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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

THE BEATLES AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL - side one

This is another one of those much-maligned albums that I absolutely love.  As difficult as it may be to believe, when it was released in 1977, seven years after the group split up, it was the first and only official concert recording of the Fab Four.  How did it come about?

No sooner had the Beatles conquered America in February of 1964 than a feeding frenzy of potential promoters began.  As manager Brian Epstein began setting up the group's first US tour, Bob Eubanks, soon to become famous as host of TV's The Newlywed Game, entered the fray.  Eubanks was a disc jockey on Los Angeles radio station KRLA at the time, and he actually mortgaged his house to finance the Fab Four's initial Hollywood Bowl appearance in August of '64.  EMI's US distributor of the Beatles was Capitol Records, with its headquarters located right in Hollywood.  Capitol couldn't put out new Beatles product fast enough for the insatiable appetite of the American fans, and with a concert now scheduled in their backyard at one of the greatest venues in the world, the executives at Capitol saw an opportunity.  They asked for and were granted permission to record the performance.

Producer George Martin did not travel with the group, so Capitol had their own man, Voyle Gilmore, produce the concert recording.  For some reason, the proceedings were recorded on three-track tape.  Regardless of the medium used, the results were disappointing.  When the Beatles returned for two performances in 1965, another attempt was made by Gilmore, but again, the recordings were deemed unusable.

When the group's popularity was re-established in the mid-70's by the Red and Blue Albums and the Rock 'n' Roll Music compilation, Capitol sent the tapes to George Martin to see if anything could be salvaged from them.  Once Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick found a three-track machine (no mean feat), they transferred the recordings to 16-tracks and set about creating a single performance from the three available to them.  The August 29th, 1965 tape was not very good, so the material chosen comes from either August 23rd, 1964 or August 30th, 1965.

Twist and Shout - The album fades in with the incredible sound of 17,000 screaming fans.  Bob Eubanks quickly introduces the band and the screams actually get louder as the band kicks in with a truncated version of their old Cavern Club favorite.  They open with the rave-up, do one verse and wrap it up before segueing straight into...

She's a Woman - ...the upbeat intro to this great B-side.  The first five selections on side one are from the 1965 concert, so slipping right into this number may be the way the boys actually performed it on that year's tour.  After the instrumental break, they do not repeat the middle eight and final verse as they did on the record.  Instead, Paul simply repeats the title phrase several times before they bring the song to a tight finish.

Dizzy Miss Lizzie - John thanks the crowd and introduces a song "from an album of ours...LP...album."  This number is done in its entirety, with John doing numerous variations from the lyrics he sang on the studio version.

Ticket to Ride - Paul introduces this hit song from the spring of '65, and cannot resist egging on the already-hysterical crowd ("Can you hear me?") in the process.  As with She's a Woman, the band does not repeat the middle eight like they did on the recording. This time, they merely repeat one verse and chorus followed by a few repeats of the "my baby don't care" coda and a brisk ending.

Can't Buy Me Love - Paul's voice is pretty raw on this performance of another one of their hit songs, so it may have occurred later in the actual running order on the night in question.

Things We Said Today - The album jumps back to the 1964 concert for the last two selections on this side.  George introduces this brooding song which had only recently appeared on the Capitol release Something New.  The performance is quite wonderful, with subdued verses balanced by a pumped-up middle eight, the contrast being much stronger than on the studio version.

Roll Over Beethoven - Side one concludes with George's only lead vocal on this seminal Chuck Berry tune.  Once again, a verse is eliminated, streamlining the performance.  Paul and John join in vocally for some "Roll over Beethoven"s before the breathless finish leaves the crowd shouting for more.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

ROCK 'N' ROLL MUSIC - sides three and four

While the first two sides of this collection are a slam-dunk, sides three and four are a bit more problematic.  One reason for this is that a concerted effort seems to have been made to keep the total number of lead vocals on the package as democratic as possible.  Thus the final tally has John and Paul with eleven each, while George and Ringo get three apiece.  Since John was so heavily represented on the first record, he practically disappears by side four, yet he continued to be the hardest-rocking member of the group late in their career.

SIDE THREE

Dizzy Miss Lizzy - The third and final Larry Williams cover was the last track on the LP Help!

Any Time At All - A fine number from A Hard Day's Night, but the somewhat mellow verses make it hard for me to qualify it as a rocker.

Drive My Car - The great opening track of Rubber Soul.

Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby - George sings lead on this Carl Perkins cover which closed out Beatles For Sale.

The Night Before - A tune from the Help! soundtrack.  Again, the term rocker does not immediately come to mind.

I'm Down - A tremendous screaming rocker that is one of the highlights of the package.  It had previously only been available as the B-side to the Help! single, so its appearance on this album was doubly appreciated by fans everywhere.

Revolution - The classic B-side to Hey Jude, one of the group's hardest-rocking songs ever.

SIDE FOUR

Back in the U.S.S.R. - The brilliant retro-sounding rocker which opened The Beatles, aka the "White Album."

Helter Skelter - This cacophonous, out-of-control number from the "White Album" is not exactly the conventional style of rock and roll the boys listened to when they were growing up in Liverpool.

Taxman - George's hard rocker from Revolver is also his one and only opening track on an official Beatles' album during the group's career.

Got To Get You Into My Life - The inspiration for this Revolver track came from Tamla Motown.

