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

Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and Yes, You’re Gonna Be a Star!

Since my recent post about Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman, the above creatively borrowed and somewhat adjusted phrase had been stuck in my head, just like the catchy song. The first part of the statement is true, the second half is perhaps debatable. But while this British rock band only had one real hit, there’s no doubt in my mind Thunderclap Newman was more than just a one-hit-wonder.

As a fan of The Who, I’m intrigued by Pete Townshend’s role in the band’s history – in fact, without Townshend, there would have been no Thunderclap Newman. He brought the band’s core members together in late 1968/early 1969: Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Speedy Keen (born John David Percy Keen), Dixieland jazz pianist Thunderclap Newman (born Andrew Lawrence Newman) and lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (born James McCulloch). They are pictured in that order from left to right in the above photo.

Something in the Air Single

Interestingly, prior to the band’s formation, Keen had been The Who’s chauffeur and shared an apartment with Townshend. He also had written Armenia In the Sky, the opener to The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out from December 1967. Apparently, Townshend was impressed with the songwriting talents of Keen who had played in different bands since 1964, so he decided to introduce him to Newman and McCulloch. Townshend was also instrumental in getting the band a contract with Track Records, an independent label established by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp.

The first song Thunderclap Newman recorded was their big hit Something in the Air written by Keen. The sessions took place at Townshend’s home studio. He also produced the single and played bass on the recording under the pseudonym Bijou Drains. Released in May 1969, Something in the Air topped the UK Singles Chart only three weeks after its appearance, replacing The Beatles’ Ballad of John and Yoko. The tune’s original title was Revolution, but it was changed because The Beatles already had a song with that title, which had come out in 1968.

Thunderclap Newman_Hollywood Dream

Following the success of Something in the Air, an initially reluctant Thunderclap Newman agreed to go on the road. They brought in Jim Pitman-Avery (bass) and Jack McCulloch (drums), Jimmy’s older brother, to support Deep Purple on a 26-date tour of England and Scotland from July to August 1969. After the tour, Pitman-Avery and Jack McCulloch exited and formed country-rock band Wild Country, leaving Thunderclap Newman with their three core members. Keen, Newman and McCulloch went back into the studio and recorded Hollywood Dream, their only studio album.

Like Something in the Air, Townshend played a key role, producing Hollywood Dream and again playing bass under the name of Bijou Drains. And while the final track Something in the Air undoubtedly is the hit, there are other gems on this album. Let’s kick things off with the nice opener Hollywood #1, which like most of the other tracks was written by Keen.

Here’s Open the Door Homer, a great cover of a Bob Dylan song. If I see it correctly, Dylan did not release the tune until 1975 when he included it on The Basement Tapes, a collection of tracks he had recorded in 1967, mostly with backing by The Band. In particular, I dig Keen’s singing on this tune.

Next up: Accidents, another original tune written by Keen. There’s a lot going on in this more than nine-minute track, including some great piano and guitar work. In fact, as much as I dig Something in the AirAccidents is the album’s tue standout to me. A shorter version was released separately and peaked at no. 46 on the UK Singles Chart in June 1970, becoming Thunderclap Newman’s only other single to make the charts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. To readers who know my affection for vocals, it may come as a bit of a surprise that I chose to highlight an instrumental. Well, it’s not that I don’t like instrumentals – after all, I’m a big fan of Pink Floyd’s ’70s albums that are filled with instrumental parts. But after a while, I simply feel the need to hear some vocals! In part, I also chose Hollywood Dream since it was co-written by the McCulloch brothers, making it the only original that wasn’t penned by Keen. BTW, Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 years when he recorded this tune with the band.

In early 1971, Thunderclap Newman brought in Australian musicians Roger Felice (drums) and Ronnie Peel (bass) to create a new touring lineup. This was followed by another tour with Deep Purple through England and Scotland between January and April 1971. And then it was suddenly all over for the band. Why? Referencing a 1972 interview Newman gave to the New Musical Express (now known as NME), Wikipedia hints to personal friction between Newman and Keen. It’s unfortunate when egos clash, but certainly not unheard of, especially in music!

