Pink Floyd Concert on KQED-TV in San Francisco April 1970

This story was first posted on the KQED Arts website.  Reproduced courtesy of KQED.

In the last week of April 1973, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon reached No. 1 on the American charts. In the last week of April 1970, though, they had yet to crack the U.S. Top 50 after three years of recording and performing. In the midst of their third stateside tour, they weren’t selling out stadiums.

It was during this tour, on April 30, that Pink Floyd played an hour-long set in an empty Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, filmed for broadcast by small local television station called KQED.

“At that point, they were really anxious to have whatever publicity they could,” remembers the program’s co-producer at KQED, Jim Farber. “We did not have much of a budget. Pink Floyd did the performance and offered the rights for a certain number of airings for practically nothing. My memory is we paid them $200.”

Roger Waters making sound effects during "Astronomy Domine"
Roger Waters making sound effects during “Astronomy Domine” (KQED)

Widely bootlegged in the decades since, the performance is now officially available on DVD from the band. Recently, KQED unearthed raw footage of Pink Floyd’s performance, which included a half hour of music not included in the original program. After months of negotiations, KQED has been granted the right to exclusively premiere film of one of those songs, “Astronomy Domine.”

You might be wondering: in 1970, KQED was more known for Sesame Street than psychedelic rock. So how in the world did the Pink Floyd program happen in the first place?

Connecting with Pink Floyd

Simulcast on KQED radio, the special was set up as a direct result of Farber’s enthusiasm for the group. He first saw Pink Floyd in a basement club in London in 1967, when Syd Barrett (soon to be replaced by David Gilmour) was still the band’s lead guitarist and principal singer-songwriter.

“When I went to work at KQED June of 1969, I proposed the idea that we do a program with them,” he explains. “John Coney, the other producer [who also directed the special], really liked their music. So we decided we might as well make a proposal to them.”

The KQED production team brought “a huge mobile truck the size of a boxcar that held the video recording equipment” outside the original Fillmore Auditorium so the performance could be “recorded as well as you could outside the studio at that time. There’s a certain amount of vibration that was caused just from the sound of the amps. Because the technology just wasn’t that advanced yet. Portable video, the way we think of it, didn’t even exist.”

Pink Floyd's Richard Wright singing during 1970 performance
Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright singing during 1970 performance (KQED)

The original Fillmore wasn’t hosting rock concerts in 1970 — Bill Graham had transferred his operations to the Fillmore West on Market and Van Ness — but it was made available to the band and KQED for this special TV performance. Pink Floyd played a concert in front of paying customers at the Fillmore West the following night, reprising all of the half dozen songs they’d performed for KQED’s cameras, as well as other early favorites like “Astronomy Domine” and “A Saucerful of Secrets.”

Unexpectedly, the program opens with aerial shots of desolate fields and marshes in the San Joaquin Valley — indeed, seven minutes of “Atom Heart Mother” pass before any of the musicians are seen on screen. During “Grantchester Meadows,” the performance is interspersed with what Farber calls “nature footage.” The cinematography is marked by close-ups of the casually dressed musicians and slow pans around the band’s perimeter. Periodic smoke effects and solarization add to the late-psychedelic-period mood.

“John Coney was doing some very experimental video work at KQED, and KQED at that time was really wide open in terms of they would let you do,” enthuses Farber. “So John mapped out a visual scheme for the production. There’s no narration, there’s not the usual PBS thing of explaining everything you’re going to see. It was very abstract.

“We had one go at getting the Pink Floyd performance, and one day to essentially do all of the effects and lay in everything in the studio. There was no such thing as stereo TV. People could put on the FM channel and then watch it on the TV, and that was how we approximated getting the best audio we could out of it.”

Pink Floyd playing for KQED in 1970. L-R: David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters
Pink Floyd playing for KQED in 1970. L-R: David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters (KQED )

Reception

It wasn’t unusual for KQED to broadcast rock concerts in psychedelia’s heyday, especially by local icons. Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service all got airtime. In the more experimental realm, a long raga by minimalist pioneer Terry Riley sparked, reveals an amused Farber, “more nasty phone calls than anything we ever did at the station.” But Pink Floyd, for as strong an underground following as they building in the United States, were so eager for an American audience that they played a free concert at UCLA a week later. (Farber traveled to Los Angeles with the band in the hopes of getting some additional footage, but none was used. The free concert, he explains, “was really a disaster.”)

Not broadcast until Jan. 26, 1971, the special “got an incredibly positive response when we aired it in San Francisco,” says Farber. “After that, it had two national broadcasts on PBS.”

Pink Floyd’s concert for KQED hasn’t been broadcast on television for many years, and wasn’t made commercially available until its appearance on a massive 27-disc Pink Floyd CD/DVD box set in 2016, The Early Years 1965-1972. But Farber recently oversaw a meticulous transfer from the two-inch masters to DVD — “we cleaned them up as much as we could and the audio is superb.”

David Gilmour waiting to play
David Gilmour waiting to play (KQED)

“I’m amazed we got it done,” reflects Farber, now a Los Angeles-based writer. “We did it on such a shoestring, and it all came together at the right moment. You could take out certain little glitches, but I kind of like it for its roughness. ‘Cause it was a reflection of who we were at that time.

“The ‘60s were still very alive in San Francisco in 1970, and the thing that I loved about KQED is that you had a public television station, but the people on the staff were exceedingly hip. The amount of energy that was being generated at KQED at that time was remarkable.”

 To watch previously unseen video of Pink Floyd playing “Astronomy Domine” in 1970, click here.

 

Pitchers in Postseason

The Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t get very far in the 2017 playoffs, getting swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS. There was a memorable moment in the wildcard game they won to advance to that series, however. In their 11-8 win over the Colorado Rockies, reliever Archie Bradley hit a triple — the first triple ever hit by a relief pitcher in a postseason game. It was all the more unexpected coming from a player with a career batting average of .098 and no extra base hits in 61 at bats, which included 37 strikeouts. (Bradley than gave back the two runs his triple knocked in by giving up two consecutive homers in the top of the next inning, but that’s another story.)

Bradley

These are the kind of moments that make some fans wish so hard for pitchers to continue to be able to bat in major league games, at least in the National League. It’s hard to believe it’s been about 45 years since the designated hitter rule was adopted by the American League, but despite periodic rumblings of discussions that pitchers should bat in both leagues (or not bat in either), it looks like the DH is here to stay in the AL at the very least. Which robs of the unexpected lightning bolts like Bradley’s two-run triple, not to mention the occasional genuinely good-hitting pitcher like Madison Bumgarner, whose 17 lifetime home runs include two on opening day in 2017.

I’m an advocate of having pitchers bat in professional baseball. The overall pros and cons of the DH rule is a lengthy debate for another time that could probably fill up a book, but my rationale is one I never hear: that the game’s simply fairer when each player has to play both offense and defense (or go out of the game for good if he’s pinch-hit for). Bradley’s triple, however, did get me thinking about how many memorable hits by pitchers there have been in post-season play.

If you want a long list of such blasts as evidence the DH rule should be discarded, you’ll be displeased to know that pitchers’ performances in the postseason do not make for a compelling case. I don’t have a lifetime figure for how pitchers as a whole have fared since 1903 (perhaps one has never been compiled), but generally they’ve done pretty poorly — more so since the DH has been instituted, and less pitchers bat less frequently in the majors (or at any level). But I did think of about a dozen memorable instances in which hits by hurlers have been surprising or important, albeit virtually all in World Series competition. We can start with the most famously good-hitting pitcher of all: Babe Ruth.

Ruth

Primarily a pitcher in his first four years in the majors, Ruth was already considered a good enough hitter in his first full season that he pinch-hit in the 1915 World Series. In fact, that was his only appearance in the series, though he’d won 18 games in the regular season. By 1918, he was splitting time between the mound and the outfield (as well as some first base), as it became evident that he had unprecedented power at the plate.

In the 1918 World Series, however, he appeared mostly as a pitcher, starting and winning two games (though he pinch-hit in another). He only had one hit in his five at-bats, but it was a big one — a two-run triple to deep right-center field that proved the margin of difference in his 3-2 victory over the Cubs.

Ruth would play in seven more Series, all as an outfielder for the Yankees. He actually got off to a slow start as a hitter in these, getting injured in the 1921 Series and hitting .118 the next year. But then he asserted himself as one of the best postseason sluggers (in an era when the only postseason games were the World Series, of course), ending up with fifteen homeruns and a .326 average.

If any World Series hitting feat by a pitcher deserves an asterisk, it’s probably the one in the opener of next year’s series. Won 9-1 by the Reds over the White Sox, this was of course the infamous series in which much of the Sox team threw games for money. In that opener, winning pitcher Dutch Ruether hit not one, but two triples, as well as a single (and walking once), knocking in three runs. His hits are among many plays cited in retrospect as evidence that many of the Sox were deliberately losing, including that day’s opening pitcher, Eddie Cicotte. It’s interesting to note, however, that one of the triples was tagged off a mop-up reliever not involved in the fix, Grover Lowdermilk.

Reuther

Ruether is probably best known as one of the pitchers on the fabled 1927 Yankees, for whom he went 13-6 in his final year (though he didn’t appear in the World Series). He was a good-hitting pitcher (though no Babe Ruth), with a lifetime .258 average and seven home runs, and an ace on the Reds that year, winning nineteen games and losing six. It’s sometimes overlooked that the Reds were a very good team in 1919, going 96-44 in a season shortened to 140 games in the year after World War I.  It’s probable that the series would have been very competitive had the Sox played it straight, but we’ll never know.

This was a good stretch for Series hitting by pitchers, as in 1920, the Indians’ Jim Bagby clubbed the first homer by a pitcher in series history. This was about as interesting as an 8-1 game can get, as it also saw the first World Series grand slam, hit by Elmer Smith right after the bases loaded with no outs in the first inning. It’s most famous, however, for the unassisted triple play by Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss later in the contest — a rare play in any game, let alone in the World Series.

s-l225

It was a capper on a great year for Bagby, who won 31 games in the regular season. He was a fair but not great-hitting pitcher, with a lifetime .218 average, and just two homers outside of World Series play (though he’d been pretty good at the plate  in 1920, hitting .252 with eleven extra-base hits in 131 at-bats).

Wrote Bill James in The Baseball Book 1992, for the series game in which Bagby homered (the fifth, in a series the Indians went on to win), “In order to increase attendance, [Cleveland] owner Jim Dunn had shrunk the field of play by installing temporary bleachers in center and right field. When manager Tris Speaker warned Bagby before the game to pitch with extra care to the Dodger home run threats, he replied, ‘Ah think ah’ll bust one out to those wooden seats. They seem just about right for me to hit.’ In the fourth inning, with two men on, Bagby was as good as his word, sending a fly to right center that barely made the bleachers.”

Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean is known more both for his pitching and his overall zaniness than his hitting, but he wasn’t bad with the bat, hitting .225 with eight homers. In his only World Series in 1934, he went three-for-twelve with a couple doubles (besides winning a couple games on the mound). Two of those hits, and one of those doubles, came in one inning in the seventh game — a seven-run inning that broke open the game, won by the Cardinals 11-0.

