Revisiting a Beatle-Esque Christmas

christmas-tributeAbout two years ago, thanks to the Things We Said Today podcast, I learned of an album of Beatle-esque Christmas music, the Abbey Road Xmas Ensemble’s A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles.

(There’s also this one, The Liverpool Christmas Band’s Beatle-esque Christmas, which looks like it’s the same material, but with karaoke versions of the Christmas songs as well.)

With Christmas falling a week from today, I queued up the album over the weekend and listened to it, skipping the nine covers of Beatles songs because they’re really not necessary. The musicianship is fine, but the voices don’t sound a great deal like the Fab Four, some of the instruments sound weird (like, is that a synthesized harmonica?), and the distinctive guitar sounds of the Beatles, particularly George and Paul, aren’t recreated very well. The result is an album that sounds like it was inspired by the Beatles more than a “What if the Beatles made a Christmas album?” album.

At the time, I wrote of A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles:

The thirty tracks run 90 minutes total, and of the 30 tracks, nine of them are Beatles covers. (The 25-track version, Abbey Road Christmas, has five Beatles covers, by comparison. And one fewer version of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” as well.) The brain just goes numb. This is the kind of album that requires some DIY moxie — figure out the tracks you like and make a playlist of those in your mp3 player of choice, skipping entirely over the lesser tracks and Beatles covers. Whittled down to 12 tracks and a 40-minute running time, this could really soar.

Over the weekend, then, I did just that. Twelve tracks, less than 40 minutes.

My very edited version of A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles, with the Beatles inspiration where I could discern a direct correlation:

  1. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (“Hey Bulldog”)
  2. Silent Night
  3. Hark, The Herald Angels Sing (“Run for Your Life”)
  4. Last Christmas
  5. Blue Christmas (“Love Me Do”)
  6. Merry Xmas Everybody (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”)
  7. Mary’s Boy Child (“Please Please Me,” maybe?)
  8. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (“Things We Said Today”)
  9. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (“Good Night”)
  10. Merry Christmas Everyone (“Let It Be”)
  11. Wonderful Christmastime (“Love You To”)
  12. We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Some of the correlations aren’t perfect. “Happy Xmas,” for instance, starts out as one sort of thing and then turns into something like “Good Night” by the end. “Wonderful Christmastime” kicks off with the sitar riff from “Love You To,” but then it’s sung by a John soundalike rather than a George soundalike and is wildly psychedelic. (Honestly, I get more of an Oasis vibe from the song than a Beatles vibe.) These aren’t necessarily great versions of the songs, and this isn’t necessarily a great playlist, but for my needs this works. The psychedlic, sitar-heavy “Wonderful Christmastime” makes McCartney’s throwaway into something interesting and worthwhile. “Merry Christmas Everyone,” a Shakin’ Stevens song I wasn’t even aware of until two years ago, is a delight. At forty minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. There may be a better order, but this suffices.

There is, however, a Beatle-esque Christmas album I can wholeheartedly recommend — the Fab Four’s Hark!. I’ve bought this album twice, first in the two disc release by LaserLight fifteen years ago (bought at the Sam Goody’s on the lower floor of Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh shortly after I moved there), then in the single disc edition with bonus tracks almost ten years ago. I like it, it’s fun to listen to, and more evocative of the Beatles than A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles.

But both have their place in my collections, and as a Beatles fan, that’s fine. :)

An Unsatisfying Star Wars Salute to the Beatles

We need to talk about Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about and haven’t read vearious articles about it (like NPR‘s or Slate‘s), PLSDSP is an album that retells the story of Star Wars using the music of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Lennon-McCartney and Harrison lyrics are rewritten and replaced with lyrics that tell the story of various scenes from the original Star Wars, and the instrumentals are recreated to the point of getting many of the nuances of the original Beatles recording right. PLSDSP is a remarkable salute to Sgt Pepper on the occasion of its 50th-anniversary and Star Wars on the occasion of its 40th. I marvel at the artistry.

But PLSDSP is a tribute to Sgt Pepper that also completely misunderstands Sgt Pepper.

Pepper is often called a “concept album.” Many words have been written, many gallons of ink spilled, many pixels illuminated, over the last fifty years about Pepper as a concept album. The thing is, Pepper isn’t a concept album at all. Except for three songs, out of the thirteen, there’s no common theme, and there’s no narrative throughline at all. Pepper began as an album with a loose theme about Liverpool (hence, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” which were released separately), and the released album has a loose concept of a vaudevill troupe (the title track and “With a Little Help From My Friends” and the reprise), but beyond that there’s ten more completely unrelated songs. The Abbey Road medley coheres more than Sgt Pepper.

I’m not saying that Pepper isn’t an amazing, incredible album. It is. (Personally, I put Revolver ahead of it in the Beatles canon, but I see the point of those who put Pepper first.) But it doesn’t tell a story, it’s not built around a central idea, not in the way that, say, The Who’s Tommy was. Hell, The Who Sell Out has more of a central theme and stronger concept (pirate radio) than Sgt Pepper does.

And this is how Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans misunderstands Sgt Pepper — it rewrites the music to tell a story and frequently trivializes the original music in the process. Casting Darth Vader in Ringo’s cheerful voice is profoundly disturbing, and the tragedy of “She’s Leaving Home” is twisted into a song about a whiny, emo Luke Skywalker. “A Day in the Life of Red Five” seems especially misguided; in telling the story of Luke’s Death Star run, the song is focused on a singular character in a way that the Beatles’ original “A Day in the Life” is not, and in making the “Woke up…” section of the song simply a part of Luke’s story the song loses Paul’s jaunty counterpoint to John’s fatalism. The Star Wars lyrics are frequently tonal mismatches with underlying Beatles music, creating a muddled emotional tableau.

In paying tribute to Sgt Pepper, I feel that the musicians behind PLSDSP bought into the mythology of Sgt Pepper rather than the reality of Pepper. PLSDSP is essentially a well-produced filk album, and the result is a piece of work that is clever but ultimately dissatisfying.

I applaud the musicians for spending the time and energy on this project. It’s very well done. But Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans doesn’t work for me at all.

Live at the Hollywood Bowl!

beatle-hollywood-bowl-coverI was never optimistic about a CD release of the Beatles’ Live at the Hollywood Bowl album for a number of reasons — the Beatles themselves weren’t fans of it (they didn’t have any right to veto the release at the time), and George Martin wasn’t happy with the sound quality of the recordings. This September, in conjunction with a new Ron Howard documentary on the Beatles’ touring years, Live at the Hollywood Bowl will see its first official CD release.

The album, as released in 1977, was something of a hodge-podge of recordings from 1964 and 1965, mixed together as though they were a single performance, to cover the deficiencies of the three-track recordings. The remastered CD version is essentially an extension of what George Martin did with the recordings in 1977, with four additional tracks. It’s not ideal, imho — that would be the complete Hollywood Bowl recordings, flaws and all, in the proper sequence, without the 1964 and 1965 concerts mixed together — but it’s probably the best we could hope for.

I’ll be glad to add this to my Beatles collection. Now, as pointless as they are, I’d love for releases of Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Love Songs, Ballads, and Reel Music. And “The Beatles’ Movie Medley,” too, preferably a Giles Martin recreation that goes back to the original master tapes that were used to create it. There are still things that, as a Beatles fan, I would love to hear and have in my collection.

The Making of LOVE’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

Cirque de Soleil today released a new video for the performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from their The Beatles LOVE show. While I don’t care much about that music video — I never really “got” music videos, as I like to experience music as music — the Beatles released another video today, this one about the making of LOVE‘s version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

For the Cirque de Soleil production, George Harrison’s acoustic guitar demo was taken, and George Martin scored strings for it, his last work for the Beatles. The Beatles released a video with footage from 2005 when Martin conducted the string ensemble in what would be his last Beatles recording session.

This was more emotionally difficult to watch than I’d have thought because the two Georges, Harrison and Martin, are no longer with us, yet the work they did has touched us all.

The Beatles Anthology Podcast

Last week the Beatles released a new 3-part podcast that takes a look at Beatles Anthology project from twenty years ago — “British music journalists and Beatles experts Kevin Holwett and Mark Ellen discuss the classic Anthology releases, shining a light on the fascinating stories behind these albums which tell the story of the development of The Beatles career.” — to accompany the recent addition of the Anthology to various online streaming services.

anthology-avatarThe idea of this podcast, it seems to me, is to be a quick guide to the Anthology collections for the streaming audience who is just discovering these twenty year-old outtakes collections. Holwett and Ellen discuss the content of each of the three Anthology volumes, and they put the songs from each volume into some context in the terms of Beatles history. Holwett and Ellen have a nice rapport — Holwett, the calm expert; Ellen, the excitable fan. The episodes are brief, just fifteen minutes each, yet they manage to cover the high points of each of the three collections, pointing out the songs that are worth checking out and noting how the outtakes show the way the Beatles worked in the studio.

