Sometimes you just need to rock out.

Those of you who know me and my musical tastes, I tend to veer more towards the atmospheric. Anything drenched in reverb and gives off a dreamlike quality I tend to enjoy, thus my love for Cocteau Twins, MBV, all things shoegaze. I also tend to like a lot of 90s Britpop, and of course anything that sounds vaguely similar to the 80s college rock I love so much. I also love a good selection of different kinds of techno/electronica/etc, from Lamb and Hooverphonic to Massive Attack and Tricky. It’s not always mellow, but it certainly has a “body” to it–a spirit that instills a sense of space and place. I feel like I’ve gone somewhere with this music.

Then there’s the other side of my tastes…the complete opposite. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something loud, something filled with ear-bleeding guitar and gut-punching bass and lozenge-needing screams. Pixies and Ministry did that to me, back in ’88. It’s not atmospheric, instead it’s got a thick wall of sound beating down on you, threatening to pick you up off your feet and send you spiraling, just like that scene in Back to the Future. There’s tracks out there where I swear I can feel the force of the track pushing at me like a strong wind beating against my face.

Believe me, I’m not the biggest fan of alternative metal. It rose to power in the late 90s, and for awhile it pretty much took over the playlists of all the alternative rock stations around 1997-99. The first wave of mainstream alt.rock had subsided around then, finding itself a comfy spot on the Adult Alternative stations instead, and the mainstream stations at that time picked up on the dance pop of NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and Spice Girls. Alternative stations had to do something to remain relevant, so they Turned Up the RAWK. Say hello to Tool, Deftones, Korn, Staind, POD, and even the rap metal of Limp Bizkit (hey, don’t get me wrong–their lyrics may have been stupid, but their guitarists kicked ass).

I was working at HMV when these bands hit, and I was also listening to a lot of WFNX at the time, so it’s not as if I could avoid them. I didn’t hate the sound, but at the time it really wasn’t me. I was still listening to mainstream alternative, the last breaths of Britpop, and the occasional new-agey compilation…it was just my mindset at the time, and the mood I was in, especially when I was writing. While WFNX played “Change (in the House of Flies)”, I was listening to “The Boy with the Arab Strap”…definitely opposite ends of the spectrum there. I would sometimes jokingly call this stuff “meathead rock” because it was a new generation of metal, only this time without the progressive rock pretense.

It wasn’t until probably 2001 or 2002 when I started getting it–I was in a different mindset then, much further along in purging my own personal demons from the 90s, so this music wasn’t bringing me down or rubbing me the wrong way anymore…it was time to rock out. I was getting deeply into POD’s Satellite, Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia (they’d mastered a prog/metal hybrid by that album), and Deftones’ 2003 self-titled at this time. I started to appreciate that it wasn’t just about the heaviness and the volume…like the calmer music I listen to, a lot of alternative metal has its own soul–starker, angrier, and more eager to show its talons, but underneath all the rage, there’s some absolutely stunning melodies going on.

In tandem with that, I was doing a lot of musical catch-up. Despite working at a record store for close to four years, I needed to rediscover a lot of bands that I’d left by the wayside, or hadn’t gotten around to listening to. When I wasn’t buying new releases at Newbury Comics, I was checking out the used and discount bins of various stores (including Newbury) and beefing up my back catalogue with all kinds of stuff. I’m still doing a bit of catch-up, really…just today I found a sweet deal on Amazon and downloaded a handful of early Deftones albums I didn’t already have, and I’m still wondering why I never got into them earlier. Their sound is so melodic and tight, and for years all I heard was the tchug-tchug-tchuggatchug of drop-tuned and heavily distorted guitars. Now I can hear the soul behind it, the dedication to the songwriting, the emotions spilling out, and it’s lovely. Take a listen to Deftones’ “Minerva” for a great example:

I’m well aware there’s louder, dirtier, angrier music out there for those who are into that kind of thing, and I’ve come to appreciate that stuff as well. It’s not anything I’d listen to while doing other things, especially writing (which is when I do most of my music listening), but I get where it’s coming from. Sometimes you need to relax with something soothing…and sometimes you just need to rock out.

Gonna drive past the Stop n’ Shop with the radio on

I usually don’t offer news links here at Walk in Silence, and I never post a link when there might be a slight political dig involved.  This is not what WiS is about at all.

That being said, one of my online friends offered the following story link:

I’ll skip the obvious “Fox News” jokes here, thank you.

The short version is that there’s an recent push by State House Representative Marty Walsh to have The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” be the official state rock song of Massachusetts, and Senator Elizabeth Warren is fully behind it.  Hey, why not?  It’s a great song–simple and a little odd, but then again, so is the state I grew up in.  And besides…Oklahoma has The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” as their official state rock song, so it’s not as if we’re creating a precedent for weirdness here.  And anyone who grew up in the Bay State in the 70s and 80s knows this song well, and knows exactly what Jonathan Richman is singing about when he talks about driving up 128 past the suburban trees and the Stop and Shop.  The state also has a deep and rich history in radio (read Donna Halper’s “Boston Radio 1920-2010” for an interesting and quick history lesson there), so it’s also a love song to all the great radio stations past and present.

That said, it’s kind of jarring when you watch that Fox25 News fluff piece and hear the voice of the flat-topped announcer saying “This song SUCKS!” less than a minute in (and right after the announcer willingly admits he doesn’t know the song and doesn’t think it has much to do with the state at all).  Then they let Flat-Top riff on what he thinks is a better song, to which he suggests Boston’s “Smokin'” from their eponymous ’76 debut. A generic party song (and definitely a “Bro” song at that) that has little to do at all with the state, other than the band’s name. The rest of the report is pretty much filler as the others suggest songs very stereotypical of their on-air personas (the token dweeb picks Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations”, the token female chooses some mellow “come to Boston” song, the main announcer/token straight man suggests a different Boston song that at least mentions Hyannis).

See a theme here?  All Boston-themed.

You know that famous New Yorker strip, right?  The drawing with Manhattan in the foreground and all these random unimportant locations off in the distance, placed randomly in otherwise blank space.  Boston media has frequently done the same, to be honest…there’s a long-running joke that most Bay Area politicians don’t know what’s beyond the 128 or 495 highway belt other than trees and maybe Worcester or Springfield…and most Bostonians are unaware that their drinking water comes from the Quabbin Reservoir, a manmade watershed way out in the middle of the state that took place of four small towns.  When it comes to music, most people think all Massachusetts bands (or at least the famous ones, anyway) come from Boston or one of its close suburbs.  And pretty much every show that I’ve ever seen at Comcast Center (aka Great Woods, back in my day) in Mansfield–which is much closer to Rhode Island than it is to Beantown–every band revs up the crowd with “Good evening Boston!!!”  Mind you, I’m not complaining, as the rest of the state has pretty much grown accustomed to it.

This story made me think of a few things, really…

On one level, I was forcibly hurled back to 1987, when I was a sophomore in high school and discovering all kinds of great new music on this crazy thing called college radio.  My biggest obsession of the time was the Cure, who’d just put out their double album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me earlier that year.  I’d gone to see them live at the Worcester Centrum and bought a great tee-shirt that I wore until it was threadbare.  Hearing Flat-Top bark out “this song sucks!” in this piece brought me right back to those days when the popular kids in my class mocked me for listening to unpopular crap.  Mind you, that hardly bothers me now, but the context of the piece just rubbed me the wrong way.  These announcers had written off the song right off the bat, most likely due to Jonathan Richman’s warbly singing and the one-chord playing, but more than likely due to it not being a world-famous song.  Irreverence has been the normal frame of mind for media’s “Morning Teams” both on radio and TV for quite some time, so I’m sure the plan had been “let’s make fun of the weird song” from the beginning.  Still…it was jarring to hear something like that after all this time.  I haven’t had a jock diss my favorite music for at least two decades!

