60 Years Ago

60 years Ago: A Rubber Soul Christmas to Remember

December 4, 2015

The 1965 Christmas season was a very special time for Beatles fans. On December 3, 1965, Parlophone simultaneously released the double A-side single “We Can Work It Out” c/w “Day Tripper” and the album “Rubber Soul.” In America, Capitol issued the same single and its version of the “Rubber Soul” album three days later on December 6. EMI had intended for “We Can Work It Out” to be the A-side of the group’s new single, but John insisted that “Day Tripper” be plugged as the top side. The decision was made to promote both songs equally as A-sides. In the U.K., Record Retailer listed the disc as “Day Tripper”/“We Can Work It Out,” while Melody Maker and New Musical Express reported the single as “We Can Work It Out”/“Day Tripper.” The single topped all of the U.K. charts and sold over one million copies by December 20. In America, “We Can Work It Out” was the more popular track, topping the Billboard Hot 100 and the Cash Box and Record World charts. “Day Tripper” also fared well, with Billboard reporting the song at number five, Cash Box at ten and Record World at 13. The RIAA certified sales of one million units in January 1966. In England, “Rubber Soul” topped the Record Retailer album charts for eight straight weeks during its 42-week run. It was also reported at number one by the other music magazines. The “Rubber Soul” sessions began on October 12. Due to the limited time available to have the album in stores by early December, the Beatles had to work quickly. During the next month, the group was in the studio for 100 hours over 15 days, producing a 14-track album and two songs for single release. During these sessions, the Beatles began experimenting with different instruments, including fuzz bass, harmonium, Hammond organ and sitar. They produced a remarkable and diverse body of work, all the more amazing given the time constraints. While the Beatles previous albums had been collections of great performances, “Rubber Soul” is best appreciated when considered as an entire record–one that set a new standard for the Beatles and rock albums. George Martin’s reflections indicate that this record’s cohesive and innovative nature was intentional: “It was the first album to present a new, growing Beatles to the world. For the first time we began to think of albums as art on their own, as complete entities.” This is not meant to take anything away from the songs; many of the tracks on the disc are among the group’s finest, including “Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Nowhere Man.” “Michelle,” “I’m Looking Through You” and “In My Life.” In America, “Rubber Soul” became the first Beatles album to have the same title and front and cover art work as that of a British album. Up to this point, Capitol’s Beatles albums bore little resemblance to the British releases. Still, Capitol’s marketing strategy of holding back songs for subsequent release as singles, as well as the practice of placing less than 14 songs on its albums, meant that some changes would be made. Fortunately, Capitol’s alterations were relatively minor. While not exactly what the Beatles and George Martin had in mind, Capitol’s version of “Rubber Soul” is still a great album. In programming its version of “Rubber Soul,” Capitol was faced with the luxury of having two tracks from the British “Help!” album that had yet to be released in America, namely “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love.” As these songs had been issued in England four months earlier, Capitol decided it was time to put them out. The overall quality of the “Rubber Soul” songs gave Capitol the confidence to program the record without a hit single. There was no need to anchor the album with the recent American hit single “Yesterday” or with the songs from the Beatles latest single, “We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper.” Capitol decided to replace the British album’s opening track, the rocker “Drive My Car,” with the folk-sounding “Help!” leftover “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” This move works well, with the song’s intricate acoustic guitar intro grabbing the listener’s attention. Its upbeat folk-rock sound and lyrics blend well with the other tunes on “Rubber Soul.” Capitol wisely did little else to Side One of the album. The remaining tracks appear in the same order as on the British LP, except that “Nowhere Man” was pulled from the lineup and held for issuance as a future single. Capitol programmed Side Two in a similar manner. The opening track from the British LP, the country-flavored “What Goes On,” was replaced with the other “Help!” leftover, “It’s Only Love.” Once again, this move was effective due to the song’s folk-rock sound. The remaining tracks on Side Two appear in the same order as on the British LP, except that “If I Needed Someone” was pulled from the lineup. The four songs left off the Capitol version of the album would appear six months later on Capitol’s “Yesterday And Today” LP. Capitol had complete confidence that “Rubber Soul” would be a tremendous seller. Its initial pressing of two million units was the most in the label’s history at that time. In a January 1, 1966, article titled “‘Rubber Soul’ A Whopper for Beatles,” Billboard reported that the group had topped themselves by selling 1,200,000 copies of the album in its first nine days. The RIAA certified sales of over four million copies for the Capitol version of the album. Many people, particularly those who grew up with the American LP, actually prefer Capitol’s “Rubber Soul” over its British counterpart. The Capitol version of “Rubber Soul” has more acoustic and less rock songs than the British disc, giving the album a cohesive folk-rock sound. At the time “Rubber Soul” was released in 1965, British LPs were seldom imported into the U.S. There was no internet, iTunes or You Tube to enable Americans to hear the Beatles U.K. discs. Thus,…

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60 years Ago: Beatles Butcher Cover Fiasco

June 1, 2016

Legend has it that the cover was the Beatles way of getting back at Capitol for dissecting and reconfiguring their carefully crafted albums. Read the real story.

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60 years Ago: Moon Landing

July 18, 2019

July 20, 1969 While the Beatles were at Abbey Road Studios recording their Abbey Road LP, Apollo 11 headed towards the moon. On the day of the July 16 liftoff, the Beatles were adding overdubs to “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun.” On July 20, 1969, while in lunar orbit, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin crawled from their Command Module (CM) (named Columbia) into the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) (named Eagle). The LEM separated from the CM and descended to a landing on the moon that Sunday afternoon. Six and a half hours later, while Michael Collins orbited above moon in the CM, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. Shortly thereafter, he was  joined by Aldrin. As a child of the sixties, I followed the space program with the same enthusiasm I followed the Beatles. I was at Camp Zakelo that summer and made sure I could follow the progress of Apollo 11. The campers were given the option to watch the liftoff, lunar landing and first steps on the moon, but the two-hour moon walk extended way past bedtime for the campers. I begged the Camp Director to let me stay up for the entire event, telling him I only needed five hours of sleep. He finally agreed to let me watch the entire moon walk with the counselors after I informed him that I would write an article for the camp newspaper, the Zakolog. My mother saved the camp newspaper and it is with great nostalgia that I present my first published work from the summer of 1969. And 60 years later, here I am, getting ready to send my book on the Beatles Abbey Road LP to the printer.

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60 years AGO: The Beatles Do Not Play Woodstock

August 15, 2019

August 15, 1969 While the Beatles were putting finishing touches on their Abbey Road album, an ambitious music festival was scheduled to take place on a dairy farm in Bethel, NY, the weekend of August 15-17, 1969. The Woodstock Music & Art Fair was billed as “An Aquarian Exposition—3 Days of Peace and Music.” It was inspired by the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. The festival was the brainchild of businessmen John Roberts and Joel Rosenman, musician and music producer Artie Kornfeld and concert promoter Michael Lang. The group formed Woodstock Ventures early in 1969 and set about booking a roster of performers and finding a site for the event. The town of Woodstock didn’t have a suitable venue, Saugerties and White Lake didn’t work out and Wallkill banned the festival. With time running out, Woodstock Ventures made a deal with Max Yasgur for the use of his farm as the festival site, telling Bethel officials they were expecting no more than about 50,000 attendees, though they actually expected 200,000. The promoters began running radio ads early in the summer, with tickets priced at $18 for the three days in advance and $24 at the gate. But, by the Monday before the festival, the gates and the fencing around them were nowhere close to being completed. By Wednesday, thousands had already arrived at Yasgur’s farm, including many who didn’t have tickets. By Friday, the promoters had no choice but to declare Woodstock “a free festival.” With an estimated turnout of 400,000, there were massive traffic jams on all the thoroughfares leading to Bethel. Sullivan County declared a state of emergency and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller nearly sent National Guard troops to the festival site on Sunday. Heavy thunderstorms turned the site into a giant quagmire and facilities were at a premium. By all rights, Woodstock should have been a disaster, but despite all the lack of planning by the promoters and all the hardships for attendees and performers alike, somehow the festival really ended up being “3 Days of Peace and Music,” as Yasgur noted when he spoke to the throng assembled on his farm. There were relatively few drug casualties, a couple of births and two documented deaths. As for the music, what most people recall came from the 3-LP set and Michael Wadleigh’s documentary film of the festival, both of which were released the following year. The Woodstock memories that endure include the performances by the Who, Ten Years After, Joe Cocker, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana (prior to the release of their debut album), Arlo Guthrie and Richie Havens (“Freedom”), and, of course, Jimi Hendrix’s Monday morning festival finale. There were a number of major acts of the day who did not play Woodstock or pulled out in the weeks prior to the festival.  The Beatles neither played the event nor had any of its members attend. Promoter Michael Lang wanted the Beatles, but realized that the group would have overpowered the bill and that they had stopped touring. As John was a big influence on Lang, he reached out to John through Apple’s Chris O’Dell, who was friends with an acquaintance of Lang. Ms. O’Dell sent a memo about the concert to John & Yoko, who at the time were frequently at Apple. John told Chris that he was not interested in playing, but would like to go see it. But, alas, it was not to be. In May, John was barred from entering the U.S. due to his 1968 arrest in London for possession of marijuana. And, as it turned out, during the dates the mid-August 1969 festival took place, the Beatles were rushing to  finishing their latest LP, Abbey Road. In a letter to Lang dated July 7, 1969, Ms. O’Dell indicated that Apple wanted to present at Woodstock: (A) The Plastic Ono Band; (B) Billy Preston; and (C) James Taylor. Apple also wanted a booth to promote Apple projects—past, present and future—and show a color film by Mr. & Mrs. John Lennon. As for the Plastic Ono Band, this would be a “series of plastic cylinders incorporated around a stereo sound system” (as depicted on the “Give Peace A Chance” picture sleeve). The July 12 NME reported that John and Yoko were considering attending Woodstock if the U.S. Embassy granted an entry visa to John. There was also talk of John and Yoko fronting an American-assembled group. Apparently no follow-up took place and Apple had no presence at Woodstock. The muddy festival wound up being unduplicated, although people have tried many times. There was something about it that simply could not be repeated. The above stories excerpted from chapters in the upcoming book, The Beatles Get Back to Abbey Road.

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