Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 29 Oct 06 23:41
We are pleased to welcome our next guest, Richie Unterberger. Richie is the author of "The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film," a 400-page guide to the wealth of music and film unissued by the Beatles during their lifetime. He's also the author of a two-part history of 1960s folk-rock, "Turn! Turn! Turn!: The '60s Folk-Rock Revolution" (Backbeat, 2002) and "Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock" (Backbeat, 2003). His other books include "Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll" (Backbeat, 1998), which profiles 60 underappreciated cult rock artists of all styles and eras, and "Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators & Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock" (Backbeat, 2000), which contains more in-depth surveys of 20 underrated greats of the era. Unterberger is also author of "The Rough Guide to Music USA," a guidebook to the evolution of regional popular music styles throughout America in the twentieth century. He is a frequent contributor to the All Music Guide, MOJO, and Record Collector, and has written dozens of liner notes for CD reissues. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. More information about Richie Unterberger, his books, and the music he documents can be found on his Web site at www.richieunterberger.com. E-mail can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 29 Oct 06 23:41
Co-leading our conversation will be Phil Catalfo and Eric Rawlins. Eric has been a musician all his life. During the Sixties he made the standard progress from pop-folk to serious-folk to bluegrass to rock to country and "Americana". He has also been a classical musician at various times, but finds that kind of music *really hard*. In 1997 he released his CD with David Gans, _Home By Morning_. Until his retirement in 2004, his day job was in corporate IT. Phil is the Editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine (www.acousticguitar.com). He has spent the past two decades writing features, essays, and reviews on topics ranging from popular culture to parenting to spirituality and ecology for many national magazines, including Parenting, Sesame Street Parents, New Age Journal, Wondertime, Natural Health, Tricycle, and others. From 1998 to 2005 he was a Senior Editor at Yoga Journal. He is also the author of "Raising Spiritual Children in a Material World" (Berkley Publishing Group, 1997) and co-author (with Alan Reder and Stephanie Renfrow Hamilton) of "The Whole Parenting Guide" (Broadway Books, 1999). He lives with his family in Berkeley, California.
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Mon 30 Oct 06 12:49
Welcome, Richie! I greatly enjoyed your two folk-rock books, and I've been enjoying poking through "Unreleased Beatles". I'm astonished at its completeness and thoroughness. I can't imagine how much work it must have entailed; perhaps you can talk a bit about that later. But for starters, let me ask the obvious devil's-advocate question: Why another Beatles book? How did you come to write it?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 30 Oct 06 14:19
Why another Beatles book? That's the question I asked when the publisher asked me to write one. The answer might strike some as a little cynical: the Beatles are the most popular group in the world, and books about the Beatles sell more than books about any other musical artist do. There are a *lot* of them, of course; probably at least several hundred by now. That, perhaps perversely, is seen within the industry as evidence of how a Beatles book is about the surest bet in the increasingly precious world of publishing music books. As a comparison, it was put to me, it's like Hollywood: if a movie makes a lot of money, they'd rather make the same movie ten times over than try to make a movie about something else. Still, the publisher did know the Beatles were my favorite group, and that I was well qualified to write a Beatles book of some sort. So after thinking about for just a few seconds, I said, "There IS one angle on the Beatles that's never been done well in book form, and that I would like to do, but that you might think is pretty esoteric. That would be a whole book about nothing *but* their unreleased material." There's a *ton* of unreleased Beatles materialthe size of my book (400 pages, 300,000 words) is testament to that. As a big fan and collector of that material, it had always frustrated me that, although there were numerous small-press books about the subject, all of them seemed to emphasize their rarity/collectability; not even discuss the music, or only discuss it in matter-of-fact or perfunctory terms; and were often dry-as-dust to read. As so often happens, I'd never get to read the book I *wanted* to read about the subject, because the only way it could be done was to do it myself. Pretty quickly, the publisher went for the idea. Two years later, it's out. I will say, though, that despite the book's off-the-wall origins, once I got into the project, I really enjoyed doing it. I already had a ton of unreleased Beatles music and film footage, so I was well prepared, but I couldn't believe how much more there was to get and investigate. I never thought I'd be able to do a Beatles book, since so many had been done that covered the essentials. But now I've done one, so that's a dream fulfilled.
