The psychedelic sci-fi graphic novel Rock Wars concerns a group of twelve volunteers from Galaxcentra (the center of the galaxy), who have been sent to earth—in the form of a rock band dubbed “Children at Arms”—to reunite the Beatles.
Quite a concept, ‘eh?
Published in 1979, Rock Wars came about during an era when there was a strong desire to see the Beatles reunite. The group broke-up in 1970, and rumors that they were going to reform periodically sprouted over the decade. By the mid ‘70s, the interest in seeing a Beatles reunion happen was very much in the zeitgeist. On April 24, 1976, Lorne Michaels famously appeared on Saturday Night Live to make the Beatles an offer of $3,000 to perform on SNL. Later in the year, a New York promoter said he would pay a reformed Beatles $230 million if they played a one-off concert. The public so wanted a Beatles reunion to occur, many believed the 1977 rumor that the Canadian group Klaatu were actually the Fab Four incognito.
Though Rock Wars didn’t include any creator credits, it was written by brothers James and Kenneth Collier. The Colliers spearheaded the project, bringing in an artist they knew as Shakti to illustrate it.
The Colliers were certainly motivated individuals. They were the force behind a rock band called Year One, and managed to secure performances for the group in the Grand Canyon and on top of the World Trade Center. The brothers also wrote the lyrics for Year One’s rock opera, which is said to share the Beatles reunion quest concept with Rock Wars (listen to the Year One double album here).
There was a plan to turn Rock Wars into a film, but as far as I can tell, it was never completed. The murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, might have been the tragic reason the movie was abandoned. It certainly put an end to the idea of a Beatles reunion—for the time being.
In the early 1980s, two albums of rare Beatles recordings were released with little fanfare. Consisting of the Christmas messages the Fab Four distributed to their fan club in the 1960s, these LPs weren’t authorized by the Beatles, and it appears the reasons they were put out in the first place had, oddly, little to do with financial gain—in the traditional sense, that is. There was also a third album of this material in the pipeline, and though its release was challenged in court, copies eventually made their way into the world.
Back in April, we told you about the tax shelter record labels of the 1970s and 1980s. These companies offered investments in master recordings, which would be used as the basis for albums. Tax shelters aren’t illegal, but those that focus on the tax benefits, rather than, say, the success of an album being bankrolled, are considered fraudulent by the I.R.S. Many of these labels were found to be just that, while others are believed to have been shams. In such a scenario, a record that failed to sell resulted in a significant tax credit for investors.
The tax shelter labels existed as a means to exploit the U.S. tax code, but they also exploited artists, who, more often than not, had no idea their work was being issued in such a manner. All sorts of material—demos, outtakes, rarities, etc.—was issued with little-to-no promotion. In recent years, collectors came up with a colorful descriptor to identify such LPs: “tax scam records.” Some of these albums are amongst the scarcest slabs of vinyl ever pressed.
The Beatles first holiday record, 1963.
Between 1963 and 1969, the Beatles taped Christmas messages specifically for their fan club. The recordings were pressed on 7-inch flexi discs, housed in unique artwork, and shipped to fans, free of charge. The first year they established what would be the standard format: holiday greetings and year-end updates mixed with parodies of holiday classics, and the sort of tomfoolery the group was known for. As the Beatles began to stretch musically, the messages became another outlet for experimentation. By 1967, their fan club records were downright avant-garde.
Cover of the 1966 flexi.
After the Beatles broke-up—and just before the 1970 holidays—Apple Records sent the Beatles’ US and UK fan club members an album of the full run of Christmas discs. Again, there was no fee.
A decade later, in 1981, a selection of the Beatles holiday greetings appeared on an LP called Happy Michaelmas. The title is taken from a section of the 1968 message, in which Paul McCartney is singing a little ditty and playing off the phrase “Happy Christmas.”
Christmas 1965, Paul McCartney secretly recorded an “album” at his home in London as a present for his fellow bandmates John, George, and Ringo. There were only three discs ever made of this special festive recording, which have since either worn out or disappeared. This is how author Richie Unterberger described Paul’s Christmas album in his mammoth book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film:
For years, it had been reported that Paul McCartney recorded an album at home around Christmas 1965 specifically for the other Beatles. Supposedly, it included singing, acting, and sketches, and only three copies were pressed, one each for John, George, and Ringo. In a 1995 interview with Mark Lewisohn, Paul confirmed this in some detail, explaining, “Yes, it’s true. I had two Brenell tape recorders set up at home, on which I made experimental recordings and tape loops, like the ones in ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’ And once I put together something crazy, something left field, just for the other Beatles, a fun thing which they could play late in the evening. It was just something for the mates, basically.”
Continued McCartney, “It was called Unforgettable and it started with Nat ‘King’ Cole singing ‘Unforgettable,’ then I came in over the top as the announcer” ‘Yes, unforgettable, that’s what you are! And today in Unforgettable...’ It was like a magazine program: full of weird interviews, experimental music, tape loops, some tracks I knew the others hadn’t heard, it was just a compilation of odd things. I took the tape to Dick James’s studio and they cut me three acetate discs. Unfortunately, the quality of these discs was such that they wore out as you played them for a couple of weeks, but then they must have worn out. There’s probably a tape somewhere, though.”
If it ever turns up, it might be the earliest evidence of the Beatles using home recording equipment for specifically experimental/avant-garde purposes—something that John and Paul did in the last half of the 1960s, though John’s ventures in this field are more widely known than Paul’s.
Barry Miles in his biography of McCartney Many Years From Now notes the former Beatle had been regularly making experimental tapes for his then grilfriend Jane Asher which pips Lennon to the post as far as pioneering the avant-garde. As McCartney told Miles:
I would sit around all day, creating little tapes. I did one once called Unforgettable and used the Unforgettable Nat King Cole “Is what you are ...” as the intro. Then did a sort of “Hello, hello ...” like a radio show. I had a demo done by Dick James of that, just for the other guys because it was really a kind of stoned thing. That was really the truth of it.
This stoner recording has popped up on bootlegs but thanks to DM pal author, biographer, musician, and all-around good guy, Simon Wells we can share with you the whole of McCartney’s Unforgettable Christmas recording from 1965.
I’m reliably told that photographs are polysemous—that is they have multiple meanings which can change depending on mood or understanding of what the image represents. Seems legit.
So let’s take, for example, the picture posted above of three long-haired guys hanging around some city street in the 1970s. It kinda looks like a regular snap of buddies hanging together. But, as soon as we realize its a pic of John Deacon, Roger Taylor, and a rather cool-looking Freddie Mercury of Queen, this picture takes on a whole new meaning.
Now that we know who it is, we probably want to know where this picture of Freddie and co. was taken. The trio was photographed standing outside 143 Wardour Street, Soho, London, in 1974. Next, I suppose we might ask, What were they doing here? Well, from what I can gather, it was taken during a break in the recording of the band’s second album, Queen II at Trident Studios directly opposite. Then we might inspect the image to glean what feelings these young nascent superstars are showing.
Photographer Watal Asanuma beautifully captured the personalities of these three very different individuals (and to an extent their hopes and ambitions) in a seemingly unguarded moment. Queen was on the cusp of their chart success with the “Seven Seas of Rhye” and the imminent release of “Killer Queen.” This photo now has a historical importance because of what we know this trio (and Brian May) went on to achieve.
I guess some of us might even want to go and visit the location to see where exactly Freddie or Roger or John stood and maybe even recreate the photo for the LOLs. It’s a way of paying homage and drawing history into our lives.
For those who can’t make it all the way to London, Music History, the Twitter presence of Rock Walk London, has been compiling selections of such pictures and making composites of the original image with a photo of what the location looks like today. Okay, so it saves the airfare but more importantly It’s a fun and simple way of bringing to life London’s rich history of pop culture in a single image.
If you like this kinda thing and want to see more, then follow Music History here.
More then and now pix of Jagger, Clash, Floyd, and more, after the jump…
I’ve never seen the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which came out in 1978. The movie was directed by Michael Schultz, whose best-known movies are probably Cooley High and Car Wash, both of which are pretty good. Considering the inescapable Britishness of the Beatles and especially Sgt. Pepper, the cast of Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB is simply an extended head-scratcher, with few Britons (Peter Frampton, comedian Frankie Howerd, Donald Pleasence and Paul Nicholas) to be found among a group that includes, most prominently, the Bee Gees, George Burns, Earth, Wind & Fire, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Steve Martin and of course, Frampton. (How could Billy SHears not be English?) The real problem with this movie seems to be its essential California-ness, as it was clearly conceived poolside at a Hollywood bungalow by some coked-up asshole who had never once pondered the lonely existence of Eleanor Rigby.
Late-era Beatles songs didn’t exactly lack for colorful characters, and the people behind the movie crammed a bunch of them in there, including Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Mr. Kite, Billy Shears, and the eponymous sergeant (all from the album), as well as Maxwell (of “Silver Hammer” fame), Mean Mr. Mustard, and, erm, “Strawberry Fields,” none of whom have anything to do with the album. How they neglected to find someone to embody Lovely Rita, who is just begging to be turned into a mesmerizingly gorgeous movie character, I’ll never know. Rather than recruit Bungalow Bill, Polythene Pam, Desmond and Molly, Sexy Sadie, my dear Martha, or Rocky Raccoon, the movie features several wholly invented characters like B.D. Brockhurst, played by Donald Pleasence, and Billy Shears’ brother, whose name is Dougie Shears. (This is the guy that really gets me. THERE ARE NO “DOUGIES” IN THE BEATLES CANON!!!)
Over the weekend, I spotted a trading card with Steve Martin from early in his career, and the caption read “Dr. Maxwell Edison” and I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out who the fuck that was supposed to be—my best guesses were the protagonist of The Man with Two Brains (actual name: Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr) and the sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors (actual name: Dr. Orin Scrivello). That led me to the usual bout of Internet research, through which process I learned that Donruss released a set of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band trading cards in 1978, the same year the movie came out.
