Posts Tagged ‘John Lennon’

Mourning John

December 8, 2010

Thirty years ago tomorrow morning, my Mom gently knocked on my bedroom door. “I have some terrible news,” she said.

Like everyone else, I was stunned at John Lennon’s murder — stunned, then devastated. I wore my black “All You Need Is Love” t-shirt to school that day. And as events unfolded, I watched with millions of others at the vigil outside the Dakota and the images of that twisted being who robbed the world of one of its greatest musical talents.

So today I am determined to focus not on the crime or its perpetrator, but on Lennon’s music instead. I’ll dial up some of my favs — “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “A Day In The Life” and “Grow Old With Me” among them. I hope you do the same.

Getting Better, indeed

October 22, 2010

It was never a single, this little slice of Beatles pop circa 1967, and it is never listed as among their greatest achievements. But for me, “Getting Better” sums up the optimism, the unfettered joy that the Beatles represented better than almost anything else they ever did. And, as a bonus, it features the perfect shorthand version of Paul and John’s relationship.

Recorded at Abbey Road in their ground-breaking sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “Getting Better” really doesn’t break new ground musically or lyrically. It re-uses the almost mechanical, four-beats-per-measure percussion that Paul pioneered with earlier songs like “Got To Get You Into My Life” and “Penny Lane.” But in its metronome beat and soaring vocals, the song perfectly portrays that most elusive of emotions – joy.

And after Paul’s hyper-optimism (“Getting better all the t-i-i-ime”) comes John’s sardonic rejoinder: “Can’t get no worse.” A neater summation of the magic of that partnership can’t be found.

And so, apropos of nothing, I submit “Getting Better,” my personal theme song and the relentlessly perfect portion of joy.

John Lennon’s voice

October 8, 2010

As odd as it sounds, John Lennon never really liked his own voice.

He constantly pushed Abbey Road’s engineers to modify the sound of one of rock ‘n roll’s greatest instruments. Thus, the Lennon we’re most accustomed to hearing is typically double-tracked (“Eight Days A Week,” “Tell Me Why”) bathed in 50′s style echo (“A Day In The Life,” “Come Together,” “Imagine”) distorted (“I Am The Walrus”) run through a Leslie organ speaker (“Tomorrow Never Knows”) or even reversed (“Rain”).

As the story goes, he was so interested in altering the recorded sound of his voice that he once asked if his voice could be directly injected into the tape machine, bypassing the need for a microphone. Producer George Martin told him no problem, so long as a jack plug could be implanted into Lennon’s neck!

Given Lennon’s ambivalence, it is somehow ironic that to celebrate what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday tomorrow, his widow, Yoko Ono, has chosen to remix the album they had just released when he was murdered in December 1980 — Double Fantasy — to focus more attention on Lennon’s voice. (The new mix is accompanied by a remastering of the entire Lennon solo catalog done by the same team at EMI that handled the Beatles’ excellent remasters).

The goal, Ono has said, was to strip away some layers of production to better highlight that voice.

Make no mistake – Lennon had a voice without rival for its emotional power. And his versatility is matched only by his one-time partner, Paul McCartney. Both Beatles were equally effective at blistering rock and tender balladry.

The new release, “Double Fantasy Stripped Down,” demonstrates once again that versatility. And in paring back on the production, some of the songs actually gain power.

“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” one of Lennon’s most tender songs, actually sounds bigger and more expressive in the new treatment. With some of the background instruments and harmony vocals stripped out, the elements that remain — the lead guitar, the “oriental” strums and, of course, the clean, intimate lead vocal — gain prominence.

In “(Just Like) Starting Over,” with the 50′s-style slap-back echo removed, the change in vocal timbre is arresting. In that song — which he dedicates in this version to “Gene and Eddie and Elvis… and Buddy” — the echo seems so closely intertwined with the song’s style that I find I miss it.

By contrast, in “I’m Losing You,” the reduction of such vocal effects tends to bring Lennon’s voice closer to the listener, as if he’s standing in the living room in front of you.

That intimacy is most apparent in “Woman,” where layers of electric guitar and background voices are removed, leaving that vulnerable voice set against shimmering acoustic rhythm guitar and simple bass and drum parts.

