Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, April 11, 2005


I listened the Beatles’ White Album and Let It Be this week-end, and I thought of my theory of stardom, which I came up with a few years ago while listening to “Francis A. and Edward K.,” the album by Francis Albert Sinatra and Edward Kennedy Ellington (and his Orchestra). It’s a strange album. Sinatra hired Duke and his orchestra to sing a typical Sinatra album of standards, only one of them written by Duke, and he didn’t even hire Duke (and/or Billy Strayhorn) to write the arrangements for his own band -- the great masters of tone color, harmony, and song setting. Sinatra’s frequent arranger Billy May did them instead, and they’re typical May -- sleek and brassy ‘50s big band swing, and the band could be anybody. A waste. Except when he “allowed” some of Ellington’s band of brilliant soloists some space to play, which he did, some. And on one song Frank is singing and in comes Johnny Hodges, nonpareil sweet funky alto saxist, and I thought -- Sinatra never shares the spotlight, and Hodges is butting in. Good for Hodges! He’s at least as big a star as Sinatra in my ears; meaning, his sound is as brilliant and individualistic, as instantly recognizable.

Similarly with the Beatles. The old saw about the shame of the Beatles’ break up is that without each other, John acerbity and Paul’s lightness had no counterbalance. But that’s not the problem at all -- both those guys encompassed broad ranges. The problem is -- they never had nearly as good a band again. Who’s a better bass player for Lennon songs than McCartney? Who better guitarists for McCartney songs than George and John? Who a better drummer for all of them than Ringo? Listen to a song like the White Album’s “Sexy Sadie”: there’s Ringo with his tasty, melodic, hugely influential but inimitable drum fills; there’s Paul with his busy, inimitable, melodic bass; George with his tasty, melodic, hugely influential guitar fills; and John’s gorgeous vocal. Or “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”: drums, bass, and lead guitar going like 60 in a complex, interlocking pattern, and in the back, John’s slashing offbeats on the rhythm guitar. What a band! Each one of them a star; if not improvisers on the level of Johnny Hodges, nevertheless individualistic players in the rock idiom with tremendous, rarely matched ensemble sense.

Other thought from the week-end’s White Album listen: a question for legal beagles: What would the Beatles have to pay in royalties for the classical music clearances on “Revolution 9” in today’s clearance structure?


Flattered by the esteemed Carl Wilson’s compliments and quotes in the “Globe and Mail” of Toronto; delighted to see my spouse’s car getting international attention. (The linked picture is from almost two years ago, when the 2-year-old was only 5 and a half months.) Seriously, thanks, Carl.
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