Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Farewell to the 5th Beatle

Well, quite late to get this post up, but certainly not forgotten. Earlier this year on March 8th, the world lost 90-year-old Sir George Martin - English record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer and musician. In a career that spanned seven decades, Martin was one of music's greatest talents, working with numerous artists including Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey, Peter Sellers, Jeff Beck, Neil Sedaka, Kenny Rogers, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Celine Dion, and more. However, he is most fondly remembered as The Fifth Beatle, as his greatest fame and influence comes from his seven years working with The Beatles.

Martin's more formal musical expertise helped fill the gaps between the Beatles' unrefined talent, and the sound which distinguished them from other groups and added in their success. Most of the Beatles' orchestral arrangements and instrumentation (as well as frequent keyboard parts) were written or performed by Martin, in collaboration with the less musically experienced band. It was Martin's idea to put a string quartet on "Yesterday", against McCartney's initial reluctance. Martin played the song in the style of Bach to show McCartney the voicings that were available. Of course, Paul McCartney's songwriting is nothing to sneeze at either, but the collaboration not only led to a #1 US hit in 1965, but also has been voted the #1 pop songs of all time.

 His work as an arranger was used for many Beatles recordings. For "Eleanor Rigby" (previously featured here), he scored and conducted a string accompaniment inspired by Bernard Herrmann (composer for Hitchcock thriller, Psycho). For "Strawberry Fields Forever" (featured here), he and recording engineer Geoff Emerick turned two very different takes into a single master through careful use of vari-speed and editing. For "I Am the Walrus" (here), he provided a quirky and original arrangement for brass, violins, cellos, and the Mike Sammes Singers vocal ensemble. On "In My Life," he played a speeded-up baroque piano solo. He worked with McCartney to create the orchestral 'climax' in "A Day in the Life", and he and McCartney shared conducting duties the day it was recorded. (Sidenote: gotta love seeing Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, Monkee Mike Nesmith, and Donovan all in attendance during the recording and filming of this promo video!).

Martin contributed integral parts to other songs, including the piano in "Lovely Rita," the harpsichord in "Fixing a Hole," the old steam organ and tape loop arrangement that create the "Pablo Fanque" circus atmosphere John Lennon requested on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (both Martin and Lennon played steam organ parts for this song). To create the circus-like atmosphere of the song, Martin made tapes of old calliope records, then had the recording engineer cut the tapes into short segments, throw them in the air, and splice the pieces together at random. The result was a swirling sound collage that creates the disorienting feeling of a whirligig at a fair. Mr. Martin himself played the swirling organ runs that follow the line, “And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz,” recorded at half-speed. Pretty cool, if you ask me! Here's the song used the Beatles' "Love - Cirque du Soleil" show in Las Vegas (this part is actually a bit creepy for me and I had to look up the meaning behind some of the costumes. But that's for another day...).

Since the early 1960s. Martin composed, arranged, and produced film scores like the instrumental scores of A Hard Day's Night (1964, for which he won an Academy Award Nomination) the Bond classic Live and Let Die (1973), and many more. He also composed this awesome song below, "Theme One" which was used as the introduction on BBC Radio 1 for many years beginning in 1967. This composition makes great use of the pipe organ, heavy brass, and my favorite psychedelic effect of "flanging." Paul McCartney once commended Martin by saying: "George Martin [was] quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up." Check out the super-cool "Theme One:"     

I could go on, but this could take all week. 
The above is just a blip from the career of this legendary music producer. 
Thank you to the Fifth Beatle for your outstanding contribution to the music industry.

Farewell, Sir George Martin. You shall be missed.

Disclaimer: As it has taken me so long to finally finish this post and I was lacking creativity, some content was taken directly from good ol' Wikipedia.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Farewell: Baby, It's You

 This week on March 1st, American singer Gayle McCormick died of cancer at the age of 67. In 1969, the blues-based rock band Smith formed in L.A., and their first album, entitled "A Group Called Smith," featured McCormick as the primary vocalist. Smith mainly played and recorded covers of pop and soul songs, and made the Top-5 with a remake of the Burt Bacharach-penned tune "Baby It's You," charting higher than the previous hit versions by The Shirelles and The Beatles. Selling over a million copies in the summer of '69, it received the gold record award. Smith's version was also featured in Quentin Tarantino's film Death Proof, introducing the tune to a new audience. After Smith disbanded, McCormick went on to record three solo albums in the early '70s. The single "It's a Cryin' Shame" from her eponymous first album was a minor hit for her, reaching #44 on the charts in 1971.
Here's classic footage of some great talent, "Baby It's You."

RIP beautiful Gayle. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Farewell Bomb

Whoa, barely two months into 2016 and the world has lost an incredible amount of musical talent. While you may not know of all these names, here are five more noteworthy artists who have recently passed away.

On January 28th, Jefferson Airplane's lead guitarist and songwriter, Paul Kantner, died at the age of 74 (pictured second from left with glasses). Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic sound and free-spirited mindset helped define the '60s counterculture in San Francisco. Kantner was a co-founder of the group in 1965 with Marty Balin and the guiding spirit of its successor, Jefferson Starship. With hits like "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" (both featured here), Jefferson Airplane wrote anthems for the hippie movement and the memorable Summer of Love in 1967. While vocalists Grace Slick and Balin were the public faces of Jefferson Airplane, Kantner was often the creative force of the band, bringing a freshness from his folk music scene background. From their historic album Surrealistic Pillow in 1967, listen for Kantner's vocal at 1:08 in "How Do You Feel?"

And what are the odds two members of Jefferson Airplane would pass away on the same day and at the same age? Also on January 28th, the band's original female vocalist, Signe Anderson, died at 74 (also pictured in the top photo). Initially a jazz and folk singer in Portland, OR, she joined Jefferson Airplane after a trip to San Francisco in 1965, and sang on their first album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Married to one of the Merry Pranksters, Jerry Anderson, and pregnant with her first child, Signe left the group in late 1966, and was replaced by rock 'n roll diva Grace Slick. Check out this footage of the band performing "It's No Secret" at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco in 1966; look for Signe at the 1:34 mark.
 On January 16th, American singer and guitarist Gary Loizzo, best-known as the lead singer of The American Breed, passed away at the age of 70. From the greater Chicago area, The American Breed had several hit records, including the million-selling single "Bend Me, Shape Me" in 1967/'68. In the early '70s, Loizzo went on to start his own recording studio called 'Pumpkin Studios,' and became a two-time Grammy-nominated recording engineer. He worked with REO Speedwagon, Styx, Bad Company, Slash, Survivor, Liza Minnelli, Tenacious D, and many others. Since "Bend Me, Shape Me" was previously featured here, here's their first Top-40 hit in 1967, "Step Out of Your Mind" (gotta love that "trumpet-playing" drummer).
On February 6th, American singer-songwriter Dan Hicks passed away, also at the end of 74. Combining cowboy folk, jazz, country, swing, bluegrass, pop, and gypsy music in his sound, Hicks first became part of the San Francisco folk music scene in 1959, performing at local coffeehouses. Later, he joined the San Francisco band The Charlatans in 1965 as drummer, and in 1967, formed Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, contemporaries of Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. From his first album released in 1969,  "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" features Hick's humor, frequently infused into his tunes.
Finally, American musician, songwriter, screenwriter, and voice actor Bill Martin passed away on January 27th at the age of 64. A friend of Monkee Michael Nesmith, Martin's first contribution to The Monkees came in the form of "All of Your Toys," recorded during the very first studio sessions that featured the group supporting themselves instrumentally. Because of a publishing dispute with Screen Gems, the song never saw the light of day until it was released on the Missing Links compilation in 1987. He also composed "The Door Into Summer," which did see release on 1967's Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. album. Martin later collaborated with other artists, including Harry Nilsson ("Rainmaker," covered by Nesmith on his third solo effort, Nevada Fighter). Martin later co-starred with Nesmith in his Grammy-winning Elephant Parts in 1981, and in addition to screenwriting credits (1987's Harry and the Hendersons), his voice skills earned him roles in numerous animated series. Unfortunately, I could not find any photos of him! But these two songs are true gems and needed to be included. Here's the Bill Martin-penned could-have-been-a-hit Monkees' tune, "All of Your Toys," recorded in 1967.

From The Monkees' fourth studio album, here's "The Door Into Summer," officially written by Bill Martin and the Monkees' producer Chip Douglas (although Douglas denies any writing contribution). Another fantastic tune.

RIP and sincere farewell to all these talented legends.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Farewell to an Innovator

On January 10th, the world mourned the loss of music innovator David Bowie, who lost the battle to liver cancer at the age of 69. Born and raised in Brixton, South London as David ("Davie") Jones, he changed his name to Bowie early in his career to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees. From singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter and actor, Bowie was a trailblazing figure in pop culture for over four decades, and a pioneer of glam rock in the 1970s. While Bowie re-emerged in '72 with his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, and achieved American crossover success in '75 with "Fame," we'll only touch on his first Top-5 UK hit in the late '60s, "Space Oddity."
Released as a single in July 1969, the title and subject matter were inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and introduced the character of Major Tom. The United States' Apollo 11 mission would launch five days later, and would become the first manned moon landing another five days later. Written by Bowie for his promotional film Love You Till Tuesday (featured below), a longer re-recorded version of the song was included as the opening song for the 1969 album David Bowie (released that November). Upon its re-release as a single in 1973, the song reached #15 on the Billboard chart and became Bowie's first hit single in the US. Still one of his best-known songs, "Space Oddity" was a largely acoustic number augmented by the eerie tones of the Stylophone, a pocket electronic organ played by Bowie. Love this classic footage from so early in his career.

So much more can be said about this influential musician; this quick tribute doesn't do him justice. Farewell, David Bowie.