Macca in the Desert: What a Trip!

Here is Beatlefan Senior Editor Rick Glover’s complete report from the second night of Desert Trip festival in Indio, CA. …

Onstage with Neil Young at Desert Trip. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Onstage with Neil Young at Desert Trip. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Paul McCartney must have some very big hands, to be able to hold 75,000 people in his palm at once.

After the previous night’s performance by Bob Dylan and a blistering set from The Rolling Stones, Neil Young opened the second night Oct. 8, followed by a somewhat shortened McCartney set.

Macca welcomes the crowd of 75,000. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Macca welcomes the crowd of 75,000. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Paul opened with “A Hard Day’s Night” and had the crowd screaming. The production utilized the 5-story-high video screens, featuring a wash of polka dots and pinwheels, and the crowd immediately reacted to the Beatlemania classic. The back screens, nearly two football fields wide, were even larger.

“Jet” was back in the second slot as a real plane flew high over the crowd and drones were a few feet over the pit and audience. Then more Beatlemania: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” with images of The Beatles floating behind the stage on the screen.

“Letting Go” was next, followed by “Day Tripper,” with geometric patterns all across the huge screens, followed by “Let Me Roll It,” with everyone’s hands in the air spinning in circles in the audience and a hot hot hot tribute to Hendrix coda.

Then “I’ve Got a Feeling,” with the huge backdrops a wall of throbbing pulsating speakers and a jamming ending to wind up the first act.

Performing in Indio, CA, on Oct. 8. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Performing in Indio, CA, on Oct. 8. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Paul next moved to piano for “My Valentine,” with the standard backdrop of the Johnny Depp video, followed by a rollicking “Nineteen Hundred and  Eighty-Five,” with the crowd clapping along. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was next and, as always, was the biggest challenge for his voice for the evening.

Back to center stage for “We Can Work It Out ,” with Paul’s voice still cracking a bit, then “In Spite of All the Danger,” with a sing-along reprise at the end and Paul telling the story of that being the first song The Quarry Men ever recorded.

“I’ve Just Seen a Face” was back in the set, replacing “You Won’t See Me.” “Love Me Do” followed with a nod to George Martin as Paul told the story of how the harmonica and vocals came to be. Then came “And I Love Her,” next with a 5-story Macca Wiggle shown on the side screens and close up.

Paul and Rusty Anderson. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Paul and Rusty Anderson. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

A touching “Blackbird” found the crowd as quiet and attentive as that many people can be, followed by “Here Today,” both delivered from high atop the rising platform.

The magic piano songs opened with “Queenie Eye” then right into “Lady Madonna” (skipping “New” and “Fool on the Hill”).

Back to acoustic guitar for the best ever version of “FourFive Seconds,” followed by “Eleanor Rigby,” with the screens showing classical music instruments and glowing scrolls of sheet music.

Next, Paul was back on bass guitar for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” as the psychedelic visuals and lasers filled the desert sky.

Jamming with Neil Young. (Rick Glover)

Jamming with Neil Young. (Rick Glover)

A special moment came next as Paul called Neil Young to the stage and the pair performed “A Day in the Life” with a “Give Peace a Chance” medley.

Then Paul said, “We’ve got something really special for you tonight and I’m going to ask Neil to play a solo in the middle.” At this point Neil broke into a wildly improvised solo, drawing a confused look from Paul. Paul then said, “I’d like that in the song, please.” He then counted off the rhythm by deadening the strings of his bass and the band kicked into “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” for his first performance of this song live ever.

Then came the closing act of “Something,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” “Band on the Run,” “Back in the USSR” and, on piano, “Let It Be,” followed by the hugest pyrotechnical display ever during “Live and Let Die.” Macca’s production team did an outstanding job adapting to a different sort of venue.

The audience at Desert Trip. (Rick Glover)

The audience at Desert Trip. (Rick Glover)

The set closed with “Hey Jude” and the gigantic sing-along from the crowd.

The band returned waving the California state flag as well as the U.S., U.K. and rainbow flags. Paul said since the Stones had done a Beatles song the previous night (“Come Together”), “We thought we’d do one of theirs tonight. John and I wrote this next song for The Rolling Stones way back in those early days and we’re going to do it for you tonight.” With that they broke into I Wanna Be Your Man” with a similar arrangement to the actual Beatles arrangement instead of the Bo Diddley-like version he performed in 1993.

Even though “Hi Hi Hi” and “Birthday” were listed on the set list, they were not done. After “Helter Skelter,” he went back to piano to perform the finale of the “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” medley with another huge fireworks display as the show ended.

Lots of fireworks and giant video screens were a feature of the outdoor show. (Rick Glover)

Lots of fireworks and giant video screens were a feature of the outdoor show. (Rick Glover)

Many songs had fresh visuals on the screens, with “Maybe I’m Amazed” having more of Linda’s photos. “Queenie Eye” was different as well, and “Lady Madonna” featured an exotic dancer on the screen instead of the usual significant women in history. “A Day in the Life” brought back similar graphics from when this was in the regular set, with the swirling melting gardens that morphed into huge peace signs.

Three unique Desert Trip T-shirts were available, but no other programs or merchandise.

Paul was in very fine voice for most of the evening and very energetic throughout the show. He seemed to recognize he was bookended by The Rolling Stones and The Who and Roger Waters following the next night, and that apparently caused McCartney to take his game up to an A-plus plus level.

The festival was very well-organized for a massive event such as this. No problems at all getting into and around the venue; parking was the usual boondoggle leaving, but overall a wonderful show for sure.

— Rick Glover

(Click on any of the photos to see larger versions.)

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Summer’s Day Song: Insights From Recent McCartney Interviews

Paul McCartney gave three major print media interviews this summer that were generally more interesting than his usual press outings. Here are the more interesting insights we’ve gleaned from the Q&A sessions published in the Washington Post, Rolling Stone magazine and the New York Times. (Click on the live links to read the interviews in their entirety.) …

MPL photo by MJ Kim accompanying the Washington Post interview.

MPL photo by MJ Kim accompanying the Washington Post interview.

The Washington Post’s Geoff Edgers’ interview with Macca, published in July, was conducted during a tour stop in Denmark.

McCartney was asked why he held off so long performing the Beatles songs “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Love Me Do” in concert as a solo artist. “Normally, I used to resist something that wasn’t sort of my song,” he said. “I would do ‘Drive My Car,’ but then I would avoid ‘Help’ or something like that because I felt it was more John than me. But I happened to relax that theory, and I’m just very happy to just do stuff that I think is a good song. I heard ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ on the radio and thought, ‘Wow, great song,’ and I realized John and I were both so excited about the song we both sang the lead vocal. Something that doesn’t happen these days. And that chord is one of the most iconic chords in music.”

Talking about what he’s been working on the studio lately, he revealed a hitch in one of his projects: “I’m working on a film project that I’m writing some songs for. An animated film thing. The film thing, I don’t like it. Because you’re totally gung-ho and you’re doing it and somebody rings you up and says, ‘Well, it’s on hold.’ One of the characters in our film, I’d rung up Lady Gaga and asked her to sing this song. It came out really good, but we can’t do anything with it until the film gets made. You feel like sometimes you’re walking in treacle. We made a start on it and once we get the go-ahead I will finish up the other songs and record them, and there’s one more I’d like Gaga to do.”

He was asked about the genesis of his “Pure McCartney” collection and said, “What I like is that it feels like a mix tape. That was the original thought. It was like a playlist. The ideal thing is if you’ve got a three-hour car journey and you’ve got the perfect thing to listen to, he said modestly.”

For those fans who’ve questioned the song selection, and why it didn’t include any tracks from “Flowers in the Dirt,” this excerpt from the interview is particularly instructive:

How involved did you get in the song selection?

To tell you the truth, this was an idea that was put to me by one of my girls in my New York office, who I respect and is sort of a great music fan and connoisseur. She said, I’ve been listening and putting together playlists and I think it would be great to do this. So she came up with the first playlist. Then I got involved.

What’s her name?

Her name is Nancy Jeffries.

I want to lodge just one complaint with Nancy Jeffries. “Flowers in the Dirt.” I could go on and on about what’s wonderful about that album. And there’s not a song from it.

You know why, because it’s about to be reissued. It’s our next big box set. We’re working on that at the moment. So she would avoid that.

Will it be released in its entirety? There are all those songs you wrote and recorded with Elvis Costello, many of them not officially released.

That’s one of the real exciting things. Those demos. We’re releasing them as part of this package. I’m not sure I’m supposed to be telling you this. … It’s great that you’re a fan of “Flowers in the Dirt.” Cause you’ve got a real nice release coming out. We showed it all to Elvis, and he was just tickled pink.

The Rolling Stone cover story.

The Rolling Stone cover story.

The Rolling Stone interview, which was the cover story of the Aug. 25 issue of the magazine, was conducted in London and Philadelphia by David Fricke, who also wrote an essay for the booklet included with the new release, “The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl.”

Asked why performing is still so important to him, Macca said: “This idea of the great little band — it’s quite attractive. A basic unit is at the heart of the music we all love. It’s in the halls of Nashville, the clubs of Liverpool and Hamburg. One of the pleasures for me, when we take our bow at the end of the evening, is there’s five of us.”

Talking about his role in The Beatles, he said: “I was very much the guy who pushed it. It’s a damn good job I did. No one would have got off their asses to come out from the suburbs into the city to make Let It Be. The film turned out pretty weird, but it’s a good record.”

As for his current band, he made it clear that his his group, but “to balance that I throw it open when we’re rehearsing. Sometimes there’s things I don’t want to do. But the guys would say, ‘Gotta do it. This will work.’”

What have they suggested that worked?

“‘Golden Slumbers’ through ‘The End’ [from Abbey Road]. It was a bit of work. I was being lazy. Rusty [Anderson] suggested ‘Day Tripper.’ I didn’t want to do it because the bass part’s very hard. ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’ is the same. Those are the two in the show I didn’t want to do. But the guys said it would be great. At the same time, I’m a dictator. And nobody has a problem with that — I don’t think [laughs]. We’ve been together now longer than the Beatles or Wings. Something’s happening right. And I think we get better, because we get simpler.”

An MPL stage shot by MJ Kim from the Rolling Stone interview.

An MPL stage shot by MJ Kim from the Rolling Stone interview.

Returning to the subject of “Let It Be,” Fricke asked him  if there any chance it will ever be rereleased.

Said Paul: “I keep thinking we’ve done it. We’ve talked about it for so long.”

What’s the holdup?

“I’ve no bloody idea. I keep bringing it up, and everyone goes, ‘Yeah, we should do that.’ The objection should be me. I don’t come off well.”

The Beatles and Apple Corps, he pointed out, “is a democracy. I’m one of the votes.” And, he said, it has to be unanimous agreement between him, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison. “That’s the secret of the Beatles — can’t do three to one. During the breakup was when it got screwed up — we did three against one. But now it has to be unanimous. The two girls are Beatles.”

And, his relationship with Yoko?

“It’s really good, actually. We were kind of threatened [in the Beatles days]. She was sitting on the amps while we were recording. Most bands couldn’t handle that. We handled it, but not amazingly well, because we were so tight. We weren’t sexist, but girls didn’t come to the studio — they tended to leave us to it. When John got with Yoko, she wasn’t in the control room or to the side. It was in the middle of the four of us. … My big awakening was, if John loves this woman, that’s gotta be right. I realized any resistance was something I had to overcome. It was a little hard at first. Gradually, we did. Now it’s like we’re mates. I like Yoko. [Laughs] She’s so Yoko.”

A New York Times shot of McCartney in concert.

A New York Times shot of McCartney in concert.

In The New York Times interview, conducted via telephone by Caryn Ganz and published in August, McCartney addressed the unchanging parts of his touring show, including telling the same stories over and over, night after night.

“If you think of it like a Broadway show, they don’t alter their lines or their jokes every night,” he said. “Once you have some idea of what goes down well with an audience, you kind of stick to it. So if I’m telling a story about Jimi Hendrix that I’ve said before, then I’ll use little phrases, like ‘As I say’ or ‘I often tell the story’ to not sound like, oh my God, he’s on auto-repeat.”

Ganz mentioned a fan down front at his recent MetLife Stadium show in New Jersey who had a sign saying he’d seen Paul in concert over 100 times, and asked, “How do you please both him and a 20-year-old seeing you for the first time?”

Answered McCartney: “You know, I’m kind of aware that there are a few people that have seen the show before. I must say the biggest question I ask myself is, how can they afford it? You’re like, in the front row, and he’s been 107 times! What I really do for both of them is try to do a show that I would like to go and see. So I first of all sit down and think, if I was going to see him, I’d want him to do this, and he couldn’t leave out that, and I really hope he’ll do this. So those songs are the starting point. And then we start to kick things around in rehearsal, and my band will sometimes suggest an idea, or I’ll hear something on the radio and think, we should do that.”

Could he envision himself playing a show of almost exclusively new songs, like Bob Dylan has done?

“I’ve thought about that a lot. Theoretically, the philosophy is good, because, well, you’re not playing songs you’ve played a lot. But my concern is for the audience. I remember when I went to concerts, particularly when I was a kid, it was a lot of money you had to save up. So I imagine myself going to my show: Would I like to hear him play all new songs? No. I wouldn’t want to do that. I would do a smaller gig and advertise the fact up front — I’d probably call the tour ‘Deep Cuts’ or something, so you knew it was going to be just really deep cuts that only the aficionados would know. I think if I did that, it could be quite fun.”

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The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’: Inside the Cover Collage

rev cover

Beatlefan #221 includes a special section devoted to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ “Revolver” album, including a look at how the cover, designed by the Fabs’ old pal Klaus Voormann, came to be. Originally presented here was a companion piece by that article’s authors, Piet Schreuders and Ken Orth, looking at where the various parts of the cover collage originated. It has, however, been removed at the request of Piet Schreuders, who did not want the article to appear online. We hope those who got to read it while it was available enjoyed it. 

 

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Making the Case Why McCartney Should Continue Touring

There’s been an ongoing discussion among Paul McCartney fans in recent months about the wisdom of Macca continuing his “never-ending” tour, and how his voice is holding up. (You can watch a recent show here.) What follows is a reasoned look at both sides of the issue from a recent exchange Beatlefan Publisher Bill King had with some other McCartney fans …

Macca performs in Minneapolis on the current tour. (Photo: Rick Glover)

Macca performs in Minneapolis on the current tour. (Photo: Rick Glover)

I had seen the complaints about the declining state of Paul McCartney’s voice on social media from those who questioned whether he should still be performing in concert, but I’d written those comments off largely to folks who probably aren’t really hard-core fans.
After all, I’d never heard such sentiments from those leaving one of Macca’s marathon concerts. To the contrary, the blissful smiles on the faces of departing concertgoers seemed to indicate an audience well-satisfied.

"Yesterday" in Seattle during the One on One tour. (Photo: Gillian Gaar)

“Yesterday” in Seattle during the One on One tour. (Photo: Gillian Gaar)

Then, I received a note from a longtime Macca fan that raised the issue.

Now, understand, this is someone who has traveled to see Paul in concert many times, continues to follow his every move, and who has a very extensive collection of just about every recording McCartney has ever released. This is someone who truly loves Paul McCartney.

Here’s what the fan said:

Looking at this current Macca tour and the sad shape of his voice, do you think it’s time for him to think about hanging up his touring shoes? 10 days off since Minneapolis didn’t help 1 bit and the crowd last night in Argentina was strangely quiet. He even commented about that onstage. I love and respect the fact that he loves doing this at his age, but noticing the band are taking more and more vocals dealing with higher notes, I sincerely think  “it’s time” to think about this. …

I replied:

On Macca, I’m sort of divided. I agree with you about his voice, but, even so, I see how much pleasure he STILL manages to give so many people, so I can’t bring myself to say he should hang it up on touring.