Keen went on to record two solo albums, Previous Convictions (1973) and Y’ Know Wot I Mean? (1975), and also played as a session musician with Rod Stewart, The Mission and Kenny G. Sadly, he passed away from heart failure at the age of 62 on March 12, 2002.

Newman also recorded a solo album, Rainbow, which appeared in 1971. Other than that he was “was musically dormant and worked as an electrician, until he put together a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010,” according to an obituary in The Guardian. In addition to Newman, the band’s new line-up featured Tony Stubbings (bass), Nick Johnson (lead guitar), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Pete Townshend’s nephew Josh Townshend (rhythm guitar and vocals). Shortly thereafter, the band released Beyond Hollywood, an album of studio and live tracks of old Thunderclap Newman songs. In 2011, they toured the UK with Big Country. The last two gigs listed on the band’s official website are from 2012. Newman died on March 29, 2016 at the age of 73.

Jimmy McCulloch formed his own group in October 1971 and also played guitar in various other bands, most importantly Paul McCartney’s Wings, which he joined in August 1974. After exiting Wings in September 1977, McCullogh joined the reformed Small Faces. Another own band and a few additional stints followed. On September 27, 1979, McCulloch was found dead, apparently having died from a heart attack attributed to morphine and alcohol poisoning. He was only 26 years old.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Guardian; YouTube

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!😆] “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’s 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—he stood a certain way, he had shades, he looked the part—but he wasn’t that good a player. And that was the problem with me and Stu. It was always much reported that we didn’t get along. There were two reasons, really. One, I was very ambitious for the group, and I didn’t actually like anything that might hold us back. There’s enough stuff holding you back anyway, without someone in the group who’s 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’t 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’t think you could have caught John doing it—I don’t think he would have done it. ‘No, you’re kidding. I’ve got a nice new Rickenbacker.’ I didn’t have a guitar [at the time], see, so I couldn’t really say, ‘But I want to be a guitarist.’ They’d say, Well get a fucking guitar then—that might be a start! As I say, I’d been playing piano, which was on the stage, and that was quite good for me, gave me a lot of piano practice. I couldn’t 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’t 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’t that much different from Sutcliffe. But McCartney liked to push himself forward by experimenting. “The thing with the bass on a lot of this stuff was that you’ll try anything once,” he explained. “So, I’ll try a capo on a bass…I often used to tune ‘em down, too – tune the strings down a tone, so the E would become a D. You’d 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.”

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’s 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, “I 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

“See, with Wings, I was now the band leader, the business manager, the this, the that, the this,” he went on. “We didn’t have Apple, we didn’t have Epstein, we didn’t have anything. It was me doing it all. That was the biggest headache – that’s difficult. In The Beatles, I’d been free of all of that. We had a manager, we had three other great guys.” 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—who became just my hero, really. I didn’t 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’s 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

At 76 Paul McCartney Remains Full of Energy and A True Inspiration

Macca recently released his 18th solo album Egypt Station and is gearing up for new international tour

Paul McCartney has been pretty busy since June, promoting his new solo album and upcoming Freshen Up Tour. Things peaked with the release of Egypt Station last Friday and a ‘secret’ concert that evening at New York City’s Grand Central Station, which was live-streamed on his YouTube channel.

It all started with the June 10 reboot of Macca’s Instagram page and the subsequent posting of photos over the following days, showing music gear (some with, others without him) and cryptic symbols, clearly suggesting something was up. The title Egypt Station was revealed on Facebook on June 18, Macca’s 76th birthday. The next day saw the official announcement of the first two tracks to be released as a double-A single on June 20. That day, the album’s September 7th release date was unveiled.

On July 3rd, the first dates for the Freshen Up Tour in Canada were announced. Numerous additional dates have since been revealed, including in Europe, Japan and the U.S. The latter concerts start in May 2019. Leading up to the album’s launch, Macca also appeared on Howard Stern and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Calling all of this an elaborate PR campaign is an understatement!

Paul McCartney on Jimmy Fallon

Egypt Station shares its title with one of Macca’s paintings. In a June 20 announcement, he said, “I liked the words ‘Egypt Station.’ It reminded me of the ‘album’ albums we used to make… ‘Egypt Station’ starts off at the station on the first song and then each song is like a different station. So it gave us some idea to base all the songs around that. I think of it as a dream location that the music emanates from.”

Macca’s productivity and energy is remarkable. Egypt Station is his first full album since New from October 2013. In addition to these two pop records, Macca has released two other very different types of records over the past 10 years: his fifth classical album Ocean’s Kingdom (October 2011) and Electric Arguments (November 2008), his third experimental record with The Fireman, a duo he formed in the early ’90s with English record producer and musician Martin Glover, artistically known as Youth. There is also Macca’s collaboration with Kanye West and Rihanna, which resulted in the single FourFiveSeconds in January 2015. Oh, and in-between all these activities, he has been touring frequently.

Paul McCartney_Egypt Station

I managed to write five paragraphs without saying a bloody word about the new record. So what’s the verdict? While I prefer Macca’s 1973 Wings album Band On The Run and his fourth solo release Tug Of War from 1982 and his voice is showing some signs of aging, I am impressed with Egypt Station – of course, as a huge Beatles fan, this is a completely unbiased statement!😀

One of the things I find remarkable about the record is the variety of material ranging from piano-driven ballads, acoustic guitar-focused songs, some pop rockers to even some ambient music. In addition, two of the tunes clock in well over six minutes. One has distinct parts a la Band On The Run, while the second track is a suite of three songs, a concept reminiscent of Abbey Road. Time for some clips!

Here’s the first track Opening Station, an ambient instrumental. All except two tracks on Egypt Station were written by Macca. “When we decided we were gonna call the album ‘Egypt Station’, I liked the idea of making a montage of sounds that were sort of like a station,” he explains in an audio clip on his website. “So we found one station, then we added another to it – the sound effects of real stations. And then we started to add some noises we made up to make it like a dreamscape, so the idea being this kind of dream location, which where all this music was gonna emanate from.”

Immediately following Opening Station it’s on to signature McCartney with the piano-driven I Don’t Know, one of the tracks that also appeared separately ahead of the album.  It’s about people having a difficult day, wondering what it is they’re doing wrong. Notes Macca: “Sometimes that’s a good way to write a song, ’cause you’re coming from your soul. We often used to say that writing a song was like talking to a psychiatrist or therapist or something, ’cause you’re saying it, but you’re saying it in a song rather than in a room to a specialist.”

Happy With You is one of the album’s acoustic guitar-focused songs. Noting there were days when he had a lot of free time and would lay around doing nothing and getting “a bit stoned,” Macca explains, “It’s a song about growing up. There’s a period in your life, in some people’s lives, when they’re not being as productive or not being as organized or disciplined as they may later turn out to be.”

One of the rock-oriented songs on the album is Who Cares. Macca says he basically wrote the tune to show compassion to younger people all over the world who get picked on by others.

Things get political without naming names on Despite Repeated Warnings, which Macca co-wrote with OneRepublic lead vocalist Ryan Tedder. “I thought I’ll do a kind of song where I use symbolism,” Mecca points out. “And so the person that is symbolic of certain politicians or people who argue climate change is a hoax, and we know a few…So I thought, ‘okay, it’s a sea captain’, and he’s steering the boat, and he’s gonna go towards the iceberg. But he’s been warned, but he’s going, ’cause he thinks he’s right, and he thinks they’re all making to much of it and the usual arguments.” The 6:57-minute song has various distinct parts and, as such, is a bit reminiscent of Band On The Run.

