When I was a teenager growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley, I would listen to WNEW-FM out of New York City. At 60 miles north of the city, we were right on the edge of how far the radio station’s signal would travel. But I would tolerate the signal fading in and out to hear the best music being broadcast by the coolest DJs.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a hip website that has a history of the station and offers a plethora of airchecks. I went deep down into the rabbit hole.
I particularly enjoyed an interview of John Lennon that Dennis Elsas conducted in the WNEW studio on September 28, 1974. Lennon came in to chat with Elsas and to play a few of his favorite records as well as to share a few cuts from his new album Walls and Bridges which had been released just 2 days prior.
One of the songs John chose to play was “Showdown” by The Electric Light Orchestra. He described them as “Son of Beatles.” Then he gave me the idea for this SotW! In his setup for “Showdown,” he said:
“Now for those people who like to know where licks and things come from which I do, ‘cause I’m always making little things myself, this is a beautiful combination of ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ by Marvin Gaye and ‘Lightning Strikes Again’ Lou Christie. And it’s a beautiful job with a little ‘Walrus’ underneath.”
Are you curious to hear what Lennon heard? Let’s do it!
Let’s start the New Year with a post that features music by my all-time favorite band, The Beatles; but with a twist. This one presents “songs that the Beatles gave away.” In other words, it includes songs written by one of them but never officially released by the group. Instead, it was recorded and released by another artist.
Being democratic, I’ll highlight one song (primarily) written by each of the Beatles’ songwriters. Sorry, Ringo!
“Bad to Me” was written by John Lennon and recorded by Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas.
The song is very typical of the early Beatle style – a “love song” with a simple, catchy melody. It reached #1 in the UK in 1963 and #9 in the US in 1964, after the Beatles reached our shores.
Here’s Lennon’s demo.
Paul McCartney wrote “Goodbye” for Mary Hopkin as a follow-up to her #2 cabaret hit “Those Were the Days” (1968).
“Goodbye” has another prototypical McCartney melody. It skips along like schoolgirls in the playground on a sunny day. McCartney, himself, played most of the instruments on the recording. It reached #13 in the US in 1969.
Hopkin was one of the first acts signed to the Beatles’ newly formed Apple Records.
Now listen to McCartney’s demo.
Although much less prolific than Lennon/McCartney, George Harrison also wrote a few compositions he was willing to share with other artists. He gave “Sour Milk Sea” (1968) — written on the Beatles’ famous trip to Rishikesh, India — to Jackie Lomax, another Apple Records signee.
“Sour Milk Sea” is more obscure but is a pretty good rocker. It didn’t chart despite featuring musical accompaniment from Harrison, McCartney, and Starr.
Now Harrison’s demo.
You probably can remember and name a few other “songs the Beatles gave away”, including Peter & Gordon’s “A World Without Love” and “Come and Get It” by Badfinger. But there are quite a few more. Check out this Wikipedia page for a more comprehensive list:
Last November, Disney+ relased The Beatles: Get Back. The three episode documentary, directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, took 60 hours of film footage and 150 hours of audio tape — from 22 days in January 1969 — and reconstructed it into an 8 hour, “fly on the wall” experience that seeks to revise the negative vibe and historical record of what actually occurred during the sessions that culminated in the original Let it Be movie from 1970. At that, The Beatles: Get Back succeeds.
However, it can’t be denied that a mere 15 months later, on April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney announced that The Beatles had broken up through his ambiguous answers to the questions he was asked during an interview about his first solo album, McCartney.
I was browsing through the recent Paul McCartney book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present that my wife gave me for Christmas. It has the lyrics to 156 McCartney compositions along with his commentary and loads of photos and memorabilia.
I was interested in his explanation of the lyrics to “Too Many People”, from 1971’s Ram.
This song was written a year or so after The Beatles breakup, at a time when John was firing missiles at me with his songs, and one or two of them were quite cruel. I don’t know what he hoped to gain, other than punching me in the face. The whole thing really annoyed me.
The key lyrics blame John for the breakup and scold him for preaching and telling people how they ought to live.
That was your first mistake You took your lucky break and broke it in two.
Now what can be done for you? You broke it in two.
Too many people preaching practices Don’t let ’em tell you what you wanna be Too many people holding back This is crazy, and baby, it’s not like me
What surprised me was that John’s most scathing song aimed at Paul, “How Do You Sleep”, was written as a response to “Too Many People.” I had originally thought it was the other way around. “How Do You Sleep” was on Lennon’s Imagine that was released about 4 months after Ram.
John’s basic personality had an acerbic, mean spirited side that was foreign to the genial McCartney. So John’s swipes were direct stabs to the heart where McCartney’s were more subtle. John says:
So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise You better see right through that mother’s eyes Those freaks was right when they said you was dead The one mistake you made was in your head
You live with straights who tell you, you was king Jump when your momma tell you anything The only thing you done was yesterday And since you’ve gone you’re just another day
Those last lines are references to McCartney’s signature Beatles’ tune, “Yesterday”, and the soft rock of his solo song from Ram, “Another Day.” Ouch!
I’d like to think that if John were still alive today, these past grievences would be forgiven and settled, and the Lennon/McCartney team would be friends again.
Over the many years I’ve been writing, I occasionally cover a topic I call the Evolution Series. Those posts either follow a song that has been covered in many forms/styles or demonstrates how a rhythm has been used differently in songs. Today I’m stretching the concept a little further. Today’s evolution traces three songs with the same title, by three different outstanding artists, that are not related in any direct way, except that they all depict a lover’s obsession. The song title is “I Want You.”
First up is the Dylan classic from Blonde on Blonde.
The verses contain the vivid imagery that we all came to expect and enjoy from Dylan and the chorus switches to a very heartfelt, direct plea.
The guilty undertaker sighs The lonesome organ grinder cries The silver saxophones say I should refuse you The cracked bells and washed-out horns Blow into my face with scorn But it’s not that way I wasn’t born to lose you
I want you, I want you I want you so bad Honey, I want you
In 1970, John Lennon contributed a song to Abbey Road called “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
Everyone knows this one! It has several cool surprises. It opens with an arpeggiated guitar riff, quickly moves into the main theme, and switches into a Latin influenced reprise. About 4:30 in John practices his primal scream vocal that reveals his excruciating pain — it makes Dylan’s “heartfelt, direct plea” seem charming – then returns to the arpeggio opening. This continues for 3 minutes, getting heavier and heavier with each cycle – until it unexpectedly ends abruptly in a morass of static. Brilliant!
Elvis Costello released one of his best albums, Blood & Chocolate, in 1986 and it too contained a song titled “I Want You.”
The truth can’t hurt you it’s just like the dark It scares you witless But in time you see things clear and stark I want you Go on and hurt me then we’ll let it drop I want you I’m afraid I won’t know where to stop I want you I’m not ashamed to say I cried for you I want you I want to know the things you did that we do too I want you I want to hear he pleases you more than I do I want you I might as well be useless for all it means to you I want you
The slow, sparse arrangement emphasizes the darkness of the lyrics. Wikipedia quotes Rolling Stone aptly calling the track “an epic testament to jealousy over a former lover’s new partner.”
I wonder if any of these artists were influenced by the song(s) that preceded theirs. Perhaps there is a more direct connection than initially seems to be the case.
Last Monday, October 9th, would have been John Lennon’s 77th birthday. Today, October 14th, is my 33rd anniversary.
I’ve decided to combine the two events with today’s SotW, “Grow Old with Me,” by Lennon.
This is one of the last songs he wrote and recorded as a demo before being murdered in 1980. For several years it was only heard by fans who sought out bootleg recordings. But the song was given an official release on 1984’s Milk and Honey album, albeit in the original demo form.
According to Wikipedia:
The song was inspired from two different sources: from a poem penned by Robert Browning titled “Rabbi ben Ezra” and a song by Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono called “Let Me Count the Ways” (which in turn had been inspired from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning).
Lennon and Ono had for some time admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, and the two songs were purposely written with the couple in mind.
Ono woke up one morning in the summer of 1980 with the music of “Let Me Count the Ways” in her head and promptly rang Lennon in Bermuda to play it for him. Lennon loved the song and Ono then suggested to him that he should write a Robert Browning piece to accompany it. That afternoon, John was watching TV when a film came on which had the poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” by Robert Browning in it. Inspired by this turn of events, Lennon wrote “Grow Old with Me” as an answer to Ono’s song, and rang her back to play it to her over the phone.
The song was later covered by Mary Chapin Carpenter and the late Glen Campbell.
Today the great sax player, Bobby Keys, died at the age of 70. In his honor I’m re-posting a SotW I originally sent out 2 years ago tomorrow – November 3, 2012.
One of my favorite session men is tenor sax player Bobby Keys. Known mostly for his long association with the Rolling Stones – that’s Keys on “Brown Sugar”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and all over Exile on Main Street – Keys also made significant to contributions to recordings by everyone from Joe Cocker, to George Harrison, to Harry Nilsson, to Buddy Holly.
He played the sax on Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender.” That’s him again on Dion’s “The Wanderer.”
Keys rock star lifestyle excesses are legendary. In February he published an autobiography titled Every Night’s a Saturday Night: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Legendary Sax Man. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m certain it contains some great stories.
My pick for the SotW is John Lennon’s collaboration with Elton John – “Whatever Gets You through the Night.”
I chose this song because Lennon really created a lot of space for Keys to do his thing. (And let’s face it; it’s a really fun song that you probably haven’t heard in a dog’s age.) From the opening note, Keys is blaring away. Then he gets a couple of opportunities in between each verse and chorus to add short solos. He really makes the song.
As a side note, WGYTTN has an interesting story to go along with it. Apparently, in the recording studio Elton predicted it would be a hit. Lennon didn’t agree, so they made a bet. If the song reached #1, Lennon would have to appear on stage to perform it with Elton. Indeed, the song hit #1 on the Billboard charts on November 16, 1974. Lennon made good on his wager and appeared with Elton at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1974.