And the fan responded:

Macca on his second night in Minneapolis. (Photo: Rick Glover)

Macca on his second night in Minneapolis. (Photo: Rick Glover)

I can understand what you are saying about Macca and being on the fence with either direction, but at the amount of $$ he charges for his well-orchestrated A/V shows and the chance to see 1 of the 2 surviving members [of The Beatles], it is kinda disappointing to hear him croaking on songs in a range he shouldn’t try to be singing in; even “Live and Let Die” is now out of his vocal range. We used to say that he had to get several shows under his belt to loosen/toughen his vocal chords up, but that is no longer the case. It’s sad, but we all get older and I know there are things I did in my past that I’d no longer attempt to try. …

Looking for a different perspective, I asked for some input from my son Bill, who saw his first McCartney concert in 1993 at age 8 and who continues to go to Paul’s shows (even without me). Young Bill’s thoughts, which closely match my own:

I wish his set list was more interesting for this tour. I still think the opening 10 songs are poorly paced and several “deep cuts” could have been traded out by now for other deep cuts. (I love the deep cuts and want more of them. I just think he has trotted out the same ones for several years now and they don’t really resonate much.)

I think his voice is certainly diminished, but science dictates that we only have a few years left of him being able to do big shows and tour before he has to hang it up or significantly alter the performances. So, I’m fine with him continuing on and doing it until he can’t anymore. I do think he should be more careful about the televised appearances and keeping within his range on those. Those have been a little rough, but mostly forgiven because of who he is.

I replied:

I agree with you on both counts. I’d like him to mix up the set list more. And, as long as he’s still able to perform (and nearly 3-hour shows are amazing at his age, though they probably don’t help his voice), I think he should keep doing them. But the one-off appearances on TV (Olympics, Grammys, etc.) almost never are satisfying. He ought to avoid those.

So, then I turned to the original Fan on the Run, Rick Glover, who has seen well over 100 McCartney shows. Here’s what Ricky (as Macca recently dubbed him) had to say on the issue:

You don't hear fans leaving Paul's concerts complaining. (Photo: Gillian Gaar)

You don’t hear fans leaving Paul’s concerts complaining. (Photo: Gillian Gaar)

I would certainly weigh in heavily on the side that Paul should continue doing these live shows as long as he feels like he can.

While I will acknowledge the more frequent missed notes and squeaky moments, as recently as the Minneapolis shows his vocals were much more “on” than “off.” Whether it may be more coverage from the band (I have noticed Abe singing unison more lately) or the energy of the experience live, it still works in a grand way — people leaving the show have the overwhelming positive impression. And it always surprises me, finding folks that have never seen him live before, how impressed with his vocals, and the spectacle of the show, they seem to be. I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say they did not feel they got their money’s worth. Especially for those that never got a chance to see him in his prime, for whatever reason. And even the “regular” Fans on the Run.

The freshening of the show [on the current tour] brought a few welcome additions in the set, and certainly the production aspects (now even more awe-inspiring than before), and I, too, would love a more varied, and deeper selection. But, the show is somewhat like a finely tuned Broadway production, and a lot more than just his actual vocal delivery (and there are a lot of acts out there that are nothing BUT production).

one to one tour logoIf the only reference for his vocal ability is from Periscope and YouTube audio quality, I don’t really think that is a fair representation. There are still MANY thrilling and exciting vocal delivery moments every night, as with the scat-shouts-screams in “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” for example.

Reality says the “science” that young Bill mentions does indeed mean there’s a cap on how many more opportunities we will have to enjoy that experience, for sure. And Paul could certainly rethink the set list based on his range and abilities — but that would probably mean stepping away from a few “musts” in the show. And changing the key might seem like cheating, too.

But, I think the one deciding factor will be the show where Macca himself is dissatisfied with his own performance, and that’s when he will stop. He is clearly still happy onstage. And I think that’s his perspective. And I trust it.

I believe my son and Rick both came up with some interesting (and pretty convincing) arguments in favor Paul continuing to tour. What do you think?

Bill King

You can find Rick Glover’s report on the One on One tour in Beatlefan #220. If you’d like to order a copy, email goodypress@gmail.com.

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Beatles Insider Tony Barrow: A Tribute to One of the ‘Good Guys’

Early Beatles publicist Tony Barrow, the man credited with coining the phrase “the Fab Four,” died recently at age 80. Here’s a fond remembrance of Barrow by Beatles historian Bruce Spizer …

Tony Barrow with Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

Tony Barrow with Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

Tony Barrow was one of the members of The Beatles’ inner circle that I have had the pleasure of meeting during my years as a Beatles author/historian. I first met Tony at the New Jersey Beatlefest around 2000. I was working on my Capitol Records books and was hoping I could interview him, but our schedules did not mesh. He did, however, graciously sign the back of the mono cover to my black & gold label “Please Please Me” LP next to his liner notes credit, along with the covers to all of the Beatles EPs that he had written the liner notes to.

The Monday morning after the event, he and I had breakfast together. We talked about all sorts of Beatles topics, during which time he told some fascinating stories. After about 30 minutes, I excused myself to go to the men’s room. Once there, I pulled down a paper towel and wrote some key words so that I would remembers the gems he had given me. They included: “blood in milk,” “trunk photo impromptu” and “burns transparencies.” I then stuffed the paper in my pocket and returned to the table. Shortly thereafter, I went to my room to bring my suitcase down and head for the airport.

Tony Barrow (with mic) supervising a Beatles press conference.

Tony Barrow (with mic) supervising a Beatles press conference.

On the plane ride home, I fleshed out the stories from my memory-jogging notes and wrote them down on a legal pad. I later incorporated the stories into my books.

The phrase “blood in milk” was for Tony’s recollections of The Beatles’ legendary Feb. 11, 1963, session during which the band record 10 songs for their first album. Tony was there for the end of the session, telling me about John Lennon’s valiant effort to sing “Twist and Shout” even though he had a severe sore throat. After the song was completed, John went to the Abbey Road canteen and washed down a glass of milk. When he put the glass on the counter, Tony saw blood mixed in with the remaining milk. John had literally shredded his vocal chords to give what remains one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll vocals of all time.

The "trunk" cover of The Beatles' "Yesterday and Today" album.

The “trunk” cover of The Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today” album.

The phrase “trunk photo impromptu” referenced the photo session during which picture used on the “Yesterday and Today” cover was taken. Tony explained that the trunk photos were not taken to replace the “Butcher” cover, but rather were taken for no particular purpose other than having fresh color pictures of the boys.

Although he could not remember the date they were taken, he confirmed that they were taken in Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s office. This gave me a better understanding of the Butcher and trunk covers, causing me to rethink the stories that had been told for years and dig deeper until I discovered what really happened. (See the True Story of the Butcher Cover in Beatlefan #220.)

The phrase “burns transparencies” referred to Brian burning his color transparencies of the Butcher photo session after Capitol informed him that the album was being recalled due to negative reaction over the Butcher cover. Tony told how exhausted the Butcher cover controversy had left Brian, who was relieved that the cover was recalled, but concerned over how the group would react to his failure to have the album released into stores with the cover of their choice.

Tony Barrow wrote liner notes for early Beatles albums.

Tony Barrow wrote liner notes for early Beatles albums.

Over the years, I always looked forward to seeing Tony at Beatles conventions. I was disappointed when he had to cancel a planned appearance due to a temporary shutdown of London’s Heathrow Airport. I realized then, due to his age, that I might never see him again.

When I was working on my “Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records” book with Frank Daniels, I emailed Tony a few times for confirmation or expansion of stories. Even though his health was beginning to decline, he always responded with what he could remember.

I emailed him a few chapters of the book and asked if he would write a blurb for the back cover in the style of his Beatles liner notes. In March 2011, Tony parodied one of his more famous notes by writing, “May I suggest you preserve this book for ten years, exhume it from your collection somewhere in the middle of 2021 and write me a very nasty letter if Beatles fans of the future aren’t talking with respect about this book.”

Barrow was one of the good guys in The Beatles' inner circle.

Barrow was one of the good guys in The Beatles’ inner circle.

I called to thank him for the perfect blurb and to let him know how honored I was by his gracious endorsement. I also felt a tinge of sadness amid my excitement, realizing that he probably would not be around in 2021.

I am grateful he made it halfway there. He was truly one of the good guys, a class act who was a part of The Beatles’ success. He kept fans informed through his credited and uncredited stories in The Beatles Monthly Book and left us with a wonderful book of his own, “John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story.”

He will be remembered way beyond 2021.

Bruce Spizer

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The Real Pure McCartney: 100 Essential Tracks

A lot of Macca fans have expressed dissatisfaction with the song selection for the forthcoming “Pure McCartney” career retrospective, noting that the 67-song lineup has serious omissions and doesn’t accurately reflect Paul McCartney’s entire solo career. Beatlefan Contributing Editor Tom Frangione offers an alternative listing of essential Macca tracks. …

pure mccartney

 

OK, I promised I wouldn’t do this, but the panel discussion at last week’s Fest for Beatles Fans changed my mind. Consensus was that a comprehensive retrospective covering his ENTIRE post-Beatles career was in order. And, let’s face it, 67 tracks isn’t going to get it done, considering how prolific Paul has been over the past 46 years. So, the forthcoming “Pure McCartney” set seemed doomed out of the gate.

There’s nothing new for the devoted fans, it’s missing numerous big hits, and it is horrifically short (barely room for one track per year!), so I took a stab at a nice round number — 100 songs. Even that proved to be a challenge, as my first pass of things I’d consider for inclusion numbered over 130 out of the nearly 500 or so titles he’s put out during this time (this is to say nothing of the special projects, classical works, live versions and alternate mixes).

But, I whittled it down to 100. I steered clear of the live albums (except where there was a hit, like “Maybe I’m Amazed”), but included some live B-sides, singles, etc. And I did pinch one each from the covers albums (“Run Devil Run,” “Kisses on the Bottom” and the Russian album), as well as tossing in an original from the two that had a few sprinkled among the covers.

macca studio 1For collectors: My list has one unreleased (on record, anyway) title, but also several from soundtracks and things that never made it on to a McCartney album proper, a couple of which never came out in America at all..

And, yes, I know the opening cut was on the “Beatles Anthology,” but it’s a solo McCartney track in every sense of the word (it didn’t even get the “Lennon-McCartney” rubber stamp of the day).

