Moody Blues, Dylan, the Boss, solo Fab

Smile Away

Bob_Dylan_-_Love_and_TheftIn response to my most recent Ask Roger Anything request – you can STILL ask! – TWO music questions.

My old buddy Kevin, who grew up in my area, but who I didn’t know until college, asked:
What are your favorite albums by 1) the Moody Blues, 2) Bob Dylan and 3) Bruce Springsteen?

The Moody Blues is easy. While I have a few albums on vinyl that I haven’t listened to in forever, I never got any on CD or as downloads, except for a greatest hits CD. So the only album I can remember without looking it up is Days Of Future Passed. And I liked it not just based on its themes of dayparts, but the fact that a 1967 album could generate a hit half a decade later. Nights In White Satin went to #103 pop in 1968, but to #2 pop for two weeks in 1972.

My first favorite Springsteen album was Born To Run, the album that got him on the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously. And Darkness On The Edge Of Town was a very strong follow-up. Born In The USA is, naturally a great album, but I heard it a bit too often in the 1980s.

I should note that c. 2000, my late brother-in-law John asked me what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday. I said any Springsteen CD prior to 1992, most of which I had on vinyl. He bought me Asbury Park, both Born albums, Darkness, and The River, the two-record set which I had never owned.

Around 2006, my sister Leslie bought me We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Some great songs, done well. But many of them appear in the two-CD Live in Dublin that came out in 2007, and they’re even better.

Zimmerman

Considering the vast number of Dylan CDs I now own, it’s peculiar that I never bought a Bob album in the 1960s. It’s due in part to the fact that I had belonged to the Capitol Record Club in 1966/67, where I got the bulk of my Beatles LPs, not to mention albums by the Beach Boys, Lovin’ Spoonful, and others. Bob was on Columbia. The ONLY Dylan song I owned was from a cheap compilation album, The Best of ’66, which had I Want You.

In fact, the first Dylan album I purchased was for my high school girlfriend, the double album Self-Portrait, which came out in 1970. I wasn’t impressed, and I’m not even sure whether SHE liked it.

Eventually, I bought a few LPs – John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline. But it wasn’t until CDs came out that I started to backfill my Dylan collection: Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, and my favorite, Blood on the Tracks.

I had pre-ordered Love and Theft, which was to be released on September 11, 2001. After I left work early that day – we all did – I was riding my bike home and I went past the record store. I stopped, got the album, and stood around the store awhile as the television was recapitulating the awful news of the day.

I didn’t listen to the album for well over a week. But when I did, I LOVED it, especially the run that began with the third track, Summer Days. I played this album a lot, and it made me happy in a very sad time.

Solo Fabs

Julie, who I’ve known for a few years – I have a pic of her holding my daughter when L was a baby – wants to know:
 What is the best solo Beatles album?

Oh, my, I have been musing on this forever. Conventional Wisdom would put All Things Must Pass by George and Plastic Ono Band by John at the top of the list. These would be totally legitimate choices, especially ATMP, which proved that John and Paul underestimated their younger bandmate. I just watched Concert For George from 2002, and it reminded me just how much I loved Wah Wah.

Yet, and maybe it’s because I’ve listened to it recently, that I’m picking Paul’s (and Linda’s) Ram. Your folks would know that when it came out in 1971, it was savaged by much of the music press. Part of this was a function of the less-than-kind things John said about the album.

Really? Yes

As this 2021 review noted, “The record… saw the singer lay down a blueprint that would eventually help build some of the most notable genres around. You can trace everything from Britpop to pure jangle indie back to this record.” Too Many People, for instance, was a jab at John, much more subtle than John’s How Do You Sleep on his Imagine album.

From All Music: “In retrospect, it looks like nothing so much as the first indie-pop album, a record that celebrates small pleasures with big melodies, a record that’s guileless and unembarrassed to be cutesy. But McCartney never was quite the sap of his reputation… There’s some ripping rock and roll in the mock-apocalyptic goof Monkberry Moon Delight, the joyfully noisy Smile Away, where his feet can be smelled a mile away, and  Eat At Home, a rollicking, winking sex song.”

When I played it recently for the first time this century, I said, pretty much to myself, “Damn, I really LIKE this album!” And I remembered it amazingly well.

Oh, and I have a great affection for the Ringo album, which featured all four of them, not all at the same time. Do the Travelling Wilburys count as “solo”? Because I’d stick that first album in the mix.

The death of a public figure

Ask Arthur Anything response

Harvey Milk.George Moscone
Harvey Milk and George Moscone

For Arthur’s Ask Arthur Anything feature – I wonder where he got THAT idea? – I asked him one or two questions. One was “Other than Nigel [his late husband], whose death did you most mourn? Also what death of a public figure most affected you?” I’m going to focus on the latter.

Arthur wrote: “Two deaths affected me well afterward: Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978 and Matthew Shepard’s murder twenty years later.” And it is true for me as well.

