Posts Tagged ‘Eric Clapton’

After making a triumphant return courtesy of his concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre, an event organized by Pete Townshend and featuring any number of famous friends, Clapton’s confidence was restored and he returned to Miami’s Criteria Studios to begin work on a record that would stand as another milestone in Clapton’s career. “461 Ocean Boulevard” is the second studio solo album by the English musician. The album was released in late July 1974 for RSO Records, shortly after the record company released the hit single “I Shot The Sheriff” in early July the same year. The album topped various international charts and sold more than two million copies.

Eric Clapton was getting his life back together after a crippling heroin addiction, and his second solo album throws in a bunch of different styles to keep him occupied. It’s not all about guitar fireworks, either. There were blues covers, some heartfelt originals and a version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” that went to No. 1. Eric Clapton had already undergone several transitions in his ever-evolving career by the time his album “461 Ocean Boulevard” was released in late July 1974. Having gained fame as a member of the Yardbirds and, later, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

Perhaps the best way to describe guitar legend Eric Clapton’s in July 1974, as he prepared to unveil his watershed solo LP, “461 Ocean Boulevard”, was as a “wanted man.”

After laying low for the better part of three years while struggling with substance abuse, Clapton was sought after by his fellow musicians, by the countless fans of his prior exploits (the Yardbirds, Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Blind Faith and Cream plus the short lived period Derek and the Dominoes and by the savvy music industry suits, who knew they were dealing with a golden goose – sure to fill their coffers regardless of what music he put his name to. The impetus for the album was born from the guitarist’s fascination with the blues recordings that had inspired him early on. During his recovery, he found himself renewing his familiarity with those older records and listening to more recent offerings as well. So too, a demo tape given him by Dominos bassist Carl Radle shared songs Radle had written with drummer Jamie Oldaker. As a result, the two musicians became the core of Clapton’s new outfit, which also came to include guitarist George Terry and singer Yvonne Elliman. The album took its title from the house where Clapton and company ensconced, located at “461 Ocean Boulevard” in Golden Beach, Florida,

461 Ocean Boulevard was bookended by an urgently paced re-working of the traditional “Motherless Children” and the renewed vigour of “Mainline Florida.” In between, however, the ensuing laid-back fare ranged from the hymn-like “Give Me Strength” to the easy-grooving “Willie and the Hand Jive” to a slippery slide across Elmore James’ “I Can’t Hold Out” and an acoustic “Please Be with Me.”

Sprinkled among these were three key tracks in “Get Ready” (a cowrite and duet with Yvonne Elliman); Clapton’s own, earnestly hopeful “Let it Grow” (an emotional reflection of his recent rebirth from the shadows of heroin addiction); and, most striking of all, a relatively straight cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” that went to No. 1, pulling the rest of the album right along with it.

Other covers are of similar significance. “Willie and the Hand Jive” tapped into the familiarity factor, a slow-rolling mesh of blues and funk written by singer and composer Johnny Otis. Elmore James’ “I Can’t Hold Out” and Robert Johnson’s “Steady Rollin’ Man” found Clapton going back to the basics of blues.

Throughout the sessions, Clapton was aided and abetted by bassist Carl Radle (late of the Dominos), drummer Jamie Oldaker, keyboardist Dick Sims, guitarist George Terry – and, perhaps most crucial of all, Tom Dowd. Most importantly, 461 Ocean Boulevardis the album that found Clapton renewing his confidence and shoring up his strengths as a bandleader who was no longer in need of simply sharing his efforts with others. In that regard, “461 Ocean Boulevard” can be considered a destination that seemed to serve him best. The album finishes with George Terry’s “Mainline Florida”, which “breaks away from the established tone of the record” and features Clapton’s using talk box during his outgoing solo.

The dean of record producers, he’d worked with Clapton since his Dominos and Cream days, and contributed much to shoring up his shaky confidence.

Together, these players helped Eric Clapton fulfill most of the tall expectations harboured by his previous groups alluded to earlier, once his incomparable talents and this inspired song set were finally captured in the grooves of 461 Ocean Boulevard.

Cream Goodbye packshot

Cream’s “Live At The Forum”, featuring the band’s performance recorded at the Los Angeles Forum during their Goodbye Tour of 1968, will be released in a limited edition, blue, 2LP version by UMC/Polydor Records on April 23rd.

The 2LP release is taken from the four-CD set that commemorated the tour and was released in 2020. “Live At The Forum” is produced by Bill Levenson and marks the first authorised release of the full concert on vinyl. The recording of the historic show captures the mighty trio of Eric ClaptonJack Bruce, and Ginger Baker at the height of Cream’s powers, but poignantly also nearing the end of their all-too-brief two-year reign.

Cream’s final album Goodbye, which followed their split and was released in February 1969, contained six tracks, three of which were recorded at the Forum. The LP topped the charts in the UK, where it went platinum, and reached No.2 in the US, where it was certified gold.

Cream was a shambling circus of diverse personalities who happened to find that catalyst together,” observed Clapton. “Any one of us could have played unaccompanied for a good length of time. So you put the three of us together in front of an audience willing to dig it limitlessly, we could have gone on forever… And we did….just going for the moon every time we played.”

The Goodbye Tour comprised 22 shows at 19 venues across the US from October 4th to November 4th, 1968. Cream’s famous finale, in two shows at London’s hallowed Royal Albert Hall, followed on November 25th and 26th.

Cream was a shambling circus of diverse personalities who happened to find that catalyst together… any one of us could have played unaccompanied for a good length of time,” Eric Clapton said of the 1968 farewell shows in a statement. “So you put the three of us together in front of an audience willing to dig it limitlessly, we could have gone on forever… And we did… just going for the moon every time we played.” (The announcement of the Live at the Forum vinyl notably comes on the same day, March 30th, as Clapton’s 76th birthday.)

The vinyl release of Live at the Forum is available to preorder now and will arrive as a limited edition double-LP set pressed on blue vinyl. The record was produced by Bill Levenson, while Kevin Reeves mastered the tapes from the original 1968 analogue mix reels. Along with the Forum show, last year’s Goodbye Tour Live 1968 box set featured two other Cream shows in California from October 1968 (San Diego and Oakland), as well as their November 26th, 1968 farewell gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Live At The Forum” is released on April 23rd.

The sessions that birthed John Lennon’s raw and deeply personal 1970 solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band receive the full unfettered treatment via a massive, lavishly crafted eight-disc super deluxe box set scheduled for release April 16th.

The eleven songs on the original album were a cathartic release for Lennon amid his recent break from the Beatles. Now, 50 years later, the influential album is remixed and remastered in a collection that features 159 tracks across six CDs and two Blu-ray audio discs. Clocking in at a whopping 11 hours of music, each song is presented in multiple forms- dubbed Ultimate Mixes, Evolution Mixes, Element Mixes, Raw Studio Mixes and Demos which include new mixes, rough demos, outtakes, rehearsals and jam sessions.

A separate single disc will be sold which includes the Ultimate Mixes of the original album and Lennon’s first three non-album singles, and an expanded 2CD or 2LP version adds a disc of outtakes of each song. The Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band album, originally released at the same time and recorded with the same core musicians plus guests, including Ornette Coleman, is included on the Blu-Ray edition.

Everything in this comprehensive box set has been newly mixed from scratch from brand new 192kHz/24bit hi-res transfers. In addition to the various new mixes, the set boasts 87 never-before-heard recordings. The Blu-rays present an array of listening options including high-definition, studio quality 192kHz/24bit audio in stereo and enveloping 5.1 Surround and Dolby Atmos for the Ultimate Mixes.

Quick takes on a few songs: Lennon’s guide vocal on the “God” Elements Mix alternates back and forth in sections between a talking vocal and a vulnerable sung vocal. “Mother” evolves from Lennon at home on guitar to experimenting with a tremolo guitar backing track before ultimately deciding on the piano version that opens the record.

George Harrison makes an appearance playing electric guitar on “Instant Karma (Raw Studio Mix)” an early take included here but recorded before the Plastic Ono Band sessions. Unsurprisingly, George’s jagged but melodic electric guitar work on this January 27th, 1970 take of the song makes the track sound more like a continuation of the Beatles than a Lennon solo song. Other takes of “Instant Karma” feature Harrison on acoustic guitar.

“Give Peace A Chance” and “Cold Turkey,” two other pre-session tracks, are presented in work tape and rough versions. Interestingly, “Power To The People” and “Do The Oz,” two 1971 Plastic Ono Band songs included on the 2000 reissue, are not included here.

While Lennon only recorded two takes of the harrowing album closer “My Mummy’s Dead,” four versions are included on the box in slightly different mixes.

The common perception regarding Lennon’s frame of mind when he went in to record the music was that of an emotionally fragile man. He and Yoko had experimented with an intensive six-month therapy program called Primal Scream, which unlocked his emotional childhood traumas and provided the lyrical basis for many of the songs that wound up on the album.

The rawness is definitely oozing from the tracks, but as the box set and photos in the beautiful 132-page hardcover book in the deluxe edition reveals, Lennon was in a pretty positive ‘let’s make music’ frame of mind. This is particularly evident during the loose set of jams that occupy one disc in the deluxe box, collected from various dates over the month-long recording sessions. Lennon and the band warm up and run through a bunch of ‘50s tunes and more, including a joking Elvis impression medley.

The book also includes an extensive interview with Arthur Janov (the late psychologist who pioneered Primal Scream therapy), scores of master multitrack box photos, track recording sheets, commentary on each song from those involved in the sessions and a visual map layout of the surround sound’s instrumentation.

Engineer Paul Hicks explains the Elements Mixes: “When we were going through the outtakes and even the master takes in some cases, we found the occasional overdub where we could understand why they didn’t end up using it, but we thought was fascinating to hear. The conga on ‘I Found Out,’ the extra vocals on ‘Hold On,’ the alternative organ take on ‘Isolation’ and maracas on ‘Well Well Well’ are a few examples.”

 

There were no set rules for any of the selections, really. It was just per song – what did we feel would be nice to isolate or show off, that might have escaped people’s initial listening experience.”

The liner notes also explain the Evolution Mixes. Each track has been edited down from all the original 8-Track multitracks, quarter-inch live recordings and mixes and a few demo cassettes. ‘These are ‘mini-documentaries that explore the development of each song through their elements, arrangements and the musicians that play on them.’

This reissue is fully authorized by Yoko Ono, who oversaw the production and creative direction, and from the same audio team that worked on 2018’s critically acclaimed Imagine – The Ultimate Collection, including triple GRAMMY®-Award winning engineer Paul Hicks and mixers/engineers Rob Stevens and Sam Gannon.

Featuring John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voormann, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Alan White and Phil Spector. Completely Remixed from the original multitracks, containing Ultimate Mixes, Out-Takes, Elements, Raw Studio and Evolution Mixes; Demos, Jams and Yoko Ono Live Sessions. SUPER DELUXE BOX SET CONTAINS: 6 CDs – 102 new Stereo Mixes – over 6 hours of audio. 2 Blu-Ray Audio Discs – 159 new Stereo Mixes – Over 11 hours of audio in Hi-Res 192/24 Stereo, 5.1 Surround and Dolby Atmos Mixes. 132 Page Hardback Book With Rare Photos, Memorabilia and Extensive Notes. WAR IS OVER! Poster and 2 Postcards. Also Available: 2 CD, 1 CD, 2 LP, Download and Streaming.

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It started with a plea from one friend to another. George Harrison had been close to the legendary Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar since the mid-’60s, when the Beatle first sought an expert to teach him to play the multi-stringed Indian sitar. Ravi Shankar, older than Harrison by some 22 years and the acknowledged world master of the instrument, was from Bangladesh (previously known as East Pakistan) in the South Asian region of Bengal. At the time, in 1971, Harrison’s website states, “The country was ravaged by floods, famine and civil war, which left 10 million people mostly women and children fleeing their homes.” Feeling distraught and wanting to help, Shankar met with Harrison and asked if he might be able to draw attention to the crisis, and possibly use his fame to do something to raise some funds for aid. “Yes,” Harrison told him, “I think I’ll be able to do something.”

In April of 1971, Harrison went to work recruiting friends for a one-time-only concert; by June he had already received commitments from several of the biggest names on rock. He also arranged for a film and recording to be made of the event, the proceeds of which would go toward the cause. The concert date was set for August 1st, 1971, two shows .The shows were held at 2:30 and 8:00 pm(afternoon and evening) to take place at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Not only would The Concert for Bangladesh be Harrison’s first major live appearance since the Beatles quit touring five years earlier, it would go down as one of the greatest evenings of classic rock in history. The event was the first-ever benefit of such a magnitude, and featured a supergroup of performers that included Harrison, fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and the band Badfinger. In addition, Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan – both of whom had ancestral roots in Bangladesh – performed an opening set of Indian classical music. The concerts were attended by a total of 40,000 people, and the initial gate receipts raised close to $250,000 for Bangladesh relief, which was administered by UNICEF. After collecting the musicians easily, Harrison found it extremely difficult to get the recording industry to release the rights for performers to share the stage, and millions of dollars raised from the album and film were tied up in IRS tax escrow accounts for years, but the Concert for Bangladesh is recognised as a highly successful and influential humanitarian aid project.

Shankar’s original hope was to raise $25,000 through a benefit concert of his own, With Harrison’s commitment, and the record and film outlets available to him through the Beatles’ Apple Corps organisation, the idea soon grew to become a star-studded musical event, mixing Western rock with Indian classical music.

According to Chris O’Dell, a music-business administrator and former Apple employee, Harrison got off the phone with Shankar once the concept had been finalised, and started enthusing with his wife, Pattie Boyd, and herself about possible performers. Ringo Starr, Lennon, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Jim Keltner, Voormann, Billy Preston and Badfinger were all mentioned during this initial brainstorming. The Concert For Bangladesh happened because of my relationship with Ravi … I said, “If you want me to be involved, I think I’d better be really involved,” so I started recruiting all these people.  O’Dell set about contacting local musicians from the Harrisons’ rented house in Nichols Canyon, as Harrison took the long-distance calls, hoping more than anything to secure Bob Dylan’s participation

Almost all of Harrison’s first-choice names signed on immediately, while a day spent boating with Memphis musician Don Nix resulted in the latter agreeing to organise a group of backing singers. The Sunday, was the only day that Madison Square Garden was available at such short notice. By the first week of July Harrison was in a Los Angeles studio recording his purpose-written song, “Bangla Desh”, with co-producer Phil Spector. The song’s opening verse documents Shankar’s plea to Harrison for assistance, and the lyrics “My friend came to me with sadness in his eyes / Told me that he wanted help before his country dies” 

Harrison then met with Apple signed band Badfinger in London to explain that he would have to abandon work on “Straight Up” , before flying to New York on 13 July to see Lennon. During the middle of July also, once back in Los Angeles, Harrison produced Shankar’s Bangladesh benefit record, an EP titled Joi Bangla. As with Harrison’s “Bangla Desh”, all profits from this recording would go to the newly established George Harrison–Ravi Shankar Special Emergency Relief Fund, to be distributed by UNICEF.

Also around the middle of July, the upcoming concert by “George Harrison and Friends” was announced via a small ad buried in the back pages of the New York Times”, Tickets sold out in no time, leading to the announcement of a second show. Towards the end of the month, when all parties were due to meet in New York for rehearsals, Harrison had the commitment of a backing band comprising: Preston, on keyboards; the four members of Badfinger, on acoustic rhythm guitars and tambourine; Voormann and Keltner, on bass and drums, respectively; and saxophonist Jim Horn’s so-called “Hollywood Horns”, which included Chuck Findley, Jackie Kelso and Lou McCreary. Of the established stars, Leon Russell had committed also, but on the proviso that he be supported by members of his tour band. Eric Clapton insisted that he too would be there, even if O’Dell and other insiders, knowing of the guitarist’s incapacity due to his severe heroin addiction, were surprised that Harrison had considered him for the occasion. Among Harrison’s former bandmates, John Lennon initially agreed to take part in the concert without his wife and musical partner Yoko Ono, as Harrison had apparently stipulated. Lennon then allegedly had an argument with Ono as a result of this agreement and left New York in a rage two days before the concerts The line up was staggering: First, there was Ringo Starr. As if half of the Beatles wasn’t enough of an enticement to fans,

As well as the songs he would go on to perform Harrison’s list included his own compositions “All Things Must Pass” with Leon Russell, apparently “Art of Dying” and the just-recorded B-side “Deep Blue” Eric Clapton’s song “Let It Rain” appeared also, while the suggestions for Dylan’s set were “If Not for You”, “Watching the River Flow” (his recent, Leon Russell-produced single) and “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Only Harrison, Voormann, the six-piece horn section, and Badfinger’s Pete Ham, Joey Molland, Tom Evans and Mike Gibbins were at Nola Studios on that first day of rehearsals, and subsequent rehearsals were similarly carried out in “dribs and drabs”, as Harrison put it.

Only the final run-through, on the night before the concert, resembled a complete band rehearsal. On Tuesday, 27th July, Harrison and Shankar, accompanied by a pipe-smoking Allen Klein, held a press conference to promote the two shows notoriously performance-shy, Harrison said “Just thinking about it makes me shake. The “Bangla Desh” charity single was issued in America with a UK release following two days later. Ringo Starr arrived on the Thursday, and by Friday, 30th July, Russell was in town, interrupting his US tour. Leon Russell’s band members Claudia Linnear and Don Preston were added to Don Nix’s choir of backing singers. Billy Preston would switch to lead guitar for Russell’s solo spot during the shows, just as bassist Carl Radle would replace Voormann temporarily. At this point, Clapton’s participation was gravely in doubt, and Harrison had drafted in Jesse Ed Davis as a probable replacement. The ex-Taj Mahal guitarist received last-minute coaching from Voormann, who was more than familiar with Harrison’s songs, as well as those by Billy Preston and Starr.

The final rehearsal, the first for some of the participants, was combined with the concert soundcheck, at Madison Square Garden, late on 31 July. Both Dylan and Clapton finally appeared at the soundcheck that night.Even then, Clapton was in the early stages of heroin withdrawal – only a cameraman supplying him with some methadone would result in the English guitarist taking the stage the following day, after his young girlfriend had been unsuccessful in purchasing uncut heroin for him on the street. To Harrison’s frustration, Dylan was having severe doubts about performing in such a big-event atmosphere and still would not commit to playing. “Look, it’s not my scene, either,” Harrison countered. “At least you’ve played on your own in front of a crowd before. I’ve never done that.”  Stephen Stills having proceeded to sell out Madison Square Garden two days before the concert on 30th July, in support of his album, “Stephen Stills 2”, allowed Harrison to use his stage, sound, lighting system and production manager but was upset when Harrison “neglected to invite him to perform, mention his name, or say thank you”. Stills then spent the show drunk in Ringo Starr’s dressing room, “barking at everyone”.

The shows began with sets by Shankar and his musicians, followed by Harrison and his entourage, performing material both from his emerging solo career. Harrison began the concert with “Wah-Wah”, followed by his Beatles hit song’ “Something” and the gospel-rocker “Awaiting on You All”. Harrison then handed the spotlight over to Preston, who performed his only sizeable hit  “That’s the Way God Planned It”, followed by Ringo Starr, whose song “It Don’t Come Easy” had recently established the drummer as a solo artist. Next up was Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness”, with guest vocals on the third verse by Russell, who covered the song on his concurrent album, Leon Russell and the Shelter People. After pausing to introduce the band, Harrison followed this with one of the best-received moments in both the shows – a charging version of the White Album track “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, featuring him and Clapton “duelling” on lead guitar during the long instrumental playout.

Both the band introduction and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are among the few selections from the afternoon show that were included on the album and in the film. Another one was Leon Russell’s medley of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the Coasters’ “Young Blood”, which was also a highlight of Russell’s live shows at the time. With Don Preston crossing the stage to play lead guitar with Harrison, there were now temporarily four electric guitarists in the line-up. Don Preston, Harrison and Claudia Linnear supplied supporting vocals behind Russell. In an effective change of pace, Harrison picked up his acoustic guitar, now alone on the stage save for Pete Ham on a second acoustic, and Don Nix’s gospel choir, off to stage-left. The ensuing “Here Comes the Sun” – the first live performance of the song, as for Harrison’s other Beatle compositions played that day was also warmly received. At this point, Harrison switched back to his white Fender Stratocaster electric guitar he looked down at the setlist taped to the body of the guitar and saw the word “Bob” followed by a question mark. “And I looked around,” Harrison recalled of Bob Dylan’s entrance, “and he was so nervous – he had his guitar on and his shades. It was only at that moment that I knew for sure he was going to do it.” Among the audience, there was “total astonishment” at this new arrival. As Harrison had envisaged, Dylan’s mini-set was the crowning glory of the Concert for Bangladesh for many observers. Backed by just Harrison, Russell (now playing Voormann’s Fender Precision bass) and Starr on tambourine, Dylan played five of his decade-defining songs from the 1960s.

The moment that put the Concert for Bangladesh over the top as one for the ages was when Bob Dylan walked out onstage. Like Harrison, he had not performed in public much recently, since a 1966 motorcycle accident that caused him to reassess his life and career. Dylan, who was reportedly nervous about playing to such a large audience, arrived onstage for the first show accompanied by Harrison, Russell (on bass) and Starr (playing tambourine) and performed five of his greatest compositions: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Just Like a Woman,” before Harrison and the band closed out the show. The evening show followed a similar trajectory, with both Harrison and Dylan making a handful of changes to their set lists: Dylan, notably, added “Mr. Tambourine Man” in place of “Love Minus Zero.”

Harrison and the band then returned to perform a final segment, consisting of his recent international number one hit, “My Sweet Lord”, followed by the song of the moment – “Bangla Desh”.

The Concert for Bangladesh recording, featuring highlights from the two shows, was released on December 20th, 1971, also winning the Grammy for Album of the Year. The film, Following the Bangladesh concerts, some controversy ensued over the allocation of the funds but an estimated $12 million ultimately found its way to aid in the relief efforts over the next decade and a half. And in the world of rock music, the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh is viewed as a landmark event, the first true large-scale benefit concert of its type; it would serve as the model for Live Aid and is seen as the prototype for many other such charitable events even today.

As of August 2020, neither the album nor DVD was in print. Perhaps for its 50th anniversary in 2021we get an updated version along with a full set of the songs performed each night.

