Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Ruby Anniversary

"The world revolves, not around the creators of new noises, but the creators of new values." - Fredrich Nietzsche

"With our love, we could save the world." - George Harrison

My parents were married in the "Summer of Love"--not that they knew this at the time. It took their teen aged daughter informing them of this coincidence several years later. Where my parents were from, there were no hippies, no yippies, and to them, the Beatles had gotten weird a year prior. I've always felt like I embraced the idealism of the Sixties much more than my conservative parents did in their youth; I felt more a part of their generation than they did. (Quite a strange situation.) In July my parents will have been married 40 years, their ruby anniversary. They aren't wanting a special celebration, though they certainly deserve it.

The "Big Bang" moment of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band occurred 40 years ago as well, and there are no grand celebrations for this event either. Once again an auspicious anniversary has come and gone without fanfare. No CD with both the stereo and mono mixes, no deluxe edition with an accompanying DVD of promos and The Making of Sgt. Pepper special. No SACD. Nothing. Almost every music magazine has commemorated it in some way--cover stories for Uncut, Mojo, Guitar World. Even The Week has this article: Meet the Beatles, Again.

Over the ensuing years, the album has gone "in and out of style" with what is considered "hip". It seems to go in waves--for a while it was quite fashionable to bash the album as a relic of flower power, indulgent and irrelevant. In some 100 top album polls, Sgt. Pepper wouldn't even be hanging around at the bottom of the list. Some journalists have gone so far as to suggest that Sgt. Pepper "ruined" music in that it gave birth to a progressive form within a genre that used to be raw and "do-it-yourself" in its approach. What else should artists do but evolve and reflect, or indeed shape, their times? What makes this album so iconic that such divergent opinions of it are still being discussed 40 years later?

I wasn't around to hear the album within the context of 1967, but I certainly remember the first time I heard it. Even though I had years of popular music infusing the context of my listening, I could still honestly say that I had never heard anything like it. I had never felt that way while listening to an album. So much is going on here--it's like attending a Victorian carnival with Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll, taking some time to speak with the Dalia Llama along the way, contemplating everyday life, and then finishing the evening at a lecture given by T.S. Eliot and Stockhausen. (Has that ever been said about Sgt. Pepper before? I've been looking for a new way to describe it!) It's a lovely combination of whimsy and substance, old and new, life and death. And the music. I don't think anyone today, with their Pro-Tools and their 48 tracks, could ever re-create what's going on here. The apex of zeitgeist, spirit, genius, chemicals--it's something only the Beatles could create, and could only create at that precise moment in time.

As I write this tonight, I am listening to a needle drop of the Japanese "Red Wax" mono Sgt. Pepper, and the stereo is lined up next. What a way to spend the evening. Some of the photos here are from the Michael Cooper photo shoot of Peter Blake's perfect cover design. (The cover is just as iconic as the music within.)

Don't forget to celebrate and create your own "Summer of Love" this year. We need that unifying force now. "It doesn't matter how old you are, you're as young as you feel right now." John Lennon (I also wish everyone would read Patti Smith's interview in the 40th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone magazine...)

What does Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band mean to you?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Trojan Horse

Over the past few months, I have been swept up in the Winter and Spring of Love, focusing mainly on the landmark Sgt. Pepper sessions and the events that transpired within that time frame. It's quite enjoyable to immerse oneself in a particular point in time, trying to recapture some of what made it so revolutionary and memorable, trying to imagine what it would have been like to witness these events first hand. I am envious of those fans who were able to experience each new Beatles release as it happened, those who were there to witness their progression and be astounded by their artistry. I must say we fans of today are very lucky as well--all the legitimate and conversely illegitimate DVDs and CDs, the countless books, Internet connections, etc. that we have now allow our Beatles obsessions to be continuously fed.

Last night I attended a Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Pops concert with the Beatles tribute act "Classical Mystery Tour" performing. I had never experienced the Beatles music with a full orchestra before, and I must say that this performance was astounding. Hearing "I Am The Walrus", "Penny Lane", and "All You Need Is Love" with all those orchestral parts being played live--joy just swirls inside. Though the crowd seemed to be made up of people who were there because it was a KSO event rather than a Beatles-related event, everyone got into the act and seemed to respond very positively. The band didn't seem to focus too much on being an exact representation visually, though they did don costumes and such--the focus seemed to be more on the music. Only a few flubs with the lyrics here and there, and even John himself had that problem from time to time! Their "Paul" is the best one I've seen live--he has the vocals and mannerisms down pat, you just have to forgive him for not being left-handed. If they come to your city, don't hesitate to attend.

In commemoration of John C. Winn's 100th Beatlegs Podcast, I assembled a two-piece scan of The Trojan Horse, a painting by Barry Agar, to accompany that entry. This painting covers The Beatles' entire story from childhood to break-up. Some of his listeners have requested a larger scan of the painting, so here it is--click on it to enlarge. If you have not heard this amazing 100th podcast yet, what are you waiting for? Click the link on this page and download it. This is Mr. Winn's best work yet. You just have to hear it for yourself! I'll be back shortly with some random pictures, more Sgt. Pepper pix, and a little special project I've got in mind...

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Act You've Known For All These Years

It's a color extravaganza this week--all color photos from a Sgt. Pepper session! In the coming weeks, I'll be posting many, many more b&w photos from this particular session.

All of the above photos were taken on Friday, March 3, 1967. This was the evening that four French horn players recorded their parts that were in turn overdubbed on to take 10 of the title track, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". The four musicians were James Buck, Neil Sanders, Tony Randall and John Burden. Unbeknownst to them, John Lennon was secretly taping their conversations for his own personal use (just as he had done on the Jan. 9th "Penny Lane" session)! Paul hummed the melody to the musicians, and they transcribed it on to paper. I love the photos of Paul directing them.

The photos also indicate that the Beatles (with a little help from Neil and Mal) looked through fabric swatches as they picked out what they wanted for those now-famous Sgt. Pepper uniforms. Isn't it amazing that we have photo evidence of these processes?

Once the musicians had finished their overdub work and procured Beatles autographs, George Harrison worked out the awesome guitar solo for the title track. These pictures show both Paul and George with guitars--Paul with that great Telecaster and George with the faithful Casino. Once this solo was perfected, The Beatles retreated to the control room, and four additional mono mixes of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" were completed.

If you haven't heard the mono Sgt. Pepper album, you must find a way to immediately. Weeks were spent on the mono mix, and it's a whole different experience compared with the stereo. John's vocal on "Lucy" is double-flanged like you wouldn't believe, giving it such a trippy psychedelic effect.

Don't you absolutely love John's attire? I love those pants and the "Sword Swallower" button.

I scanned all the above photos, save for two--the one from the famous Fiz collection, (which is now off-line, I'm sorry to say) and the Lost Lennon Tapes cover. Click to enlarge! These photos are centerfolds and covers from Beatles Monthly Books.

(Reference: The Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewisohn)