My Album Rankings – Solo Beatles Top 25

I’ll wrap up my solo Beatles album rankings by putting it together in a tidy and very scientific Top 25 list.  My thoughts on each album can be found in my individual posts for George, Paul, John, and Ringo.  Other than my choice for #1, this is a rather absurd exercise to undertake, but what the hey.  It’s got me thinking of some mighty good albums I haven’t listened to in a while.  Just a reminder:  the only reason choices such as #’s 25 and 22 aren’t rated higher is because John and George, respectively, are featured on only half the album or less.

25.  Double Fantasy

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24.  Ringo

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23.  Wonderwall Music

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22.  Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

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21.  Brainwashed

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20.  Dark Horse

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19.  Tug of War

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18.  Flaming Pie

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17.  Shaved Fish

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16.  Wings Over America

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15.  Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard

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14.  Thirty-Three and 1/3

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13.  Imagine

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12.  Red Rose Speedway

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11.  Band on the Run

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10.  George Harrison

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9.  Cloud Nine

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8.  Mind Games

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7.  Back to the Egg

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6.  McCartney

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5.  Plastic Ono Band

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4.  Living in the Material World

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3.  Walls and Bridges

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2.  Ram

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1.  All Things Must Pass

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Alright, now you can let me have it!

-Stephen

My Album Rankings – John Lennon

Criteria for this list and all my rankings going forward include but are not limited to:

  • May include “Best Of” compilations
  • May include albums produced by the artist, even if their playing or singing on the album is minimal
  • May include live albums
  • May include box sets
  • Number of albums listed may vary depending on catalog
  • I reserve the right to change my mind about the order down the line
  • In short, my silly subjective rankings, my silly subjective rules

Today I present my favorite John Lennon albums.  For the obvious reason, this list won’t be as long as my rankings of George Harrison or Paul McCartney albums, but a few of Lennon’s solo albums have been very important to me as a music fan.  As I write this, with a tinge of guilt I’m whittling my list down even further to maintain the spirit of my rankings, i.e., I’m listing albums I actually like, not just releases by important artists whom I like, no matter what.  With that in mind:

7.  Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975)

I wasn’t familiar with this album until my teenage years.  I’d heard a couple of songs and liked them, but it took me a few years to realize why:  John sounds like he’s having fun.  A buddy in high school gave me the album on cassette as a gift, and I have it still.  Most of the tunes are covered in his box set, which is where I hear them most often.

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6.  Double Fantasy (1980)

Ugh, so much wistfulness attached to this one.  I received the LP for my birthday a few months after his death and played it repeatedly.  Since it was vinyl, it meant I listened to Yoko’s songs as well, and to be honest I was able to listen to them without banging my nine-year-old skull into my bedroom wall each time.  I chuckle when I think about Yoko’s screaming orgasm at the end of Kiss Kiss Kiss blaring down the hallway into the kitchen after school where my mom could be found preparing dinner.  I had no clue – all of Yoko’s screaming sounded the same to my innocent ears – and luckily Mom was pretty good at tuning out noise when she wanted to.

After the advent of CD’s, I began programming her songs out of it whenever I wanted to listen to John’s.  But a couple of months ago I played the whole thing for my wife so she could hear for herself what I’d been trying to describe.  A funny thing happened when I did:  the new wave influence on Yoko’s songs – mainly the oft-mentioned B-52’s – jumped out of the speakers at us.  Her tunes on this record are not something I would choose to listen to very often, but they aren’t, um, that bad(?)  John sounds refreshed and all his songs are very good, and if they had been combined with his songs which appeared on the posthumous Milk and Honey (’84) as a stand alone record without the missus it would’ve vied for #1 in this ranking order.

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5.  Shaved Fish (1975)

Shaved Fish rates this highly despite being a compilation due to the fact that almost half of it consists of tracks that were previously only released as singles, including Cold Turkey, Instant Karma!, and Power to the People.  It was also the mournful soundtrack to Christmas break a few weeks after John’s murder when my brother was home from college and played it a handful of times.

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4.  Imagine (1971)

Imagine is another good album of John’s in the early aftermath of the Beatles.  Though I’ve known the song Imagine my whole life, I got into the entire LP in high school in the late 80’s, and it’s held up for me quite well.  He mixes songs of love for Yoko with songs of anger for pretty much everything else, including Nixon, Vietnam, and of course Paul.  Favorites of mine include Crippled Inside, Jealous Guy (re-worked from the White Album-era Child of Nature), I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier, Give Me Some Truth, and the title track.  I don’t say this as a sycophantic defense of Paul, but I do feel John embarrassed himself with the ultra-petty How Do You Sleep?

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3.  Mind Games (1973)

Any of my final three Lennon albums could be #1, and Mind Games is another example of critics being just as full of themselves as the artists they lambast.  Jon Landau in Rolling Stone called it Lennon’s “worst writing yet,” and that Lennon was “helplessly trying to impose his own gargantuan ego upon an audience … [that] is waiting hopefully for him to chart a new course.”  I have to remind myself that much of the harsh criticism for the Beatles as solo artists was due to the then relatively recent demise of the group, and people expected each of them to be as individually good as the sum of their parts, which was never going to happen.  But there’s not a song on this album that I don’t like.

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2.  Plastic Ono Band (1970)

Perfectly underproduced, stark, raw, scab-peeling, and primal (as in primal scream) – that’s how I think of Lennon’s first post-Beatles album.  As a result of the primal scream therapy he was undergoing, John unleashed 30 years of verbal payback to society in general and lament for personal losses.  It’s not an easy listen, but man is it good.  Even critics agree.

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1.  Walls and Bridges (1974)

Walls and Bridges was recorded at the tail end of Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” of debauchery in L.A., exiled there by Yoko and accompanied by their assistant (and for 18 months John’s keeper and concubine) May Pang.  He recorded this album when they returned to New York, but before he moved back home with Yoko.

It’s sort of odd to celebrate somebody around the anniversary of their death, but that’s how it’s worked out for me with John, as opposed to George whose birthday I think of more.  I usually listen to John’s music – especially my top three – in December and January, Walls and Bridges possibly more than the rest.  Whatever Gets You Through the Night – his duet with Elton – is a great track, Steel and Glass a shot at Allen Klein (a few years too late?), and #9 Dream is one of my all-time favorite Lennon songs.

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I feel obligated to explain the omissions from my Lennon rankings.  I find Live Peace in Toronto 1969 and Live in New York City to be dreadful.  On the Toronto album, Lennon sounds every bit as wasted and unrehearsed as he actually was, and Yoko is unlistenable.  It’s a shame, because he had a good band with Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, and Alan White, but they rehearsed only twice:  once on the plane from London to Toronto and once right before the show.  Clapton didn’t even know about the show until the day before – from across the ocean and while he was in his own haze at the time.  A few day’s worth of practice would’ve done wonders.

On NYC, John is visibly nervous on the video, chomping on gum the whole time, and he forgot some lyrics.  Furthermore, Jim Keltner is the only other established musician on stage with John.  The others are Yoko and a street band called Elephant’s Memory.  And those stupid hard hats!  As for 1972’s Some Time in New York City, I’ve honestly never listened to it and I have little interest.  A few of John’s decent songs from the set are on his box set which I own, and that’s enough for me.  And with Milk and Honey, his tracks are also on the box set in different versions, which are all very good, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to that album.

BONUS LIST!

1.  Ringo Starr – Ringo (1973)

I promise I’m not just throwing Ringo a bone here.  I really like this album, especially with the inclusion of It Don’t Come Easy, Early 1970, and Down and Out as bonus tracks on the 1991 reissue.  Its quality is due to the participation of his three former band mates throughout, though not on the same songs.  In fact, it’s a great roster of musicians on the record that also includes Marc Bolan, Robbie Robertson, Steve Cropper, Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins, Garth Hudson, Klaus Voormann, Tom Scott, Bobby Keys, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, David Bromberg, Harry Nilsson, Martha Reeves, Merry Clayton, and oh look, there’s Jim Keltner again!

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_Games_(John_Lennon_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel_and_Glass

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ringo_(album)

-Stephen

The World is a Little More Bland Today

Folks, if you’re down, talk to someone.  If you don’t think you have someone to talk to, put away your pride and call a therapist.  If your pain is acute and you don’t know how to find professional help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255 (U.S.).  The International Association for Suicide Prevention is available worldwide.

Anthony Bourdain, 1956-2018

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My Album Rankings – Paul McCartney

Criteria for this list and all my rankings going forward include but are not limited to:

  • May include “Best Of” compilations
  • May include albums produced by the artist, even if their playing or singing on the album is minimal
  • May include live albums
  • May include box sets
  • Number of albums listed may vary depending on catalog
  • I reserve the right to change my mind about the order down the line
  • In short, my silly subjective rankings, my silly subjective rules, so let’s get to it…

As with ranking George Harrison’s albums, assigning numerical values to Paul’s catalog is going to take a minute simply due to the volume of his work, and I’ll be leaving much of it out (cough-mid-1980’s-cough).  Here’s how my favorite Macca albums stack up:

15.  Wings Greatest (1978)

This is a purely sentimental choice.  But as a child, I wore. this. thing. out. on my cruddy record player that sounded maybe slightly better than AM radio.  This, Wings Over America, and Back to the Egg were the McCartney albums I had in my juvenile collection, while my brothers had the rest of his catalog in their collection in the basement.  I used to “crank” Junior’s Farm and Live and Let Die, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Another Day and Mull of Kintyre.  I haven’t owned a copy of it in years, but to illustrate what a dork I am, I’ll admit that not long ago I culled the songs that appear on Wings Greatest from the double disc Wingspan and put them in a playlist by themselves, in proper order.  You know, to listen to while playing with my little plastic army men or coloring with my crayons.

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14.  Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976)

To his credit as well as his detriment, Paul went to great lengths to present Wings as a band that he was a member of, as opposed to his backing band.  A couple of my favorite songs on this album are sung by Denny Laine (The Note You Never Wrote and Time to Hide), but a song that almost seems was included as a gag was Linda’s Cook of the House (may she be resting in peace).  Beware My Love and Let ‘Em In are solid, and I’ll go ahead and admit that, for what it is, Silly Love Songs stands up just fine all these years later.  I might’ve had this album rated higher if much of it wasn’t covered on the subsequent live album which I do have rated better.

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13.  London Town (1978)

This album continues to slowly grow on me 40 years on.  Recording began in 1977, and it was a bit of a mellow come down after the craziness of the Wings Over the World tour the previous year.  This one received a fair amount of spins in my basement growing up, with Cafe on the Left Bank, Deliver Your Children (sung by Denny), I’m CarryingWith a Little Luck, and the title track as my favorites.  I could see this album jumping up a few spots in a year or two.

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12.  Electric Arguments (2008)

Electric Arguments has an un-McCartney-like spontaneity that’s refreshing to hear.  The entire album was recorded in 13 days – spread out over a year.  (I guess Paul even plans out when he’s going to be spontaneous.)  It’s all over the place as heard in the opening three songs:  Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight (a non-love song to his ex-2nd wife, whatever her name was), Two Magpies, and Sing the Changes.

