Music on Bones – Hearing Beatle Music the Hard Way

One of our favourite Beatle websites is The Beatles Get Back in the USSR – mostly because it’s a treasure trove of information on every aspect of Beatle collecting in Russia, but also because it is clearly a labour of love and a remarkable resource.

The level of research, scholarship and effort that’s been put into this site is immediately obvious. Not to mention the amazing and extensive image libraries accompanying each topic written about.

If, for example, you’re interested in all the different pressings and versions of Paul McCartney’s ‘Russian album’ Choba B CCCP (first issued on the Melodiya label in 1988), then you can’t go past the site’s chapters on it here (first edition – 11 tracks), here (mispressed edition – 12 tracks), and here (second edition – 13 tracks). The depth of information is impressive.

The latest example of this sort of thorough analysis has recently been uploaded to the site. 

Web pages for a chapter called Illegal and Semi-legal Beatles Releases in the USSR are the result of more than ten years of work to find records/images/information and to analyze and describe all the content – and it tells an extraordinary tale. These illegal and semi-legal releases bear witness to the extraordinary lengths people in Cold War Russia went to hear and share western music, especially rock’n’roll, and of course – Beatle music.

Right through the 1960s, and well into the1970’s, there were practically zero officially released Beatles records issued Russia. Rock music was considered decadent and not suitable for the masses. So, the people took matters into their own hands.

Using smuggled-in originals from England and Europe, they made their own un-official copies of songs the only ways they knew how. This was done using two main processes. The first was to utilise the many small, commercial recording booths that were dotted around Russian cities and towns. These were set up to record short audio ‘postcards’ that could be sent through the post. This was, back in the day, a popular way of sending loved ones a message along with a photograph of the place or holiday location you’d been visiting. They looked something like this:The postcard/record above is like a one-sided flexidisc, with the “message” recorded onto the picture side. But this particular example contains a recording of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’! These ‘postcard’ flexies played at 78rpm and only conatined enough space for one song. Also, the quality wasn’t great – but, you got to hear The Beatles in a country that didn’t allow you to freely listen to them.

The other means of copying and distribution was through home tinkerers who set up illegal recording lathes to cut Beatle songs directly onto old medical x-rays. Yes, medical x-rays. These became known as “music on bones” or “music on ribs” – for obvious reasons:These freaky-looking x-rays above both have a Beatle song cut into them and they can be played on a turntable.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and these thick celluloid sheets of x-ray film were one of the few resources available to people in Soviet Russia at the time.

Like the postcard/records, these “music on bones” play at 78rpm, and to be honest, to our ears now they don’t sound that great. But this was the only way that anyone was going to be able to hear this type of music at the time. And don’t forget – making them and owning recordings like these could get you into big trouble with the authorities. Some ended up in prison just because they wanted to listen to rock’n’roll.  

This is fascinating history and you can spend quite a while on the site discovering a lot more about this little-known avenue of Beatle collecting. A shout out to Andrey, an old friend of beatlesblogger.com and one of the contributors to the extraordinary research that has gone into creating this online resource.

Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the front page where you’ll see a series of images. These are all links leading to the sub-chapters with many examples, more detailed information and sometimes videos of the discs actually playing.

And see below for a short documentary on the strange story of Soviet “music on bones” – gramophone grooves cut onto x-rays of skulls, ribcages and bones:

McCartney on Songwriting

How does Paul McCartney write a song? What goes through his mind when he’s at the piano? What’s an “oobley” chord? And where do the lyrics come from when he’s noodling away?

Those were some of the questions Alan Alda asked Sir Paul when they sat down together for a lengthy chat recently on Alda’s regular podcast called Clear+Vivid:

McCartney has been interviewed more times than most people have had hot breakfasts, and so he can at times resort to re-telling the same, oft-told stories from his past. Frequently when you hear him interviewed there’s very little new or interesting on offer.

But, for the most part, that’s not the case here. In this podcast its more of a discussion, a meeting of the minds and Alda puts McCartney at ease. He sounds relaxed and at times unguarded. As the PR blurb says, we “…learn some of the never before heard secrets behind this legendary musician’s magic.”

Well worth a listen.  (Season7, Episode2, released on 03/03/2020)

Record Store Day 2020 Rescheduled

In the world-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Record Store Day has become the latest in a long line of events to be postponed. The official site now states:

We’ve decided that the best of all possible moves is to change the date of Record Store Day this year to Saturday, June 20.

We think this gives stores around the world the best chance to have a profitable, successful Record Store Day, while taking into consideration the recommendations of doctors, scientists, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, and the need to be good citizens of both local and worldwide communities.

We’re working with all of our partners and our stores to make this change as smooth as possible for everyone who participates in Record Store Day: customers, record stores, artists, labels and more.  Record Store Day is everywhere and we want to hold our party when everyone can gather around safely to celebrate life, art, music and the culture of the indie record store.

This means we’ll have to wait a little longer to purchase the three Beatle-related items that were announced just over a week ago – but that’s OK.

This is a fast-changing situation and we all need to keep up to date with the latest directives from our governments, and more importantly to personally do what is necessary to reduce our exposure.

We’ll get through this folks. Keep safe!

Record Store Day 2020 – Beatle Related Titles

It’s been a bit quiet on the new Beatle product front for a while. Then comes the 2020 Record Store Day official lists – and not one, but three titles that will be of ineterst to collectors.

First up, Paul McCartney and yet a further re-issue of his first solo album from 1970, simply called McCartney:

This time around, for it’s 50th anniversary, McCartney is getting the Half Speed Master treatment. There will be just 7000 copies produced. If you’d like to know more about Half Speed Mastering UMe has produced this article. Abbey Road Studios engineer Miles Showell (who worked on this 2020 re-issue of McCartney) explains more here:

And, as one wag said on one of the better re-issue forums (Super Deluxe Edition – which we love): “Just as he did fifty years ago, Paul’s making sure his solo album gets released before Let It Be hits the streets…” That’s actually very funny. History repeats.

Also on this year’s Record Store Day list, a Ravi Shankar Centennary Edition of his Chants of India album, produced by George Harrison in 1997. In what is the first physical product to come out of the new distribution relationship between BMG and Harrison’s Dark Horse Records, this LP is being issued for the first time on vinyl – and it will be on red coloured vinyl to boot! 3000 copies are being pressed, and the 2LP set will come in a gatefold cover with an exclusive photo print:

Finally, a John Lennon title is included in the 2020 RSD list. A 7″ black vinyl single of his 1970 hit ‘Instant Karma!’ is being billed as the 2020 Ultimate Mixes. The single will feature newly mixed audio and a faithful reproduction of original UK sleeve artwork. 7000 copies are being pressed:

Record Store Day this year is on Saturday, April 18. Check here for the full list of what is planned for release. You can find the US RSD store here. The official RSD UK store is here.

50 Years Since Abbey Road – Podcast

Back in 2014 the ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) began hosting an ongoing series celebrating the 50th anniversary release of each British Beatle LP.

As each album reaches its anniversary ABC Radio presenter Rod Quinn speaks to US John Lennon biographer and Beatle expert Jude Southerland Kessler. Jude is the author of the extraordinary (and ambitious!) nine-volume John Lennon narrative biography. The latest instalment in the series is Volume 4: Should Have Known Better (to see the details for this volume scroll down after clicking).

The pair spoke about the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road late last year, but it has taken them a while to upload that episode onto the web. They’ve finally done it though, and you can now find it here, or just click on the Abbey Road Apple label below:

Like all the other podcasts in the series, this one is also very insightful – and really well worth a listen.

Previous broadcasts/podcasts have covered Please Please MeWith the BeatlesA Hard Day’s NightBeatles For Sale and of course, Help! – which is in two parts: Side One here, and Side Two here.

You can hear Rod and Jude talk about Rubber SoulRevolver; and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by clicking here.

And they tackle Yellow Submarine, The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album), and The Esher Demos disc here.

McCartney Black Friday RSD Single – Finally

Sometimes being a Beatle collector in Australia requires patience…

Look what has literally just arrived:

It’s the Paul McCartney Record Store Day Black Friday 2019 double A-side picture disc single, ‘Home Tonight’/’In A Hurry’.

It certainly wasn’t in a hurry to get here though. RSD Black Friday was on November 29, last year. Our trusted local supplier somehow missed the boat on getting their supplies of the single fulfilled way back then and have only just now got the disc in-store. They’re usually very good and it’s unclear as to why it has taken so long. The store was citing “production delays”, though we’ve seen extensive coverage of this single being in stores in the USA right from the Friday of its release. Has anyone else experienced supply issues?

We must say it does look good in real life though. In the image above the yellow and red central label is actually a sticker on the outside of the clear plastic sleeve. Here’s a shot of the rear of the sleeve:

And here is the picture disc single iteself – firstly Side A:

And Side AA:

And the front of the carboard insert (with the disc taken out of the sleeve):

It’s a great design all round. Ferry Gouw and Gary Card, the two guys who did the spectacular Egypt Station LP and CD covers are responsible. You can read more about the design for the single here.

(As usual, click on images to see larger versions)

Ringo Starr – Playing For Change

We must have been living under a rock because we totally missed this one when it first came out in September last year.

It’s Ringo Starr guesting on a terrific Playing For Change 50th anniversary version of The Band’s classic, ‘The Weight’:

It really works, don’t you think? Composer Robbie Robertson and Playing For Change producer Mark Johnson talk about the making of the track here and, like Robbie says, “It gives it a very special soul to me, seeing music come together like that.”:

Playing For Change have also recorded and filmed (in 2011) a version of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’:

Playing for Change grew from a dream to make the world a little brighter, and now supports musicians all over the world. For $5 a month you can become a member and enjoy the entire PFC music catalogue (with exclusive content), receive a 25% discount in their shop, and know that 20% of your membership is donated directly to the Playing for Change Foundation. Just click on the Become A Member button on the site.