Sunday, 23 January 2011

Paul McCartney Archive Collection

"Coming soon to the Paul McCartney Archive Collection" is the headline on a small insert in the Band On The Run repackage, which I finally got around to buying (not the £75 version, naturally). Underneath are pictures of six McCartney albums, which will presumably all be enlarged over the next year or two. Thoughts and suggestions as follows . . .

McCARTNEY: I can't imagine how this could be extended, though I love the idea of a set of pre-album demos (which would probably be more 'produced' than the finished record). I'd be delighted if Paul can suddenly lay his hands on an hour of out-takes, even if they all turn out to be instrumentals. Anyone fancy a 30-minute version of 'Momma Miss America'? (I do.) More likely would be full-length versions of 'Suicide' and 'The Lovely Linda' (if Paul ever finished it), alongside the 1971 B-side 'Oh Woman Oh Why' (which always sounded to me as if it belonged on McCartney rather than Ram).

RAM: This gets me genuinely excited, as it's my favourite McCartney album. If there's a demo of 'Back Seat Of My Car' in Paul's vaults, I want to hear it. A proper retrospective of the Ram sessions would have to include two tracks that were belatedly included on Red Rose Speedway, 'Little Lamb Dragonfly' and 'Get On The Right Thing', plus the I-can't-believe-this-still-hasn't-been-released gem 'A Love For You'. In their wonderful book Eight Arms To Hold You, Chip Madinger and Mark Easter reckoned that 'Little Woman Love' was also a Ram out-take, plus of course the single 'Another Day'. Then there's the mono mix of the entire LP, which appeared on a US promo, and the ten minutes of amusing nonsense issued as another promo, Brung To Ewe By. I'd love to believe that there are hours of rough mixes and alternate takes locked in a cupboard somewhere; I'd also love to believe that Paul might lower his guard long enough to release them. But I'm not holding my breath.

VENUS AND MARS: We know there are rough mixes and out-takes from these 1974/5 sessions, because they're available on bootleg. And there are 'live' versions of several songs from the LP which were tackled during the Elstree rehearsals in September 1975. Plus film footage that was used for the videos promoting 'Letting Go' and 'Venus And Mars/Rock Show'. But why am I feeling bored at the prospect? Maybe it's because the charm of this record lies as much in its production as its songwriting, so anything less than perfection is going to pale by comparison.

WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND: To my mind, this is the weakest of the Wings albums, and I'm not aware of any out-takes from the sessions. So the mind boggles at how Paul might be able to extend this to two or three CDs/DVDs. I'm happy to be surprised, though.

WINGS OVER AMERICA: Another strange choice. Obviously, there must be more material available, as Eight Arms To Hold You reckoned that the original 3-LP set was taken from eight different shows, and it's entirely possible that every US concert in May/June 1976 is somewhere in the archive. Plus there is plenty of film footage, as the tour spawned both the Rock Show and Wings Over The World films. But . . . could there possibly be anything new to give us? The set-list remained virtually the same throughout the tour.

McCARTNEY II: Well, there's certainly room for a two-CD edition of this album, because it was originally meant to appear as a double-LP, with several additional 'songs' and extended versions of several more. I can't imagine playing it more than once, mind you, but it would be worth owning as a reminder of one of Paul's more adventurous trips into the unexpected.

The overall verdict? It depends how McCartney approaches each of these projects. He is understandably reticent to throw open the vaults and let everything out, because a major part of his talent is/was knowing where to draw the line. My hunch is that he will always err on the side of conservatism, and hold out-takes back rather than letting all his dirty laundry blow proudly in the breeze. But then whoever imagined that he would do something like Oobu Joobu, which was full of weird off-cuts and curios? Be brave, Paul: the fans will love you for it, and you'll also sell more records that way.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Miss O'Dell and the Final Beatles Meeting

When were the four Beatles together in the same room for the last time? Having reviewed all the evidence, I reckon that the answer is either 16 or 17 September 1969. As I wrote in You Never Give Me Your Money, on one of those dates "all four Beatles endured a turgid discussion about voting rights and share options, which broadened into a desultory fight between Lennon and Harrison about the latter's right to equal exposure on any future Beatles record" (p. 99). Various accounts of the Beatles' break-up have suggested that all four men were together on later occasions, notably on 20 September, when Lennon announced he was leaving the group. But my research showed that there were only ever three Beatles present on these days, with Harrison (for example) being the missing party when John made his historic declaration of independence.

