Early 1967: Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound?

pl-sleeve

50 years ago, on Feb. 25, 1967, American fans got their first look at the “psychedelic” Beatles when the promo films for “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” aired on ABC’s “Hollywood Palace” variety hour. This memoir of that time by Bill King originally was published in Beatlefan #105, March, 1997.

“It’s the end of an era.”

I was sitting on the living room floor the night of Jan. 23, 1967, when veteran broadcaster Lowell Thomas, on his CBS Radio evening newscast, used that melodramatic opening for a story about The Beatles. The group was giving up touring, he said. Breaking up.

Thomas’ report (like a brief item in that afternoon’s paper)  came from a widely quoted interview with Paul McCartney in the previous day’s Sunday Times magazine in London.

“Now we’re ready to go our own ways,” Paul had said. “We’ll work together only if we miss each other. Then it’ll be hobby work.”

droopy-paul

Paul McCartney’s “new look” made news in early 1967.

The news reports paid a lot of attention to the droopy mustache he now was sporting. Paul said it was “part of breaking up The Beatles. I no longer believe in the image. I’m no longer one of the four mop-tops.”

I refused to believe it. Sure, things had been quiet on the Beatles front since back in the fall when “Yellow Submarine” ended its chart run. And, yes, they’d gone off in solo directions: John had cut his hair and acted in “How I Won the War”; Paul had been working on the score for the Hayley Mills film “The Family Way”; George had gone to India; and Ringo, one press report had said, was “just being Ringo.”

There’d been a brief flurry of breakup rumors in November when it became clear there would be no year-end shows in Britain. But John had said at the time, “We’ve no intention of splitting up. We will go on recording songs.” I took him at his word, even though there’d been no new album for Christmas ’66.

I was in 9th grade — an era of paisley shirts, turtlenecks and plaid or checked pants, when girls with long, straight hair were beginning to intrude on my devotion to the Georgia Bulldogs. The Monkees were at the height of their popularity, with “I’m a Believer” all over the airwaves; I liked the show and bought some of their singles, but The Beatles remained far and away my favorites.

I kept an eye on Names in the News in The Atlanta Journal — which I delivered by bike each afternoon to almost 100 customers in two neighborhoods of my hometown of Athens, GA — and the Fab Four continued to pop up there fairly often. Already that month, there’d been items on Ringo being sued by a gardener over a billing dispute and Jane Asher saying she and Paul were deeply in love and wanted to get married and “have lots and lots of babies.”

The really big Beatles news that month, however, had been the telecast (at last!) of “The Beatles at Shea Stadium” on ABC, which showed it on the evening of Jan. 10 as lead-in to the premiere of the network’s new evil-space-creatures-among-us series, “The Invaders,” starring Roy Thinnes. (The local ABC affiliate in nearby Atlanta showed an old movie instead, delaying “Shea” until early the following Sunday evening, but we had cable so I watched it along with the rest of the country that Tuesday night on a North Carolina station.)

Of course, this was Beatles circa ’65. But, at that point, we didn’t yet realize that McCartney, though overstating the case, was indeed right: They weren’t going to be mop-tops any more.

apollo-1

The crew of the doomed Apollo 1 mission.

My attention was diverted from the question of The Beatles’ future just four days after the Lowell Thomas report by a tragedy in one of my other youthful obsessions: the space program. Three astronauts — including Gus Grissom, my favorite — died in a launchpad fire aboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft. It didn’t seem like the year of 1967 was off to a very good start.

Much to my consternation, an old-line segregationist named Lester Maddox had just been elected governor by the Georgia legislature after failing to win a majority in a three-way race with two moderates.

The front page was filled each day with casualty counts from Vietnam, where the U.S. troop level now had reached 400,000 (and where, the week of January 19, we had suffered our heaviest losses to date). The rift between LBJ and Robert Kennedy widened as RFK called for a halt in the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. With Mao’s Red Guard purges at their height, China appeared on the verge of civil war. A Richard Nixon presidential campaign was even in the “talking” stage!

But what is most striking about looking back at the winter of ’67 is the nation’s continuing obsession with the JFK assassination. Look magazine was serializing William Manchester’s “Death of a President.” Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgement”, the first of the conspiracy books, sat atop the best seller list and was being excerpted in the daily paper. And, in New Orleans, D.A. Jim Garrison had begun his wild and woolly JFK conspiracy investigation (many years later the subject of an Oliver Stone movie).