Ono has been quoted as saying that the remixing process, which she did with original co-producer Jack Douglas, was painful for her. It’s easy to see why. With that voice closer, seemingly, than ever, it’s impossible not to feel a lump in the throat — especially when Lennon sings such hopeful, future-focused lyrics.

Yes, “Double Fantasy Stripped Down” gains some power from its back-to-basics style. And for many who love Lennon still, that power comes with a measure of pain — even today, thirty years after he left us.

New Lennon remasters coming, along with stripped down “Double Fantasy”

June 29, 2010

Yoko Ono has authorized the remastering of eight of John Lennon’s solo albums and has participated in a complete remix of the final album he recorded, “Double Fantasy.”

(NOTE: Find my review of the remix here and updated info here.)

Ono says the new mixes in “Double Fantasy Stripped Down” delete instrumentation and production to highlight his voice. Ono and Jack Douglas, who co-produced the original album, performed the remixes.

“Technology has advanced so much that, conversely, I wanted to use new techniques to really frame these amazing songs and John’s voice as simply as possible,” Ono says in an EMI press release I received this morning. “By stripping down some of the instrumentation the power of the songs shines through with an enhanced clarity.”

Abbey Road’s Allan Rouse, who led engineering efforts for the Beatles’ remasters, headed the remastering team.

Here’s the entire release:

London, England – June 29, 2010 – Eight of John Lennon’s classic solo albums and other standout recordings have been digitally remastered from his original mixes for a global catalogue initiative commemorating the music legend’s 70th birthday, which falls on October 9.

Overseen by Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” campaign will launch on 4 October (5 October in North America) with the worldwide release of eight remastered studio albums and several newly-compiled titles.

Double Fantasy, 1980’s GRAMMY Award winner for Album of the Year, will be presented in a newly remixed ‘Stripped Down’ version remixed and produced by Yoko Ono and Jack Douglas, co-producers of the original mix with John Lennon. The new stripped down version of the album comes in an expanded 2CD and digital edition pairing the new version with Lennon’s original mix, remastered.

The campaign’s other new collections include:

·        A hits compilation in two editions titled Power To The People: The Hits

·        A 4CD set of themed discs titled Gimme Some Truth

·        A deluxe 11CD collectors box with the remastered albums, rarities, and non-album singles, titled the John Lennon Signature Box

All of the remastered albums and collections will be available on CD and for download purchase from all major digital service providers

YOKO ONO said: “In this very special year, which would have seen my husband and life partner John reach the age of 70, I hope that this remastering / reissue programme will help bring his incredible music to a whole new audience. By remastering 121 tracks spanning his solo career, I hope also that those who are already familiar with John’s work will find renewed inspiration from his incredible gifts as a songwriter, musician and vocalist and from his power as a commentator on the human condition. His lyrics are as relevant today as they were when they were first written and I can think of no more apposite title for this campaign than those simple yet direct words ‘Gimme Some Truth’.”

The albums have been digitally remastered from Lennon’s original mixes by Yoko Ono and a team of engineers led by Allan Rouse at EMI Music’s Abbey Road Studios in London and by George Marino at Avatar Studios in New York.  All of the remastered titles will be packaged in digisleeves with replicated original album art and booklets with photos and new liner notes by noted British music journalist Paul Du Noyer. The albums to be reissued are:

·        John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)

·        Imagine (1971)

·        Some Time In New York City (1972)

·        Mind Games (1973)

·        Walls and Bridges (1974)

·        Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975)

·        Double Fantasy Stripped Down (2010) / Double Fantasy (1980)

·        Milk and Honey (1984)

YOKO ONO added:  “Double Fantasy Stripped Down really allows us to focus our attention on John’s amazing vocals. Technology has advanced so much that, conversely, I wanted to use new techniques to really frame these amazing songs and John’s voice as simply as possible. By stripping down some of the instrumentation the power of the songs shines through with an enhanced clarity. Double Fantasy Stripped Down will be complemented by the original album in the 2CD format. It was whilst working on the new version of this album that I was hit hardest emotionally, as this was the last album John released before his passing.”

Power To The People: The Hits gathers 15 of Lennon’s most popular songs, and will be available as a 15-track single-disc and digital package, and as an Experience Edition with additional content.  Both versions will be packaged in digisleeves with booklets including a new liner note essay by Du Noyer.

Gimme Some Truth, to be packaged in a slipcase with rare photos and a new liner notes essays by respected American music journalist and author, Anthony DeCurtis, presents 72 of Lennon’s solo recordings on four themed CDs:

·        ‘Roots’ – John’s rock ‘n’ roll roots and influences

·        ‘Working Class Hero’ – John’s socio-political songs

·        ‘Woman’ – John’s love songs

·         ‘Borrowed Time’ – John’s songs about life

The John Lennon Signature Box is a deluxe 11CD and digital collection of the eight remastered albums, a disc of rare and previously unreleased recordings, and an EP of Lennon’s non-album singles. The CDs will be housed in digisleeves within a deluxe box including a collectible limited edition John Lennon art print and a hardbound book featuring rare photos, artwork, collages, poetry, and new liner notes by DeCurtis.

One of the world’s most celebrated songwriters and performers of all time, John Lennon was killed at the age of 40 on December 8, 1980.  Lennon has been posthumously honoured with a Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY Award and two special BRIT Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked him in the Top 5 of the magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers Of All Time” list.

In celebration of his 70th birthday on 9 October, 2010, John Lennon’s life and music will be specially feted with a variety of commemorative releases and events around the world. Please visit www.johnlennon.com for official announcements and updates.

New Beatles track rumored once again

July 6, 2009

As true Beatles fans know, there were at least four John Lennon songs that Yoko Ono gave the three surviving Beatles in the early 1990s in connection with the Anthology project. Two of the songs — “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” — were completed by the “Threetles” and producer Jeff Lynne and released. One, “Grow Old With Me,” was apparently deemed too complete for Lennon’s three bandmates to mess with.

But there was a fourth — “Now and Then” — that has been the subject of persistent Internet rumors.

A recording of the raw, low-quality, cassette track is floating around the Internet (it’s pretty easy to find.) It’s a rambling, reflective, minor-key piano ballad that seems to be in mid-birth. Lennon was quite free in his songwriting, often taking bits of songs and moving them to other songs as he saw fit (and completely rewriting lyrics, as he did when he changed “A Child of Nature” into “Jealous Guy.”)

It’s been widely reported that Paul, George and Ringo worked on Lennon’s “Now and Then” recording, but gave up after a time. Lynne told an interviewer in 1995:

“There was one afternoon messing with it, but a lot of words weren’t there. We did a rough backing track. It was a very sweet song and I wish we could have finished it. The decision was made to do something already complete. Also because of the [limited] time frame.”

I remember another report saying that George wasn’t keen on the critical reaction to “Free and a Bird” and resisted finishing work on “Now and Then.”

Whether or not that’s true, now there are fresh rumors about the recording. This report claims that all four Beatles’ work is on the track.

Which brings us to the YouTube video above. This is the quite creative work of someone identified as “Bojon0307″, who has taken the Lennon recording and added instrumentation as well as backing vocals from some Beatles tracks to make what he or she imagines might be a new Beatles track. Well done indeed, though I don’t care for the animated Lennon “singing”the song…

Although I have mixed feelings about the “Threetles”‘ Anthology-era releases, I sort of hope that the rumors are true and that Paul and Ringo will release “Now and Then.” Wouldn’t you love to hear it?

New video: The Beatles Rock Band

June 17, 2009

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Here’s the latest video promotion for the Beatles Rock Band game. Pretty creative stuff here! Thanks to Lee Glynn of the St. Pete Times for pointing this out. Enjoy!

Finding inspiration for songwriting

June 5, 2009

The genesis of most any song is a bit of a mystery. It can start with a thought, a phrase, an image, an emotion… the possibilities are endless. Sometimes it even falls, nearly fully formed, from the cosmos, like the music to McCartney’s “Yesterday” or the entirety of Lennon’s “Across the Universe.” Such songs write themselves, as Lennon said.

But for most of the rest of us, it ain’t that easy. Adrean Try over at autiotuts has a good post that examines some of the places you can find inspiration for songwriting. Enjoy!


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