Elton John & John Lennon live: Yeah, but what about the show?

So many blogs have been written about the last legendary concert appearance by John Lennon, alongside Elton John in Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1974. Clearly you’d think there was nothing new to say. The problem with all these pieces is that they all say THE SAME DAMN THINGS–it’s John Lennon’s last live show, he and Yoko got back together after the show, he’d done it after a bet over his hit single “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, yada yada. No one ever talks about the actual performance.

Ya know what? I’m not going over all that crap again. We know it. I’m going to leave some links at the end of this blog, if that’s the kind of background you want. This is my blog, my observations. The rest you can easily find elsewhere.

Among the frequent hand-me-downs from my brother Kenny was an Elton John Band single from 1975, “Philadelphia Freedom” (MCA-40364), a damn good song in its own right. The B-side, ‘Recorded Live’ the year before, was “I Saw Her Standing There”. Beneath the song title in small letters it read ‘Featuring John Lennon’.

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I didn’t know he’d done a live show with Elton John, beyond that one song. I wasn’t reading a lot of the nascent rock music press; I was barely aware there WAS one. Oh I knew about Rolling Stone, peripherally. My thing was comic books, Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 and the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. Those were my ways of distracting myself from my dad’s marriages and divorces, our frequent moving back in forth between two towns. From the time my mom and dad split up to the beginning of high school, I’d attended three elementary schools and bounced three times between two junior highs. I was also learning how to impale myself with insulin shots, after five years of having them inflicted on me.

JOHN_LENNON_LIVE!+28TH+NOVEMBER+1974+++OBI-497115  1974-11-28-Madison_Square_Garden_1974-digipack

-two examples of the inevitable bootlegs-

Putting the foregoing aside, I think I was very lucky, certainly better off because of my parents and siblings. Back to cases, that single was the only official release of that singular performance, outside of the inevitable bootlegs. Elton’s live LP Here and Now (1976) was a contract-fulfillment item. While good, it was a truncated single-LP collection culled from two performances done a year apart. Side One was taken from a London performance for invalid children at the Royal Festival Hall in May1974; Side Two from the aforementioned Madison Square Garden show.

In the 1970s an Elton John concert was a thing not to be missed. And because I was underage, I always did; I didn’t turn 16 years old until May of 1980. In 1995 Gus Dudgeon compiled a 2-CD album of both concerts in their entirety. CD-2 features that long-lost three-song set featuring John and Elton: “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. I’ve just finished listening to those CDs today in my car. I’m here to rate that performance while it’s still strong in my head.

Just to start with right after Elton’s introduction, while John is tuning his guitar I heard a few bars of “I Feel Fine”. I’d listened to this deluxe CD before and I’d never noticed that before. Both Johns give an energetic performance of “Whatever gets You Through the Night”, and I’ll bet John Lennon was having more fun doing this than he’s had in years. No politics, no preaching, just two guys duetting beautifully together, jamming on pure rock ‘n’ roll.

whatever gets you throu night

John is less prominent on “Lucy In The Sky”, but it IS Elton’s cover. He’s there for backing vocals and reggae rhythm guitar; you can hear his guitar in the right channel on your stereo. What’s never mentioned is the fact that this is the ONLY time John Lennon performed “Lucy” live in any capacity. The Muscle Shoals Horns blowing in the chorus add an extra zest to the live version.

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Back-In-Time-Elton-John-and-John-Lennon-performing-I-Saw-He-Standing-There

Finally John announces “a number from an old estranged fiancée of mine called Paul”, the first and only time he sang “I Saw Her Standing There”, as it was always Paul’s vocal. With Elton’s band behind him, John gives a roaring performance, vastly superior to the pussified version that Tiffany foisted on us in 1988. Really, how DARE she emasculate a Beatles classic that way? There were tears all around, and Elton allowed the pandemonium to go on and on, even though he still had 40 minutes left to go in his concert.

That was John’s last glory moment on a live stage, almost the last anyone would hear of him for five years. The times we would have with him during his brief comeback season in 1980 would be too tragically short.

