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Today (January 30th) marks the 50th anniversary of the last time The Beatles played live together, in the infamous “rooftop” concert in 1969. Although they would go on to make one more studio album, Abbey Road in the summer of 1969; due to contractual and legal wranglings the rooftop concert, which was meant to be the conclusion to the movie they were shooting, would not come out until 1970 in the movie Let it Be.

It is also true to say that some of the songs on Abbey Road were performed “live” in the studio with very little overdubbing (as opposed to separate instrument parts being recorded separately as was done on e.g. Sgt. Pepper). But, the rooftop concert was the last time the greatest band in history were seen playing together, and has gone down in infamy. It has been copied by many, including the Irish band U2 who did a similar thing to record the video for their single “Where the Streets Have no Name” in 1987 in Los Angeles.

The Beatles were trying to think of a way to finish the movie that they had been shooting throughout January of 1969. They had discussed doing a live performance in all kinds of places; including on a boat, in the Roundhouse in London, and even in an amphitheatre in Greece. Finally, a few days before January 30th 1969, the idea of playing on the roof of their central-London offices was discussed. Whilst Paul and Ringo were in favour of this idea, and John was neutral, George was against it.

The decision to go ahead with playing on the roof was not made until the actual day. They took their equipment up onto the roof of their London offices at 3, Saville Row, and just start playing. No announcement was made, only The Beatles and their inner circle knew about the impromptu concert.

The concert consisted of the following songs :

  1. “Get Back” (take one)
  2. “Get Back” (take two)
  3. “Don’t Let Me Down” (take one)
  4. “I’ve Got a Feeling” (take one)
  5. “One After 909”
  6. “Dig a Pony”
  7. “I’ve Got a Feeling” (take two)
  8. “Don’t Let Me Down” (take two)
  9. “Get Back” (take three)

People in the streets below initially had no idea what the music (“noise”) coming from the top of the building was, but of course younger people knew the building was the Beatles’ offices. However, they would not have recognised any of the songs, as these were not to come out for many more months. After the third song “Don’t Let Me Down”, the Police were called and came to shut the concert down. The band managed nine songs (five different songs, with three takes of “Get Back”, two takes of “Don’t Let Me Down”, and two takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling”) before the Police stopped them. Ringo Starr later said that he wanted to be dragged away from his drums by the Police, but no such dramatic ending happened.

At the end of the set John said

I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we’ve passed the audition.

You can read more about the rooftop concert here.

Here is a YouTube video of “Get Back” (which may get taken down at any moment)

 

 

and here is a video on the Daily Motion website of the whole rooftop concert (again, it may get taken down at any moment).

 

 

Enjoy watching the greatest band ever perform live for the very last time!

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A couple of weeks ago I was in New York City. Although I have been to NYC many times since I first visited it in October 1985, this was the first time I had spent the night in Manhattan.

On the evening of Saturday 17th November I booked a ticket to go up the Empire State Building to take night-time photos. The cost of a ticket to the 80th floor is US$32, and I’d say that it’s good value. But, what is not is the extra $20 to go up to the 102nd floor. I had forgotten from my last time that this is not worth the extra money. Hopefully I’ll remember next time.

I was on the observation deck of the Empire State (86th floor) for about 2 hours taking photos and videos. I’ll post some of them over the next few weeks. Then, at about 11:30pm I walked to Time Square. I stopped to get a coffee and warm up a bit so got to Time Square at about 12:30am. The place was heaving, hundreds of people were milling around and many of the shops were open.

At about 1:30am I caught the subway to Brooklyn as I wanted to get a photo of Manhattan with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground. I took my photos from the Brooklyn Bridge Park, then walked back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge.

By this time it was lashing it down with rain and I was soaked. The rain had seeped through my winter coat and my sweater and trousers were pretty much wet through. But, as I walked over the bridge I caught sight of the Statue of Liberty illuminated (it was about 3am by this time). So I decided to walk to Battery Park to take photos of her at night.

When I got to Battery Park and set up my camera I discovered that my camera battery was dead from all the long exposure photos I’d been taking. So I got my spare battery out of my backpack, only to find that it too was dead. So, I didn’t get any photos of Lady Liberty at night. It was now 4am.

I then walked back to my hotel which was in the Little Italy part of Manhattan. The rain was still lashing it down, and by now my phone was getting damp leading to Google maps misbehaving. The app kept on going haywire every minute or two, so I couldn’t use it to guide me back from Battery Park to Little Italy. Instead I just tried to figure it out, and it took me two hours!

