The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’ Finally Gets the Deluxe Presentation It Deserves

The cover of the new Super Deluxe Edition. (Apple Corps Ltd.)

Bruce Spizer previewed the Dolby Atmos mix and outtakes from the new “Revolver” set in Beatlefan #258. Here is an extended version of that article, addressing the complete box set. …

Although quickly over-shadowed in 1967 by The Beatles’ follow-up LP, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Revolver” is now considered by many critics and fans to be the band’s best album.

It was issued at a time before The Beatles gained complete artistic control over their albums and singles released by Capitol Records in America, so the U.S. version of the album only had 11 of the 14 tracks contained on the British release. (The other three songs had been issued previously on Capitol’s “Yesterday and Today” collection, which came out about six weeks ahead of the early August 1966 release of “Revolver.”)

And, while the American version of “Revolver” is quite remarkable in and of itself, the 14-track British release is by far superior, unless you believe that three more John Lennon songs is a bad thing.

With “Revolver,” The Beatles were looking for more color in their recordings, trying new instruments and techniques. But, they were not using studio wizardry to cover weaknesses; they were looking for new sounds to enhance their already brilliant songs.

George Martin and the Abbey Road engineers effectively utilized 1966 technology to record an album unlike any that had preceded it. Each song had its own distinct sound and feel, yet the collection held together as a well-coordinated album.

Unlike today, where digital recording provides an endless number of tracks to separately record each voice and instrument, the Abbey Road crew was limited to a four-track recorder. This forced them to record multiple instruments and/or voices onto a single track, greatly restricting the placement of sounds in the final stereo mix. These limitations increased when two or more tracks were mixed down to a single track to free up tracks on the four-track for overdubs.

For example, if the bass, rhythm guitar and tambourine initially were recorded on separate tracks, but then mixed down to a single track, those instruments had to be placed together in the final stereo mix.

However, digital technology has enabled recordings from the 1960s to be remixed in ways previously not possible. The first big advance came when engineers were able to go back to the initial tracks before they had been mixed down, and then run them simultaneously with the later overdubs that had been recorded onto separate tracks. By going backward and running these separate tracks in sync, engineers often were able to expand the four tracks to eight or more, adding greater flexibility to the mix. But, that didn’t solve the problem of how to separate instruments and voices that initially were recorded on a single track. For example, if the bass, rhythm guitar and drums were on a single track from the start, those instruments had to be placed together in the stereo mix. The three instruments could be placed in the left channel, the right channel or in both channels, which would cause the sound to be heard from the center.

In the studio during sessions for “Revolver.” (Apple Corps Ltd.)

The breakthrough came with Sir Peter Jackson’s work on the “Get Back” project. The film’s soundtrack was recorded in 1969, on mono tape recorders. In many cases, conversations between Beatles were difficult to hear, due to other sounds on the mono tape, such as the band playing their instruments and/or others having their own conversations.

By using artificial intelligence technology to recognize the distinguishing features of different instruments and voices, Jackson’s WingNut Films was able to isolate and separate the multiple voices and instruments recorded on the mono tape, in effect, demixing the contents on the tape. This enabled Jackson to present clean-sounding conversations in the film without the other extraneous sounds.

For the new reissue, this same AI demixing process from WingNut was used on the original master tapes from the “Revolver” sessions. For example, on “Taxman,” the drums, bass and rhythm guitar all were recorded on a single track, meaning that those instruments had to be placed together in the stereo mix. But, after the WingNut AI demixing process, each instrument became, in effect, a separate track. This gave producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell complete flexibility as to their remix, enabling them to place the drums in the center, and place the guitar and bass elsewhere. It was as if someone went back in time to 1966 and had the Beatles record “Revolver” on a 64-track recorder, rather than a mere four-track.

The results of the “Revolver” 2022 remix are breathtaking. The clarity of each instrument and vocal brings an intimacy to the listening experience that previously was not possible. The gritty guitar work on tracks such as “Taxman” and “She Said She Said” sounds even more powerful. The exquisite harmonies on “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Good Day Sunshine” surround the listener. “Eleanor Rigby” places the listener in the middle of a string quartet. The enhanced placement of the sound effects and odd-ball voices on “Yellow Submarine” adds to the song’s party atmosphere, while “Tomorrow Never Knows” sounds even freakier.

The 2022 remix fixes some of the oddities present in the original stereo mix. On the 1966 mix of “Eleanor Rigby,” Paul’s vocal on the first verse briefly is heard in the left channel before panning to the right channel. On the remix, Paul’s lead vocal is straight down the middle. And, in keeping with the policy of basing the stereo mix on the mono mix, the stereo remix of “Yellow Submarine” now has the acoustic guitar and Ringo’s vocal starting simultaneously at the beginning of the song. The 1966 stereo mix delayed the acoustic guitar until after Ringo had sung “In the,” with the first chord coming in on “town.”

The remixed album also gives the listener greater appreciation for all of George Harrison’s songs on the LP. While “Taxman” still is the standout, “I Want to Tell You” and “Love You To” shine, as well.

In addition to the 2022 stereo remix, the “Revolver” Super Deluxe Edition contains a 2022 remaster of the mono album. The mono vinyl was cut directly from the original analogue master tape from 1966, with cutting engineer Sean Magee guided by cutting engineer Harry Moss’ mastering notes from 1966. The mono CD was mastered by Thomas Hall from a 24-bit/96kHz digital recording of the 1966 master tape guided by those same notes.

The collection also includes an EP with 2022 stereo remixes and mono remasters of the two songs pulled from the sessions for exclusive single release, “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.”

But, for most fans, the most interesting part of the box set will be the two discs of outtakes and demos.  

While curious fans and music historians always want more outtakes, the two discs provide several revealing and memorable moments, as well as an enjoyable listening experience.

Fortunately, Apple has moved on from its policy of not repeating outtakes that previously appeared on “Anthology.” This is a welcome decision, as fans do not want to pull out “Anthology” to hear essential outtakes not included in the reissue box sets.

Although the outtakes were not put through the WingNut AI demixing process, the 2022 mixes of the outtakes take advantage of the latest technology and are superior to the earlier “Anthology” mixes, some of which were edited. Apple also has allowed more studio banter to accompany the outtakes.

The running order of the outtakes in the box set is chronological, according to when the track was recorded. This gives the listener an opportunity to hear how the remarkable recording session progressed.

The book included with the vinyl and CD box set discusses the tracks in the order of their appearance on the album, followed “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.”

Original tape box for “Taxman” and “And Your Bird Can Sing.” (Calderstone Productions Ltd.)

As was the case with “Anthology,” the box set contains Take 11 of the album’s opening track, “Taxman.” This has a guitar bit not in the finished master, as well as the “Anybody got a bit of money, anybody got a bit of money?” falsetto refrain that would be replaced by the more stylish references to Mr. Wilson and Mr. Heath. The new version is remixed in the same style as the 2022 album remix, and is vastly superior to the “Anthology 2” version. It also has a little bit more of banter at the beginning and a sliding bass note at the end.

After the recording of the first take of the string octet backing for “Eleanor Rigby,” George Martin had a discussion with Paul McCartney regarding whether the musicians should add vibrato or play it straight. At Martin’s request, the musicians play the same segment with and without vibrato. After Paul admits he can’t really tell the difference, Martin makes the right call, telling the musicians to play the song without vibrato. This fascinating discussion is included in the box set prior to Take 2, an instrumental backing that has subtle differences from the take selected for the master. “Anthology 2” contains the instrumental string backing of the master take.

The new box set contains the same rehearsal fragment of “I’m Only Sleeping” found on “Anthology 2,” but with a little bit of added banter and notes at the end. “Anthology 2” also contains Take 1 of the April 29 attempted remake of “I’m Only Sleeping,” with John on lead vocal and acoustic guitar, Paul providing a harmony vocal, George on electric guitar and Ringo on tambourine. John’s presong announcement of “I’m Only Sleeping, Take 1” is actually from the April 27 session. While the box set does not rerun Take 1, it does contain Take 2 from the April 29 session, which breaks down at about the 1:15 mark, although the tape runs for another minute, capturing Martin’s discussion about the balance of the guitars, banter from John and instrumental noodling.

The box set also contains Take 5 from April 27. The group, knowing that the tape of the song would be slowed down to give the track a dream-like effect, played the song at a fast pace, with John on acoustic guitar, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums, all recorded on a single track of the four-track recorder. John is heard in a few places with off-mic vocals to mark the place in the song.

Finally, the box set includes Mono Remix 1 (“MR1”), which was sent to Capitol for inclusion on its “Yesterday and Today” album. Martin later remixed the song for the British mono release.

While “Anthology 2” has no outtakes of “Love You To,” the “Revolver” box set contains three. First up is Take 1 of the song, with George on vocal and acoustic guitar, accompanied by Paul on harmony vocal. At this stage, the song was in the key of D minor (considered by classical composers to the most melancholy of the keys). The box set also contains a rehearsal with George on sitar and Paul on tamboura (a four-string Indian drone instrument). The later takes of the song were played in C minor.

The box set also contains Take 7, complete with Paul’s harmony vocal, but without the song’s instrumental introduction, which was edited to the front of the master take. Kevin Howlett’s notes in the box set’s book confirm that George did indeed play the intricate sitar part on the song. Harrison also overdubbed a fuzz guitar part. The track does not have bass guitar.

Also in the box set is Take 6 of “Here, There and Everywhere,” which is one of only two complete takes of the song. The track features Paul’s electric guitar and lead vocal, backed by George on electric 12-string guitar and Ringo on drums. Even without the three-part harmony backing vocals of John, Paul and George, the song’s beauty comes through strongly, although Paul’s lead vocal is more tentative than on Take 13, which was selected for the master.

“Yellow Submarine” always has been viewed as a children’s fantasy song written by Paul for Ringo, but a two-part songwriting work tape included in the box set demonstrates that the  verses evolved from a deeply personal and stark song that John was working on. Backed only by his acoustic guitar, John sings: “In the place where I was born / No one cared, no one cared / And the name that I was born / No one cared, no one cared.” Toward the end of tape, John changes the opening line to “In the town where I come from.”

Giles Martin.

However, what started as a Bob Dylan/Woodie Guthrie-type song magically was transformed into a song for children of all ages when John’s fragment (keeping the same melody) was merged with Paul’s catchy chorus about a yellow submarine. The second part of the tape features a new set of lyrics that replace John’s somber words with lines retrofitted to go with Paul’s upbeat chorus. When John suggests that Paul sing the rewritten verses, Paul tells him: “No … you know how to sing it.” After John responds, “oh yeah, OK,” Paul asks him: “Can you read that?”

This implies that John will need to read the lyrics that were handwritten by Paul. John then strums his acoustic guitar and sings the new set of words over his original melody: “In the town where I was born / Lived a man who sailed to sea / And he told me of his life / And the land of submarines.”

This is followed by the same second verse as the finished version of the song. The chorus, sung by John and Paul, isn’t yet in its final form and contains a silly call-and-response: “We all live in a yellow submarine (Look out!), yellow submarine (Get down!), yellow submarine.” After the song breaks down, Paul does an impersonation of George Martin: “Now, come on, chaps. Cut it out! We gotta get a song done.” They then do the song again, this time repeating the same verses and chorus two times, except John sings “And he told us of his life,” instead of “told me.” At this stage, only the first and second verses had been written.

This fascinating work tape is followed by Take 4 of the song, featuring Ringo on lead vocal, prior to the addition of the sound effects and extraneous vocal shenanigans. The final piece of the story is a mix that showcases the sound effects, preceded by a spoken introduction, similar to the version of the song contained on the “Real Love” maxi-CD that was released in conjunction with “Anthology 2.”

By the time John recorded a demo tape of “She Said She Said,” he had changed his original lyrics from “He said” (referring to Peter Fonda) to “She said.” The box set contains John’s demo, complete with the temporary line, “it’s making me feel like my trousers are torn.”

The box set also contains Take 15, which is an instrumental backing with John and George on guitars, Ringo on drums and Paul on bass, putting to rest speculation that George overdubbed bass after Paul stormed out of the session. (Paul did leave prior to the superimposition of the vocals, so only John and George are heard singing on the finished master.)

In the box set, the track is preceded by John encouraging the lads: “Keep going. Last track! Last track!” (This studio banter actually took place before an earlier take.)

Although the “Revolver” box does not contain any outtakes of “Good Day Sunshine,” Howlett’s notes provide some previously unknown information regarding the recording of the song. While the tape box and recording sheet for the session show three takes of “Good Day Sunshine,” the tape reel contains six takes, with the one designated as Take 1 marked as “BEST.”  Track 1 has the instrumental backing, consisting of Paul on piano, George on bass, John on tambourine and Ringo on drums. The overdubbed vocals and additional instruments were recorded on the remaining three tracks.

The box set contains three outtakes of “And Your Bird Can Sing,” which originally was titled “You Don’t Get Me.” The first version of the song, recorded on April 20, features John on rhythm guitar, George on his 12-string Rickenbacker, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums. The box set contains Take 2, with its instrumental backing and the first set of backing vocals. The song has a Byrds-like quality. “Anthology 2” has a version of this take during which John and Paul got a case of the giggles when recording their second set of vocals over the backing track. The box set has this same take, but with the straight vocal track mixed out to enable the listener to better hear John and Paul cracking up.

The group recorded a remake of the song on April 26. The early takes consisted of John on rhythm guitar, Paul on bass, George on lead guitar and Ringo on drums. Take 5 initially was considered the best, and was given overdubs, including vocals by John and Paul. This performance is included in the box set. John jokingly describes the song’s tempo as “moderato foxtrot.” It has a totally different feel than the earlier version and the finished master, sounding more like a very talented bar band, with Ringo bashing his drums and cymbals. The group wisely recorded additional takes with a different sound before settling on Take 10 as the new “BEST” recording.

The box set contains the instrumental backing of “For No One” prior to the addition of Paul’s vocal and Alan Civil’s French horn solo. This stripped-down version enables the listener to hear more clearly Paul playing clavichord (mixed left).

The box set also contains Take 7 of the unedited version of “Doctor Robert,” which clocks in at nearly 3 minutes. When the instrumental backing for Take 7 was recorded, the group accidently played the middle eight three times instead of two. John realized this mistake and the following notation was made on the tape box: “On remix 3RD 8 to be cut out.” The version appearing on the “Revolver” album, with the third middle eight edited out, runs slightly over 2 minutes.

The box set offers very little insight into the recording of “I Want to Tell You,” although we do get to hear studio banter from the start of the session, regarding the name of the song. The track starts with Martin asking, “What do you call it, George?” John responds with “Granny Smith Part Friggin’ Two,” in reference to the initial “Granny Smith” title given to “Love You To.” Engineer Geoff Emerick suggests another brand of apple, “Laxton’s Superb.” This is followed by Take 4, which quickly breaks down.

“Got to Get You Into My Life” is represented by three tracks. The first is the same outtake of the first version of the song selected for “Anthology 2” (Take 5), but with studio banter preceding the performance of the song, which fades earlier on the “Anthology 2” mix. This is followed by a mono mix of the second version of the song, made prior to the brass overdubs that were recorded over tracks that contained fuzz guitar riffs (replaced by the horn riffs), a second bass part by Paul and falsetto backing vocals by John and George. This fascinating mix enables the listener to hear yet another phase in the evolution of the song.

Finally, the box set contains Take 8, with the original horn overdubs over two tracks before they were mixed down to a single track. This instrumental backing also contains a guitar part that was not transferred over during the reduction mix that was made to free up a track for the superimposition of Paul’s vocal.

A publicity shot for the “Revolver” album. (Apple Corps Ltd.)

“Tomorrow Never Knows” is represented in the box set by two tracks. First is Take 1, which was one of the highlights of the “Revolver” tracks selected for “Anthology 2.” This fascinating early version of the song appears in a superior mix, with the drums in the center. The box set also contains Mono Remix 11 (“MR 11”) of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which appeared only on a limited number of the first pressings of the mono album before Martin had the master for the album recut with MR 8. (It has been estimated that only 3,000 to 4,000 copies of the mono LP were pressed with MR 11.) The inclusion of this relatively rare mix is a nice bonus for completists and collectors.  

The sessions discs also include outtakes of the single pulled from the sessions. First up are Takes 1 and 2 of the backing track for “Paperback Writer.” After Take 1 breaks down, the boys quickly move on to Take 2, which was used for the finished master. This backing would be given numerous overdubs to form the finished master.

Although many fans were aware that the instrumental track for “Rain” was recorded at a fast pace and then slowed down, to give it a heavier sound, the box set’s inclusion of the unaltered Take 5 (augmented by Paul’s overdubbed bass at the same speed) lets listeners hear what the backing originally sounded like. The song’s rapid tempo is jaw-dropping. While Ringo’s drumming on the single is one of his finest moments, it is even more impressive when one hears how fast and precise he was actually playing.

This is followed by Take 5, after the tape was slowed down from 50 kilocycles per second to 42 kilocycles for the superimposition of John’s lead vocal. The unaltered Take 5 of “Rain” runs for 2:35, while the slowed down version is 3:07 long.

The “Revolver” box set’s incredible selection of outtakes and demos will, of course, leave many fans and music historians (including me!) wishing that even more such tracks were included on the discs. While each of the two CDs easily could have accommodated several more tracks, I suspect the reason this was not done was to have the content on the two CDs match the content on the two vinyl discs, which cannot contain as much music as CDs.

Unlike the earlier releases in the Beatles album reissue series, there is no Blu-ray disc in this box set, which means there is no 5.1 mix included, although an Atmos mix is available separately for download.

The box sets in the album reissue series have been evolving, as those involved find ways to tweak the packaging and content. Apple Corps seems to have settled on a full album-size box for both the CD version and the vinyl version, with the number of CDs matching the number of vinyl discs. The use of an EP for the related singles also seems here to stay.

Howlett’s notes also are getting more comprehensive, which is a good thing.

The super deluxe edition of “Revolver” rates another solid “A” grade for Apple and all involved. The book is both informative and attractive. It contains a forward by McCartney, an introduction from Giles Martin, a guest essay from Questlove, an extract from cover artist Klaus Voormann’s graphic novel on the creation of the album’s famous cover, and extensive notes from Howlett on the recording sessions and reception of the album. The illustrations include several studio and time-appropriate images, including tape boxes from the sessions.

The CD sleeves for the outtake discs feature Robert Freeman’s unused design for the front album cover on the front and alternate Robert Whitaker photographs on the back. Freeman’s cover design is particularly impressive on the full-size album jacket in the vinyl edition of the box set, which is recommended highly for those who appreciate quality vinyl releases.

Overall, the reissue’s musical content — the 2022 remix, the 2022 mono remaster and the discs of outtakes — creates an enjoyable listening experience, as well as providing a fascinating history lesson on the making of an incredible album.

Bruce Spizer

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They Say It’s Your Birthday: Thoughts on McCartney at 80

Performing in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo: Matt Whittaker)

I was sitting in the stands at Wake Forest University’s stadium in Winston-Salem, NC, last month, reliving an experience I’ve had too many times to count through the years — watching Paul McCartney in concert.

As I watched Macca perform for me and about 33,000 other folks, including Leslie and our son, Bill, and daughter, Olivia, it struck me that, although I’ve only met Sir Paul a handful of times, and I’m sure he wouldn’t know me from any of his other millions of fans, this man has been a major part of my life for nearly 60 years.

During the time The Beatles were together, I never really thought about which one of them I liked best. I was a Beatles fan, though I always was drawn to McCartney’s music. But, that really was more of a first among equals situation.

Favorite Beatle was a matter of choosing a first among equals.

That continued to be the way I viewed the Fab Four once the solo era dawned, although there was no doubt I tended to favor Paul’s musical efforts. I bought everything that all four of them released, however.

Actually, George Harrison was my “first Beatle” in a couple of important respects: the first one I saw in concert, and the first one I ever met and interviewed.

That interview with George came a few months after Leslie and I had been joined by my brothers, Jon and Tim, to see Paul and his post-Beatles band, Wings, perform at Atlanta’s old Omni coliseum. Leslie and I went back the next night for a second show.

It wasn’t until early the next year that I became a rock critic for a living, and started going to concerts at least weekly (sometimes more often). But, despite seeing most of the major acts touring between 1977 and 1986, those Wings shows remained atop my list of the best I’d ever seen.

Still, I don’t think I ever really had said out loud where I stood on the individual Beatles until one night in the early 1980s, when I was sitting in a private hotel bar in New York City, interviewing Lionel Richie. We got to talking about the Fabs, and he asked me my favorite Beatle.

Without thinking, I replied: “Paul.”

He smiled. “Yeah, I’m a Paul guy, too.”

McCartney’s 1976 concerts with Wings were favorites.

I finally got to meet McCartney in the fall of 1984, when I was invited to be part of a group of half a dozen journalists who interviewed him in a conference room at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, in advance of the release of his film “Give My Regards to Broad Street.”

The movie itself was one of his least successful solo efforts, but I’ll always look on it fondly, because of the hour I got to spend, sitting immediately to Paul’s left, asking him as many questions as I liked, and snapping pictures. That was a great day.

In later years, I attended several of the press conferences Paul used to do in each city on his tours, and I usually got to ask him at least one question.

On one occasion, I accompanied a friend to interview some of the members of Paul’s band the afternoon of a concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Afterward, trying to find our way out, we suddenly found ourselves on the floor of the Garden in front of the stage — on which Paul and the band were about to do their sound check. This was in the era before they started selling pricey sound check tickets, so Macca gave us a look like, “You’re not supposed to be here.” We quickly skedaddled.

McCartney and his band during their 1993 tour.

A couple of years later, once Paul had started doing expanded sound-check performances for small audiences of fans, someone with the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (of which Macca is the patron) arranged for me and brother Tim to be in that select audience in New Jersey.

Ready to go to sound check, we asked at the hotel desk if there was a shuttle to the stadium, and they told us to watch for a van out front. One pulled up, and we got in. It turned out, they must have thought we were with Paul’s MPL organization, because once on the shuttle, we noticed that right behind us were cases of instruments labeled, “MPL, 1 Soho Square, London.” The looks on the faces of some fans we knew, as they saw us ride into the stadium in an MPL van, were priceless.

Another memorable occasion where I got to interact directly with Macca was in 2002, when he met the media before another show at Madison Square Garden. On that tour, Paul did a solo keyboard medley of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Carry That Weight” from the “Abbey Road album, and, in the middle, instead of the “any jobber got the sack” lyric, he sang, “this is the bit where I can never remember the words, but it doesn’t matter, maybe I’ll remember them by the end of the tour.” Of course, it was a planned bit that he rehearsed and repeated every night — he even had it on his teleprompter.

At the press conference, I asked him about it, noting that ” … one thing you do, so far every night, is you deliberately flub the lyrics to ‘You Never Give Me your Money’ …”

Macca interrupted me: “Don’t give the game away! It’s a showbiz secret!”

I went on, asking him what the genesis of that bit was, and why he decided to do it every night. He explained that when he’d first done it by accident, it got a laugh, so he decided to keep it in. “I actually do know the lyrics now,” he said, “but I don’t really like ’em … so I decided, just sod it, we’ll have a laugh at that point.”

Jon Bon Jovi singing “Happy Birthday” to Macca.

From 1989 on, when he returned to touring, post-Wings, going on the road became a regular thing for me, too, as I visited cities across the U.S., as well as London, to see Paul perform. Most of the time, I was accompanied by close friends or family — including, as they got older, my kids.

Not surprisingly, young Bill and Olivia became Paul fans, too. Before we headed to Winston-Salem for Macca’s recent show there, Livvy told me that she has decided she wants to attend a concert on any tour Paul does, because you never know when it might be the last chance you’ll get to see him perform.

And, so, there we were, watching McCartney, just shy of a month from his 80th birthday, still doing a show that’s about twice as long as those put on by many younger acts.

At the end, he bid the audience farewell with a familiar line: “See ya next time!”

That sounds like a plan.

Happy 80th birthday, Paul, and thanks for all the good times and great music.

Bill King

McCartney at 80.

We asked other members of the Beatlefan family for their thoughts on Paul McCartney turning 80. Here’s what they shared. …

There aren’t many performers in any area of pop culture whose professional careers span 60 of their 80 years in this life and are still ongoing.

Bing Crosby, 51 years after his career began with Paul Whiteman, had just been in a very successful European tour when he died of a heart attack on a golf course in Spain. Frank Sinatra made his first professional record weeks before the beginning of World War II and had a Top 5 album (“Duets”) in the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

But, Paul McCartney really tops them all. He’s easily the greatest pop music songwriter of the past 60 years, with only Burt Bacharach reasonable competition. Taking into account his barrier-breaking work with The Beatles, the second chapter of his musical life with the various lineups of Wings and a genre-hopping and commercially successful 52-year post-Beatles career, McCartney has a still-active body of musical works unparalleled, particularly in its diversity, in the history of popular music.

And, two nights before his 80th birthday, he played a three-hour show in a stadium in New Jersey and was onstage for the entire concert, which was played before a sold-out crowd that, age wise, virtually spanned his lifetime, from toddlers to baby boomers. 

Watching him strum on his bass and pull “Get Back” out of nowhere in Peter Jackson’s Beatles docuseries of the same name, we can see up close just how special a talent Paul McCartney is.

No one is remotely in his league.

Al Sussman

(Al is Executive Editor of Beatlefan.)

McCartney has remained a vital performer through the decades.

In January 1994, my mother and I attended a Frank Sinatra concert a month after Ol’ Blue Eyes had turned 78 and returned to the charts with his “Duets” album.

His voice was far past its 1950s glory days, but he still could do some interesting things with it, even in its ragged state. Plus, he was the Chairman of the Board. A mythic figure. Attention needed to be paid.

But, it wasn’t a concert where I — or anyone else in the arena — could really relax. From the start, Sinatra was shaky, dependent on Teleprompters that surrounded him. His patter with the audience was minimal. At one point, near the end of the concert, it seemed like he was going to cry. My mother, in fact, was in tears at the end of the concert.

“It’s hard to see him like that,” she told me as he exited the stage.

Today, Paul McCartney is turning 80, two years older than Sinatra was at that show. McCartney just completed a run of American shows where he performed for close to three hours. It’s likely he’ll be back for more concerts before too long. Who knows, he might have another album or two still in him.

The fact that McCartney is still a credible and vital performer as he enters his 80s is something we all should be celebrating today.

Brad Hundt

(Brad is Senior Editor of Beatlefan.)

McCartney at the beginning of his solo career.

I was 9 years old when The Beatles first visited the U.S., so I can barely remember a time when Paul McCartney was not an important figure in my life — and, a consistent influence.

A top-drawer melodist with an inventive sense of harmony, he has spent the past 60 of his 80 years showing that, as a friend of his put it, there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done — writing songs, performing on a variety of instruments (and as one of the rock world’s most flexible singers), making tape experiments, turning his hand to classical composition and now musicals, writing children’s books, painting.

You get the impression that, if he’s neglected any fields of artistic endeavor, it was so that he still has something to try in future years.

And, that’s why I’m looking forward to the next 80.   

Allan Kozinn

(In addition to being a Contributing Editor for Beatlefan, Allan is the author, with Adrian Sinclair, of “The McCartney Legacy, Vol. 1, 1969-1973, due from Dey Street/HarperCollins on Dec. 13.)

Paul and Linda.

We’ll be discussing Paul McCartney’s contributions to music and culture for at least the next 80 years. Meanwhile, he carries on business as usual: performing, recording, writing — following his every whim.

And, he still can surprise us: Writing tunes for a musical version of “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Who saw that coming? Could an octogenarian still top the charts? Who knows? But, if anyone could, it’s Paul.

Happy birthday, Macca, and thank you. 

John Firehammer

(John is an Associate Editor of Beatlefan.)

McCartney at sound check in Knoxville during the Got Back tour. (Photo: Bob Gannon)

Paul McCartney shows all of us that learning and creativity never stop at any age.

The past 10 years have been as active and productive as any other time in his life. He released four albums; in the case of “New” and “Egypt Station,” he worked with some of the hottest artists/producers today, including Ryan Tedder and Mark Ronson. In 2014, he composed “Hope for the Future” for the video game Destiny, and in the next two years collaborated with Kanye West on three songs. Add to that his composing songs for the upcoming “It’s a Wonderful Life” stage musical, and the fact that he’s still touring to sell-out audiences, and the 80-year-old musician shows no signs of slowing down.

His just-concluded Got Back tour demonstrates that, not only can he still play close to three-hour concerts, but he also appeals to a wide variety of ages. When I recently attended his Orlando show, I discussed the concert with my Uber driver on the way back to the airport. She commented that she couldn’t believe one person could draw so many age groups, and what a rarity that is in today’s music. Indeed, many artists attract either teenagers or adults; McCartney’s fans range from children to, well, 80-year-olds!

He continues to be an inspiration to me and countless others who admire his never-ending curiosity, passion for art and ability to connect with millions of fans worldwide. 

Kit O’Toole

(Kit is an Associate Editor of Beatlefan)

McCartney is still turning out new work, including children’s books.

On August 12, 1982, Frank Sinatra helicoptered into Chicago’s Navy Pier for a massive open-air concert before tens of thousands — including me. My interest in attending, though, was different from most. I wanted to get a sense of what a “far future” Paul McCartney show might feel like. At that moment, Frank was an energetic 67, and Paul a mere 40 years old. 

The lesson of that show: Age as a definer doesn’t matter if you’ve still “got it.”

Four decades later, McCartney has lapped Sinatra in his active performing career. In fact, among McCartney’s contemporaries and inspirations, Macca stands in an elite circle still at work, with the likes of Dylan and Ringo (both now 81), Paul Simon (80), and jazz performers such as Herbie Hancock (82), with Mick and Keith (78) right behind.

But, for McCartney, it is more than performing familiar songs at a certain age benchmark. He has continued to be engaged, not only energetically drawing from his deep catalog onstage, but also exploring different types of projects. (On tap: A stage musical rendering of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) 

Some may work. Some may not. That’s consistently been the case with Macca at any age.

By the time Sinatra reached age 80, he was comfortably withdrawn from public life and touring, with his final new recordings (“Duets”) released the previous year.

With McCartney, the ongoing Joy of Creativity is still there, along with a deep sense of history. Crystalized onstage in his recent tour, you can see it there in his live/film vocals with John Lennon. Like his audience, he, too, is a Beatles fan. Celebrating that. And whatever else is yet to come. 

Walter J. Podrazik

(Wally is a Contributing Editor for Beatlefan.)

McCartney during his Fort Worth show on the Got Back tour. (Photo: David Persails)

Macca @ 80; this phrase has been used often over the past few weeks, but with a difference. The age of 80 usually is considered to be 15 years after retirement age. Our kid has proved he’s just getting warmed up.

During this short Got Back tour, you could see the excitement rising with every show. After 2.5 years of waiting, hoping it would come to be, Sir Paul hit the stage with the most elaborate, animated show yet. He sang a duet every night with John Lennon, thanks to Peter Jackson, and, thanks to COVID-19, we didn’t have to put up with some ga-ga fan coming out onstage every night.

If Sir Paul doesn’t have another hit record left in him, so what? He is 80, for Christ’s sake!

Happy birthday, Sir James Paul McCartney, wishing you plenty more to come.

John Sosebee

(John is a longtime Beatlefan contributor.)

McCartney has many fans who came to his music long after his days with John Lennon were over.

In the wash of tributes posted on the internet to celebrate Paul McCartney’s 80th birthday, the sweetest one I’ve seen was shared on Twitter by @VisitLiverpool. In a short video, a group of children from Stockton Wood Primary School in Speke — where Paul studied when he was a boy — take a Magical Mystery Tour bus to Penny Lane, where they sing the roundabout’s namesake song with gusto.

Those little tykes — so excited to wish Sir Paul happy birthday — have a world of Macca music and magic yet to discover.

The rest of us can look back in amazement at the ways his extraordinary talent has touched the world and our own lives.

Whether we go as far back as the heady days of Beatlemania, fell under his spell with that other group, Wings, or became a fan at any time since, Macca has given us music, joy, inspiration, comfort, reasons to believe, and the best singalong ever composed. He’s done it all with graciousness, grace, good humor and loyalty to his mates and his roots.

Thanks, Paul, from this fan of 58 years and counting. Shine on ’til tomorrow!

Kathy Urbanic

(Kathy is a Contributing Editor for Beatlefan.)

McCartney waving the flag of Ukraine.

Paul McCartney has been a part of my popular culture consciousness since 1964 — reinforced and kept there by participating in the production of Beatlefan, which has been going since its creation in 1978.

He has been a major artistic and cultural factor all of his adult life, and, by all accounts, has used his talents and charisma well.

Eighty years old. His life has been impressive. 

Leslie King

(Leslie is General Manager of Beatlefan.)

Macca was joined by Bruce Springsteen to close out his tour. (Photo: Bob Gannon)

They say it’s your birthday, so happy 80th, Sir Paul — painter, classical composer, poet, environmentalist, vegetarian crusader, recipient of 21 Grammys, knight of the realm, the avant-garde Beatle, companion of honor, MBE, Companion of Honour, bass player extraordinaire, national treasure and Mr. Thumbs Aloft. 

How do you really measure success with someone who is 80 years young? It seems astonishing that he quit the most influential band there ever was before he was 30. What puts this in sharp focus is when you realize that he’s had a solo career for the past 52 years

Comedian Alan Partridge may have been joking when he said Wings were the band that The Beatles could have been, but people seem to forget how just how huge Paul’s post-Beatles band was in the 1970s.

And, McCartney continues to work, exploring new ways of creating music, and still touring. At 80, he has a work ethic and a hunger that should put younger musicians to shame.

For me, it goes beyond music. McCartney always has seemed to be a good role model for how to succeed and still have a good family life — which, if you think about the craziness of the Beatles era, is a real testament to how great the guy really is.

So, let me raise a glass to you, Sir Paul, and say thank you so much for helping to provide the soundtrack to my life. Here’s to many happy returns.

Simon Rogers

(Simon is the London Editor of Beatlefan.)

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Beleaguered Fans Glad McCartney ‘Got Back’

Truist Field in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo: Truist Field)

Fans attending Paul McCartney’s show at Wake Forest University’s Truist Field in Winston-Salem, NC, braved a drenching thunderstorm that delayed the gates opening an hour, and endured traffic gridlock on the way to the show — and even inside the antiquated stadium’s tiny concourses — before getting to their seats.

However, the crowd, estimated at 33,000, was rewarded with a thoroughly entertaining performance by Sir Paul and his band. The tickets were pricy, but McCartney outlasted many younger performers, with the concert running 2 hours and 39 minutes.

As a Charlotte Observer headline put it: “Getting to Paul McCartney’s concert was a nightmare. The show itself? A dream.”

Macca was in surprisingly good voice most of the night, having enjoyed a few days off since the previous show, in Forth Worth, Texas. Early in the concert, his voice actually sounded stronger than when I last saw him perform, three years earlier. Yes, his vocals did waver a bit on the ballads, and he had to resort to screaming on some of the rockers, as he’s routinely done in recent years. But, for most of the songs, his vocals were just fine.

Macca, Abe Laboriel Jr. and Brian Ray during the concert in Winston-Salem. (Photo: Matt Whittaker)

The sound inside the college football stadium was another matter. The quieter numbers (as well as McCartney talking to the crowd between songs) saw a distracting echo in the back of the stadium, where some fans were seated on a grassy bank beneath the unused video board. Also, a few numbers, particularly “Let Em In,” were marred by an iffy sound mix — unusual for a McCartney show.

The set list was standard for the Got Back tour (see Beatlefan #256), with “Let Em In,” “We Can Work It Out” and “New” in the rotating slots. It was a familiar mix of Beatles, Wings and solo, ranging in timespan from the Quarrymen to Macca’s recent albums.

There were a lot of holdover bits, of course. “Come On to Me” featured the usual fake ending and reprise, and the band played the now-expected bit of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” after “Let Me Roll It,” setting up the familiar Paul story about Jimi performing “Sgt. Pepper” and getting his guitar out of tune. The rest of the stage patter was pretty standard: Macca dedicating “My Valentine” to wife Nancy, who was at the show (“this is for you, Nance”), telling the story about Duff Lowe keeping the Quarrymen disc of “In Spite of All the Danger” for 20 years, getting the women in the stadium to do a “Beatle scream” for “Love Me Do,” using the performance of “Here Today” as a chance to advise the audience to say “I love you” to people they hold dear, prompting a display of (phone) lights in the crowd after introducing “New” by saying the band knows which songs the audience isn’t that interested in because it looks like “a black hole,” and telling the George Harrison uke story before “Something.” Macca also kept the videos of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp accompanying him on “My Valentine.”

Macca had the North Carolina crowd in the palm of his hand all eveing. (Photo: Matt Whittaker)

And, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. delighted the crowd with his hand gestures and dancing in place during “Dance Tonight.”

Also, thankfully, the Hot City Horns once again were part of the show. Having real horns back McCartney live, rather than Wix’s synth horns, elevates the performance to another level.

One surprise in the show came after “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” when Paul said they were going to play something they’d never done before. The band then launched into “You Never Give Me Your Money,” skipping the first two verses, and beginning instead with “… out of college, money spent,” and going through the “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven / All good children go to Heaven” chorus. Macca and the band then moved straight into “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” medley-style.

Frankly, without the “You never give me your money …” portion, the opening of the first song seemed bit abrupt/awkward. I wondered whether they arranged it that way so that Paul wouldn’t have to open the number up on the piano and then come down to the main stage and strap on his Hofner bass. That might have been a concession to the nearly 80-year-old’s age, though he otherwise didn’t seem to take it easy at all, and only took one drink mid-show. 

(It’s worth noting that, while this band never has done “You Never Give Me Your Money” before, McCartney was not completely accurate when he told the crowd, “I don’t believe it’s been played live before, this song, until this tour.” In fact, the 2002 tour included a different, piano-based arrangement of “You Never Give Me Your Money” combined with “Carry That Weight.”)

One other minor complaint: Sir Paul spoiled the surprise for many in the crowd about the duet with John Lennon via the video screen on the opening encore of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” by telling the Peter Jackson anecdote before the song, rather than after the performance — an uncharacteristic misstep for a master showman.

The virtual duet with John Lennon during “I’ve Got a Feeling.” (Photo: Matt Whitaker)

Visually, the presentation featured a smaller video screen behind the band and two very tall video screens on either side of the stage, which was in one of the football field’s end zones. The seating setup had one and a half sections of the stadium right next to the stage unsold, with additional seating on most of the field (leaving room for the technical crews and a souvenir stand that conducted brisk business throughout the concert), and the lawn seating in the back.

Being an outdoor show, a fireworks display was added to “Live and Let Die,” in addition to the usual loud flash-pots on the stage, and there was another fireworks show at the end of the concert, in addition to the usual smoke and confetti.

For the show, Paul wore a black double-breasted jacket over a black vest and white shirt, with black pants. After the fifth number, “Come On to Me,” he doffed the jacket for the rest of the show. He sported the white stubble (beard in progress?) seen throughout the tour.

Oh, one more thing: As he wrapped up the show at 11:16 p.m., McCartney tantalized fans with his usual closing line, “See you next time!”

The Winston-Salem crowd roared its approval.

Bill King

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101-PLUS REASONS TO BE A BEATLES FAN: Some of Our Favorite Things About The Beatles

Ed Sullivan and his most famous guests.

Ever find yourself lapsing into lines from a Beatles film or song in the course of everyday conversation? Turning up the radio for a particular bit of harmony? Almost 28 years ago, Bill King and Al Sussman (with a hand from Leslie King and William T. King) came up with a list of some of those shared moments that keep Beatlemania alive. The original list was published in Beatlefan #89, July 1994, and here we present it again, with some bonus items covering the years since the original list was compiled. …

1. An Ed Sullivan introduction.

2. The harmonica on “Love Me Do.”

3. That unique blending of Lennon and McCartney’s voices.

4. The feedback begining “I Feel Fine.”

5. The Buckingham Palace scene in “Help!”

6. The rooftop concert.

7. That nervy performance at their first New York press conference.

8. The Granny Smith Apple Records label, with its sliced-apple B-side.

9. McCartney with a beard circa 1969-1970.

10. The hand claps on “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

11. The universalness of “In My Life.”

Many fans love the way The Beatles looked in January 1969.

12. The long hair in “Let It Be.”

13. The entire “Revolver” album, and the “quiet revolution” it ushered in to rock ‘n’ roll.

14. Ringo’s drumming on “Ticket to Ride.”

15. The greatest (and most successful) follow-up single ever: “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

16. John with the stuffy old man on the train in “A Hard Day’s Night.”

17. The backing vocals on “Help.”

18. The once-in-a-lifetime thrill of watching “All You Need Is Love” on the “Our World” global satellite telecast.

19. The “new look” promo films for “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

20. Paul’s innovative bass lines on the “Sgt. Pepper” album.

21. John’s spine-tingling voice on “A Day in the Life.”

22. The chord that lasts forever.

23. The trousers. (Oh, sorry. That was The Rutles.)

The Beatles at Shea Stadium.

24. The first Shea Stadium show.

25. “The Beatles are coming to town!”

26. The Richard Avedone portraits for Look magazine.

27. The Busby Berkeley-style ballroom scene at the end of “Magical Mystery Tour.”

28. That dramatic guitar riff throughout “Things We Said Today.”

29. The “Meet The Beatles!” (or “With The Beatles,” for you Brits) album cover shot.

30. The Ludwig drum kit with its Beatles logo on the bass drum — one of the most powerful icons in all of popular culture.

Ringo in “A Hard Day’s Night.”

31. Ringo going paradin’ in “A Hard Day’s Night.”

32. Jane Asher.

33. John’s “seasoning” in his soup in “Help!”

 34. That 1965 performance of “Yesterday” on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

35. The BBC Radio performances, particularly “Soldier of Love.”

36. The “Hey Jude” and Revolution” promo films, as shown on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

37. Derek Taylor.

38. The “Got to Get You Into My Life” horns.

39. The original “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” LP packaging.

40. Lennon trading barbs with the inspector at Scotland Yard in “Help!”

41. Stu and Astrid and Klaus and Jurgen.

42. The fan club Christmas discs, but particularly the “Everywhere It’s Christmas” disc.

John with The Beatles’ record producer, George Martin.

43. George Martin.

44. The excitement engendered by the arrival of a new Beatles album.

45. That Rickenbacker 12-string sound.

46. “Hey Jude.”

47. The White Album portraits.

48. The Hofner violin bass.

49. “The people in the cheap seats clap. The rest of you just rattle your jewelry.”

50. The bass on “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

51. That first Feb. 9, 1964, “Ed Sullivan Show” — one of the greatest nationally shared moments in American TV history.

52. “With this ring I could … dare I say it, rule the world.”

53. The chance to hear Badfinger.

54. The backing vocals on “She’s Leaving Home.”

55. Apple’s First Four.

56. Peter & Gordon’s first three — all a gift from Paul.

57. John and Paul, face-to-face, on “Two of Us” in “Let It Be.”

58. Paul breaking up John with his Elvis imitation in the above sequence.

59. The harmonies on “Yes It Is.”

Beatles aide Mal Evans always was a fan favorite.

60. Mal.

61. Radio stations trying to outdo one another to premiere each new Beatles record.

62. Linda’s pictures.

63. “He’s very touchy about those drums; they loom large in his legend.”

64. The mono “Sgt. Pepper” album.

65. The U.S. single picture sleeves.

66. “It’s off ‘Beatles VI’ or something, I don’t know.”

67. The “Abbey Road” album cover.

68. The interplay between John’s lead vocal and Paul’s backing vocal on “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

69. The best B-sides in pop music history.

70. “Mak show.”

71. The stereo “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Beatles For Sale”

Sgt. Pepper’s band.

72. The “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album and the way it felt to listen to it that Summer of Love.

73. “Say no more.” … “I can say no more.”

74. Ringo’s drumming on “Something.”

75. John’s books.

76. “Yellow Submarine” — song and film.

77. Norm and Shake in “AHDN.”

78. Pattie Boyd.

79. The drums on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

80. The chorus of “Frère Jacques” in the backing vocals of “Paperback Writer.”

81. The mournful French horn and aching beauty of “For No One.”

82. The Beatle wit.

83. The group harmonies on “Here There and Everywhere.”

84. “What little old man?”

85. That October 1964 “Shindig” appearance, when it was obvious The Beatles occupied a level all their own in pop music.

86. The guitars on “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

87. Newspaper taxis.

88. Their multi-media demonstration that rock musicians could be artists.

89. Side 2 of “Abbey Road.”

90. The “Can’t Buy Me Love” guitar solo.

91. The alliteration of “made her look a little like a milit’ry man” in “Lovely Rita.”

92. “Her name was McGill and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.”

93. “Bang bang, shoot shoot.”

94. Paul’s backing vocal on “Come Together.”

Lennon had one of rock’s great singing voices.

95. Lennon’s singing on the White Album.

96. The end of “Hey Bulldog” with Paul’s barking making John laugh.

97. The lyrics of “Across the Universe.”

98. George Martin’s double-speed piano solo in “In My Life.”

99. Victor Spinetti.

100. “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

101.”I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.”

BONUS LISTING

102. The ABC-TV on-screen countdown clock to the debut of “Free As a Bird.”

The Threetles.

103. The three “Anthology” albums, especially No. 2.

104. Paul hugging George during the “Real Love” video.

105. The Concert for George.

106. The “Hey Bulldog” in-the-studio music video.

107. Picking out the Fab visual references in the video for “Free As a Bird.”

108. “The Capitol Albums,” Volumes 1 and 2.

109. The Beatles’ Rock Band game.

110. The “LOVE” show in Vegas.

111. Sheila E., the lone female All Starr.

112. 9/09/09 and the digitally remastered Beatles catalog.

113. Mark Lewisohn’s “Tune In.”

115. “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles.”

At the Grammys salute in 2014.

114. George’s posthumous album leading off with “Any Road.”

116. The chart success of the “1” album, a starter kit for 21st century Beatles fans.

117. Ringo’s mantra: “Peace and love, peace and love!”

118. Sir Paul and Sir Richard.

119.The Beatles Channel.

120. The bonus material on the 50th anniversary Beatles album deluxe box sets compiled by Giles Martin.

121. All those archive releases from Paul, John and George.

122. Lego Beatles and Yellow Submarine.

John Lennon Forever.

123. The John Lennon U.S. postage stamp.

124. The Macca “Carpool Karaoke.”

125. All 468 minutes of “The Beatles: Get Back.”

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Updating George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ Album

Paul Hicks (left) worked on the “All Things Must Pass” reissue with Dhani Harrison.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary “All Things Must Pass,” several expanded editions of the album were made available, showcasing a new remix and a bounty of revelatory outtakes and demos. The project lovingly was overseen by Harrison’s son, Dhani, and British musician and audio engineer Paul Hicks, the son of guitarist Tony Hicks of the Hollies. The younger Hicks also has worked on some John Lennon reissues. Beatlefan Contributing Editor Ken Sharp talked with Hicks about his work. …

Paul, you’ve known Dhani Harrison for many years, right?

Yeah, I’ve known Dhani for a long time. We were school friends. I’m a tiny bit older than him. Me and my family lived in Henley and George lived in Henley. So, my dad knew George. It was one of those funny rock ’n’ roll connections. Dhani and I were at different schools, but I actually got to know Dhani via a friend, whose dad was Ian Paice of Deep Purple. We’re both only children and, yeah, we just became friends. I would sort of go around there to his home at Friar Park and I knew George as well.

You worked directly with George on “The Beatles Anthology.” Did you ever have any musical conversations?

Not really. I think in the early days he was really pleased, because I enjoyed listening to Indian music. I was a big fan of Ravi Shankar and I actually went with George and Dhani to a Ravi Shankar concert, which was a great experience. I remember one of the first times I met him, he gave me some Ravi stuff. There were also a couple of times I sort of jammed with George, but there weren’t that many discussions. I mean, maybe just about music in general.

But, then I worked with him when I joined Abbey Road [Studios] and I started on “The Beatles Anthology.” I was more of a friendly face. I joined Abbey Road in ’92, ’93 and then literally I was there for about six months as an assistant, because of my dad. I knew quite a few people, so there was a little bit of an ease of starting up there. But, obviously, I worked incredibly hard.

After six months, The Beatles’ anthologies were starting up and they asked if I wanted to assist Geoff Emerick in the penthouse and spend months going through the material for one of the anthologies. It was quite amazing. Everything was done totally analog, so it was like an amazing bit of training. I learned how to edit analog. So, yeah, it was a very special experience, and that experience helped me throughout life.

When you see the footage of George, Paul and Ringo with George Martin, listening back to Beatles session tapes in the control room, George seems quite engaged.

Yeah, absolutely. He was really into it and up for it. I think, in that footage in the studio, there might be one glimpse of me. I’m in the back room. Paul, George and Ringo came in every now and again.

It was a great start, and it led me to continue with Beatle stuff for many years. When all three of them were in the room together, it was a lot of fun. It was brilliant. I’d met them all individually, and everyone was enjoying themselves, listening to it, and having a good time.

Paul Hicks, Dhani Harrison and Jonathan Sadoff were all members of Harrison’s band, Thenewno2.

In terms of the “All Things Must Pass” project, what was the biggest challenge for you?

The biggest problem on this one was the overall balance of what we wanted to accomplish. I think that was the biggest thing, because you had people saying, “Can you do this?” “Can you do that?” Some people wanted a “Let It Be … Naked” version. And, then, some people don’t want it touched.  [laughs] But, there’s a middle ground.

The things I’ve been doing recently with the Lennon [reissues], like the “Plastic Ono Band” box, everyone’s been reacting really positively to that.

We felt … let’s experiment with this. So, to be honest, when I say a balance, what a lot of people don’t realize is there are limitations of what you can do with all this stuff. There’ll be some tracks that they may have put the reverb on at the end. There’s some tracks that they literally recorded the reverb on with the instruments. The biggest case in point is “Wah-Wah,” where it’s a stereo guitar track of multi guitars and there’s plate reverb already printed on it.

So, that basically makes it balance out that, even if we wanted to, you could never do a fully dry version. But, to be honest, there were a couple of times when we did try that, like on “Apple Scruffs,” which had that slap delay, but if you take that off, it basically sounds like an outtake.

There are decisions that have to be made. … So, we did a high-res transfer and then the process that I always do with all of these projects, which is helpful in many ways, is taking a bit of time spent matching and trying to basically re-create the mix that was done. So, sonically, you try and match the reverbs; you do this and that.

Obviously, different tracks have different variants of how much different stuff there is. But, there’s quite often a couple of vocal takes, and you have to do the research and find out. You think it’s all on this one track, but then there will be, like, two words from another track. So, you have do quite a lot of forensic work to make sure you’ve got the right pieces and right parts.

The “All Things Must Pass” super deluxe edition.

So, that’s always the process that we start with. When you A/B it, it’s as similar as we can make it, and then you take a little step back from it and think, well, how can we improve this? And I’ve found this with quite a lot of that era, that you don’t really notice it until you’re listening, until you do comparisons, but the vocals are quite quiet in a lot of it … that happens a lot.

So, the vocals are pretty buried, and I think, nowadays, there’s a bit more low end we can get out of it and control it. So, what we did was, we went through and we mixed the album a few times, just to get it right. So, we did one version, which was very similar, but just the vocals were a bit clearer. And, then, we were like, if we’re gonna do this, we might as well do it. So, then we did a version and really sort of went for it. We eventually settled on a version which was a good balance of the original album with some enhancements. We think it all feels right. One of the things we were specifically aware of is that George told Dhani — and he even told me once, and you can hear with some of the things he did with Jeff Lynne — he wasn’t a fan of reverb on his voice, so we kept that into consideration.

And, [George] did try. I think, when he was remastering it years ago [2001], I think he did sort of give it a go to try and take all the reverb down. But, there wasn’t the technology that there is now, so he didn’t.

So, we came to a version that we think has just more clarity, really. With all this stuff, you’ve got to be very careful. We’re very respectful with the originals.

As I said, with a lot of these things, when I’m working on Lennon things there’s Yoko [Ono] and Sean [Lennon], and, with this album, there’s Olivia [Harrison] and Dhani, and Dhani knows exactly what George always liked, so we’re never going into this blind. There’s always a lot of those sort of processes involved in it.

You touched on the biggest challenges. By contrast, what was the greatest joy working on this project?

The greatest joy is when people say, “Oh, it sounds really good.” Excellent. Thank you.

Another big joy is when you make a discovery.

You know, the biggest joy is when you do a mix and everyone’s happy with it.

What were some of the most revelatory discoveries in the tape vault for you?

There’s two parts to that. Within the masters, there was lots of overdubs. It was an eight-track thing. But, there’s not a crazy amount of things on the master tapes that people wouldn’t know about. On “Isn’t It a Pity” Version 1, George had his synth and, in the song, there’s a really fizzy sort of noisy synth, and you don’t really notice it, but then, when you solo it, you hear it all. It almost sounds like a bit of the orchestra or something, or part of the guitar. But, once you hear it, you can’t unhear it. You’re very tempted to really push those elements up, but you’ve got to do it in context. But, I think people listening with their headphones on, we’re giving people just a little peek into some elements of the mix that may have been cleaned up a touch, and people can hear them better.

Another thing is, we found a great selection of outtakes, as well. There’s some songs where he really didn’t do that many takes, and then there’s other ones that went through various versions.

A shot of Harrison in the studio taken by Apple Records’ Richard DiLello.

Do you recall which of the songs had the most takes, where George was really trying to find a window into the essence of the song?

Yeah. “Run of the Mill” is a great one. The one they put out on video, with those dual lead guitars, was Take 36. So, he was going through quite a lot of those.

I can’t remember which ones had the most takes. Another favorite is “I’d Have You Any Time,” which had a really cool piano. We tried to select versions that showed some sort of progress, because we included the recordings from Day 1 and Day 2, as we decided it’d be great idea, historically, to include the whole thing, every song from those sessions. So, you’ve got a complete Day 1 and Day 2, and then you’ve got what we affectionately call the “party” disc. A lot of the outtakes are a little bit more upbeat, and have a bit more stuff going on, which I think is absolutely fascinating.

There’s a groovy “Awaiting on You All,” stripped back. There’s some really groovy ones. There’s an “I Dig Love,” which is great. As much as I think they’re fantastic versions, as with a lot of these things, there’s a reason George didn’t select them for the finished record, and I think he made the right decision. For example, with “I’d Have You Anytime,” the version is so beautiful that’s on there, and they made the right emotional decisions on a lot of them.

The “Plastic Ono Band” and “Imagine” super deluxe edition sets are an almost forensic approach of, we’re gonna give you everything. But, there was a different ideology behind this “All Things Mist Pass” project.

Yeah, exactly. It was just more about, this is the album, we wanted to treat it all as songs. So many people have asked for so many different versions of it that we’re, like, enjoy the main album and then make your own version. [laughs] If you like the acoustic version, make a playlist and have fun with it.

But there was never thought of, a la the Lennon “Plastic Ono Band” box, here’s 37 takes of “Beware of Darkness”?

No, no. Because, to be honest, if you include the jams, it’s a three-album thing. It’s physically so much content. You’re talking a lot of songs; there’s already a lot of stuff on there. So, it’s a balancing act. There’s a lot of thought that goes in, and sometimes there might be a fantastic version of a song and then something’s not right, you know, either a guitar is not right or a vocal is not right.

The 50th anniversary box set.

Could you explain the “ultra mastering technique” Dhani described that was employed with the album?

It’s a side thing. Disc 3, the jams, was a remaster, because it’s only stereo. They literally ran the tape while they were jamming, so there’s no multi-track. So, we did a really high-resolution remaster on that one. I think it’s come out really good. But, basically, what Dhani was meaning is, we’re not trying to completely change anything. We’re just trying to do a really good new version and new mix. What he meant by ultra remastering is, we can go further than we can with a stereo remaster. We are trying to reference the old mixes but there’s more clarity, there’s more low end, there’s top end in the clarity itself. One of the things I never want to do with any of this stuff is make it sound modern. I say this to everyone, someone mentioned timeless once, and I said, yeah, that’s exactly what we want to do. We don’t want it to sound like it was done today. But, we also want to take advantage of the technology and want to sonically improve things and really make it sound timeless. You know, it’s the same process I’ve done with “Plastic Ono Band” and the other Lennon projects that we’ve been doing recently. It’s all about that same principle, make it timeless sounding and don’t push things too far.

What’s the state of George’s tape archive?

It’s all organized and logged, and it’s looked after.

You and Dhani mixed 110 tracks.

Yes. We mixed it all, and then worked out what we wanted to use.

I wonder if any future project will be able to tap into any of those other additional mixed tracks?

Yeah. We chose the best of the best. A lot of the times it was between two versions that were really similar, and it was like, right, which is better? So, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no treasure trove still left to go through. This is pretty much the best of the best.

Working so deeply on this record, where it’s now part of your DNA, what impresses you the most about “All Things Must Pass?”

I think was a great showcase for George’s songwriting and playing, and I think it really showed the world what a great musician he was. I think the more you live with this record, the more you realize there were so many messages in it. It’s a heavy emotional album, isn’t it? It dealt with a lot of quite interesting subject matter, especially at the time, with religion and different emotions and things.

I think one of the songs I was most pleased about was “I Dig Love.” That’s a great little song. I think we’ve managed to get some good things out of that one. There’s a few that we’ve really managed to make it emotionally sort of shine through.

You can find more of Ken Sharp’s conversations with musicians and others involved in the making of the original “All Things Must Pass” album in Beatlefan #251 and #252.

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LENNONOLOGY EXCLUSIVE: ‘FOR YOU’ BLUES

Here’s a Lennonology exclusive provided by Chip Madinger …

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT ON THE JAPANESE ‘LET IT BE’ SUPER DELUXE EDITION

For nearly 40 years, nearly since the advent of the CD, The Beatles and Apple have managed to keep the digital contents of the group and solo catalogs strictly consistent around the world. There have been a few exceptions, such as the run of Canadian “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” CDs that featured the original 1965 mixes and not George Martin’s 1987 remixes, or the initial U.S. pressing of “The Capitol Albums Vol. Two,” which included “folddown” mono mixes, rather than the true mono mixes. However, not since the original U.K.-manufactured CD of Paul McCartney’s “Press to Play,” with the 10-inch mix of “Press,” has a single anomaly slipped out to market. Until now.

While listening to the streaming version of Glyn Johns’ May, 1969, mix of the “Get Back” album, from the new “Let It Be” Super Deluxe Edition, keen-eared collector Yosi Noz noted that “For You Blue” actually was Johns’ 1970 mix, which contained a new lead vocal recorded in January of that year. It was once he played his physical copy of the Japanese SHM-CD “Let It Be” SDE that he noted the correct “1969 Mix” of “For You Blue” was in place, rather than the 1970 mix he had heard in the ether.

It now has been verified that the true 1969 mix of “’For You Blue” appears exclusively on the Japanese SHM-CD “Let It Be” SDE (Disc 4, Track 7). All other digital platforms, including the universal SDE and its hi-res counterpart, include the 1970 Glyn Johns mix (prefaced by the complete introduction with two false starts), which is erroneously labeled “1969 Mix.”

Who knows what, if any, corrective action will be taken. It’s unknown, specifically, which of the two mixes Apple intended to put on the package. It is unlikely that more SDEs will be manufactured, so substitution on future editions is unlikely. The most likely course of action would be to make corrected copies of the disc available for exchange. But, with profit margins so thin, it is possible that this anomaly will remain buried on the Japanese SDE.

On a side note, in his overview of the SDE’s contents, which has appeared in several online outlets, including the Steve Hoffman music forum and The Daily Beatle website, Mike Carrera’s assertion that the universal SDE used a copy of Dr. Ebbetts’ fan-released disc “Get Back — Glyn John’s Mix #1” as its source, for this and other tracks, is unfounded. Other black-market releases of “Get Back” have used an edited reconstruction of the introduction (specifically Vigotone’s 1999 release, “Get Back — The Glyn Johns Final Compilation”), not to mention that both the 1969 and 1970 editions of the Dr. Ebbetts “Get Back” discs run at a different speed, with the channels reversed and the phase inverted when compared with the new commercial release. That’s not to say that Apple didn’t construct their own introduction, just that they used a source superior to any of the well-known bootleg releases.

In the end, what is exciting for collectors is that a genuine alternate version, the genuine 1969 Glyn Johns mix of “For You Blue” has appeared exclusively on the Japanese SHM-CD SDE. It is an expensive proposition to spend an additional $200 on less than 3 minutes of music, but it is likely that this will remain a bona fide rarity, and that copies will dry up quickly. 

— Chip Madinger and Mark Easter, with special thanks to Yosi Noz     

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Revisiting McCartney’s ‘Press to Play’ 35 Years Later

Bill King takes another look at the 1986 album that Macca has all but disowned due to its lack of success.

Paul McCartney was not really in a good place, creatively or careerwise, in late summer 1986, when his “Press to Play” album was released.

Although the album drew some critical praise for McCartney’s efforts to move in a new musical direction, the overall reception was mixed (even among fans), and its sales were off considerably from Paul’s usual showing (peaking at No. 30 on Billboard’s album chart and selling only 400,000 copies in the U.S.)

Not surprisingly, Macca in later years would dismiss “Press to Play” as “not very successful,” and, when he returned to touring three years later, he didn’t include any songs from the album in his set list. He still doesn’t.

A bit of backstory: After having critical and sales success with 1982’s “Tug of War,” on which he had reunited with George Martin, McCartney had tried to replicate that success by continuing to work with the former Beatles producer.

However, 1983’s “Pipes of Peace” was not as big a sales success (despite having a smash hit single in his teaming with Michael Jackson on “Say Say Say”) and, critically, was dismissed by many as “Tug of War” leftovers.

And, while the “Give My Regards to Broad Street” soundtrack album had some superb musical moments, the film from which it came was a resounding flop at the box office and with reviewers. The album didn’t sell as well as usual, either.

Eric Stewart is seen with Paul and Linda.

Licking his wounds, Macca decided to look for a different producer (or producers) and began a period of flailing about creatively that wouldn’t end until the close of the decade, when he put together a touring band and released the album “Flowers in the Dirt” (which, even then, utilized more than a half dozen different producers).

The year after “Broad Street” saw him working for the first time in his own studio (located in an old mill near his home) and partnering with former 10cc member Eric Stewart, who had played and sung on the past couple of albums and had appeared in Paul’s videos (and in the “Broad Street” film band). The two spent most of 1985 cowriting songs, and together they began work on what would become Paul’s 1986 album release. Unfortunately, Stewart was given the idea he was co-producing the new album with Macca, while Paul, who had worked with Phil Ramone (Billy Joel’s producer) and Hugh Padgham (The Police, Phil Collins) on a standalone movie-theme single, “Spies Like Us,” decided to include Padgham in the sessions for the new album. And, what started out as an engineering gig for Padgham soon became co-production, as Macca sought to give his songs a more “contemporary” sound.

Stewart was disappointed, and ended up leaving the sessions before the album was completed, though he did play in a one-shot band Macca put together that November to perform “Only Love Remains” from the album at the Royal Variety Show.

When interviewed by Ken Sharp for Beatlefan in 2003, Stewart was fairly diplomatic in explaining how he came to have a credit on “Press to Play” for “special contribution,” rather than being one of the producers:

“I contributed to the production side of the album in many ways, but because MPL had a written deal with Hugh Padgham as ‘producer,’ they decided to give me a ‘special contribution’ credit,” Stewart told Sharp.

“Hugh is a great engineer, one of the best in the world,” he said, “but a ‘producer,’ I personally don’t think so. For me, a good ‘producer’ is somebody who can come up with musical directions, change harmonies, suggest different instrumentation, etc., like George Martin, or myself, for that matter.”

The picture sleeve for the “Press” single showed Macca’s illustration of the sound mix.

As for why his songwriting partnership with McCartney came to an end, Stewart said, “Paul and I didn’t continue writing after ‘Press to Play,’ I think initially, because the album was not very successful. …

“I feel the project dragged on far, far too long, after I had left it, and the production direction changed many times …. I feel it had lost its way long before it hit the streets. It was a very different album from the one I had thought I was going to record with Paul, and, in retrospect, I can see the flaws quite clearly now.”

Stewart was more direct in a 2017 interview with Super Deluxe Edition, calling the album “a pile of crap. … It was ghastly, it was ghastly, and I really felt very sorry that I’d got myself involved and then was told to walk away from it when it was going so bloody well before Hugh got involved in the production side. I think he would admit himself now it was a grave mistake.”

McCartney took some of the blame in discussing past collaborations in his 1990 tour book, saying that his work with Stewart on the “Press to Play” album “didn’t really work out as well as I wanted it to, although we did a couple of nice things. But, it wasn’t a very successful album. It all got a little bit sticky, because he thought I’d wanted him to co-produce the album with me, and I must have led him to believe that. But, it all got a little bit dodgy because, then I said, Oh, we’re getting so and so to produce it, and he went into shock. So that fell through mainly because of that production misunderstanding.”

For his part, Padgham told classicbands.com that, after being invited into the project by McCartney, “I went home incredibly excited to listen to a cassette of those demos that he had done with Eric Stewart from 10cc and I can honestly tell you now that I was underwhelmed when I heard those songs.”

At the time, he said, he thought maybe he was just failing to see the songs’ true merit, but, he added, if he’s “completely honest,” it “wasn’t a very good album.”

Padgham not only clashed with Stewart, he also said he found McCartney “quite annoying” in the studio.

And, he told Q magazine, “I don’t think he was in an era of writing good songs.”

A portrait of McCartney taken by George Hurrell, who also shot the album cover.

Although critical appraisals would grow less enthusiastic as the years passed, initially “Press to Play” was one of Macca’s better reviewed albums of the time, with some early raves from prominent critics.

The Chicago Tribune’s Lynn Van Matre called it “McCartney’s most rocking album in ages” and said, “Much of it’s catchy, most of it’s fun, and it’s superior to McCartney’s efforts of recent years.”

In Rolling Stone, Anthony DeCurtis called it “one of the sturdiest LPs of McCartney’s post-Beatles career.”

DeCurtis went on to note: “The last time McCartney weighed in credibly was on 1982’s ‘Tug of War,’ an album fired by its central image of struggle, a reunion with Beatles producer George Martin and the need to address the artistic legacy left by the recently slain John Lennon. If ‘Pipes of Peace’ marked a return to pap and 1984’s ‘Give My Regards to Broad Street’ represented a retreat into Beatles revisionism, ‘Press to Play’ plants McCartney firmly in the present.”

The critic praised both the songs (“Stewart pushes McCartney in some new directions”) and Padgham’s production, saying the latter supplied the album with an “electronically dense contemporary sound that fleshes out McCartney’s melodies and gives the LP rhythmic kick.”

Ironically, some fans weren’t as quick to embrace the album. I remember when I first opened my review copy and put it on the turntable, a good friend who is a major Maccamaniac was with me. I kind of liked the new album; my friend didn’t like it at all.

Macca is seen in the studio during the making of “Press to Play.”

That critical divide over the album continues to this day in fandom. When I decided to take a 35th anniversary look back at “Press to Play,” I asked some of Beatlefan’s editors for their thoughts on the album, pro or con.

Al Sussman, who gave the album mostly a thumbs-up in 1986, now feels “it hasn’t aged terribly well.”

While Al thinks there’s a good amount of “McCartney-worthy” material among the songs, “this was really the first time that Paul allowed a producer, Hugh Padgham, to impose his signature sound on a McCartney project (going on the theory that George Martin didn’t have a signature production sound). For instance, ‘Stranglehold’ sounds as if Phil Collins, not Macca, should be doing the vocal. Similar problem with ‘Press.’ It just doesn’t sound like a Paul McCartney record, though the song is a good one.”

And, Al said, “experimental tracks like ‘Talk More Talk’ and ‘Pretty Little Head’ have never done much for me, much like the first two Fireman records. Overall, I’d put ‘Press to Play’ somewhere in the middle of the post-Beatles McCartney canon — not a big misstep like ‘Driving Rain,’ but not in the ‘Band On the Run’/‘Tug of War’/‘Flaming Pie’/‘Chaos and Creation’ pantheon.”

Brad Hundt has a soft spot for the album, saying it “brings back memories of the summer of 1986, when I was 20 and a college student, so I feel a sentimental attachment to it. At the time I really liked it, appreciating McCartney’s effort to show his more experimental and adventurous side. And, let’s not forget, it netted McCartney some of his best reviews in years when it came out.”

While McCartney himself doesn’t appear to think much of it, and Padgham doesn’t hide his contempt for the album, Brad feels that, like “Pipes of Peace,” “it’s better than its reputation.”

Brad also rates “Press to Play” “somewhere in the middle of McCartney’s solo canon.”

McCartney in the studio with Pete Townshend and Phil Collins.

Kit O’Toole remains a fan of the album. “While I understand that ‘Press to Play’ was a departure from Paul McCartney’s typical sound, I’ve felt this album has gotten a bad rap over the years. I applaud him for taking a risk and trying more experimental sounds and composition styles. … Not every song works on the same level, but I still enjoy ‘Press to Play’ as a welcome departure from McCartney’s typical style.”

Back in 1986, in my review of the advance single “Press,” released six weeks before the album, I said that if one could judge by that tune and the others included on the extended 12-inch single, it seemed fairly certain that the album would take chances. Musically, I said, there’s not much more you could ask of McCartney at this point.

As it turned out, I said in my review of “Press to Play” in Beatlefan #47 (August-September, 1986), that pretty well summed up the album.

“It’s definitely a different sort of album from what McCartney fans have gotten used to,” I wrote, “but that, to me, is its strength. Instead of churning out another batch of patented, instantly recognizable potential singles, McCartney has tried out some new sounds and approaches.

“The result is a bit too inconsistent to be called a really great McCartney album. And, some of the stylistically varied music may be so alien to the McCartney mainstream that its charms won’t be evident on first listen.

“But, ‘Press to Play’ is a welcome addition to the catalog because it boasts an energy and creativity indicative of an artist once more exploring the boundaries of contemporary music, rather than a craftsman simply turning out variations on previous great works.”

Recently, I went back and listened to the album and its associated B-sides, to see whether my original generally positive evaluation still stood.

McCartney the dreamer.

Originally, the album came out with 10 songs on the vinyl LP (then still the standard mode of release) and three extra songs on the compact disc (a format that was relatively new at the time, and which many fans didn’t yet have).

Here’s my track-by-track comparison of what I said in 1986, and what I think 35 years later:

The album opened with “Stranglehold,” one of the eight songs on it cowritten by McCartney and Stewart, which I said in 1986 was “a hard-edged rocker with a nice sax solo. The processing on McCartney’s vocal may leave some casual listeners under the impression they’re listening to someone else.” Listening to it in 2021, I was considerably less impressed, not finding much of interest for me in the track.

In my original Beatlefan review, I wrote: “The next four songs are the LP’s best,” starting with “Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun,” which I described as “a catchy ode to a summer holiday, complete with a bouncy reggae beat. The vocal this time is high and breathy, and the second half sports a feel-good chorus that will have you singing along in no time.” As opposed to the opening track, I like this one even more now. To me, despite the fact that it sounds at times very much like The Police, it’s classic McCartney, with its hooky earworms and catchy chorus. I’m still humming it a day later.

“Talk More Talk,” I wrote in 1986, “is an elaborate production number that brings to mind a musical meeting of McCartney and The Police. There are snatches of spoken dialogue interspersed throughout this midtempo rocker, and the backing relies heavily on drum machines and synthesizers, definitely showing the influence of Padgham. The chorus’ hook is pure McCartney, however.” Now, I find this one sounds awfully dated. The best McCartney recordings are ageless; this isn’t one of them.

The two prettiest tunes on the album, I said in 1986, are “Footprints” and “Only Love Remains.”

The former, another McCartney-Stewart effort, “paints a poetic picture that’s complemented by the track’s shimmering sound. McCartney sings it with a slightly husky voice, which fits right in with the lyric’s tale of an ‘old hand.’ A Spanish guitar also is well used here,” I wrote. Listening now, I really like the slightly Latin beat, the shimmering backing and the Spanish guitar solo. One of the best tracks on the album, I think.

“Only Love Remains,” I said in 1986, “is one of those beautiful love ballads at which McCartney always has excelled. It’s lushly but tastefully produced, with an orchestral backing arranged by Tony Visconti.” Al said he thinks this is still one of Macca’s greatest love songs, and I’m inclined to agree.

A U.K. advertisement for the album.

Back in the day, the vinyl LP’s second side opened with “Press.” In my review of the single, I had said that it showed a bit of hip-hop influence in its danceable percussion and scratching, and was “one of his most energetic — and interestingly different — recordings in quite a while. The mixture of drum machines, synthesizers, sequencers and electric guitar is quite upbeat, and wears well with repeated listenings.” In my album review, I said of the track: “People seem either to like it very much or dislike it completely. Its chart action [it peaked at No. 21 in the U.S. and No. 25 in the U.K.] indicates the latter group predominates. I like it more and more, as time goes by, however.” And, I still like it.

The rest of the second side of the 10-song LP was devoted to four more McCartney-Stewart songs. “Unfortunately,” I wrote back then, “they fail to live up to their potential.”

I described “Pretty Little Head” as “the album’s strangest cut,” and said it was “an attempt to re-create musically the atmosphere of a science fiction novel. Its mix of vibes, tom-toms and synthesizers is interesting, and the ‘Ursa Major, Ursa Minor’ chorus is quite hummable, but the whole thing doesn’t hang together very well.” Listening in 2021, I liked the track’s use of vibraphone and neo-psychedelic feel, but not the overly processed vocal.

“Move Over Busker,” the name-dropping lament of a street musician with greater aspirations, starts out promisingly, I said then, but “degenerates into a run-of-the-mill rocker reminiscent of mid-’70s boogie bands.” Now, I find myself liking this one much more. It would have been great to hear it performed in concert.

“Angry,” I said originally, “is a big disappointment. I expected a track featuring Pete Townshend on guitar and Phil Collins on drums to be a little special, but it’s a rather unremarkable punkish rocker. The best thing about it is its high energy level.” I had exactly the same reaction on listening to it again recently.

The last track on the original LP was “However Absurd,” which I characterized then asan overly orchestrated plodder with mostly nonsense lyrics. This one never really gets going.” Looking at the notes I took on my recent listen, before I’d gone back and read my original review, I find that I had the same reaction: “plodding, never really gets going.”

As I noted in my 1986 review, the compact disc featured three extra tracks. “It’s Not True” had been the B-side of the “Press” single I’d reviewed in the previous issue, and I’d described it as “a ballad sung in a rather high voice and spiced up with a harder, more midtempo chorus.” Obviously, it didn’t impress me much, and I don’t have much to add to that now.

One of the official publcity photos from “Press to Play.”

“Write Away,” I described as “a jazzy, Al Jarreau sort of number with some very nice singing by McCartney.” Listening now, I find it upbeat, bouncy and with some very nice, jazzy guitar. Not bad.

“Tough on a Tightrope,” I wrote, was “a midtempo McCartney song that rambles on too long and sounds too familiar.” And, I had the same reaction all these years later.

Finally, another track from the sessions, appearing only as a B-side on the 12-inch vinyl single of “Press,” was “Hanglide,” an instrumental written by McCartney and Stewart. Back then, I wrote that it was “an intriguing number built around a constant backing of clapping and percussion that has a definite jungle feel to it. Laid over this is a mix of synthesizers, strings, woodwinds and guitar. The whole thing sounds like movie soundtrack music.” Now, I’d amend that slightly to mediocre soundtrack music.

It’s also worth noting that this was the era when Paul really got into releasing multiple mixes and edits of songs in different configurations. For example, “Press” had a 3:21 version called the “video edit,” a 4:41 edit played on MTV (with some longer percussion breaks and a couple of extra spoken lines) and the 6:28 “dub” version from the 12-inch single, which had most of the vocals removed and made it more of a dance track.

A couple of other notes of interest: McCartney’s cousin, Kate Robbins, provided some of the album’s backing harmonies, and his son, James, was among the speakers on “Talk More Talk.” Paul followed up the album by working on the “Cold Cuts” collection … which still hasn’t come out. And, by the end of 1986, Paul was talking about putting a band together for touring (it wouldn’t happen until 1989) and was planning for Phil Ramone to produce his next album. (They did work together, with some of the tracks used as future B-sides on CD singles, but Ramone did not produce the next album.)

Overall, I found that, in 2021, I liked six of the 14 tracks on “Press to Play,” and wasn’t that fond of the other eight, which is slightly more negative than I was about it in 1986. And, in most cases, that was because I didn’t really like Padgham’s cluttered, gimmicky overproduction and processed sound.

So, Al was right: There is some worthy material here, but the album hasn’t aged all that well. And, in the overall picture, he and Brad have it pegged correctly: definitely middle-of-the-pack McCartney.

— Bill King

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The Beatles and Motown

The Beatles with Mary Wells.

The Fab Four and Hitsville USA made a great combo, as Kit O’Toole recounts in this expanded version of an article published in Beatlefan #250.

When The Beatles first conquered the U.S. in February, 1964, they forever changed American music.  British groups impacted the charts like never before, folk artists like Bob Dylan “went electric,” and psychedelia later would infiltrate pop. The formidable songwriting team of Lennon-McCartney, as well as George Harrison’s rapidly growing composing skills, also signaled a new era for rock: self-contained bands, or artists who composed their own music. This posed a threat to the Brill Building writers and other professional songwriters who, until The Beatles’ arrival, had dominated the American market. Yet one label managed to compete with The Beatles during the 1960s, becoming not only the most successful independent record company in history, but also the most successful Black-owned business in America.

Motown, founded by songwriter and entrepreneur Berry Gordy, broke down barriers between R&B and pop music by fusing various music genres, such as symphonic elements, jazz, rock, psychedelia, funk and pop; writing lyrics with universal meaning that were clever, intelligent and memorable; and emphasizing strong beats, using percussion and bass (foreshadowing disco and hip hop).

The Beatles learned from the Motown Sound, covering their early songs and emulating Smokey Robinson’s smooth singing style and eloquent songwriting techniques. In turn, Motown artists thanked The Beatles for their support by covering their songs.  Motown, founded in 1959, and The Beatles would prove to have a symbiotic relationship. 

The Birth of Motown

By the fall of 1957, Gordy had tried several careers: boxer, owner of a jazz record store, and an employee at the Ford motor plant. With a wife and kids to support, he needed to settle on a lucrative profession, and fast. His true passion remained music, specifically songwriting.  Fortunately, he lived in Detroit, which was experiencing a musical renaissance in the 1950s; thanks to acclaimed music programs in high schools and a plethora of music clubs and theaters, the city teemed with talent and enthusiastic audiences. 

Gordy frequented many of those clubs, hoping to find artists willing to record his compositions. One such venue, the Flame Show Bar, offered him a unique opportunity to mingle with artists and their managers: his sisters, Anna and Gwen, headed the photo and cigarette concession stands.  Gordy would become friendly with Flame house band members Maurice King and Thomas “Beans” Bowles, Earl Van Dyke and James Jamerson — all of whom later would lbecome Motown studio or touring musicians.

But, another connection would prove key in starting Gordy off on his music career: Al Green, Jackie Wilson’s manager. Chatting with Green at the Flame, Gordy pitched his songs; the manager told Gordy to stop by his office the next day.

That meeting resulted in the pairing of Gordy with another songwriter, Roquel “Billy” Davis (who wrote under the pseudonym “Tyron Carlo”), and they would go on to pen the Wilson classics “Reet Petite” and “Lonely Teardrops.” 

It was during this time that Gordy developed his songwriting formula, as outlined in Gerard Early’s “One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture”:

  • Always use present tense
  • Never overdo the hook
  • Make sure the song has a hummable melody (something faintly resembling an already familiar melody)
  • Find originality in the song’s concept, how the lyrics are phrased, and in its rhythm
  • Singer should serve the song, the song should not serve the singer

While writing for Wilson, Gordy also met another aspiring songwriter and performer who auditioned for Green: Smokey Robinson, who brought his group the Miracles. Green turned them down, but Gordy was taken with their sound and felt Robinson held great potential as a songwriter. The two would form a lifelong friendship and become business partners, as Gordy transitioned from songwriter to business owner.

While Gordy enjoyed these early successes, he learned a hard truth: as a songwriter, he earned a fraction of the money the main performer, the producer and the label owner made. At first, Gordy believed he could profit more as a producer, so he would rent studio space, record artists, and broker deals with record labels for distribution. Once he learned that he still earned little money, Gordy (with Robinson’s encouragement) decided to form his own company. In 1959, with an $800 loan from his family trust, he formed the Tamla label, based on his experience working at the Ford plant; namely, production could be organized efficiently and automated for the highest quality. Everyone would have their own roles and, with few exceptions, never would overlap (e.g. composers wrote songs, producers produced, and artists recorded their vocals and played their instruments).  Gordy also founded a publishing company, Jobete, to ensure ownership of the songs. As the label grew, he formed the subsidiary label Motown, shifting groups there and retaining solo artists on Tamla. By 1960, Gordy incorporated the company as the Motown Record Corp. 

The record credited with kicking off Motown is Marv Johnson’s “Come to Me,” first issued on Tamla in 1959 and marking Berry’s debut as songwriter and producer. It became a Top 30 pop hit, and peaked at No. 6 on the R&B charts, a very promising beginning for the upstart label. The company’s next single, however, would make a much bigger dent on the charts (and set the tone for the Motown sound): “Money (That’s What I Want),” the Barrett Strong track that peaked at No. 2 on the Hot R&B Sides chart and No. 23 on the Hot 100 chart. While Tamla released the record locally in 1960, “Money” was distributed nationally via his sister Anna Gordy’s label, Anna Records, through a deal with Chess Records. Gordy and Strong wrote the majority of the song, although, according to Gordy’s 1994 autobiography “To Be Loved,” his then-secretary, Janie Bradford, contributed the lines “Your love give me such a thrill / But your love don’t pay my bills.” 

Around this time, Berry said, the distinctions between “white” and “black” music were becoming fuzzier. R&B was black, pop was white. But, with the rock explosion and Elvis Presley’s popularity, that difference began to change, and “Money” represents that shift.

As Tamla/Motown grew, so did its talent roster. The Funk Brothers, its formidable house band, drew from the local talent playing in Detroit jazz and blues clubs. Hank Cosby (saxophone), Benny Benjamin (drums), Jamerson (bass), Van Dyke (piano), Eddie “Bongo” Brown (percussion), and Robert White, Joe Messina and Eddie Willis (guitars), are just some of the many names that comprised the group that played on every recording. Playing in what they called the “snakepit” (the basement studio of Hitsville, USA in Detroit), they were expected to crank out three to four songs during every three-hour session. An average workday consisted of two of these three-hour sessions, occasionally three or four.  Due to their vast expertise, they could handle songs thrown at them at such a rapid rate, even though they often had no prior knowledge of the tracks’ titles or their intended performers.

Motown’s assault on the charts began in 1960, when “Shop Around” by Robinson and the Miracles became the label’s first million-seller and peaked at No. 2 on the pop charts. Co-written by Robinson and Gordy, the track (originally intended for Strong) showcased Robinson’s silky voice and clever lyrics, and the Funk Brothers’ trademark sound.  The following year proved even bigger, with the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” zooming all the way to No. 1 on the pop charts. From then on, the label boasted an enviable amount of talent: Mary Wells, the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Stevie Wonder. The in-house songwriters proved to have an ear for making hits, with the legendary team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, as well as Norman Whitfield, Ashford and Simpson, and, of course, Robinson, penning classics that competed with — and even influenced — the British invasion groups.

Motown’s original headquarters.

What Is “The Motown Sound”?

The “Motown Sound” also became a key element of their success, and much of it resulted from budget constraints, adapting to a small space, and transistor radios. For starters, Studio A’s live room was just a simple rectangle, with ceilings only slightly taller than average — not exactly a cavernous space like Abbey Road’s Studio 2. The Steinway grand piano dominated the space, leaving relatively little room once mics, chairs and music stands were set up, and the numerous cables dangling from the ceiling earned this space the nickname “the snake pit.” But, despite its relatively modest facility, Motown kept up with the cutting edge of recording technology. Starting off with a primitive two-track setup, Hitsville graduated to a three-track format in 1961, before moving to eight-track in the mid-’60s and 16-track by the end of the decade.

The move to more tracks did a lot to shape the Motown Sound, and the difference can be heard clearly by comparing an early song like “Heat Wave” by Martha & The Vandellas with the fuller sound of “Cloud Nine” by the Temptations. Track limitations on the former required the tambourine, snare and hi-hat all to share a single mic, while the latter features dedicated tracks for auxiliary percussion, multiple guitars and backup vocals. Due to space limitations, there was no room for a vocal booth, so they made one out of the hallway that led from the control room to the stairs that took you into the studio. There were no windows, so they couldn’t see the singer, and had to communicate via microphones. They had to place the first echo chamber in the downstairs bathroom, so a guard was positioned outside the door, so no one flushed during recording. Later they adopted an attic area for an echo chamber, which made the voice sound fatter and gave the recording a bigger sound. Later, a German electronic echo chamber called EMT was installed in the basement. 

In addition, because there was no room for large amps in studio, the guitars and bass were plugged right into the console and were heard through the room’s one speaker. Before a session, the guitar players would adjust their volume to a level they were never to exceed. These necessary adaptations led to the prominent sound of Jamerson’s bass, as well as the rhythmic guitars, both signatures of Motown records. 

Another factor involved consumer technology. By 1965, more than 12 million transistor radios were being purchased a year. In addition, in 1963 about 50 million radios had been installed in car dashboards. Shrewdly, Gordy geared his music toward these mediums. Chief engineer Mike McClain built a small, tinny-sounding radio designed to approximate the sound of a car radio. The high-end bias of Motown recordings can be traced partially to this technique, thus adding another dimension to the label’s distinctive sound. 

Overall, Dennis Coffey, a guitarist who joined the Funk Brothers later in Motown’s history, summarized the essential elements of the instrumental sound in his 2004 autobiography “Guitars, Bars, and Motown Superstars”:

  • Percussion: occasionally using two drummers with gospel tambourine and bongos
  • Guitar backbeat: sharp-sounding guitar part played high up on neck along with snare drum (beats two and four)
  • Funky, melodic bass sound
  • Songs themselves: innovative, jazz-style chords, melodic chord changes
  • Lush orchestra with horns and strings
  • Vocalists have a slick, urban sound
The Beatles with Berry Gordy.

Motown Invades the UK and Encounters the Beatles

While Motown records were not distributed under their own label n the U.K. until 1965, Gordy struck a deal with Decca’s London American imprint to release records as early as 1959’s “Come to Me.”  Thus, The Beatles heard and purchased 45s such as “Money” and “Shop Around,” although these singles initially had little impact on the British charts.  They did, however, receive airplay on pirate radio stations, where The Beatles and members of the Rolling Stones were listening keenly to American records.

Before Gordy could sign a better distribution deal, The Beatles were about to introduce the British public to Motown. On March 7, 1962, the group recorded their radio debut on a BBC show, entitled “Teenager’s Turn — Here We Go,” at the Playhouse Theatre in Manchester, the first time The Beatles appeared on BBC radio. In front of 250 people, the band performed three songs: “Dream Baby,” “Memphis” and “Please Mr. Postman.” When the group launched into the final song, it marked the first time the song — or any Tamla Motown song — was played on the BBC.  The Beatles may not have realized it at the time, but the group broke the Motown Sound to the wider British listening public. 

Because of that, Gordy could negotiate for a better distribution deal. After a short-lived deal with Philips’ Fontana imprint, Gordy signed a longer term agreement with Oriole Records in September, 1962, under which 19 singles were released over a yearlong period, including “Do You Love Me” by the Contours, “Fingertips” by Stevie Wonder and “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” by Marvin Gaye. 

After Gordy had established Motown and several subsidiary labels, he signed what he hoped would be a more lucrative deal, licensing his labels to EMI for U.K. distribution.

One of The Beatles’ first indirect brushes with Motown, interestingly, was through Geoff Emerick; as he detailed in his autobiography “Here, There, and Everywhere.” One of his earliest jobs was remastering American records sent to EMI for U.K. distribution. “My job was especially demanding when Tamla Motown material came in. I was always striving to match their full, bass-rich sound, but I found that I couldn’t ever do it successfully, which was quite frustrating,” Emerick wrote. “It took me a long while to realize that the reasons had to do with the equipment we had at EMI, which was not up to the standard of American equipment.”

Back on American soil, Gordy welcomed a special visitor to Hitsville in early 1964: Brian Epstein. As he described in “To Be Loved,” Epstein wanted to tell Gordy how much he and The Beatles loved the Motown Sound, “telling us of the great influence it had had on them.”

A few months later, Gordy received a call from a representative for Epstein. The Beatles wanted to record three Motown tracks for their second album: “Money,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Please Mr. Postman.” While Gordy was pleased to hear this, he was not thrilled with the offer: a discounted rate on the publishing royalty. Rather than pay Motown the standard 2 cents per song, Epstein’s office offered 1.5 cents. At first, Gordy turned down the offer flat, but the same man phoned the next day, stating Gordy had until noon to decide on the discounted publishing royalty rate. Gordy called Robinson, national sales and promotion manager Barney Ales and siblings Robert and Loucye Gordy into his office. After vigorous debate, Gordy reluctantly agreed to the discounted rate, deciding the potential sales were worth it. 

“Everybody was jubilant that I had given in, including me — until about 2 o’clock that same day, when we got the news,” Gordy wrote. “Capitol Records had the albums in stock at their distributors and were, at that very moment, sending them out to radio stations and stores. The Beatles’ new album with our three songs on it, had already been recorded, mixed, mastered, pressed and shipped.”

Gordy may not have been pleased initially with the royalty rate, but the decision proved be a savvy one.

After failing to achieve more hits, Motown finally achieved a U.K. hit with Mary Wells’ “My Guy,” the single peaking at No. 5 in June, 1964. The Beatles declared themselves fans, calling Wells “their sweetheart,” and inviting her to open for them on their brief British tour from Oct. 9 to Nov. 10. A key element to Motown’s success in England proved to be The Beatles, whose Motown covers on “With The Beatles” further exposed British audiences to the label. To capitalize on the success, Gordy sent the label’s biggest stars — Wells, the Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Miracles and the Temptations — on a promotional tour of the U.K. in October of that year. The Supremes’ November “Top of the Pops”appearance propelled “Baby Love” to No. 1, finally bringing Motown its first massive U.K. hit.

British audiences received Motown groups enthusiastically; in turn, the Supremes demonstrated their mutual admiration by releasing the album “A Bit of Liverpool” and posing for promotional photos imitating The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” album cover.

Still frustrated with Motown’s slow growth in the U.K., Gordy requested a meeting with a meeting with Tamla-Motown Appreciation Society founder and journalist Dave Godin in Detroit to discuss how to make better inroads with Britain. Godin suggested a specific brand to distinguish Motown; thus, Gordy launched the Tamla Motown label under the EMI umbrella in 1965. To coincide with the launch, as well as the release of the new label’s single, the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love,” the Motown Revue embarked on a 21-date leg of their package tour.  A “Ready Steady Go!” special, entitled “The Sounds of Motown,” hosted by Dusty Springfield, featured the Supremes, Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Gaye.

It was during the Motown Revue package tour that Gordy finally met The Beatles in person. As Gordy describes in “To Be Loved,” he took his father and kids to meet the group. “While taking photographs together, I told them how thrilled I was with the way they did our three songs in their second album.  They told me what Motown music had meant to them and how much they loved Smokey’s writing, James Jamerson’s bass playing and the big drum sound of Benny Benjamin,” he said. Gordy appeared impressed by their knowledge of all the Motown artists, noting how John Lennon pronounced Marvin Gaye’s name as “Guy” In his Liverpudlian accent. While Gordy’s kids remained starstruck, Gordy’s father was less so. “Pop pulled two of the Beatles aside, telling one of his stories about how hard work pays off. I tried to rescue them by telling Pop we had to go, but they said they wanted to hear more,”

When Wells departed the label, Brenda Holloway initially was groomed to be the next “first lady” of Motown (soon to be displaced by the Supremes). Her first hit, 1964’s “Every Little Bit Hurts,” launched her career. By 1965, her hit-making prowess had faded a bit, but her single “Operator” performed well enough to earn her a spot opening for The Beatles on their 1965 U.S. tour (a recording of her performance is part of the Shea Stadium show).

At just 19, Holloway clearly appreciated the opportunity.  In a Sept. 25, 1965, interview with KRLA Beat, Holloway enthusiastically proclaimed her love for the group. “[They are] real nice. They’re down to earth. They’re just people — that’s why I like them. They’re very friendly and I like them a whole lot!” 

She shared some amusing anecdotes: “Ringo borrowed my hairdryer to do his hair.  We had pillow fights. George usually started them and then everyone joined in. And Ringo would walk down the aisle of the plane saying: ‘Fasten your seat belts. Only doing my job!’” 

Holloway added that “Ringo’s hair is the prettiest. He doesn’t have too much to say to anyone. Except one night he and the drummer from the King Curtis Band got into a long discussion on God and religion.” 

After the tour ended, she said, “If they’d been crabs or mean I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I miss them now that the tour is over.” 

The tour would prove to be the highlight of her performing career; Holloway found more success as a backing vocalist and songwriter. 

McCartney with the Supremes.

The Supremes Meet The Beatles

Despite The Beatles’ enormous popularity, Motown managed to hold its own in the 1960s. The Supremes, the label’s most successful act, proved to be The Beatles’ biggest competitor, in terms of No. 1 hits.  In an Aug. 28, 2019, interview with Gold, Mary Wilson described a friendly rivalry. “I didn’t really think about it much then, but sometimes they would be No. 2, and we would be No. 1. Sometimes they were No. 1, we were No. 2,” she said.  “So, we did have this thing going on. It was never really, as you said, a competition between us. Maybe our producers and all. I think they may have said, ‘Oh, boy, this female group is No. 1. We better get another hit record out there.’”

Wilson said the Supremes met The Beatles briefly during their first 1964 London visit, but their 1965 New York encounter proved much more memorable.

While in New York to tape an “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance, a meeting with The Beatles was arranged.  “We wore smart, elegant day dresses, hats, gloves, high heels and jewelery, as well as fur jackets, Flo (Florence Ballard) in chinchilla, me in red fox and Diane (Diana Ross) in mink,” Wilson recalled. “We entered The Beatles’ suite, perfectly poised. Apparently, other people had been up to visit them earlier, including Bob Dylan and The Ronettes. The first thing I noticed was that the room reeked of marijuana smoke, but we kept on smiling through our introductions.” 

Wilson felt unwelcome, that The Beatles were largely distant. “Paul was nice, but there was an awkward silence for most of the time. Every once in a while, Paul, George or Ringo would ask us about the Motown sound, or working with Holland-Dozier-Holland, then there would be silence again. … John Lennon just sat in the corner and stared.”  The Supremes couldn’t wait to leave. 

Years later, while Wilson visited Harrison in England, he told her, “We expected soulful, hip girls. We couldn’t believe that three black girls from Detroit could be so square!’”

McCartney with Estelle Bennett of the Ronettes.

Motown’s Influence on The Beatles

As previously noted, The Beatles most likely first heard Motown records as early as 1959, when Decca first issued early singles such as “Come to Me.” Ringo Starr stated in the “Anthology” documentary that “when I joined The Beatles, we didn’t really know each other, but if you looked at each of our record collections, the four of us had virtually the same records.  We all had the Miracles, we all had Barrett Strong and people like that. I supposed that helped us gel as musicians, and as a group.” 

As McCartney learned the bass, he listened to the melodic bass lines of Jamerson, even though he didn’t even know his name for many years. Jamerson’s jazz-influenced playing and distinctive bass lines in tracks such as the Temptations’ “My Girl” expanded the possibilities for bass players, teaching McCartney to avoid stagnant, clichéd lines (for examples of Jamerson’s inventiveness, listen to Gaye’s “What’s Going On” or the Four Tops’ “Standing in the Shadows of Love”). 

As Mark Lewisohn notes in “Tune In: The Beatles All These Years,” when Ronnie Spector first met the group, she was shocked at how they “knew every Motown song ever put out.”

Robinson and the Miracles were a particular influence, as demonstrated on the “Please Please Me” track “Ask Me Why.” From Lennon’s falsetto to the backing vocals to the dramatic bridge (“I can’t believe it’s happened to me / I can’t conceive of any more misery”), Robinson and the Miracles’ style resonates throughout the track. 

Indeed, as George Martin said in “Anthology,” “In the early days, they were very influenced by American rhythm-and-blues. I think that the so-called ‘Beatles sound’ had something to do with Liverpool being a port  …  They certainly knew much more about Motown, about black music, than anybody else did, and that was a tremendous influence on them.”

The Beatles would prove it with the B-side of the U.K. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” single, “This Boy,” a close-harmony track that Harrison described as ”a song John did that was very much influenced by Smokey. … If you listen to the middle eight of ‘This Boy,’ it was John trying to do Smokey,” he told Timothy White in “George Harrison Reconsidered.”

However, “With The Beatles” demonstrates not only their love of Motown, but their ability to cover and make the songs their own. “Please Mr. Postman” features a harder beat and Lennon’ raspy, harder-rock vocal, yet retains its R&B roots. “Money (That’s What I Want)” also receives a harder treatment, once again utilizing Lennon’s hard-charging style. Yet, the similar bluesy piano remains, as does the essential soul of the original. While “You Really Got a Hold on Me” has a slightly harder-rocking sound than the Robinson original, The Beatles’ largely remained faithful to the arrangement.  As Ian Mac Donald wrote in “Revolution in the Head,” “Lennon offers a passionate lead vocal, which makes up in power what it wants for nuance beside the exquisite fragility of Smokey Robinson. If the final score is a draw, that is remarkable tribute to The Beatle’  versatility as interpreters.” 

To demonstrate their mastery of the Motown sound, “All I’ve Got to Do,” with Lennon’s soulful lead vocal and Harrison and McCartney’s backing harmonies, has all the makings of a perfect girl-group, Marvelettes-like track. 

“A Hard Day’s Night” finds them exploring more sounds, with the Motown influence lingering in the opening drumbeat and chords of “Tell Me Why.”  In “The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul,” musicologist Walter Everett notes that the “Help” track “You’re Going to Lose That Girl’ owes a lot to the Motown Sound, particularly in its “Motown-based responsorial backing vocals by Paul and George.” He cites Jacqueline Warwick’s analysis of backing-vocal girl groupisms, where she fantasizes Motown choreography for the song: “It’s easy to picture Paul and George shimmying and wagging their fingers if only they hadn’t instruments to contend with.” 

Also, in a 1980 interview, Lennon described “When I Get Home” as “another Wilson Pickett, Motown sound … a four-in-the-bar cowbell song.”

While known primarily as a folk-influenced album, “Rubber Soul” does contain some elements of Motown.  McCartney once described “You Won’t See Me” as “very Motown-flavored. It’s got a James Jameson feel,” according to Keith Badman’s “The Beatles: Off the Record.”  Indeed, the “la la” backing vocals could come straight out of a Supremes record.  And, “Drive My Car” contains the kind of clever lyrics that Robinson or Gordy might have written. 

The Beatles also wanted to emulate the Funk Brothers’ sound, specifically the deep bass.  Emerick recalled McCartney approaching him with a special request during the “Paperback Writer” sessions. “Paul turned to me. ‘Geoff,’  he began, ‘I need you to put your thinking cap on.  This song is really calling out for the deep Motown bass sound we’ve been talking about, so I want you to pull out all the stops this time. All right, then?’” 

Emerick described how often he and McCartney would meet in the mastering room to listen to “the low end of some new import he had gotten from the States, most often a Motown track.” He then brainstormed an idea: using a loudspeaker as a microphone. “I was able to achieve a good bass sound by placing it up against the grille of a bass amplifier, speaker to speaker, and then running the signal through a complicated setup of compressors and filters.”

While “Paperback Writer” may not seem to be derived from Motown, the bass sound was inspired by it.

One of the most obvious Motown tributes, “Got to Get You into My Life” on “Revolver,” represented The Beatles diving head-first into soul. In a 1968 interview with Jonathan Cott, Lennon described it as “our Tamla Motown bit. You see, we’re influenced by whatever’s going. Even if we’re not influenced, we’re all going that way at a certain time.”  The horns, the lush production — all reflected Motown at its best. 

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” may have been firmly rooted in the psychedelic age, but as Steven Stark notes in “Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World,” all the album’s songs follow one element of Gordy’s songwriting — all are in the present tense, a tactic that directly engages the listener.  While that may not have been intentional, it might have resulted from years of listening to Motown lyrics.

In turn, Motown songwriters and producers were listening to The Beatles’ 1967 psychedelic sounds, and songs like the Supremes’ “Reflections” and the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” soon followed. 

During the recording of the White Album, while recording a take of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the version broke down when Harrison tried to emulate Robinson’s falsetto vocals. “It’s OK,” he laughed. “I tried to do a Smokey, and I just aren’t Smokey.”

Motown was present elsewhere, however: McCartney’s melodic bass on the irregular time changes of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” would make Jamerson proud. 

Motown also clearly was on their minds during the “Get Back” sessions. Among the many song fragments The Beatles performed were such Motown hits as Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” the Miracles’ “I’ve Been Good to You,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” and “The Tracks of My Tears,” the Shirelles’ “Love Is a Swingin’ Thing” and Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).”

Years later, McCartney revealed during a 2015 talk at the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts that Motown also taught him what to avoid in music. “I mean, you’d hear like the Supremes and Motown, Diana Ross’ group, those records are very similar,” McCartney said. “‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ or ‘Baby Love,’ they’re all very similar things. We wanted to avoid that. So, I think that was one of the good things for us, because we just kept on going and never sort of did the same song twice.” 

While Motown did change its sound in the late 1960s and early 1970s — Whitfield served as an essential catalyst — the production-line model Gordy adapted from the Ford motor plant clearly did not suit The Beatles.

McCartney with Stevie Wonder.

An Enduring Love Affair

Numerous Motown artists covered Beatles hits, although none had as much success as Wonder with his soulful rendition of “We Can Work It Out.” Appearing on his 1970 album “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” it was released as a single in 1971. The single reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning him his fifth Grammy Award nomination in 1972, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Almost 20 years later, Wonder would perform that version as McCartney was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. As he gave his acceptance speech, McCartney noted how “Fingertips” inspired The Beatles back in the early 1960s. 

Wonder performed his cover again when McCartney was awarded the Gerswhin Prize by the Library of Congress in 2010, and once more at the Grammys Beatles tribute in 2014.

After The Beatles disbanded, the group still expressed their love of R&B. Harrison’s admiration for Robinson never dimmed, illustrated by “Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You),” the “Extra Texture (Read All About It)”track intended as a companion piece to “Ooh Baby Baby.” His most compelling tribute, “Pure Smokey,” from “33 1/3,” outlines why Harrison held Robinson in high regard: “I wrote ‘Pure Smokey’ on ‘33 1/3’as my little tribute to his brilliant songwriting and his effortless butterfly of a voice,” he told White.

On “Cloud Nine,” Harrison gave Robinson one more shoutout on the track “When We Was Fab,” singing, “And you really got a hold on me.”  Starr covered “Where Did Our Love Go?” for his 1978 “Bad Boy”album, and “Money (That’s What I Want)” for 2019’s “What’s My Name.” 

Lennon may not have recorded Motown covers, but his personal jukebox included “First I Look at the Purse” by the Contours and several tracks by the Miracles: “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Shop Around,” “Who’s Lovin’ You,” “I’ve Been Good to You” and “What’s So Good about Goodbye.” 

As for McCartney, not only did he cover Gaye’s “Hitch Hike” during his 2010 concert at New York’s Apollo Theatre, he visited the Motown Museum in Detroit in 2011 and volunteered to pay for refurbishing the studio’s 1877 Steinway grand piano. After work was completed in August, 2012, McCartney and Gordy played it together during a September charitable event at Steinway Hall in New York City. The piano now sits in Studio A at Hitsville USA in Detroit.  McCartney also collaborated with two Motown artists: Wonder, on both “Ebony and Ivory” and “What’s That You’re Doing,” as well as a guest appearance on Wonder’s 2005 album “A Time to Love”; and Michael Jackson, on the “Thriller” duet “The Girl Is Mine” and the “Pipes of Peace” tracks “Say Say Say” and “The Man.” 

Clearly, The Beatles and Motown owe a great deal to one another in terms of musical influence and exposure to wider audiences.  In a “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever”DVD reissue, Robinson and original Temptations member Otis Williams discussed the relationship between Hitsville USA and the Fab Four. “They were the first huge white act to admit, ‘Hey we grew up with some black music. We love this,” Robinson said. Wilson added, “We knocked down those barriers, and I must give credit to The Beatles. It seemed like at that point in time white America said, ‘OK if the Beatles are checking them out, let us check them out.’” 

As for The Beatles, Motown influenced them as songwriters, vocalists and instrumentalists, as a group and as solo artists — truly a two-way relationship. 

Kit O’Toole

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More on Our Favorite Solo B-Sides

Quite a few unique tracks have shown up on the flip side of solo Beatles singles through the decades. In Beatlefan #248, we flipped over many solo singles and presented some of our contributors’ favorite B-sides. However, due to space limitations, we weren’t able to run everyone’s complete comments. Here is an expanded version of what they had to say, including some second and third choices!

Brad Hundt:

George Harrison: “Isn’t It a Pity” is a highlight of “All Things Must Pass,” and that has to be considered his strongest B-side. A majestic song that ranks among Harrison’s best. In his solo career, George did put out some B-sides that were not included on albums at the time, but unfortunately most of them were throwaways, along the lines of “I Don’t Care Anymore” or “Zig Zag.” However, “Deep Blue,” the B-side to “Bangla Desh,” is an endearingly simple acoustic number written in the wake of his mother’s death in 1970. It’s a treat.

Ringo Starr: “Snokeroo,” the B-side of “No No Song” in the United States, was such a good tune it was released as an A-side in the U.K. — probably not a bad call, considering that it was written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, who were at the zenith of their popularity in 1975. After that, Ringo’s best B-side would have to be “Early 1970,” which detailed Starr’s feelings about his bandmates just after The Beatles’ split.

John Lennon: Many of John’s B-sides were Yoko compositions, and, in many instances, the B-sides showcased some of her best work. A prime case is “Sisters O Sisters,” the flip side of 1972’s “Woman Is the N***** of the World.” A feminist anthem set to a reggae beat, it’s one of the best tracks on John and Yoko’s “Sometime in New York City.” Another top-tier Yoko track that ended up on a Lennon B-side is “Listen, the Snow Is Falling,” on the flip side of 1971’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

Of the Lennon B-sides that feature a Lennon composition, “What You Got,” the flip side of “#9 Dream,” would not have sounded out of place at all on the radio in 1975. Considering that some promotional singles were pressed for “What You Got,” it seems likely that Lennon himself and the powers that be at Capitol/EMI in those days recognized its commercial potential.

Paul McCartney: There are so many McCartney B-sides, it’s hard to narrow it down. The overall best would have to be “Let Me Roll It,” which was the B-side of the “Jet” single in 1974. Classic solo McCartney, it’s been a mainstay of Paul’s setlists through the years. In the 1970s, McCartney and Wings put out a series of top-notch B-sides that were not released on albums, including “Sally G,” “C Moon,” “The Mess,” “Little Woman Love,” “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” and “Country Dreamer.”

Later on, the CD-single bonus tracks that accompanied “Off the Ground” were, in many cases, superior to the songs that ended up on the album. “Long Leather Coat,” the animal rights offering that was on the “Hope of Deliverance” B-side, is a foot-stomping McCartney rocker in the tradition of “Hi Hi Hi” and “Junior’s Farm.” 

Wings, circa 1979.

Simon Rogers:

Paul McCartney always has kept in mind The Beatles’ work ethic of giving value for money by offering exclusive B-sides. For me, the tracks “Girls School” and “Sally G” stand out, but, in the U.K., “Girls School” was a double A-side with the track “Mull of Kintyre.” 

So, for me, there really was no  contest for my fave McCartney B-side and, in fact, one of my favorite McCartney songs of all time, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.”

The song was the result of a bet Paul made with the members of  Wings — whoever could write the best song over the weekend would get the B-side of his next single. Paul, of course, won, with this slice of power pop.   

Recorded in January, 1979,  it is pure class, and it simply beggars belief that this was a B-side. It’s also amazing that “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”/“Goodnight Tonight” were not included on the album “Back to the Egg.” This B-side features some simply wonderful vocals from Paul and some great melodic bass playing.

George with Ravi Shankar.

For George Harrison, “What is Life.” George has some really great B-sides, such as “Writings on the Wall,” “Deep Blue” and “Miss O’Dell.” But, for me, the standout is “What Is Life.” The song has some very personal memories. I was lucky enough to see George play his only U.K. concert at the Albert Hall on the 6th April, 1992. I managed to fight my way down to the front of the gig just as George started playing “What Is Life.”

What amazed me was the fact that, after reading for years that George hated touring, when I made eye contact with him, how much he was actually enjoying singing this song. I will always remember his smile as he sang.

Certainly, it’s one of the highlights of his “All Things Must Pass” LP.

For Ringo Starr, “Early 1970.” Ringo sometimes is overlooked, but, if you look closely, there are some great and some frankly strange Ringo B-sides. From the spaghetti Western-themed “Blindman” to the disco romp of “Devil Woman” to the live favorite “No No Song.”

But, I must admit I really have a soft spot for the tongue-in-cheek “Early 1970,” which sums up Ringo’s feelings for his fellow bandmates just after the breakup. It originally was recorded under the title of “When Four Knights Come to Town” in October, 1970, during the sessions for the “Plastic Ono Band” album. 

Ringo seems closest to George and John, with Paul coming very firmly third. Any record that features Ringo showing his prowess on the guitar and piano must be worth a listen. A track that always seems to put a smile on my face.

For John Lennon, “Move Over Ms. L.” There is no contest for what my favorite Lennon solo B-side, and it’s this wonderful rocker. Recorded for John’s LP “Walls and Bridges,” it was supposed to fit between “Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradise)” and “What You Got” on the second side of the LP.

John decided to remove it from the track listing just before the album went to press. He later rerecorded it in October, 1974. It has the honor of being the only Lennon nonalbum B-side. Keith Moon, drummer of The Who, would record a version for his “Both Sides of the Moon” LP.

John and May Pang.

Al Sussman:

John Lennon, “Move Over Ms. L.” An enjoyable rocker from the “lost weekend” era. 
George Harrison, “Deep Blue.” The bluesy B-side of “Bangla Desh” stems from a sad time in George’s life (the death of his mother) but is still an enjoyable listen.
Ringo Starr, “Early 1970.” Ringo’s musical “state of the (dis)union” commentary, which was the B-side of “It Don’t Come Easy.”
Paul McCartney, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.” The B-side of “Goodnight Tonight” was a typical piece of expert Macca songcraft that Mark Lewisohn reported is one of McCartney’s own favorites. 

Clint Ard:

John: “Move Over Ms. L.” This one wins by default, as it was the only nonalbum B-side of John’s career.  However, it is a fine rocker, with some pointed lyrics toward Yoko: “Well, now to err is something human and forgiving so divine / I’ll forgive your trespasses, if you forgive me mine / Life’s a deal, you knew it, when you signed the dotted line.”

Fortunately, John and Yoko did forgive each other’s trespasses and were reunited for the last six years of his life. This was the B-side of John’s cover of “Stand By Me,” but it failed to make either the “Walls and Bridges” or “Rock and Roll” albums. Strangely enough, Keith Moon recorded a cover version!  

Paul and Linda and the Wings tour bus.

Paul: “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.” So many great B-sides from Paul (& Wings), but this one sticks out for me. The B-side of the disco-flavored “Goodnight Tonight,” I felt this song better foreshadowed what was coming on the “Back to the Egg” album. Still, I can’t really imagine it on that album, either. It truly is an original song, meant to be heard all on its own. It opens and closes with great harmonies from the band, and, in between, really delivers a terrific tune. A great bass line and fine guitar work by Laurence Juber and Denny Laine. My favorite lyric is “Come on river, flow through me.  Don’t be stopped by insanity.”  Many claim that Paul released better quality songs on his B-sides than on his albums. This song is a perfect example of that. 

George: “Miss O’Dell.” A real charmer of a song from the B-side of “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).” I really enjoy the lightness of the tune, and how George did not take it too seriously. In fact, he ends up laughing in the middle of the verses more than once. It features some quirky lyrics, such as “And the smog that keeps polluting up our shores is boring me to tears.”  A nice acoustic song, with rhythm backing by Klaus Voormann and Jim Keltner.  More cowbell!  

Ringo: “Down and Out.” The B-side of one of Ringo’s greatest songs, “Photograph.” Not included on the 1973 “Ringo” album, but it sure sounds like it would fit right in. A very catchy tune that is easy to sing along to, and gets stuck in your head. The lyrics aren’t particularly meaningful, but I’ve always wondered what fire Ringo was looking at here: “Looked in the fire, what did I see? I saw someone looking at me.” A little spooky, actually. Gary Wright contributes some nice piano and even gets a shout-out from Ringo. The horns add a nice punch to the song, as well.    

Steven Prazak:

John: “Beef Jerky.” Although a throwaway track to some, it’s actually one of the most composed and complex Lennon tracks, even without a lead vocal on top of it. Love all the time signature shifts, the quasi-“Cold Turkey” guitar riff transitions, the horn charts, and, hands-down, the funkiest refrain ever laid down by a Beatle. The flip side of “Whatever Gets Thru the Night,” I played “Beef Jerky” countless times on Waffle House jukeboxes throughout the South. 

Paul: “Secret Friend.” Ten and a half minutes of arpeggio’d and pitch-shifting piano loops, rhythm box and speed-accelerated Macca vocals that sound like they’re coming from deep within a jug of water. A beguiling little melody that fits somewhere in the “ambient” scheme of things. So many fans speak disparagingly of this track, but I love it! Pretty daring for 1980, too! Suffice it to say, I spun this tune quite a bit more than its “Temporary Secretary” A-side.

George: “Isn’t It a Pity.” My personal favorite from “All Things Must Pass,” and as luck would have it, all 7+ minutes are replicated on the flip of “My Sweet Lord” (here in the colonies, that is). What a melody, and a PERFECT production from both George and Phil Spector. And, it’s all verses, too — no chorus or refrain. Another “Waffle House” favorite!

Ringo: “Just a Dream.” The disco-flavored “Ringo the 4th” is no one’s favorite Ringo album, and this non-LP B-side (the disco-flavored flip side of both 1977’s “Drowning in the Sea of Love” and “Wings” 45s) probably won’t change anyone’s mind of that best-forgotten LP. But, there’s no denying that “Just a Dream” is a really great song, despite all the disco trappings heaped on it. Much like the Bee Gees’ disco-era songs have been reappraised for their composition and craftsmanship, I think Ringo’s “Just a Dream” deserves a similar revisit.

John in 1975.

Kathy Urbanic:

John: My favorite John Lennon solo B-side is “Beautiful Boy” (1981, A-side “Watching the Wheels”). The song, written for Sean, is one of the most touching in John’s catalog and a tribute to the loving father he had become. The lyrics on the verses are simple and childlike, as father talks to son and calms his fears. On the chorus, they change perspective, as John marvels at the life he has helped create. The bridge, with a reference to his sailing trip to Bermuda, is poignant now, expressing his happiness at the thought of watching Sean come of age. The melody moves from a nursery-rhyme quality on the verses to a joyful chorus and bridge, beautifully arranged with the sounds of a Tibetan wishing bell, a steel drum, and ocean waves. It’s no surprise that both Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono picked “Beautiful Boy” as the one Lennon song they would take to a desert island.

In second place is “Woman,” released in 1981 as the B-side to “Starting Over.” John wrote many love songs for Yoko, but “Woman” rises above the rest, conveying a depth of emotion and a maturity about relationships. He himself said the song was “the grown-up version of ‘Girl.’”  Words, music, and arrangement work together seamlessly, creating a Motown/early Beatles feeling with one of John’s most affecting vocals.

Paul: Among the dozens of songs Paul McCartney has released as a solo artist, my favorite B-side is “Mamunia” (1974, A-side “Jet,” released prior to the “Jet”/“Let Me Roll It” pairing, also released in 1974). Any of the songs on Paul’s acclaimed “Band on the Run”would make a fine single release, but “Mamunia” has a special charm. Inspired by a visit to Tunisia, it weaves lyrics ostensibly about rain around an Arabic word meaning “safe haven.” Like John Lennon’s “Rain,” “Mamunia” uses rain as a metaphor for life’s problems. Taking, as usual, a lighter approach than John, Paul creates an infectious melody, with African echoes and bright harmonies that make this a great singalong. “Mamunia” is one in a long line of underrated McCartney gems.

Second for me among Paul’s B-sides is “Let Me Roll It” (1974, A-side “Jet”). Its dramatic, bass-fueled opening pulls the listener into a fine vocal that rises in strength and intensity. On their own, the lyrics are unexceptional, but they fit the sensual feel of the music.  “Let Me Roll It” has shown up frequently in Paul’s concert set list, and rightfully so. (The song is just one example of the ways in which the solo Beatles inspired one another; Paul lifted the title phrase from a line of George Harrison’s “I’d Have You Anytime.”)

George: The George Harrison B-side that wins my vote is “Apple Scruffs” (1971, A-side “What Is Life”), his ode to the devoted fans who kept vigil outside Abbey Road Studios. Of the four Beatles, George took the kindest interest in them, sometimes stopping to have a word or taking tea out to them on cold days. His tribute to the girls who braved wind, rain and security guards for a glimpse of a Beatle is whimsical and affectionate, punctuated by a harmonica that evokes street music. As many times as I’ve heard the song, I always wipe away a tear when George sings the last verse: While the years they come and go / Now, your love must surely show me /That beyond all time and space / We’re together face to face, my Apple Scruffs.” Like so many first-generation fans, I was an Apple Scruff in spirit, hanging out at Abbey Road in my heart.

Second to “Apple Scruffs,” I love George’s B-side “Miss O’Dell” (1973, A-side “Give Me Love”). The song is a delight, with clever lyrics and a playful arrangement, featuring harmonica, acoustic guitar and a cowbell. Each verse paints a different scene, from Bangladesh to an ocean-front home in California, as George waits for an overdue call from former Apple employee Chris O’Dell. Midway through, he dissolves into giggles and laughter, guaranteed to raise a smile on any listener. At the close of the song, he leaves a telephone number — Garston 6922 — that was Paul McCartney’s number on Forthlin Road in Liverpool. “Miss O’Dell” is George at his cheekiest. 

Ringo: “Early 1970” (1971, A-side “It Don’t Come Easy”) is my favorite of Ringo Starr’s B-sides.  One of his own compositions, the song features George Harrison on slide guitar and, according to some researchers, John Lennon also participated in the recording session. The tune has the country music vibe often identified with Ringo, and the lyrics are a charming sketch of his three former bandmates: Paul raising sheep on his farm in Scotland, John organizing bed-ins for peace with Yoko, George and Pattie settling in at Friar Park. With its autobiographical lyrics, “Early 1970” foreshadows compositions to come, such as “Liverpool 8” and “The Other Side of Liverpool.” When it was released, it brought hope to fans reeling from The Beatles’ breakup, assuring us that Ringo, at least, wanted to keep making music with the other three.

Runner-up in my affections among Ringo’s B-sides is “Step Lightly” (1974, A-side “Oh My My”), from the marvelous “Ringo”album. Another of his compositions, the song is light and bluesy, embellished on the instrumental bridge by the sound of tap dancing (credited to “the dancing feet of Richard Starkey, MBE”). Ringo’s songs are not covered often, but “Step Lightly” has been recorded by David Hentschel (1975) and the Beatles cover band Suburban Skies (2015). After the success of this single, and two others from the album, John Lennon sent Ringo a telegram: “Congratulations. How dare you? And please write me a hit song.”

Richard S. Ginell:

George: “I Don’t Care Anymore.” The title says it all — the lackadaisical spoken intro, the hoarse voice, the bored delivery, the goofy jaws-harp over the guitar, the raw sound quality, the publishing company (Oops Publishing Ltd.). For candor alone, this one is in a class of its own. It was the B-side of “Dark Horse” in the U.S. and “Ding Dong” in Europe, which is where I found a copy last year in Oslo, Norway.

John: “Do the Oz.” This weird little screamer is a B-side, but not for a Lennon single per se; rather, it’s the companion piece for Bill Elliot and the Elastic Oz Band’s “God Save Us.” While Lennon leaves the vocal to Elliot on the A-side, that’s John yelling over a lumbering heavy metal drone laced with Yoko’s electronically treated caterwauling. It’s just credited to the Elastic Oz Band, and it sank unnoticed somewhere below the Hot 100 in 1971.

Paul: “The Mess.” While most record buyers and McCartney fans of 1973 swooned to the No. 1 hit A-side “My Love,” I flipped the single over and rocked on to the unsung B-side, “The Mess.” It’s the first edition of Wings unleashed live in Antwerp, grinding through several changes of pace in hard rock fashion as Paul treats his voice with echo delay. That’s as far as the track got until it finally turned up in the archive CD edition of “Red Rose Speedway” more than 40 years later — and, for me, it beats anything on the originally-released album.
“Secret Friend.” The third single from “McCartney II” was not released in the U.S.; it came out in Britain as a 12-inch single. So, Americans never heard this wonderful, sprawling electronic samba that occupied the B-side of the goofy “Temporary Secretary.” Paul found an irresistible groove on his drum machine and just let it run for over 10 1/2 minutes, pasting a compressed vocal on top. It resulted in one of his longest, and certainly most offbeat inspirations — not to be heard in the U.S. until it wound up on the “McCartney II” archive CD edition. It was a memorable pickup for me, since I bought it at a flea market in Birkinhead, England, right across the Mersey from Liverpool.

“Check My Machine.” Another bit of solo Beatle lunacy in the spirit of “You Know My Name” — with Yosemite Sam thrown in. McCartney once said that “You Know My Name” was his favorite Beatles song, and this is the closest thing I can think of as a sequel. Again, nowhere to be found on an album until the “McCartney II” archive edition came out, and running twice as long there.

Ringo: “Coochy Coochy.” The B-side of the title track of “Beaucoup Of Blues,” Ringo’s 1970 excursion to Nashville, is a swinging jam session with the crack Nashville sidemen assembled by Pete Drake, whose pedal steel guitar figures in the mix. It didn’t make its way onto the album until the CD edition in the 1990s, yet for me these 4 minutes and 48 seconds of exuberant Ringo vocals and joyous jamming eclipse anything on the LP. Of all of the solo Beatle B-sides, this is my favorite. A 28-minute version of “Coochy” is rumored to exist; I anticipate hearing that just as many Beatles fans are lusting after the 27-minute version of “Helter Skelter.”

Bruce Spizer:

John: It is a bit of a problem to pick favorite John B-sides, because so many of them have Yoko on the flip side. “Move Over Ms. L” was the B-side to “Stand By Me.” This track is an all-out rocker reminiscent of Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie” (unlike the recording of the song on Lennon’s “Anthology” set, which has a Western swing feeling). And, for those wanted to get up and dance, there’s always “Do the Oz,” which was the B-side to “God Save Us” by Bill Elliot and Elastic Oz Band. The B-side features John singing and Yoko wailing. 

Paul: Paul McCartney has put out many quality B-sides pulled from albums, but I limited my choices to outright B-sides. “Oh Woman, Oh Why” was the flip side to and opposite of the carefully crafted pop tune “Another Day.” It developed out of a studio jam with lyrics that are “Hey Joe” in reverse, with the singer getting shot, instead. I also like “Girls School,” which is a silly rocker that was the B-side to “Mull of Kintyre” in the U.K. (although the A-side in the States). 

George: My favorite George B-side is “Miss O’Dell,” a delightful throwaway song, with George laughing through parts of his vocal and giving out Paul’s old phone number at the end (Garston 6922). It makes for a perfect pairing with “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” His worst is a tune whose title appears to describe George’s attitude toward recording this particular B-side, “I Don’t Care Anymore,” which was on the back of “Dark Horse.” 

Ringo: His most interesting and charming B-side is “Early 1970,” with Ringo singing about his bandmates and his own limited musical abilities on guitar, bass and piano (“if it’s in C”). This B-side to “It Don’t Come Easy” was written during the time The Beatles were breaking apart. At its end, Ringo sings “When I go to town, I want to see all three.” His worst B-side is “Blindman,” which was the flip side to “Back Off Boogaloo.” I doubt many people flipped the disc over to hear this muddy-sounding dirge more than once. 

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Previewing Ringo’s ‘Zoom In’ EP

Ringo Starr has a new five-track EP, “Zoom In,” due out March 19 from Capitol/Universal. Here, Bill King provides a preview. …

When Ringo Starr released his most recent album, “What’s My Name,” in 2019, he said he thought it probably would be his last, but that he wasn’t giving up recording.

True to his word, Ringo hasn’t done an album since, but he has joined Paul McCartney and others in issuing recordings made during the pandemic, releasing the self-produced “Zoom In,” consisting of five new tracks. He’s calling it an EP.

Is half a new Ringo album better than none?

Yes, of course. It’s always good to hear from Ringo again. But, does this new release rank with his best solo releases?

No, it does not.

Still, it’s a pleasant, if all too brief, outing, and it does have a couple of moments that stand out, with the opening and closing tracks being the strongest.

That first track is “Here’s to the Nights,” which was issued as a digital single just before Christmas. The track, running 4:05, is

an ode to friendship written by Diane Warren (“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”).

Joe Walsh is among the friends joining Ringo on “Here’s to the Nights.”

Ringo is joined by a host of famous guest vocalists (who can be seen in the music video): Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Corinne Bailey Rae, Eric Burton (of Black Pumas), Sheryl Crow, Finneas, Dave Grohl, Ben Harper, Lenny Kravitz, Jenny Lewis, Steve Lukather, Chris Stapleton and Yola.

(It’s worth noting that McCartney only occasionally is audible in the mix. It’s also noteworthy that one of Ringo’s most frequent musical partners of recent years, Dave Stewart, is absent this time around.)

The track is a stately, string-backed pop number that features some tasty guitar from Lukather, and a catchy singalong from the celebrity chorus: “Here’s to the nights we won’t remember with the friends we won’t forget.”

A favorite moment for me is at the very end, where Ringo, not primarily known as a vocalist, sustains the final note longer than you’d expect, before finally laughing, as if to say, “You didn’t expect that, did you?”

Next on the EP, which was recorded at Starr’s Roccabella West home studio in Beverly Hills, CA, between April and October, 2020, is the title track, “Zoom In Zoom Out,” a midtempo song that lopes along with a slightly bluesy backing. The 3:57 number was written by Jeff Silbar and Joe Turley.

It’s another message song, with the message this time being “we’re all in this together” and “love is what it’s all about.” As Ringo sings, “Zoom in to get a new perspective / Zoom out to see we’re all connected.”

The lyrics are a little out of the ordinary: Not many pop songs mention Galileo, or include a couplet like this: “Shift your paradigm / Seek and you will find.”

The EP’s third track, running 3:07, is “Teach Me to Tango,” written by Sam Hollander and Grant Michaels, with Ringo also getting a composing credit. He added a drum fill, along with his vocal, to a pre-recorded track the team sent him.

It starts out with a Latin flavor, as the title might lead you to expect, but, unfortunately, it’s mostly a pretty pedestrian midtempo rocker. Not much of a message here, other than “You gotta live it up / Until you get what you want, my friend.” The track comes to an abrupt ending.

Next up is “Waiting for the Tide to Turn,” a 3:54 track with a laid-back reggae beat. It was written by Ringo and his longtime engineer and co-producer, Bruce Sugar. The lyrics are a bit on the nose, as in “just play some reggae music and it will be a better day.” It also includes mentions of Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert and Burning Spear.

The EP winds up with another summation of Ringo’s philosophy, “Not Enough Love in the World,” a midtempo pop-rock number written by longtime All Starr Band member Lukather and Joseph Williams, who also arranged it. The longest track, at 4:16, it has a pretty catchy chorus that will stay in your head afterward, and a nice guitar solo by Lukather.

Ringo recorded his new EP in his home studio in Beverly Hills.

Overall, this is not a scintillating collection, but it is an enjoyable listening experience.

In explaining that he didn’t want to do another full album, Ringo has said that he wanted to get away from co-writing all the songs. Whereas on the best of his post-Mark Hudson albums, 2015’s “Postcards From Paradise,” Ringo co-wrote every number — teaming up with the likes of Lukather, Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Richard Marx and Van Dyke Parks — he takes only two co-writing credits on “Zoom In.”

It’s not the lack of Starkey writing credits that’s holding this mini-collection back, though; it’s the fact that none of these songs truly is memorable. That may be because the writers involved are a level down from some of his past collaborators.

For example, Ringo also did a reggae number, “King of the Kingdom,” on his “Give More Love” album, and it was much superior to the reggae track on this EP. The difference is that, on the earlier number, he was writing with Van Dyke Parks, rather than Sugar.

If Ringo wants to continue doing EPs, rather than full albums, but doesn’t want to work that hard at coming up with new songs, I think he’d be better off re-recording some of his older material, as he did on “Ringo 2012” and in the bonus tracks for “Give More Love.”

Or, perhaps he could tackle some of the oldies from his youth, as he’s also done occasionally in the past.

I’d also love to see him explore the blues-based material that he flirted with on “Give More Love” with the track “Standing Still” and others, or renew his old love affair with country music, as he did with “So Wrong for So Long” on that album.

In fact, a five-track Ringo country EP sounds like a great idea.

I hope this doesn’t come across as a slamming of “Zoom In,” because I have enjoyed listening to it quite a few times. It’s an amiable, respectable effort — just not very exciting.

We know Ringo can do better, but the bottom line is that it’s good to have him still putting out new recordings, even if they’re not breaking any new ground. As long as he’s still at it, there’s always a chance he’ll come up with something that matches his best work from the past.

William P. King

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