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Mon 30 Oct 06 19:48
Very cool, and very well put, Richie, and congratulations on fulfilling your dream! Let me echo Eric's enthusiasm for your work--not only am I an admirer of "Turn! Turn! Turn!"; I am also always impressed at how often your byline shows up in my frequent visits to the All Music Guide (and the quality of your essays there). And I was quite tickled by the invitation to cohost this discussion, as the Beatles were profound influences on my life--I definitely wouldn't have my current job if it weren't for them, for I wouldn't have taken up playing the guitar, 40 years ago, if I hadn't been irretrievably inspired by their music. Anyway, I'd like to ask a question that might seem kind of boneheadedly obvious at first, but which I think you are especially well suited to answer thoughtfully: What does it say about the Beatles (and, if you like, about us) that there is so much interest in their work 35-plus years after they stopped working together?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Mon 30 Oct 06 20:50
That's a question for an entire book in itself, and something that some authors have indeed tried to address in book-length form. Besides stating the obvious -- that, in the view of myself and others, they were the best rock group ever, and certainly the most melodic one -- I think the Beatles, more than any other act, had cross-generational appeal. By that, I don't mean that while they were together, they were able to appeal to over-30 "grown-ups" and pre-teens as well as to the teenagers and young adults that were their core audience, though that's an interesting aspect of their popularity as well. It's also that they *continue* to attract fervent admirers among subsequent generations, many of whom weren't born when they broke up (I myself was just eight when they broke up, and don't have all that many memories of the group when they were active). How many other acts are there in waves and waves of kids continue to discover and get enthusiastic about year after year, decade after decade? I've sometimes seen it discussed on the WELL how fun it is when members' kids get excited about the group, almost just as excited as kids got in the '60s, and pester their moms and dads to borrow their Beatles records and buy the ones they haven't yet got for themselves. By a less striking but still significant token, the Beatles are a group that adults continue to love and yes, sometimes even still get excited about, 40 or 30 or 20 or whatever years after they first heard them. There's a timelessness about the joy, curiosity, and ceaseless, almost self-actualizing hunger they had to constantly change that's immediately tangible, almost overpowering, in their music. More subtly, an observation actually came to me while doing the book that I'd like to put out there. I was thinking of how even the scraps of chatter you hear in many Beatles outtakes is endlessly amusing and interesting. (For those who don't have the unauthorized recordings in which much such stuff circulates, you get a big taste of it in a few minutes-long sequences in the Anthology DVD series in which montages of studio photographs, and also the very end credits, are soundtracked by these kind of snippets). In their own small way, they hold a key to the Beatles' eternal appeal. Here's how I verbalized it in the intro to my book: "Even the many false starts, bum notes, and whispered chatter have their charm, both as illustrations of their human foibles and as evidence of their great humor and teamwork. The witty banter in that between-song chatter, in fact, epitomizes the most endearing qualities of the group -- as people, not just musicians -- which have made tens of millions of listeners whove never met them feel almost as though John, Paul, George, and Ringo are unofficial brothers of sorts, both among themselves and to us." Later on, in the main body of the book while discussing outtakes of "This Boy" (eventually officially released on the 1995 "Free As a Bird" single), I added: "It sounds trivial on paper, and maybe it is in real life too, but part of the charm of listening to Beatles outtakes really is hearing their incapable-of-taking-themselves-too- seriously humor come through at points like these. Considering the close connection many have felt to the group through the generations, its like sharing inside jokes with your family."
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Mon 30 Oct 06 22:18
Very astute observations. I was actually thinking (although I admittedly did not make this clear) more in terms of the band's ouevre, i.e., what is it about their *music* that keeps us fascinated so many years--decades, even? (I often find myself completely transfixed by virtually every note and passage on Rubber Soul, which I am still unpacking 41 years--and, oh, 10,000 or so listenings--after its release.) We are, after all, talking about four unschooled (although extremely experienced) musicians who created an almost impossibly diverse body of work--a byproduct, no doubt (at least in part), of that "joy, curiosity, and ceaseless, almost self-actualizing hunger they had to change" of which you spoke, but also of something else that's not only amazing but also profoundly heartening: Four "average" lads of middle-class (at best) backgrounds and minimal schooling could and did follow their creative impulses through to the point where they exceeded the accomplishments of all others in their field. You're right that they were incredibly affable, as "brothers" to us, but don't you think they also illuminated for us--those of us who aspire to such artful endeavors, anyway--the real possibility that any of us, all of us, could do likewise? Not sell hundreds of millions of albums, of course, but, at least, write and sing some cool songs, making ourselves and others happy in so doing. Maybe I'm overstating the case, or making it too complicated. At the end of the day, it's great music, as most of the English-speaking world (and much of the rest) has agreed for the last 40-plus years. And maybe I'm the only one who comes back to this, but I do frequently ponder the astoundingly consistent--and yet various--excellence of their music. I try to deconstruct their songs and find all the clever tricks and techniques they used, and there are plenty of them; but I also am awed by their innate gifts. They weren't just clever, they were also extremely talented. And yet they were just four ordinary boys from a city most of their country considered a backwater. Figure the odds, eh?
