Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Up for auction: Autographed postcard by the pre-Ringo Beatles

Via Heritage Auctions:
A Beatles postcard with "April 5th 1962" printed on it, signed and inscribed by original drummer Pete Best, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon in blue ballpoint ink. Paul's, George's, and John's inscriptions are in German. Also signed by Beatle's good friend Roy Young who is seen playing piano in photo. Matted with black and white photo of the group circa that era playing in a German venue. Matted to an overall 12" x 16". Postcard is in Very Good Minus condition with soiling along the bottom portion. Photo is in Very Good Plus condition. COA from Heritage Auctions.

Vintage Beatles pic: Paul

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Early photographer of The Beatles, Terry O'Neill, dies

So soon after the death of Robert Freeman, another major photographer closely linked to the Beatles has also passed away.

Terry O'Neill, who died Nov. 16 at age 81, took many pictures of the group including shots of the band inside and outside of the EMI Studios at Abbey Road as the Beatles worked on their first British Number One single, "Please Please Me." He also took a famous shot of the Beatles and future British Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1964.

Along with the Beatles, O'Neill photographed numerous other musicians, celebrities and newsmakers, including the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot and Nelson Mandela. He was married to Faye Dunaway from 1983 to 1986.

The Guardian published an obituary here.

You can see a collection of O'Neill's Beatles photos here.

Vintage Beatles pic

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review: Ringo Starr's disappointing "What's My Name"

We know his name. But the question here isn't what, but "why?"

For example,  why the terrible opening track, "Gotta Get Up to Get Down," co-penned with Joe Walsh, who cringingly old man raps/rants about social media and makes Ringo sound like a guest on his own LP?

Or why the terrible (terrible!) "new wave" cover of "Money"?

And why, for the love that's all that's holy, why the Autotuned lead vocal and school recital-style string arrangement on the cover version of John Lennon's "Grow Old With Me"?

This last tune should be the album's centerpiece. It's a beautiful song. My wife and I had it played at our wedding. And Ringo, if you took off the Autotune, sounds wonderful singing it. It even has Paul McCartney playing a beautiful bassline. It should be a lovely tribute to John. But the processing on Ringo's voice, and the fact that you can barely hear Paul's backing vocals at all are a disappointment. And the string quartet arrangement is so basic and bad. I wish they'd instead used the sophisticated, sympathetic and lush orchestration George Martin created for John's recording of the song on the 1998 John Lennon Anthology. Ringo's cover of the song should've been a handwritten love letter, but sounds instead like a Hallmark card.

What's left? Not much, seeing as how Ringo doesn't release more than 10 tracks per album these days. (Is there a format that falls between EP and LP?)

There's "It's Not Love that You Want," which has a great melody and hearkens back to something off Time Takes Time (Ringo's last truly excellent album) or his association with Mark Hudson (which also produced some nice stuff). But the lyrics are dumb. The thesis is, "it's not love that you want, it's love that you need." Deep. But at least the phrase sounds like it's coming off a bumpersticker, not a t-shirt, like "Life is Good," later on the album. And, still later, there's "Send Love, Spread Peace." Another bumpersticker.

That last one also has a really nice melody. Ringo is great at 'em and I'm glad he enjoys writing tunes. But the lyrics. I love his devotion to his positive "peace and love" message. But if you took those words out of his songwriting vocabulary, there'd be nothing left. The lyrics to most of the songs here are completely interchangeable, and unoriginal. Ringo should dig deeper, find a new angle, or prod his songwriting collaborators to do so.

"Better Days," contributed by Sam Hollander might as well have lyrics from Ringo. It's the same formula: "We all face adversity, we can overcome it, peace and love is the answer."

The most "different" tune on the album is "Magic," which has a 70s AOR swagger to it and a throwback guitar solo, by co-writer Steve Lukather, to match. It sounds pretty good, but the melody stretches beyond Ringo's range at points and, again, the lyrics are half-baked.

"Thank God for Music" is another cliche put to music. The Beach Boys did the same sentiment much better several years back with "That's Why God Made the Radio."

And the album's title track, which comes last, is just sort of embarrassing, lacking all the charm of Ringo's self-referencing and self-deprecating "I'm the Greatest," provided to him by John all those years ago. With its chant of "What's My Name?" "Ringo!", this sounds like it's intended to be played live, but it likely won't be, or at least not much. Despite putting out new albums at a steady pace, Ringo rarely performs any of their contents in concert. Another reason to ponder: Why make new records, then?

The cover of "Grow Old With Me" has secured this LP with lots of media attention and many good reviews. But that's the nature of hype - it's generally empty and often used to promote things that aren't worthy. The truth is, this is a much weaker album that its predecessor, Give More Love from 2017, which was one of Ringo's best in years. That one has a nice title track (yes, more peace and love, but still), the countrified "So Wrong for So Long," and a couple of nice bonus tracks: An updated demo or "Back Off Boogaloo" and a very nice and different take on "Don't Pass Me By."

At nearly 80, Ringo needn't record any more albums at all, but I hope he does. His voice is still warm and lovable. When he has something decent to sing, he sounds fantastic. His drumming is still delightful and distinctive as hell. He's capable of something great, but it's going to take a deeper level of commitment to songcraft and a producer who's not afraid to push. The fact that this entry is disappointing is, in a way, a good thing. We expect more, and know he's capable of it.

Vintage Beatles postcards

Saturday, November 9, 2019

A tribute to Beatles photographer Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman, who provided the cover photos for five Beatles albums (and nearly a sixth) died yesterday, Nov. 8, at age 82.

In an online tribute, Paul McCartney said Freeman was an "imaginative and a true original thinker" and "one of our favorite photographers during the Beatles years."

"People often think that the cover shot for 'Meet The Beatles' of our foreheads in half shadow was a carefully arranged studio shot. In fact it was taken quite quickly by Robert in the corridor of a hotel we were staying in where natural light came from the windows at the end of the corridor."

That photo, which first appeared on the Beatles' second British release, With the Beatles, captured and solidified the band's iconic early look.

Freeman also shot the cover photos for Beatles for Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul, and his individual shots of the band's members were used on the cover of A Hard Day's Night

He also prepared a cover for Revolver, but the band instead chose to use the famed black-and-white drawing and photo collage created by their friend Klaus Voormann. Freeman never provided cover art for a Beatles album again. A reported affair John Lennon had with Freeman's wife may have been a contributing cause. 

In his book about John, Lennon/Beatles biographer Philip Norman alleged that John's relationship with Sonny Freeman Drane inspired the song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)". Cynthia Lennon also wrote about the affair in her book, "John". Even so, some of Freeman's photos of the Beatles appear in Voormann's collage. Freeman also shot the cover photos for John Lennon's 1964 and 1965 books, "In His on Write" and "A Spaniard in the Works."

Here's a selection of Freeman's Beatles covers, including the "lost" Revolver photo collage he created, followed by Paul's full tribute. You can see more of Freeman's work in "The Beatles: A Private View." 

Paul McCartney Tribute to Robert Freeman
Dear Robert Freeman has passed away. He was one of our favourite photographers during the Beatles years who came up with some of our most iconic album covers. Besides being a great professional he was imaginative and a true original thinker. People often think that the cover shot for Meet The Beatles of our foreheads in half shadow was a carefully arranged studio shot. In fact it was taken quite quickly by Robert in the corridor of a hotel we were staying in where natural light came from the windows at the end of the corridor. I think it took no more than half an hour to accomplish.
Bob also took the Rubber Soul cover; his normal practice was to use a slide projector and project the photos he’d taken onto a piece of white cardboard which was exactly album sized, thus giving us an accurate idea of how the finished product would look. During his viewing session the card which had been propped up on a small table fell backwards giving the photograph a ‘stretched’ look. Instead of simply putting the card upright again we became excited at the idea of this new version of his photograph. He assured us that it was possible to print it this way and because the album was titled Rubber Soul we felt that the image fitted perfectly.
I will miss this wonderful man but will always cherish the fond memories I have of him.
Thanks Bob.

Vintage Beatles hairbrush ad