Saturday, December 12, 2009


As a consequence of last night’s extremely rare screening on TCM of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (1970) starring Mick Jagger, I awoke this morning thinking about the Rolling Stones. I realized that today’s date, 12 December, serendipitously was the date the Stones finished the filming of The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, filmed 11-12 December 1968 (frequent delays on the 11th caused the filming to continue on into the wee hours of 12 December). A true museum piece, the show was designed as a made-for-TV special intended for airing on the BBC as a Christmas special in order to promote the release of the Stones’ album Beggars Banquet, which had been released in the UK a few days earlier, on 6 December. Featuring appearances by Jethro Tull, The Who, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithful, and Eric Clapton, Rock And Roll Circus was to have been the first appearance of the Stones after an absence of several months, a consequence of Mick Jagger making Performance. With most of its featured performers dressed as clowns, and Mick Jagger, improbably, serving as the Ring Master, the outcome was so ludicrously silly that it was deemed unreleasable, and remained so for 28 years, until 1996. Additionally, legend has it that the Stones felt they had been upstaged by The Who. Bootlegged Rolling Stones tracks from the soundtrack appeared in the years after, but Rock and Roll Circus is perhaps more significant as the last time the original Stones—with Brian Jones—performed together. He was fired soon after.

When the show was eventually released on home video in 1996, the music the Stones played on the show was shown not to be as terrible as rumor had it, but the show’s concept—an extravaganza produced and starring the Rolling Stones—simply didn’t fit the Stones’ image. In contrast, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (1967) concept—in which the Beatles, along with a large number of their friends, drove around the British countryside zonked out of their minds playing psychedelic music—had a certain commercial potential based on its novelty. Critics, however, excoriated it, even if it roughly conformed to the Beatles’ image, given the picaresque films they’d made previously with Richard Lester. The Stones, however, had made no such movies, and simply weren’t convincing as fun-loving hippies, especially when dressed up as clowns. As a joke, it wasn’t funny, or rather, it was painfully funny. The trouble is, the Rolling Stones never made convincing hippies. Bohemians they were, hippies they were not. What Performance would reveal—which had finished filming a few weeks earlier, in mid-October, but would not be released until August 1970—was the threat and danger of Mick Jagger’s persona. I find Rock And Roll Circus a curious misfire, a true oddity in the history of rock, significant only because it represents Brian Jones’s last “live” appearance with the Stones. And for Mick Jagger’s first performance after Performance.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Performance Screening Tonight

I highly recommend you tune in, or set your recorder, to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) tonight as there is a rare screening of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg's classic Performance (1970) beginning at roughly 2:00 a.m. Eastern (technically, Saturday morning). The film rarely shows on American television, so if you haven't seen it, or don't have a copy of it, tonight is the opportunity to see it. Additionally, Richard Harland Smith's essay on the film is available here on the TCM website. Put your tie on!

Strength Lies In Improvisation

These are the days when no one should rely unduly on his “competence.” Strength lies in improvisation. All the decisive blows are struck left-handed. – Walter Benjamin

The day before yesterday, I blogged on the long forgotten British band Hard Meat. As is usually the case, having written about a particular topic, inevitably my thoughts are preoccupied by it for several days or even weeks after. This morning I woke up thinking about the final song on the second (and final) album Hard Meat released (Through A Window), a song titled “The Ballad of Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes,” and it occurred to me that the song may have been based on an actual couple. (Why the thought had never occurred to me before I have no idea, but I’ve become a firm believer in Salvador Dali’s paranoiac-critical method.) It struck me that perhaps Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes possibly might have been the British equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde. Hence I was compelled this morning to do a web search, and sure enough, there was a British couple named Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes (pictured), although they were not outlaws of the Bonnie and Clyde sort.