The last track I’d like to call out is a 6:22-minute three-song suite that closes the album: Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link. It starts with a rocker, Hunt You Down, links to another “simple song” called Naked, and finally blends into to C-Link, a bluesy instrumental featuring Macca on electric guitar. About the latter he notes, “it’s just me really enjoying playing electric guitar…people often say, ‘why do you still do it?’ I say, ‘coz I love it, I love this thing.’ And I’m still thrilled with having the privilege of being able to go up to an amp, turn it on, get my guitar, plug it in, and play it very loud. Just, it’s a thrill, you know, and it’s never stopped being a thrill…” This commentary very much feels like it comes from Macca’s heart. You can also feel it when you see him during live performances!

Egypt Station appears on Capitol Records and was mostly produced by Greg Kurstin, who has worked with artists like Beck, Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Foo Fighters. Two tracks, Fuh You and bonus track Nothing For Free, were co-produced by Tedder  and  Zach Skelton.  In addition to OneRepublic, Tedder has written and produced for U2, AdeleBeyoncé, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift and many other “hot” contemporary artists. Fortunately, Egypt Station’s sound isn’t too contemporary!

Paul McCartney Freshen Up Tour Banner

Macca’s  Freshen Up Tour kicks off on September 17 in Québec City, followed by shows in Montréal (September 20), Winnipeg (September 28) and Edmonton (September 30), before leading to Japan in late October and Europe thereafter. Currently announced U.S. dates start in New Orleans on May 23, 2019, and also include Raleigh, N.C. (May 27); Greenville, SC (May 30); and Lexington, Ky. (June 1), among others. This year, Macca is also scheduled to perform at Austin City Limits on October 5 and 12.

It’s safe to assume additional U.S. dates will be announced. I’ve been fortunate to see Paul McCartney live twice. Both shows were fantastic and will always stay in my memory. If his Freshen Up Tour comes within reasonable driving distance from my house, I will likely see him a third time!

Sources: Wikipedia, Paul McCartney website and Facebook page, YouTube

Aw, The ’80s (Part 1: 1980-1984)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

I’ve mentioned my weak spot for ’80s music on a few previous occasions. My taste has since evolved, and I now find myself wondering more often than not how I could have liked certain songs as much as I did back then. Well, obviously, I was a lot younger (though of course, I’m still young at heart!), and that music was all around me. It also triggers memories of school, parties, the first vacations with friends (and without my parents or any adults for that matter), the first hangover…in other words, it really was the soundtrack of growing up – okay, call me a sentimental fool!

This morning, I rode the car with my wife and put on Duran Duran’s Rio album – she loves ’80s, so it was all her fault! 🙂 Anyway, listening to this 1982 record gave me the idea to reflect on music and some related events from that decade. Since it’s a big topic, I figured it would be best to divide my thoughts in two parts. Obviously, it’s still not possible to make this all-inclusive, so I’m going to be arbitrary and selective, focusing on things that are meaningful to me. Here’s part I spanning 1980 to 1984.

Prince_Purple Rain

Some of the first things that come to my mind when thinking about the ’80s are Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, the death of disco, new wave, the advent of the CD, hair metal bands and Live Aid. Of course, I could add many other buzz words, e.g., music videos. At the time, we didn’t have cable or satellite television at my house back in Germany, so I missed out on MTV and VH1. In fact, believe or not, it wasn’t until 1993 when I first came to the U.S. that I watched VH1 and kind of got hooked, especially on their Behind The Music documentaries. For some reason, I never warmed to MTV.

1980

Some of the events I’d like to call out are Paul McCartney’s arrest in Tokyo for marijuana possession, which resulted in the cancellation of the remaining Wings tour that year (Jan 16); launch of Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour in Los Angeles (Feb 7); release of Back In Black, AC/DC’s first album with Brian Johnson who had replaced original lead vocalist Bon Scott (Jul 25); death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (Sep 25); and murder of John Lennon who was shot by deranged Mark David Chapman in front of his Manhattan residence after returning from the recording studio with Yoko Ono (Dec 8).

The biggest hit singles of the year were Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) (Pink Floyd), Woman In Love (Barbara Streisand), (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon), Funkytown (Lipps) and Upside Down (Diana Ross). I dug all of these songs at the time. While from today’s perspective my favorite is the Lennon tune, the track I’d like to highlight in a clip is Call Me by Blondie. Co-written by Debbie Harry and producer Giorgio Moroder (remember that guy?), the song was released as a single in February that year and was also included on the soundtrack for the 1980 picture American Gigolo. It became the band’s biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the charts in the U.K. and Canada, and scoring in the top 20 in many other countries.

1981

Notable events include the release of Face Value, the first solo album by Phil Collins – like it or not, the Genesis drummer was just everywhere in the ’80s – with Genesis and solo! (Feb 9); first break-up of Yes (Apr 18) only to reunite less than two years later and release their biggest-selling album 90125; U2’s television debut in the U.S. on the NBC late night program The Tomorrow Show (Jun 4); official launch of MTV in New York (Aug 1); Simon & Garfunkel’s free reunion concert in the Big Apple’s Central Park, drawing more than 500,000 visitors – no disputes over crowd attendance here! (Sep 9 ); and Rod Stewart show at Los Angeles Forum, broadcast live via satellite and watched by an estimated 35 million people worldwide – the first such broadcast since Elvis Presley’s 1973 Aloha From Hawaii special.

The top 5 hit singles of the year were Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes), Tainted Love (Soft Cell), In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins), Woman (John Lennon) and Stars On 45 Medley (Stars On 45). Again, to me the Lennon tune holds up the best, though I also still like Bette Davis Eyes and have to admit In The Air Tonight is kind of cool. Even though I feel I’ve been over-exposed to Collins, I admit he’s done some good songs. Here’s a clip of Down Under by Men At Work. Co-written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, and released in October, the song was the second single from the band’s debut album Business As Usual that appeared the following month. It was cool then, and I still dig this tune.

1982

Perhaps most notably, the year saw the debut of Madonna with Everybody (Oct 2), the lead single from her first eponymous 1983 studio record, as well as the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album (Nov 30), which remains the world’s best-selling record to date. Some of the other events include the death of comedian and Blues Brothers vocalist John Belushi (March 5); premiere of Pink Floyd – The Wall, a film adaptation of the band’s 1979 album with the same title, at the Cannes Film Festival in France; and start of CD mass production by Dutch technology company and disc co-inventor Philips in Langenhagen near Hanover, Germany (Aug 17).

Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor), Down Under (Men At Work), I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts), Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners) and Ebony And Ivory (Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson) were the biggest hit singles that year. Below is a clip of Come On Eileen, which appeared as a single in June. Co-written by Kevin Rowland, Jim Paterson and Billy Adams, the song was also included on the band’s second studio album Too-Rye-Ay, released the following month. I always found it cool how the catchy tune blended elements of Celtic folk with pop music.

1983

On March 2, CDs started to go on sale in the U.S., following their initial release in Japan the previous October. Some of the year’s other events in music include the debut of Let’s Spend The Night Together in New York, a film documenting the 1981 North American tour of The Rolling Stones (Feb 11); release of U2’s third studio album War, which debuts at no. 1 in the U.K. and features their first international hit single New Year’s Day (Feb 28); release of David Bowie’s commercially most successful studio album Let’s Dance (Apr 14); unveiling of Kiss’s faces without their make-up for the first time on MTV (Sep 18) – yes, I do seem to recall that seeing their actual faces was a pretty big deal at the time!; and Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, the first heavy metal album to top the Billboard 200 (Nov 26).

The biggest hit singles of the year: Karma Chameleon (Culture Club); Billie Jean (Michael Jackson); Flashdance…What A Feeling (Irene Cara); Let’s Dance (David Bowie) and Every Breath You Take (The Police). Did I have all these songs? You betcha – in fact, I still do, mostly somewhere on music cassettes! Here’s Billie Jean, written by the King of Pop himself, and released as the second single from the Thriller album in January 1983.

1984

Some of the happenings in the music world that year: Announcement from BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read of this refusal to play Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood due to its suggestive lyrics (Jan 11), a ban that was put in place by the entire BBC around the same time – in a clear illustration that something forbidden oftentimes tends to make it more attractive, only 10 days later, the tune stood a no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart in the UK; death of one of the greatest soul artists, Marvin Gaye, who following an argument was killed by his own father with a gun he had given to him as a Christmas present the previous year (Apr 1); release of Prince’s sixth studio album Purple Rain (Jun 25), the soundtrack to the 1984 film of the same name – one of his most successful records and the third-best-selling soundtrack album of all time, exceeding more than 25 million copies sold worldwide; and the first annual MTV Music Awards held in New York, where Madonna raised some eyebrows with a racy performance of Like A Virgin (Sep 14) – Madonna being controversial?

The biggest hit singles of 1984 were Careless Whisper (George Michael), I Just Called To Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder), Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Wham!), Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper) and Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Since I was a good boy and never listened to Relax and Like A Virgin, here’s a clip of Borderline, a song from Madonna’s debut record. On a more serious note, the tune that was written by producer Reggie Lucas still is one of my favorite Madonna songs. It became the album’s fifth and last single released in February 1984, peaking at no. 2 in the U.K. and reaching no. 10 in the U.S., less successful than the scandalous Like A Virgin!

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the period from 1985 to 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: December 10

1966: The Rolling Stones released Got Live If You Want It!, their first full live album. The record, which only appeared in the U.S., resulted from a contractual obligation with the band’s American distributor London Records. A year earlier, an EP with the same title had been released in the U.K. Two of the tunes – I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and Fortune Teller – actually were recorded in the studio and overdubbed with audience background noise. The Stones didn’t like the record and later repudiated it, maintaining their first true live album was the excellent Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! Frankly, given the two fake live tracks and the mediocre sound quality, you can’t blame them! Here’s a clip of the opener Under My Thumb.

1967: Soul legend Otis Redding became another major American music artist who tragically died in a plane crash during a tour. Redding and his band were on route from Cleveland to their next scheduled gig in Madison, Wis. when his Beechcraft H18 crashed at night during bad weather into Lake Monoma near Madison. Apart from Redding, who was just 26 years old, the crash also killed four members of his touring band, guitarist Jimmy King, tenor saxophonist Phalon Jones, organist Ronnie Caldwell and drummer Carl Cunningham, along with assistant Matthew Kelly and the pilot, Richard Fraser. The only survivor was Ben Cauley, Redding’s trumpet player. The official cause of the crash was never determined. At the time of his death, Redding had been the biggest star of Memphis-based Stax Records. Here’s a great clip of Respect captured live at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in June 1967. Written by Redding, the tune was originally recorded and released in 1965.

1973: CBGB, a music club in Manhattan’s East Village that became a famous performance venue for American punk and new wave bands, opened its doors to the public. Initially, founder Hilly Kristal’s vision for the club was to feature the music styles that were represented by CBGB,  which stood for Country Blue Grass and Blues. Instead, it became a forum for acts like the Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Blondie and Talking Heads. From the early 1980s onward, CBGB showcased mainly hardcore punk, post punk, metal and alternative rock. The club closed in October 2006. Here’s a clip of the Ramones at CBGB in 1977.

1976: Wings released Wings Over America, the band’s only live album and the sixth record in their overall catalog. The triple LP set captured the American leg of their 1975/76 Wings Over The World Tour. In addition to major hits Paul McCartney had recorded with Wings by then, the album included five songs from his time with The Beatles: Yesterday, Lady Madonna, I’ve Just Seen A Face, Blackbird and The Long And Winding Road. The album became a huge success, especially in the U.S. where it hit no. 1 in early 1977 and ended up selling four million copies. It also holds the distinction to be the first triple set by a group to reach the top of the U.S. charts. Here’s a clip of Maybe I’m Amazed, one of my favorite tracks from the record. I actually much prefer it to the original studio version on McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney, which appeared on April 17, 1970, just seven days after the official announcement of The Beatles’ breakup.

Sources: This Day in Music.com; Songfacts Music History Calendar, Wikipedia, YouTube

You Say It’s Your Birthday

Sir Paul turned 75 today and he is not slowing down

To those who read this blog or know me otherwise, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Paul McCartney is one of my all-time favorite music artists. Today, Sir Paul is celebrating his 75th birthday, and I sure hope he’s gonna have a good time.

James Paul McCartney was born in the middle of World War II on June 18, 1942 at Walton Hospital in Liverpool, England. His mother was Mary Patricia, who was a nurse at that hospital. And, by the way, that’s the mother Mary (not the Virgin Mary), who inspired the lyrics of one of McCartney’s most beautiful ballads:

“When I find myself in times of trouble/Mother Mary comes to me/Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” 

His father James “Jim” McCartney couldn’t witness his son’s birth, since he was working as a volunteer firefighter during the war. While I know that Penny Lane, one of my other favorite McCartney tunes, reflects childhood memories, I haven’t found any references that suggest the fireman referenced in the song was inspired by Sir Paul’s father.

Fast-forward to July 6, 1957. That was the day McCartney met John Lennon for the first time. It was at a performance of John’s high school band The Quarrymen. The encounter would start a working relationship between the two that would change music history forever.

I could continue to recount McCartney’s history, but it has been told many times and, it’s also safe assume, by people who know much more about it than I do. So instead of an additional attempt to create yet another write-up, I’d like to celebrate Sir Paul’s birthday with a selection of his music over the past 50-plus years. Let me repeat this: 50-plus years – wow!

All My Loving (1963)

Things I Said Today (1964)

Yesterday (1965)

Here, There And Everywhere (1966)

Back in the U.S.S.R. (1968)

Let It Be (1970)

Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)

Band On the Run (1973)

Silly Love Songs (1976)

Take It Away (1982)

My Brave Face (1989)

Hope of Deliverance (1993)

Run Devil Run (1999)

Fine Line (2005)

New (2013)

Birthday (1968)

While like many other Beatles songs Birthday was officially credited to Lennon-McCartney and, according to the Beatles Bible, there are different accounts whether McCartney wrote it or whether it was indeed a co-write with Lennon, it simply feels right to end the post with it.

I also decided to take a clip that was captured during McCartney’s ongoing One on One World Tour. Last July, I was fortunate enough to catch one of the tour’s shows. More on that amazing concert is here. Once again, happy birthday, Sir Paul, and rock on!

Sources: Wikipedia, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Wings Over America

I’m introducing a new category for the blog about albums I’ve been listening to. First up is Wings Over America.

Saturday and Sunday mornings when preparing and having breakfast, I oftentimes listen to entire albums. While in the era of iTunes and the like this may sound like an outdated concept, I can highly recommend it!

Since only a few weeks ago I saw Paul McCartney in Hershey, PA and the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Revolver was earlier this week, perhaps it’s not a surprise I chose an album that falls in the same realm: Wings Over America, a fantastic live set that captures the band’s 1975-1976 “Over The World” tour.

Released in December 1976 as a three-vinyl record set, Wings Over America includes recordings from various shows of the tour’s American leg from May to June 1976. It was the first time Paul performed live in the U.S. since The Beatles’ final live tour there in 1966. I also read it apparently was also the only time Wings played in the U.S. and Canada, which surprised me, given Paul’s enormous popularity in the States.

In addition to many Wings classics like JetLet Me Roll ItLive and Let Die, Letting Go and Band On the Run, the set features five of Paul’s songs from The Beatles era: Lady Madonna, The Long and Winding Road, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Blackbird and Yesterday. Another standout is Maybe I’m Amazed, which originally appeared on Paul’s first solo album after the break-up of The Beatles, McCartney, in April 1970. The live version of the song was also released as a single in February 1977 and remains a staple on many rock radio stations to this day. In my opinion, it’s much more dynamic than the studio version!

Just like I felt about the recent show in Hershey, I think the true highlights on Wings Over America are the acoustic pieces: Picasso’s Last Words, the Paul Simon song Richard Cory, Bluebird, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Blackbird and Yesterday.

