Wandering Early and Late … With James Taylor

Beatlefan Contributing Editor Tom Frangione got to take part in a Sirius XM session with James Taylor on June 19 and talked with the star about what it was like to be on The Beatles’ Apple Records label early in his career. …

James Taylor and Tom Frangione

James Taylor and Tom Frangione

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and former Apple Records recording artist James Taylor has hit the road with a vengeance to promote his superb new album “Before This World.” Capping off a week which saw his widely hailed appearance on the Jimmy Fallon “Tonight” show and a satellite concert broadcast from New York’s famed Apollo Theater, JT was on hand to do a Town Hall session for Sirius XM radio and a rare in-store signing appearance.

The Town Hall was part of Taylor’s monthlong celebration on Sirius XM, where he had a dedicated channel playing loads of familiar favorites, deep album tracks, demos and of course, the new album. Specialty programming included “Top 10” shows hosted by artists such as Sheryl Crow, and a simulcast of the Apollo concert. The Town Hall (similar to ones done by Billy Joel and others) was hosted by Bob Costas, a great choice given one of the new album tracks is “Angels Of Fenway,” chronicling the live struggles of Red Sox nation.

Lanyard for JT's Sirius XM apperaance.

Lanyard for JT’s Sirius XM apperaance.

The ever savvy Taylor was keenly aware of his surroundings, the hometown of the “evil empire” that is the New York Yankees. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was a Mets fan; citizens of Red Sox nation still get a twitch when they hear that, harking back to the 1986 World Series.

Our baseball “bond” was strengthened by his regaling of the 2004 ALCS where the Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take the series from the Yanks — in the Bronx, yet — a game I was lucky enough to attend (the sight of Yankee fans throwing garbage at their own as they came off the field is forever emblazoned in my memory, but I digress …)

About 30 fans were invited guests for the session, about 10 of whom, myself included, got to ask JT a question as part of the broadcast. Of course, I framed it within the context of the new album, whose opening cut “Today, Today, Today” is about establishing ones’ self, and planting a flag, and as JT recalled in the liner notes, took him back to his own 1968 journey to London. I asked him to share what it was like to record under The Beatles’ auspices, and come out of it knowing he “birthed” one of his mentors’ all-time greatest love songs, as his “Something in the Way She Moves” clearly made a mark on one George Harrison.

In the Sirius XM studio.

In the Sirius XM studio.

Taylor recalled his audition for Paul McCartney and Harrison at Apple being arranged by Peter Asher. Recording at Trident, concurrent with the Beatles own White Album sessions in the summer of 1968, was clear in his memory, as he cited certain sessions he attended (but didn’t play on), including those for both “Hey Jude” and “Revolution”.

As for “Something in the Way She Moves,” JT graced us with a little guitar demonstration to show how he copped The Beatles’ own “I Feel Fine” for the hook in his song’s chorus (“she’s been with me now for a long long time and I feel fine”).

"Number One" by Hoke Simpson.

“Number One” by Hoke Simpson.

Another highlight of the session was Costas asking JT about the first record he ever bought, which turned out to be “Number One” (no, not the Rutles number) by Hoke Simpson in honor of the 1957 North Carolina Tar Heels college basketball championship, which he had long ago lost track of. Sirius XM’s resident programmer extraordinaire Lou Simon, who handled the specialty channel for Taylor, knew of this in advance and managed to track down a copy (mint, yet!) to present and air during the broadcast, visibly a touching gesture for the sentimental Taylor.

Heading downtown after the broadcast, Taylor did a rare in-store signing at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, where there were about 500 eager fans in attendance. There was no Q&A or musical performance, but Taylor did take the time to chat with each fan he met. The store did a brisk business in sales of all five formats of the new release, as purchase of any and all would qualify for a bracelet granting admission to the event. He would sign one of each format (CD, CD/DVD, deluxe book edition, LP or “exclusive” clear vinyl). Ever on top of my JT-ness, I’d brought along a 6th edition, available through the Target chain, which contained three bonus tracks. He was gracious enough to sign that even if it was not a Barnes & Noble purchase.

Beatlefan contributor Nikki Denett (Tom's cousin) meets JT.

Beatlefan contributor Nikki Denett (Tom’s cousin) meets JT.

When I got to the signing table, he flashed a grin of recognition from our chat earlier in the day, and I broke the ice with, “Hey, where do I know you from?” and was sure to let him know how much his music has meant to me (things that would’ve been a bit out of place during the Q&A on the live broadcast), which he seemed very appreciative of.

I will forever treasure the inscription he took the time to write in the book of my deluxe edition: “for Tom, on a great day …. James Taylor (dated) 19 June ’15”.

Taylor and his All Star Band (where have I heard THAT moniker before?) are touring the US throughout the summer in support of the new album. Don’t miss it.

Tom Frangione

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BEATLEFAN LETTERS: Viewpoints and Questions From Our Readers

Below are letters from some readers and the editors’ responses where necessary (in italics). Feel free to add your own comments below. And, if there’s something we’ve published, a topic in the Beatles world you’d like to sound off on, or you’d just like to ask a question, email BEATLEFAN LETTERS at goodypress@mindspring.com.

TO THE EDITORS:

Macca with Rihanna and Kanye West.

Macca with Rihanna and Kanye West.

I want to thank Bill King and Beatlefan for continuing to find ways to represent the millennial generation of Beatles fans (third-generation fans?) in the magazine. (I wonder how many of these fans might have been the youngsters contributing to the [Helter Skelter] department for children that the magazine ran back in the mid-1990s!) The Viewpoint in Issue #213 about Paul McCartney working with Kanye West and Rihanna written by Nikki Denett provides a nuanced assessment of a situation that, unfortunately, has tended to draw kneejerk, uninformed reactions from many older fans. And this isn’t the first time you’ve provided an outlet for the generation that is the children of the original Beatles fans. I remember your own son has written eloquently in your pages before, and you’ve had articles by the college student who is your office assistant [Brigid Choi]. Plus, as you’ve noted in your Publisher’s Notes, some of your regular contributors are second-generation fans who came of age during the Wings era or even afterward. Thank you for never viewing Beatles fandom as one bunch of likeminded folks who all grew up in the 1960s!

SANDRA CHARLESTON, email

(Thanks, Sandra. We love to have fans of all ages in our pages, and we urge anyone who’d like to write for us to contact us at goodypress@mindspring.com.)

Ringo likes to collaborate when writing songs.

Ringo likes to collaborate when writing songs.

I really enjoyed Ken Sharp’s conversation with Ringo in Beatlefan #213, especially the part that dealt with Ringo coming into his own as a songwriter. He said that while he’s written some songs on his own, “mainly it’s always a collaboration.” But he also says that he wrote “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Photograph,” and we know that although he was not credited, George Harrison played a large part in the writing of those songs. Don’t you think that after all these years it would be a great gesture on Ringo’s part to give co-writing credit to George?

TAD BROWN, Chicago

(Although it’s true George gave a very large assist to Ringo in the writing of those songs, we think if he had wanted credit, he would have taken it at the time. So, no, we don’t see a real need for Ringo to revisit the question of the songwriting credits.)

Beatlefan #209

Beatlefan #209

Hey guys and gals at Beatlefan, I’d like to thank you for really making an effort to mix it up over the past year in terms of who you feature on your front cover. As I write this, the past six issues have had a Beatles group shot (from “A Hard Day’s Night”), that lovely, wonderful “Venus and Mars” era picture of Paul, a vintage shot of George, Paul in concert, Ringo in concert, and this latest issue’s outstanding joint photo of Paul and Ringo together. Two or three of those probably rank among my all-time favorite Beatlefan covers, and I’ve been reading your mag since the mid-1980s! Keep up the great work!

DIANA RAMIREZ, email

(Thanks, Diana. It helps when new releases and reissues loosen up the supply of available shots. And we’d like to once again thank Ringo’s personal photographer, Rob Shanahan, and his publicist, Elizabeth Freund, for providing the shot used on the cover of #213 when we asked whether they had something showing Paul and Ringo together. We were very pleased and honored to run it on our front cover.)

A reader was upset that a Beatlefan writer preferred a McCartney album to one by Harrison.

A reader was upset that a Beatlefan writer preferred a McCartney album to one by Harrison.

I have held my tongue for several years concerning Howie Edelson’s obvious hate of George Harrison and devotion to Paul McCartney. As a journalist myself, I have cringed at the way Edelson puts nasty and ill-spirited digs at George into his news features or Q&As — comments that only belong in editorials or op/ed pieces. Now comes Issue 213 where he throws in that “Press to Play” is “a far better album” than “Cloud Nine.” THAT is a ridiculous comment that insults Harrison’s memory and all of George’s fans. (Yes, Howie, we exist!)  This is a disturbing trend in Edelson’s articles and I seriously question a Beatle publication so blatant in publishing such material. Look at the facts (1987-88 charts, articles of the time) and explain how Edelson comes up with his latest gem? I am a longtime subscriber to Beatlefan. But I am ready to cancel because of Howie Edelson’s irresponsible and unprofessional anti-Harrison rants.

TIM SMITH, Livonia, MI

First, a response from Publisher Bill King: Beatlefan is not a newspaper. It’s a journal of news and opinion, and we’ve always run opinions in our articles and even (gasp) in our news roundup, going back to the very beginning more than 36 years ago. I can’t speak to Howie’s preference for “Press to Play” over “Cloud Nine” (personally, I prefer “Cloud Nine”) but he has his own response below. In the meantime, I will say I think you’re cherrypicking his comments in claiming he is devoted to McCartney. You could fairly say Howie is devoted to Wings, but he’s been pretty brutal in some of his views on latterday McCartney. And, frankly, we think you’re overreacting here. Saying he prefers the McCartney album to the Harrison album is hardly an “irresponsible” and “unprofessional” rant that insults George’s memory or fans. It’s a simple statement of a fan preferring one album over another. If he’d compared “Press to Play” to a Lennon album, would you be as upset? Would you consider that an insult to Lennon’s memory and fans? We’d be sorry to lose you as a reader, but as you should know from reading our magazine we’ve always allowed our writers to express themselves freely on Beatle subjects, and we’re not about to stop now. Thanks for reading.

Howie Edelson responds:

Dear Tim,

Please see my loving tribute to 1982’s “Gone Troppo” (Issue. #192, Page 21). You are incorrect regarding what you perceive as my bias. My writing in said article proves as much. As a Harrison lover yourself, you might enjoy it.

All Glories Go To Sri Krishna.

See Yourself.

Love Comes To Everyone.

Howie 

 I really liked Howie Edelson’s interview with Mark Lewisohn! Howie said/asked so many of the things I would have. I finished the abridged version of Vol. 1 of Mark’s book and hands down it is the best, most complete, typo- and error-free, interesting book I’ve ever read about The Beatles! (and I have about 150 Beatles-related books!).

NANCY RILEY, email

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Macca Needs to Open the Vault More for His Reissue Series

Recent Paul McCartney reissues have been big on paper goods, but a bit shy on what fans really want: unreleased material from Macca’s legendary vaults. Reed Pitkunigis offers his thoughts on this issue, and you’re free to share yours, either via the comments below or by emailing BEATLEFAN LETTERS at goodypress@mindspring.com.

"Venus and Mars" deluxe box set.

“Venus and Mars” deluxe box set.

I love CD box sets.

Most of my favorite albums from the late ’60s to early ’70s are getting the full-blown deluxe treatment these days. Wonderful multi-disc sets filled with tasty nuggets of demos and various mixes of the albums.

This brings me to the recent releases from Paul McCartney. I have all of his super deluxe edition releases and was really looking forward to “Venus and Mars” and “Wings at the Speed of Sound.” I was really hoping that His Nibs (oops, sorry, Sir Nibs) would open up the vaults and pleasure us with a vast assortment of demos and unreleased songs.

The door to this vault is open a crack, but we are still not allowed in. Let’s face it, casual fans of these albums could buy the $15 double-disc version and be very happy with them. The super deluxe editions are intended for hard core Macca-philes. While I love the paper goodies included in each set and the booklets, you know that once you glance at the paper stuff once or twice they wind up on a shelf alongside your other box sets and maybe you’ll look at them again years down the road.

The real selling point of these sets should be the audio and video content. Paul seems to think that by putting on B-sides and one or two demos, that we would be satisfied.

News flash … we are NOT.

"Wings at the Speed of Sound" reissue.

“Wings at the Speed of Sound” reissue.

What put me over the edge on this matter was that, during the time of the release of these two new offerings, Paul put up free download demos online of some songs from the albums that do not appear in the new box sets.

Why not put them on the CDs in the box sets? It is obvious that the Macca vaults are full of these wonderful demos, and yet we are only getting to hear a couple of them. When other artists put out box set retrospectives, they include tons of demos to give the fan an idea of the way the album took shape in the early stages. Some sets even contain a complete CD with all of the album’s songs done in demo format.

Why can’t Paul do that?

These box sets should be knocking our socks off with rare content, and they don’t.

Another quibble I have: Why not put 5.1 surroundsound versions of the albums in with the sets? Home theaters are the rage these days and many audiophiles (myself included) have wonderful set-ups to really immerse yourself in surroundsound. You look at box sets out there from other artists and they generally throw in a 5.1 mix of the album on either SACD, DVD-Audio or Blu-ray Pure Audio.

Why has Paul not embraced this trend? If these new sets had a 5.1 mix, many would say it’s no-brainer to buy them.

George Harrison "Apple Years" box.

George Harrison “Apple Years” box.

Dhani Harrison similarly dropped the ball with his father’s “Apple Years” set by not putting in anything mind-blowing, as was touched on by Brad Hundt and Rip Rense in Beatlefan #210; that is one box set I won’t be getting.

(On a sad side note, I left a polite remark on the George Harrison Facebook page about the lack of rare content on the set and they fixed it so that I could not leave any more comments.)

In summary, Paul has a chance with this reissue series to really put out definitive versions of his albums, which not only highlight the finished album, but also give us an insight into the making of the album. He has only partially succeeded.

