Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, Finale


I managed to listen to every album that George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney released between 1968 and 1980 as documented in part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.  But my review of ex-Beatles’ musical output was missing something, including some of the best songs they recorded during this period, and that is the non-album singles.  So, to complete this music discovery, I listened to the following songs:

1969 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Give Peace a Chance”

One of John’s political anthems that is more fun than preachy.  It still resonates today even if I can’t understand the

1969 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Cold Turkey”

I’m surprised I’ve never heard this one before.  It has a rockin’ riff, but otherwise is dull.

1970 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Instant Karma!”

An all-time classic, and one with a great backstory of how it was created in (nearly) one day.

1971 – Paul McCartney – “Another Day”/”Oh Woman, Oh Why”

“Another Day” is a perfectly fine McCartney ballad, but feels a bit watered down compared to his best love songs. The b-side is just blah.

1971 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Power to the People”

More anthemic but less resonant that “Give Peace a Chance.”

1971 – George Harrison – “Bangla Desh”/”Deep Blue”

The charity single is born, and like “We Are the World” later on, it has good intentions with cheezy lyrics.  Harrison should be remembered for his dedication to the cause though, that likely had greater real world effect than Lennon’s sloganeering.  “Deep Blue” is a folksy-blues tune about Harrison grieving his mother that ties in personal tragedy with the global catastrophe of the A-side.

1971 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”

The reuse of the tune for “Stewball” and its frequent repetition every December since its release makes this song feel an oddity.  But the Harlem Community Choir is genuinely charming and it works as both a Christmas pop song and an anti-war anthem.

1972 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”

I find it interesting that Lennon & McCartney both recorded political songs about the Irish Troubles at this time.  The Irish issue didn’t seem to be much of interest to either of them at any other point in their life.  McCartney is not known for political anthems and it humors me that Great Britain actually banned the song despite its milquetoast lyrics.

1972 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Mary Had a Little Lamb”/”Little Woman Love”

Holy crap, an ex-Beatle totally recorded “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and released it as a single!  The B-side is a fun rockabilly number, but nothing special.

1972 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Hi, Hi, Hi”/”C Moon”

More mediocrity.

1972 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Live and Let Die”

McCartney at his most bombastic perfectly suits the UK’s bombastic James Bond film series.  I like this one despite myself.

1974 – Paul McCartney & Wings -“Junior’s Farm”/”Sally G”

McCartney tries on 70s arena rock and it’s not too shabby. The b-side is a nice bit of twangy country.  This is McCartney at his competent, okay-ness.

1974 – Paul McCartney & The Country Hams – “Walking in the Park with Eloise”

An instrumental ragtime tune with country twang.  Not bad, but sometimes I wonder if McCartney ever wanted to be a rock star.

1977 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Mull of Kintyre”

Another song that I never heard until recently despite that fact that it was one of the biggest singles in UK history. I’ve heard better pop songs with bagpipes.

1978 – Paul McCartney & Wings – “Goodnight Tonight”/”Daytime Nighttime Suffering”

Wings does disco, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.

1979 – Paul McCartney – “Wonderful Christmastime”/”Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae”

I’ve actually successfully made it through this holiday season without ONCE hearing “Wonderful Christmastime” for the first time in decades, so I’m certainly not going to listen to the Worst. Christmas. Song. Ever. on purpose.  I listened to the B-side so you wouldn’t have to. It’s an instrumental reggae version of “Rudolph” played on violin.  For realz!


Ex-Beatle Superlatives

George Harrison:

Best AlbumAll Things Must Pass
Runner Up – Wonderwall Music
Worst Album – Extra Texture (Read All About It)
Best Song – “What is Life?”

John Lennon:

Best Album – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Runner Up – Imagine
Worst AlbumMind Games
Best Song – “Instant Karma”

Ringo Starr:

Best AlbumRingo
Runner Up – Goodnight, Vienna
Worst Album – Ringo the 4th
Best Song – “Photograph”

Paul McCartney:

Best Album – Back to the Egg
Runner Up – Venus and Mars
Worst AlbumLondon Town
Best Song – “Maybe I’m Amazed”


The Ex-Beatles Greatest Hits

To finish off, here are the 22 best songs by former Beatles up to 1980:

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band :: Give Peace a Chance

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band :: Instant Karma!

Paul McCartney :: Maybe I’m Amazed

George Harrison :: What is Life?

John Lennon :: Working Class Hero

John Lennon :: Imagine

John Lennon :: New York City

George Harrison :: Living in the Material World

Ringo Starr :: Photograph

Ringo Starr :: You’re Sixteen

Paul McCartney & Wings :: Live and Let Die

Paul McCartney & Wings ::Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five

John Lennon :: #9 Dream

Ringo Starr :: No No Song

Paul McCartney & Wings :: Silly Love Songs

George Harrison :: Not Guilty

Paul McCartney & Wings :: Getting Closer

Paul McCartney :: Coming Up

John Lennon & Yoko Ono :: (Just Like) Starting Over

John Lennon & Yoko Ono :: Watching the Wheels

John Lennon & Yoko Ono :: Woman

 

 

Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, part 5


Heading into the home stretch on the first decade of post-Beatles music, and I’ve not been all impressed with the mid-to-late 70s offerings of Paul, George, & Ringo and John has gone on sabbatical. Entering the period covered by this period, they can all be relieved that the then most popular band in the world – the Bee Gees – decided to put together an all-star cast to make a film and album based on Beatles’ songs called Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  And it BOMBED!  So the former Beatles could rest assured they would not make to most embarrassing music tied to the Beatles in the late 1970s.

AlbumLondon Town
Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
Release Date :31 March 1978
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts:

Paul McCartney ventures into yacht rock by literally recording parts of this album on a yacht.  The band is down to a trio once again with McCartney and Denny Laine collaborating on a number of songs. It’s awfully yawn-ful.


AlbumBad Boy
Artist: Ringo Starr
Release Date: 21 April 1978
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts:

Ringo cuts back the disco flourishes (thankfully!) and eschews famous guest artists, focusing on an album of mostly covers with the same backing band behind him.  Unfortunately, the world didn’t need Ringo’s renditions of these songs.


AlbumGeorge Harrison 
Artist: George Harrison
Release Date:20 February 1979
Favorite Tracks: Not Guilty,
Thoughts:

And now George releases a yacht rock album, with Steve Winwood going overboard on the cheezy synths on many tracks.  “Not Guilty” is good, but I like the version recorded for the White Album better.


AlbumBack to the Egg
Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
Release Date: 8 June 1979
Favorite Tracks: Getting Closer, Spin It On, Old Siam Sir, So Glad to See You Here
Thoughts:

With an album title this dumb, I braced myself for the worst, only to be surprised that this is the most enjoyable McCartney album released thus far! Part of the reason is that this album rocks harder than McCartney & Wings have ever done before.  Songs like “Spin It On” even approach a punk rock sound, albeit one that will never be confused with The Ramones or Sex Pistols.  It seemed like McCartney had been creatively stuck for some time, with his previous 8 albums all sounding like they could’ve been outtakes from the Beatles recording sessions circa 1967-1969.  Blending in punk and new wave influences helps reconnect McCartney with his own rock & roll roots, and create something original for the first time in ages. The album slows down on the backside and lyrically it’s not strong, but definitely an improvement on the McCartney oeuvre.


AlbumMcCartney II
Artist: Paul McCartney
Release Date: 16 May 1980
Favorite Tracks: Coming Up, On the Way,
Thoughts:

So, Paul McCartney releases his second album, disavowing everything that was released over the previous 10 years.  I jest.  With McCartney playing every instrument, experimenting with synthesizers, and drawing some influence from synth-pop, this album is quite odd, sometimes delightfully so.  Even “Temporary Secretary” is a fun track, albeit not one I’m going to listen to over and over. It’s not all good, but McCartney experimenting is better than McCartney repeating the same old dreck in my book.


