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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In Memoriam: John Lennon

It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that it’s been 35 years since we lost John Lennon. Here’s a piece I wrote that originally was published in Beatlefan #13, December 1980, the special Commemorative Issue published two weeks after Lennon’s death. 

john white album

I lost a very dear friend Monday night, Dec. 8, 1980 — one that I had never met.

That, I’m sure, is how millions of other Beatles fans felt when they heard the news that a senseless act of violence had taken the life of one of the greatest influences on our generation.

John Lennon.

Dead at age 40.


Give teeth a chance: John Lennon.Even now, after all the headlines and television retrospectives and magazine covers and photos of his grief-stricken widow, I can’t quite bring myself to accept that one of the Fab Foursome of John/Paul/George/Ringo — we tended to run it all together like one name, almost a mantra to some — has been silenced forever.

Some people don’t quite comprehend just what that means to those of us who grew up with The Beatles and who are hurting so badly right now. They don’t understand the bond between performers and audience that developed over the nearly 17 years since Lennon and cohorts Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr left the obscurity of Liverpool for the international limelight.

Most of them do at least recognize that the world of popular music has lost a giant. That distinctive, slightly nasal voice of “A Hard Day’s Night”, “All You Need Is Love” and “Imagine” — considered by many to be just about the perfect rock ‘n’ roll instrument — exists now only in our memories and in the several hundred million records it is estimated The Beatles have sold worldwide.

john flowerThe brilliant, eccentric wordmaster who made up half of the most successful songwriting team in the annals of popular music — and who, for many of us, defined the turbulent but exciting 1960s with his incisive, witty and oft-times painful lyrics — will write no more.

The Beatles revolutionized music. But, quite obviously, they were more than just a musical group. For better or worse, they were in the vanguard (often as instigators) of many cultural upheavals with their long hair, colorful dress, working class origins and outspoken views on drugs, sex and politics.

Lennon, of course, was always the most vocal. He was the one who observed (quite rightly, it could be argued) that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ among the youth of the mid-’60s.

He occasionally spoke too hastily and later repented, and his words were not always full of wisdom. But no one ever doubted his sincerity. John Lennon cared.

We knew that. And even if we didn’t agree with what he said or the way he said it (and, contrary to popular belief, we didn’t all follow him blindly in his ventures into mysticism, drug-induced consciousness alteration and shrill radicalism), we were somehow comforted and at the same time stimulated by the knowledge that our friend was out there searching for some sort of better world.

Lennon And OnoIt is the bitterest of ironies that Lennon, a childhood ruffian who grew up to be one of the world’s most ardent pacifists and a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, died at the hand of a gunman.

But, then, the story of John Lennon’s death is rife with irony. He fought long and hard to stay in this country when threatened with deportation because he loved the city where he was to be gunned down.

He felt that in New York City he could walk down the streets unmolested as just another citizen. He couldn’t really, of course.

A friend of mine ended up sitting at a table next to the Lennons at Nani’s Italian restaurant a week or so before his death. A slightly intoxicated patron went up to Lennon, who was quietly sipping cappucino, and demanded to know, “How are The Beatles?” Lennon simply said, “I don’t know.” Not satisfied, the man got drunker and returned to Lennon’s table a little later to pester him some more. Wearily, John looked up at him and said, “Why don’t you just leave me alone?”

john and seanJohn Lennon was still a prisoner of fame, despite his five years away from the spotlight. As Robert Christgau (with whom I rarely agree) observed so cynically, “He died because he was famous.” Or, more pointedly, because the little nobodies of the world like his killer fantasize about the famous. I wonder who is fantasizing about Lennon’s killer right now?

And then there is the sad irony characterized by the title of Lennon’s hit single “(Just Like) Starting Over”. After a five-year self-imposed absence from the music scene, Lennon had just returned to the Top 10 with a song that represented his optimistic state of mind at the time of his death.

As he told Playboy magazine, “life begins at 40 — so they promise. And I believe it, too. I feel fine and I’m very excited. It’s like, you know, hitting 21, like, ‘Wow, what’s going to happen next?'”

He’ll never know.

consti LennonBut those of us he left behind know that the legend and legacy of John Lennon is considerable. He was a lot more than just another rock star. He was a symbol, proof that you could be an innovator and an original and strive for excellence in an age weighted down with mediocrity. And that you could do all that and still make it to the top.

He also showed us that we do not have to become slaves to the expectations others have of us. While still at the top, he walked away from it all to spend time raising the son who shared his birthday. It won’t be easy for little Sean to grow up now that Daddy’s gone, but the foundation built by those five years of intense closeness with his father will no doubt help see him through.