 

Rolling Stone issue #10, dated May 11, 1968 featured a picture of Eric Clapton on the cover.  The heavily processed image (taken by Linda Eastman) shows Clapton in close-up, his 1967 Hendrix-inspired perm grown out and his hair longer than it would ever be again.  Around his neck, nestling incongruously (or perhaps ironically) alongside some hippie beads, is a football scarf. His sideburns are fashionably bushy and he is also sporting what can only be described as an impressive Tom Selleck style moustache.  No doubt about it – Eric looked great in ‘68. Every inch the guitar hero, in fact. But inside issue #10 of Rolling Stone things were about to turn very ugly.

Five weeks earlier Cream had played a concert at Brandeis University in Boston and Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau (the man who in 1975 would become Bruce Springsteen’s producer/manager) was there to review it.  What he wrote would not only spell the end of Cream it would also send Eric into a tailspin of self-doubt which would last for years to come.  Among other things Landau’s review read: “Eric Clapton is a master of the blues clichés of all of the post-World War II blues guitarists…”. There was plenty more in the same vein but that line alone was enough to make Clapton resolve to quit what was probably the biggest touring rock group in the world at that point.  It’s been said that Eric had already heard The Band’s debut album Music From Big Pink and wanted to do something similar following the Landau mauling.  But Big Pink wasn’t released until July, two months after the Rolling Stone piece, so the chain of events seemingly developed over time.  Just to complicate matters, although the seeds of Cream’s demise were irrevocably sown in May of 1968, it was later revealed that the band had secretly agreed to call it a day before Landau’s review went to press, mainly due to the ongoing tension between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.

Whatever the truth behind the break-up Cream still had one more lucrative tour to complete.  This was their so-called “Goodbye Tour” consisting of 22 shows at 19 US venues from 4th October to 4th November 1968, followed by two concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 25th and 26th November.

Cream’s final album (excluding posthumous live releases) “Goodbye” appeared in February 1969, three months after the Albert Hall shows.  I have reason to remember it possibly more than any other Cream record from their short, 30 month career.  A close friend and talented fine artist from Sheffield, Paul Winter, had recently moved to London to work for the Alan Aldridge Ink Studios, so when Goodbye appeared with that distinctive Aldridge airbrush lettering on the front cover it was a source of great local pride.  I never did find out if Paul had very much (if anything) to do with the Cream sleeve, but I like to tell myself he did.  Pleasingly, this Goodbye Tour Live 1968 box set retains a variation of the original Alan Aldridge design as well as that delightful showbiz send-up photo by Roger Philips showing the band decked out in silver suits, with top hats and canes.  True to form, Ginger seemingly didn’t like the idea of dressing up and threatened the photographer during the shoot. No change there, then.

This lavishly presented box contains four complete shows from the last eight weeks of that final tour: Oakland, California (October 4), the Los Angeles Forum (October 19), San Diego Sports Arena (October 20) and the Royal Albert Hall, London (November 26).  Of the 36 tracks, 29 have never been released on CD before (19 are previously unreleased, plus the Royal Albert Hall show which was only available on VHS and later, DVD).

 

This lavishly presented box contains four complete shows from the last eight weeks of that final tour: Oakland, California (October 4), the Los Angeles Forum (October 19), San Diego Sports Arena (October 20) and the Royal Albert Hall, London (November 26).  Of the 36 tracks, 29 have never been released on CD before (19 are previously unreleased, plus the Royal Albert Hall show which was only available on VHS and later, DVD).

The packaging is excellent.  It comes housed in a 10-inch hard cover box with 70 page book incorporating a wealth of colour and black and white photos showing onstage action, concert tickets, posters, music magazine cuttings and record sleeves from around the world. The book also features some entertaining liner notes by Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke.  On the downside Fricke confuses Lincolnshire with Lancashire when referencing a May 1967 UK gig in Spalding and the picture on page 17 of the book has been flipped, turning Eric into a left-handed guitarist. Not the end of the world, admittedly, but with such an expensive item, someone should have taken a second look.

Considering the band was apparently falling apart and the members eager to go their separate ways, you’d never know it from these performances.  Cream are on fire throughout with their playing as powerful and accomplished as ever. The three California shows are top-quality soundboard recordings which have been circulating as bootlegs for years so it’s good to see them finally get an official release.  The London show is presumably taken from the soundtrack of Tony Palmer’s film Cream: Farewell Concert and the sound has not improved in the transfer.  While still quite listenable (especially without the dizzying camera zooms, close-ups and annoyingly fast edits of Palmer’s film), the fourth disc is of somewhat lower fidelity.

“White Room” was the opening song almost every night and there are four versions here.  The first thing you notice is what a great singer Jack was. The finest bass player of his generation was also blessed with a tremendous voice, the equal of anyone in rock at that time.  And, save a few fluffed lyrics and wayward harmonies here and there, the quality and power of his vocals never waivers throughout. The set list hardly varies across all four shows with the lion’s share of songs coming from the recent Wheels of Fire double album (released in August 1968) plus a couple from Fresh Cream and just “Sunshine of Your Love” from Disraeli Gears.  But Cream rarely played a song the same way twice, anyway, instead using the basic structure as a launch pad for their extended improvisations.  This is especially true of the longer pieces such as “I’m So Glad” and “Spoonful”. The four versions of “Spoonful” total over an hour in length yet all are wildly different, with only the vocal section sticking to any kind of plan.  Two tracks pre-date the formation of the band. Although “Traintime” later appeared on a couple of Cream albums Jack’s harmonica solo spot originated during his time with the Graham Bond Organisation. Likewise “Steppin’ Out” started life as Eric’s instrumental party piece with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience are often compared and although Eric and Jimi were friends, contemporaries and first among equals it’s impossible to imagine Hendrix tackling a number like “Politician”.  This lumbering monster of a song contains not a skerrick of swing or soul, but it swaggers along with feel to spare, laying waste to all before it. One of four songs on Wheels of Fire co-written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, “Politician” took on new momentum when played live and seemed to grow in stature as the tour progressed.

In the late 60s and early 70s drum solos were de rigueur for any rock band with virtuosic tendencies.  They were not everyone’s cup of tea, however, and even the most hardened rock concert-goer will likely blanche at the thought of a 20-minute solo.  I’m with those people much of the time but always made an exception in Ginger’s case. He was a drummer of unique power and invention and I could quite happily sit though virtually anything he cared to serve up.

Ginger’s solo spot was typically the thunderous “Toad” and it appears on three of the four shows (35 minutes of it, in total).  The Oakland concert on disc one is different, however. Here the drum solo happens during “Passing The Time”. Ginger co-wrote this song (along with two other tracks on Wheels of Fire) with jazz pianist Mike Taylor who sadly died only a year later in 1969 aged 30.  Oakland was the first date of the tour and at the end of “Passing The Time” Ginger announces “We have to apologise for being a little rusty. We’ve been on holiday”.
Like most people of a certain age I first heard Cream’s “Crossroads” in 1968 on Wheels of Fire.  52 years later I’m still of the opinion it could be the greatest live rock ensemble recording ever committed to vinyl.  This powerhouse 12 bar blues thunders along at a fair old lick with not one but two life-affirming guitar solos. It’s moderately fast without being frantic.  It’s punishingly loud but still swings like crazy with every instrument cutting through the mix equally. It may be a showcase for Clapton’s guitar but it’s very much a team effort with the bass and drums doing just as much of the heavy lifting.  With almost telepathic understanding Eric, Jack and Ginger lock onto the beat, mindful of every micro-shift in tempo. At one point the song seems in danger of tripping over itself as it rushes headlong into the last verse a little too fast. But just in time they pull it back and then, a little over 4 minutes after it began, the “Crossroads” juggernaut shudders to a halt, rivets straining on the boiler and steam coming off the brakes.  “No one will ever beat it” opined Springsteen guitarist Steven Van Zandt, speaking about “Crossroads” to Rolling Stone in 2005. “They literally solo for four verses in a row… The fact that they all come back together at the end, at once, is one of the most remarkable moments on record”.

Such was the impact of this track it went on to have a life of its own.  In 1988 Eric released Crossroads, an early multi-CD compilation and one of the biggest selling box sets of the digital era.  A decade later he launched the Crossroads Guitar Festival, a series of all-star benefit concerts which is still running today.  In 2005 Gibson guitars issued a limited edition replica of the Gibson ES335 Eric used on the 1968 recording. The original guitar was sold at auction for just under one million dollars, but you can buy one of 250 exact Crossroads replicas for a bargain US$10,000. So, while Clapton has sometimes coyly attempted to play down the importance of the original Wheels of Fire recording there’s no denying “Crossroads” holds great significance for him.

First the good news: Goodbye Live Tour 1968 features four unreleased live versions of “Crossroads”.  Now the (slightly) bad news: not one of them is quite as good as the Wheels Of Fire version recorded seven months earlier at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.  The Oakland recording has a slightly hesitant feel with the famous riff changed to something resembling the opening of the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”, albeit on steroids.  Two weeks later and the Los Angeles version is more like it. The riff is now in place but it’s played a little too fast, as is the London recording. Only in San Diego did they come close to matching the Winterland original but even here the two guitar solos don’t have quite the same impact.

Cream may have invented heavy rock and a lot more besides but they were a blues band at heart and the three versions of “Sitting On Top Of The World” drive this point home comprehensively.  The LA recording on disc two previously appeared on the 1969 album Goodbye and is perhaps the pick of the bunch (although San Diego runs it a close second).  Never was the term “power trio” more appropriate as the band bulldozes its way through this slow blues.  Ginger nails it all down at the back, rock solid and immovable. Jack is all over the fretboard like a lead player, his rasping bass bubbling through the mix, louder than any recording engineer would dare risk today.  His vocals are astounding especially considering he’s singing while playing some extremely complex bass lines. Meanwhile Eric fires off a series of exhilarating fills topped off with a solo of murderous intensity.  It’s a masterclass in muscular electric blues. Subtle it ain’t, but my goodness it sounds great.

“Sunshine of Your Love” appears on all four discs, the extended solos taking it far beyond the rigid confines of Cream’s biggest hit single.  Much looser than the studio version, the most famous riff in all of rock takes on new life when played live. There’s a strange moment during the LA show when the bass drops out for several seconds but we assume this was nothing more than a technical glitch.  The strongest performance of “Sunshine…” by far appears on the San Diego concert. It’s also the best recorded version with all three instruments way up in the mix and Jack and Eric’s vocals strong and clear.

“Steppin’ Out” is the final number of the final show and, as the Albert Hall crowd yells for more, MC John Peel, always a master of studied indifference, signs off with the characteristically deadpan line “That really has to be it, but I’m really glad you’re here tonight.  Goodnight”. And with that, Cream leaves the stage forever (or until their 2005 reunion, 37 years later).

Cream existed simultaneously as two very different groups.  There was the studio incarnation which recorded beautifully crafted pop rock gems such as “I Feel Free”, “Strange Brew” and “Badge”, but the live band was another matter entirely.  Onstage they were a high-volume stadium monster who could justifiably claim to have drawn up the blueprint for heavy rock, jam band rock and much else besides. Part jazz, part blues and several parts rock, Cream’s improvised flights of fancy elevated music to places it had never been before.

