Category Archives: Paul McCartney

Revolver At 50: A Musical Revolution Enters Middle Age

revolver

Writing about The Beatles for me (especially on a blog that isn’t essentially rock focused) proved to be grounds for a lot of reflection. Also,how much more writing and analysis can really be done about the Fab Four by anyone? In the end,The Beatles remain a band who always seem to engender new impressions of them. Only half of the band that defined a generation are alive today-namely Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Yet no matter what the two of them are doing today,whether doing albums of standards or performing in Maine with Todd Rundgren,its The Beatles that tend to always define them.

There’s one Beatle album I tend to view more as their definitive statement. And its not Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band-now itself an adjective describing any artist/band’s album masterpiece. The album I’m talking about is Revolver. It came out on August 5th,1966 in the UK. It represented for the Beatles a change in their performance ethic. The band members wished to concentrate more on their musicality as opposed to simply rocking hard for a sea of screaming fans in Beatlemania. So they stopped touring after this album. Which dovetails into the major revolution this Beatle album brought about.

Over the years,many rock musicians have tended to view their art in a rather more conservative way. Namely the idea of “rock is being able to pick up a guitar in a garage and just play 3 chords”. Rock ‘n roll is basically a very simplified variation of the 12 bar blues anyway. From the get go,The Beatles always had other things in mind. Songs such as “And I Love Her”,”If I Fell” and “In My Life” showcased the Lennon/McCartney talent for modulation-featuring unexpected chord progressions that were often very jazz and Brazilian in nature. Revolver took all of this to the next level.

McCartney for his part used his fascination with musique concrete by integrating backwards tape loops into many of the songs on this album-which came into play on Lennon’s Tibetan based psychedelic blowout album closer of “Tomorrow Never Knows”. These were fashioned in very melodic ways,not for showiness. Songs such as “Elenore Rigby” showcased producer George Martin’s symphonic strings as opposed to the Beatles rhythm section. John Lennon’s usually simple,almost punk style attitude about music began to change on the jazzy chord progressions of “I’m Only Sleeping”.

George Harrison even incorporated his newfound love of East Indian classical music into the song “Love You Too”. He combines Tabla drums and sitar with a melody that showcases that he is not writing a three chord pop song with Indian instruments. That he has come to understand the basics of the Indian classical forms fairly well. McCartney really shines strong on this album overall. One of my favorites is his melding of English marching band horns with a contemporary American soul shuffle in “Got To Get You Into My Life”,which inspired a hit cover version by Earth Wind & Fire twelve years later.

There’s little denying that all 14 songs on this album are amazing. But the ones I discussed merely reflect the level on which the Beatles were innovating rock. And at a time when the genre was entering its preteen years. This album contains a series of catchy pop songs,yet ones with unexpected chord changes. It also contains melodically strong music based in non Western forms such as Indian and middle eastern modalities. Above all,it does so with the keen understanding that what a rock band “rock” over is potentially the most enduring aspect of the music. And that’s what I feel as Revolver  turns 50.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1966, classic albums, European Classic Music, George Harrison, Indian Classic Music, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, pop rock, Psychedelia, Ringo Starr, rock 'n' roll, rock and soul, rock guitar, The Beatles

Paul McCartney: The Cute Beatle With A Bag Of Many Grooves

Paul McCartney

People have had discussions about who their favorite Beatle was. Each had their own distinct creative personality that made them work so well together. Yet if someone asked me which former Beatle appealed to me most musically,it would be Paul McCartney. As a composer/singer/multi instrumentalist,Sir Paul is possessed of the same multi faceted creativity of people such as Todd Rundgren and the late Prince Rogers Nelson-worthy of their mutual Gemini stars. He has his own distinctive approach to melody and groove-extending across hard rockers,easy going pop ballads as well as his most soulful side.

That soulful side of McCartney is what I’d like to talk about today. One of the key factors of him in general is how well he understands the importance of groups to his music. Between The Beatles and his second band Wings, McCartney always realized what other musicians from John Lennon to Denny Laine could offer him instrumentally than if  he just played everything. Between arranging horns and working with musicians such as fellow bassist Stanley Clarke,Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, here are some of my favorite of the soulful,funkier songs from Paul McCartney.


“She’s My Baby”/1976

On the album Wings At The Speed Of Sound,the members of Wings all contributed their songs to the mix. This had mixed results,but one of my favorite contributions from McCartney himself was the stripped down melodic funk of “She’s My Baby”. Especially with it’s somewhat jazzy Fender Rhodes electric piano solos.

