Monday, September 30, 2019

First impressions: "Abbey Road Super Deluxe 50th Anniversary Edition"

Like many of you, I suppose, I spent my weekend listening to the the Abbey Road anniversary box. And while AR is my least favorite Beatles album (something I hope to write about in an upcoming issue of Beatlefan mag), I really liked it!

I mean, how cool is it that we can now expect sets like this? After years of wondering if Apple would ever acknowledge important anniversaries of the Beatles' album releases, we're now on the verge of being spoiled. The Sgt. Pepper set in 2017 opened the floodgates and set expectations. Last year was "The White Album," this year it's Abbey Road and next year, we're all but guaranteed a Let it Be set - possibly to tie into director Peter Jackson's new documentary film of the sessions.

While I may have a quibble here and there about all of these steps, you won't catch me complaining about them. More Beatles is always better, particularly when it's unheard music, such as the session tapes included in this set and its predecessors. For me, such outtakes are the main draw, and the Abbey Road, though limited to just (just!) two CDs, there are many highlights.

For me these include:
  • The chatter ahead of an early take of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", in which the band is informed that neighbors to the recording studio are complaining about the volume. John asked for one more take at the same volume: "last chance to be loud."
  • Session tapes with just John and Paul on "The Ballad of John and Yoko," in which John tells Paul (playing drums) to "Go faster, Ringo" and Paul replies "Ok, George." The take we hear - just John on guitar and Paul on drums - is different, informal, and lots of fun.
  • A breakdown take on "Octopus' Garden," with Ringo humorously apologizing to the rest of the group.
  • Paul's demo for "Goodbye," a tune he gave to Mary Hopkin. Long available on bootleg, it's featured here in much-improved sound (though, I've read that it's likely sourced from the bootlegs we've all heard, but has been subjected to studio tinkering for this release. Whatever. To my ears, it worked).
  • The symphonic overdubs to "The End" and "Something" featured on their own. It's lovely to hear these parts, and to hear George Martin's brilliant contributions on their own. The instrumental version of "Because" is nice, too.
Those are just a few things that stand out. I'm sure I'll appreciate more as I spend more time with the set.

I have to confess I skipped the fourth disk, as I don't have a surround setup. The TV is in the basement and the stereo is in the living room in my house, and I like it that way. But, at some point, I may need to invest in a modest 5.1 setup so I can check this stuff out.

I did give Gile Martin's remix a spin and I enjoyed it. To my ears, it was similar to his "White Album" in that it was almost like a live performance of the album. The vocals seem more "in the room" and there's more separation and presence to the different instruments - less of a blend than in the original mix. To me, it's a different way to hear the album. I don't think of it as Abbey Road. The original mix will remain my go-to. But it's an interesting thing to listen to, which makes me hear the music in a different and new way. One thing I really noticed on the remix was Ringo singing on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." Much more pronounced. Like I said, interesting, nice to have, but no replacement for the original. I doubt I'll return to the remix much. I've listened to Giles' Sgt. Pepper remix only two or three times and his "White Album" remix only once. Like I said, it's all about the outtakes with me.

The book and overall package are very nice. I didn't dig into the text that much, but the info on the sessions seems well-researched and informative and the photos are excellent. There's not a lot of perspective on what was happening in the world when Abbey Road came out, as was the case in the Sgt. Pepper set, but the book is a good companion to the musical contents featured here.

Quibbles? I guess my only beef with the remix is that it is presented as Abbey Road, not as an alternative version of the original. I would've liked to see the original mix included. The remix is an adjunct to the original, in my opinion, not a replacement.

I'd also love to see Apple release a remastered-from-analog vinyl version of the original mix. I don't see any point in buying vinyl LPs that are sourced from digital.

Also, I would've liked to see more outtakes. These disks, entertaining as they are, are somewhat skimpy and could be more comprehensive. Why not, for example, include all the Abbey Road outtakes that were included on the Anthology compilations? I don't see this as a bad thing. The Abbey Road box should include it all. For example, I think leaving off the all-vocal version of "Because" was silly. Yes, it's on Anthology 3. But it's weird not to have it here, as well, particularly as there was plenty of space on the CDs to accommodate it.

Finally, the last Abbey Road listening I did over the weekend was to my original vinyl copy of the LP - orange-label Capitol, purchased sometime in the mid to late 1970s. And, despite a pop or crackle here, it sounded fantastic.

Listen: Pattie Boyd on BBC 2

George Harrison's former wife Pattie Harrison is featured in a new BBC Radio 2 interview, which you can stream here.

The program is part of BBC's ongoing Abbey Road anniversary programming.

Top 60: The Beatles' most-streamed songs

The Official Charts website and BBC Radio 2 have teamed up to spotlight the Beatles' most-streamed and downloaded songs.

At Number One is "Here Comes the Sun" (possibly due to it being featured on so many "good morning" playlists?), which has generated an astounding 50.3 million streams. Following are "Let it Be" and, in third, the band's top-selling single of the vinyl era, "Hey Jude."

Here's the entire list.

Vintage Beatles pic

Friday, September 27, 2019

Retracing "Abbey Road" - How the Beatles' official fan magazine covered the news Pt. 4

Winding up our view of how the Beatles Monthly Book covered the transition from the "Get Back/Let it Be" film project to Abbey Road.

At this point, the documentary film the group had initially planned as a TV special that would include them performing before a live audience was cast to the side. The footage of their rehearsals would be edited into a film and songs from the sessions would be compiled into a soundtrack album. In the meantime, though, they'd gone back into the studio to record an entirely new album, which was released on Sept. 26, 1969. And today, we see the release of the album's 50th anniversary editions!

Here's a look back at how the Beatles Book shared the news of Abbey Road with its readers.

And here's some details from the recording sessions:

As you can see, some details of the songs are a little fuzzy:

From 1969: John Lennon discusses "Abbey Road" track by track

From an interview with DJ Tony McArthur on Radio Luxembourg. This is the type of stuff I wished they'd also include on the deluxe editions!

Beatles Weekly News Roundup: The Beetle on Abbey Road; Yoko's new installation

Volkswagen is taking advantage of the Abbey Road LP anniversary to promote its new Park Assist technology.
In the original 1969 shot, the car is parked half on the sidewalk, mounting the curb. In the reimagined version, created by agency Nord DDB to mark the album's 50th anniversary, it's parallel parked neatly at the side of the road. VW claims it has therefore corrected the world's "most iconic parking fail"—although, we would point out, it's not actually illegal to park on sidewalks in the U.K., despite recent calls for it to become so.

VW has created 300 of the limited edition "Reparked Edition" vinyl albums. They can be purchased online and at Pet Sounds Records in Stockholm, with sales donated to Swedish children’s rights organization Bris.

Yoko is inviting women worldwide to contribute to her new art installation, titled "Arising."

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Stream BBC Beatles programs now!

The BBC's "pop-up" radio station launched to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road is broadcasting now. Click here to listen, or to hear shows on-demand.

Watch: New "Here Comes the Sun" - official Beatles video

Retracing "Abbey Road" - How the Beatles' official fan magazine covered the news Pt. 3

Continuing our look at how the Beatles Monthly Book covered the creation of Abbey Road.

Yesterday's post detailed George's walkout during the tense rehearsal sessions a Twickenham Film Studio and the band's decision to drop the idea of performing a live concert to be filmed as part of a TV special.

Instead, the rehearsal footage shot at Twickenham, recording sessions filmed at the Beatles' Apple studio and the impromptu performance on the Apple rooftop would be assembled into the "Let it Be" film. But that would take several months to edit and complete. In the meantime, the band had recorded songs they decided to include on a new album, not associated with the TV project. And that would be come Abbey Road.

An article from the May issue of the Beatles Book captures the band's projects in flux:

An earlier article, from March, shows how some of the songs played at Twickenham and Apple found their way onto Abbey Road:

In July, the magazine announced a plan to release an album from the TV project the very next month:

But it was announced in the next issue that this album will be delayed so it can be released in conjunction with the planned TV special, which is now a documentary of "the Beatles at work." In the meantime, the band has decided to record an entirely new album and is at work on it at Abbey Road:

 Full details of the Abbey Road album and sessions were published in the September issue. We'll feature clips from that tomorrow—the same day many of us will be listening to the 50th anniversary edition of the Abbey Road LP for the first time.

