They think it’s All Over. But it’s not. It’s All Over Now.

I was really amused a couple of weeks ago to see Bob Dylan get a writing credit on It’s All Over Now, The Rolling Stones first number one.

I’d always known it as a Bobby Womack song. I’d also always assumed that Shirley Womack, who co-wrote it, was his wife. In fact, she was Bobby’s sister-in-law.

And that’s the trouble with assumptions.

Big rule of journalism: assume makes an ass out of u and me.

Which begs the question: how big can an ass possibly be, since at least 50% of the internet seems to be built on assumptions?

It has to be nearly 10 years since I had my introduction to the internet version of ‘I search, therefore I am’. My son, Remi, 14 or 15 at the time, insisted on playing me this ‘brilliant Eric Clapton track’.

He searched it, brought it up and played it. Eric Clapton my arse.

“That’s Classical Gas by Mason Williams,” I said.

“No. It’s Eric Clapton,” he said. “Look, it says so here.”

“Yes, I can see it says it is, but it’s not. When did you ever hear Eric Clapton play like that?”

“Well, that’s the point. It’s so different.”

“Yes. It’s different because it’s not Eric Clapton. It’s Mason Williams.”

Which got me looking ‘under the hood’ as they say and I was shocked at what I found. iTunes meta info rarely includes a songwriter credit. When it does, it’s frequently wrong. Elsewhere on the internet these mistakes are legion, and will probably never be corrected.

I once found You’re My World – Cilla’s number one, famously adapted from an Italian original – attributed to Burt Bacharach and Hal David. This was on a big compilation cd, so of course, the information found its way onto iTunes.

Even funnier, they apparently also wrote Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. The giveaway there is, Cole Porter. He wrote the song in 1934 when Burt Bacharach was six years old. Burt didn’t meet Hal until 1957.

Now you might think, “Does this really matter?”

To which I might reply, “Yes, it fucking matters!”

On reflection: yes, that is how I would reply.

Imagine you’re Harlan Howard, a relatively obscure country music writer and performer. You write a song called Busted. It’s picked up by Ray Charles, who has a massive top 10 hit with it. That’s your pension, right there.

Now imagine you’re Harlan Howard, and years later, you find that some lazy, feckless, ignorant, highly paid jackass has credited your song to Ray Charles as writer – forever to remain so on databases and download sites worldwide. Well, you’d be a little cheesed off, no?

Mind you, it’s a wonder Harlan didn’t get a writing credit on It’s All Over Now, along with Bobby and Shirley Womack and Bob Dylan.

Because the way Bob Dylan got a co-write credit on that song was that he did, in fact, write a song called It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. And that’s what another feckless jackass had in mind when he put Bobby Dylan’s name alongside Bobby Womack’s. It was in his mind, so he made an assumption.

But, of course, he didn’t know that Harlan Howard had also written a song called It’s All Over. Poor Harlan doesn’t get a look in. Not on his own song; nor on one he didn’t write.

This is how the record industry lets itself down. No attention to detail.

Some years back Virgin released an album called John Lennon’s Jukebox. John used to have a portable jukebox on which he carried 40 singles that had had some influence on him.

At least four of the songs on the album were credited to John Lennon as writer. How lazy do you have to be? You’re working on a project about the influence these songs had on someone. And then you credit that person with writing the songs that influenced him.

Two of these were classic Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream and Do You Believe In Magic, written by John Sebastian. How come you’re filling in a database that determines where the money goes, and you don’t even know that John Sebastian wrote Daydream? Or at least, that John Lennon didn’t write it?

I write as a victim of the same kind of laziness, but from a different angle.

There are two versions of Car 67, the UK hit and the American version.

On Radio 2’s Pick Of The Pops a few years ago, in the chart rundown for the week when I was in the top 10, they played the American version. The following week’s Feedback on Radio 4 devoted seven minutes to this catastrophic event. (I thought it was quite funny. But I also thought ‘Get a sense of perspective!’)

The next week – that’s right, two weeks after the original broadcast – Feedback devoted another eight minutes. So across just under an hour of broadcast time on the most important consumer show on radio, I had been given 15 minutes of time for outraged fans to vent their spleen.

Some while later, I was given a private glimpse at the database the BBC uses for its music radio. And there it still was, Car 67 (US version). And there it still is eight years later.

All anyone has to do is listen to the competing versions, and delete the wrong ones. But that would require a revolution of attention to detail and pro-action that seems beyond the wit of the lazy jackasses we trust with our precious work.