Dizzy-Dean-246x300

Facing elimination in the sixth game of the 1940 World Series, the Reds shut out the Tigers 4-0 behind Bucky Walters, who also homered and drove in two runs. In winning the second game 5-3, Walters had doubled and scored. The Reds won the series, and it’s not an exaggeration to speculate they might not have without Walters on the mound and at the plate. It wasn’t a secret, but Walters did have an advantage over most other pitchers: he’d actually started his major league career as a poor-hitting third baseman, switching to pitching after a few years, at which he excelled, winning almost 200 games. That changed him from a bad-hitting infielder to a good-hitting pitcher, ending his career with a .243 average and 23 homers.

Walters

Jumping ahead to 1967, that year’s World Series had two home runs by pitchers. The first was a shocker: Red Sox hurler Jose Santiago, who hit .173 lifetime with just one homer, cleared the fences off Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in the opener. It tied the game 1-1, the Cards pullng the game out 2-1.  Besides being a much better pitcher than Santiago, Gibson was a much better hitter, with 24 lifetime home runs. And he homered off Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg  in the deciding game seven, in his third win of the series.

Santiago

Gibson

Gibson also homered in the 1968 series, making him the first player to hit two World Series homers as a pitcher.  (Oddly, he didn’t homer in either the 1967 or 1968 regular season.) But the unlikeliest homer in World Series history, perhaps, belonged to the opposite team that year. Mickey Lolich, a poor hitter with a lifetime .110 average, belted his only major league home run off Nelson Briles while winning the second game 8-1. He’d also win the seventh and final game of the series for the Tigers (his third win of the series), outdueling Gibson, though neither pitcher homered in that game.

Lolich

It took just a couple more years for Dave McNally to become the second pitcher to homer more than once in World Series play. He did  his bit to try to spoil the Mets’ upset victory over the Orioles by hitting a roundtripper in the fifth and final game in 1969. In 1970, he hit the only grand slam by a pitcher in the World Seres against the Reds in a game he won, and a series the Orioles won. McNally actually wasn’t very good at the plate, with a .133 lifetime average, though he did manage nine home runs. In the 1973 and 1974 postseason, he wouldn’t even get a chance to bat, the DH having been instituted in the American League (including in the championship series, which the Orioles reached in both of those years, though they lost both).

McNally

Pitchers could still bat in the World Series, however — in fact, they were required to between 1973 and 1975, before the World Series began permitting DH action (soon to be limited to National League home games in those contests). The team that beat the Orioles in 1973 and 1974, the A’s, benefited greatly from that requirement, even though their pitchers hadn’t batted at all before advancing to the World Series.

For in 1973, A’s pitcher Ken Holtzman hit two doubles and scored two runs in three at-bats. In the A’s win in the 2-1 opener, one of those runs he scored was crucial. He also scored the opening run in winning the seventh game. The next year, he did even better, homering and doubling in four at-bats (and walking once). supplying key hits and runs in two of the A’s four victories over the Dodgers. Holtzman actually wasn’t that great a hitter even for a pitcher (.163 lifetime average, two regular season homers), but the A’s were sure glad he was there when they needed him.

Holtzman

In that way, Holtzman was sort of a poster guy for advocates of banning the DH. So you think he might have personally objected to the DH rule, right? No. “I personally like the DH because it enabled me to stay in the game longer and not be pinch hit for,” he told Dan Epstein in a 2016 interview for the Jewish Baseball Museum website. “I never wanted to be taken out of a game, regardless of the score or situation, and the DH enabled me to pitch more innings, even though I would have to face one more tough hitter in a line-up than existed in the National League.”

An A’s pitcher also struck a key blow for their final World Series title to date, though it doesn’t seem as well remembered as many of the other feats on this list. In the fourth game of their 1989 sweep of the Giants, winning moundsman Mike Moore struck a two-run double. Having spent his whole career in the American League, Moore had batted exactly once in the majors before the series (and would never bat in the majors after this game, spending the rest of his days in the AL too). The A’s needed those two runs, too, as the final score was 9-6. The actual baseball of the 1989 World Series, however, tends not to be remembered too well, overshadowed by the earthquake that interrupted the series after the first couple games.

Moore

Jump ahead almost twenty years, and we have the only pitcher besides Mickey Lolich to strike his only major league home run in World Series play. Joe Blanton of the Phillies did so as the winner of a 10-2 blowout over the Rays in 2008. If Lolich was a bad hitter, Blanton was even worse, hitting .106 with no extra base hits in 216 career at-bats (and 92 strikeouts). Lolich did at least have five doubles and two triples, albeit over a longer career.

Asked at the time when he’d last hit a homer at any level, Blanton guessed it was high school. “I’m not a hitter,” he admitted. “I’m just going to close my eyes and swing as hard as I can, just in case I make contact.”

Blanton

Blanton and Lolich are the only pitchers to have hit their only major league homers in the World Series, but another deserves honorable mention, to break up the chronological flow of this post just once. Don Gullett’s homer in his opening win over the Pirates in the 1975 National League championship series was his only such major league blast. The Reds pitcher also singled in that game, driving in three runs in all. He actually wasn’t so bad at the dish, hitting .194 for his career, though without a four-bagger in regular season play.

Barry Zito had seldom batted in the regular season before starting a highly-paid and largely disappointing seven-year stint with the Giants. He was a legendarily bad hitter, chalking up a lifetime .102 mark with no extra base hits, though he did at least conscientiously work to improve his bunting during his time in the National League. You had the sense he even had trouble reaching the outfield on the fly, but he did come up with a surprise RBI single against superstar Justin Verlander  in his opening win over the Tigers in the 2012 World Series. He’d also driven in a run with a bunt single in his Game Five win against the Cardinals a few days earlier, in a key contest where the Giants were facing elimination.

Zito

Often reviled during his struggles with the Giants, those hits — and those wins, in his one fairly good year with the team — were enough to justify that big contract, at least to serious Giants fans. Are they enough to justify getting rid of the DH rule? That’s up for debate, but those occasional blows pitchers strike in the games that matter most do matter.

 

Holger Czukay Interview

This story was first posted on the KQED Arts website, shortly after Holger Czukay’s death on September 5, 2017.  Reproduced courtesy of KQED.

Blending insistent, almost tribal rhythms with keening guitars, keyboards, and electronics, Can were among the top German bands of the 1970s. It was something of a miracle, however, that the musicians came together in the first place to play rock. Their backgrounds were in jazz, classical music, and avant-garde composition. Yet they were determined to somehow become a rock band, dissatisfied with the stifling conventions of the more “serious” music in which they’d been schooled.

Improvising much of their material, and dedicated to creating their own style rather than emulating American and British rock trends, Can left much of their very career path to chance. When original singer Malcolm Mooney left after their 1969 debut album Monster Movie to return to the United States, he was replaced by Damo Suzuki, a Japanese busker whom bassist Holger Czukay spotted in a Munich cafe. Suzuki gave his first concert with Can that night, and over the next few years his stream-of-consciousness vocals almost acted as another instrument in the ensemble. Meaning was conveyed by the nuances of his mumbles and hums as much as the actual English lyrics he sang.

When Can were at their peak, they were barely known in the United States. Over the last few decades, however, they’ve built a substantial American cult following. Indeed, their minimalist approach, spontaneity, and incorporation of avant-garde concepts and electronics proved influential on underground bands all over the globe. Sadly, several of the core members of Can are no longer with us. The latest to pass was Czukay, who died near Köln on Sept. 5, aged 79, after a lengthy post-Can solo career.

Holger spoke to me from San Francisco’s Phoenix hotel on Jan. 18, 1997, for the chapter on Can in my book Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. The transcript of the interview appears here.

When Can began, the band had little experience with rock music. But you became a rock band.

We were bloody beginners altogether. Maybe except Jaki Liebezeit, the drummer. Jaki was quite experienced. He played one year with Chet Baker in Barcelona, and was a real jazz drummer. But the rest of Can was different. I was just nothing. I just studied with [composer Karlheinz] Stockhausen; I didn’t have any practical experience. I had some sort of weird ideas. [Michael] Karoli, the guitar player, was my pupil, and he started to study law. He had nothing in his hand too.

We were all bloody new beginners, and tried somehow to grow out of our soil. Irmin [Schmidt], he had some sort of experience being a conductor. But he was a beginner in playing in such a group. [Even] counting until four, he had really sort of big problems in the very beginning. [As did] every one of us.

What were Can’s main influences from the world of rock, as opposed to classical and avant-garde?

The influence, for me, of Beatles and Velvet Underground was most important. The Velvet Underground especially. They had something achieved which others didn’t achieve. Even Jimi Hendrix didn’t achieve [what they did]. One could have the opinion that this group is not able to play really properly right. They didn’t get the right rhythm, they couldn’t make a real tight rhythm. But the music was incredibly convincing.

This feeling made us encouraged to go on with rock music in general, instead of making avant-garde academic music. We liked to do something without notation. We didn’t want to read music off papers. We really tried to make instant compositions from the very beginning. This Can tradition actually [was] achieved very much when we played live.

What do you see as Can’s influence on German and European progressive music?

People of our generation, I think they were not influenced at all. When they attended Can concerts, they thought maybe it was exciting. But nobody of these people were ever thinking, “Hey man, this is something we should take as an
ideal, we should take as a way people follow up.” In Germany, actually, Can didn’t become such an image of being heroes.

But younger people who attended our concerts, [the] next younger generation, especially in England, they became addicted, actually, to the way of how Can made music. I found out in the last year, especially in Russia for example, [that] Can will be treated with young people sometimes [like] the Rolling Stones. The Russian people see a good way of making progressive music on their own without being forced to copy rock and roll.

How do you think Can has influenced the music of today?

Actually, I think they are not such a direct influence on these electronic people as Kraftwerk. In Germany the DJs and the young people, their fathers [were] not Can, it was Kraftwerk. Can actually was a real band, but the new music is not based on the idea of forming a band.

But when it comes, let’s say, of making a party or a live evening, making a big performance of nothing, then Can can become very important, because this was how Can was going on stage. Actually with an empty head, nothing pre-performed or nothing pre-whatever. We just went onstage, and who was throwing the first stone, we caught that and threw it back. And that was the beginning of the concert.

I think this music Can made had something to do with football or with sports. That means, you can’t really say in the next minute, where is that ball going to. A team which is playing with such a ball knows very well about those strategies. But actually you can’t say, by definition, when is the ball in this or this area. It’s the same with Can music. We know how to build up the whole thing, but the actual sound and the actual development of the thing was not foreseen.

In the studio too, each Can album was unpredictable.

It was like that. We knew making records, as other groups are doing, means pre-performing the whole thing, practicing songs and something like that, and then going to the studios and just perform[ing] and produc[ing] it. And after a short time, you are getting out of it again.

This was not our intention. We didn’t have anything on our mind. We just played together live in the studio as we would do it on stage, without audience.

Were there any albums you preferred more than others?

I regard the very first albums being the most important, as Can was most innocent at that time. If a group is new, young, and starting from the very beginning, actually you can’t do anything wrong. You do something wrong when you try to learn, and when you get older, getting experienced, this is when you can do mistakes and have some errors. It’s quite normal, I think, for every group. That’s the reason I really love Monster Movie, [1971’s] Tago Mago. Soundtracks [from 1970] is a great album.