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Tue 31 Oct 06 06:24
I remember well how astounded (and pleased) I was when my daughters were little and they took to the Beatles like long-lost cousins. They had no use at all for the Stones, the Byrds or any other Sixties act, all of which was for them the music of another time and irrelevant to them. But the Beatles were different. Compared to other rock artists, they were very long on joy and very short on cynicism and irony. We're talking about 40-year-old pop music now. It's as if my whole generation had wanted to listen to George M. Cohan songs.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 07:20
Phil, again it would take a few books to try to explain what it is about the Beatles' music that keeps us fascinated so many years on (and likely indefinitely into the future). There are a few major points that are obvious, but can be stated: their immensely catchy, unceasingly inventive melodies; their telepathic interplay as musicians, playing what's just right, and rarely getting in each other's way; their great skill as harmony vocalists. It might sound strange to say this, but I think that John and Paul's greatness as *lead* vocalists is somewhat underlooked and overrated. We've mentioned that joyful, ceaselessly exploring quality already here a few times, and that comes through in spades in their lead singing, above and beyond the considerable power and virtuosity of their actual voices. I don't have access to the actual quote, but in his autobiography Chronicles, Bob Dylan recalls hearing "Do You Want to Know a Secret" somewhere unexpectedly -- many years after the Beatles had broken up -- and still being captivated because (I paraphrase) the Beatles excelled at projecting intimacy and friendship more than any other group, without sounding the least bit wussy about it. (Dylan did use the word "wussy" here, I'm sure.) If I can again relate these points about the Beatles' overall appeal to some of the things I specifically noted in my book, these qualities come through even on recordings that some critics would regard as rough or peripheral to their principal legacy. When listening to the fairly good quality unreleased tapes of Beatlemania-era shows that have surfaced (like Philadelphia 1964, Vancouver 1964, Houston 1965), I was struck by how -- although the Beatles are dismissed as an inferior live band by some (I think unknowledgeable) critics -- they never sounded anything less than thrilled to be onstage, pre-1966 anyway. And though the screaming made some mistimed notes and harmonies inevitable, it also astonished me how incredibly professional they were under those conditions. They always kept their cool and humor in threatening situations that would have thrown most bands off. In the Houston shows, John's voice is reduced to a rasp, but he soldiers on with the enthusiasm of a guy who knows he'll never have a chance to sing in public again! I emphasized John and Paul's lead vocals earlier in this post, but I want to add that another quality -- and I think it is a musical as well as personality-oriented one -- that makes listeners respond so strongly to the Beatles is that, more than any other band, they were a true *group*. When George and Ringo take the lead vocal, they're obviously not as super-talented as Lennon and McCartney. But they're great to hear because they provide so much balance and contrast to the usual lead singers, in such a likable way. And regardless of who the lead singer was, so many Beatles songs -- even minor, rarely commented upon ones, like "Tell Me What You See" -- had a call-response harmony-solo vocal tradeoff that contributed much to the public's perception -- whether conscious or subconscious -- of the Beatles being very much a *group*, not just a band dominated by one or two particular singers and/or instrumentalists. I think this might be a tangible, if somewhat subliminal, illustration of how, as Phil said, they "illuminated for us--those of us who aspire to such artful endeavors, anyway--the real possibility that any of us, all of us, could do likewise. Not sell hundreds of millions of albums, of course, but, at least, write and sing some cool songs, making ourselves and others happy in so doing." Because they sounded so happy doing it, and so much like brothers or a family. They made being in a band sound like so much fun, and not just a crowd-pleasing or egotistic exercise.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 07:33
To riff some more on qualities that we've commented that make the Beatles timeless, again I'll connect it to an experience I had while writing the book. Specifically, this relates to their amazing capacity to change so constantly and unexpectedly from year to year, month to month even -- and yet retain the essential qualities that made them so enormously popular when Beatlemania first took hold back in 1963 (in UK) and 1964 (in the US and much of the rest of the world). When I first undertook the immense listening and research needed to track down, listen to, and analyze *every* scrap of unreleased music the Beatles recorded, friends, even fellow Beatles enthusiasts, kept asking me, not unreasonably: "Aren't you tired of listening to the Beatles yet? How can you stand it, listening to so much of them, all the time, month after month?" Yet, in what was something of a shock even to myself, all that listening had exactly the opposite effect. After so many years of listeningsometimes out of professional obligationto so many different artists, many of them frankly mediocre or worse, it was a sheer delight to wake up most mornings knowing I was going to be listening to the *best* music there ever was. Not only that, I knew that every day, the music would nonetheless always be different, and always be changing, just as the Beatles themselves had. All along the way, there were unsuspected surprises, hidden connections to be made, and small-to-significant revelations as to what made this remarkable group tick behind the scenes. It got to the point where I felt like I sometimes caught just a faint trace of how thrilling it must have been to experience the Beatles' music while it was happening, always wondering what was next, always getting taken aback at the sharp turns they made, always marveling at their mastery of continuing to evolve while maintaining the identifiable qualities that had made them so appealing at the outset of Beatlemania. There was also a sadness at the end of the project, as exhausting as it was, that was something akin to the disappointment the world felt when the Beatles broke up. For I was hoping this kind of endless discovery, this waking up every morning to look forward to another day of ever-changing fun, could go on forever. Even though it was 2005, I sometimes felt like I was rooting for the Beatles to somehow stay together. But unlike the Beatles fans of the 1960sand even the Beatles themselves, for a timeI knew that they wouldn't, and knew exactly how (and how unhappily, in many respects) the story would end. Now that the writing of my book has come to its end, I feel some regret, knowing Ill probably never again have such an extended magical mystery tour of part of the Beatles' world. At the same time, having now finally heard *everything* theyve done that's made the rounds, it never fails to amaze me just how *much* territory the Beatles covered. Eventually, it seemed, they absorbed *everything* good about music, not just from rock n roll, but from blues, soul, country, classical, gospel, the avant-garde, vaudeville, electronic experimentation, mainstream pop, theatrical comedy, and beyond. But they combined it and made it their own in a way that seemed so natural and so *them*, rather than so forced, as many genre-blenders of later decades did.
