20. December 2013 By Walter Price 0

Ken Michaels’ 2013 Year In Review

Ken Michaels With Ringo 1992
By Ken Michaels

This past year was an amazing year for Beatles Fans in many ways. Between new albums,DVDs and books, there was a flood of product, and most of so worthwhile.  Who’d have thought we’d get the first compilation of more Beatles’ BBC material released commercially in 19 years? Some very impressive releases came from the Beatles’ sons.  And Paul McCartney continues to amaze between a new album and continuing to remaster his back catalog.  

This list only concerns releases, not events, otherwise Paul and Ringo’s tours would surely make this list. For special live appearances alone, Paul could have completely dominated this list. But I kept this list strictly releases. With the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America just on the horizon, there will be so much more coming out in the next few months, particularly in the book department. There are still some key releases missing here, but I had to narrow it down. No easy task, but here goes…

1. PAUL McCARTNEY—“New” album—As someone who doesn’t like to rush to judgement when it comes to reviewing an album, after 2 months, I can fully declare that this is a great album. It has all the hallmarks of what makes Paul McCartney the artist that he is—very musically diverse, catchy melodies galore, interesting arrangements, and in this case, sounding very fresh, contemporary, and with an edge.  Whatever it takes to inspire Paul-using 4 different producers (Giles Martin, Mark Ronson, Paul Eppworth, Ethan Johns,) or using his touring band for most of the tracks—it really works. If you want rockers, you got them (“Save Us,” “Queenie Eye.”)  If you want waxing nostalgia, it’s here (“Early Days.”)  If you like when Paul goes techno with a dance groove, that’s covered (“Appreciate.”) The more atmospheric, Fireman-like qualities are in “Road.” A beautiful acoustic ballad can be found in “Hosannah.” There’s a retro, Wings-ish feel with “Turned Out.” For pure pop, there’s the title track to “New.” There’s something for everyone here.  Even a few songs that I didn’t like initially eventually win you over, and it’s easy to have any one of these songs stuck in your head at any given time.  Prior to this album, I ranked 7 other McCartney album post-Beatles as having “great” status. This one is now the 8th.  Let’s hope the wait isn’t too long for Paul’s next album.

2. MARK LEWISOHN—All These Years-Tune In—-What can I say?- I love Mark Lewisohn’s work. Ever since he released “The Beatles Live,” he’s put out the most essential Beatles books-“The Beatles Recording Sessions” and “The Complete Beatles Chronicle.”  This is the first volume of three of his Beatles biography, covering everything from the backgrounds of the Beatles’ families to their childhoods, their early love for rock & roll, their days as teenagers, joining the Quarrymen, and the early years of the Beatles until the end of 1962, when they were on the brink of superstardom. I’ve often said if I learn one new thing in a Beatles book, it was worth the price.  This book is worth its weight in gold. There are so many revelations of things you never heard about before. Want a few? Did you know that construction for the music stage of The Cavern was done by Paul’s Uncle Harry Harris and his son, Paul’s cousin Ian?  John’s art school friend Derek Hodkin recorded an hour of John, Paul, George and Paul’s brother Michael on drums at Paul’s home on Forthlin Road, Allerton in November, 1958 on a 7” reel tape (where is that tape now, I wonder?) Certain songs actually date back to 1959, like “What Goes On,” “I’ll Be On My Way,” and “A World Without Love” (without the bridge.) Also, while we’ve known of the 1958 recording of “That’ll Be The Day” and “In Spite Of All The Danger” recorded at the home of Percy Phillips in Kensington, did you know that two years later John, Paul & George went back to Phillips’ home and cut an acetate (which no longer exists) of “One After 909?” The most shocking revelation is how the Beatles got their recording contract with EMI. Also fascinating is that Lewisohn dispels the myth that a young John Lennon had to pick between his two parents. Lewisohn also makes it crystal clear why Pete Best was fired from the Beatles.

