Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ultimate McCartney Set List - GO.

It's three years later, and Paul McCartney is touring once again! A lot has changed since I last checked in with this blog, but my devotion to Paul remains steadfast and true. (Despite the fact that, even after endless prodding, the guy has never actually called me.) If you care to, you can read about my adventures the last time Paul came through Boston back in 2009-- which, fortuitously enough, was also the year I kept a daily blog about Beatles songs-- right here.

So, the indefatigable Troy over at kinde words and I have been talking set lists. Every McCartney tour has a pretty much unchanging set list, which is a mark of either consummate professionalism or control freakishness, take your pick. So his current set list has already been spoiled. The list has high points and not-as-high points, but I won't get into those here. The question now is, what is the set list that would make for the PERFECT McCartney show? Troy made his list, which you can check out here, and challenged me to make mine. Fair enough. Here's mine, with copious notes following.

Maybe I’m Amazed
Sing the Changes
Daytime Nighttime Suffering
The World Tonight
Every Night
Bring It on Home to Me
Call Me Back Again
Live and Let Die
Back Seat of My Car

Encore I

Encore II
Let Me Roll It

I think my list is little farther out than Troy's. Like him, I discounted songs that are too much Lennon songs, as McCartney does himself most of the time. (There's an extremely, extremely interesting exception to that on the current tour, though, so I'll have that to breathlessly await.) Collaborative songs that are truly half-and-half or lean in Paul's favor are fair game-- hence I allowed "All My Loving" but ended up not including "Please Please Me" despite being sorely tempted. However, while Troy allows for "Baby You're a Rich Man," that one goes too far for my tastes. After all, the verses are John's, and that's where the meat is, and in the end it doesn't feel Paul-ish enough for me.

After that, though, I just started daydreaming. I did try to include songs that Paul ALWAYS does live, and that would be sorely missed, but I indulged my personal tastes all over the place. So we get Paul opening with an oldie, treating us to the deepest of deep cut covers of early rock and roll, like "Clarabella," which you can hear on Live at the BBC, and "Bring It on Home to Me," which can be found on the Russian album of 1988. Here, too, is "Long Tall Sally," because of course I want to hear him sing that. After the old rock and roll stuff, we get a couple of my favorite Wings and solo tracks because this is my list, darn it, and did you know that Paul has NEVER done "Daytime Nighttime Suffering" live, EVER?

A couple other notes:

- I want so badly to lay into Troy for including "Rocky Raccoon," but as long as he refrains from laying into ME for including "Every Night," I'll call a truce. We all have the right to enjoy our silly little McCartney ditties.

- I sort of wanted to just end the whole thing on "Back Seat of My Car," but ended up with that playing into "Hey Jude" for the finale. It's really really hard to end any other way. I see that Troy agrees with me.

- I didn't belabor the order TOO much, but I'm pleased with a few of my transitions here, especially "Waterfalls" into "Sing the Changes," "Daytime Nighttime Suffering" into "Paperback Writer," "Bring It on Home to Me" into "Call Me Back Again," and "Every Night" into "Yesterday" launching right into "Clarabella" and then those couple soul-centric numbers. Oh, and my impulse to follow "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" with "I Will," which is how it goes on the White Album, was too strong to resist.

- Despite the fact that I have been subjected to f*cking "My Love" on at least three tours, I have NEVER heard Paul do the vastly superior "Here, There, and Everywhere" live. Paul! Explain yourself!

- If I were awesome, I would have taken key relationships and Paul's movement in between a guitar and piano into consideration in planning the order. But I didn't.

Thoughts, anyone who might still be reading this for some reason?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A new daily fix, new product lust, etc.

If you like to do the Twitter thing, you'll love The Daily Beatle, brought to us by the folks at the always excellent Hey Dullblog (which is always over there to the right on my blogroll). There's going to be a quote, a link to a story, or some other fun exciting thing posted every day. Follow it!

I like daily things having to do with the Beatles, so I support this effort. Even though I'm not on Twitter myself. I don't know. Should I be? I haven't gotten around to joining. At any rate, I'm posting that Daily Beatle link for myself as much as anything, so I can check it out each day without actually joining Twitter. Yay!

In other news, WogBlog reports a release date on the vinyl remasters of the complete Beatles catalog: October 4, 2010. I can't believe they can keep make me wanting this set of songs over and over again. And yet they do. But then I look at my record collection and realize that I listen to records less and less frequently, because really it's just EASIER to plug in the iPod and shuffle things and so forth. And I'm not enough of an audio geek to get into how the sound is different on vinyl so much (also, I take horrible care of my records, and I haven't replaced my needle in ages-- picture me blushing in shame here). So I think I won't buy this set.

(I'll just lust after it from afar.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Creeeeeak. (Also, Imagine the album.)

That is the sound of a rusty blog being wound painfully into gear by a lazy blogger. Creak creak creak. Argh. Is anyone out there? Hi! I haven't written in a while. I'm very sorry. See, I have this tendency in my life to come up with crazy projects, stick to them with near-religious fervor for a little while, and then drop them just as quickly. Already for 2010 I've adopted some other stupid projects to keep myself nuts-- I've been hunkering down on this book I've been trying to write for approximately 8,000 years (I'm either finishing it before the year is out, or giving up forever, because it's beginning to make me sick), and I've joined another choir, and then I've been busy elsewhere learning the ropes in this new industry I now work in (I've transitioned from trade book publishing of the cooking/lifestyle variety to medical journal publishing, and dear God is the scene different).

But that stuff is not the point of the blog, is it? See, I'd rather this blog be a project that I actually maintain, even if occasionally, so here's me trying, though I make no promises. I haven't ranted on a Beatley topic lately, and I've got a few good rants stored up. Here's one for you.

So check this out. The Cult of John makes me angry. You know what I mean about the Cult of John: in which a genius who was tragically murdered is remembered as some kind of peacenik-shaman-martyr when he was in fact a flawed, self-interested, sometimes douchey, and all-around more interesting artist than that. The Cult of John continues even as more and more even-handed stuff is written about him. (I just bought a remaindered copy of the recent Phil Norman biography, which for all its reputed sycophancy has got to be a little more measured than the stupid Ray Coleman book I reread recently-- I'll be posting my feelings on this new one before too long. Also, by the way, I am feeling cautious optimism about Nowhere Boy, a film about John as a teenager that will get a US release in October.) The Cult of John sets the tone of much of what is said about the Beatles, which is a huge bummer, ADDED to the original huger bummer of the fact that John died too young in the first place.

But the Cult of John has particularly ruined "Imagine," hasn't it? I can't remember who said this, but I once read someone's opinion that it's impossible, now, to explain what "Imagine" sounded like before John was killed, because ever since then it's less of a song and more of a symbol. And I believe it. The song is a great song, one that I am hardly unique in loving-- it's simple and anthemic, which was an aesthetic John was interested in at the time, but it has an underlying intelligence (both musically and lyrically) that's very appealing. If that makes sense. Though, if I may get bitchy for a moment, it has never struck me as his best melody. (You can hear this, by the way, when the song gets covered. Most other singers let the melody get plodding and boring-- they don't know what to do with it. John, of course, delivers it in a charmingly naive/vulnerable performance that's exactly right.) But see, ultimately, I feel like it's quite a good song that has, through no fault of its own, taken on almost more significance than it can bear.

Thinking about "Imagine" the song led me back to Imagine the album-- and this is an album that is so all over the place, so deeply and fascinatingly flawed, that I do keep coming back. I've said before that I find John's failures inherently more interesting than the failures of the other Beatles (Paul's bad albums, for instance, are just unlistenable, whereas only John's rarely get quite that bad for me). Perhaps you're not in the same camp, but hopefully you follow what I'm saying. To be clear, I wouldn't call Imagine a failure, but it is a complete mess of a album-- the work of a guy who seems confused about his own artistic aspirations and just what exactly he's doing, which is perhaps understandable given where he was at this point. Still, though, considering that it's the album that first introduced the ideas and images that would later get so caught up with the Cult of John, its messiness is interesting. (By the way, I'm aware that this album is the biggest Lennon solo album in terms of sales, and that it's been put into fairly reputable Best-Albums-Ever lists and stuff, but trust me on this. It really is a mess. This album's success is due to people confusing the whole album with the song.)

So, with all this in mind, I listened to Imagine in its entirety for the first time in a long while and had the following thoughts. This is by no means exhaustive, but if you haven't listened for a while either, you might try it and see if you agree.

Side A

1. "Imagine." Well, see what I've said above. This is a great, great song. But putting "Imagine" up at the front of album risks blowing one's proverbial wad early, especially given that lovely final chord with the wicked light touch of strings on it. It's literally downhill from here, and not just in that no other song is as good. It's that John reveals something divine at the beginning and then follows it with an album that will be very earth-bound.

2. "Crippled Inside." I go back and forth on how much I actually like this song. See, I think I know what John's doing here-- as is typical for him, he carefully diffuses any potential over-seriousness of "Imagine" by following it with a plucky country number we can laugh at and dance to. (Compare this to the way he followed "Let It Be" with "Maggie Mae," which in that case just comes off as mean, since Paul had no say in the matter. It's a similar impulse, I think.) But he might overshoot his intent a bit with this. Yes, the dark lyrics belie the swingy musical setting, as many have noted, but I don't think this is one of those Lennonist dark self-portraits in the manner of "Come Together." The lyrics look too much outward-- he's judging the world, you guys, not himself. "You can go to church and sing a hymn / Judge me by the color of my skin." Etc. He thinks WE'RE crippled inside-- totally '70s John at work here. It's like his optimism about humanity in "Imagine" has turned sour in a split second. Plus, when I'm in certain moods, this country parody stuff just grates.

3. "Jealous Guy." There IS one song on Imagine that is even better than "Imagine." And it's "Jealous Guy." Now this is a terrific melody. Damned near perfect. For what it's worth, John actually wrote this while still a Beatle, on the extended trip to India in 1968. At that point it was called "Child of Nature"-- the final lyrics came later. But this probably isn't a coincidence. I don't know what happened to the Beatles's minds when they split, but they almost never replicated the level of song-writing they managed to achieve while with the band, even when writing entirely on their own as they mostly did in India. Point is, "Jealous Guy" is amazing. It's just dripping with this beautiful suffering, and its focus on all the guilt and fear JOHN is feeling (rather than Yoko, whom he's singing to) is such a Lennonist move that I love it. Also, good tinkly piano there, John! It tinkles like raindrops... or tears.

4. "It's So Hard." I always forget this song when I'm recalling the album's tracks, which probably tells you something about my feelings about it. The song is good. The song is fine. It's a pleasant blues number with a big ol' sax part, and although the whole thing could stand to be a bit dirtier (John's trying with his vocal, but there's some singing-from-the-basement thing in the production that mutes it for me) there's nothing particularly wrong about any of this. Do note, though, that at track 4 we're already in our fourth VERY distinct genre. (Piano-based anthem--> cornball country--> exquisite ballad--> straight-up blues.) This is what I'm talking about when I say John's not sure what he's doing artistically on this album. These genre exercises sound like he's working through some kind of block, just trying to figure out what to do next.

5. "I Don't Want to Be a Solider Mama I Don't Want to Die." Exhibit A in what I mean when I say "interesting failure." The song is... not good. John, in love with his own wordplay, riffs forever and ever and ever on his title line. It surely sounded awesome in theory when discussed over bong hits, and maybe he could have pulled it off if he'd cut the length in half and cut the production by like 80%. But what I suspect happened is that when he recorded it he realized it was kind of boring, and then he and Phil Spector went and overproduced the thing into this really heavy, echoed, droney (not in a good way) wooly mammoth of a song. Then there's this ludicrous sax solo that comes off as some kind of crazy Hail Mary move-- not that it works. The song is bad in an interesting way, but it's still pretty damned bad.

Side B

1. "Gimme Some Truth." After the crap at the end of side A, we fortunately kick off side B with one of the best songs on the album. "Gimme Some Truth" is one of John's political songs that works, mostly because it's a rant against power that he keeps so universal (Tricky Dick notwithstanding) that it's still easy to identify with. (I mean, listening to "John Sinclair" these days is just not that fun, right? Right.) It doesn't hurt that it's a kickass performance, with John's voice nice and screamy, just awash in righteous anger, and the guitarist (George Harrison, by the way) rocking the solo and then, elsewhere, playing this endlessly circling guitar part whose relentlessness reminds me of a throbbing vein in a forehead. It's good stuff. More like this, please!

2. "Oh My Love." Well, we clearly won't be getting more like that, because instead we get "Oh My Love." Opinions differ on this one. Is the lazy, static feel here beautiful, or dull as toast? I side more in the latter category. As ballads go, "Jealous Guy" is about ten trillion times as cool for me. I will give some props to the piano part at the close, which is produced in a "Jealous Guy" kind of way but now sounds less rainy and more like dappled sunshine. I don't know-- I guess it's like "It's So Hard." It's fine, but I don't have a lot of strong feelings about it.

3. "How Do You Sleep?" Okay. Now. HERE is a song I have strong feelings about, and not one of those strong feelings is a positive one. The story in a nutshell: Paul McCartney wrote a couple of really opaque lines in "Too Many People," the 1971 "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" B-side, that referenced John. They were barely offensive, and they could have been about anyone. But John, in one of the fits of rage that John-Cultists pretend didn't exist, went freaking ballistic and wrote the nastiest song ever in response. This whole song is just a Fuck-You-Paul move, and it's loaded with really obvious puns and insults to make it very clear who he's talking about. It is, to put it mildly, unbeliveably uncalled for. More importantly, it's not a very good song. See, when Bob Dylan or even Carly Simon writes a song for the sole purpose of insulting someone, they at least do it with some poetry, with some dignity, with some musical gravitas. But John is so lost to his own rage here that everything just becomes subsumed in it, and the song is overproduced and shallow. So, yeah, I'm biased, because I don't like it when Beatles feud with each other in ways that end up being preserved forever. But I also don't know how JOHN could sleep, or indeed look his peace-preaching self in the eye, while he was spewing/recording/producing this shit, the nasty little hypocrite. Seriously, it's like he wants me to hate him. By the end of it, he's almost gotten me there. This John Lennon song actively encourages hate, and not hate at the power structure in a "Gimme Some Truth" kind of way-- real, actual hate at the people who were your friends. I mean, think about that.

4. "How?" And now I'm so angry after "How Do You Sleep?" that all I want to do is yell at John, who, at this point in history, was busy giving interviews disowning half his Beatles records for their "overproduction" and insinuating that Paul was a sissy because he wrote ballads-- even as he records the most navel-gazing ballad ever with about a thousand tons of strings produced into it. Seriously, that first explosion of strings is gag-inducing, isn't it? Fuck you, John. But, okay, no. When I'm calmer I can admit that the song is not the worst thing ever-- with a more simple setting it could have worked on his previous and far superior album, Plastic Ono Band. It's not bad, okay? But gah, that production. John, seriously.

5. "Oh Yoko!" And John, if you think you can win me back to your side with this jangly little love ditty, you are... well, maybe one-third right. Sure, the song is pleasant. Yes, yes. Goody for you. But it's now that I notice again something that's been bothering me. I think John, back in 1971, was losing his edge a little in the lyrics department. He's relying too heavily on this litany structure-- just look back at "Oh My Love" and "How?" and "Oh Yoko!" All these songs are basically lists. This is not exactly a bad thing, but there was a time when John would have done a bit better than just, you know, listing all the places where he might call Yoko's name. Or, in "Oh My Love," listing all the things that he sees. (The clouds, the sky, the trees.... I mean, there's simple and then there's simplistic, you know?)

And on that slight note, the album's done. Looking back at it, was it what you'd call a Best-Album-Ever list contender? I'd have to vote no. It has some HUGE high points, sure, but some unbelievably low ones too, and lots of just meh stuff. I think a lot of the problem with the Imagine album is that half the material is so forgettable, no one even remembers anything except the title song. It's an album that coasts almost entirely on that song. If John had named this one Plastic Ono Band II or something instead, this thing would never have been remembered so well at all.

Maybe this seems cruel. But I enjoy having unpopular opinions about the Beatles sometimes, and when it comes to the solo work, I have a LOT of unpopular opinions. (Namely one big one, which is that the solo music is mostly, with some key exceptions, not very good.) In this case, my unpopular opinion is that "Imagine" and "Jealous Guy" are really the only songs here worthy of being put on any list of great things. The rest is filler, in a couple cases embarrassingly bad filler. This is the kind of single-driven album that the Beatles used to take pride in NOT releasing. But so be it. As long as people love to listen to "Imagine," people are going to buy this and be subjected to "How Do You Sleep?" as well, assuring that the myriad pieces of John's personality are ALL preserved.

Next time I write about an entire John album, I promise that it'll be Plastic Ono Band or Walls and Bridges, both of which I like a lot more-- so there will be some more positive energy. But if you've read my rant thus far, thanks! Hopefully there's more in me.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Playlist: Just my totally favorite moments from this past year.

Just my personal faves, anyway. And by "favorites," I don't really mean favorite Beatles songs-- I really, no matter how hard I try, can't limit myself there. I more just mean songs that proved fun to write about even if I didn't think the songs would be that great, or songs that just struck as particularly amazing on that particular day in a nice bit of kismet, or songs that seemed to resonate with people, or something. So here they are. Maybe this is, like, the best of A Year in the Life. Anyway, enjoy! Hope everyone has a fun last night of the year... as usual, the Beatles are making it better for me.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Beatles spoils, et cetera.

After having slightly bullied my mom about it (as was very unbecoming for someone who's as old as I am, I'd be the first to admit), I was unsurprised to receive the remastered stereo box set for Christmas-- though still terribly excited. Yay!

I was, however, pleasantly surprised to also receive Beatles Trivial Pursuit from my parents. And then my husband up and gave me a wicked sexy Revolver messenger bag, no doubt purchased from the good people at The Fest. So it was a very merry Christmas for me, so much so that I just had to snuggle up with my Beatle gifts for a while on my parents' living room floor.

So far, I haven't had time in the bustle of this time of year to listen to the box set. And everyone I've suggested a game of Trivial Pursuit to has turned me down. Boo.

Anyway, if you celebrated, hope you had a good Christmas with all the gifts, Beatley and otherwise, you hoped for. Here's a Boxing Day gift for you. I have never known exactly when this aired or what it was for, but I imagine it was some sort of Christmas pantomime. It's the play-within-a-play from A Midsummer Night's Dream, so it's written badly on purpose, but funnier than ever in the Beatles' version.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Beatles' Christmas Message: 1963

Here's a Christmas message you might be a little more familiar with than the others, at least if you've played Beatles Rock Band on story mode and unlocked some of the delightful prizes they've hidden for you. Because this is one of them.

1963 was the Beatles' first big year, and what a year it was-- as they indicate here, the year prior they'd been a band with the one minor hit "Love Me Do," and just a year later they'd released Please Please Me, played the Royal Variety Show, and become a gigantic phenomenon throughout Britain and Europe. This one's a cute message-- they sing several silly versions of "Good King Wenceslas," Ringo admits to still feeling like the new guy, George very sweetly remembers to thank the Fan Club secretaries, and John and Paul both thank the fans for sending all the gifts at their birthdays. Oh, and Paul, amusingly enough, tries to get the girls to stop throwing jelly babies at them: "We've gone right off jelly babies," he explains.

This was the first message, so this concludes the Beatley Christmasy countdown. They're exactly the kind of thing that make the Beatles more than just a band for me-- they're more like the coolest friends you could ever hope to have. Hope you liked it, and that you have a terrific day!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Beatles' Christmas Message: 1964

The 1964 message was only the second Beatles Fan Club Christmas record, and it basically follows the model of the first one the year prior-- it's just a recorded prepared statement. These early ones are fairly hilarious without being insane, as the later ones became. Much as I like ALL these Christmas messages, the later ones sometimes come across as something that your friends made while high as kites, something that's never as funny to you as it was to them.

Anyway, the Beatles are reading off of a sheet of paper that seems to have been handwritten badly, because they keep reading words wrong. It's funny. George thanks everyone for going to see A Hard Day's Night and notes that in February they'll begin filming the next movie, which will be in color and should be another laugh. Ringo lists all the places they've gone during the year, and John and Paul reminisce about recording "Love Me Do" right there in studio 2 all those many years ago (two).

And no, I don't know who's breaking dishes in the background.