Blasts from the past: Beatles, Who

By Tom Von Malder | Jul 05, 2017
Photo by: Apple Corps Ltd. The Beatles don their Sgt. Pepper garb -- from left, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

Owls Head — The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, super deluxe version (1967, Calderstone Productions/Universal Music Group,/Apple Corps Ltd., 4 CDs, 3:01:26, + Blu-ray/DVD combo, 49:53). Something momentous happened as a was wrapping up my freshman year at Northwestern University. The Beatles issued a new album, their first since announcing their retirement from live performances. It was "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (the apostrophe has been properly added now to show possession), an album influenced by the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" and so densely constructed in the studio, with longtime producer George Martin, that it could never be performed live. The date was June 2, 1967.

While considered by many to be one of the first concept albums, it really isn't a concept album, as the idea of this fictional Sgt. Pepper's band performing the album is given up after just a couple of tracks. What the album was, however, was a revolution in sound. Suddenly bands could do anything in the studio, even though The Beatles and Martin had only four recording tracks available while working on the album in 1966. Each one of the 13 compositions is a gem and most have entered the pantheon of great Beatles songs. The title track, which opens the album and opens itself with the band tuning up, blends into the Ringo Starr-sung "With a Little Help from My Friends," who indeed helped him to reach his final note in the performance. Magical electronic sounds help propel "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," inspired by a drawing by John Lennon's young son, Julian. All the lyrics in "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" were taken from an old circus poster.

There are songs about feelings ("Getting Better"), disappointment ("She's Leaving Home") and aging ("When I'm Sixty-Four," which nods musically towards the English music hall tradition). Barnyard animals fill "Good Morning Good Morning" -- with the closing sounds each by an animal that could eat the previous one -- and then there is "Lovely Rita," an ode to a meter maid. Guitarist George Harrison brought his love of Indian music, including the sitar, to "Within You Without You," as the album's musical breadth is breathtaking. The album concludes with its most stunning track, "A Day in the Life," which actually was a merger of two songs -- Lennon doing the beginning and end, while Paul McCartney provided the middle.

This wonderful box set contains a new stereo mix of the original album on the first CD; the new mix was produced by George Martin's son, Giles Martin, who also handled portions of The Beatles' "Love" project. Much of the differences one hears are in the instruments. There is a bright keyboard on the bottom of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," and, of course, the use of a string quartet on "She's Leaving Home" was unusual at the time. The instrumental portion of "Mr. Kite" has much more depth, as does the middle of "Within You Without You." The animal sounds at the end of "Good Morning Good Morning" are now very clear, and the "trippy," building instrumental portion of "A Day in the Life" is now very intense and the song has a previously hidden coda.

The second and third CDs present a total of 33 outtakes from the recording sessions, which, in some cases, show how the songs were built. For example, there are four earlier versions of  "Strawberry Fields Forever," as well as a new stereo mix. "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane," each referring to a childhood haunt of either Lennon or McCartney, probably should have been part of the album, but they were released as singles prior to the album's release. They are two more all-time Beatles classics. "Penny Lane" is represented by two earlier versions and a new stereo mix. There is a version of "When I'm Sixty-Four" with a different piano and five in-progress bits of "A Day in the Life." Ringo's drums provide the interest on an instrumental breakdown of "Good Morning Good Morning." At times, Lennon and McCartney can be heard discussing a song, and an early version of "Within You Without You" has Harrison coaching the musicians. There also is a nice version of the Indian instruments, including sitar, tamboura, dilruba and tabla, by themselves. "She's Leaving Home" appears in two other versions, with the first so pretty.

The fourth CD contains the 1967 mono mix of the album, plus six mono bonus tracks, including "Strawberry Fields Forever" and two versions of "Penny Lane," the second being a promo mix that was used in the United States.

The Blu-ray offers the album and two singles in three audio formats; the promo videos of "A Day in the Life," "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane"; and the 1992 documentary, "The Making of Sgt. Pepper," with McCartney, Harrison, Starr and George Martin talking about how the album was made. In this excellent documentary, Martin breaks down several songs by playing bits of the isolated tracks. Also giving brief interviews are sitar master Ravi Shankar, Beach Boy Brian Wilson and Phil Collins of Genesis. The program also touches of Peter Blake, the album's cover designer, another iconic work. The DVD holds the same content as the Blu-ray.

If the music were not enough, the discs are housed in a vinyl LP-sized replica of the original cover, with the lyrics printed on the back, and there are replicas of the Sgt. Pepper cut-outs, a promotional color poster  and a replica of the black-and-white circus poster that inspired "Mr. Kite." That all comes in a replica EMI tape box, which also includes a beautiful 146-page, vinyl LP-sized hardcover book. The book makes the super deluxe version the way to go. It includes introductions by McCartney (including his early sketch of what the Sgt. Pepper's Band might look like) and Giles Martin. Martin points out that the original album was primarily mixed as a mono album, with The Beatles present for all the mixes. Kevin Howlett writes about The Beatles' path to the album, with session photos, while Joe Boyd writes about the London underground scene of the time and Ed Vulliamy writes about the wider world of 1967. There also is a multi-page timeline of events, created by David Bartley. Howlett then goes into the songs themselves, including the two singles, and recording details, accompanied by The Beatles' hand-written lyric sheets.  Howard Goodall writes about the album's musical revolution and Howlett writes about the  cover's development. The latter includes a numbered index to the famous people and items depicted on the cover. The final sections have Howlett writing about the album's reception and Jeff Slate on the album's impact in America. The book concludes with the lyrics. The box then fits in a slip cover that has a 3D version of the album's original cover. Grade: overall package A++

The remastered "Sgt. Pepper's" album also is available as a 2-CD deluxe version, with 18 tracks taken from the two sessions disc in the super deluxe version.

The Who: My Generation, super deluxe edition (1965, Polydor/UMC/Brunswick, 5 CDs, 3:58:18). This omnibus edition of The Who's debut album, which yielded a classic song in the title track, expands a 36-minute album to nearly four hours and I'm loving every minute of it. The album's iconic cover photo featured bassist John Entwistle with a jacket fashioned out of a British Union Flag draped across his shoulders. The album was an at times confrontational blast of youthful energy and angst, while also acknowledging the band's fondness for American soul and blues music. At the time, The Who were advertized as presenting "Maximum R&B," and this collection emphasizes the R&B of that, with many more soul covers. All 79 tracks were re-mastered in 2016.

In the previous year, the band lost its original drummer but discovered Keith Moon, one of the all-time rock 'n' roll greats, who would sadly pass way too soon. Pete Meaden, their publicist, re-styled them as Mods so they could resemble members of their audience (see the film "Quadrophenia" for a good visual representation of who the Mods were). Meaden's idea was the band needed an image if it were to succeed. In the booklet that accompanies this box set, Mark Blake writes that for The Who, "'Mod' meant following Meaden's suggestion and changing their name to The High Numbers, cutting their hair and, for (Pete) Townshend, John Entwistle and newest member Keith Moon, wearing cycling jackets and boxer boots. Meanwhile, Roger Daltrey became 'the ace face,' knitted out in a white seersucker jacket and a button-down collar shirt and tie." Meaden also helped lead the band to the music of James Brown, many a Stax single and Link Wray.

Then along came Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp (brother of actor Terence Stamp) as the band's new managers and The Who as we now know them were born. First came the non-album single, "I Can't Explain" (about a young man who cannot find the words to tell the girl that he loves her), then the debut album, which was a mix of guitarist-vocalist Townshend's originals and the R&B and soul covers that were part of the band's stage act. The first disc is the original mono mix of the debut album, which features covers of James Brown's "I Don't Mind" and "Please Please Please," as well as Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man."Their version of "I'm a Man," which also was covered by Britain's The Yardbirds, was slower and was left off the U.S. version of the album. The album's opens with "Out in the Street," a Townshend call to arms, and the classic title track, which set the bar so very high.

The song "My Generation" is famous for Daltrey's stutter vocal line and the lyric, "I hope I die  before I get old." In this set's book, it is written that Townshend wrote the song at age 20 in response to his condescending neighbors in London's Belgravia and after his new car, a Packard hearse, was towed away on the Queen Mother's orders. Another classic Townshend song on the album is "The Kids Are Alright," a more melodic number that also became a hit and a fan favorite. His "A Legal Matter" sounds breezy, but actually is about escaping a bad marriage. The album closes with an instrumental jam, "The Ox," which became Entwistle's nickname, co-authored by Townshend, Moon, Entwistle and session pianist Nicky Hopkins. In it, Moon's drums sound a bit like the rhythm from The Surfaris' 1963 hit, "Wipe Out." Townshend's "The Good's Gone" features a drone riff, believed to have been inspired by The Kinks' "See My Friend," while his "La-La-La-Lies" is the band at its poppiest. "Lies" was a Top 20 hit in Sweden. "Much Too Much" is power-pop that Townshend once compared to Barry McGuire, who had a hit with "Eve of Destruction" in September 1965. There is more pop sounds in Townshend's "It's Not True," which pokes fun at press sensationalism.

Disc two contains the original album in stereo, the first real reconstruction and true stereo remix

Disc three has 23 bonus tracks in the original mono mixes. These include the single of "I Can't Explain"; "Bald Headed Woman," an obscure gospel song recorded by Odetta (as well as The Kinks on their debut album); a cover of Otis Blackwell's "Daddy Rolling Stone; and two Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown covers, a swinging version of "Leaving Here" and "(Love is Like a) Heat Wave," a huge hit for Martha & The Vandellas. Highlights including another James Brown cover, "Shout and Shimmy"; the pop hit "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere," which co-writers Daltrey and Townshend still perform in concert; and Townshend's "Circles," which points towards  the band's future psychedelic pop and features Entwistle on French horn. "Instant Party Mixture" contains doo-wop vocals. The last 11 tracks on disc three are alternate versions, the last 10 of which make their debut. There are good long versions of both ""I Don't Mind" and "The Good's Gone."

Disc four has 21 bonus tracks in their stereo mixes, including an instrumental version of "My Generation." Many of the songs are the same as the mono bonus tracks, but, in general, the stereo versions sound brighter, such as a jubilant "Heat Wave." The final four tracks feature new remixes, while 17 of the others are seeing their first release on CD or vinyl.

Disc five, although brief (29:31), is a real find with 11 of Townshend's original demos. In his notes, Townshend writes, "We wanted to appear tough and hard." Thus, several of his softer songs -- most about failing to connect with girls -- did not make the final album. Those previously unreleased songs include "The Girls I Could Have Had," "As Children We Grew" and "Much Too Much." There also is a pretty, early version of "It's Not True" with acoustic guitar, more good guitar on "Legal Matter" and a darker version of "The Good's Gone," with shaker and Indian drone.

The set comes with an 82-page, vinyl LP-size hardcover book, filled with track-by-track notes, rare period photos and memorabilia, and the new essay by Blake. The set also contains replica inserts: a flyer for The Who's Tuesday night residency at the Marquee Club in 1965; an invitation card to the Scene Club in Ham Yard; a calling card for The Who's management company, New Action Ltd., with a photo of the group; an admission card to a recording of The Who on "Ready Steady Go!" at Rediffusion TV Studios; a poster from a 196t6 Who gig; and a poster for the band's last gig at the Goldhawk Social Club. Grade: A+

The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 2004 (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray + 2 CDs or DVD + 2 CDs, 132 min.). This was The Who's first tour after bassist John Entwistle had died during their previous tour. Vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist-vocalist Pete Townshend were joined on stage by bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Zak Starkey (son of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr) and keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick (principal musician for the film, "Rocky Horror Picture Show"). It was the band's first festival appearance since 1985's Live AID at Wembley Stadium.

The Who had appeared at two of the first three Isle of Wight Festivals, the last being in 1970, when an estimated crowd of 650,000 flocked to the island. That apparently was too many long-hairs and the British Parliament actually passed a law in 1971 banning the festival. That law was relaxed in 2002, allowing the festival to be reinstated, but with a crowd size of only 8,000 to 10,00. However, for this 2004 performance by The Who, the crowd limit was raised to 35,000. During the concert, Townshend talks to the audience about the size of the 1970 crowd and jokes that some of them may have been conceived that weekend.

The band is in sharp form, with nice Townshend guitar solos on "I Can't Explain" and "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere," and Townshend and Daltrey appear to be enjoying themselves. Daltrey plays acoustic guitar on "Who Are You." "Behind Blu Eyes" opens softer, with some synth strings, and then crashes into rock for its second half. During an epic "Baba O'Riley," Daltrey starts to play the harmonica, but drops it when Townshend tells him it is the wrong one (it actually had been tuned for "Magic Bus," which closes the show). The guitar sounds a bit different on the song as well. "My Generation" still has a touch of anarchy, and a prominent bass. Starkey's drumming shines throughout, but particularly on "Bargain." Midway through the show, Townshend does an acoustic solo version of "Drowned," before he is joined by Daltrey for an acoustic duo on "Naked Eye." The band performs both of the then-new songs from the recently released compilation, "Then and Now," namely the real good "Real Good Looking Boy," which uses a portion of Johnny Mercer-Rube Bloom's "Fools Rush In" (popularized by Elvis Presley), and "Old Red Wine," which quickly turns into guitar aggression. The first encore includes two medleys of songs from the rock opera, "Tommy." It is a topnotch, fun show. The CDs contain the same music as the Blu-ray or DVD. Grade: A

Jet: Get Born, deluxe edition (2003, Rhino/Elektra, 2 CDs, 1:28:33). When The Who headlined the 2004 Isle of Wight Festival, one of the supporting acts was Jet, an Australian combo that debuted with this album in 2003. The album , which sold more than 3.5 million copies, has been reissued with a second CD of rarities and B-sides, a total of 24 songs in all. Many of the band's songs ended up being used in films, TV shows and even commercials. Their melodies on this first album are very derivative, echoing The Beatles (the ballad "Look What You've Done," the way-too-obvious ""Lazy Gun," and bonus track "Sgt Major," which actually is one of the better songs), the Rolling Stones ("Move On," also as a slower, acoustic live bonus track), AC/DC ("Cold Hard Bitch," the bonus take on Arthur Crudup's "That's Alright Mama," which Elvis Presley popularized) and The Who ("Take It or Leave It"). ("Sergeant major" actually is a phrase from Paul McCartney's "Jet" song.) Another Beatles connection is that keyboardist Billy Preston, a regular on Beatles albums, worked on two of the album's songs.

Their hit, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl," appears in two versions. Bonus highlights are "Sgt Major," the bright rocker, "Hey Kids," and the Faces-like "Cigarettes and Cola," the later being one of four demos. The "Lazy Gun" demo is the only previously unreleased track. Three of the bonus tracks previously appeared on a Japanese compilation LP, "Rare Tracks," released in 2004. The band reformed in 2016 and currently is touring.

Of the bonus content, Chris Cester, founding member, drummer and songwriter, said in a press release: "Once the ball started rolling, things were happening quickly and we needed more songs to round out the set. We only had 13 songs. 'Get Born' basically! It was a wild time, and a really creative period. We had pretty much been high for three years straight! These recordings were lost for years, but then re-appeared down the line somehow."

The band's second album, 2006's "Shine On," also has been reissued in a deluxe edition, but it is only available as a digital download or stream. Singles from the album included "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is," "Bring It On Back," "Rip It Up" and "Shine On." Grade: Get Born B

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