Friday, April 10, 2009

The Man Who Gave Us The Beatles

If it weren't for Brian Epstein there likely would not have been The Beatles and therefore the music we have today. So who was Brian Epstein? Brian was the original manager of The Beatles. Brian originally met The Beatles on November 9, 1961. They performed a show at The Cavern Club, The Beatles usual place to play at this time. This meeting would forever change the world. Brian Epstein said that he was instantly attracted to their music and charm, before and after meeting them. He was quick to offer them a 5-year managerial contract. And they were quick to sign.

In the beginning, before fame, Epstein had a great influence on the band. They were accustomed to very casual shows, often wearing jeans and leather jackets and performing whatever and whenever they felt like. Mr. Epstein would soon make sure that they would wear suits and ties and organize their shows. Epstein would spend time from here trying to find them a record deal. And that he did. Epstein met George Martin and The Beatles ended up signing with Parlophone. If it weren't for Epstein they would not have been signed. And their signing is what caused their ultimate fame.

Paul McCartney called Epstein the "Fifth Beatle". John Lennon said that his death (which was August of 1967) was what ultimately brought about the collapse of The Beatles.

Monday, March 30, 2009

When (and why) The Beatles Stopped Touring

The Beatles didn't officially break up until 1970. However, they stopped touring and playing live shows much before this. Their last "real" concert was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. It was never announced to anyone that this would be their last concert. But they were fed up with being attacked and ravaged by fans. Their crowds were so loud that they couldn't even hear themselves play. Up to this point they had played over 1,400 shows. Their constant travel and troubles on the road made it much harder for them to write and record music. And at this point they would rather become more secluded. And that they did.

Their last concert only lasted a bit over a half-hour. But The Beatles were certainly glad that they wouldn't have to deal with the hassle for awhile. They would go on to focusing on writing and recorded albums such as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour. These albums sold very well, and Sgt. Pepper's was rated the best album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. In their time not touring they also traveled to India and worked on their movies Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine.

Another reason that they abandoned touring was because of the new complexity of their music. While touring many of their songs were very performable, in that their were a normal number of instruments and simple recording techniques. When they recorded Revolver things changed. They started experimenting with effects. One such effect was backmasking. In some songs they recorded backwards guitar solos or drums solos - something that would be impossible to perform live. They also used obscure instruments and even orchestras. One such obscure instrument was the ondioline, a vacuum powered organ. This was used in "Baby You're A Rich Man". There are very few ondiolines in existence today.

Overall, I believe that their time off from touring greatly helped boost their creativity and their songwriting. They felt as if they had much more time to record and they had no limits. Although they would return to play a set on the rooftop of the Apple building, The Beatles touring ended long before their creativity.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Cult Following of The Grateful Dead

Nearly every band dreams of having what the Grateful Dead had - extremely loyal fans. In fact, their fans were so loyal that much of their popularity came from their popularity. Meaning that they were sometimes known as a band that had extremely loyal fans. These loyal fans were known as "deadheads."

So who were the Grateful Dead? They were formed in San Francisco in 1965. This was a great time and place for a band to start. They are now known as the godfathers of jam band. However, they played many genres. Some of these genres include rock, blues, jazz, bluegrass, psychedelia, country, americana, and reggae. Their broad list of genres attracted a large audience. Their lengthy jams and exciting improvisations kept them. They may have had the most loyal fans of rock history.

Their fans traveled with them wherever they went. When they toured their fans would tour with them, often attending every concert on a tour. They would make and sell various items like tie-dye shirts and food at each concert in order to have the money necessary for living. Drug use as a spiritual ritual was common at many of these concerts. They would often use peyote or LSD to enhance their musical experience or keep a spiritual connection with the music.

There are not many bands like this nowadays. The simple, carefree lifestyle of traveling with a band has become rare, but it still does exist. Take the band Phish for example. They took obvious influence from the Grateful Dead, notably in their lengthy jams and improvs, but mostly in their loyal fans. Their fans operate in the same way as the Grateful Dead. They sell items at shows and they always travel with them.
(If you don't know Phish you should check them out; I'll be hoping to see them this June in their reunion tour)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar. His impact on 1960's rock is certainly a bewilderment considering that he did not play rock music. He played Indian classical music. But his mastery of the sitar amazed many musicians and influenced raga rock (which I wrote about in a previous post) and psychedelic rock. One such musician was George Harrison. The above picture is Ravi (at age 47) with George Harrison in 1967. George traveled to India to take lessons from Ravi and learn more about Indian music and culture in 1966. These travels would greatly influence the rock music scene abroad. It is these travels that would make Ravi internationally famous.

"Oh, Ravi Shankar's
Music made me cry"
That is a line from the song "Monterey" by The Animals. It is referencing Ravi Shankar's revolutionary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. It was certainly a different genre than what the rest of the performers were playing, but the crowd absolutely loved it. This diversity in music really proved that the audience was open-minded. Ravi's performances like the one at Monterey made him a crowd favorite. He was also invited to Woodstock, but soon after he seldomly played Western concerts because of the drug use.

Another one of Ravi Shankar's great contributions was his involvement in the Concert For Bangladesh. He organized this concert with his now great friend, George Harrison. This concert helped raise over $240,000 for Bangladeshian war relief. The concert was held in Madison Square Garden for over 40,000 fans. The sales of the movies and such resulting from this concert still are helping people today. Ravi was willing to perform, and his influence in the concert and it's planning was historic.

After all of those years of greatly advancing the music scene, Ravi is still playing today at age 88. This year is the 70th year he has been active as a musician. Although his concerts are not as frequent as they once were, he is still getting a good crowd and a lot of support.

Ravi's website:

Performance at Monterey (pt.1):

Performance at Monterey (pt. 2):

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Advent and Popularization of Raga Rock

What is "raga rock"? Basically raga rock is a broad term used to describe any rock with South Asian influence. This new genre became popular in the mid-60's. The very first songs to be known as raga rock were "Heart Full Of Soul" by The Yardbirds, and "See My Friends" by The Kinks. Upon listening to them, the trance-like quality of the guitar becomes obvious. These sounds were produced to sound like a sitar, a very popular Indian instrument. However, even after these great, groundbreaking songs were released, the genre was still not popular. Two songs by The Beatles, "Norwegian Wood" and "Love You To" popularized the genre. Not only did they have a huge South-Asian influence, but they also used the traditional instruments.

George Harrison's newly acquired love of the sitar influenced many raga rock musicians and songs. The above picture is him playing his sitar. The sitar has a very distinctive sound. It is a psychedelic droning sound. Harrison learned to control this sound from the master of sitar: Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar was a classical Indian musician. One that had complete mastery and control over this 23-stringed instrument. One who is familiar with The Beatles' discography knows that many of Harrison's songs had very strong use of sitar, thanks to Mr. Ravi Shankar, whom is 88 years old and still performing.

One of the most famous raga rock songs was "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones. Brian Jones was the one who wrote the famous sitar riff. Who influence him to write this riff? George Harrison, of course. After a visit with George Harrison, he decided to take up the sitar. He taught himself how to play, and eventually wrote the great riff for this song. It was certainly a great song for both the raga rock and psychedelic rock scenes, which seemed to go hand-in-hand.

The raga rock scene peaked at the same time as the psychedelic scene, in the mid-to-late 60's. It lost it's huge popularity at the same time as the psychedelic scene, which was the late-60's and early 70's. This just goes to show that the psychedelic scene and the raga rock scene were very similar. This is why Ravi Shankar stopped playing festivals in the U.S for awhile after Woodstock. The psychedelic scene was known for blatant substance use and this substance use was also being associated with raga rock. Although Ravi Shankar did not play raga rock, many associated his classical music with it. He did not want to have any part in drug culture.

Here are some famous raga rock songs that I mentioned:
The Yardbirds - "Heart Full of Soul"

The Kinks - "See My Friends"

The Beatles - "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"

The Rolling Stones - "Paint It Black"

George Harrison's sitar lesson with Ravi Shankar:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Album Review: Rubber Soul by The Beatles

Rubber Soul. One of the greatest albums of all time (in my opinion). In fact, it was rated the 5th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. It was obvious that The Beatles were really starting to expand their horizons. For example, they used a sitar in Norwegian Wood. They also altered a piano to sound like a harpsichord on In My Life. The strangest instrument used in the album was featured on I'm Looking Through You. It was a pack of matches. Yes, Ringo decided to tap on a pack of matches and it was ultimately used as percussion.

One of the greatest parts of the album is sheer brilliance of the bass lines. Paul was experimenting with different bass effects. A distinctive fuzz effect was used on a couple songs. The bass just seemed to flow perfectly and compliment both John and George's guitars and Ringo's drums (or match boxes for that matter). Apart from that, the tone of the bass is very smooth and soft, yet still loud and punchy enough for you to feel the groove.

"Norwegian Wood" was a very influential song from the album. It is widely regarded as the first pop song to use sitar and strong Indian influence. It started a huge interest in raga rock and other forms of Indian influence rock. The sitar also gave a psychedelic vibe to the song. The Beatles would explore this style deeper on their next album, Revolver, but this is the first song with a slightly psychedelic style that gained a following. The mellow qualities were beloved by a newly forming hippie movement. Prior to this song, hippies were nearly non-existent. I would argue that the interest brought about by this song greatly contributed to the hippie movement.

"The Word" was another song on the album that created great interest. George Martin played a harmonium on this song, which is a keyboard similar to an organ. The lyrics and vocal pattern also open up to future themes such as love and psychedelia. Lennon was also said to have played a compressed piano, which also adds to the unique sound. Also, Lennon used the theme "love" to mask political references he was trying to make.

"In My Life" was a favorite among The Beatles. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison all regarded it as one of their favorite songs that they ever wrote (Lennon mainly wrote it, with McCartney adding some last-minute touches and George Martin writing a piano solo). It is known by many as one of the greatest songs of all time. So it fits naturally with all of the other great songs on this album.

Overall, I would find it very difficult to not give this album a perfect 10/10. It is a timeless masterpiece that will forever endure the test of time. Although the chord progressions and key changes are complex, the songs are still very simple-sounding. This is because all of the instruments and vocals mesh perfectly. I give this album:

Nearly perfect

*Scale is based off of "0" being horrible, "5" being average, and "10" being perfect.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Relationship of Drug Use and the 1960's Music Scene

The first 5 seconds of the above video sum up a lot of what the 1960's was about: drug use. Whether you like it or not, it is undeniable that the use of drugs had a huge impact on the era's music. Once the psychedelic scene started to develop in the mid-sixties music as we know it was transformed.

Take The Beatles, for example. They were first introduced to marijuana on August 28, 1964 (yes, somehow the exact date was recorded). How were they introduced to it? Bob Dylan. After they became regular users of the drug their music noticeably transformed. From there on their music started to slowly drift away from such a pop image. Some became more mellow and relaxed, as seen on Rubber Soul, and even on Help!. The Beatles also first used LSD in April of 1965. Some of the influences from this were apparent in the song "Help!", however they didn't truly become front-runners in the psychedelic music scene until Revolver.

Many music fans used drugs while listening to the music as well. Fans of The Doors and other notable bands were known to use mescaline, LSD, and of course marijuana while enjoying their music. The truth is that nearly all musicians from the 60's at least tried drugs. Most of them used them to open up creative pathways for writing. Some even used them while performing. Carlos Santana. During his Woodstock performance he was tripping on LSD. He claimed that his guitar turned into a snake before his eyes. Here is the famous performance:

So did their use of drugs ultimately harm, help, or not affect their music at all? I'm interested in opinions on this subject.

P.S: Sorry that I haven't posted in a while. Also I apologize for this not being a very long post. I've been busy lately but hopefully I'll be posting a lot more. Thanks!