Strawberry Fields Forever… and ever… amen

“No one I think is in my tree…” John Lennon

John Lennon (image courtesy 100.7 KOOL FM)

Adulthood is all mixed up, as almost everyone reading this knows. Not that childhood isn’t all mixed up, too, but in childhood we find coping mechanisms. It can be as simple as finding one’s happy place and going there.

John knew this. He also knew how important that finding coping mechanisms is for us.

“Strawberry Fields Forever,” arguably his finest song as a Beatle, is about remembering. Remembering had become a favorite lyrical theme for John (“In My Life,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl”). An equally important theme, and one that John sometimes explored in tandem with the remembering theme, is differentness, especially differentness in how one looks at the world (“Rain,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said She Said”).

It is that combination of those themes – remembering and differentness – that makes “Strawberry Fields Forever” the masterpiece it is.  Continue reading

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The End…is all about the love….

“And in the end the love you take
Is equal to the love you make…” – Paul McCartney

And in the end… (image courtesy Wikimedia)

My favorite uncle died a few days ago.

Rational, objective description sometimes is inadequate to explain people. Any such description of my Uncle Carl would use terms such as hard-working, plain-spoken, no-nonsense, tough-minded, straight-ahead.

Such a guy would not seem to be one who would inspire an outpouring of love and affection from large numbers of people. But Uncle Carl did. His visitation was packed and went on well past its scheduled two hour period. His funeral, a rite held in the Friends (Quaker) church he attended (his decision to join the friends late in his life probably also seems anomalous given the above description) was a love fest of expressions of love and affection for a hard-working, plain-speaking, no-nonsense guy. Continue reading

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Random thoughts about the record album – part 4: concepts and collections

“You take the risk of being rejected. If you have pretensions to be an artist of any kind, you have to take the risk of people rejecting you and thinking you’re an arsehole.” – Roger Waters

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3)

Pink Floyd suggested that Newton’s theory of light composition has validity (image courtesy Wikimedia)

After the artistic (and influence) success of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the stupendous artistic and commercial success of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, the appetite of record buying audiences for “full length works” was well whetted. Musical artists of the next decade or so found themselves faced, however, with a choice. Did they, as many bands did, follow the “concept” approach introduced to rock audiences by Brian Wilson? Was there another path?

Under normal circumstances that “other path” might have been to follow the example of Bob Dylan, choosing to record albums of original songs without any overt conceptual framework. Certainly Dylan was pointing out that “other way” with his albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.

Dylan had retreated from the world after his motorcycle accident in mid 1966, but his work still cast a long shadow. Emerging from that shadow would be a group of artists whose work followed the Dylan model and who enjoyed as great, at times greater, commercial success than the bands following the Beach Boys/Beatles concept album model: singer/songwriters.  Continue reading

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Random thoughts about the record album – part 3: album as art and artifact

“We were fed up with being the Beatles. We really hated that fucking four little mop-top approach. We were not boys, we were men … and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers.” – Paul McCartney on the impetus behind Sgt. Pepper

(Read Part 1, Part 2)

Brian Wilson (image courtesy imdb)

Once the Beatles’ Rubber Soul moved the rock audience to begin buying albums rather than singles, artists felt emboldened to make their own attempts to create albums with thematic unity and all original material. Record companies, impressed with Rubber Soul’s sales figures, felt emboldened to allow artists to attempt to duplicate the Beatles’ sales.

And thus rock’s album era was born.

The term most people throw around when discussing thematically unified music collections from this era is concept album. It can be a tricky term, and critics sometimes argue about whether a particular album qualifies or who did/did not implement the form in rock history (it is widely conceded that Woody Guthrie created the genre with his 1940 album Dust Bowl Ballads).

There is consensus about one fact: whether rock’s first concept album was Little Deuce Coupe (1963) or Pet Sounds (1966), the guy who deserves credit for making the concept album rock music’s statement of choice is Brian Wilson. Continue reading

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We Can Work It Out: that wonderful harmonium

“In ‘We Can Work It Out,’ Paul did the first half, I did the middle eight. But you’ve got Paul writing, ‘We can work it out, we can work it out’ – real optimistic, y’know, and me impatient: ‘Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.'” – John Lennon

 
I have reached a conclusion. Not enough songs make use of the harmonium.  Some may find this conclusion baseless. They would be mistaken.

Take, for example, “We Can Work It Out.” One side of the Beatles’ first “Double A side” single (b/w “Day Tripper”), it’s always been one of my favorite Beatles’ songs, partly because of that harmonium John added to the track. One of them (John or Paul) spotted a harmonium in a corner of one of the studios at Abbey Road and John suggested that they add it to “We Can Work It Out.”

The result is a song with a feel that reminds one of a French cafe. A suggestion from George, the time change from 4/4 to 3/4 time adds a lilting quality. Combined with the harmonium sounding much like an accordion – in a French cafe – the effect suggests a chanteur working – it’s Paul channeling his inner Jacques Brel and John enabling him with that  damned wonderful harmonium sound.  Continue reading

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Chronicles Part 1: Bob Dylan being Bob Dylan

“I’d come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.” – Bob Dylan

Early Bob Dylan (image courtesy CBS News)

Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles: Part 1 is a book I came to with a good bit of skepticism. One reason for my skepticism that comes from having read Dylan’s novel Tarantula, a book I found self-indulgent and (perhaps) purposely off-putting.

Another reason for skepticism comes from having read David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street, a well researched book whose view of Dylan is less than sanguine, portraying Dylan as opportunistic, self-centered, and callous.

My last reason for skepticism comes from having seen a number of interviews with Dylan where he is evasive, defensive, and at times downright hostile to reporters and interviewers asking him questions about his life and work. Any who has seen the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don’t Look Back has seen that Dylan in action.

Having now read Chronicle: Part 1, I must say that some of my impression of Dylan is incorrect. He opens up about his home life, his early days in Minneapolis, his move to New York, even his recording of the 1989 comeback album Oh Mercy with Daniel Lanois.

But Dylan gonna be Dylan. So of course he’s evasive and vague on some points. Just none of the important ones. Continue reading

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Don’t Pass Me By… because everybody loves Ringo….

“It was great to get my first song down, one that I had written. It was a very exciting time for me and everyone was really helpful, and recording that crazy violinist was a thrilling moment.” – Ringo Starr

Ringo around the time of the White Album (image courtesy Drummerworld)

There’s that scene from Family Guyof course. Ringo comes into the studio and informs his band mates that he’s written a song. John, Paul, and George talk sweetly and encouragingly to him, then take his lyrics and stick them on the refrigerator (as one might for a kindergartner).

Seth MacFarlane’s snark about Ringo’s talents is part of the long history of criticisms that have been leveled at Ringo over the years; the running gag has always been that Ringo is the luckiest guy in the history of rock. While his acting ability has received praise, Ringo’s musical ability has been knocked repeatedly – and as a songwriter, he’s sometimes been treated by critics as he is in MacFarlane’s cartoon.

Perhaps that is what makes “Don’t Pass Me By” so interesting in retrospect. As a first song, and it was his first, it’s got charm – and goofiness. In other words, it’s pure Ringo. Continue reading

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