beatles, george harrison

Those good good Beatles harmonies

Last week, after a particularly long bus ride in which I listened to “Yes It Is” (a severely underrated song, IMO) no less than five times in a row, I was inspired to compile the perfect playlist of Beatles harmonies. Or at least, perfect to me.

This is by no means comprehensive…just a few of my favorites, arranged (mostly) chronologically because I always think it’s so interesting to hear how the Beatles’ songwriting/recording techniques evolved over time. It’s like you can hear them getting more comfortable singing together with each song, until finally you get to “Because” which 100% always blows me away with those goosebump-inducing vocals.

(If you don’t have Spotify, I’m sorry. It’s impossible to make a Beatles playlist on YouTube.)

I had to include “The End,” because 1) the other Abbey Road songs kinda leave you hanging, and 2) they do sneak some great harmonies in there.

Also, yesterday was George’s birthday! Happy birthday, dear George.

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beatles

Eight Days A Week: The Real Post

Ok, now for some real thoughts on Eight Days A Week.

When I first heard about this documentary, I was a little disappointed that there wouldn’t be a “studio years” installment, which in my mind would’ve been much more interesting. But after watching the film, I appreciate the focus on the touring years, because: 1) It reminds us just how nuts Beatlemania was, and 2) It’s super interesting to see how the Beatles affected everything that was going on culturally and socially in the mid-60s (their refusal to play segregated venues, the Jesus quote debacle, etc.). I mean, that continued into the late 60s too, but when they were touring, they were much more in the spotlight. Oh, and 3) The press conferences. So many zingers.

Here’s a rundown:

The good:

  • New stuff for die-hards. Although I’d seen most of the concert and interview footage over the years, it was nice to see some new material. Like interviews with fans (“George has sexy eyelashes!”), the German press conference where a reporter asked the Beatles why they’re so snobby (good job deflecting that one, Paul), and a fan’s home video of the ’66 Candlestick show.
  • Restored audio. I never really liked watching Beatles concert footage because the sound was so atrocious (it’s just…all teenage screaming). But Giles Martin a.k.a. Son of God worked his magic on the recordings and they actually sound pretty amazing.
  • The #dreamteam. I’m glad that appropriate tribute was paid to Brian Epstein and George Martin, and that Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, and Derek Taylor didn’t go unnoticed either. The Beatles had a surprisingly small entourage when touring the world from 1964-1966, and I’ve always admired how close they all were with these guys.
  • Shea Stadium. (You only got to see the whole concert if you watched the movie in theaters.) The shots of the fans are priceless and the Lennon antics are at an all time high.
  • George comparing the Beatles to rhubarb. He would.

The meh:

  • Questionable Lennon censorship. I thought it was kinda weird they corrected John’s lyric flubs for some of the live performances (personally, I think they’re endearing). Although it’s probably for the best that they edited out his clap hands/stomp feet routine…
  • Random interviews e.g. “we’re gonna bring in Eddie Izzard to talk about how the Beatles responded to media hecklers, and we’re gonna show him juuust long enough to make you think, wait, what’s Eddie Izzard doing here?”
  • Colorized film. Unnecessary. It makes everything look so fake and bad.
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The film is available on Hulu, but seeing it in a theater of fellow Beatlefans was pretty entertaining, if you get a chance to do so. Like the audible horror at the colorized footage, everyone clapping along to “Eight Days A Week,” and the guy in the front yelling along with “GOOD OL’ FREDA!”

I think Ron Howard did an excellent job bringing Beatlemania back to life, while also capturing what made people like me fall in love with the Beatles in the first place: their wit, charm, and boundary-pushing music. Ending the film with the rooftop concert was expected, but it still made me tear up. The Beatles and their music came such a long way in such a short amount of time, it’s insane. Their fans grew up, too: from screaming, crying teenagers to young men and women quietly watching from rooftops across the street. Whenever I start thinking about the arc of the 60s and how the Beatles influenced it, I get all emotional, so I’m just going to stop right here.

TL;DR: Eight Days a Week is definitely worth a watch. There are some weird bits, but the great restored footage and cheeky interviews more than make up for it.

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Thanks guys, you’re the best.
beatles

Eight Days A Week: A Drinking Game

Sooooo, I’ve watched Eight Days A Week twice in the past 24 hours and have a lot to say about the film itself, but while I put that together, here’s a drinking game.

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One drink whenever:

  • A photo is subtly “enhanced” with moving cigarette smoke
  • Modern-day Ringo is seen wearing a peace sign
  • George waves awkwardly
  • The Beatles perform in a different country
  • Brian Epstein looks fabulous
  • Someone describes something as “mahhvelous,” “fab,” or “a laff”
  • There’s a cheesy reference to the Beatles’ haircuts
  • Georgestache
  • Paulbeard
  • A girl faints (it was going to be whenever a girl screams, or cries, but that is literally the entire film)

Two drinks:

  • For any B&W footage that is obviously/painfully colorized
  • Jimmie Nicol appears
  • Paul admits to being high during the filming of Help!

Chug:

  • George Martin is directly referred to as a god
  • John apologizes
  • “GOOD OL FREDA!”

Disclaimer: It’s possibly more fun to come up with these than to actually play them (see also: TOS 1TOS 2, and Pete Townshend’s autobiography). Really, all I’m trying to get you to do is watch the film.

beatles, vinyl

None of us is getting any younger

You can probably tell from my lack of ecstatic social media posts that I didn’t get tickets to Desert Trip. *le sigh.* I was on the website 15 minutes beforehand, waited in a “virtual line” for an hour, and finally got in only to find that all GA tickets were sold out and the few remaining reserved seats were being snatched up quicker than I could select them. I mean, it’s ok….it’s only all of my favorite people performing at a once-in-a-lifetime music festival within driving distance of where I live, no big deal. I’ll get over it……..

/pity party

Anyway! Yesterday I bought a first pressing of Beatles for Sale at Mixed Nuts (another cool funky place in the new ‘hood). It’s one of my very favorite albums, and one that seems to go unnoticed pretty often.

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First of all, how perfect is this album cover? I love the positioning of the album name, the muted autumnal colors, the slightly messy moptops and scarves/popped collars. So much subtle attitude going on.

Then there’s the liner notes, written by Beatles PR wiz Derek Taylor. An excerpt:

It isn’t all currency or current though. There’s a priceless history between these covers. None of us is getting any younger. When, in a generation or so, a radio-active, cigar-smoking child, picnicking on Saturn, asks you what the Beatle affair was all about – ‘Did you actually know them?’ – don’t try to explain all about the long hair and the screams! Just play the child a few tracks from this album and he’ll probably understand what it was all about. The kids of AD 2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of well-being and warmth as we do today.

For the magic of the Beatles is, I suspect, timeless and ageless. It has broken all frontiers and barriers. It has cut through differences of race, age and class. It is adored by the world.

A little intense about the next generation living on Saturn, but besides that, I find it amazing that even then, there was a sense that the Beatles’ music was more than a passing fad. I was one of those kids of “AD 2000” whose first introduction to the Beatles was A Hard Day’s Night, and no one had to tell me beforehand that I should appreciate this band or that their music was going to change my life, it just happened. So even though Derek Taylor’s words may seem bold, he was, in fact, spot on.

I also find it interesting that, after mentioning a few “studio gimmicks,” Taylor has to reassure the reader that all this music can be reproduced live.

Beyond this, it is straightforward 1964 disc-making. Quite the best of its kind in the world. There is little or nothing on the album which cannot be reproduced on stage, which is, as students and critics of pop-music know, not always the case.

How ironic that in literally one year, the Beatles would be creating music specifically designed to be irreproducible on stage. And once again, popular music would be redefined by a quartet of 24-year-olds.

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I have yet to own a Beatles record in mono, but listening to them in stereo is always interesting, especially because we have a finicky speaker that likes to cut out every once in a while, leaving an isolated vocal track or lone tambourine part sitting in the open, and suddenly you’ll hear something that you never noticed before (like the harmonies at the end of “Mr. Moonlight,” wow!). It also reveals a lot of the little imperfections (double-tracked voices and whatnot), which I love, because I’m a weirdo.

As I sit here trying to list out my favorite songs on Beatles for Sale, I realize I’ve ended up with half of the album. Typical. I’m a big fan of “No Reply” as the opening track…it’s already such a deviation from the straightforward pop from the Beatles’ first few albums. After listening to the first three songs, it’s pretty obvious that catchy tunes with moody, introspective lyrics is kind of this album’s whole deal. Two other favorites—”What You’re Doing” (that riff!) and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”—fit the theme nicely. So does “I’ll Follow the Sun” (the loveliest one-and-a-half minute song ever). Ugh I just love them all. There are a lot of covers too, probably because it was the third album the Beatles released in 1964 and how are you supposed to write that many songs on top of making a movie and touring the world??

Despite the emo lyrics, every time I listen to Beatles for Sale, my heart is so happy. I think it’s because it was one of the first albums I bought after falling in love with this band, so hearing it always brings me back to my childhood bedroom, staring at the posters on my wall while the CD spins on top of my dresser. I will never get tired of it.

A nice little video with some good studio footage:

beatles, george martin, r.i.p.

A few personal thoughts on George Martin

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Listen, I know Sir George was 90 years old and I know 2016 has already proved to be a year of crushing losses, but this still hit me right in the gut. I literally gasped when I saw the news on Tuesday night.

Ever since watching the Beatles Anthology as a teenager and listening to George Martin explain the studio techniques of my favorite band, I’ve held a deep respect for the man behind the Beatles’ sound. In everything I’ve seen/heard, he always seemed so professional, humble, and kind. Not only did he give the Beatles their first recording contract and produce nearly their entire catalog, he contributed some key piano solos (“In My Life,” “Lovely Rita”) and arranged the orchestral parts for some of their most brilliant songs (“Eleanor Rigby,” “All You Need is Love,” “Strawberry Fields Forever”). He was the perfect bridge between the classical music world and the Beatles’ revolutionary experimentalism.

I can remember the first time I heard “A Day in the Life”: I was 12 years old, sitting at my parents’ dinky old computer with headphones on, listening with the eagerness of a budding music nerd who’d just spent 45 minutes downloading a queue of Beatles songs on Kazaa*. I had no knowledge of music production and couldn’t have explained why, when I heard John’s echo of a voice dissolve into that insane 24-bar orchestral buildup, I very nearly lost my sh!t. At the end of the song, after that colossal last chord, I might’ve actually flung the headphones off and rolled backwards in my swively chair in shock (I know for sure that I immediately ran to my spiral notebook journal and scribbled in it furiously about how FREAKY it was and Is this what doing drugs feels like?). It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before.

That musical experience—a song on a pop album creating a profound physical reaction that I still remember 15 years later—that is George Martin’s legacy. He was the man responsible for channeling the Beatles’ increasingly ambitious musical visions, and he did it more effectively than any other producer ever could.

Thank you, sir. Because of you I’ll always listen to music with a keener ear.

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Recommended listening: 
The progression of “Strawberry Fields Forever” with commentary by GM. His brass and strings arrangement for this song (2:25-4:55) is killer.
George + Brian Wilson in the studio. Too much genius for one room! Cool breakdown of “God Only Knows.”
Love – the album. (Pretty sure this will be taken down soon…honestly, just do yourself a favor and buy it.) A collaboration between George Martin and his son, Giles. Originally conceived by George Harrison. Listening to this makes me fall in love with the Beatles all over again.
A Day in the Life.” Relive the madness.


*In case you had any doubt, I’ve abandoned my pirating days and have since purchased all of the Beatles albums on CD and record.

 

george harrison, vinyl

The Natch’l Blues

Interesting/relevant thing of the day: “natch” as a slang word has been around since at least the 40s (apparently if I read more comics I would know this). All this time I’ve been associating it with annoying modern abbreviations like “obvi” and “hilar”…I guess on some level that means there’s not much difference between awful internet slang and Harlem jive talk.

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Anyway, here’s a supremely cool record I bought this past week: Taj Mahal’s 1968 album The Natch’l Blues.

(Actually, I got it for my dad’s birthday, but in between the purchase and the gift-exchange, I happened to get really attached to it. Oops.)

In fact, this album is so cool I decided to revive my short-lived ‘Album of the Week’ tag, because I’ve definitely been listening to it nonstop since Sunday.

The album cover is what first caught my eye, Taj’s moonish mask of a face staring back at me from the records section at Green Apple Books. It looks like it was meant to be framed (unlike the CD version, which scraps the border in favor of a darker cover, probably because the original layout didn’t look as good in a 5×5 inch plastic case). In any case, it’s super intriguing. As soon as I saw it, I immediately snatched it up…although I don’t think many people come to Green Apple with the intention of scouring the bottom-row blues music stack. Even if my dad already had this one, I would totally buy it for myself based on the album art alone.

I came home and put it on the record player to make sure it played ok, and proceeded to melt into a puddle of sweet, sweet blues. If you only listen to one (ok, make that two) songs from this album, let them be “Corinna” and the closing number “Ain’t That a Lot of Love.” While definitely rooted in blues, I love that the songs are infused with a healthy dose of soul and 60s pop, too. A lot of Taj Mahal’s stuff crosses over into various other genres (see Kulanjan), and this album is proof that he was doing it from the start.

Anyway, after listening to the whole thing, I was secretly kind of hoping my dad already had the album so I could keep it. Turns out he didn’t (shucks), and actually he’d been looking for it for a long time! So now he has one of his faves, and I have another record to keep an eye out for.

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In other news, Happy George Day! Here’s a collection of photos from when George had a perm, because why not??

beatles, books, misc, personal, tv

How else I spent November

Hello darkness my old friend December. I’m back and happy to report that I finished NaNoWriMo for the second year in a row! And this time around, I wasn’t sick of my story by the end of the month, yay! So I’m actually going to keep working on it, which is a good feeling.

Besides novel-writing, I did do a couple of other things in November, which I’ve deemed appropriate enough for this blog:

Obsessing over Mad Men. Disclaimer: I’m very reluctant to commit to TV shows…In fact I’m pretty sure the only shows I’ve ever watched in their entirety are Arrested Development, Star Trek TOS, Seinfeld, and the Monkees. All these “Golden Age of Television” shows that people keep talking about? No interest. Even with multiple people telling me how much I’d love Mad Men, I still resisted, until a few months ago when I was bored and watched the first episode on a whim. And, as expected, I immediately became obsessed with the period details (the 60s are my spirit decade, after all) and the strange, fascinating, hot mess that is Don Draper.

The cast and writers of this show are great. I appreciate the fact that one episode can be simultaneously delightful and devastating (S04E07 and S05E12, I’m looking at you), and that I still can’t decide whether to love or hate Don. Yes, I understand the hype now. With about one and a half seasons left, I’ll probably be bingeing extra hard.

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Watching The Beatles 1+ Deluxe DVD/Blu-ray. The day this came out, I called every record+DVD store in SF asking if it was in stock (it wasn’t). I spent an entire weekend trying to find it, until finally the Barnes & Noble in San Bruno saved the day. I’m usually not a fan of compilation albums, but 1 has a special place in my heart, because it was the CD that introduced me to the Beatles’ music. (And to be fair, it’s actually a really worthwhile collection of Beatles hits, many of which don’t appear on any of their albums.) This new reissue of 1 is especially exciting to me because it includes videos for all of the songs (plus a bonus DVD!) in really freaking high def. For example,

Among the silliness of the Beatles trying to maneuver their horses through an alleyway and randomly flipping a table, I think the shots of John walking down the street are beautifully poignant. It seems like they were well aware that their music and image had changed pretty dramatically after they stopped touring, and this was their way of presenting the “new” Beatles to the world. This article captures it perfectly.

Bonus: the Beatles sitting on the ground eating sandwiches, which is the real kind of footage I’m interested in.

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Reading Season of the Witch. Oh wow, this is an incredible book about San Francisco. I originally checked it out from the library because I was interested in learning more about the city during the time that my parents lived there (it focuses on the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s). But it turned into a sort of holy bible for my NaNoWriMo story, which basically takes place within one block of San Francisco over the course of 100 years.seasonofthewitch

For being so gritty and dark (see: the Zebra murders, the Zodiac, the Peoples Temple, the SLA, Dan White), Season of the Witch was weirdly enlightening. I love learning the history of places, and in this case, learning about the people who helped shape San Francisco in the past half a century. Although the city has physically changed over the years and will continue to change, I think the heart and soul of San Francisco has stayed intact. It’s a place of ambition, eccentricity, and unrest. If there’s one thing I learned from reading this book, it’s that there will always be things worth fighting for in this city, and that’s what I love about living here.

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For December, I’m predicting: lots of Mad Men feels, rain, novel-revising, and a new hair-do??!