Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boston Red Sox: Champions Again in 2013!

I lived through the final 24 years of The Curse. I heard all the stories from before I was born. I cried when they lost the 1986 World Series. I still have the complete team set of baseball cards my mum bought me that year. I remember the playoff losses in 1988, 1990, 1995, and 1999. I remember all the bad seasons. I was unable to speak after the 2003 ALCS heartbreak.

And now in the last 10 years, I've seen them win 3 World Series. Unbelievable.

Well done, Red Sox!

(a more in-depth look at Boston sports will follow in the coming days/weeks, but this just happened last night and I'm still sky high excited about it!)

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 24

Done with Best-Of's and solidly into "B" albums with a nice cross section...

The Beta Band - The Beta Band
The Charlatans - Between 10th and 11th
The Rolling Stones - Between the Buttons
George Harrison - Beware of ABCKO!
Spock's Beard - Beware of Darkness

The Beta Band's self-titled album is probably my least favorite of theirs; it's too chaotic for me, even though it has a few excellent cuts on it. The Charlatans' second album is probably the most overlooked in their entire discography, which is a shame since it's nearly flawless from beginning to end and has sounds on it they'd never explore again. The Stones' album is transitional and around the time when they lost their way a bit before finally breaking through with Beggar's Banquet a year later. It's got two bonafide hits (Let's Spend the Night Together and Ruby Tuesday), a few well-known album cuts (Complicated and Connection) and a bunch of obscure tracks that are no less enjoyable. The Harrison bootleg is exquisite: a collection of his live-in-studio demos for his debut solo album. Just George on guitar (either acoustic or electric) playing and singing songs that were written in the Beatles days (1966-1970) but held back until 1970. Many are in earlier form that what would eventually be released, many wouldn't be released for many more years, and some were never heard again. Essential listening for any Beatles/George fan. Finally, speaking of George, Spock's Beard's excellent second album is titled after a Harrison song and their cover version of the title track is simply fantastic. The entire album is flawless in my opinion and is a perfect example of their blend of 60s pop/rock and 70s prog.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A (Personal) Great Customer Service Story:

This one's a little different from my usual posts, but bear with me...

Briefly, I'd wanted a pair of John Lennon-style glasses for years, and last year I decided to purchase a pair. There were several websites that sold official Lennon-brand glasses, and after doing some price comparisons and Internet sleuthing to find which site had the best customer ratings, I decided to order mine from The price was right, and I could easily customize the lenses how I wanted them (a *very* weak prescription for reading, transitions lenses, stronger material). They shipped within a week and arrived at my house two days later. From the moment I first put them on, they were the most comfortable glasses I'd ever worn and I LOVED the way they looked. Then I noticed that they'd only sent me a generic (but nice) case for them. This is where the first of my two excellent experiences with their customer service comes in...

Me and the Lennon glasses
Maybe it seems silly to you, but I had seen online on and other websites that these glasses were supposed to come with an official Lennon-branded case to go along with them, and as a huge Beatles and Lennon fan, I really wanted the case. As you can see below, it's nothing spectacular but I just really wanted it. I emailed the customer service at asking if they had any extras and if I could purchase one. Instead, I got a reply saying they'd be happy to send one to me for free! It showed up in the mail a few days later. So that's one point for their customer service.

They earned the second point these past two weeks. I was about to take my glasses off at the end of the day and as I did, the right lens fell out and right into my hand! I noticed that the set screw holding the frame together at the temple, which keeps the lens in, had popped out. It's a tiny screw so I had no chance of finding it and had no idea when or where it may have fallen out. I happened to have a spare screw which I used to tighten the frame, although it was twice the necessary length, so the end of the screw stuck up and out at my temple and I didn't like the way it felt. I searched online and in stores and could not find screws the right size, length, or color to fix my glasses. Needless to say I was a bit upset. I contacted the customer support at again, asking if they had any spare screws and could I buy one? I received a prompt reply saying they'd send me a few pairs free of charge, and three days later they came in the mail and I was able to fix my glasses! Not only that, they ended up sending me eight screws so I'll have plenty in reserve.

I know it seems trifling that I actually wrote a post about this entire experience, but in a day and age where everything is done online or over the phone and customer service, if you even have a chance to interact with a real live person, is usually nonexistent, these experiences struck me as really great and I'd like to help spread the word about them. Businesses that take care of their customers deserve to be praised and have their business grow, and this is just my personal, little way to help out after they helped me out. So well done,! You'll be the only place I'll buy my glasses from now on and I highly recommend that any of you readers do the same for all of your glasses needs.

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 23

Now I'm getting into all of the "Best" albums on my iPod...

Frank Zappa - The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life
Blur - The Best Of
The Beta Band - The Best Of
The Guess Who - Best of the Guess Who

The Zappa live album is a double album from his final tour in 1988 and features what was probably his most technically proficient band line-up, which is saying something. There are some great cuts and a lot of funny jokes that run throughout the album. Blur's first greatest hits compilation is made up mostly of their singles with a few album tracks sprinkled in and is a great cross-section of their career up to that point in 2000 when it was released. The Beta Band set is a double album; the first disc is a collection of their studio tracks while the second is from a farewell concert in London. Both are great and, like the band themselves, sorely missed. Last for today, the Guess Who's greatest hits set has some classic rock staples, including American Woman, No Sugar Tonight, and Undun.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Add Another To the Pile

Add another one to my pile of books to read and review. This one above, "The Beatles in 100 Objects," has been sent to me by the publisher and looks to be a fascinating work detailing their career through interesting artifacts and memorabilia. More details to follow once I have it in hand!

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 22

Soundtracking my weekend, and wow, have I really been at this for 22 days already?