When Can hooked up with Virgin Records in the mid-1970s after Damo Suzuki left, was there any sort of pressure to go commercial?

That was one of the reasons what made problems in the group. In the beginning, we were a real group, an entire group. That means we were recording straightaway on two tracks. Then we became successful, we had a hit in Germany, and we were able to afford a multi-track machine. From this moment on, you can say it was the beginning of the end of Can.

In such a group, everybody has to criticize the other one about what he’s doing wrong and so on. But when the multitrack machine came out, it was “I want to hear guitar, or I want to hear the bass, who has made this wrong?” [Musicians were] getting a little bit afraid, and said “Okay, okay, I do my part now and play it as good as I can, and the others shouldn’t be in there,” because it makes him nervous. This was the beginning, where the group suddenly was not such a strong group again. Even if they were more sophisticated about production.

I knew where the weak point of Can was. There [was] too much dealing just with themselves, and nothing which came from outside. So I looked out for radio and all these sort of devices, including telephone. That means you suddenly get information from outside, getting off from your routine, and getting fresh again from the very beginning. But in terms of becoming more commercial, maybe, the other members didn’t like this idea very much. That was why I got out and started on my own, towards the end of Can.

I wonder if you could compare the band as they were with Malcolm Mooney and as they were with Damo Suzuki.

With Malcolm Mooney we were very fresh. Malcolm was a great rhythm talent. He was a locomotive. That was the right singer [for] the very beginning. We were creating rhythms, but we were not very stable in doing that. That means someone who was pushing us into the rhythm, and giving us the feel that this is the right thing to do — this was Malcolm Mooney, and he got integrated very much into what all the other musicians did. He was the right singer at the right time.

When he left because of psychological reasons, Damo came in. The group was far more experienced by that time. Damo is not such a pusher. He is a different sort of singer, and therefore the group achieved such a stability. Damo fit perfectly into that.

The problem was, when Damo disappeared, Can was without a singer. Suddenly we felt a hole in our music. Michael was singing, but he is not…a guitar player actually should not sing, except like Jimi Hendrix or something like that. Actually a guitar player should play guitar. That was our problem. We tried out so many singers at that time, and nobody really fit again into this group. It was somehow Can’s fate, or tragedy, or whatever you can call that, that it happened like it happened.

It seems you could call Malcolm and Damo joining the group inspired accidents.

You can say, if you’re a religious person, they were given by god for starting something for mankind.

Does it come as a surprise to you or other people in Can to learn about the group’s cult following in the US?

Yes. You see, this following came up by the years. I always thought that if Can makes it, it will make it in America. I thought the way the rhythms were done, the way we played live, it was a hell of rhythmic impact. I thought that would fit far more into America than into Europe.

But in England, it was in [the] beginning accepted with greatest enthusiasm. Then the French people reacted on that very, very strong in the beginning of the ‘70s. But from America, we didn’t get really any reaction. We heard that we should come over and play, but somehow all this was so unstable. Nothing was really confirmed in such a way that we could say, “Okay, let’s do it, let’s go over.”

How have you drawn upon Can’s influence in your solo career?

When I started my solo career, I only could do that because Can was such a good time for learning everything you need to stand on your own feet. Without Can, that would be completely impossible. I have learned to play all the other instruments. For the first time I could play, you know, whatever. I could go back after more than twenty years to my guitar.

Working with other people – with Jah Wobble for example, or with David Sylvian – all this Can experience went into this collaboration with these people. For David Sylvian, it was completely new to have that style of working.

This open-minded conception which Can established, I think, is a good way to master the future. I can see that now, working with the young people from the electronic scene. They understand me perfectly. They are able to interact right away. This music now, with all these devices, is perfectly designed for the electronic world, it looks like. This is very living electronic music. Nothing is bad about that.

Bob Marley Mysteries, Part 3

The first two posts in this three-part series examined some mysteries surrounding the early career of the Wailers, in the decade before they signed to Island Records. Going in chronological order, this final post looks at the period right before they signed to Island, when they were in England in 1972.

The sole single Bob Marley released on CBS flopped when it came out in 1972.

The sole single Bob Marley released on CBS flopped when it came out in 1972.

The reason for Bob Marley’s relocation to London early that year was straightforward enough. Although it was coming up on its fifth year in early 1972, Bob’s association with manager-of-sorts Danny Sims and his fellow client Johnny Nash hadn’t yielded much in the way of tangible results. Yet for all his problems with them, they remained his only lifeline to the international music business. Now there was a chance Bob could sign with CBS Records’ Epic subsidiary, for whom Nash was now recording. In mid-February, Marley flew to London, not only to play on the album Nash was recording there, but also to do some tracks for CBS under his own name.

Marley went without the other Wailers (or, for that matter, his wife Rita, who was an honorary Wailer of sorts and had sung on quite a few of their records since the mid-1960s). This seems to indicate that Sims and Nash viewed him as the group’s primary asset, and perhaps sole asset in which they were truly interested. They’d signed Bob, Rita, and Peter Tosh to a songwriting/publishing deal back in 1968, but in 1971, Bob was the only one they’d flown to Sweden to work on songs for the soundtrack to an obscure film in which Johnny Nash starred. While in Sweden, Bob didn’t even mention the other Wailers to a Texan keyboardist also working on the soundtrack, Rabbit Bundrick. Maybe he was thinking of a solo career, or at least considering it as an option.

Marley recorded about half an album’s worth of tracks for CBS in London in 1972, but just a couple of them came out on a flop single. Sometime after this, the other Wailers—not just Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston, but also bassist Family Man Barrett and drummer Carlton Barrett—were flown over to join Bob. As is typical with the imprecision surrounding many Marley dates, it’s not known exactly when this happened in 1972; some accounts give the impression this occurred in the spring, and others quite a bit later in the year. But they did go over to London, and were definitely there in the latter part of the year, when they approached Island Records.

One of the few surviving early Wailers concert posters, from 1966.

One of the few surviving early Wailers concert posters, from 1966.

It’s unclear, however, why the Wailers were flown over, presumably at Sims’s expense. The logical reason would seem to be that he and the Wailers hoped to build a British following by playing live shows. However, they barely performed at all. There was just one proper Wailers concert, and Marley and Tosh played a benefit at a London school to raise money for a new swimming pool, but that was probably hardly the gig they had in mind when they left Jamaica. Marley did some shows as a support act for Nash without the other Wailers, which couldn’t have been great for team morale, or do much to counteract the impression that Sims was mostly interested in Bob, not Peter or Bunny.

It’s been suggested that the main reason the Wailers were there was to learn stagecraft by observing Johnny Nash’s British shows. This seems yet odder than not having them play much on their own. First, it would have been expensive to fly the Wailers over and give them enough support (if basic in nature) to live in London for an extended period. Doing that so they could watch Johnny Nash seems like a rather frivolous investment. Also, the Wailers had been together since the early 1960s, and performing live concerts for at least some of that time, though timelines as to how many shows they did are about as cloudy as most other aspects of their early career. Even if they didn’t do all that many gigs, after a decade or so, how much more could they learn from Nash, and did they need to follow him around on tour for such an extended period as part of their education?

Maybe Bob asked, or demanded, that the other Wailers be flown over if he was to continue to try and make headway in Britain. Maybe part of the purpose was to record the Wailers in British studios, as Danny Sims did arrange for the Wailers to cut five tracks at CBS (including “Stir It Up” and four other songs that they’d re-record for Catch a Fire). But those weren’t issued, and there’s nothing to make one believe Sims knocked himself out trying to get the Wailers a band deal. Indeed, part of the reason they ended up at Island was because they were frustrated with their management, and took things into their own hands, approaching Island’s Chris Blackwell without the help of Sims.

Itinerary for the Wailers' first proper UK tour in 1973.

Itinerary for the Wailers’ first proper UK tour in 1973.

Blackwell was pretty quick to give the Wailers money to record an album, probably around early fall 1972. He’s gone over his meeting with the Wailers and decision to work with them in numerous interviews. Something that hasn’t come up much in Marley histories, however, is the extent to which the Wailers were known in the UK. The impression’s sometimes given that they were virtually unknown there (and everywhere else except Jamaica), with Island providing the gateway to an international audience. That’s basically true, but were they really unknown in the UK at the time?

If so, two perspectives that sometimes come up in Marley literature don’t compute. One concerns the breakup of their brief if productive relationship with producer Lee Perry in the early 1970s. The reasons for this were primarily financial, not artistic. They thought they had a deal to split royalties 50/50 with the producer, but according to Bunny Livingston, when it came time to dole out the money, Perry only offered ten percent. Straightforward enough, and ample reason to terminate the relationship if that’s how it went down.

Some accounts, however, intimate that part of the reason they were angry at Perry is that the producer made good money they didn’t see by licensing Wailers material for UK release. There was quite a bit available for that purpose, Perry having produced two Wailers’ LPs in the early 1970s, as well as some singles (and an instrumental version of one of the albums, Soul Revolution). If the Wailers sold enough records to the UK market to make enough money to be worth fighting about, shouldn’t they have had an easier time arranging to do shows in Britain, and in summoning label interest before presenting themselves to Blackwell?

One of the LPs of material the Wailers did with producer Lee Perry.

One of the LPs of material the Wailers did with producer Lee Perry.

It’s also sometimes (and by no means universally) been reported that Coxsone Dodd, who produced the Wailers’ 1964-1966 recordings and released them on his own Studio One label, was sent quite a bit of money from sales of their product in the UK that he did not share with the Wailers. Indeed, it’s sometimes reported that the Wailers weren’t even aware of that money until quite a few years later. Again, if true, wouldn’t that indicate the Wailers would already have been known, at least to a modest degree, in the UK?

Chris Blackwell, when remembering how Island’s association with the Wailers began, gives the impression that he really wasn’t all that familiar with their work, in part because the rock side of Island took off so stratospherically in the late 1960s. Blackwell had gained a foothold in the record business by licensing ska for the sizable if niche market of Jamaicans in Britain, but branched into progressive rock in the late 1960s with the success of Traffic, Free, Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, and others. It does ring true that he wouldn’t have kept up with reggae as avidly as he did back in the early-to-mid-1960s, though he did have one major reggae act, Jimmy Cliff (whose departure from Island was one reason he was keen to sign the Wailers). It seems like he might have known at least somewhat more about the Wailers than he let on, however, just like there are signs that Brian Epstein wasn’t really wholly unfamiliar with the Beatles when he first went to the Cavern to see them in late 1961.

The Wailers shared the bill with Bruce Springsteen for concerts at Max's Kansas City in mid-1973.

The Wailers shared the bill with Bruce Springsteen for concerts at Max’s Kansas City in mid-1973.

Does it matter if there was some strange, nefarious reason the Wailers were flown over and did hardly any shows, or if they sold a good number of records in the UK before signing to Island, or if Blackwell was much more knowledgeable about the Wailers’ history and records than he’d later recall? Probably not. They did sign to Island, and Island did break them into the international market, though Tosh and Livingston started solo careers after a couple albums, before Bob Marley became a household name as the Wailers’ frontman. It would still be interesting to know the answers to these questions, however—as it would be for so many uncertain and peculiar aspects of the Wailers’ first decade.

