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 – George Harrison – Art of Dying

In those immediate months after The Beatles part ways in 1970, the Beatle who existed in the shadow of the Lennon/McCartney rivalry and who struggled to get more than a song or two on each album was the first Beatle to score a number one solo album with All Things Must Pass. That was George Harrison. The modest and uncontroversial Beatle with perhaps the most legitimate reason for the leaving the band behind when you see how all of those songs that he had stacked up over the years were just as good if not better then much of what The Beatles chief songwriters had produced throughout the late 1960s. Many of these songs were immortalised further via his organisation and performance of one of the first major fundraising concerts with his Concert For Bangladesh in 1971. One with particular energy is ‘Art of Dying’. Like most of his tracks from the time it contained a relatable and open spiritual message within it. Around this message is one of his most catchy and dramatic tracks with the exploding riffs that tail off in every direction and the unrelenting roll of the bass line. The brass sections only go on to raise the song to further dramatic highs and gives us a glimpse into Harrison the showman, beyond the reflective and spiritual versions often showcased. Medical set backs after his initial work would sadly see this album be the peak of his efforts and saw him pushed back behind Lennon and McCartney again. This song and album however demonstrates that he was their equal.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Sunday Suggestion – Paul McCartney & Wings – Live and Let Die

I was recently alarmed at a series of articles looking at possible candidates for the greatest living rockstar on the planet after Kanye West claimed such a title at Glastonbury. I was alarmed at people suggesting Alex Turner and Beyoncé whilst completely ignoring statistically the most successful living rockstar on the planet. That is Paul McCartney. Maybe it’s cool or hip to shun such an obvious choice but I don’t see any point in that. The man has had a go at pretty much more variants of rock music than anyone else that comes to mind and even more impressively has remained successful in the process. One song evocative of that is one of the great Rock Opera-type tracks in Live and Let Die, the soundtrack to the Bond film of the same name in 1973. The song includes those blocky, chiming piano chords that set up the whole orchestra ensemble and a sharp lead guitar riff which tears through the waves of sound from the orchestra before just as easily slipping back into Rock Ballad territory and back again via McCartney’s trademark shriek towards a climatic instrumental finish. If that isn’t an example of one of the greatest living rockstars on the planet then I don’t know what is.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

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.

It’s a cover up! Great song covers – Mr Little Jeans – Waterfalls (Sonder remix)

Back in 1980 a 38 year old Paul McCartney had decided to put Wings on hold and for the unwitting final time people clung on to a full Beatles reunion. But McCartney had other plans. A first solo album in nine years was his goal and picking up on the experimentation he helped plant the seeds for in 1966 and 67 and therefore McCartney II is far different from it’s 1970 predecessor with him resuming his foray into Electronica. ‘Waterfalls’ is a song from the album that is much more calming and contemplative than the repetitive ‘Coming Up’ and the experimentation of ‘Temporary Secretary’. This song was a simple, swooning piece of pop music. It’s almost so subdued and the songs messages so contradictory that it almost deliberately leaves you lost and questioning your own actions. Don’t go jumping waterfalls or chasing polar bears… but I need love. An idea that we put ourselves at risk there just as much as we might do jumping waterfalls. Here McCartney gives electronic music a heart and with good and bad ramifications for the rest of the decade.

Mr Little Jeans is the guise of Norwegian electro pop vocalist Monica Birkenes. She lives in London and records in Los Angeles. This year she recorded her version of the track which was then remixed by Sonder. She has the typical vocal mix of delicacy and power behind it and she delivers the song faithfully for a modern vocalist. Beyond this is a more darker undertone with the blasts of electronica and a slightly hammering drum sample. After each verse the tune is boldly projected to the forefront of the song as it whirrs and grinds in to your ear drums. There’s also times that the heavy, though calm instrumentation drowns out Monica’s vocals slightly as the lyrics are echoed and sifted out eerily in the background. This makes the lyrics a little more amplified with the more uneasy feel of it. In spite of the added atmospheric depth, the song still holds the basic and simple beauty to work as it did back in 1980. A very credible tribute indeed to the great man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 – 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 

 

Paul McCartney – New Review

The man above is and probably always will be statistically the most successful musician of all time. He doesn’t need to do another album. He has nothing left to prove. He’s almost always been there in the public eye, making music since 1963. Whether its been with The Beatles, Wings, On his own, with his late wife Linda, with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Elvis Costello or as part of a charity record. If there’s anything to do in music then he’s done it. Apart from masquerading as a talented musician as many artists do today. Compare this to Bowie who had vanished off the face of the earth for going on nearly a decade then comparisons seem a little fragile in context. McCartney has already done the shock and awe approach. We could see this album from a mile off. New is in effect a follow up from 2007’s Memory Almost Full despite all the work done in-between. With it he’s taken on producers: Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth and Ethan Johns of which all have their own merits and credible moments. McCartney has already shown that he is still open to pushing the boundaries as he did with his collaboration with Bloody Beetroots earlier this year and you’d think with the producers on board (mainly Ronson) that he’d be willing to do the same again.

‘New’ as the title track  is very evocative of songs such as Penny Lane or Good Day Sunshine from his 66/67 Beatles years and some Wings songs too. The song is very happy and jolly with simple riffs and bass lines with trumpets, saxophones etc. just to add to the upbeat feel of the song. In that way it’s by no means profound or innovative in any way at all and is clearly just a tune to have people humming along or tapping they’re feet really. But I think everyone can forgive him for that considering everything he has done previously. Having said that, it is still a success in showing he can do what he did nearly fifty years ago, just as well today. ‘Queenie Eye’ begins with subtle organ chords then rapidly shifts as Paul sets off quickly off-loading each set of lines. The organs keep up a sort of obscured melody behind the drawn out guitars, percussion and piano. There’s another, more atmospheric and spaced out shift with McCartney’s vocals echoed which leads back into an instrumental and another run through the chorus. The songs chord progression is by no means lazy either and for a 71 year old it isn’t bad at all. But you do feel that the song never reaches a peak or conclusion and just sort of flat lines at a decent but not amazing level.

‘Alligator’ feels like two versions of McCartney smashed into each other at the speed of sound. The ‘spikey’ melody plugged by the synths and padded out by the acoustic guitar is sometimes pulled into more sombre and washed out moments but is quite frustratingly always pulled back to where it started. Nevertheless McCartney’s isolated yet smooth vocal interlinks with the instrumentals well. ‘Appreciate’ is quite a refreshing angle to put McCartney at. The hip-hop drum beat is mixed with other distorted samples, reverbed and stuttered riffs and a repeating set of piano chords. The mix of lyrics and vocals also generates a real sense of textural space to the song. His vocal is soft in tone in how its recorded which works in conjunction with the music; even when it steps up a gear and ups the anti. The shifts in tone, texture and space are masterful and fluctuating focus on each element too, sets up the best song on the album for me. A clear sign if any, that he’s still got it. ‘Save Us’ is almost a ‘Back To The Egg’ churning rock ballad but accelerated a little more. The distorted guitars are set against the Wings-like backing vocals. A riff is produced that creates a better hook than many, much younger groups struggle to achieve. There are certain corners of New that are far from what the title suggests. Many are rethought and reworked versions of classic McCartney which are a safe bet for sure. If not a bit of indulgence. However, you get to some songs that really sound fresh and exciting and take on the album title more literally as certain songs sound far superior than a lot of material from much ‘fresher’ artists this year. Based on that, this album is well worth a look if you want nostalgia and/or new ideas. I certainly didn’t think it would be of this standard. Makes you think that some of the current generation need a kick up the arse.

Paul McCartney – New = 8/10

Images from lancegold.blogspot.com / top40.about.com

Francoise Hardy – Icon or Shy Musician?

Im not sure why but i seem to be drawn to those mis-understood or mis-interpreted musicians who always get stereotyped under a frustrating banner like Lennon ‘The Hippie’ and other such things. They were often never what their labels suggest or were perhaps more elaborate than even that which might even pose an idea no one considered of them such as Lennon as an Historical figure. So when a few months ago I talked of ‘Lennon. Musician or Historical Figure?’; it was sort of a one off thing but there many others that relate to Lennon’s external and internal conflicts if perhaps not with the same severity. One of these is Francoise Hardy. She is much of the same ‘era’ as Lennon and with her early career, she was often labelled as the cute, shy and timid French girl from down the street. Yet despite this she is often hailed as a cultural icon; well beyond the realms of music with international stardom and at one time she was even considered an ‘Ice Queen’.

She often jokes that her shyness was because she was born during an air raid warning while Paris was still in the clutches of Hitler and the Nazi Regime. She was brought up by her mother alone and her father was often very distant while her grandmother was often very harsh towards the young Francoise; often calling her ‘an ugly creature’. Attending an all girl convent hardly helped her confidence but it was the start of her writing and music career. She would often write in the solitary enviroment of the convent. Amazingly it was her distant father who bought Francoise her first guitar and she would later attend the Petit Conservatoire de Mireille which was a famous singing school that was often televised in the 60’s. On one of these occassions she is filmed being grilled by her teacher: Mirielle Hartuch with the poor Francoise timidly replying “oui madame” on every response. She would go on to release her first single (Tous les garçons et les filles http://youtu.be/_V-b8QIYOpM ) which would feature on her successful debut album. With this she was taken in by Jean-Marie Perier: a photographer who would later become her boyfriend. He changed her image and in the long term turned her into a style icon though she still always seemed a little timid and never really willing to deal with the international fame she would get in being adored by boys in the same way girls adored the Beatles. She did all this though with great class and sophistication and always wished to focus on the music rather than acting or modelling which she could have easily pursued fully. Usually someone as undeniably beautiful as her would do her best to exploit it and more. But she had the humility and probably the shyness to disregard all that. Today not many musicians do and are often forgotten in their own flash of controversy they created.

As a vocalist she wasn’t particularly powerful or different in a technical sense. However she does have a very warm, emoitional and at ease vocal that is very kind to the ears and often translates across the language barrier. Other songs such as ‘Le Temps de L’amour’ http://youtu.be/gXWqz5qWYEw  or ‘Une fille comme tant d’autres’ http://youtu.be/9zRldqUsok0 have a certain musical class and effortlessness that many of her fellow French Yé yé didn’t have with their subtle and minimalistic guitar riffs, with the bass as the driving force and soft sounding organs and percussion.

But in that sense she could also very easily bring these qualities into singing in a variety of languages. She was already adored in Britian without ever needing to sing in English but she achieved much success in doing so with songs like ‘All over the world’ http://youtu.be/MMuNv9HiCI8 which was much more of a swooning love song but it showed she could go beyond the Yé yé rock style. It was in the U.K where her icon status won over that of the timid French girl. She was often invited by the Beatles for dinner or to just ‘hang’ and Mick Jagger cited her as his ‘ideal girl’. She always said she felt more freedom and less pressure in the U.K as she didn’t have such a strong image painted on her and that it was people like Jagger who helped her overcome her timid personality. However it was perhaps her shyness that kept her away from the drugs that her British contemporaries were experimenting with and this is perhaps why her music is a much more gradual progession of decades rather than the sudden explosion of creativity The Beatles experienced. Her choice was further reinforced when she went to see Bob Dylan at a 1967 concert. He was out of tune and playing terribly. He went off stage and said he would only return once Francoise had went to see him backstage. She was very shocked at the state he was in at that time saying “I was shocked by how he looked. He looked very sick. I have a tendency to see  things in black, so I said to myself, “He’s not going to live very long!”’ So even when she was on friendly terms with some of the worlds biggest musicians, she would still shy away from their lifestyle and it always shone through. While some of them, like George Harrison; had reinforced that side of her personality with his similar demeanour.

 

She certainly needed such a personality when working with Serge Gainsbourg who wrote her 1968 single Comment te dire Adieu? http://youtu.be/mwhX5V1Gn6w which certainly had a more mature style to it and by then she had decided to stop touring and began to focus more on her music and in creating the music she wanted rather than fitting into a certain style. Songs such as ‘La question’ http://youtu.be/suHf_o5RQ-Q were much more vocally and lyrically driven as were songs such as ‘Message Personnel’ http://youtu.be/1h3zy113Nqg were often very more atmospheric and anthemic too and while often not selling in the same way she had in the 60’s; her songs from the 70’s are often just as or more valued for their musical consideration and Francoise’s developed vocal ability. Her album ‘Star’ was a great commerical success too and saw her picked up by a new generation of fans who weren’t born or were very young when she started out. Though she would make on and off returns she is still very much valued as a musical legend today. Not only in France but around the world. Her work with Iggy Pop and Blur in 1990s show her value amongst another generation (mainly with Blur!). They featured her on the song ‘To the End’ http://youtu.be/ojK_yOcC-Mw and she is still releasing music today and though it may not be of the same standard of her material from the 60’s and 70’s; those decades now are indications of her age and when those like McCartney are from a distant standard from what they used to be then it puts it into perspective. With that she has sort of embraced Francoise Hardy the icon a little more as perhaps she can’t ignore it. In a 2011 interview with John Andrew she said “The word “icon” – that’s sometimes used about me. I don’t recognise it. It’s as  if you’re talking about someone else” and it shows how she is still very uncomfortable with it and her solitary attitude is still there from the young and attractive teenager who released her debut single in 1962. She suggested in the same interview that “I feel happy and secure when I’m on my bed with a good book…I forget everything  which is terrible in our world.”

So with that in mind it’s hard to label her as either but it’s much easier to say that neither label would exist without the other. It was her shy and timid personality and of course her humble yet natural beauty both visually and vocally that translated through the laungage barriers better than other French musicians of the time. In fact she sounds better singing that way in French than she would ever do in English in my opinion. Even if you can’t understand what she is saying you get a feel for it with her emotive vocals. You don’t need to translate ‘Tous les garcons’ to realise it’s about lonliness and being alone while everyone else has someone. These shy and timid vocals are even something I can relate to as a teenager in 2013 as many have done before. This is what fundmentally made her an icon as it could be understood above her style and fashion sense. However it was the iconic status which she lived out in the U.S and the U.K that often turned her back to being the shy and timid character and today both sort of exist in unity but for sure you should appreciate both and the legendary musician it made her.

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.