Kronomyth 7.1: CARIBOUGIE. John Lennon and Elton John come together, what(ever)’s not to love? When this came on the radio, it was like being invited to a three-and-a-half-minute party. The sax solo from Bobby Keys is pure magic (not bad for a first take). Elton bet Lennon that the song would reach #1 (until that point, Lennon was the only member of The Beatles not to achieve the feat) and Lennon agreed if it did to join Elton John on stage. Two months later, John Lennon appeared on stage during Elton’s Madison Square Garden performance and played “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” The flip side is “Beef Jerky” from the same album, Walls and Bridges. It’s an instrumental with horns and a pulsating rhythm; reminds me of the half-baked treats that Paul included on his early albums. “Beef Jerky” is credited to John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Nuclear Band with Little Big Horns and Booker Table and the Maitre D’s, that last name being a playful twist on Booker T. and the M.G.’s.
I was 11 years old when I bought this album, the same age as Lennon when he drew the pictures that adorn Walls and Bridges. My Beatles fantasies in full blossom, every album from John, Paul, George and Ringo was a treasure box to be opened. Walls and Bridges, with its unique tri-strip album cover—this is still one of the best packaged albums I own, from the full-size picture booklet to the build-a-Lennon cover—promised much and didn’t disappoint: “Going Down on Love,” “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” “What You Got,” “#9 Dream,” “Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox).” As a boy, I didn’t have any inkling into the Lennons’ personal affairs and still have no interest today. When the books came out after John’s death, I couldn’t have cared less for them; the man was gone, the story was written. As I grew older, I let my appreciation for Walls be dimmed by dull critics who lumped this under Lennon’s Lost Weekend and docked it a star or two with a disapproving tongue cluck as an unremarkable album from a remarkable artist. Then came this lovely 2010 remaster, and my faith in Walls And Bridges was restored. While it’s one of his least philosophical albums, it’s also his most musical, with terrific accompaniment from old friends (Elton John, Harry Nilsson, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Arthur Jenkins, Nicky Hopkins, Ken Ascher) and new faces (Little Big Horns, Jesse Ed Davis, Eddie Mottau). It’s still a personal record, with love songs to Yoko (“Bless You”), confessionals (“Scared,” “What You Got,” “Going Down On Love”) and a caustic swipe at estranged manager Allen Klein (“Steel And Glass”). And yet it manages to be one of Lennon’s most fun records to listen to, aided in large part by upbeat arrangements. Although the tactile experience of the original elpee is one of my fondest memories in album collecting, I’d have to give the 2010 paper sleeve remaster the nod just for its vastly superior sound quality.
Kronomyth 4.0: KLAATU BARADA RINGO. It was da-da-down to Ringo and John at this point, but the old Snookeroo still managed to deliver more actual, honest-to-goodness hits on Goodnight Vienna. “No No Song,” “(It’s All Da-Da-Down To) Goodnight Vienna” and “Only You” did well on the charts, and only the last could be credited to post-Beatlemania inflation — the rest of these are actually really catchy. Funkier and more electric than his last record (and thus, I guess, more boogalooey), Goodnight Vienna starts on familiar footing with a new song from John Lennon (although you may wonder why he says goodbye when he should be saying hello). Ringo carries the rest of the record with the usual stalwarts (Harry Nilsson, Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann, Billy Preston, Vini Poncia) and a peck of pianists (Elton John, Dr. John, David Foster, Lincoln Mayorga). The Starr of the show again manages to pull a few good ideas from his melon and chooses some interesting covers, including Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives” and Allen Toussaint’s “Occapella.” His voice hasn’t improved, and yet it’s oddly compelling on songs like “Easy For Me,” almost as if Ringo had grown comfortable enough with his voice to render songs in his own idiom (think Frank Sinatra with a head cold). The horn sections and backing vocalists further sweeten the nasally roughness of Ringo’s voice, which seemed a little dry on his last album, all of which lends to the impression that Goodnight Vienna is a more musical-sounding album than its predecessor. It is more lively by a little, but that doesn’t compensate for the lack of The Beatles’ participation. Thus, without George Harrison contributing harmony vocals or Paul McCartney’s romantic ballads in the mix, there might be a little too much Ringo in this strawberry tart for some tastes. Still, compared to what was expected from the man, Goodnight Vienna is another commercial triumph.
Kronomyth 1.8: HEIRING AID. A year after Live Aid, Midge Ure and a smaller, star-studded cast returned to Wembley Arena to celebrate the 10th anniversary of (and raise money for) the Prince’s Trust Charity. This disc highlights the biggest stars from the concert, including bits by Ure, Dire Straits, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Sir Macca himself. As concert discs go, this one is pretty tepid; so was Live Aid for that matter. Performers don’t get a chance to set up the acoustics the way they’d like, they don’t get a chance to warm up, in some cases they’re playing with ad hoc bands (albeit with very good players), all of it conspiring toward mediocrity. The sound engineering on this one isn’t particularly good either; a lot of sound seeps out and what remains sounds thin. So if you weren’t invited to the original party, Highlights is no magic ticket. Some of the performances are good, most of them fall flat. Honestly, if you’re interested in hearing an oldies revue like this, pick up one of Ringo’s All-Starr albums. Speaking of The Beatles, McCartney does a decent version of “Get Back” with Tina taking a few lines and a short, spirited revival of “Long Tall Sally.” (The elpee version featured a bonus single with Sally and I Saw Her Standing There.) As someone who still isn’t completely sold on the merits of live albums, I’m rarely charitably disposed to these save the worldwind tours. The Trust’s Tenth is a great cast for a good cause, but a good live album it isn’t.
Kronomyth 12.0: CIRRUSLY GOOD. The best George Harrison album in years*. This was a new golden age, the wheel of fame having spun full circ… oh, you looked down and read the asterisked part already, didn’t you? No point then in my pretending to share a “george moment” with you. Not that I’m retracting my asterisk. I mean, All Those Years Ago? Blood From a Clone? Gone Troppo? Crap, crap and what’s that other word for crap? Oh yeah, crap. Then comes Cloud Nine and George finds his second wind. No matter that most of the wind is generated by the world’s largest (electric) Beatles fan, Jeff Lynne. The XELO leader was just getting started; Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Ringo Starr were in lynne for a makeover next. I really like ELO, and I love the Beatles, but the one was essentially an adept imitation of the other. On Cloud Nine, the combination of original ingredients and imitation flavors can sometimes leave an odd taste in your mouth (e.g., “When We Was Fab,” which is what I secretly wanted “All Those Years Ago” to sound like), with Jeff Lynne presumably licking his fingers in delight. Even without Lynne, this still ends up being his best album of the ‘80s, backhanded compliment that it is. With the added participation of Eric Clapton, Elton John and Ringo Starr, George had to be more engaged this time around and it shows in the material. But Cloud Nine isn’t the celestial alignment that some have made it out to be. Rather, I tend to see this as a consummation of Jeff Lynne’s Beatles fantasies with George playing the gracious host. For the remastered reissue, two tracks from the quickly forgotten Shanghai Surprise film (which Harrison produced and partially scored) were added, “Shanghai Surprise” (a duet for Vicki Brown) and “Zig Zag,” just in case you were jonesing for a couple more Hoagy Carmichael songs.
*And holy crap were some of them awful.