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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2 - side five

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (Takes 1 & 2) - The first two takes of this Lennon composition quickly break down, but the fascinating stuff lies in between as Paul gives John some advice on how to sing the phrases of the song.  John, sounding almost embarrassed, laughs it off, yet a listen to the master version reveals how much respect he actually gave to his longtime partner.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (Take 7) - This is the backing track of that master version with Paul on bass, Ringo on drums and producer George Martin on harmonium.  At the end, it switches to a new mix of the swirling calliope part from the master, although it fades out before coming to a full stop as the released version does.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - This Anthology track combines parts of takes 6, 7 and 8 including Paul on the Hammond organ, George on tamboura, plus guitar and drums.  John wrote the lead vocal part at the top of his range, and he strains to hit the notes on this guide vocal, singing the song in a staccato style.  Mark Lewisohn relates in The Beatles: Recording Sessions that Paul once again gave the composer some advice on how to sing his own song and John listened, resulting in a smoother, dreamier reading on the master.

Within You Without You (Instrumental) - We get to hear this collaboration from the two Georges - Harrison and Martin - minus the vocals, giving us a chance to savor the complex arrangement and interplay of Eastern and Western instruments so groundbreaking for its time.  The track is about twenty seconds longer than the released version due to a few extra measures between some sections.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) - On April 1st, 1967, the band quickly recorded this faster version of the title song to round out the album after more than four months of sessions.  The master, take 9, features Paul, John and George singing in unison, but here on take 5, Paul sings a guide vocal solo.

You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) -The Anthology presents the wackiest of all Beatles songs in stereo for the first time.  It belongs at this point in the chronology because the instrumental backing for this comedy number was recorded in five parts in May and June of '67, though John, Paul and Mal Evans did not add vocals until April of '69, John edited it for release as a potential Plastic Ono Band single in November of '69 and it finally appeared as the B-side of the group's final single Let It Be in March of 1970.  We get to hear an extended opening section, one section that did not make it to the master version featuring lively off-beat syncopation and truncated versions of two familiar sections.  Paul's glorious lounge-lizard section is thankfully untouched. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2 - side four

From the promotional film for Strawberry Fields Forever
Strawberry Fields Forever (Demo Sequence) - John made countless demo versions of his haunting stream-of-consciousness song before the Beatles reunited after a three month break from one another.  He tries finger picking on this attempt, then stops, mutters "I canna do it" and strums instead.  At this point, he has not finished all of the verses or put the ones he has in their final order.  Also note that the line was originally "Let me take you back" rather than "down."

Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 1) - On November 24th, 1966, the first day of sessions for the next album, the boys recorded this magnificent first take of John's now-complete composition.  Numerous overdubs indicate that they thought they had already achieved the master, but a month's worth of work still lay ahead of them.  John had indeed found the vocal style he wanted to use to convey the world-weary tone of the lyrics, but the instrumental backing would change dramatically over many attempts.  Paul's Mellotron was in place from the start (though he had yet to come up with the brilliant mood-setting introduction), but George's prominent slide guitar would give way to a more straightforward guitar sound overall.

Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 7 & Edit Piece) - Several days later, the Beatles once again believed they had completed work on the song using a new arrangement.  In fact, the first minute of take 7 is used in the master, the remainder coming from take 26.  We hear all of take 7 here, then Ringo's wild drum track which was overdubbed onto take 26 for the fade out/fade in/fade out at the end of the record.  Though still incomplete, this sequence of tracks is by far the best on the Anthology series at showing the development of a recording over time.

Penny Lane - In this Anthology amalgam of many different takes, we have Paul's lead vocal single-tracked, a wonderful overdub of cor anglais and trumpets (which was either omitted from the master or mixed so low as to be inaudible) in place of Dave Mason's piccolo trumpet solo, and Mason's full final phrase continuing into some crazy run-on playing from the Beatles before coming to a full stop with a comment from Paul.

A Day in the Life - Another combination of takes is presented here beginning with some pre-recording chatter from John and tinkering on the piano by Paul.  The verses are from take 2 and they include John's guide vocal and acoustic guitar, Paul on piano and assistant Mal Evans' echoed counting of the 24 measures where the first orchestral crescendo would eventually fit in to the song.  For Paul's bridge, we hear his vocal, piano and bass, plus Ringo's drums from take 6 before returning to take 2 for the final verse.  Finally, we do hear the second orchestral build-up followed by some chatter lead by Paul with the guests invited to that orchestral overdub session on February 10th, 1967.

Good Morning Good Morning - Those who think the Beatles didn't rock during their work on Sgt. Pepper should listen to the basic track of this Lennon composition.  Rhythm guitar, Paul's bass and Ringo's drums plus John's vocal are proof enough.

Only a Northern Song - Harrison's first offering for the album wouldn't see the light of day until the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.  This is take 3, the basic track from February 13th, with vocals that were not recorded until April featuring many variations from the lyrics on the master version.      

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2 - side three

Budokan - 1966
Tomorrow Never Knows - The 1966 Revolver sessions were by far the most experimental to date, and no track was more experimental than this one, recorded on April 6th, the first day of the sessions for that album.  Here, on take 1, we hear the sounds of the studio (not unlike the eventual opening of the album) and an announcement of "Here it comes...stand by" over the talkback speaker before an eerie wash of repetitive sound plays, including distorted guitars, Ringo's drums, Paul's bass and John's highly-filtered vocal.  While the result is mesmerizing, the reimagined backing of the master, take 3, recorded over the next day and a half, has much more variety.

Got To Get You Into My Life - This backing for McCartney's Motown-inspired number is also miles away from its released version.  A basic track of organ, drums and acoustic guitar accompanies Paul's lead vocal, as well as some backing vocals from John and George (I need your love) that were eventually deemed unnecessary. 

And Your Bird Can Sing - This early arrangement of this Lennon composition is clearly influenced by the sound of the Byrds, with wonderful chiming guitars throughout.  However, the reason it was most likely chosen to appear on the Anthology is due to the ridiculously childish laughter from John and Paul as they attempt to overdub more vocals onto the track.  The entire thing was scrapped six days later and remade with a more strident sound.

Taxman - Here is an example of a track that is almost, but not quite, identical to the released version, yet the differences are significant.  First are the "Anybody got a bit of money" backing vocals by John and Paul that were replaced by the more topical "Ha ha, Mister Wilson" and "Ha ha, Mister Heath" parts.  And instead of a repeat of Paul's stinging guitar solo at the end, the song comes to a full stop with a final shout of "Taxman!"

Eleanor Rigby (Strings Only) - There are some who complain about this track because it does not feature the Beatles at all, but anyone who cannot appreciate George Martin's superb score (remixed for the Anthology) all by itself will probably never understand the producer's inestimable contributions to the group's recordings.

I'm Only Sleeping (Rehearsal) - These next two tracks are a real oddity.  It was rare for the Beatles to remake a song but then decide to release the original version instead of the remade one.  This snippet of a rehearsal was recorded days after the master, on the same day as vocals were added to that master.  This rehearsal has no vocals and contains an atmospheric vibraphone part along with drums and acoustic guitar.  Whoever is playing the vibes is not identified.

I'm Only Sleeping (Take 1) - The band then moved on to record five new takes of the song, with John himself announcing that this would be the new take 1.  This acoustic arrangement of the number is jointly sung by John and Paul almost as a parody of the original song.  As was usually the case, the correct decision was made as to which version of the tune deserved to be released.

Rock and Roll Music - One of the first stops on the group's final world tour in 1966 was at Budokan in Japan, represented by these next two tracks.  They could not reproduce a single song from the album they had just finished recording live on stage, so they had to resort to their old set list.  The tempo is a bit slow on this Chuck Berry number and John sounds listless as they play only two of the song's four verses.

She's A Woman - On the other hand, Paul, ever the showman, gives his all on this great B-side from 1964.  His enthusiasm even induces some nice answering phrases from George on lead guitar as the song heads for the finish line.

Monday, February 10, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2 - side two

I Feel Fine - Four selections from a live performance for the TV program Blackpool Night Out taped on August 1st, 1965 open this side.  It is unclear whether an attempt was made to recreate the feedback at the top of their hit song from late '64, as it is faded in.  You can clearly hear on each of his vocals that John's voice was ragged on this evening.

Ticket to Ride - Paul introduces this number from the spring of '65.  They truncate this tune by not repeating the first verse and bridge as they did on the record, instead jumping straight to a repeat of the second verse.

Yesterday - The most interesting item from this concert is the first-ever live performance of this song.  George does the intro ("For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, opportunity knocks.") and the title gets no reaction from the crowd, because they had never heard it before, since its appearance on the album Help! was still almost a week away.  Only a few screams from the audience puncture Paul's fine, albeit somewhat nervous rendition with a live string section.  John typically undermines the proceedings with the remark, "Thank you, Ringo.  That was wonderful."

