Strawberry Fields Forever - Nothing is real

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

St. Valentine's Day or Love or The Beatles Love or The Beatles 2.0

Ok, the title is somewhat misleading in that I have very little if anything to comment about St. Valentine, nor the day we celebrate (or some of us celebrate), but since the Beatles released an "album" with the title of the word that Hallmark wants so badly to be associated with the day, I have a link of sorts.

I had actually forgotten that Love was released last year when I wrote my last post. (as well as Weird Al's latest album, which incidentally is his best since the early 90s - a surprisingly funny album throughout!) For those not in the know, Love is a soundtrack album to a Cirque de Soleil production involving Beatles songs. The soundtrack album is actually a mash-up of sorts - fragments of songs leading into each other, often with tracks actually assembled from many different songs. (eg: the drum track of Tomorrow Never Knows playing over Within You, Without You)

Basically critical reviews for the album fell into one of two categories: either it was too weird and inferior to the original releases, or it wasn't adventurous enough. (indeed, many tracks on the album are actually simply stereo remixes of the official releases) Of course, both points are correct. Surprisingly the album still (mostly) works. Some of the mashups work much better than one would expect. (especially the wonderful mashing of Drive My Car/The Word/What You're Doing/Savoy Truffle!) BTW: If you have a dvd player and a 5.1 setup, do yourself a favor and get the cd/dvd edition, and if you have a DVD-Audio player, you have no business listening to this album at all without that edition!

Of course, the idea of sampling songs in other ones is nothing particularly new to the rap/hip hop communities - but in the rock and roll community - the de facto mainstream of popular music today, it is pretty radical. For a band that hasn't really released new music in 36 years, it's a bit startling. (of course, the Grey Album a few years back was attacked by their music company, but that's another story)

Sampling, or personalizing of music is basically inevitable at this point. Like it or not, the ipod and its ubiquitous shuffle mode has changed the way people listen to music. While artists like the Beatles made the concept of a coherent collection of songs (aka an album) a viable art form for popular music in the 60s, that form is largely gone.

On one hand, it means that we will see fewer Sgt. Peppers and Abbey Roads, but on the other hand, how many albums are really good from start to the end? Also, have we EVER seen another Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper by ANYONE?

However, while technology may have decimated the album as an art form, in an odd way, Love demonstrates an embrace of another inevitable consequence of modern technology - everyone who wants to be, is a sound engineer and a producer. Where the 1980s and the cassette technology (and even earlier the reel to reel recorders) allowed people to re-sequence albums and create the killer mix tapes - today we can go much further.

I actually started with mix tapes and compiling down my beloved Beatles LPs when I was four years old with my old trusty Fisher Price record player and tape recorders. Back then I would sequence for the maximal jarring effect. I would place She Loves You right next to Long Long Long, Helter Skelter next to For No One. I would also truncate songs to fit as many as possible onto the tapes. (the false ending of Strawberry Fields WAS the ending to me) A few years back I found some of my old tapes, and they held up much better than I expected, but thankfully I have improved my skills since then.

For my high school graduation present, I was given a SCSI CD-RW drive (the first rewritable CD burner on the market), and with that I really started to have fun with music.

One of my first projects was to reconstruct SMiLE as best as possible from what I had. (the Good Vibrations 5 disc set, and a few cassettes I had ordered over the internet of "harder to find" material) I carefully input the cassette tracks into the computer, attempted to reedit the tracks to flow better, and took a stab at reassembling the album as it might have been finished. Given what I had in 1997, I'm still pretty happy with the results. (I still listen to it on occasion) However, the finished release from Brian Wilson in 2004 eclipsed my own efforts... thankfully I might add.

Of course, given that my main musical obsession is the Beatles, it would stand that my main musical remixing/editing projects would be Beatles oriented.

A few years back, the Beatles decided to put out another attempt at Let It Be (which to be fair, was a flawed album), and I think I already mentioned that it was very much a missed opportunity. I stand by that. In fact, I felt so strongly that I took my own stab at fixing the album from the material I had access to.

For obvious reasons I will not post up the album itself, but I can give the "recipe" for what I call "Let it Be... As Nature Intended" (and not to sound too immodest, but I think it's a better flowing album than either "Let It Be", "Let It Be... Naked" or even any of the original "Get Back" LPs) Indeed, from easily available recordings (ie: the officially released ones) you can get pretty close to the album I enjoy.

I compiled this album in late 2005 early 2006.

Let It Be... As Nature Intended

01 - Two Of Us - Recorded January 31, 1969 (take 11) (stereo)
Prepended with dialogue from January 21, 1969 ("I dig a pigmy...")
Track taken from the "Let It Be" LP

This is the best recording of the acoustic incarnation of the song in the
mix that appears on the "Let It Be" LP. Only the unreleased "Get Back"
LPs selected a different take of this song for inclusion.

02 - Don't Let Me Down - Recorded January 30, 1969 (The "Rooftop Concert", 1st version) (stereo)
Prepended with dialogue from January 22, 1969 ("... give me the courage to come screaming in")
Dialogue taken from the unreleased "Get Back" LP, track taken from "other sources".

This is a reconstruction of the first rooftop concert performance of this song.
Primarily this derives from the "Let It Be... Naked" track, with additional sources
edited in in order to restore the proper flubbed verse. The "Get Back" LPs
selected an earlier studio version of this song from January 22, 1969, and the version
released as a B-Side to "Get Back" instead derived from another studio version from
January 28, 1969.

03 - I've Got A Feeling - Recorded January 30, 1969 (The "Rooftop Concert", 1st version) (stereo)

This is essentially the same as found on the "Let It Be" LP. "Get Back" selected
an earlier studio recording of this, while "Let It Be... Naked" had a version which
was constructed with pieces of the 1st and 2nd rooftop recordings of this track.

04 - One After 909 - Recorded January 30, 1969 (The "Rooftop Concert") (stereo)
Count-in and "Danny Boy" coda from "other sources", track taken from the "Let It Be... Naked" LP

Both "Let It Be" LPs as well as the "Get Back" LPs use this version of the song, but only
"Let It Be... Naked" has a mix where John Lennon's "Yes, she did" reply is audible. This is
mixed in with a rawer mix at the start and the end to restore the actual sound of the performance.
("Let It Be.. Naked" mixed/edited it out)

05 - Dig A Pony - Recorded January 30, 1969 (The "Rooftop Concert") (stereo)
Track taken from "other sources"

This is a reconstruction of the rooftop concert performance of this song with the opening
and closing "All I Want Is You" lines restored. Otherwise this is essentially the same
as on "Let It Be". "Get Back" used a different studio recording of this song, while
"Let It Be... Naked" used an alternate mix of this same performance.

06 - Get Back - Recorded January 30, 1969 (The "Rooftop Concert", 4th and final version) (stereo)
Track originated from Anthology 3, with other sources used to flesh out the ending

While "Get Back" and both "Let It Be"s use a combination of a January 27 and January 28
studio recording (also used for the single) in various forms, this is the final rooftop
performance of the song. This is mostly presented on "Anthology 3" with the final lines
faded out. Oddly enough, "Let It Be" tacks on the lines missing from "Anthology 3" onto
its version of "Get Back". This is a reconstruction of the actual end of the rooftop
concert with John's lines about hoping they passed the audition restored to its proper

07 - Maggie Mae - Recorded January 24, 1969 (stereo)
Track taken from the "Let It Be" LP

This is exactly the same as it is on "Let It Be" and the "Get Back" LPs.

08 - For You Blue - Basic track recorded January 25, 1969 (stereo)
Prepended with dialogue from January 8, 1969 ("Queen Says No..")
Dialogue taken from "other sources", track taken from the "Let It Be... Naked" LP

"Get Back" and the "Let It Be" LPs all use this recording, though the latter 2
(as well as "Let It Be.. As Nature Intended") use a version with a re-recorded
vocal track from George dating from early 1970. This is of course a violation
of the spirit of the projects, where no overdubs should be allowed, but of course,
it is not the only violation. Indeed, NO version of the LP was actually
void of studio trickery (see notes for track 14). The dialog on the front is also in
front of the version on "Let It Be", but here it is much more audible.

09 - Across The Universe - Basic track recorded Feburary 8, 1968 (take 8 remix) (stereo)
Prepended with studio chatter from Feburary 8, 1968
Dialogue taken from "other sources", track taken
from the "Let It Be... Naked" LP

This ended up on the 2nd version of "Get Back" and the "Let It Be"s because
it was to be featured in the film in a rehearsal version. However, because
the Beatles only did rough rehearsals, there was no proper version from the
Get Back sessions available so it was decided to use the existing studio
take from 1968 (released in a modified form at the end of 1969 for a charity
album). Every version of the album used a different mix, and none of them
went with the original mix (not even the charity album). The original mix
featured teenaged fans the Beatles brought in for harmonies on the
"Nothing's Gonna Change My World" choruses, as well as prominent backwards
guitar effects. The charity release of the track added "wildlife" effects
and sped up the recording while dropping the guitar effects as well as
the backing vocals. "Let It Be" was remixed by Phil Spector, and he
slowed the track down, stripped off the backwards effects as well as
the backing vocals and then added a choir and orchestra in early 1970.
"Let It Be.. Naked" simply put out the recording at its correct speed
and removed the backwards guitars and backing female vocals. This is
very close to the mix on the 2nd "Get Back" LP, but the backing vocals
are more audible in that mix. This is prepended with the actual
studio chatter that preceded the recording of the song.

