Wednesday, February 18, 2009

AMG Guy Strikes Again!


So last Wednesday I attended my second Richie Unterberger "rare '60s rock and roll film clip" presentation, and oh man, let me tell you. This time he focused exclusively on clips from the British Invasion, and his goal was to demonstrate, through chronological employment of the clips, how quickly and creatively the British pop scene shifted from early 1964 to mid-1967. And my did he ever. In fact, having realized that he'd assembled such a brutal fusillade of clips, he opted to play them all without interruption for two hours straight and bump the question-and-answer period to the end. Unlike last month's collection, it seems to me that this batch was genuinely rare, as I have not been able to find very many of these clips on YouTube, or at least in not nearly the same quality. Before he began, he stated something to the effect of this: "Let me just say that at first you might be finding a lot of these performers on the cute or the quaint side and you might be wondering why we're even bothering to still talk about this movement more than 40 years later, but hang in there, because once we get to about the 25-minute mark you're going to notice the nature of the music become much darker and edgier in almost no time flat." His final comments cut to the heart of the matter: "I think it's fair to say that, without the British Invasion, our world would be...a much less enjoyable place."

He started and ended, shockingly, with the Beatles. The first clip of the night was of the Beatles performing "I Want To Hold Your Hand" for an Ed Sullivan dress rehearsal. Watching the clip, I somehow became filled with this powerful but bizarre notion that, as I looked back and forth between each of the four Beatles, it was as if I was really looking at one person. Because I have become so familiar with each of them, I think they appear to me as a complete entity unto itself. As potent of a personality match as other bands might be, they simply do not have this same effect.

Then came the cheesy clips: The Dave Clark Five, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Peter & Gordon, and the impressively dated Freddie & The Dreamers, among others. All of a sudden: The Rolling Stones. Richie played a clip of their first American television appearance, where they were introduced by host Dean Martin, who obviously thought they were atrocious and pretty much said so. But you could tell they were the only other band up to that point, beside The Beatles, who really had it. Mick looked great, Keith looked great, Brian looked great, and Bill and Charlie just looked like...Bill and Charlie. They played "Not Fade Away" and "I Just Want To Make Love To You." I can't imagine how shocking this performance must have been to those innocent young American girls who were seeing The Rolling Stones for the first time.

After that it was straight-up hard rock that would have broken Gerry's pacemaker: The Animal's "House of the Rising Sun," The Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night," The Yardbirds' "For Your Love," and so on. We got Petula Clark ("Downtown"), Manfred Mann ("Do Wah Diddy Diddy), the pre-prog Moody Blues ("Go Now"), a young Tom Jones, a young Van Morrison singing with Them, and the Nashville Teens, who weren't from Nashville at all.

As soon as we came to Procol Harum's 1967 hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale," though, the whole mood of the program changed. This was the point where pop music really began abandoning the love song entirely (which I think was a great move, personally). The second-to-last clip, of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine," was probably my favorite clip out of them all, both because of its placement in the evening's narrative and because of the considerable merits of the clip itself. Since I associate Pink Floyd with a whole other era, it's fascinating to realize that they became famous just as The Beatles were achieving their psychedelic peak. So to see the clip be shown right before the clip of The Beatles performing "All You Need Is Love" via satellite was to suggest almost a changing of the guard. In fact, watching the "All You Need Is Love" clip immediately after the Pink Floyd clip, I almost felt like The Beatles seemed pompous and self-important. I mean, come on, who is John Lennon to tell me that all I need is love? What the fuck does he know about love anyway? Now hear me straight, I haven't been invaded by pod people and I'm not knocking The Beatles, but I think at this stage in my life I might be more in tune with the spirit of Pink Floyd than the spirit of the Fab Four.

Speaking of: this is one clip I was able to find. What I loved about it in the program was how it stood out from all the other clips that had come before. It was a uniquely bizarre clip representing the beginnings of a uniquely bizarre band. I think this Hans Keller fellow must have been told before he came to the studio that night that he would be participating in a discussion on Kant and Schopenhauer. Little did he know what he was getting himself into!

21 comments:

jason said...

I agree with your reaction to that "All You Need Is Love" clip... how cheesy. But if he had played something from the White Album-era I really think it would have been the best and edgiest clip of the bunch.

Did you have any more interactions with the AMG guy?

Little Earl said...

