The Beatles – 50 Years Ago

Today’s post takes inspiration from one of my go-to sources, Parade magazine.  That ubiquitous Sunday newspaper supplement ran a quite interesting article today on the songs of 1970, written by veteran music critic Jim Farber.

The Beatles’ last album, Let It Be, was released 50 years ago, a month after the band officially announced its breakup, and before any of the Fab Four had turned 30.  The title track along with “The Long and Winding Road” would become #1 singles in a year extraordinarily rich in #1 singles.  Here’s a version of the song about Paul’s mother, Mary, from the 2003 album Let It Be… Naked, a fantastic reworking the original album by Paul McCartney.  If you like the sound of this version, check out the remix of “The Long and Winding Road”.

Only a few weeks after the release of Let it Be, McCartney released his eponymous solo album.  The album’s best known track is “Maybe I’m Amazed”, written about another woman in Sir Paul’s life, his wife Linda.  Here’s Paul and his band Wings performing it live in 1976, with guitarist James McCullough playing the guitar solo that McCartney played himself on the original recording.

A few months before the release of Let It Be, Lennon/Ono with the Plastic Ono Band released the single “Instant Karma”.  Here’s a live version performed within days of the song’s release.  Yoko’s contributions are suitably mysterious.

Among his bandmates, George Harrison scored the biggest hit in 1970 with “My Sweet Lord” from his triple-album All Things Must Pass.  It closed out the year as the #1 single in the U.S.

This Week in Music

This past week in music covered an awful lot of ground – definitely music now and then.

Taylor Swift dropped a new album, Folklore, recorded in quarantine over the past four months.  It seems to have gotten more attention in two days than all other quarantine musical output combined, but hey, she is TSwift.  The album features suitably stripped down arrangements, Swift’s young woman, broken heart lyrics, and really nice, soft vocals.  The song that jumps out at me is “seven”.   Its vocal style and harmonies are different from other tunes on the album, and the first several lines remind me of something that I can’t quite put my finger on!  Call to Music Now and Then readers: help me out on this!

While TSwift was releasing 16 new tracks, the Rolling Stones excavated one unreleased track, “Scarlet”, from 1974 featuring Jimmy Page sitting in with the band.  I’m not sure Page and Keith Richards are a match made in guitar heaven, but it’s rock history.

While taking in these new releases, we should also take in a bit of the legacy of Peter Green who passed away yesterday.  Green was the co-founder of Fleetwood Mac, but left the band a few years before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined.  Green was a highly respected guitarist, serving a brief stint replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.  He also wrote “Black Magic Woman”, covered by Carlos Santana a year after Fleetwood Mac released it as a single.  Here’s a live version of FM’s hit, “Oh Well” from 1969, with Green on guitar and vocals.

New Classic Country by Midland

The Washington Post Magazine ran a great article today about Midland, a country trio two albums into a what looks like a very promising career.  The band has racked up commercial success and critical recognition since the release of its first album, 2017’s On the Rocks.  They’re written up as channeling the neo-classic country style of George Strait and Dwight Yoakam (the band took its name from one of Yoakam’s songs), mixed with the polished sounds and high harmonies of the Eagles.   I’m not qualified to judge country music lineage, but I really like nicely crafted songs with great vocals and harmonies, and Midland is putting out some beauties.

Their sophomore album, 2019’s Let it Roll, features “Cheatin’ Songs”.   No video out yet for this one, but it’s sweet to just listen to.

If you want video entertainment, here’s another song from Let it Roll, “Mr. Lonely” featuring Dennis Quaid getting his comeuppance from every lady in the bar.   Midland’s base player, Cameron Duddy, turns out to be a big time music video director as well, whose work includes Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” video.

Here’s where it all started for Midland, their first single,”Drinkin’ Problem”, with an award winning video directed by Duddy.   Nuthin’ says “classic country” like cow horns on a Cadillac.

Chrissie’s Still Got It

The Pretenders will release their eleventh studio album, Hate for Sale, this coming Friday, 40 years after their eponymous first album.  And at 68 Chrissie Hynde is still one of the most compelling voices in rock & roll. We’re not talking “can still sort of sing the old stuff”, we’re talking “good as ever”.

The line-up for this album includes Chrissie and drummer Martin Chambers from the original Pretenders line-up.  It’s guitarist James Walbourne’s third album with the band since he joined the group in 2008.  Every one of the tracks released so far are great.   The title track has old school punk attitude,  “Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely” has the Bo Diddley beat, and “The Buzz” sounds like classic-era Pretenders to my ear.   But this post is about Chrissie’s singing, so give a listen to “You Can’t Hurt a Fool”.

Had it not been for the pandemic, the album would have been released earlier this year, and the Pretenders would be on tour. But making the best of a bad situation, Hynde and Walbourne took inspiration from Bob Dylan’s release of his new album to do some home recordings of Dylan covers.   This cover of “Standing in the Doorway” is gorgeous.  I think Bob should give this song to Chrissie and James for keeps.

After this year’s cancelled tour, the Pretender’s website teases at concert date in late September 2021.  To get you ready for their return, here’s Chrissie belting out the anthem “I’ll Stand by You” just 12 months ago.

Fourth of July

As we step back from our usual flag-waving, fireworks-filled celebrations of America, this year’s subdued Fourth of July feels appropriate as we question the functioning of our nation and how its promise has gone unfulfilled for so many after twelve score and four years.  The tension between America’s promise and reality has been explored in some great music.

Of his song “American Tune”, Paul Simon said, “I don’t write overtly political songs, although ‘American Tune’ comes pretty close.”   Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on, I wonder what’s gone wrong.  I can’t help but wonder, what’s gone wrong.  Here’s a live performance recorded a couple of years after the song’s 1973 release.

An iconic song about the reality of America, in this case from the perspective of Vietnam veterans, is Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”.  The anthemic chorus contrasted with the story line reminds you of why Springsteen is for many of us, America’s true poet laureate.

Jimi Hendrix was the final performer at Woodstock on the morning of August 18, 1969. His set included a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” which drew controversy, as it wove sounds of sirens, explosions, wails of pain and a few bars of “Taps” into the national anthem.  Performed during one of the most turbulent eras in America’ history, it’s hard to imagine an instrumental performance delivering more complex meaning.

A more recent take on America’s promise vs. reality is Rihanna’s 2015 “American Oxygen”.   Written by an international collaboration of artists from the U.S., Great Britain, and South Africa, along with Barbadian Rihanna, it is regarded that she brought to the song a mix of hurt and hope from the perspective of a black woman come to America.  Here she is performing it on Saturday Night Live.