“Arrow Through Me”/1979

This dramatic blend of reggae rhythms and West Coast style jazz/funk was the song that caught my attention most. From the reverbed snare drum traps to the processed electric piano,it’s no wonder that this imaginative and melodic groove became the basis for Erykah Badu’s “Gone Baby Don’t Be Long” over three decades later.

“Coming Up”/1980

McCartney played everything again on this song,while channeling his inner James Brown. In this case,turning his one man band (including his chicken scratch guitar) into a drum. Not to mention having one of the snappiest melodies of McCartney’s career to boot.

“Secret Friend”/1980

This is another very early 80’s song from McCartney’s second proper solo album that truly blew my mind. It’s a technological carnival of Brazilian percussion,funky bass/guitar interactions and a very psychedelic East Indian type melody. And keeps it all going for well over ten minutes as well.

“What’s That Your Doing”/1982

Instrumentally speaking,this thickly bassy and percussive hard funk jam seems to be more the work McCartney’s duet partner on this song Stevie Wonder. But it leaves plenty of room for McCartney’s bass and guitar abstractions. Especially when the chorus of his Beatles classic “She Loves You” appears on the extended outro. My absolute favorite song from the McCartney/Wonder collaboration.

“Dress Me Up As A Robber”/1982

A superbly composed piece of Brazilian jazz/funk from Paul on his 1982 album Tug Of War. The rhythm guitar and synth bass are some of the hottest McCartney had done up to this point. Especially on the breakdown on the bridge of the song that reminds me Gap Band songs from that same period.

“Hey Hey”/1983

Stanley Clarke’s early 80’s collaboration with Paul McCartney continues on this expansively melodic jazz fusion instrumental from McCartney’s underrated 1983 album Pipes Of Peace. It starts out as a kinetic Afro-rocker almost,then mellows into a jazzy reverb laden keyboard and bass driven bridge. One of my favorite instrumentals from McCartney.

“Tug Of Peace”/1983

McCartney pulls out a full blown electro Afro funk percussion extravaganza on this song. Structurally,it’s a lyrical reboot of the title ballad of his previous album “Tug Of War”. But the feeling is much more revved up rhythmically-almost as if to say that peace is a source of joy while war slows you down. And this is all aside from McCartney delivering one of the finest bass like low rhythmic guitars of his career.


Discussing the music of Paul McCartney in a soul,funk and even jazz context might seem atypical. But it really isn’t when one considers the way in which musicians intermingle. In Liverpool,most of McCartney’s musical acquaintances were playing the same type of music basically. He the man traveled the world and gained more experience,the newer musicians he became associated with continued to expand his stylistic and rhythmic repertoire beyond even where the Beatles had take their music. And it’s his creative flexibility that is the core of the man whose turning 74 today.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, bass guitar, chicken scratch guitar, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Paul McCartney, pop rock, rhythm guitar, Stanley Clarke, Stevie Wonder, Wings

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Gone Baby,Don’t Be Long” by Erykah Badu

Erykah Abi Wright,better known as Erykah Badu is going to be 45 years old today. One of the major events of the late 1990’s was when her debut album  Baduism debuted. Her songs from this album were all over college radio-bringing her mixture of Afrocentric jazzy funk oriented neo soul into a community where such a thing hadn’t been heard for quite sometime. It would be some years later before I started digging deeper into her albums as a whole. Each of them is like a well made motion picture. Every time ones listens,it’s possible to receive something totally new from the audio experience. That quality has made her one of the more modern artists I’ve enjoyed.

In 2008 Badu launched her first in a series of albums entitled New Amerykah. As of this date,I am unsure if she will be continuing this loose series. But in 2010 she released her second album in the series,which was subtitled Return Of The Ankh.  At the time,I remember far preferring the musical sound of this second album in the series. As a person who spent much of their 20’s listening to jazz/funk/fusion,the fact that Madlib and bassist Thundercat were present on this album probably has a lot to do with that appeal. Still there was one song on the album that leaped out at me from the moment I heard it. It’s called “Gone Baby,Don’t Be Long”.

The song begins with a slow drum rhythm using a heavy percussive trap,after which a two note rhythm guitar inaugurates the song. The entire song is based on this rhythm groove repeating over and over with a soulful,male vocal choir harmony sound. Badu’s chocked,slowly phrased vocal delivery offers a complete melodic counterpoint to the rhythmic body of the song itself. As the song progresses, a sea of different Erykah Badu’s mixing in multiple tracks of her own backup vocals chimes in. And the song grows more and more built around different variations of it’s own chorus-all before it finally all fades out.

It was only this past week did I realize that Madlib,one of my very favorite sample based producers was responsible for this track. He is always seeking out bass/guitar oriented rhythmic lines that are fluid and melodic at the same time.In this case,he sampled the relatively obscure late in the game Paul McCartney and Wings hit “Arrow Through Me” from 1979. The original’s disco friendly reggae/funk vibe is explored here by looping the chorus following it’s bridge as a musical theme for Badu to add her more jazz/funk vocal styling’s into. It’s not only a high water mark for Erykah Badu’s creativity,but for Madlib’s inventive understanding of jazz/funk loops and samples as instrumental elements.

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Filed under 1970's, 2010's, Erykah Badu, jazz funk, Madlib, Neo Soul, Paul McCartney, Sampling, Uncategorized

Stevie Is Wonderful: Inner Visions Of Songs In The Key Of Life-An All-Star Grammy Tribute To Stevie Wonder

Janelle,Jill And India Pay Tribute to Stevie

On Presidents Day evening,the Grammy Awards association aired a television special on CBS featuring contemporary artists,many of them award winners themselves,in order to pay tribute to Mister Stevie Wonder. Not only was this a tribute to an artist I completely admire creatively. But someone who won awards and earned his success and fortune through the true innovation of sound. It was an event filled with many surprises. And today I would like to talk about what I saw,sung,laughed and danced to watching that night right along with so much of America!

ed_sheeran_beyonce_stevie_wonder_tribute_h_2015

The evening began with Beyonce performing a medley of Stevie’s first hit “Fingertips” and “Master Blaster” joined by guitar player Ed Sheeran. The highlight of this intro was from the guitarist Gary Clark Jr,who played a rocking blues electric guitar solo on a rendition of “Higher Ground”.

LL Cool J

LL Cool J was of course MC’ing the entire affair as he has the previous two Grammy Award ceremonies. He began by talking about Stevie Wonder’s effect on his life-as many of the artist this night did. Wonder was visibly moved to tears by this level of affection for his art. Towards the end of the special,LL asked the audience all over the world to close our eyes for a moment to contemplate the level of vision Wonder projects into his music. A very meaningful gesture.

Gaga doing I Wish

Lady Gaga’s performance of “I Wish” moved me perhaps the most on this special. Playing the Fender Rhodes electric piano with the help of keyboard maestro (and former Wonderlove member) Greg Phillinganes, Gaga was moved to move rhythmically to the music as Phillinganes took over the keyboard soloing. Not only was this a pronounced celebration of the instrumental ability of an artist mainly acknowledged as a performer. But was a pretext to a beautiful shout out and citation to the often very unsung talent of Greg Phillinganes himself-especially as a participant in Stevie’s ascent into iconic status in music.

Annie Lennox Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life - An All-Star GRAMMY Salute

Annie Lennox took on “My Cherie Amour”,vocally taking on a full bodied understanding of the emotional juxtaposition between passion,flirtatiousness and awkwardness expressed in this song. Jill Scott,Janelle Monae and India Arie-pictured at the top of this blog paying tribute to their favorite Stevie Wonder albums,gave a truly powerful group duet of the song “As”. Not only did they successfully pay tribute as presenter Mary Wilson indicated of the classic girl group dynamic? But each of them took a try at imitating Stevie’s famous growled vocal bridge of the song.

ryan_tedder_pharrell_stevie_wonder_tribute_h_2015

Pharrell Williams and Ryan Tedder did a spirited duet version of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”-pointing out that often a song intended as a singular expression by an individual can be reflected by two as well.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson bought her powerful gospel fueled pipes to a passionate take on the renowned ballad “All In Love Is Fair”. She maintained the flavor of the song as a secularized romantic hymn until the very last note was sung. Stevie’s daughter Aisha joins Ne-Yo in a duet of “Isn’t She Lovely”-essentially paying it forward to her fathers musical tribute to her birth.

andre-bocelli

Andrea Bocelli shares physical blindness in common with Stevie Wonder and for this particular occasion? He gives his own vocally expression rendition of “I Just Called To Say I Love You”. Ed Sheeran did an acapella/guitar rendition of “I Was Made To Love Her” showcasing Wonder’s talents as a multi instrumentalist.

ariana-grande-and-babyface-stevie-wonder-tribute

Relative newcomer Ariana Grande performed “Signed Sealed and Delivered” in an acoustic bluesy soul flavored rendition with Babyface performing the vocal duet and playing acoustic guitar in accompaniment. Another example of a song intended from one person’s point of view-this time taken from a male/female dynamic.


Overall this was a very impressive tribute. All of the participants did something totally unexpected with Wonder’s songs. And most importantly? There was a great deal of understanding of the man’s musical visions from them as well. Paul McCartney made a brief guest appearance sharing personal reminiscences of knowing “Little Stevie” as a teenager. And perhaps Tony Bennett before his performance of “For Once In My Life” said one key artistic point-that Stevie Wonder’s vocal and compositional spontaneity made him one of the best jazz artist Tony’d ever heard.

Perhaps the best observations came from Stevie Wonder himself. Having been cited for his often unsung importance as the public consciousness of the crusade to make Martin Luther King Jrs birthday a national holiday in 1980? Stevie played a medley of his fusion instrumental “Contusion” and “Sir Duke”. He than spoke to the audience about how the only way humanity could deal with it’s present cultural clashes would be to come together with our differences,not use them as a wedge. The fact Stevie’s views on humanitarianism have remained consistent throughout the years says the most important thing about the interconnection between this man and his musical offerings.

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Filed under Andrea Bocelli, Annie Lennox, Ariana Grande, Babyface, Beyonce', Ed Sheeran, India.Arie, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson, Jill Scott, Lady Gaga, LL Cool J, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Willaims, Ryan Tedder, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett

Anatomy Of The Groove 1/2/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Only One” by Kanye West, Featuring Paul McCartney

The new year of 2015 rang in with the sound of music. And it was coming from a somewhat surprising source. Kanye West began his career as an important post millennial game changer for hip-hop. And he did so by bringing the increasingly electro-pop oriented commercial hip-hop genre back to it’s black American roots in. He did this by integrating cinematic orchestration,gospel choirs and especially sampling Ray Charles’ own game changing “I’ve Got A Woman” as the key element in his 2005 smash hit “Gold Digger”. Not to mention his racially confident stance lyrically-both in his music and public appearances. For the next two years Kanye was known primarily for his musical accomplishments. But this was about to change.

A series of controversial events in Kanye’s life from 2005 onward made him out to seem like a self serving narcissist-someone more interested in the notoriety his creativity could bring him than any healthy outward expression of it. More over? His presumably egocentric antics,especially following the sad loss of his beloved mother (and biographer) Donda after a botched surgery and his madcap adventures with wife Kim Kardasian,re-focused the attention onto the visual end of his media exposure and took energy away from why he was originally so musically revered.  And that brings me back to the turn of 2014 over to 2015 when Kayne West revealed his long discussed collaboration with international pop music icon Paul McCartney entitled “Only One”

The song begins with Kanye’s singing as opposed to rapping over a a light and simple electric piano courtesy of McCartney,what sounds to be a Wurlitzer  playing a counter melody to the one in which Kanye is singing. On the chorus another electronically derived melody features a symphony of vocal parts singing in a soaring choral fashion with an electronically auto tuned spin that additionally counters the only very light auto tuning of Kanye’s lead. Lyrically speaking the song deals with Kanye dreaming of his deceased mother sending a message to him and his daughter North (nicknamed Nori) with words of meaningful familial wisdom. At the end of the song,again over McCartney’s light touch on the Wurlitzer Kanye again channels his mother by repeating,as if at the end of a dream,”tell Nori about me,tell Nori about me”.

One theory I’ve had about Kanye’s behavior in the past several years is that much of it stems from the deep,unspoken connection in the mother/son bond. Especially the very close family bond Kanye and mother Donda had. Paul McCartney’s presence on this song is meaningful too because it was the passing of his own mother that inspired one of the Beatles most iconic songs “Let It Be”. Musically it also makes some hugely important statements. When iconic music figures are so often collaborating with newer artists on a vocal level? McCartney’s contributions to this song,much as they were with Stevie Wonder on his “A Time To Love” a decade ago, are solely musical-providing the stripped down electric piano melody. The fact that Kanye sang this song rather than rapped bough him back to his previous explorations that hip-hop and rap aren’t mutually exclusive-that conventional sung vocals should be used more. Considering this songs gentle but soulfully jazzy and funky musical statement? This points to a possible new years rebirth from the heart,mind and soul of Kanye West for 2015.

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Filed under 2015, auto tune, electric piano, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Uncategorized, Wurlitzer