This podcast isn’t essential listening, but even so it’s a nice introduction to these collections, even for a long-time Beatles fan like me. It’s certainly made me think about revisiting the Anthologies and some similarly themed bootleg collections that complement it.

You can find the program on iTunes, but it’s also available through an RSS feed.

Alternate Beatles

Recently I’ve seen the traffic spike on some of my Beatles writings, specifically on alt-history Beatles, so I’m going to assemble a guide to things I written on the subject over the years.

Post-Abbey Road Albums

It’s an interesting game to imagine what the Beatles might’ve done had they soldiered on into 1970. There’s interesting material on their debut solo albums, they worked together (but not as a foursome) in various capacities in 1970, so it’s not impossible that they could have made one more album. It’s just a question of picking the right tracks and sequencing them.

I took a shot at it myself with an “album” I called “Hot As Sun,” which, if I don’t say so myself, is damn near perfect. :)

I had later thoughts on “Hot as Sun,” but they’re not essential.

Others have done so, too. Sometimes, I’d weigh in with my thoughts as to whether or not they worked.

Stephen Baxter, the sci-fi novelist, did, creating an album he called “God.” (Thoughts on Baxter’s short story here.)

Spencer Leigh made on he called “Finishing School” in an article for BBC Radio Merseyside. I wasn’t a fan of this one, sorry.

We can’t forget Ethan Hawke’s “The Black Album,” a playlist he created for his daughter which was incorporated into the film Boyhood.

There was even a program on WAMU, “One More Album,” in which a group of Beatles experts discussed the subject.

Suffice it to say, this is a game people have played — and will play for years to come.

Alternate Beatles Albums

The Beatles considered making a Lord of the Rings film. I pondered what the film and soundtrack album would have been like.

What if The Beatles, commonly known as the White Album, wasn’t a double album? Here’s my edit.

Other Stuff

BBC Radio 4 broadcast a radio play, Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition, which looks at a world where they failed to secure a recording contract with EMI. My thoughts here.

Mark Shipper wrote a fictitious, comedic biography of the Beatles and their reunion in his 1970s novel Paperback Writer, and I reviewed that here.

This list of links isn’t comprehensive — I’ve written much more on the Beatles than this — but it covers as much of my alternate-Beatles material as I can remember penning over the years.

A New(ish) Beatle-esque Christmas Album

Among the podcasts I listen to regularly, one I particularly enjoy is Things We Said Today, a weekly podcast of Beatles discussion with Ken Michaels, Steve Marinucci, Al Sussman, and Allan Kozinn. A year ago, the podcast changed its focus from Beatles news to a weekly theme, and this week’s episode dicussed the Beatles’ Christmas work, from the annual fan club discs (which still have not been officially released by Apple) and “Christmas Time Is Here Again” to the Beatles’ solo holiday efforts — John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” Ringo Starr’s album I Wanna Be Santa Claus, and George Harrison’s New Years song “Ding Dong.”

In discussing the works, the panel gave Ringo’s I Wanna Be Santa Claus its proper due. It’s a Ringo Starr album that happens to have a Christmas theme (much like Carbon Leaf’s Christmas Child, come to think of it), and it’s among his most enjoyable albums of the last twenty years. They were also quite positive about the other songs, and I learned that John’s “Happy Xmas” uses the tune of an English folk song about a racehorse, “Stewball.” The things I didn’t know!

harkThey also talked a little bit about some Beatle-esque Christmas albums, in particular The Fab Four’s Hark! and Rubber Band’s Beatmas, both of which I discussed here a number of years ago. (At that time, Hark! was a two-disc release.) Both bands took the hooks of Beatles songs, and used them to interpret a classic Christmas song in a Beatle-y style. One song of note is The Fab Four’s “Dear Santa,” which reinterpets a song Ringo Starr wrote and recorded for I Wanna Be Santa Claus in the style of Paul McCartney’s “Oh Darling” from Abbey Road. Also, The Fab Four’s “Little Drummer Boy” was used in an episode of House; this song was in the style of Abbey Road‘s “Sun King.” (For a complete list of what draws from what, I broke down The Fab Four and Rubber Band albums in posts over the years.

There is another that I found on iTunes a few years ago — St. Nick’s Lonely Christmas Band. It leaves me feeling “meh.”