Net result for me? The record rarely gets played any more because no-one trusts to get the version right. That’s a couple of curries a year I can no longer afford.

When I talked to Phil Swern, producer of Pick Of The Pops, he was more outraged at the level of complaint he had received than embarrassed by the mistake.

“I could have understood it if it had been a Cliff Richard record,” he said. To me. On the phone. “But Driver 67?”

I’m on the phone, Phil. You’re talking to me. I am that Driver….

Anyway, it’s not Phil’s fault. A man more dedicated to exposing the obscure and forgotten would be hard to find. He’s made a 30-year career out of it.

But next time you hear some solid gold artist complaining about royalties and copyright and piracy and streaming, try not to get all up in his face and “Oh you greedy bastard, haven’t you had enough money yet”.

Because what’s happening to the solid gold greedy bastard is also happening to me and Harlan Howard. And, really, aren’t we allowed just a couple of curries a year out of our meagre contributions to popular music?

Meanwhile, for a quick giggle, have a look bottom, centre for the writing credit on this.

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rollingstones/itsallovernow.html

And if you want to hear Eric Clapton playing Classical Gas, well, you never will. But you’d never know.

 

John Lennon not a genius. Ooh-er missus! But that’s not what I’m saying.

The biggest problem Paul McCartney has with his career is that he lived.

The comparisons with John Lennon are so highly coloured by Lennon’s early death that McCartney is mocked just for surviving.

Here’s the accepted wisdom: Lennon was the soul of The Beatles; the tough rocker; the genius with words; the psychedelic heart of the more experimental days.

Now here’s the truth: Paul McCartney wrote, undoubtedly, some of the greatest songs of the 20th century.

Alongside his more sentimental songs, he wrote songs that made your parents sweat – Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, Helter Skelter.

And it was McCartney who was ‘underground’, who stayed in London and mixed with the cultural avant garde while the other three Beatles retired to their Surrey mansions.

Sgt Pepper was entirely his vision.

He was also the greatest rock ‘n’ roll singer Britain ever produced. Listen to his version of Long Tall Sally, or I’m Down, the b-side of Help.

On the other hand, if you think John Lennon was incapable of sentimental pap, you clearly haven’t registered that he wrote Goodnight, specifically for Ringo to sing. It has to be the single most saccharine song the Beatles ever recorded, with the possible exception of ‘Til There Was You, which they didn’t write, so I’m not counting it.

For every Lennon rocker, I’ll give you a Macca roller. For every Lennon gem, I’ll give you a McCartney diamond. For every genuine Lennon-McCartney classic, I’ll just give thanks.

This whole ‘Lennon the genius’ vs ‘McCartney the crass’ argument is such arrant bollocks. When you say ‘crass’ or ‘sentimental’ or simply ‘rubbish’ are we talking about the same man who wrote Penny Lane, Yesterday, Fool On The Hill, Blackbird, Hey Jude, Let It Be, I’ve Got A Feeling, We Can Work It Out, Drive My Car, Get Back, Here There & Everywhere?

It’s often forgotten that McCartney, having been in the biggest band the world has ever known, followed it up by forming – erm – the biggest band in the world. Again.

Wings were HUGE. For a generation born too late, Wings IS Paul McCartney.

You might say, well John never had the chance. But he did. By the time John was murdered, Wings had been on the road for nearly 10 years.

John Lennon made, for me, two stupendous albums – Plastic Ono Band and Imagine. Which is not to forget the wonderful Rock’n’Roll – an album beset by Phil Spector’s increasing paranoia and John’s legal problems over Come Together. (His early mantra, ‘If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best’, came back to haunt him).

But it was an album of covers, John’s last album until Double Fantasy in 1980. So it seemed, at the time, a last lazy throw of the dice by an artist who had run out of steam.

And it’s forgotten, at this late stage, that Double Fantasy was seen on release as corny, sentimental and just not a fitting comeback for the onetime Picasso of Pop. The first single, Starting Over, struggled to number 8 in the UK top 10. A week later it had dropped down to 21. In America it peaked at number six.

And then John was shot, and all critical and commercial bets were off.

Now Starting Over was a tragic swansong for a cultural hero, and the album – even Yoko’s bits – was seen in hindsight as a post-modern expression of domestic bliss and parental devotion. And history was rewritten in the blink of a bullet.

So let’s remember some other incongruities: There was a brief period post-Beatles when Ringo Starr had the most successful solo career. What! Really?

Yes.

And George Harrison did more, all at once, with All Things Must Pass than the other three combined. He also had the first post-Beatles number one with My Sweet Lord.

None of which, of course, addresses the question of quality. McCartney had the first number one album (in America) post-Beatles with McCartney. Now there’s an underrated piece of work. Maybe I’m Amazed, Every Night, Man We Was Lonely. The final track, Kreen Akrore, is the sound of a man still stretching himself, experimenting, seeing where things will go rather than pushing them. It’s not entirely successful, but that’s not the point.

The follow up, Ram, is still an incredible piece of work. Without even listening carefully, you’ll hear The Beach Boys, rock’n’roll, The Beatles (showing how much McCartney shaped the later sound of the Fabs) and, for those looking for a darker side, a little biting satire. Too Many People is a message to John which is a lot subtler than John’s own How Do You Sleep – where he tells Paul, “The only thing you done was Yesterday”.

Nearly 30 years later, well into phase two of his solo career (post-Wings) he was beset by poor reviews and the burgeoning view that he was nothing without Lennon. Mull Of Kintyre and The Frog Song became emblematic of a man derided as having his eye only on the crass and commercial.

Well, I’ll tell you something about The Frog Song. It’s a very sophisticated piece of work. My guess is that most average musicians couldn’t even pick out the chord sequences. I’m not a fan of the record, but I’m an admirer of the talent it required.

And then, in the middle of this miasma, and nearly 30 years after the Beatles split, he released Flaming Pie – an album my youngest daughter picked up on, unbidden by me, and became in her own right a bona fide Macca fan. She’s 23 this year.

It’s too much to ask that everyone take the time to re-evaluate McCartney’s later career. But I’m telling you now: when he dies, you’ll wish you’d listened to Flaming Pie. Even now, Little Willow – written for Ringo Starr’s first wife, who died of cancer – will make you cry.

And you’ll also realise you should have listened to bits of Chaos & Creation In the Backyard, and to most of Memory Almost Full. Even New, his most recent solo album (2013), has songs to warm the heart of Beatles fans. But it also contains tracks any writer would be proud to have created.

So, can we buck the trend, and appreciate McCartney’s continuing ability while he’s still alive?

Or do we have to wait till he kicks it?

Insomnia In Song. So Wrong It Keeps Me Awake At Night.

It’s five o’ clock in the morning. Birds are singing. Somewhere far away I can hear church bells ringing.

These are things of beauty to someone else, I know. But in my sleepless brain, they’re just another form of cruelty.

Or, as John Lennon put it: ‘I can’t sleep. I can’t stop my brain. It’s been three weeks. I’m going insane.’ (I’m So Tired).

I don’t expect you to take a sudden interest in insomnia, but it’s interesting that if you Google “songs about insomnia” most people’s choices are songs about sleeping. Ruminating on ignorance like this keeps me awake at night.

The worst thing about insomnia is that it stops you from sleeping. The best thing about insomnia is that it stops you from sleeping.

On the one hand, it can literally be painful. Unchecked, it will lead to serious mental illness.

But on the other hand – all those extra hours in the day to get more things done!

My insomnia started when I was eight years old. I know why it started, and I’m not going to tell you about that.

But I had just learned to read, which was a nice coincidence. Inability to sleep meant I had extra hours to devour books under the bedcovers, illuminated by a night light I can still picture. I can even summon up the way the light felt in my hand, and the little button that clicked it off if I heard the wicked stepfather approaching.

When I went to London aged 17, I took to leaving the house at one in the morning, taking the night bus from Brixton to Waterloo, and walking along the Thames, calmed by its relentless movement.

A year later, I was in the thick of the music industry whose night-owl habits suited me fine. But a year after that, I was married with a child on the way (we didn’t hang around in the 60s, y’know).

Through my 20s and 30s, insomnia was my friend. I would do a day’s work, leaving the house around nine in the morning, getting home anywhere between 8pm to 2am the following morning.

If I got home early, I’d see my kids, have some dinner and then go straight into my ‘studio’ (the front room of my house, furnished with a piano, a tape recorder and a microphone).

When everyone else was tucked up in bed, that’s when I would write my songs and make my demos. God knows what the neighbours made of these strange goings on floating through the window at all hours.

ATT88981

Later, when the music career had gone, a combination of a manic episode and insomnia proved to be seismic. I could do anything I put my mind to – more energy and more time than the next guy.

And then, aged 42, the insomnia left me. Just like that.

I’d go to bed. I’d go to sleep.

That was novel.

In some ways, I felt bereft. How was I going to cope without those extra hours? Eventually, though, it just felt normal to be asleep by one am, or even before, and get six or seven hours.

About ten years later, it came back with a vengeance, all the crueller for having allowed me a taste of ‘normality’. If insomnia and a manic episode could be seismic, insomnia and depression combined to be, well, even more fucking depressing.

Having previously felt like a friend, a co-conspirator in getting things done and achieving dreams, now it felt – still feels – like an enemy.

And you get unwanted – and unwarranted – advice.

“Just get into bed, lie down and shut your eyes. You’ll soon go to sleep”.

No I bloody won’t!!!!!!

Al Pacino portrays it brilliantly as a detective in 2002’s Insomnia, with Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. He’s not helped by being up in Alaska, during a season of perpetual daylight. Watch the scene where he tries to black-out his room. It’s sheer torture.

Tonight, if I don’t take at least half a sleeping pill, I’ll still be awake at six or seven tomorrow morning. It’s a given. Which brings me back to Googling ‘songs about insomnia’.

The Beatles I’m Only Sleeping features a lot. But that’s a song about sleeping and dreaming, and not wanting to be woken from a pleasant experience.

Others that turn up – Asleep by The Smiths, Sweet Dreams (Patsy Cline), California Dreaming (The Mamas & The Papas) – show that insomnia is woefully misunderstood.

In penance, I think the people who chose those songs should all be forced to listen to Insomnia by Megadeth, turned up to 11, until they beg for mercy.

But I’ll let you off lightly by directing you to my own song on the subject, One AM.

It’s more country rock than death metal, and it has no references to ‘the guilty past I’ve buried’ or ‘my swollen bloodshot eyes’  (© Megadeth, 1999).

But if you listen closely, you’ll hear that the first lines of this post are the third verse of the song. And the backing vocals were arranged by the very wonderful John Howard, the first time we’ve worked on something together since 1975.

Sleep well tonight.

Through The Door At Apple Corps (Episode 2)

Paul McCartney. Height of The Beatles. In your village, Sunday afternoon. Ooh, got a new song. Let’s all go down the pub. Hey Jude…..

This is my favourite Beatles story, which I first heard from my friend Alan Smith.

Alan was a Liverpool journalist who journeyed south in the wake of The Beatles. He went on to become an iconic editor of NME. He took it from a 16-page weekly, struggling to sell 50,000 copies to a veritable door-stopper that topped out at 272,000 copies a week. He achieved this stunning turnaround in 18 months. He also hired Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons.

Anyway, he told me the story about the day in 1968 he had been driven up to Yorkshire with Paul McCartney and Derek Taylor. Derek is often referred to as The Beatles’ publicist, but he was so much more than that. We’ll get to Derek.

Up in Yorkshire, McCartney was producing Thingumybob by the Black Dyke Mills Band.

On the way back down the A1 (it might have been the M1, but this isn’t a Monty Python sketch) Paul asked for the road map. They needed a break, maybe some food. He looked through the names of nearby towns and villages. Decided he really liked the sound of Harrold, in Bedfordshire.

They went to Harrold.

According to Alan Smith (and I later read in Derek’s book, As Time Goes By) Paul strolled through the village, chatting to the locals who were doing their weekend chores – clipping hedges, mowing lawns, washing cars.

They all ended up down the pub, and McCartney sang – for the first time to an audience – Hey Jude. What would you give to have been in the Oakley Arms, Harrold, on June 30, 1968? To know that you were the first people in the world to sing along at the end – “Na na na nana na na”?

Alan’s first wife, Mavis, worked at Apple. She was a tiny, beautiful girl who could be quite fierce, but also vulnerable. She it was who named Hot Chocolate, whose first recordings were released on Apple.

There’s Errol Brown and his chums, in a crowded office. Someone says, “Name this band.”

Erm….

“Hot Chocolate!” says the secretary on the middle desk.

Done. And a 40-year career is launched.

And at the centre of this chaos was Derek Taylor. His office at 3 Savile Row was always what used to be called a ‘scene’.

But Derek appeared calm, above it all, languidly, wittily having his way with the world.

One time a bunch of us were just passing time. Derek was having fun with one of the writers from Disc magazine who had described Apple’s offices, in print, as “swish”.

“Well,” says Derek, “you do know what ‘swish’ means in America?” Always sardonic. “As long as you think you know what you’re doing……”

And before he can finish the thought, in walks George Harrison, trailed by a ragged band of colourful folk.

John and Paul were smaller than their publicity (I wrote about that here). George was even shorter. But the charisma emanated from him like testosterone from a prize fighter. By his side, Phil Spector seemed insignificant.

“Derek, I don’t know if you’ve met Phil Spector?”

So much musical history in that one sentence. Here was Phil Spector, in town at Allen Klein’s behest (if you believe Allen Klein) or George’s and John Lennon’s (if you believe Wikipedia) to rescue the Get Back tapes from a locked cupboard and turn them into the album that became Let It Be.

Later, Spector would produce George’s stunning solo debut, All Things Must Pass, and then John Lennon’s first two solo albums. Although Ringo remembers it rather differently, commenting that he barely witnessed any input from ‘Phil’ on the Lennon sessions. No such doubts with All Things. Spector was all over it.

So, this was the world that whirled around Derek Taylor. A difficult man to describe. Urbane, witty, charming – but none of that will get you close to the experience of his use of the English language. Almost poetry on the hoof.

There are rare instances of him caught on YouTube. But nothing gives you the flavour of a man who could make even a mundane statement sound like Edward Lear thinking out loud.

Once, confronted with a transatlantic telephone call from a radio station ‘checking that Paul was dead’, Derek pointed out that “the best possible proof of Paul McCartney still being alive is that he is, in fact, still alive.”

And no, he didn’t believe Paul talking to the station in America would prove anything. People would just say it wasn’t Paul.

“The only proof we need that Paul is alive is that he is. You don’t have to produce yourself, or appear on television, or speak. You just have to be alive.”

With this kind of directness of tone, but also a beautiful lyricism, Derek wrote a memoir, As Time Goes By, which is about more than his time with the Beatles. This is a guy who came down from Liverpool – where he was an experienced and established journalist, eight or so years older than John and Paul – and ended up working not only with The Beatles, but in America with the Byrds, The Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson and, one of his own favourite moments, The Monterey Pop Festival of 1967.

From the age of about 30, his entire life was like that day in Harrold in 1968. If you like this story, there are plenty more like it in It Was 20 Years Ago Today and As Time Goes By, both available from Amazon. Put them on your Christmas list. They’re not cheap, but well within stocking filler range.

Meanwhile, all this talk of the 60s made me nostalgic, so I made this cover version of one of my favourite pre-Beatles songs. It’s made with loops of electronic chill music. But my guitar and vocals drag it back from contemporary to slightly cheesy. Hope you find it an interesting version.

 

The Illuminati. Oh Lord, Really? Conspiracy theories are so tiring!

Paul McCartney, as we all know, was killed when he crashed his Aston Martin on his way home from Abbey Road studios late one night in 1966. A very sad night.

His place in the Beatles was taken by William Campbell, a lookalike-soundalike about whom nothing much is known except that he is the singer of every ‘McCartney’ track on every Beatles single and album post-Revolver. Who wrote those songs is not really discussed.

Buddy Holly, on the other hand, didn’t die when his plane crashed in 1957. He was just horribly disfigured and didn’t want his public to see him. So he hid out in a secure house in a remote part of America. He’s never been seen in public since.

Elvis Presley, of course, has often been seen in public since his death was announced in 1977 – in supermarkets and by sightseers around his Memphis home. Well, where else would he be? A real home-boy, our El.

I mention all this because of an increasing belief among young people that the music industry is controlled by the Illuminati.

I say young people. Actually, I know some of their parents also believe this and won’t hear a word of argument. It’s all over the internet, you see. There are videos on YouTube, some of them even showing artists and executives explicitly admitting that, yes, it’s true.

Except, of course, no-one is explicitly saying anything of the sort.

And it’s not true.

I prefer the older conspiracies myself. Paul is Dead is a stonker.

That William Campbell. What a bloody nerve! It was him broke up the Beatles you know. Can you believe the sheer brass neck of the man?

At one point, on the Let It Be sessions, he even tells George Harrison not to play on one of the songs. It’s there, on film! George says to William, “Well, if you don’t want me to play, I won’t play”. And Campbell says, “I seem to have a way of upsetting you”.

Bloody right. Coming in here with your airs and graces, thinking you actually are Paul McCartney.

What an ungrateful sod. He gets the opportunity of a lifetime to step into the shoes of a Pop God. All he has to do is play his part and become stinking rich.g

Instead, he sows discontent, refuses to acknowledge Allen Klein as manager, tears Apple Corps apart and then announces he’s leaving the group. “I’m leaving the group,” he told the Daily Mirror in 1970.

Not long after, he formed a new group, this fake McCartney, and bugger me, Wings became the biggest band in the world!

Lennon, Harrison and Starr must have looked on in wonder and asked themselves: “How the fuck did that happen?”

In the meantime Campbell/McCartney writes a song (Too Many People on the Ram album) in which he tears John Lennon off a strip, saying, “You took your lucky break and broke it in two. Now what can be done for you?“.

That’s just cold, isn’t it? Not to mention a pot, a kettle, and the colour black.

John struck back. In How Do You Sleep? (on the Imagine album) he tells William Campbell: “The only thing you did was Yesterday“.

See what he did there? He took Campbell back to the actual Paul and let him know that he, Campbell, couldn’t write a song as good as anything by Paul.

Anyway, in the immortal words of Jimi Hendrix, “Enough of this rubbish”.

Professor Diane Purkiss, Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, had this to say last week, on the subject of conspiracy theories: “All conspiracy theories are dangerous.”

Her thesis is that the more you feel that they are not listening to you, the more you feel that they are keeping the truth from you. And that’s where conspiracy theories are born. But they’re more dangerous than we might imagine.

“Conspiracy theories excused most of the genocide that took place last century – the idea” (for instance) “that the Jews are conspiring against everybody else.

“Stalin’s purges were part of a conspiracy theory. You take action against the people who are supposedly conspiring against you. If we’re lucky, we end up with a Mark Chapman. If we’re unlucky we end up with a Hitler or a Stalin.

“Conspiracy theories are one of the greatest menaces to democracy. Where it gets dangerous is when you decide that people are deliberately keeping the truth from you, and to resolve that, you have to kill them.”

So come on kids. Listen up. True dat, what the Prof say. Ya feel me?

The Illuminati of legend has been around since 1776. Having, according to rumour, fomented the French Revolution, the Wall Street Crash and the Second World War, wtf do you think they’d be doing messing around with pop music?

The irony is that the original Bavarian Illuminati – which was real – had the aim of opposing superstition and prejudice. They also wanted an end to religious influence and abuses of state power. They even – in 1776 – spoke up for gender equality, starting with the education of women.

So, again: wtf, kids!?

Go in peace and listen to your music, free of superstition and prejudice. And if you want some real fun, I heartily, absolutely and totally recommend you read the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

I can think of at least three current conspiracy theories that are a direct result of feeble-minded people actually believing that Shea and Wilson’s satire was, in fact, contemporary history.

And while you’re waiting for that corporate behemoth Amazon – surely bent on global domination of a much more sinister kind – to deliver your books, have a listen to Paul Is Dead on the BBC iPlayer. It’s all sorts of fun, and all sorts of interesting.

And, obviously, it’s also part of a conspiracy to convince us there is no conspiracy. If you meditate on that too long, your head will explode.

So here’s a little fact to calm you and ground you. Paul McCartney’s house in St John’s Wood was less than 10 minutes walk from Abbey Road Studios. Who in their right mind would drive to the studio, smoke pot and drop acid all day and then drive home…….oh……….I see what you’re saying, man.

Yeah. Heavy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04l0tvb

Through the door at Apple Corps (Episode 1)

As far as I recall, The Beatles are the only artists ever to have an album in the singles chart.

With The Beatles, their second album, sold so many copies so fast it outsold all but the top ten singles that week, and reached number 11 in the singles top 20. The chart company had to change the rules after that.

This was the era when The Beatles were Kings. This was the era when Capitol Records in America released the double album The Beatles (aka The White Album) at a price almost three times the cost of a single album, and still they sold four million copies in four weeks.

This was also the time, believe it or not, when I could walk in and out of Apple Records at will.

Apple was a strange and wonderful place, constantly buzzing, but seemingly with very little purpose. There is an old music industry word, ‘ligger’, which denotes those who crash gigs and record company parties, but who have no purpose in being there. Apple seemed to be largely staffed by liggers, with some notable exceptions.

I remember being there only once on official business, to interview Allen Klein who had recently taken over management of The Beatles.

Also in the room was Peter Brown, who ran the daily management of Apple. Peter was there to tell me about a company restructure. My job was to listen, ask questions and file a feature back at Music Week.

Unfortunately, Allen Klein was an inveterate gossip, and I was a willing partner.

I would have got to the point eventually. Copy was, after all, expected back at Music Week. But I didn’t get to the point quickly enough for Peter Brown, who finally lost patience.

“I thought you were here to talk about our restructure,” he said.

