George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Sitar Lesson and Within You Without You

Posted in George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, The Beatles, Youtube Favs on December 12th, 2012 by Willie

EDIT: Ravi Shankar died yesterday, Tuesday, December 12, 2012, at the age of 92 in Southern California. RIP you beautiful man; legend of music, Beatle guru, sitar master.

Orignally Published May 5, 2011- Part 56 is a double dose adventure of Indian/English fun.  First we have an awesome rare clip of George Harrison in India taking a sitar lesson with legendary sitar master Ravi Shankar in 1966.  After the Beatles quit touring the mad, mad, world in early 1966, they all took long vacations.  George decided to take his wife, Patti Boyd, to India, where he met Ravi, and insisted on becoming his apprentice.  The first video shows Ravi instructing George on some scales near a beautiful lake and mountain, while Ravi narrates the experience, expressing total shock and bewilderment at why a pop musician of George’s stature would be interested in classical Indian music.  Of course, George’s interest in sitar music caused an international explosion in the instrument and genre, and made Ravi Shankar an international star.  Video two shows the results of all of these efforts, “Within You Without You,” the second best song off Sgt. Pepper, (“A Day in the Life” being the best.)  This song is so incredible.  It’s a total masterpiece of artistic expression.  John Lennon said it best about the song, saying that George was “so clear” on this track, and that it was one of his favorite songs.  The lyrics are some of the most brilliant in the entire Beatles catalog, and sonically, its just perfect, a psychedelic joyride through George’s Indian soaked mind.  I also think its a stunningly original song coming from a man who adopted gurus to learn from his whole life, (Perkins, Lennon, McCartney, Dylan.)  This song has nothing to do with any of those guys, its just pure George, and its brave of him to stick his head out, in the Beatles of all groups, with a song like this.  And its undeniably fantastic!

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Making More Rock And Roll, Deconstructing Sgt. Pepper

Posted in The Beatles, Willie Simpson's Original Music on December 1st, 2012 by Willie

Well, I haven’t updated the ole’ website in a good while, and the reason is because I’m still making more rock and roll. The intention of this humble little corner of internet space was never to be a daily rock and roll blog, that happened more or less organically. The site was created to feature my music, and to that end, my album, which I’ve previewed extensively on this site, is nearly finished. The album in question, which I’ve named Funeral Business, is something I’m growing increasingly proud of. The album art, which the ever lovely Sonia Rapaport created, is the thing you’re looking at right above. Right now I’m collaborating on one last tune with Andrew Lee, and from there, the future promises to reflect the glimmering wonderfulness to be entailed within it. I’m planning a mini documentary movie in the coming weeks about the creation of the record, and a further reflection on my thoughts on rock and roll and what it means to me. Its a flourish of self centered activity that I find rather distasteful, but necessary to further spread the joy this music has brought to me. I want to thank all my friends and family who have helped me along the way here, and I also want to post this incredibly cool video someone made deconstructing the “Sgt. Pepper” song, because it goes against everything in my nature to provide an update without some music. This little video is really fascinating, breaking the song down into its component parts, giving you a sense of how the Beatles created their masterpieces. You will also be hypnotized by those groovy multicolored lines of sonic goodness. Enjoy.

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The Kinks, Autumn Almanac

Posted in The Kinks, Youtube Favs on December 9th, 2011 by Willie

The Kinks.  I love them.  I love Ray Davies, the writer of this song, “Autumn Almanac,” an absolute stunning piece of musical genius from 1967.  A lot happened in 1967.  It was the year when the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper to critical and international fame, when Jimi Hendrix was revolutionizing the use of the electric guitar, and when the world’s youth was dropping acid and dreaming of the future.  Ray Davies was thinking of the past; of autumn days, his old school notebook, hiking in the woods, and Sunday dinners.  There is no better writer of nostalgic pop then Ray, and this song is his shining anthem to that feeling.  At his creative height, Ray challenged the Beatles in terms of melodic brilliance and was as good as Bob Dylan in creating emotive original lyrics.  He was that good, and “Autumn Almanac” is one of his best songs and greatest examples of his powers.  The song is a stream of consciousness, both lyrically, and melodically, but its not without coherence, form, and beauty.  The song exists at the limit of creativity a person can achieve with an acoustic guitar writing in the pop song format.  I hope you enjoy it.

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Pink Floyd vs. The Beatles, Time

Posted in Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Youtube Favs on November 23rd, 2011 by Willie

In yesterdays post I alluded to how Dark Side of the Moon reminded me strongly of Abbey Road.  I must not be the only one, because the image above is all over the internet.  This leads to an interesting debate amongst music fans, mostly ardent Pink Floyd people, that claim that Pink Floyd is the spiritual successor to the Fab Four.  Some go even further claiming that Pink Floyd’s dazzling studio mastery and reflections on more mature philosophical themes elevate them as a technically greater band then the Beatles.  I’ll address the claims in reverse order.  While its true that Pink Floyd was a massive commercial success in the 70s, among the top 3 bands in the decade, they are not the Beatles of the 70s.  What Pink Floyd did was continue the Beatles psychedelic studio experimentation in the pop rock format, pushing its boundaries and increasing its sonic power.  Like the Beatles, their best songs had strong melodies, beautiful harmonies, and precise arrangements.  The difference is, Pink Floyd was a psychedelic folk band, while the Beatles were an ever expanding rock and roll outfit, encompassing a wide variety of styles and sensibilities.  At their height, Pink Floyd reached a massive arena audience and influenced youth culture strongly with their detached nihilistic messages railing against a corrupt and oppressive system.  At the Beatles height, they did all things Pink Floyd accomplished, times a factor of  100, plus creating the universe of youth culture that Pink Floyd successfully tapped into.  Tracing back to the first argument, in which people claim that Pink Floyd are spiritual successors of the Beatles, it is true, but so was practically every other band that came after the Beatles.  Pink Floyd were the best group that continued the Beatles perfect psychedelic folk experimentation heard on the White Album and copped the professionalism and thematic track linking the Beatles employed in creating Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.  It was just a few aspects of the Beatles that Pink Floyd carried on, not the whole bundle, but honestly, who could do everything the Beatles did?  This is no knock on Pink Floyd, merely a comment on the truly extraordinary accomplishments the Beatles achieved.  I’m sure most Pink Floyders would probably agree this because I’d be hard pressed to find a PF fan that didn’t like the Beatles.  Those that disagree are just not being fair to history and are letting their Pink Floyd love cloud their objective judgement.  Anyway, those are my opinions on the subject, and I have no problem with others thinking otherwise, its a fun debate.  I have one more song today from Dark Side of the Moon, “Time.”  “Time” is one of the best songs on the album, a sweeping collage of sound effects, guitar power, and haunting lyrics.  It’s a philosophical song about wasting ones life presented as an angry rant.  It’s almost a call to arms, and its fascinating.  Enjoy.

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Of Montreal, Disconnect the Dots, Lysergic Bliss (live), Art Snob Solutions (live)

Posted in Of Montreal, Youtube Favs on September 22nd, 2011 by Willie

R.E.M. broke up yesterday, but worry not, because Athens, Georgia rocks on with their other native sons, Of Montreal.  Of Montreal, famously not “of Montreal,” hail from R.E.M.’s hometown too.  Kevin Barnes, the group’s extroverted introvert genius front man, is peculiar guy.  When he broke into music, his talent wasn’t entirely assembled.  His early home record, Cherry Peel, is pretty terrible.  The only redeeming feature was  the strange lyrical sense.  It mixed a sublimely inspired high brow thing with an almost crass vulnerability.  Even though his early records weren’t great, Kevin kept plugging away, churning out song after song, and record after record, becoming one of the most prolific artists in rock and roll.  Along the way, his talent skyrocketed, and most of Of Montreal’s records were entirely recorded by him, and featured stunning melodies, complex arrangements, and a mashing together of styles that was bold and futuristic.  My favorite Of Montreal record was 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, a modern day Sgt. Pepper if I ever heard one.  That album launched Of Montreal into the mainstream of indie rock, and they have capitalizing on its success ever since, crafting an outrageous David Bowie and Prince inspired live show, and headlining shows all across the world.  The first two songs are from the aforementioned album, and the last one, “Art Snob Solutions,” was a bonus cut from The Sunlandic Twins record that followed in the next year.  These are my favorite Of Montreal songs, and not only reflect the spirit of Elephant 6’s desire to bring vintage Beatles psychedelia back to life, but Barnes’s own dreams of writing hits and becoming a modern day rock star.  Since the middle part of the last decade, Of Montreal has veered towards a more experimental funk disco oriented sound, away from their 60s British roots that I love, and they have become an object of profound love or hate.  Again, like Neutral Milk Hotel, I fall somewhere in the middle, not entirely digging their newer stuff, but not dismissing them at all due to my knowledge of the supreme accomplishments Kevin has achieved with his group.  He is just following his muse down a path where the one rule seems to be, “don’t repeat yourself,” and its a creed I wished more artists would live by.


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John Lennon, Come Together, Live!