I kept it pretty much chronological, because a good retrospective should be. I did move the Christmas record to the very end, as a de facto “bonus” track rounding out the 100

Occasional DJ edits or single versions made it in there, too, including one where Paul is credited as co-artist, which never made it on to a McCartney album

All the hits are there, and a few guilty pleasure/personal favorites round things out.

Anyway … It’s pretty much a certainty, at least mathematically, that no two McCartney fans would pick the same roster in an exercise like this. Crossover would be heavy, of course, and there are many such lists floating all over the websites as I type this. Heck, one pirate label (Voo Doo Records) already beat the upcoming release to market, with a 6-disc (125 song) version. And so it goes.

macca 1970So, here’s what I came up with. 100 songs. Pure McCartney. Hope you dig it!

DISC ONE: Come and Get It * Junk * Every Night * Maybe I’m Amazed (live) * Another Day * Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey * Heart of the Country * The Back Seat of My Car * Give Ireland Back to the Irish * Mary Had a Little Lamb * Little Woman Love * Hi Hi Hi * C Moon * Big Barn Bed * My Love * Get on the Right Thing * One More Kiss * The Mess (live) * Live And Let Die * Helen Wheels

DISC TWO: Band on the Run * Jet * Junior’s Farm * Sally G * Venus and Mars * Rock Show * Magneto and Titanium Man * Letting Go * Listen to What the Man Said * Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People * Silly Love Songs * Let ‘Em In * Girls’ School * Mull of Kintyre * London Town * I’ve Had Enough * With a Little Luck (DJ edit) * Goodnight Tonight * Daytime Nighttime Suffering

DISC THREE: Rockestra Theme * Getting Closer * Arrow Through Me * Baby’s Request * Coming Up (Live at Glasgow) * Waterfalls * Tug of War * Take It Away * Wanderlust * Here Today * Ebony and Ivory * The Girl Is Mine (DJ edit) * Pipes of Peace * Say Say Say * So Bad * No More Lonely Nights * We All Stand Together * Spies Like Us * Twice in a Lifetime * Press * Only Love Remains

macca 80sDISC FOUR: Back on My Feet * Once Upon a Long Ago * My Brave Face * Put It There * This One * That Day Is Done * Twenty Flight Rock * All My Trials (live) * In Liverpool * Off the Ground * Hope of Deliverance * The World Tonight * Young Boy * Calico Skies * Little Willow * Beautiful Night * I Got Stung * What It Is * Vanilla Sky * From a Lover to a Friend * Freedom * Tropic Island Hum

DISC FIVE: Fine Line * Jenny Wren * English Tea * This Never Happened Before * Summer of ’59 * Dance Tonight * Ever Present Past * Vintage Clothes * That Was Me * The End of the End * Dance ‘Til We’re High * (I Want To) Come Home * Ac-Cent Tchu-Ate the Positive * My Valentine * New * Early Days * Hope for the Future * Wonderful Christmastime

— Tom Frangione

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PLAY IT AGAIN: ‘Red Rose Speedway’

Our latest installment in an exclusive series of articles on solo Beatles albums of the past features Beatlefan Contributing Editor Rip Rense looking back at “Red Rose Speedway,” the second album Paul McCartney did with Wings. The 1973 release had a rather discombobulated genesis — it originally was planned as a double-LP before being cut down — and Rense finds it to be a bit of a mess. Could some of the tracks that were omitted have made it a stronger album? Rense thinks so, and offers a suggested track listing. Check out what he has to say, and, whether you agree or disagree, feel free to add a comment with your own thoughts on the album!

red rose cover

In 1966, Paul McCartney wrote a love song to marijuana, “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and in 1973, the marriage was still going strong. Reliable estimates say he was budgeting at least a full hour each day to keep his mouth joint-free. Well, a bit of hyperbole there, but one must wonder how much of a factor muggles played in the release of the absurdly slapdash “Wings Wild Life” album of ’72 and its ambitious but largely leaden, contrived-to-death follow-up, “Red Rose Speedway.”

Not that I found “RRS” contrived when it was new, back in spring of ’73, perhaps due to the fact that I was also having a bit of an affair with the herb at the time.

“Speedway” (what on earth does this title mean?) might have better been named for one of the many tracks left off of it: “The Mess.”

First off, McCartney had undertaken the doomed task of assembling a kind of Beatles replacement band, complete with ersatz George Harrison in the form of Henry McCullough, joining drummer Denny Seiwell (veteran of two previous Paul albums), Paul’s new quasi-writing partner, Denny Laine, and wife Linda. Perfectly laudable ambition, but, to abuse the metaphor often applied to The Beatles, this was no soufflé. Producer Glyn Johns, a veteran of Beatles sessions who bailed out of “RRS,” put it this way in Howard Sounes’ biography of McCartney, “Fab”:

“They said, you know, ‘We’re not happy with you as a producer. You’re not taking any interest in what we are doing.’ I said, ‘When you do something that’s interesting, I’m there. But if you think because you are playing with Paul McCartney that everything you do is a gem of marvelous music, you’re wrong, it isn’t. It’s shite. And if you want to sit and play shite and get stoned for a few hours that’s your prerogative, but don’t expect me to record everything you’re doing, because frankly it’s a waste of tape and it’s a waste of my energy.”

