“Two Of Us” (The Beatles Cover)

Originally posted 2009-09-08 23:52:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

I swear we didn’t plan this… I’m sure by now, if you’re a rock music fan, you’ve heard about the Beatles Rock Band game that’s coming out tomorrow, Wednesday, 9/9/09.  Everyone in the gaming world is excited about this new release, and you better believe I am, too!  You see, it’s very rare we get an official Beatles release (any more “interview” discs floating around?), and it’s great to see the Beatles music brought to a whole new generation of youngsters that are sure to fall in love with it just like the rest of us did.  I’m excited about the new Rock Band video game for Playstation 3, but I’m especially excited about the entire Beatles catalog (including the collection of singles in Past Masters Volumes 1 and 2) being remastered and re-released.  I’ve wanted the Beatles albums remastered for as long as I remember hearing them.  The original tape transfers sound so tinny- the discs they were selling on shelves all the way up until today were made in 1986 and have just been duplicates.  Go ahead- check your CDs- they all say 1986 on them!  That’s back in the time where they had to tell you the “great sound quality and fidelity” you get with CDs…  Anyway, as I am happy that they’ve remastered the original two-track masters of the Beatles albums, I’m a bit disappointed in two things:

First, they’re not remixed.  Not to say that they weren’t mixed great for the time, especially because (next to Brian Wilson, in my personal opinion) George Martin was the best producer ever.  But, now you listen to these songs and many leave a lot to be desired.  Imagine if you heard some of the songs on “HELP!” without all the vocals to the right channel and the music in the left.  Imagine if the drums in the early records were panned more towards center so they don’t cut through the mix (especially the tambourine).  As tacky as the “Love” CD from Cirque de Soleil is, it’s still pretty cool to hear the songs in such lush stereo, as opposed to the duophonic sound that they achieved before the late 60s.

And second, there are no bonus tracks.  My father is quick to point out some key missing tracks that were left off the Anthologies (“The extended version of “Dig It”!”, he always yells) and we’re left with nothing more than the albums that we’ve already bought on LP, 8-track, cassette, and original CD.

So, there’s Beatlemania in the air and I love it.  It’s been WAY too long since the fervor of the Anthology series and it feels great to say, “Oh yeah, well I’m only 25 and I’ve been a fan ALL 25 years!”

Which brings me to tonight’s Beatles cover song video.  Let me tell you, folks- prepare to be blown away.  Along with my mystery guest Steve and other off-camera guest Chris (not Moore) (from my new cover band, the Traveling Acai Berries, also featuring Bill, who couldn’t be at the session), we play a completely effortless version of “Two of Us” from the “Let It Be” album.  Chris appears on-camera in the video I’ll be posting next week, but Steve, by request of his college-age daughter who would commit social suicide if her friends found out her father was on YouTube singing Beatles songs with a 25 year old :-) , decided that he would just show his guitar skills on camera.  Actually, that’s Steve singing with me on this one, too.

And that way I described the performance: effortless.  That’s what makes it different from many of my past collaborations.  Whether it be getting the chords right, remembering the words, or remembering harmony parts, past duets have always been troublesome.  But Steve, Chris, and I play this like we’ve been playing for years, and that’s what I love about this video.  You can barely hear Chris in this video- he’s playing mandolin away from the microphone, but at times, especially late in the chorus, you can hear him plucking away.  His sight reading was impressive.  On next week’s video, you can definitely hear him, though.  Steve’s playing is great, as he took the time to learn all those parts I don’t on guitar, which is just so great knowing that I can just sing and play rhythm.  Steve reminds me a lot of my father- not only in his love for the Beatles music, but in how he can sing harmony parts without having to teach him every note.  Somehow, he just knows.  And that’s where this familiarity comes from- it really shows through in the video.

I sincerely hope you enjoy tonight’s performance- one’s that’s been in the works for months now.  It was a lot of fun and I hope they’ll want to do more, especially when they see all the good reviews we’ll get!  I’ll be back next week and hopefully I’ll be enjoying the new Beatles Rock Band game, too.  I’m going to wait until Christmas for the Beatles remastered albums, though- in stereo, of course.  And don’t even get me started on the new “mono” box set… :-)  Until next week!!