Happily, as a result of my search I came across the weblog of Martin Newell—“Performance Poet, Author and Pop-Genius”—who reveals that he had been researching the late Victorian/early Edwardian-era couple and finally uncovered their story. I encourage readers to click on the above link to his blog and read his fascinating post about the couple that inspired Hard Meat’s ballad. Although you can read it there, I was so struck by Mr. Newell’s eloquent analysis of the mendicant couple that I am compelled to reproduce it here:

Still, though, Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes stare out from that wintry picture in a world far removed from the one in which we now live. They’d probably be given short shrift if they existed today. Their begging would be strongly discouraged. On one hand, they’d be descended upon by those agencies whose job it is to sort such problems out. On the other, they’d be at serious risk of attack from any team of drunken yobs who came across them. Hounded from the rural haunts now gentrified and peppered with Neighbourhood Watch stickers, simply bedding-down in the country would be difficult. People would be frightened of them. That haunting old photograph of the pair, however, radiates a robust dignity which you'd be hard-pushed to find in their modern counterparts. It tells you that for all of our improvements, state benefits and social safety-nets, certain elements of individual freedom and basic charity which they knew, have almost completely vanished during the past century.

If there is a problem with my reproducing the image of the couple on my blog (taken from Martin Newell's blog), please contact me about the matter and I’ll remove it.


In Luis Buñuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid, characters frequently entertain each other’s foot fetishes. Céléstine (Jeanne Moreau) indulges Monsieur Rabour’s (Jean Ozenne’s) fascination with her feet (pictured), an expression of some sort of fetish, but what it might be isn’t clear—which seems to be precisely the point. Each individual is forced to acknowledge that his understanding of others inevitably must be incomplete; there is no book that, in the space of a few hundred pages, can provide the perfect simulacrum of the many years of a person’s life. The impossibility of perfect understanding, however, does not negate the possibility of partial understanding. But there seems to be a much bigger issue at work: It is not the enigma that lies between the fetishist and the “interpreter” of the fetish, but the greater enigma that lies between the fetishist and the unnameable. The inability to communicate the meaning of the fetish would seem to be essential for a true fetishist.

My understanding of the fetish differs from that put forth by Freud. The later Freud seemed to conclude that the fetishist was not a solipsist. He argues, in An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, in his discussion of the fetishist that “the detachment of the ego from the reality of the external world has never succeeded completely” (p. 60; see also p. 61). However, Freud most certainly did not show, finally, that the fetishist is not a solipsist; he simply defined the fetish as “a compromise formed with the help of displacement” (Outline of Psycho-Analysis, p. 60) of cathexis from the instinctual object to some signifying object, an effect that tells us nothing about whether this signifier as such is understood by one, ten, a hundred, or one hundred million people. For instance, the example of the foot-fetishist in Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis provides no help given the narrative’s glaring lacunae, as he simply recounts the (illusory?) scene of origin of the fetish, though this explanation tells us nothing of the meaning of the fetish (pp. 348-49). He concedes, in “Fetishism” (1927), that it is not always possible “to ascertain the determination of every fetish” (p. 201) though the impossibility of this determination is unrelated to the more daunting issue of the meaning of the fetish.

What is the fetish? An enduring material object, X, that acts as a signifier of some other object, process or relationship, Y. Fetish is thus to be distinguished from ritual as object is from event, the spatial axis of a related pair whose temporal axis is ritual: The Sacrament of Holy Communion is the ritual, the transubstantiating wine and wafer the fetish. The signified entity, Y, is, in turn, instinctually highly cathected for sexual, religious or economic reasons, or even because of some atypical neurological condition. In the fetish complex the signifier—the fetish object—in turn becomes cathected, acquiring the affective import of the instinctual object. How does the fetish object become cathected? In other words, the question is how it is possible that a signifying object (even one possessing materiality) can provide some part of the satisfaction of the instinctual object. This paradox certainly confounded Freud and would seem to be the primary reason for his interest in fetishism, especially in those cases where the fetish is unrelated to the instinctual object by metonymy—for instance, when a cowry shell is more mysterious than the female foot. Unlike the cowry shell, though, the shoe is more obviously metonymically related to the foot. The paradox is why the shoe (or, as in Diary of a Chambermaid, Céléstine’s high-heeled leather boots) has more affective import that the foot—a paradox expressed by Carl Perkins who, as legend has it, when first hearing about the story of the prized pair of blue suede shoes, was chagrined that a man actually would value his shoes over a beautiful girl. Put it another way, signs may be consumed but they are not nutritious.