Jack Bruce passed away in 2014 and with the recent death of Ginger Baker it’s sad to reflect that now only Eric remains, adding even more poignancy to this release, at least from the listener’s perspective.  Following Cream’s demise the baton would be picked up by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and others who took the same basic format and turned it into 70s commercial gold. For all their success, though, none of the pretenders would achieve the same legendary status or, dare I say it, quite the same level of musical excellence.

Let’s leave the last word to Buddy Miles who, coincidentally, was about to exit his own group Electric Flag in late 1968. He comes onstage at the Los Angeles Forum to introduce who he calls, in the hip speak of the time, “Three really outasite groovy cats”. Buddy continues (presumably referencing the impending split), “What can you say? It’s happened, and we can’t do anything about it, but just remember they’ll still be there, and they’ll always be there.  That’s Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton. Ladies and gentlemen, the Cream”.

DISC ONE – OCTOBER 4, 1968 – Oakland Coliseum, Oakland (all tracks previously unreleased, except *)
1. White Room (6.19)* (previously released on Live Cream Volume II and Those Were The Days)
2. Politician (5.22)* (previously released on Live Cream Volume II and Those Were The Days)
3. Crossroads (3.57)
4. Sunshine Of Your Love (5.35)
5. Spoonful (16.47)
6. Deserted Cities Of The Heart (5.26)* (previously released on Live Cream Volume II)
7. Passing The Time (10.40)

8. I’m So Glad (7.07)

DISC TWO – OCTOBER 19, 1968 – Los Angeles Forum, Los Angeles (all tracks previously unreleased except *)
1. Introduction by Buddy Miles (1:39)
2. White Room (6.53)
3. Politician (6.41)* (previously released on Goodbye)
4. I’m So Glad (9.37)* (previously released on Goodbye and Those Were The Days)
5. Sitting On Top Of The World 4.53* (previously released on Goodbye and Those Were The Days)
6. Crossroads (4.25)
7. Sunshine Of Your Love (6.27)
8. Traintime (8.11)
9. Toad (12.55)

10. Spoonful (17.27)* (previously released on Eric Clapton’s Life In 12 Bars)

DISC THREE – OCTOBER 20, 1968 – San Diego Sports Arena, San Diego (all tracks previously unreleased)
1. White Room (6.42)
2. Politician (6.26)
3. I’m So Glad (7.53)
4. Sitting On Top Of The World (5.45)
5. Sunshine Of Your Love (5.13)
6. Crossroads (4.13)
7. Traintime (9.39)
8. Toad (14.03)
9. Spoonful (9.12)

The Oakland Coliseum, Los Angeles Forum and San Diego Sports Arena concerts were mastered from the original 1968 analogue mix reels by Kevin Reeves at Universal Mastering, Nashville, TN.

DISC FOUR – CREAM FAREWELL CONCERT NOVEMBER 26, 1968 – Royal Albert Hall, London (all tracks released on CD for the first-time)
1. White Room (8.02)
2. Politician (6.37)
3. I’m So Glad (6.53)
4. Sitting On Top Of The World (5.06)
5. Crossroads (5.03)
6. Toad (11.22)
7. Spoonful (15.47)
8. Sunshine Of Your Love (8.37)
9. Steppin’Out (5.02)

The Royal Albert Hall concert was mastered from the original 1968 analogue transfer reels by Jason NeSmith at Chase Park Transduction, Athens, GA.

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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the most common definition of the word supergroup is “a rock group made up of prominent former members of other rock groups.” The word came into use either in 1968 or 1969, reportedly coined by Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner—music historians seem to disagree exactly when the word first popped up, but they all agree that the supergroup Wenner was describing was Cream.

Cream had already come and gone by the end of 1968 but in their brief run, just over two years, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker undeniably changed the face of rock music.

In the spring of 1965, guitarist Clapton, having grown dissatisfied with what he perceived to be a move into a more pop-oriented direction for the Yardbirds, the group with which he’d made his name, left for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. As its name implied, the Mayall outfit was dedicated to the blues, Clapton’s favoured genre at the time. Clapton soon grew restless there too, and by the summer of 1966 he was looking for something new.

At the same time, drummer Ginger Baker, a member of the popular British blues band the Graham Bond Organisation, was also in the market for change. When he met Clapton, the two discussed starting a new band and Clapton mentioned bringing in Jack Bruce on bass. Baker was already quite familiar with Bruce—the latter had also worked in Bond’s group as well as with John Mayall.

Just in time for them to break up. Despite the success of Disraeli Gears and its follow up, the double LP Wheels of Fire (released in August 1968), Cream was already old news for its three members. Clapton had had enough and was looking for a new direction. Baker agreed, and on July 10th they announced they would be breaking up. They cut one last album, appropriately titled Goodbye, then played their final shows in October and November of ’68.

Clapton and Baker formed a new supergroup, Blind Faith, with former Traffic singer-keyboardist-guitarist Steve Winwood and the relatively unknown bassist Ric Grech, which itself lasted all of one album before falling apart. Bruce continued on as a solo artist and worked in various configurations throughout the rest of his life. Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. They reunited for a handful of shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2005 but, with Bruce and Baker’s rift reignited, all three members—despite the overwhelmingly positive audience response—agreed that was to be the end of it.

Jack Bruce died on October 25th, 2014, at age 71. Ginger Baker passed on October 6th, 2019, at age 80

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Baker was less than pleased with the suggestion though—the two had not gotten along well when they were in the Bond band and, at its worst, their spats had turned physical. Bruce interviewed in 2012, two years before his death, asked if his clash with Baker was overblown. “To a certain extent,” he said. “It did exist but I think those things are in every band, from that time, especially. People now are probably more tolerant of each other. We just didn’t give a shit and we were making it up as we went along.”

Despite the tension, Cream—as they called their trio, because the three musicians were the “cream of the crop” among British blues-rock musicians—began writing songs and made their live debut at the end of July 1966. From the first chord of the first song, the debut album by Cream was something new. Eric Clapton’s power chord gave way to handclaps and Jack Bruce’s humming, then Clapton returned in tandem with Bruce’s heady vocals and Ginger Baker’s mighty percussion. “I Feel Free” was up and running, and so was one of the most exciting debut records of the 1960s. Fresh Cream was released on December 9th, 1966. It entered the UK chart on the 24th and made its corresponding US debut on May 13 the following year.

If Eric Clapton was looking for an outlet for his blues fix, he certainly found it in Cream, whose early repertoire included covers by the likes of Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. Cream took those songs and extended them, adding long improvisatory segments that, to use another phrase popular at the time, blew the minds of fans and fellow musicians.

But right from the start, Cream was more than a blues band. Jack Bruce’s original compositions, especially, tended toward a more eclectic, artsy blend of influences, and—whether Clapton approved or not—there was a decided tendency toward the “heavier,” or psychedelic, brand of mainstream rock emerging that year. Ginger Baker, meanwhile, practically invented the concept of the mega-drum solo within rock with “Toad,” a lengthy workout that showcased his prowess on the instrument.

Almost immediately, the group—signed to manager Robert Stigwood’s new Reaction Records in the U.K. and to the Atlantic Records subsidiary Atco in the U.S.—began cutting tracks for what would become their debut album, “Fresh Cream”. They recorded both blues standards (Robert Johnson’s “Four Until Late,” Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”) and originals, mostly by Bruce, including “I Feel Free.”

Stigwood released that side, co-written with lyricist Pete Brown—who would collaborate on later Cream staples, including “Sunshine of Your Love” with Bruce—as a single in U.K., omitting it from the British version of Fresh Cream but placing it as the opening track on the American version (which didn’t include “Spoonful”). The album was filled out with other Bruce tunes, the instrumental “Cat’s Squirrel” and a stripped-down, five-minute version of “Toad,” which ended the album.

Fresh Cream was released in the U.K. on December 9th, 1966, and in the U.S. the following month. The buzz on the band was stronger at home, and the album ultimately peaked on the British album chart at #6. Having not yet performed live in the U.S., and with radio airplay minimal, the Cream LP made it only to #39 in the U.S.

Not to worry though. The year 1967 passed with Cream’s reputation outstripping their record sales, but in early 1968 “Sunshine of Your Love” clicked with the American listener, Their sophomore album, Disraeli Gears, released just about a year after the debut, became a massive success establishing Cream as one of the most important and influential rock bands of all time.

Just in time for them to break up. Despite the success of Disraeli Gears and its follow up, the double LP Wheels of Fire (released in August 1968), Cream was already old news for its three members. Clapton had had enough and was looking for a new direction. Baker agreed, and on July 10th they announced they would be breaking up. They cut one last album, appropriately titled Goodbye, then played their final shows in October and November of ’68.

Clapton and Baker formed a new supergroup, Blind Faith, with former Traffic singer-keyboardist-guitarist Steve Winwood and the relatively unknown bassist Ric Grech, which itself lasted all of one album before falling apart. Bruce continued on as a solo artist and worked in various configurations throughout the rest of his life. Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. They reunited for a handful of shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2005 but, with Bruce and Baker’s rift reignited, all three members—despite the overwhelmingly positive audience response—agreed that was to be the end of it.

Jack Bruce died on October 25th, 2014, at age 71. Ginger Baker passed on October 6th, 2019, at age 80

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George Harrison released the 3 LP set “All Things Must Pass” on November. 27th, 1970. “All Things Must Pass” was a triple album recorded and released in 1970. The album was Harrison’s first solo work since the break-up of the Beatles in April of that year, and his third solo album overall. It included the hit singles “My Sweet Lord” and “What Is Life.” The record introduced Harrison’s signature sound, the slide guitar, and the spiritual themes that would be present throughout his subsequent solo work.
Among the large cast of backing musicians were Eric Clapton and Delaney & Bonnie’s Friends band – three of whom formed Derek and the Dominos with Clapton during the recording – as well as Ringo Starr, Gary Wright, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, John Barham, Badfinger and Pete Drake. The sessions produced a double album’s worth of extra material, most of which remains unissued.
The record was critically and commercially successful on release, with long stays at number 1 on charts around the world. “All Things Must Pass” is “generally rated” as the best of all the former Beatles’ solo albums. George Harrison may have been “the quiet Beatle” but he was still one fourth of what was probably the most important band on the planet, whose contribution to the group, and popular music in general, cannot be underestimated. His use of the 12 string electric on the “A Hard Day’s Night” album, and subsequent movie had such a profound impact on Roger McGuinn, that he soon went out and bought himself a Rickenbacker. Harrison also changed the direction of pop music when he introduced the sitar on 1966’s Rubber Soul, thus creating a sound that would within a few months forever become synonymous with the psychedelic movement.

But it wasn’t until 1970, after the Beatles announced their breakup that Eric Clapton introduced him to Delaney Bramlett, where within a matter of weeks George developed the unique slide technique he is remembered for today, a style which owes itself less to the blues or rock and roll, and more to Harrison’s soul.

No doubt Lennon and McCartney’s domination in the song writing department must have proved to be a great frustration for Harrison, who was often forced to take a back seat. Thus Harrison found himself in the enviable position of having a rich cache of material to draw from, and so he set to work on his first solo album proper (with the exception of Wonderwall Music, which was really a soundtrack anyway), assembling a cast that included Clapton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Dave Mason, Badfinger, and probably whoever else was hanging around the studio at the time.

