Tag Archives: George Harrison

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

Paul McCartney – The Biography

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Paul McCartney – The Biography
By Philip Norman
Weidenfeld & Nicolson – £25.00

Having attended the premiere of The Beatles’ Eight Days A Week last Thursday, I couldn’t help but come away with a feeling of re-invigorated, inspired awe.

First off, there’s the relentless number of terrific songs, closely followed by the contagious sense of the fun and all encompassing, teenage induced mayhem. Then there’s the unavoidable sense of energy with which the four members of The Beatles performed – who, need we remind ourselves, were the same age as the all but manufactured, One Direction, during Beatlemania.

Indeed, there really is so much one could continue to write about Ron Howard’s documentation of the band’s period of live performance(s); most notably, the unquestionable abundance of high-octane, astonishing material.

But then there are the four individual Beatles themselves, each one of whom, to varying degrees admittedly, was responsible for making the Fab Four who and what they essentially were: the greatest band in the history of popular music. Period.

What also came across loud and exceedingly clear throughout the film, was the devastating song-writing prowess of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They were the ones who were fundamentally responsible for separating The Beatles from the nine-hundred-thousand-million other (mighty average) bands of the day; which is just one of many, many reasons why Paul McCartney – The Biography, is as idiosyncratically important as it is.

Important for a number of very qualified and varied reasons, one of the most pertinent of which is how the book substantiates the fact that The Beatles were not an overnight success. This is something Sir Paul McCartney made very clear before Thursday’s screening of Eight Days A Week, when interviewed by fellow Liverpudlian, John Bishop.

To be sure, The Beatles honed their craft by having played every superfluous, stinking dive and toilet in Liverpool and Hamburg; before their eventual manager, Brain Epstein, even set eyes on them. A fact which partially accounts for their brilliance, but most definitely accounts for most of today’s artists being pointless and puerile, lacklustre and in truth, fucking awful in comparison.

Then of course, there’s the book’s actual writing itself.

With this being the first actual biography written with McCartney’s approval, and with access to family members and friends closest to him, it ought hardly be surprising that it is as good and quintessentially un-put-downable as it is. There again, it was written by Philip Norman, who, along with having written Fiction and a number of Plays and Musicals, previous books include Shout! The True Story of The Beatles, The Stones, Elton, Days in the Life: John Lennon Remembered, The Age of Parody, Buddy: the Biography, John Lennon: The Life and Mick Jagger.

So, a fine pedigree of a writer, but perhaps of more substantiation, one to be clearly be trusted.

Might it be said that at 816 pages – excluding Acknowledgements, Picture Credits and Index – trust and truth will endeavour to go a very long way; especially given all four Beatles’ penchant for having never held back and for having always told it as it truly was.

So as one can probably imagine, the five parts of this veritable tomb of information (‘Stairway to Paradise,’ ‘The Barnum & Bailey Beatle,’ ‘Home, Family, Love,’ ‘Carrying That Wait’ and ‘Back in the World’), covers nigh every aspect and period of McCartney’s rich and varied life. This also includes the good, the bad and the ugly. The latter of which is traversed amid chapter 53, ‘Even by British tabloid standards, the nastiness has been extraordinary’ – which is an overview of the degree to which the British tabloids had sunk whilst covering McCartney’s divorce from the vile Heather Mills.

But for me, and, I suspect many others, it’s the earlier sections of the book that covers and somewhat analyses the heady days of The Beatles, that invariably makes for the most compelling reading.

For instance, in chapter twelve (‘Did you know he sleeps with his eyes open?’), Norman writes: ”[…] Their innovative presentation, not as lead vocalist and sidemen but four (almost) equals, gave them a wholly unforeseen extra power. On top of their collective charm, each had a distinct character appealing to different sections of their audience: there was the ‘clever’ one, the ‘cute’ one, the ‘quiet’ one and what film producer Walter Shenson called ‘the adorable runt of the litter.’

Together they were more articulate, charming and intelligent – above all funnier – than any pop artistes before, but this alone doesn’t explain the British media’s fixation on them during that rainy summer of 1963. It was a season of unremitting hard news, including the Profumo scandal, the biggest train robbery in history, the thwarting of Britain’s attempt to join the European Economic Community, the resignation of Prime minister Harold Macmillan and the resulting turmoil within the Tory government. Fleet Street initially turned to ‘Beatlemania’ (a term coined by The Daily Mirror) for a bit of light relief, thereby discovering to its surprise that pop-obsessed teenagers read newspapers, too. From then on, there was no surer way to shift copies.

Today, the ‘-mania’ tag is attached to any pop star, or other sort of star, who draws an ardent crowd: ‘Justin Bieber-mania,’ Leonardo DiCaprio-mania,’ One Direction-mania,’ Prince Harry-mania,’ etc., etc. But in the sleepy, orderly Britain of the mid-twentieth century, Beatlemania truly did seem to verge on the psychotic. And it wasn’t just the Mach-speed rise of the band’s records in the charts, the multitudes who queued for their shows, the incessant shrieks that drowned out every song they played, the volleys of jelly babies that were flung at the stage or the rows of seats left drenched in female urine.”

A sanctified, pop-induced image of a bygone era, does the above most accurately depict – just like that of Ron Howard’s just released docu-epic, Eight Days A Week. But where Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney – The Biography differs, apart from the fact that it’s a book, is its overall appreciation and analysis of the Beatles, followed by a more than considered continuation of McCartney’s life since.

Other than being a read that is cool and commendable, analytical and ambitious, it’s simply breath-taking on scope.

Fantabulous. Yeah Yeah Yeah.

David Marx

The Beatles – The BBC Archives

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The Beatles – The BBC Archives: 1962 – 1970

By Kevin Howlett

BBC Books – £45.00

I’m still partly amazed that it’s taken the BBC this long to release The Beatles double album On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2. The quintessential reason being, there’s an abundance of far lesser artists who have unfortunately released everything they have ever recorded; and by everything, I do mean literally everything.

Apart from the fact that so-called ‘greatest hits’ are simply re-packaged, there are studio out-takes, alternate versions of studio out-takes, pointless re-mixes of alternate-versions of studio out-takes, not to mention an array of (quite often squalid and appalling) live material. I mean, who in their right mind would ever want to listen to a double live album by the appalling likes of McFly, Michael Bublé or Marillion? Let alone re-mixed renditions of yet more un-listenable shite by the likes of the pole-dancing hyenna that is Rihanna or the equally ghastly Scorpions et al?

Other than being repeatedly hit over the head with a rusty mallet of sorts, I really can’t think of anything worse.

To be sure, you can bet your monthly mortgage re-payment that most instantly forgettable artists and their labels will invariably ensure that everything they’ve ever recorded, will not only be be made available, it’ll be made readily availalbe in nigh every single format ever devised. Such has never been the case with The Beatles. Yet if any band or label were ever in a prime position to do the very same, it was and surely still is, The Beatles and EMI.

This is somewhat reinforced by what the author of this stunningly fantabulous book, Kevin Howlett – the BBC producer who has already written three books on the band, not to mention the booklet essays that accompanied the re-release of all fourteen Beatles albums in 2009 – has written in the Introduction: ”Counting a highlights programme for the 1963 Royal Variety Performance, the group played music on 53 radio shows between March 1962 and June 1965. No fewer than 275 unique musical performances by The Beatles were broadcast by the BBC in the UK. The group played 88 different songs on radio – some recorded many times; others performed just once. Remarkably, 36 of those songs were never issued on record while the group was in existence.”

I can’t imagine Scouting For Girls even having 36 songs.

Moreover, it might go without saying that nigh everyone and their third uncle removed might well have written a book on their (tenuous) association with the band; but even here, there are absolutely no-where near as many bad books written on The Beatles as there are on Elvis – although he’s a different kettle of trickle-down-economics altogether.

When it comes to recording(s), you’d think there’d be a regular plethora of dubious recordings released in the name of The Beatles – but there really isn’t. None of late that is, other than the Love album (released in November 2006) sanctioned and overseen by the band’s producer George Martin for the Cirque de Soleil stage show of the same name, and The Beatles (released in November 2000) which was basically a compilation of all their number-one singles.

On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 is only the third (official) Beatles release this century. So it’s only right that to accompany it, the BBC have also published what can only be described as a bumper package of a stunning new hardback book called The Beatles – The BBC Archives 1962 – 1970.

As the title suggests, these 331 magnificant pages (excluding Musical Discovery, Bibliography and Index) are a chronological overview of everything the band recorded at the BBC. As Howlett already makes clear on page 24: ”POP GO THE BEATLES. The group did not choose the title for their fifteen-part series broadcast during the summer of 1963 and they had reluctantly recorded the corny theme tune simply because they had to. After all, some compromise was acceptable to make their way in the show business world. Yet what made The Beatles so irresistable in their breakthrough year was how quickly they were changing the game. Aside from the energy of the music they created, their BBC broadcasts are characterised by send-ups, laughs, cheeky irreverence. This was new.”

Indeed it was new, as is the tonality of this well-researched, in-depth, new book. I say as much because there’s not much in the lives of The Beatles and Beatlemania as a whole, that hasn’t already been written, pondered over and re-stated, time and time and yet time again. What makes this book different though – which comes replete in a replica of an old scuffed, BBC tape box – is the fact that it wholeheartedly and refreshingly bows down to the subject matter. So much so, that it’s nine chapters are almost submerged in the showing- rather than dense (and questionable) analysis.

In other words, there’s an undercurrent of innocence throughout.

The superb collection of black and white as well as colour photographs do much to substantiate this. Whether it’s a shot of the band eating breakfast at a flat in London’s Green Street, visibly larking around at The Dorchester Hotel to accepty their awards for ‘Show Business Personalities of 1963,’ or the cololur photograph of them used by the BBC to promote its General Overseas Service.

Also scattered throughout the book are a number of pertinent quotes (some of which are on the recording) that again, do much to underline the aforementioned innocence, as well as the band’s all round chutzpah and inadvertent penchant for forever pushing the parameters: ”I do not believe any of us had any idea of the disorganised frenzy that could take place during such a performance” (Tom Sloan – Head of Light Entertainlment, Television), ”Well thank you Paul and you’ll receive your three shilling fee at a later date!” (George Harrison), ”After you write something, a song or anything, you get the sadness and then you perform it or you put it on paper and then that’s gone” (John Lennon), ”We can turn around to Brian and say, ”Could we do such-and-such a thing… like a film?”” (Paul McCartney).

This lavish account of all The Beatles BBC appearances also features transcripts of broadcast interviews and an assortment of fascinating documents from the archives. Suffice to say, from the unprecedented excitement of what was Beatlemania to the more mature reflective nature of the band’s final interviews, it’s all (exquisitely) captured herein.

Apart from being the perfect, and I do mean perfect Christmas gift, The Beatles – The BBC Archives 1962 – 1970 is without doubt, an absolute MUST for any serious, self-repecting Beatles fan.

Fab Fab Fab.

David Marx