Saturday, June 12, 2010


I learned something very important a few weeks ago, something I should have known already: When you haven’t been getting much sleep, don’t try to do anything of a technical nature—like, say, operate machinery. Of any kind.

Every now and then, I go through short bouts of insomnia. When it happened again recently, it occurred on a Friday night and repeated the following night. So there I was, lying in bed on a Friday night (technically a Saturday morning) at 2:30 a.m., wide awake. I needed something to do to kill time, and I had no desire to watch the mostly obscure movies or the Z-list-celebrity-hosted infomercials usually airing on TV well after midnight and long before dawn.

Then it hit me—this would be the perfect time to work on that fun project I had kicking around in the back of my head for a little while. It had occurred to me that April 2010 marked the 40th anniversary of Paul McCartney embarking on his solo career—and that he’s never put together a CD box set that encompassed all of his solo material from 1970 to the present day.

Paul McCartney, 1970.

And by box set, I mean a full career retrospective—complete with alternate versions of the hits, live performances, unreleased songs, and demo recordings. (The Beach Boys and the Who put out such box sets in the early 1990s, and they are FANTASTIC.)

Given my vast collection of McCartney material, stuff that was commercially released and other recordings that I’ve, shall we say, “stumbled upon” over the years (bless you, Internet!), I realized that I could put together a complete, professional-sounding McCartney box set for my own listening pleasure. It would encompass 8 CDs, with disc #8 serving as a “bonus” CD featuring all of the demos, alternate versions, and unreleased material.

So I got out of bed, sat down at my computer, and began creating the CDs. By 5 a.m., I had finished four of them and was finally feeling that I could go to sleep. I figured I would finish the project the following weekend, if time permitted.

I woke up later that morning at 8 a.m., and managed to get through the day on only three hours of sleep. And when I went to bed that Saturday night, I found myself once again lying in bed with my eyes wide open at 3 a.m.

I reasoned that I might as well finish the McCartney project. So I returned to my computer and started burning the remaining CDs. At around 4:30 a.m., I was working on the last disc. In my disc player drive, I had my CD of McCartney’s 1975 Wings album, Venus and Mars. In the burner drive was a recordable CD. The Venus and Mars CD was a first printing, released in 1987 and considered to be the best-sounding version of the album, superior even to the remastered edition released in 1993. And I’d kept my copy of the CD in great shape—pretty much in the same condition it was in the day I bought it at the late, lamented Tower Records in downtown Manhattan.

CD first printing, 1987.

As the last disc was nearing completion, I felt my eyes getting heavy, and I was yawning more and more frequently. Great—I could finally get to sleep. But then, a window popped up on my computer screen, informing me that there was an error and the recordable CD had been rendered useless. I was PISSED. All I wanted was to finish this project and go to bed with a sense of having accomplished something—even something as trivial as a Paul McCartney CD box set that no one but me would ever listen to. And there I was, so close to being done, and my damned computer was now prolonging the process and delaying me from hitting the sack. I’d have to do the last disc all over again.

Could I have waited till later, and created the last disc in a more rested state, with my brain more fully functional? Sure. But I was SO CLOSE to being done, and I just wanted to get it over with. And I doubted that I would be able to get to sleep knowing that I left the project incomplete. So I decided to forge ahead. Without looking down, I hit the “eject” button on one of the disc drives, took out the disc, and crushed it in my hands. After all, I was never going to use it, right? Plus, I was pissed and aggravated and had some aggression to work out. For a brief moment, I felt satisfaction.

Then I looked down. And this is what I held in my hands:

Oh, sh%#.

Yes, I hit the wrong disc drive.

My jaw dropped. My eyes bulged. I stifled an anguished, Charlie Brown-style “AAAAAUUUUGHHHH!”

Then, I simply lowered my head in defeat and self-loathing.


So… the aftermath? Well, after about a month, LOTS of searching, and a couple of mishaps that I won't get into here, I found a used copy of the 1987 first printing of the Venus and Mars CD at Marketplace, being sold by an independent e-seller. I took a chance and ordered it. Fortunately, the CD was exactly as the seller described: in excellent condition. In fact, I’d say it was more or less in the same condition as the CD that I had destroyed in a haze of exhaustion and stupidity. And it was reasonably priced, considering how rare the first printing is these days.

The replacement copy--yaaaaayyy!

So yeah, I lucked out this time.

By the way, I finished the McCartney box set—and it came out pretty darned great, if I do say so myself.

Okay, going to bed now. But I’ll tell you this—if I can’t get to sleep, I’m staying the hell away from my computer.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Anyone who knows me well is aware of my great love for the Beatles. I first became a fan of theirs in 1977 at the age of 7, when my sister bought for me a copy of the then-new LP The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl.

Upon listening to that album for the first time, I was hooked for life. Needless to say, my Beatles collection has expanded by leaps and bounds since then. As an old college roommate once said about me, “Hell, he’s got stuff by the Beatles that even the Beatles don’t know about!”

The Beatles, 1969.

I’ve found over the years that whenever a child becomes interested in the Beatles and their music, he or she will eventually ask this inevitable question: Why did they break up? My daughter is the most recent example I’ve seen of this. And 33 years ago, I was no different. As a child absorbing the music of—and the story behind—the band, I simply couldn’t understand how these four young men, who had done such wonderful work together and seemed like such great friends for so long, could so thoroughly turn against each other and walk away from a partnership that was phenomenally successful and beloved all around the world.

The happy campers working together harmoniously. Or not.

Like millions of other people in the late 1970s, I hoped and dreamed that the group would eventually reunite. I became giddy whenever rumors about a Beatles reunion circulated, and I was crushed whenever these rumors were inevitably debunked. Of course, all talk about a Beatles reunion ended definitively on December 8, 1980, with the senseless murder of John Lennon by a crazed fan.

And yet, even in the years following that tragedy, I couldn’t help but wonder—what would the Beatles have sounded like had they gotten back together? Eventually, this question evolved into, “What would the Beatles have sounded like had they not broken up in the first place?” And for that particular question, I came up with what I believe is a fairly accurate answer.

Y'see, about 24 years ago, I learned that a number of songs that appeared on the earliest solo Beatle albums had actually been written before the breakup, and that many of these songs were actually worked on by the group during the Get Back (aka Let It Be) sessions. In fact, most of the songs on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album were written while he was a Beatle—some of the songs date back as far as 1966.

After extensive research, I was able to select the appropriate songs and put them together for a collection that I felt was a fair approximation of what the next Beatles album would have sounded like, had they stayed together beyond September 1969. This album, in the alternate reality I envisioned, would have been recorded sometime after the May 1970 release of the Let It Be album, and released at some point in 1971.

I originally titled the collection Odds and Ends, because at the time that most of the songs were written, the Beatles were at odds with each other and they were coming to an end. (I’ve since retitled the collection Apple Scruffs, as it references both the Beatles’ record label, Apple, and the fans who would stand outside its headquarters day and night hoping to get a glimpse of one of the Fab Four.)

Here's the lineup (click on the titles to hear the songs):

01 Mother (John)

Paul McCartney might have balked at including this very personal song from John, but I could see Lennon insisting upon its inclusion, as he did with “Revolution 9” on The White Album.

02 Maybe I'm Amazed (Paul)

Possibly written after the breakup, but this is definitely something that would have fit perfectly on a Beatles album. Linda was the sole source of inspiration, so it's highly conceivable that Paul would have written and recorded this song as a Beatle, had they stayed together.

03 What Is Life (George)

It's on All Things Must Pass, and most of the songs predate the breakup, so it's fair to include it here. Plus, it's one of George's best songs and John and Paul would have been crazy to exclude it.

04 It Don't Come Easy (Ringo)

Possibly written after the breakup, but you have to include at least one Ringo Starr song, right? And if you're going to include one, this is the one to include! (Ever hear the version with George on lead vocals?)

05 Jealous Guy (John)

Originally written in 1968 as "Child of Nature," but John eventually rewrote all of the lyrics.

06 Every Night (Paul)

Paul can be heard working on this song at the piano on bootlegs of the sessions for Let It Be.

07 My Sweet Lord (George)

It's on All Things Must Pass, and most of the songs on that album predate the breakup, so it's fair to include it here. Though it's conceivable that John and/or Paul would have noticed its similarities to “He's So Fine,” and thus rejected it or insisted that major changes be made. Still, it's one of George's signature songs so I couldn't NOT include it!

08 Junk (Paul)

Definitely written before the breakup and an early version was recorded for The White Album.

09 Oh My Love (John)

This was written—and demoed, I believe—in 1968.

10 Hot as Sun/Glasses (Paul)

I believe this was the first instrumental piece that Paul ever wrote, back when he was around 14. It was resurrected during the Let It Be sessions.

11 Another Day (Paul)

Paul can be heard working on this song on bootlegs of the Let It Be sessions.

12 Apple Scruffs (George)

It's on All Things Must Pass, and most of the songs on that album predate the breakup, so it's fair to include it here.

13 Give Me Some Truth (John)

The Beatles can be heard working on this song on bootlegs of the Let It Be sessions. John later rewrote most of the lyrics when he recorded it proper for the Imagine album.

14 Art of Dying (George)

Written in 1966.

15 Early 1970 (Ringo)

If this were a real Beatles album with an 18-song lineup, it seems likely that Ringo would be allowed two songs. While the lyrics subtly touch upon the very real internal strife within the band at that time, it's a fun little ditty and I could see the other Beatles allowing it to be included had they stayed together—which would NOT be the case for songs like John’s “God” and “How Do You Sleep?” and Paul’s “Too Many People,” all of which are far too caustic, bitter, and/or angry to have appeared on Beatles albums.

16 Teddy Boy (Paul)

This was originally supposed to be on The White Album, and then it was supposed to be on Let It Be.

17 Love (John)

Possibly written after the breakup, but this definitely would have fit perfectly on a Beatles album. And it's highly conceivable that John would have written and recorded this song as a Beatle, had they stayed together.

18 All Things Must Pass (George)

Recorded extensively by the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions, in many different takes and variations. Judging from the bootlegs, Paul was clearly interested in the song, and was more than willing to work with George to perfect it. John, on the other hand, seemed to find the song boring and not really worthy of his time and attention. (Not only does Paul do a majestic version of “All Things Must Pass” on the Concert For George DVD and CD, he also continued to perform it in 2004, during his European tour.)


And that, I thought, was that. Once I was done with this compilation, and for the 20 years that followed, I tried to put together a follow-up, but could never complete it. First and foremost, I'd already used up the bulk of the songs that had their origins in the "Beatles era" on the first collection—so I didn't feel there was enough material left to do another full-length compilation that would be accurate, in terms of what probably would have become Beatles songs had the band stayed together.

While there was still plenty of material to take from the All Things Must Pass album, I didn't want to make the second compilation too "George heavy," as George's stuff would never have been allowed to dominate an entire Beatles album. And I just didn't think that there were enough John and Paul songs left to work with.

But finally, not long ago, I decided to loosen up my rules a little bit. Instead of considering only what WOULD have probably ended up on a Beatles album, I decided to consider would COULD have been on a Beatles album. This meant I would consider songs that, even if they were definitely written after the breakup, had that certain Beatles quality to them, and you could imagine them being recorded and performed by the group.

Once I loosened up the rules, I was able to put together a second compilation. While it's far more speculative than the first one, I think it's a good lineup that shows where the individual Beatles were at that point in time, and where they were headed.

Appropriately enough, I titled this second compilation Imagine The Beatles. In my alternate reality, this would have come out in late 1971 or early 1972.

01 Imagine (John)

It's a safe bet that this would have been on a Beatles album had they stayed together. Paul has expressed having liked this song.

02 Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (Paul)

This seems very much in keeping with the kind of productions that Paul had done on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and especially side two of Abbey Road, with the kind of whimsical lyrics he'd written for songs like “Yellow Submarine.”

03 Let It Down (George)

Recorded with the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions.

04 Back Off Boogaloo (Ringo)

Gotta get at least one Ringo song in there, and this is of the correct vintage.

05 How? (John)

Probably written after the breakup, but it's a fairly commercial sounding song from John that would fit in well on a Beatles album.

06 Eat At Home (Paul)

Just a fun sounding McCartney song of the correct vintage.

07 Wah-Wah (George)

Written before the final breakup, apparently during the week or so in January 1969 that George had split from the group during the Let It Be sessions.

08 Look At Me (John)

Written before the breakup.

09 That Would Be Something (Paul)

This may (or may not) have been written before the breakup. Personally, I think it's one of the lesser songs from the McCartney album, but George Harrison said he thought it was "great" when the album first came out in 1970.

10 Hear Me Lord (George)

Performed with the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions.

11 Crippled Inside (John)

Has its origins in the Let It Be sessions, with different lyrics.

12 Heart Of The Country (Paul)

Another nice little McCartney ditty of the correct vintage, that also serves as a nice follow up to the countrified “Crippled Inside.”

13 Isn't It A Pity (George)

Written in 1966 and performed with the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions.

14 The Back Seat Of My Car (Paul)

Paul can be heard working on this song at the piano on bootlegs of the Let It Be sessions. Apparently, when he played it for the other Beatles, they said that they liked its Beach Boys/Brian Wilson flavor. But they never got around to working on it extensively.


And there you have it—what I believe are fairly good approximations of what the next couple of Beatles albums would have sounded like. And my verdict is that they would have sounded pretty darned good! Certainly heartfelt, occasionally humorous, sometimes very personal, and, overall, very eclectic.

I think it's safe to say that I won't be doing a third compilation. I just can't conceive of the songs that followed this period ever appearing on Beatles albums.

After this period, the four ex-Beatles went in VERY different directions.

Right near the breaking point.

John moved to New York City and his songs got caught up in radical politics, controversy, and even more silliness with Yoko. Some Time In New York City could only have ever been a John Lennon solo album. And John stopped recording altogether after 1975.

Paul formed Wings and his music became influenced by people, places, and things that he probably would never have encountered had he stayed in the Beatles. (It's reasonable to assume that he would not have gone off to Africa—a trip that was instrumental in the recording of the Band On The Run album. Would he have met Dustin Hoffman, who served as the inspiration for the song “Picasso's Last Words”? And presumably there would have been no Helen Wheels to write about!)

And George's music became more and more spiritual and personal, which wouldn't have fit well within the context of the group.

So that's my take on things. Any thoughts, opinions, comments, disagreements, etc., from Beatles scholars and casual fans alike, are more than welcome!