Valuable Shoes:
Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes
The Beatles – Old Brown Shoe
Kate Bush – Red Shoes
Elvis Costello – (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Shoes
Depeche Mode – Walking in My Shoes
The Drifters – I’ve Got Sand in My Shoes
The Eagles – Those Shoes
Elton John – Who Wears These Shoes
K. C. & the Sunshine Band – Boogie Shoes
Carl Perkins – Blue Suede Shoes
Ray Price – My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You
Paul Simon – Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
Joe South – Walk A Mile In My Shoes

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Importance Of The Name

I’ve written previously on this blog about one of the central myths informing rock culture (first established by The Velvet Underground and Nico album), that initial commercial neglect guarantees greatness. This myth is so fundamental to rock culture that it enables commercially neglected albums to achieve considerable cult cachet in the years, perhaps decades, following their original release. Often these records acquire greatness because there are legendary circumstances concerning the band’s musicians, and/or troubled or difficult conditions associated with the album’s production. Myths also develop concerning the financial and/or physical conditions that constrained the record’s making that affected the time and moment of its release. An issue frequently surrounding a “cult” record is that for various reasons it was “delayed,” and the causes for this postponement contribute to the formation of its legend. The point is, often non-musical factors contribute to an album's cult status.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, it is a harsh fact that sometimes excellent records are released that just simply do not sell. (One can therefore deduce that the opposite is true as well, that for unclear reasons poor or mediocre records may sell exceptionally well.) One band that released two very good albums that sold poorly at the time of their release—almost forty years ago—and then vanished was a British trio called Hard Meat, composed of brothers Mick Dolan (guitars, vocals), Steve Dolan (bass, vocals), and their friend Mick Carless (drums, percussion). Hard Meat released two records for Warner Brothers Records in 1970, its first the eponymously titled Hard Meat (WS 1852, released ca. February 1970) and the second Through A Window (WS 1879, released ca. September 1970). I mention this band because while perusing eBay the other day, I learned that these two albums are now fetching premium prices. Astonishingly, some dealers are listing sealed copies of these albums for $99 as the “Buy It Now” price. This is a remarkable development, because thirty years ago, give or take a month or two, I was able to pick up sealed copies of these records for 44 cents.

I discovered the music of Hard Meat almost 40 years ago through what were known as Warner Brothers “Samplers.” These were promotional records featuring bands making records for Warner/Reprise that were available for purchase directly from Warner Brothers for $1 (in those days, you could mail in a dollar bill, cold hard cash, with your request and get a record in return). Warner/Reprise also issued some two record promotional sets (e.g., 1969’s Songbook) for $2, and once even issued a three-record set for $3, Looney Tunes Merrie Melodies, this around March 1971 as I recall (some sources indicate 1970 as the year of release, but I think this is incorrect). It was in this latter three-record set that I encountered Hard Meat’s “Smile As You Go Under.” Liking the song, I ordered through a now defunct record club the band’s second album, Through A Window, the only one available through the club. I very much liked the music I heard on the album, and played it frequently. I liked its sparse production (by John Roberton—not Robertson—also producing Steeleye Span at the time); it wasn't what is called “over-produced,” and while there were a couple medium tempo rockers, the bulk of the album had a folk rock sensibility, but was entirely unconventional in its approach. (The band's first album includes a cover of Bob Dylan's “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine” from Blonde on Blonde). (Incidentally, a trio of songs from the second album are available on youtube: A Song of Summer, Free Wheel, and The Ballad of Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes; a couple songs from the first album are available as well, although I haven't conducted an extensive search.)

At the time, 1970-71, although I scoured the record bins for it, I was never able to track down a copy of the band’s first record. However, a decade later I found the band’s eponymously titled first album in a second floor record store in Omaha, in a bin composed primarily of used 70s disco records, 12” dance club mixes, and various cut-outs. In fact, I found six or eight sealed copies of it as I recall, all marked 44 cents. I purchased two of them, opening one in order to play it and leaving the other sealed (to this day). At the same time, I also found a sealed copy (to this day) of Through A Window for the same price. For that little amount of money, why not pick up a second copy?

