Sunday Suggestion – Harry Nilsson – Jump Into The Fire

Brooklyn’s Harry Nilsson was the enigma who never toured, yet remained a success commercially and who utilised his brilliant depth-filled vocal to great effect on several classic tracks with often only a piano by his side. In 1971 however, he released Nilsson Schmilsson and in particular he recorded the track ‘Jump Into The Fire’ which is an essential piece of hard rock that was still in it’s infancy after being christened by The Beatles around three years earlier. Nilsson made no secret of his admiration of The Beatles and particularly his eventual friend John Lennon. This track opens with the rumbling, reverb of the bass line which is eventually joined by a purposeful percussion, loose riffs akin to Keith Richards best and occasional unrelenting strikes of the piano. As the sound grows and builds Harry’s vocal builds with it and utilises its power in amore constant fashion to reach an eventual peak in this brilliant seven minute song.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Sunday Suggestion – David Bowie feat. John Lennon – Fame

Two icons as individuals. A monster of iconography together. Lennon and Bowie. The man who shaped the 60s and the man who shaped the 70s. It sort of makes the informality and lack of seriousness of their collaboration a little more human and real than anything else. ‘Fame’ was simply the result of Lennon and Bowie jamming harmlessly in New York in 1974 and the two men liking what they were hearing. On top of that, they shared a love of a particular Latin American guitar sound from Carlos Alomar from Puerto Rico. The song was rushed into a one day session at Electric Lady Studios and a hit was made. It was almost reminiscent of Lennon’s early song writing days with McCartney in the early 60s. The song steadily buzzes to life with a deep bass groove, Lennon’s trademark distorted guitar sound and Alomar’s funk riff freely dancing over the top of it. The vocals are pretty simple. Bowie spends most of the song delivering a stylish and exuberant lyric of FAME! with Lennon’s falsetto repeat in the background. Together their vocals complimented each other so well. Bowie’s deeper and more rooted vocal expanded by Lennon’s falsetto or by his slightly higher tone and the power behind it. It is a completely outrageous song. Nothing profound or complex, but just a worthy piece of funk pop. An epitome of the decade. Bowie would go on to have other iconic collaborators with varying degrees of success from Queen to um Jagger… this is one of the better ones for sure and a track for the sweet tooth and for that unstoppable urge to move.

Sunday Suggestion – John & Yoko – Sunday Bloody Sunday

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John Lennon was a man who always left a trail or controversy and debate in his wake on a personal and public level. One particular track depicting the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 appears on his Sometime In New York City album of the same year. Though there had been many angry and vented statements of his previous two albums, this one makes a particular feature of Lennon’s frustrations and grievances of which the event of Bloody Sunday were one. Between plunging saxophone cries fits the blunt and low riding bass line and a cacophony of percussion from which John’s razor sharp guitar solos slice through. John’s vocals also do the same with the same aggressive yet tuneful snarl he’d developed over the last two albums, delivering his sharp message of the “Anglo Pigs and Scots sent to colonise the North” and “Leave Ireland to the Irish not for London or for Rome” amongst a song full of accusations and cries for anyone feeling British to live in Britain as he recounts the events of that fateful day. His support for the IRA fell off as they began to commit their own atrocities and as he believed that neither side was worth supporting above peace. Nevertheless this song is a great source for future generations at capturing the mood of the time and people’s opinions of the atrocities that day. Something rarely done these days.

It’s A Cover Up! The Beatles & Flaming Lips feat. Miley Cyrus and Moby – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

          
As a self confessed Beatles fanatic I usually have reservations about the covering of their tracks. Songs that are some of the most pivotal and important to music and cultural development of the last forty years and for the next forty no doubt. Like it or not but The Beatles will have a legacy akin to Vivaldi, Mozart and Stravinsky and so it’s becoming of more importance that The Beatles legacy is continued and though their music has already spanned the generations, it won’t forever. The general public aren’t listening to Mozart and Bach and that is partly due to it’s exclusivity and tradition. The inclusivity and lack of tradition of The Beatles music has opened it up to adaptation and reorientation that will continue to aspire new sounds, while still preserving their legacy amongst the masses for decades, perhaps centuries to come. More than just a page in a history book. For their legacy to be as dynamic and fluid as their music, it requires their work to be displayed through different sounds and methods and this has been conducted by the Flaming Lips along with a host of assisting artists from Miley Cyrus, Tegan & Sara and Moby to My Morning Jacket and Foxygen as they cover Sgt Pepper track by track on the album A Little Help from my Fwends which is released on October 28th. One of the initial tracks to be released from the album is the psychedelic anthem that is ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.
On the 1st of March 1967, The Beatles recorded the track that was released on June 1st during the ‘Summer of Love’. A track that depicted Lennon’s “lavish daydream” as Rolling Stone put it at the time and features imagery inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll with LSD fuelled visions and imagery. McCartney’s Lowery Organ counter melody set’s the tone alongside Harrison’s washed out and fading guitar, while the bass line creeps along beneath the tracks soaring and glistening whirls and warps. These are accentuated by Lennon’s pioneering vocal sung through a Leslie speaker for a warping and rotating vocal that was also double tracked with the second track set at a slightly delayed speed to enhance and distort the vocals further. The peak in the potential of analogue production, taking it to places that digitalism has only just about grasped.
This year, Flaming Lips along with Miley Cyrus and Moby formed a eccentric trio of rather differing musicians to offer up a 2014 take on the track, replacing the analogue method and production with digital and automated programmes and systems. The result? A track that is more darker and murkier as opposed to eerie and creeping. A subtle difference, yet a noticeable one. Cyrus’ vocals are softer and lost in their presentation as opposed to Lennon’s wiry and rotating vocal. Her vocals warps and fades out with precision; offset by Moby’s very deep and rooted vocal sound. The gentle sweeping of the verses are smashed by the huge and open trap drops that blast the song in an explosion of light and sound. What can be appreciated here is that they didn’t just copy the song, nor  make it unrecognisable, but made it their own with different and innovative sounds, scopes and atmospheres. A worthy tribute.

Do Music and Politics Still Mix in the U.K?

You hear quite often that music and politics don’t mix and that is the reason why musical innovation has slowed, as we all look back and borrow from times when they did mix. For the most part that is true, but it is not universal by any means. It might not even be intentional if the listener makes that connection to a political happening, then it is a political song for them and may sway them to whatever debate they are interested in. It might not be as direct as ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday by Lennon and John Lydon might not be snarling ‘God Save The Queen’ to us all, but you’d be surprised what you find and don’t assume that musicians are automatically out and out liberals still either.

Most of these are in direct or indirect relation to Scottish Independence, E.U membership or general distaste with Mr Cameron and his Bullingdon Chumps, but alas I shall try to remain neutral (I apologise in advance if I’m not!) but in the interest of sparing any complex questions, I identify as British-pro-European-NHS-anti-nationalist-pro-equality-environment-and-diversity-left-wing-between-Labour-and-GreenParty…. I hope that clears thing up for you…

Several high profile musicians such as McCartney, Jagger, Bowie, Bobby Gillespie, Bryan Ferry, Rod Jones and Sting have all thrown their hat into the no campaign for Scottish Independence in what seems to be a split between old liberals and young nationalists. The once forward looking ideals of a globalised world have surprisingly been openly rejected by Scotland’s young musicians whether it’s Kyle Falconer from The View or Django Django. It’s almost became a squabble between liberal against whatever sort of liberal the SNP are which isn’t very liberal of either side. It might explain why many supporting a YES vote try to detach themselves from the party as it would be a little confusing to support a party that says Liberal and does Centre Right? Then everyone would be voting Tory which would be a disaster from every angle. With regards to Europe we still have the trusty Manics to rely on with their unwavering left wing ideals but again a surprising lack of young people lend a voice in support of the EU which worryingly offers up the assumption that as a generation we are becoming far less interested in politics or if we are it is right leaning or right intending politics. A little sobering. We even have to still rely on Johnny Marr to do the Tory bashing, but is there still a creative outlet in young musicians and in turn, young people to combine music and politics together and more vitally left wing politics?

Chvrches

Though Lauren Mayberry has declared herself as neutral in the independence debate; Britain’s and Glasgow’s newest and brightest synth pop group can’t keep themselves out of the debate. Their hit single ‘The Mother We Share’ is often used as a pro independence song and it’s easy to see why with lyrics such as “We’ve come as far as we’re ever gonna get
Until you realize, that you should go” or “I’m in misery where you can seem as old as your omens
And the mother we share will never keep your proud head from falling”. These seem like clear statements of a nostalgic yet certain break up of the Union set around warm electronic instrumentals with the slow dropping synths and sweeping sounds.

If you ask supporters of a no vote however, they will point you to the song ‘Lies’. It’s lyrics do seem relate to how everyone has bought into Alex Salmond’s vision without questioning him or his propaganda. When “I can sell you lies. You can’t get enough. Make a true believer of anyone” is sung, you do see the link and anyone questioning whether Salmond is as Liberal as he presents himself as, are sure to look at this song for solidarity.

Franz Ferdinand

The well established Indie ‘troopers’ are playing a pro Independence gig on September 14th so that should give you a little idea of where their allegiances lie. Not only that, but you detect subtle hints and satirical snipes at the politicians involved, but mainly aimed at those of the NO campaign or we can safely assume that at least. ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ speaks for itself when those points are considered. “Almost everything could be forgotten” and “this time same as before, I’ll love you forever”. evoke the satire they direct to those wishing to keep the Union.

Maximo Park

Maximo Park are another well established act dealing in electronically charged Indie rock. They are very proud to come from the North East of England and Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside in particular. There is a real fear in this region, which I am from myself; that we have been forgotten about in this whole debate as we will be hit hardest by the fallout on either side of the border should Scotland vote yes, but we don’t have any say. Salmond’s ‘Friends of Scotland’ speech to us all in Gateshead, back in 2012 was very quickly soured as he also trying to lure business to away from the area to Scotland at the time. He has never been back since funnily enough, but he occasionally uses the region as a pawn for his goals as he did recently in effectively claiming the NHS in Gateshead was inept and that operations were being axed. If the people in this region didn’t feel alienated and patronised enough, now we all just see Salmond in a similar light to Cameron. ‘Leave This Island’ is a song that is very frank and reflective of these feeling with an abundance of lyrics.

“So we watched the water swell, from a Scottish hotel. Have you ever fell?”

“Are you gonna tell me why there’s a backpack by the bedroom window? It’s a pack of lies. Everything has to reach a peak sometime. Tell me why? There’s a map lain flat on the bedside table. It’s a pack of lies. It’s not a peak, it’s a plateau. Let me know. When you wanna leave this island. Let me know. When you wanna hear my point of view”

They have always been prevalent with their political messages in their music and tracks from their last album such as ‘The National Health’ are testament to that. As are the past actions that spawned the messages of ‘Leave This Island’,which have only been reinforced by recent comments.  

Wild Beasts

Wild Beasts from Cumbria also seem to be reflective of the frustration at the thought of a their region becoming a potential borderland should Scotland vote for separation from the rest of the U.K. The first half of their song ‘Wanderlust’ shows the hopeful optimism many people had as a union with Scotland and with everyone on these islands sharing common means and unbroken connections as the lyrics “Wanderlust. With us, the world feels voluptuous. I just feel more with us. It’s a feeling that I’ve come to trust.” show that naïve sense of safety that nothing will happen. As the song becomes more aggressive and darker with it’s heavy distorted synths and sharper percussion, the lyrics read “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck. Funny how that little pound buys a lot of luck. Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck. In your mother tongue, what’s the verb “to suck?” These lyrics swiftly signal the change of the debate into a snarling and bitter argument and how the optimism of the earlier lyrics have been buried under debates about currency, oil and other things to the point where it feels like that trust and optimism has long gone to the point where they ‘don’t give a fuck’ anymore. As if too much damage has been done anyway.

White Lies

The Ealing group don’t appear to have much of a political opinion, however you detect some subtle hints in their most recent that could be applied and have been applied to political thinking on a person by person level. The lyrics in ‘Getting Even’ are believe to be a passionate plea to keep these island unified or to remain unified with Europe. I’m yet to be so convinced but it isn’t impossible and it is easy to link a song that appears to be about sour break ups and the petty arguments that ensue to either debate.

“So if you go. And leave recklessly. We can only be me. We can only be me. That’s something I. Through the tons of my life. Never wanted to be. Never wanted to be.”

“But if you stay. Just a bolt in the ball. Then you’ll never know. Then you’ll never know. How you could miss. Like the day light the way. You’re missing us now. You’re missing us now.”

“So listen to some reason. There’s nothing in your dreams. But if you’re getting even. You’re getting even. Trying to get even. Better start believing. I can forgive. And we can forget…”

Rose Elinor Dougall

If you’ve ever read the posts on this site, then you won’t find it hard to find one on this woman. Not only is her music varied and so effortlessly delivered but she, like many young people in the U.K; have positive and forward thinking views on women’s equality, NHS and more. Last year she released ‘Future Vanishes’. It’s a track that perfectly encases her forlorn and cynical lyrics around perfectly poised hooks and melancholy. Lyrics that read “Time casts no shadow on the old sundial” reference a time or thing long confined to the past. “Escape as future vanishes” gives a sense that the very past she spoke of is returning and the future is vanishing. Perhaps an ode to the reversal of these islands back to it’s divisive past. “Stay on the outside. In a nowhere place, neither young nor wise.” could easily be construed as a reference to yes voters or to supporters of UKIP too, who wish to leave Europe. She points out how old fashioned and unwise such nationalistic attitudes might be and the lyrics “Don’t know where I’ve been and I can’t tell you where I’m going to” is a clear reflection of many as these islands teeter on the edge of the unknown and we start to wonder what identity we will hold.

Kasabian

The band from Leicester have grown to be one of the biggest in the country and the world, with headlining Glastonbury acting as evidence of their standing. This year’s fifth studio album from them in 48:13 has plenty of politically tinged statements, but none more so than ‘Glass’. The track eerily meanders with muted, flashing electronica and simple, yet purposeful bass lines and percussion.  This song bemoans how we’ve stopped trying to change things and how both at home and around the world, we are willing to let ourselves fall back into things and times we have thought against in the past. “We are going nowhere fast. Are we made of glass? No one knows, no one knows” reflect this and “Save me. Oh, come on and save me. From this world. Tell me. Cause I need to know. I’m not alone.” are almost an acknowledgment that such activism is dead and that we need saving from the world as it falls apart and hit the rewind button of progression. The closing rap from Suli Breaks depressing closes the song with the lines “When did we stop believing? When did we stop marching? When did we stop chanting?” in a exasperated sense of frustration of how it went wrong. How we’ve all moved towards nationalism and the right without a question or challenge.

Manic Street Preachers

We can always rely on the Manics to stand up for something they believe in as they have done for their entire careers. The two most recent albums have seen no change in that respect, but again you detect a hint of disillusionment and being lost in the narrow minded and increasingly nationalistic and right leaning tendencies. In recent interviews they’ve talked of how they’ve lost faith in Labour and the centre left and that they feel no one represents them. Almost a depressing notion of defeat about them as with the song ’30 Year War’ in which they sing about “And 30 years of war. To darken all our class. Black propaganda, lies and mistrust. See it in our eyes, the fire dimming away. The old-boy network won the war again.” and this idea of defeat continues with “The endless parade of old Etonian scum. Line the front benches so what is to be done? All part of the same establishment. I ask you again what is to be done?” as they lament the shrinking of the left and growth of the right.

They also recently declared themselves as Internationalists which was a refreshing consolation amongst the mass of nationalists in the news via Farage and the U.K Independence Party and Salmond with the Scottish Nationalist Party. A song to hit back at calls to leave Europe from bumbling ‘Man of the people’ Nigel Farage who managed to gain a foothold in every part of mainland Britain during the Elections to the European Parliament in May with only London making it difficult for them to do so. The song ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ from this year’s Futurology album; see’s the Manics show a much needed sign of affinity and solidarity with the rest of Europe with which the song translates to ‘Europe Goes Through Me’. The entire album Futurology is a rejection of digging up past situations and is about looking forward and being open minded as the Manics are.

Johnny Marr

Another reliable figure in speaking the truth when it needs to be spoken; Marr recently carried this on with his latest single ‘Easy Money’ in which he takes a stab at everyone who is driven by money alone and is also a protest to the current Tory government with the line “That’s no way to serve… nobody” and in the video he is seen goading a blurred out picture of David Cameron, who he has already brilliantly shown his distain for on a number of occasions. With this in mind, it is no doubt a dig at that age old tradition of the Conservative Party. Money over society.

So all in all, you can still find politically motivated music in the U.K, but with younger generations it has changed substantially. The classic left wing motivators and social commentators have gone. People either don’t care or if they do, they are on the nationalist or right leaning side which is why figures like Salmond and Farage dominate the agenda at the moment. Now politically motivated music is just bemoaning that fact on the whole or leaves them harking back with innovative music flourished along with liberalist and left wing thought. In that sense; where did it all go wrong?

Why The Beatles are THE greatest musicians of all time – The Science behind the innovation.

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Everybody has an opinion on the four men in this picture. Perhaps with such a perceived legacy and high level of importance, we should respect this by putting away our opinions. Not trying to be cool by calling them ‘overrated’ or trying to look like you are a musical visionary by wearing an Abbey Road T-shirt; but by looking at the bare facts, nothing more. If fact shows them to be the greatest musical innovators the world has ever known then anyone’s opinions are hollow and laid bare to the inferior motives behind them. Factual evidence should not force you to like them; however it should force you to respect them for what they are or are not. This isn’t another look into obvious or popular innovations from them. We all know they invented the music video, the stadium concert, the concept album, the self-run record label, the studio band, made world music mainstream, were the first band to be beamed around the world and the first band to conquer the world. The whole time they were crafting an array of genres and types from Rock Pop to the birth of Heavy Metal and Indie, Folk Rock, Blues Rock, Psychedelica, Electronica, Guitar Ballads, Piano Ballads, Dance Rock as well as taking Rock ‘n’ Roll full circle. These are things that are endlessly hurled at those who question their status and I’ve hurled such facts myself, but perhaps that isn’t convincing evidence to someone who has heard it a million times; too vague to comprehend even if it is all true factual evidence of their standing. To fully and conclusively end the pondering thoughts of whether The Beatles were really the greatest musical innovators this planet has ever known, then you must be taken into a Beatles recording session or be able to dissect a song and pick out each innovation and what made them so special. To be given a full anatomy of their music and the science behind it. Only then when the facts present themselves can we honestly define The Beatles once and for all.

Utilising Guitar Feedback

Not all of The Beatles innovations were by design, but some were happy accidents that they picked up and made into their design. The use of Guitar Feedback is one of those. With the song ‘I Feel Fine’ http://youtu.be/giqQ4n3P6LA from 1964; McCartney strikes an A note on his bass to open the song, but it is picked up by Lennon’s Semi Acoustic guitar and so making the high pitched, grinding sound. From that point Lennon had worked out how to replicate it and the sound would appear again in songs such as ‘It’s All Too Much’ http://youtu.be/0Oes9_poAIg from 1967. By then they were able to manipulate the sound into a rotating rhythm and a much longer and sustained sound.

Direct Input

The Beatles achieved this by plugging their instruments directly into the recording console. McCartney did this with his bass on the Sgt Pepper intro http://youtu.be/Xj2bmQ4P4cM from 1967. It expanded and deepened Paul’s bass line on the song as it rattles in a muffled fashion. Lennon would go on to do the same while recording ‘Revolution’ http://youtu.be/RXMRHf-rNIw in 1968. He plugged his Epiphone Casino guitar straight into the recording console and came close to busting the entire piece of equipment. It resulted in a gritty and chainsaw-like sound as the guitar fuzzed and screeched out feedback. It really packs out a song with such a bold sound but it can also be used to create space in a track as it fades out. Many see this as The Beatles inventing distortion but I think it was simply them developing it and growing distortion as evidence of it is present in earlier tracks albeit to a lesser extent.

Distortion

The Beatles already had a very loud and fuzzy guitar sound in 1966 with songs like ‘Paperback Writer’ http://youtu.be/pz9G5sIS62I which featured a fuzzy guitar lick rather than a clean lick. It wouldn’t expand and roughen the guitars sound as much as Direct Input would do, but it certainly made the guitar sound less clear cut and it is something that is used to no end today. Its sound came from Harrison’s Gibson-SG guitar and was made more prominent by an Automatic Transient Overload Control device developed by EMI for the mastering process and therefore made the song the loudest The Beatles had done at that point.

Compression

The Beatles were the first band to have organ sounding guitars when Lennon compressed his Rickenbacker-325 for the rhythm section of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ http://youtu.be/3MHkgwA8t-g from 1963. The sound that is created alters the guitar riff to make it undulate and swell. The same can be heard for both guitars on ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ http://youtu.be/70QfHtKdh_0 from 1964, In a guitar sound that would be copied extensively throughout the rest of the decade and beyond.

Using a Loudspeaker as a Microphone

This was an innovation born out of Lennon’s request to simply have a fuller and better bass sound. In working with the EMI engineers for Paperback Writer, they decided to try putting a loudspeaker directly in front of McCartney’s bass speaker. The moving diaphragm of the loudspeaker culminated in an electric current being produced to enhance the bass sound.

Leslie Speaker

The Beatles use of a Leslie speaker is one of the earliest recorded. When recording the Steinway piano intro for the simple ‘You Like Me Too Much’ http://youtu.be/uCWq2xOYBp0 from 1965; the Leslie Speaker oscillates and rotates the sound of the piano and almost duplicates the intro to the song. They would go on to use it several times throughout their time together and Lennon even decided to put his vocal for the spectacular ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ http://youtu.be/rTMOSCh7aJU from 1966 through the Leslie Speaker as it made his voice sound haunting and machine like in an eerie fashion as it rotated and altered.

Using Classical Forms

Full classical arrangements had never mixed with mainstream rock music until they started to become a feature in McCartney’s tracks. The first was notably ‘Yesterday’ http://youtu.be/ONXp-vpE9eU from 1965. The strings were added after the other Beatles believed they couldn’t add to the song with their arsenal of instruments, but the strings evoked the emotion and feel of a simple song about heartache. McCartney would use string arrangements for the urgent and staccato sound for ‘Eleanor Rigby’ http://youtu.be/51UH_u7WxCo from 1966. Perhaps the greatest use of Classical Instrumentation by The Beatles and any popular artist was in the thought provoking and at times terrifying classic that is ‘A Day In The Life’ http://youtu.be/pPSR9K7tzPc from 1967. Lennon had asked for the Orchestra to progress from their lowest to their highest note that results in a horrifying way to progress a song. It heightens all the senses and the Classical Instrumentation is also used to power drive the song to its conclusion after McCartney’s intermission in the middle of the track. This is perhaps one of the most unconventional uses of classical musicians ever.