From the vatange point of nearly 40 years after the movie came out, every card really reads as a devastating critique of the movie; in essence the entire set is an extended series of exhibits as to why the movie sucks. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
“My idea of fun is what puts most people in jail.” —PJ Proby
The entire point underlying this blog is to impart enthusiasm for the given subject matter. Sharing something extraordinary, remarkable or even just plain fun with the audience. Life’s too short to focus on lameass things. And to have to write about things you don’t even like? Nope, not how we really want to spend our days. Plus, why would you, the reader want to read about something mundane? Of course you don’t want that. You want awe-inspiring. Or at least things with cute cats and Twin Peaks-themed pot pipes. It’s our primary job here at Dangerous Minds to entertain you. Sometimes it’s simply to distract you from all of the bad shit going down…
You’ll get all of the above, in spades, I reckon, in the form of Texas-born rock and roller, PJ Proby, the entire package. He’s admittedly a pretty obscure figure. Frankly not even the most archly jaded rock snobs have probably ever heard of the guy. The subset of crate diggers who have actually heard the sound of the man’s truly phenomenal voice is smaller still. (His classic albums have hardly existed in the CD age.) I’ve been obsessed with him since the late 80s and have long wanted to make a documentary about him. Frankly I’m not really sure if I am acquainted with anyone who knows or cares about him like I do. (Maybe you do, but I don’t know you, do I?) Considering the intense megawatt talent the man possesses, all the lucky breaks that he’s had over his six decade-long career, and all of the immortals his orbit has collided with, PJ Proby should be, as he’s said himself—and I agree with this wholeheartedly—at least as famous as his one-time drinking buddy Tom Jones. That was not to be, although it coulda been and shoulda been.
When Tom Jones was just starting out, he was often accused—unfairly I think—of copying Proby’s act. In many ways PJ Proby and Jones are performers in that same general mold: powerful belters, macho, sexy, equally at home singing heart-breaking lonely boy ballads or bellowing balls-out rockers. When Proby’s infamous onstage trouser-splitting stunt occurred in Croydon (more on this below), it was in fact Jones who hastily replaced him on the package tour he was embarked upon after Proby was summarily banned from most of the live stages in Britain. If you like early Scott Walker, or the big ballady material Dusty Springfield excelled at, or even Nick Cave, then PJ Proby is probably in your wheelhouse. His records are easy to find—usually for really cheap—in used record bins. Every one of them is a mixture of filler and hits, but when he connects with the material, something sublime happens. I think he’s one of the all time greatest talents in rock and roll history, but few people would know that in 2017, or care.
PJ Proby was born James Marcus Smith on November 6, 1938, in Houston. His great-grandfather on his mother’s side was the outlaw gunfighter John Wesley Hardin and his father was a successful banker. He was educated at the strict San Marcos Military Academy, but even at school he was known as a bit of a hellraiser and was early on convinced that he was a genius and destined for greatness of some sort. His showbiz ambitions started early with local preteen appearances singing country music. He met Elvis Presley on that circuit when he was just 12 or 13 and Elvis at one point dated his step sister, Betty. But this was just the start of Proby’s improbable, Zelig or Forrest Gump-like ability to always be where the action was. Even at that age, he just was warming up, but already in the right places at the right time and always with the right crowd.
After moving to Hollywood in the mid-50s to become and actor and/or a singer, Smith took the name “Jett Powers” and recorded the single “Go, Girl Go!,” which is best known today as a song that the Cramps dug. (Jett’s backing band the Moondogs included Elliot Ingber/“Winged Eel Fingerling,” later of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, on lead guitar). Signed to a songwriting and performing contract with Liberty (along with the likes of Leon Russell and Glen Campbell), he recorded under the name Orville Woods so that the public would think he was black! Additionally Proby made a living working as a bodyguard for closeted gay entertainers like Rock Hudson, Liberace and Tab Hunter (by his own account, brutally dispensing anyone who dared hassle one of them in a “gay bashing” manner). Proby also recorded “vocal guides” for $10 a pop so that performers like Elvis could more efficiently make use of expensive recording studio time. (He did twenty such vocal guides for Presley, mimicking his singing style in a full-throated manner that was said to have amused the King.) In early 1964 Jackie DeShannon and songwriter Sharon Sheeley (who’d been his best friend, Eddie Cochran’s, fiancée) introduced Proby—then bearded and wearing his hair extremely long as he was hoping to play the part of Jesus in a musical—to Jack Good who was visiting from London. The meeting would change the course of his life.
Good, the prominent TV producer and manager who gave the world Shindig!, Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and others of Britain’s first wave of rock and roll stars (he’s also the guy who convinced Gene Vincent to don that Richard III garb) is alleged to have grabbed Proby’s ponytail to see if it was real. Soon afterward, Good’s secretary called from London and offered the complete unknown a spot on the Beatles’ upcoming television special “With the Beatles.”
Upon his arrival at Heathrow airport Proby told reporters of his intentions for Great Britain: “I’m going to fight all your men, fuck all your women and steal all your money. Then I’m going to buy myself a yacht and sail off into the wide blue yonder.”
When the show aired, Proby immediately became extremely famous, the very definition of the overnight sensation, even if his fame was to be short-lived. A single, “Hold Me” was recorded and rushed out so quickly that a stray vocal was inadvertently pressed into the record’s fadeout on the initial run. The song became a smash, reaching #3 in the UK charts. He racked up more hits with utterly histrionic (and almost insane-sounding, yet mesmerizing) cover versions of West Side Story‘s “Somewhere” and “Maria,” as well as with a song the Beatles had tried unsuccessfully to record for the Help! soundtrack, but that none of them could adequately sing. They opted to gift the song, “That Means a Lot,” to someone with the pipes who could, their American pal (well at least Lennon liked him) Proby. Incredibly, George Martin even arranged the song for him!
PJ Proby performs the castoff number from ‘Help!’ that Lennon and McCartney gave him, “That Means a Lot” on ‘Hollywood A Go-Go’ in 1965. If you are not mazed by this, I cannot possibly help you.
What insane luck, right? Soon Beatles manager Brian Epstein set up Proby with a UK package tour, co-headlining with Cilla Black. That’s when things got a bit out of the egotistical young rocker’s control: At a date in Croydon, Proby clad in his trademark tight velvet jumpsuit and looking like an 18th century dandy, was doing his James Brown-inspired stage act (the likes of which still staid post war Britain had not yet seen) and slid across the stage, tearing his pants around the knees and upwards from there. The crowd of teenaged girls went utterly mad, but the incident caused a stir in the media getting Proby on the radar of Britain’s self-appointed moral censor, Mary Whitehouse. When Proby did the same thing two nights later it was widely reported that he’d done something lewd in Luton. The Daily Mirror wrote that he was a “morally insane degenerate” and urged parents to keep their children from attending one of his shows. Whitehouse called his “thrusting” obscene but Proby claimed otherwise and available photos seem to corroborate his side of the story. He was kicked off the tour anyway and banned from the ABC theater chain and BBC radio and television. This was a good decade before the Sex Pistols, of course. Proby had a few more semi hits, but without radio play his star quickly faded. He later said of the incident:
“I was Britain’s Errol Flynn, the rough mother of pop. I was Jimmy Dean all busted up. I was Marlon Brando. They wanted rid of me.”
Canadian audiences were still able to thrill to Proby live in concert, while his work visa was yanked for a time in the UK
Back in Hollywood, Proby had his sole Billboard Hot 100 Top 30 hit with the infectious cajun-spiced rocker “Niki Hoeky.” He bought a mansion in Beverly Hills and married one of Dean Martin’s daughters. When he found out that she’d been having an affair with his car mechanic and saw them walking together hand in hand, he discharged his gun in the air several times to intimidate them. He soon found himself surrounded at gunpoint by much of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department and did a three month stint in a holding cell before moving back to the UK. He recorded his Three Week Hero album in 1968 with Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones, then of the New Yardbirds, but soon to be rechristened Led Zeppelin. It was the very first time all four of them would be inside of a recording studio together.
There are all kinds of crazy PJ Proby stories involving Jack Daniels, bankruptcies, guns, underage girls, more guns and more Jack Daniels. Every once in while during the 80s he’d turn up again in some completely insane or scandalous situation. He went through six wives. He worked as a shepherd on a farm before running off with the farmer’s daughter. He recorded some totally off the wall covers of songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Heroes” and “Tainted Love” for the Manchester-based Savoy label, there was at least one fairly lurid television news piece about him…
In case you haven’t heard, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Oh yeah, that’s right—you probably have heard. On this very blog, in addition to Richard Metzger’s glowing review of the recent reissue, there’s also the terrific report from our own Oliver Hall on the curious fact that his grandfather, Huntz Hall of the Bowery Boys, is actually one of the gallery of famous faces on the album’s cover.
Sgt. Pepper’s is a common choice for “Greatest Album of All Time” and lots of people get tired of hearing about it for that very reason. It was and is an undeniably influential album, however, and one proof of that is the sheer number of musical artists who have imitated its cover art, which was cunningly executed for the occasion by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth.
The first band to do a prominent parody of the cover, of course, was the Mothers of Invention, whose third album We’re Only In It For the Money took an unmistakably sneering attitude towards the Fab Four’s latest world-beating project. (They even got Jimi Hendrix to pose for it with them. That’s not a Hendrix cut-outs, it’s Jimi. Zappa put out an invitation to several others, apparently, but only Hendrix showed up.)
If you’re in a band and you don’t know what to do for your next album cover, you can try this: Spell out something in flowers in front of a drum head with some flamboyant text on it, while a throng of notables gathers and poses for an unlikely group portrait. Pink Floyd bootlegs. The Simpsons have done it. The Sex Pistols have had it done to them. Hell, even Ringo Starr has done it (kind of…..). If nothing else you get extra points for “taking on the rock and roll establishment” because nothing is more established in rock and roll than the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper’s.
There are literally dozens of albums that have used this trick, but we’re only showing a small selection. To single out two of my favorites: For the identically titled 1977 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which presented electronic covers of six tracks from the Beatles’ original, Jun Fukamachi reversed many of the elements in the cover, including having the crowd of personages “pose” with their backs facing the camera, all of which added up to an intriguing “backwards” concept. Meanwhile, Macabre’s 1993 death metal album Sinister Slaughter replaced the likes of Mae West and Gandhi with various serial killers and mass murderers.
“It was 50 years ago today, that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”
Whenever I write a “review” of something that’s universally acknowledged to be a masterpiece, I usually try to go out of my way to explain to the reader that just as I don’t care what their opinion is of [fill in the blank with names like Neil Young, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, etc.] I really don’t expect them to give a fuck what I think of [fill in the blank again] either. You don’t think Tonight’s the Night is such a great album? Can’t get into Meddle? Love Court and Spark but Uncle Meat never did it for you?
Who gives a shit, asshole? Not me, not anyone. Taste is subjective but certain great artists are beyond “opinion.” The Beatles top that list. I’m not about to volunteer my opinions on the music contained on the new 50th-anniversary box set of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but rather try to answer questions regarding its consumer value like: “Did they do a good job with it?” and “Is it worth a pricey upgrade for your music library?” On matters of this sort, I am happy to be of service.
Now… having said all that, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has really never been one of my favorite Beatles albums. I’ve owned it since I was a little kid, and although I had most certainly played it enough back then to have every bit of it memorized and etched into my DNA, I honestly don’t think I’ve purposefully pulled out Sgt. Pepper’s and played it more than once (when the remastered Beatles CDs came out in 2009) since the early 80s. It’s just not got a single one of my favorite Beatles’ tracks—I far prefer what was released on either side of it. I mention my “opinion” here in passing only to explain what I felt like going in...
When the package arrived last week containing the six-disc deluxe edition, I assumed, due to the HEFT of the thing that I had just gotten a care package with about 25 albums in it from one of the labels. Nope, just one BIG box set and one that’s very heavy. The slipcase is a spectacular and eye-popping re-rendering of the famous “people we like” artwork by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth in the form of a glued-on 12” by 12” 3-D lenticular. It’s seriously cool and positively shouts “first class” and signals “archival edition” from the very start.
You slide that off to find a replica of the box containing the master tapes. Open that and there’s a high gloss recreation of the original album jacket which houses six discs—4 CDs (new stereo mix, outtakes, 1967 mono mix, element reels), one Blu-ray with a 5.1 surround mix done by Giles Martin (and some video material) and one regular DVD with the same material in lower resolution. There’s also a really good 144-page hardback book with fascinating essays, as well as nicely printed recreations of a full-color vintage UK in-store marketing poster for the album, the original “cut outs” insert and—and this is ABSOLUTELY SWELL—the Victorian-era circus poster that inspired John Lennon to write “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Don’t tell me that’s not an inspired inclusion! It’s also something completely essential to a better understanding of the music and there for a reason (unlike the fucking marbles that came with The Dark Side of the Moon box set. MARBLES!) Many will already know the backstory, but if you don’t, and even if you do, having that poster in front of you as you contemplate the creation of that song as it’s playing is positively delightful in every way. And that sort of attention to detail is yet another reason why this box set is a cut above so many others.
The main events here, of course, are the newly minted stereo and 5.1 surround mixes by Giles Martin. Both are absolutely incredible. If you don’t already have a 5.1 listening situation in your home, now might be the time to upgrade. Seriously. Hearing Sgt. Pepper’s in surround offers sonic revelation upon sonic revelation and is a deeply satisfying audiophile listening experience. Sgt. Pepper’s has always been a particularly good-sounding album, after all it was recorded in one of the very best studios in the world by perhaps the greatest record producer who has ever lived—but in this enhanced state, with the playback given room to breathe via five speakers and a subwoofer, it’s a different beast altogether from what we’re used to hearing. The music—which employs one of the most original and varied palettes of rainbow-colored sounds ever devised—is sharper, crisper, tighter, more alive sounding, etc., etc. than I’d have ever thought possible.
At the time of the original recording, limited by how many tracks were available (four), the Beatles and George Martin would build source reels of overdubs and sound effects and then these element reels would be “bounced down” ultimately to the two-track stereo master or the mono mix. With analog audio tape, each layer or generation introduces an additional level of tape hiss. Add too many and it starts to sound murky.
Giles Martin and his team went back to these four track element reels and reassembled Sgt. Pepper’s from these earlier generation tapes, which had been kept in the EMI vaults. The results, whether the new stereo mix or the surround treatment, are remarkable. From the opening moments of the audience anticipating the start of a rock concert, you just know that you are about to experience something amazing—what audiophiles call an “eargasm.” It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck as if I was really there standing among the audience—or in Abbey Road studios—waiting for the show to begin. Red lights, green lights, strawberry wine, if you know what I mean. And then BOOMit’s on. The title track rocks like a motherfucker.
As the story goes, it took the Beatles and George Martin three weeks to mix the mono version of the album, but after that, the band left and Martin mixed the stereo version alone in just three days. In 1967, stereo was still seen to be as much of a gimmick as 5.1 surround would be today. Most people owned a “record player” at the time with but a single speaker (and a carrying handle). George Harrison once described how the Beatles felt about hearing their music in stereo vs. mono: the stereo versions always sounded like “less” to them. By 1968 mono was already quickly being phased out and the stereo Sgt. Pepper’s became the default version. Most people have never even heard the mono version and although until now most of us haven’t had anything to compare it to, retroactively the “classic” stereo version seems much weaker than the more worked-over and considered mono mix. McCartney’s bass was much less focused and punchy; the same can be said for Ringo’s drums. What we are used to hearing is flatter and doesn’t necessarily feel like all of the musicians were playing together at the same time. The new stereo version corrects these deficiencies for 21st century sonic expectations and modern audio systems. Macca’s bass contributions are nimble, better-defined, more muscular and rubbery. Ringo’s kick drum thuds and his snare cracks without worry that the needle will jump out of the record’s grooves. There’s significant detail in the high end for the cymbals and hi-hats. The bottom end is never flabby or muddled, but now the rhythm section will vibrate the foundation of your house.
With the new 5.1 mix the soundstage is opened even wider, and although Martin’s mixes (both the new stereo and the 5.1 mix) have a respectful fealty to the original 1967 mono mix done by his father and the Fabs, here the listener is able to detect individual Beatle voices amidst densely layered harmonies and see even deeper into creation of the music. Sound effects, like the swirling circus sounds in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” are particularly three-dimensional. The sitars and tablas of “Within You, Without You” felt like psychedelic leaves falling around me, but no one can accuse Giles Martin of doing anything other than what should have been done. No more, but no less either. If you were hoping for something showier than the conservative 5.1 mixes on 2015’s Beatles #1 video set, Martin’s sparkling new Sgt. Pepper’s surround mixes do go a bit further out, but by and large expect immersion, not gimmickry. There’s still quite a bit of difference between music coming at you from two speakers vs. standing right in the middle of it in a concert hall. You can’t please everyone, but I feel like Martin hit the absolute sweetest spot here. Even the overly opinionated ponytailed baby boomer guy at the record store won’t be likely to cry “sacrilege” at this one.
Someone I know who also scored a review copy said that this new edition of Sgt. Pepper’s was like going from VHS to 4K. Whereas I appreciate the point he was trying to make, let me remind you that Sgt. Pepper’s has never sounded bad! However, I would say that comparison holds up if he’d have said it’s akin to going from watching a DVD on a standard def TV circa 1999 to a SONY 4K OLED flatscreen today (have you seen this?) with a full complement of speakers and a subwoofer pumping out 5.1 surround. That’s still saying a hell of a lot.
The Summer of Love hasn’t begun. There’s LBJ at Expo 67, thanking God for putting the U.S.A. next to Canada instead of, say, Pakistan or Greece; there’s Cher modeling the short-cut pantsuit. There’s Robyn Hitchcock saying goodbye to his late grandmother with a little help from Brian Eno, and there’s my father, Gary, not yet 18, hearing Peter Bergman announce on Radio Free Oz that his own father, Huntz Hall, is pictured on the cover of the Beatles’ new album.
In the original photo shoot for the album cover, Huntz appeared next to Leo Gorcey, his co-star in hundreds of Dead End Kids, East Side Kids, and Bowery Boys movies, or “pictures,” as he would have said. (Though Leo isn’t in in it, I’m partial to Looking for Danger, in which the Bowery Boys lend Uncle Sam a hand by impersonating Nazis in North Africa.) But Leo asked for money, and Peter Blake airbrushed him out. Huntz, bless him, did not ask for money, so he stands alone in the back row between a Vargas girl and Simon Rodia, whose head seems to be growing out of Bob Dylan’s. Lined up in front of him are Karl Marx, H.G. Wells and Paramahansa Yogananda.
Now, some smart aleck will claim FEAR settled the balance when they conspicuously thanked Leo, but not Huntz, in the liner notes of More Beer, another album that is close to my heart. This game of one-upmanship will only end in triumph for my mighty clan and tears of shame for the rest of humanity. He can deny it all he likes, but Rick Nielsen of John Lennon’s onetime backing band Cheap Trick bit gramps’ style. And it was Huntz, not Leo, who shared the stage with Duke Ellington, busted a hang with Alice Cooper, and accompanied Ken Russell to a Sex Pistols show during the filming of Valentino. After which these candid shots of Huntz posing with members of THOR at a Travelodge in 1983 seem hardly worth mentioning. Q.E.D.!
It is strange and puzzling to see your grandfather on the cover of a Beatles album. When you are on the playground 20 years after the Summer of Love and you tell your school chums your grandfather is on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, they respond that you are wrong and he is not. Juvenile rock scholars immersed in the backstairs literature of the Satanic panic tell you about the “Paul is dead” clues, so you lie awake all night wondering: My God, what was peepaw’s role in all that? And the title of the NME compilation Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father had an unusual resonance.
The biggest puzzle was Huntz’s appearance. Squinting in the daylight, wearing a tarboosh, a green djellaba and a red velvet scarf, he looks more like a carpet dealer standing in the Jemaa el-Fnaa at high noon than a Depression-era NYC tough. But, at last, I have discovered the solution to this puzzle: he is not wearing any of those things. Thanks to the good work of the Sgt. Pepper Photos blog, I now see that cover artist Peter Blake’s source was this black and white group shot of the Dead End Kids, with Huntz in familiar attire.
While Blake says the Bowery Boys were his choice, my father—who has contributed to a forthcoming book of essays about the crowd on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s whose name I do not yet know—thinks the pot bust that sent Huntz to jail in 1948 must have endeared him to the Fabs. (Though he was exonerated, I can confirm that Huntz was a lifelong slave to the ruinous vice of marijuana abuse. He may have been a comedian, but take it from me: there is nothing funny about watching a loved one support a $2-a-day drug habit.)
It’s obvious almost to the point of tedium to point out that the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, along with all of its merits as a work of music and a cultural touchstone, boasts one of the most surpassingly iconic album cover photos of the rock era. It was staged and shot by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake (who won a Grammy for their effort) using photo enlargements and wax figures of famous and obscure figures to whom the Beatles’ members wished to pay tribute, over 70 in all, including the Beatles themselves, both in real life and waxwork form.
Parodiesof the coverabound (including one rather spectacular recent example by Blake himself), and diagrams identifying all of the personages and objects in the photo have been around for about as long as the album—half a century as of this year, as it happens. But I’m not aware of anyone undertaking this endeavor until now: one Chris Shaw is trying to hunt down all the original photos used to create the cover. He’s documenting his progress on his Twitter feed (@Chrisshaweditor) and on a blog.
Shaw was recently quoted about the project by The Poke:
Being a bit of a Beatles obsessive, I’m excited about the 50th anniversary rerelease of Sgt Pepper. The legendary album cover is regularly popping up on my news feeds and I became curious as to the origins of the photos Peter Blake used to create the iconic sleeve.
My first search was for Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller (the picture behind Ringo and Paul). When I eventually located the source image, with the unexpected chimp and horn, it was so bizarre and out of context it piqued my interest.
