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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ranking Paul McCartney's Albums of the 80's

7:34 PM Posted by Nicole M

With Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt slated to be the next release in "The Archive Collection" in just a couple of months (March 24, 2017), it seemed like a good time to rank Sir Paul's solo albums from the 1980's and see just where Flowers fits into the picture.

Hint: it's at the top.

The 1980's were not particularly kind to Paul, and Flowers came as a welcome breath of fresh air. You'll see why as you work through this list: Paul McCartney's albums of the 80's, ranked from worst to first.

#7 - Press to Play (1986)

Most of the songs were co-written by Paul and 10cc guitarist Eric Stewart by literally pulling lyrics on-the-spot from conversations they were having -- and it shows. Producer Hugh Padgham dared to suggest to Paul that the songs weren't quite ready for the studio, to which Paul responded, "when did you write your last number one?" (quoted in Howard Sounes's book, Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney)

The album reeks of that particular 80's vibe every bit as much as McCartney II does, but it takes itself far more seriously than McCartney II, which makes it worse. At least McCartney II was homemade and almost purposefully kitschy. Press is trying to be an actual studio album. 

Everyone hated it, hardly anyone bought it, and frankly, it's more like "Press to Skip," am I right?

#6 - McCartney II (1980)

This is a bad album. Seriously bad. Like, so bad, it comes all the way back around and starts to become good again. Paul was fresh off a marijuana bust in Japan that had scared him silly, so he ditched Wings and holed up in his home studio with some synthesizers and sequencers and just went nuts. And that's what this album is: it's like hanging out in your stoned roommate's bedroom and watching him dink around with a keyboard for hours while you mindlessly pick at the wallpaper and wonder if Kevin will forget to pick up the orange juice again.

The saving graces that put this album ahead of Press? It's got "Coming Up," for starters. "Temporary Secretary" is kinda catchy after a while, "Summer's Day Song" is wonderfully melodic and had the potential to be a beautiful choral piece, and "One of These Days" finds McCartney in his solo acoustic element. It could have been a really good track, with slightly different production.

The album is a novelty. Not everyday listening, but fun once in a while. Just don't forget: it's awful.

#5 - CHOBA B CCCP (1988)

What do you do when your last album (Press to Play) crashed and burned like a Samsung Galaxy Note 7? You retreat for the cover of ... well, covers. This album is all cover songs, old rock standards like "Twenty Flight Rock" and "That's All Right Mama." But it's fairly uninspiring, and in his Beatles days, Paul once brought a lot more life, energy, and fire to these types of classic tunes.

It's an ok album, but when you're Paul McCartney, composer of "Yesterday," "Eleanor Rigby," "Let it Be," etc., you can do better. Write your own songs, man.

#4 - Pipes of Peace (1983)

Ok, we're getting to the slightly better material here. The title song is decent enough, even if 1983 is a bit late in the game to be singing peace, love, and all-the-children-round-the-world type of songs. Of course, the "Say, Say, Say" duet with Michael Jackson was a number one hit, and that gives the album extra points all by itself.

But after that, it's fairly forgettable material. "So Bad" is sentimental and sweet, but it also sounds exactly like it was written and recorded in 1983. Oh well, at least this album isn't Press to Play.

#3 - Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)

Ohmygosh you guys, this movie was sooooooo bad, but you've got to see it at least once just to say you've seen it. This album is the accompanying soundtrack, and it's 98 percent made up of songs Paul had previously recorded, now re-recorded and produced with the Power of 80's Studio Magic.

Want to hear "Good Day Sunshine" re-recorded and mixed with a more electric-sounding piano, vocals washed in reverb and flange-y effects, and over-processed drums? How about "Yesterday," except recorded with horns instead of the iconic strings? Yeah, you'll love this album, then.

However, it does contain the mega-hit "No More Lonely Nights," and unlike with CHOBA B CCCP, Paul makes the correct choice with this album: if you're going to record a bunch of covers and you're Paul McCartney, you might as well record covers of your own songs.

#2 - Tug of War (1982)

Remember how I said that Press to Play suffered partly because the producer couldn't get away with telling Paul that the music wasn't up to snuff? With Tug of War, Paul joined up with legendary Beatles producer George Martin for the first time since the end of the Beatle Empire, and George, unlike Hugh Padgham, had the clout to offer some real guidance and criticism. The results were undeniable: it went to number one and was nominated for the "Album of the Year" Grammy award. (For the trivia buffs, it lost to Toto's Toto IV and the mega-hit "Africa.")

