This is from George Harrison’s posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, where Harrison’s artistic peers performed some of his songs. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is not only my favorite Harrison song, but my favorite Beatles song of all-time. While Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne share the vocal duties, the standout is Prince’s blistering guitar work towards the latter half of this performance. I realize that calling Prince underrated may seem silly, but how often do people mention what an outstanding guitarist the man is? Prince steals the show here and aside his mind-blowing work on “Let’s Go Crazy” and his Super Bowl performance of “Purple Rain,” this is my People’s Exhibit A as to why Prince should rank as one of the greatest guitarists of all-time. If you’ve never seen this, you must check this out.
After giving high praise to the Beatles’ original, here’s the lost, molar-rattling, rude, and punk-as-hell Beastie Boys cover that was supposed to be included on their legendary Rick Rubin-produced 1986 masterpiece “Licensed to Ill,” but was left off for legal reasons. Rumor has it that Michael Jackson, by then the copyright owner, put the kabosh on it. He felt fine licensing the Beatles’ most political song “Revolution” to Nike but … well … that’s another story. All I can say is … thank God for YouTube.
From the infamous 1970 Beatles documentary film “Let it Be” is the band performing the title song, done in a much rawer and intimate version than the version we all know and love, pre-Phil Spector “sweetening.” I realize this will sound like a cliche and that the Beatles are the last group of musicians on this planet who deserve belated praise, but this footage of all four Beatles performing this together towards the end of their career … with a very young Billy Preston on keyboards … really takes my breath away. I realize the Beatles, as brilliant as they are, may seem like the most overrated band in history, but it’s moments like this that really make me swallow hard and reassess. They weren’t always brilliant, but they had way more hits than misses. And the sheer quantity of great music made over an 8-year period … a very short period of time … is astonishing. And one more thing … all of these guys were 30 years of age or younger when they finally hung it up.
A terrific Beatles cover by Clarence Reid. Reid had the talent and chops to be as big as Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, but he became more popular doing dirty parodies of soul hits (“S–ting off the Dock of the Bay,” “What a Difference a Lay Makes?”) with his XXX-rated alter-ego Blowfly. As much as the 3rd grader in me loves Blowfly, I’ve been rediscovering Reid’s straight soul recordings as of late and have been completely knocked out by how good Reid was … and also a little sad that Reid found more success with a gimmick than playing it straight.
It reminds me of seeing another Clarence … Clarence Giddens … back in 1993 at a restaurant / bar in Virginia Beach. Giddens was a terrific blues guitarist and singer that opened for a singer known as “Black Elvis.” Of course, “Black Elvis” was Giddens in an Elvis suit and I have to say as an Elvis impersonator, he was damn good. But it also filled me with regret because Giddens had the chops to be a major blues talent, but found bigger paychecks going down the Elvis tribute trail. Granted both Reid and Giddens had their reasons for going down the more lucrative path as Blowfly and Black Elvis, but it’s a sad commentary about how we … as audiences … myself included … are more suckers for a gimmick than the real deal.
Wanna see something truly amazing? Check out this cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” by jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan. Watch his hands. They’re tapping the strings … not strumming. And he’s getting a very, very intense sound out of his instrument from what seems like very little effort … but not quite. Because you know that someone has to know their instrument really really well in order to pull something like this off. Really mind-blowing stuff.
From 1970’s “Let it Be” album, this is another awesome Beatles song you don’t hear that much of because it’s not one of the 30 or so Beatles songs that’s played, with little variation, on most classic rock or oldies stations. At some point, I’ve been meaning to make an iTunes mix for myself of all the Beatles songs that you never hear on the radio. Why haven’t I done it? See my last entry…
In my opinion, the Beatles hit their peak with the 1966 album “Revolver” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” is the mind-bending track that concluded that masterpiece. I love the way the odd sound effects and distorted vocals blend so well together with a driving beat … in just under 3 minutes! “Tomorrow” was recently used to great effect at the end of a particularly good “Mad Men” episode (“Lady Lazarus”) from season 5.
“Revolver” was their last album that wasn’t a self-conscious mess. Yes, the Beatles had a lot of great songs after 1966, but in my opinion, the ratio of truly great to merely good or worse songs got wider and wider. That period between 1965 and 1966, when they released “Help!,” “Rubber Soul,” and “Revolver” was their best.
I still don’t know why people claim “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (the first post-“Revolver” album) is the Beatles’ best album, let alone “the greatest of all time.” Yes, its mixing and production were revolutionary for its time. But the actual songs (except for “A Day in the Life” which is legitimately great) are mediocre at best. To call “Pepper” a masterpiece for its production value is like saying “Titanic” is a great film because it cost a lot of money and had cool CGI. The cheesiest psychedelia from that period (and that includes The Strawberry Alarm Clock and Iron Butterfly) is way cooler that “Pepper” could ever hope to be. But I digress…
More stellar early 1970s post-breakup Beatles, this time from Ringo Starr, the most underrated of all of the Beatles. Starr may have never had a consistently excellent album as John Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band” or Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run,” but he did some have some awesome singles. This is easily in my Top 5 of the post-Beatles solo-Beatles singles.
The Beatles tend to run hot and cold with me. I don’t know whether it’s oversaturation or overpraise of everything they’ve ever done that sometimes rubs me raw. Please don’t get me wrong. For the 8 years that they recorded (1962-1970), the Beatles were some prolific bastards and all of their great stuff (even if it only comprises 40% of what they recorded, in my opinion) is better than what most bands have produced over twice (or even triple) the number of years. Despite that, a lot of what the Beatles recorded was merely OK. And even some of it was pretty dreadful.
But “Get Back” is a song that I’ve never ever disliked, even during those times when I’m down on the Beatles. Unlike much of what they’ve done over the years, “Get Back” just sounds like a bunch of friendly musicians kicking back and just jamming away for the hell of it. The organ fills by Billy Preston are an especially nice touch and are miles away from the funk freakouts (sometimes great, sometimes not so great) Preston did in the 1970s. It’s a song that always makes me feel better, even when I’m in a really s—ty mood.