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 31 Oct 06 08:15
Great stuff, Richie, thanks. And Eric, I echo your deep pleasure at having a daughter--who, in the case of my daughter Jessamine, was born nearly a decade after the group broke up--take to the Beatles' music. Richie, can you tell us something about what you consider the most wonderful (astounding, surprising, excellent, noteworthy--feel free to choose your own adjectives) discoveries you made while listening to all that unreleased music? And what did those hidden treasures explain or make clear (or new) about music that had been released as part of the official Beatles canon? I'm thinking here of "I'm Looking Through You," an early version of which was, for me, the biggest revelation of the Anthology series (although that earlier version had also been in circulation as a bootleg for years): a completely finished track (labeled a "master," even) with a completely different tempo and instrumentation from the released version, a track that any other act would have given their eyeteeth for--yet the Beatles somehow recognized it as incomplete and not quite worthy of their imprimatur. So they sauced it up, added a bridge, changed the instrumentation, and voila, one damn irresistible track. That spoke volumes about their creative instincts and process. Was there anything comparable you encountered in your research? And even if there wasn't, what (going back to my earlier questions) tracks excited you the most among the many you heard?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 10:07
Because I'd already heard the great majority of circulating unreleased Beatles recordings before I started my research, I'm going to approach this question from the angle of what would surprise the average listener who's heard little or no such items, rather than what surprised me particularly while doing the book. There's a lot of surprising stuff in there and we might go into some specific things in greater detail during the next two weeks. So I'm going to start with what I think are the five most notable general bodies of unreleased Beatles to investigate, and notes note about what they tell us about the evolution of their music. In chronological order: The Decca audition tapes, January 1, 1962: The complete 15-song tape of their unsuccessful audition for Decca Records, although five cuts did find official release on Anthology 1. This is the first studio-quality, album-length recording of the Beatles, as well as by far the best-sounding recording of the group while Pete Best was still the drummer. Among the material not to show up on Anthology 1 is one Lennon-McCartney original ("Love of the Loved") and two covers (of Bobby Vee's "Take Good Care of My Baby" and the pop standard "September in the Rain") of which no other Beatles versions have circulated. Aside from giving us a pretty well-rounded picture of how the group sounded like eight months before recording their debut single "Love Me Do" (though they sound rather tentative and nervous here), it also illustrates just how enormously they improved -- particularly as songwriters -- in the mere year or so between this and their first album (Please Please Me), recorded in February 1963. I wrote a great deal about the Decca tapes in the book -- it's a longer description than anything else I've seen in print. It also led me to question a couple of myths that come up too often when these tapes are written about: that the Beatles were pressured to record unrepresentative pop material by Brian Epstein (in fact most of the 15 songs are quite representative of what they'd play on their early records and radio broadcasts), and that their rejection was a terrible break for the band. In fact it was the best break they ever got, considering that otherwise they wouldn't have been working with George Martin, and that it gave them more time to replace Pete Best with a superior drummer and more suitable personality, Ringo. As brief as this enforced wait was, it benefited the band enormously to have that extra time to refine their sound before recording for EMI. BBC tapes, 1962-1965: Though generally speaking, the best and most interesting of these came out on the two-CD official Live at the BBC compilation, there are about ten CDs of stuff overall (though most of the cuts that didn't make it onto Live at the BBC are radio performances of tracks also found on their studio albums, often in multiple versions). What these live and live-in-the-studio performances really make you appreciate is Paul's magnificently raucous vocals on hard rockers, some of which the Beatles never did in the studio (like "Lucille" and "Hippy Hippy Shake"). Paul is too often unfairly characterized as the softie of the group; on the contrary, when he opted for the hard stuff, he was indisputably one of the most powerful, raunchy rock'n'roll singers of the twentieth century. His pumping basslines are, surprisingly, sometimes better appreciated on the BBC recordings than on the EMI counterparts, especially when they get placed high in the mix. There's a BBC version of "Roll Over Beethoven" from June 1963 -- not the one chosen for Live at the BBC -- that's a particularly striking example. The BBC tapes are also intriguing for George Harrisons contributions. He didnt get to sing lead too much on the early Beatles records, particularly as Lennon and McCartney were singing and writing almost all of the original material. But he'd taken a higher percentage of the vocal chores onstage in the Cavern days, and got a little more exposure in that role on the radio, taking lead on more than a half dozen tunes that were not cut for EMI. He also had a greater chance to showcase the Carl Perkins rockabilly base of his guitar style, in part because the group's