Links:

John Lennon joins Elton John onstage at Madison Square Garden, New York

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/john-lennon-last-concert/

Something New, the next Hard Day’s Night

 

Beatles Something new

The harvest of Beatlemania of 1964 continued with their third Capitol album in a seventh-month period, Something New, a title which wasn’t that true at all. To summarize, The Beatles’ Second Album had only been released on April 10. The United Artists’ version of A Hard Day’s Night (US) was an abridged version of the original Parlophone (UK) LP. However, the US LP preceded the better UK version by two weeks (release dates, June 26 for United Artists vs. July 10 for Parlophone).

Beatles A Hard Day's night United Artists cover U.S. v., A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Beatles A Hard Day's Night U.K. cover and the original Parlophone release

With me so far? It gets better. Something New followed the UK Hard Day’s Night by ten days and less than a month after the US LP. If this album has any weakness, it’s the lack of a strong lead single. On the other hand, apart from “Slow Down’ and “Matchbox”, it is notably lacking in the cover songs that would fill their LPs up through Beatles For Sale, or Beatles VI, depending on which continent you were born on.

Anal details: eight of its eleven tracks had already appeared on the original A Hard Day’s Night; five of  those songs had already appeared the month before on the United Artists’ album. It would be the third album release for “I’ll Cry Instead”, which we never even got to hear in the movie! Side One closes with two songs from the British Long Tall Sally EP. I’ll get to the song that closes in a bit. “A Hard Day’s Night”, “I Should Have Known Better” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” had already appeared on both/either Hard Day’s Night LPs. The only remaining orphans from the Parlophone album were “You Cant Do That”, which had already appear on The Beatles’ Second Album in April; and “I’ll Be Back”, relegated to Beatles ’65, soon to be released in December 1964.

Also of note, on the trivial side, in addition to being released in Mono, it was the only early Beatles album where all tracks were in true stereo. Alternate versions of “Any Time at All”, “I’ll Cry Instead”, “When I Get Home”, “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her” appear in the Mono mix. Parlophone released Something New to US Armed Forces bases in Europe; today those copies are appropriately great collector’s items. The German stereo version on the Odeon label has a reprocessed stereo version of “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” and an extended version of “And I Love Her” that repeats the closing riff six times instead of the familiar four. This mix appears on the US version of the now-defunct LP Rarities (1980). In 2004 the album was released on CD as part of the box set The Capitol Years, Volume I.

All fine, but how does it sound??? Despite being A Hard Day’s Night Redux, it’s actually a pretty listenable album. “I’ll Cry Instead” gets it off to a rocking start; “Things We Said Today” was a reflection on Paul’s relationship with actress Jane Asher. “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her” were two of John and Paul’s most tender love songs; given their relative youth, it’s surprising how much depth and maturity they could fit into two and a half minutes each.

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-beatles-only-german-recordings-4075314

http://www.beatlesebooks.com/komm-gib-mir-deine-hand

The final track, “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand”, was a German language recording of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. It wasn’t something they really wanted to do, and in the end they had to be dragged to the studio in Paris to get the job done. It wasn’t unknown for American artists in the ’60’s to record foreign-language versions of their biggest hits. The Temptations for example did the Beatles one better by recording “My Girl” not only in German but in Italian as well.

For “Komm…”, the band used the original instrumental track, then recorded eleven vocal takes, overdubbing handclaps later. And that’s all Capitol had to offer until November with the release of The Beatles’ Story, a two-LP spoken-word press release until Beatles ’65 arrived in December, with “I Feel Fine” rounding out the year.

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.  Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

f & d cover

 

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (2016) review

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I like that Bruce doesn’t just talk about the records and chart positions. You get into the process, the thrill of seeing Elvis on TV for the first time, the arrival of the Beatles and the Motown sound. You get to know the man and the people he performs with, their gifts and foibles and all the reasons he loves them.

