James Ray | I Got My Mind Set On You

8 02 2011

Yes, that title should sound familiar to you. That’s because George Harrison had a huge hit with this tune in 1987. “I Got My Mind Set On You” was featured on his otherwise lackluster release Cloud Nine. Considering the popularity of the Harrison version it’s remarkable that so few people are aware that it’s actually a cover. The song was written by Rudy Clark and recorded by James Ray in 1962. No doubt, it’s a great song through and through. Whether you like the Harrison rendition or the original it’s a classic.

Interestingly enough, of George’s three #1 hit singles in the US, this was the only one that was not self-penned and the only one without religious overtones. Also, not only was this the last US #1 hit for ol’ Georgie boy, but it was also the last from any of the other ex-Beatles. To hear Harrison’s version click HERE. As you might expect, I’m partial to Ray’s original…

As enjoyable as that 1987 attempt was, I was floored when I first heard James Ray’s original. It’s just so raw and authentic, especially when compared to Harrison’s version. For me, this was the way the song was intended. The arrangement is so natural feeling that I almost can’t imagine it any other way. How Ray never had his own hit with song remains a mystery to me.

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The Beatles Catalog Available on iTunes

16 11 2010

FINALLY! What does it take to get one of music’s biggest bands available on the iTunes store? Apparently, all you need is love… and A LOT of lawyers. After years of tension and disputes Apple Corp. has finally allowed Apple Inc. to offer The Beatles’ complete catalog of work online. I get it. I do. But after all that concern over Apple Inc. branching out from computer technology to music distribution and possible conflicts of interest, the whole argument seems futile and moot. After all, we know Paul is down with it, as his music is already on iTunes . He even filmed a commercial for them. How long did it really take for the folks at Apple Corp. to realize that iTunes is clearly one of, if not, the biggest digital music distribution channel? I guess after all those years, today is the day of epiphany. Finally. Check out The Beatles on iTunes HERE.

So, at this point you probably already own every album in various mediums and have even digitized it yourself, but for those that have not… this your chance. You can cherry pick your favorite songs or grab the whole album(s). Or, you can just bite the bullet get the entire box set ($149).  Like any major product roll out, this comes with a lot of fanfare. One of the promotion items they are touting is the complete 1964 Washington D.C. performance in HD (well, as hi-def as I’ve seen). This video exists in snippets all over the internet, some of which has been featured here, but this is the complete unedited release. CHECK IT OUT HERE. There are also some other cool videos that you can browse through while on the band’s artist page in the store.

There are a few ads that the ‘Apples’ collaborated on for this launch. They are pretty straightforward and simple but, if you’re a fan, you will enjoy them nevertheless. You can see all 5 ads below:





It’s Johnny’s Birthday

9 10 2010

Today is John Lennon’s birthday. He would have been 70 years old today. I wanted to tack this on to yesterday’s post given this song, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday” was a part of George Harrison’s 3 disc LP All Things Must Pass but then decided it was best served as it’s own dish. It’s a very simple tune that clocks in under a minute long. Based on Bill Marten and Phil Coulter’s song “Congratulations”, Harrison’s tune was just a little tribute to his friend on his birthday. Enjoy…

Happy B-Day Johnny!





George Harrison | My Sweet Lord

8 10 2010

Lately, I’ve been listening to the Beatles’ post-Beatles solo work a lot. As one would expect Paul & John have the strongest catalogs but George & Ringo are not short on great work either. Here is one of George’s solo hits. Probably not my all-time favorite but it’s near the top and comes with a cool little story. “My Sweet Lord” was originally written for one of Harrison’s friends, former Beatle session man Billy Preston. Preston released it on his 1970 album Encouraging Words, which George produced. Just 10 months later, George released his version of the song on his first post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass. I love this album, it was huge. Originally a triple album (3 records/6 sides), it was produced by Phil Spector and featured 23 songs. Some of which were long jams with various guest spots from friends like Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker, Gary, Wright, Alan White (of Yes), a young Phil Collins, Preston and it is even said that John Lennon appeared on one track, although uncredited. There is also a song co-written with Bob Dylan and then a cover of Dylan’s “If Not For You”. It’s a really great album. “My Sweet Lord” was only released as a single after All Things Must Pass, at which point it went right to the top 5 and then occupied no. 1 for five weeks. It later topped the charts again after Harrison’s death and then again upon the release of a re-mastered anniversary version. Remarkable as that is, it’s not the juicy part of the story.

In 1971, George was sued by The Chiffons for rights to the song as it was incredibly similar to their hit “He’s So Fine”. Harrison later stated that he was actually inspired to write “My Sweet Lord” after hearing the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day”. A US federal court ruled that Harrison had subconsciously copied The Chiffon tune and he had to hand over the majority of his royalties from the song. This ordeal was parodied by The Chiffons afterward in order capitalize on the publicity. In good humor, George would later record his own song about the case, called “This Song”, which featured many direct references. Soon after, he just bought the rights to “He’s So Fine” anyway. So in the end, he owns his song and theirs… right on, George!

If you’re not familiar with this Chiffons tune, here it is. You’ll hear the similarities instantly. So much so, it’s hard not to side with the courts on this one.

One last thing, there is a great version of this song from The Concert For George, with Billy Preston leading an allstar band that includes Ringo, Paul McCartney, Dhani Harrison, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Tom Petty. 

note: If you’re a Billy Preston fan and want hear his original version from Encouraging Words, THIS is a great old live version, true to form.

References:

More info on George Harrison

More info on All Things Must Pass

More info on “My Sweet Lord”

More info on The Chiffons

More info on “He’s So Fine”

More info on Concert For Bangledesh

More info on Concert For George

More info on Billy Preston





Birthday Wkd

7 06 2010

This weekend was a birthday blowout for both Lady GG and myself. It probably comes as no surprise but my favorite B-Day tune is from the one and only Beatles. “Birthday” is part of a short list of nontraditional birthday songs out there. It’s a great tune and the background story behind it’s composition and the studio session are pretty cool.

In a 2008 interview, McCartney said, “Birthday was 50/50 me and John”. The song was largely written during a recording session at the EMI Abbey Road Studios on September 18th, 1968 with McCartney coming up with the main riff. During the session, The Beatles and the recording crew made a short trip around the corner to McCartney’s house to watch the 1956 rock & roll movie The Girl Can’t Help It which was being shown on British television for the first time. After the movie they returned to the studio to record. George Martin was away so his assistant Chris Thomas produced the “Birthday” session. His memory is that the song was mostly Paul’s: “Paul was the first one in, and he was playing the birthday riff. Eventually the others arrived, by which time Paul had literally written the song, right there in the studio.” Everyone in the studio (including Yoko Ono & Patti Harrison) sang in the chorus and it was 5 am by the time the final mono mix was completed.

John Lennon said in his 1980 Playboy interview: “‘Birthday’ was written in the studio. Just made up on the spot. I think Paul wanted to write a song like ‘Happy Birthday Baby,’ the old fifties hit. But it was sort of made up in the studio. It was a piece of garbage.” As much as I love John, what’s his deal? Why must he always be such a curmudgeon?!?! The song is great, despite the impromptu origin. I may even argue that off-the-cuff composing like this usually yields some of the most accessible material.

Just look at him in the picture below… not exactly the most enthusiastic cheers I’ve ever seen, but then again you must consider the source.

The song’s style, form and even subject matter are not exactly unique but as a composition it captures a side of the band that exudes the raw passion of their earlier years. “Birthday” begins with an intro drum fill, then moves directly into a blues progression in A which features a catchy guitar riff doubled by the bass, with McCartney singing at the top of his chest voice (think classic Paul screaming vocals) with Lennon on a lower harmony. After this section, a drum break lasting eight measures brings the song into the middle section, which rests entirely on the dominant chord. A repeat of the blues progression/guitar riff instrumental section, augmented by piano brings the song into a bridge before returning to a repeat of the first vocal section. The song is among McCartney’s most intense vocal performances given the range in which he sings during the blues run. This song is the only track on The Beatles (aka The White Album) in which Lennon and McCartney share lead vocal duties. It’s also one of the few songs on that album that is a throwback to their earlier years of pure rock n roll. It’s a refreshingly straightforward piece amongst a much more complex catalog… and one of my favorites.





The Beatles | The Word

24 05 2010

“The Word” is one of my favorite Beatles songs, which makes sense given it’s from my favorite album Rubber Soul. This 1965 release is a real turning point for The Beatles. Although there was always growth from one album to the next, I always thought Rubber Soul took the biggest leap. It represents not just a shift in sound but a new take on lyricism, whereby Lennon and McCartney began approaching their songs in a much more abstract fashion. Many of the lyrics from this period are more open to interpretation than prior attempts. “The Word” may seem like a rather straight ahead tune about love but, in actuality, the message is far more subtle than any love song they had written in their early years. Messaging aside, “The Word” is a simple yet powerful song that features an up tempo, syncopated rhythm accentuated by sharp guitar chords on the 2 and the “and” between the 3rd & 4th beat. The effect is a pushing and dragging feel that creates a great groove. That, along with a sweet 3 part harmony and John’s screaming lead on the chorus and it stands out as one of the bands catchiest “in your face” tunes. Rubber Soul is filled with great material that’s similarly listener friendly while pushing the boundaries of form and expression… “Wait” is a fine example of this quality. As a collection of material, they constantly walk the line between experimental and simple pop sensibility and with great success. Despite The Beatles enormous catalog of great music, Rubber Soul and “The Word” will forever stand as some of their best work.

I recently found this funny video of a post-Beatles Paul. It’s from an interview where he plays a seemingly harmless word association game. By the answers he gives to such mundane triggers as “The Beatles” and “Linda”, one would guess the word is not LOVE but actually it’s more physical cousin, SEX. I especially like how unapologetic he is about the whole thing and how can you blame him. I mean, he’s Paul McCartney. I don’t think the guy has ever had trouble in that department, so…





Sgt Pepper’s: A Breakdown

28 04 2010

It’s so iconic and yet most people have no idea who or what they are looking at. The Beatles 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is known not only for it’s great music but for the incredible album art as well. If you’ve ever wondered who are all those people standing behind the Fab Four, today is your lucky day.

But first, a little background on this Grammy Award winning piece of rock n roll art history. The album’s packaging was art-directed by Robert Fraser, designed by Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth, and photographed by Michael Cooper. Fraser was a prominent London art dealer who had become a close friend of Paul McCartney. It was he who urged  that the group abandon their original cover design, a psychedelic painting by The Fool. Fortunately for The Fool, his design for the inner sleeve was still used, at least for the first few pressings and is now something of a collectible. Robert Fraser was one of the leading champions of modern art in the UK in the 1960s. He argued that The Fool’s artwork was not well-executed and that the design would soon be dated. So, he offered to art-direct the now famous cover. Fraser then suggested they use an established fine artist and introduced the band to a client, noted British pop artist Peter Blake. Blake, in collaboration with his wife, created the famous cover collage known as “People We Like”. The final result shows the Beatles, as the Sgt. Pepper band, surrounded by a large group of their heroes who are rendered as life sized cut-out figures. Also included were wax-work figures of the Beatles as they appeared in the early ’60s, borrowed from Madame Tussauds. The collage depicted more than 70 famous people; including writers, musicians, film stars and (at Harrison’s request) a number of Indian “gurus”. There were also a few controversial persona’s that were originally intended to be included but were edited out at the last minute, among them were Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ… perhaps too risky for even the Beatles. The collage was assembled by Blake and his wife during the last two weeks of March 1967 at the London studio of photographer Michael Cooper, who took the cover shots on March 30th in a three-hour late night session. The rear side of the cover had the lyrics printed on it with a small picture of the band near the bottom. It’s significant because it was the first time lyrics were presented in this manner on a British pop LP. The final product was a “gatefold” album cover, that is, the it could be opened like a book to reveal a large picture of the Fab Four in their custom-made military style costumes against a bright yellow background. The reason for the gate fold was that the Beatles originally planned to fill two LPs for the release. The designs had already been approved and sent to print when they realized they would only have enough material for one LP.

Ok. So, using the numeric outline of the original cover (below) you can dissect who is who, finally getting to the bottom of this age old question. Both the original and the outline are from larger sources. Should you need to zoom in, simply click the image to enlarge it.

The Breakdown:
  1. Sri Yukteswar Gigi (guru)
  2. Aleister Crowley (dabbler in sex, drugs and magic)
  3. Mae West (actress)
  4. Lenny Bruce (comic)
  5. Karlheinz Stockhausen (composer)
  6. W.C. Fields (comic)
  7. Carl Gustav Jung (psychologist)
  8. Edgar Allen Poe (writer)
  9. Fred Astaire (actor)
  10. Richard Merkin (artist)
  11. The Varga Girl (by artist Alberto Vargas)
  12. *Leo Gorcey (Painted out because he requested a fee)
  13. Huntz Hall (actor one of the Bowery Boys)
  14. Simon Rodia (creator of Watts Towers)
  15. Bob Dylan (musician)
  16. Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator)
  17. Sir Robert Peel (politician)
  18. Aldous Huxley (writer)
  19. Dylan Thomas (poet)
  20. Terry Southern (writer)
  21. Dion (di Mucci)(singer)
  22. Tony Curtiss (actor)
  23. Wallace Berman (artist)
  24. Tommy Handley (comic)
  25. Marilyn Monroe (actress)
  26. William Burroughs (writer)
  27. Sri Mahavatara Babaji(guru)
  28. Stan Laurel (comic)
  29. Richard Lindner (artist)
  30. Oliver Hardy (comic)
  31. Karl Marx (philosopher/socialist)
  32. H.G. Wells (writer)
  33. Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (guru)
  34. Anonymous (wax hairdresser’s dummy)
  35. Stuart Sutcliffe (artist/former Beatle)
  36. Anonymous (wax hairdresser’s dummy)
  37. Max Miller (comic)
  38. The Pretty Girl (by artist George Petty)
  39. Marlon Brando (actor)
  40. Tom Mix (actor)
  41. Oscar Wilde (writer)
  42. Tyrone Power (actor)
  43. Larry Bell (artist)
  44. Dr. David Livingston (missionary/explorer)
  45. Johnny Weissmuller (swimmer/actor)
  46. Stephen Crane (writer)
  47. Issy Bonn (comic)
  48. George Bernard Shaw (writer)
  49. H.C. Westermann (sculptor)
  50. Albert Stubbins (soccer player)
  51. Sri lahiri Mahasaya (guru)
  52. Lewis Carrol (writer)
  53. T.E. Lawrence (soldier, aka Lawrence of Arabia)
  54. Sonny Liston (boxer)
  55. The Pretty Girl (by artist George Petty)
  56. Wax model of George Harrison
  57. Wax model of John Lennon
  58. Shirley Temple (child actress)
  59. Wax model of Ringo Starr
  60. Wax model of Paul McCartney
  61. Albert Einstein (physicist)
  62. John Lennnon, holding a french horn
  63. Ringo Starr, holding a trumpet
  64. Paul McCartney, holding a cor anglais
  65. George Harrison, holding a flute
  66. Bobby Breen (singer)
  67. Marlene Dietrich (actress)
  68. Mohandas Ghandi (painted out at the request of EMI)
  69. Legionaire from the order of the Buffalos
  70. Diana Dors (actress)
  71. Shirley Temple (child actress)
  72. Cloth grandmother-figure by Jann Haworth
  73. Cloth figure of Shirley Temple by Haworth
  74. Mexican candlestick
  75. Television set
  76. Stone figure of girl
  77. Stone figure
  78. Statue from John Lennon’s house
  79. Trophy
  80. Four-armed Indian Doll
  81. Drum skin, designed by Joe Ephgrave
  82. Hookah (water tobacco-pipe)
  83. Velvet snake
  84. Japanese stone figure
  85. Stone figure of Snow White
  86. Garden gnome
  87. Tuba

This is the historic back cover with the lyrics printed for each song.

Here is the inside photo that appeared on the gatefold.

The Fool’s original psychedelic design for the inner sleeve, available only on limited pressings.

Originally, the group had wanted the album to include a package with badges, pencils and other small Sgt. Pepper goodies but this proved far too costly. Instead, the album came with a page of cardboard cut-outs carrying the description:

SGT. PEPPER CUT-OUTS

  1. Moustache
  2. Picture Card
  3. Stripes
  4. Badges
  5. Stand Up

*Buy this LP online








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