The Who, I Can See For Miles, and the Origins of Helter Skelter

Posted in The Who, Youtube Favs on January 29th, 2012 by Willie

So apparently, if it weren’t for this song, Charles Manson never would have heard the Beatles “Helter Skelter” and have murdered all those people.  Legend goes that Paul McCartney read that this song was the “heaviest” ever made, and without even hearing it, took it upon himself to write a metal song, a genre that didn’t really exist yet.  The funny thing is, this song is not that heavy.  It’s a beautiful psychedelic pop song wrapped up in themes of revenge, be them romantic or otherwise.  It’s funny because as I write this, I do recall reading something from Paul McCartney when he finally heard the alleged Who song in question, sort of laughing at the “false” inspiration.  Amazingly, the folks at Wikipedia have the quote for us all to enjoy,

“Umm, that came about just ’cause I’d read a review of a record which said, ‘and this group really got us wild, there’s echo on everything, they’re screaming their heads off.’ And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, it’d be great to do one. Pity they’ve done it. Must be great — really screaming record.’ And then I heard their record and it was quite straight, and it was very sort of sophisticated. It wasn’t rough and screaming and tape echo at all. So I thought, ‘Oh well, we’ll do one like that, then.’ And I had this song called “Helter Skelter,” which is just a ridiculous song. So we did it like that, ‘cuz I like noise.”

Interesting stuff, but that’s all besides the point.  The point, if you must know, is that “I Can See For Miles” is indeed awesome.  It features some of the best hard rock psychedelic harmonies the Who ever achieved, driving the song with force into the psychedelic expanse.  The video below is also great even though it’s a  mimed performance.  The Who had trouble replicating the overdubs live, contributing to the fact that they never played it much on stage, at least when Keith Moon was living.  Anyway, enjoy this sucker, because its one of the best ever.

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The Who, Who Are You?

Posted in The Who, Youtube Favs on January 27th, 2012 by Willie

Rock and roll.  It’s life, it’s blood, it’s the Who.  This studio performance of “Who Are You” from “The Kids Are Alright” film is one of the best and clearest examples of rock and roll perfection.  The Who were a dynamite live act and an incredible studio machine.  This video captures both looks of the Who at their best in one of their most iconic songs.  There is something both beautiful and intimidating in the way Pete Townshend was able to pack explosive art into every second of this masterpiece.  The beauty part is self evident, but the intimidation element is something to behold.  This band, directed by Pete, is just all muscle.  Each member flexes their power over rock in a furious fashion, a force only contained in the lines of Pete’s brilliant songwriting.  It’s amazing, if you haven’t guessed, so just press play and enjoy.

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The Who, The Seeker

Posted in The Who, Youtube Favs on January 23rd, 2012 by Willie

I was examining the dusty halls of my website, and I realized my section on the Who is seriously lacking.  It’s not for lack of love, merely an oversight soon to be corrected.  “The Seeker” is one of my favorite Who songs.  It’s a hard driving philosophical rock fest that is half serious/half parody.  When I was 17, I was more interested in the serious side; Pete Townshend’s search for the meaning of life and death expressed through Roger Daltry’s howling lungs, Keith Moon’s insane bashing, and John Entwistle’s flute like bass playing.  As a 27 year old, I’m more interested in the parody side.  The song almost seems to be the story of your average rock and roll fan, searching for enlightenment and meaning through the dominant pop culture icons of the age; the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Timothy Leary.  Pete himself must have come across tons of these people asking him for guidance seeing him as another rock and roll prophet.  The whole concept is brilliant, and the raucous music matches the abstract flair.  The music video itself below is also an awesome example of pop art perfection with dramatic closeups of the members and stylized lyrics splashing the screen.  Enjoy.

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Paul McCartney Performs Blackbird in Abbey Road

Posted in Paul McCartney, The Beatles, Youtube Favs on January 18th, 2012 by Willie

Paul McCartney had so many wonderful moments in his time with the Beatles, some big, some small, but all beautiful.  I have an ultra rare clip of the man playing “Blackbird,” his gorgeous ballad from the White Album.  This is footage of Paul playing the song for Beatles producer George Martin in the Abbey Road studios in 1968.  Paul wrote the song in Scotland thinking on the subject of civil rights, and the song is meant as a tribute to black women everywhere (bird being British slang for girl.)  The intricate acoustic backing was inspired by J.S. Bach’s “Bourree in E minor,” a piece meant for lute and classical guitar.  Paul took the songs main element, the simultaneous plucking of the bass and top strings, then shifted and rearranged the piece in the key of G.  “Blackbird” is one of Paul’s most heartfelt and genuine songs, so much so that he took it upon himself to play it for the Apple Scruffs, (die hard Beatle fans,) on his front lawn the first night Linda McCartney slept over his house, obviously overcome with joy.  The video below is a little grainy, but a remarkable document of Paul in one of his most fertile songwriting phases.  Also, gotta love those red and yellow psychedelic shoes he used to tap out the rhythm.

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John Lennon's "She Said, She Said" Home Demos

Posted in John Lennon, The Beatles, Youtube Favs on January 15th, 2012 by Willie

I’ve discussed the subject of “She Said, She Said” before when discussing the Black Keys’ excellent cover version of the classic psychedelic Beatle rocker.  Right now, I have something a little tastier, John Lennon’s acoustic home demos of the song.  Through a magical few minutes, the clip below cuts together all of John’s early takes for what would become a soaring electric guitar masterpiece.  The thing I love most about this clip is the way John twists his gorgeous folk rock melody, fine tuning it to perfection. Its remarkable because all versions of this song sound brilliant and inspired.  The recording is like a beautiful mirror of John’s creative process.  He sounds at times dreamy, whimsical, unsure, confident, and druggy, a fine mix of emotions that led to the song’s ultimate nature.  Even the starts and stops are fascinating, giving you insight into how the guy needed to wind himself up properly to create something so good…

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John Lennon and Bob Dylan, Together in a Cab

Posted in Bob Dylan, John Lennon, The Beatles, Youtube Favs on January 10th, 2012 by Willie

There are a lot of great moments in rock and roll history that go unrecorded.  The first meeting between Bob Dylan and the Beatles is one of them.  Not only was it the occasion when the Beatles met one of their musical heroes, but its also the first time the Beatles seriously smoke marijuana.  Apparently they had a ball, and obviously the experience influenced them to no end, both musically and personally.  On that personal level, imagine how fantastic if the first time you smoked pot, 1964 era Bob Dylan was the one initiating you.  It’s a total dream time scenario.  Anyway, it’s actually a good thing that the meeting wasn’t caught on tape because in the one instance when John Lennon and Bob Dylan were filmed, it was beyond awkward.  You would think that two icons of ultra cool all time hipsterdom would be savvy and super interesting under the lights, but clearly they are uptight and nervous.  The film from which this video is culled, Eat the Document, was a documentary of Bob’s 1966 tour of the UK.  The scene with John was a deleted bootleg.  John had this to say about it, “both in shades, and both on fucking junk, and all these freaks around us… I was nervous as shit. I was on his territory, that’s why I was so nervous.”  John said that in Rolling Stone magazine, obviously paranoid about what was going to be shown, as he had not yet seen the movie.  The reality is, Bob looked way more whacked out and nervous then John, high on something very strong, with John trying to calm Dylan down in a funny way saying, “Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead, or curly hair? Take Zimdawn!…Come, come, boy, it’s only a film. Pull yourself together.”  Despite the disjointed conversation, and otherwise unrevealing dialog, the film is just amazing for being what it is.  If anything, both guys probably realize the phoniness of the situation as the film clicks away, and that in itself is very enlightening.  So, check out this precious moment in rock history, and let me know if you can decode any secret messages I might have missed.

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The Beatles, Live at Shea Stadium

Posted in The Beatles, Youtube Favs on January 6th, 2012 by Willie

On August 15th, 1965, the Beatles arrived in New York City, to play a massive sold out show at Shea Stadium, the former home of the New York Mets.  The concert was a big deal for many reasons.  First off, it was the largest rock concert to date, setting the stage for Woodstock, Altamont, and all the mega stadium rock tours that would follow.  At the time, it was the highest grossing live event in the history of show business, raking in 304,000 dollars from 55,000 plus crazed fans.  Lastly, it was the apex of the “Beatlemania” phenomenon.  The Beatles were live, in New York City, playing to the largest live audience then imaginable, a live audience frenzied beyond comprehension.  Girls were fainting, screaming, rushing the field, and peeing themselves.  Police Officers were deafened by the noise, and outside the screaming girls, everyone else was stunned into hysterics by the absurdity of the event.  The Beatles, loaded up with fresh 100 watt Vox amplifiers, couldn’t hear themselves or each other, and the concert itself was broadcast to the crowd over the tinny Shea Stadium PA system.  The Beatles did the best they could to just plug away and hope they were playing together.  They did somehow manage to pull off a coherent performance, considering the circumstances, bashing through their most raucous rockers in the middle of a sustained chaos.  The videos capturing the event have been highly edited and bootlegged over the years.  The Beatles manager Brian Epstein, in concert with Ed Sullivan’s production team, filmed a documentary of the event that has never seen an official release, outside of a TV broadcast in 1967. The documentary itself was overdubbed with vocal retakes on some songs, some more jarringly out of place then others.  The entire concert, in documentary form, does exist on youtube, but its incomplete and the quality isn’t great. What I have below is first a rare HD look at the part of the documentary showing the Beatles getting ready for the show, selected scenes from the Beatles Anthology, and documentary footage I found stitched together as concisely as possible. While edited and incomplete, they represent the best image and sound quality of the show available on youtube.  It’s still a lot of fun, and I’m waiting for the day to get my hands on the final HD remaster of the show in full.  Until then, enjoy one of the greatest events in the history of live musical performance…




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The Three Worst Beatle Songs (According to Me)

Posted in The Beatles, Youtube Favs on January 4th, 2012 by Willie

There are a lot of “Worst Beatle Songs” lists out there, and they all have the same formula.  The writer lists 2-3 songs that are absolute duds, and then sprinkles in a few that are actually classics just to fuck with people’s long held opinions.  In preparing for this piece, I read those articles, many written by major magazines, and top online blogs, and saw songs like “Hey Jude,” “All You Need is Love,” “Yesterday,” and “Penny Lane.”  It’s simply a travesty, even if you are just trying to get attention, to lump any of those songs onto a “worst ever” list, and you won’t see it here.  Also, its mandatory for all of these writers to include “Revolution #9,” a song loathed and skipped the world over.  I know its equally pretentious to claim being a fan of “Revolution #9,” but count me as one.  I just think it adds richness and color to the “White Album.”  It’s interesting to listen to, not a bore at all, and has really nice snippets of sound effects and music woven into it very beautifully.  It’s experimental, daring, and fuck you for criticizing the Beatles for trying something off the wall after giving you the soundtrack to your life.  Ok, with all that said, I’m going to give you the three worst Beatle songs according to me.  Now, I also want to preface, that despite the fact that I think these songs are terrible, I still let them play if they pop on my iPod, and they still get stuck in my head.

#3.  “Mr. Moonlight”- This is a song that finds its way on most lists, and for good reason; its probably the worst cover the Beatles ever did.  John’s lead vocal is forced and the backing vocals are lame.  It’s one of these ancient 50s standards that the Beatles can’t quite seem to bring into the next decade.  I just don’t understand why the guys liked this song enough to put it on one of their albums.  The lyrics are insanely embarrassing and bad, “we love you, Mr. Moonlight.”  Lastly, when they repeat “Mr. Moonlight” to end the song with a dark three part harmony, its just dreadful, and possibly the worst harmonizing they ever laid on tape.

#2.  “A Taste of Honey”- Another cover song.  This one has lyrics more thoroughly embarrassing then “Mr. Moonlight,” and musically, its just as awful.  It’s some kind of dark samba like shuffle with utterly bizarre emotional and lyrical moments with the main dramatic hook being biggest offender, “A taste of HONEY!…tasting, much sweeter, then wine, doo doo do dooo!”  The thing about this song is that it’s terrifyingly catchy.  You will probably be humming the start and stop melody for a week in the back of your brain after hearing, so be warned.  Perhaps the Beatles recorded it to show off their range at playing show tunes, or perhaps they appreciated its catchy refrain, the number one ingredient they were searching for in their own songwriting.  Whatever they were really thinking when making “A Taste of Honey,” is hard to fathom, and thus can only be appreciated with irony, delicious as it might be.

#1. “Do You Want to Know a Secret”- Before George was George, he was just the youngest member of the Beatles.  He hadn’t cultivated any songwriting ability, and his voice wasn’t as strong as John or Paul’s, but being a Beatle, he had a massive fan base that wanted to hear from him.  So, John and Paul took it upon themselves to write songs for George and Ringo, and were quite clever about it. They realized that there would be a huge demand for it, and that they could give the lesser songs, they themselves to embarrassed to sing, to George and Ringo, just to get rid of them.  One of these songs was “Do You Want to Know a Secret.”  Right away, you can tell why John dumped this thing on George.  It starts off with an ambitious declaratory and unmusical refrain, but then kicks off into the schmaltziest take on 60s doo-wop ever heard.  The backing vocals say it all, “doo-wah-doo” sung after ever line with shameless pixie like stupidity.  The most immortal line, “I’ve known a secret for a week or two, nobody knows, just we twoooo,” is a crime not only against music, but grammar as well.  John famously said that he gave it to George because, “it only had three notes and he wasn’t the best singer in the world.”  He did qualify the brutally harsh statement by saying “he has improved a lot since then.”  John said that in 1980, a full decade after George’s rise to genius songwriter/performer, so he’s either being sarcastic by limiting his praise for George, or just outright mean. Either way he ignores the fact that he wrote the stupid song, and it would sound awful coming from anybody.  On the plus side, there is still something magical going on, mainly its unstoppable catchiness.  The melody is timeless…existing at the lowest wrung of timeless melodies, but hanging in, somehow.  It proves that even at their worst, the Beatles had some enchanted sense of beauty that permeated everything they touched…..doo-wah-dooo.

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The Unicorns, Jellybones

Posted in The Unicorns, Youtube Favs on January 3rd, 2012 by Willie

I was given the Unicorns’ album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, way back in late 2004, and I still have not gotten over it.  Since then, I’ve collected all the demos, music videos, Islands records, Clues records, and bootlegs possible, and am still hungry for more.  The creative genius of Alden Penner, Nicholas Thorburn, and Jamie Thompson still resonate with me, all these years later.  The Unicorns were a frightfully talented trio of Canadian rock perfection; an indie rock band that had ambitions of pop glory and transcendental coolness.  The group’s lead singers and songwriters, Penner and Thorburn, formed a duo of talent and excellence rarely seen in rock and roll.  Frankly, they reminded me of Lennon and McCartney.  A bold and crazy comparison, but hey, they are that good.  The future retro indie rock they made was beautiful, unpredictable, and inspired.  The aesthetic construction of their group’s image was homespun, honest, and original.  I hate that they broke up after only record, because these guys had a chemistry that played to their strengths.  The future seemed unlimited.  Anyway, here is their major music video, “Jellybones.”  It’s fantastic and gorgeous, matching the songs brilliance.  Enjoy.

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