Fans Rank Beatles’ Group and Solo Albums

How do fans rank every studio album released by The Beatles as a group or as solo artists in the 50 years from “Please Please Me” to last year’s “New”? In collaboration with Beatlefan and the Steve Hoffman Music Forums, Anthony Cusumano conducted a survey to determine just that. Here’s his report. …

Abbey-Road-Album-Cover--e1373043749226Every few years, an outlet like Rolling Stone or VH1 enlists a group of faceless rock critics to assemble its latest gargantuan list of the best albums of all time. These lists are typically populated by the same repeat offenders, with the only question mark being whether “Sgt. Pepper” or “Revolver” will nab the top spot. For listeners looking for evidence that proves Nirvana’s “Nevermind” is superior to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” these rankings are a godsend. But those wondering where albums like “Back to the Egg” and “Gone Troppo” fall into the mix are out of luck.

To fill that void, I presented a survey in collaboration with Beatlefan and the Steve Hoffman Music Forums to determine what fans thought of every single studio album released by The Beatles as a group or as solo artists in the five-decade span between “Please Please Me” and last year’s “New.” The 94 albums fans could vote on included experimental, classical and remix albums, but not live albums, compilations or archival releases, ranking them on a scale from 1 to 10. In total, 506 fans took the survey.

On the surface, many of the results are unsurprising, but digging deeper into the votes provided some intriguing revelations, like the fact that there are at least four people who prefer “Two Virgins” to “All Things Must Pass.” (You know who you are.) Plus, the contentious battle for the top solo album — which shifted back and forth as the ballots came in — was swayed by a mere three votes. Presumably, some may have voted strategically in an effort to boost their favorite albums and/or Beatle in the ranking, but ultimately this is a ranking for Beatles fans by Beatles fans. Of course, I’m sure there will still be plenty of debate over the results, and I look forward to reading it!

So while we unfortunately cannot offer any indication of the quality of “Mind Games” relative to, say, Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” thanks to the magic of statistics we can definitively say it’s better than “Ringo’s Rotogravure.” Of course, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure that out.

Coming out on top was The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album, followed by “Revolver,” “Rubber Soul,” the White Album and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

botr coverAt No. 6 was the highest-ranking solo album, McCartney and Wings’ “Band on the Run.” The rest of the Top 10: Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” Paul and Linda McCartney’s “Ram,” “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” and The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Here, starting from the bottom, is the full list of how fans ranked The Beatles’ group and solo albums:

(Author’s note: I decided to leave the soundtrack to “Everest,” which included contributions from George Harrison, out of the ranking because less than a third of the voters rated it. For the record, its average rating was 4.341.)

93. John Lennon & Yoko Ono — UNFINISHED MUSIC VOL. 2: LIFE WITH THE LIONS (1969)


92. John Lennon & Yoko Ono — THE WEDDING ALBUM (1969)


two virgins91. John Lennon & Yoko Ono — UNFINISHED MUSIC VOL. 1: TWO VIRGINS (1968)


John and Yoko’s trio of experimental albums score the hat trick of dreadfulness, proving that listeners have yet to warm up to these records almost five decades later. It could have been worse: In a 1969 Rolling Stone interview, John promised (warned? threatened?) that an LP of the couple laughing on one side and whispering on the other was due. Alas, it never saw the light of day. “Life With the Lions” managed the impressive feat of earning a “1” from more than 50 percent of voters.

90. George Harrison — ELECTRONIC SOUND (1969)


And thus, the empire of Zapple Records crumbles once again. “Electronic Sound” may have outranked label-mate “Life With the Lions,” but it has no reason to celebrate: It’s the only album that didn’t receive a single “10” vote. (It also received the highest percentage of “2” votes, with 22 percent.)

89. Ringo Starr, etc. — SCOUSE THE MOUSE (1977)


While many voters were unfamiliar with this children’s album written and narrated by actor Donald Pleasance — it was only released in the U.K. and has never been issued on CD — those who have heard it clearly weren’t impressed.

88. Ringo Starr — RINGO THE 4TH (1977)


“You know that I’m drowning,” Ringo sang on the opening cut here, and he had no idea how right he was. This disastrous stab at disco received the highest percentage of “4” votes, from 18 percent of voters.

87. Paul McCartney — OCEAN’S KINGDOM (2011)


86. Ringo Starr — BAD BOY (1978)


In perhaps the first sign that being able to claim “former Beatle” status only went so far, Ringo was unable to hold on to his Atlantic Records deal after the abysmal performance of “Ringo the 4th” and needed to find a new label. Portrait Records drew the short straw, and “Bad Boy” barely outperformed its predecessor on the charts— much like in this poll.

85. Paul McCartney, etc. — LIVERPOOL SOUND COLLAGE (2000)


84. Paul McCartney — THE FAMILY WAY (1967)


The first album credited to an individual Beatle is also the shortest album on the ranking, clocking in just short of 25 minutes (“Ringo 2012,” on the other hand, is a beefy 29 minutes). Paul’s score to the Hayley Mills film, conducted by George Martin, earned the highest percentage of “3” votes (18.5 percent).

83. Paul McCartney — ECCE COR MEUM (2006)




81. Ringo Starr — OLD WAVE (1983)


80. John Lennon & Yoko Ono — SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITY (1972)


79. Paul McCartney — STANDING STONE (1997)


78. Paul McCartney — LIVERPOOL ORATORIO (1991)


77. Twin Freaks — TWIN FREAKS (2005)


This obscure collection mashes up various McCartney compositions with varying degrees of success — which explains why the response to it was more diverse than any other album, with a standard deviation of 2.64.

76. Percy “Thrills” Thrillington — THRILLINGTON (1977)


75. George Harrison — WONDERWALL MUSIC (1968)


74. Ringo Starr — RINGO 2012 (2012)


73. Paul McCartney — WORKING CLASSICAL (1999)


72. Ringo Starr — SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (1970)


Ringo’s first solo album is one of two albums that received the same amount of “1” votes and “10” votes (10 each).

stop smell roses71. Ringo Starr — STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES (1981)


70. Ringo Starr — Y NOT (2010)


69. Ringo Starr — RINGO’S ROTOGRAVURE (1976)


68. The Fireman — RUSHES (1998)


67. Ringo Starr — I WANNA BE SANTA CLAUS (1999)


66. Ringo Starr — CHOOSE LOVE (2005)


65. Ringo Starr — LIVERPOOL 8 (2008)


64. Ringo Starr — BEAUCOUPS OF BLUES (1970)


A second string of four consecutive Ringo albums, interrupted only by “Rushes.” Of the 17 albums that make up the core Ringo Starr discography, 12 are in the bottom 30 (as is “Scouse the Mouse”). By contrast, the only other conventional pop-rock record that has appeared on the ranking thus far is “Some Time in New York City.”

63. Paul McCartney — GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET (1984)


A McCartney pop album makes its first appearance on the ranking with the soundtrack to his flop film about missing master tapes. For those keeping score, this means that George Harrison has the honor of having the best “worst solo album” …

62. George Harrison — GONE TROPPO (1982)


… But clearly it isn’t that much better.

extra texture61. George Harrison — EXTRA TEXTURE (READ ALL ABOUT IT) (1975)


Arguably the gloomiest Harrison album — if not in the entire Beatle catalog — “Extra Texture” received a higher percentage of “6” votes than any other album (23 percent).

60. Paul McCartney — DRIVING RAIN (2001)


59. Paul McCartney — PIPES OF PEACE (1983)


58. Paul McCartney — KISSES ON THE BOTTOM (2012)


57. Paul McCartney — PRESS TO PLAY (1986)


56. Ringo Starr — RINGO RAMA (2003)


55. Ringo Starr — VERTICAL MAN (1998)


“Vertical Man” is the other album to receive an equal number of “1” votes and “10” votes (12 each).