In my opinion, The Fab Four’s Hark! is definitely worth getting. I love the version of “The First Noël” on the latest edition; it riffs on “Let It Be” and uses both George Harrison guitar solos. Other standouts include “What Child Is This?” (in the style of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”) and “Jingle Bells” (in the style of “Tomorrow Never Knows”). If you can only buy one, that’s the one to buy.

I bring all of this up because this week’s Things We Said Today alerted me to a new-ish entry in the genre of Beatle-esque Christmas music — Abbey Road Christmas.

They cautioned that it wasn’t great. I started a few Google searches anyway. I could find YouTube videos quite easily, such as this Beatle-esque take on John’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” as if sung by Ringo with harmony vocals by Paul:

abbey-road-christmasBut this didn’t put me close to finding Abbey Road Christmas. Amazon wasn’t helpful. eBay had no idea.

Somehow — and I can’t tell you how this happened — I ended up striking gold on a foreign version of Google Play. And what I discovered is that there were two albums — Abbey Road Christmas, by the British Invasion All-Stars and A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles, by the Abbey Road Xmas Ensemble — and, from playing the sound clips and comparing them to the YouTube videos, they seemed to be almost the same. The difference, hence the “almost,” is that A Christmas Tribute had thirty tracks instead of Abbey Road Christmas‘s twenty-five. Both albums were the same price — just under ten dollars — so I bought A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles.

I’ve listened to the album thrice now — yesterday and today at the office (as background while I was working) and yesterday evening at home.

christmas-tributeIt’s not bad, by any means. The Beatles soundalikes — whoever the anonymous musicians behind the “Abbey Road Xmas Ensemble” and the “British Invasion All-Stars” art — are maybe better at evoking the idea of the Beatles than imitating the Beatles. There’s certainly a sound to the music that sounds Beatles-derived, and the occasional song directly uses some Beatles hooks (like a cover of Shakin’ Stevens’ “Merry Christmas Everyone” that riffs on “Let It Be”). It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s not trying to be.

What it is, though, is interminable. The thirty tracks run 90 minutes total, and of the 30 tracks, nine of them are Beatles covers. (The 25-track version, Abbey Road Christmas, has five Beatles covers, by comparison. And one fewer version of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” as well.) The brain just goes numb. This is the kind of album that requires some DIY moxie — figure out the tracks you like and make a playlist of those in your mp3 player of choice, skipping entirely over the lesser tracks and Beatles covers. Whittled down to 12 tracks and a 40-minute running time, this could really soar.

There’s really no reason to buy Abbey Road Christmas; you get all of the same material, plus five more tracks, when you buy A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles, for the same price. I do like the cover art for Abbey Road Christmas a little more, but that’s a purely aesthetic thing, and I’m prone to being silly over aesthetic things like that. The albums also aren’t new; Abbey Road Christmas was released (according to Google Play) in 2010, and A Christmas Tribute the year after. But they are new to me, and I imagine they would be new to you, the reader, as well.

I don’t feel I wasted my ten dollars by any means. I may not revisit this album for another eleven months, and it won’t supplant The Fab Four’s Hark! in my esteem, but it will certainly be a nice complement. There are some nice tracks here, especially “Merry Christmas Everyone” (a song I was wholly unfamiliar with, it should be admitted), and, setting aside the Beatles covers, A Christmas Tribute to the Beatles is properly festive. :)

Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition

What if the Beatles didn’t get a record contract with Parlophone in 1962?

That’s the subject of BBC Radio 4’s radio play, Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition, adapted by Ray Connolly from his novella of the same name. Originally broadcast by the BBC in 2013, it was rebroadcast again this week, and I streamed it at work this afternoon.

I have two reactions to the radio play, one as a work of fiction and drama on its own terms, one as a speculation on the Beatles and their history. (I should note that I have not read Conolley’s novella, though I have now bought it for my Kindle.)

Let’s talk about this as a piece of drama first.

As a piece of drama, on its own terms, Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition ia enjoyable. Told from the perspective of Freda Kelly, their official fan club chronicler in their Liverpool days, the Beatles fail to secure a recording contract and, having reached the limit of where they could go as, essentially, a Liverpool bar band, they go their separate ways — John Lennon marries Cynthia and becomes a comic writer, Paul McCartney goes to college and becomes a school teacher, George Harrison stays in music and becomes something of a session guitarist, and Ringo Starr disappears. Freda is the play’s narrative viewpoint and central character, and she is determined to carry on chronicling their post-band exploits. Just when she’s ready to pack it in, after a few years of carrying the Beatles’ flame, something happens that gives her a new purpose in life — to reunite John Lennon and Paul McCartney as songwriters, and maybe the rest of the band, too.

