Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Beatlemania 1970 style

Forty years ago this afternoon, A Hard Day's Night was broadcast on British TV for the first time. It's not an exaggeration to say that this screening changed my life.

If my memory serves me well, the film began at just after four o'clock. I was thirteen years old, and had to beg special permission to be allowed to watch it through to the climax, as we would normally have begun our afternoon sandwiches and cakes at five pm. After six years of barely being aware of the Beatles' existence, I had recently stumbled across a copy of the With The Beatles album (full story to follow), and had started to look longingly at the racks of Beatles LPs in my local branches of Smith's and Woolworth's. That Christmas, my parents had allowed me to move their enormous radiogram - about the size of a two-seater sofa - from the sitting-room to my bedroom. But as yet I didn't own any Beatles records.

So the screening of A Hard Day's Night would have been a landmark under any circumstances - a rare opportunity to hear the Beatles' music. What I wasn't prepared for was the emotional impact of the film. As it finished, I felt tears filling my eyes, for reasons that I couldn't understand. With decades of hindsight, I can only imagine that the film conjured up the vision of a world - and a band - so magical that it was painful to watch it vanish. In 1970, I didn't realise that I would be able to access that world whenever I wanted to.

My other main memory of the film from this original screening was that I was absolutely captivated by John Lennon - by his deadpan humour, his unshakeable cool, even the perfect way in which his hair shadowed his face. It was a teenage crush, I suppose, never sexual, but utterly transforming. Before long, I had adopted his crushing sarcasm and his (1964) haircut as my own, and for the next decade, my view of the universe and his were difficult to separate. Which is why, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, his death had such an impact on me.

Those ten years between A Hard Day's Night and the gunshots at the Dakota seem, in retrospect, to have lasted about ten times longer than the three decades since. More next time about how I came to hear With The Beatles in 1970, and then slowly immersed myself in the world of the Beatles over the next few months. But for now, I'd like to raise my metaphorical hat to A Hard Day's Night, and 100 minutes that signposted the path to my future.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Living With Lennon's Death

At five minutes to eight, I stumbled out of bed and across the cold room to the radiogram. I punched the button for the radio, and fell back gratefully beneath the covers. Through the weather forecast, it was just another day. Then came the electronic pips with which the BBC marked the hour, followed by the familiar voice of Today presenter and professional contrarian Brian Redhead; and my world changed.

"The former Beatle", he began, and time began to slip free of its boundaries. "Not John", I remember thinking. "Please, not John." In the split-second between words, I was ready to condemn three other men. "John Lennon", Redhead continued, and I knew the worst.

Even in 2010, when other stations might lead their bulletins with the announcement that one celebrity has attacked another's performance on a reality TV show, Today still has standards. In 1980, there was no uncertainty. The top of the news meant death.

Redhead's statement was brutally austere. "The former Beatle John Lennon has been shot dead outside his home in New York." Already lying down, I had nowhere to fall, but when I recall the moment, I picture myself plummeting down and down, an impossible weight crushing my chest. I don't remember breathing, except to mutter a single profanity, over and over. I was 23 years old, and it was the biggest shock of my life. Thirty years later, I can't remember a moment to match it. There's been grief since then, and sadness of every kind that an adult in this tangled world can expect. But nothing else that split the universe asunder; shattered the fragile shell of life; wiped out hope. I've lived through worse things than John Lennon's murder, but nothing else has ever hit me that hard.

For almost exactly ten years, Lennon had been my touchstone, my role model, my hero. As a fan, I felt as if I owed him my life. And in a way, I did, as he had unwittingly provided me with an escape route from the deadening future that had seemed inevitable; had led me to the first months of a career in rock journalism; had lent me just enough of his swaggering arrogance to pull myself through month after difficult month. Later, I would always say that the world was a less interesting place without Lennon in it. But on December 9, 1980, a world without John Lennon seemed impossible - and impossible to bear.

Yet it had to be endured. I have grim, vivid memories of that day - calling my girlfriend across the other side of London, as if that would console me; walking like a dead man to work, where I demanded that the radio was silenced, as I could not bear to hear John's voice; phoning my mother, who advised me sensibly enough that I shouldn't get too upset, because he was only a pop star and I didn't actually know him. I can imagine saying something similar to my own children today, and getting the same response: "You don't understand". I didn't shed a tear, because I knew that if I started to cry, I would never stop.

In retrospect, my grief for a man I'd never met approached the borders of mental illness. That Christmas was insufferable: how could I enjoy anything when Lennon was gone? Every year, the anniversary would loom like a monster, poisoning the weeks before it. Gradually I regained some equilibrium. I wrote a book (The Art And Music Of John Lennon) that analysed every fragment of his output, and another (You Never Give Me Your Money) that chronicled the sadness that scarred his final decade, and the dissolution of the band that he had once loved. Yet through it all the terrible starkness of that moment remains.

Today, I can apply perspective to my obsession, and my grief; I know where they came from, and why they controlled me (and millions more). I can put Lennon's life and work into context; I can divide genius (John Lennon Plastic Ono Band) from hackwork (Double Fantasy), and appreciate both for what they are. I can even sit through a documentary about the murder, like ITV's surprisingly meticulous The Day John Lennon Died earlier this week, almost without a pang (no pun intended, May).

And yet . . . late in that film, the doctor who vainly attempted to save Lennon's life described the appalling damage that the assassin's bullets had done to his body. Just for a second, I caught myself thinking: "Maybe they'll be able to restart the heart, and patch up the arteries, and it will be OK." Thirty years on, part of my brain still refuses to accept that John Lennon is dead. Some dreams live forever, it seems, even when heroes are gone.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

No. 9 Nightmare

As a prelude to the sad but inevitable 30th anniversary of John Lennon's murder . . .

. . . a reminder that, on the UK side of the Atlantic, John actually died in the early hours of December 9, 1980, and not on December 8. So anyone in Britain and Europe who wants to mark the exact moment when they first heard the awful news should be timing their commemoration for Thursday morning, not Wednesday.

John was convinced that 9 was his lucky number - it was his birthday, and his son Sean's, and (as I revealed in You Never Give Me Your Money) he also rewrote his personal history to claim that he met Yoko Ono on November 9, 1966, rather than the actual date: November 7. So it's a sad irony that, in the land of his birth, the number 9 should also mark the moment of his death. And another irony that December 8, 1980 was exactly ten years after he gave the notorious Rolling Stone interview that signalled to the world that Beatle John was gone forever.

More tomorrow night on the anniversary, and the impact of the murder on this particular Beatles fan . . .

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Beatles Reunion - The Inside Story

The Daily Star, perhaps the most prestigious of London's newspapers, has announced details of a Beatles reunion gig:

It says that Paul and Ringo will perform next August at the Hollywood Bowl, on the forty-seven-years-and-four-days anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance at the venue. They will be accompanied on stage by digital images of John Lennon and George Harrison.

I can exclusively reveal more details of this exciting event. To complete the nostalgic authenticity of the occasion, a hologram of Beatles manager Brian Epstein will be beamed to the side of the stage while the physical/digital reunion takes place. Bob Dylan will be backstage, providing commemorative sticks of marijuana. Jane Asher has already agreed to accompany Paul McCartney to the venue, while original Beatles drummer Pete Best will be locked outside the Bowl for the duration of the concert.

To bring together the old and new line-ups of the Beatles, Paul and Ringo will welcome two special guests: Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono. Yoko is already rehearsing for her portion of the show, inside a white bag. "Mmmfmff mffmmff mmmff", she told me earlier today . The two men, two women and two digital images will perform a poignant rendition of 'Two Of Us', with orchestral arrangement conducted from his prison cell by Phil Spector.

The concert will be broadcast around the world on pay-through-the-nose-per-view TV, while Apple Corps and Apple Computers will be suing each other for the rights to issue the soundtrack album on vinyl and reel-to-reel tape.

See you there.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Beatles on iTunes: the Price is Wrong

Something for you to think about . . .

The Beatles' 'red' and 'blue' compilations have recently been reissued as 2-CD remasters. They're selling for £9.99 in stores (if you can find a store) and £7.99 on Amazon. But as album packages, they cost £17.99 EACH from iTunes. For that price, you can buy a special presentation set of both releases from Amazon.

It's the same story with the individual albums: £9.99 for physical CDs, £7.99 on Amazon, and £10.99 as downloads.

I'm not surprised about the 'red' and 'blue' sets, as they've been the focus of corporate greed ever since they first appeared on CD, at something like £30 for each (very short) 2-CD package. Last year, they were generously reduced to £23.99 each. And then the remastered editions arrive, in super-improved quality, at less than half the price. Very strange.

But this whole pricing conundrum raises the question of why anyone is buying (for example) Sgt. Pepper direct from iTunes, when they could buy the CD for three pounds less, burn it onto their computer, transfer it to their iPod, and then still have the CD to keep or give to a friend. I'm not criticising iTunes, whose take from download sales is (I am reliably informed) only around 4% of the retail price. But it does make you think about the madness of the music business (2010 model) and the power of the Beatles' name.

Random thoughts on the iTunes deal

The Wall Street Journal has posted an interesting account of the negotiations that led to the release of the Beatles' catalogue for digital download:


It confirms my theory in my last post: Apple (the Beatles' company) deliberately chose not to make the downloads available at the same time as the remastered CDs last year, to ensure that download sales didn't eat into the profits of the CDs. Score one for the Machiavelli team.

What Machiavelli and his men hadn't counted on was that the day's news cycle would be dominated not by the Beatles on iTunes, but by the announcement of a royal wedding. There must have been a certain amount of cursing in corporate boardrooms when that story emerged yesterday morning.

Not that sales have been affected too much. The last time I checked, 20 of the Top 100 most popular songs on US iTunes were by the Beatles, and 10 of the Top 100 in the UK. 'Here Comes The Sun' was the top pick in the States; 'Hey Jude' in the UK. But significantly neither of those songs has yet showed up in the Top 20. We'll get a clearer picture of what's been happening at the end of the week.

