Category Archives: Music

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967
By Brian Southall
Carlton Books – £16.00

Now that we only play in the studios, and not anywhere else, we have less of a clue what we’re going to do.

     George Harrison

The year 1967 seems rather golden – it always seemed to be sunny and we wore far-out clothes and far-out sunglasses. Maybe calling it the summer of love was a bit too easy; but it was a golden summer.

     Paul McCartney

I was never overawed by The Beatles, but I was aware that this was a very special moment in time for anyone who was there […]. I have to admit I was pretty moved by the whole thing.

     Eric Clapton

Let it be said that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of books on The Beatles, but what sets a few of them apart, is – apart from the essential subject matter – the all round approach. And as the title might suggest, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967, is a most definitely focused book on a most definitely challenging, high-spirited year, in which so many things took place.
Regardless of The Beatles themselves.

Set against the backdrop of the (ever increasing) Vietnam War; among other things, 1967 saw Ronald Reagan sworn in as Republican Governor of California, the arrival of The Doors, The Monkees and Jimi Hendrix, not to mention Pink Floyd’s debut single ‘Arnold Layne.’ Britain also had its first ever victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with Sandie Shaw’s ‘Puppet On A String.’ The film industry saw the release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s controversial Blow-Up, and then there was the marriage of Elvis Presley to 23 year-old Priscilla Beauliu in La Vegas. June saw both the beginning and the end of Israel’s Six Day War, while China became the first Asian nation to develop an atomic weapon (in testing a 3.3 megaton H-Bomb). Messrs’ Jagger and Richards were briefly imprisoned, folk legend Woody Guthrie died in New York, while on August 27th, The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein died.
Perhaps marking the end of an era.

Oh, and then there was also the release of ”the greatest pop single of all time” on February 17: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane.’

With all of the above in mind, the book benefits as a result of being handsomely illustrated in such a way as it’s allowed to breath. Thus enabling the reader to fully appreciate and take in the outstanding collection of colour photographs as well as what’s written: ”Alongside exciting innovations in music and fashion – which introduced the world to a host of new sounds and shapes – 1967 heralded a greater awareness of politics and the power of protest. It all went hand in hand with a youthful enthusiasm for happening, festivals, be-ins and love-ins.”

Indeed, world events and what The Beatles were doing in the studio, was, in 1967, simply breathtaking; as The Who’s Pete Townshend makes clear (in the chapter ‘It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…’): ”For me, Sgt. Pepper and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds redefined music in the twentieth century: atmosphere, essence, shadow and romance were contained in ways that could be discovered again and again. No one believed the Beatles would ever top it or even bother to try.”

Whether or not the band did top it is wide-open to differing debate. For me personally, I prefer the albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, while others prefer the so-called White Album and Abbey Road.

What isn’t wide-open to debate is the very fine and attractive quality of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967. As a tomb of knowledge that homes in on what is clearly one of the most important albums ever recorded, it really is the dog’s under-carriage (in that it’s nigh un-put-down-able): ”In its 50 year history, the album has garnered 17 platinum awards in Britain (each one awarded for 300,000 sales), collected a diamond award in America for sales that exceeded 10 million, as well as an unparalleled number of gold and platinum discs from almost every nation on earth. With music fans reminded in 2017 of the extraordinary music The Beatles created half a century ago, it will be interesting to see how many more sales the album notches up.”

Or any of their albums come to that!

But if it’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band you want to delve into and generally find out more about, then this terrific book’s an absolute must!

David Marx

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The Political Art of Bob Dylan

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The Political Art of Bob Dylan
Edited by David Boucher & Gary Browning
Imprint Academic – £14.95/$29.90

Everything he does is expression, eruption, explosion. This is the hottest crater of a volcanic epoch, spewing out the lava of its visions in unpredictable bursts with irresistible power, in the relentless swell of the inner fire.

His achievement in breathing new life into old art forms by the radical modification of form and content has inspired millions of people throughout the world and reminds us that art can still awaken a sense of resistance to the fatalistic surrender to the idea that there is no alternative to a ‘World Gone Wrong.’

                                                                        (‘Dylan’s Expressionist Period’)

Such is the case that Bob Dylan’s lyrical oeuvre is as equally grounded in ever changing fluidity as it is validity; and reading this most fascinating of books, re-alerts us to said oeuvre’s timely and altogether cohesive consistency. Indeed, The Political Art of Bob Dylan is something of a (political) reminder, as to how impatient and important so much of the songwriter’s work has been over the years and decades.

Not to mention intrinsically raw and close to the bone.

To quote the great Federicio Garcia Lorca, who is himself, quoted in the book’s final chapter ‘Images and Distorted Facts’: ”Poetry surrounds itself with brambles and fragments of broken glass so that the hands that reach out for it are cut and injured with love.”

Self-inflicted, yet cursed injury for thought perhaps, but when one’s work is examined within a complex sphere of the theoretical aesthetic, the sort of which encompasses the likes of Kant and Adorno, Collingwood and Lorca; one must invariably as well instinctively know one has arrived.

And for all intents and appreciative purposes, Dylan has continued to arrive, over and over if not over again.

For instance, one need only reflect upon how very little today’s United States has actually changed since the release of Dylan’s socially groundbreaking album, Highway 61 Revisited. An album, which, as Gary Browning substantiates in the book’s seventh chapter ‘Bob Dylan: (Post) Modern Times,’ more than told it as it needed to be told back then (and clearly still does now): ”It is an album that is a wholesale critique of the USA, its culture and values. The title track is a case in point. Highway 61, a highway running from North to South, is an image for the dead hand of the system, stretching throughout the USA. It is a metaphor for the power of the system; its linking and framing of America in the values sustained by corporate power […]. ‘The symbolic highway offers less potential for escape and more sense of cultural entrapment.’ The opening lines of the song ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ replay Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, just as in contemporary America the political fathers were sacrificing their sons in the Vietnam war. This slaughter of America’s sons is linked to an ineffectual welfare system, the straight-jacket of family values, and the commodification of everything, including nuclear war. Dylan recognises the systemic nature of the corruption and desolation in contemporary America. He does not offer an alternative social vision. He satirises mainstream society and in so doing implies an alternative, but individual vision.”

It is this very ”individual vision,” upon which a great seething plethora of Dylan books continue to be written and (quite often) devoured. In fact, another two new Dylan books are about to be published by Simon and Schuster at the end of this month: The Nobel Lecture and The Essential Interviews.

Although it does need to be said that what separates The Political Art of Bob Dylan from that of its competitors, is the degree to which is enriches our understanding of Dylan’s acute and very varied political work(s). A facet of the man which is on-going, never simple, yet fraught with a Burn Baby Burn like thinking. And Amen to that brother.

David Marx

 

Complicated Game

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Complicated Game –
Inside The Songs of XTC
By Andy Partridge & Todd Bernhardt
Jawbone Press – £14.95

     I like accidents. I like to put myself in the way of musical harm. I like being at the wheel of that musical car, and aiming it at the wall. Just to see what shape the car’s going to come out. It might come out an interesting shape that would have taken me forever to decide on otherwise.

                                                                                                            Andy Partridge.

Hmm, had the above been said by someone like Pete Townshend or Kurt Cobain, I’d have felt more inclined to fully embrace it.

This partially explains why great chunks of this book are akin to talking and listening to someone who’s drunk, while you’re not. As such, a lot of what’s being said, or in this case written, is either subject to question or to just not be taken too literally. For sure, all the prescient and sometimes perplexing material on the nitty-gritty aspects of the actual music itself (which perhaps makes up the bulk of these 398 pages, including an Introduction by Todd Bernhardt, a Foreword by Steven Wilson and a chapter entitled ‘Swindon: A Perambulation’ by John Morrish) is as plausible as it is believable.

As it is fundamentally aimed at the uber-prime-initiated, in-house, rather extraordinarily excessive XTC collective; so many of whom, inadvertently yet regularly find themselves kneeling at the alter of the Partridge. And let’s be honest here: wherever there is kneeling involved, there is (excessive) blind faith.

A sparkling pandemonium of high-octane blind faith, which in this particular instance, partially accounts for Complicated Game – Inside The Songs of XTC not entirely coming clean. Nor being on the money. Money of course (or the ardent wish for oodles thereof on behalf of the subject), being the operative/key word here – as the following exchange between interviewee and interviewer (in relation to XTC’s ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’) more than substantiates:

”I’m obviously bitter about not getting the money I thought I ought to deserve or something. I look around, and I see people like Elvis Costello, or other contemporaries, and I think, ‘Jesus, they’re so much richer than I am!’ You know, ‘I wrote songs as good as he did!’ I can say that, not facetiously or boastfully. I think I’ve written songs as good as Elvis.

And from what I’ve read in interviews with him, I think he thinks that, too. He admires your songwriting.

But when I see him on the Sunday Times Rich List…

Oh my. I didn’t realise he was that wealthy.

Oh yeah, I don’t know, I think his last count was something like twenty million. But I never made the money, or a fraction of the money, in this game that I thought I would. And I guess that, even by that age, I was thinking, ‘Grrr, grrr.”’

The fact that Andy Partridge stopped playing music live almost thirty-five years ago, and Elvis Costello continues to tour the world to this very day, might have some bearing on (t)his clearly envious state of affairs – even if only from a promotional perspective. Pristine rocket science it really isn’t, although the trajectory of such self-proclaimed, financial woe, is something of a subliminal undercurrent throughout these thirty chapters in their entirety. It’s always there. Not always in as many words, admittedly, but it’s there nevertheless: ”Oh, we went well over budget on this album. They said, ‘Look, we’re going to pull the plug fellows, we can’t afford for you to finish it off.’ I think we’d run up a bill of a quarter of a million pounds” (‘Chalkhills and Children’).

Moreover, there are assorted, endearing moments of literaral artistry within the book, which, in and of itself, (ought to) say far more about Partridge than even he himself. For instance, when discussing the use of alliteration in (chapter 22), he asserts: […] It just makes it more pungent if you have lots of L’s in a row, or lots of S’s, or sounds that sound similar between one word and the next, and the next, if possible. It becomes it’s own little internal kingdom – it’s lovely to do […]. I love alliteration. It seems to shake hands with itself, and it seems to be like a little infinity loop, perfectly completed. I like that in other people’s work too.”

Suffice to say, this book essentially entails Andy Partridge talking to the American freelance writer and musician, Todd Bernhardt, on the subject of thirty random XTC songs, scattered throughout their entire career in chronological order. Commencing with 1978’s ‘This Is Pop’ and concluding with 2006’s ‘2 Rainbeau Melt,’ the two traverse the relative gambit of ye world according to Mr. Partridge.

An exceedingly safe, charmed, buffered and closeted world, very, very far removed from that of the real world – wherein (it would seem) nothing is ever enough.

Might it be said that Complicated Game – Inside The Songs of XTC, really would have benefited with having had an outside editor come on board – even if only to do the proof-reading. The amount of times I had to re-read certain sentences, simply because key words were missing! Although Bernhardt’s most horribly glaring error appears at the bottom of page 33: ”When The Beatles were appearing at the Kaiserkeller in Berlin […].” Surely almost every music fan on the planet knows that said infamous Kaiserkeller was in Hamburg?

XTC fans will undoubtedly love it; although in essence, it’s nothing other than a highly cryptic read for the idiosyncratically initiated.

David Marx

Cowboy Song

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Cowboy Song –
The Authorised Biography of Philip Lynott
By Graeme Thomson
Constable – £9.99

”A Scottish guy that was drinking too much and Phil shouting at him all the time because he was constantly out of tune – this did not make for a happy session. But Brian added a tremendous amount. It would never have happened, Jailbreak, without Brian Robertson. When he was on, he was great. Unfortunately that came with a price.”

The above is something of a revelatory insight; as having met both Thin Lizzy bad boys – Phil Lynott and Brian Robertson – one really wouldn’t have thought such a tempestuous undercurrent lie beneath the surface of the band’s terrific break-though album Jailbreak.

And what a timely, not to mention superlative piece of work it was and remains: all street-suss-savvy, thundering guitars and bolero-tongue in cheek lyrics. There again, Cowboy Song – The Authorised Biography of Philip Lynott, is a most thoroughly well-researched and quintessentially honest of rock’n’roll biographies.

Indeed, simply riddled with much acute, regal revelation, these 348 pages (excluding Acknowledgments, Notes and Index) are on occasion, perhaps a little discomforting to read.

Let alone take-in.

Lest we remind ourselves that the truth is quite often painful to read – of which the following from Part Three’s ‘Sun Goes Down’ perfectly illustrates: ”Depression. Boredom. Disappointment. All that downtime, from Inverness to Bremen. Nature abhors a vacuum. Heroin fills it with cotton wool. Lynott wasn’t the only one suffering. On 7 March 1982, in Porto, Scott Gorham went on stage unable to play and barely able to stand. He was unceremoniously bundled back to Britain the following morning to address his own addictions. Sean O’Connor filled in during his absence, playing out of sight behind the backline equipment to maintain the illusion that Thin Lizzy remained a functioning band.”

As a result of it’s raw and perhaps, rather loaded depiction (”It is a story with an unhappy ending. Lynott did not always behave well, nor did he always make the smartest choices. In later life his addictions and insecurities made him a difficult man to be around, and ultimately they overpowered him”), Graeme Thomson has herein written and compiled a book that is as compelling to read, as it is – in a literary car-crash waiting to happen sort of way – un-put-down-able.

As a journalist, I got to interview Philip Lynott shortly after he disbanded Thin Lizzy, and I have to confess, he didn’t appear in the best of health. Charming and chatty, he most definitely was; but I did get the uncomfortably distinct feeling that something was clearly awry. Six months later, he was dead.

As a result, I’ve often wondered how such a tremulous tragedy in waiting, would have and ought to have been approached and written. One of the many reasons being that Lynott’s life, has up until now (well for me at least), remained idiosyncratically inconclusive.

Thanks to Cowboy Song, such is no longer the case. As stated in the Irish Examiner: ”This is no eulogy, but an honest, often painful account of the price of star power.”

David Marx

Uncommon People

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Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

”That night there was a tribute on the BBC’s rock programme Whistle Test. Annie Nightingale, the presenter, said something like ‘a lot of us wouldn’t be doing what we are doing now if it hadn’t been for John Lennon.’ I sat on the edge of the bath and blubbed, which is not my habit. Her words touched me off because they related to me, not to John Lennon. I haven’t cried about the death of a famous person since. I have come to realize that if we do so what we’re crying for is ourselves, our lost youth, the days of happiness we associate with the person who has died.”

David Hepworth absolutely isn’t alone when it comes to having ‘blubbed’ upon hearing the most shocking news of John Lennon’s death. I too, was somewhat inconsolable for a number of days thereafter.

Days, which, if anything, were riddled with the utmost of dark, disbelief.

A mode of morbidity, which author, broadcaster and presenter, David Hepworth, continues to further expand upon in this most excellent book’s chapter, ‘1980 – Death by fan’: ”The Beatles created a great deal of happiness. The by-product of that process was fame. Fame on a mad, massive and eventually injurious scale. In killing a rock star, the ultimate somebody, Mark Chapman, the ultimate nobody, probably hoped he would cross over. He hoped he might obliterate the distance between his own puny life and the hero’s life that he saw Lennon leading. His action foreshadowed in a uniquely terrible way our increasing desire to put ourselves at the centre of events, when our proper role should be as a spectator or appreciative listener. It underlined just how big rock stars had become and how much some people still expected those rock stars to be able to mend their own broken lives. It wasn’t anything to do with what the rock stars said or did. It was to do with what people expected of them.”

Indeed, such expectation can and continues to be manipulated to such a (deplorable) degree, wherein any mode of correction – let alone common sense – is invariably laced with wide-open and quite often, grossly misplaced interpretation. An interpretation, which, in the case of the odious Chapman, was overtly fraught with both madness and fantasy.

To such a preposterous degree in fact, that almost all and anything was unfortunately permitted. This including the murder of a Beatle.

But what makes Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars such a compelling and concise, brilliant read, is not it’s translucency and sincerity, but the way it has been so compellingly put together.

Beginning with ‘1955 – the first rock star’ (Little Richard) and concluding with ‘1995 – Revenge of the nerds’ (Marc Andreessen), these 324 pages (excluding Foreword, Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) traverse the entire gambit of nigh all one needs to know and embrace so far as all and any pertinent rock stars are concerned.

To be sure, the mere term ‘rock stars,’ might in many peoples’ eyes, be considered a tad naff and dated. The latter of which, in all (musical) honesty, it may well be. But, as Hepworth colourfully points out, there’s a colossal amount of romanticism entwined within the term: ”The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. But like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.”