AlbumDouble Fantasy 
Artist: John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Release Date:  17 November 1980
Favorite Tracks: (Just Like) Starting Over, Watching the Wheels, Woman
Thoughts:

John & Yoko record their first album together since 1972, and John’s first recording at all since 1975 on the album set up as a conversation between the once-again happily married couple.  The critics don’t like it, they never like anything with a lot of Yoko Ono on it, but I think it was a pretty good comeback and a sign of possibilities to come (never realized).  Besides, Yoko’s music is now no weirder than some new wave music being released at the time, like the B-52s.  This album was released just before my 7th birthday and I distinctly remember it as among my earliest memories of knowing anything about the Beatles, so it holds a particular nostalgia.

 

 

The 1980s would not see a Beatles’ reunion.  John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980.  The surviving members of the band all continued on in their own ways, but made fewer waves than in the previous two decades. Paul McCartney would work to drag down the careers of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and then perform with a frog chorus, before re-rediscovering that he’s a rock star at the end of the decade.  Ringo Starr retreated from recording for most of the 80s, spending some time narrating Thomas & Friends, before getting back on the music bandwagon in 1989 with His All-Starr Band, that has served him well.  And George Harrison also retreated from making music for a time before returning with some big solo hits and then forming the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.

 

Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, part 4


The era of disco and the era of punk rock is upon us!  How will this affect our ex-Beatles as they continue their solo careers five years on from the Beatles’ break-up?

AlbumRock ‘n’ Roll 
Artist: John Lennon
Release Date: 21 February 1975
Favorite Tracks: Stand By Me, You Can’t Catch Me,
Thoughts:

The heart of punk rock was a back to basics movement, emphasizing the rebellious simplicity of the 1950s and early 1960s rock and roll.  In essence, John Lennon fits right into this zeitgeist with this album of cover songs from his youth, albeit at the age of 35, he was a bit young for nostalgia.  Playing old rock & roll tunes with some friends seems to rejuvenate his spirit.  On the other hand, he wouldn’t record again for another five years, so it was probably a sign that he was tapped out on creating his own material.


AlbumVenus and Mars
Artist: Paul McCartney and Wings
Release Date: 27 May 1975
Favorite Tracks: Treat Her Gently – Lonely Old People
Thoughts:

Paul McCartney is also in a nostalgic mood.  Although he starts with a “Rock Show,” soon the album is delving in to jazz standards, blues, and musical styles.  Or at least McCartney’s interpretation of such.  While most of the individual tracks don’t stand out to me, I do think the overall quality of this album tops all the other Wings recordings to date.  I also ended up streaming the 2014 Deluxe Edition and discovered that the bonus tracks are far better than what was released on the original album.  Why is that?


AlbumExtra Texture (Read All About It)
Artist: George Harrison
Release Date: 22 September 1975
Favorite Tracks: Tired of Midnight Blue
Thoughts:

A melancholy album that dabbles in a classic soul album and once again features lyrics griping about somebody else, this time the critics of the Dark Horse album and the ensuing tour. There’s not much to like about this album, except the funny packaging


AlbumWings at the Speed of Sound 
Artist: Paul McCartney and Wings
Release Date: 25 March 1976
Favorite Tracks: Silly Love Songs
Thoughts:

Confession: If you asked me at the age of 8 or 9 what my favorite song is, I probably would’ve told you “Silly Love Songs.”

Another confession: I still like “Silly Love Songs.” Written as a response to criticisms of McCartney’s hokey sentimentality, it actual turns out to be an effective pop song about love.  It also appears to be the first ex-Beatles’ song to incorporate some disco, at least in the string arrangement.

This Wings album includes songs written by each member of the band with each band member getting a turn on lead vocals.  Which doesn’t mean it suffers any less from mediocrity than its Paul-heavy predecessors.


