Friday, 29 April 2016

George Martin: In My Life Album Documentary


Here's a documentary on the making of George Martin's final album, In My Life. Interesting points on arranging and seeing Martin get good performances out of comedic actors (something he started his career doing)




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Monday, 18 April 2016

John Lennon Love Songs/Hate Songs



Here's John Lennon's views on the hits and misses of the Beatles back catalogue, almost all quotes are from All We Are Saying (David Sheff) and Lennon Remembers (Jann Wenner) [reviews here].


HITS



Here There And Everywhere was a great one of [Paul's]. That's Paul's song completely, I believe. And one of my favourite songs of the Beatles

Something - I think that's about the best track on [Abbey Road] actually

For No One - Another of [Paul's] I really liked. One of my favourites of his. A nice piece of work.

Got To Get You Into My Life - I think that was one of [Paul's] best songs, too, because the lyrics are good

Things We Said Today - Good song

Fixing A Hole - That's Paul, again writing a good lyric

I'm Only Sleeping - One of my favourites

Fool On The Hill - Paul proving he can write lyrics if he's a good boy...shows he's capable of writing complete songs

I'm So Tired - One of my favourite tracks. I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well

Oh! Darling was a great one of Paul's ...If he'd had any sense he should have let me sing it.

Hey Jude is a damn good set of lyrics and I made no contribution to that...It's one of [Paul's] masterpieces

All My Loving is Paul, I regret to say. Ha ha ha … Because it's a damn fine piece of work. But I play a pretty mean guitar in back.

Within You Without You - One of George's best songs. One of my favourites of his, too. He's clear on that song. His mind and his music are clear. There is his innate talent. He brought that sound together.

Come Together was a funky record - it's one of my favourite Beatle tracks, or, one of my favourite Lennon tracks, let's say that. It's funky, it's bluesy, and I'm singing it pretty well. I like the sound of the record. You can dance to it. I'd buy it!

I like Across the Universe because it's one of the best lyrics I've written. In fact, it could be the best, I don't know … it's good poetry ... the ones I like are the ones that stand as words without melody … it's a poem, you know?

Happiness Is a Warm Gun - Oh, I like that, one of my best. I had forgotten about that. Oh, I love it. I think it's a beautiful song. I like all the different things that are happening in it.


MISSES



Run For Your Life I always hated. It was one of those I knocked off just to write a song, and it was phony.

And Your Bird Can Sing - Another horror. Another of my throwaways.

Birthday - A piece of garbage

Cry Baby Cry - Not me [Yes it was!]. A piece of rubbish

Honey Pie - I don't even want to think about that

Mean Mr Mustard - That's me, writing a piece of garbage

Sun King - That’s a piece of garbage I had around

Dig A Pony - Another piece of garbage

I'll Get You - That was Paul and me trying to write a song, and it didn't work out

Hold Me Tight - That was Paul's...It was a pretty poor song and I was never really interested in it

I Wanna Be Your Man - It was a throw-away. The only two versions of the song were Ringo and the Rolling Stones. It shows how much importance we put on them. We weren't going to give them anything great, right?

Eight Days A Week was never a good song. We struggled to record it and struggled to make it into a song. It was [Paul's] initial effort, but I think we both worked on it. I'm not sure. But it was lousy anyway

It's Only Love is mine. I always thought it was a lousy song. The lyrics were abysmal. I always hated that song

Good Morning Good Morning is mine. It's a throwaway, a piece of garbage, I always thought.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer - I hate it. 'Cuz all I remember is the track – [Paul] made us do it a hundred million times. He did everything to make it into a single and it never was and it never could've been, but he put guitar licks on it and he had somebody hitting iron pieces and we spent more money on that song than any of them in the whole album.





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Friday, 15 April 2016

Ticket 55: Two Become One



Got lots of song fragments lying around? Join two (or more) separate incomplete song together to make one whole song. Good for co-writing (A Day In The Life) or using up your own random ideas (I Am The Walrus).

Try to make sure there is some musical, lyrical or thematic common ground between the fragments eg lots of time changes (Happiness Is A Warm Gun), multiple characters – (Pam, Mr Mustard, Sun King, Her Majesty - The Abbey Road Medley), similar chord progressions (I Got A Feeling).

The Abbey Road Medley (obviously) also

A Day In The Life
Baby You're A Rich Man
Carry That Weight
Dig A Pony
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
I Am The Walrus
I've Got A Feeling
You Never Give Me Your Money

also


Believe It When I See It (Ron Sexsmith)
Fairytale Of New York (The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl)
Fall At Your Feet (Crowded House)
Give Me Something (James Morrison)
God (John Lennon)
Layla (Derek & The Dominos)
Live And Let Die (Wings)
Paranoid Android (Radiohead)
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant (Billy Joel)
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (Paul McCartney)
Victim of Changes (Judas Priest)
Without You (Badfinger/Harry Nilsson)
Zooropa (U2)

Monday, 11 April 2016

Under The Influence: Douglas Adams



I vaguely remember my schooldays. They were what was going on in the background while I was trying to listen to the Beatles.

