Song of the Week – I Want You; Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Elvis Costello

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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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Words of Love, The Beatles; Well All Right, Blind Faith; I’m Gonna Love You Too, Blondie

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Buddy Holly released his first record – “Blue Days, Black Nights”/”Love Me” – on Decca in April 1956, when he was just 19 years old.  He died less than three years later, in February 1959, at the age of 22.  In that very short career, Holly recorded eight Billboard Top 40 hits in the US, 3 of which were Top 10.

His discography is so well known and so highly respected that it should be no surprise that his songs have remained alive for generations via cover versions.  Today’s SotW post highlights a few of the best.

The Beatles were huge Buddy Holly fans.  They chose their name as a play on Holly’s Crickets, but not Beetles, instead making a pun out of their “beat group” music.  They also included as many as a dozen of his songs in their early club sets, many of which can be heard on the BBC recordings.  So, let’s start with “Words of Love” from Beatles For Sale in the UK and Beatles VI here at home; the only cover to make it onto an official, studio release.

The Beatles don’t stray very far from Holly’s original arrangement – the “handclaps” are a new feature – but the Lennon/McCartney (Lennon/Harrison?) harmony is sublime.  The boys laid this track down in two takes – no surprise since it was in the band’s repertoire since their days woodshedding in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1969, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech formed Blind Faith, one of the first rock “supergroups.”  The short-lived band released only one album that had only 6 cuts – but one of them, “Well All Right,” was a cover of a Buddy Holly B-side.

Blind Faith made the song their own, adding a heavy opening riff and an improvisational middle section that extended its play time to a whole 4 ½ minutes!

In 1978, Blondie released their power-pop classic, Parallel Lines.  On it, they covered Holly’s “I’m Gonna Love you Too” and released it as the first single from the album (though it didn’t chart!).

Deborah Harry’s vocal and the bands aggressive backing adds some punk/new wave fury to the arrangement that modernizes Holly’s original, smoother rockabilly approach.

A Buddy Holly tribute album, Rave On Buddy Holly, was released in 2011.  It has covers of Holly songs by contemporary artists The Black Keys, She and Him, Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Fiona Apple, the recently deceased Justin Townes Earle, and classic rockers Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and Graham Nash.  It proves that Holly’s music remains vital.  The album is worth a listen.

Rave on!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – British Invasion Music in Film

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This is the next installment of my series on Rock music in films; today covering the British Invasion.

The Beatles reached into the homes of millions of Americans via The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evening, February 9, 1964, launching Beatlemania.  A month later, the Beatles began filming their first movie – A Hard Day’s Night – that was released in the US the following August.

Like the Beatles’ music itself, A Hard Day’s Night set the bar for quality very high.  It’s not only a good Beatle movie or a good Rock music movie; it’s simply a good movie – a very good pun and quip filled movie.

The screenplay was written by Alun Owen and deftly directed by Richard Lester.  Both provide ample opportunities for each Beatle to reveal their personality.  The Beatles prove that they are more than lovable mop tops.  They are smart and funny young men.  The scene where George accidentally stumbles into a focus group meeting for a ‘60s version of a style influencer is hilarious.

The segment where the boys escape the TV studio and romp around the Thornbury Playing Fields in Isleworth, Middlesex, to “Can’t By Me Love” was shot using camera techniques that would be copied many times over, especially by The Monkees.

Other movies starring British Invasion groups include fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers in Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965), Herman’s Hermits’ Hold On (1966), and The Dave Clark Five in Having a Wild Weekend (1965).  They all seem to try to imitate A Hard Days Night to a greater or lesser degree.  But all fail.

Check out the DC5 mimicking the Can’t Buy Me Love, Thornbury scene at the end of this clip:

Having a Wild Weekend (originally Catch Us If You Can in England) is a decent film, the directorial debut by a young John Boorman who later achieved success with Deliverance (1972).  The plot involves a young model/actress Dinah (Barbara Ferris) who wants to escape the pressure of being the commercial image behind a meat industry campaign.  Stuntman Steve (Dave Clark) – who was a real-life stuntman before becoming a rock star — sympathizes with the craziness surrounding them and takes her away on an impromptu journey.

The film doesn’t take advantage of any “on-screen” performances by the group, a decision that limits its appeal.  But it does include several DC5 recordings – “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Move On,” “I Like It” and, of course, “Catch Us If You Can.”

So stay tuned.  There’s more to come in this exploration on the topic of Rock music in films.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Thing We Said Today, Dwight Yoakam

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Those of you that know me personally are aware that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, The Beatles.  I’ve collected all their official releases and dozens of bootlegs that contain outtakes, alternate takes, and demos.

I have an iTunes playlist of Beatles covers that has thousands of versions of their songs.  My playlist is totally indiscriminate.  Some of the cuts are awesome – some pathetic.  But I’ve collected them all – straight covers, and lots of variations including soul, country, classical, easy listening, big band, jazz, and bluegrass.  I even have some Polka versions!

I really enjoy when an artist takes a Beatles tune and makes it their own.  Especially if it is well played and well sung.  Today’s SotW is an example of such – “Things We Said Today” by Dwight Yoakam.

Yoakam is a country artist, but his style is much closer to rock influenced honky-tonk than traditional Nashville country.  At least that was true when he began his recording career in the mid ‘80s.  (Today it seems like all the top country acts really play rock music with a twang.)  Believe it or not, Yoakam actually shared a bill with the punk band Hüsker Dü in 1986!  On his 2012 album 3 Pears, Yoakam enlisted the help of Beck to provide handclaps on “A Heart Like Mine.”

His cover of “Things We Said Today” is a terrific example of his melding of rock and country.  The song has an inventive recurring riff that sets the tone for what’s to come.  It’s heavier than the Beatles original.  And it ends with a searing guitar solo.

On a side note, I have an interesting story about seeing Yoakam live.  Back in the mid ‘80s, my wife was working for an ad agency in Boston when she was invited to a party to celebrate the launch of WBOS’s format change to country music.  I was her guest.  The party included live performances by some of the rising country artists of the day, including Reba McEntire… and Yoakam.

Boston wasn’t a hotbed for country music fans back then (and probably still isn’t) so the audience of radio and ad executives were more interested in the hors d’oeuvres and drinks than the music.  But being the music nerd that I am, I walked (alone) up to the front of the stage and watched both artists perform.  Even though I couldn’t claim to be a country music fan, I could tell that these were top quality musicians and deserved to be heard.  It was a great experience that is seared into my memory.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Helter Skelter & Dear Prudence, The Beatles

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The Beatles (more commonly known as the White Album) was released 50 years ago.  In celebration, a new, boxed set has just come out with remixes of the songs by Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles’ long time producer, George Martin.  The box includes the Esher demos – primitive recorded sketches of the songs, mostly written on the band’s trip to India, intended for learning them prior to entering the recording studio.  It also has previously unreleased outtakes and alternate versions.

The Beatles has long been admired and excoriated for the range of styles it explores.  Its 30 songs cover a broad spectrum of styles – some more successfully than others.  This has led to a decades long debate among Beatles’ scholars about whether or not the album should have been edited down to a single album instead of a double, and which songs should have made the cut.

The breadth of the album also provided an opportunity for John and Paul to break out of their stereotyped songwriting roles.  Paul was known for his sentimental ballads (“Yesterday,” Michelle,” “Here, There and Anywhere”) and John for writing caustic rockers (“Day Tripper,” “Help,” “Run for Your Life”).  Not that the White Album didn’t hold true to those labels — i.e. Paul’s “I Will” and “Mother Nature’s Son,” and John’s “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” — but they also did a role reversal.

Paul’s “Helter Skelter” stands among the Beatles’ recordings with the hardest edge.

Who would have thought this track would evolve from the blues dirge heard on Take 2 (available on the Anthology series) into the up-tempo rocker we know from the White Album?

“Helter Skelter” was ruined for many people by its association with Charles Manson and his “family” of murderers.  I like the intro Bono made when U2 covered the song in concert – “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles.
We’re stealing it back.”  Hopefully we have all stolen it back now that Manson is dead and gone.

John contributed two beautifully sentimental cuts to The Beatles.  “Julia” is a tribute to his mother that abandoned him in his early childhood but came back into his life as a teenager only to be killed shortly afterward in a car accident.  The other was “Dear Prudence,” which was one of his finest compositions – not just for the White Album, but in his entire repertoire.

“Prudence” was written for Prudence Farrow (Mia’s sister) who was on the India meditation trip with them.  She became so focused on her practice that she locked herself in her room to meditate all day.  John tried to persuade her through song to “come out and play.”  At the end of the Esher demo John explains “Who was to know that [suppressed giggle] sooner or later she was to go completely berserk in the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  All the people around were very worried about the girl, because she was going insane.  So we sang to her.” 

Although The Beatles has been criticized for being bloated with non-essential cuts (“Don’t Pass Me By,” “Wild Honey Pie,” “Revolution #9”) it still holds up after 50 years.  In my opinion, it is the diversity, risk taking, and wide range of musical genres that account for its enduring charm.  There’s something for everyone.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Blackbird, Piggies, Rocky Raccoon, The Beatles

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As I write this I’m aware the 50 years ago today, the Beatles were in Abbey Road Studios recording The Beatles, better known as the White Album.  Recording of The Beatles would eventually be completed on October 14th and it would be released on November 22, 1968, just in time to be placed under the Christmas tree for millions of adoring fans.

I love the White Album and will probably post about it again before the end of the year.  But I’ll start with today’s observation that it is the Beatles’ animals album.  Well what the hell does that mean?

There are four songs on the album that specifically mention an animal in the title:

Blackbird

Piggies

Rocky Raccoon

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey

Martha My Dear was written about Paul’s sheep dog, but does not explicitly mention it in the lyrics.  However, there are several other songs that do mention animals in the lyrics.  “He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun…”  “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane…”  And several more.  Go find them.

Today’s SotW are the three that were presented all in a row on Side 2.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Magical Misery Tour, National Lampoon; Ouch!, The Rutles

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This has been a very Beatle-y year. We marked the 50th anniversary of Revolver and their last full concert at Candlestick Park. Then there was the release of the new Ron Howard film Eight Days a Week that celebrated the touring years. The Beatles has such a significant impact on popular culture that we can expect the next few years to be Beatle-y as well. 50th anniversary celebrations of events from ’67-70 will be commonplace. Expect a media onslaught when we reach the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper next June.

Still, this year’s focus on Beatle history has allowed me to indulge in a few esoteric aspects of Beatle fandom. For instance, I’ve been building a playlist of Beatles covers. I don’t expect this project to have an end but it currently has over 700 songs.

Another has been to listen to Beatle parodies. The first SotW is the National Lampoon’s John Lennon parody, “Magical Misery Tour” aka “Genius is Pain.”

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This song is a riot but if you’re offended by the “f” word, skip it! It was written by Tony Hendra (lyrics) and Chris Cerf (music). Hendra had the clever idea to take actual quotes from the famous Lennon Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner and set them to music. Brilliant!!! And that’s Melissa Manchester playing the role of Yoko at the end.

The greatest Beatles parody of all was the movie/soundtrack called All You Need is Cash by the Rutles. The 14 Beatle parody songs contained within were written by Neil Innes, formerly of Monty Python and The Bonzo Dog Band. You should check them all out but today I’ll treat you to the take-off on “Help” – the Rutles song “Ouch!.”

Of course there are other Beatles parodies worth checking out. In fact the Prince of Parody, “Weird Al” Yankovic, has done three himself – Generic Blues (Yer Blues), Pac-man (Taxman) and Gee I’m a Nerd (Free as a Bird).

Part of the charm that fueled Beatlemania was the Fab Four’s good natured irreverence. It’s only fair then that they take a little bit of their own medicine.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, The Beatles

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Today’s SotW is about the most popular songs I’ve ever posted about. The occasion is the 50th anniversary of one of my favorite singles releases evah! On December 8, 1965, The Beatles released the double A-sided single “Day Tripper”/”We Can Work It Out.”

The songs were recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions.

“Day Tripper” was written specifically to be released as a single. Recording for it occurred on October 16th and was completed that day. They rehearsed in the afternoon and then they recorded the rhythm track in three takes. Vocals were overdubbed in the evening.

The opening riff is a variation on Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” (which was also the inspiration for “I Feel Fine”). The energy builds quickly as bass, a rhythm guitar and tambourine enter, capped off by a drum roll and cymbal crash. (The tambourine was used extensively on the Rubber Soul sessions.)

“We Can Work It Out” was recorded four days later on October 20th and nearly completed save for some final vocal overdubs recorded on October 29th. It is special in that it is one of a very few true Lennon/McCartney collaborations written after their very early days together.

Who wrote what is easy to discern as it plays right into the boy’s reputations – Paul’s positive, upbeat verse/chorus set against John’s cynical middle eight.

One of the things that we Beatlemaniacs love about their music is that almost every song is like a box of Cracker Jacks – it has a “surprise” inside. On “We Can Work It Out” it is the shift to waltz time in the section that bridges back to the verse. That was George’s contribution.

When the sessions began it was assumed “Day Tripper” would be the A-side. But everyone was so pleased with the way “We Can Work It Out” sounded that they changed their minds… except John. He wanted to lead with “Day Tripper” and lobbied hard for it. The compromise was to release the double A-side. Genius!!!

You’ve got to admit, they just don’t make them like this anymore.

Enjoy… until next week.