I’ve now set myself the challenge of hunting down all of the original pictures on the sleeve. I may be some time.
Some were surely not terribly elusive—W.C. Fields, Tony Curtis, and Marlon Brando were culled from widely circulated promo pictures, and Bob Dylan was enlarged from the cover of Highway 61 Revisited. But some of his finds are quite marvelous; the Johnny Weismuller photo Shaw cites in the quotation above really is quite wonderful, and he even found the doll in the Rolling Stones sweater. I’d imagine some Dangerous Minds readers might have some insights to share with Shaw, and I’ll bet he’d be delighted if you’d point him toward any as-yet-unfound photo sources using the hashtag #SgtPepperPhotos, or through the contact form on his blog.
At the end of 1976, George Harrison released Thirty Three & 1/3, a return to form after a few moribund years in the mid-‘70s—even critics who’d been pretty dismissive of Harrison’s solo work (*cough* Robert Christgau *cough*) found it praiseworthy. It earned Harrison’s first unqualified raves since 1970’s lauded 3xLP All Things Must Pass, and Harrison promoted the work heavily. He made three videos from the album—over five years before MTV was even a thing—and two of them were directed by Monty Python’s Eric Idle.
The album’s release was the occasion for a major interview in Crawdaddy’s February 1977 issue, titled “The Quiet Beatle Finally Talks.” Harrison opened up to writer Mitchell Glazer for nine pages of substantive chat, including a ton of inside information about the Beatles’ working methods and their dissolution, and he didn’t conceal any bitterness about his relationship with Paul McCartney, which was a habit of his, actually.
I got back to England for Christmas and then on January the first we were to start on the thing which turned into Let It Be. And straightaway again, it was just weird vibes. You know, I found I was starting to be able to enjoy being a musician, but the moment I got back with the Beatles, it was just too difficult. There were too many limitations based on our being together for so long. Everybody was sort of pigeonholed. It was frustrating.
The problem was that John and Paul had written songs for so long it was difficult. First of all because they had such a lot of tunes and they automatically thought that theirs should be the priority, so for me I’d always have to wait through ten of their songs before they’d even listen to one of mine. That’s why All Things Must Pass had so many songs, because it was like you know, I’d been constipated. I had a little encouragement from time to time, but it was a very little. I didn’t have much confidence in writing songs because of that. Because they never said “Yeah, that’s a good song.” When we got into things like “Guitar Gently Weeps,” we recorded it one night and there was such a lack of enthusiasm. So I went home really disappointed because I knew the song was good.
Paul would always help along when you’d done his ten songs—then when he got ‘round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was very selfish actually. Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. I mean, my God, “Maxwell’s Sliver Hammer” was so fruity. After a while we did a good job on it, but when Paul got an idea or an arrangement in his head…but Paul’s really writing for a 14-year-old audience now, anyhow.
The Beatles sitting on the roof of the indoor toilet at Paul McCartney’s family’s home in Liverpool in 1963, the very same location as seen—from a distance—in the footage below.
Okay, a bit of background here: This 1958 police training film is the earliest film footage known to exist of Paul McCartney, John Lennon and (perhaps) George Harrison.
Although they are seen from a very great distance, the tiny figures in the shot are in fact sitting on the roof of the indoor bathroom (a real rarity at that time in Britain in working class housing) on the backside of the Liverpool council house where Paul McCartney’s family was living on 20 Forthlin Road. Google Earth alone is enough to match the house’s address, but furthermore, it was confirmed by McCartney’s younger brother Mike McGear that the figures are in fact John, Paul, George and Mike himself.
The back of the house overlooked the grounds of the Police Training College, headquarters of the Liverpool Mounted Police. Paul and his brother would watch them training horses, knocking pegs out of the ground with lances just as they had done in the British Raj.
“We used to sit on the concrete shed in the back yard and watch the Police Show every year for free,’ Paul remembered. “One year, Jackie Collins came to open it and we were entranced at the sight of her comely young figure.”
Armed with that tiny sliver of information, Liverpool-based Beatles fan Peter Hodgson did some primo detective work, looking at footage of the 1958 Police Show which shows the back of the McCartneys’ home on 20 Forthlin Road which was adjacent to the grounds of the Police Training College, and the Liverpool Mounted Police headquarters. John (18), Paul (16) and George (15) were in The Quarrymen together in 1958.
Hodgson posted on Facebook:
“They are seen, stood on top of their outside toilet roof, watching the annual Police Horse and dog display.”
When contacted about Hodgson’s amazing find by the Liverpool Echo newspaper, Paul McCartney’s 70-year-old younger brother Mike McGear said that’s he’s pretty sure the footage shows himself and his brother, but that John Lennon and even George Harrison might have also been present that day:
“Wow! That could definitely be us. It was a really big occasion in Liverpool and that’s what we used to do every summer, take deck chairs and climb onto the concrete shed and watch a free show. I think there is every chance John would have been there that year, absolutely. His friend, Pete Shotton, was a police cadet. George could easily have been there, too. It’s bloody mad – absolutely fascinating and unbelievable.”
I had four #3s, two #64s and a shitload of odds and evens in between but not enough to have a full house or anywhere near a complete run of Beatles’ Yellow Submarine trading cards. My brother was the real collector. I was just accessorizing. He was dedicated. I was too young. He almost had a whole set but was missing a #8, a #14 and two others which I now forget. No one else seemed to have these either which made the fun of collecting such fabulous, brightly colored cards seem ultimately pointless, like reading a murder mystery with the final chapter missing. My brother didn’t care whodunnit?—he just wanted to have something our father thought was “bad.” According to him, the Beatles were drug-addled, long-haired beatnik communists—he’d even heard they sang about wanting to be back in the U.S.S.R.