I collapsed into my bed at 6am, having spent nearly 12 hours wandering around nighttime Manhattan taking photos.

When I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at about 3am this great Simon & Garfunkel song kept playing in my head.

The Only Living Boy in New York

This song appears on Simon & Garfunkel’s last album Bridge Over Troubled Water. Written, of course, by Paul Simon, the “Tom” in the lyrics refers to Art Garfunkel. When they were teenagers in Queens they released a single and briefly called themselves”Tom & Jerry”.

By 1970 Simon and Garfunkel were arguing and about to go their separate ways. Garfunkel decided to have a go at acting, he appears in the movie Catch 22. Simon is wishing him the best for his part in the movie Garfunkel is filming in Mexico.

As is usual with Paul Simon, the song’s lyrics are exquisite.

Tom, get your plane right on time
I know your part’ll go fine
Fly down to Mexico
Da-n-da-da-n-da-n-da-da a
And here I am
The only living boy in New York

I get the news I need on the weather report
Oh, I can gather all the news I need on the weather report
Hey, I’ve got nothing to do today but smile
Da-n-do-da-n-do-da-n-do
Here I am
The only living boy in New York

Half of the time we’re gone but we don’t know where
And we don’t know where
Here I am
Half of the time we’re gone, but we don’t know where
And we don’t know where

Tom, get your plane right on time
I know that you’ve been eager to fly now
Hey, let your honesty shine, shine, shine
Like it shines on me
The only living boy in New York
The only living boy in New York

Here is a video of this beautiful song. Enjoy!

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The Bob Dylan song about which I am going to blog about today is his 1973 song “Forever Young”, another one of his songs included on his Vevo channel. It appears on his 1974 album Planet Waves in two different versions, a slow and a fast version. It is the slow version which is in the video included here. As an aside, Planet Waves is the only studio album which Dylan released through Asylum Records. Apart from the live album Before The Flood which is his next album after Planet Waves, all his other albums have been with Columbia Records.

“Forever Young” was recorded by Dylan in November 1973. The slow version runs for 4m57s and is the 6th track on Planet Waves, the last track on the first side of the record. The fast version (which is a shorter track at 2m49s) is the 7th track on the album, the first track on the second side of the record. Dylan first performed “Forever Young” live in January 1974 and his most recent live performance of it was in November 2011. He has performed it live a remarkable 493 times as of my writing this.

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“Forever Young” was recorded by Bob Dylan in November 1973 and appears on his 1974 album Planet Waves. There are two version of the song on the album, a slow version and a fast version.

You may be familiar with a 1988 Rod Stewart song by the same name. Confusingly, it is not a cover version in the traditional sense, but bears such a remarkable similarity to Dylan’s song in both melody and some of the lyrics that Stewart agreed to share his royalties with Dylan (presumably to avoid a lawsuit).

 

The inspiration for the song was Dylan’s eldest son Jesse who was born in 1966. Dylan wrote “Forever Young” as a lullaby to his young son, and over the years it has been covered by many artists.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

Here is the official Vevo video of this great song. Enjoy!

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Continuing my countdown of the 30 greatest Bob Dylan songs according to the Daily Telegraph, today I am covering the songs from numbers 10 to 6. These are

  • 10 – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  • 9 – Ballad Of A Thin Man
  • 8 – Hurricane
  • 7 – Visions Of Johanna
  • 6 – Like A Rolling Stone
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Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

10. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1973)

This song has become very well known through cover versions, in particular the versions by Bob Marley and Guns ‘n’ Roses. As with most cover versions of Dylan songs, I have to say that I prefer the original (but I also know that I’m biased!). There is a simplicity and starkness to Dylan’s original, which is lost in the two more famous cover versions.  After saying that, I do think both cover versions are great, and the Guns ‘n’ Roses version is one of the few songs done by them that I like.

From the soundtrack of a violent Sam Peckinpah western, in which Dylan once again demonstrated that acting is not one of his many talents, comes this elegiac classic. It rides on a simple, repetitive chord progression and has a ridiculously swift fade out but conveys such a spirit of bittersweet farewell to life it has become one of rock’s most universal anthems.

9. Ballad Of A Thin Man (1965)

This song is believed to be a cutting criticism of an out-of-touch newspaper reporter, and was written during a period when Dylan was showing a different side to his song writing. A side in which he was laying bare his frustrations with the people who didn’t understand him, or the societal changes which he was spearheading. When he sang this song in concert during his infamous world tour of 1965-66, the anger in his voice was clear to all who listened (rather than those who were booing him for “going electric”).

It is comical to consider that Sixties Dylan is so associated with the peace and love ethos of the hippies. Over an ungainly, almost lumpen piano motif, Ballad Of A Thin Man heaps surreal scorn on some self-regarding representative of the straight world baffled by the inscrutable counter-culture. Dylan’s vocal drips contempt. “Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?” He sounds like the original punk.

8. Hurricane (1976)

Is there a songwriter who can weave a story as masterfully as Dylan? The story in this song, however, is shockingly true. It tells of the incorrect conviction and imprisonment of Ruben Carter, a boxer who was also known as the Hurricane. The song is the opening track on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire, which is one of my favourite Dylan albums. A movie was later made of Carter’s life, with this as the opening song.

“Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night…” Hurricane marked a thrilling late flourish from Dylan the protest singer, moved to write by the flagrant framing of champion black boxer Ruben Carter (finally exonerated in 1985). The dramatic temperature of this forensically bitter narrative (composed with Jaques Levy) is matched by wild violin flourishes from beautiful novice Scarlet Rivera, who Dylan picked up walking in the street on the way to the recording session.

7. Visions of Johanna (1966)

This song is simply mesmerising. The opening lines “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks / When you’re trying to be so quiet” are masterful. Although I like the studio version which appears on Blonde on Blonde a lot; when I heard the acoustic version that he did in concert in May 1966 in Manchester (the famous “Royal Albert Hall” concert, with the Judas heckle), I was simply blown away by the haunting power of that live version. Bear in mind that, when he performed this in May 1966, the audience didn’t know the song at all as Blonde on Blonde had not yet been released.

“Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial.” Dylan at his most expressive and elusive, slipping in and out of the cracks of his own lyrics as he holds contrasting romantic muses in the balance. “I do know what my songs are about,” he insisted to an interviewer from Playboy magazine. “Some are about four minutes, some are about five minutes, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve.

6. Like A Rolling Stone (1965)

In Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of Dylan’s greatest songs, as well as their list of the greatest songs of all time, “Like A Rolling Stone” is at number 1. The Telegraph puts it at number 6, so you will have to wait and see which songs they put above it. When released in 1965, this song was the longest song ever released as a single. It was also Dylan’s biggest chart success. He finished the set of each concert in his 1965-66 world tour with it. Sometimes, the incessant booing which accompanied the second half of the show (the “electric” half) would cease during this song, as it was such a big hit in the USA and Europe.

“That snare shot sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind” is how Bruce Springsteen recalled first hearing this at 15 years old. This thunderous six-minute rock epic marks the moment when the young protest singer emerged as something popular music had never witnessed before. The vocal is as fierce and relentless as the flowing, spitting lyric, a tale of a fallen society princess adjusting to a disorientating new reality. “How does it feeeel?” Dylan demands. Many of us are still wondering about that.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

The song which I have chosen to share today is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, as it is the only one which is on Dylan’s official Vevo channel. This version is from his MTV Unplugged concert, which he did in the mid-1990s. Enjoy!

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Today I thought I would share this lesser known song by The Beatles – “Free As A Bird”. It was released in 1996, when The Beatles put together their Anthology series of CDs, book and TV series. By this time, of course, John Lennon had been dead for 16 years. The other Beatles got in touch with Yoko who gave them a recording that Lennon had made of this song. They added their own voices and musical accompaniment to his original track, to create the closest thing possible to a new Beatles song. There are also some lyrics added by Paul McCartney, the parts that he sings on his own, rather than in harmony to Lennon’s voice.

freeasabirdsingle

The Beatles single “Free As A Bird” was released in 1996, to coincide with the release of the Anthology CDs, book and TV series

Free as a bird
It’s the next best thing to be
Free as a bird

Home, home and dry
Like a homing bird I’ll fly
As a bird on wings

Whatever happened to
The life that we once knew?
Can we really live without each other?

Where did we lose the touch
That seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so…

Free as a bird
Like the next best thing to be
Free as a bird

Home, home and dry
Like a homing bird I’ll fly
As a bird on wings

Whatever happened to
The life that we once knew?
Always made me feel so free

Ah…
Ah…
Ah…

Free as a bird
It’s the next best thing to be
Free as a bird
Free as a bird
Free as a bird
Oooooo

Free…

[Turn out nice again, mother.]

The video to accompany “Free As A Bird” is fascinating. For aficionados of Beatles trivia, there are all kinds of obvious and less obvious references to Beatles songs in the video. See how may you can spot?

Enjoy!

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Today I will continue with my series of blogposts of some Bob Dylan songs, in celebration of his winning the 2016 Nobel prize for literature. I am concentrating on songs which are on  his official Vevo channel, as other songs of his which are uploaded to YouTube are almost always swiftly removed.

The song I am sharing today is “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”, which appears on his 2009 album Together Through Life. According to his website, he first performed this live in July 2009 and the most recent live performance was earlier this year, in July 2016. As of my writing this, he has performed it 398 times!

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“Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” appears on Dylan’s 2009 album Together Through Life.

 

Here are the lyrics to this song, which you can find here on Dylan’s official website.

I love you pretty baby
You’re the only love I’ve ever known
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ we can call our own

I’m movin’ after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars
Don’t know what to do without it
Without this love that we call ours
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ but the moon and stars

Down every street there’s a window
And every window made of glass
We’ll keep on lovin’ pretty baby
For as long as love will last
Beyond here lies nothin’
But the mountains of the past

My ship is in the harbor
And the sails are spread
Listen to me pretty baby
Lay your hand upon my head
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ done and nothin’ said

Here is the official video of “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” from Dylan’s Vevo channel. Enjoy!

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At number 1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “A Day in the Life”. This song is the last track on the band’s seminal album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is consistently rated the best album of all time by many different experts and lists. See, for example, my own blogpost about Rolling Stone’s greatest albums of all time, here.

It may come as a surprise to many of you that this is the song Rolling Stone Magazine have chosen to be the greatest Beatles song of them all. In some ways it surprises me. Although I like this song a lot (I would put it in my top 20 Beatles songs), there are others which I would put above it based on the assumed criteria which Rolling Stone Magazine have used to rate Beatles songs, which seem to me to be

  1. impact
  2. inventiveness and/or originality and
  3. just a great song

Based on these assumed three criteria, I would say that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is clearly the song which had the biggest impact on the music world and on The Beatles, because it was their break-through song in the United States. No other song by The Beatles had such a profound effect on the course of popular music, or on the band’s own destiny.

In terms of inventiveness, I would say that, for example, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more inventive songs than “A Day in the Life”. Yes, “A Day in the Life” is an inventive song, but there isn’t really anything in it that The Beatles had not already done in terms of studio techniques.

It is, definitely, a great song. No arguing with that, in my opinion. And it is one, if not the, last example of a collaboration between Lennon and McCartney. In fact, it is two unfinished songs stitched together. Lennon had composed a song based on some newspaper stories, real-life events and his recent experience of acting in the movie “How I Won the War”, but it didn’t have a middle-eight or chorus. McCartney had started on a very different type of song, a whimsical ditty based on his memories of going to school on the top deck of the bus. The band decided to put the two very different songs together, to create a masterpiece.

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At number 1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “A Day in the Life”

Here are the lyrics of “A Day in the Life”. There has been much speculation as to who the man was who blew his mind out in a car. Most experts seem to agree that it was socialite Tara Browne, who died at the tender age of 21 when he drove his Lotus Élan into the back of a parked van. The “4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire” comes from a newspaper story which Lennon read about potholes in the roads in Lancashire. The line “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall” is just pure genius.

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph

He blew his mind out in a car;
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords

I saw a film today, oh boy;
The English army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book

I’d love to turn you on

Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late

Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream

Ah I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

I’d love to turn you on

Added to the lyrics which Lennon wrote is the beautifully haunting sound of his voice. With a little bit of echo, it floats in space. No one has a voice like John Lennon, it has a magical quality to it which is there in spades in this song. An ethereal, haunting quality to it. With lyrics like “I’d love to turn you on” and “…had a smoke….and went into a dream”, the song was banned from many radio stations for supposed references to drugs and getting high. Both Lennon and McCartney have denied that their lyrics had anything to do with drugs, and not long after this song they became fairly open about their drug taking, so had no reason to lie.

Thankfully, this hauntingly beautiful song is available on The Beatles’ official Vevo channel, so here is a link to it which will presumably not be removed. Enjoy!!

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