54. George Harrison — DARK HORSE (1974)


Best remembered for George’s rough vocals, more voters felt neutral about this album than any other, with more than 21 percent giving it a “5.”

53. Ringo Starr — TIME TAKES TIME (1992)


Though it failed to hit the charts in 1992, “Time Takes Time” outranks every other Ringo album from the past 40 years on this list. Only two of his solo releases appear in the top 50.

52. Paul McCartney — OFF THE GROUND (1993)


51. George Harrison — SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND (1981)


wild life cover50. Wings — WILD LIFE (1971)


Wings had nowhere to go but up, as their debut album was voted the weakest of their seven studio albums.

49. John Lennon & Yoko Ono — MILK AND HONEY (1984)


48. The Beatles — YELLOW SUBMARINE (1969)


There was never any question that “Yellow Submarine” would be the lowest-rated album of the band’s core collection — John Lennon once referred to it as a “joke” for its inclusion of George Martin’s orchestral soundtrack. Voters didn’t fully agree with Lennon’s assessment, but it still just misses the cutoff for the top half.

47. Ringo Starr — GOODNIGHT VIENNA (1974)


46. John Lennon — ROCK ‘N’ ROLL (1975)


45. Paul McCartney — McCARTNEY II (1980)


44. Paul McCartney and Wings — RED ROSE SPEEDWAY (1973)


43. Wings — WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND (1976)


42. John Lennon — MIND GAMES (1973)


“Mind Games” received the highest percentage of “7” votes of any album (26 percent).

41. The Fireman — ELECTRIC ARGUMENTS (2008)


40. Wings — LONDON TOWN (1978)


39. George Harrison — THIRTY-THREE & 1/3 (1976)


38. Paul McCartney — CHOBA B CCCP (THE RUSSIAN ALBUM) (1988)


37. George Harrison — LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (1973)


36. The Traveling Wilburys — VOL. 3 (1990)


35. Paul McCartney — RUN DEVIL RUN (1999)


34. George Harrison — GEORGE HARRISON (1979)


33. Paul McCartney — MEMORY ALMOST FULL (2007)


32. Wings — BACK TO THE EGG (1979)


31. Paul McCartney — FLOWERS IN THE DIRT (1989)


30. John Lennon & Yoko Ono — DOUBLE FANTASY (1980)


29. John Lennon — WALLS AND BRIDGES (1974)


Listen to this statistic: “Walls and Bridges” narrowly edged out “Help!” as receiving the highest percentage of “8” votes by less than one one-hundredth of a percent (26.55 percent), and is one of just two solo albums with a single “1” vote.

28. George Harrison — BRAINWASHED (2002)




26. The Beatles — BEATLES FOR SALE (1964)


25. Paul McCartney — McCARTNEY (1970)


Paul’s DIY solo debut is forever linked to The Beatles’ bitter breakup, and received decidedly mixed reviews at the time of its release. Four decades later, fans responded well to “McCartney,” one of only two solo albums that did not receive a single “1” vote.

24. Paul McCartney — NEW (2013)


Oddly enough, Paul’s earliest and most recent solo albums appear back-to-back on the countdown.

23. Wings — VENUS AND MARS (1975)


22. The Beatles — LOVE (2006)


Purists may scoff at the idea of remixing The Beatles, but voters couldn’t deny the magic of tracks like the “Within You Without You”/”Tomorrow Never Knows” mash-up. Still, this is a surprisingly high showing for the soundtrack to the Cirque de Soleil show, and by far the best performance of any album that isn’t a standard pop-rock release.

21. The Beatles — PLEASE PLEASE ME (1963)


with beatles cover20. The Beatles — WITH THE BEATLES (1963)


19. Paul McCartney — TUG OF WAR (1982)


“Tug of War” is the other album that received just one “1” vote.

18. Paul McCartney — FLAMING PIE (1997)


17. George Harrison — CLOUD 9 (1987)


16. Ringo Starr — RINGO (1973)


15. The Beatles — LET IT BE (1970)


14. The Beatles — HELP! (1965)


13. The Traveling Wilburys — VOL. 1 (1988)


12. John Lennon — IMAGINE (1971)


“Imagine” received a higher percentage of “9” votes than any other album (27 percent) — John just can’t escape that number, can he?

11. The Beatles — MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967)


10. The Beatles — A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)


9. John Lennon — JOHN LENNON/PLASTIC ONO BAND (1970)


John’s solo debut just narrowly tops “AHDN” in the closest race of the entire countdown.

8. Paul & Linda McCartney — RAM (1971)


Once deemed “the nadir in the decomposition of Sixties rock” in an infamous Rolling Stone review, “Ram” is clearly no longer a black sheep in the McCartney discography. It stands with its predecessor “McCartney” as the only solo albums that did not receive any “1” votes.

7. George Harrison — ALL THINGS MUST PASS (1970)


While this received a higher percentage of “10” votes than any other solo album (49.46 percent vs. 49.24 percent for “Band on the Run”), some voters docked points for the “Apple Jam” disc. Had just seven “9” voters boosted their vote to a “10” — or if the three voters who gave Harrison’s triple album a “1” didn’t rate it at all— “ATMP” would have edged out the Wings classic.

6. Paul McCartney and Wings — BAND ON THE RUN (1973)




Interestingly, “Sgt. Pepper” is tied with “Yellow Submarine” for the most “1” votes of any Beatles album, with two. That may not sound like a lot, but had it received just one, like the #4 album on the countdown, the two would have swapped places.

4. The Beatles — THE BEATLES [THE WHITE ALBUM] (1968)


3. The Beatles — RUBBER SOUL (1965)


2. The Beatles — REVOLVER (1966)


1. The Beatles — ABBEY ROAD (1969)


A whopping 80 percent of voters elected to give “Abbey Road” a perfect “10” rating. For comparison’s sake, about 77.5 percent of “Revolver” votes went for the top rating, while the rest of the top five hovered around 60 percent. Only four voters gave “Abbey Road” a rating of less than “7,” ensuring that it easily had the least variation of any album, with a standard deviation of just 0.78.

Average rating of John Lennon albums: 7.004 (rock albums only), 5.729 (all albums)

Average rating of Paul McCartney/Wings albums: 6.966 (rock albums only), 6.219 (all albums)

Average rating of George Harrison/Traveling Wilburys albums: 6.993 (rock albums only), 6.398 (all albums)

Average rating of Ringo Starr albums: 5.165

Average rating of Beatles albums: 8.446

Average rating of all albums: 6.82 (rock albums only), 6.32 (all albums)

— Anthony Cusumano

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L.A. Fest a Hit With Beatles Fans

The granddaddy of Beatles fan conventions, the Fest for Beatles Fans (formerly known as Beatlefest), returned recently to Los Angeles for the first time in 14 years. Correspondent Peter Palmiere was on hand and filed this report. …

fest logoJohn Lennon once said that Elvis might have done the right thing staying away so long because people missed him so much. After an absence of 14 years, the Fest for Beatles Fans added an L.A. show this year, and fans generally gave it two thumbs up.

A good gathering of guests, a somewhat healthy flea market, great live performances, entertaining speakers and a reunion of old Beatle friends made for the most high-energy, enjoyable Fest since the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Producer Mark Lapidos was greatly aided this time by the services of publicist Jean Sievers, who handles the likes of Brian Wilson and Rockaway Records. Sievers launched a media blitz utilizing the Web, a billboard overlooking the 405 freeway (a major artery in Los Angeles), magazines and local TV and radio.

KLOS helped sponsor the event; their very own Chris Carter was the Fest emcee.

The flea market was in two different ballrooms — one exclusively devoted to The Beatles and a flea market for other great finds. The tables were sold out and there was a wide variety of interesting items available.

The big highlight in terms of displays belonged to Rockaway Records, which had two major items of interest on consignment. The first was the original wall from “The Ed Sullivan Show” stage autographed by the Fab Four; it boasted a $500,000 price tag. The other was the actual contracts that were signed by Vee-Jay Records and EMI giving Vee-Jay the right to release Beatle records in the USA. That asking price was $100,000. Although the items went unsold, they brought a lot of people to the tables.

