Ethan Hawke’s “The Black Album”

I haven’t seen Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood yet, and despite the rave reviews I may not anytime soon, but there is an aspect of the film that touches on my interests.

At some late point in the film, the character played by Ethan Hawke gives his son a 3-disc mixtape of post-Beatles songs. It’s called “The Black Album.”

Imaginary post-Beatles albums made up of solo Beatles tracks! I’ve played that game before; see “Hot As Sun,” my attempt at a hypothetical post-Let It Be 1970 Beatles album.

It turns out that there’s an actual playlist for Hawke’s “The Black Album,” and BuzzFeed has the track list as well as Hawke’s liner notes. You see, it was originally created for Hawke’s own daughter, and it was incorporated into the film.

I printed off the tracklist and went to work assembling WinAmp playlist files.

(Yes, I still use WinAmp. It’s very good at what it does. Just because it’s been discontinued doesn’t mean it’s not a good piece of software. Would you stop reading a favorite book just because it went out of print? I think not!)

A couple of things jumped out at me as I reviewed the tracks chosen. Hawke picked fifty tracks total, and there’s nothing really surprising. Almost all of the radio-friendly hits are here. With a handful of exceptions there’s nothing more recent than 1980 here. There’s nothing edgy here; no “Working Class Hero.” There aren’t many surprises; Harrison’s “Blow Away” may be the most obscure track here, and McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre,” great as it is and much as I love it, is an odd choice considering that it hit the American charts with all the success of a lead balloon.

The only place where I ran into trouble was in assembling the third disc, and both trouble spots were McCartney tracks. While I have “Dear Friend” on two live albums (Back in the USA and Good Evening New York City), I don’t have the studio Tug of War version. Nor do I have McCartney’s Unplugged album, the source of the live version of “And I Love Her” on “The Black Album” playlist.

Like any fan-made post-Beatles playlist, the playlist says a lot about the person who made it. I think with “The Black Album” Hawke was trying to create a very basic introduction to who the Beatles were in the wake of their break-up and to show that, in spite of the break-up, they went on to make very good music. He wasn’t trying to scare his real-life daughter with the edgy songs, he wasn’t trying to make his fictional son feel there aren’t still possibilities when things (like the Beatles) end.

Nevertheless, I need some edginess with my Beatles. And thus, I reworked the third disc. It started with a need to replace the songs I didn’t have, and it ended with a reconceptualization of the tracklist that achieves the same effect by delving deeper.

The third disc of “The Black Album” is eleven songs long. The first five tracks are love songs. They then segue into songs about peace (McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace,” Lennon’s “Imagine”), followed by McCartney reflecting on Lennon (“Here Today”), Harrison reflecting on how “All Things Must Pass,” and then one last “And I Love Her” from McCartney.

This was the structure I saw: Love -> Peace -> Reflections on the Past -> Closure.

I could work with that. It was missing Ringo. There were other songs that looked back on the Beatles years than just “Here Today.”

So this is what I did, with notes where I altered Hawke’s version.

  1. Lennon: “Grow Old With Me”
    Hawke uses the version of Lennon’s home demo from 2010 Lennon remasters. No, I’m going to use the version from the 1999 Lennon Anthology, with the string arrangement by George Martin.
  2. McCartney: “Silly Love Songs”
  3. The Beatles: “Real Love”
  4. George Harrison: “Never Get Over You”
    An addition! Hawke left Harrison out of the run of love songs. I can’t really criticize Hawke for that; Harrison doesn’t have any really memorable love songs in his solo career. That just wasn’t an interest of his. If you delve down into his albums, though, there are a few, like this gem from Brainwashed.
  5. Paul McCartney: “My Valentine”
    Hawke followed “Real Love” with McCartney’s “My Love.” We’ve already had a saccharine McCartney love song (“Silly Love Songs”) in the past ten minutes. We don’t need another. So, I replace “My Love” with Kisses on the Bottom‘s “My Valentine,” a darker, more mature love song. (You could also sub in something like Driving Rain‘s “From a Lover to a Friend” here.)
  6. Ringo Starr: “Never Without You”
    An addition, since Hawke left Ringo out of the third disc. From Ringorama, this is Ringo’s collaboration with Eric Clapton in memory of the recently deceased George Harrison.
  7. John Lennon: “Oh My Love”
  8. George Harrison: “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)”
  9. Paul McCartney: “Pipes of Peace”
  10. Ringo Starr: “Peace Dream”
    Another addition, from Ringo’s Y Not album. Ringo’s work the last fifteen years has been very enjoyable and, dare I say it?, good. He’s clearly making records for the fun of it at this point. Yet, he’s producing quality work, and “Peace Dream” is a great example.
  11. John Lennon: “Imagine”
  12. Paul McCartney: “Return To Pepperland”
    Now we’re into really obscure territory. “Return to Pepperland” comes from an unreleased McCartney album from 1987. This makes a good turning point to the third segment of disc 3 — the reflections on being a Beatle. “Return to Pepperland,” besides calling back to Sgt Pepper, is a song in the style of “Eleanor Rigby,” one of McCartney’s portraits of people bustling in their lives. It synth-y, it sounds very 80s.
  13. George Harrison: “When We Were Fab”
    Now that we’ve turned the page back to Beatle-hood, we have this song from George’s Cloud Nine. It would have been either this or “All Those Years Ago,” and, frankly, I like “When We Were Fab” more because I feel that George had more distance and wasn’t approaching his Beatle years with the undisguised pain that he had in 1981.
  14. Ringo Starr: “After All These Years”
    A third Ringo track! This is from Time Takes Time, Ringo’s highly-regarded 1992 album. It’s not as self-referential as “When We Were Fab,” but it does have the feeling of reminiscence, hence its inclusion.
  15. John Lennon: “#9 Dream”
    This is as close as Lennon comes to a “Beatles reminiscence” song that’s positive. (“How Do You Sleep?” is pretty direct, but it’s also savage toward McCartney.) “#9 Dream” was, basically, Lennon’s attempt to bury the hatchet with Harrison. I considered following this with McCartney’s “Flaming Pie,” but I had a better idea…
  16. Paul McCartney: “Strawberry Fields Forever/Help!/Give Peace a Chance”
    The b-side to McCartney’s “All My Trials” single, this is a live medley of three Lennon-penned songs that McCartney performed live in Liverpool during his 1990 world tour. It doesn’t get more Beatle-y than that, and it’s a better tribute to Lennon, in my opinion, than “Here Today.”
  17. George Harrison: “All Things Must Pass”

And we end it there. There’s no reason for anything past that. All things must pass. There’s nothing more that needs to be said.

It’s a little deeper, a little edgier, a little more recent than what Ethan Hawke came up, but I think it makes the same point and does so in a more interesting way. 🙂

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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