At the time, I thought Harvey Milk was the “other guy”, a city councilman killed along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by colleague Dan White. This happened only a short time after the Jonestown massacre, in which a large number of Bay Area residents died, traumatizing the community. Congressman Leo Ryan was also murdered in Guyana, tearfully announced by Moscone.

But by the time I saw the 2008 film Milk, I knew how important Harvey’s leadership was in LGBTQ+ rights. And that he went to school at the University at Albany.

I discussed Matthew Shepard in a comparison with Emmett Till, about whom I’ve written often. “Neither victim was a publicly known person; they weren’t activists in their respective civil rights struggles. Yet because Emmett’s mother had his battered body photographed in an open casket, because we saw the fence upon which Matthew was symbolically crucified, they were remembered nationally far beyond how the average murder victim is recalled.”

And yes, I protested in Albany against a certain ‘religious” Hate group, which came to town some years ago to complain about Laramie Project performances.

Dead musicians

Unlike John Lennon’s assassination, which hit me immediately, George Harrison’s death didn’t have the same instant impact. I knew he was dying. It was after 9/11; in fact, he was on the cover of TIME magazine in late November 2001, the first cover that wasn’t about 9/11 or Afghanistan in a couple of months. As I played George’s music, and later, when I heard the  Concert For George, his passing developed a greater resonance.

Sometimes, I’ll point out to Brian Ibbott, host of the podcast Coverville, which music stars had birthdays the following month that were divisible by five. I noted that David Bowie would have been 75 on January 8, 2022. Someone commented, “There hasn’t been a David Bowie cover story since the tribute in 2016. January 10 will also be the sixth anniversary of this sad day. So, please!”

Weird thing. I was recently watching that bit with Bowie and Bing Crosby on the latter’s holiday special. You know, the one with the fascinating dialogue. I was thinking, “Crosby died [on October 14, 1977] before that thing aired.” And suddenly, I realized, “Bowie’s dead too!” This is obviously something I knew intellectually since I had written about it more than once. Yet it took me by surprise and made me quite sad.

I’d count Prince, especially since my niece Rebecca Jade started singing with Sheila E. in 2017, and they cover so many of his songs. They both appeared in the televised Let’s Go Crazy — An All-Star Grammy Salute 2020, with Sheila as a musical director.

Martin

The person, though, whose death has hit me more at a later date is Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember when he died in 1968. However, I’ve learned SO much more about him subsequently. I’ve tried to make a point in the past decade to write about him every year around the dates of his birth (January 15) and death (April 4).

This is particularly true since certain people have hijacked his message into simplistic tropes. I wrote in 2013, What Would Martin Do, which is pretty representational of what I’ve been going for.

There are many others. For instance, several late entertainers and athletes I’ve admired, from Ella Fitzgerald to Hank Aaron, who had to endure Jim Crow.

Coincidentally, the very same day Arthur debuted the aforementioned post, Kelly shared For Carrie,  noting Carrie Fisher, gone five years. It’s worth checking out.

Some Of Us Grew Up Listening To The Beatles

How was the relationship between John Lennon and George Harrison?

Beatles TshirtI was listening to some little ditty which involved the 76-year-old Paul McCartney dancing to one of his new songs from his #1 album Egypt Station, encouraging fans to send in videos doing the same.

Then YouTube, in its infinite wisdom, suggested How Do You Sleep? (Takes 5 & 6, Raw Studio Mix Out-take), John Lennon’s searing takedown of his former writing partner.

From the notes, “excerpted from the 120-page book in the Imagine Ultimate Collection Box Set,” John noted: “You know, there’s two things I regret. One is that there was so much talk about Paul on it, they missed the song. It was a good track….

“And I should’ve kept me mouth shut – not on the song, it could’ve been about anybody, you know?… Dylan said it about his stuff… most of it’s about him. The only thing that matters is how [Paul] and I feel about those things… Him and me are OK… I’ve always been a little, you know, loose. And I hope it’ll change because I’m fed up of waking up in the papers. But if it doesn’t, my friends are my friends whatever way.”

But how was the relationship between John Lennon and George Harrison, who, not incidentally, is seen playing on How Do You Sleep, just before John was shot?

Several fans noted that John showed little interest in George’s songs during the Beatles, he was negative about George’s three-album box set All Things Must Pass and that John had been upset that George had not mentioned him enough in his autobiography (I, Me, Mine).

At some level, December 8, the day in 1980 that John Lennon died, always reminds me of a couple things. How people can be frozen in time, with John forever 40. How you don’t always get a chance to reconcile difficulties with others in life.

When I moved into my new office in October, one of my colleagues kindly bought me a poster of all the Beatles’ albums. This was the week that my intern, who was born in India, noted that she had never heard of The Beatles! Also around that time, Drake broke the Beatles’ Record for Most Top 10 Songs in a Year, though with all of his guest appearances on others’ records, and in a download age, I naturally think the designation deserves an asterisk.

