Sunday, March 6, 2022

The Beatles: Inner Grooves

 If you're a fan of The Beatles, you may be aware that they've had a few compilation albums put out over the years. From A Collection of Beatles Oldies through the "Red" and "Blue" albums (1962-66 and 1967-70 respectively) of the '70s to the 21st Century with 1. And they're fun albums and mostly really good. The Red and Blue are particularly good career retrospectives. However, there's one major failing that all of these compilations have when taken as a whole: they focus almost exclusively on the "hits". 1 for example includes only their Number 1 songs. And even the really good compilations that pull album tracks often hit only the well-known songs that become popular. 

This is all fine, of course and they make for good listening experiences, but I was feeling recently that it would serve a compilation well to highlight some "deeper cuts", beyond the "I Want to Hold Your Hand"s and "Yesterday"s and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"es (weepses?). The community would be served by a companion piece to the 1 album, a career retrospective that hits the lesser remembered highlights and B-sides of the Beatles career. So I've taken to putting one together myself, and I'm calling it The Beatles' Inner Grooves.

Due to runtimes of the songs and difficulty in selecting songs, this collection will be a double album. In choosing songs for this list, I looked at the entire official catalog and eliminated any song that appeared on 1 and numerous other collections. So none of the heavy hitters are on here. I then went on and, with two exceptions, eliminated all the other tracks from the Red and Blue albums. This helped narrow things down, but ultimately the final choices came down to my personal taste, a desire to be eclectic, and to showcase George and Ringo as much as John and Paul. I also tried to find songs that showed various sides of the members, so it wasn't all Paul ballads and John rockers, and so that Paul doesn't dominate the later material.  I decided to sequence it roughly in chronological order. I imagine it being available for both CD and vinyl, so I will present it as I envision each vinyl side. So without further ado, here is my track list for the proposed Beatles Inner Grooves double album.

DISC 1 - side 1

1. Please Please Me -- The 1962-66 album is the only major compilation to include this, which is criminal.

2. Misery -- a great early Lennon-McCartney tune

3. Don't Bother Me -- Harrison's debut

4. This Boy -- B-side to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and showcasing their great 3-part harmonies

5. If I Fell -- a more mature Lennon ballad and one of the highlights of A Hard Day's Night

6.  Any Time at All -- we shift out of the ballads with the snap of a rim shot

7. Every Little Thing -- a hidden gem from Beatles For Sale

8. Bad Boy -- Lennon's vocal is the best of the three Larry Williams covers and it's a shame this is a lost classic. It's the only cover on this collection but it was so good it needs more attention.

9. I Need You -- George breaks out the volume pedal and we move into the Help! era

10. I'm Down -- Paul rocks out his Little Richard voice and closes us out side one

DISC 1 - side 2

1. I've Just Seen a Face -- we'll open side two the way the US Rubber Soul opened.

2. You're Going to Lose That Girl -- a John classic from Help!

3. You Won't See Me -- for some reason this Rubber Soul track is a go-to song for me. When I was trying to pare the list down I seriously considered dropping it, but just couldn't.

4. What Goes On -- and Ringo makes an appareance!

5. Wait -- As long as this is a double-album, we'll keep this Rubber Soul favorite of mine

6. If I Needed Someone -- a George highlight just before he went full Indian in his influences

7. Rain -- John's rocking B-side to "Paperback Writer" with it's hard drums and backwards vocals is the perfect segue to the Revolver material

8. Here, There, and Everywhere -- a McCartney classic that's slowly becoming every bit as notable in the popular consciousness as "Yesterday"

9. And Your Bird Can Sing -- I just find this one lots of fun.

10. Getting Better -- And now we've reached a peak of the career, getting to 1967 and this peppy number from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to close out the first disc. But as the album is called Inner Grooves, side 2 will actually end with the inner groove nonsense that closes out Sgt. Pepper.