Based on two of Paul’s live shows I was fortunate to see, which in addition to Hershey included a gig in the late 1980s in Germany, I have to say Wings Over America does a beautiful job to capture the concert experience. Obviously, with so many additional albums Paul has released since 1976, his live set has evolved quite a bit. In addition to songs from these albums, it now includes many more Beatles songs, both from the band’s early period and the later more experimental phase.

Wings Over America hit No. 1 in the U.S. in early 1977 and N0. 8 in the UK. I read it has sold more than four million copies in the U.S. alone and apparently was the first triple record release by a group to reach the top spot. The single off the set, Maybe I’m Amazed, made it to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 28 on the UK chart.

During his live tours, Paul has always played with terrific musicians, so my musings about Wings Over America wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the band. In addition to Paul (vocals, bass, piano, acoustic guitar) and his wife Linda McCartney (keyboards, backing vocals), Wings included original Moody Blues member Denny Laine (vocal, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion), Jimmy McCulloch (electric and acoustic guitars, bass, vocals), Joe English (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and a fantastic brass and woodwind section consisting of Howie Casey, Steve Howard, Thaddeus Richard and Tony Dorsey.

 

 

 

Paul McCartney at Hersheypark Stadium

During the more than 25 years since I first saw Paul, he has not lost any of his magic!

Yesterday (July 19), the wait was finally over – Paul McCartney’s show at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa. was simply amazing. There couldn’t have been a greater kick-off to my summer concert season!

Another highlight was that I enjoyed the show together with my 14-year-old. It was his first big concert!

From the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night – the first time Paul performed this classic tune during a solo tour – to The End, Sir Paul gave it his all. And his all is still pretty magic! He certainly did not look or behave like a 74-year-old!

For almost three hours, Paul took the audience on an amazing journey through Beatlemania, Wings and his long solo career. Best of all, he really did appear to have a lot of fun doing so, and his joy to perform came across!

Of course, there were crowd-pleasers you’d expect like Hey Jude, Let It BeBand On the Run and Live And Let Die, which were awesome. Other highlights included Maybe I’m AmazedLetting Go and Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five.

But to me, the true standouts were the acoustic guitar pieces, such as BlackbirdHere Today and of course Yesterday. I’ve always loved Paul solo with just his acoustic guitar. He also threw in a great version of George Harrison’s Something, playing the first part of the song on a ukulele George had given to him many years ago before the band launched into the widely known version from Abbey Road.

Moreover, Paul played some songs by The Beatles I didn’t necessarily expect, such as Love Me DoYou Won’t See MeAnd I Love Her and especially Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!

Another surprise to me was Paul’s direct engagement with members of the audience. He asked a young girl on stage who had drawn a poster for him and signed it. July 19 happened to be her birthday – the coolest present ever, I suppose!

Paul also called a teacher on stage with a sign that asked, ‘Could you sign this for show and tell?’ He ended up signing two autographs on one of her arms! I guess taking showers just became more complicated for the teacher!

I would also like to share a funny anecdote that happened the next day. Together with my son, my wife had come along, and we decided to stay overnight close to Hershey and turn the concert visit into a mini-vacation.

So the next day we visited Hershey’s Chocolate World where we went on a historic trolley tour around town. The tour guide was a cheerful 18-year-old, who also apparently happened to be a big Beatles fan. So he started talking about the show, noting the Höfner bass Paul used was his second such instrument from 1963. His first had been stolen. He added he also he really wanted Paul to play Help, so he started shouting ‘Help, Help’ during the concert. Very quickly people around him had concerned looks on their faces and started asking him whether he was okay!

Last but not least, I’d like to acknowledge Paul’s fantastic band. Guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, who also plays bass on some of the songs; keyboarder, Paul Wickens; and drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr. did an outstanding job backing up Paul!

Just like my first Paul McCartney concert I saw in Germany in the late ’80s, I will undoubtedly remember last night’s show for a long time! To all Paul McCartney and Beatles fans who haven’t done so yet, go and see Sir Paul if you get a chance. It will be one of your most memorable experiences that will stay with you for many years!

Note: This post was updated on April 11, 2020 with YouTube clips from the show.

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; YouTube