Tuesday, July 25, 2017

10 Best Guest Performances on Beatles Records

by Jim Beviglia, Culture Sonar: http://www.culturesonar.com/beatles-records-guest-performances/

They were known as the Fab Four, and it usually took only John, Paul, George and Ringo to create musical magic. But, every once in a while, The Beatles looked outside the core four for others to help them out. Occasionally they didn’t know how to play whatever instrument the song required. Other times it was a matter of improving band dynamics by bringing in an outside artist as a kind of special guest. Many of the names on this list may be obscure to all but the most hardcore Beatle fans, but all of their contributions were essential to some of the most memorable songs in the band’s esteemed catalog.

1. Andy White on “Love Me Do” (1962)
Even though Ringo Starr was already a band member, session drummer White handled the skins on the recording of the band’s first-ever single release as The Beatles. It’s not the most complicated song for drummers — and Starr played it just fine on the album version — but White, at the very least, didn’t get in the way of it becoming a Top 20 hit in Britain, assuring the band would get another shot in the studio. They would turn that shot into the smash hit “Please Please Me,” starting Beatlemania in earnest.
2. Johnnie Scott on “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (1965)
John Lennon’s beautiful, bereft ballad from the Help! soundtrack received an integral instrumental assist from an unlikely source when Scott added a flute part at the song’s end. That little bit of the exotic took the song from being just a typical acoustic waltz with Dylanesque tendencies and transformed it into something a bit more mysterious and unique.
3. George Martin on “In My Life” (1965)
This classic ballad caused a stir in later years when both Lennon and McCartney claimed to have done the bulk of the writing. What can’t be denied is that the baroque piano solo played midway was a bit more involved than any of the group members could handle. Martin couldn’t quite do it either, but his idea to play the solo half-speed and then speed up the tape was just what the song ordered.
4. Alan Civil on “For No One” (1966)
One of McCartney’s most heartbreaking slow ones on Revolver gets a big boost from the French horn played by Civil in the instrumental break. Civil reportedly chafed at McCartney’s insistence on extra takes, but it paid off; his part captured the wounded dignity of the song’s hapless protagonist, who seems to be the last one to know that his love is imploding and there’s nothing he can do about it.
5. David Mason on “Penny Lane” (1967)
During the early sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, McCartney was mesmerized by a high-pitched trumpet one night while watching a television performance of a Bach piece. He decided then and there that it would be just the thing to embellish this song detailing childhood memories of Liverpool, so Mason added the majestic flourish of the piccolo trumpet.
6. Anna Joshi, Amrit Gajjar, Buddhadev Kansara, Natwar Soni on “Within You Without You” (1967)
Harrison’s lone composition on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band brilliantly melded his fascination with Eastern music with his grasp of Western song structure. The Indian musicians listed above managed to create a hypnotic rhythmic foundation from which Harrison’s wending melody springs, creating an aural experience unlike anything most Beatle fans had encountered up to that point.
7. Eric Clapton on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (1968)
Harrison was apparently fed up by bickering between band members and brought in Clapton, already a legend on electric guitar, to do the weeping guitar bit in this brooding standout off The White Album. Clapton managed to deliver an anguished bit of guitar commentary on Harrison’s enigmatic lyrics and did so without pulling the song out of The Beatles’ comfort zone.
8. Chris Thomas on “Piggies” (1968)
Thomas was deputized as temporary band producer while George Martin took a brief vacation during the sessions for The White Album. He also stepped in to play the harpsichord on Harrison’s satire of greed and excess. The Victorian feel of the instrument is the perfect counterpoint to Harrison’s story of swine that turn on their own and need a “damn good whacking.”
9. Billy Preston on “Get Back” (1970)
Here was another situation where Harrison tried to make the other Beatles play nice by bringing in a respected musician from outside the group to defuse some of the tension. The group loved Preston’s work so much that he ended up playing keyboards all over the songs from the Let It Be sessions. Perhaps his most memorable and soulful turn comes on McCartney’s boogeying hit single.
10. Brian Jones on “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” (1970)
Jones had already passed away by the time this long-in-gestation, comic B-side was released in 1970. But his squawking saxophone solo is a fitting way to end this list. After all, his ability to play a variety of unusual instruments, including marimba, sitar and flute, meant that The Rolling Stones, The Beatles’ chief rivals for British Invasion supremacy, rarely needed guest musicians for the special flourishes in their songs.
– This is Jim Beviglia‘s first post for CultureSonar. Welcome!
PS. Some of the above names are in the mix in our post In Search of The Real Fifth Beatle. What do you think? Plus, you may also enjoy our posts The New “Sgt. Pepper” Box Set Is Truly Super-Deluxe and Ringo’s Replacement Gets a Big Screen Treatment.
Photo credit: Keystone/Stringer (courtesy Getty Images)

Monday, July 17, 2017

VIDEOS: Psychedelic Scenes of Pink Floyd’s Early Days with Syd Barrett, 1967

by Mike Springer, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2013/09/psychedelic-scenes-of-pink-floyds-early-days-with-syd-barrett-1967.html

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd turns 70 years old today. Waters was the principal songwriter and dominant creative force during the band's famous 1970s period, when it released a string of popular and influential concept albums such as Dark Side of the MoonWish You Were Here and The Wall. But today we thought it would be interesting to take you all the way back to 1967, when Waters was 23 years old and the band was led by his childhood friend Syd Barrett.
The video above is from a May 14, 1967 broadcast of the BBC program The Look of the Week. Pink Floyd hadn't released an album yet. Only two nights earlier the band had staged its attention-getting "Games for May" concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. In the TV broadcast, Pink Floyd plays its early favorite "Astronomy Domine" before Waters and Barrett sit down for a rather tense interview with the classically trained musician and critic Hans Keller. It's amusing to watch Keller's face as he expresses his extreme irritation at the band's loud, strange music. "My verdict is that its a little bit of a regression to childhood," he says with a grimace. "But after all, why not?"
Waters and Barrett manage to hold their own during the interview. Barrett comes across as lucid and well-spoken, despite the fact that his heavy LSD use and mental instability would soon make him unable to function within the band. By December of 1967, Pink Floyd would add guitarist David Gilmour to the lineup to compensate for Barrett's erratic behavior. By March of 1968 -- only 10 months after the BBC broadcast -- Barrett would quit the group.
We'll close with an even earlier video of Pink Floyd onstage. Filmed on January 27, 1967 at the legendary UFO club in London, the clip is from the February 7, 1967 Granada TV documentary So Far Out It's Straight Down. It shows the band playing another major song from its psychedelic era, "Interstellar Overdrive."

Friday, July 14, 2017

VIDEOS: Miles Davis Opens for Neil Young and “That Sorry-Ass Cat” Steve Miller at The Fillmore East (1970)

by  , Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2015/05/miles-davis-opens-for-neil-young-and-the-steve-miller-band-1970.html

The story, the many stories, of Miles Davis as an opening act for several rock bands in the 1970s make for fascinating reading. Before he blew the Grateful Dead’s minds as their opening act at the Fillmore West in April 1970 (hear both bands’ sets here), Davis and his all-star Quintet---billed as an "Extra Added Attraction"---did a couple nights at the Fillmore East, opening for Neil Young and Crazy Horse and The Steve Miller Band in March of 1970. The combination of Young and Davis actually seems to have been rather unremarkable, but there is a lot to say about where the two artists were individually.
Nate Chinen in at Length describes their meeting as a “minimum orbit intersection distance”—the “closest point of contact between the paths of two orbiting systems.” Both artists were “in the thrall of reinvention,” Young moving away from the smoothness of CSNY and into free-form anti-virtuosity with Crazy Horse; Davis toward virtuosity turned back into the blues. Miles, suggested jazz writer Greg Tate, was “bored fiddling with quantum mechanics and just wanted to play the blues again.” The story of Davis and Young at the Fillmore East is best told by listening to the music both were making at the time. Hear "Cinnamon Girl" below and the rest of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s incredible set here. The band had just released their beautifully ragged Everybody Knows this is Nowhere.
When it comes to the meeting of Davis and Steve Miller, the story gets juicier, and much more Miles: the difficult performer, not the impossibly cool musician. (It sometimes seems like the word “difficult” was invented to describe Miles Davis.) The trumpeter's well-earned egotism lends his legacy a kind of rakish charm, but I don’t relish the positions of those record company executives and promoters who had to wrangle him, though many of them were less than charming individuals themselves. Columbia Records’ Clive Davis, who does not have a reputation as a pushover, sounds alarmed in his recollection of Miles’ reaction after he forced the trumpeter to play the Fillmore dates to market psychedelic jazz-funk masterpiece Bitches Brew to white audiences.
According to John Glatt, Davis remembers that Miles “went nuts. He told me he had no interest in playing for ‘those fu*king long-haired kids.’” Particularly offended by The Steve Miller Band, Davis refused to arrive on time to open for an artist he deemed “a sorry-ass cat,” forcing Miller to go on before him. “Steve Miller didn’t have his shit going for him,” remembers Davis in his expletive-filled autobiography, “so I’m pissed because I got to open for this non-playing motherfu*ker just because he had one or two sorry-ass records out. So I would come late and he would have to go on first and then when we got there, we smoked the motherfu*king place, and everybody dug it.” There is no doubt Davis and Quintet smoked. Hear them do “Directions” above from an Early Show on March 6, 1970.
“Directions,” from unreleased tapes, is as raw as they come, “the intensity,” writes music blog Willard’s Wormholes, “of a band that sounds like they were playing at the The Fillmore to prove something to somebody… and did.” The next night’s performances were released in 2001 as It’s About That Time. Hear the title track above from March 7th. As for The Steve Miller Blues Band? We have audio of their performance from that night as well. Hear it below. It's inherently an unfair comparison between the two bands, not least because of the vast difference in audio quality. But as for whether or not they sound like “sorry-ass cats"... well, you decide.
Related Content:

Monday, July 3, 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: "Freewheelin' by Bob Dylan

Getty Images
If there is one principle true for all great art, it is that repeat visits reward with new insights. This is as true for great pop records as it is for great paintings, great books and great films. Case in point: Bob Dylan’s sophomore album Freewheelin’. I just re-listened to this LP for the umpteenth time (which means that I’ve heard this recording I don’t know how many times over the past four decades) and it never fails to offer something new. In Dylan’s expansive catalog, I’m hard-pressed to name another record better than this one. And I’ve tried them all.
Freewheelin’ was the follow-up to Dylan’s eponymous 1962 debut — an album that sold so poorly that Dylan was nicknamed “Hammond’s Folly” by execs at Columbia Records. But whereas his debut showcased Dylan in full Woody Guthrie mode (and still making wild claims about a mythical childhood in the Southwest or raised by wolves in the Black Hills of the Dakotas), Freewheelin’ is where Bob Dylan actually finds his voice. It’s here that he puts the finishing touches on his persona by adding touches of James Dean and Marlon Brando to Guthrie 2.0 and Ramblin’ Jack.
And regarding the LP’s most famous song… Just as some “true” Beatles fans identify themselves by denigrating Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Dylan elitists tend to dismiss “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In truth, “Blowin’ in the Wind” rates among the greatest American songs of the 20th Century. I imagine it gets the short shrift now because it’s joined the ranks of anthems like “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Overcome,” yet on an album of major and minor masterpieces, “Blowin’ in the Wind” really does remain the jewel in the crown.
But the rest of the album has many high points: “Girl of the North Country” has near-perfect lyrics; “Down the Highway” is classic country blues; and “Bob Dylan’s Blues” plays the essential role of releasing some air from the profundity balloon. As for “A Hard Rain…,” yes, it’s based on an old Scottish ballad, but it stands there, with one foot in the 17th Century and the other in the 20th. It encompasses Kerouac, Ginsberg, and the Beats and who knows how many other references and when it first was released people were absolutely dumbfounded by it, just like they must have reacted to hearing Charlie Parker for the first time, or Bill Monroe.
“A Hard Rain” is actually the big bang of the singer-songwriter movement; a tune that set the standard for folk authenticity and made writing and singing original material a requirement for artistic legitimacy. Not that Freewheelin’ ends there but you’ll have to sort out for yourself the rankings of unforgettable “Don’t Think Twice,” the satiric “Talkin’ WWIII,” and the revelatory “Corrina, Corrina.”
And then there’s the album’s amazing cover: a simple photo of Bob and his girlfriend walking down a winter street in the Village, which somehow manages to encompass the vague and uncertain concept of “freewheelin'” that gave the LP its name. To be freewheelin’ seems to have something to do with your relationship to the future. If the defining characteristic of what is now called “THE SIXTIES” was an ability to imagine a future as something other than the simple extension of the present then the sixties start here, in those boots, those jeans, that jacket and this amazing album.
– Stan Denski
Photo credit:  Keystone Features (courtesy Getty Images)