Posts Tagged ‘The Beatles’


August 23, 2013

Music promoter and producer Sid Bernstein, most famous for bringing the Beatles to Carnegie Hall (their first live concert in America) and Shea Stadium (their last) , has died. He was 95.

In early 1963, Sid Bernstein, 44 years old, was acting as an independent promoter/agent and earning about $200 a week working for the largest theatrical agency in America. He was also taking a night school course which required him to read English newspapers each week. By the time his course had finished in February 1963 he had noted the rise of an obscure rock group from Liverpool who had begun to dominate the British press. Sid had a hunch that The Beatles were unique, and not even having heard their music, found the Liverpool telephone number of the group’s manager Brian Epstein and suggested that he’d like to book the group for New York’s Carnegie Hall. America hadn’t heard of The Beatles yet and rock groups didn’t play prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall.

Brian said that Sid’s plan was premature but they had a deal if The Beatles scored a number one in America.

You can’t just book Carnegie Hall on a whim. The deposit was $500. Berstein looked at the calendar and found a date nearly a year away, February 12, Lincoln’s birthday. The Beatles ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ made No.1 in America in the last week of January. Their assault of America – including the famous Ed Sullivan Show – was able to be co-ordinated around Sid Berstein’s Carnegie Hall booking. There was so much demand there were two concerts that day, and to maximize audience numbers, some seating was created on stage.

Beyond the Beatles, Bernstein was a key force in the British invasion of America, bringing such artists as the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, the Moody Blues to the US. He managed the Young Rascals. Among the other artists that he promoted were Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone and, later, Laura Branigan and Lenny Kravitz along with a just breaking ABBA.
Even though the Beatles had only disbanded a mere six years earlier, the public demand for them to ‘get back’ was peaking in 1976, leading to a mammoth $230 million reunion offer from Bernstein offering the unprecedented sum for a one-time-only charity concert. They turned down although Paul McCartney admits they considered it



March 3, 2012

1964 to 1967. What a difference three years made .. still make .. a difference that resonates all these years later in the eulogies for the late Davy Jones from the late Monkees.

Let me get one thing out of the way first. Neither the Beatles nor the Monkees were “boy bands”. Anyone who has used those two words in the last week has completely missed the context. Boy Bands are not “bands”. They are that genre of groups inspired by the Jackson 5, groups that predominantly sing and dance. Who plays the music they sing and dance to is not significant. The relationship “boy bands” DO have with The Monkees and The Beatles is that like these playing groups the focus was on more than one member of the band. Neither John Lennon nor Paul McCartney were the Beatles’ lead singer. Davy Jones was NOT the Monkees frontman.

That’s one of the misrepresentations we’ve been hearing in the tributes to Davy Jones. The other one – the BIG one – is the comparison between the Beatles and the Monkees. There is no comparison. These three years between 1964 and 1967 are what matters. I’ll get to how The Monkees happened and how they actually fit into the fabric of popular music in a minute. I just want to focus on these three years for the moment. The Beatles “happened” worldwide in early 1964. The Monkees television show hit the US airwaves in late 1966. Their fans were the kids who missed out on the whole Beatles thing because they were that little bit younger, and were now able to get in on the act. It’s those fans who, in remembering Davy Jones are overstating the “importance’ of the Monkees. They did it then and they’re doing it now. It’s how they perceived it then and perceive it now, trying to put the two groups on the same level. In terms of success and popularity maybe. That’s all!

There were manufactured pop acts before The Monkees and there sure have been manufactured pop acts since. The idea was to create a television show around a pop group looning around zanily like the Beatles in their movie ‘A Hard Days Night’’.  Filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had been floating the idea for some time before Screen Gems bought the concept. For a moment an actualexisting  group was offered the show; but the Lovin’ Spoonful turned it down, so those famous auditions were called. Mike Nesmith and Peter Tolk were the only two of the eventual Monkees who the ad found. Davy Jones and  Mickey Dolenz were recruited primarily for their acting experience. Davy Jones’ other big recommendation was his English accent, a marvelous asset for the would-be Monkees during the “British Invasion” period of world pop music. Mike Nesmith made an impression by arriving on his motorcycle wearing his woolen cap and carrying his laundry in a bag, looking and acting nonchalantly, as if he couldn’t care less if he got the part or not. Folksinger Peter Tolk was exactly what the producers had in mind. Tolk didn’t see the ad  When his friend Steven Stills was rejected because of the condition of his teeth, Stills recommended Tolk.