“Beware of Darkness.” If you’re looking for a little spiritual uplift about now, look no further than this George Harrison heartfelt meditation on the perils of living in the material world. “Beware of Darkness,” irom Harrison’s triple album “All Things Must Pass.” Clearly, George had been filing away songs that never made it to Beatles‘ albums, so “All Things Must Pass,” opened the floodgates for him to explore his more inner-directed concerns with glorious results. The song features Eric Clapton and Dave Mason on guitars, Carl Radle on bass, Bobby Whitlock on piano, Gary Wright on organ, and old trusty, fellow Beatle, Ringo Starr on drums. It represented an extension of Harrison’s spiritual awakening in India in 1968 when he and the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh to meet up again with Mararishi Mahesh Yogi, whom they had met in 1967 in Wales. Harrison had included “Within You, Without You,” on Sgt. Pepper in 1967, and had incorporated the sitar even earlier on “Rubber Soul” in 1965, and “Revolver” in 1966, indicating a slowly shifting focus.

“Beware of Darkness,” possesses a sweetness, beauty and depth of feeling that only could have come from Harrison at that time. “All Things Must Pass,” including this song, are his answer to his fellow Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who for years limited Harrison to one song on most albums. Though a single album brimming with greatness might have been preferable, George felt the need to demonstrate his own writing prowess over three albums, with stellar results.

The resulting triple LP, “All Things Must Pass”, was and remains the finest musical statement made by a solo Beatle. It was also a global hit, thanks mainly to the single “My Sweet Lord”, a spiritual pop-rock paean to Harrison’s recent conversion to the teachings of Hare Krishna. That people went out and bought it in droves is a testament not only to the quality of the tunes contained within its grooves, but also the talent behind it.

“I’d Have You Anytime” gets things off to a low key and leisurely start, where he hear Clapton’s sweet and endearing guitar tones complement Harrison’s pleading and plaintive vocals. A lovely piece overall. Next is the big one, “My Sweet Lord”, perhaps the song Harrison is most identified with post Beatles, which is fair enough. Now whether he ‘subconsciously’ borrowed from the Chiffons 1963 hit “She’s So Fine” is a matter of conjecture. Because at the end of the day, who really gives a shit. It’s a great song, and that’s all that’s matters.

We then get the bigger than Hollywood, Phil Spector produced “Wah-Wah”, dominated by Clapton’s own wah-wah, and Harrison’s gorgeous slide guitar. It’s a monumental track and one where everyone seems to be flying by the seat of their pants. “Isn’t It a Pity” is a philosophical number, and finds Harrison reflecting on all that’s wrong with the world, in that epic “Hey Jude” kind of way, only with a bit more spirituality thrown in. “What Is Life” lifts the listener up then puts him (or her) down again in one glorious swoop. Imagine Bob Dylan meets The Ronettes. And speaking of Dylan, “If Not for You” first appeared on his 1970 album New Morning. But this is my favourite rendition. Hands down.

Now I’m not much of a fan of country, however “Behind that Locked Door” aches with a yearning which speaks to me every time I hear it. “Let It Down” starts off all big and bombast before falling into a relaxing groove. Billy Preston provides some soothing organ, while Harrison laments about his state of mind. “Run of the Mill” is another intellectually searching opus, albeit in less than three minutes. But putting aside the ‘what do our lives mean’ aspect, it’s a great song nonetheless. And one I never seem to tire of.

The second LP, and yes I do own the vinyl version, the best in my opinion, begins in depressing fashion with “Beware of Darkness”, hardly the sort of song you want to play to someone on a first date. Suffice to say I’m quite a fan of it nonetheless. The same goes with “Apple Scruffs”, which is not only a summation of everything Harrison had learned from the Beatles (just listen to the harmonies), but also a great play on words, at least in relation to the Apple label which his previous band had founded, and which wound up costing them huge sums of money in the process.

“Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” is one of the most haunting tunes of the record, but I can’t tell you why. Call it the mystery of music. “Awaiting On You All” is a short uplifting gospel number, although the listener finds himself on the psychiatrist’s couch again with the title track, a song that probably sums up Harrison’s career at that point, and one that forces the him to gaze out on the horizon, and reflect on his own life.

Harrison gets playful on “I Dig Love”, before we get all serious and musical with “The Art of Dying”, a tune which has some superb playing by Clapton and everyone else involved. We hear a reprise of “Isn’t It a Pity”, just in case you didn’t get the message the first time, before ending with a plea to the Almighty on “Hear Me Lord”, which is really a nice song, and I guess an expression of a man who has been though a lot and was at a point where he was truly grappling with some important issues.

The third LP is a bit of hit and miss, depending on your state of mind. “It’s Johnny Birthday” is basically a self indulgent write off, though “Plug Me In” is more like it, an effervescent guitar jam, where the amps must have been running red hot. We get all late night and jammy on “I Remember Jeep”, before some High Octane Chuck Berry kicks in on “Thanks for the Pepperoni”. The only issue I have at this point of the album, is that one either has to be pissed or on some kind of drug to enjoy it.

No matter which way you look at it, All Things Must Pass was a landmark release. Harrison had made it clear that from now on he would be doing things his way and that there could not be any turning back. The man poured his heart into this record, a quality which shines through some forty years later. Harrison might not have been the most perfect human being, but his quest for some kind of universal purity in the world was a noble one at best. And while an individual who was not always at peace with himself, he wanted nothing but peace for the world.

Happy 50th Birthday to “All Things Must Pass”

The Super Deluxe 50th anniversary edition of The Beatles, a.k.a. “The White Album”, is a deep behind-the-scenes look at how that 30-song, double-album masterpiece came to be. It’s been a trope since the album’s U.K. release, on November. 22nd 1968, that the White Album—so nicknamed because its cover was all-white, save for a stamped serial number on each LP produced in the early pressings—was the sound of The Beatles dissolving. That’s true to a great extent—many of its tracks are the work of a sole Beatle or partial-group performances.

The Beatles”, also known as “The White Album“, was the ninth studio album by the band, released on 22nd November 1968. It was a double album, its plain white sleeve has no graphics or text other than the band’s name embossed, which was intended as a direct contrast to the vivid cover artwork of the band’s earlier Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Although no singles were issued from The Beatles in Britain and the United States, the songs “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” originated from the same recording sessions and were issued on a single in August 1968.

Paul when asked about the 50th anniversary package” of the 1968 double album and responded by saying it’s really good.” He went on to say that “The album itself is very cool and it sounds like you’re in the room; that’s the great thing about doing remasters. But we’ve also got some demos of the songs, so you get things stripped right back to just John’s voice and a guitar. You just think, how fucking good was John?! Amazing. We were just doing it; it was amazing. We were having a good time.”

All The other tracks, and much of what we can now hear on Super Deluxe commemorative edition, display a quartet that still enjoys making music together—and takes the group quite seriously (some songs required dozens of takes in the studio until the band was happy with one). At the same time they were maturing, they were preparing to leave behind the phenomenon that was the Beatles.

The history has been meticulously documented: the arrival of Yoko Ono into John Lennon’s world: the group’s time together at the Indian meditation compound of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, where several of the White Album’s songs were written; Ringo Starr’s decision (short-lived) to walk out on the group. It’s all spelled out in vivid detail in the comprehensive, lavishly illustrated hardcover book that houses the CDs that comprise the Super Deluxe Edition.

Housed in its legendary plain white, subtly embossed sleeve,  came out in November 1968. It arrived at a time when both the group and the world had changed irrevocably: the former since their first forays into fame and fortune, the latter scarred by the ongoing war in Vietnam and the assassination of Martin Luther King, to touch upon the tip of the iceberg.

The music on the original White Album is, like all of the Beatles’ output, the product of a very specific time; the new anniversary releases (also available in abbreviated standard and deluxe editions) aim to put it into context. In addition to the music of the original album, newly mixed by producer Giles Martin (the son of original Beatles producer George Martin) and Sam Okell in stereo and 5.1 surround sound, the Super Deluxe includes the 27 so-called “Esher Demos”: early, stripped-down working versions of songs that would appear on the album plus others that would find their way to other projects (including Abbey Road and solo albums). It also includes 50 session recordings of in-progress and outtakes galore. They are, to be sure, a revelation.

The Super Deluxe, like the similar treatment afforded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely hearts Club Band in 2017, is nothing less than fascinating; even fans who have owned the bootleg releases containing much of this music will savoir the enhanced audio and newly discovered tracks that populate the six discs. There are in-studio jams, rehearsals, instrumental backing tracks, drastically different and unfinished lyrics and so much more.

For all of the excitement and revelation generated by the expanded releases though, in the end there remains—to paraphrase from the landmark they released the previous year—the album we’ve known for all these years.

From the inside looking out, maybe everything wasn’t going to be alright, despite John Lennon’s assurances on the rousing “Revolution 1″, just one of many highlights on what is perhaps The Beatles’ most ambitious studio album.

After writing dozens of songs while meditating in India in the spring, the group returned to Abbey Road and Trident, in Soho – to record over 30 tracks of new material up until the summer. During these sessions, arguments broke out among the foursome over creative differences. Another divisive element was the constant presence of John Lennon’s new partner, Yoko Ono, whose attendance at the sessions broke with the Beatles‘ policy regarding wives and girlfriends. After a series of problems, including producer George Martin taking a sudden leave of absence and engineer Geoff Emerick quitting, Ringo Starr left the band briefly in August. The same tensions continued throughout the following year, leading to the eventual break-up of the band in April 1970.

When you think of how unrest had started to simmer within the group’s ranks – Yoko Ono arriving in the studio; Apple forming; Ringo leaving and then returning – and how broad the album’s palette of sounds (blue beat, heavy metal, folk and doo-wop, to name a few), The Beatles still manages to hang together like few other works.

The John Lennon and Paul McCartney stereotypes are at once reinforced, yet also dismissed – few would have thought Good Night was the product of Lennon’s pen, and likewise “Helter Skelter” didn’t immediately scream McCartney. Away from such showpieces, it’s the doodles that delight – George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle” is a fine counterweight to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey” balances the gravitas of “Revolution 1”.

Given that it also contains Lennon, Ono and Harrison’s nine-minute noise collage “Revolution No 9″ and McCartney’s genuinely pointless “Wild Honey Pie”, it’s little wonder that producer George Martin always opined that The Beatles could have made a splendid single album. That said, without such variety on offer, the compiling of one’s own version wouldn’t be the national pastime it is today.

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Side one

Back in the U.S.S.R.

One of many songs on the album written (this one by Paul) during the Beatles stay in Rishikesh, India, to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi, the Beach Boys tribute/parody was recorded without Ringo, who had temporarily left the group due to what he said was criticism of his drumming. The song includes a mention of the Hoagy Carmichael composition “Georgia on My Mind,” included by Paul because the nation of Georgia was part of the Soviet Union at the time. Minutiae: The airplane sound effects are different on the mono and stereo versions.

Paul McCartney wrote “Back in the U.S.S.R.” as a surreal parody of Chuck Berry’s song “Back in the U.S.A.” field recording of a jet aeroplane taking off and landing was used at the start of the track, and intermittently throughout it, while the backing vocals were sung by Lennon and Harrison in the style of the Beach Boys at the request of Mike Love, who had accompanied the group to India. The track became widely bootlegged in the Soviet Union and became an underground hit.

Dear Prudence

Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow, was one of the Westerners meditating in India with the Maharishi the same time the Beatles were there. She was being reclusive, and John wrote the song to try to convince her to “come out and play. “Dear Prudence” was one of the songs recorded at Trident. The style is typical of the acoustic songs written in Rishikesh, using guitar arpeggios. Lennon wrote the track about Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence Farrow, who rarely left her room during the stay in commitment to the meditation.

The song was recorded sans Ringo, who was into his brief departure from the band. Sean Lennon later covered the track, as did Jerry Garcia, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Leslie West, Alanis Morissette and others.

Glass Onion

John refers to five other Beatles tunes in his lyrics: “I Am the Walrus,” “The Fool on the Hill,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Fixing a Hole” and “Lady Madonna.” John later said that his line “The walrus was Paul” was a joke. Glass Onion was also a name suggested by Lennon for a new band originally called the Iveys that signed to the Beatles’ Apple label. They chose Badfinger instead.

“Glass Onion” was the first backing track recorded as a full band since Starr’s brief departure. MacDonald claimed Lennon deliberately wrote the lyrics to mock fans who claimed to find “hidden messages” in songs, and referenced other songs in the Beatles catalogue – “The Walrus was Paul” refers back to “I Am the Walrus” (which itself refers to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). McCartney, in turn, overdubbed a recorder part after the line “I told you about the Fool on the Hill”, as a deliberate parody of the earlier song.A string section was added to the track in October.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

The title comes from an expression Paul heard spoken by Nigerian conga player Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor: “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah.” John reportedly hated the song and some fans must agree because it’s been named among the worst songs ever in several music polls. Nonetheless, the song, which took on a Jamaican ska-influenced rhythm after much studio experimentation with the tempo, was released as a single in some countries and topped the charts in Japan, Australia and a few others. That conga player, by the way, later tried to sue the Beatles for royalties—he did not prevail.

Lennon went straight to the piano and smashed the keys with an almighty amount of volume, twice the speed of how they’d done it before, and said “This is it! Come on!”
Recording engineer Richard Lush on the final take of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”.  Written by McCartney as a pastiche of ska music. The track took a surprising amount of time to complete, with McCartney demanding perfectionism that annoyed his colleagues. Jimmy Scott, a friend of McCartney, suggested the title and played bongos on the initial take. He demanded a cut of publishing when the song was released, but the song was credited to “Lennon-McCartney”. After working for three days on the backing track, the work was scrapped and replaced with a new recording. Lennon hated the song, calling it “granny music shit”,while engineer Richard Lush recalled that Starr disliked having to record the same backing track repetitively, and pinpoints this session as a key indication that the Beatles were going to break up McCartney attempted to remake the backing track for a third time, but this was abandoned after a few takes and the second version was used as the final mix. The group, save for McCartney, had lost interest in the track by the end of recording, and refused to release it as a single. British pop group Marmalade recorded a version that became a number one hit. In 2004, an online survey of 1,000 people in the UK by Mars ranked the song as the worst ever.

Wild Honey Pie

The recording lasts less than a minute and feels like something tossed off in the studio, which it basically was: Paul wrote it and is the only performer on the track, contributing all of the vocals and instruments. Most of what you hear in the background is a harpsichord.

McCartney recorded “Wild Honey Pie” on 20th August at the end of the session for “Mother Nature’s Son”. It is typical of the brief snippets of songs he recorded between takes during the album sessions.

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

Another Lennon composition stemming from the Rishikesh visit, this one was inspired by John’s scorn for Richard Cooke III, a wealthy American college student who was present at the Maharishi’s ashram and went out on a tiger-hunting caravan. The little flamenco guitar line heard at the song’s start was actually played on a Mellotron by studio engineer Chris Thomas.

“The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” was written by Lennon after an American visitor to Rishikesh left for a few weeks to hunt tigers. It was recorded as an audio vérité exercise, featuring vocal performances from almost everyone who happened to be in the studio at the time. Ono sings one line and co-sings another, while Chris Thomas played the mellotron, including improvisations at the end of the track. The opening flamenco guitar flourish was a recording included in the Mellotron’s standard tape library.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

No big secret that the lead guitar, uncredited on the album, was played by George’s friend Eric Clapton. Harrison wrote the song after returning from India and recorded an acoustic demo. The other Beatles were not all that impressed with it at first, perhaps because the lyrics partially reflect the disharmony that was brewing with the group. Upon the album’s release, and ever since, the track—one of four by Harrison on the White Album—became one of the band’s most popular.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was written by Harrison during a visit he made to his parents’ home in Cheshire. He first recorded the song as a solo performance, on acoustic guitar, on 25th July – a version that remained unreleased until Anthology 3. He was unhappy with the group’s first attempt to record the track, and so invited his friend Eric Clapton to come and play on it. Clapton was unsure about guesting on a Beatles record, but Harrison said the decision was “nothing to do with them. It’s my song.” Clapton’s solo was treated with automatic double tracking to attain the desired effect; he gave Harrison the guitar he used, which Harrison later named “Lucy”.

Happiness is a Warm Gun

“Happiness Is a Warm Gun” evolved out of song fragments that Lennon wrote in Rishikesh. According to MacDonald, this working method was inspired by the Incredible String Band’s song writing. The basic backing track ran to 95 takes, due to the irregular time signatures and variations in style throughout the song. The final version consisted of the best half of two takes edited together. Lennon later described the song as one of his favourites, while the rest of the band found the recording rejuvenating, as it forced them to re-hone their skills as a group playing together to get it right. Apple’s press officer Derek Taylor made an uncredited contribution to the song’s lyrics.

Considering how we lost John, it’s chilling to think that he wrote this song after seeing the title on the cover of a gun magazine. (What might be even more stunning is that the gun magazine was playing off the Peanuts cartoon’s phrase, “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”) The track is one of few on the album that features the traditional Beatles configuration of John and George on guitars, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums, without any additional instrumentation or outside help.

Side two

Martha My Dear

It was written by Paul for his Old English Sheepdog, Martha, although some accounts have McCartney’s ex-girlfriend Jane Asher being the real inspiration (the lyric “You have always been my inspiration” was said to be the giveaway). John and Ringo do not appear on the recording.

The entire track is played by him backed with session musicians, and features no other Beatles. Martin composed a brass band arrangement for the track.

I’m So Tired

John missed Yoko Ono terribly while he was in India for the meditation retreat, and wrote this ballad while unable to sleep. The nonsensical mumbling at the beginning of the track is actually John saying, “”Monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?” Some fans, however, misheard it as a masked reference to Paul being dead, fueling a rumor that McCartney had died and been replaced by a look-alike/sound-alike.

“I’m So Tired” was written in India when Lennon was having difficulty sleeping. It was recorded at the same session as “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”.The lyrics make reference to Walter Raleigh, calling him a “stupid git” for introducing tobacco to Europe, while the track ends with Lennon mumbling “Monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?”. This became part of the Paul is Dead conspiracy theory, when fans claimed that when the track was reversed, they could hear “Paul is dead man, miss him miss him”.

Blackbird

Paul wrote and recorded this solo after hearing a blackbird while in India. But he has long said that it actually refers to the Civil Rights movement in America at the time. The recording consists entirely of Paul’s acoustic guitar, double-tracked vocal and foot-tapping, as well as the sound of a blackbird singing. McCartney has performed the song during every tour he’s done since going solo. Among the many cover versions is a beautiful harmony-rich take by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

“Blackbird” features McCartney solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. According to Lewisohn, the ticking in the background is a metronome, although Emerick recalls capturing the sound via a microphone placed beside McCartney’s shoes. The birdsong on the track was taken from the Abbey Road sound effects collection, and was recorded on one of the first EMI portable tape recorders.

Piggies

One of the four George Harrison-penned numbers on the album, “Piggies” was meant as social commentary—the word pig, at the time, referred to both a police officer and any “Establishment” type who was deemed to be greedy or ultra-conservative. Many found the song somewhat humorous, but one person who did not was Charles Manson, the California-based cult leader who believed the Beatles were speaking directly to him. Manson interpreted the song’s lyrics as a call for him to start a race war. When his followers committed their notorious murders, they wrote the word pig in their victims’ blood on the walls.

Harrison wrote “Piggies” as an attack on greed and materialism in modern society. His mother and Lennon helped him complete the lyrics. Thomas played harpsichord on the track, while Lennon supplied a tape loop of pigs grunting. The harpsichord was left in one of the studios at EMI after a classical session and Harrison decided to incorporate it into his song.

Rocky Raccoon

Paul’s attempt to write a cowboy song about a near-fatal love triangle began at the Rishikesh ashram. The piano on the recording was played by producer George Martin. Donovan, also present at the ashram, is said to have had some part in writing the song but was not credited.

“Rocky Raccoon” evolved from a jam session with McCartney, Lennon and Donovan in Rishikesh. The song was taped in a single session, and was one of the tracks that Martin felt was “filler” and only put on because the album was a double.

Don’t Pass Me By

This was Ringo’s first solo composition for a Beatles album but it was not new when he cut it with the group in 1968. In fact, “Don’t Pass Me By” dates all the way back to 1962, to shortly after the time he joined the band. The lyrics certainly underwent some changes over the years though, and the bizarre line “I’m sorry that I doubted you, I was so unfair, you were in a car crash and you lost your hair” was later cited as another clue by the conspiracy theorists who spread the “Paul is Dead” rumour, as McCartney had supposedly died in a car crash. Ringo and Paul are the only Beatles on the track—the wild violin solo was contributed by Jack Fallon, a British jazz musician.

“Don’t Pass Me By” was Ringo Starr’s first solo composition for the band,  he had been toying with the idea of writing a self-reflective song for some time, possibly as far back as 1963. It went by the working titles of “Ringo’s Tune” and “This Is Some Friendly”. The basic track consisted of Starr drumming while McCartney played piano.  Martin composed an orchestral introduction to the song but it was rejected as being “too bizarre” and left off the album.

Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?

Less than two minutes long, it was written by Paul after he witnessed two monkeys having sex in the open in India. Other than Paul, Ringo is the only musician on the track. “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” was written by McCartney in India after he saw two monkeys copulating in the street and wondered why humans were too civilised to do the same. He played all the instruments except drums, which were contributed by Starr. The simple lyric was very much in Lennon’s style, and Lennon was annoyed about not being asked to play on it. McCartney suggested it was “tit for tat” as he had not contributed to “Revolution No 9”.

I Will

There is no bass on this tune—Paul (who wrote it) supplies “vocal bass” instead. There is also no George Harrison on this all-acoustic song: Paul plays nearly everything except for some percussion from Ringo and John. Despite its simplicity, the Beatles did 67 takes of the song. During take 19, Paul improvised a bit that’s come to be known as “Can You Take Me Back?,” half a minute of which was later excised and included on the album between “Cry Baby Cry” and “Revolution 9.” (You can hear the full tune now on the Super Deluxe White Album.) “I Will” has been covered by everyone from Diana Ross to Phish to Art Garfunkel.

“I Will” was written and sung by McCartney, with Lennon and Starr accompanying on percussion. In between numerous takes, the three Beatles broke off to busk some other songs. While recordings of Cilla Black’s hit “Step Inside Love” and a joke number, “Los Paranoias”, were released on Anthology 3.

Julia

John is the only person who appears on the song, which was written about his late mother while the Beatles were in India. John employs a finger-picking acoustic guitar style he learned from singer Donovan. The phrase “ocean child” in the lyrics was, however, a nod to Yoko Ono, whose Japanese last name translates to Ocean Child. The opening line is taken directly from the poem “Sand and Foam” by Kahlil Gibran, which reads (in the original version), “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you.”

“Julia” was the last track to be recorded for the album and features Lennon on solo acoustic guitar which he played in a style similar to McCartney’s on “Blackbird”. This is the only Beatles song on which Lennon performs alone and it was a tribute to his mother Julia Lennon, who was killed in 1958 in a road accident while Lennon was only seventeen, and the lyrics deal with the loss of his mother and his relationship with Ono, the “ocean child” referred to in the lyrics. Ono helped with the lyrics, but the song was still credited to Lennon-McCartney as expected.

Side three

Birthday

One of the rare instances of a song truly co-written by Lennon and McCartney (although mostly by Paul) in the latter Beatles years, “Birthday” was composed in Abbey Road Studios.

According to McCartney, the authorship of “Birthday” was “50–50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all on the same evening”. He and Lennon were inspired to write the song after seeing the first UK showing of the rock’n’roll film The Girl Can’t Help It on television, and sang the lead vocal in the style of the film’s musical star, Little Richard. After the Beatles had taped the track, Ono and Pattie Harrison added backing vocals.

Yer Blues

Another one from the India stay, it was written solely by John, who also sings the lead vocal. A basic blues progression, given a deliberate hard edge by John, it was recorded by the four Beatles in their original, basic guitar-bass-drums format sans additional instrumentation or personnel. John performed the song on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus concert with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Mitch Mitchell“Yer Blues” was originally written by Lennon in India. Despite meditating and the tranquil atmosphere, he still felt unhappy, which was reflected in the lyrics. The style was influenced by the British Blues Boom of 1968, which included groups such as Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack. The backing track was recorded in a small room next to the Studio 2 control room at Abbey Road. Unusually for a Beatles recording, the four-track source tape was edited directly, resulting in an abrupt cut-off at 3’17” into the start of another take (which ran into the fade out).

“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” and “Sexy Sadie” were both written in reference to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Mother Nature’s Son

Paul is the only Beatle on this acoustic beauty, with a brass arrangement by George Martin. The bongos-like sound was achieved by Paul playing timpani and bass drum at the far end of the studio so that the microphone dulled the sound. Among the cover versions: Harry Nilsson, Sheryl Crow, John Denver and jazz artists Ramsey Lewis and Brad Mehldau (separately).  McCartney wrote “Mother Nature’s Son” in India, and worked on it in isolation from the other members of the band. He performed the track solo alongside a Martin-scored brass arrangement.

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey

One of the more raucous songs on the album, John wrote it (as he did so many songs) about Yoko. Some have commented that the song was about heroin, which the couple admitted using, but Lennon denied that. “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” evolved from a jam session, and was originally untitled. The final mix was sped up by mixing the tape running at 43 hertz instead of the usual 50. Harrison claimed the title came from one of the Maharishi’s sayings (with “and my monkey” added later).

Sexy Sadie

John’s song was a thinly veiled critique of the Maharishi, with whom Lennon had become disillusioned. In fact, an original draft of John’s lyrics was filed with all sorts of obscenities directed at the guru. One of the surviving original lines, “What have you done?/You made a fool of everyone,” was inspired by a verse in a song by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. “Sexy Sadie” was written as “Maharishi” by Lennon, shortly after he decided to leave Rishikesh. In a 1980 interview, Lennon acknowledged that the Maharishi was the inspiration for the song: “I just called him ‘Sexy Sadie’.

Helter Skelter

Probably the Beatles’ “heaviest” rock song, and often considered an influence on the developing metal genre, the fierce, raw McCartney-written rocker, has, unfortunately, become as closely associated with the Manson murders as with the Beatles—the murderous cult leader somehow interpreted the song to mean that he was to start a race war in the United States. A book on the Manson “family” took the title of the song as its own. McCartney has since re-embraced the song and includes it in his concerts to this day.  “Helter Skelter” was written by McCartney and was initially recorded in July as a blues number. The initial takes were performed by the band live and included long passages during which they jammed on their instruments. Because these takes were too long to practically fit on an LP, the song was shelved until September, when a new, shorter, version was made. By all accounts, the session was chaotic, but nobody dared suggest to any of the Beatles that they were out of control. Harrison reportedly ran around the studio while holding a flaming ashtray above his head, “doing an Arthur Brown” The stereo version of the LP includes almost an extra minute of music compared to the mono, which culminates in Starr infamously shouting “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” . Charles Manson was unaware that helter skelter is the British name for a spiral slide found on a playground or funfair, and assumed the track had something to do with hell. This was one of the key tracks that led Manson to believe the album had coded messages referring to apocalyptic war, and led to his movement of the same name.

Long, Long, Long

This folkish, placid, ethereal tune was penned by George in Rishikesh and, he said, was addressed at God, although it could also be interpreted as being directed toward a missed ex-lover. John sat this one out while Paul provided the Hammond organ as well as the bass, with engineer Chris Thomas playing piano and Ringo, of course, on the drums. It was the final song on side three is Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long”, part of the chord progression for which he took from Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”. MacDonald describes the song as Harrison’s “touching token of exhausted, relieved reconciliation with God” and considered it to be his “finest moment on The Beatles”. The recording session for the basic track was one of the longest the Beatles ever undertook, running from the afternoon of 7th October through the night until 7 am the next day. McCartney played Hammond organ on the track, and an “eerie rattling” effect at the end was created by a note causing a wine bottle on top of the organ’s Leslie speaker to resonate.

Side four

Revolution 1

The Beatles recorded three “Revolution” songs in 1968: “Revolution 9,” the avant-garde sound collage; the un-numbered, hard-rocking “Revolution,” released as a single; and “Revolution 1,” a bluesy, slowed-down, shuffling version. That’s the one that appears on the White Album and, like the single, it found John expressing empathy with the revolutionary fervour of the tense time while simultaneously cautioning against violence. While Nicky Hopkins added piano to the single version, he’s not on the album cut, which instead includes horn players and backing vocals.

“Revolution 1” was the first track recorded for the album, with sessions for the backing track starting on 30th May. The initial takes were recorded with the aim of it being a possible single, but as the session progressed, the arrangement became slower, with more of a laid-back groove. The group ended the chosen take with a six-minute improvisation that had further overdubs added, before being cut to the length heard on the album. The brass arrangement was added later.

Honey Pie

Paul, whose father led a jazz big band, always harboured an appreciation for the British music hall style, and “Honey Pie,” which he wrote, is a direct tribute to the form. At one point the staticky crackle of a 78 RPM record was added to give the song an old-time feel. Although the others weren’t quite as enamoured of the old music as Paul, they each played on the track, as do a team of horn men, including one George Martin on sax and clarinet. “Honey Pie” was written by McCartney as a pastiche of the flapper dance style from the 1920s. The opening section of the track had the sound of an old 78 RPM record overdubbed while Martin arranged a saxophone and clarinet part in the same style. Lennon played the guitar solo on the track, but later said he hated the song, calling it “beyond redemption”.

Savoy Truffle

What might have been a throwaway from anyone else—the soul-flavoured song was written by George and inspired by Eric Clapton’s love of sweets—becomes a compelling tune in the Beatles’ hands. John takes a break from this session, and in addition to Ringo and Paul, plus a six-piece horn section and Chris Thomas on keyboards boosts up the sound. Strangely enough, Ella Fitzgerald once covered the tune. “Savoy Truffle” was named after one of the types of chocolate found in a box of Mackintosh’s Good News, which Clapton enjoyed eating. The track featured a saxophone sextet arranged by Thomas, who also played keyboards. Harrison later said that Derek Taylor helped him finish the lyrics.

Cry Baby Cry

This somewhat haunting number was written by John, with playing input from the other three plus George Martin on the harmonium. On the album, it’s followed by the brief uncredited snippet by Paul, “Can You Take Me Back?,” which actually originated during a jam session that arose out of one of the takes for “I Will.”

Lennon began writing “Cry Baby Cry” in late 1967 and the lyrics were partly derived from a tagline for an old television commercial. George Martin played harmonium on the track.

Revolution 9

The most controversial “song” on the White Album, the experimental “Revolution 9” was John’s creation, influenced heavily by Yoko. Paul and Ringo are nowhere to be found, but George was involved, contributing some guitar, vocals and sound effects. Ono can also be heard on the track. Largely constructed around tape loops and other snippets of sound, the audio collage has been interpreted in many different ways. Lennon said at the time that it was about death, but he discounted that explanation later and said it was just a collection of unrelated sounds. The spoken word snippet at the beginning is Alistair Taylor (late manager Brian Epstein’s personal assistant) saying to George Martin, “I would’ve gotten claret for you but I’ve realized I’ve forgotten all about it, George, I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

“Revolution No 9” evolved from the overdubs from the “Revolution 1” coda. Lennon, Harrison and Ono added further tape collages and spoken word extracts, in the style of Karlheinz Stockhausen. The track opens with an extract from a Royal Schools of Music examination tape, and ends with Ono’s infamous comment, “you become naked”. Ono was heavily involved in the production, and advised Lennon on what tape loops to use. McCartney did not contribute to the track, and was reportedly unhappy on it being included, though he had led similar tape experiments such as “Carnival of Light” in January 1967.The track has attracted both interest and disapproval from fans and music critics over the years.

Good Night

Ringo Starr, as the singer, is the only Beatle who appears on the track, which features a full orchestra arranged and conducted by George Martin. John wrote the lush ballad for his son Julian, who was five at the time. The final words on the White Album are, “Good night. Good night, everybody. Everybody, everywhere. Good night.” “Good Night” was a lullaby written by Lennon for his son Julian, and he specifically wanted Starr to sing it. The early takes featured just Lennon on acoustic guitar and Starr singing, Martin scored an orchestral and choral arrangement that replaced the guitar in the final mix, and also played the celesta.

Unreleased material

Some songs that the Beatles were working on individually during this period were revisited for inclusion on the group’s subsequent albums, while others were eventually released on the band members’ solo albums. According to the bootlegged album of the demos made at Kinfauns, the latter of these two categories includes Lennon’s “Look at Me” and “Child of Nature” (eventually reworked as “Jealous Guy”); McCartney’s “Junk”; and Harrison’s “Not Guilty” and “Circles”. In addition, Harrison gave “Sour Milk Sea” to the singer Jackie Lomax, whose recording, produced by Harrison, was released in August 1968 as Lomax’s debut single on Apple Records. Lennon’s “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” would be used for the medley on Abbey Road the following year.

The Lennon-written “What’s the New Mary Jane” was demoed at Kinfauns and recorded formally (by Lennon, Harrison and Ono) during the 1968 album sessions. McCartney taped demos of two compositions at Abbey Road“Etcetera” and “The Long and Winding Road” – the last of which the Beatles recorded in 1969 for their album Let It Be. The Beatles versions of “Not Guilty” and “What’s the New Mary Jane”, and a demo of “Junk”, were ultimately released on Anthology 3.

“Revolution (Take 20)”, a previously uncirculated recording, surfaced in 2009 on a bootleg. This ten-minute take was later edited and overdubbed to create two separate tracks: “Revolution 1” and the avant-garde “Revolution 9”.

Derek and The Dominos‘ 1970 album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” is being reissued for its 50th Anniversary as a deluxe 4LP vinyl set and across two CDs.

The original album has been half-speed mastered by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios and, being a double, is pressed on two LPs. Two further records of bonus material (not half-speed mastered) make up this 4LP deluxe box set.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was celebrated back in 2011 with a deluxe, cross-format box set that featured the remastered original album (on CD, vinyl and in a 5.1 surround mix on DVD), 1973’s In Concert, and a disc of 13 bonus tracks, including new mixes of outtakes from the supergroup’s unfinished second album and a live set from The Johnny Cash Show. This new box strips things back somewhat, offering the half-speed mastered album and the 13 bonus cuts across four LPs along with the 12″ x 12″ book from the 40th anniversary set and a certificate of authenticity.  (The 2CD 40th anniversary edition will also go back into print as well, ostensibly for the 50th anniversary.) Alongside this is a further 2LPs of bonus material some of which has previously been unreleased on vinyl. All the bonus material across all of LP3 & LP4 is mastered normally (so is not half-speed mastered).

Layla was the end result of four members of Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett’s touring group – guitarist Eric Clapton (already well-known for work with Blind Faith, The Beatles and many more), singer Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon – coming together for a brief but fruitful series of sessions. (Their earliest session produced the briefly issued single “Tell the Truth,” produced by Phil Spector and featuring guitar work from Dave Mason and George Harrison.) The Layla sessions also featured scintillating guitar contributions from Duane Allman. Despite the album’s pedigree, the album never performed to expectations, and tragedy followed the group: Allman was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1971, Radle died in 1980 after years of drug abuse, and Gordon remains institutionalized after killing his mother during a schizophrenic episode in 1983.

But gradually, Layla‘s title track took hold as one of Clapton’s crowning achievements: written about his insatiable infatuation with Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd (who indeed had a decade-long marriage with the guitarist after divorcing the Beatle), “Layla” became a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1972; in 1990, its Gordon-led piano outro scored a pivotal scene in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas – and three years later, a striking acoustic performance for MTV’s Unplugged won a Grammy Award.

“That thing was like lightning in a bottle,” begins Bobby Whitlock talking about his short-lived band time with Eric Clapton, Derek and the Dominos. “We did one club tour, we did one photo session, then we did a tour of a bit larger venues. Then we did one studio album in Miami. We did one American tour. Then we did one failed attempt at a second album.” And all within about a year’s time in 1970.

So in this case, the oft-overused flash of lightning description is right on the money. And Whitlock was a key part of the kinetic energy behind what’s considered a genuine landmark in not just Clapton’s career but the entire classic rock genre: the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, co-writing six of the double album’s 10 original songs, and bringing his soul-soaked Deep South keyboard skills to the musical mix, taking the vocal lead on two tracks and doubling/trading off with Clapton throughout the rest of the album.

Now, five decades later, he is the keeper of the Dominos legacy. And the dedicated survivor of a star-crossed band if there ever was one. After the band’s short flash as a working act, he descended into some three years of heroin adduction and seclusion. Duane Allman, who played on most of Layla, was killed in a motorcycle crash on October 29th, 1971. Bassist Carl Radle recorded and played with Clapton later in the ’70s and died of a kidney infection, exacerbated by his alcohol and drug abuse, in 1980. Drummer Jim Gordon as well continued to engage in substance abuse, damaging his career with behavioural issues. In 1983, he murdered his mother, claiming a voice in his head had told him to do so. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and has remained incarcerated ever since.

Whitlock stresses “We were better than anybody.” One of the key elements that made them what he feels were the Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band for that all-too-brief time was Whitlock’s deep Southern musical soul. Growing up a preacher’s kid in a family poor as a church mouse, he was weaned on spiritual music (and did some cotton picking in his youth). Coming of age in Memphis, Whitlock was steeped in R&B in the city where white rock ‘n’ roll was born at Sun Studio.

Although Whitlock, only 22 years old at the time, helped Clapton all but define anguished unrequited love in the most profound rock ‘n’ roll terms and tunes on songs like “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad,” “Tell the Truth” and “I Looked Away,” his own ultimate love story is something quite different, and a rather delightful one at that. Though his post-Domino years were not without their struggles, today he’s blissfully married and in musical partnership with singer, bassist, guitarist, sax player, songwriter, recording engineer and producer CoCo Carmel.

Whitlock, Clapton, Radle and Gordon became part of the core crew on the sessions for Harrison’s post-Beatles debut, All Things Must PassWhen Harrison had business elsewhere for a few days, he told the four to use the studio time with producer Phil Spector to cut some tracks, which yielded the debut Dominos 45, “Tell the Truth” b/w “Roll It Over.”

Whitlock says of Clapton, “He wanted to be Derek not Eric. He wasn’t ready to step into his role of as a solo artist at that time.” The four musicians did a show at London’s Lyceum Theatre, and then set off on a tour of small English venues as Derek & the Dominos where the admission was £1, and Clapton’s name was forbidden to be used in any advertising. In late August of ’70, the Dominos arrived at Criteria Studios in Miami to record with producer Tom Dowd. He took them to see the Allman Brothers Band, Clapton and Duane Allman bonded, and the latter joined the Layla sessions to help create some of the most incendiary dual guitar rock ever recorded. The album was suffused with Clapton’s passionate longing for his best friend Harrison’s wife Patti Boyd – interestingly, while in England Whitlock dated her sister Paula – and even though it was only a middling hit on its release, over time its stature grew to become considered a rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece.

The vinyl box comes with a 12×12″ book of sleeve notes taken from the 40th-anniversary edition. A 2CD edition will also be made available which is effectively identical to the double-CD edition issued in 2011.

The big 40th anniversary box set (which was 4CD+DVD+2LP) featured a surround sound mix on the DVD. Since that is now very hard to get hold of, it’s disappointing that the DVD hasn’t been included as with the two CDs to make a triple disc package.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs will be reissued on 13th November 2020.

 

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers w Eric Clapton

1966 – an age ago in football terms, but still a ridiculous year for music. The Kinks were blazing on a sunny afternoon while The Rolling Stones were painting it black, Dylan was having Visions Of Johanna, Otis Redding was writing the Dictionary Of Soul… The Beatles were reminding us Tomorrow Never Knows, while The Beach Boys were doing God Only Knows. Somewhere in amongst this tremendous crop of records, a fanatical 21-year-old guitarist who had turned his back on chart success with The Yardbirds a year earlier returned to express his heavily amplified love for the blues – and in the process, make an all-time-classic guitar album.

The band Eric Clapton joined in April of 1965, was led by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist John Mayall, had an ever-revolving cast and eventually, over 100 different line-ups performed under the Bluesbreakers moniker. Eric actually joined twice – he departed the Bluesbreakers in August to tour Greece with a band called The Glands before returning to the fold in November – but by March 1966, the band were ready to record and headed to Decca Studios with producer Mike Vernon.

Having moved on from his Yardbirds’ pairing of Telecaster through a Vox, Clapton instead turned to a 1960 Les Paul Standard through a Marshall Model 1962 2×12 combo, both turned up to full with the mic placed two feet from the amp, a Dallas Rangemaster treble booster and a blanket placed over the whole shebang. Clapton said he’d come across the sound accidentally, when trying to emulate Freddie King: “I would use the bridge pickup with all of the bass turned up, so the sound was very thick and on the edge of distortion. I also always used amps that would overload. Everything was on full and overloading” (though photos from the sessions show the Les Paul in middle position, too, and there are a variety of distinct tones on the record, implying Clapton varied his amp gain and treble to suit).

This pairing shook the studio to its foundations and the guitar world to its core for decades to come, and the ‘Beano’ Les Paul – stolen during rehearsals for Cream in 1966 – has become one of the guitar world’s Holy Grail instruments, with its performance on this record possibly even single-handedly saving the model itself from extinction.

But knowing what tone caps, neck profile, humbucker covers, amp settings, issue of The Beano he was holding on the cover or the length of Eric’s sideburns won’t get you close to the real essential ingredient behind all of the mythology: Clapton’s playing. Blending major and minor, unison bends and double stops, sustaining notes and feedback, the album’s solos were all recorded live (except for Stepping Out) and are packed with endless creativity, delivered with a perfect mix of edgy ferocity and fastidious precision. So if you want to improve your electric-blues phrasing and don’t know them already, it really is time to re-listen and learn the key licks…

Otis Rush’s swung minor blues single “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” from 1958 featured not one but two timeless guitar figures: the uppercut single-finger slide up the E string to announce its main lick and the heavily vibrato’d three-finger A minor triad arpeggio at the beginning of the solo. Clapton reproduces both faithfully, before breaking into a strident solo that shows off the power and sustain of his newfound sound.

Eric was also in thrall to the fleet-fingered melodic charm of Freddie King and the cover of his “Hide Away” trades some of the bite of King’s staccato licks to instead emphasise the dynamic range of his Les Paul/Marshall combo. It’s a masterclass from start to finish, but if you only steal one thing, make it the looped major-key bends in the break at 1:30.

The John Mayall original “Have You Heard” may be sweetened by its Buddy Guy-influenced vocal falsetto, Hammond and horns, but its guitar solo is pure evil. Studio needles in the red, everything on full, at 3:25 a frantic Clapton rinses every squeal, slide, bend and drop of emotion out of his six strings in what, to this day, remains a career-high solo.

Finally, the Bluesbreakers’ high-octane reworking of Memphis Slim’s 1959 piano-blues instrumental “Steppin’ Out” (featuring a string-scraping solo by Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy) not only has one of the most satisfying silences in the blues (2:04), it also has one of its most exquisite examples of feedback (2:22). But the lick to learn is the trio of expressive, lightning-fast slides descending along the G string at 0:17: a subtle but expressive touch that shows Clapton’s playing was on a different level to everyone else at the time.

The Beano union was intense but short lived and when Eric Clapton saw Buddy Guy’s trio play live, he left to form a new ‘supergroup’ with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, both of whom had previously played with Mayall. In December of the same year, when Cream released Fresh Cream, the world saw the guitarist who had burnished his reputation on the Beano album’s amped-up Chicago blues undergo another metamorphosis, launching his talent for extended improvisation into the realms of psychedelia.

Just as Clapton’s Yardbirds exit had paved the way for Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, his departure for Cream opened the door for John Mayall to showcase the talents of Mick Taylor and Peter Green – clearly, you could look under a rock in the mid 60s and find innovative guitarists teeming and clambering over one another.

But the Beano album is the mother lode of blues-rock guitar, and without its influence, a legion of guitarists – among them Peter Green, Gary Moore, Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, even Hendrix – may have sounded quite different.

The band:

  • John Mayall, vocals, piano, organ, harmonica
  • Eric Clapton, guitar, vocals
  • John McVie, bass
  • Hughie Flint, drums
  • John Almond, sax
  • Alan Skidmore, tenor sax
  • Dennis Healey, trumpet
  • Gus Dudgeon, engineering

Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton