Posted in 1960s, Music

Happy 50th birthday, Abbey Road!

Image used solely to illustrate the subject for an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

Released 26 September 1969, Abbey Road was The Beatles’ last studio album in terms of when it was recorded. Though the painfully spotty Let It Be was released in May 1970, the bulk of it was recorded before AR.

This would’ve been the perfect swan song to go out on. The album is absolutely brilliant, lightyears away from LIB. Though some people complain about all the song snippets on Side Two, they work perfectly in the musical context. Without all these miniature songs blending in and out of one another, it wouldn’t be the same album.

Recording began 22 February 1969, with producer George Martin agreeing to work with the band again on strict condition they let him produce it “the way we used to do it.” They also had to promise to adhere to a reasonable measure of discipline and behave themselves properly.

It seemed an impossible proposition after the acrimonious mood during the recording of their previous two albums, but in spite of continuing interpersonal tensions, it was a much more enjoyable experience all around.

The resulting album was a compromise between two schools of style. John wanted a traditional album with distinct, unrelated songs, while Paul and George Martin wanted a running theme like they’d done on the most overrated album of all time. Side One follows John’s style, while Side Two famously adheres to the latter vision.

John, never one to mince words, wasn’t exactly fond of the resulting product. He would’ve preferred his songs on one side and Paul’s on the other, and lit into Paul’s lightweight “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” as granny music. As for Side Two, John thought the medleys were “junk…just bits of songs thrown together.”

The band did little to promote AR, though it shot to #1 regardless, in the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Spain, and West Germany. Over the last fifty years, critics have by and large highly praised it. It’s in my own Top 5 of fave Beatles’ albums.

Track listing:

“Come Together” (#1 in the U.S., #4 in the U.K.)
“Something” (#1 in the U.S., Australia, West Germany, Canada, and New Zealand; #2 in Norway; #3 in Ireland; #4 in the U.K.; #5 in Sweden; #11 in Austria)
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
“Oh! Darling”
“Octopus’s Garden”
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (recorded the last time all four Beatles were in the studio together, and a forerunner to doom metal)
“Here Comes the Sun”
“Because” (Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played backwards)
“You Never Give Me Your Money” (first of the mini-songs)
“Sun King”
“Mean Mr. Mustard”
“Polythene Pam”
“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
“Golden Slumbers” (a poem from Thomas Dekker’s play Patient Grissel, written 1599 and published 1603)
“Carry That Weight”
“The End”
“Your Majesty” (an ultra-short snippet after fourteen seconds of silence)

My fave tracks are “I Want You” (which wasn’t so popular originally), “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “The End.” I love the emotionally expectant mood of the final few songs (not counting hidden track “Your Majesty”), this tension building and building till the most perfect, bittersweet swan song ever.

Posted in 1960s, Music, The Who

Happy 50th birthday to Tommy, Part II (Behind the scenes)

Note: All images are used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and thus consistent with Fair Use Doctrine.

Tommy was recorded from 19 September 1968–7 March 1969, and inspired by Pete’s guru Meher Baba (25 February 1894–31 January 1969). This is particularly meaningful in the context of Tommy because Meher Baba voluntarily went silent on 10 July 1925 and remained so till his death. He communicated with an alphabet board and hand signals. To this day, many of his followers observe Silence Day on 10 July.

From the early days of The Who, Pete wanted to break out of the box of three-minute pop singles, and to explore deeper themes even within said short songs. Traces of his magnum opus Lifehouse can be heard as early as 1966’s “I’m a Boy.”

Pete’s musical evolution continued full-force with the very uncharacteristic (for the era) nine-minute title closing track on A Quick One. This song has six different movements, telling one continuous story.

The Who’s 1967 album closes with another mini-opera, “Rael,” which continues with the brief “Rael 2” on the CD remaster. The roots of “Sparks” and “Underture” are heard here. “Glow Girl,” the closing bonus track (which also appears on 1974’s Odds and Sods), is about a plane crash ending in reincarnation and the refrain “It’s a girl, Mrs. Walker, it’s a girl.”

This became “It’s a Boy,” only “Of course, Tommy was a dear little boy,” as Pete wrote in the liner notes to O&S.

