The Fifth Beatle

If, like me, you grew up listening to the Beatles you may have wondered about the strange-sounding “piano-or-is-it-a-harpsichord” solo on the song “In My Life,” on the Rubber Soul album. It goes like this:

This was the work of the “Fifth Beatle,” George Martin, so called because of his work playing, producing and arranging many of the Beatles’ finest recordings. Both classically-trained and open-minded, Martin engineered subtle soundscapes which complemented and enhanced the band’s work, especially Paul McCartney’s melodies – including “In My Life”. Hunter Davies reveals the secret to that puzzling keyboard sound in his book The Beatles Lyrics (which I recommend as a fascinating insight into both song-writing generally and the Beatles canon in particular):

The music is greatly helped by what sounds like a harpsichord, thinking away like a Bach minuet, giving it a classical timeless quality. This was George Martin, on a piano with the sound speeded up.

rubber soulHere is the solo, slowed down by 25% (very nearly the same as playing a 45rpm record at 33⅓), the speed at which it was originally played.

(Full disclosure: this processed segment was taken from a different, stereo release. This meant I could separate the piano from the other sounds, such as the drum track.)

Nice enough. Dignified. But it has nothing of the magic which the speeded-up version drops into the finished song. And here is the whole song – as released. The record has been bashed about a bit, but that is okay. It shows that someone once loved this LP, and played it over and over. Just listen.

  • Artist: The Beatles
  • Album: Rubber Soul
  • Track: B4 In My Life
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Capitol-EMI
  • Made in: USA
  • Catalogue: T 2442
  • Year: 1965

Tough love

The Beatles throw a long shadow, such that other parts of the rich musical tradition of Liverpool can get a bit lost. Like many other ports and industrial centres, Liverpool drew waves of migrants in search of work. Each community brought their own music, and the result was a melting pot of influences from all over Britain and Ireland and beyond. This is not to gloss over the poverty, discrimination and sheer hard grind Scousers often faced, but there was creativity, solidarity and humour as well.

spinners guardian

The Spinners. Image: The Guardian

One face of Liverpool as the Singing City was the Spinners, a folk group (not to be confused with the Detroit soul outfit of the same name) which formed in 1958. The Spinners became a fixture on the folk scene, and then took their music to wider audiences. Their repertoire was a mix of their own original material, traditional songs, and the work of other songwriters. This is one, “Liverpool Lullaby”, written by fellow Scouser, Stan Kelly-Bootle. It is a song of tough love, and is funny, dark and tender, all at the same time.

Just listen.

  • Artist: The Spinners
  • Album: The Singing City
  • Track: B1 Liverpool Lullaby
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: Philips
  • Made in: UK
  • Catalogue: 6382 002
  • Year: Unknown (early 1970s?)

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Who killed Eleanor Rigby?

According to the song, Eleanor Rigby

… died in the church
And was buried, along with her name

How did she die? The song gives no clues, though I used to be suspicious of Father McKenzie. But I now have a new theory. Eleanor Rigby was killed by a Moog.

moogThe Moog (which is pronounced to rhyme with Minogue, as in Kylie, rather than moo, as in cow) was the first synthesiser to be widely used. There were earlier machines – one of them, the Novochord, appeared on a recording in 1949 – but the Moog was the first one to be commercially viable, and in the late 1960s it became popular to set well-known tunes to Moog arrangements.

And so Marty Gold, a veteran arranger and producer with RCA Victor, recorded Moog Plays the Beatles. It was released in 1969. The Beatles were still together, the Moon landings were big news, and the Moog must have sounded exciting, space-age, the wave of the future.

And now?

Well, have a listen, with open ears, and make up your own mind. Was Eleanor Rigby was murdered by a Moog?

  • Artist: Marty Gold
  • LP Title: Moog Plays the Beatles
  • Track: Side 1, Track 1 “Eleanor Rigby”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Summit
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1969

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Half a Granny Smith

It’s always exciting when, flicking though a pile of dusty old singles in an op-shop, you see the distinctive apple of Apple Records. This was the short-lived but famous label which was established by the Beatles, and which just about bankrupted them.

It remains one of the great label designs: simple, memorable, imaginative. The A side shows an apple with shiny green skin, unmistakably a Granny Smith.

4039 A

This variety of apple was created in Australia, and is one of those little things were are proud of in this country. The B side shows the same apple, neatly cut in half.

4039 B

When I first saw this design – it would have been on a Beatles LP belonging to an older brother – I was entranced. I held the record, flipping it, again and again.

So yes, to find an original Apple is exciting, even when the artist is unfamiliar. I had not heard of her, but Mary Hopkin was very big in the day: a beautiful young women with a clear, sweet voice. Her songs are of untroubled fun and summer romance, those “silly love songs” that Paul McCartney, who produced her records, would later defend.

“Temma Harbour” is one of those: a song of romance in a seaside setting which might be Mediterranean or, as touch of steel drums suggests, or vaguely Caribbean. Temma is a real place, but in neither of those locations. It is a tiny hamlet – a few beach shacks and a boat ramp – on the western coast of Tasmania, the island just south of the Australian mainland.

Tasmania is a beautiful place, and its western coast especially so, but warm and set about with lemon trees it ain’t. The winds there are known as the Roaring Forties, which sweep around the world, west to east, above the Southern Ocean. There is nothing to get in the way of the wind between Tierra del Fuego and western Tasmania except the odd iceberg.

But this doesn’t matter. When we sing of the Jordan River, we do not mean the polluted and diminished contemporary waterway. There is a Jordan River of the imagination; there is a Temma Harbour of the imagination. In the real world, these things cheer people up: hymns and silly love songs both.

  • Artist: Mary Hopkin
  • Single Title: Temma Harbour
  • Track: Side A “Temma Harbour”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Apple, APPLE-9053
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1970

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs