Taxman

It’s funny — I was watching Season 3 of “The Crown” on Netflix and The Beatles’ influence on me crept into what I was watching. More specifically, the line “Ah ah, Mr. Wilson — Ah, ah Mr. Heath” from The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver jumped into my head. Those two gentlemen served as England’s Prime Minsters while simultaneously annoying Beatle/songwriter George Harrison. (They were part of the storyline in the show.)

“Taxman” is a unique song in many ways. First of all, IT ROCKS!! Ironically, Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison did NOT play the solo on this one. Paul McCartney apparently contributed the James Jamerson/Motown influenced bassline and also played the scorching lead guitar solo on it. Harrison sang the lead vocal with Lennon and McCartney on backing vocals. (I had to double check, but I believe “Taxman” is the only Harrison composition to kick off an album by The Beatles. )

Lyrically, I think it’s a wry, clever song. Harrison bemoans “There’s one for you, nineteen for me” to start. He goes onto say something like this,

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet”

In addition to the great harmony, I think “Taxman” has a kind of a funky feel to it.

The alternate version on Anthology 2 has some different lyrics and omitted the line about Misters Wilson and Heath. It’s around the 1:30 mark.

I listened to some covers of this song, but none of them really did much for me. There are some bluesy takes on it a la Stevie Ray Vaughan and Pat Travers. The only cover I found very interesting was a soulful rendition by Junior Parker. There’s also one from the 80s by Rockwell.

Hopefully, I’ll find some other good covers one day, but, if not, I’ll keep listening to the original Revolver version – besides it’s one of my all-time favorite albums — possibly #1.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

p.s. “My advice for those who die, declare the pennies on your eyes.”

Liverpool & Motown

After miraculously finding a vehicle with a working cassette player in the year 2019, I grabbed some cassettes from two massive boxes I have stored in a closet, and drove off to listen. You might think these 80s styled items would have 80s styled music on them, but you’d be dead wrong. In addition to Chuck Berry and The Kinks, I found myself listening to “With The Beatles” — the Fab Four’s second album released in the U.K. — not to be confused with Capitol Records U.S. release entitled “The Beatles Second Album.” (What A & R marketing genius came up with that one?)

I tend to think of “With The Beatles” as “The Beatles’ Motown Album.” My favorite cut on it is their version of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me.”

Fantastic harmony and a tight arrangement. You can tell John Lennon was a Smokey fan listening to this one. Even the Lennon-McCartney composition, “All I’ve Got to Do” on WTB has a big Smokey Robinson/Motown influence. It’s not the greatest thing Lennon ever wrote or recorded, but it’s worth a listen. You can hear the same soulful style vocals on “Not a Second Time.”

Lennon also handles lead vocals on two other Motown tracks: The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” and Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” I wasn’t crazy about either one of these at first, but they’ve grown on me. Both songs took on new lives for me when I learned how to play them on guitar. There are some interesting live versions of Mr. Postman out there, too.

I don’t think The Beatles’ version of “Money” eclipses the original, but the guitar riff is inspiring to me. So what about the rest of the album?

It’s an interesting mix. “Don’t Bother Me” was the first George Harrison solo songwriting composition to date. It’s got a different sound (minor key for one thing), but it also has Harrison’s independent stamp on it. (Nothing else on the album sounds like this song.) Harrison also handles lead vocals on two covers: Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Devil in Her Heart” by Detroit-area girl group The Donays.

A friend of mine thinks their version of “Beethoven” actually eclipses Chuck Berry’s original recording. While that’s close to blasphemy, Harrison’s guitar does sound pretty great. What about McCartney’s contributions to the record? His Little Richard-inspired whoops can be heard through out it, but the one song most familiar to casual music fans is McCartney’s “All My Loving.” If nothing else, McCartney delivers on this one. It also features a country-western guitar solo from Harrison. There are other songs on WTB including a Ringo vocal, a ballad from “The Music Man”, an interesting “yeah-yeah” song called “It Won’t Be Long” and a would-be single entitled “Hold Me Tight.”

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

John Lennon’s Dark Genius

OK, that title may be slightly over the top. Basically, I want to explore a couple of John Lennon compositions and go from there. The first one is the well-known Beatles hit “Nowhere Man”. It was released as a single in 1965 and appeared on the album Rubber Soul. (I once read an album review which described the album’s sound as “wood and smoke”. I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t.) Nevertheless, it’s one of many great songs written by Lennon and recorded by The Beatles. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any demo or solo version of this one. The brilliant harmony may take some of the edge off the song’s overall vibe of desperation.