Not everything was serious, of course. Green Bay crushed Kansas City that January  in the very first Super Bowl; the first U.S. major professional soccer league was gearing up for spring play; the upstart ABA was seeking to lure NBA stars with big bucks; and there was this headline: “Braves payroll nears all-time high” — a total of $675,000 for the whole team!

beatles-strawberry-fields

Fans had been worried about The Beatles breaking up.

Probably spurred on by the breakup reports, Brian Epstein wasted no time in letting the world know The Beatles still were The Beatles. As February dawned, it was announced that the group had signed a new nine-year recording contract with EMI (on the same day as the Apollo 1 fire, in fact) and that a new single, “Penny Lane”  and “Strawberry Fields,” would be issued in the U.S. on Feb. 13!

I remember sitting on the front porch looking at the article announcing the single. The song titles seemed particularly unusual and exotic to me. I wondered what they would sound like. I anxiously awaited their release.

As I searched for Beatles news each day, I saw frequent mention of the amusing quasi-courtship of actor George Hamilton and First Daughter Lynda Bird Johnson, along with the married travels and travails of Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow. (Mia’s replacement on “Peyton Place,”  Leigh Taylor-Young, had just wed costar Ryan O’Neal.) A 17-year-old, 91-pound British model called Twiggy was making her first visit to the U.S. And Liz and Dick were filming “The Comedians” in Dahomey.

funny-thing

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was directed by Richard Lester.

Speaking of films, that winter of ’67 was the time when I first started attending more “adult” movies. Oh, I still went with my younger brothers to see such family fare as  Fred MacMurray in “Follow Me Boys” and Dean Jones in “Monkeys Go Home” from Disney (which was preparing to begin construction in a swamp in central Florida) plus “Andy Griffith Show” favorite  Don Knotts in “The Reluctant Astronaut.” But I also went on my own to see George Peppard and Ursula Andress seducing each other between World War I battles in “The Blue Max” (the first cinematic sex scene I’d viewed!), and Dick Lester’s bawdy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Also in cinemas that winter were a mix of the old-line Hollywood spectaculars and the New Wave youth-oriented films:  “Georgy Girl” starring Lynn Redgrave; “Grand Prix” with James Garner; “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” costars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in a pair  of underwhelming solo film outings — “The Venetian Affair” and “Three Bites of the Apple”, respectively — Woody Allen’s “What’s Up Tiger Lily?”; Rock Hudson in “Tobruk”; Julie Christie in “Fahrenheit 451”;  Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in “The Night of the Generals”; Steve McQueen in “The Sand Pebbles”; Vanessa Redgrave in the British arthouse hit “Blow-Up”; James Coburn in “In Like Flint”; former “Rawhide” regular Clint Eastwood in a new style of bloody Italian-made western, “A Fistful of Dollars”; and Elvis in one of his more forgettable efforts, the appropriately titled “Easy Come, Easy Go.”

The Smothers Brothers were a new arrival on TV with their weekly comedy hour.

The Smothers Brothers were a new arrival on TV with their weekly comedy hour.

On TV, it was time for the “second season” replacements, which included  two almost identical superhero spoofs, “Mr. Terrific” on CBS and “Captain Nice” on NBC. There was a new version of “Dragnet” on NBC, “Rango” with Tim Conway on ABC, the return of “The Avengers” on ABC and, on Feb. 5, the new “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” opposite “Bonanza” Sunday nights on CBS — which quickly began cutting into the venerable western’s audience. Another venerable western, “Gunsmoke,” received a cancellation notice from CBS, but the network relented after viewers protested, and dumped “Gilligan’s Island” instead.

Shortly after the announcement of the forthcoming Beatles single, I got a phone call one night from my friend Sam, who liked to listen to WLS out of Chicago. Excitedly, he told me he’d just heard the new song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” I asked him what it sounded like and, struggling for a comparison, he said “Yesterday.” (“Yesterday”?! The strings, I guess.)

When I heard it myself, it was like nothing The Beatles had done before — in fact, a bit hard to take in on first listen. I liked it, but I liked “Penny Lane” more. Especially the trumpet.

It was about this time, in search of the new Beatles songs, that I really began listening to Top 40 radio on a daily basis, making WDOL-AM part of my afternoon routine as I struggled with Algebra II homework. The songs from that time play in my head like a soundtrack:  “Kind of a Drag” by the Buckinghams; “Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones; “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” by the Supremes; “Niki Hoeky” by P.J. Proby; “Happy Together” by the Turtles; “Dedicated to the One I Love” by Mamas and the Papas; “My Cup Runneth Over” by Ed Ames; “There’s a Kind of Hush” by Herman’s Hermits; “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” by Buffalo Springfield; “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” by the Mojomen; “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James and the Shondells; “California Nights” by Lesley Gore; “Western Union” by the Five Americans; “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas;  “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” by Harpers Bizarre.

I saw most of these acts miming their hits weekday afternoons on “Where the Action Is” (paired in ABC’s teen hour with “Dark Shadows,” which my brothers and I wouldn’t get into for some months yet).

The Beatles on the set of their promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever."

The Beatles on the set of their promotional film for “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Naturally, I went out first chance I got after the Beatles single’s release (the following Saturday) and bought it. First thing I noticed when I got home was that the trumpet ending had been deleted — first time I ever questioned one of their artistic decisions. Another disappointment came when I discovered that while the early copies were in plain sleeves, the second batch to hit town came in the color picture sleeve with Beatle baby pictures on one side and a spotlight-backed shot of their new mod look on the other. It would be several years, actually, before I’d get one of those sleeves.

The week of the record’s release, the paper ran an AP interview with McCartney, Epstein and Starr stressing that giving up touring didn’t mean breaking up. Said Paul: “We never said we were splitting up. Other people said it about us — but it’s not true.” Epstein said they were currently recording tracks for a new album and expected to start their third film in the spring or early summer. They also were planning a television show.

Weird ... but wonderful!

Weird … but wonderful!

A week after I bought the single, the promo films for both songs were shown on the Feb. 25 edition of “The Hollywood Palace,” with actor Van Johnson hosting. Again, they were like nothing we’d seen before.

Colorful.

Weird.

Wonderful.

I really liked them!

Aside from the picture sleeve and a magazine photo or two,  this was our first chance to get an extended view of the “new look” Beatles — and it was the topic of much conversation at school the next week. Homeroom reaction ran much like it did on the  March 11 “American Bandstand,” when Dick Clark showed the clips and polled members of the audience.

The boys mostly liked the mustaches and thought The Beatles looked really cool; the girls didn’t.

No more cuddly mop-tops.

— Bill King

(Thanks to Mark Gunter, Allan Kozinn and Brad Hundt for research assistance.)

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Beatles Scoops From Where You Might Not Expect Them

Beatlefan internet columnist Kit O’Toole talks in Issue #223 with Norwegian Beatles expert Roger Stormo, whose blog/news site WogBlog has attracted a worldwide audience, boasting readers from the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, Russia, Australia, and Brazil. A past president of Norway’s Beatles fan club Norwegian Wood, Stormo has written articles for the organization’s newsletter and co-authored the Beatles discography “The Beatles in Norway.” Here is an expanded version of his conversation with Kit.

Roger Stormo with Pete Best.

Roger Stormo with Pete Best.

When and why did you start WogBlog?

I originally started up a blog in mid-2008 after finding that I had stories I wanted to tell that didn’t warrant publication in the Norwegian Wood fan club fanzine that I usually write for. I was also keen on having an international audience, so with that in mind, I started writing it in English. I originally called it Wogew Central because “Wogew” has always been my handle on the internet, in various forums, on usenet, chat rooms and other user groups. I then hit upon the idea of renaming the blog to just WogBlog, because it was catchier and rhymed — a terrible idea I’m afraid, because “wog” is not a polite word, which escaped me at the time.

How would you distinguish WogBlog from other Beatles sites?

First and foremost, I am writing from a Norwegian and European perspective. This sets the blog apart from most Beatles blogs, because a great number of writers are U.S.-based and a few are British. Secondly, I write the blog mostly for my own pleasure. It was never intended to be a news site as such, but I tend to write news either when I have an exclusive, or when there’s a new major release, or when I feel like it. Also, I feel that many of the other writers are skeptical when new information comes from non-U.K. or non-U.S. sources, whereas I often find that, for instance, “foreign” branches of the record companies aren’t as tight-lipped about upcoming releases as their parent companies.

You have broken some big stories. Without revealing your secrets, how do you find leads?

The cover discovered in an unlikely spot.

