Imagine, if you can, a country starkly divided by wealth inequality, where a small number of rich people lead lives of extravagant luxury and everyone else fights over the crumbs.
Now imagine that the most vulgar of celebrities, having ascended to high office by appealing to racist and sexist tendencies in the electorate, has announced a plan to slash health care in order to build up the military. Far from bringing him down, sex scandals only make him appear more powerful and exciting to his base. And what, exactly, is the nature of his relationship with the Russians?
Of course, I could only be talking about Nosher Powell, the real-life English boxer and actor who portrays “Cockney fascist” Home Secretary Nosher Powell in the dystopian 1987 comedy Eat the Rich. The dialogue is as quotable as that of Tapeheads or Repo Man. Early on, a diner at the posh eatery Bastards addresses a label head played by Miles Copeland:
Look, Derek, forget funk rap. It’s dead. The kids are getting hooked on socialism.
“OK, we’ll sack the blacks and sign the reds,” Copeland replies. It’s a cruel, cynical, racist—did I mention racist?—society.
The great Lanah Pillay stars as Alex, a hero for our time. Alex becomes a revolutionary after she’s fired from her waitressing job at Bastards, where she served koala and panda meat to one too many horrible jerks. And joining Lanah and Nosher from the world of UK showbiz in this movie right here is everyone and her fucking uncle: Lemmy, Shane MacGowan, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers, Sandie Shaw, Beatle Paul, Bill Wyman of the Stones, Koo Stark, Angela Bowie, and The Young Ones’ Rik Mayall all make appearances. Most of the soundtrack (and the soundtrack album) is by Motörhead, and at one point in the movie, Lemmy climbs onstage to play “Dr. Rock.”
When it comes to someone of the staggering musical achievements of Paul McCartney, there’s a whole lot to document, and a great deal of it has indeed been exhaustively documented. If you want to know what city Paul and the other members of the Beatles were in on any given date in 1966, you just have to look it up.
And yet, some stories fall through the cracks, escape wider attention. Take for example the full instrumental cover album McCartney released in 1977 under the name Thrillington, the one that was a track-by-track cover of his 1971 album Ram. It wasn’t until 1989 that he admitted in public that he was responsible for the Thrillington album.
Remarkably, the album was recorded in 1971 during the Ram sessions but got shelved when Paul and Linda McCartney turned their attentions to the formation of Wings. Six years later the album was released to modest (very modest) fanfare—but officially, McCartney had nothing to do with it. The only hint that he might have been involved was the painted image of his face in the control room on the album’s back cover art.
Paul and Linda McCartney looking dapper
The conceit of the Thrillington album was that it was the product of a “fictitious socialite” named Percy “Thrills” Thrillington. Skiffle lover McCartney couldn’t resist reimagining Ram as an album from the 1930s, so he redid the album as something you might find in an Agatha Christie book, complete with Art Deco typeface and a cover image of a swank dude in a tuxedo (and a ram’s head) playing the violin.
There’s not a thing wrong with this album from a musical standpoint. For instance, “Monkberry Moon Delight” isn’t the only track to feature some truly ass-kicking horn work, and “Dear Boy” sounds uncannily like a Pet Sounds outtake. McCartney was arguably the most gifted producer of pop music of his generation, and this album certainly reflects that.
Wikipedia states that many people had a strong suspicion that this was a weird McCartney lark. There’s a report on the album in a June 1977 issue of Rolling Stone that seems to wink its understanding of the real creator of the music. For instance, the article states that the PR bio “claims” Thrillington to have been born in 1939 and to have studied in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for several years. “Percy Thrillington” is such an obviously invented name that it’s not quite clear whether the author knows that Thrillington is McCartney or just that something hinky is up. The item ends with what might be taken as a knowing reference to McCartney’s image on the back cover.
