Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Jamming With Simon Kirke! (Munich, July 1980)


Olympiahalle, Munich, West Germany – July 5th, 1980

Disc 1 (59.39): Train Kept A Rollin’, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Black Dog, In The Evening, The Rain Song, Hot Dog, All My Love, Trampled Underfoot, Since I’ve Been Loving You.

Disc 2 (62.52): Achilles Last Stand, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Stairway To Heaven, Rock And Roll, Does Anybody Remember Bad Company?, Whole Lotta Love

The penultimate show on Led Zeppelin’s final tour was on July 5th in the Olympiahalle in Munich, a venue they last played in 1973. Unlike most shows from the tour it lacks a soundboard recording but has two audience tapes in existence. The tape used for all the releases is very good to excellent stereo. It is slightly distant from the stage and has trace amounts of hiss, but is very lively and punchy.

The encores were the first part to be pressed onto disc when they were included on Spare Parts(POT-003) along with tracks from Vienna and Berlin. Tarantura included the same as bonus tracks on Eye Thank You(T4CD-4) along with the two Mannheim shows complete. Tarantura released the entire show on Munich 1980 (1980-23, 24), part of their Over Europe tour binder.

Jamming With Simon Kirke! is a two source edit. Empress Valley utilize the same excellent audience recording used by Tarantura, but use a second tape for several cuts. The second tape source in “In The Evening” from 3:57 to 4:10, after “The Rain Song” for Robert Plant’s introduction and the first ninety seconds of “Hot Dog,” in “Achilles Last Stand” from 5:10 to 8:12 and in “Whole Lotta Love” from 10:09 to 10:16. The edits could have been smoother, but that’s a minor issue when compared to the overall enjoyment of the show.

Munich was one of the very few shows to receive any kind of publicity outside of continental Europe. Steve Gett wrote a long review of the tour and show titled Led Zeppelin Uber Alles. The author observes that “While Zeppelin fever has for the past few weeks enveloped the Continent, not a word has appeared in the English press on what marks the act’s first tour for three years. A number of diehard fans have crossed the Channel in the past fortnight to witness the gigs – but there has been no media coverage whatsoever on Zeppelin’s long-awaited return to work. Amazing, when one considers that the band are still by far the most popular outfit in the world.”

In reviewing the show, Gett focuses upon Jimmy Page, claiming that “it was Jimmy, most of all, who epitomised the new-found enthusiasm of the group. His guitar playing was excellent – rough at times but any errors were covered by moments of inspired genius” and concludes that “The whole concert reflected Zeppelin getting back to basics and I think perhaps it might be as well not to include the Page solo spot in order to sustain impetus throughout.”

Munich begins strongly but begins to peter out by the end. “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” explode on stage, just like how Zeppelin love to start their concerts. Page introduces “Black Dog” as a number from the “annals of rock history.”

The first half has what are the better performances of the In Through The Outdoor material “In The Evening,” “Hot Dog” and “All My Love.” John Paul Jones manages to play in the proper temp in the middle fanfare of “All My Love,” a part which gives him problem in other shows.

“Achilles Last Stand” is quite tentative and sloppy. Page sounds unsure of himself during the epic perofrmance and the band have to wait for him to play the proper transitions. This might be why it was dropped in Berlin on July 7th. Munich is the final performance of the piece.

“Stairway To Heaven” closes the show and “Rock And Roll” is the first encore. When they come out for another, Plant gets into a long introduction as the roadies are setting up a second drum-kit for Simon Kirke.

“Right now, before the club shuts we’d like to do one more.” Addressing news reports about the disaster in Nurnberg, he says “We’d also like to say of what you read in the paper today is not true. The doctor isn’t in fact behind the stage, he’s playing the drums.”

He then introduces Simon Kirke calling it “a little bit of an experiment for the next show that you’ll have in town.” Page plays the riff to “Moby Dick” before starting “Whole Lotta Love.” After the extended boogie section the two drummers have trouble returning to the main theme, so Page emulates the drum fanfare. It’s ragged but in good spirits, a good thing to hear.

Jamming With Simon Kirke! is packaged in a fatboy jewel case with extensive liner notes by Aquarius 11 in both Japanese and in an English translation. It is a good title to have and is definitely the best version of Munich available.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Jamming With Simon Kirke! | , | Leave a comment

The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun by Robert Greenfield (2012)


Review As a professor of music at an ivy league institution, a huge fan of early R+B and soul music and a total Stones freak, I pre-ordered ‘The Last Sultan’, was up all night reading it and am currently considering making it required reading for my course on popular music.

I have followed Greenfield’s writing since his STP: Stones Touring Party book, and fell in love with his oral biography of the great rock promoter Bill Graham from reading ‘Bill Graham Presents’, which I consider to be the Bible of what used to be known as the music biz. I also enjoyed his bios of Jerry Garcia and Timothy Leary and of course Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones.

I’ve always appreciated Greenfield’s writing because he tells it like it is, and isn’t some fan boy poseur impressed by fame or stardom. At the same time, he isn’t a muckraker. I’m about 3/4 through ‘The Last Sultan’ and I think its his most readable book to date, and pleases much like the great pop music which Ahmet Ertegun himself produced.

The stories in this book are utterly priceless. My favourites include a scene in which a large woman wearing a muumu happily greets Ahmet at some social function only to have him respond, ‘sorry, but I don’t think we’ve met’, to which she responds, ‘Well, I’m your ex-wife’. In another scene, an extremely hungover Kid Rock (whom Ahmet refers to as his ‘young elvis’) comes over to Ahmet’s house for lunch and complains that he hasn’t slept and is having girl trouble, to which Ahmet responds ‘You want a Baby Ruth, man? That’ll make you feel better’, at which point a butler brings out a silver platter of Baby Ruths and Butterfingers.

On a more serious note, the amazing history of Ahmet’s father, a Turkish diplomat to the United States, and Ahmet’s childhood with his brother Nesuhi (a jazz fanatic who ran his own label and recorded and produced everyone from Ornette Coleman to Sonny Rollins and even designed their album covers) is extremely interesting and noteworthy.

Of all the people Greenfield has written about, Ahmet Ertegun is the most fascinating and unbelievable personality of all, trumping even Bill Graham IMHO. To be able to have lunch with Henry Kissinger and then ‘do coke with the bass player’ in the same day is hardly understandable. As Kid Rock notes, Ahmet had more energy and partied harder at 75 years old than people half his age. But more importantly than the sex and drugs was the music. Ahmet was one of the few ‘record men’ who actually wrote songs and produced them in the studio. (Ray Charles’ ‘Mess Around’ comes to mind) In another great scene, a young Andy Johns (who recorded ‘Exile’) is mixing a Stones song in the studio when ‘some old guy walks in and says Hey, kid, you should turn up the bass and add some bottom to the guitars’, and as Jonhs says, ‘I did, and the thing gelled’. Asking Keith Richards ‘who was that?’, Keith responds, ‘that’s Ahmet Ertegun and he’s been producing hits since before you were born’.

Anyhow, I’ve written too much, but as someone who loves and teaches the history of this music for a living, all I can say is, this book rocks.