Why yes, yes I did! One of the clips he showed near the end was of the Rolling Stones performing "Ruby Tuesday" and "Let's Spend the Night Together" during another Ed Sullivan dress rehearsal. The broadcast footage is quite well-known and easy to find. It's famous for two reasons: 1) Ed Sullivan requested that Mick Jagger sing "Let's spend some time together" instead of the more risque title phrase, and Mick complied by essentially mumbling the phrase incoherently and rolling his eyes every time he sang it, and 2) during "Ruby Tuesday," Bill Wyman pretended to play the cello (because aside from Mick, everyone else was miming to the record). So this time, while watching the unreleased footage, I noticed that Keith Richards was "playing" the piano. I couldn't really tell that he was miming because his vocals were live like Mick's. So at the end of the program, I asked Richie, "So, 'Ruby Tuesday,' was Keith Richards really playing the piano?" And he answered, "Well, obviously Bill Wyman was not really playing the cello, so clearly the vocals were live and the rest was simply from the record." Then I asked, "Can Keith Richards actually PLAY the piano? In real life?" Richie answered, "Well, you know, not many people realize this but Mick Jagger can actually play guitar" (I nodded because I knew this) "but anyway, the Stones had an actual keyboard player who was for all intents and purposes a permanent member of the band and that was Ian Stewart" (I nodded because I knew this also) "but as for Keith Richards, he could probably just plunk out a few chords here and there and that was about it I imagine." I have to say, though, he looked surprisingly elegant and cuddly at the piano.

Otherwise I haven't gone up and spoken to Richie at the end of the evening because these events are actually pretty crowded and a lot of other people are exchanging words with the AMG master. I'm not sure if I'll be attending his next one because it didn't sound quite as interesting, but he has a website so I can always find out what the themes of his presentations are going to be whenever I become curious.

I think that, within the enclosed Beatles narrative, "All You Need Is Love" does not come off as cheesy at all; it's just that without the context it can seem a little bit hippy-dippy.

jason said...

I guess I have a huge bias against that '67 era of the Beatles, especially The Magical Mystery Tour, the overproduced version of "Strawberry Fields" (the acoustic version on the anthology is 100x's better), and especially "I am the Walrus."

I'm a big White Album guy -- I agree with what John said that meeting Yoko got him back into honest, personal songwriting (more or less, I mean there's still "Me and My Monkey"...)

Little Earl said...

(Southern redneck voice) "Boy, you are askin' for trouble."

Sgt. Pepper is probably my favorite Beatles album. Meeting Yoko may have improved John's songwriting, but not his life. I'm just getting warmed up here.

Herr Zrbo said...

Heh, I loved that Hans Keller guy. He looks like he's on some East German talk program. "Economic theories of the socialist state mit Herr Professor Hans Keller".

LE, I just came across a cover of 'Set the controls for the heart of the sun' by one of my favorite bands. I need to make that mix for you soon.

Little Earl said...

Oh do you? Do you really? Let me guess: VNV Nation. No wait, Sisters Of Mercy.

I'm glad you like another band's cover of "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," but what of Pink Floyd's version of "Astronomy Domine"? Personally I think we could use a few more Hans Kellers on present-day musical variety programs; he's like Simon from American Idol but more withering and subtle. I love his way with backhanded compliments like "Perhaps I'm too much of a musician to fully appreciate them." Or "All I hear is continuous repetition and as such they are a bit boring." I mean, who was on this show the week before? Duke Ellington?

jason said...

Herr Zbo: I think I have the same "Set the Controls" track you're talking about. Is it 20 minutes long, have bird sound effects, and a guitar virtuoso playing the tymphany?

Lil' Earl: I know you're way into Britpop, so it makes sense you'd like Sgt. Pepper (Actually, I think "Day in the Life" is probably the best Beatles song). I'm more into confessional singer/songwriters. I guess the Beatles have something for everyone (even people who love Boy Bands)!

Also, this may blow your mind, but I actually prefer 13 and Think Tank to Parklife.

Herr Zrbo said...

I'm talking about the Trance to the Sun version, though the band does have a 20 minute long track on another album with bird noises by someone who could be a virtuoso of sorts.

jason said...

aw, I thought you were talking about this version:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SI1LWOCBrc&feature=related

Sometimes I feel like the last Pumpkins fan on earth. :)

jason said...

link

Little Earl said...

"Also, this may blow your mind, but I actually prefer 13 and Think Tank to Parklife."

Oh...My...God! Well didn't I mention that Parklife isn't one of my favorite Blur albums anyway? 13 I can understand, but Think Tank? At least provide an explanation. Hey, you know what, I'm just glad somebody else likes Blur at ALL. Zrbo prefers the Gorillaz for crying out loud.

"I'm more into confessional singer/songwriters." Like who? Sarah McLaughlin? Jewel? Don't just leave me hanging like that.

Besides, why isn't Sgt. Pepper "singer/songwriter"? To make a (very long) opinion short, I don't think Sgt. Pepper is really as cheerful of an album as people say it is. It has a very dark and menacing undercurrent that I would say has gone under-acknowledged.

Anyway, if you're expecting me to knock the White Album you are going to be sorely out of luck. The only Beatles album I have any semi-critical words for is Revolver, and that's only in relation to its current position among rock critics and not really because the music itself.

jason said...

LE:

Well, I don't exclusively listen to singer/songwriters or anything, but I like a lot of the "heart-on-the-sleeve" types like Billy Corgan, Bright Eyes (that's right, I'm a 14 year old girl), Elliott Smith, and even some Dylan can go in that category. And I really love David Pajo's self-titled solo album (he was in Slint, Zwan, Stereolab, etc etc).

To be honest, I don't own Sgt. Pepper and don't really know it that well! I think most people get into the Beatles through their parents, but my parents didn't listen to music, so I didn't listen to the Beatles until I was 21 years old (except for "Good Day Sunshine," which I heard on a Sun Chips commercial). I was really into the Smashing Pumpkins, and Billy kept talking about how John Lennon was his hero, how his songs were really personal and honest, so my starting point was "Plastic Ono Band" (still one of my top 5 albums!). Then I went backwards from there, mostly looking for Beatles songs that fit into that aesthetic. (even though A Hard Day's Night is oddly my second favorite Beatles album). As you might've guessed, I'm also not that into Paul's songs.

As for Think Tank, I avoided it when it first came out, so when I finally heard it years later it was divorced from all the build-up and expectations it had when it came out. I don't know, it's a really weird album, and I like art that isn't just the same old stuff I've heard or seen before. I think "Sweet Song" and "Good Song" are amazing. And the one where this jazz record starts playing for no reason, not synched up with the rest of the song at all. It's kind of like what I said about Marie Antoinette a while ago, I know it's bad but I'm still fascinated by it.

Little Earl said...

My parents didn't listen to the Beatles either. They listened to the best of '80s adult contemporary pop. However, I did discover the Beatles before the Smashing Pumpkins. I can see the how the Smashing Pumpkins would have seemed really impressive...if you hadn't heard the Beatles.

A Hard Day's Night is some good shit. Practically every John song is about how much he hates women: "I'll Cry Instead," "You Can't Do That," "Tell Me Why," etc. "I'll Be Back" is one of my ten favorite Beatles songs ever - folk rock a year before there was folk rock.

I think a lot of Paul's songs are actually quite confessional, if not in the same way as John's. "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be" are two of Paul's most personal songs; it's just that he never told anybody they were personal.

yoggoth said...

The more I read of your posts, Jason, the more convinced I become that you are posting from an alternate dimension. Billy Corgan is a "heart-on-his-sleeve" type? Even when I listened to the Pumpkins constantly I was embarrassed by their "Sixteen Stone" level lyrics - my own tentative and amateurish poetry was superior. I remember my father mercilessly mocking Corgan's self pity and shallow alienation whenever Bullet with Butterfly Wings came on the radio. Still - the Pumpkins are a bit underrated by rock critic types, but not due to Corgan's lyrics or emotional revelations. (If Little Earl can explain what makes T-Rex songs good but Pumpkins songs bad I'd like to hear it.) They're good because he wrote catchy riffs and combined those wonderfully crunchy grunge guitars with pop melodies. Tool and Rage Against the Machine also fall into this category, and are likewise underrated. To be clear, I almost never listen to these bands, I just think they deserve a bit or recognition in our present era of relentlessly shitty music.

PS "Strawberry Fields Forever" is a wonderfully produced song.

PPS Aside from "Julia" which Lennon songs on the White Album constitute honest, personal songwriting in a way that "I Am the Walrus" does not? "Glass Onion?"

Little Earl said...

Don't forget about "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," "Cry Baby Cry," and "Revolution #9."

P.S. Need a copy of Sgt. Pepper? We can take care of that for you.

jason said...

