Sir Paul @ The White House

2 08 2010

This past week PBS aired a special entitled: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song In Performance at the White House. It’s a real mouthful but then again, titles were never exactly PBS’ strong suit. The honoree this year was none-other-than Sir Paul McCartney, which should come as no surprise given the man is (literally) the most successful songwriter of all time. There were 2 stats that popped up during the presentation that were pretty astonishing to me. The first was that nearly 200 of his songs reached the charts. The second was more surprising, collectively these songs have spent a total of 32 years on the charts… 32 years! The special itself was pretty cool. It included some performances by Paul, some brief MC work from Jerry Seinfeld, numerous guest performances by other artist who honored Paul by covering his material and, of course, the President presenting Paul with his award. The whole thing can be watched in it’s entirety on the PBS website, which you can find a link to in the ‘references’ section at the bottom of this post. For a quick sneak peek you can find a few of my favorite moments right below.

Here is Jack White performing a great version of the Lennon/McCartney tune “Mother Nature’s Son” from The Beatles (The White Album).

Here is Stevie Wonder doing his amazing cover of yet another Lennon/McCartney collaboration, “We Can Work It Out”. This tune is on Stevie’s album Signed, Sealed, Delivered and in my opinion stands as one of the best interpretations of another artist’s song I’ve ever heard. It does what every cover is intended to do. It honors the original while putting a very unique (and in this case, compelling) spin on it.

This last one is a bit of a montage. It’s starts with Paul himself playing the classic “Michelle”. He gives a very charming introduction that is playfully apologetic to the Commander in Chief for singing such a flirty song to the First Lady. Unfortunately, this song is abbreviated, transitioning into “Eleanor Rigby” and then quickly cutting away to the actual award presentation. This version of the presentation is the long, unedited one. If you watch the version of the PBS site, they edit out some of the typical political rhetoric that usually accompanies such events. That version just sticks to what’s important about this evening: honoring a legend. Nevertheless, should you be curious you can see it all below…

References:

See the entire PBS Special

More info on Paul McCartney

More info on The Gershwin Prize

More info on The Library of Congress

More info on Barack Obama





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.








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