Other veteran sellers of memorabilia, including Jim Hansen of Austin and Cliff Yamasaki of San Francisco, were there. Oddly enough, there was not an abundance of vinyl. Only Hansen, Rockaway and Freakbeat Records had any. At all. The crowd inside the flea market bought a healthy amount of vinyl and were clamoring for more. Bootlegs were present, but not out in the open — vendors perhaps being mindful of the 1998 bust.

The main complaint about the flea market was the absence of vendors and collectors from the U.K., Japan and Mexico. The vendors were somewhat reasonable with pricing — nothing too outrageous, with only a couple of exceptions. Most vendors did very well in terms of business.

Guest speakers Bob Eubanks, Freda Kelly and Mark Rivera were very entertaining. Eubanks shared his story of booking The Beatles into the Hollywood Bowl and gave glimpses into their personalities at the time. Kelly, who was Brian Epstein’s Beatles Fan Club secretary, gave an engaging talk about her experiences. The warmth of her voice and personality made her talk an engaging one. You could see why Brian and The Beatles trusted her so much. Mark Rivera mainly spoke about his experience with the All Starr Band and how Ringo played on Rivera’s new album.

Legendary drummer Hal Blaine (right) with Tom Frangione.

Legendary drummer Hal Blaine (right) with Tom Frangione.

Also on hand for the first time was legendary session drummer Hal Blaine. He drummed on many classic ’60s hits, including those by Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and, of course, the legendary Phil Spector-John Lennon rock ’n’ roll sessions. He said Spector fired a gun while in the studio with Lennon during the sessions and also when Stevie Wonder came in to visit.

Blaine also said Lennon was always respectful to the musicians at the sessions, despite being drunk most of the time. Conversely, he was quite rude and disrespectful of any executive or producer who came through the door.

He also stated that Ringo was a great force in rock ’n’ roll because of both his drumming and his persona. Blaine had recently spoken to session drummer Bernard Purdie, who admitted his statements regarding his drumming on many Beatles classics were untrue. The only thing he drummed on were the Tony Sheridan tracks issued by Atco Records.

Although Blaine’s interaction with The Beatles was limited, he received a huge standing ovation at the end. People knew of his playing on so many hits they loved and remembered.

Onstage: Mark Rivera, Denny Laine, Joey Molland and Mark Hudson. (Photo by Jude Southerland Kessler)

Onstage: Mark Rivera, Denny Laine, Joey Molland and Mark Hudson. (Photo by Jude Southerland Kessler)

The performers at the Fest — including Joey Molland, Billy J. Kramer, Mark Hudson, Rivera and three members of Wings: Denny Laine, Denny Seiwell and Laurence Juber — gave spirited performances.

The performance highlight, though, went to former Apple Records exec Peter Asher, who entertained the audience with concert performances of Peter and Gordon songs, reminiscing about his career, and showing vintage video clips. Through the magic of video, his show included a performance of “True Love Ways” with the late Gordon Waller of Peter and Gordon. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and the performance was given a huge standing ovation.

Asher, to his credit, did a full two-hour show, despite being jet-lagged. He took a transatlantic flight from Britain to Los Angeles, going onstage a scant two hours after his arrival.

Finally, I spoke at length with Mark Hudson, Ringo’s former long-time producer. Hudson said that the relationship between him and Ringo was in the healing stages; they were discussing putting out a CD this summer called “Demo Daze,” which would consist of songs that they made as demos but which didn’t make the cut on any of Ringo’s solo records. Ringo likes the idea or, in Hudson’s words, “Ringo loves demos! He likes bootlegs, too.”

Hudson has hopes this could lead to a full reconciliation, both personally and professionally, with Ringo.

Hudson also revealed his favorite track off the “Vertical Man” album was “What in the … World,” which he wanted released as a single instead of “La-De-Da.” His favorite tracks on the Christmas album they did together were “Come On Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.” And, Hudson said, the line about “It’s a bad point of view / If Pat Boone got through to you” in “Memphis in Your Mind was a direct result of Ringo’s hatred of the fact that Boone had a hit with Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” in the USA.

Lapidos also had a huge gathering of Beatle authors for the Fest that included Bruce Spizer, Chuck Gunderson, Al Sussman and Wally Podrazik. Beatlefan Contributing Editor Tom Frangione did an onstage interview with Lapidos at the convention.

While those who attended were very pleased with this year’s L.A. Fest, attendance was disappointing, with most estimates running in the 3,000 range for the weekend, which leaves you wondering whether the Fest will return again to L.A. next year.

— Peter Palmiere

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August 1969: Some Kind of Innocence …

beatles august 69

(This memoir by Bill King originally was published in Beatlefan #90, September, 1994, to mark the 25th anniversary of these events. We thought it would be a good way of now noting the 45th anniversary.)

It’s a year for anniversaries. Beatlemania. D-Day. And observances of the I-remember-where-I-was events that packed that yin-yang summer of 1969.

Yes, I remember Woodstock. I was there.

OK, so I wasn’t up to my ears in sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and mud on Max Yasgur’s New York farm. But I was in Woodstock, in Georgia’s Appalachian foothills, where my family was “roughing it” for a week in a rustic cottage — complete with color TV with which to stay in touch with the rest of the world, which seemed to be going mad.

So it is that my memories of Woodstock and the Manson Family killings forever are entwined with images of us sitting at the breakfast table, trying to pick millions of tiny bones out of the catfish we’d snagged in Lake Allatoona.

It was as if the spicy social and cultural gumbo that was the ’60s was boiling over in the latter days of summer as my senior year of high school approached. Already in July, we’d had the wild contrast of the investiture of the Prince of Wales in an ancient ceremony and the modern marvel of man walking on the moon — both telecast live around the world via satellite.

A few days after the moon landing, Teddy Kennedy, who earlier that year was the fifth most admired man in America in a Gallup Poll, had gone on national TV to try explain Mary Jo Kopechne’s death in his car at Chappaquidick.

And then, that jam-packed week at the lake, we heard of the bizarre and bloody Beverly Hills murders of actress Sharon Tate and her friends, followed by the similar slaughter of an L.A. grocer and his wife the next day … Northern Ireland erupting as Catholics and Protestants took their age-old hatred into the streets, prompting the introduction of British troops … the gathering of more than 400,000 at that place in New York with the same name as our vacation site for a three-day rock fest that became a cultural watershed … and Hurricane Camille tearing up the Gulf Coast, killing 283.

We didn’t know it yet, but another cultural upheaval was taking place in London,where The Beatles were burning out in a creative supernova. The day before Sharon Tate was butchered, the Fab Four strolled across a certain zebra walk that was to be immortalized in the most famous record album cover of all time.

Even for those of us who lived it, 1969 seems like another world … a world where the hot new home entertainment item was the 8-track tape; the hottest new band was Creedence Clearwater Revival; Johnny Cash was pioneering country crossover; adolescent boys were falling in love with Olivia Hussey of “Romeo & Juliet” while Henry Mancini had an unexpected chart-topper with the film’s theme song; and Hollywood was courting the burgeoning youth market, with “Goodbye Columbus,” “The Wild Bunch” and “Midnight Cowboy.” A film that satirized the new sexual freedom, “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice,” was due out soon and “I Am Curious (Yellow)” was testing pornography laws across the country.

TV’s tame answer to all this sexual license fell well short of Broadway’s nudity-laced “Hair” and “Oh! Caluctta!,” but some ABC affiliates nevertheless were nervous about the new comedic anthology, “Love, American Style.”  The networks were on their own youth kick, with Michael Parks roaming the country in search of the Meaning of Life in “Then Came Bronson,” cool teens and caring teachers addressing relevant concerns in “Room 222,” and Aaron Spelling trying to follow up on his “Mod Squad” success with “The New People,” about a group of college kids stranded on a Pacific island who must start all over. For our little brothers and sisters, there was a goofy new sitcom about this lovely lady with three daughters who met this man with three sons of his own. …

As school got underway, we seniors briefly lost and regained our off-campus lunch privilege; we argued the upcoming Vietnam Moratorium Day nationwide anti-war protest in Coach Warlick’s Current Affairs class; we still watched “Dark Shadows” when we got home; and, in the latter half of September, tracks from the forthcoming “Abbey Road” album started showing up on the radio. Stations in a few cities also began programming the rough-hewn tracks from the abortive “Get Back” album, taken from advance acetates that had leaked out.

A taste of the times can be had via the “Posters, Incense, and Strobe Candles” bootleg, taken from a recording of WBCN in Boston airing the “Get Back” album on Sept. 22, 1969.

That same night, on my 17th birthday, The Beatles were seen on TV in a disjointed promotional film for the summer hit “The Ballad of John and Yoko” (with a drum beat replacing each mention of “Christ” and a couple of minutes of “Give Peace a Chance” from that May’s Montreal Bed-In inserted in the middle).

The occasion was the star-loaded premiere — with Tom Jones, James Brown, Janis Joplin, Oliver, Buck Owens, Three Dog Night and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young also on the bill — of ABC’s “The Music Scene,” a hip but ultimately short-lived variation on “Your Hit Parade” notable mainly for introducing Lily Tomlin.

Leafing through a TV Guide from that week, and listening to that “Get Back” bootleg, I am swept back to a time when outrage still was tempered with hope, that heady mix of anything-goes and lingering innocence made life a thrilling adventure of discovery,  there seemed to be no limits to what we could do … and when, not coincidentally, The Beatles were at the apex of their musical and cultural influence, a presence so powerful and pervasive that it crossed almost all socio-economic boundaries.

For our children, it must be difficult to fathom the unique position the Fabs had in 1969. But if they imagine the combined impact of Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, David Letterman, Kurt Cobain, Fabio, Madonna and, yes, even dead Elvis — and multiply it several times — they might come close.

The Beatles occupied a sort of pop culture Mount Olympus. No mere stars, their every move triggered worldwide interest and trends. Their lyrics and even their album covers were examined for meanings in the uniquely ’60s belief that these rock ’n’ roll demi-gods must know something we didn’t.

(This, of course, resulted not only in that ludicrous media uproar in the fall of ’69 now known as the Paul-is-dead hoax, but also in the revelation at the Manson trial a few months later that Crazy Charlie considered The Beatles to be higher beings who were sending him messages through their music. “Helter Skelter,” he believed, foretold an impending race war and was the alert for him to get on the right side by slaughtering some pigs. In reality, it used playground imagery as an analogy for sex.)

Back then, The Beatles were so unbelievably hip that we figured anything they did must be hip, even if it didn’t appear so on the surface. I remember when I first heard the “Abbey Road” album: A group of us had gathered at a schoolmate’s house to work on a Senior English class report (something boring by Joseph Conrad) and it wasn’t long before our attention wavered and we adjourned to Mary’s basement bedroom to listen to the new Beatles LP, which I hadn’t yet scraped up the bucks to buy.

Anyway, we listened in awe as Mary guided us through “Abbey Road,” and I’ll never forget her preface to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which today is viewed in the same light in which The Beatles themselves saw it — as the “corny” one — but which Mary, who was known as one of the school’s artsy intellectuals, imbued with some unknown quasi-mystical meaning beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals.

“This one is too far out,” she said breathlessly as the song began.

And, you know, listening to the tale of Maxwell Edison and his deadly silver hammer in the wake of the summer of ’69 … well, it did seem that way.

2014 POSTSCRIPT: I recently sent this piece to Mary, who at first didn’t recognize herself in it, and then was bemused that I described her as an “artsy intellectual.” She also couldn’t believe she had ever used the phrase “too far out.” I can’t swear those were her exact words, but that’s definitely how I remembered it 20 years ago, and still do. I also should note that, while I’m not sure anyone would have described me as an “artsy intellectual” in 1969, that’s the group I mostly hung out with in high school.


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Mystery ’Train Song’ Has Beatles Experts Divided

Bill King takes a look at a mystery track that has surfaced recently …

The buzz in Beatles circles the past week or so has been a rare recording that appears in the film “A Hard Day’s Night” and may or may not have been done by The Beatles.

The music is heard briefly during a scene aboard a train in "A Hard Day's Night."

The music is heard briefly during a scene aboard a train in “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Here’s the story. Legendary collector Dave Morrell, who has a new book out, guested on Chris Carter’s “Breakfast With The Beatles” radio show on KLOS-FM in Los Angeles and played a 30-second stereo version of the “Train Music” that blared from a transistor radio Ringo turns on in a famous scene of the movie where The Beatles are in a train compartment. An older passenger objects to the music and turns it off.

Although the music is only heard in the film for a few seconds, it is part of the longer clip played by Morrell, who said the recording was found in a box labeled “The Beatles.” According to a Beatles Examiner report, it was auctioned in the past on eBay with this description: “The cardboard EMITAPE box is 5 inches in size, & has a piece of green colored Twickenham Film Studios paperwork partially attached to the back of the box, with several other torn off pieces of the old paperwork housed inside the box, this green paper is quite brittle from age, one can make out the words ‘Hard Days Night’ handwritten on the faded document.”

The clip can be heard here.

But is it The Beatles? Those who think it is cite an entry in John C. Winn’s book “Way Beyond Compare” that says: “…the film producer, Walter Shenson, eventually verified the music was actually performed by the Beatles, presumably during the sessions for the soundtrack the week prior to the start of the filming.”

However, Winn subsequently has backed off from thinking it’s The Beatles after hearing the full 30-second track.

“It sounds to me like some band trying to imitate the Beatles’ sound,” Winn told Beatlefan. “Once I heard the full recording in good quality, it was pretty clearly not them.”

It’s notable that so far no one has been able to produce the interview where Shenson supposedly made the statement. Asked where he got that information for his book, Winn told Beatlefan: “I don’t have a citation for that — my source was Doug Sulpy’s ‘Beatles Audio Guide.’ He wrote: ‘According to Producer Walter Shenson, it’s them. Accept that or not, as you will.’ Perhaps he would know the origin of the Shenson claim.”

Beatlefan tried to get an answer out of Sulpy, but so far hasn’t heard back from him. If we do, we’ll provide an update.

Opinion on the track is greatly divided. Is it really The Beatles? Or some generic beat group stuff put down by someone else for the film that allegedly wound up in an EMI box labeled “Beatles” because it was used in a Beatles film? If it was the Fabs, it’s odd there’s no EMI documentation on that session.

Radio host Carter told Beatles Examiner he believes it’s The Beatles. “I think it’s ‘them’ for the following reasons: It sounds like them. The tape box said ‘The Beatles.’ If it was another group, that other group would have claimed it was them sometime in the last 50 years! It was found along with other music not used in the film by George Martin. And lastly I trust the sources [Morrell and fellow collector Ron Furmanek]. The big question is why it’s not noted in the Beatles recording history data. My guess is it might have been recorded during a George Martin Orchestra session. It was just recorded ‘live’ and did not have a track sheet.”

However, besides Winn, a number of other Beatles scholars who have listened to the recording either don’t believe it’s the Fab Four or are unconvinced by the current evidence.

I asked longtime Beatlefan contributing editor Allan Kozinn of the New York Times what his gut told him about the “Train Song” recording. “My gut tells me it’s not The Beatles, but I’m open to the possibility that it is,” he said. “Listening to it, my feeling is that while it doesn’t sound like any of their recordings, it’s easily within the parameters of what they could play — and if they were trying to sound generic, or perhaps, Shadows-like, rather than Beatly, that could easily be the result. The lack of documentation is a persuasive point, but it’s not necessarily dispositive. They could have recorded the track on the film set (where they had their equipment). Unfortunately, the only person who could probably tell us definitively, is Paul. But Paul’s policy these days seems to be to refuse to answer researchers’ questions, and then to tell them where they were wrong (or write a song about it) after they’ve published.”

Richard Buskin, author of a number of Beatles books (including the new “Beatles 101″), believes it definitely is not The Beatles. “It doesn’t sound like them whatsoever,” he said. “George/John playing surf guitar? I really don’t think so!”

However, European Beatles expert Roger Stormo noted that, “Even though it doesn’t quite sound like them, it could still be them. The drums don’t sound like Ringo, but it could be Paul. It could be them trying not to sound like them. If it was anybody else, then someone would have stepped forward to claim the credit for it.”

The latter point seems to be the strongest argument in favor of it, but is that enough to make the leap that those who believe it is The Beatles are making?

Robert Rodriguez, author of the “Beatles FAQ” series, initially thought it was The Beatles. “To me, it was reminiscent of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ — a driving Chuck Berry-esque rocker, in ‘E.'”

And, he said, “the lack of documentation isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker either. I would like to believe that Paul or Ringo would remember one way or another, but I kinda doubt it. So at this point, until something more substantive surfaces, I wouldn’t take the assertion that it is them as gospel, though I wouldn’t dismiss it either.”

(Beatlefan has sent inquiries to Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr through their press offices but so far hasn’t heard back.)

Longtime Beatles discographer Wally Podrazik said that, on listening to the track online, his gut reaction was: “Why are they saying this is The Beatles?”

Podrazik said he “was trying to fit the piece into the picture of the group from [Mark] Lewisohn’s ‘Tune In.’ It is established that they could fill long hours covering any kind of song, and could probably churn out just such an instrumental riff … BUT in the controlled atmosphere of filming/the tight schedule of putting together the songs for the film (and more) in the studio, why on earth would they bother? The only argument for it is might be the group members wanting to have their music permeate the soundtrack. But since they already had George Martin creating instrumentals throughout, even that doesn’t hold up.

“If somebody came up with documentation I’d say: OK, fine. It’s them, if you say so. But absent that, it does feel generic.”

Speaking from the fan perspective, Beatlefan contributing editor Tom Frangione said: “Having heard the track, I must say it doesn’t ‘sound’ to be them. Even for an off-the-cuff bit, just comparing it to the sound of their playing (say, BBC sessions) at the time, and even the instrumentation (to say nothing of stylistic things — I’m not a drumming expert, but those don’t sound like Ringo rolls and fills). My own vote is nay.”

And what does a longtime musician intimately familiar with The Beatles’ music think? “It doesn’t sound like The Beatles to me,” Beatlefan contributing editor Jeff Slate said. “The recording doesn’t have that Abbey Road/George Martin sound … at least, in this rough sounding version. … They were better musicians, frankly. The drumming is the giveaway, right from the start. … The drums feel rushed, pushing the beat, not at all like Ringo. The intro isn’t like anything else Ringo ever played in my memory, and those fills! They’re more like Pete Best than Ringo (and I don’t mean that in a good way).

“I may be stretching here, but they also sound like a righty. The bass doesn’t lock in with the kick drum or even play around it like Paul did, even in this era, and it’s quite rudimentary. The rhythm guitar has some of John’s trademark style, but John tended to use lots of 7ths in songs in ’64 and this is more punky and straightforward. Finally, George wouldn’t be caught dead playing those solos.”

Sums up Slate: “Basically, this is too rushed and pinky feeling to my ears. But it’s conceivable that they just rolled the tape and cranked it out in one really brief pass, though I’m not convinced. Abbey Road were (and are to this day!) too anal about documentation. Maybe it was done somewhere else like the BBC, but their schedule wouldn’t really seem to allow anything else that wouldn’t be documented unless it was from a very early test session and was a scrap that had survived.”

And, going to the man many consider the ultimate source on all things Beatles, what does Mark Lewisohn say? When contacted by Beatlefan, Lewisohn said he didn’t think it was The Beatles on the tape, but, as with everything else, he awaits further information with interest.

Others think that, barring direct evidence that it’s not The Beatles, there’s no harm in assuming it is.

Furmanek told Beatles Examiner, “Why not? Until someone comes up with the 100 percent positive proof of who it actually is, why not believe?”

But to Buskin that’s “a ridiculous line of ‘reasoning.’ On that basis, why research anything? The bottom line is, aside from the instruments being played, that short recording bears as much resemblance to The Beatles as the George Martin Orchestra’s Muzak. So, until/unless we know otherwise …”

Feel free to share your thoughts on “Train Song” and whether it sounds like The Beatles.

UPDATE: Finally, somebody claims the “Train Music” clip. One of the session musicians who worked on George Martin sessions for incidental music for the film says he’s playing on the clip, not Ringo. “That’s definitely me,” drummer Clem Cattini (at that point, fresh from The Tornadoes) told Matt Hurwitz for a lengthy StudioDaily piece on the film’s restoration. “The guitars, I think, were ‘Big Jim’ Sullivan and Jimmy Page. They did a lot of the rock stuff together in those days, particularly on these kinds of sessions,” Cattini said.

However, bassist Herbie Flowers, who played on many such recordings (though not this) conjectures the 37-second cue may have simply been a library track recorded by Martin (or another producer). “It wasn’t uncommon in those days when, if a session was booked for three hours, and musicians completed their work early, to be asked then to record bits and pieces for use as library tracks.”

Giles Martin, son of George Martin and the producer who handled the sound restoration for the movie, said: “My instinct says it’s not The Beatles, but more likely the session players my dad would have gotten in for the soundtrack recording.”

McCartney still hasn’t commented on the clip, but when asked about it by the Los Angeles Times, Ringo said: “I’m afraid I have to help keep it a mystery. I don’t remember.”



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‘Guitar With Wings’ — Laurence Juber’s Photographic Memoir

Juber- guitar with wings coverHere is an expanded version of Bill King’s review of Wings guitarist Laurence Juber’s book that appears in Beatlefan #208 …

“Guitar With Wings: A Photographic Memoir” by Laurence Juber with Marshall Terrill. Foreword by Denny Laine. Dalton Watson Fine Books, Deerfield, IL. Published May 2014. 256 pages, signed, numbered limited edition hardcover in a slipcase and CD. $100.

With a degree in music from London University’s Goldsmith’s College and past membership in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Ivor Laurence Juber wasn’t your typical rock ’n’ roll session player when, at the suggestion of Denny Laine, Paul McCartney tapped him to be lead guitarist in what turned out to be the final Wings lineup.

“So, Laurence, what are you doing for the next few years?” Macca asked at the end of an informal jam that served as Juber’s audition.

Actually, the revamped Wings’ run — which also saw Steve Holley new to the band on drums — ended up being barely three years, only two of which saw much activity.

Fortunately for us, though, Juber was cognizant of the rare opportunity he was being given — he refers to working with Paul as attending “McCartney University” — and he took his camera along with him as the new Wings rehearsed and recorded in Scotland, finished off the “Back to the Egg” album in picturesque Lympne Castle, toured the U.K. and traveled to Japan (where Paul’s arrest for pot possession ended up ultimately grounding Wings permanently).

And so we have this collection of Juber’s intimate shots of McCartney at work and play with his band and loving family. The young musician obviously thoroughly enjoyed his time with McCartney, and so what we get are fond reminscences and pertinent musical details rather than tell-all gossip about Macca and his missus. No cheap shots at Linda’s role in the band, either. In fact, Juber says, “There was a certain tone to a Wings record and Linda’s vibe and voice were essential ingredients.”

Hardcore fans may not get quite as many session details on the individual tracks as they’d wish, but there still are plenty of worthwhile nuggets from sessions for the “Rupert” demos, “Rockestra,” and “Cold Cuts” tracks as well as the “Egg” album and its videos.

While most readers no doubt are primarily interested in Juber’s time with a former Beatle, Juber and Terrill’s telling of Laurence’s life before and after Wings (with even a bit of family history included) won’t bog you down. And there’s the occasional fun detail, like how “With The Beatles” was the first LP bought by the middle-class Jewish boy who got his first acoustic guitar at age 11. (His first concert, however, was Gerry and the Pacemakers with Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.)

And even before Juber was invited to join Wings after playing in the house band on a Denny Laine solo TV appearance, there were brushes with Beatledom: playing on a Cleo Laine session produced by George Martin, performing on the soundtrack of the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” (which featured Ringo’s future wife), encountering Macca in a studio men’s room in the summer of 1977, learning of the death of Elvis from fellow student Mike McCartney at a Transcendental Meditation retreat, and bumping into Denny, Paul and Linda at AIR studios, where they were mixing Linda’s “Oriental Nightfish.” Denny recalls Laurence saying to call him if they “needed some guitar.”

They did just that in early 1978, asking Juber to come jam. Although a Beatles fan, he wasn’t really up on McCartney’s solo work at that point and had to borrow his brother’s Wings LPs to prepare (though they ended up jamming on Chuck Berry tunes and reggae grooves).

While short on group gossip, the Wings portion of the book does include Juber’s appraisals of his fellow band members. Holley, he says, added “an edge and tougher sound to the band” with his drumming. Laine proved a good creative foil for Macca with his “r&b voice, rock guitar prowess and gypsy/folk sensibilities.” And Linda, he writes, was “the spirit” and the glue holding everyone together. “Things just worked better with Linda in the room.”

The final incarnation of Wings first worked on the song “Same Time Next Year” (intended for the movie of the same name but not used). Work on the next album began at Paul’s Scottish farm in June 1978, and Juber provides just enough musical details to keep gearheads happy, noting which guitars and studio gadgets were used on which tracks.

Fun details include Juber recording the 12-string guitar part for “We’re Open Tonight” while sitting in a stairway at Lympne Castle, the band spending “some serious time” on the ultimately unreleased track “Cage” (the title of which came from the notes on the guitar of the riff: C-A-G-E), and one session being spent placing microphones around Paul’s Rolls-Royce to capture the sound of a car horn, only to see McCartney and producer Chris Thomas eventually decide that the part worked much better on a mini-Moog.

Juber says he suggested using a noted trombone player on one section of “Baby’s Request,” but Paul preferred to create a faux “bone tone” on his mini-Moog. Laurence notes with some satisfaction that when Macca re-recorded the tune for his 2012 “Kisses on the Bottom” project, he went with a real trombone solo.

And then there was the chance Laurence got to play bass on “Love Awake.” Naturally, he was nervous since his boss was one of the world’s most celebrated bassists, but, he writes, “Much like his own production mentor, George Martin, Paul has a knack of putting you at ease to bring out the best in a creative situation.”

Juber’s track “Maisie” also was recorded during these sessions, though it didn’t make the album. (It’s on the 10-track “Standard Time” CD that comes with the deluxe edition of this book.)

During the sessions at Abbey Road, Juber recalls, George Martin popped in, followed shortly by George Harrison, with whom Juber bonded over a yoga philosophy book. (Seven years later, Juber would get to work with Harrison on a “Shanghai Surprise” session.)

An interesting aside is that Juber had to turn down a Rick Wakeman session during this time because Paul wanted Wings “to appear as an integrated band, rather than a group with added session players.” It was disappointing, he says, but “I was happy that Paul had such faith in this current Wings lineup.”

paul squeezebox by juberThere are lots of session photos, taken in natural light with fast film and no flash so as not to be intrusive.

Juber also provides many shots of Paul, Linda and the band members interacting with the McCartney children. I was particularly taken with a great shot of Linda tenderly kissing young James and another of Denny with Stella.

Also covered in the book are the making of some of the “Back to the Egg” promo videos, the proposed but never filmed “Band on the Run” movie for which Willy Russell wrote a script, the work on the “Rupert” soundtrack demos, and the Rockestra session in October 1978 with John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Pete Townsend, Kenny Jones, Dave Gilmour, Ronnie Lane, Hank Marvin, Bruce Thomas, Ray Cooper, Gary Brooker, Tony Ashton and Jimmy Page’s amp (Page himself didn’t show).

Juber reveals that the gathered superstars were unaware of the film crew hidden behind false corners in the studio — so it’s not surprising that difficulties getting releases from everyone involved resulted in the film never being released.

Although working with a Beatle, Juber’s life in Britain had not changed all that much, though he bought a home. It was when Juber and Holley were sent to New York to promote the “Back to the Egg” album — and he began being recognized on the street by fans — that Laurence realized “that The Beatles were held in a very different perspective in the States compared with the U.K.”

The story of this last version of Wings culminates with the fall 1979 U.K. tour. Rehearsals were held in a cabin near Macca’s Peasmarsh home: “With a Little Luck” was tried but didn’t work well live; however, they did learn two new numbers: “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Coming Up,” which Paul had recorded on his own.

Juber feels that Wings’ last days as a concert band have been unfairly maligned, not least by Macca himself. Most of the issues that arose on the tour were strictly technical, like a buzz in the P.A. in one city, he says. “I think that caused Paul’s recollection that we were a bit under-rehearsed, which is not borne out by the live recordings.” By the two nights in Glawgow, Juber says, the band was “firing on all cylinders.”

And then there were the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea. I love Juber’s description of how during the Rockestra performance of “Let It Be” it dawned on him that no one was going to step forward and take the guitar solo, so he did it. “That moment is one of my own career highlights and I was sufficiently transported that I was not bothered by a somewhat inebriated Pete Townsend peering over my left shoulder.”

A tour of Japan was to come next, but we all know what happened there — Juber was with Paul when the pot was found in his luggage and had a close call with customs agents who wanted to take a screwdriver to his newly bought 1957 Les Paul Goldtop!

Although Macca’s bust essentially doomed Wings, the band officially continued, with Juber traveling to France in 1980 to record with Paul, Linda and Ringo Starr for the latter’s “Stop and Smell the Roses” album. Notes Laurence: “It was quite magical to watch [Paul and Ringo] interact.”

Wings regrouped that October to begin rehearsing tunes for the “Tug of War” album, on which they would end up not playing, and in January 1981 the band did some polishing work on some of the tracks planned for a “Cold Cuts” compilation that never came out. The last track they worked on was a remix of “Same Time Next Year” — so, ironically, that proved to be both the first and last track Juber worked on with McCartney.

Juber deals honestly with the end of Wings. He believes that the issue from earlier in the year of the competing versions of “Coming Up” (Paul’s solo version was on the “McCartney II” album but U.S. DJs preferred the live Wings B-side version) underscored “the reality that Paul’s artistic direction and that of the band were diverging. … His attention clearly was not on the group.”

So it wasn’t a big surprise when the decision was made that the band would not accompany Paul and Linda to Montserrat for the “Tug of War” sessions. Macca called Juber and said that George Martin didn’t want it to be a Wings album, but rather a Paul McCartney album with session players. But, Juber says, “I think [Paul] was passing the buck onto George.”

And so Wings came to an end, with McCartney choosing to go the solo route from that point on. Eventually, the idea of any sort of Wings reunion became moot with the death of Linda. Juber says Macca told him at the time of the “Wingspan” retrospective that “as much as he couldn’t imagine a Beatles reunion without John, a Wings reunion without Linda could not be a reality.”

Juber’s book chronicling the last years of Wings is a fitting tribute to an underexamined period of McCartney’s career, and Wings fans in particular will find both his pictures and the eloquent text an enjoyable addition to their library. This handsome volume has 475 images, some in color and quite a few running a full page or larger, gorgeously printed on glossy paper. (The shots of Wings on their 1979 U.K. tour were taken by Juber’s brother Graham.)

A regular trade edition of the book also is planned.

William P. King




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50 Years On: The Truth Beneath the Blather

50 beatles small

Beatlefan Executive Editor Al Sussman takes on all those whiners from Beatles fandom making so much noise on social media of late …

Well, it certainly has been an interesting few months in the Beatleworld. There was the run of 50th anniversaries of the historic events that culminated in The Beatles’ breakthrough in America, the release of important new books by Mark Lewisohn and Kevin Howlett, a second official set of Beatles BBC recordings, followed in December by the release of a 50-plus track package of studio outtakes and more Beeb material via iTunes to keep said material in copyright in Europe.

In the new year, there was the release (for the second time, in most cases) of CDs of The Beatles’ U.S. albums and the appearance on the Grammy Awards of Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney (who, during this same period, had racked up another Top 5 album with “New” and five Grammy wins).

The next night, a Grammy-driven CBS-TV special saluting The Beatles was taped, with performances by McCartney and Starr (separately and together), but also a number of contemporary or semi-contemporary acts.

It all climaxed two weeks later with a very exciting weekend-plus for the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival in America and their historic live debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” New York City alone had a series of concerts and events under the umbrella heading Fab50NYC while the Fest For Beatles Fans very successfully returned to NYC even as the marquee on the Ed Sullivan Theatre was made to look as it did 50 years before.

A casual observer would probably think that this might have been the best time to be a Beatles fan since the rollout of the “Anthology” project in November 1995. But that same casual observer would have gotten quite a different impression through a perusal of social media outlets and blogs over those last months of 2013 and early 2014. Indeed, the chief impression would have been of a terminally cranky fandom prone to premature overreaction, minute overanalysis, and a good deal of musical elitism.

The fact that some 8,000 turned out for the NYC Fest and that the Grammy salute attracted such a large (for 2014 network TV) audience that an encore telecast was shown just three nights later was almost beside the point, given the volume of noise coming from at least a portion of Beatles fandom.

What sort of noise? Well, when advance word of the package of 1963 recordings being released in mid-December leaked out, but nothing had happened shortly after midnight on the date of presumed release, there were online cries of a “public relations disaster for Apple,” despite the fact that Apple has never addressed the recordings and the European copyright issue. Some nine hours later, of course, the package went up on U.S. iTunes and was greeted with complaints about the compressed sound on the half-century-old BBC performances.

That was nothing, though, compared with the caterwauling that went on after the announcement of the release of the set of The Beatles’ U.S. albums and a subsequent statement that indicated certain tracks that had been released in the U.S. in reverb-slathered form in 1964-65 would be replaced by the best available sources from the 2009 remasters. Despite the fact that no one had heard as much as a note from even the sampler that preceded the set, one would have thought that the “Mona Lisa” had been defaced.

There were days of social media squalling that the albums with which people grew up (in the U.S., that is) were not being faithfully re-created for this set of reissues. Of course, the complainers conveniently overlooked the fact most of these albums were being made available separately in physical form and all the tracks would be available separately via iTunes and the other digital music platforms, so it was necessary to represent these albums and especially the individual tracks with the best-sounding versions, while still keeping the spirit of the American releases. Besides, these complainers very likely already had CDs of most of the Capitol Beatles albums, with the 1964-65 U.S. mixes via the widely praised 2004 and 2006 “Capitol Albums” sets.

Predictably, when the “U.S. Albums” set was released in January and turned out to be a very listenable commercial product with only a handful of tracks that didn’t conform to the ’60s mixes and superior packaging to the 2004-06 sets, the level of noise coming from social media dropped precipitously. Yes, Doug Sulpy devoted an entire issue of The 910 to a pretty negative dissection of the set, but Jeff Slate’s more evenhanded (and far shorter) take in Beatlefan #206 is closer to reality.

And then there was the reaction to both the Grammy Awards telecast and the CBS-TV salute to The Beatles two weeks later. First, on Grammy night, there was the whining about why Ringo played with McCartney’s band on “Queenie Eye” and not a Beatles song, despite the common knowledge that both would be performing on the Grammy Beatles salute that would be taped the next night.

Then, after the Feb. 9 telecast of the salute special, the elitists came out of the woodwork to complain about the acts who performed on the show, particularly the more contemporary ones like Katy Perry and Pharrell, as if they weren’t worthy of performing Beatles songs. Obviously, these are people who have never seen the abysmal “Beatles nights” on the alleged “talent” shows on network TV. The only way to make Beatles songs boring is to put them in the hands of the mediocrities that emerge from shows like “American Idol,” not proven 21st century hitmakers.

Witnessing all of this blather, the aforementioned casual observer probably wonders how there could be so much excitement over The Beatles 50 years on if their fandom is so relentlessly negative. Well, the truth is that all of those bloviators in Facebookland and the Twitterverse and various and sundry blogs and podcasts make up a very loud but decidedly minor segment of the real Beatles fandom, a 21st century echo of the media naysayers who pooh-poohed The Beatles 50 years ago.

In “Changin’ Times: 101 Days That Shaped a Generation,” I examine how the nearly all-male and middle-aged U.S. media of 1964 rejected The Beatles as nothing but a teen fad that was greatly helped by the alleged emotional fallout among the young from the assassination of President Kennedy, completely ignoring the group’s music or its members.

In the book and in previous pieces I’ve done on The Beatles’ breakthrough in America, I’ve noted that the crucial elements that made them arguably the greatest of all pop culture phenomena was the group’s very new, high-quality music and the unique personalities that emerged from each member.

Fifty years on, those are still the elements most important in the ongoing Beatles phenomenon. No other act — especially one that basically ceased to exist 44 years ago and two members of which are gone from this life — could have produced the kind of palpable excitement that was very much a part of the mid-winter scene in New York in the first week of February 2014.

And a crucial reason for that excitement is the multi-generational appeal of The Beatles. Looking at the audiences at the Fab50NYC events and the attendees at the Fest, one would have seen several generations, ranging from toddlers to white-haired baby boomers, who, as writer/NYC Beatles tour guide Susan Ryan put it in a fan-shot video, “like The Beatles and like their songs.” And those are the people who make up the largest segment of Beatles fandom.

I’ve come to realize this in recent years, in my various roles with the Fest, particularly trivia and “Name That Tune” competitions, participating in chat room discussions with the Beatle Brunch Club, and hearing fan requests and messages to the various weekend Beatles radio shows, on terrestrial and Internet radio.

1 album cover

But the most tangible manifestation of this is the ongoing success of the biggest-selling album of the 21st century’s first decade and the only real competition for Adele’s “21” for this decade’s sales leader, the 27-track collection of Beatles No. 1 singles called “1.”

As I’ve pointed out numerous times before, “1” is an album that, over some 13 ½ years, has been mainly bought by or for young Beatles fans or casual consumers of their music. In that time frame, every time there has been the kind of spurt in sales of Beatles albums that we saw in the weeks immediately after the 50th anniversary hoopla, “1” has been the sales leader. And, by a wide margin, “1” has been the biggest-selling and most commercially successful of ALL of the 44 years’ worth of post-breakup Beatles releases.

Yet, many of the hardcore “fans” who spent so much of this winter whining about the iTunes package or the “U.S. Albums” set or Maroon 5 performing “All My Loving” on the CBS special don’t own “1,” or bought it only as a completist and look down their noses at it as some needless collection that only “nonserious” fans would want.

And that’s how the hardcore begin to sound as cynical as the media of 1964. In obsessing over mixes and in which channel the guitar is placed and whether Take 17 of a given song sounds superior to Take 9, they’ve stopped enjoying the music and are never happy or satisfied with anything.

It’s as if they now live just to criticize this or that aspect of new releases, as if Beatles music is now just something to be analyzed and criticized, rather than really listened to and enjoyed for its considerable musical merits.

They’re all wrapped up in why the mix isn’t “the one I grew up with.” Or McCartney singing “Queenie Eye” in his “old man voice” on the Grammy show. And how dare Katy Perry deign to sing “Yesterday,” and in such a torchy, overly dramatic way, even though female vocalists, in particular, have been singing it that way for five decades! And on and on …

Hopefully, our casual observer will back away from social media land, pick up “1” or the reissued “Meet The Beatles!” or the “On Air” BBC collection and let the still nearly irresistible music of the entertainment phenomenon of two centuries drown out the blather.

— Al Sussman

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CBS Beatles Special Got the Important Stuff Right

paul ringo salute point

Bill King reviews CBS’ “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To The Beatles” …

As I’ve written before, I didn’t listen to Top 40 radio much before The Beatles, so when I tuned in to “The Ed Sullivan Show” 50 years ago on Feb. 9, I’d actually never heard a note of the Fab Four’s music until they launched into “All My Loving,” the first song they performed on that historic telecast.

That was also how, half a century later, CBS launched its anniversary special, “The Night That Changed America,” with black & white video of the impossibly young-looking Fab Four segueing into Adam Levine and Maroon 5 doing a faithful rendition of the song.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this two-and-a-half-hour special, taped Jan. 27 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, since the Grammy Awards folks behind it had chosen an all-over-the-musical-map approach in lining up talent (an attempt at something for nearly everyone, basically). So there were contemporary pop stars, indie rockers, r&b stars past and present, a grunge legend, classic rockers, a modern blues-rocker, a couple of Nashville performers and, of course, the two surviving Beatles.

What we got turned out to be a pretty entertaining evening of music that thankfully never lost sight of its purpose: paying tribute to the biggest rock act of the past five decades.

The special included more clips of The Beatles performing on the “Sullivan” show, frustratingly brief snippets of interviews with Paul and Ringo Starr (separately and together) conducted at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City by David Letterman, whose CBS “Late Show” originates there, plus interview clips with “Sullivan” show staffers, members of the audience at that 1964 telecast, and one of the other acts from that original show. There was also a rambling, fitfully funny comedic bit with Monty Python’s Eric Idle, who also narrated the well-done biographical segments on the four Beatles.

Most (not quite all) of the musical matches ended up making sense, even if the lineup of celebs introducing various segments — LL Cool J, Kate Beckinsale, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges and Sean Penn — seemed pretty random.

joe jeff dhani something

After the telecast opened with the hybrid Beatles/Maroon 5 number, the latter band was given one all to itself and provided a creditable, though unmemorable, rendition of “Ticket to Ride,” sticking pretty much to the original arrangement. Then came Stevie Wonder on “We Can Work It Out”; a sort of Beatles extended family combo consisting of Jeff Lynne (of ELO and Traveling Wilburys fame), Joe Walsh (now Ringo’s brother-in-law) and George Harrison’s son Dhani performing “Something”; folk-popster Ed Sheeran doing a solo “In My Life”; John Mayer and Keith Urban trading vocals and guitar solos on “Don’t Let Me Down”; Katy Perry (wearing what looked like a beach tent) singing “Yesterday”; Imagine Dragons sitting on stools doing “Revolution” on guitars with just a foot-pedal for rhythm; and Foo Fighter Dave Grohl (who referred to The Beatles as “my Mom’s favorite band, my favorite band and now my daughter’s favorite band”) and Lynne teaming up on “Hey Bulldog,” a personal favorite not just because of my University of Georgia leanings.

Next was the frankly overhyped reunion of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart as the Eurythmics for “The Fool on the Hill,” followed by Alicia Keys and John Legend at facing grand pianos for “Let It Be”; Pharrell Williams (complete with that goofy Vivienne Westwood hat from the Grammys) and Brad Paisley (in his own goofy hat) together on “Here Comes the Sun” (also featuring acrobats from the Cirque du Soleil Beatles musical “LOVE”); and, in the evening’s pre-Beatle high point, Gary Clark Jr. and Walsh on lead guitar and Grohl on drums for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (the dual guitar solos toward the end drew cheers from the audience).

Then it was time for a mini set by Ringo, backed by the house band — featuring Kenny Aronoff (drums), Lenny Castro (percussion), Chris Caswell (keyboard), Peter Frampton (guitar), Rami Jaffe (organ), Steve Lukather (guitar), Greg Phillinganes (keyboard), and Don Was (bass), who also served as musical director. Ringo did “Matchbox” (guitar solo by Frampton), a rocking “Boys” (with Ringo on the drum kit and both Lukather and Frampton taking guitar solos) and “Yellow Submarine” (which saw Ringo go out on the stage runway into the crowd).

That was followed by McCartney and his ultra tight touring band doing “Birthday,” “Get Back,” a rousing “I Saw Her Standing There” (Beatle spouses Nancy and Barbara were seen dancing while Yoko did some sort of airplane thing and John Lennon’s son Sean played air guitar). Next was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which segued into “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and sure enough Ringo trotted out and took the lead vocal alongside Paul. Starr then took to the drums and Macca to his psychedelic piano for “Hey Jude,” which wound up with all the evening’s performers onstage for the finale.

sing along salute

Both Paul and Ringo paid tribute to the two missing Beatles, Lennon and Harrison, with Starr noting: “We were in a band. It’s called The Beatles. And if we play, John and George are always with us. It’s always John, Paul, George and Ringo.”

Seeing Ringo and Paul together onstage was, of course, a thrill. Neither’s voice was in top-notch shape, but considering their age and the magnitude of the moment, that was sort of beside the point. And even with the frayed vocals, they still were head and shoulders above everyone else on the bill.

Otherwise, I’d say the best performances were Clark, Walsh and Grohl’s sizzling “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Grohl and Lynne bashing out “Hey Bulldog,” Lynne, Walsh and Dhani doing a fine “Something” (the younger Harrison looking and sounding uncannily like his dad), Keys and Legend’s gospel-tinged “Let It Be,” Sheeran’s simple, acoustic “In My Life” and the guitar workout on Mayer and Urban’s “Don’t Let Me Down.” I was a little disappointed at first the Dragons didn’t do “Revolution” in their normally outsized style, but I enjoyed their acoustic approach and sparkling harmonies nonetheless. Stevie also doesn’t have quite the voice he used to, but his “We Can Work It Out” (which was a hit for him way back when) was funky fun.

However, I’ve never liked Annie Lennox and I didn’t think much of her performance. Katy gave an interesting but only partially successful reading of “Yesterday,” with an unusually low, breathy and emotional delivery. I don’t think the number or arrangement really suited her; she didn’t seem her usual confident, sassy self. And I didn’t think the odd pairing of Paisley and Williams really clicked at all.

I also was a bit disappointed we didn’t get more of Paul, Ringo and Dave at the Sullivan Theatre, but from what my friend Rick Glover was told by a tech at the show, a DVD is probable and likely will have expanded interview segments.

A few notes about what we didn’t see on the CBS telecast: Macca’s first number, “Magical Mystery Tour,” was cut and “Hey Jude” was edited, with Paul’s trademark call and response routine trimmed. Also, after the performance of “With a Little Help,” Ringo said, “Paul McCartney! Or, Sir Paul, as some like to call him … but I never will!” However, those last four words were not heard on the CBS telecast. That wasn’t the only bit of brotherly teasing, though. If you looked carefully during the number, when Ringo sang, “What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?” Paul mouthed, “I would.”

All in all, it was a largely satisfying TV special that paid suitable tribute to one of the most important nights in pop culture history.

(Special thanks to Rick Glover and Randy Dry! There’s much more on the Beatles tribute show in Beatlefan #206, with on-the-scene reports and photos from the concert. If you’d like to get a copy, a sample issue costs $7 in the U.S. or $10 abroad, U.S. funds only. Credit cards accepted, as is PayPal (payable to Be sure to specify you want Issue #206. Send to P.O. Box 33515, Decatur GA 30033 or email

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