Back cover, Thrillington
Obviously a lot of people had their suspicions and then some, but the real story of the Thrillington album is that it mostly ... just got forgotten. In late 1989 journalist Peter Palmiere asked McCartney about it at a press conference in Los Angeles. Paul cried, “What a great question to end the conference! The world needs to know! But seriously, it was me and Linda—and we kept it a secret for a long time but now the world knows! You blew it!”
We all know that author William S. Burroughs is one of the “people we like” on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album cover, but did you know that Burroughs was actually around when Paul McCartney composed “Eleanor Rigby”? Apparently so. Over the weekend, I noticed the following passage in the book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker by Victor Bockris:
Burroughs: Ian met Paul McCartney and Paul put up the money for this flat which was at 34 Montagu Square… I saw Paul several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He’d just come in and work on his “Eleanor Rigby.” Ian recorded his rehearsals. I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and very prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, hardworking.
The connection here was, no doubt, author Barry Miles. Miles started the Indica Bookshop in London with McCartney’s financial backing. Miles states in his book In the Sixties that Burroughs was a frequent visitor to the shop. When the Beatles started their experimental label Zapple, with Barry Miles at the helm, the idea was to release more avant garde fare, such as readings by American poets Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Richard Brautigan and comedian Lenny Bruce. McCartney set up a small studio that was run by Burroughs’ ex-boyfriend, Ian Sommerville, who also lived there, and this is why Burroughs would have been around.
It’s always thought that John Lennon was the far-out Beatle, but it was in fact Macca who was the one obsessed by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Morton Subotnick, not Lennon (he got there later, via Yoko).
The “Eleanor Rigby” section from ‘Yellow Submarine.’
When The Beatles split-up in 1970 the music press divided the pop world into two camps: those for John Lennon and those against Paul McCartney (who, coincidentally met each other for the first time 59 years ago today). That both camps were basically the same thing meant McCartney had rough ride from “hip” musos over the next decades.
McCartney was painted as straight, safe, vanilla and very very bland—the sort of music yer mom and dad listened to when riding an elevator. It was fueled in large part by his former songwriting pal John Lennon’s vicious public spat with him. Lennon excoriated McCartney in his song “How Do You Sleep?” claiming the only thing he’d done was “Yesterday.”
Lennon was perceived as cool. McCartney was seen as square, fake and lacking any real artistic credibility—whatever that may be. He was the lesser half of the writing partnership Lennon & McCartney. This was how the music press in general and the British music press in particular painted the former Beatles. Of course it was wrong—very wrong. McCartney was the cool one, the smart one, the one who was hanging out with all those avant garde artists on the edge. He didn’t have to try on different party hats to find out who he was—he knew instinctively. The way the music press wrote about him you would never have known. But then again music journalists only write for themselves and their tiny band of fellow journalists—they do not write for the public or really understand that popular music is meant for all—the clue’s in its name—it’s not an exclusive club.
How McCartney weathered it all while starting out on his solo career, raising a family with his wife Linda, then forming the band Wings reveals just how strong and determined a character/a talent is James Paul McCartney.
Understandably, post-Beatles McCartney was always cagey about giving interviews. He knew (and knows) how interviewers turn words to fit their own preconceived opinions and how interviewers like to make themselves the star of the interview.
One of McCartney’s best ever interviews came in 1978, when he was featured in a short film for Melvyn Bragg’s The South Bank Show.
McCartney and Melvyn Bragg, 1978.
The South Bank Show was devised by Bragg as an arts magazine show that would cover high and low art—from TV and films to theater and pop music. This seems utterly run-of-the-mill now but back in the seventies this hi/lo concept was considered shocking. Pop music was in no way comparable to classical music. Television was never in the same class as theater, etcetera etcetera. Bragg was challenging the perceived orthodoxy when he kicked the whole thing off with The South Bank Show in January 1978, creating the kind of mix of high and low culture we take so very much for granted today.