It's not a front-to-back jaw-dropper like, for instance, Band on the Run, but it has a solid run of really good songs: "Tug of War," "Take it Away," "Wanderlust," "Here Today" (Paul's emotional tribute to his recently-murdered mate, John Lennon), "Ebony and Ivory" (you can't go wrong asking Stevie Wonder to be your duet partner), and even "Ballroom Dancing" is a bit of crazy fun.

Definitely one of Paul's best offerings from the 80's.

#1 - Flowers in the Dirt (1989)

I would almost rank this second and give Tug of War top billing, except for the historical context. Tug of War landed at the beginning of the 80's and was followed by a lot of very mediocre McCartney albums. Flowers in the Dirt was every bit as good as Tug of War, and it brought a dramatic end to a decade of not-so-great records because of how Paul went about accomplishing the task: he embraced his Beatle past.

To begin with, he collaborated with Elvis Costello on the songwriting (Costello, of course, being a fellow Liverpudlian who biographer Peter Carlin called in Paul McCartney: A Life, "the songwriter critics compared most readily to [John Lennon]"). Then there was the music video for the song's opening track, "My Brave Face," which featured shots of Paul playing his iconic Hofner "violin bass" for the first time in nearly two decades -- and these shots were interspersed with private film footage of The Beatles being all young and silly. As Carlin wrote, the message was clear: "This Paul is that Paul. And now he's back to being the most Beatle-y of the Beatles, the act you've known for all these years!"

The opening track is extremely strong, and tunes like "Put it There," "Figure of Eight," "This One," "Rough Ride," and "Distractions" keep the listener engaged -- even if the rest of the album can be a bit meandering. Paul paired the new album with his first world tour since Wings Over the World (yes, it had been over a decade since his last world tour), and just like that, Paul McCartney was back in business. That's why this album stands out among Paul's 1980's offerings, even above Tug of War.

So, who's ready for the release of the remaster?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Beatlefan Review of '16 in '64: The Beatles & The Baby Boomers'

3:49 PM Posted by Nicole M
Review by John Firehammer and originally published in Beatlefan magazine. Adapted with permission.

16 in 64: The Beatles & the Baby Boomers by Marti Edwards and Joe Carroccio

Meet the Beatles - that was likely the top aspiration of many a teenage girl in 1964 - and Marti Edwards is one who actually pulled it off.

Her book, co-authored with Joe Carroccio, zeroes in on the moment she met John, Paul, George and Ringo in the flesh. The occasion was a press conference held ahead of the band's Sept. 5 performance at the Chicago International Amphitheater, and Marti was there at the invitation of Beatles press manager Derek Taylor, himself.

Edwards' recounting of the brief meeting, and photographs of the event, are the highlight of this slender book, which also documents all the drama leading up to it.

Edward was a co-founder and the president of the 1,000-member Chicagoland Beatles People Fan Club, which hatched the idea of presenting the Beatles with a commemorative plaque once they hit town.

There's drama as Edwards and friends are invited to the conference by a promoter, but are then told they can't attend. Marti and a friend decide to bring the plaque to the conference anyway, to see if they can get in, and it's only through a chance meeting between her dad and Taylor, in a bar near the concert venue, that they are able to get in.

All of this is fleshed out with details of the times and Edwards' recollections of growing up in the 1960s.

It's a fun, quick read. Edwards spent only a few moments in the Beates' presence, but her account provides a good sense of what it was like to be a fervent fan during the height of Beatlemania.

Beatlefan Review of 'Days in the Life'

3:35 PM Posted by Nicole M
Review by John Firehammer and originally published in Beatlefan magazine. Adapted with permission.

Days In The Life by Aaron Krerowicz & John Krerowicz. AK Books, Carmel, IN.

Professional Beatles scholar Aaron Krerowicz has published a book as unique as his job title.

"Days in the Life" focuses on the unusual topic of a son (Aaron) and father (John) criss-crossing the country on a Beatles lecture tour. Aaron, an academic and music expert who has published three previous books about the Beatles, does the talking. John, a retired newspaper reporter, does the driving.

There's much discussion of the Beatles, of course, but also, oddly, baseball and birding. More so than a book about the Beatles' history and music, this is a story about a father and son, and how the band's music binds them.

John is a first-generation fan, who witnessed the Beatles on the "Ed Sullivan Show" as a young boy. Aaron, meanwhile, is a child of the 1990s, born years after John Lennon's death. Both men write different sections of the book, recounting their views on the Beatles and the events of the lecture tour. 

There are fun passages in which older fans, who where 'there," challenge Aaron's authority to lecture them about the band, but soon find out they know less than he. Meanwhile, John presents nice memories of what it was like experiencing the Beatles in real time during the 1960s. He recounts buying The Beatles' Second Album while on a trip to the store with his mother, and eagerly peeling the cellophane off the LP's cover while still in the car, impatient to get home and put it on the record player.

The pair's writing is fun and engaging, but this is a very specialized book - likely not of much interest to someone with only a casual interest in the Beatles. Yet it serves as a nice memento for those attending Aaron's lecture events and should be enjoyable to anyone who, like this father and son, has experienced the magical multi-generational appeal of the Beatles.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Octopus' Garden Review of '16 in '64: The Beatles & The Baby Boomers'

11:49 AM Posted by Nicole M
Adapted with permission from Octopus' Garden fanzine, Volume 26, Issue #2, December 2016. Review by Tom Aguiar.

16 in 64: The Beatles & the Baby Boomers by Marti Edwards and Joe Carroccio

After seeing the Beatles on TV, Marti Edwards formed the Chicagoland Beatle People Fan Club, and she was able to grow the membership to over 1,200 people. Because of her ability to put together a successful fan club, Marti and some other club members got to meet the band in a press conference before their 1964 appearance at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, where they were able to make a special presentation of an honorary plaque from the fan club. Today, Edwards is a successful artist and photographer.

Edwards grew up in the Forest Park section of Chicago. She was a product of the 60s, growing up in
what many baby boomers refer to as a special time. Family was the center of everything young people experienced during a time of faith, hope, idealism, and “new things” being built every day despite the tragedies that were to occur in their lives, such as the assassination of JFK. Yes, there were extended sociological events where turmoil existed, but there was always a feeling that things were “special.”
It’s a feeling that all baby boomers share.

And then there were the Beatles and all the kids of that time felt the euphoria that came along with Beatlemania.

Edwards took courses, earning a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts, at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where she grew her passion for the arts. Along with some high school friends, she decided to start a Beatles Fan Club. They decided to visit local radio station WLS where they held signs announcing the club to the disc jockeys and Edwards subsequently obtained a mentor / part time job position at the station. Though her position, she was able to obtain the name of the production company, along with a contact name and phone number, that was promoting the Beatles tour, and she and her friends reached out to them. All the while, the Chicagoland Beatle People Fan Club became very active at events and continued to grow. Edwards’s optimism, determination, and passion would eventually prove successful and she would ultimately fulfill her dream of meeting the Beatles.

It was a special time and dreams still filled the souls of the baby boomer generation, along with the idealism to succeed and make a better world. Families and friendship were important and the Beatles became an intersecting point in people’s lives.

What makes 16 in 64: The Beatles & the Baby Boomers so enjoyable is that the book is not really about the Beatles. It’s about the times when the story takes place and what kids of that generation experienced. It’s about the uniqueness of that time and how the baby boomers were a major part of why The Beatles and Beatlemania reached its feverish peak. It’s about a young girl’s love for the band and how it made a dream came true for her. This is what Edwards and co-author Joe Carroccio bring out, and this is what will take the reader, especially if you’re a baby boomer, to a special place in your life. It’s an enjoyable read about an enjoyable time and about a young girl’s journey of getting to experience a dream come true.

(16 in 64: The Beatles & the Baby Boomers is available on Marti & Joe's website, 16in64.com, and the Kindle edition is available on Amazon.)

Octopus' Garden Review of 'Days in the Life'

11:35 AM Posted by Nicole M
Adapted with permission from Octopus' Garden fanzine, Volume 26, Issue #2, December 2016. Review by Tom Aguiar.

Days In The Life by Aaron Krerowicz & John Krerowicz. AK Books, Carmel, IN.

Aaron Krerowicz is a noted Beatles scholar and lecturer who travels around the country giving presentations on the Beatles. This book, co-authored by his father, retired reporter John Krerowicz, is about their life on the road during one of Aaron’s lecture series tours.

This is Aaron’s fourth book. His first book, TheBeatles & The Avant-Garde, was published in late 2014 (and reviewed in OG issue #26-1); his second, TheBeatles: Band of the Sixties, was released as a Kindle ebook in April 2015; and third, From The Shadow of JFK: The Rise of Beatlemania in America, was released in early June 2015.

Aaron travels extensively throughout the U.S. giving lectures on the band and their music. He has appeared at numerous Beatles events as well as many other locales as an individual presenter, giving more than 250 presentations. Aaron also has a vast array of subjects based on his research on the Beatles and their music that he discusses throughout his touring. Although he was born 15 years after the Beatles disbanded, Aaron received a grant in 2011 from the University of Hartford to pursue his passion for the band, and he became a professional presenter and researcher in 2015. Krerowicz also holds advance degrees in classical music and composition and publishes a Beatles blog and his own newsletter.

Krerowicz’s previous books were written in an academic format but Days in the Life is written in a much different style, a style where both father and son kept journals of the experiences on the road throughout this seven state lecture tour across the South and West. Their journals reveal to the reader the two men’s passion for music, the Beatles, baseball, and birding. In a sense, it is almost a travelogue of their life on the road.

Although there is some discussion in the book about the topics Aaron presented on this road trip, what comes through loud and clear is the interaction between father and son. There are discussions about music and there is quiet time, as there is on any long journey. Aaron also got to indulge his love for baseball and John spent time on his passion of birding. The melding experiences of the trip expose the deep love, respect, and admiration between the two men that most have between us and our parents, but rarely get to experience in quite this way…alone together for an extended period. This is at the heart of the book and gives the reader a warm feeling.

Although Days in the Life is not directly about the Beatles, it is the story of a father and son who share the Beatles as a common bond that is one part of their relationship, and this title is a very enjoyable read.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Beatles Authors at Zia Record Exchange in Chandler, AZ

2:13 PM Posted by Nicole M
Marti Edwards and Joe Carroccio, co-authors of 16 in ’64: The Beatles & The Baby Boomers, will be signing copies of their book at Zia Record Exchange in Chandler, Arizona on Saturday, December 3 at 4 p.m.

Edwards, a lifelong music fan, was the founder of the Chicagoland Beatle People Fan Club in the 1960s. She had the thrilling experience of meeting The Beatles in '64 and presenting them with an honorary plaque from her fan club. Wanting to share her story and photos from the event with other people, it was suggested she write a book. With the help of Carroccio, she did just that.

More information is available on their website: 16in64.com.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ranking John Lennon's solo albums from best to worst

4:10 PM Posted by Nicole M

Out of all four Beatles, John Lennon's solo career might just be the most polarizing. Frankly, John probably wouldn't have had it any other way. With song-writing skills every bit as good as Paul McCartney's, introspective tendencies as strong as George Harrison's, and a devil-may-care attitude that could rival Ringo Starr's, John was always going to be the Beatle most difficult to categorize in his solo career.

Here, then, are John's eight solo (studio) releases, ranked by some odd combination of popular appeal, likability, honesty, and distinct lack of Yoko Ono presence.

# 1 - Imagine

This was John's second solo release, hitting US stores in September of 1971. The title song, of course, has become something of an anthem for the ages, despite its reliance on idealistic cliches. Say what you will, it's still a pretty tune, and you probably know all the words.

The album loses a few points for the McCartney-attacking "How Do You Sleep?" (come on, John, get on with your life already), and the completely un-relatable "Oh Yoko!" (Top ways to anger your Beatles audience: invite them to sing along with a chorus that praises Yoko Ono.)

Outside of that, "Crippled Inside" is both catchy and revealing, "Jealous Guy" is powerful and beautifully crafted, "Gimme Some Truth" is just angry enough without going overboard to warrant a few sympathetic fist-pumps, "How?" is poignantly resonant for anyone who's felt like just throwing their hands up in the air and asking those same questions, and "Oh My Love" (featuring some spectacular guitar work by George Harrison) is like a craft beer/wine that's too sweet to drink on the regular, but nice enough that you'll go back to it once every couple of weeks.

#2 - Walls and Bridges

Recorded in 1974 during John's period of freedom from Yoko, this album is the result of John re-uniting with old friends and discovering his old creative muse. He finally got his first number one hit since leaving the Beatles, and his compositional abilities are on full display in this album.

Whether pairing up with Elton John on catchy tunes like "Whatever Gets You thru the Night," or exploring lush harmonies and exotic chord progressions on songs like ""#9 Dream" or "Bless You," this album shows us what John Lennon could be like as a solo artist when his creativity wasn't being tightly controlled.

And yes, "Beef Jerky" absolutely rips off the guitar riff from Paul McCartney's "Let Me Roll It."

#3 - John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

John went through Primal Scream therapy and released this album in 1970 as his first solo album, and a direct response to what he was discovering about himself in those therapy sessions.

As a result, the songs are explosive, direct, gut-wrenchingly honest, and for all of those reasons, alternatively refreshing and too much to handle.

"Isolation," "Look At Me," and "God" are, for my money, the most beautiful and revealing tracks on the album. "Hold On" is hopeful and gorgeous, and "Love" is amazingly simple and poetic.

This is Lennon at his most raw, and while songs like "Mother" have a certain appeal, the listener can also feel a little embarrassed for being exposed to emotions so profoundly uncensored.

#4 - Mind Games

This is the last album John recorded before taking a lengthy "sabbatical" from Yoko, and even the album's cover -- John walking away from a mountain that is Yoko's face -- shows his discontent and a readiness for something new. That sense of wanderlust and aimlessness is very present in the album's tracks.

The title track is brilliant, even if it reveals John in a "between" state. It's a partial return to the themes of "Imagine," but it's also a statement of restlessness and wanting more.

From a purely musical standpoint, "Out the Blue" features some of John's best guitar work, and the hidden gem "I Know (I Know)" is an extremely catchy tune with all of the tips-of-the-cap to Beatle-style music you could want -- the intro is very "I've Got a Feeling," and the lyric even references "Getting Better" with the line "and I know it's getting better all the time."

But make no mistake: there are some real clunkers on this album, and those probably outnumber the shining moments.

#5 - Double Fantasy

This was the last album John released before he was murdered in December of 1980, and for that reason it has historically been held in very high esteem. It definitely has some magical tracks worth listening to, but its major drawback is that every track is followed up by a Yoko Ono track.

In other words, this album is only 50 percent listenable.

But you have to love it, if for no other reason than for the instant-gold tracks "Beautiful Boy," "Watching the Wheels," and "Woman."

#6 - Rock 'n' Roll

Yes, this an album entirely made up of John's cover versions of old Rock 'n' Roll standards, but there's a certain value in that. John formed The Beatles as a rock 'n' roll group, and these were the songs he and the lads cut their musical teeth on. This is how John learned to be a rock musician, and it's fun to hear him go back and revisit those tunes nearly two decades after they happened.

In particular, he gives great performances on "Be-Bop-A-Lula," "Stand by Me," and "Ain't That a Shame."

#7 - Milk and Honey

Released after his death, this album shares similar space with Double Fantasy in that there's a bit of nostalgia surrounding it, but it also suffers from having way too much Yoko Ono presence.

"I'm Stepping Out," "Nobody Told Me," and "Borrowed Time" are great tunes, but not much else is there to save this album.

#8 - Some Time in New York City

The best music is the music that transcends time. Lyrics that are universally relatable, songs that aren't easily identifiable with a fixed period in history that may or may not be currently relevant.

This is why many of John's "protest" songs seem a bit out-dated today, and it's also the reason why this album is probably the worst thing he ever recorded. It's easily John's most political album, and for that reason, it suffers.

"New York City" is probably the only track that's remotely still fun to listen to, with "John Sinclair" holding a very distance second place -- no, the political issues surrounding John Sinclair are no longer relevant, but at least it's a fairly catchy tune.

And, come on ... that opening track? No matter how spot-on it might be concerning women's rights (even today), you can't use that word.

Agree? Disagree? Prefer a different ranking? Share your thoughts on Facebook at 910 Public Relations or on Twitter at 910 PR.