This week, Paul McCartney released a new album, mainly of covers and a couple of new songs. He also received his own star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It only took 42 years after the Beatles broke up. The last album the Beatles recorded was Abbey Road in 1969. In my opinion, it is a masterpiece, with George Harrison’s two songs, Something, and Here Comes the Sun as the high points of the album. When it was recorded, side A was recorded to satisfy John, and is a collection of unrelated songs. Side B, which was to satisfy Paul McCartney, the songs were segued into medleys. Kind of like a bunch of unfinished songs woven together. I find Side B to be a masterpiece of production. The album is widely considered to be one of the top 20 rock albums of all time, and in 2009 Rolling Stone readers rated it the top Beatle album. I tend to agree with the latter assessment. Seven months after it was released, the Beatles were no more.
In the spring of 1970, Ringo Starr released the solo album Sentimental Journey which was a collection of songs that were his parents and family’s favorites when he was growing up. It was released in March so it wouldn’t interfere with Paul wanting to release McCartney in April, and the last released Beatle album, Let It Be in May. Ringo sang songs previously released by Doris Day, Fred Astaire, and Hoagy Carmichael. Each song was arranged by someone different. Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees, Paul McCartney, George Martin and Quincy Jones to name a few. I’ve honestly never listened to it. Let’s face facts, Ringo is a drummer, actor/entertainer. He’s not what you would call a singer/songwriter. His album Ringo, released in 1973 was his most highly successful, but for the most part, his albums haven’t been studied, parsed and reviewed. He has toured with his All Star Band, which I saw in the early 1990′s. He put on a great show playing Ringo and it was a great concert.
Paul McCartney had holed himself up in Scotland in late 1969 with his wife and daughters. During this time he had a recorder up there and put together the McCartney album. In later years, he has called it “nothing much.” But he re-released it last year. Avoiding all sports talk after the Patriots loss, I popped it in and gave it a listen yesterday. Let me preface this by saying, I’m probably the biggest McCartney fan there is in regard to his solo music. I can find something positive about most albums. But it has been uneven, especially in the early 1970′s. There was an obvious writer block at the time and to be honest I think he had lost some self confidence. You go from using your last name as the title of your first solo album to hiding behind the name Wings. Basically the album foreshadows his solo work. Brilliant in spots, run of the mill, to all out garbage. With the Beatles breaking up and the complete clash of egos, you would think Paul would be inspired to record the greatest album ever made. Instead, what you get is two great songs, some instrumentals, and two Beatle throwaways. I think he had fun making it, screwing around in the studio, playing all the instruments. I actually like his drumming! It’s just something you wouldn’t release, especially after Abbey Road.
It opens with the Lovely Linda, which is about a :45 second ode to his new bride and then ends abruptly. That Would Be Something is the next song. Lyrically limited, to meet you in the falling rain would really be something in Paul’s mind. Then he follows up with his first instrumental which is Valentine Day. It’s 100 seconds of harmlessness. Finally in song four, we get a song that you would hear on a Beatle album Every Night. This song, would fit in nicely on the White Album. Starts with a nice acoustic guitar, Paul’s voice is in fine form. It’s the second best on the album. This is followed by another instrumental, Hot as Sun(glasses). It’s catchy, and sounds like the background music you would hear on a quiz game show. Junk is song # 5 and should have been the title track to Wings’ first album Wild Life, which is just that. He wrote the song in India in 1968. It was rejected for the White Album and Abbey Road. Paul HAD to put it on an album. It’s dull, unassuming and lyrically silly. “Bye Bye says the sign in the shop window, why why says the junk in the yard.” It’s also on the Beatle anthology. Man We Was Lonely ensues. I like the intro to it, and we get to hear Linda and her bad background vocals. Paul sings about his fast city life and how he’s much happier being home lying with his love. It’s catchy, as well as harmless. Then comes Oo You where Paul commands his woman to “dress like a lady”, “look like a woman”, “eat like your hungry.” Musically, it sounds good, hard drums, loud guitar, but he’s got nothing to say. The song frankly stinks. Another instrumental, Momma Miss America opens up with a nice little drum intro. This is the best instrumental on the album, but it’s four minutes long, about two minutes in you think, “next song please.” Teddy Boy, a song that was rejected for Let It Be, is next on the docket. Paul has claimed that the song never developed because the rest of the Beatles didn’t have the patience due to the tension in the band. Paul, they didn’t have the patience because its garbage. Paul must have really thought he had another Yesterday on his hands, because then we get not only another instrumental, but it’s the melody to Junk! Called Singalong Junk, it was actually in the soundtrack of Jerry Maguire.” Finally on the 12th song, we get the crown jewel of the album. Maybe I’m Amazed. Pound for pound, probably the finest solo song he’s ever recorded. His lyrics, singing, guitar playing on the song are top notch. THIS is the Abbey Road McCartney. The album ends with a dull thud to the head. Kreen-Akore, is an instrumental with drums, a guitar solo and heavy breathing. It’s 4 minutes and 14 seconds of your listening life you will never get back. All in all I would give the album a C-. That might be harsh, but when I listen to it, I try to put myself in 1970, I have been awed by the brilliance of Abbey Road, and this is the follow up. It makes it even worse than it is. The quality control is completely lacking. Probably the 3rd worst McCartney album behind, Wild Life and McCartney II.
All Things Must Pass by George Harrison was released in late November 1970. It was released as a 3 record set. The first of its kind. In the Beatles, George was allowed 2 songs per album. By the end of the sixties, he had a ton of material to work with and an axe to grind with Paul McCartney. It is the finest solo Beatle album there is. It is absolutely beautiful to listen to. It spawned two number 1 hits, My Sweet Lord and What Is Life. It’s lyrics, instrumentation, changes in tempo are brilliant. George sings about love, the Lord, darkness, and resentment. In Wah Wah, he’s basically telling Paul to stop badgering him. The high point for me is side 2 of the first record. Side 1 is great, with I’d Have You Anytime and My Sweet Lord, kicking things off. I can’t see John and Paul having any interest in “krishna ing” along to My Sweet Lord. After Wah Wah, George follows it up with Isn’t It A Pity, which was written in 1966, is 7 minutes long and was rejected by the Beatles. It’s hypnotic and full of regret. The coda ends with “such a pity, pity, what a pity.” George liked it so much he put version two on the same album. Side 2 of record one starts up with the famous opening guitar riff to What is Life. The album really starts to hit its stride here. The Bob Dylan written If Not For You is beautifully played and sung. This and the next song, Behind That Locked Door are my two favorite on the album. On the latter, George urges the subject of his affections to let out the love they are blessed with. He consoles them in singing “the pain is now through.” Let It Down starts off loud, bold, and then slows into George quietly singing that he really cares. Then the chorus gets loud again. The change in tempo and sound is brilliant. Phil Spector’s production talents are at their apex here. Finally, side 2 ends with Run of the Mill in which George sings that you choose and decide whether or not to raise your voice. It’s a great ending to one of the better albums sides you’ll ever hear.
The optimism and good feeling of side 2 ends at the beginning of side 3. Beware of Darkness sounds just like the title, eerie and dark. Apple Scruffs is an ode to the girls who used to hang outside Apple Studios to get a glimpse of the Fab Four. The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp is a shout out to the previous owner of his estate in England. Awaiting On You All urges the listener to chant in the name of the Lord and you’ll be free. It has one of the most underrated lyrics, “The Pope earns 51% of General Motors..” Whatever, George. Next is the title track, All Things Must Pass, which was a Beatle reject from the Let It Be sessions. It can be heard on the third Beatle Anthology. Side 4 continues the theme of digging love, the afterlife (The Art of Dying), and the Lord, Hear Me Lord, as well as version 2 of Isn’t It A Pity. Although the lyrics are a little preachy toward the Lord, the musicianship is simply outstanding. George’s slide guitar playing on The Art of Dying is fantastic.
The last record, is basically an all-star jam session of instrumentals mostly. Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Dave Mason, and Klaus Voorman are some of the famous musicians who play on it. I can take it or leave it. It’s Johnny’s Birthday for John Lennon is charming. It’s a throwaway but it’s also what Paul McCartney should have done with his album. Make it a double record set with the instrumentals being bonus tracks. This album grades an A. The religious themes and the jam session keeps it from being an A+. George Harrison proved the Beatles had three geniuses in the band.
John Lennon released the Plastic Ono Band in December of 1970. Lennon had done four months of primal scream therapy and held none of his anger, bitterness and vitriol back. It’s the epitome of the output of the tortured artist. A role Lennon enjoyed playing at this time. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon spoke with all the pomp and circumstance about the difficulties of being a genius. I read the interview a few years back and Lennon really comes off as a pretentious tool. I’ll be the first to admit he’s my third favorite Beatle, but I don’t deny his genius. Of my favorite Beatle songs, 6 or 7 are Lennon recordings. I just think he got a little too big for his britches in the late 1960′s and was buying into his genius. In a lot of ways, he was a hypocrite. He campaigned for peace, yet was an angry individual. The album opens with Mother, a song which talks about his mother Julia, and how she abandoned him. He sings, “mother, you had me, I didn’t have you…” and “I needed you, you didn’t need me…” The coda is him hauntingly singing/crying out, “Mama don’t go, Daddy come home.” The last track of the album, is “My Mummy’s Dead.” Obviously, Lennon had a lot of pent-up bitterness toward his Moms, and wasn’t holding back any longer. What’s funny though is two years earlier, on the White Album, he sings about “the song of love for Julia” in the ode to his mother, Julia, which is really a beautiful song. So which is it? He also sings about the Working Class Hero is something to be. Pure bull fertilizer. The man puts you down and makes you feel small. Why would that be something to be? And in God, Lennon decides to tell the world that God is a concept that he only believes in “Yoko and me” and calls out everyone. Jesus, Elvis, Dylan, and really emphasizes BEATLES… The dream is over and our hero is now just John. I find this album hard to listen to. It’s angry, bitter, introspective, and in his mind honest. It’s the type of album you would listen to before you went postal. The critics LOVED it. What amuses about 1970′s album reviews it how each writer tried to out-articulate the other in their quest to define art. In the Plastic Ono Band, they found their patron saint of all things artistic, John Lennon. I don’t find it that honest, to tell you the truth. I think Lennon was playing a role. I give it a B-. You have to have balls to put something like this out and pull it off.
The beauty of the Beatles was you had the rough Lennon being sandpapered by the slick McCartney and vice versa. You had George believing he was on par as a tunesmith to John and Paul. Name one other band with three lead singers? There will never be anything like them again.