21 December, 2013

The Rules: ‘Happy Holidays’

If you’re the kind of person who gets their knickers in a twist over people saying ‘Happy Holidays,’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas,’ then that’s your prerogative. Just don’t pretend to care about the Season of Goodwill.

If you won’t accept a greeting in the spirit in which it’s offered, and instead use it as a semantic excuse to get angry about something, then with all due respect, that’s not the way to Peace on Earth, my friend.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, whatever! It doesn’t matter. Just be happy for Christ’s sake.

I say all the above as a Catholic.
Happy Christmas.


19 December, 2013

Meet the Bottom of the Barrel

When Paul McCartney was asked around the time of The Beatles Anthology albums if there was anything left in the vaults that might eventually be released, he said that if they ever did, they would have to call it Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel.

Well, we’re there. In fairness, Bootleg Recordings 1963 is not a desperate attempt to find some product to release. It’s an open secret that these recordings are being quietly released in order to extend their copyright. Briefly, current copyright laws have recordings reverting to public domain after 50 years but if they have been officially released, the owners can squeeze another 20 years out of them.

Sony has already begun doing it with its Bob Dylan archives, even going so far as to title the first volume, The Copyright Extension Collection. However, whereas Sony released the Dylan tracks in ridiculously limited (as few as 100) physical editions, The Beatles are doing it with a Wikileaks style file dump. Fifty-nine tracks were released on iTunes yesterday with almost no promotion.

The first quarter of the collection is outtakes from the recording of the Please Please Me album and singles from 1963. Since these records were made live in the studio, these takes are extremely similar to the released versions. Some of them even sound a little better without the added reverb. The tracks are mixed for stereo, the same as the album versions, with vocals and rhythm guitar on the right, and drums, bass, lead guitar and vocal reverb on the left. The sound quality is just as good as the remastered albums. Apart from some studio talk and missing harmonica, if you told people these were the album versions, all but the most expert fan would probably believe you.

Speaking of studio banter, there’s not much of it, so if you were hoping to hear The Beatles working, you’ll be disappointed. It’s easy these days to think The Beatles were always all-conquering but in 1963, they were simply rising stars, barely out of their teens. They were rising quickly for sure, but this was before they had the run of EMI studios to do whatever they wanted, so what we hear is The Beatles on their best behaviour.

When On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2 came out last month (a mere 19 years after Volume 1), some people asked why they don’t just release all the BBC sessions. Well, be careful what you wish for, because most of the remainder of this collection does just that – for 1963 at least. Forty two tracks from sixteen different sessions across six different programs.

The sound quality of these recordings is variable with songs from Saturday Club being particularly poor. It might have been possible to use some studio magic to clean these up but listening pleasure is not really the point of this release. Sometimes the quality varies wildly across the same program. It might even come down to which particular shelf the BBC had the tape on. It’s all perfectly listenable though and the recordings from the Pop Go The Beatles sessions are quite good. It does, of course, add to the authenticity of recordings that were meant to be heard on AM radio.

The sequencing of the BBC tracks is slightly odd. Rather than playing all the songs from a particular program, they chop and change for no apparent reason. The sessions from Pop Go The Beatles are all over the place, yet these are followed by all the songs from the Side by Side program together. I don’t think the collection would be any more or less repetitive (and it is repetitive - you won’t want another Taste of Honey for some time) if they just played the programs in order. Then again, this being iTunes, you can just make yourself a playlist if you like.

The two concluding tracks are demo versions of Bad to Me and I’m in Love, which were eventually recorded and released by Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas and The Fourmost respectively. Bad to Me is played by John and Paul on acoustic guitars; I’m in Love is John solo on piano.

The most notable tracks include Takes 1 and 2 of One After 909 (a song that was shelved until the Let It Be album), I Saw Her Standing There with just a whispered count-in, a slightly swinging version of Love Me Do from Saturday Club and A Shot of Rhythm and Blues from Pop Go The Beatles.

So, should you buy it?
Well, everything about the way this ‘album’ was released suggests neither Universal (and gee it feels weird to talk about The Beatles’ recordings being owned by Universal and not EMI) nor the Beatles want you to. It’s not even a fans-only release. If it were, it would at least have a digital booklet with notes and explanations. This is just marking territory. They had to release them in order to stop anyone else releasing them.

Musically, it’s nothing more than a collection of historic curios, which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing, and there are millions of Beatles fans who are. (Hello!) However, if you’re one of them, you’d better get in quick. Now that it has been released, legal honour is satisfied and they can pull it at any time, which is possibly why it has only been released digitally and not physically.

The other consideration is the price. When I downloaded it yesterday morning, it cost me $15.49, which is beyond reasonable, it was an absolute bargain. (I must thank my twitter friend Greg for the link, without which I would have missed the cheap price. I owe you several beers some time, mate!) Four hours later, it had disappeared from the store and old links no longer worked, leading people around the world to suspect that it had already been withdrawn from sale. Then today, it was back in the iTunes store, for $69.99! (Check your local guides) No way is it worth that much; certainly not without four CDs, comprehensive sleeve notes and an elegant box. It’s just another reason to suspect they really don’t want anyone to buy this.

If the law doesn’t change, we can presumably expect one of these collections every year and they will only get bigger as The Beatles’ career exploded. However, next year we will be expecting it which means that availability may be even briefer, so keep your eyes peeled next December.

15 December, 2013

Shut up about Peppa!

One sentence was all it took. Just one sentence in an otherwise predictable and formulaic rant against his competition and Piers Akerman seemed to distract the whole internet...

I'll tell you the rest at AusOpinion.

07 December, 2013

What we have lost

Last night on the special edition of 7:30 on the passing of Nelson Mandela, Quentin Dempster asked Andrea Durbach, “What do we lose with Nelson Mandela’s death?”

It’s a powerful question and if I might offer an answer, part of what we lose is control over his words and what they mean.

There are certain icons of history; people who not even the most churlish of contrarians would disagree with. Nelson Mandela is certainly one of them, but what happens to those icons is that their words get co-opted and their messages corrupted by those who want only to be associated with them, not to embody them. From Jesus Christ to Martin Luther King, you don’t have to look far to find those who are happy to quote their words without any understanding of or empathy for their real meaning.

I have seen King’s speech about judging people not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character actually used as an excuse for racism. Hey, we’re judging people by the content of their character and it’s a pure coincidence that the character we are judging just happens to belong exclusively to people with different skin colours.

As the messages of those who were once considered radicals finally, and rightly, become mainstream, there will be more and more privileged idiots who try to claim their struggle as their own, from Pete Hoekstra comparing the attempts to shut down Congress to the struggle for democracy in Iran, to Tony Abbott comparing his own time in opposition to that of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Already, it is happening to Mandela. Just last night, Rick Santorum compared the struggle against the great injustice of apartheid to his own struggle against the “great injustice” of Obamacare. I kid you not. I couldn’t make that up, and if I could, I wouldn’t.

I wouldn’t presume to know what Nelson Mandela would make of such a comparison but I doubt he would agree. Perhaps he would respond with a dry and playful irony similar to his response to the Spice Girls comparing his movement to their own phoney and confected “girl power,” which everyone would again take as an endorsement of their own assumptions, whatever they may be. Such was his wit.

The world loses much with his passing and no small part of it is his authority and perspective on what a struggle against injustice really is.

01 December, 2013

The Bonus Discs: New

The US Target edition of New comes with a bonus DVD called A Rendez-vous with Paul McCartney.

It’s a 22-minute interview, conducted by Genevieve Borne, about the ‘Out There’ tour. It’s an odd inclusion, given that the main part of the tour concluded before the album was released and didn’t preview any songs from it.

As short tour films go, it’s paint-by-numbers stuff, containing very little that long-term fans wouldn’t already know. There’s a bit of discussion about previously unplayed songs recently added to the setlist such as All Together Now and particularly Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite, but we only hear snippets of the actual songs. The warmest moment is talking about the plague of grasshoppers that invaded the stage in Brazil. 

On the whole, it’s like an extra feature on a concert disc that was never released.

The packaging is no different to the regular deluxe version (yes, there are regular, deluxe, and special deluxe editions). The DVD comes in a cardboard sleeve with artwork identical to the album cover, stuck with removable gum to the album packaging.

Audio: Dolby Stereo
Worth paying extra for?  If you can find it at Target, it doesn’t cost any more and it’s certainly worth having, but not worth going out of your way for or paying ebay prices. Look it up on YouTube instead.