AlbumRingo’s Rotogravure
Artist: Ringo Starr
Release Date: 17 September 1976
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts:

Ringo once again puts together an all-star band to record some mediocre covers and mediocre originals of songs written by the likes of Eric Clapton and all four Beatles.


AlbumThirty Three & 1/3
Artist: George Harrison
Release Date: 19 November 1976
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts:

Harrison continues to have troubled times – hepetitis, a plagiarism lawsuit, record label problems – but despite all that, this is a cheerful album with upbeat and comic songs.  His friendship with Monty Python cast members plays a part. Too bad the music is rather bland jazz/funk.


Album: Ringo the 4th
Artist: Ringo Starr
Release Date: 20 September 1977
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts:

Ringo eschews his tried and true model, brings in some new artists to record with, and writes many songs himself in tandem with Vini Poncia. And of course Ringo is the first former Beatle who decided to “disco up” his music. I’m surprised it took this long. And it’s as terrible as you’d imagine.


The former Beatles from 1975-1977 are not producing quality output by any measure.  I can’t imagine this music getting out there if they weren’t riding on the laurels of their Beatles’ history.

 

 

Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, part 3


In 1973 and 1974, new albums from ex-Beatles are coming out routinely with each former bandmate putting out two albums during this period. Relationships are thawing among the ex-Beatles but despite hopes of fans, there’s no chance of a reunion, because they’ve all got their own things to do and own demons to excise.

See part 1 for the 1968-1970 period and part 2 for the 1970-1972 period.

AlbumRed Rose Speedway
Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
Release Date: 30 April 1973
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts:

Paul McCartney’s second album with Wings finds him firmly immersed in creating cheezy 70s pop music.  The oft-played “My Love” is an example of the paint-by-numbers mediocrity of the album as a whole.  The flourishes that echo the greatness of his best Beatles’ songs just makes this album all the more frustrating, because it’s clear he can do better.


AlbumLiving in the Material World
Artist: George Harrison
Release Date: 30 May 1973
Favorite Tracks: Living in the Material World, Be Here Now, Try Some Buy Some
Thoughts:

After a couple years’ absence from recording due to his philanthropic efforts for Bangladesh, Harrison returns with another album exploring his spiritual journey and autobiographical introspection.  The rock band jam sound of All Things Must Pass is replaced by a more orchestrated sound.  Overall the songs are more subdued and there isn’t much variety from track to track. The title track is one of the exceptions, in that it could fit in with the sound of the previous album. Otherwise, I find the calls for global unity cliched and the airing of grievances against the other Beatles tiring.


AlbumMind Games
Artist: John Lennon
Release Date: October 29, 1973
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts:

John Lennon recorded this album while struggling with US immigration, under FBI surveillance, and in the midst of marital strife with Yoko Ono that would lead to an 18-month separation.  So he had other things on his mind while writing songs about common topics: love songs for Yoko, introspection into his own life, and political anthems.  All of this he’d done before and done better.


Album: Ringo
Artist: Ringo Starr
Release Date: 2 November 1973
Favorite Tracks: Photograph, You’re Sixteen
Thoughts:

Ringo’s follows up on his albums of jazz standards and country & western tunes with his first album of pure pop/rock.  Wisely he calls upon his many friends in the music biz to provide the support he needs in songcrafting and recording.  In fact all four Beatles make an appearance on this album!  And I totally called “Six O’Clock” as the McCartney song before I even looked at the liner notes. The album opens with the Lennon-penned “I’m the Greatest,” a fun track that features a John, George, & Ringo reunion.  The other standouts are the hit singles “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen” which I’ve long liked, although the later is rather creepy to be sung by a man in his 30s.  The rest is rather amiable but generic pop, nothing great nothing terrible, but better than McCartney’s albums (albeit I probably have higher expectations for him).

Personal note: I’ve long had a fondness for “Photograph” because it was the #1 song in the United States on the day I was born.