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11.  Wild Life (1971)

This is Paul’s third post-Beatles album, and is a step back from the one which preceded it.  But it has aged better than expected, perhaps because of its simplicity.  Dear Friend, another message to John but with a conciliatory tone, is an overlooked gem.

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10.  Venus and Mars (1975)

Wings were nearing their mid-1970’s zenith with this record.  I still enjoy it, but as with Wings at the Speed of Sound, it is heavily featured on Wings Over America, which I prefer.  Love in Song is my favorite tune not performed on the live album.

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9.  Flaming Pie (1997)

When McCartney released this one, it had been (in my opinion) 15 years since he’d recorded a really good album.  In the interim there was 1988’s Russia Album of covers which showed he still had his chops, and 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt which got me excited at the time but sounds a little slick for me at this point.  Finally, in 1997, he “got back” so to speak.

I remember driving along a country road the first time I heard The World Tonight and how giddy it made me feel.  That guitar riff and its tone sounded like something right off Band on the Run, and I was very pleasantly surprised to hear him belt out the vocals as if to shout “I’m back!”  The album is maybe a couple of songs too long (Used to be Bad and Really Love You), but that’s a minor criticism.  If You Wanna, Somedays, Calico Skies, Great Day – I’d put these among his best solo tracks.  I think I know what I’m going to listen to later tonight…

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8.  Tug of War (1982)

As I go through this list, I’m reminded of just how much style variation there is on Paul’s releases not just from album to album, but song to song.  Nowhere is this on display more than on Tug of War, produced by George Martin and with its recording cast that ranged from Carl Perkins to Stevie Wonder.  It was a huge success all over the world, with Take it Away and Ebony and Ivory being the smash singles.

This is another sentimental album of McCartney’s for me.  It was released in April of ’82, and was on the radio a lot during a very fun summer spent at the city swimming pool and playing whiffle ball in the back yard.  The Cardinals won their first World Series title in my lifetime that fall.  It was a very good year.  Then one of my older brothers returned from a year studying overseas, got the album, and I spent the following summer becoming well-versed in the entire record while hanging out with him in his makeshift dark room in our basement while he developed his film.  This is the stuff “serious” music critics don’t consider.  Every song is a keeper in my book, even the excessive Ebony and Ivory.  My favorites include Take It Away, Here Today (his tribute to John), The Pound is Sinking, Wanderlust, Ballroom Dancing, and the title track.

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7.  Wings Over America (1976)

There was something very magical about live albums in the 1970’s, and for me Wings Over America (and Frampton Comes Alive) was as grand as it could get, especially when listening to it while hanging out with my big brothers.  Oh man, those gatefold covers, the photos, the POSTERS!  This Wings triple live album extravaganza, out just in time for the American Bicentennial Christmas, was an instant favorite in our house.  Looking at it now, it seems more like a live greatest hits compilation.  But back then, a couple of Macca’s albums heavily represented on Wings Over America were still new.

I saw Denny Laine live recently, and he told the story of how Paul asked him before the tour if he had anything he could play during the acoustic set (other than Picasso’s Last Words [Drink to Me]), and he didn’t, so he chose a Simon & Garfunkel tune he always liked, which was Richard Cory.  Laine made it his song in my mind on this record (although the original is still great), but when he performed it recently the audience still expected him to exclaim that he wishes that he could be…John Denver.  Alas, the reference just doesn’t hold up anymore, and Denny doesn’t use it.

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6.  Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)

It’s hard to believe this one is 13 years old.  Paul reached out for a change in production for Chaos, and I’ll just lazily quote wiki to explain why this was such a good decision:

“Paul McCartney hired (Nigel) Godrich to produce his album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005) after being recommended by Beatles producer George Martin. Godrich fired McCartney’s touring band, and demanded that McCartney abandon songs Godrich found clichéd, over-sentimental, or sub par. The album was nominated for several Grammys, including Album of the Year, and Godrich was nominated for Producer of the Year.”

Godrich had previously worked wonders for Radiohead and Beck, with the latter’s Godrich-produced Sea Change being one of my favorite albums of the 2000’s.  There’s something to be said for very established acts getting out of their comfort zones with new producers who have fresh ideas.  Off the top of my head, this worked extremely well for Dylan when he hired Daniel Lanois, and for Johnny Cash with Rick Rubin.  I still consider Chaos to be a recent album in the McCartney canon, and deem it his best album of the last 20 years.

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5.  Red Rose Speedway (1973)

Red Rose Speedway just seems like one of those albums that has always been around in my world.  It was neither dynamic nor boring.  I’ve always liked the tunes, and the late Henry McCullough’s guitar solo in My Love is the best rock ballad guitar solo I’ve heard.  And it only happened because McCullough stood up to McCartney when his boss inevitably tried to tell him how to play it.  It had a booklet stapled into the gatefold with an odd assortment of photos (including neked ladies!) that kept me curious if not entertained as a wee lad.

The record was trashed by critics upon its release; it came on the heels of Wild Life, and the reevaluation of McCartney and Ram were years away, so this was seen as another batch of lazy, middle of the road tunes by a songwriter now on cruise control, resting on his Beatles laurels.  Only when people began to accept that they were who they were as solo artists – in Paul’s case someone who often thrived on light weight rock songs and love ballads – was his post-Beatles work taken more seriously or at least viewed more fairly by critics.  Fortunately for Paul, there have always been plenty of fans out there like me who enjoy the occasional silly love song, critics be damned.  Big Barn Red, My Love, Get on the Right Thing, and Little Lamb Dragonfly keep me coming back to this one.

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4.  Band on the Run (1973)

An obvious classic in the Paul McCartney catalog, I don’t have much to say about it other than to this day I wonder why he thought it would be a good idea to travel to Lagos, Nigeria to record it.  Things turned out rather badly for him while there, and he was fortunate to make it back to Jolly Old England to finish it.  It’s a great record with many personal fond memories attached to it.  However, these days I do tend to begin listening with track #3 (Bluebird) as Band on the Run and Jet have been played to death on the radio.

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3.  Back to the Egg (1979)

This is no typo, no misplacement in the ranking order.  This is one of my favorite McCartney albums, period.  The rockers on it are crunchier than any of his solo work prior to it, the pop as good as anything on the radio in 1979 (listen to Arrow Through Me and tell me Michael Jackson couldn’t have recorded it for his Off the Wall album that same year), the ballads and medleys as “Paul” as anything he’d done in years.  And the Rockestra/So Glad to See You Here recordings?  I don’t know of too many supposed light weights who can recruit David Gilmour, Hank Marvin, Kenney Jones, John Bonham, Pete Townshend, John Paul Jones, Ronnie Lane, Gary Brooker and others to play all together on the same songs.  I simply don’t understand why Paul has dismissed this album.  Maybe it has to do with memories of his Japan bust and the end of Wings a year later.  I was eight years old when Back to the Egg was released in 1979, and I’ve owned a copy ever since.  A very unique, very cool album.

As mentioned above, I saw Denny Laine in a small venue recently.  His drummer these days is his old buddy he recruited into the final Wings lineup, Steve Holley.  I had an opportunity to chat with both of them, and when I shared my personal Back to the Egg testament with Holley, his response was, “Yeah, it’s got a few good bits on it.”  I couldn’t tell if he was being humble or if he doesn’t like it, like his old boss.

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I’m the guy getting his copy of Back to the Egg signed, not the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer next to him waving at the camera after graciously signing.
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2.  McCartney (1970)

Another childhood/basement album for me that I later copied onto cassette from my uncle’s LP (he of the Cheerios as representative of the 4000 holes in Blackburn/Lancashire) before finally purchasing my own proper copy so that McCartney could eke out a living.  There are days when I want to hear something a little more interesting or complex, such as a King Crimson album, but if I haven’t yet tired of simple music like that on McCartney I doubt I ever will.

This is such docile music, so it’s hard to imagine any controversy surrounding it based solely upon listening to it in 2018.  However, it definitely caused a stir when it was released in April of 1970 a few weeks ahead of Let it Be, much to the chagrin of the other three Beatles.  Publicly, it was seen as Paul breaking up the Beatles.  This of course was rubbish, since John had already announced to the group the previous September that he was leaving but withheld announcing it publicly for business reasons.  But Paul’s inclusion of his self-interview in early pressings of his album was the first fully public shot across the bow in a feud which sadly would consume much of their lives in the ensuing years.  And, as with his other early albums, music critics hated it and seemingly hated Paul too.  Have a look at some of the reviews mentioned in the wiki article linked at the bottom for example.

The album sounds to me like Paul achieved what he wanted to artistically:  a very stripped down recording while playing all the instruments himself.  He wrote much of it at his farm in Scotland while in depressed exile after John announced to the group he was leaving.  He then recorded it mostly at his home in London on what was by then rudimentary equipment for a major act.  While the Wings Over America version of Maybe I’m Amazed became the hit, the home studio version here is just as good in its own way.  There aren’t really any standouts among the rest of the tunes; it’s just fun to listen and sing along to (hence Sing Along Junk?).

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1.  Ram (1971)

Ram and McCartney are 1-A and 1-B as far as I’m concerned.  Ram, his second album, is another one with a domestic feel to it, though not as crudely recorded so his solo debut.  I think of it as a happy record, loose with some good rockers.  Upbeat as most of it might be, the back and forth pettiness between Paul and John was now in full view for fans on their albums, with audio and visual references on Ram that provoked John into writing How Do You Sleep for his Imagine album.  The critics?  Same story as his other work, but at least they’re finally catching up with their positive reassessment.

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This concludes my long-winded McCartney list.  I welcome any attempts to bring me around to albums of Paul’s I’ve dismissed from my top 15.  Best bets are McCartney II, Pipes of Peace, Flowers in the Dirt, The Russia Album, UnpluggedDriving Rain, and New.

And, does he have one more great album in him?

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_Arguments

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tug_of_War_(Paul_McCartney_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigel_Godrich

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCartney_(album)

-Stephen

My Album Rankings – George Harrison

Criteria for this list and all my rankings going forward include but are not limited to:

  • May include “Best Of” compilations
  • May include albums produced by the artist, even if their playing or singing on the album is minimal
  • May include live albums
  • May include box sets
  • Number of albums listed may vary depending on catalog
  • I reserve the right to change my mind about the order down the line
  • In short, my silly subjective rankings, my silly subjective rules, so let’s get to it…

My inaugural album ranking covers my favorite member of my favorite band, George Harrison, a.k.a. The Quiet One, a.k.a. Hari Georgeson, a.k.a. Carl Harrison, a.k.a. Nelson Wilbury.  While the OCD in me prefers lists such as these in multiples of five, I simply can’t bring myself to leave any of these out.  Not even #16…

16.  Gone Troppo (1982)

This album is probably at or near the bottom of most Harrison album lists, including George’s.  Tired of the music biz game on the heels of Somewhere in England, his heart really wasn’t into making this album.  However, I now look at this record like Dylan’s Shot of Love and Saved – much maligned albums that are actually pretty good if not for the production.  If this album had been recorded prior to 1980 or after ’87, it might be looked at differently.  Not great, but possibly better.  That’s the Way it Goes, Wake Up My Love, Mystical One, and Circles are keepers for me.

