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Show 117: Classic Album Dissection: The Beatles' Revolver, Greg's Desert Island Jukebox pick
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1 This week Jim and Greg stick it to the man, or more specifically – record companies. They discuss the phenomenon of major labels pulling the plug on established artists. The most recent victim is Nellie McKay, whose album Pretty Little Head was denied release by Sony Music. McKay wanted to release one version, Sony wanted to release another, and after the “pretty little” singer told her label to take it or leave it, they left it. Of course, upon hearing the advance copy, our hosts can’t necessarily blame them.
2 Whether you enjoy the music or not, McKay’s situation does pose an interesting question of how much creative control an artist has while under major label contract. As Jim states: “As long as there have been major labels, there have been executives deciding that they know better than the artist.” What are some of the other lost albums that fell prey to the big bad record company? Jim and Greg list off some of their favorites including:
- The Butthole Surfers – During the early 90s when “alternative” music was achieving commercial success, the Butthole Surfers were signed to Capitol. When the alternative fad waned, their label no longer appreciated the band’s weird aesthetic and refused to release their album After the Astronaut. The Buttholes sued Capitol and demanded early release from their contract. The record, however, remained under Capitol ownership. Fans needn’t fret though; most of the material was re-recorded and released by Hollywood Records.
- Wilco – The hometown favorite’s album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was delayed release by its label because it was more conceptual than it was pop. Conceptual, of course, is hard to sell, so Reprise Records asked Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates to go back into the studio and find a hit. The band decided to stand by its album, and bid farewell to Reprise. Normally it would take a lot of time and money to recover tapes made under a label’s contract, but in this case, Reprise let Wilco take their music, rather than face a public relations nightmare. The album was eventually released in 2002 by a different Warner Music subsidiary and ended up being the biggest selling of their career. The story played out very nicely in life, in film, and most importantly, in print.
- Fiona Apple – This singer’s label woes were perhaps the most highly publicized of the bunch, but according to our experts, the often difficult artist needs to take some of the blame. Apple decided to work with producer Jon Brion for a third time, but felt she needed more time on this effort. Epic Records, not pleased with what they’d been hearing all along, told Apple that they’d need to approve a track at a time. Or at least that’s what she thought she heard. In a dramatic move, Apple stopped recording, leaving the album unfinished. Neither Epic nor Apple wanted to release the music, however some of the songs leaked, and the response was so overwhelming that Apple was inspired to start working again. This time, she joined up with producers Mike Elizondo and Brian Kehew, and Extraordinary Machine can be heard in not one, but two forms.
3 Revolver recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. To honor that, our own rock scientists, Drs. DeRogatis and Kot, decided to dissect the Beatles masterpiece. In their discussion, as well as in their interview with Geoff Emerick, the man who engineered the album at Abbey Road, you’ll hear an in-depth breakdown of what made the music so revolutionary. Here’s a sampling of fun-facts and analysis listeners will hear about the different tracks:
3a Tomorrow Never Knows – The last song on Revolver was actually the first one written. In December 1965, after a mind-expanding acid trip, John Lennon wrote what would later become “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The completely unique four-track song, with its organ drones, backward guitar, bird calls, and megaphone vocals, perfectly encapsulates what Revolver was about—revolution. Two interesting points come up in Jim and Greg’s discussion with Geoff Emerick about Lennon’s lack of technical prowess. Not being able to really communicate how he wanted his vocals to sound technically, he simply asked Emerick to have his voice sound like monks singing on the top of a mountain. Also, the backwards guitar part was merely a happy accident. Lennon, not knowing how to run a reel-to-reel machine, simply loaded the tape backwards and liked what he heard.
3b Rain – The interesting thing about this song is that it wasn’t even released as part of the original Revolver album. It was the B-side of a single (paired with “Paperback Writer”) that was recorded during the same session. EMI expected the Beatles to write and record not only an amazing album, but hit singles as well. Jim recommends fans burn their own complete Revolver with the addition of these singles.
3c Yellow Submarine – Geoff Emerick’s description of recording this song is one of the most entertaining in his book. The session was attended by a raucous group of notable guests including Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Marianne Faithful and Patti Harrison. In the middle of recording Lennon decided that he wanted to sound like he was singing underwater, and in fact, suggested that he do just that. Out of desperation, the engineer relented and agreed to try it with the microphone placed in a milk bottle filled with water. In order to protect the microphone he used a condom provided by longtime Beatles roadie Mal Evans.
3d Eleanor Rigby – Emerick was really innovative in how he recorded different instruments. This is particularly evident on this song, written by Paul McCartney, which incorporates an 8-piece string section. In fact, none of the Beatles actually played on Eleanor Rigby. In order to get the best possible sound, Emerick placed the microphones just inches away from the 2 violas, 2 cellos and 4 violins. Beatles fans are so used to hearing this song so it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to experience it for the first time in 1966 on the same record with more traditional sounding rock songs like “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Into My Life”.
3e Taxman – Revolver marks significant growth in the band’s sound, as well as for the individual Beatles. George Harrison really matured as a songwriter during the recording of this album, which has an unprecedented three songs written by him, as opposed to chief songwriters Lennon and McCartney. While Harrison is often thought of as the more transcendental Beatle, Jim notes that “Taxman” expresses a very normal, earthy concern—paying taxes. While, Harrison grew as a songwriter, Emerick admits that he still struggled with the guitar during some of the recording of this album. After wrestling for almost nine hours with “Taxman’s” famous guitar solo, the part ended up being handed over to Paul McCartney, who hit it in one take.
4 To show the range of influence Revolver has had on the music industry, Jim and Greg commissioned this montage of Beatles covers from this album. Here’s a list of the songs you hear:
“Taxman” by Stevie Ray Vaughn
“Eleanor Rigby” by Ray Charles
“I’m Only Sleeping” by Rosanne Cash
“Love You To” by Bongwater
“Here, There and Everywhere” by Emmylou Harris
“Yellow Submarine” by Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops
“She Said, She Said,” by Gov’t Mule
“Good Day Sunshine,” by Jimmy James & the Vagabonds
“And Your Bird Can Sing” by Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs
“For No One” by Rickie Lee Jones
“Doctor Robert” by Bozo Allegro
“I Want to Tell You” by Ted Nugent
“Got To Get You Into My Life” by Earth, Wind & Fire
“Tomorrow Never Knows” by Brian Eno
5 It is Greg’s turn to pop a quarter into the Desert Island Jukebox, but this week he had a hard time choosing just one song. According to our host, hip hop star Missy Elliott is the top singles artist of the last 10 years. Along with producers like Timbaland, she makes truly avant-garde music, but does so in a really fun, accessible way. Therefore, it’s no wonder that her songs are hits critically and commercially. For this week’s show, Greg went with the song “Work It.” The song demonstrates Missy’s novel approach to sounds and words. It isn’t really about anything new, but the lyrics, beats and sounds (note the elephant’s wail) couldn’t sound fresher. In fact, only Missy Elliott could get away with having the hook to a Top 40 hit be sung backwards. So, you may not be able to sing along to this week’s DIJ, but you’ll certainly want to.
Songs Featured in Show #117
The Jam, “That’s Entertainment”
The Smiths, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”
Nellie McKay, “The Big One”
Wilco, “A Magazine Called Sunset”
Brian Eno, “I Fall Up”
Fiona Apple, “Red Red Red”
Notorious BIG, “Hold Ya Head”
Notorious BIG, “Beef”
The Kinks, “David Watts”
Velvet Underground, “Foggy Notion”
Butthole Surfers, “The Weird Revolution”
The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Revolver (UK), 1966
The Beatles, “Rain,” Revolver (UK), 1966
The Beatles, “Yellow Submarine,” Revolver (UK), 1966
The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby,” Revolver (UK), 1966
The Beatles, “Taxman,” Revolver (UK), 1966
Missy Elliott, “Work It,” Under Construction, 2002
David Bowie, “Absolute Beginners,” Absolute Beginners, 1986 (0:36)
Goblins, “Suspiria”, Suspiria, 1977
Plugz, “Reel Ten”, Repo Man, 1984
Tomoyasu Hotei, “Battle Without Honor or Humanity”, Kill Bill Vol. 1, 2003
Ennio Morricone, “60 Seconds to What?” The Legendary Italian Westerns,1990.