As all Beatles fans know, ten days ago on December 15, 2017 saw the release of the new CD box set Happy Christmas Beatles People!, a compilation of the special Christmas recordings that the Beatles sent each year to dues-paying members of the official Beatles Fan Club. This new box set encompasses the Christmas records from 1963 to 1969. This innovative special Christmas box set was reviewed in major publications throughout the world. Rolling Stone published a comprehensive article on December on the Christmas recordings to coincide with the release of the box set. The article is entitled “Beatles’ Rare Fan-Club Christmas Records: A Complete Guide“. This is the Amazon link to Happy Christmas Beatles People!
The release of this long overdue box set will compete with a popular Christmas song by an ex- Beatle. As is the case each year during the holiday season, Paul’s Christmas song “Wonderful Christmastime” is in heavy rotation on the airwaves. This McCartney solo song was recorded in 1979 during the recording of McCartney II, with Paul laying down all the tracks himself at the home studio on his farm. Though not a Wings single, all of the members of the final configuration of Wings appeared in the video which was filmed at The Founatin Inn in Ashurst, West Sussex.
“Wonderful Christmastime” reached # 6 on the UK Singles Chart, but did not chart on The Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. Since its debut during the 1979 holiday season, it was estimated by Forbes magazine that the song has earned Paul $15 million dollars. Each holiday season the song rakes him in excess of $400,000.
Beatles fans will remember that McCartney performed “Wonderful Christmastime” on SaturdayNight Live on December 15, 2012.
In addition, Beatles fans will remember that there was never an official Christmas song released by the Fab Four. However, as the public knows now in 2017, from 1963 to 1963 members of the official Beatles Fan Club received Christmas records that were never released to the public. One such Christmas song, “Christmas Time Is Here Again”, lived on in bootleg records and became more accessible with the advent of YouTube.com.
Ironically, Paul can be heard on Side B of the monstrously successful 1984 charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid. This song knocked out Wings’ “Mull of Kintyre” from having the distinction of being the biggest selling single in the history of the UK. It was on top of the UK Singles Charts in Christmas 1977. For whatever reason, “Mull of Kintyre” was a flop in the U.S., reaching # 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and cracking the Top 40 for only that one week. “Mull of Kintyre” was a massive international hit that topped the charts in countless countries. Paul has never performed the song in a concert in the U.S. due to its bad performance there; however, there have been instances over the years in which he does a concert one night in the U.S. without performing “Mull of Kintyre” and then two nights later adds it to the playlist for a concert in Canada.
The 1977 Wings single “Mull of Kintyre” still remains the biggest selling non-charity single in UK history.
Needless to say, there was ample coverage around the globe last summer concerning the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. There was a highly praised special on PBS entitled Sgt. Peppers Musical Revolution , in addition to countless articles in major newspapers such as the New York Times and the Daily Mail. However, what was not addressed in the media coverage of the 50th anniversary was the fact that some songs on this groundbreaking album were “ripped from the headlines”. The songs “She’s Leaving Home”, “A Day in the Life” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” were inspired by news articles or announcements.
The term “ripped from the headlines” was thrown at some high-profile American television shows which based their scripts around actual news events. The first such show, Lou Grant, which ran weekly from 1977-1982 on, saw actor Ed Asner reprise the character Lou Grant from the seven year run of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) though not in a comedic role. In the show Lou Grant, the character Lou Grant had shifted from television news in Minnesota back to print news and was the city editor of the fictitious daily newspaper the Los Angeles Tribune. Some of the show’s episodes were based on actual situations that had faced newspapers in the U.S. However, the term ‘ripped from the headlines” is most heavily identified with the show Law & Order, which ran on NBC from 1990-2010 and spawned a franchise of other similar Law & Order type shows. Episodes of Law & Order many times were based on high-profile news stories that appeared on the front page of the New York City tabloid newspapers the New York Post and the New York Daily News.
Similarly, the song “She’s Leaving Home” was taken directly from a newspaper article that Paul McCartney read. Paul said the following of the song:
“John and I wrote ‘She’s Leaving Home’ together. It was my inspiration. We’d seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who’d left home and not been found, there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line. So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up … It was rather poignant. I like it as a song, and when I showed it to John, he added the long sustained notes, and one of the nice things about the structure of the song is that it stays on those chords endlessly. Before that period in our song-writing we would have changed chords but it stays on the C chord. It really holds you. It’s a really nice little trick and I think it worked very well.