Help! - John introduces the group's most recent "electronic noise" as the evening's final number.  He then manages to forget some of the lyrics to the second verse before Paul and George's backing vocals clue him in as to what he should be singing.  A chord from the program's orchestra brings the group's set to a close.

Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby - A whole different level of screaming is heard on this next track - farther away and yet much louder and consistently present.  The historic first concert at Shea Stadium is represented by this Carl Perkins number which the boys had covered on Beatles For Sale.  George handles the intro and leads the band through a surprisingly cohesive performance considering the conditions.  Though the group most likely could not be heard at all by the record-setting crowd, the amplification is certainly louder than any they had previously had available to them, and the guitars have a heavier sound than usual.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) - Only three selections from the Rubber Soul sessions appear on the collection, starting with take 1 of this beautiful Lennon composition, recorded on October 12th, 1965.  George's plucking of the sitar sounds rudimentary here - amazing, then, that he turned in such a fine performance nine days later when the song was remade.  John and Paul's vocal lines and delivery also differ from those on the much-improved remake.  

I'm Looking Through You - This is a substantially different arrangement of this McCartney number than the one we all know.  Whether this take was considered to be complete is hard to tell, especially in the rather uninteresting instrumental breaks which feature repetitive chords from an organ and a rambling lead guitar from George.  At this stage, Paul also had yet to write the great "why, tell me why" bridge that really helps flesh out the song.  They remade it not just once, but twice before perfecting it for release.

12-Bar Original - This instrumental is a fascinating rarity credited to all four Beatles.  For the Anthology, the six-minute-plus number is wisely edited down to just under three minutes, as the boys (with producer George Martin on harmonium) are definitely out of their element with this type of material.  While it is fun to listen to now, the decision to keep it off the album at that time was certainly an astute one.

Monday, February 3, 2014

ANTHOLOGY 2 - side one

On March 18th, 1996, two weeks after the release of Real Love, Anthology 2 arrived.  Picking up right where the first double CD left off, this collection covers the fertile middle period of the Fab Four's career - the time when they transformed not only themselves, but the music they loved, as well.

Real Love - Before getting into the archival material, the program kicks off with the latest Threetles-enhanced Lennon demo.  For my look at this number, please refer to my previous blog entry.

Yes It Is - The remainder of this first side contains selections from the Help! sessions in February and June of 1965.  The same technique that had been applied to Here, There and Everywhere on the Real Love EP is used to present this great B-side.  We first hear take 2 with John's guide vocal.  He quickly forgets the lyrics on the bridge, and as he begins singing "di-dee-dee" in their place, we segue into a remix of the master, take 14.  The result depends on your point of view concerning these amalgamations.

I'm Down - Another outstanding B-side is presented here, with Paul leading the band through a full performance of the backing track on take 1 of his "plastic soul" number.

You've Got to Hide Your Love Away - There is not much difference to distinguish this - take 5 - from the master - take 9.  According to Mark Lewisohn's liner notes, these were the only complete takes of this simple acoustic number.  A bit of amusing banter from John before the take proper is fun to hear.

If You've Got Trouble - This marks the first official release of this hysterically bad tune, although it had been available on bootlegs for years and had almost been issued by EMI on the legendary Sessions LP in 1985.  The goofy lyrics suggest that John and Paul wrote this song with Ringo's role in the film Help! in mind.

That Means A Lot - This intriguing number from McCartney is another leftover from the Help! sessions that most fans had never heard before.  The entire performance is drenched in echo, making it sound as if the band is playing in an empty dancehall.

Yesterday - Take 1 of McCartney's most famous song is preceded by Paul teaching the chords to George (although in another key) and then playing the tune for the group.  He chuckles on the line "I'm not half the man I used to be" either because he inverted it with the previous line or for a more puerile reason.  It must have been quickly decided that no other Beatle would play on the number, because the master was take 2.

It's Only Love -Take 2 of this Lennon composition (preceded by a false start of take 3 - yes, you read that right) is simply the backing track with a guide vocal by John.  The tempo is a bit faster than the master, take 6.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Real Love

On March 4th, 1996, the next component of the Anthology series appeared.  This time the process was reversed with the release of the single and EP Real Love in advance of Anthology 2.  The single featured Baby's in Black as the B-side.

Real Love - By the 1990's, the ex-Beatles paid so little attention to each others solo careers that Paul, George and Ringo were seemingly unaware that the demo version of this song had already been released as part of the soundtrack to the film Imagine: John Lennon.  Unlike Free as a Bird, this composition was complete, so it did not require as much original input from the Threetles.  The bulk of the work was left to producer Jeff Lynne and old friend engineer Geoff Emerick to make the sound of John's cassette blend with the overdubs, something they did much better on this number than they had on the previous one.  Once again, the highlights of the collaboration are the Beatlesque harmonies of Paul and George, and George's distinctive guitar work.

Baby's in Black - The inclusion of this number from the 1965 Hollywood Bowl concerts is nothing short of amazing considering that all four Beatles wanted nothing to do with The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl album when it was released in 1977.  For me, the best part of this track is not the performance of the song itself from August 30th, but rather John's typically outrageous introduction from the previous evening's show.  Of course, his remarks were most likely completely inaudible from the audience, but knowing that he was being recorded allowed him to express himself for posterity.  Given the great number of hits that the group had already compiled by this time, it strikes me as odd that they even chose this song for their live set.

Yellow Submarine - These next two tracks which adorned the EP are the first in the Anthology series to feature a new wrinkle - one that not all fans appreciated, either.  In this case, we have the same take we are all familiar with, but the sound effects have been brought to the forefront in order to showcase them.  Some are interesting when heard with such clarity, others less so.  The only truly fascinating addition here is Ringo's previously unheard spoken preamble to the song, though one can see why this incongruity was lopped off before the number was released.

Here, There and Everywhere - McCartney's perfect ballad from Revolver is given an unusual treatment, as well, but it is one that would be used multiple times on Anthology 2 and Anthology 3.  We first hear take 7 of the song with the group's simple but elegant backing track and Paul's guide vocal, but as the second bridge ends, a segue is made into a remastered take 13 to bring the number to an end.  While this combination of different takes is meant to be enlightening (and many listeners no doubt enjoyed it), the major criticism is that it simply does not illustrate the growth of a piece in the studio the same way a series of takes did so effectively on Anthology 1.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Free as a Bird

On December 4th, 1995, just a few weeks after the release of Anthology 1, Free as a Bird, which had already served as the lead track on that package, appeared as both a single backed with Christmas Time (Is Here Again) and a four song EP.  At first glance, the additional tracks on the EP - I Saw Her Standing There and This Boy - seemed redundant since they, too, were on Anthology 1, but these are studio takes instead of the live performances on the earlier release.

Free as a Bird - There was a quite a bit of nervous anticipation when it was announced that the Threetles would be overdubbing a John Lennon recording to create a "new" song for this project, and with good reason.  One of the main reasons that the group had not reunited during the 70's, even after they patched up their differences, was that they knew they could never live up to the hype.  But when Yoko offered a few of John's demo tapes to Paul, the temptation was simply too much to resist.  Paul, George and Ringo met in February of '94 to flesh out the tape of this song, which merely had John's vocal and piano.  Paul and George also added lyrics and a melody to the unfinished bridge.

Though fascinating, the end result could not escape being a disappointment, starting with the dirge-like tempo of the number.  Producer Jeff Lynne (of ELO and the Traveling Wilburys) is never quite able to mesh the thin sound of the demo tape with the 48-track studio technology at his disposal.  It is nice to hear Paul and George's Beatlesque harmony and backing vocals, and George plays his trademark slide guitar to great effect.  They add on a distinctly mid-60's coda to the song, featuring George on ukulele and a backwards message from John.    

I Saw Her Standing There - The version we have known for all these years was take 1 of this first great rocker by McCartney, but his famous count-in that opens the song is actually from this take - take 9.  The boys were clearly getting tired on their first full day in the studio, and multiple takes did not improve their performance of this number, especially George's guitar solo.

This Boy - By the end of 1963, they were already seasoned professionals in the studio, however, as evidenced by takes 12 and 13 of Lennon's three-part harmony tune.  They laugh off an early flub of take 12 and launch right into the next take, which holds up until John flubs a few lines in the final verse, causing another eruption of laughter from the boys.

Christmas Time (Is Here Again) - Though credited to all four Beatles, there isn't much to this little ditty, but it is one of the absolute joys of the Anthology series nonetheless.  The group sent out exclusive flexi-discs to members of their fan club every Christmas from 1963 to 1969 with little songs, skits and seasonal messages, and the '67 one featured the boys singing this tune along with producer George Martin and actor Victor Spinetti, who had appeared in all of their films to date.  We are also treated to some of those messages from '66 and a bit of Lennon gobbledygook over an organ playing Auld Lang Syne.