Archive for Paul McCartney

Christmas Time is Here — Part II

Posted in Education, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by theguitarcave

So in Part I of Christmas Time is Here I briefly described some of the history of Christmas carols and popular holiday songs with the idea in mind that as musicians we are sometimes called to play them and shouldn’t shy away from playing them or enjoying the rich history and tradition they symbolize. In this post I will cover actually moving on to making these songs a part of repertoire. The first step in that direction is, of course, deciding on, and building up an arrangement of a song that you like, that works with your abilities as a musician, and will fit the performance you are going to give. This can be an arrangement you learn or one you adapt from either a vocal or instrumental arrangement that is already out there. Every musical number I do, Christmas song or not, even if it is based on someone’s version of a song, I like to change it a little bit or add something to it. That is just a way of personalizing the music or performance and jazz musicians especially do this all of the time.

If you are inclined to a the classic era of Big Band and vocal performances, you can never go wrong with any of the masters from the Golden Age of jazz and pop: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, and Bing Crosby to name a few. Their interpretations of holiday music are still heard regularly today — I heard Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) in 3 different stores during the buildup to 12/25 this year. The arrangements are usually pretty involved but they are also accessible and can be very inspiring in what you add to the song or (if you also sing) how your vocal arrangement will sound.

Speaking of Chestnuts and roasting on an open fire… We’ve all heard Nat King Cole or someone else sing this song, but how many people have actually seen a chestnut? Have you ever wondered about that? There was a time when chestnut trees were almost 25% of all hardwood stock in some areas of North America and recipes for everything from roasted chestnuts to chestnuts and sausages were typical fare. But a blight, introduced by planting a strain of Asian chestnuts in Long Island, NY in 1904 wiped out literally billions of trees. That’s right, Billions! It’s estimated there are only a few dozen pre-blight trees still alive in North America today and, of course, hardly anyone eats chestnuts during the holidays and almost all of the chestnuts that are eaten have to be imported. By the time The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) was written in 1944, most of the nation’s chestnut tree stock had already been wiped out. What an ecological nightmare! The things I learn blogging sometimes.

Many great instrumentalists from the 40s, 50s and 60s made holiday albums: Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, George Shearing, Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd all made Christmas albums. So did swinging 60s style artists like Herb Albert, and so have newer jazzy/poppy superstars like Wynton Marsalis, Diane Krall and Nancy Wilson. There are literally weeks worth of instrumental and mood-type Christmas music on YouTube and possibly something on one of these albums could inspire you in a certain direction.

Some people may be more inclined to the rock and roll side of things but keep in mind that the lines of where Golden Classics leave off and rock and roll begins is a fine one indeed. Elvis Presley recorded a whole bunch of Christmas music and his tastes range from gospel, to rock and roll to straight pop. His interpretations of the classics (I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Little Town of Bethlehem) are as good as anyone’s because his gospel background and religious convictions give such sacred songs a depth that many secular vocalists just don’t do as well. It’s very easy to reduce a whole lot of the religious holiday music to camp and sentimentality, but Elvis never does this. He also recorded the definitive version of Blue Christmas. On the original version his vocals are awesome and the arrangement, including the background vocals by The Jordanaires, was inspiring and musically groundbreaking for the time. Was this the first rock and roll Christmas Song? Hmm. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than I will chime in. Of course there was a whole lot of rock and roll Christmas after 1957 including: Chuck Berry, The Ventures, Phil Spector’s Christmas (including The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, which is also a classic), The Beatles, who released lots of Christmas craziness through their fan club and then later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s So This Is Christmas and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time, both of which still get HEAVY airplay during the season. They are modern standards for sure. The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, also has a modern standard with his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which has also been covered by everyone from Mariah to Bieber. José Feliciano, who I wrote about here, has the awesome Felice Navidad song that still gets yearly airplay and the recently-departed George Michael had a big 80s classic hit with the holiday favorite Last Christmas. Back in 1992 I was lucky enough to catch the Johnny Cash Christmas show when it rolled through New York City. That was a lot of fun. Brian Setzer has had a Christmas show/revue for years and he has covered a whole ton of great songs. Like this one:

So, depending on your preferred style of music, you can adapt and arrange any song you see fit and spice up everything from musical performances to family gatherings. Christmas songs, carols and melodies lend themselves to a wide variety of possibilities; they can have a very bare bones arrangement that you may sing along with, or they also can be turned into an instrumental mind-blower like what the always amazing Ted Greene does below. When I was in a punk band we used to do a twisted, Black Sabbath kind of take on Santa Claus is Coming to Town. When I got old and settled down, Christmas Time is Here was the first Christmas song I learned to play as a solo improviser and I have played it every year since and performed it at numerous gigs. This past year I worked up an arrangement that was based on The Ventures version of Sleigh Ride and tweaked it to work with gypsy jazz, rehearsed a couple times with the fellows, and away we went at a gig 4 days before Christmas. It was one of the best songs of the gig(!) even though no one had either a vibrato bar or copious amounts of delay since we were playing amplified acoustic. As always: If you are playing the songs instrumentally MAKE SURE you can play the melody without screwing it up! That means going over it a bunch of times. You should be able to play it 3-5 times in a row without a mistake. If you can’t, you will probably fudge it at the gig or in front of people. So beware!

There are about 7-8 songs that I can play pretty well solo and I start getting them together in the fall and play them through the season. Christmas songs are great vehicles for learning to play in an unaccompanied style (especially if you are new to unaccompanied playing), because the melodies are so well-known and the arrangement you can begin with can be very simple, but still very effective. As always take it slow and work your way through it a couple bars at a time. Since most songs do not have many different parts or modulations (unless you add them, which you can certainly do!) you will find that they will come together pretty quickly. Learning to play and perform these tunes is also a great test of what you can add to the performance every time you play it once you become comfortable improvising with yourself. I blew off a version of White Christmas while a few of us were sitting around one day in December and it sounded pretty flippin’ good! If you’re comfortable with the arrangement and comfortable improvising (throwing in some wacky chords and riff choices) you can turn the song into a really special and personal thing…and it can be a little bit different every time! So maybe give that a go later on in the year. Here is a list of jazzy, snazzy solo guitar instruction to get you started. If you’re not up to that yet, try these. You will become part of a long and very storied and important tradition that has involved the guitar and other string instruments for the better part of a millennium. Even if you play in a punk or metal band — everyone likes Christmas songs if you play them well and it’s November or December. Whatever you do, don’t even try this in July man!

GuitarSong #2

Posted in Education, Equipment, Guitar Songs, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by theguitarcave

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The second installment of the new GuitarSong series profiles The Beatles and their wonderful song Rain from 1966. Rain was a milestone recording for the band and the development of music as it was the first instance of anything recorded backwards, (John Lennon’s vocals) beating the B-side of the novelty tune single They’re Coming To Take Me Away Haa Haa by two months. While Rain certainly isn’t as long and involved as the first GuitarSong, Dogs, it is cool song to explore. Unfortunately, the only online version currently is this too fast 45 rpm video. Hopefully, you have a legal copy somewhere to listen to.

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Known through history as The Beatles finest b-side, (the a-side was Paperback Writer) Rain was written and recorded in early April of 1966. Recording for the Revolver album had just commenced at the same time with Tomorrow Never Knows (the first song to be recorded for the album) getting basic tracking on April 6 and 7. Rain was recorded a week later on the 14th and 16th. While it has always been taken as a given that Rain was mostly the brainchild of John Lennon (with Paperback Writer being more a McCartney composition), Paul doesn’t agree with that assessment:

I don’t think he brought the original idea, just when we sat down to write, he kicked it off. Songs have traditionally treated rain as a bad thing and what we got on to was that it’s no bad thing. There’s no greater feeling than the rain dripping down your back. The most interesting thing about it wasn’t the writing, which was tilted 70-30 to John, but the recording of it.

Paul McCartney — Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

That last little cryptic mention of the “recording” of it is very interesting and is going to come into play further down the post with regards as to who did what on the track.

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While conventional wisdom would say that George Harrison was the lead or main guitarist on this song, that cannot be taken as a given. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all played the lead or main guitar on songs throughout the Beatles’ career. It was Lennon who came up with and played the riff to the 1964 hit I Feel Fine, it was McCartney who played the screaming lead on Harrison’s song Taxman that kicks off the Revolver album and, of course, George played lead guitar on many songs. He and Paul doubled the very intricate lines of Lennon’s And Your Bird Can Sing that is also on the Revolver album. According to most sources, Harrison and Lennon play the guitars on this song, but there is an alternative possibility that I think is very interesting given the McCartney quote about how the song was recorded.
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The song was originally recorded faster than what is heard on the disc and then it was slowed down. This changed the texture of the song and gave it a very druggy (rainy) kind of sound. There are many (including Ringo himself) who believe this is one of Starr’s best performances as a drummer and McCartney’s bass is also very prominent in the mix because he is playing a Rickenbacker instead of the usual Hofner and it was boosted further “by using a loudspeaker as a microphone” (Lewisohn, p.88). While it is usually listed that Lennon played his 1965 Gretsch Nashville and Harrison played a Gibson SG, Galeazzo Frudua, the man behind The Beatles Vocal Harmony YouTube channel, references the book Recording the Beatles and says that not only was Paul McCartney the lead guitar player, he was also the creative drive behind the whole sound of the song! This claim is also made in the comment thread for Rain at the Beatles Bible site.

There are two guitars — detuned; Lennon’s guitar strings are dropped a whole step and McCartney’s tuned to a G drone of GDGGBD. Lennon played A-D-E shapes and since the guitar was detuned it sounds a G pitch, which is the key of the song (although it is a bit off pitch because of the sped up/slowed down basic tracks). While John strums a classic rhythm pulse for the song, Paul plays more of a droning and picking part that complements not only Lennon’s guitar, but also what Paul plays on bass.

Did George Harrison play on this tune? I don’t have the book referenced by Mr. Frudua and he doesn’t say whether George played or not. I think that maybe there is a 3rd guitar in the mix at times, but in the video referenced below it looks possible to cover everything with the two guitars. But if that’s true I’m not sure why George is listed in many places as playing an SG? It could be that he did play with the rest of the band on the original takes (when they played it faster) and then after the tapes were slowed down, McCartney overdubbed the drone G guitar. It would make more sense that Paul would’ve played bass on basic tracks with Ringo rather than overdubbing, especially given the bass/drum break near the end of the song. So possibly there is a Harrison guitar leftover from the basic takes on there somewhere. The very famous Mark Lewisohn book, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions makes no mention of him not being at the session, so I imagine he played something. The session entry for April 16th 1966 is that eleven hours was spent completing Rain, including “doing a tape-to-tape reduction to add more overdubs” That might mean that the real idea to transform the song came after the basics had already been laid down. How many actual guitar parts are on the track though is still a bit of a mystery.

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Here is the only link you will need if you want to learn how to play Rain correctly on guitar. The Beatles Vocal Harmony YouTube channel is a one stop source for everything Beatles — singing or playing many of their classic songs. Here is the link for singing Rain‘s vocal parts.

For general info, it is always fun to check out The Beatles Bible. Not only do they cover all of the band’s songs, but there are articles on Beatles’ history that never fail to interest and entertain.

Another of my favorite forum sites to peruse is Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Here is the search list devoted to Rain/Revolver.

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I’ve referenced this period in Beatles’ history before, most recently with the post on Eastern music. Rain certainly has elements of that kind of exotic sound in the guitars, the drums, the slurry feel of the vocals in the “choruses” and Lennon’s reversed vocals at the end sound almost like an Indian Shehnai. Rain is one of the few Beatles tunes with a guitar in an open tuning (here is a discussion on Beatles’ tunings/capoes) and while it certainly isn’t a difficult song to play, it is an interesting study in using the guitar and some very fevered imagination to create a pop masterpiece. When one considers that Paperback Writer, with it’s awesome guitar riff (also played by Paul), driving rhythm and trippy vocals was the A-side of this single, and was clearly a McCartney creation, we have a really definitive 1966 guitar record from Sir Paul! Paperback Writer was recorded on April 13 and 14 of 1966, so in the space of 3 days the band had recorded both sides of one of the best double singles ever. Pretty impressive and they don’t make ’em like this anymore!