Close Micing

While using many of these classical instruments; McCartney wanted to achieve an immediate and isolated sound from them with the song ‘Eleanor Rigby’. This was achieved by simply placing the microphone directly in front of the instruments. Producer George Martin had to instruct the Cello players on the song to not move so as to not disrupt the microphone just millimetres away and to maintain the full sound. This is also something that would be applied to Ringo’s percussion recording from then on. With tracks such as ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ http://youtu.be/mqwxn8DzER8 from 1966; McCartney has the microphones placed into the bells of the brass instrumentation to heighten the impact they make. From that point, such practices would be standard for recording those instruments.

Artificial Double Tracking

ADT was the brainchild of EMI engineer Ken Townsend after Lennon expressed his distain at having to sing a long exactly to his own vocal recordings to achieve a double tracking effect. All of this while not being a particular fan of his own vocal performances. Townsend decided to duplicate the original vocal recording onto a second tape machine at a delayed speed. This gave the double tracking effect without having to sing with the original vocal recording exactly. If anything The Beatles ran with it and made enhanced double track vocals to alter how they sounded. Lennon made his vocal sound muffled and distorted by singing through a Leslie speaker and then delaying the second tape machine. He did this to great effect with ‘I Am the Walrus’ http://youtu.be/SyPvGsSPsZg from 1967. It almost acts like a makeshift vocoder and autotuner when such things did not exist and would not be used in music until the late 70s and late 90s respectively.

Flanging

This is the variation of ADT that was developed by The Beatles. It was used on a more widespread level to channel their pioneering psychedelic music. The developed effect would generally add a swooshing and disorientated sound. The earliest this was applied to a track was likely ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ http://youtu.be/yDl0qPfkSRw from 1967. It is one of a vast array of aforementioned methods applied to the track as a whole however; they would go on to apply the effect to isolated elements such as George Harrison applying it to the lead guitar of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ http://youtu.be/F3RYvO2X0Oo from 1968. This is now in widespread, digital use as ‘phasing’.

Pitch Shifting

This was a method popularised by The Beatles that involved them having the variable controller of the device at half a step higher for their instrumentals against their vocals which were half a step lower on the controls. A vast amount of their material from 1966 and 1967 was recorded using pitch shifting. It was used with full instrumental structure on ‘Rain’ http://youtu.be/T3znOTuT4K8 from 1966 and with acoustic tracks such as ‘I’m only sleeping’ http://youtu.be/1MMDugt8ZRk from the same year. It would become a standard feature of most psychedelic tracks.

Echo or Reverb

Back in The Beatles day this was such a difficult thing to accomplish and it is an even more difficult thing to explain. To put it simply, in order to create reverb on their tracks; The Beatles would feed their tracks into the echo chamber at Abbey Road studios. This recording was then fed back through the recording console and printed onto a second tape machine. When the original recording is paired with the echo chamber recording, then such an effect was created. The earliest known use of it is in ‘I Saw her Standing There’ http://youtu.be/DsgWfAilIEM from 1963. Harrison’s guitar solo sounded particularly advanced for the time and again it is standard practice today and much easier to achieve.

Remixing

The Beatles were also the first musicians to remix tracks albeit their own more often than not. They would sometimes completely deconstruct and song and reconstruct it again in a different fashion. Perhaps the best example of this is shown with the eerie wonder that is ‘Blue Jay Way’ http://youtu.be/MNLcXj5yR68 from 1967. On occasion backwards versions of the song are injected at various parts that sound like wails and ominous calls for help in a song about being lost and alone.

Samples & Sound Collages

This is something that has been used extensively in the last twenty years but rewind another thirty and The Beatles were pioneering Sampling. They first used a sample in ‘Yellow Submarine’ http://youtu.be/3jmdLpsK_k8 from 1966. In it, is a Sousa march in the middle of the track but the original tape was cut up, rearranged and spliced back together again. It was more extensively used in ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite’ http://youtu.be/vCiG7xoEb2Y from 1967. With it, circus sounds and features were inserted regularly and come to a head at the end of the track as all the samples cross over. BBC Radio 3 productions of King Lear were inserted at the conclusion of ‘I Am the Walrus’ as the multitude of sounds die off. The use of random tape loops and a vast array of random sounds and effects resulted in the terrifying and simply weird ‘Revolution 9’ http://youtu.be/wdPvN7HOLh8 from 1968. What perhaps make it more scary is how people are only just catching up to this song today with The Knife and Damon Albarn getting as close as anyone has ever dared venture, a venture into the realms and depths of The Beatles darkest and unsettling song. Words of warning though; do not listen to this song backwards if you wish to keep your sanity.

Backmasking

This is one of the most impressive techniques The Beatles perfected and it is a technique still beyond many. In a variety of tracks such as ‘Rain’, ‘I’m only Sleeping’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ there are vocal and instrumental parts recorded backwards in the forward versions of the songs. They were all quite satisfied with the sounds and new opportunities it opened up for them. In some cases, Harrison learned the backwards guitar parts so that when they were played backwards they would sound like a forward guitar part but more broken and off beat. He did this to great effect with the classic ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ http://youtu.be/9r4mJ3aEhHo from 1967. This track like so many others, have hidden messages in them when played backwards and how this is achieved is beyond me. Perhaps it is something to do with the messages being taped over with several layers or perhaps they manipulated their vocals to reveal such messages. Whatever the case, it is a sign of their intelligence as musicians and they proved so effective that some ‘Bible belt’ States in the U.S banned backmasked records in fear of what they believed to be satanic messages entering their children’s subconscious. Of course that is clearly not the case and if anything it was a showcase for The Beatles random and at times dark humour with McCartney being the butt of many of the messages which led a group of Michigan students to conclude Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced… but um that is sort of impossible. Perhaps their backmasking did make some people go mad after all. Here are some humorous and likewise haunting examples http://youtu.be/T0bXZcaTj-c

Using Their Environment

The Beatles were known for making makeshift instrumentations from things that were just lying around. The high pitched zipping sound heard in ‘Lovely Rita’ http://youtu.be/Se5JLYKQfDU from 1967; was done using a comb and a piece of paper. Ringo can also be heard tapping a box of matches and slapping his lap in ‘I’m Looking Through You’ http://youtu.be/Ra5drgntKOI from 1965.

Vocal Arrangement

The Beatles vocal arrangement was pretty unique at the time and more advanced than many of their counterparts. They could sing in turns or in unison. At times they could even sing separate parts at the same time. In addition to this, they revolutionised the vocal harmony and the anatomy of it. Lennon would often act as the vocal anchor and so allowing McCartney to explore his higher range and Harrison to find the underlying vocal sound. All were capable of interchanging however. The prime example of The Beatles vocal textures would be ‘Help!’ http://youtu.be/vUlARtE9yGQ from 1965 and ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ http://youtu.be/PUhIEEwSSSo from 1968. They produced some of the greatest vocal unisons of all time with tracks like ‘Because’ http://youtu.be/LG5squHcOyI from 1969.

Musical Arrangement

This was another distinct differentiating factor of The Beatles success at the time. The notion of a lead guitar, bass, rhythm guitar and percussion is something that is taken for granted today, but it was quite a fresh idea at the time, in how they interchanged and the scope that gave them. In a track such as ‘Day Tripper’ http://youtu.be/rXlBZFcDUMI from 1965; Lennon plays the jangling riff with Ringo hitting the snare drum or tambourine to expand it. Harrison is playing the main melody over that as well as the guitar solo and so this gives McCartney the freedom to come up with a fluctuating and busy bass line. Of course there are several different examples and different instruments included to provide an array of examples. The roles are reversed for example with ‘Get Back’ http://youtu.be/xKeXUTreeGA and ‘Come Together’ http://youtu.be/cAmn4eMusZk from 1969. Without such a set up, it would have been difficult to generate the sheer noise and power of ‘Helter Skelter’ http://youtu.be/ueBUFUWSXHs from 1968.

So that is just about everything I can amass using the top of my now very sore head, streams of websites, book references and straight hours of psycho-analysing The Beatles music to show that their real innovation took place underneath the comparative token gestures of Music Videos and Stadium Concerts etc. If anything this has only heightened my respect for what they have done and I feel that even I have slightly underestimated just how innovative they are from above the surface, but delving deep into the science of The Beatles has confused, intrigued and immersed me. If all of the innovation on the surface was not enough to convince you of their pivotal role in Culture and Music; then there is no hiding away from the fact that underneath they were craftsmen of the future. Whether it is a group of singing monks or Kanye West, all of them will be creating music that has had at least a part of The Beatles influence on it and after this I defy anyone who doesn’t. I do believe they have a rightful place next to Beethoven and Mozart as they smashed the boundaries like they did, but unlike those eighteenth century greats, The Beatles gave their genius for the whole world to enjoy. Though the three billion people would turn to seven billion and though the end of the Cold War occurred two decades after; their music is as popular as ever with a much expanded fanbase reflecting a much expanded world. It is only a shame with The Beatles only growing in popularity that recently no one has really tried to push their innovations further or come up with innovations of their own. Maybe there will never be such creative forces ever again, but if they ever arrive then they have The Beatles as a blueprint of what is possible.

Sunday Suggestion – David Bowie feat. John Lennon – Fame

Two icons as individuals. A monster of iconography together. Lennon and Bowie. The man who shaped the 60s and the man who shaped the 70s. It sort of makes the informality and lack of seriousness of their collaboration a little more human and real than anything else. ‘Fame’ was simply the result of Lennon and Bowie jamming harmlessly in New York in 1974 and the two men liking what they were hearing. On top of that, they shared a love of a particular Latin American guitar sound from Carlos Alomar from Puerto Rico. The song was rushed into a one day session at Electric Lady Studios and a hit was made. It was almost reminiscent of Lennon’s early song writing days with McCartney in the early 60s. The song steadily buzzes to life with a deep bass groove, Lennon’s trademark distorted guitar sound and Alomar’s funk riff freely dancing over the top of it. The vocals are pretty simple. Bowie spends most of the song delivering a stylish and exuberant lyric of FAME! with Lennon’s falsetto repeat in the background. Together their vocals complimented each other so well. Bowie’s deeper and more rooted vocal expanded by Lennon’s falsetto or by his slightly higher tone and the power behind it. It is a completely outrageous song. Nothing profound or complex, but just a worthy piece of funk pop. An epitome of the decade. Bowie would go on to have other iconic collaborators with varying degrees of success from Queen to um Jagger… this is one of the better ones for sure and a track for the sweet tooth and for that unstoppable urge to move.

http://youtu.be/zM4BkVUehak

Image from modelindo.wordpress.com 

Sunday Suggestion – The Beatles – I Want To Hold Your Hand

I have chose this song due to its historical impact. The impact The Beatles made on the USA and spring-boarding them out of Europe to be a truly global craze. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ has never been my favourite Beatles song but it can certainly be appreciated as one of the first and finest pieces of Rock Pop ever created. It is made all the greater by the musical and vocal flair and intelligence that they had. They were able to craft a song packed full of melody and hooks from the compressed rhythm guitar and the sliding lead. On top of the bass is fluctuating and manipulating it’s own tune. The vocal harmonies and combinations that are combined just result in a joyous unison and provided the final piece of the Rock ‘n’ Roll puzzle that was left by Elvis and the death of Buddy Holly. The song came at a time when the United States was in a gloomy, mournful state of national depression with the assassination of JFK still vivid in everyone’s minds. For these outsiders to come in with their odd appearance, accents, music and a complete disregard for procession and commercial behaviour was exactly what was needed to lift the country back on to it’s feet again with what is undoubtedly one of the greatest pop songs of all time and it’s what they used to break America 50 years ago this week.

http://youtu.be/jPXceNlOjY4

Image from www.dailyrecord.co.uk 

 

Sunday Suggestion – John Lennon – I Found Out

Thirty Three years ago today; John Lennon was taken away from the world. Just like his father left him at the age of five. Like his mother abandoning him at the same age. Like his father figure uncle when he was a young teen. Like his mother when he just became reacquainted with her. Like his good friend Stuart Sutcliffe. Like his confidant and manager Brian Epstein. Like his son Julian. Who he admittedly neglected in his early years. There is no doubt that Lennon was a highly angry and bitter man and it was something he wouldn’t go on to release until late into The Beatles time together and into the early stages of his solo career. Though on days like this people wish to remember Lennon through the nostalgia of Imagine and other songs; he was much less evocative of the songs lyrics in the life he lead. He would later go on to say that it was “idealistic” and “sugar-coated” despite it being one of the most simple yet most effective and elusive songs in history. How could a man who grew up with so much anger mould a message that is almost too wonderful for humanity to replicate? The answer is that it was the opposite of the world he lived in. I wish to look at a song with which he is being more direct. More realistic. One of these is I Found Out from The Plastic Ono Band album from 1970. Its a song about hypocrisy, anger at the lies he’s been told and generally a personal mission to diminish anyone who frustrated or hurt him. The song is brutal, honest and magnified by the music. The heavy and low lying bass line reverberates through the track along with the scratching guitars. Set against it is the gravely and snarling vocal from Lennon. If anything the emotion that Lennon evokes the best and this song is absolute proof of this. It would go on to be a precursor to the punk genre with a further development of proto-punk. One of the ways Lennon continued to influence music beyond the existence of The Beatles.

http://youtu.be/-jKZEvwKzj8

Image from www.beatlelinks.net

Lennon. Musician or Historical Figure?

Love him or loathe him; you can’t deny that statisticaly John Lennon has been at the pinnicale of music and by matter of opinion there will never be a musician with such world-wide appeal or cultural impact ever again. Though the stats show that Paul McCartney is technically the most successful musician of all time and though McCartney can probably write a better Rock-pop tune or Ballad; Lennon for me has more of an ‘edge’ to him. This is due to the fact he was a much more controversial figure within The Beatles but even more so after that. Upon his murder the whole world stopped and thousands of people gathered outside his apartment. I wondered from the footage: how many people are mourning John Lennon the musician? Or the activist? Or the anarchist? Could he be distinguished between those roles and with it has he challenged enough or caused enough of an impact to be viewed as an historical figure as well as or beyond Lennon the “Cultural Icon” and does this steal away from his other roles as a campaigner or political activist? Or are these non-events in the life of a ‘rock-star’?

Bigger Than Jesus (1966) – This was one of the first times Lennon was challenged for a controversial comment about the Beatles being ‘More popular than Jesus’. It caused outrage in America’s deep south with Southern DJ Tommy Charles banning Beatles music. Several radio stations in Alabama and Texas promoted public burnings of Beatles albums and merchandise and The Ku Klux Klan nailed albums and images of Lennon to wooden crosses and threatened to cause distruption to the Beatles upcoming tour in the U.S. The Vatican even denounced Lennon. However the comment was not the real issue for The KKK. Lennon had made the comment in an interview with his friend Maureen Cleave in the London Evening Standard in March. In it Lennon made reference that The Beatles meant more to teenagers than Christianity did in the U.K which can’t be denied. There was no reaction at all in the U.K but when re-released in the U.S Datebook magazine in August the out-rage occured with an apparent different interpretation of his comments. It’s clear from the situation at that time and from The KKK Imperial Wizard: Robert Shelton’s comments that it was more of an oppurtunity to attack The Beatles for refusing to play in segregated audiences or their general support for civil rights. Lennon wasn’t trying to make a point in his comments as he back-tracked and apologised which he wouldnt do in the future. This was just a stunt and promotion for The Ku Klux Klan.

http://youtu.be/rN3wvY4a1DU / http://youtu.be/kZ6NL3iNNMs

John Lennon and Peace (1968-1970) – Lennon had grew more vocal about peace in this period with songs such as Revolution as he grew more angry about President L.B.Johnson’s decision to increase U.S presence in Vietnam but was also critical of Mao in China. The ‘Bed-in’ for peace was Lennon’s and Ono’s idea to utilise the publicity they would get to promote peace. The ‘Bed-ins’ took place in Amsterdam and Montreal with the latter venue being where he performed ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and where he tried to prevent anymore deaths in the Berkely Anti-war Riots by talking to protesters by phone and pleading with them to not react to police violence. Give Peace a Chance was sung by over 500,000 anti-war protesters marching in Washington to call for an end to the war in Vietnam. Furthermore Lennon had famously handed back his MBE to The Queen in protest of Britians support of the conflict. He claimed that others who got the honour were all war-veterans at that time apart from The Beatles and that it was hypocritical of him to have it. Many Royalists were upset by the gesture.

http://youtu.be/wBP3nq0OtZE / http://youtu.be/Zda7abQCmPs / http://youtu.be/nF9BOqGbjPc

John Lennon and Civil Rights – The Beatles had already made their views on Civil Rights very clear during their time in America but Lennon took it a step further at the close of The 60’s with his support for The Black Panther Party and their ten-point programme. The points that called for an end to police brutality and murder of black people and the points called for freedom for black people to determine their own destiny will have particularly appealed to Lennon at this time. This is mainly due to the police brutality many of his fellow peace protestors suffered at the time. He also supported it’s allied group: The White Panthers. Lennon held a benefit concert for The Panthers and for the release of The White Panther leader John Sinclair form prison. Within days of him performing his song ‘John Sinclair’; the Michigan Supreme Court ordered his release. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of The Black Liberation Army and their leader Michael X. Lennon and Yoko cut off all their hair in a symbol of support of Michael X and Lennon had paid his bail several times when he had been arrested as a result of his protest actions. John labelled The U.S and several European nations as the perpertrators of the genocide of Native Americans in North and South America and often talked of how The U.S government were exploiting them. Lennon would also wade into the debate of womens rights with his 1972 single ‘Woman is the nigger of the world’ This sparked confusion and controversy with the context of the offensive word with the song being banned by a large amount of radio stations. In many interviews as a result; Lennon clarified that he used the word to describe an “opressed person” which in this song was women and that this particular song was seperate to the black civil rights issue. In spite of the media frenzy the National Organisation for Women awarded John and Yoko with a ‘Positive image of women’ citation for the “strong pro-femminist statement” in the song.

http://youtu.be/sRq1mp4VArA / http://youtu.be/fZJLInCgem8 / http://youtu.be/iYjEz441I4M

John Lennon and Ireland

This was one of Lennon’s interests that for some reason is often overlooked. Perhaps it was because it had the potential to take Lennon up a gear and throw him into the deep-end and into a warzone but it never came to fruition. The events of Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972 had inspired Lennon’s song ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ Lennon who is of Irish descent was enraged by the killings and agreed to meet with an IRA representative in New York. That man was Gerry O’Hare. Lennon’s songs ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Luck of the Irish’ had all it’s profits donated to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) but the intention of his meeting with O’Hare was to organise donations to the IRA its self but also the organisation of two concerts. One in Dublin and another in Belfast. The latter gig was to be a show of defiance against the British Parachute regiments presence in Northern Ireland. He also wished to play a gig for Protestants in Belfast in what can only be seen as an attempt of granting some form of peace between the citizens of the divided city. What the reaction of the British military presence would have been had the concert went ahead is something that will only ever be speculative as Lennon made clear to O’Hare that his priority was in America with the civil rights, anti-Vietnam movements and his battle against Nixon’s desired deportation of Lennon in mind. He felt that he couldn’t leave the U.S while Nixon was still President and until he was granted the freedom to stay in America. If he had left Nixon would make sure he never got back in. Therefore his contributions to the NICRA and IRA were strictly financial but it was enough to unsettle the British govt. under Prime Minister Edward Heath who ensured that the FBI would expand their operations on Lennon to include files on his activity in relation to Ireland that would be fed back to MI5 in London.

http://youtu.be/MNwqV_HpMSE / http://youtu.be/cLZhNs7M1oE

John Lennon vs Nixon and the Establishment

This was a continued theme throughout Lennon’s activism. It tied in in with his critisism of the Vietnam war and the Cold War it’s self. He condemmed both sides and often tried to remind people that “the people are the government” and that they should take on-violent action to bring down goverments who “are insane with insane goals” This will have been in reference to the constant threat of nuclear anihilation or the threat of another world war. It was particularly his Vietnam objections that concerned Nixon who feared that Lennon was turning public support for the war to support against it and became paranoid about Lennon preventing his relection. This paranoia was unfounded as Lennon had just as little time for Democrats as he did Republicans but nevertheless Nixon made sure that the FBI had a daily track on him as there was a threat of Lennon ending his tour with a mass rally at the Republican National Convention. The FBI sureviellance of Lennon ran in conjunction with Nixon’s re-election campaign and once elected Nixon tried to ensure Lennon’s deportation back to the U.K. Lennon tried to push again for action against the U.S establishment for the events of the Attica Prison Riots in which 43 were killed. The initial protests from the prisoners were for better living conditions and political rights but the death of Black activist prisoner George Jackson at the hands of officers in a Californian jail had led to the riots at Attica. It was New York governer Nelson Rockefeller’s order to retake the prison that led to most of the deaths. This formed the basis of Lennon’s song. It was primarily about the waste of all those who had died in the riot but also the song had a wider message of rehabilitation of prisoners and the prevention of crime taking place at all if those comitting the crimes had a better and equal start in life. This was the basis of Lennon’s comments after performing the song on one of his many appearences on the David Frost Show. He had also backed trade union movements in the U.K. This was evident from the funding he provided to Jimmy Reid of the Communist Party of Great Britain in support of this Upper Clyde Shipbuilders strike in 1972. This had also left many to tag Lennon as part of the extreme left wing.

http://youtu.be/yTg4gtz_Xn4 / http://youtu.be/qFJTFALqyn4 / http://youtu.be/bLR2z4BE41o / http://youtu.be/vj3IYnpBln0

Lennon had effectively made breakthroughs with the Supreme Courts of Michigan upon granting John Sinclair’s release from prison and countering his own deportion from the U.S in New Yorks Supreme Court. Lennon too had made several monetry donations to the IRA, NICRA, the Communist Party of Great Britian and payed the bail for Black Panther leader Michael X on several occassions. His added contribution came in the form of the marches and protests he was involved in for various causes; mainly against the Vietnam war but also for peace in general. Lennon had no issue in displaying his support and backing for these various causes across all forms of the mass-media. Lennon was a useful tool and many activists or group leaders wouldn’t be granted access to the media like Lennon. He knew this and exploited it well. He’d even use the mass-media to promote his own causes such as the ‘WAR IS OVER’ campaign. But his main impact if he is to viewed as an historical figure would be in his music. Beyond everything else this is what Lennon did best and there are lists of songs he used to promote various causes. From this i’d say he is both a Cultural Icon and Historical Figure. Though he sometimes contradicted himself and never fufilled the promise he possessed to make an impact, he did change things. The best way he made an impact was through his music but it was more than that to Lennon. No one else at that time had a true regard for what was happening in the world. Everyone else were just pretenders. Can you imagine Jagger parting with his money for a cause? Or risking it all to back something? The like of Lennon will not come around in my lifetime. Today no artist can ever touch the popularity and more importantly the respect Lennon had and today people care less about others and only donate a few quid every year to satisfy their guilt. People moan about the governments of the world but people don’t do anything about it. Those who do find themselves in a worse situation than before and the world is becoming more selfish and materialistic than ever before. Even music itself is the edge of an abyss from which it will never recover but Lennon will always be there; people just need to remind themselves about what he did for Culture but what he did for the world.