Archive for The Beatles

This Bird Has Flown

Posted in Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by greedycherry

Patricia Barber

Well, another Super Bowl has come and gone, and it turns out ol’ Edgar Allan was wrong….at least for the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis. Not so much with the “nevermore,” but a ton of the “once more before you go.” No matter your personal opinion of the man, he certainly went out on top, didn’t he?

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you all back for the second “Cherry Lounge” post of 2013….hopefully the second of many more to come. In a row. Every week. Yup, that’s the plan.

You know what’s funny? Toward the end of 2012, I was still putting out regular blog entries, and my readership statistics started to plummet. I guess the holidays were approaching, and a lot of you had more important things to do than read about music and music history (although, for the life of me, I just can’t think of anything that could be more important…..). So I’d occasionally peek at my numbers, and they were going down. And, you know, whatever. I was uninspired at the time anyway, so I just figured, “I’ll take the holidays off and come back refreshed in the new year.”

Of course, none of that is what was funny.

What was funny was that the moment I stopped writing blog entries, my readership went UP. For the last couple weeks of December into the first couple weeks of January, I hadn’t posted a darn thing, but my readership rose and was steady. I blinked repeatedly when I saw the stats.

I mean, what does that say, anyway? I write, everyone runs away. I stop writing, everyone comes back. It made absolutely no sense to me, of course…..still doesn’t. But I figure now, at the very least, I can generate a bunch of new content so that the next time I go on vacation, all of those new and returning site visitors will have something to read…..

So let’s talk cover tunes today, shall we? More specifically, one of my favorite cover tunes of all time. But first, I’ll set the scene…..

Between 1997 and 2004, I lived in a lovely suburb outside of Washington, D.C., called Silver Spring. (Actually, it was more technically Aspen Hill…..but the U.S. Postal Service insisted I write Silver Spring on my envelopes, so whatever.) And for almost the first four years of that time, I worked at Borders Books & Music at the White Flint Mall.

(And here I pause in a moment of silence for not only Borders – which, of course, went out of business in spectacular, bankrupty fashion a year and a half back – but also the White Flint Mall itself, which apparently will be biting the dust soon in order to make way for a gigantic parking lot, or swell new hi-tech office buildings, or a new ark for Noah…..or whatever the hell it is they do with the space a giant mall had previously occupied once they tear it down. The real question here is what’s going to happen to the huge stone horse outside of P.F. Chang’s? That would look really swell in my living room….)

While at Borders, I worked mostly in the music department, which meant I was knee-deep in the music hoopla, so to speak….and the job came with some satisfying perks. Of course, free CDs were at the top of the list. Almost everything that was ever in a listening station at a Borders for customers to check out before they bought it was actually a free promotional copy of an album, which would be immediately be placed up for grabs in the back room the second it was removed from the sales floor. Sometimes, we even put our names on CDs while they were still in the listening stations. Competition was fierce, but the music was awesome. (Except for Andrea Bocelli’s albums……if I NEVER see his name again, it will be too soon. Serious PTSD going on from all the CDs of his we sold and all the rabid customers who clamored for them…….)

Another perk was that occasionally (actually pretty rarely) a label rep would come through to check promotional displays or store stock, and would subsequently offer up a free ticket to see an artist he or she was promoting live in concert. This only affected me once, unfortunately, but the show I lucked into provided me an earful of one of the best cover tunes I’ve ever heard.

Patricia Barber is an accomplished American pianist and singer/songwriter whose style could be described as a slick yet primal combination of jazz and blues, and the only reason I’d even remotely heard of her at the time I scored that free concert ticket was the fact that I shelved the jazz CDs at Borders. But hey, a free show is a free show, so no looky-gift-horsey-mouthy, right? (Actually, I think it was one of those “free” tickets where you had to spend a certain amount at the bar to justify your lack of payment at the door, but I wasn’t complaining….)

So off my coworker Jill and I went (we scored not just one, but two “free” tickets!), down into Georgetown and to the famed Blues Alley music club. The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the show began.