“Oh come on,” said Klein, “the guy can’t help gossiping! We’ll get to that.”

That was it for Peter. He shuffled his papers together and left the room with his assistant. Which is a shame, because he was (and is) a good guy, and – contrary to Klein – was looking after The Beatles’ best interests.

(To make up for it, all these years later, I’ll point you at his brilliant book, The Love You Make. Despite being written with obvious affection, it doesn’t shirk stuff that still has the ability to shock, even 40 years later.)

So now, left alone, Klein and I gossiped away. Although he was a bit of a crook, and definitely less than straightforward in some of his dealings, he could go back to the late 50s with his rock ‘n’ roll stories. He had also managed Sam Cook. And, to his credit, he had found ££millions of unpaid royalties for the Fabs. He was currently in good favour.

Plus, though I wouldn’t call him charming, he was good company, and a top of the range gossip. This is the bit of him that attracted John Lennon in the first place.

After Peter Brown walked out, and as Klein and I continued to talk, the door opened behind me.

I didn’t look round, but I noticed Klein tip his chin and raise his eyebrows. Whoever this newcomer was, he or she was welcome, but happy to sit out of my line of sight.

Klein was telling me about a cupboard full of unreleased tapes he’d found. I thought I was about to hear confirmation of the great unreleased Beatles album (Hot As Sun; nothing but a rumour, later a bootleg).

In fact they were the tapes for what became the Let It Be album. The Beatles were so unhappy with them, they were going to leave them to rot.

A few minutes after the newcomer had arrived I heard – from behind – the familiar voice of Ringo Starr chip in. His tone conveyed annoyance.

I was getting a telling off from a Beatle!

Peter Brown had obviously asked him to come in and get me back on track. Ringo was making very pointed remarks about what my editor would be expecting from me, as opposed to the direction the conversation was taking.

Don’t ask me how it happened, but instead of falling into line and doing my job (!), I carried on as if nothing had happened. Before I knew it, I had Ringo chatting too. One of the most interesting things to emerge was that he had taken charge of all movie footage collected during The Beatles’ career. He was working, he told me, to put together a history of the band that would include untold amounts of unseen footage.

This conversation was taking place in 1969. The Beatles Anthology was finally aired in 1995. So that little task only took him 26 years.

At least I filed my copy the next day; it appeared in Music Week the following week and was forgotten within days. Events at Apple moved so quickly it was hard to keep up.

I remember vividly the day Alistair Taylor, one of Brian Epstein’s Liverpool posse, turned up at Music Week’s offices. He stood in front of my desk and said: “They’ve sacked me.” I was 20. I didn’t have a clue what to say to him.

He had come down to London with The Beatles and now ‘they’ had sacked him. He looked more forlorn than any man I had ever seen.

Karma, though, was almost instant. Klein himself was sacked within the year.

All this Apple Talk reminds me of a recording I made years ago of an iconic Beatles track. I hope my cover of the old soul shouter Twist & Shout makes you smile.

My version is voyeuristic, the lead vocal almost heavy breathing.

It’s an old demo, made – apart from my vocals – exclusively with early synthesisers, two of them now legendary: a Roland SH101 for the bass; a TR606 for the drums; and a Crumar Stratus for the ‘brass’ and ‘organ’. So forgive the quality, but enjoy the humour. If it makes you laugh, that’s fine by me. It’s meant to be amusing.

 

 

 

 

Simon Cowell and the 1984 factor

Does anyone believe any more that X Factor isn’t scripted, contrived and edited to produce all those moments of ‘high drama’ and ’emotion’?

I stopped watching the show somewhere during series three, after a truly wonderful girl singer didn’t make it through to bootcamp. She had no backstory, wasn’t living in poverty and wasn’t doing it ‘for my nan’. She was just a beautiful girl with a thrilling voice, and that was clearly no longer enough. So I stepped away and never went back.

This week someone posted a link on my Facebook to one of those X Factor moments – let’s call it The Subo Effect – where we are supposed to feel we’re looking at a no hoper, and Simon Cowell gets tetchy.

The clip shows three nice looking boys, well presented, articulate, all with proper jobs. Which is astonishing since they’ve apparently grown up in the South Central area of LA, drug- and gang-ridden as it is.

It’s clear from the time they run on stage that the judges have been told they are perfect X Factor fodder. So as these three good-looking, sharply dressed and dignified brothers bounce on, Cowell scowls, and the other judges look distinctly uncomfortable – you know they want to smile, but they’ve been told to look sceptical.

During the ‘interview’, Cowell tells them to ‘stop weaving around; it’s like being on a boat; you’re making me feel sick”.

To add insult to injury, after they announce they’re going to sing Valerie, Cowell says: “I hate this song”, and then sits there looking flat-lipped as only he can. The camera lingers on the boys’ faces as they look like rabbits in headlights, because now they’re not so sure.

And then, off they go. Of course, the audience goes wild. Of course the judges faces light up. Of course, Simon Cowell begins to look impressed. It’s absolutely going according to script.

Except, that’s the problem. It’s so obviously, cynically, scripted.

When Paul Potts emerged on the first Britain’s Got Talent, it was a genuinely thrilling moment, that this podgy, shy and self-effacing man had such a surprising voice, and some actual talent to go with it.

Ditto Susan Boyle (although in her case, I wasn’t personally moved; I hate modern musicals, and most of the songs they contain, and she’s no musician’s idea of a great singer).

But of course, once you’ve had a couple of moments like that, you want more of them. So the research assistants have to go looking for unlikely chill-makers, and then the judges are tipped off, and now we’re on a production line of predictable and no longer so thrilling moments.

And the problem with AKNU, these three brothers, is they’re ok, but the singing’s not great, the dancing is sharp but limited and they just don’t have the, erm, X factor.

So the judges getting all misty-eyed and the audience going crazy all seems staged. Apparently, AKNU didn’t make it to boot camp (this was X Factor USA, last winter) and maybe we’ll never hear from them again, which wouldn’t be a tragedy.

But it set me wondering, and not for the first time, how pop music would have panned out if Simon Cowell had turned up in 1961 instead of 2001.

In 1961, pop was dominated by the likes of Cliff Richard, post-army Elvis, and blue-eyed white boys with names like Bobby (Darin, Vinton, Rydell, Vee) and girls who had the word ‘Little’ before their name (Eva, Peggy). In other words, totally unthreatening.

When John Lennon was told Elvis Presley had died, he said, “Elvis died when he joined the army” (in 1958).

Until then, Elvis had cut a genuinely threatening figure, “a national symbol of rebellion and untamed sexuality; a symbol of a new and dangerous way of being young”, in the words of American journalist David Seaton.

And his music seemed other-worldly in an age of Bing and Frank and Tony, David Whitfield, Donald Peers and Guy Mitchell.

But as the 50s turned into the 60s, and Elvis came out of the army and went off the boil, these older crooners were somewhat displaced by younger, prettier versions of themselves: Fabian, Bobby Vinton, Frankie Avalon – still crooners, but crooners your sister would swoon over, as opposed to your mom and your nan.

So imagine Simon Cowell stepping into that arena and playing to the gallery as he does now. How he would have loved Craig Douglas and Susan Maughan. He would have absolutely swooned over Kathy Kirby. Frank Ifield would have been told to “cut out the yodelling; it’s so 1949. Otherwise, good voice, good-looking guy. You’ll go far”.

But The Beatles? No chance – can’t sing, can’t play, hair’s too long. The Rolling Stones? Get the fuck out of here, and take a bath on your way out. Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Cream? You’re joking, right?

Bob Dylan. Well. Imagine the scene.

“What’s that song you’re playing?”

“It’s a Woody Guthrie song.”

“Woody Guthrie – who’s he? Is he a songwriter? If he is, he should stop now and spend the rest of his life listening to Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. That’s what I call song-writing.”

It really doesn’t bear thinking about, and it makes you wonder how much energy, attention and money Cowell’s empire has sucked out of the marketplace at the expense of genuine creative talent. I’ve no animus against Cowell personally, and I genuinely admire people who build businesses and make a fortune – as long as they’re not Russian oligarchs who’ve stolen all the money in the first place.

But there’s no doubt that X Factor and Got Talent have proved George Orwell’s contention in 1984 that music can be manufactured as a soporific, to keep people amused and occupied in a way that requires no real thought, and doesn’t inspire them to rebellion.

When was the last time you heard a song that made you feel like you did the first time you heard Blowing In The Wind, or Give Peace A Chance, or War (What Is It Good For?). Or, for that matter, Paralyzed by Elvis Presley?

So, you’ll find the AKNU clip here:

http://sfglobe.com/?id=2447&src=share_fb_new_2447

But for me, the most authentic clip of the week was this – 30 seconds long, partially scripted, but rounded off in the most surprising way that had me crying with laughter. It would never have got past Simon Cowell.