The story goes Lennon had been consciously trying to write something for hours on end and then just gave up — he felt “like a Nowhere Man”. This is one song I’d love to have heard him record again. (Paul McCartney experimented with a few MACCA compositions on “Give My Regards to Broad Street” for example. ) There are a couple of covers of “Nowhere Man” which are worth mentioning. The first one appeared on the all Beatles cover/soundtrack to “I Am Sam” (starring Sean Penn) and was recorded by Paul Westerberg (The Replacements).

You could definitely call it a more melancholy interpretation of the original, but I feel it does the song justice. If you hear “Nowhere Man” as a country song, you’re not the only one. Randy Travis recorded this version for an album called “Come Together: America Salutes The Beatles”.



I didn’t grow up on country music, but Randy Travis was a well-known singer/musician so it’s interesting to hear his take on it. He’s had his share of trouble with the law so it may be an appropriate song for him. Despite the desperation in the lyrics, the song does mention that the world is at the Nowhere Man’s command and that somebody else will lend him a hand.

Another perhaps lesser known song in the same vein is “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”, which was on 1964’s Beatles For Sale. It’s another one of Lennon’s dark takes on his state of mind and the world around him. He basically admits he’s pissed off at this woman, doesn’t want to be at this party, but he still loves her.

Again, the musical arrangement is very country, especially the guitar solo. I think the brilliance or genius of both these songs is Lennon’s willingness to admit and honestly share his raw emotions. (No I’m not into chick flicks.) It’s one thing to have those feelings and even admit them, but it’s an altogether different thing to be able to write about them and relate them to someone else. At the times when you feel the most desperate, does it give you comfort to know someone feels the same way? Think of how many parties he must have attended during The Beatles. Sure, lots of them were probably a blast, but this song expresses that feeling of being at one and just being pissed off at the situation, if not the world.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Covers of Paul McCartney solo songs

I’m biased because I’m a big Beatles fan, but Paul McCartney wrote A LOT of good, if not great, songs.   Not all of those were with The Beatles.  I already wrote about my favorite songs Sir Paul covered as a a solo artist.  This blog is the opposite — solo McCartney/Wings songs recorded by other musicians.

Prior to this blog, I hadn’t heard this one, but I did a little digging and found this version of “Listen to What the Man Said” by Freedy Johnston.  I can remember hearing the original  version on the jukebox as a kid.  Definitely in the “Pop” category.  In my mind, Freedy’s version works just as well on electric guitar.

Freedy also has a cover of “Let ‘Em In” on the same album.  Go, Freedy! I wouldn’t put either of those songs as my favorite McCartney compositions, but “Every Night” (originally released on the album McCartney) is up there. McCartney re-recorded the song for his Unplugged: The Official Bootleg release via MTV.   That’s probably my favorite version, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a true to the original version by none other than Johnny Rivers.

Rivers has recorded TONS of covers — perhaps, most notably Chuck Berry’s “Memphis”. Give the guy some credit.   His version doesn’t eclipse McCartney’s in any way, but he lets this great song carry itself.  (If you want to hear a more R & B different take on this one, you can check out versions by The Fifth Dimension or Phoebe Snow.)  Along the same lines, one of my other favorite Solo Paul songs is “Bluebird.”   It’s got an airy/jazzy feel. The first time I heard it, I thought, “Oh this is like his answer to Blackbird – it picks up where it left off.”   A Peruvian band called We All Together released a version of it – again, true to the original.

I wanted to steer clear from “The Art of McCartney” album (all covers of McCartney’s Beatles/solo songs),   because it would be too easy, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Corrine Bailey Rae’s take on this song as well.   She’s a jazzy songbird and this song suits her.

Finally, I stumbled across my all-time favorite cover of a solo Paul McCartney song one day on YouTube.   I hadn’t heard of this band called Lake Street Dive, but they really gave the song “Let Me Roll It” a whole new life.

Powerful lead and backing vocals with a tight arrangement.   The brass instruments are an interesting touch    I hope you enjoy it half as much as I do.

Till next time, Keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

p.s. Axl Rose did NOT write “Live and Let Die”.

McCartney Covers: Unplugged & U.S.S.R.

I don’t know about you, but I have a definite appreciation for cover songs.   They’re interesting to listen to because you already know the song, but it’s been done again — sometimes in the spirit of the original recording, sometimes with a whole new vibe.