Second, the album was intended to be a double, a concept that was dropped well along, and with good cause, considering the wildly uneven content.

The ultimate “RRS” problem, aside from the forced nature of group and album, is that, in the end, the wrong songs were chosen for the record. Not that the “Speedway” sessions could have been culled into a great work — but, I think, a decidedly more genuine, lively one, and more representative of the band, as per McCartney’s initial goal.

red rose paulDie-hard Macca fans, of course, will take exception to these assertions, and to many that follow. Beginning with the fact that the lyrics on this work are, for the most part, things that only a pothead could love. Or better to say, tolerate. I give you: “O lazy dynamite / O lazy dynamite / Won’t you come out tonight / When the time is right / Or will you fight that feeling in your heart?

The album begins where “Ram” finished, literally, as “Ram” trails off with the apparently improvised line, “Who’s that comin’ ‘round that corner / who’s that comin’ ‘round that bend?” These same words open “Big Barn Bed,” the first cut on “RRS.” Promising! McCartney is saying that he’s going to build on the exuberance, color, whimsy of that winning, antic 1971 album (which holds up well today).

But the track, while well arranged and played, feels McChanical, lifeless, redundant. And then there is the question, why, exactly, does he want us to keep “sleeping in the big barn bed,” anyway? No room at the inn?

Next up is what was designed to be a McCartney classic, the lilting “My Love,” which I read as his labored attempt to write a “Something,” but with bad grammar. Think about it. The song has the big “whoah, wo-wo, whoah” theme that is a kind of stand-in for the recurrent main theme in “Something.” Both are simple love songs with beautiful George Martin orchestration, and both have the “big guitar solo” moment, in this case done stylishly by McCullough. The recording circumstances for the solo were even a rerun of the fabled “Something” session, in which Harrison played his solo live with the studio orchestra. McCullough did the same.

As for the grammar, I realize that pop music is not known for proper use of adjectives, but to this day I cannot reconcile the line, “My love does it good” with passable writing. It’s another of many cringe-worthy McCartney “first thought, best thought” indulgences. (Not to mention the vexing question, just what does “my love” do “good”?)

Still, this soppy number achieved what McCartney intended: No. 1 (in the USA) and classic status, which is largely a tribute to how badly the world wanted anything that sounded like a new McCartney Beatles ballad three years after the group broke up. (Note: Like “Something,” it comes second in album running order, Side 1.)

The next song, however, exudes all the esprit d’ corps of “Ram” — mainly because it’s left over from “Ram.” “Get on the Right Thing,” a wild-and-wooly rave-up, was not part of the “RRS” sessions, yet is one of two stand-out moments on this project. (The other being, ta-daa, another “Ram” leftover.)

“Right Thing’s” zest and surprise renders throwaway lyrics fun, and then there is its tried-and-true message, “Try a little love, you can’t go wrong!” No argument. Great, banging piano, too.

Next: “One More Kiss,” a perfectly innocuous, singable ditty of the old-fashioned ilk that Lennon derisively referred to as “granny music.” File it a tier below “Honey Pie” and (later) “You Gave Me the Answer” or even “English Tea.” Or two tiers.

“Little Lamb Dragonfly” is the other “Ram” refugee, a lovely little suite of two lovely little songs, and easily the most affecting music to find its way on to “Speedway.”

Just when you think things might devolve into treacle, they don’t quite, and the melodies have remained endearing and tender through the decades. This is a rare case where sentimental McCartney lyrics (“Dragonfly, fly by my window / You and I still have a way to go / Don’t know why you hang around my door / I don’t live here anymore. …”) are redeemed by their sincerity and simplicity. The story of Paul being partly inspired by the death of a lamb for the first part of the song (“I have no answer for you, little lamb …”) imbues poignancy. The man’s well-known immersion in nature gives this piece integrity and meaning, two things one too often wishes to find in his songwriting.

paul sings 73From here, the “Speedway” is all downhill, so to speak. “Single Pigeon” is a trifle that badly needed better, or at least more, writing. “Did she turf you out in the cold morning rain / Me too / I’m a lot like you” is cloying. This is an opener for Side 2 of a major album by a Beatle? McCartney sounds unconvinced by his own singing. The bit of orchestration that mysteriously erupts at the end, almost as an afterthought, does not add the weight apparently intended.

As for “When the Night,” well, it sounds like some kind of stilted attempt at 1950s-flavored soul, perhaps, written in about 30 stoned seconds. Linda is to be praised for nice harmonies, and when you’re down to citing Linda’s contribution as the main attribute of a Paul song, it’s nervous time. (Though he does some decent scream vocals at the end.)

It’s hard to say whether “Loup (First Indian on the Moon)”  is a step up or down from “When the Night.” You simply wonder, why? Why is this on an album? It’s a goofy instrumental, and not without a fun factor (I recall it being effective after a 1973 toke or two), but one was left wondering, then and now, why did a man of McCartney’s enormous talent and wellspring of melodic inspiration decide to put this stupid thing on a major release? Throwaway B-side of a single? OK. Or fodder for a “McCartney”-type homemade LP.

Then we come to the big finish — the medley. First was the fake “Something” on Side 1, and now the fake “Abbey Road” medley to finish Side 2. Ambitious, yes, and it’s assembled perfectly well.