Author Douglas Adams referenced the Beatles through out his writing career from the essay on religious poetry that got him into St John's College, Cambridge to the first Dirk Gently novel in 1987.



As a guest on the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs he picked Drive My Car because his favourite Beatles song was “too obvious” and his favourite album was Plastic Ono Band - “for my money the greatest album ever made by anybody under any circumstances”. Throughout his life Douglas listened to at least one Beatles album at least once a week. His top 20 songs, in order of preference -

1. Hey Jude
2. A Day In The Life
3. Drive My Car
4. Don't Let Me Down
5. I Will
6. If I Fell
7. Hello Goodbye
8. Rain
9. Martha My Dear
10. Strawberry Fields
11. We Can Work It Out
12. This Boy
13. Ticket To Ride
14. Can't Buy Me Love
15. All You Need Is Love
16. I'm Fixing A Hole
17. And Your Bird Can Sing
18. She's A Woman
19 You Can't Do That
20 Here, There & Everywhere

Here is a tribute he wrote on Paul McCartney's 50th birthday


I vaguely remember my schooldays. They were what was going on in the background while I was trying to listen to the Beatles.

When “Can’t Buy Me Love” came out, I was twelve. I sneaked out of school during morning milk break, bought the record, and broke into matron’s room because she had a record player. Then I played it, not loud enough to get caught, but just loud enough to hear with my ear pressed up against the speaker. Then I played it again for the other ear. Then I turned the record over and did the same for “You Can’t Do That.” That was when the housemaster found me and put me into detention, which is what I had expected. It seemed a small price to pay for what I now realize was art.

I didn’t know it was art then, of course. I only knew that the Beatles were the most exciting thing in the universe. It wasn’t always an easy view to live with. First you had to fight the Stones fans, which was tricky because they fought dirty and had their knuckles nearer the ground. Then you had to fight the grownups, parents and teachers who said that you were wasting your time and pocket money on rubbish that you would have forgotten by next week.

I found it hard to understand why they were telling me this. I sang in the school choir and knew how to listen for harmony and counterpoint, and it was clear to me that the Beatles were something extraordinarily clever. It bewildered me that no one else could hear it: impossible harmonies and part playing you had never heard in pop songs before. The Beatles were obviously just putting all this stuff in for some secret fun of their own, and it seemed exciting to me that people could have fun in that way.

The next exciting thing was that they kept on losing me. They would bring out a new album and for a few listenings it would leave me cold and confused. Then gradually it would begin to unravel itself in my mind. I would realize that the reason I was confused was that I was listening to Something that was simply unlike anything that anybody had done before. “Another Girl,” “Good Day Sunshine,” and the extraordinary “Drive My Car.” These tracks are so familiar now that it takes a special effort of will to remember how alien they seemed at first to me. The Beatles were now not just writing songs, they were inventing the very medium in which they were working.

I never got to see them. Difficult to believe, I know. I was alive at the time the Beatles were performing and never got to see them. I tend to go on about this rather a lot. Do not go to San Francisco with me, or I will insist on pointing out Candlestick Park to you and bleating on about the fact that in 1966 the Beatles played their last concert there, just shortly before I’d woken up to the fact that rock concerts were things you could actually go to, even if you lived in Brentwood.

A friend of mine at school once had some studio tickets to see David Frost’s show being recorded, but we ended up not going. I watched the show that night, and the Beatles were on it playing “Hey Jude.” I was ill for about a year. Another day that I happened not to go to London after all was the day they played their rooftop concert in Savile Row. I can’t—ever—speak about that.

Well, the years passed. The Beatles passed. But Paul McCartney has gone on and on. A few months ago the guitarist Robbie McIntosh phoned me and said, “We’re playing at the Mean Fiddler in a few days, do you want to come along?”

Now this is one of the daftest questions I’ve ever been asked, and I think it took me a few moments even to work out what he meant. The Mean Fiddler, for those who don’t know, is a pub in an unlovely part of northwest London with a room at the back where bands play. You can probably get about two hundred people in.

It was the word we that temporarily confused me, because I knew that the band that Robbie was currently playing in was Paul McCartney’s, and I didn’t think that Paul McCartney played in pubs. If Paul McCartney did play in pubs, then it would be daft to think that I would not saw my own leg off in order to go. I went.

In front of two hundred people in a pub, Paul McCartney stood up and played songs he’d never, I think played in public before. “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Blackbird,” to name but two. I’ve played “Blackbird” in pubs, for heaven’s sake. I spent weeks learning the guitar part when I was supposed to be revising for A-levels. I almost wondered if I was hallucinating.

There were two moments of complete astonishment. One was the last encore, which was an immaculate, thunderous performance of, believe it or not, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” (Remember, this was in a pub.) And the other was one of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll songs, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which I had first heard crouching with my ear cupped to the Dansette record player in the school matron’s room.

There is a game people like to play that goes, “When would you most like to have lived and why?” The Italian Renaissance? Mozart’s Vienna? Shakespeare’s England? Personally, I would like to have been around Bach. But I have a real difficulty with the game, which is that living at any other period of history would have meant missing the Beatles, and I honestly don’t think I could do that. Mozart and Bach and Shakespeare are always with us, but I grew up with the Beatles and I’m not sure what else has affected me as much as that.

So Paul McCartney is fifty tomorrow. Happy birthday, Paul. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


Source: Wish You Were Here by Nick Webb
The [London] Sunday Times, June 17, 1992 Quoted in The Salmon Of Doubt.


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Monday, 4 April 2016

10:54 What's Wrong With Sadie? (pt. 4) Drop Everything



The '7 drop' (Ticket 60) is one of the great chord moves in the Beatles toolbox, but on Sadie it isn't just chronically overused - but used in a really ambiguous way.

In Sadie the chords G to F# to Bm should be I VII iii but you could argue that the beginning of the verse is really bVI V7 i and we're in the key of Bm rather than G major. If we're not in Bm from the start of the verse we certainly are by the time we get to Bm. – the C# in the melody -

F# B C# D (What have you done?)

reinforces the fact that the F# is acting as a dominant V chord (the V of iii). However we only remain in Bm till we hit the C major. Then we're definitely in G major. This is so disorientating that the Bm almost feels like the first bar of the verse. Lennon slaps us in the face with the C# melody note then pulls the rug from under us with the C chord. Melodic uncertainty abounds. Yet McCartney pulls a similar stunt in Yesterday (in fact he goes further out of key) but doesn't create the same sense of confusion. Let's compare them.


All My Modulations Seemed So Far Away

Both verses start in G major* over a G major chord, Yesterday gets a full bar before the 'drop'; Sadie only half a bar. Over the drop both melodies start to go out of key

Melody

Sadie        F# B C# D (What have you done?)
Yesterday B C# D# E (All my troubles...)

Yesterday has two out of key notes to Sadie's one (the F# is in key) and the D# isn't even supported by the chord, but we never lose our footing.

Chords

Sadie        G F#    Bm C
Yesterday G F#m B7 Em

It's clear the 'seven drop' (a 'weaker' minor chord - F#m vii) is just a slight detour because the III (B7) is telling us Em is the new tonic chord. In fact the B7 is acting as the dominant chord of Em (the V of vi) just the way Sadie's F# - Bm is acting like the dominant chord of Bm (the V of iii). The difference is that in Yesterday Em and G major are relative keys (meaning they share all the same notes) so we're already feel 'back home' but in Sexy Sadie F# is telling us Bm is the new tonic chord, which is a completely different key and one immediately contradicted by the C major chord that follows it.

As we've found before (compare Something with Old Brown Shoe) bad Beatles songs don't employ different compositional techniques to their greatest songs. They often use exactly the same techniques, but over use them, use too many different ones or employ them too early. That's certainly the case here. There isn't anything here that's wrong - just too many right things, too often or all at once. The way the F# chord appears so soon, repeatedly trying to lead us to a new key that never sticks is one of the most disorientating aspects of the song.


So there we have it. It would be remiss not to note that the chords in bars 3 – 6 of Sadie's verse are same as bars 1 – 4 of the chorus of Karma Police by Radiohead, a debt which they openly acknowledge. But not as openly as I admit this collaboration I did with fellow Beatlemaniac Stuart Kidd blatantly borrows from them both. There's such a resemblance we called it ... Sadie's Sister


*For the sake of comparison I'm treating both songs as if they are in G major. Sexy Sadie IS in G major, Yesterday is PLAYED in G major but tuned a whole step down to F major.


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Monday, 28 March 2016

10:53 What's Wrong With Sexy Sadie (pt. 3) - Recording



You're in the business to create a record, so you design the experience to be a record rather than just a song. It's good to take a good song and just work with it. But it's that record that counts. It's the record that people listen to. It's the overall sound, what they're going to hear and experience in two and a half minutes, that counts.

Brian Wilson (in Charles L. Granata: I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (p. 120)

This isn't Beatles Recording Academy. My focusing is on songwriting. But how you present the song can be crucial. I've argued before that if McCartney had recorded Maxwell's Silver Hammer in the same 'throwaway style' as Her Majesty, the song would probably have been received in a more favourable light (at least among his band mates). The meticulously produced version we have on Abbey Road demands to be treated with a respect that the song doesn't really merit. In the case of Sexy Sadie the recording works against the song by using harsh sounds to present jarring melodies and chord progressions and accusatory lyrics.

Lennon loved Presley's early recordings and often emulated his idol's vocal sound by using slapback echo*. But on Sadie the slapback echo is on the piano**


Compare Sadie with another track that has a very similar piano sound – Imagine. There the piano sound is equally ugly but serves a far more melodic song. Against wistful, philosophical lyrics and sappy string section the ugly tone improves the overall result, helping a 'middle of the road' ballad sound more 'edgy'. But on Sadie the harsh piano tone and upfront drums make the chromatic*** never-resolving piano part and bitter accusatory lyrics feel more extreme.

It's not just the echo. The Piano is also being fed through a Leslie speaker causing a woozy effect (most prominent at 1:18 and 1:40) as if the tape is stretching. This is reinforced by Harrison's string bending (starting at 2:20). Sadie repeatedly goes out of key (Ticket 28) and uses melody notes that clash with the chords. If you're already out of KEY being out of TUNE is not a good idea.

Next time we'll revisit the 7 drop (and ask if it really is a 7 drop).


*Listen to A Day In The Life for example.
** Here the piano is played by Paul. John played Hammond organ and rhythm guitar.
***Sexy Sadie uses every note except G#.


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Monday, 21 March 2016

10:52 What's Wrong With Sadie (pt 2) – The Melody/Harmony Disconnect



I don't think Sexy Sadie really works [if that makes you angry read this!]. Last time I looked at it's troubled origins. Now lets get to the main problem compositionally - it's almost entirely discordant and unresolved.

Main Hook

Our main hook (the title) is diatonic.

Sexy Sadie A B G E

So what's the problem? The three times we encounter it, it clashes with the underlying chords. This melody would sound great over C major, Em, Am, maybe even Bm. But we hear it first over G - F#7 then F#7 - F and finally C - A7 making this an example of ticket 9 (recycling melodic fragments) over bad chords. How bad? Let's analyse the intervals


A B G E notes over G F#7 chords (beginning of verse)

A and B are the 2nd and 3rd of G but G and E are the b2nd and b7th of F#7


A B G E notes over F#7 and F chords (end of verse)

A and B are the b3rd 4th of F#7 and G and E are the 2nd and 7th of F


A B G E notes over C and A7 chords (end of bridge)

A and B are the 6th and 7th of C and G and E are the b7th and 5th of A7


So to summarise – on the hookiest part of the song we have dissonance - a b2nd, and a b3rd over a major chord; and a lack of resolution - the phrase ends on a b7th and a 7th ; and all of the final chords in the 'hook' are out of key – F#7, F and A7 are the VII7, bVII and III7 respectively.

Having a melody that sounds like it was conceived with different chords in mind (Ticket 56) is something Lennon used sparingly to great effect (e.g. A Day In The Life 0:32) but here, Sadie's 'ghost chord progressions' create disorientation and fatigue.




Here Come The Drop or "Would You Like Some Dinner With Your Ketchup?"

Speaking of overuse - the verse employs the same '7 drop' chord progression (Ticket 60) that is a compositional highlight of I'm So Tired and Yesterday. Both of those songs use the move once per verse but in Sadie's verse G major is followed by an F# every single time. Appropriately, given it's unhappy genesis, the whole song is literally a 'downer'. The end of the bridge extends the reoccurring G - F# '7 drop' to an A7 - Ab7 - G – F#. 'OOKC's' (Out Of Key Chords - Ticket 28) are the special sauce the Beatles sprinkled on every meal, but here it's like the lid came off and smothered everything.

One of the Beatles melodic masterstrokes was delaying the moment the root note and the root chord meet, enabling them to write long flowing melodies but Sadie once again overdoes it. The verse melody never unites the root note and root chord for longer than one beat. And the bridge is not much better - even though it manages to stay in one key for a whole for 4 bars! The restless nature of the song is made even worse by the Lennon edits (Ticket 37) which result in a 7 bar verse and a 5 bar bridge that overlaps seamlessly back into the verse. If ever a song needed some breathing space, this is it.

To Wit?

To balance emotional (not to mention harmonic) stress a song needs some lightness in the delivery, some wit or humour or, to quote Tom Waits “beautiful melodies telling you terrible things. Here the amount of repetition kills any humour and makes it feel much longer than it's 3:15.

Next time we'll look at why the recording works against the song.



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