It’s a cute radio drama, and Sara Bahadori’s Freda Kelly is a charming and captivating narrator. The Beatles voices sound generally right, and the characterizations of the Beatles, even in a world without the Beatles, ring largely true. The end of the play, on a cold morning in January, 1969, isn’t at all surprise, and despite that lack of surprise I had a grin on my face when it happened. I was impressed with the production of the play; Beatles songs are used at several points in the play to give it a sense of verisimilitude such as in its recreation of the Cavern. It was entertaining and fun to listen to, and I think Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition is worth listening to.

Now, let’s talk about this as a work of Beatles speculation.

As a piece of alternate history, I’m critical of it. Every few minutes, it would do something that didn’t strike me as quite right.

I had three basic problems here — the 6 June 1962 EMI session, Ringo Starr, and the butterfly effects. I’ll take each of these in turn.

At New Years 1962, the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records in London. The Beatles were turned down; Decca famously said that “guitar groups [were] on the way out.” Beatles manager Brian Epstein then used the Decca recordings (of which he had an acetate made) to attempt to get the Beatles in the door elsewhere. In this, he proved successful — eventually, the Beatles came to the attention of EMI and Parlophone producer George Martin.

It has commonly been believed that the Beatles first session with EMI at Abbey Road Studios on June 6, 1962 was an audition. The Beatles themselves certainly believed that. However, that’s not what EMI’s paperwork indicates; George Martin signed the Beatles without an audition through something of a circuitous process, as Mark Lewisohn documents in Tune In, yet the play’s point-of-departure turns on the common myth that what was, in fact, their first recording session was an audition. To be fair to Ray Connolly, Tune In was published at about the same time this play was originally broadcast, and had the Beatles not impressed at the time Martin and Parlophone would have been able to cut them loose quite easily, so he does have some justification for turning history on the myth rather than the reality.

Less justifiable is the presence of Ringo Starr in the story. At the time of the June 6 session, the Beatles’ drummer was Pete Best, and he was yet to be sacked and replaced by Starr. (In our history, Best was dismissed by the Brian Epstein, at the behest of the other three Beatles, on August 16th.) The Beatles were certainly friendly with Starr — they crossed paths on a number of occasions in Liverpool and Hamburg, and Starr was certainly the most accomplished and sought after drummer in Liverpool at the time — but he wasn’t part of the band as of the June 6 EMI session.

You can almost sidestep these problems if the point-of-departure for the story comes after the September 11, 1962 recording session at EMI which, if I’m remembering Tune In correctly, fulfilled their initial EMI recording contract, but the play’s initial scene and the Beatles’ recollection of their “audition” better fits the June 6 recording session. The reason I say “almost” is that, even if you make that one change to the story, Ringo still would have been a Beatle for only a month which makes later events for Ringo less likely than they are in the story.

Or the point of departure is much earlier, say immediately after the Decca audition. Perhaps the band sacks Pete Best in early 1962, and the knock-on effects of that — Ringo instead of Pete — causes the June 6 session to go badly, which causes George Martin to write the Beatles off as a loss, which leads to the start of the play. This scenario might work.

This brings me to my third problem — the butterfly effects. To me, the world Freda Kelly inhabits in Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition seems a bit too familiar. Groups like The Rolling Stones and The Moody Blues exist in forms that we would recognize — we hear one of the Stones’ early recordings at one point — sidestepping the whole issue of the extent to which British music was a reaction to the Beatles. (For a really good look at this, especially as it relates to the Stones, see John McMillian’s book, Beatles vs. Stones.) I found it especially questionable that George Martin would be looking for — or even be in a position to be looking for — a band like the Beatles in 1969 in a world where the Beatles didn’t make it. As a poetic, artistic statement, I understood that creative decision; as a matter of history, I’m quite skeptical.

I’ve just eviscerated something that I enjoyed. As a writer myself, I understand that there are times where you don’t let the facts stand in the way of your story. I totally get what Connolly was doing with Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition. He found a unique angle to explore the Beatles’ break-up and what it felt like, as a fan, to want to see them back together.

Let me explain this thinking.