My book Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Ultimate Illustrated History was released earlier this month (September).

My book Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Ultimate Illustrated History was released earlier this month (September).

Bob Marley Mysteries, Part 2

In early 1966, Bob Marley left the Wailers to live with his mother in the United States, although the Wailers had released a string of generally pretty popular (sometimes extremely popular) singles  in Jamaica over the previous year and a half.  His mother had moved to Delaware about three years previously, establishing US residency after marrying in American.

For eight months, he worked at a series of menial jobs in Wilmington. These, in keeping with the inexact details of Marley’s early years, have variously been reported as including stints as a janitor at the Dupont Hotel, a waiter, a dishwasher, a parking lot attendant, a lab assistant at DuPont chemical company, and driving a forklift at a Chrysler auto plant assembly line. He probably didn’t work at all of these jobs (or at least all of them during the same visit), apparently returning to the US on a few other occasions over the next few years to combine visiting his mother with laboring for dollars.

A 1966 single by the Wailers, recorded without Bob Marley, as Marley was in the midst of an eight-month stay with his mother in the US.

A 1966 single by the Wailers, recorded without Bob Marley, as Marley was in the midst of an eight-month stay with his mother in the US.

It says much about the state and size of the Jamaican industry that Marley could make more money finding menial work abroad than he could as one of ska’s hottest stars. It would have been inconceivable, for instance, to find Curtis Mayfield—the Wailers’ biggest influence—quitting the Impressions to work in an auto plant out of economic necessity just as they were tasting the heights of success. But despite their Jamaican hits, they weren’t making much money, subsisting for at least a while on wages of three pounds a week each that were doled out by their producer, Coxsone Dodd. Dodd let Marley sleep in the studio for a time, but even that was in consideration of Bob doing extra work rehearsing other artists on Dodd’s Studio One label.

Ian McCann, editor of the UK monthly magazine Record Collector and co-author of Bob Marley: The Complete Guide to His Music, wonders if the early Wailers were as successful as some accounts would have it, even though surviving charts indicate at least few of their mid-‘60s singles made the Jamaican Top Ten. “It’s worth bearing in mind that if the Wailers were so big, where were all the other producers trying to tempt them away from Studio One, as invariably happens in Jamaica?,” he asks. “If The Wailers were having a string of smashes, someone would have lured them away.”

One also wonders why Dodd didn’t try harder to get Marley to stay in Jamaica if the Wailers were selling so many records—perhaps by increasing his measly wages, for instance, or offering him at least something in the way of royalties. Maybe Dodd thought the Wailers would do well enough without Bob. And, though it’s not often emphasized in Marley biographies, the Wailers did make singles without Bob in 1966 that were very good, like “Dancing Shoes,” “Can’t You See,” and “Sinner Man,” apparently at least sometimes with significant Jamaican sales.

The biggest mystery of Marley’s 1966 Delaware sojourn, however, surrounds its termination. Some accounts have it that he simply tired of the menial work and (during at least in some months of his visit) cold weather, and wanted to get back to making music with the Wailers, using the $700 he had saved to help start the band’s own label. That seems logical enough, but it’s also sometimes been reported that a notice from the Selective Service sealed his determination to leave the US.

That makes for a dramatic story within the story, but there’s confusion about when or even if this happened. Marley was not a US citizen, but young non-US men who resided in the States for more than six months did risk getting drafted into military service. It’s unclear whether the notice was instructing him to register for the draft or actually drafting him. It’s also unclear whether this happened in 1966 or on a subsequent visit to his mother in Delaware in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One Marley biographer wrote that the Selective Service didn’t even have a record of Bob in its system—though given how disorganized the government sometimes was about such matters, that wouldn’t necessarily mean they never contacted him.

Whatever happened or didn’t with the Selective Service, he was back in Jamaica with his wife Rita in late 1966. Not long afterward—January 1968, according to most sources, though a January 1967 date has also been given—he came into contact with American soul singer Johnny Nash, which in turn led to a deal with Nash’s manager, Danny Sims. Sims would pay Bob, Rita (who was in essence taking Bunny Livingston’s place in the Wailers while Bunny served a jail term in 1967-68), and Peter Tosh $100 a week each to write songs. Livingston wasn’t part of the deal, as he was still in prison.

"Hold Me Tight" was Johnny Nash's first big hit in 1968.

“Hold Me Tight” was Johnny Nash’s first big hit in 1968.

It’s not entirely clear what Sims and Nash hoped, or at least hoped most, to gain by the association. Probably they wanted to place some of their songs—especially Marley’s—with American artists, as the publishing royalties for US hits would mean a big payoff. They were also probably considering some of the material for Nash, who would indeed make one of Marley’s songs a big hit, though not for nearly five years. As a longer shot, there was the possibility of getting hits in North America and Europe for records performed by Marley and/or the Wailers themselves, though they were unknown in those territories, and reggae itself was barely known anywhere outside of Jamaica.

Probably starting around early 1968, Bob, Peter, and Rita began making demos for Sims and Nash’s JAD company. It’s not wholly certain whether these were intended to be shopped to other artists to generate possible covers; to get considered for interpretation on Nash’s own releases; to get a deal for the Wailers and/or Marley; or, if the demos were good enough, to even gain overseas release. Their purpose was probably some combination of all of these alternatives. The Wailers certainly had plenty of material to offer for consideration. Many tracks were cut for JAD—211, according to a 2004 Universal Music press release announcing a licensing deal between the two companies.

Here’s my first question about this situation for which I can’t figure out an answer:

If Johnny Nash was so hot on Marley as a songwriter, why didn’t he record any of Marley’s songs in the late 1960s?

Nash, previously a journeyman soul singer without much in the way of either hit records or artistic distinction, made #5 in both the US and UK with a breakthrough hit that drew heavily (and quite skillfully) upon Jamaican rock steady music, “Hold Me Tight.” Bob’s material would have fit in well with his new direction. Why didn’t he put any Marley tunes on his records of the period? And why was the one Wailers song he did cover at the time a Peter Tosh composition (“Love,” on his Hold Me Tight album, marking the first high-profile cover of a Wailers song abroad), not a Marley tune?

Johnny Nash's "Hold Me Tight" album.

Johnny Nash’s “Hold Me Tight” album.

Of course, Nash eventually would have great success with a Marley song when he took “Stir It Up” into the UK and US Top Twenty in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The album Johnny recorded around that time, I Can See Clearly Now, had some other Marley compositions. Why wait so long? Especially since “Stir It Up” had been around for a while, the Wailers recording the original version for a single back in 1967?

Here’s a more sensitive mystery:

If Bob Marley (and Rita) were being paid $100 a week each by JAD for writing songs, why did Bob periodically return to Wilmington to take more of the kind of menial work that he (according to Rita’s memoir) had sworn off for good after a vacuum cleaner exploded at one of his 1966 jobs?

$100 USD won’t even get you a good guitar today, of course, but back in the late 1960s, it went pretty far in Jamaica. A lot farther, at any rate, than the three weekly pounds that had been Bob’s wages from Coxsone Dodd for a while. Even considering that the Marleys had a growing family, it would seem the $100 stipend, along perhaps with some other money they picked up selling records and performing, would be enough to support themselves without Bob having to go back to work in a Delaware auto plant or some such thing.

Was the $100/week salary not in place for the entire period during which Bob was under Sims’s management (until around late 1972/early 1973)? Was it simply still not enough? Or did Bob just want to be able to periodically visit his mother, picking up some work while he was there to help things along?

001850663_500

Did Bob even want to use those trips as a chance to see whether the Wailers might want to join him in the US to try and make it in the States? A couple accounts (predictably giving different years) have it that Marley actually wrote Livingston asking him and Tosh to come to the US to resume the Wailers’ career in the States. Uninterested in relocating, Bunny didn’t reply.

Whatever the reasons for them taking place, the post-1966 trips Marley took to the US and the jobs he took there—and, according to several sources, there were more than one such trips—don’t add up to me. Why would he have needed the money that badly? And if he didn’t need the money that badly, why would he have spent any weeks or months at such mundane jobs, as it would have taken precious time away from the music that was his main priority? Even if Sims wasn’t paying him and/or Rita $100 per week anymore, wouldn’t Sims have wanted Marley to concentrate on music instead of manual labor, and wanted to have given him some incentive not to make other work his focus? Could his ties to the other Wailers have been looser than is usually assumed, and Bob looking for options that might have involved a career without them?

That leads into the third and final of this series of Marley mysteries posts. The Wailers finally got a big record deal after relocating to the UK, with some bumps on the road. But why did they end up there, and were they really as unknown in the UK as is usually assumed?

Another compilation with material from the recordings the Wailers made for JAD.

Another compilation with material from the recordings the Wailers made for JAD.

Bob Marley Mysteries, Part 1

Bob Marley is now one of the world’s most famous musicians. For a guy who generates the fourth-highest income of any late musician, however, many aspects of his career and life remain murky. That’s particularly true of his first ten years or so as a recording artist, predating the Wailers’ first release on Island Records, the early 1973 album Catch a Fire. From that point until Marley’s death in May 1981, his music and other activities are fairly well if imperfectly documented, as he was constantly in the media spotlight and his records were easily available in Europe and North America.

The Wailers' first LP, mid-1960s.

The Wailers’ first LP, mid-1960s.

But from the time of his 1962 debut single “Judge Not” until he hooked up with Island, Marley’s records (almost all of them recorded as part of the Wailers) were largely unknown outside of Jamaica, as were the Wailers themselves. The Jamaican record business was not exactly big on documentation, and many early ska/rock steady/reggae reissues (including many of those by the Wailers) have frustratingly scant annotation. Such crucial information as recording and release dates often seem to be treated as closely guarded state secrets. As the Wailers weren’t given much attention by the Jamaican media (and virtually none by the non-Jamaican media) at the time, the same holds true for their activities outside the studio. It’s hard to piece together what happened when, and even the most thorough Marley biographies frequently report different dates and sequences for the same events.

This and the next couple posts present some of the Marley mysteries that I find most interesting (and sometimes, considering how confidently wildly varying accounts of these issues are presented as fact in multiple sources, irritating). Let’s start with the very first Wailers single, “Simmer Down,” a hit in Jamaica in – when?

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The liner notes to the 1992 Marley box set Songs of Freedom—probably one of the highest-selling box sets of all time, having gone double platinum—state that “Simmer Down” “was a number one in Jamaica in February, 1964.” Yet according to Roger Steffens and Leroy Jodie Pierson’s Bob Marley & the Wailers: The Definitive Discography, it wasn’t even recorded until July 1964. The guys who wrote this aren’t just assigning dates on a whim; Steffens is probably the most respected reggae authority in the world.

In this case at least, it seems pretty clear to me that “Simmer Down” probably wasn’t released until the second half of 1964. Take a look at this chart from September 18, 1964 for JBC—Radio Jamaica:

JBC_1964-09-18_1

This shows “Simmer Down” at #5, up from #10 the previous week (and #15 the week before that), which indicates it was probably a relatively recent release still on the rise. It’s doubtful it would be jumping from #15 to #10 to #5 after having been #1 in February. Later in September it got to #2, gradually falling lower in the Top Ten over the next couple months, judging from a few other charts on this website. It’s also doubtful it would have been held from release for a long time after it was recorded, so the July 1964 recording date is likely accurate, even though some accounts have the Wailers starting to record as early as 1963.

This leads into some larger issues not only in accurately assessing the Wailers’ commercial success, but also in the history of ska and early reggae’s popularity in Jamaica in general. There seems to be no source for which chart positions of Jamaican singles in the 1960s and 1970s can be easily consulted. I threw out the question as to whether Jamaican chart positions could be looked up anywhere to a large newsgroup to which I belong of many esteemed UK music journalists (I am from the US but an honorary member of sorts). None of them replied.

There’s not even agreement on what the national chart, or national charts, were. This chart was compiled by “JBC—Radio Jamaica.” JBC was the public radio station the Jamaica Broadcasting Company. Radio Jamaica is the name usually given to RJR, or Real Jamaican Radio. Was this chart a composite of what was most popular on both stations? Were there other charts?

Another cover used on the Wailers' first LP.

Another cover used on the Wailers’ first LP.

It should be noted that charts, in Jamaica and elsewhere (including the US), are not gospel as to what records sold the most, were played the most, or were generally the most popular. Measurements of record sales have always been inexact—more so back in the 1960s and 1970s, before SoundScan made tracking sales at least somewhat more of an exact science. Chart positions, although the industry doesn’t like to discuss the fact, have sometimes been influenced by financial considerations some might view as payola.

Nonetheless, chart positions, for all their flaws, are the best indications we have of how generally popular releases were. Singles throughout the Wailers’ first decade are given different chart positions, or different descriptions as to how popular they were, in various different sources. As a chart that seems like the same one as the JBC-Radio Jamaica chart whose Top Ten was reprinted in Jamaica’s major daily paper (The Gleaner), it seems like someone could or should go through those back issues and compile an actual reference publication or database with the peak positions, at least for Top Ten entries. Not a job anyone’s likely to pay someone for, I admit, but one that would be highly useful to historians in more precisely establishing how successful the Wailers were in their early years.

“Simmer Down” has been reported, by the way, to have sold about 70,000-80,000 copies. As Jamaica had a population of a little less than two million, that would have been the equivalent of selling about five million copies in the US. I have no way of confirming this, but I have the feeling that figure might have been somewhat inflated. If we’re playing the equivalence game, even the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” didn’t sell five million copies in the US that year. Was “Simmer Down” really more popular per capita in Jamaica than “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was in the US?

I know it seems like we’ve been on this chart business for quite a while, but bear with me and take another look at the one from September 18, 1964:

JBC_1964-09-18_1

It’s sometimes stated in Marley/reggae literature that reggae was not played as often as it should have on Jamaican radio, or even that it was seldom played. But early reggae singles occupy most of the places on this chart. There are a few American soul 45s by the Drifters, Solomon Burke, and Ben E. King, and one British Invasion disc—not by the Beatles or a rock group, but by Dusty Springfield. Other charts from the ‘60s and early ‘70s on this Peter Tosh website are dominated by reggae (if not quite as much), with similar sprinklings of American soul and the very occasional UK pop hit. Could reggae really have been played rarely on Jamaican radio? A student of mine who visited the island in the late 1970s said he indeed hardly heard any reggae on the airwaves when he was there; was there that much of a disconnect between the charts and the radio playlists?

Going by the charts (which cover only a very small portion of the years 1964-1972) on the Peter Tosh site, the Wailers did have a good number of Top Ten singles during these years—and probably a good number of others that don’t show up on the scraps of charts the site managed to locate. This didn’t seem to make them rich, though predictably, even accounts as to how poor or well off they were widely vary. Which leads into more Marley mysteries, as continued in the next post.

One of the few surviving posters for an early Wailers concert, from March 3, 1965.

One of the few surviving posters for an early Wailers concert, from March 3, 1965.

Swimming in Sicily

Sicily’s known for its cuisine, its Greek ruins, and its beautiful landscapes. As a large island, it has also has many beaches, some of which are spectacular. Quite a few others are, if not spectacular, certainly good. I’m not a great swimmer, but I love to swim outdoors and snorkel, and swimming in the ocean was one of the main reasons I went to Sicily for a few weeks in July.

The beach at Isola Bella, near Taormina in Sicily.

The beach at Isola Bella, near Taormina in Sicily.

Even three weeks or so isn’t nearly enough time to sample everywhere worth swimming in Sicily. But we did manage to hit quite a few spots considering our limited time. Even the five we visited were pretty different from each other, but all are worth a dip  should you make it over.

There are many reasons to visit Palermo, the capital of Sicily, including its architecture and lively streetlife. Beaches are not at the top of the list, nor close to the city center, but you might find yourself dying to cool off if you visit when the temperatures are nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, as we did. It’s a pretty short bus ride to Mondello beach a few miles outside the city.

Mondello beach, looking to the west.

Mondello beach, looking to the west.

Mondello isn’t a secret, and you’ll likely find it jammed in summer. But the water’s calm, its temperature moderate, and you’ll be able to wade out quite a ways without it getting so deep that you’ll lose your footing. And if the scenery isn’t as monumental as some other Sicilian beaches, it’s quite pleasing:

As with most beaches we visited, there are areas where visitors can plant themselves for free, and others where you’ll need to pay a fee for an umbrella and deck chair. Unless you’re traveling with a beach umbrella, it’s often worth it to spring for the paid spots, elitism be damned. The Mediterranean sun can be pretty searing — certainly more so than summer sun in California and New Jersey, the two states where I’ve done most of my ocean swimming in the US.

Mondello beach, looking to the east.

Mondello beach, looking to the east.

Agrigento is most famed for its Greek ruins, and we were lucky enough to also get caught up in a huge holiday parade and fireworks during our stay. South of Palermo and even hotter, you might again feel the need to cool off in the beach, even on a Sunday when few buses are running and little info on their departure stops and times is available.

Nonetheless we managed to catch one to San Leone, just a few miles outside town, not long before sundown. The manager of the umbrella/deck chair operation we patronized took pity on us and charged us about one-third of the going rate. It was quite a bargain for an hour or so of swimming in much choppier, more churning waters than Mondello. The beach is pretty narrow and stony, so you’re going more for the ocean than the lounging here.

The beach at San Leone.

The beach at San Leone.

Siracusa is another town whose beaches don’t dominate its image. (Anglicized as “Syracuse,” we referred to it by its Italian name Siracusa after the taxi driver taking us to Rome from the airport told us, “Syracuse is in New York.”) But this was one of my favorite places to swim, in part because the hot spot in the old historic town, Ortigia, wasn’t a beach or particularly dominated by tourists. Instead, you camp out on tall rocks in a site called the Solarium, with various points of entry, whether by stairs or slithering down the actual rocks:

Siracusa1

Even if you enter by stairs (which are only installed in the summer months), this site might not be for the more casual swimmer. The water gets pretty deep pretty quickly just feet from shore, and some parts are quite rocky, especially the narrow channel connecting different parts of the swimming area. Even wearing beach shoes in the water, I got a few cuts bumping my knees and thighs against the irregularly spaced and shaped rock formations under the surface.

Most of the swimmers here and at other beaches-with-rocks we visited nonetheless swam barefoot. Their heartiness is admirable, but I’d really advise considering taking along a hardy pair of beach shoes to wear while you’re actually swimming in the water if you don’t want to come home limping, or worse. It’s no time to be macho (in a crowd where many women and girls, I hasten to note, were swimming barefoot) if you’re not feeling like a local expert in navigating the rocks. My traveling partner is a much better swimmer than I am, and even she couldn’t avoid a hip bruise. I got my efficient beach shoes for less than $50 at REI, and those or equivalents shouldn’t be hard to track down before you visit.

Overview of the rockiest parts of the Solarium beach in Ortigia, in Siracusa.

Overview of the rockiest parts of the Solarium beach in Ortigia, in Siracusa.

Also in Siracusa, we took a boat ride out to some grottoes a few miles away, taking us close to the rocks to see purple hues such as this. One of the crew took a couple minutes to free a bird that had somehow gotten stuck in one of the fissures:

Grotto

On the same ride we passed by the rock below, off which people were jumping or diving into the sea (I can assure you I am not one of the divers in this picture). The captain of our small craft took this opportunity to swim to the rock and execute an impressive flip/dive into the water, nonchalantly swimmng back to the boat to pilot us back to Ortigia.

Divers

We were supposed to have a few minutes to swim in the grotto too, but the company selling the trip didn’t inform the boat crew, who were recruited spur of the moment after the original boatman didn’t make it. If you’ve seen Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, you’ll remember the scene where Eric Idle, playing a European waiter, leads us on a long walk through heavy traffic to the meaning of life, all the while intimating that it’s just around the corner. That’s how we felt when the young woman from the tour company led us to the boat, telling us all the while, “just two more minutes” before we ended up at a tourist office where we were asked if we could wait another hour. We couldn’t, so a substitute was hastily arranged, but apparently not informed that a grotto swim was part of the deal. Maybe next time.

There are a few places to swim near Taormina, including a small rocky one in Mazzaro where we went for brief immersions. The most celebrated by far, however, is Isola Bella, connected to a big beach by a sandbar through which you can wade even if you can’t swim:

Isola Bella, viewed on a bus ride down from Taormina.

Isola Bella, viewed on a bus ride down from Taormina.

Isola Bella is much photographed, and the opposite of unknown. Some things that have been heavily hyped — like Paris, the Beatles, or the seventh game of the 2016 World Series — are actually just as good as people say they’ll be, and Isola Bella is one of them. The swimming is varied and superb; there are shallow parts, deep ones, rocky areas, and rockless sections; there’s decent snorkeling, and patches several dozen feet deep, if you want; the clear water boasts stunning hues of blue, green, and purple; and the scenery is phenomenal:

Rocks to which we swam at Isola Bella.

Rocks to which we swam at Isola Bella.

That does mean you’ll never be alone on Isola Bella in the summer, and one day it was so crowded we couldn’t even rent one of the 20-Euro-per person umbrella-deck chair deals. But it’s worth  putting up with and then some, and once you get in the water, there’s space enough and more, especially as it’s not hard to get several hundred meters from shore in calm and safe conditions. You can also get a bit more breathing room by walking around Isola Bella itself, though there’s a small (four-Euro) fee for that, and much of the island remains off-limits to visitors.

If you’re staying in Taormina and using public transportation, taking the cable car down’s a must, with this view as you approach Isola Bella:

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The last beach we visited was in Cefalu, which would be worth visiting even without the water owing to the stunning and relaxed maze of alleys forming its historic center. There is a beautiful, lengthy beach, however, from which you can see the city’s breathtaking old quarter:

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Cefalu1

The swimming’s quite different from Isola Bella, or Siracusa. In those places, you really need to swim, not wade, if you get more than a few feet from shore, so deep does it get so fast. In Cefalu, it’s almost impossible to get out far enough to where your feet won’t hit the sand. And for most of the beach, it is smooth sand in the water — smooth enough that you won’t need those beach shoes.

Sunset as viewed from the beach in Cefalu.

Sunset as viewed from the beach in Cefalu.

Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii Exhibit

As rock music becomes more entrenched as part of not just popular culture but mainstream history, major exhibitions devoted to iconic artists are becoming more common. Recent years have seen touring exhibitions devoted to the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, and a big one on Pink Floyd is at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum until October 1. I won’t be able to make that unless something unexpected develops. But I did, to my surprise, see a much smaller but worthwhile exhibit on Pink Floyd’s October 1971 performances for the Live at Pompeii movie when I visited Pompeii for the first time in early July.

Poster for the Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii movie, early 1970s.

Poster for the Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii movie, early 1970s.

The Live at Pompeii movie is not a universal favorite among rock and film critics, some of whom find it (and the cutaways to brief interviews and scenes of the band in the recording studio) on the pompous side. Pomp is certainly appropriate for a movie made in a site that starts with the letters “Pomp,” though, and you have to admire the chutzpah of a group (and director, Adrian Maben) who somehow commandeered the amphitheater of the legendary excavated city for a concert documentary.

Of most significance, it captures the Floyd performing a good cross-section of material from the late 1960s and early 1970s in an impressively exotic, haunting setting. What’s more, they opted not for the usual concert doc with cuts to rabidly enthusiastic fans, but for a show without an audience — or so they thought (more on that later in this post).

Being a big Pink Floyd fan, I headed straight for the amphitheater to begin my five-hour Pompeii visit. Like many such locales that take on a legendary aura when you see them in memorable movies or pictures, it’s rather more ordinary when you view it in person:

The Pompeii amphitheater where Pink Floyd played in October 1971, as it appears today.

The Pompeii amphitheater where Pink Floyd played in October 1971, as it appears today.

It’s also kind of hard to imagine a concert with an actual audience being staged there now, at least in the traditional amphitheater way, as much of the seating is gone or overgrown:

Overgrown

So that would have been that, except to my surprise, there was a substantial exhibit on Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii performances in the underground passages near the entrance. I hadn’t heard about this at all in the media, and it’s still hard to find out much about it online. I did learn that this was first staged in Pompeii’s town hall during most of July 2015, and then moved to the amphitheater when Floyd guitarist David Gilmour played two shows there in July 2016. I still can’t determine how long the exhibition will run.

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Although there weren’t huge numbers of people at the exhibit, the underground space is small enough — maybe a few dozen meters to either sides of the entrance, with just a few feet between the two walls of material — that it’s not always easy to comfortably view and see everything, even when there are just a few dozen people. Also, some of the displays — such as some of the ones showing scenes from the Live at Pompeii movie or playing Pink Floyd recordings — will be familiar to serious Floyd fans. However, there were some off-the-beaten track items and info, which I’ll focus on in this post.

There are quite a few photos, some taken by French cameraman Jacques Boumendil. There are also some stills from Chit Chat with Oysters, a recently rediscovered December 1971 16mm Maben film of the Floyd doing overdubs for the soundtrack at the Europasonar studio in Paris.

Still from Chit Chat with Oysters, finding David Gilmour in a particularly merry mood.

Still from Chit Chat with Oysters, finding David Gilmour in a particularly merry mood.

Here’s one of the vintage ads for the film. One of the tests for how rare an image is these days is whether you can find it online or not, and this one passes, as even a search with Google Images fails to unearth it:

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Asked what he was thinking as the filming was taking place, drummer Nick Mason supplied these comments for one of the displays:

“Well, I think, we were unaware of just what a good idea it was. I mean, I’d love for any of us to be able to take credit for it, but it was very much an idea that had been sprung by Adrian Maben, who’s the director of the film. That combination of the venue, which was romantic in its own right, and the fact that it was outdoors with the wind blowing and empty meant that we were completely free to re-shoot things. It gave it a live feel without actually having to go through the process of curtailing the show because we had a real audience to please. I thought it was a fantastically successful formula that unfortunately owed nothing to the band’s [laugh[ creativity.”

Nick Mason performing at Pompeii.

Nick Mason performing at Pompeii, photographed by Jacques Boumendil.

As it turns out, however, there was an audience — though a very small and unseen one. As Maben explains in one of the displays:

Live at Pompeii was conceived as an anti-Woodstock film. The amphitheater was supposed to be completely empty except for a handful of technicians, roadies and the French Italian camera crew. But when I returned to Pompeii in 1999 for the [DVD director’s cut] I met a group of adult men in their mid-[forties]. They told me that as teenagers they had skipped school and gate-crashed the amphitheater to watch the Pink Floyd concert. They remained hidden near the open windows on the upper floor of the amphitheater.

“They called themselves ‘ragazzi degli scavi’ because they often visited the archeological site to play in the ruins. I was amazed because I had never seen them or sensed their presence. In 1971, I was convinced that we were alone.”

Teenagers who gate-crashed the Pompeii concert, back then (top) and in recent years (bottom).

Teenagers who gate-crashed the Pompeii concert, back then (top) and in recent years (bottom).

As an aside, even though this happened more than 45 years ago, it’s hard to imagine a time when you could gate-crash a concert filming by a major band in this fashion. Pink Floyd weren’t nearly as big as they’d be when 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon became one of the all-time best-selling albums, but they were already pretty big — more so in Europe than in the US. Now that Pompeii welcomes two-and-a-half million paying visitors a year, it’s also hard to imagine a time when you could just slither in and play in the ruins.

But rock wasn’t nearly as big a business back then as it is now, and I guess Pompeii wasn’t either. As another part of the exhibit notes, “Pink Floyd and the film crew stayed in the large Gran Rosario Hotel for four nights during the filming of Live at Pompeii because it was conveniently close to the amphitheater entrance. In the ‘40s and ‘50s this hotel was very popular but in 1971 it was completely empty. We were the only guests.”

The Gran Rosario hotel, as it appeared when Pink Floyd and film crew stayed there in 1971.

The Gran Rosario Hotel, as it appeared when Pink Floyd and film crew stayed there in 1971.

I also enjoyed reading some memories from script girl Marie-Noelle Zurstrassen, who recalls:

“I see myself in the hall of the hotel telling the French cameramen Jacques Boumendil and Claude Agostini that they should pack their bags to catch a plane back to Paris. We had more or less finished the shoot and were leaving [Maben] behind as a hostage because there was no money left to pay the bills!…

“After a clash with the Floyd about their daily expenses, I told them that I was not going to pay their daily cannabis and other substances because it was not my responsibility. But I think they were joking, it was probably just for fun.

“Above all I remember the magic night shoot of ‘One of These Days I’m Going to Cut You into Little Pieces’ with the drummer Nick Mason who was by far the most approachable of the four members of the band. I often dream at night, even now 45 years later, about the Floyd and the music they played in the amphitheater. Especially ‘Echoes’ and ‘One of These Days’…The moon was shining, the ruins were mysterious and there was that strange slow dance of the 35mm cameras that took place during the circular tracking shots.

“It was a sort of fairy tale that fascinated me. I even forgot to look at my stopwatch when I was timing the shots. I kept telling myself that they shouldn’t improvise too much because we were running out of film and that would be the end of the shoot because we couldn’t reload the 35mm Mitchell cameras.”

Script girl Marie-Noelle Zurstrassen on the set with director Adrian Maben.

Script girl Marie-Noelle Zurstrassen on the set with director Adrian Maben, photographed by Jacques Boumendil.

Of course, this exhibit isn’t the only reason to visit Pompeii, even if you’re more interested in Pink Floyd than the town that was buried under a volcanic eruption almost two thousand years ago:

Elsewhere in Pompeii, taken the day of my visit.

Elsewhere in Pompeii, taken the day of my visit.

The last day of my nearly month-long visit to Italy (actually mostly spent in Sicily), I stumbled across another Pink Floyd event of which I was unaware. In the amphitheater of the ruins of Ostia Antica near Rome, a tribute concert was being staged to their 1970 album Atom Heart Mother. As the poster below notes, this would include the kind of orchestral and choral arrangements featured on the original LP (though no actual musicians from Pink Floyd were involved).

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Pink Floyd did play Atom Heart Mother material in concert with a choir and orchestra. On their recent mammoth Early Years 1965-1972 box set, you can see a 21-minute version of “Atom Heart Mother” itself that they performed with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the John Alldis Choir, filmed in London’s Hyde Park on July 18, 1970. Twenty-first-century technology no doubt makes this sort of combo easier to pull off onstage, though it arrived decades too late for Pink Floyd to take advantage of it in their prime.

I was flying home the day of the concert, so I couldn’t stay around for the performance. I did get these shots of technicians setting up for the big event in Ostia Antica’s Teatro Romano that morning:

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Sgt. Pepper Deluxe Box: Off the Beaten Tracks

What do you say about an album that, back in the year in was issued, would have topped many best-of lists, but has become so over-familiar that even a six-disc expanded version isn’t as exciting as it could be? The six-disc deluxe box of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a big step in the right direction in the packaging of the Beatles’ catalog, which until this 50th anniversary edition had not taken the obvious step of expanding their classic albums in reissued formats. This one has the stereo and mono versions, plenty of outtakes, the classic cuts from the “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” single (originally intended to be used on Sgt. Pepper), and the audio on Blu-ray/DVD discs if that rings your chimes. But the extras aren’t as exciting as they are on some other box set editions of classic vintage LPs, and the fans most interested in the bells and whistles probably already have a good deal of this in their collection, sometimes many times over.

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That doesn’t mean I don’t care about Beatles material that hasn’t been available before. With The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film, I wrote a whole book on that subject. But as I noted in that book, 1967 might have been the least interesting year of the Beatles’ career (if we focus on their core 1962-69 era) in terms of material that was unissued at the time. No longer touring, they were focusing on studio recording, and in those recordings, building up tracks layer by layer. That means the different versions of songs they recorded for the LP—which form the bulk of the three dozen or so extra cuts on the box (counts vary according to whether you might consider a “2017 mix” previously unreleased)—aren’t all that different from the album versions we’ve heard all these years. Sometimes you essentially just get the backing track or elements of a track, which is interesting, but not so much that you’re likely to enjoy them over and over.

Whatever edition of Sgt. Pepper was issued (the 50th anniversary CDs also came in two-CD format with less bonus tracks), media coverage focused on the stereo remix by Giles Martin, George Martin’s son. I seem to be one of the critics least excited by ballyhoed remixes; it’s good, but it’s not that stupendously different from the original, and the original always sounded pretty good in the first place.  The 1992 TV documentary on the DVD/Blu-Ray discs (The Making of Sgt. Pepper), featuring interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and George Martin (who brings up separate elements of some tracks at the mixing board) is good, but long available on bootleg. The 144-page hardback book might be the best reason to buy the box, as it hasn’t been available before and can’t be easily bootlegged, and is pretty well done, even if the details on some tracks (like the bonus ones on the mono CD) could have been better. And for all its size, the box is missing a few bootlegged or known-to-exist items—the avant-garde “Carnival of Light” outtake, John Lennon’s home demo of “Good Morning Good Morning,” and Lennon’s home recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (not to mention “Only a Northern Song,” recorded during the sessions, but not released until Yellow Submarine)—that would have made the box more definitive, if more expensive.

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You can probably tell I don’t feel like the $150 or so this box cost (prices vary according to where you buy it and the shipping, if that’s involved) quite justified the price tag. But don’t get me wrong – the quality even on the oft-circulated stuff is better than the bootlegs; a few of the previously uncirculated tracks (like the “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” where Lennon has a mechanical vocal, changing to a more rapid and natural phrasing at McCartney’s suggestion) are pretty interesting, if not phenomenal; and the overall packaging is of a commendably high standard, even if there are a few questionable decisions and omissions. Hopefully there will also be a deluxe box for The White Album’s 50th anniversary, especially as there are much more, and much more interesting, extras to choose from (especially if you count the couple dozen or so demos they did at George Harrison’s home shortly before the sessions started). And then maybe they’ll finally go back to all of their albums to construct deluxe editions.

In the bulk of this post, I’m not going to focus on a track-by-track rundown. (Brief commercial interruption: I describe each “bonus track” on the deluxe box that wasn’t released back in 1967 in the updated ebook version of my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film.) Nor will I detail the merits of the Giles Martin remix; there’s been enough of that on Facebook, NPR, and classic rock magazines. Instead, here are a few more obscure aspects of the reissue that fanatics might find interesting.

What’s been added: Besides the many bonus tracks, the deluxe edition has also added “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” It wasn’t well known at the time—though it’s pretty well known now, even if you’re not a Beatles obsessive—that both of these tracks were recorded early in the Sgt. Pepper sessions, and originally intended for the album. But pressure from Brian Epstein and EMI resulted in both songs getting issued in February 1967 on a single, in part because they were desperate to get a Beatles record on the market, as none had appeared for—gasp—six months! That’s nothing today, but that was the longest gap of their career up to that point, and hunger to quell rumors the Beatles were breaking up (as they’d taken the drastic step of retiring from live concerts) also played a part.

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Wrote George Martin in his book With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper (written with William Pearson): “It was the biggest mistake of my professional life.”

Let’s look at the full context of that remark, from the same book:

“Realizing how desperate Brian was feeling, I decided to give him a super-strong combination, a double-punch that could not fail, an unbeatable linking of two all-time great songs: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane.’ These songs would, I told him, make a fantastic double-A-sided disc—better even than our other double-A-sided triumphs, ‘Day Tripper’/‘We Can Work It Out,’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’/‘Yellow Submarine.’

“It was the biggest mistake of my professional life.

“Releasing either song coupled with ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ would have been by far the better decision, but at the time I couldn’t see it.”

A few observations here:

It’s hard to see where “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” would have fit onto Sgt. Pepper, even though each of them were better as individual songs than any on the LP, except possibly for “A Day in the Life.” Maybe that’s because we’re so familiar with the thirteen songs that did make it onto LP, and the exact sequence of those songs, that it’s now hard to imagine the album any other way.

I guess “Strawberry Fields” could have ended side one and “Penny Lane” started side two, though the heart-stopping sudden climax of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” is hard to beat for a side-ender, especially in the days when you had to get up and actually flip the record. But that would have compromised the sound quality of the vinyl LP, in the days when even 45 minutes of music was pushing it. And then, which two songs do you take off? They’re all important to establishing the record’s mood, even lesser ones like “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

Speaking of which, I think it would have been a disaster to put “When I’m Sixty-Four” on a B-side, as it was clearly inferior to either “Strawberry Fields” or “Penny Lane.” More importantly, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were a better pairing than any Beatles 45 boasted—and perhaps any 45 by anyone boasted. They were both about Liverpool childhood, in very different ways; they coupled one of John Lennon’s best songs (“Strawberry Fields”) with one of Paul McCartney’s best (“Penny Lane”); and the single had a distinctive picture sleeve.

This wouldn’t have been possible with “When I’m Sixty-Four.” And if you can only choose “Strawberry Fields” or “Penny Lane” for the LP, how can you possibly make a good choice of one over another? And if you can’t use “When I’m Sixty-Four” for the LP, doesn’t that throw off Sgt. Pepper’s balance, as one of its virtues was encompassing so many styles, for which “When I’m Sixty-Four” represented vaudeville?

No one I’ve come across—and just about everyone I know is familiar with Sgt. Pepper—has ever complained about missing “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Penny Lane” on the album. George Martin’s about the only one I’ve heard express regrets. Along the same lines, George Martin was vocal, quite a few times, about wishing the Beatles would boiled down The White Album from two LPs to a much stronger disc. But very few other people would agree with him on that. And even if they do, no one would agree on which half of the songs to discard.

George Martin's book about producing the Sgt. Pepper album.

George Martin’s book about producing the Sgt. Pepper album.

Maybe if it had been the CD era and sound quality on a longer album had not been an issue, putting “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” on Sgt. Pepper would have been the right call. All things considered, however, back in 1967, it was the right call. And now that it’s the CD era and there are big expensive expanded box set editions of classic albums, it’s the right call to add the tracks, separated from the main thirteen songs so that it doesn’t change the sequence of the core LP.

Before this 50th anniversary release, by the way, I saw some comments on social media about what a bad idea it would be to add “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” Maybe those comments grew out of fears those songs would be inserted into and change the album’s main running order, which I agree would have been a mistake. So it’s worth emphasizing that they are separate from the core LP (as they are on the more modest two-CD deluxe edition).

If their very presence anywhere is considered bothersome, that seems as ridiculous as the complaint I once heard from someone who disliked any bonus tracks on CD reissues of albums, finding them distracting and injurious to the integrity of the original LP. If you really do find CDs with bonus tracks a ripoff—a concept about as sensible as complaining that free health care is too expensive—you can, of course, simply not play the extra cuts, or better yet, not buy these reissues.

What’s missing: Can there be much missing from a six-disc deluxe edition, with several dozen bonus tracks, some of which haven’t even been bootlegged? Yes, if we’re looking at the time frame between mid-September 1966 (when Lennon made his first informal composing tapes of “Strawberry Fields”) and when the album was finished on April 21, 1967. That’s even if you don’t count their 1966 Christmas fan club disc or home recordings (most by John) that were obviously too chaotic and lo-fi to merit serious consideration. Here are the most notable absentees:

“Strawberry Fields Forever” home tapes: John Lennon made quite a few tapes of “Strawberry Fields” in the two months before the Beatles started working on it at the studio in November 1966, some at home, and some (the earliest) in Spain, where he was filming his role in How I Won the War. It’s true it’s pretty repetitious to hear all of these (plus the various different recordings the Beatles made of the song in the studio before finalizing the track) all at once. But it’s historically fascinating, especially as it evolved from a much simpler near-folk song in its earliest solo acoustic versions. And they do circulate unofficially, on CDs such as the one below:

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“Carnival of Light”: One of the most discussed Beatles studio outtakes that has never circulated, this wasn’t ever intended for Sgt. Pepper, but recorded on January 5 for use at a multimedia event of the same name at London’s Roundhouse on January 28 and February 4. From its description in Mark Lewisohn’s book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, it sounds heavily avant-garde, and perhaps tuneless. Hints have been dropped for years that it would find release. But its non-appearance on this deluxe box seems to indicate it might never appear—and that it might just not be very good and listenable.

“Good Morning Good Morning” home demo: Of the many home tapes John Lennon made in the late 1960s, this is the only one of a Sgt. Pepper song. In fact, it’s the only home recording of a Sgt. Pepper song. It’s just a bit over a minute long, and the chorus hasn’t been worked out, but it’s still interesting, in part because he chuckles after the fragment of the chorus (and the people he sees are “fast” rather than “half” asleep). Maybe home tapes were considered off-limits for a set featuring only EMI recordings, but that didn’t stop some such tracks from getting included in the Anthology series in the mid-1990s.

“Only a Northern Song”: The only real song recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions that didn’t make the album, aside from the “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” single. Sometimes people ask me what my least favorite Beatles song is, and while I don’t have many contenders (as I like almost all of their songs), this is among the ones I mention. About thirty years ago I did come across someone who thought it was great, but I’ve never met anyone else who shares that opinion. Actually I’ve heard few opinions voiced about this George Harrison composition whatsoever—it did find a place on the Yellow Submarine album, but many listeners simply don’t remember it well, or at all.

“Only a Northern Song” was rejected for Sgt. Pepper. George Martin seems to have been particularly unenthusiastic, remembering in With a Little Help from My Friends, “I groaned inside when I heard it.” He suggested Harrison try to come up with something better, which the Beatle did with “Within You, Without You”—not only a better song, but an infinitely better fit for the Sgt. Pepper LP.

It’s hard to imagine where “Only a Northern Song” would have fit, had the tune simply been accepted as George’s contribution. It seems like it would have brought the carnival-like mood to a dead stop, with its rather careless half-baked swirl. It wouldn’t be a great fit even for the Sgt. Pepper deluxe box, where I suspect few miss its absence. And unlike the other recordings in this section, you can get it on another official release, Yellow Submarine, in any case.

The title of "Only a Northern Song" was inspired by the name of the Beatles' publishing company.

The title of “Only a Northern Song” was inspired by the name of the Beatles’ publishing company.

So much is said in silence: Many times, I’ve read that there is no silence or no gap between tracks on Sgt. Pepper. This was mentioned in some writing on the LP shortly after it was released, and it’s still often referred to as a feature of the album. Kevin Howlett’s essay on the record’s “Songs and Recording Details” book in the deluxe box, for example, states:

“…the album sounds like a unified work. The elimination of the usual few seconds of silence between tracks helps to create this impression. The songs flow together without a break, like a surreal music hall variety show. Interestingly, the idea not to have ‘rills’ on the record had been considered before Sgt. Pepper. A month ahead of starting work on Revolver, in an interview published in NME, John discussed ideas for the group’s next album. ‘We wanted to have it  so that there was no space between the tracks—just continuous. But they wouldn’t wear it [sic].’ The group was eventually allowed to carry out that idea, not only on Sgt. Pepper, but also on subsequent albums.”

I think I was around eight years old (which would have been 1970) when I first read about there being no silence between the tracks in a couple books. Even then, that assertion puzzled me. There are just three instances when there is no silence: when the title track segues into “With a Little Help from My Friends” as they sing “Billy Shears”; when the animal noises in “Good Morning Good Morning” turn into the guitar that starts the reprise of the title track; and when the cheers at the end of the reprise fade and “A Day in the Life” starts.

Otherwise, there’s silence between the tracks. Very short gaps of silence, yes, lasting just a couple seconds or less. But they’re there. The other tracks don’t segue into each other, or slam right against each other, as they do in my favorite album in which this occurs, the Mothers of Invention’s We’re Only in It for the Money (which of course was in part a Sgt. Pepper satire). I think the Mothers’ 1967 album Absolutely Free, released at almost the exact same time as Sgt. Pepper, was the first rock LP in which there was truly no silence separating tracks.

For what it’s worth, on my vinyl copy of Sgt. Pepper, you can clearly see thin bands separating all of the tracks (even the ones that blend into each other), as you can on most LPs. Granted, it’s not a first pressing, but I don’t recall seeing other copies of Sgt. Pepper with no thin separating bands. (Update: just after this post went up, Peter Bochan (see comments section) clarified: “I got the first edition Sgt. Pepper shipped over from UK. It didn’t have visible track separations, if you looked at it closely you could see some of the songs ending by way of intensity of the groove patterns. US copy had tracks.”)

This is far from the most controversial issue surrounding the Beatles or even Sgt. Pepper, but I think the continued reference to no silence between the tracks is simply inaccurate. For that matter, although most of side two of Abbey Road is commonly described as a continuous medley starting with “You Never Give Me Your Money” and ending with “The End,” there is in fact a definite, if short, silence between “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Golden Slumbers.” I don’t know how these things get entrenched, but once they do, it’s hard to stop them. (Also note some tracks on The White Album fade into each other without silent breaks, like “Back in the USSR” into “Dear Prudence” and “Revolution 9” into “Good Night,” but that’s never referred to as an LP without separating tracks.)

One more silence-related issue to bring up about Sgt. Pepper: the original UK issue had a bit of gibberish in the run-out groove after “A Day in the Life” ended (as well as a high-pitched whistle only dogs could hear), but the North American one didn’t. The book in the deluxe box explains how this might have happened.

As early as April 19, well before Sgt. Pepper’s release, some US radio stations somehow obtained copies of some tracks and began broadcasting them without authorization. Capitol Records wanted to counteract this by issuing the LP as soon as possible, and a cable from EMI indicates the mono tapes were sent on April 21, with the stereo ones hoped to follow the next day. “At this stage, the target release date was 8 May 1967,” Kevin Howlett writes (though it wouldn’t come out until the beginning of June). “The haste to supply Capitol with tapes partly explains why the American version of Sgt. Pepper did not include the material embedded in the run-out groove of the British record.” (Don’t worry, it’s on the 50th anniversary reissues.)

I honestly don’t remember discussing this run-out groove with anyone in my lifetime. My opinion is that on a CD, it’s much more effective to just have the memorable final piano chord of “A Day in the Life” (and the whole album) fade into silence, without anything to follow. And maybe that’s how it should have been on all editions of the LP, too.

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ADT on “She’s Leaving Home”: ADT refers to “automatic double-tracking,” a device often used on Beatles recordings to thicken sounds, especially lead vocals. One of the more interesting bonus tracks on the deluxe box is the “first mono mix” of “She’s Leaving Home,” which has four cello notes at the end of each chorus that were edited out of the final version. In addition, the opening notes on the harp, played by Sheila Bromberg, are treated with ADT, giving them a strange artificial effect that was not used on either the mono or stereo versions on the final album.

In 2011, Bromberg was interviewed by BBC One television about playing on the track. The brief segment is interesting, as I don’t recall her discussing this anywhere else. She recalls that Paul McCartney had the musicians (none of the Beatles played on the track) try several different ways of playing the song, and had trouble verbalizing how he wanted Bromberg to change her part, especially as he didn’t write or read music. After all those attempts, it was the first take that ended up being used.

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In the segment, the BBC interviewer states, “When Sheila heard the track, she realized they’d used the first take. The sound McCartney had been after, a doubling effect of her playing, had been created by the engineers.” “That’s how they got that sound. That’s what he was after. Yes!” exclaims Bromberg.

It makes a good story, but the “doubling” or ADT effect was not used on either the official stereo or mono versions. You can clearly hear the difference on the intro of the “first mono mix.” As Mark Lewisohn writes in The Beatles Recording Sessions, “As an experiment, ADT was applied to the song’s opening harp passage on [mono] remix one, but the idea was dropped after that.”

So why would Bromberg have thought the track was “doubled”? Is it even possible she was accidentally played the then-unreleased “first mono mix” when interviewed for the program?

Another Beatle myth exploded: The book in the deluxe box set doesn’t have much information that’s different to how the genesis of Sgt. Pepper has usually been reported. Here’s the most important exception:

Almost since the time it was released, it’s generally been accepted that “Strawberry Fields Forever” was edited together from two different takes. These were performed in different keys and different tempos, so it would have been virtually impossible to do this with 1966 technology without sounding awkward. George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick managed to do so, however, by speeding up take 7 and slowing down take 26. Miraculously, the keys and tempos now matched, almost as if by divine miracle. Takes 7 and 26 are both on the deluxe edition.

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Or, at least, that’s how it was usually reported, as it is in The Beatles Recording Sessions. However, the book in the Sgt. Pepper box gives a different account. Here, Kevin Howlett writes that “the speed of take 26 was reduced by 11.5 percent and, as John’s voice was lowered by over a tone in pitch, the effect was created of a sleepy slur as he sang. The speed of take seven was not altered.”

Well, isn’t that a cold shower. I’ve told the story about both takes being altered and matched with calm authority at least half a dozen times when I’ve taught a course on the Beatles. Now I can’t tell it anymore. But it does go to show that Beatles mysteries continue to be untangled fifty years after the fact, buried in the deep recesses of EMI’s tape vaults.

The previously unreleased material on the Sgt. Pepper box, along with all of the other recordings the Beatles made that weren't released while they were active, are written about in detail in my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film.

The previously unreleased material on the Sgt. Pepper box, along with all of the other recordings the Beatles made that weren’t released while they were active, are written about in detail in my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film.

Shareholders Unite: The Financial Choice Act’s Threat to Shareholder Activism

To file a shareholder resolution pressuring corporations to be more socially responsible, you need to own just $2,000 of stock in the company. Imagine, however, if you suddenly needed to own $2 billion — or even more. Shareholder activism would nearly grind to a halt. It might even get wiped out altogether.

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That’s the scenario we face if the Financial Choice Act of 2017 passes Congress. Section 844(b) would get rid of the $2,000 threshold. Instead, investors would have to hold at least 1% of the issuer’s voting securities over a three-year period.

What does that mean in layperson’s terms? To file a resolution with Apple, for instance, you’d need $7.4 billion worth of stock. Filing with Wells Fargo ($2.7 billion) and AT&T ($2.5 billion) wouldn’t be chump change, either.

The cost of filing resolutions will skyrocket if the Financial Choice Act passes, especially with the megacompanies who need to be pressured the most.

The cost of filing resolutions will skyrocket if the Financial Choice Act passes, especially with the megacompanies who need to be pressured the most.

“It’s saying that only billionaires have good ideas,” feels Andy Behar, CEO of As You Sow, which promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy. “All of the work [by] these small shareholders that has actually improved companies over the last seventy years — it’s saying that hasn’t been working, when it actually is incredibly well-working. The win-win scenarios that shareholders have brought to companies…there’s too many to even list. To have that suddenly become excluded would be a disservice.

“It’s really taking away our democratic rights and our rights to the property that we own,” he adds. “There are inherent rights to the property of owning a stock. And we don’t even know that it’s constitutional to take that away.”

Why are organizations like Business Roundtable, a lobbying group of nearly two hundred CEOs, so determined to strip these rights away? “I think they’re frightened,” observes Behar. “In the last few years, proxy access is now allowing shareholders to run board candidates. Last week Occidental Petroleum got a 67% vote on [a resolution calling for] two-degree climate scenario planning”—a landslide in a movement where getting 10-20% of the vote is often considered a major success (more details at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-12/blackrock-to-back-climate-shareholder-proposal-at-occidental). “More and more shareholders are paying attention and voting.

“The people on the board feel threatened. And what they’re threatened by is actually doing their jobs, which is to serve the shareholders in the company, who want the company to go in a different direction. They want the company to become sustainable. Companies are looking at this and going, ‘Oh, the people who we’re supposed to be working for actually care. So let’s throttle back their rights.’”

Shareholder activism is still on the rise in the US. Its position as a global leader in the movement could be crippled if the Financial Choice Act becomes law.

Shareholder activism is still on the rise in the US. Its position as a global leader in the movement could be crippled if the Financial Choice Act becomes law.

The section of the Financial Choice Act affecting shareholder rights is just a small part of the legislation. It would also roll back provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Senator Elizabeth Warren established would be removed, to cite just one of its alarm bells.

Nonetheless, it was passed by the House Committee on Financial Services in early May by a 34-26 vote along strict party lines. The House isn’t expected to vote on it until after Memorial Day, after which it moves on to the Senate, where activists such as Andy Behar think it’s likely to get debated.

According to Holly Testa, director of shareowner engagement at First Affirmative Financial Network, “Consensus is that this bill has no chance in the Senate, but that it will be broken into pieces to get some of it passed into law.” But even if the changes to shareholder resolution thresholds are removed from the legislation, that doesn’t mean those thresholds are protected. As Testa points out, “If Section 844 is not legislated, proponents at the Securities and Exchange Commission are likely to try to achieve its intentions through the rulemaking process.”

If the bill does reach the Senate, one next step for those opposed to the measure is approaching members of the Senate Banking Committee. First Affirmative is urging affiliated financial advisors, clients, and other contacts who have connections with those senators (listed in the box below) to get in touch to assist with outreach:

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As it happens, a few of the minority members (Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, and Mark Warner) have been among the names tossed around as possible Democratic candidates in the next presidential election. They’ll have a lot of on their plate if they run, but it won’t hurt to make them aware of the issue’s importance now.

What can citizens do to make their voice heard, whether or not they have such connections? Aside from stressing your concerns to representatives in Congress (and especially the Senate), the links below offer some other resources. True, many Effective Assets clients are Bay Area-based and represented by officials likely to already be in opposition to the Financial Choice Act. So it’s important to note that if you do business in one or more Republican states or districts, your voice is likely to be heard on the issue even if you don’t live there.

As You Sow’s Choice Act: Step-By-Step Action Guide (http://www.asyousow.org/about-us/choice-act-step-by-step-action-guide) has specific info, and links to other sites, for using social media, making calls, attending town hall meetings, and joining the Indivisible group to make your feelings known about the implications of the Financial Choice Act.

A good easy first step is signing As You Sow’s petition “Protect Shareholders. Strike the Financial Choice Act 2.0,” at https://www.change.org/p/don-t-eliminate-my-rights-as-a-shareholder-strike-the-financial-choice-act-2-0.

5Calls has a script for callers who want their representatives to “Defend Dodd-Frank Banking Regulations” at https://5calls.org/issue/recIY5BMUytUixNbV.

The Indivisible Explainer on the Financial Choice Act (https://www.indivisibleguide.com/resource/financial-choice-act-hr-10) also has more details on the legislation, as well as sample town hall questions about the act to ask your representatives. Indivisible also has a call script (https://www.indivisibleguide.com/resource/financial-choice-act-hr-10) if you contact their offices by phone.

This letter (http://bit.ly/Financial-CHOICE-Act-Letter) from  Newground Social Investment provides more detail on the threat to shareholder ownership and governance rights in the proposed legislation.

Do shareholder resolutions make a difference? Check page 3 of the Newground Social Investment letter for several examples. Shareholder resolutions were instrumental in Starbucks introducing Fair Trade coffee, for example, and DuPont making the largest land conservation gift in history. They’re crucial to making a difference, and it’s crucial to make sure they can be made by many stockholders, not just an elite few.

This post originally appeared on the website of Effective Assets