Sunday, October 28, 2007

My visit to New Mexico

This weekend I visited Rehoboth, New Mexico and the program for Education Students that Calvin has there. I had a wonderful time. The program is great and the students who go there get the experience of working in an environment that is quite different from Western Michigan in both the natural surroundings but also in culture.

I visited with the students and with Ron and Judy Sjoerdsma who are running the program this semester. I got to see my students involved at Rehoboth Christian School and also at two local public schools. I even got to go to TWO fall festivals – the one at Indian Hills School where our students were helping out was called a "spooktacular!"

Finally, on Saturday I got to visit the Acoma Pueblo. It was spectacular, as you can see from this picture. But I'm home safe and sound and excited about what our students get to experience on their New Mexico semester!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Clapton – The Autobiography

I just finished reading Eric Clapton's autobiography and found it to be a fascinating and powerful story. I recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed his music over the years and in reading it you really get a sense of Clapton's voice. This feels almost more like he is sitting in the room telling his story – the writing is very conversational and clear.

Generally, I felt that it was too short. Cream, for example, gets one chapter and there is so much more to say about those days that I'd like to hear some of the other stories. But in fairness, this book is really in many ways the story of Clapton's slide into drug addiction and alcoholism and his recovery. That is clearly the story he wants to tell because he considers that primary. His secondary story, it seems, is that he now, after 20 years of sobriety, has sorted out the mess he made of his life and has a young wife and a family who he dearly loves. In fact, the last part of the book may actually be a little long as he celebrates how ordinary his life has become. It's hard to begrudge him spending those pages on his happy days, especially after being so candid about his failings early on in the book.

I wish there had been a bit more about the making of the music but then again I almost always say that about first person accounts by musicians. The making of music is hard to talk about and who played what and why is incredibly boring for all but a few of us music nerds so I can see that those things are toned down in books like this. And, frankly, his life was about a lot more than recording albums, even though that is the only part I got to see before this.

It is interesting to me, not having known the story of his addiction and alcoholism well before this, that the point at which he got sober matches well with the point at which I think his playing improved. I consider Journeyman to be a turning point album for him (and I did at the time too) and it turns out that this is soon after he stopped drinking. In fact, his recorded output has been quite strong from that point on. Not surprising.

So overall, this is a fine book, one that I'm sure I'll enjoy picking up again and reading certain passages from, especially when I'm listening to his music for a certain era.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reformed Worship | Faking It

Here is an excellent article that my daughter Bethany wrote and published in Reformed Worship. It was actually published a little while ago but just now got online.

Laura and I have a series of articles on Faith Formation in Worship that began in issue #85 (the issue after the one with Bethany's article) and will run for four issues. We just turned in the third article.

Speaking of Bethany, her "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks continues to gain popularity and is more frequently getting mentioned in both the internet and mainstream press. If you haven't been there yet you should go visit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Producer David Kahn talks about memory Almost Full

Here is a wonderful interview with Paul McCartney's producer David Kahn about the making of Memory Almost Full. I've written before about how much I like this album and it's fun to get a little more inside info.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

24 Season One – not so sure about Nina

Warning: in case you haven't watched Season One of 24 yet, there are spoilers in this review.

I'm watching the first season of 24 again. It's been a little over a year since I got the DVDs for the first season and I'm really enjoying watching them again. One of the things that is fun, of course, is knowing what's going to happen and then seeing if there are any hints along the way that, had I been smart enough the first time through, could have lead me to guess what might happen. The big surprise at the end of season one is that Nina, who is seen as Jack's primary confidant, turns out to be a traitor. So, I thought to myself, were there hints of this earlier in the season?

I come to the conclusion that there are absolutely no hints about this until possibly the end of episode 21 – and even then it is just maybe a look in her eye. This is the point at which I think we have the very first bad thing that goes on where Nina might be complicit – how else would the bad guys know that Kim is on her way back to CTU in the police car unless someone in CIT told them?

Earlier there had been the hit on the safe house in something like episode 15 which may or may not have been set up by Nina. I don't think it was - at least I don't think the writers knew it at the time becasue she was there helping Teri and Kim. She left the house because Teri got weird about Nina's relationship with Jack, not because she knew a hit was coming. It could be argued that she used Teri's weirdness as a convenient excuse to get out of there but I really think the writers just wanted her out of there to keep her safe and put Teri and Kim in danger. I don't think they decided that Nina was a traitor until near the end of the season.

OK, 24 watchers – what do you think? What did I miss?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Beatles Bike Ride

Today I took a bike ride around Holland and realized that it was the perfect ride for Beatles fans. I nearly rode on Harrison St, then I actually did ride on Blue Jay (although there was no fog.) But things really became very Beatle-y for me when I passed Pony Lane (which was in both my ears and my eyes.) As I was passing Pony Lane, my iPod (which was set on shuffle) started playing "We Can Work it Out." It was almost perfect.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The story of the US versions of Beatles albums – part two

(read this first)

In 1966, after the Beatles played their last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco they took a little time off and then dove back into the studio to work on their next album, what was meant to be an album of reflections on their childhood. They took a long time to record this album – not by modern standards but by their previous standards. They had churned out two albums and four singles a year for a while and now, spending this much time on one album made their fans, the press and others wonder if they had "lost it." In fact, it took so long that when Christmas came around with no new Beatles album to sell, Parlophone put out a collection of the songs that had been on singles but not on albums. That collection was called A Collection of Beatles Oldies (but Goldies). There is no comparable US album because these songs had all appeared on the various US albums already.

But the world wanted new Beatles music too so their manager persuaded them to take two of the songs from their forthcoming album and release them as a single – one by Lennon ("Strawberry Fields Forever") and one by McCartney ("Penny Lane") – in both the UK and the US. This single accomplished two things. It showed they still "had it" and it effectively took the heart out of their forthcoming album of songs about their childhood. So they refocused their energy, used a wacky idea of McCartney's of pretending to be another band and finally finished the new album - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was obvious, even to the business folk at US Capitol Records, that they couldn't carve up this album, subtract songs or mess with it in any way so the US and UK versions of this album are practically identical. (I've never seen this in print anywhere but I'm not convinced that the US version had the run-out groove that we now hear at the end of the CD version of this album. I'd love to hear from someone who bought it in the US and had it on theirs – I'm pretty sure mine didn't.)

The Beatles actually didn't record another album next. They did a few singles ("Hello Goodbye," and "All You Need is Love") and made a film, Magical Mystery Tour, and recorded songs for that film. Those songs, the soundtrack to the album, were released in the UK as a double EP – two 7" singles packaged together with three songs on each disc. The US company knew that the American buyers didn't know much about EPs – they had never really taken off here in the US – and took those six MMT songs, combined them with the recent singles and made an album which they also called Magical Mystery Tour. This is the one case where this idea made so much sense (both musically and economically) that the UK eventually followed suit and released it in this form too – that's why you can get a CD like that.

The Beatles continued to release both albums and singles in the UK and the US but by this time the pattern was well established and they were the same on both sides of the Atalantic – with one exception. In 1969, between the release of Abbey Road and Let it Be, the US got antsy for more new stuff to sell and gathered the singles that had not been released up to that point including "Hey Jude," "Revolution," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and even "I Should Have Known Better" from 1964 which hadn't been on a US album yet, and put out another album with no title on the cover. The first edition (which I still have) had the name Hey Jude on the spine of the record sleeve but it had The Beatles Again printed on the album itself. Later pressings were just called Hey Jude.

After Let It Be, the Beatles final album, was released in the US and UK, Parlophone released an album called Rarities, which collected b-sides, songs that had only been on EPs in the UK (like "Matchbox") and things like "Bad Boy" which had been recorded specifically with a US audience in mind and released on Beatles '65 but never released in the UK. Since the US had already released all these things on the albums there was no comparable US release – except they, too, made an album of Rarities which had a few alternate takes, mono mixes, one or two songs that actually didn't get on US albums (like "Misery.") It, as well as a 1977 release of The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl, has never been released on CD.

So, there it is. If you buy the CDs you'll find the UK albums as well as two collections called Past Masters Vols 1 and 2 which contain all the tracks that aren't on the UK albums – things like the singles, b-sides, EPs and other things. Other collections (Like 1 and Love) have been identical around the world. So, Kathy, does that answer your question? :)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The story of the U.S. versions of the Beatles albums

I got an email from my friend Kathy this week that said this:

"The Tunas played 'I'll Be Back' the other night, and I had a hankering to listen to it. I went through our Beatles (British) CD's and couldn't find it. It's possible I missed it, and it's definite that I grew up on the American albums and cannot identify which British album it's from. (Beatles VI?)

Pete and I were discussing this over dinner, and he said - Why don't you call Bob; he'll have the answer, he'll enjoy giving it, and you'll enjoy hearing it.

All true, except that I didn't call you.

Now we're wondering if
perhaps you'd like to blog about the concept of American vs. British sequencing."

Everything Pete said was true – this is just the kind of trivial knowledge I love to share. So I figured I could either share it with my family and watch them roll their eyes or invent meetings that they suddenly remembered or I can write about this. So, here I am. This confusion never existed back in the days of vinyl records because all we had were the U.S. albums. Things became more complicated for us in the States when the CDs came out, wisely issued in their original UK configurations, the way the Beatles intended them. But for those of you who, like me, bought albums that weren't available on CD (until the fairly recent Capitol Albums collections) back in the 60's, here is a primer.

Back in the early days of the Beatles, they recorded their albums and singles on the Parlophone label, a division of EMI. Notice that I said albums and singles. Back then the singles were separate from the albums so if you just bought the albums you missed the big hits. The idea was that British teens wouldn't spend their money on albums if they already had all the best songs on singles. This was back in the days of rock and roll when singles were king and artists would quickly knock out enough songs to fill out an album. The Beatles didn't do that. Their albums are legendary and they didn't include their amazing singles. Songs that were just on singles in the UK are many of the ones you know and love; "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "I Feel Fine" and even later ones like "Hey Jude" and "Penny Lane."

So the Beatles recorded their first three singles on Parlophone and pretty quickly had hits in England helped, in part, by the fact that their manager, Brian Epstein, owned a record store in Liverpool. There is talk that he bought enough copies of "Love Me Do," their first single, to at least get it on the charts. Whether that really happened or not isn't clear. What is clear, though, is that Capitol Records in the U.S. wasn't interested in releasing the Beatles records, even though they were also owned by EMI. They had first refusal and, when they did, the records were shopped around to small independent labels like VJ and Swan. (This is a picture of the Swan version of the "She Loves You" single.)

When the Beatles made their first album, Please Please Me (a rare case in which the smash single was included on the album) Capitol refused that as well so an album with many of those songs was released on VJ Records in the U.S. making almost no splash over on this side of the Atlantic. I say "many of the songs" because the U.S. was accustomed to shorter albums with only 12 songs and the British albums had 14 songs. So the Beatles continued to release singles and put out a couple of huge hits in England, "She Loves You," which, unbelievably, the U.S. Capitol still refused to put out, and "I Want To Hold Your Hand," which was such a hit in the UK that Capitol finally gave in an released it. The American response to that song was overwhelming.

Once the American flood gates opened the rush of Beatles material in the U.S was amazing because by the time they came to the U.S. they had released their second UK album – another 14 songs worth. So when Capitol released the "first" Beatles album in the U.S. (Meet the Beatles) they used mostly songs (and the cover photo) from the Beatles second UK album. They used a few songs from their first album (like "I Saw Her Standing There") plus the hit U.S. single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and made an album out of it. So there were well over 30 Beatles songs to choose from and Capitol selected 12 to put on their first album. This meant that their was plenty of "new" material for their second U.S. album called The Beatles' Second Album, to be released almost immediately. It sold on the strength of their second big U.S. single, "She Loves You," which was actually recorded and released before "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in England.

So by this time the connection between US and UK albums was mostly gone. And the Beatles were churning stuff out at such a prodigious rate that Capitol had a hard time finding a way to include the stuff from their first album on subsequent releases. Finally they released an album called The Early Beatles which took care of most (but not all) of the first UK album stuff that they had missed. To complicate things the songs in the movie A Hard Day's Night were licensed to United Artists so there was a soundtrack album for the movie from one US company, and a new album called Something New From the Beatles from another company (Capitol) neither of which matched the UK album A Hard Days' Night but which had some of the same songs. By the way, this is the album that includes the song "I'll be Back" which Kathy asked about in her letter.

So Capitol was playing mix and match with Beatles songs and albums and, along the way, even missing a few songs completely. "I Should Have Known Better," a song from 1964's A Hard Day's Night, never got on a U.S. Beatles album until 1970! This mash-up of album tracks and singles kept up with a few US albums having no clear UK counterpart. This gives us albums like Beatles '65 and Beatles VI which kind of straddle the UK albums Beatles for Sale and Help. (although, just to confuse things, there was a US version of Help with only the songs from the movie plus orchestrated soundtrack stuff while the UK version of Help had additional songs.)

Then Capitol at least started making albums that were similar – the US and UK versions of Rubber Soul and Revolver are close to being the same but are not identical with songs from the UK Help on the US Rubber Soul, songs missing on the US versions of both. There were almost enough songs left over that a whole new US album called Yesterday and Today was released which picked up the tracks that hadn't been used elsewhere. In an amazing move the U.S. actually grabbed a couple of tracks from the UK version of Revolver that hadn't been released yet to include on Yesterday and Today.

So, by the end of 1966, when the Beatles took a break from touring and cloistered themselves in the studio to make Sgt Pepper all of their US and UK albums had only a passing similarity. Of course, those of us who were teens in the US had no idea that any of this was going on. We just happily shelled out our money and wore the grooves down on our records.

This is enough for now. I'll finish the story in another post. EDIT: The story is continued here.