George Martin Biography – Part Two: Sound Pictures

The second installment in an exceptional two-part biography of Beatle producer, the late Sir George Martin, has just hit bookstores in the US and the UK.

We reviewed Part 1, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966), back in January and have been hanging out to get our hands on Part 2 ever since.

Now, Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years: 1966-2016) is finally here.

Like the first book in the series, there are different covers for each market. Here is the US jacket:

And here is the cover for the UK:

Author Kenneth Womack really has created the definitive biography of the man widely regarded as The Fifth Beatle. In this second volume he takes up the story from 1966, when the Beatles have just released their Rubber Soul album to huge audience and critical acclaim: “At this point, the Beatles were in the midst of riding a winning streak in the UK, with eleven consecutive number-one singles – the latest being the double A-sided “Day Tripper” backed with “We Can Work It Out”, which was released in December 1965 and had rung in 1966 atop the UK charts. The pressure was definitely on to maintain the Beatles’ commercial dominion in their home country, and the group’s principal songwriters took the competition very seriously indeed, with John and Paul regularly vying to see who could land the next A-side.”

In those sentences Womack sums up the huge weight of expectation that was on the band, not only to keep on coming up with the goods in the form of hit records, and to maintain their hectic performance and appearance schedule, but also internally to keep moving forward creatively, to stretch themselves, try out new sounds and new ways of doing things.

In Sound Pictures we get a birds-eye view of the Beatles at their most creative. With the decision in late 1966 not to tour anymore but instead to use their albums to talk to their fans, they set a course that led to the release of four consecutive LPs that always make it into any ‘Best Albums of All Time’ lists: Revolver 1966, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967, The Beatles (The White Album) 1968, and Abbey Road 1969. When the Beatles decided to use the studio as their instrument it was Sir George who was there to guide them – and we’re all the luckier for it.

Add to that amazing list of LPs a string of Number 1 singles (like ‘All You Need Is Love’/’Baby, You’re A Rich Man’, ‘Hello, Goodbye’/’I Am the Walrus’, ‘Penny Lane’/’Strawberry Fields’, ‘Lady Madonna’/’The Inner Light’, ‘Hey Jude’/’Revolution’ and ‘Something’/Come Together’ to name but a few) and you start to get an idea of the wave of creativity being unleashed between 1966-1969. George Martin was central and influential in each and every recording.

Sure, as the Beatles became more confident in the studio the dynamic between the band and their production team changed throughout this period – especially around the time of The White Album (and Womack goes into this in some detail) – but they usually found their way back to George Martin for guidance in some form or other. It’s a trend that continued right through the eighties with the release of the Beatle catalogue on CD for the first time; the huge Anthology project; and right up to more recent releases like the Beatles Love, where many of their songs were remastered and radically remixed. As well as having helped create it, Martin was closely involved in caretaking the legacy too.

Throughout the timeframe of Sound Pictures, Sir George was working as an independent producer, arranger and composer. He started up his own company called AIR, and established his own recording studio facilities as well, so in the book we get to learn about the huge catalogue of artists he collaborated with alongside some of the significant musical productions he was associated with. George Martin has worked with performers as diverse as Cilla Black, Elton John, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck, Kenny Rogers, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney as solo artists, America, Celine Dion, Jimmy Webb and John McLaughlin. It extends right up to his passing in 2016, and goes well beyond his work with the Beatles.

This is an excellent book, a great read, and Kenneth Womack should be congratulated for the depth of his research and the engaging way he tells the story of one of the greats of the music business. Highly recommended.

If you are looking for a soundtrack to accompany these two volumes as you read you could do worse than getting hold of the six CD set, Produced By George Martin – 50 Years In Recording. It was released in 2001:

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John Lennon ‘Imagine’ – Film, Audio and DVD/BluRay On The Way?

Speculation and rumours that there would be a number of additional elements accompanying the forthcoming Imagine John Yoko book (due on October 9) has had an on again/off again nature over the last few days.

The story so far…..

Officially, all we know is that the book is happening, as is a cinema release of the John Lennon and Yoko Ono film Imagine, announced this week: This is the 1972 film with each of the songs from Imagine portrayed (plus four songs from the Ono LP FLY, recorded at the same time) in between glimpses into the lives of John and Yoko, plus some fun sequences featuring the pair and a host of celebrity mates. It looks like it’s the original 70 minute cut of the film, plus an additional 15 minutes or so of bonus material.

If you’d like to go along and see the movie on the big screen there’s a special site set up find out where it is on near you and you can book tickets. Screenings start from September 17.

