Staff Picks Category: Beatles

Kisses on the Bottom by Paul McCartney []

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It’s been an awfully long time since Macca has been discussed on the Forbes Library staff picks blog.  So, here I am to recommend a romantic offering from the melodious, ex-Beatle. Kisses on the Bottom, Paul’s tribute to the music he heard around the house as a boy, is a marvelous collection of standards with two originals tacked on for good measure.  Diana Krall, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Robert Hurst, John Pizzarelli and Karriem Riggins are among the many fine musicians who make up McCartney’s backing band.

The title comes from a lyric from the opening tune, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” by Fats Waller.  The introduction’s syncopated piano line, upright bass and brushes on the drum kit, set the tone for this swinging affair.  Recorded at the famed Capitol Studios on Hollywood and Vine, Paul, singing with Nat King Cole’s microphone, taps into the crooning spirit of yesteryear.

Highlights include “It’s Only a Paper Moon”, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”, “My Valentine” (a Paul original), “The Inchworm”… well, I recommend ’em all!

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George Harrison: Living In The Material World by Olivia Harrison []

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The gorgeous and painstakingly assembled Living in the Material World book is a companion to the Martin Scorsese documentary of the same name.  It’s a thoughtful collection photographs and essays with the subject being the late George Harrison.

Not only do we have large color and black and white photographs of George from childhood up until his last years, the book features the musician’s handwritten letters and lyrics, personal photographs and collected ephemera.  His career as a musician, childhood, family life, friendships and spiritual life are recollected.  Scorsese, Paul Theroux, Eric Clapton and Dhani Harrison are among the many contributors.  Living in the Material World works both as a engrossing read and/or a picture flipper.

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Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon []

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The Plastic Ono Band LP is commonly referred to as the “Primal Scream” album as John and Yoko were going through Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy during the album’s creation in 1970. While Lennon’s lyrics had been hinting at the pain of his childhood since “Help” and “I’m a loser”, on Plastic Ono Band he becomes overtly confessional and addresses directly the disillusionment and isolation of fame and the overwhelming pain of his youth. The cryptic and surreal wordplay that characterized many of John’s contributions to the Beatles albums of the late 60’s is abandoned here and the results are split equally between straightforward quiet love songs (“Hold on”, “Love” and “Look at Me” which more closely resemble his fingerpicked contributions from 1968 such as “Julia” and “Dear Prudence”), filthy distorted rockers (“I Found out” and “Well, Well, Well” which share the heavy tube distortion sounds of “Revolution” and “Cold Turkey”) and epic declarations of loss and rebirth (“Mother” and “God”, both of which feature ‘simple’ piano/bass/drums arrangements). Released in October 1970, in the wake of Altamont, Manson and Kent State, “Plastic Ono Band” addresses the disillusionment of the end of the sixties, the break-up and dispelling of the Beatles myth and the tragedies of John’s childhood. Opening with the intense primal therapy of “Mother” (in which John finally overtly addresses his feelings of abandonment as a child and his mother’s sudden death just as they were reconciling) and closing with the myth-busting “God”, the album is easily Lennon’s most cohesive solo work. Lennon famously hated the sound of his own voice unadorned, and was constantly imploring producers to swathe it in reverb or other effects, and his most famous Beatles contributions were often dense, sonically experimental psychedelic studio creations. On Plastic Ono Band, stripped of daft wordplay and overproduction (Phil Spector, who produced half the sessions, is most notable here for his uncharacteristic restraint), with exceptional accompaniment by Ringo Starr, Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman, Lennon produces his most complete raw and honest solo work.

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Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney []

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“Ram on give your heart to somebody…soon right away, right away,” McCartney laments on the ukulele driven “Ram On”. Ram, the sole album credited to Paul & Linda McCartney, is truly a family affair with half of the songs credited to the couple. Despite several tunes with surreal, nonsensical lyrics, Ram seems to give us a window into a simpler life. There’s numbers about dogs, the desire to live in the country and young love.

While retaining an element of the homemade sound McCartney crafted on his debut record, the pair also delve into Beach Boys arrangements and harmony as well as exploring something I’d like to call easy-listening/avante garde (see “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” or “Long Haired Lady”). Other highlights include the rocker “Eat at Home” and the false ending with futuristic tag on “The Back Seat of My Car”.

Ram gives us the impression that these are people who are doing it their own way… just have a look at the back cover to see the cryptic message Paul has left about his feelings toward his old group.

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Red Rose Speedway by Paul McCartney & Wings []

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Sandwiched between the hastily recorded and yet magically off kilter Wild Life and the triumphant, triple platinum Band on the Run album lives a recording called Red Rose Speedway. This second Wings effort bridges the gap between freak outs and radio friendly hits. We find the number one smash “My Love” sitting side by side with the nonsensical jam “Big Barn Red” and the minor key piano ditty “Single Pigeon”. Mac and the gang also attempt a nod to the second side of the Beatles’ Abbey Road with a four song medley. As Alan Partridge once retorted to a person ignorant of McCartney’s second group, “Wings are the band the Beatles could have been.” So very true.

Next week we take a closer look at Ram.

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McCartney by Paul McCartney []

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Paul McCartney’s first solo album, which was certainly unpopular with many critics and his colleagues at the time of its 1970 release, has proven to be an immensely influential and enjoyable, homemade recording. This album was produced mostly at McCartney’s house in London using a simple technique of sending tracks directly into a tape machine. He also performed each instrument himself and the majority of the vocals (some background vocals were sung by Linda McCartney).

Home recording software and portable four-track machines are now sources where many artists, both professional and amateur, record their music. In retrospect, the innovative “McCartney” album was a bold statement that made music making more accessible to those with or without a record contract.

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