But the material, oh, the material. This stuff makes The Carpenters sound heavy. In fact, the medley would have been a natural for The Carpenters to cover! The music is sort of generic McCartney fare, neither inspired nor uninspired, and not without infectiousness. Of course, McCartney’s music is deeply infected with infectiousness, so that’s a given.

But the lyrics, oh, the lyrics. “Make love to me and make it right.” OK, Paul, easy boy. And in “Power Cut,” when the ultra-cutesy echoes of the word “miracle,” appear, I am embarrassed to be listening (almost embarrassed to be human). How McCartney could not be embarrassed to write and sing this … well, maybe he was. So much for “Hold Me Tight (I lost count the number of times this phrase was uttered)/Lazy Dynamite/Hands of Love/Power Cut.” It’s Muzak.

Other than that, the album’s fine!

Which brings us back to “The Mess,” metaphorically speaking: what the album almost was, and what it could have been. McCartney, much to his credit, wanted “RRS” to be a band album. He (ridiculously) instructed bandmates to “just think of me as the bass player.” This was an interesting move, a nervy gamble that he need not depend on his Beatles legacy for success. But, after assembling all the tracks for a double disc at some point — a band disc, complete with the fluffy “I Lie Around” sung by Denny Laine — he seems to have decided to … depend on his Beatles legacy for success. Well, who could blame him? The pressure was on to recapture critical approval after “Wild Life.”

red rose bookletAn acetate mock-up of the proposed double-LP reveals what McCartney junked in favor of (quickly) writing an entirely new Side 2 of the single-disc “RRS”:  “Tragedy” (the 1959 hit by Thomas Wayne), the homespun “Mama’s Little Girl,” Laine’s “I Would Only Smile,” “I Lie Around,” “Country Dreamer,” “Night Out,” “Jazz Street,” “1882,” “The Mess.” And, seeing as the “RRS” artwork contains a reference to Linda’s Caribbean romp,“Seaside Woman,” it must be assumed that this was included in the mix at some point, as well.

Hard to say how this might have been received. Fans craved anything Beatle, so a two-disc work that willfully pushed Paul McCartney and Wings — emphasis on Wings — might not have gone over so well, especially considering what a mixed-bag pastiche this would have been.

Still, when you consider how utterly flat Side 2 of the finished “RRS” was, the double set becomes attractive, at least by contrast. “Country Dreamer” (eventually the B-side of “Helen Wheels”) is an engaging, unpretentious thing, with some “Ram”-esque bounce to it. “Tragedy” is a winning production and performance of a strong heartbreak ballad. “The Mess” is a thumping good rocker.

“1882” is an intriguing, rather grim narrative about a poor fellow reduced to stealing to feed his dying mother, only to be sentenced to death. Not exactly “Big Barn Bed!” A studio version was done, but the choice here was a live Wings performance (with great singing).

“Night Out,” largely an instrumental (also recorded live), has more energy than the entire released “RRS” album (minus “Get on the Right Thing.”)

Even “Mama’s Little Girl,” while not much more than a slight singalong, is pleasant and unforced. “I Would Only Smile” is light, innocuous, and “I Lie Around” sheer stoner comedy. “Jazz Street” (perhaps one of the stoned jams that drove Glyn Johns nuts) is execrable, endless, and deserved the cutting room floor it got.

Still, the end result, combined with tracks from Side 1 of the finished “RRS,” is a double-album that at least is surprising, unpretentious (!), and diverse in style, texture, color. It solves the “contrived-to-death” problem of the finished “RRS.”

wings 73The probable truth of the matter is that there was a much better single album to be made from the “RRS” sessions. I’m a fan of “what if,” and I wonder: What if McCartney had been less confused about his direction at the time? What if he had asked for more help from George Martin? What if Martin had been allowed to do what he wanted to do with The Beatles’ White Album: pare it down to one very strong single disc? What if some very strong singles and other songs recorded during the creation of “RRS” had been included on the album? (Rolling Stone complained about the absence of the boffo single “Hi Hi Hi.”)

Well, here is my what-if:

Side 1: “Hi Hi Hi,” “My Love,” “Get on the Right Thing,” “Country Dreamer,” “Best Friend” (a fine uptempo call/response shuffle, live version), “Little Lamb Dragonfly,” “Soily” (one of McCartney’s most underrated and creative rockers, cut during the “RRS” sessions)

Side 2: “Live and Let Die,” “Mama’s Little Girl,” “Big Barn Bed,” “Seaside Woman,” “1882,” “Tragedy,” “The Mess.”

At seven songs a side, if that’s too much, drop one from each side, or turn it into, yes, a double album by keeping all 14 tracks, and adding “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” (a fine protest song), “Night Out” and “I Would Only Smile.”

Either way, single or double, I think the results are far superior to the released version of “RRS,” which has not held up as well as any other McCartney/Wings venture, excluding “Wild Life.” (Though “London Town” is competitively forgettable.) And it would have the band integrity that McCartney originally wanted — more Wings instead of Paul McCartney and Wings.

Of course, McCartney’s version of “Red Rose Speedway” (of which even he has said less than complimentary things in retrospect), wound up at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, never mind no one could make sense of the title. Which, again, really illustrates two things: first, how badly people wanted anything resembling a Beatles album in 1973, and second, how a little pot can really help one to relax critical standards. Or a lot of pot.

Rip Rense

 

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