I don't subscribe to iTunes, or indeed download any music, legally or illegally; my computer probably isn't up to it. So I'm left wondering: how careful have Apple/EMI/Apple been about the dividing line between songs that are seamlessly merged together on vinyl and CD? To choose a key example: if you buy 'A Day In The Life' by itself, how does the download start? Is it a clean beginning, or does your purchase begin with a few stray notes from the previous track? Any information gratefully received . . .

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Beatles on iTunes: Cock-up or Coup?

More than seven years after the launch of the iTunes service prompted Beatles/Apple executive Neil Aspinall to sue Apple Computers, the Beatles' music is finally available this afternoon for digital download - legally. For $1.29 or 99p, you can now obtain official access to any song from the Beatles' catalogue. The service's one-price-fits-all ethos means that eight minutes plus of 'Revolution 9' costs as much as the twenty-odd seconds of 'Her Majesty'; likewise, seven minutes of 'Hey Jude' is no more expensive than the minute-long madness of 'Wild Honey Pie'.

If you prefer, you can download the individual albums for a little more than it will cost you to buy the equivalent CD, if you shop around; or you can splash out for an entire Beatles box, which includes a complete film of the group's first US concert, at the Washington Coliseum in February 1964.

The long-awaited announcement from the frequently warring parties of Apple, EMI and the Beatles marks an end - for the moment, he said cynically - to the legal battles that have scarred their three-way relations for years. It's being treated as a major international news story, but then everything involving the Beatles always is. What remains to be seen is whether the lengthy delay has merely increased anticipation and demand, or whether this announcement is simply too late.

Conventional wisdom suggests that everyone involved in this saga has lost money, in enormous quantities, by delaying the iTunes release. It's understood that, once relations between Apple (the computer company) and Apple (the Beatles' base) had been normalised, the sticking-point was an all-too-familiar financial quarrel between the Beatles and their record distributors since 1962, EMI. Typically, the two sides were unable to agree on precisely how the proceeds from the downloads should be divided between them. So instead of raking in the proceeds from downloads for the past few years, they've been splashing out cash on lawyers and legal advice instead. In theory, the optimum time to release the downloads would have been last year, when the remastered CDs reached the shops, and a brief wave of Beatlemania hypnotised the worldwide media.

But I'm wondering whether the delay might actually turn out to have suited everyone (except maybe iTunes, who are the clear losers) quite nicely. Consider this theory. Exhausted by the wait for downloads, many casual buyers may have bought one or more of the CDs instead, alongside those fans who splashed out on the lot. Now, more than a year later, many of these purchasers might be tempted to fork out again, especially with the prospect of the Washington concert as a bonus. I've already seen online posts from fans who bought both the mono and stereo box sets last year, but who can't wait to buy all the same music one more time, just to keep their collections complete.

So when the Beatles and EMI draw up their profit-and-loss accounts, they will have to balance the potential income they lost last year against the financial value of two waves of publicity hype, and possibly a double dose of purchasing power again. If my guess is right, and enough fans turn out to have bought the CDs and the downloads, then the iTunes delay may prove to be a stroke of Machiavellian genius, rather than the commercial disaster that many people (myself included) had always assumed it must be.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Album on the run

A new HMV store has opened in my local town centre, two years after the last DVD/CD shop closed. It's tiny, and is dominated by games and DVD box sets. The only CDs are in the two-for-£10 range, apart from a display of the latest chart albums.

On the top shelf of that display sits the £74.95 deluxe edition of Band On The Run, looking more like a photo album (remember those?) than anything I can imagine as a record. If they'd had the cheap edition, I'd have bought it - but it wasn't there.

So I walked down the street to W.H. Smith's, which in my youth was the only shop locally that sold either books or records. The books are still there - but the CD section has gone, apart from a selection of ten random albums on the stairs. And no Paul McCartney.

When Band On The Run was originally released, I had to buy - and return - three vinyl copies at that branch of Smith's, because they all jumped through 'Mamunia'. Eventually I wrote to EMI, who admitted there was a fault with the initial pressing, and sent me another copy - which jumped. So back it went, and almost a month had passed before a working copy finally arrived on my doorstep.

So here we are, more than 35 years later, and I still can't find a copy of Band On The Run. Yes, I can order it online, but the experience isn't the same. I wanted the joy of finding it on the shelf, turning it in my hands, and making the decision to walk towards the till. Clicking a button on my computer doesn't have the same 'romance' about it. But then 'romance' and 'the music business' parted company a long time ago.

Monday, 8 November 2010

McCartney "Scoop"? Ono

There was a mildly interesting interview with Paul McCartney in yesterday's issue of The Observer:


If I'd never read another McCartney interview, then I might have replaced "mildly" with "very". But many of his quotes could have been taken almost word-for-word from the ITV documentary about the making of Band On The Run, and other recent media appearances. Paul has never been one of those subjects who could make every individual interview sound different, unlike his former writing partner.

I was especially amused by the Observer's decision to claim a "scoop" for something that Paul described with exactly that word, but only as a joke. This was the "revelation" that Linda McCartney contributed a vocal harmony line to the 'Let It Be' single - something that has been well-known amongst Beatles fans for more than 20 years. (It was certainly mentioned in Mark Lewisohn's history of the Beatles' recording sessions in the 80s.)

Elsewhere, Paul reveals that he has just spoken to original Wings drummer Denny Seiwell; but as usual there's no mention beyond the obligatory namecheck for the only ever-present, non-McCartney member of Wings: Denny Laine. Those who didn't know that Laine had disgraced himself in Paul's eyes by selling his story to the tabloids in the 80s must have wondered why he didn't appear on the ITV show.

The real "scoop" in The Observer, if there is one, is Paul's willingness to describe Yoko Ono as his friend, when he could easily have said "business partner", "colleague" or indeed "lifelong antagonist". In the McCartney/Ono saga, a kind word from one side often sparks an insult from the other, so I await Yoko's response with interest . . .

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Man On The Run

Two live appearances on Later With Jools Holland, and an ITV interview with Dermot O'Leary, have alerted the British public to the return of Paul McCartney's Band On The Run album.

The Jools Holland shows first: McCartney and his impeccably accomplished touring band performed 'Jet' and 'Band On The Run' during the live-as-it-happens, no-place-to-hide edition of the show, and then reprised 'Jet' alongside '1985' and 'Let Me Roll It' on the pre-recorded hour-long remake, broadcast three days later. Paul also sat at Holland's piano for a pair of bland interviews. The most revelatory moment came when Holland briefly chatted with Alice Cooper, who recalled that he had once given McCartney a circular bed. "I've still got it", Paul shouted across the studio.

And the performances? The band couldn't be faulted, and neither could Paul's musicianship, as he switched from bass to guitar ('Let Me Roll It') and piano ('1985'). His vocals were dodgy in the lower register, but no worse than those of Neil Diamond, who was on the same show; and when he reached his upper register he sounded magnificent, almost unchanged since the mid-70s. His age betrayed itself most overtly when he was interviewed, as his voice sounded strangely constricted, as if he was having difficulty shaping some of his words.

Noticeably this problem wasn't evident at all in the hour-long ITV 'documentary' (or promotional vehicle) hosted by the affable but sometimes over-matey Dermot O'Leary. Long-time observers could tick off each anecdote as it arrived - Dustin Hoffman and 'Picasso's Last Words', the mugging on the streets of Lagos - but McCartney's demeanour was relaxed, candid and friendly throughout. It was a masterful piece of media theatrics, offering intimacy while retaining his privacy, and reassuring the public that he is still the loveable moptop of old.

On the basis of the Holland shows, McCartney the performer is also battling the ravages of age with more success than most of his peers. If the bizarrely ageless Cliff Richard represents one end of the 65+ spectrum, and the ragged and rasping Bob Dylan the other, then McCartney is definitely on the Cliff side of the see-saw. But whereas Dylan has deliberately set out to make himself resemble the grizzled bluesmen who were his idols when he was 21, McCartney still sells himself on his youthfulness, energy, and fidelity to his original sound. Before too long he'll have a decision to make: letting the world see the reality of the baby-boomer generation reaching its 70s, or making a graceful escape from the spotlight. Until then, he's always on the run, with age snapping ever closer at his heels.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Credit where it's due...

A few entries ago, I complained that all the 'classic rock' acts were as bad as each other when it came to exploiting their back catalogues for maximum profits.

Well, I was wrong. My friend Stuart Batsford pointed out that there is one band who have consistently refused to issue a greatest hits album or compilation: AC/DC. The spirit of the counter-culture is still alive and well in Australia, it seems . . .

My life with the Beatles (part 1)

I was five years old when 'Love Me Do' was released, and in the Britain of 1962 pop music was something you had to seek out and find - bizarre though that may sound to anyone raised in more recent times, when pop has been unavoidably everywhere. My only exposure to music, beyond those chaotic 'Music and Movement' classes at school, would have come from Children's Favourites on the BBC Light Programme at weekends. It was the forerunner of Junior Choice, and as far as I can recall it aired a mixture of light classics (Peter and the Wolf, usually, which was also my first record, although we didn't own a gramophone to play it on), comedy songs, and very occasional chart hits. That winter, I remember dancing the twist at a schoolfriend's party. But I was too young to know that there was a Top 20, or to note the Beatles' arrival there.

At some point in 1963, everything changed. 'She Loves You' was released shortly after my sixth birthday, and everybody at school that autumn was singing its chorus. I have vague memories that I already knew 'From Me To You' as well. And for the next year, I became fairly obsessed with pop, and the charts, especially after I came across a copy of Record Mirror in a hospital waiting-room and saw to my amazement that there were lists of the best-selling records not only here but overseas as well.

In 1964, my parents bought me New Musical Express every week, alongside the properly educational Children's Newspaper (which was as dull, and doomed, as it sounds), and I studied the apparently miraculous movements of the Top 30 with as much care as I was starting to apply to the daily sports results. (At this point I wouldn't have realised that, in theory at least, the charts were reflecting record sales.) I also have vivid memories of buying the pop paper Fabulous for its colour pin-ups of the stars. Forty-six years later, the memory of those luridly technicolour-styled portraits still brings shivers to my spine.