The Fab Four were not the kind of “heroes” the old man wanted us to admire. That kind of respect was meant for the likes of Don Bosco or Jean-Baptiste Vianney. I couldn’t see why we couldn’t have both? My brother never did get the full set. A year or two later, the old man, in one of his rages, ripped every one of these cards into itsy-bitsy pieces—just to let us know exactly what he thought about our “rock ‘n’ roll.” By then, it was Glam Rock and Heavy Metal. The Beatles were oldhat.
In 1968, Anglo released 66 Yellow Submarine trading cards. They were sold in a variety of four different packs—one for each of The Beatles. Today one of these cards can fetch a minimum of five bucks right up to a max. of around $250. A whole set won’t give you much change from $2,500 (£1,800). So, our old man was really ripping up the family inheritance all those years ago. And though he feared the influence of the free-living Beatles he had no clue what threat lurked in our predilection for Black Sabbath and Dennis Wheatley novels.
I never saw the film until a decade later when it cropped up on TV one long summer evening. It seemed overly arch. A film to be appreciated by an older in-the-know audience rather than little kids looking for a psychedelic sugar rush. Though I’ve tried to gather the whole 66 cards together, there are a still few missing—mainly the early numbers like #6, #8, #10 and #12. Thereafter, they just run in order to the end.
More ‘Yellow Submarine’ trading cards, after the jump…
The Beatles were big enough that even the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had to deal with it, somehow. In 1976 Soviet-controlled TV—the only available televised media in the entire country—played a peculiar Russian version of Paul McCartney’s deathless song “Let It Be” as an oddly baroque and defiantly un-glitzy bit of variety TV. Odd to say about television in the worker’s paradise, but the trappings of the proceedings seem to me somewhat ... bourgeois?
It doesn’t happen too often, but today I sorely wish I understood Russian. In the YouTube comments on the video, there is some healthy (and also rancorous) debate about the nature of the Russian translation and the degree to which they represent a stridently post-Marxist rewriting of McCartney’s text. One participant’s premise is that in Soviet Russia, where the authorities control all of the public propaganda and nothing comes about by chance, it was essential to rewrite the humanism of the original song to fit collectivist ideas, so everyone’s the same, no one is an individual, one must internalize Communist conformity, blah blah. The original Russian is (forgive any errors on my part here) “Bylo, est, i snova: budet tak,” which means something like “It was, it is and it will always be like that.”
What everyone seems to have missed is that this is a pretty fair translation of McCartney’s original sentiment. What is the phrase “let it be” if not an ode to quietism, however defined? It don’t take a lot to get from here to there, you know? The propagandistic component might have resided not in rewriting McCartney in any way but in choosing this song, of all Beatles songs, as the one to adapt.
The 2000 WGBH miniseries Communism: The Promise and the Reality features a brief clip of this mysterious video, although unfortunately not much information about it is supplied. It pops up in “People Power,” the final part of the six-part series, about 14 minutes in (you can check it out below). After discussing the strong demand in the USSR for banned western goods such as blue jeans, the voiceover says, “But occasionally the authorities made an effort to cater to the tastes of the new generation….” and we get to see the start of the video. They translate the opening lines thus:
Everything’s happened before in the world
People are always the same
That’s how it was, it is, and always will be
Apparently the religiously tinged references to “Mother Mary” were also expunged, which can’t be too surprising.
If you thought the movie version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was bad—and it is—here’s something that will really curl the toes of your Beatle boots.
All This And World War ll mashes up archival WW2 film footage with gung-ho Hollywood war epics and then tosses in a weird mix of rock stars covering Beatle tunes for its soundtrack. It manages to achieve a soul-deflating awfulness while occasionally allowing little worm like glimmerings of brilliance to ooze through the sprocket holes. Had it not been produced by 20th Century Fox, it might be mistaken for a long lost underground film directed by dadaist acidheads with a lot of rock and roll musicians for friends.
When it was released to theaters in 1976, ATAWW2 lasted all of a couple of weeks (critics hated it, audiences stayed away) before being pulled by Fox and buried forever. It has never appeared on VHS or DVD. Rumor had it that Fox had destroyed every existing print and negative of the movie (not true, but they probably should have). Even bootleggers found it close to impossible to unearth a copy.
Thanks to YouTube, it’s now possible to see this extravagantly misguided experiment as it lands on your screen with a sickening thud. An experiment that proves that if you put enough monkeys in an editing room and give them enough time and stock film footage they will create “something” that approximates a movie even if it’s no more than the cinematic equivalent of throwing shit against the wall.
I’m sure we can all argue which juxtapositions of song to images work, which ones are silly in the extreme or just plain irredeemably bad ... or all of the above. Helen Reddy singing “Fool On The Hill” as clips of Hitler unspool on the screen gets my vote for the movie’s maddest moment. Or is it Rod Stewart singing “Get Back” to footage of masses of goose-stepping Nazis? Or The Bee Gees singing “Golden Slumbers” as bombs drop on London and buildings explode in a maelstrom of smoke and fire? I don’t know. The film offers so many choices that my bad taste meter never left the red zone. And frankly, that alone is enough for me to recommend this anal wart of a movie.