Established songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote and performed the songs for the show’s pilot. Their voices were then replaced by the selected Monkees.  Importantly, a chap called Don Kirshner was brought in to be the series’ musical director. And here is where once more those three years between the Beatles’ worldwide breakthrough and the arrival of the Monkees series becomes significant again. Before the Beatles arrived, music publishers like Don Kirshner and including Kirshner were in change of the songwriters who gave the pop stars of the day their hits. Kirshner had worked with the famous songwriting teams of the pre-Beatles era  Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and  Cynthia Weil. Now, suddenly, because of the Beatles, pop acts were keen to write their own songs. Suddenly, because of the Beatles, Don Kirshner’s clients were out of work and influence. The Monkees series gave Kirshner a chance to maybe turn back the tide.  For the first album he added Goffin and King’s talents to Boyce and Hart’s. The second album ‘More Of The Monkees’ relied even more on songwriting professionals. Mike Nesmith was allowed a single token song on each album. The Monkees had almost no say about the contents of ‘More Of The Monkees’. It was out even before they knew it.

To their credit, The Monkees – especially Mike Nesmith – lobbied for more say, and to be allowed to play instruments on the records carrying their name. During one meeting with Don Kirshner, to make his point, Mike Nesmith put his fist through a wall. Nesmith got his way, but Kirshner wasn’t really listening. He took Davy Jones aside and recorded two tracks without the rest of the Monkees and released them as the next group single. The ‘A’ side was another Neil Diamond song. (He’d written ‘I’m A Believer’). The new single “A :Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’ was sneaked onto the market and when it met with instant favourable airplay the band had to go with it. But Don Kirshner had gone too far. He was sacked as The Monkees’ musical director.

The third album ‘Headquarters’ had songs from a few outsiders but was predominantly written by the Monkees themselves’ ‘Headquarters’ made The Monkees the first artist to score three American No.1 albums in the same year. Not even the Beatles had managed that.

The Monkees had won their control over their career, although their subsequent two big hit songs still came from “outside” – ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ by Goffin and King, ‘Daydream Believer’ by John Stewart. But they were playing their own instruments on record and on stage – with the help of sidemen. That beginning however haunted them, and hounded them to the end. There was no real shame in the fact that others wrote their songs. A good song is a good song, and that’s what Monkees fans are remembering, forgetting however (or never realizing) how significant the Beatles’ stand had been before that, insisting they only release their own songs as singles. They were SUPPOSED to turn to the professionals for their repertoire. The Monkees helped, but didn’t quite succeed, in putting the old order back in place. At first anyway.

In summation, the Monkees with Davy Jones were a very very popular pop group in the latter sixties who recorded a number of memorable songs.





June 9, 2010

Paul McCartney really is dead.

John Lennon was killed by remote control. Kurt Cobain was murdered. The Rolling Stones drowned Brian Jones. Bob Marley was killed by the CIA. His manager was responsible for Jimi Hendrix’s death. Glenn Miller died in a brothel. And Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson both faked their deaths, presumably living happily after with, respectively, a blocked colon and a botched face anyone in the world could recognize in a moment.

We love conspiracy theories.

An upcoming DVD release titled “Paul McCartney Really Is Dead, The Last Testament Of George Harrison” revisits McCartney’s rumoured death in November of 1966 as the result of a car accident and the subsequent cover-up, including replacing McCartney in the Beatles with look-alike Billy Shears.

According to the makers of the DVD, Highway 61 Entertainment, audio tapes featuring a voice “identical to Harrison,” arrived at their offices in 2005 and the film-makers have “corroborated” what the voice “reveals”, that British intelligence, MI5, forced the Beatles to cover up McCartney’s death to prevent mass suicides of Beatle fans. However, the remaining Beatles tried to signal fans with clues on album covers and in songs.

We’ve heard all that before. There’s more.

In this film, “George Harrison” reveals a dangerous cat and mouse game with ‘Maxwell,’ the Beatles’ MI5 handler, as John Lennon became increasingly reckless with the secret. “Harrison” also insists that Lennon was assassinated in 1980 after he threatened to finally expose ‘Paul McCartney’ as an impostor.

In their press release Highway 61 Entertainment claim their have corroborated most of “Harrison’s stunning claims”. They haven’t said they corroborated that the “voice” is indeed that of George Harrison.

Maybe it was George who was replaced, not Paul. But the “real” George is dead. Isn’t he?  Time for another conspiracy theory.

What I’m listening to: Roky Erickson With Okkervil River (True Love Cast Out All Evil),  Coldplay (Viva Da Vida), Love (Forever Changes)


April 24, 2010

Paul McCartney defection must send shivers through the ailing EMI Group Ltd.

McCartney has struck a deal with independent record label Concord Music Group that takes his solo work away from the Beatles’ longtime label, EMI Group Ltd. How long before the Beatles recordings follow?

Just a few weeks ago EMI, desperately looking for ways to restructure for the sake of revenue thought they’d come up with a clever plan, to license its music in Canada, Mexico, and the US to one of its rivals, the Universal Music Group. If the deal had gone through EMI would have been $US400 million richer. EMI’s parent, Terra Firma, owes equity partner Citigroup $190 million from its purchase of the recording company. It must find that money by June 12th. If they don’t Terra Firma loses EMI to Citigroup. The Universal deal, although it had all the appearance of a shifting of the deckchairs on the Titanic, would have “helped”. But the deal didn’t go through, at the very last minutes, the day before it was due to be signed. Someone had the smarts to check EMI’s contract with EMI and discovered that their contract with the Beatles and other acts forbid EMI to license their records to another company.

Just last month EMI found out in a court action taken out by Pink Floyd that EMI’s contract prevented them from selling single tracks from albums the band considers complete works. If there’s one artist EMI can’t afford to lose its the Beatles. Without them, EMI is almost valueless. The Beatles have sold 30.2 million copies in the U.S. last decade.

In 1976, six years after Paul McCartney announced the Beatles was no more (see earlier post), the individual Beatles were free to take their solo recordings elsewhere. George Harrison immediately formed his own non-EMI label Dark Horse. Ringo went to Polydor. John Lennon, who was “watching the wheels” ended up with Geffen. Paul McCartney alone stayed loyal to EMI and was rewarded with a secret handshake higher royalty from the Beatles back catalogue than the rest of the group.

It was good business for Paul to stay “sweet” with McCartney. When the Beatles principles, McCartney Starr and the widows of Lennon and Harrison met on business EMI had an ally in “Sir Paul”.

McCartney finally left the “fold” three years ago with ‘Memory Almost Full’ when Paul joined Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon on the Starbucks ‘Hear Music’ label. It seemed a good idea for these “heritage” artists being ignored by the established music industry. Buy a coffee at Starbucks. Listen to music. Buy their exclusive albums.

But it was only a good idea at the time. When the global financial crisis hit Starbucks rationalized its outlets, drastically, so much so that a disgruntled Carly Simon unsuccessfully took the company to court for not living up to her promises to her.

So now. McCartney’s  ties with EMI have been severed. He’s now removed his solo catalogue and given it to Concord Records, founded as a jazz label in 1972 and in 1998 was acquired by television producer Normal Lear’s Act III Communications. The label has since grown beyond its roots to release high-profile albums artists, ranging from Robert Plant to Ray Charles. Concord’s annual revenue is estimated at around $100 million; its U.S. market share is just shy of 1%. McCartney and Concord will reissue the Wings album “Band on the Run” as the first release under the global arrangement. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Radiohead and the Rolling Stones have also left EMI in recent years. What next?

What I’m listening to: Avi Buffalo (Avi Buffalo), Retribution Gospel Choir (2) Joy Division (Closer)

The Beatles: AND IN THE END

April 10, 2010

Forty years ago on this day Paul McCartney announced to the world that he was leaving the Beatles. It was an arrogant and audacious action on his part. McCartney was in fact the only member of the Beatles who hadn’t quit by April 1970.

Ringo Starr and George Harrison had both already left on different occasions – largely because of Paul McCartney – and been encouraged to stay. John Lennon was gone in spirit, his attention elsewhere. He’d long ago not bothered to work on any of George Harrison’s songs and probably would have just concentrated on his own Beatles’ contributions if it wasn’t for the intense creative competition between Lennon and McCartney which had driven the group throughout their career.

When McCartney was first invited to join Lennon’s Quarrymen group – John didn’t do it himself but royally had a mutual friend extend the invitation – Lennon made a mental note not to let McCartney take over. At that stage, in 1957, John Lennon was just making it up as he went. Paul McCartney however could sing like Little Richard, could play guitar properly and was writing his own songs. John Lennon knew Paul McCartney was going to be an asset.

As well as singing like Little Richard Paul McCartney also introduced Broadway songs like ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and ‘Till There Was You’ to the Beatles’ repertoire. He was always in danger of pushing the Beatles’ music in that direction. John Lennon recklessly rushed to see what new thing was around the corner. That difference was part of the Lennon-McCartney magic.

The Beatles started dying in 1967, when their manager Brian Epstein committed suicide. After a period of grieving the band met and decided not to replace him. They weould make career decisions themselves. They went to work on the “White” album, and the rot started to set in. Their next significant project was then something Paul McCartney dreamed up during a plane trip between America and England, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. Paul McCartney was starting to assert himself over the group, in the studio telling Ringo and George how he wanted things to be done, sometimes even just sidelining them and playing their parts himself. That was then the backdrop to ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Abbey Road’, recorded in that order, but released the other way.

Complicating relationships even further was the recognition that they DID need business guidance. Paul wanted his Eastman in-laws’ legal firm to take care of things. Lennon in the same cavalier way he’d handed the ‘Let It Be’ tapes to Phil Spector to “fix”, talked Ringo and George into signing with Allen Klein. Oh-oh.

Paul McCartney didn’t just quit on this day. He didn’t just issue a statement. He hijacked the Beatles. His announcement came with the press release revealing the release of McCartney’s first solo album and came in the form of a Q&A where he was both the interviewer and the interviewee. After discussing the new album with himself McCartney came to the heart of the matter.

 Q: “Is this album a rest away from the Beatles or the start of a solo career?” PAUL: “Time will tell. Being a solo album means it’s ‘the start of a solo career…and not being done with the Beatles means it’s just a rest. So it’s both.”

 Q: “Is your break with the Beatles temporary or permanent, due to personal differences or musical ones?” PAUL: “Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family. Temporary or permanent? I don’t really know.”

Q: “Do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again?” PAUL: “No.”

The rest of the Beatles begged him to delay the release of his album, so it wouldn’t get in the way of ‘Let It Be’. They knew it would be the Beatles’ last official release and wanted to do it with dignity. They sent Ringo as emissary, but it did no good. As Paul had told us it was the end, although the legalities of it all took many years to resolve, and then, when the rights to the Beatles records came up for renewal McCartney negotiated a higher royalty for himself.

Now there are just two. John Lennon was assassinated. George Harrison died of lung cancer. Ever since, McCartney has done his best to channel to himself all the good will music fans still have for the Beatles. He wants us to believe that relations with him and the others were “friendly” in the end, but throughout the whole journey the “cute” Beatle has been too cute by half.

What I’m listening to: Slash (Slash) , the White Stripes (Elephant) , Morphine (Yes)


March 16, 2010

What we always need to remind ourselves in observing the comings and goings, ups and downs of the music industry, is that we’re only looking at the latest events in a long ongoing evolution.

The music industry – who’d have once imagined even calling it an industry –  isn’t simply a succession of generations of teenagers, artists and technology. As new artists like Lady Gaga enter the fray, it’s not necessarily simply a case of giving a new generation of fans the same experience as fans of Cyndi Lauper or Wanda Jackson offered before them. It’s the similar experience but it also has to be a new experience, because the past is still with us.

Today’s songwriters are still competing with the Beatles. The Beatles generation of musicians imagined careers of a few years at best, not that we’d still be consuming their music forty years on alongside what today’s entrants have to offer. On stage today’s rock bands need to live up to the expectation established by the Rolling Stones.

At the same time yesterday’s heroes often find themselves in need of new challenges. You can’t just keep making album after album, embarking on tour after tour, repeating yourself. That’s when audiences get as bored as the artist themselves and refresh their own engagement with music by seeking out other artists. They’ll do that anyway. Everyone involved wants to STAY involved. Music fans don’t really want to retire to their memories, just reliving their teenage years. They want music that interests and reflects them NOW. Artists don’t want to retire either. Madonna isn’t likely to gracefully step into the sunset now that Lady Gaga’s grabbed our attention.

Everyone – audience and creators – is asking ‘What now?’ What haven’t we heard before, what haven’t we seen before, what haven’t we done before? What’s the best ever? How can we better it?

We see Elton John writing songs for movies – not just to add an Oscar to his music trophies. Despite the mixed reaction to the stage version of ‘Billy Elliott’ and the failure of his ‘Lestat’ musical Elton’s trying again. It’s that or become a human jukebox – and to be honest, in concert that’s what he’s become. U2’s Bono and The Edge are struggling to stage their ‘Spiderman’ musical. Alice Cooper is taking about staging his own musical – what a natural (but financially risky) development!

Metal monsters Metallica are also on the lookout for new frontiers. They’ve revealed they  will only play in 10 cities in 2011 but according to the band what they have in mind will be a huge undertaking. “It will be Metallica’s equivalent of The Wall.”

In music, old or new, nothing’s the same as it used to be. Nor should it be.

What I’m listening to: Broken Bells (Broken Bells); As I Lie Dying (An Ocean Between Us), Brian Wilson (Smile)


January 21, 2010

Aerosmith is still threatening to replace Steve Tyler – promising it won’t be a nobody; while Stone Temple Pilots is putting the finishing touches to a comeback album with Scott Wieland’s return after a stint with Velvet Revolver – still looking for a replacement ; and we eagerly await the return of Soundgarden, back in harness with Chris Cornell after his stretch with Autoslave.

Lead singers can play havoc with a band’s career.

Whether they are genuinely the leader or they start as one of the boys, the result is the same, the one who happens to be at the microphone and gets all the attention. Few bands survive the departure of their visual spearhead. AC/DC managed to replace Bon Scott. Van Halen boast a career with THREE singers. But these are the exceptions.

Twelve years after the death of Michael Hutchence INXS are STILL struggling with his “departure”. Throughout these twelve years we’ve had a sense of their frustration. There they were, once one of the biggest bands in the world, on the comeback trail (maybe) and Hutchence “tops” himself, accidentally or otherwise. When their grief subsided you could imagine their dilemma. ‘What about us?’ Sad as it was, were they supposed to give up music because one of their number was missing, through a stupid act? It’s a dilemma they’ve never resolved, still unable to move forward as today they prepare for the release of an album of new versions of their best loved songs performed with guest vocalists.

It’s a situation which dates back to The Beatles – thanks to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. To resolve a contractual situation singles were released in both Holly’s name and the Crickets’ name. The Beatles – and their generation of Holly-inspired groups – decided not to be John Lennon and The Beatles or Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, and the singer’s name disappeared from the front of group names. Obviously not their “importance” of course.

While we think about all of this, all the current goings on, once again doubt is being raised about the future of The Rolling Stones. Does Charlie Watts want to stop touring? Are The Stones refusing to tour until Ronnie Wood gets his act together? Ronnie’s response has been to announce solo tour dates. Whatever the outcome, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are Stones for “life”. That was decided some years ago. Keith Richards’ long-held ambition is to keep the Stones together for as long as possible. Ages ago he said that the Rolling Stones were breaking new ground. There isn’t another rock band that’s been around so long and he wants to see just how long they can keep recording and touring.

 The only thing that could spoil Keith’s party, is that lead singer phenomena. What if Mick Jagger left? Back in the mid-eighties The Rolling Stones signed a new recording deal and one of the conditions was solo albums for Mick. Keith was not a happy man, while Mick seriously engaged thoughts of solo music without the Rolling Stones and a career in movies. Keith decided to act. He recorded a solo album of his own, with one main objective, to spook Jagger.

The album is called ‘Talk Is Cheap’, and the way Keith tells it there came the day when he asked Mick around, put the album on and then excused himself so that Mick HAD to listen. ‘Talk Is Cheap’ was the music, the future, Jagger was potentially throwing away. It’s one of THE great rock albums. It did what Keith wanted, brought Mick’s mind back to main game. There were more solo Jagger albums, but no more thoughts of leaving the Stones.

If for some unimaginable reason he did leave now, with Keith desperately clutching at Mick’s heels as he walked away, Aerosmith could really try for “someone”, the real thing instead of the pretend Mick Jagger they’ve worked with all these years.

 What I’m listening to: Retribution Gospel Choir (2); The Feelies (Crazy Rhythms); Richard Thompson (Henry The Human Fly)


January 7, 2010

Yoko Ono has hinted that she’ll write her autobiography “in the next five years”. In a 2007 interview, she explained her reluctance to put her life with John Lennon and the Beatles into words: “There are things that I can’t write because it may hurt someone. I think about how it might hurt (their) children, and I don’t want to do that.”

It’s an interesting comment, one which bears a little examination. Whose children might she upset? I think we can safely put George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s offspring to one side. Neither seemed to have had any huge undue out-of-the-ordinary problem with Yoko. She wouldn’t be talking her own son Sean, nor Julian, although Julian isn’t Yoko’s No.1 fan. And that leaves … Paul..

If her relationship with John Lennon made Yoko the world’s most hated woman in the eyes of Beatles’ fans, imagine how Paul McCartney felt. Yoko took John Lennon away from him. Did he behave then and for a long time like a jilted “lover”? Did Paul immediately and deliberately find his own “Yoko” in Linda? History shows it all happened very quickly and concurrently. None of the other Beatles were present when Paul married Linda, but it’s Yoko who gets the bad rap. Linda wasn’t Japanese and Paul didn’t bring her into the studio – yet.

In his own words – remembering that quotes taken out of context can be tricky – let’s try to look at Yoko through Paul’s eyes.

“I don`t take any notice of her. She`s John`s wife so I have to respect her for that, but I don`t think she`s the brightest of buttons. She`s said some particularly daft things in her time. Her life is dedicated to putting me down but I attempt very strongly not to put her down.”

“We were pretty good mates until the Beatles started to split up and Yoko came into it. It was more like old army buddies splitting up on account of wedding bells.”

“Someone like John would want to end the Beatle period and start the Yoko period. He wouldn`t like either to interfere with the other

“I never really got on that well with Yoko anyway. Strangely enough, I only started to get to know her after John`s death.”

 “I thought she was a cold woman. I think that`s wrong. She`s just the opposite. I think she`s just more determined than most people to be herself”.

 Since John Lennon’s death Paul McCartney has tried hard to convince us that he had mended his relationship  before John died. He’d want to believe that and want us to believe it. His former best friend was murdered. Paul will never let us know whether or not Yoko prevented a call from Paul to John be but through to the studio during the last days of John’s life.

Yoko Ono was and is an enigma. John Lennon was her third husband. Before Sean there was a daughter, and as she did with Sean Yoko asked Kyoko’s father to raise the child while she concentrated on other things. Mother and daughter were estranged for years, until 2001 when Kyoto was already a mother herself.

Pre-Beatles, Yoko was part of the legendary Fluxus art movement. She was “someone” before she met John Lennon, but she wasn’t only seduced by John, but also by his “art’s” mass appeal. She gave up her world for his. Has she ever understood music?

I spoke to Yoko Ono once, and my lasting impression of that conversation was what a sad sad person her life had turned her into.