George Harrison would’ve been 74 this Saturday. Remember very well the day he passed away because it was the delivery man for my parent’s new bed who told them he’d just heard the news. This was also around the time I was heavily exploring the music of “the quiet Beatle”. Harrison is said to have gone to Memphis on one of the Beatles trips to America and picked up some Booker T & The MG’s records. He loved playing the blues too. Later on,he developed a close musical relationship with Billy Preston. In addition to being one of the funkiest players around,Preston was also essentially a fifth Beatle during 1969.
Harrison’s first non experimental solo album All Things Must Pass was a huge success for him in 1970. His following albums didn’t fare so well. His mid 70’s album Dark Horse and Extra Texture began adding soul and jazz/rock elements into his sound. But a horse singing voice with Harrison at the time was part of what hindered their success. He had a huge comeback in 1976 with the debut release on his custom label Dark Horuse Thirty-Three & 1/3. The song that opened the album was originally a 12 bar electric blues piece he wrote while touring with Eric Clapton in 1969. It was called “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me”.
Alvin Tayler’s drums kick into his shuffling,funky shuffle. Willie Weeks chunky slap bass and Richard Tee’s organ provide the intro before Harrison’s slide guitar provides the main melody. David Foster himself counters with some serious Billy Preston style funky Clavinet. On the refrain,the drum and Clavinet go into a heavy break beat before Harrison’s guitar segues into the next chorus. That bluesy slide guitar plays the chorus as an instrumental on the bridge-before the musical combination used in the intro goes into the final choruses of the song before it finally fades out.
The first time I heard this song,turned out my father I both heard the song as something quite different. I heard it as a thick mid 70’s funk jam. He heard it as a total 12 bar blues. Actually, both of us were right. Funk is,as most 20th century American popular musical forms are,a blues based one. And this song does a superb job at bridging the musical generation gap. Harrison’ countrified blues slide guitar with the electrified “united funk” arrangement of the song showcases how important the form of it actually is to the instrumentation. Surely,this is one of George Harrison’s finest moments of the mid 70’s.
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.
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
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.
Filed under 2015, auto tune, electric piano, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Uncategorized, Wurlitzer
One thing to be said about the late Jackie Lomax is how interconnected he is to the career trajectory of the Beatles. His band The Undertakers followed them through Hamburg and he was the first artist signed to their Apple Records. One other important element of Jackie Lomax was,as with the Fab Four came at his element of the Merseybeat sound from more of a soul standpoint than an out and out pop or blues one. During the 70’s,this quality was an important part of his solo work as well. After over 35 years without releasing any new music? Lomax’s final and posthumous album Against All Odds was released,including a song entitled “The Little Things Of Love”.
This is one of those songs that starts out complete-with an ascending organ swirl opening into (and remaining steadily part of) a slow,lightly galloping drum with a high pitched,dancing bassline and a subtle lead rhythm guitar. Up against this easy going instrumental backup Lomax’s gravelly,Frankie Beverley-like soulful croon sings a set of lyrics that draw on the age old soul/funk/R&B theme that,as the song title suggests,romantic effection can show its true flower in the subtleties. When Lomax’s lyrics become a bit more emphatic,a brightly melodic horn section joins him on the refrains-with a yearning,forward looking instrumental sax solo on the bridge.
One of the first things that came to mind when I heard this song was the sound of Al Green’s Hi Records era music of the early/mid 70s-when he was produced by Willie Mitchell. And there’s something else I can appreciate about Lomax and the wonderful band he has playing with him on this song. They seem to understand something that only a select view musicians working in the rock ‘n roll genre seem to: that musical energy can be reflected sometimes even more so when your keeping the sound of your playing clean,rather than looking to “dirty up” the rhythm elements. This production and arrangement is slick,clean,spare and soulful all at the same time. Its a pity Jackie Lomax is no longer with us to provide more of this wonderful music. But if this is what he left to be remembered for? Its a worthy closing musical statement.