The Rolling Stones - Beggar's Banquet
Radiohead - The Bends
Jethro Tull - Benefit
Sugar - Besides

First up is one of the best Stones albums of all time and the beginning of their imperial run of albums that ended with 1973's "Goat's Head Soup."  Radiohead's second album is a sweeping, nearly flawless album that was what got me into them in the mid-1990s. Hearing how great they were on this (and their next couple) makes how they've all but disappeared up their own rear ends the past decade all the more sad. Tull's third album is a fine record containing some staples of classic rock radio, such as the songs Teacher and To Cry You a Song, as well as several other deep album cuts that are excellent. Finally, Sugar's B-sides compilation consists of two discs: the first has the B-sides, and the second is a live concert. Most of the B-sides are enjoyable slices of early 1990s power-pop, while the live gig is nice if inconsequential.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New Book On My Review List

An interesting twist on Beatles books has come out, that being one that focuses on their solo careers. I have a copy of the excellent solo Beatles discography "Eight Arms to Hold You," but this set looks to compile information as well as photos and memorabilia in 4 smaller books, one dedicated to each Beatle. I will be reading and reviewing this shortly, so if you're interested, stay tuned to this site for the upcoming review.

For you music fans out there, does a book like this interest you?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 21

Today's albums:

The Beatles - Beatles For Sale
Eels - Beautiful Freak
Morrissey - Beethoven Was Deaf
Blur - Beetlebum
The Black Crowes - Before the Frost...

The Beatles' fourth album came at the end of a punishing, exhausting year. The fact that they were able to record two albums of nearly all original material (of the 27 album tracks, 21 of them were originals), multiple non-album singles, their first movie, their first visits to America, world tours, etc is stunning. While it's not their best album, it's still damn good and has some of the most mature writing and performances of their early period. Eels' first album is a classic of the mid-to-late 1990s alternative genre and a hint of what was to come. The live Morrissey album is really good, if not inessential in his discography. Blur's first single from their self-titled album is one of my all-time favorite songs, and has some decent B-sides, including the great All Your Life. Finally, the Crowes' album is part one of their double-album that was recorded live in the studio in front of a small audience. It's the more rock oriented, electric half (the second half being more folky/acoustic) and show the band in their typically great form, sounding both like a throwback to the late 1960s but at the same time wholly original and modern.

BOOK REVIEW: The Beatles: BBC Archives


Amidst a flurry of Beatles and Beatles-related activity this autumn, Kevin Howlett's new book, "The Beatles: BBC Archives" is due to be released at the end of this month.

***Before I begin my review, I'd like to thank Heather Drucker and Harper Collins Publishing for sending me an advance copy of the book to review***

Kevin Howlett is the world's foremost authority on the Beatles' appearances on the BBC, both on radio and TV. Think of him as the Mark Lewisohn of their BBC appearances. He's spent over 30 years researching and writing about them, as well as presenting a radio show several years ago spotlighting their BBC radio appearances. In this new book, he ties together all of their radio and TV appearances on the Beeb in a beautifully presented volume.

The book is laid out with a chapter dedicated to each year of the Beatles' career, starting in 1962 and ending in 1970. Each chapter begins with a two-page introduction detailing what was going on in the UK, US, and the rest of the world that year, and touches on everything from music, TV, and film to politics, current events, and that year's fads. It really paints a nice picture setting the reader up for the particular "mood" of that year and as a whole, once you're finished with the book, really hammers home how much change there was over the course of the decade overall, and the breakneck speed at which it occurred. Personally, I'm someone that has always been interested in history, and as a child of parents who grew up during the 1960s, have taken an interest in the decade beyond just the music (although that certainly is the bulk, by far, of my interest in that decade).  As an individual, I've never bought into the myth of the 60s that's been peddled by society since January 1, 1970, and neither have my parents. They've been honest with me about what it was like growing up then and about what really happened, and I've always tried to seek out the truth when learning about those years. That being said, it's undeniable that some truly magical things did happen back then, and at the forefront was the great music created by all of those legendary bands and musicians, none more so than The Beatles. What this book does is transport you back to those times, and these chapter introductions do a great job setting the stage as each year progresses to the next.

Page 22: 1963: Pop Go the Beatles (c) Getty Images
After the introductions, the chapters begin at the start of each year by giving snapshot histories of the Beatles during the year of interest and how and why they appeared on the BBC radio and TV programs over the course of the year. This is done chronologically such that the appearances that finish a year lead seamlessly into the following year. Throughout, Howlett intersperses the narrative with transcripts of interviews that the band (either collectively, or separately) gave during specific programs of interest. Naturally, the early years (1962-1965) are taken up almost exclusively with their legendary radio appearances. As such, these years, while fascinating, did not teach me much of anything new since I've not only owned and listened to the "Live at the BBC" album incessantly since its release in 1993, but for the last several years I've owned the 10-CD bootleg set comprising all of their BBC sessions. Thus, I was already more than well acquainted with the various songs and between-song banter from all of these shows. That doesn't mean that it wasn't enjoyable for me to read and that it won't be enjoyable for anyone reading who is less familiar with their BBC sessions, it's just a personal thought.

Page 55: Picture of the Band (c) Press Association

That being said, where I really started to learn a lot that I hadn't known before was when I reached 1966 and beyond. Since their appearances performing on the radio and TV all but ended in 1965, the remaining years in the decade were all interviews or special programs focusing on their music, both on BBC radio and TV. The transcripts from many of these interviews were fascinating, with most of them new to me (and not to be arrogant in any way, but as someone who has been an obsessive fan of the band for basically my entire life, I was *very* impressed that there was a lot of new information for me to discover in the latter half of this book).  For instance, (***SPOILER ALERT***) there were definitive declarations from John and Paul in late 1966/early 1967 that there would be no more live performances, period. Also, something I never knew was that they had planned to play three successive nights at the London Roundhouse in December 1968, and this was even confirmed in a letter by Neil Aspinall. I can only imagine how amazing that would've been to hear them playing tracks from the just-completed White Album (my favorite album!) live onstage in 1968 with superior amplification (***END SPOILER ALERT***). There were many more revelations throughout these later years, but I will leave those to be surprises. Most revealing were the interviews with John, George, and Ringo from late 1969 into 1970, where they all seemed very positive about the Beatles carrying on after the initial solo projects were released. Since it's been well known that Paul was the one who desperately wanted to keep the band together during that period (before he finally threw in the towel in mid-1970), it's surprising to read how positive the other three seemed, especially John and George, the two who seemed to like being Beatles least by that point.