The cover discovered in an unlikely spot.

These are all happy accidents — either I am alerted by some of the people I know in the fringes of the record industry, or I can stumble upon something while combing through the internet on the lookout for something else entirely. Here’s an example: A record reviewer friend of mine got a release plan from Universal Music, listing upcoming releases. He informed me that, alongside the re-release of “The Beatles Live at The BBC,” a second volume also appeared on list. I mentioned it in a blog post. A day or so later, as I was Googling around, I found that MCA Music (which is the Universal Music company in the Philippines) actually had posted an image on their Facebook account of what was supposedly going to be the cover photo for the release. As we all now know, this was a colorized version of a well-known Dezo Hoffmann photo. So, I felt I had enough to be able to write a blog post, and I included the photo there.

What is your favorite article you have written, and why?

A holy grail for many people over the years has been to find amateur films from John Lennon’s guest appearance at Elton John’s concert at Madison Square Garden Nov 28, 1974. I discovered that a girl called Mary Jane said [in YouTube comments] that she had footage from the actual concert. I contacted her in 2011, and she was able to transfer her home movie to digital and send it to me. I encouraged her to get in touch with Elton’s management, which she did.

Stormo helped a fan make available footage of John Lennon's appearance with Elton John.

Stormo helped a fan make available footage of John Lennon’s appearance with Elton John.

Elton was very happy that actual film from the event had been discovered, and invited Mary Jane to come backstage at one of his concerts. His company bought the film from her, and in a thank-you note to me, Mary Jane told me that my interaction and encouragement had saved her family house, which she was able to keep thanks to the money she got from Elton’s company for the film. A year ago, Elton published part of Mary Jane’s film to YouTube.

Your blog is based in Norway; how does the location influence the content you produce?

Let me tell you about Norway and The Beatles. Norway is a country which was never visited by The Beatles as a group. …

Eventually, Paul McCartney came to Norway to play a concert with Wings in 1972, which was a big event for all the Norwegian Beatle people. He didn’t return until 1989, but has played here several times since; last time was this summer. Ringo visited Norway for a TV show, “Cilla in Scandinavia,” and shot a video for “It Don’t Come Easy,” but didn’t come here to play until his lone concert here in 2011. John and George never visited Norway.

Stormo with the late Sam Leach, an early Beatles promoter in Liverpool.

Stormo with the late Sam Leach, an early Beatles promoter in Liverpool.

Observing The Beatles from Norway is looking at them from a distance. And we are happy whenever there’s a Norwegian connection; in the new “Eight Days A Week” film, one of the photos of The Beatles in Denmark was taken by a Norwegian photographer. You would never have noticed, unless you’re from Norway. And it was probably one of my blog posts that alerted the production company about these photos.

What Beatles and solo projects are you most anticipating in 2017?

Like in 1979, I am always looking forward to the next Paul McCartney album. Ringo, not so much, but I will buy it and play it for a while. I don’t know if there’s going to be some kind of new release from The Beatles in 2017, but, if they do finally get around to that “Let It Be” movie, I’d be very pleased!

 

 

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Macca in the Desert: What a Trip!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamming with Neil Young. (Rick Glover)

Jamming with Neil Young. (Rick Glover)

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

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

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

The audience at Desert Trip. (Rick Glover)

The audience at Desert Trip. (Rick Glover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Rick Glover

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

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Summer’s Day Song: Insights From Recent McCartney Interviews

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

MPL photo by MJ Kim accompanying the Washington Post interview.

MPL photo by MJ Kim accompanying the Washington Post interview.

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

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

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

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

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

How involved did you get in the song selection?

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

What’s her name?

Her name is Nancy Jeffries.

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

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

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

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

The Rolling Stone cover story.

The Rolling Stone cover story.

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

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

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

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

What have they suggested that worked?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the holdup?

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

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

And, his relationship with Yoko?

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

A New York Times shot of McCartney in concert.

A New York Times shot of McCartney in concert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’: Inside the Cover Collage

rev cover

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

 

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Making the Case Why McCartney Should Continue Touring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what the fan said:

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

I replied:

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

And the fan responded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I replied:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill King

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

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

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

Tony Barrow with Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

Tony Barrow with Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Barrow wrote liner notes for early Beatles albums.

Tony Barrow wrote liner notes for early Beatles albums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He will be remembered way beyond 2021.

Bruce Spizer

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