I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a band’s records so widely available in still-sealed form, a phenomenon made even more remarkable by the fact that so many such copies are for sale on eBay, sealed, 40 years later. I can therefore only surmise that Hard Meat’s records didn’t just sell poorly, they did not sell at all. The wretchedly bad sales ended the band’s career virtually from the get-go, a career that showed great promise. Indulging in a bit of speculation, the band’s poor sales may have had to do with its name, a crucial factor in achieving widespread acceptance. At the time (then a teenager), I remember thinking, perhaps naively, that “Hard Meat” was an oxymoronic name inspired by rock band names like Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly, “hard” as in “hard rock” and “meat” as in “tender” or “raw,” the sort of band name that might invoke one of its prestigious contemporaries such as Soft Machine. I now realize that “hard meat” invokes the language of pornography, and I wonder if this association didn’t have something to do with the band’s utter failure to sell any records. I can’t believe it was the music, as the number of sealed copies to this very day suggests no one ever actually heard it. As is widely known, no major avant-garde group or movement has ever achieved acceptance without a provocative name: think of Surrealism, Cubism, Situationism, Futurism, Deconstruction, Semiotics, and Punk Rock—or even Dada for that matter, which parodied the names for such artistic movements. But no major acceptance is going to occur with a name like Hard Meat. It's neither catchy nor youthfully insolent, like “The Sex Pistols” is, for instance. The name just doesn’t serve as a hook that would allow promoters to further the band's publicity, which would lead to major acceptance. I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned here, in the same way there’s a lesson in the names of other failed bands, such as The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Test Icicles.

Originally from Birmingham, discussion on this board indicates in the early to mid-60s the Dolan Brothers played with local blues sensation Jimmy Powell and while still in Birmingham had a blues band named the Cock-A-Hoops (British slang for being in a state of boastful elation or exultation). The board also indicates band member Steve Dolan died a few years ago; he apparently spent a number of years as a session musician. I've come across various sources that indicate Mick Dolan has worked as a producer and audio engineer for various British bands and musicians, so he obviously stayed active in the industry for many years, and perhaps still is so. For those interested, below is a Hard Meat discography such as I have been able to assemble; I can't claim it is complete, although the major albums and singles are included.

I would welcome any additional information about the band, or additions to the discography.

Hard Meat Discography:
Hard Meat/Through A Window Progressive Line PL582, 2002 [Australia] (pictured)
Hard Meat Warner Bros. WS 1852, 1970
Through A Window Warner Bros. WS 1879, 1970
Rain/Burning Up Years Island WIP 6066, 1969 (pre-Warner Brothers single)
The Ballad of Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes/Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow Warner Bros. A 6100, 1970 [Germany]
Compilation (LP)
Looney Tunes Merrie Melodies Warner Bros. PRO 423, 1971 (3xLP) (“Smile As You Go Under”)
Together Again MH 12915, 1971 [?] [Argentina] (Song unknown)
From Burbank To The Bay Area Warner Strategic Marketing 5046-66294-1, 2005 [UK] (2xLP) (“Free Wheel”)
The Melting Pot Volume 2 Good Groove Musik GGLP002 (Year Unknown) (Bootleg?) (“Free Wheel”)
Compilation (CD)
From Burbank To The Bay Area Warner Strategic Marketing 5046-66294-2, 2005 [UK] (“Free Wheel”)
Feel The Spirit: Other Worldly Folk Music Gems And Psychedelics Optimum Sounds OPTCD002 [UK] 2006 (“Free Wheel”)
Covers (LP)
The Human Instinct [New Zealand blues-rock band], Burning Up Years (Pye, 1969)
Title track of the album is taken from the B side of Hard Meat’s Island single issued in 1969

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Now Playing

In their well-known book, Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that metaphor is not simply a literary device but an irreducible part of language itself. Moreover, metaphors have a cognitive function, structuring our thoughts and perceptions. A predominant metaphorical concept that governs our perception of life, they argue, is “life is a gambling game.” Some examples they provide to illustrate this metaphorical concept are, “I’ll take my chances,” “The odds are against me,” “He’s a real loser,” “He’s bluffing,” “Maybe we need to sweeten the pot,” “That’s my ace in the hole,” “That’s the luck of the draw,” and so on. The point is, these metaphors reveal how we perceive life, not gambling—life itself is perceived as a gamble, one filled with great risk. Lakoff and Johnson see these kind of common linguistic expressions as “speech formulas,” “fixed-form expressions,” or “phrasal lexical items”—they function “like single words, and the language has thousands of them.” Since popular song lyrics are so dependent on colloquial and vernacular expressions, it should therefore come as no surprise that they are loaded with “speech formulas” and “fixed-form expressions.” A song such as Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” isn’t simply about gambling, it’s about life itself, a way not only of imagining life, but a way of living it. In the gambler’s words, the singer says, “I found an ace that I could keep”:

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done

The gambler’s simple, homespun words have the force of a homily. Many pop songs have applied the metaphor of “game” and “gambling game” to life, as the following (short) list reveals.

Playing Games, A-Z
Abba – The Name of the Game
Blood, Sweat & Tears – Go Down Gamblin’
Ray Charles – Blackjack
Bob Dylan – Lily, Rosemary And The Jack of Hearts
Tommy Edwards – It’s All In the Game
Shirley Ellis – Name Game
Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders – The Game of Love
Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers
Larry Gatlin – Love Is Just A Game
The Hollies – Son of a Rotten Gambler
INXS – Deliver Me
Alan Jackson – Just Playin’ Possum
Kansas – Play The Game Tonight
John Lennon – Mind Games
Steve Miller Band – The Joker
Graham Nash and David Crosby – Games
Otis Redding – The Match Game
The Alan Parsons Project – Games People Play
Queen – Play The Game
The Radiators – Life’s A Gamble
Kenny Rogers – The Gambler
Sonny and Cher – Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Joe South – Games People Play
Talking Heads – Slippery People
U2 – The Fool
Van Morrison – The Healing Game
Amy Winehouse – Love Is a Losing Game
XTC – Complicated Game
Neil Young – Cowgirl in the Sand
Frank Zappa – A Game of Cards

Monday, December 7, 2009


In contrast to December 7 1941—the date “which will live in infamy,” the day the Japanese navy attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—which shall be commemorated today, the date of December 6 1969, the day of the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, went unacknowledged yesterday by the American mass media. Given that yesterday marked that notorious event’s 40th anniversary, it is strange (hypocritical?) there was no mention of it, given the deluge of Woodstock 40th anniversary commemorations and product tie-ins that occurred this year. The only acknowledgements of the Altamont concert of which I’m aware are last week’s issue by Criterion of the Maysles’ Brothers documentary Gimme Shelter (1970) on Blu-ray Disc, and the box set released last month revisiting the Rolling Stones’ late 1969 U. S. tour, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones In Concert—40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set (cover pictured). Otherwise, the event has gone unremarked so far as I know.

The infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival was held on Saturday, December 6 1969 at the Altamont Speedway in northern California. Headlined by The Rolling Stones, the concert also featured Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Ironically, The Grateful Dead, which helped organize the event and were supposed to play, declined the opportunity to perform once the violence got out of hand. Since there was no commemoration of Altamont in the media over the weekend, I’ve excerpted below my and Becky’s discussion of the event, taken from our co-authored book, Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (FAB Press, 2006). Our discussion below is taken from the word file we submitted for publication, and therefore may not precisely match the version that was printed in our book. Our remarks about Altamont occur in the context of the U. S. release of Performance, starring Mick Jagger, in August 1970.

More than half a year had passed since The Rolling Stones’ tour had culminated sensationally at Altamont on 6 December 1969, but the notoriety of that violent event was still resonating in the media. The Maysles Brothers’ documentary of the last ten days of that tour, Gimme Shelter, was not released until 6 December 1970. The Criterion Collection DVD of Gimme Shelter, released in 2000, included outtakes; among them, filmed backstage at Madison Square Garden on 27 or 28 November 1969, is footage of Tina Turner and Mick Jagger looking at what possibly is an issue of Rolling Stone. Tina Turner is struck by a picture of Mick Jagger in his Harry Flowers guise, telling Mick she’s definitely going to have to see the movie when it comes out. Someone off-camera asks, “What’s the name of the movie?” It would become clear in less than a year that Performance wasn’t just another “movie.”

We are told that in later years, although Donald had helped the Maysles Brothers with Gimme Shelter, he lamented his contribution was traduced by them. The violence that occurred during the concert at Altamont Speedway transformed Gimme Shelter from a mere concert film into something much different. The event actualized—Donald’s term—an aspect of Mick Jagger’s ambiguous persona that Performance didn’t so much create as reveal. Donald later claimed to have done some editing on Gimme Shelter, and while the late Charlotte Zwerin was most certainly a superb film editor, we have no reason to doubt Donald’s claim. Whether Donald performed actual, “hands on,” editing of the film, or was consulted in order to suggest a cutting strategy, we cannot say. Some unused footage was shot in London in early 1970, but we have not been able to determine, how, or in what way Donald participated in that shooting, if he did at all. He was still in London in January and February 1970; the re-edit of Performance had not yet begun. He may not have become involved until later that year, after he finished the re-edit of Performance around the first of May. Donald is given thanks in the credit scroll at the end of the film, though he apparently felt his contribution deserved more than such a perfunctory acknowledgement. Subsequently, although Myriam Gibril indicates Donald remained friends with the Maysles and would try to hook up with them whenever he was in New York, privately his estimation of their friendship had changed. Perhaps he should have known better: don’t get your personal relations mixed up in business.

Pauline Kael attacked Gimme Shelter in a notorious review published in The New Yorker. The Maysles wrote a response, but at the time The New Yorker did not publish letters, so their letter remained unseen by the general public until 1998. The Maysles’ letter refers to the “ambiguous nature of the Stones’ appeal” and the “complexity…of Jagger’s double self…his insolent appeal and the fury it can and in fact does provoke.”* Yet these insights were as much Donald’s as the Maysles’. They are simply reading in Gimme Shelter what already had been revealed in Performance, which had preceded Gimme Shelter in the movie theaters by four months (and was in the can over a year before Altamont). Donald had long recognized the ambiguous allure of Mick Jagger, believing Mick Jagger to be infinitely more interesting—and more dangerous—as a rock icon than, say, Elvis Presley, who dared to do nothing provocative with his masculinity. Indeed, Donald thought Jagger was much more daring in the deliberately ambiguous display of his sexuality. Of course, Donald had great respect for Brian Jones also, and most certainly Mick had taken a few lessons from Brian Jones about the self as art. “[Mick’s] dilemma is that he knows what he’s into.” Donald said. “He knows about the violence. This movie [Performance] was finished before Altamont, and Altamont actualized it.”

*The Maysles’ letter was eventually published in Kevin Macdonald and Mark Cousins, Eds., Imagining Reality, p. 394.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Mono Box

Although I wouldn’t consider myself a “hard core” fan (the designation suggests a degree of irrational obsession), out of curiosity I nonetheless was compelled to purchase the recently issued, and unfortunately rather expensive, Beatles box set, The Beatles in Mono. The box contains the first 10 albums in remastered (as opposed to remixed) mono—Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, and Let It Be were recorded in stereo—as well as a double album of singles and EPs collectively referred to as “Mono Masters.” I happen to agree with those reviewers—meaning the reviewers I’ve happened to have read—that these remastered albums sound fresher and cleaner than any previous issues of the Beatles on CD, and exhibit a heretofore unrealized dynamic range (on CD). Most of these same reviewers agree that the mono versions of the albums collected here are the best the Beatles have sounded on CD, and I have no reason to dispute that assertion—or any interest to dispute it, for that matter. As is quite well known, the stereo mixes were often done days, sometimes weeks after the initial mono mix, and could include different takes by the engineers doing the overdubs. It is also well known that the Beatles’ U.S. recordings evolved from the British releases, revealing the rather banal insight that the two countries, at least for the greater part of the decade of the 1960s, approached rock ‘n’ roll recording quite differently. As Dave Marsh observes in his excellent 2007 book, The Beatles’ Second Album, “In almost all cases, the process by which the 14 songs that were standard on the UK albums were whittled down to the US standard of 12 (or fewer) was haphazardly done by people with no ear whatsoever for what might have been a group’s musical breakthroughs or signature performances” (p. 6).

Yet the bowdlerizations of the Beatles’ albums for U.S. release isn’t what primarily interests me. Most reviewers have suggested, implicitly or explicitly, that the virtue of The Beatles in Mono is that it both recovers and restores the band’s musical breakthroughs and signature performances (to use Marsh's formulation) for the digital era. It also reveals something else about the Beatles, something that tends to be ignored in order to extol the range of their genius. The fact that the Beatles were the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet Earth from 1964-69 hardly needs to be restated yet again; rather, what needs to be said is that the effect of so-called “show business” on the Beatles was entirely salubrious. My point is best expressed by analogy, and I’ll quote here jazz critic and historian James Lincoln Collier writing on Duke Ellington:

Ellington thus was deeply enmeshed in the entertainment industry, and the symbiosis had a direct and dramatic effect on his career as a composer. Ellington admitted that he was more prone to look for good times than sit at the piano and write. “Without a deadline, baby, I can’t finish nothing,” he once said. . . . [W]ithout [song publisher Irving] Mills, Ellington would have recorded a lot less than he did. Mills needed tunes to publish and he needed to get the tunes he published recorded. Ellington was . . . eager to establish himself as a songwriter, because there was far more money in writing hit tunes than there was in leading a dance orchestra. The system was circular: it was not economical to go into the studio to cut one tune. You needed at least two to make up a recording, and in fact it was the usual practice to record four or even more at a session.

The consequence was that Ellington was forced to produce a steady freshet of new works. In 1926 and 1927, Ellington had only a hazy grasp of music theory. But, with his great, if untrained, musical intelligence, he began to work out his own methods of composition, in which he would enter the studio with scraps and pieces of music in hand, and develop something on the spot. . . . In sum, a great deal of Ellington’s music, including many of the treasures we revere today, was produced solely to meet the demands of the entertainment industry the Ellington orchestra was part of. . . . Ellington learned by doing; by 1940, when he was turning out some of the greatest works in jazz history . . . he was the undisputed master of the short jazz composition. And he had learned his craft because show business had forced him to do it. (Jazz: The American Theme Song, pp. 107-09)

Mutatis mutandis, what Collier observes about Duke Ellington is true of the Beatles and especially of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team. Albums they made, but the Beatles métier was the single: the bulk of their best music, especially the early breakthrough singles, was made under the duress of what Collier above refers to as “show business” pressures. After 1966’s Revolver, when they turned their energies to more ambitious, album-oriented “conceptual” works such as Sgt. Pepper’s (and therefore freed of the pressures that drove their early career), despite the time and money they lavished upon them, they became musically less compelling and innovative. It is true that Sgt. Pepper’s, along with albums such as Magical Mystery Tour, have their defenders, but few rock critics would trade these records’ experimentalism and grandiosity for the musical breakthroughs found on Rubber Soul and Revolver, to name a couple of examples. Make no mistake: I love the sheer musical diversity of The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) and still cherish the copy of Abbey Road I purchased with a pocketful of quarters and a couple of half-dollars (my allowance) forty years ago last month. I'm not trying to diminish the artistry of these records (and even if I wanted to, I couldn't), but make the point that the musical achievement these albums represent did not simply emerge out of the Beatles' musical imagination, but were, as James Lincoln Collier observes of Duke Ellington, forced out of them by the entertainment industry of which they were a part. The Beatles in Mono allows us to map that development in their first sonic realizations.