zaterdag 16 mei 2020

1959 & 1970. It was 50 years ago on 11 April. A Discussion

Mark sent an iconic photograph to the group showing late teenage The Beatles, actually The Quarrymen at that point in time, playing together in the house of the mother of to be drummer Pete Best, the Beatle who was no longer a Beatle when the band's recording career began. The picture is simply iconic, almost too good to be true. George and Paul really seem to have made a gigantic musical discovery, where John is just trying to be cool. 16, 17, 18 years old. Totally emersed in the music.

That summer Paul and George helped out painting the, to be, Qasbah Club in the Best family's cellar, the place where the band got its first regular gig.

The discussion around the find moved to the fact that on 11 April it was 50 years ago the split was made known, to what happened soon after and thoughts are spent on what ifs? Time to let the three men take over.

Mark, 11-04:
… an upstairs room making a rough and ready racket that would eventually be channelled into a revolution in music that would sweep across the world. This is a recently discovered photo now doing the rounds on Facebook. It was taken in 1959 at Pete Best's mother's house in the West Derby suburb of Liverpool. The Casbah Club where the group really got going was in the basement of the house. John is playing his new Hofner Club 40 which he'd bought with the money he made as a builder's labourer (he was sacked after 6 weeks). You can almost hear the energy bursting out of the photo.

Gary, 11-04:
And there’s more! 

The Beatles' handwritten Hey Jude lyrics sell for £731,000

The new old Quarrymen picture
Wout, 13-04:
That photo. It is almost as if Paul and George discover a new chord, a harmony or a song. It could be posed but it seems so spontaneous, while John is being ultra cool, the other two have hit on something. It is a great picture.

Where was it found? In a photo album never looked at again until last week and then recognition hit? Intriguing question, isn't it?

50 Years. I actually do not have an active memory of the Beatles quitting. We had just moved to Brabant, pirate station reception was dismal in that part of the country for some reason and the local youths were not into music. I couldn't even find a copy of the Top 40 until into 1971, so either I must have missed the news on The Beatles or it just didn't make a too big impression on me. In 1970 I had one single, Hey Jude and only knew a ton of the others. In 1973 and 1974 this changed with the red and blue album I was given within a few weeks from each other. The earliest singles and some albums came into my life. From 1978 onwards the later albums one after the other. I somehow never really bothered with the earlier ones.

How's that for you? Any active memories? 

Mark, 13-04:
The photo was recently found in a cache of material acquired by a specialist dealer called Tracks  (I've bought some original postcards of The Beatles from them). There is no info on who may have taken the photo - possibly somebody in the Best family.

Attached is a later photo when playing the clubs in Hamburg, the trio now joined by Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe on bass and shades (he stayed behind in Hamburg and died young there -  buried in a cemetery in Liverpool).  John again with his Hofner which Paul is also photographed with in Hamburg. John sold it and it is now lost without trace - so conceivably it still exists somewhere in Hamburg, its cultural significance unrecognised - but doubtless worth substantially more than that scribbled Hey Jude lyric!
Wout, 14-04:
The train yard photo's by Astrid are quite iconic. In hindsight only of course, they show a promise of much more. The boys as they were not much more at the time, show their rock and roll cool. Brian Epstein knocked that out of them, but their own songwriting talent did that as well. The Beatles took everything they had heard before and turned that into their own magic. Influencing a whole world along the way and being influenced by the best themselves to evolve further. Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Indian music, psychedelia. The combination of influencers and very early adaptors, total frontrunners in every way. The Beatles will outlast their own era and lifetimes for centuries to come.

We are now 50 years since the Beatles split, in the newspaper thanks to Paul's press release. The split may go back to September 1969 when John announced wanting "a divorce". That was not announced because of all the releases scheduled for the coming months. The band even recorded a final song (section) for 'Let It Be' very early in 1970, 'I Me Mine', without John. Looking at those 50 years, is there one solo album that had the impact any of the band efforts had? In my opinion that answer is no. Not 'All Things Must Pass', not 'Band On The Run', nothing by Lennon and Starr. What is your take on the solo albums?

That John guitar. My guess is doesn't exist any more, simply because the guy who bought it, had no clue who he bought it from. Perhaps never laid the connection. So he sold it off soon after, gave it away or threw it away. the connection being lost forever. The only other option is that he can't prove the sale and is tearing out his last remaining hairs because of it. Most likely not, because it is always worth the try on the basis of photo's.

Where the photo is concerned. I agree with you, Mark, that most likely it was taken by someone in the Best family or entourage. But even then, why wait for so long? The photo was worth money for a few decades already. So it may have been elsewhere, a fan who was present and forgot about it being in her/his album? If I were a true journalist, I would be going after the story. It is not everyday a spectacular photo like this one turns up. 

Mark, 17-04:
Just picking up your comment about the Beatles solo albums, Wout. I think it would have been too much to expect any of the group members as solo artists to match the group's albums in terms of impact. The group comprised three extraordinary writers and innovators and inevitably when they came together in the studio the results were extraordinary and the wealth of material and variety of the musical styles was truly mind-boggling. There was a kind of chemical reaction born out of the camaraderie, rivalry, intimacy, humour and passion of these four kindred spirits that enabled them to experiment but also together to keep everything in check as to what would work on the final record. They worked intimately together in the studio, bouncing ideas off each other in mutual respect for each other that allowed each of them without fear to support or reject the ideas of the others, but each contributing nonetheless and producing music together as a result which was unique and incredibly inspired. Sure there were arguments, scrapes and awkward moments but ultimately it was "one for all; all for one." The one time they each had space to stretch and "do their own thing" was the White Album - and sure enough the quality control sagged and creaked at times on that album (Wild Honey Pie, Why Don't We Do It In The Road....). After the split, they each relished and seized the opportunity to expand in total control of what they each did, regardless of what the others were doing or expected each other to do on those individual records: the egos ran riot at times as a result.

I think you can go through most of the solo records and extract individual songs that are outstanding and then put them all together in a kind of de facto Beatles album. If you do this just for the period November 1970 to September 1971 albums with its run of three artistically and commercially highly successful albums - Ram, Imagine and All Things Must Pass - then you would have something to rival Abbey Road in musical polish, beauty, poetry, diversity and sheer rock power and spine-tingling oomph! Actually I used to do this with my trusty cassette recorder:  record and carefully sequence tracks from all the solo records onto a couple of C90s. I haven't mentioned Ringo but then again he did play the drums on quite a lot of the solo records by the other three so it's ok. he's there as well - and some of the Ringo album in 1973 also passes muster I think (e.g. Photograph which is a collaboration with George as was It Don't Come Easy, the one off single - from 1971 actually).  So we can allow him a vocal track or two, just like the old days......

I accept though that there were fallow and not so impressive years for the ex-Fabs, such as 1979 when the group and its members were embarrassingly uncool. I'm always reminded though when I occasionally pull out largely forgotten albums, such as from that year Back To the Egg and George Harrison, how much interesting songwriting and top notch musicianship are hidden away on them. What a pity in view of the tragedy the following year, that Lennon had opted to retire from music during the previous four years of his "househusband" phase following his last proper solo album, Walls and Bridges in 1974. That is another album that I think is worth re-visiting for its sweep of musical styles and gutsy passion (at a time when he was separated from Yoko). Just hearing his voice on songs other than the tediously perennial Imagine and Happy Christmas sends tremors up and down my spine.

The attached rare photo shows John and George just landed in New Delhi in 1968. 

Gary, 17-04:
Don’t forget that the ‘fifth’ Beatle George Martin’s control on the band’s product? Without Martin’s direction the Beatles would have sounded very different and probably some of their masterpieces may never have been produced… Of course Martin did work with Ringo and Paul on some of their solo work but I doubt if his brief/influence would have been the same as during the band’s formation?

I would suggest that Martin acted as a force of discipline and focus within the band. In my view he was very much a catalyst for the creative process within the band suggesting new influences and techniques… the same would also apply to the technical input and expertise from studio staff like Geoff Emerick!
Wout, 23-04:
To follow up, Mark, I think for certain that the foursome would have made a great album late 1971 had they had the patience to let everyone blow off steam. The question what if they had followed The Stones for once and went out on the road together for a huge U.S. tour in 1970, with the modern equipment that had become available in the past two years, remains an interesting one to ask. Would that have saved The Beatles? They never did, but it also seemed like a futile one to ask. Relationships had soured beyond the repair point. Or, would the love of playing the music have inspired them and brought the camaraderie back? The worst of the mania would have been behind them as well. Everyone was older and wiser.

Just looking back on what these four guys, helped by George Martin, have accomplished in that seven years they were active as recording artists, remains incomprehensible really. No one has managed that kind of output since. Abba certainly came close, but all artists nowadays appear to have teams behind them responsible for output. That is output, leaving out growth or they produce one album every three to four years. Just compare 'Love Me Do' with 'The End' and there is a giant, vast space of compositorial strength, development, creativity, dare, etc., in between that is simply stunning.

To come back to the solo what ifs. I always have liked 'It Don't Come Easy', also a Harrison - Starkey piece of work. This team would have produced several fine The Beatles works, but would never have been released as a single, like George's work always would have been album tracks or a B-side to the Lennon-McCartney A-side. We would have missed gems in the charts like 'My Sweet Lord' and 'What Is Life', always one of my Harrison faves. In that sense the going solo has given us more.

To imagine an album including 'Imagine', 'Jealous Guy', 'Maybe I'm Amazed', 'Another Day', 'Eat At Home', 'Wah Wah' all in a The Beatles coating remains something to marvel at.

It was 50 years ago this month the split was official, because Paul did not want to wait a few weeks with his first solo release, as requested by the other three. 50 Years that show how far we have moved since. I wonder if the music world is as exiting for the youth of today when Armin van Buuren or Taylor Swift release a new single. That moment when I heard a new single or album on the radio for the first time! In some cases I can still remember it. I don't know the answer for certain, but looking at the few youths in the home, they do not seem to care. Music is always there, everywhere and (nearly) for free. No one buys anything (yes, games), but not music. It's there for them, something that was so different for us in our youth. We depended on radio and the pocket money scraped together to buy that one single. And in a lot of the cases that single still matters, to me at least, just like those I really, truly wanted to buy but could not. I have nearly all got them second hand in later years and when I play them I still can feel a little of the excitement I felt as an 8, 9 and 10 year old.

Last night I put on Led Zeppelin II. It starts with 'Whole Lotta Love'. I remember having saved enough to buy it, finally, and the shop in the village we lived in did not have it. So I bought something else instead. 'Marie Jolie' by Aphrodite's Child. The memory came back to me immediately while listening to that huge, great riff. The Led Zeppelin song is still exciting and so good. The single I still haven't found though. It is not in large second hand supply

Where The Beatles singles is concerned, there are still some hiatuses before 1965, but the rest is pretty well covered and treasured. That all started with 'Hey Jude' for me. The rest was all scored second hand over the decades and every once in a while I run into a "new" one.

The Beatles were always more than the sum of its parts and not just because of George Martin. So the solo albums could not be that good and it is unfair to expect them to be. My favourites are 'Walls And Bridges', also, 'Flaming Pie', Band On The Run', 'All Things Must Pass'. 'Venus And Mars' and 'London Town' come close. Mostly McCartney yes. Was Paul the most talented? I can't truly say but certainly the one with the most ambition or, if not that, drive. He may still be busy proving himself, next to being an, for all appearances, incredibly nice man.
Mark, 24-04:
Interesting thought about whether they would have toured again in the 1970s, Wout: a fabulous "what if...…" I think it may have been possible - maybe not before 1973. At the time of Get Back/Let It Be they were playing more as a no frills, back to the roots band and touring again would have been a logical extension of the reverse direction they were heading - I think Paul hinted at this in interviews at the time. George had already got an enjoyable taste of touring when he joined Delaney and Bonnie's band at the back of the stage for several nights. It wasn't so long before Paul could not resist the urge and do his first tentative (and unannounced) university gigs with Wings in 1972 (though no fab four encore requests please).

A big question is whether John would have been up for touring with his bandmates as this would have required him to drop most if not all of the radical political activism he shared with Yoko in the early 70s - and out on the world stage he would not have been able to get back into the US without that precious green card. Meanwhile the footloose Ringo's ambitions in the movie business will have reached a dead end in 1973 so he would have been up for picking up his sticks again in front of an audience - and we now know how much he enjoys singing With A Little Help From My Friends on stage with his friends.

Attached those lads up on the roof in 1961 and 1969. 

Wout: 24-04:
1973? Now that is an interesting thought. All the politics and personal developments apart, 1973/1974 would have made a good point to tour. The release of the multi million units worldwide selling Red and Blue album, the Red always sold better over here, while the Blue is so much more interesting, would have been the moment to announce a new album and tour. It never happened. What the two double albums did show was the endurance of The Beatles fairly soon after the band's career had faltered. There was no knowing the iconic status the band was to get from the mid-90s onwards, when they came back in vogue to never leave again. No band singing harmonies can avoid having "Beatlesque" influences.

Speaking of moments to remember a new single coming out. This morning I had switched on the radio after getting up. I can't hear much when boiling tea and stuff. When that had finished there was a man introducing a request he had made. As I hadn't heard the beginning I had no clue what it was about, except that he had only been able to hear a tinny sounding version on his cell phone.

It turned out he requested the new The Rolling Stones single that was released as a stream last night, 'Living In A Ghost Town', a new track referring to the lockdown, including a video showing the empty streets and subways/underground worldwide. It is a sort of reggae track and as usual with new music by a band or artist I'm following like my whole life it took some adjusting. After three times I was quite alright with a new song by my other heroes. The Beatles were "selected" for me, I became a Stones fan myself in the mid 70s. When I'm honest, no matter how good I think The Stones are and how much I love many of the songs, there's simply no comparison between the two. The Beatles is in a league of its own. That aside, talking about a release I will probably remember for some time as it came totally unexpected. A soothing for surreal times. There's no physical version until 28 June, I was just told. So perhaps released sooner because of the strange times?

New Dylan songs, now a new Stones song. Too bad The Beatles can't match that any more.


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