While I was showing that to John, he was doing the Greek chorus, the parents’ view: ‘We gave her most of our lives, we gave her everything money could buy.’ I think that may have been in the runaway story, it might have been a quote from the parents. Then there’s the famous little line about a man from the motor trade; people have since said that was Terry Doran, who was a friend who worked in a car showroom, but it was just fiction, like the sea captain in “Yellow Submarine”, they weren’t real people.”
The front page newspaper article in question was in the Daily Mail about a teenaged girl named Melanie Coe who had run away from her parents. Coe subsequently said that the song was fairly accurate though she did not meet “a man from the motor trade.”
What was ironic was that McCartney had actually met a young Melanie Coe three years earlier in 1963 when he served as a judge on ITV’s Ready Steady Go! and proclaimed her the winner of a dance contest.
The final track on the classic 1967 album, “A Day in the Life”, written primarily by John with Paul adding the midsection, was similarly based on newspaper articles, mainly reports on the death of Tara Browne, the 21 year-old heir to the Guinness fortune. A friend of both Paul and John, Browne died when he crashed his Lotus Elon. Of course, the song starts off with the opening lyric, “I read the news today, oh boy”.
The main article on Browne’s death which inspired the song was a 17 January 1967 article in the Daily Mail which centered on a ruling on custody of Browne’s two small children.
“I didn’t copy the accident,” Lennon said in a BBC interview. “Tara didn’t blow his mind out, but it was in my mind when I was writing that verse. The details of the accident in the song—not noticing traffic lights and a crowd forming at the scene—were similarly part of the fiction.” McCartney expounded on the subject: “The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case, certainly as we were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head. In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The ‘blew his mind’ was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.”
“He got the germ of it when he picked up the Daily Mail on December 19. John knew one story he would find. The previous day a good friend of the Beatles named Tara Browne had been killed when his Lotus Elan hit a truck at high speed in South Kensington. He was twenty-one years old, an heir to the Guinness fortune, and now he was dead in a car wreck. The subject stayed with John. On January 17, 1967, he settled down on his settee with the Daily Mail and read the following short item: ‘There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey.’
“John started writing, combining the two items and adding a reference to his recent war movie. It was still not a complete song, so John took what he had to Paul. In what was undoubtedly the last time they would sit down and work on a song together, Paul produced his own unfinished song that he thought would fit with John’s unfinished piece of the puzzle. Paul’s portion was, he said, about his memories of ‘what it was like to run up the road and catch the bus to school, having a smoke and going to class. We decided, ‘Bugger this. We’re going to write a turn-on song.’ This would become ‘A Day in the Life.’”
While “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was not ripped from a news story, the lyrics were lifted almost word-for-word from a circus poster. There were a collection of unusual things at John’s Kenwood estate in the London suburb of Weybridge that he had collected. One was a 19th century circus poster for Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal appearance in Rochdale.
While Paul has claimed over the years that he aided a small bit in the writing of the song, John always maintained that it was entirely his. The poster’s second headline was “Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite”; William Kite worked for Fanque. Mr. J. Henderson was a wire-walker, equestrian, trampoline artist, and clown; he performed with his wife, Agnes Henderson, thus the invocation of “The Hendersons”. A brilliant article on the subject appeared a 24 May 2017 Rolling Stone article entitled “Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ at 50: How an Old Circus Poster Led to ‘…Mr. Kite”
There is an old saying “If you dream long and hard enough, your dream will come true.” Jeff Lynne was always a Beatles fanatic, so it seems natural that fate would bring him so close to The Beatles.
Born in Birmingham on December 30, 1947, Jeff Lynne gained worldwide fame with his band Electric Light Orchestra, which had countless worldwide hits during the ten year period of 1975-1985. However, during that time period, in 1976 Lynne recorded two solo songs, covers of “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Nowhere Man”. He had definitely planted the seeds for what would come a decade later.
Electric Light Orchestra did phenomenally well on the UK singles and albums charts. In the U.S., the band scored a total of 20 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1975 to 1986. The band saw a successful stretch of hits on the U.S. charts from January 1975 to August 1979. Chronologically, these songs were: “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” # 9, “Evil Woman” # 10, “Strange Magic” # 14, “Livin’ Thing” # 13, “Do Ya” # 24, “Telephone Line” # 7, “Turn to Stone” # 13, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” # 17, “Mr. Blue Sky” # 35, “Shine a Little Love” # 8, “Don’t Bring Me Down” # 4.
In 1986 George Harrison wanted to record a solo album but was uncertain of a producer. His friend Dave Edmunds recommended ELO frontman Jeff Lynne. George was familiar with Lynne’s work and was open to meeting him. A dinner was scheduled at Harrison’s home and it went great.
According to the 2002 biography Behind Sad Eyes: The Life of George Harrison by Marc Shapiro, Harrison said of his meeting with Lynne, “We hung out a bit. The more we got to know each other, it just evolved into this thing. Jeff was the perfect choice. The best thing about Jeff was that he wanted to help me make my record.”
The project turned into the highly successful 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine, which both had hit singles and received critical acclaim. “I Got My Mind Set on You” hit number one, while “When We Was Fab” received major airplay and was a hit; Lynne can be seen playing violin in the video for “When We Was Fab”. Another song released as a single was “This Is Love”, which was one of three tracks on the album that Lynne co-wrote with Harrison.
The following year saw the Harrison/Lynne creative collaboration continue as the two formed the studio supergroup The Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. They released their first album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 to widespread commercial and critical success.
However, nothing cemented Lynne’s legacy in Beatles history as much as producing the two new singles that were released as part of The Beatles Anthology in 1995. George Martin opted not to produce these two singles. First, in his heart he did not think it was a great idea to use old Lennon demo tapes to make a new single. Also, Martin felt that the hearing loss he had recently suffered would not allow him to do an adequate job at the difficult task of digitally processing the 1977 Lennon demos and overdubbing new sound of the reunited Beatles, so he bowed out. The three remaining Beatles were grateful to have Jeff Lynne produce their two new singles “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”. “Free As a Bird” entered the Top 40 on December 30, 1995 and spent four weeks in Top 40, peaking at number six. “Real Love” cracked the Top 40 on March 23, 1996 and reached number 11 in its short three weeks in the Top 40.
Since The Beatles Anthology, Jeff Lynne has done further work with members of the group. He has produced records for Ringo Starr, while also helping to produce the 1997 McCartney album Flaming Pie, along with George Martin.
In April 2014, I wrote a post entitled “The Revenge of Manchester!”. With this week’s absolutely tragic events in Manchester, I thought I would re-post it. The world continues to remember the victims of the horrific Manchester tragedy. In this sense, the word “revenge” is used in that it shows to the world that Manchester perennially has been a city of greatness in so many ways.
After almost two years of hits in England and dominating the music scene in their home country with the frenzy of Beatlemania, the four boys took the U.S. by storm in 1964. They transplanted Beatlemania to a foreign shore and launched what we know as “The British Invasion”. Needless to say, Liverpool was the focus of The British Invasion in the U.S. on account of being the Beatles’ home city.
Julian Lennon has been in the news over the last few weeks on account of his new children’s book about the environment. Did you know that while Paul McCartney and John Lennon had a healthy rivalry in which they at times tried to highlight their differences, both Beatles named their sons after themselves? And John Lennon did so twice! Even Julian Lennon was named after his Beatle father.
Julian Lennon, John’s son from his first marriage to the former Cynthia Powell, was born April 8, 1963. However, his real name is John Charles Julian Lennon and was called “Julian” to both differentiate from his father as well as to honor his maternal grandmother, John’s late mother Julia.
John’s second son, Sean Lennon, with Yoko Ono, received the name “Sean” because it was the Irish Gaelic version of “John”. Sean was born on October 9, 1975, which was John’s thirty-fifth birthday. At that point in the ex-Beatle’s life he was obsessed with his Irish heritage (his father, Alfred Lennon, was totally of Irish descent). He would refer to himself as “Irish”, rather than British or Welsh (his mother’s family, the Stanley’s, were of Welsh origin). During that period, John and Yoko took part in IRA marches in Manhattan and John designated the royalties of his song “The Luck of the Irish” to Irish Northern Aid, an organization which gave economic assistance to the families of imprisoned IRA people.
Paul McCartney named his only son after himself. James Paul McCartney, the future Beatle, was always referred to as “Paul” to differentiate from his father James McCartney, a Liverpool cotton salesman. The ex-Beatle gave the name “James” to his only son, James Louis McCartney, known as “Jimmy”, who was born September 12, 1977. Paul’s father, James “Jim” McCartney, came from a long line of generations named “James McCartney”.
“Silly Love Songs” by Wings has a lot of history, not to mention accomplishments. First, it is one of the few number singles in Billboard chart history to reach number one, then be dethroned only to return to the top slot. It reached number one on May 29, 1976 but the following week Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover” claimed the top spot for two weeks. Then, “Silly Love Songs” topped the charts again for four consecutive weeks.
Over twelve years after The Beatles started the British Invasion in 1964, Paul McCartney and his fellow Brits in Wings had the number one song in the U.S. on July 4, 1976, the bicentennial of the United States declaring independence from Great Britain.
Apart from The Beatles, “Silly Love Songs” is ranked as McCartney’s all-time biggest Billboard Hot 100 single. It also topped the charts in Canada and the Republic of Ireland, but stalled at # 2 in the UK. Ironically, “Combine Harvester” by The Wurzels, a most forgettable song, kept “Silly Love Songs” out of the number one position on the UK pop charts.
Off of the Wings at the Speed of Sound album, the song cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 on April 17, 1976 and spent 15 weeks in the Top 40. Billboard ranked “Silly Love Songs” as the # 1 single of the year for 1976, making Paul McCartney the only artist to be part of the # 1 singles of the year, including “She Loves You” (1964) and “Hey Jude” (1968).
“Silly Love Songs” was written in reaction to both the critics and former bandmate John Lennon who said that Paul’s songs were lightweight. In fact, on one occasion John said publicly accused Paul of sounding like Engelbert Humperdinck. One British critic wrote that all Paul McCartney was capable of writing was silly love songs.
At the time, Stephen Holden wrote in Rolling Stone that the song “seems like a mysterious, somewhat defensive oddity by a great pop producer who used to be a great pop writer”.
The often criticized “George Harrison and Friends” world tour began on November 2, 1974 in Vancouver, British Columbia. As a warm-up act, the tour featured a sixteen piece Indian orchestra lead by Ravi Shankar.
To cover the many criticisms of this tour obviously cannot be done in a sing;e post on this blog. Instead, here is a transcript of a portion of the press conference that George held in Los Angeles on October 24, 1974 to discuss the upcoming tour with reporters from all over the world.
REPORTER: Why did you decide to return to America?
GEORGE: I’ve been back here many times. This is the first time I’ve been back to work, though. It’s also the first time I’ve had an H-1 visa since ’71.
REPORTER: What was the reason for you not having the H-1?
GEORGE: I had the same problem as John Lennon. I was busted for marijuana way back in ’67.
REPORTER: Would you ever consider touring Mexico?
GEORGE: I wouldn’t mind. I mean, I would go anywhere. This is really a test. I either finish this tour ecstatically happy and want to go on tour everywhere, or I’ll end up just going back to my cave for another five years.
REPORTER: Could you tell us your feelings and expectations for the upcoming tour?
GEORGE: I think if I had more time I’d be panic-stricken, but I don’t really have the time to get worried about it.
REPORTER: Are you getting divorced from Pattie?
GEORGE: No, I mean, that’s as silly as marriage.
REPORTER: Can you foresee a time when you’ll give up your musical objectives?
GEORGE: I can see a time when I’d give up this sort of madness, but music – I mean everything is based upon music. I’ll never stop my music.
REPORTER: What direction is your music going in now?
GEORGE: Haven’t got a clue. I mean it’s getting a bit funkier, especially with Willy Weeks and all them.
REPORTER: What’s your attitude about drugs now?
GEORGE: Drugs? What drugs? Aspirins or what are you talking about? I mean, I think it’s awful when it ruins people. What do you define as a drug? Like whisky? I don’t want to advocate anything because it’s so difficult to get into America these days.
While it is well known that Paul McCartney and John Lennon helped out other artists on songs during the Beatles years, the one and only time that they ever helped out on song together was in 1967 on The Rolling Stones hit “We Love You”. The song is for the most part unknown in the U.S., but it reached # 8 on the British pop charts. In the U.S., it only reached # 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 and therefore was off the radar screen because it fell short of the coveted Top 40.
“We Love You” is definitely “interesting”. Its Moroccan influence is obvious. One critic at the time described it as a “psychedelic collage of jail sounds.”
The song was written in response to the drug arrests of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones on 12 February 1967 at Richards’ country home in Sussex. The band made an accompanying video that was a re-enactment of the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde for indecency. Needless, to say the BBC immediately banned the video, or “promotional film” as was the term back then.
“We Love You” was a brazen and public “thank you” to The Beatles, The Who and the editorial page of the London Times for taking the bold initiative to voice public support for the three members of The Rolling Stones after their drug arrests. Since the song was written in part for The Beatles, Paul McCartney and John Lennon were asked to help out with backing vocals, marking the first and only time that these two Beatles would help out on a song together.
Interestingly, Stones lead guitarist Brian Jones played the Mellotron on the track.
Check out the song that never made the Top 40 in the U.S., and the promotional film the Stones made for it:
Believe it or not, Wings had two lead guitarists with similar names: Henry McCullough and Jimmy McCulloch.
Henry McCullough, a native of County Derry in Northern Ireland, died 14 June 2016 at the age of 72. He had been the only Irishman to play at Woodstock, having backed Joe Cocker there. The first Wings single, “Give Ireland back to the Irish” was banned by the BBC for its political content but hit # 1 on the charts in the Republic of Ireland. As a result, McCullough’s brother was jumped by a gang of thugs one night when leaving a bar in Derry. Some people think that McCullough’s solo on the international hit “My Love” is among the best guitar solos in rock history. Joining Wings at the beginning, McCullough left within two years because of artistic differences. His only album with the group was Red Rose Speedway, and he departed after the recording of the single Live and Let Die for the James Bond film of the same name.
After the successful Wings album Band on the Run, Jimmy McCulloch joined as lead guitarist and stayed with Wings from 1974-1977. A Glasgow native, he was the “boy wonder” guitarist of the band Thunderclap Newman which had the hit “Something in the Air”, which was produced by McCulloch’s friend Pete Townsend. McCulloch was with Wings for the albums Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound. On Venus and Mars, he both co-wrote the song “Medicine Jar” with Colin Allen and provided lead vocals on the track. On Wings at the Speed of Sound, which included the number one hits “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs”, McCulloch co-wrote “Wino Junko” with Colin Allen in addition to handling lead vocal chores.
In 1976, prior to a rehearsal for the Wings Over America tour, McCulloch broke his wrist backstage in the dressing room while wrestling with David Cassidy. His broken wrist held up the start of the tour for a couple of weeks. Two years after leaving Wings in 1977, McCulloch was found dead in his London flat at age 25. An autopsy later revealed that he died from morphine and alcohol poisoning. This is the New York Times obituary of McCulloch.
In today’s New York Times I read the obituary of veteran actor John Hurt, who passed away on January 25 at the age of 77. The BAFTA-winner actor received Oscar nominations for Midnight Express and The Elephant Man. The Guardian also had a glowing obituary.
What all of the obituaries on this revered actor did not mention is that John Hurt was the star of the video for the 1982 Paul McCartney hit “Take It Away”. In the video Hurt plays a impresario eager to sign Linda McCartney to a contract.
This video received regular play in the rotation of MTV when the music network was less than a year old. Off the Tug of War album, “Take It Away” reached number ten on the Billboard Hot 100, staying in the Top 40 for eleven weeks from July to September 1982.
It was the second single released off of the Tug of War album, the first of which, the duet “Ebony and Ivory” of Paul and Stevie Wonder, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks.
Ironically, “Take It Away” was the fourth instance since 1973 in which a McCartney or Wings single reached the top ten but stalled at number ten. The others that hit # 10 were Wings’ “Hi, Hi, Hi” in 1973, Wings’ “Helen Wheels” in 1974, and finally the Wings’ live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” in 1977.
The song, and the album, were produced by George Martin, who both played piano on the track and appeared in the video as a member of the band. Ringo Starr handled the drumming chores and appeared in the video. Linda McCartney provided backing vocals and tambourines.
When the video was released, MTV was less than a year old and still played videos 24/7. Having an established actor like John Hurt starring in a video was unheard of at the time.
Actually, “Take It Away” played a role in the break-up of Wings. The last configuration of Wings was recording “Take It Away” for a Wings album on December 8, 1980 when early the next morning, on a day intended to finish the song, Paul received word of John Lennon’s murder. The plan had been for Wings to release the album and tour, but when Paul balked at touring as a reaction to John’s death, guitarist Denny Laine felt that he could not wait around in limbo and left the band. A year later the song was recorded with new musicians as a McCartney single.