Sgt. Pepper inner groove

DISC 2 - side 3

1. Good Morning, Good Morning -- and the rooster wakens us up to the start of disc 2!

2. Baby, You're a Rich Man -- a 1967 B-side

3. Your Mother Should Know -- the highlight songs of Magical Mystery Tour are already known and elsewhere compiled. But we shouldn't abandon this jaunty McCartney number, chosen to showcase his music hall style.

4. It's All Too Much -- George Harrison's psychedelic masterpiece has been too long overshadowed by his later material and the Lennon/McCartney '67 stuff. If possible, I would include the longer version with the extra verse.

5. Hey Bulldog -- I've placed the Yellow Submarine material here before we get to the other 1968 stuff because it makes more sense sonically; this is when these things were recorded. I almost didn't include "Hey Bulldog", because in recent years it's become almost too popular, but it's a Lennon highlight of the later era.

6. The Inner Light -- George at his most Indian, this is the B-side to "Lady Madonna"

7. I'm So Tired -- a Lennon classic from the double album that I would put right up there with "Happiness is a Warm Gun"

8. I Will -- Paul's simple solo groove will be a delightful palate cleanser as we shift gears.

9. Julia -- In my mind, "I Will" and "Julia" are always a pair. They close out the first disc of the White Album and it's hard to hear one without the other. We've got a lot of passionate, rocking, shouty John on this disc, so it made sense to highlight his music at some of its most beautiful and vulnerable. And just as it does on the White Album,  it will close out this side of our compilation.

DISC 2 - side 4

1. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey -- we start the flipside with a rocker

2. Cry Baby Cry -- another deep hidden gem of the White Album. I'll include the linking Paul bit of "Can You Take Me Back?" which will transition us into...

3. Two of Us -- I've chosen for sequencing purposes to put the Let It Be material before Abbey Road. It's up to you which version of this you use, whether from the album or the Naked version. I think track transition works better in any case without the opening studio chatter, but if you can't think of the song without it, you can include it.

4. Let It Be (album version) -- All the compilations have it, but they all have the single version. I want to highlight the version from the album which is easily overlooked. It has a grungier guitar solo and slightly different feel.

5. Dig a Pony -- we'll leave Let It Be with this rooftop performance of a groovy John song. The words don't matter; it feels cool.

6. You Never Give Me Your Money -- I'm shaking up the Abbey Road tracks a tiny bit. Mostly this is being included so that the melody's reprise later feels more natural and not isolated. The one issue in this fantasy mix is that on the album this song fades into the atmospherics for "Sun King", so we would really want a clean fade for this compilation. But there's precedent for that. We fade out on the chanted nursery rhyme so we can get to our next track, a children's song...

7. Octopus's Garden -- Ringo's return! This one was included on the Blue album, but it's too much fun to leave off and Ringo deserves another song, especially one he wrote himself.

8. I Want You (She's So Heavy) -- John Lennon's bluesy hardcore 7-minute groove slots here. While the abrupt stop doesn't end a side on our compilation, it does allow the listener a sudden stop to take a breath before we tranistion to the final medley.

9. Golden Slumbers

10. Carry That Weight -- gotta get one more Ringo vocal

11. The End -- And we close out the record with each of the Beatles giving a solo and saying goodbye. I know the recent iTunes comp ended with this song too, but that was the Anthology edit, and this song is just the natural close.

Well, that's my playlist. Feel free to try it out on your own if you want to put it in Spotify or search for the playlist Beatles Inner Grooves on YouTube. I think it makes a solid listening experience and a good companion piece to other collections for new fans. And if anyone in the official Beatles camp happens to read this, please take notice!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

We Breathe the Same Air

 Bob Dylan's 80th birthday was this year. For decades now he has been constantly touring, so when the COVID pandemic shut down all travel last year, he had to cancel any upcoming dates and put things on hold. During lockdown, he unexpectly graced the world with an 18-minute meditation on the Kennedy assassination, "Murder Most Foul", and eventually followed that up with his most recent album, Rough and Rowdy Ways. This was enough to hold Dylan fans over for awhile, but all were jolted with the announcement a couple months ago that he was going back on tour, and taking the new album on the road. As you'd expect, fans began snatching up tickets.

I was among those fans. When I saw he was playing one date in Boston, I had to get tickets. I have seen Dylan live only once before, back in 2011 during the ballpark tour. As Bob gets older, these opportunities grow slimmer, so I was glad to take advantage of this one. 

And that's how I found myself at the Wang Theater last night seated up in the balcony just right of center awaiting to hear what oldies he would dust off and reintepret, and how he would sound on the new material. The pandemic has thankfully waned enough that it was a pretty crowded event. I don't know if it was completely sold out, but it was full. It was rather annoying to have to show proof of vaccination upon entry. I almost didn't go on principle, but Dylan's 80, so I let it go. Boston is still obsessed with mandates over COVID. What's most frustrating is that despite vaccination proof, it was also still required we all wear masks. You'd think if we all had to be masked it shouldn't matter (that is, if masks actually work). Also worth noting that some of the ushers did not practice very good mask protocol, as I noticed some wearing them under their nose and one who had it down over his chin, so what was even the point? This actually bothered a concert-goer near me, who seemed still a little paranoid around crowds.

What's interesting about an audience at a Dylan concert (and probably some other '60s performers still touring), is the wide demographic of fans. You get a lot of twentysomethings and college kids, folks my age, and the old-timers who've been around for years. I saw one little girl who couldn't have been more than six. I was seated next to an older couple who had seen Bob play in Lowell back during the legendary Rolling Thunder Revue. After the show, a group of girls were leaving who were probably teens or early twenties. I heard one of them almost in awe saying, "We breathed the same air as him!" 

One thing that was annoying is how many people did not arrive on time. During the first several numbers there were still people filing in and finding their seats. There was no opening act; it was just Dylan and his band for 90 minutes. Multiple times people were in the wrong seats and had to move. Was a little distracting. But I appreciate that Dylan didn't hold the house or anything. He started on time and did what he came to do.

Since the start of the tour, set lists of the previous dates have been out there. I tried to avoid them so as not to have preconceived notions of what he might play, apart from the understanding that the set would heavily feature the new album. Part of the fun with a Dylan live show is he'll alter the arrangements on his back catalog so you don't always know what he's playing until he starts singing (and sometimes not even then). I remember the last concert, he opened with "Cat's in the Well" of all things! Last night he opened with "Watching the River Flow", and followed it up with a pretty faithful arrangement of "Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)". Then of course he did the first couple selections from the new album. His band of course is fantastic. They've been playing with him for decades now and they always sound great. Particularly on the new numbers though, you can tell that Dylan and the band are really in a groove on these new songs. Dylan seems to take more care singing them, unlike the old ones where we all know the words already (until he decides to change them). He spent most of the night behind the piano, but every now and then he would come out from behind to sing. 

He seemed interested this tour in dusting off the songs of the late '60s and early '70s. I wonder if this is tied to some of the more recent Bootleg Series releases being of that era, or if that's just what he felt like this (4th) time around. After "Watching the River Flow", we had "When I Paint My Masterpiece", which had opened all the dates of Rolling Thunder back in 1975. I had heard rumor this would be his opener, but it turned out not to be the case. He also did one track each off John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline. His current version of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" was certainly a surprise. 

Peppered between were a few more Rough and Rowdy tracks. "Black Rider" sounded really good live, and the audience at the Wang seemed to be really into it. Dylan also brought out "Early Roman Kings" with a slightly different tempo. I've always thought of it a one of the lesser tracks on the Tempest album, but this version wasn't bad. Then after powering through a version of "To Be Alone With You" all dressed up for dancin', they began playing "Key West (Philosopher Pirate)", one of the centerpieces of the new album, and a fairly long song. It was rather hypnotic.

But then came for me what was one of the highlights: a seriously rocking new arrangement of "Gotta Serve Somebody". Without the gospel back up singers, Dylan and company rocked it up and sped it up. And because it's basically a list song, Dylan indulges himself in singing lots of new lyrics. None of them come to mind at the moment, but there were very few lyrics from the original record, apart from the important ones: "Might be the Devil, might be the Lord, but you've got to serve somebody." And on the last repeat, he even emphasized, "You've really got to serve somebody!"

What followed was "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You" from the new album and I cannot think that sequencing was a coincidence. The song, a gentle ballad, is easily taken as a love song (particularly with the reference to "her" at one point), but considering Dylan chose to follow "Serve Somebody" with it, I couldn't help feeling the religious overtones in the song. Especially with such lyrics as "I'd preach the gospel, the gospel of love/a love so real, a love so true/I've made up my mind to give myself to you." It honestly had shadows of "I Believe in You" or perhaps with the "is it about God or a girl" angle, a song like "Covenant Woman" or "Precious Angel". We had just seen our first snowfall in Eastern Massachusetts the previous night, so when Dylan stepped out from behind the piano and sang "I saw the first fall of snow," there were little cheers form the audience. It was a very moving performance.

Dylan then slipped briefly into crooner mode to dust off one of the standards from his Sinatra period of a few years ago. Throughout the night he seemed in rather good voice. He continued with a lovely performance of "Mother of Muses", before capping things off with "Goodbye Jimmy Reed". The band is great on the album there, but I think this is one of the songs that they've tightened up musically while on the road.

As the night was coming to a close, Dylan got a little playful, saying "It's good to be in Boston, home of Bunker Hill and Beacon Hill and Blue Hill... Lot a hills around here!" Then he got to talking about Paul Revere, and had us all give a cheer for Paul Revere. He even then threw in a nod to his recent dabbling in iron sculpture by noting, "Paul Revere was an iron worker. You know, I've done some iron work myself!" Seemed in good spirits, which was delightful.

There were no encores, no dragging out "Like a Rolling Stone" for those who expected it. Instead, he introduced the band and then gave us one final closer, an unexpected and wonderful choice, "Every Grain of Sand." After the one-two punch of "Serve Somebody" and "I've Made Up My Mind", coupled with the meditative mood of "Mother of Muses", it felt appropriate to end the evening on this call to God. Dylan the elder statesman seems rather reflective these days. For me, there was no better song to close with. The arrangement played very faithful to the version on Shot of Love (though sadly no harmonica), but with the "perfect finished plan" lyric, which I loved. 

Maybe some were disappointed there was nothing more to follow, but it was a nice way to spend 90 minutes. And I have to respect Dylan for not doing an encore in a time when it's become obligatory. I'm glad I got the chance to see him and if I never do again, I can consider myself blessed that the last thing I heard him sing live was "I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan/like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand." After two years of paranoia and pandemics it was a thrill for us all to come together last night and breathe the same air.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Psalm 119/8

  Psalm 119 is a 22-stanza poem of 8 lines each wherein each line begins with the same Hebrew letter. For this week, I've re-compiled it into 8 different acrostic poems.

 

Psalm 119/8

I will keep your statutes; Oh, do not forsake me utterly!
I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.
Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.
I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.
Behold, I long for Your precepts; revive me in Your righteousness.
My hands also will lift up to Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes.
This has become mine, because I kept your precepts.
The earth, O LORD, is full of Your mercy; teach me Your statutes.
The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver.
Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes, that I may not be ashamed.
Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.
I have seen the consummation of all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.
Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate very false way.
I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, to the very end.
My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your judgments.
Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.
Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep Your law.
The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting; give me understanding and I shall live.
Concerning Your testimonies, I have known of old that You have founded them forever.
The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.
I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies, for all my ways are before You.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Psalm 119/7

 Psalm 119 is a 22-stanza poem of 8 lines each wherein each line begins with the same Hebrew letter. For this week, I've re-compiled it into 8 different acrostic poems.

 Psalm 119/7

I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments.
I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways.
Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame!
Turn away my reproach which I dread, for Your judgments are good.
And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love.
I remember Your name in the night, O LORD,and I keep your law.
I am a companion of all who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.
Let those who fear You turn to me, those who know Your testimonies.
They also made an end of me on earth, but I did not forsake Your precepts.
The wicked wait for me to destroy me, but I will consider Your testimonies.
How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart.
You put away all the wicked of the earth like dross; therefore, I love your testimonies.
Therefore I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold!
Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes.
Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet Your commandments are my delights.
You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth.
Consider how I love Your precepts; revive me, O LORD, according to Your lovingkindness.
My sou keeps Your testimonies and I love them exceedingly.
Let my soul live, and it shall praise You; and let Your judgments help me.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Psalm 119/6

 Psalm 119 is a 22-stanza poem of 8 lines each wherein each line begins with the same Hebrew letter. For this week, I've re-compiled it into 8 different acrostic poems.

 Psalm 119/6

Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments.
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches.
Remove from me reproach and contempt, for I have kept Your testimonies.
I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me.
Establish Your word to Your servant, who is devoted to fearing you.
I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.
Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.
At midnight, I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments.
Their heart is as fat as grease, but I delight in Your law.
Let the proud be ashamed, for they treated me wrongfully with falsehood; but I will meditate on Your precepts.
All Your commandments are faithful; they persecute me wrongfully. Help me!
I am Yours, save me; for I have sought Your precepts.
I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me.
The wicked have laid a snare for me, Yet I have not strayed from Your precepts.
You reject all those who stray from Your statutes, for their deceit is falsehood.
It is time for You to act, O LORD, for they have regarded Your law as void.
Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts.
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.
They draw near who follow after wickedness; they are far from Your law.
I see the treacherous and am disgusted, because they do not keep Your word.
LORD, I hope for Your salvation, and I do Your commandments.
I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Psalm 119/5

 

  Psalm 119 is a 22-stanza poem of 8 lines each wherein each line begins with the same Hebrew letter. For this week, I've re-compiled it into 8 different acrostic poems.

 Psalm 119/5

Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes!
With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth.
You rebuke the proud–the cursed, who stray from Your commandments.
Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way
And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.
Indignation has taken hold of me because of the wicked, who forsake Your law.
The cords of the wicked bound me, but I have not forgotten Your law.
The proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart.
Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight.
The proud have dug pits for me, which is not according to Your law.
I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.
I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.
My life is continually in Your hand, yet I do not forget Your law.
Hold me up and I shall be safe, and I shall observe Your statutes continually.
I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies.
Direct my steps by Your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me.
I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts.
Hear my voice according to Your lovingkindness; O LORD, revive me according to Your justice.
Many are my persecutors and my enemies, yet I do not turn from Your testimonies.
Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.
Let Your hand become my help, for I have chosen Your precepts.
 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Psalm 119/4

   Psalm 119 is a 22-stanza poem of 8 lines each wherein each line begins with the same Hebrew letter. For this week, I've re-compiled it into 8 different acrostic poems.

Psalm 119/4

You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently.
Blessed are You, O LORD! Teach me Your statutes.
My soul breaks with longing for Your judgments at all times.
My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.
So shall I keep your law continually, forever and ever.
I remember Your judgments of old, O LORD, and have comforted myself.
I made haste and did not delay to keep Your commandments.
You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes.
Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Your word to Your servant.
How many are the days of Your servant?When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?
Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction.
I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts.
Accept, I pray, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O LORD, and teach me Your judgments.
Uphold me according to Your word, thatI may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope.
Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy, and teach me Your statutes.
Look upon me an be merciful to me, as Your custom is toward those who love Your name.
Your word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it.
My eyes are awake through the night watches that I may meditate on Your word.
Great are Your tender mercies, O LORD; revive me according to Your judgments.
Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous judgments.
My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness.