back, recording an impressive 43 takes of the Paul McCartney tune, none of which was officially released. Their efforts eventually would pay off during their rooftop concert. And, yes, they passed the audition!

1971: George Harrison reached no. 1 on the¬†Official Singles Chart¬†in the U.K. with My Sweet Lord, becoming the first former member of The Beatles to top the charts as a solo artist. The tune appeared on All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s first solo album following the band’s breakup. My Sweet Lord peaked at no. 1 in many other countries as well, including the U.S., Canada and Australia. It also made Harrison the first and only ex-Beatle to find himself embroiled in¬†major copyright infringement litigation. The lawsuit alleged My Sweet Lord plagiarized¬†He’s So Fine, a tune Ronnie Mack had written for The Chiffons, giving them a no. 1 single in the U.S. in 1963. In September 1976, a New York judge ruled that Harrison had “subconsciously copied” Mack’s tune. Subsequent litigation over damages dragged on until 1998.

1976: David Bowie released his 10th studio album Station To Station. It became his highest-charting record in the U.S. during the ’70s, climbing to no. 3 on the Billboard 200. The record also catapulted the¬†Thin White Duke¬†into the top 10 in various other countries, including the U.K. (no. 5), Australia (no. 8), The Netherlands (no. 3), Norway (no. 8) and New Zealand (no. 9). In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Station To Station at no. 324 on their list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Here’s the closer Wild Is The Wind, which like all tracks was written by Bowie.

1978: Terry Kath, best known as a founding member of Chicago, accidentally shot himself dead. Following a party, he started playing around with guns, held a pistol he thought was empty to his temple and pulled the trigger. The freak accident happened only a few days prior to what would have been his 32nd birthday. Referring to Kath,¬†Jimi Hendrix reportedly once told Chicago’s saxophone player Walter Parazaider that “your guitar player is better than me.” Regardless whether Hendrix meant it or not, there’s no question that Kath was an ace guitarist. Here’s I Don’t Want Your Money, which was co-written by him and Robert Lamm, and appeared on Chicago’s third studio album¬†Chicago III from January 1971.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

The Who Are Coming To Town And The Real Me Is In

North American Moving On! Tour to feature band with symphonic orchestras

When The Who came to the U.S. the previous time in 2017, I was really tempted to see them again. After all, they remain my favorite ’60s British Invasion band next to¬†The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I didn’t and then sort of regretted it. Should have, could have – well, not this time, especially given this could well be The Who’s last big tour. Plus, three make a charm!

On Monday, Roger Daltrey and his longtime partner in crime¬†Pete Townshend announced Moving On!, a 29-date North American tour, and a new studio album to be released “later this year” – their first of original material in 13 years. Is it going to be called Moving On!? At this time, one can only speculate, since the announcement didn’t say anything else.

thewho_moving on!

Perhaps Daltrey and Townshend are taking a page from the playbook of Paul McCartney. Last year, Sir Paul showed the music world how to create anticipation ahead of the release of his most recent studio album Egypt Station. From posting visual clues on his Instagram to telling Jimmy Fallon about a concert in New York at an undisclosed location to coincide with the release,¬†saying it would be big and cheerfully reminding the audience of the album’s title, Macca masterfully executed a few tricks to create buzz.

You could argue there’s something odd about a man, who by the time the tour kicks off will be 75 years old, to sing¬†I hope I die before I get old. Whether My Generation will be included in the setlist remains to be seen. And 75 today isn’t what the age used to be when Daltrey shouted out the verse for the first time in 1965. More importantly, age first and foremost is how you feel inside, not some number – that’s what I keep telling myself as well! ūüôā

roger daltrey & pete townshend

Daltrey seems to be pretty aware of his current life stage. Telling Rolling Stone recently this may be his last tour, he added, ‚ÄúI have to be realistic that this is the age I am and voices start to go after a while. I don‚Äôt want to be not as good as I was two years ago.‚ÄĚ In other words, he knows when the time comes to stop. Until then, fans should continue to enjoy who I believe is one of the best rock vocalists.

One aspect of Moving On!, which escaped my attention until after I had purchased my ticket yesterday, is the symphonic format – a setup I feel can easily become overwhelming. Here’s Daltrey’s take he shared with the Los Angeles Times: “One mistake rock bands make is when they just have orchestras playing ‚Äúpads,‚ÄĚ as I call them, music that could be played on a synthesizer…Another mistake people make is taking the rock out. When Pete did ‚ÄúQuadrophenia‚ÄĚ with an orchestra but without the rock band, well, taking the rock out of ‚ÄúQuadrophenia‚ÄĚ was, to me, an anathema. It didn’t make sense. But you put the two together, it becomes huge. I was really bowled over by it. It’s triumphant.”

the who with touring band
Roger Daltey (far left) and Pete Townshend (far right) with their touring band (from left) in 2017: Jon Button (bass) and Loren Gold (keyboards). Not pictured: Simon Townshend (guitar, backing vocals) and Zak Starkey (drums)

Daltrey and Townshend also addressed the tour’s symphonic format in their above announcement. ‚ÄúBe aware Who fans! Just because it‚Äôs The Who with an orchestra, in no way will it compromise the way Pete and I deliver our music,” said Daltrey. “This will be full throttle Who with horns and bells on.‚ÄĚ Added Townshend, “Roger christened this tour Moving On! I love it. It is what both of us want to do. Move on, with new music, classic Who music, all performed in new and exciting ways. Taking risks, nothing to lose.” Let’s see how they put it all in action. I’m certainly intrigued!

In addition to sharing the stage with orchestras, Daltrey and Townshend will be backed by their familiar touring band: Townshend’s younger brother Simon Townshend (guitar, backing vocals), Loren Gold (keyboards), Jon Button (bass) and Zak Starkey (drums), the oldest son of Sir Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr.

The tour’s line-up is listed at the bottom. I’m going to join together with band on May 13 at New York’s Madison Square, where I saw them first, the only time with John Entwistle. I just checked on setlist.fm, and I now think it must have been in October 2000. My previous recollection was it happened as part of the 2002 tour and only a few months prior to Entwistle’s death in Las Vegas in June 2002. To celebrate the upcoming tour and The Ox and Thunderfingers, here’s a clip of one of my all-time favorites: The Real Me from Quadrophenia, The Who’s sixth studio album from October 1976. Entwistle may have been stubborn like an ox, but he was one hell of a bass player!

2019 North American Tour Dates

 

Summer Dates

May 7   Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI

May 9   KeyBank Center, Buffalo, NY

May 11   Jiffy Lube Live , Bristow, VA

May 13   Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

May 16   Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN

May 18   Ruoff Home Mortage Music Center, Noblesville, IN

May 21   Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Chicago, IL

May 23   Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre St. Louis, Maryland Heights, MO

May 25   Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA

May 28   Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI

May 30   PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

June 1   Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, ON

 

Fall Dates

Sept 6   Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN

Sept 8   Alpine Valley Music Theatre, Alpine Valley, WI

Sept 10   Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH

Sept 13   Fenway Park, Boston, MA

Sept 15   Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, NY

Sept 18   State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA

Sept 20   BB&T Center, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Sept 22   Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL

Sept 25   Toyota Center, Houston, TX

Sept 27   American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX

Sept 29   Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

Oct 11   Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

Oct 13   Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

Oct 16   Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl San Diego State University, San Diego, CA

Oct 19   T-Mobile Park, Home of the Seattle Mariners, Seattle, WA

Oct 21    Pepsi Live at Rogers Arena, Vancouver, BC

Oct 23   Rogers Place, Edmonton, AB

 

Sources: Wikipedia, The Who website, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, setlist.fm, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: January 5

Earlier today, fellow bloggers¬†Intogroove and Slicethelife¬†reminded me of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s sophomore album Bayou Country, which was released today 50 years ago. Then I spotted a Rolling Stone story about Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., the Bruce Springsteen debut, which appeared on January 5, 1973. Last but not least, Ultimate Classic Rock wrote about the 40th anniversary of Look Sharp!, Joe Jackson’s first record – three great reasons to do another installment of my music history series, and there’s more!

1962: English rock & roll singer Tony Sheridan released his debut album My Bonnie as Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers. The Beat Brothers, Sheridan’s backing band at the time, actually were an early incarnation of The Beatles. Their line-up included John Lennon (guitar), Paul McCartney (guitar), George Harrison (guitar), Stuart Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums). While there are different versions of the story, the release of the album’s title track as a single appears to have played a role in getting The Beatles on the radar screen of a man who at the time ran the record department of the family’s music store NEMS. His name? Brian Epstein.

1969: Bayou Country, the sophomore album by Creedence Clearwater Revival, came out, the first of three records the band released that year. Unlike their debut, which included three covers, all except one tune on Bayou Country were written by John Fogerty. Looking at the band’s sudden success with¬†Proud Mary and the rapid succession of additional records, one could forget they had actually struggled for a decade, initially performing as the Blue Velvets and then the Golliwogs before adopting the name Creedence Clearwater Revival in January 1968 ahead of the release of their eponymous debut album in May that year. Here’s Bayou Country’s strong opener Born On The Bayou.

1973: Bruce Springsteen released his debut Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.¬† As the above Rolling Stone story notes, while the album wasn’t a huge commercial success, it included various tunes that would become staples during Springsteen’s live performances. One of them is the only Springsteen song that ever topped the Billboard Hot 100, though not in its original version: Blinded By The Light, which Manfred Mann’s Earthband turned into a major chart success in 1976. The record also featured five musicians who eventually became part of the E Street Band: Vini ‚ÄúMad Dog‚ÄĚ Lopez (drums), Garry Tallent (bass), David Sancious (keyboards) and Clarence Clemons (saxophone). Initially, Blinded By The Light and Spirit In The Night weren’t part of the record that was submitted to Columbia. At the insistence of label president Clive Davis, who felt the album lacked a hit, Springsteen wrote both songs. Here’s Spirit In The Night, another tune that was also covered by Manfred Mann.

1979: Joe Jackson made his studio debut with Look Sharp!¬†Jackson was remarkably successful right out of the gate, with the record peaking at no. 20 on the Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 40 on the UK Albums Chart. The lead single and one of his signature tunes Is She Really Going Out With Him? climbed to no. 13 on the UK Singles Chart and reached no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. I think the above UCR story put it nicely: “Thin and balding, Jackson wasn’t exactly born for the looming video revolution, but he had an impeccable sense of style reflected by the distinctive¬†Look Sharp!¬†album cover, graced with a striking shot of white dress shoes shining in a beam of light on a city sidewalk. Simple and elegant, it summed up Jackson’s early recordings perfectly, evoking all the sleek musical lines and bracing urban wit throughout the album’s 36-minute running time.” Here’s the great opener One More Time, which like all other tracks on the album was written by Jackson.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Ultimate Classic Rock, This Day In Rock, This Day In Music, YouTube

Ultimate Classic Rock’s Take On 2018’s Biggest Rock Stories

The other day, I came across an article on Ultimate Classic Rock (UCR), which I thought provides a nice wrap-up of rock’s biggest headlines in 2018 and is worth highlighting. Following I’m going to address some of the stories included in the piece.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic of Queen, which premiered on October 24 in the U.K. and on November 2 in the U.S., became a massive success at the box office. With more than $702 million in ticket sales, it was the eighth highest grossing picture in 2018 and the most successful film biopic to date. The movie has received various nominations, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama. All this attention has also triggered renewed interest in Queen’s music. The Billboard 200 for the week of December 29 include the movie soundtrack (no. 8); The Platinum Collection: Greatest Hits I, II & III,¬† November 2000 (no. 33) and¬†Greatest Hits, October¬†1981 (no. 122). Obviously, it’s not a coincidence that Queen in early December announced a North American Rhapsody tour with Adam Lambert in July and August 2019. Here’s the official trailer of the biopic.

About three and a half years after Fleetwood Mac had restored their most commercially successful line-up with the return of Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham was dismissed in April 2018, reportedly over disagreements about the band’s next tour. And before people knew it, Mike Campbell (formerly of Tom Petty’s band The Heartbreakers) and Neil Finn (former frontman of Crowded House) were hired to replace Buckingham. In early October, Fleetwood Mac embarked on their current world tour, which is scheduled to stretch all the way until June 2019. A lawsuit brought by Buckingham in October was settled earlier this month. Since I’ve seen the Mac a few years ago (with Buckingham but sans McVie), I currently don’t have any plans to see them again. That being said, based on clips I’ve seen, Campbell and Finn are doing a pretty decent job. Here’s a clip of Go Your Own Way, which apparently was captured in St. Louis in October.

Neil Young managed to pull off getting married to American actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah¬†in August and keeping the festivities a secret to the public – quite a feat in the age of social media! Young and Hannah certainly need to thank their 100 guests who kept quiet about the wedding, which Young officially confirmed in October. I suppose Neil Young doesn’t require any further introduction. Hannah, who started her acting career in 1978, has had roles in more than 70 films of different genres, including Blade Runner (1982), Wall Street (1987), Grumpy Old Men (1993) and Kill Bill Volume 1 & 2 (2003 and 2004, respectively). Young and Hannah had been in a relationship since 2014.

Daryl Hannah & Neil Young

In September, Paul McCartney released his 25th studio album and 17th solo record Egypt Station, which I previously reviewed here. While as a longtime fan of The Beatles, who generally also likes each member’s work thereafter, I may not be entirely objective here, I think Egypt Station may be Macca’s best album since Flowers In The Dirt from 1989. Remarkably, it became his first to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. At 76 years, his voice sounds worn, but I actually feel it goes quite well with the songs.¬†Here’s one of my favorites, I Don’t Know.

Gibson Brands, maker of legendary Gibson guitars like the Les Paul or the SG, re-emerged from bankruptcy in October. As part of the re-organization, a new management team was installed, and private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) assumed majority ownership control. KKR also brought in a guitarist and Gibson collector as chairman of the board: Nat Zilkha, former lead guitarist of Red Rooster, a New York-based band that describes itself as a folk collective with music rooted in Americana with an urban-infused sound. ‚ÄúI feel like I have a personal relationship with the product,‚ÄĚ Zilkha told Bloomberg in an interview. ‚ÄúThis is a great American brand that sort of lost its way. It‚Äôs almost like a responsibility to try to bring it back to what it‚Äôs supposed to be.‚ÄĚ In May, the 124-year-old music company had filed for Chapter 11 protection with up to $500 million in debt, according to NPR.

Gibson SG Standard
Gibson SG Standard

Sources: Deriso, Nick (December 20, 2018) 2018’s Biggest Rock Stories. Ultimate Classic Rock. Accessed December 30, 2018; Wikipedia; Billboard Top 200 Albums; Red Rooster website; Bloomberg; NPR; YouTube

My Busy 2018 Music Journey Part 2: New Music & 2019 Preview

Part 1 of this 2-part series looked back on the concerts I was fortunate to catch this year. Another significant aspect of my 2018 journey was listening to music, both familiar and new. While most of the music that’s coming out these days isn’t my cup of tea, I still ended up reviewing 24 new releases this year. About half (13) are studio albums, while the remainder is a mix of reissues, vault type releases and live records. Even if you only consider the new studio releases, 13 albums over the course of one year, or an average of approximately one per month, isn’t so bad for somebody who almost entirely lives in the past when it comes to music.

From the above studio albums, I’d like to call out the following: John Mellencamp, Other People’s Stuff, Dec 7 (review); Greta Van Fleet, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, Oct 19 (review); Paul McCartney, Egypt Station, Sep 7 (review); Buddy Guy, The Blues Is Alive And Well, Jun 15 (review); Roger Daltrey, As Long As I Have You, June 1 (review); and Sting & Shaggy, 44/876, Apr 20 (review). Following are some clips.

Teardrops Will Fall, a ’60s tune co-written by Gerry Granaham¬†and¬†Marion Smith, was first recorded by John Mellencamp for his June 2003 album Trouble No More. But it actually sounds he could have taken the tune from his 1987 gem The¬†Lonesome Jubilee, Mellencamp’s first record where he moved away from straight rock toward a more roots-oriented sound.

While Greta Van Fleet will probably need to find a more original style to ensure their longevity, selfishly, I can’t deny getting a kick out of their¬†Led Zeppelin-style rock.¬†The Cold Wind from their new album is a great example. I don’t know of any other band that sounds like the mighty early Zep. One thing is for sure:¬†Robert Plant¬†can no longer deliver vocals with this degree of intensity.

Egypt Station is Paul McCartney’s 17th solo study album. Here’s I Don’t Know, a classic McCartney piano-driven pop song. Yes, Macca’s voice has noticeably changed since New from October 2013, but I actually think it goes pretty well with his latest songs. Based on YouTube clips I’ve watched, I’m less sure about Beatles tunes. Many are in high keys and as such tough to sing, so Macca may have to make some adjustments.

Moving on to Buddy Guy, who at age 82 shows no signs of slowing down. One of the highlights of his latest record is Cognac, where he trades guitar licks with Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. If you’re a guitarist with basic blues skills, you just feel like grabbing your instrument and joining in!

As Long As I Have You is Roger Daltrey’s first solo album in close to 26 years. Here’s the excellent title track, a cover of a tune that initially was recorded by soul singer¬†Garnet Mimms¬†in 1964.¬†The Who also played it in their early days.

Last but not least in the new studio album category is what at first sight may look like a somewhat odd pairing: Sting & Jamaican pop reggae fusion artist¬†Shaggy. But they actually blend quite well, and here’s some pretty groovy evidence: Just One Lifetime.

This year also saw various great reissues and songs from the vault type albums. The two releases I’d like to highlight here are the reissue of The Beatles’ White Album¬†(review) and Songs For Judy, an excellent Neil Young compilation of live solo performances from his November 1976 tour with Crazy Horse¬†(review).

To me the true revelation of the Beatles’ reissue are the so-called Esher Demos, early and unplugged versions of most of the original album tracks, along with a few additional songs that didn‚Äôt make the White Album. They were all recorded at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher located to the southwest of London. Here’s the Esher demo of Revolution.

The song I’d like to call out from Neil Young’s¬†recent vault release is¬†The Needle And The Damage Done. It remains one of my favorite tunes from Harvest, Young’s fourth studio album that came out in February 1972.

I also would like to acknowledge two Jimi Hendrix releases: The reissue of Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Both Sides Of The Sky, the third in a trilogy of posthumous albums after Valleys Of Neptune  (2010) and People, Hell and Angels (2013).

The last category of 2018 albums I’d like to touch on are live releases. I already noted Neil Young’s record. Three others that deserve to be called out are Bruce Springsteen’s Springsteen On Broadway (review),¬†Sheryl Crow’s Live At The Capitol Theatre¬†(review) and Soulfire Live¬†(review) by¬†Little Steven and¬†The Disciples of Soul.¬†Springsteen On Broadway is one of the best new albums I’ve heard this year. While Bruce Springsteen as a great music performer wasn’t any news to me, I had not fully appreciated his compelling verbal story-telling capabilities. There’s a bit of that on the Live/1975-1985 box set where Springsteen talks about how he was drafted for Vietnam and that his dad was happy they didn’t take him. Springsteen on Broadway takes his story-telling to another level. In fact, Springsteen’s monologues that precede his songs are almost more compelling than the music performances. Here’s part 1 of the introduction to My Hometown.

Next up: Sheryl Crow.¬†If It Makes You Happy¬†is one of my favorite Crow tunes from her eponymous second studio album released in September 1996. On the new live album, she starts off with another unidentified song I don’t recognize, before launching into Happy.

On to Little Steven. Soulfire Live captures his 2017 tour with¬†The Disciples of Soul¬†in support of his excellent Soulfire album, one of my favorite new records from that year. Among the live album’s highlights is a terrific cover of the Etta James tune Blues Is My Business. In addition to Steven demonstrating that he can be more than just a side-kick,¬† The Disciples of Soul¬†prove what a terrific backing band they are.

So what’s in store for my music journey next year? On the concert front the only thing I can say for sure is I’m thrilled I got a ticket for¬†The Rolling Stones on June 13 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It will only be my second time to see the Stones. Three other artists who are currently on my radar screen are John Mellencamp, John Mayall¬† and Paul McCartney.

Mellencamp has a series of gigs in New Jersey and New York at the end of February. I’d definitely enjoy seeing him again! Mayall has started booking dates in Europe for February and March. I’ve never been to one of his shows and hope he’ll¬†add a U.S. leg to the tour that includes at least one logistically feasible concert.¬†As for McCartney, his current tour schedule shows U.S. gigs between late May and mid-June. Unfortunately, none of them are within reasonable reach, so hopefully there will be additional dates closer to my location.

To frequent visitors of the blog it won’t come as a shock that I have every intention to continue seeing tribute bands. In fact, I already have a ticket for Neil Young tribute Decade for January 11 in Asbury Park, N.J., where they are going to recreate Young’s MTV Unplugged concert from 1993 – should be pretty cool! On February 23, I’m hoping to see Good Stuff, a great new tribute to Steely Dan, Gino Vannelli, Sting and Stevie Wonder. I’m planning to do more about these guys in the near future. Assuming the above¬†British Invasion and Rock The Farm festivals will happen again in 2019, I certainly want to return to both events. Undoubtedly, there will also be plenty of other tribute opportunities.

2019 Outlook

Before finally wrapping up this post, I also would like to take the opportunity to reflect on the current status of the blog. I’m generally pretty happy where things stand at this time. Sticking with it wasn’t necessarily a given when I started out in late June 2016. While I’ve always emphasized I’m doing this because of my passion about the subject of music, not to become “famous,” I cannot deny that getting recognition in the form of comments, likes and followers is encouraging. I’m happy traffic has multiplied from 2017 and to date includes visitors from more than 70 countries.

I’d like to thank all readers, especially those who keep returning and leave comments. Apart from learning new stuff about music, feedback can also help me gain new perspectives. Whether you’re a fist-time visitor or one of the regulars, I’d like to wish you¬†a great and peaceful Holiday season. And if you’re a fellow music blogger, to borrow creatively from Neil Young, keep on rockin’ in the blogosphere!

Christian

Rocking Bitmoji

Sources: Wikipedia, Christian’s Music Musings, YouTube