January 30 – Beatles on the Roof

So, this happened 50 years ago today…

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We’re also starting to get a good idea of what to expect with regard to the 50th anniversary of the Let it Be documentary. I actually find this to be exciting news, as it will shed a different light on the project. I don’t think it will be a revisionist light, as there’s no reversing the fact that the group was slowly dissolving while being filmed, but it will apparently illustrate that the Get Back sessions in January of 1969 as shown in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original film weren’t dreary and depressing all the time. There were 55 hours of unused film taken that month! I don’t care if Yoko’s in 99% of it – she was there a lot, after all. I just hope Billy Preston gets his due. And, fear not, we’ll also get the original film, restored in all its bleak glory.

-Stephen

 

 

 

 

January 13 – A Meanie of a Soundtrack

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine (soundtrack)

To anyone who may scoff at the notion that what the Beatles pulled off during their relatively short existence was anything less than miraculous, and that they were under constant pressure to produce more, more, and more, I offer the example of the sometimes unfairly disregarded soundtrack to the animated film, Yellow Submarine, released this day 50 years ago (January 17 in the UK).

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The soundtrack contained four “new” songs, two previously released tracks (the title track had been around for almost three years), plus George Martin’s orchestral score on side two.  Its release was delayed so that it wouldn’t interfere with their double album release in November of ’68. The film and album were considered a contract obligation, hence the Beatles didn’t give it the full studio treatment after spending many contentious hours in the studio over the previous two years. Negative to ambivalent critical assessments of the album are a reflection of the group’s attitude toward the project. But is it really an album to be dismissed? Personally, I feel the four previously unreleased songs alone make it worthwhile.

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George Harrison’s much-maligned Only a Northern Song had been rejected for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This turned out to be a good decision, as its replacement was the slightly less-disparaged Harrison track, Within You Without You (as fun as it can be to play the Beatles revisionist “what-if” game, I would never remove Within You Without You from Pepper!). As will surprise nobody who knows my music tastes, I love both of those songs. Yes, Only a Northern Song is cranky George complaining about his place on the group’s songwriting ladder, but it’s a trippy number with a cool organ and sound effects. It fit in well at the time it was recorded, but was already somewhat outdated (by late 60’s standards) by the time the soundtrack was released. McCartney’s All Together Now, written with old dance hall calls for a singalong in mind, may not have been his most creative songwriting effort, but again, look at the standard he had set for himself. Paul considered it a throwaway, but if ever one needs a peppy tune to get a jump-start out of a malaise, this is it.

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George’s It’s All Too Much was inspired by the Summer of Love vibe, and is one of my favorite Beatles songs of all time. To me, it’s a perfect combination of grungy guitar, flower power, and a typically positive Beatles message. In my mind, the song’s psychedelic musical soul mate is the Byrds’ Eight Miles High. I only wish they were both ten-plus minutes long.* George’s song was originally eight minutes long but trimmed to a still lengthy for the era 6:25. Only a Northern Song, All Together Now, and It’s All Too Much were all recorded in early 1967. Only John’s Hey Bulldog, which he liked but said was about nothing, was recorded in 1968. Anyone want to remove this song from the Beatles canon? Not I.

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It’s hard to get too worked up over contemporary critics’ dismissive attitudes toward this record since the Beatles themselves mostly mailed it in, though they were reportedly more enthusiastic about it after previewing the film. John was vocally opposed to the inclusion of George Martin’s orchestral score, but judging by Lennon’s lackluster participation on the Get Back sessions concurrently taking place at the time of this soundtrack’s release, I don’t know that he had much to offer that would’ve been an improvement in his mind. An EP was considered which would’ve included Across the Universe, but was ditched. With 1999’s reissue of the film came the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which includes all the Beatles songs used in the film and excludes Martin’s score. I never bothered to pick it up, I guess confirming I’m not the completist I once considered myself to be. Occasionally I let the soundtrack CD play out and find myself enjoying the orchestral tracks. Perhaps I should paint big black holes on my walls for a fuller effect.

*In later incarnations, the Byrds would stretch Eight Miles High into a nearly twenty minute jam session on stage, but Roger McGuinn would only sing the first verse for some reason. I digress.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Yellow Submarine
  2. Only a Northern Song
  3. All Together Now
  4. Hey Bulldog
  5. It’s All Too Much
  6. All You Need is Love

Side Two:

  1. Pepperland
  2. Sea of Time
  3. Sea of Holes
  4. Sea of Monsters
  5. March of the Meanies
  6. Pepperland Laid Waste
  7. Yellow Submarine in Pepperland

-Stephen

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

Album Review: The Beatles – Yellow Submarine [Remastered]

https://www.allmusic.com/album/yellow-submarine-mw0000668441

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

November 22 – Thoughts on the White Album

The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album)

We’ve finally arrived at the Big Anniversary of the Beatles’ sprawling, self-titled 1968 double album.  It’s the first Beatles album to be covered in this unabashed fanboy’s blog which I started at the beginning of the year.  Many of us have already greedily consumed the 50th anniversary release of the album, complete with the Esher Demos, session goodies, the famous individual portraits and lyrics poster, and a hardcover book.  Some have already published nice reviews in the blogosphere and elsewhere.  Somehow today feels a bit anticlimactic, though I’ll probably give it a spin before stuffing my face with turkey later in the day.

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It’s not that the anniversary hasn’t re-sparked my enthusiasm for the White Album, released this day in 1968.  It has.  It isn’t that I’m not thrilled with everything to do with the deluxe edition which I’ve been poring over these past couple of weeks.  I am.  But if you’ll excuse a bit of hyperbole, when I think about it, this entire year has been about the White Album as pertains to my perception of the Beatles, the music scene in general, and to some extent the year 1968 itself.

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The Mad Day Out.  (Stephen Goldblatt photo)

Looking back over the first eleven months of my blog, this record looms throughout.  The seed is probably found as far back as August of 1967 with the death of Brian Epstein.  The Magical Mystery Tour project in the immediate aftermath of his passing may have been their first attempt to carry on managing themselves, but with the White Album we see the fissures within the group and their individual future directions in full light.  Many of these songs were written in February during the Rishikesh retreat, and most of the band’s activities the rest of the year from that trip-onward led to this album or were an offshoot of it.

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We had the single, Lady Madonna/The Inner Light, released in March.  In May, the establishment of Apple Corps, Ltd. was announced.  This was to be the band’s business and musical apparatus, as well as a vehicle for them as individual artists – and isn’t that really what the White Album is, some group work but a lot of individual effort?  May was also the month sessions for the album began in earnest.  With the release of the stunning Hey Jude/Revolution single in August, they showed the world that the Beatles were still the Beatles despite the turmoil they always seemed to find themselves in.  Although those tracks were not included on the album, they are White Album session tracks.

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The Mad Day Out.  (Don McCullin photo)

Group and individual burnout is evident on this album.  Even Ringo walked out during his well-documented “I thought it was YOU three?” moment.  John’s behavior became predictably unpredictable, and the sad state of affairs (no pun intended, but yeah) surrounding his marriage to Cynthia finally came to an end as he officially transitioned to Yoko.  They immediately created their first vinyl baby, Unfinished Music No. 1:  Two Virgins, under the Apple umbrella, and she would be a permanent fixture within the group dynamic from that point on.

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Ringo’s personal copy of the White Album, edition numero uno, sold at auction in 2015 for $790,000.

George finally found his own creative outlet with Wonderwall Music (the inaugural release on the Apple label), the score to the Wonderwall movie which included Indian musicians who also performed on the Inner Light, as well as his buddy Eric Clapton, who participated on both the movie score and the White Album.  All of these factors – from India to Apple, from recording the demos at George’s house in Esher to the singles releases, from the “Mad Day Out” photo session in July to the individual side projects and contentious group studio sessions – all of them are woven into the double album we’re celebrating today, and all were played out over the course of the year leading up to its release.

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Some random personal thoughts about the record:

  • In 2018, if there’s any one member of the band I associate with the album more than the others, it’s George.  I freely admit this is due in large part to Hari gradually becoming my “favorite” Beatle over the years.  The White Album was perhaps his final chance to exert serious influence on the direction the Beatles would take, both musically and spiritually.  His creative input could no longer be ignored by John and Paul if he was going to remain in the group long-term.  It may not have gone as he had hoped, but his spirit is everywhere in these songs, including the ones which didn’t make the final cut.  As he mentioned in interviews, he tried to enter the studio the following January for the Get Back sessions with a positive mindset, but it was too late.  The Beatles were, for all intents and purposes, done, despite there being two albums yet to record.  Amazingly to me, George was only 25 when the White Album was released.

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  • As a child, even though I always loved most of its tracks, the White Album kind of creeped me out.  First, the “Paul is dead ‘clues'” in the grooves and album artwork were both fascinating and, to 9 or 10-year-old me, frightening.  My brother Paul would spin the vinyl backwards for me to hear voices supposedly saying “Paul is a dead man.  Miss him, miss him,” and “Turn me on, dead man.”  In that dimly lit basement I was glad not to be alone when listening.  To this day, Revolution 9 still gives me the heebie jeebies, and Good Night which follows sounds more funereal than lullaby because of it. Then there was the unfortunate, unintended  connection to the Manson murders. Even that shoddy collage of photos which makes up the poster insert was at best confusing to me.  But it’s So White Album, no?

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  • Their individual appearances fascinated me, as they did many others.  Overnight they transformed from the psychedelic, flower power Sgt. Pepper look to their disheveled appearances of ’68.  John looked tired and bitter, and it wasn’t until my teen years that I understood why that was.

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  • Yoko.  Yoko, Yoko, Yoko.  Yoko Ono…                                                                            Because I was born the year after the Beatles broke up, as a younger person I always accepted everything I saw, heard, and read as just part of the narrative of the group.  But wow, what an unforeseen shock her emergence in all their lives must have been!  Whether he’s simply taking the high road or being sincere, Paul made peace with Yoko in recent years as well as declared his perhaps overdue respect for John for making his stand with her.  I believe Paul is sincere.  It’s past time to remove those “I still blame Yoko” bumper stickers, folks.  There were plenty of other factors contributing to the split.

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  • And lastly, as for the great debate about whether or not it should’ve been condensed down to a single LP, my answer is a resounding HELL NO!  It’s great just the way it is, but if anything could’ve improved it, it wouldn’t have been making it a single album or two separate releases (the White and Whiter Album as Ringo quipped in the Anthology).  In my mind, this could easily have been a triple album.  I think it’s a crime that George’s Sour Milk Sea wasn’t properly recorded and included (nothing against Jackie Lomax’s version).  The same goes for Not Guilty.  Sprinkle those tracks, plus Hey JudeRevolution, and Circles throughout Sides 1-5, and make Side 6 all about John and Yoko’s madness with What’s the New Mary Jane and Revolution 9, and presto!, The Grand and Mega-Blindingly White Album!  It was all free-form craziness anyway, and we’d be celebrating it the same as we are today.  That still would’ve left Lady Madonna/The Inner Light as the non-album single between Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album.

But I’ll defer to Sir Paul for the final word on the matter:

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
  2. Dear Prudence
  3. Glass Onion
  4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  5. Wild Honey Pie
  6. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
  7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  8. Happiness is a Warm Gun

Side Two:

  1. Martha My Dear
  2. I’m So Tired
  3. Blackbird
  4. Piggies
  5. Rocky Raccoon
  6. Don’t Pass Me By
  7. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
  8. I Will
  9. Julia

Side Three:

  1. Birthday
  2. Yer Blues
  3. Mother Nature’s Son
  4. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)
  5. Sexie Sadie
  6. Helter Skelter
  7. Long, Long, Long

Side Four:

  1. Revolution 1
  2. Honey Pie
  3. Savoy Truffle
  4. Cry Baby Cry
  5. Revolution 9
  6. Good Night

-Stephen

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/ringo-starrs-personal-white-album-sells-for-world-record-790000-62410/

 

 

 

August 26 – Hey Jude/Revolution

The Beatles – Single:  Hey Jude/Revolution

Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of yet another of those incredible non-album Beatles singles, Hey Jude b/w Revolution.  So much was happening at this time (when wasn’t this the case with the Beatles?):  They were still a couple of months away from completing what would come to be known as the White Album.  They were up to their ears with Apple business and searching for direction after the death of manager Brian Epstein the summer before.  They had been burned by critics (and perhaps by their own hubris) with the ill-fated Magical Mystery Tour film.  Personal and artistic differences among them were beginning to come to a head.  But they were the Fab Four, so they just kept moving.  And look what they gave us…

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-Stephen

 

 

July 17 – A Yellow Submarine Surfaces in London

The Beatles – Movie:  Yellow Submarine

The beloved Beatles animated movie made its UK premiere on this day in 1968.  The group arrived at the London Pavillion on Piccadilly Circus to a scene reminiscent of the “old days” just a few years earlier for the premiers of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! at the height of Beatlemania.

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The film was directed by George Dunning, who supervised over 200 artists for 11 months, and was produced by United Artists and King Features Syndicate.  However, aside from performing the songs used in the movie, the only involvement the Beatles themselves had in the film was their brief cameo at the end.

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Other actors voiced the Beatles’ parts in the film, and oddly enough it worked out quite well even though they sound nothing like the Beatles.  It must have seemed somewhat surreal for them, even with all their previous experiences, to witness their cartoon likenesses on-screen with other actors’ voices portraying them with exaggerated Liverpudlian accents, let alone in a large, packed theater for a gala event such as that.  Whatever they may have thought of it at the time, I’ve yet to read or hear a subsequent interview with any of the four who said anything negative about the film.

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So much had changed for the band during the previous 11 months:  Brian Epstein had passed away the previous August, they (Paul, really) made their ill-fated directorial debut shortly afterward with Magical Mystery Tour, John began seeing Yoko and subsequently left Cynthia, the group became involved in Transcendental Meditation and visited the Maharishi in India, Apple Corps was launched, and recording had begun on a large batch of songs, many of which were written in India.  Also, Paul (who attended the premiere alone) would officially be single a few days after the premiere when longtime girlfriend Jane Asher announced their breakup on the BBC.

Yet despite all the chaos and upheaval (or, perhaps because their involvement with the project was so limited), another Beatles product was being introduced to a public which couldn’t, and still can’t, get enough of the Fabs.  The film influenced the animation art of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python), as well as children’s programs Sesame Street, the Electric Company, and Schoolhouse Rock.  With its trippy, colorful animation, positive message, and of course wonderful music, Yellow Submarine continues to capture the imagination of young and old to this day.

Four of the numerous songs included in the movie were previously unreleased and had been considered not up to Beatles standard for a regular album release:  Hey Bulldog, Only a Northern Song, All Together Now, and It’s All Too Much.  I supposed we can attribute this to an embarrassment of riches.  The latter song is one of my favorite Beatles tracks, and along with the Byrds’ Eight Miles High, it’s my favorite of the “psychedelic era.”  Even what is widely considered the weakest of the bunch, Only a Northern Song, is worthy of inclusion (Harrison presented it for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper but was asked by George Martin to come up with something better, which he did with Within You Without You).  The soundtrack’s orchestral score was arranged by George Martin.

A few stills:

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“Don’t push that button!”
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Mystical, animated George.  If anyone knows where I can find a poster or t-shirt with this image, please let me know!

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I received this as a Christmas gift from my wife.  Despite the temptation, I haven’t removed the contents from the box.

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

https://www.beatlesbible.com/1968/07/17/world-premiere-yellow-submarine/

-Stephen

June Tunes, Pt. 1

Confession:  Sometimes I’m lazy.  Really…freaking…lazy.  Lasting momentum eludes me, and this month has encapsulated that struggle.  The alloted two weeks of spring here in north Texas have given way to the annual blast furnace which extends into October.  I started out fairly active for what is a rather quiet month on the 50th album anniversary front, but today is the first time in a couple of weeks I’ve signed in to the blogosphere.  Time to accept what is with the weather and get back to writing, as I’m now feeling spurred on by some random kind words of encouragement from someone I don’t know, but whose work I admire.

Despite my recent inactivity, I did read a couple of books over the past few weeks that I recommend:

JFK and the Unspeakable:  Why He Died and Why it Matters, by James Douglass (2008)

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The Longest Cocktail Party: An Insider’s Diary of the Beatles, Their Million-dollar Apple Empire and Its Wild Rise and Fall, by Richard DiLello (1972)

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The latter is a fun and quick read.  While the Beatles loom throughout, the book is really about the people who worked in and visited (crashed, more like) the madhouse that was Apple Corps.  It’s more than a minor miracle that the Apple experiment lasted three years.  This is not your typical Beatles bio.  As for the former, while I’m not a “conspiracy enthusiast,” to anyone left still inclined to believe Oswald was the lone gunman I recommend checking this out from your local library.

Now on to some June 1968 releases.  On one hand, it kind of feels like I’m mailing it in with another month-end roundup of leftovers, but as I mentioned earlier this isn’t a big month for 50th anniversaries.  Watch the following be among somebody’s all-time favorites…

Steve Miller Band – Children of the Future

This was the debut album of the Steve Miller Band, produced by Glyn Johns.  About half the songs on it were written by Miller, the others by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy and then-bandmate Boz Scaggs.  An album later and we’re into those early Miller tunes I really dig.

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Jose Feliciano – Feliciano!

Admit it, you like this album.  Honestly, it had slipped from my memory.  I don’t own it, nor do I hear his version of Light My Fire anymore on any radio station I listen to.  But I like it.  This all acoustic, all covers album is Feliciano’s most successful release, reaching #2 on Billboard’s Top LP Chart, #3 on the R&B charts, and #3 on the Jazz charts.  Besides the Doors, he covers the Mamas and the Papas, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Beatles, and others.

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I’ll have more tomorrow.  Cheers for now, and thanks for reading!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_of_the_Future_(Steve_Miller_Band_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feliciano!

-Stephen

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