Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Great Rock and Roll Soap Opera

Is there really a need for another Beatles book? I must have read at least a dozen books that claim to tell the full story and that includes the Beatles own telling, The Anthology, so I wouldn't have thought so. However if there is one Beatles book that deserves to be called definitive then it is this one. At 800 plus pages it goes into incredible detail and the author, Mark Lewisohn's research is astounding. And this is only the first part of a trilogy of books and covers the story from Beatles pre-history right up to the release of their first album, Please Please Me.

The book often borders on the obsessive in its quest to leave no detail unturned and Paul McCartney takes a few knocks - Stuart Sutcliffe claiming, in a letter written in Hamburg that the rest of the band hate him - also almost getting the shit kicked out of him when he goaded the usually mild mannered Stuart Sutcliffe one too many times. Beatles ex-drummer Pete Best is also revealed as a not very good drummer but that doesn't seem to be the real reason for his ejection from the group right when they were on the cusp of stardom. This seems more to do with his so called mean, moody and magnificent persona and the fact that he wasn't really a team player. That said it is painful reading when the book covers his sacking and the cowardly way the Beatles went about it. Though this is consistent with the way they ejected a former guitarist from the Quarreymen.

This story may have been told before but never have the formative years of the band been covered in so much detail and after reading the book you really do feel a little closer to the band. I've been a Beatle nut myself for a couple decades and felt I knew everything there was to know, but this book opened my eyes several times.

The book also turns what we know, or rather thought we knew, of John Lennon's father on its head. Previously he has been presented as a waster who abandoned both his wife and child. And whilst that may be true the book reveals a story much more complex than that, and that it was Julia, John's mother, who was actually the catalyst in their break up which resulted in John being raised by his Aunt Mimi. And, as expected, the book reveals that she certainly had her hands full with the young John Winston Lennon. Momentous character forming events such as John losing his mother and Paul losing his own are covered with great sensitivity and psychological insight.

There are no new interviews with Paul or Ringo but the author does go to every other source for information and the period of the band's first visit to Hamburg is covered in exquisite detail. I bought the book in both the physical form and the audio version - the audiobook lasts for forty plus hours and I managed to get through it in a week, and so engrossed did I become that I also started reading the physical book alongside the audio reading. This really is an excellent book and it is difficult to think that any other will ever top it.

The author claims that the next volume will follow in four to five years and I for one can't wait.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Macca is back - Paul McCartney NEW tune by tune album review

Paul McCartney's last album of original material, Memory Almost Full had some mighty fine moments but it was something of a backward step after the originality of the two albums that preceded it - the excellent Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and the mind blowing Electric Arguments. Well who would have thought it but Macca, always the most creatively restless Beatle, now delivers an album that is without a doubt the equal to both Chaos and Electric. It's up there with the best Macca and as the enlightened people know the best Macca is mighty fine indeed.

The album kicks off with a rocker that could have come from Macca's mid-Wings period, it's got those gorgeous harmonies. The song is called Save Us - keep on sending your love, in the heat of battle we've got something that will save us - is a great album opener and is up-tempo with some catchy hooks running through it.

Alligator follows - I want someone to come home to, I need somewhere I can sleep, I need a place where I can rest my weary bones and have a conversation not too deep - and is a mid-tempo tune that sees the Macca knocking his many detractors. The song changes temp in the middle eight and becomes very Beatlish. Everybody else is busy doing better than me, Paul wails and you know what that's just not the case. Well not any more.

On my way to work - typical McCartney that sounds like something from the early 1970's and is a great track in which the Macca looks back at his early days. The song also features some of the great man;s best lyrics, Lines like - on my way to work I bought a magazine, inside a pretty girl liked to water-ski, she came from Chichester to study history, she liked to remove her clothes for me - flow seamlessly around the laid back vibe. On first listen I found this track to be a stand-out and no doubt it will become a classic.
He may look like Stan Laurel these days but the Macca still rocks

Queenie Eye, the fourth track, rocks using chants from childhood games the Macca creates an instant singalong anthem that will, no doubt, become a favourite of his live shows. This is a song that will have stadiums full of dudes and dudettes punching the air and head banging to the rhythm. Infectious shit, dude.

A country sounding guitar kicks off Early Days in which Macca once again sticks up two fingers to those who denied his massive contribution to the Beatles - I lived through those early days. This song could fit nicely onto Chaos and Creation, it's got that sound. Again an excellent track.

Then we have the title track which was also the lead single. New is a catchy piece of fluff which, I think is the weakest thing on the album. Mind you it's not a weak song by any means. It's just that the rest of the album is so damn strong. I like New but it's not as kick arse as the other songs on the album - though it's getting tons of radio play and, I guess, that's what a lead single is supposed to do. It's as commercial as hell and as catchy as the best McCartney pop.

Appreciate is something of an experimental piece but I think this track will grow on listeners. I've heard it maybe half a dozen times and like it more and more each time. The Macca's vocal is for the most part buried back in the mix and the track is led by a drum and bass rhythm. Maybe the most Fireman sounding track on the album.

And then we get Everybody Out There, a song that will make you cream with orgasmic pleasure. This is truly an excellent song in which Macca sounds very much like Beatle Paul and that's that Paul we all love the best. There for the grace of God goes you...and I. Again this track is something of an anthem and is another that will work well live. Check out the live performance below.

Hosanna comes up next and we're almost through the album now and there's not been a bad track and this song is no exception. It's a slow piece that gradually builds to a rich soundscape. It's a love song but it's certainly not a silly love song. There's also a stunning sounding Beatley section that could have come from the Magical Mystery era.

And we're rocking again for the excellent, I can Bet - another brilliant up tempo song that ticks all the right boxes. I think this song is another that could have come from Wings best period. Brilliant, rocking and awesome.

Looking at Her is a lush sounding track with a superb vocal performance from the Macca that makes him sound twenty years younger than he truly is. It's a brilliant catchy song that could do well as a single. It's certainly far more substantial than the title track.

Road is the final track on the basic album - there are several deluxe version with more tracks and maybe even in these too commercial times a super duper deluxe edition - and the track sees McCartney looking back at his Beatle days. We came from nowhere, hiding from the storm, we came together, to keep each other warm. I got a feeling it's gonna be alright. McCartney seems to be reflecting on the long road he's travelled and you know what many of us have been with him every step of the way.

New then is an excellent album with no filler at all and shows just what McCartney is capable of when he puts his mind to it. Is there anyone else in rock/pop music that can match him? There aren't many and on past achievements along McCartney stands head and shoulders above all others, and it's good to see him pushing the envelope once again.

Paul McCartney - nobody does it better.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Granny's Got the Blues 1 - Bukka White

Bukka White 1909 - 1977 was an artist who stamped a  legacy on the genre of music we called the blues and although he is best known for the classic, Aberdeen Mississippi Blues he cut several songs that have become classics and influenced everyone from Led Zeppelin to the Rolling Stones.

The young Bukka or Booker T Washington White was born in Houston Mississippi. His father was a railroad worker and part time fiddle player which meant that the young boy was surrounded by music from a very young age. When he was nine his father gave him a guitar for a birthday present and from there on Bukka started to develop at a rapid pace. He left home when he was thirteen and went to Chicago where he met guitar player Johnny Smith and together they would play whatever paying gigs they could find.

Bukka's music was a mix of down home country and train songs but when he met the great Charley Patton he decided to concentrate on the blues. Legend tells us that the young Bukka had his first taste of whiskey from Charley Patton's hip flask. For a time Bukka was a professional baseball player and boxer but in 1930 he was discovered by a talent scout who whisked him off to Memphis to record for Victor Records and it was with the label that Bukka recorded fourteen tracks. For these he used the name Washington White.

The recordings were not a success and Bukka didn't records again until 1937 when Big Bill Broonzy led him to Lester Mellrose who arranged for Bukka to travel to Chicago to cut two sides for Vocalion Records. However Bukka was on bail following an incident where he shot a man who tried to assault him, and the trip to Chicago was against bail conditions.  Bukka was arrested and thrown into  the notorious Parchman Farm Penitentiary. One of the tracks Bukka recorded, Shake em Down became a hit when he was in prison.

Bukka was released in 1940 and promptly went back to Chicago to again record for Lester Mellrose - Here Bukka recorded twelve tracks that are among the best of the delta blues style. The recording session is known as the last great country blues session as shortly afterwards tastes would change and urban blues came to dominate.

Bukka White died of cancer in 1977.