Monday, September 23, 2013

The Beatles-The Esher Demos By Peter Reum

Growing up with the Beatles is a fundamental common experience of Boomers my age. I remember seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, but The Beatles' appearance on the Sullivan Show was almost a universal experience among my generation. As we grew up, so did The Beatles. Their youthful effervescence changed into jaded skepticism as ours did concurrently.

The Beatles changed as do all groups in whatever endeavor they undertake change. Group dynamics are well known and researched. The process model known among all group therapists like myself is "forming, norming, storming, working, and dissolving." The core Beatles had been together since the late Fifties by the time the preparation for the double album simply entitled "The Beatles" came along. They had all written songs in India with The Maharishi, and their cynicism about the experience was well known and publicized. Their return to the UK coincided with a need to turn in an album.

Songwriters don't stop writing, even if they are in India under the Maharishi's dubious tutelage (at least in The Beatles' point of view). The group reunited in England at George's home in Esher with a 4 track tape recorder, and acoustically laid down some 27 tracks, playing what they came up with in India for each other. The results were astounding.

I should now interject some opinions of my own. I am not a big White Album fan. I have always felt that The Beatles was a self-indulgent excessively lengthy double set. Personally, I am a "middle period" Beatles fan, enjoying the period roughly from Rubber Soul through the US Magical Mystery Tour album. That said, an album of these demos. recorded in the manner that Bob Dylan and The Band cut the Basement Tapes would have sold me on a double set, with no reservations. The legendary Basement Tapes are everything a double album should be....incredible musicians sharing their music together playing as an ensemble in a manner that makes the songs the star of the show, not the production.

A great song should sound great without production enhancements. That is the nature of most of the Esher Demos. There are some dalliances with whimsy, but hearing them "naked" brings out their inherent humor. The demos are roughly evenly divided between John and Paul, with few strong pieces from George. Most chronicles of the sessions show doubt that Ringo was present.

The tapes begin with John singing Julia, and the tune's sensitive and lovely character comes through beautifully. The song's chords are played on acoustic guitar, and it sounds like John doubled his vocal by overdubbing. John's loving tribute is as sensitive a song as he ever composed. It is sung tenderly, as a mother might sing to her son.  It is as gorgeous a song as John ever wrote. Paul's Blackbird is next, and again the chords played acoustically make the song the star. Paul's intention here was a song of encouragement to African-Americans fighting discrimination, and though presented allegorically, there is no mistaking what the song is about. Two homeruns in two at bats.....

Rocky Raccoon on The White Album comes across as a send up of America's rednecks. It is ironic that today in the USA that there is a deep divide between gun owners and the National Rifle Association and people who want stronger gun control. Thinking back to 1968, it may be a commentary on Paul's part about the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy by assassins. Back In the USSR has a strong resemblance to The Beach Boys on The White Album, but the chords are undoubtedly indebted to Chuck Berry. This tune is simply a great piece of rock and roll.

Honey Pie thumps along with a lyrical continuation of the USA Western theme, with a guitar for percussion, a Roaring Twenties music and lyrical theme, and some rowdy background vocals. It sounds like a tune you would hear in a saloon. Mother Nature's Son has the amazing chord progression that only a  Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney could come up with. This has always been a favorite of mine, and this version kills.  The only version that approaches this one is John Denver's ironically. There is a second guitar playing along, possibly George. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da follows, and is very catchy if a bit gimmicky. The tune is a musical bow to Dub music, but is too light lyrically.

Junk is a McCartney tune that did not see release until Paul's solo career. It is an achingly pretty song, and one wonders why a song like Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da made it to the White Album and Junk did not. It is a McCartney melody that is simply lovely in acoustic form. Dear Prudence is a beautiful song in its acoustic form here, and is also certainly a highlight of The White Album as well. Lennon does a little rap alluding to the Maharishi at the end of Dear Prudence which segues right into Lennon's Sexy Sadie, a commentary on the Maharishi's sexual prowess in Rishikesh. Lennon was not a person who dealt  well with pretense or duplicity, and this song is an sample of those feelings.