Review I’ve always been drawn to businessmen that have come from rather humble beginnings to being the best of the best. How did they get there? What was the tipping point in their careers? The Last Sultan, his real name Ahmet Ertegun, grew up the son of a high-ranking Turkish diplomat, would end up changing the record business forever through his record label Atlantic Records.

When he first moved to the US he used to sneak out and listen to black-roots music in the local clubs when no white record exec would dare do so. He ended up falling in love with this music and would later start a record label to bring it to the masses. Over the next five decades as different genres faded and others took shape, Ahmet was usually the visionary leading the charge. He signed some of the biggest music legends in history including: Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Sonny and Cher, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Bette Midler, and Kid Rock.

The most interesting theme of the book were the comments artists had about Ahmet Ertegun. Even early on in his career before he was a legend, artists had a deep respect for Ahmet’s innate ability to hear, modify, and help create #1 records. Because of Ahmet’s active social lifestyle, he found it very easy to connect with artists on multiple levels. Both the The Rolling Stones and Kid Rock were amazed that Ahmet could out drink and out socialize even them, not get any sleep, and be alert, well dressed, and well versed for a business meeting hours later. And Ahmet was always the best-dressed person in the room.

Ahmet Ertegun’s life was one part music visionary, one part businessman, and two parts the show “Mad Men”. And this is exactly why several major tv networks have tried to produce a series around Ahmet’s life. The book is also a rock and roll history lesson that takes you from the late 1940’s through present day. I enjoyed the book and you will to, although I guarantee your life will seem very boring after you read about “The Last Sultan”.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Book The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun by Robert Greenfield | | Leave a comment

Elton John Blue Moves (1976)


This marks the official beginning of Elton John’s endless string of mediocre albums, which he still hadn’t emerged out of. By this time, his muse had lapsed, his energy was spent, and he wasn’t interested in experimenting with other types of music. While on all accounts Blue Moves is a decent album, it’s a lot like the stuff from his back catalog except it’s nowhere near as memorable. So, why listen to Blue Moves when you can just pull out Captain Fantastic again? Making it worse, Blue Moves is a double album—a double album so massive that they couldn’t even fit it all on one CD, which means this costs quite a pretty penny at record stores. Whoa boy.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything worth hearing here. “Tonight” is a fabulous piece. It begins with an incredibly pleasant piano-led classical number that at times is reminiscent of either George Gershwin or Aaron Copeland (…as a complete non-expert in classical music, that is the best I can do). That was quite a bold undertaking for a puny popster like Elton John, and I find it refreshing that he succeeded so well at it. The harmonies might have been borrowed, but they were used well, and it’s a very beautiful experience. The second half of that song is a more traditional Elton John ballad… surprisingly this is where the song starts to get boring. At first, anyway, all he’s doing is singing and playing a very plain piano pattern. That said, the melody is gorgeous, and that melancholic way he sings it makes it quite a heart-wrenching experience. It gets more sweeping as a full orchestra (strings, woodwinds, brass and all) gradually comes into support him… almost nothing could get better than these orchestrations. Cool.

“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” is the only song from Blue Moves that anybody knows… At the very least, it proved that Elton was still capable of producing famous hits in 1976 even if he was descending from his peak. It’s very similar to the ballad section of “Tonight.” It’s very low-key, very melancholic, and a breathtakingly beautiful experience. Once again, Elton completely nails this vocal performance; he sounds so heartbroken here that he makes most other singers who want a similar effect seem like fakers. There is also a full-orchestra backing him there, and it’s perfectly used. The idea to bring in a harmonium to increase that mellow atmosphere was a stroke of genius, in my opinion.

While it doesn’t measure up to those two previously mentioned giants, “Someone’s Final Song” is another excellent melancholic ballad. It’s also virtually indistinguishable from those two songs, stylistically, except he uses synthesizers instead of a real orchestra. Where that song falls a bit short is the melody and harmonies, while good, it doesn’t quite capture me.

And then there’s the other 15 songs! Erm, where do I start? …Well, I suppose I could talk about all the other low-key ballads. (I suppose now’s the time to mention that one of the problems with Blue Moves is its lack of diversity.) “Chameleon” is nice and seems to specifically recall his Tumbleweed Connection days. The only problem with it is it doesn’t capture that same majesty melodically or harmonically. It just seems a bit stale. But we should give Elton credit for at least singing it like he believes it. I suppose that’s why everybody loves the guy! “Cage the Songbird” is such a stale and boring ballad that it had me wondering if he was covering a John Denver song… Not exactly the dude we want Elton John to turn into. (Nothing against John Denver in particular… I liked him in that George Burns movie.) “Between Seventeen and Twenty” is so forgettable that it’s a wonder I even remembered to write this sentence.

There are an awful lot of instrumentals here. Honestly, what’s the point of an Elton John instrumental? Sure, we can easily fall in love with the beginning of “Tonight” and “Funeral For a Friend” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but those were the exceptions. Elton John wasn’t too interested in becoming a piano virtuoso (though I don’t have much doubt that he could), but these instrumentals don’t strive to achieve anything beyond ordinary elevator muzak. “Your Starter For…” has a nice theme and it has rather complex structure, but it’s so freaking cutesy and insubstantial. Bleh. “Out of the Blue” is also an OK instrumental with a nice theme, and this one isn’t so cutesy, but it’s still seems way too polished. When I think about instrumentals, I’d want something that seemed a little more improvised. “Theme From a Non-Existent T.V. Series” on the other hand isn’t worth a whole heck of a lot. It doesn’t even have a memorable theme, which I suppose is why the T.V. series never existed!

Luckily for us, Elton throws in a few dance songs to keep things from becoming too boring. Unfortunately, these parts are pretty lame. “Boogie Pilgrim” sounds as dull as the title suggests… it’s six minutes and it plods along at a most-tedious pace. There’s absolutely no drive to it, and the melody is essentially valueless. Even the horn section brought into give the piece some “zest” seemed empty. “Crazy Water” was an attempt at disco music, and I sort of like the groove he has going, but it also seems empty. It’s as though Elton decided to just write a disco song without figuring out how that sort of music ticks. Where he does do a dance track OK is the final track, the bubbly “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance).” The rhythm section is more spirited, and so is Elton’s singing. The melody might not be too original (it sounds like a lot of other songs), but it’s solid enough to get the old foot tapping. “One Horse Town” is also a nicely done dance number; that one in particular has great orchestral arrangements with those strings, woodwinds, and brass melding in with the pop-rock guitars and drums more flawlessly than I would have thought possible. (Alas, these factions can go together!)

