Happy 40th birthday, Double Fantasy!

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Released 17 November 1980, Double Fantasy was John Lennon’s seventh and final studio album, and the fifth album he did in collaboration with Yoko Ono. Many critics panned it initially, not necessarily because of the music itself, but because they thought it painted an unrealistic picture of John and Yoko’s marriage. Strangers always know best about other people’s personal lives, don’t they?

Sales weren’t particularly good until John’s murder three weeks later. The album then proceeded to jump to #1 in many countries. It also won 1981 Album of the Year at the 1982 Grammy Awards, and was ranked #29 on Rolling Stone‘s list of best Eighties albums.

But does it hold up on its own merits 40 years later?

DF is a concept album, structured as a call-and-response dialogue between John and Yoko. They each sing seven of the fourteen songs, going on a journey through their relationship, from fractured bonds on Side One to domestic bliss on Side Two.

This was the second of John’s solo albums I got, since it was the only one available at Mystery Train Records on that day. Back in 2002, online shopping hadn’t really taken off, so we were at the mercy of whatever merchandise was in a store, or had to put in a special order.

I gave it 5 stars on my old Angelfire page, and really liked it. Listening to it again after many years, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars. There’s a lot of strong material, but it’s not one of the greatest, most memorable albums of all time. Some of the songs also veer a bit close to filler.

If you’re a Yoko-basher and don’t want to even try giving her music a fair listen, you’re gonna have a bad time with this album. Half of the songs are hers, like it or not, and it wouldn’t be the same album if it were only John’s songs.

Yoko was well-known and respected in the avant-garde world long before she met John, and her music has been hugely influential on other artists. Like The Velvet Underground, her influence is massively disproportionate to actual sales, radio play, and visibility.

People who think she only did tape loops and screaming betray their total unfamiliarity with her musical evolution. Sure she doesn’t have a classically-trained, conventional voice, but her music took on a more mainstream direction as time wore on.

Some of her DF songs have a very New Wave sound, which was right in line with other early Eighties music.

John and Yoko famously separated during the 18-month Lost Weekend, reconciled at the start of 1975, and welcomed their son Sean on John’s 35th birthday that October. From that time on, John was a contented househusband and put his musical career on hold.

During a sailing trip from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda in mid-1980, John was caught in a bad storm, and was the only one not stricken by seasickness or fatigue. As the last man standing, he had to steer the yacht for hours.

This experience fortified John’s confidence and made him contemplate the fragility of life. As he explained, “I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos—and all these songs came!”

John and Yoko recorded dozens of songs that autumn, some of which later found their way onto the posthumous Milk and Honey (1984). Their sessions were top-secret, and they had to pay for studio time out of their own pockets, since they weren’t signed to a record label.

Once their publicist broke the news, offers from record labels swarmed in. On 22 September, they signed with the new Geffen Records because David Geffen spoke to Yoko first and considered her John’s equal. Mr. Geffen believed in them so much, he signed them before hearing any songs.

John made it clear from the jump that Yoko would be an equal partner on this album (which is subtitled A Heart Play). The strength of her material compelled record execs to take her seriously. She earned her place on DF through her own talents.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“(Just Like) Starting Over” (#1 in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, and The Netherlands; #2 in Austria, New Zealand, and Norway; #3 in Sweden; #4 in South Africa and Belgium; #6 in West Germany; #9 in France)
“Kiss Kiss Kiss” (ends with an extremely realistic faked orgasm and very sexual words in Japanese)
“Cleanup Time”
“Give Me Something”
“I’m Losing You”
“I’m Moving On”
“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”
“Watching the Wheels” (#3 in Canada; #6 in Switzerland; #6, #7, and #10 on various U.S. charts; #12 in Austria; #20 in Ireland; #30 in the U.K.; #45 in Australia; #46 in West Germany)
“Yes, I’m Your Angel”
“Woman” (#1 in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe; #1, #2, and #4 on various U.S. charts; #2 in Switzerland; #3 in Austria; #4 in West Germany, Australia, and South Africa; #5 in Norway; #11 in The Netherlands)
“Beautiful Boys”
“Dear Yoko”
“Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him”
“Hard Times Are Over” (gut-punching, knowing what would soon happen)
“Help Me to Help Myself”*
“Walking on Thin Ice”* (released 1981) (#6 in Sweden; #13 on U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs; #18 in Australia; #22 in Canada; #35 in the U.K.; #48 in New Zealand; #58 on U.S. Billboard)
“Central Park Stroll” (dialogue)*

DF reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, France, and Japan; #2 in West Germany; and #6 in Italy. It was certified triple platinum in the U.S.

While DF has never been one of my favoritest albums or something I regularly listen to, I’ve always liked it and found it very solid. I understand why some people might be off-put by songs about a relationship they’re not in (regardless of who the couple is), but this is after all a concept album telling a story. It just happens to be a real story, not a fictional one.

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave songs, Part II

To mark DDAD 2020, I decided to do a Part II of last year’s celebration of my personal Top 10 faves. The songs in the second half of my Top 20 are in no particular order. I can hardly believe Valentine’s Day 2021 will mark ten years since I became a Duranie! Where did all that time go already?

11. “The Edge of America,” eleventh track on Big Thing (1988). So many lovely, deep, thought-provoking lyrics. I particularly love the refrain, “Learn to love your anger now, anger here is all you possess.” This is the kind of political song I like, intelligently and respectfully making a point without angrily, one-sidedly ranting and condemning anyone who doesn’t think that way.

My 34-year-old little brother just disowned me, in a fit of rage, because I support J.K. Rowling and don’t share his toxic woke ideology, so this is a very relevant subject now. So many people, particularly the younger ones, have forgotten, or never learnt, how to have dialogue and state their case without a torrent of insults and ignoring anything that contradicts their ideology.

12. “Do You Believe in Shame?,” sixth track on Big Thing. This tribute to Andy Warhol, record producer Alex Sadkin, and Simon’s childhood friend David Miles has such beautiful, poetic lyrics. The music video is also great.

13. “Last Chance on the Stairway,” seventh track on Rio (1982). Once again, such lovely lyrics, pure poetry in motion. So many people criminally underestimate this wonderful band because of the stigma of throngs of screaming teenyboppers in the Eighties. Some bands who get really popular really quickly and are heavily marketed to teenyboppers have substance below the prettyboy image.

14. “New Religion,” sixth track on Rio. This is a quintessential example of a song with a very long intro done right. There’s over a minute of instrumentation before the first note is sung, but it’s more than worth the wait. It builds anticipation beautifully.

I love the haunting lyrics and vocal tracking. They work so well with the music. The title of my future sixth book with my Russian characters (to be set 1957–64) will be Seagulls Gathered on the Wind, after a line from this song.

15. “Khanada,” B-side of “Careless Memories.” I named my eleventh journal after this song (pronounced Ka-NAY-da, not like the country). The lyrics are like surrealistic poetry, and very evocative of a dream or fairytale.

16. “Serious,” fourth track on Liberty (1990). One of the two standout gems from an awful album that bombed for a reason. Even if the record company had promoted it a lot better, most of the songs are terrible. How did beautiful songs like “Serious” and “My Antarctica” end up among so many bottom of the barrel scrapings!

Warning: Video NSFW or under 18!

17. “The Chauffeur,” final track on Rio. Like “Khanada,” the lyrics are rather trippy and surrealistic, and like poetry in motion. At least twenty other artists have covered it, and it’s been sampled in several other songs. The music video is a prime example of how to be sexy without being smutty.

18. “Breath After Breath,” seventh track on The Wedding Album (1993). I love how part of it is in Portuguese (sung by Milton Nascimento). Romance languages have a natural poetry built into them. Though I’ve never studied Portuguese, either formally or independently, I usually understand a fair amount because it’s so close to Spanish, which I studied for seven years.

19. “Too Much Information,” first track on The Wedding Album. The message about a constant barrage of capitalist advertising and over-commercialized music industry is still relevant over 25 years later.

20. “Tel Aviv” with lyrics, bonus track on their eponymous début (1981). The instrumental version is the final track on the album, but this powerful song somehow went unreleased for 30 years. Though I want to live in the Lower Galilee (preferably Tiberias, right on the lake) when I make aliyah, Tel Aviv is also awesome. Hearing this song makes me wish I could visit Israel again soon!

A double album full of eclectic goodies

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Released autumn 2001, Scoop 3 is the last of Pete’s double albums in this series, unless he decides to surprise us with a fourth installment after all these years. Owing to its fairly recent vintage, most of the material dates from the late Seventies through 2001 instead of mining the deep vault. Most of the songs are also from Pete’s solo career instead of Who demos or later revisitings of Who songs, and many are instrumentals.

As Pete explains in his liner notes, he wrote fewer songs with lyrics as of 2001, owning to not being under contract for either The Who or his own solo career. Thus, he had complete freedom to pursue a more experimental type of music, and different types of music than he had when he was obligated to produce albums.

He didn’t entirely stop writing lyrical songs, though. He simply chose to keep them unpublished in case he recorded with The Who or as a solo artist again. (To date, I’ve not listened to either of the albums Pete and Roger made after John’s passing, and have no desire to ever do so.)

Pete also started doing a lot more piano and keyboard music because he seriously hurt his wrist in a 1991 bicycle accident, and using those instruments was wonderful physiotherapy.

Amazingly, at least 27 of the 34 tracks were made in my lifetime!

Disc One:

“Can You See the Real Me” (1973)
“Dirty Water” (1979)
“Commonwealth Boys” (1984; later became closing track “Come to Mama” on White City)
“Theme 015” (1987)
“Marty Robbins” (1984)
“I Like It the Way It Is” (1978)
“Theme 016” (1987)
“No Way Out (However Much I Booze)” (1975)
“Collings” (2000)
“Parvardigar” (German version) (1971)
“Sea and Sand” (1972)
“971104 Arpeggio Piano” (1997)
“Theme 017” (probably 1983, given it was intended for the aborted final Who album Siege)
“I Am Afraid” (1990)
“Maxims for Lunch” (1983)
“Wistful” (1991)
“Eminence Front” (1995; obviously not the demo version!)
“Lonely Words” (1985)

Disc Two:

“Prelude 970519” (1997)
“Iron Man Recitative” (1993)
“Tough Boys” (1979; later became “Rough Boys”)
“Did You Steal My Money?” (1980 or 1981) (“The true story behind this doesn’t make anyone look good—especially me. It is not the time to tell it.”)

“Can You Really Dance?” (1988)
“Variations on ‘Dirty Jobs'” (recorded 1997, fully orchestrated 2001)
“All Lovers Are Deranged” (1983)
“Elephants” (1984)
“Wired to the Moon, Pt. 2” (recorded on piano 1997; strings and vocals added in 2001)

“How Can You Do It Alone” (1980) (“I quite liked The Who’s rendering of this song. Roger sang it really well. But it is probably one of those songs that needed my acidic tone to work without awkwardness. Whichever version is your favourite [and you may hate both of them] it’s good to be able to compare.”)

“Poem Disturbed” (1994) (“You can hear my phone ring. I knew who it was: my then girlfriend. These were strange times for me.”)

“Squirm Squirm” (1990)  (“At last, a song with a happy inspiration. One day I was holding my new-born son Joseph and singing him to sleep. It came into my mind that seen from high above we humans must look just like insects, or worms. As he wriggled in my arms I sang to him about the messages we all believe we get sometimes from above. At the time I was gathering material for Psychoderelict, which was—among other things—about the loneliness and collapse of a once famous and beloved rock star. The song seemed to contain and reflect both the peace and safety of this child in my arms, and the chaos and danger that surrounded us out there in the crazy world.”)

“Outlive the Dinosaur” (1990) (“The word dinosaur was of course first used to describe ageing rock stars with vicious irony and I use it here with vicious irony redoubled.”)
“Teresa” (1980; later became opening track “Athena” on It’s Hard)
“Man and Machines” (1985)

“It’s in Ya” (1981) (“Not much to say about this song. A woman I vaguely knew sent me a letter rightly complaining I was getting self-indulgent [after the release of the Who Are You album] and it later sparked this song about what makes the magic of rock ‘n’ roll. It isn’t the musician—it’s the listener.”)

I only listened to this album for the first time in 2019, on Spotify, despite how long it’d been out. I personally would recommend the first two Scoop albums to a new fan first, since a lot of these songs seem more geared to longtime, serious fans.

While I’ve not listened to Scoop 3 nearly enough to be familiar with all the songs, I’d count “Lonely Words,” “I Like It the Way It Is,” and the German “Parvardigar” among my favorite tracks.

A double album of gourmet chocolate and fine wine

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Released 8 July 1987, Another Scoop is the second of Pete’s three double-albums of demos, outtakes, and unreleased songs, both for The Who and his own solo career. I bought it the same day I bought Scoop, in late January 2002, on the $2 wall at Mystery Train Records in Amherst.

Though I love both albums, I’ve always slightly preferred Another Scoop. Whereas the songs on Scoop have a really fun, cute feel, like candy and soda pop, Another Scoop feels more mature and polished, like fine wine and gourmet chocolate.

As with the first installment, Pete wrote liner notes for each song, some very funny. Unlike the first album, Another Scoop provides dates for every song. Ten of the 25 tracks were recorded in my lifetime.

Pete dedicated this album to the memory of his dad, jazz musician Cliff Townshend (28 January 1916–29 June 1986).

Track listing:

LP One:

“You Better You Bet” (1980)
“Girl in a Suitcase” (1975; a rejected Who by Numbers track)
“Brooklyn Kids” (1978)

“Pinball Wizard” (1969; infamously written and recorded only to butter up music critic Nik Cohn. Mr. Cohn, a huge pinball fan, had panned a sneak preview of Tommy, and Pete wanted to ensure a much better review upon its official release.)

“Football Fugue” (1978)
“Happy Jack” (1966)

“Substitute” (1966) (“Interesting that in eulogizing two of my most important influences [and ripping off a few ideas] I should end up with one of the most succinct songs of my career.”)

“Long Live Rock” (1972) (“At one point I had a whole concept album planned called LONG LIVE ROCK, UGH. This is an innocent, bouncy little demo that contains enough cynicism to make it bearable.”)

“Call Me Lightning” (1964) (“The song is a very clear example of how difficult it was for me to reconcile what I took to be Roger’s need for macho, chauvinist lyrics and Keith Moon’s appetite for surf music and fantasy sports car love affairs.”)

“Holly Like Ivy” (1982) (“Written and recorded in Dallas after a post-show party at some restaurant at which a girl called Holly shook hands with me. I received a very large shock of static electricity at the same time. I think I stood on her hair.”)

“Begin the Beguine” (1969; written by Cole Porter)
“Vicious Interlude” (Pete warns one of his daughters not to put something on the wall and says she has a mischievous look in her eyes)
“La-La-La-Lies” (1965)
“Cat Snatch” (1982–83; instrumental; planned for the aborted last Who album, Siege)

LP Two:

“Prelude #556” (1982; instrumental) (“This short prelude was written, recorded and mixed in Florida while the other guys in the band were playing hockey with a load of schoolgirls. I felt superior at the time. After all, I was writing a prelude. This should really be described as a fanfare:
‘… for the entry of Roger Daltrey in a gym-slip!'”)

“Baroque Ippanese” (1982; instrumental)
“Praying the Game” (1978)
“Driftin’ Blues” (1981; always been my least-fave track; written by Charles Brown, Eddie Williams, and Johnny Moore)
“Christmas” (1968)
“Pictures of Lily” (1967)
“Don’t Let Go the Coat” (1980)
“The Kids Are Alright” (1965)
“Prelude: The Right to Write” (1983; instrumental)
“Never Ask Me” (1977; intended as an alternative ballad for Who Are You)
“Ask Yourself” (1982–83; planned for Siege)
“The Ferryman” (1978; written for an amateur production of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha)
“The Shout” (1984)

Side Four, which begins with “Prelude: The Right to Write,” took on great emotional evocation for me after my third love Jason broke my heart in October 2002. From that first haunting, insistent, pounding piano note, I’m gripped by an aching, yawning heartache that lasts through the last song, as though I’m back in Massachusetts and a heartbroken 22-year-old again. Every single time for almost eighteen years.

Pete’s music is that powerful, truly a soundtrack of my life.

My fave tracks are “Girl in a Suitcase,” “Brooklyn Kids,” “Football Fugue,” “Holly Like Ivy,” “Praying the Game,” and the abovementioned Side Four.

Pete turns 75 tomorrow, 19 May. May he have many more happy returns and continue blessing us with such wonderful music!

A double album of musical candy and soda pop

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The day I got back to Amherst after winter vacation, in late January 2002, I walked down to Mystery Train Records in the hopes of finding some awesome new vinyl for my collection. Among the loot I found were both of Pete’s Scoop albums, Scoop and Another Scoop, on the $2 wall. I finally had a record player, and I couldn’t wait to listen to them!

Though Scoop was released in April 1983, it contains material from as far back as 1965. Since all my records are sadly still 900 miles away in storage, I can’t pull it out to review Pete’s liner notes, but thewho.net thankfully transcribed them.

The 26 songs are demos Pete made for The Who, as well as discarded solo songs. It was quite strange at first to listen to him singing songs I was so familiar with Roger singing. On some of them, Pete is clearly straining to reach notes Roger hit with no problem, since he didn’t write those songs for his own voice.

Track listing:

LP One:

“So Sad About Us” (1966; opens with a spoken intro)
“Brr” (instrumental)
“Squeezebox” (“…a poorly aimed dirty joke….Further incredulity was caused when it became a hit for us in the USA”) (1975)
“Zelda” (recorded during the making of Face Dances, about Pete’s niece; I named my ninth journal after this song) (1981)
“Politician”
“Dirty Water” (also recorded during the making of Face Dances) (1981)
“Circles” (1965)
“Piano: Tipperary” (instrumental)
“Unused Piano: Quadrophenia” (instrumental) (1973)
“Melancholia” (Pete’s comment “I’m pretty sure The Who didn’t even hear this song” became infamous after the song appeared on the boxed set Thirty Years of Maximum R&B. His memory lapses are legendary and hilarious!) (1967)
“Bargain” (1971)
“Things Have Changed” (1965)
“Popular” (later became “It’s Hard”) (1982)
“Behind Blue Eyes” (1971)

LP Two:

“The Magic Bus” (1968)
“Cache, Cache” (retch, retch) (1981)
“Cookin'” (“A chauvinistic little ditty, but I’m chauvinistic towards men as well so it’s OK isn’t it?”)
“You’re So Clever” (1980)
“Body Language” (a discarded track for All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, using the fusion of “streamed poetry with straight lyrics” also found on “Communication”) (1982)
“Initial Machine Experiments” (synthesizer instrumental, with a very trippy, spooky feel)
“Mary” (one of the two namesake songs of my current and twelfth journal) (1971)
“Recorders” (instrumental; 1973)
“Goin’ Fishin'”
“To Barney Kessell” (instrumental; always been my least-fave track)
“You Came Back” (the album’s crown jewel, in my opinion)
“Love, Reign O’er Me” (1973)

Pete released this album to try to put a stop to people bootlegging, stealing, and copying his demos, noting that such fans would welcome this addition “to their stockpile of obsessive memorabilia.” More than that, he liked how it testifies to the power of home recording to evoke moods and music which could be created in no other way.

Above all, writing and recording music gives Pete real joy, particularly when created away from the prying eyes of the public and demand to be as polished and refined as possible. He wanted to share that joy with others.

Though Who fans will recognize eleven of the songs, they sound much different than the band’s versions. Not only is there a different vocal, there are different arrangements and stylings as well. It’s kind of like how Charles Chaplin described each viewer bringing one’s own outlook to the viewing of a silent film, no two people imagining the same words for the scenes without intertitles.

These songs are so cute and fun, hence the descriptor “candy and soda pop.” They’re also a contrast with the songs on Another Scoop, which feel like gourmet chocolate and fine wine (more about that on Monday).

My favorite songs are “You Came Back” (which is about reincarnation), “Zelda,” “Cookin,'” “Mary,” “Politician,” “Circles,” “So Sad About Us,” and “Unused Piano: Quadrophenia.”