So I bought that T-shirt that reads, “Some Of Us Grew Up Listening To The Beatles, The Cool Ones Still Do,” mostly because it’s true.
***
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon

(Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon

Coverville 1240: The 15th Annual All-Beatles Thanksgiving Cover Show

Music, August 1971: Concert for Bangladesh

Warner Brothers Records was signing up artists with seemingly little concern for their immediate commercial viability.

More random music recollections based on the book Never A Dull Moment.

By today’s standards, or even by the criteria of rock benefit concerts later that decade, George Harrison had no idea what he was doing as a benefit organizer. The Concert for Bangladesh, initiated after the former East Pakistan suffered from massacres and famine, happened because the former Beatle saw the effect the tragedy had on his friend and teacher Ravi Shankar, a Bengali.

Harrison was able to line up Ringo Starr. Would there be a Beatles reunion, the press wondered? Er, no. The mysterious Klaus Voorman, who designed the Revolver cover, and played bass on John’s Live Peace in Toronto, was on board. But John wanted Yoko there too and that was the end of that. The only place the Beatles would all be together would be on the charts.

Longtime session musician Leon Russell was hot off Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. A drug-addled Eric Clapton was such an uncertainty that George had Peter Frampton show up at the rehearsals, just in case. Keyboardist Billy Preston, drummer Jim Keltner, the band Badfinger, and some of Russell’s cohorts completed the band. Both Harrison, who never had to be the front man before, and Bob Dylan, who had been out of the spotlight for some time, were nervous.

August 1 was the only available date at Madison Square Garden for the Bangladesh concert before Disney on Parade took over. Two shows at 2:30 and 8 pm. “There were no plans to broadcast the show live on radio or to record for TV.” Of the three cameras used to capture the show, “what survives is largely thanks to the camera that was in the pits.”

Meanwhile, Warner Brothers Records in Los Angeles was signing up artists with seemingly little concern for their immediate commercial viability. Randy Newman, Lowell George of Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder. Asylum Records, under David Geffen, was signing Jackson Browne and an unnamed group that would become The Eagles.

There were lots of accidental meetings of troubadours. Graham Parsons finds Emmylou Harris. Kris Kristofferson and Paul Anka meet on a plane, see each other’s gigs, and this led to the signing of Steve Goodman and John Prine. Jerry Jeff Walker hears an Anna McGarrigle song and pitches it to Linda Ronstadt; it was Heart Like a Wheel.

It was a magic, synchronistic time.

Listen to:

What is Life – George Harrison here or here

Willin’ – Little Feat here or here

City of New Orleans – Steve Goodman here or here

Hello In There – John Prine here or here

Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers here or here

Heart Like A Wheel – Kate and Anna McGarrigle here or here

Music, January 1971: All Things Must Pass

Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun recognized that the future of music was likely to be both album shaped and white in color.

Random music recollections based on the book Never A Dull Moment.

The Beatles had broken up but there was a Fab on the top of the charts. All Things Must Pass spent the first seven weeks of 1971 at #1 in the US, though, as a double album, or triple, if you insist on counting the jam, it was twice the price of a standard LP. The title song was the theme of my high school senior prom. I loved the All Things Must Pass album, but was sad that the box the albums came in was too flimsy, and fairly quickly.

Whereas John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album was more difficult for me to grasp at first, with the primal screaming, though I did make it a part of my limited playlist at college that fall.

I was disheartened by the sometimes public sniping among the former Beatles, such as John’s towards George’s album, which was doing much better commercially than his. But because of a partnership agreement just before Brian Epstein’s death, they were joined at the hip. Harrison’s success was good for Lennon’s pocket too. So Paul could not leave the label as he wanted to do.

The leader of a Jersey cover band called Steel Mill made a trip to California and heard Van Morrison’s His Band and Street Choir. That album was one of my favorites, with Blue Money and Domino. That singer/guitarist, BTW, was Bruce Springsteen.

“Yes, we’re one of a number of long-haired groups who had been picked up in a sweep conducted by Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun when he recognized that the future was likely to be both album shaped and white in color. Ertegun had used his roots music calling card to sign Crosby, Stills & Nash; Iron Butterfly; Cream; and many other groups he really didn’t pretend to understand.” I did note that a lot of my favorite music of the period, from Sam & Dave and Roberta Flack and the (Young) Rascals to Led Zeppelin, was on the label.

The Yes Album did well, especially in head shops of the UK the first quarter of the year. It became another listening staple in my freshman year of college. So was Led Zeppelin III, which actually was #1 for 4 weeks in the last quarter of 1970.

Listen to:

Lord If I Ever Needed Someone – Van Morrison
Every Little Thing – Yes
What Is Life – George Harrison
Give Me Some Truth – John Lennon
I Hear You Knocking – Dave Edmunds
Gallows Pole – Led Zeppelin

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