On another level, I also started thinking, what other songs out there would be indicative of Massachusetts?  There are place-centric songs out there of course: The Standells’ “Dirty Water”, Pixies’ “U-Mass”, about half the songs from Boston’s debut, The Get Up Kids’ “Mass Pike”, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “I Want My City Back”, and so on.  But I think that’s where the TV people had it wrong–they were focusing not just on Boston-centric songs, but also songs that mention a specific area.  What they needed to do, if they wanted to do their homework and perhaps extend this fluff piece into something more substantial (haha! yes, I know that’ll never happen), is to find songs by bands from the state that would say “this is what Massachusetts is about.”  It doesn’t have to say anything lyrically, it just has to represent the state somehow.  Oklahoma picked the Flaming Lips song not because of the lyrics, but because they are one of the most famous bands from that state.

And that is why I think “Roadrunner” is actually the perfect song suggestion: it’s a love song to the state.  It’s not about rocking out or getting by or trying to get the girl or anything…it’s simply about driving up 128 just outside the metro limits at some ungodly hour of the morning, rocking out to the radio.  It’s not about the commute or the drive, either…it’s about just being there, being in the state, and loving the fact that you’re there.

Blogging the Beatles 11/12/13: ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’/’This Boy’ single, The Beatles Christmas Record, and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’/’I Saw Her Standing There’ single

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”This Boy”
Released: 29 November 1963

By late Autumn 1963, John and Paul’s musical output was in full swing with no sign of slowing down at all. This was the sign of two writers who were lucky enough to work on what they did and loved all day long; they were also smart and attentive enough to understand that to be a strong musician and performer, they couldn’t do it half-assed. Even if the songs missed their mark and the end result wasn’t exactly what they’d wanted or planned on, they knew enough not to release something they’d be ashamed of later on. [John, however, would later be his own harshest critic in this respect and dismissed a lot of his own earlier work, even if the songs were strong.] They were a band made up of obsessed music lovers who had a bead on what sounds they loved and what sounded right to them, and had the dedication to focus on that in their own work.

In addition to this, near the end of their studio work on With the Beatles, they were given an extremely wonderful gift–four-track recording at Abbey Road, which gave them even more of an aural playground to work in than before. Their previous work had all been on two-track recording consoles which gave them an extremely limited amount of aural space to work with. Nearly all of their songs so far had been recorded with the full band playing and singing, with just the occasional overdub [which was recorded straight onto the master, meaning they’d damn well better get it right the first time!] and rarely a double-tracked vocal. This worked just fine for the band, but it left their sound just a tiny bit flat; they were itching to break that barrier like they very nearly did with “She Loves You”, attempting to capture not just the song but the emotion behind it. Expanding to four-track gave them two more tracks to play with–they could overdub, expand the sound, let it breathe like they’d wanted it to.

Of course, back then it didn’t make all that much difference to the listener; at that point in time, the kids in Britain were still listening to the BBC on handheld radios with single speakers or on the radio at home. AM radio was (and still is) monaural, and the prevalence of FM stereo radio was still quite a few years in the future. For the most part, most listeners actually preferred a well-produced mono recording over stereo, because it translated a lot better on their single-speaker radios. [This is also why the band’s discography has separate and unique mono and stereo mixes from their beginning all the way up to early 1969, and why there are slight differences in each. I’ll go into this later in the series.]

So on 17 October, they christened their four-track recording career with a new single that would change the game entirely.

Side A: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
Their next single was written in the music study basement of the Asher residence in Wimpole Street, London–Paul was going out with daughter and well known London actress Jane Asher at the time, and they’d also become good friends with her brother Peter (one half of Peter & Gordon, whom John and Paul wrote a few songs for). It was a truly co-written song, “written eyeball to eyeball” as John would later put it, on the Asher’s piano. On the surface, and to many critics who didn’t quite get it, this track was yet another Beatles love song, same as all their others. What made it different, and what pricked the ears of quite a few fans, not to mention other musicians, was the innovative chord changes they were using. Unlike earlier songs influenced by American pop and blues, they were expanding out into complex melodies.

The home chord here is G, giving it a high, happy sound. The path the verse takes is almost literary: G-D-Em-B. The phrase takes us on a miniature journey of home-travel-conflict-return. Laid on top of that are lyrics of wanting–the narrator is attempting to ask out a girl he really enjoys being with. The following chorus is relatively simple and positive: C-D-G-Em, the Em used less as a conflict and more as a way to come back around to the positive A for the repeat, and then to the positive G to end the phrase.

We of course have the band’s trademark of a twice-used bridge, and I really enjoy what goes on here aurally. The simple progression of Dm-G-C-Am once is very similar to any other of their bridges; it’s then followed by Dm-G-C, and a final triple-repeat of C-D–you’re expecting a repeat of that first phrase, only the ending has been changed, and the excitement and anticipation builds up to return to the main verse again. But that’s not all…if you’ve noticed, Ringo has been playing his high-hat cymbals very loosely throughout the track, which fills up a lot of the background with white noise. It’s not until this bridge that he closes that high-hat and the cymbals are short and crisp, and that the song suddenly grows quieter. Added to that, lyrically this is where the narrator temporarily stops his pleas and dwells on just how happy the girl makes him; where the main lyrics are dialogue, the bridge is a reverie.

If your ears and brain aren’t trained or used to listening to things like this, this track is a relatively simple one, another love song made to order. But for the kids scrambling for something new, and for the musicians with the ear for it, this track completely blew them away. There were at least a million advance sales for it in the UK, even before anyone had heard it (mainly due to the popularity of their recent singles and albums), and considering the reaction when it finally dropped, it would only send them even higher into the musical stratosphere. In a way, it would also create a future goal, albeit a sometimes frustrating one for them–the song had gone past their fans’ expectations to the point that they now expected that to happen on a consistent basis. It pushed them ever further creatively, but it could also stifle and frustrate them. Tempering that balance would be a trick, but they felt they were up for it.

Side B: “This Boy”
A fascinating B-side, so much so that one wonders why they squandered such an excellent track. This was another of John’s attempts at writing a song similar to Motown doo-wop, like Smokey Robinson’s “I’ve Been Good to You”–the I-VI-II-V musical phrase that was so prevalent in many of those torch songs from the fifties and early sixties. What sets it apart, just like its A side, is what they do with it. Lyrically, it’s a change-up from the sad love song: this time it’s the narrator saying “he’s no good for you, take me back instead.” Vocally it’s absolutely gorgeous: John, Paul and George, who were naturals at three-part harmony, deliver the verses quietly and breathily, adding an extra level to the lyrics. It might be a wish for the girl to return to him, but he’s not expecting much. At least not until the middle eight, where John lets it all out in a double-tracked vocal, an incredibly strong and loud “I’m on my knees here” plea. The bridge is also fascinating in its own right, with a descending chord phrase filled with sevenths (G-F#7-Bm-D7, G-E7-A-A7) while John’s vocal line ascends. It’s a lovely piece, and one that was later recorded by George Martin with an orchestra for Ringo’s solo scene in their upcoming movie A Hard Day’s Night.

* * *

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: “The Beatles’ Christmas Record”
Released to the Beatles’ Official Fan Club: 6 December 1963

“The Beatles’ Christmas Record” was recorded on the same day as the above tracks, a short five minute track of semi-scripted silliness as a personal thanks to the members of their fan club. You can distinctly hear each member’s unique sense of humor here, even when having to read a scripted “thanks to everyone, it’s been a great year, etc.”: John’s deft wordplay (“Merry Christmas” as “Gary Crimble”), Paul’s smarminess (we love you, but please stop sending the jelly babies!), Ringo’s lovable straight man (I was the last to join, but I’ve been in other bands…), and George’s cleverly snide remarks (“Thank you Ringo! We’ll phone you!”). Each even gets to sing their own interpretation of “Good King Wenceslas”.

This recording and the Christmas messages that followed were never released as part of the official discography, only to the fan club members, and thus were relatively hard to find for quite some time. You may be able to find the original 1970 compilations (the UK From Then to You or the US The Beatles Christmas Album) on specialty vinyl stores, or you can find them on oft-bootlegged collections, but they’ve never been rereleased in their original flexidisc form.

* * *

Meanwhile, over in the United States…

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: Wikipedia

Single: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”I Saw Her Standing There”
Released in the US: 26 December 1963

…Capitol Records finally gets on board. And only after much wrangling from EMI and Brian Epstein, a few renegade DJs who’d gotten a hold of the UK single weeks earlier, and many teenage fans telling their local radio stations to play the band already. To be honest, they’d been half-heartedly planning on releasing this particular single sometime in early January of 1964, to coincide with their scheduled performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, but one gets the feeling they hadn’t really put too much heart into it. Instead of the original single, they created their own by switching “This Boy” with the then non-single “I Saw Her Standing There” from Please Please Me. That itself is interesting, considering that track was at that moment about to be released by Vee-Jay Records on the long-delayed Introducing the Beatles. Nonetheless, the switch paid off, as both songs ended up being powerhouse hits. Given the overwhelmingly positive radio response, Capitol moved up the release to just after Christmas.

The outcome was instantaneous. It sold a quarter million copies within the first few days, and eventually sold up to five million. It hit number one in early February, only to be eventually knocked off the spot by none other than their previous UK number one hit, “She Loves You”, and soon the charts would be filled with multiple Beatle hits. The floodgates were opened, and Beatlemania had begun. But not just Beatlemania…it also triggered a “British Invasion” of UK pop songs entering the US charts and hitting high numbers, from the Hollies to the Kinks to the Dave Clark Five.

In retrospect, the time had been ripe for a musical revolution, one that tends to happen every decade or so. It’s fascinating to watch and predict once you know what to look for, and this had all of it. By late 1963 the country was in a troubling state…they’d just suffered a terrible blow due to the assassination of President Kennedy; racism and segregation in the South had become ever-rising hot button issues; other world events such as the Cuban Missle Crisis and unrest in France were still on the minds of the country. The mood of popular music had changed to mirror life: Elvis had returned from the Army, but his once-rebellious rock now sounded dated, and he’d just started a decade-long run of making lightweight movies with uninspiring soundtracks; other big names had fallen from the limelight either due to not changing their sound (Jerry Lee Lewis) or personal issues (Chuck Berry, who’d spent a year or so in jail) or death (Buddy Holly, a few years earlier); still other popular artists (Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra) were liked by the older generation but left younger fans wanting. At the same time, various subgenres of new music were gaining ground in localized areas: the southern California surf sound of the Beach Boys, the Detroit grooves of Motown, the southern gospel blues of Johnny Cash. New sounds were brewing just underneath the surface, maybe even popping up on local charts, sounds that the younger generation wanted and desperately needed, and it was only a matter of time before all hell broke loose.

The rise of Beatlemania and the British Invasion of the sixties was the catalyst for all that–perhaps just as Nirvana was for the Seattle sound, thirty years later.  A new generation of music would rise with the changing times, only this time it was rock music.

Next up: Introducing the Beatles, Meet the Beatles, and many singles: the US catches up (sort of)

Blogging the Beatles 8/9/10: The Beatles’ Hits and The Beatles No 1 EPs, and With the Beatles

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

EP: The Beatles’ Hits
Released: 6 September 1963

Side A:
From Me To You
Thank You Girl

Side B
Please Please Me
Love Me Do


Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

EP: The Beatles No 1
Released: 1 November 1963

Side A
I Saw Her Standing There

Side B
Anna (Go to Him)

The usual lifespan of a single is about two months, from release to charting to fade from public view. Back then as now, it would take a week or two for it to ascend the charts until it either stalled or hit Number One, and start its descent back down again. There’s the occasional rarity of a single so popular it stays on the charts for an extremely long time, or the even rarer single that rises, drops, then rises again. The Beatles’ releases would experience all of these during their tenure, and part of it was due to the shrewd planning of Brian Epstein. Having been a keen record store manager who could read the pulse of listeners and purchasers, he and George Martin understood that to keep your prized band in the limelight,
one had to have something new and fresh (or at least something in a different package!) in the shops every couple of months or so. This was standard practice back then, but Epstein and Martin followed it so thoroughly that it was considered shocking when the band finally took some time off in 1966 and their fourth quarter release was a greatest hits package instead.

These two EPs were nothing more than yet another repackaging of tracks from the Please Please Me album and are not worth going into too much detail here. Both covers were shot by Angus McBean–the second EP is an outtake from the debut album’s cover session–and the band’s erstwhile press officer Tony Barrow wrote some rather amusing fluff for the rear covers, as he would for the first three albums. The first one was packaged as some of the best songs “in the Lennon-McCartney Songbook”, a sort of sampler for those who hadn’t quite caught on yet. The second EP is a little stranger in packaging, as it looks as if Parlophone had come up with and soon aborted the idea of rereleasing the album in EP form of four songs each. This second EP is simply the first four tracks from the album.

Despite these two releases having nothing new at all, they did surprisingly well on the charts and in sales. Unlike the shameless repackaging-as-completely-new VeeJay releases in the States, Parlophone all but stated these were songs you already had, just in a new, collectible form.

In the meantime, the boys had spent their summer working on a second album, all while still touring locally.


Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Album: With the Beatles
Released: 22 November 1963

The Beatles released their second album exactly nine months after their first album, and though they were recorded just a few months apart, you can hear (and see!) just how much the band had matured in an amazingly short amount of time. The cover was taken by fashion photographer Robert Freeman, shot in a darkened hallway at the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth (the natural light source was a window at the end of the hall), who captured a slightly older, harder, more serious band. Even the artwork is reserved, the title in a small lowercase font.

Unlike the insanity of the first album’s recording in one marathon session, they spent a few weeks here and there in July and September working on the follow-up at Abbey Road, in between their never-ending tour schedule. While Please Please Me emulated the sound of the band’s live shows, this second album showcased their impressive songwriting chops in action. Six of the songs are covers–considering their meteoric rise to fame, it only made sense to continue with well-rehearsed covers from their live shows rather than rushing the songwriting–but once again their covers are of their personal favorites, Motown tracks, obscure American singles, and a song from a musical.

Side A

Track 1: It Won’t Be Long
One would expect an album’s first track to start out with a bit of melody or a countdown, some kind of introduction, yes? Not this one. Right out of the gate, we’ve got John belting out the chorus of this fantastic rocker, the first song written specifically for this album. Right away we hear two things: a deft call/response with the “yeahs” (perhaps a nod to their previous single, which they had just recorded), and John’s love of wordplay: It won’t be long ’til I belong to you. After the chorus we have a simple E-C-E verse, followed up with something quite interesting, a middle-eight filled with chromatically descending chords. You wouldn’t hear that in a rock and roll song. There are also little tricks hiding in the song, such as using only one measure instead of an expected two between the two verse lines. Listening to this alongside “She Loves You”, it’s quite surprising to hear how vastly different they are, even though they were written and recorded just a month apart. Even then they must have understood the sonic and melodic differences between a song destined for a single and a song destined for an album.

Track 2: All I’ve Got to Do
John follows up with a Smokey Robinson-styled original, and there’s something quite original going on here right at the beginning that you might not notice: an open chord, played not by a guitar, but by Paul on his bass, apparently the first rock song to ever to do that. There’s also the fact that, taking the lyrics in a historical sense, boys in the UK actually didn’t call girls on the phone! That was purely an American thing back then; it was still rare for kids in the UK to call lovers and friends (instead they would stop by their houses or meet up a predetermined destination). John stated this track was pretty much written for the American market on those two points alone.

Track 3: All My Loving
This fabulous number by Paul was written just weeks after “She Loves You”, and is quite possibly one of his first big hits. This track was never released as a single in the UK, but despite that it received so much airplay that EMI released it a few months later on an EP. Everyone supplies some fantastic playing here…Paul sings the wonderful melody while playing a descending/ascending bass line throughout. John supplies some impressive rhythm guitar work here, frantically strumming triplets to give it a bouncy, rollicking sound. George’s lead fills are very close to that of his country fingerpicking heroes like Chet Atkins. And Ringo’s drumming here is solid, echoing John’s triplets with his fills.

Track 4: Don’t Bother Me
George makes his official songwriting debut, and he doesn’t pull any punches at all. Written while he was recuperating from an illness while the band were playing in Bournemouth (at the same hotel the cover was taken, some time in late August), this song had started out as an exercise to see if he could, in fact, write a song for the band. Right away you can hear George’s penchant for uncommon chord changes, in this case the main melody of B-A-G-Em. It’s almost got a Link Wray feel, a “dirty blues” sound rather than a pop-infused melody like John and Paul knew so well. It’s also the band’s first song with a less-than-happy feel to it. He wants the girl back, but in the meantime, leave him alone to deal with it himself.

Track 5: Little Child
John readily admitted this was a filler song. It’s not one of their strongest or most creative; it’s a typical I-IV-V blues rock song with blatant throwaway lyrics. They at least did their best by turning it into a decent rocking jam, complete with some spirited harmonica playing by John.

Track 6: Till There Was You
The only Beatles cover of a song from a Broadway musical. Paul was familiar with Peggy Lee’s 1961 version of this song from The Music Man, which the band played frequently during its 1962 Hamburg run. One of four covers recorded during the first With the Beatles session on 18 July and redone and finished on the 30th, it’s a quiet and pretty little number very similar to Lee’s. Everyone plays very quietly, from George’s delicate fingerpicking and John’s muted chord strumming to Ringo’s soft percussion.

Track 7: Please Mister Postman
After the previous track’s quietness, they bounce back with another cover, this time of the debut single by Motown singers The Marvelettes. Similar to “It Won’t Be Long”, there’s no intro here, it just jumps right in with a howling “Wait!” from John, Paul and George. Also recorded on 30 July, this track definitely sounds like they had a hell of a lot of fun recording this one, even if it wasn’t their best work. It sounds like the band recording the song for their own enjoyment rather than the listener.

Side Two:

Track 1: Roll Over Beethoven
George gets a second lead performance here, this time with a great cover of the classic Chuck Berry tune. A holdover from the earliest days of the band, they loved playing this track so much they kept it in their live repertoire up until 1964. It was always George’s showcase song, not just with the great opening riff and guitar work, but as a singer. You can hear the conviction in his voice here.

Track 2: Hold Me Tight
Both John and Paul thought very little of this track, though I personally find it one of their more melodic tracks on this album. This was one of their early songs, written sometime around 1961 and attempted during the Please Please Me session, and used as another filler track here. It’s a party song more than anything else, one to get the crowds up on the dance floor, where the audience’s focus is more on having a good time rather than listening closely to the song. There’s also Paul’s incredibly shaky vocal delivery–he’s all over the place on this one, like he never quite figured out how to sing it. Despite all that, it’s got some great bits like the descending chords of the chorus. It’s definitely a throwaway, but it’s a good throwaway, probably better than “Little Child.”

Track 3: You Really Got a Hold on Me
After that diversion, we come back to another excellent cover song, this time of the great Smokey Robinson & the Miracles track. John and George share vocal duties here, and they do a wonderful job delivering the goods. It obviously pales to the soulful original, but for an up and coming British band to cover a hit song released only a year previous, they do far better than one would expect. This was the first track recorded for this album, back on 18 July, so you can still hear the afterglow of their recent live performances here.

Track 4: I Wanna Be Your Man
This goofy little party track was perfect for Ringo to sing–it’s got ridiculously simple lyrics, the music isn’t all that adventurous, and there’s a lot of amusing hooting and hollering from the other guys going on during the break. It’s not a song to take all that seriously! It’s definitely a step up from “Boys” from the previous album, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The band handed this track to The Rolling Stones for one of their earliest single releases, even though they made a right hash of it (as only they could and get away with it!).

Track 5: Devil in Her Heart
Talk about obscure covers! George pulled out this single by The Donays, released late in 1962 in the UK which didn’t go anywhere on the charts. He did the pronoun switcheroo from “his” to “her” and the end result is quite excellent, bypassing the original and giving it a new life. His vocals here are strong and much more confident than his previous songs. Ringo executes some excellent drumming here, playing with force and conviction. One would be convinced this was an actual Lennon/McCartney composition, they pull it off so well.

Track 6: Not a Second Time
This quite a fascinating track of John’s, as there’s some really adventurous chord changes going on here–it’s almost a George song in that respect. Lyrically it’s also a song that’s not one of their cookie-cutter love lyrics, but one of heartbreak and not letting it happen again. It’s not a song that makes its presence known like some of the earlier tracks on the album, but it’s one that grows on you.

Track 7: Money (That’s What I Want)
The album winds down with one last cover, this of Barrett Strong’s song that gave Motown its first big hit. Brian Epstein turned them onto this one, having carried it at his record store back in 1960, and it became a staple of their live shows. John delivers a gritty lead, with the three sharing background “…that’s what I want” vocals as if their lives depended on it. It’s a great cover that would wind up on many of their post-breakup compilations.


The end result of With the Beatles is that, although it’s not their most cohesive record, it’s one where they’ve at least (and at last) found their voice and their style, and have begun to experiment with it. Unlike the previous album, this one shows a lot more confidence in their playing, if not always their writing. They could be forgiven for not quite hitting their mark this time out, considering it was recorded in fits and starts while they were out on tour. They would thankfully be given some time off in between gigs come 1964, which gave them a bit more time to come down as well as focus more on their songwriting.

If they thought they were on top of the world now, however, things were about to get a hell of a lot more insane.

Next up: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”This Boy” single and their first Christmas single

Flyby: My Bloody Valentine release first album in twenty two years; breaks internet in process

My Bloody Valentine's newest release, as of a few hours ago

My Bloody Valentine’s newest release, as of a few hours ago

Can’t say I’m surprised this would happen.

Kevin Sheilds, the leader of venerated shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine, stated just a few days ago that the new album was mastered and would drop in a few days. Now, in the old fashioned world of physical Monday/Tuesday releases (Monday in the UK, Tuesday in the US), one would expect that the first new batch of songs from MBV would be dropping on the 5th, but you’d be mistaken.

Instead, Shields went onto Facebook today and said ‘have at it.’ And promptly broke the internet with the insane number of devoted followers scrambling to to purchase it. It’s simply titled mbv and has nine tracks averaging around five minutes in length. I managed to head over there three hours later and dropped my $16 for the mp3 version ($16 for the mp3 or WAV version, $22 for the physical and digital, not sure what the price was for the vinyl/digital). I have to say it’s well worth the wait and the price.

The first note you hear is the trademark MBV guitar wash, that lovely sound of a guitar fed through chorus, reverb, delay, distortion, and god knows what else. It says “Hi there. Remember us?” Most of the tracks are relatively downbeat in tempo. My first thought was that it sounds like the album the band would have recorded between Isn’t Anything and Loveless. It’s got the laid back mellowness of the former, but the loudness of the latter. There’s even a few rather melodic tracks (I’m listening to a lovely “new you” [caveat: all the track titles, per Shields, should not be capitalized] with Belinda Butcher’s silky multitracked singing) that I think work really well in contrast to their older droning tracks.

I’m still giving it a listen now, and I have to admit I’m loving it. It definitely feels like they picked up where they left off, returning to their trademark sound that gets straight into your brain. Obsessive music collectors like myself will be happy with the result, as it’ll fit right in with the rest of their later catalog. Those of us who remember the original Loveless coming out in 1991 will think this was a reissue of the next album rather than something completely new. And the young’uns will most likely see where all these newer noise and post-rock bands got their inspiration.