Cry Baby Cry, another Lennon composition, is quite beautiful and all too brief. Lennon apparently wrote it about the time he wrote Good Morning, Good Morning, and this version, like so many of these demos, could have been released as it was cut in Esher. Child of Nature is obviously inspired by the time outdoors in Rishikesh, and the song did not make it to The White Album. It surfaced on John's Imagine album as Jealous Guy. I actually prefer this version with these lyrics.

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill appears to be a commentary on the American predilection for violence. In 1968, America was torn into a thousand pieces, with rioting in the cities, a hated and divisive War in Viet Nam, and an election that was not well received by the world.  I'm So Tired apparently has an extra spoken passage on the Esher version. It is an unhappy John Lennon voicing his dissatisfaction with his life, and the constant demands being placed upon hum. This version is eminently releasable as is, and it is a shame it hasn't seen official release.

Yer Blues, from John Lennon, is a wonderful 12 bar blues with some fine slide guitar playing from George. The slide guitar is fairly unique in these demos, and Lennon's vocal is "suitably bluesy." John had apparently tried to hook up with God in India to no avail. His anger about the experience is spread out in several of these demos. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey is a Lennon tune that alludes to heroin use. The tune, in my opinion refers to the seductive nature of the drug, which is blissfully enslaving, then becomes a demanding bitchy mistress instead of a vehicle for emotional numbing.

What's the New Mary Jane, another Lennon tune,  was not released until 1988. The tune is a Lennon lyrical mish mash, similar to some of Dylan's lyrics in the Basement Tapes. It is fairly pedestrian, and not his best work. Revolution is a tune on the Esher Demos that sparkles and screams for release. The song rocks acoustically, and is an obvious radio tune. I like Lennon's rejection of violence and prejudice and call for love in this tune. It is a generational anthem. The falsetto "don't you know it's gonna be" vocals are a kick.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps, George Harrison's classic, is as gorgeous here as it appears on the White Album. The guitar and organ here intermingle and form a bond that is wistful and incredibly sad. The tune almost sounds like chamber music in demo form. Simply beautiful.  Circles is accompanied by an organ that is jarring in tone, and is reminiscent of The Beach Boys Smiley Smile period. The tune is a George Harrison tune, and is an obvious outtake, and is not his strongest work.

Sour Milk Sea, first cut during the Esher Demos, was recorded by the late Jackie Lomax for his Apple lp. The tune, a George Harrison composition, may have been a commentary on some of the negativity some group members expressed about their Rishikesh experience. It is sung in a falsetto, has a strong melody and it's lyrics are probably what kept it from the White Album. Not Guilty is a Harrison tune that appears to be a musical retort to Beatle members who found the India experience unsavory. Harrison appears to be saying that what each group member experienced in India was of their own making. If those members didn't "get it", it was their own fault.

Piggies is a Harrison tune that almost sounds like Lennon could have written it. There is some masterful guitar work on the demo, and it is a tune that  satirizes the bankers and lawyers that dominate financial life in the world. In that sense, it reflects everyday feelings that ordinary citizens have about those people....Happiness Is a Warm Gun, a Lennon tune, begins with a Strawberry Fields feel, then abruptly jumps into some Lennonized puns, and the song has some continuity transitions that are rough in demo form. These appear to have been worked out on the White Album version. It is an acoustic delight.

Mean Mr. Mustard follows, with the whole tune having a slice of life feel, similar to the first section of A Day In the Life. The song is a minor composition, and found it's way into the Abbey Road album. In this version, the song's weaknesses tend to stand out, an unwanted side effect of acoustic performance.  Polythene Pam is similar in it's weaknesses to Mean Mr. Mustard. It is a song fragment from India, and describes a tryst that Lennon had.