BBC repertoire drew more heavily from outside material than the bands official releases did. On the covers, and often even on Lennon-McCartney tunes, his guitar playing is usually rawer, not only deviating from the solos on the "official" versions, but also often differing from version to version of the same song; he's seemingly unable to repeat the same solo twice. Sometimes that leads to sloppiness, but often it also has exhilarating jagged edges that can even verge on angry semi-dissonance that will surprise many listeners more accustomed to his slicker studio work. Also, Ringo Starr's underrated drumming is truly thrilling on the BBC tracks, generating a great splash of sound. The best unreleased live concert tapes, 1964-65: Like I said in a previous post, though some critics dismiss the Beatles as a mediocre live band, the evidence is they really were superb, especially considering the jet-strength noise they were combating with puny equipment. Though some of their retrospective comments gives the impression touring became a difficult go-through-the-motions chore, they always (with the exception of their final tours in 1966) sounded giddy with delight to be onstage. I was especially struck by how -- when there were unexpected snafus like sore throats, stupid MCs hollering threats to stop the show if the crowds didn't settle down, or guitar strings breaking -- the Beatles not only remain unfazed, but if anything turned the situation to their advantage, lightly mocking the problems and, if anything, making the chaos and hysteria work for them, rather than against them. The Esher/Kinfauns White Album demos, recorded at George Harrison's house in May 1968: Around late May 1968, shortly before entering the studio to record The White Album, the Beatles recorded no less than 27 acoustic-flavored demos at George Harrison's house, "Kinfauns," in his home in the London suburb of Esher. In addition to including early versions of 19 songs from The White Album, these included half a dozen songs never to be released by the Beatles while they were active, though all of these would appear in some form on some post-Beatles compilation, solo Beatles release, or (in the case of "Sour Milk Sea") a cover version by fellow Apple Records artist Jackie Lomax. They have a friendly, intimate, at times almost campfire-party-like feel. It's like hearing the Beatles' "Unplugged," though the concept didn't exist in those days, and they seem to be having a great time, in spite of the internal tensions so often reported to be starting to tear the band apart around this time. Some of this stuff appeared on Anthology 3, but most of it's only available on unauthorized recordings, and the early versions often contain amusing lyrical variations smoothed out on the official releases. My favorite examples: On "Dear Prudence," John launches into a spoken monologue: "Who was to know that [suppressed giggle] sooner or later she was to go completely berserk in the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. All the people around were very worried about the girl, because she was going insane. So we sang to her." And Lennon again, on "I'm So Tired": "When I hold you in your [sic] arms, when you show each one of your charms, I wonder should I get up and go to the funny farm?" A thorough compilation of all 27 (or more, if they exist) Kinfauns demos, with the best available fidelity and cleaned-up sound, would be a solid contender for the best collection of (largely) unreleased Beatles material that could be envisioned at this point. The January 1969 Get Back/Let It Be sessions: The Beatles recorded an unimaginable amount of rehearsals and outtakes during the month they were filming Let It Be. Like a lot of people, I had a lot of Get Back material -- as it's usually called, since "Get Back" was the original name of the album -- but had never committed to actually getting and listening to all 80 CDs or so all the way through. You've got to have a lot of time and patience, but there are a lot of revealing moments in there, whether it's George Harrison trying to finish the songwriting of "Something" with the help of John and Paul, or John intoning in one of many versions of "Let It Be," "And in my hour of darkness, she is standing left in front of me, squeaking turds of whisky over me." And as exhausting as all those rehearsal versions in a row of "Get Back," "I've Got a Feeling," et al. are, the group really do sound much tighter when they finally do the rooftop concert at the end of the month, proving those rehearsals really did have a point, even if they were so tense they helped break up the group. Then there's that moment on the very last day of the Get Back sessions (January 31, 1969), when Paul's caught on tape tentatively inferring the band can come back after a week or so to continue to work out some of the kinks on the Get Back songs. One can just see the other Beatles wincing at the prospect of resuming the drudgery with just a week's rest. Speaking of the Get Back sessions, I also cover notable unreleased Beatles film footage in the book. Though aren't many Let It Be film outtakes that have surfaced, one of the ones I enjoyed shows them sitting around in a circle working on "Get Back" and getting along quite well, John and George at one point breaking out into wide, nearly ecstatic grins almost simultaneously during one take. Most likely, this is the kind of scene everyone envisioned and hoped for when the Get Back project was first planned, making it a bit of a surprise that the final Let It Be film didnt incorporate a shot or two of it.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 10:32