In the meantime, here's a pic of Yoko and Linda at the Apple sessions:

Yoko and Linda at Apple

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

New video teaser for Ringo's upcoming "What's My Name?" LP

Video: Paul McCartney Answers the Web's Most Searched Questions

Video: Giles Martin discusses "Abbey Road" remix

Watch Ringo, Jimmy Fallon & The Roots perform "Yellow Submarine" with toy instruments

Retracing "Abbey Road" - How the Beatles' official fan magazine covered the news Pt. 2

We continue our look at how the Beatles Monthly Book, the band's official fan magazine, reported the shift from the "Let it Be"/"Get Back" film project to the recording of Abbey Road.

Here, the magazine announces the sudden stop to the film project as the band abandoned rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studio and started recording sessions in the basement of their Apple Corps. headquarters in Saville Row.

In a separate article, Beatles assistant Mal Evans writes firsthand about the internal differences that led to the group leaving Twickenham and dropping the idea of playing a live concert.

His narrative puts a spin on things, downplaying the tensions that led George to walk out of the Twickenham sessions, an incident that ended up being reported "as a punch-up" in the tabloids.

George later said there'd been no physical altercation between him and any other of the Beatles (the rumors claimed it was John), but that he'd reached his limit in dealing with the tense environment of the film studio.

In the "Beatles Anthology," George alludes to the tense conversation between him and Paul that ended up being include in the "Let it Be" film:
They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, 'What's the point of this? I'm quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I'm not able to be happy in this situation. I'm getting out of here.' 
Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I know John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, 'I'm not doing this any more. I'm out of here.' So I got my guitar and went home and that afternoon wrote "Wah-Wah."
It became stifling, so that although this new album was supposed to break away from that type of recording (we were going back to playing live) it was still very much that kind of situation where he already had in his mind what he wanted. Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: 'What am I doing here? This is painful!' 
Then superimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time. John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don't think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn't want him hanging out with us.
Audio from the Twickenham sessions captured the walkout, with George telling the others he was leaving the band that that he'd "see them 'round the clubs." He also suggested that they put an ad in the music papers for a new guitarist. John later suggests that the Beatles get Eric Clapton as a replacement if George failed to come back.

Mal's account, however, doesn't mention George saying he'd quit the group, only that the live show idea had been abandoned and that the group had decided to leave Twickenham for Apple.

At Apple, the group started to shift away from working on the "Let it Be/Get Back" songs and toward recording a "new" album that became Abbey Road.

BBC's Beatles radio station pops up tomorrow - programming celebrates the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road

A reminder that you'll be able to stream the BBC's "pop-up" radio station starting Thursday. Programs can also be streamed on demand for 30 days after first airing.

Details from the Beeb:
Broadcasting from Thursday 26 to Sunday 29 September from London’s iconic Abbey Road Studios, the station will honour John, Paul, George and Ringo as a group, as individual artists, and as songwriters. All the live shows on Radio 2 Beatles will come direct from Abbey Road - with some also simulcast on Radio 2 and BBC Sounds - and broadcast alongside pre-recorded specials and classic Beatles content from the unique BBC archive.

All programmes featured on Radio 2 Beatles will be available to listen to on BBC Sounds for 30 days after broadcast.

Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2 says: “The Beatles are woven into the fabric of UK culture. They inspired and continue to inspire artists of all generations and created some of the world's most loved music. As their seminal album Abbey Road is 50 years old, I am delighted that Radio 2 is celebrating the Fab Four with a four-day pop-up DAB radio station.”

Programme highlights include We Write The Songs, where Gary Barlow interviews Paul McCartney about the music, where Paul discusses how The Beatles only began writing because other bands were stealing their act, and describing how he’s stayed at the top of the music business for six decades.

In the series My Beatles, Dave Grohl, Jack Savoretti and Tom Odell talk about the influence the Fab Four’s music had on them; across the daily series I Was There, the likes of Tony Blackburn and radio critic Gillian Reynolds talk about what it was really like being part of the swinging Sixties, whilst Martin Freeman presents the story of The White Album across two shows.