Music Review: The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” (2009 Stereo Remaster)

Originally posted 2009-09-09 22:43:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Of all the remastered Beatles discs, the Fab Four’s debut album might seem the least likely to be the first you’d want to hear.  After all, it is their most raw effort, not only for the fact that it was their first experience in the studio but also because they were pursuing a “live” sound.  It was essentially recorded in a day under the supervision of a profoundly talented producer (George Martin) and four boys with a tremendous deal of potential (John, Paul, George, and Ringo), all five of whom had yet to re-create — or, really, create — the genre in which they would spend much of their respective careers and earn much of their respective fame.

Perhaps for all those reasons, Please Please Me is an excellent place to start.

"Please Please Me" - the Beatles' debut album, remastered for 2009!

“Please Please Me” – the Beatles’ debut album, remastered for 2009!

Amidst all the controversies over mono versus stereo, should the remasters have been remixed?, etc., Please Please Me has been released in the awkward stereo format — instrumentation at the left, vocals panned right — that would have been available only to “a small number of hi-fi enthusiasts,” as the liner notes recall.

I had to chuckle to myself as I sat in the parking lot today, cellophane wrapper on the floor and new-CD smell filling my nostrils, as I imagined how exciting and fresh this format must have been at the time, a hint of what was to come in the not-so-distant future.

For the first time today, I too was excited to purchase a Beatles album.  Each of my previous purchases of a Beatles record on CD left me feeling empty.  Sure, the music was excellent — phenomenal and mind-altering, even — but the packaging has always been far too sparse, nothing more than the cheapest of cheap jewel cases and a one-fold booklet.  The packaging of this 2009 remastered album makes it worth the purchase alone.  There are reprinted liner notes, rare photos, and a mini-documentary that, although very brief (less than four minutes), includes entertaining footage and interesting narration from all four band members as well as George Martin.

The songs themselves sound as good as they ever have.  The Beatles’ rapid ascent to pop music stardom becomes clear after hearing tracks like the energetic “I Saw Her Standing There,” the vocally superb “Please Please Me,” and George’s lead vocal debut “Do You Want to Know A Secret?”

As if these weren’t enough, the other Lennon/McCartney originals round out the set nicely — the classics “Love Me Do” and the lesser-known but equally catchy “Misery.”

Even the covers, like “Anna (Go To Him)” and “Twist and Shout,” shine almost as bright as Lennon/McCartney originals.  Although I have always maintained that “A Taste of Honey” is disposable, it is interesting to hear the first instance of Paul’s double-tracked lead vocals on a recording.

Throughout this remastered album, as with the original release, the words that continually come to mind are “energetic” and “fun.”  In all reality, the remastered tracks are merely cleaned up versions of the original mixes — the same as always with a sharper focus, so to speak.

If the past four decades are any indication, this may be the last overhaul of the Beatles catalog for a very long time.  For those of us “hi-fi enthusiasts” in 2009, it seems a shame to go on for the foreseeable future without all the Beatles’ material — arguably the most essential albums and tracks of rock and pop music — in full, lush stereo sound, each vocal and instrument standing out.

And yet, even if you feel this way, the 2009 remaster of Please Please Me — with all its simplicity and raw energy — should provide nothing but pleasant listening and reading.  And if you’re interested, make sure to check out all of our Beatles cover songs here on the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog!

Music Review: The Beatles’ “Let It Be… Naked” (2003 Remix)

Originally posted 2009-09-14 23:50:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

The chart-topping success of Let It Be is truly a testament to both the heights of Beatlemania and also to the abilities of the four Beatles to consistently top themselves in their songwriting and musicianship.  Even by 1970, amid tensions that caused all four to at least threaten to quit the band, they managed to come together (no pun intended) to finish the principal tracks for a new album.

This was made easier, of course, by the fact that this new album was based primarily on material that had been written and recorded before their previous record, Abbey Road, was released.

The true complication in this process arose when Phil Spector was somehow given the “okay” to add his signature studio treatment to the tracks.  Perhaps with the disagreements between the Fab Four obscuring their collective vision, Spector was allowed to turn these songs — many of them little gems — into overblown, overproduced testaments to the capabilities of a mixing board.  Orchestras aside, the original concept of this album (at least, when it was begun in January 1969) was that there would be no overdubs of any kind.  How the leap was taken from “no overdubs” to “here’s Phil Spector” is a subject of some debate.  The result?  An album that made many fans and sources close to the band wonder what it would have been like without all the accessorizing.

Let It Be… Naked puts an end to that inquiry.

The cover of the 2003 remix of "Let It Be"

The cover of the 2003 remix of “Let It Be”

As the title implies, Naked is a stripped-down, bare bones version of Let It Be that highlights the instruments and original vocals of the four Beatles which, not surprisingly, is more than enough to excite and entertain.  Ringo once pointed out that, despite all their issues and arguments, when the count began and a song was performed live, they transformed back into those four boys from Liverpool who just loved to play music together.  For anyone who thought that may have been an overstatement, this new take on their final album is the proof of its veracity.

Throughout Let It Be… Naked, the Beatles’ harmonies are tight and their instrumentation is simple yet impressive.  The drums and bass are particularly fun to focus on, perhaps imagining Ringo and Paul falling perfectly into the rhythm and putting all their combined experience, personal talent, and emotion into what would be these final released tracks.  Of course, John and George are just as much fun to listen to.  George’s guitar work, for instance, clearly never needed to be and never should have been buried beneath layers of production and overdubs.

Even the track listing is rearranged on this 2003 remix of the album, tossing out “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae,” as well as adding “Don’t Let Me Down,” a track that had made the cut on the earlier Glyn Johns mix of the album, before the project was shelved.  This is hardly a revelation — I don’t imagine many will miss the two deleted tracks and the album is certainly much better for the inclusion of the latter.

In every conceivable way, Let It Be… Naked is a success and finally presents the album as originally intended, making it a must-listen for any Beatles fan as well as any fan of rock music who is interested in hearing the real story of the final album of this legendary band.

COMING LATER THIS WEEK:  In addition to our regular Beatles cover songs, a review of the new Let It Be 2009 remaster.  How does it compare?…

Reflections on Rock Music: Remasters, Reissues, and Bootleg Releases…

Originally posted 2009-03-16 23:51:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

In lieu of a video tonight, I’d like to take a moment and review one of the music industry’s favorite ways to make an extra dime on previously released material — also known as “remastered” and/or “reissued” albums.  And, just because it feels right, I’d like to incorporate some thoughts on the release of previously unreleased material, or “bootleg,” “b-side,” and/or “rarity” collections.

Remastered Recordings

What is a remastered recording, really?  Now, in some cases, a remastered recording can be the most exciting release in an artist’s catalog, particularly for longtime fans and audiophiles.  For instance, there really is no substitute for the fully stereo-version of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds.  This remastered disc created quite a controversy when it first came out, as you had purists who claimed it should remain mono, as it was originally intended and released by Brian Wilson and the boys.  Others embraced the all-new expansion of the sound on this classic album.  As for me, I cannot understand how anyone in possession of the Pet Sounds CD could refrain from skipping to track 14 every time to begin with the stereo recording of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  Compared to the mono recordings, the second set of stereo-mixed tracks are crisp and clear as they pop out around your ears.  You can hear each instrument and truly appreciate the minute instrumental and harmonic details that are present in this Beach Boys masterpiece, as compared to the mono versions which have a tendency to crackle and feel claustrophobic when turned up to any reasonable volume.

This, unfortunately, is probably the exception in the world of “remasters.”

Beware music fans when you pick up a CD or read online that a disc has been “remastered.”  The trick here is to read into the fine print and ascertain to what degree the recording has actually been altered.  For instance, the classic packaging/marketing trick has been for a sticker on a CD case to read “Digitally Remastered.”  That sounds great!  I have to have this new and improved recording for my collection!…

Well, perhaps so, but half the time all this means is that someone converted the analog tracks into a digital format.  Depending on the artist, producer, remixer, and age of original recording, there has often been no real improvement to the sound of the recording.  I’ve certainly been burned a few times by this “Digitally Remastered” marketing…

That being said, there really are some truly great remastered recordings out there if you’re careful to ascertain the degree of thought and effort that has gone into the apparent “remastering” (Like the re-issue of the main albums in Bob Dylan’s catalog a few years ago — and you better appreciate the improvement in sound quality, because there’s no booklet or bonus tracks to speak of!)

Reissues

Not to sound bitter here or anything, but reissues can also be just another waste of money.  Or they can offer any amazing addition to your collection.  How can you tell the difference?  Well, here are a few tips:

  • If it is a reissue of a recently released album, it’s probably just the same old material with a couple of shoddily recorded demos or tracks that didn’t make it to the album (usually for a reason) attached;
  • If it is an album that never made it to CD, then you must ask yourself: How much do I love this artist? If the answer is anything other than “very much,” then stay far, far away from this type of reissue!!  On the other hand, if the answer is “very much,” then what are you waiting for?  Some of my favorite CD purchases have fallen under this category, most notably Warren Zevon’s The Envoy.  I can’t believe that, previous to the reissue of this album in 2003, I wouldn’t have been able to hear such songs as “The Overdraft” or “Hula Hula Boys.”
  • If it is a reissue of a live album, you need to seriously question what has been improved since the initial release.  After all, what level of improvement can there really be in terms of sound quality?  It’s a live album.  It better have lots of additional tracks or an amazing, detailed booklet with updated interviews, etc.  Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison reissue is an excellent example of a worthwhile purchase in this category.
  • If it is an anniversary edition of a studio recording, some of the same criteria apply as above.  For instance, have the tracks been remastered?  (I mean, really remastered!)  Is there a decent array of bonus tracks added for the collector who already has the original album?  Is there a seriously detailed booklet with a decent number of pages?  I mean, after all, if this is an album worthy of a reissue, there must be a good deal of back story, historical importance, and/or artists from that band or other bands that are excited and willing to talk about it!
  • Finally, there is the enigmatic multiple format reissue.  What is this, you may ask?  This is when an album or collection of tracks is released and there are multiple options for the consumer.  For instance, when Pearl Jam re-releases their debut album Ten later this month, there will be three different packages available.  There’s the “Legacy Edition” with two discs — one with the original tracks, one with a newly remixed version of the album by original producer Brendan O’Brien and six bonus tracks.  There’s the “Deluxe Edition” with the aforementioned two discs and a DVD of Pearl Jam’s MTV Unplugged performance from 1992.  Then, there’s the “Collector’s Edition” with the aforementioned two CDs and one DVD, four vinyl discs (one with the original album, one with the remixed and bonus tracks, two with a live concert), a cassette version of Pearl Jam’s original “Momma-Son” demo, and “Package also includes an Eddie Vedder-style composition notebook filled with replica personal notes, images and mementos from the collections of Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament, a vellum envelope with replicated era-specific ephemera from Pearl Jam’s early work and a two-sided print commemorating the Drop in the Park concert.”  Wow.  Now that’s some selection.  For most people, the “Legacy Edition” really should be enough.  For me, the intermediate Pearl Jam fan (and the ultimate fan of CD packaging), I will consider the “Deluxe Edition” based on the price difference.  If it’s a reasonable amount more, I would really be interested to watch the unplugged performance.  As for the “Collector’s Edition” (valued on Amazon.com at $124.99), you truly need to be a Collector with a capital “C.”  Now, don’t get me wrong; they have really done it up with some amazing elements, but as much as I love and appreciate CD packaging, I’m not about to drop that much money on a single album reissue.  If my memory serves me well, this was the price for buying all the Dylan reissues at one point (again, admittedly without any booklet, bonus tracks, or memorabilia to speak of).

Bootlegs (and B-sides and Rarities)

A final category in this collection of corporate cash cows (and music lovers’ delights!) are officially released bootleg recordings.  For convenience, I’ll lump in B-sides and rarities.  Bootlegs, of course, are tracks that have not been officially released but are circulated underground among fans.  Perhaps the most famous release of a bootleg was Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes.  Worth every crazy, weird minute of sound, my friends!  Dylan’s celebrated Bootleg Series is dedicated to releasing unheard tracks and live concerts that have been — almost without exception — wonderful and worthwhile purchases.  Again, I would ask that you apply that aforementioned question to the purchase laid out before you:  “How much do you like this band/artist?”

Most bands, at some point or another, release a collection of unreleased tracks, b-sides, and rarities.  These are sometimes mediocre at best (Hootie and the Blowfish’s Scattered, Covered, and Smothered) with a minimum of only somewhat interesting liner notes.  However, these are sometimes wildly fascinating and rewarding, such as the Beach Boys’ Endless Harmony soundtrack, Warren Zevon’s Preludes, or Pearl Jam’s Lost Dogs (the latter incorporating a detailed and interesting read of a booklet).

The trick here, to be repeated once and only once more, is to evaluate how much you like the artist or band, and then to take a calculated risk.  In this writer’s opinion, half the fun of surfing the racks (or the web) and buying new albums — whether they be standard releases, remasters, reissues, or bootlegs — is the risk involved.  You may be — and perhaps most often will be — unimpressed or only somewhat entertained.  But it’s all worth it when you have those moments of revelation as you discover a truly worthwhile addition to your music library!