In the end, there’s enough about Blue Moves to make it worthwhile to some of his fans… Well, at least the ones with the most patience. For the rest of us, listening to this album is a tedious experience with its priceless gems woefully only few and far between.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Blue Moves | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Celebration Day DVD: ‘There was a swagger – we knew we were good’ from The Guardian (October 2012)

Celebration-Day-18x24-poster-01From The Guardian 11th October 2012

The first thing you notice is how close together they are. Led Zeppelin are not scattered around the huge stage of the O2 arena in London like 100m relay runners awaiting the baton, like most bands at this venue. They are huddled within a few feet of each other in the centre of the stage, and they stay that way for most of the two hours or so of Celebration Day, the new movie that captures their one-off return to playing live in December 2007. Jimmy Page might wander off a few feet to hit a guitar pedal, John Paul Jones occasionally sets his bass down to sit at a keyboard, but Robert Plant sings from the heart of the group, just in front of the drum kit – occupied by Jason Bonham, son of Zeppelin’s drummer John, who died in 1980. For most of the film, all four of them are in frame simultaneously.

“It was like a shield wall – it was a Romano-British shield wall, and what was coming at us was the idea of failure and ridiculousness – for me,” says Plant, speaking on a sunny autumn morning in his local in north London. “It would be precocious of me to walk to the front of the stage and take on a kind of rock singer pose, at that time in my being – and that’s five years ago. I could only send it up, and I don’t want to do that.”

“It was always like that,” counters Jones, talking later that day amid the old-money graciousness of the Connaught hotel in Mayfair, where he and Page are both ensconced. “You need to be that close. There’s a lot going on, a lot to concentrate on and focus on. Plus, I like to feel the wind from the bass drum.”

“This was going to be a critical show,” Page says. “We only had one shot at it, so we needed to go out there and do it really well. There was a lot of listening to be done, there was a lot of communication – nods and winks, and you can see this generate through the course of the evening to the point where we’re really communicating through the music.”

Celebration Day will likely mark the world’s last chance to see Led Zeppelin communicating through the music. At a press conference the following day, they will avoid questions about whether they will ever again reunite, but Plant’s ambivalence about Zeppelin’s role in his current life is evident during our conversation. He talks about how being the singer in the band is “just kind of narrating some bits and pieces which hold together some great instrumentation”. He says fronting Led Zeppelin means being specifically a rock’n’roll singer – and how that’s not what he is any more; he’s a singer. He talks about how the lyrics of those old, old songs are the words of a young man – “There was nothing cerebral about what I was doing at all” – even if he knows his writing got better as the band matured.

And he talks about how the last years of the group were something different anyway, after first he and his wife were seriously injured in a car crash in 1975, and then his five-year-old son Karac died of a respiratory infection in 1977. “My boyhood was over,” he says. “I was 27 [in 1975] and flattened. A little premature, but that was it. It was over. Whatever happened after that was going to be different, and so it was.”

What you experience on Celebration Day, then – those extraordinary songs, somehow combining intricacy and technical excellence with the wham! and the bam! of the earliest rock’n’roll – is just a reminder of how things must have been before it had to be different. For almost the whole point of Led Zeppelin is that it was music made by young men supremely confident in their ability to bend anything to their will – hard rock, folk, blues, funk, Arab-influenced epics, balladry. There is no doubt in their music: Dazed and Confused is as inaptly titled a signature song as could be. “There was a Zeppelin swagger, definitely,” Jones says drily. “We knew we were good. At our best, we thought we could be a match for any band on the planet. And at our worst, we were better than most of them.”

In one way, though, Celebration Day captures Led Zeppelin rather more perfectly than any previous live document: it’s tight and punchy and unrelenting. Might it even be a better representation of Zeppelin’s strengths than live shows in their heyday, when they might surrender half the set to lengthy solo instrumental excursions? “I think you should ask Jimmy that,” Plant says, with a slight laugh. “Time is a funny thing when you’re onstage. It did leave me occasionally a little bit adrift. But I’m a Jimmy Page fan, so I like to hear where he goes.”

I do put the question to Page, who punches his hand quickly and repeatedly. “Like that!” he says, illustrating the ferocity of their presentation. “That’s exactly what we were. That was the intention. We’re doing that to bring in the element of surprise.”

Then he notices the implicit criticism of lengthy solo instrumental excursions. “Can I just say, the thing with Led Zeppelin in the day – sure, the sets got longer, but it wasn’t necessarily because of extended solos. Although that certainly would have helped.” The problem, he says, was the desire never to lose anything from the set, even when new songs were added after each album. “We’d start out with a stripped-down show and by the end of the tour we were playing twice as long,” Jones says. “And then, the next tour, we’d strip it all down again and start again.”

Page formed Led Zeppelin in 1968, after the Yardbirds broke up around him. His first recruit was Jones, whom he had known from the sessions they had worked on in the mid-60s. “I just wanted to stop going crazy and do something creative,” Jones says. “And so I thought: ‘I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s good.'” He was followed by Plant and Bonham, a young singer and drummer whom Page travelled up to Birmingham to scout.

Jones remembers their first rehearsal, in a basement in Chinatown, London in August 1968. “You think: ‘I hope this drummer’s all right, I really do,’ because if the drummer’s not listening or not on the ball, it’s really hard work for a bass player. The first number we played – ‘Ah, thank God for that; he’s not only good, he’s great; this is gonna be a joy.'”
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page onstage in 1975 in the US. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page onstage in 1975 in the US. Photograph: Neal Preston/Corbis
Page already had a design for the group, having seen the way a new rock scene was developing in the US when he toured with the Yardbirds. “The FM stations were playing full sides of albums. Plus I’d been playing what were called the underground clubs – the Fillmores and places like that – with the Yardbirds. I could see the way it could go. One of the things we didn’t adhere to was the singles market. We didn’t have to do that because we had the mindset of these stations. It made a difference to how you would sequence the numbers and how one thing would roll into another – the cascading hills and valleys within the music.”

The first Zeppelin album came out less than six months after the group had formed, and so began the relentless process of becoming the biggest band in the world. “It was hard touring,” Jones recalls. “We toured by car for the first tour. There was another bloke in a little van driving the equipment. We finally got it right and got the private jet. We finally figured it out.” It’s surprising to see, given Zeppelin’s live reputation, that only 295 shows are listed on their website, across the entire course of their career – less surprising that 133 of them were in the US.

The bigger the band got, the more of the world they got to see, and the more their music opened out, assimilating influences way beyond the scope of their hard rock peers. There were visits to India, to Morocco, to other places where 12-bar blues wasn’t the muscial lingua franca. “In Morocco, we had some Nakamichi recording gear, which was quite the thing in those days, that Jimmy had got hold of,” Plant says. “Every year there was a folklore festival in Marrakech and I got a press pass. I said I was working for the NME. And I could get right to the front with my recorder, and there were a lot of Berber rhythms that were spectacular.”

And sometimes, Plant says, they left impressions of their own: “Jimmy and I played in a club in Bombay in 1972. I played drums and he played guitar and it was the only club in Bombay that had a drum kit. Somehow or other we ended up in there with loads and loads of illicit substances. Some guy is writing a book about rock in India – and apparently it was born in this club with Page and me wired out of our faces. I’m not a very good drummer, to say the least, but for some reason or another it left a mark.”

When they returned from their travels and the four of them became Led Zeppelin again, the process of integrating the ideas into song began, be it some fragile acoustic snippet, or one of those towering electric edifices – Kashmir, Achilles’ Last Stand, In My Time of Dying, Stairway to Heaven – that still startle with their grandeur. It was all done before they reached the studio, hence the fact that even their final album – with Bonham and Page reportedly deep in their narcotic and alcoholic addictions – took only three weeks to record.

“Page and I were studio musicians originally,” Jones says, “and you don’t waste time in a studio by trying to figure out the chord sequences. Studios cost money. If you want to work out everything you hire some old house or wherever and just go and sit there for however long it takes. Then you go and record it.”The preferred old house was Headley Grange, a former workhouse in Hampshire, where Zeppelin would write and rehearse and then, when ready, summon the Rolling Stones’s mobile studio to record the results, with Page overseeing sessions with minute attention to detail.

“I was curious to know how things had been recorded on some of the records that I was really keen on,” he says. “From Robert Johnson, where you can hear how he’s moving in and out on the mic, to those recordings that were done by Sam Phillips, and the Little Richard records. Where were the mics placed? How many mics were there? I learned various things that I now put into practice. And when I was a studio musician, then I could really see how recording worked, and also how it didn’t work – like a drummer who was stuck in a little isolated booth, which was padded out so you couldn’t hear any of the natural ambience of his kit. And so I knew instinctively that the drums had to breathe, but the fact was you had John Bonham, who really knew how to tune his drums, he really knew how to make them project.”

And so Led Zeppelin developed that huge, spacious signature sound. Plant sounded as if he had hatched from some alien egg, all disembodied yowls and indecipherable screams, compared to the other blues-rock shouters of the day; Jones could arrange songs into new shapes or offer basslines beyond the imagination of other players. And then there was Page’s guitar. For all the epic soloing, the Zeppelin records show off a player with a startling lack of vanity: he’s always serving the song, and often he’s low in the mix, letting Bonham and Jones rumble on before the necessary colour is added. His most effective interjections could be the simplest: the strange, off-key, rhythmic stabs that give the end of Immigrant Song its dramatic tension, for example.

For all that Zeppelin soon became a huge band, they were spurned and mocked by critics. “All you knew was that the Stones got all the press, and we sold a shitload of records,” Plant says. Jones remembers being shocked by Rolling Stone’s damning review of their first album, and still sounds irritated by the resentment of the group’s success. “I thought we were about the most honest band out there,” he says. “We were playing music that we loved for the reason that we loved it. I remember reading somewhere a musician saying that at a festival: ‘I saw piles of Fender basses.’ I thought: you bastard. I had one bass for like eight years in Zeppelin. One Jazz bass, my 1962 Jazz bass – and I know it was 1962 because that was the year I bought it, new.”

As with any band, it always comes back to the songs. And when you get as successful as Led Zeppelin did – the record concert attendances, the private planes, the platinum records – your songs cease to be your own: they become owned by the audience, and it is the crowd that grants them their meaning. As Plant says at the following day’s press conference about Stairway to Heaven: “Maybe I’m still trying to work out what I was talking about. Every other fucker is.”

“Part of the investment for all music lovers is selfish, because it takes us to places we want to be and we want to remember,” he says in the pub, more thoughtfully. “It takes us to a different person than the one who’s now listening to it.”

Page is sanguine about it. He knew what people wanted at the O2, and he was happy to deliver. “There’s no way that we could get together, and omit something like Stairway, that would’ve been insulting to the public. We’d have to do certain things: Whole Lotta Love’s obviously gonna be in there, Kashmir just has to be in there, and Stairway.”

But, Plant points out, the music still holds its power because it has not been overused: it doesn’t represent anything but itself. “Because we haven’t gone out and flogged it, there’s an anticipation and a memory of it being clean and pure and not part of some sort of threshing middle-aged circus, which I think is very much to our credit. If we’d been part of the merry-go-round year after year, or every two years, I think it might have damaged everything.”

A degree-course’s worth of books has been written about Zeppelin over the years, all containing their share of astonishing and horrifying stories. If only a fraction held any truth – and there are simply too many tales of violence, paranoia, underage groupies and the like for some of them not to be true – you can still be fairly certain that being in Led Zeppelin in the 1970s made possible decadence beyond imagining, and misbehaviour beyond mere condemnation. The tales provide ample fodder for those who see the band as vile representatives of a predatory, aggressive, arrogant male sexuality, even if for others they feed into the image of Zeppelin as the fullest representation of rock at its most swaggering. Ask them about what is often referred to as their “aura”, though, and you meet a brick wall.

“It’s the music,” Page says. “My life has been about that, not just trying to create a stir over something else that’s irrelevant to the music. I’ll tell you something: in all those books you won’t get any more understanding about the music than you will by actually listening to it. It’s not about some bit of insanity over here, it’s about that music that’s recorded across those albums.”

“Any peripheral bullshit left me cold and still does,” Plant says. “The band was always four guys that got together and played and when they get together it becomes a different chemical combination. And in the middle of all that, there was probably a tiny fraction, a minuscule amount of what might be there now, of people being ‘busy’, people who were angling, people who wanted to encourage and advance their interests. It was a good thing to be near, because it was so powerful when it worked. It was an amulet for a lot of people.”

Perhaps they are ashamed of what went on. Perhaps they feel not acknowledging the legend contributes to their lasting impact. Because, in a way, Zeppelin knew it wasn’t really only about the music. Hence the attention lavished on their album sleeves. Led Zeppelin III – the one with the spinning card; Led Zeppelin IV – the one with no writing on it and the four symbols inside; Houses of the Holy – the one with the creepy cover of naked kids on the Giant’s Causeway; Physical Graffiti – the one with the die-cut sleeve so the inner bag became part of the design; Presence – the one with the strange black obelisk and the embossed band name; In Through the Out Door – the one in the brown paper bag. Their albums were events.

“It was a major part,” Page says of the designs. “It was quite interesting with the fourth album. We were getting flak from the press because they really couldn’t understand what we were about. OK, we’ll show you what it is, we’ll put out an album with nothing on it, because it’s what’s inside that’s going to be the important thing.”

Of the three remaining men who once conquered the arenas of the world, you would bet on it being Page who most wishes they could do it again, though guessing what he’s thinking is almost certainly a mug’s game. After the band broke up, Plant was able to forge a successful solo career; after a period in which he “couldn’t get arrested”, Jones became an in-demand producer. Only Page never quite seemed to find a new musical home. Curiously, with his long white hair, he’s the one who still looks most like a rock star from the days when bands were still big. And to hear him talk, you wish you could have been there during those days, too. “Sometimes we’d really be going at such a speed, to see whether we could really do it,” he says of the band’s shows back then. “If you go out with that sort of attitude, you’re not going out there to fool around. There might be an area where it might dip – but it certainly comes back with a fury.”

“All these cliches and terms that are used for whatever we were are fine,” Plant says. “We were just a bunch of guys who could play in many different ways. And for young guys who were loaded with expectations of life and its promises, sometimes a tough backbeat doesn’t hurt.”

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Celebration Day | , | Leave a comment

Supertramp Crime Of The Century (1974), Crisis? What Crisis? (1975), Even In The Quietest Moments (1977), Breakfast In America (1979)


When it comes to today’s generation of pop groups, it’s the letter B that gets all the glory when it comes to naming influences. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds tend to get the most credit for inspiring musicians to pick up an instrument and start emulating; from there, there’s Big Star, the Bee Gees, and Badfinger.

These are pretty obvious (and valid) picks, all of them.

There are, however, some influences who’ve quite a bit of influence as well, even though they don’t tend to get mentioned in the same breath on quite as regular a basis.

You’ve got your Queen, who produced quite a bit more than just “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. You’ve got your 10CC, who said “I’m Not in Love”, then waxed lyrical on “The Things We Do for Love”. And, of course, you can never forget ELO, mostly because Jeff Lynne won’t let you.

But you’ve also got your Supertramp.

Album-oriented radio, as it’s done to countless other artists, has diminished the impact of Supertramp over the years, though, leaving the casual listener with the impression that the band had a few good tracks, but, ultimately, not much else. Most folks who didn’t come of age during the ‘70s probably couldn’t even tell you the name of a single Supertramp album, though they might ask, “Does The Very Best of Supertramp count?”

But if actually you lived through the ‘70s, then not only would the phrase Breakfast in America erupt through your lips, but you could probably identify its album cover from half a block away.

A&M Records has taken to re-issuing the band’s seminal work in re-mastered form, and, when you’re talking about Supertramp, “seminal” begins with their third album.

I’m not sure how this piece of trivia got past me for lo these many years, but until researching the band’s history for this review, I was unaware that Supertramp actually got its start courtesy of a young Dutch millionaire named Stanley August Miesegaes. Miesegaes, it seems, was friends with Rick Davies, and, though it sounds suspiciously like an apocryphal anecdote, the story goes that, in 1969, the poor little rich boy offered Davies the opportunity to form a band and put the cost on his tab.

After an ad in Melody Maker, Supertramp was born. And, then, after two not-very-successful albums (a self-titled debut, followed by Indelibly Stamped, neither of which warranted re-mastering in A&M’s eyes), Miesegaes withdrew his financial support, leaving Supertramp without much in the way of money or fans. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.

But then 1974 rolled around, and the band released the aforementioned third album, Crime of the Century. And unlike its predecessors, Crime of the Century had far less in the way of prog-rock noodlings, instead showing the band evolving toward more of a pop sound. Indeed, this was the album that produced “Bloody Well Right” and “Dreamer”; it also contains the lesser-known album track “If Everyone Was Listening” a song which, though it didn’t make the cut for the band’s first best-of, scored inclusion on Volume 2.

Next up was Crisis? What Crisis? , which showed the band finding their way closer and closer to the middle ground between prog and pop, though it doesn’t possess any song that screams “hit single”. Certainly, the album possesses a stellar pair of openers in the form of “Easy Does It” and “Sister Moonshine”. “Ain’t Nobody But Me” may not be any great shakes, but “A Soapbox Opera” more than makes up for it. Meanwhile, Jellyfish missed an opportunity by not covering “Poor Boy”. (In fact, when you come right down to it, when you look at their song arrangements after listening to these re-issues, it becomes clear that Jellyfish were probably just as inspired by Supertramp as they were by Queen, or anyone else for that matter.)

Even In The Quietest Moments followed much the same format as its predecessor, although it did remedy one error right up front, providing the band with an unforgettable hit single in the form of “Give A Little Bit” as the album’s opener. The instrument that graces the album cover is no coincidence because the material is almost entirely piano-based. Although some of the songs are a bit long (the album only has seven songs, and four of them are over 7 minutes in length), each track is a pop symphony unto itself. “Fool’s Overture”, the album’s closer, is positively epic in scale (10+ minutes), with a keyboard bit somewhere around the 3-minute mark that may or may not have been cribbed by the Buggles for their song “Living in the Plastic Age”.

Still, as strong as Even in the Quietest Moments may have been, it was its follow-up that was the band’s defining moment. Of course, it was also the watershed album in the band’s career, because, y’know, how can you top Breakfast In America?

The answer, inevitably, is that you can’t.

And Supertramp didn’t.

When they finally got around to releasing the follow-up studio album, Famous Last Words, the best song they could muster as a single was “It’s Raining Again”. No, it’s not a bad song, but when you compare it to Breakfast in America‘s “The Logical Song”, “Goodbye Stranger”, and “Take the Long Way Home”, it’s certainly not up to those standards.

Neither history nor the majority of Supertramp’s fans would deny that Breakfast in America is the strongest album in the band’s discography. From “Gone Hollywood” all the way through the grand finale, “Child of Vision”, this is an unabashedly melodic record. Almost entirely free of pretense and limited in pomposity, it’s just good old-fashioned pop music. It might not be a generation-defining album like Frampton Comes Alive, but very few individuals escaped the ‘70s without having the melodies from at least one or two of this album’s tracks stuck in the back of their mind for the rest of their lives.

It’s pretty easy to rank these four re-issues. Start with Breakfast in America and work your way back. And ignore anyone who says you only need a best-of collection. Once you’ve actually heard it, you’ll find that, unlike the albums that came before and after it, Breakfast in America is absolutely indispensable.

Still, it’s a shame about the name, don’t you think? I mean, honestly: Supertramp? Even now, that’s got to rank as one of the 10 worst band names ever.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Supertramp Breakfast In America, Supertramp Crime Of The Century, Supertramp Crisis? What Crisis?, Supertramp Even In The Quietest Moments... | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin In Through The Outdoor Sessions (1978)


(73:59): All My Love, Fire, Carouselambra, unknown song, Wearing And Tearing, Fool In The Rain, Hot Dog, In The Evening, Southbound Suarez, Darlene, Fool In The Rain

In Through The Outdoor Sessions is another excellent compilation of previously available outtakes from Led Zeppelin’s final studio sessions. The sound quality on Boogie Mama is comparable to the best available versions of these tapes, and is packaged in an attractive digipack and very affordable to the average collector.

The disc starts off with the amazing ”All My Love” outtake recorded in Stockholm in November 1978. This is the take used for the final version, but this lacks overdubs, the keyboard solo in the middle, and doesn’t fade out. The ending section, which was unfortunately edited out, has a pretty little lyrical guitar solo by Jimmy Page.

The next two tracks date back to the May 1978 Clearwell Castle demos. This was Zeppelin’s first band rehearsal since the abrupt ending of the tour the previous year due to Robert Plant’s personal tragedy. It is an amateur recording containing the unfinished track “Fire.” This sounds like the beginning of what would be an epic track written and dominated by Page. stands in contrast to the keyboard dominated numbers that would form the final album with Bonham’s loud drums and Page taking flight over the chaos. It is similar to “When The Levee Breaks”,and it’s a shame Zeppelin never completed the song.

The number breaks down for some conversations before the tape cuts out. This song unfortunately never went past the rehearsal stage and, to the best of our knowledge, was never recorded in studio.

There are three takes of the John Paul Jones written “Carouselambra.” The three takes go as far as the first section. The other two, the slow moving bridge played on the double neck and the fast paced “disco” sections wouldn’t be written until much later.

It is claimed Zeppelin rehearsed this for the Knebworth concerts and the following summer tour of Europe but never made it to the set list. It is also said this was going to be featured on the North American tour in late 1980 and early 1981 but with the end of the band we’ll never know. This is the closest we have to a live version of this piece and is enjoyable to hear them play it with abandon.

The rest of the disc is occupied with alternate mixes of songs from the Stockholm sessions in late 1978 that produced In Through The Outdoor starting with the “unknown song,” an eight second fragment of God knows what.

“Wearing And Tearing” was going to be a special EP to commemorate the Knebworth concerts but was scrapped and wouldn’t be released until 1982′s Coda. This is the final version of the piece with a count-in by Bonham and additional Plant interjections throughout the song.

“Fool In The Rain” begins with a count-in from Bonham. And Plant, referring to the Latin flavor of the song, shouts “quartro!” There is an additional “oh yea” by the beginning but the whistle, Plant’s vocals in the bridge and guitar solo are missing.

“Hot Dog” is the same as the final version except with the guitar solo missing and Plant throwing in funny interjections like “that’s my kind of music” and “c’mon Mr. Philips you can do it again.”

“In The Evening” sounds dull and fuzzy compared to the others. Since it has the vocals, guitar solo and vocal and guitar overdubs this is the final product but has a drone introduction rather than the one used for the final take.

This is a very strong release by Boogie Mama. They’ve released several very good Zeppelin titles over the past couple years. In Through The Outdoor Sessions, while having common material, gives it a very good presentation for those who may not have it already, or for those who can’t afford the pricey Empress Valley and Scorpio sets.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin In Through The Outdoor Sessions | , | Leave a comment

The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz (2006)


Is the world ready for a thousand-page critical history of the boys from Liverpool? The answer is a resounding yes, because Bob Spitz addressed this project with the thoroughness of a presidential biography. Moreover, he is a magnificent story teller, and even at its length this work is a page turner. The young reader will find this a remarkable tale of a defining moment in the entertainment industry, while old “Uncle Alberts” like myself will remember the days when we all hacked around on guitars to get that opening chord to “Hard Day’s Night,” George Harrison’s G7 with an added ninth and a suspended fourth, as the author explains. [502] So what can the reader expect to learn from this compelling tale of the foursome?

The British Setting. All four Beatles grew up in a country recovering from war, in an industrial port town [Liverpool], where the natives called themselves “Scousers” and nurtured a long-standing inferiority complex regarding London and England’s upper class. The government owned radio station, the BBC, effectively embargoed the emerging US rock music as substandard. Teenagers like John Lennon devoured American artists like Elvis and the Everly Brothers from a rogue radio station in Luxembourg, of all places, while revealing in England’s youth pop of the time, Skiffle.

The Lennon-McCartney Brotherhood. Spitz is masterful in describing the twelve year relationship of the two, who met at roughly the age of 17. They became like brothers, though in the mold of Esau and Jacob, perhaps. Much has been written of their composing mastery, but Spitz documents just how prolific and spontaneous they actually were. What is equally surprising is how they composed during periods of terrible strains in their relationships. When John and Paul could no longer be reconciled, the Beatles dissolved.

Brian Epstein. He is, as the story unfolds, the best thing and the worst thing to happen to the Beatles. He was the young manager of the record department in his family’s department store, who for a multitude of reasons made the Beatles his project. His moxie, coupled with the Beatles’ stage charisma and not a little luck, landed the group’s contract with Britain’s recording giant EMI [and its American subsidiary, Capital]. Again, for complex reasons, Epstein was able to control the group’s inner dynamics after it became internationally famous. But he was a dreadful business manager–the EMI contract, for starters, paid pennies for most of the Beatles’ greatest hits and copyrighted lyrics, and as an afterthought he sold marketing rights to Beatles’ products to an unknown entrepreneur for a 10% return. [465ff] Distracted by a dark and violent homosexual lifestyle, he probably cost the group close to a billion dollars in lost revenue.

Ringo Starr. Aren’t drummers a dime a dozen? Not superstar drummers, apparently. As the Beatles stood on the threshold of their breakout in 1962, McCartney and Lennon determined that the absence of a first rate drummer was the missing piece. Although it meant parting with the handsomely popular but average stroker Pete Best and a lot of fan fallout, the Beatles raided Rory Storm’s band for Richie “Rings” Starkey, and the rest, as they say…

The Turbulent American Tours. Those of us who remember the two Beatles’ tours of the US-including that Sunday night TV extravaganza with Ed Sullivan-will probably be shocked to discover the Beatles’ own bitter reactions to their treatment by American audiences. Mick Jagger attended the Shea Stadium concert in the stands and became “visibly shaken,” telling a friend “it’s frightening.” [577] Aside from stage crashing and riots in the audiences, American fans mistook “jelly babies,” the little gummy candies reportedly enjoyed by the Beatles, for “jelly beans” and pelted the group mercilessly with these painful missiles. John Lennon in particular became convinced that the noisy crowds had no interest in their musical art [impossible to hear in the melees] and after their second tour of the US the group decided to become a recording studio group only.

Reinvention. Spitz carefully examines the evolution of Beatles’ style and substance. The milestone markers of the evolution were the albums. Beatle fans to this day can probably identify each Beatle album as a particular statement of where they were-artistically, emotionally, philosophically-at the time of release. And within the group itself, George Harrison came on strong at the end to establish himself as a lyricist, soloist, and musician. Harrison brought Eastern sound to the medley and later penetrated the mysteries of the new “synthesizer,” making the Beatles the first to use new age gadgetry in the recording process.

John Lennon’s Drug Addiction. Spitz does not back away from the truth that the Beatles were no strangers to mind altering substances, and all indulged prodigiously in alcohol, amphetamines, and marijuana [not to mention tobacco and, apparently, coffee]. But Lennon became a regular LSD user, and believing it expanded creative powers, he was enraged with McCartney’s caution about the drug. Lennon later declined into serious heroin use, which led to paranoia. He came to believe, for example, that “Hey Jude” was McCartney’s permission for Lennon to court the questionable Yoko Ono.

Yoko Ono. In a departure from his uniform decorum, Spitz refers to Ono as “loopy,” and this may be an understatement. What else can be said about a woman who marketed the sound of her miscarried child’s heartbeat on an album? [834] Of course, by the time she “stole” the deeply disturbed Lennon from the Beatles, it was petit larceny at worst.

George Martin. A middle-aged man with classical tastes, he was assigned the task of producing everything we know, love, and remember of the original Beatles’ sound. Underpaid, infinitely patient [particularly in the Yoko Ono days], and remarkably open-minded in his shirt and tie, he gave the imprimatur to every sound of every track. Of everyone in this book, Martin is the man of shining character. God bless him.

You will never hear the Beatles again in quite the same way.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Book The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz | , | Leave a comment

Here, There And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Music Of The Beatles by Geoff Emerick and Howard Massey (2007)


When it comes to books about The Beatles, they usually fall in one of two categories: “memoirs” and “archives” (including timelines, analysis, photos, recording info, etc). Now Geoff Emerick has joined the throe of Beatles authors by publishing his account that actually falls in between the memoir/archive genre. His new book “Here There And Everywhere – My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles” is no “cash in”, but a valuable insight to the workings of the group. While there are no real “Beatles revelations” contained other than those that true Beatle aficionados already know, such as the working title of the “White Album”, John’s accidental acid trip on the rooftop of EMI etc), the true value of this book is the first hand observances of the Beatles in their most important environment: the recording studio!

Some people are lucky enough to realize their “calling” early in life – and Geoff Emerick was one of those lucky few. An early love of music caused a natural fascination with the mechanics behind recording. His experiments with tape recording and his persistence led him to a job at EMI! While Geoff Emerick wasn’t the Beatles recording engineer during their early years at EMI (he started as an assistant engineer), his employment there did grant him occasional views of The Beatles at work during the time of 1962-1966 when Norman Smith was their engineer. However, when Smith left to become a producer (going on to produce Pink Floyd’s first two albums at EMI) it was Emerick who was promoted to the position of Beatles’ engineer. So, Emerick was there during the true renaissance of the Beatles studio years: Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, (part of) The White Album, and Abbey Road.

What about Let It Be, you ask? Well, it is well documented how bad tensions were during the recording of The White Album, prompting Ringo Starr to be the first Beatle to quit the group at the time. Further evidence of the bad feelings during this album can be seen in the departure of Emerick – he also quit halfway through the recording (but unlike Ringo, didn’t come back for the album). So, he missed the whole Let It Be fiasco, until being asked to return for Abbey Road. He went on to design the Beatles personal recording studio, which sadly wasn’t finished in time for The Beatles to actually use!

As witness to one of the Beatles first recording sessions (“How Do You Do It?”), Emerick paints a fascinating picture of the individual dynamics and personalities of each Beatle in the recording studio. Paul was the easiest to get along with, a true workaholic in the studio who, curiously enough was pegged as “the leader” by Emerick during the early sessions. John was often impatient, but curiously enough – it was always a new Lennon song that was first recorded for each new album session! Later, John’s impatience actually paid off when they discovered they were one song short for completion of Revolver – they quickly finished John’s “She Said She Said”. Other tales include a funny story of the “fan siege” during the recording of “She Loves You” in which fans were running loose at EMI – which gave Emerick a first-hand view of Beatlemania and he comments that this “atmosphere” seemed to lend to the electricity of the recording. George Harrison was probably the least ‘at ease’ in the recording studio and had problems nailing his solos, such as his solo on “A Hard Day’s Night”. Ringo was basically quiet in the studio.

I read as quickly as possible to get to the Revolver/Sgt. Pepper recording sessions, and Emerick’s descriptions did not disappoint! I was in Beatles heaven hearing how each song was recorded and the whole spirit of invention that went into Beatles’ records – not just by the Beatles themselves, but by Emerick’s ingenious solutions to the seemingly impossible requests of the Beatles, especially John. It was Emerick who came up with a solution for Lennon, who wanted his voice to sound like the “Dahlai Lama chanting from a mountaintop” on “Tomorrow Never Knows”. His solution? Using a Leslie speaker(Which rotates) to achieve the proper effect on John’s voice. Also, in regards to Revolver, I wasn’t aware that the tape trick (cutting up random bits of tape and putting them back together) that George Martin used on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” was first used on “Yellow Submarine”!

Of course, Sgt. Pepper was the pinnacle of the Beatles collective studio experimentation and it is amazing to hear the casual attitude the Beatles had during the sessions – it being the very first time that they weren’t under any time restraints. George Harrison’s lack of participation in this ground breaking album is discussed. Fresh from his trip to India, George just wasn’t interested, especially with Paul taking a lot of the lead guitar breaks and his first contribution to Pepper (“Only a Northern Song”) being kindly put aside. The mysterious, still unreleased Beatles song, “Carnival of Light” (recorded during a five-hour session that also included vocal overdubs for the then-unreleased “Penny Lane”) is discussed.

It is amazing how the Beatles went from the happy, creative Pepper sessions to the dreary White Album sessions in just one year! While Emerick left EMI for Apple, he avoided the bad scenes of the White Album and Let It Be, to concentrate on building the Beatles recording studio. However, he did get to attend one Phil Spector Let It Be session and his observations are contained within the book. Finally, the Beatles swan song, Abbey Road is detailed, from John’s sometimes lack of interest (and Yoko’s bed being brought into the studio!) to George’s emergence as a studio talent.

Geoff Emerick went on to win a total of 3 Grammy awards for his Beatles work. While most of the book concentrates on The Beatles, he does mention some of his other projects, such as Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run, as well as his work with The Zombies and Elvis Costello. Finally, he comes full circle with his involvement with the “Threetles” reunion sessions for the Beatles Anthology.

“Here There And Everywhere – My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles” is truly a Beatles’ book that delivers! A descriptive story of the Beatles in the recording studio has been sorely missed…until now.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Book Here There And Everywhere My Life Recording The Music Of The Beatles by Geoff Emerick and Howard Massey | , | Leave a comment

All You Need Is Ears: The Inside Personal Story Of The Genius Who Created The Beatles by George Martin and Jeremy Hornsby (1994)


Review There are very few memoirs published by record producers, especially producers as important as George Martin, producer and ?discoverer” of the Beatles. I do call it a memoir because that’s what it is – much more is covered than the Beatles. This is a book about George Martin, through and through.

The first 100 pages or so recount Martin’s early history in the British military up through his first job in the recording industry. There is staggering detail to this, naming even the most insignificant people he met along the way. But since we know this is all contributing to what would become Martin’s genius, it really isn’t all that tedious. Eventually we come to the chapter on the Beatles – how he discovered them, how he recorded them, and then single by singe, how they became the biggest band in the world. Whether he intends it or not, there is an epic quality to practically every word Martin writes (or rather, has ghost written for him).

Being a professional in today’s music industry and seeing literally all music being recorded on computers, it’s fascinating to see the technology they were working from. He writes of actually recording to *wax records*. It’s also nice to see someone getting so excited about the advent of stereo recording. It’s something we don’t even think about today, but to the producers of Martin’s era, recording in stereo was as profound as recording to hard drives today.

I also was amazed to learn that he made almost no money off the Beatles records. Today, a comparable producer – say Glenn Ballard, Alanis’ former producer – has probably made in the dozens of millions of dollars. Martin didn’t earn any royalties on those records, and he also refused an ownership stake in the publishing company set up exclusively for Beatles songs. This probably cost him upwards of $50,000,000 if not more. He goes on to say that he has no regrets in refusing the ownership, and whether or not you believe him, he does lay out a pretty impressive spiel about not doing it for the money. I arrived at the conclusion, however, that while a genius producer he is possibly the world’s worst businessman. Hundreds of people made millions off the Beatles and the one closest to them – Martin – managed to make almost nothing. That is truly staggering.

This is the kind of book that’s a must-have for a Beatles fan or aspiring musician, and will proselytize everyone else. A classic book from a classic producer.