Beyond that, I don’t remember much until she got to The Beatles. It’s not that the music wasn’t good, because it was. Very much so. But not knowing the artist at all, I had not heard any material by her before, so there were no “favorite songs” or memorable tunes I’d be able to identify later….just an hour or so of really good jazz. Until…..

At some point, she began to play familiar chords and mouthed those immortal words.

“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me….”

And I was transfixed. It was a whole new arrangement, a whole new vibe. There was a simplicity and sense of intimacy in her voice that made the song resonate. Blues Alley is a small venue anyway, but each word seem to hang in the air, the reverberations of her voice washing over the crowd and seeping into, not bouncing off of, the walls. It was just one of those moments that you go to live concerts for; completely impactful, absolutely memorable.

When it was over, I told myself that I had to have a copy of that version of “Norwegian Wood,” but, as I found out (much to my dismay), there was none to be had. It was a cover they had added to the set for live performance only……she had never recorded it.

Oh-woe-woe was me.

"A Fortnight In France" CD coverIt wasn’t until nearly five years later, in 2004, that her CD “Live: A Fortnight In France” was released on Blue Note Records, and, finally, a recorded version of that song…..that glorious song. The environment could not be duplicated, and without it, a little bit of the magic had vanished. But the rest was still there: the strong yet delicate instrumentation, the breathy vocals, the slight pauses for effect. Magnificent.

So now, gentle readers, I share with you “Norwegian Wood” by Patricia Barber. (And, although I would recommend listening to the CD version first so there are no visual elements to distract you from the experience, if you want a longer, more elaborate version and something to watch, here’s a version on YouTube from a jazz festival in 2006.) I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it as much as I do, but I certainly hope you might.

P.S. – While you’re here and reading this, why don’t you drop me a comment below and let me know what your favorite cover tune is? See you next week!

Get Back

Posted in Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2012 by greedycherry

The Beatles On The Rooftop

Well then.

It seems that I have inadvertently taken the summer off from posting to my own blog. I’d apologize for this, of course, except that I think I’ve taken way too much space in previous posts apologizing for my lapses in discipline. Therefore, we’ll just assume that I’m taking a whole paragraph to acknowledge my absence of over three months and beg your forgiveness simultaneously….and we’ll just get back to it.

Today I’d like to talk about The Beatles….which, in my estimation, is a fabulous topic to discuss no matter who you happen to be in the company of. Hell, even if you’re all by yourself, it’s still a pretty damn good topic.

I have been listening to a whole lot of Pandora Radio lately, and, before I go any further, I will now briefly and quickly cover what Pandora is in case there are some among you who have never heard of it.

Pandora is an internet-based radio station where you go, create an account for yourself, and then pick an artist you like to create a station that is tailored just for you. For example, let’s say I choose Steely Dan (which, I will confess, is one of my personal stations). So I pick Steely Dan, and Pandora immediately starts off by playing me a Steely Dan song. Cool, right? It gets cooler.

So Pandora has thousands and thousands of songs in its database, and each one has been classified and tagged with different keywords like “fast” or “jazz” or “sad” or “icantbelieveyoureactuallylisteningtojustinbieber.” (Actually, I made that last one up. Sorry.) They classify things like tempo, melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics….it’s all part of what they call the “Music Genome Project.” Once they have each song analyzed six different ways from Sunday (what the heck does that phrase even mean, anyway?), then they throw it in the musical hopper for public consumption.

So let’s say I’m listening to my Steely Dan track, and it’s a mid-tempo song that features piano prominently and contains lyrics about love. So Pandora looks for other songs that are mid-tempo, feature piano, and have lyrics about love, and then starts feeding me those tunes. Every so often they’ll circle back to a Steely Dan track, or maybe play me a Donald Fagen solo track. Regardless, I now have my own “Steely Dan” radio station that plays me not only Steely Dan songs, but also songs that are in a similar vein. This lets you hear a lot of music you already like, but also introduces you to other songs that you may never have heard of before that are stylistically close to the songs you love. This, undoubtedly, is a gross oversimplification of how Pandora works, but I think you get the idea….

Anyway, back to the story. So I’ve been listening to a lot of Pandora lately, and The Beatles come into the rotation now and again. When they do, what’s nice is that I don’t necessarily get the usual top 10 hits kind of stuff…..I’ll get a few songs from the “Love” soundtrack that was put together for Cirque du Soleil Moon Frye (sorry, couldn’t resist), an older track or two from the early days (including a song I really had never heard before, “That Means A Lot,” which was written for the “Help” soundtrack but was left off), and some stuff from the “Anthology” series that was put out in the mid-1990s. It’s this latter category I’d like to focus on, as it contains the point of my whole entry today.

The “Anthology” series was great (if you’re a Beatles fan) because it gave the public a bunch of previously unreleased tracks (for the most part, anyway); lots of demos, studio chatter, and stuff that had only been available on bootleg recordings to this point. But the huge payoff for a lot of people were the NEW Beatles tracks. The remaining members of The Beatles had wanted to contribute some new music to the “Anthology” project, and had thought they might just record some incidental music as a trio. However, they soon decided that they would like to do something on a bit of a grander scale.

Therefore, Paul McCartney reached out to Yoko Ono and asked for any unfinished John Lennon compositions that the remaining three might add their voices and instruments to in order to make finished “Beatles” songs. Yoko gave Paul a cassette tape with four songs that John had left uncompleted, and the group got to work. (Apparently McCartney told Yoko and her son Sean Lennon that if they didn’t like what the remaining Beatles came up with, that they could veto the tracks. George and Ringo’s rumored reaction: “What? What if we love it??”)

The resulting tracks from this Beatles “reunion” were the two songs “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”. These songs come up on my Pandora rotation quite often, and I was struck the other day as I listened by just how….how BEATLES they are. I mean, really….they sound like they could have been composed and recorded while the group was still together in the 1970s. The quality is solid, the songwriting is solid, the playing is solid, the harmonies are solid…’s just…..SOLID. It’s quite amazing.

Some groups reunite and probably shouldn’t….some when they don’t even have half their original members left! (Don’t get me started on the Motown “reunions” that are nothing but a farce….how many original Temptations are left? What, ONE out of FIVE? Then THERE ARE NO MORE TEMPTATIONS TO REUNITE!!!! Ahem.) They need the money, or want to relive the glory days. Some of them end up putting out inferior material and ultimately tarnish the catalog that made them so popular and famous in the first place by adding God-awful tripe to their canon.

But a few groups? A few groups get it right. They are reluctant to reunite, to do anything that might damage the flowers that they have planted in the garden of history. But if they finally do come together (no pun intended), they make sure that they give it their all…..that the quality is first rate. The Beatles reunion of the mid-1990s is such a moment in time: a crack in the universe through which three lads from Liverpool stepped backwards two and a half decades to embrace a lost friend and recreate that old, familiar magic one last time.

And I am surely not the only one who is grateful.

As a side note before I go, I would like to quickly say a word about an upcoming project all Beatles lovers should check out. (I spend so much time talking about music history, I should really highlight some stuff happening in this current decade, huh?) There is a very talented artist who goes by the name “AG” who I just recently became aware of. As the story on her website goes, her publishing company ended up somehow with the rights to the only six Beatles songs not owned by Sony. Therefore, AG found herself in the unique position to record these tunes, and, from what I’ve heard so far, has quite ably and wonderfully turned them a bit sideways. Covers, yes….but even more like reverent reimaginings. She has redone Lennon and McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” in a drastically different way than you’re used to hearing it….but it’s AMAZING. (And I’m not just saying that because I’m a sucker for awesome harmonies….although that certainly doesn’t hurt. Sidebar: if you’d like to hear The Beatles version just to compare, here’s that link. I’d listen to the original first and then AG’s version to fully understand the depth of creativity involved in the cover version.) I’d recommend at least one listen if I were you (which, by the way, I’m totally not).

“The Beatles” by AG will be released on John Lennon’s birthday, October 9th. Check it out, and I’ll see you next week! (Hopefully….;))