Phil, with your comment about "I'm Looking Through You," I think you're particularly curious about how some songs might have changed significantly from conception to final studio recording. There are a number of interesting instances of those, though I think the most interesting of these are actually covered in the tracks issued on the Anthology CDs. As a side note, partially for that reason, I decided to cover not only the Beatles recordings that have never been released in any form, but also ALL the music they didn't release before they split, but which came out later. That includes the Anthology CDs, Live at the BBC, Hollywood Bowl, the 1962 Hamburg live tapes, and some other odds and ends. It seemed weird to talk about the wholly unreleased stuff in isolation from those albums. Most of the book still covers wholly unreleased stuff, but Anthology/Live at the BBC/Hollywood Bowl/1962 Hamburg is covered too, in part because that stuff really hasn't gotten as much in-depth descriptive criticism as it should have. As far as some interesting examples of how Beatles songs contained hidden surprises, however, there are a few I can point out: In John Lennon's circa-early 1964 home composing tapes for "If I Fell," he at one point puts in a wavering vocal line very close to the one linking some of the verses of "Imagine" seven years later. A great example of some promising ideas can lie around for a REAL long time before they're put to effective use. Less dramatically, there's a strange uncut version of "Something" that, instead of ending with that familiar George Harrison guitar riff that closes the studio track, goes into a really weird downer of an instrumental jam for three minutes or so. As I wrote in the book, to me it sounds " like nothing less than a mournful requiem for the group itself...on this joyless jam, they seem intent on supplying the soundtrack for their slow, inevitable march to their own funeral." Anchoring this passage is a four-note piano figure that's virtually identical to the one John Lennon would use the following year on Plastic Ono Band for "Remember" -- something I don't remember having been pointed out before. In the Get Back tapes, there are dozens and dozens of almost tuneless, bluesy jams that, to be honest, are so tedious that they drive you up the wall. Yet in the midst of one of these, the seeds for a good song were planted. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" starts like one of these jams, but they keep going with it (even though John never would add many words), and fairly quickly, they have the bones of a promising song. To me, interestingly, it seems likely that Billy Preston was an unheralded catalyst in getting the song off the ground. Just a few minutes before "I Want You" starts to take shape, Prestons jazzy piano features prominently on an untitled bluesy improvisation thats much better than most of their jams from this month, and that seems to be the kick that dislodges something loose in John's and/or the others' heads. Also in the Get Back tapes, I like how in the otherwise dreary, never-recorded-by-the-Beatles Lennon song "Watching Rainbows," you can hear him sing "shoot me" -- an idea resurrected, much more effectively, in "Come Together." As far as a song that the Beatles worked on mightily to change and iron out the kinks, one of my favorite outtakes in this regard is an early one of "A Hard Day's Night." George Harrison's solo is simply abominable! He not only plays the wrong notes, but he seems to have no idea of what to play, or whether to play anything at all! The mystery to me is, was George's uninspired soloing the catalyst for George Martin to come up with an electric piano riff for the solo (which worked perfectly) -- or was that electric piano riff already the plan, George just stabbing at notes as a placeholder, knowing he wouldn't be doing a solo?
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 10:44
Finally, to talk about "I'm Looking Through You" itself, I agree with Phil that this is a particularly interesting example of a song that started out with a quite different arrangement, and one that would have sounded, to most ears, quite fine as it was. (That funkier take, with an almost reggae-like rhythm, can be heard on Anthology 2.) The Beatles kept working on it, however, and added a vital bridge. The final version also has a softer, more folk-rockish feel. In the book, I did argue that the song might have been even better had they kept the original, somewhat tougher-rocking arrangement and incorporated the bridge into that. During the Rubber Soul sessions, "Norwegian Wood" also underwent a significant transformation from a somewhat more ominous, droning arrangement to a gentler, more acoustic, folk-rockish one. An early take of "Norwegian Wood" can also be heard on Anthology 2, , though an intermediary one -- still closer to the more rock-oriented initial arrangement -- that's NOT on Anthology 2, but has been bootlegged, is also discussed in my book. Because that "intermediary" take and the final take were done on the same day, I think the Beatles and George Martin rearranged it substantially with remarkable speed and efficiency. It would be great to hear the actual nuts-and-bolts discussions of how they did that, if those were taped. I speculated in the book that perhaps "Norwegian Wood" and "I'm Looking Through You" were both ultimately given folkier, gentler, more acoustic arrangements because the Beatles might have wanted to make those songs more consistent with the sound of the album as a whole. It's possible, perhaps even likely, that the Beatles were just following their instincts, but I thought it was an interesting notion to consider. Another, perhaps more celebrated instance of how a Beatles song changed substantially from beginning to end was "Strawberry Fields Forever." An earlier, folkier take is included on Anthology 2, but there's an entire CD bootleg worth of versions, from John's primitive acoustic demos to various tinkerings in the studio. And there are a lot of instances -- yes, covered in the book -- where the variations between the final version and the alternate mix/outtake are quite small, perhaps too small to interest the casual listener. It did strike me, however, that in virtually every instance, the Beatles and George Martin made the correct decisions, hearing imperfections to iron out in their heads where most people would have been satisfied with what they had.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 10:52