The easy part for me is talking about songs Sir Paul McCartney has covered.   Many of them appear on the hard to find 1988 album CHOBA B CCCP (The Russian Album).           I LOVE old time rock and roll from the fifties and this one is a CLASSIC! It’s one of my  all-time favorite records – period.  McCartney pays tribute to a number of musicians like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Lloyd Price and more.   He does a fantastic version of the Leiber & Stoller classic “Kansas City” — the lyrics and arrangement are different than the also-great version on 1965’s Beatles For Sale.  One of my favorite cuts on the album is Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy, but for my money, his cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” is the real gem here.   (Die hard Beatles fans know this was the song McCartney played to John Lennon on that first, fateful day they met.)

 

Most of his recordings on CCCP are true to the originals. He even breathes some new life into “Ain’t That A Shame”, which has some cool vocal echoes via studio production.   I should mention McCartney later released the album “Run Devil Run” which is a similar setup — covers of old rockers.   However, in my humble opinion, the Russian Album far outshines it.

Another great album for covers is the 1991 release Unplugged (The Official Bootleg), which originally aired on MTV Unplugged.  As you might imagine, it’s a more stripped down/acoustic sound.   His version of “Be Bop A Lula” is a good example. McCartney does  Beatles songs, but one of the most interesting tracks is the bluegrass classic “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, which was written and originally recorded by Bill Monroe.   It’s a great example of an artist you know and love, turning you onto something you might not normally hear.  McCartney was most likely inspired by the Elvis Presley version of this song because they both rock out at the end.

 

Another similar example is the Melvin Endsley tune “Singing the Blues”.   This song was originally recorded by Marty Robbins and has been covered countless times.  Again, had McCartney not recorded it, I might never have come across it.

There are plenty of other songs covered by Paul McCartney, but these are the ones I love. Naturally, other artists who covered HIS material will be discussed in the future.

Till next time, keep rocking and keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

 

 

 

The times I was wrong…about The Beatles

Around the age of 16, I distinctly remember walking down the street I grew up on with one of my best friends and having a conversation about The Beatles.   He informed me The Beatles were solely a thing of the 1960s, not the Fifties as I assumed from the early black and white photographs.   Hmmm.   That’s probably the moment my unquenchable thirst for Beatles knowledge all started.

Before too long I would become completely immersed in the music of the Fab Four.           I already owned what some call The Red Album (their Greatest Hits from 1962-1966) on a double album — actual vinyl — and then my world really opened up when The Blue Album (Greatest Hits from 1967-1970) came into my possession on a double audio cassette.   I already knew and loved songs like Nowhere Man and Norwegian Wood, but THIS…this was a WHOLE NEW WORLD!

Strawberry Fields, tangerine trees, kaleidoscope eyes, Yellow Submarines, even Old Brown Shoes…that was the kinda world for me.     Much like The Beatles and other musicians have said their world just “went TECHNICOLOR” when they heard Elvis, it was the same for me.  I was hooked.  I’d lie in my bed with the now politically incorrect “ghetto blaster” stereo on my window sill and stay awake as long as I could while listening to all of those great songs on cassette tape.  It was magic. I couldn’t get enough of the songs, the band, the artwork, all of it.

Around the same time, what also fueled my fire was the documentary “The Compleat Beatles”.  I taped it off USA Network late one night onto a blank VHS tape from cable TV.  “Liverpool, 200 miles to the northwest of London”  was the opening line. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t (and still can’t) point out London on a map to save my life.   This was the home of THE BEATLES we were talking about.  It became like scripture to me.  It chronicled their story from humble beginnings through their worldwide success –including teenage girl hysteria (it set the bar for all musicians) — and ended with their breakup. It had interviews with band members, their entourage, other musicians, people who knew them from Hamburg.   It was pretty darn complete/compleat — or so I thought.

Not long after this period of  Fab Fever, I visited another neighborhood friend of mine I’d known since age 4.   His family  had moved out of state. During the visit, he casually mentioned he’d also recorded The Compleat Beatles during a PBS pledge drive — but my mind was blown when he mentioned some scene about a girl who called Paul McCartney “The Sprout of a New Generation”.   I told him he no idea what he was talking about. This was a film I’d watched from beginning to end at least 25 times, if not more.   I had no recollection of this scene.   He said, “You know the New York chick with the dwarf-like picture of Paul.”  What in the world was he taking about??!!

He was crazy and MUST be thinking of another film — because there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY it was The Compleat Beatles.

Well, it turned out he was right.  Much to my dismay,  I learned (the hard way) that        USA Network had edited certain scenes for broadcast and there was no “picture of Paul: the Sprout of  a New Generation” scene.   The moral of the story?  You can KNOW you’re right and still be wrong? That’s one takeaway, but the real lesson is there’s always more to learn about The Beatles.  I’m grateful for that.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!