Monthly Archives: May 2012

In search of George Harrison

We don’t have HBO, so I didn’t have an opportunity to see the Martin Scorsese documentary on George Harrison when it aired last October. I’d heard good things about it, but knew I’d have to see it another day, another way.

About a month ago, a most unexpected second chance came along.

A publicist, a most rare cat who understands what goes on here at AM, Then FM — “I recall what you cover and what you do not” — offered a review copy of “George Harrison: Living In The Material World.”

So over the course of a couple of nights — the film is spread over two DVDs and runs 3 hours, 47 minutes — I sat down to watch and listen. Some thoughts:

« Having grown up in the time of the Beatles and having come of age in the time after the Beatles, this is a familiar story. There weren’t many revelations, at least for me. A younger person will see it differently. Regardless, the film is exceptionally well done, thorough and thoughtful.

« The first disc, which runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, stands alone nicely as a history of the Beatles filtered through the prism of Harrison’s experience. It ends, appropriately, with the story behind “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

« It’s interesting to be reminded of how Harrison got into movies, footing the bill to make the Monty Python troupe’s “Life of Brian” in the late ’70s. Less interesting, almost immediately, is a digression into the controversy over the film, which was seen by some as blasphemous.

« Harrison’s spiritual quest is a fascinating thread woven throughout the film. His widow Olivia, who co-produced the film, provides an astonishing account of the scene at his passing in November 2001.

« The music in the film — and there is plenty of it — brought a bittersweet realization. My knowledge of George Harrison’s music is wide but shallow.

I know all of the hits, from the Beatles to his solo years to the Traveling Wilburys. But some of the songs in this film, no doubt familiar to many of you, were new to me. I somehow have missed out. I need to go out and buy some more George Harrison records. Your recommendations are welcome.

The film’s companion CD is a start, and for that I am grateful. It features seven demos and three early takes of Harrison’s songs, all never before released. This is one, a demo prominently featured in the film for obvious reasons.

“All Things Must Pass,” George Harrison, from “George Harrison: Early Takes, Volume 1,” 2012. This was recorded in June 1970.

At 4:40, this demo version is almost a minute longer than the finished version on the LP of the same name.

Full disclosure: I received copies of the film “George Harrison: Living In The Material World” and the music CD “George Harrison: Early Takes, Volume I.” for review purposes. I promised only to watch and listen. I did not promise, nor was I asked, to say nice things.


Filed under May 2012, Sounds

Stevie Nicks? USC Song Girls? Yes!

Crate diggers do it all the time. Whether it’s an LP or a 45, we’re always looking for fillers. Maybe we need a better copy of a record that’s been loved to death.

Or maybe we buy a record for one cut. This is one such record.

I’ve always liked the title track to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” but never owned it until today. I’ve always dug the USC Trojan Marching Band as the backing group.

Lest my pal JB cop all my material for his radio show, I should mention that this record carried a list price of $15.98 when it was released in the fall of 1979. That’s $50 in today’s dollars. Would you pay $50 for a new double LP today?

I picked it up for $2, just so I could have a nice rip of this at long last.

“Tusk,” Fleetwood Mac, from “Tusk,” 1979.

Part of the appeal of “Tusk” is, shall we say, visual.

In that early video, there was the sight of Fleetwood Mac and that USC marching band recording it live at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Oh, yeah, and Stevie Nicks wearing a sun dress and twirling a baton.

The first video comes from the old “Solid Gold” TV show. It features clips from the “Tusk” video along with the USC marching band in the “Solid Gold” studio. Oh, yeah, and the USC Song Girls also are in the studio to dance for no apparent reason. It’s not clear what the “Solid Gold” audience made of all that.

This behind-the scenes video on the making of the song “Tusk” apparently comes from “Fleetwood Mac: Documentary and Live Concert,” a 1980 release which appears to be out of print. It includes this great exchange:

Stevie Nicks: “Who are we to deserve the USC band to play for us?”

Christine McVie, carrying a glass of wine as they walk across the field: “Stevie, don’t be so humble.”

Stevie Nicks: “Oh, no, but I mean, really, that’s a lot of people playing …”

Oh, yeah, and later, more of Stevie Nicks in that sun dress, twirling that baton.


Filed under May 2012, Sounds

I remember yesterday, too

You may know Donna Summer’s 1977 album “I Remember Yesterday” as the one that delivered “I Feel Love,” her groundbreaking techno-dance hit.

However, you may not know that “I Remember Yesterday” is a concept album. It showcased Summer’s versatility on tunes inspired by 30 years of popular music.

It was featured here in November 2008, on a day when we needed some sunny pop goodness to fend off the gloom.

Today, having heard the news of Donna Summer’s passing from cancer at 63, we again are in need of some sunny pop goodness to fend off the gloom.

So please follow this link back to our earlier post and enjoy the greatness of Donna Summer.


Filed under May 2012, Sounds

The shortstop who smoked

As softball season arrives again, and as the weather in our corner of Wisconsin finally starts to get nice, it brings back memories of the shortstop who smoked.

For most of the 1980s, I played for a newspaper team with one of the great names of all time. We were the Muckrakers.

In the early ’80s, our shortstop was the paper’s music writer, a guy who also dabbled in music (and almost certainly the recreational drugs of the time). I remember Michael’s long hair, his droopy mustache and his penchant for playing shortstop with a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth.

Off the field, Michael often pointed me toward new music. His tips were many, but my cluelessness was vast. He saw everything, as you’d imagine. I wish I’d gone to even a small fraction of the gigs he’d suggested.

So imagine my surprise when Michael got into a record I’d mentioned to him. It seems mainstream now, and perhaps was a bit so then, but he really dug Don Henley’s “Building The Perfect Beast.”

The singles that dropped from that LP had a distinctive sound when they hit the airwaves in late 1984 and into 1985. I liked them. Michael liked them. You know them all, foremost among them “The Boys Of Summer” and “Sunset Grill.”

This is one of the lesser-heard songs, and one of my favorites.

“You Can’t Make Love,” Don Henley, from “Building The Perfect Beast,” 1984.

It isn’t edgy. It isn’t full of synths and programmed drums as are many of the songs on this record. It’s just a laid-back slice of 1980s L.A. rock, co-written by Henley and guitarist Danny Kortchmar. It’s much along the lines of Kortchmar’s work with Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, which I also have enjoyed.

The rest of the story

Michael wiped out on his motorcycle on a rain-slicked road. It left him paralyzed from the waist down. After that, Michael ran around in a wheelchair, but I’m not sure he was all that diligent about following his doctors’ advice. Too hard to give up some of those vices.

Michael is gone now, but Madison’s music community honors his memory by presenting a lifetime achievement award in his name at its annual awards show.


Filed under May 2012, Sounds