Lennon's Glass Onion follows, and is he last tune in this collection of incredible demos. It is a Lennon tune that appears to make fun of the Beatles obsessives that played records backwards and searched for hidden meanings in Morse Code flatulence. It is a strong tune and one that I believe is usually underrated among Lennon's compositions. It is an acoustic delight in it's demo form.

What to make of these demos? Well, the first thing to say is that they cement Lennon. McCartney, and Harrison's reputations as great songwriters. Most of these demos stand alone in a stripped bare form beautifully. Second, the group knew themselves well, and they selected the best of these demos for The White Album. There are misfires on the album itself, but the best of these demos would have made a great single album plus part of another. This is The Beatles' "unplugged" album, and it is a very strong one, perhaps the best done by a major group. Third, the tension in the group shows up in the songs themselves, and those tunes are obvious. The India experience was not  good for either John or Ringo. Finally, this set needs to be released as an album. It is a shame these demos are not readily available for Beatle aficionados, including myself.  

Copyright 2013 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 13, 2013

Personal Favorites 3-Koop-Waltz For Koop by Peter Reum

Koop's 2002 album, Waltz For Koop, came from out of the blue and captured extensive time on my stereo for much of 2011. Their music is difficult to categorize. Allmusic primarily labels Koop an "acid jazz" group, but for me, their music is fairly unique and enthralling. I first encountered their music while exploring youtube, and I was fortunate to have the first track I ever listened to be the title track of this album.

The guys in Koop have a tremendous knowledge of both the worlds of music and the recording process. They are from Sweden, and Oscar Simonsson and Magnus Zingmark are their names. The cd that I have is a 2002 release on Quango/Palm Records, and includes a bonus dvd with video of four tunes from the album. The insert on the album has a picture of Magnus and Oscar at a mixing board with large banks of computers behind them, like something out of a Sixties science fiction film.

Waltz For Koop Album Cover

As may be heard from a close listen to the album, Waltz For Koop features some well known and not so well known jazz vocalists who are featured on various tracks.  Cecelia Stalin and Yukimi Nagano were new artists when they contributed vocals to this album. Veteran singers Terry Callier and Earl Zinger wrote lyrics for their respective tunes, and are longtime jazz vocalists.  A small combo of Dan Berglund on bass, Ola Bathzen on bongos, Magnus Lindgren on reeds and flutes, and Matias Stahl on vibes add jazz instrumentation to the vocals and electronic music onboard this album. The album won a Swedish Grammy and was Billboard's best selling Electronica album of 2002.

The title track, Waltz For Koop,  is a lilting 3/4 time composition with a bassline similar to The Beach Boys' 1968 single Friends. Cecelia Stalin's vocal recalls Astrid Gilberto, but also she also contributes wordless scat singing. Synthesizers nest her vocal in lovely and warm tones that resolve beautifully. There is woodblock percussion, and the wordless bridge has a synthesized string section that might resemble a sunrise if it could be expressed in sound. It is entirely captivating and recurs in memory after a few listens.

The waltz time tune Tonight features Mikael Sundin as the vocalist. A beautiful baritone sax solo accompanies the vocalist on the tune's bridge. The song is warm, romantic, and is over before one can grasp all of it. As with Waltz For Koop, the song's lyrics are about a relationship's beginning. The vocalist sweetly reassures his new love that although his partner is quite sad that their evening has to come to an end, he will return again soon. He has a hard time leaving, as both people want more time.

Cecelia Stalin returns for Baby, the album's third tune. This time, the vocal protagonist in the romantic pair tries to reassure the previous vocalist from Tonight about their love. The song is quite uptempo, and continues the optimistic flow of the album's music and lyrics. A bass begins the tune, with synthesizers again providing a lush and warm background.  Percussion plays against the bass, with a flute solo and scat singing making the bridge catchy and then the bass returns, followed by Cecelia Stalin's reprise of the lyrics. The bongos then return, followed by a keyboard chordal reprise of the melody.

The next tune is introduced by a man as Baby segues into Summer Sun.  It is a wonderful uptempo workout. The Summer Sun reference is an allusion to the singer's love interest, who has knocked her off her feet into uncontrolled passion and desire. She seems to think that her partner is a rascal, but says that he or she belongs to her anyhow. There is a nice brassline that goes uncredited on the album's notes, followed by Yukimi Nagano's sexy jazz vocal. Once again she scats on the bridge with what sounds like vibes and initially a trumpet that then goes into extended keyboard work. Nagano repeats the song's lyrics to finish the tune, which is simply infectious to an extreme. Summer Sun is one of the songs featured as a video on the dvd accompanying the album.

Soul For Sahib is a bit of a departure, in that it is primarily instrumental with a badass flute accompanied by a bongos, drums, and bass. It is a tune that is bebop in nature, with the narrator explaining how he composes jazz.   A few times during the tune, a horn part flares and then the bop resumes. The whole tune reminds me of several jazz artists just jamming together enjoying each other. Modal Mile features Earl Zinger vocally. It has a samba tempo that underlies Zinger's erotic lead vocal. It has a cool hornline that reprises the melodic base of the tune. The vibes on this tune float sinuously around the vocal. Zinger's vocal is contemplative in nature, yet, in the end, he decides to commit to the relationship's wild ride.

In a Heartbeat follows, a tune that has a bassline resembling the heartbeat in the song's title. Lyrically, the tune advises it's listener to live in the present, which keeps things free and loose. Percussion is important here, riffing off the steady heartbeat of the bass. There is a synthesizer tone that accompanies the chorus of the song which heightens the sexual tension of the lyrics. Terry Callier's lyrics and  lead vocal amplifies the tension of attraction and being fully smitten with a loving partner. The tune celebrates the ecstasy of love, the yearning that comes when partners are apart but want to see each with each other.....

Relaxin' At Club F****n' is the next to last song on the album.  The tune begins with a thumping bass and synthesizer riff recalling a harp. A sax that could accompany an erotic video enters, and the picture is not difficult to imagine. The act of love with all of it's mystery and passion is expressed in this gorgeous and amazing tune.  A vocalist simply repeats "All the colors are changin'....our love is here." The album has built to this tune which is the crucial and necessary center of the mystery of people in love.

Yukimi Nagano returns for Bright Nights, the album's closer. The tune has a persistent bass that keeps tempo against a syndrum. Vibes and Nagano's vocal wordlessly accompany them. The feel one gets is that the couple have made love, and want to spend the rest of the night with each other drinking in the sounds and sights of the club where they escaped and made love. The album, while not strictly a song cycle, celebrates love in it's music and lyrics as well as any I have heard. It would be worth noting that the music herein is not like Eighties Club Music, but recalls it's best aspects. If you are looking for something romantic, jazzy, and erotic, this album is for you.  

Text copyright 2013 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved


Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Beach Boys 2012 Live Recordings-Part 4-Osaka by Peter Reum

This particular recording from Osaka is a shorter concert than many of the concert recordings that I have been writing about. Osaka's show was held indoors at The Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium. This show actually was done on the day after Chiba, and the similarities in the repertoire performed at both venues is uncanny. The show begins with a recording of The Fantastic Baggies doing Summer Means Fun.(!?) Introductions are made just before Do I Again. The audience is on fire and the enthusiasm is quite impressive. 

Do It Again really rocks at this show. It is a great opening number, and although the vocals are a little too highly mixed, the churning bottom is quite audible and powerful. David Marks once again cuts through with a sharp edged guitar solo. Jeff's high part is miked a little higher than some of the other shows I've heard. Little Honda follows with an audience that is following every nuance The Beach Boys play. Mike seems a little tired on lead vocal. The backing vocals are on the spot. The surf tunes come next beginning Catch a Wave. Once again Mike's lead gets somewhat buried. The harmony vocals are solid and quite tasteful. The sound cuts out a few times here, but again, David Marks is slicing and dicing.

Hawaii is next. The vocals are initially a little off time, but resolve at the beginning of the second verse. Mike's singing here is very strong, with Jeff's vocal being a little too highly mixed.  Don't Back Down follows with a great group harmony vocal behind Mike. John's drums are perfect, along with Nelson's percussion. This is a stellar version. Surfin' Safari is similarly powerful. With this many musicians onstage, the song loses it's punk feel and becomes an all out rocker. David's guitar solo is on the money, short and tasteful. The audience by this time has gone nuts.

Mike introduces Brian, who takes lead on Surfer Girl. The group has a couple of members who are flat on this number. Brian's vocal is inaudible until the bridge. I hate to say it, but sounds like Brian is flat. Getcha Back follows, and it doesn't sound like David doing the lead vocal. The lead vocal is about a quarter beat behind the song's tempo. The tag is ragged. Jeff doing Don't Worry Baby is professional and solid. His voice is not as jarring as at some of the other shows. The backing vocals are well done,  with perfect timekeeping from the rhythm section. None of this seems to matter to the listeners, who are beyond enthusiastic.

The car tunes begin with Little Deuce Coupe, and Mike is on the money here. I think he genuinely loves singing these tunes, and the audience is clapping so loudly that at times the backing vocals are inaudible. 409 rolls of the line next, and the tune is played beautifully with "driving guitar".....(pun intended).  David's guitar solo is longer than usual and it rocks. The drumming here is incredible. Shut Down is segued from 409, and the audience is bonkers. This is true rock and roll at it's best. The bottom here is very powerful. I Get Around caps off the car tunes and the crowd is flying. Mike's vocal is true to the record, and it is important to recognize how his vocals are the signature sound for these early tunes. No matter what one feels about him, his vocals make the show on the old tunes.

Having given the audience a literal plethora of oldies, the group does That's Why God Made Radio next. The tune has a loping feel to it, not unlike Sail On Sailor. Harmonies are present and beautiful. The group is playing the last 10 or so shows after this concert, and their knowledge of their repertoire is impressive and very tight. Brian loves this tune and is more audible here than in many other tunes in the show. He follows with Sail On Sailor and then Heroes and Villains. Sail On Sailor is beautifully done, similar to what Brian did in Chiba. The group's harmony vocals are mixed a  little too high. The instruments bury Brian's lead on the second verse. Overall, this is a great version despite the mix problems.

Heroes and Villains is sung well by both Brian and the backing vocalists. Brian's vocal on the chorus is very strong. The rolling vocals midway are a delight. The a capella break is similarly wonderful, with all vocalists audible. After the full stop, Brian returns with a perfect vocal. The group not only has mastered this tune, but it is apparent that it is a group favorite. Isn't It Time is next, and the group does the first verse to just the rhythmic clapping of the audience. They gradually fill in the instruments, and the vocals are perfect, with Alan's vocals in the background shining. The last chorus drops out, perhaps due to a mixing mistake. Mike seems to be  having trouble hearing the feed.

Alan introduced Why Do Fool In Love, is next, and somebody flats. If you wonder whether they do this live or fly it in, it is definitely live. The rhythm section shines here. Jeff is a bit bright on high vocal.   The whole version sounds a little out of sync, but the audience loves them anyhow. When I Grow Up To Be a Man has a cold intro that they do well. Jeff is mixed too brightly here. Mike's lead is excellent, and again, this is a song that needs his vocal. This version is very cleanly done, and is an obvious audience favorite. Alan sings Cottonfields next, with a nice lap steel and rhythm piano behind him. His vocals are impeccable on this tour, and this is no exception. There is some great doubling vocally going on fortifying the lead. It is not a tape. Gorgeous harmonies, great playing, and the group hits a homer.

The tributes to Dennis and Carl follow. Forever leads off, and many of you have Chiba's video by now, and the version here is really not that different. The vocals are live harmony wise, and are spot on. God Only Knows featuring Carl is next. The vocal is from Knebworth, and the tempo is a shine too fast. Probyn plays french horn, and Paul plays flute. The tag with Bruce and Alan is very well done. Mike and Al follow with All This Is That, which is a standard on this tour. Vocally, this is a highlight of this concert. The percussion may be mixed a little too high here. Brian's vocal here is very nice. Carl's heavenly tag here is once again too pretty for words.

Sloop John B is a great rock number on this tour, and Brian begins it grandly. The choruses are perfectly sung. Brian is mixed a little too high on the second chorus doing backgrounds.  The break is beautiful but brief. This number is an obvious Brian favorite. Wouldn't It Be Nice concludes the Pet Sounds segment. Alan gets the lyrics correct this time, and the backing vocals are solid. There is a lovely rhythm piano in the background.  The slower section is nice if a little too bright. The run of hits leading up to the concert's conclusion is next, beginning with Good Vibrations. Brian starts it, with help from Jeff. The cello triplets sound like they are either flown in or played on a guitar. They bury the vocals, the whole song sounds excessively loud, making the quiet sounds before the tag extra somber. The group nails the tag.

Throughout the tour, Alan's voice has been a consistent pleasure to listen for. Then I Kissed her here is delivered beautifully, out of order.  The guitars are mixed a little too loudly, so no one probably notices. Backing vocals are also nicely done. In this case the rhythm section is mixed too loudly, probably to offer a Wall of Sound feeling.California Girls is delivered very smoothly with Mike offering a vocal that again is true to the record and offers the proof that these are the real Beach Boys. Throughout the second half of the show, the drums and bass guitar have been mixed too loudly. 

All Summer Long begins cold, and Mike then flats out. The band as a whole here is quite loud, perhaps   due to the acoustics of the Osaka Gym. Rhonda segues from All Summer Long, and again, Alan's voice lends a clarity and authenticity to the tune. The crowd is again bonkers and singing "Help Me Rhonda" with the band. This tune is a touch faster than the original recording, and is finely tuned to be a winner in the concert's closing segment. Paul takes a cool solo on sax for twelve bars and it is back to the tune's end.  Rock and Roll Music is again misplaced at the  end of the show and the momentum hat has been built wavers. Do You Wanna Dance is sung by Brian and he flats out, with Jeff then doubling. I have to wonder if the feed into Brian's ear wasn't too loud for him to hear. David's lead solo burns, having been missing since the car tunes. The tune is ragged, but by this time the audience is nuts. Surfin' USA is a perfect concert closer, familiar, singable, and fast paced. 

The encore begins with Kokomo, which chills the crowd before Barbara Ann and Fun Fun Fun. The crowd predictably cheers for several minutes. Bruce introduces it. Mike's vocal is suitably mellow.Somewhere there are some pans, and I can't tell whether  they are live or flown in. The version here overall is a little anemic, but, Kokomo is not my favorite Beach Boys tune. Paul's sax solo is a highlight here though. Jeff sings Carl's old part well. Barbara Ann heats things to a boil gain. This is one  tune that every audience loves, and this one is no exception....the band plays the tune to be sung along to, and the Japanese may be the best audience worldwide for them, if you don't count the British. Nelson's percussion throughout this show has been stellar. Fun Fun Fun predictably is the perfect closer, with David reeling off a perfect guitar introduction. The whole audience is audible singing along,  and again, Mike's voice makes this song what it is. Imagine several thousand Japanese fans "oooing" at the end to the degree that you can barely hear the band itself, and you have a hole in one between the group and their audience. 

Highlights here are the usual suspects...the tunes that Alan sings lead on, the surf and car tunes, and Biran's Heroes and Villains. I am sure that Osaka fans will remember this show a long time. Low spots...Getcha Back, Do You Wanna Dance, and Rock and Roll Music due to its place in the sequence. 

Text copyright by Peter Reum 2013-All Rights Reserved