AlbumBand on the Run
Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
Release Date: 5 December 1973
Favorite Tracks: Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
Thoughts:

Folks, Wings is totally a real band and not Paul McCartney’s vanity project.  It says “Band” right there in the album title and the hit song/suite that leads off the album! I jest, but the trio of Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, and Denny Laine at last pulled of a critical and commercial success.  That means that the hit songs on this album have been played to death!  Alas, there are no hidden gems on this album, just filler between the songs I’ve heard a million times before. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” is pretty spectacular though.


Album: John Lennon
ArtistWalls and Bridges
Release Date: 4 October 1974
Favorite Tracks: #9 Dream
Thoughts:

I get down on McCartney here, but “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” is a song overplayed on classic rock radio that I’ve always found grating, perhaps the worst ex-Beatles’ song of the 1970s (although I have six more years to review).  The other big hit from this album, “#9 Dream,” is eerie and beautiful in its weirdness.  Much of the rest of the album feels bland and uninspired.  Poor John was stuck in a rut.


AlbumGoodnight Vienna
Artist: Ringo Starr
Release Date: 15 November 1974
Favorite Tracks: No No Song
Thoughts:

Another collection of tunes from Ringo & friends, with Lennon, Elton John, and Harry Nillson chipping in, plus some select cover songs. Ringo is really stepping into novelty music moreso than ever on this record.  But anything with Billy Preston on keyboards can’t be all bad. You know, I wonder why Ringo didn’t get into scoring films at this time because this sounds like it could be the soundtrack of a cheesy but entertaining family film from the 70s.  Well, maybe not the “No No Song,” but then I again I loved that song as a kid.


AlbumDark Horse
Artist: George Harrison
Release Date: 9 December 1974
Favorite Tracks: It Is ‘He’ (Jai Sri Krishna)
Thoughts:

Harrison has a new sound that’s jazzier with a little funk. The album was recorded at a trying time when Harrison was divorcing Pattie Boyd (who was having affairs with his friends who nevertheless continue performing with Harrison), he relapsed into substance abuse, and was overcommited to various business ventures.  All of these things become subjects of his songwriting in the tell-all style of early 70s Beatles. Because of overexertion, Harrison injured his larynx while recording this album giving an unfortunate Tom Waits quality to his singing.  There’s not much to like about this album, but I do like the weirdness of the final track “It Is ‘He'” which brings together all the styles and fascinations of Harrison at this time.

Ten years after the Beatles first arrived in America and halfway into the 1970s, each of the Beatles has achieved a #1 song and #1 album, although there’s also a general wave of mediocrity permeating these albums.  On December 29, 1974, while vacationing at the Polynesian Resort at World Disney World, John Lennon became the final Beatle to sign the legal papers officially dissolving the Beatles. The four would continue their solo pursuits.

 

 

 

Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, part 2


Catch up on Part 1, if you haven’t read it yet.

It’s 1970 in an alternate universe where the Beatles never existed.  Four unknown English musicians  – Ringo Starr (30), George Harrison (27), John Lennon (30), and Paul McCartney (28) – release their first albums in the first three years of the decade.  Do they become famous rock stars or remain obscure?  That is what I’m going to keep in mind as I listen to these earliest post-Beatles recordings.

Artist: Ringo Starr
AlbumBeaucoups of Blues
Release Date: 25 September 1970
Favorite Tracks: Beaucoups of Blues, Fastest Growing Heartache in the West, Nashville Jam
Thoughts:

Ringo switches gears from standards to Country & Western on his second solo album of 1970.  His voice is suited to country and the songs have a nice Hank Williams vibe, although I’m not sure many would want to listen to this if they could listen to original country legends instead.  There are some nice songs, especially early on, but there are also some songs that overly silly and/or lazy and kind of embarrassing for poor Ringo.