A number of Tommy‘s songs were originally written for other projects or about other subjects, but Pete repurposed them. In August 1968, he gave an interview to Rolling Stone in which he went into great detail about this album in progress. He described the storyline better than the final product!

Pete later regretted spilling so many details, since he felt compelled to follow them precisely instead of editing and revising his story as he felt necessary. The other three bandmembers loved his ideas, however, and gave him complete creative control.

Working titles included Journey into Space, The Brain Opera, Amazing Journey, Omnibus, and Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy. In that era, “dumb” was the standard word for “mute,” though of course we know today that mutism doesn’t mean one is stupid. It wasn’t used to be deliberately offensive and hurtful. Context and intent are so important in looking at things from bygone eras.

Pete settled on Tommy because it was a nickname for soldiers in WWI, and a common British name of the time. Being the self-admitted pretentious guy he is, Pete prefers to call this album Thomas.

John wrote and sang “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About” because Pete couldn’t bring himself to handle such dark subjects as bullying and child molestation. Contrary to what certain people are still convinced of, Pete has long campaigned against child abuse, and was molested himself.

All evidence has cleared Pete and the thousands of others wrongly accused during the mishandled Operation Ore. Real fans know this, and Pete himself admits he did something really stupid and dangerous to try to take down the real abusers. Unlike a certain other person (coughmichaeljacksoncough), he doesn’t have a decades-long history of huge red flags and creepy behaviour with kids.

Unusual for the band at the time, many songs were more vocally-driven than instrumental. Tommy has a less hard rock sound in its studio version, though it absolutely cooks live.

Though Keith probably didn’t write “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” he got songwriting credit for suggesting the idea.

After rock journalist Nik Cohn (born 1946) poorly reviewed a working version, Pete suggested Tommy might become a pinball champion. Mr. Cohn, a huge pinball fan, immediately changed his tune. And thus was born one of the most overplayed songs in the history of classic rock radio.

Co-manager Kit Lambert wanted an orchestra, but Pete was firmly against it. That was too pretentious even for him, and their budget and schedule wouldn’t allow it anyway.

Like 1973’s QuadropheniaTommy had Sides 1 and 4 on one LP and 2 and 3 on the other, to accommodate record changers. These devices played multiple LPs in sequence without a human flipping them.

Tommy was #2 in the U.K. and #4 in the U.S., and reached gold status in the U.S. on 18 August. It had mixed critical reviews, but saved The Who from breakup and bankruptcy. Final track “Listening to You” was a genuine song of thanks to their loyal fans who stood by them for so many years, in lean times as well as prosperous.

Over the years, Tommy has been adapted by several opera and dance companies, and became a movie in 1975 and a Broadway musical in 1992. The Who played the album live until 20 December 1970, and used shorter portions throughout the decade. They revived it in its entirety during their 1989 reunion tour, often called The Who on Ice because of all the extra musicians and backup singers.

Tommy is truly the miracle that turned The Who’s entire career around forever.

Posted in 1960s, Music, The Who

Happy 50th birthday to Tommy, Part I (General overview)

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

Tommy, released 17 May 1969, was The Who’s fourth studio album, and the album that saved them. While they’d had a bunch of hit songs in their native England and played at Monterey Pop in 1967, they still weren’t giant superstars. They desperately needed a hit, both for the sake of their finances and their personal reputations.

Enter their glorious Hail Mary pass.

Tommy not only pulled them back from threatened bankruptcy and irrelevance, it also did wonders beyond wonders for Roger’s voice and self-confidence. Classic rock fans are well familiar with Roger’s powerful pipes on songs like “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Slip Kid,” “Who Are You,” and “The Real Me,” but before the experience of touring Tommy all over the world and singing the powerful role of this character who goes through such an intense journey, Roger’s voice was rather unrefined.

Just look at 1967’s The Who Sell Out for proof. Roger only sings lead on five of the thirteen original tracks. Pete sings five more, and John sings the rest. One of those songs features Pete and Roger sharing lead vocals. Roger just wasn’t a vocal powerhouse yet, and lacked ample range.

The storyline on the album (versus the slightly different one in the movie):

Captain Walker goes missing and is believed dead. His widow presently gives birth to a boy named Thomas, whom she raises with a new lover. In 1921, Captain Walker returns home and discovers his replacement. In a violent rage, he murders the lover, and Mrs. Walker tells Tommy, who witnessed the murder, that he didn’t see or hear anything. He can never tell anyone what he knows is the truth.

Tommy becomes a psychosomatic blind-deaf-mute due to this traumatic experience, similar to how the unnamed narrator of The Painted Bird becomes a psychosomatic mute after cruel, suspicious villagers horrifically attack him on the holiday of Corpus Christi.

Tommy can now only experience the world through vibrations, all of which he interprets as beautiful music, even horrible things like getting molested by his Uncle Ernie and tortured by his sadistic cousin Kevin. However, Tommy can see his own reflection in the mirror.

LP One closes with Tommy’s sexual awakening with the Acid Queen, who also gives him LSD. The ten-minute instrumental “Underture” has always sounded exactly like I’d imagine an acid trip to be.

As he gets older, Tommy becomes a pinball champion, thanks to Pete wanting to butter up music critic Nik Cohn for a good review. Mr. Cohn was a big pinball fan.

Captain and Mrs. Walker take Tommy to a doctor who cures him, but he’s still mentally blocked from engaging with his senses until his mother realises he can see his reflection in the mirror. After she smashes it, Tommy wakes up as if from a dream, and begins to see, hear, and speak again.

Tommy becomes a Messiah figure, everyone’s hero, but ultimately grows very uncomfortable with his idol status. His disciples also reject him, displeased with his teachings, and leave the holiday camp where he’s preaching. Tommy reverts back to being a psychosomatic blind-deaf-mute and plaintively cries out for healing.

Track listing:

“Overture” (mostly instrumental)
“It’s a Boy” (hearkening back to the bittersweet, haunting ending of “Glow Girl,” but for the change of the baby’s sex) (sung by Pete)
“1921” (sung by Pete)
“Amazing Journey”
“Sparks” (instrumental)
“The Hawker” (a.k.a. “Eyesight to the Blind”) (written by Sonny Boy Williamson)
“Christmas”
“Cousin Kevin” (written and sung by John)
“The Acid Queen” (sung by Pete)
“Underture” (instrumental)
“Do You Think It’s Alright?”
“Fiddle About” (written and sung by John)
“Pinball Wizard” (#4 in the U.K.; #6 in South Africa and Canada; #8 in New Zealand; #12 in The Netherlands; #14 in Ireland; #15 in Switzerland and the U.S. Cash Box chart; #19 on U.S. Billboard; #25 in Germany; #45 in Australia; #89 in France) (one of the most overplayed songs ever!)
“There’s a Doctor”
“Go to the Mirror!”
“Tommy Can You Hear Me?”
“Smash the Mirror”
“Sensation” (sung by Pete)
“Miracle Cure”
“Sally Simpson”
“I’m Free”
“Welcome” (total throwaway garbage)
“Tommy’s Holiday Camp” (sung by Keith)
“We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You”

Posted in 1960s, Music

Happy 50th birthday, GILG!

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Released January 1969 (sorry, was unable to find the exact date), The Four Seasons’ Genuine Imitation Life Gazette is one of those albums which originally bombed but is now regarded as an absolute masterpiece.

Critics really liked it, but it only sold about 150,000 copies, and the singles did extremely poorly. Four Seasons’ fans were confused, shocked, and angry, since GILG was such a radical departure from their familiar sound.

This was also a time when a great many musical acts who’d been very popular for a long time began falling off the charts. Public tastes were radically changing, and bands like The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, Herman’s Hermits, and The Dave Clark Five were suddenly considered uncool and irrelevant, even when they tried to evolve with the changing musical landscape.

The psychedelic pop sound, and pop in general, was also on its way out, being replaced by the heavier sounds of bands like Cream, Vanilla Fudge, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Iron Butterfly, and Steppenwolf. Add that to how The Four Seasons weren’t exactly in their early twenties.

GILG just came out at the worst time possible for commercial success. Even if The Four Seasons had looked towards copying the abovementioned bands instead of psychedelic pop, most deejays wouldn’t have played it anyway.

It’s comparable to one of the real reasons many popular silent actors lost popularity in the early sound era. Almost all of them survived the transition just fine, but after the dust began settling, the public came to regard them as embarrassing relics of a bygone age best forgotten.

After this bomb, the band retreated back into a more familiar sound for two last minor hits in 1969, but it was too late. The musical landscape was far too different, their second classic lineup broke up, and their hardcore fans had already moved on. Had GILG done well, The Four Seasons’ Seventies sound might have been so much different.

They had an amazing comeback in 1975, thanks to successfully copying popular sounds at the right time, but their incredible 1978 follow-up unfortunately didn’t do very well, and their 1985 and 1992 albums didn’t chart at all.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“American Crucifixion Resurrection”
“Mrs. Stately’s Garden”
“Look Up Look Over”
“Something’s on Her Mind” (#98 in the U.S.)
“Wall Street Village Day”
“Saturday’s Father” (#103 in the U.S.)
“Genuine Imitation Life”
“Idaho” (#95 in the U.S.)
“Wonder What You’ll Be”
“Soul of a Woman” (one of their most moving songs, celebrating a woman’s entire life from birth till death)
“Watch the Flowers Grow”* (#30 in the U.S.)
“Raven”*
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”* (#24 in the U.S.)
“Electric Stories”* (#61 in the U.S.)

I obviously highly recommend this album. If you only associate The Four Seasons with songs like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Let’s Hang On!,” I encourage you to give this album a listen and see the kind of depth and maturity they were capable of, both musically and lyrically.

Posted in 1980s, Music

Happy 35th birthday to Colour by Numbers!

Copyright Virgin Records; image used solely to illustrate subject for the purpose of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

This was one of those albums I got because I saw it in the $2 vinyl stack, and I wanted to indulge my Eighties nostalgia (the same reason I bought Rio in 2007, little dreaming I’d become a Duranie three and a half years later). I ended up really liking this album on its own merits. Unfortunately, the first Culture Club album, Kissing to Be Clever, which I also got in the $2 stacks, didn’t impress me so much.

Their début album may be spotty (with a lot of songs sounding too much alike, too close together), but this their sophomore album absolutely hits it out of the park. It’s a quintessential Eighties album I highly recommend to everyone who loves that decade.

Released October 1983, the album hit #1 in the U.K., Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand; #2 in the U.S., Spain, and Norway; #3 in Sweden and The Netherlands; #4 in France and Switzerland; #6 in West Germany; #9 in Italy; and #17 in Austria.

Track listing, with stars by bonus tracks:

“Karma Chameleon” (one of the most overplayed Eighties songs, right up there with “Hungry Like the Wolf”) (#1 in the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland; #2 in both Germanies; #3 in Austria; #4 in Italy; #5 in France)
“It’s a Miracle” (#4 in the U.K.; #13 in the U.S.; Top 5 in Canada)
“Black Money”
“Changing Every Day”
“That’s the Way (I’m Only Trying to Help You)”
“Church of the Poison Mind” (#2 in the U.K. and Ireland; #4 in Australia; #5 in Canada; #9 in Belgium and New Zealand; #10 in the U.S.; #11 in Norway and The Netherlands; #12 in Italy and Austria; #13 in Sweden; #23 in both Germanies; #43 in France)
“Miss Me Blind” (#5 in the U.S. and Canada)
“Mister Man”
“Stormkeeper”
“Victims” (#2 in Ireland and Italy; #3 in the U.K.; #4 in Australia; #7 in New Zealand; #11 in Belgium; #18 in Switzerland; #39 in both Germanies)
“Man-Shake”*
“Mystery Boy”*
“Melting Pot”*
“Colour by Numbers”*
“Romance Revisited”*

Critics by and large loved the album, giving it extremely high ratings. Colour by Numbers has been certified quadruple platinum in the U.S., triple platinum in the U.K., and platinum in Hong Kong; diamond in Canada; and gold in France.

The album is still well-regarded today, both as one of the best albums of the Eighties, and an overall fantastic pop album. It’s hard to pick a favourite song, since they’re all so good!