Also, as long as we're talking about surprises I found, I think the most honestly surprising piece of music -- in a "can-you-believe-this-actually-happened?" way -- was an incredibly bizarre tape of a session at which the Beatles were working on "Revolution 1" (i.e. the White Album version of "Revolution"). The tape was apparently made by Yoko Ono, because though you can hear the Beatles working on the song in the background -- and the arrangement sometimes sounds quite different, particularly with respect to the organ -- it's kind of submerged under a Yoko Ono monologue recording her impressions of the Beatles, George Martin, her new romance with John, analysis of John's handwriting, and other rather painfully personal matters. Samples: "Your handwriting, it's always been like all your letters were going backwards, leaning backwards, which means tremendous insecurity . . . leaning backwards handwriting is typical of sort of insecure, terribly insecure high school girl or something like that . . . when I first saw your handwriting, I was really amazed, 'cause you very rarely see that in a man . . . why that insecurity?" And: "After the initial embarrassment, Paul has been very nice to me. He's nice on a very on-the-level, straight sense . . . he's treating me with respect. I feel like he's my younger brother or something like that. I'm sure that if he had been a woman or something, he would have been a great friend, because theres something definitely very strong between John and Paul." Both the unreleased Beatles music and the monologue are interesting historical documents, but it's frustrating because it's kind of like listening to two radio stations at once. It's also uncomfortably voyeuristic, as fascinating as it is at times to Beatles historians (though often tedious at others). You certainly feel like you shouldn't be listening to it, though you can't help it. I concluded with the opinion, "this unclassifiably weird tape might be more authentically avant-garde than any of the actual albums John and Yoko did together -- where they were TRYING to be as avant-garde as possible."
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Tue 31 Oct 06 16:47
One of the things that struck me as I read through the book was the Beatles' incredible stamina and energy, especially in 1963 when they were doing all those BBC shows while at the same time working on their first album. Clearly this is something that came from the grueling schedules they would keep on the Hamburg gigs. But to me it's an illustration of the fact that great success on this order -- in any field -- is never simply the result of boundless talent. The world is full of talented people. Success on this level, it seems to me, always involves three elements: - You have to be lucky: a style that fits the zeitgeist, the right manager at the right time, etc.; - You have to work your ever-loving ass off -- you have to want it more than anything in your life; - PLUS, you have to be really talented. I always get annoyed at the tendency of commentators and journalists to call successful people "talented" and let it go at that, ignoring the fact that, in most cases, that person gave up *everything* to be where he is.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 19:29
You're right that the Beatles worked very hard, particularly in 1963, when they did *forty* BBC sessions. In July 1963, they did nine separate sessions at which they cut 48 tracks (and on August 1, they'd do another two sessions and record a dozen more tracks). Also in July, in EMI's studio, they recorded both sides of their fourth single ("She Loves You"/"I'll Get You") and a lot of their second album (With the Beatles). *Also* in July, they played live concerts *21* days out of the month -- sometimes more than one a day. And they weren't phoning it in on those BBC sessions -- during that month in particular, they often played cover material on the BBC sessions that they never put on their records, and which by that time they weren't doing in their live concerts. It's roundly acknowledged that all this BBC work was an underrated factor to helping popularize the band in Britain, where airplay for pop records was quite limited at the time. Yet I also theorized in the book, though it's far less often noted, that all those BBC sessions might well have been crucial to improving the Beatles' musicianship. All those grueling Hamburg stints, where they often had to play off and on for seven hours at a time into the wee hours, had done their part to toughen up the group before 1963. But there, they were just playing to club audiences. Here, they were broadcasting to millions of listeners, having to put their all into their radio sessions week after week, and sometimes two or even three times a day. They varied their setlist constantly, including playing lots of covers they never put on record, both to keep the presentation from getting stale and, one suspects, keep it from getting stale for themselves. I'd think having to whip up so much material, and so much different material, in such a short space of time under so much pressure had to help speed their astonishingly rapid development as musicians.
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 31 Oct 06 20:12
I never gave that much thought, but now that you mention it, I think you're right about that, Richie. Fascinating discussion in response to my previous questions. I don't know about you, but I'm sure getting a kick out of this! So now what I want to know--and I expect that many will think me a dunderhead once I say this, but here goes anyway--is, where/how did you get ALL THAT STUFF to listen to? I mean, I know a great deal has been circulating for a long, long time; my brother, for example, sent me several cassettes (remember cassettes?) of Beatles boots, including seven or more versions of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Plus, I distinctly remember an outtake of "Can't Buy Me Love" (I think), in which George offers a brick of a solo, prompting John to remark lovingly, at the end of the take: "Ya call that a solo?" And then one of our WELL friends sent me 6 or 8 or 10 CDs worth of various stuff, the most tantalizing of which (for me) was the sessions in which the lads were trying to lay down the vocals for George's "Think For Yourself" (John moans, after numerous attempts, that he "just can't" get his harmony right--but of course, he would soon nail it perfectly). But I wouldn't have a clue as to how to go out there and look for more of this stuff if I really wanted to. And I had no idea how *much* of it there was--80 CDs' worth in the "Get Back" sessions alone?! Weh! I also found your discussion, later in the book, about the Beatles' own attitude toward boots fascinating, revealing as it did that they seemed to figure, hey, the stuff is already getting out there, so we might as well release it ourselves. It took many years for that thought to bear fruit, of course, but it was interesting to read that they were considering that way back when. And that John was professing to collect as much of the bootleg material as he could.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Tue 31 Oct 06 21:13
There's a note in the book's introduction to this effect, but I need to trot this out in response to the above question: neither I nor the publisher are able to engage in correspondence about how and where to obtain these recordings. I know we're all friends and this isn't exactly correspondence. But like the Beatles in Yellow Submarine, we don't want to get hit by the apple bonkers. That "Think for Yourself" session you mention ranks near the Yoko-talking-into-the-tape-recorder-during-the-"Revolution 1"-session-tape as one of the strangest of all Beatles "outtakes." It's nearly 20 minutes of a session in which the Beatles are ostensibly working on "Think for Yourself," and you can hear them sporadically apply themselves to working out the complicated vocal harmonies. But most of it's John, Paul, and George (mostly John and Paul) just kidding around among themselves. It's a little like their Christmas fan club record dialogues (and yes, all the Christmas fan club discs are covered in the book). But I find it more amusing, if only because it's obviously less censored (though there's not that much controversial material) and it seems closer to who they really were, rather than how the early Christmas fan club discs were silly, somewhat staged greeting cards of sorts to their fans. And you can read a lot of it online at http://www.vex.net/~paulmac/beatles/bts/beatle_speech.html.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 1 Nov 06 13:27
A question: Is there any sense among Beatle collectors that somewhere there might be a trove of additional live recordings from Hamburg? The big Bob Spitz biography of the band that was published last year (and that has been judged wanting by some critics, but that's not the point here) is especially good, I think, about the Hamburg period. It certainly made me wish very hard that I could travel back in time to hear those Beatles.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 1 Nov 06 13:36
No, there's definitely no evidence that's yet turned up of more Hamburg recordings. There are a few unreleased tracks that have circulated from the late-December 1962 recordings that made up the more-or-less-officially-released double album Live at the Star-Club. These, however, are mostly different versions of songs that did make it onto the album, though the sound quality is really rough. There *is*, however, an 18-song tape of the Beatles live at the Cavern in mid-1962 that's known to exist, as it was auctioned by Sotheby's in 1985. While most of the songs exist elsewhere, on either official albums or bootlegs, in different versions, a few don't -- covers of Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby," Bobby Vee's "Sharing You," and James Ray's "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody." My guess is, however, that the sound quality is probably pretty bad. Because the winning bidder for the tape at the auction was Paul McCartney, and if the tape was good or even usable, I think at least an excerpt or two might have shown up on Anthology 1 (which *did* use some excerpts from 1960 rehearsals of pretty poor fidelity).
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Wed 1 Nov 06 13:37
By the way, for those in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have a few book signings coming up where I'm showing/playing/discussing rare Beatles footage and recordings. A couple, actually, are coming up REAL soon: Wednesday evening, November 1 (tonight!), at 6:00pm, in Koret Auditorium in the basement of the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library at 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco (about one hour and fifteen minutes of rare Beatles film and audio clips) Thursday evening, November 2, at 7:00pm at Pegasus Books at 2349 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley (about two hours of rare Beatles film and audio clips) Thursday evening, November 9, at 7:00pm at The Booksmith at 1644 Haight Street in San Francisco (one hour of rare Beatles film and audio clips)
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Wed 1 Nov 06 18:32
Yow! Pegasus is just a few blocks from me. Hope to see you there!
Life Is Easy When Considered From Another Point Of View (dam) Thu 2 Nov 06 04:24
I am going to have to order this book!
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Thu 2 Nov 06 06:33
Unfortunately, I have a dinner engagement tonight in Marin, so I'll have to miss your Pegasus gig.
Richie Unterberger (folkrocks) Thu 2 Nov 06 07:00
I have a few other Bay Area book events in December; I'll post them in a couple weeks.
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