John Lennon wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t afraid of life, of death, of exploring the unknown, of learning. He was willing to admit, as he did shortly before his death, that he had been wrong in some of the things he had said during his radical stage in the early ’70s.

And, once he learned that those joys of family life he had ridiculed Paul McCartney for exulting were really what it’s all about, he set out with a renewed zeal to spread the word.
While many of us welcomed the new upbeat, melodic message Lennon delivered on “Double Fantasy”, others were disappointed to find the former angry young man singing about fatherhood, marriage and family love.

What they failed to see was that this was a mature Lennon singing to us this time around. In Playboy, he dismissed worship of rock stars who burn out at an early age as “garbage.”
“It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. I don’t appreciate worship of dead Sid Vicious or of dead James Dean or of dead John Wayne . . . I worship the people who survive.”

john peace signJohn Lennon didn’t waste time looking back. And, in an age where you can hardly avoid hearing a Beatles song on elevator Muzak, he had little patience with those who would insist he and the other ex-Beatles return to the scene of their past glories.

“Everyone talks in terms of the last record or the last Beatle concert,” he told Playboy, “but, God willing, there are another 40 years of productivity to go.”

For whatever reason, God was not willing. And so it is that John Lennon lives now only in his music.

To the end, he was amazingly astute, even when he didn’t know it. In the new song “Beautiful Boy”, written to son Sean, he sang, “Life is what happens to you/ While you’re busy making other plans.”

I feel like crying.

— Bill King

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REVIEW: John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert



imagine logo

As this 75th birthday year had pretty much come and gone without any fanfare from the Lennon camp, it was nice to have a celebration in the city John Lennon chose to call home as the calendar was winding down.

Presented by the Blackbird Music Group in alliance with the AMC Network, the event raised funds for the Robin Hood Foundation, whose events held at the Garden have included the Concert For New York and the 121212 Hurricane Sandy benefits, both headlined by Lennon’s fellow Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney. But neither Sir Paul nor Ringo Starr would be on hand to celebrate in song on this evening, though both sent videotaped messages which were aired at the event, and will presumably be included in the AMC telecast slated for Dec. 19th.

ticketHosted by MC Kevin Bacon, the line-up of performers was indeed a varied one, and drew on a fairly balanced mix of Lennon’s Beatles and solo repertoires. In addition to several groups on the card, a rotating list of performers were supported by a house band that featured drummer Kenny Aronoff, bassist Lee Sklar, guitarists Sid McGuiness and Felicia Collins (both formerly of the David Letterman “Late Show” CBS Orchestra) and the evening’s musical director, Greg Phillinganes, on keyboards.

While the pace of the evening was hampered by certain re-takes (mostly for Bacon) and downtime needed to ensure a polished final product, the musical performances were generally quite good, and in several cases, exceptional. Here’s a rundown of the set list:

Leading off the proceedings was John Fogerty, who was added to the bill just a couple of days prior. He launched into a ¾ complete version of “Give Peace A Chance”, sticking to the original lyrics and arrangement. An interesting choice, this one is typically held in reserve for an ensemble closing number and given the current climate, might have lent itself to some updated ad-libbed lyrics. Still, having some star power to launch the proceedings served the evening well. Fogerty followed up the opening number with a touching “In My Life”.

Next up was Peter Frampton, who did a straightforward 12-string take on “Norwegian Wood”, a number he’d played during his solo spot while touring with Ringo’s All-Starr Band back in in 1997.

Latin pop star Juanes followed with “Woman”. A good vocal performance, though delivered with nearly zero stage presence.

Aloe Blacc delivered one of the evening’s true highlights, a booming version of “Steel and Glass”, providing the first relatively deep dive into the songbook. Following this rousing performance, he and Phillinganes teamed up for a gospel-tinged piano-only read of “Watching The Wheels”, with an arrangement that recalled Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”.

Sheryl Crow.

Sheryl Crow.

Donning a New York City T-shirt as made famous in Bob Gruen’s iconic mid-70’s photo of Lennon and armed with a black Rickenbacker 325, Sheryl Crow came on to perform “A Hard Day’s Night”, adeptly handling the alternating Lennon and McCartney lead vocal parts.

A weak-voiced Kris Kristofferson and no-voiced Tom Morello (from Rage Against The Machine) teamed up for one of the evening’s relatively few low points with “Working Class Hero”.