We also now know that there will be definitely be a DVD and Blu-ray release of the 1972 Imagine film, coupled on the one disc with Gimme Some Truth – The Making of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ Album which dates from 2000 and is directed by Andrew Solt:Gimme Some Truth is a surprisingly good examination of the recording process, a fly-on-the-wall window on Lennon in the studio creating the Imagine album that stands the test of time. The DVD and Blu-ray will be available from October 5, and Amazon is taking pre-orders now. There will be bonus material included, but it has not yet been revealed just what this will be. These two films will be great to have in remixed sound, 5.1 mixes (if that is your thing), and fully restored visual content.

And that leads us to what hasn’t been announced yet regarding the last piece in the puzzle: the audio from the Imagine sessions.

There’s been lots of talk about a super deluxe box set; a single CD; a double CD; and a double LP (with a limited edition in clear vinyl for collectors too). Depending on who you believe this is about to be officially announced (like in the next few days, with an October 9 release date), or this part of the Imagine re-issue project has been delayed and we won’t see it until at least February, 2019. (This courtesy of Lennon producer, Jack Douglas, who apparently stated at the Chicago Fest for Beatles last weekend that the project had been shelved to February next year).

Until something official comes out it all remains speculation, but the big box set (which will be audio only) will likely contain four CDs, plus two Blu-rays of material. On these will be some 140 tracks – which is HUGE!

In the box we’ll get the remixed stereo Imagine album, plus singles and extras; outtakes from the album, singles and extras; the Quadraphonic album remastered; raw studio mixes; plus a host of other audio content. For example, someone well-connected to the project has posted this as the content on CD2:

CD 2 – ELEMENTS & OUTTAKES
Elements Mixes and Album & Single Outtakes
ELEMENTS MIXES
Imagine (Strings only) 
Jealous Guy (Piano, bass & drums)
Oh My Love (Vocals only) 
How? (Strings only) 
ALBUM OUTTAKES
Imagine (Original demo recorded at Ascot) 
Imagine (Take 1) 
Crippled Inside (Take 3) 
Crippled Inside (Take 6 alternate guitar solo)
Jealous Guy (Take 9) 
It’s So Hard (Take 6) 
I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier (Take 25) 
Gimme Some Truth (Take 4)
Oh My Love (Take 6) 
How Do You Sleep? (Takes 1 & 2) 
How? (Take 31)

That’s just for one CD. Those two Blu-rays alone will contain a massive amount of additional audio and this release (if it comes about) will set a precedent for the Apple/Universal box set re-issue approach so far. There will be raw studio mixes; “elements” mixes with instruments and voices separated out; documentary content about the evolution of the songs; plus interview material from the time of Imagine with John and Yoko included. To date the breadth of material planned for release is unprecedented.

The promotional music site Ultimate Classic Rock jumped the gun today and published an article called “John Lennon’s Imagine Album Explored in a Six-Disc Box Set“. As you can see if you click through, they’ve subsequently taken that story down, possibly with a big rap across the knuckles form Apple/Universal….

We reckon this big release program WILL happen. It’s just a matter of when.

UPDATE: The official Lennon site has now uploaded a teaser Imagine the Music page and a video (a beautiful short extract of just the isolated vocals from ‘Oh My Love’). Looks like we’ll know exactly what is on offer on August 23, when The Ultimate Deep Listening Experience will be officially announced.

Dreaming The Beatles – Book Review

We’ve been reading a terrific Beatle book called Dreaming The Beatles – The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World by Rob Sheffield. It’s not new. The hardcover first edition was released last year – and won great accolades then. It has though just been re-issued as a  paperback, and it’s recommended that you go get yourself a copy:

Rob Sheffield is a columnist for Rolling Stone magazine and has been writing about music, TV and popular culture since 1997. He’s written a number of other books on music including works on David Bowie and Duran Duran.

Sheffield has a delightful and refreshing writing style and delivers some truly unique insights and observations into The Beatles: as a band, as individuals, as musicians, and as a world-wide pop phenomenon involved in a love affair that persists up to today (and will do well in the future).

The big difference here is that Sheffield’s take on it all is a decidedly fresh one. Given the huge number of words written about this band over many, many years, that is really saying something.

The basic premise of Dreaming The Beatles is to examine why they have remained so loved and so central – not only in the Sixties, but right up to the present day. Sheffield writes: “The Beatles didn’t plan it this way – they couldn’t have. In 1964, their publicist Derek Taylor wrote liner notes for one of their albums predicting it would still sound fine to “the kids of AD 2000”, a bold claim that looks hilariously small potatoes now…..Taylor upped the ante with his 1995 liner notes for Anthology, calling the Beatles’ story “the twentieth century’s greatest romance.” How was he supposed to know that the romance was just beginning?”