He spent his childhood walking in egg shells around his father Doug, a man always on edge, seemingly disappointed in how life did NOT turn out for him, disapproving of his children. He was Bruce’s foe as well as his hero, and he grew up never knowing when the fuse would be lit.

Ten years of groundwork went into his apprenticeship in New Jersey. Behind his songs was the lingering dread that was only relieved on stage. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Bruce was diagnosed with depression, something I never knew about, that most of us didn’t know, and it was then, before his biggest hit Born In the USA, that he began treatment and got the help he needed. It took a lot of courage to express that part of himself, a never-ending specter that rises up and must be endured. This he has done with medication and the support of his loved one. It’s a long read but worthwhile, on a level with or even surpassing Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. Highly recommended.

Artists United Against Apartheid- “The Struggle Continues”

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Miles Davis is a difficult man to like. He was parsimonious when it came to sharing credit on his compositions and abusive to his wives. Worse, he felt obliged to brag about it. But he was also a jazz genius, a would-be boxer with sickle-cell anemia and, late in his life, diabetes; a man who’d storm onstage for a concert against his doctor’s advice while he was fighting pneumonia.

That being said, civil rights did seem to be something he cared for. In 1985 South Africa was very much on Little Steven Van Zandt’s mind, particularly the resort Sun City, which was planted right in the middle of one of the desolate bantustans imposed on the native South Africans by white Afrikaners. Ronald Reagan’s policy as President was a thing called ‘constructive engagement’, a double-speak term that amounted to encouraging business investment in South Africa in the hope that this would change their racist policies.

little steven

Little Steven had a different vision. Recall that this was a time in the 1980’s when large charitable events involving large collectives of pop artists had briefly become the norm. Farm Aid was just around the corner in the U.S., and continues to this day. Live Aid, “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” had all brought awareness of the drought and starvation of Ethiopians. But the pop response to the Ethiopian crisis was largely apolitical; it didn’t address the conflicts that had brought this famine on the Ethiopian people.

The Sun City project was different. It had to be. If there was to be change, you had to address the root of the problem, which was the government-sanctioned program of Apartheid. Like all these projects Sun City did not lack for enthusiastic volunteers. And from the first day, producer Arthur Baker and Little Steven thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wild to get Miles Davis to play trumpet over this drum log”, on the demo record?

As it happened, Miles’ sound man had also been Little Steven’s sound man on one of his tours. the job of contacting Miles fell to Danny Schecter, a journalist who early on became involved with the project. Now honestly, Miles Davis was a hard man to get ahold of, but when Schecter made the call, the immediate response was, “When do you want me there?”

On the big day Miles laid down his part over two takes, which would soon form the bedrock of what would become the jazz session for the album. Towards the end of the first take, he did the kind of unexpected thing he was famous for. In a rasp barely above a whisper he muttered, “You can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

This was not planned; it was all just improvisation on Miles’ part. Baker and the others thought at first he was talking about the cameraman who was there to film all the project’s sessions. They soon realized Miles was talking about South Africa, so baker said, “Keep those tapes rolling.”

At this point recording technology had advanced to the point where it wasn’t really necessary for every artist to perform their part in the studio all at the same time. It was possible to record all the different parts and mix them all together later into a coherent track. That’s how “The Struggle Continues” came together, and how through electronic means the Miles Davis Quintet was reunited.

Miles+Davis quintet 1966

Keyboardist Herbie Hancock had cut his teeth with Miles’ Quintet in the mid-60’s and had made quite a name for himself as the leader of his own group the Headhunters in 1973. More recently he’d experimented with dance and funk, most especially with his 1983 single “Rockit”. He would be the first artist to play behind Miles’ track, and he would blow everyone’s mind with the seven-minute solo he laid down.

One problem. Little Steven knew Hancock’s work was great, but it wasn’t going to work with Miles’ stuff. Luck was with them. In a few weeks Hancock would be performing at the Village Gate in New York with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, the other members of Miles’ classic Quintet. The Sun City crew assembled at M & I Recording, where Williams had been recording his latest album, there to overdub their parts onto Miles’.

Keyboardist Richard Scher and Nigerian drummer Sonny Okusons had already contributed their parts. A friend of Little Steven had brought his three-year-old son to these sessions. As the musicians were leaving Steven asked, “Well, Sam, what do you think?”

“It needs some guitar,” Sam replied.

Out of the mouth of babes. The next day the great Stanley Jordan added his guitar.

Now on to the track itself. I’m not a jazz expert, I can only give you my best with my pallid ear, but here goes. A slow fade in on the horn brings you to those furious rolling drums. The trumpet sounds an urgent call to action. Two minutes in comes Herbie Hancock’s part, and he’s on fire. Underlying the entire track is a solid bass by Carter and then at four 1/2 minutes we hear Miles’ accusation: “You can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

Sun City was released on December 7, 1985. I’d just like to note that Nelson Mandela was released from prison less than five years later on February 11, 1990. Apartheid died a well-deserved death by 1994. I’d like to think Little Steven and all the artist involved in Sun City did their part to make that happen.

 

“The scariest encounter of the Sun City project had to be Miles Davis,” recalled Steven Van Zandt. “I wrote the intro for him to play… He’s just not friendly. He makes Lou Reed look like a pussycat… He came in, sat down and I played him the ‘Silver and Gold’ tape. He’s sitting next to me, and he talks real low and slow, and right in my ear: ‘Hey man, do you want me to fucking play or what?’ So he does his take, and I asked him to redo it with the mute on. I went and reassembled his old quintetwith Herbie HancockRon Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums.”[2]

[wikipedia entry, Sun City]

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Let Me See Your I.D.–Artists United Against Apartheid, 1985

artists-united-against-apartheid-let-me-see-your-id-street-mix-1986It isn’t often that a rap song changes my perspective. I’m admittedly not a great fan of rap music; if I want to be yelled at, I have people I work with for that. On the other hand it does throw in some off-the-wall references to kung fu, literary figures and historical events we don’t want to think about.

In 1985 Little Steven Van Zandt drew together a unique collective of musicians from across the spectrum, for the purpose of protesting against the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. The project Sun City drew its name from the glittering resort in the so-called ‘homeland’ of Bophuthatswana, which was meant to showcase the ‘greatness’ of white South Africa, and which had already attracted prominent pop artists to perform at their casino.

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Perhaps today it can be seen as an artifact of the late ’80’s; or, it may have a frightening relevance considering the exposure of the filthy underbelly of white supremacy here in our United States. What I referenced in the beginning of this piece was Sun City‘s rap track, “Let Me See Your I.D.”, meaning the passbooks all black South Africans over the age of 16 were required to carry on them at all times. If it was not produced on demand, black persons would be jailed and fined. As of 1985,13 million people had been jailed for pass law offenses.

It begins with a concept so obvious that it shouldn’t be so mind-blowing. Grandmaster Melle Mel chants, “Everybody uses black & white/ to draw the line between wrong & right/ but If you use your eyes you can really see”, that ‘white’ is really pink while skin that’s ‘black’ is really brown. Think about that; your skin is not white. Peach at best, maybe. And black, well, that covers a range of shades, none of them pure black.

Poet and novelist Gil Scott-Heron provides a running narration as subtle as the raps are not. “The word casualties comes up a lot…people are talking about isms…” But people are dying, he says, and there’s nothing casual about that. “Let Me See Your I.D.” showcases the talents of Grandmaster Melle Mel, Scorpio from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Peter Wolf, Kurtis Blow, the Fat Boys, Gil Scott-Heron, Sonny Okosuns, The Malopoets form South Africa. Jimmy Cliff, Duke Bootee and more.

Sadly this track is unavailable for download and I could only find it online as a vinyl single. If you want to hear it today, ironically enough you’d have to find an unauthorized upload on YouTube and break the law.

sun city list  images s afr boycott

 

Rubber Soul as it should be

Rubber_Soul

I’ve just realized why Rubber Soul was never one of my favorite Beatles albums growing up. I had no way of knowing better of course; did any of us know in the fall of 1965? You see the problem was, we were getting the Americanized version.

A sign of a great work of art is its openness to more than one interpretation. In his blog Psychobabble, Mike Segretto gave the impression  that certain alterations were an improvement on the original British LP; that these substitutions were more in line with the folk-rock stylings of the majority of the set. On that count, I respectfully disagree. The rock numbers [“Drive My Car” & “Nowhere Man”] I feel balanced out the introspection of “Norwegian Wood” & “In My Life”. There is very little question that the British album was the better of the two versions.

Granted the classics were all in their proper places—“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, “Michelle”, “In My Life”, even “The Word”. The point is, I grew up listening to what was provided by Capitol Records. Capitol was the American distributor for EMI-Parlophone Records in the U.S. And they butchered Rubber Soul.

rubber soul UK back

The back cover of the UK release, at least the remastered CD from 2009 

rubber soul US Capitol back

Running order of the Capitol Records release

The first sin they committed was to strip four songs from the original LP, ie “Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man”, “What Goes On” & “If I Needed Someone”. This was standard practice for Capitol: take a few songs off one Beatles album and collect as many as possible into a ‘new’ album. Something New [July 1964] may be the most egregious example of such mash-ups, and I’m saying this as someone who does in fact prefer some of the American LPs over their British counterparts.

Here’s what rubs me; two of those songs were among the strongest tracks the Fabs had done in this period; and they substituted two of the weaker tracks from the British Help! LP. If I may digress, Capitol got s lot of mileage out of that record. Over the following two  years they managed to spread those six Side-2 songs over three different albums. Most of us who grew up in the ‘60’s didn’t realize how badly we’d been gipped until the official British albums saw their first CD release in 1987. That was the year we in America finally received Rubber Soul in its full glory, as God [or the Fab Four anyway] intended.

The UK version opened with a strong lead-in, ‘Drive My Car”; the Capitol album had the temerity to replace that with the significantly weaker number, “I’ve Just Seen a Face”. Worst of all, “Nowhere Man” was also taken off the Capitol release. I never knew it was supposed to be on Rubber Soul until I listened to that damn CD for the first time. George Harrison had originally been allotted two numbers, “Think For Yourself” & “If I Needed Someone”. I don’t know why I’m so taken with the latter number; that riff just seemed to hook me. It’s mostly the guitar. These are both decent songs, but at a time when George was just beginning to flex his songwriting muscles, Capitol cut his contributions by half.

Adding insult to injury, the one song allotted to Ringo Starr, ‘What Goes On”, the first instance in which he actually received any songwriting credit, was swapped with “It’s Only Love’, a song even John Lennon said was abysmal. Which meant Ringo got NO vocal numbers at all on our side of the Atlantic. In fact, in 1965 Ringo would appear on two, count ‘em, two tracks for U.S. release. One was “Act Naturally”, the B-side of the “Yesterday” single. “Boys” [from The Early Beatles, March ‘65] was part & parcel of the re-re-release of the Beatles’ first Parlophone album Please Please Me–from 1963.

That leaves fully half of the album dominated by Lennon compositions—on either side of the Atlantic—“Norwegian Wood”, “Nowhere Man”, “The Word”, “What Goes On”, “Girl”, “In My Life” & “Run For Your Life”. John Lennon songs tended to dominate Beatles albums up to this point. Rubber Soul would actually be the last time this was the case until the White Album sessions three years later—honestly, mostly on account of John’s growing, admitted laziness.

The four tracks that were stripped from the Capitol album would eventually conglomerate in July 1966 on the Yesterday and Today set, along with the final two orphans from Help!, Side 2, plus three more recent cuts stolen from the upcoming Revolver. And that would be the last time such butchery would be committed against a Beatles long-play.

–“It’s Only Love” was mine. I always thought it was a lousy song. The lyrics were abysmal. I always hated that song.

-John Lennon to David Sheff, The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono, @ 1981 Playboy Press

https://psychobabble200.blogspot.com/2014/08/turn-left-at-greenland-part-8-rubber.html