Let’s hope that future releases address some of these issues. “Back to the Egg” should include all of the videos from the album PLUS the “Rockestra” set and perhaps a CD of a complete Wings show from the time period — not just a few songs from the concert.

Time to step up to the plate Sir Paul and put out a product that will be the measuring stick for all future box sets.

Oh, and did I tell you? I love CD box sets.

Reed Pitkunigis

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The Beatlefan Interview With Cynthia Lennon

Bill King wrote in his Publisher’s Notes for Beatlefan #213 about interviewing and meeting Cynthia Lennon. Here is that interview, originally published in early 1982. …

cyn john sepia

Cynthia Lennon Twist could never escape being known as the first Mrs. John Lennon, even if she wanted to — and she doesn’t. But the 42-year-old blonde has found a new way to make her unavoidable place in history work for her.

So it was that in the wake of a much-publicized art show in September (1981) at Long Island’s Tower Gallery, Cynthia Lennon (the name she uses professionally now) came to Atlanta the first week of December to launch a national tour of her artwork at the Limelight disco.

It’s a situation that finds her with one foot in the future and one in the past. The art shows open up the possibility of a belated career as an artist for her, but the subject of her exhibited works is her life with Lennon and The Beatles. She wants to be known for something she’s done on her own, yet she is using the last name of Lennon instead of the name of her estranged husband, John Twist. She laughed slightly with embarrassment when asked about that.

Speaking in a British accent devoid of any Liverpudlian drawl, she talked willingly about her work and her life with The Beatles. But her relationship with Lennon was put off-limits for the conversation Beatlefan Publisher Bill King had with her.

In addition to the exhibit of 15 cartoons, she brought with her to Atlanta a large, colorful painting of The Beatles (valued at $25,000), which she donated in Lennon’s memory to the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital.

What follows is the Beatlefan interview with Cynthia Lennon, originally published in two parts in Vol. 4, No. 2 (February-March 1982) and Vol. 4, No. 3 (April-May 1982). …

What name are you using?

Well, the name I’m using is Lennon, mainly because I wrote the book “A Twist of Lennon” and it was Cynthia Lennon and, you know it seems to be with me.

Is that both professionally and personally?

Professionally.

How did this art exhibit and tour come about?

Oh, it was pure chance, really. I don’t know if you read about it, because I did a few interviews. No, it was just purely — I was running a restaurant at the time in North Wales and a friend of mine who is from the old days came to the restaurant, also with another friend, and saw my drawings from the book there on the walls.

Was that Peter Brown?

That’s right, Peter Brown, and Stephen Gaines is an author. He’s working on a book with him at the moment. And they came to have a chat, and they came to see the restaurant and see me. And the drawings were on the wall and Stephen Gaines said that he knew somebody on Long Island who had a gallery, it happened to be Gary Lajeski, and he took some photographs and sent them to Gary, and Gary liked them and invited me to come, so that’s how it all began.

Had you ever given any thought yourself to exhibiting your artwork?

No, I hadn’t really, because I’d been so busy. I’d been running a restaurant, you know, and all sorts of things, sorting out, looking after Julian, sorting things out. I’ve had a very heavy sort of two years, the last two years and this, for me, was a wonderful opportunity. It was out of the blue, really.

Is this the same artwork that was in your book?

A painting by Cynthia Lennon donated to Scottish Rite Children's Hospital in Atlanta in 1981.

A painting by Cynthia Lennon donated to Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta in 1981.

Yes, it’s the cartoons. There are 15 cartoons. They didn’t put them all in the book. But I’m also doing a painting, a large painting.

The one you’re donating to the hospital?

Yes.

What is that painting about?

Well, it’s in the same vein. Of course, it’s very large and it’s on canvas. So it’s not a small drawing, a small cartoon, it’s a large painting.

What does it depict?

It’s the era, again the ’60s, the “Magical Mystery Tour” time.

The drawings you’re exhibiting, was this something you did particularly for the book?

Actually, I did them when I was writing the book. I thought it would be nice to illustrate, you know, because I hadn’t done any illustrations for years. But, I mean, all the memories were there, and in writing the book the memories came back. Being trained as an illustrator, I thought it would be nice to sort of slot in the illustrations.

Did you continue with your art at all after you left art school and got married?

When I was married to John? No, no, I was busy looking after Julian and, you know, it was an incredible time, so really I had very little time to carry on with art.

Didn’t you make a reference to your work in India, where you spent some time …

Oh, yes, yes. I did a lot of drawings and paintings there. Yes, because I had the peace and quiet to do it and the meditation and everything.

What was that whole experience like, that Indian adventure?

For me, it was a marvelous experience. I loved it. Purely because it gave us — well, it gave me a time to breathe. And it gave us all a time to breathe, you know, to relax, totally out of the glare of everything, you know, publicity and everything. And it was a marvelous time.

Did any of that stay with you, the meditation?

Not in great depth. I wouldn’t say I go into meditation in great depth. But now and again I do meditate because it’s a peaceful way of relaxing, it’s a good way of relaxing.

What’s it been like to re-enter the public eye?

Well, it’s quite amazing, really. But I think I’m a lot older and a lot wiser and, possibly, I think I can cope with it better now. Also, it’s something I’m enjoying because, hopefully, I’ll be successful in what I’m doing. It’ll give me the chance to start all over again, which is what I wanted to do. And it’s just, just the way it’s happened, I’m going with the tide, you can put it that way. But also doing what I want to do, what I wanted to do for years, anyway.

So, you would have liked to have had a career as an artist?

Oh, yes, I would have loved to. But life sort of didn’t deal me the cards.

Sort of makes choices for you, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does.

Is it difficult now, dealing with being a former Beatle wife or John’s ex-wife, in particular?

Well, I cope with who I am and what I am, not with, not a nametag, if you know what I mean. I know who I am and, no, it’s not difficult because I’m the same sort of person. I haven’t changed a great deal. I’ve just gotten a little older and a little wiser.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known 17 years ago?

Oh, gosh, that’s a difficult one. It’s just to take life a little easier and to … the fact is, I realize how precious each day is, and to make the most of it.

You and everyone involved with The Beatles lived sort of at full speed, didn’t you?

Absolutely, yes. Frenetically. So, now it’s nice to pick and choose, really.

Do you still run that restaurant in Wales?

No, that closed down. Well, that’s another experience in life. I’ve done it once. I could probably do it again if I have to.

Weren’t you involved with Mike McCartney’s ex-wife and doing some songwriting?

Yes, that’s right. She was working with us. Angie was always doing songwriting and I write words and she was putting the words to music. You know, she played the piano and I was the word person, but nothing evolved from it. It was just fun, really. It was fun. It was creative.

What is the book you’re working on now, a fairy tale?

Well, the idea is to do a fairy tale of the story of The Beatles. But for children as well as adults, not … it’s very hard to describe, but more fantasy as well as reality, do you know what I mean?

You mean telling the story of The Beatles in the style of a fairy tale?

Yes, yes. In pictures.

Will this be published in the U.S. as well as Britain?

I have to work on it yet [laughs].

Is this something that has come about just since you did the exhibit?

Yes, yes, this is evolving from it.

I understand you went to the New York Beatlefest.