There are so many Beatles books out there, all retelling the same old stories. But Mark actually does thorough research, and in addition to the many revelations, he also fills the holes in stories we only knew partially about, and even breaks a number of Beatles myths as well. This book is like reading Beatles history all over again with a fresh start.  The only thing painful about reading this book is knowing that it will be several years before we’ll get to see Volume 2.   The fascination behind the Beatles is such that we’ll never get to know EVERYTHING about them. But with Mark’s work, you can be sure it’s the most we’ll probably ever get.

3.  WINGS OVER AMERICA DELUXEBOX SET—-The initial description for the box set said it had more “bells and whistles” than any of McCartney’s previous box sets. With a close rival with “Ram,” you could hardly ask for more than what is in this package. There are 4 books to go along with the audio discs. One is a tour itinerary book complete with facsimile concert tickets, an end of the tour party ticket, set lists, vinyl cover artwork, and article reviews.  Another book, “The Ocean View” are drawings from artist Humphrey Ocean of Paul and the band members during the tour. There’s a book on the tour written by David Fricke who tells the story of Wings, how the members were chosen, including the brass section, with comments from the entire staff about what the experience was like. And there’s even a book of Linda’s photos of the tour, some very artsy, others quite intimate.  The audio from Wings Over America sounds cleaner yet still retains that vintage sound. There’s a bonus audio disc of 8 songs from Wings concert at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, and even a DVD of the TV documentary Wings Over The World.  For someone like myself who cares most of all about the music, I only wish there was more bonus audio.  To me, this will always be my favorite McCartney tour of all-it was a great time, when Paul was at the top of his popularity with his current releases, and this entire package is a wonderful document of it all. 

4. ROCK SHOW DVD—After being long out-of-print since being released on videotape and laserdisc, it’s so nice to have this essential part of Beatles history preserved again. This was Paul at the apex of his career in terms of commercial success, not relying heavily on his Beatles material to carry him, and because radio embraced him at that time, was able to do so with a heavy dose of Wings hits and album cuts primarily from his then last 3 albums (Wings At The Speed Of Sound, Venus And Mars, and Band On The Run.) For younger fans used to seeing Paul’s mammoth shows in recent years, it would foreign to them that Paul presented Wings as a real band-Denny Laine sang lead for 5 songs, and Jimmy McCullough had one.-the spotlight wasn’t totally on Paul, who consciously tried to establish Wings as a real band.   The previous releases of “Rock Show” were missing a few songs, but this was the show in its entirety, and the perfect complement to choice #3.

5. ON AIR: LIVE AT THE BBC VOL.2—Prior to the release of 1994’s “Live At The BBC-Vol. 1” I often said that the Beatles’ BBC recordings were the greatest treasure trove of unreleased recordings on the group. Part of me still feels that way. For historical reasons these performances were so important because they gave exposure to the group enabling them to gain popularity beyond Liverpool, and apart from showcasing their wonderful music, also gave a taste of each of the Beatles’ personalities through their humor with themselves and the respective DJ’s for their radio shows.  I couldn’t help but relish in the fact that the Beatles recorded 36 songs for the BBC that they never released for EMI, and while I love listening to the other songs from their EMI catalogue, I always found those other songs more fascinating. Think of it-it was like having 3 albums of more material from the group!  Unfortunately, the first volume of “Live At The BBC” included 30 of the 36—as potent a collection as you could muster. They were really carefully selected performances of their material, hard to top.  By contrast, “On Air” contains only two of the other 36, and they are gems—Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talkin’ About You,” and a rockin’ version of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” inspired by a recent version from Tony Orlando!  But this collection is still very much worth your while. While so much is said about not being able to hear the Beatles as a live band once they were the phenomenon they became, here they are truly live, in most cases without any overdubs, or screaming fans above the music.  If you went to see the Beatles before their act was cut down to 30 minutes or less, you would have heard much of this material. It’s also interesting to know what music the Beatles were discovering at that time, enough so to include it in their live repertoire.  Listening to both volumes of BBC material, it only proves what a superb live band the Beatles really were, which is enough of a reason to purchase both BBC collections. Kevin Howlett provides great liner notes for each individual song in the accompanying booklet.


6. RINGO AT THE RYMAN—This live concert of Ringo and his latest incarnation of All-Starrs is fantastic.  All of Ringo’s All-Starr lineups have been great in their own way, but in this case not only is the band great, but the camerawork here is just amazing. Everything is captured-not just how well the band plays and compliments each other, but the interaction between the musicians, and multitude of camera angles makes this a fascinating watch. The concert took place on Ringo’s 72nd birthday, July 7, 2012 at the Ryman Theatre in Nashville, with a lineup that boasts Gregg Rollie on keyboards (Santana/Journey,) Steve Lukather on guitar (Toto); Todd Rundgren on guitar & drums, and Richard Paige (Mr. Mister) on bass, along with Gregg Bissonnette sharing the drums with Ringo, and musical director Mark Rivera on saxophone and other instruments. Such an enjoyable concert-this DVD, as well as the other All-Starr Band DVDs need to be televised on PBS or cable channels. Everyone who goes to a Ringo & The All-Starrs show, from hardcore to casual fan leaves happy.  Watch this DVD, and you’ll understand why.

7. JULIAN LENNON—“Everything Changes” CD—A bit unfair to put this on the list, because it was first released in 2011, reissued this year with two additional tracks, including the excellent single “Someday” (with Steven Tyler.)  Yet, this album is just so good, every song was crafted so well-the lyrics, melodies, arrangements and production. Julian is not only a powerful songwriter, but has the right ear and knows what exactly his songs need.  Really, a perfect album.

8. JAMES McCARTNEY—“Me” CD—Following the release of two EP’s, James issued his first full album this year, and how impressive it is, with powerful vocals, insightful, personal lyrics, and strong songs melodically.   Highlights include “Wisteria,” “Mexico,” “Strong As You” and “You And Me Individually.” The album was produced by David Kahne, who produced Paul’s “Driving Rain” and “Memory Almost Full,” and Dad appears on the album.  James played piano and guitar for a solo tour this year, and it was a treat.  Let’s hope he comes around again real soon.

9. GOOD ‘OL FREDA DVD—It’s the story of Freda Kelly, who ran the official Beatles Fan Club, worked directly with the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein.  This is a warm, heartfelt story from a fiercely loyal employee who was devoted to the group and their manager. She tells how she came to work for both, discovering the Beatles and the legendary Cavern Club, being in the weight of Beatlemania, participating in their film “Magical Mystery Tour,” how loyal the Beatles were to her, and how the Fan Club ended. With bonus material on the DVD. It is a must buy from someone in a unique position at the time, who up until now, has never told her story. A gem.

10. KEVIN HOWLETT-THE Beatles: The BBC Broadcasts 1962-1970—The perfect companion piece to the new BBC Collection “On Air: Live At The BBC Vol. 2” and the Beatles 1994 release “Live At The BBC,” Howlett is known for doing extensive work on the Beatles, especially on their BBC recordings.  While most of the attention with the group at the BBC has been for their radio appearances, this book combines that with their TV appearances as well.  Like Mark Lewisohn’s great chronologies, focusing here on the BBC appearances makes for a good read.  It’s nice to have it all laid out-all the songs, when they were recorded and transmitted, interviews you may not know about, etc. It is complete with transcriptions from some of their interviews, including the Pop Profile series they were on air (and featured in “On Air,”) audience reaction to certain shows, and more.  For BBC enthusiasts, another must buy this year.

COMING SOON! I’ll be doing a show with my co-host Steve Marinucci for “Things We Said Today” that will be a highlights of 2013 show. Check my official-website or Fab4Radio.com for air-times!

For All Things The Beatles: Website. / Facebook. / Twitter.

Ken Michaels: Website. / Radio Show.

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