Dogpile on Jason! Ah, where to begin...

1) I've read hundreds of bad reviews of Billy Corgan, and almost all of them use "heart on his sleeve" as a way of criticizing him (second only to "whiny" and "melodramatic"). Maybe I'm just misunderstanding what the phrase means, but he seems like the textbook example to me. Have you heard a little song called "Disarm"?

I won't defend the Pumpkins further -- I've known for years they're the go-to band to make fun of if you want to be cool, but I still love 'em! So does Brian Lee O'Malley, who's cooler than all of us.

2) Alright, so maybe the White Album isn't the best example of John's personal songwriting. That would have to be Plastic Ono Band (I'm guessing no one's going to dispute me on this one). But some of his White Album songs were a huge step in that direction, especially "Julia" (a precursor to "My Mummy's Dead"), and I'd put "I'm so Tired" and maybe "Dear Prudence" in that category too. Maybe they're not 100% autobiographical, but they're much more sincere and edgy than him singing "Goo goo ga joob" while a bunch of cavemen chant, "Ooka shaka, Ooka ooka" in the background.

3) I've listened to Sgt. Pepper enough where I know most of the songs (off the top of my head: the title track, With A Little Help from my Friends, She's Leaving Home, Lucy in the Sky, Lovely Rita, Mr. Kite, Good Morning, Day In the Life). But it's been over a decade since I've listened to it, and I don't "know" it the way I know their other albums. So yeah, I should definitely re-visit it soon!

And there are a lot of Paul songs I do like. I'm Looking Through You (amazing!), Can't Buy Me Love, If you Won't See Me, Eleanor Rigby, I Will, Mother Nature's Son, etc etc. Basically I love almost everything about the Beatles.

By the way, I didn't mention Sgt. Pepper in my earlier comment, only the The Magical Mystery Tour. I'm hoping one of you will try to defend that album now...

Splendid!

Little Earl said...

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Magical Mystery Tour was never intended to be a proper album, and no one really considers it one of the Beatles' masterworks, so it's funny to me that you're singling it out so harshly. That said, personally I think the 1967 Beatles were hot and just about every song they recorded at that point was gold. Sure, maybe relatively speaking, "Blue Jay Way" and "Baby You're a Rich Man" were not going to set the world on fire. But I like Magical Mystery Tour more than Revolver, I'll tell you that. And it's "Oompa, oompa, stick it to your jumper," not "ooka shaka, ooka ooka"! Even "Angry '70s" John said he liked "I Am The Walrus," so think about THAT.

I don't really have anything against the Smashing Pumpkins and I'm not even that familiar with the Smashing Pumpkins to be quite honest (I've heard Siamese Dream and parts of Mellon Collie). It's just that Corgan seemed to take himself a little too seriously. The only song of theirs I have in my mp3 collection is "Cherub Rock." Great song, I could listen to it any time.

Still, Beatles > Smashing Pumpkins, yes?

jason said...

Music critic rating:

The Beatles > Smashing Pumpkins

Jason rating:

Smashing Pumpkins > Beatles

And yes, Billy is totally delusional. That's part of the fun.

Little Earl said...

So that's what they're calling "fun" these days.

And hey, don't rip off my two-pronged rating system attack.

Anyway, if you think you need a trip to the funny farm, check out Kelsey and his review of the White Album on Amazon.com:

"These old talentless hags will never be as great as their idols Oasis! Oasis are one of the best "classic rock" bands ever, aside from Metallica, but St. Anger is pretty hard to beat. Anyway, this whole album is boring and uninspired with weak songwriting. All of the songs sound the same! Why is this two discs?? It's two discs full of DUNG! LOL!"

Herr Zrbo said...

Hey LE, on the discussion board of one of my library classes there was a discussion on AMG and public databases, and I mentioned Richie's show since it also includes a library. I said a friend of mine goes. See if you see some librarian ladeez the next time you go.

Little Earl said...

Some HOT librarian ladeez, if you know what I mean.

Looks like AMG Guy has been quoted in Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly! Apparently an alternate take of "Revolution #1" has leaked on bootleg. From the article:

“As someone who’s heard, I’d say, 99.8 percent of the Beatles music that has leaked onto bootleg, this is really interesting,” Beatles expert Richie Unterberger told EW.com.

I gave it a listen and I feel like I've heard something very similar elsewhere, if not this exact take and mix. I've always been a bigger fan of the single version of "Revolution" myself.