Yes, it was incredible. I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing because I’d never been to one before … I was just amazed by the whole experience.

Were you apprehensive about that?

Well, it happened quickly, like everything else has happend very quickly in the past sort of six months or so for me. And it just happened. And I just happened to be there and it was an experience I’d never had before. And it was fascinating.

What was the fans’ reaction?

They were lovely. They were wonderful. They were really super. And it was lovely to see them. I couldn’t believe that it was still all going on. You know, the Beatlefest, which I’d never been to before, but I couldn’t – I’d never been able to imagine what one would be like. And the devotion and the love from all different ages, it was just incredible.

Has your relationship with the fans changed over the years?

I think I’ve always had a good relationship.  I’ve had plenty of mail – fan mail. I don’t like to say fan mail. But I have lots of contacts and things from the old days. And it’s never really stopped.

Did it change at all when you first came out in the open as John’s wife? Any negative?

Very little. Very little. I seemed to have a lot of support at that time.

How about the divorce?

A lot of support then. I just can’t say I’ve ever had anything really negative at all.

You were in a position of observing the formative stages of The Beatles. Was John in the group before you met him?

John and Cynthia in the early days.

John and Cynthia in the early days.

Well, we were at college together. We were students and I was there when they formed the group.

So you knew him before they formed it?

Oh, yes, yes.

Did you have any feeling at that time they had any real future in entertainment?

Well, it was very difficult because  we were studying a lot and they were doing it on the side, but I think once they started, once they went to Germany, and came back from Germany – they went to Hamburg – and John threw up his art studies and everything, then it all started happing in Liverpool. Then I did believe. You know, in the beginning, they were four young lads sort of trying their best and doing what they wanted to do most of all, which was play music.

What was the relationship between John and Paul like in those days?

Oh, very good. They were friends.

In some of the biographies, they try to picture it as sort of an adversary relationship even then.

As far as I can tell you, we were all friends, we were a group, we were friends and they were playing music together, and happily as far as I know. (As with) any other sort of relationship, they had their ups and downs. They were only kids.

Were they as close as brothers?

They were just close friends. I can’t say brothers, no. I wouldn’t say that, but very good friends with the same thing in common: music.

Did it change over the years with the fame, money and pressure?

No, I think during the pressure they even got closer together, you know.

Were they basically agreeable? Did they get along fairly well?

Yes, very well. In fact, they couldn’t have played such good music, I don’t think, if they didn’t.

Or stuck it out all those years.

No.

You went over to Hamburg some while they were playing there, didn’t you?

Yes, yes, yes.

The Hamburg experience is credited as a turning point for them as a band. Did you see that happening? Did they change?

Oh, gosh, yes. They had to work solidly for hours and hours and hours and their music evolved and they changed because they weren’t students or schoolboys anymore. They were in the big grown-up world of entertainment, even though it was in sort of the Reeperbahn of Hamburg. They were earning some brass.

What was your first perception of Brian Epstein when he offered to manage them?

I was thrilled to bits. I liked Brian very much. He was great fun. I loved Brian.

Revisionists, particularly in “Shout!”, make it seem Brian didn’t really know what he was doing.

Yes, well, I haven’t read that book yet. I’m sort of a quarter of the way through it. So I can’t really comment on what’s been said.

What is your impression of Epstein as a manager?

I think he had flair and was creative and perhaps not in the total business sense of the businessman, but he loved them and he did his best for them. And I think he did very well, don’t you? Listen, nobody’s perfect, are they? It’s afterwards that everyone wants to sort of … I don’t know, go into such fine detail about something, that it’s very hard to do. Cause if you’re there at the time, it’s a totally different situation.

Were he and the group members very close?

Oh, yes. They were a unit, you know, and a good unit.

You were the only wife to go on any American tours, weren’t you?

Yes, I came on the first one.

What was that like?

Oh, it was fantastic. I didn’t see much of New York, though … or anything else, quite honestly, but it was a fantastic experience. Unbelievable.

Were they still enjoying it at that point?

Oh, yes. They found it unbelievable as well.

Was it as grueling as it is nowadays?

Oh, yes, definitely. No, it was all grueling. It was very very hard work.

A lot of people like to tie in The Beatles stopping touring and branching out creatively with their introduction to drugs. What role did drugs play creatively?

Together at the height of Beatlemania.

Together at the height of Beatlemania.

Creatively, it’s very difficult to say. I think drugs were an escape at the time. And that’s my view, and they were still – no matter what they did, as far as drugs were concerned, I think they were creative in themselves. So the creativity would still be there. It might be heightened or lessened – but they were still very creative.

How about its effect personally on their lives?

Well, you have to read my book. [laughs]

You wrote that you thought in your case you thought drugs played a major role.

Oh, yes, it did.

I was thinking in broader terms of the group in general.

Again, that’s a difficult question because that was a time of sort of drifting apart, really, evolving more individually, I think, at that time, as opposed to the unit of four, because Brian wasn’t there anymore.

In other words, you think that would have happened anyway?

I’ve no idea, I’ve no idea.

You seem to have continued some relationships from that time. I know I read you’re still close to Maureen …

Yes, well, it’s very strange. It’s only – it’s almost full circle. Because I wasn’t close to them for a long, long time until this time last year, really.

So it wasn’t something that just continued unabated?

No, because I had my – I went separate ways, you know, trying to find different avenues and, of course, they were still involved in music and I was out of the music scene altogether for years.

How did you come back into contact?

Actually, through that meeting in the restaurant with Peter Brown, ‘cause I hadn’t got Maureen’s phone number. I had lost her address. And it was through that meeting that I saw Maureen again.

How about others from The Beatles’ family at large?

Yes, I’ve seen Pattie, who’s now married to Eric Clapton. I’ve seen George. See, but I live in North Wales and it’s a long way from London.

How did you end up in Wales?

I don’t know. I just took off one day in the car and I was looking for a little cottage to paint in – again, I wanted some isolation and privacy. And I found a place and it was for sale. I just ended up at the end of this sort of … through this forestry commission land, and I ended up looking at this place and it happened to be for sale, and that was it.

You mentioned George. After you were divorced from John, did you continue to have a relationship with the other three Beatles?

No, I saw them occasionally, sort of on the nightlife circuit, you know, bumped into them occasionally, but, no, we didn’t carry on a close relationship.

How did The Beatles’ wives and children get along with each other?

Oh, fine. You know, we were really one big happy family, because we were thrown together because of circumstances, but, I mean, luckily enough we all got on very well together.

You had similar backgrounds …

Two of us did – Maureen and I did. We’re from the North and I think Jane and Pattie were from the South. But, apart from that, we just got on very well together.

Doesn’t Julian know one of Ringo’s sons?

Through Julian and I going to stay with Maureen, he got to know Zak. Zak is Maureen’s oldest son, but Zak is still at school and he’s doing his own thing and Julian is doing his own thing as well. You know, Julian’s three years older than Zak.

I understand they’re both musically oriented.

Very, yeah. Very.

Did you ever have the urge to join in with the music and the performing?

No, no. I like writing and I like painting, but entertainment is … I had a dream once that I would have liked to have been a chorus girl, but that was when I was a little girl. [laughs]

When The Beatles were going, there was sort of an impression they had a thing going on which no one else could have fitted into.

That’s true. That’s true, because they evolved together from such an early  age and they went through so much together, that I think it would be impossible. It was impossible, really.

What are your feelings about having a son go into entertainment?

Well, I think entertainment’s wonderful, you know. I love entertainment. I think it makes people happy. And I think if Julian is lucky enough to be gifted musically, and he has the proper training, I believe he has to have the proper training first, not just thrown into it because of who he is and everything. But the thing is, Julian is musical and he is artistic and he’s working on it at the moment, and if he’s successful, then I’ll be very happy.

Is he studying music?

He’s studying music, yes.

So he’s actually going about it a different way from the way his father did.

Yes.

Can you separate yourself f from being his mother and tell me what you think his potential is?

Very good. [laughs] You mean, not be biased? Well, I also listen to what other people say. I sit back and see other people’s reaction to Julian’s music. And I do believe he’s got a great deal of talent and determination, which is very important.

Does he still plan on coming to New York?

Well, not at the moment, no. I think he’d probably like to come have a holiday.

I know that he got a lot of press.

I know. I know. Well, it was a very frantic time.

There were magazine articles that tried to make it look like you and Yoko were having a tug of war over Julian. Is that just sensationalism?

Obviously. I mean, you know, it’s ridiculous. But, I mean, these things are bound to happen.

Did being John Lennon’s son make it tough in any way for him growing up?

No, he’s been pretty well protected, really. I think he’s had a few hard times, but I think where we’ve lived – you know, Julian has been out of the limelight, really. And I’ve tried to give him a sort of quiet, normal sort of upbringing. And it’s only in the past year that he’s been thrown into the big, wide world with the press.

Like in school, did kids ever give him a rough time?

No, not a lot. Obviously, occasionally they did. There’d be different reactions, but I think on the whole he’s had a very good – he’s had it reasonably easy.

Do you still keep in touch with people in Liverpool, like Aunt Mimi?

Oh, yes, I’ve spoken to Mimi. I haven’t seen her because she lives in Bournemouth. She lives down south, but I have spoken to her. I do keep in contact.

Do you go back to Liverpool much?

Well, Liverpool’s only an hour from North Wales, and I’ve got friends in Liverpool as well, so I’m still based in the North.

Has it changed a lot?

Liverpool? Oh, gosh, yes. A great deal.

Bill Harry says he hardly recognizes it now …

It’s a very sad area at the moment, but they’re hoping to – they suddenly realized they sort of wrecked it. They pulled it apart, tried to modernize it, and took the heart out of the city. And now they’re going to have to put it back again. The planners’ dream didn’t work.

Do you ever read books about The Beatles?

I read a few. I usually read other people’s books who happened to have them. [laughs] No, because I know what’s going on without reading.

I was just wondering whether there were any books that you thought got the story right.

I suppose they’re all right in many facets. Everyone has something different to say, has a different outlook. And a bias towards the book they are writing, and I haven’t really read a lot about it, no.

Did Philip Norman interview you for “Shout!”?

No, he didn’t.

He tries to imply that he did.

I know, but he didn’t, and that’s the part that I’ve read, the first bit, the beginning of the book, and I was a little bit annoyed, because a lot of what he’s put in is sort of taken from the book that I wrote. That’s almost his interview with me. No, he didn’t contact me at all. I would have given him an interview, but he didn’t contact me.

Have you been asked to consult on any Beatles films or films about John?

No, there is a play on in Liverpool at the moment called “Lennon,” and they asked me if I could help them with that, but I couldn’t. I mean, I wanted to, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t even go to see it, because it’s too upsetting. I was hoping perhaps someone could video it for me. I just couldn’t watch it, you know, because apparently it’s, uh, very upsetting. I just couldn’t sit there and watch it. Perhaps I could on my own, but I couldn’t do it in an audience.

How did you come to be friends with May Pang?

May Pang and Cynthia Lennon at the Limelight in Atlanta, December 1981.

May Pang and Cynthia Lennon at the Limelight in Atlanta, December 1981.

Well, when May was with John for the 18 months, during that time I brought Julian over to stay with John and May, and I went off on holiday in L.A. But I wanted Julian to see his father and May was with him at the time and they got along beautifully. You know, we got on very well together. You know, when two people love the same person, it’s hard to describe, but it’s just that we get on very well together. And there’s no sort of bitterness or anything, and Julian loved May, and May was very kind with Julian, and so that’s how it evolved, came about.

What is your relationship with Yoko Ono?

I don’t really have a relationship with Yoko. It’s as simple as that.

You never see each other or have any contact?

No, no, there’s never been any reason to. Because any contact between Julian and his father was done between him and his father. And I had nothing to do with it.

What sort of relationship did he have with his father in later years?

It was getting very good.

Did he see a lot of him?

He went about once a year to stay with him.

Is Julian coming to Atlanta for your art show?

No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it would be wise for him to come, really.

How did it come about that you’re donating this painting to the children’s hospital?

Since it’s the Year of the Child, I decided to do it in memory of John.

The last year has been a difficult one for you.

Yes, it’s been difficult and very different.

Is it something you still have great difficulty dealing with?

Yes, I do [voice trembles noticeably], but life has to go on, doesn’t it?

Do you feel you’re at a turning point in your life?

A definite crossroads. Definitely.

What brought you to this point where you want to try something different?

I’ve no idea. It’s circumstances, again. It’s like, how did I find the cottage in Wales? Sometimes I feel I’m being sort of led. And when it’s right, I go with the tide. If it’s wrong, then. … It feels right at the moment.

Do you have any plans other than that book of drawings you’re working on?

I’m taking each day as it comes, and I’m making the most of it and whatever evolves, you know, will be very exciting. What is important to me is to be creative and to do something good. And if I have the opportunity to do that, then I’ll do it. And if this is the opportunity I have, then I’ll make the most of it.

 

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PLAY IT AGAIN: ‘Some Time in New York City’

Our latest installment in an exclusive series of articles on solo Beatles albums of the past features Wally Podrazik’s  re-evaluation of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s controversial 1972 collection “Some Time in New York City,” an album that still draws negative reviews but, nonetheless, is recommended for both musical and historical reasons. …

 some time album cover

The John & Yoko Show Hits the Mainstream

Paul McCartney has been the target of some angry fan jibes online for the collaborative company he’s been keeping lately, most vocally about releases with rapper Kanye West. Those comments might seem like an extraordinary reaction to his artistic choices until you flip back the calendar. In the immediate post-Beatles era of the early 1970s, McCartney was the target of snide comments about multiple musical matters, from Linda McCartney at his side on disc to the perceived fluffy nature of some of his compositions.

Those paled, though, in comparison with the unbridled takedown that accompanied John Lennon’s 1972 release, “Some Time in New York City.” That two-record set (credited to John & Yoko, backed by the Elephant’s Memory band) reflected the issues and ideologies of the company they were keeping at the time. The likes of Jerry Rubin (a central figure in the bloody 1968 Democratic National Convention protests) and David Peel (who recorded the album “The Pope Smokes Dope”). Radical artists. Street activists. War critics.

