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Let It Be is the first Beatles album I heard historically rather than at the time. Ironically it was a contractual obligation soundtrack, which was exactly the kind of industry manoeuvre they seemed to have rendered redundant back in 1963, seven years earlier. My response at the time was that this was an expensive boxed set of left overs put together to promote a film I wouldn’t bother going to see.

I didn’t get to hear Let It Be as an album until two years later as my story explains. I was visiting South Wales miners in Maerdy, to report on the 1972 miners strike, and my colleague, friend and boss Terry had brought a tape of Let It Be to keep us company in the days when cars had no soundtrack beyond road noise. I wasn’t enamoured of playing music on the clunky Philips piano key mono tape player which we had at the time, but the long, low-slung journey needed something.

I was intrigued though. I’d loved the singles Get Back and Let It Be, which itself always seemed an appropriate end to the Beatles. But I was buying jazz and progressive rock at the time and preferred artists who played live. But here was an unheard Beatles album, which was interesting; very interesting! Fortunately the Beatles ability to create memorable harmonies cut through our lack of decent sound equipment and Let It Be become the backing track for the visit that weekend.

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Got To Be Free

1969. Groups had caught up with The Beatles, so many of them were releasing albums, and ambitious albums at that; the Sgt Pepper template was having an effect. New labels like Harvest were set up to exploit this and Island was growing its artistic dynasty, supergroups like Blind Faith were creating a new kind of musical offer and groups like The Who were taking Art School to the Opera. And all this after 1968 had seen an extra-ordinary flowering of live music across the UK on the new music circuit of Student Unions. They didn’t want variety they wanted rock. I went regularly to York University where a typical gig had four bands such as, Pink Floyd, Yes, Social Deviants and the Idle Race (Jeff Lynne), all on the same bill. Led Zeppelin picked up from Cream, I was obsessed with Jack Bruce, Jethro Tull had matured, the Moody Blues had gone progressive. Having a world class band on the top of their game encouraged the others, check Marmalade Skies for more info, but the Beatles were surrounded. I had just left school and my music tastes had changed. I now preferred live music, by real authentic musicians, who could play their albums live.

However the Beatles, as ever, scored a coup with the release of Abbey Road. They had it previewed on BBC2, on Late Night Line Up, a kind of suave version of That Was The Week That Was, the aesthete’s response to swingin London. And they had made a special film to accompany Abbey Road, which now seems to have been lost by the Beeb!

In a weird inversion of the first time my family sat down and watched the Beatles on the Royal Variety Show the eighteen year old me sat down and watched it with my Mum and Dad. They knew it was acceptable because it was on the “posh” station. This time my Dad didn’t get angry, he got bored, it was late night TV, pretty rare in those days. Mum faithfully kept me company as I watched the colour film in black and white; didn’t work for Magical Mystery Tour either. Kicking off with Come Together, which seems to get better over the years, Abbey Road would reveal itself as a grower. Read the rest of this entry »

And Then There Were Four

1968 was the year of revolutions which mostly failed. The Beatles started their own revolution; Apple Corps. Vanity label? Maybe, but as well as releasing their own records The Beatles were offering funds to kick start any creative artist and they began producing as well as writing for other artists. They kicked off this creative jamboree by playing Hey Jude live on the David Frost Show and releasing it as a single backed by the awesome Revolution. A group at the height of their powers? Sounds like it. Hey Jude was the best selling single of the year globally and remains a favourite of British fans; provocative and criticised at the time Revolution sounds like it’s reflections on 1968 were…well you know, we all want to change the world.

The White Album was the first album NOT to feature a group picture of the Beatles on its white, elegantly produced, Richard Hamilton sleeve; just four solo pictures of the boys looking very different and arty. I heard the album the day after it came out and my story is about that. George Martin first heard it when the Beatles turned up at Abbey Road with a tape prepared by the group at George’s house in May 68 containing 27 songs! They had 35 new songs altogether, it was Rishikesh Unplugged. The studio produced version starts off with the drivingly wonderful Beach Boys/Chuck Berry spoof Back In the USSR, which had them branded as Communists and was banned across large swathes of the USA; irony with harmony, and Paul on the drums.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Me Take You Down

I was in the kitchen of our house in Germany, an Army Brat, when I heard the invitation for the first time. The transistor was on the mantlepiece in the main room and it pulled me right in and made me feel that Nothing is Real. This time it was more “bloody hell, this is the new Beatles single? Wow!” I don’t think any single Beatles track ever captured me with its imagery and its setting quite so thoroughly first time out. I leant against the mantelpiece listening attentively and was just about to move when the Ringo-driven coda kicked in. When I did finally move away from the fireplace I was dazed; not sure of what I had heard and wondering how I could hear it again. Almost five years of invention and this was, yet again, a completely new Beatles. Conversely, I remember Penny Lane lighting up the front room the following day back in February 1967 and being so breezy and clean that it made housework feel like fun.  

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