After loving the anarchic rowdiness of 'Glad All Over' and 'Bits And Pieces', I wanted to become the drummer of the Dave Clark 5; I even drew a version of this fantasy, peopled with matchstick figures and my name on the drumkit. But I never doubted the supremacy of the Beatles, whose hits were a universal language for pre-teens. They were competing for my attention, though, with football, cricket, school, puppet shows on TV, Enid Blyton, and no doubt plenty more ephemeral influences. I didn't own any records; I never dreamed for a second of ever seeing a pop concert; I can't remember knowing that there was a Beatles film, and anyway I had never been to the cinema; and at the age of seven, everything existed in the present, so I had no sense of having tripped across something that might endure in my life.

Some random Beatle memories spring to mind . . . being confined to bed (measles, probably) in spring 1964, hearing the group talking on BBC Radio's Saturday Club . . .. seeing in the NME's US charts that there was a Beatles song called 'Please Please Me', but being frustrated because I had no way of hearing it, though I tuned in to Saturday Club every week with a hopeful heart . . . receiving a plastic Beatles guitar (red?), which broke (or which I broke, probably) almost immediately . . . hearing that their next single would be called 'I Feel Fine', and being so impatient to hear it that I improvised my own ditty of that name to the tuneless thwacking of my (probably broken) Beatles guitar. I even committed this 'composition' to reel-to-reel tape, alongside a chorus of 'Hippy Hippy Shake'. It went something like this: "I feel fi-e-i-e-ine (thrash thrash), I feel fi-e-i-e-ine (thrash thrash thrash), all the ti-e-i-e-ime (thrash)". The boy was clearly a genius.

For many years, that tape survived - certainly into the 1980s - but now I think it's gone, though I live in hope that it may turn up in a box somewhere, alongside the only surviving recording of my maternal grandparents, chatting about peppermints, and my paternal grandmother reading me a story. As Paul Simon once wrote, "Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you".

Anyway, the tapes vanished - and so, quite mysteriously, in spring 1965, did my interest in the Beatles, and in pop as well. I remember hearing 'Ticket To Ride' for the first time, because I'd been to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and I assumed the two things were connected. But 'pop fan' was a skin I shed effortlessly that year, as I channelled my enthusiasm into collecting stamps, playing with Airfix soldiers, reading, and endlessly devouring the scores from my football and cricket annuals. Until . . . but that's a story for another time.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


For those with a few spare minutes in their busy lives, here's the link to a lengthy interview I did recently with the online arts magazine Oomska . . .


Among the subjects discussed: should Paul McCartney have appeared on X Factor? Did John Lennon really fall out with Allen Klein? And are we all doomed? Answers on the proverbial postcard . . .

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Billy Preston at the Beeb

Most Beatles fans are familiar with the story of how George Harrison invited the R&B keyboardist Billy Preston to join the group for the final days of their troubled January 1969 sessions - the results being audible on the 'Get Back' single and visible in the Let It Be movie.

I knew that Preston was in the country as a featured sideman in Ray Charles' band; and that his relationship with the Beatles went back to Hamburg in 1962. But what I didn't realise until last week was that on the same day he finished his duties with the Beatles (31 January 1969), Billy starred in his own BBC-TV concert special. It was filmed at the Talk Of The Town in London, with the assistance of the Johnny Pearson Orchestra, and featuring nothing but Preston for 40 minutes. At a time when TV coverage of 'pop' rarely extended beyond Top Of The Pops and light-entertainment series starring Cilla Black and Cliff Richard, this was an unusual honour indeed.

Which begs the question of why. It certainly wasn't because of his connection with the Beatles, as the booking was made before he ever showed up at Apple. But it could have something to do with the fact that, as an instrumentalist, Billy was a cult hero on the Mod scene, mostly for his 1966 single 'Billy's Bag'. He'd even released two albums in the UK before he joined Apple, the deliciously titled The Most Exciting Organ Ever and The Wildest Organ In Town.

It was only when he signed to Apple and released 'That's The Way God Planned It' that his talents as a vocalist became apparent to the general public. And that's the perfect cue to dig out the DVD of The Concert For Bangla Desh, and relive four of the most exciting minutes in the history of live performance.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

It's All Too Much

Maybe the world's ending next year, and the Beatles' organization knows, and the rest of us don't. Nothing else - apart from blatant exploitation of the various Lennon anniversaries - can explain the quite phenomenal (and indeed ridiculous) profusion of Beatles product that's been aimed in our direction over the past month, and the month yet to come.

I don't expect any sympathy for a second, but for more than 20 years, I was in the very fortunate position of being a journalist who was sent almost all Beatles-related product for free. I tried very hard back then to think myself into the position of being an Ordinary Person who had to pay for their music, but it's difficult until it happens to you.

Which it did, to me, a few years back, and now I get nothing for free, and I only get to hear new Beatles releases if I pay for them. So like everyone else, I'm having to be very choosy about what I buy, and what I don't buy. I've already given you my pre-release reaction to the new Lennon packages in a previous post. Here's how I'm feeling about the rest . . .

LENNON BOX OF VISION: I missed this last time, and I'm missing the point of it now. It's more than £100, and it's like a conceptual box, to put things in, and it has a book with pictures of the albums that I bought in the 70s, and still have on the shelves. No, still don't get it.

BAND ON THE RUN: Four different versions of this on 1st November: the single-album digipak (pointless); the 2-CD/1-DVD edition (only £1 more than the basic version on Amazon); the 2-LP vinyl edition; and the 3-CD/1-DVD super deluxe edition. The 2-CD/1-DVD set has the original album, a shortish CD of 'rarities' (singles plus tracks from the One Hand Clapping film), and a DVD with promo footage and, so it seems, One Hand Clapping in full. That's £15.99 from UK Amazon; whereas for £71.99 (NOT a misprint), you can buy the same set in enlarged packaging with an extra CD carrying an audio documentary about the making of the album. Er - didn't you offer us that last time you reissued this album, Paul? And what's with the price differential? Madness. I might treat myself to the £15.99 edition, though.

1962-1966/1967-1970: Remastered, but what's really striking is the price. These double-sets sell for £8.95 each on Amazon, but they used to cost about £22 each for the unremastered editions. And that tells you everything you need to know about the current state of the music business. If you're really rich, you can buy the two compilations as a box set - which actually costs several pounds MORE than buying the two sets individually. Very strange.

APPLE REISSUES: I already have almost all of the 1991 CDs, so do I really want to buy the new editions for a handful of bonus tracks? Probably not, though I'm enough of a James Taylor fan to want the four extra songs, so I might splash out on that one. I'm much more interested in the Best Of Apple 2-CD set, though I'm devastated by the fact that it doesn't include one of the greatest singles ever issued by anybody, ever - 'Road To Nowhere' by Trash. It's like reissuing Sgt. Pepper and leaving 'A Day In The Life' off. I see that we will shortly be able to buy all of these reissues in (what else?) a box set, though I haven't yet managed to discover whether we'll get anything extra if we do (apart from a box, that is).

RAVI SHANKAR's COLLABORATIONS: Collaborations with George Harrison, that is, including the two albums the sitar genius made for Dark Horse Records, the lovely Chants Of India set from the late 90s, and a DVD of the 1974 concert by the Ravi Shankar Music Festival. I have to admit that this appeals to me. But . . . it's almost £50, and realistically, how often would I play it? Twice? Once? Or would I actually look at the packaging, think 'That's lovely' and not actually play it at all?

Without duplicating different versions of the same releases, fans could end up paying £125+ for the Lennon Signature Box, £100+ for the Box Of Vision, £21 for the Beatles compilation box, £50 for the Harrison/Shankar, £150-odd for the Apple box - and don't forget that bargain offer from Paul, the £71.99 edition of Band On The Run. Pause for some mental arithmetic . . . I make that more than £500 in total. In return, you'd get the bonus CD of Lennon rarities, two discs of McCartney bonuses, the Shankar DVD, and some bonus tracks by non-Beatles - plus lots of music that you've already bought on at least one occasion, maybe many times over. And in the middle of a recession?

There's simply no way that the market can stand this much new Beatles product condensed into such a short space of time, so I predict that sales for most of these items are going to fall way below corporate expectations. As someone who wants to hear new music rather than fill my shelves with duplicates, I'll buy the Stripped Down version of Double Fantasy, the most reasonable of the McCartney sets, and probably the Best Of Apple. The rest? It's Christmas, it's marketing, and as a great man once said, it's all too much for me to take. I want to be a fan and buy new Beatles albums, honest, but sometimes they just make it too hard.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Phil Spector and Let It Be

Let's leave aside, for the duration of this post, the sorry end to the Phil Spector story, and the even sorrier end of the actress Lana Clarkson, who was unfortunate enough to run across the self-styled greatest record producer of all time.

Until that incident, Spector was probably most notorious for his role in the making (or unmaking, in Paul McCartney's eyes) of the Beatles' Let It Be album. Before he became involved, engineer Glyn Johns had prepared three different running orders and mixes for what was then proposed to be the Get Back album. The Beatles unanimously rejected all three.

Meanwhile, work on the Get Back film continued through the final months of 1969 and into 1970. It was Allen Klein, ironically enough, who encouraged Messrs. McCartney, Harrison and Starkey to regroup one last time in January 1970, to tart up 'Let It Be' as a potential single (and soon enough, album/film title as well), and to record 'I Me Mine', which was heard in the film but hadn't been properly recorded during the tortuous January 1969 sessions.

And it was Klein who suggested that Phil Spector, who had just produced John Lennon's 'Instant Karma' single in magnificent style, should be asked to go back through the January 1969 tapes, and assemble a suitable soundtrack album for the movie. Despite what you've read elsewhere, all four Beatles authorised that decision.

Spector set to work, mixing here, snipping tape there, and ultimately recruiting both Ringo Starr and an orchestra to work on several tracks - including McCartney's song, 'The Long And Winding Road'. Why wasn't Paul there at the session? Because both he and John were so sick of the project that they had agreed to let George and Ringo supervise what Spector was doing. So it's true that Paul McCartney didn't know what Phil Spector was planning to do to 'The Long And Winding Road' (i.e. add an orchestra and choir); but only because he had chosen not to get involved.

