DUST IT OFF/THE LISTENING EXPERIENCE: The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” 45 years later

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How does one begin to talk about one of the most talked about albums in rock’n’roll, and music in general, from one of the biggest and most influential bands ever? Even the first sentence of this article is so grandiose, younger generations might go “right, another celebratory Beatles article. Great.” But there are a few reasons why people continue to celebrate the music of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.


Other albums released on June 1, 1967:
Elvis Presley‘s Double Trouble
David Bowie‘s debut
Both are not celebrated as other albums in their discography.

1967 was also a year that gave us the debut albums by Pink Floyd, The Doors, Grateful Dead, The Amboy Dukes (featuring guitarist Ted Nugent), Big Brother & The Holding Company (featuring vocalist Janis Joplin) and The Velvet Underground & Nico. What was the saying, that maybe only 5000 copies were sold of the first Velvet Underground, but everyone who did formed their own band? If that’s not influence, I don’t know what is. You also had great albums by Jefferson Airplane, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Young Rascals, The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones and many more. Yet somehow, if one talks about a few of these album, the trail will lead to Sgt. Pepper. Why does it always have to be so absolute?


  • The Beatles were a pop combo, a boy band that were not meant to last, if some critics and parents had their way. When The Beatles came to the United States in 1964, it came with a promotional push from Capitol Records that did not exist a year before. In fact, when Capitol initially rejected the offer to sign them, they had to be persuaded by Parlophone Records in England to do it, that it would be beneficial for everyone involved. When they did arrive with their “long” hair, they were seen not only as a “British invasion”, but some would say an intrusion. In less than a year, there were countless Beatles tribute records (including one by Bonnie Jo Mason, who would later be known as singer/actress Cher) but also their share of anti-Beatles records. With every hate song, there was a group who looked and sounded like them, even having names that might sound like they were “bugs”. Every other label wanted to cash-in, and did so without a problem. Labels who had signed them but had lost the rights to release new music by them kept on reissuing what they had left, before their license to do so expired. By being a pop combo/boy band, they were in countless teen magazines, and were a group who would license their own merchandise, one of the first to do so. That would lead to companies illegally making their own Beatles memorabilia. It was truly Beatlemania and it seemed for a good 30 month period, not only did the United States go nuts, but the world. While countless artists have falsely claimed to have worldwide status, there’s proof that The Beatles were being heard everywhere. Groups in India, Singapore, Australia, Brazil, the Philippines, Japan, and Israel had their own Beatles knock-off bands. There were also countless Beatles fan clubs, and if for some reason being a Beatles fan in your country was considered a disgrace to your culture, you had to do it in secret/hiding.

    Covering a Beatles song was considered good promotion, and artists did not have a problem covering a song or two, releasing it as a non-LP side, or even full albums. Even Capitol Records cashed in by having their house orchestra, The Hollyridge Strings, release many albums filled with nothing but Beatles songs. Having the Union Jack on your cover made you seem hip and cool, and speaking with a fake British accent? Ooh, you were intriguing.

  • When The Beatles performed their last concert on August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the group felt it was the right type to do so. They had gained an amount of fame in three years that very few artists up to that point had ever accumulated. Rock’n’roll music wasn’t quite 10 years old when The Beatles broke through, and there wasn’t the term “rock band” just yet, or even “rock’n’roll band”. You were a “pop combo”, and The Beatles were the biggest pop combo in the world. But after playing live shows around the world for years, and not being able to hear themselves play over the screaming of fans (there were no pre-amps during those days, just the amplifiers behind them), they felt it was time to try something new. As the story goes, they decided to concentrate on staying in the recording studio and allowing their music to tour for them. Doing live shows was and still remains the bread and butter for most music artists, so for the biggest band to actually say “we had enough, no more live shows” seemed insane. For some, that meant the end of The Beatles was near, the fad was over, and 1967 would result in new fads and trends. Little did anyone know what would happen what the following year would bring.
  • The story from this point on is familiar to most Beatles and music fans. The group releases “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” as a single. Technically a double A-side, but “Strawberry Fields Forever” was the true A-side.

    The song was loved in England, but U.S. audiences thought it was too weird and freaky. On top of that, the song faded out and came back, which freaked out countless radio disc jockeys who would talk over the record when it faded out, only for the group to quickly return. American DJ’s preferred the pop-friendly (and easier to consume [read “not freaky]) “Penny Lane”, and it would reach #1 on the Billboard singles chart. “Strawberry Fields Forever” made it as high as #8.

    As the story goes, “Strawberry Fields Forever” was monumental for many in the world of pop music, allegedly becoming the start of Brian Wilson‘s mental decline when he was creating the Smile album for the Beach Boys. Both “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were originally meant to be part of the band’s forthcoming album, which was to be an album with a running theme about childhood. After the success of the single (the picture sleeve for which showed the group sporting new mustaches, a first for the band), they decided to scrap the two songs from the album and move forward.

