Category Archives: Paul McCartney

Today’s Top 5: Vinyl Musings

The sun is peeking out now, thankfully, but yesterday and this morning were overcast, chilly and damp in the Delaware Valley. Yet it was warm and sunny inside my den thanks to two finds at HHH Records in Hatboro, which has fast become my favorite store: Lone Justice’s stupendous debut, which I’ve written about many times, and the Pretenders’ Extended Play, a five-song set that I mention in this flashback to November 1981.

There’s something to be said for brevity, in only the crème de la crème making the lacquer cut. Extended Play, which was released in March 1981, is a great example. It includes two tracks, “Message of Love” and “Talk of the Town,” that were included on Pretenders II, which came out five months later, plus two previously unreleased tracks – “Porcelain,” “Cuban Slide” – and a live rendition of “Precious” that’s even better than the studio track.

I owned the EP back in the day, and much preferred it to II, but somewhere along the way parted company with it – not because of the music, but the format. I traded many LPs for cash in the months prior to Diane and I moving in together in 1990.

One LP that I did not get rid of: the 1973 Buffalo Springfield double-LP compilation, which brings together the essential tracks from the influential group’s three studio LPs. It’s also the only legitimate home to the nine-minute version of “Bluebird,” a track that features (according to the liner notes on Buffalo Springfield Again) 11,386 guitars.

I listened to Side 2 (“Mr. Soul,” “Bluebird,” “Broken Arrow” and “Rock and Roll Woman”) last night, and followed it with Side 1 of a future Essentials pick – Neil Young’s Harvest.

I owned it on vinyl back in the day, but – as with Extended Play – let it slip away. Then, for my birthday this year, a friend and her kids gave me the 180-gram LP. “Out on the Weekend,” the first track, is one of my favorites from it; and here’s Neil in March 1971 performing the song on Live on the BBC about a year before the album’s release.

Over at the Hideaway, Herc is counting down his Top 100 singles for 1977 – a thoroughly enjoyable read that mixes the personal with the profound. While countdowns collated from countless contributors, such as NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women or Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, are fun (if infuriating) to read, the synopses of the individual works often miss the raison d’être for why they’re important – the backstory matters not, nor does technical precision. No, I’d argue that it’s the personal connection the music makes with listeners.

Lists such as Herc’s fill the void. It’s idiosyncratic, as any fan’s would be, and – as a result – could well be a chapter in The People’s History to Rock ’n’ Pop. Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all. Its impact has as much to do with where we were, who we were with, and what we were doing when we first heard it, as it does the music itself. There’s no right or wrong, though – based on our own experiences, likes and dislikes – we may disagree with each other’s selections and placement. I mean, the live “Maybe I’m Amazed” at No. 64? For shame, Herc, for shame! (I jest, of course.)

Wings Over America, which was released in December 1976, came with a way-cool poster that I quickly tacked up on my bedroom wall three years later, which is when I remember receiving the expensive three-LP set as a Christmas gift. The mercurial Jimmy McCulloch (1953-79) handles the guitar solos with aplomb; listening to them just now via the above YouTube clip sent shivers up my spine.

Here’s another LP I’ve kept with me through the ages: the double-LP Concerts for the People of Kampuchea. Taken from a series of benefit concerts held at the Hammersmith Odeon in London during the last week of 1979, but not released until March 1981, it features a who’s who of then-popular British acts – both well-established (The Who, Wings) and new/relatively new (The Clash, Elvis Costello, Pretenders).

It’s probably most sought after, these days, for the three tracks featuring McCartney’s Rockestra, which consisted of many of the week’s notables in a rock ‘n’ roll-like orchestra. Here’s the “Rockestra Theme,” which was first featured on Wings’ under-appreciated 1979 Back to the Egg album. (Pete Townshend is a hoot to watch.)

But it’s also worthwhile for the other cuts, two of which I’ll feature as bonuses: This gem from the Pretenders…

…and this classic from the Who:

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Today’s Top 5: January 11, 1974

Last night, Diane and I became so engrossed in Room 222 that we lost track of time – and of Orphan Black (one of our favorite shows), which airs at 10pm. I only realized our oversight just before turning in for the night, when I checked Facebook and found Cosima peering through my iPhone screen as if to say, “where the hell are you?” Really, Cosima, you couldn’t have popped up at, say, 9:30pm?! 

it’s not really her fault, of course, nor the algorithm that drives Facebook’s newsfeed. I blame Pete, Liz, Alice and Mr. Kaufman.

The half-hour comedy-drama about the goings on at an L.A. high school originally aired on ABC from September 17th, 1969, to January 11th, 1974. If not for some unexpected Emmy nominations and wins, it likely wouldn’t have lasted that long – it wasn’t a ratings winner. Part of its failure to catch on, I think, is that although ostensibly aimed at kids, it’s actually about the aforementioned adults – history teacher Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes), guidance counselor Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas), student teacher-English teacher Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine) and principal Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine). One or two (or more) of them, though usually Pete, step in to help a kid solve a problem.

And, too, it was a topical show with a capital T, so I’m sure some viewers – kids and adults alike – turned the channel just because of that. Among the problems tackled: pollution, racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, guns in school, and teen pregnancy. An underlying theme also runs through every episode: respect. To lean on a cliche, it preached that one can disagree without being disagreeable, a lesson that’s (sadly) still applicable today. The result is far more earnest and wry than laugh-out-loud funny, though chuckles are to be had – especially when Alice is involved.

