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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Beatles' Christmas Message: 1965

You know what was a really big deal in 1965? Well, besides, the band's second movie, Shea Stadium, and Rubber Soul, that is? "Yesterday," of course. The 1965 Christmas message--the last message to be more of a true message rather than a pantomime, which is what the later messages sort of evolved into-- features the Beatles gleefully lampooning Paul's masterpiece several times, which is a large part of what makes it great.

Also funny: the band launching into the first bit of "Just the Same Old Song," until George realizes there's a copyright issue if they continue.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Beatles' Christmas Message: 1966

This one is fun for its sketch about Podgy the Bear. That's still the way I remember things when I'm too lazy to find a piece of paper and make a shopping list. 1966 might have been a year in which the band released music so mind-blowing, so mature, that it changed pop music forever, but they're clearly still messing around like a bunch of kids.

Oh, plus there's the song called "Please Don't Bring Your Banjo Back."

Feeling Christmasy yet? I am, slightly, and it's not just the Beatles getting me there-- tonight I fly off to Norfolk (Virginia), where I guess I mostly grew up, to do the holidays with my folks. It's several hours before I leave, but according to the airline's website, my flight's already quite a bit delayed. Hurray! Looks like I'll be listening to a lot of Beatles on the iPod in the airport to keep myself reasonably cheerful. These Christmas messages are pretty good for cheer, though.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Beatles' Christmas Message: 1967

The 1967 Christmas message is more cohesive than what was to come later, though it's still pleasantly anarchic. It's like a deranged sketch comedy special that devolves into a psychedelic nightmare-- up until the moment that John reads his sweet little nonsense poem that sends us off to bed. My favorite bit is the song "Plenty of Jam Jars" by a band called The Ravellers ("plenty of jam jars for yoooooooou!" is fun to sing around the house, especially on a day like today when we're basically snowed in and my husband can't escape). But perhaps you'll have a different favorite. It's a good one to close off the year that encompassed the excess of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, not to mention "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)."

You know, none of these messages have much to do with Christmas at all. Maybe that's why I like them so much. No treacle here, and nothing at all heartwarming. Thank God.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Beatles' Christmas Message: 1968

The 1968 message was also recorded separately, as the Beatles were already kind of running out of patience for hanging out with each other. But we get some cool weirdness, including a Chipmunky sped-up version of "Helter Skelter," John reading his Jock & Yono poem, a bizarre interlude from Tiny Tim, and insane yet strangely festive soundscapes that remind me of "Revolution #9" outtakes dressed in musical tinsel.

This is one that should make any holiday just a little more demented. Enjoy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Beatles' Christmas Message: 1969

Don't you hate how when you go out anywhere this time of year the department stores are blasting the odious "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" or whatever that saccharine nightmare of a McCartney song is called? Or the only-slightly-less-odious-and-in-its-own-way-more-crass "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" by Johnandyoko and the Harlem Boys Choir? Blech. It's no wonder people loathe this time of year so much, with even artists of the caliber of our lads contributing to the dreck pile. (I like Christmas music just fine, but it's gotta be the choral stuff. Give me Vaughan Williams' Hodie, or the Bach Christmas Oratorio, or the Honneger Christmas Cantata, or even those little Rutter arrangements that are so pretty. Give me freaking Messiah, people. I mean, sheesh, why mess around with anything but the best?)

And yet before the Beatles stumbled through their disappointing solo Christmas crap, they did actually release seven Christmas fan club messages, sent as flexidiscs to club members each year from 1963 to 1969. I like the idea of this, just because it's so dated and adorable, and it's almost more adorable that they continued to do it even when the band was so totally falling apart and the whole idea must have seemed silly and weird. There's not really any music other than the incidental kind in these, and they frequently don't have much to do with Christmas-- in fact, they are largely a load of nonsense, but they're sort of essential nonsense for fans.

I'm going to post videos of the Christmas messages (assuming they're all findable on YouTube) each day until Christmas itself, and I'm going to count down from 1969, the last one, which is the most depressing simply because the Beatles couldn't be bothered to even be in the same room to record it. (And because Ringo uses most of his piece to shamelessly plug his then-new film The Magic Christian, which is notoriously the movie my husband detests more than any other in the world.) But listen for yourself. As we listen this next week, the Beatles will get younger and younger and more and more childlike and innocent, which seems to be in keeping with the Christmas spirit in some way.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All you need is love, and also these fine items.

Where does the time go in December, kids? Where oh where? I guess we've had a good week of silence in memory of John (many thanks to all commenters to that post, by the way), but Apple Corps must go on! Imagine no possessions, you say? Pshaw! We're in the middle of Hanukkah, so I'm coming to this pretty late (what else is new?), but if you're still finishing that shopping, or just beginning your Christmas shopping, or even if you're one of those smug jerks who finished all your holiday shopping last May-- here's a roundup of some of my favorites of the best and worst Beatles gifts of the season.

Yeah, I know. This is supposed to be a blog about the Beatles' music, not this kind of frivolous crap. So I'll start by saying that the most obvious and excellent gifts for the Beatles fans you know and love this holiday season are either the stereo or mono box set, or Beatles Rock Band, all of which are products with total musical integrity. But I think I've nattered on about those rather a lot already. If you've already acquired all those delicious music-based gifts, you've still only scratched the surface of the amazing merchandise available.

For people who like shiny objects: the Yellow Submarine Jeweled Box.

For anyone who's always felt that Beatles fandom would be way more fun if there were more bling involved, this Swarovski crystal - encrusted Yellow Submarine is the perfect gift. Only 700 were made, which I'm sure makes the nearly $100 suggested retail price completely understandable.

For heavy drinkers: Sgt. Pepper pint glasses.

When the lads were teenagers swigging pints back at the Grapes, they probably never dreamed that their own faces would adorn bright neon pint glasses in the year 2009, never mind that they'd be for sale on something called the "internet." Or, I don't know, maybe that's exactly what they dreamed of. Either way, life is weird. Drink up.

For people who want to get all snuggly with some adorable moptops: the With the Beatles throw blanket.
This is the only way I know of to wake up looking into the eyes of a 23-year-old John Lennon. Without doing something sketchy in Mme. Tussaud's, that is.

For your favorite trust fund hippie: the Love drum money clip.
Also a great gift for the fans of irony on your list.

For the very youngest fans: Beatles onesies.

On December 3, my sister-in-law gave birth to very small preemie twin boys, which has been exciting (they're doing well, but they're still very very small, of course). Once they're big enough, you can bet I am going to send them and their no-doubt-appreciative parents two adorable Magical Mystery Tour onesies. Because indoctrinating the youth is what Crazy Aunt Meg is all about! Besides, I prefer to only be seen with fashionably dressed babies.

For people who are fans of Shea Stadium in two senses: Yellow Submarine baseballs.

Now even jocks can show off their Beatle fandom with, um, baseballs. Chuck 'em at the heads of all the Blue Meanies you see, that's what I say.

For your favorite Beatles blogger: Beatles Trivial Pursuit.

Seriously. I want this. I need to, just once in my life, NOT have my ass kicked by my husband at Trivial Pursuit, and this edition represents my only chance of doing so. Pretty please?

For anyone whom you want to flaunt both your money and your stupidity to: the White Album fountain pen. The 2008 holiday season was rocked by a small kerfuffle on the Beatley internets when Apple Corps claimed that they would release the White Album in a digitally remastered 40th anniversary edition, but then released a colossally expensive 40th anniversary fountain pen instead. There is, you see, a big difference. Fans collectively gagged. If you want to spend $528.95 (yes, really) on a white pen, then go for it. And why don't you make your first act with that pen to write me a generous check, while you're at it? Because, I mean, it's clear that you have too much money.

For those who spend the holidays in warm climates: the Yellow Submarine ice tray.

See, cause it's a submarine, right? So you submerge it in liquid? Get it? Of course, eventually it melts, which is kind of grisly if you imagine little travelers in your frozen submarines. By the way, how you get these ice pieces to actually come out yellow is up to you. (I suggest trying to freeze some Mountain Dew.)

There are, of course, lots and lots and LOTS more Beatles gifts available. These are just what I, with complete wide-eyed sincerity, recommend. My personal favorite site for all Beatles shopping is the website of The Fest for Beatles Fans. It's not just a site for the Fest itself (which has New Jersey and Chicago locations each year)-- it's also probably the largest Beatles store on the web. The selection of Beatles books alone is worth a look. Plus, you can wrap it all with Beatles wrapping paper! (Which I actually do totally, totally love.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another sad anniversary.

Gees, these crappy anniversaries just come running smack into each other at the end of the year, don't they? Anyway, it's now been 29 years to the day since John Lennon died. That's kind of weird, isn't it? I don't have much to add to the wave of online remembrances that I'm sure are lining up in my blogroll (over there on the right), because I was only about a year and a half old when it happened, and I don't have any memories. He's just always been dead for me. A little like the way, say, Abraham Lincoln has always been dead for me. Gad, that's depressing.

But I still get sad every year, even though I have nothing personal to really add to all the grieving. I like to think that if John had lived, the (if we're honest) fair-to-middling Double Fantasy album would have been kind of a blip in a long career of much, much better music. I don't have any reason to believe this, only a strong desire to believe this. I also kind of wonder what John would have thought of Beatles-bonanza years like 2009 has been. He tended to not go for that kind of intense nostalgic stuff, and we probably would have heard a lot of snarky quotes about how the Beatles were just a band and we should all get a life. But I think he would have okayed it all even so. Money talks. And besides, I can kind of see him enjoying Rock Band. He strikes me as the kind of guy who could dig a good video game. He'd probably also be about spending all day watching YouTube, as I've been doing these past few hours. He and I share a common lethargy. (We would have been so good for each other. Oh well.)

Herewith some videos of John that I like. This is one of the good songs from Double Fantasy, made into a very sweet video.

This is John reading a teleprompter at the 1975 Grammys, possibly while drunk.

John reading and dramatizing pieces from In His Own Write on the Not Only but Also show in 1964...

Please go elsewhere if you want to watch the "Imagine" video once again, is what I'm saying. I prefer to think of John this way.

And of course also with songs. John's generally best when singing, and this is some of my favorite singing ever. At least, you know, today.

13. I'll Be Back


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thoughts on Beatle books.

Because the Lennon vs. McCartney question is a debate (and a fallacy) that apparently will never die, I am delighted to see that the new McCartney biography by Peter Ames Carlin, Paul McCartney: A Life, apparently spends a lot of time once again defending Paul's legacy from those who would continue, blindly, to see him as the lameass of the band and to deify a conveniently deceased John. But I am even more delighted to see what else this largely positive A.V. Club review has to say, which is that the book seems not to go as far in the self-promotion direction as Paul himself has veered in recent years. In fact, the review makes the book sound quite balanced and well done overall. I think that I'm going to have to read it.

The best book I've read about Paul is probably Many Years from Now, which pubbed in the '90s. Though technically written by Barry Miles, most of the book is direct quotes from extensive interviews with Paul. This is both cool and lame. Cool, because you're basically reading Paul's own story direct from him. Lame, because Paul often comes off as ridiculously defensive about his career and his legacy, and ends up exaggerating his own accomplishments and exacerbating all those stories about his huge ego. I understand Paul's defensiveness to an extent, but it comes off as cranky much of the time. The book is still worth a read, but be warned about Paul's motives, is all. I'm just glad there's another good biography out there to round the picture out a bit more.

I'm thinking about all of this anew, as I've recently started rereading Ray Coleman's Lennon, which I think I first read in high school. I recently picked up a used mass market copy for a dollar, so why not? Lennon has been widely considered the best John biography out there for a long time, but reading it is annoying me, because it's so sycophantic that even a fangirl like me wants to throw up in her mouth a little. The basic storyline so far is that John gets drunk and beats people up and stuff, but deep down he's a big ol' sweetie! As if the author is afraid of readers hearing anything negative about the guy. (Secondarily, I'm also a bit turned off at Coleman's obvious disgust at rumors that John might have had a fling with Brian Epstein. I'm not saying the rumors are true-- I kind of doubt that they are-- but Coleman protests so much, and goes so out of his way to say what a HETEROSEXUAL guy John was, that it's rather too revealing of his own homophobia. Which is just gross, and is making me kind of hate the author.) But the worst offenses are toward Paul McCartney, who is only mentioned in order for Coleman to sneer at his so-called primness and downplay the intensity of the artistic partnership the two had. If you had only this book to go on, you'd assume that Paul was just some guy John played in some band with for a little while. You know, no big deal. So it's books like this that make Paul feel he HAS to defend himself.

Last year, Phil Norman-- the author of Shout!, a book that I still feel is the best Beatles biography I've read, even though a lot of people consider Norman hopelessly biased in John's direction (not without reason)-- published a new biography of John that's out in paperback this fall: John Lennon: The Life. (Note that Paul's new bio is just A Life. John's is THE Life. Hee.) I haven't read this one yet. In the mainstream press it seems to have been very well received, but among Beatle people there was a lot of vitriol about how this was yet another offering to Saint John the Lennon. I can't imagine Norman's book being worse in this way than Coleman's, though, so I've decided to read this one as well. (Maybe I'll read Norman's book and Carlin's book side by side to compare how they approach their subjects.) I've also heard that Norman's book picks up some of the recent allegations raised by Julia Baird, John's half-sister, about some hidden family secrets or something. Baird has a book out, too, whose title I forget, but which I've been hesitant to read just because, even if true, the whole thing sounds a little too sordid, a little too Maury Povich for my tastes. (Spoiler alert: Aunt Mimi doesn't come off well.)

But my larger point is: Isn't this John vs. Paul thing in the book business just nuts? It makes me glad not to be famous and not to have any legacy really worth protecting. Because the whole things would just exhaust me.