  • Well, we all know the impact of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that has always been analyzed from the moment the first review was printed. It gained a buzz from various musicians/close friends to The Beatles who were able to obtain test pressings/acetates of the album-to-come. The “summer of love” hadn’t quite sparked yet, but the album has now become a staple when it comes to mentioning the summer of 1967, with many wishing the connection would stop. Reason? There have been many who have said that The Beatles were never really a part of those who celebrated/participated in the summer of love, that it was bands like the Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and The Doors whose music was a part of what was in the air, along with the sounds of Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground.

    What Sgt. Pepper also did was somehow change the way pop music was looked at. With a new “wave” in sound came a new look, and with that came a new breed of critics. If pop music was “toss off” music for teens who could buy their 45 rpms and throw it around in their rooms like plates, then what to make of a group who were actually saying “we want you to listen to this album was if it was a concert, as if this was a show being presented to you”? Jazz artists have always recorded albums as if they were bringing you a concert, making sure it started off with something powerful, keeping you interested throughout, and then ending with something that kept you coming back for more. Rock’n’roll artists were slowly changing how albums were programmed and thus heard, but for the most part, a long playing (LP) album was just a coaster with 11 to 14 songs, not really done with much thought other than “we have new music, let’s sell it”. People felt that Sgt. Pepper was an important piece of music, and that it should be treated as “serious art”, and that alone has left many resentful of the album and perhaps The Beatles themselves. Fans loved the rawness of rock’n’roll, the potential of sex, drugs, and dancing the night away. With Sgt. Pepper, things started to get more business-like, a bit more corporate, and that did coincide with record labels also becoming more firm with how they ran their business. In the early 90’s, there was a great garage rock band called The Mummies who would release music on their own label, Pre-B.S.. I had interviewed one of them for a fanzine I did in the 90’s, and I asked about the name of the label. They felt that before the “bullshit” happened in rock’n’roll, the music was a lot better, vibrant, and festive. The Mummies were representatives of the ruthless rock’n’roll, before the bullshit. What did they view as “bullshit”? A certain British group sporting mustaches, which changed the dynamic of what people wanted out of their rock’n’roll. In other words, Sgt. Pepper was an album that sparked the start of bullshit music.

    Can an album that has been celebrated for 45 years be considered “bullshit”? Let’s be realistic: not everything has to be liked. Just because someone is celebrated doesn’t mean everyone has to agree. Again, look at all of the bands that made themselves known for the first time in 1967, all of the great debuts, all of the artists who released new music. 1967 is so much more than Sgt. Pepper and yet it somehow goes back to an album based on a group of musicians that did not exist, but wanted to go on tour in place of the real group that did not. Regardless, the album had done its damage, for better or worse, and the world would never be the same. It would be #1 on the Billboard Album Chart in the U.S. for 15 weeks, and #1 on the UK Album Chart for a massive 27 weeks. Even with no singles released from the album, radio stations would play each song as if it was a single, “forcing” fans to buy the full album. The album was meant to be listened to as a whole in one sitting, like a concert performance, and that would help to change the way music fans listened to their rock’n’roll. For better or worse.

  • The facts on how The Beatles recorded the album with only 4-tracks is a story onto itself. It lead to countless musicians and producers wanting to do the same within the limitations, leading to many innovations in recording studio technology in the next five years. But even if you don’t get technical about the music or the songwriting, why does this album hold up so well? Then again, some will say that out of the more celebrated Beatles albums, this is one that has not aged well. I feel it has aged gracefully and while it can be “of its time”, it too is very timeless. Some of the arrangements are meant to sound like that on purpose, things are deliberate. Sgt. Pepper is meant to represent the youth of The Beatles, and thus the sounds of the 40’s and 50’s were meant to date its sound from day 1. Day 1. The way it was used and mixed, along with sounds of audio tape moving backwards, tablas and sitars, and an orchestra dubbed a few times to create an orgasmic cacophony, was very much due to the expertise of producer Sir George Martin along with Paul McCartney‘s keen ear for arrangements, for as the other Beatles were at home or elsewhere, McCartney was becoming a studio rat wanting to know how the studio worked. Being someone who also loved orchestras, symphonies, and a bit of the experimental and avant-garde, he brought all of these elements into what would become Sgt. Pepper. Some of the things brought in were deliberate, other things were happy accidents, but it ended up creating one of the biggest happy accidents in rock’n’roll.

  • Regardless of what the music is or isn’t, the album continues to be a starting point for fans who want to find out more about its music, influences, and how The Beatles got from “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” to “A Day In The Life”. It also leads them out of The Beatles circle and into every other avenue of music. You don’t even have to be a fan of The Beatles to understand its mystique, you might even hate it, but it has a place in history as the bridge from one level of creativity and awareness to another, something that had not been considered to be something a rock’n’roll artist could or should do. No one cared, rock’n’roll stars were meant to offend and make young girls cry.
  • As for me, perhaps my fascination began with my dad, who was The Beatles fan of my family, but he did not play their records at home. Their music was always on the radio, as if they were new songs, but I grew up in a post-Beatles world. I heard all of the solo material, but as a kid I was also aware that people wanted these four people to reunite and become one. I don’t remember what was the first Beatles song I heard, but one of the first that struck me first and foremost was “Eleanor Rigby”. My dad went to his friend’s apartment for a bit of “smoking” and he had the red 1962-1966 album. I asked if I could borrow it, he wasn’t sure if a 9 year old kid could handle a record, but my dad said “he is okay”. I borrowed it. After a week, I had to return the record but asked if I could borrow it again. He said sure. I still have that album. I’m not sure if it was because I was hearing a rock band doing a song that sounded nothing like rock’n’roll, or if the string played by an eight piece orchestra created something that sparked something in me. I didn’t quite understand who Eleanor Rigby was or her role, or why people were lonely. It wasn’t an emotionally sad song, it just sounded cool, and I think I felt if “Eleanor Rigby” was this cool, what else did these Beatles do.