Chris Stapleton, who ran the table at this year’s Country Music Awards, teamed up with Brandon Flowers (of the Killers) and Crow for “Don’t Let Me Down”. The stylistic misalignment was evident, with the soulful feel of the original all but lost in translation. Stapleton fared much better when swapping out cohorts Flowers and Crow for Kristofferson and Willie Nelson on “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”.

Following what seemed like an eternity for re-staging (and not making use of the multiple video screens or even tapping MC Bacon for a little banter), the Roots closed part one of the show with a blistering version of “Mother”, though their self-styled prelude was lost on the majority of those in attendance (maybe they didn’t get the memo that this evening wasn’t about THEM …).

The 5-piece Texas band Spoon opened up the second part of the show with the couplet of “Hey Bulldog” and ”Cold Turkey”, the former being given the “take II” treatment for whatever difficulties (technical, or more likely, the very flat vocal delivery) were incurred. Still, they’re a tight band that went over very well.

john and yokoCuriously, the next slot was by John & Yoko themselves, with a video performance of “Attica State” from their 1971 appearance on the David Frost show. While this would have made for nice filler during intermission or the aforementioned extended restaging, it served as a convenient set-up to introduce Yoko herself, who came out to say a few words, but did not perform.

Back to the proceedings, Nelson came on to do a very moving “Imagine”, garnering a well-deserved standing ovation.

Flowers returned to do a powerful “Instant Karma”. Falling just short of ‘shouting’ the lyrics, his vocal projection filled the room.

Train’s Pat Monahan performed an interesting arrangement of “Jealous Guy”, injecting a reggae flavor to the second half of the song before the band burst into a sped-up piano boogie a-la Elton John’s “Burn Down The Mission”.

While at times struggling with the meter of the lyrics, country star Eric Church did a serviceable “Mind Games”. The band really shined on this one.

An in-your-face version of “Power To The People” followed, featuring the New York Freedom Choir and lead guitar prowess of Morello.

The main set closed with Steven Tyler rocking his way through “Come Together” (which his band Aerosmith had a hit with in the late 70’s) and “Revolution”, being joined on the latter by Church.

The encores opened with video greetings from Ringo, who then introduced a video of his most recent All Starr Band delivering the Lennon-penned “I’m The Greatest” from the superb “Ringo at the Ryman” DVD. That Paul’s video was not played immediately afterward paved the way for some last-minute speculation that he might be …. Naaaaah.

"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”

Back on stage Frampton, Crow and Blacc were joined by a children’s choir for “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. Beyond the signature songs such as “Imagine” and “In My Life”, this song remains the one that makes me miss John more than any other every single time I hear it. Meticulously arranged with Frampton on the low verses, Blacc on the high ones, and Crow soaring above the choir in the choruses, the communal singalong – right here during Christmastime in the city (HIS city) made this one an emotional highlight of the evening.

Back to the screens for some comments and a tip of the hat from Sir Paul, though his message was not accompanied by any musical performance. It remains to be seen if one will be added for the broadcast (“Here Today” from the Citifield concert DVD would seem fitting. Just sayin’).

The ensemble finale for this celebration was a fitting “All You Need Is Love” which, while mostly solid and had gotten got everyone up and singing along, was marred by an obviously under-rehearsed cast (when returning to the 3rd verse after the instrumental, no one stepped up until about the last line, when Tyler stepped in). Whether this will be edited or faded under the closing credits is in the hands of the AMC team.

Inclusive of the intermission and production breaks, the show ran just under three hours, so a two-hour broadcast seems likely.

The 5,500 seat theater, which resides on the site of the old Felt Forum, is a great room with low ceilings making for generally superb sound, with excellent sightlines from any seat in the house (in the past, I’ve seen Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Elvis Costello and even The Who there). For the Lennon tribute, it was about 95 percent full, in no small part due to the ticket pricing, which ran from $99 to $1000, with most seats in the $150-$250-$350 range.

Merchandise, which is available from included two different t-shirts, two different event posters, and a hooded sweatshirt.

Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono

While we can all make our dream lists of performers we’d have liked to seen at the event (beyond Paul and Ringo, I mean), and particular favorite songs (the embarrassment of riches in the catalog kept songs like “I Am The Walrus”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “(Just Like) Starting Over” off the table), this was an evening to celebrate what we DO have — and that’s John’s lasting musical and cultural legacy.

“It’s beautiful to see so many wonderful and talented musicians come together for this special show to celebrate John’s birthday,” said Yoko Ono. “John’s art continues to give hope, light and happiness to generations of people everywhere. His belief that each of us can change the world continues to inspire the human race to believe in themselves, and his influence is everlasting in everyone’s hearts as we all share in the possibilities and power of music.”

