The Beatles – how they ended up on the rooftop

1968. The White Album: the album design became important – the music was all over the map – would it cohere as an album? At the very least, The Beatles needed to create a visual theme where a musical one may or may not exist.

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Paul McCartney spent a week going to the artist Richard Hamilton’s home every day to put this non-theme album art concept together.

A white album with no title other than The Beatles, a poster of collected photos, and four iconic portrait sized photos of their faces.

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It was the antithesis of the splendor of the previous album Sgt. Pepper.

The White Album is indeed a place you initially go to on your own. I remember receiving this album (and Sgt Pepper too) at my grandparents house on a farm in rural Minnesota. The Beatles’ London could not have been more remote. But somehow it was an internal, strange, magical island visually and aurally calling to curious 10-year-old.

Two months after The White Album was released in November 1968…

It was a cold January 1969 winter day in London when the Beatles took to the roof of their headquarters in London’s street of tailors, Saville Row, to play their latest unreleased (at that time) songs. Down below in the street, the bankers and their secretaries could not see who was playing on the roof (the fab four were filming for a movie) but they knew it sounded like the Beatles.

The temperature was in the 30s Fahrenheit – cloudy, blustery winter in London – you can see John blowing on his fingers in the footage from the Let It Be film. Each of the Beatles (except Paul), borrowed their wives’ coats, but the Beatles could pull this off. John is rocking a fur coat and somehow it works – some insulation as he stares out across the universe.

Just before they went up to play, the boys were huddling behind the roof access door. “Should we really do this?” they asked each other. It had been almost three years since they had played in public. “Let’s go” they said and we are glad they did…. Those tens of thousands of hours playing together across Britain and Hamburg could not be denied as the magic poured out through their nerves and the cold.

They were not showbiz. They could have never emerged from American Idol or The Voice. They had no stage patter or dance routine. The act was a non act. It was about the music. They tossed their greatest source of income, touring, out the window, to follow the Muse. A muse to music that never wavered from genius level in the nine-hour legacy of officially released music.

They grew up in a non rock-and-roll era. Until they were 15, rock and roll did not even exist. They were not blues purists like the Yardbirds or the Stones. They grew up in an era when the weekend entertainment was the family sing-along. And everyone, even the kids, had to sing a tune.

There will never be another Beatles.

The rooftop concert reminds us how great they were. Within a year, the Beatles would be no more.

Here’s a nice summary of the day courtesy of Rolling Stone:

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/beatles-famous-rooftop-concert-15-things-you-didnt-know-58342/

And here’s a blog dedicated entirely to these sessions in January 1969:

https://theymaybeparted.com

 

And finally, some YouTube analysis about the rooftop performance:

 

French Power Pop – What is the magic?

The first French band that grabbed my attention was Les Rita Mitsouko in the ’80s.

Upon listening to my random YouTube mix today, a French band that I had never heard before called Manceau popped up in the mix and I was instantly transported away:

This reminded me and sounded like another unheralded and brilliant French pop band a have always loved: Tahiti 80:

Both bands share a love of highly-compressed, radio-friendly tunes driven by jangly guitars, punchy bass, dance grooves and tuneful hooks.

I think these French bands love disco as much as they love British guitar bands of the 60s. You get the tunes, and you get the beat. You can sing along, and you can dance.

The apotheosis of this type of music outside of France has been the music of Phoenix.

Why did Phoenix make it when Tahiti 80 or Manceau are relatively unknown?

Better marketing or management? More extensive touring? All I know is all of these bands are unmistakably French and they all sound great.

Some other French bands to explore:

http://www.frenchmusicblog.com/french-bands

 

 

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Lawrence of Belgravia

Question:

How can a musician so disciplined that he releases 10 classic albums in 10 years in the 1980s (with the band Felt) produce minimal output in the years that followed?

Short answer:

By being true to himself.

Long answer:

See below.

Lawrence get things done, but in his own way and on his own terms.

In the documentary Lawrence OF Belgravia, filmmaker Paul Kelly followed the little-known musical legend Lawrence around for five years. The film came out in British theaters in 2011, but is just being released on DVD this week (five years later). The film is worth the wait because the music is brilliant, and just like Brian Wilson, you want to get inside the mind of the musical creator.

Take an authentic eccentric (in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes) as only the British can produce, a dose a megalomania, and ear for a tune, a dash of sartorial excellence, and you have an indie hipster, but not a star. The Beatles were cool too, and they appealed to the masses. Where did Lawrence go wrong?

In Lawrence’s mind, he should be a superstar. That is why he only has one name. Like Sting or Madonna.

But unlike Sting or Madonna, Lawrence takes the Tube (underground) and has difficulty paying the rent.

Lawrence does not collaborate on outside projects. If you want Lawrence to sing on your album, even if you are famous, forget it.

After Lawrence achieved his goal with Felt of recording 10 albums in 10 years, he moved on to form Denim. Unlike Felt, which had and indie music vibe, Denim took its inspiration from ‘70s bubblegum pop and glam rock. Denim released three albums in the ‘90s, but to Lawrence’s dismay, he did not conquer the charts.

His next (and current) band, Go Kart Mozart, is more of a B-sides band. His idea to was to capture the magic of the B-sides of great 45 singles – where the forgotten B-side was uninhibited, more experimental and often more musically adventurous than the radio hit. Again, though received well by critics, Go Kart Mozart did not tear up the charts.

The music business is both music and business. Perhaps all Lawrence needed was a great manager to handle the business side of things. Maybe one day he will get one.

Most of Lawrence’s music is great, and worth a listen. It will challenge your mind, and maybe even get you onto the dance floor.

In 2018, in his own slow yet meticulous way, Lawrence is releasing new music: it is the fourth Go-Kart Mozart record, called Mozart’s Mini-Mart. 

You can read all about it here:

https://noisey.vice.com/en_us/article/vbpdpm/lawrence-felt-go-kart-mozart-interview-profile

Berlin – The Wings of Desire Effect

I recently visited the Victory Column in Berlin’s Tiergarten.

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The column inspired Wim Wenders to make Wings of Desire, a film about angels who listen in on the thoughts of humans.

Wim Wenders was a fan and friend of U2, and U2 was inspired by Wings of Desire and the city of Berlin, which extended to recording Achtung Baby at Hansa Studios. Hansa is also where David Bowie recorded his best work in the late 1970s, including the song Heroes.

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Hansa Studios, 2016

To complete the circle, U2 play the angels who watch over, beneficently and enviously, the thoughts of Berliners in a song from Achtung Baby: Far Away So Close.

Experiencing the Cure – 30 years later

The last time I saw The Cure at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota in 1986, Robert Smith had just cut his hair short, confounding all the spiky long-haired goths who showed up to pay homage.

30 years later….


The Cure, June 7, 2016, St. Paul, MN

More than three hours of Cure, four encores, many hits, many deep cuts…. Way too many mid-tempo, newer songs at the expense of older brilliant tunes … No close-ups of Robert’s face on the big screen… But just when you thought the show was dragging, Robert Smith and Co. would shift into high gear.

The precise guitar lines are underpinned by a thunderous rhythm section.

So many classic tunes and Robert’s voice still sounds as clear and eccentric as the day he wrote Boys Don’t Cry…

The best Wim Wenders films

The films of German director Wim Wenders are infused by his love of people, music, photography and travel.

Wim has made numerous landmark films (way more than I am listing here).

These are my favorites:

2011
Pina (Documentary)

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Pina is a film from the heart from one artist to another.
Pina is a available in 3-D – and the dynamic dancing thrives in this format. Wenders started working on Pina because of his friendship and love of Pina Bausch’s choreography. He did not expect her death as he was in the process of filming.
However, Wim decides to keep filming as Pina’s dancers cope with and express their loss – and this becomes movingly integrated into the film.
Pina turns a tragic event into a celebration of a life well lived, spent in pursuit of creative excellence. Highly recommended.

2005
Don’t Come Knocking

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Starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard as a funny, drifting cowboy. A continuation of the screenwriting collaboration between Wenders and Shepard that started with Paris, Texas.
The colors captured in the cinematography are spellbinding and Fairuza Balk turns in a hilarious performance.

1999
Buena Vista Social Club (Documentary)

Buena Vista Social Club La HabanaIf you have not seen this film about Cuban music and musicians that thrived in Havana during the pre-Castro era and their reunion 40 years later, go see it now.

1987
Wings of Desire

iurIn my top five of the greatest films ever made.
Captures the soul of Berlin just before the wall came down. Perhaps Peter Falk’s greatest role outside of Columbo. Also captures an archetypal moody, musical performance by Nick Cave.
Makes a compelling case for why angels should join the ranks of the humans. Wings of Desire captures internal dialogue in a way that I have never seen before or since.

1984
Paris, Texas

iu-3Another one of the greatest films ever made. Three main reasons:
  1. The desert cinematography
  2. The archetypal loner role that Harry Dean Stanton was made for
  3. The sparse, haunting slide guitar work of Ry Cooder

1974
Alice in the Cities

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The first half of this film shows us the soul of America with its open spaces and wanderlust – which infuses the second half in Germany.

Stars the impossibly charming and cute Yella Rottländer as Alice who is trying to get to her grandmother’s home in Wuppertal.

Also contains a classic scene featuring a little German kid, a jukebox and the music of Canned Heat:

Wenders mainstay Rüdiger Vogler brilliantly takes the lead role as a wandering Ulysses-type character with a wry smile. Alice in the Cities was the first of a trilogy of road movies for Wenders – all of which are worth checking out of you like this one.

Filmography and additional information

For a full list of films and additional information about the constantly evolving creations of Wim Wenders:

Paul Weller – the big boss is still grooving

Paul Weller was born May 25, 1958, and grew up in Woking, a working-class suburb of London.

Rooted in British culture, a certain Englishness has infused all his work, which has endeared him to Anglophiles around the globe.

And from a young age, Weller has always understood that good clothes and good music go hand in hand.

As a principal figure of the 1970s and 1980s mod revival, Weller is often referred to as The Modfather.

The great irony of all this is – although being a Mod is a uniquely British phenomenon – the Mods’ biggest influence is American R&B music.

The Jam (1976–82)

The Jam created many crucial albums which should be a part of any discerning music collection – the most notable are:

In the City
This is the Modern World
All Mod Cons
Setting Sons
Sound Affects
The Gift

The first time I ever heard of The Jam was when I saw the video Town Called Malice on MTV. This tune combined an infectious blend of the hard-hitting Motown sound with a punk edge and a Londonesque, Eastenders-type melodrama evoked in the lyrics – all of which came across in the video. Weller has said he drew the images for this song directly from his experiences in Woking. Unfortunately by the time I discovered this band around 1983 – The Jam were no more.

Around this time, I walked into Northern Lights record store in downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue – when it was just a hole in the wall – and saw The Jam’s SNAP! compilation – Weller looked so cool – I knew the music had to be good!

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But The Modfather was gravitating to a new sound – more Marvin Gaye, less Pete Townshend.

This was neatly summed up in The Jam’s final single – Beat Surrender.

The Style Council (1983–89)

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The Style Council comprised Weller and keyboardist Mick Talbot, previously a member of Dexys Midnight Runners, The Bureau and The Merton Parkas.

The Style Council reflected an entire movement of politics, style and music. It took the youth explosion of The Jam to the next level.

The spokesman for this new philosophy was The Cappuccino Kid, aka Paolo Hewitt, who provided voluminous liner notes – actually political Manifestos on life – with each new Style council LP or 12-inch single. A compilation of these writings can be found here:

http://www.wellerworld.co.uk/CK.htm

The music recorded by The Style Council  between 1983-85 is some of the best of that, or any, era – reflecting a wide variety of musical styles. You can feel Weller’s sense of freedom as he casts off his old identity.

Notable tunes include:

Big Boss Groove
Headstart for Happiness
You’re The Best Thing
The Paris Match
Speak Like a Child

The Whole Point of No Return
Here’s One That Got Away
A Stone’s Throw Away
A Solid Bond in Your Heart
Have Your Ever Had it Blue?

The permanent line-up grew to include drummer Steve White and Weller’s then-wife, vocalist Dee C. Lee. Other artists included Tracey Thorn (Everything but the Girl) singing on The Paris Match.

Solid Bond Studios and Productions

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Paul Weller bought Phonogram Studios – renaming it Solid Bond Studios –  in 1983 and recorded there until 1991 when his father and manager, Jon Weller, stated that the rent had become unfeasible.

Solid Bond not only provided the creative space and expertise for many Style Council recordings, but a stable of other artists as well.

Here is an interview with Weller circa 1984 at Solid Bond Studios:

A history of the studios and a list of who recorded there (including Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers in the pre-Weller era) can be found here:

http://philsbook.com/philips.html

Solo Work

By 1991, Paul Weller was solo.

Although Weller has said he was not feeling inspired when he started as a solo artist, he knew music was in his blood. He also knew he had to basically “fake it until he made it.” The strategy worked, as his solo worked gradually became more inspired and he found his authentic voice not only as a singer, but as a songwriter. Weller recaptured the energy and creativity of The Jam and early Style Council days (without sounding anything like that era) with his landmark album 22 Dreams, when Weller made the conscious decision to work from a more experimental space.

One of his latest albums, Saturn’s Pattern, maintains his high standards.

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Live

Paul Weller is a physical, dynamic live performer – feeling the music as he leads the band center stage, singing, with or without guitar. He also often sits down at the keyboard to belt out several tunes during each show.

On July 31, 1992, I saw Paul Weller live in San Francisco at the Warfield Theater. Weller showed that, as a solo artist, he could still be a great performer – and he still had something to say. There were a lot of Japanese fans at this show, which is not surprising as the Japanese have always appreciated good music and style.

The last time I saw him live at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis in 2014, Weller was not resting on his laurels – rather performing a mix of classic tunes from his Jam and Style Council days that he was clearly proud of, along with songs from his latest album, which stand up well with the classic tunes. His band was tight and rocked and chilled as needed.

Personal life

Paul has several children and is happily married with designated “band mum,” Hannah Weller.

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Paul with daughter Leah
http://paulweller.com/discography/