The Long and Winding Road Never Ends with the Fab Four
Hard as it may be for some of us to believe, it is only a matter of a few weeks until the 30th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon is upon us.
Not surprisingly EMI has ramped up the advertising campaign on the remastered versions of the Red and Blue Beatle compilation albums that separately document the hits that were racked up between ’62 and ’66, and those that owned the charts between ’67 and ’70.
Each album, prior to the latest shipments, had amassed sales of over 15 million copies and despite plummeting sales of discs, fans of John, Paul, George and Ringo will drive another spike onto the sales charts of these discs as the Christmas shopping season ticks along.
There’s also John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy Stripped Down
[New Mix + Original Recording Remastered] set that was shipped a few weeks ago, also marking the senseless shooting of Lennon, and reminding us that the singer-songwriter was back on an artistic track that was once again worth paying attention to.
Another massive entry will be marked in the Beatles ledger by the time the year end hits, and for anyone interested in the years following the group's implosion and dissolution, and specifically the mind-boggling weight and complex maze that was The Beatles' financial empire, Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money (The Beatles After The Breakup)
, is an insightful, but somewhat disturbing, (although recommended) read.
Doggett, in past projects, has shown himself to be an author who leaves no stones unturned, a master at connecting the dots, and a writer who lays out the facts on personalities and complex relationships with clarity and accuracy. The British writer and music journalist, who is a life-long Beatles aficionado, should also be commended for avoiding the temptation of affixing blame or weaving bloated editorializing into the layered story where the insecurities, frailties, and general human shortcomings, as well as strengths, of the Fab Four are magnified, alongside those of pivotal players like Ono, Derek Taylor, and Alan Klein.
The reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions about how commerce and stardom of that magnitude, played a hand in rupturing relationships while creating a monster with so many tentacles it was impossible to draw a bead on it, let alone corral it.
It all makes for a fascinating read, but much of the incessant paranoia, bickering, and distrust that permeates the pages is distilled into a revealing moment towards the end of Doggett’s saga, and one this reader was not aware of. It concerns Paul McCartney’s emotional reading of 'Here Today' at an intimate in-store performance in California in 1997, and sets the record straight on the core truth of a ridiculously complicated story.
Harper Collins publishes Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money
. I’ll also recommend his There’s A Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars and the Rise and Fall of the Sixties
, which is a dense and amazingly well-researched chronicle about political activism within the popular music community, and all that is, was, and wasn’t.
After reading no less than a dozen commentaries on the new Elton John and Leon Russell disc, the only thing one could confirm without hearing the work, was that the project had spawned a polarizing collection of reviews from a variety of sources on both sides of the Atlantic.
The release from the two piano-playing singer-songwriters is titled The Union
, just in case you have missed the 14-song set that was born out of sessions overseen by T Bone Burnett, whom John tapped on the shoulder after Russell accepted his invitation to work together.
After reading David Fricke’s lead-off interview in the recent issue of Rolling Stone
, that finds the grin of Keith Richards staring at us off the shelf, my interest was pushed to a place where I had to hear the disc from start to end for myself.
Fricke has been one of the more trustworthy sources of rock journalism for some time and his lead off piece on The Union
, in the review section of Rolling Stone, is prefaced by a banner of five stars.
Shortly after reading Fricke’s glowing review, I found myself staring at a copy of The Union
at a Starbuck’s counter and snapped it up.
So, here I am, after playing the disc a number of times, still trying to figure out why so many reviewers could show so much disdain for this disc and conversely why Fricke thinks the album is pretty much flawless.
Time will tell, but it’s hard to believe that in terms of material, anything on The Union
will have the same kind of shelf life as Russell’s This Masquerade, Delta Lady and Superstar, or John’s early nuggets like Levon, Your Song and Honky Cat. These two have set the bar at a ridiculously high place from time to time and it is no easy task to match some of those previous achievements.The Union
does, however, contain a number of extremely well-crafted and inspired pieces, with the Civil War narrative Gone To Shiloh and the spirited The Best Part of the Day being two that jump out of the mix.
Vocally, Russell sounds at times like he did in his heyday, and one of his better moments at the mic comes on the rollicking A Dream Come True where he alternates verses with John, and where Burnett’s production embraces the most sympathetic instrumental elements.
There are too many mid-tempo pieces in this set, and Burnett’s production doesn’t always let a tune breathe, but The Union
is at worst an interesting ride from an extremely talented and focused cast.
What may be the most important factor with the release of The Union
, is that audiences who had never paid attention to Russell, had never been introduced to his work, or had forgotten about his significant contributions to popular music, in what was arguably a renaissance period, will set seek out his earlier work and find their way back to his exceptional discography.
Russell’s body of work from the early seventies is a treasure trove, with great moments found on both solo outings and on sessions where he supported friends like the soul singing team of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. The streamlined Delaney and Bonnie disc Motel Shot features Russell’s church house piano acting as the sparkplug on a number of tunes. While Russell wrote a batch of great tunes in those days he also showed himself to be one of the finest interpreters of Bob Dylan material, and the album Leon Russell and The Shelter People
is anchored by a version of a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, complete with Pentecostal fervor, that is guaranteed to pin listeners to the nearest wall. Russell’s live effort with the early incarnation of Newgrass Revival is also worth revisiting, while his contributions to George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh were simply galvanizing.
So it seems that there may have been another underlying mission with Sir Elton giving Leon Russell a call, and if this union revitalizes Russell’s career and puts him back on Jubilee Auditorium-sized stages or in front of large festival audiences, this is a good thing.