    They would damage my brain for life. When my mom created my first savings account, I eventually withdrew all of what I had left and bought Beatles 45’s at Music Box Records in downtown Honolulu. It wasn’t just the music that moved me, I wanted to know more and The Beatles became the first group that I became “nerdy” for, wanting to know who did what, how, and why, and every little aspect that I could find at book stores. The reason I became a record collector was the fact that I might be able to find a Beatles 45 with one extra T in their name, and I could sell it for $200 or more. In elementary school, I carried a Beatles discography book (All Together Now) that my friends said looked like I was carrying the bible. I not only wanted to know about the music, but felt I had to know catalog numbers, session people, release dates… if there was a possibility to find something new, something more, I had to know that more. When I found out one of my dad’s best friends had a Ravi Shankar album, I had to borrow that album too. It was the Capitol pressing of Three Ragas, and while I knew that Shankar helped to inspire George Harrison move deeper into Indian music, culture, and spirituality, I started to enjoy Indian classical music on its own merits. Again, one door leads to many doors, and it was never ending.

    Oh, as for my first copy of Sgt. Pepper? My dad gave me money to buy a copy at DJ’s Sound City at Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu, probably for $6.99 or $7.99, late 70’s/early 80’s purple label variation. I was sold. As someone with parents who loved swap meets, I clearly remember going to the Aloha Flea Market and seeing someone with a mono pressing of Sgt. Pepper, which I had known at the age of 11 that it was different from the stereo mix. I asked how much it was, and the guy was selling it for $5. Most swap meet records would go for a dollar or less, but $5? I asked my mom, and she said no. I held the album in my hand, saw that the catalog number was MAS-2653. I knew, from reading my Beatles “bible”, that MAS-2653 was mono, while SMAS-2653 had an S at the beginning to signify Stereo. I wanted it, even though it was just to listen. I couldn’t get it. Years later, I saw another copy of that album at a used record store for $75. I would eventually find a beat up copy of the mono pressing, sans cover, for under a dollar. I’ve heard the mono mixes since then, but still, to be able to just have it, U.S. or UK, doesn’t matter…

  • Looking back, it’s an album that represented a lot in the world of music, and perhaps the world, or at least it became a market in time for what happened back in 1967. I did not exist in 1967, but I know there have been times where I said “if there was a time machine, I’d love to be able to exist in a world right before Sgt. Pepper was released.” As I got older and understood world and cultural politics, I wonder if someone with my racial mixture would be able to explore music in the same way I do in the 21st century. Or would someone like me be considered as exotic as the Nehru jacket or a tabla? All I can do is wonder “what if?”

    Realistically, the album just shows what happens with passion, drive, and creativity can be used for something that was not meant to be celebrated as it is today, 45 years later, but merely as what was to be next for those four kids from Liverpool. Let’s hope it continues to excite and delight people in 2067. For a younger generation who wonder why albums that are 45 years old, by a group who haven’t been together in 42 years, continues to be praised as if it was something sacred: simply open your mind and listen. Forget the hype, forget the myths, and just listen. This was a collection of 13 songs that drove people to delight, because this was a boy band who decided to show that had been grown-up for a long time. Now it was time for everyone else to realize that too. It was by a group who felt they had the world, but wanted to see what happens if they pushed everyone’s limits and expectations, including themselves. That’s the beauty of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For better or worse, it exists. Listen or not.

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  • VIDEO: Sgt. Pepper… with help from some friends

    In honor of the 45th anniversary of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album in full from those who have covered it.

    Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

    With A Little Help From My Friends

    Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

    Getting Better

    Fixing A Hole

    She’s Leaving Home

    Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite

    Within You, Without You

    When I’m Sixty-Four

    Lovely Rita

    Good Morning, Good Morning

    Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)

    A Day In The Life

    Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove

    RECORD CRACK: Master tape of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” sold for 2.8K on eBay

    An article at Ultimate Classic Rock revealed that a master tape for The Beatles‘ 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (which will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 12 days), was sold on eBay for $2,800 U.S. Even after reading the article, I wanted to investigate this a bit further.

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    There are many different versions of what is called a “master tape”, so for those who might be curious about its authenticity, I shall explain some of the technical information that I know.

    In the days of analog tape, when an artist is in post-production and mixes an album for release, it is mixed towards a final “master tape”. It is this “master tape” that becomes the source for a domestic pressing (i.e. the label in the home country of the artist) and all pressings around the world. However, the story doesn’t end there. When a “master tape” is made, that was generally preserved by the record company, a/k/a “the owners” of the intellectual property of the music. From this master tape, a small number of “safety copies” or “safety masters” were produced. In some instances, it is this “safety master” that is sent to various record affiliates around the world. Once again, the story doesn’t quite end there either. Sometimes, the “safety master” became the source to press up tapes that would be sent to label affiliates around the world. Basically, you have a bit of sound degradation with each copy, so by the time a record is pressed in a specific country, you’re hearing a 3rd or 4th generation tape of the original master tape. To add to this, some label affiliates would make a safety copy of their safety copy, or “a dub of a dub”, and keep that in the library for further use. When records are produced, a “mother” plate is created which is used as the source to press up records at the pressing plant. All “mothers” have a shelf life and can wear out with each record pressing, and with the nature of pressing plants, they could easily break. If one is worn out or breaks/cracks, another “mother” has to be made from the master tape they have available. This is why some collectors prefer to buy/have/fine the very first pressing of any specific record, because it usually means the sound is as best it can be. In some circles, this is called a “hot stamper”, which means you are getting some of the very first pressings from the original mother stamping plate, and a few collectors will pay premium. It has been the subject of debate.

    One more aspect. In the early 1960’s, when Beatles masters were sent to Capitol Records in the U.S. from Parlophone in the UK, some songs meant for release as 45rpm records were treated/drenched in reverb. This was done by Dave Dexter Jr., a A&R man and producer at Capitol who was in charge of what was and wasn’t released on his label. After initially rejecting the Beatles, the phenomenon was slowly growing into something, and with a number of smaller independent labels having a bit of success with Beatles singles, along with major persuasion from EMI in the UK, Dexter and Capitol were moved to sign them. When he received Beatles songs for release as singles, he would treat them with reverb at Capitol’s mastering studio. It was discovered that the U.S. pressings of these singles sounded quite different from the clean (some would say puritanical) mixes that were on the British pressings of the same songs. Years later, when someone confronted members of the group about these pressings, one of them (I think it was Paul McCartney) said he preferred the U.S. pressings over the British ones, because that American style of production is what they had always wanted to achieve, but never could. Beatles fans have come to love to hate these “Dexter-ized” pressings, but are still sought after by fans and collectors.

    I mention this because with Sgt. Pepper, it was a project that The Beatles wanted untouched from start to finish. It was a common practice for Capitol Records to chop up the sequence of British albums and release a few songs as singles and EP’s, of which there is no British counterpart. With Sgt. Pepper, the group made sure that every aspect of the album was as they wanted it from start to finish, including how the public heard it.


    What you see in the above photos are a look at a master reel tape and technical information, but with anything Beatles-related, one can ask “is this authentic? How can anyone just obtain a master tape?” In this case, this is a master tape made by Capitol Records in the U.S. for Capitol of Mexico. This means that when Capitol U.S. received their Sgt. Pepper master from Parlophone, they created a tape dub to be sent to the Mexican affiliate. This technically means that sonically, the Mexican pressing is one or two generations down from the American one. I am not sure if Capitol U.S. also made safety masters for Canada or other countries within the Americas (if anyone knows, feel free to reply).

    The master tape shown is the mono mix. The top shows the catalog number for the stereo Mexican pressing, which was SLEM-081. LEM-081 is typewritten on the page, and there’s also indication (with a checked box) that this is the mono mix. The sheet tells the pressing plant what the tape is for, so the sheet indicates that the tape is for a 12″ record at 33 1/3 rpm, and to be pressed with a Capitol label. Capitol had a number of subsidiary labels, and on this sheet, there are unchecked boxes for Angel, Seraphim (both Capitol’s classical divisions), Odeon, and Pickwick.
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    The information also shows how much silence is meant to be heard between each track. For Sgt. Pepper, a number of songs segue into one another without interruption, while others have less than a second of silence before the next song begins. It was normal for albums to have 2 to 4 seconds of silence between tracks. For this album, the length of each break (or lack of them) were intentional and for the most part. The master tapes would have the silence physically attached on the physical tape with “leader tape”, but there was also a command from Parlophone to leave the album “as is”. Mastering engineers around the world could sequence/master the album as they deemed fit, including changing the amount of space between songs. Mastering engineers could also change the dynamics of the album without telling anyone, but also had to deal with the technology and upkeep of their respective pressing plants. All of these technicalities were eliminated with compact disc and more specifically, when every label affiliate around the world would receive the exact digital master from the same source. But in this case, the information on the box shows how much silence is used in between songs that have them, and how some do not. One section of the box reveals that this master was prepared by Capitol Records U.S. for Capitol of Mexico on 5/2/67 (May 2, 1967), or a month before the official release of the album.
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    What I could not find in these photos was an indication to include the “dog whistle” and “secret ending” at the end of Side 2, what is commonly known as the “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove”. This surprise could be found on every world pressing of the album except the U.S. version. I do see some handwritten notes on these boxes, but nothing that might suggest “there is audio at the end of the tape that will be used for Side 2″ or instructions to keep that audio on the record as it moves towards the center of the record.

    After all of this technical information, this master tape would be the source of what you hear on this pressing:

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    When it comes to anything Beatles-related, if it was indeed the actual master tape The Beatles and producer Sir George Martin created, this auction would have been pulled/stopped immediately. Nonetheless, it is a rare occurrence that even a safety copy or a master tape dub, especially one with “Beatles status”, surfaces in a casual manner. This is very much an authentic tape. Collectors will buy them with no intention of playing it or finding a tape machine to hear it, for it is a piece of Beatles and music history that is worth preserving, even if as a “museum piece”. Not sure what the buyer plans on doing with it, but it’s interesting to know it exists.


    VIDEO: “Yellow Submarine” digitally restored for DVD release in May


    It is a Beatles movie that would become a “midnight movie” favorite, it has been released on VHS and standard DVD, but they were mere transfers from the original film negatives. Now, almost 45 years after its original release in theaters, Yellow Submarine has been digitally remastered for Blue-Ray and DVD release in May.

    If you’re a Beatles fan and you have seen this film countless times, you’re probably thinking “how can this be better?” Take a look at the trailer above. According to the press release, this new version of Yellow Submarine is in 4K digital resolution and “all done by hand, frame by frame.”

    The soundtrack album will also be reissued, although judging from the mention at Billboard.com about it featuring 15 songs, this is most likely a new version of the 1999 Songtrack version of Yellow Submarine with then-new mixes of the songs, and not any of Sir George Martin‘s beautiful incidental music that was on the original 1969 soundtrack album.

    No word yet on if this will be shown in theaters for any one-off showings before the Blue-Ray/DVD release date.

    COVERED: Eventual prosecution?

    The Covered section of ThisIsBooksMusic.com is a look at album cover homage and parody, and sometimes a bit more humor than the norm. Album cover homage has been an unspoken tradition for years, where other artists will do it on albums, picture sleeves, or in music videos. In the last year, there have been issues of Lady Gaga doing homage to a film with a dance scene, which left some people feeling it’s a violation of one’s copyright. In the last few weeks, there has been talk about photographic copyrights, and how more photographers want to be better protected in this day of digital and social media. In other words, if someone recreates a famous image with their own picture, there may be penalties. In the last week, I noticed two possibilities of potential punishment. The first is the forthcoming episode of Andrew Zimmern‘s show Bizarre Foods, where this season will keep him exploring the foods of the United States. Perhaps this was a budget concert and it would make it easier for producers to just shoot around our own country and see what weirdness lurks in our backyards. This is key, because he is going to explore the United States, so the image Zimmern and the Travel Channel are using is a tribute and parody of not only Bruce Springsteen‘s 1984 album Born In The U.S.A., but also the last 15 seconds of the video. We all know the famous ass shot of Springsteen with a baseball cap in his back pocket, but Zimmern chooses to show hos culinary vibe by carrying a napkin. Zimmern looks at the camera, which is not on the album cover, but in the last 15 seconds of the music video.
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    I combined the shots from the video so you can get a sense of what I’m talking about, but you can also watch the video below.


    I’m a huge fan of the show Portlandia, and in last week’s episode (called Grover), Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and two friends were on a scavenger hunt and sported Sgt. Pepper outfits. Now even THAT might be a violation one day, but in the scene they also did this, complete with someone walking across the street barefoot (or “caucasian flesh-colored socks”)
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    Could something as simple as this screenshot be considered a violation of someone’s copyright? This is not new, and it has even affected parts of the foodie community, where people say that there is a need to copyright recipes.

    From the outside, it seems you can’t even do homage to something, to pay tribute for the love of something you grew up with. What’s next, hairstyles? Hair color/dye? Shoelace techniques? Everyone is broke except for the precious 1 percent, and everyone wants to make money from something that in the past had not been a concern, so why not place a price on everything from seeds to intellectual property, brick tones, to keys, melodies, and octaves? My shoe size is an 11, but because I have wide feet. Does that mean I may not be able to wear a size 11 because my feet are too wide? Explain this.

    Then again, maybe it’s a minor blip of things but it’s sad to think that these mere glimpses of pop culture and photographic appreciation could one day do more harm than good.

    RECORD CRACK: P.S. I Love You – George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”

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    For George Harrison‘s first solo single following the announcement of the end of The Beatles in April 1970, he released what was to be a preview of a statement that was a long time coming for him. “My Sweet Lord”/”Isn’t It A Pity” was released as a double A-side on November 23, 1970. Up until 1969, the Billboard singles chart made it a regular habit to chart both sides of a single individually, so one record could have two different spots, with the A-side generally being higher than the B-side. If radio DJ’s felt strongly over the B-side, they’d give that a shot instead, so one side of the record might be a hit in one part of the country or state, while the other side might’ve been a hit elsewhere. That changed in 1969 when it was decided that if they were going to chart, both songs would chart “as one”. The first Beatles single to do that was “Something”/”Come Together”.

    For Harrison’s first, “My Sweet Lord” was a folk-flavored song that spoke highly about his spirituality, while “Isn’t It A Pity” was a moody and somber piece about the human condition. Radio received both songs very well, but since “My Sweet Lord” was released close to the 1970 holiday season, it mixed in with some Christmas song programming and thus becoming a tradition of hearing it during Christmas, even though it is not a Christmas song.

    What I love about “My Sweet Lord” is that it’s such an honest song for Harrison, which might seem funny considering he wasn’t honest about revealing the fact that its melody came directly from the girl group song “He’s So Fine” (by The Chiffons). Then again, anyone who listened to The Beatles’ Christmas records knew that pulling songs out of the air randomly was not anything new, since on the 1965 record, Ringo Starr would try to sing The Four Tops‘ “It’s The Same Old Song” before Harrison himself said the word “copyright”. Paul McCartney asks what will happen since they don’t have a copyright, and John Lennon states that perhaps “we’ll get the lilacs (lyrics) out of an old brown shoe”, a term Harrison would nick for himself when he and the band recorded “Old Brown Shoe” as the B-side to “The Ballad Of John & Yoko” four years later.

    Thievery aside, it was Harrison’s way of saying that living life is part of the struggle, but that hopefully one day he will be able to “meet him” someday. The first half of the song has him singing “I really want to see you/I really want to see you/I really want to see you, lord/I really want to see you, lord, but it takes so long, my lord”, mixed in with a chorus singing the word “hallelujah”, alluding to his upbringing as a Christian in Liverpool. Once the second half of the song comes around, he changes his calling, equal to him converting to his Hindi beliefs and admiration of the culture and religion of India. All of a sudden, the song has him singing the Hare Krishna mantra, the first time that had ever been done in a pop song, and the first time a #1 pop song featured the mantra:

    Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
    Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
    Hare Rama Hare Rama

    This is followed by the Gurur Brahma, or a “daily prayer”
    Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu
    Gurur Devo Mahesh Varah
    Guru Shakshat Para Brahma
    Tasmai Shri Guruve Namah

    Anyone who had listened to Harrison’s work with The Beatles knew he was incorporating more Indian sounds and themes in his music since “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, so in many ways, the Hare Krishna mantra and a daily prayer was him showing his independence as a Beatle, and telling the world “this is me, this is very much a part of me, and I hope you will continue on this life voyage with me”. You don’t have to be religious to understand his devotion in the song, and thus it stands out as much more than just something to sing to alongside “Here Comes Santa Claus”.

    As the song gained recognition around the world, it would be released with different picture sleeves, a few simply taking excerpts from the All Things Must Pass album, some simply taking Beatles photos from the Get Back/Let It Be sessions:
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    The sleeve used for the U.S. and UK (shown at the top) was a somber pick meant to represent not “Beatle George” but a new George circa November 1970, and he never looked back.

    SOME STUFFS: Martin Scorsese documentary on George Harrison on its way

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    Many know some of the grand stories of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but the history and perspective of “the quiet Beatle” has often remained, well, quiet. No longer. Martin Scorsese has put together a documentary film called George Harrison: Living In The Material World, and will be released in the UK and US and different ways. In the UK, it will be released on the 10th of October as a DVD, Blu-Ray, and a cool looking DVD/Blu-Ray deluxe edition that will include an exclusive CD of previously unheard music from Harrison, AND a book of photography to accompany the film. In the US, the documentary will be split in two and be shown on HBO on October 5th and 6th. No word yet on when it will be released as hard copy here in the States.

    The film will include interviews with Eric Clapton, Terry Gilliam, Sir George Martin, Tom Petty, Eric Idle, Jackie Stewart, Phil Spector, Yoko Ono, and of course Paul and Ringo, each one talking about Harrison and the impact he made on their lives and of course the interaction they had with him as not “Beatle George”, but as friend.

    A month before the movie makes its public premiere, Olivia Harrison will release a book that shares its name with the documentary, and it will feature photos, letters, diaries, and memorabilia taken from all aspects of George’s public and private life.

    As he did with The Beatles and his solo work, it seems the documentary and book is merely a continuation of the journey of and in life that he wanted himself to explore, and others who appreciated his words and music.

    RECORD CRACK: “Beatlegmania Vol. 4″ looks at Beatles bootlegs

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    If you think the cover of this book is eye-candy, I’m sure you’ll find more delights in this book.

    Beatlegmania is a series of books put together by Beatles collector John C. Winn, and he’s about to release the 4th installment. It’s being described as being “packed with full-color illustrations, facts and stories behind dozens of vinyl bootlegs, including the Deccagone singles, Get Back Journals box, Lost Lennon Tapes series, and much more.”

    Winn has done a number of books on The Beatles, many of which have received positive reviews from critics and fans alike. You can pre-order Beatlegmania Vol. 4 and other books he has done by heading to his homepage at MultiPlusBooks.com.

    OPINION: Will the industry give fans what they want?

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    An article posted at HipHopDX about how fans are encouraging Def Jam to release the Lost Tapes 2 project by Nas, instigated by an online petition. For me it brings up one big question: will music fans ever get what they really want, and how much is too much?

  • Let’s get the latter part of that question out of the way so you’ll know the focus of this article. In a time of social media, where musicians, producers, rappers, singers, and entertainers are able to interact for the first time via Twitter and Facebook, fans are able to be “in touch” with the people they may idolize. On one hand it might be dangerous, as it can lead to idolatry or worse. On the good side, artists are able to find out what fans really want while fans can pop the bubble and realize that for the most part, artists and entertainers are as real as they make themselves out to be. Away from the facades, most humans are indeed human. But this is not about the people behind the names and personas, but rather their output.

    As I was growing up and getting into music as much more than just something cool to listen to, I made lists of projects I wanted released. I have a book somewhere where I actually came up with the “cassingle” concept, where one would be able to have the same two songs on a 7″ 45rpm record on a cassette. This was before they were placed on the market, and had I knew about trademarks, I could have cashed in big time. At a young age, I was already an armchair record company CEO, wanting labels to release this or that, and I was never afraid to find out who controlled certain departments at a label, so that my mail would go directly to them. In time I became a writer, and I would continue writing to publicists and music supervisors not only for free music (back when “free music” was reserved for a select few) but in the hopes one of my ideas would be used. I wanted to be in the recording industry, I wanted to not only work in the mailroom, but become a publicist, reissue supervisor, I wanted to run a label. I wanted to be bigger than Capitol, Atlantic, Warner Bros., and Columbia combined. Wishful thinking, I know, but it would not stop me from wanting to make an impact, however small.

    If I’ve made an impact, I’d like to think it was with my reviews and articles. If I’m able to find a way for fans to at least be motivated to listen to something I recommend, I’m happy. I’ll rarely hear about it, but I’m hopeful people will take that chance.

  • One thing I’ve always wanted to do was reissues, to be with a record label, go through the tape library and archives, and find what is rare and/or unknown. I wanted to raid old recording studios and warehouses because during elementary school, I’d regularly go to the Hawai’i State Library and go through old books, microfiche, and file cabinets looking for anything on topics that moved me. I wanted to know what existed before me, especially when they were hidden from general view. I wanted to adapt that craving for knowledge and apply it to a record label. I look forward to becoming a music supervisor for a project so I can also do the liner notes, and be able to fulfill my dream of winning Best Album Liner Notes.
  • There have been many times when I’ve written to labels and asked them “why haven’t you reissued this?” A publicist for an audiophile reissue label told me this when I gave them a list of albums I’d like to see them handle: “we don’t do outside A&R”. In other words, my suggestions were not welcome and at that point it rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn’t trying to take the guy’s position, I simply wanted to suggest, and even an idea was not something they cared to even read. I had sent another reissue label an idea for a box set, and they told me point blank that that artist is not someone of value. The artist, Eddie Bo, was someone whose music was and still is heavily sampled in hip-hop, soul/R&B, and dance music, and I felt the label, who released a lot of disco, soul, R&B, and blues compilations, would do Bo’s music justice. They felt he wouldn’t sell because Bo was so obscure. A decade later, said label released a box set with heavy duty funk and soul obscurities, with a booklet featuring liner notes from a journalist friend. The label’s British reissue division released these exact obscurities in a series of compilations, and yet due to “no sales potential” here in the U.S., my suggestion was ignored. All of a sudden, this box set is released and it receives a good amount of position reviews. Granted, I’m not in Los Angeles or New York so I can’t make the same impact a music supervisor could do there, but I had an idea and it was ignored, only for someone else to take credit for a similar idea. I also had another idea for a reissue project, sent it in to the head of the label and was told “this will absolutely not sell.” Less than a year, that label released a compilation CD featuring my suggestions. Keep in mind that “a suggestion is a suggestion”, and any group of people can have the same idea, but c’mon. Chances of any other label having the same idea was slim, and again, it irked me. It’s not just the face that my suggestions and ideas were turned into something fruitful, it’s just that it would be nice to work on those projects for the labels.

  • The small but tight bootlegging industry of the late 1960’s and 1970’s gave power to the fan who wanted to release more music by artists than a label cared to do. All you had to have was a few hundred dollars, a pressing plant to make your records, and a few connections on how to obtain live recordings or studio outtakes. In time, these bootleggers would gain local, regional, national, and in time world attention. The legitimate record industry were pissed, because they felt bootleggers were taking away millions from labels and artists. Little did these labels know that some artists were in favor of these boots, as it often gave them a bit of street credibility when fans were able to hear an artist sound “in the raw” without the polish of a professional recording. Did bootleggers actually steal millions of dollars, no. Did bootleggers earn thousands of dollars, yes, and according to some books and articles about bootlegging, some were able to pay their way through college through the sales of “illegal records”. As compact discs became more popular, bootlegs would eventually find its way in the digital realm and the audio quality would highly improve, changing the definition of what had been known as “bootleg quality recordings”. The introduction of the MP3 digital file in the mid-1990’s meant that any and all audio files could be transferred on the internet, via e-mail and Usenet. Initially it was okay to low-quality files, generally single songs mailed out. As modem speeds increased, so did the amount of digital transmissions (upload and download). Audio quality also improved, to the point where an MP3 was considered “as good as a high quality cassette”, which meant “not CD quality, but good enough for general use.” That was all that fans needed to know in order to abandon hard copy completely. While the MP3 made it possible to download almost anything ever recorded, what some fans wanted was the obscure stuff. Yes, even in the digital world where obscurity means nothing when any audio file can be infinitely cloned, fans still wanted more.
  • Look at any music community and you’ll find thousands of people wanting to hear more music. We are in a period in time when we are able to consume as much music as possible, or at least download as much music as possible and never having the time to hear it all. It’s megabyte and gigabyte gluttony, and people want to hear not only what’s new, but anything and everything that came out in the last 120 years. Fans are making an impact by creating their own compilations and digital “box sets”, coming up with concepts and ideas that at one time was plentiful in the legitimate music industry. As the industry moved from “music projects” to “mandatory quarterly sales of units”, it seems quality control and creativity… maybe not disappeared 100 percent, but moved to people at independent labels who still care for the music. Those who are not a part of that inner circle are taking their wares online and giving the fans what they want or should have.
  • There’s a lot of stuff online that I’m not interested in, but people are making custom compilations on everything from 80’s classics, deep disco, Germany military funk, hip-hop instrumentals, country ballads: name a genre, there’s probably a custom compilation out there. If you love avant-garde and experimental music, you’ll find a community catering to that. I’m sure there are fanatical classical fans who must have performances of pieces that may be in the wrong key, I don’t know. Of course, if you want to find music by the top selling artists, you’ll find them in abundance.
  • Yet with all of these homemade and custom projects available online, it doesn’t take away the fact that fans want to hear them, and many are still willing to buy them, whether it’s in digital form or hard copy. Nas fans support their favorite MC and yet his current label, Def Jam, is holding back. Is it a sales opportunity missed, a label unable to release it because of uncleared samples, or just not caring for the demands of fans?
  • As anyone in any business will tell you, if you want something done, you have to do it yourself. If you’re complaining about why artists aren’t playing in your city, find a way to bring them there yourself, find people who could do it, make the connections and make it happen. I do not have the money it takes to go to any artist, label, or recording studio to say “I want to reissue this, how much would it cost for me to license these recordings?”, but I would like to be involved with people who do. Yet if I did have the funds to work with, trust me, I would do everything in my power to do the kind of work I want to, to hear the music I want to hear and to satisfy the fans who have been waiting for it too. The reason why box sets were hugely popular in the 80’s and 90’s is because fans wanted more, and labels did not think those old and rejected recordings were of value. All of a sudden, Bob Dylan‘s Biograph and Eric Clapton‘s Crossroads box sets sold immensely, and almost every other artist had a box set in their name. If they didn’t, the bootleggers would come in to save the day. Major labels would often say “we have exhausted the vaults, there’s no more”, and somehow bootlegger Ignacio from the Philippine mountains would be sitting in a warehouse full of unheard of soundboard concert recordings by everyone who toured in that part of the world. At that time, the recording industry did give fans what they wanted, and everyone was rewarded.

  • Is it a Nas issue? A Def Jam issue? Or has the industry not placed value on hip-hop reissues because the market has been widely neglected? Is hip-hop not “rock” enough, and why does the music have to live up to rock’n’roll when the music was, as Chuck D. had said many times before, a generation’s rock’n’roll? Perhaps when the industry twisted the rock’n’roll power of hip-hop, and had to find its Elvis Presley, its Beatles, its Rolling Stones, that’s when things shifted for the worse. Perhaps a part of rock’n’roll’s power is that idolatry, the idea that there are mere musical Gods walking on this Earth, artists play it up all the time in a live setting, but that power has to do with what they’re creating. The majesty of rock’n’roll, hard rock, and heavy metal can be heard in blues, in jazz, in soul, in funk, and very much in hip-hop. Yet what the opportunists have done is milk the hip-hop lucrative teet for everything but the music. The music is secondary, and it’s as if the industry wants to cater to those who want to buy in the lifestyle and not the music. It’s not a music industry, it’s a lifestyle industry, or as a music executive told me, “it’s less of a music industry these days and more of a T-shirt industry”. In other words, everyone is selling shirts and shoes because it makes more money than the music itself, while music itself is now a tool to sell toothpaste and Armor-All.
  • Less music, more lifestyle: Does that perception make fans feel that if they “buy” into a lifestyle, they’ll become what they’re not? Maybe that’s another topic, another time, but if there’s any truth to this, then music fans are truly missing some incredible music. It’s not just what remains unreleased, but the millions of artists who are struggling to be heard but are shut out by an industry that continues to close down creativity for the sake of finding a better recipe to make money. How can you blame an industry for struggling to find a way to make the public buy things they haven’t had faith in for a decade? Then again, how can one blame fans for knowing, wanting, and demanding better?

  • FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD: Evidence Vs. The Beatles’ “I Don’t Need Love” EP

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    Evidence is keeping busy and will continue this throughout 2011. In the meantime, he has just released I Don’t Lead Love, where he drops rhymes over manipulated Beatles tracks. If you like Evidence, and/or have a love for hearing what people are doing with the Beatles tracks available, listen to this.

    You can download it by clicking here.