And so this is Christmas, indeed.

— Tom Frangione

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The Beatles’ ‘1+’ — A Fan’s Notes

Apple Corps and UMG have announced the Nov. 6 release of multiple configurations of reworked and expanded versions of the “1” album that showcase The Beatles’ promo films along with their 27 No.1 U.K. and U.S. singles. Beatlefan Contributing Editor Tom Frangione offers a fan’s analysis of the impending releases. …

The "1+" deluxe package, due Nov. 6.

The “1+” deluxe package, due Nov. 6.

Back in 1999, when Paul McCartney was at long last inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, his daughter Stella was at his side wearing a tank-top that none too subtly proclaimed “About F***ing Time.” Such sentiment was never more appropriate, perhaps, than now, with the news that a compilation of Beatles promo films and other video material will be hitting the streets in November. Alongside a newly mixed audio collection of the chart-topping Beatles “1” album, companion videos for each of the 27 songs will be presented.

The "1" album is receiving a completely new stereo remix.

The “1” album is receiving a completely new stereo remix.

Now, The Beatles did not do what we have come to know as promotional videos for all of these songs. Where they didn’t, concert clips, stills and other footage have been compiled to represent the songs. Not having seen the final product, of course, makes it difficult to do much more than speculate, but, by way of example, this approach was used for the 20th anniversary single of “Love Me Do” back in 1982. (It’s unclear whether that version will appear in this release.)

But, for quite a few songs, original promos do exist, dating back to the mid-1960s, when the insatiable demand for live television appearances by The Beatles gave birth to the idea of instead providing programs with performance “promo films” such as for “Ticket to Ride,” which, while not even close to passing as “live” performances (the absence of guitar leads, microphones and amplifiers is more than a minor hint), showed the band miming along while manning their respective instruments.

Yet, even in these relatively early outings, an element of surrealism was creeping in at a robust pace, not unlike the developments heard on another of the band’s side outlets, their annual Christmas records. By 1967, the films were being produced in color and adding even more vivid imagery. For some songs, there were even alternate promos, some of which were not widely seen.

The "1+" CD and DVD standard package.

The “1+” CD and DVD standard package.

Now, at long last, the world at large will get a chance to revel in what video collectors have for years compiled, traded, and upgraded. The samples used in the electronic press kits for the “1+” releases evidence some brilliant remastering.

Collectors will be scrambling to compare the contents to what they have in the latest incarnation of whatever “definitive” bootleg video compilation they have on their shelves (anybody need a copy of “Unsurpassed Promos” or “Chronology” … CHEAP?). Of course, those unsanctioned collections reflected their creators’ whims and often included suitable complementary material, such as the musical “performances” from the various Beatles movies.

A look at the official “1+” track listing shows many of the alternate versions of the promos will be collected on the second DVD (or Blu-ray) to be included in the deluxe editions. So, all three of the well-known versions of “Hello Goodbye” will be in there. In several other cases, a stray alternate does not appear to have made the cut. However, early word is that some of them may be included as “Easter eggs” in the various menus (really? REALLY ? I thought that gimmick went the way of the “hidden bonus track” on CDs). Stay tuned for the results from your favorite sleuths here at Beatlefan.

The "1" CD and Blu-ray configuration.

The “1” CD and Blu-ray configuration.

Speaking of the bonus disc, major kudos to Apple for including the promotional clips for the BBC album tracks “Baby It’s You” and “Words of Love” as well as the new songs presented in the “Anthology” — “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love.”

The release looks to  satisfy a heretofore major gap in The Beatles’ catalog. Obviously, the EMI body of work has been definitively represented by the 2009 remastered series. The runner-up in terms of importance in the story — the BBC recordings — has been substantially covered for all but the most ardent collector. The movies — save for “Let It Be” — have each received the deluxe remastered treatment. And, certainly, the “Anthology” was a noble run through the vaults, though it is now some 20 years in the rear view mirror (can that be?).

Beyond “Let It Be,” the last real vestiges of the canon that remain unissued are the Christmas album, and some of live projects such as the Hollywood Bowl album and Shea Stadium film.

About f***ing time, indeed.

— Tom Frangione

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Songs That Fans Wish Macca Was Singing

In Beatlefan #214, Bill King asked readers to send in songs they’d love to hear Paul McCartney do in concert that he’s never performed live before as well as songs he’s done in the past that they’d like to see brought back.

He got quite a few responses. Here’s his report on the songs fans would like Macca to add to his set list …

Beatlefan readers speak out on what songs they'd like to see added to McCartney's set list.

Beatlefan readers speak out on what songs they’d like to see added to McCartney’s set list.

This entire exercise was prompted by Paul McCartney adding a couple of unexpected numbers to his spring/summer set list, “Another Girl” and “Temporary Secretary.” The latter being a relatively obscure tune from his “McCartney II” album, it set me to thinking about what other songs he might revive from that decade, which is a favorite of my wife, Leslie.

As it turned out after I polled Beatlefan readers, “Wanderlust,” one of Leslie’s very favorite Macca songs (from that or any period), appears to be a tune that a lot of fans would like to hear in concert.

Tied with “Wanderlust” atop the list of songs that readers would like to see Paul do live was “Take It Away,” another tune from the same album, “Tug of War,” that he only ever did onstage when making the music video in front of fan club members.

Since “Tug of War” is being reissued Oct. 2 as the latest entry in the McCartney Archive series, fall dates on Macca’s Out There! Tour would be the perfect time to add one or both numbers to his set list!

Just behind those two songs in third place on the reader want list was one of the Beatles tunes Macca’s never done in concert, “Oh! Darling,” though a couple of fans expressed reservations that it might take a toll on Paul’s aging voice. Tied for third was another ‘80s tune, “No More Lonely Nights.”

Tied in fourth place were an early solo hit, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” and one of Macca’s tracks from The Beatles’ White Album, “Rocky Raccoon” (which, as one reader noted, would give him a chance to sing wife Nancy’s name).

And tied for fifth place on the list were a cluster of songs: “Daytime Nightime Suffering” (a personal favorite of mine), “Ballroom Dancing,” “Beautiful Night,” “The World Tonight,” the quirky “Monkberry Moon Delight” and “With a Little Luck.”

Then came another group with slightly less support: “Young Boy,” “No Values,” “Back Seat of My Car,” “Only Love Remains,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Helen Wheels,” “Cafe on the Left Bank” and “Pipes of Peace.”

There are plenty of solo and Beatles songs still to choose from ...

There are plenty of solo and Beatles songs still to choose from …

Other tunes mentioned: “Summer of 59,” “Big Boys Bickering,” “Waterfalls,” “Warm and Beautiful,” “Little Willow,” “Tomorrow,” “Manunia,” “Girls School,” “I’m Carrying,” “I Can Bet,” “Angry,” “Stranglehold,” “Tug of War,” “Spies Like Us,” “Teddy Boy,” “Big Barn Bed,” “Through Our Love,” “Press,” “On the Wings of a Nightingale” (a song Paul wrote for the Everly Brothers), ”Dear Boy,´Oh Woman Oh Why,” “So Glad to See You Here,” “One of These Days,” “Move Over Busker,” “That Day Is Done,” “Get on the Right Thing,” :Heart of the Country,” “Back on My Feet,”  “Friends to Go,” “I’ll Be on My Way” and ”Tell Me What You See.”

Among songs that McCartney has done before in concert that people would like to hear again, the unchallenged leader was “Goodnight Tonight” from Wings’ 1979 U.K. tour.

Tied for second place among would-be returnees were “My Brave Face” (another personal fave of mine), “Getting Closer” and the Beatles tune “She’s a Woman” (done on his 2004 European tour).

What surprises might lurk on the fall Out There! set list?

What surprises might lurk on the fall Out There! set list?

Also drawing some support: “Silly Love Songs” (a highlight of the 1976 Wings Over America tour), “Old Siam Sir” (also from the final Wings tour) and “Figure of Eight,” the ballsy choice of show-opener on Macca’s 1989-90 comeback tour.

Others receiving mention include “Come and Get It” (which was briefly in the set list in 2011 and would be a timely addition this fall with the release of Paul’s Hollywood Vampires rendition of the tune he wrote for Badfinger), “I’ve Had Enough,” “Too Many People/She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” (as done in the 2005 set list that many consider Paul’s finest), “Fool on the Hill,” “For No One,” “Things We Said Today,” “Getting Better,” “Biker Like an Icon,” “Put It There,” “Coming Up,” :Bluebird,” “We Got Married,” “C’mon People,” “Lonely Road,” “Only Mama Knows,” “House of Wax,” “Hope of Deliverance” (which still shows up sometimes, mainly on Latin American dates) and “Fine Line.”

Are there other solo or Beatle favorites of yours that you’d like to hear McCartney perform in concert? Feel free to share them in the comments.

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