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15.  Best of Dark Horse:  1976-1989 (1989)

This is a good compilation of album tracks, but its inclusion here is due to the addition of three strong songs previously unreleased on Harrison albums:  Cheer Down (from the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack), Poor Little Girl, and Cockamamie Business.

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14.  Live in Japan (1992)

This is the document of George’s brief 1991 concert tour of Japan when he was backed by Eric Clapton and his band.  It was his only solo tour other than his North American tour of 1974.  Whereas the ’74 tour was marred by George’s laryngitis and lively but uneven performances (among other issues),  the negative elements of the ’91 tour were on the opposite end of the spectrum:  The performances were sterile and George seemed like he didn’t really want to be there.  His backing vocalists with their shoo-wop shoo-wop nonsense were an unfortunate addition to classics like While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Something.  But despite all that it’s not a bad album, and because it’s the only official live release we have of Harrison,  it’s worth owning despite its imperfections which nerds like me might nitpick about.

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13.  Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975)

Recorded during Harrison’s “naughty period,” this album is uneven to say the least.  The tracks I dislike I skip or run the vacuum during if I’m cleaning house, whereas the tracks I like, I really like.  The like column:  You, The Answer’s At the End, This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying), and Tired of Midnight Blue.

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12.  The Concert for Bangladesh (1971)

I tend to listen to this music more when watching the film as opposed to playing the album.  It’s a historic album for numerous reasons which perhaps I’ll delve into at a later time, but just knowing what Harrison undertook by himself and what it meant for him as the featured performer among some great musicians makes it an enjoyable listen.  This was not easy for him to pull off.  There are some what if’s and if only’s attached to the concert (two concerts, actually), but what’s here is greatness.

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11.  Collaborations (w/ Ravi Shankar) (2010)

This set includes three Ravi Shankar albums produced by George:  Shankar Family and Friends (which George plays guitars and autoharp on – 1974),  Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival from India (’76), Chants of India (which George also plays on – 1997), plus a Shankar concert DVD, Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival from India (1974 – the album by the same name is a studio recording done two years later).  It also includes a beautiful hard cover book, and in true Shankar style, an illustrated glossary of Indian instruments.  Simply stated, I love this music and cherish this box set.  And I, like so many others, have George Harrison to thank for it.

This is a limited edition set given to me by my wife.  Mine is numbered 08668, and it’s possibly my favorite birthday gift I’ve ever received.

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10.  Somewhere in England (1981)

Harrison’s disenchantment with the music business and his 1980’s swoon began with this release.  His initial submission was rejected by Warner Bros. for being not commercial enough.  Warner Bros. also declined his original album cover with his profile next to a map of Great Britain in favor of the one of Harrison in front of the Tate Gallery in London (the original was reinstated with the 2004 remaster).

He then dropped four songs – three of which turned out to be fan favorites – and added four others including All Those Years Ago, which of course turned out to be the anchor song.  That track originally had different lyrics and was written for Ringo to use on his album, but it was too high an octave for him to sing.  As the well-known story goes, Harrison re-wrote it with lyrics paying tribute to John Lennon, who was murdered during the album’s recording.  The album would be best, in my opinion, as originally intended plus All Those Years Ago.

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9.  Wonderwall Music (1968)

This funky collection of music is the soundtrack to an even funkier Swingin’ London movie, Wonderwall.  It is the first solo album by a member of the Beatles, and the first album to be released on their Apple label.  In addition to Indian music, there’s psychedelic, country, and even ragtime music in these grooves.  Harrison produced the record and played on many of the tracks, most of which are instrumentals.  Eric Clapton and Ringo made guest appearances.  I can’t explain why I like it so much.  I just do.  Watch the movie if you haven’t seen it for perspective.

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8.  The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)

George, a.k.a. Nelson Wilbury, co-produced this fantastic album.  As with Cloud Nine the year before, this release seemed as spontaneous as it was.  It was as if a herd of dinosaurs had appeared to announce that rumors of their extinction had been greatly exaggerated.  Handle With Care, Heading for the Light, and End of the Line are George’s featured songs, and I love them all as I do the rest of the album.  Had there been more George-centric songs (not that there should’ve been) this record would probably be in my top five or six.

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7.  Brainwashed (2002)

George’s final album and first studio release in 15 years is a strong rounding out of his catalog.  Some of its tracks go back as far as 1988, with Harrison focusing more on the album in 2000 after recovering from the attack in his home in December of 1999.  As his health subsequently deteriorated from cancer, he left specific instructions for his son Dhani and friend Jeff Lynne on how he wanted the album completed after his passing, which came on November 29, 2001.  There are some very good moments on this recording, with the moving instrumental Marwa Blues leading the way (all the way to a posthumous Grammy).  His lyric in Pisces Fish, “I’m living proof of all life’s contradictions, one half’s going where the other half’s just been,” strikes a nerve with a Pisces like myself.  And the title track which closes the album, with its inclusion of the Namah Parvati chant done in unison by George and Dhani, is a perfect ending to his swan song.

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6.  Dark Horse (1974)

Yep, I’ve got Dark Horse at number six.  I like it for pretty much all the reasons others dislike it.  It shows George being vulnerable and susceptible to the evils of the ego which he made such an effort to overcome in his lifetime.  He’d been steeped in his work with his label Dark Horse Records, which included producing albums by Ravi Shankar and the group Splinter.  The stress of the business surrounding the Beatles’ divorce was perhaps topped only by the demise of his marriage to Pattie at the same time.  His voice gave way to laryngitis while scrambling to finish the album by its deadline, and rehearsing for his highly anticipated North American tour.  And with his “naughty period” in full swing, booze and cocaine exacerbated the whole thing.  And it’s all here in this biographical album, like Peyton Place as George described it.  Simply Shady, Dark Horse, and Far East Man are a few of my favorites.

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5.  Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976)

By the mid-70’s George’s music was taking on a contemporary feel, and with this album (as opposed to Extra Texture the year before) it worked all the way through.  While its best known song is probably the humorous ode to his estate at Friar Park,  Crackerbox Palace, it’s not even in the top five for me.  Woman Don’t You Cry for Me, Dear One (dedicated to Paramahansa Yogananda), Beautiful Girl, See Yourself, and Pure Smokey (dedicated to Smokey Robinson) are my favorites.  I’m going to find a pair of shades like the ones he’s wearing on the album cover, and by God I will wear them.

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4.  George Harrison (1979)

To my ears, this self-titled album shows Harrison at his most relaxed.  He and Olivia had married the year before and had their first and only child, Dhani.  Most of the Beatles business was behind him, the four of them mostly settled in their own domestic corners.  It was his first album in three years, and along with his new family he had the freedom to indulge his passions for gardening, Formula One racing, and producing a Monty Python film, The Life of Brian.  There isn’t a poor track here to me; a couple of favorites are his updated version of Not Guilty (which coulda-shoulda-woulda been on the White Album), and Here Comes the Moon, a song I played nightly 20 years ago as a lullaby for my first-born child.

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3.  Cloud Nine (1987)

At a time when the pop scene was dominated by the likes of Madonna, George Michael, and Janet Jackson, George reappeared seemingly out of nowhere to show that he could still record hits – when he felt the urge.  The cool thing about this record to me is that, along with co-producer Jeff Lynne, he still managed to do it on his own terms.  I like all 11 of the songs originally released on this album, though if I never hear his version of Rudy Clark’s Got My Mind Set on You again, I’d be o.k. with it.  Standouts include Just for Today, When We Was Fab (which I remember hearing for the first time as a junior in high school on the radio while eating a bag of Tato Skins in the school cafeteria), Devil’s Radio, Someplace Else, and the title track.

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2.  Living in the Material World (1973)

I imagine it’s tough for most artists in any genre to follow-up a previous work that was (and continues to be) received as well as George Harrison’s post-Beatles debut, but he managed to create something very good with 1973’s Living in the Material World.  Some of the recording took place in Apple Studios in London, while most of the album was done at George’s home studio, FPSHOT (Friar Park Studios, Henley-on-Thames).  The album’s hit is of course Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) – a timeless classic that still gives me chills whenever I hear it – but there’s plenty to chew on with the rest of the tracks, from a jab at his old band mates (Sue Me, Sue You Blues), to an empathetic reference to those same guys in the title track.  A song that has emerged as one of my favorites on the record is Be Here Now, a very quiet meditation inspired by the Ram Dass-authored book of the same title.  Some folks are put off by George’s spiritual beliefs which he often sang about, but I’m pretty much in alignment with his views so to me he’s just preaching to the choir.

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1.  All Things Must Pass (1970)

George’s triple album masterpiece, and quite possibly my favorite album of all time by anyone.  George stated during the 30th anniversary of its release that he didn’t like Phil Spector’s production of the album at first, but that he grew to like it.  And produced it is, heavily.  While I tend to favor more stripped down production, the big sound works here and I wouldn’t change any of it, including the third album of jam sessions.  This album is an emotional roller coaster, and I can’t pick one song over all the others.  I will say that the subtle-but-loaded reference to Hey Jude at the end of Isn’t It a Pity, which I hadn’t noticed until it was accentuated when performed during the Concert for George, has choked me up more than once.  And for those who would prefer to hear these songs sans Spector’s production, they do exist in the Friar Park vault (and on boots).  Maybe the estate will get around to releasing them some day.

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Whew!  I didn’t set out to write as much as I did about these albums, but there you go.  Album ranking installment #1 is in the books.  Or on the blog.  Or whatever.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brainwashed_(George_Harrison_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_in_the_Material_World

-Stephen

 

Album Rankings – Why Mine Are So Correct…(Hint: They’re Not)

There was a day when I would accept as fact any “Top Ten Albums by ___” or “Best Albums from the Year ___” list in any esteemed bastion of music knowledge such as Rolling Stone or MOJO.  Album reviews by the likes of Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, or Greil Marcus were facts, not subjective opinions from writers who have had good and bad experiences with artists they’d spent time with in the past.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is another subjective (ongoing) list made by individuals with their own prejudices.  Garbage.  If we accepted as gospel what the music scribes say, then there would be about five albums worth listening to.

Rarely do I look at such lists anymore, and when I do I don’t take them seriously.  The only instances when they are useful to me is when I learn of a recording I wasn’t familiar with beforehand.  One example of this is the Richard Thompson album Henry the Human Fly.  This nugget was somehow included on a MOJO Magazine list of the best ever guitar-oriented albums.  I don’t think of that album as being any more guitar-oriented than any other rock album from the early 1970’s, but it is a good record I most likely wouldn’t have heard of had I not reviewed the list.  Various top 50 or 100 jazz album lists have also been good resources for me as I continue to educate myself about the genre.

But my preferences?  My lists?  Well yeah!  Duh…

As the core theme of my blog is 50th music anniversaries, one of my new blogosphere friends, hanspostcard, suggested I come up with a “Best Albums of 1968” list and rank them, and we would compare notes.  Wow!  Somebody actually wants to know what I would list and how I would rank them?  Cool!  No way am I going to deny such a request.  However, as we’re not quite halfway through the year, I’ve decided to hold off until December to rank 1968 albums and singles.  So far this year I’ve discovered for myself a couple of recordings from that year that I was previously unaware of, and there just might be more in the coming months, so I’ll wait to pontificate.  However, hanspostcard has me thinking of other lists I’d like to share sporadically in the coming months, and as I do, I’d like to know what you think and how you would arrange them.

Your preferences?  Your lists?  Well yeah!  Duh…

-Stephen

 

Closing Out May 1968 in Music, Pt. 3

 

Hugh Masekela – Single:  Grazing in the Grass

Let’s round out May with a few of my favorite singles released 50 years ago this month, beginning with Hugh Masekela’s version of Grazing in the Grass.  Masekela, considered by many the “father of South African jazz,” scored a #1 hit with this peppy tune on the Billboard Hot 100.  The multi-instrumentalist passed away this past January 23rd in Johannesburg at the age of 78.

Masekela is also known in the rock music world for his trumpet contribution to the 1967 Byrds song So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star:

 

Eric Burdon and the Animals – Single:  Sky Pilot

This anti-war song, released in January in the UK and in May in the US, was the last hit record for the Animals in the US where it reached #14 on the US pop charts.  Due to the song’s length, it was spread out over both sides of the single.  It’s always been one of my favorite songs from the era.

 

The Amboy Dukes – Single:  Journey to the Center of the Mind

It’s odd to use the words “psychedelic” and “Ted Nugent” in the same sentence, but the melody of this psychedelic song by the Detroit-based Amboy Dukes was in fact written by the future Loincloth Legend himself.  This is one of those songs that used to be played on classic rock radio in the first decade or so of the format, but has unfortunately been squeezed out in favor of extra plays of Hotel California and Stairway to Heaven.  For a number of years – probably into my 20’s – I thought it was the Moody Blues (in the vein of Ride My See-Saw).  

The Amboy Dukes went their own ways in 1975, with Ted Nugent going on to become one of the worst people in the history of ever.  Good song, though.

 

5/10/68  The US and North Vietnam peace talks

The Tet Offensive and the siege at Khe Sanh earlier in the year brought the two main parties together for talks in Paris over the war in Vietnam.  You know, the war both the current Don’t-you-dare-disrespect-the-military-by-kneeling-for-the-Anthem US Bully in Chief, and the aforementioned ultra-patriotic, pro-military, far right-wing, gun loving Ted Nugent dodged.  Funny how that works.  Anyway, neither side could agree on the other’s demands just to get talks rolling, and proceedings stalled for another five months.

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Temps here in North Texas USA are creeping into triple digits, which means June is soon.  See you then!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Masekela

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grazing_in_the_Grass

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/So_You_Want_to_Be_a_Rock_%27n%27_Roll_Star

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sky_Pilot_(song)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journey_to_the_Center_of_the_Mind_(song)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amboy_Dukes

https://thevietnamwar.info/what-was-paris-peace-accords/

-Stephen

May, Fading, Pt. 2

5/17/68:  The Pentangle 

May brought the outstanding self-titled debut release of the influential British folk-jazz group, The Pentangle, consisting of vocalist Jacqui McShee, guitarist/vocalist John Renbourn, guitarist/vocalist Bert Jansch, bassist Danny Thompson, and drummer Terry Cox – all of whom were accomplished musicians prior to the formation of this unit.

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I find The Pentangle and British folk music in general from the mid-late 60’s, including  Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, and Davey Graham, to be the perfect tonic when I want that 60’s vibe but from a different angle than the electric scene we know so well.  This is a timeless musical stew of folk, jazz, blues and rock.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme
  2. Bells
  3. Hear My Call
  4. Pentangling

Side Two:

  1. Mirage
  2. Way Behind the Sun
  3. Bruton Town
  4. Waltz

 

5/30:  The Beatles White Album sessions commence

It’s hard to say any one year in the Beatles’ existence was more of a whirlwind than the others, but 1968 was packed with activity and notable moments in the band’s lore.  The four spent varying lengths of time in India in February, where in addition to taking the Maharishi’s meditation course John and Paul wrote most of the songs that would wind up on the group’s eponymous release later in the year.  The film Wonderwall, with its Harrison-produced soundtrack, premiered at Cannes on May 17, and in the midst of all the recording activity during the year, the Fabs would appear in psychedelic cartoon form in Yellow Submarine, though their actual contribution (other than the music) was limited to a cameo at the end of the film.

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John and Paul returned from their US publicity tour for the introduction of the group’s new company, Apple Corps, Ltd., in mid-May, and on an unspecified date later in the month, the Beatles assembled at George’s house in Esher to record demos of the songs they’d written in India.  Finally, on this date 50 years ago, recording sessions began in earnest at Abbey Road Studios and would continue until October 14.  Some sessions would take place at Trident Studios.

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While traces of the Beatles’ demise can be seen as far back as the final concert tour in ’66 (and even earlier when taking into account some of George’s comments), the sessions for this double album marked the beginning of a definite acceleration of their split two years later.  Engineer Geoff Emerick quit, and producer George Martin took a hiatus during recording, as did Ringo in a story recounted in the Anthology documentary and George Harrison:  Living in the Material World.  

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Personal issues and resentments began to foment, as Yoko became a permanent presence in the studio.  For that matter, Pattie, Maureen, and Paul’s girlfriend Francie were also present at times, breaking the group’s rule up until then of not allowing wives and girlfriends in the studio.  George was growing rapidly as a songwriter, yet was still alloted minimal room for his songs on the album (a couple of his tunes, Not Guilty and Sour Milk Sea, would’ve been among my favorites had they been included on the album).

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As we’ll see in August, the sessions would also yield another monumental non-album, double A-sided single with accompanying promotional films.  When all was said and done, a glorious mish-mash of songs and sound experiments – “very varied” as Paul refers to it in the Anthology – would be released as a self-titled double album in November.  A common argument among fans is whether the album is too long, too short, or just right.  Perhaps we’ll discuss this debate further down the line on the release anniversary date, but for now I’ll just mention that hopefully those of us in the “More please!” crowd will be satiated with the anticipated 50th anniversary White Album reissue later this year.

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Among the recordings many of us would like to see cleaned up for a deluxe anniversary White Album reissue are the above-mentioned Esher Demos linked below:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pentangle_(album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles_(album)

https://www.beatlesbible.com/1968/05/24/demo-recordings-for-the-white-album/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonderwall_(film)

-Stephen

As May Fades Away, Pt. 1

It’s time to begin wrapping up another month of 50th anniversaries in the music world (with a couple of diversions) by tying up some loose ends.  I’ll spread this out over the next few days.

5/5/68:  Buffalo Springfield perform live for the final time

By the spring of 1968, the short-lived Springfield had had enough.  Artistic differences, drugs, etc., etc., had taken their toll, and after their gig at Long Beach Arena on the 5th, they split.  Richie Furay and Jim Messina subsequently compiled some tunes from ’67 and early ’68 into what became the third and final Buffalo Springfield album, Last Time Around.  Stills, Furay, and Young reunited as Buffalo Springfield for a few shows in 2010 and 2011, but plans for a tour in 2012 sputtered away with Neil being Neil.  A recording of the Long Beach Show from ’68 is available on YouTube, but the sound is so bad I’m not going to bother adding it here.

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Rhino Records will release a box set of the three studio albums at the end of next month which will include new stereo mixes of all three and mono mixes of the first two.  The mastering of this set was under Neil’s supervision, but so was the original Springfield box when he chose not to include Last Time Around (which he wasn’t around for when originally compiled in ’68).  I won’t be re-purchasing all this music, but I love this band.

5/13/68:    Manchester City wins the Football League First Division over Manchester United 

Fifty-year history repeated itself with the recently concluded English Premier League season, with Manchester City taking the top spot by an astonishing 19 points over second place Manchester United.  But in 1968, prior to the establishment of the Premier League when it was simply called the First Division, the title wasn’t decided until the final match of the season.  City won at Newcastle while United lost to Sunderland, giving City the title.  Coincidentally, City had a player named Neil Young who scored a couple of goals in that game (my apologies to my more knowledgeable friends who might read this if Young is a famous footballer).  United went on to win the European title a couple of weeks later.

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There was a day when sports were just as important to me as music.  While I’m still generally aware of what’s happening in American sports, I don’t bother to watch or pay close attention unless one of the teams I’ve traditionally followed is playing well.  I don’t think I even qualify as a fair weather fan anymore.

However, as my interest in American sports has dramatically declined, I’ve found a new sports outlet over the past ten years or so:  English Premier League Football and its associated leagues and cups, including the Champions League.  I think one of the main reasons I enjoy following the EPL is because I can do so while ignoring all the off-pitch drama of the modern athlete armed with social media.  I realize controversies and drama exist with Euro footballers, but we’re just not bombarded with it in the states the way we are with contract disputes and legal issues of American athletes.  If that ever changes, I’ll be off sports completely.

5/14/68:  Lennon and McCartney formally introduce Apple Corps, Ltd.

John and Paul made their first stateside visit together since the Beatles’ final US tour in ’66 to introduce their new umbrella business organization, which they founded after the death of manager Brian Epstein.  A typically acerbic Lennon, now firmly under the yolk-of-Ono,  explained what the new company was all about at the press conference:

It’s a business concerning records, films, and electronics. And as a sideline, whatever it’s called… manufacturing, or whatever. But we want to set up a system whereby people who just want to make a film about (pause) anything, don’t have to go on their knees in somebody’s office. Probably yours.

Gosh, with such a concise business model and pleasant spokesman, it’s hard to understand why Apple was such a failure while they were still together!  Whatever.  Apple was a great idea, ahead of its time.  Unfortunately there were too many lunatics running the asylum.

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That same day, they appeared on The Tonight Show, only it was guest-hosted that day by former baseball player (and one of my favorite baseball announcers of all time) Joe Garagiola instead of Johnny Carson.  It just didn’t work, and the boys (especially John) were visibly and audibly uncomfortable being interviewed by someone not exactly showbiz savvy.  An apparently drunk Tallulah Bankhead was the other guest, and she had plenty to say while John and Paul were on stage.  Unfortunately for recorded history, NBC had a practice of erasing their tapes after a period of time, thus the only recording we have is by fans.  There is a clip taken from a Super 8 camera on one YouTube posting, but the sound is awful.  Here’s the cleaner audio for posterity:

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/buffalo-springfield-final-concert/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Springfield

Buffalo Springfield remaster complete discography for new box set

https://www.google.com/search?q=Manchester+City+Football+League+Cup+1968&oq=Manchester+City+Football+League+Cup+1968&aqs=chrome..69i57.8667j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db1968.0514pc.beatles.html

-Stephen