Review This is a truly amazing book. I had just finished reading “Here, There and Everywhere” by Geoff Emerick (the Beatles recording engineer) and decided I wanted to know more about George Martin, their producer. It was a great decision because the introspect gained from reading both of these books together tells a big picture that I before could only guess at.

George’s personality really comes out in this book and it makes it far easier to understand what went on during the Beatles many many recording sessions. It has been said that the producer is a major contributor to the outcome of any project and this book definitely confirms and educates about that process.

It is an easy read and the edition that I purchased has fairly decent sized type and makes it easy on the eyes. It is a paperback and tucks easily into your day bag or briefcase for those times when you can read a few minutes – but if you are like I am – you may devour the whole thing in one seating!

The early life of George Martin is also detailed in this book with it’s different perspective of growing up in Britain. I had no idea that George Martin was in pop music groups as he was growing up and that came as a terrific surprise. I might have known, though.

The classical side of George Martin comes out strong also. This came into very significant play as he produced the Beatles.

Great book. Don’t hesitate to buy this!

Review There is a reason that you call this guy Sir…he’s old, and he’s earned the title. To hear from George Martin what it was like to work with the Beatles is like hearing from Jesus what it is like to co-pilot for God. Well, that’s kind of blasphemous, but it’s still true. Martin’s style is direct and matter of fact…he is not prone to flowery language or overblown description.

I’m not so sure about all that Jesus stuff that he is talking about, but Martin definitely ranks up there as at least some kind of DemiGod in the church of Beatle. It is therefore essential that you read this book. Well, let me add a caveat here: read this book if you have an interest in the Beatles and the recording industry. As a good many of Martin’s stories focus, of course, on the magic of recording, the non-interested might find these sections a bit boring.

This book has the same good points as Emerick’s (though they both seem to take credit for certain studio achievements) in that Martin’s book adds a lot of peripheral information to the Beatles saga. There are sections about Martin’s earlier life, the joys of working for good old EMI, and the the trials and tribulations of forming his own studio, AIR. Though some folks just want people like Martin to shut-up about themselves and just talk about the glorious Beatles, the lives of these cornerstone studio wizards fill out the reader’s vision of working in the recording industry during the 60’s. As I said earlier, I find this kind of “rounding out” of the Beatles legend essential to knowing the “bigger picture.” (I also find that using quotes around common words helps you to “sleuth out” their “hidden meaning.”)

Martin recounts his first hand experiences helping record all the Beatles records (with a few minor exceptions around the Let it Be period.) Because his memories were not clouded in a drug haze like so many other players of this period, Martin’s recollections tend to be more reliable (sometimes even more so than the Beatles themselves!) Sir George always comes across as knowledgeable, lucid, and authentic.

What I don’t understand is why this book isn’t encyclopaedia sized. Martin, having seen the things he has, must have a treasure trove of great stories floating around that silver skull of his. Why not share a bit more?

Incidentally, this is the better of his two books. The Making of Sgt. Pepper, also by Mr. Sir Martin, is a decent read, but seems to rehash some of the themes he discusses here. I mean, how many more times can we hear the story of the Hurdy Gurdy Swirly backing track to Mr. Kite? If you can get it at the library, or from a friend, or if you are rolling in the dough, go ahead and pick it up too. Otherwise, I would start with this one.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Book All You Need Is Ears The Inside Personal Story Of The Genius Who Created The Beatles by George Martin and Jeremy Hornsby | , | Leave a comment

Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man: An Unauthorized Biography by George Case (2009)


Review For those who grew up ‘worshipping’ Jimmy Page as the cream of the pantheon of guitar-gods & rock royalty, they will undoubtedly find this to be the best biography of Jimmy in existence.

The author does not hide the fact that he is a massive fan, but despite that, he seems to have maintained as unbiased an approach as possible. The bibliography shows a huge list of materials that the author pulled from. His exhaustive research has provided the best insight into one of the most mysterious and elusive musicians of the rock era. My assumption is you can’t find anything more accurate out there. I believe the author when he said he did not make up anything, and he did his best to corroborate everything he included.

It naturally starts when Jimmy was a young lad and runs all the way through the Beijing Olympics where he made a surprise showing at the closing ceremony, and of course everything in between. The book covers all aspects of Jimmy’s life, including the dark side of his drinking, drugs, and occult interests. The good news is that unlike other books, the author does not glorify or sensationalize it in order to increase sales. It happened, therefore he recorded it, end of story. The book is also excellent for guitarists since the author mentions some of the technical side of Jimmy’s playing e.g. the guitars he used, his tunings, scales, etc.

The author is very good with a phrase, and along with his broad vocabulary & knowledge of adjectives, he sometimes comes across as trying a bit too hard to sound like a literary master when this is just a biography. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable, fast read that brings back a lot of memories for those of us who grew up in this era and were massive fans. The book also contains a nice number of excellent photos and a section listing every song Jimmy has ever played guitar on (which is quite useful for the completist or fanatical fan). Overall Highly Recommended and rated five stars (although I took one off since Jimmy never endorsed or commented on this book). Zoso forever…..

Review This is easily one of the best-written rock biographies anywhere, what with being clear-eyed and analytical about the artist and his group, and not at all beyond turning out a critical assessment of the admired musician who’s its subject. The discussion about the musician, more so than about Jimmy Page the person, is detailed, probing and well-informed — in fact, musicologically it often ranges well beyond me, what with spelling out special tunings of his guitar, niceties about Page’s sound-board wizardry as a producer, the array of amps and legendary guitars used onstage, etc. And it’s well-written to boot! Can’t complain…

Once George Case has done the above, traversing the career chronologically, he suddenly has a full section where he compares Page to his contemporaries and peers (Jeff Beck, Clapton, Hendrix, etc.), as well as to his progeny (guitarists for Grand Funk, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Rush, Van Halen, Guns ‘n Roses, etc). His analyses and observations, and these guitarists’ own cited views, were illuminating. They even helped me nail down just why I admired and tapped to this music, and still do, while I never quite came to love it. In Clapton’s words, very often it was “…unnecessarily loud …a lot of it was just too much. They overemphasized whatever point they were making” (p. 87) I’m no Clapton worshipper — well, not beyond the ‘Layla & Other Love Songs’ double LP — but he’s pretty much on the money here.

Apparently Page was annoyed that Led Zeppelin was often compared to and lumped in with Grand Funk, Black Sabbath and the heavy metal crew. But heavy metal was generally earnest, not known for humour, dark and unsubtle, and sometimes malevolent. And Zep were, in fact, often loud and hard. Apart from the tenor of the music, their roadies’ decree that there’d be “No backstage passes without head” for gals wanting to welcome their idols, plus their manager’s and crew’s reputation for occasional send-you-to-the-hospital violence, certainly placed them in the malevolent sector of rock, and of music.

Mind you, when I hear the music, especially their early songs, I realize just how outstanding it is, and after reading this book I plan to invest in a better collection of that material.

A rewarding read, then, even if you’re not a devoted fan.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man: An Unauthorized Biography by George Case | , | Leave a comment