The world, it seems, just keeps on falling in love with The Beatles. Sheffield again: “They tried to break the spell they’d cast and were genuinely surprised when they failed. When John Lennon sang “The dream is over” in 1970, he wanted to free his listeners and himself from the dream. But it didn’t work, because the group didn’t belong to these four men anymore. The dream wasn’t theirs to break.” As four individuals they each tried to end it, pursue new paths, and get on with the rest of their lives. Sheffield observes that the world just smiled politely and said, “I think I disagree.”

Through a series of short vignettes and essays Sheffield examines how this came to be and (with lots of detours along the way) picks apart various significant albums, songs and transitional moments and connections in their career to gradually build up a picture of why it all mattered – and why it continues to matter.

Dreaming the Beatles is often funny too, and is always an engrossing read frequently offering up interesting and entertaining opinions. Take for instance the chapter ‘Beatles or Stones?’ where the traditional rivalry between the two bands is delightfully unpacked. “The Stones flourished during the all-to-brief phase when Mick Jagger thought he was Paul McCartney.”, writes Sheffield. “‘Dandelion’ is easily the best faux-McCartney song of the Sixties. Alas, this phase has been underrated through the years, for the admittedly excellent reason that as soon as Mick gave up trying to be Paul he got ten times better at being Mick, which is when the Stones hit their prime.”

If you feel jaded about reading yet another Beatle book, pluck up the courage and seek this one out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by an author who knows his stuff, can look at the time-worn tale in new ways, understands why the story continues on, and in the end just loves the music. Like he says: “Being born on the same planet as the Beatles is one of the 10 best things that’s ever happened to me.”

Dreaming The Beatles – The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World is published by Dey Street Books (Harper Collins)

Strange/Unusual Find of the Month

A small local library was having a clear-out. They’d decided that their shelf space was at a premium and so books that they had more than one copy of, those which hadn’t been borrowed in a while, and those that’d been in storage for years, had to go.

Rather than just throw them away they kindly put them all out on tables and invited locals to browse choose whatever they liked – for free.

We scored a couple of Beatle treasures.

The first is Hunter Davies’ iconic early The Beatles – The Authorised Biography dating from 1968. This is a genuine UK first edition. It’s an important book because, despite the glossing over of some aspects of their lives, it is the only authorised biography of the Beatles written during their career.

The cover has that clear plastic film libraries use to protect the dust cover, so it looks a little beaten up – but is really in very good condition for it’s age (click on images for larger versions): The rear cover has those four terrrific Richard Avedon portraits:

Inside are some more pages of great photos:

What we really like is that the library hasn’t remove the old-school borrowing card and date stamp sheet inside the back of the book!

The other title was Peter Brown’s The Love You Make – An Insider’s Story of The Beatles:

Again, some interesting photo pages inside:

And the original borrowing card and date stamp sheet still intact:

This is a UK first edition from 1983. Again, it has lived a good life, but is not in too bad condition for it’s age. Peter Brown was a Beatle insider having been a personal assitant to their manager Brian Epstein and an executive at Apple Corps. Wikipedia says the critics are mixed in their views on this book, with some stating it is not a true representation of the facts as it ncludes recollections of episodes that Brown could not possibly have been witness to. Still, an interesting addition to the collection.

Lennon ‘Imagine’ Re-Issue Rumours Abound

With a press release and first photos issued earlier this week giving details of a new book about the making of John Lennon’s 1971 LP Imagine – plus a social media marketing blitz for the book getting under way yesterday (coordinated Tweets from @yokoono@johnlennon; and the publishers @thamesandhudson and @GrandCentralPub, not to mention Facebook) – the rumour mill is ripe with talk that the book will also be accompanied by a significant re-issue of the recording.

The book, which looks to be an impressive 320 page hardback, is due in store on October 9th:From the press release: “Imagine tells the story of John & Yoko’s life, work and relationship during this intensely creative period. It transports readers to home and working environments through artfully compiled narrative film stills, Yoko’s closely guarded archive photos and artefacts, and stitched-together panoramas taken from outtake film footage that recreate the interiors in evocative detail. Each chapter and song is introduced with text by John & Yoko compiled from published and unpublished sources and complemented by comments from Yoko today. Fresh insights are provided by musicians, engineers and staff who took part, many of whom feature on the inner sleeve’s enigmatic picture wheel, in which the identities are finally revealed. All the minutiae is examined: the locations, the key players, the music and lyrics, the production techniques and the artworks – including the creative process behind the double exposure Polaroids used on the album cover.”

Even the page edges have been given a special cloud treatment:

Imagine will be published in the USA by Grand Central Publishing, and the UK by Thames and Hudson.

Have to say – the book looks impressive and will no doubt conatin some real treasures, both in information and photographs….

So, what about a re-mixed Imagine CD, vinyl, or deluxe box set to accompany it?

Some weeks back The Beatles Daily blog had this, quoting former Beatle aide and insider Tony Bramwell that a “song and dance” version of the album was in the works, while on the popular Steve Hoffman Music Forums they are talking about a new remix, possible DVD and Blu-Ray, and maybe a box set to be bundled with the book…..

So far it is all speculation. If there’s something in the works expect an offical announcement soon I guess.

One thing is certain: Yoko Ono will be credited for the first time officially as co-writer of the song ‘Imagine’. This is because when “Imagine” received the National Music Publishers Association’s inaugural Centennial Song Award last year, the organisation took on board John Lennon’s statement from 1980 that it really was a co-write – and bestowed the honour upon her at the ceremony. Yoko (and son Sean) were at the awards to receive it and you can watch what happened here:

Interesting, isn’t it.

Again, from the official press release about the forthcoming book: “In 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono conceived and recorded the critically acclaimed album Imagine at their Georgian country home, Tittenhurst Park, in Berkshire, England, and in the state-of-the-art studio they built in the grounds and at the Record Plant in New York. The lyrics of its title track were inspired by Yoko Ono’s ‘event scores’ in her 1964 book Grapefruit, and she was officially co-credited as writer in June 2017.

If there is to be a major re-issue later this year (and it’s looking very likely that there will), it’ll become the very first release to carry that new co-writer song credit for the song ‘Imagine”.

New Book: The Beatles Recording Reference Manual – Volume 2

As author, recording engineer and musician Jerry Hammack says in the introduction to his book: “If you have read Volume 1 of The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, you will understand that the goal of these books is a straightforward one; to document the creation of The Beatles’ catalogue of recorded work – from first take to final remix. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Now comes the next installment in his impressive series, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual – Volume 2: ‘Help!’ through ‘Revolver’ (1965-1966).

Hammack’s intention here is to fill in the gaps between Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Andy Babuik’s Beatles Gear, and Recording The Beatles by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew. It’s also about how the band’s recording processes evolved as they became more experienced recording artists, as recording technology developed, and as the resources available to them expanded.

Jerry has spent nearly ten years now carefully de-constructing each Beatle recording. He does this by listening to out-takes, bootlegs, and original stems containing isolated solos and vocals (which can be unlocked in the video game RockBand). He pores over studio logs to see exactly where the recording took place, who the engineer was, even what tape machines were being used. Then there’s studio film footage and still photography that can also yield up valuable evidence. These things can all give hints as to how each song must have been created. The information can then be logically worked through to make a near-as-can-be definitive picture of what we now hear on the final mixes. Bear in mind that in arriving at his conclusions Hammack cross referenced some 5,500 tracks!

These reference manuals serve as a terrific listening companion to use as you sit in front of your speakers, or have your headphones on. With them at hand you can clearly identify what is going on with any given track. There are both text explanations and simple diagrams detailing what occurred in the studio as each track became the final mixes we have today, and sometimes these contain fascinating new information. I mean, who knew John Lennon played drums on the George Harrison composition ‘I Need You’ from Help!?

As in Volume 1 there are numerous appendices at the back of the book covering release versions, gear and instruments used, and more.

Gotta say too, just in passing, that the cover image for Volume 2 is super cool!

Jerry Hammack has created a website to support the book series, and you can purchase his book through Amazon.

Additionally, the fab Something About the Beatles podcast, hosted by Robert Rodriguez (with Ben Rowling), recently interviewed author Jerry Hammack. It comes in two parts. Have a listen to both Part One and Part Two. Well worth it.

Looking ahead, Volume 3 will cover off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, and then the final book in the series, Volume 4, will take in the LPs The Beatles (aka The White Album, through to Abbey Road (1968-1970). The plan is to release each at  about 6-monthly intervals.

If you are a “gear nerd” or you just want to get the absolute detail, song-by-song, on how each Beatle track was recorded, the instruments and technology used, and who played what, these books are a must.

The Beatles in India

Something of a Beatles and India theme has emerged in 2018, with this year marking the 50th anniversary of the time the band spent six weeks in an ashram in Rishikesh learning about Transcendental Meditation (TM), and along the way writing a prolific amount of fabulous songs.

Last week the George Harrison estate announced the creation of a new record label to mine the rich Harrison archives and re-issue many of George’s musical projects with Indian artists. His visits to that country changed his life and his art forever.

Prior to that announcement there was the release in February of a beautiful book (in three different editions) called The Beatles in India

These books are to be followed up with a documentary film bearing the same name later this year.

There’s also another book called Across the Universe: The Beatles in India by Ajoy Bose:

And a further book, Maharishi and Me – Seeking Enlightenment with The Beatles’ Guru, by Susan Shumsky:Let’s look at each of these releases in some more detail.

The Beatles in India. The books. These are a photographic record of the time a 23 year-old Canadian, Paul Saltzman, traveled to India in search of himself. To his great surprise he discovered that The Beatles were also in India, studying at the same ashram in Rishikesh. Saltzman spent a magical week with them, learning meditation and hanging out with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Fifty years later, the photos he took at the time are being published once again* in a book called The Beatles in India. It is available in three versions: as a standard hardback (see cover image above); as a special limited edition (signed and numbered and only 1968 copies produced): 

And in a larger format super deluxe edition (signed and numbered and only 350 copies produced):

* It should be noted that is is not the first time that Saltzman has published these photographs. He first released them along with his memories in a book called The Beatles in Rishikesh, published by Viking Studio in 2000. So, what you get here isn’t totally new information.

The Beatles in India. The film. This is a documentary also being made by Paul Saltzman, who is now an Emmy Award-winning Toronto-based director-producer of over 300 film and television productions. As we already know from his books, in 1968 he learned meditation at the Maharishi’s ashram in India, an experience that changed his life. There, he photographed The Beatles, Jane Asher, Cynthia Lennon, Pattie Boyd Harrison, Maureen Starkey, Mia Farrow, Donovan, Mal Evans and Mike Love. The film will detail “….Saltzman’s return journey to India, The Beatles stay and the songs they composed at the ashram, as well as meditation as it applies to creativity, the divine inner journey and the healing power of love and music.” No release date has yet been announced. You can read the press release for this one here.

Across the Universe: The Beatles in India. “What we do know is that their stay in Rishikesh resulted in an astonishing creative burst of song-writing – the most prolific in their entire career.”

Ajoy Bose was a teenage fan when The Beatles visited India. His book is an in-depth celebration of what it meant, especially the creative impact their stay had on the band: “I believe that the real reason why they managed to write so many songs in India was because it was the first time since they became the Beatles they were allowed to be individuals and not just a band that needed to perform or record in the studios.”

“So a sabbatical did change the Beatles, at least temporarily, and particularly the songs they wrote in the ashram, because these were all individual pieces and were not created with an album in mind. That is why the ‘White Album’, which contains most of these songs, is considered so unique in the Beatles discography,” says Bose.

Amazon has a ‘Look Inside‘ link for more, and you can read a lovely review of the book here.

Maharishi and Me – Seeking Enlightenment with The Beatles’ Guru. Author Susan Shumsky lived and studied in the Maharishi’s ashrams for 22 years, and she served on his personal staff for seven of those years. Many books have been written about the guru, and (as we’ve seen above) about the time The Beatles travelled to India, but this is the only one to offer an insider’s view of what it was really like to live in Rishikesh. Yes, it includes chapters about the time that John, Paul, George and Ringo came to learn at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. But this book is about much more than that.

Shumsky says that it’s “….a way of sharing a few glimpses into my spiritual journey, and hopefully will help you make your own spiritual connection.” There’s a lot more information here about TM, what it actually is, and it’s impact not only on The Beatles but on people seeking spiritual enlightenment across the west.

Shumsky has some very good detail about how The Beatles found out about the Maharishi, how they first got into TM in London and Wales, and how as a result of a Beatle connection the rest of the world found out about TM too. She also writes in detail, across a number of chapters, about the India visit in early 1968. Here we discover what the day-to-day life and activities for the band would have been like.

On the way to the ashram, George Harrison told a reporter, “A lot of people think we’ve gone of our heads. Well, they can think that—or anything they like. We’ve discovered a new way of living.” But, as we know, it all ended badly, with The Beatles leaving the ashram disillusioned – especially with the Maharishi. Shumsky has a theory as to why this occurred, and devotes a chapter to the falling out. It makes for interesting reading.

If you’d like to get a taste of Susan’s story there’s also a ‘Look Inside‘ link on the Amazon site. Marharishi and Me is published by Skyhorse Publishing.