When Spector's work was done, he rapidly assembled his mix of the Let It Be album, cut four acetate copies of the LP, and sent one apiece to each of the Beatles for their approval. The four musicians liaised with each other, and approved Spector's work. Only two weeks later, when the presses were already rolling, did Paul suddenly wake up and think, "Hang on a minute, I want to make some changes". But by then it was too late.

During the research for my book, I came across the original letter that Spector sent to the four Beatles. Rather than the authoritarian rant I was expecting, his note turned out to be extremely friendly. "If there is anything you'd like done to the album, let me know and I'll be glad to help", he wrote. "Naturally little things are easy to change, big things might be a problem. If you wish, please call me about anything regarding the album tonight." That's definitely the voice of compromise, rather than a control freak.

The schedule was tight because the film was imminent - and at that point we enter another saga, about the scheduling of Let It Be and the McCartney solo album, which aroused an argument that in turn provoked Paul to send out his famous 'interview' to the press suggesting that he was leaving the Beatles. But that's another issue. My point here is that far from acting like a tyrant, and refusing to communicate with Paul McCartney, Phil Spector did everything he could to ensure that all four Beatles approved of his work.

Spector made one more suggestion: the album shouldn't be titled Let It Be, but The Long And Winding Road, which is a clear indication that he realised the significance of McCartney's song. But by then the film was virtually complete, and everything was geared towards the project being titled Let It Be, so Spector's advice was ignored.

For what it's worth, I've always thought that Spector's version of Let It Be was artistically superior to the Glyn Johns mixes, and the Let It Be . . . Naked album issued a few years back. What it wasn't, of course, was a spontaneous, off-the-cuff representation of those January 1969 sessions - which is what Glyn Johns had delivered, and the Beatles didn't like. In later years, three of the Beatles went on record as saying that they preferred Spector's work, too. No prizes for guessing the identity of The Beatle Who Didn't Agree.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Imagine? No, Better Not

In the interests of widening my cultural horizons and engaging with modern pop culture, I've just been browsing through the multiple spin-off albums from the US TV series Glee (on Spotify). They were exactly what I'd expected from a bunch of enthusiastic stage-school kids: enthusiastic stage-school renditions of pop and AOR radio fodder, mostly from the 70s and 80s, sung with pizzazz and permanent smiles. My mum would probably like them, and you wouldn't leave if you heard them in a restaurant, as long as they weren't too loud.

All that pizzazz is dutifully channelled into a cover of the Beatles' 'Hello Goodbye'. Elsewhere the kids tackle a song of (arguably) more import: 'Imagine'. And imagine my surprise: the entire first verse, the one which asks people to envisage the non-existence of heaven, is (ironically enough) non-existent. As in 'omitted', or - not to beat about that cliched old bush - 'censored'. So remember, everybody: heaven exists, and so does hell. Don't even consider imagining anything else. And smile!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Gimme Some Truth

What would John Lennon have thought of the marketing campaign that is about to commemorate what would have been his 70th birthday? Like the other Beatles, he was scathing about almost all of the compilation albums that were issued by EMI and Apple, from A Collection Of Beatle Oldies in 1966 to Beatles Ballads in 1979. At the time of his death, he had issued only one collection of his solo hits, Shaved Fish in 1975, though his enthusiasm for the project was lukewarm. And all the Beatles prided themselves on their efforts to avoid exploiting their fans by squeezing hit singles out of existing albums (at least in Britain; elsewhere, they enjoyed much less control over what was issued in their name).

Since then, the music business has changed beyond recognition. I can't think of a single artist who has managed to avoid the numbing routine of greatest hits albums, more often than not accompanied by a rarity or two to entice loyal fans into purchasing music that they already own. The ethics of these releases are grasping and blatant. I noticed a prime example earlier today: the mono editions of all Bob Dylan's early albums are being released on CD for the first time, as an expensive boxed set, but the set doesn't include mono versions of singles released during the same period. There is, however, a compilation CD scheduled of the best of his mono recordings, which - surprise, surprise - includes one of those singles, and will therefore be bought by many of those who are also shelling out for the box. Marketing ploys like this are now so common, and so cynical, that they usually pass without comment.

And Lennon? For years, his catalogue was a mix of lousy CD reissues and pointless hits collections, until Yoko Ono and her engineers finally acknowledged the digital age and remastered his work, usually with relevant (if hardly mind-blowing) bonus tracks. There was the rarity-stuffed, though bizarrely sequenced, Anthology box set in the late 90s; and a couple of rather random collections of acoustic out-takes and political songs since then.

All of which pales alongside the commercial onslaught that is about to hit us: two box sets, yet another hits collection, and an extended two-disc revamp of his final official album. They line up like this:
SIGNATURE BOX: one album of out-takes (all of which look to be familiar from The Lost Lennon Tapes radio series and bootlegs, though I am happy to be corrected); another of non-LP singles (six tracks in all, without their Ono-inspired B-sides); and all of Lennon's original LPs from Plastic Ono Band in 1970 to the posthumous Milk & Honey set. Plus a book, new essays, forgive me for yawning. But no Live In New York City, no Menlove Avenue, no Acoustic, none of the bonus tracks from the existing CDs, none of the pre-1970 collaborations with Yoko Ono, and strangely no Live Peace In Toronto 1969, either (though the live half of Some Time In New York City is included). Who decided that Live Peace was no longer part of the Lennon catalogue, while Milk & Honey (half of which was recorded by Yoko after John's death) was? I think you know the answer. The cost of owning what you already own, plus one 'new' CD, is $189 or £137 - for a set that demonstrates everything I despise about the business of marketing 'classic rock'.
GIMME SOME TRUTH: a four-CD set of previously released John Lennon recordings, 'themed' (or thrown into the air and then sequenced randomly).
POWER TO THE PEOPLE: hooray - a hits album! Again!
DOUBLE FANTASY STRIPPED DOWN: the original album, plus new mixes prepared by the long-estranged team of Yoko Ono and Jack Douglas, demonstrating what the album might have sounded like if Lennon's artistic decisions from 1980 had been ignored.

We don't have to buy any of this product, which is no more manipulative or greedy than similar archive releases by other major artists from the 60s and 70s. (By contrast with some copyright-owners, Yoko Ono has been comparatively restrained, to be fair.) Realistically, nobody but a committed completist or a novice would be remotely interested in Gimme Some Truth or Power To The People. No doubt some people will buy the Signature Box as a 'tribute' to John, not realising that it's actually a tribute to the consumerist culture that Lennon did his best to undermine in the early 70s. And I confess that I will probably pick up a copy of the 'new' Double Fantasy, in the hope that I enjoy it more than I did Let It Be . . . Naked.

But I come back to where I started. What would John Lennon think of all this?

Paperback photo

In around four weeks, the UK paperback edition of You Never Give Me Your Money will be in the shops - price £9.99, ideal Christmas present for all the family, etc. etc.

The photograph on the front cover (top right, at the top of this blog) comes from the peerless collection of Sean O'Mahony, publisher of The Beatles Book monthly magazine between 1963 and 1969, and then from 1976 to 2001. (He was also the founder and publisher for more than 20 years of Record Collector, the magazine I edited for much of that period.)

The picture - which appeared on the back of the UK hardback, but wasn't featured in the US edition - doesn't fit the timeframe of the book, which is why I didn't think to suggest it as the cover shot for the hardback. But (in comic style) it summarises the theme of the book, and the central rift between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, so well that in retrospect we perhaps should have used it on all the different editions.

As l9yal readers of The Beatles Book will alreadly have recognised, the photo was taken on the streets of Notting Hill in West London, during the filming of A Hard Day's Night in spring 1964. Whether John and Paul were asked to adopt this pose by the photographer (Leslie Bryce) or O'Mahony, or whether it was their idea, we will never know. But neither man could ever have imagined that just five years later, the picture would symbolise the sorry state of the Lennon/McCartney relationship, and the fistfights would be for real.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Please Mr Postman

There was a story in the Daily Telegraph a few days ago about a letter from John Lennon that had finally - forty years late - found its way to its rightful recipient, folksinger Steve Tilston. Here's the link (with thanks to Louise Cripps for pointing it out):


What struck me wasn't so much the lost-letter theme of the story as the fact that Lennon was so accessible during his final year or so in England. He devoured the underground press and the rock weeklies, and was quick to respond whenever something caught his imagination. (He always ended his letters to Melody Maker with "LP winner", referring to the paper's habit of awarding the writer of each week's best letter a free album.)

But his correspondence wasn't just for private consumption. He would reply to letters from fans, or write out of the blue to somebody mentioned in the press, never failing to use his home address and often (as in this instance) including his home phone number. He clearly relished the opportunity to stay in personal touch with the outside world, both as a political gesture (I'm no more important than you) and because he was fascinated by other people and their lives. Which makes it all the more tragic that he retreated from the world for so many years after his second son, Sean, was born; and even more ironic that as soon as he tried to reconnect with his public, going back to the studio and signing autographs for fans outside the Dakota, he paid the ultimate price. No contemporary star would dare to be so open; in retrospect, I suppose it's amazing that John got away with it for as long as he did.

As a final thought, it's interesting that the need to connect with the 'real' world was something that linked Lennon and McCartney - both reclusive in different ways, but at the same time desperate to retain their links with the world around them. John did it via letters and political campaigns; Paul by trying to combine being the world's most popular entertainer with being an 'average person', to use one of his song titles. You have to admire their efforts, and think one more time about the crippling price of fame.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Wings tour rehearsals 1975

I've already mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I was fortunate enough to see the first night of Wings' 1975/76 world tour. Many years later, I was able to hear (but not keep, so please don't ask me for copies) tapes of the band's final rehearsals for that tour, at Elstree Film Studios in early September 1975.

While the musicians fine-tuned their performances (which by September were already set in stone, with little room left for individual improvisation), the lighting engineers worked on their cues. To help them out, two C90 cassettes were prepared of the entire set-list, using the original Wings studio recordings rather than the rehearsals that were taking place at the same time. To fill in the gaps, McCartney's engineers used the original Beatles versions of 'Lady Madonna', 'Long And Winding Road', 'I've Just Seen A Face', 'Blackbird' and 'Yesterday', adding the Moody Blues' 1965 version of 'Go Now' to cover Denny Laine's revival of the song.

