My 12 Favorite John Lennon Songs

It doesn’t seem possible that 72 years ago, one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century was born. It was on a night the Nazi’s bombed Merseyside, and his Aunt risked the danger to run across town to be with her sister at the Green Street Hospital. (Her steely fearlessness would influence John in so many ways.)

There is something almost prophetic in the fact that his turbulent, angst-filled life began on such a night; things were never going to be normal for John Lennon.

And that life, although tragically short, begat a lifetime of music that continues to inspire and influence people the world over with its message of love, hope and the belief in human unity.

John, always ebulliently self-effacing, would be quick to slag off a comment like that, and for good reason. Our culture martyrs and projects and idealizes public figures often to the point of breaking them in half–only to turn right around and punish them for their imperfections. True to form, in penitence for our actions we deify them when they’re no longer with us. This was certainly the case with John. But even though he’s been gone for over 30 years now, at least we have his musical legacy to hold on to and to hand down. A legacy that began 72 years ago today.

And so here, in no particular order, are 12 of my favorite John Lennon compositions. 12 because 10 is simply impossible, and it’s a Sophie’s Choice to really leave out *anything* from a list like this. But the operative word here is “favorite”, so don’t lash into me for neglecting certain obvious masterpieces (Just because Norwegian Wood and Imagine aren’t here doesn’t mean I don’t adore them!) These are the songs you’ll find at the top of my iTunes most-played list.

Jealous Guy
(1971, Imagine)
Why: It’s an honest, soul-bearing plea for forgiveness. All of us have been guilty of being ‘jealous guys’ in one way or another.

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
(1965, Help)
Why: An early example of Lennon’s desire to dig deeper than the packaged “Beatles” image. Highly Dylanesque, definitively Lennon.

In My Life
(1965, Rubber Soul)
Why: Quite possibly the most perfect song ever written; at the very least, one of the saddest.

Please Please Me
(1962, Please Please Me)
Why: It’s a fun, early rocker with Lennon squarely as the leader of his band. It’s also wonderfully subversive: the call to “please please me” is innocent under the Fab Four image, but … we all know what he’s really talking about.

Rain
(1966, B-Side to Paperback Writer)
Why: Probably the Beatles’ best B-Side, it a trippy, looping experiment of a song, and opens the possibilities for Lennon’s challenging Tomorrow Never Knows.

Don’t Let Me Down
(1969, B-Side to Get Back)
Why: Because it’s sexy.

Ticket to Ride
Why:  Come on, like this song really needs a reason.
(1965, Help)

Out of the Blue
(1973, Mind Games)
Why: The redemptive power of love is hauntingly, and of course, beautifully, captured.

Strawberry Fields Forever
(1967, Magical Mystery Tour)
Why: Because even after hundreds of listens, it still startles me with its dark, mystic winsomeness. Any Lennon’s lyrics are at their trippy best.

Dear Prudence
(1968, The White Album)
Why: Quite possibly my favorite song of all time, I have very warm memories of lying on my bed, rewinding this song on my cassette player over. And over. And over. I love every blessed second of it.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
(1969, Abbey Road)
Why: I know it’s repetitive, and not Lennon’s best on the Abbey Road album, (that crown rests with “Come Together”) but I’m sorry, this song is s-e-x-y.

Beautiful Boy
(1980, Double Fantasy)
Why: It’s the perfect bedtime lullaby, and a beautiful love letter from father to son. (In this case, Sean Lennon, who also shares his papa’s birthday today!)

Pinched in the Astor Bar: Frank Sinatra

Ol

So once in awhile, Ol’ Blue Eyes gets under my skin and, ring-a-ding-ding, he absolutely ends up doing it his way and there’s nothing I can do-be-do-be-do about it.
The Wee Small Hours and No One Cares have been regulars on my semi-new turntable– pieces of art that positively thrive in the acoustic-friendly, teensy confines of my studio. (One of the small perks to overpriced, undersized Hollywood living.)

Frankie, by many accounts, may have been an insufferable pain in the arse… but I’m perfectly willing to go out of my way to understand those foibles (God knows I’m an insufferable pain in the arse on many an occasion…!) the minute that rich baritone hits the scratching vinyl. After all, who are we if we are not all flawed?

Prior to his Academy Award winning role in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, Sinatra’s career had become a total write-off. From bobby-soxer idol to matinee movie star, Sinatra surrendered it all to face scandal head-on by marrying the woman of his dreams in 1951, Ava Gardner. The press had not been kind. Nor had his fans been loyal.

In between Frankie’s rejuvenating venture as a vocal artist with In the Wee Small Hours (1955) and his poignantly beautiful Where Are You? (1957), Sinatra’s resurrected career as popular recording artist and movie star benefited from this little MGM musical, 1956’s High Society.

The Pictorial could write volumes on Frankie but for the time being, I happen to love this delightful moment of unbridled frivolity in which, it is quite obvious, Frankie is having an absolute ball. The demons were still around the corner, chasing him as they always had and always would be, but it’s marvelous to see Frankie bring his A-Game in charming fraternal intoxication with Bing Crosby in High Society.

Just watch and let Frankie pinch YOU in the Asss-tor Bar:

p.s.: Frankie’s duet with Celeste Holm is likewise delightful:

Indie Rock Meets… Bette Davis?

Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak in 1932's THREE ON A MATCH

Three on a Match is a sharp, street smart 1932 melodrama starring Ann Dvorak and Joan Blondell, under the always socially conscious direction of Mervyn LeRoy. You’ve got a very young Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart in supporting roles, saucy, fast-talkin’ dames, and plenty of gritty precode slumming. It’s a film so gloriously unrefined that it still views remarkably relevant to a modern audience.

Three on a Match also happens to be the name of an Indie rock band who, by their own description, are a “new songwriting project inspired by the films of the great Bette Davis. The songs draw on plot elements, characters, actors, biographic details, or, in some cases, the film titles alone.”

And with tracks like “Mr. Skeffington,” “Now, Voyager” and, the album’s best track, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” it is quite obvious that musicians Neil Carlill, Jeff Mellin and King Toad are quite sincere in their work. Do not expect to find a vintage-inspired set of neo-standards, this band is more Belle and Sebastian, Velvet Underground and Sufjan Stevens than anything else. Interspliced with dialogue from Davis films (including that great crowd pleaer: “After you kissed me I always used to WIPE MY MOUTH!) these films are obstinately original, yet at the same time, endearingly reverent to their inspirational source.

From their album liner notes:

“Each Bette Davis film resonates with me in its own way,” says Carlill. At times he finds inspiration in of the back story, rumor mill and pop-culture trivia because “the surrounding mythology yields too much comedy, irony and tragedy to go un-eulogized.” He conceived abstract character sketches and highlighted iconic lines to evoke the films’ atmosphere and to produce a musical structure “that sets the listener quite literally off-balance.”

Mellin says that Bette Davis movies are “perfect seeds for songs.” His approach was to focus on the titles alone: “I wanted to let the raw sound and rhythm of the words shape the songs’ creation, knowing there’d be no escaping the inherent aesthetics and my own subconscious associations.” He says the titles’ infuse the songs with a “vintage mystique” and “cinematic narrative” that results in the “sort of memory dream you might’ have falling asleep to Turner Classic Movies.”

And, in perhaps the most touching gesture of reverence to Bette, the band released the album as a name-your-own-price download on April 5– Bette Davis’ 103rd birthday.

While it may not be be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s been on my play list quite consistently and, if you are so inclined, I would highly recommend downloading this truly unique album here. Or, if you’re feeling indulgent, order their exquisite special edition. Worth ever bloomin’ penny: the art deco design is simply irresistible– any album that includes a match box and candy cigarettes is simply aces.

Three on a Match - the special edition album, available now

Why the Beatles' 1964 Washington D.C. Concert Kicks Ass

Last week, on  a rainy Friday evening, The American Cinematheque showcased a screening of The Beatles first concert in America: the Washington D.C. Coliseum, 1964 to a sold out audience. The energy of that performance, which has only intensified with age, left every last one of us riveted.

Which is the reason for this blog post. Apologies just might be in order: I’m an unabashed Fangirl.

1.) No Pyrotechnics. No HD Mega Screens. No sound monitors of ANY kind.

Today, the production of a concert is just as memorable as the music itself– and, often, moreso. Laser light shows. Pyrotechnics. Fireworks. All the bells and whistles that can keep the audience keen. On Febraury 11 1964,however, what the audience got was a concert as performed by your local high school band. Only … they kinda happen to be the best rock band on the planet.

You can easily count the number of amps they’re using because… they’re all on the stage. In a stockpile. One, two, three, four … five amplifiers. The boys were using Vox AC-30 amps that night, just as they had used back in Britain for about a year or so. Their sound was sharp, hard and clear– perfect for the clang of an early 60s guitar. But… still… 30 watts! It wasn’t until 1965 that Vox would design a special 100 watt amp specifically for the Beatles, and so they relied on 30 watt amplifiers to feed a crowd of three thousand hysterical, screaming teenage girls. Without sound monitors. Today, it would take four of Vox’s AC-30 amps to equate to one Vox Valvetornic amp. I’d love to see some of our over produced contemporary bands try something like that!

The Beatles in Concert. Photo by Rowland Sherman

2.) U.F.O.s.

Today, a high-profile band is guarded by 400 pound security gorillas armed with oozies. In 1964? It was every man for himself. The Beatles were shoved onto a plywood 20 x 20 stage guarded by a few white-collar pencil pushers as a hysterical teenage audience pelted them with… jelly beans. The gesture was meant to be affectionate as it was a well known piece of Beatle-lore amongst teenage fans that the Beatles loved jelly babies. But in England, jelly babies are a soft little candy. Their American cousins, jelly beans? Quite another story. Recounts George Harrison:

That night, we were absolutely pelted by the fuckin’ things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on your from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, travelling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished! … Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.

3.) Rock and Roll

In the years before albums like Sgt. Pepper, Revolver or Rubber Soul pushed the boundaries of contemporary music, The Beatles were just a straight up Rock and Roll band.  They idolized black American R&B, emulated its raw intensity and the result was magic. This rendition of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally had been a stage staple since the early 60s, when The Beatles were nothing more than cellar regulars at The Cavern Club.

It has rarely been played with more purity and energy than this two minute bit in D.C.:

4.) RINGO

Ringo tends to get a hell of a lot of flack. People dismiss him as just a third wheel, a yes-man, or the luckiest substitute drummer in the history of music. Truth is: Ringo rocks. He was a major name in Liverpool WAY before The Beatles were even a blip on the radar and did the Lads a favor by playing with them over in Hamburg.

And if you insist on demeaning his skill as a musician, I highly suggest first taking in this particular number from the Washington D.C. concert.

Not only does he showcase his worth as a major percussionist… he is the man of the match!

5.) THE FANS

For the few of you out there who may not know… there is an art to being a Beatlefan. The head bump, the seat bounce, the finger scrunch– all are the result of much study and practice. Then again … it’s actually just the spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction of exposure to what was the most head-pounding rock and roll of its time.

The Beatlefan is unmistakable. And the 1963 Washington D.C. concert is especially noteworthy since the Beatlefans are at their unruly best. Beatlemania in the US was a new disease… and the symptoms manifested itself in some particularly entertaining cases…

best date night ever!!

Conniption Girl. This gingham gal probably has a good 10 years on her fellow fans ... but age poses no barrier on conniption fits.

This guy ... oh this guy. Lost a spring in his neck somewhere in the middle of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand.' That's Ok, luv. We all did.

I call this one "Sweetpea." She's the everygirl Beatlegirl. LOVE her.

The Pirate Bay. These supremely cool front row chicks, smuggled in a tape recorder and microphone. (Ohhh those years before intellectual property rights...)

This girl? Love her. Squealing, screaming and then staring straight into the camera as if to say 'Eat your heart out, girls. I'm the shit.'

And at every Beatles concert there is always THE number one fan. Ladies and Gentleman, here's Ringo's!

Why the Beatles’ 1964 Washington D.C. Concert Kicks Ass

Last week, on  a rainy Friday evening, The American Cinematheque showcased a screening of The Beatles first concert in America: the Washington D.C. Coliseum, 1964 to a sold out audience. The energy of that performance, which has only intensified with age, left every last one of us riveted.

Which is the reason for this blog post. Apologies just might be in order: I’m an unabashed Fangirl.

1.) No Pyrotechnics. No HD Mega Screens. No sound monitors of ANY kind.

Today, the production of a concert is just as memorable as the music itself– and, often, moreso. Laser light shows. Pyrotechnics. Fireworks. All the bells and whistles that can keep the audience keen. On Febraury 11 1964,however, what the audience got was a concert as performed by your local high school band. Only … they kinda happen to be the best rock band on the planet.

You can easily count the number of amps they’re using because… they’re all on the stage. In a stockpile. One, two, three, four … five amplifiers. The boys were using Vox AC-30 amps that night, just as they had used back in Britain for about a year or so. Their sound was sharp, hard and clear– perfect for the clang of an early 60s guitar. But… still… 30 watts! It wasn’t until 1965 that Vox would design a special 100 watt amp specifically for the Beatles, and so they relied on 30 watt amplifiers to feed a crowd of three thousand hysterical, screaming teenage girls. Without sound monitors. Today, it would take four of Vox’s AC-30 amps to equate to one Vox Valvetornic amp. I’d love to see some of our over produced contemporary bands try something like that!

The Beatles in Concert. Photo by Rowland Sherman

2.) U.F.O.s.

Today, a high-profile band is guarded by 400 pound security gorillas armed with oozies. In 1964? It was every man for himself. The Beatles were shoved onto a plywood 20 x 20 stage guarded by a few white-collar pencil pushers as a hysterical teenage audience pelted them with… jelly beans. The gesture was meant to be affectionate as it was a well known piece of Beatle-lore amongst teenage fans that the Beatles loved jelly babies. But in England, jelly babies are a soft little candy. Their American cousins, jelly beans? Quite another story. Recounts George Harrison:

That night, we were absolutely pelted by the fuckin’ things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on your from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, travelling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished! … Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.

3.) Rock and Roll

In the years before albums like Sgt. Pepper, Revolver or Rubber Soul pushed the boundaries of contemporary music, The Beatles were just a straight up Rock and Roll band.  They idolized black American R&B, emulated its raw intensity and the result was magic. This rendition of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally had been a stage staple since the early 60s, when The Beatles were nothing more than cellar regulars at The Cavern Club.

It has rarely been played with more purity and energy than this two minute bit in D.C.:

4.) RINGO

Ringo tends to get a hell of a lot of flack. People dismiss him as just a third wheel, a yes-man, or the luckiest substitute drummer in the history of music. Truth is: Ringo rocks. He was a major name in Liverpool WAY before The Beatles were even a blip on the radar and did the Lads a favor by playing with them over in Hamburg.

And if you insist on demeaning his skill as a musician, I highly suggest first taking in this particular number from the Washington D.C. concert.

Not only does he showcase his worth as a major percussionist… he is the man of the match!

5.) THE FANS

For the few of you out there who may not know… there is an art to being a Beatlefan. The head bump, the seat bounce, the finger scrunch– all are the result of much study and practice. Then again … it’s actually just the spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction of exposure to what was the most head-pounding rock and roll of its time.

The Beatlefan is unmistakable. And the 1963 Washington D.C. concert is especially noteworthy since the Beatlefans are at their unruly best. Beatlemania in the US was a new disease… and the symptoms manifested itself in some particularly entertaining cases…

best date night ever!!

Conniption Girl. This gingham gal probably has a good 10 years on her fellow fans ... but age poses no barrier on conniption fits.

This guy ... oh this guy. Lost a spring in his neck somewhere in the middle of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand.' That's Ok, luv. We all did.

I call this one "Sweetpea." She's the everygirl Beatlegirl. LOVE her.

The Pirate Bay. These supremely cool front row chicks, smuggled in a tape recorder and microphone. (Ohhh those years before intellectual property rights...)

This girl? Love her. Squealing, screaming and then staring straight into the camera as if to say 'Eat your heart out, girls. I'm the shit.'

And at every Beatles concert there is always THE number one fan. Ladies and Gentleman, here's Ringo's!

Barry. John Barry.

Legendary British film composer John Barry died in New York yesterday at the age of 77.

Barry was the winner of five Oscars for his work on Born Free, Lion in Winter, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves, was nominated for countless more accolades, and is most widely known for his scores on many of the most popular James Bond films. Regardless of whether or not Barry actually composed the famed James Bond theme song, it is his orchestration of that theme that wove it into our cultural consciousness. Goldfinger would have been enough by itself. But his range soared, as far even as counterculture classics like Midnight Cowboy, sentimental guilty pleasures like Somewhere in Time and, surprisingly enough, romantic comedies like Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married. (And, for an 80s child like me, the man is also responsible for one of the best tunes of the decade, the James Bond theme song for A View to a Kill– which is also one of the best videos of the decade, thanks to Duran Duran!)

Just like John Williams or Henry Mancini, a John Barry score instantly conjures up more than a memory– it recreates the wonderment of our first experience with the film and, in many cases, becomes our emotional our connection to it. His harmonic, soaring orchestrations transcended the ordinary by defining characters, capturing mood– embodying the story.

My first live experience with John Barry’s work was with Dances With Wolves (1990). That dark theater. The seats rumbling with the sound of a horse pounding across the screen, its rider, John Dunbar, on its back, arms outstretched…

The beauty is in the moment, the power was in the direction– but the music made it magic.  Movie magic.

I think you’ll find the same true of nearly all of Barry’s creations, from the beloved Out of Africa to Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (the score of which, notwithstanding Downey’s performance, was the best thing about that film).

According to the BBC, Barry’s son-in-law remembered him as a “wickedly funny man” whose “passion, genius and sense of humour will be terribly missed by his family and friends”.

And, it must be added, by movie fans the world over.

This fan video on YouTube features a really exemplary collection of Barry’s most potent film scores– I invite you to pause and take a listen. And remember the first time you heard these unforgettable pieces… remember who you were then, where you were then, and how they made you feel.

John Lennon: 30 Years Ago

John Lennon 1940 -1980

It simply doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true: today marks the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s tragic death.

It’s a particularly difficult subject for me to discuss because, in so many ways, his music occupies a very special, very deep, and very personal place in my life.  John, always ebulliently self-effacing, would smirk and slag off a comment like that, and for good reason. We martyr and project and idealize public figures often to the point of irreparably fragmenting them–only to turn right around and punish them for it.

And few people have had more projected upon them than The Beatles.

Having been thrust onto an unprecedented public platform at the mere age of 23, John knew this better than most people, and fought its inevitability his whole life. Determined, always, to never be what the public felt he ought–or even what his band mates felt he ought. He fought, tooth and nail, for the human right of individuality… a gift that John’s life, if anything, teaches us to never take for granted.

For his cost him many things–friends, family, fans… and in some ways, it was his unapologetic fight to be true to his beliefs, and thereby true to himself, that cost him is life. For it was the delusional rage of a fan,  unable to cope with the fact that John was a deeply flawed mortal, that silenced him forever thirty years ago.

It had been a happy year for John. He met his 40th birthday in October with a renewed vigor, coupled by the fact that it was a date shared by his son, Sean, now 4. There had been a new album. A good one. After years of seclusion, confusion and personal turmoil, John had emerged triumphant, hand in hand with Yoko.

It could have been a truly bright decade of renewed possibilities, John equipped with a solid sense of self and a renewed confidence that he’d struggled for years to find.

But it was all taken away from him, that cold December night 30 years ago.

The world mourned then, and we reflect now, on one of the 20th century’s most influential artists, John Lennon, with a series of photos celebrating the last year of a life that, although gone, has never stopped inspiring.

John & Yoko - August 1980

Leaving the Dakota Building, August 1980

Good Times for the Couple - September 1980

Eternally Hip.

On his birthday, October 9 1980

 

The Pictorial has also produced a special photo montage tribute to John and the Beatles. Hope you enjoy: