Friday, October 18, 2013

The Ground Will Shake - Miss Serene

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Dublin band fuses 1950's R&B and Rock n Roll roots with a modern Pop/Punk edge.

Founded earlier this year, THE GROUND WILL SHAKE hail from Dublin, Ireland. They are: Gavin Healy - bass; Paul O'Connor - vocals/guitar; Joe Rodgers - drums and Adam Smith - guitar/vocals.

Spotted accidentally, (he turned up expecting to see someone else) by Radiators from Space guitar player Pete Holidai, he offered his services to produce a record. This early show was a mix of 1950's covers and original material. "It was hard to know which songs were old and which were new..well I knew but you know what I mean" (Holidai) The name came about when during their first gig an irate barman asked them to turn down, he could feel the vibrations through the floor from behind the bar. "The Ground Will Shake" was Gavin's cheeky reply, and the name was born.

The music and style of the 1940's and 1950's has made a lasting impression on The Ground Will Shake. They write songs that fuse roots, rhythm and blues, rock and jazz, with the sensibilities of contemporary music, to create a sound and style, which pays homage to these foundations but shakes them, creating a new feel, niche and vision.

The Ground Will Shake have already played live on RTE's Arena and are tuning their set for key supports which will be announced on their website - and Facebook page. The bands debut single 'Miss Serene' is released on Cooler Records on November 1st 2013. Their self-titled album will be released in Spring 2014.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Yeah Yeah Yeah, She Loves You Turns 50

On February 8, 1964, the New York Timesposed a riddle: ‘Multiply Elvis Presley by four, subtract six years from his age, add British accents and a sharp sense of humor. And what do you get? The answer: It’s the Beatles (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)’.

The article itself referenced the arrival of British pop group The Beatles at Kennedy airport the day before, where 3,000 screaming fans had mobbed them to greet the foreign pop kings sitting atop the US Billboard 100. The inclusion of the three ‘Yeah’s’ in the article’s title was a testament to how the chorus from ‘She Loves You’ – their fourth single – had followed them across the Atlantic and become the ultimate cliché, not only for the Beatles, but for the culture of popular music itself.

In the UK the group’s first three singles had allowed them to attack and then annex the charts, but 50 years ago on Friday August 23, 1963 it was the release of ‘She Loves You’ which cemented their status as the undisputed high-kings of British culture.

Speaking in 1980 John Lennon recalled how it was Paul McCartney’s idea to shift the focus of the lyrical content. His partner agreed when recalling how he and Lennon sat on a pair of twin beds in a hotel room and came up with the idea of writing a reported conversation in the third party as opposed to their previous style of appealing directly to a subject in the first part. They finished writing the song in McCartney’s home on Forthlin Rd in Liverpool, where Paul’s father Jim famously cringed at the usage of such crude Americanisms as ‘Yeah’, and suggested ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’ instead. A mere four days later the song was committed to tape, and to the ages.

‘She Loves You’ was a remarkable departure for the Beatles in several key areas. It was the group’s first single to omit the familiar ingredient of harmonica. It was also a new departure in both approaches to songwriting – the story of a ‘friend’ advising another on how he should resolve his relationship troubles – and a sign of Lennon & McCartney’s growing confidence in their abilities; the audacious use of the major sixth chord ending being the prime example. McCartney later attributed the final jazzy ending to a suggestion from George Harrison.

Aside from this, what actually made ‘She Loves You’ more arresting and immediate than the previous Beatles records was a combination of several variables colliding to deliver a sucker punch to fans, rivals, detractors and neutrals. The record itself seemed louder than any previous release; the instrumentation was punchier, and the melody and harmonies were loaded with razor-sharp hooks at every twist and turn. Most importantly, the performance itself was defiant in its sheer confidence and optimism.

Sonically, ‘She Loves You’ benefited from EMI engineer Norman Smith’s approach to compressing the drums and bass separately, whereas on previous recordings these instruments had been compressed together. The separate compression allowed for an increased dynamic range of both instruments and a louder presence of drum and bass on the record. Additionally, Ringo Starr had replaced his Premier drums with a professional Ludwig kit since their last recording session, while Harrison had taken possession of a brand new Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar, both of which enhanced the new sonic ground the group laid down. However, according to EMI engineer Geoff Emerick, who was present at the recording, there was a particular X factor which gave the recording its unique quality.

Prior to the recording session commencing the band took part in a brief photo shoot with celebrity photographer Terry O’Neill, before all hell broke loose inside Abbey Road Studios when fans breached security and gave EMI staff a terrifying glimpse of life on the outside for the Beatles. Possibly alerted by sightings of the group being photographed outside the building, the proto Apple scruff grapevine shook as a more than usual number of female fans gathered in the vicinity. Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall cut a canteen dash short and burst back into studio two sounding the alarm just before one female fan burst in and had to be wrestled back out by Evans as EMI staff, guests and Brian Epstein looked on in horror. Emerick recalled EMI staff members having their hair pulled by dozens of shrieking fans in case they were Beatles in disguise.
The incident was recorded on camera (presumably by O’Neill) in a shot which also captures the shocked humour on the faces of Lennon and Smith. The police were called in and the madness was eventually calmed and resolved. The incident had however, blurred the boundaries between the austere and business-like oasis of EMI Studios, and the increasingly dangerous life the group was living on the road. The Beatles were still travelling to Abbey Road to impress their business partners and financiers. A little piece of their world on the road, invading, and alarming their EMI partners in such a manner, served to fortify the Beatles, and this spirit spilled into the taping of ‘She Loves You’, which followed immediately.

According to Emerick, ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the excitement of that afternoon helped spark a new level of energy in the group’s playing. … There was a level of intensity in the performance that I had not heard before … and, frankly rarely heard since. The result was a more prominent, driving rhythm sound: both the bass and drums are brighter and more present than in previous Beatles records. Combined with the group’s new confidence and more intense playing … it was the icing on the cake’. (Emerick, Here, There and Everywhere, p. 66/67)

It’s as obvious today, as it was to those who heard it for the first time in 1963, that ‘She Loves You’ was immediately different than the group’s previous three singles. The proto-punk thumping intro of Starr’s tom fills and his trashy open high hats blended with the electric guitars to create a power house beat which propelled the song along, while wonderful harmonies and frenzied – but well-timed – oohs mashed the listener’s brains into sweet submission. It’s indeed possible to argue that the loud instrumentation, combination unison singing and four-in-the-bar thumping drums of ‘She Loves You’ finally threw off the shackles of genre, and allowed the Beatles to break free from mere rock and roll/country/rockabilly/pop. In the foundry of EMI’s studio two, rock was being born.

In July 1963, responding to advance orders of the group’s next single from fans, (who placed orders without hearing it) and shortly before the annual two-week staff holiday, Len Wood, EMI managing director was handed an advance manufacturing order of 350,000 copies for ‘She Loves You’. This was a seriously unprecedented number and Wood countered that it could not be done. He eventually relented on a compromise number of 250,000. ‘She Loves You’ went on to sell 1.9 million copies.

The aftermath and impact of ‘She Loves You’ was phenomenally incomparable, at least in the UK. Lennon’s sister Julia remarked that the song seemed to be an endless soundtrack to life; it was on every station several times an hour. Tony Bramwell, Epstein’s PR man recalls, ‘The dream of being able to stroll through a seaside town and paddle in the water unmolested ended when ‘She Loves You’ came out. Then it went all ballistic’. (Bramwell, Magical Mystery Tours)

Upon release, the single soon shot to number one, knocking another Lennon-McCartney song, ‘Bad to Me’, off the top of the charts. By September 3, sales had passed 500,000, reaching 1 million by November 27. The single held the top spot for four weeks, before relinquishing the coveted position to Brian Poole and The Tremeloes (whom Decca Records had signed instead of the Beatles). ‘She Loves You’ finally regained the top spot for the Beatles towards the end of November, which it held for a further two weeks before the group knocked themselves off number one with their subsequent release, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’.

The song became the biggest selling UK single of their career and also held the UK chart records for 14 years until its co-author surpassed it with sales of ‘Mull of Kintyre’. It still holds the record of biggest selling UK single from a group (discounting charity records).

For some 37 out of the 52 weeks of 1963 Epstein/EMI artists held the top spot on the UK charts. By the end of 1963, Epstein and George Martin had virtually turned EMI Studios into a monetary exchange and were printing their own plastic currency. A respected newspaper critic hailed Lennon-McCartney as the greatest composers since Beethoven. The Beatles were now, well and truly, at the Toppermost of the Poppermost.

What would happen in 1964? Only America could say.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Please Please Me Turns 50

Article first published as 'Please Please Me' Turns 50 on Blogcritics.

Upon first hearing an acetate of 'Love Me Do', John Lennon's aunt Mimi supposedly informed her nephew: "If you think you're going to make your fortune with that, you've got another thing coming". However, upon hearing an acetate of 'Please Please Me' some time later Mimi told Lennon: "That's more like it, that should do well".

"Mimi", replied her nephew, "that is going to be number one". (Coleman, Ray, Lennon: The Definitive Biography, p.129)

If the acetate in question was the official recording from November 26, 1962 (an earlier recording existed) then Lennon's optimism was certainly swelled by EMI producer George Martin's instant prediction upon completing the session that The Beatles had just recorded their first number one. Assuming Lennon and Martin actually made these bold predictions, both men were proven correct. 'Please Please Me' reached number one in the U.K. in March 1963.

The single's success launched The Beatles' career in the U.K. and afforded them a foothold to launch a staggering and unprecedented assault on the U.K. singles and albums chart, both of which they dominated throughout the rest of 1963. That their success would be assured with this particular song - or with a Lennon-McCartney original composition at all - was not a certainty at the close of 1962.

Having released the Lennon-McCartney-penned 'Love Me Do' as the group's debut instead of - and against his natural instinct - the Mitch Murray-composed track 'How Do You Do It', Martin was reasonably impressed with the results. However, following up this debut release with something that might chart higher than number 17 was now the challenge, and the EMI producer was still unsure if the band had the material to do it.

Martin was still of a mind to issue their recording of Murray's song as their follow-up single and so - aware of this - the group convened at EMI studios in November 1962 and taped one of the most urgently energetic and electrifying slices of pop ever committed to tape up to that point, at least on that side of the Atlantic.

Throughout the decades which followed The Beatles' explosive career and their sordid demise, the legend of the single which broke the band has always been rather simple: 1. John Lennon wrote the song as a slow, bluesy homage to Roy Orbison. 2. Martin heard it and advised they speed it up and add some harmonies. 3. They did so and became stars.

This is probably a very simplified version of events. The session records show that Martin was not present when the song first appeared early that September, probably in its slow form. When he next heard it, the song had almost evolved into the structured version we know today; this version was unearthed in 1994 in preparation for The Beatles Anthology.

Regardless of when he heard it first, Martin's advice on restructuring the song was taken on board. The result was impressive.

Lennon recalled the group's excitement with the finished track: "In the following weeks, we went over and over it again and again. We changed the tempo a little bit, we altered the words slightly and we went over the idea of featuring harmonica, just like we did on 'Love Me Do'. By the time the session came round, we were so happy with the result, we couldn't get it recorded fast enough" (Badman, Keith, The Beatles: Off The Record, p.46).

Paul McCartney also gave credit to Martin's vision on production: "George Martin's contribution on 'Please Please Me' was quite a big one, actually. It was the first time that he actually ever showed that he could see beyond what we were offering him" (The Beatles: Off The Record, p.47).

As 'Love Me Do' was probably influenced by 'Bye Bye Love', the harmonies on 'Please Please Me' are also borrowed from Don and Phil Everly. The clever application of harmonica to George Harrison's scaled guitar riff provided continuity with the group's debut release which helped to establish an early signature sound.

The vocals bristled with a believable desperation which broadened the depth of the song, not to mention the theme which is overtly sexual and serves to dispel the myth that the group's early lyrics were shallow and trite. In fact, the animated, rushed climb of the chords from G through A to B (matched by Ringo Starr's energetic fills after the first line) serves to underline a climactic, sexually frustrated desperation. Lennon screams of his attempts to have himself 'pleased' in the manner he feels he deserves.

Similarly, Lennon's four desperate "C'mon" calls are delivered with a gruff sincerity. Each is answered by Harrison and McCartney, playing the role of the chorus in a Greek play and providing the representation of peer pressure. Lennon also managed to throw in a nod to his idol Buddy Holly in the line referring to "rain in my heart", cleverly lifted from Holly's 'Raining in My Heart' (1959).

For all of its energy and urgency however, what really broke ground in contemporary pop music was the song's audacious ending. It concluded with an aptly climactic triplet of repetitive pleading, with the last "you" held and then bent in falsetto. Meanwhile the guitars rise and fall through an unorthodox chord sequence of E-G-C-B-E which is interspersed and emphasized by a fill of four, five-stroke rolls on the snare drum.

Martin switched on the talk-back mic from the control room of studio two and remarked: " You've just made your first Number One". (Lewisohn, Mark, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, p.24) He wasn't wrong.

'Love Me Do'/'P.S. I Love You' ensured The Beatles' debut release was comprised exclusively of McCartney compositions. In January 1963, 'Please Please Me'/'Ask Me Why' established their second release as completely John Lennon. Throughout 1963/64 while The Beatles blazed their trail globally, the majority of their single releases were joint Lennon-McCartney ventures.

Released during one of the most vicious winters in British history, 'Please Please Me' preceded a post-war socio-cultural thaw in Britain in a similar fashion to how 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' would impact on U.S. culture almost 12 months later.

On reflection, Lennon was aggressively territorial regarding the credit for 'Please Please Me', including when it came to crediting Martin's influence. No doubt he sensed the importance of the song's role in The Beatles' career. In 1971 Lennon dispatched a terse postcard to Martin declaring: "I wrote 'Please Please Me' ¬alone. It was recorded in the exact sequence in which I wrote it, remember?" (The John Lennon Letters, 2012) Again, in 1980 he told author David Sheff "'Please Please Me' is my song completely" (Sheff, David, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, p.168)

Who wouldn't be proud of writing a slice of pop which was instrumental in the transition of rock and roll into rock?

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