Hey Bulldog - A great selection from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

Birthday - This rocker opened side three of the "White Album."

Get Back - The original title track of the January 1969 sessions.  Whoever assembled this collection decided not to use the single, but opted instead for the version from the Let It Be album with the rooftop concert chatter grafted onto the front and back ends of the performance.

In place of some of the mellower numbers noted above, you could find numerous harder-rocking tunes to make these sides a bit more consistent.  A few of my nominees include Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey from the "White Album" and One After 909 from Let It Be.  Even Good Morning Good Morning from the totally-unrepresented psychedelic year of 1967 would fit the bill.

This collection was re-released only a few years later in 1980 as two separate records - Rock 'n' Roll Music Volume I and Rock 'n' Roll Music Volume II.  Producer George Martin took this opportunity to mix some of the songs (like I'm Down) for stereo for the first time.  The gaudy cover was also replaced with a standard shot of the group from their early years.

Monday, January 14, 2013

ROCK 'N' ROLL MUSIC - sides one and two

Many fans are dismissive of the compilations from the late 70's, but I must admit that I really enjoy some of them, including this collection.  I challenge anyone to listen to side one (program it on your CD player, iPod, iTunes or whatever format you have) and tell me you weren't blissfully carried away to rock and roll Nirvana.

EMI released this two-record set on the 10th of June, 1976.  As the name implies, it highlights many of the group's straight-ahead rock and roll tracks not included on the Red and Blue albums, and while some of them are well-known, quite a few are hidden gems, outside the knowledge of the casual fan.  The compilation tends to dwell on the early years (everything except Bad Boy on sides one and two was recorded in 1963 and '64), with a good deal of material from their pre-fame stage act. 

SIDE ONE

Twist and Shout - The roof-raising finale from the album Please Please Me is the perfect way to kick off the proceedings.

I Saw Her Standing There - The song that opened that first album is also the group's first great rock and roll original.

You Can't Do That - This searing rocker was written for, but cut from, A Hard Day's Night.  It did wind up on the album, as well as serving as the B-side to Can't Buy Me Love.

I Wanna Be Your Man - This song was given to both the Rolling Stones for a single and to Ringo for his vocal outing on With the Beatles.

I Call Your Name - John wrote this song for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas as a B-side, but decided to record it with the Beatles almost a year later for the EP Long Tall Sally.

Boys - Ringo covers this Shirelles number on the album Please Please Me.

Long Tall Sally - The classic Little Richard screamer closes out the explosive side one.

SIDE TWO 

Rock and Roll Music - The title song of this collection is the Chuck Berry classic, recorded by the Beatles for their fourth album, Beatles For Sale.

Slow Down - This screaming rocker from Larry Williams appeared on the EP Long Tall Sally.

Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey - This arrangement by Little Richard, combining a Lieber and Stoller number with a piece of his own into a medley, was recorded by the Fab Four for Beatles For Sale.

Money (That's What I Want) - One of the grittiest recordings the group ever made closed out the album With the Beatles.

Bad Boy - Another Larry Williams number, recorded specifically for the American album Beatles VI in May of 1965.  It did not appear in the UK until A Collection of Beatles Oldies in late 1966.

Matchbox - The fourth and final selection from the Long Tall Sally EP was Ringo's treatment of this Carl Perkins rockabilly number.

Roll Over Beethoven - George's first lead vocal on this collection is this Chuck Berry classic recorded for With the Beatles.

Note that every song on side two is a cover version, displaying the group's vast knowledge and love of the rock and roll pioneers they grew up listening to and emulating.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Yesterday b/w I Should Have Known Better

I was unaware of this release until I read about it in The Mammoth Book of the Beatles by Sean Egan.  All of my information in this entry comes from that source.

Egan relates that in early 1976, three years after the release of the Red and Blue albums, the Beatles' contract with EMI expired.  Over the course of the next several years the recording giant would conduct an aggressive repackaging campaign of the group's back catalog to capitalize on the public's never-ending demand for material by the greatest act in showbiz history.  It didn't even matter that every recording the group had ever made was still readily available - just the illusion of something new was good enough to get fans to plunk down their money for the latest release.

On March 6th, all twenty-two of the group's original UK singles - from Love Me Do to Let It Be - were re-released in new picture sleeves.  Two days later, this new single appeared - the first addition to the band's official catalog.  The Beatles, manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin had decided back in 1965 not to release Yesterday as a single, feeling it was not representative of their work as a group.  It was buried on the British version of the album Help! - the thirteenth track out of a total fourteen.  Other record companies under the EMI umbrella, including Capitol in the US, were free to do as they pleased, so the song soon appeared as a single throughout the world, rapidly achieving its status as one of the all-time great standards.  On March 8th, 1976, the recording finally got its due on the Beatles' home turf.

For reasons unknown, EMI did not select another song from the Help! sessions for the B-side, but jumped back one full year for I Should Have Known Better.  While this catchy tune had previously served as the B-side to A Hard Day's Night in the US, its placement here is a bit of a head-scratcher.

This single went as high as number eight.  By April 4th, all twenty-three singles appeared in the top one hundred.  Egan correctly points out that this is "a feat possibly even more impressive than the group's domination of the Billboard chart in 1964 - considering that they were a defunct unit who were playing no part in advertising the records in question."