In Miss O'Dell, however, Chris O'Dell claims - without any fanfare - to have been present six months later at an event which all four Beatles attended. She recalls helping Pattie Boyd to organise a birthday party soon after the Harrisons had moved into Friar Park, in March 1970, and casually mentions that all of the other Beatles, and their wives, were there. I checked with Pattie Boyd's own book, but she doesn't mention the party at all (indeed, her chronology falls to pieces around 1970/71). So is Miss O'Dell right, and does Beatles history need to be rewritten?

I can't prove the point either way, but I firmly believe that O'Dell slipped up, and that Paul and Linda McCartney weren't at Pattie's party. It took place on 17 March 1970, just as McCartney was finishing work on his solo album, and was doing his best to avoid visiting the Apple offices, or spend any time with his Beatle colleagues. Phil Spector was about to start work on remixing the Let It Be album tapes, and the other Beatles were about to ask McCartney to delay his album to make room for theirs. Meanwhile, three of the Beatles had invited Allen Klein to become their manager, and McCartney had refused to sign the contract. Under the circumstances, it's difficult to imagine Paul choosing to spend time with Lennon, Harrison and Starkey, with the risk that even the most casual conversation might turn into a blazing row about money, managers or the McCartney album.

In fact, I'm dubious about the idea that the Lennons attended the party, either. A couple of days earlier, psychotherapist Arthur Janov had arrived at their home to begin weeks of intensive Primal Scream Therapy. If you'd spent the day rolling around on the floor screaming about the frustration of being a Beatle, is it likely that you'd choose to devote the evening to socialising with the rest of the group?

So I reckon that, quite understandably, Chris O'Dell has confused her dates, or combined several different social occasions into one, and thinks that she remembers a four-man reunion that never took place. But I'd love to be proved wrong - with photos too, please.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Miss O'Dell

A dose of Christmas flu confined me to barracks and gave me the time to indulge in the frothy pleasure of reading Chris O'Dell's memoir: Miss O'Dell: Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. As the subtitle is nearly longer than the book, not too much more explanation is required. Suffice to say that Ms O'Dell met Derek Taylor in 1968, found her way to Apple's London HQ, became an insider with the Beatles and then the Stones, and spent most of the 70s and 80s in and around the superstar end of the music business.

During her journey, she slept with Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Leon Russell and Bob Dylan; became Pattie Boyd's best female friend; fell out big-time with Eric Clapton; and was celebrated in song by George Harrison. To be fair, she also acted as a tour manager, go-fer, secretary and Ms Fix-It for most of her celebrity friends.

The formula for celebrity-associated kiss-and-tell ghost-written autobiographies is simple: your ghostwriter squeezes as much mileage as possible out of your close encounters, and fills out with the rest with poorly researched retreads of familiar anecdotes about the stars. Miss O'Dell, however, is definitely a cut above the average: though it's still easy to tell where memory leaves off and research takes over, the book has commendably few of the howlers that litter the pages of most such volumes.

And the story is undeniably gripping throughout. It begins as every Beatle fan's fairytale, with O'Dell nervously entering the Beatles' entourage and discovering, to her amazement, that she is being accepted, despite the fact that she expects to be denounced and expelled at any second. This is the part of the book we'd all love to have played out - as an employee during Apple's brief spasm of idealism, before Allen Klein took over. Then the Apple dream fades, and the melodrama begins, with O'Dell becoming an increasingly enmired observer of, and then participant in, the collapse of the Harrison and Starkey marriages. She also slips ever more deeply into alcohol and drug abuse, and soon any glamour (by association) is outstripped by her increasing awareness that she is only clinging to reality by the most tenuous of chemical threads. A hangover is bound to follow, and even what appears to be a happy ending (her 80s marriage to a British aristocrat) turns out to be another nightmare. Long before this point I was thanking the gods that I'd never been anywhere near the Beatles or the Stones at a vulnerable stage of my life - there but for the grace of George go I, indeed . . .

It's well worth reading, anyway - pure indulgence, but a guaranteed page-turner throughout, and often genuinely revelatory about life in the Beatle fast lane.