Like many things of yore, some terrific things have passed unto yesteryear; never again to be embraced with anything resembling the slightest kernel of truth.

Let alone talent.

As Hepworth immediately makes clear in the book’s Foreword: ”In the twenty-first century it seems rather inappropriate, to use a popular twenty-first-century term, to describe Kanye West, Adele or Justin Bieber as rock stars. These people are cut from a different cloth. The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and above all the advent of the mystique-destroying internet. The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock and roll, which in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands.”

Hmm, what was it David Bowie once sang: ”Watch out you rock’n’rollers.”

Having reviewed his debut, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Moment (which too, was nigh un-put-down-able) I have to say, Uncommon People is an absolute gem of a read.

It’s fresh, it’s jam-packed with new information, and the chapters on Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana simply drip with glittering, honest revelation. Simply terrific.

David Marx

The Treasures Of Queen

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The Treasures Of Queen

By Harry Doherty
Forewords by Brian May and Roger Taylor
Goodman/Carlton Books – £30.00

Such was their uniqueness – hard rock meshed with glam; compositions ranging from grandiose productions to pure pop sensitivity; lyrics that demanded attention; a rare intelligence underpinning it all – that many did not know what to make of Queen when their debut album was released.

I won’t be a rock star. I will be a legend – Freddie Mercury

I’m quite a considerable fan of these Carlton Box-Sets on bands.
Apart from containing an array of terrific photographs and the veritable (odd) assortment of souvenirs, cut-outs, lyrics, ticket reproductions and posters, they convey the artist(s) in such a way most books don’t.

Or at least in a different way.

This is primarily the case due to the all-round lay-out and inclusion of very well put together photographs – many of which are quite large. Therein bequeathing the general reader and avid fan alike, with something of a fresh perspective. It is after all, it’s not everyday one comes across black and white, sepia tone as well as colour 10x8s of rock bands – let alone rock bands who occasionally dress in women’s clothing (as on page 60 of this fine collection).

Indeed, aspects of the band’s unique over-the-topness is invariably and magnificently captured throughout The Treasures Of Queen; all of which, was of course, always underlined by the band’s soaring, idiosyncratically individual sound.

Not to mention robust, musical work ethic – that of guitarist Brian May in particular.

Compiled in chronological order, these (high quality) 95 pages traverse every aspect of the band, by way of working through each of its albums. On the way, there are pull outs of the aforementioned tickets and lyrics, and a closer look at each four members of the band.

There’s also a section entitled ‘Queen at the Movies’ which perhaps for some, sheds indelible new light: ”Their penchant for cinema first became apparent when they were commissioned by Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis to provide the music for the over-the-top sci-fi movie Flash Gordon. Both Brian May and Roger Taylor loved this legendary comic-strip hero. ”We really wanted to do it,” Taylor said.”We wanted to make music for a movie that was not about music, and would be an integral part of the whole experience.”

In all, this collection captures the eccentricity as well as some of the humbleness of a great band, which for many, will no doubt trigger many a musical memory.

I know it has for me.

So if you’re a fan (or even if you’re not) and you’re looking to recapture an era when popular music actually meant and counted for something, then I’d strongly recommend The Treasures Of Queen.

You absolutely won’t be disappointed (darling).

David Marx

The Age Of Bowie

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The Age Of Bowie –
How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference
By Paul Morley
Simon & Schuster – £9.99

The most honest way of writing about David Bowie and all the David Bowies he became in the 1970s as he turned his entire existence and his musical technique into a collage of impressions, memories and experiences is to create a collage in response, to exaggerate the exaggerations and the excess.

Paul Morley has always been a writer to be reckoned with.

Whenever it’s brought to our attention that he’s written a new book, one instinctively knows it’ll be very well written, thought provoking, idiosyncratically incisive, and will probably venture into subjective areas not entirely expected.

Such was the case with the most outstanding The North: (And Almost Everything In It) which I reviewed on this site upon publication. And totally unsurprisingly, such is also the case The Age Of Bowie – How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference. For not only is Morley a huge Bowie fan, the prospect of him writing about him, was always going to be a wholly satisfying, literary undertaking. Continue reading