The Rolling Stones, Wild Horses

Posted in The Rolling Stones on July 21st, 2012 by Willie

There is something about “Wild Horses,” something quite emotional.  I remember driving home one snowy night when I was a 19 year old, thinking how perfect the song was against the lightly falling snow.  Every time I hear it, time just seems to slow down, and it feels like the whole world is listening, all strung out on this gorgeous song.  I really don’t have much to say about this song that hasn’t already been said.  This post is just to honor a classic, plain and simple.  The footage is taken from the “Gimmie Shelter” documentary, famous for unfortunately violent concert the Stones threw at Altamont Speedway, California in 1969.  At that concert, a member of the Hell’s Angels stabbed a man to death, a public slaying at what was supposed to be a happy event, horribly caught on film.  Today, everyone is still reeling from the shooting at the Colorado movie theater, another massacre at what should have been an otherwise fun public spectacle.  I don’t really have much commentary about that except for guns are evil, and the Rolling Stones “Wild Horses” casts the appropriate somber atmosphere for these grim times.  Lastly, my heart goes out to the victims and there families.  RIP.

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Paul McCartney's John Lennon Tribute, Here Today, Most Emotional Performance Ever

Posted in Paul McCartney on July 18th, 2012 by Willie

I’m nearly done with Peter Doggett’s excellent biography, You Never Give Me Your Money, a book that chronicles in precise detail the breakup of the Beatles.  The book is one of the best Beatle books I’ve ever read, mainly because it delves into the Beatles’s complex interpersonal relationships and not so much their broader history of artistic and cultural achievements.  The book details a moment in 2007 when ever self-conscious Paul McCartney is playing for 200 people at a California record shop, and nearly breaks down in tears singing his John Lennon tribute song, “Here Today.”  The book describes the moment as one of, “naked reality almost unmatched in his career, a gesture of love and pain, and a wound that could never be healed.”  Immediately after I read that line, I put the book down and raced to the internet.  I was lucky enough to find the performance generously persevered on youtube by a fan filming Paul with their camera phone.  The film is letter-boxed and a bit grainy, but the sound is good, and the moment is captured wonderfully.  Paul plays his guitar beautifully, and visibly has trouble holding back his tears.  Paul himself commented that he saw a young girl weeping in the audience, and once his eyes locked with hers, his emotion just poured out.  “Here Today,” from 1982’s Tug of War, is one of the most haunting and bittersweet Paul McCartney songs ever.  I’ve always felt a deep desire to hear more from Paul in this song and this subject, but its the nature of the song, and the nature of John’s death, that makes it impossible.  Its a masterpiece coming from an artist of unparallelled decency.  Check it out.

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The Beatles, If I Needed Someone

Posted in The Beatles on June 20th, 2012 by Willie

“If I Needed Someone” written by George Harrison in 1965, is one of my all time favorite songs.  George was listening to the Byrds, especially Roger McGuinn’s “The Bells of Rhymeny,” which George based his guitar riff on.  Like all great artists, the Beatles stole from other great artists, but what was special about them was how honest and appreciative they were of the source inspirations.  Before the song was released, George sent Roger a recording of the song and a note extolling the influence McGuinn had on George in that era.  The Beatles made few, if any, enemies of their contemporaries in their era.  The song is a gorgeous effort by George, fully fitting in the Rubber Soul vibe of heavy harmony and folk rock psychedelia.  I also like the bizarre message that the lyrics paint.  George is saying to a potential girlfriend that he would date her in a minute if he wasn’t already in love, but please, leave your phone number in case something happens.  Its kind of a dicey, yet honest admission from an international rock star who happened to be married.  For me though, the song’s greatest attribute is the full throated three part harmony courtesy of John, Paul, and George.  It’s powerful and wistful at the same time, and there is something tragically nostalgic in the sound of it, much like John and Paul’s “In My Life.”  The video below was made by the fantastic youtube uploader named Beatles Mirko, who finds and assembles some of the best Beatles clips on the internet, so thanks to him for cobbling together this nice video featuring performances of the song from their legendary Tokyo concert.

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James Taylor, Something in the Way She Moves

Posted in James Taylor on April 27th, 2012 by Willie

I don’t know too much about James Taylor, but perhaps its time I start.  I’m just gonna rattle off what I know off the top of my head.  He was a recovering heroin addict, suffering from severe depression, when at some point he finally put his life together and allowed his incredible talent to flourish.  He was one of the early super star signings for the fledgling “Apple Records,” the Beatles hot new label, cutting his first record with the help of Paul McCartney and George Harrison among others.  Ever since the phenomenal success of his debut, he has sort of coasted along in the first class world of pop’s elder statesmen, performing his trusty hits, and melting hearts everywhere he goes with his perfect fragile style.  This video of “Something in the Way She Moves,” a clip I first saw in the Beatles Anthology documentary, has always stuck with me.  It’s just one of the purest examples of a man, his guitar, and a song.  Even with his acne, it is perfection with no adornment, one of the ultimate expressions of the folk pop format executed with heart breaking beauty.  James just has a way of drawing you into his intimate world, to a place we’ve all been to.  It’s just spellbinding.  Please watch this and appreciate the artistry and genius going on here.

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Yellow Submarine Week, Eleanor Rigby

Posted in The Beatles on April 14th, 2012 by Willie

When the Yellow Submarine movie came out in 1968, the Beatles were already edging away from the psychedelic movement they helped flower across the world.  In 68, the Beatles were recording the “White Album,” a record more psychedelic in the abstract than the literal.  All and all they were inching back towards their rock and roll roots, so a movie which was basically a celebration of the Beatles psychedelic mastery was already a bit passe in the fast moving world of Beatle progress.  Still, their psychedelic work, which had no real visual outlet as the Beatles had no way of seriously replicating that sort of music live, to say nothing of the fact they had quit touring anyway, was not harmed by being enshrined in a glorious piece of pop art that was Yellow Submarine.  Just because the Beatles had left behind the days of Revolver, didn’t mean the world had.  Songs like “Eleanor Rigby” were still being played countless times by people the world over, transmogrified by its perfection.  As the Beatles, and the world would discover, the shelf life on Beatle music wouldn’t be a mere flash in the pan, but rather the songs would enjoy decades of endless relevance, seemingly increasing in power and myth as the years rolled by.  So, while its easy to imagine that the Beatles were nonplussed when informed that the majority of songs used for the movie would be culled from the Sgt. Pepper era, for the rest of us, its a privilege beyond words to enjoy these wizard like songs embossed forever in a film like Yellow Submarine.  The clip of “Eleanor Rigby” below, couldn’t be better.  It’s a stunning piece of post modern animated pathos, featuring the sad tired, black and white world of Liverpool, colorized by a Paul McCartney song of unlimited creativity.  There are no platitudes capable of summarizing its genius, so just watch it below as we continue to sail through Yellow Submarine week.

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Yellow Submarine Week, Part 1!

Posted in The Beatles on April 12th, 2012 by Willie

Ahh, Yellow Submarine, the movie responsible for injecting coolness in every child that comes across it at just the right age.  I personally believe that any age is the right age for Yellow Submarine, and that is why, naturally, Yellow Submarine Week is commencing today on this very website.  Yellow Submarine is infamous for not featuring the Beatles’ real voices, save for the music and a winning appearance at the end.  The film itself is a gorgeous post-modern piece of glorious pop art, providing music videos for a bunch of psychedelic classics from the Beatles absurdly genius 65-68 era.  For part 1, we have the first ten minutes of the movie which includes one of the greatest voice over openings of all time.  “Once upon a time, or maybe twice, there lie an unearthly paradise called Pepperland.”  The film, which wasn’t written by the Beatles, certainly captured a lot of the brilliant Lennonesque humor and writing style featured in John’s books, writings, and art.  Originally, the Beatles really wanted nothing to do with the movie, thinking it would be terrible, and only agreed to it as a way to satisfy their 4 film contract with MGM.  When it was completed, they were stunned at its quality, and thus agreed to contribute the famous ending, but that bit of fun will be saved for conclusion of our little celebration.  As for now, enjoy the wonderful opening, the Blue Meanies, and Ringo’s rendition of the Paul McCartney classic, “Yellow Submarine.”

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Battle of the Bands, Part 5, Stones Surrender to the Beatles in Cleveland, perform "I Saw Her Standing There," as Pennance

Posted in Battle of the Bands, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones on March 29th, 2012 by Willie

As the battle raged for decades, with both bands suffering unspeakable tragedy (Brian Jones, John Lennon), the bloodshed just HAD to end.  And end it did with Mick Jagger’s historic concession in Cleveland, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Mick, clearly disgusted at being forced to admit bitter defeat, inducted the Beatles, minus Paul McCartney (who apparently was too busy to witness  Mick’s humiliation), in a ceremony of drunken revelry, and cheeky good humor.  Watch this hilarious clip below…

My favorite part is seeing Mick’s unabashed, yet good-natured jealousy as he recounts the Beatles story.  That’s actually not something to be underrated, as that jealousy fueled Mick Jagger to heights he probably never dreamed of attaining.  It’s brilliant that Mick agreed to induct the Beatles into the Rock Hall, as he hung out with the Beatles a lot in the 60s.  He was there in the early London club days, the early drug taking days, the Maharishi lectures, the “Day in the Life” recording party, and the “All You Need is Love” performance.  He was an intimate eye-witness to a lot of the behind the scene Beatle madness, and you can tell by this great speech.  He inducts the Beatles, but the only ones to show are George and Ringo.  John, being dead at the time, had Yoko, Sean, and Julian represent his presence, while Paul is mysteriously absent.  George, Ringo, and Yoko, all make subtle bitter jokes about Paul’s lack of being there, and its all actually quite hilarious, especially George.  Sean also has a brilliant line as well…watch!

That was great, and yes, Paul’s presence was missed sorely, but so was John’s…After all, the Beatles would never really ever exist anymore without the four of them, so who cares.  Imagine if he lived though?  I guarantee they would have all come to this ceremony, and rocked the shit out of this joint.  Instead we get Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Bruce Springsteen taking a shot at “I Saw Her Standing There.”  Even with all that star power, it doesn’t come close to the power the original Beatles could have generated with just the four of them.  Ah well, its still a fun and rollicking performance, with George again being the main cut up, giving the patented Beatle head shaking “wooo!” a move he probably hadn’t pulled in 25 years.  It’s amazing, a perfect end to a glorious war, with the Beatles and the Stones coming together to agree that yes, we are all super gods enshrined in a museum of rock.

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Battle of the Bands, Part 4, Beatles & Stones, For No One vs. She Smiled Sweetly

Posted in Battle of the Bands, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones on March 27th, 2012 by Willie

I love these two songs.  It’s practically a crime to have the two fight for glory, but fight they must.  “For No One,” from Revolver, is one of Paul McCartney’s most brilliant break up songs, and “She Smiled Sweetly,” from Between the Buttons is perhaps Mick and Keith’s most beautiful and mature love song.  Let’s pull the curtain up first on Paul McCartney’s “For No One.”  Whoosh.

A lot of great Beatle footage in there, even though the song is practically a solo Paul effort.  Ok, now onto “She Smiled Sweetly.”

And after watching that, I do believe that she did indeed smile sweetly.  Ok, lets check out the battlefield, count the bloody remains, and see who won this competition of the damned.

BEST DRUMMING:  Charlie Watts.  Ringo is probably the second greatest contributor to “For No One,” but his drumming is purposefully mixed low underneath the driving piano and French horn courtesy of Alan Civil.  Charlie, who hasn’t had a good showing thus far in the Battle of the Bands finally scores over Ringo.  His drumming is upfront, beautiful, and intimate, boldly displaying an unadorned emotionality in every beat.

BEST BASS PLAYING:  Bill Wyman.  Paul’s bass is limited, and kinda gimmicky in its attempt to mimic a classical arrangement.  It works, but I really prefer Bill’s work on “She Smiled Sweetly.”  His bass just vibrates and soars with a fat resonance.  It’s actually rather gorgeous and provides about 50% of the songs somber atmosphere.

BEST RHYTHM PLAYING:  Paul.  There isn’t really any guitar work on these songs, so we’ll compare pianos.  Both are expertly performed, but Paul McCartney’s piano riffs and arrangements are very creative and singular.  “She Smiles Sweetly” has a beautiful and lumbering shuffle, but it’s not what makes the song special.

BEST LEAD PLAYING:  Paul.  Well, Alan Civil to be precise.  The French Horn solo is actually the only solo in either song, and it’s pretty great, creating a sort of mundane English matter of factness.  The feeling it is evokes is one that says, ‘you might have just had your heart destroyed, but life is going on all around you, and nobody cares.’  It was a masterstroke of production common of George Martin and Paul McCartney by 1966.

BEST LEAD SINGING:  Mick.  We are passing the group singing for this contest, as there isn’t really any.  What we have though is Mick’s insanely vulnerable and atmospheric vocal performance, a testament to his range, and evidence of him being one of the world’s greatest rock singers, if not the greatest.  Mick just encapsulates coolness, sadness, beauty, and mystique all at once in this gorgeous love ode.  Paul is equally incredible, but his performance is a bit restrained and distant.  He performs a more emotional and rendition of the song on acoustic guitar in this video, which I’ve highlighted before.

BEST SONGWRITING:  TIE!  Both songs represent the best of mid 60s British chamber pop.  Both songs were written by songwriting masters.  Both songs are performed with the utmost emotionality and genuineness.  Both songs are works of genius.  It’s a tie.

WINNER:  The Rolling Stones!  “She Smiled Sweetly” just takes me to that special place no matter what mood I’m in.  “For No One,” is most effective after a breakup, as its particularly devastating, but when that’s not the case its merely just a great song.  “She Smiled Sweetly,” is the stuff dreams are made of.  Stay tuned tomorrow as we wrap up this Battle of the Bands in a thrilling and unexpected conclusion.  Don’t miss it!

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Battle of the Bands, Part 3, Beatles & Stones, Girl vs. Ruby Tuesday

Posted in Battle of the Bands, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones on March 25th, 2012 by Willie

Welcome back to part 3 of my live reporting at 85th annual “Battle of the Bands!  We have the Rolling Stones and the Beatles continuing their quest to impress the judges with their finest music, and after a short break, the bands are ready to hop back on the stage to meet at loggerheads once again…But before we do, we’d just like to point out today’s sponsor; George Martin’s ridiculously pimped out album cover for his rare LP, “George Martin Instrumentally Salutes: The Beatle Girls.”  Just absorb that image of the dapper producer knee deep in London’s finest ladies.  My God, that’s amazing, and so on that note, lets get back to the show.  First up we have the Rolling Stones with “Ruby Tuesday” from Between the Buttons.

Well, that was just charming and dandy.  Let’s see how the Beatles respond…ahh, I can tell by the first few notes that they are launching into “Girl” from Rubber Soul.

Wonderful, I can tell the judges are going to have a hard time determining the victor here, let’s see the results.

BEST DRUMMING:  Ringo, and it’s not really close.  Mr. Starr lays down a gorgeous shuffling beat, filled with elegant cymbal play, accentuating the slurping post “girl” passages.  The song is incredibly atmospheric and intimate, and I think Ringo’s restrained and careful style has a lot to do with it.  Charlie does a fine job, but the percussion on “Ruby Tuesday” doesn’t envelop me the same way Ringo’s does.  Next!

BEST BASS PLAYING:  Paul, but it’s not fair.  “Ruby Tuesday” doesn’t really feature Bill Wyman’s electric bass so much as it does him hand playing a double bass, which is cool, but boring.  Paul is clearly heard on “Girl,” and as expected, he delivers a subtle and melodic performance, playfully bouncing around the outer edges of the song and giving it an enriching atmosphere.

BEST RHYTHM PLAYING:  John, and again it’s not so fair as “Ruby Tuesday’s” rhythm is mostly piano based.  But even comparing the piano rhythm on “Ruby Tuesday” to the guitar rhythm on “Girl,” the Beatles still come out on top.  What can I say, I’m just lifted away on the gentle cloud of John and George’s beautiful Martin guitars, maybe because its a cloudy cool day.

BEST LEAD PLAYING:  Brian Jones.  I love the Beatles Greek style guitar picking on “Girl,” but Brian Jones plays that lead solo line a frigging recorder!  You know, the thing from elementary school they give to all kids?  He sounds masterly on it, gleefully sharing the spotlight with Mick’s vocals.

BEST GROUP SINGING:  TIE!  It was too close, I was instinctively going to give it to the Beatles for their gorgeous and intricate “tit-tit-tit” backing vocals (yes they are saying tit,) but I can’t deny the charming and often underrated harmonies that Keith and Mick produce. While Keith’s voice doesn’t stick out as much as Mick’s in the mix in the way that John and Paul’s do, he just sounds like the coolest friend ever, and his presence just always makes the affair much happier.

BEST LEAD SINGING:  John.  Mick is amazing as ever singing Ruby Tuesday, but there is something very singular and unique about John’s performance on “Girl.”  I can’t really think of another Beatle or solo John song that comes close to matching the style or the energy of “Girl.”

BEST SONGWRITING:  TIE!  My reasoning for this is that I truly think “Girl” is the better song, but I can’t ignore that “Ruby Tuesday” was a smash hit.  Also, the Stones tie the Beatles in the area because there is legitimate confusion as to who was responsible for “Girl.”  John insists he wrote the whole thing, probably because he was proud of how it turned out, but Paul humbly differs.  In fact, it might not just be the music, but a bunch of the Lennon-esque lyrics might have belonged to Paul as well.  Such details don’t detract from the song, but sort of muddy up the history of a really interesting and important breakthrough Beatle song.

WINNER:  Well, the Beatles win this round 3-1, not counting the ties, and why not?  “Ruby Tuesday” might be catchier and more known by the public at large, but “Girl” has a cool philosophical mystique that is really stunning.  Even though the Beatles seemed to win this contest easily, it was really much closer than that, illustrating yet again the knock down, dragged out fight for glory this contest has become.  Reporting live from Wimbledon, I’m Willie Simpson saying, see you tomorrow for the second to last installment of our battle royale between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.


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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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