Posted in 1960s, Music

Good bands, fast popularity, teenybopper marketing Part IV (The Beatles on Capitol Records)

I would hope this final planned installment in this series needs no introduction! Unless you live under a huge rock, you know who The Beatles were. Even if you don’t personally care for them, find them overrated, or haven’t heard many of their songs, you at least know about them.

For a long time, it was common practice for record companies in different countries to repackage albums, by putting tracks in a different order, keeping off some tracks and substituting others, changing the album title, or using different cover art. I can’t accuse Capitol Records of doing this dastardly when just about all record companies did this once upon a time, and most serious music fans eventually discovered American and British releases differed for many bands.

However, that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. There was a reason the powers that be eventually stopped doing this. It ruins artistic integrity, misrepresents a band’s vision, and it’s inconvenient when fans in different countries have different versions of what’s supposed to be the same album. The product should be consistent across all markets.

Capitol primarily repackaged The Beatles’ albums through 1966. The only times after Revolver they did that again were in late 1967, for Magical Mystery Tour (the only repackaging they got right, which is far superior to the British EP), and in 1968, when they cobbled together an album called Hey Jude, consisting of singles and B-sides. To their credit, they rightly understood Rubber Soul and Revolver were something special, not like other albums of the time, and so kept the titles and cover art.

I personally most strongly prefer The Beatles’ middle period (RS through MMT), with their late period coming in second place. However, that doesn’t mean I think their early period sucks. It just means I’m more into the stuff they made after they started coming into more musical maturity and complexity. That said, you can’t get away from the fact that their early period coincides with the highest peak of teenybopper madness. The massive teenybopper fan base is what compelled Capitol to do these repackagings, beyond the fact that this was common practice anyway.

The Beatles’ British albums typically contained 14 songs, whereas American albums of the time tended to have 11. That might’ve only been a handful of songs Capitol held back from each album, worth pennies each, but that added up to millions of pennies for the record company. The teenyboppers bought anything with The Beatles’ names on it, and wouldn’t have cared these weren’t the original British releases.

Capitol gave these manufactured albums generic, cliché, insipid titles like Something New, Beatles ’65, Beatles VI, The Beatles’ Second Album, and The Early Beatles (the lattermost of which was an 11-track version of Please Please Me). They mismatched songs from very different-sounding albums, like putting Help! tracks on RS and mashing together RS and Revolver songs on Yesterday…and Today. This gave fans the completely false impression that The Beatles were still stuck in a certain style long after they’d moved on and matured.

I wish I could say I don’t understand why there was even a market for boxed sets of these repackagings some years back, but everyone knows what nostalgic, aging Boomers are like. They wanted to waltz down memory lane with the albums they grew up with, instead of readjusting to the proper British releases. I don’t want to generalise and insult anyone, given how many Boomers I know and respect, but this generation is beyond self-absorbed. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard/read a Boomer referencing being a Boomer when it has absolutely nothing to do with anything:

“I’m a Baby Boomer, and my mother has Alzheimer’s….”

“I’m a proud Boomer, and I have Golden Retrievers…”

“As a Boomer, I have happy memories of Colorforms…”

“Many Boomers have proud memories of…”

“Did I mention, I’m a Boomer?”

“I live in Boston, have cats, and I’m a Baby Boomer!”

“As more Boomers retire, there’s a greater need for home health aides…”

To quote the worst rapper alive, “Me! Me! It’s all about me!”

I was born at the tail-end of Gen X, and I have never seen any of my generation-mates referencing this accident of birth unless it’s relevant. You were born between 1946-64. Big deal. The world won’t stop turning if you’re not constantly reminding everyone you happen to be a freaking Boomer. Believe it or not, you’re not the first or last generation to deal with things like retirement, divorce, raising children, health problems, buying cars, sex, remarriage, working, caring for aging parents, or owning pets. Get over yourselves already!

Posted in George Harrison, Music

Extra Texture Review

(This review of George Harrison’s 1975 album is edited from the review I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site, probably around 2007. One of the two worst, most horrifyingly embarrassing albums I’ve ever heard to date, the other being Duran Duran’s Liberty.)

2.5 stars

I went into this album with a relatively open mind, knowing almost everyone finds it awful. When you’ve heard the worst, you’re not building up your expectations. After all, I ended up loving It’s Hard, and liking Face Dances. Sadly, I can’t say the same thing about this album. Who are these people who actually really like it? And this is coming from someone who actually likes Dark Horse, which many people consider one of George’s worst albums!

Things start off horribly right off the bat, with the trite single “You,” which was originally intended for Ronnie Spector. It’s fun, upbeat, and catchy, but the lyrics are incredibly amateurish and simplistic, barely more development beyond repeating “I love you” over and over again. It’s also sung in a key higher than his natural register, so it has the effect of sounding a bit speeded-up.

The next song is “The Answer’s at the End,” going back to familiar territory, matters of the spiritual. This could very well be one of his most underrated songs. But then the album dives right back over the cliff again with “This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying).” Earth to George: You kind of already did this song before. It was called “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and was released in 1968, remember? And it was much superior to this tired sophomoric retread, might I add.

After that we’re treated to another embarrassingly bad song, which is kind of embarrassing to listen to, “Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You),” a tribute to Smokey Robinson. Very nice sentiment (though he did it much better with “Pure Smokey” on the 1976 release Thirty-Three & 1/3), but the lyrics are little more than constantly repeating “Ooh,” “I love you,” and ” Baby.” Come on, that’s like regressing back to his earliest songwriting efforts around 1964! (Although at least something like “Don’t Bother Me” is more lyrically complex than these poor entries!)

How the hell does someone who wrote fine songs like “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Living in the Material World,” “All Things Must Pass,” “Within You Without You,” and “What Is Life” suddenly put out an album full of such lazy minimalist lyrics? Even his guitar-playing seems to be suffering!

“World of Stone,” which closes side one, is kind of an improvement, but its lyrics too don’t elevate it into any sort of top-notch status, even among these bottom of the barrel offerings.

“A Bit More of You” is exactly what the title suggests—a bit more of “You.” It’s only 45 seconds long, and is an instrumental section of the song. Well, at least it’s now devoid of the embarrassing lyrics and isn’t too long. “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” also suffers from repetitive amaterish lyrics. The next two tracks, “Tired of Midnight Blue” and “Grey Cloudy Lies,” are the other few songs on this album which I actually like. There’s some very soulful singing on these tracks, as there is on a lot of the other tracks (some folks feel it’s his most soulful solo album), but soulful singing doesn’t cancel out generally crummy, amateurish, repetitive, embarrassing lyrics and uninspired melodies.

The album closes with the bizarre “His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen),” a tribute to “Legs” Larry Smith of Bonzo Dog. Like the lead-off track, it too is catchy, upbeat, and kind of fun in an innocuous way, but just not very deep lyrically. And what with just about all of the other songs having a very sombre, dirge-like feeling, it just seems totally out of place, like the “Apple Jam” section of ATMP.

This album also suffers from a bit of overproduction, so the vocals are often overwhelmed by the music. (Maybe he was paying too much attention to all the critics who lambasted his hoarse singing on Dark Horse?)

Still, this album isn’t the worst album ever created. It does have some very beautiful soulful vocals, and a handful of nice songs. There’s also a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour, such as how the logo for Apple Records on side one is an eaten apple core instead of a whole apple, and on side two it’s not only an apple core but a rotten apple core. One side of the paper sleeve also has the caption “OHNOTHIMAGEN,” making light of his plummeting popularity.

But it’s not what I’ve come to expect from George’s solo albums. Where’s the depth, beauty, professionalism, excitement, joy, emotional satisfaction of something like ATMP, Cloud Nine, or LITMW? There are also barely any spiritual songs. Even he later said it was his own worst album! The songs sound too much alike, and a lot were demos.

It gets old and annoying superfast when a lot of the songs consist of little more than “Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” repeated over and over again, with a bunch of “I love you”s and “Baby”s thrown in for good measure.

Stay far away from this one unless you’re a completist. I’m glad I only had to part with $3 for it.