It’s notable that, in the play, it’s John who leaves the band first, and the other three attempt to carry on without him. In the summer of 1969, it was John who announced that he was leaving the band, leaving the other three to decide what they wanted to do, and they did record together without John one track for Let It Be — “I Me Mine.”

John becomes something of a house husband, as he did in real life. Paul continues to write music; in real life, he was by far the most prolific of the ex-Beatles. George becomes a session man with a passion for gardening, not unlike his own post-Beatles career. (George seemed to like being a background guitarist.) And Ringo was laid back and unambitious, which describes Ringo’s last thirty years. (This is not a knock on Ringo; I really like his solo output since Time Takes Time, but he’s doing it because he enjoys it, not because he trying to top the charts or be a name.)

Freda, when she decides to get John and Paul back together, annoys them with her incessant questioning, just as the Beatles themselves were annoyed by fans and reporters over the years asking them when they were going to get back together. Then, John and Paul have a moment, in the play, that’s not unlike the 1974 Los Angeles jam session with John and Paul during John’s “Lost Weekend,” albeit a moment that turns out to have more lasting consequence than the Los Angeles session. (Is the difference here that John was married to Cynthia instead of Yoko Ono at the time? I have to wonder…)

My point is, you can read the play as a commentary on what it was like to be a Beatles fan in the 1970s, wishing and hoping for the band to get back together, told instead through the prism of the 1960s as seen through the eyes of their most dedicated fan. In that sense, Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition is really quite unique and interesting, and the historical criticisms I have are wholly beside the point.

I enjoyed it more than Stephen Baxter’s “The Twelfth Album,” that’s for sure. :)

If you at all like the Beatles, give Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition a listen. It’s fun, Sara Bahadori’s performance as Freda Kelly is captivating and winsome, and the whole thing is enjoyable. I really did like it.

On the Occasion of John Lennon’s 75th Birthday

Today, John Lennon would have been seventy-five.

That seems almost impossible to credit. In our minds, an image burned in from pictures or movies or television or music, he’s always a young man, never quite reaching middle age. I’m older now than Lennon was when he was killed. We remember him young, because he never had to chance to grow old.

Five years ago, for Lennon’s 70th birthday, I was in a nostalgic mood. I listened to all of his solo music in the run-up to his birthday. I’m not feeling as nostalgic today. This year, I’ve been so overwhelmed with work (it’s a publication week) that I’ve barely kept my head above water and my musical companion this week has been, oddly, the Malcolm in the Middle soundtrack album. I’ll probably queue up an album when I get home from work, or maybe I’ll put A Hard Day’s Night in the DVD player (which I’ve not watched in a few years). I have nothing profound or witty or interesting to say.

Instead, then, let me share a few choice pieces I wrote on John Lennon over the years. :)

Happy birthday, John.

Paul McCartney and the Beatles’ Songwriting Credits

In an interview with Esquire, Paul McCartney was asked about the famous “Lennon/McCartney” songwriting credit and why he has suggested in the past that some songs should be credited with the reverse, “McCartney/Lennon.”

(Without getting overly technical, it has to do with limitations of metadata on digital music files.)

On some of his live albums (Wings at the Speed of Sound, Back in the US), McCartney has reversed the traditional Lennon/McCartney to McCartney/Lennon. In the 1970s, when Speed of Sound came out, it doesn’t seem that anyone cared. In 2003, when Back in the US came out, Yoko Ono had Issues with a capital I, she vented in the press, and McCartney ended up looking like a villain.

I think McCartney has a point, and I’d like to think that McCartney and Ono could sit down like adults and come to an agreement — these songs get the standard “Lennon/McCartney,” these songs get “McCartney/Lennon,” and some special songs get either “Lennon” alone or “McCartney” alone.

I know that won’t happen, however. You see, what I think McCartney fails to understand is that by talking about the issue he’s playing into Ono’s hands. She has an image of John as the singular genius she wants to maintain, and she enjoys tweaking and denigrating McCartney in public, like when she said he was the Salieri to Lennon’s Mozart. A conversation like this, which when you read the Esquire original and not the Rolling Stone quotes which I link to here, is thoughtful and measured (and even, shall we say, resigned), but it gives Ono the opportunity to portray McCartney as insecure. Even though one conversation would bring closure to this issue, it’s in Ono’s interests for there to never be closure.

I don’t blame McCartney for talking about this. He didn’t bring it up. He was responding to a reporter’s question. I agree with him — and I think there are many Beatles fans who do — but I wish he could let it be.