Paul McCartney “Gets Back” To His Roots With “Carpool Karaoke”

This picture should be an official ad for happiness.

Whenever Paul McCartney is in the news, I (and the rest of the world) pay attention. Sometimes he’s announcing a new concert tour or a collaboration he did with another prominent musician. And sometimes, he’s appearing on late night television with another British celebrity, driving around his old stomping grounds and reminiscing about his Beatle days.

When I saw “Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke” pop up in my YouTube feed last week, I figured that it would be an amusing, nostalgic drive in London filled with many of my favorite Beatles songs. I did not expect that James Corden would be driving Paul around Liverpool and going to many of the actual sites that Paul has written about in his career. Here’s the clip in its glorious 23-minute entirety, for your viewing pleasure.

I watched all 23 minutes of this video with an ear-to-ear grin on my face. I was already a big fan of the Late Late Show’s “Carpool Karaoke” series before this aired, and I must confess that it had never consciously occurred to me that Paul would be a perfect guest. But as perhaps the most famous musician in the world, Paul seemed quite delighted to drive around for what was probably hours and regale James with stories about growing up in Liverpool. I geeked out when Paul signed his name on the Penny Lane sign, which reminded me of when I visited Abbey Road and gleefully signed my name on the wall outside the studio. I’ve now made a mental note to visit Liverpool one day and add my signature on that sign next to his.

I have thought many times over the years about how I’d love to take a pilgrimage to Liverpool and immerse myself in Beatles lore. Paul’s “Carpool Karaoke” certainly intensified that desire, while showing me yet again of why I fell in love with the Beatles in the first place. This segment, like the Beatles’ career, radiated positivity and love from beginning to end. It also reminded me that Paul’s music is a unifying force in this increasingly divided world. This was evidenced by the touching sequence where people of all ages rushed in off the street when they saw Paul unexpectedly playing a set in a local pub, and it looked like every person there was having the time of their lives. I couldn’t even imagine the chaotic thrill they must have felt as they saw their idol performing only several feet away, in a pub they’ve probably been to many times before.

I certainly did not go into this clip expecting to tear up, but I did get a bit teary-eyed at the constant sight of Paul greeting adoring fans and making their day, probably their life, everywhere he went. Of course, I was mentally putting myself in their shoes and imagining how I would feel absolutely elated if I ever met Paul in person. It was also humbling to hear him share how he and the other Beatles had no idea their music would even be remembered beyond the 60s. It is truly astonishing that this band had such a concentrated period of genius musical output in the 60s that still inspires people to love one another. I know that Paul has been famous for 55 years and probably tires of doing interviews and such, but I was inspired by his energy in this segment and how he gracefully handles his megastar status in the real world.

Of course, Paul’s wonderful songwriting has continued long after the Beatles disbanded, and I loved how this segment also promoted his upcoming album, “Egypt Station.” After watching this “Carpool Karaoke,” which featured a singalong to his new single “Come On To Me,” I immediately went to YouTube and listened to it and his other new song, “I Don’t Know,” on loop.

At age 76, Paul clearly has not lost his musical inspiration. These songs both highlight his knack for weaving together unexpected musical turns and catchy melodies. I particularly adore the musical break in “Come On To Me” that features a lively horn section, as well as the gorgeous piano intro to “I Don’t Know.” Though his last album, “New,” relied heavily on modern musical production and more techno-sounding touches, it seems like this album will have more of that classic instrumental feel that he’s done so well before. However, if Paul has taught me anything over the years, it’s that you can never quite predict what he’s going to do next. So I’ll reserve my full judgment until I can listen to the entire album when it comes out in September. Though I tend to blog sparingly during the school year, you can bet that I’ll do a post reviewing Paul’s new album as soon after that as I can.

As people often comment on particularly resonant YouTube videos, “I didn’t know how much I needed this until I watched it.” James Corden and the whole “Carpool Karaoke” team outdid themselves with this one. I don’t know if late night segments are even  eligible for awards, but this segment is the most Emmy-worthy piece of television I’ve watched in a long time. And we all need a little dose of Paul McCartney spreading joy every once in a while. He may be getting older, but I am so grateful that I still share this world with him and can enjoy new Paul McCartney songs as he releases them. What an incredible privilege it is to be able to say that I once saw him in concert. I am so glad that Paul and James teamed up for this latest “Carpool Karaoke” and gave the entire world a reason to smile for 23 minutes. It was truly a beautiful collaboration.

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My Top 10 Favorite Song Intros

Harrison Control room

The Beatles in the control room, undoubtedly crafting another timeless song introduction.

Well, after an entire semester of no blog posts, I am making my triumphant blogging return with a post that I’ve been meaning to do for a while. For whatever reason, even before I became a Beatles fan, I’ve always been really intrigued by what makes a good song intro. The Beatles have many of them, of course, but there’s something about a really well-crafted intro to a song that can truly elevate the content of the entire song. There’s a saying about not judging a book by its cover that could technically also apply to “not judging a song by its intro,” but I almost feel that you should judge a song by its intro in many cases. Just like with a job interview, if your first impression about a song in the first few seconds is negative, you probably won’t want to stick around and listen to the rest.

With some songs, I actually prefer the instrumental intro to the song itself, if only because it ends up being more memorable for me. I also believe that a really good song intro immediately grabs the listener’s attention and makes it extremely difficult to change the song. So here I’ve decided to return to one of my favorite blog post formats, the ten-item list, and explain my reasons for choosing these ten songs as containing some of my favorite introductions.

10. Ready to Go- Republica

Though this admittedly is the only song I know by Republica, I have always been a big fan of this song’s intro. I’m a sucker for a song that starts with an acoustic intro that then segues into a biting electric guitar, and that’s exactly how this song begins. Just as a minor side note, I love when songs directly juxtapose a softer acoustic guitar sound with a harder electric guitar sound, one right after the other. It makes both sounds more interesting to listen to, and adds to the overall musical depth of an already awesome song.

9. My My, Hey Hey- Neil Young

Though I’m not hugely well-versed in Neil Young’s catalog, I’ve always really liked this song, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the haunting guitar riff that opens the song and continues throughout the song. This is among the more musically simple song intros on this list, but it goes along with my logic that a really well-crafted, memorable song intro can be as simple as a strum of an acoustic guitar.

8. All The Way From Memphis- Mott the Hoople

This is one of my favorite “rock piano” songs, written by a very underrated band from the 70s. The beginning is simple enough musically, but the driving, pounding piano beat stands alone as a very worthy introduction to a wonderful song. It’s a great example of how an energetic song intro can get the listener excited about a song long before the lyrics and guitar kick in.

7. Beauty and the Beast- David Bowie

Originally when I came up with the idea for this post, I thought of this song mostly as a placeholder, an example of a song with a cool intro that I could theoretically put on this list. However, as soon as this song popped into my head, I started listening to it more and more, and I realized that I actually really do love its intro a lot. Like with “All The Way From Memphis,” this song makes great use of a driving piano/keyboard intro that gradually layers with guitar, drums, and vocals until it explodes into the first verse.

6. Desecration Smile- Red Hot Chili Peppers

Whenever this song comes up on shuffle, I always end up playing it on repeat just to hear the intro over and over again. It’s all acoustic guitar and drums, but this instrumental sequence manages to convey so much emotion and sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the song. The moment when the first acoustic riff in the intro segues into the second is just beautiful, and the song as a whole is one of my favorites by them. This is one of the more musically subtle Chili Peppers songs I know, but with that, it’s also one of their most heartfelt, soothing tracks. This intro reminds me that the Chili Peppers, despite their sometimes wild exterior, really are master craftsmen of emotionally touching melodies.

 

 

5. Drive It Like You Stole It- Sing Street

I’ve already mentioned this movie briefly on this blog I believe, so once again, it’s packed with wonderful 80s-inspired musical goodness like this song. This starts with an awesome synth-packed punch and only gets better from there as the rest of the instruments kick in. More than any other song on this list, the intro for this song instantly makes me want to get up and dance. It’s so infectious and upbeat, and it’s a perfect culmination of the kids’ musical efforts throughout the movie.

4. Blow Away- George Harrison

This song was my morning alarm for quite some time, mostly because of the absolutely gorgeous, soothing intro that helped me ease into the day (I later changed my alarm song because this song was too relaxing and I kept sleeping through it…). There’s something about how this song begins that just sweeps you away into another world. Like so many George songs, it exudes love for this world without saying a word. This is 100% one of George’s best solo songs, and its lilting, somewhat melancholy yet also hopeful intro has a lot to do with that.

3. Coming of Age- Foster the People

For whatever reason, the intro to this song makes me feel nostalgic, but for nothing in particular. Maybe it’s because of the 80s-vibe that this entire song projects, similar to though less bouncy than “Drive It Like You Stole It.” I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I always feel strangely emotional whenever I hear the beginning of this song, and I feel that if the first 10 or 20 instrumental seconds of a song can make me feel something, that certainly bodes well for the rest of the song.

2. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds- The Beatles

Much like with “Coming of Age,” the fascinating intro to this song is definitely my favorite part of the song, and I often wish I could just play the very beginning over and over whenever I hear it. The melody of this synth riff, which repeats throughout the song, is beautifully and perfectly constructed so that it comes across as almost hypnotic, which relates well to the song’s themes of mysterious voyaging. The Beatles had a masterful way of imbuing many lyrical themes from their songs into the construction of their instrumental melodies, this being perhaps the best example I can think of. It’s haunting, addictive, and some of the Beatles’ best work.

In case anyone is curious about the link I attached, it is often extremely difficult to find original Beatles songs on YouTube, so to hear the intro to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from this Anthology track I found, go to 0:33 in the video link.

And finally… Without further ado…

1. Warrant- Foster the People

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my favorite intro to any song ever because I genuinely think it could stand on its own without the rest of the song and still be amazing. I don’t quite know how the beginning to this song came about, but the way it begins with an echoing chorus and gradually adds in the other instruments is just stunning to listen to, and something that I’ve rarely heard other bands do in recent albums. I’ve seen it compared to Zelda and other video game soundtracks, but I also find the choral opening to be very Beatles and ELO-esque, which might be why I always respond so positively to it. It’s hard to describe why this intro is so amazing, but whenever I hear it, I feel like I’m being transported to a fantasy world and then in an action-adventure music video. It’s probably the most cinematic intro on this list, but for an alternative rock/pop band that normally doesn’t do “cinematic,” I think it’s an extraordinary achievement.

So there you have it. Creating this list, and including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” certainly got the gears turning in my head about my favorite Beatles song intros, which could easily be a whole separate post that I’ll have to write in the future. But for now, enjoy listening to these fantastic songs!

The Strypes’ “Spitting Image” Is A Spitting Image of Brilliance

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I know it’s been quite a while since I posted two blog posts in one week, but I figured that it was high time I blogged about one of my favorite bands from this decade, The Strypes. If you happened to see the movie ‘Sing Street’ last year, about a teenage band from Ireland who is trying to make it big, this band is essentially the real-life version of Sing Street. They’re all Irish and around 20 years old, but instead of drawing from 80s bands like Duran Duran, they reach farther back in their bucket of influences to the blues, the Rolling Stones, Nick Lowe, and other artists from the 60s and 70s. I’ve been following them since their first album, Snapshot, came out in 2014. That album was much rawer and more bluesy than this album, which feels more fully produced. I also recently became aware of their sophomore album, Little Victories, which came out in 2015 but is not available on iTunes or Spotify. Out of the few songs I’ve listened to on that album, “Get Into It” is a standout, and I may end up buying the CD on Amazon and uploading it to iTunes to hear it in its entirety.

One memorable moment from their promotion of Snapshot came when they performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, which I believe was their live debut on American television. Take a look at that here, and notice how fired up David Letterman is after their performance. I don’t blame him, I bet they’d be electrifying to see live.

However, though I enjoyed their loud, unapologetic rock ‘n roll sound from Snapshot, I think that Spitting Image is a huge step forward for them musically. Their lyrics are more mature and complex here, they dabble with musical elements like a saxophone solo, harmonicas, keyboards, and more, and in general their sound feels a bit more modern and acoustic. They still sound delightfully retro to me though, which is one of the things I love most about them. Song after song on this album is musically interesting, and when I first listened to it, I couldn’t believe I was hearing an album that was released this year. It sounded like it should have been released 35 years ago, which for my musical taste is an excellent sign.

As I’ve done before when discussing specific albums, I’m going to write approximately one-two sentences about every song on the album, to give you a good overview of my thoughts:

  1. Behind Closed Doors – This song has a fantastic music video to accompany it, but besides that it has a bouncy, poppy melody and interesting lyrics that stick in your head. It’s a wonderful, upbeat opening track that sets the tone well for the rest of the largely upbeat album.
  2. Consequence – The guitar tone on this song shifts effortlessly between somber and bouncy, which helps make it one of my favorites on the album. It makes me feel nostalgic for something, though I’m not sure what, which is always a sign that a song has grabbed my emotions tightly with no intention of letting go.
  3. (I Need A Break From) Holidays – This sounds SO MUCH like the band Squeeze, especially during the verses, that it’s almost uncanny, but I see it as more of a loving tribute than a direct copy. Either way, it’s a really fun song with a tightly packed structure that is another of my favorites on the album and one that I already intend to listen to as much as I can.
  4. Grin And Bear It – I love the opening guitar riff for this song, which also sounds reminiscent of a Squeeze song, and the drums throughout drive the song nicely. This one stands out less than the other songs on the album, but despite that it’s a very likable song that’s worth many listens.
  5. Easy Riding – I absolutely love the chorus to this song, possibly because it is quite Beatle-esque and very infectious. The whole song is fun and a great feel-good song to pass the time during lazy summer days.
  6. Great Expectations – This was my introduction to Spitting Image, and is one of those rare songs that I fell in love with after hearing only 10 seconds of the song. This may be the best overall production of a song on the album. From the opening acoustic riff, to the very singable chorus, to the closing sax solo, it fits my definition of an “instant classic” as a song that should immediately be cherished.
  7. Garden of Eden – This is probably my least favorite song on the album, if only because it sounds like a dated tribute to psychedelic 60s rock with a bit of bluesy harmonica thrown in. It’s all right, but it’s a bit tedious and plodding, though it’s still cool to listen to.
  8. A Different Kind Of Tension – The opening here reminds me a lot of the song “Laughing Out Loud” by the Wallflowers, which I love. This song also features an inviting harmonica part and a driving bass line. This song also blends into the album a bit for it to be one of my favorites, but it is still a wonderful song.
  9. Get It Over Quickly – Another Strypes song that derives its strength from a driving guitar part that bleeds into a solo and then morphs back in to the opening riff, it features I believe one of the overall best guitar parts on the album.
  10. Turnin’ My Back – This song has possibly the most infectious guitar riff out of all the wonderful guitar riffs on this album, and it’s a really fun highlight of the second half of this album! There really is nothing like a great, memorable guitar riff that repeats just the right amount of times in a catchy song.
  11. Black Shades Over Red Eyes – The second half of this song is a beautifully melodic interplay of guitar parts that feed into a very Beatles-esque outro. The first half is also great, with a very catchy chorus, so overall it’s a very worthwhile jam.
  12. Mama Give Me Order – This song is a lovely acoustic departure from the album’s largely upbeat, electric sound. It’s very Lennon-esque, which for an guitar ballad, and coming from a Beatles fan, is a huge compliment.
  13. Oh Cruel World – You could practically sing the Who’s “Magic Bus” along to this song and you wouldn’t notice the difference, but aside from that this is a really fun song with a GREAT harmonica part that’s worth singing along to, with no shame.

To be honest, though, words really cannot describe just how happy this album makes me that it exists. It represents a type of quality song construction and production so rarely seen among younger mainstream artists today, in my opinion. Every one of these songs feels complete and packed with instrumental and vocal goodness, with no stone left unturned in terms of production possibilities. This album, along with the upcoming Foster the People album, will surely be played heavily in my summer musical rotation. It also gives me hope that the Strypes will have staying power in the music industry for years to come.

I am sincerely thankful that I stumbled upon the Strypes a few years ago while reading something about Elton John, as apparently he is among their celebrity fans. While their lyrics may be, to quote a review I read, “sophomoric” at times, this band shows so much untapped musical promise that they deserve a bigger stage. This summer alone, the Strypes are supporting Liam Gallagher and The Killers, among others, which is a huge chance for them to break into some new fans’ hearts. I am always happy to hear of their new concert announcements on Facebook, but unfortunately their popularity is still contained mostly in the UK and they seem to only tour there.

If anyone connected with the Strypes is reading this, please know that you have at least one big fan here in the U.S. who would absolutely love for you to do concerts stateside. Part of my intention with this post was honestly to give the Strypes some free publicity for their fantastic album. Given that about 1500 people read this blog every month, hopefully some of those visitors are also looking for some new music and check out the Strypes after reading this. I believe so much in the future success of this band, and Spitting Image further solidifies how much I appreciate that this type of music is still being produced. This may sound cliché, but the Strypes truly restore my faith in modern rock music. Rock may seem like an old man’s game now, but the Strypes show me that there are younger bands who are a “Spitting Image” of their musical predecessors, just waiting to make a splash. I’ve been listening to this album on repeat for days, and I can’t wait for more hours of repetition in the coming weeks. “Spitting Image” is what good music is all about.

It was 50 years ago today/a month ago…

I write today about the 50th anniversary of the release of what has become arguably the most hallowed rock and roll album of all time: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This post comes in full awareness that I’ve missed the official anniversary of June 1st by over a month, but as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I suppose I’ve just been too busy living for the past month to acknowledge this momentous occasion, but I have plenty to say, and so here goes.

For the entire duration of my Beatles fandom, which officially stretches back over five years, Sgt. Pepper has never been among my favorite Beatles albums. I gave it a shot, doing the classic “listen to a full album at night in the dark with headphones in,” and while tuning out the world, I managed to gain at best a casual appreciation for what I had heard for years was the album to end all albums. I can’t quite quantify why I never felt that connected with Sgt Pepper. The best explanation I can come up with is that I’ve always felt that the songs overall just are not as good as the songs on Revolver and, especially, Rubber Soul. Sure, the production value of Sgt. Pepper is spectacularly high, but I bet some would agree that the actual songwriting of “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Fixing a Hole” does not compare to anything on either of those albums. I do believe that “Within You Without You” is among the most beautiful songs in the Beatles’ catalog, but I have long felt that the songs on this album overall are, frankly, overrated by the Beatles’ own standards.

Before I completely slander what is, I acknowledge, an extremely cherished album, I now delve into an event that has dramatically reshaped how I view Sgt. Pepper in the context of the Beatles’ music and rock music in general. I was lucky enough to attend a multimedia lecture about Sgt. Pepper with my dad last month. This took place at my local library, and was so jam-packed with fascinating information that I felt seriously compelled to take copious notes the entire time. The lecturer, a Beatles expert who happens to work at this library, spoke about everything from the planning behind the famous album cover, to the initial takes of songs like “A Day In The Life,” to other artists who the Beatles were influencing at the time, to so many other cool tidbits I don’t even remember them all.

It was absolutely fascinating, and even I, who foolishly believes I know everything about the Beatles, learned many new things. For example, I had no idea of the scope of album covers that have parodied Sgt. Pepper since its release, and I also did not know that the Beatles had a connection to a little known band who, a few years earlier, released an album with a cover very much like that of Sgt. Pepper. I was also unaware that this album is the most “British” out of all the Beatles’ albums, featuring many references to aspects of British culture like “Meet the Wife,” meter maids, and the Royal Albert Hall. This lecture also put Sgt. Pepper in a new context in my mind, for I had never really thought about it as a tribute to Britain within the confines of a psychedelic rock album. It got me thinking more about the brilliance of Sgt. Pepper than I ever have before, and also made me consider how the album would have been different if it had included, as originally planned, “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Personally, I am of the camp that believes these two songs would have made this album truly perfect, thematically and musically, but of course I can’t rewrite history. When looking more closely at the album as it was released, it is pretty perfect just the way it is.

I struggle with calling Sgt. Pepper a “concept album” in the traditional sense, because its songs do not tell a continuous story like those of, say, “Tommy.” But the more I think about it, the more I realize that Sgt. Pepper is absolutely a concept album, though of a different nature. It is a concept album in its artistry, not in its narrative. Songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which features possibly my favorite opening to any song ever, are an entirely new concept for songs in the rock genre. This redefinition of what the boundaries of rock encompass, or don’t encompass, also applies to “She’s Leaving Home,” “Within You Without You,” and basically every single song on the album. Sgt. Pepper is an artistic departure even from the psychedelia of Revolver, which was largely contained in songs with a familiar structure. It is the first Beatles album that is truly a spectacle much like its artistic predecessor, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, an album which I actually have never loved either but which is probably worth another shot.

This lecture also introduced me to the new remixed version of Sgt Pepper, produced by Giles Martin, the son of George Martin who was, as I’ve said before on this blog, the real 5th Beatle. When you hear the term “remix,” don’t be alarmed; here there are no trap beats added to this album’s beloved tracks. Instead, Sgt. Pepper was literally remixed in that the sound levels of instruments and vocals in each song were re-mixed together to create a more balanced sound. If you’re interested in hearing more about the album’s construction, here’s a lovely interview with Giles Martin when he was on The Tonight Show recently:

Knowing that Giles is the man behind the “Love” album for the Cirque de Soleil show of the same name, among many other acclaimed projects, gives me immense respect for how carefully he treats Beatles-related material. I don’t know how many other Beatles remixing or remastering projects there are in the works at the moment, but it would be a definite shame if he were not at least partially involved with them.

I still have one Sgt. Pepper-related project to finish this summer, and that is watching the new PBS documentary that aired in early June about the album, entitled “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution.” However, from what I’ve heard it offers a lot of insight into the album’s lyrics, which I definitely feel I have neglected to examine over the years. Even without having seen this documentary, I feel that I have definitely gained a greater appreciation for the genius of Sgt. Pepper this summer. It dared to be loud, over-the-top, and unconventional even for the ever-changing Beatles. Though not universally admired by critics of the time, it was adored by millions of Beatles fans in the 60s and is still adored and respected today. I haven’t actually listened to the album straight through in a long time, but these recent Sgt. Pepper-related projects make me more interested than ever in indulging in all of the goodness that Sgt. Pepper has to offer. I suggest you do the same, and I hope you will enjoy the show. So, sit back, and let the evening go.