Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Genius That is...Pete Townshend

You all know that The Beatles are my all-time favorite band and Blur are right up there, too. Well, The Who are also right behind The Beatles for a variety of reasons (which I'll get into in a detailed post in the future), but one of the main reasons is the fact that they were led by the man who I consider to be the equal to Lennon and McCartney as the 20th century's greatest rock songwriters, not just from England, but worldwide: Pete Townshend. For both musical scope, ambition, emotional impact (so many Who songs can make you want to punch something and then cry like a baby within the span of a minute...listen to: Bargain, for example), and one of his most underrated talents, fantastic lyrics.  He's also one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived and one of my main influences, both when I was learning to play and write, and to this day.

I'll expound on both The Who and Pete in detailed (UPDATE 8/18/14: I've done just that, see links to the left for these posts), separate posts, but for now here's a home demo he made in 1971 for a song he wrote for The Who's classic 1971 LP Who's Next (it was originally intended, along with loads of other songs that were released on the record, as well as many that were held back, for the initial Lifehouse concept that morphed into the final '71 LP we all know and love) that was never released. There supposedly exists a full-band finished studio version of the song that was intended for the album but was never hear it has been a dream of mine for decades. But from the first time I heard this demo on a bootleg cassette I got in the mail in 1996/97, I fell in love with it. Pete's one of the few writers who has demos so good you can enjoyably listen to them on their own apart from the finished product. I hope you enjoy the magic of this as much as I do.

Here's the great lost track, "Mary."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My new book is now available on Amazon!

My new book about Blur is available HERE on and will be available on Amazon's worldwide sites very shortly. It's also available as a Kindle version.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Beatles

My favorite band of all time. Ever.

There, we've gotten that out of the way. Ever since I started this blog, I've been planning on writing posts expounding on my favorite bands and musicians, one by one. I've done some posts dedicated to some of them, but I have yet to begin writing the in-depth posts on each. This is the first, and I might as well start with the *ONE* band that occupies the highest point on my ranking of all-time bands...even the other timeless bands are just *this much* below The Beatles. It has to be that just does.

I'm not going to bore you, my readers, with the history of the band; it's been chronicled endlessly over the last 50 years and will continue to be until the end of time. In a nutshell, they all grew up knowing each other in Liverpool, England. They properly founded the band in 1960, released their first single in 1962, and produced as nearly flawless an output as is possible until 1970.  To this day, they remain vital, timeless, and hugely popular, both with those old enough to have been listening while it was happening, as well as those too young to have experienced the magic firsthand.  They were the first band to be a self-contained unit, writing all of their own songs and playing their own instruments. In John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they had not just two extremely gifted songwriters and lyricists, but two gifted COMPOSERS. The music they wrote was, is, and always will be timeless. When you hear a Beatles song being played by an orchestra, a string quartet, or a simple acoustic guitar, even without words, you immediately know what song it is and the sound is not just that of a rock and roll song, but of a piece of music that can be appreciated by anyone, of any age, anywhere.  Everyone, EVERYWHERE, knows who The Beatles are and knows many, many of their songs. Even if you're not a fan, you know The Beatles.

They also pioneered the use and expansion of the recording studio in ways no one had done before. Prior to The Beatles, the studio was used to capture as live a sound as was possible. If you could play it onstage, you could get the same sound on tape. They were the first band to use the studio to create new sound textures and effects, which in turn expanded the mood and feel of their music. Now, music too complex for 4 guys to simply walk onstage and play could be created in the studio. The fact that they did what they did with primitive (by current standards) equipment makes it all the more mind-boggling, especially now. For instance, Sgt. Pepper was recorded entirely to 4-track tape. Mull on that for a while and try to wrap your head around it...amazing, no?

I'll get into some specific examples of the magic of their music, but first I'd like to explain my personal connection to the band. I grew up constantly listening to parents always had music playing, and my mum always tells the story about how my dad had taught me the different bands so that when we'd go into a record store, I could name all of the bands on the posters as a toddler. Listening to my parents vinyl and cassettes, and to the radio, I grew up loving all sorts of great music, including The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, and many other personal favorites (who will be the subjects of future posts). But the band I always zeroed in on were The Beatles. Then, in 1987 when their albums were first released on CD, my uncle (himself a huge Beatles fan) made tape copies of all of the albums and gave them to me and my brother.  Up until then, I'd only ever heard the songs that were played on the radio. Now, I could listen to EVERY song The Beatles had ever recorded and released, and man, was I blown away. Apart from a (small) handful of songs that were only just okay, they were ALL GREAT.  I am and always have been a sucker for a great hook and vocal harmonies, and The Beatles had these in spades. From the melodies to the harmonies, the musicianship to the lyrics, and everything else, I was absolutely smitten.  In 1990, I decided I wanted to start playing an instrument, mainly due to The Beatles. I started originally on bass but moved on to guitar, and taught myself to play by playing along to Beatles records, as well as records by loads of other bands. Ditto for my lifelong love of singing...I spent countless hours singing and re-singing Beatles songs...I'd sing the main part, then I'd replay the song and sing each individual harmony part one after another. I still do that to this day, and it's a major reason why I know every word to every Beatles song!  I even grew my hair into a Beatles haircut as a teenager, which wasn't easy since I was cursed with thick curly Greek hair, but I sported that for a while in high school and was damn proud of it.

I've been an Anglophile, especially musically, my entire life (and that's going to be the subject of another post in the future...sensing a trend here?) and The Beatles are amongst the British bands that encapsulate why I love British rock music. It (British rock music) is the perfect (and honestly, only) amalgam of American jazz and blues, country, rock, R&B, Music Hall, classical, and folk (both American and British) that is able to synthesize it all into a sound unlike any other.  Instead of trying to go on and on about it, which has been done to death in countless books, I'll just let the music speak for itself with some of my favorite songs (notice I said *some*; there are FAR too many for me to include them all).

The first song on their first album and still an ass-kicking rock song

I still get super excited when I hear this one start!

The one that started them off huge in the USA...this is still a GREAT song.

From their 4th album, showing a maturing songwriting and story-telling talent

Just a great song

Another favorite, this time introducing Indian instrumentation into rock music

The first acid-rock song. Killer bass and drums in this one. And it was a B-side!

Universally acknowledged as their best song ever. The height of psychedelia.

Hard to pick between this and Strawberry Fields Forever (they were a double-A-side single in early 1967)

One of my favorite songs of theirs

One of my favorite songs, by anyone EVER...this has gotten me through so many tough times. It was John Lennon's favorite song that Paul ever wrote...that means a lot.

One of my all-time favorites of theirs. Gorgeous all around.

Another classic. This one it loud!

The beginning of the "Big Medley" on Abbey Road, and a great song weaving different sections together.

Another kick-ass rocker, from the Rooftop Concert. Again, PLAY LOUD!

I honestly could have picked another 50 songs, these are just a handful of classics and favorites.  I really don't know what else to add...these guys were not just a mere rock band, they blazed just about every trail: the first self-contained band to play all of their own instruments live and in the studio, the first to write all of their own material, to co-produce themselves (along with the only person who can truly be called "the fifth Beatle," legendary producer George Martin), the first to play big headlining tours in huge indoor and outdoor venues, and the first to be mass-marketed with all of the merchandising. They also pioneered so many recording techniques, both specific to their songs as well as techniques that have now become commonplace in studios (ADT, flanging, phasing, tape loops, sampling, varispeeding, etc). They led the way in fashion with their hair, clothes, styles, as well as with their classic album art and packaging (they were the first band to have albums with no band name on the front [Rubber Soul], no title or any writing [Abbey Road, The Beatles], full bleed covers [Abbey Road], inserts [Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles, Let it Be, Magical Mystery Tour], printed lyrics [Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles], etc) not to mention the loads of iconic photos and album covers [ie the half-shadow cover for With the Beatles]. The list could go on and on...

...just like their music always will!