The South Bank Show was originally a magazine program that featured one or two short films, plus a studio interview and usually some kind of performance. During the first series this morphed into one hour profiles of artists, writers, film directors and performers which remained the format.
Paul McCartney appeared in the very first episode in a short insert documentary filmed during the recording of the song “Mull of Kintyre.” McCartney is open to Bragg’s questions and even goes so far as to explain how he writes, giving examples of some of his best known songs. He also discusses the hurt he felt over the bust-up with Lennon and ends by explaining how he gets a thrill from hearing people whistling his tunes—or as he goes on to say, how he once heard a bird whistling a riff from one of his hits.
The following is the whole interview repackaged for Bragg’s The South Bank Show: Originals series recently broadcast on Sky Arts. It opens with Bragg talking about his memory of interviewing McCartney and contains comment from journalist Clive James who rightly describes Paul McCartney as a genius.
Fans of The Venture Bros. everywhere adore two ostensibly peripheral characters, henchmen 21 and 24, who toil for the evil mastermind known as .... the Monarch! Voiced by the show’s creators, Eric “Doc” Hammer and Jackson Publick (Christopher McCulloch), respectively, the pathetic duo of intermittently loyal “muscle” functions as a bizarre Greek chorus on the events of the Venture universe even as their very presence points up the inherent absurdity of Bond-esque masterminds who seemingly have little trouble assembling armies of goons with no mention of pay, working hours, overtime, parental leave, etc. (For reference, 21 is the chubby one who has a crush on Dr. Girlfriend; 24 is the taller one who for no known reason sounds like Ray Romano.)
Several years ago, Hammer and Publick undertook a cover of that most annoying of Christmas ditties, Paul McCartney’s kudzu-like 1979 effort “Wonderful Christmastime.” Right now on my Facebook feed, I’m following a heated discussion as to whether “Wonderful Christmastime” is the worst song of all time or merely the worst Christmas song of all time; as of now, it appears to be a tossup. Two years ago Dan Harmon and Jeff Davis spent several minutes excoriating the tune on an episode of Harmontown (jump to minute 47 for that bit).
Whatever your take on the song, which reportedly earns McCartney $400,000 annually, Publick and Hammer treat the Xmas numb-er with all the, er, respect that it deserves, which makes for one highly amusing Yuletide video.
Before Ali G, Borat and Keith Lemon, “Norman Gunston” was trolling celebrities with his bogus interviews for Australian television. Gunston was the madcap creation of actor-comedian Garry McDonald, who ambushed celebrities and probed them with his microphone and excruciatingly dumb questions.
Gunston made his first (brief) appearances on the Pythonesque Aunty Jack Show in 1972, before becoming the “legendary un-personality” on spin-off series Wollongong the Brave in 1974. With his shiny blue suit and his face covered with blood-spotted pieces of tissue paper, the beautifully observed Gunston was an instant hit.
Gunston excited to be probing a Beatle.
Over the years, Norman Gunston interviewed Paul and Linda McCartney, Cheech and Chong (who he mistakes as comedy duo Morecambe and Wise), and Lee Marvin (caught in a airport terminal). Sometimes the stars played along—like a flirtatious Karen Black or Frank Zappa, who happily jammed with the harmonica-playing Gunston, or Muhammed Ali who said to Gunston “I’m punchy, what’s your excuse?”
Occasionally, the celebs didn’t know how to handle Gunston—like an eyeballing Elliott Gould, or a confused Warren Beatty, but their desperate responses only add to the comedy.
I’ve been fairly unrestrained in expressing my abiding fandom of the commercially underachieving ‘90s rock band Failure, both in real life and on Dangerous Minds. They had everything I loved—dense and creamy distorted guitar tones, gripping tension-and-release dynamics, emotive, anxious melodic and lyrical content that FAR surpassed the one-dimensional angst typical of the period’s radio rock. The poor sales of their masterpiece Fantastic Planet contributed to the band’s end, though time has rehabilitated the album and it’s now considered an influential classic, which set the stage for Failure’s reunion last year. The announcement of that tour made me as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning, and I drove three hours to once again catch a band I utterly adored but hadn’t seen in concert since 1992.