So far, so dull. But two of the songs that Wings intended to perform didn't exist on record, so McCartney arranged for 'live' arrangements to be recorded in the studio purely for this purpose. And so it was that 'Soily' (then intended to feature in the first half of the show, rather than as an encore) and Paul Simon's 'Richard Cory' received their only studio outings, the latter sung by Laine as it would be on stage. Neither performance has circulated among collectors, though my memory is that both of them sounded identical to the way they would in concert a few days later.

Two other cassettes from this period exist, one labelled 'Tour Rehearsal 1975', the other 'Day 2 Elstree 1975'. Not surprisingly, they reproduce the entire set-list again, although this time in the form of 'live at Elstree' Wings performances. But scattered amongst the familiar arrangements of 'Jet', 'Medicine Jar' and 'My Love' were four songs that didn't make the concert halls - and were surely never intended to. The first was 'Ol' Man River', clearly sung as a spoof. Rather than return to 'You Gave Me The Answer', which was the next song on the agenda, McCartney led Wings into a romp through the Coasters' hit 'Charlie Brown', which doubtless formed part of the Beatles' early live repertoire.

With good reason, McCartney could rarely resist the temptation in the mid-70s to show off 'Suicide', a mere fragment of which had appeared on his debut album five years earlier. Though it's hard to imagine Frank Sinatra cutting the song, as McCartney had hoped, it does seem strange that it has still never been given an official release, when the likes of 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer' were considered worthy. My notes fail to say whether this was a band arrangement or a solo spotlight; my money's on the latter. More on this deliciously beautiful song another time.

Finally, Wings embarked on a skiffle-style rendition of the traditional folk-blues tune 'Stealin' - which, coincidentally or not, had recently appeared as the title track of a particularly intriguing bootleg collection of Bob Dylan out-takes. Could McCartney have picked up a copy? Or did he know the tune from some distant blues source? Five years later, a different incarnation of Wings would return to the song during rehearsals for what was supposed to be the follow-up to Back To The Egg, but turned instead into a McCartney solo project, Tug Of War.

None of these performances would have satisfied McCartney the perfectionist. But on rare occasions, he has allowed us to hear his more relaxed self - with the rehearsals and soundchecks aired on the Oobu Joobu radio series, for instance, and most memorably the off-the-cuff rendition of Ray Charles' hit, 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying', which was included on the Tripping The Live Fantastic collection. Memo to Mr McCartney: I'd buy an album of such spontaneous moments anytime.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Meeting Magic Alex

I'd read the cuttings, scoured the books on my shelf, and I was on my guard. I felt cynical, wary, even a little nervous. I was, after all, about to meet a man who - according to Beatles legend - had been cunning enough to bamboozle the world's most successful entertainers into providing him with an endless cash-flow and a purpose-built branch of their Apple corporation.

The man I met in an Athenian bar, seven or eight years ago, was slim, gently elegant, disarmingly charming, and generous beyond the demands of the occasion. He was instantly recognisable from the Apple promo photos of 1968; despite recent ill-health and a heavy smoking habit, he looked youthful for a man in his early 60s, even charismatic. And he loved to talk. Once he'd established that my companions and I weren't there to crucify him, he was almost alarmingly eager to talk about the old days - sometimes openly and at enormous length, sometimes with a sly smile and a flirtatious hint that he knew far more than he could possibly tell.

I spent a long afternoon that passed into evening and then night-time in his company; then another day in his villa on a Greek island, a night's vigil at a local bar, and a final morning around his hillside swimming pool. My cynicism survived for no more than an hour, after which I fell under his spell. Of course, he talked about the Beatles, and about his continued friendship with Lennon, Ono and Harrison way beyond his last documented appearance in their story, circa 1969. He devoted a long lunch to an urgent recounting of his side of the Apple Studio debacle - claiming, in brief, that the studio installed at Apple in 1969 was taken from his workshop while he was out of the country, without his knowledge, and had been intended only as a demonstration of how a multi-track system might work, rather than something ready for installation. As I recall, he pointed the finger at some Abbey Road staff who, he suggested, had most to lose from Apple creating a working studio, as they would lose the Beatles as clients. He described how, later in 1969, he returned to London, and discovered that the new Allen Klein regime at Apple had closed down his Apple Electronics lab, chaining and padlocking the door shut. None of the Beatles had bothered to tell him that his days of scientific experimentation on their behalf were over.

There was more, much more - about his involvement, as a security consultant, with many of the crowned heads of Europe (and he had the photographs of riotous parties to prove it); his friendship with several members of the British Royal Family, including Princess Diana; even hints that he knew the whereabouts of the legendarily lost Lord Lucan. In the classic Greek tradition, there was plenty of hyperbole and exaggeration - it is, I have been told, a Greek habit to say "thousands" when you mean "several". But every time I started to doubt his word, he would open a cabinet and produce dozens of unseen photographs of the Beatles in India, or his Mediterranean cruise with the Lennons in 1969. Most dramatically, he turned on his computer in a busy cafe and said, "Have you heard this?" John Lennon's voice echoed out of the tinny speakers, making a wisecrack about "the Alexis Mardas rock'n'roll band", before launching into an affectionate song about his friend, recorded during the Indian adventure of 1968 - and completely undocumented by any Beatles scholar. "I have hundreds of tapes like this", he said proudly, and whether he meant 600 or half-a-dozen, I was suitably impressed.

For a while we kept in touch, and every so often I think that I should try to track him down again, and find out exactly how many photos, and how many tapes, are hidden away in his vaults. Most of the time, though, I'm happy to remember his conversation and his kindness during those three days in Greece - evidence enough for me to testify here and now that Alexis Mardas, regardless what he said and did in the late 1960s, has been dealt a rough hand by almost everyone who has written about his enigmatic involvement in the Beatles' story. I didn't want to appoint him as "my guru", like John Lennon did; I didn't even think he was 'Magic'; but I was convinced that he was much more than the caricature that appears under his name in most Beatles literature.

Heroes & Villains No. 3: Magic Alex

It was John Lennon who coined the nickname 'Magic Alex'; Lennon who described the Greek science prodigy as "my guru"; Lennon who was Alexis Mardas's best man at his 1968 wedding in London; Lennon who set up Apple Electronics as a vehicle for Mardas's inventive skills; Lennon who kept faith with his friend by holidaying with him on a yacht around the Greek islands after the completion of Abbey Road; and then Lennon who, in a fit of post-Primal Therapy passion, betrayed that friendship by effectively denying that he had ever been close to Mardas.

Thereafter, the man Lennon once thought was Magic has been stereotyped in Beatle history as a con-artist, a charlatan, a fraud. He had to carry the entire blame for the debacle of the unfinished and unworkable Apple studio in January 1969. He was lampooned as the 'inventor' of schemes that were far-fetched, impossible or plain silly. And he has, as far as the world of the Beatles is concerned, been absent from the scene for the past 40 years.

Well, almost entirely absent. In recent years, he has reappeared on a handful of occasions to file libel suits and demand retractions when media outlets (usually famous newspapers) have lazily repeated all the old jibes about him, his abilities and his motives. He's usually won his cases, too.

As one of the very few journalists to have met Alexis Mardas (over several days in the early part of the decade just finished) since 1970, I'm delighted that he has stepped in to correct the loaded stories that have been told and endlessly retold about him since the demise of Apple Electronics in 1969. I only wish he'd done it sooner. He told me that, for many years, he was so busy in his job (more of which later) that he didn't pay any attention to what was being written about him.

I'll talk about my encounters with Mardas in my next post. Suffice to say here that John Lennon has much to answer for when it comes to Magic Alex's reputation. He was the man who built up the Mardas legend; and he was the one who tore it down, when he described his friend in Rolling Stone as "alright, but cracked". For Lennon in December 1970, Mardas was another guru - like the Maharishi, like Arthur Janov, like Bob Dylan - who had turned out to be human after all, not 'Magic'. But who was the person who told the world that Mardas was 'Magic' in the first place?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Bad To Me?

Nobody likes to read bad reviews of their books; if they tell you otherwise, they're lying. I've been fortunate so far with You Never Give Me Your Money, because there has only been one stinker - written by original Beatles biographer Hunter Davies, for the Mail On Sunday last autumn. If it was available online, I'd direct you to it - but it isn't, so suffice to say that Davies seemed to take issue not only with my book, but also with the very idea of writing a book about the break-up of the Beatles and beyond. (He also managed to bring my recently deceased father-in-law into his review, which I felt marked some sort of historic low-point in the saga of British tabloid journalism. The newspaper subsequently apologised for this remark.)

But criticism, no matter how hurtful at the time, can be highly instructive. It gives the writer the rare opportunity to be seen as others see you - great when they're informing you that you're a wonderful human being, not so much fun when they tell you some home truths. I recently read through the 13 reviews of Money on the US Amazon site, a couple of which pointed out minor errors in the book which I hadn't noticed before. (But yes, I did indeed manage, in two separate places, to describe Steve Holly as both Wings' guitarist and drummer. Clearly a multi-talented guy . . .)

Equally valuable for me was the chance to read other people's interpretations of which Beatle(s) I favoured in the narrative. My intention was to be as even-handed as possible, but during the course of writing the book, I felt saddest and sorriest for Paul McCartney - even while I was highlighting things that he might have done and said differently. One Amazon reviewer reckoned that I showed a definite bias towards George Harrison; another, in an unrestrained attack on the book, decided that I was nothing more than another author adopting the "brown nose" position towards John Lennon, without a good word to say for Paul. ("PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't buy this book!", his review ends.) And another felt that Ringo came out best, whereas I was concerned that, because he maintained the lowest profile for most of my narrative, Ringo tended only to appear in the story in negative terms. Nobody, however, thought that I showed any special sympathy for Paul - which just goes to prove that the book you're writing, and the book you THINK you're writing, can be two very different things. And also that all of us, from Hunter Davies to pseudonymous reviewers on Amazon, bring our own agendas to everything we read - and write.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Group therapy

Bloomberg Business Week - not a publication I've ever read, I have to confess - recently printed this intriguing review of You Never Give Me Your Money:

I say 'intriguing', because I was struck by the idea that in recounting the sorry tale of the Beatles' break-up and its aftermath, I should perhaps (in this reviewer's opinion, at least) have offered suggestions as to how the group could have stayed together, and maximised their earning potential. And there I was, thinking that the split was inevitable because, to varying degrees, the Beatles didn't WANT to be the Beatles anymore . . .