Anyway, I picked up the DVD sets for seasons 1 and 2 years ago only to learn that Shout TV (apparently) has no intention of releasing the final three seasons. As I’ve written before, it’s a show that takes me back – and it does the same for Diane. So when I discovered last week – quite by accident – that it airs every weekday from 9am to 11am on the Aspire cable channel, I did what any self-respecting fan would do: I scheduled all airings to be DVRed. And last night, with some 15 episodes from seasons 4 and 5 on hand, we binged.

Which leads to today’s Top 5: January 11th, 1974, the date of Room 222’s final episode. The songs are drawn from the charts that end on the 12th over at Weekly Top 40.

The 11th was a Friday, I should mention, and all was not great in the land. Here’s the day’s headline from the Chicago Tribune:

Also: unemployment rose to 5.2 percent this month; and the wage-killer known as inflation was 9.4 percent. Super Bowl VIII would be played in two days in Houston, where the Miami Dolphins decimated the Minnesota Vikings 24-7.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: Enough of the intro.

1) Steve Miller – “The Joker.” The No. 2 song in the land, this week, is this staple of today’s classic rock.

2) Jim Croce – “Time in a Bottle.” This song from the South Philly-born singer-songwriter, who died at age 30 in a plane crash on September 20, 1973, dropped from the top spot to No. 2.

3) Al Wilson – “Show and Tell.” Rising to No. 3 (from No. 5) is this smooth soul classic, which would hit No. 1 the following week.

4) Brownsville Station – “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” The Ann Arbor, Mich., rock band scored a multi-platinum hit with this single, which hit No. 4 this week.

5) Gladys Knight and the Pips – “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination.” Gladys & Co. clock in at No. 5 with this killer track, which was written by Gerry Goffin and Barry Goldberg.

And a few bonuses:

6) Stevie Wonder – “Living for the City.” The instant classic, from Stevie’s Innervisions album, hits its chart peak this week – No. 8.

7) Paul McCartney & Wings – “Helen Wheels.” Another instant-classic, written forMcCartney’s Land Rover, also reaches its chart peak – No. 10.

8) Charlie Rich – “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” And, finally, falling to No. 12 (from No. 4) is  this country-flavored hit, which enjoyed a two-week run at No. 1 in December 1973. It’s one of a few songs that I know primarily for its appearance on one of the compilation albums routinely hawked on TV in the mid- and late-1970s.

Paul McCartney – Flowers in the Dirt Deluxe Edition

If this morning was all Beatles, this afternoon has been all latter-day Paul McCartney by way of his mammoth Flowers in the Dirt deluxe re-issue.

The set features the original album; a second disc of 10 demos recorded with Elvis Costello; a third disc of 9 of the same demo songs recorded with the nascent Flowers in the Dirt band and produced by Elvis; a fourth disc of b-sides and remixes; and a DVD of videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. (Click on the picture to the left for a rundown of everything included.) The numbered deluxe edition (mine is 4714) also comes with high-res (24/96) downloads and three additional downloads of “cassette demos” with Elvis that could (and probably should) have been placed on the second disc.

It’s a lot to digest, obviously. The original album is now remastered; and, as I listened to it in full for the first time in ages (decades?), I have to say that it has more than held its own. It’s a near tour de force. Buttressed by four songs that were written with Elvis Costello (“My Brave Face,” “You Want Her Too,” “Don’t Be Careless Love” and “That Day Is Done”), the collection stands with the best of his solo/Wings work. “This One” and “We Got Married,” which features a guitar solo by David Gilmour, are both sublime; and “Figure of Eight” has a nice vibe.

I say “near tour de force” because there are a few songs that would’ve worked better as b-sides, such as “How Many People” and “Motor of Love” – and several of the b-sides included on disc four would’ve made the album even better if they’d been included.

One day I may A-B it against the original release to judge the difference in sound quality, but by the time I find the original disc – which is in a box somewhere – others will have beaten me to that punch. For now, though, I can safely say that it sounds great.

Both sets of demos are interesting. The first (disc 2) are just McCartney and Elvis; the performances, all recorded in September and October 1987, are basic sketches (guitar/piano, vocals). The songs are fully formed, just not fleshed out – and it’s quite a joy to hear them. The next batch (disc 3), recorded the following February, are fleshed out thanks to the presence of Hamish Stuart on guitar and Chris Whitten on drums; they’re a blueprint for an alternate Flowers in Dirt. One gets the sense, in listening to them, that they’re less demos and more a road not taken, in other words. The performances are all phenomenal.

The b-sides and remixes are as b-sides and remixes go: some (“Back on My Feet,” “Flying to My Home” and “The First Stone”) would’ve made Flowers in the Dirt a killer set. The others are non-essential, though the Bob Clearmountain mix of “Figure of Eight” is solid. But how many remixed versions of “Ou Est Le Soleil?” does one need to hear? The three bonus songs (“I Don’t Want to Confess,” “Shallow Grave” and “Mistress and Maid”) are well worth the download; as with the original demos on disc 2, they’re just McCartney and Elvis.

I haven’t watched the DVD yet – hey, it’s only 3:30pm as I write! – but even without seeing any of it, I can say that the deluxe set is well worth it for any avid fan.