Artist: George Harrison
AlbumAll Things Must Pass
Release Date: 27 November 1970
Favorite Tracks: I’d Have You Anytime, Wah-Wah, What is Life, Awaiting on You All, All Things Must Pass, Plug Me In, Thanks for the Pepperoni
Thoughts:

George Harrison must’ve bottled up a lot of songs in his last years with the Beatles, and unleashes them on this three-disc album.  Arguably, with previous efforts being experiments in music and/or hasty personal recordings made public, this is also the first “real” album by a solo Beatle. I really like the big-band sound and slide guitar Harrison adopts for this album.  And after all these years, I still don’t think “My Sweet Lord” sounds all that much like “He’s So Fine.”  Despite being a triple-album, nothing here is filler – although I also think “What is Life” is the only standout song – but the whole thing flows in a cohesive whole.  The large stable of guest musicians is also a plus, especially on the Apple Jam tracks.


Artist: John Lennon
AlbumJohn Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Release Date: 11 December 1970
Favorite Tracks: Mother, Working Class Hero, Remember, Well Well Well
Thoughts:

John works through some issues and explores his feelings in his first true post-Beatles recordings.  Powerful vocals, thoughtful lyrics, and good instrumentation predominate on the album.  The songs on this album are often referred to by rock critics/biographers but are less familiar to me because they’re never played on the radio, even the Classic Rock radio.  Granted, there are some f-bombs, but it’s still a shame that Lennon’s legacy as a solo artist is built on some of his lesser works.


Artist: Paul and Linda McCartney
Album: Ram
Release Date: 17 May 1971
Favorite Tracks: Too Many People
Thoughts:

McCartney improves upon his solo debut with better production values, instrumentation, and some great harmonies on his sophomore effort.  Unfortunately, the songs are lyrically frothy and empty for the most part.  It’s so odd after hearing Ringo sing sad country songs, George’s spiritual exploration, and John’s primal scream that Paul is just so damn chipper! Ironically, the only stand out track is “Too Many People” where Paul wallows in nastiness long enough to to take a swipe at John and Yoko.  There’s one song on this album I’m familiar with – overly so – and that’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” which is overplayed on the radio despite fact that it’s terrible. Even in the context of Ram, this is the absolute worst song.


Artist: John Lennon
AlbumImagine
Release Date: 9 September 1971
Favorite Tracks: Imagine, Crippled Inside, It’s So Hard,  I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama
Thoughts:

Speaking of overplayed songs, this album’s title track is more worthy of that treatment, a true classic and more politically radical than it’s given credit for.  On the other end of the spectrum is “Jealous Guy,” overplayed, but it just creeps me out as it’s basically domestic abuser apologetics.  The rest of side 1 is a good set of blues-based rock, that I really like.  Side 2 is mostly softer songs – a bit overproduced – but not too bad.


Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
AlbumWild Life
Release Date: 7 December 1971
Favorite Tracks: Mumbo
Thoughts:

Wings takes flight with an album deliberately recorded in a rush with minimal takes for a desired “raw sound.”  The songs rock more than on the similarly unfinished McCartney, but Paul & Co. apparently didn’t have much time for lyrics as the album features a lot of nonsense words on the first few songs.  I do appreciate the effort to make peace with John on “Dear Friend” though.


Artist: John Lennon & Yoko Ono and Elephant’s Memory
Album: Some Time in New York City
Release Date: June 12, 1972
Favorite Tracks:Sisters O Sisters, New York City, John Sinclair, We’re All Water
Thoughts:

This album begins with the biggest “what were they thinking?” as far as trying to make a commendable political statement in the worst possible way.  The cheerful, 60s girl-band style “Sisters O Sisters” with Yoko on lead vocals is a much, much better feminist anthem. This album features some of Ono’s best work to date. The political protest songs keep coming with songs about the Attica State prison uprising and brutal suppression, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and imprisonment of activists John Sinclair and Angela Davis.  There’s a lot of intense energy and immediacy in these songs but they also suffer from short shelf-life, more news report than art. The autobiographical rocker “New York City” may be the standout song on this album for being a personal reflection, albeit the personal is political in Lennon’s immigration troubles. The Live Jam portion makes me think that going to see Lennon, Ono, and company in concert could’ve been pretty fun.


In two short years, the Beatles had broken up, and new bands had coalesced – Wings, Elephant’s Memory, the collective of artists jamming with George, and Ringo’s all-star support crew.  None of these bands would ever be real bands in the way the Beatles were (no, not even Wings), but they were proof that the former Beatles could not work alone.

To answer the counterfactual I proposed in the opening paragraph, if four artists who’d never been the Beatles made they’re debut in 1970, would they have been successful by 1972?  Surprisingly, I think Harrison is the most likely to succeed, although he wouldn’t have gotten away with releasing a triple-album for his debut.  Lennon, too, would see some success, although people would be confused about these “Beatles” he doesn’t believe in.  Starr may have found himself a drummer in a band somewhere, but definitely not crooning country tunes.  And, McCartney … well, his early solo material was poorly received at the time, so his Beatles’ fame is really the only thing that let him continue to make more dreck, so I think alternate universe McCartney would be a flop.

 

 

 

 

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.

Book Review: Dreaming the Beatles by Rob Sheffield 


AuthorRob Sheffield 
Title: Dreaming the Beatles
Narrator:  Rob Sheffield
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017
Previously Read by This Author Love is a Mix Tape, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran
Summary/Review:

Even the author wonders what anyone could possibly say about the Beatles. Sheffield’s approach is to look at the Beatles story through the lens of how they’ve remained beloved icons to this day appealing to people who discover them long after they broke up (the author and myself included).  Sheffield has a funny way of retelling famous Beatles stories as well as poking holes in a lot of accepted wisdom.  One essay on the song “Dear Prudence” contains a lot of the factors in Sheffield’s approach.  First he notes that Paul plays the drums because it was recorded at a time when Ringo quit the band and ponders what they may have been thinking or feeling not knowing if Ringo would ever return.  Second, he talks about a common theme he sees in many Beatles song lyrics, that while they are putatively written addressing a girl, that they were often a means in which the Beatles could talk to one another.  Finally,  the actual subject of the song, Prudence Farrow, is famous for needing to be “rescued” from meditating too long in her tent, but Sheffield points out that she was just fine and didn’t need rescuing by a bunch of bored rock stars. Sheffield writes with a lot of humor and joy as he attempts to unravel the continuing appeal of the Beatles.

Recommended books: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll by Elijah Wald
Rating: ****

Book Review: Trouble Boys by Bob Mehr


Author: Bob Mehr
TitleTrouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements
Publication Info: Boston, MA : Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, [2016]
Summary/Review:

The Replacements are a band that have left a legacy of great music, yet always seemed to have the potential to do much more.  After reading this book though, it seems amazing that they even accomplished what they did.  Beyond their music, The Replacements are known for their heavy alcohol and substance abuse and their disastrous antics on-stage.  Turns out that they actually played better when drunk, and their worst performances were a rebellion against perceived hostility in the crowd or plain old self-sabotage. From the beginning, the band is riven by conflicts among its members and with their managers, producers, and record labels.

Mehr’s book traces the band back to their childhoods which were troubled indeed, especially for the Stinson brothers who suffered from abuse and neglect.  Each member of the band is well-developed within the narrative of the band’s rise and fall:

Bob Stinson – The founder of the band who always resented Paul Westerberg essentially taking over, and disliked the move to more melodic pop songs.  Stinson’s substance abuse problems were the most serious of all The Replacements, and he was forced out of the band in 1986.

Tommy Stinson – Bob had his little brother take up bass, and Tommy ended up developing into the most talented instrumentalist in the band.  Tommy’s life is remarkable as he drops out of school and he essentially spends his teenage years playing and touring with The Replacements.  Eventually he grows close to Westerberg and allies with him against his own brother.

Paul Westerberg – In the story related in the book, Westerberg hears the Stinsons’ band rehearsing in their basement and pretty takes over and makes them his band.  Westerberg comes across as arrogant and dismissive, and I really felt like punching him in the face by the end of this book.  And yet, Westerberg also grows to become a talented songwriter creating introspective songs that speak for the disaffected youth of the 1980s.

Chris Mars – Every band has a “quiet one” and The Replacements’ drummer is not just a musician but an artist who finds fulfillment outside of the band.  Still the way Paul & Tommy basically ditch him in the later years is just wrong.

Slim Dunlap – A journeyman/session guitarist who takes over after Bob Stinson’s ousting, he’s older than the rest of the band and settled in his married life, creating quite a contrast.  And yet he becomes something of an enforcer for the band against outsiders.

All in all, this is a well-written book that gives the reasons that for all their flaws, we still kind of find ourselves rooting for The Replacements to succeed.
Favorite Passages:

Though the band’s drinking would come to define and even consume them in later years, in the beginning it was a perfect lubricant for the long hours of practice and their burgeoning friendship. “That was the glue that held us—ol’ Jack Daniels,” said Mars. Westerberg noted: “They weren’t heavy fall-down drunks when I met them. None of us were. We learned to be that together.”

Where other groups evinced a certain artfulness or tried to present an idealized vision of themselves, the Replacements were all rough edges and struggle. That was part of the attraction: watching them, you couldn’t help but root for the band.

When Hoeger asked about their career aspirations, Westerberg articulated a prescient vision of the Replacements’ future: “We’d like to become famous without being professional,” he said. “Maybe like a giant cult.”

“To me, the soul of rock-and-roll is mistakes. Mistakes and making them work for you,” Westerberg would note. “In general, music that’s flawless is usually uninspired.”

Over the course of their career onstage, the Replacements would happily play the role of jesters and buffoons, but their concerts were also a high-wire act as well as a geek show. On one level, it was theater, pure performance—but it was real too. The band was constitutionally unable to put on a conventional act. If they were bored, they sounded bored; if they were drunk, the sets careened; if they were angry, their playing seethed; if they felt ornery, the show might devolve into one long piss-take, a joke on the crowd. That kind of calculated authenticity—in all its paradoxical glory—would be the Replacements’ methodology moving forward.

True Replacements fans—not the ones coming to live vicariously through them or to find sanction for their own behavior—were a different breed. “When we started, we were mixed-up kids, and we wrote about it,” said Westerberg. “It’s funny that the people who related to it the most weren’t fucked-up kids, though. Our fans have always been, dare I say, a little more intelligent than the band was labeled as. I always thought that ironic.” Replacements partisans were, on the whole, literate, dark-humored, and a bit confused about their place in the world. They weren’t the go-getters or yuppie types, but they weren’t hopeless wastrels either. They were, Tommy Stinson would note, “more like us than they fuckin’ knew. They didn’t really fit anywhere. They probably didn’t aspire to a whole lot, but also didn’t aspire to doing nothing either. That’s the kind of fan we probably appealed to most: the people that were in that gray area.

Prince was rumored to have lurked in the shadows at some of the Replacements’ shows at First Avenue, but it was in the bathroom of a club in St. Paul where Westerberg finally ran into him. “Oh, hey,” said Westerberg, seeing the dolled-up singer standing next to him at the urinal. “What’s up, man?” Prince turned and responded in cryptic fashion: “Life.”

Dubbing the Replacements “America’s inebriate counterpart to the Smiths,” Reynolds was one of the few European journalists to grasp the peculiar alchemy that fueled the ’Mats: “At the heart of the Replacements lies fatigue, insecurity, a sense of wasted or denied possibilities, but this is a pain that comes out bursting and exuberant, a world weariness that’s positively, paradoxically boisterous.”

Recommended books: Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello
Rating: ***1/2

Links of the Day (week, actually) for 30 December 2007