Posted in John Lennon, The Beatles, Youtube Favs on September 8th, 2011 by Willie

They say elephants never forget, and they also say fuck Yoko Ono.  When John Lennon played Madison Square Garden Live in 1972, he played an afternoon show and an evening show.  “Elephant’s Memory,” the backup band for John, claimed that the evening show was far superior, but upon releasing this concert  in 1986, long after John’s death, Yoko decided to use the inferior afternoon show  as the basis for the album and the concert video.  Why?  Nobody knows what Yoko is thinking.  She probably thinks that her performances in the afternoon show were better than her performances in the evening show, which is insane, because nobody could possibly care.  The tapes and video of the evening show are locked away forever, or maybe even destroyed, and we might never get to see them thanks to the brilliant Yoko.  Yoko did the same thing for the Mind Games video where she took a raw 19 hours of footage, shot by college kids who followed John Lennon around for a day, and condensed it to a precious 4 minutes!  In that 19 hours you can supposedly see John Lennon making an appearance at Radio City Music Hall, where the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band On The Road” was playing.  He apparently got a 20 minute standing ovation that he described as one of the greatest moments of his life, and proceeded to sit down on organ and play with the house band.  Why this footage is not released is beyond me.  I actually rather wish I knew it never existed, then to think Yoko’s got it hidden away somewhere for no one to see.  Blah, that’s the end of my rant.  Enjoy John’s performance of “Come Together,” a song originally written as a way to get people to vote LSD guru Timothy Leary as governor of California.  It’s a little historical tidbit that’s a perfect segue for me to champion my status as finalist in the CBS Best Local NYC Blogger award one last time!  Tomorrow is the last day of voting, and you can STILL vote for me, even if you’ve already voted!  Once a day counts, so click that link and put me over the top! 

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The Making of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Posted in The Beatles, Youtube Favs on July 4th, 2011 by Willie

The best discoveries are the ones you make by accident.  Just yesterday, my roommate keyed me into letmewatchthis.ch, one of those movie streaming websites of dubious legality.  It’s a pretty cool site with a lot of variety of stuff, but new and old.  On a lark, I typed in “Beatles” in the search box, and I found something I’ve NEVER seen before.  It was a BBC documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band produced in 1992, on the 25th anniversary of its historic 1967 release.  This documentary, presented below in 6 parts, excited the hell out of me because it featured insights and interviews, I’ve NEVER seen before, and as an obsessive Beatle fan, I’ve seen nearly EVERYTHING.  You’ll see incredible interviews with Paul, George, Ringo, George Martin, and even Brian Wilson, which is interesting because this was the record that caused him to have a mental break down. This is fantastic, and well, worth diving into on your July 4th holiday.  Enjoy.

Part 1 – The Beatles had conquered the world, said they were bigger than Jesus, and quit playing live. You get to see the shameful Beatle record burnings, the riot in the Philippines, and the murky underside of Beatlemania. Fun fact I NEVER knew, when George went to India after the Beatles quit touring, Paul actually went to Kenya! Not too many African influences on Sgt. Pepper though…Oh, you also learn how Paul forced the other Beatles to go to work on the new record which gave the other guys a lot of anxiety.

Part 2 – George Martin breaks down the complex insanely awesome production it took to make Strawberry Fields Forever. Plus you get to see the proper Englishman who played the French Horn solo on Penny Lane! Also, Paul gives insight into how he was burned by John when he suggested calling their songwriting team McCartney/Lennon. Hah!

Part 3 – The album concept emerges, the making of the Sgt. Pepper song, and the making of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. This documentary is awesome because its punctuated with George Martin and Paul McCartney in the studio playing keyboards and breaking down the music theory behind the songs. Genius stuff. Oh, and John accidentally takes LSD in the studio and nearly jumps off the roof of Abbey Road studios.

Part 4 – We get insight in the fierce yet productive songwriting competition between John and Paul. George Martin incorrectly gives Paul all the credit for “With A Little Help From My Friends,” while Ringo saves himself from getting pelted by tomatoes. Lastly, you get immortally indispensable insight into the creation of “Within You Without You.”

Part 5 – Paul McCartney admits that Pet Sounds is the biggest influence on Sgt. Pepper. Plus we see poor Brian Wilson admit to how Sgt. Pepper blew him away so much that it made him insane. Phil Collins stops by and talks about another room. Also, we get to see the mythic Cork Flakes commercial that inspired John Lennon’s “Good Morning.”

Part 6- We meet Peter Blake, the designer of the cover, we learn how “A Day in the Life” was constructed, and we see George Martin nearly break down observing its gorgeousness. Ringo attributes his great drumming to be surrounded by 3 frustrated drummers who could only play one style really well. Paul gets the last word talking about how critics predicted the demise of the Beatles, secretly knowing that he was sitting on the masterpiece that was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

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The Beatles, All You Need is Love