As it happens, there was more than just a tour in the offing—Failure have fully reactivated, and their first album in 19 years, The Heart Is A Monster, will arrive next week. I’m confident that fans of Fantastic Planet will be more than satisfied—I typically take a dim view of reunions, and if Monster was in any way unsatisfactory, I’d be properly bitching up a storm about it. But no. It’s goddamn glorious. The band conceived Monster as a continuation of Planet, and even picked up the numbering of its interstitial segues from where the prior album left off. I’ll not subject you to lengthy gushing, it’s streaming in its entirety on Entertainment Weekly’s web site if you want to judge for yourself. I recommend listening from beginning to end in a sitting if you can swing the time. (I should add that they’re on tour now, and later in the summer they’re doing dates with another neglected ‘90s favorite of mine, Hum, about which I’m kinda headsploding.)
One of Failure’s most illuminating, and just flat out most fun albums wasn’t even a Failure album, but a 1995 time-killer project. Waiting for Fantastic Planet to be released and unable to tour, Failure prime movers Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards teamed up with ex-Tool bassist Paul D’Amour and keyboardist Chris Pitman (Tool, Blinker the Star, and I shit you not Guns N’ Roses) to record a superb album of transformative ‘70s and ‘80s cover songs under the name Replicants, a winking Blade Runner reference. What could have just been a goof turned out as an extremely strong work in its own right, and their eponymous album is not just my favorite covers album, it’s been one of my favorite albums period for 20 years.
A contemporary article in the UCLA Daily Bruin of all places provided a look at the band’s formation and intent:
Ken Andrews, lead singer of the Replicants, has been stuck in a “Warehousy loft-type space” for about a year. Tired of the white-walled complex and its “big air conditioning ducts,” he wants to be out and on the road. But the tortured musician must continue mixing and producing in his “utilitarian” studio.
“I’m really sick of it. I really want to play live now,” complains Andrews. However, the current band member of Failure and frontman for his side project the Replicants manages to remain laid back and positive. And with good reason. The Replicants have just released a self-titled album of covers of tunes ranging from the Beatles to the Cars. Snatching countless enthusiastic reviews, the project includes the talents of one Tool member (Paul D’Amour), one Eye In Triangle musician (Chris Pitman), and one other Failure member (Greg Edwards). And, once Andrews’ soon-to-be-released Failure album hits stores, he will be able to return to his beloved stage.
Strangely, a four-track demo tape of the haphazard group landed on a desk at Zoo Entertainment. Before they knew it, the Replicants were an official band with an offer to record an entire album of cover songs. “At that point, we had no idea what to do,” explains a baffled Andrews. “Everyone would just bring up songs and either we would all agree or we wouldn’t and I think everyone sort of got their one song that maybe other people didn’t want.” However, they could all agree on one thing: The Replicants would have their own musical freedom.
“We like doing the Replicants because we could do different versions of these songs in ways that Failure or Tool wouldn’t,” Andrews says. For instance, neither spawning ground for the creative forces of the Replicants would think to record Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown” with an industrial/techno spin. Each song was dealt with individually, following no preconceived notion of the album’s overall sound. This system provided a good musical balance for Andrews and his associates.
Some of the transformations are huge (John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”), some are closer to mere production-values updates (obligatory cover-band “Cinnamon Girl”), but pretty much every revamped tune on the CD has some kind of a tonal shift to the darker. One simple and actually sorta brilliant minor-key modulation imparts a wholly unexpected sense of dread to Replicants’ version of the Cars’ bouncy “Just What I Needed.” See if you ever unhear it.
Being one of The Beatles meant being mobbed, followed and even stalked everywhere you went. They quit Liverpool for London for its mix of anonymity and excitement—and because everything happened there. Eventually, John, George and Ringo moved on to the stockbroker belt to find peace, quiet and happy isolation. But even there, Lennon had unwelcome visitors who wanted a photo or to say that they understood what his songs were about, and touch the hem of his clothes.
Eventually, Lennon moved again, this time to New York where he said he could walk the streets without anyone bothering him. Going by these fan photographs of Lennon in London and New York, it’s obvious he was just as mobbed by devoted fans in the Big Apple as he had been back in the Big Smoke.
These fan snaps capture Lennon from the late 1960s, through his relationship with Yoko Ono, to just before his untimely death in 1980.
John Lennon signing an autograph outside the Abbey Road Studios, 1968.
Granada Television produced this fascinating TV time capsule “It’s So Far Out It’s Straight Down” as a special part of their Scene at 6:30 series. The program focused on the young counterculture / hippie scene in London and features Miles, the Indica Gallery and the editorial board of The International Times underground newspaper. Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are seen at the International Poetry Incarnation and we are taken to The UFO Club where Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd are playing a live version of “Interstellar Overdrive” (Also heard on the soundtrack is an early version of their “Matilda Mother,” then called “Percy The Ratcatcher” and “It Can’t Happen Here” by The Mothers of Invention).
Paul McCartney is a talking head interviewee (although not framed as such) in the studio, intelligently discussing the nascent underground scene. Macca was an active part of the London underground, financially supporting the Indica Gallery and bookstore—he even built the bookshelves himself—and IT. McCartney, the Beatle who soaked up cutting-edge culture and avant garde influences long before the rest of them did, is seen in four segments during the show, and as a wealthy, intelligent and well-respected person representing the counterculture to people who might fear it, as you’ll see, he knocks the ball straight out of the park:
If you don’t know anything about it [the counterculture], you can sort of trust that it’s probably gonna be all right and it’s probably not that bad because it’s human beings doing it, and you know vaguely what human beings do. And they’re probably going to think of it nearly the same way you would in that situation.
The straights should welcome the underground because it stands for freedom… It’s not strange it’s just new, it’s not weird, it’s just what’s going on around.
“It’s So Far Out It’s Straight Down” was broadcast in March of 1967, so it’s pre-Summer of Love. The time seems so pregnant with promise. This is the exact moment, historically speaking, when pop culture went from B&W and shades of gray to vivid color. If you put yourself in the mind of a kid from the north of England watching something like this on television during that era, it’s easy to see how this film would have brought tens of thousands of young people into London seeking to find these forward-thinking cultural movers and shakers to become part of “the happening” themselves.
Getting it or not getting it to varying degrees are Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Steve Harley, Mick Taylor, Peter Gabriel, Paul Cook, John Lydon, Meatloaf, and a surprisingly astute young Leif Garrett putting in their two cents on the topic of “Punk.”
According to the caption on YouTube, these comments aired in December 1979 on a program called Countdown on a specific episode called “End Of the Decade.” Presumably this is something from the archives of Australian television. It looks like an editor’s raw “selects” in the formulation seen here.
“You wanna snort, Steve? A toot? It’s goin’ round.”
With the recent reunion of Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney on the Grammy Awards, I was reminded of A Toot and a Snore in ‘74 a bootleg album of the sole recording session that John Lennon and Paul McCartney participated in after the break-up of The Beatles.
Lennon, who was in his “lost weekend” phase of drinking and drugging—and living with May Pang in Los Angeles—was producing Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats album at Burbank Studios. On the first night of the sessions, March 28, 1974, Paul and Linda McCartney showed up. Also present were Stevie Wonder, Harry Nilsson, Jesse Ed Davis, May Pang, saxophonist Bobby Keys and record producer Ed Freeman (who had been working with Don McLean in the next door studio).
There was a bit of a “convivial” scene going on, as one might gather from the bootleg’s title. McCartney later remarked that the “session was hazy… for a number of reasons.”
In his 2006 biography, McCartney, Christopher Sandford described the situation:
“The room froze when McCartney walked in, and remained perfectly silent until Lennon said, ‘Valiant Paul McCartney, I presume?’ McCartney responded: ‘Sir Jasper Lennon, I presume?’ (Valiant Paul and Sir Jasper were characters played by the two, in a televised Christmas play early in the Beatles’s career). McCartney extended a hand, Lennon shook it, and the mood was pleasant but subdued, cordial but not especially warm, at least initially.”
May Pang’s 1983 book, Loving John offered more detail:
Our first session was scheduled for the day after we moved in and it went beautifully- so beautifully that it only took four hours to lay down the basic rhythm track and vocal to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. When the tracks were finished, the musicians did not want to go home, so they hung out, jamming with each other or practicing their own licks. At midnight, however Keith [Moon] and Ringo left. It was time for them to hit the town.
The jam continued for another half hour, then visitors arrived. The visitors were Paul and Linda McCartney.
Paul headed straight for John. “Hello John,” he said eagerly.
John however was a study in casualness.
“How are you Paul?” he replied softly.
“Fine, how about you?”
“Hi duckie,” Linda said to John, kissing him on the cheek.
John and Paul made small talk as if they had been speaking on the phone two or three times a day and had spoken a few hours earlier. It was one of the most casual conversations I had ever heard. They couldn’t be the two men who not only had been trading vicious attacks with each other in public but also had squadrons of lawyers poised in battle against each other while they carved up their multimillion-dollar empire. They looked like any old pair of friends having a pleasant low-key reunion.
The small talk continued; then Paul, like a man possessed, suddenly bounced up and headed straight for Ringo’s drum kit and began to bash the drums.
“Let’s play!” he exclaimed. Linda immediately headed for the organ. “Let’s play.” She echoed. They couldn’t be stopped.
John strapped on his guitar and began to play “Midnight Special,” one of the numbers the Beatles used to jam on when they first began to record together. So did Jesse Ed Davis and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, while Harry sang along.
Then we had another visitor, Stevie Wonder, who was also recording at the Record Plant.
“Stevie, Paul is here, and we’re going to jam,” John called out.
“Okay,” said Stevie. He went to the electric piano.
“Let’s record it,” said John.
“Yeah,” Paul agreed. John suddenly became very enthusiastic.
“We need a bass player,” he told the startled producer in the control booth of the studio next to ours. “Paul and I are jammin’ together.”
“I play bass!” the producer exclaimed. He dashed from his session to join ours.
“Fung Yee, I want you to play,” John told me. “Grab a tambourine.” I got up and joined the musicians
“Let it rip,” said John
That was the first time John and Paul had played together since Abbey Road in 1969, and it sounded wonderful. The team of Lennon and McCartney had been reunited with amazing ease. After they’d run down the song, John turned to Paul and said “Could you please tell your organist [Linda] to turn down the volume? I can’t hear Mr. Wonder”
John and Paul played it again, and it sounded even better. They made joyous music together that night. That was the only time John and Paul backed by Stevie Wonder and Harry Nilsson played together after the break- up.
I’m supposing that May Pang wrote the above from memory, because what’s on the actual tapes is not quite the stellar music a line-up such as this one might be expected to produce: It’s basically just a drunk, coked-up jam session, yet still a drunk, coked-up jam session of great historical significance.
You can read a transcript at Bootleg Zone. To be perfectly honest, it’s easier than listening to it!
“Mull Of Kintyre” was written by Paul McCartney (with Denny Laine) about his farm at the eponymous Scottish headland. McCartney bought the 183 acre High Park Farm in 1966 as an investment to foil the British tax man, and the song’s lyrics are about traveling and longing to return to his remote, beautiful home. The song was performed by Wings (well, if by Wings you mean Paul, Linda and Denny along with local bagpipe players from Kintyre’s Campbeltown Pipe Band, as by this time the rest of the group had left) and released as a double A-side Christmas single in 1977 along with “Girls School” (which was the hit in the US).
The record spent six weeks at the #1 spot on the British pop charts that year, was the first single to sell over two million copies in the UK and is still a perennial holiday favorite. Some people might want Macca to apologize for inflicting “Wonderful Christmastime” on us—and perhaps he should—but it all evens out when this lovely little tune gets taken into consideration.
Throughout his long career, Allen Ginsberg was keenly aware of the power of music—and an association with generationally key musicians, like Bob Dylan and The Clash—as the candy-coated bullet to see his poetry and ideas for social and political transformation reach the younger generation.
“The Ballad Of The Skeletons” with Philip Glass, Lenny Kaye, session guitarist David Mansfield, Marc Ribot and Paul McCartney (on organ, maracas and drums) was Ginsberg’s final 1996 release and in many ways, it’s probably the best of his recorded work. Even at nearly 8-minutes in length, the number never never gets dull—well with a backing band like that one...—as Ginsberg voices the lines of 66 skeletons representing American culture and hegemony. The poem was first published in the pages of The Nation in 1995.
Gus Van Sant directed a video for “The Ballad of the Skeletons” with a visually arresting Día de Muertos-style that saw the clip become an MTV “buzz clip.” Ginsberg told Steve Silberman:
“He went back to old Pathé, Satan skeletons, and mixed them up with Rush Limbaugh, and Dole, and the local politicians, Newt Gingrich, and the President. And mixed those up with the atom bomb, when I talk about the electric chair– ‘Hey, what’s cookin?’–you got Satan setting off an atom bomb, and I’m trembling with a USA hat on, the Uncle Sam hat on. So it’s quite a production, it’s fun.”
The Beat bard and Sir Paul perform “The Ballad of the Skeletons” at the Royal Albert Hall, October 16, 1995. During a visit with McCartney, Ginsberg mentioned that he was looking for a guitarist to back him during this performance. Macca said “What about me?” and below we can see the closest Allen Ginsberg ever got to being a Beatle. There’s more information about the song at The Allen Ginsberg Project.
“Hello mate, can I have me trousers back? It’s Paul.”
Roger McGough, one of the cool “Liverpool Poets” of the 1960s deeply influenced by the Beats, was in the band, The Scaffold, with Paul McCartney’s brother Mike from 1964-1973. Mike went by the stage name Mike McGear to avoid being too obviously associated with Paul. He is the Mike mentioned in the poem below, “To Macca’s Trousers.”
McGough recalled that he owned a pair of McCartney’s old pants (“They were part of a blue mohair suit and they’ve got quite a sweaty waistband. They’ve obviously been worn a bit.”) when a museum exhibit about the “Mersey Beat”—and Mersey Beats, to make that distinction—scene(s) of the 1960s was staged in Liverpool in 2009.
McGough wrote the poem about having them framed and then got the idea for pairing the pants and poem together as a work of art. He told Laura Davis of the Liverpool Post: “I didn’t want to put them on eBay, just because of knowing the family, it would be a tacky thing to do.”
“Paul used to give Mike some of his old cast-offs and the trousers were too short for Mike so he gave them to me. I never wore them, forgot I had them and then I realised ‘oh I’ve got a pair of Paul McCartney’s trousers’.
“Then, as the trousers unfolded, so did the story.”
In 1973, McGough and Mike McGear joined GRIMMS, a merger of The Bonzo Dog Band, The Scaffold and Andy Roberts from Liverpool Scene. McGough is the author of more than 50 books and plays. He also worked on the script for The Beatles’s Yellow Submarine cartoon.
You’ve definitely heard her play guitar and bass. Statistically, you’re likely to own albums she played on. Your parents almost certainly did. According to her, she is responsible for many of the famous Motown bass lines usually attributed to James Jamerson, including “Bernadette,” “Reach Out,” “I Can’t Help Myself” and “I Was Made to Love Her.” She influenced The Beatles’ musical direction from Revolver onward. And it’s quite probable that you’ve never even heard her name.
Carol Kaye was one of the most prolific session musicians in American music in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the male-dominated world of Los Angeles session players (sneered at in The Kinks’ song “Session Man”), Kaye was a rarity and a powerhouse. She began playing music professionally at 14 in 1949, playing guitar in big bands and bebop jazz groups, playing in clubs and giving lessons around Los Angeles. Her first recording sessions, beginning in 1957, were on guitar for Sam Cooke, Richie Valens, and the Righteous Brothers. From 1964-1973 she primarily played bass and appeared on over 10,000 recordings of pop songs, jazz standards, television show themes, and movie scores. She was one of the few female members of “The Wrecking Crew,” the name given by drummer Hal Blaine to the mostly anonymous first-call L.A. session players in the ‘60s.
Some of the best known songs featuring Carol Kaye’s work are Richie Valens’ “La Bamba” (on guitar), Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” Lalo Shifrin’s themes to Mission: Impossible and Mannix, The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer,” Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” The Lettermen’s “Going Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” and The Beach Boys’ “California Girls,” “Sloop John B,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Heroes and Villains.” She also played on Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out and Absolutely Free albums. All this while raising a family.
Carol Kaye was confident, reliable, and able to keep up a rough studio schedule that sometimes stretched into 12-hour days. She was also very opinionated and known for refusing to take any shit from her male colleagues. When session guitarist Tommy Tedesco once insulted her in the studio, she verbally ripped him a new orifice.
Note Carol Kaye in background during this mid-Sixties Beach Boys session
Even today, there are those who simply refuse to believe some of Carol’s assertions, such as her claim to have played on Motown songs credited to James Jamerson and on Beach Boys songs like “Good Vibrations,” where a different bassist’s work may have been used on the final version. Detractors claim that she is either a bitter, jealous liar or a senile old lady with a failing memory. Whether that is misogyny/sexism or a blinkered refusal to admit that the sun did not always shine out of Jamerson’s ass alone is an ongoing matter for debate.
“Smile was originally conceived as an extension of the experimentation of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the album that Paul McCartney acknowledges as having transformed his approach to the bass, in addition to prodding The Beatles to employ the studio more adventurously. McCartney has repeatedly cited Wilson’s bass playing in the era of Pet Sounds and Smile as the inspiration for the lyrical, contrapuntal bass style that he developed around the time of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The problem is, the bass player on nearly all of both Pet Sounds and Smile was not Brian Wilson. It was a jazz musician and studio pro in Los Angeles named Carol Kaye.”
And so Paul McCartney once said of Carol Kaye’s bass technique (without, apparently, knowing that it was her talents he was admiring):
“It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life ... I figure no one is educated musically ‘til they’ve heard that album ... I love the orchestra, the arrangements ... it may be going overboard to say it’s the classic of the century ... but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways ... I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence ... it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines ... and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines. ‘God Only Knows’ is a big favorite of mine ... very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. On ‘You Still Believe in Me,’ I love that melody - that kills me ... that’s my favorite, I think ... it’s so beautiful right at the end ... comes surging back in these multi-colored harmonies ... sends shivers up my spine.”
Outside of her years in the studio Carol worked as a music teacher, including a seven-year stint as on-staff Bass and Jazz Educator at the Henry Mancini Institute at UCLA and teaching courses at other universities as well. She’s written over thirty bass education books (Sting told talk show host Arsenio Hall that he had learned how to play bass from one of her books), made instructional DVDs, wrote a column for Bassics magazine and given hundreds of bass seminars. Carol continues to teach and offers bass lessons via Skype.