19.4.16

STAIRWAY TO THE HIGH COURT - Part 2, The Mary Poppins Connection


I have been shown a copy of the deposition signed by Jimmy Page in relation to the lawsuit over ‘Stairway To Heaven’ that I wrote about here last week. It is dated February 24, 2016, not long ago, and although the other two surviving members of Led Zeppelin are mentioned Jimmy seems to be the only member of the group to have been asked to give evidence. In a nutshell, he denies completely any suggestion of plagiarism, says he never heard the Spirit song ‘Taurus’ until 2014, states that descending chord progressions like this have been prevalent for years, citing several examples, and shunts into touch any suggestion that because Led Zep were on the same bill as Spirit back in 1968 (once) and ’69 (twice), some cross-fertilisation may have taken place. Fuck off, in other words.
“I composed the music to ‘Stairway To Heaven’ with the intention to create a long work,” he states at the outset, “with multiple different parts that would unfold with increasing complexity and speed culminating in a guitar solo that was preceded by a distinct fanfare, followed by the last verse concluding a climax to the song.” He confirms that Robert wrote the words after he’d composed the music and goes on to state when and where it was recorded, and when it was first performed live. “It was included on the album usually referred to as Led Zeppelin IV,” he adds, thus (almost) giving a name to a record he has consistently declined to refer to by its title since its release in 1971.
“The beginning of ‘Stairway…’ includes a chromatic descending line chord progression and arpeggios, over which I played an ascending line,” he points out, adding that he considers descending chromatic lines and arpeggiated chords “basic skills learnt by a student of the guitar”. “As a guitarist I was aware of descending chromatic lines and arpeggios long before 1968,” he adds, and few would doubt him on this.
To illustrate his point, Jimmy refers to a demo of a track called ‘Spring Is Near’ that he worked on in 1960 for Chris Farlowe, which seems unusually early as JP would only have been 17 at the time and Farlowe & The Thunderbirds were barely past the rehearing-in-mum-and-dad’s-bedroom stage by then. Nevertheless Jimmy’s penchant for hoarding has evidently come in useful as he is able to lodge a pressing of this demo with his lawyer. “The beginning of ‘Spring Is Near’, recorded in 1960, is a guitar playing a descending chromatic chord progression,” he points out helpfully.
This is far from the only example that Jimmy mentions, citing “songs by the Beatles” (he doesn’t say which but I’ll opt for ‘For No One’) and the intro to Davey Graham’s instrumental reading of ‘Cry Me River’ which can be found on YouTube and does indeed feature a few lines that sound a bit like ‘Stairway’. More interestingly, Jimmy cites ‘Chim Chim Chimree’ from the film Mary Poppins as an example of a song wherein the music “is going at a counterpoint, and I used that and similar ideas in my music.” Finally he mentions a session he did in 1968 for a group called Cartoone on song called ‘Ice Cream Dreams’ which also has a descending line. “I participated in that session in the fall of 1968 before Led Zeppelin went to the US in December, 1968,” he adds, stressing the significance that this occurred prior to the gig with Spirit in Denver on December 26, 1968.
If the evidence thus far is designed to demonstrate how the descending figure in ‘Stairway’ is very common in songs, the rest is designed to refute suggestions that Jimmy was aware of Spirit’s song ‘Taurus’, at least until he first heard in in 2014. “I never heard ‘Taurus’ or even heard of it,” he states. “I am very good at remembering music and am absolutely certain that I never heard ‘Taurus’ before 2014. I do not recall ever seeing Spirit perform live. I am absolutely certain I never heard them, or anyone else, perform ‘Taurus’.”
The evidence that follows confirms that Led Zeppelin and Spirit did play on the same bill but Jimmy is at pains to point out that even though this was the case he and the other members of Zep never actually saw them. “Generally, in my experience, when bands play on the same bill, each band or performer used their own guitars, amplifiers, keyboards, drums and other equipment,” he states, clearly believing that whoever is reading this disposition has no knowledge whatsoever of the rock world. “In between performances their respective road crews would set up or dismantle and remove their equipment and that took anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes depending on the extent of the equipment. In my experience the set up interval between bands meant that we did not encounter any other bands entering or leaving the stage.”
A suggestion by the plaintiffs that Led Zeppelin and Spirit were introduced to one another by someone from whom Zep had leased a plane is also kicked into touch. “Led Zeppelin did not lease an aeroplane for touring until 1973, long after the concert in Denver in 1968,” he points out.
Jimmy concedes that he owns a copy of Spirit’s first album but maintains he has never played it. “I have several thousand albums of many different kinds,” he says. “They include albums I purchased, albums people gave me or albums that were simply left at my home. Like a book collector who never gets round to reading the books they collect, I have never listened to many of the albums.” He does not know how the Spirit album came to be in his collection. “It may well have been left by a guest. I doubt it was there for long because I never noticed it before [this litigation].”
Jimmy concludes his deposition by stating that many documents and demo recordings have been lost or stolen over the years – “stolen from my home in the 1980s” – but those that he does still own have been produced for use as evidence in this action. Finally, he alludes to the passing of John Bonham, Peter Grant and Andy Johns (who engineering the recording of ‘Stairway…’) who may have been able to support his deposition.

I am grateful to Richard Morton Jack for sending me a copy of Jimmy Page's deposition.

15.4.16

STAIRWAY TO THE HIGH COURT



Like a nasty dose of some STD that simply won’t go away, the issue of whether or not Jimmy Page and, to a lesser extent, Robert Plant, nicked the opening bars of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ from an instrumental by Spirit entitled ‘Taurus’ grabbed many column inches earlier this week, causing Just Backdated to listen very carefully to the music in question. ‘Stairway’ is credited to both Page and Plant but it’s a safe bet to assume that Page wrote the melody and Plant the lyrics, so if culpability becomes an issue then it is Jimmy who is in the frame.
We are concerned with just the introduction to ‘Stairway’, no more and no less, and those in Spirit’s camp will argue that this is its key element, four crucial notes that are nowadays as well known to rock fans as any Chuck Berry intro that took the fancy of Keith Richards. ‘Taurus’ does not open with this melody but reaches it at around the 45 second mark, but apart from this similarity each song thereafter does its own thing, ‘Stairway’ reaching for the heavens as it inflates and develops, ‘Taurus’ noodling along at the same pace throughout, enhanced by strings as it reaches its conclusion but never really working up much of a sweat.
Both songs hover around an A-minor key. The descending sequence of notes on the D-string are identical, no doubt about it. The tempo or meter, too, is identical, ditto the general, slightly medieval feel which is Zep’s case is enhanced by John Paul Jones playing a bass recorder. ‘Stairway’, however, has a simultaneous ascending run of notes on the top E-string and the phrases in each song are resolved differently. ‘Taurus’ seems to hang loosely, while ‘Stairway’ moves down to a D chord, then a slightly discordant F-major 7th, then a G major and an A minor chord, a far more satisfactory and pleasing sequence to my mind. In ‘Taurus’ the tranquil little sequence is repeated several times with pretty much the same feel and intensity while in ‘Stairway’ Jimmy pushes down on the power button as each verse comes around, thus disguising and diminishing the similarity.
‘Taurus’ first appeared on Spirit’s debut album released in 1968, a full three years before Led Zeppelin IV, on which ‘Stairway’ appeared. That Spirit debut album also included the song ‘Fresh Garbage’ which Led Zeppelin covered at the beginning of their career, which proves that Jimmy Page was aware of the album. Also, in those early days before Zep established themselves as a top flight attraction, they were on the same bill as Spirit; among the dates they shared Zep’s first ever appearance in America, at Denver on December 26, 1968. They also appeared together at two festivals in 1969, at Atlanta on July 5 and Seattle on July 27, but I have no way of knowing whether Spirit included ‘Taurus’ in their sets; probably unlikely as meandering instrumentals are hardly festival fare.
The lawsuit has been brought by the Estate of Randy California (whose real name was Randy Wolfe), Spirit’s leading light and songwriter, who died in a drowning accident in January 1997, rescuing his 12-year-old son in the process.
The big question, of course, is why it has taken so long – over 40 years – for the Estate to bring the case. Surely Randy, when he was alive, was aware of the similarities between the two songs and, had he felt sufficiently aggrieved, would have brought the case himself. ‘Stairway To Heaven’ will have generated a tidy sum in royalties but far be it for me to suggest that in the present era, when litigation has become a nice little earner, pecuniary motives are at the heart of this. Many plaintiffs bring a case in the hope that a quick out-of-court settlement will resolve an issue and save high legal costs but Jimmy Page has a deep pocket and I don’t see him capitulating easily.
It’s worth pointing out, too, that descending chord sequences in a minor key such as this are as common as muck. Zep used something similar in ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, which isn’t that different from George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on The Beatles’ White Album. Jack Bruce once told me that JS Bach was the master of the descending bass line and, were he alive today, might have a case against loads of rock songwriters, not just Procol Harum. On the negative side, it’s also worth adding that Led Zep have a bit of previous in this regard too: ‘Whole Lotta Love’ = ‘You Need Love’ (Muddy Waters); ‘The Lemon Song’ = ‘Killing Floor’ (Chester Burnett); ‘When The Levee Breaks’ = Memphis Minnie; and a hush seems to have settled over ‘Dazed And Confused’ which songwriter Jake Holmes claims to have written (another descending sequence of notes) and which it is believed was the subject of an out-of-court settlement in 2011.
I wouldn’t like to predict the outcome of the ‘Stairway’ issue but if I was on the bench I’d award a small settlement to the Randy California Estate, perhaps 5% or less of the money the song has generated. This judgement is based on the fact that only 50% of the song is the melody (and 50% the lyrics, which is not the issue), and of that 50% only 10% – at the most – can be attributed to ‘Taurus’, the remaining 90% – not least the entire second half of the song after John Bonham comes tumbling in – pure Page/Led Zep.

7.4.16

VINYL IN SAINSBURYS - Pink Moon, too



I have yet to embrace the current trend for expensive heavyweight vinyl but earlier today I felt a degree of warm satisfaction when I encountered a display of vinyl albums in my local Sainsburys, especially since one of the 14 albums on the rack was Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. Personally I’d have gone for Five Leaves Left but I’m not about to quibble over such details since the concept of Sainsburys, of all places, selling a vinyl album by Nick Drake, of all people, seemed truly remarkable. Nick Drake? Mainstream? In a supermarket? Well, knock me down with a ten-ton truck as Morrissey sings on another of the albums I clocked.
The other 13 vinyl albums on display were a bit more predictable though by no means uninspired. Bowie leads the field with three (Hunky Dory, Ziggy & Nothing Has Changed, the most recent hits compilation), followed by The Beatles (Pepper & Abbey Road), with one each from AC/DC (Back In Black), Eagles (Hotel California), Led Zep (IV), The Smiths (Queen Is Dead), Foo Fighters (hits comp), Nirvana (Nevermind), Bob Marley (Legend) and Adele (25), the only contemporary album they’ve chosen to stock. The prices ranged from £12 to £18.
Intrigued by the whole concept, when I got home I googled ‘vinyl records in Sainsburys’ and up came an item on their website that listed which vinyl albums would be stocked: all of the above plus Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, F Mac’s Rumours, Led Zep’s first album and the debut albums by The Specials and Stone Roses. I can only assume that these have already sold out or were deemed unsuitable for Guildford. Interestingly, Hunky Dory wasn’t on the list (thought it was in stock) and I’m a bit surprised that Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon wasn’t there, maybe also Abba Gold or an Eagles hits comp.
A note on their website states that this is a ‘selection of 2016’s best sellers to date’. What they mean, of course, is ‘2016’s best selling vinyl albums to date’. Over in the CD racks a few weeks ago I was staggered to see about a dozen Bowie albums on sale, obviously catapulted into the charts by his recent death, and I’d have thought that Let’s Dance – if it’s available on vinyl – would have been a wiser choice than Hunky Dory if commercial potential is the criteria for selection.
At the bottom of the display, which I really ought to have snapped with my camera-phone, was a 3-speed portable turntable on sale at £80 on which to play your albums. I’m assuming the other two speeds are 45 and 78rpm. Does anyone really play 78s these days?
        Nevertheless, who would have thought that of all the many wonderful albums released by Islands Records during the seventies, the only one that would make it onto the shelves of a supermarket in 2016, in the same format as it was released it in 1972, would be Pink Moon, recorded solo in just two days by a singer songwriter who would be dead two years later – and which was probably Island’s least successful album of the decade.




5.4.16

A FEW MORE ODDS & SODS


Here’s a few more bits and pieces from my Who folders.


The Who Generation is a 64-page magazine published by Circus, the US rock monthly, and written by Nik Cohn which is a guarantee of quality of course. It was published in June of 1974 to coincide with The Who’s four nights at New York’s Madison Square Garden and, in fact, because I was living in NY at the time, Circus had called me to ask whether I’d be prepared to write it. Unfortunately my contract with Melody Maker precluded me from writing for other magazines and, in 1974, I felt it unwise to offer my services to what was, in effect, a rival. So I recommended Nik and he did a great job, probably far better than Circus were expecting. I seem to remember Nik taking me for a slap-up meal as a thank you.


I felt no such qualms a year later when I was approached by Penthouse magazine which I didn’t feel was in competition with Melody Maker, even though the sub editors were always on the lookout for a eye-catching picture of an easy-on-the-eye girl singer. Nevertheless, the text in the Rock Superstars Poster mag is uncredited because I wasn’t supposed to be working for anyone else other than MM. What I remember most about working for Penthouse was that they paid really well and the girls who worked on the reception in their Third Avenue offices all looked like centre-spreads (with their clothes on).



This was the programme for the orchestral Tommy at the Rainbow on December 9, 1972. In the cast list inside John’s name is spelt Entwisle, which makes a change from usual Entwhistle misspelling. Originally planned for the Royal Albert Hall, the performance was banned by the general manager who deemed Tommy not to be a proper opera and, in any case, was ‘unsavoury’. Wonder what he thought of Robert Plant squeezing his lemon on the hallowed stage during the Pop Proms of June 1969.



I have no idea where this Tommy The Movie magazine came from, but the 30p price tag seems to imply it came from the UK, which is odd because I was living in NY when the film was released. It’s full of stills from the film including a spectacularly unattractive shot of Keith as ‘the evil and lecherous Uncle Ernie’ and Nora (Ann-Margret) ‘cavorting crazily in a fantasy of melted chocolate’. The text – a prĂ©cis of the film – is uncredited.


29.3.16

THE WHO – Metropolitan Opera House, New York, June 7, 197




Among the other bits and pieces I found in my old folder of Who stuff was this silver programme from The Who’s ‘recital’ of Tommy at the New York Metropolitan Opera House on June 7, 1970, perhaps the most prestigious show they ever did. I wasn’t there, of course, having joined Melody Maker a month earlier, but I picked this up at Bleecker Bob’s record store in the Village for a few dollars when I landed in NY in 1973. The cover was designed by David Byrd and the image of the bloke with his wedding tackle on show is the same as used on the screens during the Who Hits 50 tour currently taking a break between US legs.
For those fans who never grabbed a copy of The Who Concert File, published by Omnibus is 1997, edited by yours truly and designed by Richard Evans, here’s what authors Joe McMichael and ‘Irish’ Jack Lyons had to say about the show:
“The Who kicked off their 1970 American Tour with two performances of Tommy in this prestigious 3,788–seat venue. Gross was $55,000.
“1st Set: ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Young Man Blues’, ‘The Seeker’, ‘Water’, Tommy (21 songs), ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘My Generation’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘So Very Long’, ‘Naked Eye’, ‘Sparks’, improvisation, (encore) ‘Shakin’ All Over/Spoonful’, improvisation.
“2nd Set: ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Water’, ‘The Seeker’, ‘Young Man Blues’, Tommy (21 songs), ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’, ‘My Generation’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘So Very Long’, improvisations, ‘Naked Eye’, improvisations, ‘Sparks’, improvisation.
“A Bill Graham/Nat Weiss co-promotion and the last and most famous of the opera house shows, with the tickets being sold at the Fillmore East. Rudolph Bing, director of the Met Opera Company, initially wouldn’t book The Who – he didn’t much like the idea of a loud, rowdy rock’n’roll group at his prestigious Lincoln Center concert hall – but he was invited to listen to the Tommy LP and this changed his mind and the booking was accepted for the loudest and rowdiest rock group of all. The concerts were promoted as being the last ever performances of Tommy. The audience and the Met didn’t mix too well, however, and Bill Graham himself was on hand to quell any potential disruptiveness. Both concerts received standing ovations of over ten minutes and VIP’s present included Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.
“At the first show, every line of ‘Young Man Blues’ was cheered by the audience, as if in vocal agreement with the sentiment of the song. The new song ‘Water’ received its first airing in concert (at least in the States – it might have already been played in the UK). As Townshend commented: ‘In a way we feel that we have to play something new because it’s a special occasion. We haven’t really altered our act radically since the last time we played. This is one that’s appearing on our new album...’ Daltrey sang ‘Water’ with great power and commitment, it being a perfect vehicle for The Who’s onstage style. The highlights of Tommy during this performance (and others) were ‘Overture’, ‘Sparks’, ‘Pinball Wizard’ and the moving ‘See Me, Feel Me’. With the ‘opera’ dispensed with, the band ploughed straight into the frenzied rock’n’roll of ‘Summertime Blues’ and the ‘My Generation’ medley, which included the second new song ‘Naked Eye’. This was still rather rough in its structure, and although Pete Townshend sang the second verse (as on the final recording), the third verse was omitted and it moved into further improvisations.
“As he returned to the stage for a rare encore, Pete joked with an ecstatic Kit Lambert, ‘You really book us on some bum gigs, man!’ ‘Shakin’ All Over’ moved into a bludgeoning riff that became the basis for a wild, improvised instrumental, featuring a drum solo and some impromptu slide guitar playing (with the mike stand) from Townshend, forming one of the most unusual and exciting improvisations that The Who ever played. Pete finally threw his guitar about the stage, before casting it into the audience. It was caught by long-term Who fanatic – and later rock musician – Binky Phillips.
“Phillips later recalled the show vividly: ‘It was the best show I had ever seen. Pete came out there and showed everyone he didn’t give a damn about the opera. They were so violent and vicious. They sounded like the old Who. That was the night I caught Townshend’s guitar, which was the culmination of everything for me... Townshend walked to the tip of the stage with his busted guitar and looked at me as if to say ‘Are you ready?’ I stood up and all my friends stood back. They all wanted the guitar as badly as I did but they stepped back. It was like a Joe Namath pass over the 30–foot orchestra pit. It just fell right into me.’ (from The Who by John Swenson, 1979.)
“The second set was witnessed by many who had been present during the first show and had doubled up on tickets. Prior to Tommy, Townshend explained that the show was hopefully to be the last performance of the work, although he must have had doubts that the act could survive its loss so abruptly. ‘My Generation’ moved from ‘So Very Long’ into a few lines and guitar figures from ‘Water’ before moving into ‘Naked Eye’, and an improvisation which had been released already on Live At Leeds. The band didn’t return for an encore this time, and the discontented crowd wouldn’t disperse until Townshend reappeared alone, to face booing: ‘After two fucking hours, boo to you too...’ and he threw his mike stand into the crowd.
          “Reviews were ecstatic. Albert Goldman said in Life (July 10): ‘Rock music may have reached its all-time peak with the recent performance at the Metropolitan Opera of Tommy... From the moment the boys walked on stage, it was obvious they were determined to give their greatest performance. Flashing their tawdry show tricks, they worked the Met as if it were a grind house in Yorkshire... Having outclassed the competition by miles and miles, The Who ought to be honoured at this point with a splendid award. I propose an architectural competition. The theme? The world’s largest opera house for the world’s smallest opera company.’
Fred Kirby wrote in Billboard (June 20) that The Who were as ‘dynamic as ever... While the two hours stretch may have been too much for many in the audience, The Who continue in a class by themselves when it comes to hard work.’
“Twenty years later, Roger Daltrey rated these two concerts as the finest The Who ever played, though at the time Rolling Stone thought that a rock act playing at the Met was merely a gimmick. Ever the non-conformist, Pete Townshend considered the Met shows ‘dire’.”

22.3.16

THE WHO – Badges & Passes

In that green folder of Who memorabilia was a plastic bag containing lots of buttons and badges and – miraculously – the backstage pass for The Who’s concert at London’s Oval Cricket Ground on September 18, 1971. Signed by promoter Rikki Farr, it’s a bit ‘distressed’ as auction houses describe items that have seen better days, but considering it’s really no more than a flimsy piece of paper it’s done very well to have survived at all. I doubt there’s many more of these in the world. (There's a post about this show elsewhere on the blog.) 
Up to this point I don’t think I was ever given a backstage pass for any Who shows even though I definitely was backstage on many occasions. Security didn’t seem to exist in those days which wasn’t to say that anyone could wander into their dressing room, you just needed to look like you belonged and in you went. It helped if a few people in the entourage recognised your face, of course, which they did after I’d been on Melody Maker for about six months.
          In the days before laminated backstage passes acts on the road issued either stick-on passes, sometimes with your name written on, which you peeled off from backing paper and stuck to your clothes, or buttons like this one below that tour manager Pete Rudge gave me when I went down the East Coast of America with The Who in November of 1971. This was the first time I’d ever visited America – and what better way to go than with The Who touring party.

By the time of the Quadrophenia tour in 1973 they’d moved on to laminates but I seem to have lost my yellow plastic pass with the nuclear warning icon that they used on that tour. I remember having one for the two shows at the LA Forum in November 1973. Nevertheless, along the way I’d picked up these buttons, the ones with the concentric circles – pin-on and sew-on – from around the time of Who’s Next, with the Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy, Odds And Sods and Who By Numbers ones a bit later. Towser Tunes is a bit of a mystery. I think it was a music publishing company that Pete launched in the seventies but why he had buttons made for it is anybody’s guess. The four Who heads are from Madison Square Garden, June 1974, one for each night, and they were the same ones scanned by Richard Evans for use in the booklet accompanying 30 Years of Maximum R&B.


When The Who opened the Rainbow Theatre in London with three straight nights at the beginning of November 1971 its manager John Morris gave me this Rainbow pass which enabled to walk in free to every show there, backstage too. Who aside, this was the bet pass I ever had, and John, an American, became a good friend of mine while he lived in London and ran the Rainbow.

19.3.16

WHO'S LAST - Track listing

Responding to requests prompted by yesterday's post, this brief post details the track listing of the aborted Who's Last double vinyl LP, as given to me by someone from the Polydor Records marketing department in 1983.

Side 1
I Can't Explain
Squeeze Box
Tattoo
Boris The Spider
Fiddle About
Baby O'Riley

These tracks recorded at Charlton (May 18, 1974) and Swansea (June 12, 1976) football grounds. They did not specify which tracks came from which show.

Sides 2 & 3
Sister Disco
Music Must Change
Drowned
---
Who Are You
Long Live Rock
Dancing In The Street
Can You See the Real Me

These tracks recorded at the Philadelphia Spectrum on either December 10 or 11, 1979

Side 4
Athena
Cry If You Want
The Quiet One
Dangerous
Dr Jimmy
Twist And Shout

These tracks recorded during The Who's final tour of America, November & December 1982 - no further details given. 

18.3.16

WHO’S LAST – The Alternative That Got Away


Most of the material in the green folder of Who material I'm scanning consists of press cuttings and magazines, and a few first drafts of text for the two books with scribbled notes in the margin. There were no computers in 1981 so everyone wrote on typewriters which meant that if you made a mistake you had to start again or use Tippex to plop a splodge of white stuff on to the paper, then type over it.
I had completely forgotten that in 1983 Polydor, The Who’s record label, commissioned me to write sleeve notes for a double live (vinyl) album they were planning which would be called Who’s Last, so it was a bit of a surprise to come across my six pages of A4 typed notes for this. If you can read it, here’s the first page:


The last few words on the final (sixth) page were: ‘The Who is dead. Long Live The Who’.
Polydor had sent me the track listing and the record looked interesting: side one recorded at Charlton (May 18, 1974) and Swansea (June 12, 1976) football grounds; sides two and three recorded at the Philadelphia Spectrum (December 10 & 11, 1979); and side four from various shows recorded during what was grimly announced as The Who’s final ever tour of the US during November and December, 1982. (Many of the tracks would subsequently turn up on 30 Years of Maximum R&B or as bonus tracks on reissued Who CDs during the nineties.)
Side four closed with ‘Twist And Shout’ (probably from Toronto, December 17, 1982), sung by John, and I remember calling him up to ask for a quote: “In the days of The Detours I used to sing ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Twist And Shout’ because Roger couldn’t sing them, couldn’t get up there. We started getting five requests a night to do ‘Twist And Shout’ and I used to end up going to the tax office in the morning with no voice at all.”
In the event, of course, this album was never released, although an entirely different album called Who’s Last was released the following year. I cannot remember why the first Who’s Last was cancelled or even whether I was paid for writing the notes, but I was less than delighted with the Who’s Last that eventually came out and vented my spleen in my 1995 (revised in 2004) book The Complete Guide To the Music of The Who. Here’s what I wrote:


It’s a crying shame that The Who waited until 1984 to release a full-blown double LP designed to represent an entire concert. By this time they’d given up touring completely and this came out almost as an afterthought, although at one time there were plans, regrettably abandoned, to include retrospective material from the early Seventies.
This release is a reasonably accurate reflection of the way the band sounded on the 1982 US tour, and by any standards apart from their own, they didn’t sound bad at all. They’d become what Roger and John always wanted: a streamlined, professional, major league rock attraction, capable of selling out vast arenas to fans who wanted to hear a diet of classic songs from The Who’s splendid back catalogue. Roger and John (and Kenney Jones) were happy to oblige; Pete wasn’t but he went along anyway, knowing that he had nothing left creatively to offer The Who.
 Most of the young crowds who came to see The Who in 1982 hadn’t seen them before and knew nothing of the glorious spark that illuminated them in days gone by. The fans sang along to ‘See Me, Feel Me’, punched the air to ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and played air guitars to ‘My Generation’, and then went home happy, well satisfied with what The Who had given them. The Who got well paid (at last!), so why should anyone complain?
 Well, for starters it was a shoddy state of affairs that any live material from this era – recorded when the band was coasting – should find its way on to the market legitimately, while there was very little live material available – Leeds excepted – from the era when The Who genuinely reigned as the world’s greatest live rock band. Secondly, Who’s Last was heard by younger critics of the band – not to mention younger potential fans with perceptive ears – who inevitably turned around and quite rightly questioned if there was anything special that set The Who above and apart from other bands (as one critic put it, “wished they’d died before they got old”). Thirdly, most of these tracks were taken from the Toronto show that had been released on video the previous year (as The Who Rocks America), so hardcore fans already had this material. Older fans with treasured memories just shook their heads in resignation. Even the packaging – a dodgy ‘Union Jack burning’ cover in the UK and dull black and gold effort in the US – was rank. What had happened to quality control? Why would The Who willingly allow their reputation to be trashed in this way? Didn’t they care any more? Who knows (or cared)?
Keith Moon would have rolled over in his grave if he’d heard it. It’s to be hoped he didn’t.

Not really suitable for sleeve notes!

17.3.16

THE WHO – Focusing On Nowhere, Investigating Miles




This photograph of yours truly with Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, taken is Los Angeles in 1973, appeared on my Facebook page last weekend and came from a bulging green envelope folder that was named ‘Who Bio Etc’ that I found at the bottom of a pile of old Q magazines underneath our staircase. It also contained piles of Who documents that date from 1981 when I was researching my book The Who: The Illustrated Biography, published by Omnibus Press in 1982, and my book on Pete Townshend that came out a couple of years later. In view of the high standard of many subsequent Who-related books, both seem rather slight nowadays but at the time I was quite proud of them.
So I scanned some of the documents in the folder to post on Just Backdated with a few notes about each item.
When I wrote those books I asked Pete for his help. It was, of course, during the period when he ran his own book publishing company, Eel Pie Books, so the request was a bit of a long shot as I was writing for a rival company. Nevertheless Pete took the trouble to reply, gracefully, as the letter below indicates, and even cc’d the letter to his mum and dad in case I went snooping around their house in Ealing. Heaven forbid! Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure nine out of ten rock stars would have thrown my letter in the bin.


Denied access to the source I did what all researchers do and went to the Public Records office, in those days at Somerset House at Aldwych where records of British births, marriages and death are kept. Over the course of several days I painstakingly looked up such documents as I could find that related to the Townshend family. I found Pete’s birth certificate, his mum and dad’s wedding certificate and the wedding certificates of both of his grandfathers, Horace Townshend and Maurice Dennis, respectively a fishmonger and a ‘tailor’s butter’, whatever that is. Happily all of these documents were in my Who folder and they are below.




All the information I gleaned from these documents enabled me to flesh out the opening chapter in my biography of Pete. There was no internet in those days but I somehow discovered that Horace Townshend, whom Pete refers to as Horry in his book Who I Am, was a semi-pro musician and composer who with his wife Dorothy (Dot) performed at music halls and at seaside parks in the 1920s, sometimes with the Jack Shepherd Concert Party. A bit of asking around led me to an expert on Music Hall, a very old bloke who lived in a small flat in Bayswater that was chock full of Music Hall memorabilia, and in a book he showed me there was a picture of the Jack Shepherd Concert Party on stage in Brighton. Unfortunately he was reluctant to lend me the book so I couldn’t include the picture in my own book, not that I knew for sure that Horry and Dot were in the picture anyway. But – surprise, surprise – it’s on the internet now, and I’ve reproduced it below. My Music Hall expert did vaguely recall Pete’s paternal grandparents when I mentioned their names and they might just might be on this stage. Even if they aren’t this is the sort of event that Pete’s granddad and granny would have appeared at – a bit different from smashing guitars at the Marquee Club I know, but everything starts somewhere.



More bits and pieces tomorrow.

16.3.16

IT’S ONLY A NORTHERN SONG



So Sony now owns ATV Music which in turn owns Northern Songs, the company formed in 1963 to administer and benefit from the Lennon-McCartney songwriting catalogue. Its original owners were music publisher Dick James, Beatles manager Brian Epstein and songwriting Beatles John and Paul. If the reports in today’s newspapers are true, Sony has bought from the Michael Jackson Estate the 50% of ATV Music it didn’t already own for $750 million, meaning that its total value is $1.5 billion. Granted there’s more to it than just The Beatles’ songs but they are the jewel in its crown so it’s not a bad result for a couple of Liverpool teenagers who, in their own words, “sagged off” from school so they could spend their afternoons writing songs together at Paul’s Forthlin Road house back in 1958. “Another Lennon-McCartney Original” they would scrawl above the words to songs like ‘Too Bad About Sorrows’ and ‘Because I Know You Love Me So’*, neither of which they completed, let alone played or recorded with The Beatles.




The story of how the “Lennon-McCartney Originals” changed hands many times and ended up being worth well over a billion dollars and owned by a Japanese electronics conglomerate is long and convoluted. Many years ago I commissioned an entire book on the subject – its cover is above – but in a nutshell Dick James got cold feet when John ran off with Yoko and sold his 50% to Lou Grade, the owner of ATV which in those days was a television company. Clive Epstein, who had inherited 10% from his brother Brian, sold out to Grade too, and John and Paul were persuaded by Allen Klein to pledge their 20% each to a bank in a deal to acquire Northern Songs that went sour, thus enabling Grade to snap up their share as well. Grade subsequently sold out to an Australian entrepreneur who, when his business went pear-shaped in 1985, sold out to Michael Jackson who was looking for somewhere to park the massive royalties he’s earned from Thriller.
The sale price then was $47.5 million, a tiny fraction of what it is worth today and a sum that Paul could have raised had he felt so inclined, especially if Yoko chipped in. Paul, miffed that he would have to stump up such a tidy sum for what he felt was rightly his in the first place, didn’t feel inclined and relations between him and Jackson thereafter went into terminal decline. When Jackson’s spending habits got out of hand in the early 2000s he sold half to Sony for around $100 million and now Sony has bought the other half for seven and half times that, meaning Jackson’s three children are what Jane Austin might have called “eligible”, to say the least, though, according to reports, under Michael’s will they have to wait until they are 30 to get their hands on the dosh.
All of which makes me rather sad, and I’m sure that Paul McCartney – wherever he happens to be today – will be feeling the same as he scans the newspapers over his boiled egg, toast and coffee. Of course he’s massively wealthy anyway, probably the richest rock musician in the world, and he’s recently announced a series of tour dates for 2016 at which he will no doubt sing many of those “Lennon-McCartney Originals” to massive acclaim yet again.
But the fact that the legacy of The Beatles – their songs – is owned not by Paul and Yoko is a triumph for unrestricted capitalism and a tragedy for those who create music, whether it be as magnificent as that of The Beatles or simply any mediocre songwriter who’s been obliged to sell the rights to his work to eat. It is also a depressing echo of how so much else of cultural merit that this country has produced is owned not by those who created it but by sharp businessmen wherever they may lurk.
Lennon & McCartney gave us magic. Businessmen only give us their funny paper.


*I am indebted to Mark Lewisohn’s wonderful Beatles biography Tune In for the titles of these two phantom Lennon & McCartney originals (very rough versions of which finally saw the light of day on the ‘Fly On The Wall’ bonus disc that accompanied Let It Be Naked.)