For a man who became understandably reluctant to perform as a Beatle, John Lennon managed to put in plenty of time as a solo performer. Even more astounding is how much live material was actually available in his own lifetime. And to show how much time I have to muck around I propose to review said performances. I will not be including John’s all-star 31st birthday party, as while he played a range of songs, this was done for the entertainment of friends and well-wishers, besides not qualifying as a public concert.
Now I might have said that John clocked in an amazing amount of time as a solo performer. I never said a lot of it was listenable. We can attribute that in part to the avante garde leanings of Yoko Ono. While such screeching might appeal to an undisciplined art student, it is certainly less tolerable to the average listener. I’m not trying to slander Yoko; when she wants to, her singing voice can be gorgeous. “Who Has Seen the Wind” is hauntingly beautiful. Say what you will about the Some Time in New York City LP, the most enjoyable cuts were often those by Yoko–‘Angela” or ‘Sisters, O Sisters” for example. “Cambridge 1969” is not in the same category.
“Cambridge 1969” isn’t technically a John song at all; it was Yoko who was invited to perform at Lady Mitchell Hall, Cambridge early in 1969, for an audience of 500. But John sat in on the set, in the shadows in the back. I hope Yoko had plenty of water around ’cause she put her throat through a wringer with this piece. This ‘song’ was seemingly designed to torture small dog’s ears. Yoko opens with a short, almost shy introduction–then wails like a banshee for the next 57 seconds, pausing for breath before continuing on. John was there basically to provide guitar feedback, which had none of the resonance he gave to the opening of “I Feel Fine”.
We’re about nine minutes in before the feedback gets interesting, rising in pitch till at 9:50 it’s like a fire alarm going off. Only towards the end were they joined by a saxophonist and percussionist. This goes on for the entire first side of the Life With the Lions LP. God help the poor bastards–I mean, the student audience who sat in to endure 26 & ½ minutes of Yoko shrieking like a yowling cat.
Available on: Unfinished Music #2: Life With the Lions
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’.
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.
-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.
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.
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.
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).
U.S. v., A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
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.
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:
To say 1964 was a fruitful year for the Beatles, as well as a bonanza for Beatles fans, may be the understatement of the past century. At least it was for their American fans, who were treated to seventeen single releases, twelve albums and a motion picture, not including a national tour and two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. All their native Brits got was two albums and an EP-single.
Actually, a serious analysis would show those numbers are a bit misleading, and in fact England got the better part of the deal. Two albums may not seem like much, but those albums were presented to them as nature (or their British label, Parlophone Records) intended. In 1963 the Beatles also had their radio show, adding up to 39 BBC sessions that year, and a further eight radio shows in 1964. While that certainly was a much reduced schedule for ’64, it was something we didn’t have access to in America, at least not before the advent of bootlegs in the 1970’s.
For the next three years screaming rabid fans would be the norm for the four lads from Liverpool. This new generation of record buying kids had developed an insatiable hunger for Beatles merchandise. The boys could have recorded an album of Gregorian chants, in basic Liverpudillian, and odds are it would’ve cracked the Top Ten charts.
Let’s start with Vee Jay. Introducing…The Beatles was Vee Jay Records’ attempt to cash in on Beatlemania, and that story is worthy of a blog by itself. Before their contract on the music had even expired, Vee Jay re-packaged the same album—twice; first as Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles (October 1964, chart peak 63), and again as a double album, The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons (Oct. 1964, chart peak 143), paired with a greatest hits package by the Seasons.
On February 26, 1964 Vee Jay offered another misleading title, Jolly What! England’s Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage, reissued in October as The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage. While the Fab Four only had four tracks on the LP, none of them live, this was the only place to hear their hit single “From Me to You” until 1973’s compilation The Beatles 1962-1966 (‘The Red Album’) hit the market. The Beatles Story was a double-album propaganda piece that required little to no participation of the band members; and again it was slapped together in response to Vee Jay’s interview record Hear the Beatles Tell All (Nov. 1964). That’s seven down.
We’ll discuss the official U.S. capitol albums another time. Suffice it to say you can thank Dave Dexter, the Capitol Records exec who’d spend the next three years creating two albums out of one, with the addition of all their singles and B-sides. For now it is time to dispel the confusion…or perhaps to add to it.
The first Beatles album released in North America isn’t what you think it was. Capitol Canada got the jump on us by issuing their second British LP, what we know as Meet The Beatles! a couple months ahead of Capitol US, under the augmented title Beatlemania! With The Beatles. That was followed by Twist and Shout, the Canadian version of their first LP Please Please Me. The final Canadian-exclusive Capitol release was The Beatles’ Long Tall Sally, which incorporated the British EP of the same name with four tracks already released on the Beatlemania! album. The cover design was virtually identical to Capitol US’s The Beatles’ Second Album. From here on Capitol Canada followed the U.S. releases, beginning with A Hard Day’s Night.
Nor was their time wasted with Tony Sheridan. Their first professional recordings were backing the English singer on five tracks in 1961, although they were credited then as The Beat Brothers. “My Bonnie” (Polydor, 1962) would be the single that brought them to the attention of their future promoter Brian Epstein. And these recordings would be twice issued, as The Beatles with Tony Sheridan and Their Guests, augmented by six tracks featuring Danny Davis & the Titans (MGM/Atco, Feb. 2, 1964, chart peak 68); and then as Ain’t She Sweet, featuring an entire side devoted to British Invasion band the Swallows (Atco, Oct. 5, 1964).
Here’s a misleading list of all the Beatles’ albums from 1964:
-Official British releases for 1964:
Long Tall Sally (EP, June 19)
A Hard Day’s Night (July 10)
Beatles for Sale (Dec. 4)
-Beatles releases by Capitol Records for 1964:
Meet the Beatles (January 20)
The Beatles’ Second Album (April 10)
Something New (July 20)
The Beatles’ Story (Nov. 23)
Beatles ’65 (Dec. 15)
-Vee Jay LPs:
Introducing the Beatles (Jan. 27)
Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles (October)
The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons (Oct.)
Jolly What! England’s Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage (Feb. 26)
[reissued in October as The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage]
Hear the Beatles Tell All (Nov.)
-Reissues of 1961 recordings with Tony Sheridan:
The Beatles with Tony Sheridan and Their Guests (Atco, Feb. 2)
Ain’t She Sweet (Atco, Oct.5)
Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.