The Magic Christian: 1969 movie starring Ringo

After the Beatles films, Ringo Starr made his movie debut in 1968’s Candy, which was based on a Terry Southern novel of the same name. The following year, Ringo would star in another movie based on a novel by satirist Terry Southern, The Magic Christian. It was his first high-profile role.

Directed by Joseph McGrath, the 1969 movie differed greatly from Southern’s novel. In fact, Ringo Starr’s character of Youngman Grand did not exist in the novel. The role was written specifically for Ringo to give the film a Beatles aura. It starred Peter Sellers as Sir Guy Grand, an eccentric billionaire who together with his adopted son (Ringo) spend their time playing elaborate practical jokes on people.

Countless famous actors and actress had bit roles in this bizarre comedy. There is even a brief shot of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

The film had more Beatles connections than just Ringo Starr in a co-starring role. The song’s theme song was “Come and Get It”, which was written and produced by Paul McCartney, and performed by the band Badfinger. Of course, Badfinger was signed to the Apple label at the time. The lyrics of “Come and Get It” were written to showcase the plot of a billionaire bribing people to do bizarre things.

Ironically, the song “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman was prominently used in the film. Lead guitarist on the song was 16 year-old boy wonder Jimmy McCulloch, who four years later would join Wings as their lead guitarist.

Author Alan Clayson perfectly sums up Ringo’s involvement in The Magic Christian in his 1992 book Ringo Starr: Straight Man or Joker: “Another lesson logged for future use by Ringo was how a product’s lack of substance could be disguised with a large budget and employment of the famous.”

The Shiek of Araby: Great Beatles Song!

Years ago when I used to listen to a cassette tape of a “bootleg” of the Decca sessions, “The Sheik of Araby” was one of my favorite song on those audition tapes. Naturally, I was glad that the song was included on Anthology 1 in 1995.

Before 1995, though, I went back to read my favorite novel, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, after not reading it for many years. I was shocked to read that Fitzgerald included lyrics from the song in his famed novel. This sparked my curiosity in the song.

The novel was published in 1925, but set in the summer of 1922 in New York City and Long Island. On page 78 of the novel, Fizgerald wrote, “The sun had gone down behind the tall apartments of the movie stars in the West Fifties, and the clear voices of the little girls, already gathered like critics on the grass, rose through the hot twilight:

I’m the Sheik of Araby
Your love belongs to me.
At night when you’re asleep
Into your tent I’ll creep

The song was composed in 1921 by Harry Smith, Francis Wheeler and Ted Snyder. The song was written to capitalize on the furor created by Rudolph Valentino’s role in the hit movie The Sheik.

The song became a jazz favorite as well as a staple of pop culture in that time. While the song became a New Orleans jazz standard, “Araby” did not refer to the small town of Arabi, Louisiana, but rather the Arabian Peninsula.

The song has been recorded by countless artists. It was part of The Beatles’ stage act prior to their ill-fated audition for Decca records on New Year’s Day in 1962. It is probable that the band was influenced to cover “The Sheik of Araby” by Fats Domino’s 1961 rendition of the tune.

Kudos to George Harrison for brilliant lead vocals. Pete Best provides interesting drumming.

Here is a clip from YouTube:

The Beatles banned by the BBC …… so was Paul Simon

The Beatles and Paul Simon have some things in common, most notably that each group had a successful song banned by the BBC. In 1969, the song “Come Together”, released as a Double A-side single with “Something”, only reached # 4 on the UK charts in part due to the ban on playing “Come Together”; it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. The song was banned by the BBC for their longstanding policy of not permitting the play of songs which make blatant reference to a commercial brand in that the BBC views it as free advertising. “Come Together” prominently mentions Coca-Cola. Ironically, one year later the BCC would ban The Kinks’ classic song “Lola” because it also made a reference to Coca-Cola, causing the band to replace it with the overdub of “cherry cola” so it would be played on the air.

1973, Paul Simon’s hit “Kodachrome” was viewed by the BBC as an overt “plug” for Eastman Kodak’s famous Kodachrome, its registered trademark color film that it first introduced in 1935. The song reached # 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, being blocked from the top spot by George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”.

There are also more connections between The Beatles and Paul Simon. Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein in 1965 signed the American band The Cyrkle, who had their biggest hit with “Red Rubber Ball”, a song penned a few years early by Simon and credited to Simon and Bruce Woodley of The Seekers. Simon has stated he only wrote the song because as a struggling musician in England he wanted to get a 100 pound advance from The Seekers. Bruce Woodley added a few minor changes to the song. A frat band of students from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, Epstein was urged to sign them by his NY business partner Nathan Weiss. Epstein demanded they change their name from “The Rhondells”. They chose “The Circle” in reference to a circular traffic roundabout in the center of Easton, PA. John Lennon amended their name to the unique spelling of The Cyrkle.

While opening for Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon decided to give the upstart band his old song “Red Rubber Ball” to record. The song reached # 2 in 1966 and sold well over one million copies.

The Cyrkle opened for The Beatles on fourteen dates of their 1966 tour of the U.S. As luck would have it, The Cyrkle was on the bill for the final Beatles concert ever on August 29, 1966 in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The Cyrkle broke up in 1967, with their two leaders, guitarists Tom Dawes and Don Danneman, going onto brilliant careers writing jingles, such as the 7UP Uncola song and the famous Alka-Seltzer “plop plop fizz fizz” jingle. In addition, Dawes produced a few albums for Foghat.

On November 20, 1976, Paul Simon hosted Saturday Night Live and invited his friend George Harrison as the musical guest. The two did duets of the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” and the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Homeward Bound”.

Back when everyone in Wales spoke Welsh: those were the days!

This post was inspired by a recent article in the New York Times about the survival of the Welsh language entitled “The Welsh Strive to Keep Their Language“.

How does the Welsh language relate to the history of the Beatles?

Mary Hopkin is the only native speaker of the Welsh language to have had a number one hit on the UK pop charts. She was born into a Welsh-speaking family in Pontardawe, Wales. Her song “Those Were The Days” topped the UK charts in 1969 in addition to reaching number two on The Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. Not only is she the only native Welsh speaker to top the UK charts, but also she is the only native speaker of any of the Celtic languages to have done so.

“Those Were the Days” was a Russian folk song that was given English lyrics by American songwriter Gene Raskin. It was the first single recorded by Hopkin, who was among the very first artists to be signed by the Apple Records label. Paul McCartney produced the song and played acoustic guitar in the recording session. He would soon produce a full album for Hopkin entitled Post Card, on which he would also play both guitar and bass on various tracks. Prior to signing with the Apple label, she had recorded an album of Welsh-language songs.

Mary Hopkin was brought to the attention of Paul McCartney by his friend Twiggy, the famous model, who had seen Hopkin win the television talent show Opportunity Knocks. She knew he was looking for fresh talent for the new label and telephoned him to urge that Apple sign Hopkin. Hopkin was immediately singed.

Having heard Raskin and his wife perform their song at a London nightclub in 1964, McCartney tucked the song away in his mind with the intention of being part of its recording someday.

Hopkin’s next single release was “Goodbye”, one of Paul’s songs credited to the Lennon/McCartney partnership. Ironically, “Goodbye” only reached number two on the British charts as it was blocked from the number one slot by “Get Back”, which meant that Apple Records held the top two songs on the charts.

Mary Hopkin continued to record and chart songs, but never had the same level of success as she did in the beginning. She married famed producer Tony Visconti, who produced a slew of artists in the 1970’s such as David Bowie and Thin Lizzy. He has produced numerous David Bowie albums beginning with Space Oddity in 1969 and more recently Next Day in 2013; in between he produced six Bowie albums among them Diamond Dogs (1974), Young Americans (1975) and Scary Monsters (1980). For the recording of the Wings album Band on the Run, McCartney recruited Visconti to handle the orchestral arrangements.

How Nazi air raids on Liverpool affected the Beatles

Anyone who has watched The History Channel has seen reports of the air campaigns against England by The Third Reich during World War II. Aside from London, Liverpool was a prime target. It is ironic that the Nazi air raids over Liverpool both figured prominently in the births of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

John Lennon was born on 9 October 1940, during a week of devastating air-raids and destruction in Liverpool. John’s mother, Julia Stanley Lennon, was in labor for 30 hours and the doctors were about to perform a c-section when baby John Winston Lennon finally appeared. The birth occurred during an air raid, though one not as harsh as the ones in previous days or the days that would follow in the week.

Julia’s sister Mimi went to see her new nephew but was unable to do so because the nurse had plucked the infant away from his mother and put him in a basket under the bed for protection as the raid was continuing.

Mimi was not deterred by the raids on her way to the hospital nor on the way home to tell her family the good news. For the rest of her life she would tell people about the night that John had been born in the middle of an air raid.

The Third Reich air attacks on Liverpool affected the McCartney family in a different way. Jim McCartney, a 38 year-old cotton salesman, stopped by the old McCartney homestead on 11 Scargreen Street in West Derby, Liverpool. His newlywed sister Jin and her husband Harry Harris were living there. Also living at the house was Jin’s friend Mary Patricia Mohin, a 32 year-old nurse. During dinner, the air raid began with Liverpool harbor getting the worst of it but other areas being hit, too. All four were forced to spend the night in the basement as the raid continued, which gave Jim McCartney and Mary Patricia Mohin ample opportunity to get to know each other. In a 1984 interview in Liverpool with rock biographer Geoffrey Giuliano, Mike McCartney described his parents’ first meeting during the air raid that night by saying, “It was love under duress.”

One year later Jim and Mary Patricia were married on 15 April 1941 in a full church wedding at St. Swithin’s Roman Catholic Chapel in Gill Moss, Liverpool. Their first child, James Paul McCartney, was born in Walton Hospital on June 18, 1942. Their second child, Peter Michael McCartney, was born in Walton Hospital on January 7, 1944. In attendance at the McCartneys’ wedding in 1941 was Jim’s sister, Jin Harris, who introduced the two newlyweds amidst an air raid. Of course, Paul’s aunt Jin Harris was immortalized in the 1976 Wings’ hit “Let ‘Em In” as “Auntie Jin”.

Ringo had TWO number one hits before John had his first number one hit!

Some may find it hard to believe that Ringo Starr had two number one hits in the U.S. before John Lennon had his first chart-topper. John Lennon privately found it hard to believe as well.

Many assume that John’s 1971 smash international hit “Imagine” reached the top of The Billboard Hot 100, but it did not in the U.S. The song peaked at number three.

Ringo’s song “Photograph” topped the charts for the week of November 24, 1973. Debuting at # 74 on The Billboard Hot 100, it took seven weeks to make the climb to the top. His second number one, “You’re Sixteen”, also topped the charts for one week. It debuted at # 75 on December 15, 1973 and six weeks later on January 26, 1974 it topped the charts.

Both “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen” were singles released from the 1973 Ringo album. Another song from the Ringo’s best solo album, “Oh My My”, reached number five. “Photograph” was written by Ringo Starr and George Harrison, and marked the one and only time that two ex-Beatles collaborated to write a song that made the charts. It was written in 1971 while both were on vacation in the South of France.

John Lennon’s first number one song on the U.S. charts was “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night”, which featured his close friend Elton John on piano and backing vocals. The song was the lead single from his Walls and Bridges album. John was the first Beatle to release a solo single when he and Yoko released “Give Peace a Chance” in 1969, and was the last of the ex-Beatles to score a number one hit. “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” was the number one hit for the week of November 16, 1974. The song would be Lennon’s only number one hit during his lifetime, as “(Just Like) Starting Over” reached number one on the charts three weeks after his death on December 8, 1980. The song stayed atop the charts for five weeks.

George Harrison has the distinction of being both the first and the last ex-Beatle to top the charts in the U.S. Beginning on December 26, 1970, his song “My Sweet Lord” spent four consecutive weeks at number one, making it the first number one song by an ex-Beatle and only eight months after the announcement of the band’s break-up. Harrison’s scored a number one hit in 1988 with “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You”, a remake of a 1962 song written and performed by Rudy Clark. Reaching the top slot for one week on January 16, 1988, it was a real coup for Harrison to break in and top the charts which at that point in time were dominated by Michael Jackson, George Michael and Whitney Houston. To date, “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You” ranks as the last number one single by an ex-Beatle.

When “I’ve Got My Mind Set On You” reached the top of the charts, it gave Harrison a unique place in the history of The Billboard Hot 100 as the artist or group with the longest span between numbers one hits (1964 – 1988) beginning with “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in February 1964 which gave him a span of 23 years and eleven months. However, this distinction was short-lived as ten months later in November 1988, The Beach Boys reached the top with “Kokomo”, giving them a span of more than 24 years between “I Get Around” (July 1964) and “Kokomo”.

Four post-Beatles number one hits in the U.S. produced by George Martin

Famed Beatles producer Sir George Martin produced 30 number one hits in the UK as well as 23 in the U.S. His distinguished career in music, film, television and live performance would be too great a task to recount in a single blog post. While his records with the Beatles have certainly stood the test of time, in the U.S. it is ironic that the four number one songs he produced in post-Beatles years are not exactly songs that one would expect from George Martin.

A young Martin joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in 1943 at age 17. He would become both a pilot and commissioned officer, though the war would end before he could see action. Leaving the Royal Navy in 1947, he used his veterans grant to continue his music studies at Guidhall School of Music and Drama from 1947 to 1950, where he studied piano and oboe. Ironically, his oboe teacher at the school was Margaret Eliot, whose actress daughter Jane Asher would be Paul McCartney’s girlfriend for five years from 1963-1968; Eliot’s son, Peter Asher, would find fame as one half of Peter & Gordon and later serve as the head of the A&R department for Apple Records in addition to later becoming a highly successful producer in the 1970’s, producing artists such as James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and J.D. Souther. Paul gave the unused “A World Without Love“, a song he wrote at age 16 that was later published under the Lennon/McCartney moniker, to Peter and Gordon for their first single. “A World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon topped the charts in the UK in February 1964 and three months later reached number one in the U.S. in June. “A World Without Love” and Elton John’s “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, a number one hit for two weeks in January 1975 on The Billboard Hot 100, rank as the only two Lennon/McCartney compositions to reach number one in the U.S. by artists other than The Beatles.

After working in the BBC’s classical music department, Martin was the assistant to the head of EMI’s Parlophone Records from 1950-1955 and became the head of the label in 1955. At first Martin signed classical acts and then the label drifted into successful comedy albums. In 1962 Martin thought he needed to bring a successful rock and roll act to the label, and the rest is history as he invited the Beatles to audition for Parlophone on June 6, 1962 and then signed them. In the contract he persuaded EMI to give the four boys two pennies for each record sold instead of the standard one penny per record royalty. When the Beatles found gigantic success, some people in EMI labeled Martin a “traitor” to EMI for giving them the costly two penny per record royalty, which was split four ways.

Needless to say, the Beatles had phenomenal success on the U.S. charts, scoring a whopping 20 chart-toppers on the Billboard Hot 100. The songs were “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “She Loves You”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Love Me Do”; “A Hard Day’s Night”, and “I Feel Fine” in 1964; “Eight Days a Week”, “Ticket to Ride”, “Help!” and “Yesterday” in 1965; “We Can Work It Out”, and “Paperback Writer” in 1966; “Penny Lane”, “All You Need Is Love” and “Hello Goodbye” in 1967; “Get Back”, “Hey Jude” in 1968; “Come Together/Something” in 1969; “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” in 1970.

Apart from the Beatles, it is surprising that the four number one songs on the U.S. charts that Martin produced might leave some scratching their heads. They are “Sister Golden Hair” by America (1975), “Ebony and Ivory” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (1982), “Say, Say, Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson (1983), and “Candle in the Wind 1997” by Elton John.

Martin produced several albums for America, including Holiday (1974) and Hearts (1975). Hearts yielded the # 1 hit “Sister Golden Hair”, which spent one week on the top of the charts beginning June 14, 1975. Martin also produced America’s two top five songs “Tin Man” (1974) and “Lonely People” (1975). America guitarist Gerry Beckley wrote “Sister Golden Hair” as he was inspired by the works of Jackson Browne and wished to make a song in the Browne mold. The song definitely is about a man who is no longer with his girlfriend and contemplating a return to the relationship. At the time of its release, some religious groups in the U.S. claimed that the song promoted cohabitation, while widespread speculation of the true meaning of the lyrics persists to this day. The band’s second number one song (“A Horse with No Name” in 1972 was their first), it would be their last. Ironically lyrics from the band’s 1972 top ten hit “Ventura Highway” included the line “Sorry boy, I’ve been hit by purple rain” which inspired Prince to write his 1984 # 1 album, song and movie – all of which were entitled Purple Rain.

“Ebony and Ivory” paired McCartney with Stevie Wonder in a song about racial harmony. The song topped the charts in both the U.S. and the UK. From the Tug of War album, “Ebony and Ivory” topped the U.S. charts for seven weeks beginning on May 15, 1982. McCartney and Wonder recorded it together at Martin’s famous studio in Montserrat, while the video for the song was filmed individually with each artist as they were separated by an ocean and video technology was able to merge their two parts to successfully make it look like they had collaborated in person on the video.

“Ebony and Ivory” was McCartney’s most successful post-Beatles number one at seven weeks, and the second-longest of his overall career behind “Hey Jude”. The ex-Beatle definitely saved money on studio musicians as in addition to writing the song he himself provided lead vocals, bass guitar, synthesizers, percussion and backing vocals.

This song was banned in South Africa during the apartheid era. It was included on the song list of The Paul McCartney World Tour (1989 and 1990) with Hamish Stuart, the former frontman of the Average White Band, taking over Steve Wonder’s vocal part. McCartney never performed the song live again until 2010 at the White House in the East Room when both he and Stevie Wonder reunited to perform the song live as part of a concert honoring the ex-Beatle with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song on June 2, 2010.

Three months later in September 2010, Matthew Wilkening of AOL Radio ranked “Ebony and Ivory” as # 9 on the list of 100 Worst Songs Ever. Six years earlier in 2004, Blender ranked the song as # 10 on their list of the worst songs of all time.

The next number one hit produced by George Martin also was a Paul McCartney duet with a famous African-American artist with multiple number one hits. “Say, Say, Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, from McCartney’s 1983 Pipes of Peace album, climbed to the top of the charts on December 10, 1983 and stayed there for six weeks. McCartney and Jackson co-wrote the song. For Michael Jackson, the hit was his seventh top ten hit in less than a calendar year, tying a mark that was jointly held by Elvis Presley and the Beatles. The pair had collaborated on the top ten hit “The Girl Is Mine” from Jackson’s epic Thriller album produced by Quincy Jones. Between the two artists, they had a combined whopping 37 number one singles in the U.S. before they recorded this song. Entering the Top 40 section of the Billboard Hot 100 at number 26 on October 15, 1983, it marked the highest new entry in the Top 40 since John Lennon’s “Imagine” debuted at number 26 on October 23, 1971. Oddly, the song was competing in the charts with Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”, the second-to-last single released from Thriller.

The elaborate video for “Say, Say, Say” featured Paul McCartney, his wife Linda, and Jackson as travelling hucksters who give their proceeds to an orphanage. Surprisingly, iconic actor Harry Dean Stanton and Oscar-winner Art Carney appear in the video. Music critic Nelson George wrote about the song that it would not have “deserved the airplay it received without Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson”. The internet is full of articles and blog posts listing “Say, Say, Say” as the least favorite McCartney song by far.

Maybe the last number one U.S. single produced by George Martin needs little introduction. “Candle in the Wind 1997” was the famous 1997 re-write of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic from the 1973 double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, a song which was not released as a single from the album which spawned the top ten hits “Benny and the Jets”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”. When Elton John decided to perform a new version of the song dedicated to the memory of Princess Diana at her funeral, he called Bernie Taupin and asked him to write new lyrics; Forty-five minutes later, Taupin faxed Elton John the new lyrics to what would become “Candle in the Wind 1997”. When Elton John then wanted the song to be recorded and released as a charity song the proceeds of which would go to the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to aid charities which were important to the late princess, he enlisted George Martin to produce it.

The song surpassed Band Aid’s 1984 “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, which was also a charity song, as the greatest selling single in UK history. “Candle in the Wind 1997” is the most successful single of all time in the history of the recording industry. It was a number one hit all throughout the world. In the UK it made the unprecedented debut at number one in the charts, staying in the top slot for six weeks. It was a chart-topper in the U.S., in addition to being ranked the top single of all-time in Australia. In Canada, the song stayed in the Top 20 for three years, with 46 non-consecutive weeks at number one. The 2009 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records cites the song as being “the biggest selling single since UK and U.S. singles charts began in the 1950’s, having accumulated worldwide sales of 33 million copies.”

While receiving widespread airplay and generating massive sales after Princess Diana’s death, the song has for the most part disappeared from the airwaves.

One great George Martin-produced song that was not a number one song was the 1973 hit “Live and Let Die” by Wings, the theme song to the James Bond movie of the same name. “Live and Let Die” made it to the number two position on the charts on August 5, 1973 and stayed there for three weeks, never making the jump to the coveted top slot. During those three weeks there was a different song in the number one position each week, “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern, “Touch Me in the Morning” by Diana Ross, and “Brother Louie” by The Stories.

The producers of Live and Let Die, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, wanted McCartney to write the theme song. Since the screenplay was not yet complete, they sent him a copy of Ian Fleming’s novel Live and Let Die, which he devoured. He wrote the song in an afternoon, and had it recorded in a week. Saltzman and Broccoli loved the song, but were opting for Shirley Bassey or Thelma Houston to sing it. McCartney made it clear he would not allow the song to be used in the movie if his band Wings were not allowed to record it. Saltzman, still smarting from passing up the opportunity to produce the movie Hard Day’s Night nine years earlier, did not want to burn himself again. They allowed McCartney to record it.

McCartney brought in George Martin to produce the single, marking the first time they had worked together since Abbey Road in 1969. Martin had already received accolades nine years earlier for producing the single “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey, the theme song to the 1964 James Bond film of the same name, which was a top ten hit in both the U.S. and UK. Saltzman and Broccoli were so impressed with Martin’s production and orchestration of “Live and Let Die” that they asked him to do the complete score of this James Bond film which was the first in the franchise to star Roger Moore. It was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, losing out to Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were”, not to mention the first ever Bond theme song that was a rock and roll arrangement.

The label of the single record of “Live and Let Die” listed “Wings” as the artist, while both the movie’s credits and soundtrack album attributed the song to “Paul McCartney & Wings”. It marked the last McCartney single with Apple Records that was credited solely as “Wings”.

In 1984, “Weird Al” Yankovic wanted to do a parody of “Live and Let Die” entitled “Chicken Pot Pie”, but McCartney refused as he and his wife Linda were committed vegetarians and did not want to promote the eating of animals in any way. Also, during his famous half-time show at the 2005 Super Bowl, McCartney performed “Live and Let Die” and it was the only non-Beatles song in the set. Wings’ “Live and Let Die” was prominently used in a scene in the 2013 movie American Hustle.

While it is true that the aforementioned number one four songs on the U.S. charts were not exactly ones that a person would expect from a George Martin-produced number one hit, he had no control over which songs he was told to produce for the artists who paid him to work his magic on their recordings. That these top artists and groups sought out his expertise is a statement in itself. The magic touch of George Martin did not end with the break-up of The Beatles.

Legendary drummer only person to play with all four ex-Beatles

Some musicians are known to have worked with the Beatles while the group was together. However, famed session drummer Hal Blaine is the only person to have worked with all four ex-Beatles in the studio.

The name Hal Blaine may not be known to many in the general public, but he is the most successful drummer in rock history as he has played on more number one hits, more ten hits and more Top 40 hits than any other drummer. He was the backbone of the famed “Wrecking Crew”, a unit of highly talented session musicians which was used by successful producers like Phil Spector and Lou Adler. Blaine has played on an astounding 40 number one hits.

The son of Jewish immigrants, Blaine (real name: Harold Belsky) grew up in Hartford, Connecticut and attended that city’s Weaver High School, which has other famous graduates from that era such as Norman Lear and Totie Fields. To try to summarize Blaine’s phenomenal career would be too daunting a task. Let’s suffice by saying that he played on number one hits by The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Johnny Rivers, Simon & Garfunkel, The 5th Dimension, Sonny & Cher, Frank Sinatra, The Partridge Family, The Byrds, The Carpenters, Cher, Dean Martin, The Mamas and the Papas, John Denver, Nancy Sinatra and many others.

An amazing accomplishment is that Hal Blaine played on the song that would go on to win the Grammy for Record of the Year – six years in a row! He played on the 1966 Song of the Year “A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass; the 1967 winner “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra; “Up, Up and Away” by The 5th Dimension in 1968; “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel in 1969; “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension in 1970; “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon & Garfunkel in 1971.

The famed session drummer worked for George Harrison when Harrison was producing the Jackie Lomax album Is This What You Want?; of course, Lomax was signed to the Apple label by Harrison and was being groomed to be the label’s first major star. Blaine played on several tracks on this unsuccessful album.

Blaine was personally recruited by John Lennon to play on his 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll album, and the two developed a friendship outside of the studio as well.

The U.S. Army veteran jokes that he never physically played with Paul McCartney but they were both recruited to do overdubs on several of the same songs, so in a sense he did “play” with McCartney.

Blaine was friendly with Ringo, who recruited him to play on a few tracks on various solo albums.

For a drummer who played on a record 40 number one singles and a record 150 top ten hits, it is small wonder that he was chosen to work with the four former Fab Four fellows. Below are video clips of Blaine discussing his work with Lennon and Harrison.

Dustin Hoffman and Pablo Picasso inspired Paul to write a song for famed Wings album

There is a famous anecdote in Beatles lore about an encounter between actor Dustin Hoffman and Paul McCartney in Jamaica in 1972. It concerns the song “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)”, which appeared on the 1973 Wings album Band on the Run. The tale was best described in the 1988 book Yesterday: The Unauthorized Biography of Paul McCartney by Chet Flippo.

Paul and Linda were in Jamaica on vacation. They were staying at the same hotel as Dustin Hoffman, who was there filming the movie Papillon with Steve McQueen. The trio had dinner together one evening. Hoffman asked Paul, “How do you write songs?”

“They just come out of the air. I dunno,” Paul replied.

“Can you write them about anything?”

“Yeah.”

“Try this.” Hoffman handed Paul an issue of Time magazine and pointed to an obituary of Picasso and read from it Picasso’s last words, which were: “Drink to me. Drink to my health. You know I can’t drink anymore.”

Paul said, “Well, you could probably write a song about that.”

After a moment he started singing it. Hoffman jumped up, shouting, “Look, he’s doing it! Goddamn it! Holy sh–!”

The song was on the classic Wings album a year later.

These are the lyrics……..

The grand old painter died last night
His paintings on the wall
Before he went, he bade us well
And said goodnight to us all

Drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can’t drink any more
Drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can’t drink any more

3 o’clock in the morning
I’m getting ready for bed
It came without a warning
But I’ll be waiting for you, baby, I’ll be waiting for you there

So drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can’t drink any more
Drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can’t drink any more

Drink to me, ho, hey, ho

Elton John’s tribute to his close friend John Lennon

Elton John’s “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” is the most remembered tribute song to the late John Lennon. Elton John was devastated after the murder of his close friend. It took him a year and half to come out with this tribute song.

Off of the album JUMP UP!, “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)”, entered the Top 40 on April 17, 1982 and stayed on the charts for ten weeks. It reached # 10. Elton John performed this song on his first ever appearance on Saturday Night Live on April 17, 1982 that featured Johnny Cash as the host.

It was the most solid collaboration between Elton John and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin since they ended their exclusive writing partnership in 1977. The duo had written together infrequently since 1977.

The accomplished songwriting record of Elton John/Bernie Taupin needs no explanation. Apart from Elton John, Taupin wrote two number one hits: “We Built This City” by Starship (1985) and “These Dreams” by Heart (1986). Ironically, the most successful song of the John/Taupin partnership was “Candle in the Wind: 1997”, the tribute to Princess Diana which became the most successful pop song in world history, holding the record for topping the charts for the most weeks in both the UK and the U.S., and a multitude of other countries. When Elton John decided to revamp the original 1973 “Candle in the Wind” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as a tribute to play at Princess Diana’s funeral, he phoned Taupin to request new lyrics. Forty-five minutes later Taupin faxed his old songwriting partner the new lyrics.

Believe or not, George Martin produced the single “Candle in the Wind: 1997”, which ironically was far bigger than any number one hit he did for the Beatles. It is the most successful single in pop music history in terms of both sales and topping the charts in countless countries. The three other number one hits George Martin did in the post-Beatles years were not exactly stellar. They were “Sister Golden Hair” by America (1975), “Ebony and Ivory” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (1982), and the terrible “Say Say Say” by McCartney and Michael Jackson (1983). Too bad that Martin’s best hit after the Beatles break-up, “Live and Let Die” by Wings, stayed and number two for a couple of weeks in 1973 but could not make the jump to the top slot.