Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, part 1


I’ve been a Beatles fan for as long as I remember, but I’ve never spent much time with the individual works outside of their Beatles contribution. Sure, I’ve enjoyed songs by John Lennon, George Harrison, and even Ringo Starr – and been disappointed by Paul McCartney’s solo mediocrity – but there’s a lot out there I’ve never listened to. So I’m going to spend the next month listening to all the albums John, Paul, George, & Ringo produced – on their own and with new collaborators – from the first solo release in 1968 to 1980. I chose that cutoff, because Lennon’s December 8, 1980 death meant that there would be no new releases from all of the Beatles after that date. Also, that way I don’t have to listen to any of McCartney’s truly awful music from the 1980s.

So let’s hop back in the time machine to 1968, when the Beatles were squabbling, nearing divorce, and decided to some experimentation on their own.

Artist: George Harrison
Album: Wonderwall Music
Released: 1 November 1968
Favorite Tracks: Drilling a Home, Party Seacombe, and Glass Box
Thoughts:

The first Beatle to venture into solo territory is not surprisingly George Harrison, whose musical interests began to diverge early on and was never able to make a dent in the Lennon/McCartney songwriting powerhouse.  Wonderwall Music is considered curiosity for being the first solo Beatle album and the inspiration for the title of an Oasis hit.  I hadn’t realized that it was the soundtrack to a psychedelic move called Wonderwall, or that Harrison worked with a number of classical Indian musicians to record it.  More surprising, I came to like it.  The mix of Indian tracks with rock, country, and ragtime was interesting and may have made a bigger impression in, say, the 1980s, when Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon were making hit records with this type of world music fusion. Harrison was ahead of his time


Artist: John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Album: Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
Released: 29 November 1968
Thoughts:

With Wonderwall Music, the “White Album,” and this, the Beatles managed to release 4 LPs worth of music in the month of November 1968. Of course, Lennon and Ono didn’t likely spend a ton of time working on this one. The collection of tape loops, piano, and vocal eccentricities is a boutique recording documenting the couple’s intense attraction more than anything else.


Artist: John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Album: Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions
Released: 9 May 1969
Thoughts:

Kind of and odd duck of a collection. Like there’s a serious attempt to express the anguish of losing a baby to miscarriage but there’s also switching around of radio stations for a long time. Still basically the audio journal of John & Yoko, rather than an album.


Artist: George Harrison
Album: Electronic Sound
Released: 9 May 1969
Thoughts:

Harrison trades in Indian instruments for a Moog synthesizer and creates two extended pieces of instrumental electronic music.  I have a soft spot for atmospheric music like this, although I don’t have the critical skills to evaluate if Harrison was a good Moog-er for his time.  Still, a worthy experiment.


Artist: John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Album: Wedding Album
Released: 7 November 1969
Thoughts:

This might be the most pretentious John & Yoko album yet if they a) didn’t have reporters constantly asking them about themselves and b) expected anyone would want to buy this album.


Artist: Ringo Starr
Album: Sentimental Journey
Favorite Tracks: I’m a Fool to Care, Dream
Released: 27 March 1970
Thoughts:

God bless Ringo Starr! While George and John & Yoko are being all experimental and avant-garde, Ringo records an album of standards his mother loved. This is why Ringo was the heart of The Beatles.


Artist: Paul McCartney
Album: McCartney
Favorite Tracks: That Would Be Something, Every Night, Maybe I’m Amazed
Released: 17 April 1970
Thoughts:

McCartney finally joins the soloist club, working in secret at a home studio to create his first album largely on his own. The songs have either a stripped-down quality or McCartney rushed to release unfinished demos, depending on one’s perspective. Pairing the release with the announcement of the Beatles breaking up probably made this album more harshly reviewed than the other Beatles side projects, but there are some good songs amid the dithering about. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is my favorite McCartney song and that makes me wonder if it’s all downhill from here.


And the Beatles are officially broken up. Next week, a virtual deluge of new music from four individuals with their own distinct visions as well as some wives and other collaborators, and some continued infighting.

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Album Review: Stranger Fruit by Zeal & Ardor


Album: Stranger Fruit
Artist: Zeal & Ardor
Release Date: June 7, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Gravedigger’s Chant
  • Row, Row
  • Stranger Fruit
  • Built on Ashes

Thoughts:

Swiss-born Manuel Gagneux is part African-American on his mother’s side and his black metal band incorporates blues and spirituals into their metal sound.  It has the raging guitars and propulsive percussion that I like of metal, without the “I’m singing like a demon, aren’t I scary” vocals that I deeply dislike.   This album is a good companion to Algiers’ The Underside of Power, one of my favorite albums of last year.

Rating: ****

Monthly Mixtape – November 2018


One last mixtape for 2018.  I’ll post my favorite songs of the year at the end of December.  Do you have any favorite songs from this year?  Let me know in the comments or tweet me @othemts.

The Chrystal Method :: Ghost in the City

Huun Huur Tu & Carmen Rizzo :: Baiah Dug Duble

The War and Treaty :: Are You Ready To Love Me

Gabi Garbutt & The Illuminations :: Lady Matador

Y La Bamba :: Mujeres

Previous Mixtapes:

Album Review: Acrylic by Leikeli47


Album: Acrylic
Artist: Leikeli47
Release Date: November 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Tic Boom
  • Girl Blunt
  • Roll Call
  • Hoyt and Schermerhorn
  • Iron Mike

Thoughts:

Leikeli47 is mysterious, masked figure from Brooklyn who raps about life in her neighborhood and the challenges of Black women in 2018 America.  The rhymes are strong and the beats are fine.  The music is fun, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.  This album is a throwback to old school rap of the 80s while simultaneously forward looking.

Rating: ****

Two Sentence Album Reviews: The EP Edition


Three short albums with three short reviews.

Album: A Simple Reflection
Artist: Cold Beat
Release Date:  24 August 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Jennifer
  • Love is a Stranger

Thoughts: Ethereal vocals over synthpop beats transport the listener back to the 80s. Yes, these are all Eurythmics’ covers.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: boygenius
Artist: boygenius
Release Date:  October 26, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Souvenir
  • Salt in the Wound
  • Ketchum, ID

Thoughts: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus formed a super group but only recorded 6 songs.  Strong harmonies and rich instrumentation make one wish for more.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: Collapse
Artist: Aphex Twin
Release Date:  September 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks: All of them.
Thoughts: Richard D. James mixes blips, whirrs, and beats into an ineffable whole.  I really like it and can’t explain why.
Rating: ****

Album Review: The Beatles “White Album” Super Deluxe Edition


Album: The Beatles “White Album” Super Deluxe Edition
Artist: The Beatles
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Thoughts:

When entered my “Classic Rock Phase” that lasted from the ages of 13 to 16, I immersed myself one by one into great (and not-so-great) bands of the 60s and 70s.  I started with The Beatles, and the first album I purchased – as a two-cassette package from Caldor – was The Beatles.  I honestly thought it was some kind of greatest hits package even though I’d never heard of many of the tracks listed before.  The cassette covers featured individual portraits of the four Beatles instead of a plain white cover, so it wouldn’t be later until I realized this was the infamous “White Album.”

I immediately loved it, just for the plain weirdness of it.  This is the Beatles at their most experimental and it sees them performing in a wide variety of genres including folk, ska, blues, country, heavy metal, doo-wop, Edwardian music hall, and avant guarde sound collage. Many of the songs were written and inspired by the Beatles time Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, but they also found inspiration from Paul McCartney’s dog, John Lennon’s mother, a box of chocolates, and a playground slide. Several songs are snippets or half-baked repetition of a few lines which are mediocre on their own, but gain something in the weird, wonderful mix of 30 songs.  It’s a regular debate among Beatles fans that the White Album could be pared down to a single album of a dozen or so songs, but no one can ever agree which songs would make the cut.

The Super Deluxe rerelease of the Beatles’ White Album  celebrates the 50th anniversary of the album’s release with over 50 additional recordings from the sessions that created the album, divided into three parts.

The first part of the Super Deluxe Edition is a remaster of the original 30 tracks.  I’m no audiophile, but I do think this remaster sounds much better.  The instrumentation sounds richer and the vocals more distinct from the rest of the mix.

The second part is called The Esher Demos, named for George Harrison’s house where the Beatles met to record 27 new tracks (including 8 that wouldn’t make it on the album).  All the song are acoustic, so this is basically the long lost Beatles MTV Unplugged album.  Conversations and banter within the demos shows the Beatles working together and not as divided as the legends would have it.

The third part is a collection of session recordings. For their first album, Please Please Me, The Beatles recorded all their tracks in a single day.  Six years later, they were no longer touring and the studio became the place for them to experiment.  Hundreds of takes were made for each song and one can hear the band working out the lyrics and instrumentation, and even changing the style of the song (there’s an extended blues jam of “Helter Skelter,” a song that would eventually be released as a short proto-Heavy Metal track).  In addition to songs that would make the White Album, there are also takes of songs that would appear on later Beatles albums or solo albums.

These are all interesting to listen to for historical reasons but nothing really challenges the versions actually released with two exceptions.  “Good Night” (take 10 with a guitar part from take 5) features all four Beatles singing accompanied only by acoustic guitar.  The Beatles harmony (both literally in their singing and figuratively in how they’re working together) is beautiful and it’s much more touching than the over-orchestrated version on the official release.  George Harrison’s song “Not Guilty” – which he would eventually re-record for a solo album in 1979 – should’ve made the album.  It’s lyrical criticism of the band’s inner turmoil is cited as the reason for it not making the cut.

Overall, this is fun to listen to, albeit I don’t see returning it to it again and again.  I remember eagerly waiting to buy the Anthology collections back in the 1990s, only to never listen to them again after the first few times.  I feel the same with this superdeluxe album that it is valuable as a historic resource, but for my listening pleasure I’ll return to the original releases alone.  That being said, it may be worth getting it for the new stereo album mix.

Rating: ****

Monthly Mixtape – October 2018


Princess Chelsea :: The Loneliest Girl

DeVotchka :: Second Chance

Tunde Olaniran :: Mountain

Pip Blom :: Pussycat

Our Girl :: I Really Like It

Beirut :: “Galipoli”

SOAK :: “Everybody Loves You”

The Sha La Das :: “Okay My Love”

Yaeji :: “One More”

AdriAnne Lenker :: “symbol”

 

Previous Mixtapes:

Album Review: Love is Magic by John Grant


Album: Love is Magic
Artist: John Grant
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Love is Magic,” “Tempest,” “Diet Gum,” and “Is He Strange?
Thoughts:

American expatriate John Grant resides now in Iceland where he makes very weird music.  The synths and disco beats make the album feel straight from the early 80s complete with spoken word segments reminiscent of Laurie Anderson.  The lyrics are crude, angry, deeply personal, and sometimes just plain bizarre.  It took me a few listens to warm up to Love is Magic, but it still doesn’t feel as good as Grant’s earlier work.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Sugar & Spice by Hatchie


Album: Sugar & Spice
ArtistHatchie
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Sure,” “Sleep,” and “Try.”

Thoughts:

The debut EP by Australian singer/songwriter Hatchie (no apparent relation to Waxahatchee), a.k.a. Harriette Pilbeam, is five tracks of dreamy, ethereal vocals over layered, jangly pop.  It’s reminiscent of the early 90s alternative acts (think The Sundays or cranberries) who were drowned out by grunge, but nevertheless created some of the best music of the period.  It’s a sweet treat and I look forward to more from Hatchie.

Rating: ****

Two Sentence Album Reviews Take Two


Some new albums that don’t exactly contain new content, so I’m reviewing them in bulk.


Album: MassEducation
Artist: St. Vincent
Release Date:  October 12, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Slow Disco,” “Los Ageless,”
Thoughts: A release of Masseduction with everything stripped away except Annie Clarke’s voice and a piano, making her sound more like a chanteuse.  I think I like this version better, although I didn’t really like the original much at all.
Rating: ***


Album: My Way
Artist: Willie Nelson
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Summer Wind,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “One for My Baby (And One More For the Road,” “What is This Thing Called Love?,” and “My Way”
Thoughts: Willie Nelson sings swinging standards in the style of Frank Sinatra.  What’s not to like?
Rating: ***


Album: Piano and a Microphone 1983
Artist: Prince
Release Date:  September 21, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “17 Days,” “Cold Coffee & Cocaine,” and “Why the Butterflies”
Thoughts: The first posthumous release from Prince’s music vaults is a glimpse of an artist at work.  Just Prince tooling around on a piano, working on several songs, and being amazingly talented.
Rating: ***1/2