6 Music Breakfast and Desert Island Discs host Lauren Laverne presents Desert Island Beatles, featuring the many guests who’ve selected one of their group or solo records, as a must-have track, plus Liza Tarbuck meets pop-artist and Sgt. Pepper sleeve designer Sir Peter Blake, while Jimmy Tarbuck hosts an hour of novelty versions of hit Beatles songs.

Gary Barlow says: “It was an absolute honour that Paul McCartney, one of my true heroes and a legendary songwriting genius, agreed to talk in depth about his work for my Radio 2 series We Write The Songs. This particular episode really is a masterclass from the master! I am thrilled to launch my first series on the network as part of Radio 2 Beatles, which sounds like it is going to be four days of unmissable radio.”

Simulcast on Radio 2 and BBC Sounds, and broadcasting live from Abbey Road studios on Thursday morning, Radio 2 Beatles will be launched by Ken Bruce whose show will feature a special Beatles themed Tracks Of My Years and PopMaster quiz (9.30am-12pm). Later that day, Jo Whiley will present her Radio 2 evening show live from Abbey Road with live performances and very special guests (7pm-9pm). On the Friday, the day kicks off with The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show, with a special Friends Round Friday (6.30am-9.30am) including music from Rick Astley.

Later that day, Sara Cox is joined by the listeners for a Beatles All Request Friday (5pm-7pm), and that evening Friday Night Is Music Night presents The Beatles Orchestrated. Guy Garvey will be hosting, with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a guest list of artists, including Cerys Matthews, Katie Melua, Level 42’s Mark King, alongside Guy himself, all performing songs from across the Beatles catalogue (8pm-10pm). On the Saturday morning Dermot O’Leary presents his show live from Abbey Road (8am-10am), followed by an extra hour exclusive to the Pop-Up, where Dermot speaks to writer Richard Curtis about his recent film Yesterday (10am-11am).

Other shows exclusive to Radio 2 Beatles include Grace Dent presenting Hip to the Trip focussing on free love, fashion and The Fab Four, while Nicky Campbell discusses the crucial role played by the band’s producer Sir George Martin, with his son Giles. Actor Himesh Patel, the star of the movie Yesterday, tells the incredible story behind Abbey Road - the band’s last recorded album - in a new two-part special and songwriter Guy Chambers looks at the genius of their lyrics and melody.
Craig Charles uncovers some of the BBC’s incredible archive audio, and Paul Merton takes to the imaginary stage to introduce The Beatles Fantasy Concert, featuring the ultimate collection of live performances recorded by The Beatles as a band and as solo artists. Scott Mills takes us on an alphabetical trip through the Beatles back catalogue, Paul Gambaccini tells the musical story from the other side of the Atlantic, and Tris Penna presents a four-part series charting each of the Fab Four’s individual music careers and most memorable albums.

Radio 2 Beatles has also commissioned a special chart from the Official Charts Company - The Beatles Downloaded: Official UK Top 60, will be revealed across the Saturday and Sunday afternoons (5-7pm) with Janice Long and Radio 1 Breakfast Show host Greg James counting down the most downloaded and streamed Beatles songs in the UK. Plus Steve Wright presents a special Beatles Love Songs, Trevor Nelson playing classic soul Beatles’ covers in Rubber Soul, Radio 1’s Alice Levine explores the Fab Four’s various musical pairings, and Country Covers with Ben Earle, from country band The Shires, features Fab Four tracks covered by country artists.
From the BBC archive Radio 2 Beatles will be broadcasting When John Met Paul with Bob Harris, Radio 4’s Mastertapes with Paul McCartney, and Sgt. Pepper Recreated, recorded in 2007 and featuring performances from Oasis, Bryan Adams, and Kaiser Chiefs.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Retracing "Abbey Road" - How the Beatles' official fan magazine covered the news Pt. 1

Abbey Road - the classic LP that served as the Beatles' swan song and is rated by many fans as one of their best - wasn't a planned release.

At the start of 1969, the band was just beginning work on the project that would ultimately become the Let it Be album and film.

But rehearsal sessions at Twickenham Film Studios for a planned TV special to incorporate a live performance of some sort (band members couldn't agree on where, or if, to play in front of an audience) were tense and uninspiring. The big, empty soundstage where the band had set up was cold and uninviting.

The Beatles eventually moved to their own studio in the basement of their Apple office on Savoy Road, where sessions started to drift away from the "live," "no overdubs" rules they'd set for the "Let it Be"/"Get Back" project.

With plans for the the TV special were scrapped. It was agreed footage from the rehearsals and a performance on the Apple rooftop would be edited into film and that songs performed in the footage would be assembled into a soundtrack album; all of which would take time.

In the meanwhile, the band decided to make a separate, second album that would come out ahead of he soundtrack. This eventually became Abbey Road.

Over the next few days, we'll take a look at clippings from the Beatles Monthly Book, the band's official fan magazine, that chart the detours and changed planned that gave us Abbey Road.

Here are some of the first mentions of the "Let it Be"/"Get Back" project, at the start of 1969:

Watch: Paul on the "Late Show" with Stephen Colbert

Monday, September 23, 2019

New "Here Comes the Sun" video from Beatles premieres Thursday - UPDATED with trailer

The Beatles will release a new video this week ahead of the Friday release of their Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Edition releases, which include a remix of the 1969 album by Gile Martin and outtakes from the album's recording sessions.

A teaser for the video is coming later today.

According to a news release:
The "Here Comes The Sun" music video welcomes the viewer into Abbey Road Studios' Studio Two, where The Beatles famously recorded most of Abbey Road, to experience a unique and moving sunrise above the band's instruments and gear. Working closely with Apple Corps Ltd., the video is directed by Trunk Animation's director team Alasdair + Jock (Alasdair Brotherston and Jock Mooney) and produced by Trunk's Maria Manton. The video's sun centerpiece was filmed as it was meticulously crafted on-set in Abbey Road's Studio Two. The video features photos from the Apple Corps archive, and photos and footage shot by Linda McCartney supplied by Paul McCartney.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Interview: Paul discusses new Polaroids photo book by Linda on BBC's "Newsnight"

Listen: "Come Together" new mix and outtake from Abbey Road 50h Anniversary Edition

Beatles Weekly News Roundup: Only Yesterday; Abbey Road conference; George in India; Carpool Emmy; Linda's Polaroids

The New York Times reviews "Only Yesterday," a new play that focuses on the friendship of John and Paul and the night they stayed up all night talking as the Beatles waiting out Hurricane Dora while on tour in Florida in 1964.
Although fans of the Beatles will undoubtedly find themselves in nostalgic bliss, those less versed in the Fab Four don’t need to know their “Abbey Road” from their “Sgt. Pepper’s” to be delighted by the elegant storytelling and sensitive performances.

Ringo is a "leaver" in Britain's debate over whether to leave the European Union, but Paul views the Brexit vote as a mistake, he told the BBC this week.
Reflecting on the 2016 Brexit vote, Sir Paul said the arguments made during the campaign had been "all crazy promises".
"What put me off was that I was meeting a lot of older people, kind of pretty much my generation.
"And they were going, 'All right Paul - it's going to be like it was in the old days, we're going to go back.' And it was like, 'Yeah? Oh, I'm not sure about that.' And that attitude was very prevalent.
"I vote for someone I believe in and so often there's nobody I believe in. I have to get a bit inspired. At the moment I'm not really inspired."
An academic conference on the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road is set for the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music later this month.

Presenters include audio engineer Ken Townsend, who worked on several Beatles albums, including Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; Andy Babiuk, a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and author of Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio; Walter Everett, a professor of music theory at the University of Michigan and author of The Beatles as Musicians; and Kenneth Womack and Katie Kapurch, literary scholars and coeditors of New Critical Perspectives on the Beatles: Things We Said Today.

Here's some rare video of George in India in 1968 recording the "Wonder Wall" soundtrack with Indian musicians.
“Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney Live From Liverpool” won an Emmy for best variety special this week.
The Guardian previews a new book that collects Linda McCartney's Polaroid photography.