Sunday, May 8, 2011

Weekend Music Roundup (The Beatles...Before, During, and After Edition)

Earlier this week, I watched the 2009 film Nowhere Boy about John Lennon's life as a teenager and the formation of the Quarrymen (the pre-Beatles). The movie was okay and interesting, but not much more. However, the parts that focused on John's interest in American rock music and how it shaped his sound was really well done. It certainly upped my Fab Four listening this week. Not that they are ever too far from the rotation. There's old debate between being a Beatles or Stones fan, which is really a simple question of taste that has sustained because it's nearly impossible to be really listening-invested to both at the same time. At least for me it seems they represent different sides of one personality and sometimes we feel one way or the other. Lately, I've been feeling more like John than Mick. So with that, I bring this list of albums I've gotten over the past few months, from influences to the influenced...Enjoy.

Buddy Holly - The Complete Buddy Holly: This six record box-set released in 1979 is an amazing chronological history of Buddy's recording sessions. It starts with some of his earliest recordings and goes straight through to his last sessions. I love these kind of box sets which are sort of like a colloquium on an artist. You get to hear how certain songs evolved of time and can really hear how Buddy Holly was inventing rock n roll. In some ways, John Lennon is his direct disciple (one of the first Quarrymen '45s was a Buddy Holly cover). This is amazing for anyone that likes to dig further than a greatest hits package.

The Beatles - The Decca Tapes: This is the audition tape the band made for the famed Decca label in January 1962. In this early stage, they are still trying to copy the American sound. The band is doing their best impersonation of Elvis and Buddy Holly, but if you listen closely you can hear their uniquely British stamp beginning to develop. This is a quality early rock and roll album. It didn't get them signed to Decca (they were signed to Parlophone). Of course, Decca would later hit it huge by signing The Rolling Stones.

The Beatles - Hey Little Girl: This bootleg '45 released in 1978 contains four of the best songs from the Decca Tapes era, which at the time were still not widely known songs. What I really enjoy about these particular four tracks is that you can really hear a band ready to just explode. That's one element about the early Beatles that I love...there's this frantic energy wound so tightly into these perfect 2-to-3 minute songs.

The Beatles - The Lost Pepperland Reel: As the title suggest, this bootleg features early demos and home recordings for songs that would later make it onto Sgt. Pepper, either as whole songs or snippets of other songs. That has always been one of my least favorite Beatles albums simply because it's too polished and too produced and trying so hard to be something. Don't get me wrong, even my least favorite Beatles album still knocks the snot out of most other albums. I only bring it up because I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this bootleg. But I like it precisely because it isn't all of those things. It's very raw. It's also an interesting listen because you tell the band is playing with the idea of making an 'album' and not a collection of songs. This rough result is much trippier and lo-fi and in my opinion...better.

The Beatles - Let It Be...Naked: I remember being very excited for this when it was released in 2003. Unlike Sgt. Pepper, I've always really liked Let It Be in all of its dysfunction. Some of George's best songs as a Beatle are on this album, and John is really expanding as well. Given my taste for things that are more stripped down, I was eager to hear the Naked version, whic is the album with a good deal of the production taken away. But for one reason or other, I never got around to getting it because I already had and liked the original. I finally did get around to listening to it a few months ago and I guess my biggest surprise was that it didn't really feel all that different to me. Stand outs are "I Dig a Pony" and "I Me Mine."
Beady Eye - Across the Universe: Liam Gallagher has never shied away from John Lennon comparisons because he's never hidden his respect for Lennon or denied the influence Lennon has on him. Oasis was always known to give a Beatles cover here and there, so it's not really surprising that Liam's new band would provide this cover for the Japan benefit album. This has never been a favorite Beatles track of mine, but Beady Eye does a great job with it. They've managed to get rid of pitchy quality of the original and deliver a much more somber track for a more somber world really.

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