Such associations did not go down well. “Some Time in New York City” served as a lightning rod for everyone ready to share their annoyance at John and Yoko’s participation in those efforts. Or who just wanted to vent over the couple’s years of public posturing and/or offbeat art projects.

Under the headline “Banal Balladry,” the Milwaukee Sentinel opened its article on the album (back when local papers devoted time and space to their own original reviews) with the observation from the Heartland that “When music talk turns to pretension, sooner or later you arrive at the names of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In most cases, it will be sooner.” The article went on to dismiss the album contents as a “shrill superficial look at trendy leftist politics” with lyrics that ranged “from crude to bland.”

The passage of time hardly moderated the barbs. Marking the 2010 reissue of the remastered John Lennon catalog, the magazine Uncut described that set as “a contender for the worst LP by a major musical figure,” noting its 1970s left-wing clichés were “hamstrung by the utter absence of conviction within the melodies and lyrics.” The Rolling Stone retrospective at the same time called the original release “a disastrous double album of simplistic sloganeering.”

Even given that such negative judgments still linger, “Some Time in New York City” is nonetheless recommended here for both a musical and historical visit.

Here’s why:

Historically, “Some Time in New York City” held a special place of affection for John Lennon.

During David Sheff’s lengthy 1980 interviews with Lennon and Yoko Ono (for publication in Playboy  magazine), “Some Time in New York City” was the only album to earn a personal pause and callout as Lennon was reviewing his body of work, disc by disc. Sheff noted Lennon gazing at the jacket and observing, “Man, it’s nice to see this.”

With the impending release of “Double Fantasy” later in 1980, that nostalgic connection back eight years was understandable. To that point, the 1972 release of “Some Time in New York City” was the only other instance of John & Yoko issuing a mainstream music album together.

Not John on one side, Yoko on the other (as in “Live Peace in Toronto” or Lennon solo singles from “Give Peace a Chance” to “Power to the People”). Not simultaneous solo releases (as with the pair of 1970 John Lennon/Yoko Ono “Plastic Ono Band” albums, or the companion 1971 Lennon “Imagine” and Ono “Fly”). Those accommodations had allowed Lennon fans who did not care for Ono’s music to easily walk on by.

Previous releases credited to “John and Yoko” had been the experimental art pieces (“Two Virgins,” “Life with the Lions” and “Wedding Album”), which had been seen and heard by very few.

“Some Time in New York City” was different. This was a heavily promoted collection of rock and pop songs (many co-authored), co-produced with Phil Spector and presented as a true collaborative showcase by John and Yoko, who took turns on lead vocals throughout the album and even shared a few duets.

The first tease of their joint approach had hit late in 1971 with the successful Christmas single “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” credited to John & Yoko (co-producing with Phil Spector). Although John’s vocal dominated, Yoko’s voice was also clearly in the mix throughout.

In fact, the popular success of that holiday release might have been seen as evidence that the world was ready at last for the John and Yoko show to take the mainstream record release stage.

It was not.

“Some Time in New York City” stalled on Billboard’s top album charts in July 1972, never cracking the Top 40 during its short four-month run. The lead single was even less successful and spent a mere five weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 without breaking into the Top 50.

Yet, some four decades later, it is still easy to appreciate John Lennon’s affection. The album perfectly captured the subject matter of the title: This was John and Yoko’s scrapbook clippings from the opening days of their very public lives in their adopted new home — a memorable inaugural time in New York City. Their words and music and activism reflected the people, places and influences in their lives.

Even more important, it reflected what seemed to be a newcomer’s enthusiastic embrace of the American way. They were eager to be part of it all, to devote their artists’ sensibilities to political pursuits on the issues of the day, residing in the hip and politically active circles in and around New York City.

The gatefold record package looked like a newspaper, with the album title set in New York Times-like typeface, from “JOKO Press,” “Late City Edition.” Seven columns of text (the song lyrics) covered the front and back sides, peppered with photos and oblique drop-in poetry and verse (“There are no birds in Viet-Nam”), along with a call to action (“Register to Vote”).

The mailing side of the petition and a card included in the album package.

The mailing side of the petition and a card included in the album package.

Appropriately, a pre-printed “Justice for John and Yoko” petition was part of the original “Some Time in New York City” album packaging, urging fans to show their support for allowing “John Lennon and Yoko Ono to live and work freely in our country.” (All of these details are best appreciated via the original 12-inch vinyl LP-size release)

By 1972, though, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had been staging art events and promoting various causes for half a decade. For some, there was John and Yoko fatigue, a sense of “enough already.”

In their separate record releases, they had managed to sidestep such reactions by focusing on poetic imagery (as in John’s “Imagine”), abstract sound play (as in Yoko’s vocal gymnastics), and classic rock riffs (as on “Live Peace in Toronto”).

With “Some Time in New York City” they brought a newspaper op-ed page to life against a volatile backdrop of generational and social conflict: racial tensions, the Vietnam war, anti-war protests, the celebration of drugs, free speech conflicts, and the ongoing re-election campaign of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. Among the general public, there were strong opinions on all sides of these topics.

For record buyers looking for a new John Lennon music collection (or at least collaborations more like “Happy Xmas”), the approach taken by “Some Time in New York City” was akin to a contemporary TV viewer looking for a favorite entertainment channel and instead being stuck spending some time with an MSNBC or a Fox cable news diatribe. The music was solid enough, but the lyrics throughout the album pushed aside a sense of decorum in favor of activist engagement.

“Some Time in New York City” offered blunt polemics on such topics as activist Angela Davis (“Angela”), headline-grabbing American prison confrontations (“Attica State”), a life-is-a-prison lament (“Born in a Prison”), feminism set to a pop beat (“Sisters O Sisters”), repressive marijuana laws (“John Sinclair”), generations of conflict between the Irish and the English (“Luck of the Irish”), and the specific events of the January 1972 shooting of protesting civilians by British soldiers in Northern Ireland (“Sunday Bloody Sunday”).

Picture sleeve for the album's single.

Picture sleeve for the album’s single.

However, the track that probably sealed the sales fate of “Some Time in New York City” was its one-and-only single. With the deliberately provocative use in the title and main chorus of what is now usually referenced as just “the N-word,” Lennon virtually guaranteed that “Woman Is the N*gger of the World” would not receive radio play. It may well have been intended as an artistic allegory about suppression and exploitation (first expressed by co-author Ono), but it came off as highly charged and inappropriate.

As just another track, perhaps buried deep in the two-disc set, it might have slipped by, but as the album opener and promoted single, the song struck some as uncomfortable and in-your-face. Lennon and Ono brought the song to Dick Cavett’s show in May 1972 to promote the album, and only strong efforts by the host kept it from being excised from the pre-taped program.

And yet … scattered throughout this album were moments of aching beauty (“Luck of the Irish”), lyrical playfulness (“New York City”), and killer craft (“John Sinclair”). Yoko Ono’s best solo composition came in the driving dance number “We’re All Water” with its “can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head” imagery of President Nixon and Chairman Mao Tse-tung dancing naked (a doctored photo of the political leaders appeared on the front cover, itself another source of controversy, leading to stickers covering the image).

Oddly, the “bonus” second disc of the set provided one of the more accessible and radio-friendly offerings, a live cover version of the decidedly nonpolitical oldie “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)” (a 1958 hit by The Olympics). That was part of a guest appearance by John and Yoko at a 1971 Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert at the Fillmore East. Lennon described the number as one he had not performed since his days at the Cavern.

The 1992 Frank Zappa album that included John and Yoko's performance.

The 1992 Frank Zappa album that included John and Yoko’s performance.

The remainder of the bonus disc included additional riffs from Zappa’s show on one side, experimental sound collages that blended one to another. (Two decades after the “Some Time in New York City” release, Zappa issued his own full version of this concert night on the album “Playground Psychotics,” marking the times and titles differently, including a retitle for Yoko Ono’s “Au” as “A Small Eternity With Yoko Ono.”)

The other side of the bonus disc featured “Cold Turkey” and “Don’t Worry Kyoko” as performed live in December 1969 at the Lyceum Ballroom in London for a UNICEF charity concert, with George Harrison as one of the backing musicians.

Still, the perceived preachy nature of the studio songs left the album with its reputation for being “a tough listen,” then and now. The short chart life of “Some Time in New York City” in 1972 also brought to an end a continuous eight-year run (back to February 1964) by Beatles and solo releases on Billboard’s top albums chart, another strike against the set.

But could “Some Time in New York City” have been saved? With a different lead single, say the “Ballad of John and Yoko”-like “New York City”? Additional tracks? Fewer tracks?  For a 2005 reissue, Yoko Ono took one alternative approach: cutting the release to a single CD. In the process, some of the running times were trimmed and most of the live Zappa concert material on the original Disc 2 was jettisoned, leaving only the live “Cold Turkey,” “Don’t Worry Kyoko” and the oldie “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go).” In addition, both sides of the “Happy Xmas” single were added. For the 2010 remastering, though, the set was restored to its full length.

That really is the way to go today, because it is true to the original intent of the album. You may not agree with all of what’s sung, but there’s no doubt that it represents a glimpse into the creative souls of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the time.

The front and back of the album's gatefold cover.

The front and back of the album’s gatefold cover.

Lennon’s participation in the early 1970s political era has also drawn the attention of admiring scholars, chroniclers and artists such as writer Jon Wiener (“Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files”) and filmmaker John Scheinfeld (“The U.S. vs. John Lennon”), in part because it was an authentic and wholly unnecessary commitment to issues by a star. It resulted in far more than generating whining Internet complaints. There were real personal consequences to this political involvement, in critical and sales popularity and, most importantly, in personal well-being, as government forces pushed back, through official and unofficial channels.

All those issues aside, though, how do the songs stack up in the 21st century?

A number of the studio tracks ultimately lost the battle against their own lyrics (“Sisters O Sisters,” “Born in a Prison” and “Angela”). However, four are unqualified keepers: “New York City” (for its rapid fire autobiographical narrative), “John Sinclair” (for its killer Lennon slide guitar licks), “Luck of the Irish” (with its evocative music and imagery that manages to weave lyrics about torture and genocide into pure poetry, sung by both Lennon and Ono), and the live “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go).”

In the next tier down, “N-word” aside, “Woman Is” confidently shows off the brassy, wall-of-sound Phil Spector producing style. Both “Attica State” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” have an aggressive driving edge, turning their chronicles of authority outrage into rallying rhythmic chants. “We’re All Water” gives Yoko Ono the closing number, though its dance club riffs go on (and on) to “Hey Jude” length.”

Perhaps the best reason to listen to “Some Time in New York City,” though, is that it stands as a helpful guide to better appreciating the finesse of “Double Fantasy” in 1980. Without overt political posturing, that later album pulled off an even more aggressive back-and-forth programming approach between Lennon and Ono lead vocals, to far less consternation.

By then, it seemed that the world was ready at last for the John and Yoko show to return and take the mainstream record-release stage. Looking to the future, but informed by the past. Still in New York City, but in a very different time.

Walter J. Podrazik

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PLAY IT AGAIN: ‘Living in the Material World’

Our latest installment in a series of articles looking back at solo Beatles albums of the past features Brad Hundt’s re-evaluation of George Harrison’s 1973 collection “Living in the Material World,” an album once bashed by some as sour and sanctimonious. Viewed now in the context of Harrison’s complete canon, Hundt thinks it showcases many of George’s best virtues …

living album cover

 

A Visit to Harrison’s Spiritual World

As I noted in an article for Beatlefan two years ago to mark the 40th anniversary of George Harrison’s “Living in the Material World,” the first copy of that album I purchased reeked of incense for years after I brought it home, thanks to its having lingered in the bins at a head shop in Toledo, Ohio, where the scented sticks burned at levels one would typically associate with an industrial site.

It never bothered me, though. In fact, it seemed wholly appropriate, given the nature of “Living in the Material World.”

As Harrison’s musical career hit the shoals in the latter half of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, fans and critics tended to see “Living in the Material World” as the point where the decline began. Sure, it contained a No. 1 hit single, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” and the album itself was a chart-topper, but they bemoaned the sour mood that hangs over parts of  it, the occasional bursts of sanctimoniousness, and its heavy infusion of Krishna consciousness.

From “All Things Must Pass” to “Brainwashed,” Harrison explored his spiritual inclinations, but never to the extent that he did on “Living in the Material World.”

A Last Supper-style album photo of Harrison and friends at Friar Park.

A Last Supper-style album photo of Harrison and friends at Friar Park.

Four decades later, and with Harrison’s canon now complete (unless a trove of unreleased material emerges), it’s possible to see “Living in the Material World” in a different light. While not attaining the grandeur of “All Things Must Pass” or possessing the warmth and accessibility of “Cloud Nine,” “Living in the Material World” showcases many of Harrison’s best virtues — tasteful production, top-tier guitar playing and songs that are insistently melodic.

“Living in the Material World” opens with “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” probably the only song ever to go to No. 1 that was about the desire to be free of the cycle of birth and rebirth that figures so heavily in Eastern philosophy. It has a piano part by Nicky Hopkins that echoes Bob Dylan’s “I Want You,” and is the first showcase for Harrison’s slide guitar on the disc.

A bit of religious mockery from Harrison.

A bit of religious mockery from Harrison.

The album moves on to “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” which finds Harrison in a more humorous — and more biting — mode. Originally given to guitarist Jesse Ed Davis for his album “Ululu,” the slide guitar stings as Harrison offers up an ode to the legal problems swirling around Apple Corps and The Beatles, with the lines “court receiver / laughs and thrills  / but in the end, we just pay those lawyers their bills…” It’s one of the album’s most memorable – and best – tracks.

“The Light That Has Lighted the World,” originally offered to fellow Liverpudlian Cilla Black, finds Harrison musing how “some people have said that I’ve changed” and these same people are “so hateful of anyone who is happy or free.”

“Who Can See It,” also on the album’s first side, continues in this vein, using a gospel-style piano and organ introduction for a reflection on how he has been “held up” and “run down” and how he’d been “towing the line” for years. However, Harrison offers defiance in saying that “my life belongs to me…”

What led Harrison to this defensive posture after the triumphs of “All Things Must Pass” and “The Concert for Bangladesh” is something for an in-depth biography to explore.

Sandwiched between those two songs is “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long,” the single-that-never-was from the album. A breezy, simple offering, with touches of Phil Spector-style grandiosity, it demonstrates Harrison’s ongoing affection for soul and rhythm & blues.

The album’s first side closes with the title track, a rocking statement about Harrison’s desire to slip the bounds of earthly yearning and head to “the spiritual sky.” It contains autobiographical elements, including references to the other three Beatles, with Ringo Starr offering a drum fillip after Harrison sings that they “got Richie on a tour.”

More album art from "Living in the Material World."

More album art from “Living in the Material World.”

The second side of “Living in the Material World” opens with “The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord),” the album’s nadir and one of the low points of Harrison’s career. It’s a finger-pointing exercise in sanctimony, and Harrison sounds like a fundamentalist minister railing about how we all must get right with the Lord, otherwise if we don’t give, “then (we) won’t get lovin,” along with cliched admonishments that the Lord “helps those that help themselves.” This would have been one better left for the cutting-room floor.

However, the album gets back on track with the lovely “Be Here Now,” an underrated Harrisong that, like The Beatles’ “The Inner Light” five years before, puts Eastern philosophizing to music. This, however, is much simpler than “The Inner Light,” using a minimal setting with an acoustic guitar in the foreground.

The relaxed, reflective mood is broken by Harrison’s rendition of “Try Some, Buy Some,” which was originally recorded by Ronnie Spector and released as a single on the Apple label in 1971, with Harrison and Phil Spector splitting production credits. Harrison must have felt the song deserved wider exposure, so he decided to try his hand with it, placing his own vocals atop the instrumental track that was originally cut. It’s not a bad song, but feels somewhat out of place. Coincidentally — or, perhaps not so coincidentally — it’s followed by “The Day the World Gets Round,” which has a Spectoresque sweep.

The album closes, appropriately enough, with “That Is All,” a plaintive love song that caught the fancy of Andy Williams, who recorded it that year for his album “Solitaire,” which was produced by Richard Perry, a Harrison pal who also produced Starr’s album “Ringo” in 1973.

Soon enough, Harrison fell from favor with critics and segments of the record-buying public. Though some of the albums he released later in the 1970s, like “Thirty Three and a Third” and “George Harrison,” are arguably better, “Living in the Material World” was the last point, until “Cloud Nine” 14 years later, that Harrison seemed unassailable.

— Brad Hundt

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Exclusive Preview of Ringo’s ‘Postcards From Paradise’ Album

Here, excerpted from Bill King’s latest Quick Cuts column, is an advance review of Ringo Starr’s “Postcards From Paradise,” which is due for release March 31:

ringo postcards

This latest collection of 11 songs, on which Ringo also has acted as producer, is a very pleasant and enjoyable fellow traveler with his two previous efforts, consisting largely of midtempo rockers that lyrically offer 12-step-worthy tidbits of Ringo’s upbeat philosophy on life, and musically feature some top-notch playing by the celebrated drummer and his friends — including Joe Walsh, Benmont Tench and Peter Frampton, plus his current All Starr Band members, including Steve Lukather and Todd Rundgren.

The thing I like about Ringo producing himself, as he’s done on his three most recent albums, is the organic feel of the recordings, which I find refreshing after years of former producer Mark Hudson’s catchy but sometimes cloying faux-Beatles pop. There’s a comfortable groove to these tracks that makes it sound as if the musicians had a lot of fun making the album.

The downside, though, is this album, like his other recent efforts, misses those earworm musical hooks that were Hudson’s trademark.

The album gets off to a strong start with the fourth installment of Ringo’s ongoing musical autobiography-in-song, a track called “Rory and the Hurricanes.” With its guitars and organ and prominent use of female backing vocalists, the number has a suitably early ’60s feel, as Ringo sings of visiting London with his old band. He namechecks the legendary Two i’s coffeebar and U.K. proto rock star Tommy Steele, but plays it coy when he notes that the next time he hit London, “I was with you know who.”

Also one of the album’s stronger efforts is the next track, “You Bring the Party Down,” on which Ringo appears to be making a sales pitch for clean-living to someone who is “still living off your memories of when you were in the band.” This one is notable for a taste of what sounds like sitar, and for a strong guitar solo.

The momentum falls off a bit with “Bridges,” which offers one of Ringo’s obvious metaphors for dealing with life’s choices (“crossing bridges is the best way to grow”). Not a great tune, but there’s some really stinging guitar work showcased in an extended solo.

Next up is the title track, which Universal sent out as an advance promotional digital “single.” Unfortunately, “Postcards From Paradise” is the album’s weakest song, a plodding rocker on which Ringo and his cohorts have created lyrics by stringing together lots of Beatles and solo Beatle song titles. An example: “And I ain’t going nowhere man / Because I want to hold your hand / It’s like I said the night before / I’ll love you when I’m 64.”

That tells you pretty much all you need to know about it.

(You can watch a “lyric video” for the song here. The video is a lot more clever than the song itself.)

The next chapter in Ringo’s musical testimony for a post-rehab life comes in “Right Side of the Road,” a lyrical cousin of “Bridges.” The musical backing is the highlight, with another extended guitar solo.

Next up are a pair of tracks that are among the album’s best, and it’s worth noting that on both of them Ringo departs a bit from his usual musical formula. “Not Looking Back” is a piano-driven ballad with strings on which Ringo sings about preferring to look forward. It has a nice violin solo. And “Bamboula” is a fun, moderately upbeat number about New Orleans, with some horns and accordion mixed in for Creole-Cajun flavor, along with very danceable percussion. (The title comes from the name of a type of bamboo drum that slaves brought over from Africa.) It’s good enough to make you overlook a few tortured rhymes in the lyrics.

The most notable aspect of the next track, “Island in the Sun,” is that it’s the first time Ringo has recorded with his current All Starr Band. Loping along to an almost-reggae beat and with some tropical-sounding percussion, it is enlivened mainly by its sax solo.

“Touch and Go” is a decent slice of neo mid-’60s rock. Better is “Confirmation,” a slightly upbeat, horn-backed love song about living life with no regrets. As Ringo sings (presumably to wife Barbara), “If I had known then what I know now / I’d do it all again with you anyhow.” He again makes nice use of his female backing vocalists on the title chorus.

The album concludes with “Let Love Lead,” which provides another summing up of Ringo’s philosophy: When in doubt … (see title). This one offers more tasty guitar licks in an extended instrumental portion that closes it out.

All in all, this album is goodtime, unchallenging listening that is no more musically relevant than what any other stars Ringo’s age are doing. But, if you’ve liked his music in the past, I think you’ll enjoy it.

— Bill King

(This review is adapted from one originally sent to Beatlefan/EXTRA! subscribers. For information on how you can receive Beatlefan/EXTRA! and be the first to read such exclusives, just email beatlefanmagazine@gmail.com.)

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