10 - I Me Mine - Basic track recorded January 3, 1970 (take 16) (stereo)
Prepended with studio chatter from January 3, 1970
Dialogue taken from the 2nd attempt at the "Get Back" LP, track taken from the "Anthology 3" set

Once again, because a rehearsal of this song was to be included in the
film "Let It Be", a version of the song had to be included on the LP.
So in early 1970 (at the last actual Beatles recording session) the
Beatles (minus John) recorded a proper studio version of the track.
The 2nd "Get Back" LP included the track essentially as was recorded
including studio chatter before it (indeed, what is on here is essentially
the same), while for "Let It Be", Phil Spector both looped the track
to artificially lengthen it as well as adding orchestration and a choir.
For "Let It Be... Naked", the track was again looped (but in a different
manner) to lengthen it. This is the track as it was actually recorded,
at its correct length.

11 - Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues - Recorded January 29, 1969 (reedited/remixed in 1984) (stereo)
Track taken from the "Anthology 3" set

During the Get Back sessions the Beatles frequently would perform "oldies"
and contemporary songs from artists they admired. This is a cover of an
obscure Buddy Holly B-Side. This was originally edited (heavily) and mixed
for the aborted "Sessions" LP in 1984. Compared to the actual recording
this is very heavily edited/looped, but still provides a good break
in mood and does show a side of the Get Back Sessions that neither "Let
It Be" LP does.

12 - The Long And Winding Road - Recorded January 26, 1969 (stereo)
Prepended with dialogue from January 31, 1969 from just prior to take 23 of "Let It Be"
("Should we giggle..")
Dialogue taken from the unreleased "Get Back" LP, track taken from the "Anthology 3" set

This is essentially as it appears on the unreleased "Get Back" LPs. For "Let It Be"
Phil Spector took the basic track, and overdubbed an orchestra and female choir.
Reportedly when Paul heard this version he cried... and not in the good way.
"Let It Be.. Naked" utilized take 19 from January 31, 1969 instead of this recording.

13 - Dig It - Recorded January 26, 1969 (stereo)
Appended with dialogue from January 24, 1969 ("that was can you dig it...")
Track taken from the unreleased "Get Back" LP

Another hallmark of the Get Back sessions were its improvisational jams.
This recording of Dig It is a prime example of one. This is taken directly
from the "Get Back" LP (2nd version), while "Let It Be" truncated the recording
further significantly. While the full recording is close to 16 minutes in length,
this is the final approximately 4 minutes of the recording (much of the
first 12 minutes is marred by a soon-to-be step-daughter of Paul's wailing
repeatedly) The dialogue at the end is actually from an earlier version of
"Dig It" from January 24. Yes, even though this was a largely free-form
jam, multiple versions that can be identified as "Dig It" were recorded
during the sessions.

14 - Let It Be - basic track recorded January 31, 1969 (take 27a) (stereo)
Track taken from the "Let It Be" LP

This is taken directly from the "Let It Be" LP. While all versions of both
"Get Back" and "Let It Be" (and indeed the single as well) all derive from
the same original recording, none of them have been released without some
modification (even the original attempt at the "Get Back" LP!). In March
of 1969 George Harrison recorded new guitar solos for the track. This
was used in favor of the original guitar solo for both versions of the
"Get Back" LP as well as the single and "Let It Be.. Naked", though each
with significant mix differences. In early 1970 many more overdubs were
added including full orchestration added by George Martin, new drum tracks,
and yet another new guitar solo. Only the "Let It Be" LP, under Phil Spector's
direction, availed itself of the newer overdubs. In addition to using the extra
overdubs, Phil Spector looped the 1970 guitar solo to lengthen it. In
this case, even though it violates the spirit of the "Get Back" session,
this is the best version of the track, so it is taken directly from the
"Let It Be" LP.

Anyway, that's the album I now listen to in place of all of the Let It Be incarnations. I have my own album now that has the essential rooftop concert tracks (in order), side conversations that flow, no overdubs (except when they truly enhance the songs), no strings on Long And Winding Road, and a flow that to my ears is wonderful.

I may also post up the "recipe" for a 3 disc set of the Get Back sessions I laboriously compiled (compressing 96 hours of raw session tapes down to a listenable 4 hour set), or a BBC Sessions set I am in the process of compiling on the side right now.

Now, I'm much too much of a traditionalist to attempt to remix the tracks in a truly creative manner - nor could I even conceive of mixing and matching different artists - but there are those who are that audacious out there.

The genie is out of the bottle, and in an odd way the Beatles are, if not ahead of the curve, somewhat along for the ride with Love in showing the fact that like the web 2.0 technologies have made the web consumers redefine the internet sites they visit in their image, ipod/dap and computer technologies are enabling music fans to redefine the music they Love.

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