One other point I want to stress that Howlett does a good job with is his presentation of the contemporary attitudes to the Beatles, especially their music. For instance, Abbey Road is almost universally hailed as one of their finest albums, and rightfully so. But at the time of its release, opinion was more divided, with many fans and critics considering it mediocre. Howlett makes a point of pointing this out when presenting transcripts of the Beatles discussing the album and defending it from critical attacks. By doing this, it puts the interviews and their content in proper historical context and again places the reader directly in that time period very effectively.

Page 58: Ticket Stub (c)

Beyond the written content, the numerous documents, photographs, video stills, and scraps of memorabilia interspersed throughout the book really bring the entire experience of the BBC appearances to life. It's fascinating to read internal memos and letters amongst BBC staff and their attitudes about the Beatles, both good and bad. It's also really interesting to read letters and telegrams communicating between the BBC and Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall, and others regarding arrangements to get the Beatles onto BBC programming, especially post-1965 when this dried up (as far as performances go). As for the photographs, many I had seen numerous times over the years, but many were completely new to me and a real pleasure to see for the first time. Unfortunately, since the book has not been released yet, I've been asked not to post any so as to not violate any copyrights, but as soon as the book is released, I hope to be able to post some.

At the end of the book, there is a nice section detailing all of the contemporary records that influenced the Beatles, from Elvis and Chuck Berry, to Carl Perkins, various Motown singers, and more. Finally, a section on the technological limitations of recording live for the BBC (which was very informative) and a chronology of every Beatles song performed on BBC radio and TV close out the book.

This is a reference book of the highest order; think of it as the equivalent to Mark Lewisohn's "Complete Beatles Recording Sessions" book, but as applied to the BBC. Perhaps it's a bit more niche in that it's essential for the more hardcore fan and not for the serious but not "too serious" Beatles fan, but since I fall into the former category, and since I've long been a fan of their BBC radio sessions, this is a fine and essential book to add to my Beatles library.

MY RATING: 10/10

***UPDATE 10/24/13***

The above images, from the book, were supplied by Heather at Harper Collins, to whom I am very grateful. I've also included some pictures of my copy below, mainly the packaging and inserts. It's a beautiful presentation and one that any Beatles fan should be proud to add to their collection, both as a showpiece and for its contents.

The Outer Box (front)

The Rear Insert (held on by shrinkwrap)
The Book Inside the Box
The Bonus Folder of Replica Documents
Inside the Folder: Replica Correspondence, Internal BBC Documents, etc.

Why I Still Love Record Stores

Here's a little something different...instead of writing about music, I'm going to write about where I like to peruse and PURCHASE my music, as well as highlight a local business that I think is worthy of support. You see, for you kids under 30, in the days before the Internet and Amazon and big box stores, there used to be these places called *record stores* where one would go to browse, listen, and buy music, whether on vinyl, cassette, or CD. If they didn't have it, you went to another store, or asked them to order it for you and waited for the phone call letting you know when you could come and pick it up. Growing up, I loved going to record stores with my parents and just listening to the tunes playing over the speakers (some of which were familiar to me from the radio or whatever my parents would play at home), looking at all of the posters, browsing through the bands I'd heard of and looking at the different album covers, and the generally comfortable and welcoming feel of (most) of them. Once I was old enough to have my own tastes (and money) to start building my own collection, around the age of 12 or 13, I started to frequent the local shop, In Your Ear Music (long since out of business), in Plymouth, that was downtown where I grew up. There were also several others I used to go to on a regular basis, especially once I could drive, including Pitchfork Music in Concord (still there), and The Lost Chord (long gone) in Dover (where I've been for many years).  I started college at UNH in Durham in 1997 and a year later, heard a record store in Portsmouth mentioned, called Bull Moose Music. I decided to check it out one time and thought it was great. It was similar in ethos to the shops I liked to visit, but didn't have as much of a "hipster" (before that term was ever conceived, let alone coined) or burnt-out hippie vibe that some of the other shops I'd been to over my (then) short number of years buying and collecting music.

Upfront, let me know state that I in no way intend this to be an advertisement for Bull Moose, and while I do interact with them regularly on social media, the impetus for this is solely mine.

That being said, what I love about visiting this store, from that first visit in ~1998, (where I can even remember that amongst the stack of CDs I bought that day was a used copy of Blur's "Modern Life is Rubbish." I think I paid $3 for it, and I still have it!) is that

#1) it's big, but not too big. They have enough space for the numerous racks of CDs, vinyl, movies, video games, books, memorabilia, etc, but it still feels slightly cramped (in a good way) and cozy, the way a record store should;

#2) the selection is great. In a day and age when a visit to the local big box store yields one or (if you're lucky), two small racks that only have 1 or 2 albums from either the hot artists of the day or legends, I can go into Bull Moose and pretty much find whatever I am looking for. While my taste in music tends to focus mainly on "rock" (and that's such a loose concept, especially in 2013), within that confine, I'm all over the place, from classic bands like The Beatles, Who, Stones, etc to bands I grew up with in the 80s and 90s (R.E.M., Blur, Smashing Pumpkins, etc), from prog like Genesis, Rush, Dream Theater, and Spock's Beard to obscure (in America) British bands like Suede, Pulp, Mansun, and The Bluetones. With rare exception, I've been able to find pretty much whatever I'm looking for when I make a visit to the store, and if it's not there, I know I can ask them to order it for me;

#3) the prices are great. While you might pay $15-20 for a *SINGLE* CD at a big box store or one of those mall-only record retailers (think: FYE), Bull Moose is usually much less, and in some cases shockingly so, and I say this in a very good way! For instance, I bought the new Paul McCartney album on release day last week, and paid $11 for the deluxe version, and got a nifty free light cube with it. Other single or double albums, brand new, I've routinely paid anywhere from $9 (single) to $15 (double) for, which is great because saving money on a few CDs here and there adds up to being able to buy another one;

#4) the used CD selection is where you can really find some hidden treasures. I've bought LOADS of used CDs here (and elsewhere), which is great because they still play fine, almost always have all of the liner notes/artwork/inserts, and you can save quit a bit of money which can then be used to go toward additional CDs. Bull Moose used to have the used CDs separate from the new CD racks, but several years back they began just putting all of an artists' albums into the same section, used and new. This makes the browsing much easier because often I'll find a CD I want to buy, and right behind it in the bin, a used copy that's half the price (or less). Even cooler, if you take a new CD to the counter to pay, and a used copy is available, they'll see it on the computer and let you know in case you want to swap it out and save some money;

#5) they have a really nice loyalty program. You get a "Freakin' Buyer's Card" (see my beat-up, God-knows-how-old card below) that they scan every time you make a purchase. 

You accumulate points based on how many dollars you spend, and eventually you earn enough so that you can get CDs for half-price. Once your points are used up, you start accumulating them again. It's also used for...

#6) trading stuff in. Over the years, I've amassed a bunch of CDs that, years later, either fall into the "Impulse Buy," "I Don't Like This Anymore," or "What the Hell Was I Thinking?" categories, sometimes all three! Additionally, with the advent of digital music storage and streaming, I simply don't have the room to keep every CD (which used to number over 1000+). If it's something I really like, but can live without owning, I'll listen to it on Spotify and keep it loaded on my iPod, but get rid of the CD. I've written about this previously, HERE. I still keep (and keep purchasing) all the CDs from my essential, must-have bands, however. What's nice is that I can prune my collection and trade things in at Bull Moose for store credit, which I can then use toward purchasing stuff I *need* to have in my collection. Plus, someone else may want to buy it. Given all of the used stuff I've bought over the years, it's a nice cycle for everyone;

#7) they support local artists, playing their music over the speakers, having in-store performances/promotions, and also selling their albums. The NH seacoast has a vibrant music scene and any businesses that support it are tops in my book. Which leads me (sort of) into...

#8) they sell my books! Well, ok, it's a  bit of a shameless self-promotion, sure, but the fact of the matter is, not only do they support local musicians (of which I am one, albeit my production of new music has been sadly nonexistent lately), but local authors, too, of which I also am one. A few years ago on their Facebook page, they had mentioned Blur's upcoming Record Store Day release as being available soon. (As an aside, I purchased that very release there). I mentioned I'd written a book about Blur in the comments, and promptly got an email from someone at Bull Moose who was interested in stocking my book at their stores. A few years later and another book under my belt and you can still buy them from Bull Moose! I don't know how many they've ended up selling, but it's great how supportive they've been of me and I'm truly humbled and thankful that they did this for me.

#9) last but certainly not least, the customer service and staff, as well as the general atmosphere when I walk in. It's just a fun place to go hang out, listen to whatever is playing over the speakers, browse, pick up whatever music I need, and find some hidden gems along the way. The people behind the counter are always helpful and will often chat with you for a bit when you're buying something they're also into...this happened when I bought the remastered "Wings Over America" and "McCartney II" back in May and ended up chatting about how great those albums are with the fellow behind the counter. Little interactions like that add to the fun and welcoming atmosphere and are one of the many reasons I've kept on going back for so many years.

Really, everything I've described above is what I've loved about record stores in general over the course of my life. While I'm using Bull Moose Music as a worthy example in order to write this ode to the rare indie record shop that is in increasingly short supply here in the USA, some or all of these points have been exhibited by the numerous places I've visited over the years, all over the country as well in some other countries I've been to multiple times (notably, Canada and England). Yes, Amazon is convenient and (usually) cheap, and it's easy to order stuff and have it delivered to your door days later. But for me, with something like music, the act and experience of going to the shop, browsing, listening, discussing, and discovering is as magical as the actual music itself. I find myself wondering quite often if my own children, who already show big interest in music (including a lot of the same stuff I listen to) will ever even have the chance or desire to experience this. I bring them with me when I can, and I intend to do that more often now that they're older. Nothing compares to a great record store, so when there's still one around you that's worth the time and effort of visiting regularly, you've got to take advantage of it...I know I do!

(the store I go to is in Portsmouth, but they have another NH store in Salem, as well as several in Maine. I've also been to the Scarborough and Portland stores. If there's one near you, check it out!)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 20

Through with the BBC sessions (at least the ones titled "BBC Sessions!") and onto more "B" albums:

Oasis - Be Here Now
Sugar - Beaster
The Beatles - The Beatles (White Album)

Oasis' third album was their follow-up to the massive "What's the Story (Morning Glory)" from 1995, and while it's not as bad as history has deemed it, it's certainly not great. In a classic case of the massive hype (at the time of its release in 1997) overshadowing the actual contents, it's a bloated, self-important, overindulgent record bereft of quality tunes (with few exceptions), quality lyrics (a knock on pretty much all Oasis albums), and far too much cocaine and too little quality control. Noel Gallagher himself acknowledges this now. That being said, in certain instances, I do enjoy it, and it's a fascinating listen in any event. Sugar's "Beaster" EP is excellent and in many ways better than their debut album (which is a classic). Following that, The Beatles' self-titled album is one of the most legendary albums of all time and is, personally, my favorite album of theirs and one of my favorite albums by anyone, ever. It's a dazzling assortment of music in just about every genre you could name at that time (1968) and has enough hidden curios and mysteries hidden in every nook and cranny that, even 25 years after hearing it for the first time, I still find new things buried in the songs (especially when I listen on headphones). I've got both the mono and stereo mixes of the album, but prefer the mono mix by far (this goes for every Beatles album where a dedicated mono mix is available).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 19

Even more BBC sessions today!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - BBC Sessions
Rory Gallagher - BBC Sessions
The Kinks - BBC Sessions

Hendrix' sessions are no less incendiary than his studio albums or live shows of the period, and sometimes more so given the confines of the studio. There's a nice selection of material, too, from his singles and album cuts to covers of blues and surf (!) music. The Rory sessions are the same, absolutely killer. The first half is made up of a live-for-radio performance and includes my favorite version of Calling Card, which has some of the best soloing and guitar tone I've ever heard. The second disc is made up of studio sessions which are still great. The Kinks' sessions are a collection covering 1964-1977 and are excellent, not least of which because they not only play their hit singles but also some great and obscure album cuts, especially from post-1970.

Books On Deck

Here are the new book releases that are up next on my to-read-and-review pile:

While I'm not a fan of Morrissey the man by any stretch, I am a huge fan of his music, mainly from his time in The Smiths in the 1980s but also his solo work. He's a very...interesting individual and I know quite a bit of his story from Johnny Rogan's excellent Smiths biography "Severed Alliance," which I bought in the late 1990s. I'm very curious to read his life story in his own words. Penguin Books has sent this to me and I'm eagerly awaiting it so I can begin it.

This is a brand new biography of George Harrison that looks to be really well done. George is certainly the least understood and most mysterious of all of the Beatles, and I have conflicted feelings about him. Overall, I love the guy for his music and who he was as a person, but there were many aspects of his personality and attitudes that I never cared for. He's truly the most complex of all of the Beatles, even more so (or at least as much as) John Lennon. Omnibus Press, who are great and previously sent me a copy of a new Blur biography to review, have sent this to me and I'm very excited to read and review this one. Even though I own and have read George's memoir, it doesn't get too in depth, and this book looks as though it will dig deep into the man and his life, which interests me to no end.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 18

Thanks to alphabetical order, today is dominated by BBC sessions:

Cream - BBC Sessions
Led Zeppelin - BBC Sessions
The Who - BBC Sessions
The Yardbirds - BBC Sessions

Cream's sessions are really nice, although for a band that thrived on the live stage and on volume and extended improvisation, you'd think these radio spots would be tame. To the contrary, it forces them to tighten them up a bit and they almost veer into power-pop territory. Either way, they're a blast to listen to. Led Zeppelin, same thing, they sound poppier than they ever would before or after. Plus, we get some never-recorded-for-album cuts including covers of Something Else, The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair, and the blistering Traveling Riverside Blues. The Who, yet again, would seem to be too explosive to be contained in a radio studio live setting, but they come off great. Since they were for all intents and purposes the inventors of power-pop in the mid-1960s, this makes sense, but even the later sessions from '68-'72 sound like the energy is barely contained in the shorter radio format. Finally, wrapping up the BBC sessions, the Yardbirds' collection covers all three era, from Clapton to Beck to Page, and has some great cuts. Interesting that two of those three (Clapton, Page) were also represented in today's listening in their subsequent bands, the ones which made their legends (Clapton in Cream, Page in Led Zeppelin).

BOOK REVIEW: Man On the Run - Paul McCartney in the 1970s

Being a massive fan of not only The Beatles, but also Paul's work with Wings in the 1970s, I was very excited when I'd heard about this book a year ago.  Thankfully, I've read the book and present here my full review for your information.

***I'd like to thank Sally at Polygon/Birlinn for sending me a copy of the book to review!***

The Wings-era has always been underrepresented and almost dismissed when any discussion of Paul's career is at hand, and I know that personally, as a fan, I'd always found this very frustrating, especially given the quality and quantity of material Wings produced. They were one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, although they've been almost forgotten beyond the realm of actual fans of the band. In this book, author Tom Doyle, who had interviewed Paul extensively over many years in the 2000s, focuses on the period beginning in the midst of The Beatles' disintegration in late 1969 up to the release of the quasi-Wings/solo-Paul #1 album, Tug of War, in 1982, and everything in between. His general thesis for the book is that Paul was, literally, a man on the run in 1970s, from his past as a Beatle and his name and reputation, as well as from the law and the press (which I will delve into more later on in this review). The layout of the book is straightforward, with an introduction and an epilogue focused on more recent interviews between the two, while the individual chapters flow in chronological order from September 1969 up to the release of Tug of War in 1982.  What I like, however, is that leading into each chapter is a question from Doyle and an answer from Paul that frame the forthcoming chapter. Think of is as Paul setting up, from the present, what you're about to view through the window into the past. A simple device that the author used, but one that I really liked.

I don't intend to go through the entire narrative in detail, since that would defeat the purpose of reading the book to anyone who hasn't done so yet. However, the overall arc of the book covers Paul's nervous breakdown and deep depression in the midst of the Beatles' breakup in the autumn and winter of 1969 when he and Linda retreated with their daughters to their Scottish farm. After wrapping up Beatle business (mainly recording and overdub sessions) in early 1970, Paul recorded and released his debut solo album, McCartney, and finished the year by suing his three best friends and former bandmates. The remainder of the dissolution of Apple Corps. and the Beatles' partnership is covered in greater (and excellent) detail in Peter Doggett's "You Never Give Me Your Money," which will be the subject of a later review of mine. In any event, Doyle does touch on the surface of this as it pertains to Paul's career in the 1970s, mainly in the background. He then takes us through the recording of Paul's second solo album, Ram (one of my all-time favorite albums by anyone, ever, as a disclaimer), which gave Paul the germination of an idea to form a new band and build it from the ground up. What follows are chapters on the formation of the original Wings line-up, their early growing pains, trials, and tribulations, from their initial rehearsals and lack of material, to the release of their first two albums (Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, respectively) and their first two tours; the first tour had the band showing up unannounced at small universities to play impromptu gigs until they could no longer outrun the UK press, and the second tour saw them playing more polished shows in Europe, traveling in an open-topped double-decker bus, earning a large fanbase while outrunning the European authorities for everything from marijuana possession to unpaid hotel tabs! Eventually, immediately following their first proper UK tour, the band splinters on the eve of recording their breakthrough album (and one of the finest albums of the 1970s, and all time), Band On the Run.

This perseverance in the face of ridiculous adversity is a recurring theme throughout the book, with Paul and Linda (and the ever-loyal Denny Laine) having to overcome their drummer and guitarist quitting right before Band On the Run, to the numerous problems they had keep a stable line-up together from here on out. Bringing Jimmy McCulloch and Geoff Britton in didn't last very long before those two fought so much that Britton was sacked. Joe English then joined on drums to form the "classic" Wings line-up, the one that would record two further #1 albums (Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound) and break records on the mammoth Wings Over the World tours of 1975-1976. However, just when Paul was at his post-Beatles peak and had a sense of vindication, it all came crashing down again: Jimmy proved to be too combustible a personality and was sacked, Joe English quit, and Linda became pregnant again, grinding all momentum to a halt. Two more albums and a final line-up followed, leading into one of the most famous/infamous incidents in Paul's career.

The 1980 Japanese tour followed a lacklustre 1979 UK tour and was to serve as the warm-up for a 1980 return tour to America. However, upon landing in Japan, half a pound of marijuana was found in Paul's luggage. The rest of the story is very well known to everyone: he was jailed, the tour canceled, and he was eventually deported. There has been debate, none more so than from Paul himself, as to how and why it happened. The consensus he has come to is that he subconsciously sabotaged the tour in order to precipitate the end of the band as he was tiring of trying to hold yet another line-up together. In any event, he bookended the decade with a second self-performed album, McCartney II, and began work with George Martin (former Beatles producer, for those who don't know) on what was half-heartedly mooted to be the next Wings album, Tug of War, before Paul disbanded Wings and made it his next solo album.

Throughout the book, in various asides, Doyle also touches on the evolving post-Beatles relationship between Paul and John Lennon, from bitter feuding and anger in the early 1970s, to a softening of feelings and a happy reconciliation in 1974. For the most part, their relationship was better as the decade went along, leading, however, tragically to John's still-senseless murder in 1980. Even having lived through (OK, I was 10 months old when it happened) and read about it countless times, it still managed to bring a tear to my eye reading Paul and Linda's firsthand accounts of hearing the news and how they felt at that moment. While obviously not the main thrust of the book, the Lennon/McCartney friendship was still a very important part of Paul's post-Beatles life during the decade and it did have an impact on his music, so I was pleased that Doyle included these bits. It's especially bittersweet given the fact that John was *this close* to collaborating with Paul during the Venus and Mars sessions in 1975 before, shall we say...conspired to prevent this, and robbed the world of what could have been even more glorious and joyous music.

While most of this book contained information that was already well-known, at least to me, it is still very nice to have it all laid out in order as a chronicle of the decade in Paul's life and music. There were some bits of information that were new even to me, such as former Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell auditioning to be the drummer for Wings in 1974. However, there were also some inaccuracies, such as the apocryphal (and since disproved) story that, after a disagreeable court verdict during the court cases in the early 1970s, John, George, and Ringo threw a brick through Paul's window. Also, the statement that 1976 was the last time John and Paul saw each other, as well as John's 40th birthday in October 1980 being the last time they spoke on the phone...I don't believe either of these are true. There are several interviews with Paul and members of his family stating that they'd visited the Lennons in the late 1970s, with James McCartney (Paul and Linda's son) even stating he has a photo of John holding him as a 2-year old at the Dakota, which would have to be in 1979 (he was born in 1977). Also, Paul has said in numerous other interviews that he last spoke to John not more than 2 or 3 weeks before his death, in November 1980.  Perhaps memories have been fogged by the passage of time, but it seems a little more research on the part of the author in these areas may have been order. Maybe it's just the nitpicking of an overanalytical fan on my part, but still, at least presenting the claims I stated as a counterpoint to the conventional wisdom would have been in the best interest of the narrative.  Another minor nitpick is how the departure of Joe English from the band was handled in all of a few sentences, with no mention of his being in a religious cult the last couple of decades made. Again, this is information that is available and I wish the author had delved into a bit more detail on things like this, but to the casual reader, it won't matter as much.

What struck me throughout, through both new tidbits of information, as well as how Doyle presented it, is just how bohemian and countercultural Paul and Linda's existence was in the 1970s. His vast fortune from the Beatles tied up in receivership, they lived off of Linda's photography money and were often at a loss for funds in paying expenses until Wings because more successful in the middle of the decade. They lived a very free-spirited life, bringing their kids everywhere, including on tour, with them, smoking a LOT of pot (and getting busted for it), and living in relative squalor and grime (mainly on their Scottish farm). Even when the money came back, they lived very simply, in 2- or 3-bedroom houses with their four children, either on their farm or in their London or Sussex houses. While Paul has the image these days as a comfortable, rich, expertly put-together elder statesman of music, and John is seen as the hippie/counterculture Beatles, in fact during the 1970s it was quite the opposite, and Doyle documents numerous instances of John's private jealousy not only at Paul's success and wealth, but he ability to be rebellious and go against the grain without bringing the disdain from the establishment upon himself that John did throughout the 1970s. However, by the end of the book, Paul reflected back on those years with a contented decision to tone down and eliminate the marijuana smoking as well as clean up (in a literal sense) his home life. As a 40 year old father of four children by 1982, this of course made perfect sense.

While Doyle doesn't necessarily come across as a massive Wings fan, it is clear that he likes Paul both as a person and as a musician, and he does a good job bucking the conventional wisdom laid down from the 1970s that Wings were a "joke" not to be taken seriously, showing how they were a very hardworking, respected, and successful band, not least of all thanks to Paul's tireless (and nearly obsessive) work ethic, which he maintains to the present day. The writing style is engaging and enjoyable, and the book is fun to read and flew by quickly. Perhaps it's a bit too breezy and could have dug down below the surface a bit more; I found the more recent interview bits with Paul quite interesting and wanted to learn more than what was offered. However, that again could be more of my own complaining as a more rabid fan. For the casual or devoted, but not obsessive, fan, this book will be more than enough.

Overall, this is a very, very good book that is informative and important in documenting this inexplicably forgotten era of Paul McCartney's career, and is another book I'm more than happy to add to the bookshelf housing my collection of Beatles books.

MY RATING: 8.5/10

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 17

Continuing on in the B's with a couple of radio shows...

Wings - Band On the Run
Blur - Bang
Led Zeppelin - BBC Playhouse Theatre, London 6/27/69
The Bluetones - BBC Radio Sessions

Wings' album should need no introduction, being one of the best albums of the 70s as well as one of the best of all time, and McCartney's crowning achievement in the 70s (and perhaps, arguably, his entire solo career). Blur's third single, Bang, is an enjoyable, if lightweight song, but the numerous b-sides (making their singles really more like EPs) are fantastic, especially Explain and Luminous. Led Zeppelin's live radio mini-concert from 1969 is absolutely blistering, and in pristine sound. They play like men possessed and it's shocking this has never been officially released, as it is literally a flawless performance. Finally, a compilation of the Bluetones' BBC sessions, which are really fun to listen to and lend a lot of the songs a more raw, guitar-heavy sound.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Limits vs. Limitations

While I was out for my regular run a week or so ago, I was struggling. Usually, running is joyous and I really look forward to it every day. However, on this particular day I was just not feeling it: my legs felt heavy and tired, my endurance had left me for whatever reason, and mentally I was not into it at all. As I pushed through to finish my run, a fellow runner passed me going the other way, and we exchanged nods and a "hello," which is something that happens regularly on my runs. However, when this fellow passed me, I started to get a little jealous. He was probably just a little shorter than me, but really thin and seemed to glide effortlessly at a much faster pace than I run at. As I finished my run, I kept thinking "I wish I could run that easily!" This is something I routinely say to myself when I run or drive past someone who has a classic "runner's body" and seems to move with an ease that's enough to cause me to have slight pangs of envy.

You see, I'm a big guy and I'm not built like a runner. At all. I'm 6'5" and until October 2011, I was a whopping 360 lbs. I've detailed my history previously (ie used to be in shape when I was younger, let myself go in my 20s, got in shape a few years ago) but since October 2011 I've been between 260-280 lbs and running was a MAJOR part of my journey to lose weight and get healthy. It's something I ended up enjoying so much that it's now a regular part of my life. I run every week (weather and work travel schedule permitting), usually 3 or 4 times per week, and anywhere from 4 to 9 miles per run, depending on how I'm feeling and how much time I have. In fact, it's such a part of my life that I get very upset and thrown off on the days when I can't run.

However, even though I'm in shape and slimmed down from where I used to be, I'm still a big guy: I've got broad shoulders, a wide build, and am built more like your classic NFL tight end or linebacker than any runner you've seen. Yes, I was on the cross-country team for three years when I was in high school, but I was not as tall or muscular then as I am now. Back then, and now, however, I have excellent endurance when it comes to running and I move very quickly for a guy my size.

One thing that I've come to terms with as I've gotten older is the fact that I will never have a "runner's body" and I will most likely never be able to run much faster than 8 minutes/mile, which was my top speed in high school (right now, my best is around 8:45/mi). It used to bother the hell out of me, even a couple of years ago when I dropped all that weight and began running more and more. Additionally, while I'm sure I could train to run a marathon, my guess is that I never will; my long term goal is to run a half-marathon, and I've maxed out around 9 miles, so I think this is achievable.

Thus, I've accepted my physical limitations. But are these also my limits?

I say no. I think there's a difference. To me, in the context of this post (ie physical exertion/exercise), limitations are concrete boundaries that cannot be overcome, such as height, gender, ethnicity, voice, eye color, a disability, etc. Using myself as an example, I am 6'5", broad shouldered, and neither of those will ever change. However, the way I view limits is that they are the boundaries we place on our achievements, such as weight, wealth (for the most part), education, and so on. For instance, I don't think one's weight, for example, is a can be changed (for better or worse) by improving or worsening ones habits and effort (diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, drugs, etc). Since I was in shape, then got fat, and then got in shape again, I buy into this wholeheartedly. Likewise, when it comes to the issue of running and performance (and again, this concept can be applied to more than just running; I'm just keeping it focused on this since that was the genesis of my idea), I may not be able to be shorter or lighter framed, but I can try my damndest to push myself to my limits, and beyond, to see how far my performance can go. When I began running again, I could barely run a mile, but I knew that wasn't my limit. Sure enough, as anyone who has run knows, the more you do it and the more effort you put into it, the better you get at it (like anything, really). Here I am pushing toward running a half marathon now, so I prove it to myself every time I lace up and hit the pavement.

Obviously, I apply this thinking to more than just running in my life: my music (writing, playing, and singing), writing (I hope you notice this as you read my writings on this very site!), my work (chemistry specifically and science in general), etc. It what keeps me motivated and pushing myself harder, although to be honest sometimes I am too hard on myself!

Perhaps this entire concept is a bit simplistic to you, and if you think I'm breaking it down too much, I'd welcome to discuss it further in the comments section below. But I think that it's important for everyone to keep in mind that just because you are confined to the body you have and the limitations it may have, you can still push yourself to achieve more than you can do at this moment. And once you've reached that level, it's on to the next level. Like many things in life, it's an iterative journey that is as successful and rewarding as you make it given the circumstances. I am trying to better apply this thinking to my life every day and in every aspect.

What do you think? 

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 16

I'm now firmly into the B's!

Cream - Back Bay Theatre, Boston 4/5/68
Paul McCartney - Back in the US: Live 2002
Paul McCartney - Back in the World
Wings - Back to the Egg
Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger
Jimi Hendrix - The Baggy's Rehearsal Sessions
Jimi Hendrix - Band of Gypsys

The Cream show is an amazing, if not atrocious sounding, bootleg with some really interesting versions of their songs, including the longest version of Sunshine Of Your Love I've ever heard, clocking in at 17 minutes! The two Paul McCartney live albums are the same apart from a handful of tracks being changed to tailor the release to specific territories (ie USA and the rest of the world). It's one of my favorite live albums of his, with some great live versions, and it's just a lot of fun to listen to. Following alphabetically is the final album from Paul's post-Beatles band, Wings. It's a bit uneven although as a whole, I really like the album. Standout tracks are Getting Closer, Spin It On, Old Siam,Sir, Arrow Through Me, To You, and My Baby's Request. It also contains a period B-side that is one of the finest Wings songs of all time, Daytime Nighttime Suffering. Soundgarden's major label debut takes me back to 1991 when I first heard it as an 11-yr old junior high school student. Bludgeoning riffs and Chris Cornell's trademark screaming vocals. The Hendrix rehearsals were from late 1969 in preparation for his Band of Gypsys shows, and have some great cuts although, being rehearsals, there's also a lot of goofing around and some mistakes. Finally, Band of Gypsys is an album that needs no introduction, being one of the best live albums of all time and containing some of Hendrix' most blistering and incendiary playing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 15

Finishing with the "A's" and moving on the the "B's!"

Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
Dream Theater - Awake
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold As Love
Frank Zappa - Baby Snakes

"The Avalanche," subtitled "Outtakes and Extras From the Illinoise Album," is a companion to that excellent Sufjan Stevens album, but it worthy in its own right, with some absolutely gorgeous songs, such as Chicago (all 3 versions), the Pick-Up, and Soul Below. Dream Theater's third album is a worthy successor to their breakthrough second album ("Images and Words") and has some of their best songs, including my personal favorite, Scarred. Hendrix' second album is a words necessary. Zappa's "Baby Snakes" is a live album that has some absolutely blistering guitar solos (Punky's Whips) and a hilarious version of T&B. With that final album, I'm finally into the "B's!"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 14

A little bit out of order since I just added one of these to my iPod...

Pixies - At the BBC
Steppenwolf - At Your Birthday Party
Spacehog - As It Is On Earth
Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother
Mansun - Attack of the Grey Lantern
R.E.M. - Automatic For the People
The Who - Autumn '69 Acetates

The Pixies BBC sessions are great; they're quick, short blasts of many of their best songs, and include a truly bizarre and wonderful cover of the Beatles' "Wild Honey Pie." Steppenwolf's album is solid, though par for the course for bands not in the top tier of late 60s rock (ie not the Beatles. Who, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, etc). Some phenomenal cuts on there, though, especially Jupiter's Child, Rock Me, and Don't Cry. Spacehog's newest album, which is the one slightly out of alphabetical order in this whole thing since I just added it to my iPod, is fantastic. I've been a fan since I first heard them in 1995, saw them in concert a few times in 1999 and 2001, and was afraid their 2001 album "The Hogyssey" was their final one. This one picks up where that one left off, yet fits in perfectly in these modern times. The Pink Floyd album was the first where they really started to flex their prog rock muscles and develop into what they'd eventually become. Beyond the epic title track, it's a slightly patchy album, although enjoyable overall. Mansun's debut album is a masterpiece. They're one of my all-time favorite bands, and this first album is a stunning achievement, with each song segueing into the next and presenting the entire story of the album as a sonic film for the senses. It's a sweeping, epic album and firmly establishes Paul Draper as a musical genius in my mind. R.E.M.'s 1992 masterpiece "Automatic For the People" is next; the album that was their commercial and critical peak, and which, as a whole, they never bettered. I loved this album back in 1992 when I heard it the moment it came out, and I still love it now. Finally, a bootleg simply titled "Autumn '69 Acetates" by The Who is one of my favorite live bootlegs of theirs. It comprises tracks recorded for an intended live album of their 1969 US tour, which Pete Townshend scrapped in favor of recording a standalone show in early 1970 for the album (which because the classic "Live at Leeds" in 1970, as well as the release "Live in Hull 1970" in 2011). Sourced from vinyl, with crackles and all, these are live versions that have never appeared on any other 1969 live bootleg of theirs, so it's not known which shows they're from, but the versions are incredibly powerful and unique, making it a fantastically enjoyable listen.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Master's Acknowledgement

Earlier today, I visited Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn's website and noticed this on the side (arrow added by me):

Needless to say, I was blown away! I'm very proud and humbled by this acknowledgement. Wow!

In case you missed the review in the link, my review of his book is HERE.

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour: Day 13

Back at this alphabetical thing after a little break...

R.E.M. - Around the Sun
The Kinks - Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
Humble Pie - As Safe As Yesterday Is
Suede - Astoria, London 12/24/93
The Allman Brothers Band - At Fillmore East

The R.E.M. album is, in my opinion, their absolute worst album and I remember after buying it when it came out, hoping they'd break up. Apart from a few songs (the title track, Electron Blue, Boy in the Well), it's mostly a mediocre mid-temp slog, and the rap in The Outsiders is one of the most embarrassing things I've ever heard. Luckily, they made up for this album with their final two albums. The Kinks' album is one of the all-time best albums by anyone, ever. It's from 1969 and smack dab in the middle of their incredible run of albums that started with 1966's "Face to Face" and ended with 1972's "Everybody's In Showbiz." It's a dazzling album from start to finish. The debut album from Humble Pie, featuring the twin guitar and vocal assault of Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott, is also from 1969 and is a great slice of late 60s hard rock.The Suede concert is a bootleg of a show at the tail end of 1993. It's incredibly powerful and not only contains songs from their debut album and its associated singles and B-sides, but pre-release versions of This Hollywood Life, We Are the Pigs, and New Generation, which would not be released until their second album, "Dog Man Star," in 1994. The version of He's Dead has to be heard to be believed: Bernard Butler gives an 8-minute clinic on guitar that is simply jaw-dropping (as he does throughout this show).  Finally, the Allman Brothers' live album is one of the most legendary live albums of all time, capturing them at the height of their powers onstage in 1971; no more words are necessary, it's that good.