Anyway, every reviewer is entitled to their opinion, and this was an intelligent and well-written piece. But I was even more intrigued by the thought that some form of professional group therapy might have preserved the Beatles' unity. (It worked for Metallica, apparently.) I can see it now . . .

THERAPIST: OK, now perhaps you can each tell me what you'd like to tell the others.
JOHN: Tell Paul and his ******* family to **** off.
PAUL: Tell John to leave his wife at home.
JOHN: You ****!
GEORGE: Is it time to play my songs yet?

Well, it might have worked. For me, it conjured up a wonderful vision of all four Beatles visiting Arthur Janov's Primal Scream clinic, screaming out their pain in separate rooms - and then coming back to London to record four separate Primal Scream solo albums. John would have recorded 'I Found Out', Paul could have written 'I Found Out Before You Did', George would have responded with 'No, I Found Out First' - and Ringo's offering could have been the world's first Primal Scream country album. But wouldn't their group therapy sessions have made a great bootleg?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

It's Mother Love And Fear From John Lennon

That was the headline for the NME review of John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band in December 1970. (In fact, it continued: 'and weirdo sounds from Yoko Ono', over a brief and baffled description of her own Plastic Ono Band album.)

In 1970, the NME wasn't the sharp-witted, impeccably hip, razor-edged journal that people remember from later in the decade and beyond, peopled by the likes of Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray and Julie Burchill. That transformation came a couple of years later. The NME of 1970 was unashamedly a pop paper, dominated by who and what was in the Top 30, and more at home with LPs by Danny La Rue, Clive Dunn and Kenneth Williams (all reviewed on the same page as the Lennon album) than with progressive rock or confessional songwriting.

Which is what makes their review of the Lennon album so fascinating. Journalist Andy Gray had clearly only heard the record once, without a lyric sheet, and without any of the biographical insight that we have today. He didn't know that Lennon had spent several months that year undergoing Primal Scream therapy. Nor did he have any sense of Plastic Ono Band as an epochal record in rock history. That all came later. But his review does provide an intriguing view of the pop world in which Lennon was struggling to exist.

"I get the impression that John Lennon has much fear in his make-up," Gray began. "Also a great big chip on his shoulder about class consciousness and the unfairness of the world." So far so good, but Gray's comments on the individual tracks reveal a man who was conscious of feeling out of his depth.

He complains that on the gentle 'Hold On', "words are smothered by instruments". On 'I Found Out', "the insistent guitar and throbbing drums make it hard to hear the words". 'Remember', which he says is based around "a monotonous plunk-plunk repetition from the guitars" (sure that's not actually a piano, Andy?), is "a sort of speech-talk song, rather hard to hear". On 'Well Well Well' he finds the "words distorted again". And he says that' God' is "compelling, but hard to catch the words again" - which is presumably why he fails to mention that Lennon sings, "I don't believe in Beatles".

At this point, one is tempted to ask whether he should have checked the needle for fluff before he started. His problems with Lennon's diction aside, Gray was stumbling to find adequate descriptions of the music. 'I Found Out' apparently has "big Afro-beat and voodoo drums behind the high-pitched, distorted vocal", while 'Well Well Well' has "a thump-on-drum sound throughout, reminding me of a war canoe song by Paul Robeson in a film long ago". When primitive rock'n'roll confused him so much, it's not surprising that Gray's response to Yoko's album was: "I'm afraid it is a bit beyond me, but I'm sure it is very clever".

Yet Gray couldn't avoid the emotional impact of one song: 'Mother'. "I have rarely heard so much anguish and suffering put into a track", he wrote. "It builds up to the most frightening, mad screeching. Anguish as never heard before."

To be fair to Andy Gray, my reaction to John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band - when I bought a copy eight months later, just after my 14th birthday - wasn't much more sophisticated. I'd gone looking for Lennon's new album, Imagine, but it wasn't in stock, and being an impatient teenager, I'd bought another Lennon record instead. I can remember being shocked and a little deflated by the album's lack of pop tunefulness, though I loved 'I Found Out' and 'Well Well Well' (must have been those war canoe drums). I couldn't admit to my mother that I'd wasted two pounds, so I persevered - and spent the rest of the decade convinced that John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band was the greatest album of all time. But I'd love to know whether Andy Gray ever played it again.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

McCartney Live 35 Years On

They're still selling tickets for Paul McCartney's Hyde Park show tomorrow at a mere £29.99, according to this morning's paper. It's an enticing bill for those of us over a certain age, with Elvis Costello and Crosby, Stills & Nash among the supporting cast. But I won't be there. Nothing against McCartney, you understand; but 12 hours under the blistering sun is about 11 hours and 55 minutes more than I can take, no matter what the attraction.

In my book, I note the marked deterioration in McCartney's speaking voice around the time of his traumatic divorce from Heather Mills. But the brief clips I've seen on Youtube from his US shows earlier this year demonstrated a remarkable durability for a man who has just celebrated his 68th birthday. Check out, for example, this rousing debut for a 45-year-old Beatles standard:


I've been fortunate enough to see McCartney in several much more intimate venues than Hyde Park down the years, from Westcliff Pavilion to the Mean Fiddler in North London. But nothing would ever be able to match the emotional impact of the first rock gig I ever attended: Paul McCartney & Wings at the Southampton Gaumont in 1975.

It had been a long wait. In 1973, McCartney had announced tour dates that included Southampton, but then cancelled them because his James Paul McCartney TV special wasn't finished. When the schedule was revised, he played Bournemouth instead, which was too far for me to travel on a school night. Two years later, I obeyed the mid-70s etiquette for obtaining concert tickets, trekking to the nearest post office to buy postal orders, and sending them off hopefully with a stamped addressed envelope. To my amazement, I received two seats about ten rows back, in a cinema that couldn't have held more than about 3,000.

I still couldn't quite comprehend that I was going to be in the same building as a Beatle. Outside the cinema, there were desperate Americans who had travelled thousands of miles in the vain hope of obtaining a ticket. McCartney was unable at the time to get into America because of a drugs bust, and so US fans assumed that a speculative flight across the Atlantic represented their only chance of ever seeing him in concert.

The show was meant to start at 8.00, but the headliners (there was no support act) took the stage a few minutes early - because, I discovered later, McCartney was so nervous about the first night of the tour that he couldn't bear to wait in the dressing-room a second longer. They opened with the 'Venus And Mars' and 'Rock Show' medley from their recent album. I vividly remember the first time McCartney's fingers touched the strings of his Hofner bass guitar, and a vast percussive thud cannoned into my chest. All night I kept feel ing my ribs to make sure they were still intact. It wasn't hard to guess which member of the band had ultimate control over the sound system . . .

Most of the show passed in a thrilled, disbelieving haze. But after a handful of songs, someone shouted from behind me, "What about John Lennon?". It had been five years since the Beatles' split, but McCartney was still widely resented as the chief culprit. He glared back in the direction of the heckler, vigorously chewed his gum for a few seconds, and then said contemptuously, "What about John Lennon?".

The other hot topic in 1975 was whether McCartney would ever perform Beatles material in public again. We had our answer after about 30 minutes, when he sat behind a piano and bashed out the familiar intro to 'Lady Madonna' - one of five Fab songs that night. As I recall it, my reaction wasn't the glow of nostalgia that the same song would evoke today, but an almost numbing sense of disbelief.

The show was tight, efficient, and probably (in hindsight) too controlled to be genuinely exciting. But its symbolic importance, for me and everyone else who was there, was huge. Maybe it was, after all, possible for the Beatles to reclaim their past. And if Paul McCartney, the man who (so I presumed then) had chosen to break up the group, could step back into the past, then surely a reunion couldn't be that far away?

There was only one disappointment. Back in 1973, when James Paul McCartney was premiered in the States, Melody Maker and NME reviewed the TV special and mentioned Wings' rowdy performance of 'Long Tall Sally'. When it was screened in Britain a few weeks later, I sat with thrilled anticipation, waiting for this song - and was let down when the British 'mix' of the show included 'Hi Hi Hi' instead. During the encores at Southampton in 1975, the band duly played 'Hi Hi Hi' again, and then prepared for one more song. This was it, I thought - 'Long Tall Sally' at last. But no. Instead, they launched into an unfamiliar riff which, I discovered a year or two later, was called 'Soily', and barely deserved to be called a song. To this day, I still haven't seen McCartney perform 'Long Tall Sally' in the flesh, and I probably never will.

35 years on, if I was in Hyde Park tomorrow, I'm sure I'd relish McCartney's return to the Beatles catalogue. But I'd have been far more likely to brave the body-sapping sunshine if I thought that he'd play a set that wasn't purely an exercise in collective nostalgia. Wings in 1975 were a functioning band, with a repertoire that didn't depend on the past, fired by their leader's desperate desire to prove himself as a contemporary artist. Paul McCartney's 2010 stage act is purely a celebration of the past - remarkable in its way, but with nothing more at stake than sunburn and dehydration. One consolation: at least the crowd won't have to endure 'Soily' . . .

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Stop Press #3: Clapton's wedding 1979

As I wrote in You Never Give Me Your Money, "In May 1979, Starkey, McCartney and Harrison made music for the first time since January 1970 - drunken, shambolic music, but together nonetheless. The occasion was the wedding celebration for Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd. Clapton recalled, 'John later phoned me to say that he would have been there too if he had known about it', but no one thought to invite him."

That much is indisputable, although I remain doubtful whether Lennon would have turned up even if he had been invited. What's never likely to be known, however, given the degree of intoxication experienced by all the participants in this wedding-party jam session, is what material the three Beatles (and their equally inebriated buddies) performed.

In the book, I report that the ensemble "stumbled through such familiar material as 'Get Back', 'Sgt. Pepper' and 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy'." But in the interests of accuracy, I ought to add here that some witnesses claimed that no Beatles material was attempted or destroyed on this occasion, the repertoire being dominated by Lonnie Donegan's skiffle material. Given the size of Donegan's ego, and the ex-Beatles' collective devotion to his 50s hits, I think it's pretty safe to say that once the skiffle king took centre-stage for such numbers as 'Cumberland Gap' and 'Pick A Bale Of Cotton', he'd have been unlikely to let any youngsters like McCartney and Harrison anywhere near a microphone. Still wish I'd been there, though.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Stop Press #2: Lennon in 1978

As You Never Give Me Your Money was an attempt to focus on the truth about the Beatles' post-split adventures, I skipped past most of the rumours that were attached to their names in the 1970s.

To pick a year and a man almost at random, take the case of John Lennon in 1978. He spent most of that year in America, the summer in Japan, and none of it, so far as we know, in the recording studio. In which case, why were there 'confirmed' reports in April 1978 that Lennon was hard at work at the Record Plant in New York, making a new album? We're not talking one person's fantasy here: the same story spread across the UK & US media, alongside suggestions that Lennon was about to sign a deal with Columbia Records (who instead signed up Paul McCartney).

In that same month, another Lennon tale was printed in dozens of US newspapers. This time, he was said to have agreed to play the lead role in The Street Messiah, a Hollywood movie about a rock star who finds religion and seeks to convert his entire fanbase. Two things spring immediately to mind: the similarities with the mid-60s Paul Jones vehicle, Privilege, though that was based on politics, not religion; and the fact that the following year, Bob Dylan would take on the role of 'Street Messiah' for real.

The film was supposedly going to be directed by William J. Levy, a name that doesn't show up on the imdb.com database. It was never made; Lennon never mentioned the possibility in his final interviews; and the mysterious Mr Levy never got his name onto a single set of movie credits, even as deputy bottle washer. So where did this apochryphal story come from?

Finally, at least one recognised Beatles historian claims that April 1978 was when Lennon and Ono sent out a press release about their forthcoming Broadway musical, The Ballad Of John And Yoko. Except that if they did, it was ignored by the entire worldwide media. Does that sound likely? File this rumour under 'flights of the imagination' as well. And ponder for a second on the iconic power of a man who could attract global gossip, then and long after his death, without ever leaving the sanctuary of his Central Park West apartment.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Lennon's Disappearing Message

In the spring of 2005, as I was finishing up the manuscript of The Art And Music Of John Lennon, I stumbled across the name of Bruce Bierman (also known as Brulen). He was, I discovered, making an astonishing claim: he had taken over from Paul McCartney as John Lennon's songwriting partner.

It was easy to prove that Lennon and Bierman knew each other, because at the age of 17 Bierman had been one of the musicians on The Pope Smokes Dope, an album of 'street music' produced by John & Yoko and issued on Apple in 1972. The album was the work of David Peel & the Lower East Side, and Peel (whom I interviewed for You Never Give Me Your Money) was in fairly constant contact with the Lennons in 1971/72. But Bierman? His role on The Pope Smokes Dope aside, his name was absent from almost every chronicle of Lennon's life and career.

So I tracked Bierman down, and listened to his story. He told me that he and Lennon had bumped into each other in Manhattan several times in the months after the Apple recording sessions, and that Lennon had interpreted this as a cosmic sign that the two men should become friends. It was only natural, Bierman said, that the they should start writing together - and over the next eight years they composed around twenty complete songs, and fragments of as many more again.

As an example, Bierman cited a song called 'Central Park'. "We were watching an old black-and-white movie called Million Dollar Baby," he told me, "in which Ronald Reagan supposedly 'composed' a song about Central Park. John said, 'That's awful, we can do better than that'. He asked me if I had a piano, and I said, 'No, but I knew where we could get access to one, at my old school, Vanderchild High School in the Bronx. So we snuck in there, where there one or two grand pianos in an otherwise empty music room, and we wrote a song of our own. John began banging out chords on the piano, and we came up with the chorus line, 'Meet me in Central Park', because that's where we often used to meet."

Bierman steered me towards his website, www.brucebierman.com, where he listed more than a dozen songs he claimed to have written with Lennon, and had also posted samples of his own recordings of several of them, including 'Central Park'. "There will be an album soon", he told me, adding that he owned many tapes of his writing sessions with Lennon, and hoped that Yoko Ono would allow them to be released.

A few months later, Newsweek magazine picked up on the story, but since then? Nothing. So today I checked Bierman's website, and was redirected to www.newlennon.com - where I discovered that Bierman had indeed recorded an album of his Lennon collaborations, Message, but that Ono had apparently blocked its release. There are still samples of ten songs to stream on the site, however, which strangely include Bierman's covers of Lennon's 'Love' and Elvis Presley's 'Can't Help Falling In Love'. Surely he wasn't claiming he'd co-written those?

So where does that leave us? With a disappearing album, Bierman/Lennon collaborations that aren't, and a shifting list of songs that supposedly came from their writing sessions (ten of the songs that Bierman listed in 2005 aren't mentioned on the site anymore, while two new suggestions, 'One Lonely Tear' and 'It's Been A Journey', feature among the song samples).

Most importantly, do I think the story is true? Well, having spoken to Bierman for about an hour, I didn't think he sounded like a madman or a fantasist. I was expecting a tale that fell to pieces in seconds, but nothing he said was obviously wrong or inaccurate. The first question most people would ask is: how come we've never heard of you before? To which Bierman answered, quite sensibly: "There was no quicker way to end a friendship with John than advertising it to the outside world".

What is impossible to prove (at least without hearing Bierman's tapes of Lennon) is how much Lennon contributed to the creation of these songs. From what you can hear on the newlennon.com website, the songs are Lennonesque, but then so are thousands of pop songs that have been written since the 1960s. In my judgement, however, there is nothing in the music or (especially) the lyrics that is so distinctively Lennon-like that it must have been written by him, rather than somebody trying to sound like him; and some of the lyrics are so clumsy that he would surely never have let them stand. Unless, of course, he was trying to encourage a young friend, and never thought for a second that anyone else would ever hear the results . . .

For the moment I'll let my cynicism win out, and refrain from giving the Doggett Seal of Approval to Bierman's recordings. But I still want to hear his Lennon tapes, though Yoko Ono doesn't seem to want me to. Is that because she doesn't think they're authentic, or because they reveal something she doesn't want us to know? Sadly, my guess is that we'll never find out.

Friday, 11 June 2010

I Call Your Name

John, Paul, George and . . . Richard? Or Richie, maybe? Though he's 'Richie' to his family and friends, Ringo Starr is known around the world under the stage name he adopted at the start of the 60s. Back then, he was playing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, alongside a guitarist who dubbed himself Johnny Guitar, and behind a lead singer who had been christened with the less tempestuous and romantic name of Alan Caldwell.

So it was Ringo Starr who enjoyed his moment of 'Starr Time' on stage with the Hurricanes, and who went on to join the Beatles in 1962. And yet . . .

On every page of You Never Give Me Your Money, I refer to the Beatles' drummer by his real name: Richard Starkey. When the book was published in Britain last September, I heard murmurs of complaint that I was being sarcastic towards the man I am quite happy to call 'Ringo'. That's probably because the only reason I gave in the book for my decision was to quote what Ringo said in that really annoying TV advert last year for a product that, thankfully, I've already forgotten: "Don't call me by my stage name".

So I didn't. Except that the advert wasn't actually why I took that decision. I was clear from the start that I didn't want to call the subjects of my book 'John', 'Paul', etc. when I was writing about four adults who had led very adult lives. That left me with Lennon, McCartney, Harrison - and Starr? Not a problem if I was writing a book about their careers as musicians. But You Never Give Me Your Money was much more than that. It was about what happens when four ostensibly ordinary people become the most famous human beings on the planet, and have to live with the consequences of that fame. And one of those four ordinary people from Liverpool was a sickly but determined child called Richard Starkey.

It was Starkey, not Starr, who signed all those contracts, earned and spent all those millions, sued some people and was sued by plenty more, and who carried around the burden of being not only a Beatle for life whether he liked it or not, but also 'Ringo Starr', the happy-go-lucky drummer with the sad face. It's Ringo Starr who makes albums, leads the All-Starr Band, and gives occasional interviews. And it's Richard Starkey who goes home afterwards and probably asks his wife why every interviewer insists on quizzing him about the Beatles. 'Ringo Starr' is a fantasy in which we've all bought shares. Richard Starkey is something much more interesting than that - a human being, with the same strengths and faults as you and me, who also turned out to be a rock'n'roll drummer with a backbeat that wouldn't quit.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Paul is dead, and I am the walrus

Yesterday was publication day for the US edition of You Never Give Me Your Money, and I spent my afternoon on a 'radio tour' - 17 radio interviews with American stations in just over three hours, with scarcely a pause for breath between each one.

There were lots of questions about who really broke up the Beatles, and where the money went, and whether John and Paul really loved each other, and all the stuff you'd expect. But several DJs also asked me about a new movie, which supposedly proves, once and for all, that Paul McCartney died in 1966, and was replaced by an imposter.

The 'movie' turns out to be a DVD entitled Paul McCartney Really Is Dead (snappy title, huh?). It's based around two tapes, supposedly made by George Harrison, supposedly on the day he was nearly murdered in 1999, in which he supposedly (you get the picture) reveals that he and the other Beatles (not Paul, obviously, cos he was dead) had been involved in a spectacular cover-up of McCartney's death in a car crash.

It's hardly a new idea, this. The 'Paul is dead' saga began in 1969, and I really can't face going through all the 'clues' again right now. If you have a spare day on your hands, you can find all sorts of conspiracy-theory clips on Youtube that 'prove' the case once and for all. But this DVD is, supposedly, different - and it rests on the authenticity or otherwise of these famous tapes.

Well, I've watched the trailer for the DVD, strictly in the cause of research, and it's not even funny enough to count as a joke. I mean, if you're going to pretend that you have tapes of George speaking, then your first step is to find someone who sounds like him - at least a little, right? But this guy - well, the closest he's ever been to Liverpool was watching A Hard Day's Night. I can do a better Harrison impression than this guy, believe me. (So you know where to come next time, boys.)

Paul isn't dead, George didn't leave a 'last testament' exposing the truth, and the DVD is a waste of everyone's time. What intrigued me, though, was the timing. Here we are, 40 or 41 (depending where you start counting) years after the Beatles broke up, nearly nine after George Harrison's death, and you can still get in the papers by making up a story about the group. And you can still get on the radio by writing a book about them, thank goodness. All of which illustrates one of the themes of You Never Give Me Your Money: we (the Beatle-obsessed world) still cling to the Beatles like children do to their favourite toys. We want more, more, more, and if we have to make up new stories because the old ones are no longer exciting enough, then we'll do it.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of equally bizarre claims for you to consider. Which (fairly) famous drummer claimed that it was he, and not Ringo, who played on most of the Beatles' records? And which (very) famous record producer claimed that it was he, and not George Martin, who produced most of the Beatles' records? One clue: it wasn't Paul McCartney. (He died in 1966, remember?) Answers soon . . .

Monday, 7 June 2010

Heroes & Villains No. 2: Allen Klein

"Mr Klein does not give interviews", I was told politely and repeatedly when I attempted to contact the person who was - alongside Yoko Ono - the most controversial figure in the entire Beatles story. I'd assumed that he simply didn't wish to revisit a period of his life that had been financially lucrative, but had (indirectly) led him to a US prison cell, and to public denigration by virtually every commentator. No doubt that was true, but when Klein died last summer, another more pressing reason for his silence became apparent. For years, he had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

What made Klein so controversial? The simple fact that his appointment as manager of "the Apple group of companies" - and therefore, by extension, the Beatles - marked the parting of the financial ways between (on the one hand) Paul McCartney, and (on the other) the rest of the Beatles. The full story is in my book; suffice to say here that McCartney wished to be managed by his father-in-law, Lee Eastman, while Lennon, Harrison and Starkey all feared that Eastman would inevitably be biased towards Paul and against them. Lennon met Klein in January 1969, and within the week he'd been put in charge (initially alongside Eastman) of the Beatles' tangled financial affairs. Several months later, the three-man Beatle alliance signed a management contract with Klein, but McCartney refused to add his signature, and from that moment on, there was no hope that the Beatles could survive as a viable business entity.

All this is common knowledge. And it's equally accepted that Klein was a villain, a charlatan, a con-merchant - you can add your own insults. Two things puzzled me, however. If Klein was such a bad egg, how come Lennon, Harrison and Starkey didn't sack him as their manager until 1973? They not only led his appointment stand at the end of each year of his initial three-year contract, but actually retained his services in 1972, when it would have been just as easy to let him go. Also, if Klein was really as unpleasant a character as all previous Beatles biographers have claimed, how did they fall for his charms in the first place?

The deeper I delved into his reign at Apple, the more admiration I had for his business brain, and for his sheer panache. Klein threw himself at the Beatles' affairs with the same reckless enthusiasm and unfailing eye for a dollar that he had already displayed as a financial adviser to Bobby Darin, Sam Cooke, Donovan, the Rolling Stones and many more. He uncovered plenty of money that was owed to the Beatles, but would never have found its way into their coffers if he hadn't known which rocks to turn over. He won them the most lucrative recording deal ever agreed up to that point - though it was slightly unfortunate that by the time the deal was on the table, the Beatles could no longer stand to be in the same room as each other. And he turned the money-burning hippie utopia of Apple into a fully functioning, profit-making record company, even if he had to sacrifice all of its original ideals along the way.

Against all this, you have to balance the fact that he also blinded the Beatles with financial wizardry so slick that they, and their other advisers, completely failed to notice that he was claiming much more commission on their earnings than he was entitled to. "So what?", Klein would probably have said. "They're still much richer than they would have been if I hadn't helped them out." And he'd have been right. He skirted along the edges of the law, though, and his cavalier method of selling off copies of Apple albums that had been written off as promotional items (and therefore didn't generate any royalties for artists or songwriters) eventually led him to a New York courtroom on charges of tax evasion, and a two-month jail sentence in 1980.

Ultimately, Klein was hardly the first pop manager to cream a little extra for himself off the top of his clients' pot; and hardly the worst offender, either (hello Colonel Parker). But he was (a) an American, (b) not a gentleman in the Brian Epstein tradition, (c) not from Liverpool, (d) intimidating, (e) brash and (f) a show-off. Several of those qualities endeared him to John Lennon, but they all counted against him as far as Paul McCartney was concerned. Not that McCartney absolutely rejected everything that Klein did, as my book reveals . . .

When the UK edition was published last year, somebody asked me why I was so biased towards Klein in my narrative. I didn't, and don't, think I was, so the question surprised me. Then I realised that I was just about the first person to write about the Beatles who didn't start from the premise that Klein was 100% evil. Other Beatles biographers have been very unkind to him; I hope I've tilted the balance back a little in his favour, without seeking to disguise any of the mistakes he made.

One thing is certain. Allen Klein's cardinal sin was that he wasn't the right person to keep the Beatles together in 1969. Only one man could have done that - Brian Epstein. And sadly he had died two years earlier.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Stop Press #1: The 1976 Reunion

Every time I publish a book, I can guarantee that I'll spend the next year or two stumbling across information that would have been really useful when I was writing it. So, with that in mind . . .

Midway through You Never Give Me Your Money, I mention the familiar anecdote about the US TV series Saturday Night Live, and its semi-satirical attempt to engineer a Beatles reunion by dangling the grand sum of $3,200 in front of the group.

As many of you will know, John Lennon and Paul McCartney watched Saturday Night Live together at the Dakota in April 1976, and briefly joked about the idea of hailing a cab and heading downtown to the TV studio. But, so Lennon recalled in 1980, they decided that it was too late and they couldn't be bothered.

Comedian Chevy Chase, a Saturday Night Live regular, told a different version of the story, which I found this morning while searching for something entirely non-Beatle-related. He claimed that not only did Lennon and McCartney watch the show, but that Lennon immediately phoned George Harrison, who was elsewhere in New York with Ringo Starr - and all four men agreed to meet at the NBC TV studios.

Sadly, so Chase recalled, "John's chauffeur got lost. By the time they arrived at the studios, the others had already been waiting outside in their car for half an hour. John's chauffeur went inside, and asked where the Saturday Night Live studio was. He was told that we had gone off the air twenty minutes earlier. Paul said they felt frustrated at first, but then started laughing. John said, 'Never mind, lads, we've got another appointment tomorrow - it could be our lucky break'."

Well, that's what Chevy Chase said. All of which raises a pertinent question. Did all four Beatles really meet outside a TV studio in New York, nearly seven years after the last documented occasion when they were together in the same place? George Harrison was certainly in New York during the week when this 'reunion' was supposed to have happened. Ringo Starr? He started work on a solo album in Hollywood around that time, but it's not impossible that he could have been on the East Coast that night.

I don't believe it, however. I'm happy to imagine that Lennon and McCartney watched Saturday Night Live together; I can even believe that Lennon phoned Harrison to say, 'Are you watching this?' But the rest just doesn't ring true. Besides anything else, I can't conceive that the four Beatles could have stood together on the streets of mid-town Manhattan for even five seconds without someone seeing them. And I can't believe that all four of them would have taken a vow of silence about this so-near/so-far reconciliation, to the extent that none of them has ever mentioned the incident since then. Good story, though, and I wish I'd mentioned it in You Never Give Me Your Money, even if only to shoot it down.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Great Lost Beatles Single

We know that John Lennon wanted 'Revolution' to be a Beatles single in the summer of 1968. That's 'Revolution 1' from the White Album, to be precise. But, as Lennon complained to Jann Wenner in 1970, his fellow Beatles "said it wasn't good enough and we put out, what, 'Hello Goodbye' or some shit. No, we put out 'Hey Jude', sorry, which was worthy. But we could have had both."

It sounds like a classic example of the growing gulf between Lennon's rock'n'roll sensibility, and McCartney's commercialism, with 'Hey Jude' (one of the best-selling singles of the 1960s, after all) taking precedence on good old-fashioned money-making grounds.

But that's not the whole story. Forgive me if you already knew this, but until the other week I had never quite realised the audacity of Lennon's suggestion. It's true that 'Revolution 1' wouldn't have been the most obvious choice for a Beatles single, though it was probably no less radio-friendly than 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko'. I reckon, however, that the problem wasn't 'Revolution 1' but Lennon's intended choice of B-side - that all-time fan favourite, 'Revolution 9'.

Lennon confirms his intention in a previously unheard 1972 interview, which comes up for sale at Christie's next auction of pop memorabilia in London on 24 June. "The other Beatles wouldn't let it out," he complains. "They said it wasn't commercial." Mark Lewisohn's investigations into the Beatles' studio activities proved that Lennon devoted the best part of June 1968 to recording, editing and mixing the two 'Revolution' tracks; and that during much of that time, first George and Ringo, and then Paul, were out of the country.

The four men reconvened at Abbey Road on 26 June 1968, and Lennon presumably unveiled his new 'Beatles single' for their approval. You can imagine their reaction: they were confronted with a record that (a) was overtly political; (b) was entirely dominated by Lennon, on both sides; (c) featured an avant-garde sound collage unlike anything else in the Beatles' catalogue; (d) bore the obvious influence of Lennon's new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, to whom they had only been introduced a few weeks earlier, and who had loyally appeared at every single recording session since then. It's no wonder that McCartney, Harrison and Starkey said no.

How did Lennon react to their refusal? We don't have a record of the conversation, but consider this: he immediately led the band into an eight-hour session devoted to recording the backing track for a song called 'Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey'. Were the people with "something to hide" none other than his fellow Beatles?

So there was no Beatles single combining 'Revolution 1' and 'Revolution 9'. One thing is certain, though: the moment they heard that single, the other Beatles knew that John Lennon had changed. And the nature of that change meant that the group's days were numbered.