Better naked

31 10 2010

Whatever you may think of her, Yoko Ono, you must admit, is a shrewd, sharp, businesswoman.  She’s handled John Lennon’s estate with tremendous aplomb.  Why she and her husband always styled her as this supposedly visionary performance artist, she seems better to suited to taking a good money maker and making it into a great one.  Just in the past year, her late husband’s estate has hauled in $17 Million!  But I digress…

More interesting — and maybe surprising — to me is that Yoko has quite an ear for music.  I’ve never cared for most of her material.  Her singing…err…vocal work…err…caterwauling is god-awful.  Even when she actually “sings,” she just sounds ear-bleedingly brutal.  Her voice is truly ugly.  But she certainly is gifted enough herself to recognize just how good John was as a singer and musician and has the vision to try to make sure the rest of us could hear John as he was meant to be heard.

I’ve not heard the remastered John Lennon solo albums reissued on his just past 70th birthday save for Double Fantasy.  Brilliantly, with that album Yoko did two things.  First and foremost, like her business partners, the Beatles, recently did with Let It Be…Naked, Yoko has stripped away layers of “production” on Double Fantasy.  In fact, the new CD is called Double Fantasy Stripped Down and contains a more basic set of tracks and the original release album.  More about that momentarily.  Two, she brought John’s voice high up in the mix.  She has publicly said that she wanted John’s voice to be heard,  knowing that everyone but him really loved his vocal work.

If I had to describe Stripped Down in one word it would be “Wow!”  It sounds fantastic.  I don’t know how much Yoko was literally at the mixing console with Jack Douglas, but whoever remixed the album made it sound dynamite.  More interestingly, the “stripped down” tracks are, in many ways, better than the original album mixes.  They’re just a little more immediate, a little less cluttered — not that Double Fantasy ever suffered from “Wall of Sound” levels of overproduction.  Peeling away layers of sound effects and superfluous instruments (like horns) from some tracks just make them sound and feel much more genuine.  I could say, “Listen to this song or that song and you’ll see…”  Rather, I say listen to all the John tracks.  Their freshness is hard to describe without a bunch of cliche adjectives.  They’re damned good.

Even Yoko’s tracks, some interesting songs with lousy vocal work, feel good.  John always tried to credit Yoko with various music styles to come along.  In bands like the B-52’s (probably “Rock Lobster”) he heard her early performances, imagined her influence.  Maybe he wasn’t too far off.  A few of her songs on the album would have been classics…had she left the singing to her husband.  But that was not meant to be.

If you like Double Fantasy, I cannot recommend Stripped Down highly enough.


The Beatles’ 100 Best Songs, according to me (41-50)

17 10 2010

Continued from prior posts


41.  Hello Goodbye — Lyrically, it’s terrifically simplistic.  Musically, there’s a lot going on, many layers to the song.  There are a bunch of instruments you can’t even hear on the new remasters.  HG is a fun song, well sung by Paul.

42.  Help! — John later admitted it was his “cry for help,” but at first blush it’s a very cool power pop song.  Help is iconic, one of those songs that epitomizes the mid-60’s and the British Invasion.

43.  Drive My Car — Another one of Paul’s attempts at capturing the Motown sound became a great bit of early white funk.  The opening guitar riff is delicious.  Follow the bass through the song; it has that flow.

44.  Things We Said Today — Following this song is a tiny bit like trying to imagine what would happen if you traveled back in time and did something that prevented your existence.  How could you go back in time and do that if you had never been born?  The lyrics themselves are hardly artsy, but the changes in tense is what makes the song interesting.  Paul starts singing about something his lover just said about the future, but he refers to it as an exchange that took place in the near past.  “Someday when we’re dreaming, deep in love, not a lot to say, then we will remember things we said today.”  In the future things will be different and they’ll look back to the past to see that.  Pay attention to how it jumps around and you’ll see its subtle cleverness.

45.  Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except for Me and My Monkey — It’s a dirty little guitar driven rock track, some of the best hard guitar work the Beatles ever did.  I really don’t remember where the title came from, but there’s never been another rock song that pull off something that lyrically clumsy so…awesomely!  “Come on it’s such a joy” is apparently something the Maharishi was fond of saying.  His influence all over the White Album despite the way the Beatles’ love affair with him ended.

46.  Sexy Sadie — Speaking of the Maharishi, Sexy Sadie’s all about him and his alleged transgressions in India which was cause for John, George and Magic Alex to leave the Ishram.  From what I know about the story, Maharishi allegedly made a pass at a woman camper, which apparently John felt was a breach of etiquette.  (Maybe there was a feeling that the campers were supposed to be living a clean lifestyle and that the master should, therefore, lead by example.)  McCartney later said that leaving under that pretext seemed a little “prudish” on John’s part.  When Lennon went back to England he proceeded to dump his wife in favor of Yoko.  Apparently yogis cannot hit on women but pop stars can dump their ways.  Whatever really happened, it resulted in a great song.

47.  I Will — Probably because it was on the Beatles Love Songs double album that I had as a kid that I have always liked this one.  Paul sings it beautifully.  It’s one of those dozen songs that helped cement McCartney’s reputation as a sentimentalist and a balladeer.  What works best about the song is, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s got a Buddy Holly thing going.

48.  Can’t Buy Me Love — I’ve never been able to tell if “me” means “for me” or “my.”  Money can’t buy love for me or it can’t buy my love.  You know how the Brits sometimes say “me” in place of me.  I’ll never know I suppose.  It’s one of the best pop songs ever.

49.  I Saw Her Standing There is proof that John and Paul had an innate ability to write songs that they just happened to be blessed enough to be able to hone to a sharp point.  It was probably written in the late 50’s and stands up against pretty much any of the early American rock n’ roll hits.  It would fit nicely in the Chuck Berry catalog.

50.  Do You Want to Know A Secret — I believe there are a bunch of Beatles songs that are better in both measureable and immeasureable ways, but this works as a kind of doo-wop rock piece that is especially catchy.  It’s dated but almost sounds better after all these years.  You gotta love George’s nasally Scouse accent pouring through the speakers.


9 10 2010

That’s how old John Lennon would be had he lived to today.  It’s hard to believe my childhood heroes are (or would be) elderly men.