Posted in The Beatles, Youtube Favs on June 26th, 2011 by Willie

At last we’ve arrived at part 100 of my youtube favorites countdown.  This is the final part of the countdown, and boy has it been a magical journey through some of my favorite songs and videos of all time.  I had to end the countdown on the Beatles because it hurts my eyes when they don’t fall on #1 in any list predominantly about rock and roll.  “All You Need is Love,” is a mysterious song.  It was written specifically for the historic first worldwide satellite TV broadcast, “Our World,” and was watched by over 400 million people globally.  The song is a mystery because there aren’t too many quotes from John Lennon about the inspiration and writing of the song, and the other Beatles and George Martin can’t seem to remember exactly where the song came from.  The song wasn’t made for any album, and the recording of the track (save some overdubs) was mostly done in the live recording you see below.  So you don’t have a bunch of takes and jam sessions in the vault that might give further insight into its creation.  I have yet to hear a demo of John on his guitar or piano plunking out the song for the first time, which would simply be a marvelous thing if it exists somewhere.  Anyway, this song is a Masterpiece, (note the capital M.)  It’s one of the greatest slogans ever set to music and fantastic slice of artistic genius.  It’s also just further evidence of the insane alien amount of productivity the Beatles were capable of.  They had just finished Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, their timeless masterwork, and then a few weeks later, they unleash this masterstroke.  They were an unstoppable force of magic, churning out record after record, with smash #1 singles (that weren’t on the LPs) dotting those releases.  What’s further amazing is that nothing in their tumultuous personal lives slowed them down a bit.  In 1967, John was a full blown drug addict; snorting cocaine, dropping acid every weekend, smoking pot everyday, and probably drinking heavily.  His marriage was falling apart, he was having a massive identity crisis, he was jealous of Paul McCartney, and he was suffering a dark depression.  None of that seemed to stop him from writing a song like, “All You Need is Love,” and then following it up with another track like the brilliant “I am the Walrus,” a few weeks after.  No force, personal or global, could really stop the momentum the Beatles had built for themselves, and it all culminated in them being considered the greatest musicians of the 20th century.  So the countdown ends, but the website doesn’t of course.  From here on out, I’ll be focusing on writing more ambitious “proper essays” and articles on everything from music, politics, culture, and philosophy.  So keep checking back, as I intend to make this one of the best websites you’ll ever read.  Thank you so much.

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Ween, The Mollusk

Posted in Ween, Youtube Favs on May 10th, 2011 by Willie

For part 59 of my youtube countdown, I have another video from Ween’s amazing 1997 record, The Mollusk. The song, appropriately enough, is “The Mollusk” itself.  This song is a beautiful story about a semi-creepy older man talking to a boy at the beach about a magical mollusk he found by the shore.  It’s a hilarious back and forth vocal duet set to a gorgeous sea-faring arrangement.  This song, the whole album, and the video below for that matter, reminds me of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  It’s a concept album about the ocean set to glorious transcendent melodies and production.  Every time I put on the album, I play it all the way through, and I always feel like I’m happily submerging into Ween’s hilarious and colorful ocean of sounds.  Ween are among the greatest musicians in rock history, a dramatic statement I know, but true nonetheless.  They have been criminally underrated by most music publications, and unfairly ignored as torch bearers for great rock and roll.  Well, on my website, such realities are not true.  At williesimpson.com, Ween sits on a throne right besides all the other greats in my personal hall of fame.  Enjoy, “The Mollusk.”

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The Beatles, Strawberry Fields Forever

Posted in The Beatles, Youtube Favs on April 26th, 2011 by Willie

In part 46 of my youtube countdown, we travel back to the past again, my past.  When I was 17 years old, “Strawberry Fields Forever” was my favorite song in the world.  I don’t know why exactly, but this song just seemed like the greatest work of music I’d ever heard.  I loved the loping mellotron introduction.  I loved the way John’s voice stretched over the distorted string quartet, as if it were being pulled like taffy.  I loved Ringo’s manic jungle like drumming.  In fact, this is the most psychedelic drumming Ringo achieved with the Beatles, a massive achievement in a string of drumming highlights for Ringo in this period, (A Day in the Life being Ringo’s true drumming masterpiece.)  I remember as a teenager writing the words, “Living is easy with eyes closed,” everywhere; in my notebooks, on desks, on my locker, on walls.  I remember finding an old newspaper in my attic that my dad had from 1969 with the original “Paul is Dead” article, highlighting all the clues, with one claiming that John is chanting “I buried Paul” in the outro.  The reality of course being him saying “Cranberry Sauce;” (an equally delicious phrase in a song full of gorgeous imagery.)  Speaking of gorgeous imagery, the video I present here is the most perfect, stunning capture of the Beatles legendary video for “Strawberry Fields.”  The video presents the Beatles at their most weird.  They are reveling in their artistry and merry prankster like shenanigans.  What is the theme of this video?  As far as I can tell, the Beatles are gathering in a field, and are constructing some sort of magical piano by tying the strings to a tree.  Then of course they paint it with beautiful psychedelic colors.  So, here you go, unabashed strawberry love from me to you.

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