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.

Two Books, Two CD Variations, and One DVD – Beatle Finds

We attended the quarterly fundraiser for a Sydney community radio station last week. About every three months the classical music station Fine Music 102.5 set up a hall full of tables loaded with donated books, CDs, DVDs, sheet music and a small number of vinyl records.

In the book section there was a very interesting Beatle-related book and a John Lennon book too. In the CD section we found two CD’s – both variations of titles already in the collection – by The Beatles and Paul McCartney. And amongst the DVDs a fun item featuring one Ringo Starr…..

First up, the Beatle-related book:Derek Taylor front

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today came out thirty years ago as part of what was then the 20th anniversary of the 1967 Summer of Love. It uses the release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP as a stepping off point to build an historical appreciation of what was a fairly wild and crazy year in music, art, fashion, politics, religion, relationships and generational change.

Written by a genuine Beatle insider (former Apple press officer Derek Taylor), this book is also associated with a television program of the same name released that year.

Derek Taylor is witty, erudite and clever at pulling together a massive amount of information to give a detailed impression of what was going on around the world in a year of countercutural change. The book includes lots of archive interviews, observations, and photographs as well as extensive transcripts from the Granada TV documentary. Really interesting.

Jump ahead about twenty-five years and you have the second book we discovered. It’s also a reminiscence of times past, evident in the title: Days That I’ll Remeber -Spending Time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Author Jonathan Cott has been a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and has written for The New York Times and The New Yorker. He is the author of 19 books on a wide range of topics, including works on Bob Dylan, classical music, children’s literature, and poetry – but especially music. Cott’s relationship with John Lennon and Yoko Ono dates back to 1968 when he went to interview them in their London flat. 

During that meeting a friendship was born that lasted for the rest of Lennon’s life, and continues today between Cott and Yoko Ono. It was Jonathan Cott who conducted what was to become the final Lennon print interview before his death. In Days That I’ll Remember Cott is presenting – for the first time – complete versions of all his significant interviews with the pair, and as such this is an important and significant work to have in the collection.The other finds are probably of lesser importance or interest, but we’ll detail them here for you anyway!

First up a CD version of The Beatles’ compilation album from 2000. Simply called 1 it contains (as the hype sticker on the front states) “27 No.1 singles on 1 CD”. Millions of these were sold around the world. So what’s new/different here? Only that this copy comes from South Africa, and there are a few distinguishing differences, namely the words “Made in the RSA” near the bar code on the rear:

There’s also a different, country-specific catalogue number there (CDPCSJ (WE) 7213), and it is also printed on the CD inside:

Plus there’s a really small logo on the left at the bottom. It has a musical note in it’s design, with some lettering that is tiny and difficult to read, but it says “A.S.A.M.I. Seal of Approval”. We’re guessing that is (or was) some sort of South African recording industry association that vouched for the autheticity of the pressing:

Otherwise all other presentation and content will be very familiar if you already have this CD:

Also on the CD tables was Paul McCartney’s 1997 large-scale classical recording, Standing Stone:

Above is the front and back of the outer cardboard slipcase which holds the CD jewel case and thick booklet with lyrics, photos, reproduced artworks, and an essay about the compostion and performance of the work. The one we found here is the UK pressing (we already have US and Canadian pressings of this which both have small variations on what you see here):

Here are the front and rear covers of the booklet:

The beautiful cover images are by Linda McCartney, and here is a peek inside. This artwork is by Paul:Finally, to end on a lighter note, a little kid’s DVD called Thomas & Friends:

If you look closely at the credits you can see listed there as Storyteller – Ringo Starr:

It’s great to have an example of Ringo’s work narrating this classic kids animation series. He did the voice-overs for the first two series only.

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

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)

The Design of McCartney’s RSD Release – ‘Home Tonight’/’In A Hurry’

One of the most striking things about Paul McCartney’s Egypt Station LP from last year was the amazing cover design – both for the initial release, and for the Explorer’s Edition which came later.

The art directors hired for those projects were Ferry Gouw, an illustrator, graphic designer and video director, and Gary Card, a set designer, illustrator and artist. Both are based in London. They took an original McCartney painting and extended out its themes and style across many panels (for both the CD and the LP) in colourful and spectacular ways.

Turns out the latest McCartney vinyl single, the limited edition picture disc just issued on Record Store Day Black Friday with two tracks recorded during the Egypt Station sessions but never released, is also designed by Card and Gouw. Again, the design looks fantastic.

Ferry Gouw posted this message on his Instagram account over the weekend: “Made this for @paulmccartney for his Record Store Day release (really great songs). This was based on a card that my dad bought me some time ago, you spin the wheels n the faces get jumbled up.”

The official press release says that the design is also inspired by the parlour game/collaborative drawing method known as Exquisite Corpse.

It seems however that there’s now some bad blood between Ferry Gouw and collaborator, Gary Card?

Card has messaged Gouw on Instagram saying: “Love how you bastards have completely cut me out now. I’ll be talking to my lawyers.”

Hmmm. Clearly not a happy camper……wonder what is going on?